Dr. Radhavallabh Tripathi - The Concept of Dharma in the Mahābhārata

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

Dr. Tripathi began his talk explaining the key pointers that he will be discussing in his talk and said that the talk will focus on the treatment of Dharma as we find it in the text of the Mahābhārata. He then explained that both Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata are regarded as Itihāsa and pointed that Itihāsa as a concept is different from history as Itihāsa covers the concept of history and also goes beyond. Dr. Tripathi then quotes the definition of Itihāsa as mentioned in the Mahābhārata “Itihāsa is accordingly not just a documentation of the practices that have happened or that have been prevailing but it is also record of the future as it gives a perspective to the future in this manner Itihāsa is the unrevealing of the mysteries of the human life recording whatever is valuable and creating a repository of knowledge systems”. Dr. Tripathi thus says that the epic Mahābhārata has in itself a detailed study of the concept of Itihāsa which can be found in the Adi Parva of Mahābhārata.

Moving further Dr. Tripathi says that one must look at the concept of Dharma essentially as it is the theme of the Mahābhārata. Though everyone realises that Mahābhārata significantly focuses on the concept of Dharma but there controversies about the purport of the Mahābhārata and what Mahābhārata deals with and also the understanding of the text remains fluctuating in opposing polarities where on one side the Indian perspective takes and regards it as a homogenous text, and the western approach regards it as a heterogenous mass of compilation.

Dr. Tripathi while adhering to the Indian/traditional approach to Mahābhārata and since the tradition views it as text on Dharma, Dr. Mukherji explored the ideals of Dharma embedded in the Mahābhārata. The Indian approach looks at the text of Mahābhārata as a text teaching us the values of compassion, it is moreover an epic leading to the experience of harmony and peace, it is a depiction of nobility and dignity, it is poem of universal wisdom and universal values.

Dr. Tripathi then says that apart from having diverse viewpoints on what the text of Mahābhārata essentially comprises of, there are so many scholars and philosophers who agree that Mahābhārata is essentially a discourse on Dharma. Dr. Tripathi quoted Dr. S. Radhakrishnan who said, Mahābhārata describes the society destructed by the deceit and intrigue and though the story is reeking with war and the spirit of war, the author clearly declares himself away from the politics of power and looks upon the state as an organisation of force but as a partnership in Dharma. Dr. Tripathi then by quoting J. L. Mehta explained on the same concept of how the Indian/traditional approach perceives Mahābhārata as a text on Dharma.

Dr. Tripathi explicitly mentions that Dharma is not Religion rather it is either or all a moral, social or legal duty and thus explained that Dharma has wider connotations.

Then Dr. Tripathi by quoting various stories and dialogues from the Mahābhārata explained the significance of Dharma in the entire discourse and how in so many instances we can find the dialogues and stories focusing on actions in order to explain the right course of action to people. Furthermore, it is in this reference Dr. Tripathi explained the message from Vyasa in Mahābhārata about Dharma.

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