The Vedic literature was vast and varied. It contained the highest spiritual thought of the seers and sages. It was understood only by the learned.
But it was impossible for common people to know of the deeper philosophies of the Vedas, Upanishads and Aranyakas, etc.
The seers realised this. In their desire to carry knowledge to the people at large, they, therefore, composed the two great epics in later times. The two epics were The RAMAYANA and The MAHABHARATA. The epics were written during the later half of the second millennium and the first half of the first millennium before the Christian Era.
Ramayana was the work of Valmiki. It contains 24 thousand slokas and is divided into ten parts. According to Valmiki himself, he wanted to carry the essence of the lessons of the Vedas to the common people by singing the virtuous deeds of Ramachandra.
Ramayana describes the life of Rama, the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Dasaratha. When the old king Dasaratha wanted to place Rama, the crown prince, on throne, Rama decided to go to forest for fourteen years in order to fulfill his father’s promise to his second queen Kaikeyee to keep her request at right time and Kaikeyee demanded the banishment of Rama to forest so that her son Bharata could seat on the throne; death of king Dasaratha in extreme sorrow for Rama’s departure; Rama accompanied by his devoted wife Sita and younger brother Laxman went away to forest; a shocked Bharata went to bring Rama back, but on Rama’s refusal he brought his foot-wear to place on throne and to rule the country on behalf of his elder brother; departure of Rama from Chitrakuta to Dandakaranya and stay there in a hut at Panchavati forest; abduction of Sita by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana; constructing a bridge over sea, Rama’s invasion of Lanka; rescue of Sita after destruction of the demons; after fourteen years of exile, return of Rama, Sita and Laxman to Ayodhya; Rama’s paternal administration of his people; the suspicion expressed by a subject about the chastity of Sita while in Ravana’s custody; on report of the matter to Rama by a spy, Rama’s order to Laxman to abandon Sita in a forest even though she was pregnant; Sita’s stay in Valiniki’s Tapovan where her two sons Kusha and Lava were born; taught and trained by Valmiki-, the royal sons grew up as heroic boys; visit of Valmiki to Ayodhya with Kusha and Lava; Kusha and Lava’s melodious song of Valmiki’s Ramayana before the assembled gathering; on demands of all Sita’s return; in order to prove her purity before all, her prayer to mother earth to take her back and her disappearance when the earth split to absorb her; and at last, giving Koshala to Kusha and North Koshala to Lava to rule as kings ; Rama’s abandonment of his mortal body in the river Saraju. This is the substance of the great epic Ramayana.
Valmiki described every episode of Rama’s life in great details. Side by side he added many instructive stories to give the epic a vast shape. The purpose was to keep mankind on a virtuous path. This epic has influenced and regulated the Indian way of life like a social and moral constitution. Ramayan depicts the values of truthfulness, morality and nobility as supreme ideals of life.
It also reflects the spirit of that time, the spirit of the people, the nature of ideal monarchy, patriotism towards motherland and human relations in perfect form. For thousands of years, the people of India have derived inspirations from the lessons of the Ramayana to live a nobler and higher life.
Great and glorious is the land of Bharata. To describe the deeds of the dynasty of Bharata that Vyasa wrote The Mahabharata. No where on earth is to be seen such a lengthy poetic-work as the Mahabharata. It contains one lakh ten thousand slokas.
Mahabharata was viewed in those days as a (religious) text of History. According to some authorities, the essence of different philosophies of the Vedas and Upanishads were presented in shape of interesting themes, episodes and stories for the understanding of the common people. As a store-house of knowledge Vyasa’s Mahabharata has influenced the Indian thought through centuries of time. Man and woman, the old and the young, the learned and the illiterate, all sections of people of the Indian sub-continent knew the theme of Mahabharata since time immemorial.
Vyasa’s Mahabharata begins with the story of the rule of the kings of the “Lunar Dynasty” at Hastinapur. A virtuous monarch of that dynasty named Santanu had a son named Bhishma, who was ever truthful and ever valorous. King Santanu had two other sons from his another queen named Satyabati. They were Bichitrabirya and Chitrangada. True to his vow Bhishma did not accept the throne after the death of his father and remained a bachelor for life. The kingdom, therefore, was ruled by Bichitrabirya.
This king had two sons named Dhrutarastra and Pandu. Since the elder Dhrutarastra was blind from his birth, his younger brother Pandu ascended the throne after the death of his father. Pandu had five sons named as Yudhisthir, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadev. They were known as the Pandavas. On the other hand, the hundred sons of Dhrutarastra were known as the Kauravas as the descendants of the former king of the dynasty named Kuru. Duryodhan was the first among the sons of Dhrutarastra.
After the death of king Pandu his five sons were given one portion of the kingdom to rule. Inside a forest called Khandava, the Pandava brothers built their capital and named it as Indraprastha. This caused envy in the mind of the Kaurava brothers. They therefore invited the Pandava brothers to play the game of Dice with them with bet over victory or defeat.
Playing with trick, the Kauravas defeated the Pandava king Yudhisthira again and again. According to the bet the defeated brothers agreed to live the life of exiles in forests for twelve years, and thereafter to spend one more year in disguise to escape detection.
At the end of their ordeal for thirteen years the Pandava brothers returned and asked the Kauravas their kingdom. But the Kaurava king Duryodhan refused to give back their territory saying that he would not give even a particle of earth without battle. Because of this injustice a fierce battle was fought between the Pandavas and Kauravas in the field of Kurukshetra. Many kings of India joined either the Kauravas or the Pandavas to take part in the war.
The field of Kurukshetra was also described as the Dharmakshetra because it saw the eternal conflict between virtue and vice, righteousness and wrong-doing, between the just and the unjust. At the end of the battle it was seen that all the Kaurava brothers were dead along with most of their supporters. The Pandava side also lost many relations, including Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna, the greatest warrior of the battle.
Winning victory in Kurukshetra battle, the Pandavas got the whole kingdom and Yudhisthira became king. But, in deep repentance over the death of his kith and kin and in order to do penance, Yudhisthira left the throne in the hands of Parikshita, the son of dead Abhimanyu, and left for the Himalayas with his four brothers and wife.
With this central theme Vyasa added many legends, traditions, Puranic episodes, accounts of other royal dynasties, as well as descriptions of prevailing socio-religious systems, customs and manners, moral values, political conditions, traditions of war and diplomacy, and faiths and beliefs of the people. The Mahabharata described the virtues of vigour for worldly existence as well as of the higher ideals of the life like truthfulness and righteousness. At several places Vyasa included deeper philosophies and spiritual thoughts to create awareness about man’s divine existence.
The Indian humanity has derived from the Mahabharata much inspirations for ages. The lessons of this great epic have enabled man to overcome the sorrows, sufferings, distress and misfortunes in their worldly existence. In the entire world literature there is no other work comparable to India’s Mahabharata.
Srimad Bhagabat Gita:
A small portion of the Mahabharata is famous as the Bhagabat- Gita. Containing the essence of Upanishads the Gita is considered as the core of the highest knowledge for mankind. When the two opposites stood face to face in the battle field of Kurukshetra to fight, the supreme commander of the Pandava forces, Arjuna, saw in front of him Bhishma- the grandfather, Drona-the teacher, Duryodhan-the brother and many other near and dear ones against whom he was going to fight.
A sudden remorse overtook him with the thought that should he use arms against his revered as well as dear ones just for the shake of a country or a throne? In deep doubt about the merit of his action, he asked his charioteer to stop the chariot and dropped down his bow and arrows announcing his decision not to fight.
The charioteer was none other than Krishna Himself, the Supreme Being in human form. In that moment of extreme crises Krishna uttered the words of wisdom, concerning the creation and existence, the inner purpose of life and the value of duty, as well as the true awareness regarding the reality and the unreality. Krishna’s spiritual utterance on Karma, Jnana and Bhakti-Work, Wisdom and Devotion-reveals to Arjuna the real meaning of life.
He realized the truth that while he was doing a deed, he was not the ‘DOER’ himself-he was only an instrument of the Divine will to uphold a sacred cause for sacred truth, righteousness and justice. Work without attachment or desire for result will lead to true knowledge which ultimately will lead man to a stage of devotion for selfless, detached and peaceful life. The holy Gita is regarded as the sacred-most scripture of the Hindus and a unique contribution to mankind’s spiritual consciousness.