Book Reviews

Lessons for Humanity from Mahabharata

P C K Prem is a multifaceted genius: you look at his works, whether in English or Hindi – poetry, novels, stories, he evinces authoritative aptness in all these languages; and all the genres of literature that he writes in. His intellect burnishes alike everywhere like a diamond: you look from any angle the sheen coming out from it is bright and beautiful. His personal life also corroborates the all round perfection in his professional life also: he began his career as a college teacher, joined administrative service, and retired as member Himachal Pradesh Service Commission – rigorously testing and selecting the future academicians and administrators in Himachal Pradesh. The present book also manifests his versatile intellect: it is new in that the tales and stories of this book are based on myths taken from various sacred books of the Hindus, in particular, and of India, in general.

P C K Prem’s tales and stories based on Mahabharata and other Vedas, Puranas and other Hindu scriptures are unique in themselves not only in their presentation but also in their execution as well. It is for the first time that Mr. Prem presents these 39 tales in one volume for the readers of English who otherwise have missed the spirit of these tales in their repertoire of knowledge: these, while enhancing the domain of one’s knowledge about Indian, especially Mahabharata myths and the basic tenets of Hindu Dharma such as karma, tapa, and penance to ennoble one’s personal life, also demonstrate how important these were for the rulers/kings of yore, who with dedication and commitment served their subjects and left no stone unturned in the welfare of their people and dispensing justice to them even if, at times, at the cost of their kingdoms and crown.

Mr. Prem has very deftly woven these past myths of kings, rishis and maharishis and their tapa, dharma and penance unto the service of common man who feels neglected under the stewardship of our present-day rulers dedicated only to their personal enrichment by amassing pilfering public wealth through fair or foul means caring little about the weal of those who have placed them in their present positions. He not only hints, through these tales, at the misdeeds of our contemporary rulers, but also points out that these rulers – modern kings, who are lost in the mire of corruption, both—ethical and physical— can learn a lessons from the lives of these kings and rishis while performing their rajdharma, this land of ancient devis and devatas can be transformed into a land of Lord IndraSwarga – a Heaven, and it will be bliss to live here. His satire brings within its compass not only the contemporary rulers, Babas, sadhus, and sanyasis, who, despite being corrupt, ethically and physically, to the hilt, are no less than the rulers in vying with them in stockpiling wealth and means of physical comfort.

These tales open up new vistas to the knowledge of readers and also urge them to live a life of piety and purity by setting an example of unselfish and corruption-free life to the posterity and help India become a World Guru in this materialistic age lost in the lake of grime damning their lives. Even in a cave full of pitch dark the ray of bliss and beatitude is not lost if, and only if, one wishes and tries wholeheartedly for it.


The first story, ‘Yama and Sage Gautama,’ a discourse between Yudhishtra, the man of Dharma, and Bhisma, the sire of Kurus, brings out the significance of Rajdharma: how a king should act at the time of crisis—economic or political, as seen in a foreign invasion or social uprising. societal and national welfare—should always ride over any other exigencies. Personal interests must be kept at an arm’s length.

The second story of ‘King and Pujni, the Sparrow’ tells that howsoever long good relations may continue, but when distrust develops, it spoils the harmony; grief or hurt done by one to the other cannot be forgotten. Therefore, it is better to part their ways. It is the incapable and sluggish who depend upon blessings of God. It is proper to discard tainted relations to save oneself before the birth of bad blood.

When a king/ruler of a country is wise and virtuous and follows dharma, it is natural that his subjects living under a righteous king possess similar qualities of love and warmth. A king/ruler is a collective image of a mother, a father, a teacher, a protector/preserver, fire, a mammon and Yama. It also satirizes the present rulers.

In ‘A Tale of a Hunter and a Pigeon’, the sacrifice of the pigeons teaches that one need to determine one’s location in life through noble deeds and virtues. Purity of soul, mind and heart in thoughts, words and deeds is a reflection of one’s inner build-up, a secret of an enriched life. An absolute strength of noble deeds without any inclination for violence or hatred and serving a needy or an unexpected visitor from the core of one’s heart helps one achieve salvation. Man should learn that there is nothing better than the attributes of sacrifice and help for the needy to achieve moksha.

The story of ‘Mahatma Nagraja Padmanabha and Dharmaranya’ is about a life of worldly pleasures, which entertains but disturbs while detachment befuddles. In this tale the person, who visits the sage, is disturbed by the worldly gratifications and perplexed by detachment. However, he comes to know that all realized souls get desired position after they relinquish mortal bodies. All living beings immersed in the thought of the Supreme God (Paramatma), become one Whole, totally unified with Him, after leaving this mortal frame on this earth.

Sharmistha and Devyani: "A Dispute between Sharmishtha and Devyani" On hearing about the pathetic condition of Devyani, Sukracharya, was disturbed and worried. He went out and began looking for his daughter in the jungle. When he located her, he embraced her and told her that people suffer due to past karma. In Sage Sukracharya thinks that when one sticks to karma and dharma and does not inflict pain on anyone, one is rewarded properly.  He teaches Devyani that one who tolerates harsh words or humiliating treatment is a man who vanquishes the entire world. In this story Sharmishta, the daughter of the king, Vrishparva, who had pushed Devyani into the well, had committed wrong. On knowing Dharma, she agrees to obey her father and serve as dasi (servant) to Devyani.

The story of Tapati is about dharma and adharma. It teaches that one should not surrender to the illusion of love and passion. A king must show restraint even in love. Yearnings for a beloved and physical attraction determine love and passion while sincerity is invisible. If one beloved is gone, a lover goes to another, and it is a continuous process in an age of untruth, adharma and hypocrisy.

The queen Tapati gave birth to a son named Kuru, who founded the great kuru dynasty.  The birth of great dynasties results from severe tapasya and dharma. When the ruler’s concern is exploiting the innocent people, there rules adharma. A reader understands it better if he/she knows how Dhritrashtra and his sons, who gave up dharma and followed adharma under the revengeful guidance of Shakuni, were eventually decimated from this earth and Pandvas, who followed the path of dharma, despite several hardships and ignominy in life, eventually, got their due and ruled their kingdom as per dharma to the satisfaction of all people.

In the story of ‘Sund and Upsund’—the Great Daityas, (demons), Sund and Upsund, lived together and governed a vast country ages ago. Both fell in love with Tilotama – a beautiful girl - and became rivals in love. They attacked the inhabitants of earth and tortured them. They perpetuated adharma on earth. This story teaches that fascination for a woman proves destructive. If a powerful man refuses to evaluate circumstances wisely and has an obsession even for a certain precious thing, it does not bring glory to him. In the present age too, one can easily find men unilaterally loving a girl, but when the love is not reciprocated, anger and hatred commingle to cause irreparable damage. The temperament of modern age, as is evident in acid attacks and rapes of women, is not different.

The story of Sage Mandpal, Jarita and Sons teaches that to procreate is also dharma. One, who does not, fails to fulfill God’s objective of perpetuating human race.  Mandpal, the sage, despite his yajnas and tapasya failed to find place in heaven and was sent back to leave behind him his lineage, only then he can earn the right to enter heaven. He lived with Jarita and procreated four sons.

This story minutely examines family relations. If love, warmth and genuine sympathy guide relations, families, societies and nations peace and harmony follow while adhering to the duties, as recorded in dharma.


Yayati accepts Devyani as his wife after being absolved of the sin of varna by Sukracharya. On the request of Sarmistha, who also wanted to have Yayati as her husband and advised the king to forgive Guru Sukracharya’s advice for her youth’s sake and bless her with a son, he also accepted her as his wife. This enraged Guru Sukracharya, who cursed the king for his breach of faith to his first wife, Devyani. It teaches people to strictly follow Dharma and be faithful to one’s spouse.

In the story of ‘A Holy Jackal’, one finds that human beings on earth suffer from different types of physical pains and mental anguish. The jackal becomes the king’s minister on the condition that he will always advise according to Dharma. The ministers who were wasting public wealth on themselves feared exposé and tried to bribe the Jackal but he did not yield from the path of Dharma. In contrast to it contemporary politicians, bureaucrats and religious people are different. They talk of ethical values but none appears to adhere to principles of integrity and honesty. Thus, times look corrupt, violent and people are mostly cunning, and most of the honest people face virtual extermination. They decide how much they are to extract or steal from the treasury with little thoughts of ameliorating miserable conditions of the poor. In the contemporary times, greedy men are jealous of honest and righteous people.

Lord Indra and Kashyapa: This story teaches that greediness is a curse. A desire for more is pernicious. It recognizes the truth that world is full of sufferings and joys but still a man can make life meaningful if he adheres to the law of truth and humanism. Man is greedy, possessive and dishonest today. The impact of deeds done in one life is felt/experienced in the next life. It is governed by the Karma philosophy. When in a state of quandary, a man must know that force of sagacity and prudence governs everyone.

Sage Chayavana and Nahusa: This story tells about dharma that no material wealth can equal the life of a sage. The sage grants salvation not only to the fishermen who had unknowingly fished the sage along with the fish for their living, but also to the fish, who died in this misadventure. The writer tells that even modern religious men are not virtuous, for they have fallen prey to life of luxuries and materialistic pleasures.

A Mongoose in a Yajna: Dharma is nothing but a life of truth and righteousness encompassing life in its entirety. The brahmin and his family offered happily their complete food to the stranger without any grudge: it was an act of great dharma. So he was allowed a place in heaven and gods welcomed him.

True happiness comes only after giving in charity what one has earned through honest means and not through illegal and unjust means. If earnings of a man are honest, his donation or charity gets meaning and purity. Strangely enough, many people earn through dishonest means and try to show that they are more charitable. Those, who donate to temples or such holy places or for their construction, are, in fact, egoists and want to satisfy their ego that people will praise them for their munificence.

Pramadra and Ruru: This story teaches what true dharma is. Non-violence, truth, forgiveness and deep study of Vedas are virtues of a true brahmin. A man of today has not yet learnt to regret or repent if he commits a sin or acts unethically and that is the truth and spirit of the age. 

King Janamajaya, the Curse of Shringi and Takshak: Those who matter in society act hastily, idiotically, and continue to promote self-interests. A man in power is least conscious of injustice he does to others. This story shows the weaknesses of a common person.

Karma, Time and Destiny’: This story teaches that an individual’s karma shapes future lives, destiny makes one rich or poor, and time is all powerful. All have to bow to them. One cannot dictate destiny. One cannot evade the consequence of Karmas. It also teaches about the import of forgiveness. Forgiveness is supreme and if a man learns to forget and forgive, perhaps life on earth will be an experience unparallel.  However, a question haunts. Can a person involved in causing harms to others continuously is forgotten and forgiven?

‘Unique Deliverance’: In this story, an insect tells rishi Vyasa that it has been a slave of desires in its previous birth. Moreover, it directed its energy towards vices: always acted with evil designs and did wrong things. A recollection of its previous life makes it sad and depressed. However, the great rishi tells that the power of austerity and deep ponderings and intense penance is great. If one is sincere in words, actions and deeds and understands the true import of sattvic, rajas and tamasic qualities, he attains deliverance. One who attains this state in life is free from mundane sufferings.

A Mouse and a Cat’: in the story, one finds that neither friendship stays forever nor does enmity last longer. An element of self-interest or loss of it makes friends or enemies. At other moments, the nature of living conditions and time makes friends and foes when enemies turn friends and friends become enemies. Compromise in an hour of crisis leads a man to peace and harmony; teaches intricacies of practical behaviour and principles of religious conduct—dharma, and to a ruler/king a just art of administering and serving a country/subjects with a spirit of dedication.

Daitya Mayei – A Great Architect’: The substance of this story is that gratitude is a virtue. It not only enhances the stature of a person to whom one is grateful but it also adds grandeur and magnificence to the person who expresses gratefulness.

‘Curses of Sage Agastya and Sage Devala’: According to this story, one having complete faith in Him and being remorseful of committed sins can attain liberation. For, devotion proves a blessing in disguise.

‘Monk Indrot and Janmajaya’: This story tells that people look towards their rulers as models of public life. Everything in a country depends upon people who govern. If they are men of dignity, honesty, purity of mind, dedicated hearts and serve the people, public follows them. Unfortunately, rulers, now days, are neither men of dharma nor truth but are men of total adharma and untruth where anarchy prevails.  Ethics and principles of life permeate deep down from above but it appears absurdity, violence, untruth and adharma exist at the top. Now the people inhabiting such places have become calculative so that self-interests are served well.

‘A Brahmin’s Lamentations’: This story teaches, through a dialogue between a vulture and a fox, that if one makes whole-hearted efforts to achieve one’s goal, nothing deters him; ultimately, a grand victory touches his feet. A true devotion and bhakti, while adhering to the law of dharma and truth, can even conquer death.

‘The Fox and the Monkey’: This story is about the survival of those born as Brahmins. If a man promises to give something in charity to a Brahmin, later on withdraws, and does not fulfill his pledge, he suffers in the long run.  Words to Brahmins must be fulfilled and one should never humiliate them. It seems to be a mechanism devised by Brahmins who authenticated the caste system to make easy the survival of even an illiterate Brahmin who does not know the meaning of the word, “brahmin”.

‘Counseling a Sudra’: This story tells that before the introduction and authentication of caste system  a profession that earned livelihood for a man determined identity. If a ksatriya is learned and sermonizes, he is brahmin. If a sudra fights on the fronts, he is ksatirya. If a ksatriya sells shoes then, he is sudra. It is a simple tale that reinforces the theory of karma. Caste had no meaning in ancient times: the quality and aptitude of man was considered most important than caste.  Unfortunately, now, caste, and a suffix/ prefix of caste, is considered a matter of pride.

Jajali and Tuladhar’: The substance of this tale is that in contemporary times man has failed to live with the spirit of love and affinity. A cut-throat competition suffocates loveliness and amiable sentiments. Modern man lives with an appalling sense of terror and violence. He forgets feelings of togetherness and geniality.

That is the misfortune of modern man. People who rule are corrupt, swindlers, hedonistic, and profligate. It also suggests that if every deed or karma is performed with genuine devotion following the dictums of dharma, the earth will stand transformed into a paradise.


Jaratkaru and the Dead’:  It is about the release of dead souls – pitres – of one’s dynasty/clan from the clutches of eternal tortures in the absence of a rightful heir to propitiate them by pinda-daan. Sincerity of purpose, single-minded devotion and determination to safeguard the interests not only of a family/dynasty but also others, makes a man great and worthy of human adoration.

‘Immortal tale of Shakuntla’: This tale anchors on Dharma and maintaining purity and happiness. If men and women live within the correct guidelines of dharma and respect areas of liberty and restraint of one another, most of the problems will vanish.  If interpreted in terms of contemporary value system where liberty of women with ever engulfing concept of feminism disturbs overwhelmingly, a solution must be found so that relations do not suffer. Shakuntla emphasizes truth and dharma, a modern man needs so urgently. Truth, dharma, and integrity are necessary not only for a worthy ruler, but also a common man.  

‘The Great Jarasandha’: This story tells how Jarasandha was born to king Brihdaratha. Jarasandha as a king, followed the policy of decency and justice and never did anything destructive while serving his subjects.

Dharma of Devyani and Kacha’: In this story Devayani, the daughter of Skuracharya, wanted to marry her father’s disciple, who was in fact the son of Brihaspati, while the disciple considered her as his sister. Dharma is what one feels is correct. If one learns to live within the parameters of dharma and devotion, one automatically learns limits of operation and relations.

‘King Kalmashpaad’:  On the basis of this story one easily concludes that a man of truth and virtues ultimately wins over everyone and these attributes continue to strengthen him.  In the present context, if one understands this truth, perhaps, the world would become a healthier place to live. Greed guides rulers’ destiny who are no longer custodians of public property but usurpers and aggrandizers of their woes. In fact, through the wisdom of women, generations grow and tribes flourish. One should remember that one has to reap only what one has sown.

‘Destruction of Khandava and Mayasura’: This story tells that Mayasura could not bear the coming of people to Khandava, where he was living. He planned to kill them. Whatever may be the form of government, naked opportunism and self-promotion persuade man to inflict injuries on others. Truth and dharma are the casualty of the contemporary age and appear meaningless to the modern man.

‘Lord Indra and a Parrot’: This story narrates that after death, the parrot, who followed dharma, truth, and compassion, went to the abode of lord Indra. If one cultivates qualities of dharma, truth and compassion, one gets all wishes fulfilled in due course of time.

Chirkaari’s Wisdom’: The chief tenet of this story is that only the lumbering, the uncivilized and the wicked propagate use of meat, liquor etc. in yajnas. The Vedas nowhere preach such a practice. Taste of tongue encourages one to eat undesired food and drink wine. Deep thinking brings one close to rationality, while haste leads to irrationality. Decisions must be taken with utmost care, after prolonged meditation so that they are rational and for the good of people.

‘Difficult Times of King Kushik’: It teaches the lessons of forbearance while serving a guest with no ill-will and genuine happiness. For the welfare and protection of public, dharma and ethics must guide the guardians of people and countries. If this happens, peace and prosperity prevail. In times of crisis, if a man exhibits patience following the doctrines of ethical life, he gains stature and finds an appropriate solution.

‘A Great War between the Gods and Garuda’: In this story, the readers come to know that persons purposefully make requests to persons in authority. These people are servile and repulsively humble that it is difficult to detect deceptiveness and validity in words they utter. Glib words and their nauseating bowing every now and then apparently appear quite satisfying but no sooner, such people attain their objective, they forget everything.

‘Devotee Kacha and Sukracharya’: It is a tale of a student’s devotion towards his teacher. Kacha remained devoted to guru Sukracharya and grateful for the knowledge he had learnt from him.

‘Sage Mandvya’ was wrongly punished by a king for the theft committed by thieves and the booty hidden in his ashram. We have many wise men but not men of wisdom. The wisdom of self-interest and self-promotion governs the contemporary mindset of people and this is precisely the ruling passion giving birth to untruth, adharma and violence, greed and corruption, dishonesty and lust. A modern man must sit and think of an idea that leads one to dharma.

Varga’s Liberation’:  It is about the liberation of Varga, an apasara, by Arjuna from the curse of a Brahmin. The educated, the wealthy and the powerful should not humiliate one of pure heart and tapa. If in anger, a brahmin says some curt and harsh words, these should not be taken lightly. Even the fairies blessed with immortal beauty and youth suffered, when a brahmin cursed them.

‘God’s Will: Birth of Draupadi & Pandavas’: This story tells the tale of the birth of five Pandavas and Draupadi and how Draupadi came to have five husbands as narrated by Sage Vyasa to King Drupad. The present world with an awful increase in population creating dreadful problems of survival despite scientific and material growth is foretelling the impending catastrophe. None cares to halt the caravan of death unannounced.  The rulers of the present age are no better in their thinking, for they are interested in placating the people only for getting power. Thus, a living in contradiction makes modern life strangely luxurious and dull, isolated and desperate.

Thus, in a nutshell, it can be said that these tales and stories drawn and retold from the Hindu religious book have the strength not only to entertain the readers. At the same time, these also teach them their duties and how to lead a righteous and pious life without hurting others’ beings – living or non-living on this earth for harmonious living, preserving the natural ecological balance. Man has emerged from nature, so it is man’s duty to preserve it for the coming generations: if that is not done; nature, in her attempt to strike a balance in the form of natural calamities, will decimate life from the surface of life. Man’s endeavour should be to save this earth and the life on it and for this, the true knowledge, in the form of Dharma and various virtues advocated in these stories must be inculcated in human life to make this earth in the real sense Vasudhaiva kutumbkam and a heavenly haven to live. Dharma and karma are supreme to deliver man.

Om Shantih! Shantih!! Shantih!!!


More by :  DC Chambial

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Views: 3473      Comments: 1

Comment The most educative book for the youth in the present situation we live in.
The epics are for all time and the incidents, happenings and occurrences in the works like the mahabharatha need to be read, heard and lived up to by all in Bharat and the intellectually sober all over the word.
The review is apposite and highly readable.
Thanks chambialji
rama rao

Dr Rama Rao vadapalli V.B.
07-Feb-2015 23:57 PM

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