The Mahabharata – Separating a few myths from reality..

The Mahabharata (for the uninitiated) is a Hindu epic. I was initiated into reading this by my Sanskrit teacher in Secondary school. I had written about him and the basics of the story here. Studying under him was a privilege and he coaxed me to buy the 849 page book by Kamala Subramaniam.

(And no.. you can’t look inside.. haha)

Since buying the book, I’ve read it more than 20 times and every read has led to more learnings. As I’m getting older and wiser(hopefully!), I’m finding myself consciously trying to separate the myth from what could have been reality. Here are a few observations –

-> There is a lot of talk of ‘boons‘. Boons were given by Gods(great men), Kings (also great men) – all men and women of power basically. What I’ve realized is that for a large parts, these boons were simply promises which involved enormous amount of integrity for the person giving the boon.

For example, one boon involved a hero on the antagonist side promising not to kill 4 others on the other side in combat. This boon could have made the difference between winning and losing but that’s where the integrity i.e. walking the talk comes in.

-> Great men were characterized to a large extent by just one thing – their ability to make and keep promises. The greatest were those who never swerved from righteousness..

-> The greatest archer in the world, Arjuna, was, in reality, not the greatest archer in the world. There were others who were superior in the art and many others who were far more talented. But, he became great thanks to relentless practice, meditation and honing of the skill. He was also the ideal student, with extreme devotion to his teacher and incredibly focussed.

Great lesson.. and a nice application of Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule to becoming an expert. :)

-> There is a lot, lot about the choice between right and easy. At every point, the protagonists make the right choice and one such choice involved them spending 13 years as forest dwellers despite the fact that being kings were their birthright.

-> Divinity was characterized by valor and righteousness – this is understandable.

-> The role of women in determining the play of events can never be underestimated enough. Even during those days of seeming difference in social stature (given the lack of women’s rights movements etc. ;)), the reason the events played were thanks to the influence of important women at every stage..

-> ‘Any man can withstand adversity. If you want to test a person, give him power
It was power that drove the massive war that was fought..

-> The fact that intrigued me was the losing side was actually much stronger than the winning side. However, it was a combination of the mightiest of heroes who were fighting on the side thanks to circumstances, lack of adherence to a moral code and a combination of circumstances that led to their defeat.

Interesting.. :)

0 thoughts on “The Mahabharata – Separating a few myths from reality..”

  1. Speaking of right / easy choices, what is your take on Karna’s choice to stick by Duryodhana – even after his mom told him he was fighting his brothers?Was it the right choice? Well, he ended up in the bad side.Was it easy? Definitely not.Did it end well? I guess not. Everyone conspired – even resorting to cheap tricks at times – and brought him down.(It’s instances like these that make the epic so beautiful and so deep.)

  2. In my understanding, Radheya/Karna was among the noblest of characters in the Mahabharata. Unfortunately, his one mistake was that he cared for Duryodhana more than anything else in the world.And in many ways, he was a victim of circumstances. An unfortunate one at that. As for the choice, it becomes plain when we understand men like Radheya, Yudhishthira etc who never swerved from a path once taken. Radheya had promised Duryodhana he would fight, and he did not. It is true that there were cheap tricks resorted to bring him down. But, that was plain necessary.. Bheeshma, Drona and Radheya could not have been defeated otherwise. It was also the natural way of things to happen. After all, they had each lost themselves under Duryodhana. Just the fact that he heartlessly cut Abhimanyu’s bow string from behind and played his part in a disgusting murder meant he had to go.. Similarly with Drona and Bheeshma..That’s my 2 cents.

  3. Yes, true. From his (Radheya/Karna) point of view – and we agree – he was one of the noblest characters. Even his care for Duryodhana was perfectly justified. He was sticking to his principles. Duryodhana saved him. He had made a promise. And he valued loyalty and integrity. So, he was making the “right” choice sticking to Duryodhana – not the “easy” one. And yet, in the bigger picture, he was a bad guy. The universe conspired to kill him. So, what exactly is the right choice?

  4. I don’t think Radheya was judged as a ‘bad’ guy. Rather, I feel he was always seen as a noble guy who made one bad choice – befriending Duryodhana. Krishna and Bheeshma attempted to ask him to fight for the Pandavas once they knew he was aware of his relationship with them. And the Pandavas were disconsolate when they realized they’d killed their own brother.So, I’m not sure if he’s perceived like Duryodhana (i.e. pure evil) rather seen as a great giver, a greater archer.. who just made 1 bad choice..

  5. Karna (K) stuck by Duryodhana (D)because he had made a promise. D had saved K from humiliation and K made a promise that he would stick by D. Now K was a man of the highest integrity and that meant keeping his word. Always.From K’s point of view, the choice was between keeping his promise to D or breaking it. And he stuck to his values and made the significantly harder choice of keeping his promise. So, why is that a bad choice?

  6. I think the bad choice was sticking with and encouraging Duryodhana to commit crime after crime. That’s what I mean by bad choice. The choices were made along the way..

  7. Though, Karna was helpless to obey the order of the prince of Hastinapur and also indebted to duryodhan. He made his choices to serve duryodhan for making a charitorer’s son , the king of anga.(Angaraj), when everyone Humilated him as charitorer’s son, when all the sons of kauravs and pandavas gathered in the ground for showing their learning to the king Dhritarashtra.

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