Dr. Sridhar Melukote K. - Myths and Legends of the Mahābhārata: An Overview
Updated: Jan 23
By explaining the wide reach of knowledge of the Mahābhārata, Dr. Melukote, began by explaining how this text has reached the people around the world in diverse forms such as stories, tales, translations and so on. Dr. Melukote then explains the reason for why Mahābhārata as a text and teaching is so fascinating and says that it is an Epic, a saga which has the detail of the origin, the evolution, and the decay of Lunar race (Chandravaṃsha). The main story deals with the clash of the Kauravas and the Pandavas but it was not just a war rather it was a story which described number of significant things such as description of great legends, customs, practices, traditions, rituals, beliefs, rights, and duties of those times and thus became a treatise of Dharma. One of the most significant things that Mahābhārata teaches us is about the Indian work of art as it explains that the Indian work of art is always didactic in nature and not just a mere book of story and entertainment.
Dr. Melukote then spoke and explained the notion of Dharma mentioned in the Mahābhārata and also explained to the audience the enormity of the text by explaining the details of the number of verses and chapters of the epic. He said that it is so great that it is often described as the fifth Veda as it dealt and explained various dimensions it deals with. It is in this reference Dr. Melukote also described the Mahābhārata as an encyclopaedia.
Dr. Melukote then talked about the general motives of the Mahābhārata and mentioned a few such as fertility, animism, symmetry and dissymmetry, concealment, revenge, filling and emptiness, abandonment, dismemberment, metamorphosis, death, prophecy, magical conflicts and so on. Dr. Melukote then talked about the other messages of the Mahābhārata such as the upsurgence of the human emotions and action such as Kāma, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, also there is a mention of certain other emotions and actions such as chastity, contest, recognition of person, diametrical oppositions and so on. He said that these general motives mentioned and described in Mahābhārata are experienced and talked about since history up till the contemporary times.
Moving on further he says that the reason why the study of Epics are important is that they tell us a lot about our history which helps us to understand our culture and tradition. It is in the same reference Dr. Melukote mentioned names and works of various Indologist, authors, poets, philologist, and Orientalist to explain how these people worked, explained, and excavated majority of facts and realities which helped not only to know our own culture but also to understand and preserve it.
He further listen stories premised on the emotion and sublimity of love such as Dushyant and Shakuntala, Shantanu and Ganga, Urvashi and Pururavas, nala and Damayanti. Dr. Melukote then talked about teachings that we can attain from the great epics and says that tales and narrations from these literature helps us to correct our character and thus teaches the nobility of man, the greatness of man and so on. The various fascinating accounts surrounding these legendary figures such as the Pandavas, the Saint Agastya, Arundati, played extraordinary parts of man and women, and told various ways, rights, and duties to achieve the righteousness in the character. By mentioning various tales, narratives, and stories of suc legends, Dr. Melukote, said that these accounts give us a mirror image of our joys, arrogance, sorrow, hopes and dismays, merits, demerits, courage and so on.
Towards the end of the lecture Dr. Melukote gave his own analysis and said that these myths and legends of the Mahābhārata satisfy the three dimensions of our mind: the Id, the ego, and the superego. These myths and legends have paved the way for the development of second-generation literature, fictional literature and folk literature. So, these myths and legends may denote some customs, rituals, beliefs, practices, which were performed at that time. These need not be practiced again as they are smritis which means they are remembered and not to be practiced. This thus becomes an important literature to study the cultural anthropology of a nation. After explaining a little bit more briefly on the notions of myths and legends of the Mahābhārata, Dr. Melukote, ended the lecture by quoting Devdutt Pattanaik who said “Myths have nothing to do with 'history'. History is time bound. Myth is timeless. History tells us how people lived in the past. Myths tells us how heros and gods lived all the time.”