The Mahabharata – Separating a few myths from reality..

The Mahabharata (for the uninitiated) is a Hindu epic. I was initiated into reading this by my Sanskrit teacher in Secondary school. I had written about him and the basics of the story here. Studying under him was a privilege and he coaxed me to buy the 849 page book by Kamala Subramaniam.

(And no.. you can’t look inside.. haha)

Since buying the book, I’ve read it more than 20 times and every read has led to more learnings. As I’m getting older and wiser(hopefully!), I’m finding myself consciously trying to separate the myth from what could have been reality. Here are a few observations –

-> There is a lot of talk of ‘boons‘. Boons were given by Gods(great men), Kings (also great men) – all men and women of power basically. What I’ve realized is that for a large parts, these boons were simply promises which involved enormous amount of integrity for the person giving the boon.

For example, one boon involved a hero on the antagonist side promising not to kill 4 others on the other side in combat. This boon could have made the difference between winning and losing but that’s where the integrity i.e. walking the talk comes in.

-> Great men were characterized to a large extent by just one thing – their ability to make and keep promises. The greatest were those who never swerved from righteousness..

-> The greatest archer in the world, Arjuna, was, in reality, not the greatest archer in the world. There were others who were superior in the art and many others who were far more talented. But, he became great thanks to relentless practice, meditation and honing of the skill. He was also the ideal student, with extreme devotion to his teacher and incredibly focussed.

Great lesson.. and a nice application of Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule to becoming an expert. :)

-> There is a lot, lot about the choice between right and easy. At every point, the protagonists make the right choice and one such choice involved them spending 13 years as forest dwellers despite the fact that being kings were their birthright.

-> Divinity was characterized by valor and righteousness – this is understandable.

-> The role of women in determining the play of events can never be underestimated enough. Even during those days of seeming difference in social stature (given the lack of women’s rights movements etc. ;)), the reason the events played were thanks to the influence of important women at every stage..

-> ‘Any man can withstand adversity. If you want to test a person, give him power
It was power that drove the massive war that was fought..

-> The fact that intrigued me was the losing side was actually much stronger than the winning side. However, it was a combination of the mightiest of heroes who were fighting on the side thanks to circumstances, lack of adherence to a moral code and a combination of circumstances that led to their defeat.

Interesting.. :)