Sage Vashistha writing on palm leaf

Mahabharata Battle, Mahajanas, Sources of Dharma

Question: Why are Bhīṣma and Droṇa on the side of the Kauravas? They are, after all, the good guys. 

Answer: The reply is given by Bhīṣma himself to Yudhiṣṭhira:

arthasya puruṣo dāso dāsas tvartho na kasyacit

iti satyaṁ mahārāja baddho ‘smyarthena kauravaiḥ 

O King, a person is the servant of wealth, but wealth is nobody’s servant. This is certainly true. I am bound by the wealth of the Kauravas. (MB, Bhīṣma Parva 43.41)

The meaning is that Bhīṣma, as well as Droṇa, were financially supported by Duryodhana. So, they were obliged to fight for him.  

The moral of the story is that a dharmic person should not accept obligations from an unrighteous person, as rightly said by Śukadeva Gosvāmī: kasmād bhajanti kavayo dhana-durmadāndhān. (SB 2.2.5)

Question: The Mahābhārata battle was ostensibly over land. It seems trite. As the story goes, millions died—including many righteous people, like Bhīṣma and Droṇa. Did they consider it worth it? Is dharma enacted when so many are killed for so little?

Answer: All wars are for land and women. It seems trite to you, a renounced devotee, but not for those whose life is wealth and power. Bhīṣma and Droṇa were not the decision-makers.

Question: In the end, did they get their “oh-so-cherished” land? What was the outcome that made it worth fighting for? Didn’t Yudhiṣṭhira reign for 36 years, and then the kingdom was given over to Parīkṣit? Was it so much better than if the Kauravas had won? 

Answer: Kṛṣṇa came to establish dharma and uproot adharma. That was His mission. It is not a question of 36 years or 3 years, but a matter of dharma and adharma


Question: I wish to ask a question about following the mahājanas

Śrīmad Bhāgavata mentions the list of twelve mahājanas. We see in the life of Bhīṣma that many of his decisions were in support of adharmic people. 

·      He did not protest when Draupadī was disrobed. 

·      He did not punish the Kauravas when they tried to burn the Pāṇḍavas. He even divided their kingdom into two. 

·      He fought for the side of Kauravas for the sake of his personal vow. 

What is the definition of mahājana? How do we follow mahājanas like Bhīṣma, especially when we see that he made mistakes? At what point in his life did Bhīṣma become a mahājana

Similarly in the life of Bali Mahārāja, we see that he forcibly occupied the throne of Indra and then performed Aśvamedha-yajñas to obtain the qualification. How do we follow Bali Mahārāja in such actions? Can we say that Bali Mahārāja became a mahājana only after he performed ātma-nivedanaṁ and that he was not a mahājana before that? 

Answer: Your Gurudeva is your primary mahājana. Follow him and in any situation consider how he would have acted.


Question: I have a question about the third line of the famous “mahājano yena gataḥ sa panthāḥ” śloka. Dharmasya tattvaṁ nihitaṁ guhāyāṁ—a literal translation does not make much sense—“The truth of religion is hidden in the cave.” Bhaktivedanta Swami says guhāyāṁ means “the heart of the mahājana” or “The solid truth of religious principles is hidden in the heart of an unadulterated, self-realized person.” I was thinking that guhā is the heart of each of us—the truth of religion is hidden within our hearts, as intuition. What is your opinion, please?

Answer: The popular meaning of the word dharma encompasses various principles prescribed in the Vedic scripture. That is also the sense of dharma understood from the context of the verse. So, I do not think that “intuition” is the intended meaning of dharma in this verse.

There are four sources of dharma as per Manu Smṛti (2.12)—Veda, Smṛti, sadācāra, and what is satisfactory to oneself. This is also the sense of SB 7.11.7.

Therefore, I suggest that the third line of the śloka referred by you hints at sadācāra. There are many situations in life that we face for which we cannot find an answer in the Vedas or Smṛti. For such situations we depend on the sadācāra of sādhussādhu-vartmānuvartanam (BRS).

For example: Should a Vaiṣṇava eat potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, etc.? No help comes from śāstra. Only sadācāra is our pramāṇa here.

4 thoughts on “Mahabharata Battle, Mahajanas, Sources of Dharma”

  1. OUCH! That quote from Bhishma HURT!

    Isn’t he just being self-humiliating here? Didn’t he make a vow of loyalty to the throne under ANY and ALL circumstances, and isn’t that the immediate reason why he has to support Dhritarashtra and his sons all the time, even when they are wrong?

    1. Loyalty to the throne does not mean loyalty to the adharmic deeds of the occupiers of the throne.
      The Pāndavas could also occupy the throne and that would not be a breach of Bhīṣma’s vow of loyalty to the throne because Pāṇḍavas are also Kauravas.

  2. Bhīṣma’s vow facilitated his father’s burning desire to marry his crush. Like any other Mahābhārata character, like any of us, he faced a unique situation and made a decision. His was a rather difficult vow being a natural successor to a flourishing throne. The tapa of celibacy made him powerful. He traded succession to throne and high-status beautiful women (who he could have married) with a difficult vow so that the suffering of his father be eased. Born of Gaṅgā he was no ordinary man. I see it as a service to his father. Rāma did something similar to keep his father’s words. That’s why Bhīṣma is a mahājana. His besiding the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra is complicated, for life is complex, an unfathomable ocean of ethical dilemmas: mama māyā duratyayā.

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