This is the story of Kunti and Karna, as given in the Epic, and we can see how it can be transformed into an account of laws of Nature; which, in their turn, constitute the bases of the different systems of philosophy and religion. It will have been noticed that the method of interpretation follows strictly the rules laid down in the Mimansa; and the two meanings, which are entirely different from each other, are equally complete, and no important idea or expression has been left out.
This, as the Mimansa tells us, is necessary, if the new meaning is to substitute the old; and that is one of the excellences of the ancient art of composition. It is true of the Vedas, as the Mimansa says; it is true of the Mahabharata, as has already been explained; and it is equally true of the Ramayana and the Bhagavat Purana, as will be explained in due course. It would follow from this that it would be true of other sacred books as well.
It would perhaps be of interest to place the two versions of the story of Kunti and Karna side by side.
Story: There was a chief among the Yadus, named Sura.
Explanation: If we exercise our intelligence, we find that it leads to the idea of knowledge as an attribute of the intellect (Yadu). But if we make a further use of our intelligence, we find that the intellect is associated with action too (sura). This leads us to the conclusion that the end of life is not only knowledge, but action too.
Story: Sura was the father of Vasudeva, and grandfather of Krshna.
Explanation: When we understand this Law of life and observe the universe in its light, we find that Nature consists of a great number of forms and forces, which work intelligently and for a good end (Vasudeva). Then, if we pursue the point further still, we find that Nature may be divided into eight parts, the last of which is intelligence, which, when associated with the idea of sacrifice, gives us the idea of God as Supreme Intelligence immanent in the universe (Krshna).
Story: He had a daughter, named Prtha.
Explanation: When we understand this law of life (sura), we find that the Earth (Prtha or Kunti) is a great form and force of Nature too, and that it belongs to this "family of God".
Story: He had a childless cousin, Kuntibhoja, and he gave his daughter to him to adopt; and she came to be called Kunti.
Explanation: But all people do not believe that the Earth belongs to the great "family of God". They are satisfied with the view that it is a bountiful bestower of good things (Kuntibhoja), although this view is not, by itself, fruitful of any great results (childless). But if we pursue even this idea to its logical end, we find that it takes us to the idea of good action or action as a sacrifice, and so is allied to the idea of God, itself derive from that of sacrifice.
Story: While residing in her adoptive father's house, Kunti had been taught a Mantra by a Brahmana, by reciting which she could call any one of the celestials to have children by him.
Explanation: But even if we agree that the Earth is a bountiful bestower of good things (Kunti lives in her adoptive father's house), we cannot admit that it can create anything solely by itself, But if we exercise our intelligence (Brahmana's Mantra), we shall find that the Earth can create with the assistance of the great forces of Nature. There are a number of such forces, and it can create a number of things by means of them (Kunti can call up any celestial for purposes of creation).
Story: Kunti used the Brahmana's Mantra, and invoked the Sun; and, as a result of their union, was born a hero named Karna, encased in a natural armour, and a face brightened by ear-rings.
Explanation: If we exercise our intelligence (Brahmana's Mantra), we find that the Earth is closely associated with the Sun, and has power to attract and absorb its rays; and, as a result of this, there is formed within it the essence of seed or grain, the origin of the Vegetable Kingdom (Karna). The latter is encased in an outer cover of hard skin, rind or bark, and has a beautiful form, such as may be seen in fruit hanging on the branch of a tree.
Story: The Sun, after restoring her virginity to Kunti, went to heaven; and she threw her son into water.
Explanation: The seed is of the same essence as the Earth itself, and its birth, at this stage, does not affect its constitution or powers; for it is not affected by the rays of the Sun that it absorbs, as it can radiate or reflect them back again (the Sun restores Kunti's virginity, and goes away).
But the grain, even at this stage, contains an essence of moisture or water, like the nucleus of the cell (Kunti threw her son into water).
Story: Karna was picked up by Adhiratha, the husband of Radha, and brought up by them.
Explanation: All creatures live by food, the origin of which is seed or grain. A creature accordingly picks up and preserves it, because of his anxiety to support his body in proper action (Adhiratha), and the desire to live (Radha).
Story: Karna grew up and became an expert in the use of arms. He used to worship the Sun; and when his back was scorched with its rays, there was nothing on earth that he did not give to the Brahmanas.
Explanation: Seed or grain can grow into a tree, and the process of its development, and the uses to which it can be put, are wonderful (Karna becomes an expert in the use of arms).
It absorbs the essence of the power of the Sun itself (Karna worships the Sun); and when it is fully mature or ripe (his back was heated with the rays of the Sun), there is no essential want of an intelligent person (Brahmana) that that it cannot satisfy.
It is in this manner that the whole story can be transformed into a statement of facts and laws of Nature, each part cohering with the other, and making a new and complete whole. But it is necessary that the same "character" should retain its own idea throughout the narrative; that is, Kunti should always mean our "mother" Earth, and Karna grain or seed, and the systems of thought associated with their ideas. Similarly, all other "characters" in the Epic, for there must be uniformity of conception throughout must represent different ideas and objects of life, and retain their own form everywhere. It is only then that, even as the Mimansa tells us, we can regard these works as sacred, as they are believed to be.
All this, so far as it relates to the Mahabharata, has already been explained and need not be repeated here; and it would be found that the Epic is really an account of the clash and conflict of all the great systems of philosophy and religion, and shows how they can be reconciled in the end.
The idea of the Ramayana and the Bhagavat Purana is similar too; only they deal with the problem in terms of the actions of gods and demons rather than of human beings, as the Mahabharata does. We may conclude from this that the idea of all other sacred books is also the same, and that they can be reinterpreted in the same manner.
Conclusion: This is the ancient, original idea of the sacred books of the Hindus, and of Hinduism, a rational system of thought and life, and a synthesis of science, philosophy, and religion. It has its share of emotion too, devotion, love, and faith with all that the art of man can embellish, for there is no essential difference between the working of the head and the heart; and the two, like intellect and the soul, may even be identified.
But the ancient systems are not the same as we find them today. They are separated from us by three thousand years, during which many changes have taken place; but the traces of ancient thought yet survive in what remains, and can take us back to the past to reconstruct it again.
At the same time, while this method of interpretation helps to solve a number of problems of the sacred books, and places the ancients and their thought in a new perspective, giving us a new idea of their standards of culture and civilization, their achievements in science and psychology, and the understanding of moral and spiritual values of life, it involves a reorientation of a number of ideas bearing on science and psychology, ethics, history, metaphysics, and religion. But it is not possible, within the limits of the present work, to deal with even a fraction of these, and they must await consideration elsewhere.