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Understanding the Mahābhārata

In between publishing the Ishvara Gita, we thought it would be a good idea to write a few articles on the Mahābhāratā. A proper understanding of this ithihāsā will dispel the several illogical and nonsensical ramblings about this work of Shri Vyāsa that is prevalent on the internet thanks to poor interpretations by Sacred-Texts.Com and based on some interpolated sections + misinterpretations propagated by some Veerashaivas and Mahapashupatastra type Neanderthals, who often resort to the Sacred Texts website.
This article is the first of whatever we see fit to include in future articles of this series. We will also be publishing Ishvara Gita articles as and when they are ready.
Introduction – Bhakti and Prapatti
In the Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya, there are two means to moksha. As declared in the Agama:
bhaktyā paramayā vāpi prapattyā vā mahāmune ।
prāpyo'haṃ nānyathā prāpyaḥ mama kaiṅkaryalipsubhiḥ ॥ (~Ahirbudhnya Samhita, Pāncarātra)
Bhagavān has stated that there are two means – bhakti and prapatti - to attain him. As for the differences between the means, Shri Vedanta Desikan summarizes it beautifully in his Nyāsa Tilakam:
ārteṣvāśuphalā tadanyaviṣaye'pyucchinnadehāntarā
vahnyāderanapekṣaṇāttanubhṛtāṃ satyādivadvyāpinī ।
śrīraṅgeśvara yāvadātmaniyatatvatpāratantrayocitā
tvayyeva tvadupāyadhīrapihitasvopāyabhāvā'stu me ॥ (~Nyasa Tilakam 10)॥
Meaning: Prapatti yields the desired fruit of liberation immediately for one who wants it then, or it will yield the fruit at the time of death for one who wishes to wait (Bhakti in contrast yields fruit only after many births). This Prapatti Yoga does not require agni-karyas, ie, karma yoga (whereas bhakti yoga requires performance of nitya-naimittika karmas as part of karma yoga which is an accessory). This prapatti is open to all castes and can be practiced by men and women (Bhakti is open only to those who have vedādhikāra – the three upper castes, and only men). This Prapatti (lacking self effort) is suited to the nature of the Jīva that is“atyanta paratantra” (existing completely for the sake of) Shri Ranganatha (whereas bhakti which involves self effort is against the nature of the complete dependence of Atma). May this Prapatti become fruitful for me!
Thus, in one shloka, the differences between these two paths are mentioned. Several objections may arise as to how two diametrically opposed paths lead to the Lord, how lack of self effort is a means, etc. For the sake of brevity, the reader is advised to  consult “Nikshepa Raksha” of Shri Vedanta Desikan which discusses such things. For now, let us consider these 2 paths to moksha.
The Ramayana as Prapatti Sāstra and The Mahābhāratā as Bhakti Sāstra
Since there are two means to moksha, there are two ithihāsās as well – The Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhāratā. The Rāmāyaṇa is hailed as the “Saranāgati Sāstra” by all the wise Acharyas – for it expounds the nature of prapatti, details the activities of prapannas like Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Hanuman, Sugriva, Vibhishana, etc and shows that the Lord Rama is the one to be attained.
Some dullards like Appayya Dikshita tried to refute that this is a “Saranagati Shastra” in mediocre works like “Ananda Lahiri” – Likes of Appayya talking about the nectarine Rāmāyaṇa is the equivalent of a monkey handling a pearl necklace and can be safely ignored (in any case, we will address them sometime in the comments).
If Rāmāyaṇa is the prapatti shāstra, that means that the Mahābhāratā is the bhakti shāstra. Our Acharyas who were so involved in the prapatti mārga thus declared that out of the two, the Rāmāyaṇa is superlative – this is because prapatti is a superior path to bhakti.
Just as prapatti is a diametrically opposite path to bhakti, the two Ithihāsās are opposites. Here are some insights: the events in the Rāmāyaṇa read as a polar opposite to the Mahābhāratā
  • Just as Prapatti is quicker and yields result in this lifetime itself, and is an easier means to bhakti which is ardous and takes several lifetimes to yield fruit, the Rāmāyaṇa is the shorter Ithihāsa as compared to the voluminous Mahābhāratā.
  • Just as Prapatti focuses mainly on bhagavān, while bhakti involves meditations on other devatas as the sharIra of bhagavān, and some allied meditations on the self etc -- the Rāmāyaṇa is more focused on the history of Lord Rāmā, while the Mahābhāratā does not only talk about Lord Krishna, but the exploits of other devas, allied meditations to attain other fruits, etc.
  • Just as Prapatti can also be performed as an Anga of Bhakti, the Mahābhāratā contains a condensed version of the events that happened in the Rāmāyaṇa, as narrated to the Pāndavas.
Besides these, the following characteristics of the two Ithihāsās show that they are polar opposites in nature, like bhakti and prapatti:
  • In the Rāmāyaṇa, all effort to travel to the forest and to kill Rāvaṇa was undertaken by Lord Rāmā. In the Mahābhāratā, all the effort to travel to the forest and kill Duryodhana was undertaken by the Pāndavās, with Lord Krishna only as their indirect help, after vowing not to use weapons. This is similar to how the Lord is the direct means in Prapatti (which requires no effort from the Jīvā) and the indirect means in bhakti (which requires self-effort of the Jīvā).
  • The Son of Sūrya, Sugrīva, was an ally to Rāmā. The Son of Sūrya, Karna, was on the opposite side of Krishna. Both signify desire (bhagavad kāmā vs loukika kāmā) as we shall see later.
  • Lakshmana, the avatāra of Adi Sesha, was completely obedient to the Lord, which is the nature of a prapanna. Balarāma, the avatāra of the Lord with the amsha of Adi Sesha, was sometimes obedient to and sometimes disobedient. Lakshmana also was the younger brother to Rāmā while Balarāma was the older brother. Likewise, Prapatti is conducive to the svarūpa of the Jīva (to be below the Lord’s feet), as opposed to Bhakti which requires self-effort and hence causes ego.
(Note that Adi Sesha being a nitya-sūri in full knowledge, can never be disobedient, or become older to the Lord. Hence, the Lord himself appeared as BalarAma, carrying only the amsha of Adi Sesha!)
  • The devas – Brahma, Rudra and Indra – are hailed as great jnānīs in the Rāmāyaṇa who praise the Lord Rāmā as the Supreme and at no point act against him. This illustrates that a Prapanna never acts against the Lord’s wishes, always in sync with the Lord’s thoughts. In contrast, all 3 devas rebelled against Krishna in the Mahābhāratā – Brahma by stealing the calves, Rudra by fighting Krishna during Bānāsura Yuddha and Indra by fighting Krishna during the Parijāta incident. This illustrates that a Bhakta could be clouded by rajas and tamas at times, to act against the Lord’s wishes.
  • Lakshmi, whose mediatorship is more important in prapatti, is very much celebrated in the Rāmāyaṇa which is hailed as “Sītāyās Caritam Mahat”. Lakshmi, whose meditatorship is still required but of a diminished importance in comparison to one’s self-effort in bhakti, is not highly celebrated as Rukmini in the Mahābhārata
These few examples should suffice to prove that the Mahābhāratā is a bhakti shāstrā. No wonder Swami Azhagiya Manavala Perumal Nayanar called it “asat-keerthana” in the Acharya Hrudayam. Our acharyas had scant regard for bhakti as an upāya!
Udyoga Parva - Dialogue between Krishna and Karna - Description of the Mahābhāratā War as a Great Sacrifice
Let us thus, explore this in detail. In the Udyoga Parva of the Mahābhāratā, Karna converses with Krishna. Here, Karna expresses regret for his actions, and says that despite knowing he is the son of Pandu, he cannot leave Duryodhana.
During the course of this dialogue, Karna, in an effort to show Krishna that he understands the consequences fully, describes the impending war as a sacrifice. Here, “yajna” or “sacrifice” means worship – thus, Karna is describing the entire war as a desmonstration of Bhakti Yoga, the Rāja Vidya and Rāja Guhyam. By doing this, Karna is demonstrating that he is conversant of the fact that none can transgress Krishna and hope to win.
Here, a question may be asked – How does Karna, an asura, understand the tattvas of bhakti yoga? The answer is that Karna had pūrva janma puṇya – he was after all the son of the Sun-God, had a noble birth despite being raised by a sūta and so on. In fact, even Duryodhana describes the tattva of bhakti yoga via the narration of Tripura Samhara showing even he had some pūrva janma puṇya and jnāna. That they are asurās, is because of their disinclination to pursue the truth (Krishna) despite knowing it.
“Udyoga” means effort. It is thus apt that this parva contains the description of the effort of bhakti yoga.
With that, let us look at the relevant shlokas spoken by Karna to Krishna, starting below.
Krishna as the Means and End for Bhakti Yoga
dhārtarāṣṭrasya vārṣṇeya śastrayajño bhaviṣyati
asya yajñasya vettā tvaṃ bhaviṣyasi
janārdana ādhvaryavaṃ ca te kṛṣṇa kratāv asmin bhaviṣyati
Meaning: (Karna tells Krishna): O Scion of Vrishni! The son of Dhritarāshtra is going to conduct a sacrifice of arms. Of that sacrifice, know you, O Janārdana, to be the Adhvaryu. You, Krishna, are also the Object of Worship (Kratu) in the sacrifice.   
Now, let us look at the inner meaning:
Inner Meaning: O Lord who comes from strength of bhakti-yoga (vārṣṇeya)!  The embodied self (Yudhishthira), associated with karmas that are the support of samsara (dhārtarāṣṭra), is going to conduct the worship of Bhakti Yoga (yajña) which is the instrument to destroy sins obstructing perception of Brahman (śastra).
O Lord who is destroyer of karmas (Janārdana)! Of that worship, know yourself as the “adhvaryu” -- who initiates or leads the uninterrupted meditation, ie, you are the means. You are also “kratu” -- the Object of Worship, ie, you are the end as well, O Lord who sports in the bliss of creation etc., (Kṛṣṇa).
Points for consideration:
  • dhārtarāṣṭrasya” means coming from dhrtarāshtra. The term “dhrtarāshtra” means those karmas which support (dhrta) samsārā which is “rāshtra”, Hence, “dhrtarāshtra” refers to karmas and “dhārtarāṣṭra” refers to the body  associated with the karmas . Duryodhana refers to the body as we will see later. However, as the body is insentient, it is the self inside the body that is referred to by saying “body" due to inseparable association. Hence, “dhārtarāṣṭra” actually refers to the embodied self, closely associated with the body arising from karmas. That it is Yudhishthira is again something we will see later.
  • “vārṣṇeya” means coming or arising from “Vrishni” which signifies “strength” that is a metaphor for “knowledge”. Direct perception of the Lord arises from Bhakti Yoga which is “jnāna-vishesha" and hence he is denoted by this name.
  • “yajña” means worship which represents bhakti yoga. This yoga destroys all sins.
  • The Lord is called “Adhvaryu” – “adhvara” means “uninterrupted” which refers to ceaseless meditation on Brahman which is the nature of bhakti yoga. As the Lord is the underlying means who enables this meditation by destroying sins obstructing such Yoga, he is called “Adhvaryu”.
  • Note that “Janārdana” means destroyer of karmas – he protects the bhakti yogis by destroying sins that are obstacles to such yoga upon self-surrender to him and thus he is the means.
  • As he is the object of worship (kratu) in this meditation, he alone is attained and hence is the end. That is signified by the name “Krishna” – One who is always blissful on account of indulging in sports like creation etc. It signifies that the Lord is the Jagatkāraṇa and he is “Anandamaya”, to be meditated upon, thus he is the end.
Some recensions have “upadrashta” instead of “kratu” – in that case, the meaning is “sākshi” or spectator – which signifies, according to Bhattar, that Krishna witnesses the muktas enjoying the bliss he confers on them when they reach him – so, again, we get the same meaning that the Lord is the end.
Thus, Karna establishes that Krishna alone - and not Brahma, Rudra or Indra - is the Supreme Brahman who is the means and end for Bhakti Yoga, to be undertaken by the Jīva. This fact is a death knell for Veerashaivas seeking to elevate Shiva or any other devata. Because bhakti yoga is described as the means to liberation and for meditation on Brahman by Bhagavad Bādarāyaṇa in the Brahma Sūtrās. Any devata that becomes the means and end for bhakti yoga is thus automatically the Supreme Being.
Hence, this proves that the mahābhāratā does not hail anyone other than Krishna as the Supreme Being. Having described this, the tools required for bhakti-yoga to be undertaken by the Jīva are described next.
The Role of Arjuna
hotā caivātra vībhatsuḥ saṃnaddhaḥ sa kapidhvajaḥ
gāṇḍīvaṃ sruk tathājyaṃ ca vīryaṃ puṃsāṃ bhaviṣyati
Meaning: Arjuna, called Vibhatsu, having the banner of Hanuman, is the Hota. The bow Gandiva is the sacrificial ladle and the strength of the warriors shall be the clarified butter.
Inner Meaning: The pure mind called “Vibhatsu”, which is characterized by rapid movement (towards Brahman), is the Hota as it calls out or invites (self- surrender). The knowledge of the Upanishads, which is protected by the gods, is the sacrificial ladle. The strength of the senses constitutes the offering signified by butter.
Points for consideration:
  • Arjuna signifies the mind. That is because “Vibhatsu” means “one who has never committed a detestable act on the battlefield” according to Arjuna as follows,
na kuryāṃ karma vībhatsaṃ yudhyamānaḥ kathaṃ cana
tena devamanuṣyeṣu vībhatsur iti māṃ viduḥ (~Goharana Parva, Mahabharata)
Meaning: I am known as Vibhatsu among gods and men, for my never having committed a detestable deed on the battle-field.
  • The mind, which has never been swayed towards sense-objects while in the body (kshetra or battlefield), is pure and hence can be called “Vibhatsu”.
  • Such a mind is said to have “kapi” as its’ banner – “kapi” signifying movement – and the mind always moves towards Brahman in devotion. It is called “Hota” as it calls out, ie, seeks the protection of Brahman.
  • In the Bhagavad Yana Parva of Mahabharata, “Gandiva” is mentioned to be so named as it is protected by the gods. The Upanishads refer to knowledge as the “bow” as well, and Gandiva being of great strength, it signifies brahma-vidya which is protected by the gods, possessed by the mind (Vibhatsu).
Such a strong mind, bent towards Brahman, with knowledge of brahma-vidya, reins in the strength of the senses which sway one towards attachments – thus the strength of the senses are said to be sacrificed.
Special Notes on Arjuna:
  • There are innumerable clues that Arjuna represents the mind in the Mahabharata.
  • He is the son of Indra – “idi” means “paramaishvarye” – to own great wealth. Thus, the mind (Arjuna), as the channel for the intellect, is born from (ie, came into existence for the sake of) the self that owns wealth (Indra) in the form of enjoyments experienced through its’ intellect. It is the mind that facilites such enjoyment.
  • Arjuna is also called “Nara” meaning “Imperishable”. The mind is often called that as it is difficult to conquer (when swayed towards senses), or is completely impervious to sense-objects (when detached and meditating on Brahman).
The killing of Jarāsandha also brings out this role of Arjuna. This has been attached as an appendix at the end of the article.
aindraṃ pāśupataṃ brāhmaṃ sthūṇākarṇaṃ ca mādhava
mantrās tatra bhaviṣyanti prayuktāḥ savyasācinā
Meaning: Aindra, Pāśupata, Brahma, Sthunakarna will be the mantras (weapons denoted by mantrās) employed by Savyasācin (Arjuna) in that sacrifice, O Mādhava!
Inner Meaning: O Lord who bestows knowledge about himself (Mādhava)! Wealth such as jnāna and vairagya (Aindra), mastery over anger (Pāśupata), knowledge of the Vedas (Brahma) and the knowledge of the self that steers the body (sthūṇākarṇaṃ), are the protectors of the meditating Jīva, which will be employed by the ambidextrous mind (Savyasācin) capable of withdrawal from sense objects and meditation on Brahman, in that Bhakti Yoga!
Points for consideration:
  • “Aindra” refers to wealth (idi- paramasihvarye according to Bhattar) and signifies knowledge of bhagavad-kalyāṇa-guṇās and renounciation of different material objects.
  • Mahānārāyaṇa Upanishad refers to “pasu” as anger and thus “pasupati” refers to one who has mastery over anger. “Brahma” refers to the knowledge of the Vedas.
  • “sthuna” means pillar or support – it refers to the body which is the support of all activities done for sādhana  and “karna” means to steer – this refers to the knowledge of the self that leads to lack of desire, and thus steers the body in performing karmas without expectation of fruits.
  • These are “mantrās” – mantāram trayate – that which protect the meditator.
  • They are employed by the mind called “Savyasacin”. As Arjuna was able to use the Gandiva with both hands, similarly the mind uses the knowledge of the Upanishads ambidextrously – to withdraw the senses from sense objects, and to focus the senses on Brahman.
  • Who is attained by such meditation of the mind? Is it Brahma, Rudra or Indra? Answer is no. It is the Lord Narayana, as conveyed by the name “Mādhava”, as per the following statement by Shiva to Krishna in the Harivamsha:
mā vidyā ca hareh proktā tasyā īso yato bhavān ।
tasmāt mā-dhava nāmāsi dhavah svāmīti ṣabditah ॥ (~Harivamsha 3.69.4)
Meaning: (Shiva tells Krishna:) The knowledge about of Hari is called mā. You are the Master of that knowledge. Therefore You are known as Mādhava. It has been stated (by wise acharyas) that “dhava” means “Svami” or Master.
The Role of Abhimanyu
anuyātaś ca pitaram adhiko vā parākrame
grāva stotraṃ sa saubhadraḥ samyak tatra kariṣyati
Meaning: Following his father, or even being greater in strength, the son of Subhadra (Abhimanyu) shall be the foremost mantra to be chanted correctly.
Inner Meaning: Following the mind which is the agent of cause (pitaram), or that which is even more powerful than the mind, is the performance of desireless works  called “karma yoga”, the chief instrument or tool (Agrāva) for praise that is bhakti yoga (stotraṃ), that arises from knowledge of the self (saubhadraḥ) in the correct manner (as distinct from the body).
Points for Consideration:
  • Arjuna is the mind. From the mind (Arjuna) which is detached, possessing knowledge of the Upanishads, arises the performance of works that do not seek any result (Abhimanyu). So Abhimanyu represents “karma yoga”.
  • This karma yoga or desireless works (Abhimanyu) is also said to arise from a correct knowledge of the self as  distinct from the body denoted by “subhadra” – su meaning “subha” in the sense of right or correctness and “bhadra” meaning good which is in the sense of knowledge that causes good (understanding the self as distinct from the body).
  • agrāva  stotram” – “stotram” means instrument or tool of praise. “Praise” is nothing but bhakti yoga, wherein the yogi who experiences bhagavad-kalyāṇa-guṇās will praise them, or it is a contemplation of the Lord who alone is fit to be praised for his bhagavad-kalyāṇa-guṇās. This performance of desireless works (Abhimanyu), is the chief tool of praise, meaning, it is the major accessory to bhakti-yoga.
  • Abhimanyu could be even stronger than his father (adhiko vā parākrame). Likewise, performance of desireless works by dedicating their fruits to paramātma could be even superior to merely meditating on the Lord or being detached, as it quickly results in the true knowledge of one’s nature as the sesha and the Lord as the seshi.
Special Notes on Abhimanyu:
  • The chakravyūha represents samsārā. The kauravās represent the dangers of samsāra.
  • Abhimanyu represents the performance of desireless works, which has arisen from a mind that is detached (Arjuna).  In the Isavasya Upanishad we come across a statement:
andham tamah pravisanti ye'vidyamupasate
tato bhuya iva te tamo ya u vidyayam ratah  (~Isavasya Upanishad 9)
Meaning: Those who meditate on karma (avidya) alone, enter into a blinding darkness. But those who are devoted to knowledge (vidya) alone enter into a greater darkness than the former.
“Avidya” represents performance of duties according to varnāshrama dharma (avidyā karma samjnānyā – vishṇu purāṇa).”Vidya” represents meditation on Paramātman. The Upanishad goes on to teach that both are to be done together for moksha. The performance of duties without understanding they are to be considered part of the meditation on Brahman will lead to earthly enjoyments and further bondage to samsāra. The meditation on Brahman done without performing the rituals, thinking the latter serve no purpose, will lead to failure of meditation as the sins which obstruct meditation cannot be removed without performance of works. Hence, he will experience the fruits of bad karmas in hell and other places. Furthermore, it is even worse than the previous person as incomplete meditation will result in bad effects.
  • Hence, Abhimanyu is “Avidya” – the performance of works – which alone could not escape the chakravyūha (samsāra), being separated from Arjuna who is “Vidya” - the mind that is meditating on Brahman (Krishna) -  and perished. Abhimanyu surrounded by Kauravas and dying is like the performer of works without knowledge being beset by kāmā, krodha etc and gaining attachment to samsāra through his works.
  • Thus, Arjuna is “Vidya” – Detached mind associated with Krishna, meditating on Brahman. He too could not overcome the chakravyūha (samsara) without Abhimanyu (Avidya). Separated from Abhimanyu, he lost his composure, went mad with grief and nearly committed suicide.
  • One can argue that Arjuna’s grief was even greater than Abhimanyu’s grief, as it is the worst form of torture for a father to see his son die. Hence, Vidya alone leads to a greater darkness than Avidya alone. Without performance of works that removes sins obstructing meditation on the self, the meditation fails and succumbs to the vices of despair, anger, attachment etc.
  • Note that “Abhimanyu” means “towards or surrounding manyu (knowledge)” – “manyu” meaning knowledge (mana j~jāne) denotes bhakti yoga. Thus, the performance of desireless action (karma yoga) that foster a knowledge of the self is that which is conducive to bhakti yoga, or that which protects bhakti yoga (by facilitating its’ completion).
Special Notes on Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra:
A similar meaning is gleaned if we consider that Krishna, Balarāmā and Subhadra were related – Krishna is the Supreme Lord to be attained, Balarāmā is bhakti yoga (balarāmā  - delighting in strength or balam being a metaphor for knowledge) and Subhadra is jnāna yoga that is an accessory to bhakti, or in this context as their sister, she can even be termed the combination of jnāna yoga (knowledge of the Atman) that is itself a component of karma yoga (performing desireless works which require knowledge of the self).
The Role of Bhīma
udgātātra punar bhīmaḥ prastotā sumahābalaḥ
vinadan sa naravyāghro nāgānīkāntakṛd raṇe
Meaning: Bhīma, who is of great strength, that tiger among men who destroys the elephants, who roars in battle, is again the Udgātā and the Prastotā, the singers of the Vedic hymns.
Inner Meaning: Meditation on Brahman, which is formidable to samsārā (Bhīma), that which is pre-eminently strong among the “imperishables” which are means to liberation (naravyāghra), which destroys the numerous sins denoted by elephants, that frightens samsāra, is again that which rises above desire (udgātā) and the very form of praise or experience of bhagavad-kalyāṇa-guṇās (Prastotā).
Points for Consideration:
  • Bhīma signifies meditation on Brahman. “sumahābalaḥ” signifies great strength of yoga to destroy sins, as “balam” signifies knowledge which is the nature of Yoga.
  • Bhīma’s roars make the enemies tremble. Likewise, meditation on Brahman metaphorically makes our karmas tremble, as they will be destroyed. Note that “Bhīma” means formidable for this reason.
  • Such meditation is the destroyer of sins (elephants). The elephants signify sins obstructing perception of Brahman. “raṇa” signifies the individual self that is doing battle with samsārā.
  • “vyāghra” means anything that is pre-eminent. The various means to various ends are denoted by “nara” as they are imperishable. Meditation on Brahman is superior to all other means to attain all other ends because of the superiority of the end (bhagavad-prāpti) as compared to aishvarya etc and also because such meditation is pleasurable in itself (unlike meditation on the self which is difficult).
  • “udgātā” means rising above and signifies that such meditation enables one to rise above desire. “Prastotā” means it is of the form of praise, ie, it is the very svarūpa of bhakti yoga.
Special Notes on Bhīma:
  • Bhīma is the son of Vāyu. Thus, “Vāyu” signifies movement of the self in devotion towards Brahman.
  • Hence, meditation is born from such devotion, which is immensely strong as it can destroy all sins.
  • Bhīma is also called “Vrkodara” – a wolf-bellied or a voracious eater. The meditation “eats” or experiences immense bliss of bhagavad-kalyāṇa-guṇās. Alternatively, it “eats” or destroys all karmas.
Role of Yudhishthira
sa caiva tatra dharmātmā śaśvad rājā yudhiṣṭhiraḥ
japair homaiś ca saṃyukto brahmatvaṃ kārayiṣyati
Meaning: King Yudhishthira, of noble mind, who is ever engaged in Japa and Homa, is accorded the position of “Brahma” in the sacrifice.
Inner Meaning: The Jīva which is the sovereign of the body (raja), which is unperturbed by samsāra (Yudhiṣṭhiraḥ), of a mind bent towards dharma or the proper means (dharmātmā) is ever engaged in the chanting of OM (Japa) and the sacrifice of self-surrender (homa), is “brahma” in the worship of bhakti yoga, as its’ knowledge is vast.
Should be self-explanatory. “Yudhiṣṭhiraḥ” means steady or firm in the battlefield, and hence refers to not being disturbed by samsara. The individual self is “brahma" as its dharma-bhūta-jnāna is capable of extending to infinity (Sa anantāya kalpate – śvetāsvatāra).
Special Notes on Yudhishthira:
Yudhishthira is Dharmaputra. The self has a pita-putra sambandha with the Lord, whose names are “dharma” and “Dharmarāja”.
Role of the Pandava Army
śaṅkhaśabdāḥ samurajā bheryaś ca madhusūdana
utkṛṣṭasiṃhanādāś ca subrahmaṇyo bhaviṣyati
Meaning: O Slayer of Madhu! The sound of conches, drums and kettle drums, as well as the lion-like roars will be the “subrahmanya” of the sacrifice.
Inner Meaning: O Slayer of Rajo Guṇa or desire called “Madhu”! The various aids to meditation will be very beneficial to the individual self called “Brahman” in bhakti-yoga.
  • The subrahmanya, along with the prastotr and pratihartr, assists the udgatr with the sacrifice. Here, we have to assume the sounds refer to the Pandava army and not the Kauravas for the meaning to make sense.
  • Remember that Bhima who signifies meditation was the udgatr and prastotr. In such a case, these sounds signify the various aids that help in meditation on Brahman.
  • These aids include purification of the body through Sattvic food and cleaniness (viveka), freedom from Kama and Krodha (vimoka), continuous rememberance of the indwelling Lord (abhyasa), Five-fold duties of the Vedas (Kriya), Practice of truth, integrity, daya and ahimsa (kalyana), freedom from despair arising from disappointment and being cheerful (Anavasada) and finally absence of exaltation, ie, avoiding extremes (Anuddharsa).
  • “subrahmanya” means that which is beneficial to the Jīva designated as  Brahman.
Role of Nakula and Sahadeva
nakulaḥ sahadevaś ca mādrīputrau yaśasvinau
śāmitraṃ tau mahāvīryau samyak tatra kariṣyataḥ
Meaning: The two sons of Mādrī, Nakula and Sahadeva, who are celebrated and with great valor, will be the subduers (of the sacrificial animal) in the sacrifice.
Inner Meaning: The qualities that arise from the Lord known as “Mādrī”, or possessor of Mādra– the kalyāṇa-guṇās of Brahman associated with bliss – namely, the quality of control over the mind (Nakula) and the quality of restraint of the senses from indulging in wordly actions (Sahadeva), which are highly glorious, and greatly eminent among the qualities of the Jivatma, will be the subduers of anger resulting from attachments.
  • Meditation on Brahman results in several mental faculties (buddhir jñānam asammohaḥ ~ Gita 10.4-5). Of these, the guṇās of Sama and Dama are most important as per Shri Vachana Bhushanam of Shri Pillai Lokacharya (Atma gunangalil pradhaanam samamum damamum ~ Shri Vachana Bhushanam 96).
  • “Mādrī” refers to the Supreme Brahman who is the possessor of “Mādra” – Here, “madra” means joy or bliss, and “Mādra” denotes the bhagavad-kalyāṇa-guṇās that are associated with bliss. From this Lord, by meditating on him, the following qualities arise in the Jīva.
  • “Nakula” – Not having a “kula” or abode – it means, not abiding in the mind which is the “abode” here. It refers to control of the mind (Sama).
  • “Sahadeva” – with (saha), the mind which is called “Deva” on account of shining out external objects – the sense organs are checked from worldly activities and are thus said to abide with the mind in obedience. This is the quality of Dama.
  • These qualities quieten or subdue “anger” arising from attachments which is the sacrificial animal. “śāmitraṃ” refers to those who slaughter the animal – “Sam” means to quieten or subdue.
Special Notes on Nakula and Sahadeva:
  • Nakula and Sahadeva were sons of the Asvins. Nakula was the son of Nāsatya and Sahadeva was the son of Dasra.
  • “Satya” refers to the Atman, “asatya” refers to all things other than it. “Nāsatya” thus refers to the mind that does not (na) dwell in sense objects (asatya). From such a mind (Nāsatya), Nakula (Sama) is born.
  • “Dasra” means “Destroyer of enemies” – the mind which destroys the activities of the senses which are enemies as they sway one towards sense objects. From such a mind (Dasra), Sahadeva (Dama) is born.
Description of Accessories for Bhakti Yoga
1- Bodies needed for Sādhana
kalmāṣadaṇḍā govinda vimalā rathaśaktayaḥ
yūpāḥ samupakalpantām asmin yajñe janārdana
Meaning: The variegated chariots with bright standards, O Govinda, will be the sacrificial stakes made ready in this sacrifice, O protector of people from the wicked (Janārdana)!
Inner Meaning: The impure or dirty bodies called “chariots” with pure minds that supervise the bodies, O rescuer of the Earth (Govinda), will be the protectors (yūpāḥ) made ready (for meditation on Brahman) in this bhakti-yoga, O protector of the people by destroying the wicked (Janārdana).
Points for Consideration:
  • The bodies of the transmigrating self in all its’ births are referred to as chariots. Bhakti Yoga is a process spanning many births and hence, many bodies. In each birth, the minds of these bodies are pure on account of yoga.
  • The mind is called “danda” to signify authority – it has authority or control over the body and prevents it from enjoying sense-objects. This ties up or restrains anger arising from attachments.
  • “yūpa” means “ayopaya” – that which effaces or blots out – the bodies and minds are used to remove anger or attachments. Since the mahānarāyaṇa Upanishad refers to anger as the animal to be sacrificed, these bodies and minds are referred to as sacrificial stakes.
  • How can the impure bodies be called removers of anger? The bodies are impure by nature on account of having karmas. But the bodies are being used for performance of desireless works (karma yoga), while the pure mind is meditating on Brahman. Thus, they are both removing anger and being made ready for Yoga.
  • Bhagavan is called Govinda – he protects “Go” signifying the embodied self as it is associated with a body made of Earth. He is called “Janārdana” as he destroys the wicked attachments for the yogi, thus protecting the latter.
2- Sons, Acharya, Good Qualities needed for Upāsaṇa
karṇinālīkanārācā vatsadantopabṛṃhaṇāḥ
tomarāḥ somakalaśāḥ pavitrāṇi dhanūṃṣi ca
Meaning: Barbed arrows, the spear type of arrows, the iron arrows, as well as those shaped like the tooth of a calf, will be the nourishers of the sacrifice. The lances will be the vessels of Soma, and the bows will be the pavitrās.
Inner Meaning: The Acharya who steers the Jīva (karṇin), lack of falsehood, ie, Truth (nālīka), reflection of the Atman in the subtle and gross state signified by the sharp arrow (nārācā), the enjoyment of offspring (vatsadanta) are the nourishers of bhakti yoga. The senses that destroy pain (tomarāḥ) will be the vessels of nectar which are bhagavad-kalyāṇa-guṇās (somakalaśāḥ). The knowledge of the Upanishads signified by “bows” are the purifiers.
Points for Consideration:
  • “karṇin” means that which steers opr guides and refers to the Acharya. The Acharya’s compassionate teaching is required to commence upāsaṇa according to the Svetāsvatāra.
  • Nālīka (Na+alika) is the non-utterance of falsehood. It is representative of all good qualities in general.
  • The sharp arrow (nārācā) signifies reflection on the gross and subtle states of the jīvātman brought about by meditation on paramātma. These are all accessories for yoga.
  • “danta” means teeth which refers to eating, ie, enjoyment. “vatsa” means offspring. Thus, having offspring in the form of sons, etc. is an accessory for bhakti-yoga.
  • “tomarāḥ” – tohati maraḥ - the senses which destroy pain by withdrawing from sense-objects are the vessels of “soma” – nectar which is of the form of experience of Brahman. The knowledge of the Upanishads, which is of many kinds since there are innumerable bhagavad-kalyāṇa-guṇās, are the purifiers.
3- Performance of Duties, Knowledge of the Upanishads and Love of Bhagavān
asayo 'tra kapālāni puroḍāśāḥ śirāṃsi ca
havis tu rudhiraṃ kṛṣṇa asmin yajñe bhaviṣyati
Meaning: The swords will be the troughs called “Kapalas” (used to cook rice-cakes), the heads of those who are killed will be the rice-cakes. Their blood, O Krishna, will be the havis in this sacrifice.
Inner Meaning: The Niṣkāma Karmas that cut away attachments are like swords which are the protectors of the self that is blissful by nature (kapālāni). The Upanishads (śirāṃsi) are the bestowers of the knowledge that precedes direct perception of Brahman (puroḍāśāḥ). Affection or love of Bhagavān signified by “red” will be the offering in this worship, O Lord who has a dark-blue complexion (Krishna)!
Points for Consideration:
  • Performance of prescribed duties is likened to swords as they cleave away attachments.
  • “Kapālāni” – The actions done without desire for fruits are protectors (pālakās) of the self which is blissful (kah) by nature.
  • The Upanishads which are the heads of the Vedas (śirāṃsi), provide apara-vidya or knowledge of Brahman. They are “Puroḍāśāḥ” -  meaning those that bestow in front – they bestow the knowledge that preceds upāsaṇa and brahma-sākshātkāra.
  • “rudhiraṃ” means red. In the shāstrās, desire is signified by red color. This desire is the affection or love of bhagavān offered (havis) by the Jīva to  bhagavān .
  • Love of bhagavān is directed to the beautiful Lord, whose dark-blue complexion (Krishna) indeed causes such love in the Jīva! Did not the gopīs love his bewitching form? Even Duryodhana called him lotus-eyed!
4- Other miscellaneous aids to cultivate love of bhagavān
idhmāḥ paridhayaś caiva śaktyo 'tha vimalā gadāḥ
sadasyā droṇaśiṣyāś ca kṛpasya ca śaradvataḥ
Meaning: The kindlings and enclosures are indeed the spears and bright maces. The assisting priests (sadasyās) will be the disciples of Drona and Kripa, the son of Saradvata.
Inner Meaning: The aids or ancillaries such as living near temples, etc (śaktyā) will be the kindlings or lighters which create love of Brahman needed for Yoga (idhmāḥ). The perceptions of many kinds of bhagavad-kalyāna-guṇās which are pure  (vimalā gadāḥ) are the enclosures or protectors (paridhayaś) of that love of Brahman. The assessors of the success of Yoga (sadasyā) shall be the qualities guided (śiṣyāś) by indifference to everything else (droṇa) and a longing or lament (for a vision of Brahman) which in turn arises from Time (kṛpasya ca śaradvataḥ).
Points for Consideration:
  • The previous shloka said love for bhagavān is offered by the Jīva. This shloka describes the aids that foster such love, for it is not easy to obtain such an extreme love of bhagavān immediately.
  • “Śakti” means aid. The various aids or ancillaries to Yoga include living near temples, performing services such as lighting lamps, chanting bhagavad-nāmās, knowledge and understanding of his avatārās, making flower garlands, Purushottama Vidya, etc as mentioned by Pillai Lokacharya in Mumukkshupadi.
  • idhma –“indh” means to kindle or light up. These aids inculcate the extreme love of Brahman required for undertaking upāsaṇa. Alternatively, it means they burn away sins obstructing such love of Brahman and for undertaking Yoga.
  • vimalā gadāḥ - The varied perceptions of innumerable bhagavad-kalyāna-guṇās during Yoga sustain this love, protecting it from being lost and hence are the enclosures. In the Vishṇu Purāna, the mace of the Lord signifies intellect, and hence the meaning “perception” as in “understanding by meditation” is taken here. It is “vimalā” as bhagavad-kalyāna-guṇās are aprākrta.
Special Notes on Drona and Kripa:
  • “sadasyā” refers to those priests who assess the sacrifice to see if it is being properly conducted. Similarly, the assessment of the success of bhakti yoga is gauged by the manifestation of qualities that express indifference to everything other than Brahman and an earnest longing for Brahman.
  • “droṇa” – “drumamayam” – wooden – this signifies indifference like wood to everything other than Brahman. Note that Bharata was called “Jada Bharata” because he had an indifference to everything like an insentient object.
  • “kṛpa” – to long for, or lament – a jnāni is always crying or lamenting separation from Bhagavān.
  • “krpa” or lament arises from “śaradvataḥ” – full of years, signifying Time of separation from Bhagavān till moksha.
  • “śiṣyā” – the qualities like crying, anger, extreme happiness, dancing, laughing suddenly etc manifested by the jnāni in his experience of Brahman which are guided by the above two characteristics of Drona and Krpa. “śiṣyā” means to be taught, as in guided.
Meditation on Brahman – The Process of Bhakti Yoga
After describing the aids to bhakti yoga, the following shloka describes how bhakti-yoga, together with its’ accessories, is undertaken.
iṣavo 'tra paristomā muktā gāṇḍīvadhanvanā
mahārathaprayuktāś ca droṇa drauṇipracoditāḥ
Meaning: The arrows shot by wielder of the Bow Gandiva and by other great chariot-warriors, Drona and Drona’s son, will be the “paristomā” or cushion/seat (of the sacrifice).
Inner Meaning: The concentrated reflections on various auspicious attributes of Brahman (iṣavo) resulting from (prayukta) the brahma-vidya that is the knowledge of the Upanishads (gāṇḍīvadhanvanā), the bodies that are great on account of their suitability for yoga (mahāratha), directed or impelled (pracodita) by karma-yoga comprising of indifference to material objects arising from desireless action (droṇa) and jnāna-yoga which is the vision of the self that arises from such karma-yoga (drauṇi) is said to be away from or opposed to the collection of punya and pāpa karmas that obstruct liberation.
Points for Consideration:
  • This describes the process of bhakti yoga, ie, how to undertake it together with all the accessories mentioned earlier.
  • Arrows refer to concentrated meditation and are in plural as there are many auspicious attributes of bhagavān.
  • As mentioned earlier, “Gandiva” refers to brahma-vidya, the bow is the knowledge of the Upanishads.
  • “mahāratha” refers to the body or bodies in successive births of the bhakti-yogi, that are great (mahat) on account of their suitability for yoga (belonging to topmost castes, possessing strength to carry out yoga etc).
  • “Droṇa” as mentioned earlier signifies indifference like wood to the fruits of actions. It is karma-yoga.
  • “Drauṇir” is the vision of the self or jnāna-yoga that arises from such karma-yoga (Drona). Just as Drona and Ashvattama his son guided the pandavās in his studies, similarly, the karma and jnāna yogās guide the jīva (yudhishthira), mind (arjuna), meditation (bhīma) etc in attaining the state of bhakti yoga.
  • This is “paristomā” – that which is away from (pari) multitudes or collection (stomā). In other words, this meditation is opposed to the multitudes or collections of punya and pāpa karmas as it is of a purifying nature. This signifies the end to be attained, ie, liberation in the form of direct perception of Brahman.
The Condition of the Bhakti Yogi
Now, how must the jīva who has successfully commenced bhakti yoga behave and what is he like? That is described in these shlokas.
prātiprasthānikaṃ karma sātyakiḥ sa kariṣyati
dīkṣito dhārtarāṣṭro 'tra patnī cāsya mahācamūḥ
Meaning: The duties of the position of prātiprasthāta, the assistant of the Adhvaryu, will be performed by Sātyaki. The son of Dhrtarāshtra, will be the one who has undergone consecration for the sacrifice (dīkṣita) and his wife (who aids in the sacrifice) shall be the large army (mahācamūḥ).
Inner Meaning: The various acts of service to Bhagavān will be performed by the realization of, “I am the sesha and the Lord is the seshi” (Sātyaki) while being in the condition of being opposed (prati) to abiding in ahamkāra and mamakāra (prasthā).  The jīva associated with karmas that are the support of the body (dhārtarāṣṭra) is ready, ie, eligible for moksha (dīkṣita) and the entire Universe with objects of enjoyment (mahācamūḥ) is subject to him (patnī).
Points for Consideration:
  • The individual self undertaking yoga must do all that is mentioned in this shloka.
  • “sātyakiḥ” – The individual self is called “satyaka” as it is established in the truth of its’ nature as the servant of the Lord. The realization of this comes from meditating on the self, and thus this realization is called “sātyaki” or coming from satyaka.
  • It is with this realization that the Lord is the seshi and the individual self is the sesha that the prescribed duties are performed. Swami Pillai Lokacharya says “karmamum kainkaryathile pugum” (all the duties that one has to perform become a service to the Lord, as opposed to aiming for petty fruits). This is “svayam-prayojana bhakti” (bhakti that is an end in itself).
  • “prātiprasthānikaṃ” – opposed to abiding in possessiveness and ego. “Isavasya Idam Sarvam” – everything, including me, belongs to Bhagavān Vāsudeva. This must be the thinking of the meditating jīva.
  • Such a Jīva is ready for moksha (dīkṣita) – a mumukkshu -- as he is a krita-kritya, one who has done what needs to be done.
  • The only thing still keeping this mumukkshu in samsāra are the remaining karmas, thus Karna refers to him as “Dhrtarāshtra” or associated with karmas that support the body.
  • “patnī” is a general term for subjugation. “camū” refers to a vessel that one drinks from which signifies the Universe containing the objects of experience. It is called “mahācamū” as there are many such objects of enjoyment. All these become subject to the Jīva and no longer bind him in samsāra. To a jnāni, everything is at his disposal. The Vedas, wealth, varnāshrama – nothing binds him, though he will continue to keep up the pretense of being bound to their dictates for loka-kshema and setting an example to others.
This shloka reminds one of Ghora Angirasa’s declaration in the Chandogya Upanishad:
taddhaitadghor āṅgirasaḥ kṛṣṇāya devakīputrāyoktvovācāpipāsa eva sa babhūva so'ntavelāyāmetattrayaṃ pratipadyetākṣitamasyacyutamasi prāṇasam̐śitamasīti tatraite dve ṛcau bhavataḥ ॥ (~Chandogya Upanishad)
Meaning: The Rishi Ghora Angirasa practiced this Purusha Yajna with the dedication as "This is sub-servient to Krishna, the Son of Devaki". That Ghora Angirasa had not thirst, as he came upon Brahmavidyā through this. At the last moment of his life, he said to Brahman, "you are eternal, you are full of auspicious qualities, you are the subtle truth enlivening this universe".
Kṛṣṇāya means "Kṛṣṇaseṣabhūta" - for the sake of Krishna (the essential nature of the jīvātmān is seshatva or servitude to Devaki Putra Krishna).  ityuktvā means anusandhāna. One can see the same thoughts echoed by Karna in this shloka to the self-same Son of Devaki.
Note that post the war (bhakti yoga), only the 5 Pāndavas, Sātyaki and Krishna remained. Thus, only the self (Yudhishthira), the mind (Arjuna), meditation on Brahman (Bhīma), the qualities of the mind – Sama and Dama (Nakula and Sahadeva) along with the realization of one’s seshatvam to the Lord (Sātyaki) and the Lord himself (Krishna) remain. All other aids are not required and thus perished.
Disturbance in Bhakti Yoga and Its’ Remedy
The path of bhakti yoga is like a razor’s edge. Even after successfully establishing oneself in Yoga, there are many pitfalls which may happen. This shloka describes the potential disturbance in Yoga.
ghaṭotkaco 'tra śāmitraṃ kariṣyati mahābalaḥ
atirātre mahābāho vitate yajñakarmaṇi
Meaning: O Lord who has mighty arms! When the activities of the sacrifice during the extremely dark night commence, then Ghatotkacha of immense strength will perform the (duty of) the subduing (the animal) in the sacrifice.
Inner Meaning: O Lord who has mighty arms capable of protecting his devotees (mahābāho)! When the activities of bhakti yoga (yajñakarmaṇi) are covered by the dense darkness of sins caused by rajo and tamo guṇās (atiratre), then the act of making the effort in the form of worshipping the Lord without motive to rise above sins (ghaṭotkaca), which is greatly powerful (mahābalaḥ), will perform the subduing (śāmitraṃ) of rajo and tamo guṇās responsible for those sins.
Points for Consideration:
  • At some point, the Yogi will undergo a disturbance in bhakti yoga. Unlike prapatti which relies on the Lord’s effort as the direct means for moksha, bhakti yoga relies on one’s own effort with the Lord as the underlying means and so is not perfect.
  • This shloka is an explanation of Gita 9.29 and 9.30. In these Gita shlokas, Sri Krishna states that even if his devotee is sinful, he must be regarded as on the path of virtue. Here, sins refer to transgressing the rules of his caste, or failure to avoid things that are forbidden in the Vedas.
  • Such sins can happen even if one is a bhakti yogi on the path of virtue. Bhagavan explains that such a flawed person is still exalted as he is a devotee.
  • However, it is a fact that shāstras claim that if such transgressions happen, they will obstruct the flow of meditation and lead to failure of bhakti yoga. Bhagavān addresses that in Gita 9.30 and says that even such a person will be purified very quickly as follows.
  • How will this person be purified quickly? This person, being devoted to the Lord, worships him without any ulterior motive. This worship purifies the devotee, ridding him of rajo and tamo guṇās which are responsible for his lapses and being free from all behavior and sins which impede progress in Yoga, he attains the Lord.
  • Thus, while the Yogi is interrupted by sins arising from his rajo and tamo guṇās during Yoga, he is able to overcome them by worshipping the Lord selflessly with no motive, which purifies him and allows him to commence Yoga.
  • “atirātre vitate yajñakarmaṇi” refers to bhakti yoga being impeded by the darkness of transgressions.
  • Then, “ghaṭotkaca” means the rising up above the sins that cause such transgressions (utkaca) by making the effort in the form of selfless worship of the Lord (ghatate). This would subdue the rajo and tamo guṇās, uprooting them by their roots and allow progress in Yoga.
  • Note that Ghaṭotkaca is the son of Bhīma. As we know, Bhīma signifies the meditation on Brahman that is upāsaṇa. Then, Ghatotkacha is the selfless worship of the Lord that arises from such meditation (Bhīma) which leads to a love of Brahman.
  • Karna calls the Lord as one who has mighty arms to show that bhagavān has the strength in his arms to shoulder the burden of those who surrender to him. He also uses his arms to remove the evil-doers of the world, like the karmas. The names “subhuja” and “visvabāhu” in the sahasranāma explain these qualities.
The Examples of Two Great Bhakti Yogis - Bhishma and Rudra
  • Bhishma was an exalted bhakti yogi – a madhu-vidyā upāsaka. But he incurred a curse which made him be born as a human, got him involved in worldly affairs which disturbed his Yoga. Eating food at Duryodhana’s place contaminated with vāsaṇās rajas and tamas. Thus, Bhishma became clouded in mind and sided with the Kauravas despite knowing Krishna was against them. But he still worshipped Krishna selflessly. Hence, Bhishma was drained of his blood which contained rajo and tamo guṇās from eating tāmasic food, by the arrows of Arjuna. He mentions later that he has been purified, no longer feels attached to either the Kauravas and Pandavas and recited the sahasranāma . Krishna then grants him the status of Vasu, from where he can commence his madhu-vidya upāsaṇa to attain moksha.
  • Rudra is the greatest of all bhakti yogis. But on a few occasions, he became clouded by rajo and tamo guṇās, and fought the Lord (at Badarikashramam, during bānāsura yuddha etc). The Lord himself came to meet Rudra on these occasions, defeated him, and after Rudra sought pardon from him, put him on the right path.
  • When great personalities like Bhishma and Rudra faced obstacles in their Yoga, lesser Yogis are undoubtedly going to face them. Even Prahlada fought with Vishnu when he grew up due to this.

The Fruit of Bhakti Yoga
Having described how interruptions in Yoga are eliminated by the grace of bhagavān, this shloka describes the fruit of such Yoga which has commenced successfully to completion.
dakṣiṇā tv asya yajñasya dhṛṣṭadyumnaḥ pratāpavān
vaitāne karmaṇi tate jāto yaḥ kṛṣṇa pāvakāt
Meaning: The fee (dakṣiṇā) of this sacrifice is the powerful Dhrshtadhymna, who was born from the black colored fires after performance of sacrificial activities.
Inner Meaning: The reward or end (dakṣiṇā) of this bhakti yoga (yajña) is the perception of wealth that Brahman (dhṛṣṭadyumnaḥ), which is powerful as it burns away all remaining sins (pratāpavān), which is produced from the clear (understanding of) the individual self that is the ground of bliss (kṛṣṇa) after the activities (karmaṇi) that constitute selfless worship of the Lord (vaitāna).
Points for Consideration:
  • The direct perception of Brahman is brought about by the completion of bhakti yoga, after understanding the nature of the self (as sesha to bhagavān) by jnāna yoga, which in turn occurred after the performance of activities to worship the Lord without desire for fruits (karma yoga).
  • This direct perception results in destruction of sins, leading to death and liberation immediately.
  • “dhṛṣṭadyumnaḥ” – “visible/perception (dhṛṣṭa) of wealth (dyumnaḥ)”. Bhagavān is the sole wealth of his devotees as evidenced by names like “lakshmih” in the sahasranāma. Alternatively, it refers to his divine auspicious body which is his wealth, and which is perceived in the manner of supporting the tattvas described in astra-bhūshaṇa adhyāya of vishṇu purāṇa.
  • “pratāpavān” – This perception burns away all remaining sins leading to liberation.
  • “kṛṣṇa pāvakāt” – This perception is born from the clarity of the nature of the individual self. “pāvakā” means clear in terms of clear vision or understanding. “kṛṣṇa” – According to Bhattar, “krishi” means “bhū” in the sense of container or receptacle or ground. “ṇa” means nivritti or bliss. The jīvātma is the ground of bliss (kṛṣṇa) as it has ananda as its attribute and nature. Hence “kṛṣṇa pāvakāt” refers to understanding the nature of the self as subservient to bhagavān with clarity.
  • “vaitāne karmaṇi” refers to karma yoga which involved selfless worship of the lord that led to the understanding of the individual self.
Role of Karna and Remorse over Bhāgavata-Apachāra arising from Desire
yad abruvam ahaṃ kṛṣṇa kaṭukāni sma pāṇḍavān
priyārthaṃ dhārtarāṣṭrasya tena tapye 'dya karmaṇā
Meaning: O Krishna! For those words of mine, which were harsh, that I spoke to the Pandavas for the sake of gratifying Duryodhana, for those actions, I repent.
Inner Meaning: O Lord, who has a dark blue complexion (kṛṣṇa )! For those words of mine (self associated with desire or lust), which were harsh, that I spoke to the sāttvikās who are devotees of the Lord (pāṇḍavān), for the sake of gratifying attachments against the nature of the self, arising from karmas that support the body (dhārtarāṣṭrasya), for those actions of mine in the past which have wounded the bhāgavatas, I repent.
Points of Consideration:
  • An anga of bhakti yoga is to avoid bhāgavata-apachāra and seek prayascitta for prior transgressions.
  • Hence, a yogi in the final stage of Yoga and prior to casting away his body would repent any transgressions to devotees he had knowingly or unknowingly committed.
  • “Karna” is the eldest of the pāndavās. His name means “steer” or “helm”. He signifies desire or lust that is even higher than the mind (Arjuna) or the meditation (Bhīma) or the self (Yudhishthira) as it is difficult to control. It is this lust that causes bhāgavata-apachāra.
  • Desire (Karna) allies with the body that is against the nature of the self – that is signified by the name of “Duryodhana” – “One who fights in an evil or wicked manner” – it signifies the body that “fights” against the true nature of the self by pulling us towards attachments.
  • Note that Karna (desire) and Arjuna (mind) were sworn enemies. Likewise, desire and the mind fight a perpetual battle for control.
  • The same desire is corrected and trained to focus on bhagavān – as bhagavad kāma leads to moksha. Thus, Krishna tried to convince Karna to join the Pandavas and Karna, the personified desire, is saying these words.
  • When Karna speaks these words, it must be understood as the words of the self associated with such desire.
  • Note that Karna refers to the dark-blue complexion of the Lord by addressing him as “Krishna”. The best remedy for lust towards material objects is to redirect that lust towards bhagavān’s beautiful body.
Special Notes on Karna:
  • There is ample proof to show that Karna signifies the desire or lust of the individual self.
  • Karna was the Son of Surya. The root “sR-“ signifies movement and refers to transmigration. Thus, “Surya” refers to the karmas that cause transmigration and Karna is the lust of material objects born of these karmas.
  • Karna was encased in golden armor and gold earrings. “Gold” signifies desire or rajo guṇa in the Upanishads as per “hiranmayena pātrena” ityādi.
  • Karna is the oldest of the Pāndavas. Similarly, desire is higher than everything and is intrinsic to the self on account of being due to pūrva-janma vāsanās. That is evidenced by the following Gita shloka:
indriyāṇi parāṇyāhurindriyebhyaḥ paraṃ manaḥ।
manasastu parā buddhiryo buddheḥ paratastu saḥ। (Gīta 3.42)
Meaning:  The senses are higher than the sense-objects they are drawn towards. The mind is higher than the senses; for even if the senses are withdrawn from sense objects, the mind could continue to be immersed in sense objects. The intellect is higher than the mind, because even if the mind has been controlled, if the intellect is bent on pursuing sense objects, the mind will too. Desire is even higher than the intellect, because desire can disturb even the trained intellect.
Just as desire is higher to intellect, mind and senses, Karna was the oldest of the Pāndavas.
  • Karna (desire) allied with Duryodhana (body) to fight against Yudhishthira (the self), Arjuna (mind) and Bhīma.
  • Karna gave everything away in charity. Likewise, lust produces many objects of desire.
  • Karna (lust) and Arjuna (meditating mind) were sworn enemies. This is clearly mentioned in the Gīta as well:
evaṃ buddheḥ paraṃ buddhvā saṃstabhyātmānamātmanā।
jahi śatruṃ mahābāho kāmarūpaṃ durāsadam।। (~Gita 3.43)।।
Meaning: O Mighty Armed! In this manner, knowing that desire which is higher than even the intellect and hence is capable of corrupting the intellect, and controlling the mind by focusing on karma yoga, destroy this enemy in the form of desire which is difficult to conquer!
  • Here, Karna is indeed that “śatruṃ kāmarūpaṃ” who was difficult to conquer. Karna was described as a great warrior who was difficult to defeat even for the Gods. He managed to defeat Yudhishthira (self), Bhīma (meditation), Arjuna (mind), Nakula and Sahadeva (sama-dama guṇas) during the battle.
  • Even Krishna was aware of Karna’s formidable strength and kept warning Arjuna. Thus, even bhagavān acknowledges lust as a great adversary and warns the mind to be cautious.
  • When Karna employed his Sakti weapon on Ghatotkacha, Krishna was overjoyed, as he felt that the weapon would have killed Arjuna and now was expended on Ghatotkacha. As we saw earlier, Ghatotkacha represents selfless worship of the Lord that removes rajo and tamo guṇas which interrupt bhakti yoga. Such selfless worship (Ghatotkacha) takes away the power or effectiveness (sakti) of lust (Karna) which would otherwise have killed the mind (Arjuna). Thus, bhagavān was overjoyed.
  • Thus, this enemy called desire is very powerful and difficult to defeat. Karna was defeated only after being weakened slowly by curses, by the removal of his golden armor and by the nullification of his Shakti Astra used in killing Ghatotkacha. In the same manner, the benedictions of Acharyas, the removal of the perception of pleasure in sense-objects (signified by removal of Karna’s golden armor) and selfless worship of the Lord will weaken desire for material objects.
  • Meditating on Krishna, the mind (Arjuna) eventually overcame lust (Kama).
Final Summary of Bhakti Yoga
Having described bhakti yoga in its’ entirety, Karna now summarizes the whole process succinctly in the following shlokas.
1- Summary - Karma and Jnāna Yogas leading to Bhakti Yoga
yadā drakṣyasi māṃ kṛṣṇa nihataṃ savyasācinā
punaś citis tadā cāsya yajñasyātha bhaviṣyati
Meaning: O Krishna! When you see me killed by Arjuna, then will the piling up (punaściti) of this sacrifice take place.
Inner Meaning: O Lord who has a dark-blue complexion! When you see me (desire or lust), killed by the ambidextrous mind (savyasācin), then will the purifying contemplation on Brahman that is part of this bhakti yoga take place.
Points for Consideration:    
  • This is the shloka summarizing the transition from karma and jnāna yogas to bhakti yoga proper.
  • “Karna” refers to lust or desire.
  • “savyasācin” – the mind which is ambidextrous in using the knowledge of the Upanishads to both withdraw the senses from sense objects (by karma yoga), and to focus the senses on meditation of the true nature of the self (jnāna yoga).
  • The mind which is engaged in desireless action (karma yoga) and has a knowledge of the self being distinct from the body (jnāna yoga) destroys desire (Karna).
  • “punaściti” – The meditation on Brahman, which is of a purifying nature as it destroys sins, will take place only when lust is eradicated.
  • “Krishna” – Meditation on the bewitching dark-blue body of the Lord will destroy desire for other things. He is so attractive, after all.
2- Summary - Bhakti Yoga leading to Union with Brahman (by Meditation)
duḥśāsanasya rudhiraṃ yadā pāsyati pāṇḍavaḥ
ānardaṃ nardataḥ samyak tadā sutyaṃ bhaviṣyati
Meaning: When you see the son of Pandu (Bhīma) (drink the) blood of Duhshasana roaring (in anger) and shrieking (in agony) at the same time, then will the day of the extraction of Soma commence (in this sacrifice).
Inner Meaning: When you see the jīva (pāṇḍavaḥ) associated with sattva (experience) Brahman, the object of desire (rudhiraṃ) of the Vedas whose instructions are difficult to comprehend (duḥśāsana), that move in devotion towards Brahman (ānardaṃ), praising his auspicious attributes (nardataḥ), then will the union of the worshipper (with Brahman), take place.
Points for Consideration:
  • This is the shloka summarizing the transition in various stages of bhakti yoga proper (para bhakti, para jnāna, parama bhakti).
  • “rudhiraṃ” meaning “red” refers to passion or desire. It in turn implies Brahman who is the object of attainment and hence desired in the Vedas.
  • “duḥśāsana” – the instructions (śāsana) that are difficult to comprehend or implement – they refer to the Vedas. The drinking is the experience of Brahman from these Vedas.
  • “ānardaṃ” – The Vedas which move in devotion to Brahman, “nardataḥ” – The Vedas which praise his auspicious qualities upon experiencing them.
  • “sutyaṃ” – “sut” means “stotr” – to praise. It refers to the worshipper. “yam” refers to joining. Thus, bhakti yoga or meditation leads to a union with Brahman in the sense of completely being absorbed in his auspicious qualities, to the exclusion of everything else.
  • It should not be doubted that Duḥśāsana cannot refer to the Vedas because he was evil. The idea is, the Vedas are difficult to understand, and thus even they pose a hurdle. Furthermore, Duḥśāsana was originally named “Suḥśāsana” – auspicious instruction. Thus, the Vedas are actually auspicious instructions which appear difficult due to our own karmas at not being able to comprehend them.
3- Summary - Bhakti Yoga Interrupted by Prior Sins
As mentioned earlier, bhakti yoga, even when successfully established, undergoes a break due to transgressions arising from rajo and tamo guṇās.
yadā droṇaṃ ca bhīṣmaṃ ca pāñcālyau pātayiṣyataḥ
tadā yajñāvasānaṃ tad bhaviṣyati janārdana
Meaning:  When the two Pancālas take down Drona and Bhishma, then will be sacrifice reach a cessation, O Janārdana!
Inner Meaning: O Lord who protects people from the wicked (Janārdana)! When the two (rajo and tamo guṇās) that are associated with the embodied self that has doership (pāñcālyau), overthrow indifference to sense-objects (droṇaṃ) and meditation on the self that is death to sins obstructing bhakti yoga (bhīṣmaṃ), then the bhakti yoga shall reach a cessation or a break.
Points for Consideration:
  • Yoga can be interrupted. “avasānaṃ” signifies a cessation in the form of a pause.
  • “droṇaṃ” – “drumamayam” – wood like indifference to sense-objects due to desireless action (karma-yoga) stemming from understanding the nature of the self (jnāna-yoga).
  • “bhīṣmaṃ” – “Death” – it signifies meditation on Brahman (bhakti-yoga) that destroys sins or samsāra – thus it is “death” to these sins.
  • Both are interrupted by the effects of rajo and tamo guṇās still persisting which are called “pāñcālyau” as they are associated with the self called “pañcāla”  - pancha-alam – the competent self (as it has doership) associated with the body made of pancha-bhūtās is denoted by this.
  • When such a break in Yoga happens, the Lord who protects the sādhus from the wicked is there to destroy the wicked guṇās that causes this pause. That is signified by “Janārdana”.
4- Summary – Successful Completion of Bhakti Yoga
duryodhanaṃ yadā hantā bhīmaseno mahābalaḥ
tadā samāpsyate yajño dhārtarāṣṭrasya mādhava
Meaning: When the mighty Bhīmasena kills Duryodhana, then will sacrifice of Dhrtarashtra’s son be concluded, O Mādhava!
Inner Meaning: O Lord who is cognized by Mouna, Dhyāna and Yoga (Mādhava)! When the meditation on Brahman (Bhīmasena), powerful enough to destroy all sins (mahābalaḥ), kills or destroys the body (Duryodhana), then will this bhakti yoga of the jīva who is associated with the karmas that support the body (yajño dhārtarāṣṭrasya) be concluded.
Points for Consideration:
  • As mentioned earlier, “Duryodhana” is one who fights in an evil manner” – the body which causes ahamkāra and mamakāra fights against the true nature of the self which is seshatva.
  • Bhīma signifies meditation on Brahman which destroys all sins obstructing liberation, and hence destroys the body.
  • “Dhārtarāṣṭrasya” - The self, which is associated with the karmas that support (dhrta) the body (rāṣṭra).
  • And who is that Brahman who is directly perceived by such meditation? Is it Brahma, Rudra or Indra? No. It is the Lord Narayana denoted by “Mādhava” which means that he alone is seen through Mouna, Dhyāna and Yoga. As per the following,
madhu vidyā avabodhatvāt dhāvatvāt-vā ṣriyo’niṣam ।
maunād-dhyānācca yogācca viddhi bhārata mādhavam || (Mahābhāratā 3.69.4)
5- Summary – Relinquishment of the Final Body by the Yogi (Death)
snuṣāś ca prasnuṣāś caiva dhṛtarāṣṭrasya saṃgatāḥ
hateśvarā hatasutā hatanāthāś ca keśava   
gāndhāryā saha rodantyaḥ śvagṛdhrakurarākule
sa yajñe 'sminn avabhṛtho bhaviṣyati janārdana
Meaning: O Keśava! When the wives of the sons and grandsons of Dhrtarāshtra, assembled together, deprived of their husbands, and sons, devoid of their protectors, will lament along with Gandhari, amidst dogs, vultures and species of carnivorous birds, then the part of the sacrifice known as “avabhṛtha” (carrying off the utensils and casting them into the river, followed by the participants taking a bath) take place, O Janārdana!
Because this is a big shloka, we shall break this up sequentially and see its’ inner meaning as follows,
snuṣāś ca prasnuṣāś caiva dhṛtarāṣṭrasya saṃgatāḥ
hateśvarā hatasutā hatanāthāś ca keśava   
Inner Meaning: O Master of Brahma and Rudra (Keśava)! When the sense organs like eye, ear etc etc (snuṣāś) and the senses that are prior to them such as the mind, buddhi etc (prasnuṣāś) of the self that supports the body (dhṛtarāṣṭrasya), are assembled together (at the time of death), deprived of their powers or abilities such as seeing, hearing, etc (hateśvarā), deprived of the effects or experiences they have such as color etc (hatasutā), deprived of the attachments that protect their continued functioning (hatanāthāś)
Points for Consideration:
  • This describes the removal of the self from the body. Death is the final stage to attaining mukti via bhakti yoga. That it attains the Lord is indicated by the name “Keśava” which shows he is the master of Brahma and Rudra, and hence is to be attained.
  • “dhṛtarāṣṭra” – refers to the self which is the support (dhṛta) of the body (rāṣṭra).
  • “snuṣāś” – root is “snu” – to flow – the senses organs like eye which flow or proceed out to external objects. “prasnuṣāś”  refer to mind, buddhi etc that exist in front or prior to organs like the eye etc.
  • “Iśvarā” – “Iśte iti Iśvarā” – It refers to power or capability of the senses like seeing etc.
  • “sutā” – That which is begotten – the effects such as color, sound etc revealed by eye, ear etc.
  • “nāthā” – Only attachments cause continued functioning of the senses.
gāndhāryā saha rodantyaḥ śvagṛdhrakurarākule
Inner Meaning:…(They) will weep along with the Mukhyaprāṇa (gāndhāryā saha), amidst the dogs, covetous ones (gṛdhra) and the grieving relatives (kurarākule)
Points for Consideration:
  • “gāndhāryā” – gāna-dhārī – the vital breath that controls the other organs that support sound. Here “gāna” meaning sound denotes all the senses like sight, smell, sound etc.
  • When it said that the organs weep, it is meant that they make the person dying weep, for insentient organs cannot weep.
  • The dead body is left among dogs who crave for the bones, those people who covet the wealth of the dying (grdhra) and the clan of those who grieve (kurarākule)
  • Here, “kurarākule” refers to those who grieve, as the texts often compare the cries of the Kurara bird to the tortured wails of women. “kula” signifies they are relatives or well-wishers as opposed to the other two types.
sa yajñe 'sminn avabhṛtho bhaviṣyati janārdana
Meaning:…Then will the removal (of the self from the final body upon death) in this sacrifice take place, O Lord who is the destroyer of births (Janārdana)!
Points for Consideration:
  • “avabhṛtha” means removal of the self bound for moksha from the final body upon death.
  • “Janārdana” is the Lord who destroys births for the bound selves, upon which the self attains liberation. Again, this name indicates he is the means, while the name of Keśava used in the beginning indicates that he is the end to be attained.
Thus, the Mahābhāratā is a historical war, and by the sankalpa of Bhagavān, also manifests in the form of a grand metaphor for bhakti yoga.
The episode of Bhīma killing Jarāsandha in the Mahābhāratā is a wonderful upabrahmaṇa of the Isavasya Upanishad mantra regarding Vidya and Avidya. Let us first see the relevant mantra in the Upanishad:
vidyam cavidyam ca yastadvedobhayam saha |
avidyaya mrtyum tirtva vidyaya'mrtamasnute  (~ Isa.Up 11)
Let us take a look at the three commentaries on this from dvaita, advaita and vishishtadvaita:
Dvaita Meaning: One who knows the correct knowledge (Vidya), and also criticizes false knowledge (Avidya), for him, by criticism of false knowledge which causes suffering (Avidya), he overcomes suffering (mrtyum tirtva), and by practice of correct knowledge which causes enjoyment (Vidya), he obtains mukti (Amrtam).
Advaita Meaning: He who knows the knowledge of the devas (Vidya) and the karmas such as agnihotra etc (Avidya), crosses over death which is the effect of prakrti (mrityum tirtva) by the karmas (Avidya) and becomes one with the devas (amrtam) by the knowledge of the devas (Vidya).
Vishishtadvaita Meaning: He who knows both Vidya (Meditation on Brahman) and avidya (the performance of duties which are accessory to meditation) together (as the angi, the main and the anga, the accessory), attains Brahman (amrta) through meditation (Vidya) by crossing over the beginningless karmas that obstruct such meditation called “death” (mrtyum tirtva) through the performance of dutiEs (Avidya).
According to the dvaitins, correct knowledge of Vishnu is Vidya and incorrect knowledge of Vishnu is Avidya. “Amrtam” refers to Moksha, “mrtyu” refers to suffering in samsāra.
According to the advaitins, the knowledge of the gods is Vidya and the karmas such as agnihotra are Avidya. This is as per the pramAṇa – “karmaṇa avidya” and “karma pitrloka vidya devaloka”. The fruit known as “amrta” here refers to attainment of the positions of these lesser gods like Hiranyagarbha and not the attainment of Paramatman. “mrtyum” refers to the activities of prakrti.
According to Vishishtadvaitins, the meditation (upāsaṇa) on Brahman is Vidya, and the karma yoga, performance of duties is Avidya. Amrta is liberation in the form of attainment of Bhagavan. “mrtyum” refers to the beginningless karmas that are obstacles to such meditation.
Who is right? One can get the right meaning by analyzing the incident of Jarasandha vadham. As Krishna says, “janma karma ca me divyam” – by understanding the leelas of the Lord, the meanings of the shāstra reveal themselves. As follows.
Firstly, Krishna approaches Yudhishthira, who was about to conduct the Rajasuya sacrifice and tells him the following:
natu śakyaṃ mahārāja jarāsaṃdhe mahābale |
rājasūyaṃ tvayā prāptuṃ tasmin jīvati pārthive || Adi — Mantraparva — 16–5 ||
Meaning: “O King (mahārāja)! It is not possible for you to perform the Rajasuya yajna when the powerful Jarasandha is still alive”
However, this shloka has a powerful inner meaning. Note that Yudhishthira is called “mahārāja”. The embodied Jīva is called “mahārāja” as it is the sovereign of the body, and is great as it is capable of doership. Hence, this is a name of the Jīva.
“Rājasūyaṃ” – Literally means “Birth of the Rāja”. But “sūyate” refers to the act of production, or in this context, making manifest. “Rāja” refers to the Supreme Lord who is the sovereign of all. Thus, it means “making the Supreme Lord manifest”, ie, perceiving him directly, which is the goal of Bhakti Yoga.
When one perceives the Lord at the culmination of Yoga, he dies immediately as he is sinless at that stage. Thus, this brahma-sākshātkāra, which leads to mukti the very next second, is not possible without getting rid of the karmas that bind one to the body.
Thus, we have “Jarāsaṃdha” – “That which unites Jarā (with the Jīvā)” – The beginningless karmas that unite the Self with the body which is called “Jarā” on account of being associated with old age, death etc (Note that by “Jarā”, even “marana” and other changes of the body is implied).
The true meaning of this shloka is as follows,
natu śakyaṃ mahārāja jarāsaṃdhe mahābale |
rājasūyaṃ tvayā prāptuṃ tasmin jīvati pārthive || Adi — Mantraparva — 16–5 ||
Meaning: “O Jīva, you who are the great sovereign of the body (mahārāja)! It is not possible for you to directly perceive the Supreme Brahman who is the Sovereign of all (the culmination of Bhakti Yoga) when the powerful karmas that unite the self with the body is still alive or existing in the embodied self (pārthive)”.
“jīvati pārthive” means the karmas still exist in the embodied self, which is associated with the body made of earthly elements. Note that Jarāsandha is mentioned to be harassing everyone. Similarly, these karmas cause himsa not only to the jīva, but to everyone else as the jīva tries to fulfill its’ attachments arising from the karmas.
Now, Krishna discusses the means to kill Jarāsandha. Having settled on the plan, Bhima tells everyone present the following,
kṛṣṇe nayo mayi balaṃ jayaḥ pārthe dhanañjaye |
māgadhaṃ sādhayiṣyāmo vayaṃ traya ivāgnayaḥ || Adi — Mantraparva — 17–10 ||
Meaning: “Krishna has the right tactics or policies (Naya). I have strength (Balam). Arjuna has victory (Jaya). The three of us — the three fires — can definitely win against the King of Magadha”
Note that Bhīma says Krishna has “Naya”. At this point, remember what the Isavasya Upanishad says:
agne naya supatha raye asman (Isa Up. 20)
Meaning: O Supreme Brahman who has Agni as his body! Lead us (naya) to the attainment of wealth (in the form of bhagavad jnāna and prāpti).
The Mahabharata is thus implying that Krishna is the Supreme Brahman with the quality of “Naya” or leading ability, who is referred to as “Agni” by the Isavasya. This unmistakeably proves that Krishna is the God of the Upanishad, and no other devata.
Then, Bhīma says he has “balam”. Strength is a metaphor for knowledge. Thus, “balam” corresponds with the term “Vidya” used by the Isavasya mantras. It is the meditation on Brahman, that leads to attainment of Brahman.
Regarding Arjuna, note a curious thing here. Bhima is the one who would fight and kill Jarāsandha. Then why is he saying Arjuna has “jaya” or victory? As below:
Arjuna is called “Dhananjaya” here – the gatherer or conqueror of wealth. What is this wealth? It is nothing but Jnāna and Vairagya, which are different kinds of wealth for Upāsakas. There are lots of things to develop Vairagya about, and various kinds of knowledge for different bhagavad-kalyāna-gunās.
This means that Arjuna signifies the performance of nitya-naimittika karmas with a desireless mind (Vairagya) and dedicating it to the Lord with clear knowledge of oneself as a sesha and the Lord as a seshi (Jnāna). And the performance of these duties attains “Jaya” or victory over the karmas that obstruct the commencement of Bhakti Yoga (Bhīma).
Note that Jarāsandha wanted to fight only Bhīma out of the three. This is because it is meditation (Bhīma) that directly burns away the karmas causing association with the body (Jarāsandha). However, to begin such meditation, we first have to destroy certain karmas that obstruct even that meditation.
Thus, in this particular context, Arjuna signifies “Avidya” or desireless performance of duties as mentioned in the Isavasya, which conquers the karmas obstructing meditation on Brahman, and allows meditation (Bhīma) to commence and succeed in destroying the karmas obstructing liberation (Jarāsandha). Thus, Bhīma said that Arjuna was the one with the victory.
Thus, the true meaning of the shloka is as follows:
kṛṣṇe nayo mayi balaṃ jayaḥ pārthe dhanañjaye |
māgadhaṃ sādhayiṣyāmo vayaṃ traya ivāgnayaḥ || Adi — Mantraparva — 17–10 ||
Meaning: “Krishṇa is the Supreme Brahman who has the ability to lead the Jīva (Yudhishthira) to success in Upāsana (Naya). I (Bhīma), the meditation undertaken in Bhakti Yoga by the Jīvā (Yudhishthira), have strength which is the capability to burn away karmas obstructing liberation (Jarāsandha). Arjuna is the performance of nitya-naimittika karmas devoid of desire for the fruits that has victory over the karmas obstructing meditation (Bhīma). The three of us — like three fires — can definitely win against the karmas that are associated with movement in samsara (māgadhaṃ)”
“māgadhaṃ” – The karmas which support the body. The body is called “Magadha” as it is “ma-gata-dhāra” – that which which sustains the movement of the Jivā signified by “ma” in samsāra. Thus, “māgadhaṃ” is that which is associated with this body and refers to the karmas only. It is another name for Jarāsandha.
“traya ivāgnayaḥ” can be interpreted as “We – the Supreme Brahman who leads or guides the Yogi, the meditation on Brahman’s auspicious attributes and the performance of karmas as accessory to meditation – are like the three fires as we burn away the karmas”.
And now, let us look at the Isavasya Upanishad again and interpret that mantra in the light of this incident:
vidyam cavidyam ca yastadvedobhayam saha |
avidyaya mrtyum tirtva vidyaya'mrtamasnute  (~ Isa.Up 11)
Meaning: He who knows both Vidya (Bhīma/Meditation on Brahman) and avidya (Arjuna/the karmas which are accessory to meditation) together (as the angi, the main and the anga, the accessory), attains Brahman known as “amrta” (Krishṇa) through meditation (Bhīma/Vidya) by crossing over the beginningless karmas that obstruct such meditation, called “death” (mrtyum tirtva) through the performance of desireless action (Arjuna/Avidya).
In this manner, deep meanings of bhakti yoga are embedded everywhere in the Mahābhārata.
If we look at the names of the 18 parvas in the Mahābhārata, we can easily discern the undercurrent of bhakti yoga.
  1. Adi Parva – The beginning, or the birth of the self when it acquires a body based on karmas. The key event is the birth of the Pandavas.
  2. Sabha Parva – The experiences of the embodied self in “sabha” or samsara which is an assembly of elements. The self suffers from dangers like kāma, krodha etc. This parva has the incident of Draupadi (the self) suffering in the hall (samsara) due to Kauravas (dangers of samsara) when her 5 husbands (panchendriyas) forsake her.
  3. Vana Parva – The desire of the self for moksha. “vana” means desire. As the Pandavas wandered the forest seeking the advice of wise rishis, so does the suffering self wander the Vedas seeking a remedy for samsara, desirous of moksha. “Vana” can also refer to the Vedas and thus, the seeker of moksha studies the Vedas, seeks advice from Acharyas, etc to understand their true nature.
  4. Virata Parva – “Virata” means to desist from something. The renunciation of material attachments and desires by the self upon understanding the ephemeral nature of samsara. As the Pandavas hid from the Kauravas in the final year of their exile, so does the self, in the final births prior to moksha, hide from the dangers of samsara by being devoid of attachments.
  5. Udyoga Parva – “Udyoga” means effort. The effort undertaken by Bhagavān to set the sAttvic seeker on the right path, as evidenced by Bhagavān going to the Kauravas, Karna etc as a messenger. When the yogi is desirous of moksha and resorts to the Vedas and Acharyas, then Bhagavān bestows his favor on him (jnāna dīpena bhāsvata – Gīta).
  6. Bhishma Parva – “Bhishma” means death. The performance of karma yoga, desireless action by dedicating fruits of nitya-naimittika karmas, results in “death” of the sins that obstruct meditation on the self. Thus, it refers to successful completion of karma yoga. As Bhishma was the central focus of the parva, this period of Yoga is characterized by a focus to destroy the karmas obstructing jnAna yoga.
  7. Drona Parva – “Drona” means wood (drumamayam) and refers to indifference to material objects, to pain and pleasure etc just as a lump of wood feels nothing. It refers to the successful completion of jnana-yoga, and understanding the true nature of the imperishable self in comparison to perishable material objects. This destroys sins obstructing bhakti yoga. As Drona was the central focus of the parva, this period of Yoga is characterized by a focus to understand the true nature of the self and destroy karmas obstructing bhakti yoga.
  8. Karna Parva – “Karna” means “that which steers” or “that which is at the helm” – it refers to the meditation on Brahman or bhakti yoga proper, which is the principal as compared to karma and jnana yoga which are accessories. Such meditation steers the Jiva towards destruction of sins obstructing liberation. As Karna was the central focus of the parva, this period of Yoga is characterized by a meditation on the auspicious attributes of Brahman upon understanding one’s nature to develop a love for bhagavAn.
  9. Shalya Parva – The period of lapse in Yoga. “Shalya” means “fault” and refers to the Yogi temporarily lapsing back into samsāric attachments due to his vAsaNAs being strong, with rajo and tamo gunas predominating him. As Shalya was the central focus of the parva, this period of Yoga is characterized by an interruption in Yoga.
  10. Sauptika Parva – The period of Yoga pertaining to inactivity of the rajo and tamo guṇās. By virtue of selfless worship of the Lord, the Yogi has conquered his rajo and tamo guṇās which caused a lapse in the yoga. “Sauptika” means related to inactivity or a numbing – it refers to the rajo and tamo guṇās becoming dormant again.
  11. Stri Parva – The period of Yoga when the realization of the Sesha-Seshi bhāva is at its’ mature stage. The bhakti yogi now has developed a love for Bhagavan and recognizes the Lord as his master and himself as the servant, and considers himself to be as dependent as a wife (strI) on her husband. Bhartru- Bhārya sambandha also exists between the Lord and the Jīvās, as one can see with the gopīs and Krishna. Here it must be noted how this exposes the ignorance Veerashaivas who being filled with dvesha and completely incapable of understanding this lofty tattva, cast aspersions on the Lord and claim rAsa leela was adhArmic.
  12. Shanti Parva – Self-explanatory. The Yogi now has peace from the vicissitudes of samsara as he is now engaged in joyous meditation on bhagavān, such contemplation being of the form of love.
  13. Anushasana Parva – The period in which the Yogi, having realized his true nature of seshatvam and experiencing immense love for bhagavān, now lives solely for the sake of bhagavān, always acting in accordance to the wishes of bhagavān. “anu” means “following or agreeable to” and “Shasana”  means “command” – thus, being agreeable to or following the Vedas which are the command of the Lord.
  14. Ashvamedhika Parva – The offering of horses (Ashwamedha) – where horses signify the senses. The Yogi, now having his devotion increased manifold by Yoga, now performs services for bhagavān, engaging all his indrīyās in kāiyika, vācaka and mānasīka kainkaryas (services by body, speech and mind).
  15. Ashramavasika Parva – In the Gita, Shri Krishna declares “bahunām janmanam ante jnānavan mam prapadyate” – “After many auspicious births of bhakti yoga, the jnAni performs sharanAgati to me”. The Vishnu Sahasranama contains the name “Ashrama” and refers to the ability of Sriman Narayana to provide a place of rest (Ashrama) – This resting place is nothing but birth in a noble, devoted Sri Vaishnava family where true knowledge can be obtained and Yogis whose Yoga have been interrupted, will feel refreshed. Thus, “Ashramavasika” refers to the Yogi being born into a noble family  conducive for him to foster exclusive devotion to and perform śaranāgati to the Lord, with his Yoga now proceeding to completion. It is the final auspicious birth that leads to moksha.
  16. Mausala Parva – Pertaining to maces. “Musala” means “mace” signifying strength or intellect. “Mausala” refers to fighting with mace --- destroying the remaining karmas impeding moksha with intellect that is the Chaitanya krt prapatti. The Lord burns away the karmas for such a person, as Shri Krishna himself oversaw the destruction of the Yadus.
  17. Mahaprasthānika Parva – The great departure of the self from the body, ie, death of the final body.
  18. Svargarohana Parva – The ascent to Paramapada or Sri Vaikunta denoted by “Svarga” upon death via the archirādi gati, also called devāyana.
In this manner, the Mahābhārata is wholly dedicated to expounding the rāja vidyā of bhakti yoga.
In the next part of this series, we will take a look at Shiva’s praise of Krishna in the Harivamsha and the worship of Shiva by Ashvattama in the Sauptika Parva.