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Indian Proverbs and Pithy Sayings

Indian languages and literatures abound in proverbs - which contain uncommon wisdom of common people and others. Proverbs often reveal apt understanding of human life under certain conditions. Below are 170 selected Indian proverbs in all.

The 58 first sayings are from the section called "Betel Nuts", originally published in 1907, and occurring in in Chips of Jade by Arthur Guiterman. The "Betel Nuts" are pithy sayings "of the people of the broad land of Hindustan". Guiterman translated sayings from Bengal, the Punjab, Rajputana, Kashmir and Afghanistan and even as far as Persia, into English rhyme. The first section of sayings below is a selection where the English is updated, and some rhymes broken by me.

The second section contains 8 proverbs from a book by Charles A. Kincaid. The third section contains 67 proverbs from National Proverbs: India, and the fourth section contains a medley of 36 selected proverbs. The original collector writes, "Nowhere, perhaps, can what are regarded as the national traits be so compactly presented as in these saws and proverbs."

There are also proverbial phrases in many Indian classics, such as Puranas.

Book data is at the bottom of the page.

- Tormod Kinnes

Twig

God cures the patient,

The doctor takes the fee.

You have no cares? Then buy a goat.

The goat gave up her life; 'twas not enough:

The eater grumbles that the meat is tough!

He shot at a sparrow

And spoiled a good arrow.

The man thinks he knows,

But the woman knows better.

Before you have forded the river, o brother,

Revile not unduly the crocodile's mother.

Earth laughs at him who calls a place his own.

The idol-carver worships not;

He knows what gods are made of.

Shoot the tiger through and through;

Miss him, and he won't miss you.

Cutting down a donkey's ears

Will make no arab steed of him.

What's in the soul, the sorrow shows.

Remember well

There are no fans in hell!

"My beard is burning!" one will cry.

Another lights his pipe thereby.

Man is the slave of gold,

Gold is the slave of none.

Danger he challenges, laughing and singing,

Grasping the tiger's moustaches and swinging.

The barber, lacking custom, shaved the cat.

Among the blind the one-eyed man is king.

Pearls grow yellow, men grow old.

A sin will guide you to a grave.

What business had the eggs to dance with stones?

Avoid suspicion: when you're walking through

Your neighbor's melon-patch, don't tie your shoe.

If you suspect him, then reject him.

If you select him, don't suspect him.

If friend but speak with friend,

The liar is disgraced.

Appraise the spring before you drink the water;

Observe the mother before you wed the daughter.

He knew the ox might kick,

So he stood behind the mule.

"He has killed a thousand men!'"

"Ah, he's half a doctor, then."

A word informs the wise at once.

A hundred lashes teach the dunce.

The food was the bee's, but by man it is eaten.

The sin was the flea's, but the bedding is beaten.

Have flowers less of fragrance when they bloom where none may mark?

Are rubies dull and worthless when they lie on mountains lone?

Who finds a crow asleep when figs are ripe?

Within the temple thrives the scamp.

It's darkest underneath the lamp.

The rains have come! The rice-blades spring!

The farmer cares not who is kingl

The eager fish repent within the net.

Young lovers wish, and married men regret.

Death took him off

But cured his cough.

Time and space are naught to them that love!

The roots of strife are four, all told:

A woman, cattle, land and gold.

The more he dances, feasts and sings;

The married man is bound to toil;

His mind is full of sterner things,

And those are food and wood and oil.

The farmer prays for rain, the washerman for sun.

If prayers were not in vain, the world would be undone.

Fair is the hope of a distant day;

Blue are the hills that are far away.

The wayside spring is the friend of all.

Sloth breaks the husbandman.

Qlass bracelets at a farthing each are sold;

But when on arms without a fleck

They clasp, in love, a husband's neck

Their worth is many thousand pounds of gold.

The jungle peacocks dance.

Though none is there to see.

Broken friendship's friendship ended;

Shattered pearls may not be mended.

The bridegroom longs to see the bride,

The guests to see the dinner.

Where donkeys gather, kicks are cheap.

A penny buyeth troubles

That dollars cannot cure.

Jt is the soldier's blood and grief

That makes the glory of the chief.

Both of us are lords of men —

Who will drive the donkeys, then?

Some men are ruined in pursuit of pleasure. [Mod]

Though strong are dagger, sword and musket-ball,

The cooking pot is mightiest of all.

The crab instructs its young,

"Walk straight ahead — like me!"

Where deep and smooth the stream beguiles,

Beware! Look, out for crocodiles!

The curs are barking, one and all,

But that won't make the mountain fall.

Although the cow may not be vicious,

Her long, sharp horns make folks suspicious.

When clover blooms, the honey bee has little time for stinging. [Abr]

I'll make it rain as soon as men

Will all agree and tell me when.

Who brags about his great forbears

Would steal the praise that should be theirs.

Guerati and Deccan Sayings

If you can play a tune on a carrot, well and good. If you fail you can always eat it.

If your bed is not soft, make it so. (Abr)

In our need we call an ass our king.

On a green tree are many parrots.

Qualities of a son may be seen from his cradle.

Some cannot reach heaven without dying. (Mod).

The hope that rests on others is continual despair.

The one behind may profit by the tripping of the man in front.

67 Selections from a Book by Abdul H. Minhas

A fair face needs no paint. [13]

A generous man makes a miser grieve.

A glutton may eat up his own house, while misers eat others. [17 Mod]

A house without a woman allows a man to weep all alone. * A ripe mango must drop.

A tongue in control is a guard to one's turban. [27]

An hour with a clever man is far better than a whole day with a fool.

As the country so the fashion. [26]

Asking favours lessens self-respect and using a remedy lessens illness. [37 Abr]

Associate only with your friend and keep aloof from your enemy. [24]

Believe him a true friend who loves you without any hope of gain. [22]

Big thief and little thief; it is easy to say who gets the pickings. Do good while you are alive. [8]

Don't run if you are afraid of stumbling.

Drop added to drop will make the River Nile. [43]

Drums sound loud because they are hollow.

Dust the bench before you sit on it. [37]

Eat no more than you can digest.

Even an ant will attack when hard pressed. [10]

Every grain has its seed.

Every stone is not a gem. [23 Abr]

Falsehood weeps before the truth.

Friendship pleases the heart. [33 Abr]

Good mind, good find.

He is a fool that is offended at truth. [32]

He whose character is unstained can prosper, and even greatly. [40 Mod]

Hunger is never appeased with imaginary sweets. [44]

In buying even a farthing pitcher, test it and sound it well. [27]

It is only young bamboo that can be bent.

It takes two hands to clap.

Jest leads to earnest.

Learn the value of Time.

Love the enemy of the heart. [36]

Man is known by his company as gold by touchstone.

Milk pleases the body and friendship the heart.

Misfortune is nigh when wells run dry. [28]

Never confide the secret of thy heart.

Never stand before a judge or behind a donkey.

New land means new quarrels.

No one comes learned out of his mother's womb.

No one will reap sugar-cane by planting nim tree.

One beauty in man and a thousand in his clothes. [29]

Remember it is easy to promise but hard to perform. [28]

Silence is half consent.

Slay the serpent before he bites you.

The branch of patience bears sweet fruits. [20]

The end of a good man is good. [38]

The Five Great Evils, never beneficials, are Famine, Plague, War, Thieves and Officials.

The mouth cannot be sweetened by just saying "Sweet." [15]

The soldier fights but the general gets the credit.

The value of comfort is only known when it is lost. [18]

There are men and men, as every stone is not a gem.

Three persons ruin an assembly: a telltale, a fool, and a thief.

Three things tease the heart from sorrow: water, green grass, and the beauty of women.

To hear is one thing; to know is another. [54]

To sing to the deaf, to talk to the dumb, and to dance to the blind, are three foolish things.

To try to please everyone is to try to touch the sky. [30]

Touchstone for a man is dealing with him.

Two arrows in the quiver are better than one; and three are better still.

Two days a guest, but the third day a nuisance. [11]

Using a remedy lessens illness. [Abr]

What is gone is lost, what is left is saved.

What is in the mind may be seen in the dreams. [44 Mod]

What is to happen is going to happen.

What need there is of repentance, when the birds have grazed the field.

Who listens to the voice of a parrot in the midst of big drums? [41]

With money it is a home without it is a ruin. [46]

You cannot hide your belly from a midwife. [10]

Assorted

A book is a good friend when it lays bare the errors of the past.

A foolish bride gets no presents.

A guilty conscience is a lively enemy.

A pearl is worthless as long as it is still in its shell.

Always be well dressed, even when begging.

Anger has no eyes.

Avoid striking your wife, not even with a flower. [Mod]

Be good to the good; be a flower to other flowers and - - -

Blaming your faults on your nature does not change the nature of your faults.

Dig your well before you're thirsty.

Even an elephant can slip.

Fate and self-help share equally in shaping our destiny.

He that is baldheaded has no need of combs.

If not today — when?

Keep five yards from a carriage, ten yards from a horse, and a hundred yards from an elephant; but the distance one should keep from a wicked man cannot be measured.

Love is a crocodile in the river of desire.

One and one sometimes make eleven.

One man's beard is burning, and another warms his hands. [Mod]

Poverty makes thieves, like love makes poets.

That which blossoms must also decay.

The deceitful have no true friends. [Mod]

The eyes may not see what the mind does not want to. [Mod]

The potter sleeps soundly, for no one would steal clay.

The truth is half a quarrel.

There are many people who can sing, but don't know the words.

These can never be true friends: Hope, dice, a prostitute, a robber, a cheat, a goldsmith, a monkey, a doctor, a distiller.

To the wise the world is foolish. [Abr]

Turkeys don't seem to know what gratitude is, or perhaps they have no reason for it. [Mod]

Walking slowly, even the donkey may reach Lhasa. [Mod]

When money is not a servant it is a master.

When you are in the water you swim.

Where the sun shines, there is also shade.

Why save when your son is a good son? Why save when your son is a bad son?

Worldly prosperity is like writing on water.

You can only lean against that which resists.

You may lock up the cock, but the sun will still rise.

Your own wealth is flowers and wine. [Abr]

PROVERBS COLLECTION
Indian proverbs and sayings, END MATTER

Indian proverbs and sayings, LITERATURE  

Guiterman, Arthur, tr. Chips of Jade: Being Chinese Proverbs with More Folk-sayings from Hindustan and Other Oriental Countries. Rhymed in English. New York: Dutton, 1920.

Kincaid, Charles Augustus. The Tale of the Tulsi Plant and Other Stories. Bombay: The Times of India Office, 1908, p 164 ff.

Minhas, Abdul Hamid. National Proverbs: India. London: Cecil Palmer and Hayward, 1916.

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