Thursday, August 18, 2016

Reading Guide: Kincaid. Mahabharata - The Princes of Elephant City

Title: The Indian Heroes:
Mahabharata - The Princes of Elephant City
Author: C. A. Kincaid
Year: 1921

Comments: You will find here a retelling of the Mahabharata, emphasizing the Pandava brothers as the heroes - they are the "Princes of Elephant City" (that is the meaning of the city name Hastinapura).

Free Online: See all the links at Freebookapalooza.

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

Reading Guide: There is a detailed reading guide below with notes, links, and images. I have provided links in the Reading Guide to the Hathi Trust copy of the book, with additional links to Wikipedia if you want to learn more about the characters.

Note: The first part of the book is a retelling of the Ramayana; that's why the section numbers below start with 6.

(Reading Part B begins at section 13 below.)

6. THE PRINCES OF ELEPHANT CITY. Long after the reign of King Bharata, there was a king in Hastinapura called Vichitravirya, who died and left two sons: Dhritarashtra, the older son, who is blind, and his brother Pandu, who becomes king. Pandu has five sons: Yudhishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna by his wife Kunti, and Nakula and Sahadeva by his wife Madri. These sons of Pandu, the Pandavas, are said to be the sons of gods. When Pandu dies, Dhritarashtra becomes king. King Dhritarashtra and Queen Gandhari have one hundred sons, and they grow up together with the five sons of Pandu. Duryodhana is the eldest of those one hundred sons, called the Kauravas (descendants of Kuru). Together, the Pandavas and the Kauravas are the Bharatas, the descendants of King Bharata.

Drona is the boys' teacher, and the Pandavas were his best pupils, arousing the jealousy of Duryodhana. Drona then leads his pupils in an attack on King Drupada of Panchala, his enemy, and Drupada prays to the gods for a way to avenge himself against the Bharatas. From the sacrificial fire a beautiful girl emerges: Draupadi.

Duryodhana, meanwhile, grows even more jealous when his father names Yudhishthira as his heir, and so Duryodhana plots to kill the Pandavas and their mother, Kunti. Duryodhana's agent Purochana arranges for their death in a fire, but Vidura (half-brother of Pandu and Dhritarashtra) warn the Pandavas, and they escape the fire by means of a hidden tunnel. Some drunken guests die in the fire, and the people suppose that their corpses are the remains of the Pandavas. Duryodhana rejoices at the news.

7. HIDIMBA AND BAKA. Disguised as brahmins, the Pandavas and Kunti flee into the forest. As Bhima watches over the members of his family sleeping, the monster Hidimba and his sister Hidimbi plan to eat them. When Hidimbi sees Bhima, she falls in love. She turns into a beautiful woman and approaches Bhima to warn him about her brother. Bhima fights with Hidimba and kills him. Bhima and Hidimbi go off together happily, but Bhima eventually decides to rejoin his family.

The Pandavas then stay in a village that is tormented by another demon, Baka, demands a terrible blood-tax from the village each week. Bhima returns just in time to kill this demon also. Next, the Pandavas go to the kingdom of Panchala for the contest to win the hand of Drupada's daughter Draupadi.

8. THE WINNING OF DRAUPADI.  All the suitors are eager to win Draupadi (also called Krishna, with a long "a" at the end: Krishnā, meaning "dark") as their bride. Her brother Dhrishtadyumna explains the rules of the archery contest. Karna, the secret child of Kunti and the sun-god Surya (thus half-brother to the Pandavas), looks like he might win, but because he has been raised as the son of a charioteer (who rescued the baby from the river where Kunti had set him adrift), Draupadi declares she will never marry him.

Arjuna, still disguised as a brahmin, wins the contest, angering the royal suitors. The five Pandavas stand their ground, and Arjuna duels with Karna while Bhima duels with King Shalya. The royal suitors give up the fight, and Arjuna leads Draupadi away. When he comes home, Kunti tells Arjuna to share whatever he has with his brothers, thinking he has gotten some food by begging. She cannot take back her words, though, so Draupadi becomes the bride of all five brothers. Dhrishtadyumna has secretly followed Draupadi and discovers the brahmins' true identity. Drupada is delighted to learn Arjuna won the contest, but he is dismayed at the idea of his daughter marrying all five brothers, although he finally agrees and so the five weddings take place, one after the other.

9. THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ARJUNA.  In the royal city of Hastinapura, Duryodhana learns that the Pandavas are still alive and that they are now allied with King Drupada. Bhishma, the son of King Shantanu and the goddess Ganga, and uncle to King Dhritarashtra, urges Duryodhana to make peace with the Pandavas, his cousins. Dhritarashtra relents and gives the Pandavas half of his kingdom where they can build their own royal city: Indraprastha. Because Arjuna enters unbidden into the Draupadi's room when Yudhishthira is there, he has to go into self-imposed exile in the forest.

While in exile, the water-nymph Ulupi takes him to her underwater kingdom and they marry. Thanks to Ulupi's blessing, he is able to defeat a savage alligator who was herself a water-nymph, cursed to take the form of an alligator until freed by Arjuna. Arjuna rescues the water-nymph's sisters from their alligator forms. (Her name is Varga, and the other apsaras are named Saurabheyi and Samichi and Vudvuda and Lata.)

Next, he sees the fire-god Agni in a dream who commands him to burn the Khandava forest to destroy the nagas who live there under the protection of the god Indra. Because Arjuna is the son of Indra, Agni thinks Arjuna can help him, and he gives him the Gandiva bow and a quiver of arrows from the sea-god Varuna. When Arjuna awakes, the bow is by his side, and he goes to Khandava forest as ordered by Agni. As the forest burns, Indra arrives, pouring down rain to rescue the nagas from the fire.

10. ARJUNE AND SUBHADRA. Arjuna fires his arrows to create a roof above the forest, allowing Agni's fire to rage. The nagas flee, and Arjuna slays them all except for Maya (who is usually regarded as an asura, not a naga), to whom he grants mercy. Arjuna then goes to Dwarka where he sees the beautiful Subhadra whom he carries off and marries; she is the sister of Krishna, and the match meets with Krishna's approval when he learns Arjuna's identity. Arjuna returns to Indraprastha with Subhadra. Maya then builds a great palace for the Pandavas, and they fill the palace with treasures.

Thus enriched, Yudhishthira decides to hold a rajasuya sacrifice, declaring himself emperor. Krishna tells Yudhishthira that to reign supreme, he must first kill King Jarasandha, a wicked ruler who has locked up many other kinds in his dungeons, planning to sacrifice them. Krishna urges Yudhishthira to have Bhima go to Jagasandha disguised as a brahmin and challenge him to a wrestling match. As an Aryan king, Jarasandha will not be able to refuse the challenge. Krishna accompanies Bhima, and everything goes as planned: Bhima kills Jarasandha in the wrestling match by tearing him in half and then frees the captive kings.

11. YUDHISHTHIRA'S GAMBLING. King Yudhishthira's rajasuya is a great success, and Duryodhana is more jealous than ever. When Bhima laughs at him because he is fooled by the illusions of the palace, Duryodhana gets even more angry. Duryodhana's maternal uncle Shakuni proposes a means of revenge: Yudhishthira is fond of gambling, but unskilled, while Shakuni is a skilled gambler. Yudhishthira will not be able to refuse a challenge to play. Duryodhana approves of the plan and invites Yudhishthira and the Pandavas to Hastinapura for a game of dice.

Yudhishthira realizes that he is no match for Shakuni, but he cannot refuse. Yudhishthira loses everything, even his brothers, and himself, and finally Draupadi. Duryodhana sends his brother Dushasana to summon Draupadi, now their slave. Draupadi protests that if Yudhishthira had already lost himself, he could not have wagered her. Dushasana drags her by the hair into the assembly hall and tries to tear her clothes off, but thanks to divine protection, Draupadi is safe: new clothes replace all the clothes that Dushasana pulls off. Bhima, enraged, vows to drink Dushasana's blood. When Duryodhana taunts Draupadi by showing her his naked thigh, Bhima vows he will break that thigh in revenge.

King Dhritarashtra grants Draupadi a boon. She asks that he free Yudhishthira. He grants her another boon, and she asks for the freedom of Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva. Dhritarashtra also returns all that Yudhishthira lost in the gambling match, which outrages Duryodhana. He persuades his father to arrange for another match in which the loser will spend twelve years in exile and a thirteenth year in disguise. Again, Yudhishthira cannot refuse, and again he loses, so the Pandavas must go into exile in the forest.

12. BHIMA AND THE SERPENT. Crowds follow the Pandavas into exile, but Yudhishthira has no means to feed them. He prays to the sun-god who bestows on Yudhishthira a magical copper pot that will provide endless food. Vyasa, grandfather to the Pandavas, advises them to send Arjuna in search of his father, Indra, to obtain celestial weapons. Arjuna climbs the Himalayas, hoping to read Amaravati, Indra's heavenly city. A wise man, who turns out to be Indra in disguise, tells Arjuna he must seek the god Shiva first. When Arjuna kills a boar in the mountains, another hunter challenges him for the prize. They fight, and Arjuna realizes this is Shiva himself. Shiva vanishes, and Indra bestows golden armor on Arjuna. Arjuna then returns to his brothers.

As the brothers wander the forest, Bhima disappears one day. Yudhishthira follows hi tracks into a cave, and there he finds Bhima in the grip of a snake. The snake tells Yudhishthira he will release Bhima if Yudhishthira answers his questions. Yudhishthira does so, and then the snake vanishes and a man appears in his place, King Nahusha. Nahusha had struck the sage Agastya, and Agastya cursed him to become a snake until a hero answered all his questions, as Yudhishthira has now done.

* * *


13. THE YEAR OF DISGUISE. After twelve years in the forest, the Pandavas prepare to spend a year in disguise at the court of King Virata. Yudhishthira has learned the art of gambling by now, so he disguises himself as Kanka, a gambler. Bhima becomes a cook named Ballaba. Arjuna takes the name Brihannala and will be a dancing teacher. Nakula takes the name Granthika and works in the stables, while Sahadeva takes the name Tantripala and becomes a cowherd. Draupadi will be Queen Sudeshna's maid under the name Sairandhri. They leave their weapons in a shami tree along with a corpse in a cremation ground where no one will find them.

After the year is almost up, Queen Sudeshna's brother, Kichaka, begs her to send the beautiful maid to him, and he tries to rape her. Bhima promises to avenge her: he takes Draupadi's place in the dark, and when Kichaka comes, he crushes him to death, rolling his corpse up into a ball. Draupadi claims that she has a celestial husband (a gandharva) who has killed Kichaka, and when Queen Sudeshna sees Kichaka's corpse, she believes the story.

14. THE END OF THE EXILE. The people want to burn Sairandhri (Draupadi) on Kichaka's funeral pyre. Bhima rescues her and causes more fear and confusion. When Duryodhana learns from King Susharma of Trigarta that Kichaka is dead, he decides to attack King Virata, and Susharma takes Virata captive. Because the year of disguise has just ended, Yudhishthira declares they will rescue Virata. The son of Virata, Prince Uttara, takes Brihannala to be his charioteer, and Brihannala (Arjuna) makes Uttara retrieve their weapons. He then puts on his armor and tells Uttara to be the charioteer, while he will fight. Karna himself rides out to confront the chariot, and they duel. Both are wounded, but they both survive.

The victorious Pandavas reveal their identities to King Virata, and Arjuna's son Abhimanyu marries the princess, Uttara (Uttarā, feminine form of her brother's name, Uttara).  Yudhishthira seeks a peaceful settlement with King Dhritarashtra, but Duryodhana urges the king to refuse each offer, insisting the Pandavas must spend another twelve years exiled in the forest.

15. THE GREAT BATTLE. Yudhishthira and his brothers prepare for war, and Bhima renews his vow to drink Duhshasana's blood and break Duryodhana's thigh. The armies meet on the field of Kurukshetra. Bhishma, Drona, and Karna are the great warriors on the Kaurava side, and the Pandava army is smaller. Using Shikhandi, a soldier who wore women's clothes [the traditional version: Shikhandin was born a woman and changed gender], Arjuna is able to wound Bhishma so badly that he retires from battle to await death lying on a bed of arrows, and Bhishma's mother, the goddess Ganga, sends swans to alert Bhishma to delay his death until the solstice, with a truce in the fighting until he dies, and Arjuna attends Bhishma in his last days.

The fighting resumes, and Draupadi's brother, Dhristadyumna, seeks revenge against Drona. He tricks Drona into thinking his son Aswatthaman is dead (when instead it is an elephant named Aswatthaman who has been killed), and so is able to behead Drona in his despair. After Bhishma and Drona fall, Karna commands the army. He and Arjuna duel in their chariots, with Krishna as Arjuna's charioteer, and Arjuna slays Karna when Karna's chariot wheel gets stuck in a ditch. Bhima is now able to kill Duhshasana, and he does indeed drink Duhshasana's blood. The only Kaurava heroes now left alive are Aswatthaman and Duryodhana, along with their allies Kripa and Kritavarman.

16. DURYODHANA'S DEATH. Duryodhana has taken refuge beneath the waters of a lake and will not come out to face the Pandavas. Finally he agrees to single combat, a duel with Bhima, and Bhima breaks Duryodhana's thigh as he had vowed years ago. The Kaurava survivors — Aswatthaman, Kripa, and Kritavarman — raid the Pandava camp in the night. They slay Dhrishtadyumna and all the Pandava army except for Yudhishthira, his brothers, and Krishna. They take back news to the wounded Duryodhana who then dies. All the sons of Draupadi are now dead, and so is Abhimanyu (son of Arjuna and Krishna's sister Subhadra), and dead too are all the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra. In his grief, Dhritarashtra wants to strangle Bhima, but the blind king grabs a statue and crushes it, so Bhima is safe.

It seems like this is the end of the Bharata family line, but Uttara, wife of the dead Abhimanyu, gives birth to a child, Parikshit, who will carry on the family line. Eventually Dhritarashtra and Gandhari retire into the forest, and Kunti goes with them. They die there in a forest fire, and Yudhishthira now becomes king of Hastinapura.

17. THE DEATH OF KING KRISHNA. Yudhishthira rules happily for many years, but then terrible events take place in Dwaraka, Krishna's home. Krishna had survived the efforts of King Kamsa to kill him as an infant, and eventually Krishna himself had killed Kamsa. The people of the city of Dwaraka live happily under Krishna's leadership, but the sage Vishvamitra has cursed the people of Dwaraka to kill one another. Hoping to avert the curse, Krishna forbids the drinking of wine in the city. After his queen has an ominous dream, Krishna sends the people to the sea shore to make a sacrifice to the gods, but now outside the city, they decide to drink wine. When they get drunk, fights break out, and all the men kill one another.

In grief at these events, Krishna's brother Balarama gives up his spirit and leaves this world. While Krishna meditates on the events in the forest, a hunter mistakes him for a deer and shoots him. A great wave from the sea then drowns the city of Dwaraka. Arjuna takes Krishna's five surviving wives north to the land of the five rivers, the Punjab, but barbarians there capture the queens because Arjuna is no longer strong enough to defend them. Hearing all this, Yudhishthira decides it is time for the Pandavas to leave this world. He makes Parikshit king, and then he, his brothers, and Draupadi depart, accompanied by a loyal hunting dog.

18. THE REUNION OF THE BHARATAS. Agni, the god of fire, tells Arjuna that the time has come to return the Gandiva bow to Varuna, the god of the waters, by casting it into the sea, and Arjuna complies. As they then climb the Himalayas, they fall by the wayside, one after another — first Draupadi (who sinned by loving one husband, Arjuna, more than the rest), and then Sahadeva (who boasted in his wisdom), then Nakula (who boasted in his beauty), and then Arjuna (who failed in his promise to kill Duryodhana and his army in just a second), and then Bhima (who boasted in his strength).

Yudhishthira journeys on alone with the dog. Indra appears in his chariot to drive him to the heavenly city of Amaravati, but Yudhishthira will not abandon his dog. This was actually a test of Yudhishthira's loyalty, and so Indra takes him and the dog to heaven, but Yudhishthira cannot find Draupadi and his brothers in heaven. To find them, Yudhishthira must enter into a stinking hell, but he agrees to stay there with them, renouncing heaven. This, too, is a test, and so Yudhishthira, Draupadi and his brothers, along with Karna, Dhritarashtra, Bhishma, Drona, Virata and Drupada, and all the other warriors go to heaven. Even Duryodhana is there, now free of jealousy, and Yudhishthira greets him with love; thus the Bharatas are reunited in the end.

No comments:

Post a Comment