I got it the book during our trip to India. I was original searching for Ramayana (I’ve seen plays about it many times, and read the bridged story in high school, hence the interest in re-reading it again) but due to unavailability, I ended up buying this. I wanted a book for souvenir, that’s why.
Firstly, it’s supposed to be the longest Sanskrit epic, said to be four times longer than Ramayana. Epic is a long poem, typically derived from oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of a heroic or legendary figures or a history of.
Well what is Mahabharata about? I’m sure there are different versions because it has been re-told many times but the original authorship of it was attributed to Sage Vyasa.
The first section of the book stated that it was god Ganesha who, at the request of Vyasa, wrote down the text to Vyasa’s dictation. Ganesha is said to have agreed to write it only on condition that Vyasa never pause in his recitation. Vyasa agrees on condition that Ganesha takes the time to understand what was said before writing it down.
Subsequent chapters stated about the innumerable ancestors of the main characters which made it very complicated (but challenging) to read. I had to go back and re-read to remember who is who.
Behind the Book is a great summary of the entire story.
Anyway, the main characters included Krishna, the 5 Pandavas and the Kauravas clan. After the Pandavas gambled their entire life and kingdom away to the Kauravas, they exiled themselves to the forest for 13years. During those times that they were in the forest, they learned about what really is important in life. They learned to be humble because of the tests they went through. Within the period, their body, mind and spirits were enriched. The Kauravas however, became even more selfish, greedy and hungry of their territory and power.
After the exile, the Pandavas came back with their vengeance and that’s when the War began. A lot of people died including most of the main characters, their children and the innocents.The Pandavas, with the help of Krishna, won over the Kauravas and claimed back the kingdom that was supposed to be theirs anyway.
The eldest Pandava, Yudhishtira, became the king. Full of guilt, he thought he didn’t deserve to be one, but Krishna, his brothers and the people insisted otherwise hence, he accepted the throne.
Eventually, the Pandavas decided to renounce the world and walked to heaven or Swarga, where all desires are fulfilled. Yudhistira’s brothers fell while walking and because, they’re supposed to renounce all attachments from the earth, he didn’t offer any help to them when they fell. He was the only one to reach the Swarga.
Upon reaching, he saw Kauravas in there and he wondered why were they there while his brothers were not, which meant he’s still unable to really detach himself to the world, the connections and his prejudices about enemies and family, hatred and love, but eventually after some explanations from the Gods, he decided to fully renounce all these earthly feelings, went to bathe at Ganga river and eventually renewed and humbled himself.
The story ended not just with the victory of the Pandavas over the Kauravas but with Yudhsitra’s triumph over himself, his spiritual victor or Jaya.
The epic also focused on dharma, and adharma which was believed not just to affect one person in one lifetime. As long as there’s adharma, one would continuously be reborn and get punished for it, until dharma’s achieved.
It was difficult to read but I enjoyed every minute of it. To understand it better, I decided to watch the series with sub titles as well and I shall write about that too, once finished, I’m going a bit slow (now 18 out of I think 90+ episodes).
Here are my favourite quotations from the book;
“..the point of existence in this dynamic, ever-changing world then was not to aspire or achieve, but to introspect.” Pg xi
“Who decides what justice is? How does one end this unending spiral of revenge where everyone believes they are right and their opponents are wrong?” pg 6
Interesting about Bhishma’s vow not to marry and have children to satisfy his father’s longing for one woman; they have a name for the complex: “…YAYATI COMPLEX- glorification of the son who sacrifices his own happiness for the sake of his father.” Pg-34
Interesting about how women were treated at that time: “ They could only have children by their husband and if their husbands were unable to give them children, they could go to men chosen by their husbands. Children borne by the wife belonged to the husband whether he fathered them or not.” Pg 47
Other interesting facts back then:
“Shvetaketu is believed to be the fountainhead of patriarchy. Before, he introduced the law of marriage, women had full sexual freedom. In fact, a woman could go to any man and a man who refused her was deemed a eunuch. This freedom was allowed because child birth was considered a prime importance to facilitate the re-entry of forefathers into the land of the living. Shvetaketu insisted on fidelity from women so that all children knew who their biological fathers were. If a man could not father children because he was impotent, sterile or dead, the woman was allowed to go to other men, the permission of her husband or his family.” Pg 48
“As per some Vedic marriage rites, a woman is first given in marriage to the romantic moon-god, Chandra, then to the highly sensual Gandharva , named Vishwavasu, then to the fire-God named Agni, who cleanses and purifies all things, and finally to her human husband. Thus, the ‘four men’ quota is exhausted (more than four, they’re considered a whore). Clearly, this was an attempt of society to prevent Hindu women from remarrying.”48
“Some scholars believe that even the tale of Kunti’s premarital tryst with Surya is an attempt to hide the truth, that she was asked by her father to satisfy all the needs of the sage Durvasa in keeping with the laws of hospitality. The Mahabharata has at least two tales that refers to sex hospitality, according to which a guest was allowed access to the host’s wife or daughter for pleasure. Even Satvayati’s tryst with Parasara on the boat is interpreted sometimes as a case of sex hospitality. This practice, once glorified, came to be frowned upon the passage of time.” Pg 51 Of course!
“When I die, eat my flesh and you will be blessed with great knowledge. That shall be your true inheritance.” Pg 53 (Yuck)
“Vyasa portrays Arjuna as a highly insecure and competitive youth. Ekalavya’s cut thumb mocks his position as the greatest archer in the world. Through the tale Vyasa demonstrates how greatness need not be achieved by being better than others, it can also be achieved by pulling down others who are better.” Pg 65 (Disgusting humans)
“Since the Mahabharata talks about cousins who divide the family property between themselves, it is never read inside a traditional Hindu household. In fact, it is considered inauspicious. People prefer Ramayana where brothers selflessly surrendered to each other.” Pg 111
“…Strength alone is not enough in this world; divine grace is needed.” Pg 123
“…Civilization comes into when the small fish is rescued from the big fish; civilization comes to an end when the fish keeps growing bigger than its pond.” Pg 141
“The notion of the measuring scale is critical in Hindu thought. The value of an object depends on the scale being followed. And since all scales are man-made, all values are artificial. Thus, all opinions ultimately are delusions, based on man-made measuring scale.” Pg 168 (my favourite )
“…Vyasa thus shows how confrontation and conflict does not necessarily happen when one is right and the other is wrong; it can happen simply because two people follow different value systems.”pg 170
“…Travel, realized the wise men, was an important way to widen the outlook of otherwise inward-looking communities.” Pg 175
From Yaksha’s (the one asking) question and answer conversation with Yudhishtira (answering) at the pond. Here are my favourite lines; pg 190-191
Q: When is a man who is alive considered to be dead?
A: When he does not share his wealth with Gods,guests, servants, animals and anscestors.
Q: What measures a man?
Q: What is forgiveness?
A: Enduring the worst of enemies.
Q; What when renounced makes one wealthy?
Q: What is the most amazing thing about the world?
A: Everyday creature die, yet the rest live as if immortal.
Q: How does one know the true path?
A: Not through arguments- they never reach a conclusion; not from teachers- they can only give their opinions; to know the true path one must, in silence and solitude, reflect on one’s own life.”
“…He realized talking bravely does not make one brave.” Pg 207
“…Insecure men makes terrible warriors.” Pg 222
“…Awareness of death generates fear. It makes the intellect feel invalidated and worthless. From fear is born the ego. The ego contaminates the mind to comfort the intellect. It focuses on events and memories and desires that validate its existence and make it feel immortal and powerful. It shuns all that makes it feel worthless and mortal.” Pg 234
“…the enlightened are therefore always at peace while the rest are constantly restless and insecure.” Pg 234
Just crazy “..If you are truly my son, you should not have any hesitation in allowing yourself to be sacrificed to Kali, said Arjuna.
Iravan realized that he couldn’t say no. ‘But I have one condition’ he said ‘let me not die a virgin. Let me have a wife who will weep for me when I die.” – pg 248
“Once again, Krishna came to Arjuna’s rescue. ‘You can kill yourself physically by harming your body or intellectually by praising yourself. For when a man praises himself, it is intellectual suicide.’” – pg 272
“Vidura spopke solemnly to his nephew, ‘Everybody dies-some suddenly, soe slowly, some painfully, some peacefully. No one can escape death. The point is to make the most of life-enjoy it, celebrate it, learn from it, make sense of it, share it with fellow human beings-so that when death finally comes, it will not be a terrible thing.” – pg 308
“…In empathy, there is wisdom.” Pg 309
“His thirst quenched, Bhishma told Yudhistira, ‘Life is like a river. You can struggle to change its course but ultimately it will go its own way. Bathe in it, drink it, be refreshed by it, share it wiyh everyone, but never fight it, never be swept away by its flow and never get attached to it. Observe it. Learn from it.’” – pg 310
“Arjuna finally understood the message given to him by God. Life would continue, with joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies rising and falling like the waves of the sea. It was up to him to respond wisely, enjoy simple pleasures unshaken by the inevitable endless turmoil of the world.”- pg 332
“That conflict comes from rage, rage comes from fear, and fear comes from lack of faith. That lack of faith which corrupted the Kauravas continued to lurk in the minds of the Pandavas. It had to be purged.” – pg 343
***it’s one of those stories that can change one’s life…it moved me.=)