Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book Review - Chanakya Neeti

Complete Chanakya Neeti - Manoj Publications: This is a book with words of wisdom from Chanakya, a political genius and minister that lived around 300 BC.It provides the original verses in Sanskrit and a reasonably close English translation. Some words are translated differently in different verses (e,g, dharma as religion, or law), so we have to watch out if it is really authentic translation as it claims. It also has a detailed explanation, which in many places is unnecessary and poorly written, mixed with author's own opinions and contradictions.
Neeti means Law or Rule, but the book is only words of wisdom or fact book centered around value of education, money, values for women, kings & brahmins during Chanakya's times - not categorized as criminal, family, contract law that we'd expect out of a law book.

Here are some interesting views of Chanakya that you may agree or disagree with, and might question if some of these are really words of wisdom:
  • Hates fools (evident from recurring mention in many verses). Feels teachers shouldn't waste time teaching them.
  • The verses say things about women that make it difficult to cut him slack. Like, women eat twice as much, have 8x sexual drive than men! A pretty wife is an enemy! Prostitutes envy housewives!
  • It appears the food pyramid is upside down, in his mind! The verses say leafy veggies bring diseases. Milk has ten times more calories than flour, and Ghee (melted butter) is ten times more energy than meat and provides more vigor (book interprets the word virya as semen, but I am being kind ).
  • Plenty of good advice and leadership emphasis for kings. Yatha Raja Thatha Praja - Like King, like subjects. He advices to get out of a country that doesn't respect you or doesn't provide a reasonable means of living among a few other criteria.
  • Idol worshipers are fools. Wise folks realize God is everywhere and look for God in their own hearts.
There is also mention of gold, brass and other interesting historical tidbits, greed for money, women or wives of loose character, that students shouldn't be distracted by love, entertainment shows etc. implying similar problems existed in those times as well!

Overall, I am glad I read the book. It gives us a good insight into Chanakya's times, the metaphors used are great, and much of the book is actually good advice we could use even today.

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