Sunday, June 8, 2014

Reading Guide A-B: Buck. Mahabharata.

READING A (go to Reading B)

This portion of Buck's Mahabharata covers pp. 1-47 (page numbers may vary by edition).

p. 1. Invocation.

Buck begins his version of the Mahabharata with an invocation to Narayana (Vishnu), while also invoking Nara-Narayana, which is a term used to refer to the pairing of Krishna (an avatar of Vishnu) and his friend Arjuna. Buck also invokes Saraswati, the goddess of words and writing. He then provides background stories about the composition and performance of the Mahabharata, starting with Vyasa, the composer, and Ganesha, his scribe.

p. 5. Vyasa and Ganesha. 

The sage Sauti has heard the Mahabharata recited at the snake sacrifice of King Janamejaya, and he now recites the story to another sage, Shaunaka. Sauti explains that Vyasa composed the Mahabharata in his mind and then asked the elephant-headed god Ganesha to write it down while Vyasa dictated. Ganesha is the son of the god Shiva and the goddess Parvati. Shiva got angry at Ganesha and tore off his human head, and he then used an elephant head to replace the missing one.

p. 9. The churning of the Ocean. 

Before it turned to salt, the ocean was milk. Vishnu proposed that the gods (devas) and the asuras churn the ocean to obtain amrita, the nectar of immortality. They wrapped a great serpent around Mount Mandara in order to churn the ocean's waters. Many things emerged: Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune and Vishnu's heavenly consort; Rambha, the first apsara; Airavata, the white elephant who is Indra's vahana (vehicle); and the wish-giving cow. The physician Dhanwantari also emerged, holding the cup of amrita. Poison also resulted from the churning; Shiva swallowed the poison to save the world, and the poison turned Shiva's throat blue.

p. 10. The snake sacrifice of Janamejaya. 

When King Parikshit (the only surviving descendant of the Pandavas) killed a serpent in the forest, the serpent put a death curse on him. The naga prince Takshaka arrived to tell Parikshit that he was going to kill him. To escape the curse, Parikshit remained hidden away in his house for seven days, but Takshaka arrived in disguise and killed him. Parikshit's son, Janamejaya, became king after his father's death, and he planned to hold a sacrifice to destroy Takshaka. Takshaka therefore sought refuge with Indra in heaven. Meanwhile, Astika, who was the son of a serpent woman, revealed Takshaka's hiding place to Janamejaya. But just as Takshaka was about to be cast into the flames, Astika asked Janamejaya to halt the sacrifice. Janamejaya agreed to Astika's request and released the serpent Takshaka. Vyasa rejoiced, and Janamejaya asked Vyasa to tell him the story of his ancestors. Instead of telling the story himself, Vyasa asks his young companion, Vaishampayana, to recite the Mahabharata. This is the snake sacrifice of Janamejaya where Sauti heard the Mahabharata recited.

p. 15. The Mahabharata finally begins. 

There is a king in heaven who glimpses Ganga and falls in love with her. In order to consummate his love for Ganga, he reincarnates again as a human being, Shantanu. Meanwhile, Ganga comes to Shantanu's father and tells him that she is in love with Shantanu. After his father dies, Shantanu becomes king. He meets Ganga in human form beside the Ganges river and falls in love. Ganga tells Shantanu that he can never ask her name or question her actions if they get married. Ganga has already agreed to give birth to Prabhasa and the seven other Vasus who were cursed by the sage Vasishtha to be born into human form. For seven years, Ganga gives birth to a child each year and throws the child in the river. When she gives birth to the eighth Vasu (who is Prabhasa), Shantanu begs her to let the child live. Ganga gives the eighth child to Shantanu and then disappears into the river. This child is Bhishma.

p. 19. Satyavati.

One day, far from home, the king of Chedi dreams about his wife, and his semen spurts out. The king asks a hawk to carry his semen back to his wife, but the semen instead falls into the river where it is swallowed by a fish. Later, a fisherman catches a fish with a baby girl inside. The fisherman raises the child as his own daughter and names her Satyavati. The sage Parashara falls in love with Satyavati, and they have a child together named Vyasa. As a gift, Parashara takes away Satyavati's fish smell and makes her smell like flowers instead. King Shantanu later discovers Satyavati because of her beautiful scent, and he marries her. Bhishma renounces the kingship so that Satyavati's child can be Shantanu's successor as king. As a reward, Shantanu gives Bhishma the boon of being able to choose the moment of his death.

p. 22. Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika. 

Shantanu and Satyavati have a son named Vichitravirya who becomes king after Shantanu. Bhishma obtains three wives for Vichitravirya: Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika. Amba, however, explains that she has vowed herself to King Shalwa, so she is sent away, leaving Vichitravirya with two wives: Ambika and Ambalika. Vichitravirya dies before he can have children with his wives, so Bhishma proposes that Satyavati summon her son Vyasa to father sons with Ambika and Ambalika. Dhritarashtra is the son of Ambika and Vyasa, Pandu is the son of Ambalika and Vyasa, and Vidura is the son of a maidservant and Vyasa. Because Dhritarashtra is blind, Bhishma decides that Pandu should be king.

p. 27. Kunti and Madri. 

Before her marriage to Pandu, Kunti obtained a mantra from the sage Durvasas that allows her to summon a god and have a son by him. Kunti tested the mantra by summoning the sun god, Surya. Kunti set the baby adrift in the river in a basket, and he was found by Adhiratha the charioteer and his wife. The took the child in and gave him the name Karna. Later, Kunti chooses Pandu as her husband at her swayamvara. Bhishma obtains Madri, the daughter of King Shalya (whose son is also named Shalya), as a second bride for King Pandu. Then one day in the forest Pandu kills a doe and a stag caught in the act of love. The deer curses Pandu so that he will die the next time that he made love. Pandu therefore renounces the kingship and goes away to the Himalayas with Madri and Kunti.

p. 32. Dhritarashtra and Gandhari. 

Dhritarashtra becomes king when Pandu goes self-imposed exile. To share her husband's blindness, Gandhari wears a blindfold. Dhritarashtra becomes worried when Gandhari has been pregnant for one year but still has not given birth. Vyasa explains that Gandhari is pregnant with one hundred sons. After two years, Gandhari gives birth to a hard ball of flesh. Vyasa cuts the ball of flesh into one hundred pieces that are sons, plus one piece that is a daughter. He seals the pieces of flesh in separate jars for two more years. The children are then born. Duryodhana is the first-born son of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari.

p. 34. The Pandavas. 

Pandu asks Kunti to use her mantra to summon the gods and get sons. Because Yama judges the souls of the dead, one of his titles is Dharma-Raja, or King Dharma. Kunti summons Dharma (Yama) and gives birth to Yudhishthira. Next she summons Vayu, the wind god, and gives birth to Bhima. Next, she summons Indra and gives birth to Arjuna. Madri then uses Kunti's mantra to summon the twin gods, the Ashwins, and she then gives birth to the twins Nakula and Sahadeva. Finally, Pandu can no longer resist and makes love to his wife Madri. He dies, and she joins him in death. After the death of her husband, Kunti takes the five boys to Hastinapura. The five sons of Pandu are called the Pandavas. The sons of Dhritarashtra are referred to as the Kauravas, or the "descendants of Kuru" (Kuru was a distant ancestor of Pandu and Dhritarashtra, but the term "Kauravas" is usually used to refer to the sons of Dhritarashtra, as opposed to the Pandavas).

p. 36. Kripa and Drona. 

Drona is the son of the sage Bharadwaja. Bharadwaja saw an apsaras while bathing and he ejaculated into a bucket or "drona" which is how his son, Drona, was born and got his name. As a child, Drona became friends with Prince Drupada who was a pupil of Drona's father Bharadwaja. Later, Drona married Kripi, the sister of Kripa. Kripi and Drona had a son named Ashwatthaman. When he was born, they were so poor that they did not have milk to give their son to drink. Drona went to see his old friend, King Drupada, to ask him for help. When Drona asked Drupada for help, Drupada treated him cruelly and repudiated their friendship. Bhishma was so impressed by Drona's skills that he also employed Drona as a teacher to the Pandava and Kaurava princes, and Kripa became their archery teacher.

p. 39. The exploits of the princes. 

Arjuna is Drona's best pupil and is the only one of the princes who is able to pass the test set by Drona of shooting at the bird made of straw. When the boys' training is complete, Drona demands his teacher's fee: he tells the princes to capture King Drupada. Arjuna manages to capture Drupada and brings him back to Drona. Drona takes half of Drupada's kingdom for himself. Drona then arranges a public presentation of his students' skills. Arjuna surpasses all the other princes in his military skills, but a stranger arrives — Karna — who is able to duplicate all the military feats of Arjuna. When Karna admits that he does not have royal parents, he is excluded from the demonstration. Duryodhana, however, makes Karna the ruler of Anga so that he can claim royal status. Bhima nevertheless continues to make fun of Karna because his father is a chariot driver. Karna speaks defiantly to Bhima, and night brings an end to their confrontation.

READING B (go to Reading A)

This portion of Buck's Mahabharata covers pp. 49-91 (page numbers may vary by edition).

p. 51. The house at Varanavata. 

The blind king Dhritarashtra sends the Pandavas and Kunti away, and his sons Duryodhana and Duhshasana employ the minister Purochana to build a fire-trap for the house where the Pandavas are staying. Vidura warns Yudhishthira about the danger, and they prepare a tunnel that will allow them to escape from the house, leaving six corpses behind in their place. Bhima sets fire to the house, killing Purochana, and they flee through the tunnel to the river where a boatman waits to take them away. They wander in disguise as brahmins.

p. 58. The rakshasa Vaka. 

The Pandavas and Kunti take up residence in a different village. The family that they are staying with draws the lot for providing a human sacrifice to the rakshasa king Vaka (Baka) who demands yearly tribute from the village. Kunti decides that they can send Bhima out to fight the demon. Even though he has no weapons, Bhima is able to defeat the demon with his bare hands.

p. 64. The children of Drupada. 

Vyasa arrives and explains that he is going to take the Pandavas to the swayamvara of Draupadi, the daughter of King Drupada of Panchala. Drupada had been in despair after the humiliation of being captured by Drona and giving up half his kingdom, so he begged the god Shiva for a son who could defeat Drona.

Shiva appeared to Drupada in a dream and told him to pour two cups of butter into the fire, one for a son, one for a daughter. This is how Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi were born. The Pandavas attend Draupadi's swayamvara, still disguised as brahmins. Drupada has set an archery test that only Arjuna can pass. Arjuna wins Draupadi, although everyone is surprised since he appears just to be a wandering brahmin. Krishna and his brother Balarama are present at the swayamvara and they offer their congratulations to the Pandavas for Arjuna's victory.

Krishna, who is an avatar of the god Vishnu, tells Arjuna that he remembers their past lives together, but Arjuna does not remember. Dhrishtadyumna comes to take the Pandavas together with Kunti and Draupadi to Drupada's palace. Draupadi marries all five of the Pandava brothers.

p. 75. Indraprastha.

Much to Duryodhana's disgust, Dhritarashtra rejoices when he learns the Pandavas are still alive, and he gives them the region of Khandava to rule. The Pandavas build the city of Indraprastha near the Khandava forest. Meanwhile, Arjuna goes to visit Krishna at Dwaravati (Dwaraka). Krishna's brother Balarama recalls how, when he was drunk, he wanted to take a bath in the Yamuna river so he used his plow to force the rivers of the Yamuna river to come to him. Arjuna falls in love with Krishna's sister Subhadra and, with Krishna's encouragement, he takes her to be his wife.

p. 80. The burning of Khandava forest. 

The fire god Agni comes to Krishna and Arjuna in the former of a woodsman with gold skin and dressed in black rags, his mouth smeared with butter. Agni wants to eat the Khandava forest and needs their help. Each time Agni tries to burn Khandava forest, the storm-god Indra protects it with rain. Arjuna and Krishna agree to ward off Indra while Agni burns Khandava forest. Agni gives Arjuna the bow Gandiva as a reward, and he gives Krishna his iron chakra (discus). As Agni burns the forest, Arjuna disperses Indra's rainclouds, and Krishna shatters his thunderbolt. The other gods — Varuna, Yama, Skanda, Vaishravana (Kubera), and Surya — come to watch. The asura named Maya, the divine architect, flees the forest and seeks Arjuna's protection from Agni. As a reward for his rescue, Maya builds a great palace for the Pandavas at Indraprastha.

p. 88. Duryodhana comes to Indraprastha. 

Duryodhana and Shakuni pay a visit to Indraprastha. Duryodhana is fooled by the illusions of the palace and the Pandavas make fun of him. When Duryodhana challenges Yudhishthira to a game of dice, he accepts. Foreseeing disaster, Vyasa takes his mother Satyavati, along with Ambika, Ambalika, and the mother of Vidura, away to the forest so that they will not have to witness the war that is to come.

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