Years back, during the Doordarshan era, an extravagant series captivated almost the entire country. Mahabharat – B.R.Chopra’s serial based on the most famous Indian epic – was telecast every Sunday. I was just in school then but the serial’s smooth narrative, in the backdrop of majestic sets, gripped my young mind.

Now, years later, the same serial is again being telecast on a private channel and I again find myself glued to the TV. However it is not the grandeur that appeals to me now. It is something deeper that holds the attention of my somewhat matured mind. May be, I am now able to comprehend the inherent truth in every event and character of the Mahabharat or grasp the depth of ideas propounded in the Bhagwatgita.

mahabharatThe Hindu epic (or, better we look at it as a classic) hits upon every virtue and vice that we observe around us even to-day. Another appealing aspect is that no situation or character is depicted as black or white. While the hero Arjun is consumed with pride, villain Duryodhan is quick to bond with lower class Karna (His initial motive could be selfish but the friendship strengthened later is definitely genuine). Every character, right from the highly revered Bhishma to the distinguished guru Dronacharya, has committed major blunders. Even the almighty is not spared. Lord Krishna’s lovable but shrewd character at times borders craftiness and partiality.

There hardly seems to be any social issue of current relevance that the Mahabharat has not touched upon. Yudishthir putting up Draupadi at stake in a gambling game, and her subsequent abuse, is a glaring example of “commodification of women”. This continues to be a gripping problem even in today’s emancipated world. In fact, providing a safe society for women is one of the reasons given by Krishna to justify the war of Kurukshetra.

The ill fated life of Karna by itself touches so many communal problems – right from dilemma of a single mother to rigidity of the class system. Sidelining of Karna’s talent, due to his father’s occupation, seems to sow the seed of caste divide that the country went on to experience. Mahabharat faintly suggests that course of the story (or shall we say ‘his’story) could have changed if Karna’s rights had got timely recognition. The depth of Mahabharat manifests in the fact that it delicately questions the class system that is so deeply inscribed in the Vedas itself.

After listening to three whole episodes of the Bhagwatgita, I realized how loosely we tend to use certain words. What does the word “dharma” mean to us? – Some may say God. For others it may denote temples or poojas. But that’s not how Krishna defines it in the Gita. When he tells Arjun that fighting the kurukshetra war is his “dharma”, there is just one simple meaning – it is man’s inherent duty towards “justice”. Establishing a just administration was the only underlying objective behind the war. This very crux of justice has taken a backseat in the “dharma” that we now practice.

On the same lines, a “yogi” is not necessarily a saint or someone with magical powers. The Bhagwatgita defines a yogi as simply an individual who thinks beyond the obvious. He’s the one who can visualize far reaching consequences of human action. It was surprising to hear Krishna say “when a common man cuts trees to cook his daily meals, a yogi will plant trees to preserve the balance of nature”. What could be of more relevance to mankind today?

Mahabharat is certainly a must-read. For a lazy reader like me the televised serial comes as a boon. In the midst of soaps and realty shows, which firmly uphold the reputation of the “idiot box”, here is something more thought-provoking to watch. Besides, you will not help appreciating the impeccable direction, well researched dialogues and the near flawless performance by the cast. And as a story, one can hardly find anything more gripping, stimulating, and intricate yet crystal-clear and enlightening!