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kingship


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As a construct, a topic extensively treated in a number of Hindu texts, especially in relation to dharma. According to Dharmaśāstra, the king, as the conduit for divine power, should be regarded as divinely ordained, or partially divine himself (he is addressed as deva), by virtue of his consecration (abhiṣeka) in the rājasūya ritual. The ideal king (prototypically Bharata) is, moreover, the cakravartin or ‘universal ruler’—the embodiment of physical and spiritual perfection who ritually unites the kingdom in his person. Mirroring this identification of the temporal and the spiritual, gods and other divine beings are often depicted with the insignia of kingship, and pūjā is modelled on the entertainment due to a royal guest.

The practical corollary of this understanding of kingship is that it is the king's duty (rāja-dharma) to maintain social order (i.e. caste hierarchy— varṇāśramadharma), and to protect the kingdom in its entirety. This is to be financed by taxes, and accomplished by administering justice and punishment through the ceaseless application of daṇḍa. At least from the Brahmanical perspective, the king is also the ideal kṣatriya, the model householder, (gṛhastha) and patron of the sacrifice (yajamāna), who, through his power and wealth, supports the brahmin class and its ideology. A seemingly more pragmatic, if highly interventionist, prescription for running a stable kingdom can be found in Kauṭilya's Arthaśāstra.

In the medieval period (8th–13th centuries), the idea of divine kingship was expressed unambiguously, in a Tantric milieu, as the king's identity with the deity. As a warrior god, his power was thought to be derived from his retinue of consort goddesses—a power conferred at abhiṣeka and through Tantric initiation. Although actual kings disappeared with the end of colonialism, the idea of kingship, projected onto, or assumed by, the dominant local caste, continues to configure social and ritual relations for much of Indian society.

Subjects: Religion.


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