THE PRTHU CONSTITUTION
The Rajarshi of Anga and his son, Vena
Vena's reign coincided with the tenures of the sixth and seventh Manus, Chakshusha and Vaivasvata. According to the Mahabharata, he was a descendant of Brahmarshi Kardama. According to Bhagavatam, he was a descendant of Dhruva, brother of the third Manu, Uttama.
Uttama, who was killed by a plutocrat (Yaksha), was said to be a grandson of the first Manu, Svayambhuva. Svayambhuva and Kardama were contemporaries and respected each other.
The Bhagavatam blames Vena's mother, Sunita, for the calamity that took place under Vena. The Pasupata version of the Mahabharata absolves her and faults her husband who was a Rajarshi of Anga.
This ruler was disappointed with the way Vena was brought up by his mother, Sunita. The Rajarshi disappeared from his palace and it was suspected that his son, Vena, had got him killed and claimed that the king had become a recluse.
Both the Mahabharata and the Bhagavatam say that the sages cursed Vena and he died. They used Vag-vajra, pronouncement by the chief of the nobles calling for his execution. After Vena's death, Prthu who was highly respected as a facet (amsa) of Narayana was installed as Kshiti-Indra, the ruler of the agricultural lands, the legends say.
The Atharvaveda lines in Bk.8-10, the Viraj allegory, are based on this recognition of Prthu as Kshiti-Isvara. (Many annotators have failed to notice that the status of an Indra was not identical with that of an Isvara.)
The Bhagavatam explains why Vena, the wielder of Danda, coercive power, as King, was himself awarded the punishment called Brahmadanda by the sages who were scholars in Dharma (Bhagavatam 4-13-22).
Even if he were a sinner, the Prajapati or chief of the subjects or people was never to be insulted by the senior subjects or citizens (prajabhi) because he bears prowess (ojas) and personal grandeur (sva-tejas) (23). Yet this unusual incident happened. The Bhagavatam explains the circumstances that led to the revolt, which has been immortalized in the history of ancient India.
Birth of Vena
The Rajarshi of Anga was childless. He conducted an Asvamedha sacrifice under the direction of the Brahmavadis, socio-political ideologues and activists who stood by the constitution enshrined in the Atharvaveda (Brahma). But the nobles, who were required to be witnesses, kept away. There must have been dissension. Thereupon he performed another sacrifice arranged by the members of his samiti, council of scholars. The nobles were present at this sacrifice and accepted the gifts.
Many scholars did not accept the claim of the Atharvans that they alone were entitled to officiate at the sacrifice that sanctified the regime of the King concerned. Vena was born after that sacrifice. But the people had reservations about Sunitas father who was considered to be irreligious.
The Mahabharata asserts that he was Dharma or Chief Justice of a state and that her upbringing of Vena is not to be faulted. But it does not condone Vena. It was an age when both the seed and the soil were emphasized to ensure that the offspring was genetically and culturally, that is, by nature and by nurture, of a high standard.Vena was later declared a Nishada, a social reject. While some suspected Sunita had not brought him up well, some others blamed Venas father as licentious.
When the Rajarshi disappeared and search became futile, Bhrgu and others who held the welfare of the people (lokakshema) to be the highest consideration said that in the absence of a ruler (goptari, herdsman), free men (nrs) were like animals and that it was imperative to first end the interregnum.
The commoners, manushyas, functioned within the framework of the codes of their clans and communities. But the free men, naras or nrs, were not covered by such social codes. They had to be placed under the control of the state headed by a king. Else they were likely to become uncivilized and behave like animals. (14-1) The Brahmavadis met Sunita, the mother of the Vira (Vena who belonged to the group of Viras, a newly raised cadre of nobles) and without securing the consent of the constituents of the state they enthroned Vena. (14-2) They preempted the other likely moves.
Young Vena bans religious practices
Young Vena adopted a tough policy in administration. The rebels were put down and many hid themselves. He gathered around him a group of eight Vibhutis or chiefs and claimed that he was superior to the Mahabhagas, the rich contributors to the treasury and influential members of the Sabha. (14-4)
The latter who were nobles and traditional aristocrats resented this disrespect and their waning influence. Guided by the Vibhutis, he promulgated a ban on all sacrifices and gifts in charity to the Brahmans. This was a challenge to the priestly order. He also banned in general all religious (dharma) practices. (14-6)
It was atheism and outlawing religion and was not mere Saivaite antipathy to the Brahmans. The Viras were affiliated to the Rudras who were held in veneration by the Saivaites (followers of Siva). The Haris were affiliated to the Adityas who were closer to the Vaishnavaites (followers of Vishnu).
The Sages plan to indict Vena
The annoyed sages gathered their colleagues (satris) and discussed the miscarriage of their intents. Out of fear of anarchy (arajaka) they had consented to the installation of Vena as the King but now the people were trapped between brigands and a cruel King. (14-8)
According to their plan they would first try to persuade him to change his policy. If they failed in this, they would join the public, who were against him from the very beginning. He would be first condemned by the public (lok-dhik-kara) and then the sages would pronounce that he be burnt to death. (12)
The Plea of the Sages and the Threat
The sages pleaded (4-14-13-22 of the Bhagavatam) for restoration of the right to practise Dharma as prescribed. Even a government that follows a policy of materialism or pursuit of wealth should permit these practices they argued. They called for protection of the taxpayer from the cruel ministers (amatyas) and the corrupt chiefs. (Corruption is not of recent origin. It is in-built in bureaucracy.)
They demanded freedom to practise Varnasrama Dharma both in the town (pura) and in the country (rashtra) in both urban and rural areas and the right to perform sacrifices, yajnas, and to accept gifts.
Vena had objected to the immunity enjoyed by Brahman priests with respect to the gifts they received. He had taken the maximum share from the national exchequer and attempted to enrich himself further by taxing the gifts made to the Brahmans and the religious orders.
The followers of Bhrgu demanded an end to the exploitation of the taxpayers. They extended a concealed threat of refusal to pay taxes if he did not heed their advice, while they offered the support of the Brahmans and the nobles (Devas) among others, if he conceded their demands.
Vena countered that what the sages claimed to be dharma was indeed adharma. (14-23). [This claim is not to be interpreted as one accusing the sages of promoting an irreligious act of sedition.] He wanted the jurists, Brahmans, to accept that the King was an Isvara in the form of a Nara.
[This claim has later been interpreted to mean that the King is God in human form and has to be worshipped and never questioned or disobeyed by the subjects.]
In fact, the chronicler meant that the King was a rich charismatic leader (Isvara) who conducted himself as a free man (nara) and like the naras was not bound by the codes of any clan or community or class, kula or jati or varna. But the jurists (Brahmans) refused to concede the claim that he was not bound by any social code.
He claimed that as a chief of free men (nrs, naras) he was the embodiment of the will of all the nobles (sarvadevamayanrpa). He demanded that the first sacrifice should be paid to him. In other words, the King of free men (nrs) had taken over the roles of all nobles (devas) and hence it was no longer necessary and permissible to offer the first sacrifice to the order of nobles. [It is unsound to interpret that the king though a man had the powers of all the gods.] Vena had abolished the assembly of aristocracy.
The Indictment, Vag-vajra
The traditional system required that sacrifices be offered to nobles (devas), sages (rshis) and elders (pitaras) for getting any action consecrated. [Devas were not Gods. They were also human beings but were superior to the commoners who looked up to them for protection and help.]
Vena claimed that he had taken over the roles of all the nobles and dissolved that cadre. Hence whatever was in the past paid to the nobles should now be paid to the King who would protect the interests of all free men.
This claim enraged the Brahmans and they declared him to be unholy and called for his being killed, before he burnt others (14-31). They declared that he was unfit to sit on the throne given to him by free men (naras) and the nobles (devas).
The ruler had to secure the support of both the nobles (devas) and the commoners (manushyas, prthvi, vis) if he were to be treated as having rational legitimacy.
The commonalty was formed of clans and organized communities. They did not permit any of their members to exercise his individual will and required him to toe its own stand. But the naras who were not bound by their families or clans or communities could exercise their right to grant legitimacy to the rule of the king.
Vena claimed to be a ruler who had the support of such free men. But in reality these free men were his subordinates and were manning the state bureaucracy and could not speak against him.
Vena lost his legitimacy when he abolished the aristocracy which ranked superior to the king and ignored the organized commonalty and began to rule with the aid of his docile subordinates who he claimed were free men, naras. Vena had distorted the polity and lost the legitimacy to sit on the throne.
The angry and strong pronouncement of the sages is called Vag-vajra, the utterance (vag) that is as powerful as the vajra (hardened spine used as weapon by Indra).
It is the punishment (Brahmadanda) declared by the jurists (Brahmans) to be valid. It was the punishment prescribed in the Atharvan (Brahma) constitution for a serious violation of its provisions.
[It would be wrong to interpret that the Brahmans who belonged to the sacerdotal class interfered in secular polity and called for the death of the King. They were Atharvan jurists and were members of the constitution bench.]
Vena was burnt to death. His half-burnt body was preserved for some time (by a scientific process, vidya-yojena) by Queen Mother, Sunita.
The Conflict was essentially Economic
The Brahmavadis who advocated Dandaniti, the policy of coercive power, as outlined by the school of Usanas did not object to Venas secularism.
He does not seem to have interfered with the religious practices prevalent in the rural areas (rashtram) but had banned them only in his capital (pura), which was dominated by the rich, the Mahabhagas, the aristocrats. They had resisted his utilizing the funds from the exchequer for his personal purposes.
Vena's ban on gifts was more out of financial considerations than out of opposition to religion per se. The income of the Brahmans from gifts received and the expenditure incurred by others on gifts to the Brahmans were both exempt from taxes. He did not want to leave these gifts out of the tax net. Vena realized that the Brahmans had a hold in the rural areas and avoided a collision there.
The conflict took the colour not of one between the city and the rural areas or of one between Kshatriyas and Brahmans, but of one between a neo-urban secular culture and the forces of traditionalism.
The Brahmavadis and the diffused sections of the society backed the former while the traditional rich of both urban and rural areas supported the priestly order.
The Mahabhagas, the rich aristocrats, cast their lot with the traditionalists. It was essentially an economic conflict rather than a conflict between the secular state and the religious orders. The followers of Bhrgu did not call for a theocratic state. In fact, they refused to be carried away by the postulate of the divinity of the king.
They demanded approval for the provisions pertaining to gifts, which Bhrgu had introduced in his definition of the dharmas, rights and duties of the different socio-economic classes, varnas.
Usanas and other Brahmavadis refused to abide by this definition. The neo-Kshatriyas and the neo-Vaisyas would not have enjoyed immunity and this would be discrimination against them.
The Stand of the Bhrgus: an Enigma
After Vena was put to death by mob fury, abetted by the Bhrgus and the professional Brahmans, Queen Sunita ruled as regent. The people were panicky. They had none to protect them against the brigands (14-37). Property was being looted. Civil war broke out and anarchy took over (14-40).
Bhrgu and his colleagues were accused of taking undue interest in political affairs and precipitating anarchy.
The editors of the chronicle, the Bhagavatam, defend them and say that the Bhrgus were performing only their duty when they exercised their moral authority in using Brahmadanda and pronounced Vena's excommunication and declared him liable to incur the highest amercement.
The Bhrgus were interpreting the provisions of the socio-political constitution enshrined in Atharvaveda (Brahma) on punishment (Danda) for violation of that constitution.
To prove that they were not interested in gaining political power, the Bhrgus withdrew after his fall, to their abodes. Though they could subdue the warring factions they did not do so.
They held that it was against the Svadharma (the code of duty accepted by the individual voluntarily) of the Brahmans to assume political power.But a Brahman who was required to maintain equipoise and treat all as equals could not however neglect the weak lest his 'Brahmam' should diminish (14-41).
An intellectual (Brahman) who functions as a jurist while interpreting the constitution has to be composed, balanced and neutral, but at the same time he has to protect the weak against the mighty. Otherwise his authority as a jurist will diminish.
Modern scholars who have failed to note the implication of the term, Brahmam, have passed it by with the translation that it meant spiritual power.
The Bhrgus were not priests or teachers seeking benefits through gifts. They were upholders of the constitution. In the struggle between the weak and the mighty, the Brahman jurist has to support and protect the former. Herein the followers of Bhrgu differed from the Brahmavadis who stood by the mighty ruler.
Brahmadanda and Rajadanda
Coercive Powers of Judiciary and Executive
Brahmadanda, the authority of the judiciary to punish the guilty, does not supplant Rajadanda, the coercive power of the political executive headed by the King. The moral authority of the intelligentsia even when exercised from the seat of the chief justice does not replace the sovereign power of the state. It is invoked only when the ruler transgresses the limits of power.
Dharma, as Bhrgu understood, called for the protection of the weak against the mighty, while Dandaniti enabled the mighty to control the weak. The followers of Bhrgu felt it expedient to enthrone one from the lineage of the Rajarshi of Anga, with the eligibility of Vena to sit on the throne having been struck down. Prthu was selected. This time the Bhrgus took the lead and the Brahmavadis followed their lead.
It may be noted here that the followers of Atharvacharya and Angirasa were known as Brahmavadis and so too those of Kashyapa. The followers of Bhrgu and Usanas too were among the main contributors to the Atharva anthology but were not among the Brahmavadis, the socio-political ideologues.
The conditions that the Brahmavadis placed on Prthu's enthrone-ment reveal how they had mastered the monster of unbridled power that Vena represented.
The Bhrgu theory of the State (Rajadharma as presented in Manusmrti Bk.7) has to be understood in the background of the events that led to the overthrow of Vena.
The earlier scheme of eight functionaries intended to diffuse authority had failed and power came to be concentrated in the hands of one person. The structure was maintained but the nomination of undesirable persons to the eight posts led to atrocities. Effective prevention of this evil had to be provided, the sages found.
The Choice of the Successor: Nishada or Prthu
Nishada refers to the rejected dark and dwarfish child who was directed to perform the last rites for the excommunicated ruler, Vena. This young child might have been an offspring of Kratu, a brother of the Rajarshi of Anga and hence a half-brother of Vena.
Kratu might have been named after Prajapati Kratu of Valakhilyas, the short-stature sages who were also Tvashtas, technocrats. Prajapati Kratu was a member of the Board of Ten Prajapatis who drafted the Manava Dharmasastra. Bhrgu was its chief editor. The first Manu, Svayambhuva had nominated this Board headed by Marici. (Kratu might not have been a natural son of Angas parents.) Valakhilyas must have dominated the polity of Anga. Valakhilyas and Sarasvatganas were nominated as Prthus counsellors according to the Mahabharata. Prthu was guided by the school of Usanas and Garga.
Nishada was docile and was ready to carry out the directions of the sages but was not preferred. The sages stressed choice of a confident and responsible ruler.
The choice fell on Prthu of the lineage of the Rajarshi of Anga. He seems to have been an offspring of Kala, a twin-sister of that Rajarshi. If Vena had left a daughter, Archi, she had married Prthu and this would have satisfied Queen Mother Sunita.
Later chroniclers felt it advisable to honour the principle of hereditary legitimacy. Prthu was not associated with the lineage of the Rajarshi of Anga.
Hari (Krshna?) is said to have played a key role in the installation of Prthu as the new king. He was a sobering influence on the contending parties.
The Mahabharata describes Prthu as wearing protective armour and carrying a shield and a bow and arrows. He was an expert in archery. It is said that with the end of his bow Prthu broke the hills and levelled the lands.
He cultivated seventeen crops, that is, ruled for seventeen years. He brought law and order to the country and was a conqueror. He bestowed Anupa, a marshy country, on Suta and the kingdom of Magadha on Magadhas.
[Who was the Suta? Does Anupa refer to the Rann of Kutch? Prthu must have offered Karna, a Suta, who was offered during the interregnum the position of an autonomous ruler of Anga, the post of governor of Anupa instead. Prthu was the godfather of Kunti, mother of Karna and the Pandavas. Kunti was known also as Prtha.]
Prthu must have recognized the Sutas and the Magadhas as equivalent to Kshatriyas and as eligible to be appointed as rulers.
These were powerful mixed classes, samkaravarnas and had been kept at a distance by the Brahmans and the Kshatriyas. But unlike the Nishadas, they were not social rejects.
We would postulate that Prthu belonged to Madhyadesa, the region between the western Sarasvati, the eastern Sarasvati and Narmada. This region had gone dry after the disappearance of Sarasvati and its tributary, Drshadvati.
The Valakhilyas and Sarasvatganas from among whom he selected his supporters belonged to this region, which was uneven and arid. He attempted to bring it back under cultivation.
These events were closer to the times of Manu Vaivasvata and do not belong to the dawn of civilization and beginning of agriculture per se. (Some have treated Prthu as the son of Vaivasvata, the first Man. This is irrational. Vide Hindu Social Dynamics for a rational analysis of the Vaivasvata imagery)
Prthu was not the first king. Vena had distorted Dandaniti. As Prthu ascends the throne, this distortion is corrected. We develop here the basis of this new state of Prthu on the basis of the Bhagavatam.
The Charter of Demands and the Prthu Constitution
Prthu was not willing to swallow the flattery showered on him by the kingmakers. [Some modern scholars have wondered whether the Suta and the Magadha were included in the list of the officials who conducted the ceremony where the king was anointed as such.] Such interpretations betray a lack of acquaintance with the structure of the early democratic State that Prthu headed.
He demanded that he be told the specific conditions attached to his installation. The vachaspatis, the scholars who read out the constitution and the proclamation, were bewildered. But it was declared that Prthu was born to a senior noble (deva-varya) and belonged to the lineages of Anga and Vena.
They added that under instruction from the munis (sages who observed silence) they (rajakrtrs) shall spread the fame of Prthu-Hari, for his liberality and laudable activities. (Bhagavatam Bk.4-16-3)
Prthu was being supported by the Haris, a new group of nobles (devas) who accepted him as a member of their cadre. Vena had belonged to the cadre of Viras who were rivals of Haris. Then they read out the conditions that had been imposed by the sages while approving the choice of Prthu.
King as Dharmabhrta and Dharmasetu
The king should be the best of dharmabhrtas, persons bearing the responsibility to ensure the prevalence of dharma and who execute the works of dharma type (religious works, in common parlance).
He should involve the social world (loka), particularly the commoners (prthvi) in these activities. He should be the protector (gopta) of the bridge between the different approved practices (dharmasetu), between different creeds, as commonly understood. It would be simplistic to interpret this role as one bringing together diverse religions.
It is however a positivist approach towards ensuring social integration and not merely requiring the king as the head of the state to remain impartial and neutral when faced with social conflicts. He should chastise those who worked against this (4).
The new state will not be indifferent to or be against dharma. (We have to scrupulously refrain from translating dharma as religion.) A positive neutrality and non-partisan approach coupled with active steps to bridge the gulf between diverse practices is expected of the king..
Both Bhrgus and the Brahmavadis who followed Kashyapa would have stressed this approach. (This replaces the negative secularism of Vena.)
King Personally Responsible
The second main ground for the overthrow of Vena was that his amatyas and adhyakshas, secretaries of state and heads of departments, exercised authority without responsibility. This led to corruption and harassment. Prthu is required to abolish the posts of governors (lokapalas) and be personally responsible for the protection of the people. Lokapalas were autonomous governors.
A new system of administration is recommended by which the king will have to answer for the miscarriage of justice.
(Kautilya was aware of this aspect. Manusmrti too does not advocate the institution of the posts of lokapalas. These posts were present in the polity of Kosala which was based on Tamasasmrti and was guided by Vasishta.)
Rational Revenue Expenditure
At the prescribed time, the due share (of the budget) should be used for the welfare of the people. Vasu, tax in kind, shall be exacted at the appropriate time and distributed among all the people (16-6).
The Vibhutis, lokapalas, amatyas and adhyakshas whom Vena appointed adopted arbitrary and unjust methods while collecting taxes and in the distribution of revenue expenditure. The rural areas suffered most.
Prthu is asked to ensure that governance is carried in accordance with the rules prescribed in Dandaniti. Vena had discarded them. Rationalization is called for.
King not immune
The King will not enjoy immunity from criticism. He can be impeached. He cannot evade it by casting the blame on the officials.
Vena (and some others) had misused the concept of royalty as vimuktasanga prakrti, a constituent of the state that is independent of all bodies that have their personal interests. The new state does not absolve the king from accountability.
Agriculture as National Economy
Perhaps the most significant condition was that the King should accept for the nation an economy based on agriculture (7). This statement accords with the Atharvaveda lines where Viraj, the cow, yielded agriculture to Prthu when Manu Vaivasvata was beside the cow as the calf. Agriculture was the main issue in the revolt against Vena.
In the manifesto of the Vratya Prajapati prepared after consulting all chiefs of the peoples (Prajapatis), charismatic leaders (Parameshtis) and elders (Pitaras), food was given the highest priority.
For development of agriculture financial aid from the state was essential. If the nobles (devas) who controlled the national exchequer did not give assistance Prthu should himself protect the people by taking over the role of Indra (16-8). [It is nave to interpret that if the rain gods failed, the King should release grains from his store.]
Indra was the chief of the house of nobles, Sabha, and presided over the Samsad (the joint legislature of Sabha and Samiti, the house of nobles and the council of scholars and elders).
The Samsad, which controlled the exchequer, could legislate when the King moved it for withdrawal of funds from it, I pointed out while describing the normative pattern of the two bodies as prescribed in Atharvaveda Bk.7-12.
This condition was intended to subordinate the nobles to the State and gently coerce them to come to the help of the commoners.
In the conduct of the affairs of the state, especially in matters pertaining to welfare measures, an open policy should be adopted. The Rgveda mentions how the King placed the proposed welfare measures before the Sabha.
Prthu and some others argued that a King had to keep his policy (vartma) non-manifest (avyakta) and the purposes of his activities (karya) confidential (nigudha). His grave accomplishments had to be kept secret (upagupta). How could he reconcile this need for secrecy with the demand for an open policy? (16-10) The Brahmavadis and the kingmakers had to concede the validity of this argument. But experience had taught them that this concession was likely to again lead the king to rule without assistants, concentrating all powers in his hands.
Vena had argued that he was sarvadevamaya, concentrating in his hands, the powers not only of Indra, Vayu, Ravi, Yama, Dhanada (Kubera), Agni, Soma and Varuna (the eight ministers) but also the authorities of Vishnu, Brahma (Virincha) and Siva (Girisha) and the officials called Parjanya (Rain) and Kshiti (Agriculture). Vena claimed total authority.
[Inclusion of the Trinity, Vishnu, Brahma and Siva, must have been a later interpolation.] These three who have been later deified were earlier envisaged as officials (Viraj, Brahma, Prajapati) holding the positions of the nominal head of the federal state, the chief justice and the head of the armed national society.
A way had to be found out and the discussions lead to the proposal that the King depend on Pracetas and confide in him. The King had to deliberate at least with one official of the state before taking any step. (Kautilya too made such consultation obligatory so that the king did not become an autocrat.)
Appointment of Pracetas
In order to keep policies secret and to control wealth (vittha), the King should cover himself like Pracetas, known for his limitless greatness (4-16-10).
The concept of a single minister in whom all authority is vested and who covers the King is advocated. The concept of a confidential politico-economic authority to aid the King is advanced.
The Pasupata group of Brahmavadis, socio-political ideologues and activists, did not support authoritarianism. Prthu occupies a stage between Usanass Dandaniti and Kautilyan Arthasastra.
Kautilya objected to dependence on one minister. He preferred to have three ministers at least to avoid the dangers of collision between two ministers and collusion between the two behind the king. Dandaniti facilitated autocracy in the name of strong and good government.
Place of Pracetas in the Constitution
Here it is implied that Pracetas will control the treasury and be privy to the King's Counsel. The King is the Head of the State but he cannot take over the treasury even if the rich nobles refused to release funds from the treasury to help the commoners, in need.
He may relieve Indra, the guardian of the treasury, if the latter has been found to be non-cooperative, but cannot himself become Indra.
Pracetas would be the Chancellor of the exchequer and controller of economic activities even if the post of Indra continued to exist and so too the house of nobles with the power to veto.
Prthu must have accepted some of the provisions of the Arthasastra of Pracetas, which preceded that of Kautilya. It may be noted that Pracetas was one of the ten Prajapatis nominated by Manu Svayambhuva to draft the Manava Dharmasastra and reorganize the society.
Pracetas represented the Rudra school of thought and succeeded Daksha as a member of the Board of Ten Prajapatis. Neither Pracetas nor Daksha had the authority that Varuna had as ombudsman and regent during interregnum (caused by the death or retirement or exile of the incumbent King).
Varuna could ensure that the King and all other officials of the state followed the provisions of the Atharvan constitution. He exercised the highest magisterial authority for this purpose.
Pracetas was deputy to the King with politico-economic powers divided between the King and Pracetas.
The King controlled the army and foreign policy while Pracetas looked after civil administration including economy and judiciary.
Where the head of the State was designated as Purusha, the official designated as Pracetas could be entrusted with internal administration and security and delegated all powers except going to war with other countries or entering into treaties with them. [Pracetas as proposed here is equivalent to the Prime Minister of Kautilyan State.]
In the Bhagavatam, the Prthu structure provided for Pracetas as chief of economic affairs, the chief counsellor, who would be answerable to the public. His status is between that of the Prime Minister and that of Sannidhata or Mahanandi who could bar direct access to the King. Sannidhatas and Mahanandis were notorious for preventing the King from learning the needs of the people and their opinions on vital issues.
Even if the King was declared to be the Purusha, the leader of the people, his power and influence were getting restrained as Maryada-Purusha.
In Kosala, Bharata must have consented to hold the status of Mahanandi and be regent like Varuna during the absence of Rama who had the rank of Purusha, a ruler with life tenure.
[To be precise, Rama was only Maryada Purusha. Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana and Satrugna together had tenure of twenty-four years, with each occupying the throne for five years like any ordinary kin (rajan) and Rama as 'karta', an additional four years. Rama and Lakshmana spent their fourteen years in exile while Bharata exercised their powers as regent.]
Pracetas ensured that the wishes of the Purusha were carried out. He could give counsel to the ruler whenever he felt it necessary and exercise residual powers.Pracetas replaces Venas cabal of Vibhutis.
Prthu shall collect information, internal as well as external, through a cadre of scouts (charanas) objectively and preside over the affairs in a disinterested manner. He shall function not as a man with body and soul but as the spirit and soul of the state (16-11, 12). Objectivity leads to impartiality in rendering justice.
Even the sons of his enemies shall not be punished if not guilty and his own sons shall be punished if guilty. Immunity that Prthu needed was granted only in the discharge of his duties. Appointment of Pracetas had reduced personal risk.
Kautilya calls for formation of the institution of chakshus(spies) who would be providing the ruler with authentic information about the happenings and trends so that he might take corrective steps.
The Bhrgus (and the Brahmavadis) attempted to lift the king above the level of a constituent with personal interests, prejudices and animosities and install him as a presiding chief with no personal or familial interests.
Prthu is required to function independent of cabals (chakram). He should be at the apex of charisma (amanasa achalat, a height that cannot be assessed by intellect) (16-14). For this purpose, he has to please his subjects (praja) befitting the meaning of raja. Bhishma gives this interpretation in his theory of Rajadharma.
The King should be firm, stand by truth, serve the Brahmans. and the elderly, protect those who seek his shelter, be kind to the weak, treat his wife as his equal, respect other women as mothers, be affectionate as a father and be a messenger (kinkara) of the Brahmavadis.
Messenger of the Brahmavadis
With the emergence of Kashyapa as the chief of seven sages, during the tenure of Manu Vaivasvata, a rapprochement between the Bhrgus and the followers of Angirasa who were Brahmavadis became possible.
The Bhrgus took the lead in overthrowing Vena. After the regency of Queen Mother, Sunita, Brahmavadis emerged as the socio-political wing of the Brahmans in contrast to the socio-cultural role that the Brahmarshis continued to play and plead for.
What should be the relation between the King and the Brahmavadis? The King has to be the guardian and executor of their will.
Svayambhuva when he was only a Kshatriya ruler of a small territory in the Sarasvati basin before he was appointed as Manu was prepared to be the guardian of the Brahmans but would not be the executor of their will. At that time, only Brahmarshis were on the stage and not the activists, Brahmavadis nor the priestly order of Brahmans.
The Prthu constitution stipulated that the ideologues, Brahmavadis, would have no cadre to promote their cause and the state would follow their recommendations. The King personally undertook the task proposed by them.
[Vena was against the intervention of the Brahmanical order in the affairs of the state. Nor did he give room to other sects.]
Prthu would be the kinkara, messenger of these ideologues but was not their servant or agent. The people would not dare to disregard the import of the message that had the backing of the state though it was not a law incorporated in the sociopolitical code. He was however not subordinate to the ideologues.
The state would have no ideology of its own while the ideologues had no cadre of their own to propagate or implement their views.
But the King was free as an individual to promote their views and causes. Though the state is non-partisan, the King is envisaged as the head of the executive whose course of action will be determined by the group of ideologues, whom he is aligned with. The Prthu constitution did not envisage a state without a policy.
The King's Associates
Prthu would have to treat all bodies of individuals (dehis) as dear to himself and the Nandivardanas as friends (4-10-18).
This verse implies more than what meets the eye. It indicates the sources of his support. Dehi means corporate body like sreni and samgha, corporation and guild, who demanded a status equal to that of the state.
Prthu came on the scene after the elaborate science of political policy, Dandaniti, had been composed and had come into force.
This compendium on valid means of political control took into account the existence of various social, economic and political groups, which followed their own discrete interests though functioning within the territory over which the King claimed suzerainty.
Prthu was not the first King. He was also not the first to rule under the constitution envisaged by the then recently drafted Dandaniti.
Dandaniti as claimed by Usanas subordinated all Dharmas (codes of law) whether they were those of the clans or of communities or economic corporations or of regions to the principles and policy laid down in it. Prthu did not function under such an authoritarian constitution.
The Nandivardanas (who were followers of Rudra) must have rejected Dandaniti and supported the Pracetas school of thought.
To be precise, the constitution that Prthu accepted was more democratic and more liberal than the earlier ones and certainly not authoritarian.
What Usanas advocated was based on vast experience and was intended to ensure maintenance of law and order and to bring about uniformity in practices. But it was not democratic.
As the movement with which the Bhrgus had cast their lot threw out Vena, Prthu should recognize who his supporters were.
He could not afford to antagonize the corporations by interfering with their separate identities and their autonomy. They did not come under the jurisdiction of any constituent (anga or prakrti) of the state other than the one over which the King had personal control. He should gain their support by treating them as his equals.
Nandivardanas must have been a branch of the Valakhilyas who supported Prthu. The muktasanga were the monks who were connected with the revolt against Vena. They led the liberation movement. Prthu was advised not to ignore them. Thus the sources of support are identified.
Three Facets of Authority, Triadhisa: Kutastha, Atma and Kalaya
Prthu is made the chief of the three aspects of the state, Kutastha, Atma and Kalaya (4-16-19).
Kutastha implies the static condition that can be understood even by the uneducated, that is, even by those who have not studied the science (vidya) of polity. Verse 4-24-34 (of the Bhagavatam) refers to Kutastha-svarochisham. The Brahmavadis led by Angirasa, one of the chief authors of the Atharvaveda, had during the tenure of the second Manu Svarochisha advanced this concept. Angirasa was the head of the council of seven sages during the tenure of Svarochisha.
The state shall not expand its power internally or externally. It was what the Vratya Prajapati intended. It recognized the right of every unit to pursue its own interests and policy and develop itself under the concept of Svarajam. The non-expanding state allays the fears of the masses as Kashyapa underlines in AV Bk.8-9, the Viraj section. Such a state with limited powers is stable, kutastha.
Atma or self is related to nirarthakam. The King shall protect the individuals who do not belong to the organized economic structure and who do not pursue economic goals. The hermits and the disabled are covered by this concept.
They are distinct from the corporate bodies (dehis that is, kulas, jatis, srenis), which are not dependent on the state.
The King too is an individual (atma) pursuing his own interests and not those of the social unit to which he originally belonged. He is made responsible for the welfare of the individuals of the other non-economic units, by this definition.
Prthu constitution advocates a social welfare state guaranteeing protection to the economically weak and is not an economic state that is a tool in the hands of economic organizations. It however does not violate the autonomy of these bodies. The individual is not necessarily an economic man. He may have other objectives.
Kalaya is the repository of residuals.
The King is the chief of the varied (nanatvam). He has to maintain the variety (diversity) in the social and cultural practices of the people. This was the assurance given by Kashyapa.
Dandaniti does not stand for any particular social system or creed. Prthu was not called upon to uphold or protect Varnasrama Dharma, it may be noted.
Clans and communities govern themselves. But those who are not so protected are to be protected by the state. Some are outside social and economic organizations. These residuals, varied as they are, are to be brought under the protection of the king and their variety maintained.
The state has to ensure social pluralism by becoming the guardian of unprotected individuals and the diverse small groups that are outside the organized social economy. The role of the state begins where that of the organized society ends.
Ekavira, the Lone Warrior
Vena could not become a conqueror as the rich nobles, Mahabhagas, resisted his withdrawal of funds from the treasury to which they were the main contributors. The aggressive power of the Kshatriyas, warriors, could not be externalized and this resulted in their oppression of the masses.
The chakram of Vibhutis, the cabal of chieftains, exercised authority in his name, leading to corruption and harassment and finally to the revolt by the people. The new state recommended by the followers of Bhrgu offered the King an opportunity to move in the mandala, circle of states.
He could expand his influence and become the Viraj controlling all the five states (sva, mitra, ari, madhyama and udasina, those of his own, his friends, his enemys, the immediate but neutral ruler and the distant and indifferent ruler) adopting the six-fold policy (shadgunyam).
[Vide Foundations of Hindu Economic State for an analysis of this policy as described in Kautilyan Arthasastra]
Kshatriya valour is externalized. But Prthu has to do so as Ekavira, the lone warrior rather than as the King of his state. This warrior is a leader with his own followers drawn from free men (naras) and from the personal retinue that he is entitled to as noble (deva).
He is a naradevanatha and ekavira. Prthu is allowed heroic exploits without involving his primary state.
The Vratya Prajapati, Mahadeva, did not envisage the concept of circle of states (mandala), the basis of foreign policy.
Kautilya developed this scheme and covered the entire Chakravarti-kshetra, the area under the jurisdiction of the controller of the chakram, the confederation of states, structured like a wheel with all units attached to the hub, which the emperor is. [This Chakravarti-Kshetra extended from the Himalayas to the seas, the entire subcontinent.]
Prthu was not marked for it. But his contemporary, Bharata, was. Of course, earlier, Asvamedha and Rajasuya sacrifices were in vogue and were not uncommon.
But the earlier Dandaniti, which was based on the concept, kutastha, did not favour expansion of the state through war and conquest. It was non-imperialistic though it facilitated despotism.
As externalization of Kshatriya power was felt necessary, these sacrifices came to be recognized. The state army was to be used only for maintaining internal security and for warding off aggression by the enemy.
Prthu as Agrarian King
Prthu should use his position as Ekavira, going beyond the present lands, to bring new areas under the plough. He is a Prajapati, chief of the people, who has to provide employment for his subjects.
[The Prajapati was an official who was entitled to admit the people of the areas newly annexed as domiciles, prajas, of the enlarged state and subjects of its ruler.]
He is basically a ruler of the lands on the banks of the river, Mahi. He is Mahipati. As Indra, he will level the land, breaking the clod wit the end of his bow. (16-22).
Military prowess promotes agriculture in the new land, extracting from it all that it may yield. He will personally wield the Bow of Indra made from the bones of the goats and the cows. It stands not only for war and conquest but also for tilling and agriculture as the rains stop and the clouds pass and the rainbow traverses the clear sky.
[This bow signified the policy of assimilation of all friendly groups and extermination of the recalcitrant enemies under the blue-red policy.]
As he goes round on his exploits, he will frighten the criminals (16-23).
Prthu is an agrarian king who brings new lands under cultivation. But his exploits as Ekavira can not go on forever. At the end of his hundredth conquest and Asvamedha sacrifice, performed at the source of Sarasvati, his campaign will end. For, Purandara will take away the horse from him (16-24).
Purandara was the Indra during the tenure of Manu Vaivasvata. This Manu must have put a restriction on such conquests for bringing new lands under the plough.
Prthu has to retire and invite Sanatkumara, the Upanishadic sage, and get instructed on the quest of the Ultimate (16-25).
Prthu constitution does not require the warrior to die on the battlefield. It does not permit the king to be a ruler till his death. He has to retire after his tenure (of five years as an ordinary king or twelve years as a Viraj or twenty-four years as a Purusha) is over.
[Sanatkumara, Sanaka, Sanada and Sanatana were known as the four Kumaras and were all great sages. Some have held that they were dwarfish.]
Prthu set an example by personally tilling the land. Janaka of Videha too did so. Bk. 4-17 of the Bhagavatam shows that there was a failure of crops before Prthu was installed as the King. He had to give priority to agriculture. Unlike Videha in the eastern Ganga plains, Madhyadesa where Prthu ruled was full of moors and was semi-arid.
The verse 4-17-23 shows that the agro-pastoral economy of his country was affected badly by drought. The conversion of pastoral lands into agricultural lands might have led to huge loss of livestock. Hence it was recommended that hills and uneven lands should be brought under the plough and that livestock should not be slaughtered.
The above conditions provide the basis of the new state. They form a Magna Carta. Prthu was not a primitive king. He appeared on the scene during historical times. The Vena-Prthu episode pertained to a limited region but the charter is of immense import to the theory of the state.
The Bhagavatam, in its earliest form, was sufficiently close enough to his times to record the memories of this episode accurately. There is no impact of Vaishnavaism on this narrative. There is no call for the spread of Varnasrama Dharma or even of the Vedas.
The Prthu episode was close to the decades when Manava Dharmasastra was drafted. This code accepted most of the features of the Prthu constitution. It condemns Vena who pretended to be a Rajarshi and praises Prthu for his humility.