Some Life Lessons from the Mahabharata

Dr. M.S  Sheeba


No one can look at the amazing epic Mahabharata without bowing their heads to Narayana, the best of men, Vyasa Muni and the goddess Saraswati. It contains all the emotions, themes, stories, objects of senses, brightness, strong and weak charactors, horror, the brilliance, beauty etc.  Beyond all this, it is a  passage through which, the gifted man is able to nurture his senses, to make him happy, to satisfy him, to ascend through the stages of his life from birth to death, there can see the ups and downs, the innumerable impressions, the literal expressions of the world into the boundless wisdom that stretches across the infinite universe.  It is an organized flow of topics and resources. Here, there is no need to doubt whether life will end when one understands the meanings of life and existence of man. The reason is that every spell we pass through has subtly made us understand it all. Here is full of lessons to care and share and to make life meaningful. There are many lessons to be learned in life hidden in the depths of the ocean of  Mahabharata. 

Key Words: Mahabharata, life lessons


There is an ultimate knowledge that man has to reach through various kinds of knowledge. The Mahabharata mainly highlights that unique wisdom.  The significance and necessity of morality and the acquisition of wealth, and especially what one should attain through it, are marked by this masterpiece work. The Mahabharata is also a never ending source of dignified culture. The ocean of the Mahabharata subtly contains what is meant by the supreme Moksha. This work literally captures the whole views and perspective of human life and various human traits. Every human being is different in everything except his inherent oneness. It is one’s own thoughts and actions that lead one to one’s own destiny. There are many different intertwined ways in front of human beings. It depends on the knowledge one acquires of which of those ways he can make his life enriched by advancing. It is only through knowledge that man can enter the path of truth. There can be multiple forms of ignorant humans and at the same time humans rich in wisdom in this ocean of world. But it may not be possible in a limited lifetime to find and analyse it all. But treaties like Mahabharata, pave the way for man to do so. The questions like, who is at fault? Which is right? What’s wrong? Where does lack of harmony in life occur? Who to trust? What is a moral life? What does amoral life offer? What is moral life? What is the key to wealth in life? What is lust? What kind of deeds should be performed? Where does pride and ignorance lead one? Why is man not satisfied with everything? What does satisfaction depend on? How should a man live to make his life enjoyable? etc., are came up throughout the life. The Mahabharata has the answers to all these questions. Its characters equip man to understand the rhythms of life and to overcome them. There is no doubt that the events and characters in it enable man to know and follow world justice.

The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are the only ancient literary works written in the technical style of epic. Epics should have dharma or duty, artha or wealth, kama or desire, moksha or salvation, histories about ancestors stories etc.

“Dharmarmarthakaama mokshaanam upadesham samanvitam

Poorvavrittam kathayuktam itihaasam prayakshati “

All this is combined in the Mahabharata. It tells the stories of the ancient Rajarshis, as well as much morale and moral stories and the history of the Pandava Kauravas. There is also an accompanying work on the history of Lord Krishna called Harivamsa. The name Mahabharata derives its name from its majesty and heaviness.

“Mahatvaat bhaaravatvaccha mahaabhaaratamuchyate”

The Mahabharata, which was developed in three phases, Jayam Bharatam and Mahabharatam, consists mostly of hymns in the Anushtup circle. It contains about one lakh verses. The word Jaya is derived from Vyasa and is written by Lord Ganesha. Vaishampayanan, a disciple of Vyasa, later told this to Janamejaya, the king of the Chandravamsa. When Janamejayan added many things to it, it became Bharata Later, when the sage Sutan narrated many other things to other sages in Naimisharanya, it became the Mahabharata.

An external dimension of the Mahabharata is the story of a particular royal family, the stories that led these kings to a tragic war, and the heroism, bravery and purity of its kings. It opens up a vast array of rivalries between good and evil, justice and injustice, right and wrong in everyday life. Third is the spiritual level, which is the subject of all lessons. It shines through in the Mahabharata. In Kurukshetra, the battlefield, one can see the differences between developed and undeveloped human beings, the spiritual call, the command, obedience and struggle of the body, the senses, the mind and the intellect.

“yadihaasti tadanyatra yannehaasti na tat kvachit”

This was the verse of Vyasa after composing Mahabharata story. The verse means, “What is here is everywhere, and what is not here is nowhere else” proclaims the universality of the Mahabharata, a true encyclopaedia. This work is enriched by the high imagination, intense and dynamic inquisitive intellect, profound thinking, immense wisdom, and instinct beyond subjectivity of the sage Badarayana Vyasa, a trikaalanjani, the knower of past present and future.

There are innumerable expressions of diverse traits and genealogies of more than fifty kingdoms from Barhi, the ancient king of India to the King Parikshit, son of Abhimanyu. It is rich in descriptions of the Ramayana, the enlightening Bhagavat Gita, the Anu Gita, the upa parva of Ashwamedha Parva, and the Vishnu Sahasranama on the Anusasana Parva. It includes geographical, astronomical, mathematical, psychological, and philosophical knowledge, as well as knowledge of various weapons. It contains great knowledge of the physical, social, political, and administrative disciplines, as well as the moral and ethical universal code of ethics. 

The light of Sanatana Dharma further sanctifies this work which contains all the above. The message that good values   should not be sacrificed for bad values   is pervasive throughout the Mahabharata.With so many events and characters throughout this work, it tells us indirectly and directly how life can be made better. In Mokshadharmaparva of Shanti Parva 2 , Yudhisthira asks his paternal grandfather Bhishma that, who can get rid of sorrow, achieve success in life and conquer the world. This is how Bhishmacharya gives the answer, “All events take place according to the nature of each. Be not in touch with anything, be as hypocritical as a child, and be willing to let go of selflessness and malicious thoughts. And must be blessed with glory, wisdom, and understanding. Do not be proud of your achievements and do not grieve over your losses. Always be happy. Unlike other species, humans indulge in lust, greed, and sensual pleasures. We are the cause of all our sorrows. Be free from bondage, merciless, lustful, not foolish, not angry, acting with great pleasure, and living according to the rules of science with restraint. Lack of pride, orderly life, generosity, not wanting anything from anyone, not caring for God and Father, not blaspheming, not sleeping during the day, not sinning by word of mouth and not violating the truth are all necessary for success in life. Also, do not violate the truth, speak sweetly, spend money on moral matters, abstain from alcohol and meat, eat only for life, have intercourse with women only for the sake of procreation, and have unwavering devotion to God”. Bhishmacharya says that all these are the basis for success in life.

It tells us where the roots of happiness are in the mountain of peace, what is the secret of success, what is the eternal truth, what is the need for enlightenment, how to achieve it, what is death and religion.

Dharma alone is the core of the universal doctrine of truth. The epic Mahabharata by Krishnadvaipayanan is an extraordinary expression of a series of events involving the Battle of Kurukshetra, the history of the Pandava Kauravas, their luxuries, paradoxes and appendages.

The Mahabharata covers the diversity of the world, the differences, the human disabilities, the antithetical traits, the vile roots, the good roots, the selfishness, the intense desire for human acceptance, the greed,   ambitions, all the possibilities of succumbing to emotions, and the nature of man covered by ignorance.

It is already come to know that whatever attitude one has, that attitude will be seen from the ground up by him looking at the Mahabharata.But it is also true that there can be only one level of eternity, praise and truth for everything. Anything else will be discoveries distorted by ignorance. In order to change such attitudes, it is necessary to remove all the impurities of body and mind and approach it in the right way. All of these events are covered by a subtlety of philosophy. The scriptures and gurus tell how to reach beyond this subtlety.

Greed and jealousy lead man to ruin is a great lesson put forward by Mahabharata. All means have been used here to wipe out the catastrophe of a great war. Yet the great war broke out  It shows that a helpless man must prevent the danger that is coming upon him, and that it would have happened if every atom in the body had been set up for an effective purpose. This is what the story of Pandavas shows.  The Mahabharata war story proves that, if one sets out for an effort with a full will, the whole world will be of help, and that tactical skill, cleverness, ingenuity and infallible tactical prowess will help the war more than any other weapon. Here it can be seen that a man who knows about dharma and adharma can even fight for the protection of dharma, Minor misdeeds have also been accepted for the sake of great charity. The assassination of Guru Dronacharya is an example for this. And that the laws of the battlefield may at times be changed for the sinners. It also teaches us not to mourn after the deeds have been done properly. It shows that war is destructive and that no one can gain anything lasting from it. The war story also shows that one should care the words of gurus, well-wishers and wise. Thus the epic horizon of the Mahabharata gives all sorts of views, perspectives and warmth to lead a human life to greatness.

In addition to all this, the Mahabharata proclaims through Yudhistira, the elder Pandava that, it is no matter how kind, generous, simple and pious a man may be, he cannot live life by these qualities alone. And also shows the wicked association can ruin a person portraying different characters like Duryodhana, Shakuni Dussasana Karna etc.. The Mahabharata exemplifies unconditional support and a large number of loyal friends and acquaintances will help one to reach perfection and to fulfil achievements. The friendship of Pandavas with Krishna is an example of this. Pointing hundred sons of Dhrutarashtra, Mahabharata tells that, like nectar and poison in excess, if anything is too much, even if it is children, it will cause one to grieve. 

It is also important to know that no matter how high the rank and file of royal warmth, one must be able to prepare resources for one’s own stomach. And the awareness of the hygiene of the body, mind, and the environment is also needed. Everyone needs to know how to make the essential food. This is evident from the life of Pandavas at Viratanagara.

Mahabharata teaches even the most subtle aspect of life. Even the struggle for survival can be accepted if others take possessions of what one deserves and owns. That means one can even take up the fight for survival.  Do not become addicted to emotions and problems. Choosing to pursue education throughout one’s life is the greatest recognition man can give himself. Over time one can acquire complete education. One does not have to be invincible or capable of overcoming the ocean of life just because he has acquired some knowledge or proficiency in any discipline. Some wonderful moments in life can sometimes cause a person to recognize his enemy. In the disguise of a best friend, sometimes a great foe can come ahead. All these are the lessons lined up in the Mahabharata with examples. 

The character of Pachali shows that, even a most capable man is unable to satisfy every need of a woman. Abhimanyu, who did not know how to get out of the chakra, teaches us that half-knowledge is equal to ignorance. Abhimanyu, who did not know how to get out of the chakra, teaches us that half-knowledge is equal to ignorance.

Mahabharata gives a wonderful fact through the character Draupadi is that, it is not appropriate to irritate women in order to provide a smooth journey of life and to provide happy and comfortable life moments. The character of Ekalavyan, who is brilliant, beautiful and bright, is taken to heart by the view that nothing can be achieved if there is unwavering mind and intense desire. The Mahabharata also gives a great warning not to disappoint those who seek refuge and depend on us. The Mahabharata which contains innumerable life lessons also make aware the fact that one of the strongest tactics of a war is to select a powerful commander in chief through the role of Krishna.

It is one’s deeds that make one successful or sad. It leads him to happiness and sorrow in the paths of life and in the ocean of universe. Through the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna explains in detail the need for devotion, karma and wisdom for the   salvation and the paths to it. Every human being decides his own destiny through his actions. Most people live their lives without knowing the importance of karma.

It is up to each human being to determine the course of action and the results and experiences to be gained through it. The inner spirit is the root of all physical, mental, and physical forces. It is possible to know that there is no death for that inner spirit and only the body perishes3. The Bhagavad Gita also teaches that man is the embodiment of the Ishvara chaitanya and this embodied soul who has to suffer the consequences of the good and bad deeds he does. But the soul or Ishvara chaitanya is a mere spectator without affecting any kind of fruits of actions.

These deeds pave the way to different karmas like Sanchita prarabda and agami karmas. All actions and experiences are the combined results of the mind, intellect and senses. So we are responsible for our own lives and experiences. When experiences get worse, there is no point in blaming parents, teachers, relatives, God and friends. The results of the deeds done now are passed on to the next birth as wealth. These olfactory treasures or the treasures in the form of instincts accompanies the mind and goes with the soul for next births. So each one can decide and control whether this wealth should be great or inferior. Bhagavad Gita of Mahabharata also gives valuable directions to man and his life

What man is doing till the end of his life is the business of collecting external objects, gaining status, earning money and all only for the physical prosperity.  After death, all this becomes alien to us. But all the good and bad deeds done for this purpose are stored in the mind in the form of instincts. No one can be saved from the hands of fate without experiencing all of them. The Gita also warns that whatever we do, it will be accurately calculated and will soon reach us. How can such a knowledgeable person who understands everything about his life do evil deeds, kill and harm others for selfish gain! How can he look at others with disgust!

Who can be stated more clearly than the character of Duryodhana that the main cause of degradation is the arrogant mind and actions! Known as Danaveera, the donar of goodness and power, Karna stands out as the most glorious symbol all over Mahabharata as a great ally for the food he has taken. He remained grateful till his death, never forgetting his friend Duryodhana. It was through this gratitude that Karna, the son of God Surya, despite recognizing his relatives, fought for Duryodhana till the end of his life. Here the character of Karna highlights the helplessness of a brave man, which is not adornment for a heroic man. At the same time his gratitude was so high.

Despite his strong devotion to the Guru, his loyalty and truth, he was actually burned to death by the Guru’s curse. This also shows Karna’s sincerity and incomparable gratitude.    This Suryaputra also donated all his powers for Arjuna the Indraputra because of his greatness of character. Although Duryodhana’s friend, everyone bows down to this glorious character. 

Draupadi, who was supposed to be the wife of five young men by fate, is a different character who teaches a lot of lessons. She is a powerful character of Mahabharata who captures the human race, and the female community, in certain positions and fields of work.

It is said that the word is a powerful weapon. Word can make a person dead and a dead like person excite. Therefore, Draupadi teaches a great lesson of think twice before uttering a word..

The Mahabharata shows   that it is necessary to keep a person like Shakuni away. A person with a distorted mind and crooked intellect can destroy an individual or a race. That is why such people should be kept away.  Snake even kills once. But the wicked people is often killing others. Shakuni is a good example of this saying. Arjuna, the son of Indra, reveals the intense spirit of dedication to attain the goal. There are many examples in the Mahabharata of Arjuna being able to set the target mind on a definite and precise path when others take different paths to reach a goal. This archer also teaches to see his brother equal to God. Dharmaputra, who never deviate even a single step from Dharma, was making his name meaningful. This devotion and righteousness gave him the ability to go to heaven with body, which is inaccessible to the common man. It should be also be noted that the mistake of gambling blinded even this great man. Yudhistira, obsessed with gambling, did not even notice the loss of  his property,  country,  friends and  wife. This Pandava will surely give straight thinking to the people who do thoughtless deeds.

Spirituality, spiritual books and spiritual knowledge are becoming alien to the new generation of children. Children are unaware of the inner world of man, and of the infinite power that lies dormant in him and about the deeds and their consequences. They are surrounded only by external world trade. The path of education has also changed. They are on a kind of outer journey without knowing his existence. Mamata bodha or close attachment like Drutharashtra brought countless sorrows and losses into his life. It causes the unending troubles. This kind of false attachment prevents him from the mistakes of Duryodhana. Despite knowing all the future consequences, this king was blinded by the love of his son. Then the king who ruled the country went astray. The country was doomed.  The sense of the mantra, ‘Vasudhaiva kudumbakam’ was becoming inaccessible. As a result, it was a community as well as a nation itself that collapsed and destroyed.

Gandhari, the mother of hundred children, is another important character of mahabharata. What this mother, who was the source of innumerable qualities, has lost is self-knowledge, the supreme knowledge. That is why the mother cursed Lord Krishna on the battlefield and blamed the Lord for all the wrong doings of her son Duryodhana. This queen mother has actually turned out to be blind even though having eyes. This mother was deprived of the great education of self-knowledge. The life aspects of a queen should not be limited to royal pride and material achievements. If so that woman will become just an ordinary woman. That is the lesson that man can learn from Gandhari. This sadhvi, who had taken over her husband’s blindness to herself, covered her eyes with black cloths. This queen mother did not bless her children when they left for the battlefield because she knew that her children were doing wrong.  It may be the conscience’s response to that mistake. The dharmas practiced from birth, stood as a wall in front of the love of the son for of this noble woman. Thus, this mother died without dying in all the moments of her life. The only reason for all this was ignorance about the inner world. Parents who pursue materialism will inflict irreparable losses on their children. People do not even know ourselves at times when the dark veil of sentimentality covers. The man who is immersed in sensual pleasures expels anything that disturbs it.

Kunti, who kept many secrets wrapped up in self-esteem, lived a life of straight forwardness. Life is for everyone who lives it. There is nothing to hide or conceal. The Mahabharata highlights Kunti ‘s sad life by conveying the message of living truthfully from hiding the truth. One has to choose the ways of life to live happily.

The man who is immersed in sensual pleasures becomes weak. This is the lesson put forward by  the character Pandu, the king of Hastinapuri. All warnings go weak at such moments. Maharaja Pandu did this even though he knew that contact with women would cause his own death. His fascination with the outside world and his attractions and sights made him blind and ignorant. The moment less thoughtlessness robbed him of his own life. Despite his full erudition, this was due to sensuality and lack of self-control. The Mahabharata tells of Pandu’s jungle views of forgetting himself, 4

“Palasham Thilakam amram Champakam Karnikaram Devataru, Everything is full of flowers and decorated with beetles. Quills called out to Cuckoos at will. The forest is seemed as if excited with cupid. The beauty of Madri, his wife fascinated Pandu. He embraced her forcefully5. “All of these show warnings of the dangers posed by self-forgetful emotions.

It would be appropriate for people who are tired of even a small crisis to look back at the sons of Gods who suffered exile, anonymity, severe suffering, persecution and humiliation. How many roles have they played in the drama of life! Life is the birth of problems and their solution. This remedies for the problems require some preparation and sacrifice and knowledge..

No matter how many times Pandavas begged and carried out all the conditions prescribed by the Kauravas. In the end the foolishness and arrogance of the Kauravas who did not value even the messenger of Lord Krishna was a prelude to doom. The Pandavas had the zeal to conquer and the divine backing. Above all, their moral life was the key to success it reveals who man really is and what life really is. 

The battle of Mahabharata depicts the battlefield of life itself. It is a mixture of truth and falsehood. Materialism and spirituality are mixed. It reveals who man really is and what life really is. It reveals human interventions, sensible and non – sensible. It depicts man’s missions and his actions no one else can stop. The vast majority were killed in the Mahabharata war in which eighteen Akshauhini troops took part. People who have been fighting for war all their lives and turning their lives into battlefields should ask themselves, why this Mahabharata war. In the mind of those who ask so, will get the reply that, knowledge is the most important. It’s the knowledge of one’s own existence – soul - Ishwara. After Pandu’s death, Vyasa expressed his condolences to the bereaved people and to Satyavati, who could not control her grief like this...

“The days of happiness are gone. The days of sorrow have come. Sinful deeds increase day by day. The world has lost its youth” 6. These words of Vyasa are the greatest truth that has been going on in all ages and is happening today. Young people are those who live in a straight line that separates light and darkness in a nation. What should they step into? Should they set foot in the darkness? Or light?  What will enable them to adopt or choose the right path? No doubt. Mahabharata says that   is proper education or the self- knowledge.

End Notes:

1 Mahabharata ,Adiparva , Ankramanika Parva, Chapter 1-1
2 Mahabharata Shanti Parva,Mokshadharmaparva-179-1
3 mahabharatam Bhishmaparva,Bhagavad Gita2,22
4 Mahabharatam,Adiparvam,Sambhavaparva, chapter125-3,4
5 Ibid chapter125- 10
6 Ibid Sambhavaparva,chapter 128-6


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Dr. M.S. Sheeba
Associate Professor
Department of Sanskrit
Maharaja’s College 
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