Mahabharata – Core Theme

The Mahabharata, a sprawling epic poem, delves into a rich tapestry of themes that resonate with readers even today. Here’s a deeper exploration of some of its core themes:

1. Dharma: The Guiding Light:

Dharma, often translated as “righteousness” or “duty,” forms the very foundation of the epic. It serves as the guiding principle for characters as they navigate the complexities of life, facing internal conflicts and external pressures. The narrative explores various interpretations of dharma, showcasing the challenges arising when personal desires clash with societal expectations and moral imperatives. We see characters like Yudhishthira, the embodiment of righteousness, struggling with difficult choices while adhering to his dharma. Conversely, Duryodhana’s disregard for dharma ultimately leads to his downfall, highlighting the consequences of neglecting one’s moral compass.

2. Duty and Responsibility: A Balancing Act:

The concept of duty and responsibility intertwines with dharma, emphasizing the importance of fulfilling one’s obligations within different social roles. From the king’s duty to his subjects to the warrior’s commitment on the battlefield, the characters grapple with upholding their responsibilities even when faced with personal sacrifices or temptations. The epic explores the consequences of neglecting one’s duties, showcasing the potential for chaos and suffering when individuals prioritize personal gain over their societal obligations.

3. The Devastating Cost of War:

The Kurukshetra War, the central conflict of the Mahabharata, serves as a poignant reminder of the immense human cost of war. The epic portrays the battlefield’s brutality, the loss of countless lives, the destruction of kingdoms, and the enduring emotional scars left on survivors. Characters like Arjuna, burdened by the prospect of killing his kin, grapple with the ethical implications of war, forcing readers to confront the devastating consequences of armed conflict.

4. Fate vs. Free Will: The Unfolding Tapestry:

The epic presents a complex interplay between the forces of fate and the characters’ individual choices. Prophecies and divine interventions foreshadow certain events, yet characters still possess the ability to make choices that shape their destinies. The narrative explores the tension between predetermined outcomes and individual responsibility, prompting reflection on the extent to which our lives are influenced by fate and the power we hold to shape our own paths.

5. Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Mending Broken Bonds:

The aftermath of the war presents a monumental challenge: the need for forgiveness and reconciliation amidst immense loss and suffering. The epic explores the characters’ journeys towards healing and rebuilding broken bonds, highlighting the difficulties of forgiving those who have caused harm and the potential for finding peace amidst the ashes of conflict. The narrative offers a glimmer of hope for rebuilding after devastation, encouraging readers to seek forgiveness and reconciliation in their lives.

6. The Power of Choice: Shaping Our Destinies:

Throughout the story, characters stand at crucial crossroads, faced with choices that will have lasting ramifications. The epic emphasizes the significance of making informed decisions, considering the potential impact on oneself and others. From Draupadi’s courageous decision to speak up against injustice to Bhishma’s unwavering commitment to his vow, the narrative showcases the power of choices in shaping destinies and influencing the course of events.

7. Loss and Grief: A Shared Human Experience:

The Mahabharata unflinchingly portrays the profound impact of loss, both on an individual and collective level. The characters experience immense grief and suffering after losing loved ones in the war, mirroring the experiences of countless individuals who have faced loss in their own lives. The epic allows readers to connect with the characters on a deeper level, fostering empathy and understanding for the universality of human emotions.

8. Knowledge as a Guiding Light:

The epic emphasizes the importance of knowledge and wisdom in navigating the complexities of life. Characters like Krishna, through his profound knowledge and understanding of dharma, offer guidance to others during their times of doubt and uncertainty. The narrative highlights the power of learning and seeking knowledge as essential tools for making informed decisions and navigating ethical dilemmas.

9. Pursuit of Enlightenment

The Mahabharata is not merely an epic but also a holy text in Hinduism and includes the “Bhagavad Gita”. The pursuit of spiritual enlightenment and understanding one’s purpose in life is a recurring theme in Mahabharata.

10. Heroism and Warfare

 The epic features a colossal war, the Kurukshetra War wherein millions of people perish. It showcases larger-than-life heroes and villains who wield celestial weapons, demonstrating extraordinary bravery and valour. It teaches us the distinction between common soldiers and legendary warriors highlighting the contrast between anonymous deaths and heroic feats.

These core themes, intricately woven into the fabric of the Mahabharata, offer timeless lessons about human nature, the complexities of life, and the importance of ethical living. The epic continues to be a source of inspiration, reflection, and wisdom for readers across generations, prompting them to contemplate on the fundamental questions of existence and the choices that shape our destinies.

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.