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Should the king weigh the potential damage done to his own people and kingdom before declaring a war? Should he try and make his best effort to avoid the war? Are there any circumstances when a war is just unavoidable?

Do Hindu scriptures shed light on these?

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    most of Mahabharata is about how Yudhistira tried to avoid war, exiled in forest for 12 years, tried to dialogue peace with Duryodhana, but war became inevitable – ram Sep 26 '18 at 20:18
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There are four measures (to be applied in that order), viz - Sama (peacemaking), Dana (buying off with gifts), Bheda (dissension), and finally Danda (punishment/force or war), for the king to apply on his foes.

First, he should try the three measures, either separately or jointly, apart from war, because war is always disastrous and moreover the result is hard to predict beforehand. But if/when those measures fail to bear any fruit, he can resort to war.

The Manu Smriti states war should be avoided till the point when it is impossible to do so.

7.198. He should (however) try to conquer his foes by conciliation, by (well-applied) gifts, and by creating dissension, used either separately or conjointly, never by fighting, (if it can be avoided.)

7.199. For when two (princes) fight, victory and defeat in the battle are, as experience teaches, uncertain; let him therefore avoid an engagement (war).

7.200. (But) if even those three before-mentioned expedients fail, then let him, duly exerting himself, fight in such a manner that he may completely conquer his enemies.

The whole chapter 7 of the text is talking about the duties of the king and among which some verses are dedicated to war.

Few more relevant verses are as follows:

7.164. War is declared to be of two kinds, (viz.) that which is undertaken in season or out of season, by oneself and for one’s own purposes, and (that waged to avenge) an injury done to a friend.

7.169. When (the king) knows (that) at some future time his superiority (is) certain, and (that) at the time present (he will suffer) little injury, then let him have recourse to peaceful measures.

7.170. But when he thinks all his subjects to be exceedingly contented, and (that he) himself (is) most exalted (in power), then let him make war.

7.174. But when he is very easily assailable by the forces of the enemy, then let him quickly seek refuge with a righteous, powerful king.

7.176. When, even in that (condition), he sees (that) evil is caused by (such) protection, let him without hesitation have recourse to war.

About Sama, Dana, Bheda, Danda :

We find references to these four measures in various scriptures.

For example mentioned in the following passage from Devi Bhagavatam Book 1, Chapter 7:

1-26. Sûta said :-- Seeing the two Dânavas very powerful, Brahmâ, the knower of all the S’âstras, thought of the means Sâma, Dâna, Bheda, Danda (conciliation, gifts, bribe, or sowing dissensions and war or punishment); which of these four he should apply. He thought thus :-- “I do not know their strength and it is not advisable to enter into war without knowing their strength. Again if I offer praises to them puffed up with pride, it will be simply displaying my own weakness; and when they will come to know this, only one of them will be sufficient to kill me and this they will do certainly. To offer bribes is not also advisable; and how can I sow dissensions

and, again, in the same Purana's Book 5, Chapter 9:

“O Best of ministers! O Hero! Under my command, go there with all the forces and use the means, conciliation, etc., and bring that woman, having a beautiful face (like the Moon), to me. If that Lady do not come even when the three policies, Sâma (conciliation), Dâna (making gifts), and Bheda (sowing dissensions in an enemy's party and thus winning him over to one's side, one of the four Upâyas or means of success against an enemy) are adopted by you, then apply the last resort Danda, (or war) in such a way that Her life be not destroyed and bring that beautiful woman to me.

So, for the king it will be wrong to straightaway engage in a war, without trying the other three measures first.

  • "bring that beautiful woman to me", what does this sentence signify? – Chinmay Sarupria Sep 27 '18 at 7:38
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    Beautiful woman is Goddess Durga here.. It is Mahisha Asura speaking. @ChinmaySarupria – Rickross Sep 27 '18 at 7:50
  • btw, it is Dana (gifts), not Dama (control of senses/patience) – ram Sep 27 '18 at 16:04
  • So, if all three - Sama, Dana, Bheda - fail, war is inevitable? – sv. Sep 27 '18 at 17:25
  • Yes the king shd first see if those 3 bear any fruits or not. If not and if the situation demands a war then he shd wage a war. @sv. – Rickross Sep 28 '18 at 5:47

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