top of page

Brief Foray into Indian Literature: Excerpts from the Mahabharata

Updated: Apr 28

The law of karma is a very important part of the sacred texts in hinduism. The source of these subhashitas, literally translated as “good words” — pseudo-prescriptive proverbs that are used as guides for behaviour — is Mahabharata. It talks elaborately and extensively about the concepts of Dharma and Karma.

Karma, according to its usage in the Mahabharata, can be seen as man’s conscious deeds or actions. The philosophy of karma says man's actions decide his place in the world. Accumulating good deeds in the present life can lead to better living conditions in the next life. On the other hand, immoral deeds lead to punishment. 

The following subhashitas describe the effects of man’s actions on our lives, both our present life and our futures. (A little note: the translations have been done to the best of my ability, but they can't be taken as completely accurate.)

the first subhashita says:

1. अकृत्वा कर्म यो लोके फलं विन्दति धिष्ठितः।

    स तु वक्तव्यतां याति द्वेष्यो भवति भूयशः॥ (10. 2. 17)

The one who enjoys power without actually putting in any effort is condemned by the world, and becomes the target of people’s hatred. 

2.  अकृत्वा मानुषं कर्म यो दैवमनुवर्तते।

    वृथा श्राम्यति सम्प्राप्य पतिं क्लीबमिवाङ्गना॥ (13. 3. 20)

The one who only relies on divine faith without putting any of the worldly solutions into his work, suffers like a wife married to a neglectful man. 

3. अग्नौ प्रास्तं तु पुरुषं कर्मान्वेति स्वयं कृतम्।

    तस्मात्तु पुरुषो यत्नाद्धर्मं सञ्चिनुयाच्छनैः॥ (5. 40. 18)

A man’s karma (good or bad) follows him after he has been sent into the fire (after his death). Hence, humans should slowly but sincerely accumulate good deeds. 

4. अतिक्रान्तं हि यत्कार्यं पश्चाच्चिन्तयते नरः।

    तच्चास्य न भवेत्कार्यं चिन्तया च विनश्यति॥ (8. 31. 29)

The one who thinks about his actions/deeds after he has done them does not only hinder himself from finishing the task at hand, but also sets himself up for his destruction due to worrying (about the past). 

5. अनागत विधाता च प्रत्युत्पन्न मतिश्च यः।

    द्वावेव सुखमेधते दीर्घसूत्री विनश्यति॥ (12. 137. 11)

The one who prepares for danger before it arrives, and can think well in the face of it—these two kinds of people are blessed with joy. The one who takes too long to think is destroyed.

Mahabharata is one of the two well-known epics in Indian history. It tells the story of the Pandavas, the Kauravas, and the war that took place between them—called the Kurukshetra war. 

Mahabharata was compiled between 400 B.C.E and 300 C.E. by Vyas rishi. It is divided into eighteen Parvas, or section—Adi Parva, Sabha Parva, Aranya Parva, Virata Parva, Udyog Parvabhishma Parva, Drona Parva, Karna Parva, Shalya Parva, Sauptika Parva, Stri Parva, Shanti Parva, Anushasana Parva, Ashvemedhika Parva, Ashramavasik Parva, Mausala Parva, Mahaprastanika Parva, Svargarohana Parva. 

Mahabharata is an elaborate story, not only describing the characters and their actions, but also touching upon philosophical, ethical, religious, and educational matters. One of the most famous excerpts from Mahabharata is the “Bhagavad Gita” with talks elaborately and extensively about the concepts of Dharma and Karma.  

Karma, according to Mahabharata, is divided into three types—sukarma (doing good actions), karma (doing bad actions) and akarma (doing no actions). If we were to simplify it, the text says that accumulating good deeds in the present life can lead to better living conditions in the next life. Hence, man should always strive to do good deeds to accumulate the “blessings of the universe” and achieve a better life for himself and others.

Mahabharata has evolved over the centuries and taken the shape of the manuscript that is now in circulation, but the wisdom that Mahabharata provides is limitless and of incredible value even today.



Mrunal Rajadhyaksha is a student currently studying English Literature in Ruia College. She is passionate about reading, art and history, and the sea. She plays the guitar as a hobby.


bottom of page