The Mahabharata Home
"Bhishma said, 'A king should never desire to subjugate the earth by unrighteous means, even if such subjugation would make him the sovereign of the whole earth. What king is there that would rejoice after obtaining victory by unfair means? A victory stained by unrighteousness is uncertain and never leads to heaven. Such a victory, O bull of Bharata's race, weakens both the king and the earth. A warrior whose armour has fallen off, or who begs for quarter, saying, 'I am thine' or joining his hands, or who has laid aside his weapon, may simply be seized but never slain. If a hostile king be vanquished by the troops of the invader, the latter should not himself fight his vanquished foe. On the other hand, he should bring him to his palace and persuade him for a whole year to say, 'I am thy slave!' Whether he says or does not say this, the vanquished foe, by living for a year in the house of his victor, gains a new lease of life. 1 If a king succeeds in bringing by force a maiden from the house of his vanquished foe, he should keep her for a year and ask her whether she would wed him or any one else. If she does not agree, she should then be sent back. He should behave similarly in respect of all other kinds of wealth (such as slave) that are acquired by force. The king should never appropriate the wealth confiscated from thieves and others awaiting execution. The kine taken front the enemy by force should be given away to the Brahmanas so that they may drink the milk of those animals. The bulls taken from the enemy should be set to agriculture work or returned to the enemy. 2 It is laid down that a king should fight one that is a king. One that is not a king should never strike one that is a king. If a Brahmana, desirous of peace, fearlessly goes between two contending armies, both should immediately abstain from fight. He would break an eternal rule that would slay or wound a Brahmana. If any Kshatriya breaks that rule, he would become a wretch of his order. In addition to this, that Kshatriya who destroys righteousness and transgresses all wholesome barriers does not deserve to be reckoned as a Kshatriya and should be driven from society. A king desirous of obtaining victory should never follow such conduct. What gain can be greater than victory won righteously? The excitable classes (of a kingdom recently conquered) should, without delay, be conciliated with soothing speeches and gifts. This is a good policy for the king to adopt. If instead of doing this, these men be sought to be governed with impolicy, they would then leave the kingdom and side with (the victor's) foes and wait for the accession of calamities (in order that they may then make head against the victor). Discontented men, watching for the calamities of the king, promptly side with the latter's foes. O monarch, in times of danger. An enemy should not be deceived by unfair means, nor should be wounded mortally. For, if struck mortally,
his very life may pass away. 1 If a king possessed of little resources be gratified therewith, he would regard life alone to be much. 2 That king whose dominions are extensive and full of wealth, whose subjects are loyal, whose servants and officers are all contented, is said to have his roots firm. That king whose Ritwijas and priests and preceptors and others about him that are well-versed in all scriptures and deserving of honours are duly respected, is said to be conversant with the ways of the world. It was by such behaviour that Indra got the sovereignty of the world. It is by this behaviour that earthly kings succeed in obtaining the status of Indra. King Pratardana, subjugating his foes in a great battle, took all their wealth, including their very grain and medicinal herbs, but left their land untouched. King Divodasa, after subjugating his foes, brought away the very remnants of their sacrificial fires, their clarified butter (intended for libations), and their food. For this reason he was deprived of the merit of his conquests. 3 King Nabhaga (after his conquests) gave away whole kingdoms with their rulers as sacrificial presents unto the Brahmanas, excepting the wealth of learned Brahmanas and ascetics. The behaviour, O Yudhishthira, of all the righteous kings of old, was excellent, and I approve of it wholly. That king who desires his own prosperity should seek for conquests by the aid of every kind of excellence but never with that of deceit or with pride.'"
208:1 The original is wry elliptical. I, therefore, expand it after the manner of the commentator. Regarding the last half of the second line, I do not follow Nilakantha in his interpretation.
208:2 This verse also is exceedingly elliptical in the original.
209:1 The sense seems to be that in fighting with the aid of deceit the enemy should not be slain outright, such slaughter being sinful. Slaying an enemy, however, in fair fight is meritorious.
209:2 This verse is not intelligible, nor does it seem to be connected with what goes before.
209:3 The meaning is that king Pratardana took what is proper to be taken and hence he incurred no sin. King Divodasa, however, by taking what he should not have taken, lost all the merit of his conquests.
Next: Section XCVII