Aarti Natarajan Sharma
The Mahabharata is the longest epic poem ever written with over 1,00,000 shlokas written in Sanskrit. It describes the 18-day war that took place in Kurukshetra between the cousins, Pandavas and the Kauravas, due to their claim over the throne of Hastinapur. It is a blend of Hindu mythology and philosophy and was written by Sage Vyasa. The title means ‘the great tale of the Bharata dynasty.’ This epic holds tremendous religious and philosophical importance throughout India.
The concept of sacred duty is interwoven throughout this epic poem. Each character is born into a particular family, caste, and clan. Every person needs to fulfill his/her duty in society in accordance with the dharma or rules and regulations of that caste, clan, and family.
The Mahabharata is an intricately woven story. It is extremely relevant even today and is replete with lessons on every situation one may face in life. It covers aspects of professional, personal, religious, ethical life and the situations one may face in these. It has been said that there is no present-day situation that has not been dealt with in this epic.
The paramount lessons one can derive from the Mahabharata are:
1.Not be Greedy
The Mahabharata clearly shows the disastrous consequences of being greedy. It is this greed for the throne that drove Duryodhana to deny his cousins their rightful inheritance to the throne. The epic shows us how one should not succumb to greed because it consumes the person, leading to eventual destruction.
2.Revenge is Destructive
Revenge is a recurring theme in the Mahabharata. When Duryodhana visits the Pandavas’ palace which was full of illusions, he slips and falls into a pool of water which looked like solid floor. Draupadi witnesses this and laughs at him saying Andhe ka beta, andha. (A blind man’s son is also blind). This incident fills Duryodhana with rage and leads him to plot revenge for his humiliation. The game of dice that changes the course of events and ultimately leads to the war is a result of the revenge-driven Duryodhana.
3.Duty above All
Just before the war commenced, one of the greatest warriors, Arjuna, saw his friends and family on the opposite side of the battlefield; and he was overcome with dejection. He laid down his weapons, saying that he could not fight with, and kill, his kith and kin. This was followed by a discourse on dharma and duty by Lord Krishna, who was his friend and charioteer. Lord Krishna explained to Arjuna that it is the duty of a Kshatriya to fight a war to defend his rights. Everything else must come second. This discourse makes for the famous Bhagavad Gita.
The epic eulogises the deep bonds of friendship. In particular the example of the friendship between Karna and Duryodhana is explained in detail. Even after Karna gets to know that he is actually the eldest Pandava among the brothers, he refuses to switch sides, saying that his friendship and loyalty first belonged to Duryodhana. Similarly, the deep bond of friendship between Arjuna and Lord Krishna is apparent; without Lord Krishna on his side, Arjuna would not have remained undefeated.
5.Respect for Elders and Teachers
The Mahabharata reinforces the traditional concepts of the guru-shishya relationship and how respecting the guru is paramount. When Guru Dronacharya comes across a young boy Eklavya practicing with his bow and arrow in front of an idol of his guru, he realises that Eklavya had the potential to be a greater warrior than Arjuna, the guru’s favourite pupil. As guru dakshina he asks Eklavya to cut off his right thumb, thereby destroying any chances of him surpassing Arjuna. Without a second thought Eklavya does this selfless act, keeping the orders of his guru above everything else.
6.Before Careful What You Wish For
When Bheeshma’s father Shantanu falls in love with a fisherwoman, Satyavati, and desires to marry her, her father puts forth conditions which lead to Bheeshma taking his terrible vow of lifelong celibacy; thereby ensuring that Satyavati’s son would remain heir to the throne of Hastinapur. Years later, when both her sons die without any heirs, she begs Bheeshma to break his vow and produce an heir for the throne. But Bheeshma refuses saying a vow once taken cannot be broken. Satyavati realises then how wrong she was to have agreed to her father’s conditions.
7.Beware of the Company You Keep
Shakuni, the evil uncle of the Kauravas, constantly filled Duryodhana’s ears about how he had been treated unjustly. Even when the elders tried to set Duryodhana on the right path, Shakuni ensured that the flame of jealousy and anger was kept well and alive. This coloured all of Duryodhana’s decisions.
8.Stay Away from Vices
Yudhishthir was good king but he had one main vice: gambling. This weakness was exploited by Duryodhana and led to Yudhishthir staking not only his kingdom but also his brothers and worst of all, his wife in the blind desire to win at least one game.
The Mahabharata contains nuggets of information that can help us lead better lives. It is important to learn from the past so as to not make the same mistakes in the future.