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PART ONE: THE GAME OF DICE
For revenge, Drupada has children by sorcery, born out of flames: son Dhrishtadyumna is fated to kill Drona; an oracle says daughter Draupadi will “bring destruction on an unrighteous ruler;” a third child Sikhandi is Amba reborn.
- Later in the war, Drona and Bhishma will fight on the side of the Kauravas not so much out of loyalty but because their mortal enemies (Dhrishtadyumna and Sikhandi) fight with the Pandavas.
- Karna's lowly caste (social status) will haunt him throughout the epic; later at a contest for the hand of Draupadi, she rejects him outright because he is from a servant family. For a person who desires to be measured by his accomplishments, living under this shadow is unbearable.
As the child of the sun, Karna was born with golden armor over his skin. Later, the god Indra tricks Karna into giving this divine protection away.
- After Karna was born, Kunti remained a virgin
In the Mahabharata Shiva is not the “destroyer” of the later Puranas, but has more to do with blessings of fertility: he also granted Gandhari her 100 sons.
In the medieval Puranas, the story developed that Vishnu had appeared on earth nine times in the past as an avatar or incarnation, in order to set the world back on the right path, and would appear again at the end of the age.
- Krishna’s deification in the Mahabharata may be based on later interpolations into the text, as there is considerable tension in the epic between the depiction of the divine Krishna and the human prince who acts as counselor to the Pandavas, gives devious advice, and eventually dies.
The Dice Game and the Humiliation of Draupadi
Duryodhana follows the advice of his uncle, the cunning Shakuni, an infamous dice player, and invites Yudhishthira to a game, knowing full well that gambling is his cousin's one weakness. Yudhishthira accepts.
Duryodhana is not an original thinker, always relying on other’s ideas. His uncle gave him the idea for the arson and the dice game. (Later during the war Duryodhana suggests capturing Yudhishthira and playing another game, which Drona calls stupid.)
- Duryodhana always threatens to commit suicide when things don’t go his way (almost comical): “Excessive self-centeredness leads to unrealistic demands and unreasonable expectations from life” (Chaitanya 67).
- Kunti: “Duryodhana is a blind man’s son, living blindly.” (play)
Both Dhritarashtra and Yudhishthira ignore Vidura’s warning to avoid the game, leaving the results to “supreme and unavoidable” fate. Krishna warns Bhishma not to interfere with the dice game: “If your race must be destroyed to save dharma, would you allow it?” (play) Told by his father that a warrior’s dharma is to fight honorably, not to win at all costs, Duryodhana says, “The way of the warrior is fixed on victory, whether there’s dharma or adharma on his way.”
The Importance of Dharma
Preparations for War
- In the Medieval Puranas, Parasurama becomes one of the avatars of Vishnu, but there is no indication of that aspect in the epic.
The Thirteenth Year
Unlike many epic heroes, at this point Arjuna thinks before he acts. Arjuna hesitates before such killing, wanting to retreat from life and responsibility (tension between dharma and moksha), but Krishna tells him as a warrior it's his dharma to fight. The real conflict today is with the self on the “battlefield of the soul.
Don't worry about death, which is only one small step in the great and endless cycle of life. One neither kills or is killed. The soul merely casts off old bodies and enters new ones, just as a person changes garments. Death is only illusion (maya).
How does a warrior perform his duty without doing wrong, polluting himself with the blood of his enemies? The secret is detachment: do your duty without concern for the personal consequences. “Victory and defeat, pleasure and pain are all the same. Act, but don't reflect on the fruits of the act. Forget desire, seek detachment.” (play)
We must always do what is right without desiring success or fearing defeat. “Work without desire for the results, and thus without entangling yourself in karmic reactions.” (KD 550) Krishna tells Arjuna that good deeds will not get one to heaven if the desire for heaven is the sole motivation for good deeds. Desire is responsible for rebirth; if any desire remains when we die, we must return to another life.
Likewise, Yudhishthira told Draupadi during the exile that he performs dharma not for reward but because it is what a good person does; after the battle he has a similar crisis when he temporarily refuses to rule, despairing at all the carnage he has caused.
“Actions performed under the direct guidance of the Supreme Lord or His representative are called akarma. This type of activity produces neither good nor bad reactions. Just as a soldier may kill under the command of his superior officer and not be held responsible for murder, though if he kills on his own accord he is liable for punishment, similarly, a Krishna-conscious person acts under the Lord's direction and not for his own sake.” (BG as it is: online)
“Such a person takes no delight in sensual pleasures. He is ever satisfied within himself. No miseries can disturb him, nor any kind of material happiness. He is without attachment, fear and anger, and remains always aloof to the dualities of the world. … His mind is fixed upon the Supreme and he is always peaceful.” (KD 551)
There are two paths to liberation: renunciation (moksha) and performing one’s duty without desire. Since no one can truly renounce all action in life (this is a pretense of asceticism), it is better to work without attachment (KD 551). Some scholars think that the Bhagavad Gita was composed to combat a religious challenge from Jainism and Buddhism which arose in the 6th century BC, both teaching salvation through renouncing the world, the former by asceticism, the latter by monastic life (Kinsley 31).
Krishna explains that the knowledge he imparts is ancient, just as he told it millions of years ago. Arjuna asks, “How can I accept this? It appears that you were born in this world only recently.” Krishna explains, birth too is an illusion, as men are born countless times. But in Krishna’s case, he comes into every age: “Whenever righteousness (dharma) becomes lax, O Arjuna, and injustice (adharma) arises, then I send myself forth to protect the good and bring evildoers to destruction. For the secure establishment of dharma, I come into being age after age. ... I was born to destroy the destroyers.”
Krishna then reveals his divine, universal nature to Arjuna in a magnificent vision of a multitude of gods, stretching out to infinity. Resolved now to perform his duty to his lord, Arjuna leads his troops into battle.
- For more information, see Bhagavad Gita On-Line and Bhagavad Gita home page
The Battle Begins
Drona takes command
- Earlier during the time of exile, Jayadratha had tried to kidnap Draupadi, thus another reason for the Pandavas to hate him.
The Death of Karna
Stubborn but loyal, Karna could have been king, as eldest of the Pandavas, but he remained with the Kauravas. He always fights fair, and keeps his promise to Kunti not to kill any brothers but Arjuna. Their rivalry echoes the mythic conflict between their divine fathers Indra and Surya.
The Death of Duryodhana
- "There is no duty higher than Truth," but five falsehoods are not sinful: lying in jest, lying to a woman, lying at wedding, lying to save a teacher, lying to save one's life.
- The foremost duty of kings is to revere Brahmins.
- "No creature is more sinful than woman; women are the root of all evil; she is poison, she is a snake, she is fire," but at the same time, "Righteousness of men depends on women. All pleasures and enjoyments depend on women."
- Cows constitute the stairs that lead to heaven; cows are goddesses able to grant every wish; nothing in the world superior; one should never go to bed or rise in the morning without reciting the names of cows." Cows provide cleansing from sin. "There is nothing unattainable for one who is devoted to cows" (this goes on for about 50 pages).
- 1000 names of Vishnu (26 pages)
- Shortly after, Arjuna tells Krishna that he has forgotten his teaching (contained in the Bhagavad Gita) so for 36 chapters this advice is repeated.
In Hindu thought, neither heaven (svarga) or hell are eternal, but only intervals between rebirths. Everyone must first spend some time in hell (or a hell, as there are many) to pay for the sins of the most recent life. Yudhishthira had to experience hell for only a moment, because of his lie to Drona. Heaven is obtained by good deeds, but only for a limited time until the accumulated merit runs out.
According to one tradition, there are six planes of existence (lokas) above earth and seven lokas (hells) below. However, no action can occur in these other worlds, so that a person's karma doesn't change until he returns to earth.
“Actions performed in accordance with scriptural injunctions … lead the performer to the heavenly planets for prolonged sensual enjoyment. However, when a person's pious credits are exhausted, he must return to Earth, just as a person returns from a holiday and resumes his work.” (“BG as it is: Online”)
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