Understanding Guna through our Epics – The Ramayana and Mahabharata

जय श्रीगणेशा

In the last two topics, we discussed about the “Trayo Guna” and the “Pancha Bhoota” and their “Nature” and how the entire creation is influenced by them.
In the last topic,  I also spoke about Srimad Bhagvad Gita” where, “Sri Krishna” has described the nature of these “Guna” to “Arjuna“and how one must transcend them by understanding how they can create a sense of “Maayaa” or illusion.
In “Gita“, “HeThe Supreme Godhead” has explained the need for the state of “Yoga” which can  be achieved by anyone who wants to pursue “The Path of Action” or “Karma Yoga” as one of the ways to achieve “Moksha” through which the “Jeevatma” gets assimilated back into “Paramatma
However, the question arises, how do we understand the effects of  “Guna” in our lives and what are the manifestations of the three types of “Guna” ( “Sattva”,”Rajas” and “Tamas”)?
To understand this, the best place to look at are our “Maha Kavya” which are “The Ramayana” and “The Mahabharata
“The Ramayana” was written by “Maharishi Valmiki” where he narrates the life of  
Sri Ramachandra“who was “God” Himself and was born as a prince to “Maharaja Dasharatha” in the kingdom of “Kosala” in the “Treta Yuga”. In this “Epic“, which constitutes 24000 verses is divided into “Five Kandas” and further subdivided into “500 Sargas“, “Sri Ramachandra” who is also referred to as “Maryada Purushottama” which means, “The Most Righteous Man to be born” went to the forest along with his beloved wife “Maa Sita” and with his brother “Sri Lakshmana” as part of his “Vanavaasa” (Life in Forest Dwelling) to uphold his Father’s oath, and brought an end to the evil rule of “Ravana“, who was the most powerful “Rakshasha” or “Demon” king in the country of “Lanka” by defeating him and his illustrious army and thus avenging the immortal act of “Ravana” who had abducted “Maa Sita” by force. In this great battle, “He” was aided by “His Greatest Devotee”, “Sri Pavanputra Hanuman”, “Vibhishana, the pious brother of Ravana”, “Jambavaan” and by “Vanar Raj Sugreeva“( King of Monkeys) so as to lead the “Vanar Sena“(Army of Monkeys and Bears) into the battle with the mighty “Rakshashas
In this “Divine Epic“, there are many characters but I want to take a few of them so that to analyse their characters and highlight their “Guna
Sri Ramachandra, the GOD Himself” represented the most benevolent, calm, righteous, self-sacrificing and just Human being and thus represented “Purity” or “Sattva Guna” for most part of “His” character and deeds as depicted in the “Epic“. However, when “He” decided to fight the “War for Dharma” or “Justice“, “He” was the fierce warrior who was like “Death” for “His Enemies“,”The evil Rakshashas“.
He sacrificed the throne to upheld “His Father’s promise” to his queen given in despair and gratitude which was misused by the queen “Kaikeyee“.
When he came back to “Ayodhya” and upon being crowned “King“, out of great desolation and sadness “He” also unwillingly sent “Maa Sita” to the forest upon the demand from the public which was based on some of the misconceptions of that age.
What we need to understand from “His Life“, “Sri Ramachandra” was the epitome of “Sattva Guna” and only displayed “Rajo Guna” whenever there was a real need as a “Kshatriya” or “King” and thus is considered as an “Avataar” or “Incarnation” of “GOD, Himself
Maa Sita, The Divine Mother” was born out of “Bhoomi” or “Land” to “King Janaka” and was the epitome of “Self Sacrifice” and was “The Truly Devoted Wife of Sri Rama“. She accompanied “Sri Rama” for his “Vanavaasa“(Life in Forest Dwelling) without any compulsion and maintained “Her Dignity and Chastity” during captivity and never was allured in “Her life” in the most trying circumstances. She even happily followed “Her Husband’s command” to go the Forest where she stayed in the “Ashrama” or “Rishi Valmiki” and she held no grudges against “Her Husband” and went back to “Mother Earth” after handing over “Sri Rama’s sons” back to “Him
So, again if we look at the “Guna” , “She being the Supreme Goddess and Mother” and being completely “Pure” in her thoughts and actions was the epitome of “Sattva Guna
Sri PavanPutra Hanuman” was the “Son of Vaayu” or “Wind God” who is also worshipped as the “The Monkey GOD” had immeasurable strength and energy. “He” crossed the “Mighty Ocean” to reach “Lanka” and gave the message from “Sri Ramachandra” to “Maa Sita“. “He” had supernatural powers and with that “He” burnt “Lanka” and during the battle “He” flew all the way to “The Himalayas” from “Lanka” and back to bring back “Sanjeevani Booti” or “Medicine” to revive the life of  “Sri Lakshmana” who was hit by “Indrajeet“, the warrior prince of “Ravana” who had defeated “Indra, The King of Gods“. At the same time “He” was the ultimate devotee of “Sri Rama” and had complete control over “His Senses” and thus is also referred to as “Jitendriya“. Thus He was truly “Sattvic” and demonstrated “Rajasic Guna” only in the battlefield
Ravana” was the Mighty and Most powerful King at that time and he ruled “Lanka“. He was born to “Rishi Vishrava” and “Kaikesi, who was also a Rakshashi“. Although he was one of the most learned kings and had mastery over “Vedas“, but still he wanted to spread “Adharma” or “Darkness” by establishing the rule of “Rakshashas” against the wishes of “GOD“. Thus “Sri Ramachandra” got incarnated as “GOD Himself” and killed him in battle and destroyed his evil empire to re-establish the rule of “Dharma“. When he performed the Grave Sin of forcefully abducting “Maa Sita“, “Sri Rama” travelled to “Lanka” and destroyed him
If you analyse his “Guna“, it is very clear he was primarily “Rajasic“, but as mentioned by “Sri Krishna in Gita” extreme “Rajas” breeds arrogance, lust and ignorance so eventually he became “Tamasic” which led to his downfall.
On the other hand, if we take the case of his brother “Vibhishana“, although born in a “Rakshasha” culture he still maintained the connection with “GOD” and “The Paramatma” and thus was not happy with his elder brother , “Ravana’s” actions and when he learnt about “Sri Rama” he was able to recognise “The GOD in Him” and joined “Sri Rama’s” army. Thus the “Sattvic” nature in him did finally win the battle between the “Three Gunas” unlike his brother “Ravana
Lastly, it makes sense to also understand the character of “Lord Lakshmana”, The devoted and fierce brother of Sri Rama. He” accompanied “Sri Rama” to the forest so as to give him support and company and always followed the orders and commands of “His Elder Brother” without questioning having full trust on “Him“. He was a fierce warrior and was hot tempered but due to the unwavering devotion towards “GOD” and “Sri Rama”, he took the right decisions in life. Although if you go by the actions of “Lord Lakshmana“, you can take it as mostly “Rajasic” but inherently he was a truly devout brother and thus was “Sattvic” by nature.
Thus, we are at the end of analysing the characters First “Maha Kavya“, “The Ramayana” and what we infer is that in that “Yuga” there was a clear distinction in people having “Sattva Guna” and “Tamo Guna“. In the battle which ensued, the army of “Sri Ramachandra” who were inherently “Sattvic” by nature were able to defeat the “Extreme Rajasic  or Tamasic” army of “Ravana
Now let us move on to the next “MahaKavya” called “Mahabharata“. When we move to the characters of “Mahabharata“, we can see the marked difference in the complexity of the qualities of “Guna” of the characters in the “Great Epic“. This also indicates the general characteristics and the definitions of “Dharma” and “Adharma” undergo subtle changes with the change in “Time” or “Yuga
“The Great War of Mahabharata” was fought in the battlefield of “KuruKshethra” in modern data “Haryana state” among the scions and descendants of the “Great King called Bharata“. The fight was between “The Kauravas” or “The descendants of Kuru dynasty” and “The Pandavas” or “The Sons of Pandu” and Most of the Kingdoms of  “Bharat” or entire “India” got involved in the Battle in one side or the other and thus the name “MahaBharata” referred to as “The Great Battle of Bharata”. In this “Divine war of Dharma“, “Sri Krishna, The GOD Incarnate” was on the side of “Pandavas” and played the role of “Marg Darshak” or “The Divine Strategist” and did not actively fight the war “Himself”. Rather “He” guided “Arjuna”, “The Greatest warrior of that Era”.
The “Mahabharata” is the longest poem ever written in Human History It is divided into “18 Parva” and in total in contains about “100,000 Shlokas” or “Hymns“. Since each “Shloka” is a couplet so in total there are “200,000 verses” in this fabulous epic. The “Parvas” in “Mahabharata” are further sub-divided into “98 Upaparva” and “2108 Adhayaya” or “Chapters”. At about 1.8 million words in total, the Mahābhārata is roughly ten times the length of the “Iliad” and the “Odyseey” combined, or about four times the length of “The Ramayana”
Earlier, when we were discussing the characters of “Ramayana”, we could easily box them into “Good” or “Evil” based on the “Guna” of the character but when it comes to “Mahabharata“, the characters become more and more complex or grey and they need a more subtle and contextual analysis. The reason behind the same “is the difference in Age” or “Yuga. “Sri Rama” the main character in “Ramayana” and “The GOD incarnate” was born in “Treta Yuga” and “Shri Krishna” and the “Bharata Dynasty” who were the main characters in “Mahabharata” were born in “Dwapara Yuga” which was in the later generation. Between these two Ages or “Yuga”  as we all know a lot changed in the societal norms and values.
There were many characters in the “Grand Epic” of  “Mahabharata”. There was the “Demon King Kamsa” who was slayed by “GOD Himself” or “Shri Krishna”, there were others like “Dushashana” brother of “Duryodhana”, Drupada The King of Panchala” and “Father of Draupadi“, “Abhimanyu The valorous son of Arjuna”, “Kripacharya who was the Teacher of the Kuru Dynasty”, “Pandu the Warrior and Valorous king and father of the Pandus”, “Queen Madri wife of Pandu and mother of Nakula and Sahadeva”, “Virata the King of Madra”, “Queen Satyavati and Mother of Vichitravirya and King Shantanu Father of The Great Bhishma and Maa Ganga His Mother” and the brave and illustrious song of Bhimasena Ghatotkacha”. 
There were many other Kings, Queens and Warriors whose lives are etched forever in “This Mahakavya” and are inspirations and learnings for all us even in this “Kal Yuga
Out of all of this, there are a few characters who really stand out and in this chapter I am going to talk about them
The First Among Them is “Sri Krishna The GOD Himself”, He” was the “Ultimate Teacher” or “The Greatest Guru” who had the complete understanding of “The Absolute Wisdom or The Paramatma”and “The Vedas”. “He” had complete understanding of “The State of Yoga” and “The Everlasting and All Pervading” nature of “The Soul” and the nature of Life on Earth being in the state of “Maayaa” or “The State of Illusion” governed by “The Guna” and “The Pancha Bhoota”. As “He” mentioned in “The Bhagavad Gita”, The Only reason  “He” took birth in this World was to re-establish “Dharma” or “Righteousness”.
He was the slayer of the sinful Demon king “Kamsa” and “He” was the “Margdarshak” and the “Charioteer” of “Arjuna” who was the Greatest Warrior in the World in that age and “He” provided his blessings and  strategic wisdom to “The Pandava” camp and was “The Main Pivot” for the Pandava camp.
If “Shree Krishna” would have wanted “He” could have finished the entire “Mahabharata” war in just a single day without the need of any armies. However, “He” knew by doing so, the entire “Kshatriya” race including “The Pandavas” who would have been left behind would give up their duties and responsibilities and would always be dependent on “Him” as “The Super Hero”. “He” was a firm believer of “Karma Yoga” or “The Yoga of Action” and did not want people to give up on “Karma”.  If we analyze “His Guna”, He represented the perfect balance of all the Three Guna  and so was in “The state of GodHead” and truly represented “The Paramatma” during “His” lifetime. He was always in the state of “Turiya” or pure consciousness
Next we talk about “Arjuna” who was “The Greatest Warrior” of “That Age” and who led “The Pandava” camp to victory under the guidance and mentorship of “Shree Krishna” who was “His” charioteer in the battle of “Mahabharata”. He was a great warrior and fought valiantly and destroyed the enemy camp with his skillful archery and potent arrows. He was seen as a man of complete concentration which he demonstrated during “The Swayamvara” of “Draupadi” by piercing “The eye of the rotating Fish” by looking at its reflection in water and was the favourite disciple of his “Guru Dronacharya” and also was the most dear to “Bhishma Pitamah” ( The Grandsire). His greatest foe in the battlefield was “The Great warrior Karna” whom he managed to defeat and slay on the fatal day under the guidance of “Shri Krishna“. He was a man of many skills and also was known to be excellent in dancing.
He was the “Son of Lord Indra” and true to “His Father’s” character, he was majestic and demonstrated the qualities of the 
Although He was aggressive and prided on his archery skills, he still had his senses under control most of the time in “The Epic” and always listened to his elder brother “Yudhishthira”
If we try to understand his “Guna”,  he had a mix of “Sattva” and “Rajas” as his “Guna but never allowed the “Rajo Guna” to overwhelm him and take sinful or wrong actions due to his unflinching devotion to “Sri Krishna” , “The God Himself”. Although he committed few  acts which were not according to the rules of war of that Age, he did it only being ordered by “GOD Himself” which according to him was his “Dharma”. In a way, he was a true “Yogi” blessed by “Shri Krishna”
Next we talk about “Bhishma” who was the “Undefeated warrior and Master bowman” of his age. He was “The Son of Maa Ganga and Maharaja Shantanu” and had defeated all the kings of “Bharata” to establish the supremacy of the “Kuru or Bharata” dynasty. He had the knowledge of all the “powerful Astra” and had also defeated his own “Guru”, “Sri Parashurama, Himself”. He took the greatest vow of celibacy in his young age and also to be loyal to “The King of Hastinapura” at all times so that his father “Shantanu” could marry “Satyavati” his step-mother after his mother “Maa Ganga” went back. His entire life went in giving service to “The king of Hastinapura” and because of that he unwillingly had to support the evil Duryodhana in the battle who was the son of the then King “Dhritarashtra” who was the blind kind and also had the insatiable desire to see his son as king even if he was in the path of “Adharma“. He was “The Commander in Chief” of “The Kaurava army” for the first Ten days of battle and during his time the fair rules of war were laid out and followed. Although he fought from the side of the “Kauravas” or “Duryodhana”, his heart and his blessings were with “The Pandavas” and he loved “Arjuna” dearly and wanted him to win always as he knew “The Pandavas” were fighting a just war.
If we analyse his “Guna“, “Bhishma Pitamah” was “Sattvic” and righteous at heart and was “Rajasic” in the act of war as ordained by the rules of war. However, by siding with “Duryodhana” and allowing him to do all his wicked deeds under the guidance of “Shakuni” and not stopping him from doing the same because of “his Vow”  and by ultimately fighting for him clouded his choices and his sense of right and wrong and ended up not following “The Path of Dharma” as ordained in the scriptures. Thus although being righteous, he ended up supporting the forces of evil or “Tamas” due to his wrong choice of “Karma”
Next we talk about “Karna” who was one of the “Greatest Heroes of all times and who was also the most unfortunate in terms of his “Destiny” as although he was born to “Queen Kunti” and “The Sun God Himself“, he still had to live the life of a charioteer and was raised by “his mother Radha” and was known as “Radheya” for most his initial life,  till he met “Duryodhana” in the archery exhibition of the Princes, where he came uninvited and demonstrated his archery skills there which were truly of the highest order. Seeing that “Duryodhana” made him “The King of Anga” and won his allegiance and support as a great friend and warrior forever. “Karna” was called “Danveer” as he was the supreme person when it came to giving up any possessions to anyone who asks for it. He also gave away his “un-penetrable  armour” ( “Kavacha and Kundala”) to “Lord Indra” in exchange of “The Indra Shakti” which could be used only once. He had to use “The Shakti” on “the mighty Ghatotkacha” and in the final battle with “Arjuna“, his chariot went into mud and he was slain when he was trying to take his chariot out. He was a man of word and he kept his word which he gave to “Queen Kunti” who had in-fact abandoned him by leaving her other sons un-slain in battle although he had all the prowess and opportunity to do so and only fought with “Arjuna” with his full strength.
Although, he knew “Duryodhana” was on the wrong side, he still sided with him in all the wicked and sly deeds under the influence of “Shakuni” under the logic of repaying for all the goodwill shown by “Duryodhana” and that itself was his undoing as his conscience got clouded with this sense of gratitude and he was not able to take the right decisions.. Although he was a true friend of “Duryodhana” and stood by him even though he came to know that he was the eldest “Pandava” but, at the same time he was on the side of “Adharma” and that led to his undoing.. Thus, in a way he did not perform his responsibilities of a true “Kshatriya”.
“Karna” displayed “Rajo Guna qualities when he was in war/battlefield and  he always wanted a war to prove his superiority to “Arjuna” which demonstrates in a way jealousy and resentment. At the same time he demonstrated “Sattva Guna” as “Daanveera“(The Supreme Donator). Whenever, he colluded with “Duryodhana” and “Shakuni” he demonstrated “Tamo Guna” although it was only to satisfy his friend..  Karna’s character has been debated multiple times and although many hold him with high esteem due to his misfortunes and he being “Daanveera“, he still cannot be considered as a Righteous person or a “Yogi” since, he could not differentiate between right and wrong and went on to support “Duryodhana” although he was a man of “Misdeeds” or “Adharma
When we talk about the character of  “Yudhishthira the eldest of the Pandavas”, who was born to  Maharaja Pandu and Maharani Kunti who was also known as “Dharmaraj Yudhishthira” few things stand out. He was the eldest of all the “Pandavas” and was also the son of “Lord Dharma“. He was the only one who was able to reach “The Heavens” barefoot by climbing “Mount Meru” and although his wife “Draupadi’‘ and all his brothers fell one by one, he continued on accompanied by “a Dog” who he later found out was “Lord Dharma Himself” in the guise of a dog. He has been known to be very just and balanced ruler who always used to honour the principles and laws of that age. At the same time, his brother “Duryodhana” who was the eldest son of “Maharaja Dhritarashtra and Maharani Gaandhaari”, also wanted to become the king although “Yudhishthira” was the elder one.
His character and actions were exemplary most of the times although being a mortal human being, he also committed a few misdeeds in life without which his life would have been unblemished. The first one was when he placed his brothers and wife as a wager in a game of dice and which resulted in 14 years of exile and the other one was he committed the sin of speaking untruth to “Drona” that his son “Aswathaamaa” is dead who was born immortal as per a divine boon,  which resulted in the latter leaving his weapons and going into Samadhi. “Yudhishthira” was always known to speak the Truth and therefore being his “Guru”, “Dronacharya” when he asked that question he expected an answer which was correct but at that moment, “Yudhishthira” fearing for the lives of his brothers and himself knowing that “Drona” had the dreaded “Brahmaastra” in hand which would have resulted in the loss of their lives, he spoke untruth to his “Guru” and thus committed one of the gravest of sins by breaking his trust.
In the case of the game of dice, by waging his brothers and his wife “Draupadi”, he committed a senseless act for which everyone paid a huge price and he and his brothers went on 14 years of exile.
We need to look deeper into the “Guna” of “Yudhishthira” and thus surmise what really happened. He was a man of great character and was in the influence of “Sattva Guna” but both the grave blunders in life which he committed were done under the influence of “Rajo Guna” which in its extreme from breeds Lust and Anger. The Lust for winning the game of dice and the “Mahabharata” war made him commit these two grave sins for which he had to repent a lot and did “Prayashchit”
But, one must also realise here, for the first sin, during the time of exile, when he saw his brothers all lying dead having drunk water senselessly from the lake, he in full consciousness, answered all the questions posted by the “Yaksha” who was “Lord Dharma” himself and thus was able to revive his brothers and also when given a choice to bring to life only one brother, he unselfishly chose “Nakula” who was the son of “Madri” as he wanted at least one son of both the queens of “Maharaj Pandu” to be alive which made him pass the test of “Dharma”
In the other case, “Yudhishthira” on committing the sin of untruth could not forgive himself and the price was paid by everyone on the night before the final day of victory “Aswathaamaa” killed all the sons of “Draupadi” and the sleeping soldiers and generals in the night which made the victory pale…
However, since he realised his folly and fully repented for it, he still achieved the feat of reaching Heaven barefoot. So, one must understand and realise, “GOD” forgives people for their acts of blunder if they realise their mistakes and are willing to make amends and repentance for the same 
(To be continued)
जयश्री राम 

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