(Originally written in 2001 for the email newsletter, Tattva Prakasha.)
The topic of this issue is the Mahabharata war in relation to world history and culture. We will begin the topic with a question we received sometime back:
“In the Mahabharata, the war seemed to have affected the whole world. We don’t find so many references to such of a huge event in other cultures. Why are there no references to a great world event?”
There is reference to a great war both in the Mayan culture and in old Chinese traditions. They speak about a huge war that happened long, long ago; but they give no details. They only knew that such a war had occurred.
After any war two things happen. In certain regions, nothing develops for a long time; and in certain other regions everything expands very rapidly. The same thing has happened after the Kurukshetra war. In some places everything just stopped; there was no communication. These places became completely isolated from the rest of the world.
You can imagine the situation of those other kingdoms which were working under the fifty-four kingdoms, the Aryan empire. When a huge war like this is waged on the other side of the globe, and none of the kings ever returned, and their armies also didn’t come back, what would be the state of communication?
These kingdoms would have become completely alien to everything. No one would have known what happened. The king with his entire army went to fight in the great war, and that’s it. They just disappeared, never to be heard from again. The agents from the ruling kingdoms no longer came to collect taxes, no information was being sent from the world capital. Suddenly these former colonies are isolated and free. They don’t have to pay taxes anymore, nor do they have to be subservient.
Naturally the new king would try to make a lot of indigenous effort to put forth their own culture. And if there were any texts left that said his grand father was a slave of Kaikeya, he would just burn it. They wouldn’t want to keep such information.
The same thing happened in the modern World War, which was actually just a war around the world. But the Mahabharata war was one massacre at one single place, and nobody went back. None of the kings or soldiers returned to tell what happened.
It is described that the cremations were done there and the rituals were also done there. Even the widows of the other kings were adopted there by the capital, Hastinapura. Seven different types of cremations were done, like mass cremations, individual cremations, etc. After the cremations, the widows were all adopted by Hastinapura there itself. There was practically no one going back to their own countries, hardly a single channel of communication.
We can imagine if we were a distant country ruling under one of these fifty-four kings, the Aryan empire, and we see no one is returning from the battle, no communication is coming from the battle; what would we do? Immediately we would destroy the old information, that showed us as slaves to these Aryan kings, and emerge as a great self-manifesting empire like Egypt. This is exactly what they did.
The destruction caused by the war was not only external. The destruction of the war was also in the minds of the people. After those heavy astras were used, in the minds of the people anything subtle, anything delicate, anything perfectional was completely burnt out. It is just like in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, till today you find the children are disabled. How many years has it been? It was only two primitive bombs. They were so gross and physical, but the radioactivity of that is still being seen today.
Then we can understand, according to the descriptions within the Mahabharata, what was the destruction of the Brahmastras used in the war. What was the Agni-astras they were using? What was the power of the wind in the Vayu-astra? It was not only blowing in Kurukshetra, it was blowing all over the planet. What would have happened to the people’s minds because of the diffusion of all these energies?
Everything became lost. Naturally people would not even be able to think that they were serving, or they had been paying tax to the Aryan kings of such and such countries. The whole thing had no meaning any more.
This is known as the “dark period” after the Mahabharata war. Kathacharit-sagara has stories about this dark time. In the Tamil literature also it discusses this period. There was a dark period in between where no one knew what happened. Only the thieves, either through ship or through land, were ruling the world. In Tamil it is known as “kalapirar kalam” which means the time of the unknown kings, unknown rulers. The Tamil literature gives 3,000 years for it. And then the Cheras, Cholas and Pandiyas came to power. In between it was completely dark. And these Cheras, Cholas and Pandiyas were actually descendants of the original Cheras, Cholas and Pandiyas who took part in the Mahabharata war.
The Chola king was the one who ran the kitchen for the Pandavas. That is there in the Tamil literature. Those people who ran the kitchen, they were not just cooks; they were all soldiers. They went to help in the war and when the division of work was given, they were given the kitchen. So they were cooking. There are hundreds of Tamil verses glorifying that king who cooked for the Pandavas during the Mahabharata war. It is there in the Tamil literature.
If this war never happened, if Kurushetra was only symbolic of the body, mind and senses; why would this Aryan king have spent twenty years of his ruling time in the North cooking for someone else. These are clear proofs. There was a dark time in between. The dark time was nothing but the reactions of the war. After the dark time, those who emerged powerful were not all the authentic rulers. Some were descendants, but most were just those who utilized this opportunity to gain power. This is why it is not mentioned in other cultures, it is not recorded. A great war is mentioned, but no details are given.
Even in the mythology of the Greeks it is there, only the time is looking different. The time frame does not look like it is the Mahabharata war, but the great Achilles fighting and other such stories of Greek mythology have a very close similarity to stories from the Kurushetra war. In Greek mythology some of these stories are internally dated much before the time of the Kurushetra war. The reason is because they wanted to have a separate identity, therefore they told it as though it happened at a much more ancient time. It may sound like mythology, but its just the histories which have been handed down from the Kurushetra war by the bards and entertainers.
The bards and entertainers were not killed. This is an important point in understanding how this history has spread. At that time, war meant that during every evening they had theater, they had dance, they had jokers, etc. They had all varieties of entertainment, and none of these entertainers were killed. That was the rule according to dharma-shastra, they were not supposed to be killed. Everyone died on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, but all of these bards, poets and entertainers lived. This is how the stories were spread.
The people who did street dances and folk dances, poetry and songs, they all went back. But because the armies and kings were not there, they did not reach as far as they had come from. These entertainers had traveled along with the armies and kings, from distant lands. When the battle was finished, they had no king or army to take them back to their homeland, which in some cases was on the other side of the world. They traveled on their own, alone, and managed to reach some distance, somewhere. They did not make it home to their own countries, but they traveled as far as they could go alone. And when they stopped, unable to go any further, there they would have searched for some patron to perform for.
They must have been highly impressed with this war. Whatever had happened, whatever they saw, the battles between the heroes on both sides; it had impressed them so much. Naturally they would dramatize this and make stories of wars, of great battles, of what they had just witnessed.
In this Great war, who would have come back? Only the entertainers; the nandis, vandis and mahatis; those people who woke up the king’s everyday. They are the one’s who lived to spread these stories. When their kings died they would leave. This was the tradition. The king goes to the battle with a full entourage . If the king is killed in the second day of the battle, the king who killed him takes his army. This was the system in those days. This was not the case for those who made a pact; like Dhristadyumna was in a pact with the Pandavas. His army would not go to Duryodhana. But those individual kings who came to the help the Pandavas, if the king is killed then everything that he has, including his ornaments, dress and animals, belongs to the king who killed him. Actually his country also belongs to that king. That was how the war was fought. Everything including the ornaments he was wearing, his armor, they belong to the winner. Only his astras won’t be taken, because astras won’t serve one unless you have done the proper upasana. The astras will go back to the rishi or the deva who has given them. This was the rule of war.
Once their king was killed, what would the entertainers do? They would not continue sitting there glorifying their dead king while the war was still continuing. As soon as their king died, they would leave the battle field. So for them, the outcome of the war was not even known. But when they left they had nothing, no escort, no entourage; they were alone. So they would travel as far as they could and as quickly as they could, until they reached whatever place they could find. They would be looking for a new patron. And if they found one, the first thing they will say is, “Have you heard? There was a war!” Once they have found a patron they will start performing. But the war was still running, and they would not want to be involved in politics, so to protect themselves they will begin, “Long, long ago…” And that would begin the dramatization of the Great War. This is how the information spread. You can find in every ethnic culture in the world, without fail, there is discussion of a Great War. How does that come about? It may not go by the name Mahabharata, but the great war is there, everywhere.
There is an entire culture whose literature is based around crying, the Sumerian culture. All of their ancient writings are the cries of women who have lost their husbands in the war. Those who can read ancient Tamil will see that their script is almost identical, it is similar to the Dravida alphabets; and even the meanings of the sentences can be understood, it is so similar.
Their texts are saying the same thing as the Mahabharata. A city was built, there was gambling, another city was burnt, a lady was insulted, and because of that there was fire. The order may not be the same, but the elements are identical. After the war, there was crying by the widows. And this crying is the substance of the Sumerian writings. Each song is a cry. It is the same thing as found in the Mahabharata. There is a chapter in the Mahabharata, “the crying of the queens in the war after the kings died”. It is identical. Everyone is talking about this same great war.
Even in regards to geography, the ancient cultures are speaking the same thing. There is always mention of a river that is running on four sides of a mountain. They may make the map based on their own idea of how the river is coming down from the mountain, but the substance is the same. They may not understand that it is referring to the four branches of the Ganga which go to the four different levels of the universe, but they have the basic concept. In China it is there. In the Maya culture it is there. This is the same concept as found in the Bhagavatam and other Vedic texts.
There are many other parallels between the world cultures, pointing to a common source. Symbolically the Swastika is found all over the world – in Native American tribes, in Europe, in ancient India. Hitler was trying to revive the old Germanic and Norse tales of the Aryan kings, but he failed to understand the entire tradition. The Swastika represents life, but he chose to reverse it, thus signifying death. Even linguistically, the Indo-European languages, such as Sanskrit, Latin, Greek and their many derivatives, have countless similarities. This all points out that there was originally one culture, one civilization. The Great War described throughout the world is the Mahabharata war.
One may ask, “Why don’t the other countries present it in the exact same way?” It is because they were countries working under the fifty-four kings. They were subservient to the Aryan empire, and this war made them free. It was their chance to rewrite the history, to make their civilization the center of time.
The rulers in Hastinapura allowed it to happen by their negligence. Parikshit Maharaja did not function as an emperor of the world for a long time, and as a result there was no unification of the countries done under him. And after him, Janamejaya spent his whole life trying to kill the snakes, until finally he became sick of everything and left the kingdom. Because of this the Aryan kings became weak.
According to Kathacharit-sagara, after the dark period it was Bhima’s grandsons who sprung to power from Ujjain and other places. It was in their line that Vikramaditya later came. In Arjuna’s line there was no powerful descendant, although there were some in Kundinapura. But their line quickly became diffused. The Indonesian city, Yogyakarta, previously known as Yajna-karta, was ruled by Bhima’s grandson. It was there that he performed one thousand yajnas, and that is how the city was named. That was much after the war.
In some places the remnants of Vedic culture are more powerful. Their presence is felt more directly. But in other places the remnants are faint and more difficult to perceive. Just like the Sun worshippers of Japan. Previously it was part of a huge land mass in the pacific, but by the movement of the land and the sea it has become a tiny island. In that ancient land, they were worshippers of the Sun god. It was the same with the Lemurian land mass that was between Africa and India. The Tamil literatures describe a massive land going towards the west from the present Indian coast.
After every Yuga there is a change of land and sea. There is one chapter on this in the pratisarga parva of the Bhavishya Purana. It speaks about how the land and sea change by the influence of time. This is how the flood of Noah described in the bible occurred. It was taken as a big dissolution, as a pralaya, but it was just the change of yugas. When Noah built the Arc, He was under the mountain Tuhinachala. Today the Tuhinachala is now a desert. It is no longer a mountain.
There is another case from Bhima’s time, when he went for collection for the Rajasuya sacrifice. He went from Puri to Burma by chariot by crossing two mountains. There was no Bay of Bengal. And now that there is a bay of Bengal, we see two tiny islands, Andaman and Nicobar. They were the mountains that Bhima crossed, today they are just small islands.
It is the same situation with New Zealand. They were not islands, but the peaks of mountains. They belonged to a giant land mass that connected to what was the Kimpurusha Varsha. But today they are also islands because of the land changes that occurred when the yugas changed.
So, with all this – the Great War followed by massive changes in the earth’s geography – the civilizations were heavily affected. Vyasadeva describes this war by saying, “There had not been a war as heavy as this at any time in all the lands.” He describes it this way because all of the demons and all of the devas took part in this war at one place – Kurukshetra. It was the heaviest war in the history, fought between universal powers. Thus its effects were felt in all places throughout the world.
Questions and Answers:
Question: Was Sanjaya fighting in the battle of Kurukshetra, or was he with Dhritarashtra in Hastinapura narrating the events?
Sanjaya fought in the battle, and was one of the few to return from the battlefield. He was the last person that Sahadeva was going to kill, but Arjuna stopped him and said, “No. He is our friend. Let him go and report to the old, blind man, Dhritarashtra.” So Sanjaya left the field of battle. On the way he met Duryodhana before reaching Hastinapura.
But there is also another description in the Mahabharata, where Sanjaya is sitting in Hastinapura and speaking to Dhritarashtra while the battle is going on. How is it possible that Sanjaya is fighting on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, and simultaneously speaking to Dhritarashtra in Hastinapura. It was by the mercy of Vyasa that he was able to expand himself into two forms and act in both places simultaneously. In those times it was not such an impossible task, especially for those who were direct disciples of Vyasadeva. The Gita uses the words vyasa-prasadat. By the mercy of Vyasa it was possible.
Question: What was the role of non-vedic kings in the Mahabharata war?
In the Mahabharat there is mention of kings who were outside the levels of “civilization” who took part in the Great War. They would belong to the 10th, 11th, and 12th varnas. Vedic civilization is based on four varnas (divisions of society), but there are people who do not fit within these four. They can not measure up to this high standard. The scriptures list a total of twelve designations, the four vedic varnas, and eight additional non-vedic varnas. In the battle of Kurukshetra, Duryodhana took all of the lower fighters onto his side. It is stated that none of them fought on the side of the Pandavas.
Their warfare was throwing rocks and other very primitive actions. Among all of the great maha-rathas, the astra fighters, these others were completely primitive. For example, they would go into the elephant division of an army and make the elephants sick. They were humans, but in comparison to the maha-rathas they were like insects. Duryodhana sent many such people to disturb Bhima’s movements. Bhima was such a high-class physical fighter that when he saw these groups of people walking with rocks, trying to hit him, he would become very much agitated. It would make him do things which were completely inordinate. Because he was physically too powerful, he would get upset and throw everything everywhere. Just to disorganize him Dhuryodhana was using them.
They would go and bite the elephant’s legs, and because their teeth were poisonous, the elephant would faint. This was their fighting. They wouldn’t go in front of the elephants like Bhima and hold them by the trunk to throw them. They would walk under the elephants, and do all kinds of annoying things like putting needles in the elephant’s tail. In contrast to the great heros fighting in the war, like Drona and Kripa, who used their powerful astras, these others were exactly like insects.
Question: When Parashurama went around the world killing the kshatriyas, what does it mean and who did he kill?
Parashurama was killing ruling kshatriyas, which means rulers of all the fifty-four countries that made up Bharata-khanda and the Aryan empire. There is an Upa-purana which deals only with Parashurama lila. There it is mentioned the names of whom he killed, and they are all within these fifty-four countries.
Parashurama would kill only the kings, nobody lesser than the kings. But the kings had their armies with them, so ultimately everyone was killed. Afterwards there was no kshatriya left to whom the planet could be given, so Parashurama had to give it to the brahmanas.
When you take these fifty-four countries, it means you have the entire world. In the rest of the world there were only subservient kings who ruled under any one of these fifty-four.
Especially the distant kings, like after Kaikeya (Afghanistan) up-to the middle of Europe; those kings ruled the rest of the continents. If there was a king ruling in Kashyapa’s tank, which is today the Caspian Sea, then he was also ruling out to the Northern and Western side of Europe. And those people who were ruling under the Sun flag in Japan, which at that time used to be a part of the “other land”, they were ruling the previous America, which was in the Pacific ocean.
If you take the fifty-four countries, those kings, then you have all the six continents. The other lands were colonies and subservient kings of these Aryan kings. In those other lands the varnashrama was either two-thirds or one-thirds practiced. Accordingly, those rulers were like chiefs. They were not like kings. They collected tax, they paid tax and then they enjoyed their ruling. For example, the present Borneo, which used to be Parana Dvipa, or the present Fiji which which used to be the Ramanika Dvipa. They were kings who were not in the Sun or Moon dynasties. They were kings who were working under the rule of the fifty-four kings.
When we say world we must also understand that we are not talking about the world map which is presently in existence. In the ancient times the geographical regions were completely different. We are not talking about the present world. England was not an island; it was a part of Europe. We are speaking of an ancient time, long ago. The geographical regions were very different. They did not have to travel three months by ship to go to America from Europe. That was not the way. The way was by land through the eastern side.
Question: Why is varnashrama or Vedic dharma manifested only in India and not in the rest of the world?
To understand this answer we must study the philosophy of the history of the world, especially in reference to political geography – the various lands and countries. At the time of Yudhishthira Maharaja the whole planet, all the six continents, were ruled under one flag. This rule lasted until Yudhishthira Maharaja. Before that it was even more perfect, and the Bharata-khanda or India was from the Caspian sea up to Cambodia; and in the north, if you want to see in regards to the present countries, you can say from Lithuania to seven thousand miles south of Cape Comorin (in South India). That is what is meant by Bharata-khanda; that is fifty-four countries, the “India”; and then there are other countries apart from India.
India was made up of these fifty-four countries, and there were also other countries existing at that time. In those other countries the varnasrama was not perfectly practiced. In India (Bharata-khanda) this varnasrama (Vaidhika-dharma) was perfectly in practice.
After the Mahabharata war, and after the “dark age” in between there was a lot of mixing up – people leaving from here and coming back from there. So we find that remnants are there only in India. You can practically say that even in India now it is not there. So, if in India it is not there, then you can understand why in other places it is not there. India is the heart of varnashrama, but the heart itself is in a bypass surgery stage. So, naturally the rest of the body must be mute.
It’s only a question of the changes of time. For example, today, due to the spreading of Krishna consciousness, varnasharama is being more perfectly practiced in the western countries than in India itself. So this is all due to the changes of time. If you look back in history, you can see that it was the other way before.
It is not that the varnashrama belongs to one country. Civilization starts with varnashrama. Sometimes civilization in one part of the world may be high, and sometimes in another part it may be high. In which ever it is high or low, the closest remnants will be seen in the heart. This is why it looks like varnashrama, or caste, or anything is Indian; but that’s not so.
Anywhere in the world there is natural divisions – intellectual class, administrative class, business class and working class. That’s what varnashrama means in its essence. However you see it, it is only when people are civilized that it is functional; but if they are not civilized it is not functional.
Civilized means with a spiritual goal for life. This is the indication of civilization. But when that goal is not spiritual, when it becomes materialistic, then naturally the divisions of varnashrama end up as castes, tribes, clans and the like. It again changes wherever the spiritual goal is pinpointed in a human civilization. There the varnashrama becomes the first sign of civilization, the division of society. But this is only if the spiritual goal is put as the target.
When discussing varnasrama we must understand the two classifications, namely daiva (spiritual) varnashrama and arthika (material) or asuri varnashrama.
Daiva varnashrama is the perfect ideal which we are talking about. Even in ancient India, it was not that it was always daiva varnashrama being practiced. That is always fluctuating. And sometimes it is even found that the demons follow daiva varnashram more perfectly. For example, at the time of Mahabali, the asuras were following daiva varnashrama more perfectly than the devas. This is why they were successful. So there are many details we must take into account.
The idea that varnashrama belongs to a particular geographic area is not correct. It is something to do with the culture of a civilized society. They may not be having the same name, but still, it is varnashrama. If the society is distinctly divided into the intellectual class, administrative class, business class and working class, even though they may not be using the Sanskrit words, it is still varnashrama. It may not be consisting of the rituals and other things, such as purificatory processes (samskaras) etc., but still it is the same.