Jai Ho!

Indian Mythology, Mahabharata 53 Comments

Published in First City, March 2009

Jai means victory. Vijay also means victory. Why two words? Do they mean the same thing? Jai Ho, means ‘may you be victorious’. But the phrase is never interchanged with Vijayi Bhava, which also means ‘may you be victorious’. Jai Ho is used almost as a greeting in many parts of India or as an exclamation. But Vijayi Bhava is used very specifically when one is setting out for a conflict, confrontation, duel or competition. What exactly is the difference? Like in all things Indian, no clear answers are given anywhere; meanings have to be derived.

A clue perhaps lies in the Bhagavata Purana which states that Jai and Vijay were the two doorkeepers of Vishnu. Once, the four Sanat-Kumars wanted to pay their respects to God who resides in Vaikuntha in the form of Vishnu. When they arrived at Vaikuntha the doorkeepers did not let them enter as Vishnu was sleeping. The sages decided to wait. Some time later they approached the gates once again. Again the doorkeepers did not let them enter. “Because the lord is still asleep,” they said. This happened the third time too. Piqued, the sages cursed the doorkeepers, “Because you stopped us from meeting God three times may you be born three times. May you experience death three times. May you know what it is to be away from the presence of God for three lifetimes.”

When Vishnu woke up and learnt what had transpired, he apologized to the sages. He then promised to do everything he could to help his door keepers return to Vaikuntha because they were only doing their duty. The two doorkeepers were born as two Asura brothers, Hiranayaksha and Hiranakashipu. Hiranayaksha dragged the earth under the sea, forcing Vishnu to take the form of a boar, plunge into the waters, gore him to death, and raise the earth back to the surface. Hiranakashipu tortured his own son, Prahalada, a devotee of Vishnu, for chanting the name of God forcing Vishnu to manifest as the man-lion Narasimha and tear him to shreds.

Hiranayaksha and Hiranakashipu were then reborn as Ravana and Kumbhakarna, two Rakshasa-brothers who believed might is right and threatened all codes of civilized conduct. Their actions forced Vishnu to take the form of Rama and destroy them.

Then Ravana and Kumbhakarna were reborn as Shishupala and Dantavakra, two villainous humans who valued personal ambition over social order. Their behavior forced Vishnu to descend as Krishna and kill them. Death at the hands of God released Jai and Vijay from the Asura, Rakshasa and Manava forms and ensured their return to Vaikuntha where they resumed their roles as doorkeepers.

In all three lifetimes, the doorkeepers are apparently defeated by an avatar of Vishnu. But this defeat benefits them; they are reborn in a better form (from Asura to Rakshasa to Manava to Deva). So while they do not win the battle of the flesh, they win in the battle for the soul. Victory over the flesh is called Vijay and victory over the soul is called Jai. In the former, someone is defeated. In the latter no one is defeated. In the former there are winners and losers. In the latter there are only winners.

Another, and perhaps a clearer, clue about the meanings of the word Jai and Vijay comes from the Mahabharata, whose original title was Jai. In the final chapter, the Swarga-Ahronika-Parva (Chapter on Ascent to Heaven), Yudhishtira steps into heaven, and is horrified to find before him the hundred Kauravas, Duryodhana and Dusshasana included, standing besides the Devas looking radiant and blissful. They spread out their arms to welcome Yudhishtira. Yudhishtira recoils in disgust.

Its an ending that has intrigued scholars for centuries. Why not just end the epic with the end of the war and the victory of the Pandavas?

“How did these war-mongers reach the abode of the gods?” Yudhishtira asks angrily. The Devas reply, “They were killed on the holy land of Kurukshetra. That has purified them of all misdeeds and earned the right to enter heaven.” The explanation did not satisfy Yudhishtira. “And my brothers? And my wife? What about them? Where are they? Are they are here too?” he demanded to know. “They are not here,” the Devas said. “Where then?” asked Yudhishtira.

In response the Devas lead Yudhishtira out of Swarga, down from the sky, deep under the earth to a realm that was dark and gloomy and miserable. There, Yudhishtira heard cries of pain and suffering. It was everything heaven was not. He realized it was Naraka, the realm of misery. “My brothers are here?” cried Yudhishtira in disbelief. He heard the moaning of his brothers and his wife. He could not believe this!

Yudhishtira felt his legs go weak. Tears welled up in his eyes. How could he return to Swarga and leave his family here? He took a decision. “No. I will not leave Naraka. I will stay here with my wife and my brothers. I will suffer with them. I refuse to enter heaven without them.”

Looking into Yudhishtira’s eyes, the gods asked, “Oh! But we thought you had renounced everything?”

“What do you mean?” asked Yudhishtira, suddenly uncomfortable.

“Well, you certainly have given up your kingdom and your worldly wealth. And you apparently gave up your relationships when you did not turn around to help your wife and your brothers as they fell to their death while climbing the mountains on the way to heaven. But…”


“But you have not given up your anger. Your anger for the Kauravas, despite killing them in battle and ruling the earth for 36 years. As soon as you saw the Kauravas in heaven, you demanded the same privilege for your family, whom you had until then forgotten. . Your display of love for your brothers at this moment is nothing but a retaliation. You cling to your hatred, Yudhishtira. You still begrudge the Kauravas. You have not forgiven them. You refuse to let go and move on. How then do you hope to truly attain heaven?”

At that moment, Yudhishtira realized he was not the great man who he thought he was. He had not really overcome his prejudices. Only when there is undiluted compassion for everyone, even our worst enemies, is ego truly conquered. Realization humbled Yudhishtira. He fell to the ground and began to weep. Finally, bathed in the river Ganga, he rose – his mind full of wisdom, compassion and peace. Thus, the ascent to heaven is finally achieved.

The epic thus ends not with the victory of the Pandavas over the Kauravas but with Yudhishtira’s triumph over himself. Suddenly the original title of the Mahabharata makes sense. Vyasa called his story Jai, not Vijay. In Vijay, there are winners and losers. In Jai, there are no losers, no one is defeated, for one triumphs over oneself.

The Mahabharata is not about the Vijay of the Pandavas over the Kauravas. It is about the Jai of Yudhishtira over himself. Only through Jai, will Yudhishtira know what heaven truly is. Thus, the title of the final chapter and the epic itself makes sense. Mahabharata becomes a book yearning for peace, not war. True peace happens when no one is defeated. True peace happens when one conquers oneself.

The gentle musician’s speech at the Oscars this year on winning the Best Song resonated this timeless truth. In life, one can choose hate or love. “I chose love and here I am,” said AR Rehman. This is a message of hope in times where hatred is celebrated in everything from politics to television reality shows. The final answer lies not in defeating the other, but in conquering the beast within ourselves that seeks to dominate over others. This is moksha, self-realization.

  • Gracy Cardozo

    Bang on!!!

  • Harpreet Singh Gujral

    Devdutt, as always has a magical sense of relating said words with recorded mythology. Great description!

  • Ramakrishna

    Terrific explanation of the very essence of Mahabaratha.

  • Deepan

    Jai Ho (the song) is also now the election slogan for Congress. Something tells me that they really haven’t embraced the slogan in its true sense!

    • aarthi raghavan

      i feel that u r absolutely right.without knowing the true meaning of anything they r doing something.may god bless them!

  • Rashmi Fernandez

    Awesome !! Life is all about choices we make..this beautifully depicts and binds the purpose of our lives.. No matter what we always can choose Jai or Vijay..

  • birju shah

    great,awesome.it not just brings light on the meaning of jai but the core of our great holy book-mahabharat since it is not just epic but a documentry on the life of the great who teaches us how to lead life in its true manner.description is great.i sencerly believe that devdutt should go beyond english and i gladly invite you to encounter gujarati audience.gujaratis have by born an inclination towards religion and we always want to see our great religion presented in its true sense.it is sanatan dharma and mother of all other thoughts.it is beyond religion,its way of life.cheers!

  • Jayi bhava Vijayi bhava! was the blessing that Ghatotkacha’s aides resounded – in the old Telugu mythological movie – Mayabazaar
    Winning over the world would probably come AFter one won over the self.. for once one wins over the self, there would be no need for the world to be won over..

    If also the mythological tale also could be interpreted as the pancha pandavas being the 5 senses and their victory was akin to winning over of the mind over the physical senses, Jai surely would be the apt title for the epic. But as you said, all is open to interpretation – and this brings me to the state of the Indian society today. Every one interprets the laws, rules, guidelines in their own ways, and thus there is this huge chaos in the nation for everyone is fighting in his or her own kurukshetra.
    This should lead to each individual trying to win over the self to transcend this chaos and find peace within.
    Some insights these :)

  • As an added note,
    Jaya and Vijaya were 2 special people bestowed with ‘sArUpyam’ – The divine grace by means of which they have the same physical identity as god.

    Here are their photos from the Channakesva temple in Belur and Soundararaja temple in Nagapattinam respectively –

    The only way apparently to distinguish them is the ‘mudra’ of their hands. Unlike lord who sports ‘Varada’ mudra (giving posture), the Gatekeepers just point in the lord’s direction, revealing that he’s the only truth.

  • Mohan Ramchandani

    As usual superb article. A question again .
    What is the difference between
    Asura and Rakshasa

    • Asuras live under the earth and fight Devas. Rakshasas live above the earth, follow jungle law, and fight humans (Manavas or sons of Manu), who struggle to overpower the jungle law.

  • Hi,
    I can never get tired of reading this article over and over again. I just love it.

  • Shanmugam

    ““They were killed on the holy land of Kurukshetra. ” – not because they were killed in Kurukshetra, but because they lived as true Kshatriyas.

    The common version is that Yudhistra had to experience hell for a short time for the sin of telling one lie (about Ashwatthama’s death) and when he decides to stay there Indra and other Devas appear and the hellish scene disappears and Yudhistra is told that realy all his brothers are in heaven.

  • Your explanation is fascinating.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Pravin

    Such a refreshing read!

    I have a question though. Was Yudhishtira’s family really in Naraka or was it an illusion? And if they were, why?

  • karthikeyen

    is ucchaisravas and the prancing horse the same symbol and what is the benefit of having it displayed in ones office for luck.thanks

    • Ucchaishrava is the flying horse that came from the ocean of milk….I don’t know its relationship to prancing horse and/or good luck charm.

  • Thanks to mid day for introducing your writing. It’s interesting piece revealing a different meaning.

  • ravish

    great article. Now i really know the real meaning of jai. thanks.

  • Ravi

    This guy is a treasure. Such original insights into the lore that everyone thinks he/she knows …

    I am your fan from this moment on… Jai Ho!!

  • rchandrasekaran

    its a great explanation.like others i too enjoyed reading this.i look forward to see more.

  • “The final answer lies not in defeating the other, but in conquering the beast within ourselves that seeks to dominate over others.”

    This reminds me of the beautiful line of a song from popular hindi movie ‘Swades’. It says
    “Man se Ravan jo bhagae, Ram uske Man mein hai”

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • shankar

    jai ho..

  • Raghu

    Good interpretaion of a new-age song with our mythology to drive home a universal truth.
    Thanks for your insightful explanation!

  • Prashant

    Hello Devdutt,

    This article is very good.
    Just a doubt – do you believe in “Avatars”?


  • Rudra

    Excellent Article.

    I have been wondering about the ideas of Heaven/Hell in semitic mythologies, and the lack of clear analogy in Indian mythologies. I realize the concept of swarag/narak exists, however, do you feel that these concepts are synonymous? Given that birth in Indian mythologies happen infinite times, which is not the case in semitic mythologies; how do we explain the concept of swarag and narak?

  • Pramod

    Alexander – Vijayi Bhava
    Gymnosophist – Jai ho

    “Vijayi Bhava” exists in the materialstic world whereas “Jai ho” exists in the spiritual world.

  • Rajesh

    Excellent Explanation. I love to read more of your article.

    Jai Ho !!!

  • Shivani


  • hemant

    ‘True peace happens when no one is defeated’ this one line, if understood, can solve the all the geo conflicts and clash of civilizations that we see in today’s world.

  • Dear Devdutt, only today I got to know about your website and blog and instead of working I am reading this beautiful strories all morning about Hindu Mythology.
    Thanks a lot! I will recommend it to other interested friends.
    Best regards from Yvonne from Germany

  • Vasantha

    There cannot be a better explanation to emphasize the importance of ‘Forgiving.’

    Keep up the good work!

  • Krishna

    Hi Dev,
    Whats your belief on YUGAs, what next after KALI Yuga?

    Recently some news about the world will end on 2012 and one movie also released. Whats your opinion on it.

    Thanks for your time.

  • Mandar

    If person stayes in heaven or Narak depending on his deeds for infinite time.. when will he gets rebirth as per hindu philosophy…?? Please let me know about this.

    • no stay in heaven and hell is permanent in Hindu mythology…..everything is temp

      • bharath


        wowo i am getting my brain work a lot :)

        i was wondering ..what enters Heaven and HELL is it Body or Soul or anything else?

        because body is decomposed in materialistic world

        soul goes on to take the new form.

        kinda confused can any one throw some light?


  • The Discovery of Dr. Devdutt & his website gave me so much joy – may be comparable to ‘giving the vision to blind man’. My knowledge is very much limited, but Devdutt has helped me to remove those boundaries.

  • manoj asnani

    Respected Sir
    please let me know:
    1. the 16 characteristics which Lord Krishna possessed.
    2.Is success and failure of an individual karmic connected

  • manoj asnani

    Respected Sir

    How much of truth is there in the mayan calender regarding dec21, 2012 and what happens on that specified date in the celestial skies? Will it have some kind of impact on the human race in a negative/positive manner? Kindly enlighten me on this. Thank you and looking forward to your response eagerly

  • Awesome article.. Till now, I didn’t know this story of Yudishtara, at the end of Mahabharata. Talk about missing the climax !!

  • navin

    we are really grateful to you for these wonderful article.many thanks

  • Mohan Ramchandani

    In one of your articles you had said that
    Asuras live in patal lok that means
    Hiranayaksha and Hiranakashipu were not living
    on the earth ?

  • sir, please write an article on the description of the fourteen worlds with the seven dweeps in the bhulog from the vishnu purana or the bhagavatam. it’s very intriguing.

  • Sudhakar K

    Thank you very much for this great article.

  • Harini

    Grt insight…JAI HO…!

  • Shruti R Shankar

    “But you have not given up your anger. Your anger for the Kauravas, despite killing them in battle and ruling the earth for 36 years. As soon as you saw the Kauravas in heaven, you demanded the same privilege for your family, whom you had until then forgotten. . Your display of love for your brothers at this moment is nothing but a retaliation. You cling to your hatred, Yudhishtira. You still begrudge the Kauravas. You have not forgiven them. You refuse to let go and move on. How then do you hope to truly attain heaven?”
    Clearly explains that there i sno point in holding on to grudges. It only makes life hell. A point i learnt in a painful way. Forget and forgive makes life better for everyone.
    Thanks for the wonderful articles.

  • Vamsi Krsna

    of all your articles I would rate this as best………….it was a fabulous explanation about our great epic JAYA and how HINDUISM preaches peace……..you gave the true meaning of Mahabharath…hats off!!!
    I would like to read your understanding about Bagvadhgeeta….Hope you will write for us!
    God bless you!!!

  • v.indira

    Mahabharat is being called as panchama veda which provides solutions to all problems,spiritual as well as material.forgetting i ness and desolving ego is the final destination of all on earth.when we reach that stage we declare i am the god(Aham Bramhasmi).all are steps to reach that final stage.every stage has its own importance in Hindu religion because they never say no to any stage but simply say this is not Absolute,..Neti..(no this is not).The search goes on till you desolve your ego completly to identify yiurself with god.

  • preeti

    Brilliant article… Enlightening, eye-opening, total pleasure to read. I’m a fan!!!! Thankyou :-)

  • drew bitsko

    I’m very much interesting in hindu mythology and those epics.. Thanks for posting such an interesting story of vedic puranamole removal cream