Classics like the Panchatantra or Vetala Panchavimshati were neither meant solely for children nor for illiterate folk. Entertaining and edifying, they were written for princes and kings, ministers and courtiers who are still amidst us, albeit in disguise, with the same motivations and ambitions. They also addressed the experts who peddled knowledge as a panacea for all political ills. The aversion to bookish learning among those ambitious and eager for real action and realpolitik exists even today.
In Virtue and Human Ends, Vasanthi Srinivasan revisits some of our most well-known ancient Indian texts—Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, Vetala Panchavimshati, Dasakumaracharita, Arthashastra, and Mudrarakshasa—to see what they tell us about the art and nature of governance, statecraft, policy (niti), war and peace, foes and allies, but also the equally important ideas of virtue, friendship, svadharma, loyalty, prudence, justice, love, desire, good and evil, and the ability to judge rightly and act well regarding these human ends. She also challenges the misplaced but common notion that what we glean from comics and ‘popular’ narratives is ‘literature’, but not ‘political thought’.
These timeless texts also provide a window into the popular as well as elite reception of political ideas. Unearthing some of the most colourful and enduring tales that Indians across generations have read, the author takes a closer look at these narratives to reassess the ‘morals’ of these stories, illuminate internal diversity and dissent in the teaching of politics, and their continuing relevance in twenty-first century Indian political thought.
Scholars and students of Indian classical literature, Indian political thought, comparative literature and Indology, and all interested readers will find this a delightful and engaging read.
VASANTHI SRINIVASAN is Professor of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, Telangana
Preface and Acknowledgements
I Studying Politics versus Doing Politics: Minding the Gap
II Discerning Friends and Enemies: Prudence in the Panchatantra
III War and Peace: Dangerous Remedies and Real Success in the Hitopadesha
IV Games of Chance and Strife: Love and Politics in the Dasakumaracharita
V Beyond Svadharma: Ethical Excellence in the Vetala Panchavimshati