janaka जनक

Definition: King of Videha, plays a considerable part in the śatapatha Brāhmana and the Brhadāranyaka Upanisad, as well as in the Jaiminīya Brāhmana and the Kausītaki Upanisad. He was a contemporary of Yājñavalkya Vāja-saneya, of śvetaketu Aruneya, and of other sages.6 He had become famous for his generosity and his interest in the dis¬cussion of the nature of Brahman, as ultimate basis of reality, in the life-time of Ajātaśatru of Kāśi. It is significant that he maintained a close intercourse with the Brahmins of the Kuru-Pañcālas, such as Yājñavalkya and śvetaketu; for this indicates that the home of the philosophy of the Upanisads was in the Kuru-Pañcāla country rather than in the east. There is a statement in the śatapatha Brāhmana that he became a Brahmin (brahma). This does not, however, signify a change of caste, but merely that in knowledge he became a Brahmin (see Ksatriya). Janaka is occasionally mentioned in later texts: in the Taittirīya Brāhmana he has already become quite mythical; in the śāñkhāyana śrauta Sūtra a sapta-rātra or seven nights’ rite is ascribed to him. It is natural to attempt to date Janaka by his being a con¬temporary of Ajātaśatru, and by identifying the latter with the Ajātasattu of the Pāli texts11: this would make the end of the sixth century B.C. the approximate date of Janaka. But it is very doubtful whether this identification can be supported: Ajātaśatru was king of Kāśi, whereas Ajātasattu was king of Magadha, and his only connexion with Kāśi was through his marriage with the daughter of Pasenadi of Kosala. More¬over, the acceptance of this chronology would be difficult to reconcile with the history of the development of thought; for it would make the rise of Buddhism contemporaneous with the Upanisads, whereas it is reasonably certain that the older Upanisads preceded Buddhism Nor do the Vedic texts know anything of Bimbisāra or Pasenadi, or any of the other princes famed in Buddhist records. The identification of Janaka of Videha and the father of Sītā is less open to objection, but it cannot be proved, and is somewhat doubtful. In the Sūtras Janaka appears as an ancient king who knew of a time when wifely honour was less respected than later.


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