The recent artificially manufactured controversy by the usual anti-Hindu coterie about the proposal to declare the Gita as India’s “national scripture” brought back our mind to the grandest of itihasas in which it is embedded. The Mahabharata of course is well known to almost every Hindu and many of us learnt our first lessons in dharma through this itihasa with the Gita being its crown jewel. Thus it seems to us to be more sensible to declare the entire Mahabharata to be our national epic for that is what the unofficial reality is.
Of course this is not meant to depreciate the Ramayana which has its own role and has provided exemplars for Hindus for thousands of years. But the Mahabharata due to its vastness and complexity is more comprehensive in expounding on the various facets of dharma including raja-niti by father Bheeshma.
The Gita is only a part of this multifaceted itihasa, albeit a very important one but it would be more beneficial to read the Gita within the context of the whole. Indeed many Hindus first learn the rest of the Mahabharata as children and only come to the Gita later on as they mature (this has been certainly true of our personal experience). Thus while many Hindus may have only the most basic ideas of the Veda (indeed understanding the Veda is not a trivial task even for learned scholars), almost everyone knows something of the Mahabharata. Its enduring popularity among Hindus is also indicated by the widespread folk versions and local adaptations of this itihasa.
Another important point to note is that the timeless appeal of the Mahabharata is not confined to India of course but also present throughout South East Asia (e.g. Mahabharat takes Indonesia by storm) and who can forget the explosive impact of the Doordarshan broadcast in the India of 90s.
With all this in mind, we think that it is a better idea to declare the Mahabharata as India’s national epic with it being taught in schools. It is shameful indeed that we have neglected to do this so far when countries like Thailand have declared the Ramakien (Thai adaptation of the Ramayana) to be their national epic and teach it in their schools. Nothing illustrates the fall of India better than the fact that this is even a matter of manufactured controversy by the usual suspects. In regards to these specimens, Hindus may do well to remember the words of the wise Ram Swarup:
The grievances are truly on a grand scale and they coincide with Hinduism itself. Everything that relates to a Hindu – his language, history, religion, classics – grieves our secularists. If they were living in England, they would be objecting to Shakespeare and Milton, to the English language itself, to the Church of England, to the Englishmen being in a majority. Hindus can never hope to satisfy these secularists and they should not even attempt to do it.
They must follow their own conscience and sense of right. Should someone also begin to speak of the causes of Hindu uneasiness in secular India? Let me now end with a traditional Hindu view of the Mahabharata that seems as true today as when it was penned
By S .Patel