Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mahabharata Chs 1-5, Adi Parva

[Ch 1,2,3,4,5 » Ch 6,7,8,9,10]

Parva: Adi; Upa-parva: Anukramanika; Chapter: 1; Shlokas: 210

नारायणं नमस्कृत्य नरं चैव नरोत्तमम् |
देवीं सरस्वतीं चैव ततो जयमुदीरयेत् ||

"Jaya must be recited after having bowed in obeisance before Nayarana and also Nara, the supreme human being, and also the goddess Sarasvati."

The first upa-Parva in the Mahabharata - Anukramanika Parva - consists of only one chapter, and as stated by Dr. Bibek Debroy, is "clearly a later addition and sets out the background for the recital of the story and summarizes the main incidents...".
To summarize this summary, the setting for the recital of the epic is the ashrama of Kulapati Shounaka in Namisharanya (sacred forest), where Souti - also known as Ugrashrava, and the son of Lomaharshana and the son of a suta (hence the name "Souti") - arrives and begins to tell of his travels to different places, including Samantapanchaka. He tells of the great "snake-sacrifice" of Janamjeya where Vaishampayana recited the stories of the Mahabharata composed by Krishna Dvaipayana.

The sages ask Ugrashrava to tell them the story composed by the sage Dvaipayana - "just as it was recited at King Janamejaya's sacrifice by Vaishampayana." Souti recites a summary of the Mahabharata in about three pages - quite a feat of summarization, not to mention the fact that it contains enough tantalizing nuggets for the audience to want to hear more about. Also, it is here that Souti tells us that "[W]ithout minor narratives, Vyasa originally composed Bharata in 24,000 twenty verses. ... Later he composed a summary in 150 verses, with an index to chapters, contents and events. Dvaipayana first taught this index to his son Shuka... Narada recited it to the gods, Asita-Devala to the ancestors and Shuka to the gandharvas, yakshas and rakshasas."

Dhritarashtra laments after the war and its destruction is described, and is consoled by Sanjaya, the son of Gavalgana, that this was fated and had "been lain down."
"Time brings existence and non-existence, pleasure and pain."

Souti ends the chapter with an exhortation on the merits of reading the Mahabharata, telling us about a time when "the gods and the sages came together and on one side of a scale, they placed the four Vedas, with Bharata on the other side. In greatness and in weight, Bharata was heavier Because of its superiority in substance and content, it came to be known as Mahabharata..."

Parva:Adi; Upa Parva:Poushya; Chapter:2; Shlokas:243

The second upa Parva - ParvaSamgraha - also has only one chapter, and this upa-parva sets about informing the reader on how to navigate the epic - just as "the wide ocean can easily be crossed by men who possess boats", and introduces the reader to the eighteen parvas and the 100 minor parvas, along with a brief summary of each parva. The division into a hundred parvas was done by Lomaharshana, who "recited them exactly again, having classified them into eighteen parvas." This suggests that the hundred-parva classification is the older one. Since the eighteen day war saw eighteen akshouhinis battle, the math of the composition of an akshouhini is introduced to the reader here:
"'One chariot, one elephant, five foot soldiers and three horses make up a patti. Three pattis are known as a senamukha and three senamukhas make up a gulma. Three gulmas are named a gana and three ganas a vahini. The wise know that three vahinis collectively form a pritana. Three pritanas make a chamu, three chamus an anikini and the wise say that ten times an anikini is known as an akshouhini."
एको रथो गजश्चैको नराः पञ्च पदातयः
त्रयश्च तुरगास्तज्ज्ञैः पत्तिरित्यभिधीयते
पत्तिं तु त्रिगुणामेतामाहुः सेनामुखं बुधाः
त्रीणि सेनामुखान्येको गुल्म इत्यभिधीयते
त्रयो गुल्मा गणो नाम वाहिनी तु गणास्त्रयः
स्मृतास्तिस्रस्तु वाहिन्यः पृतनेति विचक्षणैः
चमूस्तु पृतनास्तिस्रस्तिस्रश्चम्वस्त्वनीकिनी
अनीकिनीं दशगुणां प्राहुरक्षौहिणीं बुधाः
अक्षौहिण्याः प्रसंख्यानं रथानां द्विजसत्तमाः

Parva: Adi; Upa Parva: Poushya; Chapter: 3; Shlokas: 195

After the introductions and summaries that are the first two Parvas, the proper story of the Mahabharata begins in this Parva. While the incidents in this chapter - and this is the third chapter that is also a parva in its own - do not relate directly to the Mahabharata, one way to look at them is to see the inevitability of the snake sacrifice being set in motion. Several seemingly unrelated incidents occur to make the snake sacrifice an event where many people and actors will have a stake; some to see it complete and some to see it stopped. Each would be driven by his own selfish agenda - just as in the war at Kurukshetra. Why is the snake sacrifice important? For one, there has to be a reason, an occasion, for this story to be told. The Mahabharata is a very personal tale of immense loss and bloodshed, so it cannot be told as a matter of joy. The story needs an appropriate setting. The snake sacrifice was witness to the mass slaughter of snakes. You could stop a great killing by telling the story of another great killing. Lessons of stories are best learnt when made contextual and personal.

At one such sacrifice - not the great snake sacrifice, many years ago, a dog - progeny of Sarama, happened to stray and was beaten up by Janamejaya's brothers, Shrutasena, Ugrasena, and Bhimasena, for no fault of his. Sarama went to the sacrifice and berated the king and his brothers and left after cursing them. To counteract this curse Janamejaya came across a rishi Shrutashrava and his son Somashrava. The rishi allowed Janamejaya to take his son to be his priest, but informed him that Somashrava was Shrutashrava's son from a snake mother, and also warned him that Somashrava would not deny a brahamana's request. Janamejaya acceded and thus Somashrava was appointed as the priest.

There is now a diversion and we are treated to the stories of the three disciples of Ayoda-Dhoumya - Upamanyu, Aruni, and Veda. The story of Aruni is told first - the disciple who lay down and used his body to plug a breach in the dike and who came to be known as "Uddalaka" because of this act of his. The story of Upamanyu is told next - a most ingenious disciple who found a way to nourish himself despite several restrictions imposed by his preceptor. The reason why Upamanyu came to have golden teeth, as opposed to his guru's black teeth of iron is also revealed in this tale. The third disciple - Veda was granted permission to leave and start on the householder stage of his life only after a long and arduous test of endurance.

We are now told of Utanka's tale. Utanka was one of Veda's disciples, and was asked by Veda to take care of the house while he went with Janamejaya and Poushya to officiate at a sacrifice. While Veda was away, Utanka resists temptation and provocation by the women in his preceptor's household. Veda grants Utanka permission to leave, but when Utanka expresses a desire to give guru dakshina, Veda asks Utanka to check with his wife. Veda's wife asks Utanka to get her from King Poushya his queen's earrings. When the queen hands over the earrings to Utanka, she also warns him that Takshaka, the king of the nagas, also coveted those earrings. Before Utanka leaves, however, there is an unsavoury incident over food and curses are exchanged between Utanka and Poushya. Utanka is accosted by a mendicant on his way back, who turns out to be Takshaka in disguise, who steals the earrings Utanka was carrying and disappears down a hole. Utanka follows him down and manages to retrieve the earrings from Takshaka.

Utanka is however still angry with Takshaka, and makes his way to Hastinapura, where he reminds Janamejaya that it had been Takshaka who had killed his father, Parikshit. Janamejaya was "overcome with sorrow and grief" upon hearing the details of his father's death at the hands of Takshaka. The stage was all but set for the snake sacrifice.

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Pouloma; Chapter:4Shlokas:11

The story now returns to the asharama of Kulapati Shounaka, at whose twelve-year sacrifice Lomaharshana's son, the suta Ugrashrava, was present (we read about this in Ch 1). Souti was asked by the sages to wait for Shounaka to arrive who would request Souti for the stories they wished to hear from the sage. The chapter ends with Shounaka about to address Souti.

Parva: Adi; Upa-parva: Pouloma; Chapter: 5Shlokas: 26

Kulapati Shounaka asks Souti to tell him and the other assembled sages not the story of the Mahabharata, but tales of the Bhrigu lineage. Thus Souti, son of Lomaharshana, starts the story of Bhrigu, as he had learned from his father, who in turn had studied it from Brahmana Vaishampayana. Bhrigu's son was Chyavana Bhargava, who had a son named Pramati, who, in turn, "had a son named Ruru, from Ghritachi. From his wife Pramadvara, Ruru had a son named Shunaka." This Shunaka was the grandfather of Kulapati Shounaka. Perhaps the first story Shounaka wanted to hear was the account of his own lineage!
"Bhrigu gave birth to a beloved son, named Chyavana Bhargava. Chyavana had a righteous son named Pramati and Pramati, in turn, had a son named Ruru, from Ghritachi."
"भृगोः सुदयितः पुत्रश्च्यवनो नाम भार्गवः
च्यवनस्यापि दायादः प्रमतिर्नाम धार्मिकः
प्रमतेरप्यभूत्पुत्रो घृताच्यां रुरुरित्युत" [1.6.7]
Why was Chyavana Bhargava so named? It turns out that Bhrigu's wife was Puloma, who when pregnant, was eyed by a lustsful rakshasa named Puloman who wanted to abduct her. He asked Agni - also known as Pavaka, to bear witness to the fact that Puloma had once been bethroted to Puloman. Agni, fearful of uttering a lie and fearful of Bhrigu's wrath, was caught on the horns of a dilemma.

This chapter summary is derived from 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 taken 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 the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

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