The Mahabharata


***Rather than a summary of what we read, I decided to write a full summary of the whole Mahabharata! I just spent five or more straight hours typing! I'm never doing this kind of project again... :) I combined what we read in class with another copy I found. Well, enjoy as you learn more about the Mahabharata!***

King Santanu, king of the Kurus, was out hunting one day. He stopped to take a break by a river, when the lovely goddess Ganga (who lives in the river) approaches, and he falls desperately in love with her. He proposes marriage, and she agrees - but only on the condition that he must never question her. If he does, she'll leave him. So, a year later, she gave birth to a son. But almost immediately, she takes him to the river and drowns him. As the years passed, she did so to six more sons. At last, on the eighth time, Santanu asked her to stop and explain herself. She left Santanu forever, and took the son with her (without drowning him), but explains that the sons she bore him were actually deities, the Vasus, cursed to be born as mortals. By drowning them, she returned them to heaven. The eighth one, Devavrata, however, would remain a mortal, and he would return to his father a great warrior. Eighteen years pass, and Santanu sees Devavrata.

Many years later, Santanu was out hunting again, still in grief at losing his wife. He meets a beautiful young woman, the daughter of the king of fisherman. He falls in love again and goes to ask her father, who will only accept it if his daughter's line is the carrier of kings, so Santanu leaves, heartbroken. Devavrata found out what had occured, and went to the fisherman chief, and he renounced the crown, so that his daughter's line would indeed carry the kings, and then he took the woman to his father, who was overjoyed and renamed his son Bhishma (which means "awe-inspiring"), proclaiming that his (Bhisma's) death will only come when he wants it - no one could end it for him.

Bhishma's stepbrothers needed wives, so he kidnapped the three daughters of a neighboring king and brings them back for his stepbrothers. One of them, Amba, is pledged to another, but he rejects her. So, she begs Bhishma to marry her, but he has sworn celibacy and therefore cannot. She leaves, livid, swearing to kill him.

Bhishma's stepbrothers died without any heirs. His stepmother wants him to have heirs for them, but he has sword celibacy. Luckily, her illegitimate son Vyasa can continue it for her. However, he's rather ugly and disgusting, so one of the widows averts her eyes when they are in bed, resulting in Dhritarashtra's blindness. The second turns pale with terror, so Pandu is very pale. He also has a third son, Vidura, by a servant girl, and though he is the only normal one and the wisest, he is destined to never rule.

When he came of age, Dhritarashtra was made king, but due to his blindness he gave power to Pandu. One day he wemt out hunting, and comes upon a pair of mating deer and shot them. The deer are actually a brahmin hermit and his wife who magically transformed themselves into deer (in some versions - in the version we read he was a genuine deer), and he cursed Pandu so that if he tries to copulate with a woman he will die. Distraught, he became a hermit and fled with his wives Kunti and Madri. Kunti told him later that she was given a mantra to summon a god to her bed. She used it once before with Surya, the sun god, and gave birth to an illegitimate son named Karna, whom she sent downstream in a small boat where he was found by a childless charioteer and his wife. So they decide to use it.

Kunti bore three of the five Pandavas. She bore Yuddhistira from Dharma, the god of justice and death. As a result, he is a wise and truthful man. Pandu wanted his second son to be the strongest of all men, so she summoned Vayu, god of wind, and bore Bhima, so powerful that he broke a rock as an infant when he fell on it. Arjuna, the third son (and my personal favorite) was born of Indra, god of thunder and war, and was destined to be the greatest warrior of all time. Madri wanted sons too, so she is permitted to use it just once. Cleverly she invoked the twin gods, the Ashwins. She thusly gave birth to twins - Nakula, who could see into the future and understand the language of animals, and Sahadeva, a brilliant horseman. They were called the Pandavas, or "sons of Pandu". Pandu eventually succumbed to desire and tried to make love to Madri, but his head breaks open as promised. She threw herself on his funeral pyre and died with his body.

Dhritarashtra also wanted sons, and Gandhari was pregnant for two years. Finally she gave birth to a spherical object, which Vyasa cut into a hundred pieces and put into seperate jars, promising her that she would get her one hundred sons. Some time later, Duryodhana was the first one born, and he brayed like a donkey and demonic shrieks were heard in the distance. The sages saw this as a sign of doom, and Bhishma advises drowning the baby. Naturally, Dhritarashtra refused.

Drona, a brahmin wise in the ways of war, tutored the Pandavas and Kauravas. One day, he decided to test them. Yuddhistira, Bhima, Duryodhana, Dushasana, Nakula, and Sahadeva are called up in turn to aim at a clay bird perched in a tree and then say what they see. They all saw a vast array of things - the tree, the sky, their brothers, the bird, et cetera. Arjuna was then called, and he saw only the eye of the bird. At Drona's excited command, he shot the bird dead in the eye. Drona granted the boy a boon. He replied, "Grant that I may be your greatest pupil, an archer without equal in this world!"

Duryodhana and Dushasana teamed up to get the Pandavas. They slipped drugs into Bhima's food, and he fell asleep, they tied him up and tossed him into the river. He awoke, tore away the ropes, and went back to shore. He overheard Duryodhana and Dushasana laughing over the whole thing. Livid, he began to strangle them both. They called for help with what air they had. Drona and Bhishma arrived, accompanied by the other Kauravas and Pandavas. Drona forced Bhima to release his hold on the two brothers. They were scolded, but Bhima was still very angry - albeit with good reason.

The elders held a martial exhibition, wherein all of the brothers show off their great prowess as warriors. Then a strange young man comes - it is Karna, Kunti's firstborn son. He challenged Arjuna to a duel, but because his 'father' is a mixed-caste charioteer's son and Arjuna is a prince, he cannot fight him. Even so, they are bitter rivals for the rest of their lives. (Duryodhana used their rivalry against the Pandavas by befriending him and giving him control of a small province.) Dhritarashtra declared Yuddhistira his heir. Sensing Duryodhana's jealousy and hatred, Dhritarashtra sent the Pandavas away for a vacation. Vidura realized what Duryodhana was planning, and he told Yuddhistira that, "Where the jackal lives, the fire cannot reach." Yuddhistira understood. When they got to their vacationing palace, he explained that Duryodhana planned to burn down their palace, so they all began to dig a tunnel under the floor of their room each night, until it reached the forest far away. A feast was held the day the palace is burnt down, and after the feast only a woman and her four servants remained, too drunk to leave. The Pandavas and their mother got inside the tunnel before midnight, and Bhima went back out. He saw the architect that had greeted them when they arrived, hired by Duryodhana, as he prepared fling a torch against the wall. He stopped him and strangled him to death, then tossed the body on the couch. Before getting into the tunnel he threw the torch into a pile of straw, and then the Pandavas fled. Only the woman and five men remained (her servants and the architect). The five Pandavas and their mother were believed to be the bodies, and a funeral service was held in memory of the five brothers.

Meanwhile, the brothers and their mother dressed as brahmins and wander the forest. One day, all but Bhima rested (he stood watch), and a female demon, Hidimba, came. Her brother had sent her to kill the humans and bring them back to eat. She instead fell in love with Bhima, and, taking the form of a human, pleaded with him to make love to her for one day. He informed his brothers of what had occured and went to live with her for a day. He had a son by her, Ghatothatcha.

The brothers arrived in Panchala, where the king Drupada was holding a contest so his daughter Draupadi could choose a husband. The contest was simply to lift and string the huge bow would marry the girl. Duryodhana, also present, attempted and failed (after laughing at other failures, of course). Karna reappeared, but before he'd even started to string it she stated she wouldn't marry him. Enraged, he gave up. Then, Arjuna came in. The warriors leered at him, but the king told them to be silent. Arjuna, of course, strung and successfully shot it. He had won Draupadi. He and his brothers took her to the hut and he jokingly told his mother to come see what he'd brought home. She told him to share it without coming to see. So, they went back to explain the situation to Drupada, who gave them all permission to marry her.

The finally returned home, and traveled to the Yavada kingdom, where they met Krishna, Kunti's cousin, who invites them to stay with him. Later, he and Arjuna take a walk, and a beggar comes to them begging for food. Of course, they have none. The beggar reveals himself to be Agni, god of fire. He gave them weapons so that they could help him eat the forest. Indra (Arjuna's father) protected the forest, however... They rode to the forest and succeeded in destroying it. Indra blessed the two warriors when they defeated his thunderbolts. They allowed the divine architect Maya to escape and then the warriors left as the forest was consumed in the flame.

Upon returning to Hastinapura, Dhritarastra splits the kingdom with Yuddhistira. Yuddhistira and his family got control of the inhospitable half of the area. Maya built the Pandava palace at their capital Indraprastha. After conducting the Vedic Ritual, which would make him lawful king of the known world, he invited Duryodhana to their palace. Despite himself he was impressed. Having stayed there for a few weeks, he came upon a room that looked like it had a lake in it. Actually it was a glass floor. He stepped forward, but fell into a shallow pond. Bhima and Draupadi had been watching and laughed hysterically at the sight. Livid, he leaves, leaving Bhima smiling.

Duryodhana was still livid, and Sakuni (his uncle) wanted to help. Sakuni was an expert dice player. So, Yuddhistira was invited to Dhritaristra's home and challenged him to a game of dice. Foolishly and against the wishes of his family and friends, he played, and lost to the Kauravas everything - even himself. He finally offered Draupadi, to the outrage of his siblings and herself. She refused to come, and she had to be dragged out by her hair, by Duhsasana. He vowed, standing with her, that he would have his way with her, and called her a whore. And then he ripped her gown away to show her nakedness. But another dress has replaced it. As he ripped away a rainbow of dresses, another replaced it. Finally he gave up, and Bhima swore, "When the final battle comes, I will tear your chest open and drink your blood!" Draupadi turned to Dhritarashtra for help. Duryodhana flashed his thigh at her, causing Bhima to swear to smash his thigh himself. Dhritarashtra granted her three boons. She merely asked for her husbands back (with their weapons and belongings, of course), and said she needed nothing else, as they could get whatever she wanted from them, as they could win it for her with strength. Thanks to her humbleness, they got everything back. But Duryodhana asked for one more game.

Of course, Yuddhistira lost again. As agreed, he had to go into exile for thirteen years. For twelve of the years, they have to go far away. If they are discovered they must continue for another twelve years.

After walking in on Yuddhistira and Draupadi while they were alone, Arjuna goes away, as was the agreement they had. He leaves to visit Krishna. Few knew so, but Krishna was the incarnation of Narayana, Vishnu's dark form. Arjuna was the other form of Vishnu, the light one. Anyway, Arjuna noticed Krishna's lovely sister, Subhadra, while residing at Dwarka, and fell in love with her. Krishna, somewhat teasingly, recommended that Arjuna kidnap her. So, he created a diversion for Arjuna the following week so he could take her away. She is frightened, but he just hides with her until Krishna tells the angry but drunk Yadavas that he has approved the marriage, and then they go back to their liquor. After that was all over, he went off to find magical weapons. While hunting, he shot a deer at the same instant someone else did. They fought for it, but after intoning a mantra Arjuna fainted. When he awoke, he built a small altar of earth for the god Shiva - who, ironically enough, was the hunter! Shiva gave him the great weapon Pasupata.

Subhadra became pregnant, and while Arjuna was off getting weapons, she talked to Krishna a lot. It was a tad one-sided - he spoke of war and troop formations, and then Subhadra fell asleep, but the baby, Abhimanyu, was still listening. (Creepy.)

Karna, meanwhile, obtained one of Indra's weapons when he gave him his armor. Having done so, he tried to learn a mantra by asking a brahmin, who hated people born of gods, if he would teach him. When he endured great pain later on and did not cry out, the brahmin realized that Karna was indeed one, and had lied to him, and cursed him so that he would forget the mantra whenever he tried to use it.

All the Pandavas finished their twelve years and convinced King Virata with their disguises. Yuddhistira was a brahmin, Bhima a cook, Nakula a cowherd, Sahadeva a stablehand, Arjuna a eunuch who taught Virata's daughters to dance, and Draupadi was a servant to Virata's wife. On the eve of the thirteenth year, Duryodhana lead his army on a cattle raid into Virata's kingdom. Throwing off his disguise, Arjuna fought them off, and shot at Drona, careful not to hit him. It was past midnight at this time, so Arjuna could fight them off as himself. He recited a mantra that caused the leaders to become sluggish. When they recovered, they just turned around and went back to Hastinapura, infuriating Duryodhana. Bhishma insisted they could never defeat the Pandavas, that they should just make peace with them, but of course Duryodhana refused, saying that they cannot fight fate.

Both families scrambled for allies. Both Duryodhana and Arjuna went to Krishna, and he said that Arjuna had first choice - he could have him, or his army. Arjuna chose Krishna, after some deliberation, which meant the Kauravas got the Yavada army.

The war started, and the armies assembled near Kurukshetra, the Field of Kuru. Arjuna asked Krishna to guide his chariot between the armies. Suddenly, though, he is unable to bear the thought of killing his cousins, his teacher, and his elders. To convince him, Krishna revealed himself to be Narayana, and Arjuna witnesses terrible visions, the gory deeds and carnage that were symbols of this war, of every war. He was convinced, then, to fight.

Abhimanyu, now a young boy, came and helped out. He knew how to get into the Lotus formation, and led a group of men into it. Because Jayadratha blocked the way out, he was trapped inside, and managed to kill some Kauravas. Bhishma came and fought him, but Duryodhana knocked Abhimanyu's ax from his hands, and broke the sword. He fought them off, but finally he was exhausted and he was killed.

Arjuna found his brothers in anguish, and he blamed Yuddhistira for letting him fight. He then sword to kill Jayadratha before sunset the next day, and if he failed he would commit suicide. He indeed killed Jayadratha, but just before he did so the sun set! Oddly enough, as he took aim the sun came back up and he killed Jayadratha.

Bhima resorted to trickery to give Dhrishtadyumna, Drupada's son, a chance to kill Drona. He lied and told him that his son was dead. He did not believe him until Yuddhistira said so as well, and Drona's grief caused him to put down his weapons. His son was, of course, alive, and livid when he finds out what was done.

Ashwatthama (Drona's son) used his world-destroying weapon, but just in time Krishna orders the Pandava army to throw down their weapons and avoid thinking of war, and for Arjuna to release the Pasupata weapon. They obey and meditate, and the global destruction is averted.

Bhishma had sworn never to fight one who is a woman, who was born a woman, or who lives as one. Shikhandi, a soldier in the Pandava army, was born a woman but is now a man. So Arjuna hid behind Shikandi and shot at Bhishma. Bhishma said he was proud to be slain by the greatest warrior in the world, and asked that he be given a bed of arrows to lie down in, which is what he did for several days thereafter. He wished to die on the day of the summer solstice. His wish was granted.

Karna became the general of the Kaurava army. He planned to use Indra's weapon to kill Arjuna. Yuddhistira asked Bhima to summon his half-demon son Ghatokatcha, who went on a rampage and killed off a third of the Kaurava army. Karna was left only with the option of using the missile on Ghatokatcha. Bhima's heart broke.

Karna challenged Arjuna, who accepted. The sun shone on Karna and a cloud hung over Arjuna, signifying their divine parentage. Arjuna shot arrows and shattered Karna's helmet. Karna flung a spear and broke off the diadem on Arjuna's helmet. They continue circling each other with their chariots, but suddenly Karna was caught in the mud and could not move. Arjuna announced that he would kill him. Karna asked to be allowed to lift up his chariot, at least. Arjuna replied justly: "No. The Kauravas did not allow Abhimanyu to do the same. You laughed at my wife after the dice game. Your fate is in my hands now." Karna tried in desperation to invoke the mantra given to him by Parasurama. His memory failed him just as prophesied in his curse. Arjuna slew Karna.

At last there was only Duyodhana, of the 100 brothers. Wounded, he ran away to hide, and ordered his men to attack the Pandava camp that afternoon. Then Arjuna, Yuddhistira, and Bhima came to him. Duryodhana called to them and challenged them one at a time. Bhima crushed his thigh and defeated him, and drank Duryodhana's blood, as he had sworn. (In some versions, it was Duryodhana's blood that he swore to drink.)

Ashwatthama sought revenge still. As the Pandavas slept he killed almost all the soldiers. He slew all of Draupadi's children which had been fathered by the Pandavas, and stabbed Uttara, Abhimanyu's pregnant widow, in the stomach to kill the child. Then he drowned himself in the nearby river. The next morning the children were mourned for. However, Krishna did manage to revive the stillborn baby which Uttara gave birth to. The boy, Pariksit, grew up to carry the Kuru dynasty. But this victory was won at a terrible price. Yuddhistira was king of a ruined land.

Years later, the Pandavas were tired ot life. They left to find the road to Heaven, but only Yuddhistira made it all the way. The others all died on the way. He finally made it to the gate of heaven, accompanied by his faithful dog, who is refused entrance. He swore to stay with the dog, if he could not come with him. The gods were happy because he was committed to the right thing. The dog revealed himself to be Dharma, Yuddhistira's father. After he was let inside, Yuddhistira discovered that there was neither heaven nor hell, but that it is in the minds of people, not real place. In the afterlife, he was reunited with his brothers and wife, and with the Kauravas, who were now gracious and generous.



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