Violence, Morality, and Theodicy in the Mahābhārata

How to Cite

N. J. Allen. (2022). Violence, Morality, and Theodicy in the Mahābhārata: Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 26(2), 91–97. Retrieved from


To think of the Mahābhārata as an epic is to emphasise the main story—the conflict between the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas. Of the eighteen books that make up the epic the first five describe the events leading up to the Great War, and the next five describe the war itself. But the Mahābhārata is much more various than an epic like the Iliad. About a third of its vast bulk is didactic and contributes little or nothing to the progress of the main story—it is devoted rather to the exposition of dharma. This notoriously difficult word covers religion, ritual, morality, justice, law, duty—how life and the universe should be and even, in essence, are. Not surprisingly, a text that brings together the account of a war and discussions of dharma has plenty to say about the relationship between violence and morality. However, to extract a single clear position from what is said is far from easy.

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