Mahabharata

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The Mahabharata contains many scenes of extreme violence, perpetrated by both the ostensible heroes of the story (i.e., the Pandavas) as well as its villains. What does the Mahabharata say about the relationship between violence and morality? Is the text arguing that violence is justifiable under certain circumstances, or does it suggest that violence always has negative consequences?

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The Mahabharata says many things about the relationship between violence and morality, some of them contradictory or seemingly contradictory, because it speaks with many different voices (in debate) and to many different social groups. Those looking to find—or worse yet (from a Hindu standpoint), impose—one unified doctrine on the many philosophies, voices, and castes that the debate involves are missing the whole point of the text.

The Dharma (way of righteous conduct) for a Brahman (moral/spiritual leader) for whom Ahimsa (non-violence) might be appropriate would be immoral for a Kshatriya, whose Dharma as a ruler/warrior is to defend the defenseless, which requires him to fight. Each group in society has different responsibilities and duties (Dharma), and these have different ramifications (Karma).

The epic distinguishes between gratuitous and uncivilized violence, which is condemned, the violence...

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