Many think that the blind love of Dhritarashtra towards his Son Duryodhana as the real reason for the disastrous Mahabharata war. It is true that this extreme Putra Vyamoha or Putr Vatsalya (turning a blind eye to all misdeeds of his son) of Dhritarashtra led to the Mahabharata war.

But this was only a sub context – the “comes around” part of Karma. Karma as we know is “what goes around comes around”. So what is the “what goes around” part of this Karma? Read on to get a full grasp of this great cycle of Karma.

Emperor Bharata – What made him popular?

The story of Mahabharata starts with Emperor Bharata – his original name was Sarvadamana. He was called Bharata because for the first time in history he is said to have brought the entire Bharata Khanda (the Indian Subcontinent) under a single rule with Hastinapura as its capital. Hence he became popular as Bharata Chakravarti or Emperor of Bharata.

Bharata belonged to the Puru lineage, his father was King Dushyanta and mother Shakuntala. He was popular as a very able leader. When he realized that none of his nine sons had enough merit to become his successor, he made Bhumanyu – who he believed would make an able leader – as his successor.

Bhumanyu was probably some able person in his kingdom – was suggested by Sage Bharadhwaja to Bharata – and was adopted as Son by Bharata and appointed as his successor.

In this way, Bharata laid out a new principle of choosing merit over inheritance while appointing a successor, which is why he became even more popular. His lineage from then onward became Bharata Vamsha (Bharata dynasty) – whose main trait was to chose merit over inheritance while deciding a king. These were the first seeds of democracy.

The Bharata Vamsha rule was only an able person who had enough merit should be made a king. This was in complete contrast to all other kingdoms of the time where the eldest son of a King would automatically inherit kingdom from his father.

Merit over Inheritance – The rule of Bharata dynasty

This was the reason why according to the Dharma (rules) of Bharata dynasty – Pandu and not Dhritarashtra was made the king. Dhritarashtra was the eldest son, both Dhritarashtra and Pandu were equal in terms of education and ability to rule. But Dhritarashtra was blind, which made Pandu more eligible.

After Pandu’s death Dhritarashtra becomes the king since there is nobody else as experienced as him. His blindness is compensated by the power of Bhishma – who has taken oath to protect the empire as long as he alive – but will never become the king himself. So Bhishma compensates for Dhritharashtra’s blindness after Pandu’s death.

Later when there is the question of choosing Dhritharashtra’s successor, Yudhishtira is chose over Duryodhana – not because he was Pandu’s eldest son – but because among all the Kauravas and Pandavas – he was found to be the most eligible person to become the king – both in terms of merit and public support. Following the dharma of Bharata, Bhishma, Vidura, Dronacharya and others rightly advise Dhritharashtra to make Yudhishtira the crown prince.

Krishna and Arjuna in Mahabharata War

Duryodhana’s lust for throne – Sub Context of Mahabharata War

But from there, the misdeeds of Duryodhana – and his father turning a blind eye towards it – takeover. Duryodhana wants to become the king, and plans to get rid of Pandavas. All his misdeeds are guided by Shakuni – his maternal uncle – who has his own ulterior motives to do so.

Duryodhana tries to kill all Pandavas by burning them alive inside the Laksha Gruha (House of Wax). Assuming that Pandavas are dead, Dhritharashtra makes his eldest son the crown prince. But to their surprise, Pandavas return alive – that is when the story takes an ugly turn.

Duryodhana refuses to step down as crown prince. Dhritarashtra gives active and passive support to his son. Bhishma, bound by his vow to protect the king, ends up a mute spectator to all the wrongs that take place.

Enter Krishna – the game changer – Pandavas get practical tips and guidance to successfully and efficiently counter Shakuni’s guidance to Kauravas. Krishna is the real hero of Mahabharata – without his active support it is just near impossible for Pandavas to have won the ultimate battle.

But is Duryodhana the real cause of Mahabharata war? Well, he only implemented the second half of the Karma rule – “comes around”. Karma as we know is “what goes around comes around”. The real seeds of Mahabharata were sown long back Duryodhana or Dhritarashtra were born. How and When?

Bhishma – The True Heir to Kingdom

Devavrata was the son of King Shantanu, and due to his great ability as an able leader and warrior was made the crown prince of Bharata dynasty. He was supposed to take over the rule after Shantanu.

Then came the incident of Satyavati – the adopted daughter of a ferryman with whom Shantanu fell in love. Satyavati also likes Shantanu and Shantanu seeks permission from her adoptive father Dashraj to marry her.

Shantanu meeting Satyavati

Dashraj agrees to their marriage on the condition that once Satyavati has children – her son and their sons later should be made the successors to throne – not Devavrat. This was were the Karma was set in place – Justice denied to Devavrat – the true heir to Kingdom.

Shantanu rightfully refuses to accept this condition and goes back without marrying Satyavati. But he is also sad for not being able to marry Satyavati. Devavrat observes this, finds out the reason for this father’s sadness. He visits Dashraj trying to convince him to marry his daughter to Shantanu.

When Dashraj repeats his demand – Devavrat immediately vows to give up his right to throne in favor of Satyavati’s Son. Then Dashraj goes on to ask, what would happen if later Devavrat’s children would claim their legal right to throne, because they are not bound by their father’s vow.

So Devavrat takes the vow not to marry at all, so that he will not have any children, and instead will spend his entire life protecting whoever is the king. Now the path is all clear for Satyavati’s children and their lineage to rule the kingdom. This terrible or dreadful oath of celibacy, which no one else in his place would have dared to take – gets him the name Bhishma.

Bhishma means terrible or dreadful. Throughout history he is known by this name Bhishma – referring to this dreadful attribute of his oath. Read the lessons on Sanskrit to know the importance of attribute based names in Sanskrit.

Bhishma may have very well agreed to all demands of Dashraj and paved the way for Satyavati’s marriage with his father Shantanu. But..

Bhishma – the great warrior who was denied his merit

Dashraj’s Greed and its Karma – the real cause of Mahabharata

Dashraj wanted his daughter’s children to be the kings. He forced Bhishma to take a vow to remain unmarried and not have any children – so that his grand sons do not have any competition in becoming the rulers. The Karma of greed had kicked in.

Satyavati‘s sons – Chitrangada and Vichitravirya – with Shantanu. They both die without having any children.

Bhishma was forced by Dashraj to remain unmarried and childless. Dashraj’s grandsons died childless. See the Karma?

More was to come in this cycle of Karma.

Satyavati is forced to bring in her another son, Veda Vyasa – to father children with the wives of Vichitravirya through Niyoga. Veda Vyasa was the son of Satyavati with Sage Parashara – this was long before she met Shantanu.

Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were biological children of Vyasa. In other words Veda Vyasa wrote Mahabharata – the story of his own sons and grandsons. In fact, Kauravas were biological grandsons of Veda Vyasa, while Pandavas were not.

Merit – the rule of Bharata dynasty demanded that the elder Pandava Yudhishtira, be made the next ruler of the kingdom. He was denied his right to throne – and the result was Mahabharata war. What was denied to Bhishma was again denied to Yudhishtira.

Dashraj wanted no competition to Satyavati’s children from Bhishma’s children. Hence he forced Bhishma to take a vow to remain unmarried and without children. But three generations down the line the same competition resurfaced leading to Mahabharata war. Satyavati’s great grand children faced competition from each other resulting in a full scale war!

But what is important to note is that this time, Satyavati’s biological great grand children (Kauravas – who represented inheritance) were against her abiological grand children (Pandavas – who represented merit) – and finally merit won. The cycle of Karma was complete.

The justice denied by Dashraj to Bhishma, to give inheritance (Satyavati’s children) the right to throne over merit (Bhishma) , started the cycle of Karma – which brought back merit (Pandavas) to rule the throne – winning against inheritance (Kauravas).

The rule of justice laid down by Bharata with all good intentions – to give prominence to merit over inheritance – was brought back into effect by Karma – with full force.

The Butterfly effect of the disturbance caused by Dashraj’s misdeeds erupted into a large scale hurricane resulting in the great war of Mahabharata – ending with the restoring of the rule of Bharata.

Was it a mere coincidence that Bhishma – to whom justice was denied by Dashraj – setting up the cycle of Karma – lived long enough to witness justice being delivered to Pandavas – at the end of the Mahabharata war! Bhishma, in other words witnessed the complete cycle of Karma. He lived on to see the merit denied to him being restored down the line.

Dhritarashtra repeats Dashraj’s mistake – which in turn corrects Dashraj’s mistake

Dashraj because of his blind love towards his daughter, denies the right to throne to Bhishma. Dhritarashtra, the great grandson of Dashraj, makes the same mistake. His blind love towards his son Duryodhana causes the destruction of his lineage – the Kauravas – and there by Satyavati’s biological lineage.

This was the very lineage that Dashraj wanted to protect. The exact opposite of what Dashraj hoped for happened.

Dashraj gives inheritance (Satyavati’s children) prominence over merit (Bhishma). The Mahabharata war gives back prominence to merit (Pandavas) over inheritance (Kauravas).

Summary of the effects of Karma in Mahabharata

  • Bharata established his dynasty with the rule of giving prominence to merit over inheritance.
  • Dashraj violated this rule because of his blind love towards his daughter. He gives inheritance prominence over merit.
  • Three generations down the line, same mistake by Dhritarashtra results in Mahabharata war.
  • The cycle of Karma is complete and merit gets back its due prominence.
  • Dashraj tried to kill merit, in turn inheritance ended up dead.

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