SANTANU AND BHISHMA
After Bharatas exit from the scene, Samvarana returned to the Ganga-Yamuna basin and took over Hastinapura. But his son, Kuru opted to found a new capital, Kurukshetra, and stay away from all struggles for power. Meanwhile Hastinapura fell to the lot of Santanu who was also known as Mahabhishak, destroyer of a great empire. Pratipa, the father of this arrogant and shameless ruler was connected with the Ikshvakus of the solar lineage. He was however a scrupulous adherent of the laws based on truth. Santanu performed several asvamedha and rajasuya sacrifices to mark his status as a conqueror and a high judge. He could please Indra and get access to the house of nobles. When the latter were honouring Brahma, the head of the constitution bench the nobles (devas) had invited the Rajarshis too.
As Ganga, an apsaras, and a socio-political thinker of the sober Soma school entered the hall, skimpily dressed, the nobles (devas) and the Rajarshis looked downward but Mahabhishak (Santanu) did not hesitate to look at her and admire her beauty. This angered Brahma, the high judge, who dismissed him to the social world of commoners (manushyaloka). Ganga whose modesty Santanu had offended would do unpleasant things for him, Brahma declared, according to the chronicler. But Ganga had become enamoured of that bold king. As she returned from the session of nobles (devas), jurists and Rajarshis and political thinkers, Ganga saw eight Vasus who had offended Vasishta and been reduced to the level of commoners from that of nobles. [Vasus, Adityas, Maruts and Rudras were the four groups of traditional nobles.]
Santanu, Ganga and the eight Vasus
The Vasus requested that she should join the commonalty and adopt them as her sons. Ganga was an apsaras and had access to the nobility. Gandharvas and apsarases ranked higher than the commoners (manushyas) but could mingle with both nobles (devas) and commoners (manushyas). The Vasus opted to be born to Ganga and Santanu. Ganga agreed to do what was acceptable to that king and to the Vasus. The Vasus knew that Ganga as an apsaras could move amongst all the three social worlds, nobility, commonalty and the frontier society (divam, prthvi and antariksham).
According to the legend, the Vasus would be born to her by Santanu but she should throw them away in water immediately after their birth, as they did not want to be in the world of commoners for a long time. She agreed but would allow Santanu to retain one of the children from being discarded. His purpose in uniting with her should not be defeated, she insisted. The Vasus however said that Santanus lineage would not continue in the social world of commoners (manushyas) by that son. That is, that son would function more as an aristocrat than as a commoner. The legends must be interpreted rationally and not discarded as reflective of a society deeply immersed in superstitious beliefs.
Decline in the powers of the ministers Drawn from the landed gentry
The Vasus were representatives of the agro-pastoral population and instead of protecting men and cattle they became greedy and snatched for themselves the cow that Vasishta, a Brahmarshi, looked after. It was an offence against the privileges that the senior judge of the constitution bench enjoyed. As a result the Vasus who administered the commonalty lost their status and privileges as nobles and were treated as but commoners though for a brief period. The Vasus would implement the socio-political policies advocated by the school of thought represented by Ganga, daughter of Bagiratha. But the new administration would have only one-fourth of the powers that the eight Vasus had when they were deputed by the nobility to look after the affairs of the commonalty.
Incidentally, it may be noted that the apsara school of thought reflected in the Arthasastra of Pracetas Manu was satisfied with the head of the state receiving counsel from a single outstanding thinker, Pracetas who would also be in charge of protection of the sovereignty of the ruler, Purusha, while he was on his mission of personal exploits. It was not obligatory to have a ministry of eight Vasus. This was the stand that Bhishma, the veteran statesman, took.
According to the legend, Ganga, as an apsaras, volunteered to marry Pratipa, a member of the oligarchy to which her father, Bhagiratha, belonged. Pratipa who followed the Rajarshi constitution and was a stoic devoted to the purposes of dharma had little interest in pursuit of sexual pleasure. He persuaded her to marry his son and become his daughter-in-law and produce the children that she sought.
Ganga respected him for his knowledge of the provisions of the social and ethical code, dharma, and confided in him her objective and mission and requested him not to let Santanu know about it. As Pratipa agreed she disappeared from the scene. Santanu was certainly considerably junior to Ganga. When she came in contact with him he was a well-educated youth devoted to the principles of truth and well-trained in martial arts, including archery. But he was not a conqueror. By his good works he had won a place among the cadres of benefactors (punyaloka).
Pratipa directed Santanu to accept Ganga without putting any question about her motives if that lady from the nobility approached him. After installing Santanu as his successor, Pratipa retired to the forest. It was an age when the laws based on truth (satya) were in force and the king had to follow them and implement them. The social laws based on dharma were supplementary to them. Santanu honoured both.
Santanu and Rajadharma
Santanu was popular among all the social worlds (lokas) as one who kept his word and adhered to the laws based on truth (satya). As a king he knew and followed the special duties prescribed for Kshatriyas. He took the counsel of his ministers in administration and did not use the state army for conquest. He went as an ekavira (lone warrior) on his exploits and conquered and annexed several agro-pastoral regions (bhumi). He had studied Rajadharma besides other dharmas. His subordinate kings made him king of kings. Rajadharma was in vogue even before Bhishma expounded it to Yudhishtira.
It was an age of peace and security. The new scheme of four classes (varnas) had been introduced in some regions and the Brahmans were accepted as superior to the other classes. Kshatriyas were favourable to them; in other words there was no conflict between the judiciary and the executive. There was no conflict between the bourgeoisie, Vaisyas, and the state controlled by Kshatriyas. Shudras served the Vaisyas who were a united class rather than an aggregate of groups with diverse economic interests. The workers were not drafted to serve the other classes, the Brahmans and the Kshatriyas. The Brahmans were essentially jurists and were not then viewed as a sacerdotal class. Santanu adopted a policy of compassion and banned killing of birds and domestic animals.
He had spent his boyhood in the city known as Hasti. The annotators have treated all rulers of Hastinapura as having belonged to the Kuru lineage. Only the descendants of Kuru who established himself in Kurukshetra rather than in Hastinapura were Kurus. Santanu was patient though he was resolute, valorous and mighty and could be angry with the offenders. He became popular with his subjects (prajas).
Ganga's orientations elusive
Santanu was attracted by the beauty of Ganga but could not guess whether she belonged to the aristocracy (devas) and exercised her right to choose her spouse or was the daughter of a feudal chieftain (asura) and was bound by her fathers dictates. He was not sure whether she followed the gandharva ways, which insisted on mutual consent between lovers or the apsara ways, which allowed polyandry. Did she belong to the plutocrats (yakshas) or to the technocrats (nagas), that is, to the industrial frontier society, which had cultural, social and economic orientations different from those of the core society of the nobles and commoners? Perhaps she was but a commoner (manushya). She seemed to have the status of a devata, marginally lower than a noble, deva. But there was no flaw in her. Hence he decided to treat her as a girl equal to a girl in an aristocratic family (devakanya) and requested her to become his wife.
The famous lady, Ganga, then approached him in his own interest. She had been requestedby the Vasus to unite with him and relieve them from the curse that they were under. She offered herself to Santanu and asked him to accept her as his queen. She stipulated that none including Santanu should try to know anything about her or interfere in her actions or say what she did not like. If this condition were violated she would leave him, she said.
Santanu and liberal plutocracy: Bhishmas training in administration
As his father had approved her, Santanu should become her husband. He had to function as a commoner who was bound by the instructions issued by the head of his family. [Students who protest against the absence of freedom for women in the Hindu family may note that men too were not free. But these restrictions were prevalent only among the organised commonalty and not among the intelligentsia or among the higher social strata.] Santanu was a senior king closer to the plutocrats, a rajasreshta but was not connected with the Bharatas. However Janamejaya was addressed as Bharatasreshta to indicate that he was a prominent member of the Bharatas.
The chronicler, Vaishampayana, was eager to remove the impression that Santanu was lustful, a womaniser. He was a jitendriya, one who had conquered his sense organs, Vaishampayana says. Ganga who looked like a devata (a lady who looked like one of an upper class) enjoyed the freedom that a lady of the aristocracy (devi) had and could move along all the three routes (to nobility, commonalty and the frontier society, divam, prthvi and antariksham) as a member of the free intelligentsia to which class the apsarases belonged. But after her marriage with Santanu she dressed and looked like a woman of the commonalty (manushyas). Santanu as a rajasreshta, a plutocratic ruler, had powers equal to those of Indra and was also Prabhu, the head of the larger society.
The chronicler told Janamejaya whom he addressed as Bharata that Santanu who, rather than Indra and the house of nobles (devas) controlled the national exchequer (rajalakshmi) (as his personal wealth rather than as state wealth, rajyalakshmi) enjoyed in the company of Ganga all the happiness and privileges that were available in the social world of nobles (devas) as well as to commoners (manushyas).
Ganga threw the first seven sons born to her in the river. In other words they were to be brought up in the ways of life of the apsarases to whose school she belonged. They would live on riverine economy moving from place to place. She is not to be accused of having been guilty of infanticide. Santanu refrained from stopping her lest he should violate the social code, dharma, by which she as an apsaras enjoyed total freedom to deal with her offspring as she thought it fit. But he could restrain himself no more when she was about to kill the eighth child. He then broke his word and asked her who she was and why she threw the infants in the river.
Ganga told him that she was the daughter of Janhu, a great sage (maharshi) and one revered in assemblies of legislators (maharshis). [Bhagiratha had sought Jahnus help in taming the river, Ganga.] She told Santanu about her promise to the Vasus who were nobles and how he was selected as the medium best fit in the commonalty (bhumi) for their regaining the status of nobles. No woman in the commonalty could be a mother of these boys who would evolve in due course as nobles (devas). She asked Santanu to protect and bring up the eighth son who had the power of all the eight social administrators in charge of wealth, the Vasus. She named him as Gangadatta, one given by Ganga. She predicted that he would make his clan famous and would accomplish tasks not possible for ordinary men (manushyas).
Santanu wanted to know who the sage of the water (apava) was because of whose curse the Vasus were born in the womb of a commoner (manushyas). What was their offence that led to that curse? What had that boy done that required him to stay back in the social world (loka) of the commoners (manushyas)? How were the Vasus who were benevolent chieftains (isvaras) of all social worlds (lokas) born to commoners? [The annotator of the later times was not carried away by the legend that they were all born to Ganga and Santanu.]
The new liberal administrators had been drawn from the ranks of the commonalty while the earlier ones represented all the social worlds and were drawn from the nobility. While seven of these Vasus followed the training given by the apsara school to which Ganga belonged the eighth received training in that school of thought and also in the traditional system followed by Santanu and later in the school of Pracetas. Bhishma was the eighth Vasu.
Addressing Janamejaya as Purushasreshta (a prominent dynamic leader) the chronicler recalled what Ganga, daughter of Sage Jahnu, told Santanu. She addressed Santanu as Bharatasreshta, indicating that he had inherited the lands that were earlier with Bharata, but was senior to Bharata. She told him about Vasishta whose father had held the position of Varuna (Apa, water in common parlance) in the Vedic polity. Vasishta had his abode on the slopes of the Himalayas. He had with him a cow whose milk he used in his sacrifices. It moved about without fear in his grove. Once Prthu and other Vasus and other nobles (devas) and their ladies visited that grove. One of the ladies pointed out that cow, Nandini, to Dhyo, one of the Vasus.
Dhyo told his wife that a man who drank its milk could live for several thousand years without losing his youth. She wanted her husband to bring that cow with its calf for her friend, a daughter of Rajarshi Usinara. To please his wife, Dhyo, along with Prthu and other Vasus took it away. When Vasishta noticed the absence of his favourite cow he cursed all the Vasus that they would be born as commoners. The Vasus returned to seek his pardon. He told them that after staying one year in the world of commoners they could return to their earlier status. Vasishta pardoned all except Dhyo who he said would stay in the social world of commoners (manushyas) for a long time.
Dhyo would however be childless. But he would have mastered all sastras and be a follower of dharma. He would be a celibate, giving up sex. [It is claimed in the chronicle that it happened so, as Vasishta had said so and his words never went wrong.] Ganga explained that she threw the Vasus in the river only at their request. She claimed that she did so to free them from the world of the commoners (manushyas) and that it was just and proper. She was defending herself against the charge that it was merciless infanticide. Addressing Santanu as rajasreshta, a prominent king, Ganga said that Dhyo would stay in the social world of commoners for a long time (away from the attractions of the palace) and would return to him (as Devavrata).
Meanwhile he would be under her training, she implied. Bhishma belonged to the school of Ambhas patronised by Ganga. She too would return to him whenever he invited her. She disappeared with the boy, known also as Gangeya. He was superior to Santanu in every respect. Santanu returned from the forest to the town after this mysterious experience. The chronicler states that the traits and exploits of Santanu who belonged to the Bharata lineage form the impressive history of Mahabharata. Instead of emphasising the exploits of Bharata, the epic dilates on the careers of Santanu and his successors.
Santanu and the age of transition
It may be easy to pass by several passages in the epic as poetic exaggeration. But it is not easy to explain the shifts in emphases that we come across at every stage while dealing with issues of social and political importance. Santanu a Maharaja who had several minor kings paying tributes to him was well educated and was honoured by the nobles, kings and sages. We cannot say the same about rulers like Dushyanta who lacked the support of the nobles (devas) and sages (rshis).
Santanu was devoted to the principles of dharma and also to the laws based on truth (satya). He belonged to the age of transition from the puritanical laws that upheld satya to the liberal laws, dharma, of the later Vedic times that tried to accommodate diverse orientations of the larger society. Conquest of sense organs, generosity, patience, intellect, humility, valour and domineering marked the traits of this prominent social leader (purushasreshta). He was an expert in the interpretation of social and moral laws (dharma) and in political policy (rajaniti). It was a stage when dandaniti and arthasastra and even dharmasastra texts had not yet come into vogue. But there were other works that dwelt on the themes later developed and systemised and incorporated in these works. He had the ability to protect the Bharata lineage and also all the subjects (prajas). [The epic also notes that not all were his admirers.]
According to the chronicler, the disciplined conduct of that famous king made the commoners believe strongly that pursuit of morality and ethics (dharma) was superior to the pursuit of happiness (kama) and wealth (artha). This orientation and preference has marked the functioning of all sane and good societies. The chronicler told Janamejaya who too was a prominent member of the Bharatas that Santanu was by nature of a high moral standard. He was eager to cut down the impression that like most kings Santanu too was after wealth, women and sex.
No other king, according to the chronicler, equalled Santanu in his devotion to dharma. He strictly adhered to the social and moral codes based on dharma and was the best among the kings who protected dharma. Those kings honoured him as Rajaraja. With Santanu at the head of the polity, those kings were able to breathe freely and stay fearless, unworried by troubles. They slept comfortably but were also alert and aware of their duties. The kings who were subordinate to Santanu who was equal to Indra in prowess offered gifts and performed sacrifices. In other words, they did not resort to exploitation of the people.
Santanu's a social state, not an economic state
The state and its head were recipients of gifts (dana) from the junior kings and voluntary contribution (as yajna) by the subjects (of one-fourth) from their earnings. Most of these kings were in fact administrators of discrete units of the state. Neither the system of forced surrender of earnings as bali nor the system of taxes, kara, was in force then. Santanu belonged to the final decades of the long Vedic era when the state administration was kept in place through voluntary contributions collected by the officials from the commonalty.
His was not an economic (artha) state claiming a prescribed share as tax (kara) from the earnings of the people or a feudal state coercing (danda) the people to part with (bali) a large portion of their earnings but a social state (dharma) accepting whatever little that was offered (dana) voluntarily (yajna). When the social world (loka) of commoners was protected by kings who were in fact administrators functioning under the overlord, Santanu, the scheme of four classes (varnas) was introduced. For all the classes the instituted respective duties and rights (svadharma) were treated as the best to be followed. In other words, one should not follow the duties meant for other classes.
The hierarchical arrangement required the Kshatriyas, the members of the executive and the army to nurse and tend (susrusha) the Brahmans, teachers and jurists, and the Vaisyas, the traders and the landlords to follow the instructions given by the executive (Kshatriyas). The Shudras (workers) should serve the Vaisyas and be friendly with the Brahmans and the Kshatriyas. Shudras were not the personal servants (dasas) of Brahmans and Kshatriyas. The proletariat was advised to treat the judiciary and the executive as its friends while it functioned under the bourgeoisie and the landed gentry.
The social state (dharmarajya) did not claim any right to the services of the (agrarian as well as industrial) proletariat whether organised or not. Unlike the feudal state, far from denying the workers any rights and exploiting them the social state ensured that they were not exploited by their employers, the landed gentry and the bourgeoisie.
Santanu stayed in Hastinapura, the capital of the Kauravas and ruled the entire plains (bhumi) up to the seas. He was equal to Indra in status and knew the socio-cultural laws (dharma) that were then on the anvil and did not depart from the laws based on truth (satya) of the later Vedic times. There was no contradiction between what he was and what he appeared to be (that is, a truly kind king). As he was generous and adhered to righteousness and exerted in performing his duties perfectly he secured huge wealth.
Five Decentralised Sectors under
Chandra, Surya, Vayu, Yama, Prthvi
He performed his duties dispassionately whenever he was required to carry out the duties of Chandra (who had to be gentle and have a pleasant appearance), or those of Surya (who had to be severe and harsh in enforcing his authority), or those of Vayu (who insisted on expeditious performance of duties), or those of Yama (who would be angry with those who violated the prohibitory orders) or those of Prthvi or Bhumi (who would bear patiently all responsibilities and hardships), the heads of the five socio-political sectors. The post of Indra had been taken over by Santanu who was according to the socio-political legislation (dharma) then in force Maharaja exercising control over the rajas, assertive heads of departments and regions.
All the ministers who wore the Vedic designations functioned directly under the king. The Atharvan king (raja) was a mere titular head of the state with Indra heading the all-powerful eight-member ministry. Santanu had the treasury and the army under his control after easing out Indra. As Indra he could preside over the house of nobles (devas). He might even take over the duties of the other ministers also when necessary as he was a trained administrator.
The expanded neo-Vedic social polity had a smaller administrative board. Soma was an intellectual representing the frontier industrial society of the forests and mountains (antariksham). Surya controlled general administration including collection of revenue. Vayu looked after the dispersed and unorganised and unsettled population of the open areas (akasa) most of which were at the bare subsistence level. Prthvi represented the autonomous commonalty (manushyas) of the agro-pastoral plains. Yama looked after the affairs of the magistracy and ensured that violation of prohibitory orders was punished.
Kings Powers and Centralised Sectors: Indra, Agni, Varuna
Vaishampayana was briefing Janamejaya on the different roles that the king of the later Vedic times had to perform. Santanu appears to have retained with him the powers of Indra, Agni and Varuna and directly controlled the treasury, the civil judiciary and the authority to punish those who did not fulfil their legal and constitutional obligations.
Brahmanadharma, the legislation under the constitution
When Santanu was ruler over the commonalty, both domestic and wild animals and birds were protected from harassment. The legislation based on the Atharvan constitution was called Brahmanadharma. [This expression did not mean duties and rights of Brahmans as teachers and priests.] It guaranteed equal protection to all beings, whether human or non-human, that came under the jurisdiction of the state (rajya).
Manava Dharmasastra acknowledged that the constitution, Brahma was superior to the executive (the state) and to the legislation, dharma. But during the times of Santanu, the distinction between constitution and legislation was absent. Santanu as the head of the state retained in his hands the authority to interpret both of them and he governed his empire without the aid of the house of nobles. Santanu was not after the pleasures of the senses. Even when he was but a youth he conducted himself in a dignified manner and had considered views on all issues of the state and was also brave.
This social constitution required that the people should contribute through sacrifices (yajna) for the maintenance of the three non-economic cadres, nobles (devas), sages (rshis) and the elders (pitrs). The king ensured that the people maintained the three cadres. [It is not sound to interpret that devayajna, rshiyajna and pitryajna meant performance of rites known as agnihotra, studying and teaching Vedas and performing annual sraddha sacrifices.]
It is not to be construed that Santanu was required to implement the provisions of a puritanical constitution. Brahmanadharma was against unauthorised killing of any living being. It required that all beings, human and non-human, who had no guardians and who were weak, should be protected by the state. The king was to conduct himself as the father of the weaker sections of the larger society. When Santanu, the best of the Kurus was the ruler, all commitments by (words of) the people were honoured. They did not go against the laws based on truth (satya).
All thoughts were tuned to offering generous gifts and performance of duties (dharma). Breeding of cattle was meant for giving them away at sacrifices and was not meant for enriching oneself through possession of livestock. Similarly sex was meant only for reproduction of the species. Brahmanadharma recognised the right to sex for procreation and for continuance of the family and not for sexual pleasure (kama). [This term is not to be interpreted as giving the authority to the Brahmans to impose the provisions of the legislation, known as dharma.]
Satyavati, Santanu and Bhishma
Santanu completed his primary education by the age of sixteen and was a trainee in higher academies for eight, four and eight years after that. Till the age of thirty-six he stayed a celibate and was wandering in the forest. The chronicler is keen to assert that Bhishma (Devavrata) was born to Santanu and Ganga and to present him as the representative of the Vasus. Bhishma who was brought up by Ganga resembled Santanu in appearance, deeds, conduct and education, he says.
The great valorous and aristocratic general, Devavrata, had mastered by then all weapons available to the commonalty (bhumi) and also those not available to them. Santanu could not recognise his former ladylove, Ganga, who presented to him the trained lad. She told him that the lad had learnt Vedas and their branches from Vasishta and was well trained in archery and missiles and was equal to (Sakra) Indra in war.
Bhishma: master of polity and political economy
Bhishma had learnt all the political codes (sastras) that Usanas (Sukra) knew. In other words, the Apsara (Ambha) school of political thought to which Ganga introduced young Devavrata covered all the fields that Sukra emphasised in his dandaniti. He had also mastered the science of political economy (varta and lokayata) advocated by Brhaspati (follower of Angirasa, one of the major contributors to Atharvaveda) who was revered by the nobles (devas) as well as by the feudal lords (asuras).
It was an age when the two rival sections of the elite had briefly buried the hatchets and agreed to follow a common civil and economic code. Devavrata had mastered all the martial arts known to invincible Parasurama. Ganga presented to Santanu, a lad who was a great warrior and expert in political conduct (rajadharma) and political policy (rajaniti). Santanu was required to accept that lad as his son. Bhishma was junior to Parasurama, Usanas and Brhaspati.
Santanu installed Bhishma as crown prince. That famous son of Santanu who gave asylum to all who sought him and accepted them as the subjects (prajas) of the state (rajyam) and was endowed with noble traits, delighted the Purus, his father and the people of his country (desa) with his discipline. Four years elapsed before Santanu came across Satyavati, daughter of a chieftain of the fishermen on the banks of Yamuna. She was plying a boat as directed by her father. As suggested by her Santanu approached her father for her hand.
Rules of Feudal Polity of the Nishadas of the Social Periphery
Nishadas (fishermen) who were on the social periphery were not natives (jana) of the kingdom and had become subjects (prajas) of the new state under certain conditions. The king as an Isvara was to them a protector and granter of certain benefits (boons) agreed upon.
The chieftain agreed that he had to give away his daughter on her birth to a groom, according to his social custom that was protected by the state. The king could take under his protection all unprotected beings including unmarried girls. But the father was eligible to stipulate his own conditions. It would be a contract between the overlord and a vassal under the provisions of the laws based on truth (satya). If Santanu wanted to adopt Satyavati as his wife he should fulfil those conditions.
Santanu would treat him as but a subordinate (dasa) and would give the boon (vara) only after knowing the conditions. He would grant it only if it accorded with the rules. He was not prepared to treat the marriage as an alliance between two political chieftains. The fisherman who ruled the waters (apa) told the king who ruled the plains (bhumi) that only the son born to her (Satyavati) should be installed as king after him (after his death or retirement). Addressing Janamejaya as Bharata, the chronicler told him that though Santanu loved Satyavati intensely he was not willing to grant this boon which in fact was a condition stipulated for the marital alliance.
Devavrata noticed that Santanu was depressed and withdrawn and wanted to know what ailed the king. He would find a cure for it. Santanu sought to rationalise his amour for Satyavati as intent to provide the great clan of Bharatas an additional offspring for however great a warrior Devavrata might be his death in battle would else bring an end to his lineage. According to the counsellors on socio-cultural code, dharma, having only one son was equal to having no son, Santanu argued. According to that (later Vedic) code having only one son was like having only one eye. It is a serious handicap. If the only son predeceased the father, the clan (kula) would be ruined.
The performance of the three duties, protecting the nobles, sages and elders (devas, rshis and pitrs) through agnihotra rites, studying and teaching Vedas and performing annual sraddha rites would not be equal in merit to one sixteenth of that of having an issue. This principle was applicable to all beings, whether human or non-human, to be precise, for all sections of the population whether they were commoners, manushyas, or not. Santanu was drawing attention to the stand taken by Brahmanadharma. (Brahmanadharma was not varnasramadharma upheld later by Manava Dharmasastra.) He had implicit faith in this stand. It is not to be construed as describing the rights and duties of Brahman priests and teachers.
In the social world (loka) of (unclassified) commonalty only one who had a son could discharge the debts incurred by his elders (predecessors). This rule was applicable also to the sages (rshis) and nobles (devas) in the past according to the eternal (sasvata) Veda. In other words sasvata dharma, Manava Dharmasastra, the permanent legislation drew its principles from the eternal Vedas, according to the chronicler. Santanu had a genuine fear that Bhishma might die young.
Bhishma learned from Santanus charioteer that the king was enamoured of Satyavati, daughter of a chieftain of fishermen and that her father had stipulated the condition that Santanus son by her should succeed Santanu as king. Bhishma who knew and followed the then socio-political code, Dharma, (that is, Rajadharma) went along with senior Kshatriyas (administrators) who too followed its provisions, to the fisherman and asked him to give his daughter in kanyadana to his father, Santanu. The practice of kanyadana, giving away a virgin in marriage before she attained puberty was later made valid only for marriages between girls and boys whose fathers belonged to the class of Brahmans. Neither the fisherman nor Bhishma was a Brahman. Besides against the norm he was seeking Satyavati for his father. Further Satyavati was not a virgin then.
The chieftain of the fishermen set up a royal assembly (rajasabha) to receive Bhishma, the crown prince, and discuss with him the details of the agreement. He noted that Bhishma was entitled to produce a son who would continue Santanus lineage. The kingdom should be offered as sulka (marriage fees) if Santanu were to marry her. This was a feudal (asura) practice, which Manava Dharmasastra deprecated. But the reign of Santanu was marked by equal treatment for devas and asuras. The chieftain pointed out that even Indra who headed the house of nobles (devas) would not like to miss that chance.
The Nishada chieftain told Bhishma that Satyavati was in fact the daughter of a great person who was equal in status and learning to the latter. He was referring to the famous king, Uparicara Vasu of Cedi. The Nishada leader claimed that Uparicara (her genetic father) had told him many times about Santanu being a suitable husband for her. She too had told Uparicara that she should get the kingdom (rajyam) as bride-money (sulka). Vaishampayana was drawing the attention of Janamejaya and the members of his court to the dilemma that the Nishada chieftain, Bhishma and Santanu were in. The Nishada leader refused to give her to Santanu, who was functioning under the Rajarshi constitution and was not entitled to give away the kingdom to one of his choice.
Three-member committee for
Choice of successor to the throne
Only a successor duly selected by a committee of three senior authorities (Rajapurohita, incumbent Rajarshi and Prime Minister, or Brhaspati, Raja and Indra) could select the successor to the throne. The chieftain was aware of this provision. But as the father of a girl the Nishada leader told Bhishma that in his mission of marriage there was a serious flaw. There was a powerful enemy who would prevent its success. He was referring to Bhishma himself whose interests would be affected by that marriage. He knew that Bhishmas opponent whether a gandharva or an asura would not be able to withstand his anger. Of course no noble (deva) would like to challenge Bhishma who himself belonged to the nobility as a Vasu.
It was a stage when the members of the ruling class of Rajanyas belonged to one of the three cadres, devas, asuras and gandharvas and not to the commonalty, manushyas. Bhishma should know why that leader, a vassal of Santanu (and Bhishma who had the status of a king, raja) was not prepared to give her in marriage to Santanu who had sought her hand. Bhishma assured the chieftain that Satyavatis son would become the king.
But the chieftain was not satisfied with this unusual step in the matter of the state (rajyam) that Bhishma proposed to take, that is, stepping aside in favour of Satyavatis son. The chieftain pointed out that Bhishma had come there as the guardian (natha) of Santanu and that according to the political code (dharma) he was as a Vasu the overlord (prabhu) of that virgin (kanya) who was separated from her father (Uparicara Vasu) and was entitled to give her away. The enigma is deep. The chieftain however wanted Bhishma to note his word and his action. As it was the nature of one associated with women he would draw attention to a particular aspect. Bhishma followed the laws based on satya and the dharma code. He had in the midst of rajanyas pledged that he would not come in the way of Satyavatis son becoming king. The chieftain did not doubt his sincerity and ability to fulfil that word. But he had doubts about what Bhishmas sons would do.
Accepting that the fears of the chieftain were genuine, Bhishma took a vow in the midst of (the representatives of) the native people (jana) of the state of Hastinapura and in the presence of the sages (rshis) and nobles (devas) and administrators (rajans) present there and calling upon the population of the periphery (bhutas) who were not present there physically but were subjects of his state to note that he had already given up the entire state (rajyam) and that thenceforth he would be bound by the pledge (vrata) of celibacy (brahmacarya). This would be a pledge on the issue of having no offspring. This would meet the fears entertained by the chieftain.
As Bhishma promised to give up his claim to the throne and the duty and right to marry and procreate an offspring and thus cleared the way for the marriage, the Nishada chieftain who was a vassal (dasa) of Santanu agreed to give his foster-daughter, Satyavati, in marriage to Santanu. The kings praised this rare act of sacrifice and the apsarases (to whose cadre Satyavati belonged) of the open space (akasa) and nobles (devas) and groups of sages (rshis) (who belonged to the higher social strata) strew flowers over Bhishma in appreciation of his act. This was a man whom everyone should fear (bhishma), they declared.
Bhishma and the highest officer of the judiciary, Yama
Bhishma then escorted Satyavati to Hastinapura and handed over his mother to his father, Santanu. Santanu as Isvara (a charismatic benevolent ruler) granted him the boon (vara) that until he wished to die, the officer of the judiciary, Yama, who had the power to pronounce death would not have jurisdiction in matters pertaining to Bhishmas conduct. Only with the permission of Bhishma, Yama would be able to take any action. Thus Bhishma was appointed as the highest officer of the judiciary. (It is inane to hold that Bhishma was given the boon to choose the date of his death.) This account does not indicate that Bhishma had courted Satyavati before his father did.
Santanu married Satyavati, daughter of Uparicara Vasu, king of Cedi and foster-daughter of a chieftain of fishermen, according to rites prescribed in the (state) code. Chitrangada was the first son born to them. Uparicara was an intellectual and was noted for his gandharva orientation. Chitrangada too was granted the status of a gandharva, a status in between nobles (devas) and commoners (manushyas).
The intellectuals (Brahmans) and warriors (Kshatriyas) of the later Vedic period were drafted mainly from this class. Chitrangada was an intellectual and had high leadership traits. He was a purushasreshta. But he fell at the hands of another Chitrangada who too was a gandharva. The duel between the two took place at Kurukshetra, it is said. It was a way to settle ones claims to the status aspired for. The claims of the son of Santanu and Satyavati to the lands of the Kurus must have been challenged.
To be precise, the rajanya status that was given to Chitrangada was challenged by the new cadre of kshatriyas who would be independent warriors rather than administrators of the state bound by state codes. It may be noted that the prefix, Chitra and the suffix, Asva were used to denote the essentially gandharva status of the person concerned. Chitras were known for intellectualism and a gentle feminine touch in conduct and pursuits and Asvas for aggressiveness and enterprise.
Vichitravirya was the second son of Satyavati. Though he was given training in archery, the main war-weapon, Vichitravirya lacked manliness as his name indicated. Santanu had passed away even when Vichitravirya was but a lad. Bhishma controlled the affairs of the state as regent after the coronation of Vichitravirya as the ruler of the Kuru state (Kauravarajya). The chronicler told Janamejaya that Vichitravirya ruled the kingdom, which he had inherited from his father and grandfather. It is implied that the new code (dharmasastra) legitimised such succession.
Bhishma functioned as regent with the consent of Satyavati as her son, Vicitravirya, was minor. He could be administrator (karta) being the eldest of the three sons of Santanu. The new code did not recognise the dowager queen as the regent. [It may be noted here that after Vena died sonless his mother, Sunita, functioned as regent until Prthu was elected as king under the new constitution.] When Vicitravirya came of age, Bhishma deliberated with officials concerned about his marriage. [Bhishma because of his vow of celibacy could not be installed as king.]
Different types of marriage and rights of the brides
Bhishma had heard about the svayamvara that the three daughters of the king of Kasi had arranged. They were apsarases and hence were not required to get the permission of their parents for their marriage. To be precise the latter were only foster-parents of the three foundlings and these girls were free to choose their spouses from among those who sought their hands. They would surrender themselves to the heroes who overcame their rivals in the contests arranged. The great general, Bhishma, with the permission of Satyavati (whom he had accepted as his mother) went alone to Kasi to win those girls for Vicitravirya.
Princes from the eastern states like Kasi, Kosala, Vanga, Kalinga and Pundra had assembled with their followers for taking part in the contests. The princesses of Kasi out of respect for the age of Bhishma, son of Santanu who sat alone, kept away from him. The princes spoke derisively of Bhishma and accused him of having taken a false oath of celibacy. Angered by their comments Bhishma took hold of the three princesses and challenged the assembled princes to battle with him. He had to defend his conduct. If he won, the girls would be his and he would be free to deal with them as he pleased.
This introduces a discourse on the different types of marriages then in vogue. The sages (rshis) had stated in the then socio-cultural codes (dharmasastras) that qualified grooms were to be invited and the girls given to them adorned and with adequate wealth. [The chronicler was referring to the provisions in the social codes that were in vogue before Manava Dharmasastra was drafted by Bhrgu and other members of the editorial board appointed by the first Manu, Svayambhuva.] This practice has later been wrongly called Brahma marriage and treated to be the best of the eight types. It was earlier practised by all sections of the population but later became restricted to the intellectuals and the middle class. It was in fact the aristocratic (daiva) type in which endowments were made on the bride to ensure a secure future for her.
The rule of giving (dana) a virgin (kanya) in marriage is not attached to this practice of the aristocrats (daiva). It is however attached to the Arsha (rshi, sage) type of marriage where the groom had to give two cows in return. Bhishma does not use the terms, Brahma and Arsha. He throws this type too open to all. However it was almost on par with the marriages where there was exchange of girls for money. This has later been condemned as asura type of marriage and prohibited.
Bhishma noted that some by their skills impressed the virgins (kanya) and made them give their consent for marriage with them. In this type the girls must have attained the age of consent. This gandharva type has been the most commonly practised one and has been permitted for all classes. Bhishma noticed the incidence of kidnapping girls (virgins) while they were asleep or were under sedatives. This paisaca marriage has been condemned by all the codes. Some married the girls (virgins) with the permission of the parents. There was no selection of the grooms by the parents of the girls or of the brides by those of the grooms. This was known as Prajapatya marriage and had not been approved by some sages.
Bhishma told the assembled princes and others that some married in order to be able to be able to fulfil the duty of performing sacrifices as prescribed in the Vedas. It is not correct to describe this as daiva type of marriage. It was closer to the Brahma marriage where there was no consideration other than acquiring competence to perform the prescribed Vedic sacrifices. This was restricted to a few among the priests.
Bhishma then drew their attention to the Rakshasa type of marriage, which he said the clever preferred. He also noted that princes (rajaputras) praised and followed svayamvara (girls choosing their spouses). [This statement seems to be a considerably later interpolation.] Bhishma however noted that according to dharmasastra (then in vogue) only the bride who was forcibly taken away was the best. He told the assembled princes that he hence proposed to take the three girls away by force. He challenged them to fight and prepare for victory or defeat. But the princes could not prevent him from taking away the three princesses of Kasi to the country of the Bharatas. Only the prince of Salva continued to chase him and fight while the others dropped out. But Bhishma spared his life. Salva went back to his country to administer it in accordance with kshatriyadharma.
Meanwhile, Vichitrvirya was ruling the Kuru land from Hastinapura on the lines of Santanu. Bhishma treated the princesses as his daughters-in-law and as his sisters and in consultation with Satyavati arranged for their marriage with Vichitravirya. But the eldest of them told him that she had already planned to marry the prince of Salva and that her father too wanted that. She asked Bhishma who knew dharma and was in the midst the assembled jurists (Brahmanasabha) to act according to what was just and according to the code (dharma). Bhishma deliberated on the matter and noted that a girl who had been promised to another man or had been thought of for or by another man or had already gone through marriage rituals or loved another should be given up.
With the permission of his brother, Vichitravirya, and after consulting the experts in Vedas, Bhishma who knew the provisions of the dharma code sent Ambha back. He assured Ambha that he would never come in contact with her. Vicitravirya was attracted by the beauty of Ambha but requested Bhishma not to order him to marry her. Bhishma was pleased with his request, which indicated that he was not under the influence of lust (kama). [Vicitravirya addresses his elder brother and guardian, Bhishma as an Arya, as a respectable person. Vicitravirya was keenly aware of the status distinction between him whose mother, Satyavati, was the daughter of a dasa (vassal) and Bhishma who was a free and independent personage, an Arya.]
Then Bhishma, assuming the position of guardian, gave away the other two girls, Ambika and Ambalika (in kanyadan), to his younger brother, Vicitravirya who took their hands (panigraha). Ambha went to the capital of the ruler of Salva and asked him to marry her. But Salva refused to accept her as she had come from the house of her captor rather than from that of her father and asked her to return to Bhishma. She did so and claimed that according to kshatriyadharma as he was her captor he should marry her. But Bhishma pleaded inability to marry her as he had vowed to lead the life of a celibate as one who had conquered his senses (jitendriya). He also refused to accept her as wife of Vicitravirya as she had loved another earlier. Ambha went to the prince of Salva once again and was rebuffed again.
Kshatriyadharma and Marriage by Conquest
The chronicler notes that after spending six years in going to and fro, between Bhishma and Salva, Ambha performed penance for twelve years. This frightened the nobles (devas) for they had not intervened to protect her interests. However Senapati Shanmukha who was later raised to the status of Isvara, a benevolent god and who headed an indestructible army gave her a garland on behalf of the social world of nobles (devaloka) and assured her that the garland would remove the afflictions she was going through as a commoner (bhumi). One who wore it would be the cause of Bhishmas death, he said. Shanmukha (known also as Kartikeya, Subrahmaniya, Skanda and Senapati) was present on the scene then. This intervention by him has to be explained. Some identify Skanda with the great thinker, Sanatkumara.
Bhishma tried to justify his conquest of the princesses on behalf of his impotent brother by distorting the provisions in the socio-political code that treated conquest as kshatriyadharma. He was riding roughshod over the wishes of those princesses and was cruel in the case of Ambha who represented a school of thought that demanded that no woman should be coerced to act against her will or against her personal interests.
Bhishma had not conducted himself as a just administrator. He had shown scant regard for the views of the enlightened liberal nobles (devas) whose views were then put forth forcefully by Senapati Shanmukha. Ambha found that no prince of the kshatriya cadres was prepared to marry and protect her, for she was openly wailing that Bhishma had made dark her present and future. Kshatriya cadres, which belonged to the agro-pastoral commonalty, did not dare to antagonise him and so too the princes,
Rajanyas, who were closer to the nobility (devas) were not ready to do anything that would irk Bhishma. She then approached Yajnasena of Panchala who was a senior member of the Ikshvaku group of kings and was however essentially a Somaka. Ikshvakus have been considered to be followers of Prajapati Vivasvan and Manu Vaivasvata and were known as the solar (surya) group of kings. Somas known as the lunar group stood apart from them. Most of them had emerged from the population of the forests and mountains rather than from the agro-pastoral plains or from the nobility of the core society.
Apsara-Kshatriya cultural code and
Choice of spouse by the bride
Ambha, an apsaras, expected the ruler of Panchala, a province in the Ganga-Yamuna doab noted for its apsara culture to uphold her cause. But he pleaded inability to protect her against Bhishma and enable her to enjoy the rights and perform the duties that she claimed under the apsara-kshatriya cultural code, dharma. It granted the girl the right to choose her spouse and be protected by him and to stay with him as long as she pleased and have offspring by him. She was however not required to follow the rule of monogamy or constrained to bring up those offspring. Yajnasena was not bold to defend these rights that she claimed as Bhishma had different views on this matter. Bhishma's concept of kshatriya dharma asserted the rights and duties of strong men to dominate and the need of the weak including the women to accept that domination. The latter portion was not acceptable to the school of Ambhas to which Bhishmas mother, Ganga, belonged.
Ambha left the garland behind at the entrance to the palace. Drupada a leading member of the oligarchy of Pancala requested her to take it away lest his state should invite the enmity of Bhishma. But she refused stating that hers was not the act of an ordinary human being and that whoever accepted that garland was destined to kill Bhishma in battle. Drupada overlooked its implications while his daughter, Sikhandini, took up the challenge. Sikhandini, like some apsarases, got training in martial arts under a gandharva chieftain, Tumburu. It is likely that this fact had later become a victim of undue eulogy of Bhishma and the fiction that Sikhandi who killed Bhishma was a eunuch whom that general refused to fight with came to take root.
Vichitravirya married Ambika and Ambalika in the presence of Agni. During the Vedic times, Agni was the designation of the head of the samiti, the council of scholars and represented the interests of the commonalty. He was also the civil judge. The procedure of grasping the hand (panigraha) was gone through and it was declared to be a dharma marriage. It was not a marriage motivated by lust (kama) or by considerations of wealth and power (artha). The chronicler treated Vichitravirya as one who had the status of Asvins. Asvins though they belonged to the lower rungs of the commonalty as Nasatyas and Dasas (Shudras) had been admitted to the enlarged house of nobles (devas). Vicitraviryas mother, Satyavati, was the daughter of a fisherman, a Nishada and a vassal (dasa) of Santanu.
The chronicler would remove the impression that Vicitravirya was a coward and hence Bhishma had to fight for him. He claimed that the king was valorous like the nobles (devas). Devas were not warriors though they had to take up arms in self-defence or to defend the weak. Though the married life of Vicitravirya lasted seven years he had no issues. He died of consumption. Bhishma performed his last rites in accordance with the prescribed socio-political code (dharma). He was the administrator (karta) of the joint family. He took the views of the priests and elder members of the Kuru clan and those of Satyavati. He became regent again as all concerned conceded his right as karta.
Kshatriyadharma and rights of wives and mothers
Though according to Bhishmas kshatriyadharma, an unmarried girl did not have the right to act independently she gained rights equal to her husband after marriage and undisputed right as mother after the demise of her husband. Satyavati called upon Bhishma to procreate sons for her son, Vicitravirya, on the wives of the latter. She took into account the kuladharma, the practice prevalent in the clan of the Kurus, while calling upon him to resort to the provisions of niyoga.
It is interesting to note that the concept of rnamukti, liberation from debts and liabilities, requires every man to marry and procreate a son on his wife or resort to other methods to acquire a son who will shoulder this burden, has led to the perpetuation of patrilinear succession to property and domination by the male members of the family into which the wife has married. Niyoga required the widow to yield to her brother-in-law or an appointed person and procreate a son for her husband who had died sonless.
This orientation led to the denial of any share to the daughters in the family assets and to exploitation of the sonless wives and widows. This position was not palatable to Satyavati who was brought up in the apsara orientation of the fishermen, Nishadas. Satyavati herself had plied boats. She wanted that the interests of the two lineages, the mothers and the fathers, should be protected. Vicitraviryas widows should be able to protect the interests and uphold the orientations of their mothers as well as their deceased father.
Vichitravirya was a gandharva like his deceased brother Chitrangada and his mother was an apsaras while his father, Santanu, was a kshatriya ruler. Satyavati would like his issues to uphold this kshatriya orientation of Santanu as well as the apsara orientations that she and Ambika and Ambalika were brought up in. Satyavati would not insist on birth of sons only whether by normal course or by the non-normative methods like niyoga. The rules of kuladharma that he honoured required that Bhishma undertook to procreate a son who would continue the Kuru clan of Santanu.
Vedic laws based on Satya: No promise of social ascent
According to Satyavati one could rise in the social ladder and enter the aristocracy (svargaloka) through good deeds. The gandharvas and apsarases constituted a social world of persons who had done noble deeds (punyakarma). They were superior to the commoners (manushyas) who did only the duties prescribed for them. The laws of the later Vedic era, which were based on truth (satya), promised every one only a long and permanent tenure in his present position. They did not promise social ascent, she noted. Bhishma however adhered to the socio-political laws (dharma). He had classified and compiled the social codes of different groups (dharma) and had studied all the different Vedas and their branches (angas).
Satyavati knew these and admired Bhishmas firm faith in dharma and his adherence to the practices of his clan (kula) and his firm intellectual stand on issues involving dilemmas in executive duties, which placed him on par with Brhaspati and Usanas (Sukra) as an expert in principles and practice of political economy. She told him that she was appointing him to procreate sons for his brother who had died issueless, on the widows of the latter. She claimed it to be an act of dharma. She also asked Bhishma to declare himself as king and rule the country that had belonged to Bharata. She asked him to marry the widows of Vichitravirya.
Dharma and Laws of succession
The social code of dharma permitted such remarriage of widows provided the new husband was a brother of the deceased husband or belonged to the same gotra. This had been allowed in laws of succession that Brhaspati had drafted for property and Usanas for state. He should not allow the souls of the ancestors to go down to hell. Their souls should be saved and lifted to the shore of that river of hell. His kinsmen endorsed this appeal of Satyavati. But Bhishma politely and firmly refused to accept the offer. He reminded Satyavati that he had already surrendered the kingdom (rajya) to her as kanyasulka when she agreed to marry his father, Santanu.
Significance of Bhishmas Pledge
He again took the pledge openly (in front of the assembly) under the laws based on satya that he would ease his control over the three social worlds (lokas) (nobility, commonalty and frontier society) and give up his claims to devarajya, that is, to administrative powers as a noble (deva). He might give up access to the two higher cadres, legislators (mahaloka) and peoples representatives (janaloka) but would not give up his adherence to the policies dictated by the highest cadre of jurists (satyaloka). The other officials (of the larger Vedic polity) like, Bhumi, Apa, Kubera, Vayu, Surya, Agni, Akasa, Chandra, Indra and Dharma might deviate from their duties but he would not, he declared. These posts continued to exist in Hastinapura during Bhishmas regency. Even if the three social worlds were threatened with disaster and even if he were offered the status of a devata or wealth he would not go against his word.
Satyavati realised that he was firm in adhering to his word (satya) and also knew that he was capable of creating three new social cadres (lokas) if the existing ones were lost. She asked him to utilise the provisions of the laws of emergency (apaddharma) and bear the responsibilities of the state that his dayadas had borne till then. She requested him to ensure the continuance of his lineage and do what would please her and his kinsmen and what would be to his good. Then Bhishma told the queen to observe dharma and not to cause the destruction of his clan (kula). The codes of dharma did not approve a kshatriya (an executive) failing to adhere to the laws based on truth (satya), Bhishma declared.
Rajadharma and Kshatriyadharma
For ensuring the continuance of the lineage of Santanu he would cite to her the provisions of the ancient kshatriya dharma. (Bhishmas Rajadharma drew its authority and legitimacy from Kshatriya dharma, the ancient code of administration and protection.) She should consult the learned (jnanavan) and the counsellors (purohitas) who were experts in the laws of emergency (apaddharma) and in political policy (rajaniti) and reply, the regent told the queen mother.
Bhishma who wanted to restore the kshatriyas their status and power, reminded the assembled scholars how Parasurama took revenge for the killing of his father by killing Kartavirya Arjuna ruler of the Haihayas with his axe. Parasurama had for the benefit of the people (jana) performed rare tapas that required strenuous endeavour. To conquer all the lands (bhumi) of the native commonalty (jana) he went about alone on his chariot with his bow and opposed the kshatriyas twenty-one times and rid the plains (bhumi) of all kshatriyas.
When the great sage and legislator (maharshi) Parasurama, abolished the cadres of kshatriyas from the social world of commonalty (bhumi), the kshatriya women of all countries united with Brahmans who were Vedic scholars in order to procreate sons who would protect them. It was then determined in the Vedas that only one who grasped the hands of a woman (by panigraha), that is, the protector, could own their son (putra). Tho Kshatriya women copulated with Brahman men for purpose of fulfilment of socio-religious duties (dharma) and not for sex. Bhishma pointed out that they had witnessed in the world (loka) adoption of such methods of creation of new kshatriya cadres. The kshatriya community (jati) re-emerged after Parasurama had destroyed it.
There were some instances where prominent personages had resorted to procreating sons on wives of others. These were not treated as adultery. One such instance brings into picture Brhaspati who was the counsellor (purohita) of the nobles (devas), his elder brother, Uchatya, and his wife, Mamata. Brhaspati, the expounder of a treatise on political economy, has been accused of having advocated pursuit of wealth and worldly pleasures to the exclusion of observance of morality and ethics. According to the legends, he was enamoured of Mamata when she was bearing Uchatyas son. It was said that this son had mastered all the Vedas and their branches even when he was but an embryo.
Dirghatamas and permission for niyoga
A rational interpretation would be that Mamatas young and educated son, Dirghatamas, stopped Brhaspati from copulating with his brothers wife. Annoyed with that boy, Brhaspati might have blinded that boy who later grew into a great scholar. (Or Dirghatamas might have been born blind.) According to the legend, Gautama was a son of this great Vedic poet-sage. Dirghatamas, an expert in Vedas and their branches and a great individual who knew the social laws (dharma) had learnt from the son of Kamadhenu how and when the cattle were copulated and bred.
He recommended these methods, pasudharma, for adoption by human beings for continuance of their respective lineages and for procreating through select studs intelligent and powerful offspring. The other sages in his school disapproved his theory of genetics and left him. Bhrgu and other sages who drafted the Manava Dharmasastra were against niyoga and condemned it as pasudharma that lowered the level of men to those of animals. They noted that Vena was overthrown because he legalised it.
Dirghatamas and Law of monogamy, ban on remarriage
Dirghatamass wife too abandoned this sage who held heterodox views. He then pronounced the law of monogamy that required a woman to be dependent on her spouse till the end. She would be declared as a fallen woman (patita) if she thought of another man while her husband was alive or even after death. Such pronouncement against remarriage of women was fortified with the declaration that such remarried women would not be eligible for any wealth and that their offspring by their second marriage would be declared bastards. But his wife did not take this pronouncement lightly. She directed her son, Gautama, to throw her blind husband in the river.
Dirghatamas was picked up by a powerful king, Bali, who knew all social laws (dharma). He learnt from the sage how his advocacy of pasudharma and banning of remarriage had led to his isolation. Bali, a Rajarshi, had no offspring. He requested Dirghatamas to procreate for him on his wives, sons who were experts in dharmasastra and rajaniti. But Balis wife did not want to have intercourse with that blind sage and deputed her maid in her place. Kaksivan and ten others were born to that attendant (dasi, shudra) by the blind and old sage. (Kaksivan too became a prominent Vedic poet.)
Dirghatamas refused to treat them as belonging to Bali and claimed them to be his sons for they were born not to Balis wife but to her maid. Bali then ordered his wife to procreate sons for him by copulating with Dirghatamas.
Honouring legislative bodies obligatory for kings
[This Bali was not the son of Virocana. He was the father of the Rajarshi of Anga who was killed by Vena. Vena was accused of flaunting the title, Rajarshi and legalising niyoga, which was but pasudharma.] It is said that the rulers of the eastern states, Anga, Vanga, Kalinga, Pundra and Sumha were the descendants of such copulation. They were held in low esteem.
Bhishma told Satyavati that many great warriors and powerful rulers who knew social laws (dharma) were ones procreated by Brahmans. To be precise the constitution bench of the judiciary whose members were called Brahmans recognised as kings only those persons who consented to honour the legislative bodies that were entitled to grant legal status to the practices of the different clans and communities and sectors as dharma. He asked Satyavati to consider this position before deciding on whom Vicitraviryas widows should copulate with for bearing his sons.
Then he offered to propose the correct step that would ensure the continuance of the Bharata lineage. Vicitraviryas wives should pay wealth to a Brahman who had good traits and pray to him for intercourse with them that would lead to the birth of the desired offspring. This was within the rules of the social code (dharma) and there would be direct relation between cause (karana) and effect (karya). Procreation was not left to chance. It was within the frame of rational steps. Satyavati treated the episode involving Ucatya, Dirghatamas and Anga as a fiction pertaining to the past. But it was but a recent past and not a remote one.
She asked Bhishma to suggest a method that would be valid for her times. The daughters of the king of Kasi were young and were eager to have offspring. She ordered Bhishma to produce children on them but he declined though he agreed that her argument that according to the social laws (dharma) orders given by the mother were as binding as those given by the father. For his pledge to remain a celibate could not be violated, he argued.
While Satyavati argued that, as Bhishma was best acquainted with the provisions of the dharma code and as he adhered to the path of satya, he should do what would best please his clan (kula). Bhishma said that as she was the eldest member of the family it was her duty to find out a way. He hinted that like all women she was hiding certain secrets. He accused that women tried to attract men through many types of deception.
As she was committed to the principles of truth (satya) Satyavati should examine the dharma code and ensure that his clan (kula) would not die away. This forced her to concede that before her marriage with Santanu she had had sex with the sage, Parasara, and that a son was born to them on an islet. He was named Krshna Dvaipayana as he was dark in colour and was born in an isle. Satyavati said that that son could procreate for his brother, offspring on his wives. If Bhishma agreed she would request him to come to their help.
Permission to deviate from norms only once
Bhishma agreed that what she suggested could be resorted to as it was within the framework of the laws of exigency. One had to take into account the three values of life (purusharthas), dharma, artha and kama, and the methods of earning wealth that would be continuously beneficial, resort to a dharma step that would ensure continuous adherence to dharma and pleasurable act that would ensure continued pleasure (kama). One had to also consider the ways, which were contrary to continuance of the three gains and keep away from them. Bhishma insisted that the laws of exigency gave one-time permission to deviate from the norm but required early return to the norms in all the three respects.
Vaishampayana told Janamejaya who was born in the Kuru lineage that after Bhishma gave his approval to her proposal, Satyavati sent for Krshna Dvaipayana who was then engaged in classifying the Vedic hymns. She had not met her son for several years and no one knew about him being her son though Bhishma had suspected that she had a son before her marriage with Santanu. Dvaipayana agreed to fulfil her request. She pointed out that both mother and father had equal rights. Dvaipayana was the eldest of her sons and Vicitravirya the youngest. Bhishma was the eldest of Santanus sons and Vicitravirya the youngest. Vyasa (Krshna Dvaipayana) agreed to fulfil her request as it was motivated by dharma considerations. He pointed out that niyoga as a method of procreation of a son was recognised by the social code (sastra) that had been legislated for all times (sasvata). [Bhrgus sasvata dharma refused to accept it.]
Executive and the constitution: Surya and Varuna
He promised that he would present for his brother two sons who would be equal to Surya and Varuna in influence. In the later Vedic polity, Surya (Aditya) was the head of the executive (kshatras) and Varuna was the guardian of the constitution. Satyavati was anxious that he should impregnate the royal wives immediately as there was no one then to protect the people as king and to regulate their activities. Ambika who was born in Kosala would be the first to become a mother. Her son would have a hundred sons who would protect the Kuru lineage, Vyasa said. Satyavati convinced Kausalya who adhered to the provisions of dharma code that niyoga was a method sanctioned by it and made her agree to submit to Krshna Dvaipayana of whom none would have been enamoured.
Vyasa told Satyavati that Ambika would give birth to a strong but blind son and that Ambalika to a son who would be pale in colour. The latter would have five sons, he said. He told Satyavati that if Kausalya responded properly she might have another son who had no handicap and who would be a scholar in social laws, dharmasastra and in political policy, rajaniti. But Kausalya would not yield to Vyasa again and deputed her maid (dasi) to have intercourse with Vyasa. A dasi who was a bonded labourer became free if she had been required to have intercourse with her master. Vyasa declared her to be free.
Dhrtarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were the three sons born to Dvaipayana by niyoga. Vidura who emerged as an official (devata) of the state, upholding and implementing the provisions of the code of dharma, was a protg of the sage, Animandavya. Vyasa reported to Satyavati how Kausalya had played a trick on him. It appears that of the three princesses of Kasi whom Bhishma brought to Hastinapura only Ambalika, mother of Pandu, was the daughter of the king of Kasi.
Janamejaya was curious to know why Animandavya was crucified and why that official, Dharma, was declared to have been born to a Shudra woman. Mandavya was a Brahman who knew all dharmas. He was resolute in mind and was engaged in penance (tapas). He moved freely in the holy places (tirthas) near villages and lived in his abode there. When he was engaged in tapas and was observing silence, some robbers who had huge wealth with them and were being chased by the guards entered his abode and hid themselves there.
Vidura as guardian of laws (dharma) and Animandavya
The sage was then observing the vow of silence and did not answer the questions of the guards about the thieves. They handed over the sage and the thieves to the king. He was fixed to a spear and left there without food for many days. He invited other sages who too observed silence (munis) while engaged in tapas (strenuous search for the truth about the ultimate) to witness his plight. The sages wanted to know why he was required to suffer. Mandavya told them that he had not thought of harming anyone and that none had harmed him. After some days the king hearing that he was a sage came out with his ministers to where he had been fixed to a spear and requested him to pardon him.
That Brahman (a scholar who knew the Vedas, Brahma, the socio-political constitution of the Vedic times) went to the residence of the official (devata) who was in charge of justice (dharma) and asked him what he had done that justified his being hoisted on the spear as punishment. That official pointed out that in his boyhood he had pained birds by fixing them to sharp spears.
Mandavya and age of legal liability according to constitution
Mandavya said that the deeds of one done till the age of twelve did not qualify to be sins that could be punished, as he was then not aware of the teachings of the codes (sastras). That official had levied a punishment on him that was disproportionate to his minor offence. It had resulted in the character assassination and harassment of a Brahman, an offence more serious than any other offence.
Mandavya was a member of the constitution bench as a Brahman jurist and ranked higher than that official in charge of dharma. He deposed that official from the status of a devata to that of a commoner (manushya) and declared that his son would be (equal to one) born to a Shudra woman. Mandavya declared that one would not become a sinner until he attained the age of fourteen. This limit for legal liability was more realistic than the earlier limit of twelve years. Vaishampayana claimed that dharma was reborn as Vidura, though a Shudra by birth, an expert in dharmasastra and rajaniti. Vidura was the new official implementing the liberal laws.
After the birth of the three brothers, Dhrtarashtra, Pandu and Vidura, Kurujangala, Kurudesa and the town of Kurukshetra began to develop economically. Kurujangala was mainly a forest tract. Kurudesa was the core agro-pastoral area and Kurukshetra its central capital. It is not clear who of these three brothers had jurisdiction over the three areas of the Kuru country. The chronicler notes that the population of the cities was mainly of traders and workers. The warriors and scholars and the pious led a comfortable life.
Institution of Prajadharma: Rights and duties of citizens
Among the natives (jana) of these three autonomous provinces there were no thieves or sinners. It was as though krtayuga when there was no need for a state. The subjects (prajas) of this integrated social polity were engaged in performing their respective duties (dharmas) and sacrifices (yajnas) and committed to the laws based on the principles of truth (satya). It would not be off the mark to state here that the social laws, defining the rights and duties, dharma, of every citizen (subject, praja) whether native (jana) or not, were introduced first in the Kuru land. It was an ideal community based on fraternity of all. The commoners were free from egotism, rage and greed.
Hastinapura, which controlled this new integrated janapada, was a city resembling that of Indra, the head of the nobles. The people of north Kuru and those of south Kuru moved about freely competing with the nobles (devas), sages (rshis) and charanas (scouts, policemen who could move everywhere to collect information needed for administration) for all facilities and importance. They were under the governance of Bhishma who ensured that it was free from poverty and disease and had a rich economy. He had instituted the dharma chakra, the wheel of dharma by which duties were assigned in rotation among the eligible members of every cadre.
Bhishma brought up Dhrtarashtra, Pandu and Vidura as his own sons. They were given formal education both in social codes (sastras) and in physical training and martial arts. They were trained in political policy (rajaniti), history and chronicles and music and in Vedas and their branches and gained knowledge in pragmatism. Pandu was superior to the other two in archery and Dhrtarashtra in physical strength. Vidura had a better grasp of dharma than the others did. Hastinapura and Kurujangaladesa and their governor, Bhishma and the mothers of the warriors who were daughters of the king of Kasi became popular in all countries. As Vidura was born to a Shudra mother and Dhrtarashtra was born blind, they were declared ineligible to inherit the kingdom and Pandu became king. Bhishma then consulted Vidura on the issue of the marriage of his two brothers.
Bhishma felt that they had the duty to ensure the continuance of their clan. He had in view the daughters of Kuntibhoja, a Yadu ruler, Subala of Gandhara and a Madra ruler. They were all born in good families and beautiful and their parents were Kshatriya chieftains with whom the Kurus could have marital alliances. Vidura left the choice to Bhishma as he was like mother, father and teacher to all the three brothers. Bhishma learnt from the Brahmans (scholars and interpreters of the constitution) that Gandhari, daughter of Subala had been granted a boon by Isvara who had gouged the eyes of Bhaga, an Aditya and one of the officials of the Vedic social polity that she would get one hundred sons. Obviously they would ensure that she was not harmed for her act of defending self against molestation by that official.
Gandharva orientations and Isvaras of the periphery
That Isvara gave her a boon might have been a fact (satya) but the number of sons as one hundred could not have been. Isvaras were charismatic benevolent leaders of the social periphery. [Only during the middle ages the term, Isvara, was used to refer exclusively to Siva, one of the trinity.] Subala weighed the merits and demerits of the proposed marital alliance for Dhrtarashtra and agreed to it. Gandhari feared that she might at some stage be tempted to become disloyal to her husband and to protect her duty of unwavering loyalty to husband (pativrata dharma) tied a cloth round her eyes. She would not see anything that her husband could not see and resolved not to speak low of him.
Relations between husband and wife: Gandharva and Apsara practices
She was brought up in the Gandhara (gandharva) orientations that gave equality in status to husband and wife. Her brother, Sakuni, escorted her with due honour to the land of the Kurus. Among the Gandharvas, it was not the father but the brother who was the guardian of the unmarried girl and who gave away his sister to the groom of her choice. This Gandharva orientation required that the wife should treat the husband (pati) as equal to Isvara (ones chosen benefactor). [It has later been interpreted that a wife should worship her husband as god.] It is wrong to claim that orthodoxy required the wife to worship her husband as god. Only a woman who voluntarily married a man under the provisions of gandharva marriage looked upon the latter as her benefactor and protector. An apsaras who married one of her choice did not look upon him as such. Neither did a daiva or aristocratic approach which granted the lady a status higher than that of her spouse.
It is interesting to note that Subala gave his ten other daughters also in marriage to Dhrtarashtra. It seems that they were sent to assist Gandhari who had deliberately assumed blindness. Many of the hundred Kauravas must have been born to these girls. Bhishma, son of Santanu, brought more than a hundred princes from different areas for Dhrtarashtra. There was an attempt to assert that the warriors who stood by Duryodhana, the eldest son of Dhrtarashtra were drawn from the ranks of rajanyas and were not mercenaries drafted from the masses. This contingent had Gandharas at its head. Bhishma must have introduced princes drawn from other areas to contain the Gandhara influence.