Category Archives: Dharma

King Dasaratha

King Dasaratha is an important figure in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Dasaratha’s parents, Aja and Indumati have an unusual story; Indumati was a reborn apsara. Apsaras are beautiful nymphs produced during the creation of the Milky Ocean. They are unable to marry gods or demons, so they often visit Earth. Indumati faces rebirth due to a curse placed upon her by the sage, Trnabindu, however, he takes pity upon her and allows her to be born as the princess of Bhoja country. Trnabindu chose Aja to be Indumati’s husband as Aja was pronounced to be a man of the appropriate stature and wealth. Soon after Dasaratha’s birth, Indumati passes away and leaves Aja a widower (Devaky 141-143). Aja’s character is displayed in the manner in which he treats Indumati; he treats her with respect by acknowledging her mind as well as her beauty. Once Dasaratha matures and is able to act as king, Aja abandons an extravagant life and eventually passes away from a disease (Devaky 143). Some individuals say Aja was unable to perform his royal duties due to the sorrow he faced after Indumati’s death, and that he voluntarily starved himself in order to join her (Madan 190).

King Dasaratha of Kosala has three wives, all of whom are unable to conceive (Sivaraman 107). His first and oldest wife, Kausalya, has rights to the throne for her son unlike his second and third wives, Sumitra, and Kaikeyi. The love King Dasaratha has for Kaikeyi is comparable to the love his father, Aja had for his mother, Indumati (Madan 191). King Dasaratha’s first two wives are unable to have children, so they are unable to provide a successor to the throne. King Dasaratha believes Kaikeyi is able to conceive and thus promises her father, Aswapati, that her son would be the kingdom’s next king. However, eventually all of King Dasaratha’s wives have sons and due to the seniority of Kausalya as first wife, her son is announced as King Dasaratha’s successor. When Kaikeyi learnt of King Dasaratha’s promise to her father, she asked King Dasaratha to grant her two boons (promises) she had earned when she saved his life.

King Dasaratha had been accompanied by Kaikeyi into battle in the Dandaka forest against Shumbar, the king of Vijayanta and the brother-in-law of a demon, Ravana. When Shumbar killed the chariot driver and broke a chariot wheel, Kaikeyi was forced to drive the chariot in order to save King Dasaratha’s life. When King Dasaratha granted Kaikeyi two boons in reward, she initially refused them until, at his persistence, she asked to save them for later (Mittal: 206-207).

As King Dasaratha was originally unable to have children, he reached out to the gods by performing an Asvamedha, the horse sacrifice, asking them to bestow a child upon him. Collectively, many gods pressured Lord Visnu into manifesting himself into the sons of King Dasaratha in order to defeat the demon, Ravana. However, there is a disagreement over how King Dasaratha received the potion that would ultimately lead to the birth of his sons. Some say Visnu himself presented the potion to King Dasaratha during the sacrifice (Sivaraman 107), while others argue that Agni, the god of fire, presented King Dasaratha with Caru, a sacrificial food (Madan 191). Despite the disagreement on how King Dasaratha gained this magical substance, all three of his wives received portions of it. Instructed to divide the potion between his wives; King Dasaratha gave half to Kausalya due to her seniority and the other half to Kaikeyi due to his fondness for her. Unfortunately, this did not leave any for Sumitra which caused Kausalya and Kaikeyi to each give her half of their portions. Since Sumitra technically received two servings, she bore two sons (Madan 191). Kausalya bore Rama, Sumitra bore twins, Laksmana, and Satrughna, and Kaikeyi bore Bharata.

The story of the Ramayana is heavily influenced by King Dasaratha and his relationships with Kaikeyi, Aswapati, and Rama. When Dasaratha must choose a successor, he chooses Rama but, Kaikeyi soon intervenes. She learns of Rama’s appointment through her maid who convinces her that Bharata should be heir to the throne. Rama happens to be Dasaratha’s favorite son, so it is difficult for her to convince him to change his decision. Kaikeyi is only able to secure Bharata’s position on the throne by reminding King Dasaratha of the two boons promised to her. Kaikeyi uses these boons to remove Rama from the kingdom by banishing him to exile for fourteen years, placing Bharata as successor to the kingdom. Upon hearing this request, Dasaratha becomes highly distraught, yet is unable to break his promise to Kaikeyi. When Rama learns about the exile, he goes to King Dasaratha and agrees to leave the kingdom in order to minimize the guilt his father feels. Despite Rama’s brother, Laksmana’s, and Kausalya’s pleas for him to stay in the kingdom, Rama declares that his dharma or highest duty, is to help his father. Rama informs his wife, Sita, of his departure and asks her to cooperate with Bharata and the rest of his family. Sita, however, believes that her duty as a pati-vrata, (devoted wife), is to follow Rama into the woods for the duration of his exile. Although Rama informs Sita of any and all possible dangers, she is persistent on accompanying him (Winternitz 3). Although Sita’s father, King Janaka of Videha, insisted that Rama compete for her hand in marriage, they were destined to be together. This is shown by Sita’s devotion to Rama despite the fact that they did not know each other before marriage.

Sita did not have a normal birth, as King Janaka had discovered her arising from the Earth while he plowed a field which led him to name her “Sita” which means “furrow”. In order to choose Sita’s husband, King Janaka held a contest containing one task, drawing a special bow designed for the gods. Although many men attempt to draw the bow, they all failed and Rama became the first man able to affect the bow’s structure, he broke it in half. This action made Rama worthy of Sita and led to a happy marriage between them until they both were obliged to leave the kingdom (Winternitz 2).

When Rama and Sita prepare for exile, Laksmana decides to join them and does not sway from this decision, despite his family pleading him to stay. A few nights after their departure, King Dasaratha is unable to sleep and recounts a curse placed upon him in his youth. This curse was placed by the father of a blind child who was mistakenly killed by Dasaratha during a hunting trip. It indicated the manner in which Dasaratha would die, namely, due to the grief of a lost son. A few days after Rama’s departure, this prophecy comes true and Dasaratha passes away. After his death, Bharata is offered the throne but he declines due to the value he places on tradition; Bharata believes Rama should be the next king as he was originally appointed by Dasaratha. Although Rama mourns his father’s death and performs a funeral for him, he refuses to return to the kingdom until he has completed the terms of his exile (Winternitz 4), eventually returning and becoming king (Winternitz 10).

King Dasaratha’s devotion to Kaikeyi ultimately leads to his own demise as well as many of the events in the Ramayana epic. Many scholars believe that Dasaratha’s love for Kaikeyi is relatable to Aja’s love for Indumati. Some refer to Kaikeyi as Dasaratha’s kama (sensory pleasure) (Madan 192). King Dasaratha was easily able to overlook any of Kaikeyi’s flaws and assumes that Kaikeyi’s anger is justified either by being provoked by someone or as a rouse in order to excite him. This love for Kaikeyi had the power to change the fate of the kingdom drastically, however, Bharata and Rama are able to prevent this from occurring. When Kaikeyi asks for her two boons, Dasaratha must grant them in accordance to the promise he made, as well as his love for her. Although Rama decides to leave the kingdom for his exile, Bharata defies his mother and willingly gives up the throne, recognizing that Rama’s seniority as well as superiority makes him a better choice for king (Madan 193-194). Dasaratha’s relationship with Aswapati plays a crucial role in Rama’s exile, because Dasaratha is unable to break his previous promise to Aswapati. If Dasaratha had been able to break this promise, Rama would not have left the kingdom, and a father would not have been separated from his son. This exile ends the close relationship between father and son, resulting in a copious amount of guilt for Dasaratha which coupled with his sorrow, eventually led to his death.

King Dasaratha’s respect for the actions of others, such as the bravery of Kaikeyi in the battle in the Dandaka forest, results in him having a verbal commitment to fulfill any request placed upon him. Those requests coupled with the admiration and love King Dasaratha has for both his wife, Kaikeyi, and his son, Rama, leads to the events in the Ramayana epic as well as his death.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING RECOMMENDATIONS

Devaky, E.S. (2006) “Major Female Characters of Kalidasa.” Feminist Readings in Kalidasa’s works. India: University of Calicut.

Madan, T. N. (1988) Way of Life: King, Householder, Renouncer: Essays in Honor of Louis Dumont. India: Motilal Banarsidass.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Mittal, J.P (2006) History of Ancient India (a New Version): From 7300 Bb to 4250 Bc. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers.

Raman, V. Varadaraja (1998) Balakanda: Ramayana as Literature and Cultural History. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan.

Rodrigues, Hillary Peter (2006) Hinduism: The Ebook. United States of America: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Sankalia, Hasmukhlal Dhirajlal (1982) The Ramayana in the Historical Perspective. Delhi: Macmillan.

Sivarama Krishna (1989) Hindu Spirituality: Vedas through Vedanta. New Delhi: Motilal Banasidass.

Winternitz, Maurice (1927) A History of Indian Literature. New York: Russell & Russell.

 

Related Topics for Further Research:

Ramayana

Kaikeyi

Kausalya

Rama

Sita

Hanuman

Lord Visnu

Ashvamedha

Aja

Indumati

Lakshmana

Ravana

Apsaras

Sumitra

King Janaka

Aswapati

Satrughna

 

Noteworthy Websites for Further Research:

http://www.bl.uk/learning/cult/inside/gallery/4sons/foursons.html

http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/j4/j4025.htmw

https://sites.google.com/site/thewomenofindia/home/introduction/kaikeyi-s-story

http://hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/619/what-is-the-significance-of-ashwamedha-yagna

http://www.britannica.com/topic/ashvamedha

 

Article written by: Crystal Mulik (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Dharma Sastras

The Dharma Sastras are texts in Hinduism that are concerned with the legal precedent or law that is in relation to dharma (Rodrigues, 535). Dharma as it relates to the Dharma Sastra’s acts as a guide to what a Hindu must do in their life to fulfil their dharmic duty. In relation to religious texts for Hindu’s the Dharma Sastras are considered smrti [all texts containing traditions] not sruti [divinely heard or from the gods] an example of these are the Vedas (Banerji, 1). As the Dharma Sastras are smrti which are of human authorship they are not as revered as are the main sruti texts of the Hindu religion.

The exact origin of the Dharma Sastras is not known but it is believed that the Dharma Sastras can be traced back to Vedic times. The Dharma Sastras were believed to be written because the Dharma Sutras[texts that contained dharmic law and were the basis for the Dharma Sastras] were antiquated and a new text was needed to address the increasingly complex needs of society. Therefore, the Dharma Sastras were needed to explain the more complex matters that were arising in this new era (Banerji, 4-5).

Just as the Dharma Sutras contains many works, the Dharma Sastras do as well, with the main works being of Manu, Yajnvalka, Parasara, Katyayana, and Narada, [these are all different Dharma Sastra writers however Manu was most extensive and all had similar teachings]; however, these are just a few of the works that are considered Dharma Sastras, and there are many more examples. This paper will mention the main two Dharma Sastras, which are regarded highly as important smrti writings and legal codices of ancient India. The two works are the works of Manu and Yajnavalka. Where Manu`s works contains information on acara, prayascitta, vyavahara, and rajadharma. Where the Yajnavalka only comments on three of these which are the acara, prayascitta, and, vyavahara (Banerji 30-35)

The Manu Smrti is a name used for the Laws of Manu. It is considered the most important of the Dharma Sastras [the composition of Manu Smrti according to B. C. Kane to fall somewhere in between second century BC and second century AD](Banerji, 31). The Laws of Manu are composed of a manuscript which is divided into twelve adhyayas [lessons or chapters]. According to Patrick Olivelle these twelve adhyayas is an “old version” as all of the commentaries on it Manu’s works follow that there is the twelve adhyayas. However, Olivelle suggests that it is not the original breakup of the adhyayas of the Laws of Manu, and further suggests that there was a possibility of more at one time before the commentaries were written (Olivelle, 7). This version is also considered to contain two thousand six hundred ninety four verses. However, it is not known who composed the work; there are several different opinions concerning authorship, such as those who believe that Manu was a mythical being; others believe that it arose from a school propounded by a sage named Manu (Banerji, 31). In P. V. Kane’s History of the Dharmasastras, he states that myth says Manu is possibly the father of the human race and a semi-divine sage that received the laws and regulations from God (Kane, 307 vol. 1). This causes confusion as to who was the actual author of the work. However, the work itself says “Brahma formulated this sastra, and taught it to Manu. (Banerji, 31) ” This Dharma Sastra has some contradicting statements such as allowing brahmins to take a sudra wife in one adhyaya and forbidding it in another adhyaya. This brings forth an assumption that this Dharma Sastra was possibly brought through three different stages of its development in its writing. While, this is thought because of the contradictions may indicate the works could have been written by more than one hand.  Some scholars disagree that this is the case.  It is said that the Laws of Manu is to the most commented on of all the smrti literature composed (Banerji, 30-34). It is also considered to be the most authoritative work of all the Dharma Sastras and is commented in the Yajnavalka by saying “that smrti which runs counter to Manu is not commended (Banerji, 33)” and “whatever Manu said is medicine. (Banerji, 33)” Showing that this Dharma Sastra is the most influential work, it is even stated in other versions of the Dharma Sastras as other authors of the Dharma Sastras recognize it as the most .

The Yajnavalka Smrti [the second most important Dharma Sastra] which was composed by Yajnavalka himself is also very important version of the Dharma Sastra. It is believed to have been written between first century BCE and third century CE.  This version is important because it brings order to three of the subjects that are touched in the Laws of Manu. The three topics that Yajnavalka brings order to is acara, vyavahara, and prayascitta. Yajnavalka lays these out in an order so that they are to be easily understood. The most famous portion of this Dharma Sastra is its section on the vyavahana which concerns itself with secular law. A subsection in the vyavahana has actually given rise to two different schools of law, the Mitaksara which is law in all of India except Bengal, and the Dayabhaga which is the law in Bengal. There have been a few changes made to the Yajnavalka, between eight hundred and eleven hundred CE and other then these few changes the text is believed to be intact since seven hundred CE (Banerji, 34-35)

I will now touch on the subjects that are talked about in the Dharma Sastras, these topics being acara, vyavahara, prayascitta, and rajadharma. Acara [customary laws] in the Dharma Sastras is concerned with the practice of dharma in the everyday life of a Hindu and the ways in which they must live in order to be a dharmic Hindu (Davis, 814). This meaning that acara was concerned with ensuring that you could have a good dharmic life. To ensure that a person has a good dharmic life they must follow the samskaras [life cycle rites that Hindus participate in(Rodrigues, 562)] . This is mostly for brahmins who are to lead a life devoted to the dharma. These samskaras are there to help these brahmins remove their taint and sin that they inherit from their parents. In the acara concerning samskaras there are certain rituals that are only reserved for the twice-born castes brahmin, ksatriya, and vaisyas. Within the twice-born casts, only the males are allowed to have Vedic mantras said, however, in the case of marriage Vedic mantras are uttered for the females of twice-born families. Sudras are only allowed to perform samskaras not reserved for the twice-born. However it is now thought that most of the samskaras are now considered obsolete. Marriage it is not seen as much as a samskara but more of a contract (banerji, 77-81). An example of acara is its provisions in the Laws of Manu regarding bride’s price, selection of a bride, and types of marriage, just to name a few that are concerned with the acara.

Vyavahara [civil and criminal law] is concerned with disputes of law in the sense that western society thinks of law. It contains both civil and criminal law that we in the western world (Banerji, 157). According to the Laws of Manu there are eighteen different disputes. To name a few there is: rnadana which is non-repayment of debt, strisamgrahana which is the molestation and unlawful sexual union of women, and samahvaya which is animal-betting. This is showing that vyavahara concerns itself with the actual laws of the Hindu society which is part of their dharmic responsibility. For a person to follow dharma they must follow these laws because if you break these laws you are not fulfilling your dharmic duty and therefore not fulfilling your responsibilities to dharma. When you look at Hindu laws it is shown that  a similar code covers similar topics as our own laws such as judicial proceedings, evidence, possession and ownership, and crime and punishment (Banerji, 157-167). The Laws of Manu shows examples of what to do with criminal code such as theft and thieves in chapter eight which includes others crimes such as violence and the code also includes how the justice system is to function and a range of different criminal charges (Olivelle, 167-189).

Prayascitta [penance or washing away ones sins] is concerned with the penance of a sinner. It is the washing off of their sin where they make amends for their crimes against dharma. Prayascitta is meant to be used to avert the sinners fall into hell and allows for the sinner to be acceptable for social interaction in that he can partake in social activities within the society. However, prayascitta only makes the sinner acceptable for social interaction within society if they did not intentionally sin. If the person intentionally commits a sinful deed they can avert from falling into hell but cannot gain back their right for social interaction within regular society (Banerji, 90-92). The prayascitta is the way that a Hindu is punished for their wrongdoing. Just as someone in western society is given a jail sentence for a crime to pay penance for his/her wrongdoing; prayascitta to a Hindu is in a sense there “jail sentence” to make amends for their wrongdoing as the jail sentence is to the westerner. Examples of this would be punishments for people who breach Hindu law such as punishments for thieves that is found in chapter eight of Manu’s code of law (Olivelle, 184)

In regards to the last section of Laws of Manu; the section raja dharma concerns itself with the kingly dharma. It is concerned with how a King must live and it contains information on where a king must live and how he must protect himself. It also includes information on how he is to receive council from his ministers; who to have as ambassadors, political expedients’, and other topics that are needed for a king to do their duty (Banerji, 92-100).

These four topics are what make up most of the Dharma Sastras. These are guides for the Hindus to follow in their life. Especially brahmins as they are expected to lead a dharmic life. With these codes they are able to sustain a society that is prosperous and cohesive.

The Dharma Sastras discusses issues from how to live dharmically to what will happen if the codes of your dharma are not followed. It teaches the Hindus about how they must live in their everyday life and shows what are expected of them in their life. It is seen that the Dharma Sastras are also connected to other aspects of the Hindu’s life such as the Arthasastras as they are related in what they teach regarding one’s life duties (Banerji, 6-7). We also see that the Dharma Sastras are related to the epics, in that the epics are seen as the “sources of dharma (Banerji, 7).” The Mahabharata contains many matters that are in the Dharma Sastras so one could think that it is a possibility that the epics are a way of teaching the Hindu’s on how to live there life in an easily understandable way through the narrative. The Dharma Sastras are books that help with everyday life for every Hindu and are needed to ensure that there dharmic duties are fulfilled. These texts are needed for Hindus culture because they make up what a Hindu is and what a Hindu does, showing them how in their lives they can attain their ultimate dharmic goal eventually through living a life of dharma and attaining moksa [liberation from the worldly state].

References and Further Readings

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism the eBook an Online introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics online Books.

Olivelle, Patrick (2005) Manu’s Code of Law A Critical Edition and Translation of the Manava-Dharmasastra. New York: Oxford University Press.

Banerji, S.C.(1999) A Brief History of Dharmasastra.New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

Kane, Pandurang (1968) History of Dharmasatras vol.1, 4. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

Davis, Donald R. (2004) Journal of Indian Philosophy. 32:5-6:p.813-830

Related Topics:

  • Dharma Sutras
  • Laws of Manu
  • Yajnavalka Smrti
  • Mahabharata
  • Acara
  • Prayascitta
  • Vyabahara
  • Rajadharma
  • Artha Sastras

Related websites:

Article written by: Tony Slezina (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its contents.