BHUBANESWAR: Is the Mahabharat more relevant than ever today? Yes, said Dr Bibek Debroy, who has authored a 10-volume unabridged English translation of ‘The Mahabharat’ between 2010 and 2014.
“Why is the Mahabharat still relevant? It is because of its poetry. In some parts, Mahabharat is a beautiful poetry, though it is a debated issue whether a single person composed the entire epic. Poetry today is invariably interpretative as rhyming. In sense of rhyming, Sanskrit poetry never had rhyming until the advent of Jaydev, a son of this soil,” he said.
Citing that classical Sanskrit poetry was bound by antiquity of ‘Chhand’ (a quatrain used in the poetic tradition), the economist said so far as the Ramayana, Mahabharat and Puranas are concerned, the most popular ‘Chhand’ was ‘Anusthup’ and no translation can capture the beauty of that poetry.
Debroy, who is a permanent member of NITI Aayog, said apart from poetry, there is a wealth of geographical material in Mahabharat. It is not only about a fight between the Kauravas and Pandavas. There is much more in the epic. There is a wealth of material on what can broadly be called dharma, particularly vedanta, sankhya and yoga.
“It is an unwarranted belief that all of the epics represent myths. Don’t get it wrong. I am not suggesting to agree that everything occurred as it was described. But those are core elements of truth,” he said.
It is about ‘Raja Dharma’, the royal craft and the rule of law that the Mahabharat teaches the society. It is not just in Mahabharat but also in Kautilya’s Arthashastra, .
The notion of dharma is what Mahabharat continues to motivate the civilisation. It is a word should never be translated into English. Because, dharma is not religion, dharma means all kinds of different things depending on the context. At one level, it is sadachara (good behaviour), at another level it is a kind of ‘Raja dharma’ and at another, it is ‘Barnashram Dharma’.
“The reason why all of us continue to identify with the Mahabharat even today is that the context may be different, the socio-economic milieu may be different, but the conflict of dharma, the dilemma, the personal choices, the personal conflicts are that each one of us faces every day,” the Padma Shri awardee Debroy said.
Mahabharat is treatise of dharma. There is a lot of spirituality and metaphysics in it. Dharma is fundamentally about one’s individual choice. In that particular sense, Mahabharat is extremely individualistic.
“It is not the society which is telling you what to do, it is not the king who is telling you what to do, it is your own individual decision. And that is the most important message of the Mahabharat. Depending on the individual decision you take, depending on what you perceive to be dharma, you will have to face the consequences,” he reiterated.