Friday, July 5, 2013

An Epic Tale, Mahabharata

"Lying on the bed of arrows, Bhisma thinks of me, and my mind is gone to him, to that repository of knowledge. Strive for truth. Be good." --The Mahabharata

 Many here in the West are familiar with the Bagvad Gita, a famous dialog between Krsna and Arjuna; however fewer are aware that it is actually a text contained within the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is an epic tale. It is the longest of poems, stretching out more than 100,000 verses!

According to tradition, its author is the sage Vyasa, the Arranger; however current scholarship has determined that the text was compiled over a lengthy period of time. It reached its current form about the fourth century CE. Along side the Ramayana, the Mahabharata is considered  two of the major epics in Hinduism, and sometimes compared to the great texts of other faiths
During the medieval period in Europe, the poem existed in two major forms, one northern and one southern. It was re-told in a Tamil version.

The central hero of the story is Yudhisthira, the son of Dharma personified as a deity. It is divided into 18 parts and is often acted out in a play throughout India and else where. It is a fluid and contemporary part of modern Hinduism. In the 1980's there was a version presented on television which was very popular.
 The origins of the story lay in the non-Brahminical social groups of the Aryavarta, especially the Ksatiya aristocrats, giving some understanding of their lives. The epic was overshadowed by the orthodox Brahmans and given its ideology by the same.
In a version told by Indian author, R.K. Narayan, the tale is shortened to its most critical elements and was published in London in 1978.

While the story may be enjoyed on many levels, it is an allegory and a metaphor for the human plane, the ethics of the higher and lower selves and the struggle between the two, and forms a profound philosophy. The story's central theme is a struggle over the rulership of a kingdom by two clans. It ends with the death of Krsna and the gradual uncovering of his divine identity.

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