Friday, May 26, 2006

The Mahabharata: epic or propaganda?

Growing up in India, whatever schooling you go through, you're sure to hear about two of the greatest epics our country has come out with: The Mahabharata and The Ramayana. Both are considered absolute masterpieces in their own ways. And growing up watching the serials on national television and reading the stories in Amar Chitra Katha comics thrilled me to bits. But today, as a 23 year old, I'm having second thoughts about all the revelry in my childhood. Let me explain why.

Before getting into the Mahabharata, let's discuss about the original inhabitants of ancient Hindustan. In the northwest corner of the Indian subcontinent, in what today is Sindh (Pakistan) and present day Saurashtra (India), existed a very highly developed and sophisticated civilization - the (Sindhus) Indus Valley civilization of Harrapa and Mohenjo Daro. The people who lived in these cities were the original Negritos(Naga) and the Dravidians, the highly intelligent but smaller and dark brown descendants of Mediterranean origin. Around 1500 BC, there was another development occurring several thousand miles west and north-west of the Indus valley. The nomadic, Caucasian, well built but rustic, cattle rearing people from the region around the Caspian Sea were restless. They were looking for newer and greener pastures. They began migrating to different parts of what is now Europe, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

The Sanskrit speaking people, the Aryans, traveled towards the Indus Valley. Initial migration appears to have been in the form of a few 'scout' or pioneer groups. A full scale migration occurred within the following decades. The Aryans with their superior physique and their horse driven chariots established unquestionable superiority over the Dravidian and tribal population of the Indus Valley. Now does this ring a bell when you think of the Mahabharata?Now the whole 'Aryan invasion theory' itself has more or less been proved to be a myth, along with the hitherto understanding of the vedas, as pointed out by David Frawley in his research that can be found at

That aside, the Mahabharata is replete with references of dark skinned people, refered to as asuras, or evil spirits, whom the Pandavas and other princely states in the north had to battle against. The word asura, in Sanskrit, is cognate with Ahura, the all powerful Persian deity Ahura Mazda. This is because the Iranian 'h' is cognate to the Sanskrit 's'. Going by history and the facts presented above, it was these asuras, or the Dravidians, who were the original inhabitants of the ancient land of Hindustan. According to the Mahabharata and other vedic scriptures, or at least going by the current general accepted understanding, the asuras are considered as being 'bad', villains in this great story. My only question here is, since when have we started considering defending ones family and homeland against foreign invaders evil?

If calling the dark skinned asuras evil and what not wasn't bad enough, there are oodles of hyporcrisy in the depiction of certain characters in the great epics. Two of main characters in the Mahabharata, prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu), who were dark skinned, are depicted in blue colour in all books that have illustrations, as well as comics (Amar Chitra Kathas) and other media where their picture appears. And if memory serves me right, even Draupadi, a damesel of dark complexion, is depicted in a colour other than dark brown, and it's the same case with Lord Rama (another incarnation of Vishnu) in the Ramayana.

Now all this brings me to another point. There is no way to verify the facts provided in the Mahabharata, so for all we know, it might as well be a complete fabrication, someone's wet dream for all I care, just to make the Aryans 'look good'. This should make any rational person question the authenticity of such a record.

I have no intention of kicking up a storm in a tea cup over nothing, but the fact remains that this cannot be considered nothing. One cannot but help asking the question: is the Mahabharata a propaganda tool, targetting all dark skinned Indians? If true, it's implications can be far more consequential than the present skirmishes we witness over language in our country. Is this what has lead a lot of north Indians to revile south Indians and other dark skinned people? 23 years of my life and I never thought about these and accepted them as gospel truth; how long is it going to take you?


Jan said...

Hi... Just came across your blog and I have to say that this post is awesome! Being a South Indian myself, I've also grown up with the very same tales and it so happens that I've been wondering about the same question--epic or propoganda? I just haven't done so much detailed research, but was working on the premise that the Aryans moved in from Europe.

Great article, very enlightening!

Karthik Shetty said...

thanx jan. abt the aryans coming from Europe, yes, but the invasion theory has been debunked as can be found out from

Ed Viswanathan said...

Namasthe Karthik: What you wrote is very good. I agree with most of the things you wrote. The word ASURA in Sanskrit means THOSE WHO DO NOT DRINK THE NARCOTIC BEVERAGE SURA and SURA is the one who drink that narcotic beverage.

ASURAS are the children of one of the 12 Prajapathis, sage Kasyapa. Please look at my web page [].

As you wrote, initially ASURAS were never considered bad. Today ASURA means a person who is interested in materialism and SURA is one who is interested in spiritualism.

We have no way of knowing whether Mahabahrata epic was real or myth. May be the whole Mahabharata epic was written so that Veda Vyasa can give to the world Bhagavad Gita , “ life instruction manual. “

That may be the reason why, even Bhagavad Gita is discussed as the 1st person [Krishna ] talking to the 2nd person [Arjuna ] in the middle of the battle field at the outset of the war. A third person [ Sanjaya ] see all these things through telepathy and tell them to a 4 th person who is blind [ Dhartharashtra ]. All Hindu authors have deliberately disguised the authorship of all scriptures in Hinduism.

Myth of Aryan Invasion: I still recall of a very interesting conversation I had with David [David Frawly] in Edison, NJ 1991 before his book was published. Just like him, I do NOT believe in ARYAN INVASION, but I do believe in ARYAN INFILTRATION. I am sure Aryans who were barbarians infiltrated into India, time and time again since Dravidians were living in fertile banks of Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra. Hinduism is an amalgamation of ARYAN & DRAVIDIAN cultures as well as so many other cultures.

Hinduism to me has the strange capability to absorb all the good things in all cultures and religions and grow.

No other culture or religion has this capability. That is the reason why Hinduism has become a very fascinating culture/religion of many non-Hindus around the globe.

Karthik Shetty said...

i appreciate the gyaan vishy, but was it given to contradict something I wrote or ...? Appreciated all the same

Nightpotato said...

I'm a bit confused by this. Where is the invasion in the Mahabharata? It is much more similar to a civil war.

Where is there an invasion of India from outside in the Ramayana? there is only an invasion of Lanka as I recall.

Also the Asuras are not the enemies on the battlefield, nor was Asura always a negative term. Indeed, as you point out the Persian religions retained it's positive meaning, as did the Nordics with the cognate Aesir.

Karthik Shetty said...

Er, I haven't mentioned anywhere that the Mahabharata refers to the Aryan invasion theory, nor do I say the Ramayana does. The reference to the Mahabharata is to do with the fact that the 'Aryans', or fair skinned people are the good, and the dark skinned asuras are bad. But you're right when you say that the asuras aren't the enemy on the battlefield in the Mahabharata since that battle is between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The whole point with the headline was the old adage, "Man bites dog" is more attractive than "dog bites man", but I thought the body was pretty clear about what I wanted to convey.
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