Thursday, 24 January 2013

Women seers of Ancient India- Rishika

The women in ancient times used to have an active part in every thing including agriculture, education and household tasks. Primarily, we don't find any reference which talks of not educating women or constraining them to their homes. In fact,we have plenty of evidence which tells us the respectful place that women enjoyed. For eg-

 यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यते रमन्ते तत्र देवता - Manusmriti
Woman respected where, Gods roam there."

or when Kanva rishi talks in the 8th Mandala of the Rigveda saying-

"Lord, You are greater than my father but just equal to my mother!"

Often, the most famous figures of ancient times were always men, whether rishis or kings. But our history also reserves special praises for women seers who excelled equally and became famous and filled with knowledge. Some of the names are heard and some unheard.
These women were benefited by the company of a knowledgeable seer who taught them the basic principles of Indian philosophy.

Let me start one by one.

  • Gargi Vachaknavi - Perhaps the most famous woman seer of ancient India. She represents spiritual knowledge which was of a tough competition to Yajnavalkya, her contemporary. Her father was Vachaknu rishi. Her dialogue with Yajnavalkya in the Madhu Kanda of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.6) is quite interesting. She asks Yajnavalkya in what is the whole world woven? To which finally the debate reaches to the absolute Brahman. Gargi and Yajnavalkya dialogue is also found in the Yogayajnavalkya Samhita. 
Gargi asking questions to Yajnavalkya. ( From the series Upanishad Ganga)

  • Maitreyee Yajnavalkya- This is another name heard mostly in our history texts. Maitreyee was the wife of Yajnavalkya along with Katyayani. The story is that when Yajnavalkya decided to renounce the world and go the forest, he asked his wives what they wanted. Maitreyee demanded anything that would make her eternal. Thus Yajnavalkya gave her the Doctrine of Immortality. Their dialogue is present in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.4). 

These two were the main non-Rigvedic Rishikas. The Sarvanukramani of the Rigveda has names of almost 10-15 women composers of Rigveda. They include- 
  • Lopamudra Vaidarbhi- This name is very much popular. She was the daughter of the king of Vidarbha and a Kshatrani. But she married Agastya rishi. The legend of how Agastya rishi procured Lopamudra is found in many Puranas. Agastya's penance and austerity was upsetting Lopamudra. Thus she demanded love and attention from him. Agastya too realized his duties as a husband. Their conversation is preserved in Rigveda ( 1.179 ). This hymn gives a lot of information on how the relations between a husband and wife should be. 
  • Ghosha Kakshivati - She was the daughter of Kakshivan Dairghatamas. She was affected by leprosy since birth and hence was not getting married. The Ashvini Kumars cured her and taught her Madhu Vidya. She is the composer of Rigveda (10.39-41)
  • Apala Atreyi- She was the daughter of Atri rishi. She was affected by a skin disease. But still she was a knowledgeable woman. Her hymns occur in Rigveda ( 8.91)
  • Yami Vaivasvati- She was the sister of Yama. She accidentally fell in love with Yama. Her hymns are a dialogue between her and Yama where he explains Yami of how wrong her intentions are. Her hymns are present in Rigveda (10.10)
  • Shashvati Angiras- She was the wife of Yadava king Asanga Playogi. Her hymns are present in Rigveda ( 8.2)
  • Ratri Bharadvaji- She is the daughter of Bharadvaja. She has composed Rigveda ( 10.127 ) jointly with Kushika Saubhari. Incidentally, there is one more female composer in the Vajasaneyi Samhita of the Shukla Yajurveda (4.2) with the name Kashipa Bharadvaji. The deity of this hymn is Ratri or night. So possibly, the original name could have been Kashipa Bharadvaji. 
  • Vishvavara Atreyi-  She is the composer of Rigveda ( 5.28)

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Chakravarti Samrat of Ancient India

Till date we have heard only of Chandragupta or Ashoka when it come to talking of monarchs of ancient India. But there have been Samrat of very ancient India too i.e the pre-Mahabharata era.
Today, I am going to list the Chakravartin Samrat of pre-Mahabharata era. But first, let us see who qualifies to be called the 'Samrat' of India.
According to the titles given to the rulers, there are three distinct categories-

  • Raja ( King )
  • Maharaja ( Emperor)
  • Chakravartin Samrat ( Monarch )
A Raja or king is like a ruler of a small kingdom, generally chieftain of a tribe or community. A Maharaja or an emperor is the ruler of a large kingdom, significant enough to influence the politics of the area. And finally, a Samrat is the one who rules the entire or major part of Bharatvarsh and has others under his sway.

A typical way of going up the ladder was either by performing Ashwamedha or Rajasuya Yagyas or physically capturing the territories. Ashwamedha was a famous practice in ancient India. Rajasuya Yagya isn't heard of much.

( For interesting read, Vayu Puran 57.68-80 gives the qualities of a Samrat )
A Samrat is an ideal ruler who is considered to be the epitome of justice and power. He has a specific term given to him- Sarvabhauma or who has all land (Bhumi) under his sway or Bahuvruhi or whose chariot has no obstruction of moving anywhere.

Without further delay, let's get to the point. The information of the monarchs is given by Mahabharata. When the Rajasuya Yagya was conducted by Yudhishthira, rishi Vaishampayana described to him a list of 16 Samrats who had lived before the Mahabharata era. The list occurs in Mbh (12.29) and is called Shodasha Rajika or a list of 16 kings. They are- ( Brackets contain the lineage and kingdom they belong to)
  • Marutta Avikshita ( Suryavanshi and Vaishali kingdom)
  • Suhotra Atithina    ( Chandravanshi, Puru (Bharatvansh) and Kurujangala kingdom)
  • Brihadratha Anga  ( Chandravanshi and Anga kingdom)
  • Shivi Aushinara     ( Chandravanshi, Anu and Shivi kingdom)
  • Bharata Daushyanti ( Chandravanshi, Puru and Kurujangala kingdom)
  • Ram Dasharathi     ( Suryavanshi and Ayodhya or Kosala kingdom)
  • Bhagiratha Dileepa (Suryavanshi and Ayodhya or Kosala kingdom)
  • Dileepa Khatvanga ( Suryavanshi and Ayodhya or Kosala kingdom)
  • Mandhata Yauvanashva ( Suryavanshi and Ayodhya or Kosala kingdom)
  • Yayati Nahusha      ( Chandravanshi and ruled Puru+Anu+Yadava+Turvasu+Druhyu kingdom)
  • Ambarisha Nabhagi  ( Suryavanshi and Ayodhya or Kosala kingdom)
  • Shashabindu Chaitrarathi ( Chandravanshi, Yadava and Yadava kingdom)
  • Gaya Amurtarayas  ( Chandravanshi and Kanyakubja kingdom)
  • Rantideva Sankruti  ( Chandravanshi and Charmanvati (Chambal) kingdom)
  • Sagara Aikshvaku   ( Suryavanshi and Ayodhya or Kosala kingdom)
  • Prithu Vainya          ( Older than the formation of Suryavansha and Chandravansha)
And to add to this list, we have Yudhishthira Pandava, again a Chandravanshi Puru and Kurujangala kingdom.
Harivansha (1.13.25) mentions king Harishchandra of Ayodhya as a Samrat.

A map of ancient India is given which will make it easy to visualize the geography of the kingdoms.
The list varies a bit in other sources but more or less, this is the actual list. 
A few extra kings that could have been Samrats are Ajamidha Vaikuntha of Purus, Kartavirya Arjun of Haiheyas (Yadavas).

Now I am tempted to write something about those Samrats mentioned above-
  • Bharata Daushyanti is the person on whom this land is called Bharat varsh. In absolute terms, his is the 32nd generation after Vaivasvata Manu from whom majority of the kingdoms descended. While I talk of other kings, I will tell their place with respect to Bharata. His kingdom is Kurujangala (Haryana)
  • Marutta Avikshita had conducted a historical Yagya of magnificent size where Samvarta Angiras had conducted the Yagya. He was about 2 generations prior to king Bharata. His kingdom is Vaishali (north Bihar)
  • Suhotra Atithina is also a composer in Rigveda and belongs to the Bharadvaja group of composers. Atithina is a corruption of Vidathina, another name of Bharadvaja Barhaspatya. He is almost 5 generations after Bharata. His kingdom is same as Bharata.
  • Brihadratha Anga belongs to the Anga kingdom and is 3-4 generations after Bharata. His kingdom is Anga (Bengal)
  • Shivi Aushinara belongs to the Anu group who ruled the 5 rivers of Punjab in today's Pakistan. 
  • Yayati Nahusha is almost 27 generations before Bharata. He was the guy who ruled almost all of north India. Puru, Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu and Anu were his 5 sons from whom the major kingdoms of north India sprung. So you can imagine the area he ruled.
  • Shashabindu Chaitrarathi is a Yadava whose daughter Bindumati was the wife of Mandhata Yuvanashva, another Samrat from Ayodhya. Shashabindu's kingdom was around Gujarat and Rajasthan. He is almost 11 generations before Bharata.
  • Gaya Amurtarayas belonged to the Kanyakubja kingdom (of whose Vishwamitra was the king before becoming a rishi). This kingdom is near Kannauj.
  • Rantideva Sankruti ruled around the Chambal river in Rajasthan and MP,called Charmanvati then. He was famous for his ability to share his belongings. Sankruti is an Angiras gotra among brahmins. 
  • Prithu Vainya is a very ancient king, even before Vaivasvata Manu, almost 44 generations before Bharata. He was the one who captured the Earth and made it productive. His father Vena was one of the cruelest king of India and was the composer of the Nasadiya Sukta in Rigveda. Because Prithu was the first ever king of the whole Earth, the Earth got her Sanskrit name from him, Prithu ---> Prithvi 
  • Now talking of all Suryavanshi kings from Ayodhya. First let's arrange them chronologically.
    Ambarisha Nabhagi , Mandhata Yauvanashva, Sagara Aikshvaku, Bhagiratha Dileepa, Dileepa Khatvanga and Ram Dasharathi. All these ruled at Ayodhya in UP. This family line itself has maximum Samrats. Ambarisha Nabhagi is son of Nabhag who is the son of Vaivasvata Manu and not of Nabhaga who was another king of Ayodhya. Out of these, Mandhata and Ambarisha are composers in Rigveda.