Important Terminologies from Mahabharata

There are a few terminologies that appear as frequently in Mahabharata as cheer-leaders appear in the IPL matches. The only difference is that the terminologies mostly appear for a reason.

I hope knowing these terminologies would help in understanding the Epic more. Dissecting them, however, would not do much good. They can be highly confusing and unbelievably random but that’s true for most of our studies. Isn’t it?

1. Boon / Vardaan

A boon is a promise made by a higher party (a demi-god, rishi or a parent) that grants the receiver a certain power or some kind of advantage. Sometimes the receivers achieve boons by the virtue of their devotion in the party and sometimes just because of their luck. Boons can be highly technical and may come with if-else conditions. Eg., Jaydrath receives a boon from Shiva that one day in a war he would be able to overpower the Pandavs IF Arjuna is away!

2. Curse / Shaap aka Shraap

Curses are the antonyms of boons. They are the most undesirable things or situations that one is bound to suffer mostly because of a mistake he made or a crime that he committed. Eg., Karna is cursed to die in the battlefield unarmed because he killed an innocent cow by mistake. Curses are highly technical too, can be modified and sometimes intelligent people use them to their advantage. Eg., Arjuna was cursed by Urvashi to become a eunuch for life but Indra’s intervention reduced the duration of that curse to ‘one’ year. Arjuna used this curse during the 13th year of his exile when he was required to conceal his identity.

3. The Law of Karma

This law is the actual source from which Newton derived the third law of motion. It simply states that for every action there is a consequence, either in this life or in the next. No person can escape the consequences of his action. An action taken today will yield a result one day and the person concerned will suffer its consequences. If he doesn’t, then his relatives or progeny does. But there is no escape.

4. Niyog

This was the concept of surrogate father which was much prevalent in those days. To ensure a continued and unharmed inheritance kings always desired sons. But some were not lucky enough to effectuate their desires into results. So they summoned higher mortals, and at times immortals, to make their wives conceive sons. Ideally, the chosen man was supposed to be of a higher stature and preferably a stranger who would have no emotional attachment or anything to do with the wife after the moment. The culture considered the husband and not the biological father to be the child’s actual father. It would require data analytic experts years to calculate how many characters in the Mahabharata were a result of Niyog.

5. Brahmastra

This was one of the most potent missiles, the weapon of Brahma, that the best warriors possessed. In Ramayana, Ram, Lakshman and Meghnadh are known to have possessed the Brahmastra. In Mahabharata, Krishna, Bheeshm, Dronacharya, Arjun and Ashwatthama possess it. The scarcity power comes from the fact that a warrior could receive it only from his guru through a mantra after displaying extremely profound learning of archery. If the guru did not find his student worthy, he chose not to give it to him and he could not attain it in any other way. Karna received the Brahmastra from Parshuram but the curse of Parshuram made him forget that mantra. The Brahmastra was close (or probably a little more intense) than the nuclear bomb of today and its use meant nothing but the destruction of the entire world hence it was never practically executed.

6. Pashupatastra

This was another terrific missile, the weapon of Shiva (Pashupati), that was possessed by a few great warriors. Meghnad, Bheeshm and Arjun are known to have possessed it but never practically used it. As opposed to the Brahmastra that destroyed the entire world, Pashupatastra could be focussed even to a needle point but possessed infinite energy to destroy that object within a fraction of a second.

7. Narayanastra:

This was the terrific weapon of Vishnu, with almost equal in impact as the Brahmastra but could also be customized to damage selected areas like the Pashupatastra could be. The major condition of using this weapon that it could be used only against someone who was violent. The weapon wouldn’t harm anyone who was calm. Meghnad and Ashwatthama are known to have possessed the Narayanastra.

8. Prayshchit / Pashchataap:

The English translation of these two words is “Penance”. It is the act of observing severe austerities or inflicting pain on oneself as an expression of repentance of a wrong-doing. Throughout the Mahabharata, there are many characters who underwent through this as a mistake they made. Eg., On discovering that the deer he killed in the forest were Rishi Kindam and his wife, Pandu left the throne of Hastinapur and went to the forest away from all luxuries for pryayshchit. It must me noted that it is a self-inflicted punishment and wasn’t imposed on anyone by the society. A person followed it out of guilt in order to punish himself for his own mistake.