Mahabharata Santi Parva - Translation by KM Ganguly

Mahabharata Adiparva


"Yudhishthira said, 'How, indeed, should the king protect his subjects without injuring anybody. I ask thee this, O grandsire, tell me, O foremost of good men!'

"Bhishma said, 'In this connection is cited the old narrative of the conversation between Dyumatsena and king Satyavat. We have heard that upon a certain number of individuals having been brought out for execution at the command of his sire (Dyumatsena), prince Satyavat said certain words that had never before been said by anybody else.  'Sometimes righteousness assumes the form of iniquity, and iniquity assumes the form of righteousness. It can never be possible that the killing of individuals can ever be a righteous act.'

"Dyumatsena said, 'If the sparing of those that deserve to be slain be righteousness, if robbers be spared, O Satyavat, then all distinctions (between virtue and vice) would disappear. 'This is mine',--'This (other) is not his'--ideas like these (with respect to property) will not (if the wicked be not punished) prevail in the Kali age. (If the wicked be not punished) the affairs of the world will come to a deadlock. If thou knowest how the world may go on (without punishing the wicked), then discourse to me upon it.'

"Satyavat said, 'The three other orders (viz., the Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and

Sudras) should be placed under the control of the Brahmanas. If those three orders be kept within the bonds of righteousness, then the subsidiary classes (that have sprung from intermixture) will imitate them in their practices. Those amongst them that will transgress (the commands of the Brahmanas) shall be reported to the king.--'This one heeds not my commands,'--upon such a complaint being preferred by a Brahmana, the king shall inflict punishment upon the offender. Without destroying the body of the offender the king should do that unto him which is directed by the scriptures. The king should not act otherwise, neglecting to reflect properly upon the character of the offence and upon the science of morality. By slaying the wicked, the king (practically) slays a large number of individuals that are innocent. Behold, by slaying a single robber, his wife, mother, father and children are all slain (because they become deprived of the means of life). When injured by a wicked person, the king should, therefore, reflect deeply on the question of chastisement.  Sometimes a wicked man is seen to imbibe good behaviour from a righteous person. Then again from persons that are wicked, good children may be seen to spring. The wicked, therefore, should not be torn up by the roots. The extermination of the wicked is not consistent with eternal practice. By smiting them gently they may be made to expiate their offences. By depriving them of all their wealth, by chains and immurement in dungeons, by disfiguring them (they may be made to expiate their guilt). Their relatives should not be persecuted by the infliction of capital sentences on them. If in the presence of the Purohita and others,  they give themselves up to him from desire of protection, and swear, saying, 'O Brahmana, we shall never again commit any sinful act,' they would then deserve to be let off without any punishment. This is the command of the Creator himself. Even the Brahmana that wears a deer-skin and the wand of (mendicancy) and has his head shaved, should be punished (when he transgresses).  If great men transgress, their chastisement should be proportionate to their greatness. As regards them that offend repeatedly, they do not deserve to be dismissed without punishment as on the occasion of their first offence.'  "Dyumatsena said, 'As long as those barriers within which men should be kept are not transgressed, so long are they designated by the name of Righteousness. If they who transgressed those, barriers were not punished with death, those barriers would soon be destroyed. Men of remote and remoter

times were capable of being governed with ease.  They were very truthful (in speech and conduct). They were little disposed to disputes and quarrels. They seldom gave way to anger, or, if they did, their wrath never became ungovernable. In those days the mere crying of fie on offenders was sufficient punishment. After this came the punishment represented by harsh speeches or censures. Then followed the punishment of fines and forfeitures. In this age, however, the punishment of death has become current. The measure of wickedness has increased to such an extent that by slaying one others cannot be restrained.  The robber has no connection with men, with the deities, with the Gandharvas, and with the Pitris. What is he to whom? He is not anybody to any one. This is the declaration of the Srutis.  The robber takes away the ornaments of corpses from cemeteries, and swearing apparel from men afflicted by spirits (and, therefore, deprived of senses). That man is a fool who would make any covenant with those miserable wretches or exact any oath from them (for relying upon it).' 

"Satyavat said, 'If thou dost not succeed in making honest men of those rogues and in saving them by means unconnected with slaughter, do thou then exterminate them by performing some sacrifice.  Kings practise severe austerities for the sake of enabling their subjects go on prosperously in their avocations. When thieves and robbers multiply in their kingdoms they become ashamed.. They, therefore, betake themselves to penances for suppressing thefts and robberies and making their subjects live happily. Subjects can be made honest by being only frightened (by the king). Good kings never slay the wicked from motives of retribution. (On the other hand, if they slay, they slay in sacrifices, when the motive is to do good to the slain), Good kings abundantly succeed in ruling their subjects properly with the aid of good conduct (instead of cruel or punitive inflictions). If the king acts properly, the superior subjects imitate him. The inferior people, again in their turn, imitate their immediate superiors. Men are so constituted

that they imitate those whom they regard as their superiors.  That king who, without restraining himself, seeks to restrain others (from evil ways) becomes an object of laughter with all men in consequence of his being engaged in the enjoyment of all worldly pleasures as a slave of his senses. That man who, through arrogance or error of judgment, offends against the king in any way, should be restrained by every means. It is by this way that he is prevented from committing offences anew. The king should first restrain his own self if he desires to restrain others that offend. He should punish heavily (if necessary) even friends and near relatives. In that kingdom where a vile offender does not meet with heavy afflictions, offences increase and righteousness decreases without doubt. Formerly, a Brahmana. endued with clemency and possessed of learning, taught me this. Verily, to this effect, O sire, I have been instructed by also our grandsire of olden days, who gave such assurances of harmlessness to people, moved by pity. Their words were, 'In the Krita age, kings should rule their subjects by adopting ways that are entirely harmless. In the Treta age, kings conduct themselves according to ways that conform with righteousness fallen away by a fourth from its full complement. In the Dwapara age, they proceed according to ways conforming with righteousness fallen away by a moiety, and in the age that follows, according to ways conforming with righteousness fallen away by three-fourth. When the Kati age sets in, through the wickedness of kings and in consequence of the nature of the epoch itself, fifteen parts of even that fourth portion of righteousness disappear, a sixteenth portion thereof being all that then remains of it. If, O Satyavat, by adopting the method first mentioned (viz., the practice of harmlessness), confusion sets in, the king, considering the period of human life, the strength of human beings, and the nature of the time that has come, should award punishments.  Indeed, Manu, the son of the Self-born, has, through compassion for human beings, indicated the way by means of which men may adhere to knowledge (instead of harmfulness) for the sake of emancipation.'"