« PreviousContinue »
agreed to act as charioteer of his especial friend Arjuna. It was in this capacity that he is represented to have spoken the divine song Bhagavad-gītā, when the rival armies were drawn up for battle at Kuru-kshetra, a plain north of Delhi. Many battles follow. The army of Dur-yodhana is commanded in succession by his great-uncle Bhīshma, Drona his military preceptor, Karna, king of Anga, and Salya, king of Madra and brother of Mādrī. Bhīshma was wounded by Arjuna, but survived for a time. All the others fell in succession, and at length only three of the Kuru warriors—Kripa, Aswatthāman, and Krita-varma-were left alive with Dur-yodhana. Bhīma and Dur-yodhana fought in single combat with maces, and Dur-yodhana had his thigh broken and was mortally wounded. The three surviving Kauravas fell by night upon the camp of the Pāndavas and destroyed five children of the Pāndavas, and all the army except the five brothers themselves. These five boys were sons of Draupadi, one by each of the five brothers. Yudhi-shthira's son was Prativindhya, Bhima's was Sruta-soma, Arjuna's was Sruta-kīrtti, Nakula's was Satānīka, and Saha-deva's was Sruta-karman. Yudhi-shthira and his brothers then went to Hastinā-pura, and after a reconciliation with Dhrita-rashtra, Yudhi-shthira was crowned there. But he was greatly depressed and troubled at the loss of kindred and friends. Soon after he was seated on the throne, the Aswa-medha sacrifice was performed with great ceremony, and the Pandavas lived in peace and prosperity.
The old blind king Dhrita-rashtra could not forget or forgive the loss of his sons, and mourned especially for Dur-yodhana. Bitter reproaches and taunts passed between him and Bhima ; at length he, with his wife Gāndhārī, with Kuntī, mother of the Pandavas, and with some of his ministers, retired to a hermitage in the woods, where, after two years' residence, they perished in a forest fire. Deep sorrow and remorse seized upon the Pāndavas, and after a while Yudhi-shthira abdicated his throne and departed with his brothers to the Himālayas, in order to reach the heaven of Indra on Mount Meru. A dog followed them from Hastinā-pura. The story of this journey is full of grandeur and tenderness, and has been most effectively rendered into English by Professor Goldstücker. Sins and moral defects now prove fatal to the pilgrims. First fell Draupadi : “too great was her love for Arjuna.” Next Saha-deva : “ he esteemed none equal to himself.” Then Nakula : “ever MAHA-BHARATA.
was the thought in his heart, There is none equal in beauty to me.” Arjuna's turn came next : “In one day I could destroy all my enemies.” “Such was Arjuna's boast, and he falls, for he fulfilled it not.” When Bhīma fell he inquired the reason of his fall, and he was told, “When thou gazedst on thy foe, thou hast cursed him with thy breath; therefore thou fallest to-day.” Yudhi-shthira went on alone with the dog until he reached the gate of heaven. He was invited by Indra to enter, but he refused unless his brothers and Draupadi were also received. “Not even into thy heaven would I enter if they were not there.” He is assured that they are already there, and is again told to enter “wearing his body of flesh.” He again refuses unless, in the words of Pope, “admitted to that equal sky, his faithful dog shall bear him company.” Indra expostulates in vain. “Never, come weal or come woe, will I abandon yon faithful dog.” He is at length admitted, but to his dismay he finds there Dur-yodhana and his enemies, but not his brothers or Draupadi. He refuses to remain in heaven without them, and is conducted to the jaws of hell, where he beholds terrific sights and hears wailings of grief and anguish. He recoils, but wellknown voices implore him to remain and assuage their sufferings. He triumphs in this crowning trial, and resolves to share the fate of his friends in hell rather than abide with their foes in heaven. Having endured this supreme test, the whole scene is shown to be the effect of māyā or illusion, and he and his brothers and friends dwell with Indra in full content of heart for ever.
Such is the leading story of the Mahā-bhārata, which no doubt had a basis of fact in the old Hindu traditions. Different poets of different ages have added to it and embellished it by the powers of their imagination. Great additions have been made in later times. The Bhagavad-gitā and the episode of Nala, with some others, are the productions of later writers ; the Hari-vansa, which affects to be a part of the Mahā-bhārata, is of still later date, and besides these, it cannot be doubted that numerous interpolations, from single verses to long passages, have been made to uphold and further the religious opinions of sects and individuals. To use the words of Max Müller, “The epic character of the story has throughout been changed and almost obliterated by the didactic tendencies of the latest editors, who were clearly Brāhmans brought up in the strict school of the laws of Manu.”
The date of the Mahā-bhārata is very uncertain, and is at best
a matter of conjecture and deduction. As a compiled work it is generally considered to be about a century later in date than the Rāmāyana, though there can be no doubt that the general thread of the story, and the incidents directly connected with it, belong to a period of time anterior to the story and scenes of that epic. The fact that the scene of the Mahā-bhārata is in Upper India, while that of the Rāmāyana is in the Dakhin and Ceylon, is of itself sufficient to raise a strong presumption in favour of the superior antiquity of the former. Weber shows that the Mahābhārata was known to Dion Chrysostom in the second half of the first century A.D.; and as Megasthenes, who was in India about 315 B.C., says nothing about the epic, Weber's hypothesis is that the date of the Mahā-bhārata is between the two. Professor Williams believes that “the earliest or pre-brahmanical composition of both epics took place at a period not later than the fifth century B.C.,” but that “the first orderly completion of the two poems in their Brahmanised form may have taken place in the case of the Rāmāyana about the beginning of the third century B.C., and in the case of the Mahā-bhārata still later." Lassen thinks that three distinct arrangements of the Mahābhārata are distinctly traceable. The varied contents of the Mahā-bhārata and their disjointed arrangement afford some warrant for these opinions, and although the Rāmāyana is a compact, continuous, and complete poem, the professed work of one author, there are several recensions extant which differ considerably from each other. Taking a wide interval, but none too wide for a matter of such great uncertainty, the two poems may be considered as having assumed a complete form at some period in the six centuries preceding the Christian era, and that the Rāmāyana had the priority. The complete text of the Mahā-bhārata has been twice printed in India, and a complete translation in French by Fauche has been interrupted by his death. But M. Fauche's translations are not in much repute. This particular one, says Weber, “can only pass for a translation in a very qualified sense.” Many episodes and portions of the poem have been printed and translated. The following is a short epitome of the eighteen books of the Mahabhārata :
1. Ādi-parva, ‘Introductory book.' Describes the genealogy of the two families, the birth and nurture of Dhrita-rāshtra and Pāndu, their marriages, the births of the hundred sons of the former and the five of the latter, the enmity and rivalry between
the young princes of the two branches, and the winning of Draupadi at the swayam-vara.
2. Sabhā-parva, 'Assembly book. The assembly of the princes at Hastinā-pura when Yudhi-shthira lost his kingdom and the Pāndavas had to retire into exile.
3. Vana-parva, “Forest chapter.' The life of the Pandavas in the Kāmyaka forest. This book is one of the longest and contains many episodes : among them the story of Nala, and an outline of the story of the Rāmāyana.
4. Virāta-parva, “ Virāta chapter,' Adventures of the Pandavas in the thirteenth year of their exile, while they were in the service of King Virāła.
5. Udyoga-parva, 'Effort book.' The preparations of both sides for war.
6. Bhishma-parva, ‘Book of Bhīshma. The battles fought while Bhishma commanded the Kaurava army.
7. Drona-parva, “The Book of Drona.' Drona's command of the Kaurava army.
8. Karna-parva, ‘Book of Karna.' Karna's command and his death at the hands of Arjuna.
9. Salya-parva, ‘Book of Salya.' Salya's command, in which Dur-yodhana is mortally wounded and only three Kauravas are left alive.
10. Sauptika-parva, ‘Nocturnal book.' The night attack of the three surviving Kauravas on the Pāndava camp.
11. Strī-parva, ‘Book of the women.' The lamentations of Queen Gāndhārī and the women over the slain.
12. Sánti-parva, "Book of consolation. A long and diffuse didactic discourse by Bhishma on the morals and duties of kings, intended to assuage the grief of Yudhi-shthira.
13. Anusāsana-parva, ‘Book of precepts.' A continuation of Bhishma's discourses and his death.
14. Aswa-medhika-parra, “ Book of the Aswa-medha.' Yudhishthira's performance of the horse sacrifice.
15. Asrama-parva, ‘Book of the hermitage.' The retirement of Dhrita-rashtra, Gāndhārī, and Kuntī to a hermitage in the woods, and their death in a forest fire.
16. Mausala-parva, "Book of the clubs. The death of Krishna and Bala-rāma, the submersion of Dwārakā by the sea, and the mutual destruction of the Yādavas in a fight with clubs (musala) of miraculous origin.
MAHA-BHARATA. 17. Mahū-prasthānika-parva, Book of the great journey.' Yudhi-shthira's abdication of the throne, and his departure with his brothers towards the Himālayas on their way to Indra's heaven on Mount Meru.
18. Swargārohana-parva, "Book of the ascent to heaven.' Entrance into heaven of Yudhi-shthira and his brothers, and of their wife Draupadī.
The Hari-vansa (q.v.), detailing the genealogy, birth, and life of Krishna at great length, is a supplement of much later date. GENEALOGY OF THE KAURAVAS AND PANDAVAS.
Atri, the Rishi.