Dr. K. Srinivasan - Satyavan's Dialogue : The Need for Humaneness in Punishment’

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

Dr. Srinivasan began his lecture by first explaining to the audience that there are two Satyavan stories. One is a very famous story known as the Sāvitri and Satyavān story, but Dr. Srinivasan said that the story he is going to talk about is a different one where Satyavān is the son of Dyumatsena and thus the Satyavān here is not perceived as the husband of Savitri rather he is perceived as Master Dyumatsena i.e., the son of Dyumatsena. Before moving further Dr. Srinivasa told the audience that the story that he is going to explain here finds its place in Shanti Parva of the Mahābhārata. Shanti Parva he says has three major sections namely Rajadharma Anuśasana Parva, this sub-book describes the duties of kings and leaders, among other things. Apaddharma Anuśasana Parva, this sub-book describes the rules of conduct when one faces adversity. Mokśa dharma Parva, this sub-book describes behaviour and rules to achieve moksha (emancipation, release, freedom).

Dr. Srinivasan then briefly explained Samkhya view and Jain view regarding ahiṃsā and how the Vedic sacrifices were not held by them. It is in this context Dr. Srinivasan talks about Yudhiṣṭhira who asked this question regarding ahiṃsā, that if ahiṃsā is an important concept and regarded as the most significant by all then is not ahiṃsā universal and compulsory for all the people. So now, if it is compulsory for all that means that it is compulsory for the king as well, then how can a king run the administration where he has to take strict actions in terms of punishment towards the wrong doers. The answer to Yudhiṣṭhira’s question was given by Bhishma in the form of story. All the questions in Mahābhārata does not have straight forward answers rather it was always in the form of stories do that a person can better understand the context in which it is applied and also understand the present context in which the king is placed so that one can interpret and apply the answer in a manner that can suit to his position and his country. Dr. Srinivasan thus says that the narratives are very important part of the Mahābhārata.

Dr. Srinivasan then explains the whole narrative between Yudhiṣṭhira and Bhishma were both of them are having a dialogue between the right and the wrong, between the authority of the self and most importantly about the Dharma. The speaker then also pointed to many important questions and replies to those questions were also discussed.

Dr. Srinivasan then discussed another question by Yudhiṣṭhira who asks, if the King has to follow ahiṃsā and not inflict injuries then how can he protect people? To answer this question of Yudhiṣṭhira Bhishma says that he will narrate the story of Satyavān where Dyumatsena has a conversation with his son Satyavān. Dr. Srinivasan explained to the audience the whole dialogue and gave a rich yet coherent account of the whole dialogue explaining various things such as cruelty in the punishment, deterrence as the law and questions related to it such as should deterrence be the goal of punishment, what are the goal of punishments, are there any good punishments, questions related to suffering like the suffering of the wrongdoer and also the suffering of the people because of the wrongdoer. Many more such insightful questions were brought into light by the speaker while elucidating the story of Satyavān in order to explain the key points such as what should be the philosophy of punishment, what conceptions one should have in their mind while thinking or acting, the implementation should also be kept in mind and foremost thought that one must bear is the realisation for need for humaneness in punishment.

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