restricted access CHAPTER THREE. Kings and Brahmins: The Political Dimensions of the Upanisads
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CHAPTER THREE Kings and Brahmins The Political Dimensions of the Upaniƒads INTRODUCTION We will now turn our attention to a number of dialogues between brahmins and kƒatriyas. Some of these encounters feature a brahmin giving a king a private instruction, while others depict the king teaching the brahmin. Indeed, the king teaching a brahmin is a prominent motif throughout the late Bråhmaˆas and early Upani∑ads, with some of the dialogues not only featuring the king as teacher, but overtly claiming that particular teachings actually originated among the kƒatriyas. In both the B®hadåra£yaka Upaniƒad and the Chåndogya Upaniƒad, King Pravåhaˆa Jaivali explicitly asserts that his knowledge had never reached the brahmins before. The Chåndogya Upaniƒad account makes an even stronger claim, maintaining that the kƒatriya monopoly on political power is founded on an exclusive possession of this knowledge: “Prior to you, this knowledge has not gone to the brahmins. Therefore, in all the worlds government has belonged only to the kƒatriyas” (5.3.7).1 These words spoken by Pravåhaˆa have led many scholars to believe that the knowledge of the five fires (pañcågnividyå) was literally authored by kƒatriyas. However, as Bodewitz illustrates, many of the teachings spoken by kƒatriyas had appeared earlier in Vedic literature , but then were presented again as the speech of a kƒatriya in the Upani∑ads (1974, 216).2 For example, Pravåhaˆa’s teaching also appears in the Jaimin¥ya Bråhma£a (1.45–46), but without the context of a dialogue between a kƒatriya and a brahmin. Also, alternative versions of this discourse appear in the Aitareya ‹ra£yaka and the Íatapatha Bråhma£a.3 Taking this into account, Pravåhaˆa’s claims that this teaching 101 102 The Character of the Self in Ancient India is known only by kƒatriyas is clearly not a factual representation of the origins of the discourse, but rather part of the literary presentation of teachings in the Upani∑ads.4 In this chapter we will consider Pravåhaˆa’s claim within the context of other dialogues that feature brahmins and kings. As we have seen in accounts of the brahmodya, Upanishadic teachings are presented against the background of regional and political rivalries, with a number of teachings making promises specifically connected to the goals of the king. In this chapter we will see that even though many dialogues depict kings teaching brahmins, indicating that kings are not dependent upon brahmins for their knowledge, the Upani∑ads nevertheless emphasize that the presence of brahmins is essential for kings to be successful. Throughout these dialogues, receiving brahmins as esteemed guests by offering food and accommodation is an integral aspect of the ideal king. Seen in this context, the narrative scenes featuring kings claiming to have authored particular discourses are part of a more general kƒatriya orientation that is present in a number of teachings throughout the early Upani∑ads. As we will see, dialogues between brahmins and kings characterize Upanishadic teachings as indispensable to the king’s political power and reflect an attempt by brahmins to secure patronage from kings. Of course, the king also had a central role in the sacrifice, as indicated in the ritual texts where there are a number of passages that praise kings for the specific sacrifices they sponsor. The Íatapatha Bråhma£a (–22), for example, contains a list of kings who had sponsored aßvamedha sacrifices and describes a great aßvamedha hosted by Bharata Du±∑anti where seventy-eight horses are bound near the Yamunå and fifty-five near the Ga∫gå. His descendant King Bharata conquered the earth and brought more than one thousand horses for Indra. Additionally, an important aspect of the mythology of the Bråhmaˆas is making an equivalence between the king, as yajamåna, and Prajåpati, suggesting a perceived divinity of the king. Like Prajåpati, the king is portrayed as lord of creatures, and the sacrifice is an integral aspect of displaying his divine power. However, in the late Bråhmaˆas and early Upani∑ads, as the emphasis of the discourse moves away from the performance of the sacrifice, the king is no longer depicted as the yajamåna who sponsors great sacrifices. Rather, the ideal Upanishadic king hosts philosophical tournaments and participates in philosophical...


Subject Headings

  • Upanishads -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
  • Self in literature.
  • Hindu literature, Sanskrit -- History and criticism.
  • Character in literature.
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