The Matsya Purana (critical study)

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

This page relates ‘king and his Council (parishad)’ 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 5 - The king and his Council (pariṣad)

Amātya comes second in the list of seven constituents of the state. This term generally refers to a minister but confusion arises from the words mantrī and saciva which, according to the scholars, are used to mean minister in general and sometimes with distinguishable features.[1] The scholars maintain that the term amātya is not to be confined to ministers only but it means high officials of the state.[2] The Matsyapurāṇa has used the term mantrī in the places where it has given reference to mantraṇā only.[3] It is noteworthy that the Matsyapurāṇa has used the term sahāya which generally means helper, in connection with the persons to be chosen by the king to run the kingdom properly.[4] Therefore, from the passages of the Matsyapurāṇa it can be inferred that the assistants who support and assist the king in the functioning of the state administration are termed as sahāya or the ministers, whereas the persons with whom a king could discuss his state policy and be guided by them are known as mantrī. The members of king’s Council [i.e., pariṣad] included ministers as well as other revered or well versed persons who are not ministers. But whatever be their title or position, everyone who helps and supports the king directly or indirectly is indispensable for the progress and development of the state and also for the smooth running of the state polity.

The Matsyapurāṇa has said that the prosperity of the kingdom depends on the persons from whom the king gets help in the state functioning. As without any help a person cannot execute even a small task, hence it is certainly very difficult for a king to administer a whole state without the help of other persons. A state cannot function properly without the aid and contribution of the befitting councils. So after ascending the throne a king must choose the competent persons for his assembly as advisors and helpers and place them in various departments in order to bring progress and prosperity to the state through which the prosperity of his rule will be determined.[5] The Matsyapurāṇa has suggested that a king himself should select the ministers and helpers from respectable families who are brave, strong, approaching, handsome, having sattvaguṇa and forbearance, good, capable of bearing hardship, enthusiastic, virtuous, used to gentle speaking, able to give friendly advices to the king, loyal and eager for a good name. Only after proper investigation the person should be selected as the king’s helper.[6]

The other texts of ancient India have also insisted on the significance of council of ministers [i.e., pariṣad] for the uninterrupted working of a state along with progress and development. The Mahābhārata has said that without getting the assistance from his ministers a king cannot rule even for three days.[7] Moreover, just as animals are dependent upon clouds, brāhmaṇas on Vedas and women are dependent on their husbands, so the king is dependent on his councils.[8] Kauṭilya is of the opinion that without the efficient ministers a king does not achieve victory. The successful functioning of a state depends on both the king and the council. One alone cannot administer a government just as the carriage cannot move on one wheel.[9] In the Manusmṛti, Manu has condemned a king as unfit and called him fool who even attempts to carry out the state functioning alone.[10] According to him, a king must possess a good council of ministers with whom he has to discuss the matters of the state -both ordinary and extraordinary.[11] Manu is also of the same view as the Matsyapurāṇa that even a small task cannot be achieved single-handedly. Hence, it is not possible for a king to accomplish the great issues of a state without any kind of help of others. The Śukranītisāra has mentioned that in spite of his brilliancy in the science of polity, a king should not take any political decision without seeking advices from his ministers.[12]

A king’s Council [i.e., pariṣad] forms an integral part in the whole set-up of ancient Indian polity. Their advice is of high importance. Though the king is the ultimate decision maker still he is highly influenced by the opinion given by the Council. The Matsyapurāṇa has said that the rise of the state is strongly dependent on a sound policy and that is why a king should always take the help of judicious and wise statesmen. However, it is the duty of the king to take proper care while discussing it with his Council. He should try his best to keep his policy secret until it is accomplished. There always prevails a risk for its leaking if it is put down in fickle hands, as many kings have been devastated by the bad advices of the Council and for letting others know their policies.[13] So, the Council who acts as the pillar in this regard must be consisted with noble and honest persons. The members of his Council should be eminent and respectable, who can contribute fully towards his duty and do justice to his position. The Matsyapurāṇa has said that on a state policy a king should consult the members of his Council one by one. In this case the king should pay special attention so that the advice given by one councilor should not be disclosed to other councilors as everyone may not be faithful.[14] Moreover, such consultations should not be restricted to one person only due to the fear of discloser and at the same time it should not be spread amongst too many persons as the king may become confused with the advices of many. This suggestion of the Matsyapurāṇa is very important since if only one member is being consulted then doubt may arise about it and if many persons are consulted then again there may be confusions regarding different advices. So, the sole responsibility lies in the shoulder of the king with whom and with how many members he has to consult and after consultation he has to take his own decision. The Matsyapurāṇa has mentioned that a king should be surrounded by wise and noble people who are well versed in the three Vedas for getting right kind of advices, but never entertain the persons with hypothetical knowledge. Hence, these learned persons are also included in his Council who are equally important like others.

There are divergent opinions amongst the ancient Indian political texts regarding the number of persons in a Council. However, the Matsyapurāṇa is silent in this regard and nothing is said about the strength of the Council of minister. In the Arthaśāstra, it is mentioned that the strength of the Council should be decided according to the need of the state.[15] The Mahābhārata has suggested eight ministers for the Council[16] and thirty seven persons as ministers.[17] The Manusmṛti has recommended that a king’s Council should be made of seven or eight members but the king could decide the number of members according to the need of the administration.[18] The Śukranītisāra has advocated a small committee with seven or eight persons but can be extended to ten.[19] According to P.V.Kane, the references found in these books regarding the number of ministers or persons in Council show that firstly there was to be a small cabinet of three or four ministers, secondly there was to be a council (pariṣad) of ministers who might be eight or more in number according to requirements and thirdly there was a large number of amātyas or sacivas (high functionaries) concerned with various departments.[20]

Footnotes and references:


Cf., P.V.Kane, History of Dharmaśāstras (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law), Volume III, pp. 104-105


Cf., D.R.Bhandarkar, Some Aspects of Ancient Hindu Polity, The Manindra Chandra Nandy Lectures, Delivered in February, 1925, p. 68


Matsyapurāṇa, 215.47; 220.37


Ibid., 215.2, 4, 6, 76, etc.


abhiṣekārdraśirasā rājñā rājyāvalokinā/ sahāyavaraṇaṃ kāryaṃ tatra rājyaṃ pratiṣṭhitam// yadapyalpataraṃ karma tadapyekena duścaram/ puruṣeṇāsahāyena kimu rājyaṃ mahodayam// Ibid., 215.2-3


Ibid., 215.4-6


Mahābhārata, 12.106.11


Ibid., 5.37-38


Arthaśāstra, 1.7.15


Manusmṛti , 7.30-31


Ibid., 7.54-57


Śukranītisāra, 2.1-4


Matsyapurāṇa , 220.31-35


bahubhirmantrayet kāmaṃ rājā mantraṃ pṛthak pṛthak/ mantriṇāmapi no kuryānmantrimantraprakāśanam// Ibid., 215.47


Arthaśāstra, 1.15


Mahābhārata, 12.85.11




Manusmṛti, 7.54, 60


Śukranītisāra, 2.71-72


Cf., P.V.Kane, History of Dharmaśāstras (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law), Vol.III, p. 107

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: