The Hoax of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”

 This is my own and that a stranger — that is the calculation of the narrow minded; for the magnanimous hearts however, the entire earth is but a family.— ancient Sanskrit shloka.

This shloka with the words “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (“entire world is but one single family”) has become very popular in recent decades. India’s leaders quote it in their speeches. India’s foreign policy is claimed to be based on it. It has actually been inscribed in stone at India’s parliament house! It has been gratefully internalised by Indian liberals (‘internationalists’) as well as Hindutva-types both as a way to give legitimacy to their respective world views. Hindus proudly showcase it as a proof of their intellectual sophistication.

However, one intrepid researcher Sarvesh K. Tiwari has discovered that “its usage in public discourse springs from a superficial or even a perverted understanding.” He says:

If we study the original sources which recited it in the first place, it becomes amazingly apparent that its popular understanding is simply blundered, and its application in the matters of policy is a height of ignorance and squarely flawed.

This Sanskrit verse is found neither in Rig Veda or Mahabharata, nor in Puranas or Manusmriti. So where was it lifted from? It actually occures mainly in Hitopdesha and Panchatantra (both a collection of fables imparting wisdom to children). But here is the bombshell: In all the two, people who prescribe this verse or believe in it have been declared either as fools or as scam-artists out to cheat others and take over their property!

For example, in Hitopdesha, “the verse is spoken by a shrewd subversionist. The lesson being that one has to exercise discretion from unwittingly trusting such brotherhood-preachers, and that the price for befriending and sheltering the wrong kind under the influence of such unconditional brotherhood, is nothing less than self-destruction.”

The message these fables impart is very clear: Do not quote this philosophy of “whole world is one family” and indiscriminately welcome all kinds of people into your house (or country), otherwise you will lose your life, property and everything else you hold dear. You will be destroyed if you are not discreet about the company you keep or the kind of people you allow into your home. In the fables, everybody who followed this “universality” lost his life and possessions at the hands of crooks and fools due to their misplaced generosity.

As Sarvesh K. Tiwari says:

Vedas did NOT propogate ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam,’ nor does this shloka really mean what is commonly understood . In general, surprising as it might seem, Sanskrit sources (not Vedas) that presented the ‘vasudhaiva kuTumbakam’ are actually warning AGAINST the tendency of such brotherhood-preaching!!

This is really fascinating. I would recommend you read the article in original. Quoting this verse by modern Indians is nothing but self-deception. Here goes:

The Hoax Called Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – 1 :  Hitopadesha

The Hoax Called Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – 2: Panchatantra and Kautilya

The Hoax Called Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – 3: Vikrama, Poetics and Upanishada

38 Comments

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38 responses to “The Hoax of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”

  1. Bharat Nair

    Sanjay,
    A good find and a great write up.

    • Anonymous

      Even the ones who are against such magnanimous thoughts are our family. Hence we have no quarrel with anyone. Reminds us of another great Indian saying ‘Satyam Eva Jayate’

      Truth shall indeed be victorious”

  2. Brilliant man…it is this kind of eye openers Hindus needs..

    Bromides and pithies like “vasudeva kutumbakam’ do more harm than good..

    Subversion thy name is ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’

  3. Incognito

    Its a fallacy that you propagate.

    Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam appears in Maha Upanishad and describes the characteristics of a knower of truth.

    Hitopadesha explains how wise words can be misused when applied by ignorants.

    Just because a khife can harm you if not used properly does not mean that knife is harmful.

  4. JGN

    To call “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” as a hoax seems to be the height of supidity. Though I am not a Vedic scholar, I have heard that when a Somayaji conducts ‘Smoaya yaga’ he says “idam mama nahi” (this is not for me – meaning this is for the welfare of the entire universe). Also a line in a poem of a well known and highly respect poet of Kerala (Vallathol Narayana Menon) roughly translates to: “even a blade of grass and insects are my family members” !! Anyway the Indian scriptures are much better than the cooked up stories of heaven/hell of some other religions. Anyway Indian gods are not jealous like the West Asian gods!!!!!

  5. Bharat Nair

    @JGN,
    “To call “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” as a hoax seems to be the height of supidity.”

    I don’t think sanjay called vasudhaiva kutumbakam a hoax. He was referring to its use in India’s foreign policy.

  6. Sanjeev

    come on.. every coin has two sides. It depends on us how we use it. Its not just the case with “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” . Even from Mahabharata, Ramayana or for that matter any epics we can learn good and bad things. If we just interpret the meaning in wrong ways, its the problem with us and not with the epics or verses.

  7. Ravi

    Come on guys!
    Why are u being so childish!
    If you say that the phrase is actually not
    helping us,then you are mistaken.
    If you did not accept that the world was not one family, and accept the superiority of India, I can question that.I for instance will say that the state of Andhra is better.and
    I can narrow it down to the town of Vijayawada and then to my street….
    In the end u will be saying that only you are the best person and the others are not which obviously is ridiculous.

    And @sanjay,
    how do you know that it is not in all those texts?Have u read every single verse n all those texts?(No, because the full version of the Rig Veda is not available and I dont think u are tht jobless)
    So guys please stop degrading indian philosophies by stupid debates as these, which just mirror us as racists!

  8. sermuga pandian

    i am searching for a sharp and clear-cut meaning for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. yours is to the point.thanks a lot

  9. Vinay

    The conception of the whole (earth) as family is really, philosophically, a valuable one. If one is indiscrete every good verse can be misinterpreted and be led toruination. Therefore, the conception per se has to be taken as being in vogue at the time of its utterance in the ancient period.

  10. Raj Kapoor

    If Tiwari was at any University in USA, he would have been fired due to incomplete research, propagating something that is not true and would have to go to his encampment to save eggs and tomatoes from being thrown in his face by Intelligentsia critics and their words. Tiwari read below actual words from Upanishad and weep:

    ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ in Upanishad:
    Maha Upanishad Chapter 6, Verse 72:

    ” अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसां
    उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकं ”

    ‘ayam bandhurayam neti ganana laghuchetasam
    udaracharitanam tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam’

    ‘Only small men discriminate saying: One is a relative; the other is a stranger.
    For those who live magnanimously the entire world constitutes but a family.’

    And also other books have cautioned the unsuspecting pious people to be careful from using it obtusely. Great quote by Manmohan singh, especially when in company of Goerge Bush. Who said only ENGLISH has two meanings and or application of every word, Sanskrit had it before.

    So read between line and you have both pro and con of the quote. While Bush did help India get nuclear treaty, he knew we will not only need it but will use it if China and Pakistan both open the frontier. Words of Wisdom should prevail in those countries and rest of the world that will not want Peking and Peshawar or karachi become future :Hiroshima and Nagasaki”

    Manmohan Singh is absolutely right, if we can clean our house, be prudent and cautiously use vasudhaiva kutumbakam, then USA must stop aiding Pakistan with anything other then food and intelligence and providing any technology and migrating its high tech industry to China or Dubai for production, than all can live in Harmony. Thanks for Chimpanzee to be in India for collecting his speaking fee and getting a break finally, Indians do pay back the courtesy, so now he has spoken in three countries Canada, Mexico and India. Hope he does not go to France and or The Hague or they will finger print him for war crimes and hopefully Oabama will not ask for his release till day before next election when he will bring back home to win next four years.

    Yes, read Upanishad, Vedas, they are better then Confucius or any one else to modern ages.

    • P.Pandiyaraja

      Well said. But only the last line reveals the I-am-the-top mentality of the sanscritists. Why do you immediately drag in Confucius and ‘any one else’? Have you read Confucius completely? Or what do you know about the ‘any one else’? There is a beautiful line in Tamil literatute -” yAthum UrE, yAvarum kELir”. Every country in my country, all people are me relatives.
      The poet is KaNiyan pUngkunRanAr, belonging to 1C BC. (If you read the whole poem you may feel small)You may think that you are at the top, but there are others also who are equally at the top, probably at greater heights too.

      • JGN

        P.Pandiyaraja, if yAthum UrE, yAvarum kELirthen, why the EelamTamils were fighting with the Sinhalese? In the process, hundreds of thousands of unarmed Tamil civilians lost their life.

        • Anonymous

          Tamils, Sanscritists, Sinhalese, Muslim, Hindu, Christian; all these can be identifiers not segregators as their purpose was only to identify and not to segregate. Claiming superiority by ranking factors like posterity,depth of linguistic complexity, numbers of members are really misuse of such factors. the context of each one is different and this when ignored creates a superficial generalization that only perpetuates stagnated deviation from the true purpose of identification and development.

      • S

        Mr. P. Paendiyaraja – The poet who said that would not have known of the members of the Religion Of Peace. Trust me, no sane human wants them for relatives, or even neighbours for that matter. Sane humans tend to keep a long distance between selves and the followers of the paedophile mass murderer.

  11. Raj Kapoor

    Wonderful world of Blogging and Internet, anyone can cast opinion on anything, even if they are stupids or not qualified for. Do not you think Tiwari is one of them and so are his supporters, finding truth is difficult, that is why they want people to find truth then call them Doctor. Tiwari, not qualified to comment on Indian religion or philosphy is speaking about Dr. Manmohan Singh, who not only has found some truth, but from his speech of first, second and third is very systemic in using scientific principals and methodology that he gave tribute to Dr. Bhabha, appreciated for being Honorable (or not so per Noble Prize committe and world court (yet to come)) Bush being in the summitt and discussed the subject.
    So Tiwari, I do not where you are, but please spare agony to Indians by stopping to propogate the false and wrong information. Do you have copy of Upanishad, did you ever read it?
    Raj Kapoor

    • While it is true that Tiwari’s conclusion that Vedas do not support the concept of vasudaiva kutumbakam is due to incorrect understanding, Manmohan’s or Sonia’s use of it is also misplaced, because as the entire sloka says, vasudaiva kutumbakam is the attitude of a broad-minded person as against the selfish attitude of those not so.
      It is not a universal truth. It cannot be applied as a rule across the world. In fact, it is meaningless to the those who are not broad-minded or wise.

      If somebody simply applies it as gospel truth, he would be like the hen that came down from its safe perch on tree to the ground where the jackal awaited spouting vasudaiva kutumbakam.

      The jackal quotes it not because it is broad-minded, but precisely because it is selfish and wants to eat the hen.

      George Bush, Obama, Hu Jintao, Manmohan, Sonia, Advani, all are in the game for personal advantage and the concept of vasudaiva kutumbakam is alien to their scope of understanding. When they use such concepts, it may be right to conclude that it is the case of the jackal spouting it in anticipation of getting the gullible hen to come down from the tree.

    • Parama Karuna

      Yaah this Raj Kapoor is qualified to comment on Hindu religion or philosophy, not Tiwari! Kappor did you even read the last part of Tiwari’s article? Did he not already quote the reference from Mahopanishada? Before you shoot off from your mouth to criticise a reasearch at least read it completely you moron. Here is what he already said about the origin of vasudhaiva kutumbakam being from the upanishada, but still not meaning to “preach” the universal brotherhood, but a natural attribute of the highest sages. Read his last part before spread your uncalled for criticism http://bharatendu.wordpress.com/2008/09/26/the-hoax-called-vasudhaiva-kutumbakam-3/

  12. O.P.Waqar

    The whole world IS a family, we just forget it is so, humans created the systems that divide us: racism, nationalism, class-ism, sexism, therefor humans must create the solutions to these problems. Sometimes you don’t like your family. But you should be respectful and love them. These simple notions are beautiful and correct. We teach our children to share their toys, but then as adults don’t share ourselves. So may be we ourselves are the corrupt ones.

  13. aaron

    I came across the words “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam” while I traveled in India. In its deepest sense this message only asks us to treat all things as we treat our brothers and sisters; that is with respect, love, sincerity, truth and compassion. If this is reflected from oneself then even the most heinous of criminals would be powerless if he was invited into your house. We are put in a situation where we have to step on each other to live a life of perceived happiness. When there are so few resources for so many people it becomes a fight for what’s left. The suffrage that exists in our world is a product of the systems that bind us to it. Yes, we may lose our life or family in an act of kindness but isn’t that better than preserving our life out an act of selfish greed.

  14. Pingback: «Vasudaiva Kuttumbakam» é um aviso, e não um conselho! « Futuro com História

  15. Parama Karuna

    Yaah this Raj Kapoor is qualified to comment on Hindu religion or philosophy, not Tiwari! Kappor did you even read the last part of Tiwari’s article? Did he not already quote the reference from Mahopanishada? Before you shoot off from your mouth to criticise a reasearch at least read it completely you moron. Here is what he already said about the origin of vasudhaiva kutumbakam being from the upanishada, but still not meaning to “preach” the universal brotherhood, but a natural attribute of the highest sages. Read his last part before spread your uncalled for criticism http://bharatendu.wordpress.com/2008/09/26/the-hoax-called-vasudhaiva-kutumbakam-3/

  16. For everybody’s reference, here’s the Maha Upanisad:
    VI-71. ‘Resorting to the inner Spirit of renunciation, apparently he acts to achieve (some) aim (or other). Only small men discriminate saying: One is a relative; the other is a stranger.
    VI-72-73(a). ‘For those who live magnanimously the entire world constitutes but a family. Resort to the status free from all considerations of empirical life, beyond old age and death, who are all mental constructions are extinguished and where no attachments finds lodgement.
    VI-73(b). ‘This is the status of Brahman, absolutely pure, beyond all cravings and sufferings.

  17. sunil

    some foolish people think that they are intelligent, just go to internet and search for “the most scientific religion” u will get your answer. And stop being nonsense.

  18. Arif

    If you feel offended by the concepts which, irrespective of their history, are being used now in good faith and intent, than better call yourself a ‘fundie’ than a ‘realist’ or ‘rationalist’. I’m myself ‘Agnostic-Atheist’ (look up the term) but not a hateful one.

  19. CB

    Anyone who has transcended thought and experienced his own unbounded, universal atma knows that the world is indeed my family. A flower that realizes it is really made of colorless, formless sap, knows that all other flowers, no matter what their variety, are essentially the same.

  20. Advaita is one source of universal humanism.
    Shallow research does not rest on evidence, merely opinion, as in the case of the so-called ‘indian realist’, who is in fact indian literalist/fundmentalist, incapable of comprehending allegorical or metaphorical meaning!
    The main point is not necessarily even the phrase vasudhaiva kutumbakam which is an existential fact but the philosophy of advaita itself — nondual consciousness points to this universality — if we practice nondual consciousness which is our true self ,atmam, then the One is the Other, the Other is the One, therefore vasudhaiva kutumbakam.
    Think about the connectedness of these ideas with African, Native American and other ancient philosophies of a possible human trajectory that develops us rather than destroys us.
    In fact the ideal of vasudhaiva kutumbakam is both evolutionary and revolutionary!
    Chithra KarunaKaran
    Ethical Democracy As Lived Practice
    http://EthicalDemocracy.blogspot.com

  21. Sugi Lanús

    Taittiriya Upanishad, who says: “Matru devo bhavaḥ, Pitru devo bhavaḥ, Acharya devo bhavaḥ, Atithi devo bhavaḥ”. It literally means ” The Mother is God, the Father is God, the Teacher is God, [and] the guest is God.”

  22. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Sanskrit: वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम. from “vasudha”, the earth; “iva” = is as a; and “kutumbakam”, family;) is a Sanskrit phrase that means that the whole world is one single family.
    The concept originates in the Maha Upanishad (Chapter 6, Verse 72):
    ” अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसां उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकं ”
    ayam bandhurayam neti ganana laghuchetasam udaracharitanam tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam

    Only small men discriminate saying: One is a relative; the other is a stranger. For those who live magnanimously the entire world constitutes but a family.

    This concept is also mentioned in Hitopadesha: 1.3.71: Udāracharitānām tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam’, meaning, ‘This is my own relative and that is a stranger’ – is the calculation of the narrow-minded; for the magnanimous-hearts, however, the entire earth is but one family ‘ and in Pancatantra 5.3.37, and is considered an integral part of the Hindu Philosophy.
    The statement is not just about peace and harmony among the societies in the world, but also about a truth that somehow the whole world has to live by some rules like a family, set by an unknowable source. This is the reason why Hindus think that any power in the world, big or small cannot have its way disregarding others.

    • Craig M. Berg

      Well said, brother!

    • Indian Realist

      Thanks Jura Nanuk — perhaps monotheists need this helpfull lesson more than pantheists.

      I see that you are running something called “Central European Religious Freedom Institute.” However, I don’t see any post at your blog highlighting the bigotry of monotheists and their deranged worldview. So what kind of relgious freedoms are you promoting if you cannot even address the close-minded monotheistic ideology from which most religous fundamentalism has origniated? This so-called Institute seems to be set up by Christian monotheists to accuse the whole world of relgious intolerance — which sounds like the theatre of the absurd.

      • I have read your “About” section and was surprised you mentioned Swami Vivekananda as your hero and person you want to be like. Well, you have a long way to go my friend. In his famous speech in 1893 in Chicago at the Parliament of World Religions, Swami Vivekananda said:
        “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”

        The above is basically the essence of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, beautifully stated by Swami Vivekananda. He would never call Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam to be a hoax.

        For your information, my Institute protects and promotes religious freedom without prejudice to any religion or belief whether polytheistic, monotheistic or atheistic.

  23. S

    Jura Nanuk,
    Instead of this homilies about SV, try to read the article properly.

  24. wickrum

    Brother,
    Well, your logic and analysis is from a very finite mind’s point of view. Please, I am not insulting here just saying the logic as seen here is by a human who is one of the millions of humans that inherit this earth. But if you, take yourself out of the box and view the world and its various activities as a machine one depending on the other. Nothing here is misplaced, nothing is less important, everything here depends on everything else. Most often since one individual seeing the world from his prism of living, earning, eating, surviving, going about his life does not have a panoramic view they just come to some very finite, limited and understanding and so the explanation. Do you know that, something like a energy generated from a so called mere butterflies flapping of the wings in the amazon can build and become a huge storm/hurricane in other part of the world. The point here is everything that exists in the world is there exactly for a reason and without it the world cannot exist. Like saying from the machine, to the various parts, to the smallest nut and bolt in a car is absolutely necessary for a car to function flawlessly. You may not find the exact verse in the vedas but when in vedas it says, “loka samastha sukino bhavanthu”, it is absolutely an extension of what “vasudhaiva kutumbakam” says if you understand it. Its not just out of magnanimity that we end our prayers with happiness to the whole world but also because we all are intricately connected. It is absolutely not possible for us to be supremely happy when some soul somewhere in a distant land is grieving. We may not know it from our finite perception but there is a bond, connection, that effects our well being. Please understand!!

  25. Anonymous

    Useless article ! twisting the meaning of verse as you pleased. The verse is mentioned in Atharva veda stating “the one supreme, universal Spirit that is the origin and support of the phenomenal universe”
    Read again buddy and don’t prejudice before knowing the truth.

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