There are three ways in which a good task may be accomplished. The first is by issuing an order or a command backed by the authority of the government. This is called"prabhusammita". A rich or powerful man orders his servant to do some work: it is also "prabhusammita". Whether or not the servant likes the work, he is compelled to obey the order for fear of punishment. Without occupying any seat of authority a friend asks us to do something and we do it- not out of fear but out of affection. A friend who is well disposed towards us is a "suhrd". His order given as a companion, as a sakha, is "suhrd-sammita". If there is any means by which you will do a work more willingly than in this manner, it is the loving words of your wife. The job your employer asks you to do is felt to be a burden, but the same is made lighter if it is a friend who asks you to do it. But if it is the wife who asks you to do the same it will be still lighter. This is "kantasammita".
The injunctions of the Vedas are "prabhusammita", the teachings of the Puranas are "suhrd-sammita" and the works of poets are "kantasammita".
Kantasammitaya yaya sarasatamapadya-
Kartavye kutuki budho viracitas-tasyai
-Prataparudriyam, stanza 8
The Vedas ask you to "do like this" or "do like that". They do not say why. To question them, it is believed, is to dishonour them. The Puranas, however, tell you in a friendly manner:"If you do like this you will benefit in such and such a manner. If you do the same in some other way you will suffer. . . "Such lessons are driven home to people through stories. Yes, the special feature of the Puranas is that they not only tell you why you should do a work, they also state the reason for the same through absorbing stories. "Hariscandra acted like this. Nala did like that. That is why they were happy in the end though they had in between to suffer much. Besides, they earned such fame for their virtuous life and noble character that they will be remembered for all time. "The moral derived from the stories of Hiranyakasipu, Ravana, Duryodhana and so on are the opposite. They occupied high positions and wallowed in pleasure but in the end they were ruined and are remembered today for their wickedness and the evil they did. Such stories are a source of inspiration as well as a warning for us: they encourage us to do good and pull us back from evil. The Puranas tell us true stories. A suhrd, a sincere friend, will not tell us false tales. He will speak to us only the truth and what is good for us in a persuasive manner.
What about poetry? What does the poet do? He mixes fact with fancy and invents stories with his power of imagination, exaggerating one thing, playing down another and repeating a third. He has the licence to do all this. The function of the poet is to invest reality with the imaginary or the fanciful so as to make his narrative compelling. The friend is unlike the wife. In trying to impress upon you your duty, he is persuasive but does not go beyond stating the facts. The wife is different. She is anxious to correct her husband and take him to the right path. She exaggerates a fact or plays down another, she adds and subtracts. By being "nice" to her husband she will somehow make him do the right thing. So goes at least the legend. Poetry, in the place of the wife; the Vedas, in the place of superior authority; and the Puranas, in between, in the place of a friend: the three teach us dharma in different ways.