By Swami Harshananda
Viduraniti literally means ‘ethical philosophy taught by Vidura’.
The Mahābhārata is an elaborate literature believed to be an ocean containing many gems. That is why it is also called ‘ratnākara’. One of the bright gems or jewels of this great epic is Vidura. After being convinced that war was inevitable between his sons and the Pāṇḍavas, Dhṛtarāṣṭra sent Sañjaya to the Pāṇḍavas with the message that they should abandon the path of war and retire to the forest. When he returned Sañjaya abused the blind king for his attitude of greed and the injustice meted out to the Pāṇḍavas.
This strong reproach made Dhṛtarāṣṭra restless and sleepless the whole night. The very next morning, he sent for Vidura and confessed his state of mind. The advice that Vidura gave him forms the content of this work. It is spread over eight chapters in the Udyogaparva. There are 588 verses in all. Because the advice was given by Vidura, it is called Viduraniti. This section, treated as a subsection of the Udyogaparva is also designated as Prajāgara-parva alluding to Dhṛtarāṣṭra being awake the whole night due to restlessness.
Contents of Viduraniti
A very brief summary of the contents is:
It has 123 verses. After spending a night without sleep, Dhṛtarāṣṭra sends for Vidura who arrives immediately. Vidura first accuses the blind king of entertaining evil persons, Duryodhana, Duśśāsana, Karṇa and Śakuni as his trusted lieutenants. He describes the characteristics of learned men and fools. He then expatiates on what ought to be done and what should be abjured, using the numbers one to ten in an intelligent and interesting manner. The last part of this chapter contains the advice of Prahlāda, the great king of the demons, to kings in general, quoted by Vidura.
It has 86 verses. Dhṛtarāṣṭra confesses that he is upset and restless and seeks Vidura’s guidance. Vidura starts his discourses by saying that a true friend must give advice even if not solicited. In his long counsel, he stresses three things. Firstly, a king who wants to rule well, must know everything about his kingdom. Secondly, he should be neither miserly nor overgenerous. Thirdly, as a human being he should cultivate virtues that can make him great and avoid all vices. At the end he advises Dhṛtarāṣṭra to hand over the reigns of the kingdom to Yudhiṣṭira, the eldest of the Pāṇḍavas since he was the most deserving of all.
It has 77 verses. In this chapter Vidura illustrates by an ancient episode of Sudhanvan, Virocana and his father Prahlāda the superiority of the path of truth and justice. The rest of the chapter gives many principles of ethics including things that must be done and those which must be eschewed.
It has 74 verses which starts with the advice given by the great sage Dattātreya to devas and sādhyas. The sage stresses the importance of speech containing truth and sweetness. After narrating this, Vidura, in answer to a question by the blind king, expounds the qualities that should exist in a kula or race to make it good and great. It is pure character that makes it good and great. He then describes the evils of anger and the importance of unity among the good.
It has 64 verses. Vidura describes 17 types of persons as murkhas or foolish ones and advises that none should become a murkha. He then exhorts that good persons should be treated well and that the bad ones be repaid in their own coin. When Dhṛtarāṣṭra asks why a man’s life which should be of a hundred years’ duration is shortened, Vidura replies that it is the six evils like arrogance, uncontrolled anger or intense selfishness that shorten a person’s life.
On the other hand, good persons who are obedient to the elders, who are devoted to God and who do not harm others and who practise other virtues like truth, live long. Other points stressed by him are:
- Importance of protecting oneself against adharma
- Fair treatment of one’s dependents
- Qualifications of a right kind of duta or messenger
- Five kinds of bala or strength like physical strength, economic power and power of wisdom
- Avoiding enmity with the great and powerful persons
It has 47 verses. In this chapter, the following topics are dealt with:
- Treating the respected elders properly
- Avoiding persons of evil character
- Protecting women
- How a king should select ministers who are trustworthy
- How he should behave towards his subjects and the enemies
It has 85 verses. Dhṛtarāṣṭra tries to counter Vidura’s sane advice by arguments of fatalism. Vidura replies that even the best advice given by a great person like Bṛhaspati will fall on deaf ears if the receiver of the advice is prejudiced. He again exhorts the blind king to abandon his son Duryodhana and save the dynasty of the great Kurus.
Other pieces of advice rendered by Vidura can be summarized as follows:
- Avoiding the evil ones who try to create misunderstandings among others
- Honoring and helping one’s jñātis or close relatives even if they are just ordinary persons
- Honoring the Pāṇḍavas by giving them their due
- Six factors like drinking or ignorance of the presence of the enemies nearby, to be avoided
- Cultivation of virtues like humility, heroism and forgiveness
- Characteristics of a good friend
- Importance of thoughts in shaping one’s character
- On the acquisition of wealth by right means
- Looking upon others as one’s own self
- Need to abandon greed
It has 32 verses. Vidura once again extols the greatness of dharma. He then describes how āśā or desire which can never be satiated, destroys a person by pointing out the inevitability of death to all living beings. Since karma, good or bad, accompanies the spirit of the dead person, one should strive to acquire dharma only. He concludes his discourse by describing briefly the duties of the four varṇas or castes. It is rather tragic that Dhṛtarāṣṭra while conceding the rightness of Vidura’s advice, confesses his weakness of his attachment to his son Duryodhana which makes him go off the path and then he ultimately resigns himself to his ‘distant’ or fate.
The Viduraniti can be considered a valuable treatise on general ethics even as the Bhagavadgitā is on spiritual wisdom. The Bhāratabhāvadīpa of Nīlakaṇṭha Caturdhara is the only commentary available on this work.
- Ratnākara means storehouse of gems.
- He was his charioteer.
- Mahābhārata Chapters 33 to 40
- Awake means prajāgara.
- Sudhanvan was a brāhmaṇa youth.
- Virocana was a dānava prince.
- He was the king of the dānavas.
- Devas means gods.
- Sādhyas means demigods.
- Adharma means unrighteousness.
- He lived in 14th century A. D.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore