Shukra Niti by Shukracharya

by Benoy Kumar Sarkar | 1914 | 106,458 words

The English Translation of the Shukra Niti by Shukracharya: An ancient Sanskrit text possibly dating to the 4th-century BC. The text contains maxims that deal with politics, statecraft, economis and ethics and shed light on the social life, monarchy and government of ancient India as well their knowledge of early political science....

Chapter 4.1 - Characteristics of Friends

1-2.[1] Now I shall say briefly the chapter of miscellaneous topics. Now you will have to hear briefly of the characteristics of friends, etc.

3-4. The friend and the enemy are of four kinds,—one who does, makes others do, approves of, and helps in things that are respectively beneficial and harmful.

5-8. That man is a first class friend whose heart melts always at the grief of others, who tries to do good to others, who serves others without the asking and is the protector, at the proper time, of wife, wealth and secrets. Others are three-fourths, halves and quarters.

9-10. The mark of enemies is that there is a conflict between two persons about exclusive ownership over the same matter and that they are destroyers of each other’s interests.

11-13. They two are enemies who separately consider: “In the absence of brothers all the paternal wealth will be mine. All this will not come to his possession but mine, and I shall enjoy all this exclusively.

14. The man who envies and the man who is envied, both are enemies and can be defined by the same term.

15- 17. All kings are unfriendly, secret enemies and seekers of opportunities to men who are valorous, rising, virtuous and powerful. What wonder here? Are they not all covetous of kingdom?

18. Kings can have no friends, and can be friends to nobody.

19. They become sometimes artificial friends.

20. Some are always friends or enemies by nature.

21-24. Mother, mother’s family, father, father’s parents, father’s daughter, uncle, uncle’s daughter, one’s own daughter, wife, wife’s family, father’s sister, mother’s sisters, one’s own sister, daughter’s offsprings, king and preceptor—are friends by nature.

25-26. Learning, valour, skill, prowess, and patience—these five are said to be natural friends; wise men follow these.

27-28. The son who abides by the father’s commands is son preperly called. Even one is good if qualified—what with a hundred sons who are unqualified?

29-31. The following are wicked and cruel by nature—the father who contracts debts, the mother and wife who are addicted to other persons, one’s own brothers and father’s brothers, and their wives and children are enemies.

32-34. The son’s wife, the mother-in-law, the co-wife, the husband’s sisters, the brother’s wives, the foolish son, the bad physician, the husband who does not protect, master who is severe, the rich man who is not benevolent (are also enemies).

35-36. The king is the enemy of the wicked, the faithful wife of the faithless, the good man of the cheat, the wise man of the foolish.

37-38. Instructions to the foolish people are the cause of their anger, not pleasure. Just as the drinking of water by snakes is for the making of poison not of nectar.

39-40. The enemies of gradually diminishing strength are first, the kings who live around or very near, then those who live further away and so on.

41.[2] They naturally become inimical, indifferent and friendly.

42-43. Or kings are said to be situated in the following order; First enemies then the friends, then the naturals, and enemies on all sides.

44. Servants and ministers who are very proximate to oneself have to be checked.

45. One should encourage or control friends according as they are less or more powerful.

46-47. The enemies are to be separated, restrained and repressed. They are to be destroyed by the policies of alliance, partition, etc.

48-49. One should bring friends and foes to submission by appropriate methods just as snakes, elephants and lions are tamed.

50. By appropriate means the terrestrial beings can soar into the sky and even the thunder can be pierced.

51-52.[3] Peace, Purchase, Partition and Penalty—these policies

53-54. One can be friend with such men as are of the same age, character, learning, caste, vices and occupations.

55. ‘No one is such a friend as yourself’—this remark to a friend is called Sāma.

56. All my goods are yours, even life’—This is dāna or gift to a friend.

57. The narration of one’s own merits or those of other friends to somebody is bheda or partition as applied to a friend.

58. ‘If you do such and such things, I shall not be friend to you.’ This is punishment as applied to a friend.

59- 60. The man who does not do any good and who disregards other’s injuries is udāsina or indifferent.

61 -66.[4] ‘We should not mutually injure each other, but should rather help each other (in need).’ This relation is said to be alliance with enemies.

63- 64. That policy is said to be dāna or gifts to enemies according to their strength and status by which one pacifies powerful foes by tributes or annual incomes from definite tracts of lands.

65- 66. The separation of enemies is that which is due to making their friends powerless.

67- 69. A punishment applied to enemies is said to be the attack upon them, their wealth and grains by robbers, the aggression upon them with powerful force after noticing their weak points, and not ceasing from war when war has commenced.

70.[5] These methods and policies have to be duly varied according to the varieties of ends to be furthered.

71-72. The statesman-like king should adopt all these policies in such a way that the friends, neutrals or the foes can never go beyond himself.

73-74. Sāma is to be first adopted. Then the policy of Purchase. The enemies have always to be played off against one another, and the policy of punishment is to be adopted in times of danger to existence.

75-76. Alliance and contributions are to be applied to powerful enemies. Alliance and separation to those who are superior (in strength). Separation and punishment are to be adopted towards those who are equal. Punishment is desirable when the enemy is powerless.

77. Alliance and gifts are to be adopted towards friends—never the policies of playing off one against another or punishment.

78-79.[6] The separation and punishment of the subjects of enemies lead to one’s success, as well as the collection, by the policies of alliance and gifts, of subjects who are oppressed by the enemies.

80.[7] The banishment of the well-qualified as well as the wicked is always desirable.

81-82 One should never rule his own subjects by the policies of separation or punishment but by those of peace and gifts.

83. The State is likely to be ruined through punishment and partition of one’s own subjects.

84. Subjects are to be so governed that they can be neither too powerless nor too powerful.

85- 86. Punishment is that which leads to the giving up of bad practices, and is restrained by penalties by which animals are kept within check.

87. That policy is to be administered by the king as he is the lord of all.

88-91. The various species of methods of punishment are the policies of censure, insult, starvation, imprisonment, oppression, destruction of goods, expulsion from the city, marking on the body, shaving of half portions of the body, carrying the person over ignoble animals (e.g., asses), mutilation, execution, as well as warfare.

92-93. Through fear of punishment the subjects become virtuous, do not commit aggressions and do not speak untruths;

94-98.[8] even the cruel become mild, the wicked give up wickedness, even beasts become subdued, the thieves get frightened, the garrulous become dumb, the enemies, are terrified and become tributaries, and others are demoralised. So the king should always administer punishments for the furtherance of morality and religion.

99-100. Punishment is good even for preceptors who are proud, do not know their duties and go astray.

101-102. All the methods and means bear fruit through the king’s policy of punishment. That is the great stay of virtues.

103.[9] According to the dictates of Śruti the execution of bad men is real ahiṃsā i.e., mercy.

104-105. One is deserted by good people and acquires sins by always not punishing those who ought to be punished, and punishing those who ought not, and by being a severe punisher.

106-107.[10] It has been said in the Śāstras by sages that great virtue arises out of small charity because that is an encouragement to charity and the result of punishments is fear.

108-109. Can virtue that is begotten of horse sacrifices come out of mere recital of hymns? So also can the virtue arising from mercy come out of punishments?

110-111. How can good accrue to a king through punishment of his own subjects? That leads to the destruction of his fame, wealth and virtue.

112-115.[11] There was no punishment in the Satya Yuga or the golden Age, because the king then possessed virtue in its entirety. There was full punishment in the Tretā Yuga as the subjects had vice to quarter of its amount. In Dvāpara Yuga punishment to the extent of three quarters of its amount was necessary as virtue existed only to half its extent. In Kali Yuga punishment to half its extent is desirable as the subjects are poor and miserable through the king’s wickedness.

116-117.[12] The king is the maker of the age as the promulgator of duties and sins. The faults are to be ascribed neither to the age nor to the subjects but to the king.

118-119. Men practise that by which the king is satisfied—why should, they not follow his teachings through greed or fear?

120-121.[13] Where the king is virtuous people are also virtuous, where the king is a sinner subjects are also vicious.

122-123. Where the clouds do not pour rain in season there the lands are not productive, the commonwealth deteriorates, enemies are increased and wealth is destroyed.

124-125. Even the king who is a drunkard is good but not he who is very angry and addicted to women. For the severe man irritates the subjects and the other destroys the castes.

126. The man who drinks wine is deprived of his intelligence and loses his business.

127-129. Passion and anger are of the nature of liquor and are greater intoxicants than wine. The king through excessive greed destroys the wealth and life of subjects, so the king should administer the State by giving up these three.

130-131. The king should punish his own subjects by being mild internally but cruel externally, and should be severe in punishment towards those who are by nature evil-doers.

13 2-133.[14] The State is naturally ruined by informers who whisper into the king’s ears; so the king, even when informed by these, should carefully study affairs.

134-135. The wise king notices his own faults as well as those of the subjects—and employs himself first, and then the servants.

136-137. Offences are of four kinds—that through the body, that through speech, that through the mind, and that through association. Each again is two-fold, committed voluntarily or involuntarily.

138. Each again is two—known and approved.

139. Each again is four-fold: temporary, constant, habitual, and natural.

140-143. One should know the mental offences by studying the eyes, mouth, expressions and feelings, etc., the physical by the actions and the vocal by harsh words, and those arising from intercourse by studying the companionships; study the magnitude and levity of each, and mete out punishments for the works that have been or are being committed.

144-146.[15] The good man committing first offence deserves the following punishment. One should ask of him: ‘Is this your evil action? Is it proper for you?’ He deserves this sort of reproach twice or thrice.

147-149. The good man committing second offence (of the second character deserves the punishment for the first: and this intensified according to gradual increase in magnitude.

150-152.[16] The good man committing serious offence (of a vile character) deserves the punishment for the first and second as described above and then should be bound.

153. This punishment is to be dealt out if there has been no intentional murder.

154.[17] Three classes of punishments are here described—good, middling, and low.

155-158. The second class man who is remarkable for good qualities, family and riches when committing first class offence deserves the punishment of censure, half punishment or full punishment in succession, and that twice or thrice, and at last imprisonment and menial work.

159-161. The second class man committing second class offence deserves the punishment twice that described in the case of the first offence, oppression, imprisonment and last of all, expulsion from the State and branding on the body.

162-164.[18] The second class man committing third class offence (vile) deserves the punishment described for the second offence, then twice or thrice that, and last of all, imprisonment for life.

165-166. The worst class man committing first offence deserves the punishment half of what has been described or twice or thrice and then imprisonment.

167-169. The worst class committing second offence deserves twice the punishment for the first, then imprisonment for repairing roads.

170-172.[19] The worst class committing worst offence deserves twice the punishment for the second, imprisonment for life, only the menial works.

173-174. The king should take away a quarter of the wealth of the man who is proud of his wealth, then one-half, then full and lastly imprisonment for life.

175-177. The king should bind and restrain the man who commits sins out of vanity for his men, learning and strength.

178-179. The wife, the son, the sister, the pupil, the servant and the brother committing sins are to be punished by slender cords on the back of the body but never on the forepart.

180. Beating otherwise one deserves punishment as a thief.

181-183. One who commits sins should be imprisoned and made to perform ignoble works for a month, three months, six months, one year or for whole life, but should not be killed.

184. One should not kill living beings—this is the truth of Śruti.

185-186. So the king should carefully avoid capital punishment but restrain by detention, imprisonment, and repression.

187-188. The king should not through greed inflict on his subjects a monetary punishment. Parents without help are not to be punished though offenders.

189-190. The punishments of the merciful king are of his type. But when the severe punisher who takes away wealth never forgives offences, the people get exasperated and are alienated by others.

191. So the king should be merciful and inflict punishment with care.

192-194. The drunkard, the gambler, the thief, the paramour, the envious the man who has abandoned the customs and practices of the social system (castes and stages), the atheist, the cheat,

195-195. the man who curses uselessly, the informer who whispers into one’s ears, the abuser of the Aryas and gods, the speaker of untruths, the man who destroys security or pawn, the destroyer of occupations,

197-198. the man who cannot bear the rise or prosperity of others, the man who takes bribes, the man who does things prejudicial to the mantras, the man who frustrates activities,

199-200. the man who says unpleasant things, and utters cruel and harsh words, the man who obstructs waters and parks, the pseudoastrologer, the king’s enemy, the bad minister, the man who knows tricks and stratagems,

201-202. the bad physician, the man whose habits are impure and harmful, the man who obstructs public roads, the bad witness, the man of immodest dress, the enemy of the master, and the extravagant,

203-204. The man who sets fire on houses, the poisoner, one who is addicted to prostitutes, the severe punisher, the biassed councillor, the man who receives written statements by force.

205-206. The man who commits wrongs, the quarrelsome, the man who flies from the battle, one who tampers with witnesses, the abuser of parents, chaste women and friends,

207-208; The malicious man, the helper of enemies, one who gives pain, the cheat, one who hates his own (people), one whose activities are secret, the heterodox, one who is the thorn of the village,

209-210.[20] The man who pursues penances and learning without maintaining relatives, one who lives on alms though capable of collecting wood and grasses,

211-212. The seller of daugthers, one who diminishes the resources of kith and kin, one who does not publish sinful actions, and one who is indifferent to the losses of the king,

213-214. The prostitute, the murderer of husband and children, the woman who is a lover of separation, the woman who is disrespected by the old people, the woman who deserts domestic duties, the woman who is ever committing misdeeds, and the son’s wife who is not his beloved;

215-216.[21] Knowing these persons who are wicked by nature, the king should expel them from the commonwealth. They should be bound and transported to islands or forts, and employed in the work of repairing roads and made to live on insufficient and bad diet.

217-218. Or the king might make each prisoner work according to the qualifications of his caste.

219-20. The king should punish such bad men and also those who have been vitiated by bad company and teach them good ways of life.

221-222. The king should immediately extirpate those who desire evil of the commonwealth, the king, and the ministers by association with enemies.

223-224. The king should not destroy a gang or community all at once if there be a whole group of offenders, but should extirpate them one by one, just as the calf sucks the teats of the mother cow individually.

225-226.[22] When the king is addicted to immoral ways people should terrify him by taking the help of virtuous and powerful enemies.

227-228. So long as the man is virtuous, only so long is the king. Otherwise both the king and the people are ruined.

229-230. The king should bind down those men in chains and appoint them in the work of repairing roads who wander about by forsaking parents and wives.

231. And the king should pay them (daily) half their wages.

232. The punishment for worst offence is one thousand paṇas.

233. A paṇa is a piece of copper coined by the king weighing ten māṣās.

234. A Kārṣāpaṇa is the value of one hundred and fifty varātis (cowries).

235. The madhyama or second punishment is half of one thousand paṇās, and the prathama or first punishment is half of that, 250 paṇas.

236-237. For the first offence first punishment is to be inflicted by the king and for the two other punishments, e.g. madhyama punishment for the madhyama offence and uttama punishment for the uttama.

238. In this miscellaneous chapter have been described the friends, neutrals and enemies with all their auxiliaries.

Footnotes and references:


This section deals mainly with two things; (1) International Relations and Policies; (2) Punishments. And each is treated not solely from the political and administrative standpoints but also with reference to their social bearings. Here also as before, Śukranīti is a a treatise on morals (social, economic and political).

The section is eminently interesting as it introduces the reader to the essentially political affairs and theories of the ancient Hindus.


The nearest neighbours are the greatest enemies. Those gradually receding from one’s territory are less and less powerful enemies.


sāma—Alliance or peace with friends as well as others according to circum-stances,

dāna—Purchase, charity, gifts, etc, for kith and kin as well as others according to circumstances.

bheda—Separation or partition for subjects as well as others according to circumstances.

daṇḍa—Punishment for enemies as well as others according to circumstances.are to be applied separately to (each of the following classes of relations); the friend, relatives, family, subjects and enemies according to one’s own reasons.


So the policy of sāma is prescribed towards enemies also. It is something like an offensive and defensive alliance of modern states.


The mere enumeration of these policies and the statement of the objects for which each is to be applied are sufficient to prove the high political sense of the Hindus. The society which could evolve the state-craft that Śukrācārya represents is certainly not that of a race bent solely on other-worldly activities’


Twofold policy to be adopted as regards the subjects of enemies. They should be parted off if they are supporters of the existing government or won over if they feel its oppression.


Does it indicate anything of ostracism which was intended to expel from the State anybody who won notoriety or fame? Extraordinary ability in any form is likely to cause discontent among the subjects and hence lead to revolutions in States


The subject of Punishment has been treated in Śukranīti in connexion with the theory of International Policies, but it has grown upon the author; and he deals with it as an aspect of internal administration. The whole picture is thus complete in itself and displays Śukrācārya’s thorough knowledge of the springs of human conduct.


It thus appears that according to the political morality of the age of Śukranīti there is no horror of bloodshed. Śukrācārya while advocating punishments and warfares cannot naturally shrink at the sight of blood. So he justifies capital punishments by reference to the Vedas.


vṛtyartha—In order to incite others to meritorious virtuous deeds. If small charity leads to infinite bliss men may easily be tempted or taught to be charitable.

bhayāya—In order to create fear. If the creation of fear is the object of punishment small doses of it are efficacious. Just as if the object be to induce men to be charitable it should be laid down in the Śāstras that small charity is efficacious.


yuga—Ages. Various amounts of punishment prescribed for the various ages of human history because of the varieties in virtues and vices of the people in different times.


This is the exact opposite of the dictum ‘The king can do no wrong.’


The Commonwealth follows the king in all respects, Hence his great responsibility.


This is a very important warning to the holders of personal governments, e.g., dukes, feudal lords, Zemindars, absolute monarchs, &c.


sāhasa—If the man is good and if this be bis first offence, he deserves only a censure or moral reprobation.


The uttama or good man deserves the three kinds of punishment described above for commission of three kinds of offences, prathama (First), madhyama (Second), adhama (vile).


The uttama dhigdaṇḍa punishment for the prathama offence of uttama or good man.


Thus the good man may also get the lowest punishment. The good punishment of the good man for the first offence is dhigdaṇḍa, i.e., punishment of censure only.


The madhyama (second class) man deserves three kinds of punishment for commission of three kinds of offences just as the uttama man does.


The adhama (worst class) man also deserves three kinds of punishments for three kinds of offences.

Thus offences are of three kinds—prathama, madhyama, uttama. Men are of three kinds—uttama, madhyama, adhama.

Punishments are of three kinds in each case according to three offences of each. So there are altogether nine kinds of punishments. The following table will illustrate the grades of persons and punishments and offences:—

Grade of offender. Class of offence. Grade of Punishment.
1. uttama 1. prathama 1. uttama, e.g., dhigdaṇḍa, i.e., moral censure.
2. uttama 2. madhyama 2. madhyama repetition of dhigdaṇḍa intensified
3. uttama 3. uttama 3. e.g., (i) repetition of the first and second, also
(ii) madhyama (imprisonment).
4. madhyama 1. prathama 1. (i) dhigdaṇḍa (censure).
(ii) ardhadaṇḍa* (half punishment).
(iii) pūrṇadaṇḍa* (Full punishment).
(iv) Twice or thrice each.
(v) Imprisonment,
(vi) Rigors of a lower order.
5. madhyama 2. madhyama 2. (i) Twice the first.
(ii) tāḍhana[?] (Repression).
(iii) bandhana (Imprisonment),
(iv) Expulsion and
(v) tākṣaṇa[?] (marking on the body.
6. madhyama 3. uttama 3. (i) The second as described above.
(ii) Twice or thrice that.
(iii) Imprisonment for life.
7. adhama 1. prathama 1. (i) ardhadaṇḍa.
(ii) Twice or thrice ardhadaṇḍa
(iii) Imprisonment.
8. adhama 2. madhyama 2. (i) The first,
(ii) Twice that.
(iii) Imprisonment
(iv) Repair of roads.
9. adhama 3. adhama 3. (i) The second described above.
(ii) Twice that,
(iii) Imprisonment for life,
(iv) Rigors of a lower order.

* Note: ardhadaṇḍa and pūrṇadaṇḍa have not been explained. These seem to be technical terms.


Able-bodied persons who can earn their living by service or at any rate occupations of the lower economic order, e.g., selling wood and grasses collected from forests—but yet choose to live on alms—‘Sturdy beggars’ as they are called.


The enumeration of the offenders in the above lines gives a vivid picture of the darker side of human society which exists in every age and every clime. Śukranīti like all other Hindu Nīti Śāstras, Purāṇas and Tantras is full of such vivid pictures of Hindu social life.

mārga-saṃskaraṇa—The work of repairing roads seems to have been a common method of employing offenders and criminals. Śukranīti makes frequent mention of it.

dvīpa—Islands used as convict settlements.


It is in this way that neighbours influence and greatly modify the internal policies and conditions of states. The overthrow of rulers by subjects in alliance with the recognised enemies is too common a phenomenon to be overlooked by such a shrewd observer as Śukrācārya.

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