Mahābhārata – Episode 92 – Noble Characteristics Reign Supreme

This article is part 92 of 112 in the series Mahābhārata

It is good character that is more important than physical strength. Noble character leads to honesty, dhārmic outlook, strength and wealth. In the past, Prahlāda won over Indra and ruled the three worlds, merely because of his unblemished character. Indra disguised himself as a brāhmaṇa, went to Prahlāda and lived as a student with him. He received noble characteristics as a boon from Prahlāda, for having served him with sincerity. As soon as Indra left, a radiant mūrti came out of Prahlāda’s body. Observing this, Prahlāda asked the mūrti – “Who are you?”. The mūrti replied – “I am the embodiment of your noble character. I am going away from you”. Following this mūrti which left his body, dharma, satya, good behaviour, strength and wealth -  all left Prahlāda in the form of radiant mūrtis. Thus, noble character is fundamental to all other traits. One should not harm the other either through his body, mind or speech. One must help the other as much as possible and should never act in a manner that will cause discomfort to the other. Never perform activities which you will feel ashamed of later in life. Work in a manner that will be appreciated by tens of men. This, in essence, is the nature of a person with noble characteristics. Even if a person who does not have such good characteristics is wealthy, his riches will not remain with him for long. He will see his end in no time. In the past, when Duryodhana, who was jealous of your wealth and fame, lamented before his father. Dhṛtarāṣṭra told him about your noble qualities and the importance of developing such traits. O Yudhiṣṭhira! These qualities are going to help you achieve greater heights in the future too.

Yudhiṣṭhira: Suppose a king has had bad times and is now in a pitiable condition. If he has turned lazy but has compassion for his relatives and friends (and suppose, he does not desire to kill them by subjecting them to a war); the leaders among his citizens have no trust in him and the ministers do not guide him well. The citizens are unhappy with him. He has no money and his friends have no respect for him. Suppose there is a rift amongst the ministers too. Let us also assume that a powerful enemy is keen to attack him and this particular king does not know what to do. How do you suggest a ruler should act under such circumstances?

Bhīṣma – If the enemy is an outsider and is known to be dhārmic and clean in his material deeds, the ruler who is in penury should strike a peace treaty with him. He must regain whatever was lost by striking an amicable cord with the enemy. It does not matter if there is a threat to the particular king, to his capital city or to his people, wealth and women he should make a peace treaty at all costs. If that seems impossible, he must wage a war – he must take one of these decisions at the earliest. Even if his army is small in its size, but is found to be filled with vigour, enthusiasm and strength, he must wage a war and try his best to win it. In case he is not able to win the war, he must give his life up and reach the heavens of heroes. If he has absolutely no desire to fight a war, he must win over his citizens or his military forces through soft means, keep them in good humour and silently escape from the situation. If he protects his life, he can win over anything that is lost.

A person who foresees an impending danger and prepares to counter act the same and when the danger is at door, takes meaningful measures to counter act by being wise, will be able to enjoy all pleasures of life. The lazy one will certainly get destroyed:

There was once a lake which wasn’t very deep. Fishermen tried clearing the waters here and there trying to find fish. A fish which had foreseen this, escaped from the lake early on. A second fish got caught by a fisherman but intelligently escaped through the gaps in the net and saved its life. A third one neither planned for its escape in advance nor did it use its brains when caught and finally had to give its life up.

I will narrate yet another story to show how one can make peace with a powerful enemy and save himself from death – There was a banyan tree in a forest. A mouse had dug up a borrow at the foot of the tree and lived there. Once, a cat, an arch-rival of the mouse was caught in a hunter’s net. The mouse saw the meat that the hunter had placed near the net to attract animals and came out of its borrow to feast on it. A mongoose which caught the smell of this mouse and came to attack it. The mouse turned to the other side and found an owl waiting to pounce upon it. The mouse did not lose heart, looked at the cat and said – ‘I will save you from the trap and you please help me get away from the predators. Please let me hide below your tummy for now. Once the mongoose and the owl go away, I will bite the net and let you free.’ The cat let him stay under its stomach. Looking at this, the mongoose and the owl left the place, losing hope. The mouse, however, did not free the cat right then. It bit the net slowly. When the cat asked him what the reason was, the mouse replied – ‘If I help letting you free right away, I am sure you are going to eat me up! If I bite open the last thread right at the moment the hunter approaches, you will free yourself and run up the tree for your life. You will have no time to harm me!’ The events that followed soon after this conversation happened just as the mouse had predicted. The hunter had to return home empty handed and with his net torn into pieces. The cat later came down the tree and called the mouse out of its borrow by quoting the promises of friendship the two had made. The mouse did not come out at all. Instead, it said - ‘You and I are rivals by our very nature and by birth. How can there be lasting friendship between us? All that is only temporary; moreover, you are now hungry and you are going to eat me up for sure! The hunter might return! Go, save your life!’ The cat ran away even as he heard the hunter being mentioned. The mouse was safe and happy within its burrow.

To be continued…

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form.

The original Kannada version of Vacanabhārata is available for free online reading here. To read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri, click here.




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.

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इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


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इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

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