The Upanishads Elucidated: Swarāt Samrāt -2

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As days passed, the villagers grasped that Lal had a permanent sore throat and a corn in his foot that prevented him from dancing. As for being a doctor, he would first heal himself, then think of doctoring others.

“Could he help in the kitchen?” they asked. He tried but his nose ran so much; they were scared he’d contaminate the food. They asked him to dry the vessels. He learnt by following the others who were all teenagers. At length he asked them why they were not in school. “Too poor, have a family to feed,” they answered.    

In the capital city, the court singers who were all but retired dusted their instruments in a frenzy and showed up for public concerts. The dancers had to set up dance schools and perform regularly with their troupe. Artists were sponsored directly by the king. And so were other projects, like rain water catchment and herbal medicine. Schools and roads were renovated.

People did not have to wait months and years to get a hearing from the king. Lawyers were trained and several courts were set up. Wars were stopped and territorial disputes were solved through negotiations.  

Back at the restaurant kitchen, Lal asked the boys one day, trying to sound casual, “If a king has two twin sons, whom can he choose to be the next king?”

“The one who deserves it,” replied a boy.

“What if they are equally capable to rule?”

“The one who wants it,” replied another.

“What if both are ready to give up their place for the other?”

The boys spoke almost together, “They should both be kings then.”

Lal dropped the vessel he was drying. The manager looked in, “Are you not capable of doing anything well anymore? What’s the matter with you? You are certainly not yourself. You’ve lost your mind, or is it your heart?”

Lal looked up suddenly,

“You are right. I have indeed lost my mind. As for the other, one can’t lose what one never had. And for you all, thank you, boys. You solved a riddle for me. You will never be poor anymore. Come to the capital and I will make sure you earn good money and go to school too.”

He turned to leave, but the manager stood at the doorway, “You take away my workers with false promises, and now you will walk out and scare my customers with your crazy talk. No sir, you stay here till the day is done. Also remember: no work, no pay.”

Lal was inflamed, “Is there no justice here? I am a sick man. A sick man gets no pay? How will he eat? Won’t he get sicker still?”

The manager growled, “Don’t ask me. This is the law of the land. I am just following our king. And you are promising these lads a new life as though you could melt the king’s heart! The king has no heart.”

Neel winced as if the words were blows.

It was Neel and not Lal, as you may have guessed. He had asked the jewel on his head why he should not let the charioteer rest at home. It had said the man was lazy. “No, he is sick,” Neel had replied. “Lazy,” said the jewel. “Sick!” cried the king. “Lazy”, “sick”, “lazy”, “sick”. They had shouted at each other, until the creature of flesh and nerve had caved in to the brilliant stone.

That was just the beginning of their discord. Many decisions followed that were against Neel’s good judgement, but the jewel in his own crown tired him out. But then he had a trump card that the jewel did not know of. His twin. Would people notice that the king had been swapped? Neel wondered, “Was Lal wearing the crown? Was he also being enslaved by this gem of a tyrant?”

As for Lal, mercy flowed in his kingdom like music. Princesses were showing up with rare gifts. His missing crown was conspicuous too. “He’s cleared his head,” they joked.

Then Neel showed up, dusty and hungry, after a week on the road, because no one lent him a cart or horse. Neel wondered if the new king would recognize him. He slipped in from the secret entrance at night and saw Lal asleep on his bed. “Ah, how lucky to be able to sleep so soundly,” sighed Neel.

That woke Lal up. He was overjoyed to see Neel and asked about everyone in the village and at the same time fiddled with the buttons in his tunic. He was ready to exchange places with his brother and slip out from the back gate. In fact, he had already removed his tunic when Neel stopped his hand, “I won’t stay. I just came to make sure you are not controlled by the crown jewel.”

Lal shook his head, “I cannot do this for much longer. I’d rather get my hands dirty doctoring, tutoring, dancing, singing.”

Neel sat down on the bed, “And I cannot do it, because I have no head for it. In fact, I am good for nothing. The jewel directed me to do everything, from hydraulics to economics. At least you have the heart for it, and I think the head follows close after.”

Lal showed his topaz to his brother, “This is a part of my heart, just as that was a part of your head. But we have more than what they gave us. We have heart, head, body and soul.”

“Exactly,” cried Neel, “Why not let these flower in us? This palace is not the right place. Let’s run away, and be happy in some small village, far from here. Come with me, I know of a tunnel.”

But Lal did not move.

And he said to his brother,

“Stop Neel, we can’t do this. What if a tyrant takes over and tortures the people? Or there is a war of succession that destroys all this you have created, that our ancestors have dreamt of? Rather let us both be kings. You lead with your head, I with my heart. Here, wear your crown.”

Neel shrank back, “No, I have struggled enough with that stone. It will destroy me.”

“But Neel, you said so yourself: you are good for nothing without it.”

“Unfortunately, that is true. I am between a hard place and a rock. Tell me, Lal, has your stone been good all the time?”

Lal smiled,

“More or less, but there were times when it tried to manipulate people. You know, like make false promises to this lady, play with another; making the poor patient wait in agony, urging me to serve the rich one.”

“But you, unlike me, haven’t done any such thing, have you?”

“I was tempted. But eventually I made it clear who was master.”

“That’s the main difference between us, my dear brother. I ruled others, but you ruled yourself. I became Samrāt, and you were the Swarāt. Unless one is Swarāt, one cannot be Samrāt. One has to master oneself to be able to master others.”

Lal smiled,

“Not any more, Neel, as of now you are Swarāt. Now you can make the jewel your friend and collaborator, as I have made mine. We cannot live without the head or heart. And as for me, my hands need work too. So if you will allow me, I will say goodbye.”

Neel wore the crown and exchanged clothes with his brother. Lal heaved a sigh of relief back in his dusty clothes. Neel showed him the door and the secret passageway. They walked together till it was time for Lal to emerge into the open from under the ground. Neel’s voice was full of tears, “Lal, my twin self, can I count on you when I need help?”

“I’ll be close by, all the time. Just touch the jewel in your heart and speak. You will hear me answer.”

“Oh, that’s yours,” cried Neel, fumbling to get the necklace out.

He heard a fading laughter in the darkness and a voice in his heart, “Aren’t we the same, after all?”


We have a Neel and a Lal in us, a rational and an emotional part. As we grow up we may tilt one way or the other. Neel may become king, but he needs Lal to sustain his reign. When we are able to integrate the two tendencies in us harmoniously, then are we truly kings of ourselves and of our surrounding.

This allegorical story is about the relationship between the heart and mind. These two powerhouses in the body are twins when young. They live in harmony and grow playfully together. But there is the father figure in us, the growing individuality that privileges one or the other.

The two jewels are the opportunities we provide the growing child: education and its application for the head, emotional and aesthetic training for the heart. When they are unbalanced, they create a friction between the head and heart.

Each prince represents one of the two. The boy who follows the heart has an easier task to control it. The head can be headstrong and thus domineering. Neel falls under its spell. Lal, who is in control of his emotions, is the more mature of the two, and therefore can pull his brother out of trouble.

The story teaches us that the head and heart are instruments we can use effectively, but we need to be in control of them. Only then are we king of ourselves.

Rāt is from rāj, to rule, from where come words like rājā and rājya. Sam and Swa are two prefixes. Sam means the totality of the external world. Swa means the inner personality, the soul. Swarāt is one who is ruled by the soul. Samrāt is the ruler of people. Unless one is Swarāt, one cannot be Samrāt. One has to master oneself to be able to master others.

The Isha Upanishad says:

तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्यस्विद्धनम्‌ ॥ Isha, 1

tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā mā gṛdhaḥ kasyasviddhanam ||

By that renounced thou shouldst enjoy; lust not after any man’s possession.

~ Isha Upanishad, verse 1, Translation by Sri Aurobindo

This is a profound psychological understanding of the nature of being and becoming. True enjoyment in the becoming, or prakriti, needs a certain amount of detachment from it. For which, one must be seated in the being, the purusha, and be able to control prakriti.

As human beings, we are asked to rise above the physical and emotional cravings that drag our higher instrument down, our mind. The mental purusha has to firstly control the lower instruments of emotions and the body. Neel was able to do it, but he stopped short.

Then one is shown the next step – to master the mind for the sake of higher principles of our being. Lal was able to do this, which is why he enjoyed life. He gave up craving for power and coveted not his brother’s possessions. He was swarāt, which is why it was easy for him to be samrāt.

In his commentary on the Isha Upanshad, Sri Aurobindo says:

Nevertheless, even if we could so master the laws of mind as to entirely control our vital & physical being & its environment, the end of God in man is not achieved; for we ought not only to control life & matter by mind, but mind by a higher principle.

Mind can only become free by self-subjection to God above mind and without freedom there is no true mastery. Samrajya is unreal without Swarajya.

~ CWSA, Vol.17, p. 537


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