I've heard the following verse before in a couple of spiritual discourses but more recently found it in The Cultural Heritage of India Volume II - Itihāsas, Purāṇas, Dharma and Other Śāstras in written form.

Who says this verse and in what context? I'm assuming it's Vyāsa but I could be wrong.


Matthew Arnold, defining the epic form of poetry, said that the main story must relate to high personages and that its language and metre should be simple and dignified. It should contain vigorous dialogues. It should have interludes in the form of episodes. It must have a high and noble purpose. In the light of this definition, we can surely call the Mahābhārata an epic par excellence. The story relates to high personages belonging to the hallowed race of the Bharatas of high antiquity. The metres employed in the epic are simple, being mostly anuṣṭubh and triṣṭubh and the language used is simple, sonorous, and dignified. There are a number of racy dialogues here and there, and a large number of episodes. The moral objective Of the work is propagation of the Eternal Law, covering the four human values — dharma, artha, kāma, and mokṣa. Of these, the first is to be regarded as the most valuable treasure.

In fact, the note of dharma permeates the entire poem, and is concisely expressed in the famous couplet:

Ūrdhvabāhur-viraumyeṣa na ca kaścit śṛṇoti mām,
Dharmād arthaśca kāmaśca sa dharmaḥ kiṃ na sevyate?

The introductory chapter of the epic narrates in detail several other objectives — one of which is being an eternal source of inspiration to future poets; but dharma is the supreme teaching of this epic, and so it is rightly regarded as the fifth Veda.

1 Answer 1


The verse occurs in the Swargarohanika Parva of the Mahabharata; here is the Sanskrit chapter and here is the English chapter:

ūrdhvabāhur viraumy eṣa na ca kaś cic chṛṇoti me |
dharmād arthaś ca kāmaś ca sa kimarthaṃ na sevyate ||

With uplifted arms I am crying aloud but nobody hears me. From Righteousness is Wealth as also Pleasure. Why should not Righteousness, therefore, be courted?

The context is that Ugrashrava is describing to Shaunaka and the Rishis of the Nainisharanya forest what Vyasa told his son Shuka when he taught him the Mahabharata:

In former times, the great Rishi Vyasa, having composed this treatise, caused his son Suka to read it with him, along with these four Verses. —Thousands of mothers and fathers, and hundreds of sons and wives arise in the world and depart from it. Others will (arise and) similarly depart. There are thousands of occasions for joy and hundreds of occasions for fear. These affect only him that is ignorant but never him that is wise. With uplifted arms I am crying aloud but nobody hears me. From Righteousness is Wealth as also Pleasure. Why should not Righteousness, therefore, be courted? For the sake neither of pleasure, nor of fear, nor of cupidity should any one cast off Righteousness. Indeed, for the sake of even life one should not cast off Righteousness. Righteousness is eternal. Pleasure and Pain are not eternal. Jiva is eternal. The cause, however, of Jiva’s being invested with a body is not so.

By the way, I am reminded of a line from the Apology of Socrates

I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue come money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, my influence is ruinous indeed.

Socrates was indeed executed for corrupting the youth with this teaching. So it seems that this teaching fell on deaf ears in Socrates' time, just as it had in Vyasa's time. Let's pray it fares better in our time.

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    If you notice, the second line of the verse is a little different, 'sa dharmaḥ' in the question becomes 'sa kimarthaṃ' in your answer. Oct 9, 2017 at 20:09
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    @sv. Hmm, you're right, this may be due to a difference in manuscripts. Here's how Debroy translates it: “I am without pleasure and have raised my arms, but no one is listening to me. If dharma and kama result from artha, why should one not pursue artha? For the sake of kama, fear or avarice, and even for the sake of preserving one’s life, one should not give up dharma. Dharma is eternal.” So I guess the BORI critical edition is using the kimartham reading. This is a case where I think the BORI reading is wrong, because the context of this verse is about praising Dharma, not Artha. Oct 9, 2017 at 20:22
  • @KeshavSrinivasan Even Mahabharata southern recension has "artha".
    – The Destroyer
    Oct 10, 2017 at 4:53
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    @TheDestroyer I think some recension must have dharma. Oct 10, 2017 at 5:06

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