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The Mahābhārata is an Sanskrit epic poem narrating Karna's journey from his birth to the eventual crowning in the Swarga. It was written over an extended period from the 4th century BC to the 2nd century AD. The fullest form of The Mahābhārata contains about 2,000,000 words, more than the totals of both the King James version of the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. The Mahābhārata is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined, or about four times the length of the Rāmāyaṇa. The importance of the Mahābhārata in the context of world civilization has been compared to that of the Bible, the Quran, the works of Homer, Greek drama, or the works of William Shakespeare.



(Full text: many translations)

Sauti recites the stories of Karna along with Vyasa and other sages.

Adi Parva (Book 1)

  • Sauti said, ‘I heard the diverse, sacred and marvellous tales, which Krishna Dwaipayana composed in his Mahabharata, and which Vaisampayana narrated at the sarpa yagna of the noble Rajarishi Janamejaya, the son of Parikshit, foremost among Kshatriyas. Later, I ranged the Earth, visiting many tirthas and other shrines. I journeyed to Samantapanchaka, revered by the Dvijas, where the sons of Kuru and those of Pandu fought their Great War, with all the Kshatriyas of the land fighting for one side or the other. From there, being eager to meet you, I have come into your presence. Worshipful Sages, you are all like Brahman to me. Most blessed ones, you shine in this yagnashala with the splendour of the Sun. You have finished your dhyana and have fed the holy fire.
  • Tell me, greatest of Dvijas, what would you hear from me? Shall I recount the sacred tales of the Puranas, which tell of dharma and artha, or shall I tell you about the deeds of enlightened Rishis and of the kings of men?’ The Rishis replied, ‘The Purana that was first propounded by the great Dwaipayana. When both the Devas and the Brahmarishis had heard it, they said it was the foremost of all Itihasas, histories. It varies in both diction and divisions, has intricate and subtle meanings, logically combined and gleaned from the Vedas, and it is a most holy work. It is composed in elegant language and includes the subjects of every other book. Other Shastras elucidate this Purana, and it reflects the inmost meaning of the four Vedas. We want to listen to that Itihasa, which is also called the Bharata, the magnificent Vyasa’s holy masterwork, which dispels the fear of evil. We would hear it exactly as the Rishi Vaisampayana told it, joyously, under the direction of Dwaipayana himself, at the sarpa yagna, the snake-sacrifice of Raja Janamejaya.’
  • Sauti then said, ‘I bow to the Primordial Being, Isana, to whom the people all make offerings, whom the multitude adores. He is the true and immortal One – Brahman, manifest, unmanifest and eternal. He both exists and appears not to. He is the Universe and also distinct from the Universe, the creator of all things, high and low, the ancient, exalted, inexhaustible One. He is Vishnu, benign and benignity personified, worthy of all worship, pure, perfect. He is Hari, sovereign of the faculties, the mover of all things, mobile and motionless.
  • Discontent is the root of fortune.
    • Translation by J. A. B. van Buitenen et al. (1980–), Sub-parva 27, sect. 50; vol. 2, p. 122.
  • With gentleness one defeats the gentle as well as the hard; there is nothing impossible to the gentle; therefore the gentle is the more severe.
    • Translation by J. A. B. van Buitenen et al. (1980–), Sub-parva 31, sect. 29; vol. 2, p. 277.
  • And the kings of the earth with souls steeped in ignorance, and discontented with what they have, will at such a time, rob their subjects by every means in their power..., the right hand will deceive the left; and the left, the right....
  • And men with false reputation of learning will contract Truth and the old will betray the senselessness of the young, and the young will betray the dotage of the old.'
    • Translation by J. A. B. van Buitenen et al. (1980–), Section CLXXXIX, p. 388
  • And cowards will have the reputation of bravery and the brave will be cheerless like cowards... men will cease to trust one another... full of avarice... sin will increase and prosper, while virtue will fade and cease to flourish.
    And Brahmanas and Kshatriyas and Vaisyas will disappear, leaving, O king, no remnants of their orders...
    Jealousy and malice will fill the world. And no one will, at that time, be a giver (of wealth or anything else) in respect to any one else...
    Men will... become omnivorous without distinction, and cruel in all their acts...
    Urged by avarice, men will, at that time, deceive one another when they sell and purchase.
    And when the end of the Yuga comes, urged by their very dispositions, men will act cruelly, and speak ill of one another.. people will, without compunction, destroy trees and gardens.
    And men will be filled with anxiety as regards the means of living... overwhelmed with covetousness, men will kill... and enjoy the possessions of their victims...

    And when men become fierce and destitute of virtue and carnivorous and addicted to intoxicating drinks, then doth the Yuga come to an end...
People will become atheists and thieves... the kings of the earth, with hearts wedded to sin without knowledge and always boastful of their wisdom, will challenge one another... ~Mahabharata, Book 3, Vana Parva
When the end of the Yuga comes, men abandoning the countries and directions and towns and cities of their occupation, will seek for new ones, one after another. And people will wander over the earth, uttering... frightful and rending cries.
  • Friends and relatives and kinsmen will perform friendly offices for the sake of the wealth only that is possessed by a person...
    When the end of the Yuga comes, men abandoning the countries and directions and towns and cities of their occupation, will seek for new ones, one after another.
    And people will wander over the earth, uttering, 'O father, O son', and such other frightful and rending cries.
    • Translation by J. A. B. van Buitenen et al. (1980–), Section CLXL, p. 392
And when men become fierce and destitute of virtue and carnivorous and addicted to intoxicating drinks, then doth the Yuga come to an end...
And when those terrible times will be over, the creation will begin anew... the stars and stellar conjunctions will become auspicious. And the planets, duly revolving in their orbits, will become exceedingly propitious. And all around, there will be prosperity and abundance and health and peace...
  • And when those terrible times will be over, the creation will begin anew. And men will again be created and distributed.. and about that time, in order that men may increase, Providence, according to its pleasure, will once more become propitious... And the clouds will commence to shower seasonably, and the stars and stellar conjunctions will become auspicious. And the planets, duly revolving in their orbits, will become exceedingly propitious. And all around, there will be prosperity and abundance and health and peace....
    • Translation by J. A. B. van Buitenen et al. (1980–), Section CLXL, p. 392
  • A gray head does not make an elder. The Gods know him to be an elder who knows, be he a child. Not by years, not by gray hairs, not by riches or many relations did the seers make the Law: "He is great to us who has learning."
    • Translation by J. A. B. van Buitenen et al. (1980–), Sub-parva 33, sect. 133; vol. 2, p. 476.
  • Be he ever so wise and strong, wealth confounds a man. In my view, anyone living in comfort fails to reason.
    • Translation by J. A. B. van Buitenen et al. (1980–), Sub-parva 36, sect. 178; vol. 2, p. 566.
  • निर्वनो वध्यते व्याघ्रो निर्व्याघ्रं छिद्यते वनम् ।
    तस्माद्व्याघ्रो वनं रक्षेद्वनं व्याघ्रं च पालयेत् ॥
    • nirvanō vadhyatē vyāghrō nirvyāghraṁ chidyatē vanam
      tasmādvyāghrō vanaṁ rakṣēdvanaṁ vyāghraṁ ca pālayēt.
      • The tiger dies without the forest, and similarly the forest is cut down without the tiger. The tiger should protect the forest, and the forest should defend the tiger.
  • अक्रोधेन जयेत्क्रोधमसाधुं साधुना जयेत् ।
    जयेत्कदर्यं दानेन जयेत्सत्येन चानृतम् ॥

as translated by J. A. B. van Buitenen

  • The poor always eat better: hunger sweetens their dishes, and that is rare among the rich. It is generally found in the world that the rich have no appetite, but the poor, O Indra of kings, digest even wood.
    • Sub-parva 51, sect. 34; vol. 3, pp. 263-4.
  • The intoxication with power is worse than drunkenness with liquor and such, for he who is drunk with power does not come to his senses before he falls.
    • Sub-parva 51, sect. 34; vol. 3, p. 264.
  • People are plagued by their senses if they act without restraint to attain their desires. ... If one is dragged along as the victim of his natural five senses, his adversities wax like the moon in the bright fortnight.
    • 5(51)34:53, p. 264
  • A chariot, king, is a person's body:
    The soul is the driver, the senses his horses;
    Undistracted by his fine horses a driver
    Who is skilled rides happily, if they are trained.
    • 5(51)34:57, p. 264
  • Senses out of control suffice to bring one to grief, as untrained and disobedient horses bring a driver to grief on the road. A fool who, guided by his senses, sees profit arising from the unprofitable and the unprofitable from profit mistakes misery for happiness.
    • 5(51)34:58, p. 264
  • Do not do to another what is disagreeable to yourself: this is the summary Law.
    • 5 Sub-parva 51, sect. 39; vol. 3, pp. 281-2.
    • See also Golden Rule.
  • Once war has been undertaken, no peace is made by pretending there is no war.
    • 5 Sub-parva 54, sect. 86; vol. 3, p. 365.

(Book 8)

  • यथा च स्वगृहस्थः श्वा व्याघ्रं वनगतं भषेत् ।
    तथा त्वं भषसे कर्ण नरव्याघ्रं धनंजयम् ॥
    • yathā ca svagṛhasthaḥ śvā vyāghraṁ vanagataṁ bhaṣēt
      tathā tvaṁ bhaṣasē Karṇa naravyāghraṁ Dhanañjayam.
      • As a dog from within the precincts of the house of his master barks at a forest-roaming tiger, even so, O Karna, thou barkest at Dhananjaya, that tiger among men.
  • सृगालोऽपि वने कर्ण शशैः परिवृतो वसन् ।
    मन्यते सिंहमात्मानं यावत्सिंहन पश्यति ॥
    • sṛgālōpi vanē Karṇa śaśaiḥ parivṛtō vasan
      manyatē sinhamātmānaṁ yāvatsinhana paśyati.
      • A jackal, O Karna, residing in the forest in the midst of hares regardeth himself a lion till he actually sees a lion.

(Full text)

  • Freedom from fear, purity of heart, perseverance in (pursuit of) knowledge and abstraction of mind, gifts, self-restraint, and sacrifice, study of the Vedas, penance, straightforwardness, harmlessness, truth, freedom from anger, renunciation, tranquillity, freedom from the habit of backbiting, compassion for (all) beings, freedom from avarice, gentleness, modesty, absence of vain activity, noblemindedness, forgiveness, courage, purity, freedom from a desire to injure others, absence of vanity, (these), O descendant of Bharata! are his who is born to godlike endowments. Ostentatiousness, pride, vanity, anger, and also harshness and ignorance (are) his, O son of Prithâ! who is born to demoniac endowments. Godlike endowments are deemed to be (means) for final emancipation, demoniac for bondage. p. 115
  • Entertaining insatiable desire, full of vanity, ostentatiousness, and frenzy, they adopt false notions through delusion, and engage in unholy observances. Indulging in boundless thoughts ending with death, given up to the enjoyment of objects of desire, being resolved that that is all, bound down by nets of hopes in hundreds, given up to anger and desire, they wish to obtain heaps of wealth unfairly for enjoying objects of desire. p. 116
  • Honoured (only) by themselves, void of humility, and full of the pride and frenzy of wealth, these calumniators (of the virtuous) perform sacrifices, which are sacrifices only in name, with ostentatiousness and against prescribed rules; indulging (their) vanity, brute force, arrogance, lust, and anger; and hating me in their own bodies and in those of others. These enemies, ferocious, meanest of men, and unholy, I continually hurl down, to these worlds, only into demoniac wombs. Coming into demoniac wombs, deluded in every birth, they go down to the vilest state, O son of Kuntî! without ever coming to me.
  • Threefold is this way to hell, ruinous to the self, lust, anger, and likewise [[Greed|avarice]]; therefore one should abandon this triad. Released from these three ways to darkness, O son of Kuntî! a man works out his own welfare, and then proceeds to the highest goal.
  • Tuladhara said, 'O Jajali, I know morality, which is eternal, with all its mysteries. It is nothing else than that ancient morality which is known to all, and which consists of universal friendliness, and is fraught with beneficence to all creatures. That mode of living which is founded upon a total harmlessness towards all creatures or (in case of actual necessity) upon a minimum of such harm, is the highest morality. p. 234
  • This practice of universal harmlessness hath arisen even thus. One may follow it by every means in one's power... It is sure to lead also to prosperity and heaven. In consequence of their ability to dispel the fears of others, men possessed of wealth and followers are regarded as foremost by the learned. They that are for ordinary happiness practise this duty of universal harmlessness for the sake of fame; while they that are truly skilled, practise the same for the sake of attaining to Brahma. p. 236
  • That person who gives unto all creatures the assurance of harmlessness obtains the merit of all sacrifices and at last wins fearlessness for himself as his reward. There is no duty superior to the duty of abstention from injuring other creatures. He of whom, O great ascetic, no creature is frightened in the least, obtains for himself fearlessness of all creatures. He of whom everybody is frightened as one is of a snake ensconced within one's (sleeping) chamber, never acquires any merit in this world or in the next. p. 236
  • Twice blessed be the man that reflects long before he acts. One that reflects long before he acts is certainly possessed of great intelligence. Such a man never offends in respect of any act. p. 248
  • There is no shelter (protection against the sun) like the mother. There is no refuge like the mother. There is no defense like the mother. There is no one so dear as the mother. p. 248

(Book 18)

  • धर्मादर्थश्च कामश्च स किमर्थं न सेव्यते
  • dharmādarthaśca kāmaśca sa kimarthaṁ na sēvyatē
    • From Righteousness is Wealth as also Pleasure. Why should not Righteousness, therefore, be courted?

About the Mahabharata

  • A Hindu scholar has rated the Mahabharata as “the greatest work of imagination that Asia has produced”; and Sir Charles Eliot has called it “a greater poem than the Iliad”. ... Upon this theme of love and battle a thousand interpolations have been hung. The god Krishna interrupts the slaughter for a canto to discourse on the nobility of war and Krishna; the dying Bhishma postpones his death to expound the laws of caste, bequest, marriage, gifts and funeral rites, to explain the philosophy of the Sankhya and the Upanishads, to narrate a mass of legends, traditions and myths, and to lecture Yudishthira at great length on the duties of a king; dusty stretches of genealogy and geography, of theology and metaphysics, separate the oases of drama and action; fables and fairy-tales, love-stories and lives of the saints contribute to give the Mahabharata a formlessness worse, and a body of thought richer, than can be found in either the Iliad or the Odyssey.
    • Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage : India and Her Neighbors.
  • In the Mahabharata, the ceremony for the oath of a new king includes the admonition: 'Be like a garland-maker, O king, and not like a charcoal burner.' The garland symbolizes social coherence; it is a metaphor for dharmic diversity in which flowers of many colors and forms are strung harmoniously for the most pleasing effect. In contrast, the charcoal burner is a metaphor for the brute-force reduction of diversity into homogeneity, where diverse living substances are transformed into uniformly lifeless ashes.
  • It is precisely due to the lack of the knowledge of cultural subtleties on the part of the mere textual scholars…that their analyses sound worthless and useless to us. A profound literature like the Mahābhārata must essentially be understood by being firmly grounded in the Sanātana-dharma of Bhārata.
    • The Distilled Essence of the Mahabharata: Dr. S.R. Ramaswamy: Kāntaśakti, the Commemorative Volume on Umakanth Bhat (pp. 91–104). Translated by Sandeep Balakrishna [1]

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