664 – Promise

National Integration Through Thirukkural And Sanskrit

Living up to a promise

This story is about Bhishma in Mahabaratha. In his younger days, he was called Devavratha. Devavrtha’s father Shantanu,  fell in love with a fisherwoman Satyavati. Satyavati’s father wanted Shantanu to promise him that, children born to Satyavati would rule Hastinapur. Shantanu disagreed with the demand. But he was unable to forget Satyavati. Devavrtha came to know the reason behind Shantanu’s sorrow and met Satyavati’s father  and promised him that he would never stake a claim to the throne, implying that the child born to Shantanu and Satyavati would become the ruler after Shantanu. At this, Satyavati’s father retorted that even if Devavratha gave up his claim to the throne, his (Devavratha’s) children would still claim the throne. Devavratha then took the vow of lifelong celibacy, thus sacrificing his ‘crown-prince’ title and denying himself the pleasures of married life. This gave him immediate recognition among the Gods.  Since it was a terrible vow, he become known as Bhisma.

There were many situations thereafter, where, he was requested to break the vow, by Satyavati herself. But Bhisma refused and said, he would never dishonour his verbal promise.

In today’s world, “Promise” is the most violated word.

  • Children commonly use the words God Promise, Mother Promise etc., to earn the trust of others. When they fail to live up and nobody reminds them for faltering on their promise, they understand that no great disgrace arises due to dishonour of a promise.
  • Documents which are signed by a borrower start with the words “I/We Promise to pay…”. Defaults on such promises are huge. A recent statistics released by the Government of India shows that the banks have identified around 7,600  wilful defaulters with dues amounting to Rs.66,000 crores. The legal system is very slow and does not impose severe penalties for even willful defaults.
  • Arm chair critics, who have little or no experience in the subject they are talking about, give plenty of promise/advice. When they are presented with an opportunity, they fail to deliver, because promises were made without adequate thought process.
  • People in positions of power fail to deliver what they promised. Election manifestos released by political parties contain enormous promises to citizens and when voted to power based on the hope that, those promises would be kept, they are unable to deliver on the promise. When the rulers take oath, they “swear in the name of God”. But when they fail, they cite excuses for their failure, on world economy, failed monsoon etc,

Thiruvalluvar in his couplet 664 cautions people to be more discreet before making a promise as he understands the difficulty in living up to a promise.

சொல்லுதல் யார்க்கும் எளிய அரியவாம்
சொல்லிய வண்ணம் செயல் 

Solludhal Yaarkkum Eliya Ariyavaam
Solliya Vannam Seyal

பரிமேலழகர் உரை:

சொல்லுதல் யார்க்கும் எளிய – யாம் இவ்வினையை இவ்வாற்றால் செய்தும் என நிரல்படச் சொல்லுதல் யாவர்க்கும் எளிய; சொல்லிய வண்ணம் செயல் அரியவாம் – அதனை அவ்வாற்றானே செய்தல் யாவர்க்கும் அரியவாம். (சொல்லுதல், செயல் என்பன சாதிப்பெயர். அரியவற்றை எண்ணிச் சொல்லுதல் திட்பமில்லாதார்க்கும் இயறலின். ‘எளிய’ என்றார். இதனால் அதனது அருமை கூறப்பட்டது.).

Sanskrit Translation by Shri S.N. Srirama Desikan

ஏவம் கர்தவ்யமித்யேதத்³வக்தும் ஸ²க்தா: ஸமே பு⁴வி |
யதோ²க்தம் கார்யகரணே ஸமர்தோ² நாஸ்தி கஸ்²சன ||