The Mahabharata and Me

Though it's a massive text, I owe much of my relationship with the Mahabharata to movies and TV shows dramatizing the epic.

Every Sunday morning, the soaring vocals of veteran Bollywood singer Mahendra Kapoor filled our apartment in New Delhi.



"

Atha shri Mahabharat katha . Katha hai purusharth ki, yeh svaarth ki, parmarth ki.

"


(This is the story of Mahabharat. It's a tale of honour, greed, the ultimate truth.)

The title track of that series, B. R. Chopra's made-for-TV "Mahabharata" (1987), ended in a crescendo, with a famous Sanskrit

shloka

(a verse of two lines) from the Bhagavad-Gita:

Yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati bharata
Abhyutthanam adharmasya tadatmanam srjamy aham

(Gita 4-7)


(Whenever and wherever there is a decline in righteousness, O Bharata,And a predominant rise of unrighteousness, then I manifest Myself)

Paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya ca duskritam
Dharma-samsthapanarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge

(Gita 4-8)


(To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, To re-establish the principles of religion, I manifest myself era after era)

I think I guessed the gist of the shloka, with my rudimentary Sanskrit skills. But I doubt I knew it was from the

Gita

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, or that it was Krishna telling the warrior Arjuna about His incarnations on earth. Nevertheless, something about the songs sent a slight shiver up my arms. I couldn't wait for the next episode of the story to unfold.

When I recently saw Chopra's "Mahabharata" series on Toronto's OMNI TV channel, I remembered our Sunday morning family ritual. My family-made up of my father, mother, aunt, sister, domestic help, and I-would sit in the living room and watch the weekly episode. My father was a strict parent and is a devout Hindu, and the "Mahabharata" series was one of the few TV programs he encouraged us to watch.

One of the two major Hindu epics, the "Mahabharata" principally focuses on the dynastic struggle and civil war between two groups of kin, the Pandavas and the Kauravas on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The tale is set in about 9th century BCE, and contains the text of the "Bhagavad-Gita," numerous subplots, and interpolations on theology, morals, and statecraft. The "Mahabharata" is often compared to other epics such as the "Iliad" or "The Odyssey."

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