Dharma Artha Kama and Moksha in reference to Mahabharata

Pandavas punished and killed many enemy kings, in two cases on account of complains by rishis, on others variety of issues including also on requests from Dhritrashtra and Bheeshma. (Rishi complains come later but here Dhritrashtra and Bheeshma’s requests are noted.)

The shelter of rule of law provided by Dharmaraja Yudhishthara was like achieving the best body on the voyage of a Soul.

Yudhishthara gave equal adherence to Dharma, Artha and Kama, all of them are soul’s true brothers and their equal weight age in law and usage would make for an ideal society.

Dharma, Artha, Kama all three Purusharths were literally presented on earth in human forms and through them Yudhishthara was literally Moksha the final Purushartha personified.

This is a very important sloka launching many commentaries. So here’s mine.

The sloka is thus explained, the three departments of Dharma or Justice, Artha or Finance, Kama or Joy were working in tandem to provide the best for the people. The people in charge of Dharma, Artha and Kama in the kingdom were veritable embodiment of the purushasrtha themselves.

The scholars use the discussion of Vidura with five Pandavas to indicate the heads of department might mean, they might be the brothers, Justice for Sahadeva, Artha was Arjuna or Nakula and Kama was Bhima.

(I will post that amazing discussion by the four younger brothers and Vidura separately. )


In its first chapter itself, the Mahabharata indicates that the processes of Dharma, Artha, and Kama are intrinsic to the purpose and function of the creation, as revealed in the description of the cosmic vision of the great sage Vyasa.

The sage (Vyasa) saw that for the maintenance of the world, this arrangement had arisen as a balance of Dharma Artha and Kama.

Of course there is the fourth and ultimate Purushartha, or goal of life, Moksha, spiritual salvation, which we shall discuss later. But for now the Mahabharata confines its discussion to the worldly goals. Thus the ideal state of society during the reign of Yudhishthara is described as follows:

Yudhishthara was Lord of the Citizens (note the difference in people or public and use of term Citizen, Yudhishthara rules a more equal society). Men devoted themselves to Dharma and Artha, cultivating pleasure based on Dharma.

In start of Mahabharata, Vyas describes Dharma, Artha, Kama operating on cosmic scale, and Yudhishthara has made the simulacrum of that in his large kingdom.

These same three elements also motivate individual human relationships. That is, in worldly society people form friendships, marry one another etc., in a quest for virtue, prosperity, and in sense pleasure.

Dharma, Artha and Kama are part of this relationship building. Devayani cursed Kaca for not returning her love by stating “If you reject me in Dharma, Kama, and Artha, then this science of yours will not be successful.”

Devyani was not just protesting that Kaca was not returning her love (in Kama) but also partnering her as wife in front of God (Dharma) and in living that life and producing offspring (Artha).

Devyani is clearly not basing her relationship on principle of Kama, but on balance of three Dharma, Kama and Artha.

Since Dharma, Artha, and Kama constitute the basic needs or goals of human society, it is natural that “proper governance” is to properly and efficiently administer these three. Thus, when Narada Muni comes to instruct Yudhisthara in political science, through a series of rhetorical questions, the Mahabharata tells us that in fact he came to talk about Dharma, Artha, and Kama.

Worshiped by all the Pandavas, the great sage, a master of the Vedas, asked Yudhisthara about this (issue) concerning Dharma, Kama and Artha. Toward the end of his discussion, Narada again touches on these

“O sinless one (Yudhishthara), do your thoughts and deeds lead to a long life and a noble reputation, and do they show the way of Dharma, Kama, and Artha?”.

See Narada is also telling us very clearly, we can follow rules and regulations and live a long comfortable life with respect of the others or we can strive for the balance of the Dharma, Artha and Karma, the three purushartas and thus achieve something beyond the ordinary. That is what Narada is exhorting Yudhishthara to do.

Although, as we shall see, Dharma is the most important of the three worldly human goals, a king must provide a balanced life for his citizens.

That is he must not only guide them in virtue and dutifulness (Dharma), but he must also see that they are prosperous (Artha), and that they have good facility to satisfy their bodily and mental needs (Kama).

Insufficient satisfaction of basic human needs may lead to frustration and obsession, which act against the development of spiritual consciousness.

Thus the Mahabharata praises King Yudhisthira’s ability to balance Dharma, Artha, and Kama.

That best of the Bharatas (Yudhisthira) cultivated equally Dharma, Kama, and Artha, honoring all three as a man with relatives honors his relatives as equal to himself. When Dharma, Artha, and Kama were thus equally divided, and (present in human form) as if embodied on the earth, the king shone among them like the fourth Moksha.

Yet despite the necessary balancing of human activity, it is clear that Dharma is most important. Thus we find that even Artha and Kama must be performed according to Dharma. Yudhisthira’s balancing of Dharma, Kama, and Artha in fact was conducted “according to Dharma:” or his definition of Dharma at that point.

At that time, whatever was suitable in regard to Dharma, Kama, and Artha, the king (Yudhisthira) did it according to Dharma, for he was famous for his protection of the kingdom. He is the ideal for Moksha. But not really yet.

The journey is still to begin.

Yudhishthara here betrays some of the inflexible Rajadharma that will haunt him on day of Dyuta when he praises his ancestor Shantanu, in the course of listing the sterling qualities of King Shantanu, Yudhishthara attributes to him a firm conviction as to the superiority of Dharma over Artha and Kama.

Yudhishthara was not balancing the three yet.

Yudhishthara forgot the calamities Shantanu’s adherence to Dharma visited on the kingdom.

But, this education of Dharmaraja is the entire story of Mahabharata.

The end is known to the author, Veda Vyasa, he mentions several degrees of proficiency in Dharma for the Hero of his Epic in Adi Parva itself. He lets us know how over time Yudhishthara arose from being a mere Dharmika king to the highest position possible in Swargarohana Parva.

Degrees of Dharma

The Adi Parva Mahabharata tells us that some persons uphold Dharma better than others.

In other words, some are more virtuous, more dutiful, more religious, more law-abiding, than others. The most common term used for such comparisons is dharma-bhrt, “one who supports, maintains, cherishes, or, to use the cognate English term, one who bears, dharma.”
There are Six sarva-dharma-bhrtam vara, “the best or excellent one of all those who bear dharma”
o Yudhishthara
o Bhrigu
o Srngi
o Arjuna (he is mentioned twice, maybe Krishna is implied other place)
o Bheeshma
o Bharadwaja. (The disciple of Valmiki, not father of Drona.)

Then Vyasa mentions another superlative term dharma-bhrtam srestha, “the very best, most glorious etc. of those who maintain dharma”:

o Yudhishthara (used twice indicating Yudhishthara reaches the state twice, once he reached and then fell and reached again.)
o Parasara

There is similar term Vyas uses, dharma-bhrtam varistha, “the most excellent of those who maintain dharma” is used twice: Both times for Yudhishthara.

But more importantly, Krishna states it once, approaching Kunti’s son, “O the most excellent of those who maintain dharma”, “recognize me, I am Krsna,” and pressed the feet of King Yudhisthara. “Don’t leave us.”
Yudhishthara refuses to leave hell and passes the final Test of Dharma.

Krishna himself crowns Yudhishthara higher than himself. The highest state the once fallen mortal ascends to.

See the initial term from Sabha Parva

That best of the Bharatas (Yudhisthira) cultivated equally Dharma, Kama, and Artha, honoring all three as a man with relatives honors his relatives as equal to himself. When Dharma, Artha, and Kama were thus equally divided, and (present in human form) as if embodied on the earth, the king shone among them like the fourth Moksha.

Yudhishthara on passing the three tests become the perfect example of balance of Dharma Artha Kama and thus the KING who is called like Moksha in Sabha Parva literally becomes the Moksha himself in Swargarohana Parva.

There is a term regarding Dharma that Vyasa uses for his stepfather and grandson and Narada, “persons understand dharma better than others” sarva-dharma-vidam vara, “best of those who know dharma,” three people are named
o Santanu
o Yudhishthara
o Narada

Then Vyas, has a general definition for one who is to be considered dharma-vid uttama, “the highest knower of dharma”, “One who maintains dharma in times of calamity is the highest knower of dharma. It is said that for one who follows dharma, the ruination of dharma is the only real calamity.”

The answer again is Yudhishthara.

Vyas does not forget his third son, he praises Vidura who, after all, is an incarnation of the god Dharma:

“ In the three worlds, there was no one equal to Vidura. Always engaged in dharma, o king, he then achieved the highest point in dharma.”

Vyasa is giving us in Adi Parva a taste of education and development of Yudhishthara to his eventual ascent (going through degrees of Dharma) in mortal body to heaven itself where Krishna comes and crowns Dharma.

Dharma is no static body or idea but continually improving and educating oneself and improving others through service as mendicant, as minister, as King, as Emperor.

Dharma is a vibrant living breathing body of renaissance, resurgence, revitalization, rebirth and new life and new vistas that opens up. Ever changing ever evolving and ever dedicated to the balance of Dharma, Artha and Kama. It is manifest as Yudhishthara who becomes the Moksha.

All the Puranas and the Mahabharata (included as Itihasa-Purana) are termed Jaya. The Sacrifice and the eventual aim for Moksha. Thus, the original name for each and every Purana is Jaya. (Not only Mahabharata, that is a misconception, every Purana is a Jaya.)

Puranas are means to provide us instruments to progress towards that Jaya over attachment, towards Moksha.

and the author reveals to us His Jaya in Virata Parva.

The secret name of Yudhishthara is Jaya.

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