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Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
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“Effortlessly blending a fabulous array of stories with sophisticated narrative devices, this version of the Mahabharata is a spellbinding reading experience and a magisterial achievement.”
“Like the Iliad, the Mahabharata has everything: love, war, family, gods, all the beauty and horror of life. I hope Carole Satyamurti's compelling version will introduce this marvelous epic, still largely unknown in the West, to a whole generation of new readers.”
“Carole Satyamurti's new version of the Mahabharata moves swiftly and powerfully through nearly nine hundred pages of supple and muscular verse. She has found a voice that's capable of a wide variety of expression, and a line __basically classical English blank verse with a jazz-like freedom to swing__that propels the reader effortlessly onward through the cosmic, earthy, terrifymg, erotic, sublime events of this extraordinary work. I shall keep it beside my desk together with Christopher Logue's Iliad and Ted Hughes's Ovid; I think I shall never get tired of it.”“
“An exquisitely crafted reminder of the power of the Mahabharata: how riveting a read it is, and how relevant it remains to our times.”
“Carole Satyamurti's “modern retelling” of this ancient, vast, and various story is a gift to be grateful for. It gives us, as all poetry should, access into a world we did not know or did not know well enough and which henceforth we will visit again and again.”“
“This book is a kind of miracle: a talented English poet has brought alive in blank verse an ancient Sanskrit epic for the contemporary ear and in a language that does not draw attention to itself but captures the weft and warp of the original thrilling tale, including its moral complexity.”
Originally composed approximately two thousand years ago, the Mahabharata tells the story of a royal dynasty, descended from gods, whose feud over their kingdom results in a devastating war. But it contains much more than conflict. An epic masterpiece of huge sweep and magisterial power, “a hundred times more interesting” than the Iliad and the Odyssey, writes Wendy Doniger in the foreword, the Mahabharata is a timeless work that evokes a world of myth, passion, and warfare while exploring eternal questions of duty, love, and spiritual freedom. A seminal Hindu text, which includes the Bhagavad Gita, it is also one of the most important and influential works in the history of world civilization.
Innovatively composed in blank verse rather than prose, Carole Satyamurti's English retelling covers all eighteen books of the Mahabharata. This new version masterfully captures the beauty, excitement, and profundity of the original Sanskrit poem as well as its magnificent architecture and extraordinary scope.
This book is helpful for the students and academicians of Mythology, Religion and Philosophy.
Map • Foreword by Wendy Doniger • The Mahabharata, a Text for All Seasons • Preface by Carole Satyamurti • MAHABHARATA
Introduction to the poem and its main storytellers: Vyasa, Vaishampayana, and Ugrashravas.
PART I: THE BOOK OF THE BEGINNING
Chapter 1: The ancestors:
The Bharata lineage; the story of Satyavati and the birth of Vyasa; Shantanu marries the goddess Ganga, and Bhishma is born. Shantanu later marries Satyavati and they have two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Chitrangada dies in battle. Bhishma abducts three royal sisters, Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika, as brides for Vichitravirya. Amba had already chosen another husband, and leaves the court. Vichitravirya dies childless, and Vyasa fathers two sons on the royal widows —Dhritarashtra (born blind) and Pandu (born pale) —as well as a son, Vidura, by a maid-servant.
Chapter 2: Dhritarashtra and Pandu:
Bhishma, as regent, arranges marriages for the Bharata princes: Dhritarashtra marries Gandhari, who chooses to wear a blindfold lifelong; Pandu marries Kunti and Madri; Vidura, being born of a shudra mother, marries a woman of equivalent parentage. Pandu is cursed by a brahmin to die during the sexual act, so has to remain celibate. Kunti deploys a boon she has received previously, and gives birth to three sons, fathered by different gods. Madri gives birth to two sons in the same way. These ve sons —Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva —are known as the Pandavas. Gandhari, blessed by Vyasa, gives birth to one hundred sons (the Kauravas), and a daughter. Evil omens attend the birth of the eldest, Duryodhana. Pandu gives way to temptation and dies in the act of love with Madri. Madri climbs on his funeral pyre, and Kunti takes the five boys to Hastinapura, the capital of the Bharata kingdom.
Chapter 3: Cousins:
The five Pandavas and the hundred Kaurava boys get on badly together. Encouraged by his uncle, Shakuni, Duryodhana makes an unsuccessful attempt on Bhima's life. The young princes are trained in the arts of war, first by Kripa and then by Drona —both brahmins. Drona plans vengeance on his former friend, Drupada, king of Panchala.
Chapter 4: Learning the arts of war:
Drona trains the royal princes in his weapons school. Arjuna becomes an outstanding archer, and Drona's favorite. Drona's son, Ashvatthaman, also receives special attention. Karna, foundling son of a suta, joins the weapons school, and is despised. He becomes deeply envious of Arjuna. Ekalavya, a tribal boy, is turned away by Drona, but becomes a great archer through diligent practice.
Chapter 5: Karna:
We learn Karna's real parentage. He seeks out the great weapons teacher, Rama Jamadagnya, and acquires celestial weapons but, finally, is cursed by his teacher for deception.
Chapter 6: The tournament:
Drona organizes a public display to show the young princes? skills. Karna arrives and humiliates Arjuna. Duryodhana befriends Karna.
Chapter 7: Revenge:
Drona mounts an attack on Drupada's city, Kampilya. Drupada is humiliated. Through prayer and austerity, he acquires a son, Dhrishtadyumna, born to avenge his father, and a daughter, Draupadi, who will, he hopes, marry Arjuna.
Chapter 8: The lacquer house:
Duryodhana persuades his father to send the Pandavas and Kunti off on a visit to Varanavata. Duryodhana plots the death of his cousins, but the plot is unsuccessful and they escape into the forest.
Chapter 9: Flight:
In the forest, the Pandavas encounter the ogre Hidimba and his sister, whom Bhima marries. She gives birth to their son, Ghatotkacha. At Vyasa's prompting, the Pandavas move to the city of Ekachakra, where Bhima kills the ogre Baka.
Chapter 10: Draupadi's bridegroom choice:
The Pandavas, disguised as brahmins, go to Kampilya where Arjuna wins the contest for Draupadi's hand. Owing to a misunderstanding, all five brothers become her husbands. They meet their cousins, Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu) and Balarama, for the first time.
Chapter 11: Acquiring a kingdom:
Duryodhana is enraged by the Pandavas? good fortune. His father, the king, agrees to divide the kingdom in half. Yudhishthira will be king of the barren Khandava tract. In time, the Pandavas transform it, building the beautiful city of Indraprastha. The brothers make an agreement to avoid jealousy arising between them over Draupadi. Arjuna transgresses, and insists on going into exile.
Chapter 12: Arjuna's exile:
Arjuna visits sacred sites, has liaisons with Ulupi and Chitrangadaa, visits Krishna's city, Dvaraka, and marries Krishna's sister, Subhadra. Back at Indraprastha, Subhadra gives birth to Abhimanyu, and Draupadi to five sons, one by each brother.
Chapter 13: The burning of the Khandava Forest:
Walking in the forest, Arjuna and Krishna encounter the god Agni, who wishes to burn down the forest, but is being thwarted by the god Indra (Arjuna's father). They agree to help him, and are given celestial weapons. Through their efforts, the forest is burned down, only a few creatures escaping.
PART II: THE BOOK OF THE ASSEMBLE HALL
Chapter 14: The decision:
The divine architect, Maya, builds a beautiful assembly hall for Yudhishthira. The seer Narada suggests that Yudhishthira make an attempt to become king of kings. The king of Magadha, Jarasandha, stands in the way of this ambition, and Krishna and Bhima challenge him and defeat him.
Chapter 15: King of kings:
Yudhishthira's brothers take armies to other kingdoms throughout the land, and secure the fealty of a number of other kings. A great consecration sacrifice takes place, to which the Kauravas are invited. The king of Chedi, Shishupala, challenges Yudhishthira's choice of Krishna as guest of honor, and Krishna kills him. After the ceremony, Duryodhana tours the assembly hall and is consumed by envy and despair.
Chapter 16: Duryodhana's despair:
Back in Hastinapura, Shakuni suggests that Yudhishthira be invited to a gambling match, which he is sure to lose. Dhristarashtra agrees to this. Yudhishthira, despite misgivings, accepts the invitation.
Chapter 17: The dice game:
Due to Shakuni's sleight of hand, Yudhishthira loses everything he owns, including his brothers, himself, and his wife. Draupadi challenges the elders to say whether her husband could have lost her, when he had already lost himself, and therefore had no right to property. Duhshasana, second eldest Kaurava, tries to strip Draupadi, but fails. Duryodhana lewdly insults Draupadi, and Bhima vows to kill both him and his brother. Draupadi's question remains unresolved, but Dhritarashtra cancels Yudhishthira's losses and allows the Pandavas to leave.
Chapter 18: The dice game resumes:
Duryodhana and Shakuni devise a new basis for a dice game, and the Pandavas are brought back. Whoever loses this time will go into exile for thirteen years, while the winner takes possession of their lands. Only if they remain unrecognized during the thirteenth year will their lands be returned. Yudhishthira agrees, plays, and loses. The Pandavas depart for their forest exile.
PART III: THE BOOK OF THE FOREST
Chapter 19: Exile begins:
The Pandavas, accompanied by devoted brahmins, settle in a pleasant spot in the forest. Back at court, the seer Maitreya curses Duryodhana. He and Dhritarashtra learn that Bhima has killed an ogre in the forest, and fear for the future. Krishna and other allies visit the Pandavas in the forest.
Chapter 20: Discord:
Draupadi and Bhima urge Yudhishthira to ignore the terms of the dice game and attack the Kauravas. Yudhishthira refuses. Vyasa appears and counsels them. He advises that Arjuna should go on a quest to acquire celestial weapons. Arjuna departs.
Chapter 21: Quest:
Arjuna travels to the Himalaya where he is tested by Indra, and embarks on a period of strict austerities. He is tested by the god Shiva, who promises to give him the terrible divine weapon Pashupata. He spends ve years in Indra's heaven. In the forest, Yudhishthira is disconsolate, and the sage Brihadashva tells him the story of Nala and Damayanti.
Chapter 22: Pilgrimage:
The seer Lomasha, sent by Indra, visits the Pandavas who are restless, missing Arjuna. He proposes that they go with him on a pilgrimage to sacred sites, and as they travel, he tells them enlightening stories —the tales of Rishyashringa, King Shibi and the hawk, and King Yuvanashva. The party journeys into the Himalayan mountains, and Bhima encounters Hanuman, the great ape of the Ramayana, and does battle with yakshas. The Pandavas are reunited with Arjuna. Bhima has an encounter with the snake Nahusha. After some years, the Pandavas begin their slow descent to the forest on the plain.
Chapter 23: Duryodhana's mistake:
The exile enters its twelfth year. The Pandavas are visited by the ascetic Markandeya, who tells them marvelous stories, and offers them wise advice. Krishna visits with his chief wife, Satyabhama. She asks Draupadi what is the secret that keeps her husbands devoted to her, and Draupadi says there is no secret; only her own assiduous devotion as a wife. With the period of exile soon coming to an end, the Kauravas become increasingly apprehensive. They undertake a huge expedition into the forest with the aim of intimidating the Pandavas with a show of strength. Their rash encounter with the king of the gandharvas results in Duryodhana being beaten and humiliated. Karna vows that he will grind Arjuna into the dust.
Chapter 24: The end in sight:
The Pandavas are visited by Vyasa. He advises Yudhishthira and tells the story of Mudgala the gleaner. Jayadratha, Duryodhana's brother-in-law, attempts to abduct Draupadi and is punished and humiliated by Bhima. He vows to have revenge. Markandeya visits and tells the story of Savitri and Satyavat. Karna's father, Surya the sun god, warns him that Indra will try to obtain the protective armor he was born with. Karna encounters Indra disguised as a brahmin. He gives him the armor and receives Indra's spear in exchange. The Pandavas begin to prepare for their thirteenth year of exile. The god Dharma, Yudhishthira's father, tests them and promises that they will succeed in remaining unrecognized until their exile expires.
PART IV: THE BOOK OF VIRATA
Chapter 25: Virata's court:
The Pandavas plan the disguises they will assume during their thirteenth year. They travel to the kingdom of King Virata and obtain employment in the royal court. Bhima protects Draupadi from the lustful advances of Kichaka.
Chapter 26: The cattle raid:
The Kauravas mount a raid on King Virata's cattle. Arjuna, still disguised as a eunuch, defeats them, with Virata's son, Uttara, as his charioteer. The Kauravas recognize him, but the thirteenth year is up. Virata offers Arjuna his daughter, Uttaraa, in marriage, but Arjuna suggests that his son, Abhimanyu, marry her instead.
PART V: THE BOOK OF PERSVERANCE
Chapter 27: Suing for peace, preparing for war:
Duryodhana refuses to return Yudhishthira's kingdom and the Pandavas, expecting war, meet with their main allies. In the hope of achieving a resolution, Drupada sends his household priest to Hastinapura. Both Arjuna and Duryodhana seek Krishna's support; Krishna will act as Arjuna's charioteer, and Krishna's army will join the Kaurava side. Shalya, Madri's brother, takes the side of the Kauravas. Dhritarashtra sends Sanjaya to urge the Pandavas not to make war.
Chapter 28: Diplomacy continues:
Dhritarashtra is extremely agitated, and Vidura tries to soothe him with stories and wise words. The council meets to hear a report from Sanjaya. Duryodhana is confident of victory and refuses to make any concessions.
Chapter 29: Krishna's mission:
The Pandavas are pessimistic about the chances of peace. Krishna decides to make one last attempt, and travels to Hastinapura. He addresses Duryodhana in the council, but the Kaurava insists that he is in the right. Krishna reveals his divine power.
Chapter 30: The temptation of Karna:
Before leaving Hastinapura, Krishna reveals to Karna the truth about his origins —he is really the eldest brother of the Pandavas —in the hope of persuading him to change sides and share the kingdom with the Pandavas. Kunti makes the same attempt, but Karna refuses on principle.
Chapter 31: Marshaling the armies:
Huge forces are assembled on the plain of Kurukshetra. Bhishma is appointed commander of the Kauravas, but he and Karna declare that they will not fight alongside each other; and Bhishma will not fight Shikhandin because he was born a woman, Shikhandini, and, in a previous life, was Amba, whose goal was to have revenge on Bhishma for ruining her life.
PART VI: THE BOOK OF BHISHMA
Chapter 32: The song of the Lord:
Through the gift of divine sight, Sanjaya will report every stage of the war to the blind king. Arjuna suddenly sinks down in his chariot declaring that he will not fight, that he cannot commit the sin of killing his kinsmen. Krishna, through teachings and through revelation, persuades him that his attitude is wrong (the ?Bhagavad Gita?).
Chapter 33: The war begins:
Yudhishthira approaches the Kaurava elders to ask for their blessing. Battle begins. The first day brings heavy losses for the Pandavas.
Chapter 34: Bhishma in command:
The second day goes better for the Pandavas. On the third day Arjuna engages in combat with Bhishma, but so halfheartedly that Krishna intervenes. The fourth day favors the Pandavas; several Kaurava princes are killed. Duryodhana starts to worry. Bhishma urges him to make peace but he refuses. On the fifth day, many thousands of troops are killed. Bhima fights heroically and, on day six, wounds Duryodhana severely.
Chapter 35: Bhishma implacable:
Bitter fighting involves many named warriors, including Arjuna's son Iravat. Ghatotkacha inflicts huge damage on the Kauravas. Duryodhana is discouraged and suspects Bhishma of favoring the Pandavas. Next day, Bhishma scorches the allies of the Pandavas. Again, Arjuna is reluctant to fight him.
Chapter 36: The fall of Bhishma:
Bhishma is felled by Arjuna, using Shikhandin as a shield. Bhishma has been given the boon that he can choose the time of his death, and this is not an auspicious time. He will lie on the field of Kurukshetra, pierced by arrows, but alive, until the winter solstice.
PART VII: THE BOOK OF DRONA"
Chapter 37: Drona leads the Kauravas:
Karna and Bhishma are reconciled. Drona fails to capture Yudhishthira. Arjuna is challenged by the Trigartas. Death of Bhagadatta.
Chapter 38: The death of Abhimanyu:
Arjuna is drawn away to fight the Trigartas. Jayadratha's revenge leads to Abhimanyu being trapped by the Kauravas and killed. Arjuna vows to kill Jayadratha the next day.
Chapter 39: In pursuit of Jayadratha:
Arjuna and Krishna make every effort to reach Jayadratha before nightfall, but he is heavily defended. Bhurishravas is killed by Satyaki in dubious circumstances. Thanks to a ruse of Krishna's, Arjuna succeeds in killing Jayadratha, fullling his vow.
Chapter 40: Battle at night:
General fighting continues through the night. Karna is an outstanding warrior, but the Pandavas do well. Duryodhana suspects Drona of favoring the Pandavas. Discord among the Kauravas, whose forces are hard pressed by Ghatotkacha. Karna uses the celestial spear he was keeping for Arjuna, and kills Ghatotkacha.
Chapter 41: Drona and Ashvatthaman:
The fighting continues, Drona inflicting great damage on the Pandava forces. Drona is killed through deception encouraged by Krishna. Drona's son Ashvatthaman swears vengeance and uses celestial weapons which Krishna and Arjuna neutralize.
PART VIII: THE BOOK OF KARNA
Chapter 42: Karna in command:
Karna is consecrated as Kaurava commander, with Shalya as his charioteer. Arjuna fears Yudhishthira has come to harm, and seeks him out. They quarrel and Krishna helps them resolve their differences. Arjuna swears not to return until he has killed Karna.
Chapter 43: Tragic Karna:
Shalya tries to undermine Karna's morale. Bhima kills Duhshasana and drinks his blood, fullling his vow. Karna's sons are killed. Arjuna and Karna finally meet in a duel to the death. Karna is killed.
PART IX: THE BOOK OF SHALYA
Chapter 44: Defeat for Duryodhana:
Shalya is the Kaurava commander. Bhima kills the last of Dhritarashtra's sons, apart from Duryodhana who flees and hides in a lake. The Pandavas track him down and challenge him to come out and fight. He is narrowly defeated by Bhima who smashes his thighs, contrary to the rules of fair fight. The war is over. Krishna takes the news to Hastinapura.
PART X: THE BOOK OF THE NIGHT ATTACK
Chapter 45: Massacre by night:
Ashvatthaman vows to avenge Duryodhana and his father. With Kripa and Kritavarman, he attacks the Pandava camp and, strengthened by the god Shiva, slaughters the surviving Pandava and Panchala fighters, including all of Draupadi's sons. The Pandavas pursue Ashvatthaman and defeat him, but at great cost.
PART XI: THE BOOK OF THE WOMEN
Chapter 46: Dhritarashtra's grief:
Dhritarashtra is heartbroken and is consoled by Vidura and Vyasa. Dhritarashtra, Gandhari, and the Pandavas go to the battlefield.
Chapter 47: Gandhari's lament:
The field is crowded with women looking for their dead loved ones. Gandhari is given the gift of divine sight and describes what she sees. She curses Krishna for his part in the war. Kunti reveals that Karna was her son.
PART XII: THE BOOK OF PEACE
Chapter 48: Yudhishthira, reluctant ruler:
Yudhishthira is grief-stricken by the carnage and by Karna's death. He holds himself responsible and says he will renounce the kingdom. Only in that way can he atone. His brothers and Draupadi try to dissuade him.
Chapter 49: Yudhishthira listens to the seers:
Devasthana, Vyasa, and Krishna all speak to Yudhishthira. Vyasa tells him he should perform the great horse sacrifice. He sets aside his doubts and enters Hastinapura. Krishna tells him to learn from Bhishma.
Chapter 50: The education of the Dharma King (1):
Bhishma, lying on his bed of arrows, instructs Yudhishthira on the duties of a king.
Chapter 51: The education of the Dharma King (2):
Bhishma's teaching continues. He speaks about a person's moral obligations, as well as the need for a king to exercise good judgment. He tells instructive stories.
Chapter 52: Dharma in difcult times:
Through parables, Bhishma talks about right action at times when the kingdom is under threat, or is undergoing famine. Yudhishthira asks his brothers for their views on the relative importance of the three goals of kshatriya dharma —virtue, wealth, and pleasure. He praises a fourth goal —moksha —and asks Bhishma to talk to him about how absolute freedom can be achieved.
Chapter 53: The path to absolute freedom:
Through stories, Bhishma teaches the subtleties of karma, spiritual practice, and the importance of worshiping Vishnu. He discusses the difficulty of achieving absolute freedom while still living in the world.
PART XIII: THE BOOK OF INSTRUCTION
Chapter 54: The teaching continues:
Bhishma's final stories concern the nature of responsibility for actions; whether Death can be conquered; whether men or women enjoy sex more; whether one can become a brahmin within one lifetime; and the nature of compassion.
Chapter 55: The death of Bhishma:
Yudhishthira continues to learn from Bhishma. With the arrival of the winter solstice, Bhishma composes himself and dies.
PART XIV: THE BOOK OF THE HORSE SACRIFICE
Chapter 56: King Yudhishthira turns to the future:
Yudhishthira is again despondent but is heartened by the prospect of the horse sacrifice through which he can atone for wrongdoing. Yudhishthira travels to the mountains to retrieve buried treasure which he will need for the sacrifice. Arjuna spends time with Krishna and receives spiritual instruction. Krishna sets off for Dvaraka and encounters Uttanka, an ascetic to whom he reveals his divine nature. Uttaraa gives birth to a son but the baby is born dead as a result of Ashvatthaman's deadly invocation. Krishna brings him to life and he is named Parikshit.
Chapter 57: The horse sacrifice:
Arjuna accompanies the sacrificial horse throughout the land in preparation for the great ceremony. He encounters Chitrangadaa and Ulupi, and his son Babhruvahana. The elaborate sacrifice takes place. A mongoose disparages it, and tells the story of the devout brahmin of Kurukshetra.
PART XV: THE BOOK OF THE HERMITAGE
Chapter 58: The retreat of the elders:
After fifteen years, Dhritarashtra and the other elders depart for the forest, to lead an ascetic life. The Pandavas visit them. Vidura dies and his spirit enters Yudhishthira. Vyasa arranges an epiphany: for a single night, the heroes killed at Kurukshetra rise up from the Ganga and are reconciled, and reunited with their loved ones.
PART XVI: THE BOOK OF THE CLUBS
Chapter 59: Krishna's people:
Thirty-six years into Yudhishthira's reign, grim portents are seen. In Dvaraka, Vrishni warriors are cursed by Brahmins for disrespect, and are killed by one another, thus fullling Gandhari's curse. Krishna's time on earth is over; he and Balarama die. Arjuna escorts the citizens of Dvaraka out of the city before it is engulfed by the sea. His divine weapons fail him. Vyasa advises the Pandavas to leave Hastinapura
PART XVII AND XVIII: THE BOOK OF THE FINAL JOURNEY AND THE ASCENT OF HEAVEN
Chapter 60: The final journey:
Yudhishthira abdicates in favor of Parikshit. The Pandavas and Draupadi circumambulate the kingdom and make for the Himalaya. One by one, they fall dead and their spirits go to heaven, except for Yudhishthira who enters heaven in his body as a mark of his extraordinary virtue. In heaven his virtue is tested. He sheds his earthly body and is reunited with those he loves.
Ugrashravas has come to the end of Vyasa's epic poem. He takes his leave from the forest ascetics, and goes on his way.
Afterword by Vinay Dharwadker:
The Poetry of the Mahabharata
Suggestions for Further Reading
About the Author:
Carole Satyamurti is a poet, sociologist, and translator. The author of many books of poetry, she has taught regularly for the Arvon Foundation and for the Poetry Society (UK). She lives in London.
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