Mahabharata Santi Parva - Translation by KM Ganguly

Mahabharata Adiparva


"Yudhishthira said, 'It has been said that in seasons of distress a Brahmana may support himself by the practice of Kshatriya duties. Can he, however, at any time, support himself by the practice of the duties laid down for the Vaisyas?'

"Bhishma said, 'When a Brahmana loses his means of support and falls into distress, he may certainly betake himself to the practices of a Vaisya and derive his support by agriculture and keeping cattle, if, of course, he is incompetent for Kshatriya duties.'

"Yudhishthira said, 'If a Brahmana, O bull of Bharata's race, betakes himself to the duties of a Vaisya, what articles may he sell without losing his prospect of heaven?'

"Bhishma said, 'Wines, salt, sesamum seeds, animals having manes, bulls, honey, meat, and cooked food, O Yudhishthira, under all circumstances, a Brahmana should avoid. A Brahmana, by selling these, would sink into hell. A Brahmana, by selling a goat, incurs the sin of selling the god of fire; by selling a sheep, the sin of selling the god of water; by selling a horse, the sin of selling the god of the sun; by selling cooked food, the sin of selling land; and by selling a cow, the sin of selling sacrifice and the Soma juice. These, therefore, should not be sold (by a Brahmana). They that are good do not applaud the purchase of uncooked food by giving cooked food in exchange. Uncooked food, however, may be given for procuring cooked food, O Bharata!  'We will eat this cooked food of thine. Thou mayst cook these raw things (that we give in exchange).'--In a compact of this kind there is no sin. Listen, O Yudhishthira, I shall speak to thee of the eternal practice, existing from days of old, of persons conducting themselves according to

approved usages. 'I give thee this. Give me this other thing in return.' Exchange by such agreement is righteous. To take things by force, however, is sinful. Even such is the course of the usage followed by the Rishis and others. Without doubt, this is righteous.'

"Yudhishthira said, 'When, O sire, all the orders, giving up their respective duties, take up arms against the king, then, of course, the power of the king decreases.--By what means should the king then become the protector and refuge of the people? Resolve this doubt of mine, O king, by speaking to me in detail.'

"Bhishma said, 'By gifts, by penances, by sacrifices, by peacefulness, and by self-restraint, all the orders headed by the Brahmanas should, on such occasions, seek their own good. Those amongst them that are endued with Vedic strength, should rise up on every side and like the gods strengthening Indra contribute (by Vedic rites) to enhancing the strength of the king. Brahmanas are said to be the refuge of the king while his power suffers decay. A wise king seeks the enhancement of his power by means of the power of the Brahmanas. When the king, crowned with victory, seeks the re-establishment of peace, all the orders then betake themselves to their respective duties. When robbers, breaking through all restraints, spread devastation around, all the orders may take up arms. By so doing they incur no sin, O Yudhishthira!'

"Yudhishthira said, 'If all the Kshatriyas become hostile towards the Brahmanas, who then will protect the Brahmanas and their Vedas? What then should be the duty of the Brahmanas and who will be their refuge?'

"Bhishma said, 'By penances, by Brahmacharya, by weapons, and by (physical) might, applied with or without the aid of deceit, the Kshatriyas should be subjugated. If the Kshatriya misconducts himself, especially towards Brahmanas, the Vedas themselves will subjugate them. The Kshatriyas have sprung from the Brahmanas. Fire has sprung from water; the Kshatriya from the Brahmana; and iron from stone. The energy of fire, the Kshatriya, and iron, are irresistible. But when these come into contact with the sources of their origin, their force becomes neutralised. When iron strikes stone, or fire battles with water, or the Kshatriya becomes hostile to the Brahmana, then the strength of each of those three becomes destroyed. Thus, O Yudhishthira, the energy and might, howsoever great and irresistible, of Kshatriyas become quelled as soon as they are directed against the Brahmanas. When the energy of the Brahmanas becomes mild, when Kshatriya energy becomes weak, when all men misbehave themselves towards the Brahmanas, they that engage in battle then, casting off all fear of death, for protecting the Brahmanas, morality, and their own selves,--those persons, moved by righteous indignation and possessed of great strength of mind, succeed in winning high regions of bliss hereafter. All persons should take up arms for the sake of Brahmanas. Those brave persons that fight for Brahmanas attain to those felicitous region in heaven that are reserved for persons that have always studied the Vedas with attention, that have performed the austerest of penances, and that have, after fasting, cast off their bodies into blazing fires. The Brahmana, by taking up arms for the three orders, does not incur sin. People say that there is no higher duty than casting off life under such circumstances. I bow to them and blessed be they that thus lay down their lives in seeking to chastise the enemies of Brahmanas. Let us attain to that region which is intended for them. Manu himself has said that those heroes repair to the region of Brahman. As persons become cleansed of all their sins by undergoing the final bath on a horse-sacrifice even so they that die at the edge of weapons while fighting wicked people, become cleansed of their sins. Righteousness becomes unrighteousness, and unrighteousness becomes righteousness, according to place and time. Such is the power of place and time (in determining the character of human acts). The friends of humanity, by doing even acts of cruelty, have attained to high heaven. Righteous Kshatriyas, by doing even sinful acts, have attained to blessed ends.  The Brahmana, by taking up arms on these three occasions, does not incur sin, viz., for protecting himself, for compelling the other orders to betake themselves to their duties, and for chastising robbers.'

"Yudhishthira said, 'If when robbers raise their heads and an inter-mixture of the orders begins to take place in consequence of confusion, and Kshatriyas become incompetent, some powerful person other than a Kshatriya seeks to subdue those robbers for the sake of protecting the people,  indeed, O best of kings, if that powerful person happens to be a Brahmana or a Vaisya or a Sudra, and if he succeeds in protecting the people by righteously wielding the rod of chastisement is he justified in doing what he does or is he restrained by the ordinances from accomplishing that duty? It seems that others, when the Kshatriyas prove so wretched, should take up weapons.'

"Bhishma said, 'Be he a Sudra or be he the member of any other orders, he that becomes a raft on a raftless current, or a means of crossing where means there are none, certainly deserves respect in every way. That person, O king, relying upon whom helpless men, oppressed and made miserable by robbers, live happily, deserve to be lovingly worshipped by all as if he were a near kinsman. The person, O thou of Kuru's race, that dispels the fears of others, always deserves respect. What use is there of bulls that would not bear burthens, or of kine that would not yield milk, or of a wife that is barren? Similarly, what need is there for a king that is not competent to grant protection? As an elephant made of wood, or a deer made of leather, as a person without wealth, or one that is a eunuch, or a field that is sterile, even so is a Brahmana that is void of Vedic lore and a king incapable of granting protection? Both of them are like a cloud that does not pour rain. That person who always protects the good and restrains the wicked deserves to become a king and to govern the world.'"