First Among Kings
From Back to Godhead
By Drutakarma Dasa
From the Vedic literature: the history of King Prthu,
the incarnation of the ruling potency of the Supreme Lord.
Long ago, the normally peaceful wise men of a Vedic kingdom forcibly deposed an intolerably corrupt ruler. But instead of replacing him with another unprincipled politician (as has so often happened in the history of the world), they selected a perfect chief executive to command the state. The story of this ancient coup d’etat holds many lessons for the people of nations victimized by unworthy leaders.
Once, King Anga, unsuccessful in his attempt to perform a great religious sacrifice, addressed the brahmana priests, “Kindly tell me what offense I have committed. The demigods are neither taking part in the sacrifice nor accepting their shares.” In those days demigods, such as Indra, the god of heaven, would descend from higher planets to take part in rituals performed by saintly monarchs.
The head priests said, “O king, in this life we do not find any sinful activity, but we can see that in your previous life you performed sins due to which you have no son.” They then advised King Anga to pray to the Supreme Lord, who is superior to the demigods. They said that when Lord Visnu would come to fulfill the king’s desire for a son, the demigods would accompany Him.
King Anga accepted this proposal; so the priests offered oblations to Lord Visnu, who is seated in the hearts of all living entities as the Supersoul. Lord Visnu is a direct expansion of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna.
While King Anga was offering oblations into the sacred fire, a person wearing white robes and a golden garland appeared suddenly from the flames. He was carrying a golden pot filled with rice boiled in milk. Taking permission from the priests. King Anga offered a portion of the rice preparation to his wife, Sunitha.
The queen, who was the daughter of death personified, soon became pregnant by her husband and gave birth to a son. From the Vedic literature we learn that generally a daughter inherits the qualities other father, and a son inherits those of his mother. Accordingly, the son born to the good king Anga acquired the undesirable traits of his maternal grandfather.
The child’s name was Vena. As a youth he used to take his bow and arrows to the forest and kill innocent deer. He was so cruel that he would sometimes kill his playmates, as if they were animals. King Anga punished Vena to reform him, but he was unable to bring his son to the path of gentleness.
The king thought “Persons who have no son are certainly fortunate. They don’t have to suffer the unbearable unhappiness caused by a bad son.”
But then he considered, “A bad son is better than a good one. A bad son creates a hellish home from which an intelligent man becomes very easily detached.” According to Vedic civilization, the true purpose of life is to realize one’s eternal relationship with the Supreme Lord, Krsna. But if one becomes overly occupied with family duties, one can lose sight of this ultimate goal. Therefore the Vedas advise married persons to detach themselves from the burdensome duties of family life when they reach the age of fifty, so they can devote their remaining years to self-realization.
Thinking over all this. King Anga could not sleep, and in the dead of night he got up from bed and left the palace. He gave up all attraction for his opulent kingdom and, unseen by anyone, silently left for the forest.
When the citizens found out that King Anga had departed, they began to search for him. They could find no trace of him, however, and returned to the city, where all the sages of the country had assembled. With tears in their eyes, the citizens told the sages that they were unable to find the king anywhere.
With no one to maintain law and order, criminals began to disturb society. So the sages called for Queen Sunitha. and with her permission they installed her son, Vena, on the throne. All the ministers, however, disagreed with the decision of the sages. They knew that Vena was too severe and cruel to be a good ruler. And sure enough, as soon as Vena ascended the throne he became overwhelmed with pride. He mounted his chariot and, like an uncontrolled elephant, began to travel throughout the kingdom, causing the sky and earth to tremble wherever he went.
But even though Vena had many bad qualities, there was one thing to his credit out of fear of him the thieves and rogues ceased their predatory acts.
At one point, however, King Vena forbade the brahmana priests to perform any more sacrifices. He stopped all kinds of religious rituals. Today this same policy is being carried out by atheistic governments all over the world. Even in America, where there is technically freedom of religion, the government has banned prayer from the public schools, outlawed the teaching of God-centered explanations of science, and legalized the killing of unborn children within the wombs of their mothers.
After observing King Vena’s atrocities, the sages concluded that the people of the world were in great danger. Although sages did not generally become involved in politics, the crisis was now too severe for them to ignore. Therefore they consulted among themselves about what to do.
The sages said. “We appointed this Vena king of the state to give protection to the citizens, but now he has become their enemy. But before we take action against him. let us first try to pacify him.”
Concealing their anger, the sages said. “Dear king, we have come to give you good advice. You should not be the cause of spoiling the spiritual life of the general populace. If you do so, you will certainly fall down from your royal position.”
King Vena proudly replied. “Those who out of gross ignorance do not worship the king, who is actually the Supreme Personality of Godhead, experience happiness neither in this world nor in the world after death. For this reason, O sages, you should abandon your envy of me and worship me.”
“This impious and impudent man does not deserve to sit on the throne at all.” declared the sages. “He is so shameless that he has dared to insult the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” Then, without using any weapon other than sound, the sages killed King Vena.
Queen Sunitha became very much aggrieved at the sight of her dead son’s body and decided to preserve it by applying certain ingredients and chanting mantras.
Some time later the sages noticed that society was again in a state of chaos. Talking among themselves they said, “Since the king is dead, rogues and thieves have become active.” Although the sages could have immediately intervened to punish the criminals as when they had killed King Vena they decided not to use their special powers. They arrived at another solution.
The sages decided to produce another king from the body of Vena, who despite his own bad qualities, was from a line of good kings. To do this they first generated an unsightly being called Bahuka from the lower part of Vena’s body. His complexion was dark, his eyes reddish. He immediately absorbed all the results of King Vena’s sinful activities.
From the upper part of Vena’s body the sages generated a male and a female empowered with potencies of the Supreme Lord. The male was an incarnation of the ruling potency of Lord Krsna, and the female an expansion of the goddess of fortune.
The sages said, “The male will be able to spread his reputation throughout the world. His name will be Prthu, and he will be the first among kings. The female has such beautiful qualities that she will beautify the ornaments she wears. Her name will be Arci, and she will accept King Prthu as her husband.”
Sages and demigods came to earth from all over the universe to witness Prthu’s coronation. King Prthu and Queen Arci, who were both exquisitely dressed, appeared as brilliant as fire. The demigods offered the new king many wonderful gifts.
Then professional reciters began to praise the king. But Prthu said. “O gentle reciters, offer such prayers in due course of time, when the qualities of which you have spoken actually manifest themselves in me.”
But instructed by the sages, the reciters continued to praise the king. They could understand his identity as an empowered representative of the Supreme Lord. In considering their descriptions of King Prthu’s qualities, we can gain insight into the character of a perfect ruler.
First the sages said that the king would himself follow religious principles and take steps to insure that the citizens would also follow them. He would punish the irreligious and the atheists. In the present age, we sometimes see that a government, in the name of a secular state, will allow people to freely engage in irreligious behavior. By committing sinful activities, such as eating meat gambling, taking intoxicants, and engaging in illicit sex aided by contraceptives and abortion, the population becomes implicated in the laws of karma and undergoes suffering in the form of wars, epidemics, famines, and so forth. In this way people suffer many miseries in this life and remain entrapped in the cycle of birth and death.
The reciters said the king would engage the population in performing sacrifice to the Supreme Lord and thus insure a plentiful supply of natural food and other resources. The modern industrial civilization does not actually provide the necessities of life. Food is produced in the Fields, by God’s arrangement and not in factories. The raw materials used in manufacturing such as air, water, minerals, and oil are all supplied by the Supreme Lord. When these natural gifts are taken without acknowledging their source and used simply for sense gratification, the Lord restricts the supply. We can acknowledge the source of these resources by sacrifice, and the sacrifice recommended in the Vedic scriptures for this age is the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By performing this sacrifice, the population will enjoy adequate supplies of natural gifts for a simple life dedicated to the cultivation of spiritual knowledge.
The reciters then said that the king would fairly collect taxes and disburse them to the public in times of need, just as the sun-god evaporates water from the ocean and returns it to the earth in the form of rain. In the present age, however, burdensome taxes are always increasing and are spent on lavish salaries for government administrators. This unfair taxation makes people dishonest and they try to hide their income. Eventually the state will not be able to collect enough taxes to meet its huge military and administrative expenses. At that time. the whole economic system and governing apparatus will collapse. This is already beginning to occur.
The sages said the king would consider all living beings as dear to him as his own self. Today most heads of state are meat-eaters, as are their citizens. They advertise their concern for the welfare of others while allowing the slaughter of hundreds of millions of innocent creatures.
The sages then declared that King Prthu would be compared to a lion. Unless rogues and thieves are afraid of the chief executive, there cannot be peace and prosperity in the state. The sages also stated that the king would consider himself the servant of the devotees of the Lord and would rule his kingdom according to their good advice. He would also accept private spiritual instruction from them.
Upon accepting the throne. King Prthu had to confront many problems, including a scarcity of food grains. Many of the citizens had become skinny from starvation. Therefore they came before the king and said. “You are not only a king. but the incarnation of God as well. Therefore, O king of all kings, please arrange to satisfy our hunger.”
King Prthu determined that the people were not at fault; rather, for some reason the earth was withholding her bounty. He therefore threatened the earth deity, who, after worshiping King Prthu as an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, explained that she had been withholding her bounty because of the sinful activities of some of the population. Then, because of King Prthu’s intervention, she began to supply every living entity with its proper food.
The king then initiated a series of one hundred sacrifices. Lord Visnu was pleased to appear at these sacrifices along with demigods and sages. In response the earth produced abundant supplies of all natural resources. When the heavenly king Indra saw the sacrifices, however, he feared that King Prthu would surpass him in fame and opulence. He therefore began to interfere with the sacrifices, and King Prthu prepared to take strong action against him. But on the advice of Lord Brahma, the chief of the demigods, he desisted.
Then Lord Visnu appeared in the arena of sacrifice along with Indra and said, “My dear King Prthu, Indra, the king of heaven, has disturbed your execution of one hundred sacrifices. Now he has come with Me to be forgiven by you. Therefore excuse him.” King Prthu did as the Lord requested.
Lord Visnu then said, “My dear King Prthu, if you continue to protect the citizens according to the instructions of the learned brahmana authorities, as they are received by disciplic succession by hearing from master to disciple, and if you follow the religious principles laid down by them, without attachment to ideas manufactured by mental concoction, then every one of your citizens will be happy and will love you, and very soon you will be able to see such already liberated personalities as the four Kumaras: Sanaka, Sanatana, Sananda, and Sanat-kumara.” King Prthu sincerely accepted the instructions of the Lord and offered Him devotional prayers. The Lord then departed for His own abode.
The king then entered the gates of his capital city, where he was welcomed by his joyous citizens. King Prthu advised his citizens to worship the Supreme Lord by engaging their minds, words, and bodies in His service along with the results of their occupational duties. He also advised them to obey and worship the pure devotees of the Lord, saying, “By regular service to the brahmanas and Vaisnavas, one can clear the dirt from his heart and thus enjoy supreme peace and liberation from material attachment.”
After hearing King Prthu speak so nicely, the sages, demigods, and citizens declared that sinful King Vena had been delivered from the darkest region of hellish life by the action of his son, King Prthu. The four Kumaras, who were as brilliant as the sun, then arrived there. Seeing the four sages descend from the sky, the king received them with proper respect and worship. The king asked the Kumaras how those in this material world could achieve the ultimate goal of life. Sanat-kumara replied:
It has been conclusively decided in the scriptures, after due consideration, that the ultimate goal for the welfare of human society is detachment from the bodily concept of life and increased and steadfast attachment for the Supreme Lord, who is transcendental and beyond the modes of material nature. One has to make progress in spiritual life by not associating with persons who are simply interested in making money and in sense gratification. One should mold his life in such a way that he cannot live in peace without drinking the nectar of the glorification of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One can be thus elevated by losing the taste for sense enjoyment.
Sanat-kumara requested the king to always engage in devotional service to the Supreme Lord. King Prthu obeyed this instruction, and thus even though surrounded by royal opulence, he was able to lead a life of detachment and spiritual advancement.
By his wife Arci, Prthu begot five sons. He pleased the citizens by his rule and became famous all over the universe for his good qualities. At the end of his life, he transferred power to his sons and left with his wife for the forest, where he strictly followed the regulations of retired life. He underwent severe austerities just as seriously as he had governed the state. He ate only leaves and fruit and eventually subsisted only upon air. Queen Arci assisted him in his practice of austerities. Because other pleasure in serving her exalted husband, she felt no difficulty in the forest.
By performing austerities Prthu became steadfast in spiritual life, worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead twenty-four hours a day. In due course of time, Prthu Maharaja was able to fix his mind firmly upon the lotus feet of Krsna. Practicing the mystic yoga system, he raised his soul to the top of his skull. After merging the various elements of his body with the totality of the natural elements, he gave up his body.
Queen Arci took the body of her husband and placed it on a fiery pyre on the top of a hill. Srila Prabhupada comments, “The queen was aware that her husband was not dead…. When a living entity transfers from one body to another, a process generally known as death, a sane man does not lament, for he knows that the living entity is not dead but is simply transferred from one body to another.”
After placing her husband’s body in the fire, she herself entered the flames. Observing the devoted queen’s brave act, the demigods and their wives showered flowers and offered prayers. The wives of the demigods said, “All glories to Queen Arci. Just see how this chaste lady, Arci, by dint of her inconceivable pious activities, is still following her husband upwards, as far as we can see.”
King Prthu and Queen Arci ascended to the spiritual world, Vaikuntha, in spiritual airplanes. They ascended in spiritual bodies, their material bodies having been consumed by the fire of the funeral pyre.
The sage Maitreya, narrating this history in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, said, “Any person who describes the great characteristics of King Prthu with faith and determination whether he reads of them himself or helps others to hear of them is certain to attain the very planet Maharaja Prthu attained. In other words, such a person also returns home to the Vaikuntha planets, back to Godhead.”