The Mahabharata, which means, ‘Great Epic of the Bharata Empire’ belongs to the epic poem genre of Indian literature. Along with the Ramayana, these two epics form the Great Epics of the nation. The main plot revolves around two families, the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The premise of the story centers around the Battle of Kurukshetra between these two families for the Hastinapura throne. It is written by Krishna Dwaipayan Vyasa, who is also a character in the story. It consists of 100,000 verses and 18 Parvans (sections) that recount the events that unfold before, during, and after the Kurukshetra War. It is considered to be the longest epic poem. Ever since, it has made a significant impact in India, serving as a monumental piece of literature that speaks of the moral and spiritual values of Hinduism. However, it also serves as an important literary piece of history that accounts for the development of Hinduism in Indian traditions. The Mahabharata includes other Hindu sacred texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, Damayanti's story, Shakuntala's story, Pururava and Urvashi's story, Savitri and Satyavan's story, stories of Kacha and Devyani.
Main Themes of the Mahabharata
The predominant overarching theme of the Mahabharata is Dharma or the fulfillment of one's sacred duty. As per Hindu philosophies, every individual has a position in society that they have to adhere to and carry out their duties according to this position. The Mahabharata comprises characters who belong to the Kshatriya sect (warrior clan). Their dharma is to uphold values of courage, honor and respect in all aspects of their lives. The perfect example of the proper observance of one's dharma is seen in Yudhishthira. Throughout his life, he has exhibited dharma in all his actions, whether that's on the battlefield or otherwise. The most prominent event that speaks of his adherence to his Dharma is when he is tested by God Dharma who appears to him in disguise of a dog and Yudhishthira never leaves his side, which serves as a symbolic representation of his faithful adherence to his dharmic duties.
Morality and Honesty
Closely related to Dharma is the virtue of honesty and nobility that plays a huge role throughout the story. These virtues are an integral part of a warrior's Dharma. The allusion to the significance of these values is seen in Krishna's (a manifestation of Lord Vishnu, the God of Truth) song to Arjuna before the Kurukshetra War. Through his song, Krishna teaches Arjuna about many truths of life such as the impermanence of earthly life and the cyclic nature of life.
Order and Disorder, Light and Darkness
When it comes to the symbolism of the Mahabharata, the age-old battle between good and evil, light and darkness is portrayed through the rivalry that exists between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Here, the Pandavas, the sons of Pandu represent good, while the Kauravas, the sons of the blind Dhritarashtra, portray darkness and evil. Through the use of allegory, the battle between the two groups represents the fight between evil and good and the Pandavas’ victory represents the everlasting victory of good over evil, with the guidance of Lord Vishnu through his appearance to Arjuna in the form of Krishna. Thus, restoring peace and harmony in the world.
Principles and Teachings of Hinduism
The other prominent theme in the Mahabharata is the foundational beliefs of Hinduism that are rooted in the Bhagavad Gita. These principles include Samsara, which describes the cycle of rebirth, wherein the soul is reincarnated multiple times as per the laws of action and reflection. The other important theme is the concept of Nirvana, which is the attainment of enlightenment, which is the primary goal that governs the cycle of life.
Over the years, there have been many adaptations and translations of the Mahabharata. In Karnataka, the most prominent adaptation of the Mahabharata in Kannada is the Sampurna Mahabharata written by R.K. Narayan.
Q1. Can the Mahabharata be considered a piece of Indian history?
The Mahabharata contains both mythical as well as historical elements in its content. Therefore it cannot solely be classified as a historical piece of Indian literature.
Q2. Who can be considered the true hero of this epic?
Arjuna, one of the sons of Pandu, the king of the Pandavas, is considered the true hero of this epic. His heroism is attributed to his dialogue with Krishna (the Avatar of Lord Vishnu) in the Bhagavad Gita verses.
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