The Political Genius of Rāma Dāśarathi

Modern day Upanyāsakas with their highly emotional discourses as well as the commercial Santa Claus-ification of Rāma Dāśarathi and his Parivāra in the form of Golu krīdāvastūni, televised nāṭakāni portraying crude caricatures of the textual personae, comic books or even cartoons that are solely in the service of profitability, with respect for text outside the domain of concern. Of course, these forms of media are not bad by themselves; they certainly incite the interest in the otherwise unimpressionable, unimpressive generation of Hindus.

 

But because many of these Hindus do not have that tribal urge to be entrenched in their own ancestral tradition, they remain as passive consumers of information from these media, and in the absence of any other knowledge, they develop a stagnant and monolithic construct of Rāma and one of the defining characteristics of Rāma in the modern portrayal is this impeachable sense of peacefulness, especially if it is followed by helplessness. The Maryāda Puruṣottama is also known for his valour. But this heroic aspect is buried under our emasculated identities and only surfaces if it is in the interest of some poetry talk, especially if it is a Tamil speaker with Dravidian leanings. But Rjrasva does an excellent job of elucidating this aspect and readers may read it here:

http://vajrin.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/ideal-hero-srii-rama-and-his-approach-to-war/

In this post, however, the aspect I wanted to discuss is the sense of statecraft possessed by Rāma Dāsarathi. There are factors beyond our control. Adversities might come upon us in unexpected ways. To fear and be confused, is of course human. But the hero differentiates himself from the commoner in cutting short the lamentations and attempt to make the best out of a situation. A few people have written online about the Chānakya inside Rāma, especially in the context of his exile and how this actually benefitted the Ikśvākava dynasty. But the exile in itself is not exactly his choice and the benefits accrued by this could be said to be accidental. However, Rāma’s post-return endeavours display a remarkable sense of genius in the matters of politics and administration, especially in the light of the geo-political context of the region.

 

  1. Following the stabilization of his rule after the return to Ayodhya, Rāma saw to it that the Ikśvāku dynasty would spread its area of control through means of conquests. But before we analyse these conquests, let us see why these conquests were needed in the first place? A simple answer would be that Rāma, like any imperial ruler, wanted to expand his territory for the usual reasons of resources, labour, etc. A slightly more nuanced stance would be that Rāma sought to avoid future conflicts among his and his brothers’ sons, and hence wanted them to have their own separate domains.

 

  1. The real expression of rājyatantra by Rāma, in my opinion though, was when he assigned his brother Śatrughna the responsibility to declare war against the great Yādava king, Madhu, after whom Yādava Kṛṣṇa is addressed as Mādhava. Śatrughna slayed Madhu, cut down the forested territory called Madhuvana and built the renowned Mathurā in its place. What is the reason for this conquest? The account of Vālmiki Rāmāyana is that Lavaṇa, the brother of Madhu killed Rāma’s ancestor Māndhātṛ. This was obviously an invention as Māndhātṛ preceded Rāma Dāśarathi by slightly more than 40 generations! (Refer to the Dynastic Lists in the downloads) This narrative was concocted by the court bards in the absence of their knowledge of the real motives behind this battle.

 

In our real opinion, we can readily understand the motives behind this battle if we understand the geography of the situation. We shall use the following map from ancientvoice.wikidot.com, amongst the many other colourful maps it has, for our reference:

Kampilya To Hastinapura

Source: http://ancientvoice.wikidot.com/travel:kampilya-to-hastinapura

If one consults the dynastic lists and survey the texts (which takes a lot of time and energy; and given my other commitments, it takes forever!), one realizes that Daśaratha was probably a junior contemporary of the great king of North Pañcala, the Divodāsa of Rgvedic fame. A number of factors that support such a conclusion is that Ahalya, who was married to a certain Gautama, is actually the sister of Divodāsa. Also, Daśaratha had fought a certain Timidhvaja Śambara and it is possible that he was related to the Śambara who was slayed by Divodāsa. There is another noteworthy synchronism as well. To quote Pargiter (pg. 171-172):

“Andhaka’s brother Bhajamana married two daughters of Srnjaya. Nothing is said to identify this Srnjaya, but the reference suggests he was well known, and the best known Srnjaya was the king of N. Pancala. The genealogical table framed according to the synchronisms established shows that Srnjaya of N. Pancala must have reigned about this time, and as Andhaka’s and Bhajamana’s father Bhima Satvata reigned at Mathura as just shown, a marriage alliance between the two neighbouring dynasties would be quite natural. In two lists of royal munificence to brahmans it is said king Satadyumna gave a splendid furnished house to the brahman Maudgalya, descendant of king Mudgala, of N. Pancala (chapter IX). King Mudgala therefore was earlier than Satadyumna. The only Satadyumna mentioned was a king of Videha, Siradhvaja’s second successor. Siradhvaja was Rama’s father-in-law {ante), so Satadyumna would have been Rama’s younger contemporary and therefore (according to the synchronisms just set out) a contemporary of Srnjaya of N. Pancala. Srnjaya was Mudgala’s fourth or fifth successor, and the Maudgalya brahmans would have been established three or four generations in Satadyumna’s time.”

 

*For those who are not in the know, Sīradhvaja is the personal name of the father of Sītā, who is popularly known as Janaka which is a common name for the kings of Videha.

 

So what about all this information? Pargiter also cites the following interesting facts about Daśaratha’s great sacrifice that is discussed at the very outset of the epic:

“It is remarkable then in the Ramayana, that Kosala’s friendliest relations were with the eastern kingdoms of Videha, Anga and Magadha {sic), the Panjab kingdoms of Kekaya, Sindhu and Sauvira, the western kingdom of Surastra, and the Daksinatya kings, for these are specially named among the invitations sent out for Dasaratha’s sacrifice; and no mention is made of any of the kings of the middle region of North India except Kasi.” (Reference to Vālmīki Rāmāyana, I.13.21-29)

This is extremely significant as it indicates that Daśaratha was wary of the increasingly powerful of the kings of the middle region, particularly North Pañcala. Rāma, after his return to power, must have been aware of the impending threat from the ambitious North Pañcala dynasty. If one refers to the map above, one can note the immense strategic significance in Śatrughna being asked by Rāma to take over the region, in close proximity to North Pañcala. Śatrughna’s descendants would have ruled the newly-found city for a few generations and this might have forced Sudāsa to switch to the Vāsiṣṭhas, the priests of the Ikśvākavas as his own priests and enter into a mutual agreement not to frustrate each other’s interests.

Rāma had also developed a very strong alliance with the Niṣādas, south of Madhyadesa. The Ikśvākavas, together with the solar Videha and Viśāla dynasties, comprised the earlier wave of Ārya entry into Bhārata and must have gradually developed a rapport with the existing non-ārya peoples, against the aggressive lunar clans who were more of a threat to these indigenous tribes. Rāma’s friendship with Guha and the Niṣādas of Śṛṅgaverapura comes to mind. This strong presence of a formidable enemy in the harsh, jungled territory lying to the south of Madhyadesa calls to memory the following verse from the Rigveda:

rājā vṛtraṃ jaṅghanat prāg apāg uda hathā yajāte vara ā pṛthivyāḥ 3.53.11b

The verse speaks of the victories of Sudāsa in the east, west and north, conspicuously leaving out the south.

So the great battle of the ten kings, fought by Sudāsa Paijāvana romanticized by the Rig Veda, was probably less dramatic than it appears. Although it is to a degree remarkable for the fact that Sudāsa had to contend against many enemies, could it be possible that he was being kept in line by the great Ikśvākavas and that the Rigvedic seers, wanting to find favour with the kings of the elite middle region, quietly ignored the geo-political reality and gave us an exaggerated account of Sudāsa’s power? The answers to this are not straight-forward and we are in no mood to carry on this post further than it ought to be for now. The speculations can await.

 

With this, we conclude by noting the foresight and sense of strategy displayed by Rāma Dāśarathi and hope these same virtues aid the new leadership of Bhārata in quelling the threats to security and stability from within and without.

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