Mahâ means great, and Bhârata means the descendants of Bharata, from whom India has derived its name, Bhârata. Mahabharata means Great India, or the story of the great descendants of Bharata. This is the most renowned epic of India, is the only book of its kind in the whole world. It contains countless stories besides the main episode-the Mahabharata-which teach moral lessons or illustrate distinguishing characteristics of the ancients of India. Mahabharata the very mention of the name gives a thrill of holy ideas. It contains the essence of all scriptures. It contains the history of ancient India and all the details of its political, social and religious life. It is an encyclopedia of ethics, knowledge, politics, religion, philosophy and Dharma. If you cannot find anything here, you cannot find it anywhere else. It contains one hundred thousand verses.
After the culmination of the Kurukshetra war and the coronation of Dharmaraj (Yudhishthira), Sage Veda Vyasa decided to write a book on the history of the Kauravs and Pandavs. He accomplished the task of writing a holy text in Badari on the banks of the river Bhagirathi situated close to the Nara-Narayan mountains. The Mahabharat has been glorified as the ‘fifth Veda’ meaning that from the historical point of view the greatness of the Mahabharat is second only to the Vedas.
Mahabharata through the eyes of Bhismacharya
There was once a king named Santanu, a descendent of king Dushyanta. He was the ruler of Hastinapura. One day he met a beautiful lady on the bank of the Ganga. He fell in love with her and asked her to accept him as her husband. She was holy Ganga or Bhagirathi herself who had assumed the form of an ordinary woman. Santanu married Ganga with great pomp and éclat. Ganga Devi brought forth eight beautiful sons; but as regards the first seven, as soon as they were born, they were thrown into the river by herself. She said to her husband, “This is for your good”. When Ganga wished to throw the eighth child in the river, Santanu said, “O Ganga! Do not kill this child.
Ganga replied, “I will certainly save this child. I will act in accordance with your request. I will train him in the best possible manner to the best of my abilities and return him to you as soon as he gets sufficiently old. I must leave you now according to our agreement. So, good-bye!”. Ganga left the king taking the child with her.
After few years, One day the king was walking along the bank of the Ganga in the evening, he found out that a handsome boy of strong physique had checked the flow of the river by his sharp celestial weapon. This boy was none other than his own son. After a short time a beautiful lady came and said to him “Do you remember me? I am your wife Ganga. I have come here to fulfil my promise. Here is your eighth son! He has learnt the entire Vedas and the Vedangas under the great sage Vasishtha. He has been taught also the use of all weapons. He knows well the duties of kings. His name is Devavrata”. She handed over to the king the illustrious boy and disappeared immediately. Santanu returned to his capital with his son and installed him as his heir apparent in his seventeenth year.
Devavrata was firm, courageous and benevolent. He was endowed with high moral qualities. He had a sharp intellect. He won the hearts of the ministers, officials and his subjects by his amiable disposition and good behavior. One day Santanu went into the forests, close to the bank of the Yamuna, for hunting. He came across a beautiful maiden. He said to her, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” She replied, “I am the daughter of Dasaraj, the fisher-chief. My name is Satyavati. King Santanu wanted to marry her. He went to Dasaraj and asked his consent. The fisher-chief replied, “l am quite willing to give my daughter to you in marriage. But, first, I want to take a promise from you”. The king replied, “O Dasaraj, what is that? I will certainly do what lies in my power.” The fisher-chief said, “The son born of my daughter should succeed you'”.
Santanu did not wish to give this pledge to the fisher-chief because his valiant and intelligent son Devavraata, whom he loved intensely, would have to abandon the throne’ He would no longer be the heir-apparent. But the fire of love for the maiden burnt him. Devavrata was wise, though he was very young. He suspected something and thought that his father was unhappy. Thereupon, Devavrata went to the old minister, whom his father trusted, and asked him about the cause of his father’s grief. The minister told him about the king’s love for the daughter of the fisher-chief and the pledge demanded by the fisher-chief.
Thereupon, Devavrata, accompanied by the old minister and many respectable Kshatriya chiefs, went to Dasaraj and pleaded on behalf of his father, to give his daughter to his father in marriage. The fisher-chief replied, “O amiable prince! I have already told your father about the condition on which I can give my daughter in marriage to him”. Devavrata said, “O fisher-chief’! I make a solemn declaration now that the son that may be born of this women shall succeed my father to the throne. I shall do all that you wish”. The fisher-chief said, “I highly appreciate your noble character and high ideal. But your sons may expel my daughter’s son at any time at their sweet will. I entertain a grave doubt on this point.”
Devavrata prayed, “O Truth! Dwell in me for ever! Come and pervade my whole being! Give me inner strength to stick to the vow of perfect celibacy, I am going to take now, in the presence of these people!” He, then, resolutely said to the fisher-chief, “O Dasaraj! Listen to what I say. From today, I shall lead a fife of strict Naishthika Brahmachari till the end of my life. All the women of the world are my mothers. I am the most devoted and loyal subject of the king of Hastinapura. If I die son-less I shall yet attain the abode of Eternal Bliss and Immortality.”
From heaven at that time, the celestial damsels, the gods and the assemblage of sages, showered flowers on him and said, “This is verily Bhishma – the terrible.”
King Santanu was immensely pleased with the noble conduct of his son and conferred upon him the boon of death at will. He said, “May the gods protect you! Death shall never come to you as long as you wish to live”. What an exalted soul! This noble example is unprecedented in the history of the world. Bhishma’s filial duty and piety might be very well compared to that of Lord Rama. His words were as true in spirit and letter as his actions. He did what he said and said what he meant to do. He did not move an inch from what he uttered. He adhered to truth in thought, word and deed. He would sacrifice his life even, for the sake of truth.
Bhishma possessed dispassion, insight and discrimination at such an early age. He kicked away ruthlessly royal possessions and happiness arising therefrom, as mere straw, because, he knew that the objects of this world were illusory and pain-giving. He was able to distinguish between the substance and the shadow, the permanent and the impermanent, the real and the unreal’ He scorned the pomp’s and vanities of this illusory world’.
On an auspicious day, Satyavati was married to king Santanu with great pomp and éclat. In due course, two sons named Chitrangada and Vichitravirya were born to Satyavati. After, ruling the kingdom for several years righteously, Santanu passed away. Bhishma then installed Chitrangada on the throne and looked after the affairs of the State under the wise guidance of Satyavati, his step-mother. Chitrangada was proud of his valour. He fought against a powerful Gandharva king but was killed by him. As he was unmarried, he died without any issue. Therefore, Vichitravirya, who was a boy, ascended the throne. Satyavati was ruling the kingdom as regent. Bhishma was helping her and carrying out her orders. When Vichitravirya grew sufficiently old, he took the reins of the administration of the State under the wise and able guidance of Bhishma.
Bhishma wanted to arrange for the marriage of his brother. He went to Kasi, defeated all the kings who had assembled there to marry Amba, Ambika and Ambalika, the daughters of the king of Kasi and brought the girls to his capital. Amba, the eldest daughter of the king of Kasi, said to Bhishma, “I have already chosen mentally Shalya, the king of Saubha, as my future lord. He too, in his heart, had accepted me as his partner. Therefore allow me to go back. You are just, learned and virtuous”. Thereupon, Bhishma sent Amba to king Shalya in a chariot with great honour along with an old and virtuous Brahmin. He married Ambika and Ambalika to his brother Vichitravirya. Vichitravirya lived happily with his two wives, Ambika and Ambalika, for a few years. He was very lustful and so he passed away quickly on account of consumption.
Satyavati then pressed Bhishma to marry in order to perpetuate the line. But Bhishma declined to marry. He said to her, “O mother, you know that I took a vow to lead a life of celibacy till the end of life. I cannot move an inch from Truth. I would even renounce the happiness of the three worlds but I could never abandon Truth. Earth may give up its scent; Sun may abandon its lustre; Ice may renounce its coolness; Fire its heat; Ether its sound; Water its moisture; Jasmine its sweet fragrance; the God of Justice his impartiality; Tiger its ferocity; Indra his prowess; but I cannot abandon Truth from my heart”. What a soul-stirring speech! The person for whose welfare he took the vow is pressing him hard to give up the vow! Bhishma stands adamant in his resolve and determination. He would sacrifice his life for the sake of adhering to ‘Truth’ and his vow. What a mighty personality!. He stuck to his vow and duties tenaciously. He practiced the rigorous austerities of the life of Brahmacharya.
Bhishma then advised that some great Rishi be invited to be the father of children who, being borne by the two widows, would be regarded as the sons of the dead man. Satyavati then thought of the Rishi Vyasa, and, on his appearing, the difficulty was laid before him and his help was asked. Vyasa consented and said, “The two widows should dress themselves beautifully and put on rich ornaments. They should pass before me without any shame. I will once look upon them full in the face. They will conceive at once and in course of time bring forth brave sons.” Ambika and Ambalika put on gorgeous dresses and rich ornaments. As they were shy to appear before the Rishi, they took a maid-servant with them to the forest. They reached the place. They hesitated to pass before Vyasa. At last Ambika took courage and went before the Rishi. She saw the dark face of the Rishi, his matted hair, grim beard, and body smeared with ashes and closed her eyes. Then Ambalika followed her. When she saw the fearful and ascetic form of the Rishi, she turned pale and quickly passed before him. Lastly the maid-servant passed before Vyasa joyfully without any disgust or being shy.
In course of time, Ambika brought forth a son with a brilliant face but blind of both eyes. He was named ‘Dhritarashtra’. Ambalika’s son was very handsome and strong but had a pale face and pale body. Hence he was named ‘Pandu’. The maid-servant brought forth a son who was an embodiment of Dharma. He was named ‘Vidura’.
Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were brought up by Bhishma, as if they were his own children. Pandu and Vidura learnt the Vedas and the Sastras, the science of morality, archery, etc. They were well versed in the duties of kings. Dhritarashtra married Gandhari, the daughter of king Sirvala. Pandu married Kunti, the adopted daughter of Kuntibhoja and Madri, the daughter of Salya, the king of Madra. Dhritarashtra had one hundred sons. Duryodhana was the eldest. Pandu had five sons. Yudhishthira was the eldest. The former were called the ‘Kauravas’ and the latter the ‘Pandavas,. Bhishma installed Pandu duly on the throne.
Pandu conquered many kings. He was virtuous and obtained great fame. After some time he relinquished his kingdom and retired into the forest with his wives and children to practice austerities. He died in the forest. Madri also died with him. The Rishis of the forest took Kunti and her children to Hastinapura and entrusted them to Bhishma and Dhritarashtra. Bhishma gave the reins of administration to Dhritarashtra for some time as the princes were all minors. Bhishma kept the princes under Kripacharya and Dronacharya for their secular and religious training.
The Pandavas were very smart, intelligent and powerful. They excelled the sons of Dhritarashtra in everything. When the Pandavas played with the sons of Dhritarashtra, they were superior in strength, valour, prowess and intelligence. Bhimasena beat the Kauravas in physical strength, Arjuna in the art of archery. Duryodhana became very jealous of them. He entertained hostility and deep hatred towards them. He wanted to kill Bhima. He gave him poisoned food and threw him in the Ganga; but Bhima was saved miraculously.
When Yudhishthira came of age, Dhritarashtra installed him as the heir-apparent. yudhishthira became very famous within a short space of time, on account of his firmness, fortitude, benevolence and righteousness. Bhimasena obtained great renown in fighting with the sword and mace. Arjuna was matchless in the use of various weapons. This caused intense jealousy in the heart of Dhritarashtra. He consulted with Kanika his chief minister. Kanika told him to use proper diplomacy in dealing with the Pandavas.
Duryodhana said to his father; “Send these Pandavas to Varanavata by some contrivance. We are not at all safe here. If I get the throne, there will be no danger even if they return and live here”. One day some clever counsellors, instructed by Dhritarashtra, began to describe in court, the beauties and charms of the town Varanavata. Dhritarashtra also highly praised the grandeur of this place. This excited the curiosity of the Pandavas. They all proceeded to the town Varanavata.
Duryodhana already built a large palace, made of inflammable and combustible material (lac), for the residence of the Pandavas. This was constructed by Purochana without an outlet for the helpless Pandavas. Duryodhana wanted to burn the Pandavas alive in that palace.
Vidura came to know of this treacherous conspiracy. He informed Yudhishthira of this plan of Duryodhana, beforehand. He also asked a trustworthy miner to make a large subterranean passage. When fire was set to the building, the Pandavas escaped through this underground passage. The mighty Bhimasena, son of Vayu, walked fast, carrying Kunti and his brothers.
Thereafter the Pandavas roamed about in the forest in a destitute condition. They were homeless. They came to Panchala and dwelt in the house of a potter’ The Pandavas married Draupadi during their wanderings. King Drupada became their ally. This excited the wrath of Kaurvas. They wanted to destroy the Pandavas and Drupada. Bhishma said to Dhritashtra; “Do not entertain hatred towards the Pandavas. Do not attempt to annihilate them. They are as much dear to me as you are all to me. I must protect them. Make treaty of peace with them and give them half the kingdom”.
Bhishma addressed Duryodhana, “Do not spoil your name. Follow the path of your ancestors. The Pandavas have not perished. Purochana was not able to accomplish his evil object. He himself perished. Virtuous persons will live for ever. Evil-minded persons will always meet with disaster and death. The whole world is blaming you for this horrible and merciless act done secretly. If you wish to do what is agreeable to me, if you act justly, if you wish to seek your welfare, give them half of the kingdom voluntarily”.
At last Dhritarashtra called the Pandavas and Draupadi back to Hastinapura and gave them half the kingdom. The Pandavas began to rule in the new capital called Indraprastha. They soon conquered many kingdoms. Yudhishthira ruled the subjects in a righteous manner. All are being lived very happily. Yudhishthira performed the Rajasuya Yajna. Bhishma, Dhritarashtra, the Kauravas and many great persons were invited.
Duryodhana was lodged in the new palace which was built on a novel design for this auspicious occasion at an enormous cost. One day while Duryodhana was moving about in the palace he saw a crystal surface. He mistook it for a sheet of water and drew up his clothes. At another place, he mistook a lake of crystal water for land and fell into it. The Pandavas, Draupadi and their servants laughed at him. Duryodhana took this as a great insult. He felt that he was greatly dishonored.
Further Duryodhana became intensely jealous of the Pandavas when he witnessed the splendid palace and the Durbar hall of Yudhishthira and their prosperity. He opened his heart to his wicked uncle Sakuni. Sakuni said to Duryodhana, “invite Yudhishthira for a dice-play. I will contrive to have him defeated at every throw, by taking recourse to deception. I give you definite promise to win all his wealth. You will enjoy all his wealth and possessions.”
Yudhishthira was invited for gambling by Duryodhana. Yudhishthira played with him and lost the stakes one after another. He at last staked his brothers, himself and Draupadi and lost everything. Draupadi was dragged to the court by the wicked Dussasana. Dussasana even attempted to strip off her clothing in the presence of the elders and Bhishma. Duryodhana showed his bare thighs to Draupadi.
Dhritarashtra was moved when he heard the heart-rending lamentations of Draupadi. He gave back the wealth and kingdom to the Pandavas and allowed them to return to Indraprastha. Duryodhana, Karna and Sakuni again went to Dhritarashtra and said, “We should again gamble with the Pandavas. This is the only way to subdue them. The defeated party will have to go to the forests in exile for twelve years. They will have to spend the thirteenth year incognito, without being recognized by us. If they are identified during the thirteenth year, they will have to undergo exile for another period of twelve years”. Dhritarashtra was forced to give his consent.
Yudhishthira was again invited for gambling. He was defeated and the Pandavas were exiled. Thereafter Duryodhana reigned over the kingdom without any fear from the Pandavas. They walked bare footed in the forest. Despite the cruel treatment they received from Duryodhana and other cousins, they had no hatred towards the Kauravas. This is the nature of great souls.
The period of exile was over. For one year the Pandavas remained incognito. They underwent severe hardships and sufferings during their exile. They made preparations now to regain their kingdom, which had been deceitfully usurped by the wicked Kauravas. Bhishma said to Duryodhana, “The Pandavas underwent untold sufferings. Now, the period of exile is over. They have fulfilled to the very letter what you asked them to do. You will have to give them back their kingdom. Otherwise they will wage war with you”. Duryodhana replied; “O venerable grandsire! I will not give them back the kingdom. I will make every preparation for waging war.”
Bhishma said, “Yudhishthira desires to have peace with his cousins. The Pandavas are surely entitled under the law to get all the property of their father. Arjuna is a mighty bow man. He is dexterous in the use of weapons. No one can withstand him in battle. O Duryodhana! If you do not pay any attention to my words, you will all be killed in battle. Arjuna is supported by Lord Krishna who is Lord Narayana himself. Do not try to wage war with the Pandavas. Invite Yudhishthira to accept the kingdom”. Duryodhana replied, “I will not give even an inch of land to the Pandavas. I will sacrifice my kingdom, wealth, honour, even my life, but I would not live side by side with them. Let them kill me and take the kingdom or I will kill them. This is my firm resolve.” Bhishma said to Dhritarashtra, “Your wicked son will soon meet with destruction. He is not paying the least heed to the words of his well-wisher. He has chosen the path of evil and abandoned the virtuous path. You are also following in the wake of this wretch”. Having said this, Bhishma left the Assembly Hall.
Yudhishthira sent Sri Krishna as an emissary to make peace with the Kauravas. Krishna gave good advice to Duryodhana and entreated him to come to peaceful terms. Bhishma again advised Duryodhana to follow the wise counsels of Krishna and said, “Do not destroy the name and fame of the Bharatas. Do not bring grief to your parents by entering into war with the Pandavas. If you do not act in accordance with the advice of Krishna, you will have neither prosperity nor happiness. Do not allow the Earth’s population to be slaughtered by unnecessary war”. Duryodhana did not pay any attention to the words of Krishna and Bhishma. War was declared. Both sides made grand preparations for the war.
Dhrishtadyumna was the general of the army of the Pandavas consisting of seven Akshauhinis with seven car warriors. The supreme command was in the hands of Krishna. They all proceeded to Kurukshetra.
The army of the Kauravas consisted of eleven Akshauhinis. Duryodhana elected Bhishma as the general of his forces. Bhishma said, “O Duryodhana! The Pandavas are as dear to me as you are. Therefore I should certainly seek their good as well. I shall fight for you as I have given you a pledge before, and as I am your loyal subject. I will fight on the following conditions: I will not kill a woman, I will not fight with one who has surrendered his arms, who has fallen down, one who bears the name of a female, who is not able to take care of himself, who is an only son, or who is a vulgar fellow. I will kill ten thousand warriors of the pandavis daily and then stop the battle for the day. I will make Krishna fight on behalf of the Pandavas, although he promised that he would remain neutral and act only as a charioteer of Arjuna”. The words of Bhishma are like nectar, one could never find just warrior like Bhishma in the history of the world.
Duryodhana requested Bhishma to tell about the merits of the brave warriors on both sides. Bhishma replied, “Arjuna is the best on the side of the pandavas. Karna is only an Ardharatha not above the average”. Karna was very much infuriated when he heard the remarks of Bhishma. He took it as a great insult. He abused Bhishma in the presence of all warriors and took a pledge that he would not fight till Bhishma was overthrown.
Yudhishthira approached the grandsire Bhishma and said, “We have to fight with you. Kindly grant us permission and give us your usual blessings and benedictions.” Bhisffna replied, “I am very much pleased to see you here. Do fight and win victory.” yudhishthira asked, “Can I ever win the war in which you are the general of the opposite party? Tell me the means by which I can attain victory.” Bhishma said, “Time has not come to give a reply to your question. Come to me once again. Surely you will win victory”.
Bhishma gave an inspiring speech to his warriors: “O Kshatriyas! Be brave. Be chivalrous. Exhibit your manliness and heroism now. We are now standing on the very threshold of Heaven. The broad door of Heaven is open to you now. To die of disease at home on a cot is a shame, nay a sin, for a Kshatriya. To die in the battle field is his supreme goal. If you die bravely, pierced every inch of your body with the sharp arrows, you will go direct to Heaven”. Bhishma fought for ten days. The war lasted for eighteen days. Many warriors on both sides were killed. Duryodhana accused Bhishma that he was showing favour to the Pandavas.
There was a fierce battle between Bhishma and Arjuna. Arjuna cut the bow of Bhishma. Bhishma fought with great valour and prowess. On the ninth day, the battle was very terrible. Bhishma killed a very large army of the pandavas. Even Arjuna was so completely exhausted and could hardly sit in his chariot that Lord Krishna had to interfere and jump from the chariot to protect him and fight Bhishma with the discus.
In the evening, Yudhishthira, despairing of victory, went to Bhishma and said, “O grandsire! you promised to give me advice. Tell me now how you could be defeated. This is a grave juncture.” Bhishma replied, “Ask Arjuna to keep Shikhandi in front of me and discharge sharp arrows all over my body. If you can kill me in this manner you can certainly vanquish me. When I am possessed with weapons in my hands, even gods cannot conquer me. If I lay down my arms in the presence of Shikhandi, your car warriors can easily kill me. I would never fight with Shikhandi, as he was a female before.”
On the tenth day, Shikhandi was brought before Bhishma. Shikhandi fearlessly rushed at Bhishma. Bhishma laid down his arms according to his pledge. Arjuna and Shikhandi pierced Bhishma with sharp arrows all over his body. He fell down from his car. His body did not touch the ground, as it was full of arrows. He was lying on the bed of arrows with perfect calmness and great fortitude. The Sun was in the southern solstice when he fell down from the car. He wished to abandon his life in the northern solstice only. He could die at his will as he had this boon from his father. As he was a great Yogi, he kept Death in abeyance. As soon as Bhishma fell down, all the heroic warriors of both the armies laid down their arms.
After eighteen days’ severe fighting, the great war ended in favour of the Pandavas. The Pandavas, Vidura and Dhritarashtra offered oblations of water to all their relatives. They dwelt on the bank of the Ganga. Yudhishthira was very much afflicted at heart on account of loss of several lives in the war. He wished to relinquish the whole kingdom and to retire to the forests to spend the remaining days peacefully in prayer and meditation.
Krishna advised, “O Yudhishthira! Be brave and cheerful. You will gain nothing by repentance and giving vent to your feelings. Shake off your grief. Stand adamant. Be calm and serene. Control your emotions and sentiments. Draw courage from within. Develop fortitude and bear the calamity with a bold heart. You can conquer grief and sorrow but you cannot remove its causes. Generate the powerful Sattvic forces within. Increase your Sattva. Bring the spiritual forces into full play. Allow them to operate. Concentrate your spiritual Energies instead of frittering them away. Practice concentration and meditation. You will draw strength and power from great souls who are fearless, strong and courageous”. Yudhishthira was strongly impressed by the short and stirring advice of Krishna. He proceeded to Hastinapura along with his brothers, Dhritarashtra and other kings.
Krishna took Yudhishthira and others to Bhishma to receive instructions and advice. These teachings are embodied in the Santi Parva of the Mahabharata in the form of discourses. These learned discourses contain philosophical and ethical precepts.
TEACHINGS OF BHISHMA
Truth is the eternal goal of man. Truth is the eternal Brahman. It is the highest refuge of all. Truth is penance. Truth is Yoga. Everything rests upon Truth.
Virtuous persons are free from greed, egoism, pride, lust, anger and jealousy. They are not attracted to any worldly objects. Their minds are ever fixed at the lotus feet of the Lord.
Renunciation is the abandonment of affections and all earthly possessions. He who is free from anger, hatred and malice can attain renunciation.
Penance: Sages declare that everything has penance for its root. Brahma created this universe with the help of penances. Abstention from sensual pleasure is the best penance. Renunciation is the highest penance. Concentration of mind is the highest and the best penance.
Self-restrain: Forgiveness, patience, refraining from violence, impartialit5r, truth, sincerity, control of the senses, mildness, steadiness, liberality, control of anger, contentment, sweetness of speech, benevolence, freedom from malice, conquest of lust, compassion-the combination of all these is self-restraint.
Ignorance: Ignorance is the root cause of all misery. One sinks into hell on account of ignorance. Attachment, dislike, hatred, prejudice, vanity, lust, anger, pride, idleness, procrastination, desire, jealousy, backbiting, talebearing, and all sinful acts are known as the fruit of ignorance.
Greed: Greed or covetousness is the source of all troubles and sorrows. It is born of ignorance. Loss of discrimination is its inseparable attribute.
Evil Qualities: There are eleven vices or evil qualities. These are powerful enemies to human beings. These are the real causes for grief or sorrow. All kinds of sin proceed from these. They are anger, lust, envy, loss of judgment, grief, greed, malice, pride, jealousy, slander and hatred.
Worship of Parents and Preceptor: He who worships his parents and the preceptor becomes illustrious here and attains eternal regions of happiness.
An ideal king should practice all duties. He should be kind, brave, generous, just and righteous. He should be free from cruelty. He should not indulge in sensual pleasures. He should not oppress his people with too high taxes. He should not punish anybody without enquiry.
Bhishma took final refuge at eternal abode of Lord Krishna
Bhishma instructed Yudhishthira as above till the fifty- eighth day after his fall from the war-chariot. At the dawn of that day all gathered around him as usual. Yudhishthira addressed, “Beloved grandfather and true king of the whole land! Open your eyes. Dhritarashtra and Yudhishthira salute you. The holy sages are also present. Lord Krishna also is here.”
Bhishma was the first man to realize that Sri Krishna was God Himself. Then he turned in adoring love of Krishna and said, “Give me permission, O Krishna, to cast off this mortal coil. Permitted by Thee, I shall attain to the highest end.” Krishna said, “I give thee permission. Go unto the Vasus, thou stainless soul! Thou hast not been guilty of a single transgression in this world”.
Then Bhishma once again said to all, “Follow the Truth always. Strive for it ever in thought, word and deed. Practice self-denial. Be compassionate. Attain knowledge of Brahman. This is the Dharma of all Dharmas. Where Krishna, the Universal Self is, there Dharma ever is, and where Dharma is, there always is certainly victory.” Then Bhishma closed his eyes again and steadily gathered, by concentration, all his vital forces in the head and thence passed out as a great light. The light rose into the Heaven and vanished in the twinkling of an eye. Bhishma left his moral coil at the age of 135.
Great morals from Mahabharata
Mahabharata is one of the greatest books of the world. Its greatness is in all directions -it is great from the point of view of Ethics, from the point of view of Philosophy, from the point of view of Literature.
One’s Duty: Throughout the Mahabharata, the one dominating idea is to inspire into the reader the importance of the duty in different circumstances of life. We You have all read the Bhagavad Gita and know the circumstances of its origin. Arjuna, at the last moment, when his chariot was in the midst of the opposing armies, wanted to throw away all his weapons and retire from the field rather than fight his own grandfather, Bhishma, his Guru Drona and his cousins. Above all, he felt for Bhishma.
Lord Krishna reminded him: “O Dhananjaya! Do not forget the eternal duty of the Kshatriyas that they should fight, protect their subjects and perform sacrifices-all without motive.” That is the keynote running through the whole of Mahabharata – DO YOUR DUTY. Do not consider your own feelings, your selfish motives, your own life. Do your duty without looking to the fruits or consequences of your actions and God will be with you.
The one outstanding example of this guiding principle is Bhishma, who stands above all in this respect. When, at last, the time of Bhishma’s departure from this world carne, Lord Krishna himself was present and Bhishma addressed Him thus: “Save me, O God of gods! I humbly surrender myself to Thee! Do Thou give me permission to depart from this world. If Thou permit me, I shall attain the highest Heaven.” Lord Krishna sweetly replied: “I willingly give thee leave, O Bhishma! You will attain the highest Heaven you desire, O thou of great splendor, who hast not been guilty of a single transgression in this world”.
Resistance to Temptations: This is a great virtue, Bhishma had it in full measure. So also Karna, Yudhishthira, Drona, etc., in the same degree. After Lord Krishna had failed in his mission to the Kauravas to induce them to give half the kingdom to their cousins, He took Karna a part of the way in His chariot and revealed to him his real origin and if he so wished he could reign as the eldest brother of the Pandavas instead of Yudhishthira. Karna refused: “For good or evil, for better or worse, I have cast my lot with the Kauravas and I cannot forsake them, O Govinda; in their terrible need on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.”
Yudhishthira had also to pass through similar tests. Once, when, while the Pandavas were passing their lives in exile in the forests, Duryodhana who had come there in order to persecute them was himself caught as prisoner by the Gandharvas. But Yudhishthira sent Arjuna and Bhima to liberate him.
On other occasion Yudhishthira been tested by God; once, when all his brothers had been killed by the Yaksha, he chose that Nakula should live rather than his own brothers; Bhima and Arjuna, I choose that Nakula, son of Madri, should live because abstention from injury is the highest virtue and therefore I do desire that neither of my father’s wives should be childless. The Yaksha was so pleased that he revived all the brothers.
Truth: After the Pandavas had been sent to the thirteen years exile, Bhima urged Yudhishthira they should regain their kingdom instead of wasting their time in the forests. ‘Virtue is not enough’ he said. ‘It is the duty of Kshatriyas to fight. Let us wage war against Duryodhana and reconquer our kingdom. This is infinitely better than sitting in the forests instead of in our palace which you have lost. ‘Yudhishthira replied: ‘I fully know that I am to blame for all your misfortunes. I know that I lost self-control and brought you to ruin. But I have given my word to stand by the result of the dice-play and I must stick to this. My promise can never be untrue. I regard the virtue of truth as higher than life or Heaven itself. Kingdom, sons, fame, wealth-they do not come up even to a fraction of truth.’ Yudhishthira preferred thirteen long years of exile to an untruth.
Loyalty: When the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas became inevitable, it tried the conscience of Bhishma and Drona and Karna also very sore. But they never wavered. Bhishma knew that righteousness was on the side of the Pandavas. They had carried out their part of the contract. They also were far better in their conduct of life than the wicked Kauravas. How could they fight against Pandavas? As Drona piteously said, Arjuna was dearer to him than his son. Bhishma, above all others, felt it very much. He had to fight against his own grandsons. Above all he was devoted to Lord Sri Krishna. How could he raise his arm against Him? Bhishma was an embodiment of duty, righteousness and justice, which were all on the side of the Pandavas and it was ordained that he should fight against them. Yet the example of Bhishma, as a monument of duty, never shone more brightly than in this struggle. Drona knew that in the war he would have to fight against Arjuna whom he himself had trained and loved above all. Karna – after he was made aware of the real origin of his birth had an opportunity, a most tempting one, to go to the Pandavas and he also knew that if he stuck to the Kauravas, he would have to fight his own brother Arjuna. But none of them hesitated for a moment. To them, DUTY was of supreme importance. And for the Kshatriyas, the duty to fight for their king was the supreme law. Because all the three had sworn allegiance to their king Dhritarashtra and his sons, their bodies, their might, skill in weapons,-all these-were at the disposal of the Kauravas. They must repay, even with their lives, the debt which they owed to the king. But their feelings, their love, inclination, were with the Pandavas and Lord Krishna. They never hesitated, even though they knew that they had to fight against Lord Krishna. Did they perchance hope that they might even fall on the battlefield at the hands of the Lord Himself and thus die? Nothing would be dearer to them.
Forgiveness and Virtues: Listen to these noble words of Yudhishthira on these two subjects. Draupadi bitterly resented the insults heaped on her by the Kauravas and after they had gone to the forests, she urged on Yudhishthira to take action to avenge her and
never to forgive the Kauravas. This brought forth from Yudhishthira an admirable discourse on forgiveness, “If a man who has received abuses from another speaks to him in the same strain, if a man returns injury to injury, or a father kills his son or a son kills his father, how can there be any progress in this world where so much unrighteousness prevails? One should forgive every injury-no matter what kind – O Draupadi! That man is indeed a wise one who does not give way to anger, who shows forgiveness even when insulted, oppressed or abused by another. Forgiveness is Divine. Forgiveness is Truth. Forgiveness is potential ascetic merit. It is asceticism, penances and holy. Forgiveness is the foundation of the world. The man of wisdom should ever forgive-when he is capable of forgiving everything-for he attains Brahman.”
But Draupadi was not satisfied with this kind of barren merits of virtue. She asks, What is the use of virtue, if the virtuous are to suffer while the wicked prosper?’
Gently, but none-the-less firmly, Yudhishthira answers her: “O Draupadi! You speak hastily without realizing what you say. Your question looks as if it might have come from godless persons. Never, never act with a desire to get the suitable fruits out of your actions. I give away because it is my duty to give. I act because it is my duty. I sacrifice for the sake of duty. I act virtuously, not because I desire the fruits of virtue, but because I do not wish to transgress the ordinances of the Vedas and thereby I follow the path trodden by the holy men. O Oraupadi! The man who wishes to reap the fruits of his actions is a trader in virtue. He is by nature mean. Never allow such a blot on your good name. It is true that every act has its own consequences, results and fruits and therefore if you act virtuously, the results must be good and, in the long run, must end prosperously to the virtuous. But who knows of the divine dispensation of God? Therefore though you may not see the fruits of virtue, they may be blessings in disguise’ You should – not doubt God’s actions. You should perform your sacrifices with a will, practice charity and forgiveness with modesty and without insolence. Acts in this world have their fruits and virtue is eternal. Therefore dispel all your doubts about virtues. Reflecting upon a1l this, do not give way to skepticism-doubts regarding the merits of virtues. Acquire faith in them. Above all, do not slander God who is the Lord of the universe. Strive to know Him’ Bow down to Him humbly, O Draupadi! Never disregard
that Supreme Being through whose divine grace alone man may acquire immortality through piety”.
Fundamentals of True Religion: The practice of universal compassion is the true religion. That man, who regards all creatures as his own self, completely controls anger, greed, desires, never injures another and ever speaks the truth, is the follower of true religion and attains the highest happiness. This, in brief, is the rule of righteousness. Abstention from cruelty is the highest religion, highest form of serf-control and highest gift.
Concerning DUTY in general term, Bhishma gives the instance of a king who was seized by a Rakshasa. But the king defied the Rakshasa. He asserted: “In my kingdom, there are no thieves, no criminals, no drunkards, no sin or sinners. My people are engaged always in their respective duties as ordained by religion, scriptures and traditions and are content. I have always striven to support the helpless, the weak, the aged, the sick, the forlorn, the poor, the helpless widows and children’. I have spent my life and shed my blood for the welfare of my people and for justice to them and I am happy to say that my people have blessed me. Though you have possession of my body for the moment, I defy you to hold me much longer”. The Rakshasa immediately let him go. The king could fearlessly defy him because he had done his duty. A man who does his duty-however humble or exalted-need have no fear. It is only when you have forgotten or neglected to do your duty that any harm can come to you. Do your duty conscientiously and fearlessly and God will be with you for ever and ever. This is the message of Bhishma to Yudhishthira.
Throughout the Mahabharat there is a constant mention of Righteousness ‘यतो धर्मस्ततो जय: meaning ‘victory prevails where there is Righteousness’ which is the slogan of the Mahabharat. The four verses (shlokas) called Bharatsavitri which are present in the concluding part of this holy text express Righteousness as the sole motive of this holy text. One of the verses from it says;
न जातु कामान्न भयान्न लोभात् धर्मं त्यजेज्जीवितस्यापि हेतो: ।
नित्यो धर्म: सुखदु:खे त्वनित्ये नित्यो जीवो धातुरस्य त्वनित्य: ।।
Meaning: One should never forsake Righteousness out of desire, fear, greed or fear of loss of life because Righteousness is permanent while happiness and unhappiness are only momentary. The embodied soul is eternal while the gross body is temporary.
The sufferings of the Pandavas and Draupadi, Nala and Damayanti, Savitri and Satyavan, clearly explain to us the fact or hard truth that the goal of life or perfection can only be attained through pain and suffering. Pain is the means through which man is molded, disciplined and strengthened. They are blessings in disguise. They are eye-openers. They are silent teachers. They turn the mind towards God and instill mercy in the heart, strengthen the will and develop patience and power of endurance, which are the pre-requisites for God-Realization.
The Final Teaching of the great epic produces a moral awakening in the readers and exhorts them to tread the path of Satya and Dharma. It urges them strongly to do good deeds, practice Dharma, cultivate dispassion by realizing the illusory nature of this universe and its vainglories and sensual pleasures, and attain Eternal Bliss and Immortality. It induces people to do what Yudhishthira did and abandon what Duryodhana did. Stick to Dharma tenaciously. One will attain everlasting happiness and Moksha, the summum bonum of life. This is the final purport or central teachings of the Mahabharata.
Kunti Prayer to Lord towards the End of Epic
After the Kurukshetra battle, when Sri Krishna leaving Hastinapur on his chariot, Kunti approached the Lord’s chariot and began to address Him:
“My dear Krishna, Your Lordship has protected us from the poisoned cake, from a great fire, from cannibals, from the vicious assembly, from sufferings during our exile in the forest, and from the battle where great generals fought. I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths“.
Kunti’s words — the simple and illuminating outpourings of the soul of a great and saintly devotee — reveal both the deepest transcendental emotions of the heart and the most profound philosophical and theological penetrations of the intellect. Her words are words of glorification impelled by a divine love steeped in wisdom: O Lord of Madhu, as the Ganges forever flows to the sea without hindrance, let my attraction be constantly drawn unto You without being diverted to anyone else.
May the teachings of this illustrious and ancient epic guide you in every walk of your life. May you stick to Dharma. May the great characters of the Mahabharata inspire you! May you imbibe the righteousness of Yudhishthira, the purity of Bhishma, the courage of Arjuna and the liberality of Karna!
— Glory to Mahabharata Om Tat Sat —
He, that in a season of distress keepeth his Virtue, is the foremost of virtuous men
Hidimva to Kunti & Yudhishthira