The Matsya Purana (critical study)

by Kushal Kalita | 2018 | 74,766 words | ISBN-13: 9788171103058

This page relates ‘Theories of origin of Kingship’ of the English study on the Matsya-purana: a Sanskrit text preserving ancient Indian traditions and legends written in over 14,000 metrical verses. In this study, the background and content of the Matsyapurana is outlined against the cultural history of ancient India in terms of religion, politics, geography and architectural aspects. It shows how the encyclopedic character causes the text to deal with almost all the aspects of human civilization.

Part 1 - Theories of origin of Kingship

Monarchy was the form of government in ancient India as is clearly evident from early and later Vedic literature, from epics, Purāṇas etc. Different theories have been propounded by ancient political thinkers of India to account for the origin of the King and the State. The theories relating to the origin of Kingship may be accepted as the evidence for the origination of the State also, as there is no such theory on the origin of the State. Kauṭilya declared that the king is the State[1] and therefore, the king is maintained as the head of the polity as he represents the State and thus it can be said that the theories related to the origin of the State ultimately ends up with the origination of the king. The State may be in existence from the same time the king came into existence.

The earliest reference to the theory of origin of king can be traced to the Brāhmaṇa literature. The Aitareyabrāhmaṇa has a passage where it is said that during the mahābhiṣeka ceremony, the gods with Prajāpati as their head agreed with the fact that Indra should be installed as the sovereign as he is the most vigorous, strong, valiant and perfect among the gods.[2] This indicates the sovereignty of Indra through election. Regarding the origin of Indra’s sovereignty another passage from the Taittirīyabrāhmaṇa informs us that Prajāpati created Indra and sent him to the celestial world to rule over there.[3] From these two passages the idea of divine origin of kingship can be gathered. The same theory of divine origin of kingship is emphasised in the passages of the Śāntiparva of the Mahābhārata where Bhīṣma told Yudhiṣṭhira how Pṛthu was crowned by the gods and sages for the protection of the people. [4] This account, according to P.V.Kane highlights the divine origin of kingship.[5]

The Śāntiparva again contains passages to which the origin of kingship can be traced. Being devoid of a ruler when people went to Brahmā, he appointed Manu for this purpose to which Manu did not agree at first but later when people promised to offer him the shares of their produce Manu agreed and became the ruler.[6] P.V.Kane has opined that this theory points to the divine origin of kingship and not to a theory of contract.[7] On the other hand, Bhandarkar has accepted this same account as the Social contract theory of kingship where people afflicted with anarchy elected Manu as their king for safety and protection with the agreement of giving shares from their productions to the king.[8] [9] Kauṭilya has also given reference to Manu who was made king by the people suffering from anarchy like that of a large fish swallowing the small ones and the people even agreed to give share of their production to the king in return of protecting them.[10] This refers to the well-known maxim mātsyanyāya which is employed in describing the necessity of a king in anarchy.

According to the ancient Indian political thinkers, there was a golden age when people were enjoying a harmonious life which was, in course of time, converted to the age of mātsyanyāya when people were degraded by evils of life. The Śāntiparva of the Mahābhārata puts forth the necessity of enthroning a person as a king for ending the evils of anarchy. It is said here that people living in an anarchical country cannot enjoy the wealth. Even the robbers of wealth can not enjoy their wealth as some other will again snatch the wealth and the process continues. So a king must be installed for protecting all or else the strong would have killed the weak like the way fishes do in the water.[11] . The Rāmāyaṇa has said that in a country devoid of a king no one could own anything, as people swallow each other like the fish.[12] Likewise, Manu in his Manusmṛti has said that in anarchy due to the absence of a king people kill the weak like fish do to other fish.[13]

Therefore, it can be summarised here from the above discussion that the kingship arose as a social need. That was the time of anarchy when people, run by the law of nature transformed to the law of inequality where distinction was made to strong and weak or rich and poor. When strong started extorting the weak, the balance of the society broke down and as a need the king was made who could govern all people under one roof. The Ṛgveda has also shown the failure of a society in the absence of a king.[14]

It is also said that the concept of kingship came into existence from military necessity. The Aitareyabrāhmaṇa has recorded a passage where it is described that when gods were defeated in a war against the demons they approached Soma and asked him to be their king. They pointed out that the reason behind their defeat was nothing but the absence of a king.[15] This shows that the kingship arose due to military necessity.[16]

Footnotes and references:


Aitareyabrāhmaṇa, 1.14; 8.12




Mahābhārata, 12.59


P.V.Kane, History of Dharmaśāstras (Ancient And Medieval Religious And Civil Law), Volume III, p. 33


Mahābhārata, 12.67


P.V.Kane, History of Dharmaśāstras (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law),Volume III, pp. 34-35


D.R.Bhandarkar, Lectures on The Ancient History of India On The Period From 650 To


B.C., p. 120


Cf., Arthaśāstra, 1.13




arājake janapade svakaṃ bhavati kasyacit/ matsyā iva janā nityaṃ bhakṣayanti parasparam// Rāmāyaṇa, 2.67.31


Manusmṛti, 7.20


Ṛgveda, 10.124.8


Aitareyabrāhmaṇa, 1.14


P.V.Kane, History of Dharmaśāstras (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law),Volume III, pp. 20-21

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