The Mahabharata: Story of A Great Epic

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      The great Indian epic is one of the longest pieces of literature of all time, but its exhausting length has not stopped it from being a pivotal literary text in the formation of Hindu identity. Narrated by the sage Vyasa, the 220,000 line poem follows a human incarnation of the god Vishnu as two dynasties fight for supremacy in the mythical Elephant City Hastinapur. Not only does the poem itself contain another seminal Hindu text, The Bhagavad Gita, but its panoramic view of everything from spirituality to morality have had an impact on Indian society for thousands of years.

      The entire story of The Mahabharata is an explanation of how our world, the world of the Kali Yuga, came into being, and how things got to be as bad as they are. The Ramayana has its share of suffering and even betrayal, but nothing to match the relentless hatred and vengeance of the Mahabharata. The culmination of the Mahabharata is the Battle of Kurukshetra when two bands of brothers, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, the sons of two brothers and thus cousins to one another, fight each other to death, brutally and cruelly, until the entire race is almost wiped out.

      The five sons of Pandu, the Pandavas, are the heroes of the story. The eldest is King Yudhishthira. Next is Bhima, an enormously strong fighter with equally enormous appetites. After Bhima is Arjuna, the greatest of the warriors and also the companion of Krishna. The last two are twins, Nakula and Sahadeva. These five brothers share one wife, Draupadi. She became the wife of all five of them by accident. The enemies of the Pandavas are the Kauravas, who are the sons of Pandus brother, Dhritarashtra. Although Dhritarashtra is still alive, he cannot manage to restrain his son Duryodhana, who bitterly resents the achievements of his cousins, the Pandavas. Duryodhana arranges challenge Yudhishthira to a game of dice, and Yudhishthira everything away, even himself. The Pandavas have to go into exile, when they return they engage the Kauravas in battle. Krishna fights on the side of the Pandavas, and serves as Arjuna’s charioteer. The famous Song of the Lord, or Bhagavad Gita, is actually a book within the Mahabharata, as the battle of Kurukshetra begins. When Arjuna faces his cousins on the field of battle, he despairs and sinks down, unable to fight. The Bhagavad Gita contains the words that Krishna spoke to Arjuna at that moment.

      The Pandavas do win the battle. Duryodhana is killed, and the Kaurava armies are wiped out. But it is hardly a happy ending. Yudhishthira becomes king, but the world is forever changed by the battle’s violence. As The Iliad ends with the funeral of the Trojan hero Hector, a moment which is utterly bleak and sad, Mahabharata ends with funeral of the Kauravas. There are many truths that are learned in the end, but the victory, such as it is, comes at a terrible price.

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