The Nitopadesha is based on the distant land of Gandhara, where there was a janapada called Chakrapuri. It narrates how its elders were a worried lot and children were uninterested in the welfare and upkeep of the janapada. Most of them were consumed by self-interest and avarice, seeking personal gains, even at the cost of their fellow citizens. Realising that the young must learn the arts and crafts of citizenship, the Sabha of Chakrapuri decided to employ Nitina of Takshashila, whose wisdom was said to be unparalleled, to teach their children. The Nitopadesha captures the storyline of the unconventional scholar being entrusted with the charge of these boys and girls for the next ninety days.
A labyrinth of stories in the style of the Panchatantra and the Jataka tales, this is a book about good citizenship and citizen-craft that will speak to the modern reader.
Here is an excerpt from The Nitopadesha:
To hold together a relationship
From courtship to citizenship
One must always perform the right actions,
As the crow Rajnidatta discovered.
Ronava asked, ‘How did that happen?’ Nitina narrated this story.
In a distant land, in the forest of Bandipura, there was a crow named Rajnidatta who fell in love with Chandramani, who was known as much for her beauty as for her intelligence. One spring morning, as she sat on the tall branches of the big jackfruit tree, he mustered up the courage and proposed to marry her.
Chandramani said, ‘Suitors I have had many, but I have turned down all. For I seek a husband with the wealth to ensure that I am well cared for. No such suitor have I come across. I can see that you have a sincere heart, and your words are also sweet, but do you have a jewel that can seal our betrothal?’ Rajnidatta was disappointed, for he owned no property, much less a jewel.
‘I do not have a jewel, as I do not have any use for it. But if a jewel you need to marry me, then I shall endeavour to obtain one. Will you give me a hundred days for this task?’
Impressed with her suitor’s sincerity, Chandramani agreed. ‘A hundred days you shall have. Hear me well, O Rajnidatta, in a hundred days if you bring me one of the navaratnas, you shall have my hand in marriage. If you fail in this enterprise, however, you must cut off one of your wings, to discourage others from idle and frivolous suits.’ This was more than Rajnidatta had initially agreed to, but since it was too late to back off, he accepted Chandramani’s challenge.
Rajnidatta flew north and south, east and west, across forests and rivers, mountains and deserts, kingdoms and janapadas, and encountered many strange and marvellous events. He met kings and paupers, scholars and charlatans, soldiers, spies, mendicants and thieves. He met strange animals and exotic birds, deadly plants and miraculous trees, heard a myriad of tongues and surprising songs, saw different gods worshipped in different ways, but even after a hundred
days he could not find one jewel, let alone a navaratna.
On the appointed day he arrived at the jackfruit tree, with a sharp razor in hand (he had obtained it from a barber in return for performing him a service). He said, ‘Chandramani, dark and beautiful, I must say with great regret that I have failed in my task. Though I travelled far and saw many wonderful things, I have no jewel to show. Clearly, I am not worthy of your hand in marriage. Thus, according to our solemn agreement, I shall chop off my wing this very moment with this razor I have brought.’
Chandramani said, ‘Agreements once made must always be honoured. But we have all day before your wing must be cleft. Why not pass it pleasantly when we can? I am very curious to know about the lands you visited and the events that came your way. Will you be so generous and kind as to tell me what you saw?’
To this, Rajnidatta replied, ‘So shall it be. Why should the certainty of future pain Stop us from enjoying the moment? If death is the ultimate certainty of the living, why then should we live life fearing it? As the Donkey who settled in the Mountain Realm said, all I want is to enjoy the fruits of my honest labours.’
‘Why did he say that?’ asked Chandramani, the beautiful and intelligent crow.
Then, Rajnidatta narrated this story.
Excerpted with permission from ‘The Nitopadesha’ translated by Nitin Pai; and published by Penguin Random House India. You can also join SheThePeople’s Book club on Facebook, LinkedIn and Inst
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