Reasons for Studying Mahabharata


Gandhiji used to say, Ramayan and Mahabharata are a “must study” for all Hindus.  If anyone is truly interested to know about human psyche, they really need to understand these two epics. 

Mahabharata is an epic of magnificent proportion.  Mahabharata is a repository of Indian history, mythology, philosophy, spiritual mysteries, folk lore, social scriptures, laws, jurisprudence, political strategy, economic models, governing models, foreign policies, family structures, educational styles and much much more. 

Mahabharata covers every aspect of human life.  It covers realities of life.  It covers the human frailties, shows character flaws, highlights follies of the great and good of society.  Mahabharata looks at the world as it really is.  It exposes the unalloyed realities of life.  Mahabharata is not fuzzy, soft or built on sandcastles of idealism.  Ideas of “universal love”, “unconditional forgiveness”, “fraternity of humanity” etc are great principles, grand ideals, but more often than not, we find that they do not exist in real life.  Mahabharata explores people’s search for this idealism and how they fare. 

Mahabharata is brutally honest.  It does not hide the ugly truth about even its many great and respected characters.  It tells it “like it is.”  Mahabharata is a mirror.  An honest mirror.  It is a mirror of it's time.  It is a mirror of our Indian society.  Mahabharata reflects all of life as it is.  This reflection may not please everyone.  It may not even seem real.  But, Mahabharata does not look at anything with sentimentality.  It represents everything as it is. 

For this reason, some people do not like the Mahabharata.  They prefer their scriptures to be sanitised, devoid of human frailties, failings and shortcomings. 

They try to see this historical epic in the same light as the Puranas, not realising that this is an itihas – history – and not a scripture.  A “scripture” has its own agenda – to deliver a spiritual message, explain the philosophy of a particular “darshan” and affirm the reader’s faith in a particular deity.  An “itihas”, on the other hand, has to lay out the facts of historical events for all to see – without judgement or prejudice.

Generally, we Hindus seem to prefer “worship” rather than “learn” from our epics.  We have kept both Ramayan and the Mahabharata on such a high pedestal, that we have never bothered to actually read, analyse or critic the contents to see how it can be integrated in our lives.  We have presumed it's contents are so sacred and the events are so far back in the past, that we can’t possibly learn from them.  We bow, we garland, we offer incense and wave arti in front of these great epics, but sadly, we don’t try and learn life's essential lessons from them.

If indeed Hindus had internalised the lessons of Ramayan and Mahabharata, we would not be in the social, political, financial or spiritual mess we are in right now.  For example - If we Hindus understood, accepted and lived by the "Laws of Karma", none of us would be mean to any one – let alone our own family, friends, neighbours and countrymen.  Do we not know the consequences of being mean to even the smallest person from our scriptures ?  Or the tragedies caused by neglecting those who seem weak at a particular point in time ?  Yet, we witness meanness being casually practised in our films, soap operas, neighbourhoods, families and work-places all the time.  Lies being told for the most inconsequential things.  Why ? 

Indeed, if we understood the enormity of our karmic actions, there would be no corruption in India.  Everyone who gives, takes or demands bribes would appreciate the negative consequences of taking bribes will last well beyond a single generation or a single lifetime.  Yet, corruption is rife in India and people pay bribes for everything from rescinding a traffic ticket to winning contracts and even elections ! 
Why ?  Because we have not learned from our itihas or Puranas.

Where is our sense of morality or understanding of how Karma works if as a nation and society we lie, cheat, hurt, bribe others on a regular basis ?  Where is our understanding of the Mahabharata or Ramayan ?  It is simply because we haven’t internalised the learnings of Ramayan and Mahabharata that we do this with such alarming regularity. 

Ramayan has been sanitised over the centuries and rarely do we bother to read the original Valmiki Ramayan.  People prefer to read any one of the 300 plus versions of the original, adopted and filtered through the ideologies and prejudices of later authors.  Most people do not realise how far these later Ramayans differ from the original in their spirit or language or the message.

People don’t like the Mahabharata because it tells it like it is.  The Mahabharata is so vast in its scope and content, most subsequent authors have tackled only parts of the original.  Hence it does not suffer the same fate as Ramayan and we can still see it in its original glory - warts and all. 

Most of us don’t like to see ourselves as we really are. 
Even when we look in the mirror, we focus on our “good side” and blank out the unflattering aspects of ourselves.  Mahabharata reflects our minds and actions and doesn’t let anyone hide from their own selves.  Maybe it is this “brutal honesty” that makes people poke at it from a distance, never quiet daring to approach it too closely, least it revels too much of themselves.

Some people say we should not read the Mahabharata least it causes fights in the family.  
Don’t we witnesses plenty of discord without reading the Mahabharata ?  Fact is, if you really read and learn from the Mahabharata, you will not have any fights in the family.  Having internalised its learnings, you will realise when people are making a fool of you.  You will realise the consequences of harvesting hate.  You will realise that stealing only means having to return the original with interest to its owner.  You will realise the power of unity.  You will appreciate the beauty of cohesion – in the family, society and nation.  You will understand the importance of divine guidance in leading a successful life.

Mahabharata is a must read because it is a mirror for us to evaluate ourselves and see where we are being reflected in its myriad characters.  If we don’t like what we see in the mirror, there is no point in blaming the mirror or throwing it away, that is not a credible solution.  Ideally, we should change ourselves to make and reflect those values and characteristics we do like in the Mahabharata. 

Understand the Mahabharata and you will understand the complexity of “relationships”.
Understand the Mahabharata and you will understand why and how people play subtle mind games with you.
Understand the Mahabharata and you will understand the bigger picture so you can rise above such pettyness.
Understand the Mahabharata and you will understand human society.
Understand the Mahabharata and you will understand yourself.
Understand the Mahabharata and you will discover the purpose of your life. 


© Bhagwat Shahah   
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