The Mahabharata, along with the Ramayana, is India’s most timeless epic. Authored by sage Vyasa, it consists of the Bhagavad Gita, the religious book of the Hindus which is narrated in the form of a poem. Apart from telling the story of the Pandava and Kaurava dynasties, it consists heavily of philosophical material- much of which is relevant even today.
Although the Mahabharata is synonymous with the principles of Sanatana Dharma and widely regarded as a devotional epic, it has much to teach us about life. Here are three of the many lessons it imparts, and its significance in the 21st century:
Everything isn’t black and white
The Mahabharata is not just a lofty tale about the victory of good over evil. Its brilliance lies in its moral haziness, where the good use guile and even treachery to win over evil, who in turn are shown as having some good in them. Instead of straitjacketing people into two ends of the spectrum, the epic acknowledges that reality is far more subtle, and that the world we create for ourselves reflects this duality.
Every human being, and for that matter, even Lord Krishna, has shades of grey. The Mahabharata offers a lot of insight on how one can achieve moral balance even while living in an arbitrary world.
Much is said about Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, being a stark reminder of the subjugation of women in Indian society, However, the Mahabharata offers glimpses of formidable, persevering women too. The role of Kunti, for instance, cannot be ignored in this regard. Sage Vyasa even went so far as to declare in the introduction that one of the main objectives for writing the epic was to share the valuable lessons Kunti gave to mankind.
Kunti is a woman who faces many adversities but stays resolute despite being a young widow and being subjected to shoddy treatment by Dhritarashtra, her brother-in-law. Her insistence on making her own decisions and unbiased nature towards her children, as well as Kunti’s, points to her magnanimity and exemplary motherhood.
Finding a balance between the material and spiritual
Krishna elaborates that there are three worldly goals in life: artha (material wealth), kama (pleasure), and moksha(spiritual liberation or nirvana). Obsession with one goal will not help in the long-term. A balanced life can only be achieved by recognizing the value of each goal, even though moksha is more important for the soul than wealth and satisfying the senses. The Mahabharata expounds the pragmatic approach of changing your attitude and outlook instead of renouncing the material world and becoming a hermit.
The Mahabharata is a revolutionary tome of history, philosophy, and mythology because it embraces the imperfection that comes with being human and teaches us that good and bad cannot exist without the other. It teaches us that the ego is the cause of many problems in life and shows us how we can avoid many ills if we just refuse to let envy, anxiety, and the thirst for revenge get the better of us.
Visual Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ahinsajain/