Mahābhārata – Episode 63 - Vidura-Nīti

This article is part 63 of 83 in the series Mahābhārata

Vidura first elucidated upon the qualities of a scholar and the differences between the wise and the foolish. A wise man always does what is good for himself and to the society. He gives up condemnable activities. He is devoted to his work and lives a disciplined life. He sacrifices not basic human values and the puruṣārthas at the cost of anger, joy, shame, arrogance, ego, or obstinacy. None can understand the depth of his personality and his thoughts. One can only understand him when his thoughts get translated into actions. Neither extreme heat nor extreme cold, comfort nor discomfort, poverty nor wealth hampers his work. He has his eye on dharma and artha at all times and considers artha to be a greater value than kāma. He never refrains from doing any sort of honest labour and does not look down upon anything. He lends his ear to all, being attentive to what is told. He understands things quickly and is free from desires. He never speaks out of turn, especially when he is not asked to do so. He doesn’t seek the weak and frets not over what is lost. He doesn’t lose heart when he encounters challenges and doesn’t take up an activity until he has a strong mental conviction about what he’s doing.  He doesn’t abandon the task he has taken up and never wastes time. He has his mind under his control. The wise one always spends his time on activity that is beneficial to the individual and to the society. He knows the nature of the world and is skilled at a wide range of activities. He knows what instruments to use where and what action to take under different circumstances. The wise one is also charismatic, talented, and quickly grasps whatever the texts say. His intellect matches his learning and his learning is streamlined by wisdom inherent in him. He is respected by the noble ones and is held in high regard.

A foolish man is uneducated and lacks good characteristics. He pretends to be generous even when he is languishing in poverty. He tries to become rich without doing any work. He neglects the job assigned to him and tries his hand at tasks that others are performing. He gets himself involved, uninvited, in the activities of other people. He is not transparent in his dealings even with his friends and has a double-faced character. He doesn’t speak what he thinks and bends the rules to suit the situation. He desires to possess people who do not love him and he alienates people who love him. He develops animosity against the mighty. He befriends men who are of inferior nature and distances himself from his real friends. He tries to harm the noble and good-natured ones. The fool is always inclined towards taking to unrighteous and unethical means in all his endeavours. He is unsure of everyone under all circumstances and suspects people who are pure in their intentions and behaviour. He is lethargic in executing tasks that need urgent attention. He visits people, though uninvited, and speaks out of turn.

The fool trusts the unworthy and has no faith in the noble. Though he has his own shortcomings, he points out the same in others. Though incapable of doing anything, he has no control over his anger. He tries to preach to those who are in no need of it, takes refuge in the weak, and pampers people of lowly character. He doesn’t share his resources even with those whom he ought to nourish and he leads a lavish life with a stone-heart.

A wrong deed might be committed by one, but its repercussions are experienced by many. An arrow shot by an archer either hits the target or misses it. But the sharp mind of an intelligent person destroys both the king and his kingdom.

i. Truth is the only stairway to heaven.
ii. Two kinds of men are like snakes hiding in an anthill – a king who does not fight a war and a brāhmaṇa who does not travel around the country.
iii. Three kinds of men walk over the earth – the Superior, the Average, and the Inferior – they must be assigned tasks that will match their quality and capacity.
iv. Four things betray their fruits spontaneously – Fate, Conversations with the wise, Wisdom, and Humility.
v. Five beings, if worshipped, give one great rewards here and hereafter – Deities, Ancestors, Humans, Beggars, and Guests.
vi. Six great qualities one should never give up – Honesty, Philanthropy, Agility, Patience, Endurance, and Courage.
vii. Seven vices that all kings should give up – Addiction to women, Gambling, Hunting, Drinking, Foul language, Severe punishments, and Unnecessary expenditure.
viii. Eight kinds of happiness one can procure, which are like the butter that floats on curd – Spending time with good friends, Handsome income, Embrace from the son, Lovemaking, Sweet words heard at the right moment, Prosperity of one’s own people, Procuring a long-desired object, and Felicitation before a gathering.
ix. Nine doors, three pillars, five windows make up a certain house. A person who understands the house and its yajamāna (owner) is a great one.
x. Ten people do not know dharma – the intoxicated, mad, foolish, tired, angry, hungry, one in a hurry, coward, miser, and one engulfed by lust.

The five children were born when the cursed Pāṇḍu was in the forest. You had looked after them by providing education and by nurturing their talents. The five of them are like five Indras now, yet they are obedient to you. Give them their rightful share of the kingdom. You can live happily with your children and the Pāṇḍavas together. Neither the humans nor the devatas will find a reason to find fault with you!

O King! Being dhārmic even to animals is like taking a dip in all tīrthakṣetras. In fact, being dhārmic and moral in one’s conduct is superior to any pilgrimage. This will give you good renown here and you will reach svarga after passing away.

Once, an asura named Virocana and a brāhmaṇa named Sudhanva had a fight over a girl whom they wanted to marry. They tried to establish their superiority over each other. They fought and they agreed that whoever lost the fight would give up their life. They went to Prahlāda to resolve the dispute. Prahlāda was Virocana’s father but Sudhanva knew that he would not pronounce judgement in his son’s favour out of his affection for him. Prahlāda was in a fix and said, “O brāhmaṇa! He is my son and you are a brāhmaṇa; how can a person like me resolve this conflict? How do I proceed and decide what is the truth and what is false?”

Sudhanva said, “Speaking the untruth and hiding the truth both amount to the same thing. Both increase our accumulation of pāpa and that will lead to our destruction.”

Prahlāda pronounced his judgement: “Virocana! I think Sudhanva’s father Aṅgirasa will do a better job than me in such matters. His mother is of a superior nature than your mother and he is better than you. He has won this matter!” To Sudhanva, he said, “Virocana’s life is now yours! I request you to give it to me!”

This made Sudhanva happy and he said, “Prahlāda! I’m pleased with you. Giving up your attachment to your son, you have behaved in a dhārmic manner. You have been objective in your judgement. Thus, I give you back your son. However, he must wash my feet before Keśinī!”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra! Don’t get carried away by your excessive affection towards your children. Give up dishonesty and be dhārmic in your way. If you stick to immoral means, be assured that your clan will get destroyed along with you! Do you think the devatas watch over people just as a cowherd watches over his herd and has a stick in his hand to keep them under control? The devas bless the ones they want to protect with a good intellect and a tender heart. If he follows his heart and acts in a manner conducive to the individual and to the society, he will do wonders. All his desires will be fulfilled and his spiritual value will grow. Have no doubt regarding this! When such is the case, how can you expect something good to come out, having entrusted all powers and responsibilities in the hands of Duryodhana, Duśśāsana and Śakuni? The Pāṇḍavas are the embodiments of all good qualities. They treat you like their father. You should treat them like your own children and that would be your dharma too! Even if your relatives lack good qualities, it is only to keep them in good humour and to take care of them; what to say of the Pāṇḍavas, who are so humble and gentle in their manners? You will need to show compassion towards them! Give them a few villages so that they can lead their lives in peace and can get their bare minimum requirements. If you do so, you will get a good name. They too will get a comfortable footing as kṣatriyas,” Vidura said.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra said, “Vidura! I agree with everything you say and you have been saying this for a long time now. My heart tells me the same too and I prefer to have a gentle attitude about the Pāṇḍavas. However, as soon as I see Duryodhana, my mind completely changes. What shall I do? No one can conquer Fate and undo its play. Fate is stronger than Free will!”




Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.



Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.


Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.