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Durable Link to this BlogMonday, March 29, 2004

Nitivakyamritam by Somadeva

Somadeva's Nitivakyamritam

After a gap of many years, I am going through a shastra work in Sanskrit. It is "Nitivakyamritam", a work on polity (statecraft) written by Somadeva in about 963 AD. It has commentary in Kannada by Neminatha who lived in 13th century. It is being published in Karnataka for the first time. Of special significance to me is, its being edited by my most respected guru Prof. G.S.Dikshit (b. 1911). He has been ably assisted by late Prof. B.Ramaswamy and Dr. S.H. Ritti, who is a Sanskrit scholar and retired professor of history.

It is published by Hampi University. Rare and valuable inscriptions, documents and palm-leaf manuscripts, hither to unpublished are brought out by this academic body. This University was specially created for preservation and promotion of Kannada literature and culture.

The editors have painstakingly consulted all available and published copies of Nitivakyamrita, scattered in different Indian states, with or without commentary in respective regional languages. Thus copies were obtained from Jaipur, Hyderabad, Calcutta, Varanasi, Mumbai and Mysore. The mastercopy with Kannada commentary was available in Moodbidri (Karnataka).

This work though written by a renowned Jaina scholar has universal appeal and rises above caste and creed. It is wholly devoted to welfare of a state. A ruler's duties and responsibilities are clearly laid down. Written is sutra (aphorism) and verse form, it is a digest of all ancient political science treatises, including Kautilya's Arthashastra.

Some contemporary traits could be noticed in this work. It states that marriageable age of girls could be twelve and of boys sixteen. This is certainly better than views of smriti works, which stressed child marriage for girls. Eight years was considered for women, and for men no restriction before twenty-five years! There is no mention of dowry. Love marriage was permitted with the concurrence of parents and relatives. Somadeva's view that a girl could remarry who faced lot of incompatibility due to caste and family matters, in earlier marriage, is certainly progressive, considering medieval norms.

It is interesting that Lokayata (materialism or Charvakism) is mentioned as an important subject of study for the king. Its proper study helped the ruler to tide over difficult situations, as also face enemies within and without.

Polluted water, fodder, excessive rain and lack of it and (cutting of) scarcity of trees and foliage, as also complete dependability on rains, makes a country famished, declare Nitivakyamrita.

A millenium has passed since Somadeva noted these facts. But even today this great country of India continues to suffer drought and famine due to excessive rains or lack of it in one part or the other throughout. Obviously the present rulers have not read what Somadeva stated long ago!

See Also:
• Status of Women in Medieval Deccan

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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