Sunday, June 8, 2014

Reading Guide G-H: Buck. Mahabharata.

READING G (go to Reading H)

This portion of Buck's Mahabharata covers pp. 307-349 (page numbers may vary by edition).

p. 307. Duryodhana and Bhima.

Duryodhana makes the waters of the lake impenetrable using powers of illusion. Speaking to Duryodhana from outside the lake, Yudhishthira proposes that Duryodhana fight one of the Pandavas, and a duel takes place between Duryodhana and Bhima. Finally, Bhima smashes Duryodhana's thighs, as he had vowed to do long ago.

p. 316. Reflections after the battle. 

After the battle is over, Arjuna dismounts from his chariot, and it disintegrates into ashes. This is because Drona had destroyed Arjuna's chariot two days before the end of the battle, but Krishna had managed to hold it together by the power of illusion. Meanwhile, Sanjaya, together with Kripa, Kritavarman and Ashwatthaman go to see the dying Duryodhana. They find him in agony, but still alive, and Duryodhana tells them how Death came into existence. Duryodhana says he is not sorry to die because he is glad to have fallen in battle like a warrior rather than to become a slave. Ashwatthaman still wants to kill Krishna and the Pandavas, and Duryodhana tells Kripa to make Ashwatthaman the commanding general.

p. 322. The night raid.

Ashwatthaman prepares to make his night raid on the Pandava camp, not knowing that Krishna and the Pandavas have decided to sleep outside the camp that night. Ashwatthaman finds the camp guarded by a pale giant dressed in a tiger skin, with three eyes, a manifestation of Shiva. As Ashwatthaman launches his weapons at the giant Shiva, Shiva swallows them up. When Ashwatthaman offers himself up as a sacrifice to Shiva, he is able to gain entrance to the camp. Inside the camp, Ashwatthaman kills Dhrishtadyumna, Sikhandin and the Panchala armies led by king Drupada and his son Dhrishtadyumna. Rakshasas enter the Pandava camp to feast on the blood and bones of the slain warriors. Ashwatthaman brings news to Duryodhana, Duryodhana dies, and Sanjaya then loses the power of sight he had been granted by Vyasa. Only a few survivors are left on either side after the great battle and the night raid on the camp.

p. 333. The survivors. 

Vyasa composes the Mahabharata, the story of the great battle, for the benefit of humanity. Vaishampayana is a pupil of Vyasa, and he is reciting the Mahabharata to King Janamejaya who is a a descendent of the Pandavas. (Remember from the opening chapters of Buck the story of Janamejaya and his father Parikshit and the snake-lord Takshaka?). The three survivors of the Kaurava army are Kripa, Kritavarman and Ashwatthaman. Dhrishtadyumna's driver is the only one of the Panchalas who escaped the raid. Ashwatthaman had burned a tree where Dhrishtadyumna's driver had been hiding, but Vyasa brought the tree back to life, along with Dhrishtadyumna's driver. As the lone survivor of the raid, he goes to tell the Pandavas and Krishna the next day about what happened in the camp. Bhima is outraged and follows Ashwatthaman's trail from the camp. Krishna urges Arjuna to hurry in pursuit in order to stop Bhima from attacking Ashwatthaman, who is in possession of the Brahma-astra, or the deadly Brahma mantra. Ashwatthaman prepares to launch the Brahma weapon, but Arjuna speaks the words of the Brahma weapon to counteract Ashwatthaman. Krishna and Vyasa restrain the weapons of Ashwatthaman and Arjuna, struggling to recall the weapons. Afterwards, Ashwatthaman removes the jewel from his forehead and gives it to Arjuna. The child in Uttara's womb had been killed by the force of Ashwatthaman's weapon, but Krishna brings the child back to life (this child will be Parikshit, the father of Janamejaya; note that Buck omits the character of Abhimanyu, so that Parikshit here is said to be Arjuna's son by Uttara). Meanwhile, Arjuna finds Drona's body and places Ashwatthaman's jewel between Drona's eyes.

p. 340. The funerals. 

Sanjaya brings Dhritarashtra from Hastinapura to Kurukshetra, "The Field of Kuru" where the battle took place, while Vidura and Yuyutsu bring the widows. Vyasa comes to Dhritarashtra and tells him the story of a man who was fleeing from fierce animals when he fell into a pit, so that he was hanging upside-down suspended above a serpent but still reached out to take a taste of honey from a honeycomb. The broken chariots are used to make the funeral pyres. Meanwhile, Duryodhana had kept an iron statue of Bhima that he used to practice hitting, so Krishna presents this statue to Dhritarashtra who, thinking he is holding his son's murderer in his arms, squeezes the statue until it shatters.

Dhritarashtra is distraught when he thinks he has killed Bhima, but after shattering the statue, Dhritarashtra is able to embrace and bless the Pandavas. Yudhishthira asks Gandhari to lay her curse upon him and she turns away, but not quickly enough, and her anger burns Yudhishthira's toe black. Yuyutsu brings Duryodhana's body to the pyre, and Yudhishthira reveals to everyone that Karna had been their brother, as Kunti had finally confessed to him that Karna was her son. Vyasa enters the Ganges and a vision of an army rises up; the dead Drona then later leads the ghostly army back into the river.

READING H (go to Reading G)

This portion of Buck's Mahabharata covers pp. 351-412 (page numbers may vary by edition).

The frametale: As Buck brings his version of the story to a close, he reminds you of the setting: Shaunaka is listening to the story told by his friend Sauti the storyteller. Sauti has been in Hastinapura, where he heard the Mahabharata recited by Vaishampayana. Vaishampayana is a disciple of Vyasa, who composed the Mahabharata and taught it to Vaishampayana. Vaishampayana recited the Mahabharata to King Janamejaya, whom Vaishampayana addresses as Bharata (because all the Pandavas and the Kauravas are descendants of a distant ancestor named Bharata). Janamejaya is the son of Parikshit, whose birth story is told at the end of the Mahabharata. Parikshit was killed by the naga lord Takshaka, and Janamejaya had called a snake sacrifice in order to destroy all the nagas. Astika, who was half-human and half-naga, had come to Janamejaya to stop the sacrifice. Janamejaya agreed to Astika's request, and released the serpent Takshaka. Vyasa rejoiced that the serpent Takshaka went free, and then Janamejaya asked Vyasa to tell him the story of his ancestors. Instead of telling the story himself, Vyasa asked his Vaishampayana, to recite the Mahabharata. As Buck's book reaches to a close, you see all these different narratives "frames" closing up (the story of the Pandavas and Kauravas comes to an end, Vaishampayana finishes his recitation to Janamejaya, which means that Sauti finishes repeating it to Shaunaka).

p. 353. The death of Bhishma. 

After the battle, Bhishma is still alive, waiting to choose the moment when he will die. Satyaki takes Krishna and the Pandavas to see Bhishma. Dhritarashtra, together with Vidura and Vyasa, also come to attend Bhishma's death, along with Yuyutsu, Dhritarashtra's only surviving son. Bhishma puts no curse on Yudhishthira for having led the army against him, and he has no anger at anyone. He speaks his last words to Krishna and dies at the moment of the winter solstice. When Bhishma dies, the scars and wounds vanished from his body. They burn Bhishma's body on a pyre and pour his ashes into the Ganges, and Ganga is grief-stricken over the death of her son.

p. 357. Yudhishthira's dream. 

Yudhishthira is in despair that he had brought about the deaths of so many people. Krishna harshly rebukes Yudhishthira for his despair, and Bhima tries to cheer him up. Yudhishthira continues to despair. In a dream, he sees himself, his brothers, and Draupadi on a journey. They are accompanied by a dog. Along the way, Draupadi and his brothers all die. Yudhishthira continues going onward, together with the dog.

Indra descends in his chariot to Yudhishthira. Indra offers to take Yudhishthira to heaven, but he must leave the dog. Yudhishthira refuses to abandon the dog that is under his protection. The dog turns out to be Lord Dharma / Yama, who has been testing his son Yudhishthira. Because of his compassion for the dog, Yudhishthira gains entrance to heaven while still in his bodily form. Yudhishthira sees Duryodhana, Shakuni and Duhshasana in heaven, but he cannot find his brothers. A gandharva takes Yudhishthira into the depths of hell, where he sees the horrifying river Vaitarani. In hell, he hears the voices of his brothers and Draupadi calling to him. Yudhishthira curses the gods when he sees his brothers and Draupadi in hell. When Yudhishthira awakens from his dream, he finds Draupadi beside him on the field of Kurukshetra. He feels restored and goes ahead with the coronation ceremony.

[Note that in the traditional Mahabharata, this is not a dream, but instead are the real events that take place at the very end of the epic, when the Pandavas do indeed depart on this journey and all die along the way.]

p. 373. King Yudhishthira. 

Yudhishthira goes to Hastinapura and declares that the war is officially over. Among the brahmins who greet Yudhishthira at Hastinapura there is a rakshasa disguised as a hermit. This is Charvaka, who had been Duryodhana's friend. When Yudhishthira enters Hastinapura, Charvaka curses him, but the brahmins of Hastinapura utter a mantra which kills Charvaka. Yudhishthira is made king in an elaborate ritual ceremony. Dhritarashtra participates in the ritual ceremony, and Yudhishthira tells the people of Hastinapura to treat Dhritarashtra with respect. Meanwhile, Princess Uttara gives birth to Parikshit, but he is born dead. With Parikshit dead, this is the end of the Pandava line, since all the other sons of the Pandavas, and the sons of their sons, have been killed in the great war. Parikshit had been injured by the Brahma weapon launched by Ashwatthaman, and although Krishna had brought him to life in the womb, he did not survive his birth. Krishna is not present when Parikshit is born, but the prayers reach him and he is able to restore the child to life. Parikshit will go on to become king, and he will be succeeded by his son, Janamejaya.  [Note that Buck makes Parikshit the son of Arjuna rather than the son of Arjuna's son, Abhimanyu; Buck has omitted the character of Abhimanyu from his retelling.]

p. 379. The festival. 

Yudhishthira proclaims a festival with bountiful food and gifts for fall. At the festival, Yudhishthira meets a mongoose who is golden colored on half of his body. The mongoose explains that he acquired this color from rolling in the grains that a poor family had offered to Yama, when Yama visited the family disguised as a starving traveler. Their generosity in sharing their food had made the mongoose's coat turn gold. The mongoose would like to become gold all over, but he has not found such generosity anywhere else. Yudhishthira thanks the mongoose for telling him the story and gives him gifts of food and red silk for his mongoose-wife.

p. 389. Dhritarashtra in the forest. 

Dhritarashtra decides to go live a life of meditation in the forest. Gandhari and Kunti go with him, as do Vidura and Sanjaya. Vyasa finds a retreat for them deep in the forest. Yudhishthira, together with his brothers and a large entourage, go to find Dhritarashtra. Vidura enters into Yudhishthira's body, leaving his own body behind, lifeless. Vyasa explains that Vidura and Yudhishthira were both one because they were both Dharma. Bhima prepares a feast for them in the forest. Some time later, Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti die in a forest fire.

p. 401. Krishna.

The asura Maya has transformed Krishna's chariot into a work of amazing beauty. At first Krishna is not happy with the beautiful new chariot because he does not want something ostentatious. Subhadra, Krishna's sister, persuades him to accept the chariot. While traveling to his home in Dwaravati, Krishna meets the sage Uttanka in the desert. Uttanka thinks that the great Krishna must have put a stop to the war, but Krishna tells Uttanka that he could not alter destiny, and so he was not able to stop the war. Uttanka asks Krishna for water, and Krishna tells Uttanka to think of him whenever he needs water. Later, Uttanka asks for water, and a filthy outcaste hunter approaches, offering him water polluted with urine. Uttanka is outraged and refuses the hunter's offer of water. Krishna then appears, bringing water, but he explains that Uttanka should have taken the water offered by hunter: Uttanka had been fooled by appearances, much to Krishna's disappointment. Krishna then goes to his home at Dwaravati which is located on the sea. Ugrasena, the king in Dwaravati, greets Krishna happily.

p. 407. The end. 

When Arjuna goes to Indraprastha, he meets the god Agni who burns Arjuna's weapons to ashes. Arjuna finds that the Khandava forest has grown up again and that Indraprastha is in ruins. Yudhishthira, his brothers, and Draupadi abandon the world and head towards the north. A flood which drowns the city of Dwaravati, and only Balarama and Krishna survive. When the serpent Shesha withdraws his energy from Balarama, Balarama dies. Jara the hunter accidentally kills Krishna, shooting him with an arrow when he mistakes the sole of Krishna's foot for the face of a deer. Then, as the recitation of the Mahabharata comes to a close, Takshaka the naga lord takes Astika with him into the naga kingdoms under the world.

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