The significance of the Mahabharatha

What is the relevance of the Mahabharata in the modern world? The answer is as compelling as it is straightforward: the main challenge in the modern world lies in upholding dharma or righteousness and satyam or truth. What the world today badly needs is dharma, the capacity to articulate it, the capacity to build it and the capacity to sustain it.

It is difficult to conceive of a more powerful vehicle than the two epics including the Ramayana and Mahabharata (including the sacred Bhagavad Gita) that communicates this message to head and heart.

Consider the Mahabharata: it is an extraordinary tale and the wisdom it contains needs to be consciously and deliberately gleaned. It is rich in symbolism and metaphor. Above all it is faithful to the truth. It makes no attempt to mask it and does not rationalize the actions of its characters. As Iravti Karve once observed, both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are called epics. However the Ramayana is called a poem, while the Mahabharata is called a history.

“The Mahabharata is a record of human beings with human weaknesses. Almost no person is portrayed as all good or all bad. The entire Ramayana on the other hand is in praise of an ideal man. As Rama is the ideal man, so is Sita the ideal woman. In fact the whole Ramayana is filled with idealized characters – the ideal brother, the ideal servant, ideal subjects, even ideal villains. It is not that the Mahabharata has no extraordinary characters. But even while depicting the extraordinary person, the poet does not let us forget the ordinary in him.”  As the Romanian writer Mircea Eliade said: “We become really human when we have followed the learning of the myths, imitated the gods.”

The Pandavas are five, while the Kauravas are a hundred in number. This means man’s propensity to do evil far exceeds his propensity to do good. The Mahabharata illustrates the profound truth that the Lord will be the Guide of whoever installs Him as his sarathi (charioteer). He will not consider that position inferior. He is the Sanathana Sarathi (Eternal Charioteer) come to be the Charioteer of all. He is the Lord for all who seek a Master, a Guru, a support. The soul is the Master in every one and Krishna is the Universal Soul personified. He will rescue one who approaches Him with faith, devotion and surrender by dedicating all thought, word and deed to the Supreme Intelligence.

The Mahabharata teaches us that if we respect dharma, it will respect us, if we follow dharma, it will follow us and if we adhere to dharma, dharma will adhere to us.

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