Mahabharata Stories: 43 – The Grandsire Teaches (Part 2)

Ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country – these famous words, though of an American President of recent times is the root to good governance and stays valid for all times – it applies as much to the administrator as it does to those administrated. For, ultimately, it is the contribution of each and every individual that sum up to make a nation.

Bheeshma continued to answer questions posed by Yudhishtira.

Yudhishtira: What are the principal duties of the subjects?

Bheeshma: Their first duty is to elect a king and coronate him. They should ensure his treasury has sufficient funds by paying their taxes. From amongst them, they should choose the able-bodied and those proficient in weaponry for the armed forces. The king gets a fourth of their merits and evil, so they should be careful in all their actions. They should hold the king in honour and act humbly in his presence. A king so respected by his subjects will be feared by the enemy.

Yudhishtira: What are the special duties of a king?

Bheeshma: The king should first bring all his five senses under control only then can he conquer his enemies.

He should have his forts and frontiers well guarded.

The king’s thoughts and actions should be well-guarded secrets. He should have immensely capable spies who feign to be very ordinary people or even emotionally or mentally unstable. All his friends and foes and even his own kith and kin should be under surveillance and all their activities he should know.

Once he knows the strength of his enemy, he should try to establish peace with a stronger foe. He should attack those he is confident of conquering. He should take the enemy by surprise and attack those who have no allies or who are already engaged in war.

The king should safeguard his subjects as if they were his own children and, for the maintenance of the army and for welfare activities, he should take a sixth of their income as tax. But he should guard against leniency and punish wrong behaviour. Honest men should be appointed to administer justice.

Without doubt, it is the king that makes the age and not the age that makes the king. When all the four parts of Dhandaneeti are followed in ruling, the foremost age or Satyayuga is said to set in. Seasons are not harsh and the earth yields in bounty and diseases are not heard of. Men live long and die only of old age. Peace reigns. When three of the four parts are followed, Tretayuga sets in. The earth yields but needs to be tilled. When the king follows half of Dhandaneeti, Dwaparayuga sets in. Even tilled earth yields only half the crop. When, even half of Dhandaneeti is not followed by the king, oppression of the people starts and Kaliyuga is said to set in. Anarchy tends to rule. Diseases become rampant and men die prematurely. Seasons become harsh and unpredictable and crops fail frequently. The king is thus the cause of the yugas.

Yudhishtira: Of whose wealth is the king lord?

Bheeshma: The wealth of all the persons, except the learned that beg for their daily food, belong to the king. It is the king’ s duty to support the learned.


Yudhishtira: The king has to depend much on his ministers for administration. What are the characteristics of a minister and his duties? Who deserves the king’s confidence?

Bheeshma: A king has four kinds of friends: the first is the one whose objective coincides with the king’s, the second is one who is loyal to the king, the third is one related to the king and the fourth is one whom the king has placated by gifts. The fifth category is the ever-righteous one and the king should guard against confiding in them those plans that are likely to be disapproved by them. For, there may be times when the king has to be crafty for the sake of the kingdom.

A man’s apparent nature may not be his true self; hence the king SHOULD NOT confide much in anybody. Reliability on ministers should be to the extent required and as much as situation permits only. He should guard against his kinsmen at all times, as they are ever envious of his prosperity and fame.

The policy to be applied here is: Mistrust at heart, but behaving as if with full trust.


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