Words of the Sage: Excerpt from ‘The Markandeya Purana’

Celebrated author and scholar Bibek Debroy’s masterful translation allows a whole new generation of readers to discover Sage Markandeya’s wisdom. His narrative unfolds as a series of conversations with Markandeya that explore the deep, fundamental questions raised by the Mahabharata.

Join in the conversation through this excerpt:

“The Indra among men must not succumb to desire. The lord of the earth must first control himself, then the ministers, servants and citizens. It is only after he knows this has been done that he acts against the enemy. If a king tries to conquer the enemy without conquering these, he is conquered by advisers who have not conquered themselves. He is then bound down by arrays of the enemy. O son! Therefore, a lord of the earth must first conquer desire and the other vices. When he has conquered them, the king conquers. If he has not conquered them, he is destroyed. A wicked king is destroyed by enemies like desire, anger, avarice, insolence, pride and delight. It is remembered that Pandu was brought down because he was addicted to desire. Since he could not control his anger, Anuhlada killed his own son. Aila was killed because he was greedy. Because of his insolence, Vena was killed by brahmanas. The son of Anayusha was killed because of his pride. Puranjaya was destroyed because of delight. Having conquered these enemies, the great-souled Marutta  conquered everything. Remembering this, a lord of the earth must cast aside the six vices. A king must learn from the conduct of a crow, a cuckoo, a bee, a crane, a snake, a peacock, a swan, a cock and iron. Towards the enemy, a lord of men must behave like an owl. At the right time, the lord of the earth must act like an ant. His acts will be known as much as fire in kindling or seeds in silk-cotton. Like the sun and the moon, he must protect the earth through his policy. He must learn from a courtesan, a lotus, a sharabha, a shulika and a woman with heavy breasts. The lord of the earth must formulate policy on the basis of sama, dana, danda and bheda and protect the earth. Like a chandala woman, he must use his wisdom and serve. If he wishes to protect the earth, the lord of the earth must follow the conduct of the five—Shakra, Surya, Yama, Soma and Vayu. For four months, Indra sustains the earth through his showers. Like that, the lord of the earth must nurture the world through his generosity. For eight months, Surya draws up the water through his rays. In that way, the king must collect taxes through subtle means. When it is the right time, Yama acts against both friend and foe. Like that, the king must be impartial in his treatment of the virtuous and the wicked, regardless of whether he likes them or dislikes them. The sight of the full moon fills a man with delight. Like that, when all the subjects are satisfied, the king has followed auspicious conduct.”


Full of wit and enlightenment about life, Bibek Debroy’s The Markandeya Purana is a must-read for adults and children alike.

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