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As a child, I loved the story of Pinocchio, the little wooden puppet who dreamed of becoming a real boy some day. He had an unusual trait- whenever he told a lie, his nose would begin to grow!


After a series of thrilling adventures, with the help of the lovely Blue Fairy, Pinocchio succeeded in becoming a real boy.

When we were in the 2nd or 3rd standard, our teacher once told our class that what happened to Pinocchio when he told a lie, could very well happen to us too.  I believed that for quite a while, and would occasionally check in the mirror to see if my nose was the same size as before!

Adults use the story of  Pinocchio to make children understand that lying is not desirable. On the other hand, sometimes people vie with each other to see who can tell the tallest lies!

Every year an unusual competition is held in a small pub in northwestern England. It’s a competition to decide the World’s Biggest Liar!

This year, the twelve finalists “kept the packed pub entertained all evening with their incredulous tales of sheepdogs that could round up fish, chips shops on top of Scafell Pike, the local La’al Ratty steam train service being extended to London and the discovery of the ‘marrapuss’, a web-footed tabby cat wandering the fells”.

In the end,  young Jack Harvey of Harras Moor, Whitehaven emerged the clear winner with a whopping tall tale that included badgers and the Roman army.

An interesting aspect of this competition is that journalists and politicians are not allowing to compete. Apparently both journalists and politicians are considered to have an undue advantage- they “are excluded on the grounds that they are too practised in the dark art of fibbing”!

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Truthfulness is generally considered to be a virtue. But in exceptional situations bending the truth is not frowned upon.

In the great Kurukshetra War, Guru Dronacharya fought on the side of the Kauravas, against the Pandavas. He was a formidable adversary and an invincible warrior. Shri Krishna knew that it was not possible to defeat Dronacharya in battle. So he devised a plan to make him lay down his weapons.

Shri Krishna instructed Bhima to kill an elephant called Ashwatthama. Ashwatthama was also the name of Dronacharya’s son. Bhima then announced to all that he had killed Ashwatthama, expecting that Dronacharya would believe that it was Ashwatthama, his son who had been killed.

However, Dronacharya did not immediately believe Bhima. He knew that though Bhima was capable of lying, Yudhisthira was not. So he went to Yudhisthira and asked him for the truth.

Yudhisthira answered- “अश्वत्थामा हतः इति, नरो वा कुंजरो वा”, meaning “Ashwatthama is dead. But, I am not certain whether it was a human or an elephant”.

Shri Krishna, however, had anticipated that Yudhisthira would not be able to tell an outright lie [ though he had not really told the truth either]. So Shri Krishna had instructed warriors who were nearby to blow their conches and trumpets and make such a loud din that Dronacharya would not be able to hear the latter part of Yudhisthira’s statement.

Dronacharya heard only that “Ashwatthama is dead”, and was plunged into grief for his son. He laid down his weapons and subsequently died.

Some do not agree that this “half-truth” spoken by the otherwise truthful Yudhisthira was justifiable, nor was the trick played by Shri Krishna.

Legend tells us that after Yudhisthira uttered the words, “अश्वत्थामा हतः इति, नरो वा कुंजरो वा”, his chariot, which until that time always stayed a few inches above the ground by virtue of his truthfulness, dropped down to the ground, signifying that he was no longer completely honest.

However, it is generally held that bending the truth in this way was justified in the larger interest of winning the Kurukshetra War, defeating the  Kouravas, and ensuring that the side of Dharma was victorious.

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Narada Muni has said-

सत्यस्य वचनं श्रेयः सत्यादपि हितं वदेत्।

यद्भूतहितमत्यंतमेतत्सत्यं मतं मम ।।

Speaking the truth is honourable.  However, one should speak that which is beneficial rather than that which is true. I believe that what is beneficial for all living beings, is the Truth.

Therefore, in Narada Muni’s opinion, even more important than speaking what is literally true, is saying what is beneficial for all living beings, what is good for society in general.

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We, most of us, tell untruths, often for the most charitable reasons. Suppose a friend is on an elaborate diet, denying herself her favourite foods in an attempt to lose weight. Even if we do not think she has lost any weight we exclaim that she is looking slimmer. That is, of course, a lie, but we tell it to encourage her in her efforts. Is that wrong?

Parents generously praise their young children’s attempts at singing, drawing, sports, cooking. If the children have displayed only mediocre talent then are the parents lying?

So it seems that the reason for telling the truth, or for lying is important. Also one needs to consider the consequences of telling the precise, unvarnished, truth or doing otherwise.

What do you think?

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