The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said. 'There are no practices, O king, more sinful than those of the Kshatriyas. In marching or in battle, the king slays large multitudes. 4 By what acts then does the king win regions of felicity? O bull of Bharata's race, tell this, O learned one, unto me that desire to know.'
"Bhishma said, 'By chastising the wicked, by attaching and cherishing the good, by sacrifices and gifts, kings become pure and cleansed. It is true, kings desirous of victory afflict many creatures, but after victory they advance and aggrandise all. By the power of gifts, sacrifices, and penances, they destroy
their sins, and their merit increases in order that they may be able to do good to all creatures. The reclaimer of a field, for reclaiming it, takes up both paddy-blades and weeds. His action, however, instead of destroying the blades or paddy, makes them grow more vigorously. They that wield weapons, destroy many that deserve destruction. Such extensive destruction, however, causes the growth and advancement of those that remain. He who protects people from plunder, slaughter, and affliction, in consequence of thus protecting their lives from robbers, comes to be regarded as the giver of wealth, of life, and of food. The king, therefore, by thus adoring the deities by means of a union of all sacrifices whose Dakshina is the dispelling of everybody's fear, enjoys every kind of felicity here and attains to a residence in Indra's heaven hereafter. 1 That king who, going out, fights his foes in battles that have arisen for the sake of Brahmanas and lays down his life, comes to be regarded as the embodiment of a sacrifice with illimitable presents. If a king, with his quivers full of shafts, shoots them fearlessly at his foes, the very gods do not see anyone on earth that is superior to him. In such a case, equal to the number of shafts with which he pierces the bodies of his enemies, is the number of regions that he enjoys, eternal and capable of granting every wish. The blood that flows from his body cleanses him of All his sins along with the very pain that he feels on the occasion. Persons conversant with the scriptures say that the pains a Kshatriya suffers in battle operate as penances for enhancing his merit. Righteous persons, inspired with fear, stay in the rear, soliciting life from heroes that have rushed to battle, even as men solicit rain from the clouds. If those heroes, without permitting the beseechers to incur the dangers of battle, keep them in the rear by themselves facing those dangers and defend them at that time of fear, great becomes their merit. If, again, those timid p sons, appreciating that deed of bravery, always respect those defenders, they do what is proper and just. By acting otherwise they cannot free themselves from fear. There is great difference between men apparently equal. Some rush to battle, amid its terrible din, against armed ranks of foes. Indeed, the hero rushes against crowds of foes, adopting the road to heaven. He, however, who is inspired with dastardly fear, seeks safety in flight, deserting his comrades in danger. Let not such wretches among men be born in thy race. The very gods with Indra at their head send calamities unto them that desert their comrades in battle and come with unwounded limbs. He who desires to save his own life-breaths by deserting his comrades, should be slain with sticks or stones or rolled in a mat of dry grass for being burnt to death. Those amongst the Kshatriyas that would be guilty of such conduct should be killed after the manner of killing animals. 2 Death on a bed of repose, after ejecting phlegm and urine and uttering piteous cries, is sinful for a Kshatriya. Persons acquainted with the scriptures do not applaud the death which a Kshatriya encounters with unwounded body. The death of a Kshatriya,
[paragraph continues] O sire, at home is not praiseworthy. They are heroes. Any unheroic act of theirs is sinful and inglorious. In disease, one may be heard to cry, saying, 'What sorrow! How painful! I must be a great sinner.' With face emaciated and stench issuing fro in his body and clothes, the sick man plunges his relatives into grief. Coveting the condition of those that are hale, such a man (amidst his tortures) repeatedly desires for death itself. One that is a hero, having dignity and pride, does not deserve such in inglorious death. Surrounded by kinsmen and slaughtering his foes in battle, a Kshatriya should die at the edge of keen weapons. Moved by desire of enjoyment and filled with rage, a hero fights furiously and does not feel the wounds inflicted on his limbs by foes. Encountering death in battle, he earns that high merit fraught with fame and respect of the world which belongs to his or her and ultimately obtains a residence in Indra's heaven. The hero, by not showing his back in fight and contending by every means in his power, in utter recklessness of life itself, at the van of battle, obtains the companionship of Indra. Wherever the hero encountered death in the midst, of foes without displaying ignoble fear or cheerlessness, he has succeeded in earning regions hereafter of eternal bliss.'"
209:4 Nilakantha takes Mahajanam to mean the Vaisya traders that accompany all forces. Following him, the vernacular translators take that word in the same sense. There can belittle doubt, however, that this is erroneous. The word means "vast multitudes." Why should Yudhishthira, refer to the slaughter of only the Vaisyas in the midst of troops as his reason for supposing Kshatriya practices to be sinful? Apayana mean, "flight." I prefer to read Avayana meaning 'march.'
210:1 The protection of subjects is likened here to the performance of a sacrifice that has the merit of all sacrifices. The final present in that sacrifice is the dispelling of everybody's fear.
210:2 i.e., not at the weapon's edge, but otherwise.
Next: Section XCVIII