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Ancient Hindu Politics In Story Of Vena And Prithu

The story of Vena and King Prithu (Harivamsa, V.3-30) propounds the theory of popular sovereignty in which people can kill a sinful king and install a righteous king. This story explains an important aspect of Hindu politics in ancient India.

Prithu fulfilled the obligations of kingship: the story ends with a high eulogy of Prithu, the great king (adhiraja). The story of Vena and Prithu occurs in the early Puranas in three more or less parallel versions (Vayu Purana, 62.104-93; Brahmanda Purana, 68.104.93; Vishnu Purana, 1.13-11-87; Bhagavata Purana IV.13.16-23, 39).

Even though Vena had some gifts and superhuman faculties, since he was violating agreements and the rules of dharma, he was liable to be killed.

The story represents two principles of authority:

  • The conception of the office of king as the surest safeguard of individual and collective security.
  • The king’s divine ordination as well his ‘divinity’, equating him with Vishnu’s personality as protector.

The sages’ remonstrance reminds Vena of his general agreement for protection of his subjects and his breach of the eternal dharma, especially in relation to his primary obligation of protection in return of taxation. The king should bring first himself under his control, then his ministers, then his servants, then his subjects and finally his enemies (Markandeya Purana 27.5;10-3). The king’s office is justified only when he serves the interest of the people and protects them from internal and external enemies. Puranas follow the traditional theories of state taxation, law and justice (Agni Purana, 225.10; Matsya Purana, 215.47;218.2).