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Scriptures & Symbolism

Symbolism In The Mahabharata - Meaning of the Pandavas

In this second of a series we will show, by example, how scriptures given to man are primed with symbolism.  The example we have chosen is the Mahabharata, one of the most revered of Hindu scriptures. 

The Mahabharata is a masterpiece of multiple meanings, with symbolism weaved intricately into its story lines. The symbolism which we discuss here have remained unknown, but are nevertheless of great significance. Here we wish to cover specific higher meanings of the Pandavas, the Kauravas, and the Krukshetra war itself. The reader who is unfamiliar with the Mahabharata is encouraged to read a summary description of it from other sources, or just follow along using one's intuition as guidance.

There are many who might have suspected that the five Pandavas have something to do with the five fingers on the hand. This would be a true assumption. An incarnated personality has five major lessons and tests it must face as it charts a course through life. Each of these is represented by one of the fingers of the hand. We will discuss the significance of each in turn, and the associated Pandava.

We begin with the thumb. The thumb is the strongest and thickest finger on the hand, and is symbolic of power and aggression. “Being under someone’s thumb” is a typical expression. It is associated with the planet Mars, a symbol of aggression, war, and raw energy. Corresponding to this finger, you have Bhima, the biggest and strongest of the five Pandavas, a literal juggernaut. Bhima is pictured as a forceful and often unforgiving type of person. Now Mars rules Aries, whose symbol is the ram. The term ‘rammed’ or to ram something is a common metaphor, and a good representation of Bhima and his exploits in the story. The lesson associated with this finger is that of controlling one’s energies, and most importantly the ability to *forgive*, to turn the other cheek, as Christ taught. This is perhaps the hardest of lessons for human kind to learn, which is represented by the thumb, and which Bhima often fails.

The forefinger is the finger of faith. We do not mean faith in God per se, though that is one of the higher goals, but at least faith in oneself – a very essential quality of soul to be developed – a must requirement to succeed in life, to hit your target, to make your mark. Now the forefinger is ruled by Jupiter. Jupiter rules Sagittarius, whose symbol is the archer. Thus you have Arjuna, the great archer among the Pandavas. He always hits his target, for such is the function, purpose and the result of faith. It is also not just accidental that we use the forefinger to point at something! The name Jupiter comes from Zeus Pater(father), reminiscent of God the Father. So it is to Arjuna that Krishna reveals the teachings of the Gita, one of the most sacred of scriptures in Hinduism. Arjuna is always the devotee of Krishna, the divine personality of the Godhead. The connection of this finger with God and faith should then be obvious. The crisis and test of faith represented by the forefinger is something every human being must face at some point or other in life. Arjuna experiences such a crisis and almost gives up, but direction from Krishna, through His teachings of the Gita, puts Arjuna back on the right path - and indeed helps develop a whole philosophy of life. Such are the lessons, tests and outcomes of faith, indicated by the forefinger, and represented by Arjuna.

The middle finger is the tallest of all the fingers, and the corresponding Pandava is the eldest of them all, named Yudhishtira. This finger is ruled by Saturn, which is considered the bringer of retribution, evil and despair, the negative effects of karma and so on. The name Saturn rhymes with Satan, the tempter, whose supposed function is similar. Saturn rules Capricorn, whose symbol is the goat, which is also a symbol of Satan. Saturn/Satan and the middle finger represent the lessons and test of *righteousness* – of doing the right thing in a situation, and of discerning good from evil. This is an important lesson to be learnt by the soul, which it learns under the threat of Saturn/Satan, for the consequences of failure are disastrous each time. This is the very story of Yudhishtira. He is the most righteous person in the story, one who cannot tell a lie and tries to be extremely just. But he is also weak and sometimes unable to discern right from wrong, or fails to act on it. The events that lead to the war are shown as an outcome of his temptation and his fall. He gambles his kingdom, his family, and their freedom away, more than once. His tests are always that of choosing between the right and wrong in a situation, even to the finest shade of distinction. His whole life is portrayed as a trial of his righteousness. Yudhishtira thus represents the lessons and tests of righteousness that every soul must face in its development - and corresponds to the middle finger ruled by Saturn.

The little finger is ruled by Mercury, a bi-sexual god. Mercury rules Gemini, whose sign is the twins. Thus you have the twins of the Pandavas, called Nakula and Sahadeva . The two princes, though they are twins, are not identical twins. One of them is extremely handsome and sensual, and the other is a brilliant, wise and knowledgeable statesman. The test represented by the little finger is that of sexuality, which Nakula represents, but one that he fails in the end as described in his fall from the mountain. The ring finger is ruled by the Sun, which represents brilliance. It represents the test of wisdom and knowledge, which Sahadeva represents (he was considered wiser than Brihaspati, the teacher of the gods), but one he also failed because of his pride. The ring finger also represents the lessons and tests of love, i.e. the ability to distinguish love from the sexuality represented by the little finger. It is not accidental that most people wear the wedding band on this finger and then call it the ‘ring’ finger. An interesting exception is perhaps the Jewish people (Israel) who are considered wedded to their Lord, and wears the ring on the forefinger (of faith). Now if one keeps all the fingers of the palm straight and then bend the little finger by itself, it can be seen that the ring finger also bends. The two are coupled, or couplets, like twins. Metaphorically, Sahadeva yields to Nakula, and therefore Nakula is considered elder to Sahadeva in the story. The coupling of the two fingers indicates that humanity has still more to go in terms of learning to distinguish between sexuality and love. The lessons and tests in this area often happen through heart breaks, which must come, so that one learns to love through the heart alone, as opposed to physical infatuation.

A look at the parentage of the Pandavas is also revealing. Yudhishtira is from Yama or Dharma-raja, the lord of the underworld, indicating the tests of his righteousness, and reminiscent of Saturn or Satan. Arjuna is from Indra, king of the gods, the equivalent of Jupiter, who is also king of the gods, and reminiscent of faith. Bhima is from Vayu, the equivalent of Mars in aggression and energy. Nakula & Sahadeva are from the Ashwins, the divine twin horsemen, the equivalent of the Dioscuri, also known as the Gemini.

In the story and the battle of Kurukshetra, it can be seen that members of the so-called ‘good’ side are not absolutely good, and those of the ‘evil’ side are not absolutely evil. In fact they are representative of human tendencies that the soul carries within. The Kauravas or the evil seeds are quite numerous. Their names have meanings like: difficult to conquer is battle (Duryordhana), difficult to subdue(Dushashana), one with a bad countenance(Durmukha), one who sees or looks evil (Durdarsha) and so on. These directly represent various negative tendencies that reside in the soul, which must be cleansed and purified through the lessons and tests represented by the Pandavas, and helped on by Krishna. Indeed that is why at the end of the story Yudhishtira finds that his Kaurava ‘enemies’ have been transmuted by the war and are in heaven along with him! The kauravas represent tendencies that are not all negative, only when applied wrongly.

The capital of the kingdom, around which the whole story revolves, is called Hastinapura. This name is often thought to be composed from Hastin (elephant) and Pura (city). While this is one derivation, it is actually derived from Hast(hand), ina (pertaining to), Pura(city). Or read together, the City of the Hand! On the hand or palm are encoded the lessons, tests, successes, tribulations and failures of life - the five fingers being the most significant indicators as described by the Pandavas. The plain of Kurukshetra where the war takes place corresponds to the center area of the palm, called the plain of Mars (who is the god of war), where life events are sketched out. Those who partake of the sacred battle field of Kurukshetra are purified and attain to heaven.

It should now be possible to see a very important message weaved into the story: that there exists a Kurukshetra of the soul, waging its war in the battlefields of life (in terms of various lessons and tests), all aimed towards the transmutation of the soul’s inner natures - assisted, planned and engineered by the divine as represented by Krishna.

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This section carries content that was not originally included or referred to in our work, The God Principle, chapter War. It is covered here as a postscript because the symbolism involved is more obscure and thus not easy to convey. And this has to do with Karna, the secret elder brother of the Pandavas.

Of the five fingers, if the little finger (Mercury ruled Gemini, the sign of the twins) itself can point to twins, then there could be 6 personalities in all. The missing personality is somehow hidden, and not obvious to the main five. And it is associated with the ring finger whose rulership is the Sun (Karna's father is Surya the Sun god).  As we covered earlier, the ring finger points to love. A denial or lack of love results in the personality turning that focus on love into materially-oriented fascinations.  The subconscious equates love with money, wealth and position, and the ring finger symbolism points to such a drive in the 6th personality, Karna.

Thus one of the lessons and tests represented by Karna is that of the right approach to wealth and position in life. But kings and princes are quite very well off by reason of birth into a royal family, and are not really tempted in such manner. So what better way than to have Karna be discarded as a child and brought up by a charioteer, and then rise from humble beginnings to a stature of wealth and power? It may be said that Karna failed the test due to his unyielding allegiance to those who gave him prosperity and position, regardless of motive. Therefore he gets quite an earful from his own charioteer (a reflection of his past) before encountering Arjuna in battle. 

However there is more to Karna than this. Note that all the Pandavas and Kauravas we covered are really aspects of oneself, i.e. the projected personality. But when the Sun is involved there is something more that is indicated. Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharata, is pointing directly at the higher self. And the message is this: When projecting a personality on to the earth, the higher self must willingly renounce its defenses and agree to be subject to the rules of incarnation, including becoming vulnerable to both good and evil forces. Otherwise the personality cannot really progress (indeed sometimes it takes regression to make any progress). The metaphoric 'kavacha & kundalas' that protect the personality must be taken off, before it enters the battle of Kurukshetra. This is what Karna does, and he becomes vulnerable,for that is a very important function of the earth plane. Karna is thus a representation of the higher self and possesses attributes of all the other Pandavas. He may be considered the noblest of them all, and had the ability to take on all the Pandavas together as can be understood from the story. But the higher self which Karna represents also has flaws that it wishes to correct. 

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Races, cultures and traditions do not evolve purely randomly, but are guided in their evolution through the ages. Since scriptures are part and parcel of that evolution, the most prominent of scriptures are under a protective influence. This is despite the fact that they may undergo evolutionary adaptations like borrowing texts from other sources or be subject to translations and interpretations. This protection is true for key portions of the Bible, including the specific version called the King James version. Likewise it is also true for key portions of scriptures like the Mahabharata. These portions are encoded with the expectation that time and troubles may change the outer narrative. Much of this symbolism functions like a gestalt and is directed at the higher self and the subconscious to understand. It is not a requirement that the conscious personality be aware of it. The message is conveyed internally and it generates an intuitive response within, though the personality may not quite understand it. For this reason it is also difficult to destroy such symbolism from the narrative as it rarely percolates up to the lower mind in analytical, descriptive and linguistic terms. Another example of such encoding can be found in the biblical Exodus, with its Ten Plagues of Egypt and the splitting of the waters, as covered in the final chapter of our book, The God Principle.

The five fingers and their associated lessons are also found in other scriptures, symbolically encoded. For a discussion of these same fingers as covered in the Bible, the reader is referred to the section named The Great Pentacle. 

This concludes our discussion on symbolism in the Mahabharata. With this we move on to another aspect of body symbolism, that of human physiognomy, i.e. the human face.

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