Thursday, August 18, 2016

Reading Guide: Wilson. The Five Tall Sons of Pandu.

Title: The Indian Story Book: The Five Tall Sons of Pandu
Author: Richard Wilson
Illustrator: Frank Pape
Year: 1914

Comments: Wilson's very brief version of the Mahabharata (largely based on Romesh Dutt's verse translation) is remarkable for its completely human focus. This is not a story about the gods, about supernatural weapons, about cosmic drama. Instead, it is the struggle of a royal family, bitterly divided, as they wage a world war to decide who will hold the throne.

Free Online: See all the links at Freebookapalooza. The links below are to the Internet Archive presentation of the book.

Length: one week. I've divided the reading into two parts: Part A - Part B.

Reading Guide: Part A
(Reading Part B starts at Section 7 below.)

SECTION 1: The Young Princes, p. 71

Pandu is the father of five tall sons: Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, and the twins Nakula and Sahadeva. When Pandu dies, his brother Dhritarashtra, who is blind, becomes king. Dhritarashtra has one hundred sons; Duryodhana is the eldest. He hates his cousins, the sons of Pandu (the Pandavas). Drona trains the young princes in the arts of war.

When the princes have grown up and mastered the arts of war, Drona organizes a tournament. The cousins engage in mock battles, but Duryodhana and Bhima fight so fiercely that Drona puts a stop to their contest. Arjuna performs amazing feats of archery.

Then a mysterious warrior, Karna, challenges Arjuna. He matches Arjuna's feats exactly, and then he and Arjuna prepare for a duel. The herald proclaims Arjuna's lineage and then asks the stranger to do the same; he cannot. Duryodhana then crowns the warrior as king of Huga (Anga).

A charioteer then enters the tournmanet ground, and Karna bows to him as his father. Bhima is outraged that Karna is the son of a charioteer and mocks him. Duryodhana defends Karna's skills and virtues, despite his humble birth. Darkness ends the tournament, and everyone realizes that Karna is a warrior whose talents rival those of Arjuna.

SECTION 2: Draupadi's Swayamvara, p. 77.

Duryodhana is furious when Yudhishthira is named as heir apparent to the throne. Duryodhana tries to trap the Pandavas and their mother Pritha (Kunti) in a burning house but they escape, disguising themselves as hermits.

They then go to the swayamvara of Princess Draupadi, daughter of King Drupada of Panchala. Drupada has heard of Arjuna and hopes he will enter the contest; to be sure Arjuna will win, Drupada sets up an archery target he thinks only Arjuna can hit. All the suitors fail to string the bow; Karna strings the bow, but Draupadi declares she will not accept a low-born husband. A hermit, Arjuna in disguise, then strings the bow and shoots the target.

People are amazed! Draupadi declares him the winner, but the other suitors are angry and attack the hermits. Krishna raises his hand to stop the hostilities, and all bow to him.

Arjuna then takes Draupadi home and tells his mother he has won a prize. Not knowing what the prize is, Kunti declares that it must belong to Yudhishthira as the eldest, so Draupadi will be the wife of Yudhishthira, not Arjuna. [Note that this is a major change in the story that Wilson introduces: in the traditional version, Kunti tells Arjuna that he must share his prize with all the brothers, so Draupadi becomes the bride of all five Pandavas.]

SECTION 3: King Yudhishthira, p. 82

Now that the Pandavas have made an alliance with King Drupada, Duryodhana divides the kingdom: Duryodhana takes the richer part of the kingdom along the Ganges and gives the western portion on the river Yamuna to the Pandavas. They build a beautiful royal city and perform a special sacrifice to make Yudhishthira king.

Dhritarashtra attends, as does Duryodhana, along with the kings of many other kingdoms and Krishna too. When Yudhishthira honors Krishna as the guest of honor, Shishupala, King of Chedi, gets angry. Krishna uses his discus weapon (chakra) to behead Shishupala.

SECTION 4: The Gambling Match, p. 86

Now that Yudhishthira is a king in his own kingdom, Duryodhana is mad with jealousy and decides to trick Yudhishthira in a game of dice, with the help of Prince Shakuni (who is actually his maternal uncle). Shakuni cheats and Yudhishthira loses everything, gambling even his brothers and himself. Then he loses Draupadi. Dhritarashtra is appalled and vows that the Pandavas shall not be slaves; instead, they shall go into forest exile. [In the traditional version, the forest exile is the result of a second gambling match, which Yudhishthira loses as he did the first.]

When a servant summons Draupadi, she refuses to go. Then Duryodhana's brother, Prince Dushasana, drags Draupadi by the hair into the council chamber.

She begs her husbands to avenge her, but they can do nothing. Karna taunts her, as does Duryodhana. Dhritarashtra then offers to grant Draupadi a wish; she asks to go into exile with the Pandavas. The Pandavas and Draupadi go into the forest for twelve years of exile and a thirteenth year that they must spend in disguise.

SECTION 5: Exile, p. 91

While the Pandavas are in exile, Duryodhana comes to visit and mock them, but he ends up needing their help to escape the gandharvas of the forest (led by Chitrasena), and that makes Duryodhana hate the Pandavas even more. Another prince (Jayadratha) tries to abduct Draupadi, but the Pandavas rescue her. They visit wise men who tell them stories, like the tale of Savitri who conquered death and the love story of Nala and Damayanti.

They spend the year of disguise in the court of King Virata: Yudhishthira as a brahmin priest, Bhima a cook, Arjuna a dancing master, Nakula as a stableboy, and Sahadeva as a cowboy (and Draupadi as a hairdresser to the queen). Near the end of the year, Duryodhana, together with Drona and Karna, steal King Virata's cattle. Virata's son, Uttara, calls for a chariot-driver to take him into battle, and Arjuna offers to go. Uttara thinks Arjuna is only a dancing teacher, but finally agrees. Arjuna takes Uttara to where the Pandavas have concealed their weapons, disguises as corpses hanging from trees, and so they prepare themselves to fight Duryodhana and retrieve the cattle.

SECTION 6: End of Exile, p. 95

Uttara is amazed by the quality of the weapons. Arjuna reveals that they are the weapons of the Pandavas. Uttara then asks where the Pandavas are now. Arjuna then reveals the truth about their disguised identities. When Drona sees the monkey banner (Kapi Dhwaja, in honor of Hanuman), he knows it is Arjuna who pursues them. Duryodhana escapes, but they rescue the cattle and bring them back to King Virata. It is now time for the Pandavas and Draupadi to reclaim their kingdom.

* * *


SECTION 7: Preparations for War, p. 98.

Duryodhana objects to Yudhishthira being named king of his own realm, so he prepares for war. In Virata's court, the Pandavas deliberate. Krishna's brother Balarama advocates for making peace, but Satyaki, a great warrior of Krishna's clan, calls for war. Drupada argues they should seek allies while also appealing to Duryodhana for peace. Krishna goes on a peace mission to Dhritarashtra. Krishna's appeal moves Dhritarashtra, and Drona also argues for peace, but Duryodhana insists on war, and his decision is absolute.

SECTION 8: The Battle Begins, p. 102.

When the great armies first meet on the battlefield, Arjuna hesitates to attack as enemies his own uncle and cousins and also his teacher Drona. Krishna persuades him to obey Duty (Dharma), and Arjuna agrees.

The great and aged warrior Bhishma leads Duryodhana's armies and they have the advantage on the first day. On the second day, Arjuna and the Pandavas rally, and Duryodhana threatens to replace Bhishma with Karna. Bhishma tells Duryodhana that the gods are not on their side because their cause is not just, but he still fights boldly, to Arjuna's dismay. Yet Arjuna beats off all attacks, and the battle continues. On the next day, Bhima slays many of Duryodhana's brothers but he barely escapes with his life. And so the battle goes on.

SECTION 9: Bhishma and Drona Fall, p. 105.

Fighting for the Pandavas was Shikhandin, who had been born a woman but transformed into a man, a warrior destined to bring about Bhishma's death. Bhishma would not fight someone who was born a woman, and so he lowered his guard when meeting Shikhandin in battle, and at that moment the Pandavas shot him full of arrows. Bhishma does not die right away, however, and instead lies on a bed of arrows, surrounded by the princes of both sides who weep for him.

Before he dies, Bhishma urges Duryodhana to make peace, but Duryodhana refuses. Karna later visits Bhishma, and Bhishma reveals that Arjuna is his brother; the charioteer who raised him was only his foster father, and Karna was in fact the first-born child of Kunti, Arjuna's own mother. Even so, Karna is still determined to kill Arjuna.

Drona replaces Bhishma as general of the army, and he vows to capture Yudhishthira. Arjuna has sworn not to attack Drona except to save Yudhishthira, so Drona's attack on Yudhishthira fails and the Pandavas all fight bravely. Duryodhana grows angry at Drona and threatens to replace him with Karna. Drona says he will do his duty, promising that either he or Arjuna would die that day.

Drona's son Ashwathaman is a great warrior also, and one of the war elephants has the same name. Bhima kills the war elephant, and when Drona hears that "Bhima has killed Aswathaman," he despairs, thinking his son is dead. Drona asks Yudhishthira if the news is true, and Yudhishthira replies that the elephant Ashwathaman is dead, although Drona hears only that Ashwathaman is dead. Draupadi's brother (Dhrishtadyumna) then rides up and, seeing his own father dead on the battlefield, he kills Drona. Karna will command Duryodhana's army next.

SECTION 10: General Karna, p. 110.

Duryodhana is confident that, unlike Bhishma and Drona, Karna has no secret love for the Pandavas. Karna and Arjuna face each other in battle; the result is a draw.

The next day, Karna vows that either he or Arjuna will die that day, and he asks to have Shalya, the king of Madra, as his charioteer. But first he encounters Yudhishthira, and the two of them fight. The result again is a draw, and Karna awaits Arjuna.

SECTION 11: Arjuna and Karna, p. 113.

After a brief quarrel, Yudhishthira and Arjuna apologize to one another, and Arjuna rides out to face Karna. Karna manages to break Arjuna's bow, and according to the rules of war, Arjuna asks for a respite to obtain a new weapon, but Karna continues his attack. In the midst of that attack, he repairs his bow. As Arjuna launches his own attack, Karna's chariot wheel sticks in the ground, so Karna begs Arjuna for a respite. Arjuna lets Krishna decide, and Krishna says no respite will be given. Karna and Arjuna continue to fight, until finally Arjuna shoots the fatal arrow, and Karna falls down dead upon the field.

SECTION 12: The End, p. 116.

Even after Karna's death, Duryodhana vows to carry on the war. He puts Shalya in command. When Yudhishthira kills Shalya, Duryodhana flees into the forest near a lake. [In the traditional version, Duryodhana uses supernatural powers to hide inside the lake itself.]

When the Pandavas find him, Duryodhana vows to kill them all. Bhima says that he is the one who will kill Duryodhana. They fight with maces, and Bhima knocks Duryodhana to the ground unconscious.

The Pandavas then race back to their camp, having learned that Drona's son Ashwathaman has killed their own sons. When Duryodhana comes to, he sees Ashwathaman standing there. Ashwathaman explains that he has killed all the sons of the Pandavas. Duryodhana then dies.

This was the end of the war. Pritha (Kunti) revealed to the Pandavas that Karna was also her son, and that Arjuna had thus killed his own brother. The Pandavas therefore mourned over Karna and all their other losses, and Yudhishthira acknowledged Karna's strength and skill, and "so the story ends in reunion of heart if not of life [and] in pity for the conquered rather than in boastful triumph over their fall."

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