A king’s checklist: from Mahabharat


Usually we hear of Chanakya Neeti, Bhartrihari Neeti, and Vivekananada’s Raaj Yog as sources of cues for kings. Recently, while reading the fifth Adhyaay of Sabhaparva (the second module of Mahabharat after Aadiparva), I came across a hundred-odd questions asked by Maharshi Narad to Yudhishthir when the Pandavas started ruling from Indraprasth. The shlokas that list the questions asked by Narad start from 7th and run up to 113. As I selectively list them, my reference is the parallel translation of the version of Mahabharat published by Bhandarkar Oriental Institute, Pune. This particular Adhyay (a chapter, you can say) is translated by  Prof. Vasant Parikh (no relation). I learnt that there is Kamandak Raja Neeti, too. All the questions are directed at Yudhisthir and asked largely in terms of what he does/not. The opening itself is very interesting:

कश्चिदर्थाश्च कल्पन्ते  धर्मे च रमते मन: । सुखानि चानुभूयन्ते मनश्च न विहन्यते ॥ (२.५.७)

As a conversation-starter with a new king, it is a great set of questions: Is your resource-allocation appropriate? Is your mind engaged in your role? Are you happy with it, or do you feel dragged into it against your will? One would not be at one’s best on the throne for long otherwise. In another interesting question, Narad asks,

कश्चिदर्थेन वा धर्मं धर्मेणार्थमथापि च । उभौ वा प्रीतिसारेण न कामेन प्रबाधसे ॥ (२.५.९)

Literally, it means: Do you injure duty/धर्म for money or money for धर्म ? Or do you end up sacrificing both for momentary desires? Did you find anything unusual here?

A king was being asked whether he was sacrificing/injuring/precluding one for the other – not so surprising that Narad wanted to make sure the King did not injure धर्म for money, but whether he was injuring/sacrificing अर्थ / material resources for dharma / duty / virtue.

Food for thought! Beyond fair reason, too much of anything is not wise – including too much bleeding of means, even for dharma. A practical survival guide for the kings! By the eleventh, it gets even more interesting.

Narad asks if Yudhishthir uses six राजगुण for adopting seven approaches to monitor the balance of 14 areas of potential strengths or otherwise (बलाबल). In the next श्लोक, Narad asks whether the king is capable of eight types of activities based on relative strength assessment.

A little homework on the internet can help (e.g. http://www.manuscrypts.com/myth/ and a dictionary at  http://spokensanskrit.de/ ). But my translation of Mahabharat in 20 volumes has the footnotes also, from which I present the skills, means, and strengths (that a king should leverage) and flaws (a king should avoid).

Here are the Six skills a king must have:

  1. वक्तृत्व / Oratory
  2. प्रागल्भ्य / self-confidence
  3. मेधा / intelligence
  4. स्मृतिमत्ता / sharp memory
  5. नयज्ञता / knowledge of good governance
  6. कवित्व / poetry —- poetry 🙂 !!!

Now seven means to influence or persuade others:

  1. साम / Sama or logic/reason, or persuasion in a straight-forward manner
  2. दान / Dana or giving – NOT दाम as wrongly understood frequently. Types of Dana are: (a) प्रीतिदान / Preetidaan or giving out of joy in recognition of other’s help (b)  द्रव्यदान / Dravyadaan or monetary rewards (c) स्वयंग्राह / Swayamgraha, freedom to retained earnings (Lit: individual plunder) or rather than paying salary, allowing the person to find his own loot after winning the battle [Note to myself: in the modern context, can we interpret this gift as a trade license???] (d) देय / Deya, committing to payment subject to performance (e) प्रतिमोक्ष / Pratimoksha, pardon or refraining from doing something hurtful to the other.
  3. भेद / Bheda / division., created by: (a) Reducing harmony among people (b) Creating discord and (c) Making the parties quarrel with each other
  4. दंड / Danda, punishment which can be given through: (a) killing (b) confiscating wealth, and (c) injury/hurt.
  5. मंत्र / Mantra / negotiation
  6. औषध / Aushadh / medicine or ‘substance’ [some people also consider माया / maya / delusion and उपेक्षा / Upekshaa /ignoring or neglecting as the two ways of punishing instead of Mantra and Aushadha at the number 5,6)
  7. इन्द्रजाल / Indrajaal / conjuring or creating a misperception. It is understood that the skills and the means [or approaches] are to be deployed to build the strengths.

14 essential strengths for kings:

  1. देश /Desh, territory
  2. दुर्ग / Durg, Fortress
  3. रथ / ratha, chariots
  4. हस्तिन: / Hastinaha, elephants
  5. अश्व: / Ashvaha, horses
  6. यौद्धा: / Yauddhaha, soldiers
  7. Officers
  8. व्यवस्थपका / Vyavasthapaka, managers
  9. Food grain
  10. Wealth
  11. Weapons
  12. Books of accounts
  13. Material resources, and
  14. Enemies

Coming back, in the nineteenth shlok, he asks,

कश्चिन्मंत्रयसे नैक: कश्चिन्न बहुभि: सह । कश्चित्ते मन्त्रितो मन्त्रो न राष्ट्र्मनुधावति ॥ (२.५.१९)

(Lit: Do you ever deliberate alone or with too many? Does your confidential matter get spread all over the country?) It seems that Wikileaks would have disturbed even king Yudhishthir.

The plot thickens – Narad asks if he uses three spies per person to keep tabs on 18 तीर्थ / national properties of the enemy, called places of pilgrimage:

  1. Chief Minister
  2. Head Priest
  3. Crown Prince
  4. General
  5. Gate-keeper
  6. Guard of the queen’s quarter
  7. Prison superintendent
  8. Treasurer
  9. Finance minister
  10. Preacher
  11. Mayor
  12. Head Planner
  13. Pope
  14. Speaker
  15. Chief Justice
  16. Fort superintendent
  17. Coast guard and
  18. Forest guard.

Narad also asks if he keeps tabs on 15 of his own holy places – same as above, except Chief minister, Head priest and Crown prince.

In the set of shlokas 96, 97, 98; Narad asks whether Yudhishthir avoids 14 flaws:

  1. नास्तिक्यम् / Naastikyam, faithlessness [Note that he did not use the word religion
  2. अनृतम् / anrutam, untruth or lie
  3. क्रोध / Krodh, anger
  4. प्रमाद / Pramaad,  self-indulgence to the neglect of duty
  5. दीर्घसूत्रता / Deerghasutrata, slowness
  6. अदर्शनम् ज्ञानवताम् / Adarshanam Gyaanavataam, not meeting with the knowledgeable or experts
  7. अलस्यम् /Alasyam, procrastination
  8. क्षिप्तचित्तताम् / Kshiptachittataam, lack of concentration
  9. एकचिन्तनम् / Ekachintanam, rumination
  10. अनर्थज्ञैश्च चिन्तनम् / Anarthagyaisha chintanam, discussion with those who don’t know
  11. निश्चितानामनारंभ / Nischitaanaam anaarambha, not implementing what is decided
  12. मंत्रस्यापरिरक्षणम् / Mantrasya aparirakshaNam, not maintaining confidentiality
  13. मंगलस्याप्रयोगम् / Mangalasya aprayogam, not trying out what is good
  14. प्रसंगं विषयेषु / Prasangam Vishayeshu, giving into sensory influence.

The point is not that one would not find much ‘new stuff’ or exotic, but that these principles were in practice thousands of years back. A recommended reading for all interested – the fifth Adhyaay of the second Sarg/module of Mahabharat.











2 thoughts on “A king’s checklist: from Mahabharat

  1. Awaited for Yudhisthir’s rep n kept on scrolling down. Anywaz read ur blog. Very well written Maám


    • Oh, I guess he was taking in more advice than giving. I will write more some day if you wish… It’s so encouraging to find appreciation of readers! Thanks again 🙂


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