Sanskrit quote nr. 24 (Maha-subhashita-samgraha)

Sanskrit text:

अकर्तव्यं न कर्तव्यं प्राणैः कण्ठगतैरपि ।
कर्तव्यमेव कर्तव्यं प्राणैः कण्ठगतैरपि ॥

akartavyaṃ na kartavyaṃ prāṇaiḥ kaṇṭhagatairapi |
kartavyameva kartavyaṃ prāṇaiḥ kaṇṭhagatairapi ||


Meter name: Śloka; Type: pathyā (‘normal’); 8 syllables per quarter (pāda).

Primary English translation:

“Whatever is not right to be done, must never be done even on pain of death; and what is right to do, must be done even if one should die for the same.”

(translation by B. C. Dutt)

Secondary translations:

“Was man nicht thun soll, das thue man nicht, ständen Einem such die Lebensgeister schon in der Kehle; was man aber thun soll, das thue man, ständen Einem auch die Lebensgeister schon in der Kehle (um hinauszufahreu)”

(translation by Otto Böhtlingk)



Presented above is a Sanskrit aphorism, also known as a subhāṣita, which is at the very least, a literary piece of art. This page provides critical research material such as an anlaysis on the poetic meter used, an English translation, a glossary explaining technical terms, and a list of resources including print editions and digital links.

Glossary of Sanskrit terms

Kartavya (कर्तव्य) literally translates to “that which ought to be done”, while the word akartavya refers to “that which ought not to be done”.

Prāṇa (प्राण, prana) literally translates to “breath of life”. It is a common and ancient term used in spiritual practices such as yoga and tantra, while in Āyurveda this ‘universal energy’ goes by the name of vāyu (‘air’), which is futher divided in five types. (more info)

Kaṇṭhagata (कण्ठगत, kanthagata) literally translates to “departing the throat”. Is is a compound and is composed of kaṇṭha (‘neck’ or ‘throat’) and gata (‘gone’, ‘departed’, ‘dead’).


This quote is contained within the following Sanskrit literary sources:

Cāṇakyanīti 1: A collection of aphorisms belonging to the nītiśāstra tradtion (ancient India science of ethics and customs). The book was written by Cāṇakya.
More info

Padmapurāṇa 6.17.8: One of the eighteen major Purāṇas consisting of roughly 50,000 verses. Being encyclopedic in format, the contents of this work include various topics (as with most purāṇas), such as cosmology, genealogy, geography, history etc. The book was written by Vyāsa.
More info

Indische Sprüchen 7425: Collection of Sanskrit subhāṣitas (proverbial verses) with German translation. The book was written by Otto Böhtlingk in 1870.
More info


Cāṇakya (350 BC) is the author of the Cāṇakyanīti. He was an Indian polymath and teacher of philosophy, economy and various other sciences. He is considered the pioneer of political sciences in India. He is traditionally identified with Kauṭilya (author of the arthaśāstra) and Viṣṇugupta.

Vyāsa is the author of the Padmapurāṇa. He is traditionally accepted as author of the vedas, the purāṇas and the mahābhārata. He was also known as Vedavyāsa or Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana.

Otto Böhtlingk (1815) is the author of the Indische Sprüchen.

About the Mahāsubhāṣitasaṃgraha

This quote is included within the Mahāsubhāṣitasaṃgraha (महासुभाषितसंग्रह, maha-subhashita-samgraha), which is a compendium of Sanskrit aphorisms (subhāṣita), collected from various sources. Subhāṣita is a genre of Sanskrit literature, exposing the vast and rich cultural heritage of ancient India.

It has serial number 24 and can be found on page 5. (read on

Sanskrit is the oldest living language and bears testimony to the intellectual past of ancient India. Three major religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism) share this language, which is used for many of their holy books. Besides religious manuscripts, much of India’s ancient culture has been preserved in Sanskrit, covering topics such as Architecture, Music, Botany, Surgery, Ethics, Philosophy, Dance and much more.

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