Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mahabharata Vol. 4, by Bibek Debroy - review

Mahabharata, Vol. 4, translated by Bibek Debroy

"Negotiating and Preparing - The Inexorable March to Destruction"
(AmazonPenguin BooksIndia PlazaFlipkart, Flipkart e-book)
(My review on Amazon - highly censored version, because four times Amazon rejected my submission.)
5 stars   This is a notable book I read and reviewed. Click to see more such books.
(Revised and edited September 13, 2012; for clarity and to correct errors)
With the twelfth year of exile coming to a close, the Pandavas need to - "... spend the thirteenth year in disguise, but in inhabited places", as per the conditions of the bet (Ch 292, Anudyuta Parva). They settle upon the Matsya kingdom, and decide how each of the six is going to disguise themselves and enter the kingdom. The thirteenth year safely negotiated, but not without Bheema almost giving the game away, twice, and a concerted effort by Duryodhana to force the Pandavas to come out of hiding, the negotiations begin. The Pandavas ask for their kingdom, and the Kauravas refuse. After several rounds of discussions, war is inevitable. The preparations for the war begin, and the last sub-Parva in this volume ends with Bhishma, the commander of the Kuru army, enumerating the warriors on both sides - Ratha-Atiratha Samkhya.

This fourth volume contains the entire Virata Parva, the fourth parva (as per the 18-parva classification), and most of the fifth parva, Udyoga Parva. Going by the 100-sub-Parva classification it contains Sub-Parvas 45 through 59, the 45th Sub-Parva being Vairata Parva, while the 59th Sub-Parvas is Ratha-Atiratha Samkhya. Vol. 4 contains all the sections (adhyayas) of the Udyoga Parva, with the exception of the last adhyayay, Ambopakyana Parva, which I guess recalls the tale of Amba after she left the Kuru assembly, seething with rage and looking for revenge against Bhishma. The longest parva in this volume is Bhagavat-Yana Parva, clocking in at 2055 shlokas, which, as the name suggests, covers Lord Krishna's travel to Hastinapur to plead for peace one last time.

The first parva in this book is Vairata Parva, in which Yudhishtra and the Pandava brothers discuss how and where to spend the thirteenth year of their exile, incognito. In this unabridged translation of the critical edition, Arjuna states, "I promise that I will undertake the duties of a eunuch." Without any additional information here, it is difficult to understand why Arjuna alone decides on this particularly embarrassing disguise. The Critical Edition excises the episode where Urvashi the apsara curses Arjuna. That would have at least provided a narrative coherence to the very handsome and manly Arjuna disguising himself as a eunuch. On the other hand, Arjuna was ambidextrous ("savasachi" (सव्यसाची ), and could shoot arrows using both hands. Should we read into this an explanation, a hint, to explain Arjuna’s transformation? In any case, Arjuna had learnt the arts and dance from Chitrasena, the Gandharva, while in heaven - this comes in handy since he spends the thirteenth year teaching Princess Uttaraa (the Prince was named Uttara, hence the princess is sometimes spelled with an additional “a” to differentiate the two in writing) dance. Yudhishtra acts as an advisor, Bhima as a cook - of course, and Nakula and Sahadeva as stableboy and cowherd respectively.

Before the Pandavas leave for the Matsya kingdom, their preceptor Dhoumya instructs the princes on how to lead the life of courtiers and commoners, lest they attract unwanted attention.
"For an entire year you will be unknown and will not be shown any honour, even though you deserve honour. When you are shown the door, take to the door.
Kings dislike those who disagree and people who speak lies.
When there is an occasion for laughter, one should laugh gently, and not like one who is mad. But one should not be too solemn."
Droupadi, before entering Queen Sudeshna's service, places two conditions that the queen accepts - "... I am not served any leftover food and where I am not asked to wash anyone's feet."

The first real sign of danger comes as the thirteenth year is nearing an end. Kichaka, the chief of King Virata’s army and also the brother of Queen Sudeshna, sees Droupadi, and is smitten by her - not the first, but certainly the last of the villainous characters who will lust after her. Kichaka’s end is described in the Kichaka-Vadha Parva. This is also the parva where we see a considerable amount of humour too - perhaps more humour is packed into this parva than all other parvas combined. Sample this line describing Kichaka's state of mind upon hearing from Droupadi that she was willing to come see him, at night, in the dancing hall: "Though he would soon be freed of all prosperity, he seemed to increase in prosperity." Or when Bhima, lying in wait in disguise for Kichaka, tells him, "I do not think that you have ever been caressed the way you are going to be  caressed." However, Kichaka's end is anything but a matter of levity. Bhima pounds Kichaka into a pulp - "He forced his feet, his hands, his hand, his neck and all his limbs into his trunk..." - so much that when the guards entered the dancing room and saw Kichaka's corpse, they wondered, "Where is the neck? Where are the feet? Where are the hands? Where is the head?"

By the time the Kauravas launch an expedition against the Matsya kingdom, the Pandavas’ thirteenth year has come to an end. Why they continued to live in disguise is however not clear. The Pandavas break their disguise only after the mini-battle in the Go-Grahana Parva. As the name suggests, this sub-Parva describes the stealing of the cows from King Virata's kingdom. Again, contrary to popular opinion, Duryodhana does not suspect that the killing of Kichaka may have something to do with Bhima and the Pandavas. it is King Susharma, ruler of Trigata, who decides to launch an expedition against the Matsya kingdom to rob it of its riches, jewels, food-grains, and cattle. It is only when the Kurus, on the battlefield, hear the roar of the chariot and the "blast of the conch" (Devdutt), that Drona recognizes it as Arjuna's conch: "From the roar of the chariot, the blast of the conch shell and the trembling of the earth, it can be no one other than Savyasachi."
As the fight begins in earnest between Arjuna and the Kuru army, you can sense that the battle between Arjuna and Bhishma is not being fought in earnest - "Using weapons to counter weapons, those bulls among men seemed to be playing." - neither warrior, grandfather and grandson, is as yet ready to engage in a deadly duel. That will have to wait.

The thirteenth year over, the negotiations begin. This is the Udyoga Parva - the name of both the fifth Parva as well as the first sub-Parva within the Udyoga Parva - and it begins with consultations between the Pandavas and the others in King Virata's assembly hall. Abhimanyu's marriage to Uttara has been concluded, and it is time to start negotiations with the Kurus for the return of Indraprastha to the Pandavas. Krishna suggests sending a messenger to Hastinapura - "With the intentions of the enemy not being known, how can one decide on an appropriate course of action?" After Krishna, Balarama and Satyaki also speak. Balarama is not in any rush to pass judgment on Shakuni, and leads a possibly lone voice of dissent among the Vrishnis - "Yudhishtra was addicted to gambling and they approached him with affection. ... He was warned by all his well-wishers. ... Having commenced, he lost his head and was convincingly defeated. Therefore, there is no crime that attaches to Shakuni."

While Drupada's priest prepares to leave for Hastinapur, preparations for war have already begun in earnest. Two important events take place during this time. The first is Arjuna and Duryodhana's visit to Dwarvati (Dwarka) to ask for Krishna's help in the war between the Kurus. The second is when Shalya, the maternal uncle of the Pandavas (he was the brother of Madri, mother of Nakula and Sahdeva), is tricked by Duryodhana and drafted into the Kaurava camp.

At this point, however, rather incongruously so, the main story takes a pause, a wholly unexpected pause, and we are taken into a different time and the story of Indra and Vritra is recounted.

Drupada's priest, and messenger, delivers his message to the Kurus. Bhishma is somewhat taken aback by the tone of the message, and opines, "It is my view that because you are a brahmana, your words are too sharp." Karna, on the other hand, is having none of this, and remains implacably hostile  - "... Karna glanced in Duryodhana's direction and angrily and insolently said, 'O brahmana! What you have said is not unknown by any being in the world. What is the point of repeating it again and again?"
Thus ends Udyoga Parva (of the 100-parva classification, and also the first parva of Udyoga Parva in the 18-parva).

Sanjaya-Yana Parva talks about Sanjaya's mission to Upalavya as Dhritarashtra's messenger.  Dhritarashtra, despite the long message he has for Sanjaya, actually has only item on his agenda - "... whatever you think should be said for the welfare of the Bharatas, say that in the midst of the kings, but do not say anything that incites them to the war." Without anything to offer to the Pandavas, it is clear that Sanjaya's mission is bound to fail. As it does. The actual chapters that detail the exchange of views between Sanjaya and Yudhishtra, and then between Sanjaya and Krishna, are riveting. We are still some ways away from the battlefield of Kurukshetra and the Lord's message to Arjuna - that the world would later come to know as the Bhagavad Gita -  but there is still no mistaking Krishna's philosophy. This is what he has to say on deeds and knowledge, in a manner that really leaves no room for doubt as to the Lord's stance on the superiority of deeds over knowledge.
"On the present issue, there is a difference of opinion among the brahmanas. Some say that deeds bring success in the hereafter. Others discard deeds and say that success comes from learning. It is known to brahmanas that those who have food, but fail to eat it, will remain hungry. It is only knowledge which leads to deeds that bears fruit, not other kinds."
Krishna is also very clear on where the fault lies: "Whether riches are stolen secretly in private, or whether they are stolen forcibly in public, the two crimes are equally reprehensible. O Sanjaya! How is the act of Dhritarashtra's son different? ... You did not speak of dharma in that assembly hall. But you see it fit to instruct the Pandavas now."

Before Sanjaya departs for Hastinapur, Yudhishtra makes his final offer - "We wish for peace. Give us one province from your kingdom - Kushasthala, Vrikosthala, Asanti, Varanavata and whichever else you pick as the fifth and the last."

Sanjaya returns to Hastinapur, and is granted an audience with Dhritarashtra even though it is night. His message is not palatable - "I censure you for discord among the Bharatas." Dhritarashtra is restless after hearing Sanjaya. He cannot sleep. He calls for Vidura and asks for words of wisdom.

Thus begins Prajagara Parva - a brilliant exposition on right-and-wrong, on dharma, on political philosophy, and one of several mini-philosophical treatises that dot the epic. Here's a brief sample:
There are two sharp thorns that dry up the body - desire on the part of those who are poor, and anger on the part of those who are powerless.
.. a greatly strong king should avoid consultations with four - those who have limited intelligence, those who procrastinate, those who are lazy, and those who are flatterers.
There are five who follow, wherever you go - friends, enemies, those who are neutral, those you live on and those who are supported by you.
There are six who live off six others and there isn't a seventh like this...
Krishna now decides to make one last effort at peace. He will go to Hastinapura and appeal for peace. While all the Pandavas speak with Krishna before he departs for Hastinapura, Bhima's message is uncharacteristically mild and contrary to his nature - "O Madhusudhana!You should speak in such a way that the Kurus resort to peace. Do not frighten them with war!" Why Bhima chooses to speak thus is not clear - after all, hadn’t he taken two terrible vows in the gambling hall at Hastinapura? What would happen to those vows should the Kauravas accept the offer of peace?

As Krishna proceeds to Hastinapura, Duryodhana has palaces built for him along his journey, and Dhritarashtra discusses with Vidura the gifts he is planning to give to Krishna. Vidura is unimpressed, and tells the king bluntly, "It is because of deception and falsehood that you are giving him all these gifts. O king! Despite your external deeds, I know your inner secrets."
Krishna meets Vidura, Kunti, and the Kuru elders. The talks fail, expectedly, but not without Duryodhana attempting yet another villainy by trying to have Krishna captured.

Krishna, on the other hand, pursues his policy of sama, dama, danda, and bhed (साम दाम दंड भेद). He takes Karna in his chariot and tells him the secret of his birth. This is the Karna-Upanivada Parva. When Karna responds, "I also know everything about my being Pandu's son under the norms of dharma" it is not clear when and how did Karna came to know the secret of his birth. Or was he saying this to hide the shock at this revelation?

The book ends with the Ratha-Atiratha-Samkhya Parva, where Bhishma gives his assessment of the strengths of the warriors on both sides of the armies, but not without causing more grief to Karna. The book ends on a tantalizing note, with the promise of the story of Shikhandi, and Amba, to follow in the next parva.
"I will never kill someone who has been born as a woman, or someone who has been a woman earlier. O king! You may have heard that Shikhandi was earlier a woman. ... I will not fight with him. ... I will kill all the other lords of the earth, whomsoever I encounter on the field of battle, with the exception of the sons of Kunti."

Bibek Debroy, the translator, is an economist with a difference. How so? Well, let's just say different. Consider this. In the early 1980s, while at the Presidency College in Kolkata, the author wrote a paper where he did a "statistical test on the frequency with which the five Pandavas used various weapons in the Kurukshetra war." Yes. Different.

The author has followed the Critical Edition from the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (Pune), for his translation. The entire series is expected to run into ten volumes, and so far, at the time of my writing this review of the third volume, four volumes have been released, with each volume appearing roughly every six months, the most recent one, Vol. 4, published in Nov. 2011.

You can get these books from Amazon in the US, or from most quality bookstores I would hope. In India there is a plethora of choices. Several brick-and-mortar stores sell them, including Crosswords, Landmark, and Sapna Book House (in Bangalore). For online shopping, while Flipkart continues to offer amazing service and blazingly fast deliveries, their prices are no longer competitive for several books, and their discounts are substantially less than what other online stores offer. They are selling this fourth volume for Rs 50915% discount. However, IndiaPlaza is selling the book at a whopping 40% discount, for Rs 359 - truly a bargain. The fourth volume has seen a INR 50 increase in price over the previous volumes, with a list price of Rs 600.

Vol. 4 Kindle Excerpt:

Mahabharata, Vol. 1
My blog post
My review on

Mahabharata, Vol. 2
AmazonIndia PlazaFlipkart
My blog post
My review on

 Mahabharata, Vol. 3
AmazonPenguin BooksInfibeamIndia PlazaFlipkart
My blog post
My review on Amazon 

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Truck Signage, Alang, Gujarat

Shot on the drive back from the Alang Shipbreaking yard in Gujarat.

This one reads,
Ram janam meu doodh miley, Krishna janam mei ghee,
Kalyug mei daaru miley to soch samajh kar pi.

Yes, can't argue with that, I suppose.

राम जन्म मे दूध मिले, कृष्ण जनम मे घी,
कल्युग मे दारू मिले तो सोच समझ कर पी |

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Mahabharata Vol. 3, by Bibek Debroy - review

Mahabharata, Vol. 3, translated by Bibek Debroy"A Time for Learning and Preparing"

(Amazon, KindlePenguin BooksInfibeamIndia PlazaFlipkart, Flipkart e-book)
(My review on Amazon )

5 stars  This is a notable book I read and reviewed. Click to see more such books.
(Revised and edited Sep 08, 2012)
Review in brief:
This volume contains most of and completes the Aranyaka Parva. The Pandavas' time in the forest is spent mostly in listening to the words of the wise, and in going on  pilgrimages. To some extent, much of the content in this parva seems like later insertions, simply because there is little here that advances the story, and little that happens in this parva has a direct bearing on the story, with three exceptions. Having said that, the stories that are recounted in this parva are themselves well-known and probably owe their survival in no small way to their inclusion in the Mahabharata.

This volume completes the Aranyaka Parva, the third Parva (as per the 18-parva classification), which began in Vol 2, and is a time of learning for the Pandavas. While Arjuna treks to heaven to obtain knowledge of weapons and dance from Indra, Yudhishtra is educated on dharma by a host of learned men, primary among them being sage Markandeya.

From the Aranyaka Parva, this volume contains Sub-Parvas 33 through 44, 33 being the "Tirtha Yatra" parva, and Sub-Parva 44 being the "Araneya" parva  (within the 100-parva classification). The very first sub-parva, "Tirtha Yatra" is massive, clocking in at 2,422 shlokas, and is by far the longest sub-parva in the epic so far. (However, there seems to be some anomaly when adding up the shlokas in the Teertha Parva. The table in the Introduction states the Tirtha Parva as having 2422 shlokas, while page 1, where the Tirtha Parva starts, states that it has 2294 shlokas.) This sub-parva however is going to be eclipsed in length by nine sub-parvas before the epic ends!

After the almost frenetic pace of the Sabha Parva, which sets the frame for the war to take place and also where several pivotal incidents take place, the Aranyaka Parva is almost glacial in pace. There are possibly three major episodes in this volume of note which have a direct bearing on the story. One is Arjuna's departure to Indraloka in search of divine weapons, that Yudhishtra has determined will be needed if the Pandavas are to win against the might of the Kurus. This episode, while part of the Aranyaka Parva, is present in Vol. 2.

Vol. 3 therefore has two major episodes. The first is the kidnapping of Droupadi by her brother-in-law, Jayadratha, the husband of Duhshala, sister of the 100 Kaurava brothers. This is recounted in the Droupadi-Harana Parva, the 42nd sub-parva, and runs for more than 1200 shlokas. Letting Jayadratha go alive has a very direct bearing on the happenings on the 13th day of the battle in Kurukshetra. This parva also sees the retelling of two tales - the Ramayana, and the story of Savitri and Satyavan, as a result of Yudhishtra's lament on the state of affairs. The stories are recounted by sage Markandeya in response to two specific questions by Yudhishtra. When Yudhishtra laments, "Is there any other man who is more unfortunate than I? Have you seen, or heard of, any such person earlier? " Markandeya tells the story of Rama and his travails in 18 chapters. Yudhishtra's second question, in response to which the story of Savitri is recounted, is, "Have you ever seen, or heard of, a woman as immensely fortunate and as devoted to her husbands as Drupada's daughter?" Perhaps sage Markandeya was trying, gently, to tell Yudhishtra about the circle of time - what has happened in the past is repeated in the future, what is happening has happened before, and what is to happen will also have happened in the past.

The second major episode is even more critical to the epic. It is the Kundala-harana Parva, and is recounted immediately after the Droupad-harana Parva. In this parva, Indra, Arjuna's celestial father, disguised as a brahmana, comes down to earth to ask, beg, rob, Karna of his armour, his "kavacha", that make him invincible in battle. Karna parts with them - and gets an unanswerable, use-once, weapon from Indra in return, and which will return to Indra after it has killed one person it is fired at. Therefore, we can see that several fates have been sealed as a result of this exchange. Karna is now no longer invincible. He will die on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The weapon that Karna has obtained will kill one of the mighty warriors on the Pandava side. While Karna intended to use it on Arjuna, he would end up using it on Ghatotakacha, the mighty son of Bheema. Arjuna's life will be spared as a result. Whatever hope the Kuru army, and Duryodhana, may have harboured of victory till that point will vanish.

Apart from these two well-known stories, some of the other stories recounted in this volume, and parva, are that of sage Agastya, Lopamudra Ilvala and Vatapi, Indra and Vritra (and which is expounded upon in greater detail in Vol. 4), Ganga, sage Rishabha, sage Kashyap's son Rishyashringa, who was born as the son of a deer, sage Jamadagni, his wife Renuka, and their fifth son Parshurama, Sage Chyavana and Sukanya, King Shibi, and Ashtavakra. One gets the feeling that the Aranyaka Parva became, over time, the repository of stories that were deemed important and needed to be made part of the Mahabharata to ensure their permanence. While you have sections in the epic that serve as mini-philosophical treatises, tales as those found in this Parva may have been acutely incongruous elsewhere. The Pandavas have to spend twelve years in the forest, so telling and hearing stories to pass the time seems quite a natural thing to do.

Summary and Excerpts:
Arjuna has gone to the heavens in search of divine weapons that the Pandavas know they will need to get their kingdom back. The remaining Pandavas are missing Arjuna terribly. The sage Narada comes visiting, and Yudhishtra asks him to expound on the merits "obtained by someone who circles the earth and visits all the tirthas". The sage asks the Pandavas to listen in turn to what rishi Pulastya had told Bhishma in response to the same question. Thus begins Tirtha Parva. While we have been told in some detail the importance of Kurukshetra in Vol 1, in the Adi Parva, this parva contains more details on the holiness of Kurukshetra as a tirtha. "Even if one only wishes to go to Kurukshetra in one's mind, all one's sins are destroyed and one goes to to Brahma's world." and later "But in all the three worlds, Kurukshetra is special. Even the dust carried away by the winds in Kurukshetra takes the performer of evil acts to the supreme objective. ... Those who live in Kurukshetra live in heaven, "I will go to Kurukshetra, I will live in Kurukshetra," He who utters this single sentence is cleansed of all sins."

The stories of Agastya, Lopamudra Ilvala and Vatapi, Indra and Vritra (which is expounded upon in greater detail in Vol. 4), the Vindhyas are also to be found in this single tirtha. The story of Ganga, and how the ashes of the sons of King Sagara were immersed in the Ganga is then recounted starting with adhyaya 104 (of the Aranyaka Parva). We then get to hear about sage Rishabha, sage Kashyap's son Rishyashringa, who was born as the son of a deer, sage Jamadagni, his wife Renuka, and their fifth son Parshurama. The story of Sage Chyavana and Sukanya, which is also available as an Amar Chitra Katha, is recounted in chapter 122 and 123. The story of King Somaka and his lone son Jantu is heart-rending in some ways. A line from that adhyaya (128) is worth repeating here:
Dharma replied, 'O King!No one ever obtains the fruits of someone else's action.'
Chapter 130 and 131 retell the story of King Shibi, who was confronted with a familiar dilemma of dharma, whereby protecting a dove would have meant depriving the hawk. (Read the Amar Chitra Katha, "Indra and Shibi", for a nice illustrated retelling of the story). Chapters 132 onwards the story of Ashtavakra is recited. Chapter 134 contains the famous debate between Ashtavakra and Bandi. You could read that adhyaya again and again, such is the cascading crescendo of the debate between the learned sage and the twelve-year old Ashtavakra.

There is a considerable amount of space devoted to Bhima's travels towards the Gandhamadana mountains and his meeting with his half-brother, Hanuman. It is in chapter 161 that we see Arjuna return after completing his stay in the heavens.

Ajgara Parva is somewhat similar to Araneya parva. In both, it is Yudhishtra's knowledge of dharma that saves his brothers. One can also interpret these parvas in different manner. While it was Yudhishtra's love of gambling that saw him lose his kingdom, his brothers, and his wife, in gambling to Shakuni, it is his recently acquired knowledge from the sages in the forest that sees him redeeming himself and saving his brothers.
While it is Bhima in the Ajgara Parva, it is all his four brothers that Yudhishtra saves in the Araneya Parva.

From the Ajgara Parva, there are a few lines that bear repeating, if only to highlight what Yudhishtra has to say about who is learned and who is not; in other words, who is a brahman and who is not.
Yudhishtra replied, "If these traits, not even found in a brahmana, are seen in a shudra, he is not a shudra. A brahmana in whom a brahmana's traits are not found, is a shudra." In other words, it is conduct that determines your caste, so to say. Putting it in even simpler words, one is noble or not based on actions. Karma is prime; birth is not. "All men are equal in speech ... birth, and death."
Immediately afterwards, in Chapter 178, we see a profound exchange between Nahusha and Yudhishtra on dharma. Yudhishtra asks,
"O serpent! Between generosity and truthfulness, which is seen to be superior? Between non-violence and good conduct, which is superior and which is inferior"
'The serpent replied, "The superiority or inferiority of generosity versus truthfulness or non-violence vis-a-vis good conduct is determined by whether the effects of these deeds are more or less important."
This emphasis on karma, deeds, is a recurring theme in the epic.This parva, Ajgara Parva, is profound in itself and bears resemblance to some of the principal Upanishads themselves.

There is yet another fascinating episode where the sage Markandeya tells the Pandavas the story of the sage Koushika, who, on being berated by the wife of a householder as not being conversant with the true meaning of dharma, left for the city of Mithila, where a hunter, who bought and sold the meat of deer and buffaloes, enlightens the sage on dharma. Yet another reminder of how it is our deeds that define who we are, and not where we are or how we were born. There is a passage where the hunter tries to disabuse sage Koushika of the notions of ahimsa (violence) by saying:
"Agriculture is known to be a virtuous occupation. But it has been said that there is great violence in this. Ploughing kills many beings that lie inside the ground and many other hundreds of beings. What is your view on this? ... Man hunts, kills and eats animals. They also cut trees and herbs. O brahmana! There are many living beings in trees and fruit. There are many in water too. What is your view on this? O brahmana! Everything is full of life and living beings. Fish eat fish, What is your view on this? O supreme among brahmanas! Beings live on other beings. O supreme among brahmanas! Beings live on other beings. ... But in this world, who does not injure living beings?"
This volume ends, as does the Aranyaka Parva, with chapter 299, and with the Pandavas ready to enter the thirteenth year of exile incognito.

Bibek Debroy, the translator, is an economist with a difference. How so? Well, let's just say different. Consider this. In the early 1980s, while at the Presidency College in Kolkata, the author wrote a paper where he did a "statistical test on the frequency with which the five Pandavas used various weapons in the Kurukshetra war." Yes. Different. While his interest in the Mahabharata "remained, I got sidetracked into translating. Through the 1990s, there were abdridged translations of the Maha Puranas, the Vedas and the eleven major Upanishads."

The author has followed the Critical Edition from the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, in Pune, for his translation. The entire series is expected to run into ten volumes, and so far, at the time of my writing this review of the third volume, four volumes have been released, with each volume appearing roughly every six months, the most recent one, Vol. 4, published in Nov. 2011.

As far as purchasing these volumes are concerned, you can get these books from Amazon in the US. In India there is a plethora of choices. Several brick-and-mortar stores sell them, including Crosswords and Landmark. For online shopping, while Flipkart continues to offer amazing service and blazingly fast deliveries (a less than 24-hour turnaround time from order to delivery is not uncommon!), their discounts on books have fallen steeply over the past several months. They are selling this book for Rs 440, a healthy 20% discount off the list price of Rs 550 Rs 468, 15% discount. However, check out other sites like Infibeam, that is selling the book for Rs 413 (25% off), and IndiaPlaza, which is selling the book at a whopping 40% discount, for Rs 330 - truly a bargain.

Mahabharata, Vol. 1
Amazon, KindleFlipkartInfibeamIndiaPlaza
My blog post
My review on

Mahabharata, Vol. 2
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My blog post
My review on

Mahabharata, Vol. 4
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Kindle Excerpt:

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mahabharata Vol. 2, by Bibek Debroy - my review

Mahabharata Volume 2 (The complete, unabridged Mahabharata) - Translated by Bibek Debroy

"Coronation, The Game of Dice, The Exile - The Empire Strikes Back"
5 stars This is a notable book I read and reviewed. Click to see more such books.
(, KindleFlipkart, Flipkart e-bookInfibeam)
(My blog post of the first volume, my review on Amazon)
This is the second volume of the author's unabridged translation of the Mahabharata, published in April 2011. It starts off from where the first volume had ended, naturally so, and completes the "Adi Parva", contains the entire "Sabha Parva", and contains about a quarter of the third parva, "Aranyaka". As per the 100-parva classification of the Mahabharata, this contains Parvas 16-32 ("Arjuna-vanavasa" to "Indralokabhigamana" parvas). Interestingly enough, the book starts off with Arjuna having to leave Indraprastha and ends with Arjuna again leaving the Pandavas for the heavens in search of divine weapons from his divine father, Indra.

In this volume, there are several stories-within-stories, and also what I would call a mini-Arthashastra. When the sage Narada arrives at Indraprastha, he is worried about a potential rift between the Pandavas arising as a result of Droupadi, their wife. Therefore, he recounts the story of Sunda and Upasunda and how they, "incapable of being killed by anyone else, except each other", did in fact kill themselves over Tilottama, a celestial beauty created by Vishwakarma. What is interesting is that the daityas Sunda and Upasunda ask for the boon of immortality from Brahma. However, Brahma, expectedly, refuses this boon, replying:
"Since you have performed these austerities with an objective in mind, the boon of immortality cannot be granted to you." [Ch 201, Adi Parva, Arjuna-Vanavasa Parva]
Is there a hint there, that the boon of immortality comes to only those who actually do not need it, or do not ask for it, and do not desire it?

The "Harana Harika Parva" sees Droupadi mouth these famous words in response to Arjuna's bringing home a second wife, Subhadra, "A second load always loosens the first tie, however strong."

The "Khandava Daha Parva" is where Arjuna and Krishna burn the Khandava forest in response to a request from the Sun-god Surya, who approaches them in the form of a brahmana. Arjuna is given the Gandiva, and Lord Krishna the chakra and a mace, the "Koumadaki". Ch 217 describes the terrible, terrible scene of the great fire. The description is fairly gruesome at times. Sample this: "As Khandava blazed, thousands of beings leapt in the ten directions, uttering frightened yells. Some were burnt in one spot. Some were scorched. The eyes burst out for some. Some withered away. Some lost their minds and scattered. Some clung to their sons, others to their fathers and mothers. Out of affection, they were unable to let go and perished. Others rose up in the thousands, their forms distorted....". In the end, Takshaka's son Ashvasena, the asura architect Maya, and the four Sharngakas were the only six beings that were spared in that great fire.

Maya then returns the favor to Arjuna by offering to and designing and building the grandest palace of all for the Pandavas, the Maya Sabha. The hall where the envy of Duryodhana would be fuelled beyond tolerance, and would start in motion the steps that would lead to the fateful 18 days on the battlefield of Kurukshetra more than thirteen years later. In the Sabha Parva, there is an eminently illuminating and the first of several philosophical mini-treatises that are to be found in the Mahabharata, the greatest of them all of course being the "Bhagvad Gita".  This one however is more political and administrative in nature, where Sage Narada visits the Pandavas at Indraprastha and questions Yudhishtra. The Sabha Parva also tells us how the asura architect Maya brought Bhima a club (gada) and Arjuna his Devdutt conch. Sage Narada advises Yudhishtra to hold the Rajsuya Yagya, which Yudhishtra, "after reflecting a great deal, made up his mind to perform...". However, the king wanted honest advice, so he sends a message for Krishna to Dwarka. Krishna arrives at Indraprastha. Yudhishtra then asks him for advice.
"Out of friendship, some do not notice faults. Out of desire for riches, some say that which is pleasant to hear. some consider that to be the best course of action which brings them self-gain. it is often that people's advice is like this. You alone are above all motives, beyond desire and anger." [Ch 12, Mantra Parva]
It is then that Krishna recites the story of Jarasandha's birth and why he is the biggest obstacle to the Rajsuya Yagya.

The next several adhyayas (chapters) are decidedly pivotal in the epic. The Arghabhiharana Parva is where the first offering has to be made, and upon Bhishma's advice, Sahadeva offered the first arghya to Krishna. And after that, in a manner of speaking, all hell breaks loose. Shishupala begins by asking certain pointed and valid questions of the Pandavas in their choice of Krishna as the receiver of the first arghya. Valid if you ignore Lord Krishna's divinity, which Shishupala obviously does. Yudhishtra pacifies Shishupala, ending his entreaties with this statement, "If Shishupala considers that this homage was undeserving, let him act as he sees fit, for this undeserving honour." Things escalate rapidly after that, with Shishupala instigating the other kings to disrupt the sacrifice. The "Shishupala Vadha Parva", as the name suggests, sees Krishna behead Shishupala. But not before Shishupala has had his fill of hurling insults at Bhishma and Krishna. The back-and-forth between Shishupala, Bhishma, and Krishna is worth reading and re-reading in its entirety, and repeatedly, such is the rapidly escalating tension that the exchange conveys. With the slaying however, the sacrifice comes to a somewhat somber and inauspicious end, and all the kings and guests depart. That is, with the exception of Duryodhana and Shakuni. And we all know what happens next. Except that it is not Droupadi who insults Duryodhana, but the servants and the others who laugh out loud when Duryodhana falls into the water, not Droupadi. However, Duryodhana does recount has having seen Droupadi having laughed at him, but along with all the others who also did. Did Duryodhana imagine that Droupadi had also joined in the laughter? Because the original verses that recount the incident where Duryodhana falls into the water do not mention Droupadi by name. Why is it that Droupadi was singled out and solely implicated in this royal and grievous insult later on I don't know. Whatever the case, it is the combination of this insult and seeing the riches of the Pandavas at Indraprastha that drives Duryodhana to extreme distress.
"This ordinary prosperity does not please me. I am miserable on seeing the blazing prosperity of Kunti's son."
Duryodhana is very clear as to who his enemies are, and he argues with Dhritarashtra thus:
"... because he knew that enmity towards a foe is eternal. Like a snake swallows a rat, the earth swallows up two - the king who does not strive and the brahmana who does not live at home. O lord of the earth! No one is by nature another man's enemy. The enemy is that whose pursuits are the same as one's own, and not anyone else." [Ch 51, Sabha Parva, Dyuta Parva]
Dhritarashtra gives in to his son's demands, and Vidura carries the invitation, much to Bhishma's grief. The gambling starts. Seventeen times Yudhishtra and Shakuni gamble. Seventeen times does the king lose. The seventeenth roll of the dice where Dharmaraja loses Droupadi.

The Sabha Parva ends with the Pandavas having lost the second round of gambling, where a single stake, exile for thirteen years, sees Yudhishtra losing, once again, to Shakuni. The next parva in the book, as per the eighteen parva classification, is the Aranyaka Parva. It is not completed in this book, and goes on for much of the third volume also.

Ch 29, Kairata Parva (Parva 31 in the 100 parva classification), part of the Aranyaka Parva (of the 18-parva classification), has this exchange between Droupadi and Yudhishtra, where she recounts an ancient story of a conversation between Prahalad and Bali on the subject of forgiveness. When Bali asks Prahalad, his grandfather, whether "forgiveness leads to welfare, or is it better to seek revenge?", Prahalad expounds on the merits and demerits of both. Excerpts:
"Revenge is not always superior. Nor is forgiveness always superior. Learn the nature of both, so that there is no scope for doubt.
A man who always forgives suffers from many faults. His servants treat him with contempt and others are also disrespectful. ... Therefore, the learned say that perpetual forgiveness should be avoided. ... Those with limited intelligence try to take his riches away from him. ... To be ignored in this world is worse than death.
Now listen to the faults associated with those who never forgive.If in the wrong place, or even in the right one, a person is afflicted with passion and anger and metes out various punishments on the strength of his energy, he will be clouded because of his energy and will face conflicts with his allies. ... If he equally uses his force on benefactors and those who wish him ill, such a man is shunned in the world, like a snake inside a house.
Listen, I will now tell you in details about the time when one should be forgiving.
If a former benefactor commits a crime that is not too great, in view of the earlier favour, this transgression should be pardoned. Those who commit an offence out of stupidity and seek pardon should be forgiven, because learning is not easily available everywhere to men. Even if the offence is slight, an offender who commits a crime with full knowledge, but claims he did not know, should be punished, because this is crookedness. The first offence should be forgiven for all beings. But when they commit the second one, however slight, it should be punished." [Ch 29, Kairata Parva (Parva 31 in the 100 parva classification), part of the Aranyaka Parva (Parva 3 in the 18-parva classification)]

The entire series is expected to run into ten volumes, and so far, at the time of writing this review, four volumes have been released, with each volume appearing roughly every six months, the most recent one, Vol.4, published in Nov. 2011. The fifth one, then, can be expected in April 2012. At this pace, the tenth, and last, volume should be published in Nov 2014.

The author has followed the Critical Edition from the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, in Pune, for his translation. There have been only five unabridged translations of the Mahabharata to-date, three of them by Indians (KM GanguliPC Roy, and MN Dutt), and a fourth work, recently completed, from the Writers Workshop (see my paragraph below), and two that have originated in the United States (one from the University of Chicago, and the other from the Clay Institute - both translations are as yet unfinished). This work is therefore, the sixth such translation.

There are several episodes that have been excised from the critical edition, and are therefore missing from this translation also: these are some that I am aware of:
. Akshay-patra gifted to Droupadi:
. Arjuna worships Shiva:
. Urvashi curses Arjuna:

In some ways, these popular episodes add to the grand epic, and it is not clear to me why they were removed from the Critical Edition. This makes me wonder if I should not add to my wish-list the P. Lal transcreation published by the Writers Workshop; this is now complete and available in 18 volumes, each corresponding to a parva of the epic. They total more than 11,000 pages, and cost close to 13,000 rupees. The longest book is Volume 3, corresponding to the "Vana Parva", is 1572 pages long, and costs Rs 2000, while the shortest is the "Mahaprasthanika Parva", Volume 17, at 36 pages. According to Wikipedia, this transcreation " a non-rhyming verse-by-verse rendering, and is the only edition in any language to include all slokas in all recensions of the work (not just those in the Critical Edition)". I have not read reviews of this work, but the fact that it includes all shlokas (verses) alone makes it worth buying/reading for the serious Mahabharata reader.

Kindle Excerpt:

In India, Flipkart offers amazing service and blazingly fast deliveries (a less-than 24 hour turnaround time from order to delivery is not uncommon!). However, they are selling the book for Rs 508, which is a miserly 8% discount off the list price of Rs 550. You may also want to check out other sites like Infibeam and IndiaPlaza, which is selling the book at a whopping 40% discount, for Rs 330 - truly a bargain.

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

The Mahabharata, 1: The Book of the Beginning

The Mahabharata, Volume 1: Book 1: The Book of the Beginning, Translated and Edited by J. A. B.van Buitenen (AmazonGoogle Books, University of Chicago Press, Flipkart, my review on
2 stars
Academically laudable but soulless, rancorous translation of an epic

It is perhaps, and deservedly so, a commendable work of scholarly output. The mammoth exercise in translation started more than thirty years ago, and as of my writing this review, still continues. The last translation published was in 2003, of the first part of the "Shanti Parva". Not only have the translators translated the Critical Edition ("the present translation is naturally based on this critical edition") of the Mahabharata into English, but they have also reconciled, in the appendix, the Bombay (now called Mumbai) and Pune Critical Editions. This book, titled "The Book of the Beginning" is the full translation of the first parva of the Mahabharata, the "Adi Parva". In addition to the reconciliation of the Bombay and Poona editions, it also contains thirty-five pages of copious notes at the end, that are also illuminating. Like the example of Shakuntala's meeting with King Duhsanta (also spelled as Dushyanta or Dushanta), where they refer to Kalidasa's Sanskrit play "Abhijnana Sakuntala" as judged by "many to be the finest example of the Sanskrit play." As I also wrote in my review (blog post link), Shakuntala is a bold and fearless lady. "Nothing in the play of Kalidasa compares with with the tongue-lashing that Shakuntala gives Duhsanta in this story, and it is a relief when a divine voice interferes to set matters right." [pg 449].

Despite the obviously scholarly nature of the work, and the copious research that has gone into this first volume, I was also left with somewhat of a bitter aftertaste, and which had nothing to do with the story itself.

The tone of the translation, and particularly the Introduction, is petty at times, and singularly devoid of indications that the translators have grasped the soul of the epic. The translation is strewn with some rather graceless choices in translation and poor choices of words. I will illustrate with a handful of examples:

Page xxiii (Introduction): "The wise Bhisma, ... interminably exponds on the varieties of dharma in what must be the longest deathbed sermon of record." Yes, very droll. Wink wink. We are appropriately amused.

Page xxiii (Introduction): on the topic of the the Mahabharata revered as being all-encompassing of the range of human emotions and experiences found in this world, the translators are ready with a repartee for that too. "Almost any text of "Hindu" inspiration could be included in this expanding library, so that in the end the custodians could rightly boast that "whatever is found here may be found somewhere else, but what is not found here is found nowhere.". See, there is nothing great or profound in the epic; it's just the decidedly janitorial effort over three thousand years of some egomaniacal brahmins to add in the text any and sundry inclusions. Yes, we are smart; we can see through these pretensions of the epic and its followers.

Page 2 (Introduction): "... the rambling narrative..."

Page 6 (Introduction): when describing the birth of the Kuru princes, the sentence goes like "... and begets the blind Dhrtarastra, the ... Prince Pandu whose name means "pallid", and the bastard Vidura." That is a curious epithet to apply to only one of the three songs of Vysa.

Detect a trend? We are not even in the actual translation, and the translators have exercised their eminent scholarship to the fullest, as much as they can without inviting obvious aspersions on their motivations and agenda, hidden or otherwise.

Page 44 (Pausya Parva): "The bitch of the Gods, Sarama...", repeated later on the same page, and elsewhere also referred to as "... the divine bitch...". Whereas calling her "dog of the Gods" would have been equally sufficient, something that Bibek Debroy's Mahabharata chooses. The choice of the word and the construction of the phrase seems deliberate at best, and in rather poor taste in any event.

It seems to me, the reader, that whenever a choice presented itself to the translators of this monumental epic, one that required grace and  appreciation, and the other an opportunity to be petty and geelfully contemptuous, they chose the latter. In some ways this is not surprising, given the antecedents of some of the Indologists who have worked on this series, but even when evaluated from an impesonal objective, the effectiveness of the translation at times is somewhat undermined by a subterranean flow of spleen that regularly bubbles to the fore.

Bibek Debroy's work (my blog postAmazonFlipkartInfibeamIndiaPlaza) is in my opinion more faithful to the spirit of the Mahabharata, even as it also stays true to the Critical Edition. And that, in the final reckoning, counts for a lot more than the somewhat soulless if possibly academically more complete work that is the (at least the first volume) from the University of Chicago Press. When Bibek Debroy completes his translation and all the ten planned volumes have been published, I hope it offers a creditable and better alternative for the modern reader wishing to read this ancient Indian epic in its entirety.

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sasan Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary

The truly majestic Asiatic lion now lives in the wild in only one place in Asia; in the western Indian state of Gujarat, within the protected confines of the Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (Gujarat Tourism page on Gir, Wikipedia page on Gir). Where at one point in time the Asiatic lion could be found even in Northern Africa, today there are less than 500 Asiatic lions left in the wild, all of them in the 1400 sq kms that forms the sanctuary, of which about 250 sq km is fully protected.

This is the entrance to the park boundary when approaching the park from the eastern side. Basically this is where you would enter the park if you came from the Union Territory of Diu.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mahabharata, Vol. 1, by Bibek Debroy - my review

The Mahabharata, Vol. 1, Translated by Bibek Debroy - my review
(Amazon, KindleFlipkart, Flipkart e-book)
A strong start to a marathon...
5 stars
This is a notable book I read and reviewed. Click to see more such books.
An unabridged translation of the Mahabharata is a tall order. This book starts strongly; and this is going to be a marathon, with a total of 10 volumes planned.

Bibek Debroy, the translator, is an economist with a difference. How so? Well, consider this. In the early 1980s, while at the Presidency College in Kolkata, the author wrote a paper where he did a "statistical test on the frequency with which the five Pandavas used various weapons in the Kurukshetra war." Yes. Different. While his interest in the Mahabharata "remained, I got sidetracked into translating. Through the 1990s, there were abdridged translations of the Maha Puranas, the Vedas and the eleven major Upanishads."

This then is the first volume of the author's unabridged translation of the Mahabharata. The entire series is expected to run into ten volumes, and so far, at the time of my writing this review, four volumes have been released, with each volume appearing roughly every six months, the most recent one, Vol. 4, published in Nov. 2011. The fifth one, then, can be expected in April 2012. At this pace, the tenth, and last, volume should be published in Nov 2014.

The author has followed the Critical Edition from the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, in Pune, for his translation. There have been only five unabridged translations of the Mahabharata to-date, three of them by Indians, and two that have originated in the United States (one from the University of Chicago, and the other from the Clay Institute - both translations are as yet unfinished). This work is therefore, the sixth such translation.

This first volume contains most of the Adi Parva - "90 percent of Adi Parva", and contains 199 chapters and a little less than 6,500 shlokas. It contains 15 parvas (as per the 100 parva classification), and a little less than the entire Adi Parva (as per the 18-parva classification), and ends with the Rajya-labha Parvav (as per the 100-parva classification), where the Pandavas establish the partitioned region of Khandavaprastha as their kingdom, and turn it into Indraprastha through dint of hard work. The book is organized into "parva" and "adhyayas". There is no identification of the individual shlokas however.
If you include the Hari Vamsha, the number of shlokas in the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute's Mahabharata critical edition is a shade under 80,000. This first volume, then, represents a little over 8% of the entire work that is to be translated.

The first public retelling of the Mahabharata was done by the sage Vaishampayana, at King Janamejaya's snake sacrifice, and at Krishna Dvaipayana's (aka Ved Vyasa) instructions:
"Relate in full, exactly as you heard it from me, the account of the ancient quarrel between the Kurus and the Pnadavas." [Ch 54, Section VI, Adi-vamshavatarana Parva]
The story at this point begins with Vaishampayana starting off with the story of Uparichara (also known as Vasu), and the birth thereof Satyavati, and so on...

Before getting to this point however, which most consider a logical point to begin the story of the Mahabharata from, though some prefer starting even later, with the meeting of Shantanu and Ganga, the story has an elaborate digression (or pre-gression?)  into the world of snakes, the snake king Takshaka, before settling down to this territory that is more familiar to most of us.

Even as he starts to retell the story of Parikshit's ancestors, sage Vaishampayana, not knowing whether King Janameeya would be interested in the full story, rattles off the entire story of the epic in the three pages of a single adhyaya (chapter) in the Adi-vamshavatarana Parva. The king is not satisfied with this extra-concise summary, and requests the sage to elaborate:
"... But now I feel a great desire to hear this wonderful history in detail, with all descriptions. You should therefore recite it in its entirety. ... It cannot be for a trifling reason that the virtuous Pandavas killed those who should not be killed, and yet continue to be praised by men." [Chapter 56, Adi-vamshavatarana Parva]
What is good about this translation is that the translation itself is not needlessly archaic, nor does it seek to get lost in the minutiae of whether "krisna" or "krsna" or "Krishna" is the correct way to write the lord's name. No, it seeks instead to make the book accessible to the reader of today.
I will not go over a review of the entire book; rather, I will quote from the book excerpts and lines that I found to be particularly interesting, profound, or simply noteworthy.

Shakuntala, wife of Dushanta, mother of Bharata, daughter of the celestial apsara Menaka and rishi Vishwamitra, is not a timid, subservient lady seeking the benediction of the king in sanctifying their union. Rather, she is a strong-willed lady who is not afraid to speak her mind when angered, nor is she particularly upset or cares whether the king recognizes her as his wife or not.
Sample these lines spoken by her to King Dushanta, when he refuses to acknowledge their son, Bharata. She begins by enlightening him of the value of children, and sons in particular.
Those who have wives can be householders. Those who have wives are happy. Those who have wives have good fortune."
The wise have said that a man is himself born as his son. Therefore, a man should regard the mother of his son as his own mother.
The wife is the sacred ground in which the husband is born again.
" [Sambhava Parva, Chapter 68]
When the good king insults Shakuntala, saying, "I do no know you. Go away, as you please.", she is angered, and addresses him with harsh, harsh words.
"You see the faults of others, even though they are as small as a mustard seed. But you do not see your own, even though they can be seen as large as a bilva fruit.
O Dushanta! My birth is nobler than your own. O lord of kings! You are established on earth. But I roam the sky. Know the difference between you and me is that between a mustard seed and Mount Meru.
Like a pig searches out filth, the fool seeks out evil words when hears good and evil in men's speech. ... Those who seek no evil live happily. But fools are happy when they find evil.
" [Sambhava Parva, Chapter 69]
Ouch! That's not a demure, subservient woman. Hats off to the strong-willed lady. In some ways, we can also witness the gradual decline in the standing of women in society, from the strong-willed and independent Shakuntala to the equally strong-willed Droupadi, but who is married off to five brothers, then bartered away to the Kouravas in a crooked game of dice by her husbands, and then humiliated in front of a court by her brothers-in-law, even as her husbands stand as mute spectators. 

The akashvani ("disembodied voice from the sky") ends the conflict between wife and husband, even as Shakuntala is about to walk off and out from the king's court, by telling all present that Bharata is indeed Dushanta's son.
"Born from the father, the son is the father himself."
Later on, when Devayani curses Kacha for refusing to marry her:
 "...your knowledge will never achieve success.", Kacha replied, "Nevertheless, you have cursed me, not out of dharma, but out of desire. Therefore, your desire will never be satisfied. ... You have said that my knowledge will never bear fruit. So be it. But it will bear fruit for the one I teach it to." [Sambhava Parva, Chapter 72]
This exchange led me to wonder whether the same does not hold true, in some ways at least, in modern society, with those who teach and those who create and run businesses. The truly knowledgeable teachers are truly the repositories of knowledge and expertise in our society, but it is their students, who they teach this knowledge to, who go out in the world and create enterprises that bear the fruit of this knowledge. I wonder...

The story of Parikshit is quite an interesting one. Here is a person who was born as a direct result of divine intervention from Lord Krishna, who brought him to life after he had been killed in his mother's womb by Ashwatthama. It is for this reason that Parikishit is also known as the posthumous son of Abhimanyu, since he was still-born, and only later revived by the Lord. And yet, Parikishit's end was quite a gory one, bitten to death by a serpent, his body set aflame as a result of the serpent's poison. That apart, this particular line is a grim reminder of the power of words. Words spoken in jest, words spoken in anger, even words spoken with the most honest of intentions can have consequences. Parikishit, in his finite wisdom, thought he was only doing the world of sages a good, by uttering the words he did. Little could he have realized the prophetic nature of his words. Therefore, think before you speak.
"The sun is setting. Today, I no longer have any fear from poison. Therefore, let this worm become Takshaka and bite me. Let the words of the hermit become true and let a falsehood not be committed." [Astika Parva, Chapter 39]
"Having said this, the king of kings smilingly placed the small worm on his throat, about to die and robbed of his senses. He was still laughing when Takshaka, who had come out of the fruit that had been given to the king, coiled around him." [Section V, Astika Parva, Chapter 39]
In a karmic way, the noble king had but himself to blame for his horrific death. In some sense, he actually invited his own death. Or we can say that our actions inform our destiny.

In these turbulent times that we live in today, where the corrupt roam free and where their crimes are condoned by those in power, these lines from the Mahabharata sound eerily prescient. Those in power would do well to read them.
But if a crime doesn't find a punisher, many in the worlds will commit crimes. A man who has the power to punish a crime and doesn't do so, despite knowing that a crime has been committed, is himself tainted by the deed, even if he is the lord. [Ch 172, Chaitraratha Parva]
In this first volume, the lord, Krishna, makes an appearance only in the Droupadi-Svayamvara Parva, at Droupadi's svayamvar. The Hari Vamsha, a little over 6000 shlokas in the Critical Edition, recounts in detail the history of Krishna. This is however considered a supplement to the Mahabharata. I believe that Bibek Debroy intends covering Hari Vamsha at the end, perhaps as Vol X?

In the critical edition, there is no mention that Droupadi forbade Karna from attempting to string the bow at her swayamvar. Later, in the second volume, we read that it was not Droupadi but the other Pandavas that laughed aloud at Duryodhana's missteps in the Maya Sabha at Indraprastha. Both these incidents, or rather, the lack of Droupadi's involvement in these incidents, and more specifically, culpability, does raise interesting questions. Droupadi was even more innocent of the crimes perpetrated on her during the game of dice. When did these incidents get added to the Mahabharata - where Droupadi, perhaps at Krishna's behest, prohibits Karna from attempting the svayamvar, by stating he was of inferior birth, and then in the palace of the Pandavas where she laughs at Duryodhana's missteps, contemptuously referring to him as the blind son of the blind king ("andhe ka andha" - which, when said in Hindi, hurts even more)? Were these later interpolations meant to try and justify the acts of the Kauravas later on? Or were they meant to interject a sense of cause-and-effect? A karmic cause to Droupadi's sufferings?

In India, Flipkart offers amazing service and blazingly fast deliveries (a less than 24-hour turnaround time from order to delivery is not uncommon!). They are selling the book for Rs 440, a healthy 20% discount off the list price of Rs 550 (I re-checked and this is now whittled down to a 14% discount, with a net selling price of Rs 471, a real pity). However, you may also want to check out other sites like Infibeam, that is selling the book for Rs 407, and IndiaPlaza, which is selling the book at a whopping 40% discount, for Rs 330 - truly a bargain.

Kindle Excerpt:

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.