Mahabharata Ch 54-56, Adi Parva, Adi-vamshavatarana Parva

[Ch 51-53 « Ch 54-56  » Ch 57-58]

This parva tells the story of the "partial incarnations" (from "vansha" and "avatarana") of the characters in the Mahabharata.
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Adi-vamshavatarana; Chapter:54; Shlokas:24
Upon hearing of Janamejaya's presence at the snake sacrifice, Krishna Dvaipayana, the son of the virgin Kali and Shakti's son Parashara, went there. Krishna Dvaipayana, once born, mastered the Vedas, Vedangas, and Itihasa, and was the first to divide the one Veda into four parts.
When he entered the sacrificial arena, Janamejaya offered a golden seat to Vyasa and paid him his respects. After that Janaejaya asked Krishna Dvaipayana to narrate the story of the Kurus and the Pandavas, the reason behind their quarrel, and the great war. Krishna Dvaipayana asked his disciple, Vaishampayana, to "relate in full, exactly as you had heard it from me, the account of the ancient quarrel between the Kurus and the Pandavas."
[Note that Souti is recounting to Shounaka the story that Vyasa told Vaishampayana, who then recited it to Janamejaya.]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Adi-vamshavatarana; Chapter:55; Shlokas:43
Vaishampayana then said that he would recite the story as he had heard from the "great-souled Vyasa." Vaishampayana then summarized the story of the Mahabharata, starting with the return of the Pandavas, after the death of their father, to their home in Hastinapura. He told of the Kauravas' jealousy of the Pandavas, their various attempts to kill the Pandavas, including the attempt to poison Bheema. When that failed, they devised the plot to burn the Pandavas in the house of lac. The Pandavas escaped into the forest with Vidura's help, where Bheema killed Hidimba. The Pandavas then went to Ekachakra, and from there they won Droupadi. Upon being recognized, they returned to Hastinapura, where their uncle, King Dhritarashtra, divided the kingdom and gave them Khandavaprastha to rule. The Pandavas built their kingdom into a strong empire. Yudhishtra, "for some reason", sent his brother Dhananjaya to the forest "for one year and one month", where he went to Dvaravati and married Subhadra as his wife. Kunti's son and Vasudeva then burnt the Khandava forest, where Agni gave Partha the Gandiva and a chariot. There Bhibhatsu rescued Maya, who built the "divine assembly hall" that made Duryodhana jealous. Duryodhana deceived Yudhishtra in a game of dice and sent the Pandavas to the forest for twelve years, with a thirteenth year to be spent in disguise. When in the fourteenth year claimed their kingdom, but didn't get it, the ensuing war resulted in the Pandavas getting their kingdom back, "mostly unpopulated."

[This is a recurring trait in the Mahabharata - a story is first recounted in summary, and only at the insistence of the listener is it expanded upon.]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Adi-vamshavatarana; Chapter:56; Shlokas:33

This summary of the Mahabharata did not satisfy Janamejaya, who said to Vaishampayan that "I now feel a great desire to hear this wonderful history in detail, with all descriptions."
"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."
Janamejaya wanted to know in detail the reasons for the way the characters acted the way they did. Why did Vrikodara keep his temper in check. Why did the sons of Madri follow Yudhishtra into gambling? And so on.
Vaishampayana then told Janamejaya that he would recount in detail the entire story, which contained 100,000 shlokas.
"This is equal to the Vedas. It is sacred and supreme. It is the best of all that can be heard. It is a purana worshipped by the rishis. It contains all the useful instructions on artha and kama."
Vaishampayana said that this "history, called jaya", is the "sacred arthashastra and supreme dharmashastra."
"The sage Krishna Dvaipayana arose regularly for three years and composed this wonderful history known as the Mahabharata. ... Whatever is found here on dharma, artha, kama and moksha, may be found elsewhere. But whatever is not in it, cannot be found elsewhere."
धर्मे चार्थे च कामे च मोक्षे च भरतर्षभ
यदिहास्ति तदन्यत्र यन्नेहास्ति न तत्क्वचित् [1.56.33]
[Janamejaya does not take at face value the virtuosity of the Pandavas. He wants to know why they are praised even after the terrible fratricidal war. Blind acceptance was not the Indian way.]


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.