Narrated by Maharshi Vyasa & penned by Lord Ganesha, the longest epic in the world- Mahabharata, tells the story of a country, a culture & a family tearing itself apart. Interwoven into this narrative are several smaller stories about various characters & philosophical discourses that play an integral role leading into the cataclysmic war that resulted in endless destruction, silence & unspeakable sadness.
Even after thousand years, Mahabharata still remains popular to this day in India.The story has been told & retold countless times & is adapted into several plays, movies & serials- B.R. Chopra’s adaptation (1988) & the more recently Star Plus adaptation (2013) which is currently streaming on Disney+Hotstar. But what makes a story written many millienia ago, still relevant in today’s world? We are about to find out……..
Mahabharata focuses on the practical approach of dharma. It encompasses all the contradictions of life. It was written with precise political, ideological & artistic set of objectives incorporating a multitude of dominant themes-brother’s feud, lust, greed, anger, ego, jealousy using them in versatile ways in the Pandavas-Kauravas storyline beginning from its outline for destruction & formulation. The epic stresses a restoration of order on earth after a long sequence of calamities culminating in a holocaust.
It all started with King Shantanu of Hastinapur & the lineage went on with Kauravas (sons of Dhritarashtra) & Pandavas (sons of Pandu). All princes were entrusted under the tutelage of Guru Dronacharya. It was here where the hostilities developed between the two clans. Parallely in another kingdom Mathura, the Supreme Lord descended upon earth who grew up to play an integral role in the epic.
These characters are so relatable in today’s world. They reflect paradigm shift towards Kali Yuga where humanity had lost all its virtues. The Kauravas always tried to kill Pandavas for the throne & made several attempts but failed. They resorted to dishonesty & trickery with the help of their maternal uncle Shakuni. Now Shakuni is a cunning tactician & master manipulator. How he manipulates a righteous man like Dharmaraj Yudhisthira into playing game of dice which was more of a gambling & makes him lose everything- his kingdom, his brothers & even their wife. In the entire court Draupadi was disrobed by Dushashana with Pandavas & other ministers like Vidura, Bhishma, Guru Dron, Aangraj Karna watching in silence. No one protested against their king. Women weren’t safe even then. Isn’t this the same situation in today’s world? It was thanks to Lord Krishna that her grace was saved. The Pandavas were sent in exile for 12 years & 1 year incognito.
After returning, the Pandavas weren’t given a single piece of land by the egoistic Duryodhan. He wanted to wage war against them & to end the Pandu lineage once & for all. Even Lord Krishna went on a peace mission but failed. War became inevitable.
On the 1st day of war, facing an opposing army containing his friends & relatives, our hero Arjuna is torn. He deems this war is meaningless. But Lord Krishna manifests his divine form & teaches him about a higher philosophy that will enable him to carry his duties as a warrior irrespective of personal concerns. This philosophical treatise is known as Bhagavad Gita which has inspired many modern leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Lokmanya Tilak, Swami Vivekananda etc., in their struggle for India’s freedom against the British empire. The Bhagavad Gita teaches a way of life- what’s the true meaning of ‘dharma’ & also the principles of ‘karma’ touching upon ethical dilemmas & philosophical issues that goes far beyond the war.
The battle lasted for 18 days. The Pandavas won the war but lost everyone- their kin, their folk etc. In 18 days, 3 generations of men perished. The Kauravas had many great warriors on their side, some were even on a God level- Mahamahim Bhishma- the strongest warrior alive for five generations who can choose death at his own will, Guru Dronacharya- who was the preceptor of most of the warriors in the war & Aangraj Karna- whose martial prowess matched Arjuna if not superseded him. And they all ended up on the losing side. Why?
Because they chose the path of unrighteousness. I wouldn’t call it unrighteousness but the path of ignorance. Bhishma was loyal to the throne of Hastinapur no matter who ruled it. None of this would have happened if Bhishma wouldn’t have renounced his throne. Guru Dronacharya was given refugee in Hastinapur & Drithrashtra gave him higher ranks in the council. And Aangraj Karna- the tragic hero of Mahabharata, a character who questions whether a man’s place in this society is decided on his birth & not on his skill and merit, decided to help his friend Duryodhana rather than thinking for the greater good of the society. Later it is revealed that he was the son of Kunti; the eldest of Pandavas & the rightful heir to the throne. That’s the real tragedy.
Now let’s examine Lord Krishna’s role in this war. He is the supreme personality of God. He could have wiped out the entire Kauravas’ army within a fraction of seconds yet he didn’t. He pledged that he won’t use any weapon in war & would only act as charioteer to Arjuna. He was a brilliant strategist, a fine tactician. He knew these evil men couldn’t be beaten in a straight forward manner & had to resort to trickery. He did not directly initiate their downfall but used human failings on both sides to do so. Krishna’s manoeuvres even left the Pandavas guilt-ridden.
Without the war the world wouldn’t have known the bravery of Abhimanyu, the integrity & determination of Bhishma & the magnanimity of Aangraj Karna. Also the world would have never known how those malignant men like Jaydratha, Shakuni, Duryodhana, Dushashana, Ashwasthama etc., met their demise.
Everything in the universe is bound by karma, the actions & consequences that people have to go through during their entire life. Even Lord Krishna was bound by karma. After the war, Gandhari, a weeping mother whose hundred sons have been killed in war cursed Lord Krishna that his kingdom will meet a similar fate. Krishna accepts the curse graciously knowing that it was his destiny all along.
Such is the journey of Mahabharata- from anger to calmness, from diversity to unity, from unrighteousness to righteousness. But in the end, everything is gone. All that we collect in life perishes. All that rises falls. All union ends in separation. All life ends in death.