Friday, September 6, 2013

Mahabharata Ch 11-15, Adi Parva, Pouloma,Astika Parva

[Ch 6,7,8,9,10 « Ch 11,12,13,14,15 » Ch 16,17,18,19,20]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Pouloma; Chapter:11; Shlokas:17

The dundhuba told Ruru that he once had a brahmana friend named Khagama. Out of "juvenile playfulness" (क्रीडता बाल्ये) he once scared Khagama senseless with a snake made out of blades of grass. An angry Khagama cursed him to turn into a powerless snake for having used a powerless snake (made from blades of grass) to mock him. A penitent dundhubu asked for mercy. A softened Khagama prophesied that he would be freed from the curse on seeing Ruru.

The dundubha then proceeded to advise Ruru that for him, since he was a brahmana, the "duty of the Kshatriyas" was not meant for him and that he should not take any living being's life. He told him that snakes were killed in Janamejaya's sacrifice, but were saved by a Brahmana, Astika.

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Pouloma; Chapter:12; Shlokas:5

Ruru wanted to know the story of the snake sacrifice and asked dundubha - now a sage to tell him this. The sage replied that Ruru would hear it from a brahmana, and disappeared. Ruru searched for the rishi, but on not finding him, returned home, where his father (Pramati) told him the story of Janamejaya's snake sacrifice.

This ends Pouloma Parva.

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:13; Shlokas:45
Shounaka was curious why Janamejaya wanted to have all snakes killed in his snake sacrifice, and who was Astika and why did he save the snakes?
Thus Souti started to tell the story of Astika. Astika's father was a mighty sage named Jaratkaru. Once when travelling he saw his ancestors hanging upside down in a cave. On being asked by Jaratkaru, the ancestors replied that they were "descending into the earth because we have no descendants." The reason was that their one descendant, Jaratkaru, had "adopted the path of austerities". When the ancestors learn that the person standing in front of them was Jaratkaru himself, they exhorted him to to marry and have a son.
"मन्दभाग्योऽल्पभाग्यानां तप एव समास्थितः [I.13.14]
But unfortunate as we are, that unfortunate one has adopted the path of austerities."
Jaratkaru wondered who would "give a wife to a poor man like me", and laid out the stipulation that he would marry a girl only if she had the same name as himself, and furthermore, only if her relatives willingly bestowed her on him as a gift. Unsurprisingly, Jaratkaru did not find such a woman for a long time. Once, when in a forest, he remembered the words of his ancestors, and "thrice begged for a woman in a faint voice." (चुक्रोश कन्याभिक्षार्थी तिस्रो वाचः शनैरिव - I.13.30) Vasuki, king of the nagas, appeared and offered his sister to Jaraktaru. When asked by Jaratkaru, Vasuki replied that his sister's name was also Jaratkaru!

Jaratkaru married Vasuki's sister, and in due course had a son named Astika.

Even though it was the sage (the dundubha) who had told Ruru about Astika and the stopping of the snake sacrifice, in this chapter the task of telling the story is returned to Souti. Note how reluctant Jaratkaru is to take on a wife - first by laying down almost impossible to satisfy conditions, and then when asking for a wife, doing so in a "faint voice." Clearly an instance of a man being forced into marriage!

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:14; Shlokas:23
In the previous chapter, Souti recounted the story of Astika's birth, and the fact that Astika had "delivered" the snakes at Janamejaya's sacrifice. Shounaka now wanted to know, "in detail", the story of Astika. Souti agreed. In times long gone by, Prajapati (Daksha) had two daughters, Kadru (कद्रू) and Vinata (विनता), who were married to Kashyapa. Sage Kashyapa granted a boon to each of his two wives. The joyous wives asked for different boons.
"वव्रे कद्रूः सुतान्नागान्सहस्रं तुल्यतेजसः
द्वौ पुत्रौ विनता वव्रे कद्रूपुत्राधिकौ बले
ओजसा तेजसा चैव विक्रमेणाधिकौ सुतौ [I.14.8]
Kadru wished to have one thousand nagas as her sons, equal to one another in splendour. Vinata asked for two sons, greater than Kadru's sons in strength, form, energy and valour."
Granting these boons, Kashyapa departed for the forest.
As promised, Kadru gave birth to a thousand eggs while Vinata gave birth to two eggs. After 500 years, while Kadru's thousand sons emerged from the eggs, nothing came of Vinata's eggs. "Impatient", "ashamed and sorry", Vinata broke open one egg, only to find that it had its upper body formed but the lower body was still unformed. This son of hers arose into the sky after cursing his mother that she would be enslaved for five hundred years, and would be freed by her second son, but only if she were patient and were to not break open the egg prematurely and "deform his body like you have done mine." This first son became Aruna ("the red sky of dawn and is also the sun's charioteer"). In due course of time, the second son, Garuda, was born, and immediately rose into the sky, searching for food.

Note here the consequences of Vinata's impatience and envy. Kadru had a thousand nagas, and the envy drove Vinata to break open her first egg. Much later, the birth of Kunti's first son, Yudhishtra, would drive Gandhari to strike her pregnant belly, resulting in a still-born lump of flesh. That flesh, in turn, would become the hundred and one Kauravas (there were hundred brothers and one sister, Duhshala). The saga of such rivalry is old.

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:15; Shlokas:13
The two sisters once saw Ucchaihshrava (उच्चैःश्रव), the celestial horse, who had arisen from the churning of the ocean. Shounaka wanted to know more about the churning of the ocean from Souti. Souti said that the gods had once ascended the great mountain Meru to consult how to obtain nectar. It is there that Narayana (Vishnu) advised the gods to churn the ocean of milk together with the demons, and only then would the ambrosia be obtained, along with "all the herbs and all the jewels."

This chapter introduces a deviation from the story of Kadru and Vinata by going off on the story of the churning of the ocean. 

These chapter summaries are based on the unabridged translation of the Mahabharata done by Dr Bibek Debroy, and published by Penguin Books India, and which I have been reviewing on my blog. The Sanskrit shlokas are from the electronic text of the Mahabharata - based on John Smith's revision of Prof. Muneo Tokunaga's version of the Mahabharata Critical Edition of the text from and copyright of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

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