The concept of considering king as divine or representation of divine finds its strongest suport in Hindu Polity in Mahabharata. In Hindu Polity, Manusmriti is the another text which affirms the king to be divine while Acharya Kautalya’s Arthashastra doesn’t accept the concept of king being divine in nature. Rather, it suggests the spies to use this concept to gauge the acceptance of king amongst the citizens. In Mahabharata, the concept of king as divine has been established in Shanti Parva as the dialogue between Bhisma and Yudhishthir after the Kurukshetra war.
Yudhishthir asks Bhisma that a king was considered to be deity in the world and what was the reason behind such consideration. In the response, Bhisma said that a similar question was asked by the King Vasuman to Brihaspati and he would tell the same answer as given by Brihaspati. In the domain of Arthashastra and Dandniti, we find frequent mention of Brihaspati as an acharya of these subjects but it’s difficult to determine whether this Brihaspati is same as the Brihaspati who is considered to be the guru of all the Deva-s. Bhasa in one of his plays had mentioned Brihaspati’s Arthashastra, and we also find quotations from Brihaspati’s Arthashastra in Veeramitrodaya of Mitra Mishra. Acharya Kautalya also cites the views of Brihaspati in multiple places in Arthashastra which gives us an idea that Brihaspati was a predecessor of Acharya Kautalya. It’s also mentioned in Mahabharata that Bhism had learnt Dandniti from Brihaspati which further complicates the matter. So, the view of Bhism here should be read as the view of Brihaspati on the concept of king being divine.
The reason given by Bhisma for considering king to be divine is that the king knows विनय (Discipline) and he implements it in his state. The word विनय here is a technical word in Hindu polity which included three aspects: Dharma, a Dharmic state and Dharmic citizens. So, विनय here shouldn’t be read as law and order or simple discipline. When the all three exist in a society, the state and Dharma prosper together. Interestingly, विनयाधिकरण of Arthashastra deals with the concepts of discipline of king and his offsprings and the duty of citizens towards the state. V S Agrawala in his book ‘पाणिनिकालीन भारतवर्ष’ has mentioned that Ashtadhyayi describes the words विनय and वैनयिक in this technical sense.
Bhisma further states that the foundation of Dharma is state which gives further credence to the idea of king being divine. In the absence of विनय, the state would descend in the state of chaos where neither Dharma will flourish nor the state will have any prosperity. For securing the overall prosperity of the state, the implementation of विनय by the ruler was of the utmost importance. Bhisma further states that it’s the fear or ruler which prevents one from killing another; it’s the king who keeps the citizens happy by following Dharma; and in the absence of king, the citizens will be unhappy like the fishes without water.
In Hindu Polity, the ruler or king is the executive authority with whom the दण्ड (the authority to implement laws) lies. In the modern context as well, when the law and order is nonexistent and authority of the low is vanquished, the state is destroyed and citizens in such states can neither engage in their professions without fear nor they can follow Dharma with freedom. The emphasis of Bhisma on the importance of king is a practical concern for the better administration of the state and prosperity of the citizens. Subsequently, Bhisma mentions what happens in a state which has descended into the state of anarchy in the absence of a righteous king.
While describing the happenings in an anarchical state, Bhisma mentions the troubles in day-to-day adversaries faced by citizens such as robbery, killing of citizens, destruction of public property, violence against older people and acharyas etc. He also mentions that when there is complete loss of law and order, neither the study of Vedas nor the performance of Yajna-s can continue without hindrance. It was also a practical concern as Purana-s mention numerous incidents of Asura-s troubling the Rishis who were performing Yajna-s in the absence of a king who could protect them. To summarize, Bhisma advocated the related concepts of king being divine as well as state being the basis of Dharma.