A Very Brief Summary of the Mahabharata

Mahabharata scroll

Note: In the previous post, Sauti compared the Mahabharata to a tree. In this post, he outlines a brief summary of the Mahabharata. Sauti provides several summaries of the epic one after another, beginning with this one, with each summary going into greater detail. As a reader, I find the summaries very useful because they give me a bird’s eye view of the whole epic before it begins. Without the summaries, it is very easy to get lost in the various stories and stories within stories that adorn the Mahabharata. 

These words are spoken by Sauti to the ascetics in Naimisha Forest. He begins this summary with King Pandu.

After subduing many kingdoms with his wisdom and prowess, King Pandu left his kingdom to live in a certain forest with the Munis. He spent his time hunting animals and imbibing wisdom from the sages. One day, while hunting, he killed a stag that was coupling with its mate. The stag cursed hunter. This curse brought severe misfortune upon Pandu and it served as a warning to his sons about the correct conduct of princes. 

Because of the curse, Pandu had to abstain from having a physical relationship with his wives, Kunti and Madri. Therefore, in order to have children, his wives embraced the Gods: Dharma, Vayu, Sakra (Indra), and the Ashwin twins. The five sons, born of celestial fathers, grew up under the care of two mothers. They were also surrounded by ascetics and holy people in the sacred groves of the forest.

After Pandu died, those ascetics took the five children to King Dhritarashtra. The sons of Pandu, who had till now lived as brahmacharis with their hair tied in knots on their heads, followed the ascetics to Hastinapur. There, the ascetics addressed Dhritarashtra and said, “these are our students. They are like your sons. They are the Pandavas.” And saying this, the ascetics disappeared.

When these boys were introduced as the sons of Pandu, the distinguished citizens of the kingdom shouted with joy. The remaining citizens were divided. Some agreed that they were indeed the sons of Pandu while others disagreed. A few wondered how could they be Pandu’s sons when the latter had been dead for such a long time. 

In any case, all the citizens welcomed them to Hastinapur and said: “The family of Pandu has come to us through divine intervention! Let their welcome be announced!” 

After the voices of the citizens ceased, the invisible spirits applauded the Pandavas and caused every point of heaven to resound with their celebration. Sweet-scented flowers were showered from the sky along with the sound of kettle drums and conch shells.

Such are the wonderful events that happened upon the arrival of the young princes, who had already studied all the Vedas and several other shastras in the forest. 

In the days that followed, these princes were respected by all and resided in Haspinapur without fear from anyone.

The principal men were pleased with the purity of Yudhishthira, Arjuna’s courage, Kunti’s respectful attention to her superiors, and the humility of the twins: Nakula and Sahadeva. Everyone rejoiced in the heroic virtues of the princes.

Several years later, Arjuna obtained the virgin Draupadi (also known as Krishnaa) at her swayamvara by performing a very difficult feat of archery. After performing that difficult feat, he was greatly respected among the archers of the world. He was also respected on the battlefield, where he appeared like a sun – difficult to behold by his foes. Soon after the wedding, he vanquished all the neighboring kingdoms and tribes to help his eldest brother – Yudhishthira – perform the Rajasuya yagna.

Yudhishthira succeeded in performing the yagna with the help of Vasudeva’s wise advice and the valor of his brothers after they slayed Jarasandha (the king of Magadha) and Shishupal (the last Chedi king). 

Abundant provisions and offerings were made during the Rajasuya yagna and immense transcendent merits were acquired through it. 

Duryodhana also attended Yudhishthira’s yagna. There he saw the great wealth of the Pandavas scattered all around in the form of various offerings, precious stones, gold, and jewels. A great number of cows, elephants, and horses. Garments in exquisite textures, precious shawls, and furs. Carpets made from ranku skin. 

Duryodhan was filled with envy when he saw all this wealth. And then, when he saw the grand assembly hall of the Pandavas, built by Maya danava (the asura architect), he was inflamed with anger. He set out to wander in that assembly hall, but was confused by certain architectural deceptions, and fell into a pond of water. Bhima laughed derisively at Duryodhan when he saw him fall into the water. Sri Krishna was also present when Bhima laughed at his cousin. All this filled Duryodhan with jealousy, anger, and displeasure due to a sense of lack in comparison to the Pandavas.

Duryodhan returned to Hastinapur, with an afflicted mind filled with anger and jealousy. It caused him to become pale, ill, and listless. When King Dhritarashtra learned about his son’s condition, he consented to a game of dice between the Kauravas and Pandavas. The king gave his consent because of his affection for his son, Duryodhan. Krishna was furious when he learned about this game. However, he did nothing to prevent the disputes that arose on the day of the vile game. He ignored the unjustifiable actions of the Kauravas, but in due time, he caused all the kshatriyas to kill each other in a terrible war.

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