From the most knowledgeable and powerful to the very ordinary man and woman, we all have the vulnerablities resulting from uncontrolled desires, as we see with the players of the great epic of Mahabharta.
What is the way out? Who are the role models?
The ultimate goal of every human being is evolve, to touch the pinnacle of excellence but often the world overpowers the best of us and leads us to the trials and tribulations of life. Yet, it is amazing how the simplest of people are at times able to cope better than other who might have greater capacity.
The authors explore the teachings of the Mahabharta as a commentary on 'life is as is', without any value judgements or complicated theories and hypotheses.
Kavita A. Sharma. President of South Asia University, a Fulbright scholar, is a well published author, and has several books to her credit, including, Windmills of the Mind, Queens of Mahabharata, Brids Beasts, Men and Nature in Mahabharata, Internationalization of Higher Education, Sixty Years of the University Grants Commission, Hindu College, Delhi –A People's Movement, National University of Educational Planning and Administration, and Perspectives in India Educations.
Indu Ramchandani is a freelance editorial consultant after having worked as the South Asia Editor –in- cheif for Encyclopedia Britannica. Indu produces and publishes the Understanding Vedanta lecture Series based on the study of the Scriptures with Pravajika Vivekaprana, and has published several articles on Hindu Philosophy.
One of India's two great epics, the Mahabharta, is the longest epic poem ever written, consisting in its full version of overa hundred thousand verses of two lines each, making a total of 1.8 million words. It is four times the length of the Ramayana and ten times the length of the two great Greek, epics the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. This huge compendium in its eighteen chapters covers a wide spectrum of history, philosphy, mythology, sociology and numerous stories culminating in the cataclysmic fraticidal eighteen –day war between two branches of the Kuru Dynasty –the Pandavas and th Kauravas in which the entire martial races of North India were destroyed, marking the end of the Dwapara Yuga and the beginning of the present Kaliuga.
Within the vast sweep of the Mahabharta there shines, of course, the 700 –verses Bhagavad Gita, the immortal dialogue between Sri Krishna & Arjuna, which is one of the world's great scriptures and the source of gems and treasures such as the Nal –Damyanti story which is the subject of a beautiful set of Pahari paintings in my museum in Jammu.
To write a new book on the Mahabharta requires a combination of courage, audacity, ability and perseverance, all of which Prof. Kavita Sharma and her co –author, Indu Ramchandani, have displayed in full measure, 'They have gone to great lengths to present the Mahabharta in five chapters which cover the key philosphical and historical events of the great personalities whom we came across, such as Markandeya, Bhisma, Vidur, Sage Vyasa, among others, and of course Sri Krishna himself. I warmly congratulate the authors for having undertaken this risk which must have required several years of sustained work. Their book present this great epic with an interesting perspective to a whole new generation of readers in India and abroad in compact and coherent language.
The authors have focused on Yudhishthira and the sages, who impact the teachings. Why Yudhisthira? Because he is the king –to –be. The entire epic of the family feud and the war are connected with the throne of Hastinapura, and Yudhisthira's physical, mental, and spiritual journey through it is the focus hers as he imbiles the teaching imparted to prepare him for the vital role he needs to play.
I must here express my personal view on the Mahabharta which I have held for many years. Because of my name, I have, from childhood, been fascinated by the noble Karna, the tragic hero of the Mahabharta. By far the greatest warrior of his time, even supressing Arjuna, he faced rejection and humiliation from his very birth. Being born before wedlock, his mother Kunti placed him in a basket and floated him down the river where a charioteer couple Adhiratha and Radha found him and raised him as their son. Despite his extraordinary physical characterstic of a golden armour, he was never accepted because he ws looked down upon as belonging to a low caste. Draupadi refused to let him participate in her swayamvara because he was not a khatriya; Parshurama after tutoring him ultimately cursed him when he found that he was not a Brahmin; and the great Devraj Indra himself –Arjuna's putative father –himself and tricked the famously genrous Karna into giving away his golden armour.
When the war was about to begin, Sri Krishna realized that without neutralizing Karna the Pandavas could never win. Karna, thus, becomes a pivotal figure in the whole epic. Krishna takes him aside and reveals his true identity as Kunti's eldest son, and beseeches him to accept his birthright and become king which would have been accepted both by the Pandavas and Kauravas. However, such was his nobility of character that he declined, saying that Duryodhan had honoured him when he was humilited by anointing as King of Anga, and that whatever comes he would not let down his friend. Even Kunti, after remaining silent for all these years, met Karna on the eve of the final battle and tried to play on his emotions. Karna replied by saying that he will spare the four other sons of Kunti and would only fight one –on –one, with Arjuna. Despite all this, when his chariot got struck's in the mud and he climbed down to pull up the wheel that, at Sri Krishna's insistence, a relucant Arjuna killed him against all canons of warfare and dharma. Indeed, although Kurukshetra is known as the dharmakshetra, the field of righteousness, all the main Kaurva warriors were killed by treachary and deceit –Bhisma Dronacharya, Jaidrath, Durodhana and Karna himself. In the story of Karna we have a combination of social prejudice, moral, ambiguity and treachery that pervades the entire epic.
This epic remains a massive memory in our cultural tradition and has impacted not only India but many countries in South and South East Asia. In the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia for example, the largest religious structure in the world, the stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharta are beautifully engraved on the walls. This immortal epic will always remain a major element in our colective memory, and I commend this work to all those interested in Indian culture in the country and around the world.
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