Stories of 4 Bad Kings: Manu’s Warning to Rulers

Kamasa,A bad king in the Bhagavata Purana

By London swaminathan
Post no. 1010; Date 29th April 2014.

Manu was the world’s first comprehensive law giver. Hammurabi and others did not deal with all the topics dealt with by Manu. He lived during Vedic times. His name is mentioned in the Vedas. The present book, known as Manava Dharma Shastra or Manu Smriti, was put to writing around second century CE with lot of additions and omissions. The contradictions in the present book point in the direction of interpolations. Manu Smriti itself refers to Manu as an ancient king.

Manu warns the rulers by quoting the names of five bad kings. Of the five bad kings, four are known through other sources like Mahabharata and Puranas. But Sumukha was the only one unknown king to earlier commentators.

Now read what Manu says about kings:

“Many kings have been destroyed, together with their entourages, through lack of humility, while even forest dwellers have won kingdoms through humility”–7-40

“Vena was destroyed through lack of humility, and so was king Nahusa, Sudas son of Pijavana, Sumukha and Nimi”– 7-41

“But through humility Prthu won a kingdom, and so did Manu, and Kubera become Lord of Wealth, and (Visvamitra) the son of Gadhi became a priest”– 7-42
(See Manu himself says that Manu was a good king! This is where the confusion comes!)

Story of Bad Kings
Vena was an evil king who murdered people and prevented sacrifices until the priests killed him M. Bh.12-59.99

When he became king Vena issued a proclamation, “Men must not sacrifice or give gifts or present oblations. Who else but myself is the enjoyer of the sacrifices? I am forever the Lord of offerings”. The sages remonstrated respectfully with him, but in vain. When the situation deteriorated beyond redemption, they slew him with blades of consecrated Dharba grass. He died without a child. So the country was kingless. Sages rubbed the thigh of the dead king and a man like a charred log came out. Then they rubbed his hand and Pruthu came. Sages appointed him as the king who ruled the kingdom as a just king.

Duryodhana, a bad king in Mahabharata

Story of Nahusha
When the post of Indra fell vacant temporarily, Nahusha became the interim Indra. Nahusa, in all arrogance, went to the extent of proposing to Indra’s wife. He made the Sapta Rishis/ seven sages to pull his chariot.
Indra’s wife Indrani devised a plan with the help of Brahma. She asked Nahusha to come in a palanquin carried by eminent Rishis/ seers. Agastya was too short to maintain the balance. So Nahusha kicked Agastya saying “sarpa, sarpa” meaning hurry up, hurry up. Sarpa meant serpent as well. Agastya cursed him to become a snake. Nahusha fell from heaven because of this curse. See M. Bh 5-9-17

Story of Kalmashapada
Sudas, son of Pijavana was a great king, with Visvamitra as his family priest and Vashista as his enemy. His men killed Sakti ,son of Vashista. Visvamitra abandoned him and he was defeated in a war. See RV 7-18, 7-32. He reappears in M.Bh. as Saudasa Kalmashapada where he again kills Sakti and Visvamitra curses him to become an ogre.
Mahabharata has a long story. He and Sakti met in a narrow path. There was a heated argument when both of them refused to give way to the other. Kalmasha pada beat Shakti and Shakti cursed him to become a cannibal. Later he was cursed by another Brahmin and Vashista helped him to get out of the curse.
Sumukha does not seem to appear in the Vedas or epics. This is what the commentators said.

Shakuni, the king ofgambling

Story of Nimi
Nimi would not wait for his family priest, Vashista, to return before he undertook a great sacrifice; Vashista cursed him to lose his body; when he died the priests churned his body to produce a son, Janaka of Videha. See M.Bh. 13-91

Vishnu Purana has a different version. Nimi also cursed Vashista and he lost his body. Nimi’s body was kept in oil and was preserved. if the story is correct Hindus started the mummification probably even before Egypt. When Nimi refused to enter his body, sages put him in the eyelids. That is why the beating of eyelids is called ‘Nimi’sha (Miniute in Sanskrit) .

We saw one common factor in all the stories of bad kings. That is arrogance. So Manu warns rulers against becoming arrogant.

One of the good kings mentioned by Manu (7-42) was Prthu, son of evil king Vena. He was so good the earth was named after him as Pruthvi. Manu was also named as a good king. We have several Manus mentioned in the Rig Veda Swayambhuva, Chaksusa, Tamasa, Raivata and Vaivasvata. Being the first Manu Swayambhuva was considered the author of Manu Smriti. i.e. before 1500 BCE!!

Another good king Kubera, Lord of Wealth, was the half brother of Ravana. His story is in Ramayana.
Vena was the worst of all the kings. Priests themselves killed him with Kusa (Dharba) grass. It may be an indirect reference to his murder or assassination.

Another King corrupted by affection for his son Duryodhana

Vena = Tamil ‘Veen’

The Tamil word “Veen” meaning useless, waste, futility(Noun) and waste(verb) is NOT found in Sangam Tamil literature. The word first appeared in eighth century books such as Pazamozi, Muththollayiram. I wonder whether this word came from Vena, the king’s name. Vena =veen is possible. In the same way, eye lids are called ‘Imai; in Tamil. It may be the mirror image of Nimi.

Tamil Veda Warning to Bad Kings

Tamil Veda Tirukkural also warns the rulers in the same way as Manu:

“The king, who is not easy of access, and does not render justice according to law and procedure,
Will by himself go into oblivion before long and perish” – Kural 548

“A king, who fails to inform himself daily of the wrongs suffered by the people ,and, render justice, will find his rule and kingdom wearing away to nought by the day” Kural 553

“There is no weapon more potent than the bitter tears of the people,
Who are groaning under the oppression of a king” Kural 555

“If the ruler does not perform his protective function righteously,
The cows yield less, and the Brahmins forget their mantras” Kural 560

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