‘Mahābhārata’ is one of the grandest epics ever composed. The seer-sage of this magnum opus is Vēda-Vyāsa or Bādarāyaṇa or Kṛṣṇa Dwaipāyana. Actually, he composed a briefer version, the crux of what we know now as Mahābhārataṃ, by the name “JAYA”. His disciples, later on, added many more historical aspects and enlarged it to its present state and gave it the name “Mahābhārataṃ”, meaning the grand legend of the land of Bhārat. This epic is named as “Panchama Vēda – The fifth Vēda”, so it has been attributed by an esoteric and spiritual flavor by our ancients. Also, knowing whether an event occurred or not, does not help a spiritual aspirant – only the essence of the event helps. That is why, without going into the details of historical validity, let us aim at the esoteric and symbolic significance.
Why has this epic gained so much importance? What is in it that attracted so much attention? How is this any different from other ‘Ithihāsās’/historical accounts? There are many more questions, in a truth seeker’s head. As this is a blog article, and also given my limited understanding, we will take few instances of the epic and aggrandize it in terms of the secretive wealth that it is pregnant with.
The Name – JAYA and significance of the number ’18’:
Vēdic literature is one of the most efficiently encoded literatures of the world. Encoded by six keys. (Refer to my article on Vēdic Mysticism). Among all those keys, there is a common key that acts like substratum – the key of NUMBERS. As Pythagoras says – “Numbers exist in space as properties…” and in our scriptures, they are presided over by the sage “Kapila” (refer to my article on Atheism and GOD). So, using numbers wisely, can help decoding the scriptural meanings. For example, whenever the term “VASŪ” occurs in a mantra, one can replace it with “EIGHT (8)”, because the same scriptures quote that there are 8 vasūs. This kind of knowledge helped the sages to pack in two-fold, three-fold and many-fold concepts in one single sentence. For now, that which suffices is the following:
“Aṃkānāṃ Vāmatō Gatiḥ”
(Numbers should be read leftward)
The following association of the Sanskrit alphabet with numbers should be followed (owing to the sankhyā śāstra or the science of numbers):
Ka Kha Ga Gha Ǹ —- Ca Cha Ja Jha Ñ
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
Ṭa Ṭha Ḍa Ḍha Ṇa —- Ta Tha Da Dha Na
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
Pa Pha Ba Bha Ma
1 2 3 4 5
Ya Ra La Va Śa Ṣa Sa Ha
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Now you see, the name JAYA — is made of 8 and 1 making JAYA = 81. But as per the aforementioned rule, numbers are to be read from right to left, so the number given for JAYA will be ’18’.
This 18, keeps reverberating through out the scripture: It has 18 cantos; The war is waged for 18 days; There are a total of 18 Akṣhauhiṇīs (army groups). The song of the GOD – Bhagavadgīta consists of 18 chapters, expounding the wisdom of ancient system of YOGA; etc. As always the case with scriptures: “Yat piṃḍē tad Brahmānḍē”, meaning “As above in heavens, so below in the MAN”, let us also include MAN (human) for completeness. A human’s birth takes place after 9 months of pregnancy. This is 3/4ths of a year-cycle. This has 9 new moons and 9 full moons making a total of 18 lunar NODAL PHASES (Amāvāsya and Pūrṇima). The same author (Vyāsa) composed 18 purāṇās to make us understand the wisdom of the vēdic lore, in this grand-formula.
Another way of seeing 18 is in its reduced form i.e. 18 = 1+8 = 9. In the Gita, there is a way to study where, you pair up the chapters 1-18, 2-17, etc., and decode the teaching – which gives rise to essentially, 9 divisions. Also, astrologically speaking, planet MARS, which is attributed to the property of WAR, is given the numerical value is 9. Any circular divisions are made in multiples of 9 — 27 nakṣtrās (asterisms), 360 degrees of circle, etc. Also, if you refer my article on “Spiritual symbolism of a woman”, I mention about the 9 months of pregnancy and nava randhrās/nine holes of human body, etc. Because, MAHĀBHĀRATA expounds on vēdic wisdom, for which Jyautiṣa/Astrology is one of the keys (ṢAḌAṂGĀS), I had to bring this analogy in. Remember, any scripture, needs to be looked as a WHOLE of one wisdom and not separately. Only then, will you understand the whole outlook.
No wonder, the author gave an apt title having a numerical value of 18 (or 1+8=9) and a literal meaning ‘Victory’, for indeed all this is victory of life in many dimensions (from human birth to literal War).
Also, interesting to note that this is my 18th article of my blog. I just realized it now 🙂
The Characters and the story:
The essence of spiritual concepts is very intimately woven into the nature and the nomenclature of the characters of this epic. Herein lies one of the easiest, yet one of the most hidden keys to unlock the secrets. It is easy, because everything is right infront of us in the forms of names and natures. But it is hidden because, it is camaflouged with the story and we often tend to resonate with the story rather than the underlying current. This is a practical symbolism. When some one says “ROSE”, the sound momentarily induces us a glimpse of rose flower to us. Similarly, the characters’ names are chosen and their characterization is made in such a way that, it induces a sense and essence of the LEGEND inside our minds, if the KEY is known. The KEYS are to be obtained from the learned. Here, we will surf over the beauties of few of these secrets, a little while. Let us take the following main characters:
- Pānḍu — The white king
- Pānḍavās — His five sons
- Dhṛtarāṣṭra — The blind king
- Kauravās — His 100 sons
- Draupadi — Wife of pāndavās
- Krishna — The lord
There are very specific metaphysical reasoning to choose: Two brother kings who are white and blind, the white king having only 5 sons and the blind king having 100 sons, etc.
- Pāndu is the WHITE king. WHITE, represents calmness and hence represents the pure MIND.
- Dhṛtarāṣṭra is the blind king. For him, the whole world is DARK. Because, he is blinded by the sense of the secondary ‘i am’, the sense with which we all say “I am so and so”. This sense is blind, because, it is unable to see the TRUTH that the three aspects – Doer, Process of doing and the thing that is done (like subject, object and predicate) are one and the SAME.
- The story says that The WHITE king dies after the birth of five sons. These five sons are born from the boons given by five dēvās. When one refers to Āyurvēda, one can understand how dēvās are related to our bodily parts. Here, the dēvās are the principles that govern and preside over five senses. So, one way to look at five sons is the birth of five senses — which form the basic and only inputs from the external world. But this means, the pure mind that we spoke of, is no more pure, as it is polluted with the input data. Or, we can see it in the following way: To facilitate any sense organ, our mind has to be present there. If it is in its pure state, we can not sense. If we are sensing,, that means the mind is no more in pure state. So, it is said that MIND is dead, into the five senses or allegorically, the WHITE king is dead after the birth of five sons.
- Dhṛtarāṣṭra has 100 sons. 100 is ‘Śata’ in sanskrit which is called as ‘Anaṃta Vāchī’, meaning (100, 1000, 10000, etc.,) symbolizes infinite, not that specific number alone. So, from the ego-centered self, there arises hundreds of evil ideas, thoughts, habits etc. Every name of the kaurava implies some or the other evil/bad thing.
- Draupadi is their wife, which bonds the five senses. This is the WILL aspect which is resultant of GOD’s WILL, and that is why, when the pāndavās marry draupadi, they first meet KRISHNA as well.
- When the evil qualities of the ego-self takes prominant role, they disperse the senses into wilderness. This is what is the expulsion of pāndavās into the forests. When they return, the WAR suggests the every day fight of the senses trying to overcome the ego-self with the WILL. But one needs a God’s guidance. This is given as Krishn’as teachings, which in essence suggest: “Know that ‘I AM’ in all, including you, as ONE and realize the work being done ‘through YOU, by ME (the I AM in all)’ than ‘by YOU’ “.
- etc., Much more is there. I guess these work as enough HINTS in this aspect.
One can also see the same aspects in terms of YOGA as well. For example, please go through the book “God talks with Arjuna” – a rendering of Bhagawadgīta by Yogananda Paramahamsa (author of Autobiography of a Yogi), where, he gives a very beautiful YOGIC decoding key of the character map in the introductory part. In a similar way, with proper research and concentration, if one digs deeper, the plethora of manifold wisdom that unfolds from Mahabhārata is splendorous.
Sub-parts of this epic that are worth mentioning:
- Viṣṇu Sahasra Nāma and Śiva Sahasra Nāma: These both are given in the same scripture. The concept of ‘sahasra nāma’, thousand names – is very ancient. Vyāsa brought into light this ancient art. As I told already, sahasra not only means thousand, but also infinite. It also implies (refer my extended-article on Worshipping Bhairavi) Sa + Ha + Sa + RA => Expression(Ra) of breath in (Sa) + breath out (Ha) cyclically. The breathing is is of ours, our life’s, the world’s and the Universe’s. This is called Breath of Brahma. So, ‘Sahasra nama’ are the ‘pointers’ to the one, whom we do not know of yet, but can induce the sense of the lord who breaths IN and OUT the whole cosmos, are these thousand names. Just like, we can not convey to a person who has never tasted the taste of apple, what it is, one can not convey the taste of the LORD directly. But we can use umpteen examples, if available to bring the other person close to the sense of taste that we are trying toe express. This is the concept of THOUSAND names, as well. It brings the reciter and contemplator close enough to the sense of the “I AM” in all or the LORD. Why did I say “I AM in all”? Because, the word SA-HA-SRA has the seed words: Sa and Ham. These are seeds of Śakti and Śiva as per Tantra. Uniting them is the ONE LORD before separated into śakti and śiva or puruṣa and prakriti — called Sadāśiva or SO-HAM, etc. That is why, the pointers of SAHASRA NĀMA point to the ONE in ALL, I AM in all and the ALL in ONE. That is why Viṣṇu sahasra starts with Viśvaṃ Visṇuḥ, meaning ALL is Viṣṇu. As you go deeper in to these names, you will see the unity in diversity, of course, with the help of proper keys and guidance.
- Bhagawadgīta: Every one knows about this and I also talked a bit about this earlier. I am planning to write a future article, on esoteric lines, on this, so I will leave it here.
- Garuḍōpākhyāna: This is one of the very important sub-parts. This is actually an allegorical extension of the Rig-Vēdic hymn called ‘Asya Vāmīya Sūkta‘ or ‘Suparṇa Sūkta‘. The story embeds plethora of secrets. Let us go into some details here: Kaśyapa has two wives VINATA (aditi) and KADRUVA (diti). Vinata is mother of Eagles while Kadruva is the mother of Serpents. The same SUPARṆA of Rig VĒDA is here GARUḌA. Also, this story has the concepts of evolution of reptiles into birds. It also symbolizes the Rise of EAGLE to the heights of LIGHTS, while the fall of snakes into the darkness of the burrows of Earth. That is why, Eagle gets the immortal nectar, meaning the one who rides on the dual-wings of DUALITIES of the world, i.e. who is beyond the sense of separate existence, becomes immortal, for such a person is verily the ONE or I AM as we told before. But the snakes, symbolized by their venom, which curbs the consciousness, and their lurking in the DARK of the Earth, symbolize the fall of ADAM or MAN into the mundane world and poisoning his LIGHT of consciousness by the venom of individual existence. Their crawling is very strong symbolism for the attachment of us to the Earth. There is much more to this story than meets the eye.Also, snakes symbolize the eternal TIME as symbolized by the snake eating its tail. Never ending TIME. That is why snake is presided over by Vishnu as Kāla Puruṣa. Then, birds will symbolize space, for their free movement. Thus, the two liniages of Kaśyapa are Space and TIME.Their Vēdic counterparts- Aditi means INFINITE – having no limit or no boundary or no DUAL, and DITI means finite or having a dual existence. ADITI is mother of Ādityās, SUNS, the lords of LIGHT and DITI is mother of “Daityās”, Asurās. Also, kaśyapa represents the vault of heaven (as the word means “observed from Earth” and the observer is called Paśyaka). So, then Aditi represents the East or day and Diti the west or night. In this manner, one can extend the concept using astrological key as well.
These both are sister-stories and hence will enlighten each other when read side by side. Thus we see, Garuḍa is the inner-SUN or Āditya in the Vēda and he vehicle of Lord HARI in the Purāṇā.
- There are more episodes like: Ajāmīḷōpākhyāna, Nahuṣa Praśna, etc., which are also pregnant with many deeper aspects.
Thus, the epic Mahābhārata is pregnant with so many secrets, hidden meanings and esoteric concepts that I do not think my life time is enough to explore. From the little that I explored, I have put the gist in front of you. This wisdom belongs to the age old masters. I am but a small fly flying over the vast vistas of this wisdom, trying to breath in the whole. I am to thank Master .E. K, Sri Aurobindo, Sir Woodroffe, H. P. Blavatsky, Sri Anantacharya, etc., for their benevolence that is showered in the form of their works, to this world. There are many more works that are waiting to LIGHT the modern world, provided the world is ready to receive!