Reflections From The Mahabharata Jeremy Bartel The Mahabharata is one long detailed epic, it is one of the oldest books the world has. However The Mahabharata is more than just collection of verses and poems, it illustrates beliefs and religious views of this ancient society. Some of the major themes are,ethics of right and wrong,and wrestling with ones place and how to act accordingly in their caste system,and of course at the end trying to figure what our purpose is in life not just individually but universally.
All of these examples suggests and leads one to believe without a doubt that the epic was written with intent of reflecting on the social, and religious beliefs at that time. So how does the Mahabharata reflect on the religious and social values of this ancient society that created it? The Mahabharata has one overarching theme that sums up the whole epic, that being the theme of fulfilling your sacred duty. This is known throughout the hindu culture as dharma, and according to their law everyone is assigned to a role within the caste system.
The Mahabharata is all about achieving your sacred duty, or suffering the consequences of failing to accomplish your task. One specific example of this is when Arjuna is struggling with attacking and killing who he considers close friends and family during the war. However Krishna is there remind him that it is his dharma to carry out his role as a warrior. Most of the main characters belong to this warrior caste and all must carry out their duties of honor and bravery in accordance to that caste.
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This theme of dharma goes way beyond just the book but it is a main focal point in hindu religion and thinking. Which most likely why it was such a huge factor in the book, because to the people who created this book that was highest goal to achieve. During this great speech given to Arjuna by Krishna he discusses what it means to seek renunciation, and relinquishment. Krishna tells Arjuna that renunciation is “giving up those works which are prompted by desire. ” Krishna also explains what is meant by relinquishment, which means “the abandonment of fruits of all works. The message he is teaching Arjuna goes back to his role or duties within his caste. Arjuna must not think that he is destroying anyone or killing them but simply sending them to heaven, because every soul is immortal and simply takes a new form. So because of this Arjuna must rise up and fulfill his Ksatriya or warrior role and destroy his enemies because that his is caste in life. These ideals are very similar to that of the hindu religion in regards of reincarnation, where a soul is immortal and does not perish but comes back to take a different form in a new caste.
Evidence like this only suggests that religion was a major factor in writing this epic, and was the main themes of the hindu religion are seen as main themes throughout this composition of literature. The other major evidence that points towards this text reflecting the religious and social values of the society that created it was the question of purpose in life after the war. Once the war was over Yudhishthira, decides that he does not want to rule over this land because of all the violence and losses of men.
He is saddened at the thought of so many dead he says “I caused the destruction of my kinsman and the cause of extermination of my own race. ” The message of duty completing ones sacred duty is heard again, this time it is Bhima who is reassuring the king that his deeds were necessary. This idea dharma is illustrated yet again which shows just how important it is to the people who created this story. They would not have continually brought up the cultural belief of dharma if it was not an integral part of their society and religious beliefs.
To seek a purification for all his sins Yudhishthira performs a sacrifice of a horse, which would purge him of all his wrongdoings. Once this ceremony was over did he go back into the city to rule. This part of the Mahabharata is a lot like the vedas we discussed in class which was a normal practice of the people who were living in this time period. Vedas were ritual sacrifices used for reasons much like that of Yudhishthira to purify oneself and it yet again more proof that the Mahabharata reflects greatly on social and religious values of that society.
Many years go by and after the death of other characters Yudhishthira embarks on an asceticism journey which after 36 years leads him to the gates of heaven. The group he began with as all perished along the way, all except his dog who makes it to the top of the mountain with him. Once at the gate he must past a series of tests, the first being he can only enter heaven if he leaves the dog. He refuses however because the dog was so faithful throughout his journey, he passes that test because the dog was the god Dharma in disguise. The next one he learns his family is in hell and he chooses to join his loved ones in hell, e passes that last test and his allowed into heaven with his loved ones. This idea of passing tests also is evidence for the case that the Mahabharata used the religious and social values of the ancient society, because in that cultural ones actions whether good or bad determined if one was to make it to heaven. Heave was also not a permanent place because of the never ending cycle of life. All of these themes and examples are solid evidence in supporting the claim that the Mahabharata was in fact very reflective of religious and social culture and values of the ancient people that wrote the epic.
Time and time again there is evidence sprinkled throughout the entire book that shows the inspiration of the idea for this book, came directly from the ideas and beliefs that were held with the most regard back in those days. Which were fulfilling your dharma, and if you live within your caste system then by that nature you have done good deeds and are worthy of heaven reward. -------------------------------------------- [ 1 ]. Narasimhan, Mahabharata,1997),124 [ 2 ]. Narasimhan, Mahabharata,1997), 124 [ 4 ]. Narasimhan, Mahabharata,1997),194 [ 3 ]. Narasimhan, Mahabharata, 1997, 190 [ 5 ]. Narasimhan, Mahabharata,1997),212
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