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



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 sādhāraṇa-dharma i.e. universal dharma (dharma common to all). This dharma is śruti 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 Mahābhārata, seven times larger than Iliad and Odyssey combined, available in three recensions (Pune, Kumbhakonam, Nīlakanṭhiki) with, in all, 100217 ślokas arranged in 18 books (parvas), excluding the supplementary Harivaṁśa Purāṇa, is oceanic in its size and reflects in its span the grandeur of the civilization that has produced it. Called by various names – prabandha kāvya (structured composition), itihāsa (record of what all happened), purakalpa itihāsa (a narrative with several protagonists), ‘fifth Veda’, Dharmaśāstra (sociological treatise) – Mahābhārata has, in its long history, been commented upon by 36 learned commentators. In the Mahābhārata the message of sādhāraṇa-dharma is imparted through different tales and dialogues that is the major concern of the present paper.


universal; dharma; mahabharata

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