Janamejaya’s Snake Sacrifice
Sage Vaisampayana, the narrator of the Mahabharata, was the expounder of Nitiprakasika, an ancient treatise on the science of war. Nitiprakasika delineates Nitisastra, which means rajaniti (the theory of politics). It is believed that this text was produced more than 3000 years ago, after or during the Mahabharata war, which is mentioned in the text. Vaisampayana learned the knowledge described in the Nitiprakasika from his guru Veda Vyasa.
The Nitiprakasika contains 546 verses, divided into eight sargas (cantos). The first sarga opens with Vaisampayana’s journey to Takshashila for meeting Emperor Janamejaya, who was the son Parikshit, the grandson of Abhimanyu, and the great grandson of Arjuna. After the exchange of usual greetings, the sage and the emperor sat down to discuss political and military issues. The science of war unfolds during the course of their conversation.
In the second sarga, Vaisampayana describes four kinds of weapons of war: Mukta, Amukta, Muktamukta, and Mantramukta. The Mukta weapons are those that are thrown; the Amukta weapons are those that are not thrown; the Muktamukta weapons are those that are thrown or not thrown; the Mantramukta weapons are those that are thrown with spells. A distinction is made between ordinary weapons and advanced weapons which consist of projectiles and counter-projectiles. A total of 132 weapons are described.
In the third sarga, there is explanation for the use of only one weapon, the khaḍga (sword). The purpose of the khaḍga is explained and there is a discussion of the mythical Khaḍgapuruṣa. The sargas four and five explain the movement of the ordinary weapons and the advanced projectiles described in the second sarga. The discussion of dhanurveda (art of archery) in these two sargas is more elaborate than in any other ancient text.
In the sixth sarga, the longest in the text, there is discussion of the strategies for attaining victory in war, and the policies for maintaining political stability in the kingdom at war time. The method of building an effective military is discussed, and there is a description of the administrative mechanisms for ensuring that qualified commanders get promoted to key positions in the military units. There is also a discussion of the strategies for proper deployment of soldiers in the battlefield, and the necessity for ensuring that valorous soldiers get recognized and rewarded.
The seventh sarga dwells on the size of the military units. The smallest unit Patti has 10 warriors: 1 Elephant (Gaja) + 1 Chariot (Ratha) + 3 Horse (Ashwa) + 5 Foot Soldiers (Padati). The largest unit Akshauhini has 218,700 warriors: 21870 Elephant + 21870 Chariot + 65610 Horse + 109350 Foot Soldiers. This sarga contains information on the remuneration of the commanders, the ethical practices that must be adopted at war time, and the administrative mechanism for training of soldiers and officers, and for punishing offenders.
In the eighth and final sarga there is an account of the duties and privileges of the ruling class. Vaisampayana explains to Janamejaya the time table that the rulers should follow to provide good governance to their kingdom, especially in the period of war. He talks about the methods by which competent officers can be identified and promoted, and those who commit war crimes can be demoted and punished. He describes the administrative mechanisms for villages and cities.