Aah! Spotted this lovely subhAShita again, this time inscribed inside the courtyard of an anglo-rAjapUta havelI in ambara country!
Aah! Spotted this lovely subhAShita again, this time inscribed inside the courtyard of an anglo-rAjapUta havelI in ambara country!
In the previous parts (1:hitopadesha, 2:pa~nchatantra and chANakya) we have seen how the ancient texts of nIti have treated the aphorism of vasudhaiva kuTumbakaM. In this concluding part, we shall survey the rest of the sources where this shloka has appeared and understand the contexts of its usage.
vasudhaiva kuTumbakam in vikrama-charita
Very few monarchs come close to finding a comparable place in the Hindu subconscious, which even after the elapse of a millennium, the memory of legendary bhojadeva paramAra of dhArAvatI commands. Unlike others confined to the pages of history, his legacy lives on in so many ways, in urban proverbs and rural songs, in crude jokes and scholarly legends, or in massively popular folklores inspired by siMhAsana-battIsI aka dvA-triMshata-puttalikA-siMhAsanam or vikrama-charita, which to this date are the favorite of rural storytellers.
First composed probably during the reign of bhoja in the eleventh century CE, or more likely shortly afterwards, this collection of thirty-two tales eventually became so popular that these were transmitted very early, as early as 1305, to even far away Mongolia and thence to Russia and Germany, so that even today ‘Arji Buji’ (from rAjA bhoja) is a hero in Mongolian folklore, and at least one story of Grimms’ collection of German tales is based on this work too.
The framework of the collection is such, that in its each tale bhoja tries to ascend a throne belonging to the legendary vikramAditya, supported by a base of thirty-two statuettes. In each attempt, one of the statuettes would recite to him a story about the greatness of vikramAditya and demand bhoja whether he was up to him in virtue. Hearing the tale bhoja would silently step back from the throne in humility, until the very end of the work when he would be proclaimed entitled to the throne by the very decree of Gods, a symbolic way of the author to claim for bhoja the same pedestal in glory as that of vikramAditya the chief hero of these tales.
It is in this popular work that we find our next stop for the shloka of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam, and at last here it is seen definitely in a positive sense. There are six major recensions found of vikrama-charita: a most common southern recension, manuscripts of which are found mostly from Andhra; a metrical recension with entire text in anuShtubha meter; a prose-only brief recension; two individual jaina recensions in devanAgarI mostly from central and western India; and finally a recension of vararuchi. Then there is another popular collection of tales spawned by vikrama-charita: twenty-five vetAla fables known as vetAla pa~nchaviMshati or vetAla pachIsI, the germs of which are found in one of the 32-siMhAsana tales itself.
Among all the six recensions, VK can be sited in three, coming in three separate stories.
In the southern recension mostly in Telugu manuscripts, the shloka appears in the opening of a tale called sarvasva-dakShiNA-yaj~na-varNanam recited to bhoja by the third puttalikA named suprabhA. Here the VK shloka is a very different variant from the popular one:
अयं निजः परोवेति विकल्पो भ्रान्तचेतसाम
पुनस्तूदार चित्तानां वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम (वि.च, आन्ध्र, ३.१)
ayaM nijaH paroveti vikalpo bhrAnta chetasAm
punastUdAra chittAnAM vasudhaiva kuTumbakam (VC, Andhra, 3.1)
This tale which opens with VK is about vikramArka’s bravery in renunciation. He once decides to perform a grand ya~jna in ujjayinI, in connection of which he dispatches a brAhmaNa towards south to invite Sea-God. While Sea-God did not come, he returned the brAhmaNa with a gift of four rare magical gems for vikrama, each of which had a different magical quality. By the time this envoy returns back to ujjayinI, the yaj~na is completed and the king has donated everything he had to others. Having nothing left with him, he would ask this brAhmaNa to accept any one of those gems whichever he chose. An interesting debate would ensue between the brAhmaNa, his wife, son and daughter-in-law, about which one of the four gems should be kept. In the end they being undecided, vikrama would generously grant them all the four gems, even though he had no wealth left with himself and was in need.
In the jaina recension, the shloka of VK appears in an intriguing tale known as paropakArAya-svadehAhuti-dAna, recited by suprabhA who is here the seventeenth statuette. This tale too is about the magnanimity of vikrama and his generous disposition. In this story, there is a certain ruler of an insignificant fiefdom who once overhears the praises of vikrama and inquires as to why vikrama was so great. He is told that it was because of his generosity in donations. In jealousy the ruler decides to perform his own enterprise of donations, but having not sufficient income he would think of generating wealth through tantra-prayoga. He contracts a group of sixty-four yoginI-s to perform a certain anuShThAna which every time conducted would produce for him a certain amount of gold. However each time he would have to give up his body in an arduous prayoga at the end of which the yoginI-s would resurrect him with a new body. This painful exercise was undertaken a few times while vikramAditya came to learn about it. So one day when the prayoga was on, at the right moment vikrama would appear at the scene and jump into flames. The yoginI-s would be greatly pleased and after resurrecting him, they would grant him a desired boon. The story climaxes with vikrama’s generosity, when he appeals to yoginI-s to grant wealth to the jealous ruler without having to repeatedly undergo that ordeal.
In yet another jaina recension, and a quite late one written by paNDita shubhashIla gaNi in 1437 CE, the standard shloka of VK recurs in yet another story where it represents the justice of vikrama.
In the other recensions the shloka is simply absent. Incidentally, bhojadeva also composed (or commissioned) a compendium of subhAShita-s attributed to kauTilya, titled chANakya-rAjanIti-shAstra, and VK is not found in the versions we have seen so far.
VK appears this way in vikrama-charita, representing the generosity and justice of the king, and yet, not in any sense of universal brotherhood as is commonly misunderstood these days.
vasudhaiva kuTumbakam in Classical Poetics
Now, if the authors of various recensions of vikrama-charita decided to quote VK to highlight the magnanimity of their hero, it must have surely been a popular shloka by their time representing the sentiment of generosity. Indeed VK has appeared in all of these, explicitly in sense of being quoted from some reference. If so, where could that be from?
We have to understand that by the time of their composition, the art of poetics in saMskR^ita literature had been transformed into a proper discipline of science. Precision in characterization of each emotion, appropriateness of expression, accuracy in usage of right meters for specific purposes, acceptable tolerance of liberty with grammar in poetry, how and when new words can be coined if at all – these had become commonplace knowledge among not only saMskR^ita literati but even broader elites. A few distinct, independent, and competing schools of thought on poetic discipline had already evolved and matured such as the vaidarbha, kAshmIraka and gauDIya schools.
And as far as quoting from a common text is concerned, we should remember that by this time, the system of yellow-pages-like encyclopedic anthologies of subhAShita-s, the free floating, orally transmitted, public domain maxims, adages and aphorisms, had also become quite popular. Such anthologies, often called kosha-s or saMgraha-s were not only useful to common users to enhance their expression in speech, but also certainly referred by the dramatists and prose-writers such as those of vikrama-charita, to quote suitably according to the mood and situation of the context.
subhAShitAvaliH of vallabhadeva is one such grand collection with thousands of such poetic phrases coming from dozens of poets, and classified under various topics. It lists the shloka of vasudhaiva kuTumbakaM as an ideal expression of audArya, the sentiment of generosity, in its following variant:
अयं बन्धुः परोवेति गणना लघु चेतसाम
पुंसामुदार चित्तानां वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम (उदाराः, ४९८)
ayaM bandhuH paroveti gaNanA laghu chetasAM
pumsAmudAra chittAnAM vasudhaiva kuTumbakaM (subhAShitAvaliH, udArAH, 498.)
vallabhadeva has listed VK as third in the sequence under ‘generosity’ (ironically, next to the section on niggardly misers). vallabhadeva hands us another very significant lead by assigning the authorship of this shloka to udbhaTa bhaTTa an eighth-century poet from kAshmIra, who was an important milestone in the progress of kAshmIraka brand of poetics, the development of which began with bhAmaha and completed in mammaTa.
Now let us then examine where exactly and in which context udbhaTa might have uttered this verse. Of all that is available anymore from the pen of udbhaTa, and he is said to have composed at least three major works, we are unable to find the shloka of VK. We do know through his contemporaries that he composed bhAmaha-vivaraNa a commentary on bhAmaha, kumara-sambhava a kAvya, and kAvyAlaMkAra-sAra-saMgraha, a treatise on recommended expressions and embellishments in poetry. Of these the first two are lost and not extant anymore — the first one probably falling to disuse after mammaTa had delivered the last word on the subject, and kumara-sambhava probably drowned in competition to the mahAkAvya of same title by the emperor of saMskR^ita poetry. However, his kAvyAlaMkAra-sAra-saMgraha is still extant besides other snippets of his, quoted by writers such as indurAja the teacher of savant abhinavagupta in his laghuvR^itti, or indeed like the three verses of his preserved by vallabhadeva in subhAShitAvaliH from where we came to him.
Therefore, it is entirely possible that udbhaTa might have used the shloka of VK is some works which are lost to us, although we have no means of knowing the context in which he would have used VK. But we do know that he would have been only quoting this shloka and not have been its original author as claimed by vallabhadeva, since more than a full millennium before udbhaTa, viShNUsharman had already quoted it in pa~nchatantra.
Talking of poetry and talking of vikramAditya and bhoja, another name that naturally springs up in our minds is bhartR^ihari, the maverick elder brother of vikramAditya. bhartR^ihari’s three famous volumes of a hundred shloka-s each, nIti-shatakam, vairAgya-shatakam, and shR^iMgAra-shatakam, are very widespread and commonly found. Although the contents of shataka-s vary between various versions of theirs, the sholka of VK is not found in any of these that we have seen so far except for one edition compiled by Marxist historian D.D. Kosambi. [bhartR^ihari-viracita-shatakatrayAdi-subhAShita-saMgraha, D.D.Kosambi (1948.)]. However, considering the overwhelming evidence of VK being absent in a vast majority of various recensions of bhartR^ihari’s trayI, it seems more sensible to conclude that it must have been an interpolation in this single source where kosambi sighted it. Besides, as the earlier works already quote this shloka, that rules out its authorship to bhartR^ihari.
vasudhaiva kuTumbakam in upaniShada
So far we have seen hitopadesha and pa~nchatantra, compendiums of aphorisms of kauTilya and bhartR^ihari, Andhra and jaina recensions of vikrama-charita, encyclopedic anthology by vallabhadeva and through him the snippets of udbhaTa. Nowhere, not in the least, do the authors of any of these works ever claim to be the origin of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam. In every single instance, the verse has been explicitly quoted as a remark often appended with ‘as has been said’.
But there is one and the only one exception to this where this shloka comes as a natural, inherent and intrinsic part of the base text, and that is why we had kept that source to be examined in the end.
In the seventh adhikaraNa of the second chapter of shrI-bhAShyam, the prominent and most celebrated commentary on bramha-sUtra, AchArya rAmAnuja is critiquing the philosophies of kApAla, kAlamukha and pAshupata schools of shaiva mata-s in its thirty-sixth sUtra. There, he quotes in support of his arguments the first line of a rather less known and referred upaniShada – mahopaniShada (“eko ha vai nArAyaNa AsinnabramhA neshAnaH… sa ekAkI na ramate” MU1.1). Now this upaniShada, although not as much circulated or read as the others, is certainly not devoid of authenticity and importance. For, we also find many other classical vedAntins making references to mahopaniShada, including but not limited to yamunAchArya in puruSha-nirNaya, nArAyaNArya in tattva-nirNaya, and yAdavaprakAsha in his commentary on the bhagavadgItA, to mention but a few.
The shloka of vasudhiava-kuTumbakam, a slightly different variant of it, is to be found in this mahopaniShada as the seventy-second shloka of its sixth chapter. Here instead of ‘ayaM nijaH paroveti’, the shloka reads as ‘ayaM bandhurayaM neti’ (‘this is a friend and that one not’), while the rest of the anuShTubha remains the same.
To understand the total meaning and context of VK here, quoted below are the shloka-s 70-73 from its sixth chapter:
उदारः पेशलाचारः सर्वाचारानुवृत्तिमान
अन्तःसङ्ग-परित्यागी बहिः संभारवानिव
अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसां
उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकं
भावाभाव विनिर्मुक्तं जरामरणवर्जितं
प्रशान्त कलनारभ्यं नीरागं पदमाश्रय
एषा ब्राम्ही स्थितिः स्वच्छा निष्कामा विगतामया
आदाय विहरन्नेवं संकटेषु न मुह्यति
The above text is describing the lakShaNa and behaviour of great men who are elevated to the coveted brAmhI sthiti of spiritual realm. The above says:
“(That elevated one in brAmhI sthiti) is generous, always clean in behaviour, in accordance to the established norms of conduct, and free from all attachments in life. From inside, he has renounced everything, even though outwardly he would appear to carry out worldly duties (like any other mortal. However, unlike) the small hearts of (ordinary) people (who discriminate by) saying ‘This one is a friend and that one a stranger’ these (great men in brAmhI-sthiti) are of magnanimous hearts and embrace the entire world as their own family. They have gained liberation from all constraints of ordinary life, like old age and death; their fires (of klesha-s) have become extinguished; and in them no attachment finds any shelter (anymore). Such (Listen O best amongst the brAhmaNa-s, are those who have achieved) the status of brAmhI sthiti, the absolutely pure; that which is beyond all cravings and sufferings. Equipped with such attributes they freely roam (the earth), without knowing any calamity.”
Not a recommendation or prescription of any sort, not an ideal or a goal for soceity to acheive, having nothing to do with anything outside the realm of individual spirituality, and simply a statement on the very nature of the bramhavetta-s of highest attainment.
We had set out on an excursion into the forest of saMskR^ita literature, to figure out where does the famed verse of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam come from, what was the sense and context in which the ancient AchArya-s had uttered it, and whether they ever meant this shloka to mean a recommendation for unconditional universal brotherhood or a principle of state. We also wanted to figure out the origin as well as transmission of the shloka through the periods of Hindu history.
1. mahopaniShada (6.72) uses the shloka to describe one of the lakShaNa-s of brAmhI-sthiti of highest level of spiritual progress. As we noted earlier, mahopaniShada is the only text where the shloka of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam is the natural and intrinsic part of the rest of the text, whereas in others the shloka has been quoted as an explicit quotation. We have therefore a very strong reason to comfortably believe that this upaniShada might be the original source of this shloka. Indeed, by the very nature, upaniShadakAra-s, tend to be original except for quoting the passages of or retelling the themes from veda-s or at times from other upaniShada-s, but never from any external literature, whereas the reverse can be seen very often. Besides, an upaniShada quoting an already popular shloaka and in a natural sense of its integral text is unimaginable. Indeed the upaniShada having VK and so many early texts as the pa~nchatantra quoting it, itself would support an early date for this part of the mahopaniShada if not whole.
Besides, so many of vedAntin commentators especially of vaiShNava bent, quoting it in their works supports its popularity: in shrI-bhAShyam (2.7.36) by rAmAnujAcharya (~1080 CE), in puruSha-nirNaya by yamunAchArya, in tattva-nirNaya by nArAyaNArya, in a commentary on the bhagavadgItA by yAdava prakAsha, and a complete commentary on mahopaniShada by sha~nkarAnanda (~1300 CE).
The AchArya of mAnasataraMgiNI suggests that the parts of mahopaniShada might actually have predated mahAbhArata, as supported by not one but two references to the mahopaniShada in the nArAyaNIya section of the shAnti parvan as follows:
महोपनिषदं मन्त्रम अधीयानान स्वरान्वितम
पञ्चोपनिषदैर मन्त्रैर मनसा ध्यायतः शुची || १२.३२५.२
इदं महोपनिषदं चतुर्वेद-समन्वितम
सांख्ययोगकृतं तेन पञ्चरात्रानुशब्दितम || १२.३२६.१००
(नारायणीय, शान्तिपर्व, महाभारत)
It does seem likely that the pre-mantramArga pA~ncharAtra vaiShNava-s had a mahopaniShada that was the core of the text that today survives under that name, and VK might be present in that ur-text of mahopaniShada. This would also mean that a such a mahopaniShada was in place before it became widely popular and viShNusharman quoted it.
2. pa~nchatantra (5.3.37) has it come from a declared fool who is killed by his naivety, suggesting it as a symbol of impracticality. This text was certainly written towards the end of the mauryan empire. In political sphere, smaller janapada-s were witnessing a revival along side foreign invasions. In social sphere, jaina, bauddha and vaiShNava mata-s were witnessing popularity. It must have been under such politico-social conditions, and in response to the pacifist tendencies, that viShNusharman must have warned against the tendency represented by vasudhaiva kuTumbakam, by making it an utterance of a fool who dies from his naivety itself.
3. hitopadesha (1.3.71) goes a step further along the same lines as pa~nchatantra, and clearly demonstrated through two satires, its usage by subversionists as well as tendency of gullible to fall for it. It also praises the realist heroes that are not influenced by VK-speech.
Immediately preceding to its composition, one should also notice the southern version of pa~nchatantra-s mentioning a similar message in their tales, an iconographic representation of which was even sculpted on the bas-relief of the mahAbalIpuram temple by the pallava-s, an image of which is presented in the end of this article.
4. kauTilyan compendiums don’t have VK, except for two minor recensions, and kauTilyan thought is incompatible with what is generally understood as the sentiment of VK.
5. 8th century udbhaTa bhaTTa might have quoted it in some poetical work that is no more extant, and therefore we don’t know its context.
6. subhAShitAvaliH (udArAH.498.) lists this as a subhAShita for its poetic value in representing kindness. Also important to note is that by this time, people had already forgotten the source of the shloka, as vallabhadeva mistakenly attributes its origin to eighth century kashMiraka poet udbhaTa, not knowing that it was present even in such popular texts as the pa~nchatantra.
7. The three recensions of vikrama-charita (Andhra 3.1, Jaina 17.3, Jaina-shubhashIla 6.270) quote VK to stand for generosity and justice, but still not any universal brotherhood.
Now we can safely conclude by saying that this shloka, snatched away from the original contexts as mahopaniShada presented it in, and disregarding how hitopadesha and pa~nchatantra and vikramacharita have used it, when it is sited by politicians and policy-makers as an ancient authority of liberalism and internationalism, the shloka is no more than a hoax. When our scholars site this shloka as an evidence of some sort of an ancient Hindu vision of utopic universal brotherhood, the shloka is again no more than a hoax. And when we hear our religious preachers sermonise using the shloka for people to follow the ‘principles’ of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam, the shloka is no more than a hoax in that context too.
In the previous part, we had gleaned through hitopadesha to understand the message of the ancient AchArya of politics about ‘vasudhaiva kuTumbakam’, encapsulated in a pair of satirical fables. Far from coming as an ideal or a recommendation, the shloka there was made to come from a shrewd subversionist, the lesson being that one has to exercise discretion from unwittingly trusting such brotherhood-preachers, and that the price for befriending and sheltering the wrong kind under the influence of such unconditional brotherhood, is nothing less than self-destruction. In the present part we continue our excursion into other primary saMskR^ita sources, in particular pa~nchatantra and chANakyan literature, to understand the total meaning and context of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam.
vasudhaiva kuTumbakam in pa~nchatantra
While developing the textbook of hitopadesha, nArAyaNa paNDita had the benefit of referring to, besides other sources, the most widespread repository of fables ever composed on planet, the great pa~nchatantra. In the preface of hitopadesha, nArAyaNa paNDita acknowledges that he composed hitopadesh by “extracting” from pa~nchatantra and the other texts:
“पञ्चतंत्रात्तथान्यस्मात ग्रन्थाद्कृष्य लिख्यते” (हितोपदेश १.९)
Many scholars have convincingly demonstrated that hitopadesha is a contextualized eastern recension of an earlier southern recension of pa~nchatantra.
Now, this amazing and fairly ancient work of AchArya viShNusharman, pa~nchatantra is probably the single most traveled, widespread and translated work of the ancient world, and dateable with fair certainty back to the late mauryan period, of around third century before CE. The place of its composition is a matter of debates, and varying opinions place it from Kashmir to Nepal to South India. Beyond any doubt however is that soon after its composition, it got transmitted amazingly to almost all the contemporary major civilizations. As a result, fairly ancient derivations of pa~nchatantra are found under various names in a number of languages, notably in Pehlavi and Persian, Syriac and Turkic, Greek and Latin, Hebrew and Arabic, Tibetan and Chinese. Several of the traditional fables of Europe such as those in Pilpay’s, Aesop’s, Grimm’s and of Persian-Arabic literature are indebted to pa~nchatantra for their origins.
hitopadesha not only inherited from pa~nchatantra the marvelous structure of looping tales, and plots of fables, but also various shloka-s in exact verbatim, and this includes the one of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam too. In aparIkshita-kArakam, the fifth tantra of pa~nchatantra, AchArya viShNusharman records it in a fable known as ‘siMha kAraka mUrkha brAhmaNa kathA’, and assigns VK to come from a declared fool. To understand the attitude of this nIti-text towards VK, a condensed version of that fable is presented below:
“Once upon a time there lived a group of four young brAhmaNa friends in some nondescript village. Three of these were fools, although very erudite and deep gone in learning of shAstra-s. On the other hand the fourth one was altogether lacking in shAstra-learning, but fairly intelligent.
The learned members of this group once contemplated upon the merits of moving to a city where they could put their scholarship to better use. After all, what good was all the learning if it did not yield them wealth and fame? The idea was approved unanimously and the group at once took off towards a large city at a fair journey’s distance.
While going forth on their way, the oldest of the scholar-fools expressed his opinion that it was futile for the un-erudite one to join the excursion. Although the intelligence of that fellow was not in doubt, it was useless in absence of any formal learning, he said. The second scholar-fool agreed too and suggested that the uneducated one should rather return back to their home-village.
However the third scholar-fool was more generous who reminded the party that although worthless, the fourth one was their childhood friend and therefore they ought to allow him in sharing their exploits. It is at this juncture in the story, that this third fool recites the shloka of vasudhaiva-kuTumbakam, and convinced the other two scholar-fools, to let the uneducated one remain in the party. And on they went.
Upon going a little further the travelers came upon a decaying carcass of some creature been long dead. Seeing that, the learned members immediately decided to put their learning to test by making the dead creature come alive.
The scholar-fool number-one used his knowledge in gathering and properly reassembling the skeleton according to its accurate anatomy. The number-two successfully applied his formulae in adding organs, flesh, and skin. Our VK-reciting third one then began his experiments of breathing prANa into it to finally resurrect it.
At this point the fourth fellow, the intelligent though uneducated one, interrupted them. ‘Friends, wait a minute,’ warned the intelligent one, ‘listen, this dead-body appears like that of a lion, and you people want to bring it to life. Surely, my learned friends, if you resurrect the lion, it would put our own lives into grave danger. Therefore, for the sake of our lives better let the beast remain as safely dead as it now is, and move on to our destination.’
But the VK-reciting stupid-scholar wouldn’t listen to these words of common-sense and the warning was shrugged aside.
At last seeing the scholars foolishly bent upon performing the suicidal act, the wise one at once climbed the tallest tree he could locate nearby. As anticipated, the VK-reciter successfully resurrected the lion, and no sooner did the lion come alive, it devoured all the three foolish brAhmaNa-s. Only the uneducated one, having wisely climbed the tree, escaped the sorry fate of their shAstra-knowing friends and returned home lamenting for the unnecessary and foolish ends of his mates, especially the kind-hearted but naive VK-reciting one.”
This is the story inside which vasudhaiva kuTumbakaM finds a place in pa~nchatantra.
Surely if nArAyaNa paNDita had made some rather acidic use of VK in satires of hitopadesha, viShNusharman did not display much regard for it either when he first declared this character a mUrkha, an idiot, and then had this idiotic character recite the shloka of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam. In the argument of this foolish brAhmaNa which he delivers to convince his other friends about letting the fourth friend continue in the party, quoting this shloka seems quite unnecessary or even grossly irrelevant. It does appear likely that the shloka was deliberately inserted in the dialog by viShNusharman to be made to come from a foolish character, the lesson being that un-erudite commonsense is far superior to impractical adherence to shAstrIya-learning.
Furthermore, the great viShNusharman leaves no room for any doubt about his attitude towards VK, when he lets its preacher, a declared fool already, perish by his own stupidity, meeting the same end as that of the VK-reciting Jackal of hitopadesha who was slain by subuddhi the Crow, the realist hero.
We now have ample reasons to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that both the textbooks on nIti-education – pa~nchatantra and hitopadesha – are very critical of the tendency of unconditional application of vasudhaiva kuTumbakaM in the realm of worldly matters. Their message about VK is loud and clear. One: the brotherhood-preaching that VK represents, is a popular instrument of subversion; two: gullible are often seen foolishly seized by it; and three: both are destroyed.
vasudhaiva kuTumbakam and kauTilya’s artha-shAstra
Both of these textbooks of nIti, pa~nchatantra and hitopadesha, transmit many popular shloka-s to their students, quoting from several original sources such as itihAsa-purANa-s and earlier nIti-literature. One of the authors whom both predominantly quote is viShNugupta aka chANakya or kauTilya. In fact, in the preface of pa~nchatantra, right in the first two lines, viShNusharman reverently acknowledges kauTilya as a foremost luminary of politics and humbly proposes himself to be in the same line of intellectual succession, besides acknowledging that pa~nchatantra is written by viShNusharman after studying entire artha-shAstra of chANakya:
मनवे वाचस्पतये शुक्राय पाराशराय ससुताय
चाणक्याय च विदुषे नमोस्तु नयशास्त्र-कर्तृभ्यः ||
सकलार्थशास्त्रसारं जगति समालोक्य विष्णुशर्मेदम
तन्त्रैः पञ्चभिर एतच्चकार सुमनोहरं शास्त्रं ||
पञ्चतन्त्र (१, २)
Having fulfilled his mission of establishing the mauryan Empire and stabilizing it as its Prime Minister, kauTilya is said to have retired to southern India where he dedicated long years in collecting and editing various extant sources on the matters of polity and economics, and compiling a unified compendium along with his own contributions as arthashAstra. As we know, in even farther ancient India, all the knowledge used to get appended into the common body of shAstra-s, and the growing size of that knowledge must have, after a point, become exceedingly hard to manage. Therefore at some point in history, we start noticing that Hindus started to divide the common shAstra-s into independent shAstra-s for each realm of life – viz. dharma-shAstra-s, artha-shAstra-s, kAma-shAstra-s etc. We even notice the emergence of shAstra for niche subjects such as nATya-shAstra for dramatics, and pAka-shAstra for cookery and so on.
kauTilya’s work should therefore be seen in this context as a window through which we can understand the political philosophy of ancient Hindus, not only of kauTilya but also of even earlier than him. Indeed, in preparing arthashAstra, he consulted all the important sources from at least five distinct schools of politics then prevailing (mAnava, bArhaspatya, aushanasa, pArAshara, and AmbhIya) and quotes in arthashAstra from the works of not less than thirteen individual authors of past whom he refers by name: bhAradvAja, vishAlAksha, pArAshara, pishuna, kauNapadanta, vAtavyAdhi, bAhudanti-putra, kAtyAyana, kaNi~Nka-bhAradvAja, dIrgha-chArAyaNa, ghoTaka-mukha, ki~njalka, and pishuna-putra. Here it is important to highlight that kauTilya has quoted the opinions of these earlier authors not only where he agreed with them, but also where he radically disagreed. Under various topics, he first quotes them, and then expresses his personal agreement or disagreement along with an explanation.
Even as the preceding paragraphs might have appeared like a digression from our subject of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam, but it was indispensable to establish first the background of kauTilya’s arthashAstra, and to show that although the various works of all of those individual authors are not extant anymore, kauTilya’s artha-shAstra alone, gives us a single source to understand the authentic political thought process of Hindus as propagated by several ancient AchAryas of nIti. Having said this, not only the verse of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam is missing in artha-shAstra, but in fact the sentiment is very incompatible with what they thought of state policy.
If unconditionally applied in the realm of statecraft as a pivotal hinge, VK manifests itself as it has done, in a state with pusillanimity and diffidence as its operating principles, and banal bhai-bhai rhetoric as its anthem. It summarily stands for a Soft State with minimalistic governance leaning towards an organized milder anarchy. And kauTilya has nothing but contempt for such a state.
Contrary to such romanticist-anarchic tendencies, kauTilya is a realist and his worldview of basic human nature and society is grounded in perceivable hard realities. He does not consider ‘brotherhood’ is the core of the state-principle but ‘Power to punish the wicked’. In the first book of artha-shAstra kauTilya states, ‘अप्रणीतो हि मत्स्यन्यायम उद्भावयन्ति बलीयान, अबलम हि ग्रसते दण्डधर अभावे’: that (far from being a family) human society in its very basic nature is like a group of fishes in water, where mightier ones devour the weak, unless a chastising rod is exercised. And therefore the danDa, the chastising rod and power and willingness to wield it, are at the core of the statecraft. Artha is the very purpose of the society he says, by dharma that is achieved, and only daNDa sustains it.
In this worldview he is joined by bhIShma, (whom kauTilya refers as kauNapadanta), expressing the same opinion to the eldest pANdava in the sixty-seventh chapter of shAnti-parvan. Manu too expresses a similar opinion, “यदि न प्रणयेत राजा दण्डम दण्ड्येश्वतन्द्रितः जले मत्स्यानिवाहिंस्यान दुर्बलान बलवत्तराः” (मनुस्मृति ७.२०): If the state would stop un-wearisomely exercising the chastising rod on those deserving to be chastised, the wicked would kill the meek like fish do in water.” So these AchArya-s are abundantly clear that if the upholders of the state absolve themselves of their primordial duty, under VK-belief or otherwise, of exercising the daNDa, then there will be no kuTumbakam but only a matsya-nyAya.
Unlike the world-a-family model, kauTilya’s arthashAstra also holds that wickedness and enemies are always going to be around and therefore a firm discretion is needed in the matters of statecraft. Identifying the enemies of the country and not hesitating to crush them relentlessly, is an essential part of the duties of statesmen to maintain a sustainable order. Just sample a few of kauTilya’s utterances: Like sandalwood does not abound every forest, like each elephant does not carry a mANikya, remember this that not everyone is a gentlemen (CND 2.9); By various means, one should protect one’s own people and hurt those of the enemy (AS 14.3); My Lord, follow the rule that there should be no delay in putting down the enemy, even a very strong confederacy of the wicked people. Never be tiresome or hesitate in applying full force against them (AS 5.4).
So, I believe we can move on by saying that at least in kauTilya’s opinion, the operating guideline of statesmen holding the duty-rod of the state is not to preach the romantic anarchy of ‘vasudhaiva kuTumbakam’, but a very realistic distinction between the friend and foe, and an unhesitating suppression of the inimical forces is needed for a sustainable peace in society.
vasudhaiva kuTumbakam in other works of kauTilya
Besides artha-shAstra, there are some other collections that carry the name of chANakya, and contain hundreds of aphorisms popularly attributed to him. Some popular compendiums that carry the name of chANakya include: laghu-chANakya, vR^iddha-chANakya, chANakya-nIti-darpaNaM, chANakya-nIti-shAstra, chANakya-nIti-shataka, chANakya-rAja-nIti-shAstra, chANakyaM, chANakya-shatakaM, chANakya-nIti-vyavahAra-sAra-saMgraha, chANakya-sUtrANi, and rAja-nIti. A few in this list are published, while the most are in manuscript form in various libraries around the world.
Of the above list, the first four – laghu-chANakya, vR^iddha-chANakya, chANakya-nIti-darpaNaM, chANakya-nIti-shAstra – are certainly very widespread, as their manuscripts have been found from a diversity of places as distant as Tamilnadu and Nepal, Gujarat and Bengal, Rajasthan and Karnataka. These four therefore are fairly ancient collections containing as it seems, ‘the other’ sayings from the pen of chANakya himself. For the rest, it appears more sensible that the later composers might have added the luminary’s name to enhance the credibility and popularity of their own products.
Coming back to vasudhaiva kuTumbakam, of all the secondary collections of chANakya’s sayings, vasudhaiva kuTumbakaM is found in only one single manuscript of vR^iddha chANakya, in the Tanjore recension, in addition to a certain version of chANakya-nIti-shAstra. In all other widespread manuscripts and sources on the rest of the compendiums of chANakya’s aphorisms, VK is simply non-existent just like in artha-shAstra, suggesting a later interpolation by some scribes in these two individual manuscripts, quoting from some other sources.
Ludwig Sternbach had done a signal work in collecting and analyzing all the different sources of chANakya’s sayings to compose a unified single compendium of his authentic original aphorisms. He employed a very sound statistical technique to scrub the interpolations. Using this methodology, vasudhaiva kuTumbakaM appears to be a later interpolation coming from some other non-chANakyan source. Sternbach has also demonstrated various other aphorisms popularly thought to be of chANakya to actually be coming from earlier texts like mahAbhArata, showing how those have crept into chANakya’s compendiums, suggesting interpolation.
Above all, when the authentic line of thought of chANakya, as represented by artha-shAstra, is brought into consideration, it becomes an impossibility that he would ever recommend VK as a guideline for statecraft or a policy cornerstone for society.
Credit for that innovation is safely with the wise politicians of modern India.
ayaM nijaH paroveti gaNanA laghu-chetasAM
udAra charitAnAM tu vasudhaiva kuTumbhakaM
[“This is my own and that a stranger” – is the calculation of the narrow-minded
For the magnanimous-hearts however, the entire earth is but a family]
If a survey of the saMskR^ita verses most quoted in the modern times were undertaken, the above would certainly secure the top rank. Along with its short form ‘vasudhaiva kuTumbakam’, this shloka somehow finds a massive popularity among the modern Hindus. Of late though, the secular variety seems to have developed quite a fetish for it and the verse has gained a rhetorical note. Apparently it offers them an aesthetic emblem of multiculturalism and universalism, as well as an authority of yore to denounce the nationalistic thought as narrow-minded. Even the most saMskR^ita-phobic ones therefore can be seen reciting this shloka on every sundry occasion.
While we can site several examples of its interesting usage, we shall limit to the following few:
“…India that once, 2000 years ago, had proclaimed vasudeva(sic) kutumbakam – the world is one family…”: Ms. Sonia Gandhi in her acceptance speech on occasion of being conferred the “Grand Officer of the Order of Leopold” by Belgian government for her “constructive nationalism and efforts to foster a multicultural, tolerant society in India”, on November 11, 2006 at Brussels / Bozar.
“In ancient India the liberal perspective was defined by the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam… in contradiction to the ‘Clash of Civilizations’… the theory I don’t agree with. We have to reclaim that liberal space.” : Dr. Manmohan Singh, The Prime Minister of India, Address to the Harvard Alumni Association, March 25, 2006 at New Delhi.
The shloka of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam being sited to propose it as a contrasting paradigm to the Samuel Huntington’s theory of Clash of Civilizations, is both iconic and profound. The shloka is invoked by the speakers to show their liberalist Nehruvian internationalism to be a continuity of the ancient Hindu paradigm; the appeal is made to the Hindu past for approaval and attestation of their ideology; and claim is laid to be the legitimate heir of the continuity of the ancient thought process and legacy.
Had it been limited to the shloka’s popularity among the speech-writers to add some aesthetic value to the speeches, not much harm done. But what is much more profound comes in the following:
Speaking in Rajya Sabha on December 5, 2007, the Union Minister for External Affaires Mr. Pranab Mukherjee made it very unambiguous when he jubilantly declared:
“Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is our foreign policy“.
Indeed, VK has also become an unchallenged cornerstone of India’s official policy-making since independence, as has been officially proclaimed so on several occasions. No wonder that as a symbolic reflection, VK has been literally inscribed in stone, on the walls of the India’s Parliament House.
Now, thanks to the continuous rhetoric, traditional Hindus too seem to have taken to this shloka like a duck to the water. vasudhaiva kuTumbakam is often cited by them as an evidence of how the ancient sages had set for themselves, and for generations thereafter, the principles of an unconditional universal brotherhood. It has been generally taken for granted that VK is of unquestionable value, a traditional nIti recommended by wise ancestors of how to deal with the world. We can notice the shloka being quoted uncritically not only by Hindutva ideologues in their writings and speeches but also popular religious leaders in their discourses without getting tired.
However, this prominence to VK in the modern public discourse springs from a superficial or even a perverted understanding. If we study the original sources which recited it in the first place, it becomes amazingly apparent that its popular understanding is simply blundered, and its application in the matters of policy is a height of ignorance and squarely flawed.
That is precisely the objective of this note in which we shall glean through the original sources, recognize the contexts in which the ancient Hindu-s uttered VK, and most importantly, validate whether it was meant by them as a recommendation.
Contrary to the popular myths, the verse is neither located in R^igveda nor in mahAbhArata, neither in manusmR^iti nor in the purANa-s. Thus far, we have seen the verse in the following saMskR^ita sources: hitopadesha, pa~nchatantra, certain compendiums of chANakya and bhaR^trihari, mahA-upaniShadam, certain recensions of vikrama-charita, and finally in the works of the great kAshmIraka poet bhaTTa udbhaTa. While there might be additional sources of the verse as well, which we might identify in future, here we shall make an excursion into these texts identified so far, and understand the proper contexts and true purport of VK in each occurrence.
vasudhaiva kuTumbakam in hitopadesha
That this verse comes to us from the massive web of tales called hitopadesha, this I accidentally learnt while reading the preface of Mahadevi Varma’s collection of autobiographical essays called “Mera Parivar” (My Family). The towering modern-Hindi poetess was a lover of animals and had in her home a curious gathering of different creatures which is what she described as her family in this book. The preface compares her family to ‘vasudhaiva kuTumbakam of the creatures described in pa~nchatantra’ — although the author would have really meant hitopadesha — and that is how I came upon pa~nchatantra and hitopadesha in search for origins of VK.
Several centuries before Friedrich Froebel proposed the ideas about educating the child through entertaining activities – kindergarten as he called it – teaching young pupils through entertainment must have been a successful practice in India. If the terse instructions are wrapped inside intriguing and memorable tales, not only are the lessons better received by the instructed, but also acquire meaningfulness and longevity of the teaching — arguably the discovery of this principle is to the credit of ancient Hindu-s, and hitopadesha is a shining evidence of the same. It was compiled by nArAyaNa paNDita in roughly 5th century of the CE either in magadha or in bangal, as a textbook for two young princes who being hard at studies were dropouts from the conventional schooling.
Organized into four chapters, hitopadesha is a fascinating loop of one tale inside the other which itself is inside the other tale – going all the way back up to the kathAmukha or the face-tale. Vasudhaiva kuTumbakam makes its sole appearance in its first chapter known as mitra-lAbhaH (‘Gaining of Friends’). A mouse named hiraNyaka relates to his friend laghu-patanaka the Crow, a story about another Crow, the Deer and ksudrabuddhi the Jackal, and inside this story ksudrabuddhi the Jackal would recite VK as a reaction after hearing from this Crow another story known as ‘jaradgava the Vulture and dIrghakarNa the Cat’.
Encapsulated in this intriguing way within three layers of fables is this important message about VK that nArAyaNa paNDita the great teacher of politics relayed to his pupils. To understand the context in which VK is quoted and more importantly the instruction of the teacher about it, let us enjoy these two stories: one in which the VK is uttered; and another in response to which it is uttered. Reproduced in the following paragraphs are both of these in a condensed form.
subuddhi the Crow, chitrA~Nga the Deer, and ksudrabuddhi the Jackal
“Long long ago, in the champakavaTI forest of magadha, there lived two friends – a Deer called chitrA~Nga and a Crow named subuddhi. It so happened that a Jackal named kshudra-buddhi, (the proposer of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam, as we shall soon see), was passing by and his eyes caught hold of the healthy Deer as he was grazing nearby. The lust to devour him immediately arose in the Jackal’s mind, but knowing Deer to be too swift in a chase, he decided to fall back on his cunning – to win first the confidence of the Deer. The VK-preacher therefore approached the Deer, saluted him, and introduced himself as a lonely newcomer with friendly intentions, and proposed a friendship and brotherhood with the Deer. The naive Deer fell for the sweet words of kshudra-buddhi, and not knowing his true intentions, invited him to his own dwellings.
So, they started towards the Deer’s place, and on their way sitting on the branches of a champaka tree was Deer’s old and wise friend subuddhi the Crow. Seeing them passing by, the Crow asked the Deer, ‘O chitrA~Nga, who is this second fellow with you? ‘ ‘A Jackal, my new friend’, answered the Deer. To this, the Crow asked: ‘But, do you know him well enough? One should never extend friendship and shelter to anyone without knowing their real nature and intentions, learning the history of their ilk and giving them a test of time.’ The Deer lightly shrugged this aside, saying, ‘But this Jackal is very friendly’.
Seeing his friend in delusions, the Crow began relating to him a story about how jaradgava a Vulture was killed by unwisely trusting an impostor (that story reproduced later below). He warned the Deer against trusting the Jackal without learning more about him.
So far the Jackal had kept quiet, and it is at this juncture that he opened his argument with the famous shloka of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam, demanding the Deer to not be of a narrow mind by considering the Crow a friend and himself an alien. The vasudhaiva-kuTumbakam discourse successfully put to rest all doubts that had arisen in the Deer’s mind, and dismissing the Crow’s wise council he went ahead in bringing the VK-preacher into his home.”
The remainder of the story can be summed up in two sentences. The cunning VK-reciting Jackal started dwelling with the naive Deer, and as soon as the opportunity arose, pushed him into a deadly trap. However before he could kill the Deer, our wise hero subuddhi the Crow devised a clever trick by which not only the Deer was rescued but also the VK-reciting Jackal was slain.
Now, that is the context in which VK is recorded in the hitopadesha by the great paNDita of politics nArAyaNa, and he is unambiguously clear about its application when he assigns this shloka to come from a brotherhood-preaching shrewd subversionist. It gives a clear warning against blindly welcoming any idea, individual or group without due diligence of studying their history, nature and intent.
However, let us also read the other story, in response to which the VK is uttered in hitopadesha, which would leave absolutely no room for any doubts in this matter of how hitopadesha treats vasudhaiva kuTumbakam:
jaradgava the Vulture and dIrghakarNa the Cat
While warning his friend against trusting the Jackal, subuddhi the Crow thus addressed the Deer:
“There, on the banks of the mighty bhAgIrathI is a cliff called gR^idharakUTa, and upon it grew a great fig-tree. In the shelter of its hollow lived an old Vulture named jaradgava, who due to old age had neither any eyesight left in his eyes nor nails in his claws. The other birds that lived on that tree were friendly to him, and out of pity used to donate from their own food small portions to him, and this way the poor fellow was passing his days. In return, jaradgava used to guard the little offspring of the birds when the parent birds were away.
One day, when the older birds were gone, a Cat called dIrghakarNa (‘Long Eared’) came there to make a meal out of the nestlings; and those tiny birds alarmed at seeing him, created noise that roused jaradgava from his slumber. ‘Who comes there?’ demanded jaradgava. Now dIrghakarNa, on noticing the big Vulture, aborted his meal plans, but as a flight was not possible he resolved to trust his destiny and to approach tactfully. ‘Arya,’ he responded, ‘my salutes to you!’ ‘Who is that?’ asked the Vulture. ‘A Cat,’ answered dIrghakarNa. ‘Lay off, Cat, or I shall slay you,’ shouted the Vulture. ‘I am ready to die if I deserve death,’ said the Cat, ‘but first let me be heard.’ ‘OK then, tell me first your purpose of arrival.’ asked jaradgava.
‘I live,’ melodramatically began dIrghakarNa, ‘on the banks of ga~NgA, bathing daily, performing the penance of chandrAyaNa vrata, strictly being a vegetarian like a bramachArI. The birds that come there, speak very highly of you as the one firmly established in dharma and worthy of all respects. So with my curiosity greatly aroused about you, I decided to drop by Sir, to learn from you about nIti and dharma.’
‘You appear like so deep gone in learning,’ he continued, ‘and still Sir, I am surprised that your sense of dharma tells you to be ready to slay a guest! Doesn’t the nIti say unambiguously about what a man’s dharma is towards his guests?’ The Cat then went on delivering an elaborate speech, quoting eloquently from the shAstra-s about the dharma and cut quite an impressive lecture on peace and non-violence.
Shrugging that onslaught of quotations from shAstra-s aside, wise jaradgava interrupted, ‘Listen, I know only this, that you are a cat and the cats eat meat. Since here are young birds that I am given to protect, I warn you one last time – leave immediately.’
Upon this, dIrghakarNa intensified his drama, and touching the ground with his two claws and then his ears, invoking all the Gods, he said, ‘I have overcome all the passions by practicing the chandrAyaNa vrata; I have learnt the shAstra-s; and I am a follower of the religion that is called non-violence itself. And so he went on.
Such prolonged drama of the Cat finally silenced the old Vulture, who at last allowed him to live in the hollow of the tree with himself.
With the passage of days, and having gained more confidence of the Vulture, the Cat slowly began picking the nestlings for his meal. After devouring them one by one, the cunning fellow would drop their bones near the hollow of jaradgava, who being blind did not notice it.
One day, alarmed at their children going missing, the parent birds began investigating. The shrewd cat quickly made his escape, and the birds soon discovered the bones near the hollow of jaradgava. They at once inferred that their children had been eaten away by the old Vulture in whom they had placed their trust. Thus enraged the birds swiftly executed jaradgava in no time. Although being innocent and a true well-wisher of the birds, he paid for the folly of giving shelter to the wrong kind.”
Above story is which evokes the vasudhaiva kuTumbakam from the cunning subversionist in hitopadesha.
We should be by now convinced that the ancient AchArya of politics nArAyaNa paNDita was not teaching the policy of universal and blind brotherhood to his pupils. Quite to the contrary, he is actually warning precisely against this tendency of blind application of this brotherhood in the matters of policy, as is being apparently taught and believed by the modern powers that be of India and the gullible preachers and scholars.