Mahabharata is the longest epic poem that was ever written (100,000 verses). Vyasa, himself a character in the epic, composed the Mahabharata in the 4th century BCE, or probably even earlier. The text contains the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita in the form of a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna. Mahabharata is the story of a family feud for the throne of Hastinapur that ultimately leads to a gruesome war. The narrative of Draupadi emerges centrally to the justification of war. The Mahabharata is a reflection of the truth that man’s aspiration for unity, peace, and harmony is merely a utopian dream. On a simplistic level, the Mahabharata is a story of good (the Pandavas) versus evil (the Kauravas). Dig deep, and you will discover that it is a tale of imperfect humans and their struggle to rise above themselves. Bhishma is the eldest stalwart and statesman of the kingdom. Despite being an expert on ethics, the reader can see him brood over the complexity of morals, in many instances. In the case of Draupadi’s humiliation, he fails to give a clear verdict. The Pandavas are noble and courageous warriors. And yet, they fall prey to the temptation of gambling. They pawn their kingdom, themselves, and their wife as mere objects of wealth. Arjuna, the most accomplished warrior, breaks down in the face of a moral crisis.
Dhritarashtra and his sons are victims of greed and jealousy. Draupadi is the strong, dignified woman of substance. However, she rejects Karna merely on the grounds of caste. Even Krishna, who is an incarnation of God, plays a morally ambiguous role, at times. A significant element of the Mahabharata is the role of ‘karma.’ Krishna emphasizes the fact that no event in the universe is sporadic. Every change is a reaction to a past deed. While a man is free to act according to his will, he is not free from the consequences of his actions. Somewhere in the complex discourse of the epic, lies the elusive concept of ‘dharma.’ This Sanskrit word is hard to translate into another language. While attempting to do so, one runs the risk of losing its essence. The literal meaning of dharma is “that which holds,” but the implications are numerous. Dharma embodies several concepts. It refers to the path of righteousness, a sense of duty, a process of achieving harmony, or the eternal law of the universe. According to the Mahabharata, the concept of dharma is not absolute. It is a dynamic set of principles. It is relative to the situation. It also relates to the role that an individual plays in the cosmic concert. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that it is the duty of a Kshatriya (warrior) to brave the challenges of war. It would be inappropriate for a soldier to retreat when he is in the line of fire. As Arjuna stands on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, his only dharma is, to fight a righteous war.
The story of ‘Mahabharata’ shows how money and property govern human relationships and even demolish them. The story is set around Hastinapur, a city in Uttar Pradesh, India. There is a considerable scrimmage for the throne of Hastinapur between two brothers born to Vichitravrya, Pandu and Dhritrashtra. Dhritrashtra who was born blind always suffered from inferiority complex and grows up to be a malicious and vindictive man. On the other hand, Pandu, a generous and liberal man qualifies to become the king. He marries Kunti but is unfortunately cursed by a sage that he will die if he consummated his marriage. Therefore, he chooses to leave the kingdom to Dhritrashtra and go into the forest along with his two wives. Dhritrashtra marries Gandhari and gives birth to hundred sons called Kauravas.
Years ago, pleased with Kunti’s services Durvasa gave her a mantra by the virtue of which she could ask for anything and that would appear in front of her in human form. Curious Kunti decided to test the mantra and called Sun god who appeared in front of her only to leave unwedded Kunti with a son named Karna. Karna was set afloat in a river by his mother, Kunti. Kunti uses the mantra again into the forest seeing her agonized husband and gives birth to Yudhisthira, Bhima and Arjun. She passed on her divine energy to the second wife of Pandu, Madri who became a mother of Nakul and Sehdeva later. Hence the five brothers came to be known as Pandavas. Aroused by passion, Pandu and Madri consummated their marriage and hence Pandu died. Kunti returns to Hastinapur after regretful Madri burns herself. There she finds that Kauravas have grown up and Shakuni, Gandhari’s brother resides with them. Pandavas who are the rightful heirs to the throne are not welcomed in Hastinapur. Duryodhana, the eldest of Kauravas despises the Pandavas and plans death for them along with his venomous uncle, Shakuni. They decide to kill the brothers along with their mother in a palace made of wax specially designed by Shakuni but fortunately the quick-witted Pandavas manage to escape the trap. They hide into the forest where Arjuna marries Draupadi and Bhima marries Hidimba.
Being unaware of what Arjuna has won, Kunti simply asks him to share his victory among other brothers. Hence Kunti became a common wife of the five brothers. After escaping a number of traps laid by the Kauravas the five brother return to Hastinapur to claim half of the kingdom. They move to Khandavprastha, later re-named Indraprastha.
Duryodhan vows to demean Draupadi after being insulted by her. Manipulative Shakuni takes advantage out of the Yudhisthira’s weakness of gambling and invites the Pandavas for a game. He tricks them into gambling away all their entire kingdom, wealth and their common wife, Draupadi. While Duryodhana tries to disrobe her, Lord Krishna comes and saves her honor. The elders of the court sent the Pandavas to exile for twelve years, in addition to one year incognito.
After thirteen years, Pandavas come back to claim their kingdom to which Kauravas completely refused. This resulted in the biggest war ever fought – The Kurukshetra War. Every king had to choose sides. Duryodhan was on the side of Lord Krishna’s army while Pandavas were on the side of Kishanji. The people saw terror all around. The two mothers, Kunti and Gandhari blessed their sons with celestial weapons. The war lasted eighteen days after going through the death of Bhishma, Abhimanyu, Dushasana, Drona, Karna and Duryodhana. After a lot of chaos and bloodshed, the war ended with the kingship of Yudhisthira. Dharma won inviting Yudhisthira, the lone survivor to enter the heaven as a mortal.
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