Dronacharya - Acharya Drona

Dronavadha Upaparva has sections 184 to 192. However, the discussion of the demise of Drona continues into Narayanastramoksha Upaparva. 

The versions of Drona Vadha we know come mostly from retellings in books and on the screen. While the core concept is the same, the (missing) details can make a lot of difference and bring a different perspective. Let’s see what happened in each section. We’ll follow the complete transcreation of Prof. Purushottama Lal for the details. 

Section 184 – Arjuna Lets His Soldiers Rest

This section started with Yudhistira listening to Vyasa’s advice. He gave up his plans to attack Karna (for killing Ghatotkacha) that night. However, he ordered Dhrstadyumna to attack Drona and kill him with the help of other heroes. Dhrstadyumna agreed and went to plan his strategy. On the other side, Dhuryodhana planned his next attack on the Pandavas. However, the soldiers were exhausted and barely able to keep their eyes open. After Arjuna killed Jayadratha, the battle resumed through the evening and continued into late night, resulting in Ghatotkacha’s demise. 

Arjuna saw the state of his soldiers and told them to rest until the moon rose. The Kaurava soldiers noticed this and asked Dhuryodhana and Karna for a respite. Dhuryodhana grudgingly gave them some time to rest. The soldiers praised Arjuna for being considerate and slept on the ground without even bothering to remove their armor. Here, Vyasa described the beauty of the moonrise. The soldiers woke up to resume the fight. 

soldiers resting at Kurukshetra- day 14

Section 185 – Conversation Between Drona and Dhuryodhana

Dhuryodhana lashed out at Drona for the nth time. He said the rest had made Pandavas stronger while the Kauvara army was tired. He blamed Drona for having a soft spot for his enemies and urged him to use the celestial missiles. 

Drona was angered by Dhuryodhana’s words and replied that despite his old age, he had been using all his strength to fight for him. He said that the soldiers aren’t aware of celestial missiles and that using such powerful weapons against them would be ignoble. But since Dhuryodhana is insistent, Drona would do whatever he can and continue to fight. (In Bhishma Parva, Arjuna told Yudhistira he could destroy the Kaurava army in a few hours by using the celestial missiles, but he wouldn’t do it since those weapons are not meant to be used against humans.)

Drona continued that defeating Arjuna, who could rout the Gandharvas and powerful demons, is not an easy task. This irked Dhuryodhana retorted that Drona could stand by and watch as he, Duhshasana, Karna, and Shakuni killed Arjuna that day (night). Drona simply smiled and wished him luck. He added that Dhurydhana was a fool for thinking they could kill Arjuna.

He also said, “I know you are eager to fight. Why do you want all these blameless Kshatriyas to be cut down also? You are the root of this enmity. You go and fight Arjuna if you must. Your maternal uncle, Sakuni, who is learned in Ksatriya-dharma, is here. You should order him, who is so expert in cheating at dice, to battle Arjuna. You and Karrna ecstatically and stupidly boasted in front of Dhrtarastra… Show us the truth of your words – All three of you!… You have done all that needed to be done. You have no debts. So why fear? Face Arjuna! Fight Arjuna!”

Drona left the battlefield. Dhuryodhana divided the Kaurava army into two formations to attack the Pandavas. 

Section 186 – Battle Starts on Day 15

The battle resumed when three-fourths of the night had passed. Aruna, the dawn and sun’s charioteer arrived, lightening the sky. Soon, the sun followed behind. The warriors left their weapons and armor to clean up and perform the morning pooja (and japa). Once done, they donned fresh armor and got ready for the day’s battle. Drona, with his army, went first to attack the Pandava, Somaka, and Panchala army divisions. Dhuryodhana and his army followed behind. 

On the Pandava side, Krishna advised Arjuna to keep Drona to his right and others to his left at all times. Bhima went to Arjuna and told him to do the needful and destroy the enemy. Arjuna nodded. As Krishna drove through Drona and Karna’s ranks, Arjuna wreaked havoc on their armies. 

Meanwhile, Drona was on the north side of the battlefield, butchering the Panchala army. He killed Drupada’s three grandsons and moved on to demolish the Cedis, Kekayas, and Srnjayas. Next, he killed both the old kings, Virata and Drupada, in short duels. Dhrstadyumna was devastated and vowed to end Drona’s carnage that day. The Pandava and Panchala armies attack Drona together. However, Duryodhana & his brothers, Karna, and Sakuni form a protective ring around Drona. No matter how hard they tried, the Pandava army couldn’t breach the protection. 

This annoyed Bhima, who snapped at Dhrstadyumna for not giving his best on the battlefield. He reminded the Panchala prince of his vow to kill Drona but hadn’t achieved it yet. Bhima then attacked Drona’s army and created a breach for the Pandava army to enter. 

Section 187 – Battle Progresses

The warriors were tired due to the lack of rest but continued to fight. Temper issues also arose as they were prickly and irritated. Such thick dust arose that it blocked the sunlight. The battleground had three major encounters simultaneously –

  • Duryodhana and his brothers fought the twins Nakula and Sahadeva 
  • Radha’s son Karna fought Vrkodara-Bhima 
  • Arjuna fought Bharadvaja’s son Drona

Section 188 – Drona vs. Arjuna

Dhuryodhana fought Nakula and lost, while Duhshasana fought Sahadeva. When Sahadeva killed the charioteer, Duhshasana steered his horses and continued to fight. However, he was about to lose to Sahadeva, so Karna stepped in. This made Bhima support Sahadeva, resulting in the duo (Karna and Bhima) fighting each other. Karna killed Bhima’s charioteer, so Bhima jumped into Nakula’s chariot. 

Drona rained many powerful missiles at Arjuna – Aindra, Pasupata, Tvastra, Vayavya, and Varuna missiles. Arjuna repulsed and neutralized them with his weapons. Even the gods and siddhis stopped to witness the battle between the two. Neither could outdo the other. 

Arjuna firing celestial missiles

Section 189 – Dhuryodhana vs. Satyaki

Duhsasana clashed with Dhrstadyumna, which the former lost. Seeing this, Krtavarman and three Kaurava brothers arrived to support Duhshasana. Nakula and Sahadeva came to help Dhrstadyumna. With the twins fighting the others, Dhrstadyumna rushed to attack Drona. Dhuryodhana saw this and went to intervene. Satyaki also did the same. Dhuryodhana and Satyaki came face-to-face. 

Here, Dhuryodhana uncharacteristically reminisces about their childhood friendship instead of launching an attack. He spoke about how they played together as children and said that he loved Satyaki more than his life and blamed everything on the war and greed. (One has to wonder about this sudden ‘change of heart’. Or, it could be his attempt at manipulating Satyaki and making him emotionally vulnerable. After all, Satyaki had defeated Dhuryodhana a few times on the previous days.)

However, Satyaki replied that they were on the battlefield, which is neither a sabha nor a playground. He went on to add that if Dhuryodhana loved him, he should go ahead and kill him. The duo fights a tough battle, raining countless arrows at each other. When Satyaki overpowered Dhuryodhana, Karna went to save him. Bhima didn’t like this, so he rushed to fight Karna. As the battle raged, Yudhistira ordered the Panchala and Matsya armies to join the fight. (The armies possibly spotted fighting when their kings were killed as they needed a new general to lead them.)

The armies and Bhima, with the twins, launched a fresh attack on Drona. They asked Arjuna to separate Drona from the Kaurava army to make it easier. However, Drona targeted Dhrstadyumna and went on the offensive. 

Section 190 – Celestial Message for Drona and the Lie

Despite being killed in large numbers, the Panchalas and Srnjayas continued to face Drona. However, they were also worried that none of them would be left alive if Drona continued the way he did. They also said Arjuna wouldn’t kill his guru, so the chances were bleak. Hearing the repeated murmurs, Krishna told Arjuna that they had to discard dharma for a while, as it was the only way to stop Drona. He gave the idea that Drona would stop if Asvatthaman was dead, so someone should go to Drona and lie to him. The others agreed, and so did Yudhistira, even if he was reluctant. Arjuna, however, was not convinced. Nevertheless, Bhima found an elephant named Asvatthaman, belonging to King Indravarman. He then went to Drona and shouted that Asvatthaman was dead. 

Drona was stunned for a second but recovered. He assured himself that Asvatthaman couldn’t be easily killed. Angrily, he resumed his attack on Dhrstadyumna, who retaliated. Dhrstadyumna was so fierce that everyone lost sight of Drona in the arrow shower. Drona decided he had enough and invoked the Brahma missile to eliminate the entire Panchala army at once. He even killed twenty thousand Panchala warriors and Vasudana, along with fifty Matsya heroes, six hundred Srnjayas, ten thousand elephants, and ten thousand cavalry. 

His attack was so brutal that a host of rishis, led by Havyavaha, the god of fire, approached him. Visvamitra, Jamadgni, Bharadvaja, Gautama, Vasistha, Kasyapa, and Atri came to visit him (in celestial form, visible only to Drona). Sika, Prsni, Garga, Valakhilyas, Bhrgu, Angiras, and other subtle-formed maha-rishis also followed.

They ordered Drona to stop and said, “You have fought using adharma. Your end has come. Drop your weapons, Drona, and look at us. You must not do any more cruel karma. Such behavior does not become you. Give up your weapons! Take your stand on what is eternal! Your days in the world of humans are over. With your Brahma-missile you destroyed those who had no defense against Brahma-missiles. That is not good karma lay down your weapons. Do not delay. Enough of ill deeds and bad karma! No more!”

The words confused Drona, and seeing Dhrstadyumna made him wonder if his end had come. He turned to Yudhistira and asked if his son, Asvatthaman, was dead. 

Krishna convinced Yudhistira that speaking a lie to save lives (of the army) was acceptable. Meanwhile, Bhima came to them and said that he had killed an elephant and informed Drona that Asvatthaman was dead, though Drona didn’t believe those words. He urged Yudhistira to speak the words. 

Yudhistira agreed and said, “Asvatthaman is dead!” and he added, inaudibly, “The elephant.” Yudhisthira’s chariot always sped four-fingers above the ground. But the instant he lied, his chariot’s wheels touched the ground and remained ever so. (Shows that no one can cheat the universe.)

Drona was saddened by the news. He remembered the words of the rishis and felt guilty for killing thousands of the Pandava army. 

Yudhistira's chariot

Section 191 – Drona vs. Dhrstadyumna

Seeing his chance, Dhrstadyumna launched a fresh attack on Drona. However, Drona wasn’t yet ready to give up. He tried to summon his celestial missile to retaliate, but the weapons wouldn’t materialize. He also finished all his arrows. For an instant, he thought to follow the rishis’ advice. However, he didn’t. Instead, Drona picked up his Angiras-bow of celestial make and virulent Brahma-danda arrows to fight Dhrstadyumna. He destroyed Dhrstadyumna’s flagstaff and killed the charioteer. Dhrstadyumna wounded Drona in response. Drona sliced off Dhrstadyumna’s bow and all his weapons. He used nine life-threatening arrows to attack the Panchala prince. 

Dhrstadyumna rode closer to Drona’s chariot, planning to invoke the Brahma missile. The horses of both chariots got entwined even as Drona destroyed the chariot and disintegrated the mace Dhrstadyumna hurled at him. Dhrstadyumna jumped onto Drona’s chariot with a sword, hoping to kill him with it. Drona used a spear to kill Dhrstadyumna’s horses and freed his chariot. 

Here, Dhrstadyumna jumped onto the ground and displayed twenty-one types of swordsmanship moves –

  • Bhranta-on the run fencing, 
  • Udbhranta upraised sword, 
  • Aviddha whirling sword, 
  • Apluta all these three together, 
  • Prasrta sword-tip thrust, 
  • Srta trick thrust, 
  • Parivrtta left and right thrusts, 
  • Nivrtta retreat thrust – With shield in one hand
  • Sampata thrust and parry 
  • Samudirm showing off swordplay 
  • Bharata limb-plunge 
  • Kausika unique swordplay 
  • Satvata under shield-cover thrust.

Drona continued to rain arrows on Dhrstadyumna, who used his sword to repulse them. Drona then nocked a powerful arrow to kill Dhrstadyumna. Here, Sanjaya said that ‘Acarya Drona prepared to kill the pupil who was as dear to him as his own son.

In the next Upaparva, we read many mentions of how Dhrstadyumna committed a crime by killing his guru. (Until now, there was no explicit mention of Dhrstadyumna being Drona’s student. We can presume that this development occurred during the truce years between Panchala and Hastinapura when the Pandavas were ruling Indraprastha.

Satyaki saw this and shot an arrow to slice off Drona’s bow. Satyaki wove his chariot in and out between Drona, Kripa, and Karna, giving Dhrstadyumna a chance to get to safety. Seeing him in action, Arjuna (and Krishna) focused on others attacking them. Arjuna continued to enjoy Satyaki’s prowess and asked Krishna to see how easily the warrior was controlling the enemies and keeping them in check. 

Dhrstadhuymna shocasing his swordsmanship skills

Section 192 – Drona’s Demise

Infuriated, Dhuryodhana, Karna, Kripa, and other Kaurava brothers wounded Satyaki with arrows. He continued to fight fearlessly. Yudhistira, Bhima, and the twins go to reinforce him. Yudhistira told a section of his army to advance toward Drona, who was still fighting with Dhrstadyumna. The Srnjayas did as ordered. 

Drona experienced signs of end, like the trembling of his left arm and a twitch in the left eye. Yet, he continued to fight. He wanted to die after a good fight. However, the Pandava army encircled him. He killed twenty thousand warriors and a hundred thousand elephants (we aren’t sure if he did this again or if it’s a repetition of the earlier count). He tried to invoke the Brahma missile again. 

Bhima rushed to Dhrstadyumna, who was still on the ground, and helped him into his chariot. He encouraged Dhrstadyumna to go and fight Drona, reminding him that he was born for this very purpose. The Panchala prince grabbed a sturdy bow and recommenced his attack on Drona’s army and Drona. The two of them fought again, with Dhrstadyumna neutralizing Drona’s arrows. However, Drona wounded him again. 

Bhima was annoyed. He positioned his chariot close to Drona’s and said, “If learned Brahmins, dissatisfied with their duties as Brahmins, stayed away from the fighting, no Ksatriyas would lose their lives. Ahimsa is said to be to highest dharma. Its root is the Brahmin, and you are the ideal Brahmin. Lapped in love for your son, your wife, for wealth, like an ignorant fool, you have killed so many others. You should be ashamed! For the sake of your son, you have chosen adharma. Forgetting your duties, you have slaughtered those who follow their duties. And the person for whose sake you are fighting, for whose sake you are living is sprawled on the field at the back – He is dead – You do not even know where! How can you disbelieve the word of Dharmaraja Yudhisthira?”

Drona heard Bhima and laid aside his weapons. He called out to Dhuryodhana, Kripa, and Karna and said, “I tell you this again and again: Do your very best on the battlefield. May the Pandavas favor you by not harming you. I am laying aside my weapons.” He then loudly said, “My son!” and sat in his chariot in a yogic position. 

Dhrstadyumna set aside his bow and grabbed a sword. He rushed towards Drona, who was now in deep meditation. A light rose from Drona’s body and traveled toward Heaven. There, it merged with the celestial light and disappeared. The sky suddenly seemed to have two suns and was dazzling with bright intensity. In a blink, everything was normal again. Celestial cries could be heard from above, praising Drona. Dhrstadyumna was stunned for a while, not knowing what to do.

Here, Sanjaya said that only five people witnessed this event – himself (Sanjaya), Krishna, Arjuna, Yudhistira, and Kripa. No one else knew that Drona’s light had already left the body. They saw Dhrstadyumna recover. He went and held Drona’s head by his hair, aiming for the kill. Drona did not move. 

Arjuna shouted, asking Dhrstadyumna to not kill the guru. However, Dhrstadyumna didn’t pay heed. He severed Drona’s head from the body and flung it toward Dhuryodhana’s chariot.

Drona vadha- Drona's death

Bhima hugged Dhrstadyumna and told him he would embrace the Panchala prince again after the death of Karna and the Kaurava brothers. He roared a war cry, which terrified the enemy’s soldiers. 

The Pandava army attacked and scattered Drona’s army. The Kaurava army was terrified and shocked. Unable to react quickly, they fled from the field. Even Dhuryodhana, Karna, and others fled from the field immediately.

Check out more stories from Mahabharata here, here, and here.


Picture Credit: All images have been made on Microsoft Bing.

Saunaka Kulapati

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Previous Post: Rishi Vaishampayana Sets the Stage With a Brief Story of the Pandavas

Note: In the previous post, we read a brief summary of the Pandavas’ life.

In this post, Rishi Vaishampayana informs us about the benefits of reading the Mahabharata.

Janamejaya said, “O great brahmin, after hearing your summary of the Pandavas, my thirst to hear the entire story has increased even more. Why did those great Pandavas suffer so much? Why did such strong warriors allow themselves to be persecuted by the Kurus? And why did they kill their own kin and gurus? They could not have slain Bhishmaa and Drona without a compelling reason. What was that reason? Tell me everything, O Brahmana.”

Vaishampayana replied. “O king, this history told by Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, of immeasurable mental power, is very long. It consists of 100,000 shlokas. Appoint an appropriate time for its narration and I will tell you everything. But, let me first tell you what this great history contains and the benefits of hearing it.”

The person who recites the Mahabharata to others and those who listen to it attain the world of Brahma Deva. This history is holy and excellent. It is equal to the Vedas. The great Rishis also worship this history. It is considered to be a Purana.

It contains useful teachings on artha and kama and it creates the desire for moksha in one’s heart.

The learned earn wealth by reciting it to those who are liberal, truthful, and have faith. 

Great past sins can be negated by listening to this history. Just like the Sun is liberated from Rahu (after an eclipse), those who are cruel and sinful can be liberated from their sins by listening to this story. This history is itself like a mighty sacrifice that produces blessed fruits. Listening to it is a great act of propitiation.

This story is also called Jaya. It should be heard by those who want to be victorious. By hearing it, a king can conquer his foes and reign over the world. A young king should listen to this history with his queen because it will help them give birth to a heroic son or daughter who can reign on the throne after them.

Rishi Vyasa himself said that this history contains the sacred science of dharma, artha, and moksha. He composed it to do good to the world and bring fame to the high-souled Pandavas and other high-souled kshatriyas who were well-versed in all branches of knowledge. Just as this story is being recited in the present times, it will be recited in the future also.

There are some who read this history with the intention to find fault in it. Such people do not benefit from this story. However, those who read it in the right spirit will gain tremendous benefit. They will have no fear of problems or death. They will also be free of sins committed through their body, mind, or words.

This excellent, sacred, and heavenly work gives fame and long life. A person who desires religious (spiritual) merit should organise an event where brahmins can  listen to this history. Such a person gains inexhaustible merit and virtue. The person who recites this story of the various generations of the Kurus becomes purified and acquires a large family.

This history – the Bharata – is equivalent to the Vedas, and the person who has studied it may be regarded as one acquainted with the Vedas. The brahmin who regularly studies this history in the four months of the rainy season has all his sins cleansed. 

This history presents an account of the Devas, the royal sages, the sacred rishis, the sinless Kesava (Sri Krishna who was the God of the Devas), Mahadeva and Goddess Parvati. It informs us about the birth of Kartikeya who was born from the union of Mahadev and Parvati and was then raised by many mothers. It describes the greatness of brahmins and cows. 

This story is a collection of all the Srutis and is fit to be heard by every virtuous person.

The learned person who recites this story to the brahmins during the sacred lunations is cleansed of all sins, and even if such a person does not care for heaven, he reaches Brahma Deva’s world. The person who causes even a small part of this history to be heard by brahmins during a shraddha ceremony makes the shraddha inexhaustible. His pitris become ever gratified by the articles presented to them.

People commit sins every day through their senses or their mind. Some sins are committed knowingly while others are committed unknowingly. All these sins are destroyed by sincerely hearing the Mahabharata.

This history of the exalted birth of the Bharata princes is called the Mahabharata. He who understands the etymology of this name is cleansed of all sins. This history of the Bharata princes is so wonderful that it purifies the person who recites it and the person who hears it. They who have the desire to acquire virtue should hear the entire story.

Rishi Vyasa composed this history in three years. Every day, he would rise, purify himself, perform his ascetic devotions, and work on composing the Mahabharata. That’s why, brahmins should hear this history with the formality of a vow. 

It is said that the joy one gets from hearing this history is greater than the joy of heaven. This story, which is the equivalent of all histories put together, gives the listener purity of heart.

It is said that the Mahabharata has as many gems as the great ocean or Mount Meru. The virtuous person who hears this story or helps others hear it gains the fruit of the Rajasuya Yagna and the horse sacrifice.

This history is sacred and excellent and is equivalent to the Vedas. It is pleasing to the ear, it increases pleasure, cleanses the sins, and is worthy of hearing. 

O king, the person who gives a copy of the Bharata to someone who asks for it performs an action that is equivalent to gifting the entire earth with all her oceans.

O son of Parikshit, now I will recite this beautiful history composed by Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa. O king, whatever is contained in the Mahabharata with respect to virtue, wealth, pleasure, and liberation may be found elsewhere, but what is not contained in the Mahabharata will not be found anywhere. Such is the immensity of this history that grants virtue to those who hear it, so listen to it carefully.

Note: In the next post, we will find out how Satyavati, the matriach of the Kurus, was born from a King and an Apsara.

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Next Post: Satyavati’s Birth

Gnana Saraswati temple on the banks of the Godavari river in Basar, Telangana. Many parents bring their children here for their learning ceremony called Akshara Abhyasam.

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Previous Post: Names of the Snakes Who Perished in the Sacrifice

Note: This post marks the beginning of the Adivansavatarana sub-parva of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata.

After hearing the complete account of Astika’s birth and how he saved the serpents in the snake sacrifice, Saunaka Kulapati said to Sauti, “O son, you have pleased me by narrating this wonderful and extensive history beginning with Bhrigu’s child. O son, I am very keen to listen to the history composed by Vyasa and the wonderful stories narrated by the sadasyas present at Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. I have been told the sacrifice lasted for a long time and many stories were narrated in the intervals during the yagna. O son, tell me all those stories.”

Sauti replied, “O noble-souled one, the brahmanas discussed many topics based on the Vedas and Rishi Vyasa recited the great history called Bharat.”

Saunaka said, “I wish to hear the great history that describes the glories of the Pandavas. That history was born from the ocean-like mind of that noble rishi, Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, whose soul has been purified by yoga. O son of Suta, narrate that history called the Mahabharata to me. I am very eager to hear it.”

Note: Sauti began his narration with Rishi Vyasa’s birth. The following words were spoken by Sauti to the ascetics of Naimisha forest.

Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa was born on an island in the Yamuna river. His mother was the virgin, Kali, and his father was Sakti’s son, Parasara. As soon as he was born, Vyasa used his will-power to develop his mental and physical faculties. He then went on to master the Vedas and their branches and all the histories. 

Many people practice asceticism, study the Vedas, adhere to vows and fasts, give birth to progeny, perform sacrifices, and yet, certain spiritual blessings stay out of reach for them. However, Rishi Vyasa easily obtained the thing that was out of reach for these people. 

This brahmana rishi, Krishna-Dwaipayana, cherished the truth. He was holy. With knowledge of the supreme Brahma, he could intuit the past. 

With this wisdom and knowledge, Vyasa divided the Vedas into four parts. 

Note: Each of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva) are divided into four layers. Here, the Mahabharata is pointing to the four layers. These layers are the Samhitas, Aranyakas, Brahmanas, and Upanishads. 

The Samhitas are the most ancient layer of the Vedas. They contain mantras, stotras, and blessings. The Aranyakas contain details about rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices. The Brahmanas contain commentaries about the rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices. The Upanishads focus on spiritual knowledge, meditation, and philosophy.

Rishi Vyasa, the sage of sacred deeds and enormous fame, later fathered three sons: Pandu, Dhritarashtra, and Vidur in order to continue Raja Shantanu’s line.

When Rishi Vyasa found out that Raja Janamejaya was installed as the chief priest in his snake sacrifice, he and his disciples went to the sacrificial pavilion. There they saw the royal sage Raja Janamejaya surrounded by sadasyas, ritwiks, and kings from various countries. This scene reminded them of the splendour of Devaraja Indra as he sat in heaven surrounded by devas and learned sages.

When Janamejaya saw Rishi Vyasa arrive at the sacrifice, he arose with great speed and joy, along with his relatives and followers, to welcome the great rishi. After paying him due respect, Janamejaya sought approval from the sadasyas to give Rishi Vyasa a golden seat.  The sadasyas readily agreed to this noble gesture which was similar to the gesture Indra had once made to Brihaspati. 

Once Vyasa was seated on his golden seat, all the kings worshipped him according to the rites laid down in the scriptures. Then Janamejaya offered Sage Vyasa water to wash his feet and mouth. He also gave arghya` and cattle to the sage. Vyasa was pleased by everyone’s conduct. He accepted the gifts and commanded that the cattle should not be slain.

Note: Wikipedia describes ‘Arghya’ as an offering of water, Durva, flowers, and raw grain. In ancient times, arghya was given to a guest as a sign of respect and welcome.

After adoring the sage, Janamejaya bowed to his ancestor (Vyasa Muni was his great-great-grandfather) and inquired about his health. Rishi Vyasa also inquired about the king’s welfare. After that, Rishi Vyasa worshipped the sadasyas just as they had worshipped him some time back.

Janamejaya, along with all the sadasyas, folded their palms and said to Vyasa Muni, “O brahmana, you have witnessed the events that happened in the lives of the Kurus and the Pandavas. We are eager to hear that history from you. What caused the disagreement between them? These were great souls, yet why did they engage in a battle of such a great proportion? Were their minds clouded by fate? O great brahmana, tell us everything that happened in connection with these events.”

Rishi Vyasa looked at his disciple seated next to him and said, “O Vaishampayana, you have heard me narrate the story of Bharata. I would like you to narrate the entire story to the sadasyas and the chiefs assembled here.”

Vaishampayana replied respectfully, “I begin by bowing to my guru (Rishi Vyasa) with reverence and devotion and with the eight parts of my body touching the ground. I also worship with all my heart, the entire assembly of brahmanas and learned people assembled here.” 

Vaishampayana then looked at Janamejaya and said, “O king, you are fit (in mind and soul) to hear this great history. I shall recite the history called Bharata as I have heard it from my high-souled guru. O king, I will tell you why disagreements arose between the Kurus and the Pandavas. I will speak about why the Pandavas were exiled after the game of dice by the Kauravas who desired to rule the entire kingdom. I shall tell you everything, O noble king of the Bharata race.”

Note: In the next post, Rishi Vauishampayana sets the foundation for reciting the story of the Kurus.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Rishi Vaishampayana Sets the Stage With a Brief Story of the Pandavas

The battle between devas and asuras depicted in the temple at Angkor Wat

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Rahu Tries to Drink the Amrit by Deceit

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Narayana prevented Rahu from drinking the amrit. In this post, we will learn about the battle that ensued between the devas and asuras after the Churning of the Ocean and how the devas won the battle.

Those of you who enjoy suspense stories might have noticed a literary quality of the Mahabharata — which is, we always know what’s going to happen, however, the anticipation is in finding out how it happened and how it aligns with the thread of subtle dharma.

Soon after that, Narayana left his enchanting female form and returned to his normal form and hurled weapons at the asuras, which made them tremble. Thus, a frightening battle between the devas and the asuras began on the shores of the salt-water ocean, filling every direction with various kinds of weapons like javelins and lances.

The asuras were wounded and mangled with swords, darts, maces, and the discus. Some had their head cut off with double-edged swords, while some lay there vomiting blood, while others lay prostrate on the ground. The battleground became filled with the heads of the asuras with their golden adornments making that place look as if it was scattered with red-dyed mountain peaks.

The next day, when the Sun rose in its splendor, the battle restarted and the devas fought the asuras with bare hands, maces, and iron missiles. Cries and alarming sounds of ‘cut’, ‘pierce’, ‘hurl down’, etc were heard from everywhere.

Nara and Narayana entered the battlefield when the battle was already raging fiercely. Nara had in his hands, the celestial bow. Seeing him, Narayana invoked his own weapon – the Sudarshan Chakra (discus) which came to him from from the skies as soon as Narayana had thought about it  Thousands of asuras were devoured by Narayana’s discus – that dreadful weapon capable of destroying hostile cities.

However, even though they were assaulted with such force, the asuras were brave and strong. They withstood the attack and used their powers to rise into the sky, and from there, they threw mountains upon the devas.

Nara took his celestial bow and released gold-tipped arrows onto those mountains splitting and reducing them to dust before they could fall on the earth.

The onslaught of Nara’s arrows, Narayana’s discus, and the devas’ weapons overwhelmed the asuras. Many of them dived deep into the earth while others plunged into the depths of the ocean.

Thus, after a fierce battle, the devas finally obtained victory over the asuras. They offered proper respect to Mount Mandara and placed him once again on his base. With the nectar in their hands, the devas returned to the heavens making it resound with their shouts of victory. The devas rejoiced upon entering heaven and Indra, as well as the other deities, gave the pot of nectar to Narayana for safe-keeping.

Note: In the last few posts, we have discussed the Churning of the Ocean (Samudra Manthan) and the events after it. I want to take this opportunity to remind you that we got into this discussion because, a few posts back, Sauti had started narrating the story of Sage Kasyapa’s wives: Kadru and Vinata, and their children (a thousand snakes of Kadru and two sons of Vinata). Sauti mentioned that Kadru and Vinata saw the celestial horse (Uchchaihsravas) soon after Garuda’s birth. When the ascetics of Naimisha forest heard about Uchchaihsravas, they wanted to know how that celestial horse came into being. That’s why Sauti took a diversion into the story of Samudra Manthan because Uchchaihsravas was one of the beings that emerged when the ocean was churned.

Now that we know how Uchchaihsravas came into being, we will go back to the story of Kadru and Vinata in the next post. You might remember that Vinata had been cursed by her first son because she broke open the egg before his body was fully formed. He cursed that she would become a slave and that her second son would bring her freedom. In the next post, we will read about a bet that Kadru had with Vinata.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: The Bet Between Vinata and Kadru

Image of one of the oldest statues of Garuda on a 1st-century BCE portable pillar in Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Jaratkaru’s Son Astika the Saviour of Serpents

Note: In the previous post, Ugrasrava Sauti narrated a short description of Sage Astika’s birth and how he helped his parents through his wise actions. 

In this post, the ascetics of Naimisha forest express their desire to hear the story in detail including why the Nagas were cursed.

The great sage of Naimisha forest, Saunaka Kulapati, said to Sauti, “O Sauti, narrate once more, in detail, the history of the learned and virtuous Astika. We are very curious to know more about it.”

Saunaka Kulapati continued, “O Sauti, you speak very sweetly with correct pronunciations and emphasis. We are very pleased with your speech. You speak just like your father. Do narrate this story just like your father had narrated it.”

Sauti addressed Saunaka Kulapati, “O sage, you who are blessed with the longevity of age, I shall narrate the story of Astika exactly as I heard it from my father.”

Note: Sauti begins the story from a period much before Astika’s birth. He does so to explain why the Nagas were cursed. The following words were spoken by Sauti to the ascetics in Naimisha forest.

O brahmana, in the Satya Yuga, Prajapati had two beautiful daughters called Kadru and Vinata. They both became the wives of Sage Kasyapa. The sage received much pleasure and gratification from his wives. One day, he offered each of them a boon.

The two sisters were overjoyed when they heard Kasyapa’s words. Kadru wished to have as sons a thousand splendid snakes and Vinata asked for two sons who would be greater than Kadru’s thousand in terms of strength, energy, body size, and prowess. Sage Kasyapa granted both of them what they had asked for and left for the forest. Before leaving, he asked them to take proper care of the embryos until their children were born.

After a long time, Kadru produced a thousand eggs and Vinata released two. Their maids placed the eggs carefully in warm vessels. After five hundred years, Kadru’s thousand eggs burst open resulting in the birth of her thousand snake children. 

However, Vinata became jealous of Kadru because her eggs had not yet hatched. In her impatience, she broke open one of the eggs and saw in it an embryo whose upper part was developed properly but the lower part was not yet fully developed. The unformed child became angry with its mother and cursed Vinata, in the following words, “Because you have broken this egg prematurely, you will serve as a slave. However, if you take good care of the other egg and not break it prematurely, the illustrious child who is born from it will deliver you from slavery.”

After cursing his mother, this child rose to the sky. He eventually became the charioteer of Surya – the Sun God.

This time, Vinata did not repeat her mistake. After another five hundred years, her second egg burst open, and Garuda, the serpent-eater, was born. As soon as Garuda – this lord of the birds – was born, he began to feel hungry. He left his mother, Vinata, and flew in search of the food the Divine Lord had assigned to him.

Note: I would like to point out a pattern of narration in the Mahabharata. We are first given a summary of a story and then the details. This pattern takes the form of stories within stories. This can often be confusing, so I’d like to remind you of where this particular narration started. 

Till now, we have been told that the Nagas were cursed to perish in Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. We were also told that the Naga chief, Vasuki, had been advised to marry his sister (Jaratkaru) to a sage called Jaratkaru because their son would neutralize the curse on the Nagas.

However, Sage Jaratkaru had adopted the brahmachari way of life and was not interested in getting married. One day, while he was traveling, he came across his ancestors who were agonized by the fact that their lineage would end if Jaratkaru did not marry. The sage agreed to marry only if he found a woman called Jaratkaru and she was happily bestowed by her family as his wife. When the sage went to a forest and prayed for a wife, his prayers were heard by Vasuki who bestowed his sister in marriage to the sage. Their union gave birth to Astika – the sage who would eventually save the serpents at Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice.

At this point, we still don’t know why the nagas were cursed, what conditions led Janamejaya to perform the snake sacrifice, and how Astika saved the serpents. These stories will unravel in future posts.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Samudra Manthan Begins

Note: In the previous post, we read about why Uttanka was angry with the serpent king, Takshaka, and how his anger caused him to go to Hastinapura to meet king Janamejaya to seek revenge on Takshaka.

With this post, we begin the Pauloma (sub) Parva of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata.

Ugrasrava Sauti, the son of Lomaharshana, knowledgeable in the Puranas, stood before the ascetics (who were attending Saunaka Kulapati’s 12-year sacrifice) in the Naimisha forest. Having studied the Puranas with great care and devotion, he was well acquainted with them. Sauti folded his hands in front of the ascetics and said to them, “I have described the story of Uttanka who was one of the causes of King Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. Respected sirs, what do you wish to hear now?”

The ascetics replied, “O son of Lomaharshana, we are sure you will narrate whichever story we wish to hear, but our respected teacher, Saunaka Kulapati, is not here at the moment. He is in the chamber of the holy fire. He is well acquainted with the divine stories of gods and asuras. He knows the background of humans, serpents, and gandharvas. O Sauti, he is the chief of this sacrifice. He is a capable brahmana, faithful to his vows, a lover of peace, and performs strict practices to subdue the urges of the body. He observes all the penances according to the scriptures. All of us respect him, therefore, we should wait for him to arrive and tell us which story he would like to hear.”

Sauti said, “So be it. I shall wait for the high-souled brahmin (Saunaka Kulapati) to arrive and narrate the story he asks for.”

Meanwhile, the excellent brahmin, Saunaka Kulapati, performed his duties in the fire chamber of his house. He pleased the gods with prayers and pleased his ancestors with offerings of water. After completing his rituals in the fire chamber, he returned to the place of the sacrifice where the ascetics were seated with Sauti.

The great brahmin then spoke to Sauti, “Child, in the past, your father read all the Puranas and the (Maha) Bharata with Vyasa. Have you also studied them? Those ancient records (Mahabharata and Puranas) contain the stories of the first generation of wise men. We have heard those stories from your father but would like to hear them again. The first story I want to hear is about Sage Bhrigu’s race.”

Upon hearing Saunak Kulapati’s words, Sauti said respectfully, “I have studied everything that the high-souled brahmins, including Vaishampayana, had studied. I have also learned everything my father studied.”

Sauti continued his reply to Saunaka Kulapati, “O great rishi, you are a descendant of the great race of Bhrigu which is respected by Indra and all the gods. It is respected by the rishis and Maruts. O great one, I will now tell you the story of the race of Bhrigu as it is described in the Puranas.”

Note: You might be surprised that Saunaka Kulapati did not ask Sauti to tell them the story of Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice, however, there is a reason for the delay. Uttanka was one of the causes of the sacrifice. However, there were other causes too. There was also a balancing factor to ensure that all the snakes do not get exterminated in the sacrifice. We will learn about all of these in the posts that follow.

Table of Contents

Previous: Uttanka Goes to Hastinapura to Meet Janamejaya

Next: A Brief Description of Sage Bhrigu’s Family

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Indra helped Uttanka reach his teacher’s house on time and gift the queen’s earrings to Veda’s wife. Pleased with Uttanka, his teacher, Veda, gave him permission to leave and lead his life independently.

In this post, we will read about Uttanka’s continued anger toward Takshaka which led him to go to Hastinapura to seek revenge.

Uttanka left his teacher’s house after obtaining his leave. Even though Uttanka was able to give the guru-dakshina on time, he was very angry with the serpent king, Takshaka. He wanted to take revenge on the serpent. With this in mind, he proceeded toward Hastinapura to meet king Janamejaya.

Note: You may remember from a previous post that Janamejaya and his brothers were cursed by the celestial she-dog, Sarama, for harassing her son. Disturbed by the curse, the king appointed an accomplished sage called Somasrava (who could neutralize the curse) as his purohit. Soon after appointing Somasrava, Janamaejaya marched towards Takshashila to bring that region under his control.

When Uttanka reached Hastinapur, Janamejaya had won the battle in Takshashila and was on his way back to Hastinapura.

After reaching Hastinapurs, Uttanka waited for Janamejaya to return from the battle. When he saw the victorious king enter Haspinapura, surrounded by ministers on all sides, he pronounced blessings on the king in a proper manner (as would befit an emperor). After that, at an opportune moment, Uttanka spoke to the king in a melodious way with the correct accent, saying, “O best of monarchs, how is it that you spend your time like a child when another matter urgently requires your attention?”

Janamejaya also greeted the excellent brahmin respectfully and replied, “In caring for my subjects, I perform the duties of my noble tribe. What is this matter that requires my urgent attention and has brought you here?”

When the excellent king, Janamejaya, of generous heart addressed the great brahmin known for his good deeds, he replied to the monarch, “O king, the matter that demands your attention is closely related to you. Therefore please do it. The serpent king, Takshaka, was responsible for your father’s death. He bit your father and reduced him to the five elements like a tree stricken by thunder. The wicked Takshaka committed this unnecessary act because he was intoxicated with power. Not only did he bite your father, but he also caused Kasyapa, the great physician, to run back when he was coming to Hastinapura to help your father recover from the deadly bite. The time, ordained by the fates, has come for you to avenge your father’s death at the hands of that vile serpent. It is therefore your duty to burn the wicked serpent in the blazing fire of a snake sacrifice. O king, give immediate orders for the sacrifice. That way, you will avenge the death of your father and you will also do me a great favor because that wicked serpent had once obstructed me when I was doing important work for my teacher.”

Janamejaya became sorrowful about his father’s death when he heard Uttanka’s words. Furious with Takshaka, Janamejaya asked his ministers to explain to him all the details of his father’s demise. The details, narrated by Uttanka himself, caused Janamejaya to become overcome with pain and sorrow.

Note: With this post, we end the Paushya (sub) Parva of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata. The next post begins with the Pauloma (sub) Parva of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata.

You might recall that all the stories we have read till now were narrated by Ugrasrava Sauti (a bard) to a group of ascetics in the Naimisha forest. These ascetics had gathered to attend Saunak Kulapati’s 12-year yagna. In the next post, Sauti again asks the ascetics which story they want to hear. We’ll find out if they want to hear about Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice immediately or later.

Table of Contents

Previous: Uttanka Gifts the Earrings to his Teacher’s Wife in the Nick of Time

Next: Ugrasrava Sauti Asks the Ascetics of Naimisha Forest Which Story They Want to Hear Next

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Note: The last 18 posts have summarized the contents of the 18 parvas of the Mahabharata. Vyasa Muni has narrated 2 more parvas in the appendix (khita). They are known as Harivansha (containing 12000 shlokas) and Vavishya. However, a summary of these parvas has not been provided. 

Just to reiterate, eighteen akshauhinis of troops gathered for a terrible battle on the field of Kurukshetra. The intense battle lasted for eighteen days. 

It’s interesting how the number 18 keeps coming up in the Mahabharata. 18 parvas, 18 akshauhinis, and 18 days of battle. I don’t know (as yet) if there is any significance to this number. I’ll update the post if I am able to find out.

Vyasa Muni of immense intelligence has said that the Mahabharata is a treatise on artha, dharma, and kama. A person who knows the four Vedas with all the Angas and Upanishads, but does not know this history (Mahabharata), cannot be regarded as wise. 

Just as a person who has listened to the sweet sounds of a male kokila bird cannot bear to listen to the sounds of a crow’s cawing, a person who has listened to the Mahabharata cannot bear to listen to other (lesser) histories.

Just like the formation of the three worlds proceeds from the five elements (earth, water, fire air, and space), the inspiration of all poets originates in this excellent epic.

Just like the four kinds of creatures (viviparous, oviparous, born of hot moisture, and vegetables) depend on space for existence, the Puranas depend upon this epic for their existence.

Just like all the senses depend on the modifications of the mind for their exercise, all ceremonial acts and moral qualities depend upon this epic. 

Just like the body depends upon the food it has eaten, all stories of this world depend upon this epic.

Servants who desire to rise in the eyes of their employers always attend upon masters of good lineage. Similarly, all poets cherish the Mahabharata (because it is considered to be a work of nobility and good lineage).  

Just like the blessed grihasta (domestic) asrama cannot be surpassed by the three other asramas (modes of life), no poet can surpass this poem.

Note: Sauti stresses the following words as he addresses the ascetics of the Naimisha forest. They describe the benefits one can acquire by reading the Mahabharata. 

O ascetics, remove inaction from your being, and fix your hearts on virtue because virtue is the only friend you can take with you to the other world (after death). People often desire wealth and wives, but these are not permanent. People who cherish such things, however intelligent they may be, can never make these their own. They can never take their wealth and wives with them to the next world. However, the Mahabharata narrated by Ved Vyasa is unparalleled. It is sacred and virtue itself.

This epic destroys sin and produces good. It is said that the person who listens to this epic does not need to take a bath in the sacred waters of the Pushkara.

Whatever sins a brahmana may have committed during the day are released if he (truly) reads this composition in the evening. Similarly, wherever sins he may have committed during the night are released if he reads this composition at the break of dawn.

People desirous of merit often gift cattle to wise and intelligent brahmanas. However, one can acquire the same merit by reading or listening to the sacred narrations of the Mahabharata.

Note: After describing the benefits of the Mahabharata, Sauti describes the benefits of reading the summaries of the 18 parvas.

Just like the massive ocean can be crossed by those who have ships, this massive history can be read with the assistance of the summaries and this sub-parva known as the Parva Sangraha.”

With this, we end the section called the Parva Sangraha. 

Note: If you look at the table of contents, you will notice that the Parva Sangraha began with the post that described the strength of one akshauhini and ends with this post. 

In the next post, we will begin the sub-parva of the Adi Parva called the Paushya Parva.

Table of Contents

Previous: A Summary of the Svargarohana Parva

Next: The Curse of Sarama — The Celestial She-Dog

Note: In the previous post, Sauti explained the meaning of an akshauhini to the rishis. After that, he named the eighteen parvas of the Mahabharata along with the main stories and incidents described in them.

The following words are spoken by Sauti to Saunaka Kulapati (the rishi whose yagna all the other rishis had assembled to attend in Naimisha forest).

O Saunaka, this best of narrations called (Maha)Bharata that I am telling you about right now, was formerly repeated by an intelligent disciple of Vyasa at a sacrifice ordained by King Janamejaya. 

Every story in this world depends upon the Mahabharata just like the human body depends on the feet. This epic poetry, which speaks of the highest wisdom, is greatly cherished by all the poets. The wonderful sections of this poem are full of subtle meaning and contain the wisdom of the Vedas. This history, called the (Maha)Bharata provides us with the knowledge of the Brahman.

Now, I will tell you about the various sections that constitute this narrative.

Note: The following sub-parvas are from the Adi Parva, which is the 1st parva of The Mahabharata.

The first few parvas of the Adi Parva are:

  • Anukramanika Parva.
  • Sangraha Parva.
  • Paushya Parva.
  • Pauloma Parva.
  • Astika Parva.

Among these, the Paushya, Pauloma, and Astika parvas, describe the valor and fame of various kings. These parvas are filled with wonderful words and descriptions. They contain information about various rites and mannerisms. 

Note: Next, Sauti mentions other sub-parvas, of the Adi Parva.

  • Adivansavatarana Parva.
  • Sambhava Parva (containing wonderful and thrilling incidents).
  • Jatugrihadaha Parve (in which the house of lac is set on fire). 
  • Hidimbabadha Parva (the killing of Hidimba).
  • Baka-badha Parva (slaying of Bakasura).
  • Chitraratha Parva.
  • Swayamvara (Draupadi’s swayamvara).
  • Vaivahika Parva (Draupadi’s marriage).
  • Viduragamana Parva (advent of Vidura).
  • Rajyalabha Parva (where the Pandavas acquire the Khandavaprastha region for their kingdom).
  • Arjuna-banavasa Parva (exile of Arjuna).
  • Subhadra-harana Parva (the carrying away of Subhadra by Arjuna).
  • Harana-harika Parva.
  • Khandava-daha Parva (the burning of the Khandava forest). 
  • Maya-darsana (meeting with Maya the asura architect). 

The Mahabharata is a grand ithihasa with many heroic characters. Meet the Heroes from the Mahabharata in this illustrated hardcover by Amar Chitra Katha. You can also grab the Kindle edition below.

Note: The following sub-parvas belong to the Sabha Parva (which is the 2nd parva of The Mahabharata).

  • Sabhakriya Parva.
  • Mantra Parva.
  • Jarasandha Parva.
  • Digvijaya Parva.
  • Raja-suyaka Parva.
  • Arghyaviharana Parva.
  • Sisupala-badha Parva (the slaying of Sisupala).
  • Dyuta Parva (the game of dive).
  • Anudyuta (what happened after the game of dice).

Note: The following sub-parvas belong to the Vana Parva (which is the 3rd parva of The Mahabharata).

  • Aranyaka Parva.
  • Krimira-badha Parva (destruction of Krimira).
  • Arjuna-vigamana Parva (the travels of Arjuna).
  • Kairati Parva (describes the battle between Arjuna and Mahadeva who appeared in the guise of a hunter).
  • Indra-lokavigamana (Arjuna’s  journey to the regions of Indra).
  • Nalopakhyana (the story of Nala). 
  • Tirtha-yatra Parva (the pilgrimage of the wise prince of the Kurus).
  • Yaksha-yudha Parva (the death of Jatasura, and the battle of the Yakshas). 
  • Nivata-kavacha-yudha Parva.
  • Ajagara Parva.
  • Markandeya-Samasya Parva (meeting with Markandeya). 
  • Draupadi Satyabhama Samvada Parva (Meeting of Draupadi and Satyabhama).
  • Ghoshayatra Parva.
  • Mirga-Swapna (dream of the deer).
  • Then the story of Brihadaranyaka and then Aindradrumna. 
  • Draupadi-harana Parva (the abduction of Draupadi).
  • Jayadratha-bimoksana Parva (the release of Jayadratha).
  • Then the story of Savitri that illustrates the great merit of chastity.
  • The story of Rama.
  • Kundala-harana Parva (the theft of the ear-rings).
  • Aranya Parva.

Hunaman from Ramayana makes an appearance in the Mahabharata too! He meets Bhima when the latter is on a search for the Saugandhika flower Draupadi wants. Hanuman is Bhima’s older brother as they share the same father, Vayu Deva. Why not read about their interaction in this illustrated book by Amar Chitra Katha?

Note: The Vairata parva which is the 4th parva of the Mahabharata describes the stay of the Pandavas, in disguise, for a year in King Virata’s palace. It contains the following stories.

  • The entry of the Pandavas and the fulfillment of their promise to live in disguise for a year without being recognized by anyone. 
  • The destruction of the Kichakas
  • The Kauravas’ attempt to take King Virata’s cows.
  • The marriage of Abhimanyu with the daughter of King Virata. 

Note: Next comes the Udyoga Parva, which is the 5th parva in the Mahabharata. It consists of the following stories.

  • Sanjaya-yana Parva (the arrival of Sanjaya).
  • The sleeplessness of Dhritarashtra due owing to his anxiety.
  • Sanatsujata Parva, which contains the mysteries of spiritual philosophy. 
  • Yanasaddhi Parva.
  • The arrival of Krishna and the Bhagawat-yana Parva follows. This contains the stories of Matali, Galava, Savitri, Vamadeva, and Vainya, Jamadagnya and Shodasarajika.
  • Bidulaputrasasana.
  • Both sides muster their troops. 
  • The story of Sheta. 
  • The quarrel of the high-souled Karna. 
  • Troops of both sides march to the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
  • Among the various soldiers, the Rathis and Atirathas are numbered.
  • Duryodhana sends Uluka with a message to the Pandava camp, which angers the latter.
  • The story of Amba. 
  • Bhishma is named the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army.

Note: The 6th parva of the Mahabharata is the Bhishma Parva. It consists of the following stories.

  • The creation of the region of Jambu, Bhumi, and the account of the formation of islands. 
  • The ‘Bhagavat Gita.
  • The death of Bhishma. 

It is in Bhishma Parva that Krishna shared the Bhagavad Gita with Arjuna and encouraged him to fight the Kurukshetra War. Grab this English translation of the Bhagavad Gita by Bibek Debroy to explore the complexities of Krishna’s wisdom.

Note: The 7th parva is the Drona Parva. Following are the stories included in this parva.

  • The installation of Drona.
  • The destruction of the Sansaptakas.
  • The death of Abhimanyu.
  • The vow of Arjuna to slay Jayadratha.
  • The death of Jayadratha.
  • The death of Ghatotkacha.
  • The death of Drona.
  • The discharge of the Narayana astra.

Note: The 8th parva of the Mahabharata is the Karna Parva. Kisari Mohan Ganguli’s translation simply names this parva without going into any details.

Note: The 9th parva of the Mahabharata is the Salya Parva. It contains the following stories.

  • Duryodhan immerses himself in a lake.
  • The encounter between Bhima and Duryodhana.
  • Saraswata Parva.
  • Descriptions of holy shrines.
  • Description of various genealogies.

Note: The Sauptika parva (which is the 10th parva) contains disgraceful incidents performed by the Kauravas after the war was over. This refers to the remaining Pandava soldiers being killed when they were sleeping and the wounding of the embryo in Uttara’s womb by Ashwathaman.

Note: The 11th parva is the Stri Parva. It contains the following incidents.

  • Jalapradana: the oblations of water to the manes of the deceased.
  • The wailings of the women because of the destruction and grief caused by the war.
  • Sraddha: describing the funeral rites performed for the slain Kauravas. 

Note: The 12th parva is the Shanti Parva. It contains the following incidents.

  • The destruction of the Rakshasa Charvaka who tried to deceive Yudhishthira in the guise of a brahmana. 
  • The coronation of the wise Yudhishthira. 
  • Grihapravibhaga Parva.
  • Rajadharmanusasana Parva.
  • Apaddharma Parva.
  • Mokshadharma Parva.
  • After these come the discussions known as Suka-prasna-abhigamana, Brahma-prasnanusana.
  • An explanation of the origin of Sage Durvasa.
  • The dispute with Maya asura. 

Our Puranas are filled with many marvelous stories about our devas, danavas, and other great personalities. Read 100 retold tales from the Puranas – Mahagatha: 100 Tales from the Puranas by Satyarth Nayak.

The next parva (the 13th parva) is the Anusasanika. It contains the incident of the ascension of Bhishma to heaven, followed by several other discussions. 

The 14th parva is the Ashwamedhika Parva. It contains the story of Yudhishthira’s horse ceremony and the Anugita – which are words of spiritual importance.

The 15th parva is the Ashramvasa Parva. It contains an account of the Pandavas’ meeting with the spirits of their deceased sons, followed by the arrival of Narada.

The 16th parva is the Mausala Parva. It is filled with cruel and terrible incidents (such as the death of Sri Krishna, Balarama, and the infighting within the Yadava race). 

The next parva is the Mahaprasthanika Parva which describes the journey of the Pandavas to heaven. This is the 17th parva.

Finally, comes the Purana called Khilvansa. It contains Vishnuparva (Vishnu’s frolics and feats as a child), the destruction of Kansa, and the very wonderful Bhavishyaparva (in which there are prophecies regarding the future).

The high-souled Vyasa, composed 300 parvas and organized them into 18 sections (also called parvas). The above is a brief outline of the same.

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Note: In this post, Sauti explains the benefits of reading the Mahabharata.

The study of the (Maha)Bharata is an act of worship. Those who read even a bit of this story with true belief have their sins purged away. This epic mentions devas, devarishis, and immaculate brahmarishis of good deeds. It also speaks of yakshas and great uragas (nagas). It describes the eternal Vasudeva possessing the six attributes. He is the true and just, pure and holy, the eternal Brahma, the supreme soul, the true constant light, whose divine deeds are recounted by the wise and learned. From him has arisen the non-existent and existent-non-existent universe that has within it, principles of creation, progression, birth, death, and rebirth.

The overseeing spirit of nature, which partakes of the attributes of the five elements, has also been discussed. Also discussed is Purusha, who is beyond any titles. 

The foremost yatis, who have immense power of meditation and tapas, and are exempt from common destiny, dwell in their hearts beholding an image as a reflection in a mirror. This image is also discussed in the Mahabharata.

A devoted person who has faith and lives a virtuous life, is freed from sin by reading this introduction. If such a person listens to this section being recited, he does not fall into any difficulty. The person who repeats any part of this section during the two twilights is freed from the sins they may have committed during the day or the night. This section of the epic is like truth and nectar, and this entire epic (The Mahabharata) is the most refined of all histories. It is similar to what butter is to curd or what a brahmana is to two-legged creatures or what the Aranyaka is to the Vedas.

People offer food and drink to their ancestors during shradha. However, when that offering is combined with causing even a part of this epic to be recited to the brahmanas, their offering to the ancestors increases manifold and becomes inexhaustible.

The Vedas are explained with the help of itihaas (history) and Puranas. However, the Vedas are afraid of people with half information who may misrepresent their knowledge. The learned person who recites this fifth Veda (the Mahabharata) receives many advantages. This act can cleanse many sins including the sin of harming the embryo. Reading the introduction of the epic is similar to reading the entire epic. The person who listens every day to this sacred work with reverence acquires a long life, fame, and ascends to heaven.

In ancient days, the celestials wanted to determine which among the Vedas and this epic (the Bharata) was more important. When they weighed the qualities of all four Vedas on one side and the Bharata on the other, they found that the Bharata was of greater importance in comparison to all the four Vedas with their profound mysteries. From that time, this epic has been known as the Mahabharata (the great Bharata). It is considered to be of immense importance in both the quality and depth of its content. It is said that the person who understands the true meaning of the Mahabharata is saved from all sins.

Tapa is innocent. The study of scriptures and various subjects is harmless. The rules that the Vedas prescribe for all the tribes are harmless. The acquiring of wealth through hard work is harmless. However, they become harmful and the source of evil when they are misused.

Note: I want to take this opportunity to mention a concept that I have come across in recent times. It’s called transformative reading or therapeutic reading

You might be surprised to know that the ancient Greeks considered Aristotle’s literature to be medicine for the soul. King Ramses of Egypt: a pharoah who lived between 1303–1213 BC, built a library that he called “House of Healing for the Soul.” 

Doctors, in the 1800s prescribed books along with medicines to their patients, and soldiers returning from World War I read books to overcome war trauma. Caroline Schroder, a researcher of this topic, added that characters from literature influence readers who identify with them.

The Auroville Mother, Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual consort, used to say that reading Sri Aurobindo’s works can cause a transformation of the entire being over a period of time. I believe this is true for any literature that is written from a higher consciousness and without doubt, The Mahabharata has been written from a state of extremely high consciousness.


  1. Image credit: Ying Ge on Unsplash

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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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Ugrasrava Sauti narrating the Mahabharata to Saunaka Kulapati and other sages

Om! We utter the word Jaya only after bowing down to Narayana, Nara (the most exalted human), and the Goddess Saraswati. 

Author’s Note: In the Unabridged Mahabharata, the entire epic is narrated by Ugrasrava Sauti (a bard) to the ascetics assembled in Naimisha forest in the hermitage of Rishi Saunak Kulapati. The epic begins with Ugrasrava Sauti approaching the ascetics and engaging in a conversation with them. While conversing, the ascetics ask Sauti to narrate the story of Bharata and the great war that took place at Kurukshetra. That’s how Ugrasrava Sauti begins narrating the epic.

A few more points:

  1. In the following paragraphs, the words ascetics, sages, and rishis are used interchangeably.
  2. Janamejaya was the son of King Parikshit and the grandson of Uttara and Abhimanyu. He is often referred to as a royal sage in the Mahabharata.
  3. Dwija means twice-born. The first birth is the physical birth and the second birth is spiritual.
  4. Dwaipayana-Vyasa is Rishi Ved Vyasa, the composer of the Mahabharata.

One day Ugrasrava Sauti, son of Lomaharshana, and well-versed in the Puranas, humbly approached the great sages who had participated in Saunak Kulapati’s twelve-year sacrifice in the Naimisha forest. The ascetics, keen to listen to Sauti’s marvelous stories, began to call out to Sauti as they saw him approach. Sauti was welcomed with due respect by the sages. Soon, he folded his palms and inquired about the progress of their asceticism. The ascetics offered a seat to Sauti, and after he was rested, one of the rishis asked him where he was coming from and how he had been spending his time. The ascetic wished to know everything in detail.

Location of Naimisha Forest

Note: More details about Naimisha Forest and its importance.

Sauti was well-accomplished in speech. He gave a detailed answer to the assembled sages using words and phrases that were appropriate to their way of life.

Sauti said, “I was at the snake sacrifice conducted by the royal sage Janamejaya. After the sacrifice, I wandered around visiting many sacred water bodies (lakes, rivers, etc) and holy shrines. Then I visited a place called Samantapanchaka. This place, venerated by the Dwijas, was also the site where the battle between the sons of Kuru and Pandu was fought. All the kings of the earth fought in that battle for either of the two sides. 

Keen to meet you, I came here from Samantapanchaka. O sages, all of you are like the great God Brahma to me. O greatly blessed ones, you shine in this place of sacrifice like the solar fire. You have completed the silent meditations and fed the holy fire. And now you sit here without a care in the world. O Dwijas, which stories would you like to hear? Should I tell you stories from the Puranas that contain wise words about religious duty and worldly profit? Or should I narrate to you the actions of illustrious saints and great kings?”

The rishi, who had initially addressed Sauti, answered, “The Purana first composed by the great rishi Dwaipayana-Vyasa is the most eminent narrative that exists. This Purana is highly esteemed by the Gods and Brahmarishis. Its passages have been obtained from the Vedas and possess subtle meaning in a logically combined manner. It includes subjects from several books and is presented in elegant prose. This Purana contains the essence of the four Vedas and its subtlety is clarified by other texts.”

The rishi continued, “We would like to hear that Purana. That history called Bharata composed by the wonderful sage Dwaipayana-Vyasa. That text which is known to dispel evil. We would like to hear it just as it was recited by rishi Vaishampaya at the snake sacrifice of Janamejaya.”

Having heard the rishi, Sauti said, “I bow down to the primordial being Isana who is adored by everyone. Isana is the true incorruptible one: the Brahma, perceptible, imperceptible, and eternal. Isana is both a non-existing and an existing-non-existing being. Isana is the universe and also distinct from the existing and non-existing universe. Isana is the creator of high and low. Isana is ancient, exalted, and inexhaustible. Isana is Vishnu, beneficent and beneficence itself; pure and immaculate. Isana is Hari, the ruler of all faculties and guide of all things moveable and immovable.”

Sauti continued, “I will now recite the sacred thoughts of the great rishi Vyasa, of marvelous deeds, and worshipped by everyone in this assembly. Some bards have already recited this history, some are reciting it now, and yet others will propagate it in the future. This Purana is a great source of knowledge established throughout the three regions of the world. The Dwijas know of this Purana both in its detailed and concise forms. It is a delight of the learned because it is decorated with elegant expressions, human and divine conversations, and many poetic measures.”

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