Introduction: The Mahabharata, one of the greatest epics of ancient Indian literature, encompasses an immense narrative that covers the breadth of human emotion, the complexities of dharma (duty/righteousness), and the inevitable intervention of the divine in the mortal realm. Central to this epic is the Mahabharata War, fought on the plains of Kurukshetra, which serves as the climax of a longstanding feud between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. This war is not just a historical or mythical event but a profound exploration of the human condition, ethics, and the pursuit of justice through the lens of dharma.

The seeds of the Mahabharata war were sown long before the battle commenced. The rivalry between the Pandavas, led by Yudhishthira, and the Kauravas, led by Duryodhana, escalated due to jealousy, ambition, and a series of injustices. The game of dice, where the Pandavas were deceitfully robbed of their kingdom, serves as a catalyst for the war, highlighting the depths of human greed and moral degradation. The narrative intricately weaves together the fates of gods, kings, warriors, and sages as it explores themes of duty, righteousness, morality, and the complexities of human nature itself. The Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the epic, presents the conversation between Prince Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, on the battlefield. This dialogue delves deep into philosophical and moral dilemmas about duty, righteousness, and the paths to spiritual liberation, forming the core teachings of the epic.

Through the saga of the Mahabharata War, we are offered profound insights into the nature of dharma, the inevitability of karma (action and its consequences), and the ultimate triumph of righteousness over adharma (unrighteousness). The narrative emphasizes that life is a complex interplay of duty, morality, and divine will, with each character’s choices and actions contributing to the unfolding of cosmic order. The narrative is set in a time that might correspond to the later Vedic period, with the story spanning several generations and culminating in the Kurukshetra War, a conflict that is said to have taken place around 3102 BCE according to Scholars.

Philosophical and Religious Dimensions: The epic integrates various philosophical and theological discussions, most notably through the Bhagavad Gita. It addresses the concepts of dharma, karma (action and its consequences), and moksha (liberation or salvation), illustrating the synthesis of different religious and philosophical traditions, including Vedanta, Samkhya, and Yoga. The Gita addresses the ethical and moral struggles faced by Arjuna on the battlefield, offering profound insights into duty, righteousness, detachment, and the paths to spiritual liberation. The Gita has become a cornerstone of Hindu philosophy and spirituality. Through its narrative and characters, the Mahabharata war delves into questions of justice, power, duty, virtue, and the nature of reality itself. It provides a comprehensive look at the struggles inherent in human life, encouraging a deep contemplation of one’s actions, desires, and spiritual purpose.

Dharma and Adharma: The war serves as a grand narrative exploring the concepts of dharma (righteousness or duty) and adharma (unrighteousness). Through the actions and decisions of its characters, the Mahabharata examines the complexities of adhering to dharma in a world full of moral ambiguities. The epic illustrates that dharma varies according to one’s role in society (varna dharma), stage in life (ashrama dharma), and personal duty (svadharma). This multiplicity often leads to dilemmas, as seen in the case of Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where he is torn between his duty as a warrior to fight and his moral qualms about killing his kin. The Mahabharata illustrates that dharma is not static but a dynamic principle that adapts to the context of each situation, making the discernment of one’s duty a complex moral exercise. Divine intervention, through characters like Krishna, serves as a guiding light, helping individuals navigate the murky waters of moral dilemmas. The epic teaches that adherence to one’s dharma, despite the challenges and conflicts it may present, is the path to spiritual liberation (moksha).

Karma: The war illustrates the principle of karma — the cause and effect of actions — teaching that every action has consequences that shape one’s destiny. The characters’ fates in the epic are a direct result of their deeds, both past and present.

Divine Interventions and Their Significance

The role of divine beings and interventions in the Mahabharata War is pivotal, illustrating the interconnectedness of the human and divine realms within the epic’s cosmology. Divine beings, through their actions and teachings, influence the course of events, guide human characters, and underscore the epic’s spiritual and moral lessons. This divine involvement reflects the belief in a cosmic order that aligns with righteousness (dharma) and the eventual triumph of good over evil.

Lord Krishna: Krishna, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, plays a central role in the Mahabharata War. As a charioteer and advisor to Arjuna, Krishna’s divine counsel before the battle begins is immortalized in the Bhagavad Gita. Here, Krishna imparts spiritual wisdom on duty (dharma), detachment (vairagya), and devotion (bhakti), guiding Arjuna through his moral dilemma. Krishna’s involvement in the war extends beyond guidance; his divine interventions often tilt the scales in favour of the Pandavas, emphasizing the theme of divine justice and the protection of righteousness.

Divine Weapons (Astras): Many warriors in the Mahabharata possess divine weapons granted by the gods, which have immense destructive power and are symbolic of the divine favour or the exceptional spiritual merit of their wielders. The use of these astras during the war underscores the participation of divine entities in human affairs, as well as the importance of adhering to the rules of warfare and dharma even when wielding such power.

Manifestations of Divine Will: Various events and outcomes in the war are depicted as manifestations of divine will, intended to restore dharma and cosmic balance. The deaths of key figures on both sides, often resulting from divine curses or boons, highlight the notion that the war serves a larger cosmic purpose beyond the mere human conflict.

Intervention by Other Deities: Apart from Krishna, other deities and celestial beings also play roles in the Mahabharata War, either by granting boons and weapons, participating directly in battles through their human or semi-divine progeny, or influencing events to ensure the victory of dharma. For instance, the God Shiva grants Arjuna the Pashupatastra, while the god Indra, father of Arjuna, provides divine armour and weapons.

The 18-day War – The Mahabharata war unfolds over eighteen days, each marked by fierce battles, strategic manoeuvres, and moments of profound heroism and tragedy. The war begins with both sides gathering massive armies, consisting of legendary warriors, divine beings, and celestial weapons. The battlefield of Kurukshetra becomes the canvas for this cosmic struggle, with the gods themselves observing the unfolding drama. The Bhagavad Gita, a sacred dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna, takes place on the eve of the war, providing profound philosophical insights and guidance on duty, righteousness, and the nature of existence. The conflict is not merely physical but also psychological and spiritual, with characters grappling with inner demons, moral dilemmas, and existential questions. Mahabharata war highlight the complexities of human nature and the consequences of choices made on the battlefield. The principal figures in the Mahabharata war are Arjuna, the heroic archer and a key Pandava; Bhishma, the granduncle and commander of the Kauravas army; Dronacharya, the revered teacher of both Pandavas and Kauravas; Karna, the formidable warrior with a tragic fate; and many others, each contributing to the intricate tapestry of the epic.

The war unfolds in multiple phases, each marked by intense and strategic battles. The Kauravas, led by Duryodhana, deploy various unethical means to gain an upper hand, including the use of deceitful tactics, psychological warfare, and breaking the rules of engagement. The Pandavas, guided by Lord Krishna, mostly adhere to the principles of righteousness and dharma, seeking victory through virtuous means. Bhishma, though a formidable warrior, is bound by a vow of loyalty to the throne of Hastinapura though he knows that Dharma is on the side of Pandavas whom he loves intensely. His commitment to this vow becomes a moral dilemma, limiting his full engagement in the war. Dronacharya faces a conflict of duty and personal ties, torn between loyalty to his students and the kingdom. Karna grapples with his loyalty to Duryodhana and his knowledge of his own righteous lineage, creating internal conflicts that shape his destiny.

The tragic death of Abhimanyu, the valorous son of Arjuna, in the Chakravyuha formation, exemplifies the sacrifices made by the younger generation in the pursuit of dharma. The Kurukshetra War concludes with a pyrrhic victory for the Pandavas, who grieve the immense loss of life and the moral complexities their victory entailed. The war’s aftermath sees Yudhishthira crowned as the king, who rules with righteousness, guided by the lessons learned from the war and the teachings of the Mahabharata.

The concept of victory and defeat in the context of the Mahabharata: The Mahabharata’s exploration of victory and defeat transcends the literal interpretation of these terms, offering instead a meditation on the ethical and spiritual challenges of human life. It teaches that true victory lies in the adherence to righteousness, the performance of one’s duty without attachment to outcomes, and the cultivation of wisdom and compassion. Defeat, on the other hand, is not final if it leads to self-reflection, moral rectitude, and spiritual growth. At its core, the Mahabharata suggests that the true battle is within oneself, against one’s own lower nature, desires, and attachments. Both victory and defeat are internal states that reflect one’s alignment with dharma and the pursuit of truth. The dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita underscores this inner dimension of victory, advocating for action rooted in duty, detachment from the fruits of actions, and devotion to the divine as the path to ultimate victory — self-realization and liberation (moksha).

Cultural Influence: The Mahabharata has profoundly influenced Indian culture, serving as a source of artistic inspiration, moral instruction, and spiritual guidance. Its stories have been retold in countless regional languages and forms, influencing literature, dance, theatre, and cinema across South Asia and beyond.

Conclusion: In conclusion, the Mahabharata war is a monumental and multifaceted narrative that transcends the boundaries of time and culture. It is not merely a historical account but a profound exploration of the human psyche, moral complexities, and the eternal struggle between dharma and adharma. The war serves as a metaphor for the cosmic drama of life, where individuals navigate through the battlefield of existence, facing choices, dilemmas, and the consequences of their actions. The Mahabharata, with its timeless wisdom and insights, continues to captivate and inspire generations, offering a profound reflection on the complexities of the human experience.

All the Vedic texts from Ancient India are basically classified into Sruti and Smriti. Sruti is the text that can be heard, Smriti is the text which has to be remembered. The Sruti is the most authoritative text that is believed to have the eternal knowledge transmitted by sages. The Sruti is the foundation of Hinduism. The Sruti includes Four Vedas, which are embedded texts in Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. Where the Smriti includes Vedangas, Hindu Epics, Sutras, Shastras, Puranas and various Bhasyas.

Vedas, composed in Sanskrit is extremely difficult for the common man to learn and understand. Hence came the Upanishads. Though scholars could understand it, not common man. Therefore, Saint Vyasa composed Puranas, that explains the fundamental principles of life in the form of stories for common man to understand. Still not being happy he finally composed the Itihasa called Mahabharata, which is considered as the greatest epic not only in India but in world literature.  It is a story of love, courage, truth, lies, deceit, selfishness, foolishness, and every other human emotion. It is considered as the Fifth Veda, but for the common man.

Scholars consider that there are three versions of the great Epic. Jaya (Victory) with 8,800 verses attributed to Vyasa is the first version and taught to his students including Vaisampayana. Vaisampayana narrates the story to King Janamejaya with few additions and becomes the Bharata with 24,000 verses. And finally, the Mahabharata as recited by Sauti Ugrashrava to the congregation of Rishis in Naimisharanya becomes what we see today the Mahabharata with over 100,000 verses.

The Mahabharata is one of the greatest works of Sanskrit literature and the longest poem in world literature. It contains countless stories that teach moral lessons or illustrate distinguishing characteristics of the ancients of India. 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 marvellous 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.

At the heart of the story is the conflict over the throne of Hastinapur, a kingdom in ancient India. The blind king Dhritarashtra, who is the eldest of the Kuru dynasty, has a hundred sons known as the Kauravas, led by Duryodhana. The Pandavas are the five sons of Pandu, the younger brother of Dhritarashtra, and they are known for their righteousness and bravery. The eldest Pandavas, Yudhishthira, is the rightful heir to the throne, but due to political manoeuvring and jealousy, the kingdom is denied to them, leading to a bitter rivalry.

The epic culminates in the great war of Kurukshetra, where the Pandavas and the Kauravas face each other in battle. The battle is not just a physical confrontation but also a moral and ethical struggle, with characters facing dilemmas of duty, righteousness, and loyalty. The Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text, is embedded within the Mahabharata and is a conversation between the prince Arjuna and the god Krishna, who serves as his charioteer, on the battlefield, addressing questions of duty and morality.

Ultimately, the Pandavas emerge victorious in the war, but at a great cost. Many of their loved ones, as well as many great warriors, are killed in the battle. The epic concludes with the Pandavas ruling the kingdom and attempting to establish righteousness and justice in the aftermath of the war. The Mahabharata is not just a tale of war and conflict but also explores profound philosophical and moral themes, making it one of the most important texts in Hindu mythology and Indian literature.

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. Everything that is bad and everything that is good reminds us of something in Mahabharata. It showcases human emotions so totally that you need not study anything other than Mahabharata to understand human nature.

Dharma is supreme in this world. Dharma brings material prosperity (artha), fulfilment 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. The story culminates in moksha, believed by Hindus to be the ultimate goal of human beings.

Mahabharata starts with the sloka

“nārāyaṇaṁ namaskṛtya naraṁ caiva narottamam

devīṁ sarasvatīṁ vyāsaṁ tato jayam udīrayet”

Narayana and Nara, the divine and the human, their personal encounters and discussions of dharma, artha, kama and moksa, are to be found here. It is a veritable encyclopedia and it carries this verse about its own scope. It is said that what is found here may be found elsewhere but what is not found here cannot be found elsewhere.