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.

Parshuram – Ram with an Axe

There are not many personalities we know who were named after their possessions. In fact, I don’t think I know even one in the present times. Have we ever addressed Little Master as Bat-Sachin Tendulkar? Or have we ever addressed Himesh as Crap Cap-Himesh Reshammiya?

But ages ago, there lived a sage who had achieved this nearly impossible feat. His original name was Ram, but for all PR activities, he was addressed as Parshuram. ‘Parasu’ means axe and so Parshuram meant ‘Ram with an Axe’.

This Ram, who was the sixth avatar of Vishnu and should not be confused with the seventh avatar (who too was Ram but without a prefix), was the son of a Brahmin man Jamadagini and a Kshatriya woman Renuka. The axe that made him popular was given to him by his mentor Shiva, and it was said that this axe had no close rival among weapons in the entire universe.

Thor’s hammer did not exist at that time.

The axe was given to Parshuram to get the Earth rid of unrighteous souls. It did not matter what relation that unrighteous soul had with Parshuram or anybody else. Parshuram in many ways is the avatar that always acted without thinking (maybe, because all the thinking was done by Vishnu before taking that avatar.)

Parshuram’s life had a few incidents of much significance to humanity, at large. The two most important ones are listed below:


Jamadagini had a nearly perfect family a loving wife and five sons, Parshuram being the youngest. Once while Renuka was collecting woods in the forests, she came across a handsome Gandharva who was indulged with Apsaras doing what Emran Hashmi does best on screen. This sudden encounter induced a momentary feeling of passion for the Gandharva in Renuka’s heart, which, according to the culture of that era was almost equal to infidelity. An ashamed Renuka went back to her home trying to forget what she had seen. However, the tense expressions on her otherwise serene face were a clear indication that something was wrong. Jamadagini, who through his austerities had mastered the art of reading minds, figured out in an instance what had happened.

Parshuram beheads his mother.

A furious Jamadagini ordered his sons to behead their mother without telling them the reason. The sons, naturally, were horrified at the very thought and shirked. Except for our man – Ram with the Axe. He moved ahead and beheaded his mother without a slightest flinch in his heart.

Jamadagini was angry at his first four sons for disobeying him and thus discarded them. He was, however, deeply moved by his youngest son’s unquestionable dedication towards his father. He offered Parshuram a boon.

Parshuram: Bring my mother back to life. I know you possess the same power of resurrection that Ekta Kapoor possesses.

Jamadagini could not take his word back. He resurrected her to life and forgave her too, for she had been punished for her mistake. So much happened for this much. It was once again a ‘Hum Sath Sath Hain’ family, but with four sons gone.


Years later, when the ‘Hum Sath Sath Hain’ family was living life as it always did, a life-changing event happened.

The king Kartavirya of that province discovered that Jamadagini had a cow called Kamadhenu. This extra-ordinary cow fulfilled every wish of man and Kartavirya had an extreme desire to possess it at any cost. One day, while Parshuram was out in the forest, Kartavirya accompanied by his soldiers came to Jamadagini’s abode and insisted on taking away Kamadhenu. When Jamadagini and Renuka resisted, he brutally murdered them and left with Kamadhenu.

Parshuram kills Kartavirya

On returning, Parshuram discovered what had happened and was filled with potent range equal to that of Thakur when he figured out that Gabbar had slaughtered his family. He took his axe and reached Kartavirya’s palace and warned him to return Kamadhenu without delay, or the consequences would be fatal. Naturally, Kartavirya resisted and sent his force to stop Parshuram, whose talent with the axe was unmatched in the three worlds. Parshuram rushed as a havoc in the kingdom killing each and every soldier who tried to stop him, without the aid of Jai or Veeru. Then he slaughtered the demonic king as well.

After this, Parshuram went on a killing spree whirling his axe around and killing unrighteous Kshatriyas in great numbers. He was outraged by the fact that Kshatriyas who were supposed to be guardians of the society had resorted to overpower the weak out of their lust for power and property. He killed them in such great numbers that Earth was almost replete of them. He did it not once, twice but twenty-one times.

Parshuram kills Kshatriyas

All this while, the axe was his constant companion. This axe given by Shiva had soaked the blood of millions of Kshatriyas and still yearned for more. After 21 innings when Parshuram finally decided to retire he went to the river Samanata-panchaka and dipped his axe in it. The river was filled with blood and nothing else but blood. After this grand task of getting Earth rid of unrighteousness he finally retired to indulge himself into meditation and increase his prospects of future-mentoring.

It was near this land of Samanta-panchaka where the Kurukshetra war was fought and three almost invincible students of Parshuram: Bheeshma, Drona and Karna participated in it. The land bathed in blood again, though centuries later.

A few centuries later, even Thakur finally avenged his family, though with the help of Jai and Veeru.