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Friday, January 19, 2018

Shanti Parva - Book 12 - Maha Bharata Series 59


Bhishma’s teachings from his bed of arrows starts from Section 55 of Book 12. Since there are books in several languages on these discourses, I plan to cover only certain sections. I am sure you will seek out books which cover the entire teachings of Bhishma in detail, if you are interested.

             Section 56 to 69 deal with the duties of a king (Raja dharma). Here are some points that caught my attention.

Raja dharma is necessary to control one’s subjects – it is like the reins for a horse and iron hook (called ankusam, in Tamil) to control an elephant.

Both destiny and human efforts are needed for success. Effort is more important.

                A king should not be too friendly with his servants. If he does so, the servants will behave without respect and this will include belching and spitting in front of the king himself. Belching and spitting in public are bad and disrespectful habits.

                Bhishma quotes a poem from Ramacharitra as follows: “One should first chose a king in whose territory he wants to live; then choose a wife and then amass wealth. Because, without a just ruler, who will protect your wife and your wealth”?

                A king cannot rule his kingdom and protect his subjects if he is completely candor all the time. He has to use both candor and crookedness to be a good ruler. 

Kings are reincarnation of gods on earth. They are god’s representatives and should use the rod to keep people honest (?obedient).

Kshatriyas are there to protect everyone, but specially Brahmanas, because they are special. Together Kashtriyas and Brahmanas appease the gods with oblations and help keep the gods in the heaven. The gods in turn send rains for the people.

This above narrative is repeated over and over and particularly so in sections 71 and 72.

These passages which repeatedly emphasize the relationship between the Kshatriyas and the Brahmans make some scholars believe that this part of book 12 was not part of Maha Bharata but inserted by someone with a vested interest.

Bhishma describes a book called Dandaniti (Rule of Law) attributed to the Self-Generated (Brahma?). Brahma is said to have established the “do’s and don’ts” for a king and passed it on to Siva, then to Indra and to Brhaspati until it reached Pritha through Vishnu.

The origin of the words, Raja, Kshatriya and Prithvi are based on Prithu as the first king of this earth. Raja is one who gratifies (rajas) everyone. Kshatriya is one who heels the wounds (kshat) of everyone. Prithvi is the land of the king Pritha.

Bhishma also mentions dharma, artha and kama (virtue, wealth and desire) as one unit with moksha (liberation) as the opposite of these three. The three qualities of satwa, rajas and tamas (goodness, passion and ignorance) also form a triplet and moksha (liberation) is the opposite of these three. Moksha is the practice of the virtues and goodness just for its sake, not expecting any reward or bliss.

Yudhishtra asks Bhishma about the four varnas and four ashramas and Bhishma’s answers are in Section 60. His discourse establishes the long-standing traditions of the four varnsa, wrongly interpreted as castes by the westerners. It also places the Brahmanas high up in the pecking order. Some interesting points from my point of view are: 

1.       Before detailing the duties for each of the varnas, Bhishma lists nine duties applicable to  people of all varnas. They are: truth, control of anger, forgiveness, justice, children only through marriage, pure conduct, avoiding quarrels, simplicity and taking care of dependents.

2.       It is clear where the sudra varna was placed. It says that sudras are to serve their master at all times, even if the master has no wealth. In fact, sudra is expected to support his master, if he becomes poor. Sudra has no right to property; if he gets any, it belongs to the master.

3.       “Brahmanas are the gods of the very gods”.

4.       The four ashramas unlike what we traditionally hear about are: brahmacharya (bachelor), garhapatya (householder), bhaikshya (living on alms) and vanaprasta (life in forest). It is interesting to note that one can go from brahmacharya to bhaikshya or to garhapatya. From garhapatya one goes to vanaprasta.

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