Article: Top 3 L&D lessons from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata

Learning & Development

Top 3 L&D lessons from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata

Leaders can take lessons from the two of the greatest Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to lead the shifts in learning and create a powerful learning ecosystem. Here are some L&D lessons from the two great epics.
Top 3 L&D lessons from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata

Over centuries the way learning happens has evolved and transformed with changing times. Even today what learning design might work for one could be counterproductive for the other. Taking notes from the two of the greatest epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, we find how the content and the methodology of learning is different for two different scenarios. In Ramayana the princes are sent to gurukul to undergo a planned learning procedure, in the Mahabharata, the upcoming leaders are put in challenging situations and made to learn through real-life situations. 


Relating this to the learning and development in the corporates, businesses can take lessons from these epics and redesign their L&D strategies to be made well suited as per different context and stages. 

Here are some L&D lessons from the two great epics:

Ensuring holistic learning: Lessons from Ramayana 

In the Ramayana, Ram is educated by his teachers who are dealing with child prodigy and there are ‘Vashishtha’ (educators), who are giving theoretical knowledge in a safe ecosystem in Ashramas.  Then Vishvamitra comes along and emphasizes the need for learning by experience. This correlates with the L&D in the corporates as well, as learner after going through classroom training, courses and modules the learner needs to be put into real life situations to be able to apply the theoretical knowledge.  

Further, Ram’s both technical and soft skills are harnessed by giving him different challenges to shape him as a balanced individual and leader. While on one hand he is given the task to kill a bird, on the other he is asked to win justice for a woman. 

L&D leaders can take a note from the epic and imbibe the teaching in their learning programs. The learning agenda should focus on both the hard and soft skills of employees for a holistic development. 

Harnessing people skills: The Mahabharata way

Kings and queen of the kingdom lost their money and dignity to learn the harsh lessons of life. While Guru Dronacharya could teach them the great skills of archery and fighting a battle, what he couldn’t teach was compassion and humbleness. “The failure in his teachings is what people often ignore,” exclaims mythologist, Devdutt Pattanaik. 

However, the situations they were put into later in life, taught the lessons to both Pandavas and Kauravas. Picking this piece from the epic, L&D leaders can put learners into real-life situations to harness their people skills like compassion and empathy. 

Devdutt Pattanaik, Author, Mythologist, Leadership Coach says, “A successful organization is the one where everyone feels powerful, energized and motivated. This can be achieved only when individuals are both skilled in their function and are  great human beings.” 

Leadership lessons from the two epics 

Not only the learning methods but how each and every leader or manager responsible for the growth and development of their employees behaves and responds to its learners needs shifts with changing contexts. 

Devdutt Pattanaik, Author, Mythologist, Leadership Coach uses the two epics as metaphors to describe the two different markets which businesses operate in and says, “The Ramayana from the ‘Treta Yuga1’ and Mahabharata which occurred in the ‘Dvapara Yuga2’ are two different markets with two different contexts. In one Vishnu descends as the eldest son of the royal family, in the other, he is the youngest son in a cowherd family. One same God can’t behave in the same way in two different markets. He has to adapt, be agile and transform as per changing context.”

The leader when comes down and empathizes to the needs of the different individuals, the conversations become more meaningful and personalized. For instance, in Ramayana, Ram is unaware of his divinity, while in Mahabharata Krishna is well aware of his capabilities. Similar happens at work, there are some employees who lack the awareness of their own potential while there are others who know their capabilities. “These two categories of individuals can’t be taught in the same way,” says Devdutt Pattanaik. “While the former needs to be inspired, the other one is to be taught empathy.” 

Therefore both the leaders’ approach and the learning programs have to change with the shifting context for more impact. When both are made more personalized and relevant the learner’s experience is enhanced thus increasing engagement. 

1. The second out of the four yugas, or ages of mankind, in the religion of Hinduism

2. The third out of the four yugas, or ages of mankind, in the religion of Hinduism

(The article is based on the keynote session by Devdutt Pattanaik, Author, Mythologist, Leadership Coach on 'Leading the shift in Learning' from People Matters L&D conference 2018.)

Watch the session here:

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Topics: Learning & Development, #PMLnD

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