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How should one start reading the Mahabharata?-Aadi Parva_0

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The study of any scripture starts with what is called the ‘Mangalacharan’. Mangalacharan is generally one verse, or sometimes more, paying respect to the Rishis, Devatas, and the supreme lord, or Bhagawana, who made that specific text possible. Now, before we move forward, let’s understand the difference between God, Devatas, Bhagawana, and Ishwara.

What is God? Or who is God? This question is difficult for its language. The problem with the word ‘god’ is, that there is no specific meaning given to it in the Sanskrit language, as ‘God’ is an English word. So, If the word God is used, it is always or mostly referring to devatas, unless mentioned otherwise! Devatas, on the other hand are what are those living beings of higher planets.

Going a little off topic, let’s briefly discuss the Planetary system according to the Sanatana Dharma. There are 14 planetary dimensions, each with its own function and qualities. Earth is called the Bhu loka!! There are above us, Bhuvar, Swar, Mahar, Jana, Tapa, and Satya loka. Below Bhu is Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala, and finally Patala, also called Narka. Above the Bhu or Dharti Loka, all other loka are called Swarga Loka even though when Swarga is mentioned, it is a mention of Swar loka. When Devatas are cited, they refer to the gods mainly in the Swarga loka. They are not Bhagawana. Hence, Indra devata, who is the king of the devatas, lives in the Swarga loka, and Brahma Dev lives in the Satya loka!

As Devata are also Jeeva, they have a limited lifetime, after which that specific body of the devata perishes, and a new body is deployed for a new Jeevatma to occupy. Jeevatma is the embodied entity of any living entity, which is the cause of life in it. Sometimes referred to as Soul (This will be discussed in a future article). Even Brahma is a Devata, and is known as Brahma Dev. He lives for 100 brahma years, which is billions of Human years (This will also be discussed in detail in a future article). Brahma is the creator of this Universe. That entity which created Brahma is Bhagawana, also known as Narayana. Narayana is forever pervading and limitless. He is neither bound by time or space. He is the Eternal Bhagawana, the cause of all existence, the supreme personality, or Param Purusha, or Purushottama- the best among living. Ishwara and Bhagawana can be used interchangeably here as they refer to the same entity.

In the Mangalacharan, one pays respect to the various deities (another reference to Devatas, generally used in the context of temples) and Gods and pray specifically for the following-

  1. pray that what one studies, they remember.

  2. what one remembers, they understand its correct meaning.

  3. what one understands, they imbibe and bring to practice.

  4. and finally, one prays that the study comes to its rightful completion without hindrance.

That is the purpose of the Mangalacharan. For Mahabharata, the Mangalacharan goes like this-

नारायणं नमस्कृत्य नरं चैव नरॊत्तमम्

देवीं सरस्वतीं व्यासम् ततॊ जयमुदीरयेत् ।।

nārāyaṇaṃ namaskṛtya naraṃ caiva narottamam

devīṃ sarasvatīṃ caiva tato jayam udīrayet

Narayan here refers to Bhagawana Sri Krishna and Narottam or (uttama nara) refers to Arjuna. Arjuna is also the Avatara of Bhagawana Narayana as nara, which will be uncovered at another point in the series. The Mahabharata in its entirety, focuses mainly on Sri Krishna and Arjuna’s Nara- Narayana Avatara (Reincarnation of Bhagawana). Due to this, they are both featured in the first part of the Mangalacharan. The Mangalacharan goes on to pay respect through namaskara to Bhagawati Devi Saraswati, who made it possible for us Jeeva (or Jeevatma) to understand the divine beauty of the lord, Bhagawana Veda Vyasa being the medium, as he documented it in writing. Destroying all evil, and acquiring divine qualities, let us begin our study of Jaya.

- जयो नामेतिहासोयम् is said in the Mahabharata, which means, that the word Jaya itself refers to the entire itihasa or History. Itihasa mainly refers to Mahabharata and Ramayana. However, the word Jaya here in the Mangalacharan describes the Mahabharata.

Having established some rudimentary concepts, it is understood that before beginning any text, we must start with the Mangalacharan. It is, however, equally important to pay respect to the great acharyas (Learned Teachers) that have come before us and passed down the knowledge for us to acquire such wisdom. Hence all actions must be performed under the direct purview of the grace of one’s Guru.

धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः.

जय श्रीमन्नारायण

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