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.

The opening words of Bhagavad Gita are “dharmakshetre kurukshetre”, meaning “the field of dharma, the field of the Kurus.” Essentially Bhagavad Gita is about Dharma, and what is “Dharma”? There is no direct translation for the word in English. It can be explained as Duty, responsibility and character. The ‘Dharma’ of fire is light and heat. If an innocent child keeps his hand in fire, it will burn, as fire will show its character (dharma) irrespective of the person. Fire does not recognize the innocence of the baby and performs its Dharma. However, the “Dharma” of mother is to protect the child from fire and keep him away from it (duty). It is also her dharma to educate the child about the dangers of keeping ones hand in fire (responsibility).

How is it that the field of dharma is the field of the Kurus, the enemies of dharma? This portrays the real world of today; a world full of dualities; negativity and ignorance. The enemies of dharma dominate society in general. We find ourselves surrounded by negative impulses, conflicts, confusions, fears, and ignorance of all kinds and have to fight it to survive and grow.

Next few stanzas portray the din and roar of the battlefield where many generals and their army restlessly clamouring to start the war and annihilate their enemies. Arjuna requests Krishna, his charioteer to place the chariot in the middle of both the armies to see all the people who have gathered and sided with the Kauravas to fight the war, knowing fully well that their death is certain. Arjuna sees grandfathers, fathers, sons and grandson ready to fight the Pandavas. He sees his brothers, brothers in law, friends, uncles and other close relatives. Arjuna is confused and declares that killing all these people for the pleasures of enjoying the kingdom is not worth. Arjuna gets mentally and physically paralysed and informs Krishna that he is quitting the war and sits in the chariot after putting down his arms and ammunition. He justifies the decision quoting scriptures and says that death of menfolk will ruin society and culture.

This is symbolic. Every day we face confusing situations in our life and struggle to take the right decision. People may look like friends, but their intentions could be evil. A delicacy may be appealing to our palate but may be ruinous to our health. Medicines that are bitter will help us recover from serious illness. Fortunately Arjuna had Krishna to guide, whom do we have? Today’s Youth is Arjuna. They are confused and unsure of their future like Arjuna in the battlefield. The circumstances and situations around them are threatening and unnerving. Today’s youngsters are ambitious, hardworking, intelligent and more educated than their predecessors are. Yet they struggle to achieve success in their life due to difficult and unsupportive external environment, political and economic. Today’s youth is facing Mahabharata war like situations every day in their life. Whether at home or at office we only see and hear disturbing news on every day.

Success of an organization is based on innovative products and progressive policies. Products that help customers solve their problems and create meaningful impact to their business. Policies that support the stakeholders and its proper implementation. Finally, we need people who will execute these policies in letter and spirit at all levels, leadership as well as executive. If any one element is missing, that organization is bound to fail, if not now, certainly in future.

Gita teaches us the art of living. It brings proper perspective to our thought process and guides our action towards success and fulfilment. It shows us the way forward. Knowledge gives us proficiency. Applied knowledge is efficiency. Right knowledge applied at the right time, at the right place and the right way gives us effectiveness. Effectiveness leads us to success and glory and that is what Gita teaches us.

Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita represents todays’ youth, confused and disheartened. A man of action that Arjuna is abandons his action station due to mental paralysis. Arjuna loses his ‘viveka’, his reasoning ability and resigns from his job like many youngsters of today who leave their job on some or other pretext, always silly than serious. When a person is angry sad or under severe stress, his faculty for proper judgement diminishes. Under these circumstances, either he gives up or take wrong decisions. That is what has happened to Arjuna.

Generally, a problem looks big and insurmountable when you do not have a solution. The moment you have the solution the problems disappears. Bhagavad Gita provides that answer to our life’s problems. Running away from the problem does not solve it; it will only come back and haunt you with even more vigour and ferocity. If you refuse to see the elephant in the room, it does not disappear. We have to face it with courage and conviction as running away is cowardice. Like Arjuna often we justify our inaction quoting precedents and rulebooks.

If you do not have the time and patience to read and understand the entire Bhagavad Gita of 700 stanzas, just understand the last one. That summarises the essential teaching of Lord Krishna.

“yatra yogesvarah krsno yatra partho dhanur-dharah

tatra srir vijayo bhutir dhruva nitir matir mama”

Meaning – Where there is Krishna, the lord of yoga, and where there is Paartha, wielder of the bow, there is fortune, victory, prosperity and infallible morality, in my opinion

What is the significance of Sri Krishna and Arjuna having to be together? Is Sri Krishna alone not sufficient? Having acquired powerful weapons from divinities, such as Pasupatastra, brahmastra, varunastra, etc. with unique bow called Gandiva, is Arjuna alone not sufficient to win the war? 

The Bhagavad Gita concludes with this verse delivering a deep pronouncement. Dhritarashtra was hopeful that his children would win the war considering the strength of the army and the capabilities of their Generals lead by Bhishma, Drona, Karna, etc. However, his minister Sanjay informs that material calculations of the relative strengths and numbers of the two armies are irrelevant as victory will always be on the side of God and his pure devotee, and so will goodness, supremacy, and abundance be.

Sri Krishna is the master of yoga, or the Lord of Yogis. Yoga refers to the unification of individual mind to that of GOD. Yoga gives you the power to focus your mind and body, your thoughts, for the higher goal and not get distracted by the various attractions in society. Krishna acts as the charioteer of Arjuna during the war. The Chariot symbolises human body, driven by horses that are your senses, the five senses of hearing, vision, touch, smell and taste. If the horses are under control, they will take the chariot to the desired destination, if not; it will lead us to hell. Arjun’s chariot is controlled by Krishna who resides in all of us as ‘Buddhi’ (means the intellectual faculty and the power to form and retain concepts, reason, discern, judge, comprehend, understand). Use our Buddhi to control our senses, we will have no confusion and reach our destiny with flying colours. Krishna is the guide, Guru and director of the universe. The Directors of the organization should also be like Krishna. Evaluating situations dispassionately, with righteousness and morality as the guiding principles and not business and profit at any cost, then the business will be strong, successful and sustainable in the long run.

What are the characteristics of Arjuna?

Employees of today may have higher qualifications or ambition but do they have the same ability and competence of Arjuna to be successful under difficult circumstances?  What are the strengths of Arjuna?

Hard worker (Industrious) – Once while having dinner, the lamps went off. However, Arjuna continued to eat which made him think that if I can eat without light because of regular practice, I should also be able to hit the target at night, when there is no light. Henceforth he started practicing at night also while rest of others were sleeping.

Focus – critically important for success. If you do not focus on your objective and work single-mindedly towards achieving that what you will always see are obstacles. Once Drona conducted a test for all student. He tied a wooden bird on top of a tree and asked each of his students to shoot it down. However just before shooting the arrow, he would ask them what do you see. Most answers were I see the tree, all the leaves and the wooden bird. However, it was only Arjuna who saw only the eye of the bird. Therefore, only he was allowed to shoot the arrow.

Perseverance – irrespective of any obstacles in his path, Arjuna never gives up and continue to work until success is achieved. That is how Arjuna became such a competent and capable archer but also acquired many divine weapons.

Righteousness – Arjuna the word meaning is white, blemish less. He always stood for righteousness. Whether it is participating in the war or killing of Bhishma and Drona, Arjuna never wavered from the path of righteousness. He went on 12-year exile as the vow was broken to protect a Brahmin and entered the chamber of Yudhishthira and Draupadi to get his weapons, even though they requested not to punish himself as the intention was noble.

Trust in GOD – Krishna gave Arjuna the first choice of selecting between Krishna who will not fight or his entire fighting army for the war and Arjuna happily chose Krishna as his charioteer. If you consider human body is the chariot driven by five horse senses, Arjuna let Krishna control the horses, his senses as his charioteer. We all should do the same.

Guru Kataksham (blessing of his teacher)– Arjuna was amply blessed by his Guru to an extend that Drona demanded from Arjuna as Guru dakshina only a promise that when time comes he will not hesitate to fight with his own Guru. Gratitude is the greatest virtue that lacks in today’s youth, most unfortunately.

Regardless of how much time and effort we put into any action, knowledge or qualifications we have, one cannot be assured of success. Success depends on a multitude of factors, but it boils down to two things: self-effort and Gods’ grace. If any aspect is missing, success cannot be achieved.

It means that if you work with total dedication, put all the effort in your work, focus in your duties and responsibilities and surrender yourself to GOD with total faith and devotion then Victory, Fortune, Power and Virtue will definitely yours!