Equal to the Gāyatrī-mantra
Vyāsa gives the Bhārata-Sāvitrī clarion call in the concluding portion of the Mahābhārata. Just as the essence of all the Vedas assumes the name ‘Sāvitrī,’ finding its place in the Gāyatrī-mantra, Vyāsa has put in one place the distilled message of the Mahābhārata under the name ‘Bhārata-Sāvitrī.’ It is highly unlikely that Vyāsa’s conception is merely a narration of Itihāsa that becomes absolutely clear to one as soon as he steps into the depths of study. In the view of the wise ones, in the process of narrating a tale of war, what has resulted is indeed a dharma-saṃhitā – a collection of wisdom on dharma. In this manner, the Bhārata-Sāvitrī became the Gāyatrī-mantra of the Mahābhārata. The word ‘sāvitrī’ is derived from ‘savitā’ or ‘savitṛ.’ Savitā is the name given to the power that inspires the entire universe. For the convenience of meditation, it has also been visualized in the form of a deity. In the view of Veda-vyāsa, the message that is succinctly captured in the Bhārata-Sāvitrī śloka cluster manifestly indicates the message intended by the whole of the Mahābhārata treatise – we shall now examine how this is so.
The element that we must observe is: this śloka collection is not merely expounding the primary message of the Mahābhārata in a sūtra form but also is also indicating the origin or the logic behind the sūtra-making.
Desirous of Knowing the Puruṣārthas
Elements of the counsel that appear in this collection is constantly seen in various places all across the Epic. The main message is this: if there is a philosophical concept that can take prominence in the world, it is dharma alone; it is only dharma that can ultimately cause equilibrium in the world and maintain peace and well-being. Typically, in the realm of trade and transactions, the focus of people is more drawn towards artha and kāma; while that is the case, it is only dharma that is capable of fulfilling human purposes such as prosperity of beings and fulfilment of desires – these words of Vyāsa must be keenly observed.
To understand how the purport of the Bhārata-Sāvitrī appears to be a crystallization of the message of the Mahābhārata, it is helpful to embark on an examination of the relationship between these verses and what has been said before them. There are mainly two subtleties hidden here:
1. Vyāsa’s emotionally charged words indicate to us his view: dharma is inevitable for the dynamic equilibrium in the world. Right there, Vyāsa has explicitly stated the reason for dharma’s pre-eminence: it is only through dharma that one can attain the two puruṣārthas that are given the most importance in the realm of the material world – artha and kāma. Vyāsa, who says that the attainment of artha and kāma are possible only when there is a strong foundation in dharma, goes a step further to establish the supremacy of dharma and says: dharma is eternal; sukha and duḥkha—peace and misery—are constantly changing and are short-lived. The instruction that stems out of this unshakable truth is: however potent the allure of desire, fear, greed, etc. might be, one should not fall prey for it and abandon dharma. The eternal principle is always more admirable, more appropriate than something ephemeral.
2. There is yet another subtlety here that demands our undivided attention: in Vyāsa’s view, the puruṣārthas or artha and kāma have to be attained only by treading the path of dharma. We have to give special care in understanding this vision of Vyāsa, for in the name of turning our minds towards mokṣa, there has been a long tradition of treating artha and kāma with contempt; for years there has been a line of thinkers who have looked at these basic puruṣārthas with disdain. Not only that, owing to this warped view, we have faced disasters such as inappropriate interpretation and ill-informed comments on the Vedānta darśana. When it comes to pure Vedānta, although in reality it considers mokṣa as the ultimate purpose, it does not negate the apparent truth that is seen in the world and in the transactions and interactions of the world. It is due to the lack of all-round clarity with regard to the hierarchy of the puruṣārthas that these absurd notions get propagated.
It is illuminating and instructive that Vyāsa has suggested this fundamental classification in the Bhārata-Sāvitrī śloka cluster. Vyāsa has himself clearly said: It is only dharma that is eternal, unshakable; sukha and duḥkha are temporary and constantly changing; this being the case, don’t ignore dharma, don’t forget dharma, I plead with you!
Clarity of the Goal
Vyāsa himself has suggested that it is not easy to bring this into practice. If one gets too caught up in the momentary attraction of desires, the fear of exhausting opportunities to experience comfort, and the unending series of ‘want’s for the attainment of one after the other, there is always the potential danger of dharma going farther away from us. Vyāsa had made it clear that the Ultimate Goal should be the Eternal Principle and not ephemeral, incidental circumstances.
The śloka ‘Harṣa-sthāna-sahasrāṇi’ (#2) is extremely suggestive, rich with dhvani. In this world, the reasons for excitement and sorrow are innumerable. The foolish and the immature are hassled by them and not the wise – this appears to be the cursory meaning of the verse. The import of this verse is rather unambiguous; there’s no need for further elaboration of the meaning. However, there is a subtlety contained in this utterance: Every morning, from the time we wake up, we encounter circumstances that cause turbulence in our mind and situations that destroy our peace; this can even be called a rule of nature. The possibility of such occurrences cannot be averted even by the greatest minds. Even the most competent ones cannot escape from natural calamities. This being the case, what indeed can a wise person do? There is only one solution available for that. To try and avoid the ups and downs that are latent in nature is akin to an attempt of covering the sky with a blanket. It is a futile undertaking. That said, it is both possible and necessary to reduce—to the extent we can—the intensity of the influence of external circumstances on our inner being. This becomes possible by the control of the mind. Those desirous of treading the path of adhyātma will benefit from the following: taking care not to become the cause of dichotomy and imbalance and training themselves to forbear any assaults on their mental peace owing to turbulence caused by unforeseen situations. This temperament and conduct at higher levels of attainment is hailed as yoga. This pre-eminent process is indeed what Vyāsa has indicated as ‘dharma-anusandhāna.’ He says that dharma-awareness plays a role in cultivating mental balance that doesn’t get disturbed much by external situations.
Avoiding the influence of desires, fears, and greed on our minds and cultivating forbearance to face natural calamities and accidents – dharma supports us in both these instances. Owing to its scope of influence, dharma has been given such an important place in the world-structure. Dharma’s pre-eminence has arisen because it is the foundation of timelessness [or permanence] and stability. It is possible for dharma to support and sustain the world only because of its nature of timelessness and stability. This multi-dimensional sattva is firmly established in dharma – indeed, this is one of the important explanations of the famous utterance ‘dhāraṇāt dharma ity-āhuḥ’ (Dharma is that which supports and sustains).
Thus, the various modes and differences in the journey of life across several births, the constant decay of the visible world and its management – both these fundamental concepts have been expounded in a succinct but unambiguous manner by Vyāsa in the opening ślokas “mātā-pitṛ-sahasrāṇi…” and “harṣa-sthāna-sahasrāṇi…” of the Bhārata-Sāvitrī. The futility of trying to destroy the various worldly circumstances has been made amply clear by the words of the Bhārata-Sāvitrī. For instance, although we cannot exercise any control over natural calamities and externally motivated accidents, we can—by means of our own efforts and training—reduce the impact of the event on our minds; that such a thing is possible is made clear by the verse “harṣa-sthāna-sahasrāṇi…” We can apply this teaching to both the pāramārthika (spiritual, ultimate) and vyāvahārika (transactional, worldly) realms of our life.
Along with presenting the pre-eminence of dharma on the basis of philosophy, Vyāsa also has given a few evidences side-by-side, which provide completion to the philosophical argument. A great principle that provides philosophical completion to the concept of dharma is the karma-siddhānta that includes within itself the idea of rebirth. Several opinions and decisions in the transactional realm of vyavahāra stem from the view that the present birth alone is complete in itself. It is not easy to come out of this mindset even for those who accept rebirth as a matter of philosophy; the shackles of māyā (illusion, relative perception) are that tight. The present birth is merely a phase in the unending flow: when this is firmly lodged in our memory, several of our responses and references are bound to change. The acceptance of the principle of rebirth is the primary means to strengthen our all-round understanding of the ephemeral nature of the universe. It is in this backdrop Vyāsa brings up the idea of rebirth in his ultimate message.
To be continued...
This is the second 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.
 धारणात् धर्म इत्याहुः – Karṇa-parva 49.50
 In other words, if we wish to truly comprehend that the world around us is constantly decaying and will not last for ever, then the primary means is the acceptance of the rebirth principle.