Ancient Indian pedagogy was designed around storytelling and poetry. We have forgotten that profound knowledge is better digested when delivered entertainingly and lightly in the beginning. Panchatantra by Vishnu Sharma was a curriculum of parables for his students designed to prepare them to undertake their duties as princes and administrators.
Kadambari is another such beautiful love story chronicling the lives of Mahashweta and Pundarika through three lifetimes. Chandrapida and Kadambari are friends of Pundarika and Mahashweta. Kadambari is a celebration of friendship and love. But in this story are often overlooked descriptions of places and times, like the nuggets describing Ujjain, Acchoda Lake in Kashmir, the Vindhya Mountains, and even the capital Vidisha of King Shudraka, on the banks of Vetravati (River Betwa).
It also contains the profoundly sage advice on kingly duties, Rajadharma, offered by Sukanasa, the prime minister of Ujjain, to the crown prince, Chandrapida.
Kadambari’s story is narrated in the voice of Vaishampayana, a parrot presented to King Shudraka by a beautiful Chandala princess.
Vaisampayana tells the King about Tarapida, who ‘equaled Nala, Bharata, and other renowned kings of old in majesty,’ and ruled from his capital, Ujjain, on the banks of River Shipra. His minister, a Brahmin named Sukanasa, who ‘by his far-reaching wisdom and administrative skill equaled Brihaspati, the counselor of Indra.’
Tarapida’s queen, Vilasavati, pines away for a child. One day, Tarapida dreams that Chandra, the Moon God, enters Vilasawati’s womb. Simultaneously, the minister dreams that a lotus (Pundarika) was placed in his wife, Manorama’s lap. Soon, boys are born to them. The prince is named Chandrapida, and the minister’s son is named Vaisampayana. The boys are sent to the school built by Tarapida himself on the banks of Shipra, just outside the capital. Excellent teachers, proficient in different branches of science are appointed to teach the students. The boys excel in learning and become such good friends that they are practically inseparable from each other. Prince Chandrapida becomes known for his physical prowess, and at the time of graduating from his school, receives Indradyuma, a magnificent horse.
Chandrapida returns home, and the King decides to install him as a crown prince, Yuvaraja. At this juncture, Sukanasa, the prime minister, gives him instructions on Rajadharma, his kingly duties.
Rajadharma is a discourse on the conduct of the King and his council of ministers. Our literature speaks about saptanga or seven branches of the state. The King is the head of the state, and he is the center of public perception. Managing this perception is of great importance and has always been the most challenging problem of the polity of any age.
The other six Angas or branches were in an advisory capacity to the King. They were the Amatya (the minister,) Rashtra (the nation, a term that encompasses the geographical area and the people), Durga (the forts), Danda (the army), Kosa (the treasury), and Mitra (the allies). All the seven branches of the state were necessarily supportive of each other.
Kadambari’s advice to the King is softer and more people-centric than the other sources, notably, Arthashastra. The King of Kadambari is advised to be a benevolent father-like figure to his citizens like any other scripture and verse. The difference is in the outlook.
In Kadambari, Sukanasa cautions him against the three-fold threat posed by the privileges of beauty, wealth, and youth. The greater the privilege, the greater is the arrogance, whereby the King becomes increasingly out of touch with his citizens. Our scriptures never let the King forget that he draws his power from the people. The concept of monarchy in Indian literature is not absolutist or despotic. The King was always under the restraint of the other six angas of the polity.
What is different about the discourse of Rajadharma in Kadambari?
The essential difference between Kadambari and other sources like Matsya Purana and Arthashastra is that in Kadambari the King has a gentler face. The other branches like the Amatya and Danda will be the disciplinarians regulating the order of the domain. The King’s purpose here is to be the icon of love and respect for his people. Sukanasa even goes on to criticize Kautilya’s Arthashastra. He says, “It contains advice of a cruel nature. Its preceptors, inordinately attached to Lakshmi, direct all their energies towards annihilating their competitors.” In other words, Sukanasa has a more benign perception of the political climate of his times, and his outlook is more towards presenting his King as a kindly and benevolent figure to his people.
Sukanasa proffers instructions that are distilled and targeted towards aiding his duties as a king, even though Chandrapida is already well-trained. He says, “Child, Chandrapida, you have already studied all the Shastras. There is nothing more that I can really offer you by way of advice. But the ‘ignorance’ arising from youth is so dense that it cannot be penetrated by the sun, nor removed by wealth, nor dispelled by the light of a powerful lamp.”
Cautioning Chandrapida against the three most potent lures of wealth, youth, and beauty, Sukanasa continues,
“The intoxication wrought by wealth is terrible and does not subside even in old age! The blindness produced by the cataract of riches cannot be cured by medicinal collyrium. The fever of arrogance cannot be mitigated by cooling remedies. The stupor brought on by sensual pleasures cannot be relieved by medicines or incantations. A person’s conscience is obscured by a thick coating of passions that will not be cleansed by repeated bathing. Royal pleasures induce an awful lethargic sleep from which it is difficult to wake up.
“You are immensely wealthy from birth, youthful, possess peerless beauty, and superhuman strength. Any one of these will cause insolence and arrogance. Typically, in early youth, intellect is clouded but is cleansed by the study of Shastras. However, the delusion caused by rajas can lure him. And yet, when a person is influenced by early youth, pleasures appear sweeter, and he goes on enjoying them. Extreme attachment to sensual pleasures ruins a person by leading him astray.
“The advice of a Guru, however sage, gives tremendous pain when it falls on the ears of a wicked or an unfortunate person. But when a sensible person gets the same advice, it makes him happier and adds luster to his face like a conch-shell ornament adds grandeur to an elephant. The guidance of a teacher removes the most reprehensible faults in a person, just as the moon dispels all darkness. This is just the right time to advise you because you have not yet tasted the pleasures of the senses. For, advice trickles away like water from a heart shattered by the cupid’s arrows!
“Noble descent or education does not always produce good behaviour in a perverse man. Does not sandalwood burn? The advice of a Guru is like a bath without water, capable of washing away all impurities, and it awakens without depressing spirits. It is especially so in the case of kings because very few are their disinterested admonishers. People follow the words of kings out of fear. Kings do not listen to advice out of arrogance. Even when they do, they treat it with contempt. Riches, regal glory, and the poison of kingly power induce false pride.”
Goddess Lakshmi was born from the churning of the milky ocean. So Sukanasa draws parallels with various other objects coming out of the milky ocean to show the potentially pernicious effect Lakshmi has on a king.
“Goddess Lakshmi arising out of the milky ocean, brought with her raga (passion) from the leaves of the Parijata tree, extreme vakrata (perverseness) from the crescent moon, chanchalata (flightiness) from the horse – ucchaishravas, (Mohana) the power to cause infatuation from kalakuta, the deadly poison that causes the person who consumes it to swoon, mada (arrogance) from wine, and extreme naishthurya (cruelty) from the kaustubha gem (which is very hard.) Lakshmi is so fickle that it is difficult to hold on to riches even when you obtain them. She does not care for longstanding friendship, noble birth, beauty, character, virtue, culture, wisdom, learning, or righteousness.
“Goddess Lakshmi dwells on the edge of the swords of the courageous and resides in the heart of Narayana. Like a dark cave of nether regions, she is full of dark deeds. Like Hidimba, whose heart was captivated by the daring deeds of Bhima, she can only be attracted by stupendously brave deeds. She produces transitory displays of prosperity, like the rainy season having flashes of lightning. She makes a timid, weak, and mean person crazy with pride by favouring him. Out of jealousy, she does not confer her own blessings upon someone blessed by Saraswati, the Goddess of learning. She does not touch a virtuous person and treats him as though he is unholy. Though attached to Vishnu, she still loves the wicked.
“Worse, when the kings are blessed by her, they still are made helpless when she warps the judgment of the pure-hearted and makes even an honest person dishonest. So, at the very time of their coronation, their courtesy is washed away by the consecrated waters poured upon them from auspicious jars! Their hearts get darkened by the smoke of the sacrificial fire; their forgiveness swept away by the edges of the darbha grass; the sight of the next world is hidden by the umbrella held over their heads; truthfulness blown away by the waving chowries; good advice drowned by the din of the cries of victory!
“Due to the lure of wealth, the kings become ambitious, greedy, and cruel. They send their armies and annihilate great families even when unprovoked. They become afflicted by timira (myopia) and fail to see far into the future. In their pursuit of riches, they become targets of hundreds of vices and never realize their own degradation.”
Sukanasa cautions the prince to use discrimination while choosing his counselors wisely.
“The kings attract selfish cheats and rogues who surround them like cranes surrounding lotus plants and heap false praise upon them. These sycophant courtiers present vice as a virtue; gambling as a diversion; seducing other people’s wives as cleverness; hunting as exercise; drinking as a sport; carelessness as bravery; neglect of one’s own wife as the absence of over-addiction to sensual pleasures; disregarding advice by elders and preceptor as refusal to be ruled by others; not chastising servants for their guilt as being kind; addiction to dancing, music, and the company of women as good taste; putting up with insults as forgiveness; willfulness as assertiveness; showing disrespect to the gods as a sign of moral strength; the applause of bards as fame; rashness as energy, and lack of discrimination as impartiality. With such courtiers, the kings think of themselves as divine and refuse to listen to good advice.
“Prince! Please conduct the business of statecraft in such a way that you will not be exposed by knaves, taken in by clever swindlers, preyed upon by courtiers, taken advantage of by the servants, deceived by rogues, enticed by women, misusing wealth, swayed by arrogance, attracted by sensual pleasures, or carried away by passions.”
Sukanasa concludes by expressing his faith in Chandrapida and blesses him.
“You are steadfast and have received an excellent education. I am happy to see that you are virtuous and possess great discrimination. Therefore I have spoken at length. But even though a man may be learned, constantly watchful, of noble birth, unwavering mind, and persevering, wealth will change him into a wicked man! Enjoy your auspicious ceremony of being installed as heir apparent. Rule the kingdom borne by your ancestors. Defeat your foes, and increase the prosperity of your realm. When a king establishes his prowess, his orders will always be carried out, just as a sage who can see into all three worlds is the one whose prophecies come true. Therefore, conquer all directions and establish your prowess!”
Chandrapida is delighted with Sukanasa’s words, and they stay with him on his way back to his palace.
This is a highly charming piece of advice, where the reader can practically hear the affection that Sukanasa entertains for his ward. Notice how closely this discourse can be applied to King Nahusha, whose arrogance sprang out of his good looks, wealth, ability, and youth. He was also surrounded by bad advisers, and he lost his position due to his own folly.
Kadambari is a highly entertaining love story spanning three life times. However, this profound essay on Rajadharma is sagaciously embedded in here. It is not for nothing that the discerning critics of his times said, बाणोच्छिष्टम्जगत्सर्वम्—the whole world is touched by Bana.
This uplifting and wise advice should serve as a guiding light for everyone even today in everyday life and not limited to just the kings, administrators, and thought leaders towards whom it is primarily directed.
- Bana’s Kadambari
- Bana’s Kadambari Translated into Kannada by Gangadhar Madivaleswar Turamari, published by Kannada Sahitya Parishat, 2011
Image credit: Daniel Villafruela
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