TRANSITION TO POST-VEDIC SOCIAL POLITY
Politics is sociology in the limelight. Struggle for power is latent in every social unit, even in the compact nuclear family. The elaborate dayabhaga system of coparceners claiming shares in the ancestral property and in the properties of one another intensified this undesirable struggle for power and wealth. The sraddha rites sanctified in and prescribed by the social codes, sastras were expected to ensure peace for the departed souls but they disturbed the peace among the living. And as the living and the dead belonged to the ruling classes, they disturbed the peaceful life of the commoners.
Often the mighty won and the rights of the weak were trampled on with impunity. Parasurama banned wars and bloody battles, which required the commoners to fight for their masters and die on the battlefield or go back seriously maimed and unfit for any work and to die of poverty and starvation. He called upon the rich to settle their disputes through dice and the strong to settle them through personal duels.
The dayada system has to be examined carefully. It had its beginnings in the social milieu of the century that preceded the battle of Kurukshetra (c.3100 BC according to Hindu tradition and c. 1400 BC according to most western scholars and their adherents). It was not based on nor was it part of varnasrama dharma which itself was first envisaged during that century.
Santanu and Bhishma
The house of nobles (devas) bypassed Devapi and installed his younger brother, Santanu, on the throne of Hastinapura. It is inadvisable to translate the term, devas, as gods and assume that the people of the Vedic society were polytheists. It is wrong to hold that the king was endowed with divinity as he was appointed by gods. The earlier kings needed approval by the nobles and they preferred ones from among their own cadre to govern their subjects. The king had no divinity in him nor was he nominated by the divine being. The subjects knew this position and obeyed their king only because he enjoyed the support of the ruling class, which had monopoly over arms and controlled the treasury.
While Devapi was exiled to the forest, the youngest brother was kept at a distance. He was sent to the northern mountainous district, Bahlika. The pleasure-loving gentle ruler (Santanu) pleased all with his healing touch. These brothers belonged to the last decades of the long Vedic age. Santanu and Devapi find mention in Rgveda.
Bhishma was a son of Santanu and Ganga. Ganga, an Apsaras was a daughter of Bhagiratha, a great emperor. Dushyanta had married Lakshi, another daughter of Bhagiratha. Janamejaya was their son. Sakuntala, daughter of Visvamitra by Menaka, an Apsara, was another wife of Dushyanta. The famous emperor, Bharata, was born to Dushyanta by Sakuntala. Bhishma, Bharata and Janamejaya were contemporaries.
Janamejaya had the right to succeed to the wealth and realm of the great plutocrat that Dushyanta was. But Dushyantas uncle, Kanva, and Visalaksha, the political thinker and counsellor of Sakuntala, who stood for Kshatriya aristocracy prevailed on the nobles (devas) to nominate the valiant youth, Bharata, as king on Dushyantas retirement. Bharadvaja, a senior sage like Visvamitra, guided Bharata. When Dvaipayana and Vaishampayana repeatedly addressed Janamejaya as Bharatasreshta they implied that like his brother, Bharata, he was a son of a respected plutocrat (sreshta). Bharata had found favour with the nobles, aristocrats, as he was trained in the ways of administration and in war, as prescribed for a Kshatriya.
Ganga was a shrewd socio-political counsellor who had inspired the school of Ambha. This school inspired Bhishmas championing of Kshatriya aristocracy. Kautilya refers to the views of the Manavas who like Bhishma were followers of the politico-economic code (Arthasastra) of Pracetas Manu. Like Pracetas, Bahudantiputra (an Indra who had authored Bahudantakam, a treatise on political economy) had great respect for the sober school of Ambha, which stressed strength as well as gentleness, resoluteness as well as patience.
The Ambhas were not crooked and hoped that the princes could be taught the perils of indulging in revolt against the state and made to stay sober through proper training. Kautilya too had great regard for this school though he was more pragmatic than these thinkers who were his senior contemporaries. Bhishma treated Ganga as his conscience-keeper. He permitted his father, Santanu, to marry Satyavati whom the father too had courted and resolved to remain a celibate for life and defend the rightful incumbents to the Kuru throne.
Santanu, a descendant of Hasti and Rajarshi Ajamidha was a Kshatriya, that is, one who had consented to abide by the Vedic code of conduct prescribed for the anointed Kshatriyas. Such Kshatriyas were drawn from the ranks of Gandharvas rather than from the cadres of nobles (devas) and were characterised by the trait of rajas, dynamism and aggressiveness. They had no source of income other than what was prescribed for rendering service as protectors of commoners, Brahmans and the cattle.
But Santanu's predecessors were Hastis, a group of artisans who owned quarries. Hastis (elephants, in common parlance) controlled architecture and civil engineering and construction of urban complexes, palaces and halls, and used both stone and wood, logged and towed in by tamed elephants. Hastis were a branch of Nagas. Nagas belonged not to the urban (nagara) economy but to the frontier industrial economy of the forests and mountains (antariksham). The stereotype that presents nagas and sarpas as serpents and serpent-worshippers needs to be discarded. The Nagas were technocrats and the Sarpas the industrial proletariat of the pre-varna Vedic society. The core society of the plains was engaged in agriculture and pasture and had trade relations with this frontier society and its industrial economy.
The socio-economic periphery round the core society included the communities dependent on riverine economy, trappers and hunters, besides the rich miners and the industrial proletariat. These communities like the miners and artisans sought to be recognised as Kshatriyas. But they were treated as Nishadas and Rathakaras under the samkara-varna (mixed classes) scheme and kept at a distance.
The two social economies, core and frontier, had already begun to interact at different levels, breaching their erstwhile long isolation and evolving mutually acceptable codes of social conduct which were later brought under the principles of dharma and economic pursuits (varta) and relations. [It is not only impolitic but also un-academic and irrational to abide by the stands of the 19th century Western Indologists and cultural anthropologists that the tribes of the forests, mountains and sea-coasts were not Hindus and were exploited by the higher classes and the people of the towns and villages of the plains.] Dharmasastras and Arthasastras were such integrated and comprehensive codes.
These interactions even while leading to social integration (lokasamgraha) and social progress (lokayatra) did strain social relations and caused new social problems. These problems encompassed the agro-pastoral socio-economic system of the plains, which was extending its ambit and getting restated and pushed back by the powerful frontier society and its industrial economy. The latter was penetrating the urban complexes, which were safely cushioned till then by their rural hinterland, leaving in the process, the commoners (manushyas) of the plains, flabbergasted. The two great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, do reveal these trends.
Satyavati, a Nishada
Satyavatis father was a chieftain of Nishadas, a community of fishermen and boatmen. He was not a Kshatriya by birth or by occupation, a varna status which was till then open only to select members of the agro-pastoral core society and was yet to be thrown open to the entire frontier society. Riverine and marine communities kept away from and were kept away by agrarian and pastoral communities. But they were not outcasts or untouchables. In the pre-varna social configuration, the boatsmen were included in the broader socio-economic sector of nagas and sarpas, even as chariot makers and cartmen, rathakaras were. Some sarpas were excessively docile and some nagas were domineering. Absorbing them in the new varna scheme was not easy.
Satyavati, the nishada girl, had already a son by Parasara, a Vedic sage (an intellectual and hence a Brahman) when she married Santanu, a Hasti Kshatriya. But she did not ask for any special status for that son, Krshna Dvaipayana (a dark-complexioned boy who was born on an islet in the river). His father, Parasara, was rearing him as a Brahman scholar. Endogamy was not the norm then; and pre-marital and extra-marital sex relations were taboos neither for men nor for women.
To be precise, the institutions of marriage and family did not envelop most of the population during the early Vedic period when the laws based on Rta (natural tendencies) were in force. Even when the laws based on Satya (truth) supplemented the laws based on Rta these institutions had not developed the binding force that they acquired when the laws based on Dharma came into force by the end of the Vedic era. Satyavati, as Queen Mother dominated the political arena of Hastinapura.
Bhishma, Vichitravirya, Dvaipayana
Vichitravirya, Santanus son by Satyavati, was impotent. Bhishma, his elder brother, was Santanus son by Ganga. He had vowed to remain a celibate. Dhrtarashtra and Pandu were born to Vichitraviryas wives, Ambika and Ambalika, by Krshna Dvaipayana, who was Satyavatis son by Parasara. Kshetraja and niyoga rules had been invoked to give legitimacy to such procreation and surrogate parenthood. They were declared to be Vichitraviryas sons and held eligible to occupy the throne of Hastinapura.
Vidura who was born to Dvaipayana by Vichitraviryas servant (dasi) later emerged as a great scholar and socio-political counsellor. But he was declared ineligible for any share in power or wealth for his mother was not a wedded wife. The throne of Hastinapura, which was guarded by Bhishma, became a bone of contention between Dhrtarashtra and Pandu and between their successors, the Kauravas and the Pandavas.
Dhrtarashtra and Pandu
As Dhrtarashtra was blind his younger brother, Pandu, was nominated to succeed Vichitravirya. Only after he became father of a son, Pandu could get recognised as the legitimate ruler. But he had been advised to refrain from sex. Yudhishtira, Bhima and Arjuna were born to Pandus wife, Kunti, by nobles (devas) who held the posts of Dharma, Vayu and Indra respectively. Nakula and Sahadeva were born to his second wife, Madri, by the Asvinikumaras, Nasatya and Dasra who had been newly recognised as nobles (devas). The Asvins had not been recognised as Kshatriyas and were not given the status of dvijas, twiceborn, and were treated as Shudras. Nasatyas had not taken the vow to speak truth (satya) but however (as na-asatyas) refrained from perjury. Dasras were docile servants.
The five brothers were acknowledged as sons of Pandu though these officials had sired them. [Later versions of the epic tried to present these officials as gods or as godfathers who protected the interests of these sons.] Pandu had directed his wives to get impregnated by a Brahman even as his own mother had been impregnated by Dvaipayana, a Parasara Brahman. But they preferred to get impregnated by Kshatriya officials-cum-nobles as recommended by Durvasa, a revered and feared Saivaite sage and disciple of Atri who guided the society of the forests and mountains.
Bhishma, an authority on polity, Rajadharma, upheld the requisite of traditional legitimacy to become eligible to occupy any position. It favoured the sons of Dhrtarashtra who was a Hasti and enjoyed the approval of Kashyapa (the chief of Manu Vaivasvatas council of even sages) as an ideal Naga chief. The sons of Pandu enjoyed rational and charismatic legitimacies and had the support of Vidura. Kunti who was guided by Durvasa, a disciple of Atri (a colleague of Kashyapa) was a Bhoja princess. She was a protg of Prthu and was known as Prtha. The policies, which this agrarian ruler of Madhyadesa adopted, found favour with Manu Vaivasvata and Kashyapa and also with Atri. The Bhojas were basically native landlords. They were autonomous rulers but were not recognised as full-fledged Kshatriyas.
Traditional legitimacy of later times required that both parents of the ruler should have only Kshatriya (and preferably Rajanya) blood in them. They should have inherited rajas, dynamism and aggressiveness, by both lineages, paternal and maternal. Dhrtarashtras wife was a Kshatriya princess from Gandhara (which covered areas to the northwest of River Sindhu), now in Afghanistan. It was a land whose people followed Gandharva ways of life. The mothers of Dhrtarashtra and Pandu were Kshatriya princesses of Kasi. However, neither Vichitravirya (their assigned father) nor Dvaipayana (their genetic father) had in him the trait of rajas, the trait held as requisite for rulership.
Dhrtarashtra, as a hasti (a naga), had aggressiveness tempered by gentleness. His mother was a Kshatriya princess and his genetic father was a Brahman. Kshatriyas excelled in dynamism and aggressiveness (rajas) while Brahmans excelled in gentleness and scholarship (sattva). He could hence become a Rajarshi, a scholar-king. But as he was blind he could not observe persons and events personally and had to depend on his personal reporter (suta), Sanjaya. Hastinapura had certain shortcomings in its state structure, one of which was the absence of an official and objective institution of spies, chakshus.
Pandu had a Gandharva spirit and was too gentle and unassertive to be a successful ruler though he had charismatic appeal. According to the then norms, ones nature was inherited from the paternal ancestors and his nurture was determined by the traits of his maternal ancestors. Dhrtarashtra and Pandu had both the benefit of nurture by a Kshatriya mother and nature inherited from a Brahman sire. But later chroniclers passed this on as advantages derived from the official Hasti (elephant) paternal lineage.
The chronicler records that when Arjunas birth was celebrated the seven sages, Kashyapa, Gautama, Atri, Jamadagni, Vasishta, Visvamitra and Bharadvaja graced the rituals. Obviously, this event must have taken place during the tenure of the seventh Manu, Vaivasvata, who patronised Sakra Indra whose protg Arjuna was. This Manu must have had two tenures of twelve years each. Arjuna must have been born when the first tenure as Sraddhadeva had just begun. Parasurama, son of Jamadagni, had just then killed Kartavirya Arjuna, the powerful ruler of Haihaya.
Later the Haihayas killed Jamadagni in revenge and that set in motion the famous campaign of Bhargava Parasurama to demobilise the Kshatriya troops of several states. This campaign came to an end when Kashyapa exiled Parasurama from Aryavarta to Kalinga. When Yudhishtira went to Gaya before the battle of Kurukshetra took place to obtain approval of Manu Vaivasvata for his claims to the throne, Vaivasvata had already retired and was inaccessible. Similarly he could not meet Parasurama. It may be inferred that both of them were not inclined to support him.
The chronicle adds that at the rites performed the seven sages, Marici, Angirasa, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu and Daksha (Pracetas), too were present. Atri was the seventh member of this first council of seven sages nominated by the first Manu, Svayambhuva. This claim cannot be upheld as valid. They must have been very old. The chronicler extols Atri (whom the lunar, Soma, lineages revered) as a sage equivalent to Surya (that is, Vivasvan) whom the solar lineages revered. Bharadvaja, counsellor of Bharata, must have envisaged a significant role for Arjuna. He was expected to take the place of Kartavirya Arjuna.
Arjuna, as a Bharata, was slated to be an emperor. But it was not to be, as though the Pandavas won the battle of Kurukshetra mainly because of the valour of this great archer, they could not secure legitimacy for their rule. Arjuna was not eligible to become a ruler. Marutta, Bhagiratha, Bharata, Mamdhata and Kartavirya Arjuna were the five great emperors who were on the scene before Jarasamdha emerged as a great force.
Madri and Sati
Saryati, a teacher belonging to the school of Usanas when Kunti escorted them to Hastinapura, after the demise of Pandu, had already initiated the Pandavas in archery and other martial arts. Political thinkers like Usanas were attached to academies where princes and other youths received training in martial arts. Some of these thinkers like Parasurama conducted their own schools without royal patronage.
Pandu had indulged in sex with Madri against medical advice. Did Madri commit sati, dying on his funeral pyre? She must have felt guilty. Sati was a pre-kshatriya, Gandharva orientation and practice, reflecting and related to an inextricable and inexplicable bond between brother and sister, particularly twins, which led to the death of the survivor in despair soon after that of the other. This orientation (not related to incestuous sex) was transferred to the relationship between spouses after her brother and guardian married off the girl. Sati reflected the absence of the will to survive against all odds. It was never mandatory and not even recommendatory, though some have extolled it as a feature of an unbroken marital tie. Modern versions of sati are either avoidable suicides or heinous homicides.
Madri belonged to the Madra land, which like the Kuru land retained this Gandharva orientation even during the times of Parikshit, which were coeval with the early Upanishadic era. The Kurus and the Pancalas of the Ganga-Yamuna doab had begun to develop a new pragmatic and assertive Kshatriya dharma (applicable to both men and women of the Kshatriya cadres), which precluded such despair and death. But Arjuna who has been glorified was not adequately assertive. He shared Pandus Gandharva orientation and diffidence. Romances were many that veered round him.
When during the last century of the Vedic era the scheme of four classes, varnas, was proposed, it was made applicable first to the agro-pastoral commonalty. The sober and intelligent among them were encouraged to join the class of Brahmans and the dynamic and aggressive persons were recruited to the army as Kshatriyas. Members of these two cadres had to give up their affiliations to their original clans, and commence a new life joining the schools meant for them. Later, the rich among the commoners (manushyas) joined these schools. They became Vaisyas and the rest of the commoners who were engaged in manual labour were known as Shudras. Before this varna classification came into force, there were four main classes, nobles (devas), free intellectuals and warriors (gandharvas), free men (naras) and labourers (manushyas).
Only the commoners were organised as clans (kulas) and communities (jatis) and nobles (devas) like Adityas, Maruts, Rudras, Vasus, Asvins and Visvedevas directed their activities. Visvedevas dominated the upper crust of the class of Vaisyas while the Asvins guided the workers. The free intellectuals-cum-warriors (gandharvas) and the free men (naras) and also the nobles (devas) were given freedom to join the class (varna) best suited to them and follow one of the vocations assigned to that class. The ordinary workers, Shudras, who were included in the class of manushyas were not free to join any of the three new higher classes.
Vaishampayana first acquainted Janamejaya with the careers and times of his coparceners, the Puru lineage of valorous kings, before he answered that kings intriguing questions. He traced them to Brahma, the non-manifest and incomprehensible socio-political constitution of the Atharvan times. Later annotators have presented Brahma as the God of Creation. During the early post-Vedic times, Brahma was the designation of the interpreter and upholder of this constitution. He was the head of the constitution bench and ranked higher than the official who implemented the socio-cultural code, dharmasastra. As the head of the judiciary he was equal to, if not superior to the king, who was the head of the state. He was granted a social rank and immunities that the nobles (devas) enjoyed.
Marici and Daksha as aides of Brahma, the Chief Justice
The earlier rulers were recognised as rulers under the Atharvan (Brahma) constitution as they were able to establish in battles their superiority over their rivals and could gain the approval of the houses of nobles. This unwritten constitution was in vogue during the times of the Purus. According to Dvaipayana and his disciple, Vaishampayana, Marici and Daksha emerged as the aides of this high judicial officer, Brahma. To be precise the prajapati of Barhismati in the Sarasvati basin who later became Manu Svayambhuva was originally one of the ten members of a board of ten prajapatis, chiefs of the people and was in charge of dharma before he was raised to the position of Brahma of that region, Brahmavarta.
Marici and Daksha were two senior members of this board and they were nominated to assist Brahma, the head of the constitution bench of that area. The chronicler says that Kashyapa, son of Marici, married Aditi, daughter of Daksha. Other legends hold that Kashyapa married Aditi, Diti and Danu, three daughters of Daksha. Some others say that he married eight daughters of Daksha. Kashyapa has clarified that only Aditi was his wife and that all the eight socio-economic sectors of the larger society were visualised as her eight sons. Surya (Vivasvan) is presented as son of Kashyapa and Aditi and Manu Vaivasvata as a son of Surya.
Ila was the daughter of Vaivasvata. Pururavas was son of Ila, according to the legends. The later chroniclers had got confused. He was not the son of Ila, daughter of Vaivasvata. He was the son of Ila, an Apsaras, by Budha, a Vidyadhara. Vidyadharas were young scholars who held that knowledge gave power to them and they generally stayed on the outskirts of the towns and villages. Both Vidyadharas and Apsarases belonged to the social universe (jagat) of Gandharvas who were not settled communities and had not developed the institutions of marriage and family and were not engaged in economic activities. They enjoyed several immunities.
The chronicler notes that Ayu was the son of Pururavas and Nahusha was the son of Ayu and Yayati was the son of Nahusha. We would hold that Yayati succeeded Nahusha, Nahusha succeeded Ayu, and Ayu succeeded Pururavas. The practice of hereditary monarchy had not come into force and to be precise, the institutions of marriage and family had yet to take roots. Yayati married Devayani, daughter of the famous political thinker, Usanas (Sukra) and also Charmishta, daughter of Vrshaparva, a highly respected feudal lord, an asura ruler. Usanas (Sukra) has been accused of having promoted the interests of feudal lords (asuras) and militants (rakshasas) against liberal aristocrats (devas) and commoners (manushyas). His version of political science recommended adoption of a harsh policy by states.
The chronicler notes that Yadu and Turvasu were born to Devayani and Drhyu, Anu and Puru to Charmishta. In other words, Yadu and Turvasu were sober and gentle by nurture while Drhyu, Anu and Puru were aggressive and cruel. Yadavas (among whom Krshna was one) claimed to be descendants of Yadu, while Pauravas (among whom Janamejaya was one) claimed descent from Puru. According to this chronicler, Janamejaya was born to Puru (son of Yayati) by a princess of Kosala. [It may be noted that Bhagiratha was a ruler of Kosala and Lakshi whom Dushyanta married was his daughter. Janamejaya was the son of Dushyanta and Lakshi.]
Ch.63 Adiparva presents a mind-boggling picture of the rulers who succeeded Janamejaya and their conquests. It is not advisable to treat them as forming a single lineage. They must have been members of an oligarchy that took over on Janamejayas exit from the scene. According to this chart one Riksha married Jvalanti, a daughter of Takshaka. Antyanara, the governor of a border region seems to have been a scholar. (Sarasvati, Goddess of Learning, is said to have married him.)
Ilila was the son of Antyanaras successor, Trasnu, by a maid who lived beside the river Kalindi (Yamuna). Dushyanta was the son of Ilila. The chronicler agrees that Dushyanta had two wives, Lakshi, daughter of Bhagiratha and Sakuntala, daughter of Visvamitra. Instead of declaring Janamejaya as the son of Dushyanta and stepbrother of Bharata, this chronicle declares him to be the son of Puru.
The chronicler takes pains to defend Sakuntala's claim that Bharata was her son by Dushyanta. As he was required to bear the responsibility for the birth of that son, the latter was known as Bharata, the chronicler says. He then proceeds to give a chart of the successors of Bharata. These too were members of an oligarchy that took over power as Bharata retired. Among the members of this oligarchy we come across Hasti who built the city of Hastinapura. Obviously, Pururavas, Ayu, Nahusha, Yayati, Puru, Ilila, Dushyanta and Bharata did not rule from Hastinapura. We do not know where their capitals were.
Ajamidha who is claimed to be an ancestor of Yudhishtira was an influential member of this oligarchy. He was considerably senior to Bharata. His gentleness led the chroniclers to claim that his mother was a Yadu or Yadava. Samvarana (an enemy of Bharata) is said to be a son of Ajamidha. Samvarana (who was exiled by Bharata) married a princess of the southern Tapati region. Kuru was the son of Samvarana and Tapati. Parikshit is claimed to be a descendant of Kuru. In fact, he was a son of Kuru. Bhimasena is claimed to be a son of Parikshit. It is likely Bhimasena was a protg of Parikshit and had married a princess of Kekaya.
The chroniclers are seen to be confused here. Pratipa, father of Santanu, Devapi and Bahlika was the son of one Parisravas. [This was not the son of Bhimasena. That Parisravas like Parikshit might have been given to morbidity.] Pratipa who might not have been a great warrior had married a daughter of Sibi, a prominent ruler of forestmen. Sibi was noted for his kindness to birds and to all beings in general. Santanu must have been nurtured to be compassionate like Sibi. Devapi had gone to the forest (that is, had been exiled) even when he was young. There is no report about what happened to Bahlika.
Devavrata, also known as Bhishma, was born to Santanu by Ganga, daughter of Bhagiratha. In order to help his father to marry his ladylove, Satyavati, Bhishma consented to accept her as his mother (stepmother). Dvaipayana was born to her by Parasara when she was yet unmarried. Chitrangada and Vichitravirya were the two sons born to her by Santanu. A Gandharva killed Chitrangada soon after he succeeded Santanu to the throne.
Vichitravirya and the Pandavas
Then Vichitravirya took over the kingdom. He married Ambika and Ambalika, two daughters of the king of Kasi. As he fell ill before any child was born to him Satyavati requested her son, Dvaipayana to procreate for him an offspring. Dvaipayana agreed and procreated for him three sons, Dhrtarashtra, Pandu and Vidura. This chronicler suppresses the fact that Viduras mother was but a maidservant (dasi). He also does not dwell on why the claims of Bhishma to the throne were ignored. He does not state who among the three sons was eldest. We have to presume that Dhrtarashtra was held to be elder to the other two sons.
Once again we are made to wonder what role Vyasa played in obtaining for him hundred sons by Gandhari. She must have consented to marry Dhrtarashtra, the blind prince of Hastinapura on the condition that she was permitted to bring a large retinue (of one hundred persons) from her native land, Gandhara and that he would treat them as his sons. Only Duryodhana, Duhsasana, Vikarna and Chitrasena were her sons.
Pandu had two ladies, Kunti and Madri. The chronicler seems to imply that they were wives only for ornamental purposes, that is, to meet the statutory obligations. He might never have had sex with them. Pandu was said to have once hit a stag with his arrow when it was having sex with a deer. The stag, that is, a sage who spoke for the stag told Pandu that the latter would meet a similar fate. Pandu is said to have avoided sex fearing that he would die while copulating. As it was said that one who had no offspring was not eligible to be admitted to the holy worlds (punyalokas) he requested his wife, Kunti to bear sons for him (by other men).
Kunti then gave birth to Yudhishtira by Dharma, to Bhima by Vayu and to Arjuna by Indra. These were officials on his ministry and had the status of devas (nobles) or devatas. Dharma had the status of devata, a rank marginally lower than deva. Madri gave birth to the twins, Nakula and Sahadeva by Asvinidevas. Kunti had advised her to follow her method of niyoga. Niyoga was treated as a sacred procedure, vrata, meeting the desire of the husband. It was copulation without seeking sexual pleasure and without experiencing orgasm.
Pandu copulated against medical advice with Madri who had decked herself, leading to his (suspected) death. Madri died on his funeral pyre (?). She requested Kunti who was senior to her to look after her sons, Nakula and Sahadeva. Accompanied by sages she escorted the five Pandava brothers to Hastinapura where she reported to Bhishma, Dhrtarashtra and Vidura how Pandu had passed away.
The chronicler accuses Dhrtarashtra of having plotted to burn down the Pandavas and Kunti with the palace built of lac. He says that Vidura rescued them. Purocana does not figure nor does Duryodhana in this plot. This account refers to how Bhimasena killed Hidimba and married Hidimba and procreated a son, Gatotkacha on her. But it does not refer to Hidimba as a rakshasa or mention the relation between him and Hidimba. It refers to their arrival at Ekachakrapura but not to Bhimas exploit there.
The Pandavas went to Pancaladesa and gained Draupadi in the svayamvara (competition). After returning to Hastinapura they received half the kingdom (rajyam) and resided in Indraprastha. There is no reference to who built that town and where and how Duryodhana was teased in the hall constructed there. This account refers to the other wives of the Pandavas including Subhadra, sister of Krishna. These marriages secured for them the support of other states like Kasi, Cedi and Madra and the cadres like yadavas, nagas and gandharvas. The chronicler states that the Pandavas had thirteen sons by their wives including five by Draupadi and Abhimanyu by Subadhra.
Monogamy, Polygamy and Polyandry
Every one of the Pandavas had at least two wives. Monogamy was not the norm. The chronicler refers to the marriage between Abhimanyu and Uttara, daughter of Virata, and her becoming pregnant. According to him, Kunti on the advice of Krshna decided to transfer to her own womb the dead foetus. She hoped that the foetus would be revived! Krshna wished that the commoners (bhumi) would bring the child up as truly born to Abhimanyu. There is no mention of Asvattama trying to kill that six-month old foetus and Krshna protecting it with his Chakra. He seems to have touched it with his foot while transferring it to Kuntis foetus. Such transfers were not uncommon.
This account seems to take note of the then prevalent rumour among the nobles and others that Parikshit was accepted as the protg of Kunti and came to the fore after the entire clan (kula) of Kurus had been destroyed (kshina). Parikshit was presented as the son of the famous warrior, Abhimanyu by Uttara. The chronicler claims that he was named so by Subhadra. He also claims that Janamejaya was the son of Parikshit. This entire story about how Parikshit was born and how he succeeded the Pandavas is a later interpolation and is not to be given credibility.
Uparicara Vasu and Indra of Cedi
The later chronicler claims that Satyavati was indeed a daughter of Uparicara, the famous ruler of Cedi. Uparicara, according to him was chaste and never gave up the rules of dharma or studying the Vedas. But he was however given to hunting. This ruler (raja) who increased the Puru lineage captured the beautiful country of Cedi at the instance of its Indra. It must have been then without a head of the state. He had then given up arms and was living in a forest resort and performing tapas (that is, indulging in academic research).
Indra and other members of the house of nobles (devas) held that this research (tapas) had made Uparicara fit for the post of Indra. They requested him to become free from that exercise (quest of the unknown) and return to protect the commoners (manushyas). They pointed out to the king that the system of dharma among the commonalty (bhumi) should not falter and that as king he should institute it so that the system of dharma would be holding up all the social worlds (lokas). [This principle is incorporated in the Manusmrti.]
Manusmrti has prescribed study of Vedas, performance of yajnas and offering gifts to others (the deserving and needy) as the duties of those who were assigned to the three higher classes. Earlier all these persons were required to be also engaged in tapas, strenuous search for the unknown, new means and new knowledge. Sibi belonged to that earlier stage when the formation of the three classes of dvijas was intended to lead to the creation of an advanced civilisation that required the members of the educated classes being engaged in academic research (tapas) as the ancient sages were and not be merely docile, duteous and generous.
Indra offered to protect the nobles (devas) and told the king (raja) to protect the commoners (manushyas). This dyarchy implied that the king would not have jurisdiction over the nobles but the nobles and their chief, Indra would oversee that the commoner-king always endeavoured enthusiastically to protect dharma in the social world of commoners.
If the king was engaged in activities prescribed by the socio-cultural constitution (dharma) he would later attain the social worlds (lokas) whose members had secured eternal virtues (punya). The king (raja) who would be in the social world of the commoners on the land (bhumi) would be a friend of Indra who was in the higher social world of independent nobles (svarga).
The opening lines of Ch.64 Adiparva present a picture of the emergence of the new state that retained certain features of the Vedic and early post-Vedic polity in that it kept the social world of nobles out of the jurisdiction of the chief executive of the commonalty. It assigned to the latter the duty to uphold the socio-cultural constitution (dharma), and to the house of nobles and its chief the duty to supervise and extend friendly help to the commoner-king. This king was not a creature of the electoral college of violent rajanyas, which the Vedic king was.
The Indra-Agni scheme by which the Rgvedic core society assigned to Indra control over the nobles (devas) and to Agni (scholar, Brahman and civil judge) control of the commoners (manushyas) and the Indra-Brhaspati agreement of the Atharvan scheme by which Indra (head of the house of nobles) would not act independent of Brhaspati (the expert in political economy) who directed the activities of the commonalty (prthvi, bhumi) with the King as but an ornamental head of the state gave place to the Indra-Rajan scheme.
The annotator of the later times did not have a proper appraisal of the features of the early post-Vedic polity that the chronicler was dealing with. He was not on strong grounds when he attributed the emergence of the new arrangement to the return of Uparicara Vasu to the rural areas of Cedi. The Vasus were connected with pastoral economy rather than with the agrarian or forest economy. Indra advised Uparicara to reside in the predominantly pastoral country, which was also known for its diamonds and jewels. It did not lack food grains.
The commentator notes that the villagers do not deviate from the rules of the socio-cultural code (dharma) and are easily satisfied, that is, they are not ambitious or greedy and are honest. It is implied that the residents of the city (pura) are not so. The cultural cleavage between paura and janapada is highlighted. He also notes that the people of the rural areas did not utter lies even in jest and that sons lived with their fathers and helped the elderly. There was no partition of hereditary property and the system of undivided family was still in operation. It is implied that it was not so in the urban areas that Indra and the nobles controlled.
Indra allotted the king power only over the rural areas where the institution of united family was intact. The villagers did not exploit the weak bulls for ploughing the lands. They fed those bulls (and not kill them). The chronicler claims that Uparicara was a pride of Cedi where the members of all classes (varnas) always adhered to their prescribed duties (dharma). In other words they did not find it necessary to avail of the provisions of apaddharma, conduct permitted when in an emergency. It is likely that apaddharma had not yet been codified then. Uparicara was acquainted with the ways of life of all the three social worlds (nobles, commoners and frontier society, divam, prthvi and antariksham).
He was offered the aircraft that only the nobles used. This was to help him to move about in the open space (akasa). Among the commoners (manushyas) Uparicara was the only person who was entitled to use it. (To be rational, the nobles permitted Uparicara Vasu social ascent without restrictions.) He would be like a noble (deva) in the guise of a commoner. The later annotator adds that Indra offered Uparicara, Vaijayanti, a garland of lotus flowers, which would protect him from injury in battles. This garland that signified fortune and a bamboo-stick that signified his power to punish the guilty were what Indra gave him to make him give up his tapas and return to the country to become its ruler (raja).
The king was given all the privileges and honour that nobles had and was allowed to stay in the city though he had jurisdiction only over the rural areas. Indra and other nobles (devas) dominated the city. In return for the honour given in the city, Uparicara accepted that the commoners of the rural area (bhumi) would honour Indra. In token of this mutual respect, the king would be permitted on a specific day to enter the city with the rod.
It meant that the king had sovereignty over the entire paura-janapada though he had effective control over only the rural areas (desa or rashtra or rajyam) and not over the capital, which would be under the control of the nobles and their chief, Indra. The annotator says that other kings still follow this precedent that Uparicara set up. Then there follows a description of the Indra festival that brought the urban areas and the rural population closer. The question of who between the king (Raja) and Indra was superior is not to be construed as an issue of whether the king or God was superior to the other.
Uparicara Vasu who adopted this new Rajarshi constitution by which the nobles governed the capital and the king the rural areas emerged as a great emperor nominating his five sons as viceroys of the regions that he conquered. He enjoyed the support of the gandharvas and apsarases who did not belong to either the cadres of nobles or to the commonalty and who formed a social universe (jagat) of free intellectuals.
As he moved among the higher ranks (divam and akasa), the aristocrats and free intellectuals of the society, he was called Uparicara, the annotator explains. Uparicara was, however, a vasu, owning pastoral lands He came across a youth and his sister in a mountain valley and appointed that lad as his general and took his sister as his wife. According to the story, the semen which was to be lodged in her womb was in fact lodged in the body of a fish and that a boy and a girl were born to it.
Uparicara, Satyavati and Parasara
A rational interpretation would be that Uparicara was sent for hunting by his elders when he was whiling away his time in the forest (as a rajasreshta, as a ruler who conducted himself like a rich plutocrat of the forest areas). He was deprived of the company of his wife and fell for a fisherwoman who conceived these two children for him. He handed over his daughter to a fisherman for bringing her up. Satyavati was thus brought up as a girl smelling fish. Parasara, son of the sage, Sakti, was attracted to this daughter of Vasu who was plying a boat on behalf of her godfather.
According to the chronicler Parasara knew everything about her past (lives) and she was surprised to hear them. He told her that she had never seen her actual parents and had desired that she should be treated as the daughter of Vasu, a son of Manu. The annotator explains that the seeking to be the daughter of one other than the natural father resulted in the fall in Satyavatis social status from an apsaras to a fisherwoman. This explanation is irrational.
The chronicler asserts that Satyavati was indeed the daughter of Uparicara Vasu and that Santanu was born to her by the Brahmarshi (sage and Brahman), Parasara. In an attempt to endorse the concept of rebirth, the annotator states that one falls from his status as he loses through his error the power and influence he has acquired by his exertion (yoga). The nobles (devas) experience the results of their deeds even when they are in the positions from which they perform those deeds.
But in the case of commoners (manushyas) those results (gains or losses) are experienced only after their tenures in those posts are over and when their tenures in their new posts begin. While the nobles (devas) held permanent tenures (and have hence been described by some as immortals) the commoners (manushyas) were granted only limited tenures in the positions to which they were assigned.
When she was an apsaras, that is, when she exercised the rights she had as a free intellectualist girl Satyavati yielded to Parasara and bore for him a son, Vyasa, who later classified the Vedic hymns into four anthologies. On her accepting the role of a daughter of a chieftain (raja) of the community of fishermen she married Santanu and got two brave sons, Chitrangada and Vicitravirya by him. She returned to her status of an apsaras, a free girl who lived beside water, after these two were born.
The chronicler implies that Satyavati did not stay in the palace of Santanu but retuned to Parasara. But she did not want to stay with him either for long. As an apsaras she was required to be under the guardianship of her father (or godfather) and not get attached to her lover for all time or stay with him in his residence as his married wife. An apsaras was eligible to have sexual relations with a man of her choice and even bear children for him. But she had to remain an unmarried woman under her fathers guardianship. The expression, kanyadharma meant this way of life. [It meant the way of life of one who preferred to be a daughter. It did not mean the duty to be a virgin.]
Was Vyasa, the editor of the Vedas, the same person as Krshna Dvaipayana who sired Dhrtarashtra, Pandu and Vidura? Were these two personages the same as Badarayana who was a member of the council of seven sages of Manu Savarni and outlined the Brahmasutra, the formulas outlining the neo-Vedic socio-political constitution that may be traced in the Upanishads? The chronicler hints that Dvaipayana was born to Parasara after Satyavati rejoined him as an apsaras. She was known to the commoners (manushyas) of the plains (bhumi), as Gandhavati and as one who stayed far away from them. Gandharvas and Apsarases were known as punyajana, people who had done good deeds and as enjoying thereby a good and blessed life emitting good culture (punyagandha, scent of virtue, punya).
Sumantu, Jaimini, Paila and Vaishampayana were the disciples of Vyasa while Sukha was his son also. Vyasa taught them the Vedas. It was Dvaipayana (Vyasa) who had immediate contact with the sons of Santanu and was acquainted with the events leading to the battle of Kurukshetra. Some annotators have claimed for the epic, Mahabharata, the status of fifth Veda. According to the chronicle, Bhishma who too loved Satyavati and perhaps had sexual relations with her was born to Santanu by Ganga. His relations with Satyavati brought him in contact with the Vasus, that is, with her father, Uparicara Vasu, and his powerful sons. These political relations helped him.
Animandavya and Vidura
Animandavya, a great sage who knew the meanings and purposes of the Vedic hymns was once accused of theft when he had not committed theft. He argued that except for harming a bird once when he was a young boy he had not committed any sin or crime. He was shocked that his great contributions (tapas) did not stand him in good stead and were ignored by the official in charge of justice (dharma).
The sage cursed that official, Dharma who had the status of a devata (a rank lower than that of an aristocrat, deva) to be reborn as a Shudra for slaying the character of a Brahman (who was himself entitled to interpret the socio-political constitution, Brahma, as the chief judge). The chronicler says that the official was reborn as Vidura, a scholar who abided by the rules of dharma. Vidura however had the status of a Shudra. To be precise, Vidura as the official in charge of Dharma was lowered in social status on account of his offence in convicting the innocent sage for theft.
Vidura was thereby declared ineligible to function as such official. It is implied that he had held that position for some time. Did he in that capacity have sex with his brothers wife, Kunti, under the rules of niyoga? Did he hence acknowledge his personal duty for Yudhistiras welfare and also by Kunti when she was in distress? The chronicler was aware that the scheme of four classes (varnas) had not yet come into force. There were a few who were qualified to be included in the class of Brahmans but were assigned to lower classes. Vidura was such a scholar. Sanjaya, the reporter on whom blind Dhrtarashtra was an eminent scholar and was equal to a sage but was assigned to the mixed class of sutas on the basis of who his father was. The father was a matador.
Karna is known so as he was reported to have been born with earrings. Karna was born to Kunti, daughter of a Bhoja ruler (who was but a native landlord) by Surya who had the status of a charioteer (suta). Karna was denied the status of a Kshatriya and Sanjaya that of a Brahman and were treated as but equal to Shudras who were not entitled to sacramental rites. Sutas were sons of Kshatriyas by Brahman women according to the scheme of mixed classes. Such a pratiloma alliance was frowned upon. They were treated as but Shudras. Karna was born to Kunti by pre-marital sex and was a kanina. He was born before Yudhishtira was born to Kunti by the official in charge of Dharma.
The chronicler accepts the myth of reincarnations of Vishnu as facts of history. For the welfare of all the social worlds (lokas) that worshipped him, Vishnu (or Narayana) was born to Vasudeva and Devaki (as Krshna). It may be noted here that Vasu was an owner of pastoral lands. As he enjoyed the status of a noble (deva) he was known as Vasudeva. Krshna, his son, was hence known as Vasudeva. His mother, Devaki, had the status of Devaka. It was marginally lower than that of a noble, deva.
Krshna, the internal controller
The later annotator feels it necessary to dwell on the traits of God Vishnu (Krshna) and his purpose in being born among the Yadavas. This annotator would describe him as (an upholder of) the inscrutable and imperishable socio-political constitution, Brahma and as upholding the laws based on basic nature (mulaprakrti) comprising the three traits (sattva, rajas and tamas) and as a flawless individual (atma, soul in common parlance) who is not a member of any social group. He would describe him as a great (mahat) doer (karyaprakrti, executive) and as a charismatic and benevolent chief (isvara) of those who are guilty of egotism (ahamkara) and other faults that prevent them from developing intellectualism.
This chief is an invisible internal controller (antaryami) and the entire social world (loka) is his creation and he has declared that both good and bad deeds (karma) would have their results that are to be borne by the doer. Since this system of work and rewards and punishments has been made applicable to the entire larger society he is known as Visvakarma. Sattva, gentleness is the predominant trait in Krshna. God is also visualised as the form of aumkara, the eternal letter. His greatness cannot be measured by his personal form or by time or by the size of the country where he is followed. He is stable and shining wisdom incarnate.
He is also described as the swan (hamsa) who taught the principles of Brahma to a great scholar. As he gives asylum to all living beings and is the individual (atma) representing all beings at the bare subsistence level (jivatma), he is called Narayana, the free man (nara) who protects from his protected place all who have sought refuge in him. He is also said to be one who has no isvara (charismatic and benevolent chief) superior to him. He is one who supports all.
Krshna's new Janapada constitution
The annotator of the later times describes this high God as one unborn (aja). It may be noted here that in the later Vedic polity, the commoners were described as jana, as those who were born in the local region, janapada, and they were not eligible to move to areas outside that janapada. On the other hand the nobles (devas) were not born in the predominantly rural area that a janapada was. They were free to move in all areas.
As Vasudeva, Krshna was not required to restrict his movements to any particular janapada. He was subtler than the subtle persons, things and concepts. He did not change his natural form (svarupa) as a noble who had risen from the commoners though he might move in different areas. He had no personal attachments and was detached (and was hence a recluse, a kaivalya). He had no predecessor (was anadi) and was Brahma incarnate. In other words, the constitution that he advocated had no precedents. He was ever the same (that is, was not equivocal in his views) and was lauded as the highest social leader (parama purusha), as a creator and the leader of all beings (pranis) at the subaltern (a mulapurusha). Vishnu was born among the Yadavas in order to institute dharma on a stable level. Many of these concepts find an echo in the BhagavadGita.
The chronicler then refers to the birth of Krshnas admirers, Satyaki and Krtavarma who were well versed in all weapons (sastras) and in all codes (sastras). Though he supported the Kauravas, Krtavarma survived the battle of Kurukshetra. Drona was born (in a bowl made of leaves) to Bharadvaja, a sage who performed rigorous tapas. Krpa and his twin-sister Krpi were born to an archer. The powerful warrior, Asvattama, was born to Drona and Krpi. He too survived the battle. Drshtadyumna who later destroyed Drona was born to an official who had the rank of a civil judge, Agni.
It seems that Drona was declared a guilty person under the provisions of civil law. Drshtadyumna was only carrying out the death sentence passed by that official. Agni had recognised Drshtadyumna and Draupadi (Krshna) as offspring of Drupada (rival of Drona). The chronicler seems to imply that Drona was guilty of not acknowledging them as his offspring. Subala, the ruler of Gandhara was the son of Nagnajit, a disciple of Prahlada. Sakuni and Gandhari, mother of Duryodhana were born to Subala. The chronicler blames both Sakuni and Gandhari of having worked for destroying dharma. Gandhari too was interested in the affairs of the state on behalf of Duryodhana. There is no indication that Dhrtarashtra was handicapped in his administration though he was blind.
Dhrtarashtra and Pandu were born to Krshna Dvaipayana by the wives of Vicitravirya. The chronicler rejects the notion that Pandu was a weakling. He also asserts that five sons who were equal to devas (nobles) were born to the two wives of Pandu. Yudhishtira was the best among them in traits (gunas). The chronicler then adds that Yudhishtira was born to Dharma, Bhima to Vayu, Dhananjaya (who was handsome and the best among the warriors) to Indra and Nakula and Sahadeva (who were handsome and served the elders humbly) to Asvinidevas.
The chronicler states that a hundred sons were born to Dhrtarashtra who was intelligent. But he enumerates only ten besides Duryodhana. Not all of them were born to Gandhari. As Yuyutsu was born to a Vaisya mother, he was called a Karana. It may be inferred that Duhsasana and the other ten too had the status of only rich charioteers (maharathis), rathakaras or karanas, officials of the state who were members of the rural bureaucracy. They must have offered their personal services to Dhrtarashtra and Duryodhana.
The chronicler records that Abhimanyu was born to Subadhra and Arjuna and that he was nephew of Krshna and grandson of Pandu, a great person (mahatma). Five sons were born to Draupadi by the five Pandavas. The chronicler refers only to Bhimas son, Gatotkacha, who was born in the forest to Hidimba. He does not refer to any other son of the Pandavas. The chronicler refers to Sikhandi who was a eunuch. Born a girl, he became a great warrior. Thus he mentioned to Janamejaya the names of the important persons among the hundreds of thousands who had taken part in the famous battle of Kurukshetra.
Did Parasara marry Satyavati? The above version of the chronicle included in the great epic, Mahabharata, does not find favour with some scholars. They have held that it would have been improper for Satyavati to marry Santanu when she was already married to Parasara. This objection overlooks the fact that the institution of marriage itself was not present among a vast section of the population, especially among the free intellectuals who included, the mobile groups of gandharvas, apsarases, vidyadharas, vipras, charanas and chakshus.
Satyavati became a virgin again
The fisherwomen who along with their consorts, fishermen, were characterised as nishadas in the scheme of mixed classes, samkaravarnas, were originally treated as apsarases. The argument that Vasishta and other sages, Uparicara Vasu and other elders could not have conducted a marriage between Parasara and Satyavati with all sacraments but without the knowledge of her fisherman father, if it would prove a flimsy bond and would snap on the arrival of Santanu on the scene does not stand to reason.
All that the later chronicler intended to do was to defend the relation between Parasara and Satyavati by introducing Vasishta and Uparicara as witnesses to the union between the two, which was voluntary and did not harm the interests of any one. The arguments that Vasishta had set a bad precedent by his presence there and that the commoners of this world would not have approved of his sanctifying a marriage that was not permissible under dharmasastra are inane. What did the statement, becoming a virgin again mean?
Satyavati was married to Santanu in due form following the then practices among the commoners which required that the consort of the king should have been pure at the time of her marriage. Her alliance with Parasara was suppressed from the subjects of the state. After Santanus death she went back to Parasara suppressing her relation with Bhishma and then with Santanu. From the point of view of the apsarases, which the fisherwomen were, she rejoined Parasara as his companion and not as a widow of Santanu. She had only exercised her rights as an apsaras to have sexual relations with any one she liked and was answerable only to her father. The term, matsyakanya did not necessarily mean a girl of the matsyas who was a virgin.
Some modern critics have taken objection to granting approval to remarriage. It may be true that the codes have not permitted the woman to remarry either after the death of her husband or after being divorced. It may also be correct that there are no precedents to allow remarriage. But this law banning or not permitting remarriage of women is valid only for the commoners (manushyas) who are bound by the codes of their clans (kulas) and communities (jatis) or classes (varnas). [Satyavati was an apsaras, a free intellectual and was not governed by these codes.]
It could not be applied to the mobile population of free intelligentsia (gandharvas and apsarases, vidyadharas and vipras) where the very institutions of marriage and family were absent. These critics have failed to take into account the fact that earlier dharmasastra had jurisdiction only over the organised and settled communities and not over the unorganised free intelligentsia (gandharvas and apsarases) and the independent men and women (naras and naris) who owed no loyalty to any clan or community. The question of the sages (rshis) permitting remarriage does not arise.
Later Manava Dharmasastra opted not to interfere with the codes (dharmas) of the organised clans (kulas) and communities (jatis) and to bring under its ambit only those individuals who were willing to give up their rights as independent intellectuals (gandharvas, apsarases, vipras, charanas, chakshus, siddhas, tapasas) and as free men and women (naras and naris) and join one or the other of the four socio-economic classes (varnas). Of course a clan or a community as a whole might be admitted to one of those varnas. Many communities could not be admitted to them and stayed as mixed classes.
Different types of marriages
The term, Kanina refers to the son of a kanya. As Panini, the grammarian has pointed out Vyasa and Karna were kaninas. Kanya then meant an unmarried girl rather than a virgin. He was her son by pre-marital sex. Unmarried girls were under the guardianship of their fathers and often under that of their brothers. This was particularly true in the cadres coming under the free intelligentsia and free men and free women. Of course, the social codes of the early times when varna system first came into force prohibited the three higher classes from resorting to gandharva, asura and rakshasa types of marriages. No one was permitted to resort to paisaca marriage, which was seduction of a minor girl. Only the four dharma types, brahma, arsha, daiva and prajapatya, were open to them.
Asura marriage (that involved sale and purchase of girls) too was similarly prohibited. The chronicle pertaining to Sakuntala permits gandharva marriage (voluntary union of consenting adults) and rakshasa marriage (marriage by abduction of the girl) only for Kshatriyas. This chronicle was drafted in later times. Whether a particular marriage was valid or not has to be determined on the basis of the section to which the girl and the boy respectively belonged and what type of marriage it was.
Some critics of later times have wondered whether Satyavatis father (godfather) was entitled to give her in kanyadan (gifting a girl as a virgin) to Santanu. Satyavati did acknowledge the parental authority of that fisherman and had his consent when she married Santanu. Kanyadan was not a practice among the gandharvas and apsarases. It was applicable only to girls whose mothers and fathers were both Brahmans (teachers or priests). Even in the case of such girls if they had attained the age of consent (three years after puberty) the fathers were not entitled to take recourse to the practice of kanyadan. Gandharva type of voluntary union of consenting adults was open to boys and girls, men and women of all sections of this population. The social codes (dharmasastras) had to recognise the prevalence of this practice and make it permissible. Gandharva unions did not insist on marriage being permanent unions. They also did not object to pre-marital sex and extra-marital sex.
Did Vyasa (who was born to Parasara and Satyavati) reprimand his mother for her affairs with Santanu? This issue need not be given undue importance. It is not necessary to try to absolve him or his mother only because he was the editor of the sacred anthologies, the four Vedas. His works and discourses need not have been inspired by Satyavati nor had any effect on her life.
The statement that Parasara permitted her to become a virgin again would only mean that he overlooked her affairs with Bhishma and her living with Santanu as his consort and accepted her back when she returned to him after Santanus death. The sage knew that virginity once lost was lost forever and could not be restored. He never insisted on the practice of marrying a virgin. Kanyadana was not a practice among gandharvas and apsarases or among their lower cadres, naras and naris. Fidelity too was not expected of them.
Some chroniclers have stated that Sakuntala and Dushyanta had got married by gandharva methods and that the marriage took place in Kanvas abode, with priests officiating at the sacramental rites. Later critics have questioned this statement on the ground that sacramental rites were not permitted when there was voluntary union and when such union was permitted. No sacramental rite might have been prescribed for validating gandharva marriage but there was no proscription of sacramental rites. Did the two prefer to get their marriage witnessed by the civil judge, Agni and by the priest?
Kanva might have called for such witnesses, as he knew that his nephew was fickle and might disown the girl. The claim that the marriage was solemnised without his knowledge is untenable. Some annotators have suggested that Parasara was eager to have sex with Satyavati after her return but that she did not respond. It may be noted that wanton attempts to establish that yogic exercises performed by sages only increase their urge for sex are unwarranted. Was Parasara in a dilemma on whether to reunite with her giving up the path of renunciation that he had accepted after her walking away on him? Experiencing such dilemma has not been unusual.
The later annotators draw a sharp distinction between the practices of the earlier times as noticed in the Vedas (srutis, works heard and transmitted orally) and those based on Sastras (smrtis, works drafted on the basis of what was remembered among the numerous practices of the past). These annotators have tended to distinguish among the codes of right conduct, dharma, the ones that are based on the Vedas and the ones that are based on the Smrtis, between Srautam and Smartam.
They treat the ways of life, acara, practised by the cultured and civilised persons, sishtas, on the basis of the traditional importance attached to them as different from the two dharmas, the Vedic and the post-Vedic. We may state that these ways of life had not only traditional legitimacy but also rational legitimacy. They may not be declared as invalid on the ground that they do not find approval in either Srautam or Smartam. They were pre-Vedic in origin and may be endorsed even now if they are found rational, useful and honourable.
Prescriptions (niyamas) and Prohibitions (yamas)
The dharmas or duties prescribed by the Vedas for all ranks of the society are generosity (offering gifts), obeying the directions given by the chief domestic (hotr) priest who functioned as the civil judge (agni) and performing sacrifices (yajna) (to meet the needs of the three non-economic cadres of the society, nobles, sages and elders, devas, rshis and pitrs). In the post-Vedic society all these three cadres lost their identity having merged in the four classes, varnas. The post of civil judge, agni, controlling and answerable to the commonalty (manushyas) rather than to the ruling elite (devas), gave way to the post of dharmastha, created by the state.
The code of duties, dharma that had its origin in the last decades of the long Vedic era and was instituted during the early post-Vedic times, as the smrtis recall, proscribed violence, uttering falsehood, stealing, unauthorised sex and attachment. These were yamas. The magistrate, yama, could punish violation of these prohibitory instructions even with death in some cases. [Of course the nobles were not under the jurisdiction of this official, yama.] Purity, contentment, tapas or severe endeavour, reading Vedas and meditation on god (isvara) were the rules prescribed (niyamas) for all. Of course one who failed to perform these tasks was not taken to task by any official but was not held in high respect.
Vedic Dharma and Smarta Dharma
Smarta dharma called in addition for performing the duties (dharma) prescribed for ones class (varna) and stage of life (asrama). Smarta dharma called for belief in the existence of a benevolent god and permitted every one to meditate on a god of his choice and in the form in which he wished to worship. Such deism was not a requisite in the Vedic or Srauta dharma. The yamas and other niyamas were however not all newly introduced by Smarta dharma though they did not feature prominently in the Vedic milieu and in the code of conduct then prescribed for the commoners.
Varnasrama dharma was introduced by Smarta dharma though it was already envisaged during the later Vedic times. The annotator explains that dharma implies what is basic and upholds all activities, aspirations and results and also what does not leave one but stands by him always. According to some teachers what produces happy results is dharma and what results in unhappiness is adharma. They seem to give a hedonistic interpretation of the term, dharma. They were dealing with the types of marriages and what among them could be considered as providing real happiness within the framework of dharma.
Only Brahma, Daiva, Arsha and Prajapatya types were prescribed as dharma types for Brahmans. According to the anti-hedonistic social code, Gandharva type of marriage can never become a prescribed or permitted one (dharma) for Brahmans. Kshatriyas and Vaisyas were expected to emulate the Brahmans. For those who did not belong to the three varnas, Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas, gandharva, asura and rakshasa types (voluntary union, sale and purchase of girls and abduction), too were valid dharma marriages.
This annotator does not state which types of marriages were permissible or prescribed for the Kshatriyas and Vaisyas. They might resort to gandharva, asura and rakshasa types but he refuses to recognise them as prescribed dharma marriages even in their cases. Smarta dharma that came into force during the early post-Vedic times did not permit the educated classes, dvijas, to follow these three types.
It did not recognise svayamvara and rakshasa marriages which the Kshatriyas claimed to be their privilege. The Vaisyas, the higher economic classes, were willing to buy girls as wives to meet domestic labour. This was asura type of marriage and was obnoxious in the eyes of smarta dharma. The common workers, Shudras and the mixed classes many of whom belonged to the frontier society or to the social periphery and were not admitted to the three educated classes would be justified in resorting to them. Paisaca marriage (by seduction) was banned for all.