The Mahabharata

A showcase for the oldest and longest epic in the world. A resource for the better understanding of all aspects ofSanatana Dharma, Vedanta and Yoga.A place for West to meet and embrace East beyond cliché, presumption and prejudice.

First Chapters

reclining in great splendour...
Before Creation, before Time, Lord Vishnu reclined in great splendour upon the thousand-headed serpent Sesha on the infinite and shoreless cosmic Ocean; not asleep, but awake in the bliss of his own effulgent Self, containing all the souls ever to be and all their destinies. And the souls stirred and yearned for activity, born of Desire.
Thus arose from Vishnu's navel a shining many-petalled lotus in which sat the four-faced Brahma, the Creator, luminous as light on still water. Out of Brahma arose the three worlds, then the demons and mortal gods, then all of Creation, born and moulded out of his own substance as a spider spins a web out of itself. Brahma split in two becoming Man and Woman, who took up their abode on earth at the beginning of all the ages, at the beginning of Time.
And the Ocean was of milk, and in it arose the great mountain Meru having its foundation on the ocean floor and its summit in the sky above. The serpent king Vasuki coiled himself around it, the demons in the 
netherworld holding his tail, and the gods in heaven his neck. At Vishnu's bidding they pulled first this way, then that, twisting the mountain back and forth thus churning the Ocean of Milk. Out of the ocean depths came first the moon; then the lotus-eyed goddess Lakshmi with four arms and open palms, bestowing good fortune on her children; then the wish-fulfilling Cow Kamadhenu; then the jewel Kausthubi. Vishnu plucked that Jewel and placed it upon his chest.
        Now the ocean began to boil, foaming and heaving till poison rose out of it emitting a loathsome stench. Lord Shiva bent down with cupped hands and scooped up the poison, and raised it to his lips and swallowed it, saving the
world from its misery; and his throat turned blue and iridescent as a peacock's breast. Shiva placed the crescent moon in his hair and smiled, raising his right hand in blessing, thumb and fingertip touching in the circle of life.
        Then cream rose in the ocean and from it stepped the white-bearded, white-robed Divine Physician bearing inexhaustible Amrita, the Nectar of Immortality, in a silver vessel. He placed it in the hands of the Lord. And into the core of every soul the Lord poured a single drop of this Amrita, even as a living seed is pressed into the dark unyielding earth, each drop containing an ocean of Bliss; and some seeds lie barren till the body dies, and some seeds sprout. And that Bliss was Vishnu Himself.
         Lord Vishnu said: "I am the Self of all souls, the most beloved of all lovable things, for the body is loved only for My dwelling within it."
         And whenever humankind forgets the Lord, when evil overtakes the world, He takes form and walks the earth as man; so he came as Nara-Narayana, two-in-one, and as Rama; so also he came as the blue Lord Krishna.

 But all this, animate or inanimate, virtue and evil, all that is seen with the eye and known by the mind, will pass away at the end of the cosmic age which is Time. And another age will bring forth new life and new knowledge, like new fruit after a dead season. So Time revolves without beginning and without end, a wheel of Creation and Dissolution; and all that remains is Amrita which is perfect Consciousness, Bliss and Truth, One-without-a-second, to which each soul must return as a raindrop returns to the ocean.

Son of the Morning

The old Sage Durvasa summoned Princess Kunti, the king’s youngest daughter. She hurried to him, bowed and touched his feet in reverence. He reached down,  took her hands in his and raised her to her feet. He smiled, and placed a hand on her head in blessing.
       "Daughter,” he said, “I am leaving this place to continue my pilgrimage. Your father the King has been most generous to me, and you, my dear, have grown close to my heart; you have paid great attention to my teachings, asked wise questions and learnt well, and attended to all my needs. I’m going to grant you a boon. Listen: I am now going to teach you a powerful Mantra. Treasure it in your heart till the time comes. And when that time has come, speak the sacred words aloud, and summon whichever god you choose, and that god will visit you. But remember: never must you repeat this Mantra in vain. It is too powerful and too precious to be used with frivolous intent. To do so is to summon disaster."
And he bent low, held back his long white beard, and whispered the Mantra into Kunti's ear. Kunti shuddered in awe when she heard the sacred words; her skin tingled and turned to gooseflesh, and the words carved themselves into her being. She bent her head in gratitude, and touched the Sage's feet again, this time in silent gratitude. Durvasa bid her fond farewell and blessed her, giving her strength for the trials before her; for he knew there would be many. He then took his leave from King Surasena to continue to Mount Kailash, the abode of the great god Shiva.
Kunti, meanwhile, retired to her quarters, pondering his words. I can summon whichever god I choose! Whichever god I choose!
The Sage had spoken these words, therefore they must be true. But how! He had granted her a boon... but such a boon! To summon a god!  And which god should it be?
It is all a joke! Durvasa was but teasing me! Surely it cannot be true!

She could not sleep that night, for her mind was greatly agitated and frolicsome thoughts churned within her. Which god should it be? Which god do I love the most? Oh, which?
Visions of the gods played tricks with her; she danced with Soma, the beautiful moon-god, and raced across the sky in the wind-god's chariot; she sat at Kama's side in the vastness of the Himalayas, and in a heavenly jewelled palace Indra, King of the gods, courted her. Whom shall I choose? Which god?  Which? Now and then the stern voice of reason brought her mind back to good sense: I must not be frivolous with this mantra. It is too powerful!
Finally she fell asleep, a deep and dreamless sleep; only to be awakened, at dawn, by a gentle ray of sun resting on her cheek. Rubbing the slumber from her eyes she sat up and looked about her, bewildered, for never had the morning been so glorious. A lucid golden glow filled her chamber, exquisitely clear, warm and welcoming, and the very air tingled with the coming of the new day. She sprang to her feet and, clasping her hands in delight and laughing at so much beauty, ran to the window.
Oh! Surya! Surya! Namaste, Surya!  I greet thee! she cried; for there, over the distant hills, came Surya the sun-god, slowly sailing up into the heavens, clothing the world in a radiance, bathing it in that same lucid gold that filled her chamber. Everything—the clouds billowing on the horizon, the shining river, the trees, the fields, the woods and hills and far-off roof-tops, glowed as if lit from within by a gentle fire. The sky, burning orange in the east, spread out and around in gentler tones of pink and yellow; Kunti stood surrounded by a dome of light and warmth.
Surya himself, the Maker of Day, gleamed and beamed, bowed and beckoned, dipped and ducked between the clouds, smiling at her. He flung his rays carelessly about him with a magic that turned every dewdrop into a glittering rainbow jewel. He slipped in through her window, caressed her with his gentle warmth, slid golden fingers through her hair and fondled her cheek with tendrils of light.
"Oh, wonderful! Wonderful!" Kunti cried out in rapture and stretched out her arms towards the dawn. The words of the Mantra now rose spontaneously to her mind; closing her eyes she whispered the sacred formula, her hands folded together in prayer, her lips barely moving but bowed in a gentle smile.

But what was this? A giant unseen arm mighty as an ocean wave flung her away from the window and into a corner and all at once the world grew dark and cold and a dank chill seeped through her being. A cry escaped her lips and she cowered back into her corner, an arm raised across her eyes as shield; and from behind that raised arm and through the open window she saw a black discus across the sun and the sky was no longer golden but muddy grey. Great black birds flew up squawking into the sky and from outside she heard the terrified howling of dogs and jackals and the braying of donkeys and the neighing of petrified horses, and from beyond her chamber door the servants wailed in terror.
Kunti hid her face in her hands but even as she shuddered and cowered from the cold and the darkness a delicious warmth spread all through her and a voice from within said: Kunti, open your eyes and behold! And she looked, and there stood Surya the sun-god in his human form.
"Kunti, stand up!" he said, and his smile was kind and gentle. He reached out his hand to help her up. She took it, and stood before him, and though it is forbidden to look into the eyes of a man she could not but do so now; for this was no man but the great god Surya, and she had summoned him.
"You called, and I am here," he said. Sunlight spilled from him and filled the room; no shadows anywhere, just light, dazzling light that Kunti could not bear. She closed her eyes once more, but the light was inside her too, no darkness anywhere: light, within and without.
"I have come to visit you, Kunti!" he said, and there was an urgency in his voice which she could not bear as she could not bear the light.
"I... I did not mean... thank you, but now please go!"
"Kunti, I cannot go yet. You have summoned me. The Mantra called me and I have come to visit you." His voice was gentle, yet mocking; her eyes were yet closed but she was sure he was smiling, laughing at her foolishness.
"Yes, I am sorry, I did not think you’d... and now please go." She pushed at him and turned her head from him.
"Kunti!" It was a sigh. "Kunti, you are so young, so innocent. You do not yet know the meaning of the word visit. You do not yet know of the power of sacred words. But you have spoken them, and the Mantra must fulfil itself."
"Yes, but it has. You have visited me. And now, please go, please please, for I cannot bear your presence."
"Kunti!" the voice was no more mirthful, but commanding, and she looked up, and his eyes this time were stern. "Kunti! The word “visit” in this case means you must give yourself to me and bear my son."
Kunti`s knees gave way and she would have sunk to the ground had not Surya's mighty arms grasped her and held her upright; she stood there now, limp as a rag-doll and quaking at his terrible words.
"But... but..." she could only whisper. “But... I am a maiden, only fourteen...  unmarried... the shame!"
"To bear my son is no shame. Listen! The Mantra has been spoken and must be fulfilled. But the ways of gods are other than the ways of humans, less clumsy. Our union shall leave you a maiden, as pure as Himaval´s snow. And the birth of my son shall be as the birth of a god, leaving no trace."
"But how shall I..."
"Listen, Kunti! This child shall never be yours. After his birth you shall wrap him in finest silk and lay him in a wicker casket, and lay that casket in the river Aswa, among the reeds. I shall take him, for he is mine and shall always be mine. I shall look after him; and I will give him my golden earrings, even these in my own ears, look. They were dipped in Amrita, the Nectar of Immortality from the churning of the Ocean of Milk at the beginning of all creation. He shall be born wearing them, and they shall be his protection all his life, for he shall have many enemies, and a curse rests on him due to the foolishness of his mother.
“But he is my beloved son. He shall be great, the mightiest warrior walking the earth, greater even than that other one whose fame shall live on when he is long forgotten. 
“Kunti, you shall have other children, other sons, each one wrapped in glory, God's hand resting over them. But this one, your firstborn, the outcast son of your foolishness, shall always be your best-loved. You may never claim him as your own. He shall be a knife ever turning in your heart. But he is the Son of the Morning, my own Beloved. And now, Kunti... knowing this, do you consent?"
Kunti at last met his eyes and whispered, “Yes.”

Then Surya came to her in the manner of the gods; he touched her navel and his seed and his spirit entered her body, leaving her with no stain on her innocence and a child in her womb which she bore and gave birth to in the manner of the gods, secretly, and only her nurse knew of it: a child glowing like Surya himself. And as Surya had bid her she wrapped the child in finest silks and laid him in a wicker box spread with soft sheets and costly pillows, laid over with wax and encased in a rich cover. Weeping piteously, she placed this among the reeds growing on the banks of the river Aswa. Silently the Aswa bore the child away, the boy with the inborn golden earrings of Surya the sun god.

Part 1
Chapter 1 - The Nameless Queen

Santanu, last of the Kuru monarchs of the moon god's lineage, swung down from his sweating, pawing steed and led it through the bushes to the riverbank.
"There!" he said, patting a steaming flank, "here is water; drink; for you have carried me well, and deserve a rest!"
The horse snorted, spread its forelegs and bent down to drink of the clear sweet water; and Santanu too knelt down before a quiet pool in the rocks, splashed his face then cupped his hands to drink himself. Still he was hot from the chase; hunting was his pleasure, but today the prey had escaped, and he and the horse were tired. Removing his upper cloth he laid this in the water, wrung it once and wiped his face and shoulders and the bare chest scarred with the wounds of many a fierce battle.
Suddenly, the horse snorted and lifted its muzzle, spraying Santanu with cool drops of water; its ears pricked as it turned its head, looking upriver, listening, its nostrils flared and quivering.
"What is it? What do you hear?"
Santanu sprang silently to his feet with the lightness of a deer and his hand reached instinctively for the bow he had laid beside him on the rocks. The horse tossed its head, looked at him impatiently, snorted again and turned back to watch the bend in the river, ears stiffly pointed forward, listening.
Santanu listened too. All he could hear was the river's song; yet something in the alert stillness of the horse's posture, like an arrow about to leave a bow, made him hold still and listen all the more intently. And finally his mind picked up that which his ear could not; a second song, mingled with that of the river; a song that rippled and swung with such purity his hair stood on end and his very breath faltered and a lump rose to his throat.
"Can it be real?" He asked himself. "Where does it come from, that heavenly song?"
It seemed to come from beyond a cluster of rocks where the river bent down to the south. Enthralled, Santanu picked his way between the rocks, taking care to make no sound, following the song. Wading through a shallow pool, he hoisted himself up on to a boulder and looked over to the other side from where the melody emerged, strong and  clear now, calling...
It was a woman, wrapped in a single silken cloth, a crimson sheath. She sat on a rock barely three paces from him, her back turned towards him, singing to herself and yet, he knew, only for him. The sunshine played on her naked shoulders and arms, her skin shone smooth and golden; down her back fell a thick curtain of black hair in a cascade of shining, springing curls and it took all of Santanu's strength, that strength that had never yet been subdued in battle, to keep from stepping up to plunge his hand into its whorling mass.
"Who are you? What are you doing here?" he whispered, barely audible. Has she heard me? I hope not... much better I turn and leave, for she is...
But she stopped singing at his words and turned towards him, looking over her shoulder, smiling, not startled, but gracefully, and her features showed no surprise. Indeed, her eyes shone with recognition, deep and dark and warmly glowing. That glow enfolded Santanu; his heart pounded, his skin tingled, his mind trembled, his thoughts grew thin and floated apart in the vast open sky of his mind. Once more, he longed to reach out and touch her, to see if she were real.
If I touch her she will surely vanish. She is a trick of the mind. The river is playing with me...
"Who are you? Where do you come from?" he whispered again, hardly expecting an answer. Then, fearing he had been too bold, he continued: "Forgive me if I seem forward... but I must know! For I feel I have known you forever, though we have never met in this life. My heart longs for you, my soul thirsts for you... my knees tremble, and I feel faint!"
And indeed his knees gave way and he sank down to the rocks, wondering what strange thing had befallen him.  He had thought himself immune to the charms of women. Though many fine princesses had been offered to him, daughters of great and mighty kings, always his heart had refused. This is not the one, he knew, and not this, and thus he had remained without a wife and without a child, his kingdom without an heir. Now, kneeling before this perfect vision, he knew why. He had been waiting only for her.
Seeing his dilemma the perfect woman stood up and stepped towards him, ever smiling.
"King, your heart tells you the truth, though your mind is yet veiled in ignorance. What need then for words?"
"Will you stay with me then, and be my queen?"
"So it is destined. But first you must promise me what I ask."
“Ask what you will, my heart. If it is in my power, I shall fulfil your wish."
"It is no ordinary wish, king, and difficult to fulfil. Listen: never, under any condition, must you ask me my name, or where I come from. Never, under any condition, must you question any of my actions. Never, under any condition, shall the least rebuke against me pass from your lips. Promise this, and I shall be your queen. But know: if ever you break your promise, then I must leave you."
"Only this!" Santanu rejoiced. "But this is easy! My heart, I swear I shall always respect this your wish. I give you my word, so give me your hand. Come, and be my Queen!"

On Santanu's wedding day his heart was near to bursting, so great was his joy. His beloved was saintly in all her ways, a blessing to his household and to the land he ruled from the white city of Hastinapura. His soul burst into flower, the time of thirsting long past. And very soon the queen was with child, the fruit of their love.

A son was born to Santanu and his nameless Queen, the long-awaited heir to the Kuru throne. The entire kingdom pulsed with rejoicing, for Santanu was benevolent and well-loved by his people; they poured out from their homes and danced in the streets, scattering flowers, laughing and cheering at the good fortune that had befallen them all. The air was sweet with the incense they burned; it throbbed with the rattle of drums and the clang of cymbals and the blare of trumpets. The palace doors flew open and smiling courtiers called in the poor to be fed and given new clothes; while Santanu himself in his finest attire hastened to the Queen's quarters.
But she, her face blank and bloodless, eyes without life, wrapped the boy in a sequined cloth, gathered him into her arms and hastened with him from the palace. Concerned, the king followed her, calling her back, but she paid no heed. Ignoring his desperate calls she ran down to the swirling river, hesitated one moment... and threw the child into it.
Now she turned to face her husband. Seeing his horrified face, distorted with agony and disbelief, her stony eyes grew moist with compassion.
"It is for his own good," she whispered as she swept past him.
Remembering his marital vow Santanu spoke not a word of rebuke. His head hung low, shoulders hunched, tears streaming from his eyes; he followed his nameless Queen back to the palace in silence. 

Chapter 2 - The Story of  the Cow of Plenty

Six more sons were born to Santanu and his murderous queen. Six more sons she gave to the river. She threw them in with never so much as a shudder of pain, watched always by the stone-struck Santanu. She drowned his boys, and all she gave for his wordless grief were six scant words of comfort: It is for his own good.
A cloud of gloom spread through the kingdom. Tongues wagged: The queen is a demoness! Others declared her a saint. It is the seven boys who were asuras, demons! We are under a curse! She killed them to save us from destruction! But no-one really knew. And the king kept his promise.

An eighth child was born. This time, too, the queen gathered him in his arms as before and hastened with him to the river, followed by Santanu. But as she raised him up to toss him into the water the king leaped forward and snatched him away from her, and spoke in a voice that trembled with rage and grief:
"No! Not this time! This one is mine! What woman are you, to murder your own children! Are you indeed a demoness, as they all whisper? What are you? Who are you? Why have you done this dastardly thing?"
The queen's arms fell to her sides and she turned to look at him with eyes as kind and gentle as ever before.
"So be it, good king," she said. "You have broken your promise, and I must leave you. So it must be; for this child is destined to live. But listen now: I am Ganga!"
As she spoke these words the veil of ignorance drew back from Santanu's mind and he remembered:

Between this birth and the last Santanu, in Brahma's heavenly court, beheld the lovely goddess Ganga clothed in robes of light. Instead of lowering his glance to rest in reverence at her feet  he gazed at her in longing, drawing her own loving glance to meet his own, and he broke into a sweat, as never happens in heaven. Ganga smiled and nodded.
Brahma, seeing them thus engaged, pointed downwards and thundered: GO! Go from this place and be born on earth as mortals to fulfil this impure love!

All this Santanu now saw, and it brought great pain to his heart that he had loved the goddess Ganga without knowing her.
"Ganga! My dearest beloved! How foolish I have been! I bow before you now in shame and repentance and beg your forgiveness. Beloved one, do not leave me, for had I known you I would have kept my vow, knowing that you, the Mother of all beings, Love incarnate, can do no evil!"
Compassion shone in Ganga's eyes, and she smiled and put out a hand and touched him as he knelt before her, but, sadly shaking her head, she spoke again:
"No, Santanu, our destiny together has been fulfilled. I must go, taking this child with me."
"Must you take him? Must you? If you must go, cannot you leave him as a comfort to my grief? Shall I grow old and weary with neither you, nor even this one son to love?"
"Yes. I must."
"But why, oh Ganga? Who is he? And who are those seven boys born before him? Why did you drown them? You have torn out my heart; so at least give my mind the solace of knowing why all this has come to pass."
"Listen, king:
“These eight boys are the eight celestial brothers known as the Vasus. This last child, the one you still hold in your arms, is Dyaus, the eldest of those brothers. One day Dyaus' wife, looking down, saw the wish-fulfilling Cow of Plenty belonging to the sage Vasishta, grazing in a green sloping pasture of the fabled Mount Meru, the holiest of mountains. Immediately she coveted it.
‘Husband!’ she spoke to Dyaus. ‘There is the famous Cow of Plenty, out of whose udders the sweetest nectar flows, granting everlasting youth to any mortal who drinks of it. Now listen, husband! Get me this Cow! I have a friend on earth, a Queen famous for her great beauty, but how quickly the beauty of a mortal fades! If she could but drink of this milk, how happy she would be! Please, fetch this Cow for me, so that I may give it to my friend!’
Now Dyaus knew that Vasishta had been given this Cow by Vishnu himself, and he feared the seer's wrath; yet he loved his wife and could not deny her any wish.
So while Vasishta was in the forest gathering fruit for his evening meal Dyaus and his seven brothers sneaked up upon the Cow and dragged her away, tears pouring from her eyes and moaning in grief. Hearing the mournful cries of his beloved Cow Vasishta hurried back to his hermitage and found she had been stolen. Opening his divine eye he saw the Vasus dragging her down the mountainside.
Seized with wrath Vasishta uttered a curse that caused the very earth to tremble: ‘These eight vasus shall be born on earth as mortals!’
At that very moment the Cow broke away from the Vasus and ran back to her Master. The Vasus, too, realized their wrongdoing and approached the sage with bowed heads to admit their fault and beg Vasishta's pardon.
‘Oh great sage, we are sinners and deserve your wrath. But please, oh please, have mercy upon us and release us from this curse!’
By this time, Vasishta's wrath, fleeting as a thunderbolt, had vanished and he blessed them.
‘Yet in my wrath I have cursed you and words once spoken cannot be made unsaid. You shall all be born on earth.’
Highly alarmed, the Vasus fell at his feet and begged him to somehow weaken the curse. Vasishta said:
‘The words have been uttered and I can do nothing to alter them, you must be born as mortals.’ His voice grew deep with compassion. ‘But listen: I will grant you a boon. If you can find a woman—and what a woman that must be!—willing to bear you and immediately after birth put you to death, then you may return to heaven without delay. But you, Dyaus!’
Dyaus trembled as he felt the sage's stern gaze upon him, and looked up. ‘You, Dyaus, your fault was the greatest. I shall not grant you this boon. No: you shall live a long, long life among mortals. But you shall be great among them.’”
Ganga reached out and touched Santanu. "The eight Vasus were all present the day that Brahma banished us to earth. Hearing that I was to become your wife they beseeched me to give birth to them and release them from life immediately, and I, in my compassion, agreed. This is why these seven sons had to die: it was for their own good, and at their own request. Now they are back in heaven, where they belong."
"And what is to become of this one?" asked Santanu. The little child in his arms stirred and yawned; Santanu held it all the closer to his chest, for Ganga had said she would take him. No! cried his heart. Not this one!
But Ganga took the child from him with gentle hands.
"This is Gangeya, the son of Ganga," she said. "I will take him now, for having lost seven children I too long to know the joys of motherhood. I am taking him to my home in the mountains where this river has its birth. There he will have the best education, fitting for a prince and a great ruler; for his destiny is to be Grandsire of a magnificent folk of fearless heroes. His might and valour shall be famous long, long after his passing and even in a thousand years men will tremble when they hear his name. I am taking him now, King. I will educate him. And when he is ready I will send him back to you."