No three representatives of Asia have done more to reveal Eastern culture to the West than Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and A.K. Coomaraswamy. The illuminating writings and lectures of A.K. Coomaraswamy have brought the East and West together in a meaningful dialogue. His mind encompassed the sum total of tradition in the East and the West. It ranged from ancient Greece, the World of Islam, and that of medieval Europe to the present situation. Measured against his knowledge, the modern mind confronted him in its fragmentation, estranged from tradition and the perennial source of wisdom he called “Philosophia Perennis”.
A literary work built up with parallel citations is apt to grow in the compass of the author himself, from his encyclopaedic scholarship. This revised edition of one of Coomaraswamy’s most significant writings is now being issued by incorporating his own additions to the printed first edition of 1942.
The Indian theory of government is expounded on the basis of the textural sources, mainly of the Brahmanas and the Rgveda. The mantra in the Aitareya Brahmana VIII.27, by which the priest addresses the king, spells out the relation between the spiritual and the temporal power. This “marriage formula” has its analogous applications in the cosmic, political, family and individual spheres of operation, in each by the conjunction of complementary agencies.
The welfare of the community in each case depends upon a succession of obediences and loyalties; that of the subjects to the dual control of king and priest, that of the king to the priest, and that of all to the principle of an External Law (dharma) as king of kings. The king is such by Divine Right, but by no means, an absolute monarch. He may do only what is correct under the Law. Self-control is the sine qua non for the successful government of others; the primary victory is that of the Inner Man.
“The application is to the ‘king’, the ‘man of action’ and ‘artist’ in any domain whatever. There is nothing that can be truly and well done or made except by the man in whom the marriage of the Sacerdotium (brahma) and the Regnum (ksatra) has been consummated, nor can any peace be made except by those who have made their peace with themselves.”
Sri Keshavram N. Iengar(b. 1928) graduated from Bombay University with a B.Sc. in Physics and Mathematics and a Government Diploma in Architecture. He was also a student at the Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland, from 1948 to 1950. Starting his professional career as an architectural assistant at Madras, he was associated in the field of architecture for over twenty-five years with the Madras and Bangalore universities. Later, he was Professor of Architecture at the B.M.S. College, Bangalore. An amateur Hindustani Khayal singer, Sri Iengar was an exponent of the Gwalior Gharana of Hindustani classical music.
Dr Rama P. Coomaraswamy(b. 1929), the son of Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, graduated from Medical School in 1952 and was subsequently trained and certified in General as well as in Thoracic and Cardio-Vascular Surgery. Later, he was Associate Professor of Surgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. He was of late Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Connecticut. He authored over forty articles in the surgical research field as well as innumerable articles in theology and philosophy.
Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power in the Indian Theory of Government written in 1942 marks the final transition of Coomaraswamy from the art-historian to the philosopher and metaphysician. It heralds the last phase of A.K. Coomaraswamy’s writings on a vast number of subjects ranging from figures of speech or figures of thought to Symplegades to that final quintessence of maturity “Time and Eternity”.
Coomaraswamy’s preoccupation with the interdependence of the sacred and the profane, the transcendental and the mundane, the spiritual and the temporal, however, is not new. He had explored this in many essays, such as, Margi and Desi, now included in the volume entitled Medieval and Oriental Theories of Art. He pursued this concern in his studies in art history, specially in the context of Buddhist Art and Jaina Iconography. Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power in the Indian Theory of Government explores yet another dimension of this inter-play in the context of political theories.
To contemporary scholars of political theory, the very first sentence of the book, namely, “the whole of Indian political theory is implied and subsumed in the words of the marriage formula, ‘I am That, thou art This, I am Sky, thou art Earth’” would come as a thunderbolt and yet, as reader peruses the closely argued, densely written text, richly supported with references from primary material, Coomaraswamy’s assertion becomes a revelation. He draws attention to the relation of the authorizing mind or the reason to the efficient power-that of the inner to the outer man as enunciated in the earliest text of the Indian tradition, the Rgveda. The juxtaposition of Mitra, Agni and Brahma as Divine archetypes of spiritual authority and Varuna and Indra of the temporal (Regnum) as also the analogy of the marriage of the purohita to the king unfolds the implicit as also explicit relationship of spiritual authority and temporal power. Each section also provides opportunity for comparison with other traditions, especially the Greek, thereby underlining the fact that the relationship between the spiritual authority and the temporal power was not restricted to the Indian tradition although there were many significant difference in approach.
With sharpness, Coomaraswamy identified the series of correspondences between the Sacerdotium and the Regnum. The Sacerdotium corresponds to the Asabda Brahman and the Regnum to the Sabda Brahman. As is well known, the role of Vac (speech) is primary and fundamental in the early Indian speculative thought: primacy is given to the silent and silence; the articulated Sound is secondary. Anahata and hata sound are the musical counterparts. In this context, king is the voice that gives effect to the purposes of silent, inarticulated spiritual authority. Logically, the royal voice or what is done vocally, is almost the will of God.
As one reads and reflects on the deep insight of Coomaraswamy, it is clear that what is extracted out of these texts are essentials of a theory of governance, which transcends historical time and locale. Pertinently, he point out that the king is not a constitutional ruler whose actions merely reflect the wishes of a majority of the subjects or those of a secular minister; nor is he the king by virtue of social contract but a ruler by Divine Right. However, this does not imply that he is an “absolute ruler”. On the contrary, the king himself is the subject of another king (we may add, “a higher king”). This is law (dharma), the very principle of royalty and justice. This notion differs from the theory of divine right of kingship or of the king representing or replicating God. Pertinently through a circuitous argument, Coomaraswamy returns to the original marriage-hymns. He reminds us of the Sky and the Earth, the universal parents upon whose harmonious cooperation the prosperity and the fertility of the universe depends; they are to be taken to be the norms and archetype of all marriages. Thus, the analogy of marriage between the purohita and the king becomes clear, for the purohita here represents the Sacerdotium and the king, the Regnum. The priest and the Agni are representatives of the Sky and the king of the Earth and their marriage is an insurance against privation and death of the kingdom. The two are complementary and interdependent and not one representing the other.
Coomaraswamy’s volume drew response from the contemporaries-both positive and negative. His long-time associate, Professor George Sarton responded: “I have received your excessively scholarly work and have profited by it”. Others, such as, Walter Shewring commented on the relevance of Coomaraswamy’s work to contemporary political theory of governed, the majority to the minority, of plutocracy and democracy, and the dangers of a final divorce of temporal power or political power from spiritual authority or a higher moral order, are issues of today and not yesterday only. Coomaraswamy underpins the perennial questions of an outer social order and an inner psychical order or “He” or those empowered to govern. Through a series of analogies of ritual marriage of the priest and the king and the dimensions of the Sacerdotium and the Regnum, we are reminded that a temporal order can be sustained only if the centre of authority has its centre in a sacred-moral order.
Has this not contemporary relevance for the world today? A state of disorder, if not a chaos, is evident. These are not the consequences merely of economic imbalances, of sociopolitical ideologies, but, perhaps they have emerged from the man having cut asunder his inner and outer selves and his inability to relate spiritual authority or vision and the skills and structures of wielding temporal (today, political) power.
Professor Norman Brown-a most eminent Indologist –was no follower of Coomaraswamy, but, on reading this work he commented: “Order prevails only where all authority finally vests in God. If it is thought to spring from the people, then cosmic principles are reversed.”
Keshavram N. Iengar, a scholar, almost a devotee of Coomaraswamy, has accomplished the very difficult job of editing this work, which is full of quotations, references from Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Chinese sources. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts is grateful to him for having undertaken this along with the illustrious son of A.K. Coomaraswamy, Dr. Rama P. Coomaraswamy. This is the fifth volume in the series of IGNCA’s programme of “Collected Works of A.K. Coomaraswamy”.
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