Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Importance of the Coronation ceremony in Ancient India

Alok kumar

The coronation ceremony in ancient India formed an Integral part of the polity. In course of time, it became elaborate ritualistic and technical. The coronation ceremony marked a step forward in the development of Indian Polity. The Rajasuya, Vajapeya and the Sarvamedha ceremonies formed an integral part of the system. The Devasuhavimsi ceremony expresses different kinds of authority out of which Kshatra Janarajaya are important, where territorial sovereignty was absent. It might indicate the tribal state and had practically nothing to do with the territorial state. The Rajasuya is the most important ceremony and in this ritual the king is sprinkled over by the representatives of the three upper classes and the Janya, identified with Shudra. The most noticeable feature is the express recognition of Shudra as a part of society and from the constitutional point of view, this is a great change. The Sprinkling ceremony is followed by investiture ritual in which the prince is invested with a strong bow with three arrows (by the priests) to protect the people. The bows and arrows represent the strength and when invested the prince becomes fit for consecration. The Kshatra becomes the symbol of Power. By the performance of the this sacrifice, the king attains sovereignty. In the Vedic period the tribal character of the state persisted. By offering the Rajasuya, he becomes a Raja. It has been said in the Shatpatha Brahmana “to the king (Rajan) doubtless belongs the Rajasuya for by offering the Rajasuya, he becomes king and unsuited for the kingship is the Brahmana”.
The Rajsuya consisted of a long succession of sacrificial performances, starting on the first day of Phalguna and spreading over a period of two years. The details of the sacrifice are preserved in the Shatpatha Brahmana. The main features of the sacrifice were…………..
(i)       The Ratininamahavimshi- presents to the divinities of the bejewelled ones viz the chief queen and court officials.
(ii)     The Abhishechniya- besprinkling ceremony
(iii)    The Digvijasthapana- King’s symbolical walking towards the various Quarters as an indication of his universal rule.
(iv)    Treading upon a tiger skin- i.e. gaining the pre-eminence of the tiger.
(v)     Narration of the Hotri priest of the story of Sunahshepa.
(vi)    A mimic cow raid against the relatives or a sham fight with the member of the ruling arristocracy or Rajanya.
(vii)  Enthronement.
(viii) A game of dice in which the king is made the victor.
The Ratininamhavimshi included the Senani (Troops commander), the Purohita (Royal Chaplain), the Mahishi (chief Queen), the Suta (charioteear) the Gramani (Leader of the village), the Ksharti (Chamberlain), the Sangrahitri (Treasurer), the Bhagadudha (Collector of the Royal share), the Akshavapa (Keeper of dice), the Govikarttana (King’s Companion in the chase) and the Palagal (the courtier). The Ratninamahavimshi formed an integral part of the Rajasuya Ceremony. The Sacrificing king had to go to the house of each Ratnin and offer Oblations. The ratnins constituted the different functionaries of the state and their political importance has been discussed threadbare in the contemporary literature. The king regards them as sustainers of his realm and they are described as givers and takers of the kingdom. They made the kingdom vigorous and energetic. The king is consecrated for the sake of Ratnin and he makes the ratnin his faithful follower. They sustained the kingship. Dr.K.P. Jayaswal describes them as high functionaries of the state and the king is required to secure their support. The allegiance of every functionary is considered to be equally important for the king. Besides the performance of the Rajasuya Sacrifice in the kuru- Panchal region, it is likely that the custom was also prevalent in the territory of Videha, where the number of Ratnins seems to have been twelve. Sthapati is mentioned in the Shatapatha Brahmana in connection with the concluding ceremonies of the Rajasuya. The sacrificial sword (sphya) given by the priest to the king is passed on successively to the king’s brother, the Suta or the Sthapati, the Gramani and finally to a tribesman (Sajata). We have further reference to Pariveshtri, the Kshatri Sabhasadas in connection with the horse sacrifice.
            The Ratinins may be compared with the organised bureaucracy of Kautilya. The list gives an idea of the highly developed administrative system of the later Vedic period. The growing expansion of the Aryans necessitated the reconstruction of administrative machinery and the territorial character of the state came to be fully recognized. Dr. K.P. Jayaswal describes his opinion that the Ratnins were recruited from different castes and classes.
The most essential part of the Rajasuya was the Abhisheka or besprinkling ceremony. The sprinkling was performed by a Brahmana Priest, kingsmen or brother of the king elect, a friendly Rajanya and a Vaishya. The consecration water was made up of seventeen kinds of water collected from river Saraswati, ocean etc. The ceremony began with offerings to various deities. The King was consecrated after his election or succession with an eleborate ritual which is described in the Brahman Texts. Those who aided in the consecration of the king were called Rajakartri or Rajakrit or King Makers, In the Shatapatha Brahmana, the persons meant and specified are the Suta (minstrel) and the Gramani. Both officials and non- officials were represented in the function. The principal ceremonies or sacrifices of royal inauguration were the vajapeya, Rajasuya, the Punar- Abhisheka and Aindra- Mahabhisheka.
            The vajapeya bestowed on the performer, a superior kind of kingship, called Samrajya, while the Rajasuya conferred the monarchical dignity. The Punarabhisheka made the king- elect eligible for all sorts of royal dignity and the object of Anidramahabhisheka was to attain pre- eminence or supremacy over all kings. The Vajapeya rites included a race of seventeen chariots, in which the sacrificer is allowed to carry off the palm, and from which the ceremony probably derives the name.  According to Hillebrandt, it reminds us of a relic of an old national festival. After the chariot race, the next interesting item is the mounting of a pole from which homage is made to the mother earth. He is then offered a throne seat with a goatskin spread thereon and is addressed by the priest as follows-“Thou art the ruler, the ruling lord- thou art firm and steadfast, here I seat thee for the tilling, for peaceful dwelling, for wealth, for prosperity, of the welfare of the people and the common weal.” The supreme power is vested in the king for the promotion of agriculture.
The Punarabhisheka is described in the Aitareya Brahman. It was intended for Conquering Kshatriya monarchs. The interesting part of the ceremony was the king’s ascent to the throne, made of Udumbara wood interwoven with the Munja grass. While besprinkling, the king said –“Do thou become here the overking of kings- the superme ruler of the earth or the peasantry.” He, then, had to make obeisance to Brahmana.The Aindra Mahabhisheka Consisted of the following five ceremonies –
         I.            Oath, administered by the priests
       II.            Arohana ( Enthronment)
     III.            Utkroshana (Proclamation)
     IV.            The king makers declare him “Kshatriya”i.e king
       V.            When he is proclaimed king, he is annointed (abhishechana)
Closely connected with the Aindra Mahabhisheka is another important ceremonial, called the Ashwamedha or horse- sacrifice. In the Aitareya Brahmana, it is said that all the kings, consecrated with Indra’s great functions, should go round the earth completely conquering on everyside, and offering the horse in sacrifice. A paramount king performed the Ashwamedha Sacrifice.
In the Rajasuya sacrifice there are the following ceremonies which are very important and remarkable-
    I.      The priest silently strikes the king with sticks on the back, According to the Shatapatha Brahmana the king is made exempt from judicial punishment through this process. K.P Jayaswal believes that by this method, the king is brought under laws. It marked the authority of the priests over royalty.
  II.      In the ceremony of cow raid, according to the Shatapatha Brahmana, the king takes more than a hundred cows. The significance of this ceremony is not very clear from the text. The ceremony might have indicated his ability to assert royal power over others. Professor R.S. Sharma says- The whole ceremony means defeating the relative and then reinstating the vanquished in his position by doing him an act of grace.”
 III.      The game of dice disclosed the political sagacity of the ruler.
 IV.      The chariot race in the Vajapeyi is reminiscent of such earlier practices among the Indo- Aryans. Though it aimed at winning the race before being consecrated, in the long run, the king was deliberately made to win. Sarvamedha indicated a sacrifice for universal rule. It was an exceptional ceremony performed by Emperors who were already consecrated to rulership.
  V.      Oath-the coronation oath played a very important part in the constitutional history of ancient India. The king elect is unanimously regarded to have taken a vow before he is seated on the throne. He is also known as Dhrita- Vrata. The coronation Oath is as follows- “ Between the night I am born and the night I die, whatever good I might have done, my heaven, my life and my progeny may I be deprived of, If I oppress you’’ According to the Aitareya Brahmana, the Oath was common to all constitutions. After the king ascends the throne, he is addressed with these words- “To thee, this state is given, thou art the director and regulator, to thee this is given for agriculture, for well being, prosperity, and for development". It is by virtue of the above formulae that sovereignty is vested. The king is declared the strength of the whole people and this makes him legally and constitutionally superior to all classes and castes. According to the Aitareya Brahmana, the coronation Oath should be repeated with faith. The king promises-“I will never be arbitrary.” It appears that the Oath originated with the kingship. An analysis of Oath discloses the following points.
a. That the trust in king’s hand is his foremost solemn obligation.
b. That the country put under him is to be regarded as nothing less than God.
c.  He is not to be arbitrary and to act according to the established law.
d. To offend against the country was to offend against God.
            If a monarch failed to keep his coronation Oath, he would be false in his vow and would forfeit claim to the throne. The charge of breaking the Oath was at times constructively extended. If the Monarch failed to maintain the integrity of the state, he was considered guilty of breaking his vows. If a king acted unlaw fully he would be considered to have broken faith.Coronation laws were strictly compiled with. Any dereliction of duties, on the part of the king amounted to the breaking of vows taken at the time of accession. A code of conduct was to be observed. K.P. Jayaswal is of opinion that the coronation Oath was Contractual in nature but there is nothing to support the view. The consecration was a form of initiation. By an oath, the king bound himself no to do harm to the priest in view of the sacred powers which he was invoking at the time of the coronation for the prosperity and safety of the king. The pledge was not given to the people as a whole.
1.     Altekar A.S., State and Government in Ancient India, Banaras, 1958.
2.     Bandopadhyaya N.C., Development of Hindu Polity&Political Theories, Calcutta, 1927.
3.     D.R. Bhandarkar, Some Aspects of Ancient Hindu Polity, Banaras, 1829.
4.     Ghoshal U.N., A History of Indian Political Ideas, Oxford University Press, 1959.
5.     Jayaswal K.P., Hindu Polity, Banglore, 1943.
6.     Pannikar K.M., The Origin and Evolution of kingship in Ancient India, Baroda,1938.
7.     Sharma R.S.,  Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions in Ancient India, Delhi 1968.
8.     Choudhary R.K., Kautilya’s Political Ideas and Institutions, Chowkhamba Publication Varanasi 1929.
Dr.Alok kumar,
Reader, Dept.Of History,
Dr. Shakuntala Misra Rehabilitation University,
Lucknow, u.p.