Dharma in the Mahabharta
The concept of dharma is the most central and core concept of Hindu philosophy, “all the other principles and values flow from the beautiful fountain of Dharma” (Srinivasan n.d., 1). Consequently, the Hindu scriptures present many examples of its importance in a variety of ways. The two epics Mahabharata and Ramayana are particularly interesting in their presentation of dharma. Dharma is Sanskrit word with many different connotations that are mostly of ethical nature. Thus far, there has not been a parallel word found for it in English or any language that truly signifies the essence of it. It comes from the root word, dhr, which literally means to uphold, sustain, and maintain a thing in its being. “It is the very norm which sustains the universe, the principle of a thing by virtue of which it is what it is” (Gupta 1991, 2). Dharma can be translated as right action, right conduct, virtue, moral law etc; however, these words even fall short of explaining the true meaning of dharma. The concept of dharma is subtle and is therefore very hard to grasp. Many have made attempts to define dharma, but have not yet aroused any intellectual minds. If one of the scholars defines dharma as “a mode of life or a code of conduct, which regulated a man’s work and activities as a member of society and as an individual to bring about the gradual development of a man and to enable him to reach what was deemed to be the goal of human existence” (Sukthankar 1998, 80); then, the other scholar defines it as “that which holds a thing together, makes it what it is, prevents it from breaking up and changing into something else, its characteristic function, it’s peculiar property, it’s fundamental attribute, its essential nature,…is its dharma, the law its being primarily” (Sukthankar 1998, 80). Just from these two definitions, it’s apparent that the concept of dharma includes so much that it is hard to capture the essence of it in just few words. The concept of dharma is very broad and is very difficult to grasp because there is no clear-cut definition of dharma that captures the essence of it. However, one can try to see how the works like the Mahabharata approach the concept. The epic mainly deals with the loss and reestablishment of dharma on Earth. “For whensoever Dharma declines and Adharma uprises, the Bhagavan (god) creates himself to guard the good and to destroy the wicked; to establish the Dharma firmly, he comes into being again and again” (Sukthankar 1998, 79). In the Mahabharata, the story goes that Earth-burdened by the tyranny of demonic kings then ruling- requests Visnu to relieve her burden; and Visnu decides to do so by, along with other heavenly beings: gods, rsis, gandharvas, kinnaras and so on, taking birth among the Yadavas. A war is fought with purpose of ending the tyranny of the demonic kings and restoring dharma on decline due to the tyranny, also, in turn relieving Earth’s burden. However, all this does not take place with such simplicity. The Mahabharata War, as one remembers, was fought between cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Throughout history many wars between cousins have taken place, then what makes the Mahabharata War so special to gain such recognition. As it turns out, “ what gives this trivial tale of petty jealousy, intrigue, and strife between rival claimants to a small kingdom in North India real depth and significance is the projection of the story on to a cosmic background by its own interpretation of the Bharata War as a mere incident in the ever recurring struggle between the Devas and the Asuras, in other words, as a mere phase in cosmic evolution” (Sukthankar 1998, 62). The characters of the epic, thus, are described as being either the incarnations of the Devas or the Asuras. Furthermore, the Devas or incarnations of the Devas represent dharma; and the Asuras or incarnations of such represent...
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