Bhārata-Sāvitrī (Part 4)

A Touchstone

Though we have a great deal of material connected with dharma, it is not easy to decide what constitutes dharma and what would be adharma when faced with challenging situations. Draupadī, while being humiliated in the court of the Kauravas hurls a scathing remark at Bhīṣma and questions him about the nature of dharma. Bhīṣma replies that it is beyond his capacity to assess what is dhārmic under the current circumstances.[1]

One can assess the situation only when he transcends the context at hand and sees it from a higher (philosophical) pedestal, i.e. he must have a clear picture of the hierarchy of the puruṣārthas. This needs some elaboration.

Situations in which it is hard to determine what would be righteous need to be examined by standing a step away from the context at hand to get a wholesome perspective.

Let us continue examining the episode of Draupadī’s humiliation at the royal court of the Kurus. If we were to only examine the incident only from a superficial perspective, we are bound to come up with questions such as – was it right for Śrīkṛṣṇa to wait for so long before he blessed Draupadī with endless clothes? Did he have to wait until she was insulted and faced endless humiliation in the court? Is this what Divine empathy is all about? Was there something lacking in Draupadī’s devotion? Is there some shortcoming in Śrīkṛṣṇa’s omnipotence? Why couldn’t Śrīkṛṣṇa eliminate Duryodhana and Duśśāsana right there? These and similar questions may arise in a common man’s mind.

The incident under consideration has other dimensions as well. It had been pre-determined by the Creator, Brahmā that Duryodhana’s death would take place through Bhīma’s mace and not by Śrīkṛṣṇa’s cakra, just as Rāvaṇa’s death was to take place at the hands of Śrīrāma.

We will need to go ahead with the understanding that the activities of the avatāra-puruṣas are functions of the situation at hand. No one questions the omniscience and omnipotence of the Divinities Śrīrāma and Śrīkṛṣṇa. Many subtle norms dictate the functioning of avatāra-puruṣas too. This is the essence of the statement which says that the meaning of dharma is hidden deep within a dark cave.

The internal conviction and steadfastness of a person can be evidenced through the attempts he makes at arriving at a solution adhering to dharma and the actual solution he arrives at. We must view the entire Epic as a metaphor for a man’s journey to the realms of higher and more exalted values. It is a detailed description of this journey of man. The Mahābhārata does not end with its last Parva but continues forever.

Portrayal of Eternal Conflicts

Conflicts between sāttvika and tāmasika tendencies are seen at all times and their portrayal is one of the purposes of the composition of the Mahābhārata. Such conflicts are not limited to a particular place or time, but occur at all places and times. In this sense, the concepts presented in the Epic transcend the material world. The tattva that is hailed as Para-brahman in Vedānta and as Īśvara in the Purāṇas is embodied in Bhagavān Śrīkṛṣṇa in the Mahābhārata. The words ‘avatāra’ and ‘avataraṇa’ carry the sense that they are physical manifestations of the Ultimate Value. The Mahābhārata makes it evident that the Pāṇḍavas were the avataraṇas of different deities. Duryodhana was the avataraṇa of Kali-puruṣa. It is well known that the Bhagavad-gītā is a conversation between Nara and Nārāyaṇa – human and Divine. The creative framework of the Mahābhārata is to transcend the limitations of the personality of each character. Thus, we cannot say that the Gītā was merely a conversation between Arjuna, the son of Pāṇḍu and Kṛṣṇa, the chief of the Yādavas. What lies there is the principle of jīvātmā and paramātmā. It is only by keeping this broader picture in mind that we can evaluate the Epic.

The ‘samatva’ or ‘sama-darśana’ that the Bhagavad-gītā talks about and is elaborated in detail in the Mahābhārata constitutes the essence of dharma. This is termed as ‘yoga-sādhana’ in the lore of the darśanas. The composer of the Epic was well aware that this principle is not easy to comprehend or to put in practice, so he had to substantiate it with complex plots and sub-stories.

Wisdom for Eternity

In only a few lines in the Bhārata-Sāvitrī, the seer-poet Vyāsa has captured the essence of the philosophy that transcends space and time. He has elucidated its principle and has succinctly defined the concept. He captures the essence and working of dharma, the heart of Indian culture, as the basis of worldly life. He also portrays its dynamism. The brevity with which he has put together these profound thoughts helps in making the verses of Bhārata-Sāvitrī easy to memorise. It is because of this reason that the collection of verses of the Bhārata-Sāvitrī is hailed as the pinnacle of the Epic.

How relevant are these principles of dharma, which were taught several millennia ago? Many may raise this question. The fact that surfaces on deep contemplation is that though the external nature of man’s problems changes from time to time, the inherent nature of human beings that lies underneath all such problems is unchanging. The idiom of the issues might change but their fundamental nature doesn’t. Each activity has the dimensions of the physical, mental, and philosophical. Though the Kurukṣetra war is an external phenomenon, the events that caused the war are rooted in man’s mind and emotions. The primary characters that occur in the Epic are merely the embodiments of different human traits and this structure of the Epic that personifies character traits is evident from even a cursory glance at the work.

Thus, looking at this from a philosophical perspective, the inherent nature of time and space have remained unchanged. It is only the external and superficial parameters that undergo changes with time. The position occupied by the king in the past is now occupied by the government. What used to be social classes in the past is now metamorphosed into economic classes. The descriptive nature of the law that existed in the past could have taken the form of prescriptive rules today.

The Philosophical Backdrop

Just a rudimentary materialistic solution does not suffice for several problems. A wholesome solution is only possible when viewed from a philosophical perspective – this does not need much substantiation. For example: ahiṃsā (freedom from inflicting injury) and naiṣkarmya (freedom from selfish action) are not states devoid of activity that are filled with tamas. The teaching is: Should the situation demand it, it’s fine to pick a fight or even wage a war. One must bear in mind that this fight is not a selfish one and is meant for the greater good. One must make note of these intricate details to understand the profundity of the Mahābhārata.

Śrīkṛṣṇa taught the Bhagavad-gītā to Arjuna to help him understand the meaning of action and non-action from a philosophical perspective. The framework of duty and action can be understood better from the pedestal of philosophy. Whatever is inevitable and has been predetermined by Fate cannot be changed; it is even futile to do so – this is yet another message of Śrīkṛṣṇa. It is also evident from the teachings of the Epic and Bhagavad-gītā that if some ethical and moral values today differ from those of the past, and those of the past appear to be improper today, we need not fret over it. Today’s world demands equality only at the material level and if this can be achieved by some means, no one is going to object it. However, we should never forget that it is only the internal harmony and equality that can prevail. Only if this philosophical standpoint is strengthened and things are viewed from that perspective, several aspects that appear to be important today will seem insignificant.

Perspective Towards Governing the World

We can gather from several day-to-day situations that these concepts are not merely fictional but they play a vital role in our daily interactions with the world. For instance, a doctor using a knife or scalpel (in order to cure a person of illness) does not amount to violence; killing the enemy in battle does not count as murder. The smṛtis say that an ātatāyin—one who attacks us without reason—should be eliminated forthwith.[2]

Ahiṃsā and such other concepts are only relative to the situation and to the person. The smṛtis also say that the establishment and sustenance of dharma in complex situations might need daṇḍa-prayoga, i.e. the use of force.  Thus, scholars well-versed in the śāstras should concern themselves with the right action that needs to be taken under different situations for the establishment of dharma.

If these subtle details are ignored, it will seem like the Pāṇḍavas were greedy about possessing the kingdom. There is no dearth of ‘literary critics’ who have (mis-)interpreted the characters of Rāvaṇa and Duryodhana as possessors of great measures of self-respect.

The Kauravas not only wanted to be the rulers of a vast kingdom but also desired the destruction of the Pāṇḍavas. When these points are kept in mind, we will develop a better understanding of the Epic.

An Endless Process

The world does not work in a linear fashion and its workings are not always transparent. The flow of a river is bound to encounter obstacles from time to time. The flow somehow tackles them and continues to move forward. It is important to look at the world with this metaphor in mind – it will help us overcome the anxiety that dharma is getting destroyed today. The eternal flow of human life and culture is significant and the small clinks in its civilization are rare and to be ignored in the bigger picture. This perspective will make our lives more tolerable and we can live more peacefully.

Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood are amongst the values upheld by today’s civilizations. Though we can inculcate these values and have them as our guiding principles, we cannot deny that there are some natural limitations in putting them to practice. It is only to bring a balance between such apparently opposing elements that judiciary and governance are found to play important roles.

Contentment of every individual and equanimity with no hindrances are ideals that mankind can aim to achieve. Human history is all about reducing the gap between the ideal state and the reality. This is not a pessimistic view, of course, because if not for these ideals, humankind would not have had the motivation to achieve the heights it has so far reached.

This natural reality of the world is hidden behind the statements – ‘it is difficult to decipher the intricate nature of dharma’ and ‘the dynamism of karma is hard to comprehend.’


This is the fourth 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.



[1] na dharma-saukṣmyāt-subhage vivaktuṃ
śaknomi te praśnam-imaṃ yathāvat

“O noble woman! I’m unable to explain this subtle nature of dharma.
Hence cannot give a befitting answer to your question!”

(न धर्मसौक्ष्म्यात्सुभगे विवक्तुं
शक्नोमि ते प्रश्नमिमं यथावत्। – Sabhā-parva 60.40)

[2] The traditional definition of an ātatāyin is –

agnido garadaś-caiva śastra-pāṇi-rdhanāpahaḥ
kṣetra-dārāpahārī ca ṣaḍ-ete ātatāyinaḥ

An ātatāyin is one who tries to kill another
using fire, poison, or weapon;
or illegally seize another’s money, land, or wife

(अग्निदो गरदश्चैव शस्त्रपाणिर्धनापहः।
क्षेत्रदारापहारी च षडेते आततायिनः॥)



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.



Hari is a writer, translator, editor, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in philosophy, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 35+ books, mostly related to Indian culture. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.


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

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fifth volume, episodes from the lives of traditional savants responsible for upholding the Vedic culture. These memorable characters lived a life of opulence amidst poverty— theirs  was the wealth of the soul, far beyond money and gold. These vidvāns hailed from different corners of the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom and lived in...

Padma Bhushan Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam represents the quintessence of Sage Bharata’s art and Bhārata, the country that gave birth to the peerless seer of the Nāṭya-veda. Padma’s erudition in various streams of Indic knowledge, mastery over many classical arts, deep understanding of the nuances of Indian culture, creative genius, and sublime vision bolstered by the vedāntic and nationalistic...

Bhārata has been a land of plenty in many ways. We have had a timeless tradition of the twofold principle of Brāhma (spirit of wisdom) and Kṣāttra (spirit of valour) nourishing and protecting this sacred land. The Hindu civilisation, rooted in Sanātana-dharma, has constantly been enriched by brāhma and safeguarded by kṣāttra.
The renowned Sanskrit poet and scholar, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R...

ಛಂದೋವಿವೇಕವು ವರ್ಣವೃತ್ತ, ಮಾತ್ರಾಜಾತಿ ಮತ್ತು ಕರ್ಷಣಜಾತಿ ಎಂದು ವಿಭಕ್ತವಾದ ಎಲ್ಲ ಬಗೆಯ ಛಂದಸ್ಸುಗಳನ್ನೂ ವಿವೇಚಿಸುವ ಪ್ರಬಂಧಗಳ ಸಂಕಲನ. ಲೇಖಕರ ದೀರ್ಘಕಾಲಿಕ ಆಲೋಚನೆಯ ಸಾರವನ್ನು ಒಳಗೊಂಡ ಈ ಹೊತ್ತಗೆ ಪ್ರಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಛಂದಸ್ಸಿನ ಸೌಂದರ್ಯವನ್ನು ಲಕ್ಷಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ತೌಲನಿಕ ವಿಶ್ಲೇಷಣೆ ಮತ್ತು ಅಂತಃಶಾಸ್ತ್ರೀಯ ಅಧ್ಯಯನಗಳ ತೆಕ್ಕೆಗೆ ಬರುವ ಬರೆಹಗಳೂ ಇಲ್ಲಿವೆ. ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಕಾರನಿಗಲ್ಲದೆ ಸಿದ್ಧಹಸ್ತನಾದ ಕವಿಗೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ಸ್ಫುರಿಸಬಲ್ಲ ಎಷ್ಟೋ ಹೊಳಹುಗಳು ಕೃತಿಯ ಮೌಲಿಕತೆಯನ್ನು ಹೆಚ್ಚಿಸಿವೆ. ಈ...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fourth volume, some character sketches of the Dewans of Mysore preceded by an account of the political framework of the State before Independence and followed by a review of the political conditions of the State after 1940. These remarkable leaders of Mysore lived in a period that spans from the mid-nineteenth century to the...

Bharatiya Kavya-mimamseya Hinnele is a monograph on Indian Aesthetics by Mahamahopadhyaya N. Ranganatha Sharma. The book discusses the history and significance of concepts pivotal to Indian literary theory. It is equally useful to the learned and the laity.

Sahitya-samhite is a collection of literary essays in Kannada. The book discusses aestheticians such as Ananda-vardhana and Rajashekhara; Sanskrit scholars such as Mena Ramakrishna Bhat, Sridhar Bhaskar Varnekar and K S Arjunwadkar; and Kannada litterateurs such as DVG, S L Bhyrappa and S R Ramaswamy. It has a foreword by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective to every discussion. These essays deal with the philosophy, history, aesthetics, and practice of...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...