Mahabharata is a great resource for learning on topics like spirituality, Management, Psychology, Geography, Economics, politics, etc. Here I will be covering few topics related to management lessons from mahabharata

Venupayyanur

A vast majority of the problems the world is facing today are results of the failure of our soft skills: relationship skills, communication skills, persuasion skills, conflict management skills, assertiveness skills and so on. The Mahabharata, which is the story of how the Bharatas failed in managing a conflict among themselves, leading to an all-destroying war, gives us several beautiful lessons in these skills.

Benefits of Networking – in todays connected world, networking means facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn, twitter, blog etc. There are many benefits of such networking activities if used properly and carefully. There are also stories where youngsters got trapped into undesirable relationships and activities with disastrous impact on their mental and emotional well being.  How did the Pandavas manage to assemble a large army of 7 divisions, even though they were not in power for 13 years and were also living in exile in the forest for 12 years and incognito for a year? Through networking, though not by the modern ways but through building relationships through marriages, friendships and by identifying themselves as proponents of Dharma and aligning with such persons are morally good!. Alliances were formed through the marriages of all the five Pandavas and their children that included the kingdoms of Madra, Magadh, Chedi, Kasi, Kekaya, Matsya, Nagas, Rakshasas and many more. Kingdoms from the Southern part of Bharat such as Chera, Chola, Kerala, etc joined as they felt that the Pandavas are more righteous and Dharma abiding compared to the Kauravas. At the same time, the Kauravas collected unlimited wealth by invading kingdoms across the country but created powerful enemies. This teaches us the lesson that to be successful, either in business or politics, build powerful allies or never create enemies.

Active networking is vital to career growth. Networking is actually about building long-term relationships and a good reputation over time. It involves meeting and getting to know people who you can assist, and who can potentially help you in return. Your network includes everyone from friends and family to work colleagues and members of groups to which you belong. Your network can be an excellent source of new perspectives and ideas to help you in your role. Exchanging information on challenges, experiences and goals is a key benefit of networking. Regularly attending professional and social events will help you expand your contacts and open doors to new opportunities for business, career advancement, personal growth, or simply new knowledge. A wide network of informed, interconnected contacts means broader access to new and valuable information.

Logistics and organizational challenges of the war – Have you ever thought of the challenges faced by the Manager of a circus company in the movement of all the artists, animals, tents, etc from place to place? Have you ever involved in the management of a large company meeting, with people participating from different locations and travelling by different means? Then you will understand the challenges involved in organizing and conducting such an event. With plenty of travel agents and event managers, modern communication and transportation systems, hotels and other facilities, managing such an event where even a thousand persons are participating is a huge challenge. Then think of making arrangements for bringing together 20 lakh soldiers, 20 lakh support personals, 4 lakh chariots, 4 lakh elephants and 12 lakh horses from across the world, starting from Greece to Cambodia. The map given below gives an indication of the kings and kingdoms that participated in the war along with their troupes. Think of the number of tents needed to accommodate every one of them in one location, with specially built tents for kings, generals, princes, their wives, etc. Think of the food arrangements for the soldiers and support staff along with water, fodder and grass requirement for all the animals. Think of the medical support systems and repair arrangements for the chariots and other weapon systems. The challenge is unimaginable. Even today, wars are won or lost not due to military superiority but because of their logistical ability in transporting men and material to the required place at the required time. The defeat of the British in the American War of Independence and the defeat of the Axis in the African theatre of World War II are attributed to logistical failure. The management skills and dexterity displayed by the war managers 5000 years ago, when there were no roads, no trains, no flights, no ERP systems and no modern communication systems and yet assembled the men and material needed to win the war, is truly envious. Even today, modern military follows the basic principles laid down by the war managers of Mahabharata war.

The word logistics has its origin in the French verb loger to lodge or to quarter. Its original use was to describe the science of movement, supplying & maintenance of military forces in the field. Later on it was used to describe the management of materials flow through an organization, from raw materials through to finished goods.

Logistics as a business concept evolved in the 1950s due to the increasing complexity of supplying businesses with materials and shipping out products in an increasingly globalized supply chain, leading to a call for experts called supply chain logisticians. Business logistics can be defined as “having the right item in the right quantity at the right time at the right place for the right price in the right condition to the right customer”.

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Venu Payyanur

We can learn many important lessons on motivation and commitment from the Mahabharata war stories that can easily be applied in our day to day professional life.

Motivation is the driving force which causes us to achieve goals. According to various theories, motivation may be rooted in a basic need to minimize physical pain and maximize pleasure, or it may include specific needs such as eating and resting, or a desired object, goal, state of being, ideal, or it may be attributed to less-apparent reasons such as altruism, selfishness, morality, or avoiding mortality. There are many modern theories and authors on motivation and some of the most popular theories and their authors are as follows.

  • Need theory – Abraham Maslow
  • Two Factor Theory – Frederick Herzberg
  • ERG Theory – Alderfer
  • Incentive Theory – BF Skinner
  • Cognitive Dissonance Theory – Leon Festinger
  • Self Determination Theory – Edward Deci and Richard Ryan
  • And many more.

Though there are many stories that give ample evidence to prove and disapprove all the existing modern management theories on motivation, we will only analyse few of them.

When approached by Duryodhana to become the Commander in Chief of the Kaurava army, Bhishma put down certain conditions to accept the offer. Bhishma said, ‘O Bharata, as thou sayest. But the Pandavas are as dear to me as ye yourselves. Therefore, O king, I should certainly seek their good as well, although I shall certainly fight for thee, having given thee a pledge (before) to that effect. With the power of my weapons, I can, in a trice, destroy this universe consisting of gods, Asuras, Rakshasas, and human beings. The sons of Pandu, however, O king, are incapable of being exterminated by me. I shall, therefore, slay every day ten thousand warriors. If, indeed, they do not slay me in battle first, I will continue to slaughter their forces thus. There is another understanding on which I may willingly become the commander of thy forces. It behoveth thee to listen to that. O lord of earth, either Karna should fight first, or I will fight first. The Suta’s son always boasts of his prowess in battle, comparing it with mine.’

Duryodhana had no choice but to accept these terms and appoint Bhishma as the Commander in Chief. However in one stroke Bhishma ensured that he does not have to kill the Pandavas and also ensured that the only person among the Kauravas who had the ability and willingness to do the same is kept out of the war!! A war is won only when the king is killed or captured. What Bhishma ensured that the Kauravas will not win the war as long as he is the Commander in Chief!!!

Would you like to appoint a Sales Manager for your company, however good he may be, who says that he will not help close orders as long as the company that he was working currently is in competition. And there are only two companies in that marketing space competing with each other!

But the problem is as long as Bhishma is in the battlefield carrying his weapon; none can defeat him, including his own Guru Parasuram. This essentially means that the war will continue indefinitely with great costs to man and materials. So the Pandavas took the unthinkable step in solving the problem, ask the grandsire itself as to how to kill him! As per the plan the Pandavas went to the tent where the grandsire is resting after a day of fierce battle along with Krishna and asked the question as to how we may be able to kill him.

To this Bhishma said, “When with weapons and my large bow in hand I contend carefully in battle, I am incapable of being defeated by the very gods and the Asuras with Indra at their head. If, however, I lay aside my weapons, even these car-warriors can slay me. Hear also, O king, about my resolve formed before. Beholding any inauspicious omen I would never fight that mighty warrior, who is known by the name of Sikhandin, who is wrathful in battle, brave, and ever victorious, was a female before but subsequently obtained manhood. When that inauspicious omen will be there, especially in the form of one that was a female before, I will never seek, though armed with bow and arrow, to strike him. Obtaining that opportunity, let Dhananjaya the son of Pandu quickly pierce me on every side with his shafts.”

This is like selling the company trade secrets to your competition! If you are Pepsi, how much are you willing to pay for the secret Coke formula?? Here you are getting it free!

After the fall of Bhishma, Duryodhana appointed Guru Dronacharya as the new Commander in Chief of the Kaurava army in consultation with Karna. Drona loved Arjuna more than anyone else in this world, except may be his own son Ashvatthama. He also loved the Pandavas more than the Kauravas, but have to side with them due to his extreme loyalty towards the crown that provided him with power, money and comforts. Having known this truth, Duryodhana requested Drona to capture Yudhishthira rather than kill him. Guru Drona was extremely rejoiced with this request and even commented that who would like to kill “Ajathashatru” “the one who has no born enemies”. However he accepted this with one condition that if Arjuna is around, he can never capture Yudhishthira and therefore it is Duryodhana’s responsibility to ensure that Arjuna is distracted away from the battle zone when Drona is fighting with Yudhishthira. On the day, when Arjuna killed lakhs and lakhs of soldiers and finally Jayadratha, Duryodhana becomes extremely angry and disappointed and accuses Drona of insincerity and dishonesty. He said to Drona “O thou of mighty arms, thy now regard the Pandavas to be preferable to ourselves. You, of sure aim, have ordained our extermination in battle, for thou treat Arjuna leniently, since he is thy disciple. It is for this that all those have been slain who had endeavoured to secure victory to us. It seems that only Karna now wishes us victory”. Duryodhana even expressed his desire to commit suicide at this juncture. Having heard such insulting words, Guru Drona immediately set out for fighting, against the war conventions, at night itself.

It is very clear from the above incidents that The C in C has to be frequently admonished and insulted to bring energy and ferocity to the war. Because Guru Drona had no direct interest in the results of the war and was never keen to kill the Pandavas.

The next Commander in Chief of the Kaurava army was Karna, who time and again displayed his unquestionable loyalty towards Duryodhana and was also his confident and trusted advisor. One would expect Karna to be aggressive and fearsome in war and would target particularly the Pandavas. However the truth is far from it. There were many occasions, where he could have captured or killed Yudhishthira, the war would have been won by the Kauravas by the very act, but Karna choose to let him go unharmed. Karna could also have killed all the other brothers of Arjuna including Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva, yet he chooses not to do so. Because he gave a word to his mother that he will only kill Arjuna and none else in the war. What happened to Karna’s loyalty towards Duryodhana? In fact Karna had only one objective, to prove at least once in his life time that he is better than Arjuna. That was an insult that Karna suffered from the first day of his interaction with Kauravas and Pandavas till his death.

The next person to be appointed as Commander in Chief of Kaurava army was King Salya. Being the uncle of Nakula and Sahadeva, Salya was tricked by Duryodhana to join his force to fight against the Pandavas. However before joining the enemy force, the King went and met Yudhishthira and made a commitment as explained below. “Yudhishthira, the son of Kunti, spoke to the king of the Madras the following words, ‘There is no doubt that thou wilt act as the charioteer of Karna. Thou must damp the spirits of Karna then by recounting the praises of Arjuna. “Salya said, ‘Let it be so. I shall do just as thou tellest me. And I shall do for thee anything else that I may be able to do.’ During the war, that is exactly what Salya did which dispirited and disturbed Karna so much that he was finally killed by Arjuna.

From the above stories, one thing is very clear. Your devotion to your organization and your motivation to be successful is not based on your age, title, length of service, qualification, salary, etc. There would highly motivated youngsters who joined very recently and highly de-motivated and dispirited General Managers and Vice Presidents in any organization. However motivation and inter personal relationship, ethics and values have some connection.

Venupayyanur

Mahabharata war lasted 18 days and had 18 divisions of army to start with. Kauravas had 11 Akshouhini (divisions) and 7 with the Pandavas. One Akshouhini consists of 21870 chariots, 21870 Elephants, 65610 horses and 109350 soldiers. That means the Kauravas had 240570 chariots, 240570 Elephants, 721710 horses and 1202850 soldiers against 153090 chariots, 153090 Elephants, 459270 horses and 765450 soldiers of Pandavas. You add the number of support staff needed to take care of all these animals and soldiers in terms of food, medicine, housekeeping, etc, the total number of persons who participated in the war is close to sixty lakh. Kings with their armies, horses, chariots and elephants had come from far away kingdoms of Greece in the West and Cambodia in the East. At the end of 18 days only 10 survived. Kripa, Kritavarma and Ashvatthama from the Kaurava side and the five Pandavas, Krishna and Satyaki from the Pandava side. However Pandavas won the war and captured their lost kingdom.

There are many lessons one can learn from this most devastating war. Here is some of the questions one need to answer to get a better understanding.

1.  Krishna was the GOD and had the power to stop the war and also made a last minute attempt in this regard. Yet he could not stop the war. Why?

2.  Kauravas had bigger, almost 50% more, army and other resources, yet they lost the war. Why?

3.  Kaurava generals, such as Bhishma, Drona, Duryodhana, Karna, Salya, etc were unbeatable in the war, yet they all died. How and why?

4.  Pandavas were not in power and that too living in exile for 13 years prior to the war. Yet they managed to organize a very large army in a very short time. How?

5.  There were more than 20 lakh soldiers with 40 lakh support staff along with 12 lakh horses, 4 lakh elephants and 4 lakh chariots participating in the war coming from faraway places like Greece and Cambodia. All assembled in one place on time to start the war. Considering the fact that this war took place almost 5000 years ago with no modern communication and transportation facilities, can anybody guess how such a humongous task was achieved by the then war managers?

6.  War is a very serious game, either you win or die! The final beneficiaries of the war were only the Kauravas or the Pandavas. Yet there were many kings and their generals along with their army participated in this war. How could the war managers keep them motivated, even when they see people are dying around them every moment?

Details of the Organization.

Managing such a large army with Infantry, Cavalry, Elephants and Chariots is not an easy task. Imagine the problems we had couple of years back during one Kumbh mela wherein many hundreds of people died due to stampede. It was close to one million persons who assembled at that time. During Kurukshetra war, there were more than sixty lakh persons including twenty lakh Infantry, four lakh chariots and four lakh elephants along with close to twelve lakh horses all assembled into one place and restless to engage in war. If not managed properly, half the participants will die of stampede arising out of chaos and confusion. Here comes the great organizational technique employed by the generals almost 5000 years ago, which is followed even today by all the countries.   Each soldier had a clear reporting structure and the entire army was organized in such a way that every one of them knew exactly what to do and whose orders to follow.

Pandavas – Pandavas had 7 Akshouhini and Yudhishthira duly appointed the following persons in command of his seven divisions. They were Drupada, Virata, Dhrishtadyumna, the king Dhrishtaketu, the prince Shikhandi, Chekitana and Bhima. And Dhrishtadyumna who had sprung from the blazing (sacrificial) fire for the destruction of Drona was appointed as the Commander in Chief. And Dhananjaya was made the leader of all those high-souled leaders. And Krishna endued with great intelligence was chosen as the guide of Arjuna and the driver of his Chariot.’

Kauravas – Kauravas had 11 divisions and the following were the Generals for each of the divisions. Kripa, Drona, Salya, Jayadratha, Sudakshina, Kritavarman, Aswatthaman, Karna, Bhurisravas, Sakuni, and the mighty Vahlika. Duryodhana appointed the Grandsire Bhishma as the Commander in Chief of the Kaurava army.

There were many Rathi, Athirathi and Maharathi in both the armies. A Maharathi is a warrior capable of fighting 60,000 warriors simultaneously; circumspect in his mastery of all forms of weapons and combat skills. And an Atirathi is a warrior capable of contending with 10,000 warriors simultaneously. In the Kaurava army the following were Athirathis and Maharathis. Shalya, Somadatta, Bhurishravas, Bhagadatta, Jayadratha, Kritavarma were Athirathis and  Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Ashvatthama, Shrutyudha, Duryodhana were Maharathis. Among the Pandavas Ghatotkatcha, Satyaki and Yuyutsu were Athirathis and Arjuna, Bhima, Abhimanyu, Nakul, Sahadev, Yudhistra, Dristadyumna, Dhrupad and Viraata were all Maharathis.

Sometimes, the details of number of soldiers and generals participated in the war looks highly exaggerated and exclamatory. Even today the total strength of Indian army is about eleven lakhs, when our country population is more than 100 crores. It is very difficult to believe that 5000 years ago, one can organize such a large army, even though there were participants from as far as Greece and Cambodia. It is estimated that the world population during 3000 BC is approximately 14 millions, that includes approximately 50% women and if not more 20% of the persons below 20 years of age. This essentially means that all eligible male population from across the world, irrespective of their profession, participated in the war!!

It is very interesting to analyze the organizational structure from the current day perspective. For the Pandavas, Yudhishthira was the CEO ably supported by a Board of Directors consisting of all his brothers. Each one of them was masters in one specific area. Krishna is like Non Executive Chairman, who does not participate in the day to day activities of the company but acts like an Advisor. Dhristadyumna was the COO who had many Generals reporting to him. 

Where as in the Kaurava side, Duryodhana was the CEO and Dhritarashtra the Chairman with no executive powers. (His orders were frequently disobeyed by the CEO).  His COO or Commander in Chief was Bhishma and he too had outstanding Generals reporting to him. Duryodhana did not constitute a Board of Directors but had a Coterie advising him consisting of Sakuni, Karna and Dussasana.

Even today we know that if the organization is not managed by an efficient Board of Directors who had clear sense of purpose and direction, is bound to failure. That exactly has happened to the Kaurava army and kingdom. In spite of having great Generals and larger army, they lost the war. Why? That is subject for another article.

Venu Payyanur

We can learn many lessons from the great Mahabharata book particularly from the Great War itself. As mentioned in my previous article, Mahabharata can be considered equivalent to other management bibles. Whether it is man management, human/organisational behaviour, game theory, management by objectives, all aspects of modern management can be discovered in various characters and episodes of the great epic. To get the right perspective and understanding, for the benefit of those who are not so familiar with the Mahabharata, given below is a summary of the 18 day war. Further explanations based on incidences or case studies will be given in my subsequent articles. (There is also a short but nice book available in individual story format written by Dr Rajagopalachari, available in the net free to download.)

INTRODUCTION

The Kauravas have eleven divisions (Akshouhini) to stand against the seven of the Pandavas. The two armies are described as two oceans, crashing against each other. Both sides agree to abide by certain rules of war: no fighting humans with celestial weapons, no fighting at night, do not strike someone who’s retreating or unarmed, or on the back or legs. All these rules will eventually be broken.

Just as the battle is about to start, Arjuna falters at the sight of his relatives and teachers, now his sworn enemies. He breaks down and refuses to fight. “How can any good come from killing one’s own relatives? What value is victory if all our friends and loved ones are killed? … We will be overcome by sin if we slay such aggressors. Our proper duty is surely to forgive them. Even if they have lost sight of dharma due to greed, we ourselves should not forget dharma in the same way. Arjuna fears that acting out his own dharma as warrior will conflict with universal dharma: how can killing family members be good, and not disrupt the social order? Herein lies an unresolved conflict in Hinduism between universal dharma and svadharma (an individual’s duty according to caste and station in life). A warrior must kill to fulfill his duty, whereas a brahmin must avoid harming any living creature. One person’s dharma may be another’s sin. This doctrine distinguishes Hindu thought from other religions.  His charioteer Krishna addresses him as they pause in the no-man’s land between the two armies. This passage is the celebrated Bhagavad Gita, the guide to firm and resolute action.

Unlike many epic heroes, at this point Arjuna thinks before he acts. Arjuna hesitates before such killing, wanting to retreat from life and responsibility (tension between dharma and moksha), but Krishna tells him as a warrior it’s his dharma to fight. How does a warrior perform his duty without doing wrong, polluting himself with the blood of his enemies? The secret is detachment: do your duty without concern for the personal consequences. “Victory and defeat, pleasure and pain are all the same. Act, but don’t reflect on the fruits of the act. Forget desire, seek detachment.” We must always do what is right without desiring success or fearing defeat. Krishna tells Arjuna that good deeds will not get one to heaven if the desire for heaven is the sole motivation for good deeds. Desire is responsible for rebirth; if any desire.

On a hill overlooking the battlefield, Dhritarashtra hears the words of Krishna through his aid Sanjaya, who has been granted the ability to see and hear everything that happens in the battle, to relate these things to the blind king. Dhritarashtra shudders when he hears of Krishna’s theophany, fearing that nothing can stop the Pandavas with such a powerful being on their side. But he takes some comfort in knowing that Krishna cannot accomplish everything he wants, as he failed to arrange a peaceful solution to the conflict. Before the battle, Yudhishthira goes to both his teachers, Bhishma and Drona: “O invincible one, I bow to you. We will fight with you. Please grant us your permission and give us your blessing.” For this sign of respect, both men pray for the Pandavas’ victory, even though they must out of loyalty fight on the side of the Kauravas.

The Battle Begins

Bhishma compares the invincible Arjuna to “the Destroyer himself at the end of the Yuga.” In one confrontation, Arjuna splits Bhishma’s bow with four arrows, and Bhishma praises him: “O son of Pandu, well done! I am pleased with you for this wonderful feat.  Now fight your hardest with me”. However, he is unable to overcome Bhishma. After nine days of fighting, the Pandavas visit Bhishma by night; they tell him that, unless he is killed in the war, the carnage will carry on until the end of the world.  When asked how he can be defeated, he advises them to place Sikhandi in the front line, from where he will be able to fire freely at Bhishma. Sikhandi is actually a woman, Amba whom Bhishma had refused to marry and who vowed to be his death. Amba practiced asceticism, standing on one toe in the snow for 12 years to learn the secret of Bhishma’s death. Amba threw herself into the fire and was reborn from flames as Drupada’s second daughter, later changing sex with a demon to become a man. The next day, confronted by Sikhandi, Bhishma refuses to fight a woman, and he abandons his weapons. Against the rules of war, the Pandavas strike the unarmed warrior with thousands of arrows. There is no space on his body thicker than two fingers that is not pierced. He falls from his chariot, and lies fully supported by the arrows, with no part of his body touching the earth. Bhishma does not actually die until much later, at his choosing. He remains lying on a bed of arrows until the end of the battle.

Drona takes command

Drona positions the armies in a formation known only to him, the Chakravyuha, which nobody knows how to break open, apart from Arjuna. If only Arjuna can be diverted away from the central battle, Drona promises victory. Arjuna has a 15-year old son, Abhimanyu, who, by listening to his father while still in his mother’s womb, has learned to force an entry into Drona’s battle formation. As Arjuna is called to a diversionary battle far away, Yudhishthira entrusts Abhimanyu with the task of opening a breach in the Vyuha. Abhimanyu succeeds, but when Bhima and Yudhishthira try to follow him into the opening, they are stopped by Jayadratha, a brother-in-law to the Kauravas, and the breach closes behind the young Abhimanyu. In spite of his bravery, he is killed.

Earlier during the time of exile, Jayadratha had tried to kidnap Draupadi, thus another reason for the Pandavas to hate him. At this point Arjuna returns to the camp. Inflamed with rage and grief at the sight of his son’s body, he vows to kill Jayadratha before sunset on the following day. He solemnly swears to throw himself into the sacrificial fire, should he fail. Even Krishna is alarmed by this terrible oath. On the next day, Jayadratha is heavily guarded, and Arjuna is unable to reach him. Krishna causes a momentary eclipse of the sun, convincing the enemy that, since night has come, Arjuna must have killed himself because he hasn’t kept his vow. Rejoicing, they lay down their arms, leaving Jayadratha vulnerable to Arjuna’s arrow. Jayadratha’s father had pronounced a curse on anyone who killed his son, saying that whoever caused his son’s head to fall to the ground would die. Using magical mantras, Arjuna causes his arrow not only to sever Jayadratha’s head, but to carry it miles away to fall into his father’s lap. Being in prayer, he doesn’t realize what’s happened; he stands up and the head falls, thus he dies from his own curse.

The following day, Karna hurls himself into the battle. Kunti tries to persuade him to join the Pandavas, but Karna is inflexible. However, he does promise Kunti that he will only kill Arjuna, for one of them must die. In this way, she will still have five sons after the war. Karna possesses a magic lance, the gift of Indra, which will kill any living being but can be used only once. He keeps it in reserve for Arjuna. To dispose of this lance, Krishna calls upon Ghatotkatcha, son of Bhima and the rakshasa. During the night, he fights an epic battle against Karna, who can destroy the demon only by resorting to his magic lance. Ghatotkatcha is killed, but Krishna dances for joy. With his lance now expended, Karna is vulnerable and Arjuna can kill him.

Drona continues to challenge the Pandava armies, slaying thousands. But the Pandavas know his weakness: the love of his only son Ashvatthama. Bhima slays an elephant, also called Ashvatthama, then deceitfully tells Drona of the death of his son. Suspecting a lie, Drona asks Yudhishthira for the truth: is his son dead or not? Drona will lay down his arms the day an honest man lies. Krishna tells Yudhishthira: “Under such circumstances, falsehood is preferable to truth. By telling a lie to save a life, one is not touched by sin”. Yudhishthira speaks a half-lie, “Ashvatthama – (and muttering under his breath) the elephant – is dead.” Before his lie, Yudhishthira’s chariot rode four inches off the ground, but now it sinks back to earth. Drona lays down his arms. Drupada’s son Dhrishtadyumna cuts off Drona’s head, having sworn to avenge his father’s humiliation.

Meanwhile Bhima sees Duhsasana coming towards him. Bhima had sworn to drink the blood of this avowed enemy for what he had done to Draupadi. Bhima knocks Duhsasana to the ground with his mace and rips open his chest. He drinks his blood, saying that it tastes better than his mother’s milk. Bhima, who kills many Rakshasa (and has a son by one), often acts like the man-eating ogres himself—the bloody deaths of Kicaka and Duhsasana, both to avenge Draupadi; Bhima is her most passionate defender. Bhima kills most of the 100 Kauravas, who were demons incarnate.

The Death of Karna

Duryodhana asks Karna to avenge his brother Duhsasana, and he finally meets Arjuna in the decisive confrontation. Arjuna and Karna both have celestial weapons. Karna has an arrow possessed by a Naga (serpent) spirit who holds a grudge against Arjuna (his family had died in the forest consumed by Agni). When Karna shoots at Arjuna, his charioteer warns him that his aim is too high, but he refuses to listen, and hits Arjuna’s coronet only. When the spirit-possessed arrow returns to him and says try again, this time he will not miss, Karna won’t admit failure by shooting the same arrow twice, even if he could kill 100 Arjunas. As the fight continues, the earth opens up and seizes Karna’s chariot wheel, in fulfillment of a curse. In desperation, Karna tries to invoke his ultimate weapon, but the magic words escape him. He remembers Parasurama’s words: “When you life depends on your most powerful weapon, you will not be able to summon it.” In his last moments, Karna questions his beliefs: “Knowers of dharma have always said, ‘Dharma protects those devoted to dharma.’ But since my wheel sank today, I think dharma does not always protect”. As he struggles to release his chariot, he cries out to Arjuna: “Do not strike an unarmed man. Wait until I can extract my wheel. You are a virtuous warrior. Remember the codes of war.” But Krishna taunts him: “Men in distress always call on virtue, forgetting their own evil deeds. Where was your virtue, O Karna, when Draupadi was brought weeping in the Kuru assembly? Where was it when Yudhishthira was robbed of his kingdom?” Karna’s head sinks to his chest, and he remains silent, while continuing to struggle with the chariot wheel. Krishna commands Arjuna to shoot, and Karna dies. A bright light rises out of Karna’s body and enters the sun.

Stubborn but loyal, Karna could have been king, as eldest of the Pandavas, but he remained with the Kauravas. He always fights fair, and keeps his promise to Kunti not to kill any brothers but Arjuna. Their rivalry echoes the mythic conflict between their divine fathers Indra and Surya.

The Death of Duryodhana

Over the eighteen-day war, Duryodhana has seen his generals and their armies fall to the Pandavas, but to the very end he refuses to surrender. He hides in the waters of a lake, which he has solidified over him by magic. Ever the gambler, Yudhishthira tells Duryodhana that he can fight any brother he chooses, and if he wins, the kingdom will be his again. It says something of Duryodhana that he fights with Bhima rather than one of the weaker brothers. In a close battle between equals, Bhima wins only by treacherously striking Duryodhana on the legs, forbidden in the rules of war. Gandhari had put a protective spell over Duryodhana’s body, but because he wore a loin cloth for modesty before his mother, his thighs were not protected.  Duryodhana accuses Krishna of taking sides unfairly and encouraging Bhima’s treachery. Krishna responds: “Deceit in battle is acceptable against a deceitful foe. Even Indra used deceit to overcome the mighty asuras Virochana and Vritra.” An onlooker remarks, “Bhima has sacrificed dharma for the sake of material gain. This can never lead to success and happiness.” Krishna replies that Bhima was merely keeping his earlier vow, a sacred duty: “There is no unrighteousness in Bhima. He has carried out his promise and requited the debt he owed his enemy. Know that the terrible age of Kali is at hand, marked by fierce acts and the loss of dharma.” Duryodhana responds bravely: “I am now dying a glorious death. That end which is always sought by virtuous warriors is mine. Who is as fortunate as me? With all my brothers I will ascend to heaven, while you Pandavas will remain here, torn by grief and continuing to suffer.” As Duryodhana lies dying, Ashvatthama, Drona’s son, tells him how he sneaked into the camp of the victorious Pandavas at night to perpetrate a hideous massacre, killing the remaining warriors and all the children while asleep, leaving the Pandavas without any heirs. Rather than welcoming the news, Duryodhana dies disheartened that the race of the Kurus appears to have no future.  Thus all those on both sides die in the war, except the five Pandavas. When Yudhishthira learns of the massacre, he mourns: “We the conquerors have been conquered.”

When the Pandavas seek revenge, Ashvatthama launches the most fearsome celestial weapon in his arsenal. Arjuna counters with his own weapon, which Drona taught both of them; it was only to be used against divine beings, or else it could destroy the world. Ashvatthama deflects his into the wombs of the remaining Pandava women, making them sterile, but Krishna promises that Arjuna will nonetheless have descendants. As punishment, Ashvatthama is cursed to wander the earth in exile for 3000 years.

The Aftermath

After the war, when Krishna exits the chariot, it bursts into flames; only his presence kept the celestial weapons from destroying it earlier. Krishna reveals that the gods allowed this war to relieve Earth of her great burden.

Yudhishthira reports the death toll at six million. Appalled at such losses, he has a personal crisis similar to Arjuna before the battle. He doesn’t want to rule because it requires the use of force and more violence. He sees that life itself is painful, as men are always searching for more material wealth and power, never satisfied. The man who prizes gold and dirt equally is happiest. The others convince him he must rule and fulfill his duty.

In his dying speech, pierced by many arrows, Bhishma tells Yudhishthira that in Kaliyuga, “dharma becomes adharma and adharma, dharma.” Somewhat paradoxically, he continues, “If one fights against trickery, one should oppose him with trickery. But if one fights lawfully, one should check him with dharma … One should conquer evil with good. Death by dharma is better than victory by evil deeds.”

Significance of Mahabharata   – Venupayyanur

The Mahabharata is undoubtedly one of the greatest works of the world, unique in many ways – unique for the deepest philosophic truths, for the wide range of human life covered by the ethics and for the high spiritual stimulus provided in this epic.

It is a whole literature in itself, containing a code of life; a philosophy of social and ethical relations, a speculative thought on human problems that is hard to rival; but above all – it has for its core the Bhagavad Gita, a perennial source of spiritual strength. It is a story of love, courage, truth, lies, deceit, selfishness, foolishness, and every other human emotion. It showcases human emotions so totally that you need not study anything other than Mahabharata to understand human nature. The Mahabharata dwells on the aspect of the important goals of a human being in his mortal life. The epic aims at making people realize the relation between the individual and the society and how they both are inter dependent on each other. This is a treasure house for those interested in building and developing inter-personal relationships. You can learn how to treat and interact with your wife, husband, brother, sister, father, mother, son, daughter, boss, subordinate, rich person, poor person, generals, soldiers, kings and common man, owners, servants, drivers, neighbors and more in this book. The great epic is besides a storehouse of ancient knowledge. Philosophy, religion, customs and rituals, polity, science, social life, geography, history, economics, code of conduct, etc., find place in it.

Apparently it is the story of a war between two rival sections of a dynasty, but it’s very much more. It is the story of evolution of all life, it is a treatise on cosmogony, a code of universal ethics; it is also a history of the human race in its most general sense.

The Mahabharata describes the ideal polity and culture and religion and may be called the Epic of Society and State. It is called Jaya as it describes the victory of righteousness. There is scarcely a single human situation that it leaves untouched, and it covered most contingencies that mankind could experience till about a few hundred years ago.

It exposes the secrets of leadership and the path to success. Mahabharata can be considered equivalent to other management bibles. Whether it is man management, human/organisational behaviour, game theory, management by objectives, all aspects of modern management can be discovered in various characters and episodes of the great epic. In today’s modern management when ethical judgment and importance of recognizing the ethical dimensions is talked about, Mahabharata gives excellent analogies to identify the ethical boundaries. Lord Krishna himself advised the Pandavas that no action can be perfect in an ever-changing dynamic world and hence he casually advocated them to keep the overall ethical standards in view and then act according to the contingency which may require provisional deviation from strict ethics.  If there is a single lesson from the war, it is that competitors must try to find areas of alliance wherever is possible, group their resources for research and development and offer innovative solutions for customer’s money. 

The great Indian epic is a big storehouse of stories. There are stories inside a story. Each story in itself is the source of knowledge and new learning in various fields of human life esp. management. Every character of Mahabharata teaches us something. It is for us to understand the lesson and follow a path in life that brings joy and peace in life. The story also tells the consequences of giving too much indulgence to children and how things get ruined therefore. The story tells of the bond of friendship through the Duryodhan and Karna relationship. It also tells how a wicked and scheming person (as Shakuni) can poison not only grownups (as Dhritarashtra), but children as well (Duryodhana and Dushshasan and all Kauravas).  It tells of the ills of gambling, the protective nature in a sibling relationship, the woes of the mother, the pain of children in broken families(as of Karna), the disastrous consequences of excess sexuality, tells of inferiority complex, devotion, truthfulness and honesty, Valor, pride and how events and situations may humble the mightiest. It tells of treating the cunning with equal cunning, of peace, of war and strategies, of human patience and how it wears thin leading to breaking of rules (as in the war …. as it grows longer, more and more rules get broken and baser and baser methods get used).

It teaches us of God, of universe, of science, of philosophy, of social relationship, of morals and codes of conducts in different situations. It talks of perseverance and concentration in acquiring skills, it tells of women and their problems. Mahabharata tells about politics, about teachers, about common men and their behavior, of courage, of cowardice, of jealousy, of generosity, of lies, murder, of truth and how God works through men.

It contains the history of ancient India and all the details of its political, social and religious life. The stories, songs, nursery tales, anecdotes, parables, the discourses and sayings contained in this epic are marvelous and highly instructive. It contains the brilliant records of mighty heroes, warriors of great prowess, deep thinkers, profound philosophers, sages and ascetics and devoted wives of chastity. The ancient system of political administration under the directing principle of dharma finds elaborate elucidation in the Raja dharma section of the Santi Parva in the Mahabharata. The Vidura-Niti is a renowned book on political ethics.

The sufferings of the Pandavas and Draupadi, Nala and Damayanti, Savitri and Satyavan, clearly explain to us the fact or hard truth that the goal of life or perfection can only be attained through pain and suffering. Pain is the means through which man is moulded, disciplined and strengthened. Just as impure gold is turned into pure gold by melting it, so also the impure and imperfect weak man is rendered pure, perfect and strong, by being melted in the crucible of pain and suffering. Therefore, one should not be afraid of pain and sufferings. They are blessings in disguise. They are eye-openers. They are silent teachers. They turn the mind towards God and instill mercy in the heart, strengthen the will and develop patience and power of endurance, which are the pre-requisites for God-Realization.

Perhaps the most important theme in the Mahabharata is that of Dharma. In fact, the author Vyasa says himself that the purpose of the Mahabharata is “to engrave dharma in the minds of men.” Dharma is essentially the principle of righteousness, following the correct moral way. The great epic produces a moral awakening in the readers and exhorts them to tread the path of Satya and Dharma (Truth and Righteousness). It urges them strongly to do good deeds, practice Dharma, cultivate dispassion by realizing the illusory nature of this universe and its vainglories and sensual pleasures, and attain Eternal Bliss and Immortality. Dharma is supreme in this world. Dharma brings material prosperity (artha), fulfillment of wishes (Kama) and final liberation (moksha). It is surprising that people do not pay attention to the need for practice of dharma, when everything can be achieved through it.

This book teaches us that an individual may have to be abandoned for the good of a group, or family; the group for the good of a larger community; the community for the good of the country or nation; and, even the whole world for the realization of the Atman.  

If you want to gain extensive knowledge on many topics by reading just one book, then it is Mahabharata for you. As Sage Vyasa himself has told in this book “Whatever is there in this world to be known concerning the various ways and goal of life is there in this book; and whatever is not here is nowhere to be found. This book is for humanity, not just for Indians or Hindus as anyone who reads it gains wealth of practical knowledge that leads him to success, happiness and prosperity.