Salutations to you, O Vyasa of profound intellect, with eyes like the petals of a lotus in bloom, who lit the lamp of wisdom filled with the oil of the Mahabharata.

Salutations to you O Vyasa of profound intellect.

This verse is in praise of the author Vyasa. Both the gross and subtle intellects were highly developed in the sage. Vyasa codified the Vedas and put them in writing for the first time. Prior to Vyasa the Vedas were handed down by word of mouth. In acknowledgement of this stupendous accomplishment Vyasa was accorded the singular honour of being revered as the first guru. Guru Purnima, the day on which we pay homage to the brilliant sages, our ancestors, got renamed as Vyasa Purnima. Vyasa was also the author of the 17 Puranas, the epic Mahabharata which was his 18th composition, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavatam.

Vyasa was the great grandson of Vasistha, grandson of Sakti and son of the sage Parashara and the fisherwoman Satyavati. This combination of the sublime subtlety of a sage with the practical approach of a fisherwoman enabled him to achieve the stupendous work single-handedly.

The Mahabharata took place at the end of Dvapara yuga just before the beginning of Kali yuga. The Ramayana occurred in Treta yuga. Dvapara yuga is the third yuga or age. There are four yugas:

Satya Yuga – 1,728,000 years

Treta Yuga – 1,296,000 years

Dvapara Yuga – 864,000 years

Kali Yuga – 432,000 years

The four yugas together make one Mahayuga.

The Mahabharata contains 2109 chapters divided into subordinate books or adhyayas. It consists of a total of 97,400 verses. It is so rich with the philosophy of the Vedas that it has been accepted as the fifth Veda or panchama veda. It blends the beauty of poetry with the sublime truths of the Vedas. It is also a manual of morality, ethics, law and philosophy. It has served society as much for entertainment as for important instructions on life, borne by the unparalleled success of the television serial ‘Mahabharata’.

Vyasa‘s stenographer was Lord Ganesha who agreed to do the job on condition that the dictation had to be uninterrupted. Vyasa agreed but cleverly laid down his own stipulation that Ganesha had to understand every word that was dictated. So when Vyasa wanted to take a break it is said that he composed a portion so subtle that it took Ganesha some time to figure out its meaning. This gave Vyasa the much needed respite!

Vyasa is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. There were 28 Vyasas in all. This one is supposed to be the 28th. We are promised a 29th Vyasa who is yet to come.

In addition, what we can take from these words is that the subtle intellect or conscience becomes ‘profound’ or stronger and sharper through the study of Vedanta. And the key to a peaceful life and success on the spiritual path rests on the strength of one’s subtle intellect. Thus the study of Vedanta enables us to make intelligent choices by using our subtle intellect to negotiate through the trials and tribulations of life.

With eyes like the petals of a lotus in bloom

This is a poetic description of a person who had that “tejas” or aura. Vyasa had a magnetic personality. This magnetism comes from selflessness, spiritual growth.
Who lit the lamp of wisdom filled with the oil of the Mahabharata.

The metaphor of a lamp is used here. Vyasa did not write the piece to glorify himself. He passed on the invaluable knowledge of the Vedas in a form that was easily understandable to the generation of the time. He focussed the light and guided people to their potential. Led them from ignorance to awakening. Just as a lamp shows us the way in darkness.

The Gita appears in the middle of the Mahabharata. All the other stories in the Mahabharata helped convey the same philosophy of the Gita. The meat of the philosophy however, lies in the Gita. Hence the wick represents the Bhagavad Gita. The oil that keeps the flame alive is equated to the stories of the Mahabharata that fed the philosophy. The light that emanates from the lamp is the knowledge. The wisdom in the Gita benefited not only the generation of the time but people right down the ages.

The devotional angle is the description of Vyasa that evokes adoration and respect. The intellectuals get inspired by the masterly presentation made by the sage with the vast intellect and commanding personality who gave out the subtle truths of the Vedas in a simple form.