The Mahabharata Home
"Bhishma said, 'The king, O Yudhishthira, should always be ready for action. That king is not worth of praise who, like a woman, is destitute of exertion. In this connection, the holy Usanas has sting a Sloka, O monarch. Listen to it with attention, O king, as I recite it to thee: 'Like a snake swallowing up mice, the earth swallows tip these two, the king that is averse to battle and the Brahmana that is exceedingly attached to wives and children. 1 It behoveth thee, O tiger among kings, to bear this always in thy heart. Make peace with those foes with whom (according to the ordinance) peace should be made, and wage war with them with whom war should be waged. Be he thy preceptor or be he thy friend, he that acts inimically towards thy kingdom consisting of seven limbs, should be slain. 2 There is an ancient Sloka sung by king Marutta, agreeable to Vrihaspati's opinion, O monarch, about the duty of kings. According to the eternal provision, there is punishment for even the preceptor if he becomes haughty and disregardful of what should be done and what should not, and if he transgresses all restraints. Jadu's son, king Sagara, of great intelligence, from desire of doing good to the citizens, exiled his own eldest son Asamanjas. Asamanjas, O king, used to drown the children of the citizens in the Sarayu. His sire, therefore, rebuked him and sent him to exile. The Rishi Uddalaka cast off his favourite son Swetaketu (afterwards) of rigid penances, because the latter used to invite Brahmanas with deceptive promises of entertainment. The happiness of their subjects, observance of truth, and sincerity of behaviour are the eternal duty of kings. The king should not covet the wealth of others. He should in time give what should be given, If the king becomes possessed of prowess, truthful in speech, and forgiving in temper, he would never fall away from prosperity. With soul cleansed of vices, the king should be able to govern his wrath, and all his conclusions should be conformable to the scriptures. He should also always pursue morality and profit and pleasure and salvation (judiciously). The king should always conceal his counsels in respect of these three, (viz., morality, profit, and pleasure). No greater evil can befall the king than the disclosure of his counsels. Kings should protect the four orders in the discharge of their duties. It is the eternal duty of kings to prevent a confusion of duties in respect of the different orders. The king should not repose confidence (on others than his own servants), nor should he repose full confidence (on even his servants).
[paragraph continues] He should, by his own intelligence, took after the merits and defects of the six essential requisites of sovereignty. 1 The king who is observant of the laches of his foes, and judicious in the pursuit of morality, profit, and pleasure, who sets clever spies for ascertaining secrets and seeks to wean away the officers of his enemies by presents of wealth, deserves applause. The king should administer justice like Yama and amass wealth like Kuvera. He should also be observant of the merits and defects of his own acquisitions and losses and of his own dominions. He should feed those that have not been fed, and enquire after those that have been fed. Possessed of sweet speech, he could speak with a smiling (and not with a sour) countenance. He should always wait upon those that are old in years and repress procrastination. He should never covet what belongs to others. He should firmly follow the behaviour of the righteous and, therefore, observe that behaviour carefully. He should never take wealth from those that are righteous. Taking the wealth of those that are not righteous he should give it unto them that are righteous. The king should himself be skilful in smiting. He should practise liberality. He Should have his soul under control. He should dress himself with splendour. He should make gifts in season and regular in his meals. He should also be of good behaviour. The king desirous of obtaining prosperity should always bind to his service men that are brave, devoted, incapable of being deceived by foes, 2 well-born, healthy, well-behaved, and connected with families that are well-behaved, respectable, never inclined to insult others, conversant with all the sciences, possessing a knowledge of the world and its affairs, unmindful of the future state of existence, always observant of their duties, honest, and steadfast like mountains. There should be no difference between him and them as regards objects of enjoyment. The only distinction should consist in his umbrella and his power or passing orders. His conduct towards them, before or behind, should be the same. The king who behaves in this way never comes to grief. That crooked and covetous king who suspects everybody and who taxes his subjects heavily, is soon deprived of life by his own servants and relatives. That king, however, who is of righteous behaviour and who is ever engaged in attracting the hearts of his people, never sinks when attacked by foes. If overcome, he soon regains his position. If the king is not wrathful, if he is not addicted to evil practices and not severe in his punishments, if he succeeds in keeping his passions under control, he then becomes an object of confidence unto all like the Himavat mountains (unto all creatures). He is the best of kings who hath wisdom, who is possessed of liberality, who is ready to take advantage of the laches of foes, who has agreeable features, who is conversant with what is bad for each of the four orders of his subjects, who is prompt in action, who has his wrath under control, who
is not vindictive, who is high-minded, who is not irascible by disposition, who is equal engaged in sacrifices and other religious acts, who is not given to boasting, and who vigorously prosecutes to completion all works commenced by him. He is the best of kings in whose dominions men live fearlessly like sons in the house of their sire. He is the best of kings whose subjects have not to hide their wealth and are conversant with what is good and what is bad for them. He, indeed, is a king whose subjects are engaged in their respective duties and do not fear to cast off their bodies when duty calls for it; whose people, protected duly, are all of peaceful behaviour, obedient, docile, tractable, unwilling to be engaged in disputes, and inclined to liberality. That king earns eternal merit in whose dominions there is no wickedness and dissimulation and deception and envy. That king truly deserves to rule who honours knowledge, who is devoted to the scriptures and the good of his people, who treads in the path of the righteous, and who is liberal. That king deserves to rule, whose spies and counsels and acts, accomplished and unaccomplished, remain unknown to his enemies. The following verse was sung in days of old by Usanas of Bhrigu's race, in the narrative called Ramacharita, on the subject, O Bharata, of kingly duties: 'One should first select a king (in whose dominions to live). Then should he select a wife, and then earn wealth. If there be no king, what would become of his wife and acquisition'?' Regarding those that are desirous of kingdom, there is no other eternal duty more obligatory than the protection (of subjects). The protection the king grants to his subjects upholds the world. 1 Manu, the son of Prachetas, sang these two verses respecting the duties of kings. Listen to them with attention: 'These six persons should be avoided like a leaky boat on the sea, viz., a preceptor that does not speak, a priest that has not studied the scriptures, a king that does not grant protection, a wife that utters what is disagreeable, a cow-herd that likes to rove within the village, and a barber that is desirous of going to the woods.'" 2
117:1 Literally 'the Brahmana that would not leave his home.' The verse has been quoted in this very Parvan previously.
117:2 These seven limbs are the king, army, counsellors, friends, treasury, territory, and forts.
118:1 These six are peace (with a foe that is stronger), war (with one of equal strength), marching (to invade the dominions of one who is weaker), halting, seeking protection (if weak in one's own fort), and sowing dissensions (among the chief officers of the enemy).
118:2 Asambhayan is explained by Nilakantha as 'incapable of being overreached by foes.'
119:1 In the sense that without royal protection, the world soon comes to grief.
119:2 The duties of the cow-herd should lead him to the fields. If without manifesting any inclination forgoing to the fields he likes to loiter within the village he should not be employed. Similarly the barber's duties require his presence within the village. If without being present there he likes to wander in the woods, he should never be employed, for it may then be presumed that he is wanting in that skill which experience and habit bring. These two verses are often quoted in conversation by both the learned and unlearned equally.
Next: Section LVIII