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Splashes – 57/72 – Sunset in East – Sun Rise from West

Unlike other invaders of medieval age, Alexander did not indulge in reckless destruction of knowledge and civilizations of the areas he conquered. He remained an inquisitive disciple, a soldier to the hilt, and a general par excellence. Indian fame had already impressed him and he was keen to see the country rather to destroy the same. Conquering India meant victory over the world.

When he reached India, the border King Ambhi extended cooperation to him. Thereafter he met next border King Puru (Porus) on the battle field. Although Puru was defeated on account of multiple reasons, the battle made Alexander realize that if he were to continue fighting he would be completely ruined. His army was grief-stricken and expressed strong desire to return.

As a matter of fact Alexander did not win any major war on the Indian soil but merely passed through the Indus Valley fighting skirmishes with the tribes of that area to safeguard the exit route of his bruised army that had got demoralized due to the might of Nanda Empire at Magdha. Alexander was the first European who carried the first-hand accounts of India’s glory to Europeans during 300 BC.

Renaissance in Europe

The period from Fourteenth Century to Seventeenth Century is known as the age of Renaissance in Europe. It bridges medieval age to modern age. Prior to Renaissance the theological shackles imposed by Roman Church had made any kind of scientific development impossible.

Although the European intellectuals had in their possession some texts of Greek and Arabs since first awakening, but they lacked courage and opportunity to put that knowledge to any practical use. As soon as the interference from Church declined, the knowledge gathered during ‘First Awakening’ and thereafter during ‘Renaissance’ electrified the spirit of exploration and inventions in every field. Geographically tiny countries also emerged as super powers on the globe to colonize others.

India after Alexander

During 563-483 BC, Buddhism and Jainism had emerged within Hinduism. Both sects had their founders as Khashatriya princes. Both preached Non Violence and stressed on living a simple life with nature. Several contemporary kings adapted to their fold. Prominent among them were Emperor Chandragupta Maurya who voluntarily gave up his newly found empire and converted himself to a Jain monk.

His grandson Emperor Ashoka turned a Buddhist and was instrumental in propagation of Buddhism to South Eastern Countries. Beside other things, several monasteries and statues of the founders were set up in all parts of India. House holders and youths started leaving simple life in monasteries according to tenants of new faiths with more stress on non-violence. Although they had certain reservations about castes and some rituals but after their founders, both the sects developed their own superficial rituals that could not withstand later events. After the retreat of Alexander, the tide of Buddhism was halted for some time in India, but it spread in the neighboring countries of South East Asia, Tibet and China.

Hinduism during Gupta Period

There was revival of Hinduism during the reign of Gupta KIngs. Hindu culture and literature witnessed progress in every field. Finest literature in Sanskrit was written during this period and the language came to be associated with the nobility. Most of the scriptures were written down during this period.

Hinduism witnessed the emergence of two prominent sub branches, such as Vaishnaites, and Shivaites. Brahmanas leading their respective branches authored mythological stories high lighting the prominence of their respective deities. Temples were constructed and rituals of stricture nature came to be observed.

ertain wrong practices also made their entry into Hindu society such as caste pride and rivalry among ruling classes. Brahmins and business community over indulged in pleasure. Gupta Empire declined in 500 AD and was followed by emergence of Kushana dynasty. After Emperor Kanishka there was again a vacuum of central authority in India and fragmentation of smaller kingdoms.

Excessive Indulgence 

There was a spurt in rituals of idol worship. Due to patronization of ruling classes the monasteries grew richer to attract more youths who discarded their worldly duties to pick up living on alms as monks. By over indulgence in pleasures or spiritual pursuits, Hindus went astray from political realities, environmental changes around them, and overlooked the need of political unity as a nation.

If birds and animals discarded their instinctive duties given by Nature, their existence would be useless in the chain of ecology. For example if snakes, lions, eagles and cats turn vegetarians overnight and adopted total non-violence, what would be the purpose of their living? Khashatriyas in India were confronted with similar situation.

They replaced their weapons with begging bowls, discarded their ruling functions particularly in the area of security of the state and neglected vigilance to indulge in sensuality. They forget that many often offensive action was the best form of defense. Their over indulgence to principle of non-violence proved disastrous.

Smaller fiefdoms started emerging all over India on the basis of caste or families. Military training was relegated to pleasures of dance and music. Even robbers settled on the out skirts of India turned bold to over-power frontier rulers. The environment was ripe to invite death and destruction as the riches of India were alluring motivating force.

The Last Hindu Emperor

Emperor Harsha Vardhana was the last Hindu Emperor who ruled the country at the age of sixteen and continued for 41 years from his capital at Kannauj. He tried his best to forge unity once again but achieved partial success. He was defeated by Pulkeshi II of Karnataka and had to compromise on accepting River Narmada as a border between the two states. Emperor Harsha Vardhana took interest to consolidate segmented Hindu faiths together.

Buddhism and Jainism came to be accepted in the fold of Hinduism since the life styles of their followers and the philosophy of ‘Live and let live’ was perfectly in tune with Hinduism. Cultural integration among various communities of India had been taking place since the pre-Vedic periods. All those who entered India such as the Greeks, Parthians, Sakas, Huns, Gurjaras, Pratiharas, Kushans, and the Scythians had already been assimilated into the Hindu culture. The Buddha and Tirathankaras of Jainism came to be regarded as incarnations of Vishnu. Once again Emperor Harsha Vardhana put India to glory but that was short-lived and proved to be the beginning of anti-climax.

The Slide was set

Soon after the demise of Emperor Harsha Vardhana India fragmented into small states on the basis of clans and castes. There was disunity and strong jealousy among the neighboring states. Rituals eclipsed the substance and grew like cobwebs. Brahmins turned selfish and greedy, Khashatriyas turned sensual and debauch; and were less farsighted to discriminate between personal and state interests. Spiritual, economic and intellectual progress came to abrupt halt. Business men felt insecure, and people at the lower strata started looking for personal safety for life and living elsewhere.

Excess of everything is bad 

Orthodoxy and lethargy prevented Hindus from going abroad across the sea to see for themselves the dangers that were lurking all around. Although the Sun of progress moved towards West but it took over thousand years to disappear.

In comparison by this time Europe was in total darkness except couple of countries like Greece and Rome that were raising powers. The effect of Renaissance was not universal in all the countries of Europe. During Renaissance age India was under the rule of Khilji, Tughlak and Lodhi dynasties. It was under Mughal rule during French Revolution.

Wars for succession always followed the death of Islamic rulers coupled with uncertainty and insecurity in the country. Provincial rulers went out of control of central authority. Indian population was frequently getting looted and massacred by Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali as well as the local claimants to the throne.

The Niyama of Contentment (Santosha) had been greatly influential on the mindset of Indians. It helped them to have fewer demands and necessities. In the absence of necessities, there were no inventions either. That was the reason that in spite of knowledge in their possession, Indians did not invent like the Europeans who were able to put several inventions of utility items in everyday life.

Thus when Sun went down in India, Europe was basking in glory.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 58/72 – Darkened Horizons)

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Splashes– 53/72 – Shine of Indian Wisdom

History text books are blank about Indian History prior to the invasion of Alexander the Great. Although it is mentioned that fear of military might of Nanda Dynasty at Patliputra (Patna), forced mighty Alexander to retreat, but nothing much is known about powerful Nanda dynasty, and the dynasties prior to that. As escape route, everything prior to that period has been classified as Hindu mythology.

This black out could be the result of motivated destruction. Until the Indians themselves trace out the truth of their past, we have to confine only to the known facts.  One of the stark fact accepted by Western historians is that students from other countries did come for studies to India’s world renowned universities at Nalanda, and Takshashila. Certainly they would not have come to Indian universities to learn ‘snake-charming’ and orthodoxy!

Indo – Greek Center of Learning

When Alexander came to India he was highly impressed by the Takshashila University. Leaving aside what lay ahead, Alexander was inspired by Takshashila at the out skirts of India that he established a great university at Alexandria in Egypt as a center of Indo Greek learning. Thereafter Alexander established the Hellenistic Empire comprising of Egypt, Asia Minor, Iran, Bactria and North-West India, through which the transfer of learning from India to Greece increased.

A large number of Indian texts were translated into Greek and kept in the library at Alexandria. Alexander himself took hundreds of Brahmin scholars to Greece. Many soldiers married Indo-Iranian women and took them to Greece. Trade routes and diplomatic channels were also established.

In 323-30 BC Alexandria emerged as the greatest city in the Mediterranean region. Amongst its most notable institutions were the library and the museum, being Europe’s first organized research institution. Alexander’s successor attacked India but was defeated by newly emerged Emperor Chandragupta Maurya to whom defeated Seleucus had to marry his daughter for bargaining peace. Greek ambassador Megasthanes has left ample accounts of Indian glory for the consumption of subsequent historians of western countries.

Pythagoras – Father of European Knowledge

Modern Knowledge started in Europe with Pythagoras, who carried Indian Mathematics. His life history was recorded centuries after his death, and even that information has come to us in fragments. He was born around 560 BC, on Samos, an island near the coast of Asia Minor. After studying music and gymnastics, he went to Egypt. He stayed at Babylon and other places where Indian philosophy of Upanishads, Mathematics and Geometry were well known.

While he was there, Iran invaded Egypt, and Pythagoras was also brought to Iran as a captive. From Iran, he went to India and stayed in Punjab and Himalayas.  Pythagoras discarded Greek robes and donned local trousers. Before Pythagoras, trousers were not known to Europe. Thus not only he introduced Indian Geometry to Europe, but Indian costumes also.

Indians living at high altitudes in the Himalayas wore woolen trousers, which is evident from the statue of Indian King Kanishka, discovered in Afghanistan. The Emperor is shown wearing a long double-breasted coat and trousers. Variants of trousers like pajamas and salwar were worn in the northern plains of Indo-Iran.

Spread of Indian Philosophy 

Turning away from Ionian culture Pythagoras identified himself with the East. After living twenty years in the East, Pythagoras returned to Europe and settled in Croton, a Greek-speaking town of South Italy. He formed an order of ascetics and preached that world was held together like human society. Also he preached that all needed to cultivate order in personal life.

Pythagoreans believed in transmigration of life through different life forms. He claimed to recall the details of his own previous incarnations. He preached the kinship of all forms of life, which is the fundamental principle of Hinduism. He also preached non-violence and prohibited killing of animals for food. Pythagorean propagated that who indulged in immoral acts, would be reborn as animal in next life.

The reaction started by Pythagoras resulted in a boom of scholars in Greece like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and many others. However, till then the Greeks accepted only four elements such as, Earth, water, Air, and Fire, out of the five basic elements suggested by Indians. They were unable to understand ‘space’ and therefore excluded that.

Ideas that Awakened Europe

Some of the notable scholarly works at Alexandria University that provided foundation to Western thought and brought ‘first awakening to Europe’ are as under:-

  • In 300 –250 Aristarchus, a Greek astronomer working at the museum in Alexandria, advanced a heliocentric theory of the solar system, anticipating Copernicus by many centuries.
  • 250-200 Eratosthenes, a Greek astronomer in Alexandria prepared a map of the heavens that included 675 stars, and calculated the circumference of the Earth, which was fairly accurate.
  • During first Century a Greek physician, Discordia, while serving with Roman armies, studied plants as a source of drugs and wrote De Matera Medica.  The five-volume work dealt with 600 plants and almost 1000 drugs, and is known to be the Europe’s first systematic pharmacopoeia. The Arabs preserved it.
  • In Egypt, Ptolemy published a book on astronomy in 127 AD, which came to be known as Ptolemaic system. He wrote that Earth was motionless and was placed at the center of the universe. All other planets and heavenly bodies revolved around Earth. Ptolemy’s perspective continued to dominate astronomy and religious belief until Nicholas Copernicus in 16 th century dared to suggest that instead of Earth, Sun was the center of the Solar system. Even Copernicus was far behind the Indian astronomers who had stated that there were millions of galaxies (Koti koti Brahmanda).
  • In 200 AD During this century, Plotinus wrote the Enneads. He saw the universe as a series of emanations from an absolute reality the ‘One’. He was closer to Hindu thought.

Destruction of Alexandria

In 47 AD the great library in Alexandria was partially destroyed in a fire during a war between Julius Caesar and the followers of Pompy, the Great. It caused a great loss to ancient treasures of knowledge as about 40,000 volumes were consumed by fire.

Rome rose as a big power in the second century BC.  Romans destroyed much of Greek civilization as well as their knowledge.  They expanded their empire to include North Africa, Asia Minor and South Europe. Greek cities were destroyed, learning was disrupted and scholars were killed.

A few Greek scholars escaped to other parts of Europe, and continued their pursuit of knowledge in a low profile till the Byzantine period. In 529, Justin Ian, the Byzantine Emperor closed the nine-hundred-year old Academy of Plato in Athens and completely destroyed the last remains of Greek knowledge in Europe, alleging that to be a hotbed of paganism and heresy. The scholars were killed or converted.

Many of these Greek scholars, fearing for their lives and intellectual freedom fled to Persia, where they established a kind of Academy in exile.

The Renaissance in Europe

This was the period, when Sun was setting in the East and rising from the West. By this time Islamic rulers had ushered an era of darkness in India. Volumes of intellectual Hindu-Heritage were burnt as ‘Kufar’ and Brahmins had faced the worst through annihilation. Fortunately some books had escaped destruction. Most of the knowledge that ushered Europe in the age of Renaissance had been compiled from ancient Hindu texts, and the same was patented to ‘credit’ new inventors, with European nations gaining political control over the globe.

Fortunately for the mankind, some texts had been hidden and preserved. Those were taken abroad in original or by translation through which the modern Science in Europe took its roots. This period is known as the age of Renaissance and the re-appearance of ancient text. However many of the original masterpieces were plagiarized and came to be identified with European authors. There were no protests from Hindus who had been living a darkened life under medieval Islamic rulers.

Modern science began during 1400-1500 with the Renaissance in Europe, sparked by ancient texts such as Euclid’s geometry, Ptolemy’s geography and Galen’s medicine. The Indian Knowledge thus lost its identity.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 54/72 – Spread of Knowledge Abroad)

Splashes– 48/72 – The Art of Warfare

Omnipresent, Omniscience and Omnipotent are the attributes of God. The Supreme Being is kind, merciful, and gracious but is most destructive as well. This aspect is pictorially well expressed through Hindu mythology.

Importance of Weapons

HE is always shown carrying flowers to indicate His power of blessing, conch shell to symbolize His warnings to the evil-doer, and weapons to destroy the evil. The Supreme Power is always portrayed in calm and composed disposition, without any signs of anger, revenge or hatred even when engaged in the destruction of evil. Every God and Goddess is also shown possessing weapons for the protection of Dharma – to restore natural law and order in the Universe.

Weapons were respected, ‘worshiped’ and sought after as blessings and boons from learned Rishies and superior deities through penance or other rituals. Though non-violence is regarded as supreme virtue, cowardice is considered as biggest sin. Heroic death is preferable over comfortable but inglorious life. Self-defense and protection of Dharma is a sacred duty for which sanction has been accorded in the scriptures as under:-

अहिंसा परमो धर्मः धर्म हिंसा त्थैवः चः

“Although nonviolence is ideal but violence for protection or restoration of Dharma is also the same”.

Scriptures cannot be defended without power and weapons. That is the reason the mother goddess Shakti is reverend in Hinduism. The Supreme Being has exemplified it on several occasions through His incarnations and has indicated His commitment to repeat the same from time to time.

The right of Self Defense 

Nature has equipped every living being with suitable tools for self-defense, such as teeth, claws, physical strength and evasive instincts to protect own life. Even the most docile animals and persons make use of the same. Since Dharma compressed in the concept of ‘live, and let live’, contemplation of planned and deliberate war is justified for the protection of ‘dharma’ in discharge of one’s duty.

Many often offensive action is the only and best form of defense. Hinduism justified and preferred war in protection of Dharma than submission to the evil forces of adharma. The great Mahabharata war was commended by Krishna for restoration of values in the society even against own kith and kin.

The Battlefield Environment

Ancient Hindu scriptures contain comprehensive instructions regarding the conduct of ‘Dharm yudh’ for protection and restoration of DharmaRamayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas make frequent mention of battlefield organizations, rank structure such as Rathi and Maha-rathies. Chaturangani Sena implied four elements under one field commander consisting of chariots (armored), horsemen, foot soldiers and services. Modern armies also have the same components.

Scripture mention about fortifications and there is exhaustive catalog of weaponry. A canon was called ‘Shataghni’. There were agni-astras, or weapons of fire, chemical astras (warheads) as well as biological warheads that could be shot or launched. The wars were fought on land, water, and air.

Principles of Warfare

Even if we assume for a moment those account to be fictional, yet the comprehension of all the principles of modern warfare and maneuvers have been depicted to present an advanced scenario of the battlefield. Unlike other epics of the globe, wars were not confined to one instance of cuddling few soldiers in a dummy horse to be dragged in to the rival camp, but Ramayana and Mahabharata battles were fought at the scale of world wars, simultaneously in different theaters spread over far off fronts for several days, but according to central command and control of the rival Commanders in Chief.

All the factors that influence modern war such as superiority of numerical strength and weaponry, aggressive action, tactics, personal chivalry, morale, planting of information, night attacks, raids, and suicidal missions have been amply illustrated to indicate the professionalism of Indian warriors and match all the standards of advanced armies of the present century also. By no stretch of imagination the Rishies could be equated to thriller writers or war correspondents of today.

Use of Battle insignia 

The origin and use of flags can be traced to the Rig Veda Samhita. The term dhvaja (flag) occurs in the Veda. Besides, dhvaja, there are good number of expressions for a banner in Vedic literature. These are Akra, Krtadhvaja, Ketu, Brhatketu, and Sahasraketu. Banners and drums were counted among the insignia of ancient Vedic kings. In the Mahabharata war, every commander had his own insignia to distinguish his army division from the other’s.

Missiles and Launchers 

Ancient Hindus knew the use of gunpowder. The Shukra Neeti is an ancient text that deals with the manufacture of arms such as rifles and guns. Its author Shukracharya was the Guru of demons and possessed equal capability to match the army of Devas.

Alexander mentioned in a letter to Aristotle that terrific flashes of flame were showered on his army in India. It was the fear of Military might of Emperor Ghana Nanda of the Magdha empire, that soldiers of Alexander did not dare to advance towards him and forced the world conqueror to return home.

Rockets were also Indian inventions and were used by native armies when Europeans first came into contact with them. Eliot tells us that the Arabs learnt the manufacture of gunpowder from India, and that before Indian connection they had used arrows of naphtha.

Codes of Military Honor

The ancient Hindus had evolved precepts on fair fighting which formed a chivalrous code of military honor. Wars were characterized by less violence and savagery than wars fought elsewhere. The indiscriminate slaughter of all men of adult age or the enslavement of women and children of the conquered state were hardly known. Nowhere in the history of ancient India would one trace even a single incident of rape or arson before or after the war.

It goes to the credit of Indian culture that ethical codes were also part of military tactics, Warriors were to refrain from attacking the unarmed and unaware opponents, females, non-participants, places of worship, hospitals, and residential complexes and the battle camps at night. These codes were the precursors of Geneva conventions today, that are violated by our adversaries.

Shipbuilding and Navigation

The Rig Veda makes several references to ships used to cross the Samudra (Ocean). India was a peninsula cut off from the Northern world by the Himalayas, and by vast expanses of water on the Eastern and Western side. India had to take to shipping, if she wanted to export her immense surplus goods.

The art of Navigation was born in the River Sindhu 6000 years ago. The very word Navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word Nav Gatih. The word navy is also derived from Sanskrit `Nou‘. The Rig Veda not only refer to River Saraswati as Hiranyavartani, (path of gold), and the Sindhu as Hiranmayi (possessing gold), it also makes a direct reference to panned-gold from the Saraswati riverbed.

Trade was also a big part of this civilization. Indians traded with the Egyptians, with the Sumerians acting as intermediaries using ships. In the third century, horses were exported from India to the Malay Peninsula and Indochina, by means of ships of considerable size.

History of Indian Navy

In Indian mythology, Varuna is the God of Seas and Rivers. The Devas and Danavas, who were the sons of Rishi Kashyapa by queens Aditi and Diti, churned the ocean, in order to obtain Amrut, the nectar of immortality and other treasures. Even today the invocation at the launching ceremony of a war-ship is addressed to ‘Aditi’.

The Rig Veda credits Varuna with knowledge of the ocean routes commonly used by ships, and describes naval expeditions using hundred-oared ships to subdue other kingdoms. There is a reference to Plava, the side wings of a vessel that give stability under storm conditions: perhaps the precursor of modern stabilizers. Similarly, the Atharva Veda mentions boats, which were spacious, well-constructed and comfortable.

The Rig Veda mentions the two oceans to the east and the west, (Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea) just as they mention ships and maritime trade. The picture of the Vedic people as sea-faring merchants meshes perfectly with the archaeological evidence of the Indus-Saraswati civilization. India’s maritime history predates the birth of western civilization. The world’s first tidal dock was built at Lothal around 2300 BC during the Harappan civilization, near the present day Mangrol harbor on the Gujarat coast.

The Sanskrit text, Yuktikalpataru, explains how to build ships, such as the one depicted in the Ajanta caves. It gives minute details about ship types, sizes and materials, including suitability of different types of wood. The treatise also elaborately explains how to decorate and furnish ships so they are comfortable for passengers. Yuktikalpataru gives a detailed classification of ships.

Two Indian astronomers of repute, Aryabhatta and Varahamihira, having accurately mapped the positions of celestial bodies, developed a method of computing a ship’s position from the stars. A forerunner of the modern magnetic compass called Matsya Yantra was used. It comprised an iron fish that floated in a vessel of oil and pointed towards North.

Emperor Chandragupta Maurya established an Admiralty Division under a Superintendent of Ships as part of his war office.  Charter of his responsibility included navigation on the seas, oceans, lakes and rivers. Indian ships traded with Java and Sumatra, and with countries in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Trade linkages also existed between Philippines and with the powerful Hindu empires in Java and Sumatra.

To the east, Indian mariners had gone as far as Borneo and flourishing Indian colonies had existed for over 1,200 years in Malaya, the islands of Indonesia, in Cambodia, Champa and other areas of the coast. Indian ships from Quilon, made regular journeys to the South China coast.

The Indian Ocean, including the entire coast of Africa, had been explored centuries ago by Indian navigators. Indian ships frequented the East African ports and certainly knew of Madagascar.

To the awakened Western world, conquest of India was virtually the conquest over the world. Dream of World conquest remained unfulfilled for Alexander and he had to retreat without fighting the Indian Emperor. His successor Seleucus attacked India but he also had to beg peace from Chandragupta Maurya by offering his daughter in marriage. Such was the military might of India at the very beginning of our history.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 49/72 – Martial Arts of India)

Splashes – 14 – Mahabharata is Grand Panorama

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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