Tales of the Ancient Rajputs
The Path, October, 1888
There is an old tradition, so old that it has almost died from the memories of men, that veils eventful epochs in the archaic history of India.
The Rajputs, afterwards the Kshattriyas, or warrior caste, were, according to this legend, the aboriginal dwellers in the sacred land of India. They had strong cities and powerful dynasties, and had already grown old in the land, when a newer race came to share their inheritance. The newer race were the Brahmans, who crossed the mountains of eternal snow, the Sacred Himavat, from lake Mansarawar the divine, on whose holy shores the Lord first came to Earth and taught to the Seven Rishis the archaic wisdom. The Brahmans had dwelt long by lake Mansarawar; they had learned the secret wisdom from the glowing lips of the children of the Fire-Mist in the Sacred Island.
Their lore was holy; its end was the attainment of spiritual bliss. But the Rajputs, the early dwellers in the land, had learned the darker lore, which bent to their power those subtle and tremendous forces which Nature ever seeks to keep concealed. And the Brahmans came to the Rajputs to learn their wisdom; for the Brahmans were then the pupils of the Rajputs.
Such is the old legend, which Echo has almost forgotten to whisper along the corridors of Time. But in the Sacred Books of India are still found traces of the time when the Rajputs were greater than the Brahmans, and the Brahmans sat at their feet to learn their wisdom.
These two races have doubtless changed but little since that archaic time, ages ago.
Doubtless even then the Rajputs were, as they are now, “bronze-cheeked, large-limbed, leisure-loving”; while the Brahman was, as now, “tall and slim, with finely modelled lips and nose, fair complexion, and high forehead.” But the Rajputs have lost that superiority which the Brahmans have gained.
The Sacred Books of India still preserve traces of Rajput supremacy in might and wisdom, and a few stories from the Scriptures to illustrate this may be collected here. The first is from the Kaushitaki Brahmana Upanishad; it is as follows:1
There was a certain Gargya Balaki, learned in the holy Vedas. He dwelt among the Matsyas, the Kurus, and the Videha. This Brahman, coming once to Raja Ajatasatru, a royal Rajput, addressed him thus: “Let me declare to thee divine knowledge, oh king!” The king replied, “We bestow a thousand cows on thee, oh Brahman, for this word of thine.” The Brahman, deeply versed in the Vedas, then expounded the doctrines of his religion. But though the Brahman was wise, the Rajput king was wiser than he; and in all things it was seen that the sacred wisdom of the Rajput was greater than the love of the Brahman. Finally the royal Rajput Ajatasatru, perceiving himself to be more wise, thus addressed the Brahman: “Dost thou know only so much, oh Balaki?” “Only so much,” he replied. The king rejoined, “Thou hast vainly proposed to me; let me teach thee divine knowledge.”
Then the Son of Balaka approached the king with fuel in his hand and said, “Let me attend thee as thy pupil.” The king replied, “Contrary to rule is it that a Kshattriya should initiate a Brahman in divine knowledge; nevertheless, approach, I will make thee to know the divine wisdom.” The King, taking him by the hand, departed.
Another story is from the Chandogya Upanishad.
Shvetaketu came to the assembly of the Panchalas: Pravahana Jaivali asked him, “Youth, has thy father instructed thee?” “He has, sire,” replied Shvetaketu. “Dost thou know,” asked the King, “whither living creatures go, when they depart hence?” “No, sire.” “Dost thou know how they return?” “No, sire.” “Dost thou know,” again asked the king, “the divergences of the two paths whereof one leads to the gods and the other to the pitris?”2 “No, sire.” “And hast thou then said, ‘I have been instructed’; for how can he who knows not these things say he has been taught?” The young man returned sorrowful to his father, and said, “Thou saidest ‘I have instructed thee,’ but this Rajanya (Kshattriya) proposed to me many questions which I was not able to answer.”
The father replied, “If I had known the answer to these questions, would I not have told them to thee?” Gautama3 went to the king, who received him with honor. In the morning he presented himself before the King, who said, “ask, oh reverend Gautama, a boon of human riches.” He replied, “To thee, oh King, belongs wealth of that kind. Declare to me the questions thou hast asked of the youth.” The King desired him to make a long stay, and at last replied, “As thou hast declared to me, Oh Gautama, that this knowledge has not formerly reached the Brahmans who lived before thee, it has therefore been among all people a wisdom taught by the Kshattriya class alone.” He then declared it to him. But the most famous of all these legends of Rajput supremacy is that which tells of the strife between Visamitra the Rajput, and Vasishta the white-robed Brahman. Many of the Rig-Veda hymns are attributed to the seership of the Vasishtas. Visvamitra is also the seer of many Vedic hymns.
In the Mahabharata is found the “ancient story of Vasishta” thus narrated: Visvamitra was the son of the Raja of Kanyakubja (Kanouj), a royal Rajput. Visvamitra, when hunting in the forest, came to the hermitage of Vasishta the Brahman, where he was received with all honor, entertained together with his followers with delicious food and drink, and presented with precious jewels and dresses obtained by the Sage from his wonder working cow, the fulfiller of all his desires.4 The cupidity of the Rajput Visvamitra was aroused by the sight of the cow. He offered a million cows in exchange for her, but Vasishta would not part with her, even on promise of a kingdom. Visvamitra was angry; “I am a Kshattriya, a warrior,” said he, “have I not more power than thou, a Brahman, whose virtue is submissiveness? I shall not abandon war, the virtue of my caste, but shall take thy cow by force.”
Vasishta challenged him to show his power, and Visvamitra seized the wonder-working cow. But she, though beaten with a whip, would not be moved from the hermitage. Witnessing this, Vasishta asks her what he, a patient Brahman, could do.
She asks why he overlooks the violence she suffers; Vasishta replies, “Force is the strength of Kshattriyas, patience that of the Brahmans. As patience possesses me, go if thou pleasest.” The cow prays Vasishta not to abandon her; for, till he forsakes her, she cannot be taken away. Vasishta promises he will never forsake her. Hearing these words of her master, the cow tosses her head aloft and assumes a terrific aspect, her eyes become red with rage, she utters a deep, bellowing sound, and puts to flight the whole army of Visvamitra. Being again beaten with a whip, she becomes more incensed, her eyes are red with anger, her whole body, kindled by her indignation, glows like the noonday sun; she discharges firebrands, and creates bands of warriors,—Pahlavas, Dravidas, Sakas, Yavanas, Sabaras, Paundras, Sinhalas, and Kiratas; these warriors defeated Visvamitra’s army, and put it to flight. Beholding this great miracle, Visvamitra was humbled at the impotence of a Kshattriyas nature, and exclaimed, “Shame on a Kshattriya’s force; the might of a Brahman, this is force indeed!” Examining what is and what is not force, and ascertaining that austere fervour is the supreme force, he abandoned his prosperous kingdom and all its brilliant regal splendour, and, casting all enjoyments behind his back, he devoted himself to austerity. Having by this means attained perfection and Brahmanhood, he arrested the worlds by his fiery vigour, and disturbed them all by the blaze of his glory: and at length this Rajput drank Soma with Indra.5
If one is permitted to speculate on the meaning of this legend, the conjecture may be put forward that Vasishta and Visvamitra stand for the Brahman and Rajput tribes respectively, having their territories probably on the upper waters of the Indus and Ganges. For it is only since 1200 A.D. that the descendants of the Kshattriyas have dwelt in the sandy jungles of Rajputana. Visvamitra probably represents an expedition of Rajputs to the Brahman country typified by the cow of Vasishta,—a “land flowing with milk.” This cow, the source of fertility, supplies a wealthy booty to the Rajput if he will consent to be bought off: but the Rajput wants the Brahman’s country for himself, and the wealth offered him only stimulates his cupidity. The Brahmans refuse to give up their territory, and the Kshattriyas begin the attack. The Brahmans summon to their aid the non-aryan tribes of Dravidas, Pahlavas, and Sinhalas. By their aid the Rajputs are defeated. This is, perhaps, a not improbable interpretation of the legend.
Let us return, however, to the austerities of Visvamitra, taking up the story in the Ramayana. Visvamitra the Rajput, being utterly vanquished by Vasishta, placed his son on his throne and travelled to the Himalayas, where he betook himself to austerities and thereby obtained a vision of Mahadeva,6 who at his desire revealed to him the science of war in all its branches and gave him celestial weapons, with which, elated and full of pride, he consumed the hermitage of Vasishta and put all its inhabitants to flight. Vasishta threatened Visvamitra, and raised on high his Brahman’s mace. Visvamitra, too, raised his fiery weapon, and called to his adversary to stand. Vasishta cried out, “What comparison is there between the might of a Kshattriya and the might of a Brahman? Behold, base Kshatt-riya. my divine Brahmanical power.” The dreadful fiery weapon, uplifted by Visvamitra, was quenched by the rod of the Brahman, as water quenches fire. Many other celestial weapons were used by Visvamitra—the discus of Vishnu, the trident of Siva, etc., but the Brahman’s mace devoured them all. Finally, to the terror of the gods, the Rajput shot off the terrible Brahmastra, the weapon of Brahma. But it availed not against Vasishta the sage. Vasishta grew terrible in appearance, jets of fire issued from his body, the Brahmanical mace blazed in his hand like a smokeless mundane conflagration, or a second Sceptre of Yama, lord of death. But the devotees besought him, and his vengeance was stayed. Visvamitra cried, “Shame on a Kshattriya’s strength; the strength of a Brahman is superior.”
This tale is doubtless the echo of a tremendous conflict between the Rajputs—bringing to their aid their darker magic powers and the control of the terrible occult force which they had learned from the Atlanteans of the South—and the Brahmans, strong in the holy wisdom of the Sacred Isle. At first Visvamitra’s devotion only obtained, for him the position of Rajarshi, a royal Rishi, while he aspired to the higher rank of Brahmarshi,—divine Rishi.
That he gained great power, however, the following story from the Mahabharata clearly shows.
King Trishanku desired to ascend alive to heaven. He came to Visvamitra to ask his aid. Visvamitra sacrificed, and addressed him thus; “Behold, oh monarch, the power of austere fervor acquired by my own efforts. I myself, by my own power, will conduct thee to heaven. Ascend to that celestial region, difficult to attain to in an earthly body. I have surely earned some reward of my austerity.” Trishanku ascended to heaven in the sight of the assembled saints. Indra ordered him to be gone, and to fall to the earth. Visvamitra again exerted his power, and the king obtained a place amongst the stars.7
Visvamitra, still yearning for Brahmanhood, fasted and took a vow of silence. As he continued to suspend his breath, smoke issued from his head, to the great consternation and distress of the three worlds. The gods and Rishis addressed Brahma: “The great Muni, Visvamitra, has conquered many trials, and still advances in sanctity. If his wish be not granted, he will in wrath destroy the three worlds by his austere fervor. All the regions of the universe are confounded; no light anywhere shines: all the oceans are tossed, the mountains crumble, the earth quakes, the wind blows confusedly. We cannot, oh Brahma, guarantee that mankind shall not become atheistic. Before the great and glorious sage of fiery form resolves to destroy everything, let him be propitiated.” The gods, headed by Brahma, addressed Visvamitra thus: “Hail Brahmarshi! we are satisfied with thy austerities; thou hast through their intensity attained to Brahmanhood.” The sage, delighted, made his obeisance to the gods, and said; “If I have obtained Brahmanhood and long life, then let the mystic syllable (omkara), and the sacrificial formula, and the Vedas recognise me as a Brahman. And let Vasishta the Brahman, the greatest of those who know the Rajput knowledge and the Brahman knowledge, also recognise me.” Vasishta, being propitiated by the gods, became reconciled to Visvamitra, and hailed him, though a Rajput, with the title of Brahmarshi. Visvamitra also, having attained the Brahmanical rank, paid all honor to Vasishta. Before Visvamitra thus attained the pinnacle he had longed to reach, he performed many wonders, recounted in another part of the Mahabharata.
He destroyed Vasishta’s hundred sons by the power of austere fervor; when possessed by anger, he created many demons, fierce and destructive as death; he delivered the son of Richika from being offered in sacrifice; he cursed his fifty sons, and they became outcasts; he elevated Trishanku alive to heaven; he changed a troublesome nymph into a stone.
(To make the meaning of this clear, it should be explained that, when the gods had reason to dread the too great austerity of any saint, they used to send a “troublesome nymph” to disturb his orisons. Kama the love-god, when taking part in one of these expeditions, which had for its object the destruction of Siva’s Samadhi, through the charms of Uma, daughter of the Himavat, lost his body, which was turned to ashes by Siva’s glances, and is thenceforth known as Ananga, the bodiless god.) Besides this, Visvamitra induced Vasishta to bind and throw himself into a river, though he emerged thence unbound. He also made himself invisible, and caused Rakshasa demons to obsess his enemies. He also incited the demon to destroy the sons of Vasishta. On hearing of the death of his sons, Vasishta supported his misfortune as the great mountain supports the earth. He meditated his own destruction, but thought not of destroying the Rajput Visvamitra. He hurled himself from the summit of Mount Meru, but fell on the rocks as if on a heap of cotton. Escaping alive from his fall, he entered a glowing fire in the forest; but the fire, though blazing fiercely, not only failed to burn him, but seemed quite cool. He next threw himself into the sea, with a stone tied around his neck; but the waves cast him up alive on the shore. He sought death from the Sutlej alligators, but they fled from the Brahman, seeing him brilliant as fire. Seeing that death would not receive him, he returned to his hermitage. But at last Visvamitra attained to Brahmanhood, and Vasishta was reconciled to him. How many other Brahmans came to the feet of the Kshattriyas to learn wisdom, and how the Kshattriyas triumphed over the Rajputs, and how Parasurama made a mighty slaughter of the Kshattrivas, must here remain untold.
1. This, and the quotations that follow, are not literal translations, but summaries of the Sanskrit text.
2. Vide “The Secret Doctrine”, by H.P. Blavatsky, for the doctrine of the lunar Pitris.
3. Not Gautama the Buddha, but ages earlier.
4. Called Kamaduk.
5. In other words, he went to Devachan.
6. The great God of All.
7. This has reference to a very obscure, but not the less important, doctrine “Concerning the Star-Rishis.” It has to do with the selfishness and materiality of our nature, and is not explained because dangerous. It will be known, however, quite soon enough.—ED. [W.Q. Judge]