Humanities 201 India: The Mahābhārata
India's Heroic Age (550 B.C. - A. D. 100)
ancient Indo-Aryan language
last in series of 4 sacred hymn books, Hinduism's
guiding principle of proper human conduct; sacred duty
worldly profit, wealth, and political power
India's dominant religious tradition
the religious faith of Muslims including belief in Allah
as the sole deity and in Muhammad as his prophet
"unique combination of radical detachment from desire,
the root cause of karma, and an ethic of action directed
only toward the welfare of one's fellow creatures" (Norton
[earlier edition] 840)
personal religious teacher and spiritual guide in
one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduism that
restrict the occupation of their members and their
association with the members of other castes
single, divine essence: the soul of man is a
manifestation of the Brahman; gods are seen as
"personification of nature and the powers of the cosmos" (Norton
[earlier edition] 838)
pleasure and love
sacred counsel, formula;a
mystical formula of invocation or incantation
EPICS of India's Heroic Age:
originated in oral tradition, like Old Testament
grounded in actual events, yet similar to Iliad
Four classes (varna)
of Indian society (see p. 684):
brāhmaṇa(priest) transmitter of vedas
karma: "action": principle that "all
deeds, good and bad, have inevitable results, which must be borne
by the doer in an existential state, so that the soul is trapped
in an endless cycle of birth and death" (Norton
[earlier edition] 840)
mokşa: ultimate goal of life--liberation
from constraints of worldly existence- denied to sudras and
women (lesser goals include dharma, artha,
Men: bound by a prescribed program of sacred duty (dharma)
that is appropriate to their class (varna)
Women: "form a class in themselves, for a woman's dharma
is defined as that of a wife, allowing women no identities or
aspirations apart from their allegiance to their husbands" (Norton[earlier ed.] 839).
Caste system: larger number of "service" castes
subordinated to a small number of elite groups.
Quatama Buddha (563-483 B.C.) & Mahavira (d. 468 B.C.)
In Buddhism, "every person, regardless of caste, gender,
or social status, could follow the Buddha's path (the Dharma)
with the ultimate aim of becoming liberated from karma
rebirth by becoming a buddha, or ‘an
enlightened one'" (Norton [earlier ed.]
"The populist, egalitarian religions preached by Gautama
Buddha and his near-contemporary Mahavira presented a
formidable challenge to the elaborate socio-religious system
engineered by the Hindu elites" (Norton[earlier
absorbed and synthesized features from its rival
religions, incorporating concepts of salvation
and grace, thus allowing it eventually to
triumph over competing religions in India, including Buddhism
and Islam, but especially Buddhism.
"For Hindus the terror of rebirth [and karma] is mitigated
by belief in a triad of great gods who are the highest
manifestations of the divine principle underlying the
universe" (Norton [earlier ed.] 841).
"Although there are many gods [including Brahmā,
the creator],Viṣṇu, the preserver, and Śiva,
the destroyer, stand out as supreme deities, for Hindus
worship one or the other as God, whose grace will help deliver
them from the bonds of karma rebirth" (Norton [earlier
All three are components of Iswara,
creator of the universe, communion with whom can be achieved
only through samadhi,
"a meditative state that breaks consciousness with the
physical world" (Khorana 555).
(ca. 400 B.C. - A. D. 400) See link with more extensive background
100,000 verses: 8 x (Iliad + Odyssey)
Depicts war (ca. 1400-1300 B.C.) between two branches of
the Bharata family, the Pāndavas,
the five sons of Pāndu (including
Arjuna, "son" of warrior god, Indra)
and Kauravas, the one hundred evil sons
of Dhrtarastra, elder half-brother who's
disqualified from being king because blind.
"Every clansman in North India [allies] himself with the
one or the other party" (Norton [earlier
(1st century B.C.) "Song of the Lord" part of 6th book of Mahābhārata
"response of brahman thinkers who stood to lose the most
from the potential disintegration of the Hindu social system"
"articulates a new doctrine that will justify the
hierarchies of class and social duty. . . at the same time
that it offers universal access to the ultimate goal of the
emancipation of the soul from suffering and rebirth" (Norton[earlier ed.] 958).
"In short, social and moral law takes care of the
content of action, but the individual has control over the
spirit in which he performs the action and, therefore, over
how his deeds will affect his soul" (Norton [earlier
Things to Consider:
Relationship b/w Gods and Humans
in medias res
sacred duty (dharma): "action
performed in the spirit of sacred duty will advance him on the
path to emancipation of the spirit, the Hindu's ultimate
religious goal" (Norton[earlier
This is a big deal: merges karma
with salvation through divine grace
Questions ** 683-84:
In what ways is Hinduism "a fundamentally pluralistic
Describe the relationship between Hinduism and
The Mahābhāratadescribes the fighting between which two groups? Why are
Why does Arjuna refuse to fight? In this regard, how does
he compare with earlier warriors such as Achilles and Enkidu?
Bhagavad-Gītā Chapter Two: 733:
Explain: "Non-being cannot come to be,/nor can what
is come to be not"(2.16).
Explain: "[A]n honored man/who falls from honor into
shame/suffers a fate much worse than death" (2.34).
Explain: "[T]his one wholly withdraws/all his
senses from their objects,/as a tortoise draws in its limbs"
What is the relationship between the discipline of
knowledge and the discipline of action?
Explain: "[A]ct/ without attachment to your deeds" (3.9).
Chapter Eleven: 744:
How does Arjuna respond to seeing Krishna's eternal self?
Other Discussion Questions: 679:
Explain the relationship among Persian, Greek,
Latin, and Sanskrit language and literature.
What is a mantra? How is it different from a poem?
What are the Vedas? the Upanishads?
What is the difference between śruti and veda?
Describe the practice of oral transmission of the Hindu
According to the editors, what "world" does the Mahābhārata
Describe the main idea of Hinduism.
Explain the difference among Brahman, brāhmaṇa,
What is the ātman?
Describe the differences between the Rāmāyaṇa
and the Mahābhārata.
What is the difference between nirvāna
Explain Arjuna's speech in stanza 32.
Explain: "[F]rom corrupted women comes/the intermingling of
How is the body like an outfit of clothing?
If the soul is indestructible, can't kill or be killed,
what then, is the purpose of life, in this system?
What happens when you reach spiritual perfection?
Explain: "Having left the fruit of action,/the wise ones
yoked to higher mind/are freed from the bonds of
Explain the relationship among the senses, mind, intellect,
Chapter Eleven: 743:
Why does Arjuna need a "divine" eye to see Krishna's