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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Chastisement, Danda - Maha Bharatha Series 64

Shanti Parva  Section 121

The word Vyavahara is used in this section as a synonym for Dharma. It is translated into the English word Chastisement by Prof. Ganguli.  Vyavahara is Vi AND avahara, that through which misappropriations are stopped. It refers to law and administration of justice. Yudhishtra says that Dharma as proper administration of justice is necessary for a king to perform his duties and establish a peaceful kingdom. Therefore, chastisement is his foremost duty (dharma) as a king. The original Sanskrit word used in Maha Bharata is danda, or punishment.

This observation is also made by Machiavelli and Sir Thomas More who said that laws without a bite (or a method to enforce them) will not work. 

Bhishma goes on to describe chastisement (punishment as a rajadharma, danda) in the form of a fierce creature called mrigaraja (king of animals). He is said to be Rudra, Vishnu and Brahma. But he is also given the name of Mahapurusha (Supreme Being) and his wife is called neethi (morality). There are eight other names for this deified chastisement, the God of Punishments: Ishvara (god), purusha (man), prana (life), sattvam (strength, mind), vittam (wealth, heart), prajapati (lord of creatures), bhootatma (one who dwells inside every life) and jiva (lives). Bhishma also lists all dualities such as morality-immorality, truth-falsehood, and calmness – agitation and then points out that understanding all the differences between the dualities listed above is possible only because of the fear of danda, the chastisement. 

It is the chastisement which leads to understanding of righteousness, which leads us to the Vedas. Vedas lead us to sacrifices. Sacrifices make it possible to please the devas. Devas take our offerings to Indra and Indra is pleased and gives us rain ad food. All of this is possible only if the King wields his power of chastisement (danda). So says Bhishma.

In Section 123 there is a story of Brahman wanting a priest capable of officiating in a sacrifice He wants to conduct. There is no one fit for that office. Therefore, Brahman conceives a child in His mind. That child who comes out when Brahman sneezes goes by the name of Kashupa. When Kashupa starts the sacrifice, Brahman (the formless, unknowable) has to appear in a visible form to perform the sacrifice. When Brahma took the visible form, danda (chastisement) disappeared. Therefore, great confusion arose in this world. People started stealing each other’s property and killing each other. All ideas of property ceased. Brahma prayed to Vishnu and who created Himself in the form of danda (chastisement) for the protection of the world.

It is fascinating to read the importance given to this aspect of life and its role in civil society. Both Yudhishtra and Bhishma say that proper order in a society depends on the rule of law and that this is possible only someone is there to use the stick (danda)!


Ramesh said...

Interesting that there is so much emphasis on the stick (understandable), but there isn't even a mention of the carrot. Sure, we need punishment as a deterrent, but isn't it also important that laws are just and fair ans there is a motivation to follow them.

Doesn't the saying go that character is often what you do when no one is watching. Even without the fear of punishment, if you can be righteous, that might be the highest dharma indeed.

Balu said...

Thanks For your comments.
Your response makes me think of a couple of other things. Yes we need an internal policeman. In a society everyone does not develop or use internal policeman. Most people will drive over the speed limit, left to themselves.
And, what is spoken here is Raja Dharma. A king’s duty is to make sure laws are obeyed.
Finally, earlier sections of Maha Bharatha speak about danda or stick as the fourth option after sama, dana and beda, at least as a statecraft. Credit for this specific four step approach should go to Kautilya.