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The Spirituality of the Sacred Epic, Mahabharata documented in one of India’s local languages, Bengali

With nearly 68% of the population classifying themselves as Hindus, Hinduism is the biggest religious tradition in West Bengal (as of 2021). West Bengal's Hindus are predominantly of the Shakta (Kalikula tradition), with a minority Vaishnavite and a small Shaivite and other sects. A large group of Bengali Hindus practice Shaktism (the Kalikula tradition), while the other half practice Vaishnavism (Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Vaishnava-Sahajiya, Bauls). 


Krsnadvaipayana Vyasa wrote the renowned Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. Its overarching storyline is centered around the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The Kauravas were guided by their eldest brother, Duryodhana, and took their name from their predecessor, Kuru. The Pandavas were led by  Yudhisthira, the Pandavas' eldest brother. The battle took place in Kurukshetra between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Both sides received help from others as well. The Kauravas joined forces with Bhisma, Drona, and Karna, while the Pandavas took the help of Sri Krishna.


The Mahabharata is split into 18 books, which are known as Parvas. The first book encompasses character lineages, the animosity between the Kauravas and Pandavas, Draupadi's victory, and the relationship with the five Pandavas; the second book describes the wagering game wherein Yudhisthira ended up losing everything and the Pandavas were expelled from the kingdom. The third book discusses the Pandavas' life in the wilderness. The fourth book (Virata) tells the story of the Pandavas, who live in secret in King Virata's royal court. The subsequent eleven books portray the fierce war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, interlaced with desperate cries due to the repercussions of the battle, the realization of the enigma concerning Karna's birth, narratives on unity, and leadership, the responsibilities of a ruler, and emergency response methods. The renowned Gita or Shrimad Bhagavad Gita is found in the sixth book (Bhisma), which encloses Krishna's counsel to Arjun. The 12th and 13th books recount the injured Bhisma’s guidance as he rests on his bed of arrows (Shanti, or peace, and Anushasana, or precedents) and concludes with his demise. The unfortunate battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas comes to an end with the Pandavas' triumph. The horse sacrifice conducted by the triumphant Yudhisthira is described in the fourteenth book (Ashvamedha). The remainder of the books recount Dhritarashtra's and his wives' dying days, their deaths, and the Pandavas' final voyage to paradise with Draupadi, where they encounter Krishna.


There have been many artists and writers who have drawn inspiration from the Mahabharata including Bhasa, Kalidasa, Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, and others. Kavindra Parameshwar wrote the first Bangla Mahabharata, which became recognized as the Kavindra Mahabharata after him. This is a condensed version that employs the classical Payara (couplet) and Tripadi. 


Kashiram Das's rendition of the Mahabharata has surpassed Nityananda Ghosh's edition in terms of mass appeal. The Mahabharata of Kashiram Das, known as the Kashidasi Mahabharata, is more lengthy than in comparison to the Kavindra Mahabharata. 


FAQs: 


Q1. Can the Mahabharata be considered a true story? 


The fact that Mahabharat is an epic, leads many to believe it is a mythological tale, which is not the case. Mythological tales are all about one's creativity and worldview. However, this is not the case when it comes to the  Mahabharata. This text is an authentic piece of literature based on historical events.


Q2. What is the relevance of the Mahabharata in today’s world? 


It is commonly assumed that these texts were simply mythical tales with ethical implications. But they are also a treasure trove of spiritual knowledge that gives people a manual on how to lead a better life and get closer to spiritual enlightenment.