Affinity for Eighteen

How does Gita become the core of Mahābhārata, which in turn epitomizes all forms of spiritual contemplation?

To understand this, first of all, we need to perceive it from three view-points of Mahābhārata.

Bhārata unfolds out in three-fold ways: historical, psychological and Theo-centric.

This is hinted in Bhārata itself –

मन्वादि केचिद् बृवत ह्यास्तीकादि तथा परे

तथोपरिचराद्यन्ये भारतं  परिचक्षते

 manvādi kēcid br̥vata hyāstīkādi tathā parē
tathōparicarādyan’yē bhārataṁ paricakṣatē

[Some say that Bhārata is an acclaimed text that talks of values in life from a psychological(manvādi) perspective.  Some others state that this is the history (āstīkādi) of Pāndavās, the theists. Yet others proclaim that this is a paean (uparicarādi) to Bhagavān, the One who oversees everything].

To each it is a version of Bhārata as per their intellectual reach. And, all of them are right in their own ways. Yes, Bhārata means all this. Bhārata is not merely the history of Kuru-Pāndavās. Is it not too the history of philosophy?

Apparently, it is the history of Pāndavās; the sub-conscious perceives it as the psychological history of mankind; an awakened third eye experiences it as a song in praise of God’s attributes.

At first sight, it is historical interpretation, beyond that, it is psychological interpretation while essentially, it is spiritual interpretation.

The text that carries the essence of psychology from Bhārata, is Bhagavadgītā Viṣṇusahasranāma, on the other hand, reveals that all harmonics of sound converge to nothing but divinity and demonstrates this as the most sublime strata of experience.  In the same vein, all the 32 lakh (3.2 million) scripts in Mahābhārata are nothing but 32 lakh attributes of God.

What is presented to us, at this juncture, is the hidden message, of life values, of philosophy, embedded in history. The face of the ‘manvādi’ or psychological intent of Mahābhārata.

This is both psychology as well as numerology. A journey that uses numerology to reach philosophy.

The numbers that are significant to Mahābhārata are seven and eighteen. It is a delineation through seven characters to eighteen values.

Which seven? What eighteen?

The five Pāndavās, Draupadi and Kṛṣṇa – these are the seven characters. These characters represent eighteen values –

Dharmarāja Dharma Righteousness (1)
Bhīma Bhakti Devotion (2)
Jñāna Knowledge (3)
Vairāgya Detached Attachment (4)
Pragnyā Awareness/ Enlightenment (5)
Mēdhā Intuitive Intellect (6)
Dhruti Fortitude (7)
Sthithi Stability (8)
Yōga Path / Communion with the Supreme (9)
Prāṇa Life force (10)
Bala Strength (11)
Arjuna Śravaṇa Listening (12)
Manana Contemplation (13)
Nididhyāsana Profound / intense meditation (14)
Nakula Śīla Good disposition / character (15)
Sahadēva Vinaya Humility (16)
Draupadi Vēda Vidya Knowledge of the Vēdas  17)
Kṛṣṇa Vēda Vēdya Known from the Vēdas (18)

Table 1: The Eighteen Values

On the platform of Dharma, ten qualities such as Bhakti, Jñāna etc., have to be imbibed for listening to, contemplating on and meditating repeatedly on the śāstras(scriptures): श्रोतव्यो मंतव्यो निदिध्यासितव्यः (śrōtavyō mantavyō nididhyāsitavyaḥ). Along with a knowledge of the śāstras, good character and humility should be one’s eternal companions. The essence of spiritual history lies in understanding these sixteen values for using the Vēdic knowledge in order to attain Vēda Vēdya the eighteenth. This is the meaning of the psycho science in Bhārata. This is the meaning of Bhagavadgītā.

This is the reason that there are eighteen sections in Mahābhārata, there are eighteen chapters in Bhagavadgītā, the secret of the number eighteen., the secret of the number eighteen., the secret of the number eighteen.

This is one aspect of the secret of eighteen. Gītā shows a special connotation of this number in another way.

Fifteen inert fences surround the sixteenth aspect, the Jīva (soul). Prakṛti is the seventeenth. Puruśōttama is the eighteenth.

This is represented by the triangle of kśara Puruśa, akśara Puruśa and Puruśōttama in the Gītā.

Surrounded by 15 perishable fences is the deathless Jīvajāta (soul).

This Jīvajāta is bound by the worldly fences by the mūla Prakṛti akśara Puruśa.

The One who releases the Jīvajāta from the fences, the mokṣa[9] giver is the supreme Puruśa or, Puruśōttama.

Which are these fifteen fences? These are described in the upaniṣats as under –

प्राणाच्छ्रद्धां खं वायुर्ज्योतिरापः पृथिवीन्द्रियं मनोऽन्नमन्नाद् वीर्यं तपो मंत्राः कर्म लोका लोकेषु नाम (Prāṇācchrad’dhāṁ khaṁ vāyurjyōtirāpaḥ pr̥thivīndriyaṁ manō̕nnamannād vīryaṁ tapō mantrāḥ karma lōkā lōkēṣu nāma ca )  

  1. śraddha – faith 2. ākāśa – sky/ ether 3. vāyuḥ – air 4. jyōtiḥ – fire 5. āpaḥ – water 6. pr̥thivi – earth/ land 7. indriyaṁ – the ten indriyas (organs of senses and action). 8. manaḥ – mind 9. annam – food 10. vīryaṁ – valour/ strength 11. tapaḥ – contemplation 12. mantrāḥ – speech 13. karma[10] – action 14. lōkā – moveable and immoveable assets 15. Nāma – name & fame (attached to name).

All these are perishable and hence called kśara.

The saga of crossing over these fences is the history of spiritualism. This is the message from the Gītā.

Achieving immortality by the liberation from the 15 inert fences, from the name and form world, and beyond that, reaching out to the binding force of Prakṛti and the liberating force of Bhagavān; concealed in this triad is spiritualism, entirely.

The message within this spiritualism is unfolded to us, by the Bhagavadgītā.


[9] Liberation of the soul from its bondage with worldly pursuits/ engagements.

[10] Action, in particular those prescribed for/ pursued by, a Jīva, with or without desire for fruits therein.

About Dr. Bannanje Govindacharya