The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'People accept with affection the declarations of the Srutis which say, 'This is to be given.' 'This other thing is to be given!' As regards kings, again, they make gifts of various things unto various men. What, however, O grandsire, is the best or foremost of all gifts.'
"Bhishma said, 'Of all kinds of gifts, the gift of earth has been said to be the first (in point of merit). Earth is immovable and indestructible. It is capable of yielding unto him who owns it all the best things upon which his heart may be set. It yields robes and vestments, jewels and gems, animals, paddy and barley. Amongst all creatures, the giver of earth grows in prosperity for ever and ever. As long as the earth lasts, so long does the giver thereof grow in prosperity. There is no gift that is higher, O Yudhishthira, than the gift of earth. It hath been heard by us that all men have given a little quantity of earth. All men have made gifts of earth, hence all men enjoy a little of earth. Whether in this or in the next world all creatures live under conditions dependent upon their own acts. Earth is Prosperity's self. She is a mighty goddess. She makes him her lord (in next life) who makes gifts of her in this life to other people. That person, O best of kings, who gives away earth, which is indestructible, as Dakshina, becomes born in next life as a man and becomes also a lord of earth. The measure of one's enjoyment in this life is commensurate with the measure of one's gifts in a previous life. Even this is the conclusion to which the scriptures point. For a Kshatriya should either give away the earth in gift or cast off his life in battle. Even this constitutes the highest source of prosperity with regard to Kshatriyas. It has been heard by us that earth, when given away, cleanses and sanctifies the giver. The man that is of sinful behaviour, that is guilty of even the slaughter of a Brahamana and of falsehood, is cleansed by a gift of earth. Indeed, such a gift rescues even such a sinner from all his sins. The righteous accept gifts of earth only and no other thing from kings that are sinful. Like one's mother, earth, when given away, cleanses the giver and the taker. This is an eternal and secret name of earth, viz., Priyadatta. 1 Given away or accepted in gift, the name that is dear to her is Priyadatta. The gift of earth is
desirable. That king who makes a gift of earth unto a learned Brahmana, obtains from that gift a kingdom. Upon re-birth in this world, such a man without doubt attains to a position that is equal to that of a king. Hence a king as soon as he gets earth, should make gifts of earth unto the Brahmanas. None but a lord of earth; is competent to make gifts of earth. Nor should one that is not a deserving person accept a gift of earth. They who desire earth should, without doubt, conduct themselves in this way (i.e., make gifts of earth). That person who takes away earth belonging to a righteous person never gets any earth. By making gifts of earth unto the righteous, one gets good earth. Of virtuous soul, such a giver acquires great fame both here and hereafter. That righteous king respecting whom the Brahmanas say, 'We live on earth given to us by him,' is such that his very enemies cannot utter the least reproach respecting his kingdom. 1 Whatever sins a man commits from want of the means of support, are all washed off by gift of only so much earth as is covered by a cow-hide. Those kings that are mean in their acts or are of fierce deeds, should be taught that gift of earth is exceedingly cleansing and is at the same time the highest gift (in respect of merit). The ancients thought that there was always very little difference between the man who performs a Horse-sacrifice and him that makes a gift of earth unto one that is righteous. The learned doubt the acquisition of merit by doing all other acts of righteousness. The only act with respect to which they do not entertain doubt is the gift of earth which, indeed, is the foremost of all gifts. The man of wisdom who makes gifts of earth, gives away all these, viz., gold, silver, cloth, gems and pearls and precious stones. Penances, sacrifice, Vedic lore, good behaviour, absence of cupidity, firmness in truth, worship of seniors, preceptors, and the deities--all these dwell in him who makes a gift of earth. They who ascend to the region of Brahman by leaving off their lives in battle, after having fought without any regard for themselves to secure the benefit to their masters--even they are unable to transcend the merit of those that make gilts of earth. As the mother always nourishes her own child with milk from her breast, even so doth the earth gratify with all the tastes the person that makes a gift of earth. Mrityu, Vaikinkara, Danda, Yama, Fire who is possessed of great fierceness, and all heinous and terrible sins are incapable of touching the person that makes a gift of earth. That man of tranquil soul who makes a gift of earth gratifies (by that act) the Pitris dwelling in their own region and the deities also hailing from the region that is theirs. The man who makes a gift of earth unto one that is emaciated and cheerless and destitute of the means of life and languishing with weakness, and who thereby supplies one with the means of subsistence, becomes entitled to the honour and merit of performing a sacrifice. Even as an affectionate cow runs towards her calf,
with full udders dropping milk, the highly-blessed earth after the same manner, runs towards the person who makes a gift of earth. That man who makes unto a Brahmana a gift of earth which has been tilled, or sown with seeds or which contains standing crops, or a mansion well-equipped with every necessary, succeeds in becoming (in next life) the accomplisher of the wishes of everybody. The man who causes a Brahmana possessed of the means of life, owning a domestic fire and of pure vows and practices, to accept a gift of earth, never falls into any danger or distress. As the moon waxes day by day, even so the merit of a gift of earth becomes enhanced every time such earth produces crops. Those conversant with ancient history sing this verse in connection with the gift of earth. Hearing that verse Jamadagni's son (Rama) gave away the whole earth unto Kasyapa. The verse to which I refer is this, 'Receive me in gift. Give me away. By giving me away, thou (O giver) shall obtain me again!' That which is given away in this life is re-acquired in the next. 1 That Brahmana who recites this high declaration of the Vedas at the time of a Sraddha attains to the highest reward. A gift of earth is a high expiation for the sin of those puissant men who betake themselves to Atharvan rites for doing injuries to others. Indeed, by making a gift of earth one rescues ten generations of one's paternal and maternal race. That person who is even conversant with this Vedic declaration respecting the merits of a gift of earth, succeeds in rescuing ten generations of both his paternal and maternal families. The earth is the original source of all creatures (for it is from earth that all creatures derive their sustenance). It has been said that the deity of fire is the presiding genius of the earth. After the coronation ceremony has been performed of a king, this Vedic declaration should be re-cited to him, so that he may make gifts of earth and may never take away earth from a righteous person. Without doubt, the entire wealth owned by the king belongs to the Brahmanas. A king well-conversant with the science of duty and morality is the first requisite of the kingdom's prosperity. Those people whose king is unrighteous and atheistic in conduct and belief can never be happy. Such people can never sleep or wake in peace. In consequence of his acts of wickedness his subjects become always filled with anxiety. Protection of what the subjects already have and new acquisitions according to lawful means are incidents that are not noticeable in the kingdom of such a ruler. Those people, again, who have a wise and righteous king, sleep happily and wake up in happiness. Through the blessed and righteous acts of such a king, his subjects become freed from anxiety. The subjects, restrained from wicked acts, grow in prosperity through their own conduct. Capable of retaining what they have, they go on making new acquisitions. That king who makes gifts of earth is regarded as well-born. He is regarded as a man. He is a friend. He is righteous in his acts. He is a giver. He is regarded as possessing prowess. Those men who make gifts of ample and fertile earth unto Brahmanas conversant
with the Vedas, always shine in the world, in consequence of their energy, like so many suns. As seeds scattered on the soil grow and return a goodly crop, even so all one's wishes become crowned with fruition in consequence of one's making gifts of earth. Aditya and Varuna and Vishnu and Brahman and Soma and Hutasana, and the illustrious and trident-bearing Mahadeva, all applaud the man that makes a gift of earth. Living creatures spring into life from the earth and it is into the earth that they become merged when they disappear. Living creatures which are distributed into four classes (i.e., viviparous, oviparous, filthborn, and vegetables) have earth for their constituent essence. The earth is both the mother and father of the universe of creatures, O monarch. There is no element, O ruler of men, that can compare with earth. In this connection is cited the old narrative of a discourse between the celestial preceptor Vrihaspati and Indra the ruler of Heaven, O Yudhishthira. Having adored Vishnu in a hundred sacrifices each of which was distinguished by plentiful gifts as Dakshina, Maghavat put this question to Vrihaspati, that foremost of all eloquent persons.'
"Maghavat said, 'O illustrious one, by what gift does one succeed in coming to Heaven and attaining to beatitude? O foremost of speakers, do thou tell me of that gift which is productive of high and inexhaustible merit.'
"Bhishma continued, 'Thus addressed by the chief of the celestials the preceptor of the deities, viz., Vrihaspati of great energy, said these words in reply unto him of a hundred sacrifices. Endued as he is with the merits that attach to the gift of earth, the region of felicity reserved for the person who makes gift of such earth as is auspicious and rich with every taste, never become exhausted. 1 That king, O Sakra, who desires to have prosperity and who wishes to win happiness for himself, should always make gifts of earth, with due rites, unto deserving persons. If after committing numerous sins a person makes gifts of earth unto members of the regenerate class, he casts off all those sins like a snake casting off its slough. The person that makes a gift of earth is said to make gifts of everything, that is, of seas and rivers and mountains and forests. By making a gift of earth, the person is said to give away lakes and tanks and wells and streams. In consequence of the moisture of earth, one is said to give away articles of diverse tastes by making a gift of earth. The man who makes a gift of earth is regarded as giving away herbs and plants possessed of high and efficacious virtues, trees adorned with flowers and fruit, delightful woods, and hillocks. The merit that a person acquires by making a gift of earth is incapable of being acquired by the performance of even such great sacrifices as the Agnishtoma and others with plentiful gifts in the shape of Dakshina.
[paragraph continues] The giver of earth, it has been already said, rescues ten generations of both his paternal and maternal races. Similarly, by taking away earth that was given away, one hurls oneself into hell and casts ten generations of both one's paternal and maternal lines into the same place of misery. That man who having promised to make a gift of earth does not actually make it, or who having made a gift takes it back, has to pass a long time, in great misery in consequence of being tied with the noose of Varuna at the command of Death. Those men have never to go to Yama who honour and worship those foremost of Brahmanas that pour libations every day on their domestic fire, that are always engaged in the performance of sacrifices, that have scanty means of livelihood, and that receive with hospitality every guest seeking shelter in their abodes The king, O Purandara, should free himself from the debt he owes to the Brahmanas and protect the helpless and the weak belonging to the other orders. The king should never resume, O chief of the deities, earth that has been given away by another unto a Brahmana, O ruler of the celestials, that is destitute of the means of life. 1 The tears that would fall from the eyes of such cheerless and destitute Brahmanas in consequence of their lands being taken back are capable of destroying the ancestors and descendants to the third generation of the resumer. That man who succeeds by his endeavours in re-establishing a king driven away from his kingdom, obtains residence in heaven and is much honoured by the denizens thereof. That king who succeeds in making gifts of earth with such crops standing thereon as sugar-cane or barley or wheat, or with kine and horses and other draft cattle,--earth that has been won with the might of the giver's arms,--that has mineral wealth in its bowels and that is covered with every kind of wealth of the surface, wins inexhaustible regions of felicity in the next world, and such a king it is that is said to perform the earth-sacrifice. That king who makes a gift of earth becomes washed of every sin and is, therefore, pure and approved of the righteous. In this world he is highly honoured and applauded by all righteous men. The merit that attaches to a gift of earth increases every time the earth given away bears crops for the benefit of the owner, even as a drop of oil, falling upon water, is seen to extend on every side, and cover the watery surface. Those heroic kings and ornaments of assemblies who cast off their lives in battle with faces towards the foe, attain, O Sakra, to the region of Brahman. Beautiful damsels skilled in music and dancing and adorned with garlands of celestial flowers, approach, O chief of the deities, the giver of earth as he comes to heaven departing from the earth. That king who makes gifts of earth with due rites unto persons of the regenerate order, sports in bliss in the celestial regions, adorned all the while by the deities and Gandharvas. A century of Apsaras, adorned with celestial garlands, approach, O chief of the deities, the giver of earth as he ascends to the region of Brahman. Flowers of excellent perfumes, an excellent conch and excellent seat, an umbrella and excellent
steeds with excellent vehicles, are always ready for the person how makes gifts of earth. By making gifts of earth a king can always command flowers of excellent perfumes and heaps of gold. Possessed of all kinds of wealth the commands of such a king can never be disobeyed anywhere, and cries of victory hail him wheresoever he may approach. The rewards that attach to gifts of earth consist of residence in heaven, O Purandara, and gold, and flowers, and plants and herbs of medicinal virtue, and Kusa and mineral wealth and verdant grass. A person by making a gift of earth acquires in his next life nectar yielding earth. There is no gift that is equal to a gift of earth. There is no senior worthy of greater respect than the mother. There is no duty higher than truth. There is no wealth more precious than that which is given away.'
"Bhishma continued, 'Hearing these words from the son of Angiras, Vasava made a gift unto him of the whole earth with all her jewels and gems and all her wealth of diverse kinds. If these verses declaring the merit attaching to gifts of earth be recited on the occasion of a Sraddha, neither Rakshasas nor Asuras can succeed in appropriating any share of the offerings made in it. Without doubt, the offerings one makes unto the Pitris at such a Sraddha become inexhaustible. Hence, on occasions of Sraddhas, the man of learning should recite these verses on the subject of the merits that attach to gifts of earth, in the presence and hearing of the invited Brahmanas when engaged in eating. I have thus, O chief of the Bharatas, discoursed unto thee of that gift which is the foremost of all gifts. What else dost thou wish to hear?'"
68:1 The Commentator explains that because giver by one that is dear or given to one that is dear, therefore is she called Priyadatta.
69:1 This is evidently a crux. Prasamsanti means generally praise. Here it means reproach or censure. The second line may also mean, his enemies dare not attack his kingdom.
70:1 This is the utterance or declaration of the earth herself.
71:1 Rich with every taste' the idea is that things have six tastes, viz., sweet, sour, etc. The quality of taste is drawn by things from the soil or earth. The tastes inhere in earth, for it is the same earth that produces the sugarcane and the tamarind.
72:1 Sparsitam is dattam.
Next: Section LXIII