Learning & Development

Jul 17, 2023 9 min read

Gaining Wisdom from the Mahabharata - Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Individual Social Responsibility (ISR)

Author is an HR professional with 8 years’ experience after passing out from XISS, Ranchi. Before joining IndianOil in 2016, he has worked with the Shipping Corporation of India Limited at Mumbai as well as Exide Industries Limited in Bawal, Haryana. Mr. Biswas holds an intense work ethic, taking initiatives has always been his academic & career focus and possess social skills that can build and maintain relations across & beyond the organization.

The Mahabharata, an ancient epic of India, offers profound learning on various aspects of life and principles of management, including aspects of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Individual Social Responsibility (ISR). Despite being an ancient text, it contains timeless wisdom that can be applied to modern-day management practices. While these contemporary management terms are not explicitly mentioned in the epic, the stories, characters and their actions within it provide valuable lessons that can be applied to modern day’s organizations.

One such example in the Mahabharata that illustrates CSR is the Rajasuya Yagna. Yudhishthira, one of the Pandava brothers, organized this grand ceremony to establish his authority as the emperor and receive homage from different kingdoms. Yudhishthira is depicted in the epic as Dharmaraja or king of righteousness. Through this event, Yudhishthira demonstrates his commitment to the well-being of his stakeholders and his responsibilities as a ruler. During the ceremony, he distributes wealth, gifts, and resources to attendees, including Brahmins, sages, and common people. His emphasis on fair distribution and the welfare of his subjects exemplifies CSR at a societal level. It also depicts that even though modern organizations are having their winning strategy for profit making and gaining market leadership, they should also take care about their stakeholders. Despite companies benefiting society by being socially responsible, may come at economic cost to them. However, through creating shared value, it actually benefits both parties and not imposing any cost to one or the other.

Another significant incident in the epic is Arjuna's moral dilemma on the battlefield prior to the great Kurukshetra war. Arjuna finds himself torn between fighting against his relatives/family, friends and gurus, who are on both sides of the conflict. In this crucial moment, Lord Krishna imparts the teachings of the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ to Arjuna, emphasizing the importance of fulfilling individual responsibilities and duties. Lord Krishna exemplifies both Corporate and Individual Social Responsibility through his guidance and actions in the whole epic.

When Arjun inquired about the ritual offering or Yagyan while receiving guidance from Krishna, Krishna explained about four types of Yagyan first being dravya Yagyan. The word yagya comprises of two words, ‘yaj’ and ‘ya’. ‘Yaj’ means “worshipping or rendering service” and ‘ya’ means “whom”. When an individual utilizes their wealth for the betterment of society, it is referred to as dravya Yagyan. Similarly, as a professional, one has significant actionable responsibility to allocate a portion of their earnings towards benefiting society. This is giving back to the roots and called Individual Social Responsibility (ISR). Krishna advises Arjuna to fight for justice, righteousness, and the well-being of society, highlighting the significance of ISR even in the face of difficult choices.

As a trusted advisor to the Pandavas, in various occasions Krishna counsels them on righteousness, justice, and the greater good. He plays a pivotal role in guiding them towards their responsibilities and fulfilling their duties as leaders and individuals. Krishna's teachings and his ultimate role demonstrates the importance of a visionary leader in guiding and uplifting society through means of CSR and ISR.

Bhishma, also known as Pitamaha, Gangaputra, and Devavrata, is a major respected and revered character in the Mahabharata. ‘Bhishma’ means ‘He of the terrible oath’, referring to his vow of life-long celibacy. Devavrata became known as Bhishma because he took the bhishan pratigya, the vow of life-long celibacy and of service to whoever sat on the throne of Hastinapura and pledges loyalty to the throne. Despite witnessing the unjust actions of the ruling Kauravas, Bhishma remains loyal to his oath and fights on their side during the war. His actions reflect a sense of individual responsibility and integrity as he honors his commitments despite the moral conflicts involved. Bhishma's loyalty represents the responsibility of those in positions of power or the leadership to uphold justice, maintain social order, and safeguard the welfare of the kingdom (stakeholders). The Leadership of any organization are accountable for fulfilling the civic duty, and they must maintain a balance between economic growth, the welfare of people & the environment. Through maintaining this equilibrium, organizations can accomplish social responsibility.

Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, experiences severe injustice when she is publicly humiliated in the royal court. Nevertheless, she displays remarkable strength, dignity, and composure in the face of adversity. Her actions highlight the individual responsibility to maintain grace and resilience when confronted with injustice. Draupadi's strength becomes an inspiration for individuals to uphold their values and integrity, even in challenging circumstances. It represents that each professional has a responsibility to act in manner that is beneficial to society and ensure just/ethical implications of a decision/action.

These stories offer valuable lessons in leadership styles, decision-making, conflict resolution, and inspiring others. The principles of ethical leadership derived from these epics can guide modern leaders in navigating challenges and fostering sustainable and socially responsible practices.

By exploring into the teachings of the Mahabharata, we can gain valuable insights into the principles of CSR and ISR. The epic emphasizes the importance of societal welfare, individual responsibilities, ethical conduct, and the need for organizational leaders to guide and inspire individuals. These timeless lessons from the Mahabharata can serve as a guiding compass, showing us the right direction in integrating CSR and ISR into both our personal and professional lives. By doing so, we can contribute to the foundation of a more compassionate, responsible, and just society.

In this aspect, the HR professionals have a crucial role in promoting CSR within organizations. By creating a culture of social responsibility and fostering ISR among employees, HR can contribute to both the company’s success and the betterment of society. Incorporating ethics and social responsibility into daily actions and decisions, as well as learning from ancient epics like the Mahabharata, can further strengthen the commitment of organizations and individuals to CSR and ISR, ensuring a more sustainable and responsible future.


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