(Last Updated on : 09/09/2014)
Stories of sacrifice are found aplenty among the narratives of the Mahabharata
. To the stories of self-sacrifice so popular in ascetic poetry, belongs the touching narrative of the huntsman and the doves, which has also been included in one recension of the Pancha Tantra
. Love of one's enemy, and self-denial can hardly go further than in this "sacred, sin-destroying Itihasa
,". The story relates how the male dove burns himself in the fire for the wicked hunter, who has caught his beloved wife because he has no other food to offer the "guest;" how the dove follows her husband into death, and how the wicked hunter, deeply touched by the great love and self-sacrifice of the pair of doves, gives up his wild life, becomes an ascetic and finally also seeks death in the fire.
Among the many stories contained in the Mahabharata, a lot of them seem to be and are in fact Buddhistic in origin. Thus, for example, the stories of King Sibi not only look very Buddhistic,
but, in a text belonging to the Tipitaka, the legend is actually already related, how this self-sacrificing king tears out both his eyes in order to give them to a beggar. In the Mahabharata the story is told in three different versions. These versions include how the king cuts the flesh from his own body piecemeal and gives up his life, in order to save the life of a dove which is pursued by a hawk. This same king Sibi, however, already plays a part in the old heroic legends of Yayati. He is one of the four pious grandsons of this king, who offer him their places in heaven and finally ascend to heaven with him. The description, too, of the immeasurable riches and the tremendous generosity of Sibi in another place, where he is glorified as a pious sacrificer, who gives the Brahmins as many oxen as raindrops fall upon the earth, as there are stars in the sky and grains of sand in the bed of the Ganga River
, is distinctly brahmanical in colouring.
Thus discussed above are a few of the stories of sacrifice contained in the Mahabharata.