Lessons of Mahabharata




Don’t make a decision in haste.  Unintended consequences of hasty actions can cause troubles for generations to come !

*Shantanu with his marriage to Ganga.

*Bhishma and his vow of celibacy.

*Bhishma’s abduction did not benefit the family.  Amba became a lifelong enemy, Ambaika and Ambalika failed to bear sons from Vichitravirya.  Children they bore from Vyasa were unfit for the throne due to blindness and ill health.

*Satyavati’s insistence that Vyasa sires children on the Kashi princesses there and than – rather than waiting as advised.

*Gambling incidence was one mad decision for everyone – Kaurav and Pandav

*Drona’s decision to ask for Eklavya’s thumb.

Without forethought, “Grand Gestures” are pointless. 

*Bhishma’s vow of celibacy did not take into account the good of the people or the clan.

*Yudhisthir’s decision to play dice – twice - like an Emperor was a total flop.

*Yudhisthir’s magnanimous acts of “forgiveness” towards Duryodhan and Jayadratha proved to be fatal for them.

*Karna’s donation of his only advantage in battle – his skin – proved him to be great donor, but it was fatal to him.

Pointless promises / vows !

(Where do I begin !!!!)
*Shantanu’s promise to Ganga cost him seven sons.

*Bhishma’s vow of celibacy annihilated his father’s gene pool.

*Parshuram’s vow to only teach Brahmins or Drona’s vow to teach only princes was manifestly unfair to countless deserving students.

*Drupad’s promise to share his kingdom with Drona caused animosity amongst friends.

*Yudhisthir’s vain vow to “play the dice with anyone if invited”.

*Karna’s vow to be a matchless donor proved fatal.

*Bhishma’s vow not to fight Shikhandi proved fatal.

*Shailya’s foolish vow to support Kauravs with his entire army just because he “promised” to fulfil the wish of his “host”.

*Arjun's vow to kill Jayadratha or die was so foolish, even Krushna despaired !

*Yudhisthir's promise to Duryodhan that whoever won the last duel of the battle would be declared the overall winner of the war was a folly on a monumental scale.

Thou shall not covet thy brother or thy neighbour’s ANYTHING !

*Satyavati’s father wanted to dispossess Bhishma of all rights in favour of his grandchildren.  His actions ended the Kuru clan, leaving no genetic survivors of Shantanu. 

*Kaurav’s had everything anyone could ever want in life. Yet, they coveted everything and anything Pandava’s owned – just because it belonged to the Pandavas. This led to the great Bharat war and total destruction of the clan.

*Kichak fatally coveted Sairendhri, knowing her to be a wife of another.

Be careful not to ruin someone else’s life when trying to better the lives of your nearest and dearest.

*Bhishma brought the Kashi princesses to please his step-brother without thinking how the princesses would feel.

*Drona crippled Eklavya to make sure Arjun (and Ashwasthama) had no equal.

*Dhritarastra constantly hurt Pandavas to please Duryodhana.

Your thoughts, speech and actions should be aligned and not at variance.

*Handsome is as handsome does.  Many great and grand people in the Mahabharata did not act in a way that would acquit them handsomely.

*Kuru elders lofty advise and ideals were marred by base actions that consistently injured the very dharma they claimed to support.

Karmic retribution of hurting even the weakest and meekest is terrible for the mighty to behold !

*Amba was abandoned by her family, friends, lover and even the Gods. Yet, in time she sought her vengeance and brought down the mighty Bhishma.

*Drona was a pauper and Drupada thought nothing of slighting him. Panchala was divided and seeds of war and vengeance sowed when King Drupada thought himself to be too mighty to befriend Drona the pauper.

*Kaurav princes fatally miscalculated when they thought it would be easy to insult Panchali, a mere woman, as a safe way to hurt the Pandavas from a distance.

*Gandhari’s lament, no matter how unreasonable, caused the Yadava kul to be terribly crushed and greatly reduced.

*Burning of Khandav-van was a genocide on a massive scale.  It was done to establish a successful kingdom, but its consequences were suffered by 3 generations of Kurus.

Make hay while the sun shines ! You never know what future has in store for you.

*Pandavas wheel of fortune was so topsy turvy, yet, they made the best of good and bad moments in life and were hence successful.

*While Arjun continued to learn and acquire new weapons, Karna slept on his laurels and did little to gain more knowledge.

*Duryodhan performed a yagna that was as grand and as costly as Yudhisthir’s to enhance his glory while Pandavas were in exile.

Addiction to wine and gambling is totally ruinous.

*Nala was a great king, yet all his greatness came to naught because of his addiction to gambling.

*Yudhisthira was Dharma personified, yet, he lost everything due to his addiction to gambling.

*Balarama was a great man, yet alcohol reduced his potential to act as the “great-statesman” of India

*Alcohol and gambling ruined Yadu and Kuru clan.

Your Silence and patience can be misinterpreted. Know when its best to speak or to be silent.

*Pandava, Kunti and Vidur knew who poisoned Bhima.  Yet, for sake of peace, they stayed silent.  Had the serpent’s head been crushed earlier, had Duryodhan been punished earlier, maybe he would have learned his lesson earlier and not been encouraged to carry out new plots.  Silence by the elders and his enemy, encouraged him to ever bolder attempts at assassination. 

*Yudhisthir’s silence and compliance to the will of Dhritarastra / Kuru elders was seen as his weakness and hence Pandavas were regularly maltreated. 

*Four younger brothers followed Yudhisthir even when he made the monumental mistake of playing dice against Shakuni.

*Bhima’s vocal outbursts and promises to kill Duryodhan etc were ignored by Kauravas at their own peril.

* Silence by various kings and royals during the shameful attempt at disrobing Draupadi was seen as their tacit approval by Kauravas.

Every dog has his day !

Treat everyone nicely ! You never know when you end up meeting a great person reduced to poverty by circumstance.

*Pandavas roamed India as paupers, brahmins, servants and even as a eunuch ! Never insult anyone, you never really know what has brought them this circumstance.

*Virat went to Yudhisthir’s Rajasuyagna, and yet did not recognise him under reduced circumstances.

*Kaurav army fought Arjun dressed as a eunuch.

Sometimes, winners loose and losers win !

*Kauravas won the dice games only to loose their lives.

*Pandavas won the war only to find that all those they loved were dead.

*Pandavas exile inspired them to work harder and become stronger.

Careful which side you are supporting. Might is not always right and even the good can end up supporting evil if they are not vigilant.

*Kuru elders supported the incumbent king and his sons without questioning the merit of such support.

*Durvasa followed Duryodhan’s lead without questioning his motives.

*Shailya accidently ended up supporting and even leading Kaurav armies. Had he been vigilant, he could have avoided the honey trap of being flattered to join the “wrong side” !

*Though one entire division of Yadavas under Krutavarma fought for Kauravas, Gandhari cursed Yadavas to be killed off like the Kurus !  Some people are just ungrateful through and through.

Leaders / rulers can’t afford to be sentimental. They have a greater duty to their followers / citizens and must not let them down for selfish / personal reasons.

*Bhishma gave an untenable promise to Satyavati’s father, not knowing if sons will be born or not or if they will be suitable or not.

*Dhritarastra was blinded by his unreasonable love for Duryodhan.

*Drona was equally blinded by his unconditional love for Ashwashthama.

*Had Shri Krushna not intervened, (SMB Gita) sentimentality would have ruined everything for Arjun.

*Consumed by utter hate, Ashwashthama acted against all moral and ethical values he had upheld till date.

*Yudhisthir’s sentimental attachment to “elders” and “family” made him ignore the warning bells of destruction everyone else could hear very clearly.  If only he had spoken up after Varnavat, or rebuffed gambling match, or spoken clearly when Drupadi was insulted, or let Duryodhan be carried away by Gandharvas or punished Jayadrath, Pandavas may not have had to suffer for so long or loose all their sons in the great battle.

*Duryodhan’s unreasonable dislike for his cousins became an obsession and consumed him from within.  Hate consumed not just him, but the entire Kuru clan, clans of various royal houses, countless families across India.

*Karna repaid the perceived insults he suffered at the hands of Pandavas and Drupadi by constantly working against them.  He did not think about the damage he was doing to the soldiers and citizens who followed him.

Friendship is a double edged sword. Used correctly, it can lead you to success, otherwise, catastrophe.

*Drona and Drupada’s friendship became bitter and twisted, splitting an ancient kingdom and sowed the seeds of discord.

*Karna and Duryodhan’s friendship was so strong, it could not be cleaved even by Krushna’s inducements or Kunti’s sentimental arguments. 
Yet, Karna's desire for “vengeance-against-Pandavas” drove his friendship with Duryodhan and so it ended up benefiting no one.

*Krushna and Arjun’s friendship flourished and delivered the spiritual gem in the form of SMB Gita.

Act and act NOW !  Consider the long term effects of your actions, but action must happen NOW !

 *Vidur’s timely intervention at Varnavat saved them from a certain death.

*In order to establish “Dharma-Rajya”, RajasuYagna was the right decision at the right time.

Requests for assistance in the war effort were sent out ahead of the war of peace negotiations.

Recognise the danger signs and act early.

*Kuru elders, Kunti included, should have seen the signs of dis-satisfaction and animosity between the cousins early on in their lives. Had they acted early, they could have prevented the escalation of childhood games into the Great War.

*Duryodhan’s evil streak was detected early on when he poisoned Bhima.  Yudhisthir and Kunti should have been more assertive and vocal and maybe they could have averted dangers that plagued them later on.

*Seeing Duryodhan, Dushashan and Karna’s resolve to insult them, Yudhisthir should have advised Drupadi to go to Gandhari rather than present herself in front of the Kuru court.

Don’t compromise on your principles.

*Bhishma – having determined that Krushna was the right person to be honoured as “1st amongst peers”, he was unwilling to make any compromise, despite sever provocations, personal insults or threat of violence / war.

*Krushna wanted to establish a Dharma-Rajya through Yudhisthir / Pandavas.  Rajasuyagna achieved that.  However, gambling match lost it all.  However, Krushna was willing to wait 13 years to re-establish it but did not compromise on how and who he wanted to achieve his dream through.

*Vidur suffered terribly in the “den of thieves” that Kuru court had become.  But at no point did he compromise on his principles.

*Yudhisthir never compromised on his principles.  Even when he had no choice but to offer a half-truth to win the battle, he chose to do so in a way that adhered to the principles of truth if not the spirit of the truth.

Don’t compromise, but at the same time, don’t be too rigid, recognise ground realities and make course corrections as needed.

*Seeing as Kuru clan was about to become extinct, Satyavati tried to get Bhishma to break or bend his vow of celibacy.  When that failed, she asked her son Vyasa to sire children to keep the clan name alive.

*Usually, elder brother gets married before the younger one.  But, when Hidamba fell in love with Bhima, Kunti & Yudhisthir gave their permission for the second brother to get married before the first one.  In matter of love, how can you dictate or be too prescriptive ?

*Polyandry was rare to the point of being unacceptable in most of North India.  Yet, seeing their mother had inadvertently told to them share Drupadi, the Pandavas did as commanded without too much fuss.  Arjun especially !

*Shri Krushna walked away from a battle against Kalyavan to spare further damage to Mathura's economic and social life.  At the risk of being branded a "coward", Krushna carried out a "tactical withdrawl" to Dwarika rather than stick to a pointless policy of war for war sake.

*Shri Krushna vowed not to fight in the Kuru battle.  Both sides were equally dear to him.  Yet, when Arjun’s life, and the safety of Pandava army was in jeopardy, Shri Krushna rushed to attacked Bhishma. 

*On yet another occasion, Shri Krushna asked his chariot to be made ready for war so he could intercede on Pandava side at a moment’s notice if needed.

*Draupadi wanted the murderer of her family killed.  But seeing as it was Guru-putra, she compromised and was contented that his “mani” was taken from him instead.

Be ready to roll with the punches – life is rarely smooth. 

*Pandavas had more upheavals and most people.  They made the best of the bad situations in life. 

*During his first exile, when they had to remain incognito, Pandavas made allies with tribals of north India and selected a purohit to take care of their spiritual and secular well being.  Through his advise, they won an alliance with Drupada.

*During the second exile, Arjun travelled all over India and made great friends, allies and alliances from East to West and North and South.

*During the third exile, Arjun mastered celestial weapons and learned to dance so as to remain incognito during the 13th year.  *Bhima kept up his practice of fighting even in the forest. 

*Twins honed their animal husbandry skills in the forest.

*Yudhisthir mastered rules of statistics and probability so he could become a better dice player. 

*Drupadi played the perfect hostess to countless sages and Brahmins to garner countless blessings and win public opinion for her sons and husbands. 

Hate is its own poison.

Hatred is more bitter than bile.  It burns all the way from the stomach to the heart to the throat to the mouth.  Even when you have vomited it out, you can not get rid of the stench of this bitterness from your nose.

*Hate made Drona compromise his principles.

*Hate made Drupada strive to destroy Drona and anyone who supported him !

*Hate consumed Duryodhan so much, he could not enjoy the wealth, family or power he did have, let alone the power he snatched from Pandavas.

*Hate consumed Karna, Shakuni and Dushashan to the point of having no other aim life but to hate !

*Hate consumed Drupadi, making her reckless in her desire for war.  She lost everything including her father, brother and sons.

*Hate consumed Ashwashthama so completely, he lost his moral and ethical bearings.

*Hate inspired Janmanjaya to hold the sarpa-satra to annihilate all  snakes.

United we stand, divided we fall !

*Pandavas won the great war due to their unity.  There were plenty of points that divided them (game of dice, death of Bhurishrava, Abhimanu, Drona etc), but, in principle, they remained united.  Shri Krushna’s life mission seemed to be to unite the Pandava side and keep them together till the bitter end.

*Kauravas were divided and un-reconciled about their deep divisions till the very end.  Even before the battle, their two star fighters – Bhishma and Karna had promised not to fight while the other lived ! 

*How can there be victory for a team where the leader is constantly berating his own star players ?  Duryodhan was constantly doubting the goodwill of his main warriors and was always complaining about Bhishma, Drona, Krupacharya, Ashwasthama and Shalva, urging them to fight harder not by positive reinforcement, but complaints that they were too soft on Pandavas !

*Powerful Yadava clans fell apart due to dissention amongst themselves.  They fought over grievances, past and present and some things that had nothing to do with them at all !

War is wasteful - ALWAYS.

Right as you might be, think and think again before making war.

*As with Amba, Drona, Pandavas and countless others, fighting to assert your “rights” is a bloody business and often leads to more bloodshed rather than less.

*As with Drona and Drupada, you can’t fight for friendship.

*Time and again, Pandu, Arjun or Karna asserted their supremacy over neighbouring kings through war.  But defeat only makes the enemy “seem subdued” – until he / she / it has the opportunity to fight back and take revenge.

*War and vengence is a continuous cycle, each blaming the other for starting it or carrying it on.  War leads to an endless cycle of hate, defeat and vengeance.  Hatred is constantly bubbling under a thin veneer of enforced peace.

*Loot, reparation, compensation – term it as you might, victor feels justified and looser feels victimised by general emptying of the coffers of the loosing side.

*Invasion vs Conquest.  Right vs Wrong.  Justified vs Illegal – these are but mere "philosophical terminologies" to the dead. 

*Widows, orphans, old people - those left behind have to live with the consequences of the aftermath of war.

*As even European Nations, USA and India and its various neighbours have found to their cost, protracted war, cold war, undeclared war – are all WARs and a colossal waste of time and resources.

*War, fight, court cases, disputes - they all waste time, energy, effort and erode your spirit and ruin your peace of mind.  Avoid these where possible.


If you must fight – make sure your enemy is annihilated.

Enemy that lives on after a war is more deadly than before.

*Kauravas missed their chance of killing Bhima while he was young and without political clout.  After their first attempt to poison him, Pandavas never trusted Kauravas ever again.

*After Varnavat, Kauravas lost all sympathy for their claim to the throne and Pandavas came home with powerful allies in the form of Panchals.

*Takshat escaped the burning of Khandav van and he took out his frustration on Pandava’s only grandson.

*Having caught Jayadrath kidnapping Drupadi red handed, Pandavas should have killed him.  Leaving him alive meant there was one more entrenched enemy to fight in the great war.

*Leaving Duryodhan alive, after the final dual with Bhima, cost Pandavas their sons and relatives.  Eventhough at death's door, Duryodhan ordered Ashwashthama to carry on the war and kill as many as he could.

Know thy enemy.

*Don’t be delusional about who is your real friend or foe.

*By not identifying their enemy early enough, and acting appropriately to contain their enemy, Pandavas suffered for the best part of their life.

*Know your internal weaknesses – they are your enemy from within.  Identifying them early enough is essential if you want to avoid problems in the future.  

Be Realistic.

*If you can not predict the future, don’t make grand promises like Bhishma, Arjun or Karna.

*Yudhisthir was unrealistic in his appraisals about his uncle and cousins.  Emotions clouded his judgement time and again.

*Yudhisthir expected one good turn to deserve another.  He treated Kauravas as his own brother and involved them intimately in the planning and running of the Rajasu-yagna so they could appreciate he had forgiven them for all their past mistakes.  Duryodhan only got more jealous as a result !  Yudhisthir thought seeing Drupadi in distress, Kuru elders will relent.  Yudhisthir thought as a brother he should rescue Duryodhan from certain death.  He forgave Jayadratha for the good his cousin sister.  Yet, all this only rebounded on him.

*Yudhisthir was a terrible gambler.  He did not know when to stop.  As a king and an eldest Pandava, he should have managed his addiction better.

*Karna’s unrealistic estimate about his own prowess let Duryodhan to think he could win the war.  Not only did Kauravas loose, their entire clan got wiped out as a result !

*Arjun’s unrealistic estimates about his own prowess made Yudhisthir gamble on an “easy win” in the battle.

People rarely change their “nature”

*Yudhisthir and Duryodhan, neither could change their innate nature from what it was.  Yudhisthir was expecting Duryodhan to become more like him – kind, forgiving, conciliatory and peace loving.  Living with a fool’s hope of “change of heart” from Duryodhan, Yudhisthir suffered and so did his family.

*Given the opportunity, Karna also could not change his heart / nature and remained on the side of evil, knowing full well that he would lose as a result.

*Duryodhan knew he was courting death, but even at the very end, he could not change his nature and sought the death of all the Pandavas !

Too little, too late.

*Lots of people had the chance to step in and avert the war.  They didn’t – so why blame GOD / destiny etc ?

*Dhrutarastra, Gandhari, Krupacharya, Drona, Pitamaha Bhishma et all had the opportunity to cut the rot that threatened to destroy the Kuru clan.  Till the last minute, they did nothing but appease Duryodhan.  How could they than blame Krushna or anyone else for the War ?

*Kunti came too late to acknowledge Karna.  After his death, what good did it do to anyone to say “he was my son” ?

*What good did it do anyone to know that Yudhishthir had a persistent complaint about Drupadi and his brothers after their death ?  Had he spoken earlier, some of his doubts could have been cleared and he might have had less stressful life.

Childhood games can have deadly results.

*Bhima had the arrogance born of superior strength.  He used to drag the Kaurava brothers around the palace by their hair and make them fall from the trees if they had climbed up to get fruits. 

*Those childish pranks escalated and in adulthood, Kauravas took their revenge by dragging Drupadi by her hair and making Pandavas eat fruits in the jungles for 12 years.  Kauravas were not strong enough to actually attack Bhima, so they took out their impotent anger on Drupadi and Yudhisthir who were easier targets.

Learning without teacher's permission is theft.

*People often say Eklavya and Karna are badly treated in the Mahabharat.  They were both denied best tutors and education opportunities because of their caste.  Fact is, they were denied this because these two sought to learn by stealth. 

*Drona’s school was exclusively for princes of the kuru clan.  It was an elite private school, paid for by Bhishma.  Bhishma pitamaha came personally to offer Dronacharya every comfort the kingdom could offer for teaching the princes.  Even now lesson plans or syllabus taught in one of the elite schools / universities, is considered to be the intellectual property of the institution and its copyright is jealously guarded.  Guru Drona was simply protecting is copy right by making sure Eklavya did not get undue advantage over his paying students who had amply rewarded him and his family for his intellectual capital.

*Parashuram was equally guarded about his knowledge and wanted to make sure only Brahmins learned his secrets.  He did not charge for this, but, it was restricted to a particular set of people.  Its like the several denominational schools across the world.  They “reserve” free places for people of their own sect / denomination and charge “outsiders” exorbitant fees.  Karna lied to get into such an exclusive institution.  Lying is lying.  There are no excuses for it.  It’s a matter or morality, ethics and law.  Karna lied and was punished by a curse that stipulated that he would be unable to remember the correct sequence of discharging his weapons in emergency situation.  It’s a small punishment considering his act of bad faith.

To be continued...

To "listen" to some of these lessons in more detail, click on the link below
Mahabharata katha vids from London August 2012

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