An article by
Sri Swami Sivananda, the founder of Divine Life Society
The Greatness of
MAHABHARATA — the very mention of the name
gives a thrill of holy ideas. This is a great epic heroic poem. It contains one
hundred thousand verses. It contains the essence of all scriptures. It is an
encyclopaedia of ethics, knowledge, politics, religion, philosophy and Dharma.
If you cannot find anything here, you cannot find it anywhere else.
Mahabharata is revered as the fifth Veda.
The celebrated 'Bhagavad Gita', the song celestial, occurs in this great epic.
From this great epic we also got the great episodes of scriptural value such as
Sanatsujathiya, Vidura Nithi, Anu Gita, Vishnu Sahasra Nama, Siva Sahasra
It contains eighteen Parvas or sections
viz., Adi Parva, Sabha Parva, Vana Parva, Virata Parva, Udyoga Parva, Bhishma
Parva, Drona Parva, Karna Parva, Shalya Parva, Sauptika Parva, Stree Parva,
Shanti Parva, Anushasana Parva, Asvamedha Parva, Ashramavasika Parva, Mausala
Parva, Mahaprasthanika Parva and Swargarohanika Parva. Each Parva contains
many sub-Parvas or subsections.
This wonderful book was composed by Sri Vyasa
(Krishna Dvaipayana) who was the grandfather of the heroes of the epic. He
taught this epic to his son Suka and his disciples Vaisampayana and others. King
Janamejaya, son of Parikshit, the grandson of the heroes of the epic, performed
a great sacrifice. The epic was recited by Vaisampayana to Janamejaya at the
command of Vyasa. Later on, Suta recited the Mahabharata as was done by
Vaisampayana to Janamejaya, to Saunaka and others, during a sacrifice performed
by Saunaka in Naimisaranya, which is near Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh.
It is very interesting to remember the opening
and closing lines of this great epic.
It begins with: "Vyasa sang of the
ineffable greatness and splendour of Lord Vasudeva, who is the source and
support for everything, who is eternal, unchanging, self-luminous, who is the
Indweller in all beings, and the truthfulness and righteousness of the Pandavas."
It ends with: "With raised hands, I shout
at the top of my voice; but alas, no one hears my words which can give them
Supreme Peace, Joy and Eternal Bliss. One can attain wealth and all objects of
desire through Dharma (righteousness). Why do not people practise Dharma?
One should not abandon Dharma at any cost, even at the risk of his life.
One should not relinquish Dharma out of passion or fear or covetousness or for
the sake of preserving one’s life. This is the Bharata Gayatri. Meditate on
this daily, O man! when you retire to sleep and when you rise from your bed
every morning. You will attain everything. You will attain fame, prosperity,
long life, eternal bliss, everlasting peace and immortality."
The Epic in a
The Mahabharata is the history of the Great War
of India between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The two brothers Dhritarashtra
and Pandu were born through sage Vyasa after the death of Vichitravirya.
Dhritarashtra being blind, Pandu succeeded to the throne but he entrusted the
kingdom to his elder brother and himself proceeded to forest where his five sons
Yudhishthira, etc., were born and were called the "Pandavas."
Dhritarashtra also had one hundred children in Duryodhana and others, who were
called the "Kauravas." Pandu died during the infancy of his sons and
Dhritarashtra continued to rule the kingdom with the help of their granduncle
Bhishma, who had pledged himself to lifelong celibacy. The Pandava and Kaurava
princes were brought up together and also educated and trained alike through
Dronacharya. Both sets of princes considered themselves entitled to the kingdom
and looked upon the other with hostility and their feelings and relations grew
strained from day to day. On account of persecution by the Kauravas, the
Pandavas left their home and suffered much hardship and pain, but on their
marriage with the daughter of Drupada, king Dhritarashtra sent for the Pandavas
and made over half the kingdom to them. The Pandavas improved their country and
established their capital at Indraprastha and then performed the horse-sacrifice
with great pomp. The Kauravas were also invited there but on seeing the good
fortune of the Pandavas and being offended by jokes made at them, they were
overcome with jealousy and resentment and returned home with feelings of enmity
and revenge. They then conspired against the Pandavas and invited them to gamble
and thereby they won all their wealth, kingdom and their person and also
insulted and ill-treated their wife, Draupadi, in the presence of all. In the
end, it was settled that the Pandavas should go out in exile to the forest for
twelve years and pass another year in secrecy and on return from the exile be
entitled to get back their lost kingdom. The Pandavas did all this but on their
return the Kauravas refused to return the kingdom. This gave rise to the great
family war in which all the Kauravas and the two armies were annihilated and the
Pandavas alone survived and got the victory.
The Pandavas were assisted by Sri Krishna and
other relations, Drupada, Virata, etc., and their forces numbered seven
battalions (Akshauhinis). The Kauravas were also assisted by their relations and
friends and their forces numbered eleven battalions. The Pandavas were
successful on account of their righteous cause and divine grace.
The blind Dhritarashtra represents Avidya
or ignorance; Yudhishthira represents Dharma; Duryodhana Adharma;
Draupadi Maya; Bhishma dispassion; Dussasana evil quality; Sakuni
jealousy and treachery; Arjuna the individual soul; and Lord Krishna the Supreme
Soul. Antahkarana is the Kurukshetra.
The Mahabharata war was a just war. If you go
through the speech given by Bhishma to Yudhishthira, you will know the usages of
righteous war. A brave hero would fight only with an enemy of equal strength and
on equal vantage. This was the motto of every brave soldier who engaged himself
in warfare in days of yore in India. Perfect justice and fairness in everything
was rigidly observed on both sides. There was no fighting during nights; when
the enemy had no arms in his hands, no arrows were aimed at him.
The Mahabharata, the most renowned epic of
India, is the only book of its kind in the whole world. It contains countless
stories besides the main episode—the Mahabharata—which 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. The beauty and charm of the language is extremely
striking and attractive.
One is struck with amazement and becomes
tongue-tied when he reads the marvellous strength of Bhima, of the wonderful
skill in archery and bowmanship of Arjuna, of the dexterity of Sahadeva in the
use Of swords and of the profound knowledge of Nakula in astronomy, and of the
extreme righteous conduct and justice of Yudhishthira in all matters. The deeds
of heroism done by Bhishma, Karna, Drona, Parasurama, Jayadratha, Dhrishtadyumna
and many others are superhuman. These heroes did severe Tapas and obtained rare
boons from the Lord. That is the reason why they did marvellous heroic deeds
which baffle description.
Yudhishthira did not wield arms. He did not
take active part in the war-front. He did not use bow and arrows. He had neither
the strength of Bhima nor the skill of Arjuna in archery. But he was an
embodiment of righteousness. He was an incarnation of Dharma. That is the
reason why he was called as Dharmaputra. He was a wise and ideal king. He
established peace and order. He guided his brothers in the path of truth and
righteousness and checked them whenever they went astray. Arjuna bore manfully
the insults which Draupadi was subjected to before his eyes. He could not
disobey Yudhishthira or show him the least disrespect. All the brothers were
meek and submissive before Yudhishthira, however mighty and heroic they were.
They could crush mountains and dry up oceans with their arrows. They were
terrible before their opponents but they were mild and gentle before
Yudhishthira and were ever ready to obey his commands. They would never speak a
word in opposition. Such was the awe-inspiring personality of Yudhishthira. Had
it not been for Yudhishthira, Arjuna and his brothers would not have won the
war. Yudhishthira was the founder of an empire. He is in an inspiring example,
even now, for the rulers of kingdoms and states. He was an embodiment of
justice, patience, steadiness, purity, truthfulness and forbearance.
The kings had a complete knowledge of the
scriptures and of right and wrong. They practised rigid austerities also. That
is the reason why Yudhishthira and Nala were able to bear the privations and
hardships. They rolled in wealth and yet they had the strength and power of
endurance to walk barefooted in forests and sleep on a bed of stones. They had
such a rigorous training and discipline in suffering.
Draupadi, Savitri, Kunti, Madri and Damayanti
were highly devoted to their husbands. They were bold and fearless when they
were under extreme difficulties, hardships, sufferings and privations. They were
pious. They bore the sufferings through the force of their chastity and moral
strength. They were ideal wives and ideal mothers. That is the reason why they
have left an immortal name behind them.
The Mahabharata still exerts a marvellous
influence over the millions of Hindus. The lustre and high renown of these
brilliant personages of Mahabharata has not suffered a diminution, in spite of
the ravages of cruel time. Their character was untainted and sublime. Hence
their deeds also were admirable, laudable and sublime. Determination has ever
been the key to success in the lives of great men of all countries. Heroes would
not move an inch from the path of their duty when they are called upon to
perform it. They were fiery in their determination. They had iron will.
The noble and heroic grandsire Bhishma—who
had control over his death and who was unconquerable in war even by the
gods—still inspires us with the spirit of self-sacrifice, undaunted courage
and purity. Yudhishthira is still a model of justice and righteousness.
Remembrance of his very name generates a thrill in our hearts and goads us to
tread the path of truth and virtue. Karna still lives in our hearts on account
of his extreme munificence and liberality. Karna’s name has become proverbial.
People even now say, whenever they come across a very generous man, "He is
like Karna in gifts."
Arjuna was the bravest of all the five Pandavas.
Arjuna had got Draupadi by winning in the selection match and he had defeated
the Kauravas on several occasions. He was a devoted friend of Sri Krishna who
had him married to his sister Subhadra, even against the wishes of his elder
brother Balarama. Sri Krishna assisted the Pandavas in the great war on account
of Arjuna and by acting as his charioteer, led him to victory.
Even now, we admire Arjuna as a perfect man and
worship Lord Krishna as our Protector and Saviour. Whenever we are in trouble
and distress we pray to Him, "O Lord! Save us just as you saved Draupadi
and Gajendra in days of yore."
The Message of
The sufferings of the Pandavas and Draupadi,
Nala and Damayanti, Savitri and Satyavan, clearly explain to us the fact or hard
truth that the goal of life or perfection can only be attained through pain and
suffering. Pain is the means through which man is moulded, disciplined and
strengthened. Just as impure gold is turned into pure gold by melting it in the
crucible, so also the impure and imperfect weak man is rendered pure, perfect
and strong, by being melted in the crucible of pain and suffering. Therefore,
one should not be afraid of pain and sufferings. They are blessings in disguise.
They are eye-openers. They are silent teachers. They turn the mind towards God
and instill mercy in the heart, strengthen the will and develop patience and
power of endurance, which are the pre-requisites for God-Realisation.
The message of the Mahabharata is the message
of Truth and Righteousness. The great epic produces a moral awakening in the
readers and exhorts them to tread the path of Satya and Dharma. It
urges them strongly to do good deeds, practise Dharma, cultivate dispassion by
realising the illusory nature of this universe and its vainglories and sensual
pleasures, and attain Eternal Bliss and Immortality. It induces people to do
what Yudhishthira did and abandon what Duryodhana did. Stick to Dharma
tenaciously. You will attain everlasting happiness and Moksha, the summum
bonum of life. This is the final purport or central teachings of the
May the teachings of this illustrious and
ancient epic guide you in every walk of your life. May you stick to Dharma. May
the great characters of the Mahabharata inspire you! May you imbibe the
righteousness of Yudhishthira, the purity of Bhishma, the courage of Arjuna and
the liberality of Karna! Glory to Sri Bhagavan Vyasa, the grandsire of the
heroes, the author of the Mahabharata, a Chiranjeevi and an Avatara of Lord Hari.
May His blessings be upon you all!