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Friday, February 9, 2018

Authenticity of Books 12 and 13 - Maha Bharatha Series 62


Scholars have doubts about the authenticity of parts of Books 12 (Shanti Parva) and 13 (Anushasana Parva) as part of the original text. One scholar (V V Iyer) published a book in 1922 in which he suggested that passages on sins and their expiations and duties of varnas and stages of life were added by others later in history to perpetuate some of the customs and also to establish that Krishna is a Divine avatar of Vishnu. 

This doubt about the authenticity makes sense to me because of two observations I made when reading Book 12 and Book 13. The main message of this Book is centered around Bhishma’s advice from his bed of arrows. But, there was no mention of Bhishma at all till Section 30. The question I have is: “How come that Yudhishtra and his retinue did not rush to see Bhishma as soon as the battle was over?”  They go to see Dhrithrashtra, complete the coronation and then think of Bhishma, after Krishna tells them of Bhishma’s impending death. To me, this is strange.

The discourse by Bhishma starts only from Section 55 of Book 12. Krishna asks Bhishma to teach about duties, morality and truth. When Bhishma asks Krishna to do it, Krishna says that it will be more valuable coming from Bhishma and adds: “ What you say will be regarded on earth to be as authoritative as the Vedas”. That probably gave an opening for some later authors to add passages of their own.

We see passages glorifying Krishna as Lord Vishnu and mentioning that Krishna is the 8th descent. There is mention of a rakshasa by the name of Caravaka and his demise at the hands (of the words) of a Brahmana. This sounds like a more religious-minded group trashing Caravaka, which was an atheistic system of philosophy similar to the Epicurean philosophy of the west. These sections glorify Brahmanas and the Varnas. These passages have nothing to do with the story of Maha Bharatha.

There are several sections in Book 13 about ceremonies for ancestors (shrarda for the pitri), about deity worship, giving gifts and the sacredness of the cows. Those interested in the details of what items to choose for these rituals, when to perform them and how to choose the sites etc may wish to go to the original. I found some of the areas disgusting and offensive such as those that recommend drinking of cow’s urine, eating cow dung and sleeping in the midst of cows as sacred acts! Some sections glorify the brahmins excessively and some are derogatory of women, as usual. There are descriptions of heaven and hell and a list of the qualities of people who get there.

Book 13, Section 104 has a litany of do’s and don’ts. There are, of course, several wise and time-honored hygienic practices such as washing the hands and feet before eating, brushing teeth on waking up and safe practices such as examining the bed in good light before lying down. Obviously, meat eating was OK as long as it was offered to the gods first. But, there are also sections with strange advice as listed earlier. 

Different kinds of teachers (upadhyaya, Acharya and guru) and their importance in one’s life are emphasized. But, the passages go too far when they say: “respect him and accept what he says even if he is wrong”.

These are examples from this chapter which do not go along with what Maha Bharatha is about and out of line with the noble teachings of the Upanishads. That is why several scholars doubt the authenticity of these passages. They also point out differences in the use of language and the chandas (meter). I am no authority; but I see the reasoning behind their doubt.

There are some noble teachings too. When Yudhishtra asked about the best path to merit (shreyas), Bhishma lists the following items: non-injury (ahimsa), following Vedic injunctions (vaidikam), meditation, control of senses (indriya nigraha), compassion, penance (tapas), serving one’s preceptor and gift-giving (daana), specifically of food. In addition, he adds one more general point of guidance: “One should not do to another that which is regarded as injurious when done to one’s own self”.  (Book 13, Section 113). This teaching seems to be common to all major traditions.

1 comment:

Ramesh said...

There are probably many alterations, additions in all of the holy writings in Hinduism. And very likely it happened exactly as you have postulated - different groups in later years making th changes to suit their own agendas.

The writings have also been set in the social context of those times. Things which we would not find acceptable in today's age, like those you have outlined, were probably common place then. I find it useful to ignore the literal words and try to decipher the spirit and values that they espouse. I think great harm has been done in every religion by sticking to the literal word and ignoring the spirit.