Friday, 26 October 2012

In conclusion. Mahabharata 208

 It has been an extraordinary journey. I have reacted to situations in the story as I narrated them. It is not easy to sum it up! Many friends when they heard that I was writing blogs on Mahabharata reacted differently. The most direct and honest one was, ‘I read Mahabharata years ago and I know the story. Why do I need to read one more version?’. Others said ‘you should read this or that author; they have done a great job’. I chose not to read them, as I had already begun and did not want my blog colored by their style or treatment. I am sure many of my observations would be seen in them as well and more!
The three books I used for my blog have treated the story differently and reflect the differences in their approach. I have sometimes repeated the story again as I liked the way it was treated by other! There are so many characters and situations which could be viewed differently and in depth; each could justify a book!
While there are many characters which fascinate you, the one that engages me the most is the author. There is no Mahabharata without Vyasa! The son of a Brahmin and a fisherwoman, black and an intellectual. While his father Parasara surely gave him the IQ, it is not clear who brought him up. It is said that he grew up amongst the rishis. He obviously had special powers; he appeared when his mother thought of him and many more times throughout the narrative. His visits always had a purpose and he influenced events and steered them the way he wanted to.

My earlier belief that the story is about feuding cousins changed and it is the story of anhiliation of the khsatriya clan, who had become a burden on mother earth. The feud was just a reason, ‘Nimittha!’ It is not once, but twice that Krishna was instrumental in destroying them  in a span of 36 years. First it is the Kurus and their allies and later it is his own clan, the Yadavas. It is not the only time khsatriyas had to face the wrath of gods, Parasurama , another avatar went round the earth twentyone times to eliminate Khsatriyas! Obvioulsy khsatriyas were a hardy lot! 
 Curiously, in Mahabharata, three dark or black people are the main actors! They are Vyasa, Krishna and Krishnaa! None of them had normal human upbringing! Vyasa could be called an abandoned child. Krishna, Bhagavata says he was conceived without sex, was brought up by a cowherd. Draupadi was the result of a yagna. She had no mother! Other important people also had unusual lives. Bheeshma grew up with a goddess in heaven. Add to this the genesis of both Pandavas and the Kauravas. Pandavas were children of gods and Kauravas came as a huge lump of flesh and Vyasa in fact, gave them life by cutting the flesh into a hundred pieces and putting them in a jar full of ghee and the pieces took life and grew! Even their parents, Dhritharashtra and Pandu were born in abnormal human situations!
The women, Satyavati, Amba, Kunti and Draupadi all had extraordianary experiences. Even Gandhaari's life was unusual and for that matter all the other women Pandavas married had to contend with brief stays with their husbands. I am sure my grandchildren would call these stories weird and they are!

The war and the happenings at Dwaraka must have had a salutary effect on the people of the times. Human nature being what it is, the benefits of the destruction of the khsatriyas would have only lasted for a while till nature again took over. We do not see any long term benefit from these wars. It is no surprise that Krishna said that he would appear often to cleanse the world of its ills!
Raghu was right when he said that Mahabharata was too ancient to give any insights into today’s world, except to prove that human nature has not changed much. We have seen the body of our knowledge has grown and more so in the last 300 years. Science and Technology have made it possible to see the complexities of creation on earth and the universe, in my opinion, much better.
But as it was in the ancient times, not many are privy to this knowledge and the ignorant continue to rule and create problems. We cannot even blame them as it is nature which has made them this way. Be it karma or nature’s way, both are created; the strong and the selfish and the meek and obedient. And so are the many in the middle of the spectrum. But the belief is that if the ratios go haywire and threaten human survival, god or the supreme intelligence would step in to restore balance. But we cannot get too complacent as there are numerous examples when nature has also let  go of many species!
 There is a conviction among many that this 'all intelligence' is partial to us and that they have created heaven and hell, given us the opportunity for rebirth, so on so forth. I hope they are right! But when I read that we are created so that we could speak and sing in his praise, I do not laugh anymore, I cringe!
 It is true, that is how we are, we not only sing in his praise; shout ‘victory to god’, we also kill in his name!’ In Mahabharata times, cleansing the earth seems to be the objective. Times must have been really bad! Khsatriyas had become unbearable as a group and had to be destroyed. It was not time for compassion, giving them a second chance to change for the better.
Recently we had two world wars and it did have salutory effect on our species. One can see that the effect was not all across the world!  We do not know whether we have reached another period of cleansing! Only Vyasa will know! He is probably scripting it! He is also said to be cheeranjeevi!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Ascending heaven, Mahabharata 207

Raghunath (Commenting on my last blog!)
'Is this the end? I thought Yudhishtira was taken through hell before seeing heaven. His reaction on seeing Duryodhana etc have also been recorded. He then sheds his mortal body. Am I right?
These last episodes bring one down to earth and emphasise the solitude of the final moments irrespective of the pinnacles one achieves in life(sic)'
 In fact, it is this blog in a nut-shell!
 My mind wanders a bit as I write the final chapter! Our gurus are sure that both heaven and hell exist, but say that their existence is non-verifiable by us mortals. I have read that young Nachiketa, of Kathopanishad fame, was able to go and meet Yama, some say he died and returned after being blessed back to his old life by the god of death. Arjuna was invited to Indralokha for a while to help the devas because of his abilities, (He also got into trouble with an apsara!),  and it is only Yudhisthira who went to heaven in his earthly body, because of his virutes and values.
One of the first sights shown in heaven shocks Yudhisthira. Duryodhana is seen amongst the devatas; he is glowing like the sun and is seated on a splendorous throne! Yudhisthira cannot tolerate this and just wants to go and meet his brothers. Narada tells him with a laugh, that in heaven there are no enmities. And Duryodhana has achieved this status because he fought a war as a khsatriya and has achieved veera swarga! In fact, Narada advises, 'All those who die in a war are equal to devatas. Do not bring your enmity into heaven!'
Duryodhana is only interested in learning about his brothers. If a wicked person like Duryodhana deserved heaven because of his death in a war, he wants to see the type of status his brothers and his people are given. He again insists that he only wants to meet his brothers and Draupadi. He is not interested in staying in heaven, unless it is with them! So a devadhootha, a servant (!), takes him to meet his brothers!
 Yudhisthira is taken through hell and cannot bear the terrible sights and smells and asks the servant 'How long do I have to travel in this route?' Even the servant is unable to bear the journey and is about to faint. He tells Yudhisthira he was meant be there only for a short time and turns back. As they turn back, people in hell request Yudhisthira to stay a while, his presence has made hell a lot better. He decides to stay for a while, feeling bad for them. He then gets curious to know who they are  and why they are in hell. The first one to speak says he is Karna, the next says he is Bheema, another is Draupadi and so on. All his relatives and friends are in hell!
This greatly angers Yudhisthira as he is unable to comprehend the reason. He wonders whether he
 is hallucinating. Finally becomes totally angry and curses the skewed dharma of the devatas and tells the dhoota, 'Go back to whoever sent you and tell them that I will stay here, at least my brothers who are suffering will feel much better.'
The dhootha goes and reports to Indra. Indra and other dharma purushas immediately come to meet Yudhisthira. As soon as they get near, the dark place is lit and there is no sight of the people who were languishing there, none of the torture equipments are seen. A nice breeze is swirling around the place. Indra tells Yudhisthira, 'The devatas are pleased with you, do not be angry. You and your brothers, friends and relatives have all attained permanent abode in heaven. All kings have to go through hell, as both good deeds and bad deeds in their life are kept separate. It is better to pay for your bad deeds first so that you can then stay permanently in heaven. I arranged it this way for your benefit. You lied to Dronacharya to help another, hence you had to experience hell. Similarly each one you had to pay. You are all now free. Come let us go meet them and the other who fought and died in the war. Let your mind be free! Stay with me, deva gandharvas and apsaras will be at your service. Enjoy the benefits of your Rajasuya and Ashwamedha yagas. Among kings your stature is very high. You will be with Harischandra, Bhageeratha and Bharata.'
'They reach 'Akasha ganga'. Indra tells Yudhisthira to take a dip in the holy river, revered by the three worlds. And tells him a dip will be refreshing and his human psyche will change. Dharma also speaks of the third test given and that Yudhisthira has passed. Praises him for his qualities and says that it was inevitable that he had to experience hell for a few moments.
As soon as Yudhisthira takes a dip in Ganga his mortal body goes and a divine body takes its place. All human frailties go away. He is without enmity, no more sad. Then the devatas take him around to show all the others he wanted to see.
Thus kauravas and pandavas  enjoy their share of heavenly bliss, and finally merge with the ones they belonged. Bheeshma joins the vasus. Drona merges with Brihaspati. Karna with Surya and Yudhisthira with Dharma and so on.
The story of kaurava and pandavas ends here. Janamejaya who heard this story from Vaishampayana during the yagna is astonished. yagna is completed and the snakes are released. The believers are happy. Janamejaya is also happy and leaves Takshashila and returns to Hastinapura.
The author includes three more stories as an attachment. One is that of the story of Shakuntala, the other of Yayathi and third the story of Sri Rama. In fact, the author has written a preface of almost seventy pages.
But I guess I need to wrap up the story here.  I started with one book and finished with another. Yes, the story is astonishing and I will probably conclude with a few observations in a blog or two, but the story does end here.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Chapter about the final great journey. Mahabharata 206

Arjuna's account of  events in Dwaraka induces Yudhisthira to give up everything and embark on a great pilgrimage. He looks at Arjuna, 'Everything ripens with time. I am controled by it! You also know this.' Arjuna agrees, 'Ah! Time! Time!! Who can escape time?' The other three pandavas also agree. So they decide to abdicate.  Yudhisthira  installs  Yuyutsu as the king of the Kaurava kingdom and gives Parikshit his kingdom. He then speaks to Subhadra, 'Amma! Your grandson in now the king. Take care of him and Vraja, the king of yadavas. Ensure that dharma is always followed!'

Yudhisthira then performs ceremonies for the dead Yadavas, offers many gifts. He invites Kripacharya and requests him to tutor Parikshit. Summons leading citizens  and eminent people and informs them of their decision. They try to persuade Yudhisthira not to go, but are unable to convince him, he knows that his time has come! 

Yushisthira divests himself of his royal clothes and jewellery, wears clothes made of jute fibres, brothers and Draupadi follow suit. They begin their journey, people follow them till the gates of the town. But a dog keeps following them and they are unable to chase him away. Arjuna's wife, Ulupi enters the Ganges and Chitrangada goes back to Manipura.

Pandavas have not eaten as they turn towards the east. Yudhisthira is in the lead, following him are Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva and lastly Draupadi. They walk in a single file and the dog is still with them. When they reach Lauhitya sea, god Agni appears and asks 'Let Arjuna give up his gandiva bow, as he no use for it now! I had borrowed it from god Varuna and want to return it now.'  Arjuna immediately drops gandiva and the inexhaustible quiver into the water. 

They go forward to see the submerged Dwaraka and turn North. Days later they reach Himatparvata. They cross that and go further to reach Valukarnava and Meruparvata.  They start climbing with their minds focused in meditation and Draupadi suddenly falls. Bheema asks, 'Elder brother, why did Draupadi fall, she has not been unrighteous!' Yudhisthira replies, 'She was partial, very partial towards Arjuna and this is the result!' and keeps walking calmly without a glance towards her.  A little further, Sahadeva falls, Bheema agains asks, 'Why did he fall? He was without any ego and was taking care of us so well!' Yudhisthira says 'He used to think that there was no one as intelligent as he was. This defect brought him down.' Then it was Nakula. Yudhisthira tells Bheema, 'Nakula was vain, thought none was as handsome as he was, and so he fell!
Then it is Arjuna! Bheema cannot understand and asks, 'Arjuna is a great soul. I have never heard him speak a lie, then why did he have to fall?' Yudhisthira replies, 'He thought he was a great warrior and claimed he would destroy enemies single handed and failed to do so; he spoke disparagingly  of other archers, something a brave warrior should not, hence he fell'.  A little further Bheema fell and asked 'Brother even I fell, can you tell me why?' Yudhisthira said, 'You ate without thinking of others. Fond of self-adulation.' Yudhisthira walks on without a glance at Bheema. The dog keeps following Yudhisthira.

A little later, there is a thundering noise and Indra descends from heaven in a chariot and invites Yudhisthira to get on the chariot and he would take him to heaven. At this invitation, Yudhisthira's eyes fill with tears and  he tells Indra, 'My brothers and Draupadi, a delicate princess and deserving all the luxuiries of the world, have fallen by the wayside. I do not want to go to heaven unless they are with me'. Indra informs him that it is only their mortal body that has fallen, his brothers and wife are already in heaven with their divine bodies. 'You can see them soon; you can come with your earthly body.'  But Yudhisthira has another demand, he wants his dog to go with him!.

Indra tells Yudhisthira that dogs are not allowed in heaven! Yudhisthira insists on taking the dog with him. Indra argues that as he did not stop even for his brothers and wife who fell on the wayside, it makes no sense to insist that a mere dog goes with him. Yudhisthira justifies his stand, 'There is no friendship possible with the dead, no fight; we cannot revive them, we can only accept their death and move on. But why should I give up a living being, one which is so devoted to me?'

A pleased Dharmadeva,  reveals  himself and praises Yudhisthira for his character, awareness and kindness. Tells him that he is just like his father. Remembers his earlier request in Dvaitavana to save Nakula and not Bheema or Arjuna, so that both the mothers would have an offspring. 'Now, you refused to take the gods chariot because you wanted your faithful dog to accompany you. There is no one like you, not even in heaven. Hence you have attained an exalted status and are able to go to heaven in your present body.' 

 Yudhisthira blessed thus, climbs the chariot and it flies upwards heaven bound. On reaching heaven and not seeing his brothers and others, he tells Indra that he would like to be with his brothers. 'It does not matter whether they are in a good place or not.' Indra asks him to stay on, as this is the place he has earned, the result of his good actions. 'Why are you trying to drag your earthly bonds here?  You have achieved which no other mortal has achieved and your brothers did not!'
But Yudhisthira tells Indra that he cannot be without his brothers and Draupadi and it is his desire to be with them.

This story is well known. I was a bit surprised at the brief manner it is narrated in vachana bhartaa. While the lessons are universal; One should not be, partial, proud of being good looking or intelligent, arrogant about your prowess or just self-centred. It surprised me a bit that Yudhisthira is deemed to be perfect and eligible for the most exalted place in heaven.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Arjuna arrives in Dwaraka.Kaliyuga begins. Mahabharata 205

Arjuna hears about the destruction of yadavas and arrives in Dwaraka, which has the appearance of a dry lifeless river. Seeing Arjuna, Satyabhama, Rukmini and the yadava women begin to cry. He manages to calm them a little and goes to Vasudeva and falls at his feet. Vasudeva remembers his children and cries, "Arjuna! Heroes who had killed hundreds of demons and kings are gone! I am still alive. My jeeva is too strong! Your favourite people, the ones you loved and liked, Satyaki and Pradyumna, became the main cause of vrishni's destruction. Why blame others, Krishna himself was indifferent. While he resurrected the child killed by Ashwatthama's astra, could he not save his own family? He did not want it. After his children, grandchildren, friends and relatives all died, he came to me and said, 'It is the end of our clan! Arjuna will come here, tell him about it. He and I are the same, do as he tells you. He will perform the last ceremonies for the dead. After he leaves this city will be submerged under the sea. I will go to the forest and will be with Balarama in a sacred place and wait for this era to take its course'. He then asked me to take care of the children and went away. In this worry, I am unable to anything,  neither can I  eat food nor drink water. I am neither alive nor am I dead. Fortunately you have come, do as Krishna wants. Take care of the kingdom, the women and children and the wealth. I will leave this world."

Next morning, Vasudeva,  leaves his body while meditating. His four wives accompany him in his death. Arjuna performs ceremonies for them and the dead yadavas.As the city would soon go under the sea, he tells the people to be prepared to leave with their belongings in about a weeks time. The whole town leaves, using all means of transport; elephants, horses and mules. As there are no more leaders left, the people themselves become guards. Arjuna takes lead and guides them out of the town. As they leave, the sea turns towards the city. And wherever they halt, the sea soon reaches the spot and they are forced to move again. They believe that this extraordinary situation is the will of god and keep moving. Thus they cross hills, rivers and forests and finally Arjuna brings them to Panchanada, a place which is full of cows and grains. 

The group consists  mostly of women and  with only Arjuna as their protector. The rest of the guards are incapable of protecting the women. The bandits notice this and thousands of them attack. Arjuna comes forward and threatens them, they do not care. Arjuna picks up his bow, gandiva, and finds it difficult to string the bow. He finally manages to get ready but forgets the astras. He feels terribly ashamed at his weak body and his forgetfulness. The vrishni soldiers who are riding the elephants and horses are also unable to drive away the robbers.  The greedy men grab whatever the women possess and some of them even drag the women away with them. Arjuna kills hundreds of them and suddenly he sees that his quill is empty. The quill which never emptied during the Bharata war has nothing in it now. Arjuna decides that it is gods will and manages to hit as many bandits as he can using the tip of his bow. He is very unhappy and he finally gives up on those who were abducted and brings those who remained to Kurukhestra.

A little while later, Arjuna with the permission of Yudhisthira, installs the young men who would help the perpetuate the clans. Kruthavarma's son in Mrutthikavatha, Ashwapathi in khanadava forest and Satyaki's son at the banks of saraswati. Krisha's grandson is installed in Indraprasta.

Akrura's wives go to do penance in the forest. Rukmini and Gandharakumari Shaibye, Hymavati and Jambaavati immolate themselves. Satyabhama and other wives of krishna also go to the forest to do penance. 

Without  Krishna Arjuna is helpless.

Friend Chandramouli labelled it as the Beginning of Kali Yuga. I have many questions on this, but it can wait. 

But here are some explanations about Kali Yuga:
Hindus believe that human civilization degenerates spiritually during the Kali Yuga, which is referred to as the Dark Age because in it people are as far away as possible from God.
Kali Yuga is associated with the apocalyptic demon Kali, not to be confused with the goddess Kālī (read as Kaalee) (these are unrelated words in the Sanskrit language). The "Kali" of Kali Yuga means "strife, discord, quarrel, or contention."

Attributes of Kali Yuga
A discourse by Markandeya in the Mahabharata identifies some of the attributes of Kali Yuga:

In relation to rulers:

  • Rulers will become unreasonable: they will levy taxes unfairly.
  • Rulers will no longer see it as their duty to promote spirituality, or to protect their subjects: they will become a danger to the world.
  • People will start migrating, seeking countries where wheat and barley form the staple food source.
  • "At the end of Kali-yuga, when there exist no topics on the subject of God, even at the residences of so-called saints and respectable gentlemen of the three higher varnas [guna or temperament] and when nothing is known of the techniques of sacrifice, even by word, at that time the Lord will appear as the supreme chastiser." (Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.7

In human relationships:

  • Avarice and wrath will be common. Humans will openly display animosity towards each other. Ignorance of dharma will occur.
  • People will have thoughts of murder with no justification and will see nothing wrong in that.
  • Lust will be viewed as socially acceptable and sexual intercourse will be seen as the central requirement of life.
  • Sin will increase exponentially, whilst virtue will fade and cease to flourish.
  • People will take vows and break them soon after.
  • People will become addicted to intoxicating drinks and drugs.
  • Gurus will no longer be respected and their students will attempt to injure them. Their teachings will be insulted, and followers of Kama will wrest control of the mind from all human beings.The maximum lifespan of a human in this age is 90-100 years.
  • Brahmans will not be learned or honored, Kshatriya's will not be brave, Vaishyas will not be just in their dealings


Saturday, 6 October 2012

The frenzy and its aftermath. Krishna is no more. Mausala parva continued. Mahabharata 204

Krishna stops when almost all are destroyed. Babru and Dhaaruka approach him and tell him, 'Swami so many are dead! Let us go and meet Balarama'. They find him in a lonely spot, supporting himself against a tree. He is alone and deep in meditation!.

Krishna asks Dhaaruka to go to Hastinapura ; 'Tell them about the occurrences here and ask Arjuna to come quickly'. He tells Babru; 'Go in a hurry to Dwaraka. Take care of the women, the thieves will try to loot and trouble them.'  As Babru hurries towards Dwaraka a hunter's trap kills him. Krishna seeing this tells Balarama 'Wait! I will be back shortly.' and goes to Dwaraka and meets  Vasudeva.  Tells him, 'Appa! Arjuna is coming and take care till then. Balarama is waiting for me and I have to go! Earlier we saw the destruction of kauravas, now it is the yadavas. I cannot bear to be in this lifeless city. I will go and join Balarama and do penance in the forest.' Krishna leaves after prostrating at the feet of his father. On his way out, he hears wails of dead yadavas' children and women and consoles them with, 'Arjuna will be here! Calm down! He will solve your difficulties.' He keeps moving and goes back to see Balarama.

On reaching the place, Krishna sees that Balarama is absorbed in profound meditation and soon a thousand headed serpent emerges out of his mouth and merges into the occean. The heads of the nagas and god varuna welcome him. After loosing his brother, Krishna thinks of his future as he wanders in the empty forest. As he sits on the ground he remembers Gandhaari's curse and feels that the time of his departure from life is near. He controls his senses, speech and  mind as he gets absorbed in meditation and lies down. Jara, a hunter mistaking him to be an animal shoots an arrow at him and pierces his body. The hunter nears the body and realises that he has shot Krishna and deeply contrite at his great mistake, touches Krishna's feet and Krishna breathes his last.

Krishna and his  story is well known, but I quote from wikipedia:
According to Bhagavata Purana, Krishna was born without a sexual union, but by divine "mental transmission" from the mind of Vasudeva into the womb of Devaki. Krishna belonged to the Vrishni clan of Yadavas from Mathura, and was the eighth son born to the princess Devaki, and her husband Vasudeva.

Mathura  was the capital of the Yadavas, to which Krishna's parents Vasudeva and Devaki belonged. King Kansa, Devaki's brother, had ascended the throne by imprisoning his father, King Ugrasena. Afraid of a prophecy from a divine voice from the heavens that predicted his death at the hands of Devaki's eighth "garbha", Kansa had the couple locked into a prison cell. After Kansa killed the first six children, Devaki apparently had a miscarriage of the seventh. However in reality, the womb was actually transferred to Rohini secretly. This was how Balarama, Krishna's elder brother was born. Once again Devaki became pregnant. Now due to the miscarriage, Kamsa was in a puzzle regarding 'The Eighth One' but his ministers advised that the divine voice from the heavens emphasised "the eight garbha" and so this is the one. That night Krishna was born in the Rohini nakshatra and simultaneously Goddess Durga was born as Yogamaya in Gokulam to Nanda and Yashoda.
Since Vasudeva knew Krishna's life was in danger, Krishna was secretly taken out of the prison cell to be raised by his foster parents, Yasoda  and Nanda, in Gokula.

The story reminds me of a question a precocious kid put to his teacher: 'If Kamsa knew about the risk he ran from the eighth child of Vasudeva and Devaki why did he imprison the couple together?'  It seems Bhagavata Purana anticipated this question!

It is also fascinating to read about Krishna's last days. His frenzied attack and his total withdrawal after the wanton destruction of the yadavas. Krishna who was always one to help, now tells his father and the women of yadavas that it is Arjuna who would come and take care. Gods decide when to step in and when to step out of a situation!

Friday, 5 October 2012

The 'pestle' chapter. (Mausala parva) Mahabharata 203

Thirty-six years after the Mahabharata war there was another big calamity! One day, rishis Vishwamitra and Kanva along with Narada  visit Dwaraka.  Sarana and a few other yadavas play a prank for fun with the visiting rishis.  They dress up a man, Sambha, as a woman and go to the rishis. 'She is Babru's wife, and he wants a son. We desire to know if she will give birth to a boy, you would know as you are rishis!'

This prank angers the rishis and with their eyes turning red and large, predict 'Sambha, cousin of Vasudeva will give birth to an iron pestle which will be the cause of destruction of both vrishnis and andhakas. You will all become wicked and cruel and except Balarama and Krishna, you will fight amongst yourselves in anger and with demoniacal frenzy and will be totally eradicated.' This prediction stuns the fun seekers and they leave quietly. Krishna hears about this and just says 'Alright! This was as expected!' 

The next day an iron pestle comes out of Sambha's stomach. The very scared  king of yadavas gets the pestle powdered and and scattered in the sea. He also forbids anyone in the city from producing wine and other spirits and prohibits its drinking! Also proclaims that anyone breaking this rule will be impaled at the stakes.

After a while, strange things begin to happen. In the houses of vrishnis a scary, black and red colored, bald headed and ugly creature in human form is seen. It evades a thousand arrows easily as it appears and vanishes at will. Heavy winds blow, the screeching of birds is heard from every house. Cranes sound like owls and goats like fox. Red legged pigeons are seen everywhere. Rats and bandicoots are fearless and bite hairs and nails of people who are sleeping.

Vrishnis begin to indulge in evil acts without hesitation and insult elders and gurus; show disrespect to gods and brahmins. Men and women become uninhibited and wanton. Looking at this national calamity Krishna understands that Gandhaari's curse has begun to take effect and advises his people to go on  a pilgrimage to the seacoast.

Vrishni, Andhaka families of the yadava clan, as advised, leave for the seashores on elephants and horses with their women. They carry food, meat and alcohol with them and stop at Prabhasa theertha. Uddhava, a close friend of Krishna, none too happy leaves. In no time people get active, there is dancing and music. Balarama, Kruthavarma, Satyaki, Babru and everyone except Krishna begin to drink alcohol.

Soon Satyaki is drunk and starts criticizing Krutavarma, 'Who else but you would kill people who were sleeping soundly. Friend, your action will not be approved by any yadava, it is despicable!'  Pradyumna speaks supporting this criticism. Kruthavarma is angered, he pokes Satyaki's face and says, 'Oh yes! You are a great hero! One who killed Bhurisravas without mercy when he was down with both his hands cut.' This taunt angers Krishna, he stares at Kruthavarma showing his displeasure.Then Satyaki rakes up the story of Syamantakamani, wherein Krishna was suspected to have killed to gain possession of the jewel. This upsets Satyabhama and she starts crying. This makes Krishna even angrier. 

Suddenly Satyaki gets up and declares, 'Listen, I am about to avenge the deaths of Draupadi's children, Dhristadhuymna and Shikandi and then go where they are now. The time has come now for this criminal who joined Ashwatthama and killed those who were asleep.' And attacks Kruthavaram in great fury and severs his head. As Satyaki continues to attack others, Krishna gets up to stop him. But Bhojas and Andhakas converge on Satyaki and bash him with utensils and plates and kill him. Pradyumna who tries to stop them is also killed. Krishna is unable to bear the loss of his son and brother-in-law. He pulls out a bunch of straw and it turns into a pestle in his hand. He pounds all those who were responsible. Pushed by destiny, Bhojas, Vrishnis and Andhakas all pull out straws from the ground and the straws turn into iron pestles in their hands. They start fighting as if they are possessed, die and fall like grasshoppers. No one has the sense to run from this madness. Krishna who stands still for a while, is angered when he sees the bodies of Aniruddha, Pradyumna and Sambha, joins the frenzy and starts killing mindlessly.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Vyasa weilds his magic and there is a forest fire. Mahabharata 202

Yudhisthira had brought some useful utensils and implements; distributes them to the ashramites and is taking rest, when Vyasa makes an appearance. He inquires after their welfare and tells them, 'If you need anything, tell me!'.  Dhritharashtra keeps silent for a while; 'I am indeed blessed to meet a good ascetic like you. My life is fulfilled by this meeting. I am not worried about myself. But when I think of my son's bad behavior, I feel very upset.  What is his condition? What is the position of the many kings who died because of him? How are my children and grand children doing? Where did Bheeshma and Drona go? I keep thinking of them day and night and suffer. I have no peace.

Gandhaari hears this and thinking of her own grief and that of the other women of the family and adds her own question, 'Eminent sage! The king lost his children sixteen years ago! Even then he is as sad as before. He keeps sighing deeply as he remembers them.  Draupadi and Subhadra are tormented by the loss of their children and my hundred daughter's-in-law are grieving  for their lost husbands. What has happened to those dead? We would like to know and with your blessings we want to have a peaceful time.'  

Kunti  also remembers her son Karna. Vyasa decides to help them to achieve a calmness of their minds. He takes them to the river and steps in and calls out to all those who had died in the war. There is a loud noise and  Beeshma, Drona and the thousands kings and soldiers who had died in the war are seen gradually rising from the middle of the river. They have divine bodies, well dressed and come riding on their chariots with their flags flying. There is no enmity, no egotism, no anger, no jealousy amongst them. They are adorned with divine garlands; gandharvas and apasaras are playing music for them. It is possible for both Dhirtharashtra and Gandhaari to see and they feel much better. 

The pandavas stay in the ashram for a few more days and are in no mood to get back. Kunti finally persuades them to get back. She tells them that the longer they stay, her attachment to them would come in the way of her penance. They are also necessary in the city to take care of the kingdom.

After two years Narada visits Yudhisthira and informs him about the final days of Dhritarashtra and others. After pandavas' visit, Dhritharashtra, Gandhaari, Kunti and Sanjaya move to Gangadwara and take up severe penance. Six months go by. One day while they were walking in the forest they were caught in a forest fire. Sanjaya escapes but the other three are burnt alive.

This news upsets all and emotions run high. Yudhisthira is inconsolable, 'While we are all alive, how could a  great man who was doing severe penance die like an orphan? To think that a son of Vichitravirya, father of hundred sons, as strong as ten thousand elephants, who ruled as a maharaja had to finally die in a forest fire; it speaks about bad times for humans. Earlier, divine women would fan him, now vultures flying around fan him with hot air. A person who would sleep while balladiers sang in his praise, is now surrounded by crows and vultures.'

'I do not grieve so much for Gandhaari, she lost one hundred sons, and as long as she lived, she took care of her husband and has reached patilokha. But when I think of Kunti, I feel terrible. She had children living and instead of enjoying the riches, she went to live in the forest. What is the use of our kingdom. our valor and our khsatriya dharma? Just to think that our mother died in a forest fire makes my mind dull. What was the use of Arjuna pleasing agni in kandavavana? Agni proved to be ungrateful. When the fire surrounded her, our mother already fragile, must have been shivering with fear and would have cried for us to save her.'

Later, due ceremonies are performed for the dead and plenty of gifts are distirbuted. Yudisthira, having lost so many relatives, continues to rule the kingdom without any entusiasm. 

This desire to know, how those who have passed beyond are doing, is universal. We as children were sure good people were all in heaven and that bad people went to hell! It was simple. Anyway Vyasa's visual proof  to the living relatives that all those who died in war are in heaven, seems to assuage grief to some extent. Though it does not really solve the problems of the living.

This belief that all those who died in a war will go to heaven, will make  peace process more difficult. In any case in Mahabharata lord Krishna wanted war to decimate the kshatriya clans. Here is some interesting research on the influence of  beliefs in heaven and hell. 

 Why criminals believe in heaven: 
People who trust in redemption more likely to break the law than those who think there's a hell.
Crime rates are higher in countries where more people believe in heaven than in hell, researchers have found. The finding emerged from a study into 26 years of data involving more than 140,000 people from almost 70 nations. The results suggest that people are more likely to feel they can get away with criminal behaviour if they don't believe they could be punished in the afterlife.
Academics discovered that offences such as murders, robberies and rapes were more common in societies where punishment forms an important part of people's religious beliefs.
This means a country where more people think there is a heaven than a hell, for example, is likely to see more offences than a nation where beliefs are more equally shared.

.....'The key finding is that, controlling for each other, a nation's rate of belief in hell predicts lower crime rates, but the nation's rate of belief in heaven predicts higher crime rates,and these are strong effects.

I think it's an important clue about the differential effects of supernatural punishment and supernatural benevolence.'

Monday, 1 October 2012

Pandavas have no peace of mind. Back to the forest to meet Kunti. Mahabarata 201

After their return, Pandavas have no peace of mind, they have no interest in the affairs of the kingdom. Worries about their mother, well being of Dhritharashtra and Gandhaari occupy their minds. In addition, the killing of their own relatives, death of Abhimanyu, thoughts about Karna and the murders of  pandava children dominate. The only thing that keeps them interested in life is Parikshit. One day the thought about their mother overwhelms them, they cannot even breathe. All want to go back to the forest and see for themselves how Kunti is doing  and decide to go. Yudhisthira announces their intention and invites whoever interested to join. They camp outside the town  till all preparations are made and proceed a few days later.

Stopping a little away from the hermitage, they walk quietly towards the ashram. As there are no movements of people, it is very peaceful. Some hermits stop and stare at them with curiosity. The group from the city ask 'Where is the ashram of Dhritharashtra?' and are informed that he and his wife have gone to bathe in Yamuna, get flowers and a jug of water. The group turns towards the river. Sahadeva sees them and runs towards Kunti and hugs her feet. Kunti tells Gandhaari, 'It is Sahadeva!'  Dharmaraja and others arrive and prostrate in front of the elders. Dhrithrashtra recognises their voices and speaks to them, inquires about the city and their well being. Yudhisthira wants to know about their life in the forest. Not seeing Vidura asks about him.

Dhritarashtra, 'Child, Vidura is well. He has given up food and is performing  a severe penance. People say he has become just skin and bones, he is rarely seen in the ashram!' At that moment, a movement is seen near the ashram. One of them says, 'There he is, seeing that ashram is full people he is going back in a hurry.'  Yudhisthira  runs after Vidura. It is difficult to keep track of him in the forest. Yudhisthira notices that Vidura is without clothes and his hair is matted and twisted on top of his head, his body is covered in dust. He shouts, 'Vidura! Vidura! I am your favourite, Yudhisthira!' and keeps after him with great difficulty. When they reach a lonely place, Vidura stops and support himself against a tree. He is very thin and only the shape of his body remains.

Yudhisthira approaches him, stands is front and announces, 'I am Yudhisthira.'  Vidura acknowledges with a sign and looks at him intently. Their eyes meet and  lock into each other. Vidura with his yogic powers enters Yudhisthira's body. His body, prana and his faculties merge with that of Yudhisthira. Vidura does not move and his eyes are staring  vacantly at nothing. Yudhisthira realizes that Vidura's body is lifeless. At the same time he experiences renewed energy, power in his body. 

 As he thinks about the ceremonies for the dead uncle, a voice from the sky above dictates, 'Hey king! Vidura's body is not to be cremated. He was in the state of a sage. No one should also grieve for him.' Yudhisthira returns to the ashram and informs Dhirtharashtra. Bheeema and others are astonished at the happenings. On that day their food consisted of only roots and fruits.

Raghu says Bheeshma and Vidura are two very important personalities in Mahabharata; especially known and respected for their loyalty. I hope he will tell us more in his own words thru this blog! Mahabharata fascinates in many ways.When the story is told in the human level; the personalities in the epic are etched well and clearly, we can actually visualise them. Here is a picture of Vidura borrowed from the internet which I think is closest to my imagination. I see sadness and vulnerability in his eyes, understandable when his status is not of a noble and he knows it. I had thought that he was a bachelor. But no, he is married to the daughter of a maid and a king, and has a family.

 Mahabharata has two streams running, one very human with palpable emotions and another, wherein paranormal comes into its own. Sages Vyasa and Narada flit in and out. Voice from above is heard at opportune moments.Many gods and humans interact. Krishna, whose personality is very complex at the human level, becomes easily understood as soon as he is deemed to be a god. Destiny becomes paramount as many things happen and are explained away as karma. Rishis are quick to throw a curse. Gods pleased with the severe penance of devotee gift away, generously, powerful astras with a capacity to destroy the world. None of these gestures are impulsive, they all have a reason. Part of a chain of cause and effect. 

I wondered if separating these two streams would make sense. I know it has been done by some. A few have a chosen a personality in the epic and have written about him/her as the focus.  I then came across  'Yuganta'  by Iravati Karve.

 A quote from the foreward:
 'The Mahabharata has often been characterized by students of Indian civilization as the
most informative work in all that country’s ancient literature. It is a growth over many
centuries, which incorporates material of many varieties drawn from many sources —
possibly a little history, certainly much myth, legend, fairy tale, fable, anecdote, religious
and philosophical writing, legal material, even anthropological items, and miscellaneous
data of other kinds. It is a genuine folk epic in basic character, which has been enlarged
to a kind of Indian — at least Hindu — cultural encyclopaedia.'

'But it is not this quality of the Mahabharata that has made it so absorbing to Dr.
Karve. She is attracted to it because it depicts a long roster of characters with all their
virtues and their equally numerous faults, openly, objectively, even more, mercilessly
especially when sought out by an inquirer like her, whose view of life is
secular, scientific, anthropological in the widest sense, yet also appreciative of literary
values, social problems of the past and present alike, and human needs and responses in
her own time and in antiquity as she identifies them.

The Mahabharata stands in contrast to the other great Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana.
The latter the Hindus characterize as elegant poetry, high literary art (kavya), a court epic
wherein the personalities are types illustrative of virtues and vices rather than emotionally
complicated beings. To Hindu tradition however, the Mahabharata is history (itihasa, a
word which means literally “thus it was”), and its character is like that of the Iliad and
other great folk epics.

Irawati Karve studies the humanity of the Mahabharata's great figures and no one of them
emerges for her as wholly good or wholly bad, few as even prevailingly good or prevailingly

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Kunti, Vidura and Sanjaya join the old couple in the forest. Mahabharata 200

A few days later, in the month of Kartika,  Dhritharashtra performs a ten day ceremony in honor of the dead and distributes gifts. The ceremonies are performed for his deceased children, grandchildren and his forefathers, also for himself and Gandhaari and thus becomes free from all his obligations..
Next morning Dhritharashtra and Gandhaari wear clothes made out of fibre and a cover of deer skin and  proceed towards the forest. Carried right in front is a pot of sacred fire and Kunti walks just behind, Gandhaari, her eyes covered with a cloth, puts her hand on Kunti's shoulder and the blind Dhritharashtra follows; his hand resting on Gandhaari's shoulder. With them are the Pandavas, Draupadi and Subhadra, Vidura and Sanjaya. The day is similar to the day when pandavas left town, many sad citizens throng around them. Dhritharashtra makes his way through them with folded hands. The people return once they reach the main gate of the city.

Vidura and Sanjaya have come prepared to be with the royal couple. At the gate Yudhisthira asks Kunti to return along with his daughters-in-law.  But Kunti continues to walk, 'I will go with them and take care of them as if they are my parents-in-law and wash my sins. Not speaking about Karna earlier turned out to be a big mistake. Do not forget him.  You and your brothers offer numerous gifts in his name. Do not hurt Sahadeva, he loves me a lot! Always behave in a way that pleases Draupadi.'  Yudhisthira pleads with her to change her mind and return home. He tells that it is because of her words that he went into war and is worried how she will manage in the forest, but Kunti continues to walk.

Bheema asks 'Don't  you want to see  your children rule the kingdom and feel happy? If not, why did you ask us to fight this war? Where is the need for you to go to the forest. If you wanted to live in the forest, then why did you, while we were boys , bring us out of it? Please have mercy on us mother and do not leave!'

She keeps walking as she has decided that to go to the forest is the right decision. The pleadings of her sons, bring teas into her eyes. She tells them, 'What you say is right! I lifted you up when you lost the kingdom in gambling, were insulted by your cousins and had lost everything. I propped you up as I did not want the pandu lineage lost, your fame destroyed and you get into new difficulties. I supported you so that the raja vamsha did not end with you. When my husband was the king I enjoyed plenty of royal privileges, offered many many gifts in charity and drank nectar. Also I did not encourage Krishna for my sake. I do not want the fruits my sons victory. What I want now is  to perform enough penance, as I aspire to go to patilokha and join my husband. I will serve elders who live in the forest. Take Bheema and others back to the kingdom'. 

Pandavas duly chastened give up and turn back. The efforts of Dhritarashtra to convince Kunti to go back through Gandaari, Vidura has no effect on Kunti. While Pandavas return feeling like orphans, Dhritarashtra and the rest walk a long distance and arrive at a grove near Bhagirathi river.  Being used the comforts of a city, the first night is hard on them. Having rested the night, they bathe in the morning and walk to the hermitage of Shatayoopa,  a king who is there to perform penance after handing over his kingdom to his son. Vidura and Sanjaya change clothes and begin a severe form of penance.

My thoughts were about how it would be if I were one of the seniors around that time. Life would be different. Simpler?  I am not so sure. I cannot imagine myself doing severe penance. It is certain that not many seniors would be around those days. Surely no blogging or golf.

As it happens there is TOI report on seniors.
The report, 29/9/2012, said that every third senior citizen in India is abused, mainly by his son or by his daughter-in-law. The study said that in India, the family has been the mainstay of social support. "Even in this age and time, 58% of older persons in India are living with the family. The findings of this report also affirm confidence in the ability of the family to care for its older members,".

The National Policy on Older Persons has also recognized the importance of family for the well being of older persons and has decided to have programmes to promote family values, sensitize the young on the necessity and desirability of inter-generational bonding and continuity and the desirability of meeting filial obligations.

"State policies will encourage children to co-reside with their parents by providing tax relief, allowing rebates for medical expenses and giving preference in the allotment of houses. The policy also says that short-term staying facilities for older persons will be supported so that families can get some relief when they go out," the study said.

The report made an interesting recommendation. In order to prevent elder abuse, it said there should be nationwide programmes in schools and colleges for sensitizing children and young adults towards the ageing and the aged, sensitization of healthcare workers to recognize and develop a protocol for treatment, develop a robust social security system that not only ensures income security to the older persons but also gives them opportunities for income generation.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Ashramavasika Parva. Mahabharata 199

Pandavas begin their rule. Yudhisthira treats Dhritharashtra as the head of the family. Pandavas take all decisions after consulting Dhritarashtra, Draupadi, Subhadra, other wives and Gandhari. It is Sanjaya, Vidhura and Yuyutsu  who take care of Dhritarashtra's well being and needs. Pandavas do not make any distinction between themselves and the elderly royal couple.  Knowing their grief at the loss of all their sons, it is Yudhisthira's intention to give them as much solace as possible. The couple also understand, are at peace and show their appreciation.

 Dhritharashtra continues to feel sad as he thinks of his foolhardy son. But each day after offering his morning prayers, he includes a special prayer for the well being of pandavas. If someone, even unintentionally, hurts Dhritharashtra, Yudhisthira is prone to get very upset and angry. Because of this none dare talk about the misadventure of Dhritharashtra's children at any time. While Bheema is also careful about this, he just cannot contain his feelings. He is still full of anger. Hence once in a while, he gives his arms a resounding slap within the earshot of Dhritharashtra, and mutter 'Because of my powerful arms, I banished the blind king's skilled children to the other world.'  Dhritharashtra feels deeply hurt at such words!

Fifteen years go by and it becomes more and more difficult for Dhritharashtra to bear Bheema's taunts. One day  he calls his close friends and family,  speaks to them. He is in tears,'You know that it was due to my folly that the kaurava vamsha was destroyed'. He then recounts how he suffers because of this, unable to eat and sleep. He says that he and Gandhari have chosen to lead a very austere life. 

He then addresses Yudhisthira, thanks him for his care and says while he is happy, he desires to go and live in a forest. As his children are dead because of their deeds, there is nothing for him to do. Anyway, he says it is the tradition in their family and it is time to think about themselves and do penance. He adds that Yudhisthira  will also benefit. A portion of the the good or the bad deeds by his citizens goes to the king.

Yudhisthira is unhappy and also is upset that he was not aware of the austere lifestyle of his uncle. Typically he offers to renounce the kingdom as he cannot think of living in the palace without them. He offers to make Yuyutsu, his uncle's only surviving son the king, and follow them to the forest. Dhritharashtra does not want change his mind and requests others to convince Yudhisthira to let him go. He faints and looses his balance due his weakness and Gandhari supports her husband. This again makes Yudhisthira more upset, as he remembers the strength of Dhritharashtra compared to his present state. He caresses his uncle and revives him. The scene is charged with emotion. The uncle has not eaten for four days and is weak. Yudhisthira embraces his uncle and urges him to eat. Dhritharashtra says that he will eat only if Yudhisthira agrees to let him go. Yudhisthira has no other option but to agree!

The next day the old king talks to his people and seeks permission from them to go to the forest. He talks about the past and assures the people that they will be well looked after by the Pandavas and seeks forgiveness for any mistakes he or his children had made and thanks them for their loyalty and support. A brahmin represents the populace and assures the king that eighteen day war was not because of Duryodhana and others, but it was destined to be so. He also states that his kuru vamsha has always taken care of the people. They wish the old king well and expresses the confidnece that the kunti putras will take very good care of them. Dhirtharashtra is satisfied and he returns home with Gandhari.

  How old was Dhritharashtra? Anyway age seems to have finally caught up with him. The taunts from Bheema finally begins to affect him. I have seen, as we grow older, me included, we get more sensitive. I do not think our society  treats age with respect, if it ever did, unless there is more to it than just age. They need to be the ever green politicians or heads of family owned industries or those with money or occasionally a scholar! In fact, if you are just old, it is the other way round, no respect. 

I remember a documentary about a speices of monkeys. In this species a group of she monkeys are the leaders and they support each other, so that  males dare not bother them, especially the bachelors. Then one day one of the older ladies  falls out of favor. Apparently her old age is the reason. She can only hover around the fringe of the community and without protection she is attacked by the males and dies. But life is as usual in the community of the monkeys. It shocked me then and it still is disturbing!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Ashwamedika parva ends with a story. Mahabharata 198

On the final day a strange thing happened. While brahmins, relatives and friends, the blind and the lame all were noisily happy with the gifts received, a mongoose came out of a hole nearby. One side of its body was all gold. Its shout sounded like the thunder and it spoke like the humans. 'Hey kings! This yagna is not even equal to one seer of flour gifted by a brahmin who made a living by gleaning!'. People around were curious to know why it spoke this way. Here is the story:-

'In the past there lived a brahmin who survived by gleaning. (To gather grain left behind by reapers). His family consisted of his wife, son and daughter-in-law. Once there was a drought and he was unable to collect any grains and on that day the family went hungry. The next day , he was able to collect a bit of maize by afternoon. They ground the maize and cooked it and were about to eat after the afternoon rituals when an atithi, a unexpected visitor, dropped in. After receiving him with due formality, the brahmin served his portion of the food to the visitor. The visitor was still hungry. Then the portion meant for his wife was served and this way the visitor was satisfied only after all the portions meant for the family was served. While the brahmin was reluctant to give away the portions meant for his family,  they were sure that the hungry guest was to be served till he was fully satisfied.'

'After the meal, the visitor spoke, 'Ayya! What you gave me was a pure gift. You got it in the right way and from practising dharma. Hence it is superior. Your forefathers all  have reached a high status in heaven because of your gift. Devatas are pleased with the way you have performed your tapas. It is not easy to be hungry. Hunger makes you loose your mind, it affects your virtues, you will experience a loss of judgement and courage. For one who overcomes hunger, it is as if,  he has attained heaven. Under severe circumstances of hunger, you did not bother about your own hunger, disregarded the love of your wife and children and only thought that it is your dharma to give. If you give, at the right time and to the one who is deserving, the gates of heaven will be opened. It is not written how much one should give, it could be hundred or a thousand, but what is important is the sincerity with which it is given. In the past Rantideva, who had nothing, just gave water with a pure heart and attained heaven. More than big and bigger gifts, the gift  which is given should be obtained in the right manner. It is more pleasing to Dharma, if it is given faithfully. The gift you have given is superior to the many gifts that are given at the time of Rajasuya and Ashwamedha. You have attained brahmalokha with your small gift of one measure of flour. Look, a vimana has arrived to take you and your family.'

The mongoose, continues the story, 'I came out after they left. Due to the small amounts of flour scattered on the ground, half of my body turned to gold. When I heard about the Yagna Dharmaraja is performing, I came with the hope that the other half of my body will also turn to gold. But nothing happened. That was the reason why, I shouted that this yagna is not equal to the gift of one measure of flour!'  and scampers away. 

The parva concludes with what Vaishampayana  tells Janamejaya: 'Crores of Rishis have gone to heaven with just penance. Rishi Agastya pleased Indra with Dhyana yagna. Because of this, rain, crops were in plenty. Not hurting animals, being content, character, penance, uprightness, self-restraint, truth and charity are all equal.

It is as though the author(s) anticipated my thoughts from my previous blog. I hope this story, narrated by a mongoose, is read by all those who plan to perform many rituals while they could do better by addressing more serious issues with the money they collect and spend. The fact that Ashwamedha is performed in the 21st century is beyond my comprehension.

 In fact, I almost skipped reading this anecdote as I wanted to move on with the main story. The concluding chapters of Mahabharata remind me of the long lectures, the chief guest and other vip's give as they are asked to speak two words after a programme of music. 

It is true that many illustrative stories are narrated making valid and valuable points. It was obviously the intention of Vyasa to draw lessons from the epic war and teach us. I just cannot imagine staying with the many thousands of couplets in the original. Even this abridged version is tough to keep up.

The author A.R Krishna Sastry, again decides not to include 'Vaishanva Dharma Parva' which he says is only seen in the southern Indian versions. My friend Raghu was looking forward to this part!

Notes from wikipedia: (I borrow from wikipedia, as it is easy to access. Hopefully they are resonably accurate and fair!)
Vaishampayana was the traditional narrator of the Mahabharata.
He was a pupil of Vyasa, from whom he learned the Jaya, the original 8,800 verses of the Mahabharata. He later expanded the Jaya to 24,000 verses under the name Bharata, which he recited to King Janamejaya at his sarpa satra (snake sacrifice). 

 Janamejaya was a Kuru king. He was the son of Parikshit and Madravati. He was the grandson of Abhimanyu and the great-grandson of Arjuna. He wanted to exterminate the race of Nagas, since Takshaka was responsible for the death of his father Parikshit. Emperor Janamejaya was responsible for the retelling of the famous epic Mahabharata a story of Janamejaya's ancestors from the time of Bharata up to the great Kurukhsetra war between his great grandfathers the Paandavas and their paternal cousins the Kauravas. The Mahabharata states that it was recited to Janamejaya at the sarpa satra (snake sacrifice) by the sage Vaishampayana to whom it had been imparted by his perceptor Vedavyasa.

The full 100,000 verses of the Mahabharata was not complete until several centuries later.

Yudhisthira peforms Ashwamedha yagna. Mahbharata 197

All preparations are made for the yagna. The horse is released to wander as it wishes. Arjuna as the main protector follows and his soldiers accompany him. Arjuna successfully protects the horse as it passes through Trigarta, Pragjothisha and Sindu. Next they reach the Manaloorapura. Their king, Babruvahana,  is Arjuna and Chitrangade's son. ( Their story is in Adiparva.).  Babruvahana knows this and greets Arjuna with respect and devotion. He does not stop the horse, tie it up and wage a war with the visitors.  For some reason this does not please Arjuna. 'If I had come without weapons, greeting me this way is alright. As I have come fully armed, it is not khsatriya dharma to greet me in a peaceful manner.'

Hearing this rebuke, Babruvahana's step mother, Uloopi, A Nagakanya and one more wife of Arjuna, breaks through earth and addresses her crestfallen stepson. 'Son, fight with Arjuna, he will be happy if you fight him!'  So, Babruvahana ties up the horse and starts to fight with his father. Arjuna is pleased with his son's skills and responds without much seriousness. Suddenly Babhruvahana aims an arrow directly at Arjuna's heart and finds its mark. Arjuna struck very hard faints and falls! Babhruvahana distaught and tired, also faints. Chitrangade hears of this and runs to the war front. She blames Uloopi, 'All this happened because of you!'

Meanwhile Babhruvahana comes out from his stupor and sees his mother next to the very still, fallen Arjuna, crying her heart out. He becomes very sad and is worried. Thinks that if Arjuna dies, it is better he also dies, sits next to his father  waiting for death (Prayopravesha) to come to him! Uloopi thinks of  sanjeevini, a precious stone capable of reviving;  it falls into her hand. She gives it to Babruvahana and tells him, 'Place this on the heart of your father.  You have not killed him, he will revive. He wanted to see how brave you are! The reason why, I encouraged you to fight'. Arjuna is revived by the stone and he gets up. Uloopi comforts  Arjuna with  'You have now atoned the sin of killing Bheeshma, if not you would have faced misfortune.'

Arjuna continues with his triumphant journey behind the sacrificial Horse and returns to Hastinapura. The yagna is performed in great style and pomp. Kings, invitees and the unfortunate are all treated well. There are mountains of great variety food everywhere and oceans of drinks of all types. The fame of this Ashwamedha  spreads all over the world. Gifts of money, jewels and gold rain on people. By his munificence, the king is blessed and becomes free from his sins and enters the city!

I found this story astounding! It could be one of the quickest recoveries in history of a country engaged in a massive war ! The story probably explains our present day attitudes. We seem to take everything in our stride as long as we are assured that we can atone for our sins, by taking a dip in a holy river, give away money or spend it on a temple. I guess no one wants to know how the money came into its coffers! In Mahabharata days, invading a neighboring country, fighting a khsatriya war was acceptable and the bounty collected was legitimate.
Yagnas are performed even today. Ashwamedha was performed recently in Madurai.  A modified version. No need for a king. No sacrifice of a horse.. And hopefully  no bizarre rituals, as prescribed in the original form,  to be performed by the queens of the kartas.

Posted 29 December 2005 - 01:48 PM
Aswamedha Yagna in Madurai, India—Live on Internet

From times immemorial, daily Gayatri Mantra Chanting and Agnihotra (Yagya) have been the two cardinal principles and upholders of perennial Vedic Culture of Ancient India. Gayatri  Mantra Chanting symbolizes constant remembrance of the Supreme Spirit of the Cosmos that guides us towards the righteous wisdom; and Yagya symbolizes the mutual ceaseless sharing and caring of the cosmic energies and processes, which keep the harmony of the spheres intact.

Ashwamedha Yagya: As ‘Ashwa’ is the symbol of mobility, valour and strength and the ‘medha’ is the symbol of supreme wisdom and intelligence, the natural meaning of ‘Ashwamedha’ can be taken as “the combination of the valour and strength and illumined power of intellect”. It is the combination of these two for selfless and other-centered motives that may create an ideal society and nation. This is the reason, why the making of a nation has been called ‘Ashwamedha’.

Ashwamedha yagyas as propounded and performed by All World Gayatri Pariwar in the present day context, means – Cosmic Energy (Ashwa) led and guided by Medha (Enlightened Intelligence) for collective awakening and ennobling of society. Shantikunj, Haridwar based All World Gayatri Pariwar has so far performed 29 such mass scale Mahayagyas (23 in India and 6 abroad). The one going to be performed at Madurai Meenakshi Teerth from Dec 29, 2005 to Jan 1 2006 will be the thirtieth in this chain and the first in the holy land of Tamilnadu, India.  More details and  the official flyer of the yagna can be found at:

The integrated science of Yagna
The Extra Sensory Potentials of Mind
The Absolute law of Karma
Spiritual Science of Sex Elements
Music- the Nectar of Life
Eternity of Sound and Science of Mantra
Life beyond Physical Death
Who am I
The Divine Message of Vedas
Gayatri Sadhna- Truths and Distortions
21st Century  - The Dawn of The Era Of The Divine Descent On Earth  

Live Broadcast

Sanskar channel is going to broadcast the Ashwamedha Yagna live on Sanskar TV Channel. The live broadcast is also available on the internet via their website

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A scene from Dwaraka and the birth of Parikshit, before we continue with Ashwameda. Mahabharata 196

The author takes us away from Hastinapura to Dwaraka.

Once Yudhisthira starts functioning as a king, Krishna goes back to Dwaraka along with his sister Subhadra. He has been away a  long time!  Krishna, who allowed the Mahabharata war to be fought, was returning home like Devendra, who returned after killing all the demons! Every one is happy to see Krishna and felicitate him. After responding suitably to the invitations of the Bhojas, Vrishnis and others, Krishna goes to meet his parents.

A happy Vasudeva asks; 'Dear child! I have heard stories from others  about this extraordinary war! You have seen this war with your own eyes, you were involved with it and I would like to hear from you, as a man of valor, how this war was waged by pandavas and by Bheeshma, Karna, Krupa and Drona. Krishna, tell us as it happened, in detail .'

Krishna replies that it will take a hundred years to describe the miraculous feats by the great warriors in this war! He describes the war briefly from the time Bheeshma takes charge as the chief of the army until the death of Duryodhana. He does not tell them about the death of Abhimanyu as he deliberately avoids it, to spare his father from hearing about his  grandson's death. Subhadra who was present asks, 'Why did you omit the death of Abhimanyu? Tell him!'  And she faints and falls down just at the thought of her dead son.

Vasudeva also faints and on recovering asks Krishna, 'You are known in the world as a man who always speaks the truth. How is it that you hid the news of my own grandson's death? Tell me! How did he die? What was his message to his mother? Did he tell me anything? Oh, how I loved him! I hope he did not hesitate to fight and was not killed while he tried to run away?

Krishna gives his father the full details of Abhimanyu's bravery and declares that he has surely gone to heaven as there is nothing more sacred for a khsatriya than to die in a war, especially with death caused by a weapon. He also speaks about Subhadra going practically mad with grief and the way Kunti consoles her, advising her to behave like a true khsatriya woman;  face the death of her son bravely and take care of Uttarae, her daughter-in-law who is fully pregnant.

Meanwhile Yudhisthira collects enough money and materials from Himalayas and starts preparations to perform Ashwamedha yagna. Krishna and Subhadra return to Hastinapura. While there Uttarae gives birth to a son. As was expected it is a stillborn baby as a result of Ashwatthama's astra. The happiness at the birth of a child to perpetuate the vamsha turns into a uncontrollable wail of sadness.

Kunti, Draupadi and Subhadra and the rest appeal to Krishna, 'Krishna you had promised that you would save the child. It is now without life. We will all live if that child lives, all our prana is now in that child.'  

Krishna walks into the room where the child is lying lifeless. He looks solemnly at the child and speaks, 'If I have not uttered a single lie even in fun, have not retreated from a fight in a war, let this child live! If dharma and brahmins are dear to me, let this child live. If truth and dharma  recide in me, let this child live.'  Krishna then moves his palm from its feet to the head and the child starts breathing. As the child is born after the clan of kurus was destroyed, he is given the name Parikshit, one who extended the lineage!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Ashwamedika Parva. Mahabharata 195

Yudhisthira faints after returning from offering  jalatharpana to Bheeshma, . Both Dhritharashtra and Krishna help him recover and urge him to take courage; Krishna is in fact a bit stern with Yudhisthira. But Yudhisthira is still distraught; tells Krishna that he feels like giving up everything and going to the forest. He then asks if there is some way he can atone for his sins and clear his mind.

Vyasa, who is present there, tells Yudhisthira that he is confused and asks, 'Is it really possible that a man can act independently and do as he pleases? Whether it is good or bad, Ishwara sets it in motion and man just implements it. But if you really think that you have committed a sin, there are ways to atone for it. People who have been wicked are known to perform yagna, penance and give charity to purify themselves. Devatas became strong with this practice and were able to defeat the demons. You can perform Ashwamedha Yagna the way  Srirama and Bharatha chakravarty had done earlier and give away plenty of  food and money.'

Yudhisthira agrees that Ashwamedha saves the world itself from sins, but has a problem. 'Where will I get the money for this? I do not have the heart to ask my brothers to go and get it for me. With so many  kings dead, from where do I get tributes? The treasury of the kauravas is empty and  ashwamedha costs money. Even if I pledge the earth it will not be enough!'

Vyasa gives him a solution, 'Previously, the Maruttha king had performed the yagna in the himalayas. There is still a lot of money lying there as the brahmins could not transport it. You can arrange to get it, there is enough for you!' 

With this news Yudhisthira calms down and get busy with ruling his kingdom.

There is a note from the author that he is not including 'Anugita' which is part of this parva.  
'It contains Krishna's conversation with Arjuna when Krishna decided to return to Dwaraka after restoring to the Pandavas, their kingdom. The main topics discussed are transmigration of souls, means of attaining liberation, description of gunas and ashramas, dharma, and the effects of tapas or austerity.'

There is one more link:  THE ANUGITA



My curiosity took me back to wikipedia about ashwamedha yagna:
There is more to it than just letting a horse to wander for a year!  There is a role for the queens in this sacrifice. I guess I will let you read about it by yourself !