Universal Concepts of Dharma: Understanding Dharma through the Tales of the MahÄbhÄrata



Everywhere it is admonished not to follow adharma, which means to follow dharma. This concept has served as the beacon of hope guiding the lives of the world over millennia. Although dharma is a timeless and universal concept, the original concept evolved in ancient India. It would also be a futile attempt to give any definition of the word as it can only be explained. It has a wide variety of meanings. A few of them would enable us to understand the range of that expression. Hence dharma can be briefly said as that which contains or upholds the cosmos. The present paper aims at understanding sÄdhÄraṇa-dharma i.e. universal dharma (dharma common to all). This dharma is Å›ruti based, impregnated with universal or spiritual or moral teachings, categorically stressing the importance of charity, integrity, non-violence, self-control and compassion for lokasaṃgraha i.e. the good of the society. The MahÄbhÄrata, seven times larger than Iliad and Odyssey combined, available in three recensions (Pune, Kumbhakonam, NÄ«lakaná¹­hiki) with, in all, 100217 Å›lokas arranged in 18 books (parvas), excluding the supplementary Harivaá¹Å›a PurÄṇa, is oceanic in its size and reflects in its span the grandeur of the civilization that has produced it. Called by various names – prabandha kÄvya (structured composition), itihÄsa (record of what all happened), purakalpa itihÄsa (a narrative with several protagonists), ‘fifth Veda’, DharmaÅ›Ästra (sociological treatise) – MahÄbhÄrata has, in its long history, been commented upon by 36 learned commentators. In the MahÄbhÄrata the message of sÄdhÄraṇa-dharma is imparted through different tales and dialogues that is the major concern of the present paper.


universal; dharma; mahabharata

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