About Hinduism and India

This epic was earlier known as Bharat Samhita. Because it vividly depicted philosophy and life style, it was counted as Pancham Veda also. The title Mahabharata was subsequently assigned to it.

Cultural Importance

Mahabharata is the most voluminous epic that portrays all aspects of Indian life on a grand scale. The epic contained one million verses (shalokas), composed in Sanskrit by sage Ved Vyasa. It has been translated in almost all the languages of the world and has inspired many authors not only of India, but of different languages in the world. The theme of Mahabharata has been used in all the literary formats ranging from poetry, narration, comics, drama, operas and cinematic productions. The episodes of the epic have been used as themes in all the dance forms of India. The grandeur of the epic is most befitting subject for films using latest technology and has the potential to surpass the classics like Ben Hur, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.

While Ramayana depicts Treta Yuga, Mahabharata is cast in Dwapar Yuga and culminates in the beginning of Kaliyuga of our present times. Some characters of both the epics are common, like Deva Rishi Narada, Parshurama, and Hanuman. They provide a bridge to connect us with Treta and Dwapar yuga. It is primarily the story of Kauravas and Pandavas clans to which other contemporary dynasties of Dwapar Yuga have been skilfully woven, culminating in war on a grand scale for eighteen days. Every character makes an entry with his past and can be visualized in flesh and blood with all the possible human strengths and weaknesses. While Ramayana portraits the main character Rama discharging his obligations in the roles of an obedient son, a caring husband, an affectionate brother, a sincere friend, an ideal king, and a loving father; Mahabharata depicts various situations of human society wrapped in all the shades of passion.

It is pertinent to mention that Hindu epic writers exercised self censor ship. The accounts giving details about the birth of Dhritrashtra, Pandu and Vidur and later their sons, have been allegorically camouflaged to avoid vulgarity. The descriptions of wars and other incidents are metaphorical and are not to be taken in literal sense to denounce or disbelieve the epic. However whatsoever had been narrated is medically and scientifically getting possible in our day to day happenings now.

The Environment

The environment is that of a well-developed grand civilization. Mahabharata covers the entire length and breadth of not only India but its characters travel up to heavens and the under-world also. They are depicted larger than life but are every inch humans like us today. There is less appearance of Rakhshasas in Mahabharata than in Ramayana. That indicates transformation of society and passage of time.

The battle of Mahabharta was fought on the battle field of Kurukshetra, and the same was narrated to King Dhritrashtra through live running commentary of his charioteer Sanjay. Combined strength of the rival armies of Kuruvas and Pandavas was 18 Akhshoni. Each Akhshoni consisted of 21870 chariots, 21870 elephants, 109350 infantry soldiers and 65610 horsemen, thus it works out to be more than the size of today’s corps formation in the army. There is rank structure of commanders, like Senapati, Commander in Chief and Maharathi equivalent of army commanders and so on. Both rivals had set their War Headquarters at Kurukshetra, but battles are depicted being fought at different locations under respective army commanders. The kind of operations, fortifications, tactics, and use of weaponry has a semblance of ancient world war.

Both armies had agreed to observe strict code of conduct, the kind of Geneva Conventions we have today. Injured, unarmed and unequal were not to be attacked. The war was restricted only to the battle field and no civil population was to be harmed. The war commenced each day at daybreak with blowing of warning through conch shells and ended at sunset. Thereafter even the rival commanders could freely move and socially interact with their counterparts.

The war culminated in the total destruction of Kuruvas and only few survived in the Pandava clan. The net outcome for both was waste of men and materials; a lesson human society still needs to remember.

Historical Relevance 

There is no clear cut historical account available about the History of India after Mahabharata period till we restore our links with ancient India during the time of Chandragupta Maurya. We need further to re-establish missing link through Puranas and epics.  Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas are rich sources lying untapped by historians as epics and folk literature to re-structure and verify our historical records.

It is undisputed that Divine Right Theory of kingship was followed all over the world since the dawn of civilization, and is continuing today also under the guise of constitutional monarchy, in some countries. It was earlier customary to affiliate the origin of  ruling family to some god to impress the legitimacy of their rule. The solar (Suryavanshi) and lunar (Chandravanshi) dynasties are the oldest all over the world amongst ruling dynasties. The Solar dynasties got spread out in India and countries in South East Asia while the lunar dynasties were scattered in China, Syria, Middle East and Egypt. Even today, Sun and Moon are regarded as prominent deities in some form in those areas.  Ramayana was the epic of Suryavanshi clans, while Mahabharata is mainly concerned with Chandravanshi clan. Both had their origin in India.

Ethical Importance

About twenty thousand verses of the epic refer to statesmanship, diplomacy, protocols, ethics and observance of Dharma. As a matter of fact the entire conflict is about victory of Dharma over Adharma. There is galaxy of exponants on the subject in the person of Krishna, Bheeshama, Dronacharya, Shakuni, Shalya and Vidura. Their statements continue to inspire subsequent generations also .

Even the feminine element of Hindu society is aptly reflected in strength in Mahabharta epic. Unlike Ramayan’s Sita  is seen suffering in lonliness, women play greater role in Mahabharta throughout right from providing the cause to the war and the consequences thereafter.

Srimad Bhagvad Gita 

Shrimad Bhagvad Gita is the philosophical part of epic Mahabharata. It is the longest philosophical poem in the world literature. It is in the form of a dialogue between Lord Krishna and prince Arjuna at the outset of Mahabharata war. It contains the gist of Upanishads and every thing of Hindu philosophy in nut shell.

The philosophy of Gita is most subtle, universal, and scientific and can be the guiding principle for every one under all situations. In brief the message is:

  • God appears to restore every thing in order whenever displacement to the natural order is caused.
  • God is the source of everything. He is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscience.
  • Death is only to the body. Soul never dies.
  • Life and death have been continuing in cyclic order and shall continue.
  • Ultimately good always wins over evil.
  • All pray to the same God. In whatever form we worship, God fixes our faith to that very form.
  • One should do the work that suits him best and dedicate all actions to God.
  • One should discharge the assigned duty with out claiming credit for good and without fear, hesitation, or blame for the bad result as long as the intentions of the doer are pure and selfless.
  • Non violence is the greatest Dharma, so too is righteous violence for the protection of Dharma.
  • One has control only on his actions but not on the result.
  • One should do his duty without expecting any thing in return.
  • Excessive indulgence in every thing is bad.

In Shrimad Bhagvad Gita the sadhnas (practices) for self development have been classified under four broad categories called Yogas:

  1. Karma Yoga is the path of ‘Activism’ suited to the active type. It implies discharging duties to the best of ability and conscience, without getting attached, either to the fruits thereof.
  1. Bhakti Yoga is more suitable to overcome frustrations in life. It suggests loving God with heart and soul and surrendering completely to His will. It is passively doing the duties as they come without taking credit of being a ‘doer’.
  1. Raja Yoga is the path of activism with calculated risks. Raja Yoga prescribes an eight-fold discipline leading to sound mind in healthy body. The eight stages of Yoga are identical to Yogasutras.
  1. Gyana Yoga is ideal for those endowed with a sharp intellect and a keen power of discrimination. It is the approach of a perfectionist leaving nothing to chance and calls for practicing and exercising greatest controls in every aspect of life. Obviously this approach is the hardest, and to be followed by the few.

The Middle Path is a balanced combination of all the Yogas, with more of one and less of others depending upon one’s temperament. The emphasis is on doing one’s duty and leaving the rewards to the Superior being is common to all.

The philosophy underlined in Gita is the ancient most known to the mankind, and has universal appeal. It is practically relevant under all circumstances to everyone, and everywhere. Gita being the crux of Hindu philosophy can be termed as a simple and abridged substitute for all other religious texts for the laymen as well as for scholars on Hinduism.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 15/72- Puranas are Earliest Narratives)

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