Sri Aurobindo on the Mahabharata


It was left for Vyasa to create epically the

human divine and the human anarchic so as to bring idealisms

of the conflicting moral types into line with the daily emotions

and imaginations of men. The sharp distinction between Deva

& Asura is one of the three distinct & peculiar contributions

to ethical thought which India has to offer. The legend of Indra

& Virochana is one of its fundamental legends. Both of them

came to Vrihaspati to know from him of God; he told them

to go home & look in the mirror. Virochana saw himself there

& concluding that he was God, asked no farther; he gave full

rein to the sense of individuality in himself which he mistook

for the deity. But Indra was not satisfied: feeling that there must

be some mistake he returned to Vrihaspati and received from

him the true God knowledge which taught him that he was

God only because all things were God, since nothing existed

but the One. If he was the one God, so was his enemy; the

very feelings of separateness and enmity were no permanent

reality but transient phenomena. The Asura therefore is he who

is profoundly conscious of his own separate individuality & yet

would impose it on the world as the sole individuality; he is thus

blown along on the hurricane of his desires &ambitions until he

stumbles & is broken, in the great phrase of Aeschylus, against

the throne of Eternal Law. The Deva on the contrary stands

firm in the luminous heaven of self-knowledge; his actions flow

not inward towards himself but outwards toward the world.

The distinction that India draws is not between altruism and

egoism but between disinterestedness and desire. The altruist is

profoundly conscious of himself and he is really ministering to

himself even in his altruism; hence the hot & sickly odour of

sentimentalism and the taint of the Pharisee which clings about

European altruism. With the perfect Hindu the feeling of self

336 On the Mahabharata

has been merged in the sense of the universe; he does his duty

equally whether it happens to promote the interests of others or

his own; if his action seems oftener altruistic than egoistic it is

because our duty oftener coincides with the interests of others

than with our own. Rama’s duty as a son calls him to sacrifice

himself, to leave the empire of the world and become a beggar&

a hermit; he does it cheerfully and unflinchingly: but when Sita

is taken from him, it is his duty as a husband to rescue her from

her ravisher and as a Kshatriya to put Ravana to death if he

persists in wrongdoing. This duty also he pursues with the same

unflinching energy as the first. He does not shrink from the path

of the right because it coincides with the path of self-interest.

The Pandavas also go without a word into exile & poverty,

because honour demands it of them; but their ordeal over, they

will not, though ready to drive compromise to its utmost verge,

consent to succumb utterly to Duryodhana, for it is their duty as

Kshatriyas to protect the world from the reign of injustice, even

though it is at their own expense that injustice seeks to reign.

The Christian & Buddhistic doctrine of turning the other cheek

to the smiter, is as dangerous as it is impracticable. The continual

European see-saw between Christ on the one side and the flesh

&the devil on the other with the longer trend towards the latter

comes straight from a radically false moral distinction & the lip

profession of an ideal which mankind has never been either able

or willing to carry into practice. The disinterested & desireless

pursuit of duty is a gospel worthy of the strongest manhood;

that of the cheek turned to the smiter is a gospel for cowards &

weaklings. Babes & sucklings may practise it because they must,

but with others it is a hypocrisy.

The gospel of the nishkama dharma_ and the great poetical creations

which exemplify & set it off by contrast, this is the second

aspect of Vyasa’s genius which will yet make him interesting

and important to the whole world.


Mahabharata reflects rather a great Aryan civilization with the

types, ideas, aims and passions of a heroic and pregnant period in

the history of a high-hearted and deep-thoughted nation. It has,

moreover, as I have attempted to indicate, a formative ethical

and religious spirit which is absolutely corrective to the faults

that have most marred in the past and mar to the present day the

Hindu character and type of thought. And it provides us with

this corrective not in the form of an alien civilisation difficult to

assimilate and associated with other elements as dangerous to

us as this is salutary, but in a great creative work of our own

literature written by the mightiest of our sages(muninam apya vyasammuninamKrishna has said)

), one therefore who speaks our own language,

334 On the Mahabharata

thinks our own thoughts and has the same national cast of mind,

nature &conscience. His ideals will therefore be a corrective not

only to our own faults but to the dangers of that attractive but

unwholesome  Asura civilisation which has invaded us, especially

its morbid animalism and its neurotic tendency to abandon itself

to its own desires.


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