Dhritarashtra and Kanika

Vaisampayana continued, “After the expiration, O king, of a year from this, Dhritarashtra, moved by kindness for the people, installed Yudhishthira, the son of Pandu, as the heir-apparent of the kingdom on account of his firmness, fortitude, patience, benevolence, frankness and unswerving honesty (of heart). And within a short time Yudhishthira, the son of Kunti, by his good behaviour, manners and close application to business, overshadowed the deeds of his father. And the second Pandava, Vrikodara, began to receive continued lessons from Sankarshana (Valarama) in encounters with the sword and the mace and on the chariot. And after Bhima’s education was finished, he became in strength like unto Dyumatsena himself and continuing to live in harmony with his brothers, he began to exert his prowess. And Arjuna became celebrated for the firmness of his grasp (of weapons), for his lightness of motion, precision of aim, and his proficiency in the use of the Kshura, Naracha, Vala and Vipatha weapons, indeed, of all weapons, whether straight or crooked or heavy. And Drona certified that there was none in the world who was equal to Arjuna in lightness of hand and general proficiency.

“One day, Drona, addressing Arjuna before the assembled Kaurava princes, said, ‘There was a disciple of Agastya in the science of arms called Agnivesa. He was my preceptor and I, his disciple. By ascetic merit I obtained from him a weapon called Brahmasira which could never be futile and which was like unto thunder itself, capable of consuming the whole earth. That weapon, O Bharata, from what I have done, may now pass from disciple to disciple. While imparting it to me, my preceptor said, ‘O son of Bharadwaja, never shouldst thou hurl this weapon at any human being, especially at one who is of poor energy. Thou hast, O hero, obtained that celestial weapon. None else deserveth it. But obey the command of the Rishi (Agnivesa). And, look here, Arjuna, give me now the preceptorial fee in the presence of these thy cousins and relatives.’ When Arjuna, on hearing this, pledged his word that he would give what the preceptor demanded, the latter said, ‘O sinless one, thou must fight with me when I fight with thee.’ And that bull among the Kuru princes thereupon pledged his word unto Drona and touching his feet, went away northward. Then there arose a loud shout covering the whole earth bounded by her belt of seas to the effect that there was no bowman in the whole world like unto Arjuna. And, indeed, Dhananjaya, in encounters with the mace and the sword and on the chariot as also with the bow, acquired wonderful proficiency.”

“Sahadeva obtained the whole science of morality and duties from (Vrihaspati) the spiritual chief of celestials, and continued to live under the control of his brothers. And Nakula, the favourite of his brothers taught by Drona, became known as a skilful warrior and a great car-warrior (Ati-ratha). Indeed, Arjuna and the other Pandava princes became so powerful that they slew in battle the great Sauvira who had performed a sacrifice extending over three years, undaunted by the raids of the Gandharvas. And the king of the Yavanas himself whom the powerful Pandu even had failed to bring under subjection was brought by Arjuna under control. Then again Vipula, the king of the Sauviras, endued with great prowess, who had always shown a disregard for the Kurus, was made by the intelligent Arjuna to feel the edge of his power. And Arjuna also repressed by means of his arrows (the pride of) king Sumitra of Sauvira, also known by the name of Dattamitra who had resolutely sought an encounter with him. The third of the Pandava princes, assisted by Bhima, on only a single car subjugated all the kings of the East backed by ten thousand cars. In the same way, having conquered on a single car the whole of the south, Dhananjaya sent unto the kingdom of the Kurus a large booty. Thus did those foremost of men, the illustrious Pandavas, conquering the territories of other kings, extend the limits of their own kingdom. But beholding the great prowess and strength of those mighty bowmen, king Dhritarashtra’s sentiments towards the Pandavas became suddenly poisoned, and from that day the monarch became so anxious that he could hardly sleep.'”

Vaisampayana continued, “On hearing that the heroic sons of Pandu endued with excess of energy had become so mighty, king Dhritarashtra became very miserable with anxiety. Then summoning unto his side Kanika, that foremost of minister, well-versed in the science of politics and an expert in counsels the king said, ‘O best of Brahmanas, the Pandavas are daily overshadowing the earth. I am exceedingly jealous of them. Should I have peace or war with them? O Kanika, advise me truly, for I shall do as thou biddest. That best of Brahmanas, thus addressed by the king, freely answered him in these pointed words well-agreeing with the import of political science. “Listen to me, O sinless king, as I answer thee. And, O best of Kuru kings, it behoveth thee not to be angry with me after hearing all I say. Kings should ever be ready with uplifted maces (to strike when necessary), and they should ever increase their prowess. Carefully avoiding all faults themselves they should ceaselessly watch over the faults of their foes and take advantage of them. If the king is always ready to strike, everybody feareth him. Therefore the king should ever have recourse to chastisement in all he doeth. He should so conduct himself that, his foe may not detect any weak side in him. But by means of the weakness he detecteth in his foe he should pursue him (to destruction). He should always conceal, like the tortoise concealing its body, his means and ends, and he should always keep back his own weakness from, the sight of others. And having begun a particular act, he should ever accomplish it thoroughly. Behold, a thorn, if not extracted wholly, produceth a festering sore. The slaughter of a foe who doeth thee evil is always praiseworthy. If the foe be one of great prowess, one should always watch for the hour of his disaster and then kill him without any scruples. If he should happen to be a great warrior, his hour of disaster also should be watched and he should then be induced to fly. O sire, an enemy should never be scorned, however contemptible. A spark of fire is capable of consuming an extensive forest if only it can spread from one object to another in proximity. Kings should sometimes feign blindness and deafness, for if impotent to chastise, they should pretend not to notice the faults that call for chastisement. On occasions, such as these, let them regard their bows as made of straw. But they should be always on the alert like a herd of deer sleeping in the woods. When thy foe is in thy power, destroy him by every means open or secret. Do not show him any mercy, although he seeketh thy protection.'”

“‘A foe, or one that hath once injured thee, should be destroyed by lavishing money, if necessary, for by killing him thou mayest be at thy ease. The dead can never inspire fear. Thou must destroy the three, five and seven (resources) of thy foes. Thou must destroy thy foes root and branch. Then shouldst thou destroy their allies and partisans. The allies and partisans can never exist if the principal be destroyed. If the root of the tree is torn up, the branches and twigs can never exist as before. Carefully concealing thy own means and ends, thou shouldst always watch thy foes, always seeking their flaws. Thou shouldst, O king, rule thy kingdom, always anxiously watching thy foes. By maintaining the perpetual fire by sacrifices, by brown cloths, by matted locks, and by hides of animals for thy bedding, shouldst thou at first gain the confidence of thy foes, and when thou has gained it thou shouldst then spring upon them like a wolf. For it hath been said that in the acquisition of wealth even the garb of holiness might be employed as a hooked staff to bend down a branch in order to pluck the fruits that are ripe. The method followed in the plucking of fruits should be the method in destroying foes, for thou shouldst proceed on the principle of selection. Bear thy foe upon thy shoulders till the time cometh when thou canst throw him down, breaking him into pieces like an earthen pot thrown down with violence upon a stony surface. The foe must never be let off even though he addresseth thee most piteously. No pity shouldst thou show him but slay him at once. By the arts of conciliation or the expenditure of money should the foe be slain. By creating disunion amongst his allies, or by the employment of force, indeed by every means in thy power shouldst thou destroy thy foe.’ “Dhritarashtra said, ‘Tell me truly how a foe can be destroyed by the arts of conciliation or the expenditure of money, or by producing disunion or by the employment of force.'”

“Kanika continued, ‘If thy son, friend, brother, father, or even the spiritual preceptor, anyone becometh thy foe, thou shouldst, if desirous of prosperity, slay him without scruples. By curses and incantations, by gift of wealth, by poison, or by deception, the foe should be slain. He should never be neglected from disdain. If both the parties be equal and success uncertain, then he that acteth with diligence groweth in prosperity. If the spiritual preceptor himself be vain, ignorant of what should be done and what left undone, and vicious in his ways, even he should be chastised. If thou art angry, show thyself as if thou art not so, speaking even then with a smile on thy lips. Never reprove any one with indications of anger (in thy speech). And O Bharata, speak soft words before thou smitest and even while thou art smiting! After the smiting is over, pity the victim, and grieve for him, and even shed tears. Comforting thy foe by conciliation, by gift of wealth, and smooth behaviour, thou must smite him when he walketh not aright. Thou shouldst equally smile the heinous offender who liveth by the practice of virtue, for the garb of virtue simply covereth his offences like black clouds covering the mountains. Thou shouldst burn the house of that person whom thou punishest with death. And thou shouldst never permit beggars and atheists and thieves to dwell in thy kingdom. By a sudden sally or pitched battle by poison or by corrupting his allies, by gift of wealth, by any means in thy power, thou shouldst destroy thy foe. Thou mayest act with the greatest cruelty. Thou shouldst make thy teeth sharp to give a fatal bite. And thou should ever smite so effectually that thy foe may not again raise his head. Thou shouldst ever stand in fear of even one from whom there is no fear, not to speak of him from whom there is such. For if the first be ever powerful he may destroy thee to the root (for thy unpreparedness). Thou shouldst never trust the faithless, nor trust too much those that are faithful, for if those in whom thou confidest prove thy foes, thou art certain to be annihilated. After testing their faithfulness thou shouldst employ spies in thy own kingdom and in the kingdoms of others. Thy spies in foreign kingdoms should be apt deceivers and persons in the garb of ascetics. Thy spies should be placed in gardens, places of amusement, temples and other holy places, drinking halls, streets, and with the (eighteen) tirthas (viz., the minister, the chief priest, the heir-presumptive, the commander-in-chief, the gate-keepers of the court, persons in the inner apartments, the jailor, the chief surveyor, the head of the treasury, the general executant of orders, the chief of the town police, the chief architect, the chief justice, the president of the council, the chief of the punitive department, the commander of the fort, the chief of the arsenal, the chief of the frontier guards, and the keeper of the forests), and in places of sacrifice, near wells, on mountains and in rivers, in forests, and in all places where people congregate. In speech thou shouldst ever be humble, but let thy heart be ever sharp as razor. And when thou art engaged in doing even a very cruel and terrible act, thou shouldst talk with smiles on thy lips. If desirous of prosperity, thou shouldst adopt all arts–humility, oath, conciliation. Worshipping the feet of others by lowering thy head, inspiring hope, and the like. And, a person conversant with the rules of policy is like a tree decked with flowers but bearing no fruit; or, if bearing fruit, these must be at a great height not easily attainable from the ground; and if any of these fruits seem to be ripe care must be taken to make it appear raw. Conducting himself in such a way, he shall never fade. Virtue, wealth and pleasure have both their evil and good effects closely knit together. While extracting the effects that are good, those that are evil should be avoided. Those that practise virtue (incessantly) are made unhappy for want of wealth and the neglect of pleasure. Those again in pursuit of wealth are made unhappy for the neglect of two others. And so those who pursue pleasure suffer for their inattention to virtue and wealth. Therefore, thou shouldst pursue virtue, wealth and pleasure, in such a way that thou mayest not have to suffer therefrom. With humiliation and attention, without jealousy and solicitous of accomplishing thy purpose, shouldst thou, in all sincerity, consult with the Brahmanas. When thou art fallen, thou shouldst raise thyself by any means, gentle or violent; and after thou hast thus raised thyself thou shouldst practise virtue. He that hath never been afflicted with calamity can never have prosperity. This may be seen in the life of one who surviveth his calamities. He that is afflicted with sorrow should be consoled by the recitation of the history of persons of former times (like those of Nala and Rama). He whose heart hath been unstrung by sorrow should be consoled with hopes of future prosperity. He again who is learned and wise should be consoled by pleasing offices presently rendered unto him. He who, having concluded a treaty with an enemy, reposeth at ease as if he hath nothing more to do, is very like a person who awaketh, fallen down from the top of a tree whereon he had slept. A king should ever keep to himself his counsels without fear of calumny, and while beholding everything with the eyes of his spies, he should take care to conceal his own emotions before the spies of his enemies. Like a fisherman who becometh prosperous by catching and killing fish, a king can never grow prosperous without tearing the vitals of his enemy and without doing some violent deeds. The might of thy foe, as represented by his armed force, should ever be completely destroyed, by ploughing it up (like weeds) and mowing it down and otherwise afflicting it by disease, starvation, and want of drink. A person in want never approacheth (from love) one in affluence; and when one’s purpose hath been accomplished, one hath no need to approach him whom he had hitherto looked to for its accomplishment. Therefore, when thou doest anything never do it completely, but ever leave something to be desired for by others (whose services thou mayest need). One who is desirous of prosperity should with diligence seek allies and means, and carefully conduct his wars. His exertions in these respects should always be guided by prudence. A prudent king should ever act in such a way that friends and foes may never know his motive before the commencement of his acts. Let them know all when the act hath been commenced or ended, and as long as danger doth not come, so long only shall thou act as if thou art afraid. But when it hath overtaken thee, thou must grapple with it courageously. He who trusteth in a foe who hath been brought under subjection by force, summoneth his own death as a crab by her act of conception. Thou shouldst always reckon the future act as already arrived (and concert measures for meeting it), else, from want of calmness caused by haste, thou mayest overlook an important point in meeting it when it is before thee. A person desirous of prosperity should always exert with prudence, adopting his measures to time and place. He should also act with an eye to destiny as capable of being regulated by mantras and sacrificial rites; and to virtue, wealth, and pleasure. It is well-known that time and place (if taken into consideration) always produce the greatest good. If the foe is insignificant, he should not yet be despised, for he may soon grow like a palmyra tree extending its roots or like a spark of fire in the deep woods that may soon burst into an extensive conflagration. As a little fire gradually fed with faggots soon becometh capable of consuming even the biggest blocks, so the person who increaseth his power by making alliances and friendships soon becometh capable of subjugating even the most formidable foe. The hope thou givest unto thy foe should be long deferred before it is fulfilled; and when the time cometh for its fulfilment, invent some pretext for deferring it still. Let that pretext be shown as founded upon some reason, and let that reason itself be made to appear as founded on some other reason. Kings should, in the matter of destroying their foes, ever resemble razors in every particular; unpitying as these are sharp, hiding their intents as these are concealed in their leathern cases, striking when the opportunity cometh as these are used on proper occasions, sweeping off their foes with all their allies and dependants as these shave the head or the chin without leaving a single hair. O supporter of the dignity of the Kurus, bearing thyself towards the Pandavas and others also as policy dictateth, act in such a way that thou mayest not have to grieve in future. Well do I know that thou art endued with every blessing, and possessed of every mark of good fortune. Therefore, O king, protect thyself from the sons of Pandu! O king, the sons of Pandu are stronger than their cousins (thy sons); therefore, O chastiser of foes, I tell thee plainly what thou shouldst do. Listen to it, O king, with thy children, and having listened to it, exert yourselves (to do the needful). O king, act in such a way that there may not be any fear for thee from the Pandavas. Indeed, adopt such measures consonant with the science of policy that thou mayest not have to grieve in the future. Having delivered himself thus Kanika returned to his abode, while the Kuru king Dhritarashtra became pensive and melancholy.'”

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is titled ‘Bhima hurled his mace with fury’. It is the work of a British artist, Evelyn Paul (1883-1963). Her style was reminiscent of the illustrated manuscripts of medieval Europe. This particular illustration appeared in W.D. Monro’s ‘Stories of India’s gods & heroes’. The rivalry between the Pandavas and the Kauravas (symbolized by the deep dislike and constant friction between Bhima and Duryodhana) is what drives the Mahabharata. Dhritarashtra, the Kuru king, becomes increasingly anxious with the growing fame of the Pandavas and sets the stage for the ultimate showdown between his sons, and his nephews.

Reference:

  • The Mahabharata (translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, 1883-1896)