Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mahabharata, Vol. 6 - Translated by Bibek Debroy

The Incredible Savagery of War, to Restore & Uphold Dharma

Mahabharata, Vol. 6. Translated by Bibek Debroy
(Amazon USKindle US Flipkart, Flipkart e-bookKindle UKAmazon UK, my review on Amazon)

The sixth installment of Bibek Debroy's translation of the unabridged Mahabharata, based on the Critical Edition by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, (my review of Vols 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) features perhaps the fiercest fighting in the 18-day war, as well as a descent into an all-out, no-holds barred bloodfest with no rules left unbroken. Many warriors ganging up against one. Beheading an unarmed warrior who had given up his arms, twice. Fighting at night. The wanton killing of warriors retreating. The killing of warriors who had laid down their arms. Abuses. Much more, and much worse takes place in these three days of the 18-day war that this book covers. Specifically, this book covers days thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen of the war, and contains six sub-Parvas (Upa Parvas): Abhimanyu-Vadha Parva (67), Pratijnya Parva (68), Jayadratha-Vadha Parva (69, and at 210 pages, also the longest in this book), Ghatotakacha-Vadha Parva (70, and 120 pages long), Drona-Vadha Parva (71), and Narayana-Astra Moksha Parva (72).
This volume also completes the Drona Parva - the seventh Parva in the 18 Parva classification - that had begun in Vol. 5. Contrary to apprehensions I had of reading an account of  only three days of the war that stretched to over 500 pages, this is actually a very engaging read, and in several respects, a more eventful period than the first ten days of the war, where nothing of note except the slaying of Bhishma happens (unless one counts the Bhagavad Gita, which happens before the actual fighting starts). This book contains four major episodes around which the narration revolves. The first is, of course, the death of Abhimanyu. The second is Jayadratha's death at the hands of Arjuna. The third is the death of Ghatotakacha, Bhima's son, at the hands of Karna. This itself is notable for three reasons. The first is the fact that Ghatotakacha is killed during the night, when the battle continues into the night of the thirteenth day, with no cessation of war at sunset, as was the custom. The second is the fact that Karna had to use his "shakti" weapon on Ghatotakacha - and not Arjuna as he had been saving it for. The third noteworthy point is Krishna's uninhibited exultation at Ghatotkacha's death, much to the dismay of Arjuna. What mattered was the end, the means not so much. The preservation of dharma required one to resort to adharma. The final major episode is the death of the Kaurava army's commander Drona - which itself is a gruesome act of lies, deceit, betrayal, and naked savagery. What follows, and ends the book, is the invocation of the Narayana Astra by Ashwatthama, followed by the firing of the Agneya weapon, which results in the destruction of an entire Akshouni of the Pandava army.

This sixth volume, more than any else, truly brings out the horrors of war. Even though only three days of the war have been covered, there is so much carnage that is wreaked that it leaves one sickened. And that, if nothing else, is what an account of war should accomplish. This is also a stark reminder as to why so many efforts were made, recounted in Udyoga Parva, to avoid war. War was a last resort, and not the first option - for reasons that become agonizingly clear in this volume. Relationships are forgotten - Abhimanyu is hacked down by his uncles. Teachers are forgotten - Drona is betrayed by his disciples, Yudhishthira, Arjuna, Bhima, and Dhrishtadumna. Rage is the forest fire that burns even more wildly after being ignited. Dhrishtadumna is implacable even after the savage beheading of Drona. Friendships are frayed - the bickering and openly venomous exchange between Dhrishtadumna and Satyaki, for instance. Soldiers at the point of exhaustion lie down for a few hours to rest, yet Duryodhana bemoans the loss of this opportunity to attack unarmed warriors.

Victory, even without waiting for the end of the war, will prove to be a truly hollow victory for the Pandavas. This sixth volume makes that much starkly clear.

Detailed review to follow over the weekend - link in advance (link will be active once the review is published).
Book classification as per Penguin:
Published by: Penguin Books India
Published: 24 Nov 2012
Imprint: Penguin
ISBN13: 9780143100188, 0143100181
Book Format: Demy
Extent: 560pp
Rights: World
Category: Non-Fiction, Translation, Religion, Epic
Binding: Paperback
Language: English

Kindle Excerpt:


© 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.