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Anushasana Parva

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Title: Anushasana Parva  
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Subject: Shanti Parva, Mahabharata, Svargarohana Parva, Ashvamedhika Parva, Chekitana
Collection: Mahabharata, Parvas in Mahabharata
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Anushasana Parva

Anushasana parva recites the final precepts on rule of dharma (law) by Bhisma to Yudhisthira. In this book, Bhisma dies and ascends to heaven.

Anushasana Parva (Sanskrit: अनुशासन पर्व), or the "Book of Instructions," is the thirteenth of eighteen books of the Indian Epic Mahabharata. It has 2 sub-books and 168 chapters.[1][2] Sometimes this parva is referred to as the "Book of Precepts".[3]

Anushasana Parva continues the theme of Shanti Parva, a discussion of duties of a ruler, the rule of law, instructions on dharma for those close to the leader. The dialogue is between Yudhisthira, Bhisma and other sages. The book debates the duties, behaviors and habits of individuals, with chapters dedicated to men and to women. Various types of marriages are mentioned and their merits compared. The parva also recites many symbolic tales and legends such as the legend of Nachiketa, as well as the death and last rites of Bhishma, the eldest member of the Kuru family.[1][3]


  • Structure and chapters 1
  • English translations 2
  • Salient features 3
    • Anushasana parva on free will and destiny 3.1
    • Theory of compassion and non-violence 3.2
    • Duties and rights of women 3.3
    • Shaivism 3.4
    • Vaishnavism 3.5
  • Critical reception 4
  • Quotes and teachings 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Structure and chapters

Chapters 75 to 83 of Anushasana parva describe the value and wealth cows represent, their upkeep and protection.

Anushasana Parva (book) has 2 sub-parvas (sub-books or little books) and 168 adhyayas (sections, chapters).[2][4] The 2 sub-books are:[5]

1. Dana dharma parva
2. Bhisma svargarohana parva

The Parva starts with a visit to Bhishma, who is dying. He is surrounded by sages and rishis including Vashishta, Maitreya, Sanat Kumara, Valmiki, Kapila, Vyasadeva and Narada. As with Shanti Parva, Yudhisthira asks for counsel and Bhishma replies. It includes duties of the king, officials of a kingdom, men and women. The book dedicates several chapters to cows, their importance to household's food security, agriculture and wealth.[2]

Chapter 149 of Anushasana Parva recites Vishnu sahasranama - a list of 1,000 names (sahasranama) of Vishnu.[3] Included in the list of 1000 names for Vishnu are Shiva, Sharva, Sthanu, Ishana and Rudra. This synonymous listing of Shiva and Vishnu as one, in Mahabharata, has led[6] to the theory that all gods mentioned in Vedic literature are one. This is a controversial theory, as other ancient scriptures describe Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva as three different gods, with respective responsibilities as creator, maintainer and destructive recycler of life.[7]

English translations

Anushasana Parva was composed in Sanskrit. Several translations of the book in English are available. Two translations from 19th century, now in public domain, are those by Kisari Mohan Ganguli[2] and Manmatha Nath Dutt.[1] The translations vary with each translator's interpretations.

Debroy, in 2011, notes[5] that updated critical edition of Anushasana Parva, after removing verses and chapters generally accepted so far as spurious and inserted into the original, has 2 sub-books, 154 adhyayas (chapters) and 6,493 shlokas (verses).

Salient features

Anushasana parva includes numerous symbolic tales and fables, as well as treatises that debate appropriate human behavior. Among these are discussions on human free will versus destiny, as well as duties and rights of women.[2]

Anushasana parva on free will and destiny

Chapter 6 of Anushasana parva presents one of many debates on free will (exertion) and destiny in the Mahabharata. The debate starts as a question from Yudhisthira to dying Bhisma. The dying scholar answers by reciting the conversation between Vasishtha and Brahmana on whether karma in this life (exertion through free will) or karma from past (destiny) is the more powerful in shaping one's life. The Brahmana replies with an example of seeds.[2] Without seeds, fruits do not grow. Good seeds when sown yield good fruits. Bad seeds when sown yield weeds and bad fruits. If no seeds are sown, there are no fruits. Without exertion in this life, destiny is meaningless. One's exertion now is like a tilled soil; the seeds are like destiny. The union of tilled soil and seeds, that is one's present effort and destiny inside the seed, produces the harvest. As one sows, so shall he reaps; happiness comes from good deeds, pain from evil deeds. Nothing can be gained by destiny alone. Personal exertion is necessary to fulfill whatever one desires, wealth one wishes, and knowledge one seeks. He who exerts with initiative is his own best friend, he who relies solely on destiny is his own worst enemy.[8]

Theory of compassion and non-violence

A theory of compassion is presented from Chapter 113 through 118 of Anusasana parva.[9][10] Vrihaspati counsels Yudhisthira that universal compassion is key to successful and happy life. One must regard all creatures like one's own self, and behave towards them as towards one's own self. One should never do something to another person or any living creature, which one regards as injurious to one's own self, suggests Anushasana parva. When one injures another, the injured turns round and injures the injurer. Similarly, when one cherishes another, that other cherishes the cherisher.[11] Whether it is a matter of refusals or gifts, creating happiness or misery, or doing or saying something that is agreeable or disagreeable, before doing or saying so, one should judge their effects by a reference to one's own self. This consideration of other's interest as one's own is compassion, and it is an essential rule of Dharma, claims Vrihaspati.[12]

Bhisma, in Chapter 114 of Anushasana parva, explains that this theory of compassion applies not merely to one's actions, but to one's words as well as one's thoughts.[13] One consequence of compassion, claims Bhisma, is Ahimsa - the abstention from injury or harm to anyone, or the principle of non-violence. This is expressed in Chapter 117 in the widely quoted verse on Ahimsa:[14][15]

अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मस तथाहिंसा परॊ दमः
अहिंसा परमं दानम अहिंसा परमस तपः
अहिंसा परमॊ यज्ञस तथाहिस्मा परं बलम
अहिंसा परमं मित्रम अहिंसा परमं सुखम
अहिंसा परमं सत्यम अहिंसा परमं शरुतम


Ahimsa is the highest virtue, Ahimsa is the highest self-control;
Ahimsa is the greatest gift, Ahimsa is the best suffering;
Ahimsa is the highest sacrifice, Ahimsa is the finest strength;
Ahimsa is the greatest friend, Ahimsa is the greatest happiness;
Ahimsa is the highest truth, Ahimsa is the greatest teaching.[17][18]

Duties and rights of women

Across various chapters of Anushasana Parva, duties of men and women are debated. Above Sandili presents her views on the duties of women to Sumana.[19]

Various chapters of Anushasana parva recite the duties and rights of women. The goddess of prosperity

  • Anushasana Parva, English Translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
  • Anushasana Parva, English Translation by Manmatha Nath Dutt
  • Anushasana Parva in Sanskrit by Vyasadeva with commentary by Nilakantha - Worldcat OCLC link
  • Anushasana Parva in Sanskrit and Hindi by Ramnarayandutt Shastri, Volume 5
  • Anushasana Parva English Translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, another archive

External links

  1. ^ a b c d Anushasana Parva The Mahabharata, Translated by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1905)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Anushasana Parva The Mahabharata, Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, Published by P.C. Roy (1893)
  3. ^ a b c John Murdoch (1898), The Mahabharata - An English Abridgment, Christian Literature Society for India, London, pages 116-120
  4. ^ Anushasana Parva The Mahabharata, Translated by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1905), Page 350
  5. ^ a b Bibek Debroy, The Mahabharata : Volume 3, ISBN 978-0143100157, Penguin Books, page xxiii - xxiv of Introduction
  6. ^ Steven J. Rosen, The Agni and the Ecstasy, p. 185, at Google Books, ISBN 978-1907166792
  7. ^ Lionel Barnett (1923, reprinted 2009), Hindu Gods and Heroes, ISBN 978-1444458435, Valde Books
  8. ^ Anushasana Parva The Mahabharata, Translated by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1905), Chapter 6, Page 12
  9. ^ Anushasanika parva Chaper 113, Anushasana Parva, The Mahabharata, K.M. Gaguli (1893)
  10. ^ Froucke Wijmenga (2012), Religie en Compassie, Thesis under Prof. Marcel Sarot, Universiteit Utrecht, The Netherlands
  11. ^ R. Kumar, Non-violence and Its Philosophy, p. 38, at Google Books, ISBN 8179331539, See footnote 3
  12. ^ Manmatha Nath Dutt (1905) - Translator, Anushasana Parva The Mahabharata, Chapter 113, Page 250
  13. ^ Anushasanika parva Chaper 114, Anushasana Parva, The Mahabharata, K.M. Gaguli (1893)
  14. ^ James L. Fitzgerald, The Many Voices of the Mahābhārata, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 123, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 2003), pages 803-818
  15. ^ Hiro Badlani, Hinduism: Path of the Ancient Wisdom, p. 259, at Google Books, ISBN 978-0-595-43636-1
  16. ^ Mahabharata 13.117.37-38
  17. ^ Chapple, C. (1990). Ecological Nonviolence and the Hindu Tradition. In Perspectives on Nonviolence (pp. 168-177). Springer New York.
  18. ^ Ahimsa: To do no harm Subramuniyaswami, What is Hinduism?, Chapter 45, Pages 359-361
  19. ^ a b K.M. Ganguli (translator), Anushasanika Parva, Chapter 123 PC Roy (1893)
  20. ^ Manmatha Nath Dutt (1905) - Translator, Anushasana Parva The Mahabharata, Chapter 19 (Verse 15-103), page 64, and Chapters 20-21
  21. ^ Manmatha Nath Dutt (1905) - Translator, Anushasana Parva The Mahabharata, Chapter 20, Verses 20-21
  22. ^ Anushasanika Parva, Chapter 44 K.M. Ganguli (translator), PC Roy (1893)
  23. ^ Anusasana Parva The Mahabharata, Translated by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1905), Chapter 44, Verses 22-23, page 111
  24. ^ Anushasana Parva The Mahabharata, Translated by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1905), page 116
  25. ^ Tryambakayajvan (trans. Julia Leslie 1989), The Perfect Wife - Strīdharmapaddhati, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195621075
  26. ^ Leslie, J. (1992), The significance of dress for the orthodox Hindu woman, in Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning (Editors: Ruth Barnes, Joanne B. Eicher), pages 198-213; Quote - "Strīdharmapaddhati represents a bizarre mixture of reality and utopia."
  27. ^ John Muir, Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India, Volume 4th, 2nd Edition, Trubner & Co., London, pages 187-205
  28. ^ S. Parmeshwaranand, Encyclopaedia of the Śaivism, Volume 1, ISBN 978-8176254274, pages 61-63
  29. ^ Stephen Knapp (2012), Hindu Gods & Goddesses, ISBN 978-8184953664, Chapter 4
  30. ^ D. Kinsley (1974), Through the Looking Glass, History of Religions, 13(4), pages 270-305
  31. ^ E. Washburn Hopkins, Epic Chronology, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 24 (1903), pages 7-56
  32. ^ V. V. Iyer (1922), Notes on a study of the preliminary chapters of The Mahabharata - An attempt to separate genuine from spurious matter, Ramaswami Sastrulu & Sons, Madras
  33. ^ VISHNU S. SUKTHANKAR (1933), The Mahabharata, Critically Edited Version A history of the debate of various conflicting versions of the Mahabharata, University of Goettingen Archives, Germany, Prologue section
  34. ^ V.V. Iyer (1922), Notes on a study of the preliminary chapters of The Mahabharata - An attempt to separate genuine from spurious matter, Ramaswami Sastrulu & Sons, Madras, pages 280-282; Also see Chapter 4 in its entirety
  35. ^ Alf Hiltebeitel, (2001) Rethinking the Mahabharata: A Reader's Guide to the Education of the Dharma King, ISBN 0-226-34054-6, University of Chicago Press, see Chapter 1, Introduction
  36. ^ Anushasana Parva by Ramnarayandutt Shastri, Chapter 7; Also see page 26 and commentary in the footnotes of Anushasana Parva, The Mahabharata, Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli (1893), Chapter 7
  37. ^ Anushasana Parva, The Mahabharata, Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli (1893), Chapter 23, Page 49 with the footnote and commentaries 2-6


See also

One should avoid the three acts that are done with the body, the four that are done with speech, the three that are done with the mind.

The three acts that are done with the body and should be wholly avoided are:
the destruction of the lives of other creatures, theft or appropriation of what belongs to other persons, and the enjoyment of other people's wives.

The four acts that are done with speech, O king, and that should never be indulged in are:
evil conversation, harsh words, publishing other people's faults, and falsehood.

The three acts done with the mind which should always be avoided:
Coveting the possessions of others, doing injury to others, and disbelieving that one's acts have fruits.

One should never do an evil act in word, body or mind.

—Bhisma, Anushasana Parva, Mahabharata Book xiii.13[37]

Anushasana parva, Chapter 13:

That man attains riches who is charitable,
He who is silent secures the following of others,
The restrained is who enjoys everything in life,
It is the brahmacharya who lives a long life,
Beauty, prosperity and freedom comes to those who abstain from injury to others.

BhismaAnushasana Parva, Mahabharata Book xiii.7[36]

Anushasana parva, Chapter 7:

Quotes and teachings

Scholars[31][32] have questioned the chronology and content of many chapters in Anushasana Parva, whether they represent wisdom from ancient India, or were these chapters smuggled in to spread social and moral theories during India's medieval or during second millennium AD.[33] Iyer, in 1923, compared different versions of Anushasana Parva manuscripts found in east, west and south India, in Sanskrit and in different Indian languages. The comparison showed that while some chapters and verses on Dharma and ethical theories are found in all manuscripts, there are major inconsistencies between many parts of the manuscripts. Not only is the order of chapters different, large numbers of verses were missing, entirely different or somewhat inconsistent between the manuscripts. The most inconsistent sections were those relating to women's rights and duties, discussion of social customs, castes, and those highlighting praise of specific gods. Iyer claims[34] these chapters were smuggled into the Mahabharata, or the answers to question of Yudhisthira and other characters were entirely rewritten to suit local agenda or views. Hiltebeitel similarly has questioned the authenticity of numerous verses of Anushasana and Shanti Parvas.[35]

Critical reception

Along with chapters on Shiva and Parvati, numerous chapters of Anushasana parva are dedicated to praising Vishnu and Lakshmi. These chapters are important to the bhakti sect named Vaishnavism. In this school of Hinduism, Chapter 149 of Anusasana parva is a source of mantra and chants. This is also called Viṣṇusahasranāma - a list of 1000 names of Vishnu.[29][30]


Many chapters of Anushasana parva are dedicated to praising Mahadeva and Uma.[27] These chapters explain their power, recommend their worship and are important to the bhakti sect named Shaivism.[28]


Anushasana Parva has served as a source for studies and theories about women's duties and rights in ancient India. For example, Tryambakayajvan of Thanjavur, in the 18th century AD, published Strīdharmapaddhati (sometimes referred to as Stri Dharma Paddhati, or "Guide for a Dharmic Woman"). Tryambaka, according to Julia Leslie,[25] selectively extracts verses from many chapters of Anushasana parva. He selectively extracts verses from other books of the Mahabharata as well, and other ancient Indian texts, for Strīdharmapaddhati.[26] Tryambaka omits verses that represent the many voices and counter-arguments presented in the Anushasana Parva.

Property a woman inherits is her own, declares Anushasana Parva. A woman has the right to enjoy but not sell her husband's property if she becomes a widow. The property owned by a woman is 100% inherited by her daughter(s).[2]

The daughter, O king, has been ordained in the scriptures to be equal to the son.
BhismaAnushasana Parva, Mahabharata Book xiii.47.26[24]

Anushasana parva discusses inheritance rights of a woman over many chapters. This discussion is inconsistent, with some chapters differentiating inheritance rights of women based on caste if husband and wife are of same caste or if husband and wife are of different castes. Other chapters are silent about caste, but differentiate inheritance rights of women based on type of marriage. Verse 26 of Chapter 47 declares a daughter and son to be equal, in the words of Bhisma counseling king Yudhisthira:

Chapter 44 of Anushasana parva declares a woman has a right to choose her husband and enter into Gandharva marriage, although this is only one of three recommended and righteous forms of marriages it lists for a woman.[22] In other chapters, Anushasana parva suggests a girl's father should prevent his daughter or son from entering into Gandharva marriage, and encourages a marriage based on character, accomplishments and compatibility. In verses 22 and 23 of Chapter 44, the parva discourages a woman from living with a man she does not like, and notes prevalent differences in opinion on this subject.[23] Verse 26 claims a marriage engagement made by kins and relatives of a girl are binding, but an engagement made by bride and groom on their own free will, with mantras, is much more binding.

Ashtavakra visits the abode of Mahadeva in Chapter 19 through 21 of Anushasana parva,[20] where he meets Apsaras. Ashtavakra and a lady then debate if women are independent, or are they always dependent on men. Ashtavakra argues that a woman is never independent, her father protects her when she is a child, husband when she is youthful, and her sons when she is old.[21] The Apsara presents her views, insists she is independent, the mistress of her own self. Neither win the debate, Ashtavakra returns from the abode of Mahadeva, while the Apsara continues in her own independent ways.

The duties of women are again recited in Chapter 146, as a conversation between god Shiva and his wife goddess Uma, where Shiva asks what are the duties of women. Uma (Parvati) proceeds to meet all the rivers, who are all goddesses that nourish and create fertile valleys.[1] Uma suggests that the duties of women include being of a good disposition, endued with sweet speech, sweet conduct, and sweet features. For a woman, claims Uma, her husband is her god, her husband is her friend, and her husband is her high refuge. A woman's duties include physical and emotional nourishment, reverence and fulfillment of her husband and her children. Their happiness is her happiness, she observes the same vows as those that are observed by her husband, her duty is to be cheerful even when her husband or her children are angry, be there for them in adversity or sickness, is regarded as truly righteous in her conduct.[2] Beyond her husband and family, her duty is to be cheerful of heart and humble with friends and relatives, do the best she can for friends and guests. It is her duty to manage the household, to feed the deities, guests, any servants who work for her, and dependents of the family with what she eats and before she eats. Her family life and her home is her heaven, tells goddess Parvati to Shiva.

Anusasana parva repeats these duties for women through the tale of Sandili, suggesting that a woman should have reverence for her family and husband, that human relationships are a form of worship. [19] The goddess asserts she does not reside in woman who is sinful, unclean, always disagreeing with her husband, has no patience or fortitude, is lazy, quarrelsome with her neighbors and relatives. In Chapter 123,[2]

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