Spies! Disguised as Ascetics!

The Spy Who Loved Me

Spies! Disguised as Ascetics!

Research paper written by London Swaminathan
Post No.1208; Dated 1st August 2014.

Very interesting information about spying is available from Sanskrit and Tamil literature. Most of us know that the Brahmin Kautilya (Chankaya) has dealt with spying in detail in his Arthasastra. But not many people know what Manu Smriti, Tirukkural, Tamil epic Silappadikaram and Sangam Tamil Literature say about spying. There are a few real life stories in Valmiki Ramayana and Sangam literature.

The most interesting detail comes from the great Tamil Poet Thiruvalluvar, whose Tirukkural is praised as Tamil Veda:

“Spies disguise themselves as ascetics to gather secrets; they do not betray secrets under any threat” (Kural 586)

How true it is even today!! Our Ashrams are infested with foreign spies. Religion is the easy way to gather secrets about the government and the general public. If a politician approaches a Sanyasi (ascetic), that means he or she is in big trouble! Ascetic’s devotees boast about what happened in the Ashram. The spies there as Junior ascetics send information to all his enemies and foreign countries. Beware of “Sanyasis” frequenting foreigners or foreign countries!!

In ancient India ascetics can travel anywhere in India without Visa or a permit. They can enter the royal courts at any time without waiting. But they never misused their powers. If any king delays them the king will be cursed!

The second easy route for spying is Universities and Educational institutions. In the guise of a researcher you can fool anyone!! In the guise of a scholar, you can have access to inaccessible places!!! Beware of “visiting scholars”.

The third route is party offices or meetings. We read about spying in the news papers every day.


Story 1 from Sangam Tamil Literature

Purananuru, which is 2000 year old, gives a very interesting story about spying! Ilandattan was a genuine poet. He visited the royal court of the Choza king Nedunkilli. Immediately he was arrested and the king passed death sentence on him! The only crime he committed was that the previous day he was in the court of another Choza named Nalankilli. Both are closely related but had big enmity between themselves like a snake and a mongoose. So Nedunkilli suspected him of spying for Nalankilli and was about to execute him.

In ancient India, poets have very good influence and authority over kings. They were next in rank to the ascetics. There was a wise Tamil poet by name Kovur Kizar who already saved young children from the slaughter house of a king. He came to the rescue of this poet. Earlier two young children were about to be beheaded by the elephant and Kovur Kizar persuaded the Choza king to release them unconditionally (Purananauru verse 46).

Kovur Kizar saved poet Ilam Duttan as well. He went to the king told him,
“Look ! these poor poets are like birds seeking fruit laden trees. They pass very hard routes just to praise philanthropists like you and get something for their stomach. The beauty is that they never save for tomorrow. Whatever they get they give it to their friends and relatives. They never harm anyone. They defeat any scholar by the war of words. People like you must support them and not oppose” (Purananuru verse).
Heeding to the advice of Kovur Kizar he released the poet immediately.

This episode throws some light on spying. They can come in the guise of a poet/scholar, like we have spies in universities today. The second thing is they get death sentence if they are caught. It is same even today. While I am writing this, here in my city London, there is a big case going about poisoning a spy to death. Many spies “die” in simple accidents in western countries.

mata hari executed in 1917
Most Famous Woman spy Mata Hari was executed in 1917 (World War 1)

Story 2 from Tamil epic Silappadikaram

There is another interesting story in the most famous Tamil Epic Silappadikaram. Two minor kings of North India ridiculed the Tamils. So the mighty Senguttuvan, wanted to teach them a lesson. Senguttuvan’s father caught the Yavanas (Greek or Romans or Arabians) and tied their hands at the back and poured oil on their heads. This is an ancient way of insulting enemies. In the Puranas, we read about King Sagara catching the Yavanas and shaving their heads off.

Senguttuvan ordered his commander in chief Alumpilvel to send the sealed letters to all the kings in the north. He made it clear that it was not an invasion, but a mission with a limited purpose, just to get a stone from the holy Himalayas, to bathe it in the holy Ganges, to make a statue for the holy woman Kannaki.

Immediately his commander told the king that there was no need to undergo such a trouble of putting the clay seal of Tiger, Fish and Bow (Cholza, Pandya, Chera emblems) on the letters and send them because his capital city Vanji has all the spies in the world. The minute something is tom-tommed in the capital the message will spread like wild fire though out India (Katchik Katai, Silappadikaram)

This episode reveals the fact that the capital city has spies of all the countries. We have spies in Delhi from all parts of the world!!

We taught the world about spying and ambassadors. No literature in the world has such detailed manuals on Embassies, Ambassadors and Spying like Sanskrit literature!!

Noor Inayat Khan, Muslim of Indian origin, born in Moscow, worked as a British agent, executed by Hitler (World War 2)

Story 3 from Tamil Epic Silappadikaram
I have given this story already in my earlier post “HOW DID A PANDYA KING GET A GOLDEN HAND?” posted on 22 October 2011.

An old Brahmin by name Keeranthai wanted to go on a pilgrimage. His wife got worried. He assured her nothing would go wrong in the Pandya kingdom. The king was listening to this conversation, who went in disguise to feel the pulse of his people. In other words he was spying on his own people just to ensure their safety and welfare. Later he paid special attention to that particular house and by mistake he knocked at the door one night. When the Brahmin street (Agraharam) reported the complaint next day he cut his hands off saying that he was the ‘’thief’’ who knocked at the door. Medical science had advanced to such an extent in those days that he was immediately operated upon and a new golden hand fixed. The reason for him knocking at the door of the Brahmin lady was that some noise he heard in the house. Actually it was her husband who came back late in the night from the pilgrimage!!

This episode shows that in ancient India, even kings went on spying in disguise.


Story No 4 from Tamil and Sanskrit Ramayanas

Valmiki Ramayana in Sanskrit and Kamba Ramayana in Tamil have a big chapter ( in Yuddha Kanda) on the spies sent by Ravana to estimate the strength of the monkey army of Lord Rama. They wore totem symbols like monkeys and pretended to be part of Rama’s army. But Vibhishana who came from Sri Lanka could easily identify the two spies Suka and Sara. They were caught red handed and presented before Rama. Rama deliberately gave them all the details of his army and pardoned them. Rama knew that they would report it back to Ravana.

Rama might have expected that it would unnerve Ravana and he would surrender and release Sita Devi. Alternately Rama did not bother about the spies because he knew the final result.
There are many more spy stories in Indian literature that would excel all the James Bond films.

spy next door

Manu on Spying
Manu Smrti gives rules on spying in chapters
7-122,153, 154, 223 and 9-256, 261, 298.

Manu says
1.King should appoint one officer for every city who must collect all the information through spies.
2.King should spend some time everyday to find out what is happening in the harem and the movements of his secret agents.
3.After performing Sandhya rituals he must get the reports of secret agents in the inner chamber.
4.Spies are king’s two eyes to find out the open and concealed thieves
5.Spies can be used to incite the criminals to commit crimes so that they can be booked easily.
6.King should use the spies to measure his own strength and his enemies strength.

Tamil Poet’s Sound Advice
Tiruvalluvar in his Tirukkural has got ten couplets on spying. The salient features of this chapter 59.DETECTIVES or ON INTELLIGENCE SERVICES are:


1.The reports given by one spy must be tested and verified through another spy (couplet 588)
2.The spies must be sent one by one, apart. If three spies agree, the information shall be confirmed. They should not know one another (589).
3.The spy must not be rewarded publicly. That would expose the secret organisation (590).
In Western countries even their original identity is erased and new ID given. Very often they are located in a new area with a new name! They work for “some companies”.
4.Spies disguise themselves as ascetics to gather secrets; they do not betray secrets under any threat” (Kural 586)
5.He is a spy who can assume an unsuspecting disguise, be fearless of gaze, and capable of keeping a secret under all circumstances (585).

Tirvalluvar dealt with the need for spying, qualifications of a spy, his qualities and DOs and DONTs of spying in just 10 couplets! 20 lines!!
Brevity is the soul of wit!


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