Bhārata-Sāvitrī (Part 1)

The greatest and most expansive epic in the world, the Mahābhārata, is a unique Itihāsa treatise that captures all the prominent events of the Dvāpara-yuga[1]. Bhagavān Veda-vyāsa, who has obtained an exalted position among the ranks of the cirañjīvīs[2] of our tradition, is not merely the creator of the Mahābhārata but is also an important character in it. The narration of events that transpired over a long period of time, the advocacy of all-time values through direct instruction as well as through inspirational upākhyānas[3] – these have made the Mahābhārata matchless. From the start to the end, at every step, the Epic contains a picturesque description of the form of human nature and a detailed analysis of human behaviour; indeed the Mahābhārata is an immense treasure-trove of such wisdom. The Mahābhārata is ‘Kārṣṇya-veda’ (The Veda of Kṛṣṇa[4]). The utterance of the Bhaviṣya-purāṇa that it is the fifth Veda is widely known.[5]

The Mahābhārata is a multi-layered treatise. In the Epic, we can at once see several aspects such as Itivṛtta[6], exposition of Nīti[7], and message of Adhyātma[8]. It is only when we grasp this cohesive magnanimity of the treatise will we be able to derive maximum benefit from reading it. Needless to say, there is certainly some benefit even if one were to focus merely on the apparent meaning of the verses. Even if one is satisfied just by the story and its elements, there is at least the benefit of reminding oneself that such-and-such historical episodes transpired in the past. By no means should this be deemed a trivial benefit.

There is, however, another face to the topic at hand. Knowledge or actions that have their basis in people and the world need not necessarily be demarcated into laukika (material, of this world) and pāramārthika (spiritual, of the Supreme); further, the two need not be mutually contrary in all circumstances. Owing to the method of examination—seeing from a particular reference point—at certain instances, certain actions might appear to lay emphasis on one of these two. It’s inevitable to cultivate a holistic vision if we wish to derive maximum benefit from deeply examining the treatise. Because good and bad, welfare and misery – all such considerations are circum-stantial; it might not necessarily have a spiritual meaning.

There is a back-story for the creation of the aforesaid passage. It is only in the realm of adhyātma that we can attain satisfactory solutions to numerous philosophical questions that arise when we think merely from a transactional point of view.

Focal Point: Dharma

It is well known that dharma is the focal point of Indian

culture and worldview.  Dharma is complicated and multi-

faceted; it is not an easy task to explain dharma with evidence and without internal contradictions[9]. The pur-view of dharma is as expansive as the world and it is multi-dimensional. This being the case, there’s always a possibility of confusion arising about the form and structure of dharma. Further, it is dharma alone that forms the basis for several other considerations and references. Grasping the meaning of dharma is not something that will happen by composing a few sūtras or learning a few formulae.

With this background, to comprehend the form and structure of dharma by the analysis of various situations and circumstances, one derives great benefit from the numerous stories and sub-stories as well as the distilled didactic segments – thus has Vyāsa composed the Mahābhārata.

When we cogitate upon the Epic with a frame of mind that is purely transactional or worldly, often we see the regression of dharma; it appears to be taking backward steps. The reconciliation of such dichotomies and dilemmas are possible only in the realm of adhyātma. It is not so straightforward to realize these subtleties in one’s experience. This is perhaps the reason for the Mahābhārata’s gigantic size – it must have been necessary to compose it in an extensive manner.

In the Bhārata-Sāvitrī collection of ślokas, Vyāsa has presented the philosophy inherent in dharma in a succinct manner; these verses are in the form of seeds [that hold within themselves large trees].

The level of development of a person is ultimately decided based on his internal contemplation and the discernment between what is dharma and what is not. The ultimate factor in determining this is the inner spirit, the essential pulsations of the Self. If the inner spirit certifies something as good, no other external force or considerations can shake that conviction. There are times when an individual wrongly grasps his inner self and becomes perverted and crooked – just like it happened in the case of people like Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Duryodhana. These can be considered as interim stages in the development of an individual. It is with the backdrop of this process of evolution that Śrīkṛṣṇa tells Arjuna in the Gītā, “Be a yogi!” (tasmād-yogī bhavārjuna[10]). Yoga means attaining oneness with the Supreme Being in a conscious manner, by means of wisdom. When a person attains oneness with the Supreme Being in various dimensions – intellectually, in conduct, analytically, emotionally, and so forth – that becomes holistic and indivisible.

Counsel Compilation

It is nearly impossible to show in the palm of one’s hand the summary of a colossal epic like the Mahābhārata – this is amply clear to us. Even so, it is self-evident that extracting from this expansive treatise the distilled wisdom valuable to humankind—‘the message for humanity’—and presenting it succinctly in a sentence or two would be extremely useful. The supremely compassionate Veda-vyāsa, always concerned about the welfare of the world, undertook this great task and therefore deserves our wholehearted gratitude.

This śloka collection—famous in our tradition as ‘Bhārata-Sāvitrī’—appears right at the end of the Mahābhārata in the Svargārohaṇa-parva. The counsel that is contained within it has been called ‘Bhārata-Sāvitrī’ by Veda-vyāsa himself. This cluster of ślokas attracts our attention owing to its brevity and beauty, its concise form and mellifluous utterances. One who recites these ślokas every day, contemplates upon it, and brings it into practice in his daily life attains the fruit of reciting the entire Mahābhārata and also an exalted position – this is what the Purāṇa-style phala-śruti[11] at the end of the śloka collection says; from this it becomes evident what sort of importance Veda-vyāsa ascribed to this work.

That the word ‘sāvitrī’ corresponds to Gāyatrī is widely known. From an etymological point of view, the implication in names like Sāvitrī and Gāyatrī is that they have kept the Sun deity[12] as their goal [of worship].

While composing the maṅgala-śloka[13] for a great work, it is a common practice to allude to something grand, to invoke something that is endowed with splendour. The common expectation that the conclusion of a work should be peaceful and auspicious is not something to be frowned upon. It’s only natural that most of the traditional works have ended on a positive note. What is extraordinary, however, is that Vyāsa shows nothing but the reality of the world in the concluding portion of the Epic! It is most appropriate—i.e. filled with aucitya—that he examines and presents all the rough edges of the world-structure. After all, the entire Mahābhārata—from beginning to end—is filled with vivid portrayals of the beauties and idiosyncrasies commonly seen in the world. In this backdrop we cannot deny the personal and societal value of being face to face with the little solace—the tiny drop of succour—that can be seen in people’s lives, which are typically so full of turbulence.

The phala-śruti that is included at the end of the śloka cluster cannot be said to be merely ornamental; it is not just a literary embellishment. The practice of reciting the Bhārata-Sāvitrī every morning along with the daily prayers is widely seen in Western India.

Śloka Collection

Now we can bring our attention to the text of the Bhārata-Sāvitrī.[14]

mātā-pitṛ-sahasrāṇi putra-dāra-śatāni ca
saṃsāreṣv-anubhūtāni yānti yāsyanti cāpare[15]

Mothers and fathers, thousands of them
Sons and wives, hundreds of them
have come and gone in this world
This chain of events
will continue even in the future

harṣa-sthāna-sahasrāṇi bhaya-sthāna-śatāni ca
divase divase mūḍham āviśanti na paṇḍitam[16]

Thousands of situations that evoke joy
Hundreds of situations that give rise to fear
Every day, day after day,
they engulf the fools, not the wise

ūrdhva-bāhur-viraumy-eṣa na ca kaścic-chṛṇoti me
dharmād-arthaś-ca kāmaś-ca sa kim-arthaṃ na sevyate[17]

With raised arms, I’m screaming
but nobody seems to listen to me!
Artha and kāma are attained only through dharma
Even so, why don’t people adhere to dharma?

na jātu kāmān-na bhayān-na lobhād-
dharmaṃ tyajej-jīvitasyāpi hetoḥ
nityo dharmaḥ sukha-duḥkhe tv-anitye
jīvo nityo hetur-asya tv-anityaḥ[18]

Driven by desires, forced by fear, or induced by avarice
One should not forsake dharma even for the sake of life
Dharma is timeless, joys and sorrows are transient
Life is eternal, material causes are ephemeral

Apart from the aforementioned four ślokas, there is a fifth śloka, which is in the form of a phala-śruti

imāṃ bhārata-sāvitrīṃ prātar-utthāya yaḥ paṭhet
sa bhārata-phalaṃ prāpya paraṃ brahmādhigacchati[19]

One who recites the Bhārata-Sāvitrī
every morning upon waking up
He gains the reward of reciting the entire Epic
and realizes the Supreme brahman

 

To be continued...

This is the first part of a four-part translation of Dr. S R Ramaswamy's Kannada essay ಭಾರತ ಸಾವಿತ್ರೀ, which was written with the express view that it should be translated by us for the English adaptation of his writings on the epic, Evolution of the Mahabharata.

 

Footnotes

[1] Third of the four mahā-yugas (Great Eras), the other three being Kṛta-yuga, Tretā-yuga, and Kali-yuga

[2] The word ‘cirañjīvī’ literally means ‘long life’ or ‘unending life.’ It is used to refer to the seven ‘immortals’ of the Indian tradition who will perish only at the end of the Kali-yuga. Apart from Vyāsa, in the list of cirañjīvīs we have Hanumān, Paraśurāma, Vibhīṣaṇa, Aśvatthāma, Bali, and Kṛpa. It must be mentioned here that not all these people are noteworthy and particularly in the case of Aśvatthāma, immortality was a curse and not a boon

[3] Upākhyānas are sub-plots added to the main story or stand-alone tales that are woven into the main narrative

[4] Kṛṣṇa can refer either to Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Veda-vyāsa, the author of the Epic or to Śrīkṛṣṇa Vāsudeva, the hero of the Epic

[5] viṣṇu-dharmādayo dharmāḥ śiva-dharmāś-ca bhārata
kārṣṇyaṃ vedaṃ pañcamaṃ tu yan-mahābhārataṃ smṛtam

विष्णुधर्मादयो धर्माः शिवधर्माश्च भारत।
कार्ष्ण्यं वेदं पञ्चमं तु यन्महाभारतं स्मृतम्॥ – Bhaviṣya-purāṇa 1.4.87

[6] Itivṛtta means ‘history,’ ‘chronicle,’ or ‘story.’

[7] Nīti refers to ‘morals,’ ‘principles,’ or ‘policy’

[8] Adhyātma refers to ‘spirituality’ or ‘matters pertaining to the Self’

[9] In other words, it’s difficult to give meaning to dharma in an authoritative and unambiguous manner

[10] ...तस्माद्योगी भवार्जुन॥ – Bhagavad-gītā 6.46

[11] Phala-śruti refers to the reward of reciting and hearing a great work

[12] The Sun is hailed as ‘Savitṛ’ in our tradition

[13] Maṅgala-śloka is the introductory verse of a work, which is typically in praise of a favourite deity

[14] All the verses are from the constituted text of the Epic

[15] मातापितृसहस्राणि पुत्रदारशतानि च।
संसारेष्वनुभूतानि यान्ति यास्यन्ति चापरे॥ #1 (Svargārohaṇa-parva 5.47)

[16] हर्षस्थानसहस्राणि भयस्थानशतानि च।
दिवसे दिवसे मूढं आविशन्ति न पण्डितम्॥ #2 (Ibid. 5.48)

[17] ऊर्ध्वबाहुर्विरौम्येष न च कश्चिचिच्छृणोति मे।
धर्मादर्थश्च कामश्च स किमर्थं न सेव्यते॥ #3 (Ibid. 5.49)

[18] न जातु कामान्न भयान्न लोभा-
द्धर्मं त्यजेज्जीवितस्यापि हेतोः।
नित्यो धर्मः सुखदुःखे त्वनित्ये
जीवो नित्यो हेतुरस्य त्वनित्यः॥ #4 (Ibid. 5.50)

[19]  इमां भारतसावित्रीं प्रातरुत्थाय यः पठेत्।
स भारतफलं प्राप्य परं ब्रह्माधिगच्छति॥ #5

Author(s)

About:

Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of stalwarts like D. V. Gundappa, Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma, V Sitaramaiah, and others. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and served as the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs for many years.

Translator(s)

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, editor, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 25+ books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.

About:

Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

Prekshaa Publications

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