The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'Thou hast, O Bharata, discoursed upon the many duties of king-craft that were observed and laid down in days of old by persons of ancient times conversant with kingly duties. Thou hast, indeed, spoken in detail of those duties as approved by the wise. Do thou, however, O bull of Bharata's race, speak of them in such a way that one may succeed in retaining them in memory." 1
"Bhishma said, 'The protection of all creatures is regarded as the highest duty of the Kshatriya. Listen now to me, O king, as to how the duty of protection is to be exercised. A king conversant with his duties should assume many forms even as the peacock puts forth plumes of diverse hues. Keenness, crookedness, truth, and sincerity, are the qualities that should be present in him. With thorough impartiality, he should practise the qualities of goodness if he is to earn felicity. He must assume that particular hue or form which is beneficial in view of the particular object which he seeks to accomplish. 2 A king who can assume diverse forms succeeds in accomplishing even the most subtle objects. Dumb like the peacock in autumn, he should conceal his counsel. He should speak little, and the little he speaks should be sweet. He should be of good features and well versed in the scriptures. He should always be heedful in respect of those gates through which dangers may come and overtake him, like men taking care of breaks in embankments through which the waters of large tanks may rush and flood their fields and houses. He should seek the refuge of Brahmanas crowned with ascetic success even as men seek the refuge or loudly rivers generated by the rain-water collected within mountain lakes. That king who desires to amass wealth should act like religious hypocrites in the matter of keeping a coronal lock. 3 The king should always have the rod of chastisement uplifted in his hands. He should always act heedfully (in the matter of levying his taxes) after examining the incomes and expenses of his subjects like men repairing to a full-grown palmyra for drawing its juice. 4 He should act equitably towards his own subjects; cause the crops of his enemies to be crushed by the tread of his cavalry, march against foes when his own wings have become strong; and observe all the sources of his own weakness. He should proclaim the faults of his foes; crush those that are their partisans; and collect wealth from outside like a person plucking flowers from the woods. He should destroy those foremost of monarchs that
swell with might and stand with uplifted heads like mountains, by seeking the shelter of unknown shades 1 and by ambuscades and sudden attacks. Like the peacock in the season of rains, he should enter his nightly quarters alone and unseen. Indeed, he should enjoy, after the manner of the peacock, within his inner apartments, the companionship of his wives. He should not put off his mail. He should himself protect his own self, and avoid the nets spread out for him by the spies and secret agents of his foes. He should also win over the affections of the spies of his enemies, but extirpate them when opportunity occurs. Like the peacocks the king should kill his powerful and angry foes of crooked policy, and destroy their force and drive them away from home. The king should also like the peacock do what is good to him, and glean wisdom from everywhere as they collect insects even from the forest. A wise and peacock-like king should thus rule his kingdom and adopt a policy which is beneficial to him. By exercising his own intelligence, he should settle what he is to do. By consulting with others he should either abandon or confirm such resolution. Aided by that intelligence which is sharpened by the scriptures, one can settle his courses of action. In this consists the usefulness of the scriptures. By practising the arts of conciliation, he should inspire confidence in the hearts of his enemies. He should display his own strength. By judging of different courses of action in his own mind he should, by exercising his own intelligence, arrive at conclusions. The king should be well-versed in the arts of conciliatory policy, he should be possessed of wisdom; and should be able to do what should be done and avoid what should not. A person of wisdom and deep intelligence does not stand in need of counsels or instruction. A wise man who is possessed of intelligence like Vrihaspati, if he incurs obloquy, goon regains his disposition like heated iron dipped in water. A king should accomplish all objects, of his own or of others, according to the means laid down in the scriptures. A king conversant with the ways of acquiring wealth should always employ in his acts such men as are mild indisposition, possessed of wisdom and courage and great strength. Beholding his servants employed in acts for which each is fit, the king should act in conformity with all of them like the strings of a musical instrument, stretched to proper tension, according with their intended notes. The king should do good to all persons without transgressing the dictates of righteousness. That king stands immovable as a hill whom everybody regards--'He is mine.' Having set himself to the task of adjudicating between litigants, the king, without making any difference between persons that are liked and those that are disliked by him, should uphold justice. The king should appoint in all his offices such men as are conversant with the characteristics of particular families, of the masses of the people, and of different countries; as are mild in speech; as are of middle age; as have no faults; as are devoted to good act; as are never heedless; as are free from rapacity; as are possessed of learning and self-restraint; as are firm in virtue and always prepared to uphold the
interests of both virtue and profit. In this way, having ascertained the course of actions and their final objects the king should accomplish them heedfully; and instructed in all matters by his spies, he may live in cheerfulness. The king who never gives way to wrath and joy without sufficient cause, who supervises all his acts himself, and who looks after his income and expenditure with his own eyes, succeeds in obtaining great wealth from the earth. That king is said to be conversant with the duties of king-craft who rewards his officers and subjects publicly (for any good they do), who chastises those that deserve chastisement, who protects his own self, and who protects his kingdom from every evil. Like the Sun shedding his rays upon everything below, the king should always look after his kingdom himself, and aided by his intelligence he should supervise all his spies and officers. The king should take wealth from his subjects at the proper time. He should never proclaim what he does. Like an intelligent man milking his cow every day, the king should milk his kingdom every day. As the bee collects honey from flowers gradually, the king should draw wealth gradually from his kingdom for storing it. Having kept apart a sufficient portion, that which remains should be spent upon acquisition of religious merit and the gratification of the desire for pleasure. That king who is acquainted with duties and who is possessed of intelligence would never waste what has been stored. The king should never disregard any wealth for its littleness; he should never disregard foes for their powerlessness; he should, by exercising his own intelligence, examine his own self; he should never repose confidence upon persons destitute of intelligence. Steadiness, cleverness, self-restraint, intelligence, health, patience, bravery, and attention to the requirements of time and place,--these eight qualities lead to the increase of wealth, be it small or be it much. A little fire, fed with clarified butter, may blaze forth into a conflagration. A single seed may produce a thousand trees. A king, therefore, even when he hears that his income and expenditure are great, should not disregard the smaller items. A foe, whether he happens to be a child, a young man, or an aged one, succeeds in staying a person who is heedless. An insignificant foe, when he becomes powerful, may exterminate a king. A king, therefore, who is conversant with the requirements of time is the foremost of all rulers. A foe, strong or weak, guided by malice, may very soon destroy the fame of a king, obstruct the acquisition of religious merit by him; and deprive him of even his energy. Therefore, a king that is of regulated mind should never be heedless when he has a foe. If a king possessed of intelligence desire affluence and victory, he should, after surveying his expenditure, income, savings, and administration, make either peace or war. For this reason the king should seek the aid of an intelligent minister. Blazing intelligence weakens even a mighty person; by intelligence may power that is growing be protected; a growing foe is weakened by the aid of intelligence; therefore, every act that is undertaken conformably to the dictates of intelligence is deserving of praise. A king possessed of patience and without any fault, may, if he likes, obtain the fruition of all his wishes, with the aid of even a small force. That king, however, who
wishes to be surrounded by a train of self-seeking flatterers, 1 never succeeds in winning even the smallest benefit. For these reasons.. the king should act with mildness in taking wealth from his subjects. If a king continually oppresses his people, he meets with extinction like a flash of lightening that blazes forth only for a second. Learning, penances, vast wealth, indeed, everything, can be earned by exertion. Exertion, as it occurs in embodied creatures, is governed by intelligence. Exertion, therefore, should be regarded as the foremost of all things. The human body is the residence of many intelligent creatures of great energy, of Sakra, of Vishnu, of Saraswati, and of other beings. A man of knowledge, therefore, should never disregard the body. 2 A covetous man should be subjugated by constant gifts. He that is covetous is never satiated with appropriating other people's wealth. Every one, however, becomes covetous in the matter of enjoying happiness. If a person, therefore, becomes destitute of wealth, he becomes destitute of virtue and pleasure (which are objects attainable by wealth). A covetous man seeks to appropriate the wealth, the enjoyments, the sons and daughters, and the affluence of others. In covetous men every kind of fault may be seen. The king, therefore, should never take a covetous man for his minister or officer. A king (in the absence of proper agents) should despatch even a low person for ascertaining the disposition and acts of foes. A ruler possessed of wisdom should frustrate all the endeavours and objects of his enemies. That trustful and high-born king who seeks instruction from learned and virtuous Brahmanas and who is protected by his ministers, succeeds in keeping all his tributary chiefs under proper control. O prince of men, I have briefly discoursed to thee of all the duties laid down in the scriptures. Attend to them, aided by thy intelligence. That king who, in obedience to his preceptor, attends to these, succeeds in ruling the whole earth. That king who disregards the happiness that is derivable from policy and seeks for that which chance may bring, never succeeds in enjoying the happiness that attaches to sovereignty or in winning regions of bliss hereafter. 3 A king that is heedful, by properly attending to the requirements of war and peace, succeeds in slaying even such foes as are eminent for wealth, worshipped for intelligence and good conduct, possessed of accomplishments, brave in battle, and ready for exertion. The king should discover those means which are furnished by different kinds of acts and measures. He should never depend upon destiny. One that sees faults in faultless persons never succeeds in winning prosperity and fame. When two friends engage in accomplishing one and the same act, a wise man always applauds him among the two that takes upon himself the heavier share of the work. Do thou practise these duties of kings that I have told thee. Set thy heart upon the duty of protecting men. Thou mayst then easily obtain the reward of virtue. All
the regions of felicity hereafter are dependent upon merit!'" 1
257:1 i.e., 'speak in brief of them, or give us an abridgment of thy elaborate discourses.'
257:2 i.e., as the commentator explains, keenness, when he punishes and harmlessness when he shows favour.
257:3 i.e., 'should assume the qualities (such as keenness, etc.), necessary for his object.' K.P. Singha's version of the last line of 8 is erroneous. The Burdwan version is right.
257:4 Vrihadvrikshamivasravat is explained by Nilakantha as Vrihantak Vrikshah Yatra; asravat is explained as rasamprasravat. I think Vrihadvriksham may be taken as a full-grown Palmyra (1) tree. The sense is that as men always draw the juice from a full-grown tree and 'lot from a young one, even so the king should take care as to how taxes should be laid upon subjects that are unable to bear them.
258:1 i.e., by tempering with the governors of the citadels and the garrisons of his foes, as the commentator explains.
260:1 i.e., that king who is vain and covetous.
260:2 Whether it belongs to himself or to any other person.
260:3 The sense seems to be that a king should always be guided by the precepts of the science of king-craft without depending upon chance.
261:1 i.e., he who earns religious merit is sure to obtain such regions; and as great merit may be acquired by properly discharging kingly duties one may, by such conduct, win much felicity hereafter.
Next: Section CXXI