kheru2006 (kheru2006) wrote,

Surfing on riddles into the new year

THE 'MAHABHARATA': A classic Indian guide on how to live life

A misfortune may sometimes turn out to be fortuitous. Incidents which are initially painful are sometimes the genesis of new pathways of thinking, even life.

I had an accident recently. That, of course, was bad. However, it afforded me the opportunity to reflect on life and its vicissitudes.

I also used the time available to get reacquainted with the Mahabharata, the world's longest epic poem. I had read short English versions of it, twice, decades ago, but I had always wanted to read a longer version.

So, with time on my hands, I decided to read the Mahabharata translated by Kamala Subramaniam. The original is in Sanskrit. I hope, soon, to read the unabridged version of the story that was first told more than 2,500 years ago.

It is said that what is found in the Mahabharata can be found elsewhere, but what is not found in it cannot be found anywhere else.

Simply put, it is a narrative about two sets of royal cousins -- the Pandavas and Kauravas -- who go to war over land, and pride.

"The Mahabharata (is a) literary and spiritual marvel."- Professor James L. Fitzgerald

It has adventure, suspense, drama, humour, romance, battles, heroism, subterfuge, and everything else you can think of; and it is peopled by gods, demons, humans, animals and all sorts of beings.

There are discourses on a range of subjects, including the art of government, spirituality, morality, war, friendship, karma and duty.

The Mahabharata, like the Ramayana, continues to influence -- at least to some extent -- not just the Indian psyche, but that of many Asians.

I found the story, yet again, enthralling and educational and I would like to share a tiny part of it with you, for I am certain that we could all benefit immensely from it as we surf into 2013.

It is something worth pondering upon, and to use as a guide

I offer below a glimpse of the section known as the Yaksha Prasna -- a question-and-answer session between the eldest Pandava brother Yudhisthira and a Yaksha or nature spirit (who later turns out to be Yama, the god of death and justice).

This is the context of the Yaksha Prasna: trudging through the forest during their exile, the five Pandava princes become thirsty. Yudhisthira sends one of his brothers, Nakula, to look for water. Nakula finds a lake, but as he is about to quench his thirst, a voice warns him not to drink the water without answering some riddles. The thirsty Nakula ignores the warning and begins to drink the water, and dies. The other three brothers arrive at the spot, one at a time, in search of their missing brother(s), and each drinks the water without heeding the warning.

Yudhisthira arrives last, and sees his dead brothers. He heeds the warning, and requests the owner of the voice to reveal himself. A Yaksha appears before him and asks more than 120 questions.

Here are a few of the questions asked, together with Yudhisthira's answers:

Question: What is weightier (more important) than the Earth?

Answer: One's mother.

Question: What is loftier than the sky?

Answer: One's father.

Question: What is swifter than the wind?

Answer: The mind.

Question: What is more numerous than grass?

Answer: Thoughts.

Question: Who is that person who enjoys the objects of the senses, is intelligent, highly esteemed and popular, yet, though breathing, does not live?

Answer: The one who does not respect and care for God, guests, servants, ancestors and his own self.

Question: By what is the world enveloped?

Answer: By ignorance.

Question: What is the highest refuge of virtue?

Answer: Liberality.

Question: What is the highest refuge of happiness?

Answer: Good behaviour.

Question: What is best among blessings?

Answer: Good health.

Question: What is the most valuable of possessions?

Answer: Knowledge.

Question: What is the best among laudable things?

Answer: Integrity.

Question: What is the highest of happiness?

Answer: Contentment.

Question: What is the highest duty of man?

Answer: Not to injure any being.

Question: What is that, controlling which, one will never have cause for regret?

Answer: The mind.

Question: What is that, when renounced, makes one likeable?

Answer: Pride.

Question: What is that, when renounced, gives no cause for regret?

Answer: Anger.

Question: What is mercy?

Answer: Wishing happiness to all.

Question: Who is pious?

Answer: One who is concerned with the welfare of all beings.

Question: Which man is considered honest?

Answer: One who desires the good of all creatures.

Question: Who can be considered as dead?

Answer: A miser.

Question: When is a kingdom considered dead?

Answer: When it is without a government.

Question: What is ablution?

Answer: Washing the mind clean of impurities.

Question: What is charity?

Answer: Charity consists in protecting all creatures.

Question: What is wickedness?

Answer: Speaking ill of others.

Question: What does one gain by acting after due deliberation?

Answer: Great success.

Question: What is wisdom?

Answer: Understanding the true nature of reality.

Question: By what does one become a Brahmin (highest caste)? Is it behaviour, or birth, or learning?

Answer: It is behaviour that makes a person a Brahmin, not birth or learning. One who has studied the four Vedas is considered inferior to the unlearned man if he is devoid of right conduct.

Question: What is the most wonderful thing in this world?

Answer: Day after day, people enter the temple of death. Despite seeing this, the living think and act as if they will live forever. Can anything be more wonderful than this?

"The Mahabharata (is a) literary and spiritual marvel."- Professor James L. Fitzgerald

A. Kathirasen  | A Kathirasen has been a journalist with the NST for 32 years. New Straits Times Columnist 27 December 2012
Tags: epic

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