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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======

Statecraft   -  Kingcraft

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Treatise consisting of a hundred thousand chapters

The origin of government

The first requisite of the kingdom's prosperity

Kingly Duties

King’s behaviour towards servants

Kingcraft – Politics and Diplomacy

The duty of protection


The following faults should be checked.
They are such as impoverish everyone.

Those officers  that take from the subjects more
than what is due should be punished.

Protection of fruit trees

Acting in the interests of righteousness
One becomes a king for acting
in the interests of righteousness

It is the king who constitutes the age.

Weakness is more powerful
than even the greatest Power

The duties of the king

Duties of a Kingdom
The (election and) coronation of a king is the first duty
of a kingdom. A kingdom in which anarchy prevails
becomes weak and is soon afflicted by robbers.

King, that ruler of men, is a god

In the absence of royal protection
If the king did not exercise the duty of protection, the strong
would forcibly appropriate the possessions of the weak

King is a high divinity in human form

Protection of kingdom and how to use spies
Deployment of spies, foot-soldiers
Peace treaties, military operations, tribute, scorched earth

Military operations (War)

The pholosophy of war down through the ages

A king should take care of seven things

Chastisement (punishment)
If chastisement did not uphold and protect,
then no body would have studied the Vedas,
and no maiden would have married.
The highest merit a king (or the president and
the government) can acquire is acquaintance
with the great science of chastisement
(punishment) and administering it properly.

The king makes the age
The truth is that the king makes the age. When the king rules with a complete and strict reliance on the science of chastisement, the foremost of ages called Krita is then said to set in. Righteousness sets in the Krita age. Nothing of unrighteousness exists then. The hearts of men belonging to all the four orders do not take any pleasure in unrighteousness. Without doubt, all men succeed in acquiring the objects they desire and preserving those that have been acquired.

Readings from the Mahabharata

The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Section LIX
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Vaisampayana said: Rising from their beds the next day and performing the morning rites laid down in the scriptures, the Pandavas and the Yadavas set out (for the spot where Bhishma lay) on their cars resembling fortified towns. Proceeding to the field of Kuru and approaching the sinless Bhishma, they enquired of that foremost of car-warriors if he had passed the night happily. Saluting all the Rishis, and blessed by them in return, the princes took their seats around Bhishma. Then King Yudhishthira the just possessed of great energy, having worshipped Bhishma duly, said these words with joined hands.

The origin of government

Yudhishthira said: Whence arose the word Rajan (King), that is used, O Bharata, on earth? Tell me this, O scorcher of foes! Possessed of hands and arms and neck like others, having understanding and senses like those of others, subject like others to the same kinds of joy and grief, endued with back, mouth, and stomach similar to those of the rest of the world, having vital fluids and bones and marrow and flesh and blood similar to those of the rest of the world, inhaling and exhaling breaths like others, possessed of life-breaths and bodies like other men, resembling others in birth and death, in fact, similar to others in respect of all attributes of humanity, for what reason does one man, viz., the king, govern the rest of the world numbering many men possessed of great intelligence and bravery?

Whence is it that one man rules the wide world teeming with brave and energetic and highborn men of good behaviour? Why do all men seek to obtain his favour? Why is it that if one man becomes delighted, the whole world becomes delighted, and if that one man is troubled, the whole world becomes troubled? I desire to hear this in detail, O bull of Bharata’s race! O foremost of speakers, discourse to me on this fully, O king, there cannot but be a grave reason for all this since it is seen that the whole world bows down to one man as to a god.

Bhishma said: With concentrated attention, O tiger among kings, listen to it in detail as to how in the Krita age sovereignty first began. At first there was no sovereignty, no king, no chastisement, and no chastiser. All men used to protect one another righteously. As they thus lived, O Bharata, righteously protecting one another, they found the task (after some time) to be painful. Error then began to assail their hearts. Having become subject to error, the perceptions of men, O prince, came to be clouded, and thence their virtue began to decline. Whence their perceptions were dimmed and when men became subject to error, all of them became covetous, O chief of the Bharatas! And because men sought to obtain objects, which they did not possess, another passion called lust (of acquisition) got hold of them. When they became subject to lust, another passion, named anger, soon soiled them. Once subject to wrath, they lost all consideration of what should be done and what should not.

Unrestrained sexual indulgence set in. Men began to utter what they chose. All distinctions between food that is clean and unclean and between virtue and vice disappeared. When this confusion set in amongst men, the Vedas (scriptures) disappeared. Upon the disappearance of the Vedas, Righteousness was lost. When both the Vedas and righteousness were lost, the gods were possessed by fear. Overcome with fear, O tiger among men, they sought the protection of Brahma. Having gratified the divine Grandsire of the universe, the gods, afflicted with grief, said unto him, with joined hands, ‘O god, the eternal Vedas have been afflicted in the world of men by covetousness and error. For this, we have been struck with fear. Through loss of the Vedas, O Supreme Lord, righteousness also has been lost. For this, O Lord of the three worlds, we are about to descend to the level of human beings. Men used to pour libations upwards while we used to pour rain downwards.

[Note: Men, by pouring libations of ghee (clarified butter) on sacrificial fires, feed the gods. The gods, fed by those libations, pour rain on the earth whence men derive their sustenance. Men, therefore are said to pour upwards and the gods pour downwards.]

In consequence, however, of the cessation of all pious rites among men, great distress will be our lot. Do thou then, O Grandsire, think of that which would benefit us, so that the universe, created by the power, may not meet with destruction.’

Thus addressed, the Self-born and divine Lord said unto them: I shall think of what will do good to all. Ye foremost of gods, let your fears be dispelled.

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Treatise consisting of a hundred thousand chapters

The Grandsire then composed by his own intelligence a treatise consisting of a hundred thousand chapters. In it were treated the subject of Virtue, Profit, and Pleasure. Which the Self-born designated as the triple aggregate. He treated of a fourth subject called Emancipation with opposite meaning and attributes. The triple aggregate in respect of emancipation, viz., to the attributes of Goodness, Passion, and Darkness, and another, (a fourth, viz., the practice of duty without hope of bliss or reward in this or the other world), were treated in it. Another triple aggregate connected with Chastisement, viz., Conversation, Growth, and Destruction, was treated in it.

[Note: Conversation in respect of the wealth of traders and merchants; Growth in respect of the penances of ascetics; and Destruction in respect of thieves and wicked men. All these depend upon Chastisement.]

Another aggregate of six consisting of the hearts of men, place, time, means, overt acts, and alliances, and causes, were treated in it. The religious rites laid down in the three Vedas, knowledge, and the acts necessary for the support of life, (viz., agriculture, trade, etc.), O bull of Bharata’s race, and the very extensive branch of learning called punitive legislation, were laid down in it.

The subjects also of behaviour towards counsellors, of spies, the indications of princes, of secret agents possessed of diverse means, of envoys and agents of other kinds, conciliation, fomenting discord, gifts, and chastisement, O king, with toleration as the fifth, were fully treated therein. Deliberation of all kinds, counsels for producing disunion, the errors of deliberation, the results of the success or failure of counsels, treatise of three kinds, viz., bad, middling, and good, made through fear, good offices, and gifts of wealth, were described in detail. The four kinds of time for making journeys, the details of the aggregate of three, the three kinds of victory, viz., that secured righteously, that won by wealth, and that obtained by deceitful ways, were described in detail. The three kinds of attributes, viz., bad, middling, and good, of the aggregate of five (viz., counsellors, kingdom, fort, army, and treasury), were also treated in it.

Chastisements of two kinds, viz., open and secret, were indicated. The eight kinds of open chastisement, as also the eight kinds of secret chastisement, were dealt with in detail. Cars, elephants, horses, and foot soldiers, O son of Pandu, impressed labourers, crews, and paid attendants (of armies), and guides taken from the country which is the seat of war, these are the eight instruments, O Kauravya, of open chastisement or forces acting openly. The use and administration of movable and immovable poison were also mentioned in respect of the three kinds of things, viz., wearing apparel, food, and incantations. Enemies, allies, and neutrals; these also were described.

The diverse characteristics of roads (to be taken or traveled upon, as dependent on stars and planets, etc.), the attributes of the soil (on which to encamp), protection of self, superintendence of the construction of cars and other utensils of war and use, the diverse means for protecting and improving men, elephants, cars, and steeds, the diverse kinds of battle array, strategies and manoeuvres in war, planetary conjunctions foreboding evil, calamitous visitations (such as earthquakes), skilful methods of warfare and retreat, knowledge of weapons and their proper keep, the disorders of troops and how to get rid of them, the means of inspiring the army with joy and confidence, diseases, times of distress and danger, knowledge of guiding foot soldiers in battle, the methods of sounding alarms and notifying orders, inspiring the enemy with fear by display of standards, the diverse methods of afflicting the enemy’s kingdom by means of robbers and fierce wild tribes, and fire-raisers and poisoners and forgers by producing disunion among the chief officers of hostile armies, by cutting down crops and plants, by destroying the efficiency of the enemy’s elephants; by producing alarms, by honouring those among the enemy’s subjects that are well disposed towards the invader, and by inspiring the enemy with confidence, the waste, growth, and harmony of the seven essential requisites of sovereignty, capacity for (projected) works, the means for accomplishing them, the methods of extending the kingdom, the means of winning over persons residing in the enemy’s territory, the chastisement and destruction of those that are strong, the exact administration of justice, the extermination of the wicked, wrestling, shooting and throwing and hurling of weapons, the methods of making presents and of storing requisite things, feeding the unfed and supervision over those that have been fed, gifts of wealth in season, freedom from the vices called Vyasanas, the attributes of kings, the qualifications of military officers, the sources of the aggregate of three and its merits and faults, the diverse kinds of evil intents, the behaviour of dependents, suspicion against every one, the avoidance of heedlessness, the acquisition of objects unattained, the improving of objects already acquired, gifts to deserving persons of what has thus been improved, expenditure of wealth for pious purposes, for acquiring objects of desire, and for dispelling danger and distress, were all treated in that work.

The fierce vices, O chief of the Kurus, born of temper, and those born of lust, in all of ten kinds, were mentioned in that treatise. The four kinds of vices which the learned speak about, are born of lust, viz., hunting, gambling, drinking, and sexual indulgence, were mentioned by the Self-born in that work. Rudeness of speech, fierceness, severity of chastisement, infliction of pain on the body, suicide, and frustrating one’s own objects, these are the six kinds of faults born of wrath, that have also been mentioned. Diverse kinds of machines and their actions were described there. Devastation of the enemy’s territories, attacks upon foes, the destruction and removal of landmarks and other indications, the cutting down of large trees (for depriving the enemy and the enemy’s subjects of their refreshing shade), siege of forts, supervision of agriculture and other useful operations, the storage of necessaries, robes and attire (of troops), and the best means of manufacturing them, were all described.

The characteristics and uses of Panavas, Anakas, conchs, and drums, O Yudhishthira, the six kinds of articles (viz., gems, animals, lands, robes, female slaves, and gold) and the means of acquiring them for one’s own self and of destroying them (for injuring the foe), pacification of newly acquired territories, honouring the good, cultivating friendship with the learned, knowledge of the rules in respect of gifts and religious rites such as Homa (sacred fire ceremony), the touch of auspicious articles, attention to the adornment of the body, the manner of preparing and using food, piety of behaviour, the attainment of prosperity by following in one path, truthfulness of speech, sweetness of speech, observance of acts done on occasions of festivity and social gatherings and those done within the household, the open and secret acts of persons in all places of meeting, the constant supervision of the behaviour of men, the immunity of Brahmanas (Brahmins) from punishment, the reasonable infliction of punishment, honours paid to dependants in consideration of kinship and merit, the protection of subjects and the means of extending the kingdom, the counsels that a king who lives in the midst of a dozen of kings, should pursue in respect of the four kinds of foes, the four kinds of allies, and the four kinds of neutrals, the two and seventy acts laid down in medical works about the protection, exercise, and improvements of the body, and the practices of particular countries, tribes, and families, were all duly treated in that work.

Virtue, Profit, and Pleasure, and Emancipation were also described in it. The diverse means of acquisition, the desire of diverse kinds of wealth, O giver of profuse presents, the methods of agriculture and other operations that form the chief source of the revenue, and the various means for producing and applying illusions, the methods by which stagnant water is rendered foul, were laid down in it. All those means, O tiger among kings, by which men might be prevented from deviating from the path of righteousness and honesty, were all described in it.

Having composed that highly beneficial treatise, the divine Lord cheerfully said unto the deities having Indra for their head, those words: For the good of the world and for establishing the triple aggregate (viz., Virtue, Profit, and Pleasure), I have composed this science representing the very cheese of speech. Assisted by chastisement, this science will protect the world. Dealing rewards and punishments, this science will operate among men. And because men are led (to the acquisition of the objects of their existence) by chastisement, or, in other words, chastisement leads or governs everything, therefore will this science be known in the three worlds as Dandaniti (science of chastisement). Containing the essence of all the attributes of the aggregate of six, this science will always be much regarded by all high-souled persons. Virtue, profit, Pleasure, and Salvation have all been treated in it.

After this, the lord of Uma,- the divine and multiform Siva of large eyes, the sources of all blessings, first studied and mastered it. In view, however, of the gradual decrease of the period of life of human beings, the divine Siva abridged that science of grave import compiled by Brahma. The abridgment, called Vaisalakasha, consisting of ten thousand lessons, was then received by Indra devoted to Brahman and endued with great ascetic merit. The divine Indra also abridged it into a treatise consisting of five thousand lessons and called it Vahudantaka. Afterwards the puissant Vrihaspati, by his intelligence, further abridged the work into a treatise of three thousand lessons and called it Varhaspatya. Next, that preceptor of Yoga, of great celebrity, viz., Kavi of immeasurable wisdom, reduced it further into a work of a thousand lessons. In view of the period of men’s lives and the general decrease (of everything), great Rishis did thus, for benefiting the world, abridged that science.

The gods then, approaching that lord of creatures, viz Vishnu, said unto him: Indicate, O god, that one among mortals who deserves to have superiority over the rest.

The divine and puissant Narayana, reflecting a little, created, by a fiat of his will, a son born of his energy, named Virajas. The highly blessed Virajas, however, did not desire sovereignty on earth. His mind, O son of Pandu, inclined to a life of renunciation. Virajas had a son named Krittimat. He too renounced pleasure and enjoyment. Krittimat had a son named Kardama. Kardama also practised severe austerities. The lord of creatures, Kardama, begot a son named Ananga. Ananga became a protector of creatures, pious in behaviour, and fully conversant with the science of chastisement. Ananga begot a son named Ativala, well versed in policy. Obtaining extensive empire after the demise of his sire, he became a slave of his passions. Mrityu, O king, had a daughter born of his mind, named Sunita and celebrated over the three worlds. She was married to Ativala and gave birth to a son named Vena. Vena, a slave of wrath and malice, became unrighteous in his conduct towards all creatures. The Rishis, those utterers of Brahma, slew him with Kusa blades (as their weapon) inspired with Mantras. Uttering Mantras the while, those Rishis pierced the right thigh of Vena. Thereupon, from that thigh, came out a short-limbed person on earth, resembling a charred brand, with blood-red eyes, and black hair.

Those utterers of Brahma said unto him: Nishida (sit) here!

From him have sprung the Nishadas, viz., those wicked tribes that have the hills and the forests for their abode, as also those hundreds and thousands of others called Mlechchhas, residing on the Vindhya mountains. The great Rishis then pierced the right arm of Vena. Thence sprang a person who was a second Indra in form. Clad in mail, armed with scimitars, bows and arrows, and well versed in the science of weapons, he was fully acquainted with the Vedas and their branches. All the ordinances of the science of chastisement, O king, (in their embodied forms) came to that best of men.

The son of Vena then, with joined hands, said unto those great Rishis: I have attained an understanding that is very keen and that is observant of righteousness. Tell me in detail what I shall do with it. That useful task which you will be pleased to indicate, I shall accomplish without hesitation.

Thus addressed, the gods that were present there, as also the Rishis, said unto him: Do thou fearlessly accomplish all those tasks in which righteousness even resides. Disregarding what is dear and what not so, look upon all creatures with an equal eye. Cast off at a distance lust and wrath and covetousness and honour, and, always observing the dictates of righteousness, do thou punish with thy own hands the man, whoever he may be, that deviates from the path of duty. Do thou also swear that thou wouldst, in thought, word, and deed, always maintain the religion inculcated on earth by the Vedas. Do thou further swear that thou wouldst fearlessly maintain the duties laid down in the Vedas with the aid of the science of chastisement, and that thou wouldst never act with caprice, O puissant one, know that Brahmanas are exempt from chastisement, and pledge further that thou wouldst protect the world from an intermixture of castes.

Thus addressed, Vena’s son replied unto the deities headed by the Rishis, saying: Those bulls among men, viz., the highly blessed Brahmanas, shall ever be worshipped by me.

Those utterers of Brahma then said unto him: Let it be so!

Then Sukra, that vast receptacle of Brahma, became his priest. The Valakhilyas became his counsellors, and the Saraswatas his companions. The great and illustrious Rishi Garga became his astrologer. This high declaration of the Srutis is current among men that Prithu is the eighth from Vishnu. A little before, the two persons named Suta and Magadha had come into existence. They became his bards and panegyrists. Gratified, Prithu, the royal son of Vena, possessed of great prowess, gave unto Suta the land lying on the sea coast and unto Magadha the country since known as Magadha. We have heard that the surface of the earth had before been very uneven. It was Prithu who made the terrestrial surface level. In every Manvantara, the earth becomes uneven.

[Note: A Manvantara is a very long period of time, not unequal to a geological age.]

Vena’s son removed the rocks and rocky masses lying all around, O monarch, with the horn of his bow. By this means the hills and mountains became enlarged. Then Vishnu, and the deities of Indra, and the Rishis, and the Regents of the worlds, and the Brahmanas, assembled together for crowning Prithu (as the king of the world). The earth herself, O son of Pandu, in her embodied form, came to him, with a tribute of gems and jewels. Ocean, that lord of rivers, and Himavat, the king of mountains, and Sakra, O Yudhishthira, bestowed upon him inexhaustible wealth. The great Meru, that mountain of gold, gave unto him heaps of that precious metal. The divine Kuvera, borne on the shoulders of human beings, that lord of Yakshas and Rakshasas, gave him wealth enough for gratifying needs of religion, profit, and pleasure.

Steeds, cars, elephants, and men, by millions, O son of Pandu, started into life as soon as Vena’s son thought of them. At that time there was neither decrepitude, nor famine, nor calamity, nor disease (on earth). In consequence of the protection afforded by that king, nobody had any fear from reptiles and thieves or from any other source. When he proceeded to the sea, the waters used to be solidified. The mountains gave him way, and his standard was never obstructed anywhere. He drew from the earth, as a milcher from a cow, seven and ten kinds of crops for the food of Yakshas and Rakshasas, and Nagas, and other creatures. That high-souled king caused all creatures to regard righteousness as the foremost of all things; and because he gratified all the people, therefore, was he called Rajan (king). And because he also healed the wounds of Brahmanas, therefore, he earned the name of Kshatriya. And because the earth (in his region) became celebrated for the practice of virtue, therefore, she came to be called by many as Prithvi.

The eternal Vishnu himself, O Bharata, confirmed his power, telling him: No one, O king, shall transcend thee.

The divine Vishnu entered the body of that monarch in consequence of his penances. For this reason, the entire universe offered divine worship unto Prithu, numbered among human gods.

[Note: ‘Numbered among human gods’ i.e., among kings.]

O king, thy kingdom should always be protected by the aid of the science of chastisement. Thou shouldst also, by careful observation made through the movements of thy spies, protect it in such a way that no one may be able to injure it. All good acts, O king, lead to the good (of the monarch). The conduct of a king should be regulated by his own intelligence, as also by the opportunities and means that may offer themselves. What other cause is there in consequence of which the multitude live in obedience to one, save the divinity of the monarch? At that time a golden lotus was born from Vishnu’s brow. The goddess Sree was born of that lotus. She became the spouse of Dharma of great intelligence. Upon Sree, O son of Pandu, Dharma begot Artha. All the three, viz., Dharma and Artha and Sree, were established in sovereignty.

A person upon the exhaustion of his merit, comes down from heaven to earth, and takes birth as a king conversant with the science of chastisement. Such a person becomes endued with greatness and is really a portion of Vishnu on earth. He becomes possessed of great intelligence and obtains superiority over others. Established by the gods, no one transcends him. It is for this reason that everybody acts in obedience to one, and it is for this that the world cannot command him. Good acts, O king, lead to good. It is for this that the multitude obey his words of command, though he belongs to the same world and is possessed of similar limbs. He who once beheld Prithu’s amiable face became obedient to him. Thenceforth he began to regard him as handsome, wealthy, and highly blessed.

[Note: It should be borne in mind that Bhishma is answering Yudhishthira’s query as to why the whole world adores one man. One of the reasons is a mysterious influence, which induces every man who beholds the amiable face of the king to render him homage.]

In consequence of the might of his sceptre, the practice of morality and just behaviour became so visible on earth. It is through that reason that the earth became overspread with virtue.

Thus, O Yudhishthira, the histories of all past events, the origin of the great Rishis, the holy waters, the planets and stars and asterisms, the duties in respect of the four modes of life, the four kinds of Homa, the characteristics of the four orders of men, and the four branches of learning, were all treated of in that work (of the Grandsire). Whatever objects or things, O son of Pandu, there are on earth, were all included in that treatise of the Grandsire. Histories and the Vedas and the science of Nyaya were all treated in it, as also penances, knowledge, abstention from injury in respect of all creatures, truth, falsehood, and high morality. Worship of persons old in years, gifts, purity of behaviour, readiness for exertion, and compassion towards all creatures, were very fully described in it. There is no doubt in this. Since that time, O monarch, the learned have begun to say that there is no difference between a god and a king. I have now told thee everything about the greatness of kings.

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The first requisite of the kingdom's prosperity

From The Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva, Section LXII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Bhishma said:

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.

 Kingly Duties
The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Section LVI
Translated by sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Addressing Bhishma

Yudhishthira said: Persons conversant with duty and morality say that kingly duties constitute the highest science of duty. I also think that the burden of these duties is exceedingly onerous. Do thou, therefore, O king, discourse on those duties. O grandsire, do thou speak in detail on the duties of kings. The science of kingly duties is the refuge of the whole world of life. O thou of Kuru’s race, Morality, Profit, and Pleasure are dependent on kingly duties. It is also clear that the practices that lead to emancipation are equally dependent on them. As the reins are in respect of the steed or the iron hook in respect of the elephant, even so the science of kingly duties constitutes the reins for checking the world.

If one becomes stupefied in respect of the duties observed by royal sages, disorder would set in on earth and everything will become confused. As the Sun, rising, dispels inauspicious darkness, so this science destroys every kind of evil consequence in respect of the world. Therefore, O grandsire, for my sake, discourse on kingly duties in the first instance, for thou, O chief of the Bharatas, art the foremost of all persons conversant with duties. O scorcher of foes, Vasudeva (Krishna) regards thee as the first of all intelligent persons. Therefore, all of us expect the highest knowledge from thee.

Bhishma said: Bowing unto Dharma who is Supreme, unto Krishna who is Brahman in full, and unto the Brahmanas (Brahmins), I shall discourse on the eternal duties (of men). Hear from me, O Yudhishthira, with concentrated attention, the whole range of kingly duties described with accurate details, and other duties that you may desire to know.

In the first place, O foremost one of Kuru’s race, the king should, from desire of pleasing (his subjects), wait with humility upon the gods and the Brahmanas, always bearing himself agreeably to the ordinance. By worshipping the deities and the Brahmanas, O perpetuator of Kuru’s race, the king pays off his debt to duty and morality, and receives the respect of his subjects, O son, thou shouldst always exert with promptitude, O Yudhishthira, for without promptitude of exertion mere destiny never accomplishes the objects cherished by kings. These two, viz., exertion and destiny, are equal (in their operation). Of them I regard exertion to be superior, for destiny is ascertained from the results of what is begun with exertion. Do not indulge in grief if what is commenced ends disastrously, for thou shouldst then exert thyself in the same act with redoubled attention. This is the high duty of kings. There is nothing, which contributes so much to the success of kings as Truth. The king who is devoted to Truth finds happiness both here and hereafter. As regards Rishis also, O king, Truth is their great wealth. Similarly, as regards kings, there is nothing that so much inspires confidence in them as Truth. The king that is possessed of every accomplishment and good behaviour, that is self-restrained, humble, and righteous, that has his passions under control, that is of handsome features and not too enquiring, never loses prosperity.

[Note: ‘not too enquiring’ in the sense of being liberal. A king should not too minutely enquire into what is done with the things belonging to him.]

By administering justice, by attending to these three, viz., concealment of his own weakness, ascertainment of the weakness of foes, and keeping his own counsels, as also by the observance of conduct that is straightforward, the king, O delighter of the Kurus, obtains prosperity.

If the king becomes mild, everybody disregards him. On the other hand, if he becomes fierce, his subjects then become troubled. Therefore, do thou observe both kinds of behaviour, O foremost of liberal men, the Brahmanas should never be punished by thee, for the Brahmana, O son of Pandu, is the foremost of beings on the Earth. The high-souled Manu, O king of kings, has sung two Slokas. In respect of thy duties, O thou of Kuru’s race, thou shouldst always bear them in mind. Fire has sprung from water, the Kshatriya from the Brahmana, and iron from stone. The three (viz., fire, Kshatriya and iron) can exert their force on every other thing, but coming into contact with their respective progenitors, their force becomes neutralised. When iron strikes stone, or fire battles with water, or Kshatriya cherishes enmity towards Brahmana, these three soon become weak. When this is so, O monarch, (you will see that) the Brahmanas are worthy of worship. They that are the foremost among the Brahmanas are gods on earth. Duly worshipped, they uphold the Vedas and the sacrifices. But they, O tiger among kings, that desire to have such honour however much they may be impediments to the three worlds, should ever be repressed by the might of thy arms.

The great Rishi Usanas, O son, sang two Slokas in days of old. Listen to them, O king, with concentrated attention. The righteous Kshatriya, mindful of his duties, should chastise a Brahmana that may be a very master of the Vedas if he rushes to battle with an uplifted weapon. The Kshatriya, conversant with duties, that upholds righteousness when it is trespassed against, does not, by that act, become a sinner, for the wrath of the assailant justifies the wrath of the chastiser. Subject to these restrictions, O tiger among kings, the Brahmanas should be protected. If they become offenders, they should then be exiled beyond thy dominions. Even when deserving of punishment, thou shouldst, O king, show them compassion. If a Brahmana becomes guilty of Brahmanicide, or of violating the bed of his preceptor or other revered senior, or of causing miscarriage, or of treason against the king, his punishment should be banishment from thy dominions. No corporal chastisement is laid down for them. Those persons that show respect towards the Brahmanas should be favoured by thee (with offices in the state).

There is no treasure more valuable to kings than that which consists in the selection and assemblage of servants. citadels indicated in the scriptures, indeed among every kind of citadel, that which consists of (the ready service and the love of the) subjects is the most impregnable. Therefore, the king who is possessed of wisdom should always show compassion towards the four orders of his subjects. The king who is of righteous soul and of truthful speech succeeds in gratifying his subjects. Thou must not, however, O son always behave with forgiveness towards everybody, for the king that is mild is regarded as the worst of his kind like an elephant that is reft of fierceness. In the scriptures composed by Vrihaspati, a Sloka was in days of old applicable to the present matter.

Hear it, O king as I recite it: ‘If the king happens to be always forgiving, the lowest of persons prevails over him, even as the driver who sits on the head of the elephant he guides.’

The king therefore, should not always be mild. Nor should he always be fierce. He should be like the vernal Sun, neither cold nor so hot as to produce perspiration. By the direct evidence of the senses, by conjecture, by comparisons, and by the canons of the scriptures, O monarch, the king should study friends and foes. O thou of great liberality, thou shouldst avoid all those evil practices that are called Vyasanas. It is not necessary that thou shouldst never indulge in them. What, however, is needed is that thou shouldst not be attached to them. He that is attached to those practices is prevailed over by everyone.

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King’s behaviour towards servants

The king who cherishes no love for his people inspires the latter with anxiety. The king should always bear himself towards his subjects as a mother towards the child of her womb. Hear, O monarch, the reason why this becomes desirable. As the mother, disregarding those objects that are most cherished by her, seeks the good of her child alone, even so, without doubt, should kings conduct themselves (towards their subjects). The king that is righteous, O foremost one of Kuru’s race, should always behave in such a manner as to avoid what is dear to him, for the sake of doing that which would benefit his people. Thou shouldst not ever, O son of Pandu, abandon fortitude. The king that is possessed of fortitude and who is known to inflict chastisement on wrong doers, has no cause of fear.

O foremost of speakers, thou shouldst not indulge in jests with thy servants. O tiger among kings, listen to the faults of such conduct. If the master mingles too freely with them, dependants begin to disregard him. They forget their own position and most truly transcend that of the master. Ordered to do a thing, they hesitate, and divulge the master’s secrets. They ask for things that should not be asked for, and take the food that is intended for the master. They go to the length of displaying their wrath and seek to outshine the master. They even seek to predominate over the king and accepting bribes and practising deceit, obstruct the business of the state. They cause the state to rot with abuses by falsifications and forgeries. They make love with the female guards of the palace and dress in the same style as their master. They become so shameless as to indulge in eructations and the like, and expectorate in the very presence of their master, O tiger among kings, and they do not fear to even speak of him with levity before others. If the king becomes mild and disposed to jest, his servants, disregarding him, ride on steeds and elephants and cars as good as the king’s (literally ‘worthy of being used by the king’).

His counselors, assembled in court, openly indulge in such speech as: This is beyond thy power. This is a wicked attempt.’ If the king becomes angry, they laugh; nor are they gladdened if favours be bestowed upon them, though they may express joy for other reasons. They disclose the secret counsels of their master and bruit his evil acts. Without the least anxiety they set at naught the king’s commands. If the king’s jewels, or food, or the necessaries of his bath, or unguents, were not forthcoming, the servants, in his very presence, do not show the least anxiety. They do not take what rightfully belongs to them. On the other hand, without being content with what has been assigned to them, they appropriate what belongs to the king. They wish to sport with the king as with a bird tied with a string, and always give the people to understand that the king is very intimate with them and loves them dearly. If the king becomes mild and disposed to jest, O Yudhishthira, these and many other evils spring from it.

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 Kingcraft – Politics and Diplomacy
The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Section LVII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Bhishma said: The king, O Yudhishthira, should always be ready for action. That king is not worth of praise that, like a woman, is destitute of exertion. In this connection, the holy Usanas has sung 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 up these two, viz., the king that is averse to battle and the Brahmana that is exceedingly attached to wives and children (literally ‘the Brahmana that would not leave his home.’)

It behoveth the, 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.

[Note: these seven limbs are the king, army, counsellors, friends, treasury, territory, and forts.]

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 (river). 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). He should, by his own intelligence, look after the merits and defects of the six essential requisites of sovereignty.

[Note: 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)]

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 (the god of death and justice) 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 unto them that are righteous.

The king should himself be skilful in smiting. He should practice liberality. He should have his soul under control. He should dress himself with splendour. He should make gifts in season and be 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, 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 of 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 righteous in 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 equally 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 Brigu’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 (in the sense that without royal protection, the world soon comes to grief). 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 cowherd that likes to rove within the village, and a barber that is desirous of going to the woods.

[Note: The duties of the cowherd should lead him to the fields. If without manifesting any inclination for going 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.]

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The duty of protection

Protection of the subjects is the
very cheese of kingly duties
The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, section LVIII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Bhishma said: Protection of the subject, O Yudhishthira, is the very cheese of kingly duties. The divine Vrihaspati does not applaud any other duty (so much as this one). The divine Kavi (Usanas) of large eyes and austere penances, the thousand eyed Indra, and Manu the son of Prachetas, the divine Bharadwaja, and the sage Gaurasiras, all devoted to Brahma and utterers of Brahma, have composed treatises on the duties of kings. All of them praise the duty of protection, O foremost of virtuous persons, in respect of kings. O thou of eyes like lotus leaves and of the hue of copper, listen to the means by which protection may be secured.

Those means consist of the employment of spies and servants, giving them their just dues without haughtiness, the realisation of taxes with considerateness, never taking anything (from the subject) capriciously and without cause, O Yudhishthira, the selection of honest men (for the discharge of administrative functions), heroism, skill, and cleverness (in the transaction of business), truth, seeking the good of the people, producing discord and disunion among the enemy by fair or unfair means, the repair of buildings that are old or on the point of falling away, the infliction of corporal punishments and fines regulated by observance of the occasion, never abandoning the honest, granting employment and protection to persons of respectable birth, the storing of what should be stored, companionship with persons of intelligence, always gratifying the soldiery, supervision over the subjects, steadiness in the transaction of business, filling the treasury, absence of blind confidence on the guards of the city, producing disloyalty among the citizens of a hostile town, carefully looking after the friends and allies living in the midst of the enemy’s country, strictly watching the servants and officers of the state, personal observation of the city, distrust of servants, comforting the enemy with assurances, steadily observing the dictates of policy, readiness for action, never disregarding an enemy, and casting off those that are wicked.

Readiness for exertion in kings is the root of kingly duties. This had been said by Vrihaspati. Listen to the verses sung by him: ‘By exertion the Amrita was obtained ( ‘Amrita’ the drink that confers immortality from the Samudra-Manthan myth); by exertion the Asuras were slain; by exertion Indra himself obtained sovereignty in heaven and on earth. The hero of exertion is superior to the heroes of speech. The heroes of speech gratify and worship the heroes of exertion.

[Note: Eloquent Brahmanas learned in the scriptures are heroes of speech. Great Kshatriya kings are heroes of exertion.]

The king that is destitute of exertion, even if possessed of intelligence, is always overcome by foes like a snake that is bereft of poison. The king, even if possessed of strength, should not disregard a foe, however weak. A spark of fire can produce a conflagration and a particle of poison can kill. With only one kind of force, an enemy from within a fort, can afflict the whole country of even a powerful and prosperous king. The secret speeches of a king, the amassing of troops for obtaining victory, the crooked purposes in his heart, similar intents for accomplishing particular objects, and the wrong acts he does or intends to do, should be concealed by putting on an appearance of candour. He should act righteously for keeping his people under subjection. Persons of crooked minds cannot bear the burden of extensive empire. A king who is mild cannot obtain superior rank, the acquisition of which depends upon labour.

A kingdom, coveted by all, like meat, can never be protected by candour and simplicity. A king, O Yudhishthira, should, therefore, always conduct himself with both candour and crookedness, If in protecting his subjects a king falls into danger, he earns great merit. Even such should be the conduct of kings. I have now told thee a portion only of the duties of kings. Tell me, O best of the Kurus, what more you wish to know.

Vaisampayana continued: The illustrious Vyasa and Devasthana and Aswa, and Vasudeva and Kripa and Satyaki and Sanjaya, filled with joy, and with faces resembling full-blown flowers, said: ‘Excellent! Excellent!’ and hymned the praises of that tiger among men, viz., Bhishma, that foremost of virtuous persons.

Then Yudhishthira, that chief of Kuru’s race, with a cheerless heart and eyes bathed in tears, gently touched Bhishma’s feet and said: O grandsire, I shall tomorrow enquire after those points about which I have my doubts, for today, the sun, having sucked the moisture of all terrestrial objects, is about to set.

Then Kesava (Krishna) and Kripa and Yudhishthira and others, saluting the Brahmanas (assembled there) and circumambulating the son of the great river (Bhishma, the son of Ganga), cheerfully ascended their cars. All of them observant of excellent vows then bathed in the current of the Drishadwati (river). Having offered oblations of water unto their ancestors and silently recited the sacred Mantras and done other auspicious acts, and having performed the evening prayer with due rites, those scorchers of foes entered the city called after the elephant.

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Behaviour of the king for
acquisition of more wealth

From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, section LXXXVIII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Yudhishthira said: Tell me, O grandsire, how should the king behave if, notwithstanding his great wealth, he desires for more (wealth)?

Bhishma said: A king, desirous of earning religious merit, should devote himself to the good of his subjects and protect them according to considerations of place and time and to the best of his intelligence and power. He should, in his dominions, adopt all such measures as would in his estimation secure their good as also his own. A king should milk his kingdom like a bee gathering honey from plants (i.e., without injuring the source).

He should act like the keeper of a cow who draws milk from her without boring her udders and without starving the calf. The king should (in the matter of taxes) act like the leech drawing blood mildly. He should conduct himself towards his subjects like a tigress in the matter of carrying her cubs, touching them with her teeth but never piercing them therewith.

He should behave like a mouse, which though possessed of sharp and pointed teeth still cuts the feet of sleeping animals in such a manner that they do not at all become conscious of it. A little by little should be taken from a growing subject and by this means should he be shorn. The demand should then be increased gradually till what is taken assumes a fair proportion. The king should enhance the burdens of his subjects gradually like a person gradually increasing the burdens of a young bullock. Acting with care and mildness, he should at last put the reins on them. If the reins are thus put, they would not become intractable. Indeed, adequate measures should be employed for making them obedient. Mere entreaties to reduce them to subjection would not do.

It is impossible to behave equally towards all men. Conciliating those that are foremost, the common people should be reduced to obedience. Producing disunion (through the agency of their leaders) among the common people who are to bear the burdens, the king should himself come forward to conciliate them and then enjoy in happiness what he will succeed in drawing from them. The king should never impose taxes unseasonably and on persons unable to bear them. He should impose them gradually and with conciliation, in proper season and according to due forms.

These contrivances that I declare unto thee are legitimate means of kingcraft. They are not reckoned as methods fraught with deceit. One who seeks to govern steeds by improper methods only makes them furious. Drinking shops, public women, pimps, actors, gamblers and keepers of gaming houses, and other persons of this kind, who are sources of disorder to the state, should all be checked. Residing within the realm, these afflict and injure the better classes of the subjects. Nobody should take anything of anyone when there is no distress. Manu himself in days of old has laid down this injunction in respect of all men. [Note: The commentator explains that this has reference to alms, loans, and taxes.]

If all men were to live by asking or begging and abstain from work, the world would doubtless come to an end. The king alone is competent to restrain and check. That king who does not restrain his subjects (from sin) earns a fourth part of the sins committed by his people (in consequence of the absence of royal protection). This is the declaration of the Srutis (scriptures). Since the king shares the sins of his subjects like their merits, he should, therefore, O monarch, restrain those subjects of his that are sinful. The king that neglects to restrain them becomes himself sinful. He earns, (as already said) a fourth part of their sins as he does a fourth part of their merits.

The following faults of which I speak should be checked.
They are such as impoverish everyone.

What wicked act is there that a person governed by passion would not do? A person governed by passion indulges in stimulants and meat, and appropriates the wives and the wealth of other people, and sets a bad example (for imitations by others). They that do not live upon alms may beg in seasons of distress. The king should, observant of righteousness, make gifts unto them from compassion but not from fear. Let there be no beggars in thy kingdom, nor robbers. It is the robbers (and not virtuous men) that give unto beggars. Such givers are not real benefactors of men. Let such men reside in thy dominions as advance the interests of others and do them good, but not such as exterminate others.

Those officers, O king, that take from the subjects
more than what is due should be punished.

Thou shouldst then appoint others so that these will take only what is due. Agriculture, rearing of cattle, trade and other acts of a similar nature, should be caused to be carried on by many persons on the principle of division of labour. If a person engaged in agriculture, cattle rearing or trade, becomes inspired with a sense of insecurity (in consequence of thieves and tyrannical officers), the king, as a consequence, incurs infamy. The king should always honour those subjects of his that are rich and should say unto them ‘Do ye, with me, advance the interest of the people.’ In every kingdom, they that are wealthy constitute as estate in the realm. Without doubt, a wealthy person is the foremost of men.

[Note: ‘Anga’ is literally a part. The idea, however, is that the wealthy form an estate in the realm. ‘Kakud’ is the hump of the bull. The meaning, of course, is that the man of wealth occupies a very superior position.]

He that is wise, or courageous, or wealthy, or influential, or righteous, or engaged in penances, or truthful in speech, or gifted with intelligence, assists in protecting (his fellow subjects).

For these reasons, O monarch, do thou love all creatures, and display the qualities of truth, sincerity, absence of wrath, and abstention from injury! Thou shouldst thus wield the rod of chastisement, and enhance thy treasury and support thy friends and consolidate thy kingdom thus, practising the qualities of truthfulness and sincerity and supported by thy friends, treasury and forces!

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Protection of fruit trees
The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, section LXXXIX
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Bhishma said: Let not such trees as yield edible fruits be cut down in thy dominions. Fruits and roots constitute the property of the Brahmanas. The sages have declared this to be an ordinance of religion. The surplus, after supporting the Brahmanas, should go to the support of other people. Nobody should take anything by doing an injury to the Brahmanas (i.e., before the Brahmanas get their fill). If a Brahmana, afflicted for want of support, desires to abandon a kingdom for obtaining livelihood (elsewhere), the king, O monarch, should with affection and respect, assign unto him the means of sustenance. If he does not still abstain (from leaving the kingdom), the king should repair to an assembly of Brahmanas and say, ‘Such a Brahmana is leaving the kingdom. In whom shall my people then find an authority for guiding them?’

[Note: The Brahmanas are authorities for guiding other men. When, therefore, a particular Brahmana leaves the kingdom, the people lose in him a friend, teacher and guide.]

If after this, he does not give up his intention of leaving, and says anything, the king should say unto him, ‘Forget the past.’ This, O son of Kunti, is the eternal way of royal duty.

[Note: The king should dissuade in the manner indicated in verse 4. If that does not suffice, and if the person intending to leave refers to the king’s previous neglect, the king should ask forgiveness and, of course, assign to him the means of maintenance.]

The king should further say unto him, ‘Indeed, O Brahmana, people say that that only should be assigned to a Brahmana which would be just sufficient for maintaining him. I, however, do not accept that opinion. On the other hand, I think that if a Brahmana seeks to leave the kingdom for the king’s neglect in providing him with means of support, such means should be assigned to him, and, further, if he intends to take that step for procuring the means of luxury, he should still be requested to stay and supplied with even those means.

Agriculture, cattle rearing and trade, provide all men with the means of living. A knowledge of the Vedas, however, provides them with the means of obtaining heaven. They, therefore, that obstruct the study of the Vedas and the cause of Vedic practices, are to be regarded as enemies of society.

[Note: The word used is ‘Dasyus’, literally, robbers; here, enemies of society and order.]

It is for the extermination of these that Brahman created Kshatriyas. Subdue thy foes, protect thy subjects, worship the deities in sacrifices, and fight battles with courage, O delighter of the Kurus! A king should protect those that deserve protection. The king who does this is the best of rulers. Those kings that do not exercise the duty of protection live a vain life. For the benefit of all his subjects the king should always seek to ascertain the acts and thoughts of all, O Yudhishthira; and for that reason he should set spies and secret agents. Protecting others from thy own, and thy own from others, as also others, and thy own from thy own, do thou always cherish thy people. Protecting his own self first from everyone, the king should protect the earth.

Men of knowledge have said that everything has its root in self. The king should always reflect upon these, viz., what are his laches, to what evil habits he is addicted, what are the sources of his weakness, and what are the sources of his faults. The king should cause secret and trusted agents to wander through the kingdom for ascertaining whether his conduct as displayed on the previous day has or has not met with the approbation of the people. Indeed, he should ascertain whether his conduct is or is not generally praised, or, is or is not acceptable to the people of the provinces, and whether he has or has not succeeded in earning a good name in his kingdom. Amongst those that are virtuous and possessed of wisdom, those that never retreat from battle, and those that do not reside in thy kingdom, those that are dependent on thee, and those that are thy ministers, as well as those that are independent of party, they that praise or blame thee should never be objects of disregard with thee, O Yudhishthira! (i.e., thou shouldst care for such opinion, without being angry with those that censure or blame thee). No man, O sire, can succeed in earning the good opinion of all persons in the world. All persons have friends, foes, and neutrals, O Bharata!

Yudhishthira said: Among persons all of whom are equal in might of arms and accomplishments, whence does one acquire superiority over all the rest, and whence does that one succeed in ruling over them?

Bhishma said: Creatures that are mobile devour things that are immobile; animals again that have teeth devour those that have no teeth; wrathful snakes of virulent poison devour smaller ones of their own species. (Upon this principle), among human beings also, the king, who is strong, preys upon those that are weak. The king, O Yuthishthira, should always be heedful of his subjects as also of his foes. If he becomes heedless, they fall upon him like vultures (on carrion). Take care, O king, that the traders in thy kingdom who purchase articles at prices high and low (for sale), and who in course of their journeys have to sleep or take rest in forest and inaccessible regions, be not afflicted by the imposition of heavy taxes (i.e., they who have to undergo such privations in carrying on their useful occupation should not be taxed heavily).

Let not the agriculturists in thy kingdom leave it through oppression; they, who bear the burdens of the king, support the other residents also of the kingdom. The gifts made by thee in this world support the gods, Pitris, men, Nagas, Rakshasas, birds, and animals. These, O Bharata, are the means of governing a kingdom and protecting its rulers. I shall again discourse to thee on the subject, O son of Pandu!

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From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Section XC
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Acting in the interests of righteousness

Bhishma said: That foremost of all persons conversant with the Vedas, viz., Utathya of Angirasa’s race, discoursed cheerfully (on former occasion) unto Yuvanaswa’s son Mandhatri. I shall now, O Yudhishthira, recite to thee everything that Utathya, that foremost of all persons conversant with the Vedas, had said unto that king.

Utathya said: One becomes a king for acting in the interests of righteousness and not for conducting himself capriciously.Know this, O Mandhatri; the king is, indeed, the protector of this world. If the king acts righteously, he attains to the position of a god (i.e., goes to heaven). On the other hand, if he acts unrighteously, he sinks into hell. All creatures rest upon righteousness. Righteousness, in its turn, rests upon the king. That king, therefore, who upholds righteousness, is truly a king. That king who is endued with a righteous soul and with every kind of grace is said to be an embodiment of virtue. If a king fails to chastise unrighteousness, the gods desert his mansion and he incurs obloquy among men. The efforts of men who are observant of their own duties are always crowned with success. For this reason all men seek to obey the dictates of righteousness, which are productive of prosperity.

When sinfulness is not restrained, righteous behaviour comes to an end and unrighteous behaviour increases greatly. When sinfulness is not restrained, no one can, according to the rights of prosperity as laid down in the scriptures, say: ‘This thing is mine and this is not mine.’ When sinfulness prevails in the world, men cannot own and enjoy their own wives and animals and fields and houses. The deities receive no worship, the Pitris no offerings in Shraddhas, and guests no hospitality, when sinfulness is not restrained. The regenerate classes do not study the Vedas, or observe high vows, or spread out sacrifices, when sinfulness is not restrained.

The minds of men, o king, become weak and confounded like those of persons wounded with weapons, when sinfulness is not restrained. Casting their eyes on both the worlds, the Rishis made the king, that superior being, intending that he should be the embodiment of righteousness on earth.

[Note: Bhishma says that this discourse is very old. Probably this verse has reference to the writer’s idea of the motives that impelled the Rishis of Brahmavarta when they devised for their Indian colony the kingly form of government.]

He is called RAJAN in whom righteousness shines. That king, again, in whom there is no righteousness, is called a Vrishala.

[Note: This verse gives the etymology of the word RAJAN and VRISHALA. He in whom righteousness shines (rajate) is a Rajan; and he, in whom righteousness, called Vrisha, disappears, is a Vrishala. Vide next verse.]

The divine Dharma (righteousness) has another name, viz., Vrisha. He who weakens Vrisha is known by the name of Vrishala. A king should, therefore, advance the cause of righteousness. All creatures grow in the growth of righteousness, and decay with its decay. Righteousness, therefore, should never be permitted to decay. Righteousness is called Dharma because it aids the acquisition and preservation of wealth (Dhana). The sages, O king, have declared that Dharma restrains and set bounds to all evil acts of men. The self-born (Brahman) created Dharma for the advancement and growth of creatures. For this reason, a king should act according to the dictates of Dharma for benefiting his subjects. For this reason also, O tiger among kings, Dharma has been said to be the foremost of all things. That foremost of men who rules his subjects righteously is called a king.

Disregarding lust and wrath, observe thou the dictates of righteousness. Among all things, O chief of Bharata’s race, that conduce to the prosperity of kings, righteousness is the foremost. Dharma, again, has sprung from the Brahmana. For this reason, the Brahmana should always be worshipped. Thou shouldst, O Mandhatri, gratify the wishes of Brahmanas. By neglecting to gratify the wishes of Brahmanas, the king brings danger on himself. In consequence of such neglect, he fails to obtain any accession of friends while his foes increase in number. In consequence of malice towards the Brahmanas springing from his folly, the goddess of prosperity who had formerly dwelt with him became enraged and deserted the Asura (demon) Vali, the son of Virochana. Deserting the Asura she repaired to Indra, the chief of the deities. Beholding the goddess living with Purandra, Vali indulged in many vain regrets. This, O puissant one, is the result of malice and pride. Be thou awakened, O Mandhatri, so that the goddess of prosperity may not in wrath desert thee.

The Srutis (scriptures) declare that Unrighteousness begot a son named Pride upon the goddess of prosperity. This Pride, O king, led many among the gods and the Asuras to ruin. Many royal sages also have suffered destruction on his account. Do thou, therefore, awaken, O king! He, on the other hand, who suffers himself to be conquered by him, becomes a slave. If, O Mandhatri, thou wishest for an eternal life (of felicity), live as a king should that does not indulge in these two, viz., Pride and Unrighteousness! Abstain from companionship with him that is intoxicated (with pride), him that is heedless (of the dictates of honesty), him that is scoffer of religion, him that is insensate, and forbear to pay court to all of them when united. Keep thyself aloof from the company of ministers whom thou hast once punished and especially of women, as also from mountains and uneven lands and inaccessible fastness and elephants and horses and (noxious) reptiles.

Thou shouldst also give up wandering in the night, and avoid the faults of stinginess and vanity and boastfulness and wrath. Thou shouldst never have intercourse with unknown women, or those of equivocal sex, or those that are lewd, or those that are the wives of other men, or those that are virgins. When the king does not restrain vice, a confusion of castes follows, and sinful Rakshasas, and persons of neutral sex, and children destitute of limbs or possessed of thick tongues, and idiots, begin to take birth in even respectable families. Therefore, the king should take particular care to act righteously, for the benefit of his subjects. If a king acts heedlessly, a great evil becomes the consequence.

Unrighteousness increases causing a confusion of castes. Cold sets in during the summer months, and disappears when its proper season comes. Drought and floods and pestilence afflict the people. Ominous stars arise and awful comets appear on such occasions. Diverse other portents, indicating destruction of the kingdom, make their appearance. If the king does not take measures for his own safety and does not protect his subjects, the latter first meet with destruction and then destruction seizes the king himself. Two persons combining together snatch the wealth of one, and many acting in concert rob the two. Maidens are deflowered. Such a state of things is said to arise from the king’s faults. All rights of property come to an end among men, when the king, abandoning righteousness, acts heedlessly.

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From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Section XCI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Utathya said: If the deity of the clouds pours rain seasonably and the king acts virtuously, the prosperity that ensues maintain the subjects in felicity. That washerman who does not know how to wash away the filth of cloth without taking away its dye, is very unskilful in his profession. That person among Brahmanas or Kshatriyas or Vaisyas who, having fallen away from the proper duties of his order, has become a Sudra, is truly to be compared to such a washerman. Menial service attaches to the Sudra; agriculture to the Vaisya; the science of chastisement (punishment) to the kshatriya, and Brahmacharya, penances, Mantras, and truth, attach to the Brahmana. That Kshatriya who knows how to correct the faults of behaviour of the other orders and to wash them clean like a washerman is really their father and deserves to be their king.

It is the king who constitutes the age.

The respective ages called Krita, Treta, Dwapara and Kali, O bull of Bharata’s race, are all dependent on the conduct of the king. It is the king who constitutes the age.

[Note: The sense of the verse is that it is the king who causes the age, for if he acts righteously, the age that sets in is Krita; if, on the other hand, he acts sinfully, he causes the Kali age to set in; etc. etc.]

The four orders (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras), the Vedas and the duties in respect of the four modes of life (Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanprastha and Sannyasa), all become confused and weakened when the king becomes heedless. The three kinds of fire, the three Vedas (Rik, Sama, Yajur), and sacrifices with dakshina, all become lost when the king becomes heedless. The king is the creator of all creatures, and the king is their destroyer. That king who is of righteous soul is regarded as the creator, while he that is sinful is regarded as the destroyer. The king’s wives, sons, kinsmen, and friends, all become unhappy and grieve when the king becomes heedless. Elephants and steeds and kine (cows) and camels and mules and asses and other animals all lose their vigour when the king becomes unrighteous.

Weakness is more powerful than even the greatest Power

It is said, O Mandhatri, that the Creator created Power (represented by the king) for the object of protecting Weakness. Weakness is, indeed, a great being, for everything depends upon it.

[Note: He who protects weakness wins heaven, while he who persecutes it goes to hell. Weakness, thus, is a great thing. Its power, so to say, is such that it can lead to heaven and hell everyone with whom it may come into contact.]

All creatures worship a king. All creatures are the children of the king. If, therefore, O monarch, the king becomes unrighteous, all creatures come to grief. The eyes of the weak, of the Muni, and of the snake of virulent poison, should be regarded as unbearable. Do not, therefore, come into (hostile) contact with the weak. Thou shouldst regard the weak as always subject to humiliation. Take care that the eyes of the Weak do not burn thee with thy kinsmen. In a race scorched by the eyes of the weak, no children take birth. Such eyes burn the race to its very roots. Do not, therefore, come into (hostile) contact with the weak. Weakness is more powerful than even the greatest Power, for that power which is scorched by Weakness becomes totally exterminated. If a person, who has been humiliated or struck, fails, while shrieking for assistance, to obtain a protector, divine chastisement overtakes the king and brings about his destruction. Do not, O sire, while in enjoyment of Power, take wealth from those that are Weak. Take care that the eyes of the Weak do not burn thee like a blazing fire. The tears shed by weeping men afflicted with falsehood slay the children and animals of those that have uttered those falsehoods. Like a cow a sinful act perpetrated does not produce immediate fruits.

[Note; the keeper of the cow has to wait, till it calves, for milk.]

If the fruit is not seen in the perpetrator himself, it is seen in his son or in his son’s son, or daughter’s son. When a weak person fails to find a rescuer, the great rod of divine chastisement falls (upon the king). When all subjects of a king (are obliged by distress to) live like Brahmanas, by mendicancy, such mendicancy brings destruction upon the king. When all the officers of the king posted in the provinces unite together and act with injustice, the king is then said to bring about a state of unmixed evil upon his kingdom. When the officers of the king extort wealth, by unjust means or acting from lust or avarice, from persons piteously soliciting mercy, a great destruction then is sure to overtake the king. A mighty tree, first starting into life, grows into large proportions. Numerous creatures then come and seek its shelter. When, however, it is cut down or consumed in a conflagration, those that had recourse to it for shelter all become homeless.

[Note: The commentator states: The sense is, I suppose, that if the king be overtaken by destruction, his officers also do not escape.]

When the residents of a kingdom perform acts of righteousness and all religious rites, and applaud the good qualities of the king, the latter reaps an accession of affluence. When, on the other hand, the residents, moved by ignorance, abandon righteousness and act unrighteously, the king becomes overtaken by misery. When sinful men whose acts are known are allowed to move among the righteous (without being punished for their misdeeds), Kali then overtakes the rulers of those realms. When the king causes chastisement to overtake all wicked people, the kingdom thrives in prosperity. The kingdom of that king certainly thrives who pays proper honours to his ministers and employs them in measures of policy and in battles. Such a ruler enjoys the wide earth forever.

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The duties of the king

That king who duly honours all good acts and good speeches succeeds in earning great merit. The enjoyment of good things after sharing them with others, paying proper honours to the ministers, and subjugation of persons intoxicated with strength, are said to constitute the great duty of a king. Protecting all men by words, body, and deeds, and never forgiving his son himself (if he has offended), constitute the great duty of the king. The maintenance of those that are weak by sharing with them the things he has, and thereby increasing their strength constitute the duty of the king. Protection of the kingdom, extermination of robbers, and conquering in battle, constitute the duty of the king. Never to forgive a person however dear, if he has committed an offence by act or word, constitutes the duty of the king. Protecting those that solicit shelter, as he would protect his own children, and never depriving one of the honours to which he is entitled constitute the duty of the king.

Adoring the deities, with a devoted heart, in sacrifices completed by presents, and subduing lust and envy, constitute the duty of the king. Wiping the tears of the distressed, the helpless, and the old, and inspiring them with joy, constitute the duty of the king. Aggrandizing friends, weakening foes, and honouring the good, constitute the duty of the king. Cheerfully observing the obligations of truth, always making gifts of land, entertaining guests, and supporting dependents, constitute the duty of the king. That king who favours those that deserve favours and chastises those that deserve chastisement earns great merit both here and hereafter. The king is Yama (god of death) himself. He is, O Mandhatri, the god (incarnate) unto all that are righteous. By subduing his senses he succeeds in acquiring great affluence. By not subduing them he incurs sin.

[Note: The king is god (incarnate) unto all righteous men, because they may expect everything from him. As regards the second line, the meaning depends upon bharati, which as the commentator explains means: ‘obtains affluence or prosperity.]

Paying proper honours unto Ritwijas and priests and preceptors, and doing good offices unto them constitute the duty of the king. Yama (God of death) governs all creatures without observing distinctions. The king should imitate him in his behaviour by restraining all his subjects duly. The king is said to resemble the Thousand-eyed (Indra) in every respect. That, O bull among men, should be regarded as righteousness which is regarded as such by him. Thou shouldst, without being heedless, cultivate forgiveness, intelligence, patience, and the love of all creatures. Thou shouldst also ascertain the strength and weakness of all men and learn to distinguish between right and wrong. Thou shouldst conduct thyself with propriety towards all creatures, make gifts and utter agreeable and sweet words.

Thou shouldst maintain the residents of thy city and the provinces in happiness. A king, who is not clever, never succeeds in protecting his subjects. Sovereignty, O sire, is a very happy burden to bear. Only that king who is possessed of wisdom and courage, and who is conversant with the science of chastisement, can protect a kingdom. He, on the other hand, who is without energy and intelligence, and who is not versed in the great science, is incompetent to bear the burden of sovereignty. Aided by ministers of handsome features and good birth, clever in business, devoted to their master, and possessed of great learning, thou shouldst examine the hearts and acts of all men including the very ascetics in the forests. Conducting thyself thus, thou wilt be able to learn the duties of all orders of men. That will aid thee in observing thy own duties, whether when thou art in the country or when thou repairest to other realms. Amongst these three objects, viz., Virtue, Profit and Pleasure, Virtue is the foremost. He that is of virtuous soul obtains great happiness both here and hereafter. If men be treated with honour, they can abandon (for the sake of the honour thou mayst give them) their very wives and sons.

By attaching good men to himself (by doing good offices unto them), by gifts, sweet words, heedfulness and purity of behaviour, a king may win great prosperity. Do not, therefore, O Mandhatri, be heedless to these qualities and acts. The king should never be heedless in looking after his own laches, as also after those of his foes. He should act in such a way that his foes may not be able to detect his laches, and he should himself assail them when theirs are visible. This is the way in which Vasava, and Yama, and Varuna, and all the great royal sages have acted. Do thou observe the same conduct. Do thou, O great king, adopt this behaviour which was followed by those royal sages. Do thou soon, O bull of Bharata’s race, adopt this heavenly rod. The gods, the Rishis, the Pitris, and the Gandharvas, possessed of great energy, sing the praises, both here and hereafter, of that king whose conduct is righteous.

Bhishma continued: Thus addressed by Utathya, O Bharata, Mandhatri, unhesitatingly did as he was directed, and became the sole lord of the wide earth. Do thou also, O king, act righteously like Mandhatri. Thou wilt then, after ruling the earth, obtain an abode in heaven.

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Duties of a Kingdom
Santi Parva, Section LXVII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Yudhishthira said: Tell me O grandsire, what are the principal duties of a kingdom?

Anarchy – There is no evil greater than anarchy

Bhishma said: The (election and) coronation of a king is the first duty of a kingdom. A kingdom in which anarchy prevails becomes weak and is soon afflicted by robbers.

[Note: The Sanskrit word ‘Anidram’ is explained by Nilakantha as a kingdom where anarchy prevails, sleeplessness being its certain indication.]

In kingdom torn by anarchy, righteousness cannot dwell. The inhabitants devour one another. An anarchy is the worst possible of states. The Srutis (scriptures) declare that in crowning a king, it is Indra (king of gods) that is crowned (in the person of the king). A person who is desirous of prosperity should worship the king as he should worship Indra himself. No one should dwell in kingdoms torn by anarchy. Agni (sacred fire) does not convey (to the gods) the libations that are poured upon him in kingdoms where anarchy prevails. If a powerful king approaches kingdoms weakened by anarchy, from desire of annexing them to his dominions, the people should go forward and receive the invader with respect. Such conduct would be consistent with wise counsels. There is no evil greater than anarchy.

If the powerful invader were inclined to equity, everything will be right. If, on the other hand, he be engaged, he may exterminate all. That cow which cannot be easily milked has to suffer much torture. On the other hand, that cow which is capable of being easily milked, has not to suffer any torture whatever. The wood that bends easily does not require to be heated. The tree that bends easily has not to suffer any torture (at the hands of the gardener). Guided by these instances, O hero, men should bend before those that are powerful. The man that bends his head to a powerful person really bends his head to Indra. For these reasons, men desirous of prosperity should (elect and) crown some person as their king. They who live in countries where anarchy prevails cannot enjoy their wealth and wives. During times of anarchy, the sinful man derives great pleasure by robbing the wealth of other people. When, however, his (ill-gotten) wealth is snatched by others, he wishes for a king. It is evident, therefore, that in times of anarchy the very wicked even cannot be happy. The wealth of one is snatched away by two. That of those two is snatched away by many acting together. He who is not a slave is made a slave.

Women, again, are forcibly abducted. For these reasons the gods created kings for protecting the people. If there were no king on earth for wielding the rod of chastisement, the strong would then have preyed on the weak after the manner of the fish in water. It hath been heard by us that men, in days of old, in consequence of anarchy, met with destruction, devouring one another like stronger fish devouring the weaker ones in the water. It hath been heard by us that a few amongst them then, assembling together, made certain compacts, saying, ‘He who becomes harsh in speech, or violent in temper, he who seduces or abducts other people’s wives or robs the wealth that belongs to others, should be cast off by us.’ For inspiring confidence among all classes of the people, they made such a compact and lived for some time. Assembling after sometime they proceeded in affliction to the Grandsire (the Creator), saying, without a king, O divine lord, we are going to destruction. Appoint someone as our king. All of us shall worship him and he shall protect us.’ Thus solicited, the Grandsire asked Manu. Manu, however, did not assent to the proposal.

Manu said: ‘I fear all sinful acts. To govern a kingdom is exceedingly difficult, especially among men who are always false and deceitful in their behaviour.’

Bhishma continued: The inhabitants of the earth said unto him, ‘Do not fear. The sins that men commit will touch those only that commit them (without staining thee in the least). For the increase of thy treasury, we will give thee a fiftieth part of our animals and precious metals and a tenth part of our grain. When our maidens also will become desirous of wedding, we shall, when the question comes up, give thee the most beautiful ones among them. Those amongst men, who will become the foremost of all in the use of weapons and in riding animals and driving vehicles, shall proceed behind thee like the deities behind Indra. With thy strength enhanced in this way, and becoming invincible and possessed of great prowess, thou wilt be our king and protect us happily like Kuvera and Yakshas and the Rakshasas. A fourth part of the merit which men will earn under thy protection will be thine. Strengthened by that merit so easily obtained by thee, do thou protect us, O king, like He of a hundred sacrifices protecting the deities. Like the sun scorching everything with his rays, go out for winning victories. Crush the pride of foes and let righteousness always triumph (in the world).’

Thus addressed by those inhabitants of the earth, Manu, possessed of great energy, proceeded, accompanied by a large force. Of high descent, he seemed then to blaze with prowess. Beholding the might of Manu, like the gods eyeing the might of Indra, the inhabitants of the earth became inspired with fear and set their hearts upon their respective duties. Manu then made his round through the world, checking everywhere all acts of wickedness and setting all men to their respective duties, like a rain-charged cloud (in its mission of beneficence).

Those, O Yudhishthira, those men on earth, who desire prosperity should first elect and crown a king for the protection of all. Like disciples humbling themselves, all men should humble themselves before the king. One that is honoured by his own people becomes an object of regard with his foes also, while one that is disregarded by his own is overridden by foes. If the king were overridden by his foes, all his subjects become unhappy. Therefore, umbrellas and vehicles and outward ornaments, and viands, and drinks, and mansions, and seats, and beds, and all utensils for use and show, should be assigned to the king. By such means the king will succeed in discharging his duties of protection and become irresistible. He should speak with smiles. Addressed sweetly by others, he should address others sweetly. Grateful (to those that serve him), firmly devoted (to those that deserve his respect), and with passions under control, he should give unto others their due. Looked upon by others he should look at them mildly, sweetly, and handsomely.

King, that ruler of men, is a god

Santi Parva, Section LXVII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Yudhishthira said: Why, O bull of Bharata’s race, have the Brahmanas said that the king, that ruler of men, is a god?

Bhishma said: In this connection is cited the old story, O Bharata, of the discourse of Vrihaspati unto Vasumanas.

There was a king of Kosala possessed of great intelligence, named Vasumanas. On a certain occasion he questioned the great sage Vrihaspati of much wisdom. Conversant with the requirements of humility, king Vasumanas, ever devoted to the welfare of all, having observed the proper humilities and having circumambulated the great sage and bowed unto him duly, enquired of the virtuous Vrihaspati about the ordinances in respect of a kingdom, moved by the desire of securing the happiness of men.

Vasumanas said: By what means do creatures grow and by what means are they destroyed? O thou of great wisdom, by adoring whom do they succeed in obtaining eternal happiness?

Thus questioned by the Kosala king of immeasurable energy, Vrihaspati of great wisdom discoursed unto him coolly about the respect that should be paid to kings.

Vrihaspati said: The duties of all men, O thou of great wisdom, may be seen to have their root in the king. It is through fear of the king only that men do not devour one another. It is the king that brings peace on earth, through due observance of duties, by checking all disregard for wholesome restraints and all kinds of lust. Achieving this, he shines in glory. As, O king, all creatures become unable to see one another and sink in utter darkness if the sun and the moon do not rise, as fishes in shallow water and birds in a spot safe from danger dart and rove as they please (for a time) and repeatedly attack and grind one another with force and then meet with certain destruction even so men sink in utter darkness and meet with destruction if they have no king to protect them, like a herd of cattle without the herdsman to look after them.

In the absence of royal protection

If the king did not exercise the duty of protection, the strong would forcibly appropriate the possessions of the weak, and if the latter refused to surrender them with ease, their very lives would be taken. Nobody then, with reference to any article in his possession, would be able to say ‘This is mine.’ Wives, sons, food, and other kinds of property would not then exist. Ruin would overtake everything if the king did not exercise the duty of protection. Wicked men would forcibly appropriate the vehicles and robes and ornaments and precious stones and other kinds of property belonging to others, if the king did not protect. In the absence of protection by the king, diverse kinds of weapons would fall upon those that are righteous in their practices, and unrighteousness would be adopted by all. In the absence of royal protection men would disregard or even injure their very mothers and fathers if aged, their very preceptors and guests and seniors. If the king did not protect, all persons possessed of wealth would have to encounter death, confinement, and persecution, and the very idea of property would disappear. If the king did not protect, everything would be exterminated prematurely, and robbers would overrun every part of the country, and everybody would fall into terrible hell. If the king did not protect, all restrictions about marriage and intercourse (due to consanguinity and other kinds of relationship) would cease; all affairs relating to agriculture and trade would fall into confusion; morality would sink and be lost; and the three Vedas would disappear.

Sacrifices, duly completed with presents according to the ordinance, would no longer be performed; no marriage would take place; society itself would cease to exist, if the king did not exercise the duty of protection. The very bulls would not cover cows and milk-jars would not be churned, and men living by rearing kine (cows) would meet with destruction, if the king did not exercise the duty of protection. In the absence of royal protection, all things, inspired with fear and anxiety and becoming senseless and uttering cries of woe, would meet with destruction in no time. No sacrifices extending for a year and completed with presents according to the ordinances would occur if the king did not exercise the duty of protection. In the absence of royal protection Brahmanas would never study the four Vedas or undergo austerities or be cleansed by knowledge and rigid vows. In the absence of royal protection, the slayer of a person guilty of the slaughter of a Brahmana would not obtain any reward; on the other hand the person guilty of Brahminicide would enjoy perfect immunity. In the absence of royal protection, men would snatch other people’s wealth from their very hands, and all wholesome barriers would be swept away, and everybody, inspired with fear, would seek safety in flight. In the absence of royal protection, all kinds of injustice would set in; an intermixture of castes would take place; and famine would ravage the kingdom.

In consequence again of royal protection, men can everywhere sleep fearlessly, and at their ease without shutting their houses and doors with bolts and bars. Nobody would hear the evil speeches of others, far less actual assaults, if the king did not righteously protect the earth.

[Note: The sense seems to be that men patiently bear the injuries inflicted upon them by others, without seeking to right themselves by force, because they can invoke the king to punish the offenders. If there were no kings, immediate vengeance for even the slightest injuries would be the universal practice.]

If the king exercises the duty of protection, women decked with ornaments may fearlessly wander everywhere without male relatives to attend upon them. Men become righteous and without injuring serve one another because the king exercises the duty of protection. In consequence of royal protection the members of the three orders are enabled to perform high sacrifices and devote themselves to the acquisition of learning with attention. The world depends upon agriculture and trade and is protected by the Vedas. All these again are duly protected by the king exercising his principal duty. Since the king, taking a heavy load upon himself, protects his subjects with the aid of a mighty force, it is for this that the people are able to live in happiness. Who is there who will not worship him in whose existence the people exist and in whose destruction the people are destroyed? That person who does what is agreeable and beneficial to the king and who bears (a share of) the burden of kingly duties that strike every caste with fear, conquers both this and the other world (i.e., becoming foremost and happy here, attains to blessedness hereafter).

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King is a high divinity in human form

That man, who even thinks of doing an injury to the king, without doubt meets with grief here and goes to hell hereafter. No one should disregard the king by taking him for a man, for he is really a high divinity in human form. The king assumes five different forms according to five different occasions. He becomes Agni, Aditya, Mrityu, Vaisravana and Yama. When the king, deceived by falsehood, burns with his fierce energy the sinful offenders before him, he is then said to assume the form of Agni. When he observes through his spies the acts of all persons and does what is for the general good, he is then said to assume the form of Aditya. When he destroys in wrath hundreds of wicked men with their sons, grandsons, and relatives, he is then said to assume the form of the Destroyer (Mrityu or death). When he restrains the wicked by inflicting upon them severe punishments and favours the righteous by bestowing rewards upon them, he is then said to assume the form of Yama. When he gratifies with profuse gifts of wealth those that have rendered him valuable services, and snatches away the wealth and precious stones of those that have offended him, indeed, when he bestows prosperity upon some and takes it away from others, he is then, O king, said to assume the form of Kuvera on earth. No person who is possessed of cleverness, who is capable of work, who desires the acquisition of virtue, and who is free from malice, should ever spread evil reports about the king. No man, by acting against the king can ever make himself happy, even if he happens to be the king’s son or brother or companion or one whom the king regards as his second self. Fire, having the wind for his urger, blazing forth (among articles that are inflammable), may leave a remnant.

[Note: The wind is said to be the charioteer of Fire, because whenever there is a conflagration, the wind, appearing, aids in extending it.]

The wrath of the king, however, leaves not anything to the person that incurs it. Whatever belongs to the king should be avoided from distance (i.e., no one should covet the possessions of the king). One should turn away from what belongs to the king as he would from death itself. A person by appropriating what belongs to the king speedily meets with destruction like a deer upon touching poison. The man of intelligence should protect as his own what belongs to the king. They that appropriate wealth belonging to the king sink senseless into deep hell of eternal gloom and infamy.

Who is there that will not worship the king who is adored by such terms as delighter of the people, giver of happiness, possessor of prosperity, the foremost of all, healer of injuries, lord of earth, and protector of men? That man, therefore, who desires his own prosperity, who observes all wholesome restraints, who has his soul under control, who is the master of his passions, who is possessed of intelligence and memory, and who is clever (in the transaction of business), should always be attached to the king. The king should duly honour the minister who is grateful, endued with wisdom, large-hearted, loyal, possessed of mastery over his senses, virtuous, and observant of the dictates of policy. The king should entertain the man who is loyal, grateful, virtuous, possessed of self-control, brave, magnanimous in his acts, and competent to accomplish tasks without the assistance of others. Knowledge makes men proud. The king makes men humble. The man who is afflicted by the king can never obtain happiness. On the other hand, the man who is favoured by the king becomes happy. The king is the heart of his people; he is their great refuge; he is their glory; and he is their highest happiness. Those men, O monarch, who are attached to the king, succeed in conquering both this and the other world. Having governed the earth with the aid of the qualities of self-restraint, truth, and friendship, and having adored the gods by great sacrifices, the king, earning great glory, obtains an eternal abode in heaven.

That best of monarchs, viz., the heroic Vasumanas, ruler of Kosala, thus instructed by Vrihaspati the son of Angiras, began thenceforth to protect his subjects.

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Protection of kingdom and how to use spies

Santi Parva, Section LXIX
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Yudhishthira said: What other special duties remain for the king to discharge? How should he protect his kingdom and how subdue his foes? How should he employ his spies? How should he inspire his confidence in the four orders of his subjects, his own servants, wives and servants, O Bharata?

Bhishma said: Listen, O monarch, with attention to the diverse duties of kings and to those acts which the king or one that is in the position of a king should first do. The king should first subdue himself and then seek to subdue his foes. How should a king who has not been able to conquer his own self be able to conquer his foes?


The conquest of these, viz., the aggregate of five, is regarded as the conquest of self. The king that has succeeded in subduing his senses is competent to resist his foes. He should place bodies of foot-soldiers in his forts, frontiers, towns, parks, and pleasure gardens, O delighter of the Kurus, as also in all places where he himself goes, and within his own palace, O tiger among men!


He should employ as spies men looking like idiots or like those that are blind and deaf. Those should all be persons who have been thoroughly examined (in respect of their ability), who are possessed of wisdom, and who are able to endure hunger and thirst. With proper attention, the king should set his spies upon all his counsellors and friends and sons, in his city and the provinces, and in dominions of the chiefs under him.

His spies should be so employed that they may not know one another. He should also, O bull of Bharata’s race, know the spies of his foes by himself setting spies in shops and places of amusements, and concourses of people, among beggars, in his pleasure gardens and parks, in meetings and conclaves of the learned, in the country, in public places, in places where he holds his own court, and in the houses of the citizens. The king possessed of intelligence may thus ascertain the spies despatched by his foes. If these were known, the king may derive much benefit, O son of Pandu!

Peace treaties

When the king, by a survey of his own, finds himself weak, he should then, consulting with his counsellors, make peace with a foe that is stronger. The king that is wise should speedily make peace with a foe, even when he knows that he is not weak, if any advantage is to be derived from it. Engaged in protecting his kingdom with righteousness, the king should make peace with those that are possessed of every accomplishment, capable of great exertion, virtuous, and honest. When the king finds himself threatened with danger and about to be overtaken by ruin, he should slay all offenders whom he had overlooked before and all such persons as are pointed at by the people. A king should have nothing to do with that person who can neither benefit nor injure him, or with one who cannot rescue himself from distress.

Military operations

As regards military operations a king who is confident of his own strength, should at the head of a large force, cheerfully and with courage give the order to march, without proclaiming his destination against one destitute of allies and friends or already at war with another and (therefore) heedless (of danger from other quarters), or one weaker than himself, having first made arrangements for the protection of his own capital.

[Note: ‘Kalya’ means able or strong; ‘Anakrandam’ is ‘without allies’; ‘Anantaram’ means without friends; and ‘Vyasaktam’ is ‘engaged at war with another.’]

A king should not forever live in subjection to another possessed of greater prowess. Though weak, he should seek to afflict the stronger, and resolved upon this, continue to rule his own. He should afflict the kingdom of the stronger one by means of weapons, fire and application of poison. He should also cause dissensions amongst his counsellors and servants. Vrihaspati has said that a king possessed of intelligence should always avoid war for acquisition of territory. The acquisition of dominion should be made by the three well-known means (of conciliation, gift and disunion). The king that is possessed of wisdom should be gratified with those acquisitions that are made by means of conciliation, gift and disunion.


The king, O delighter of the Kurus, should take a sixth of the incomes of his subjects as tribute for meeting the expenses of protecting them. He should also forcibly take away wealth, much or little (as the case may require), from the ten kinds of offenders mentioned in the scriptures for the protection of his subjects. A king should, without doubt, look upon his subjects as his own children. In determining their disputes, however, he should not show compassion. For hearing the complaints and answers of disputants in judicial suits, the king should always appoint persons possessed of wisdom and a knowledge of the affairs of the world, for the state really rests upon a proper administration of justice.

The king should set honest and trustworthy men over his mines, salt, grain, ferries, and elephant corps. The king who always wields with propriety the rod of chastisement earns great merit. The proper regulation of chastisement is the high duty of kings and deserves great applause. The king should be conversant with the Vedas and their branches, possessed of wisdom, engaged in penances, charitable, and devoted to the performance of sacrifices. All these qualities should permanently reside in a king. If the king fails to administer justice, he can neither have heaven nor fame. If a king were afflicted by a stronger one, the former, if possessed of intelligence, should seek refuge in a fort. Assembling his friends for consultation, he should devise proper means. Adopting the policy of conciliation and of producing dissensions, he should devise means for waging war with the assailant. He should set the inhabitants of the woods on the high roads, and, if necessary, cause whole villages to be removed, transplanting all the inhabitants to minor towns or the outskirts of great cities. Repeatedly assuring his wealthy subjects and the principal officers of the army, he should cause the inhabitants of the open country to take refuge in such forts as are well protected.

Scorched earth

He should himself withdraw all stores of grain (from the open country into his forts). If that becomes impossible, he should destroy them completely by fire. He should set men for destroying the crops on the fields of the enemy (by producing disunion among the enemy’s subjects). Failing to do this, he should destroy those crops by means of his own troops. He should destroy all the bridges over the rivers in his kingdom. He should bale out the waters of all the water tanks in his dominions, or, if incapable of baling them out, cause them to be poisoned. Disregarding the duty of protecting his friends, he should, in view of both present and future circumstances, seek the protection of the ruler of another kingdom who may happen to be the foe of his foe and who may be competent to deal with his foes on the field of battle.

He should destroy all the smaller forts in his kingdom. He should also cut down all the smaller trees excepting those that are called Chaitya.

[Note: Chaitya trees are those that are regarded holy and unto which the people offer worship.]

He should cause the branches of all the larger trees to be lopped off, but he should not touch the very leaves of those called Chaitya. He should raise outer ramparts round his forts, with enclosures in them, and fill his trenches with water, driving pointed stakes at their bottom and filling them with crocodiles and sharks. He should keep small openings in his walls for making sallies from his fort, and carefully make arrangements for their defense like that of the greater gates. In all his gates he should plant destructive engines. He should plant on the ramparts (of his forts) Sataghnis and other weapons. He should store wood for fuel and dig and repair wells for supply of water to the garrison.

He should cause all houses made of grass and straw to be plastered over with mud, and if it is the summer month, he should, from fear of fire, withdraw (into a place of safety) all the stores of grass and straw. He should order all food to be cooked at night. No fire should be ignited during the day, except for the daily homa (sacred fire ceremony). Particular care should be taken of the fires in smithies and lying-in rooms. Fires kept within the houses of the inhabitants should be well covered. For the effectual protection of the city, it should be proclaimed that condign punishment would overtake the person who lights fires by the daytime. During such times, all beggars, eunuchs, lunatics, and mimes should, O foremost of men, be driven out of town, for if they are permitted to remain, evil will follow.

In places of public resort, in tirthas, in assemblies, and in the houses of the citizens, the king should set competent spies.

[Note: The ‘tirthas’ are eighteen in number, such as the council-room etc.]

The king should cause wide roads to be constructed and order shops, and places for the distribution of water, to be opened at proper stations. Depots (of diverse necessaries), arsenals, camps and quarters for soldiers, stations for the keeping of horses and elephants, encampments of soldiers, trenches, streets and bypaths, houses and gardens for retirement and pleasure, should be so ordered that their sites may not be known to others, O Yudhishthira. A king who is afflicted by a hostile army should gather wealth, and store oil and fat and honey, and clarified butter, and medicines of all kinds, and charcoal and munja grass, leaves, arrows, scribes and draftsmen, grass fuel, poisoned arrows, weapons of every kind such as darts, swords, lances and others. The king should store such articles. He should especially keep ready drugs of every kind, roots and fruits, the four kinds of physicians, actors and dancers, athletes and persons capable of assuming diverse disguises. He should decorate his capital and gladden all his subjects.

The king should lose no time in bringing under his control such persons as may happen to inspire him with fear, be they his servants or counsellors or citizens or neighbouring monarchs. After any task of the king has been accomplished, he should reward those that have aided in its accomplishment with wealth and other proportionate gifts and thankful speeches. It has been laid down in the scriptures, O delighter of the Kurus, that a king pays off his debt when he discomfits his foe or slays him outright.

[Note: ‘Pays off his debt’ i.e., discharges his obligations to his subjects.]

From other sources

The philosophy of war down through the ages

(c. 540 – c. 480)
War is the father of all. All things come
into being and pass away through strife.

Plato(429 – 347 BC)
The origin of all wars is the pursuit of wealth,
and we are forced to pursue wealth because
we live in slavery to the acres of the body.

(384 – 322 BCE)
We make war that we may live in peace

(106 – 43 BC)
In time of war, the law falls silent

St. Thomas Aquinas(1225 – 74)
Belligerents should have a rightful intention,
so that they intend the advancement of good
or the avoidance of evil.

Thomas Hobbes (1588– 1679)
Covenants without the sword are but words

George Hegel(1770 – 1831)
War has the higher significance that through it
he moral health of peoples is preserved.

(1806 – 1873)
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things.
The…state of…feeling which thinks that nothing
is worth war is much worse.

Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)
The use of force is justifiable when it is ordered
in accordance with law by a neutral authority,
in the general interest and not primarily in the
interest of one of the parties to the quarrel.

(1905 – 1980)
When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die.

Related articles

From The Mahabharata

A king should take care of seven things

A king should take care of seven things. Listen to me as I recite them.

They are his own self, his counsellors, his treasury, his machinery for awarding punishments, his friends, his provinces, and his capital.

He should with care protect his kingdom, which consists of these seven limbs.

That king, O tiger among men, who is conversant with the aggregate of six, the triple aggregate, and the high aggregate of three, succeeds in winning the sovereignty of the whole earth. Listen, O Yudhishthira, to what has been called the aggregate of six. These are ruling in peace after concluding a treaty (with the foe), marching to battle, producing disunion among the foe, concentration of forces for inspiring the foe with fear, preparedness for war with readiness for peace, and alliance with others.

Listen now with attention to what has been called the triple aggregate. They are decrease, maintenance of what is, and growth.

The high aggregate of three consists of Virtue, Profit and Pleasure. These should be pursued judiciously. By the aid of virtue, a king succeeds in ruling the earth forever. Touching this matter, Angirasa’s son Vrihaspati himself has sung two verses: ‘Having discharged all his duties and having protected the earth, and having also protected his cities, a king attains to great happiness in haven. What are penances to that king, and what need has he of sacrifices who protects his people properly? Such a king should be regarded as one conversant with every virtue!’

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Chastisement (punishment)
If chastisement did not uphold and protect,
then no body would have studied the Vedas,
and no maiden would have married.

"The highest merit a king (or the president and
the government) can acquire is acquaintance
with the great science of chastisement
(punishment) and administering it properly."

The Mahabharata, Santi Parva, LXIX.

The science of chastisement (punishment)

Yudhishthira said: There is the science of chastisement, there is the king, and there are the subjects. Tell me, O grandsire, what advantage is derived by one of these from the others.

Bhishma said: Listen to me, O king, as I describe, O Bharata, the great blessedness of the science of chastisement, in sacred words of grave import.

The science of chastisement forces all men to the observance of the duties of their respective orders. Duly administered, it forces people to virtuous acts.

[Note; The ablative has here the sense of ‘towards’.]

When the four orders attend to their respective duties, when all wholesome barriers are maintained, when peace and happiness are made to flow from the science of chastisement, when the people become freed from all fear, and the three higher orders endeavour according to their respective duties, to maintain harmony, know that men become truly happy at such times.

The king makes the age
(Krita,Treta,Dwapara, Kali)

Bhishma said: Whether it is the king that makes the age, or it is the age that makes the king, is a question about which you should not entertain any doubt. The truth is that the king makes the age. When the king rules with a complete and strict reliance on the science of chastisement, the foremost of ages called Krita is then said to set in. Righteousness sets in the Krita age. Nothing of unrighteousness exists then. The hearts of men belonging to all the four orders do not take any pleasure in unrighteousness. Without doubt, all men succeed in acquiring the objects they desire and preserving those that have been acquired. All the Vedic rites become productive of merit. All the seasons become delightful and free from evil. The voice, pronunciation, and minds of all men become clear and cheerful. Diseases disappear and all men become long-lived. Wives do not become widows, and no person becomes a miser. The earth yields crops without being tilled, and herbs and plants grow in luxuriance. Barks, leaves, fruits and roots become vigorous and abundant. No unrighteousness is seen. Nothing but righteousness exists. Know these to be the characteristics , O Yuthishthira, of the Krita age.

When the king relies upon only three of the four parts of the science of chastisement leaving out a fourth, the age called Treta sets in. A fourth part of unrighteousness follows in the train of such observance (of the great science of chastisement) by three-fourths. The earth yields crops but waits for tillage. The herbs and plants grow(depending upon tillage).

When the king observes the great science of chastisement by only a half, leaving out the other half, then the age that sets in is called Dwapara. A moiety of unrighteousness follows in the train of such observance of the great science by half. The earth requires tillage and yields crops by half.

When the king, abandoning the great science of chastisement totally, oppresses his subjects by evil means of diverse kinds, the age that sets in is called Kali. During the age called Kali, unrighteousness becomes full and nothing of righteousness is seen. The hearts of men, of all the four orders (Brahman,Kshatriya,Vaishya,Sudra), fall away from their respective duties.Sudras live by abandoning lives of mendicancy, and Brahmanas live by serving others.Men fail to acquire the objects they desire and preserve those already acquired. Intermixture of the four orders takes place. Vedic rites fail to produce fruits. All the seasons cease to be delightful and become fraught with evil. The voice, pronunciation, and minds of men lose vigour. Diseases appear and men die prematurely. Wives become widows and many cruel men are seen. The clouds do not pour seasonably, and crops fail.

Listen to me,O Yudhishthira, the great blessedness of the science of chastisement, in sacred words of great import. The science of chastisement forces all men to the observance of the duties of their respective orders. Duly administered, it forces people to virtuous acts. When the four orders (Brahman,Kshtriya,Vaishya,Sudra) attend to their respective duties, when all wholesome barriers are maintained, when peace and happiness are made to flow from the science of chastisement, when the people become freed from all fear, and the three higher orders endeavour, according to their respective duties to maintain harmony, know that people become truly happy at such times.

The science of chastisement, which establishes all men in the observance of their respective duties, which is the groundwork of all wholesome distinctions, and which truly upholds the world and sets it a going, if properly administered, protects all people like the mother and the father protecting their children. Know,O bull among men, that the very lives of creatures depend upon it. The highest merit a king can acquire is acquaintance with the science of chastisement and administering it properly. Therefore, O thou of Kuru's race, protect thy subjects righteously with the aid of that great science of chastisement. By protecting the subjects and adopting such a conduct, thou wilt surely attain to such blessedness in heaven as is difficult of acquisition.

From the Mahabharat
Santi Parva Section XXXII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Vyasa said:
That insensate person who seeks to transgress authority, be he an attendant, a son, or even a saint, indeed, -all men of such sinful nature, should by every means be chastised or even killed. That man who, addicted to earthly possessions, transgresses wholesome restraints, that offender against social harmony, should be chastised with a strong hand. That king who conducts himself otherwise incurs sin.

From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva Section XV
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Arjuna said: The man armed with the rod of chastisement governs all subjects and protects them. The rod of chastisement is awake when all else is sleep. For this, the wise have characterised the rod of chastisement to be Righteousness itself. The rod of chastisement protects Righteousness and Profit .It protects also.

One class of sinful men desist from sin through fear of the rod of chastisement in the king's hands. Another class desist from similar acts through fear of Yama's rod (death penalty), and yet another from fear of the next world. Another class of persons desist from sinful acts through fear of society. Thus, in this world, whose course is such, everything is dependent on the rod of chastisement.

There is a class of persons who are restrained by only the rod of chastisement from devouring one another. If the rod of chastisement did not protect people, they would have sunk in the darkness of hell. The rod of chastisement (danda) has been so named by the wise because it restrains the ungovernable and punishes the wicked.

For keeping men awake (to their duties) and for the protection of property, ordinances have been established in the world, under the name of chastisement (or punitive legislation). There, where chastisement, of dark complexion and red eyes, stands in an attitude of readyness(to grapple with every offender) and the king is of righteous vision, the subjects never forget themselves. The student and the householder, the recluse in the forest and the religious mendicant, all these walk in their respective ways through fear of chastisement alone. The acts of all creatures become crowned with success only when the policy of chastisement is properly applied.If chastisement were abolished from the world, creatures would soon be destroyed. like fishes in the water, stronger animals prey on the weaker. This truth was formerly spoken by Brahma himself, viz., the chastisement, properly applied upholds creatures.

If there were no chastisement in the world distinguishing the good from the bad, then the whole world would have been enveloped in utter darkness and all things would have been confounded. Even they that are breakers of rules, that are atheists and scoffers of the Vedas, afflicted by chastisement, soon become disposed to observe rules and restrictions. Everyone in this world is kept straight by chastisement. A person naturally pure and righteous is scarce. Yielding to fear of chastisement, man becomes disposed to observe rules and restraints. Chastisement was ordained by the Creator himself for protecting religion and profit, for the happiness of all the four orders, and for making them righteous and modest

If chastisement did not uphold and protect, then nobody would have studied the Vedas, and no maiden would have married.

If chastisement did not uphold and protect, then ravage and confusion would have set in on every side, and all barriers would have been swept away, and the idea of property would have disappeared.

Upon chastisement depend all creatures. The learned, therefore, say that chastisement is the root of everything. Upon chastisement rests the heaven that men desire, and upon it rests this world also.There, where foe-destroying chastisement is well applied, no sin, no deception, and no wickedness is to be seen. Men that are fortunate, living with their dear wives and children, eat good food, wear excellent clothes, and cheerfully acquire virtue. All our acts, without doubt, are dependent on wealth; that wealth again is dependent on chastisement.Behold, therefore, the importance of chastisement.
Related articles
The Caste System
Virtue, Wealth & Pleasure

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