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Friday, May 17, 2013

Significance of the Mahabharata


Significance of the Mahabharata
            The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are the basis of Indian culture. These texts are gems of Sanskrit literature and are a goldmine of Indian literature. In the form in which it survives today, it is the world’s longest poem and indeed its longest literary work. It containing one lac verses is several times……. Length of the Bible and is about eight times longer than the Iliad and the Odyssey put together.  Fdwing Arnold appreciates it in the following words:“An original anterior to writing, anterior to Puranic theology,  anterior to Homer, perhaps old muses.”

Literary significance

            The Mahabharata is an epic. Hence it is of great importance form the point of view of literature. All poets have more or less depended on it and drawn inspiration from it. Perhaps there is no poet in Sanskrit literature who has not taken any help from the Mahabharata. Indeed, its lucidity has invited the attention of the poets. Hence later literary figures have been greatly influenced by the Mahabharata. For all these qualities, the Mahabharata has become the most reliable of epics.
            The Mahabharata is an epic in the true sense. It maintains all the traits and possesses all characters that an epic should contain. Consequent upon this, we have said that so many good poets in India have made their names renowned by composing wonderful Kavya by resorting to this great Kavya.

An encyclopedia
            The Mahabharata is the encyclopedia of that age, but it is not the collection of day factual statements like our modern encyclopedia. In it we find all the knowledge and science of those far-off days. It contains the principles of religion, moral and ethical science, laws and canons of life, worldly stories, mythological and legendary fables, popular beliefs, customs and social practices, doctrines about human knowledge and gospels of life.
            It contains the methods and modes of living, family happiness as well as one’s spiritual aspirations. One should be astonished to find all these combined together in a single text. Indeed, it is gigantic text full of descriptions, fables, codes of conducts, religion and culture.
            A Western scholar Dr. Winternitz says about the significance of the Mahabharata as: “we find, then, in this the most remarkable of all literary productions side by side and intermingled, warlike heroic songs with highly colored descriptions of bloody battle scenes; pious priestly poetry, with dissertations which are often tedious enough, upon philosophy, religion and war; and mild ascetic poetry full of edifying wisdom and full of love overflowing towards man and beasts.” So we can safely say that it is an encyclopedia, a national history and a socio-religious document of that age.   

Historical significance
            The Mahabharata is significant historically also. This provides mainly the history of Chandravanshi kings, the warrior princes called the Pandavas and the Kauravas. These were two branches of the royal clan of the kurus who lived in northern India thousands of years ago.
            The Mahabharata describes not only the history of the Pandavas and the kauravas, but also the history of the contemporary Janapada also. Hence it is the most sacred scripture of the Hindus and a national history of those far-off days.

Cultural significance 
            The Mahabharata is the most important of books from India’s cultural point of view. The genuine portrait of culture and civilization, which the Mahabharata provides is not seen anywhere else.
            In the Mahabharata, the culture and cultivation of good qualities and behavior were placed in a high position in social life.
            The real cultural significance or the Mahabharata is due to the Bhagwad Gita. The Gita is the essence of the Mahabharata and the centre of devotion of the Indians.
            Moreover, the Mahabharata is a combination of many different cultures. On the one hand it gives the code of conduct for the ruler and on the other it provides a way for salvation. It is a happy  co-ordination of Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga. The Mahabharata has beautiful ascertainment of the discipline of the fours Varnas. Moreover,  Purushartha Chatushtaya has been described in a very noble manner. Almost all subjects and all kinds of knowledge have been included in the enormous compendium of the Mahabharata. Vyasa himself has claimed:  “Whatever is available hereis found nowhere else”

Religious significance 
            In the Mahabharata may be found nearly every branch of religion knowledge. In India, it is often called “the fifth Veda” Vyasa with his extraordinary divine power acquired by strict celibacy and asceticism compiled the Vedas in four volumes. Besides this, he composed this great text with the extended thoughts of the Vedas. In that sense, it is called the fifth Veda.
            The Mahabharata has described in nice details of the places of pilgrimages in India. The text makes us believe that we have been acquainted with these sacred places. These places have been intimately linked with the Hindu religion. The divinity of goods is closely related with these places.
             An Important trait in the Mahabharata is the dealing of Dharma and Adharma. Along with the flow of the main plot these two aspects of human life have been dealt with very comprehensively and with all their complexities. Their traits and qualities have been described in minutest details conveying all aspects – religious, moral, ethical, political and so on. Its subject matter includes the religious attitudes of Hinduism. We do not find a single chapter in the Mahabharata wherein the question ofDharma has not been discussed.

Social significance 
The Mahabharata is a book of social science. It practically covers all aspects of social life. The fine picture of the then society has been visualized in it, in the minutest detail. The social problems relating to morality, ethics, education, sex and psychological views and soon have been discussed elaborately.

Political Significance
            The Mahabharata is both economical and political science. Both of them have been discussedand analyzed. In Shanti Parva the religions of a king have been nicely and in detail described.  
            It is really a surprise to observe the high thinking powers about political and economical sciences of the people of those days. The war tactics and strategy as we find in the Mahabharata are unique in nature and character.
            It has practical demonstrations of awareness to one’s rights, giving away the feeling of frailty in women; it also provides solutions to all around, ascertainment of duties of a sovereign and the four Varnas in Hindu mythology.

Geographical significance
            It is a geographical science also. In Vana Parva, we find a clear indication that the poet had an extensive and thorough knowledge of topography of the entire Bharata. Herein, we see the names of rivers, mountains, lakes and places of pilgrimages. We have to admit to the extensive geographical knowledge of the people in those days.

            In conclusion, we can say that the Mahabharata is a very significant epic from many points of view. Mr. Winternitz says about the style of the Mahabharata as:
             “But in this jungle of poetry, which scholarship has only just begun to clear, there shoots forth much true and genuine poetry, hidden by the wild undergrowth. Out of the unshapely mass shine out of the most precious blossoms of immortal poetic art and profound wisdom.