The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'How, indeed, should the king protect his subjects without injuring anybody. I ask thee this, O grandsire, tell me, O foremost of good men!'
"Bhishma said, 'In this connection is cited the old narrative of the conversation between Dyumatsena and king Satyavat. We have heard that upon a certain number of individuals having been brought out for execution at the command of his sire (Dyumatsena), prince Satyavat said certain words that had never before been said by anybody else. 1 'Sometimes righteousness assumes the form of iniquity, and iniquity assumes the form of righteousness. It can never be possible that the killing of individuals can ever be a righteous act.'
"Dyumatsena said, 'If the sparing of those that deserve to be slain be righteousness, if robbers be spared, O Satyavat, then all distinctions (between virtue and vice) would disappear. 'This is mine',--'This (other) is not his'--ideas like these (with respect to property) will not (if the wicked be not punished) prevail in the Kali age. (If the wicked be not punished) the affairs of the world will come to a deadlock. If thou knowest how the world may go on (without punishing the wicked), then discourse to me upon it.'
"Satyavat said, 'The three other orders (viz., the Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and
[paragraph continues] Sudras) should be placed under the control of the Brahmanas. If those three orders be kept within the bonds of righteousness, then the subsidiary classes (that have sprung from intermixture) will imitate them in their practices. Those amongst them that will transgress (the commands of the Brahmanas) shall be reported to the king.--'This one heeds not my commands,'--upon such a complaint being preferred by a Brahmana, the king shall inflict punishment upon the offender. Without destroying the body of the offender the king should do that unto him which is directed by the scriptures. The king should not act otherwise, neglecting to reflect properly upon the character of the offence and upon the science of morality. By slaying the wicked, the king (practically) slays a large number of individuals that are innocent. Behold, by slaying a single robber, his wife, mother, father and children are all slain (because they become deprived of the means of life). When injured by a wicked person, the king should, therefore, reflect deeply on the question of chastisement. 1 Sometimes a wicked man is seen to imbibe good behaviour from a righteous person. Then again from persons that are wicked, good children may be seen to spring. The wicked, therefore, should not be torn up by the roots. The extermination of the wicked is not consistent with eternal practice. By smiting them gently they may be made to expiate their offences. By depriving them of all their wealth, by chains and immurement in dungeons, by disfiguring them (they may be made to expiate their guilt). Their relatives should not be persecuted by the infliction of capital sentences on them. If in the presence of the Purohita and others, 2 they give themselves up to him from desire of protection, and swear, saying, 'O Brahmana, we shall never again commit any sinful act,' they would then deserve to be let off without any punishment. This is the command of the Creator himself. Even the Brahmana that wears a deer-skin and the wand of (mendicancy) and has his head shaved, should be punished (when he transgresses). 3 If great men transgress, their chastisement should be proportionate to their greatness. As regards them that offend repeatedly, they do not deserve to be dismissed without punishment as on the occasion of their first offence.' 4 "Dyumatsena said, 'As long as those barriers within which men should be kept are not transgressed, so long are they designated by the name of Righteousness. If they who transgressed those, barriers were not punished with death, those barriers would soon be destroyed. Men of remote and remoter
times were capable of being governed with ease. 1 They were very truthful (in speech and conduct). They were little disposed to disputes and quarrels. They seldom gave way to anger, or, if they did, their wrath never became ungovernable. In those days the mere crying of fie on offenders was sufficient punishment. After this came the punishment represented by harsh speeches or censures. Then followed the punishment of fines and forfeitures. In this age, however, the punishment of death has become current. The measure of wickedness has increased to such an extent that by slaying one others cannot be restrained. 2 The robber has no connection with men, with the deities, with the Gandharvas, and with the Pitris. What is he to whom? He is not anybody to any one. This is the declaration of the Srutis. 3 The robber takes away the ornaments of corpses from cemeteries, and swearing apparel from men afflicted by spirits (and, therefore, deprived of senses). That man is a fool who would make any covenant with those miserable wretches or exact any oath from them (for relying upon it).' 4
"Satyavat said, 'If thou dost not succeed in making honest men of those rogues and in saving them by means unconnected with slaughter, do thou then exterminate them by performing some sacrifice. 5 Kings practise severe austerities for the sake of enabling their subjects go on prosperously in their avocations. When thieves and robbers multiply in their kingdoms they become ashamed.. They, therefore, betake themselves to penances for suppressing thefts and robberies and making their subjects live happily. Subjects can be made honest by being only frightened (by the king). Good kings never slay the wicked from motives of retribution. (On the other hand, if they slay, they slay in sacrifices, when the motive is to do good to the slain), Good kings abundantly succeed in ruling their subjects properly with the aid of good conduct (instead of cruel or punitive inflictions). If the king acts properly, the superior subjects imitate him. The inferior people, again in their turn, imitate their immediate superiors. Men are so constituted
that they imitate those whom they regard as their superiors. 1 That king who, without restraining himself, seeks to restrain others (from evil ways) becomes an object of laughter with all men in consequence of his being engaged in the enjoyment of all worldly pleasures as a slave of his senses. That man who, through arrogance or error of judgment, offends against the king in any way, should be restrained by every means. It is by this way that he is prevented from committing offences anew. The king should first restrain his own self if he desires to restrain others that offend. He should punish heavily (if necessary) even friends and near relatives. In that kingdom where a vile offender does not meet with heavy afflictions, offences increase and righteousness decreases without doubt. Formerly, a Brahmana. endued with clemency and possessed of learning, taught me this. Verily, to this effect, O sire, I have been instructed by also our grandsire of olden days, who gave such assurances of harmlessness to people, moved by pity. Their words were, 'In the Krita age, kings should rule their subjects by adopting ways that are entirely harmless. In the Treta age, kings conduct themselves according to ways that conform with righteousness fallen away by a fourth from its full complement. In the Dwapara age, they proceed according to ways conforming with righteousness fallen away by a moiety, and in the age that follows, according to ways conforming with righteousness fallen away by three-fourth. When the Kati age sets in, through the wickedness of kings and in consequence of the nature of the epoch itself, fifteen parts of even that fourth portion of righteousness disappear, a sixteenth portion thereof being all that then remains of it. If, O Satyavat, by adopting the method first mentioned (viz., the practice of harmlessness), confusion sets in, the king, considering the period of human life, the strength of human beings, and the nature of the time that has come, should award punishments. 2 Indeed, Manu, the son of the Self-born, has, through compassion for human beings, indicated the way by means of which men may adhere to knowledge (instead of harmfulness) for the sake of emancipation.'" 3
252:1 i.e., prince Satyavat said that the persons brought out for execution should not be executed. The power of kings did not extend over the lives of their subjects. In other words the prince argued against the propriety of inflicting capital punishment upon even grave offenders.
253:1 Verse 10 is a triplet.
253:2 The Burdwan translator gives a very incorrect version of this verse. He misunderstands both text and commentary completely. K.P. Singha is correct.
253:3 The commentator explains that the object of this line is to show that the very Sannyasin, when he offends, deserves to be chastised. K.P. Singha misunderstands the line completely. The Burdwan version is correct.
253:4 Both the vernacular versions of this verse are incorrect. The first half of the first line should be taken independently. The commentator explains that after gariyamsam the words api sasyu should be supplied. Aparadhe tu punah punah, etc., is said of offenders in general, and not eminent offenders only.
254:1 i.e., punishments were not necessary in former times, or very light ones were sufficient. The Burdwan version of this verse is thoroughly ridiculous.
254:2 Hence extermination is the punishment that has become desirable.
254:3 Hence, by slaying them no injury is done to any one in this or the other world.
254:4 Padma means, the ornaments of corpses. Grave-stealers that were in every country. Pisachat is Pisachopahatat. Evidently, idiots and mad men were the persons who were regarded to have been possessed by evil spirits. Daiyatam is an accusative which, like, Samayam is governed by the transitive verb Kurvita. Yah kaschit means yah kaschit mudyhah, na tu prajnah. The Burdwan version of this verse shows that the person entrusted with this portion of the Canti was altogether incompetent for the task. K.P. Singha gives the meaning correctly.
254:5 The commentator supposes that after sadhun the word kartum is understood. The line may also be taken as meaning,--'If thou dost not succeed in rescuing the honest without slaying (the wicked).' Bhuta bhavya is sacrifice. The prince speaks of exterminating the rogues by slaying them as animals in a sacrifice because of the declaration in the Srutis that those killed in sacrifices ascend to heaven, purged of all their sins. Such acts, therefore, seem to be merciful to the prince, compared to death by hanging or on the block.
255:1 The world thus improves in conduct and morality through the king only behaving in a proper way. Cruel punishments are scarcely needed to reform the world.
255:2 The period of human life decreases proportionately in every succeeding age, as also the strength of human beings. In awarding punishments, the king should be guided by these considerations.
255:3 The word satya is used here for Emancipation. Mahaddahrmaphalam is true knowledge, so called because, of its superiority to heaven, etc. The way pointed out by Manu is, of p. 256 course, the religion of harmlessness. In verse 35, there is an address to prince Satyavat. It seems, as I have pointed out, that verses 32 to 35 represent the words of the grandsire to whom the prince refers in verse 31.
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