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.

2 replies
  1. vv
    vv says:

    A subject so rich in content, that no matter how many times you visit it ,you come back knowing human nature a little better.I am keen to read your take on the subject and the times we live in.


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