The Mahabharata is the more recent of India two great epics and by far the longer one: first composed by Maharishi Vyasa in verse it has come to us down the centuries in the timeless oral tradition of guru and sishya profoundly influencing the history culture and art of not only the Indian subcontinent but most of Southeast Asia. At 100,000 couples it is seven times as long as the Iliad and the odyssey combined far and away the greatest recorded epic know to man.
The Mahabharata is the very Book of Life in its variety majesty and also its violence and tragedy. It has been said that nothing exists that cannot be found within the pages of this awesome legend. The epic describes a great war of some 5,000 years ago and the events that led to it. The war on Kurukshetra sees ten million Kshatriyas slain and brings the Dwapara Yuga to an end and uhers in a new ans sinister age this present Kali Yuga or modern times.
At the heart of the Mahabharata nestles the Bhagavad Gita the song of god. Senay or ubhayor madh ye between two teeming arise Krishna expound the eternal dharma to his warrior of light Arjuna AT one level all the restless action of the Mahabharata is a quest for the gita and its sacred stillness. After the carnage it the gita that survives immortal lotus floating upon the dark waters of desolation the final secret.
With its magnificent cast of characters human demonic and divine and its riveting narrative the Mahabharata continues to enchant readers and scholars the world over this new rendering bring the epic to the contemporary redder in sparkling modern prose. It brings alive all the excitement magic and grandeur of the original for our times.
Ramesh menon was born in 1951in New Delhi. He has lived and worked in Delhi Hong Kong Bengaluru and Jakarta and now lives in Kodaikanal. He has recently published a modern translation of the Ramayana.
Three hundred and sixty five human years make one year of the Devas and the pitrs the Gods and the ancestors.
Four are the ages in the land of Bharata: the krita, treat, dwapara and kali. The krita yuga lasts for 4800 divine years the treat for 3600 the dwapara for 2400 and the Kali for 1200; and then another krita begins.
The krita or satya yuga is an age of purity it is stnless. Dharama righteousness is perfect and walks on four feet in the krita. However from the treta yuga adhrma evil comes to the world and the very febric of time begins to decay. Finally the kali yuga the fourth age is almost entirely corrupt with dharma barely surviving hobbling on one foot.
A chaturyuga a cycle of four ages is 12,000 divine years or 365 x 12,000 humab years long. Seventy one chaturyugas make a manuvantara fourteen manutaras a kalpa. A kalpa of a thousand chturyuga 12 million divine years is one day of Brhama life is 3003 savanas long one day of mahavishnu is the lifetime of brahma.
The great war the Mahabharata is fought at the very end of a dwapara yuga the third age just before the sinister kali yuga begins once in time out of mind the gods created the kshatriyas to establish dharma justice in an anarchic world most royal kashtriya bloodlines can be traced back to the devas themselves in most ancient days the Gods came freely to the earth. But in time generations the noble race of warrior kings has grown arrogant and greedy. By the end of the dwapara yuga have become tyrant and they are still practically invincible.
Krishna the Avatara and his cousins the Pandavas are born to destroy the power of the kshatriyas of Bharatavarsha (India) forever this is what the Mahabharata yudddha the war on the crack of the ages accomplishes; and thus ushers in the Kali yuga modern times. By this Hindu calendar the Great war was fought some five thousand Years ago.
The house of Kuru is one of the oldest and noblest Houses it traces its origins to some Deva the Moon God. Timeless hastinapura the city of elephants is the capital of the Kuru Kingdom and one great king after another has ruled from here. The legend of the Mahabharata begins with king shantanu of the Kurus and how a son is born to him but this prince Devavrata will never sit upon his father through instead shantanu blind grandson Dhritarashtra will become king.
The main them of the Mahabharata is the story of Dhritarashtra sone the Kauravas ans his brother Pandu sons the pandavas and the enmity between them. Dhritarastra hundred boys are evill prnces led by the eldest of them the ruthless Duryodhana who is a demon Pandu five princes are devaputras Devas sons born to fight for dharma in the world.
They are Yudhishtira, Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva. Almost every king in Bharatavarsha takes one side or the other in the Great war and ten million Kshatriyas are killed. Dharma is established again on earth but an age has ended and another has begun.
The maharishi vyasa the poet of the Mahabharata himself wanders in and out of the story. Unearthly beings Devas yakshas gansharvas nagas and apsaras find their way into the story as do demonic ones asuras and rakshasas. The Mahabharata is set in a pristine and magical time of the earth. Its heroes and villains are all larger than life. The war itself is fought with occult weapons; the astras of the Gods.
Just before the war begins the third Pandava Arjuna the greates archer in the world loses his nerve on the field of Kurukshetra. That perfect warrior cannot bear the thought of killing his cousin. Krishna who is Arjuna charioteer expounds the etrnal dharma to him. This exposition is the Bhagavad Gita the song of God the gita is the heart of the Mahabharata its real treasure. At one level all the rest of the restless action of the epic is a quest for the precious Gita and its stillness. The Gita is the Hindu new testament.
Senayor Ubbayor Madhye.. between two immense armies on the brink of a savage war the Avtara singh his wisdom. To this day Kurushetra is holy ground for the Hindu because it was here that Krishna sang his immortal Gita and here that he revealed his vishwarupa his cosmic form to Arjuna.
The original Mahabharata in Sanskrit is an epic poem of 100,000 couplets; seven times s long as the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. To record his epic for posterity is such a daunting task that Vyasa begs the elephant headed God, Ganesha to be his scribe. Ganesha has one stipulation: Vyasa must never keep him waiting for even a moment during the narration. The poet agrees and manages to keep ahead of his quicksilver writer often with long digressions from his main story. Ganesha writes down Vyasa legend with a tusk he breaks from his own face.
This is modern prose version timeless epic the legend of the sons of Pandu.
Once, in more Gracious times when the kshatriyas of the earth were like gods, there was a devout sovereign of Chedi called Uparichara. Indra of the Devas gave him a marvelous vimana, a crystal ship that flew anywhere at his very thought. That king became known as Uparichara Vasu; for like the Vasus, he ranged the sky in his vimana.
Uparichara's wife was Girika, and she bore him five excellent princes. One morning, when she was in her fertile time, Queen Girika came to her husband and asked him to make love because she wanted another son. But he had to go into the forest to hunt some meat for a sacrifice to his fathers in heaven. Uparichara set out with his bow in his hand.
Earlier, his queen had come to him wearing the sheerest robe; the king did not realize how much she had aroused him, until he missed two red stags with his arrows. Uparichara came to a lotus-laden pool in the depths of the forest and, with Girika's lush body before his mind's eye, ejaculated onto a banyan leaf.
He folded the leaf, chanted a potent mantra over it and called his hunting falcon down from the sky. 'Fly friend, take this to my queen as swiftly as you can.'
As the falcon sped towards Chedi, a fishing eagle perched in a tree on the banks of the Yamuna saw him. The eagle mistook the banyan leaf for a shred of meat and flew at the falcon. The birds fought briefly in the air and the leaf fell out of the falcon's beak, down into the river.
Now, a year ago the apsara Adrika had flown down from Devaloka to swim in the Yamuna. It was the twilight hour, and when the nymph had been in the water for a while she saw a sage at the river's edge, at his sandhya vandana his evening worship. The austere on sat motionless his eyes shut first. Adrika saw how radiant he was and lusted after him.
She swam close to where the rishi sat and playfully seized his ankles. Adrika thought that on seeing her beauty and naked body he would make love to her. She could not have been more mistaken.
The hermit eyes flew open and he cursed Adrika you dare disturb my dhyana? Be a fish from now!
At once the apsara had golden scales and a fish body. The rishi rose and strode away. Neither of them realize that fate had a deep purpose to fulfil by their encounter. Adrika stayed in the river devouring smaller fish when she felt hunger she grew bigger and bigger. Soon she forgot she was an apsara and though of herself as just a fish.
When the eagle set on Uparichara falcon the banyan leaf plunged down into the midnight blue Yamuna adrika swan lazily in the river she saw the leaf strike the water and the king seed being washes off. As it sank shimmering with a flick of her tail the fish darted forward and swallowed that seed. At once she became pregnant.
In ten months she was so big she could hardly swim and only lay on the bed of the river. One day she was snared by a fisherman in his net. He drew her from the water and she lay heaving in his boat. The fisherman cut the golden fish open with his knife. There was a flash of light and he saw the spirit of a nymph fly into the sky.
The man was blinded for a moment but when he looked into the fish belly he saw two human infants a boy and a girl lay there and gazed serenely back at him. The next day the fisherman arrived in the king palace and told Uparichara vasu how he had discovered the children the man begged to keep one of them.
The king guessed how those twins had been conceived and his queen still wanted another son. Uparischara vasu kept the little boy and allowed the fisherman to take the girl. The prince born from a fish belly was named Matsyaraja; in time he would rule his father kingdom as ably as Uparichara had, the fisherman raised the little girl in the wilderness as his daughter. A fortune teller who read the lines on her palm said that one day she would become the queen of a great kingdom the fisherman lived with that prophecy clasped close to his heart.
That dusky child body always smelled of fish and her father called her Matsyagandhi.
Some years later. The celibate Parashara another immortal rishi on his pilgrimage arrived on the banks of the Yamuna. It was a crisp winter morning. The sun shone pale and ethereal and the river sparkled a if hut sat at his morning. The sun shone place and ethereal and the river sparkled as if a million jewels had been strewn across her water. The fisherman in his hut sat at his morning meal of least night fish and rice when the austere figure loomed suddenly in his door.
Take me across the river I am in a hurry said Prashara ungraciously.
If was not the first time the profound one had passed this way and the fisherman recognized him. He called out to his daughter.
Matsyagandhi take our Muni Prashara across.
She appeared at the corner of the hut sixteen and bright as bit of winter sun. breast buds strained like young lotuses against her green Parashara. Without a word matsyagandhi led the illustrious one to the wooden boat tethered to the riverbank.
As he followed the girl smell of her body invaded him the raw smell of fish with which she was bogn but instead of being repulsed Parashara lost his heart to her he was had felt no twinge of desire in the company f fawning apsaras in Devaloka was overcome by the earthy whiff of the fisher girl.
When she helped him into the boat he held her hand longer than he needed to she freed herself quietly and cast off. But he would not be so easily denied. As they moved out at which she rowed. She smiled at him again and clasped it one the oar at which she rowed. She smiled at him her huge eyes twinkling she stopped rowing though they were in midstream and drifting. But she did not withdraw her hand.
Parashars presence and his dignity which now suffered not a little for his visible excitement attracted her. His hand quivered on hers. He leant forward awkwardly to try to kiss her. She smiled dazzling him and stroked his gnarled hand without inhibition.
In her husky voice she said holy one why do you want to do this?
You a lofty brahmana descended from brahma and I the daughter of a nishada between us this isn’t proper.
Then she trembled remembering suppose he cursed her at that moment her father hailed them faintly form the bank. He stood washing his hands outside the but and wanted to know why they had stopped.
Parashara released the girl's hand. She rowed again while the rishi kept a watch on the fisherman, who stood staring after them, his eyes shaded. Again, the sage took Matsyagandhi's hand.
She said, "Brahmana, aren't you repelled by my smell? Muni, don't you know the Vedas say one should never have sexual intercourse during the day? And besides, my father can see us."
When Parashara was near enough to kiss her, she was reminded sharply of his great age, and both excited and dismayed by it. But he waved a slender arm over his head, his hand curled in an occult mudra. Instantly they were shrouded in mist and the fisherman could not see them anymore. Then it began to snow!
It was dark on the boat on the river.
"Is that night enough?"
Little Matsyagandhi gave a cry of wonder. But being a virgin and still afraid, she said, "Yogin, you will enjoy me and go your way, but I will become pregnant. I will be ruined, the laughing stock of the world. And what will I tell my father?"
He cried hoarsely, "Give me your love and you will be famous forever among Devas and rishis. You will be known as Satyavati in heaven. Look."
Again a wizardly mudra from him, and she saw her body glow with a new beauty. Her limbs were lambent, her features finer, and the smell of her transformed so now she smelt of wild jasmine, lotus and other unearthly fragrances. In a moment they spread from her for a yojana. Her original, fishy musk had not vanished either; it became a sublimely erotic perfume, which fuelled his ardour!
Still, she hesitated. She restrained his wandering hand, so he cried, "Say whatever you want and it shall be yours. Quickly, you are driving me mad!"
After a moment's thought, she said, "If neither my father nor anyone else comes to know of this, if my virginity is not broken, if the son born of our love is a magician like you, and if I always smell as sweetly as I do now, then take me, O Rishi, and gladly!"
Parashara, famed across the three worlds, laughed aloud. He said, "This is God's will, Satyavati, All your conditions will be fulfilled, and your son shall be the greatest poet the world has ever known. JJ
He took her in his arms in that boat rocking softly on the Yamuna while his magical snowstorm held up its opaque curtain around them. Impatient for him now that her fears had been allayed she rowed to an island in the stream and moored there and they lay together unlikeliest lovers heating the pale sand dry.
At last after he drank deeply of her youth and she of his age parashara rose to bathe in the Yamuna. While a last kiss on top of her head he walked upon the water and out of her life.
And in the mystic dimension no sooner had she conceived than she was in labour.
Her delivery was miraculous and quite painless. As soon as he was born her lustrous boy as handsome as Kamadeva became a full grown rishi with a Kamadalu in one hand a smooth staff in the other and his matted tawny hair lit in a halo. That newborn and exceptional hermit said to his mother we must go our separate ways. But if you ever want t see me just think of me and I will appear before you and he also walked away from her.
Since he was born on the dwipa in the Yamuna Satyavati son was called Dwaipayana. But later he was to divide the holy veda and to compose the sacred Puranas from ancient revelations. He was to become renowned as Veda Vyasa.
Vyasa composed the immortal Mahabharata and his disciple Vaisamapayana narrated the epic for king Janamejaya of the Kurus during his sarpa yagna his snack sacrifice.
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