The Mahabharata, Book 01
BOOK I- ASTRA DARSANA (The Tournament)
THE scene of the Epic is the ancient kingdom of the Kurus which flourished along the upper course of the Ganges; and the historical fact on which the Epic is based is a great war which took place between the Kurus and a neighbouring tribe, the Panchalas, in the thirteenth or fourteenth century before Christ.
According to the Epic, Pandu and Dhrita-rashtra, who was born blind, were brothers. Pandu died early, and Dhrita-rashtra became king of the Kurus, and brought up the five sons of Pandu along with his hundred sons.
Yudhishthir, the eldest son of Pandu, was a man of truth and piety; Bhima, the second, was a stalwart fighter; and Arjun, the third son, distinguished himself above all the other princes in arms. The two youngest brothers, Nakula and Sahadeva, were twins. Duryodhan was the eldest son of Dhrita-rashtra and was jealous of his cousins, the sons of Pandu. A tournament was held, and in the course of the day a warrior named Karna., of unknown origin, appeared on the scene and proved himself a worthy rival of Arjun. The rivalry between Arjun and Karna is the leading thought of the Epic, as the rivalry between Achilles and Hector is the leading thought of the Iliad.
It is only necessary to add that the sons of Pandu. as well as Karna, were, like the heroes of Homer, god-born chiefs. Some god inspired the birth of each. Yudhishthir was the son of Dharma or Virtue, Bhima of Vayu or Wind, Arjun of Indra or Rain-god, the twin youngest were the sons of the Aswin twins, and Karna was the son of Surya the Sun, but was believed by himself and by all others to be the son of a simple chariot-driver.
The portion translated in this Book forms Sections cxxxiv. to cxxxvii. of Book i. of the original Epic in Sanscrit (Calcutta edition of 1834).
I THE GATHERING
Wrathful sons of Dhrita-rashtra, born of Kuru's royal race,
Righteous sons of noble Pandu, god-born men of godlike grace,
Skill in arms attained these princes from a Brahman warrior bold,
Drona, priest and proud preceptor, peerless chief of days of old!
Out spake Drona to the monarch in Hastina's royal hall,
Spake to Bhishma and to Kripa, spake to lords and courtiers all:
"Mark the gallant princes, monarch, trained in arms and warlike art,
Let them prove their skill and valour, rein the steed and throw the dart."
Answered then the ancient monarch, joyful was his royal heart.
"Best of Brahmans and of warriors, nobly hast thou done thy part,
Name the place and fix the moment, hold a royal tournament,
Publish wide the laws of combat, publish far thy king's consent.
Sightless roll these orbs of vision, dark to me is noonday light,
Happier men will mark the tourney and the peerless princes' fight,
Let the good and wise Vidura serve thy mandate and behest,
Let a father's pride and gladness fill this old and cheerless breast."
Forthwith went the wise Vidura to his sacred duties bound,
Drona, blessed with skill and wisdom, measured out the tourney ground,
Clear of jungle was the meadow, by a crystal fountain graced,
Drona on the lighted altar holy gifts and offerings placed,
Holy was the star auspicious, and the hour was calm and bright,
Men from distant town and hamlet came to view the sacred rite.
Then arose white stately mansions, built by architects of fame,
Decked with arms for Kuru's monarch and for every royal dame,
And the people built their stages circling round the listed green,
And the nobles with their white tents graced the fair and festive scene.
Brightly dawned the festal morning, and the monarch left his hall,
Bhishma and the pious Kripa with the lords and courtiers all,
And they came unto the mansions, gay and glittering, gold-encased,
Decked with gems and rich baidurya, and with strings of pearls be-laced.
Fair Gandhari, queen of Kuru, Pritha, Pandu's widowed dame,
Ladies in their gorgeous garments, maids of beauty and of fame,
Mounted on their glittering mansions where the tints harmonious blend,
As, on Meru's golden mountain, queens of heavenly gods ascend!
And the people of the city, Brahmans, Vaisvas, Kshatras bold,
Men from stall and loom and anvil gathered thick, the young and old,
And arose the sound of trumpet and the surging people's cry.
Like the voice of angry ocean, tempest-lashed, sublime and high!
Came the saintly white-robed Drona, white his sacrificial thread,
White his sandal-mark and garlands, white the locks that crowned his head,
With his son renowned for valour walked forth Drona, radiant, high,
So the Moon with Mars conjoinéd walks upon the cloudless sky!
Offerings to the gods immortal then the priestly warrior made,
Brahmans with their chanted mantra worship and obeisance paid,
And the festive note of sankha mingled with the trumpet's sound,
Throngs of warriors, various-arméd, came unto the listed ground.
II The Princes
Gauntleted and jewel-girdled, now the warlike princes came,
With their stately bows and quivers, and their swords like wreaths of flame,
Each behind his elder stepping, good Yudhishthir first of all,
Each his wondrous skill displaying held the silent crowds in thrall.
And the men in admiration marked them with a joyful eye,
Or by sudden panic stricken stooped to let the arrow fly!
Mounted on their rapid coursers oft the princes proved their aim,
Racing, hit the target with arrows lettered with their royal name,
With their glinting sunlit weapons shone the youths sublime and high,
More than mortals seemed the princes, bright Gandharvas of the sky!
Shouts of joy the people uttered as by sudden impulse driven.
Mingled voice of tens of thousands struck the pealing vault of heaven.
Still the princes shook their weapons, drove the deep resounding car,
Or on steed or tusker mounted waged the glorious mimic war!
Mighty sword and ample buckler, ponderous mace the princes wield,
Brightly gleam their lightning rapiers as they range the listed field,
Brave and fearless is their action, and their movement quick and light
Skilled and true the thrust and parry of their weapons flaming bright!
III BHIMA AND DURYODHAN
Bhima came and proud Duryodhan with their maces lifted high,
Like two cliffs with lofty turrets cleaving through the azure sky,
In their warlike arms accoutred with their girded loins they stood,
Like two untamed jungle tuskers in the deep and echoing wood!
And as tuskers range the forest, so they range the spacious field,
Right to left and back they wander and their ponderous maces wield,
Unto Kuru's sightless monarch wise Vidura drew the scene,
Pritha proudly of the princes spake unto the Kuru queen.
While the stalwart Bhima battled with Duryodhan brave and strong,
Fierce in wrath, for one or other, shouted forth the maddened throng,
"Hail to Kuru prince Duryodhan!" "Hail to Bhima hero proud!"
Sounds like these from surging myriads rose in tumult deep and loud,
And with troubled vision Drona marked the heaving restless plain,
Marked the crowd by anger shaken, like the tempest-shaken main,
To his son he softly whispered quick the tumult to appease,
Part the armed and angry wrestlers, bid the deadly combat cease,
With their lifted clubs the princes slow retired on signal given,
Like the parting of the billows, mighty-heaving, tempest-driven!
Came forth then the ancient Drona on the open battle-ground,
Stopped the drum and lofty trumpet, spake in voice like thunder's sound:
"Bid him come, the gallant Arjun! pious prince and warrior skilled,
Arjun, born of mighty INDRA, and with VISHNU'S prowess filled."
IV THE ADVENT OF ARJUN
Gauntleted and jewel-girdled, with his bow of ample height,
Archer Arjun pious-hearted to the gods performed a rite,
Then he stepped forth proud and stately in his golden mail encased,
Like the sunlit cloud of evening with the golden rainbow graced,
And a gladness stirred the people all around the listed plain,
Voice of drum and blare of trumpet rose with sankha's festive strain!
"Mark! the gallant son of Pandu, whom the happy Pritha bore,
Mark! the heir of INDRA'S valour, matchless in his arms and lore,
Mark! the warrior young and valiant, peerless in his skill of arms,
Mark! the prince of stainless virtue, decked with grace and varied charms!"
Pritha heard such grateful voices borne aloft unto the sky,
Milk of love suffused her bosom, tear of joy was in her eye!
And where rested Kuru's monarch, joyous accents struck his ear,
And he turned to wise Vidura seeking for the cause to hear:
"Wherefore like the voice of ocean, when the tempest winds prevail,
Rise the voices of the people and the spacious skies assail?"
Answered him the wise Vidura, "It is Pritha's gallant boy,
Godlike moves in golden armour, and the people shout for joy!"
"Pleased am I." so spake the monarch," and I bless my happy fate,
Pritha's sons like fires of yajna sanctify this mighty State!"
Now the voices of the people died away and all was still,
Arjun to his proud preceptor showed his might and matchless skill.
Towering high or lowly bending, on the turf or on his car,
With his bow and glist'ning arrows. Arjun waged the mimic war,
Targets on the wide arena, mighty tough or wondrous small,
With his arrows still unfailing, Arjun pierced them one and all!
Wild-boar shaped in plates of iron coursed the wide-extending field,
In its jaws five glist'ning arrows sent the archer wondrous -skilled,
Cow-horn by a thread suspended was by winds unceasing swayed,
One and twenty well-aimed arrows on this moving mark he laid,
And with equal skill his rapier did the godlike Arjun wield,
Whirling round the mace of battle ranged the spacious tourney field!
V THE ADVENT OF KARNA
Now the feats of arm are ended, and the closing hour draws nigh,
Music's voice is hushed in silence, and dispersing crowds pass by,
Hark! Like welkin-shaking thunder wakes a deep and deadly sound,
Clank and din of warlike weapons burst upon the tented ground!
Are the solid mountains splitting, is it bursting of the earth.
Is it tempest's pealing accent whence the lightning takes its birth?
Thoughts like these alarm the people for the sound is dread and high,
To the gaze of the arena turns the crowd with anxious eye!
Gathered round preceptor Drona, Pandu's sons in armour bright,
Like the five-starred constellation round the radiant Queen of Night,
Gathered round the proud Duryodhan, dreaded for his exploits done,
All his brave and warlike brothers and preceptor Drona's son,
So the gods encircled INDRA, thunder-wielding, fierce and bold,
When he scattered Danu's children in the misty days of old!
Pale, before the unknown warrior, gathered nations part in twain,
Conqueror of hostile cities, lofty Karna treads the plain,
In his golden mail accoutred. and his rings of yellow gold,
Like a moving cliff in stature, arméd comes the chieftain bold,
Pritha, yet unwedded, bore him, peerless archer on the earth,
Portion of the solar radiance, for the Sun inspired his birth!
Like a tusker in his fury, like a lion in his ire,
Like the sun in noontide radiance, like the all-consuming fire,
Lion-like in build and muscle, stately as a golden palm,
Blessed with every very manly virtue, peerless, dauntless, proud and calm!
With his looks serene and lofty field of war the chief surveyed,
Scarce to Kripa or to Drona honour and obeisance made,
Still the panic-stricken people viewed him with unmoving gaze,
Who maybe this unknown warrior, questioned theyin hushed amaze!
Then in voice of pealing thunder spake fair Pritha's eldest son
Unto Arjun, Pritha's youngest, each, alas! to each unknown:
"All thy feats of weapons, Arjun, done with vain and needless boast,
These and greater I accomplish-witness be this mighty host!"
Thus spake proud and peerless Karna in his accents deep and loud,
And as moved by sudden impulse joyous rose the listening crowd,
And a gleam of mighty transport glows in proud Duryodhan's heart,
Flames of wrath and jealous anger from the eyes of Arjun start,
Drona gave the word, and Karna, Pritha's war-beloving son,
With his sword and with his arrows did the feats by Arjun done!
VI THE RIVAL WARRIORS
Joyful was the proud Duryodhan, gladness gleamed upon his face,
And he spake to gallant Karna with a loving fond embrace:
"Welcome, mighty arméd chieftain! thou hast victor's honours won,
Thine is all my wealth and kingdom, name thy wish and it is done!"
Answered Karna to Duryodhan, " Prince! thy word is good as deed,
But I seek to combat Arjun and to win the victor's meed,"
"Noble is the boon thou seekest," answered Kuru's prince of fame,
"Be a joy unto your comrades, let the foeman dread thy name!
Anger flamed in Arjun's bosom, and he spake in accents rude
Unto Karna who in triumph calm and proud and fearless stood:
"Chief! who eomest uninvited, pratest in thy lying boast,
Thou shalt die the death of braggarts-witness be this mighty host!
Karna answered calm and proudly, "Free this listed field to all,
Warriors enter by their prowess, wait not, Arjun, for thy call,
Warlike chieftains take their places by their strength of arm and might,
And their warrant is their falchion, valour sanctifies their right,
Angry word is coward's weapon, Arjun, speak with arrows keen,
Till I lay thee, witness Drona, low upon the listed green!"
Drona. gave the word impartial, wrathful Arjun, dread of foes,
Parted from his lovina brothers, in his glist'ning arms arose,
Karna clasped the Kuru's princes, parted from them one and all,
With his bow and ample quiver proudly stepped the warrior tall.
Now the clouds with lurid flashes gathered darkling, thick and high,
Lines of cranes like gleams of laughter sailed across the gloomy sky.
Rain-god INDRA over Arjun watched with father's partial love,
Sun-god SURYA over Karna shed his light from far above,
Arjun stood in darkening shadow by the inky clouds concealed,
Bold and bright in open sunshine radiant Karna stood revealed!
Proud Duryodhan and his brothers stood by Karna calm and bold
Drona stood by gallant Arjun, and brave Bhishma warrior old,
Women too with partial glances viewed the one or other chief,
But by equal love divided silent Pritha swooned in grief!
Wise Vidura, true to duty, with an anxious hurry came,
Sandal-drops and sprinkled waters roused the woe-distracted dame,
And she saw her sons in combat, words of woe she uttered none,
Speechless wept, for none must fathom Karna was her eldest son!
VII THE ANOINTMENT OF KARNA
Crested Karna, helméd Arjun, proudly trod the spacious green,
Kripa, skilled in herald's duties, spake upon the dreadful scene:
"This is helmet-wearing Arjun, sprung of Kuru's mighty race,
Pandu's son and borne by Pritha, prince of worth and warlike grace,
Long-armed Chief! declare thy lineage, and the race thou dost adorn,
Name thy mother and thy father, and the house that saw thee born,
By the rules of war Prince Arjun claims his rival chief to know,
Princes may not draw their weapon 'gainst a base and nameless foe!"
Karna silent heard this mandate, rank nor lineage could he claim,
Like a raindrop-pelted lotus bent his humble head in shame!
"Prince we reckon," cried Duryodhan, "not the man of birth alone
Warlike leader of his forces as a prince and chief we own,
Karna by his warlike valour is of crownéd kings the peer,
Karna shall be crownéd monarch, nations shall his mandate hear!"
Forth they brought the corn and treasure, golden coin and water jar,
On the throne they seated Karna famed in many a deathful war,
Brahmans chanted sacred mantra which the holy books ordain,
And anointed crownéd Karna king of Anga's fair domain,
And they raised the red umbrella, and they waved the chowri fan,
"Blessings on the crownéd monarch! honour to the bravest man!"
'Now the holy rites accomplished, in his kingly robes arrayed
Karna unto prince Duryodhan thus in grateful accents prayed:
"Gift of kingdom, good Duryodhan, speaketh well thy noble heart,
What return can grateful Karna humbly render on his part?"
"Grant thy friendship," cried Duryodhan, "for no other boon crave,
Be Duryodhan's dearest comrade, be his helper true and brave,"
"Be it so!" responded Karna, with a proud and noble grace,
And he sealed his loyal friendship in a loving fond embrace!
VIII THE CHARIOT-DRIVER
Dewed with drops of toil and languor, lo,! a chariot-driver came,
Loosely hung his scanty garments, and a staff upheld his frame,
Karna, now a crownéd monarch, to the humble Suta sped,
As a son unto a father, reverently bent his head!
With his scanty cloth the driver sought his dusty feet to hide,
And he hailed him as a father hails his offspring in his pride,
And he clasped unto his bosom crownéd Karna's noble head,
And on Karna's dripping forehead, fresh and loving tear-drops shed!
Is he soil of chariot-driver? Doubts arose in Bhima's mind,
And he sought to humble Karna with reproachful words unkind
"Wilt thou, high-descended hero, with a Kuru cross thy brand?
But the goad of cattle-drivers better suits, my friend, thy hand!
Wilt thou as a crownéd monarch rule a mighty nation's weal?
As the jackals of the jungle sacrificial offerings steal!"
Quivered Karna's lips in anger, word of answer spake he none,
But a deep sigh shook his bosom, and he gazed upon the sun!
IX CLOSE OF THE DAY
Like a lordly tusker rising from a beauteous lotus lake,
Rose Duryodhan from his brothers, proudly thus to Bhima spake:
"With such insults seek not, Bhima, thus to cause a warrior grief,
Bitter taunts but ill befit thee, warlike tiger-waisted chief,
Proudest chief may fight the humblest, for like river's noble course,
Noble deeds proclaim the warrior, and we question not their source!
Teacher Drona, priest and warrior, owns a poor and humble birth,
Kripa, noblest of Gautamas, springeth from the lowly earth,
Known to me thy lineage Bhima, thine and of thy brothers four,
Amorous gods your birth imparted, so they say, in days of yore!
Mark the great and gallant Karna decked in rings and weapons fair
She-deer breeds not lordly tigers in her poor and lowly lair,
Karna comes to rule the wide earth, not fair Anga's realms alone,
By his valour and his virtue, by the homage which I own,
And if prince or arméd chieftain doth my word or deed gainsay,
Let him take his bow and quiver, meet me in a deadly fray!"
Loud applauses greet the challenge and the people's joyful cry,
But the thickening shades of darkness fill the earth and evening sky
And the red lamp's fitful lustre shone upon the field around,
Slowly with the peerless Karna proud Duryodhan left the ground.
Pandu's sons with warlike Drona marked the darksome close of day
And with Kripa and with Bhishma homeward silent bent their way
"Arjun is the gallant victor!" "Valiant Karna's won the day!"
"Prince Duryodhan is the winner!" Various thus the people say
By some secret sign appriséd Pritha knew her gallant boy,
Saw him crownéd king of Anga, with a mother's secret joy,
And with greater joy Duryodhan fastened Karna to his side,
Feared no longer Arjun's prowess, Arjun's skill of arms and pride
E'en Yudhishthir reckoned Karna mightiest warrior on the earth,
Half misdoubted Arjun's prowess, Arjun's, skill and warlike worth!
Suggestions for Further Reading
- 1. Astra Darsana (The Tournament)
- 2. Swayamvara (The Bride's Choice)
- 3. Rajasuya (The Imrfrial Sacrifice)
- 4. Dyuta (The Fatal Dice)
- 5. Pativrata-Mahatmya (Woman's Love)
- 6. Go-Harana (Cattle-Liftng)
- 7. Udyoga (The Council Of War)
- 8. Bhishma-Vadha (Fall Of Bhishma)
- 9. Drona-Vadha (Fall Of Drona)
- 10. Karna-Vadha (Fall Of Karna)
- 11. Sraddha (Funeral Rites)
- 12 Aswa-Medha (Sacrifice Of The Horse)
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