The Ramayana’s relevance to modern times

The Art of Administration as depicted
in Valmiki Ramayana

By Sri P.G.Ananthanarayan (Mani)

The professed objective of all governments, down the corridors of history of man, has been to provide and ensure the welfare and happiness of the people through an efficient and good administration. However, despite the advance of civilisation and progress in science and technology and efforts through international forums like the United Nations to achieve peace and happiness, the world is riddled with strife, misery and tension.

Any person in charge of administration has to follow certain well tested codes to bless the generation with peace, prosperity and efficiency. In this context, the ancient and many faceted Ramayana is very relevant today as the epic has very many lessons to offer in the art of administration. A deep study of the epic would not only reflect the high level of civilisation that existed during the Ramayana era but would also furnish meaningful guidelines on Public Administration through the medium of several characters.

At the outset, the epic opens with the administrative setup prevalent in Ayodhya (the capital city). Further, there are the following three situations where detailed and wholesome advice is rendered on the art of efficient administration.
Theses are:

King Dasharath’s advice to Sri Rama
on the eve of coronation.

Sri Rama’s questions and advice to
Bharata at their historic meeting at Chitrakut.

Surpankha’s advice to Ravana.

An exhaustive cross-section from the epic, revealing valuable instructions on the art of administration that have a refreshing relevance today, is furnished below.

The administrative setup in Ayodhya is designed to provide the maximum happiness for the maximum number of people for the maximum period, based as it is on the principles of Dharma –righteousness and moral values.

The king, who was Dharmic (righteous) and solely concerned with the welfare of his subject was assisted by a cabinet of eight ministers of pure and unblemished characters. The cabinet was the Executive Council and the administration of the kingdom was carried out in consultation with it. The king was advised and supervised by a council of eight Sages, whose sole wealth was non-attachment (vairagya) and wisdom (Gyaan). Thus they functioned, without fear or favour, solely motivated by the welfare of the people, and provided the very foundation of the administrative system. The opinion of these sages possessing self-restraint, headed by sage Vasishtha, was the law. Thus, the cabinet ruled the people. The king supervised the cabinet. The Sages controlled the king in turn. In all matters, the moral code of the Lord of the universe (Dharma ) reigned supreme.

1.  King Dasharatha’s Advice to Sri Rama

On the eve of Sri Rama’s coronation, king Dasharatha summoned his darling son and tendered wholesome and mature advice on Administration based on his experience.

King Dasharatha said: "My son, although you are a storehouse of merits, I wish to offer some friendly advice to you out of sheer affection. Resorting to even greater humility (than before), constantly keep your senses under control. Avoid vices born of lust and anger."

[Note: Vices (vyasanani) according to Manu Smriti arising from lust include hunting, playing at dice, sleeping by day, slandering others, fondness for women, vanity and vices resulting from anger are tale-bearing, violence, vindictiveness, jealousy, fault-finding, squandering one’s wealth, abusive speech, and cruelty in punishment.]

Rule according to both the direct and
indirect methods of governance

Indirect method:

Ascertaining the conditions and loyalty of one’s own people and the relative strength and intentions etc., of the neighbouring states through a network of spies.

Direct Method:

To make a tour of one’s dominions and ascertain things personally, to invite direct petitions from one’s subjects, hear their grievances and decide their cases on their own merits.

"Please your ministers and others (namely, the Army Commanders and Civic Guards) as well as people responsible for maintenance (against future contingencies) of numerous stores (of useful materials such as jewelry, gold and silver, textiles and ornaments) along with barns and armouries."

"The friends and allies of a King, who protects the earth with fostering care and whose subjects are not only loved by him as his children but are devoted to him in their turn, exult in the same way as the immortals did on securing nectar. Therefore, disciplining your mind, my son, conduct yourself well as instructed by me."

The importance attached to personal discipline and far-sightedness in matters of efficient administration will be evident from the foregoing.

2. Sri Rama’s advice to Bharata

The Noble Bharata when he came to know that his mother was responsible for Sri Rama’s exile was tortured by the agonies of grief, anger and guilt. Wearing Jata (hair bound in knot) and bark garments he proceeds from Ayodhya, along with its entire population, to pursuade Sri Rama to return. After their momentous and affectionate meeting at Chitrakut, Sri Rama addressed Bharata on the art of administration, which is exhaustively detailed in the Ayodhya Kanda of the epic known as the famous '‘Kacchit Sarga’.

As Bharata was to rule the kingdom as per the King’s promise to queen Kaikeyi, Sri Rama enquires of Bharata whether he was ruling the Kingdom efficiently. He was also asked to explain by Sri Rama why he had left his post of duty and come to the forest.

In this context, Sri Rama enquires of Bharata and instructs him extensively on the finer points of the art of administration. This address highlights the duties and responsibilities of Kingship covering all aspects and the entire range of administration in which a King should attain proficiency if he was really concerned with the happiness and welfare of his subjects.

It is interesting to note that earlier Sri Rama had clearly told Lakshamana when he suspected Bharata’s intentions that Bharata was coming in agony and solely with the purpose of offering the Kingdom to Sri Rama. Hence, questions addressed to Bharata were obviously not intended for him but, over his shoulders, they were guidelines meant for the benefit of those who wished to get educated on the principles and art of efficient administration!

Since each stanza begins with the word ‘Kacchit’, it is known as the Kacchit Sarga of the Ramayana. A summary of the questions and instructions are furnished below with a few stanzas by way of illustration.

Starting with human relations at home and Bharata’s personal conduct and self-discipline, the questions cover his reverence and service to his parents, teachers and elders to ensure domestic harmony. It embraces all Departments of Government activity like Home Affairs, Defence, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Labour Relations, Agriculture etc.

"Are you rendering service to our father, oh my dear Bharata? Is the celebrated preceptor of Ikshvakus (Sage Vasishtha) being duly honoured by you?"

"Do you hold in high esteem gods and manes, dependents, elders, kinsmen of your father’s age, the aged, the physicians as well as the Brahmanas? Do you respect Sudhanva, your teacher of the science of Archery who is equipped with knowledge relating to the use of excellent arrows both direct and remote-controlled and well versed in political economy?"

"I hope the ministers you have appointed are valiant like you- full of learning, who have controlled their senses, who are born of high pedigrees (cultured family) and know the meaning of signs (discreet and shrewd)."

"The sound advice given by experienced ministers well versed in the laws of truth and virtues is the very foundation on which the prosperity of a King rests."

"The learned in times of difficulty bring endless glory by solving knotty problems."

"I hope you prefer learned men to thousands of fools. No help will come to a king if he seeks advice from thousands of evil advisers or even ten thousands of them."

"Even if there is a single minister if only he is wise, brave, clever and discreet, he will bring fame and prosperity to a King big or small."

"He who does not get rid of a physician adept in devices of aggravating a disease, a servant intent on bringing disgrace to his master and a gallant warrior seeking kingly power, is himself destroyed by these persons."

"I hope the person appointed as your Commander-in-chief is ever pleased, full of resolution, is gallant and talented, is of spotless character and well-born and devoted and clever."

"Are the foremost of your skilled warriors being recognised by bestowing suitable honours by you?" (gallantry awards).

"I hope you distribute (daily) provisions and distribute the monthly salary due to them at the proper time in a suitable manner and do not delay their payment (to prevent discontentment). For, salaried servants surely and positively get enraged even at their master when the distribution of their provisions and the disbursal of their salaries are delayed and that itself is a very great harm done to the State." (Labour Relations).

"Has a man of your own State, who is learned, clever, ready witted and capable of delivering messages correctly, who is able to distinguish between right and wrong, been appointed by you as an Ambassador, O Bharata?" (Foreign Affairs and Diplomatic assignment).

"Do you keep an eye on the eighteen functionaries of the enemies and fifteen functionaries of your side through three unknown, independent spies?"

[Note: The eighteen functionaries are : 1.The chief minister 2.The King’s family priest 3.The crown prince 4.The generalissimo 5.The chief warder 6.The chamberlain 7.The superintendent of jails 8.The chancellor of the exchequer 9.The herald 10.The government advocate 11.The judge 12.The assessor 13.The officer disbursing salaries to army men 14.The officer drawing money from the state exchequer to disburse the workmen’s wages 15.The city Kotwal (mayor of the city) 16. The protector of the borders of a kingdom, who also performed the duties of a forester 17.The magistrate 18.The officer entrusted with the conservation of waters, hills, forests and tracts difficult of access.

The fifteen functionaries of one’s own side are the last fifteen of this very list, omitting the first three, viz., the chief minister, the family priest and the crown prince.]

‘I hope you do not patronize Atheists Brahmins, for being ignorant and conceited they are skilled in perverting the minds of people."

Next Sri Rama instructs Bharata on the defence and protection of Ayodhya and enquires about the various aspects and measures designed for its prosperity (like water storage, well cultivated fields not depending on the vagaries of the monsoon (or rainy season), cattle wealth, peopled by highly delightful men and women, free from violence and fear etc.).

"Are the Vaisyas (who live by trade, agriculture and breeding and rearing cattle) loved by you? Are they thriving well in agriculture and animal husbandry?"

‘Are the women folks well protected?"

"Are the forests which are the homes of elephants preserved by you?" (Wild life preservation and ecology).

"Are the milch-cows in abundance with you?" (dairying).

"Are all your fortifications fully supplied with wealth and provisions, arms and water, mechanical contrivances and equipped with artisans and bowmen?" (Defence installations in a state of readiness or full alert).

Regarding Financial management.

" Is your income sufficiently large to meet your expenses and your expenditure comparatively less? (Balanced budget without deficit financing). I hope your wealth does not go to undeserving men."

"I hope the laws are administered justly and impartially. I hope the innocent do not suffer and the guilty are not let off without punishment due to greed (corruption)."

"I hope disputes between the rich and the poor are dealt with and judged impartially by the ministers. For, the tears from the eyes of those falsely convicted, destroy the sons and cattle of the king who rules the people for the sake of pleasures and not caring for equity and justice."

"Do you see to win over the elders, children and foremost physicians by gifts, a loving mind and polite words?" (Human Relations).

"Do you greet your teachers, and elders, ascetics, deities and unexpected visitors as well as the trees standing on cross roads (ecology) and the wise and learned Brahmins who have achieved the object of their life through character and austerities?"

"Do you avoid the fourteen failings of kings?"

[Note: These are the fourteen failings (vices ) of a king: Atheism, Untruth, Anger, Carelessness, Procrastination, Neglect of the learned, Laziness, Slavery to the senses, Obsession with wealth, Counsel with those who do not know the proper way (perverted insight), Non-commencement of the decided issues, Absence of caution in keeping secrets, Non-use of the auspicious, Showing respect to all and sundry without any discrimination (e.g. getting up from the seat to receive anybody and everybody)].

" I hope you deal properly, after fully taking into account and knowing the ten evils born of lust, the five kinds of fortifications, the four expedients (recommended for kings), the seven important limbs of a state, the eight evils born of anger or the eight measures (conducive to the welfare of a state), the three worldly objects of human pursuits (Dharma, Artha, Kama) namely religious merit, material wealth and sensuous enjoyment or the three kinds of powers (namely energy or ‘Utsaah-Shakti’, the power of dominion or ‘Prabhu-Shakti’, and the power of counsel or ‘Mantra-Shakti’. The three branches of learning (viz., the three Vedas or ‘Trayi’, the knowledge relating to agriculture, commerce and other vocational pursuits, and political science, subjugation of the senses, the six strategic expedients (viz., coming to terms with the enemy, waging war against him, marching against him, biding one’s time to seek a favourable opportunity, causing dissension in the enemy’s ranks, and seeking the protection of a powerful ally; Adversities brought about by diverse agencies (such as fire, excessive rains or floods, epidemic diseases, famine and pestilence) and human agencies (such as officials, thieves, enemies, a king’s favourite and the king himself when motivated by greed).

The stern duties of a king (as dictated by policy, such as to win over enemy’s men whose emoluments have been withheld, who are greedy, who have suffered indignity at his hands, who are irate or have been provoked by him for no reason, who are afraid or have been intimidated) twenty types of monarchs who are not worth negotiating with (viz., who is a minor, aged, suffering from chronic sickness, greedy, without character etc.) the entire population of the state; setting forth on an expedition for conquest against the enemy; drawing up an army in battle array."

"O wise one! Do you hold consultation in accordance with scriptural injunctions with only four or three (selected) counselors collectively or severally to guard against a split among them and to prevent the secrets from leaking out?"

"Has your study of the Vedas borne fruit and are your undertakings successful?"

"Has your learning borne fruit?"

Sri Rama concludes the illuminating address thus:

"Having obtained as his share and ruled in the right way over the entire globe, a wise king holds sway over the earth and administering justice to the people quite in consonance with righteousness, surely ascends to heaven when detached from his body."

3.  Surpankha’s advice to Ravana

It will be surprising to note that of all the people, Surpankha (Ravana’s sister) talks on administration! After her mutilation (cutting off her nose and ears) by Lakshmana for her foolish misadventure, she rushes to Ravana’s court and criticizes him on his lapses in Public Administration and tenders him advice on good government.

‘A greedy king, who is addicted to sensual pleasures and who acts at his sweet will and pleasure is avoided by his subjects like the cremation fire."

"A king who fails to attend to his duties personally at proper moment, hastens his downfall and ruins himself and his realm."

"If a king is ruthless, stingy, indifferent, proud and arrogant, his subjects will not come to his rescue in his times of crisis."

"A king who thinks too much of himself, who is evasive, self-conceited and ever irritable has to be mortally afraid even of his own kith and kin."

"Kings are said to be far-sighted because they can easily visualize the distant calamities with the aid of spies."

"That king alone who is discreet, erudite, self-controlled, grateful and who obeys the divine law, can rule his kingdom well."

"That king is verily worshipped by his subjects, who though physically asleep is mentally awake, and does not indiscriminately punish or reward them."

‘A slanderer, one steeped in worldly pleasure, one who is not in tune with time and one who cannot discriminate the good from the bad, loses his empire and perishes soon."

It will be evident from the foregoing that the rich heritage enshrined in the Ramayana shines through every facet of the epic, like the sophisticated instructions on Public Administration, that have eternal relevance to humanity. That is why the epic ‘Ramayana’ is described as the ocean full of gems and the prime role of the human Avatara (incarnation) is to educate humans on all aspects of the art of living.

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