my piece in the latest Pragati
King Trishanku of the Ikshvaku (Solar) dynasty was a fascinating personality. An ancestor of King Ram, King Trishanku had a reputation of being a fair and just monarch. Like all good monarchs of that time, a time before sin became entrenched in society; he followed the rules of Dharma in all aspects of his life. King Trishanku had one wish. He wantedto ascend to heaven in his mortal body. To ascend to the heavens or descend to hell, normally one had to die. But King Trishanku wanted to achieve this aim without going through the natural process – death. Indra, The King of Devas was not deeply enamoured with the idea of a mortal ascending to the heavens—probably because he saw it asa threat to his own power base. After all, Indra had faced a threat to his position from the mortal king Nahusha—who replaced him briefly. The Devas refused Trishanku permission to ascend to the heavens without dying. While this would deter any other mortal, Trishanku was made of sterner stuff. He went to his guru, Sage Vashishta to help him achieve his goal. When the Sage turned him down, the king pleaded with Sage Vishwamitra, who promised to help him. Vishvamitra performed a great sacrifice to help Trishanku reach the heavens in his mortal body. However, as the King began to ascend, Indra began using his powers to block the ascent. The powers of Vishvamitra and Indra nullified each other and Trishanku was left suspended in the middle—neither following the laws of earth nor those of heaven. Vishwamitra then created a whole new universe around Trishanku—a universe which is born of compromise. Trishanku ruled Trishanku’s heaven, the rest of the universe was ruled by the Devas. The term Trishanku’s heaven, from then on, has been used to denote a compromise.
There is a point to recounting this ancient tale. Politics and institution building in modern India have more in common with Trishanku and the art of compromise,than Lord Ram and the rule of Dharma. Institutions are created and given form by the will of one person. Be it the Planning Commission and Nehru, the Election Commission and T N Seshan,or the Jan Lok Pal and Team Anna. Their suggestions for independence are linked to their own skill sets. But institutions have to be divorced from that which exists today, and built so that they endure the test of time and remain relevant. Institutions cannot exist in limbo —in their own universe, with their own rules that do not dovetail with the remaining system.
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