Consisting of 18 books, or parvas, this story revolves around the conflict between two factions of cousins, the Kauravas and Pandavas, for the throne of Hastinapura. It includes the famous Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu scripture and a philosophical conversation between Prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna. The epic explores various themes such as duty, righteousness, family, war, and the nature of reality. It contains many notable characters: Krishna, Arjuna, Yudhishthira, Bhima, Nakula, Sahadeva, Draupadi, Duryodhana, and Karna. Known for its narrative, the moral, and philosophical dilemmas presented; it has a profound influence on Indian culture, literature, and religious beliefs.
महाभारत, संक्षिप्त सार
Book 1 Adi Parva, The Beginning
The daughter of the river was named Girika and the king made her his wife. Once, the time for intercourse arrived and Vasu’s wife, Girika, having purified herself by bathing at the fertile time, informed her husband about her state. But on that very day, his ancestors came to him and asked the best of kings and wisest of men to kill some deer. Thinking that the command of his ancestors should be followed, he went out to hunt, thinking of Girika, who was exceedingly beautiful and like Shri herself. He was so excited that the semen was discharged in the beautiful forest and wishing to save it, the king of the earth collected it in the leaf of a tree. The lord thought that his semen should not be wasted in vain and that his wife’s fertile period should not pass barren. Then the king thought about this many times and the best of kings firmly decided that his semen would be productive, since the semen was issued when his queen’s time was right. Learned in the subtleties of dharma and artha, the king consecrated the semen, which was productive for producing progeny, and addressed a hawk that was seated nearby. ‘O amiable one! Please take this seed to my wife Girika. She is in her season now. The swift hawk took it from him and flew speedily through the sky.
The Adi Parva introduces the key characters and provides the background leading up to the great Kurukshetra War. It begins with the sage Vyasa narrating the story to the divine sage Narada. Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharata, is the son of the sage Parashara and Satyavati. He is requested by Brahma, the creator of the universe, to compose the epic to enlighten and guide humanity.
We start with the birth of King Shantanu, who falls in love with and marries a beautiful woman named Ganga. However, Ganga mysteriously drowns their first seven children, as per her own request, leaving Shantanu grief-stricken. When she is about to drown their eighth child, Shantanu intervenes and asks Ganga to spare the child. Ganga reveals herself as the river goddess and tells Shantanu that she is taking their children to the heavens, as they are destined for greatness.
Years later, Shantanu encounters Satyavati, a fisherman’s daughter with a sweet fragrance. He falls in love with her and desires to marry her. Satyavati agrees, but on the condition that her future sons inherit the throne, bypassing any children Shantanu might have with his other wife. Shantanu’s eldest son, Devavrata (later known as Bhishma), magnanimously renounces his right to the throne to fulfill his father’s desire. This act earns him eternal admiration and the name ‘Bhishma’, which means ‘the one with the terrible vow’.
The story then shifts to the birth of the Kuru dynasty. Vyasa assists Satyavati in bearing two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Chitrangada becomes the king but dies early, and Vichitravirya becomes the next ruler. Vyasa arranges for Vichitravirya to marry Ambika and Ambalika, two princesses of neighboring kingdoms. However, Vichitravirya dies childless, leaving the dynasty without a legitimate heir.
Satyavati requests Vyasa to impregnate the widows through Niyoga, an ancient practice of surrogate fatherhood. Vyasa fathers two children, Dhritarashtra and Pandu, through Ambika and Ambalika, respectively. Dhritarashtra is born blind, while Pandu is born pale due to Ambika’s fear during the encounter. Vyasa blesses Ambika with a third son, Vidura, who is born wise and righteous.
The epic introduces important characters like Duryodhana, the ambitious son of Dhritarashtra, and his 99 brothers known as the Kauravas. Meanwhile, Pandu becomes the king and marries Kunti and Madri. However, due to a curse, Pandu is unable to father children and thus allows Kunti to invoke gods to bear children. Kunti gives birth to Yudhishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna through the gods Yama, Vayu, and Indra, respectively. Madri invokes the Ashwini twins and gives birth to Nakula and Sahadeva.
The Book also describes the early education and training of the Pandavas and Kauravas under the guidance of their respective gurus. Bhishma plays a pivotal role in their upbringing and imparts valuable knowledge and warrior skills to both sets of cousins. However, as the princes grow up, conflicts and rivalries begin to emerge. Duryodhana, fueled by jealousy and ambition, develops animosity towards the Pandavas, especially Arjuna, who excels in various arts and warfare. Duryodhana plots to eliminate the Pandavas and secure his own position as the heir to the throne.
The Adi Parva also introduces the famous episode of the Swayamvara of Draupadi, a pivotal event. Draupadi, also known as Panchali, was the princess of Panchala and the daughter of King Drupada. The Swayamvara was a practice in ancient India where a princess would choose her husband from a group of suitors. The suitors were usually required to demonstrate their skills or accomplish a task to win the princess’s hand.
In Draupadi’s Swayamvara, the task set by King Drupada was extraordinarily challenging. It involved stringing a mighty bow, known as the bow of Shiva, and shooting an arrow to pierce the eye of a rotating fish mounted on a high pole, using only its reflection in a pool of oil for guidance.
Many mighty kings and princes tried their hands at the task but failed. Among them were powerful warriors like Duryodhana and Karna. However, Arjuna, the third Pandava, known for his unparalleled skill in archery, successfully accomplished the task. He managed to string the mighty bow, aim correctly using the fish’s reflection, and shot the arrow that pierced the fish’s eye, winning Draupadi’s hand in marriage.
Interestingly, at the time of the Swayamvara, the Pandavas were believed to be dead following their escape from the House of Lac. They attended the Swayamvara disguised as Brahmins, adding to the surprise of the assembly when Arjuna, appearing as a humble Brahmin, succeeded in the task. This event deepens the relationship between the Pandavas and Draupadi, which significantly influences the events to follow in the Mahabharata.
The Pandavas return to their mother Kunti and share the news, unknowingly causing a twist in their fate. Kunti, unaware of Arjuna’s achievement, instructs her sons to share whatever they have won amongst themselves. Consequently, Draupadi ends up becoming the common wife of all the five Pandavas.
The Book concludes with the mounting tensions between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, as Duryodhana becomes increasingly resentful of their growing popularity and strength. The seeds of the epic conflict, the Kurukshetra War, are sown as the major characters are positioned on opposite sides.
In the context of the entire Mahabharata, the Adi Parva provides the foundational narratives for the epic’s primary themes and conflicts. The roots of the epic’s exploration of dharma (righteousness/duty), artha (wealth), and kama (desire) are planted in this book, where the characters’ choices set the stage for the events that follow.
Moreover, it introduces the key players in the epic, providing insights into their motivations, strengths, weaknesses, and the choices that eventually lead to their roles in the war. The complex dynamics between these characters, such as the rivalry between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, the deep respect yet conflict between Bhishma and the Pandavas, and themulti-layered relationships between Draupadi and the Pandavas, all originate in the Adi Parva.
The narratives within the Adi Parva reflect the Mahabharata’s nature as more than a simple tale of heroes and villains. Instead, it presents a nuanced exploration of human nature, where dharma is multifaceted, and characters are often in moral and ethical dilemmas.
Notably, the book also sets the tone for the exploration of karma and fate, destiny and free will that resonates throughout the epic. It does this through various narratives – the most significant being the tale of Bhishma’s terrible vow, which has far-reaching implications, affecting generations and leading to the eventual war.
The cyclical concept of time, another significant theme in the Mahabharata, is also introduced in the Adi Parva. This is visible in the various tales of characters from previous Yugas (eras) and their deeds, which impact the characters in the current narrative, implying the inescapability of one’s actions across time.
Book 2 Sabha Parva, The Assembly Hall
The lord of men fed ten thousand brahmanas with ghee, payasa, roots, and fruit. Gave them unused garments and many garlands. The lord gave each of them one thousand cows. O descendant of the Bharata lineage! The cries of “what an auspicious day” seemed to touch heaven. The supreme among the Kurus worshipped the gods with music, diverse songs and many fragrances. Then, for seven nights, the great-souled Yudhishthira was served by wrestlers, dancers, fighters, raconteurs and minstrels. When the homage had thus been paid, the Pandava and his brothers pleasured in that beautiful sabha, like Shakra does in heaven.
The Sabha Parva explores the political dynamics, intrigues, and challenges faced by the Pandavas and Kauravas as they navigate their roles within the kingdom of Hastinapura.
It begins with Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, being crowned as the king of Indraprastha, a magnificent city constructed by the divine architect, Maya. The Pandavas rule wisely and prosperously, gaining fame and support from the people. However, their prosperity fuels the jealousy of Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, who becomes increasingly resentful of their success.
Duryodhana approaches his father, King Dhritarashtra, and manipulates him into summoning Yudhishthira to Hastinapura for a game of dice. Shakuni, Duryodhana’s uncle and a master of deception, challenges Yudhishthira to a game where Yudhishthira wagers his kingdom, wealth, and even his own brothers.
Unaware of Shakuni’s skillful cheating, Yudhishthira accepts the challenge and falls into a series of losses. The dice game becomes a metaphorical battleground for power, where Yudhishthira’s virtue and righteousness clash with the cunning tactics of Duryodhana and Shakuni.
As Yudhishthira loses one round after another, the Pandavas and their wife, Draupadi, are humiliated. Duryodhana and his brothers, fueled by their malice, demand that Draupadi be brought into the assembly hall. Attempting to dishonor her, Duryodhana commands Dushasana to disrobe Draupadi in front of the entire court.
In this distressing moment, Draupadi prays to Lord Krishna for help, and miraculously, her saree keeps extending, preventing Dushasana from uncovering her. The divine intervention serves as a reminder of the divine presence and protection throughout the epic.
The assembly hall is filled with chaos and protests from the virtuous courtiers, including Bhishma and Vidura, who question the unjust proceedings. Dhritarashtra, realizing the gravity of the situation, steps in and intervenes. He returns half of Yudhishthira’s losses and grants Draupadi’s freedom. However, his decision fails to address the root issue of the unfair game.
The Sabha Parva also introduces the character of Vidura, Dhritarashtra’s half-brother and advisor. Vidura is known for his wisdom, righteousness, and unwavering loyalty towards justice. He plays a significant role in providing counsel and moral guidance to the Pandavas throughout the epic.
The book further explores the strained relationship between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, as well as the internal conflicts within the Kuru family. It highlights the contrasting principles of righteousness and deceit, loyalty and treachery, and the consequences of one’s actions.
In the broader context of the Mahabharata, the Sabha Parva marks the beginning of the escalating conflicts between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, leading to the eventual Kurukshetra War.
The book showcases the deterioration of morality and ethical values within the kingdom of Hastinapura, as power, greed, and ambition take precedence over righteousness. It sets the stage for the eventual exile of the Pandavas and the events that unfold during their years in the forest.
The Sabha Parva sets the tone for the central theme of dharma (righteousness) and adharma (unrighteousness) that runs throughout the Mahabharata. It highlights the consequences of violating dharma and the impact of personal ambitions and ego on individuals and society.
The unfair game of dice and the humiliation of Draupadi serve as catalysts for the Pandavas’ transformation. It leads them to reflect on their circumstances and question the principles of justice and honor. The Sabha Parva lays the foundation for their eventual resolve to reclaim their rightful kingdom and seek justice against the Kauravas.
Moreover, the book delves into the complexities of human relationships and showcases the contrasting personalities and characteristics of the major characters. Yudhishthira’s unwavering commitment to dharma, Bhima’s strength and valor, Arjuna’s exceptional archery skills, Nakula and Sahadeva’s loyalty and wisdom, and Draupadi’s resilience and devotion to her husbands all come to the forefront in this book.
The Sabha Parva also introduces the concept of Maya, the magical city constructed by Maya, the divine architect. Maya’s extraordinary craftsmanship and the creation of Indraprastha symbolize the heights of human achievements. However, it also serves as a reminder of the transient nature of material wealth and power, and how they can be used as tools for manipulation and destruction.
The book showcases the contrasting roles of the divine in the mortal world. Lord Krishna, who remains a central figure throughout the Mahabharata, appears as Draupadi’s savior, protecting her honor and dignity. His intervention underscores the idea that righteousness will always be supported and protected by divine forces.
Book 3 Vana Parva or Aranyaka-Parva, The Forest
Nala became incapable of holding that desire in his heart. He retired alone to a grove near the inner quarters. There he saw swans whose wings were golden. As they were roaming in the grove, he grasped one bird. Then that roamer of the sky spoke to Nala, “O king! Do not kill me. I will do that which will bring you pleasure. King of the nishadhas! I will speak about you in Damayanti’s presence, so that she never thinks of any other man but you.”
‘Vana Parva’ or ‘Aranyaka Parva’, translates to The Book of the Forest. This section of the epic focuses on the period of exile that the Pandavas, along with Draupadi, endure in the forest after losing the game of dice in The Sabha Parva.
During their exile, the Pandavas face numerous challenges and undergo personal transformations. They seek refuge in various forests and encounter sages, ascetics, and mythical beings. The book delves into their interactions with these characters and the valuable lessons they learn along the way.
One of the significant events in the Vana Parva is the story of Nala and Damayanti. Nala, a skilled charioteer and king, undergoes a series of trials and tribulations, including losing his kingdom and being separated from his wife, Damayanti. The story of Nala and Damayanti serves as a parallel narrative, highlighting themes of love, fidelity, and the consequences of one’s actions.
The Vana Parva also contains various sub-plots and digressions, including the stories of Savitri and Satyavan, the descent of Ganga to Earth, and the teachings of the sage Markandeya. These tales provide moral and philosophical teachings and emphasize the power of righteousness, devotion, and determination.
The book also explores the dynamics within the Pandava family and the relationships between the brothers and Draupadi. The challenges they face in the forest test their unity and resilience. Each character is given opportunities for growth and self-realization.
The Vana Parva showcases the Pandavas’ spiritual and emotional journey during their exile. The experiences in the forest contribute to their character development, maturity, and preparation for the challenges that lie ahead. It sets the stage for the subsequent events, including the Pandavas’ encounters with gods and celestial beings, their temporary stay in the kingdom of Virata, and the preparations for the great Kurukshetra War. The lessons learned and alliances formed during the exile period play significant roles in the events that unfold in the later books of the Mahabharata.
Overall this book explores the themes of resilience, self-discovery, and the pursuit of righteousness. It provides moral and philosophical teachings through the various stories and encounters in the forest.
Book 4 Virata Parva
Arjuna replied: “Lord of the earth! I promise that I will undertake the duties of a eunuch. It is difficult to conceal these great marks that the string of the bow has left. I will wear earrings as radiant as the fire on my ears. I will wear a braid on my head and name myself Brihannada. I will repeatedly recount stories and observe the characteristics of a woman. I will please the king and the others who live in the inner quarters through different forms of singing and dancing and the playing of varied kinds of music. I will teach the women in Virata’s abode these arts. I will recount the many deeds, fruits and conducts of people. I will disguise myself in this way.”
The Virata Parva describes the events that unfold during the Pandavas’ one-year exile in the kingdom of Virata, where they live in disguise to avoid detection by their enemies.
Following their thirteen years of exile, which included twelve years in the forest and one year in anonymity, the Pandavas find themselves in the kingdom of Virata. Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, takes the name Kanka and serves as a skilled dice player in the court of King Virata. Bhima disguises himself as a cook named Vallabhaka, while Arjuna assumes the guise of a eunuch and becomes Brihannala, the dance teacher to the king’s daughter. Nakula disguises himself as a horsekeeper named Granthika, and Sahadeva takes the role of a cowherd named Tantripala.
The plot of the Virata Parva revolves around the challenges and adventures faced by the Pandavas during their time in Virata. Each of the Pandavas encounters specific trials and triumphs in their respective roles.
Bhima, as Vallabhaka, displays his exceptional strength by defeating various wrestlers in a royal wrestling competition. This establishes his reputation as a formidable force within the kingdom.
Arjuna, disguised as Brihannala, teaches the art of dance and music to Uttara, the prince of Virata. He also plays a significant role in training and preparing Uttara for an impending battle. During this time, Arjuna also forms a close bond with Uttara and acts as his charioteer.
Yudhishthira, as Kanka, becomes a trusted advisor to the king and is admired for his wisdom and skill in the game of dice. His strategic abilities are put to the test when the kingdom faces external threats, and Yudhishthira helps protect Virata and its people.
Nakula, in the guise of Granthika, demonstrates his expertise in horsekeeping by taking care of the royal horses. His skills are highly valued, and his dedication contributes to the prosperity of the kingdom’s equine resources.
Sahadeva, disguised as Tantripala, efficiently manages the kingdom’s cattle and ensures their well-being. His knowledge and capabilities in this area earn him respect and admiration within the court.
Meanwhile, Draupadi, disguised as Sairandhri, serves as a maid to Queen Sudeshna. Her grace, beauty, and intelligence attract attention, leading to various encounters and moments of intrigue within the palace.
The Virata Parva also includes a significant event known as the “Slaying of the Matsya General.” The Kauravas, unaware of the Pandavas’ whereabouts, launch an attack on the kingdom of Virata to steal its cattle. In response, the Pandavas reveal their true identities and come to the defense of Virata. Bhima, with his exceptional strength, becomes the driving force behind repelling the enemy forces and saving the kingdom from harm.
This Book sets the stage for the Kurukshetra War, which forms the epic’s central conflict, and demonstrates the resilience, adaptability, and strategic abilities of the Pandavas as they navigate the challenges of living in disguise. Their experiences in Virata contribute to their growth, prepare them for the battles to come, and establish alliances that play a crucial role in the later stages of the epic.
Book 5 Udyoga Parva, The Effort
Krishna said, “It is known to all of you how Yudhishthira was defeated by Soubala in a deceitful game of dice and lost his kingdom. He made an agreement that he would spend some time in exile. They are capable of swiftly conquering the earth. But they stuck to their pledge and conducted themselves in accordance with it. The sons of Pandu are foremost among the Bharatas. But they stuck to that terrible vow of six plus seven years. They spent the terrible thirteenth year near you, but were undetected. They bore many hardships. All of you know everything about that. With that over, think about what is best for the king who is Dharma’s son and for Duryodhana. Think about what is best for the Kurus and the Pandavas, what is in accordance with dharma, is appropriate, and also ensures glory.”
The Udyoga Parva explores the events leading up to the grand Kurukshetra War, focusing on the diplomatic efforts, alliances, and preparations made by the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
The Udyoga Parva begins with Dhritarashtra, the blind king of Hastinapura, realizing that war is inevitable. He sends his trusted advisor, Sanjaya, as an envoy to negotiate with the Pandavas. However, the peace talks fail as the Kauravas refuse to offer the Pandavas their rightful share of the kingdom, leading to a deadlock.
Krishna, the divine incarnation, emerges as a central figure in the Udyoga Parva. He serves as the mediator, strategist, and trusted advisor for the Pandavas. Recognizing the importance of diplomacy and alliances, Krishna embarks on diplomatic missions to forge alliances with various kingdoms and influential figures.
Krishna successfully secures alliances with powerful kingdoms such as the Yadavas, led by Lord Krishna’s own clan, and the Panchalas, led by King Drupada. These alliances bring significant military strength to the Pandavas’ side and increase their chances of success in the impending war.
Meanwhile, Arjuna, the skilled archer among the Pandavas, seeks divine blessings to bolster his capabilities. He undertakes a journey to Mount Kailash to meet Lord Shiva and receives the potent divine weapon known as the Pashupatastra. This celestial weapon enhances Arjuna’s strength and becomes a critical asset in the upcoming war.
Krishna, through his divine presence, offers guidance and counsel to the Pandavas. He provides strategic advice, helps in negotiations, and ensures that the Pandavas are prepared both physically and mentally for the challenges that lie ahead.
The Udyoga Parva also explores the moral dilemmas faced by characters such as Bhishma and Dronacharya, who find themselves torn between loyalty to the Kauravas and their recognition of the righteousness of the Pandavas’ cause. Krishna engages in discussions with these respected figures, attempting to sway their allegiance and bring about a just resolution to the conflict.
Additionally, the character of Karna, a formidable warrior and key figure in the Kaurava camp, plays a prominent role in this book. Karna aligns himself with Duryodhana, the ambitious prince of the Kauravas, and becomes one of their most valuable assets. Karna’s loyalty to Duryodhana and his desire to defeat Arjuna further heighten the tensions between the two sides.
The Udyoga Parva marks the culmination of conflicts, grievances, and political maneuverings that have been building up since the beginning of the epic. This section sets the stage for the epic Kurukshetra War, which will determine the fate of the Kuru dynasty and test the principles of dharma (righteousness), justice, and honor.
It showcases the importance of diplomacy, strategic alliances, and moral integrity during times of great turmoil. It highlights the power dynamics, moral dilemmas, and sacrifices made by the characters in their pursuit of justice and victory.
The Udyoga Parva highlights the cosmic dimensions of the Mahabharata. Krishna, as the divine incarnation, serves as the guiding force behind the Pandavas, providing wisdom, counsel, and divine intervention. His interactions with various characters demonstrate the eternal struggle between good and evil, with Krishna representing the embodiment of righteousness.
Book 6 Bhishma Parva
When the terrible war was imminent the illustrious rishi Vyasa, best among all those who knew all the Vedas and Satyavati’s son, the grandfather of the Bharatas, watched, in the morning and the evening. The illustrious one could see the past, the present and the future. He met the king, Vichitravirya’s son in private, in distress and in sorrow over the evil conduct of his sons and spoke these words: “The time has arrived for you, your sons and the lords of the earth. They have assembled in battle and will kill each other. Their time is over and they will be destroyed. Remember that all this is due to destiny and do not sorrow in your mind. If you wish to witness the battle, I will give you sight, so that you can see the war.”
The Bhishma Parva occupies a central place in the narrative marking the beginning of the legendary Kurukshetra War, a conflict that pitted brothers against brothers, and stands as a testament to the scale and consequences of familial strife.
It begins with both the Kauravas and the Pandavas preparing for the impending war, following failed peace negotiations. Bhishma, the grand patriarch of the Kuru dynasty and the commander of the Kaurava forces, unfurls his banner to signal the commencement of the war. The first ten days of the eighteen-day war, under the leadership of Bhishma, form the primary content of this book.
Despite his allegiance to the Kauravas, Bhishma harbors deep respect for the Pandavas and is conflicted by the moral dilemma of fighting against what he knows to be righteous. Nevertheless, bound by his vow to serve the ruling king of Hastinapura, Bhishma fights valiantly, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.
During the course of the war, the legendary hero Arjuna, a key figure of the Pandavas, finds himself hesitating to engage in the bloody conflict. Distraught at the idea of killing his own kin, including his revered teachers and loved ones like Bhishma, he lays down his weapons, refusing to fight. This existential crisis leads to the renowned Bhagavad Gita’s introduction, a profound philosophical discourse between Arjuna and his charioteer, who is none other than Lord Krishna.
The Bhagavad Gita, often considered a standalone text, is a significant section within the Bhishma Parva. Krishna reveals his divine form to Arjuna, imparting lessons on duty, righteousness (Dharma), selfless action, devotion, and the paths to spiritual enlightenment. This dialogue instills in Arjuna the courage and the moral conviction to participate in the war, emphasizing the necessity of performing one’s duty, even when it is fraught with difficult choices.
As the war progresses, the Pandavas realize that Bhishma’s prowess is insurmountable as long as he chooses to fight. Upon seeking his advice, Bhishma reveals the secret of his own downfall – that he could only be defeated by a “woman-warrior.” The Pandavas tactically place Shikhandi, who was Amba in a past life and holds a deep grudge against Bhishma, in front of Arjuna. Recognizing Shikhandi, Bhishma lowers his weapons, and at this moment, Arjuna lands the fatal arrows that lead to Bhishma’s fall. However, due to a boon, Bhishma doesn’t die immediately but lies on a bed of arrows on the battlefield, waiting for the auspicious moment to release his soul.
The Bhishma Parva is pivotal to the narrative structure of the Mahabharata as it sets the stage for the grandeur and tragedy of the Kurukshetra War. It also delves deep into the moral, ethical, and philosophical dilemmas that the characters grapple with, especially through the discourse of the Bhagavad Gita.
Bhishma’s character – a beacon of truth, loyalty, and self-sacrifice – and his ethical predicament underscore the complex human emotions and moral ambiguities that the epic encapsulates. The manner of his downfall underscores the theme of karma and destiny that runs throughout the Mahabharata, manifesting the consequences of one’s actions, even from past lives.
By depicting the horrors of warand the heavy price of upholding dharma, the Bhishma Parva serves as a reflection on the complex nature of duty, righteousness, and morality, that extends beyond the battlefield and resonates in all walks of human life. It is through the examination of these dilemmas, that the Mahabharata transcends from a tale of an ancient war to an exploration of the human condition and the eternal quest for moral righteousness, thus occupying a seminal place in Indian philosophy and literature.
As an integral part of the larger epic, the Bhishma Parva advances the narrative of the Kurukshetra War, leading into the Drona Parva, which carries the story forward, further delving into the consequences of the war. Bhishma’s fall symbolizes the beginning of the end of the old order, making way for a new era, thus, reinforcing the cyclical nature of time, another key theme of the Mahabharata.
Book 7 Drona Parva
Sanjaya said: “O king! Truth was Bhishma’s valour. When he was killed, those on your side, and the Pandavas, thought about this separately. Having thought about the dharma of kshatriyas, they were both astounded and delighted. Having censured their own dharma, they bowed down before that great-souled one. They thought of the infinitely energetic Bhishma lying down on his bed of arrows. O tiger among men! His pillow was made out of straight-tufted arrows. Having made arrangements for Bhishma’s protection, they conversed with each other. Having circumambulated Gangeya, they took his permission. Then they glanced towards each other, eyes red in anger. Driven by destiny, the kshatriyas emerged again to do battle. Trumpets and drums made a loud noise. Your soldiers, and those of the enemy, marched out.”
The Drona Parva primarily focuses on the role, actions, and teachings of Dronacharya, the revered warrior and master of weaponry.
The Drona Parva begins with Dronacharya assuming the role of the commander-in-chief for the Kaurava army. He is a renowned warrior, highly skilled in the art of warfare, and enjoys immense respect and loyalty from his disciples, including the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
As the war intensifies, the book explores the various battles and confrontations that take place under Dronacharya’s leadership. He leads the Kaurava army with strategic acumen and unleashes a series of powerful attacks against the Pandavas. Dronacharya’s military expertise, combined with the formidable Kaurava forces, poses significant challenges for the Pandavas on the battlefield.
The Drona Parva includes several notable events and episodes. One such episode is the confrontation between Dronacharya and his former student, Ekalavya. Ekalavya, an exceptional archer, had learned the art of archery through self-study, as Dronacharya had rejected him as a disciple. When Ekalavya encounters Dronacharya during the war, he pays homage to his former guru and displays his unparalleled skill. This encounter highlights the complexities of teacher-student relationships and raises questions about loyalty and recognition.
Another significant event in the Drona Parva is the formation of the Chakravyuha, a complex and impenetrable battle formation. Dronacharya creates this strategic formation to trap and defeat the Pandavas. However, only Arjuna and Krishna possess the knowledge to penetrate and dismantle the Chakravyuha, leaving the other Pandavas vulnerable and isolated. This episode showcases Dronacharya’s tactical brilliance and the need for specialized knowledge and skills to counter his military strategies.
The Drona Parva also explores the personal conflicts faced by the characters. Arjuna, torn between his duty as a warrior and his familial loyalties, struggles with the moral implications of fighting against his own relatives and revered gurus, including Dronacharya. Krishna serves as his charioteer and guide, offering counsel and reminding him of his responsibilities.
The book further delves into Dronacharya’s character and backstory. It recounts his lineage, his relationship with his son Ashwatthama, and his unwavering commitment to honor and duty. Dronacharya’s dedication to his role as a teacher and warrior becomes a central theme, emphasizing the complexity of his character and the conflicting loyalties he faces during the war.
The Drona Parva advances the narrative towards the climax of the Kurukshetra War. It showcases the tactical brilliance of Dronacharya and the challenges posed by his military strategies. The book highlights the intricate dynamics of the battlefield, where loyalty, honor, and personal conflicts intertwine. It explores the complexities of teacher-student relationships and the moral dilemmas faced by warriors in times of war. The conflict between Arjuna and Dronacharya raises questions about the righteousness of the war and the responsibilities of individuals in upholding their dharma (righteous duties).
The teachings and actions of Dronacharya also reflect the broader themes of the Mahabharata, such as the consequences of one’s choices and the intricate interplay between dharma and personal interests. Dronacharya’s commitment to his duty as a teacher and warrior underscores the complexities of morality and the sacrifices demanded by war.
Additionally, the Drona Parva provides significant character development for Dronacharya. It offers insights into his backstory, lineage, and unwavering loyalty to honor and duty. His interactions with his disciples and the challenges he presents to the Pandavas create a multi-dimensional portrayal of a revered figure who is simultaneously respected and feared.
Book 8 Karna Parva
Sanjaya said: “In that great battle, Duhshasana severed his bow and struck Sahadeva in the arms and the chest with seventy-three arrows. Sahadeva became wrathful, grasped a sword and hurled it towards your handsome son. That great sword severed his bow, with an arrow still affixed to it, falling down on the ground like a serpent that has been dislodged from the sky. The powerful Sahadeva picked up another bow and shot an arrow that was like death towards Duhshasana. That arrow was as bright as Yama’s staff and descended. However, Kourava severed it into two parts with a sword that was sharp at the edges. As that sword suddenly descended in the battle, Sahadeva cut it down with sharp arrows and seemed to be laughing. In that great battle your son swiftly shot sixty-four arrows towards Sahadeva’s chariot and many descended with force. The powerful Sahadeva became angry affixing an extremely fierce arrow that was like the Destroyer, and like Death. He drew his bow back with force shooting it towards your son. With great force, it penetrated his armour and his body, then falling into the earth like a snake entering a termite hill.”
The Karna Parva focuses on the character of Karna, one of the central figures in the epic, and delves into his backstory, actions, and the moral dilemmas he faces.
The Karna Parva begins by exploring the origin and lineage of Karna. He is revealed to be the son of Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, and the sun god, Surya. However, due to certain circumstances, Karna is raised as the son of a charioteer, thus growing up without knowledge of his royal heritage.
The book delves into the challenges faced by Karna throughout his life, including his struggle for recognition, his loyalty to Duryodhana, and the conflicts arising from his complicated relationship with the Pandavas. Karna’s unwavering loyalty to Duryodhana, despite knowing the righteousness of the Pandavas’ cause, becomes a central theme in the Karna Parva.
As the Kurukshetra War continues, Karna emerges as a formidable warrior, renowned for his skill in archery and his invincibility on the battlefield. He engages in several fierce battles, inflicting heavy losses on the Pandava forces. Karna’s valor and determination earn him respect and admiration, even from his enemies.
The Karna Parva also portrays the complex interactions between Karna and the other characters. There are intense confrontations with figures such as Arjuna, Bhima, and Krishna, as they try to uncover Karna’s true identity and question his loyalty. These interactions create dramatic moments and moral dilemmas that test Karna’s resolve and principles.
One of the most significant episodes in the Karna Parva is Karna’s encounter with his birth mother, Kunti. After years of separation, Kunti finally reveals the truth of Karna’s parentage to him. This revelation leads to an emotional reunion and adds further depth to Karna’s character as he grapples with conflicting loyalties.
The Karna Parva also includes the infamous Bhargavastra episode, where Karna, in order to prove his valor and defeat Arjuna, invokes the powerful Bhargavastra weapon. However, Parashurama, the guru of the Bhargavastra, curses Karna due to his concealment of his true caste. This curse becomes a significant turning point in Karna’s life and adds further complexity to his character.
In the broader context of the Mahabharata, the Karna Parva serves multiple purposes. Firstly, it provides crucial insights into the character of Karna and his inner struggles. Karna’s loyalty to Duryodhana, despite his awareness of the righteousness of the Pandavas, raises profound questions about the nature of duty, loyalty, and the complexities of human psychology.
Secondly, the Karna Parva emphasizes the impact of lineage, caste, and societal prejudices on the lives of the characters. Karna’s struggles with his birth, his lowly upbringing, and the prejudice he faces due to his caste serve as a reminder of the social dynamics and inequalities prevalent in the epic.
Furthermore, the Karna Parva showcases the profound moral dilemmas faced by the characters. Karna’s internal conflict, torn between his loyalty to Duryodhana and his knowledge of his true lineage, reflects the ethical complexities and choices that the characters grapple with throughout the Mahabharata.
The book serves as a reflection on the consequences of actions and choices. Karna’s unwavering loyalty to Duryodhana leads him down a path that ultimately leads to his tragic fate. His actions and decisions have far-reaching repercussions not only for himself but also for the outcome of the war and the larger narrative of the Mahabharata. Karna, despite being on the side of the Kauravas, is portrayed as a complex and multi-dimensional character with both noble and flawed traits. His interactions with other characters highlight the intricacies of relationships and the moral dilemmas faced by individuals in times of conflict.
In the broader narrative the Karna Parva adds depth and complexity to the epic. Karna’s character serves as a foil to other major characters like Arjuna and Bhima. His unwavering loyalty to Duryodhana and his extraordinary skills as a warrior create tension and challenge the Pandavas, forcing them to confront their own limitations and question their own moral stances. Karna’s destiny is intertwined with the tragic course of events that unfold in the Mahabharata. His choices, despite his noble intentions, lead him to a tragic end, showcasing the complexities of fate and the inevitability of certain outcomes.
Book 9 Shalya Parva
Vaishampayana replied: “Dhritarashtra’s son, Suyodhana, was immersed in an ocean of great grief. In every possible way, he lost all hope. He repeatedly grieved. With a great deal of difficulty, he went to his own camp, together with the remaining kings. Remembering the death of the son of a suta, the king could find no peace of mind and was comforted by them, with citations from reasons given in the sacred texts. The king eventually decided that destiny was supremely powerful. He made up his mind to fight and again emerged for the battle. The bull among kings made Shalya the commander, in accordance with the decreed rites. With the kings who had not been slain, the king emerged to do battle. An extremely tumultuous battle commenced between the soldiers of the Kurus and the Pandavas.”
The Shalya Parva focuses on the role and actions of Shalya, the ruler of Madra and the maternal uncle of Nakula and Sahadeva, the Pandava twins.
It begins with the continuation of the Kurukshetra War, where Shalya is chosen to be the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army after the death of Dronacharya. Shalya is known for his charioteering skills and brings his expertise to the battlefield.
Shalya’s role in the war is complex as he is initially reluctant to fight against his own nephews, Nakula and Sahadeva. However, his loyalty to the Kauravas compels him to fulfill his duty as a commander. Throughout the book, Shalya leads the Kaurava forces with strategic acumen and engages in several battles against the Pandavas.
The interactions between Shalya and the Pandavas form a significant part of the Shalya Parva. Shalya engages in verbal sparring with Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, and Krishna as they try to weaken his resolve and unsettle his loyalty. These exchanges highlight the art of persuasion, diplomacy, and psychological warfare employed by the characters.
One of the key moments in the Shalya Parva is the intense battle between Shalya and Yudhishthira. Despite his skills, Shalya’s deep respect for Yudhishthira and his internal conflict prevent him from giving his full effort in the battle. This episode showcases the complexity of emotions experienced by the characters and the nuances of their relationships.
The book also delves into Shalya’s internal struggles and dilemmas. He grapples with conflicting loyalties, torn between his familial ties with the Pandavas and his allegiance to the Kauravas. Shalya’s character adds depth to the narrative as he navigates through these moral conflicts, making choices that have far-reaching consequences.
The interactions between Shalya and the Pandavas bring forth themes of diplomacy, persuasion, and the art of war. The book underscores the importance of psychological tactics, strategic planning, and the use of words as weapons in the battle for victory.
Shalya’s interactions with the Pandavas serve as a precursor to the final confrontations and the resolution of the war. His character adds to the moral fabric of the epic, showcasing the complexities of loyalty, duty, and the choices individuals must make in the face of conflicting loyalties.
The Shalya Parva also highlights the impact of perception and appearance in the context of warfare. Shalya’s appearance, which is initially imposing and intimidating, is used as a strategy to create fear and doubt among the Pandavas. However, his physical appearance belies his true emotions and loyalty, serving as a reminder that appearances can be deceiving.
Book 10 Sauptika Parva, The Sleeping Warriors
Night, the creator of the entire universe, manifested itself. In every direction, the sky was beautiful to behold. It was ornamented with planets, nakshatras and stars. Beings which are powerful and roam during the night began to howl. Beings that roam during the day were overcome by sleep. Because of the shrieks of beings that roam in the night, it became extremely fearful. Predatory beasts were delighted and the night became terrible.
The Sauptika Parva focuses on the events that take place after the 18-day Kurukshetra War and deals with the aftermath, including the death of major characters and the mourning of their loved ones.
It begins with the conclusion of the war, where the Pandavas emerge as the victors. They mourn the loss of their relatives and loved ones and are left with a sense of grief and devastation. The book explores the aftermath of the war and the emotional struggles faced by the characters in coping with their losses.
One of the significant events in the Sauptika Parva is the night-time massacre that takes place after the war. As the Pandavas and their allies rest in their camps, Ashwatthama, the son of Dronacharya, seeks revenge for his father’s death. He stealthily enters the Pandava camp and, in a fit of rage and vengeance, kills the sleeping warriors, including the sons of the Pandavas and many other notable figures.
The actions of Ashwatthama and the ensuing massacre create a sense of shock and horror. The Pandavas, upon discovering the bloodshed, are filled with anger and grief. They embark on a pursuit to find Ashwatthama and bring him to justice for his heinous act.
Throughout the book, the Pandavas, led by Yudhishthira, confront Ashwatthama and engage in a fierce battle with him. They seek to avenge the deaths of their loved ones and hold Ashwatthama accountable for his actions. The battle showcases their determination and the depth of their emotions in seeking justice.
Additionally, the Sauptika Parva explores the moral dilemmas faced by the characters. While the Pandavas are justified in their pursuit of justice, they also question the righteousness of their actions. The book delves into the complexities of revenge, forgiveness, and the consequences of one’s choices.
The Sauptika Parva bridges the climax of the Kurukshetra War and the subsequent events leading to the resolution of the epic. It highlights the emotional aftermath of the war and the moral challenges faced by the characters in dealing with loss and seeking justice.
The book emphasizes the cyclical nature of violence and the consequences of unchecked anger and vengeance. Ashwatthama’s actions and their repercussions serve as a reminder of the need for restraint and the destructive nature of revenge.
Book 11 Stri Parva, The Women
That was only a metaphor, cited by those who know about salvation. Using it, a man can enjoy a good end in the world of the hereafter. That desolate forest is the unfathomable cycle of life. The carnivorous beasts that were mentioned are diseases. A woman, giant in form, was established there. The wise speak of her as old age, destructive of complexion and beauty. The well is the body that souls occupy. The giant serpent which dwells there is time. He is the destroyer of all beings and takes away everything from the body. In the midst of that well there was a creeper there and the man hung onto it. That is the hope for remaining alive, which all those with bodies possess. O king! The elephant with six faces is said to be the year. Its faces are said to be the seasons and its feet are the months. Those who think about beings say that the rats which are always gnawing at the tree are days and nights. The bees there are said to be desire.
The Stri Parva focuses on the aftermath of the Kurukshetra War and explores the experiences, perspectives, and actions of the women in the epic.
It begins with the aftermath of the war, where the Pandavas emerge victorious. However, the victory is marred by grief and loss as the women, both from the Pandava and Kaurava sides, mourn the deaths of their loved ones. The book highlights the emotional struggles faced by these women and their perspectives on the war.
The book primarily revolves around the character of Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas, and her deep anguish over the loss of her sons. Gandhari, filled with grief and anger, confronts Krishna, blaming him for the destruction caused by the war. She curses Krishna, predicting the downfall of his dynasty in the future.
The Stri Parva also explores the experiences of other women in the epic. It delves into the perspectives of Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, and Subhadra, the sister of Krishna and mother of Abhimanyu. It provides insights into their emotions, struggles, and the challenges they faced throughout the epic.
The book also highlights the roles of other female characters, such as Satyabhama, Krishna’s wife, who confronts him about his role in the war, and the widows of the fallen warriors who mourn the loss of their husbands and navigate the challenges of widowhood.
The Stri Parva is a poignant exploration of the human cost of war and the impact it has on the lives of women. It gives voice to their perspectives, grief, and resilience, shedding light on their experiences that often remain in the background in other sections of the epic. It shows the devastation caused by the war and the long-lasting effects it has on the lives of individuals and society as a whole.
The book adds depth to the character of Gandhari, presenting her as a complex and multi-dimensional figure. Her grief, anger, and curse towards Krishna highlight the complexities of human emotions and the repercussions of actions. Gandhari’s curse serves as a foreshadowing of future events and adds to the layers of destiny and fate that permeate the epic.
Lastly, the Stri Parva provides a necessary balance to the predominantly male-centric narrative. It gives voice and agency to the female characters, showcasing their perspectives, resilience, and the impact they have on the course of events. It is a reminder of the diverse range of experiences and perspectives within the epic. It emphasizes the importance of understanding different viewpoints, the consequences of actions, and the significance of empathy and compassion in the face of suffering.
Book 12 Shanti Parva, Peace
If you wish to hear everything about dharma, go to Bhishma, the aged grandfather of the Kurus. He will dispel all the doubts that you have about the secrets. He is Bhagirathi’s son and knows everything, everything about all forms of dharma. The river which has three flows, the celestial goddess, gave birth to him. He has seen all the gods, with Shakra at the forefront, in person. O king! The lord has honoured the devarshis, with Brihaspati at the forefront, and having satisfied them, has studied policy. Ushanas, the brahmana who was the preceptor of the gods and the asuras, knew the sacred texts. All those, with their commentaries, were obtained by that supreme one among the Kuru lineage. In addition, the immensely intelligent one received the large corpus of the Vedangas from Bhargava Chyavana and Vasishtha, who was careful in his vows. In ancient times, he studied the truth about transcendental paths from Kumara, the eldest son of the grandfather, who blazed in his energy. He obtained everything about the dharma followed by ascetics from the mouth of Markandeya himself. O bull among the Bharata lineage! He obtained weapons from Rama and Shakra. Though he has been born as a man, the time of his death depends on his own wishes.
The Santi Parva focuses on the aftermath of the Kurukshetra War and contains extensive philosophical and ethical discourses. It explores the teachings of Bhishma, who lies on a bed of arrows, imparting his wisdom to Yudhishthira and other characters.
It begins with Yudhishthira’s distress over the massive destruction caused by the war. He seeks solace and guidance from Bhishma, who lies on a bed of arrows awaiting his death. Bhishma imparts profound wisdom and teachings to Yudhishthira, covering various aspects of righteousness, ethics, governance, and the duties of a king.
The book is structured as a series of dialogues between Bhishma and Yudhishthira, interspersed with stories, parables, and philosophical teachings. Bhishma delves into topics such as the nature of life, the duties of individuals in their respective social roles, the importance of righteous conduct, and the path to spiritual liberation.
The teachings of Bhishma cover a wide range of subjects, including dharma (duty/righteousness), artha (material wealth/prosperity), kama (desire/pleasure), moksha (liberation), and the intricacies of governance. He imparts his knowledge, advice, and insights on leading a righteous life and establishing a just society.
Apart from Bhishma’s teachings, the Santi Parva also features stories within stories. These tales explore various moral and ethical dilemmas faced by characters from mythology and history, providing lessons and insights for Yudhishthira and the readers.
This book includes the Anugita, a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, where Krishna imparts deeper spiritual teachings. The Anugita covers topics such as the nature of the self, the eternal soul, and the path to self-realization.
The Santi Parva contributes to the overall themes of the Mahabharata by delving into the moral and philosophical aspects of life, governance, and spirituality. It emphasizes the importance of righteous conduct, the consequences of actions, and the path to spiritual enlightenment. It serves as a reflection on the human condition, the complexities of life, and the pursuit of peace. It encourages introspection, self-reflection, and the understanding of one’s duties and responsibilities in society.
Book 13 Anushasana Parva, The Instructions
When night was over, the extremely intelligent king awoke. Having performed the morning ablutions, with his wife, he headed for the forest. There, the king saw a palace that was completely made out of gold. There were a thousand pillars covered with jewels and it was like a city of the gandharvas. Kushika saw that everything seemed to have been divinely designed. There were hills with beautiful peaks and valleys. There were lilies and lotuses. O descendant of the Bharata lineage! There were galleries with many kinds of gates. The ground was verdant, as if the fields were made out of gold. There were blossoming sahakaras, ketakas, uddalakas, dhavas, ashokas, muchukundas, flowering atimuktas, champakas, tilakas, bhavyas, panasas, vanjulas and flowering karnikaras.1336 This is what he saw there, here and there. There were dark varanapushpas and ashtapadika creepers. The king saw that these had been properly trimmed. There were trees on which there were lotuses and lilies and there were flowers from every season. He saw many mansions that were as beautiful as celestial vehicles and mountains.
The Anushasana Parva continues Bhishma’s advice to Yudhishthira, focusing on moral and philosophical matters. It covers a wide range of topics, including righteous conduct, duties, ethics, and the path to salvation.
Throughout the Anushasana Parva, Bhishma imparts his knowledge and wisdom to Yudhishthira, offering guidance on moral and ethical dilemmas, relationships, the duties of individuals in their respective roles, and the path to spiritual liberation.
The book also includes teachings from other revered sages and deities, such as Vyasa, Narada, and Shiva. These teachings provide additional insights into various aspects of life, spirituality, and the pursuit of righteousness.
In terms of the broader narrative of the Mahabharata, the Anushasana Parva serves as a culmination of Bhishma’s role in the epic. His teachings and instructions to Yudhishthira are meant to prepare him for his role as a righteous ruler and to guide him in establishing a just and harmonious kingdom.
The Anushasana Parva contributes to the overall themes of the Mahabharata by exploring the moral, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of life. It emphasizes the importance of righteous conduct, the consequences of actions, and the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.
The book adds depth to the character of Bhishma, showcasing his wisdom, integrity, and commitment to upholding dharma. Bhishma’s teachings not only shape the character of Yudhishthira but also provide valuable lessons for the readers, reinforcing the moral and ethical framework of the epic.
The Anushasana Parva is a reflection on the values and principles that form the foundation of a just society. It underscores the significance of good governance, the responsibilities of leaders, and the well-being of the people.
Book 14 Ashvamedhika Parva, The Horse Sacrifice
A wicked deed perpetrated by a man can always be overcome through austerities, sacrifices and donations. O lord of men, tiger among kings! Sacrifices, austerities and donations purify a man from his wicked deeds. To become sacred, the asuras and the gods performed rites. Those great-souled ones sought to perform sacrifices. It is through sacrifices that the great-souled gods became even more powerful. Thus, after performing rites, the gods assailed the danavas.
The Ashvamedhika Parva, also known as the Book of the Horse Sacrifice, focuses on the Ashvamedha (horse sacrifice) ritual conducted by Yudhishthira as part of his kingship. It explores the challenges, conflicts, and events that arise during the sacrifice and their implications for the characters and the epic as a whole.
It begins with Yudhishthira deciding to perform the Ashvamedha to solidify his authority as the righteous king. He releases a sacrificial horse, accompanied by a large army led by his brothers, to roam freely across the kingdom. If any king challenges or captures the horse, it signifies a challenge to Yudhishthira’s sovereignty and prompts a battle.
As the horse roams, it encounters various kingdoms and their rulers. Many kings willingly accept Yudhishthira’s sovereignty and offer their allegiance, but some refuse, leading to conflicts and battles. The Pandavas, along with their allies, engage in combat with these defiant kings to establish their supremacy.
Throughout the Ashvamedhika Parva, the narrative follows the movements of the horse and the ensuing battles. The major characters, such as Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva, Krishna, and Draupadi, play crucial roles in strategizing and leading the military campaigns.
One of the significant events in the book is Arjuna’s encounters with several divine beings during his journey. He encounters Indra, the king of gods, and other celestial beings who challenge his skills and engage in philosophical discourses with him. These encounters add depth to Arjuna’s character and provide insights into spiritual and cosmic dimensions.
As the horse continues its journey, challenges arise from both mortal and divine entities. The narrative presents conflicts, alliances, and negotiations that reflect the complex political landscape and power dynamics of the time. The battles and alliances showcase the military prowess of the Pandavas and their allies.
The Ashvamedhika Parva also delves into the internal conflicts within the Pandava family. Jealousies, suspicions, and rivalries emerge among the brothers, especially regarding Draupadi’s relationship with other characters. These conflicts reflect the complexities of human relationships and add layers of drama to the narrative.
The Ashvamedhika Parva serves as a symbolic and practical assertion of Yudhishthira’s kingship. The Ashvamedha ritual represents the height of royal power and authority. It signifies the establishment and consolidation of Yudhishthira’s rule over the conquered lands and is a demonstration of his righteous leadership. It explores the theme of universal sovereignty and the challenges faced by a righteous ruler in maintaining harmony and order in a vast and diverse kingdom. It raises questions about the nature of power, the responsibilities of a king, and the moral dilemmas faced in ruling with integrity.
The Ashvamedhika Parva highlights the spiritual and philosophical dimensions of the Mahabharata. Arjuna’s encounters with celestial beings provide insights into cosmic truths, the nature of existence, and the path to spiritual enlightenment.
Overall, the Ashvamedhika Parva explores the challenges, conflicts, and events surrounding the Ashvamedha ritual. It portrays the dynamics of power, politics, and warfare, while also delving into spiritual and philosophical themes. It serves as a significant episode that establishes Yudhishthira’s kingship and raises important questions about the nature of power and the responsibilities of a righteous ruler. The conflicts and alliances within the book contribute to the overall themes of the Mahabharata, highlighting the complexities of human relationships, the pursuit of power, and the quest for spiritual enlightenment.
Book 15 Ashramavasika Parva, The Ashram
His strength was equal to that of ten thousand elephants. That king is lying down now, leaning on a woman and seems to be lifeless. In earlier times, he used his strength to crush Bhimasena’s iron image into fragments. For the sake of strength, he now has to hold on to a woman. Shame on me. I do not know about dharma. Shame on my intelligence. Shame on my learning. The lord of the earth is now lying down in a way that does not befit him. I will also fast, like my preceptor, if the king and the illustrious Gandhari do not eat.
The Asramavasika Parva, also known as the Book of Peace, focuses on the period of exile of the Pandavas and their life in the forest. It explores their encounters, experiences, and the lessons they learn during this phase of their journey.
After the Kurukshetra War, Yudhishthira and his brothers decide to renounce their kingdom and live in the forest for twelve years as part of their penance. They, along with their wife Draupadi, begin their journey to the forest, leaving behind their wealth and material possessions.
The narrative follows the Pandavas’ experiences during their exile. They face various challenges and engage in spiritual practices to attain self-realization. The forest becomes their abode, and they live a simple and austere life, relying on nature for their sustenance.
During their time in the forest, the Pandavas encounter sages, ascetics, and spiritual beings who impart wisdom and guidance. They learn about moral values, the importance of righteousness, and the deeper truths of life. The interactions with these sages and spiritual beings shape their understanding and worldview.
The major characters, Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva, and Draupadi, each go through personal growth and introspection during their exile. They face their individual challenges and learn valuable lessons along the way. Yudhishthira grapples with questions of righteousness and the consequences of war, while Arjuna delves deeper into his spiritual journey and explores the nature of existence.
The Book of Peace highlights the bond and support between the Pandavas and Draupadi. They face hardships together, and Draupadi becomes their source of strength and resilience. Her character embodies devotion, sacrifice, and unwavering loyalty to her husbands.
The Book of Peace depicts the period of introspection and self-discovery for the Pandavas. It is a time of retreat and reflection before they return to the world to claim their kingdom and fulfill their destiny.
It explores the theme of detachment from material possessions and the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. It emphasizes the importance of inner transformation and the search for higher truths beyond the realm of worldly affairs. The experiences of the Pandavas in the forest shape their characters and prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead.
The Book of Peace serves as a prelude to the final phase of the epic, where the Pandavas return from exile, engage in diplomatic negotiations, and ultimately reclaim their kingdom in the climactic section known as the Udyoga Parva. It provides insight into the personal growth and spiritual development of the Pandavas during their period of exile. It explores their encounters, experiences, and the lessons they learn in the forest.
Book 16 Mausala Parva, The Clubs
But Death always wandered around, in all their homes. His embodied form was that of a fierce and malformed man, dark and tawny, and with a shaved head. Sometimes, the Vrishnis saw him looking into their houses. At other times, they couldn’t see him. Day by day, fierce and terrible winds began to blow and there were many other evil portents for the destruction of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas and these made the body hair stand up. Rats covered the roads and the pots were shattered. Sarika birds shrieked outside their houses and even inside the homes of the Vrishnis. Whether it was night or whether it was day, those sounds did not cease. The cranes made sounds like owls. The goats made sounds like jackals. Pigeons wandered around in the houses of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas. Goaded by destiny, there were other birds, pale in complexion and red of feet. Asses were born from cows and elephants from donkeys. Cats were born from bitches and mice from mongooses. When they committed wicked deeds, the Vrishnis no longer repented. They hated and disrespected brahmanas, ancestors, gods and seniors.
Mausala Parva, The Book of The Clubs, is a relatively short section of the Mahabharata focusing on the aftermath of the Kurukshetra War and the tragic events that unfold afterward. It primarily revolves around the curse of sage Durvasa and the eventual destruction of the Yadava dynasty. This book serves as a somber reflection on the transitory nature of power and the inevitability of fate.
It begins with the arrival of sage Durvasa at the city of Dwaraka, where Lord Krishna resides with the Yadava clan. Durvasa is known for his quick temper, and he curses the Yadavas, predicting their destruction due to their growing arrogance and complacency.
As the curse takes effect, the Yadava clan is consumed by internal strife. The members of the dynasty become intoxicated and indulge in revelry. Fierce quarrels break out, and the Yadavas, in their drunken state, start attacking each other with clubs, fulfilling the curse of Durvasa. The once mighty and invincible Yadava clan is reduced to chaos and self-destruction.
During this time, Lord Krishna, the divine incarnation, understands that the time has come for him to depart from the mortal world. He embarks on a final pilgrimage along with his brother Balarama. They visit several sacred places and engage in profound discussions, imparting wisdom and guidance to their devotees.
The narrative then shifts to the fateful incident where Lord Krishna’s elder brother, Balarama, enters the waters of the ocean and merges with the divine serpent, Adishesha. Balarama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, thus departs from the mortal world.
After the departure of Balarama, Lord Krishna ascends to a hill and enters a state of deep meditation. In this state, he is mistakenly struck by an arrow shot by a hunter named Jara, who had mistaken Krishna’s foot for the body of a deer. Lord Krishna embraces his fate and leaves his earthly form, thus completing his divine mission.
The Mausala Parva concludes with the narrative shifting to the aftermath of these tragic events. The women of the Yadava clan, including Krishna’s wives and the wives of other warriors, mourn the loss of their loved ones. The city of Dwaraka sinks into the ocean, and the survivors of the Yadava clan disperse and integrate into other communities.
The Mausala Parva is a reminder of the impermanence of power and the inevitability of fate. It portrays the downfall of the once-mighty Yadava dynasty, which had played a crucial role in the events leading up to and during the Kurukshetra War. The destruction of the Yadavas and the departure of Lord Krishna mark the end of an era and signify the completion of their divine purpose.
The book highlights the consequences of arrogance, complacency, and the violation of dharma (righteousness). The curse of Durvasa serves as a catalyst for the events that unfold, reminding the readers that even the mightiest can fall victim to their own weaknesses and hubris. It also provides a reflective pause in the narrative, allowing the readers to contemplate the transient nature of life and the inevitability of death. It showcases the vulnerability of even divine beings and emphasizes the importance of detachment and acceptance in the face of life’s uncertainties.
The departure of Lord Krishna and the sinking of Dwaraka symbolize the end of an era and the closing chapter of the epic. They mark the transition from the tumultuous times of the Mahabharata to a new age, where the wisdom and teachings of Krishna will continue to guide humanity.
Book 17 Mahaprasthanika Parva, The Great Journey
Yudhishthira said: “O lord of the past and the present! This dog has always been devoted to me. He should go with me. Because of compassion, that is my view.”
Mahaprasthanika Parva, also known as ‘The Book of the Great Journey’, narrates the final journey of the Pandavas, as they renounce their kingdom and embark on a pilgrimage to the Himalayas, ultimately leading to their ascent into heaven. This parva is filled with poignant moments, philosophical discussions, and the gradual departure of the major characters from the mortal world.
It begins after the great war of Kurukshetra and the establishment of Yudhishthira as the king of Hastinapura. Yudhishthira, overwhelmed by grief and guilt over the loss of countless lives in the war, feels burdened by the weight of his kingship. Seeking solace and redemption, Yudhishthira decides to renounce his kingdom and embark on a pilgrimage to various holy places.
Accompanied by his brothers and their wife Draupadi, the Pandavas set out on their final journey. Along the way, they encounter several sages and celestial beings who impart wisdom and advice. They visit sacred sites, perform rituals, and engage in profound conversations about dharma, righteousness, and the transient nature of life. Each encounter deepens their understanding and prepares them for the inevitable journey to the divine realm.
As they traverse through forests, mountains, and rivers, the Pandavas face numerous challenges and tests of their character. They are gradually stripped of their possessions, wealth, and even their divine weapons, symbolizing the detachment and surrender required for spiritual attainment. Draupadi and Sahadeva die along the way, symbolizing the detachment from worldly relationships.
The most poignant moment in the Mahaprasthanika Parva occurs when Yudhishthira and his remaining brothers, Bhima, Arjuna, and Nakula, reach the mountains. Indra, the king of gods and their father, appears before them in disguise and takes each of them to heaven one by one. Yudhishthira, known for his righteousness and adherence to truth, is tested by the gods to see if he will renounce his love for his faithful dog. Yudhishthira passes the test and enters heaven with his brothers, leaving the dog behind.
This book serves as a culmination of the entire Mahabharata epic, encapsulating the spiritual journey of the Pandavas and their ultimate attainment of salvation. It emphasizes the themes of dharma, righteousness, and the impermanence of worldly attachments. Through their renunciation of power and wealth, the Pandavas demonstrate the importance of detachment and the pursuit of higher spiritual truths.
Book 18 Svargarohana Parva, The Ascent to Heaven
For the sake of kama, fear or avarice, and even for the sake of preserving one’s life, one should not give up dharma. Dharma is eternal. Happiness and unhappiness are transient. The atman is eternal, but other reasons are transient.
Svargarohana Parva, also known as The Book of the Ascent to Heaven, is the final parva (book) of the Mahabharata. It narrates the concluding events of the epic, focusing on the journey of Yudhishthira and his brothers to the heavenly realms after their death. The major characters face their final trials and attain their ultimate destinies.
It begins with Yudhishthira and his brothers, Bhima, Arjuna, and the twins Nakula and Sahadeva, along with Draupadi, continuing their journey to the Himalayas. They have renounced their kingdom and worldly possessions, seeking spiritual liberation and the divine realm. As they proceed, their path becomes increasingly arduous, symbolizing the challenges and trials one must face on the path to salvation.
As the Pandavas reach the peak of Mount Meru, the abode of the gods, Indra, the king of gods and their father, appears before them. He welcomes them and informs Yudhishthira that it is time for their final test before entering heaven. Yudhishthira is presented with a series of illusions that test his devotion, wisdom, and ability to let go of attachments. Throughout the tests, Yudhishthira remains steadfast and resolute, displaying his unwavering commitment to righteousness and truth.
In the first test, Yudhishthira is asked to identify his brothers who have died along the journey and choose one among them to be revived. However, he refuses to make such a choice, understanding the impermanence of life and the importance of accepting the natural order of things. In the subsequent tests, Yudhishthira faces illusions of his enemies, including Duryodhana and Karna, who question his right to enter heaven after causing their demise. Yudhishthira responds with humility, acknowledging the intricacies of fate and the consequences of their actions.
Indra is pleased with Yudhishthira’s unwavering devotion to dharma and righteousness. He rewards the Pandavas by inviting them to enter heaven, where they reunite with their loved ones who have already passed away, including their mother Kunti, their wife Draupadi, and their brothers Bhishma, Dronacharya, and Karna. The Pandavas are bestowed with celestial bodies and divine attributes, signifying their ascent to the heavenly realms.
This parva explores the fate of various other characters in the Mahabharata. Vidura, the wise counselor and half-brother of Dhritarashtra, attains liberation and merges with the divine. Dhritarashtra, Gandhari, and Kunti, the parents of the Kauravas and the Pandavas, respectively, choose to live in the forest and meditate until their ultimate liberation. The parva emphasizes the importance of the soul’s journey beyond the mortal realm and the consequences of one’s actions. It highlights the concept of divine justice, where the characters reap the rewards or suffer the consequences of their actions. The parva also emphasizes the cyclical nature of life and death, with the characters’ ultimate goal being liberation from the cycle of rebirth.
This book reflects the overarching themes of the Mahabharata, such as dharma (righteousness), the consequences of one’s actions, and the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. It reinforces the importance of leading a virtuous life, upholding moral principles, and adhering to one’s duties. The trials faced by Yudhishthira in Svargarohana Parva serve as a final test of his character and demonstrate his unwavering commitment to righteousness, even in the face of illusion and temptation. It provides closure to the characters’ storylines and offers a glimpse into their ultimate destinies. It showcases the culmination of their spiritual journey and the rewards they receive for their virtuous deeds. The parva reinforces the belief in cosmic justice, where individuals are rewarded or punished based on their actions and intentions.
The Svargarohana Parva encourages readers to contemplate the impermanence of worldly existence and to strive for spiritual liberation. It underscores the importance of detachment from worldly attachments and the surrender of the ego in the pursuit of higher truths. As a conclusion to the epic tale of the Mahabharata, the Ascent to Heaven ties together the various threads of the story, offers resolution to the characters’ arcs, and imparts profound philosophical teachings. It serves as a reminder of the eternal principles of righteousness, the consequences of one’s choices, and the possibility of attaining spiritual liberation. It narrates the final tests and ultimate ascent of Yudhishthira and his brothers to the celestial realms. Explores their unwavering commitment to righteousness, their encounters with illusions and temptations, and their eventual rewards in the heavenly realms. It encapsulates its major themes of dharma, the consequences of actions, and the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. It provides closure to the characters’ storylines, emphasizes the cyclical nature of life and death, and encourages readers to contemplate the impermanence of worldly existence and strive for higher truths.