Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
The world has progressed a lot due to scientific advancement and information technology. Today we enjoy such things which could not have even been imagined in the past. Science has made immense contribution to mankind. Yet we are not happy. The whole world is going through a crisis and there is not a trace of peace anywhere. We see nothing but evil all around. Ethics gives us lessons on morality. But today people hardly bother about morality. Ethics gives us moral principles that govern the behaviour of a person and teaches the individual to be a true human being.
Today we find that the world has developed a lot due to the contributions of science. But the development is material and not spiritual. Hence people are not happy despite all these developments and modern way of life. Compared to ancient times we feel that we are much more advanced than the people of the past. Yet it appears that we have to learn a lot from the past, which taught moral values. The ancient literature teaches people the value of morality and give moral guidance.
We have been blessed with two great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, composed by Maharshi Valmiki and Maharshi Vyas Dev respectively. Both these epics give us moral lessons on various aspects of life. Ramayana is based on solar dynasty and the kingdom of Ayodhya. Ramayana teaches us the value of truth, loyalty and the duty of the children to their parents. We also notice that a good-character person may be swayed to evil ways, if the person is not strong enough to resist the vile blandishment of some evil-minded person.
Dasaratha, the king of Ayodhya, had arranged for the coronation of his eldest son Ramchandra as the crown prince of the kingdom. He was a very wise and virtuous king. But he made a grave mistake. He planned the coronation of Ramchandra without informing his favourite queen Kaikeyi. He also made another mistake by sending Kaikeyi’s son Bharata to his maternal grand father’s kingdom during that period. So it does sum that even the wise people do make mistakes.
Kaikeyi’s faithful maid Manthara saw the celebrations in the kingdom and she learnt about Rama’s coronation. She went immediately to Kaikeyi’s apartment and gave her the news. Kaikeyi loved her stepson Rama and she was a noble person. But Manthara poisoned her mind with ill advice. So misunderstanding was inevitable.
At Manthara’s instigation Kaikeyi asked the king to make Bharat the king of Ayodhya and to send Tama to the forest for fourteen years exile. Dasaratha was shocked, but he could not possibly refuse to grant the boon to her, as he had promised to give whatever she wanted. Kaikeyi was a good queen. But what is obvious is that even a noble person may be swayed to the wrong path by a malicious person. Perhaps Kaikeyi was not strong enough to resist Manthara’s ill advice and her love for her son dispelled her fine qualities.
Ramayana demonstrates Ramchandra’s devotion to his father. After hearing about his father’s pledge to Kaikeyi, he immediately agreed to go to the forest for fourteen years. He was not at all sad. His only idea was to obey his father’s wish and renounce the kingdom. He was not even annoyed with his step mother Kaikeyi and he respected her as his own mother. He immediately planned to go for vanvas for fourteen years, as was desired by Kaikeyi.
All the characters of Ramayana set some moral standard. Sita’s father Rajarshi Janak was a king, but he was also a ‘rishi’, who worked for the welfare of the people of his kingdom. All these characters depicted in the Ramayana are strong, bold and noble. Ravana was the king of Lanka. He was proficient in Vedas and Sastras. He was a good king. But pride and lust caused his ruin. He abducted Sita. His action shows that even a scholar can be misguided by prie and lust. Then the person loses his common sense. He banished his brother, the virtuous Bibhishana from his kingdom, because he could not take his good advice due to pride. What we have learnt from Ravana’s character is that pride and selfishness are highly damaging to one’s character. Yet we have to say that though he is projected as a villain in Ramayana, he never took any advantage of Sita’s helplessness and did not harm her in any way.
Let us turn to Mahabharata, a great book composed by Maharshi Vyas Deva. In Mahabharata, the main topic is the conflict between two clans of the same lineage. Debobrata, better known as Bhisma, was the forefather of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. He was unparalleled. He was the son of king Santanu and Ganga Devi. His mother had left the king after his birth, because he broke his promise to her. She took away her little child with her and gave his proper training in every sphere of life. When he became skilled enough, Ganga Devi returned him to the king.
One day Santanu saw a beautiful girl and he felt very much attracted to her. She was Satyabati, the daughter of a fisher man. The king met him and offered his proposal to marry his daughter. The father agreed to the king’s proposal on condition that his daughter’s son must be the legal heir to the throne of Hastinapur. The king was nonplussed. How could he possibly deprive his legal heir, the virtuous Debobrata from the royal throne of Hastinapur? Sadly he left the place, but he remained discontented. Debobrata observed his father’s sorrow and he was worried. He asked his father if he had any problem. But the king did not divulge the cause of his sorrow to anybody.
Then by asking the charioteer of the kind Debobrata come to know about the fisherman’s daughter, whom the king used to meet. He immediately went to meet Satyabati’s father and come to learn that the king wanted to marry his daughter. He also learnt about the conditions set by the fisherman. Without hesitation Debobrata announced that he could never claim the throne of hastinapur and he assured the fisherman that his grandson would be the future king of Hastinapur. The fisherman believed him, but he said that even if he never became the king, his future son may claim the throne. Debobrata immediately vowed without a moment’s hesitation that he would never marry. The gods showered flowers on him from the heaven on account of Debobrata’s amazing promise and they also called him ‘Bhisma’ because of that. It is obvious that Bhisma was a very noble, bold and virtuous person. He remained a bachelor all his life and served the kings of Hastinapur faithfully till the end.
To keep up that vow he often had to go against his judgment. That is why he fought against the Pandavas, whom he loved dearly, in the battle of Kurukshetra. He was bound by his promise to support Duryodhana, whose actions he did not approve. During his life he committed no sin. Bhisma’s actions were perfect and his devotion to his father is amazing. He sacrificed his life’s happiness to fulfill his father’s desire to marry Satyabati. All his life he remained faithful to the throne of hastinapur. To maintain his promise, he had to bear many unpleasant events. He remained a mute spectator in the royal court when the Kuravas insulted Draupadi. He also did not protest when the Kauravas cheated the Pandavas in that infamous game of dice. Bhisma had to be in the side of king Dhritarastra to keep up his promise. He was sad, but could not go against the king of Hastinapur.
There are a few major characters in the Mahabharata, but they did make mistakes. Karna was a towering personality and was the son of Surya Dev. But his mother Kunti Devi abandoned him, because she was unmarried and wanted to avoid scandal. For that mistake she suffered anguish for her whole life. Karna was adopted by a charioteer and he was a great warrior, equal to Arjuna. But he did not divulge the truth of his caste to his guru Parsurama. It was a blunder for him that indirectly caused his death in the battle of Kurukshetra. But from him we can learn the value of loyalty and friendship. He never disregarded his allegiance to Duryodhana, as he was grateful to him.
Lord Sri Krishna is the most lovable and adorable character in Mahabharata. He is the God incarnate. Sri Krishna tried his best to establish peace and avoid war. But Duryodhana’s excessive jealousy and greed prompted him to opt for war. Lord Sri Krishna’s teachings are contained in the Bhagavad Gita, which is incorporated in the Mahabharata. Even today we learn lots of things from the Gita — like the mystery of the soul and questions regarding life and death. Sri Krishna in the Gita is unparalleled. They make us wiser and they also bring peace and happiness to the human mind. Even today many devout Hindus start the day by chanting some hymns from the Gita. The text is venerated by the Hindus as a sacred religions text.