Values and Popular Wisdom

Chanakya Pandit, the minister of King Chandra Gupta. Chanakya compiled the popular Niti Shastra (also called the Chanakya Shloka)

Proverbs, like stories, are a popular way of transmitting values and wisdom. Much moral instruction is present in the Niti-Shastra texts, such as those compiled by Chanakya Pandit (see also Dharma Sastras).

Also popular are the legends that have grown up around various people such as Birbal, the chief minister of Emperor Akbar. Such stories are available to children through comics such as those published by “Amar Chitra Katha” They also publish comic versions of other tales, such as those from the epics and Puranas, as well as the popular animal stories told in the Panchatantra (see Story and Myth and Dharma Sastras).


  • To eat or not to eat? Better not to eat – unless it’s the middle of winter (for then the digestion will be strong).To go or not to go? Best to stay put – unless you have a call of nature, and then you must go!
  • Better to have an intelligent enemy than a foolish friend.
  • One should entertain neither enmity nor friendship towards an evil person; a piece of coal, when hot, burns the hand, when cold, blackens it.
  • When an elephant is in trouble, even a frog will kick him.
  • One who cannot dance blames the floor
  • These six should never be given up: truthfulness, generosity, good humour, friendliness, forgiveness, and contentment.
  • Do not be despondent because of ill fate: there cannot be sesame oil without the crushing of sesame seeds.
  • Do not entertain thoughts of revenge unless you are capable of action – the chick pea hopping up and down will not break the pan it is fried in.
  • Self-praise is no praise.
  • One who speaks of others’ faults in an assembly proclaims his own defects.
  • Don’t listen to others secrets.
  • Worship of elders is the root of humility.
  • One should not argue with the intelligent, the foolish, friends, teachers, or the beloved.
  • The wealth of learning cannot be stolen by thieves.

Personal Reflection

Which Hindu proverbs have equivalents in our culture? What relevance does this idea of common truths and values have to notions of sanatana-dharma?