Mahabharata – A Dialogue between Time and Human Life.

25 03 2006

Dharmakshethre kurukshetre,
Samaveda yuyuthsava,
Kimi varthaka sanjaya.

So began Bhagavat Gita. It is no coincidence that the epic which moved along the emotional battle fields of its infinitely many characters had its climax in a real war. And the very fact the eternal human dilemma – ‘to be or not to be’ – requires a well constructed logical argument sequence to be resolved, made a Gita inevitable. Perfect in every context. Even if we extend it outside the frame of its time of occurence (or conception of the author) this is true. But Mahabharata is much deeper than that. So much as there exist no comparison to it. Not even ‘Lord of the Rings’, the whole of ‘Harry Potter’, ‘War and Peace’, complete storyline of Bible or any human literary work. Its uniqueness emerges from the infinite scope which the author(s) have left for the reader’s imagination and interpretation. No preach of sermons or attempt to prove ‘truth’ when the whole script is taken into its entirety. It is literature at its best where each character is an epic in itself which is so complete and possesses a unique identity.

My granny used to tell me a lot of stories when I was a kid. Stories about animals at first, in which cats, crows, donkeys, monkeys, lions, cows and a few human beings used to be the characters. I would have not felt any difference about them from being real life stories. Not even the concept of humans and animals should have existed for any child. To any new born which has seen life outside the uterus for only two to five years, they are as real as real. But then, after a few years- let us say two more – she used to tell stories about princes, queens, magical people whom they called as incarnation of Gods and many others. At some point she connected them together and described them as the stories from an epic. She called it ‘Mahabharata’. Obviously the child did not know what an epic meant or whether it is real or not. Still those stories imprinted a unique picture in its mind. I grew and once I realized that they belonged to a unparalleled collection of myths – the greatest one ever written by humanity – the one and only MAHABHARATA, the wonder knew no bounds.

For long, the characters of this epic remained with an aura of magic. Bhishma, Karna, Drona, Yudhistira, Draupathi, Kunthi, Panchali, Krishna, Vidhura, Vyasa and a countless many. Once I tried to ponder deep, the magic enmated with the thoughts about life and became something much higher to being divine. It became the real definition of art. Anand, the renowned malayalam writter, described ‘krithi’ or literary work in these words- “Shrutiyum smritiyum vismrithiyilekkum pinne mrithiyilekkum marayumbozhum krithi nilanilkkunu.” A ‘krithi’ – true literary work – remains even after ‘shruti’ – vedas, brahmnas and upanishads – or ‘smriti’ – other interpretations like puranas and shastras- disappears and eventually dies in the depth of our memories. Truly, Mahabharatha, whether written by a single Krishnadwaipayanan (Vyasa) or many, is an epitome of all possible thoughts about human nature. It is not a story written for conveying few then contemporary or arguably eternal morals, but a descriptive portray of human psyche.

Mahabharata is the most brilliant collection which India has contributed to the world. Uniqueness of each character and the closely interweaved web of stories complete in itself has rarely not evoked the imagination of any kid who have heard it once. In fact, it requires a whole ‘wikipedia’ to do some justice to the entireness of the epic. And when I think about it, at least some ten characters come to mind with whom I have empathised. Still, an empathy for one, when I go deep becomes a wonder for the creater of the epic and still deeper, a state of numbness devoid of words to think or covey. I have felt it with respect to very many characters. Let us say Karna and Kunthi. Who deserves more empathy? I maintained Karna did. But when thought from the perspective of Kunthi, the grounds becomes shaky. ……

Kunthi who was granted a boon from Durvasrav maharshi happened to test the power of the ‘mantra’ in her teenage spirit. There is no logical reason resisting an innocent girl, filled with the curiosity of the age not attempting that. Once Surya (Sun God) appeared before her as the result of the divine power of the ‘mantra’, there was no way out for her. Also, she could not have resisted the handsome, young, divine and powerful God of light by any human measure.

When she conceived her first child, nothing could have saved that poor princess bound by royal responsibilities and manners from abandoning it. The pain endured by a woman to deliver her first child is reasoned to be the most acute physical pain which can be endured by any human being. Also, the attachment to it begins from the ten month long nurturing inside her womb when the child was just a naive fetus feeding up on its mother. Like any mother, she would have loved to care it and bring it up. But no! So forced the situations. She must have wept for days, tormented for months. The debt she owed to the piece of flesh and blood which once resided inside her uterus, cut off from her physical self by the mechanical process of dissecting an umbilical chord, the emotion snatched away by the cruel world around that she can not even weep for him in front of the public, must have tortured her for a life time. A cruel game up on the life of two individuals for preserving the existing social manners. Whose fault is it? Was it anybody’s fault at all? Unanswered questions about life…..

The noble Karna, brought up by a charriot rider (Suuth) and wife got insulted infront of the whole royal family and public when Drona questioned his ‘kula’ – caste – when he (Drona) could not deny his merit and was overwhelmed by the selfish love for his disciple Arjuna. There was just one Duryodhana (some texts refer as Suyodhana) who offered some human consideration apart from his adopted parents in his whole life. Duryodhana is portrayed to be an unholy character in the later turn up of events. So should he reciprocate the favour of his friend or not? This is an ultimate dilemma in any social or political decision making………

Karna opted to side his only friend and his brothers (and the only sister Dushala). In every walk of life including death he receives insult and lack of consideration. Even a ‘poetic justice’ is denied to him for a reason of his birth. Look at his death itself. Arjuna killed him up on the advice of Krishna when his chariot wheel gets trapped in a gutter! An ultimate tragedy of life! A virtuous person from whom his protective armour gets snatched away by fraudulence of Indra (king of Devas and the biological father of Arjuna) first and then by own biological mother!

What could have that mother felt when caught in between Arjuna and Karna? Her love for Arjuna can be traced back to her bringing up of the child. The one she had seen throughout her life to that point. The child which has reciprocated her love by all measures to the extend of sharing his wedded bride, Draupathi, with the other four brothers including two step brothers (Nakula and Sahadeva, children of Pandu’s second wife Madri) up on her request. But there always remains a heart breaking urge for her first born. The strongest emotional battle. Whether to choose her abandoned (due to circumstances) son or the brought up son …….. Well, wouldn’t she have wept …….. ? The whole consequence of war becomes irrelevant for her ….. What is there for her to choose? What about the poor Karna who lived and died in misery?

The same Kunthi went for ‘sanyas’ (saintly life in forest) with Ghandhari and Dritharastra and when Krishna asks her after the war what she would like to have as a boon she replied. “Dear Krishna, I want only pain. Just pain. The pain with which I lived my entire life and the same pain which haunts me …..” Pain, pain and pain alone ……… No wonder when asked about the epitome of Ramayana, a saint replied “It is just melancholy and melancholy alone …….”. If it is so about Ramayana – just an ancient story about morality and life- how much more true should it apply to Mahabharata?

When I go deep, the puzzle becomes recursive. It is not about solution but about mental state that one have to endure in life. Rarely have I seen a work which has described such dilemmas in its vastness and depth. Not just about a Karna and Kunthi but about the interrelations pertaining to every character. Ekalavya and Drona, Ghandhari and the war, Krishna and the role of politician which he had to play, everything……… These thoughts make me convince something about literature – a good old verse. “Sloka comes from shoka.” It is pain that gives birth to a masterly literary work……..

Now I feel for the pain of characters. The pain of the master brain who when glorified feels a more intense pain up on his fate to play the role despite convictions……. The real meaning of people being pawns of an unknown destiny………

Dear Vyasa, you are simply the best in the world. Who else have created such an epic which presents the most univocal dialogue between time and human life?

PS :- No wonder the wiki page about Mahabharata and its links could not even describe the tip of the iceberg. Well, I guess it might take a whole new www to discuss and appreciate the whole storyline and its implications. But I wonder how such a classic text whose leagacy could be shared by all Indians be described as a ‘Hindu religion’ text! Neither is it Hindu in the religious sense and nor religious as per the standards of religion (like uniformity in streams of thought and propaganda of a moral code).




3 responses

13 08 2008
l paudel

Hi, I have studied and looked Mahabharata. My friend your interpretation was logical and accurate. Every person should study Mahabharata and try to utilize its knowledge for peaceful ,sociable and justice society.
If you have any ideas to share with please feel free to contact me.

13 08 2008
l paudel

my contact id is

14 01 2009
ashok kumar

Fantastic article very illuminating.
Can you send me the first and the last shloka of the original Maahabharata text along with its English translation

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