Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita (September 2000, Super School Auroville) - Session 1 (25 September 2000)

I was saying that there are in the history of the world a few very important episodes which are instructive. And then I ask the question whether the word episode is understood. Then I was explaining the meaning of the word episode. If you like you can all write down the word episode in your notebook. If you've a notebook with you; if not make it printed in your mind; if you don't have a notebook. But the word episode is a very important word. It would be very useful to learn these words and its meaning. I can write it down for you. As I said, an episode is a part of a long story which builds up a story which is a part of building up of the story. It consists of an encounter, consists of an event, a plot, which is crucial to the development of the story. It may not be even crucial sometimes and yet it may be an episode. Now among these episodes in the world history what happened to Arjuna at the beginning of the war of Mahabharata is very instructive. Now if you examine this episode you will find that what happened to Arjuna at the beginning of the war was crucial to the whole story of Mahabharata. Do you know the meaning of crucial? You should ask me these questions because I am taking this class only for your benefit entirely. Crucially you take this class also as a class in English. All right so that your English may be enriched. The word crucial means that which is decisive, anything which makes a difference which decides is crucial. There are many events which are ordinary events but there are events which are crucial which are decisive. Now to understand the importance of this episode it is called depression of Arjuna.

This episode is normally entitled depression of Arjuna. Now you must understand a little bit of the story of Mahabharata. Maybe that many of you know the story but I must tell you in my own way the story of Mahabharata. I will tell you the story in such a way that only Arjuna, is as it were, the main theme of my story. You might know that the Mahabharata is a very, very huge book. It has got one hundred thousand verses; the totality of Mahabharata is hundred thousand verses. It's a long story, a very, very long story with a main story. There are sub stories and sub stories of sub stories. It is a mine of stories. I've been studying myself Mahabharata for many, many years almost from the age of four and yet I do not know the full story of Mahabharata. So you can imagine that this story is so intricate and so many events are described in so many episodes that it would take a long time to read and understand the role of Mahabharata. In the west there are two great stories of ancient times, Odyssey and Iliad which are sometimes compared with Mahabharata. But Mahabharata is much larger. It's a story of a great war. Iliad also is a great story of war. A war which was attempted to be avoided. Great effort was made to avoid that war yet could not be. It became inevitable. There was a problem which had to be solved and many efforts were made to solve that problem. But that problem could not be resolved. That problem had an outer face and also it had an inner face. Outwardly the problem was simple, inwardly the problem was very vast. So I shall tell you first of all the problem in the outward aspect.

There was a kingdom in northern India which was called the kingdom of Hastinapur. This kingdom was quite vast. In modern India, if you want to see where Hastinapur is, it is not difficult to find out. Present Delhi, the name which you know quite well, is a very big city, the capital of India. Then there is a very big town called Kurukshetra. Even now it exists. And surrounding parts. So this is a story which is very ancient. How ancient? It is difficult to determine. Now this kingdom was ruled by a king called Shantanu. That was the name of the king. He had many sons but only one son had survived who came to be called Bhishma. And then in due course there was another son. I am not giving too many names because you will simply feel very much intrigued by names and confused by them. In due course three sons were born. I am filling the story very rapidly. These are the names I can’t avoid – Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura. And now it so happened that Dhritarashtra was the elder one Pandu was the younger and Vidura was the youngest. Now, according to the rule when the father died, the king died, his first son should come to the throne. That was the rule in most of the parts of the world, and that was also true in India. So when the father of these three died, the question arose as to who should be the king. The normal answer would have been that Dhritarashtra should become the king. But there was one problem. Dhritarashtra was blind. The question arose – can a blind man become a king? And there are many opinions on this subject. Some said he could be. Some said he could not be. A blind man cannot be a king. Now Vidhura happened to be a very wise man, a very learned man. And the question was referred to him as a wise man, not because he was one of the sons, but because he was a wise man. A very learned man. But Dhritarashtra had a great ambition to become the king. Very great ambition, irresistible ambition to be the king. But because the question was referred to Vidura he remained quiet, as it were. And he said, all right, whatever decision is taken by Vidura, I shall accept. And so was the attitude of the second son Pandu. Now Vidura gave a decision and said the first son, if he is blind or defective in his body, crippled in any way then he cannot be the king. So a choice was made and a decision was taken that Pandu should become the king. Now this, I'm telling you, the preface of the story. This is the beginning of the story. Now, Dhritarashtra very well accepted the fate. He was very ambitious to become the king, but fate had denied him. He accepted the fate and showed great generosity and said if my brother is the King it does not matter, I'm perfectly satisfied. But inwardly he really felt very deeply that a right was denied to him. He thought that if Vidura had to give just another decision he could have become the king. So, in his heart he was not reconciled to the decision given by Vidura. Now Dhritarashtra had a wife called Gandhari and Pandu had two wives Kunti and Madri. Gandhari gave birth to 100 sons of whom the eldest was Duryodhana. I am not giving you 100 names because and that's not necessary. But Duryodhana played a very great role so I am giving you this name, one name, the eldest one. Kunti gave birth to three sons. Now all of them are important so I have to give you all the three names. A difficult name to pronounce –Yudhishthira, which means one who is stable in war. Yudhishthira, Yudhi shthira sah, that is Sanskrit dissolution of the compound. One who is stable in war is called Yudhishthira. The second one was called Bhima and the third one was called Arjuna. You know the names, no? Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna. I’ll come to Karna. Now Madri had two sons. What are their names? Nakula and Sahadeva. Now Kunti had one more son and there was a complication because that son was born before her marriage and Karna was his name. Now for our purpose I have told you all the important characters of this story. Now right from the time when they were all being educated there was a great rivalry between the hundred sons of Gandhari and five sons of Pandu, of Kunti and Madri. Now it so happened that Pandu, husband of Kunti and Madri, spent a lot of time making conquests. He went to war for a long time and sometimes he retired into the forest. Now during that time Pandu asked his elder brother Dhritarashtra to rule in his name. Both brothers had very good feelings about each other. So, although Dhritarashtra could not become the King, he enjoyed the status of a king whenever Pandu was away. Now suddenly it so happened that Pandu once when he was in a forest he died. The question arose as to who should now come to the throne, hundred sons of Dhritarashtra and five sons of Pandu were still young. So nobody could come on the throne.

So it was decided that Dhritarashtra will rule the kingdom but not as a king in place of his brother. He could not be the king because he was defective in his bodily organs but he ruled. Now there was a great rivalry between these 100 and these five and Dhuryodhana always felt that being the eldest son of the Dhritarashtra; one day when Dhritarashtra will either die or will relinquish the throne he should become the king that was his wish, his ambition. He wanted to be the king of Hastinapura. On the other hand there was a question about Yudhishthira. He was even older than Duryodhana and he was the first son of the king who had died. Now there was a debate as to who should be the king in place of Dhritarashtra because Dhritarashtra was not the king. He was only ruling on behalf of his brother and if none of them became king – Dhuryodhana or Yudhishthira – it was because of the limitation of age. At a certain time a question became very prominent when both Yudhishthira and Duryodhana became of age and a decision had to be taken as to who should come on the throne. So Dhritarashtra himself would cease to be a king and either Duryodhana and Yudhishthira should become the king now the wise people including Bhishma remember the word Bhisma I had written for you earlier. Pardon? He was Devaratta before. I don't want to burden their minds. One name is enough. Including Bhishma who was the wisest, the strongest and the best, And oldest of all. Even older than Dhritarashtra. He was called the grandfather in Sanskrit; it's called Pitamaha. Pitamaha means father's father – the grandfather.

Including Bhisma, they all had felt that since Pandu was the king and Dhritarashtra was also ruling only on behalf of Pandu, when Yudhishthira comes of age he should become the king.

Now you understand the cause of difficulty. Duryodhana felt that since his father is now ruling and actually his father should have become the king, but for his defect. He himself does not have any defect; his body was perfect. So he legitimately felt in his own mind legitimately that he should be the king. Yudhishthira, he was not so ambitious. But in the eyes of law, he was the eldest son of the father who was a king and according to the wisdom of all the people concerned he should become the king. So there was a conflict.

This was the beginning of the story of Mahabharata. What happened then?

There were two claimants − Duryodhana on one side and Yudhishthira on the other. The advice of the wisest was to make Yudhishthira the king. And Dhritarashtra would normally obey the decision of the wise. In his own mind he had accepted it. When Yudhishthira and Duryodhana both came of age then although he had a great attachment to his own son, although he knew that his son had a great ambition to become the king. And although he believed that Duryodhana should become a king. He bowed down to the advice of the wise and declared that Yudhishthira will sit on the throne of Hastinapur. He was declared to be yuvaraja. Yuvaraja means the King designate. This produced a tremendous difficulty and a tremendous rivalry between Duryodhana and his followers and Yudhishthira and his followers. Duryodhana and his brothers were called Kauravas. In the story this word is often used − Kauravas. And these five sons were called Pandavas. The son of Pandu came to be called Pandavas. And the entire clan was called Kuru. So the sons of Kuru came to be called Kauravas. So there was a great conflict now between the Kauravas and the pandavas. Now the story is very long.

But for our purposes, I will make reference only to a few episodes. These five Pandavas, each one was reputed for his own special skill. Yudhishthira was famous for his knowledge, his truthfulness, sense of justice and pursuit of Dharma. That was his specialty, his special skill. Bhima was very famous for his courage, boldness, strength, and heroism. He is described to have a very huge body. He could even kill a person by only embracing somebody that much was the power of his body. And Bhima was a special enemy of Duryodhana because Duryodhana also had a great strength of the body and he knew that in a war, even the battle wrestling, if the two had to wrestle only Bhima could succeed in killing him only by wrestling. So he was greatly afraid of Bhima and there was a great rivalry between Duryodhana and Bhima. Third was Arjuna. Now Arjuna, although the third son, he was the best man of the whole age, not only of the family. He was the best man of his own age, the entire age, entire period. His greatest achievement was in the field of archery. His capacity of shooting with arrows was so great that there was no rival of his in his time except one person; that was Karna. But nobody knew that Karna was actually the brother of these five brothers. It was known only to Kunti; not even to Karna.

Even Karna himself did not know that he was the son of Kunti. How come? It's a story which I will tell you later on because if I tell you all the stories, the main story will be left out in the middle.

Therefore Karna and Arjuna were great rivals; just as Duryodhana and Bhima were great Rivals. Karna and Arjuna were the greatest rivals. Arjuna himself believed that he was superior to Karna although he was mistaken in this regard.

Actually Karna was superior in his skill as a warrior and Karna knew this very well. He knew rightly that he was superior to Arjuna, but Arjuna had many other qualities. Not only archery but he was a man of a very developed temperament.

In India, we have three temperaments. Everywhere these three temperaments exist, but in India they are known that human beings can be divided into people of three temperaments. All the people of the world can be divided into three categories. The lowest category is called tamasic. Tamasic are those people who are dull in their mind, lazy, idle, inert. They are called tamasic. Then, the second category belongs to people who are called rajasic − people who are passionate, dynamic, kinetic, ambitious. They are called rajasic.

The third category is sattvic. Sattvic are those who are balanced in their mind; harmonious with others; very quiet in their temperament; desirous of pursuit of knowledge; in all ways to do the right; full of love and joy spontaneously. Like many of you are sattvic here from whatever I observed you.

I feel that many of you are sattvic in temperament, who don't rush into action without seeing things properly. They take decisions rightly. They are concerned with the right decision.

For them action is less important than the right decision, that is sattvic nature. They would prefer failure, but they would like to do the right thing. They would not mind to be destroyed even but they would like to uphold the right action.

According to Indian theory after sattvic there is another higher degree that is called divya, divya temperament; the divine temperament.

Now Arjuna belonged to sattvic temperament. So not only was he a great warrior, the best archer of his time, he was the best sattvic man of his time. And his capacities, his skills of war, were so great that everybody knew that on the side of Pandavas, the most important man was Arjuna. He was recognized, he was respected, so greatly, not only by Pandavas and the friends of Pandavas, but also by Kauravas, except as I told you Karna who rightly believed that he was superior to Arjuna, but actually he was also the brother of Arjuna, all the five brothers.

Now, there is one very nice important episode in the life of Pandavas just to show you the capacity of archery on the part of Arjuna. That episode refers to a stage where all the five brothers were living in a forest along with their mother Kunti. And these five brothers were taken to a nearby place where a princess was to choose a bridegroom. In those times there was a system where princesses used to choose their own bridegrooms in public. So, many young men, princes, would come, assemble, and each one would show his efficiency, proficiency, skill, his greatness, and the princess would go around each prince and a bard, or a singer, or poet would go on describing the greatness of each one. And if the princess felt that this one was the best then she would garland him. That will be the sign that she has chosen her husband. In Sanskrit this occasion was called swayamvara.

Swayamvara, swayam means oneself; vara means choosing; self-choosing; the occasion of self choosing.

Now the princess who had to choose the husband was called Draupadi (it’s a very important name in Mahabharata). She was the best woman of her times. One day, we should be able to give you the full story of Draupadi.

Abha, is preparing a good account of Draupadi. Once it is ready, I will present it to you. She was the best woman of her times.

And therefore many kings and many princes had come to be chosen by Draupadi. Even Duryodhana had gone there to be chosen. And so had Karna; he also had gone there to be chosen. Now, there was a very difficult condition to get the hand of Draupadi. The father of Draupadi had put up a very difficult problem, which had to be solved by anybody who wanted the hand of Draupadi. Draupadi would garland only that man who would succeed in the test which was put up. Now, what was the test? There was a small pond full of water. Above the water pool there was a revolving wheel, a wheel which was revolving. On the wheel there was a fish which was also revolving. Now the test was − the shooter should not look upwards; he can only look downward in the image which was reflected from above and he was supposed to shoot the eye of the fish above. You can see the intricacy of the whole test.

There was a wheel which was moving. So it was not a fixed point, the fish was revolving on the wheel. And the eye therefore is a small part of the whole body of the fish because not only to shoot the fish (which should have been quite easy) but the eye of the fish straight, absolutely small target which was revolving. You don't have to look upwards. You can't look upwards. You only have to see the reflection by looking downward putting your arrow upward, you have to shoot in such a way at exactly the right time to just shoot the eye of the fish upwards. This was the test. All failed. So many suitors had come, all failed. But Karna knew that he could. He was the greatest archer of his time. But when he stood up, Draupadi announced, “I shall not select you” even before he could try. This was a tremendous insult to one of the best of his times. What was the reason? The reason was that, although Kunti was his mother, nobody knew that his mother was Kunti and he was brought up by the wife of the charioteer who is supposed to belong to a lower stratum, status of a society. So she announced that since he is a son of a charioteer she would not marry him even if he would succeed in the test. He was disqualified to enter into the test right from the beginning. This was felt by Karna as a very great insult; is a part of the whole story so I am bringing out this particular episode. Now, at that time, these five brothers were present in the court, but they were disguised as brahmins not as warriors; that was a condition in which they were reduced. How and why I am not going into that story.

Later on we can deal with that story. They were not known to be kshatriyas, but known as brahmins and Arjuna was asked to try his hand by his colleagues. They knew that Arjuna was the greatest archer so he came forward and he accomplished in no time.