Sunday, June 8, 2014

Reading Guide for Narayan's Mahabharata, Parts C and D

Reading Part C for Narayan's Mahabharata, pp. 85-131 (page numbers may vary by edition). The notes for Reading Part D is also below.

p. 85. Duryodhana and the gandharvas.

Thanks to his spies, Dhritarashtra knows what the Pandavas are doing and he also knows about the weapons Arjuna has acquired. At Shakuni's urging, Duryodhana decides to make a royal camp near the Pandavas in order to shame and humiliate them. The gods, however, send a gandharva who provokes Duryodhana. During the battle, the gandharvas take Duryodhana captive, but the Pandavas free Duryodhana from captivity. Duryodhana's plan to humiliate the Pandavas thus backfires completely.

p. 88. The voice in the lake.

While they are living in the forest, the Pandavas are approached by a brahmin who is desperate because a mysterious giant deer has stolen his staff and the kindling he uses to make the sacrificial fire. The Pandavas chase after the deer but cannot catch it. Tired and thirsty, they look for water. Nakula finds a lake, but a voice tells him that, before drinking, he must answer some questions. Nakula ignores the voice, drinks, and dies. One after another, Sahadeva, Arjuna and Bhima meet the same fate. Yudhishthira comes and finds his brothers all dead. He too hears the voice, and he answers the questions. This was a test by his father, Yama, the god of death and of Dharma. The brothers come back to life, and they receive the gift of unrecognizability for their thirteenth year of exile.

p. 93. In the court of King Virata.

After twelve years of exile in the forest, they spend the thirteenth year in disguise at the court of King Virata. Yudhishthira is the king's companion and plays dice with him. Bhima is disguised as a cook, Nakula as a stable boy and Sahadeva as a cowherd. Arjuna takes the name Brihannala and lives as a eunuch in the women's quarters. Draupadi is Sairandhri, the hairdresser of Queen Sudeshna. A crisis occurs when Draupadi is raped by Kichaka, who is Queen Sudeshna's brother. Draupadi begs Bhima to avenge her, so he waits in Draupadi's place and, when Kichaka comes to her again, Bhima squeezes him to death. The king and queen are deeply alarmed by these events and want to send Draupadi away. Draupadi must beg for permission to remain at the court for the last days of the appointed exile.

p. 99 The cattle raid.

The story of Kichaka makes Duryodhana suspicious. Susharman, one of Duryodhana's allies, is glad to hear of Kichaka's death and proposes that they attack Virata and steal his cattle. Susharman takes King Virata prisoner, but Bhima rescues him and captures Susharman. Meanwhile, Prince Uttara, the son of Virata, hears the news of the cattle raid. He takes Brihannala (Arjuna) as his charioteer, but he is terrified as they approach the enemy and tries to run away. Brihannala tells Uttara to drive the chariot so that he can fight instead. Brihannala and Uttara retrieve the weapons from the Pandavas' weapons from their hiding place, and Brihannala reveals his identity to Uttara. As they ride into battle, Arjuna fires arrows that fall at Drona's feet and brush his ears as a salute. Losing his fight with Arjuna, Karna has to withdraw. Arjuna tells Uttara not to reveal the Pandavas' identity, and King Virata rejoices in his son's victory. In a moment of anger, Virata throws dice at Yudhishthira and draws blood. Virata is then amazed to discover the Pandavas' real identity. He apologizes to Yudhishthira and gives his daughter Uttarā to Arjuna's son Abhimanyu in marriage (Abhimanyu is the son of Arjuna and Subhadra, Krishna's sister).

p. 114. Preparations for war.

Krishna and Balarama attend the wedding of Uttarâ and Abhimanyu. Krishna proposes that a messenger be sent to Duryodhana to ask that half the kingdom be given to the Pandavas. Meanwhile, Satyaki, Krishna's charioteer, urges that they prepare for war with Duryodhana. Both the Pandavas and Duryodhana begin recruiting allies for the coming war. Duryodhana and Arjuna later visit Krishna to request his support. Krishna says that to one of them will go his million soldiers, while he, Krishna, will be allied to the other. Arjuna chooses Krishna, and Duryodhana is delighted to have Krishna's million soldiers at his command. Shalya is compelled by a mistaken promise to serve as Duryodhana's general, but he makes another promise to Yudhishthira: at a future battle, when he will be Karna's charioteer, Shalya will discourage Karna at the crucial moment.

p. 122. Dissension at Hastinapura.

The Pandavas make another bid for peace. Yudhishthira tells Sanjaya to take this message back to Hastinapura: all he asks is that they be given five villages, one for each of the brothers, and in that way the war can be avoided. Sanjaya urges Dhritarashtra to stop supporting Duryodhana, while Vidura pleads with Dhritarashtra to make Yudhishthira his heir and banish his own sons from Hastinapura. Dhritarashtra wants to agree, but when he is near Duryodhana, he cannot resist his will. Dhritarashtra despairs when he hears about the mighty Pandava army, but Duryodhana insists that he will defeat the Pandavas because his armies are even greater, and Karna announces that he has obtained the Brahmastra weapon from Parashurama. Bhishma then tells Karna that he is boastful and conceited, which enrages Karna, who swears that he will not join in the battle so long as Bhishma is still on the field. Gandhari denounces the war and the actions of her son Duryodhana. Vyasa tells Dhritarashtra that the war will be their doom.

* * *

Reading Part D is Narayan's Mahabharata, pp. 133-179 (page numbers may vary by edition).

p. 133. Krishna's mission to Hastinapura.

Although Yudhishthira wants to make one last plea for peace, he is worried about whether it is safe for Krishna to go to Hastinapura as his emissary. When Dhritarashtra learns Krishna is arriving as an emissary, he wants a lavish reception. Vidura explains that what Krishna wants is not a lavish reception but peace and justice. Duryodhana plans to take Krishna captive. While in Hastinapura, Krishna sees Kunti and brings her news of her sons. Duryodhana rejects Krishna's plea for peace and refuses to listen to the urging of his mother Gandhari. Krishna manifests himself in his divine form to the assembly, and Duryodhana realizes it is impossible to take him prisoner. Before leaving, Krishna speaks privately with Karna, explaining his parentage to him and trying to convince him to abandon Duryodhana, but Karna refuses. Karna promises Kunti that the only one of her sons that he will attack in the coming battle is Arjuna; he will spare the other four.

p. 145. The war begins.

At Krishna's urging, Yudhishthira makes Dhrishtadyumna, Draupadi's brother, the supreme commander of his troops. The old warrior Bhishma is the supreme commander of Duryodhana's troops. The battle is to take place on the field of Kurukshetra. When Arjuna despairs at the prospect of fighting his guru Drona and the members of his own family, Krishna preaches a doctrine of duty and detachment to him, called the Bhagadvad-Gita, or "Song of the Lord." Krishna manifests himself in his awesome cosmic form, showing all being and creation and destruction. After this sermon, Arjuna is ready to fight.

p. 151. The end of Bhishma.

Dhrishtadyumna tries desperately to kill Drona to avenge his father's humiliation, but Drona escapes him. Bhishma attacks Krishna and draws blood, which enrages Arjuna, but when Krishna goes to slay Bhishma with his discus, Arjuna begs him not to. Ghatotkacha, the demon son of Bhima and Hidimba, comes to the aid of his father. Amba has become reincarnated as a warrior, Shikhandin, to get her revenge on Bhishma. Because Bhishma recognizes the woman Amba in Shikhandin, he cannot attack Shikhandin. Arjuna shoots at Bhishma from behind, and Bhishma falls from his chariot, fatally wounded. As Bhishma is no longer able to join in the battle, Karna now agrees to fight.

p. 156. Abhimanyu, Jayadratha, and Arjuna.

Drona is now made the commanding general of Duryodhana's armies. At Duryodhana's urging, Drona attempts to capture Yudhishthira alive and sets up a diversion to lead Arjuna away from the main battle. In Arjuna's absence, his young son Abhimanyu is asked to break through the enemy's formation. Abhimanyu knows how to penetrate the formation but not how to escape. Abhimanyu breaks through but Jayadratha, Duryodhana's brother-in-law, is able to trap Abhimanyu behind the enemy lines where he is slain. When he learns of his son's death, Arjuna vows to kill Jayadratha before the next day is over. Jayadratha hides and only comes out when he sees the setting sun. But it is a trick: Krishna has used his discus to make it seem like the sun is setting, but it is still daylight, and Arjuna slays Jayadratha in fulfillment of his vow. Meanwhile, Karna uses an invincible weapon he had reserved for Arjuna in order to kill Ghatotkacha.

p. 160. The end of Drona.

Krishna proposes that Drona can be brought down by his devotion to his son, Ashwatthaman. Krishna then insists that they lie and tell Drona that his son Ashwatthaman is dead. Bhima kills an elephant named Ashwatthaman and shouts, "I have killed Ashwatthaman!" Drona hears him. Drona asks Yudhishthira if this is true, and Yudhishthira says that Bhima has killed Ashwatthaman, adding just under his breath in a whisper, "Ashwatthaman the elephant." Drona is paralyzed with despair, thinking his son is dead; as he sits in a trance, Dhrishtadyumna cuts off his head.

p. 162. Death and savagery.

Bhima kills Duhshasana, Duryodhana's brother, and then mutilates his body and drinks his blood. Meanwhile, as Karna fights a duel with Arjuna, his chariot wheel becomes stuck in the mud, and he forgets the mantra he needs to use his Brahmastra weapon. Karna begs for mercy until he is able to free his chariot wheel, but at Krishna's urging, Arjuna attacks and kills him. After Karna's death, Shalya is made supreme commander, and Yudhishthira savagely cuts him down, much to everyone's surprise. Sahadeva, meanwhile, kills Shakuni, Duryodhana's uncle. Duryodhana despairs and hides at the bottom of a lake. He emerges for a final duel with Bhima, who smashes his thigh and fatally wounds him. Duryodhana denounces Krishna's tricks and deceits, but Krishna insists to Duryodhana that the warriors have brought about their own deaths through their karma. Duryodhana remains defiant even at the moment of his death.

p. 167. After the battle.

After the battle is over, the Pandavas go to Hastinapura. Dhritarashtra is so stricken by grief that he wants to kill Bhima. Krishna substitutes a metal statue for Bhima, and Dhritarashtra crushes the statue, thinking it is Bhima. Gandhari cannot be consoled in her grief for her sons and she curses Krishna. The Pandavas together with Vidura, Sanjaya and Dhritarashtra, along with the women, perform rituals for the dead. Yudhishthira tells the sage Narada that he feels no joy in the victory and grieves over the dead. Narada explains to Yudhishthira how Karna's guru Parashurama had cursed Karna for having deceived him, thus causing him to forget the mantra for the Brahmastra at the crucial moment. Also, Karna had once killed a hermit's cow, and the hermit had cursed Karna so that his chariot wheel was swallowed by the earth. Yudhishthira says that he would rather be a beggar than a king and proposes to make Arjuna king in his place. All of his family, together with Krishna, raise objections, and Yudhishthira finally agrees to become king.

p. 177. The end of the story.

At Krishna's urging, Yudhishthira goes to consult the still dying Bhishma who lectures him about kingship and then dies. Yudhishthira cremates Bhishma on the shores of the Ganges. Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti go to live in the forest and die there in a forest fire. Krishna's people destroy themselves in a civil war, and his city Dwaraka is swallowed by the sea. As Krishna sleeps on the bank of a river, he is killed by a hunter who mistakes the soles of Krishna's feet for birds. The Pandavas die one by one until only Yudhishthira is left, who departs for heaven in his bodily form. Parikshit, the child of Abhimanyu, and thus Arjuna's grandson, grows up to be king at Hastinapura, continuing the Pandava line.

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