Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ten uses of a Danda (stick)

Some fifty years ago, we, a group of six or seven boys were playing with a tennis ball, outside our uncle's house.   The ball was hurled with full force by one of the boys and it sneaked through the open window of the house and hit an elderly visitor (our uncle's uncle) sitting inside the house and talking to our uncle.  Uncle got hold of the ball and shouted at us,  "Bring that stick here.  I will beat each one of them.  दण्डं दशगुणं भवेत्  (Dandam Dashagunam Bhavet)".

We were interested in retrieving the ball and continue with our game, but none wanted to be seen by the uncle for the fear of getting beaten.  We were watching behind the door as to where he would keep the ball after his temper cooled down.   The elderly visitor was in some pain and discomfort due to the unexpected and sudden hit by the ball.   But he brushed it aside and questioned our uncle who was much younger to him.   "What do you mean by "Dandam Dashagunam Bhavet?", he asked.   We were amused to see somebody asking us questions all the time being himself questioned by someone else.   "Forget about beating us uncle, answer the question now",  I thought of telling my uncle, but was not bold enough.  "What is so special about it?  It means you get ten times the result by beating with a stick or handing out strict punishment in a broader sense",  was the uncle's answer.  "Understand things properly, you fool!",  the elderly visitor thundered.  The uncle's answer was correct, I thought, for that was how this idiom was always used.  But why was the granduncle angry?

"You are aware words have many meanings?" asked the granduncle.  "Yes, we all know that" answered the uncle.  "You are aware that the word Hari has as many as sixteen meanings including Lord Vishnu, horse and monkey?"   "Yes, I know"  replied the uncle.  "What is the meaning of  'staff' in English?"  was the next question by granduncle.   "It means  'a group of employees, charged with carrying out the work of an establishment or undertaking",  the uncle said.  "What do you call a pole on which a flag is hoisted?" asked the granduncle.   "That is a flag staff", said the uncle.  "Then what is another meaning of staff?" was the next question.   "A stick with some special use, such as a walking stick.  An emblem of authority in the hands of a King or religious leaders is also called a staff", replied the uncle.   We did not understand the full import of the exchange, but our uncle probably understood that the granduncle had something to say on the issue.  "What is it you want to tell me, uncle?" asked our uncle,  his anger gone and humbler now.

"I always see people using  "दण्डं दशगुणं भवेत्" in the same context you used.  "Danda" has many meanings.  One of them is Punishment.  Another meaning is a stick.  Monetary penalty is also called Danda.  "Dandam Dashagunam Bhavet"  does not mean  beating is ten times effective.  Here Danda is not used in that context.  What is "Dwiguna" or "Triguna"?  It means twice and thrice.  Just like that "Dandam Dashagunam Bhavet" means a stick has 10 different uses" said the granduncle.  He continued : "People have forgotten three fourth of the sloka (verse) and are using the last quarter giving a wrong meaning!".   He recited the full sloka :

" विश्वामित्रेच  वार्धक्ये  रात्रौ अप्सु कर्दमे  |  अन्धे सर्पेच क्रीडेच दण्डं दशौनं भवेत् "

"Viswaamitrecha vaardhakye raatrou apsu kardame, andhe sarpecha kreedecha dandam dashagunam bhavet"

"What  Rishi (sage)  Viswamitra  has to do with it, maama?", asked our uncle.  "It is not sage Viswamitra.  In fact it is this word that is the key to the ten uses.  Unless you decipher it, you will not get the proper meaning.  It is a combination of  Vi, Swa and Amitra.  Vi stands for Vihaga or bird.  Swa means Swaana or Dog.  Mitra has two meanings.  When used in masculine gender it means the Sun.  Otherwise it means friend.  Amitra means not a friend or an enemy.   Now you tell me the ten uses of a Danda or a stick", invited the granduncle.  Uncle was now able to elucidate clearly on the ten uses of a stick.

First use is to repulse an attack by a Bird.  Bird attacks are common in villages, especially when you are carrying some corn or fish etc.  Second use is to threaten and protect against Dogs.  Third is to use it as a weapon against an enemy attack.  Fourth use is as a support stick in Vardhakya or old age.   Fifth use is in raatri or nights, as a handy weapon while walking in the darkness.   Noise made by beating on the ground with the stick makes others aware of a moving person and also drives animals away.   Sixth use is in Apsu meaning water.  When crossing a river or stream a stick is used as a means of finding out the depth of water at every step.  Seventh use is in kardame or while negotiating a swamp or quicksand.   Eighth use is by the blind as a support.  Ninth use is while dealing with sarpa or snakes.   Tenth use is in kreeda or sports and games.

Like many other idioms, Dandam Dashagunam Bhavet is also used in the different context.   But it has come to be so widely accepted that everyone believes that it is the right use!  Thanks to the granduncle, we realised this.   I am trying to recollect the quoted verse after fifty years.  I have searched for the original texts but did not find any source.  If you search Internet you will only find references to some movies with this name.  

The four types dealing with or resolving issues -  chaturopayas ( चतुरोपाय ) as they are called and attributed to Chaanakya or Koutilya  (it should also be Koutalya and not Koutilya as the name is derived from his Gotra, the one born in Kutila Gotra is called Koutalya) are साम, दान, भेद, दण्ड (Saama, Daana Bheda and Danda and translated into English as Persuation, Temptation, Separation and Subjugation) and in this context Danda means punishment.  May be one of the punishments may be given using a stick!

Saint Thyagaraja in his famous Kaapi Naarayani Raaga composition  "Sarasa Saama Daana Bheda Danda Chatura"  says that Lord SriRama was a past master in the art of using all these methods.  In fact he has added one more method i.e.  सरस (Sarasa) meaning extreme persuasion like the one used by a wife or husband while dealing with the other spouse (Kaantasammita). Some say this is included in Persuation itself.  No stick is used in this method, for sure.  


  1. Brilliant..looks like my teachers in school were also under the same misconception..This lesson should be taught to everyone pursuing a bachelor of education degree..

  2. this one was my favorite...nice one...

  3. very nicely put indeed. as you rightly observed it is usually misinterpreted to imply ten times effective! glad to see the complete slokam.

  4. Indeed Very Happy to see the Entire Sloka !!! ........

  5. wow, such a big myth, and very nicely written


  6. Aah...such a nice journey back into the days of philosophy...wonderful wisdom...BRILLIANT. THANK YOU.

  7. Thank you for this lovely piece of authoring. i just found what exactly i wanted in terms of Dandam Dashagunam Bhaveth.
    Wow... May God Bless You!

  8. I am 72years. I was searching for the ten uses of stick in a verse form since a long time. Many many thanks for publishing the same

    I am 71 years and was searching for this 10 uses of stick in the form of a sloka. Many many thanks for publishing this.

  9. many many thanks for publishing this sloka

  10. I am 71 years. I was searching for the 10 uses of stick in a sloka form. Many Many thanks for publishing the same

  11. I am 71 years. I was searching for the 10 uses of stick in a sloka form. Many Many thanks for publishing the same

  12. To be followed by every reader as a pioneef to future life..M.Bhanumurty Hyderabad

  13. Well narrated. I too came to know about the other lines of the famous sloka only from this blog.

    A small 'danda' is also used by dance teachers to tap the 'talas' and guide students.