The Mahabharata As a Moral Story
There was a common theme and a common moral in The Mahabharata; the Pandavas were consistently seen as the “good guys,” and usually succeeded in making the right decisions, while the Kauravas were shown as the “bad guys,” and usually made bad moral decisions that hurt the Pandavas in one way or another. Throughout most of the story, the Kauravas were not punished for making these harmful decisions, but in the end, the Pandavas defeated them and they were successful in regaining their kingdom.
The main moral in the story was that evil may gain short-term victory, but in the end, good will always win; this moral was apparent throughout the story, and definitely taught Hindu readers how to conduct themselves and the importance of dharma. The Mahabharata was a moral story with an adventure story as a window-dressing; it taught the reader important lessons and about right and wrong while telling the story of the Pandavas’ struggle and adventure.
The conflict between the Pandavas, which included Yudhistira, Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva, and the Kauravas, which included Duryodhana and his 99 brothers, began early in The Mahabharata. After Pandu, the father of the Pandavas, passed away, the Pandavas were under the care of their uncle Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra eventually named Yudhistira his heir apparent, and the Pandavas went to work conquering other territories and gaining more land for the Kuru kingdom.
The Pandavas were loved and worshipped for their hard work and devotion to the kingdom by the public, but this upset Dhritarashtra because his own sons were not as famous as the Pandavas. Dhritarashtra’s most crafty son Duryodhana suggested that he kill the Pandavas to avoid losing control of the kingdom. Dhritarashtra agreed, and convinced the Pandavas to go to another town, where he would have someone burn down the house that the Pandavas were staying in while they slept inside.
However, owevethe Pandavas were made privy to Dhritarashtra’s plan, and they were not killed, but were forced to go into exile so that the Kauravas would not know that they had lived through the fire. As a result, they lost their fame and their ties to the kingdom that they had fought so hard to expand. While they were in exile, Bhima saved a town from rakshasa, an evil demon that was eating the townspeople, but he could not come forward and get the respect and praise that he deserved because they had to remain invisible. This was the first example in The Mahabharata of the Kauravas causing harm to the Pandavas.
Eventually, the Pandavas had to reveal themselves again because Arjuna won a wife named Draupadi for himself and his brothers in a contest that only a member of his caste (kshatriya) and of his skill level could have succeeded in. Once Dhritarashtra learned that his nephews had lived, he panicked because he was afraid that the Pandavas and Draupadi’s father would join forces to take over Dhritarashtra’s kingdom.
So, Dhritarashtra and his sons decided to invite the Pandavas back to the kingdom, and when they returned, Dhritarashtra gave them a seemingly useless desert portion of the kingdom. However, the Pandavas succeeded in building an extraordinary and amazing kingdom in the desert that made Dhritarashtra’s kingdom appear inadequate. In this case, the Pandavas, after making good moral decisions, were able to outsmart the Kauravas, who made bad moral decisions.
Once the Kauravas realized that their kingdom had been trumped by the Pandavas’ kingdom, they were angry. Duryodhana devised a plan to take back the Pandavas’ portion of the kingdom, and invited Yudhistira to play a game of dice. It was Yudhistira’s duty as a member of the kshatriya caste to accept Duryodhana’s offer, so he was obligated to go to Dhritarashtra’s kingdom and play. Duryodhana enlisted the help of his very deceitful uncle Sakuni, who played dice with Yudhistira twice, won all of his possessions and forced the Pandavas into exile for thirteen years (including one year of remaining unrecognized) after Yudhistira and his brothers had “labored hard to achieve prosperity” (Narayan 48). After the Pandavas had worked hard to build their own kingdom and build a life of their own, the greedy Kauravas took it all away.
During their thirteen years of exile, the Pandavas were living in the forest and were searching for water after chasing a deer. Yudhistira sent his brothers, one after another, into the woods to find a lake. When none of his brothers returned to him, Yudhistira went to investigate and found each of his brothers lying dead on the ground by a beautiful lake.
The yaksha who had killed his brothers demanded that Yudhistira answer a hundred questions before he took a drink of the water. Yudhistira was so wise and smart that he impressed the yaksha and brought his brothers back to life. The yaksha then revealed that he was actually Yudhistira’s own father, Yama, who had come to test Yudhistira. Since Yudhistira had passed his test, Yama promised that the Pandavas would remain unrecognized in the last year of their exile. This time, the Pandavas prevailed because Yudhistira was wise and made intelligent decisions.
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Since Yama kept the Pandavas hidden for the last year of their exile, just as the Kauravas demanded, they were able to come out of exile after the thirteenth year. The Pandavas desperately wanted their kingdom back from the Kauravas, but they preferred to make a deal with them using words instead of battling them. The Pandavas sent a well-educated priest to Dhritarashtra’s kingdom to try to convince them to return the kingdom without a physical fight, but the Kauravas insisted upon a war, so the Pandavas had to comply. This was the final battle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
Krishna, an incarnation of a God and a very powerful individual, offered his own personal help and his troops to the two sides. The Kauravas were foolish and unwise and decided to take his army, while the Pandavas were happy to have just Krishna on their side. Overall, the Kauravas had more troops than the Pandavas at the start of the war, but the Pandavas won.
They killed all but one of Dhritarashtra’s sons, including the nasty Duryodhana, and reclaimed their kingdom. After many, many years of the Kauravas using bad judgment and having bad morals but seeing no consequences, the Pandavas prevailed because of their wisdom, intelligence and understanding of what was right and wrong.
The Mahabharata was a story all about morals. Throughout the majority of Narayan’s version of the story, the reader could see that the Kauravas had bad morals and made selfish decisions that harmed others without ever being punished. The Pandavas were always at the receiving end of the Kauravas’ wickedness, even though they had good morals and made intelligent decisions. But after the war, the reader could see that having qualities like the Pandavas was beneficial in the long run.
The Pandavas made many of their decisions based upon dharma and duty instead of their own personal selfishness, and this is very important in Hinduism. In Hinduism, it is essential to make decisions based upon how it will affect one’s future, not just the present. Although The Mahabharata could be considered an adventure story, it most effectively showed the significance of making morally-correct decisions and made it clear that it is better to conduct yourself more like a Pandava than a Kaurava.