Interpreted on the mundane plane, the Mahabharata deals with the realistic account of a fierce fratricidal war of annihilation with its interest centered on the epic characters. The meaning on the ethical plane views the Mahabharata war as a conflict between the principles of dharma and adharma, between good and evil, between justice and injustice, in which the war ends in the victory of dharma.
On the transcendental plane, which takes us beyond dharma and adharma, the Mahabharata war is fought not only in Kurukshetra but also in our own minds; this perpetual battle between the higher self and the lower self of man for establishing mastery over the body is symbolized by the fight between the cousins for sovereignty.
The Mahabharata is a veritable encyclopedia of Indian tradition, and no other single work gives an insight into the innermost depths of the soul of the people as it does. It is a ‘Song of Victory’ (Jaya), commemorating the deeds of heroism in a war fought to avenge insults to womanhood, and to maintain the just rights of a dynasty that extended the heritage of Bharata and knit together the North, East, West, and South of India into one empire.
The Mahabharata is a magnificent poem describing in inimitable language the fury of the battle field, the stillness of the forest hermitage, the majesty of the roaring sea dancing with billows and laughing with foam, the just indignation of the true daughter of a warrior line, and the lament of the aged mother of dead heroes. It is an authoritative book of law, morality, and social and political philosophy, laying down rules for the attainment of dharma, artha, and kama, called trivarga, and also showing the way to liberation expounding the highest religious philosophy of India, and inculcating reverence not only for Narayana, the supreme Spirit, Saraswati, from whom flow all learning and the arts, and Nara, the superman, the ideal fighter and seer and the close associate of God, but also for mankind in general.
The characteristic traits of women, and the place they occupied in society are clearly brought out in several stories in the Mahabharata. In the story of Savitri, we have the ideal wife wrestling with the god of death for the life of her husband. In Draupadi we have the fiery yet dutiful wife. In Kunti we see a brave and sacrificing mother of powerful Kshatriyas, who, after her sons had won the war, chose to serve her brother in law and his wife, who belonged to the losing side.
Books on the Mahabharata for all levels: Comics for children and translations of the complete text. Studies of the Mahabharata from different perspectives: Dharma in the Mahabharata, State of Mahabharata studies all over the world, Quiz Books on the Mahabharata, Index to Names in the Mahabharata, Board Games on this great epic, Lessons from the Mahabharata, Principal Characters and Women in the Mahabharata.
The most authoritative commentary on the Mahabharata is that of Nilakantha, written in the later half of the seventeenth century. It is available in Seven Volumes.