What is Itihasa Purana? | Difference between Ramayana and Mahabharata

A Brief On Vedic Scriptures

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The Vedas are cryptic in nature. The intelligence of the modern man is corrupted by the six vices of lust, anger, greed, illusion, self-pride, envy. Owing to this fault, reading of the Vedas cannot yield results with regards to bringing about the appropriate transformation in one’s life. Hence the import of the Vedas has to be presented in a practical, understandable form. To make this possible, the Supreme Lord whose very breath is the Vedas, takes various incarnations and descends on the earthly platform to illustrate and exemplify the Vedic teachings through His life on earth. The life of the Lord, during his most esteemed visit on earth was also required to be documented in a way that, one can read His pastimes and easily understand the import of the Vedas, which was the original intention of the Lord.

As the scribes of the Life of the Lord, highly elevated beings also descend to the earthly platform and through their accurate and immaculate spiritual vision present the Lord’s pastimes for the sake of the general population. Without these scriptural interpretations of the Vedas, depicting the Lord’s pastimes, the general populace would have no access to the higher domains of life principles. These documented archives of the Lord’s pastimes are thus known as “Itihasah Purana” They represent the essential extract of the Vedas. The Itihasas and Puranas also have a differentiation between themselves. There are two Itihasas that describe the pastimes of the Lord. The historical documentation of the life of Lord Rama is called Ramayana and that which describes the life of Lord Krishna is the Mahabharata. There are 18 Puranas that are considered as the main ones. Out of these 18 Puranas, 6 of them are in the mode of goodness (Satvik Puranas), 6 in the mode of passion (Rajasik Puranas) and 6 are in the mode of ignorance (Tamasic Puranas). The Itihasas have been written at a time contemporary to the life of the main characters in the Itihasas. Puranas have been written much after the events have actually transpired. They are documents about bygone times. When Lord Krishna was present on earth, the Mahabharata had already been composed. Similarly as Lord Rama lived, the Ramayana had already been completed.

One can never be qualified to interpret the Vedas directly without first mastering the Itihasas and Puranas. In the Itihasas, the Ramayana is considered superior to the Mahabharata, in a technical sense, as per the scholars. This is because in the Ramayana, right from the first Kanda to the last, the main character is the Supreme Lord Rama alone. But the Mahabharata is about the life of Pandavas and their enmity with the Kauravas. Here the Lord, Sri Krishna plays a supporting role and knits the story together to bring out various morals. The Itihasah that does not have the Lord as the main character cannot be considered as the main one. Thus the Ramayana is considered superior to the Mahabharata by the sages. After having completed the Mahabharata, the incarnation of the Lord, Sri Vyasadeva was thoroughly dissatisfied because the Itihasah revolved around the lives of many who were after revenge and deceit. The presence of Lord Krishna in the Mahabharata was only evident in spurts, which left Vyasadeva exhausted and disheartened, for the lack of Lord’s presence in major parts of the Scripture. These gaps cannot be found in the Ramayana. The whole of Ramayana revolved around the Supreme Personality Lord Rama and it was an extremely satisfying experience for sage Valmiki.

There are a lot of similarities and differences between the two central characters of the Ramayana and Mahabharata namely Sri Rama and Sri Krishna. One was a descendent of the Sun Dynasty while the other was a descendent of the Moon dynasty. Rama was born in the palace while Sri Krishna was born in the prison. Lord Rama was born during the day while Lord Krishna was born at midnight. Lord Rama was born in “Navami”, the ninth day of the fortnight while Lord Krishna was born in “Ashtami”, the eighth day of the fortnight. Lord Rama was born in Ayodhya, He grew up in Ayodhya, He ruled in Ayodhya and left for His heavenly abode from Ayodhya. Lord Krishna was born in Mathura. He grew up in Gokula and Vrindavana. He ruled in Dwaraka. He ascended to the heavenly abode from Prabhas. Lord Rama spoke the Truth, he was never diplomatic. Lord Krishna would lie, He was the father of diplomacy. Ramayana is called “Sri” Ramayana because of its purity in content which described the greatness of Lord Rama and Mother Sita. The Ramayana also talks about the great devotees of Lord Rama and the purity of their vision, of how they saw the Lord in their hearts. The position of the devotees is that of the servant of Lord Rama. The Mahabharata is not referred as “Sri” Mahabharata, because most of the stories in the Mahabharata is about deceit, revenge and diplomacy. Apart from a few instances, there is no depiction of the characters as “loving devotees” of Lord Krishna. Most of them look at the Lord as “ordinary”, barring Arjuna who considers Lord Krishna as his friend, as his Lord. In the Ramayana, the story is woven such that the Lord is dependent on His devotees for His work. The depiction of the Lord is that of a human. In the Mahabharata, Lord Krishna is shown to be serving the Pandavas and taking control of their lives. Lord Krishna also served as the charioteer of Arjuna. Lord Krishna also demonstrated His divinity in multiple events, while Sri Rama portrayed His character as a normal human being.  When we think of Lord Rama, He is our king and we are His subjects. When one thinks of Krishna, He is our friend, this is the feeling.