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Hinduism - Kings And Peasants

( Originally Published 1916 )

INDIA has been known as the land of Kings and Peasants. All the rajahs and maharajahs that we hear of today were originally Hindu kings. India was divided politically into various principalities. But the Indian ideal of kingship comes from the time of Ramachandra in the Ramayanic period. All these kings were federated kings of the vast Indian Empire. There was one who was known as the Sovereign King of Kings. He was called the Rajchakravarti, meaning a king in a circle of kings. All minor independent rulers used nominally to pay homage to this sovereign king, but they were all independent in their own states. The wars and battles that people hear of between Indian rulers were not for the greed of territory; but when any king strayed in the wrong path, away from the ideal of kingship, and was injuring his people, then would there be war against him, either to bring him to his senses, or to dethrone him and place his son or some heir upon the throne. But at no time have Indian kings fought between themselves to extend their boundaries. That was not the Hindu ideal. It was far from it.

A king in India was not a mere figure-head, but the very life of his people. He is the mirror of the people. One of the people, though above the people. His chief duty is Protection: to protect his subjects, who are his children. The king so long as he is able to keep the ideal of kingship. There have been many cases where kings were dethroned by the people —the king-makers. Long before Europe and America had heard of such a thing, the voice of the people was all-powerful in India. This is embodied in the Ramayana, when Ramachandra, the King of Ayodhya, banishes his dearly-loved wife for the sake of his people, and she in love and devotion accepts the banishment unmurmuringly for the sake of the people. The world has not been able to equal this matchless ideal of renunciation and devotion. This, even to-day the guiding passion and the kingly ideal, is predominantly the note that has governed all the principles of kingship amongst the Hindus. We must not think for a moment that the present ideal of the rajahs of India has been slackened. Our Indian kings think for the people, do everything for the people, live for the people.

Now let us consider in detail, but briefly, the ideals of Hindu kings in their spirit of government. In the first place we must remember that in ancient India, and by ancient I do not mean very far remote, the land did not belong to the king; the forests, pastures, hills, and holy places were without proprietor. They were supposed to be preserved and kept for all. The king was protector, not Bhuswani or landlord. In the Ramayana it is said, " Great is the sin of the king who while accepting his tribute does not protect his subjects as if they were his own children." There are various Shastric injunctions made very strictly to Hindu kings. Says the Manusanhita, " The king who does not protect, but takes the sixth share of the produce, becomes a carrier of all the evil of the world." " The king who takes either rent, taxes, presents or fines, and does not protect, surely goes to hell." According to Manu, " the royal share was fixed as a sixth, an eighth, or a twelfth, and was paid in produce. The mutual, claims of king and cultivator were very judicially adjusted. It depended on the produce. The king must have his share because of his supervision, the cultivator because of his labour. There was no fixed rent. The taxation was dependent upon the produce of the crops, which varied from year to year, and the producer was not harassed with anxiety as to the payment of his rents if there had been failure of crops due to bad weather or other causes."

The duties of the king were many and varied. Two of the main duties were that he " should provide pasture for the cattle; that he should provide water for irrigation. This he had to do by the excavation of tanks, wells and canals, for the development of agriculture." Those who have read the Mahabharata will perhaps remember the story where Narada, " the great Brahmin Rishi, came one day to King Yudisthira and asked him if he had provided large tanks well filled with water, suitably distributed in each different part of the kingdom; for agriculture, said Narada, will not thrive if it has to depend on the rains." He asked also if he had taken the proper care to see that the husbandman's stock of seed had not run out.

The third duty of the king was the " protection of the people from thieves and robbers." It is interesting to notice that in those days the king not only had to take means to get back stolen things, but if he failed to do so had to make good from his own treasury. When Yudisthira ruled, and a thief had stolen some cows belonging to a Brahmin, the Brahmin presented the matter to Arjuna, saying, " The king who accepts the sixth of the produce as his share, but does not protect his subjects, is said to be responsible for the sins of the world." Arjuna heard and said, " If I do not give relief to this man crying at my gate, the king shall have committed the great sin of neglect of duty." So saying, he entered Draupadi's room, took his bow and arrows, went with the Brahmin, overtook the thieves, recovered the cattle, and restored them to the Brahmin.

But in all these affairs the kings were not with-out councillors. The ancient Hindu polity was built centuries ago on a very psychological and far-seeing basis. Each king had an executive council. According to rank the Priest of the king's family came first, though his part in the council was chiefly of adviser. He commanded great reverence, but his work was rather for the spiritual ministrations of the state. After the priest came the Pratinidhi, the Viceroy or prime minister, who represented the king in various state functions. His chief work was to advise the king upon the various questions that arose in administration. Not only that, but he had also the implied power, sanctioned by the king and people, to make the king do that which was best to be done. If it happened sometimes that the king did not want to act upon the advice given him, the Pratinidhi must wait and use his persuasion until he succeeded in making the king do all that was needed. He was, in fact, the responsible person, practically the head of the administration. After him came the Pradhana, or chief Secretary of the State. His duty was to supervise the general work of the state, to keep control of expenditure, check accounts and so forth. Next to him in rank came the War Minister. He was entitled the Sachiva. The Sachiva was supposed to advise about everything connected with war; know the strength of the army, devise plans as to how best to train and feed the troops, keep them ready whenever their services should be necessary, and report to the king from time to time as to the condition of the forces.

We must remember that the Indian kings were all Kshatriyas. Their chief point in keeping the army was not spoliation or extermination of other lands or people, but only to protect their own from aggressive attacks. All diplomatic affairs were managed by the Mantri, or Foreign Secretary. He had to study " when, how, and to whom the policies of peace, purchase, partition and penalty had to be adopted and the various effects of each, whether great or small; and having decided on the course of action, to communicate that to the king." Peace was always the object aimed at by the king in his foreign policy, peace with justice. Then there was the Amatya, who had charge of lands and land revenues; and the Sukraniti, or general Finance Minister.

These seven Prakritis, or ministers, formed the regular ministerial body. Besides them there was the office of the Watcher. His function was " to find out the temper of the people and report the same to the king; so that the king might, with the knowledge so gained, reform himself." Thus the purpose of the Watcher was not to find out the mistakes of the people, but the mistakes of the king in his protection of the people.

The dharma that the Hindus implanted in the caste of the Kshatriyas was mainly and chiefly the protecting of the people. That protection according to the Hindu ideal, it was understood must be from every standpoint. So the Hindu king was surrounded with different ministers with different functions, each of the ministers practically the representative of the people; and through them, as well as directly in many ways, the Hindu king was always in touch with his people. The Hindu king was more than democratic. He was patriarchal in the true sense of the word. His treasury not for his luxury, but for the maintenance of the poor and needy. The outside world cannot conceive of the wonderful communistic life that the Hindu kings and people lead. In the past, as in the present, they have been the same in ideal. Even today they are the protectors of their people.

One of the most significant things we shall notice in our Hindu rajahs is that they also try in all their affairs of life to realise God. The king is the carrier of the culture of his race to the unborn generations. He goes through every discipline for the building up of his character. It is the personal relation in doing things which really helps us to realise our ideals. If we simply draw a cheque and send it to the poor we are not elevated much above the drawing of the cheque; but if we study their condition of life we feel for them. If we give a glass of water to a beggar we have quenched our own thirst. The relation of the king in matters of charity is very personal.

He very often makes tours. He goes to the places where the Guru teaches his chelas, he goes where gather thousands of Sanyasins who have been roaming in India from place to place, from pilgrimage to pilgrimage, and he sees how their affairs are managed and has personal talks with them. He builds rest-houses. One cannot imagine how many rest-houses have been built at the king's expense for the poor and needy travellers. In these the door is always open; you take a room for yourself; all your wants are provided for; you stop as long as you please or until you have finished your work. You can travel from one end of India to the other, taking your shelter in these rest-houses. No one will come to you for any tax or rent. If you have money you may give them coin. Thousands of poor travellers are thus taken care of by the rajahs. Thousands of poor people are fed daily from the king's store-house. They are considered to be members of his own family. The question of idleness has not been raised as yet. There is no forced work. The social arrangement of the Hindus has never been to produce machines, but natural growth. The gift given in simple love is received in the spirit of love and gratitude, and both rich and poor, king and peasant, are lifted to a higher plane of spiritual sweetness and confidence. This spirit of oriental giving remains to-day a great puzzle to those who have not studied the social science of the East. To these, our Brahmins are a curiosity, our kings and their courts an enigma.

If you visit any Hindu court you will notice that even the poorest beggar of the street, if he has a grievance unredressed, has direct access to the king. The rajahs and maharajahs whose names we hear now-a-days in this European war, who have been contributing amounts untold from their resources, are representatives of our Kshatriya caste. Visit their places and you will see wonderful social arrangements by which the king and the peasant are tied together in one chain of love. These rajahs and maharajahs are the descendants of the ancient Hindu kings. In states about as large as Scotland and Ireland, our Indian kings rule. And how do they rule ? By love and duty. Centuries ago the Hindus evolved an ideal of government in which all the advantages of a democratic state and an aristocratic state were combined.

Let us imagine the Durbar, or court of the Indian kings which they hold every day, not only once but twice, one in the morning and another in the evening. This Durbar means that the king is present there in the court with all his ministers and the chiefs of other departments, and there they take their seats in the order of their rank with the king in the centre. At the evening Durbar there is a very beautiful ceremony. They sit under the canopy of heaven. Yonder comes the torch-bearer with two or three people as his companions. The king and his ministers and the whole body of people present stand up the moment they see the first light of the evening, and chant to Agni, the God behind the fire. Thus they still keep up that beautiful Vedic ceremony which their ancient forefathers made so full of meaning. The evening Durbar is chiefly a social gathering, most of the business being naturally done in the morning. But at both these times all the people congregate and any one can come to the king and make known his grievance. In this way the king comes in direct contact with his people. He passes his judgments without bias or prejudice, as the people of his territory are all to him the same and the king is above all parties.

The king is very personal and very affectionate. The Hindu thinks the king represents the justice of God. So he centres his loyalty round the king, and in every shape and form renders the king help in his administrative work. It is the injunction to the Hindu king from time immemorial that the king must live, feast, and sleep for the people. He is for the people, not the people for him. He is the chief servant of the state. If any subject is so poor he cannot give a marriage dowry to his daughter, it is the function of the king to do so. If a subject has no money to educate his children, he makes appeal to the king. Hundreds of students are supported entirely by the Indian kings. The " King's Gift " is a synonym for un-bounded generosity. In everything the subjects look up to the king, and the king has impressed his court with the same spirit. All the servants of the state are equally accessible to the people.

Not only the king, but also the Rani, or queen, takes an equal interest in the affairs of the people, especially the women. While the redress of grievances in matters of justice is entirely managed by the king and his ministers, the queen, or Rani, may be appealed to by the poorest peasant woman for help in her personal troubles. The many social functions for women at the palace are personally supervised by the Rani. Our Ranis have also a great part in setting forth their ideals before the women of their country. They wield this power and make it felt in their husband's kingdom. They also have a great share in the administration of the state. They often help with their advice and wisdom.

We have no set who are called the " plutocracy." Money does not count in India; at least, a century ago it had very little influence in our social life. It may be that in the last century it has brought some division of class instead of caste. India is going through a transition period, and there may arise a class division because of money. Caste has been the backbone of India's life and nationality. It may fall away from its ideal, but it has developed her great communistic life. Against this the division of class cannot make much headway. It must be thrown off as any foreign substance must be thrown out of a body or the body cannot exist. So what is foreign to the genius of the race cannot last long. The race which in the morning of the civilisation of man-kind received the ideal in King Ramchandra can-not lose its ideality. Ramchandra, that great King-Ideal of the Hindus, still lives in our national consciousness. The King is for the people.

By the people of India, I mean the three hundred millions of the Hindu population. Be-sides these there are other classes, Mohammedans, Parsees and so forth, about sixty millions. But the vast majority of the Indian people are Hindus. In India even the peasants talk of the Absolute. Who are these Hindu peasants? They are chiefly the Sudras. The division of the caste system in India has not been for nothing. It has developed a class of people who, without the knowledge of the three R's, talk of the Absolute, think of the Absolute, and live in the Absolute. And living in the Absolute they think that each and every unit of the universe is their brother.

Who has taught them this ideal of spiritual culture? The Brahmin. Go to an Indian village : you will be given a night's shelter, you will be given food; and in the twilight of the evening the village workers will assemble and will talk of God and His love, and will sing the name of God with a passion of heart and soul that will make the un-believer believe in the Reality. They will perhaps spend the evening until late at night in singing and singing. They know God as both Divine and Human. In their assemblies they will spend most of the time in conversations on God, the Seen, and Unseen. Cold winter nights they will perhaps light a fire and sit around and talk of the same.

Here and there you will find in village gatherings of our Indian peasants some one reading either from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, from which sources the Hindu mind, young and old, rich and poor, men and women, equally have drawn and are still drawing wonderful inspirations for their social and religious ideals. The eternal leela or action of Krishna, our Indian peasant understands both from the philosophical and the human point of view. He knows for a fact that this life is only a temporary pilgrimage in the world; but he is not to neglect it. He knows that his body as well as his home is the abode of his Krishna — the Lord and Lover of his life. He cleanses his house that it may be the house of his Krishna; he cleanses his body that it may be the Temple of his Krishna. He sings always, his boys and girls sing —

" This is my Brindaban
This is my Brindaban
Sree Krishna is the King in the Forest,
Here flows the Jumna,
I hear Sree Krishna's footsteps
In every leaf-falling,
In every vein it is His writing
Even in its very heart.
Oh, I am His Love,
He is my Love."

And this is not superficial knowledge, it is realisation, and that intense realisation has given him absolute faith and a love for the universe as his own. In his little courtyard he has planted a tulsi plant, and he goes and sits there in deep devotion and faith. He knows that that plant is not his

God, but he realises his God in the plant. That is his symbol and through this Nature's one child, he rejoices in the God of Nature, and realises Him in all things. He will feed the hungry, and by doing that he will think that he is doing it to his Krishna; will clothe the naked, and by doing that he will think that he is clothing his Krishna. Before he goes to his fields or other work he will every day, not casually, but lovingly, dedicate his work to Krishna. Whilst he is tilling his land, while handling the instrument for ploughing, he will not think what parliamentary election will be possible this year, but he will think many times how he will till his very soul which is another land for the growth of God's seed. His very work is a symbol. He will sing in the midday sun, in the scorching rays, he will sing in his sweet simple way which the Indians call the " fieldy-voice "

" Till my heart, O Beloved,
As I am tilling this land,
And make me Thine
As I am making this land my own.
Till my heart, 0 Beloved! "

The Indian peasants, from far-off Cashmere to the coast of Ceylon, whenever they go out with their corn of the fields and cross the rivers in boats filled with the corn, sing while crossing, in the same inimitable way, with the soulful exuberance of the passion of their hearts —

"Take me across, O Beloved!
As I cross this stream
With the corn.
I have gathered the corn
From the field,
But where is the corn
Of my heart?
Take me across, oh Beloved!
Take me across the world —
The stream of life
And be my Helmsman,
O Master of many Crossings!"

They sing of Rama and Sita, of Krishna and Radha — the Ideal and the Idealist, the Lover and the Beloved. They learn from their nation's history and songs, the everlasting possessions of the peasants of India, this devotion and love, and with a heart and a soul full of passion and intensity, realise God and eternity and with it the whole Humanity. The world of " civilisation," with telephone and motor-car, will perhaps deride him, because he is simple and half nude. But he has kept his breast open, his heart open, his soul open. He has kept himself as a clean slate. He has kept it for his Lord and Lover to write with His eternal pencil. The Hindu peasant is the very handiwork of God. He is Nature's wonderful production. Who would not like to change a day with him? He will sing the songs of Kavir and Ramdas, Nanak and Chaitanya. He realises them.' He will go to hear the great Pandits ex-pounding the abstruse subjects of the Vedas and the Upanishads. He understands them. And early in the morning after a sultry night of the summertime he will perhaps take his simple flute of bamboo and improvise a song to the tune of the flute. The soft plaintive tone which will come from a peasant's home in a distant village has melted the hearts of hundreds. In India travellers who start very early because of the blazing sun of the morning many times stop to hear this distant note coming like a stream ! The rider has stopped his horse, the walker his steps, and feels that he has heard the voice of " God walking in His garden in the cool of the day." The stream of music overflows their hearts. In their uplifting of soul even for the moment they have forgotten their ideas of separateness. They open their hearts to God.

In India the religion is music. It is the property of the king as well as the peasant. It is with this music that Sree Krishna enchanted the souls of His devotees. His flute since then is the symbol which awakens all our hearts. All the greatest devotees in India sing. In every shape and form it is the music that elevates the heart of a Hindu. The songs of Chandidas and Jajadeva are sung everywhere in Bengal. There is going on continually one stream of music with different notes. Music is religion.

In the life and history of Hindu civilisation the Indian peasant is a wonderful factor. He knows that God lives in every human being. He bows his head to Him. He bows his head to his king and country. He receives their benediction, and in this benediction the king and peasant meet. There are days of national festival when king and peasant not only meet, but embrace each other — an embrace of the spirit. In this touch they touch God in one another. They embrace God in man.

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