Mahābhārata – Episode 93 – Don't Trust Your Enemy

This article is part 93 of 96 in the series Mahābhārata

I will narrate another story to demonstrate how an enemy should never be trusted even if he appears to be soft and is gentle in his speech. There lived a king by name Brahmadatta in the city of Kāmpilya. A bird by name Pūjini had built its nest in his palace and had lived there for a long time. The queen gave birth to a son and on the same day the bird too had an offspring. The bird brought fruits from the sea shore and fed the royal child and its own. The kid grew up well as he consumed the fruit which was like amṛta. Once, when the kid was playing with the young bird, he killed it by chance. The mother bird which saw its young one getting killed thought – ‘When will these kṣatriyas ever learn friendliness? Do they even know what love means? They are gentle in their manner when they need to get some work done and later show no courtesies!’ Overcome with sorrow and anger, the bird pierced the eyes of the kid with the nails on its paws and turned him blind.

The king consoled the bird and said – ‘It is alright! Now your anger is quenched and you have given expression to your rage. Let us forget everything that has happened and be peaceful!”

The bird did not agree. It said – ‘How can my anger get quenched so easily? It has come down to us through generations. Moreover, men need birds to feed upon or to cage them. It is the same with you all. We’ll never forget what you have done unto us. My heart burns whenever I think of my dead child and I get instigated to avenge for his death again and again. If a person who has developed ulcer in his foot tries running, he will experience pain from time to time. We must give up a bad wife, a wicked son, an unworthy king, an illicit relationship and an unruly country. There is no love in a son who has taken to bad habits and there is no respect in an illicit relationship. Wife, children and family will have some significance only if the king is good. Is he really a king if he does not care for the well-being of his people? He is a criminal of a king!” With these words, the bird left from the palace.

Yudhiṣṭhira – Suppose dharma diminishes due to the nature of times and if we are troubled by robbers and enemies, what should we do?

Bhīṣma  – I will narrate what Bhāradvāja told the King Śatruntapa in this regard. The primary means for a king to keep things under control is by executing daṇḍa, i.e., governance with appropriate punishments for mistakes. People fear a person who carries a staff. One needn’t think much when there is danger round the corner. Even if you utter words filled with humility, your heart must be as sharp as a sword. Even if you strike a treaty of peace with the enemy, you should not remain inactive. Just as there is danger from a snake that is hiding in the house, danger is always imminent from an enemy who appears to be peaceful. Therefore, even if you have won over your enemy with kind words, by making promises or by falling at his feet and shedding tears, when the appropriate moment comes, you will need to destroy him just like breaking a pot into pieces by smashing it on a rock. You must display no sign of courtesies to your enemy. Make sure that he is completely annihilated and there is nothing of his remaining. There is no harm even if you end up shedding tears after having smashed his head into pieces. A thorn that is stuck to our foot will need to be pulled out completely. If it is only partially removed and a part of it sticks inside, it will cause immense pain for long durations. One must be very tough at times and soft at other times. If you are soft always, people will show contempt for you and if you are tough at all times, it will only cause fear. You must bend down before the strong ones and scare the ones who will easily get scared. You must never reveal your weakness and always keep an eye on the enemy’s shortcomings. There is no point developing enmity without reason. Don’t be unjustly adventurous. It is like biting on to the horns of a cow. There is no taste or flavour in a cow’s horns. It only causes pain to your teeth. Having said this, if a person does not take up challenging tasks due to his cowardice, he will never be successful. You must keep an eye on the times. You must appear to meditate like a baka bird (heron), plan like a wolf, display valour like a lion and finally attack like an arrow. Only if a king acts in this manner, he will be able to subdue his enemy and achieve his task.

Yudhiṣṭhira – When the adherence to dharma diminishes and there is drought all around, making food supply scare, if the number of robbers is on a rise, what should a brāhmaṇa do? How should a king act under such circumstances?

Bhīṣma – A king is responsible for the rains and for the growth and protection of crops. One must somehow try to remain alive by thinking and planning hard, using all his brains. Once, there was a competition between a śālmalī tree (silk-cotton tree – Bombax ceiba) and the wind. Before the wind fell onto the tree with all its force, the tree gave up all its branches and merely stood as a stump. However strong the wind tried to get, it could not disturb the tree at all. Once in the past Viśvāmitra stole the meat that a dog was feeding upon just to save his life. The dog belonged to a person belonging to the pariah community. Viśvāmitra was a Brahmarṣi and he did everything that was forbidden to him in this incident. Though the pariah advised Viśvāmitra against consuming such food, he paid no heed to his words and ate it to save his life.

When you are starving and dying of hunger, you might also need to help the enemy to save your life just as the pigeon did. One evening, a hunter who was tried of catching birds all day wanted to take rest and lay down under a tree on a bed of leaves. But he could not fall asleep and was terribly hungry. It was very cold too. A pigeon that was sitting on the tree saw the hunter in that condition. It gathered a few twigs together and lit fire to keep him warm. It fell into the fire to feed him, thus offering itself as his food. He was sad looking at this and let free all the birds he had caught. One of the birds he had caught was the wife of the bird which had offered itself just then. The female bird had requested her husband from within the net to somehow take care of the needs of the hunter. Now, with its husband dead, the female bird too fell into the fire and gave up its life. Incidentally, the hunter got caught in a forest fire and died as well. All the three of them went up to the divine worlds.

 

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.

Author(s)

About:

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.

Translator(s)

About:

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.

About:

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.