Mahabharata (53rd Edition)

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Mahabharata (53rd Edition)
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Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, popularly known as “Rajaji” or “C.R”, was a great patriot, astute politician, incisive thinker, a great visionary, and one of the greatest statesmen of all time. He was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, hailed as the conscience-keeper of the Mahatma. As an ardent freedom-fighter, as Chief Minister of Madras, as Governor of West Bengal, as Home Minister of India, and as the first Indian Governor General of India he rendered yeoman service to the nation and left an indelible impression on our contemporary life.

Rajaji was closely associated with Kulapati Munshiji and he was among the distinguished founder-members of the Bhavan. The Bhavan had the privilege of publishing 18 books (see page ii) by him so far, the copyright of which he gifted to the Bhavan.

Rajaji’s books on Marcus Aurelius, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanishads are popular. But in Mahabharata, he displays his inimitable flair for telling stories and applying their morals to the needs of modern times. The stories were originally written in Tamil and have been rendered into English, mainly by Rajaji himself. To have preserved the beauty and spirit of the great original in refined and simple English is an achievement of the highest order.

Rajaji passed away in 1972 at the age of 94.

Kulapati’s Preface

The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan – that Institute of Indian Culture in Bombay – needed a Book University, a series of books which if read, would serve the purpose of providing higher education. Particular emphasis, however, was to be put on such literature as revealed the deeper impulsions of India. As a first step, it was decided to bring out in English 100 books, 50 of which were to be taken in hand almost at once. Each book was to contain from 200 to 250 pages.

It is our intention to publish the books we select, not only in English but also in the following Indian languages: Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam.

This scheme, involving the publication of 900 volumes, requires ample funds and an all-India organization. The Bhavan is exerting its utmost to supply them.

The objectives for which the Bhavan stands are the reintegration of Indian culture in the light of modern knowledge and to suit our present-day needs and the resuscitation of its fundamental values in their pristine vigour.

Let me make our goal more explicit:- We seek the dignity of man, which necessarily implies the creation of social conditions which would allow him the freedom to evolve along the lines of his own temperament and capacities; we seek the harmony of individual efforts and social relations, not in any makeshift way, but within the framework of the Moral Order; we seek the creative art of life, by the alchemy of which human limitations are progressively transmuted, so that man may become the instrument of God, and is able to see Him in all and all in Him.

The world, we feel in too much with us. Nothing would uplift or inspire us so much as the beauty and aspiration which such books can teach. In this series, therefore, the literature of India, ancient and modern, will be published in a form easily accessible to all. Books in other literatures of the world, if they are accessible to all. Books in other literatures of the world, if they are accessible to all. Books in other literatures of the world, if they illustrate the principles we stand for, will also be included. Illustrate the principles we stand for, will also be included.

This common pool of literature, it is hoped, will enable the reader, eastern or Western, to understand and appreciate the current of the world they flow through different linguistic channels, and have a common urge and aspiration.

Fittingly, the Book University’s first venture is the Mahabharata, summarized by one of the greatest living Indians, C. Rajagopalachari; the second work is on a section of it, the Gita by H.V. Divatia, an eminent jurist and a student of philosophy. Centuries ago, it was proclaimed in the Mahabharata: “What is not in it, is nowhere.” After twenty-five centuries, we can use the same words about it. He who knows it not knows not the heights and depths of the soul; he misses the trials and tragedy and the beauty and grandeur of life.

The Mahabharata is not a mere epic; it is a romance, telling the tale of heroic men and women and of some who were divine; it is a whole literature in itself, containing a code of life; philosophy of social and ethical relations, and speculative thought on human problems that are hard to rival; but, above all, it has for its core the Gita, which is, as the world is beginning to find out, the nobles of scriptures and the grandest of sagas in which the climax is reached in the wondrous Apocalypse in the Eleventh Canto.

Through such books alone the harmonies underlying true culture, I am convinced, will one day reconcile the disorders of modern life.

I thank all those who have helped to make this new branch of the Bhavan’s activity successful.

Preface to First Edition

It is not an exaggeration to say that the persons and incidents portrayed in the great literature of a people influence national character no less potently than the actual heroes and events enshrined in its history. It may be claimed that the former play an even more important part in the formation of ideals, which give to character its impulse of growth. Don Quixote, Gulliver, Pickwick, Sam Weller, Sir Roger de Coverley, Falstaff, Shylock, King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, Alice and her wanderings in Wonderland, all these and many such other creations of genius are not less real in the minds of the British people than the men and women who lived and died and lie buried in British soil. Since literature is so vitally related to life and character, it follows that so long as the human family remains divided into nations, the personae and events of one national literature have not an equal appeal to all, because they do not awaken the same associations. A word or phrase about Flastaff or Uncle Toby carries to English men a world of significance that it does not to others. Similarly, a word or phrase about Hanuman, Bhima, Arjuna, Bharata, or Sita conveys to us in India, learned and illiterate alike, a significance all it's on, of which an English rendering cannot convey even a fraction to outsiders, however interested in Indian mythology and folklore.

In the moving history of our land, from time immemorial great minds have been formed and nourished and touched to heroic deeds by the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In most Indian homes, children formerly learned these immortal stories as they learned their mother tongue at the mother’s knee; and the sweetness and sorrows of Sita and Draupadi, the heroic fortitude of Rama and Arjuna, and the loving fidelity of Lakshmana and Hanuman became the stuff of their young philosophy of life.

The growing complexity of life has changed the simple pattern of early home life. Still, there are few in our land who do not know the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, though the stories come to them so embroidered with the garish fancies of the Kalakshepam and the cinema as to retain but little of the dignity and approach to the truth of Vyasa or Valmiki. It occurred to me some years ago that I might employ some of the scanty leisure of a busy life in giving to our Tamil children in easy prose the story of the Mahabharata that we, more fortunate in this than they, heard in our homes as children. Vyasa’s Mahabharata is one of our noble's Heritages, and it is my cherished belief that to hear it faithfully told is to love it and come under its elevating influence. It strengthens the soul and derives home as nothing else does-the vanity of ambition and the evil and futility of anger and hatred. Some years ago, I wrote the story of Sisupala under the caption “Mudal Tambulam” (precedence in Guest-Worship) for a Tamil magazine. The editor liked it so much that he persuaded me to take up the task of giving the whole of the Mahabharata to our people in the form of stories. The work, which I began with some diffidence, soon cast its spell on me, and presently I came to love it and imagined myself telling these stories to dear Tamil children, clustering eager-eyed to hear the deeds of the godlike heroes of our motherland. I also hoped that the reading of these stories might enliven village evenings, in which rustics gather socially in the charade or temple after their day’s work is done. I covered the Mahabharata in 107 stories. The writing recaptured for me sacred and touching associations which are part of my life; every sentence had for me a fragrance of the living past. This quality can never of course be preserved or brought out in an English translation. All the same, I hope this book will serve some purpose. I did a substantial part of the translation myself, but a great part was done for me by kind friends. I tender my most grateful thanks to Sri P. Seshadri and to Sri. S. Krishnamurti, without whose labors this book would not have been possible. Last but not least, I am grateful to Sri Navaratna Rama Rao, whose help by way of careful revision of the entire manuscript is as much a precious memento of personal affection as public service.

Preface to Second Edition

This is not a reprint but a carefully revised new edition and I once again record my gratitude for the loving care with which Sri Navaratna Rama Rao has helped to bring this about. This book is as much his handiwork as mine, so far as the difficult and delicate task of translation goes. In most translations, as Sir Walter Scott once humorously remarked, the noble transmutation is from gold into lead. If this has not happened in this case, the credit is due to my friend Sri Navaratna Rama Rao.

The realities of life are idealized by the genius and given the form that makes drama, poetry, or great prose. Since literature is closely related to life, so long as the human family is divided into nations, literature cannot escape the effects of such division. But the highest literature transcends regionalism and through it, when we are properly attuned, we realize the essential oneness of the human family.

The Mahabharata is of this class. It belongs to the world and not only to India. To the people of India, indeed, this epic has been an unfailing and perennial source of spiritual strength. Learned at the mother’s knee with reverence and love, it has inspired great men to do heroic deeds as well as enabled the humble to face their trials with fortitude and faith.

The Mahabharata was composed many thousand years ago. But generations of gifted reciters have added to Vyasa’s original a great mass of material. All the floating literature that was thought to be worth preserving, historical, geographical, legendary, political, theological, and philosophical of nearly thirty centuries, found a place in it. In those days, when there was no printing, interpolation in a recognized classic seemed to correspond to inclusion in the national library.

Divested of these accretions, the Mahabharata is a noble poem possessing in a supreme degree the characteristics of a true epic. Great and fateful movement, heroic characters, and stately diction.

The characters in the epic move with the vitality of real life. It is difficult to find anywhere such vivid portraiture on so ample a canvas. Bhishma, the perfect knight: the venerable Drona; the vain but chivalrous Karna; Duryodhana, whose perverse pride is redeemed by great courage in adversity; the high-souled Pandavas, with god-like strength as well as the power of suffering; Draupadi; most unfortunate of queens; Kunti, the worthy mother of heroes; Gandhari, the devoted wife and sad worthy mother of heroes; Gandhari, the devoted wife and sad mother of the wicked sons of Dhritarashtra – these are some of the immortal figures on that crowded, but never confused canvas. Then there is great Krishna himself, the most energetic of men, whose divinity scintillates through a cloud of very human characteristics. His high purposefulness pervades the whole epic. One can read even a translation and feel the overwhelming power of the incomparable vastness and sublimity of the poem.

The Mahabharata discloses a rich civilization and highly evolved society which, though of an older world strangely resembles the India of our own time, with the same values and ideals. India was divided into a number of independent kingdoms. Occasionally, one king, more distinguished or ambitious than the rest, would assume the title of emperor, securing the acquiescence of other royalties, and signalized it by a great sacrificial feast. The adherence was generally voluntary. The assumption of imperial title conferred no overlordship. The emperor was only first among his peers. The art of war was highly developed and military prowess and skill were held in high esteem. We read in the Mahabharata of standardized phalanxes and various tactical movements.

There was an accepted code of honorable warfare, deviations from which met with reproof among Kshatriyas. The advent of the Kali age is marked by many breaches of these conventions in the Kurukshetra battle, on account of the bitterness of conflict, frustration, and bereavement. Some of the most impressive passages in the epic center around these breaches of dharma.

The population lived in cities and villages. The cities were the headquarters of kings and their households and staff. There were beautiful palaces and gardens and the lives led were cultured and luxurious. There was trade in the cities, but the mass of the people were agriculturists.

Besides this urban and rural life, there was a very highly cultured life in the seclusion of forest recesses, centered around ascetic teachers. These asramas kept alive the bright fires of learning and spiritual thought. Young men of noble birth eagerly sought education at these asramas. World-weary age went there for peace. These centers of culture were cherished by the rulers of the land and not the proudest of them would dare to treat the members of the hermitages otherwise than with respect and consideration.

Women were highly honored and entered largely into the lives of their husbands and sons. The caste system prevailed, but intercaste marriages were not unknown. Some of the greatest warriors in the Mahabharata were brahmanas.

The Mahabharata has molded the character and civilization of one of the most numerous of the world’s people. How did it fulfil-how is it still continuing to fulfil-this function? By its gospel of dharma, which like a golden thread runs through all the complex movements in the epic; by its lesson that hatred breeds hatred, that covetousness, and violence lead inevitably to ruin, that the only real conquest is in the battle against one’s lower nature.

Indeed the Mahabharata has another name known among scholars-JAYA-which means victory, conveying the moral herein indicated. ‘Jaya’ is the name, by which the work is referred to, in the first invocatory verse of the epic.

If a foreigner reads this book translation and epitome though it is and closes it with a feeling that he has read a good and elevating work, he may be confident that he has grasped the spirit of India and can understand her people-high and low, rich, and poor.


Preface to Fourth Edition

With their characteristic zeal, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan is bringing out a fourth edition of this book. Asked to write something by way of a fresh preface, I think of the days when I first began to write these chapters in Tamil for KALKI. The Congress had then resigned from its position in all the provincial governments and Hitler’s war was on. I was in a double wilderness. I remember what great peace I found then in re-reading this great epic of our land and telling it in simple Tamil. This was twelve years ago. Again, in the middle of 1954, when I laid down the office of Chief Minister of Madras after a difficult and critical period of two years, I found the peace that I needed in Valmiki’s epic. I re-told the Ramayana in weekly chapters to the Tamil people. I have just concluded that work as I write this preface. I have lived a pretty active life. But I feel that these two things that I have done are the best service I have rendered to my people. These two books of mine have been widely read and enjoyed. They have helped the simple folk in the Tamil country to realize their higher selves. Naturally, this has been a source of great joy to me in the evening of my life. It is good to be a political and national worker and to take office and work hard. But I have seen that it is better to be able to leave it and enjoy the company of the sages of our land and to help them to speak to our men and women again.

The English rendering of my Mahabharata has been distributed by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan with remarkable success and I tender to them my warm gratitude for this service. The sages of our land had never thought of land or sea boundaries. They thought in all things for all mankind and we are fulfilling their intention when we render our classics into English in a form suitable for the present-day international world.

The English rendering of my Mahabharata has been distributed by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan with remarkable success and I tender to them my warm gratitude for this service. The sages of our land had never thought of land or sea boundaries. They thought in all things for all mankind and we are fulfilling their intention when we render our classics into English in a form suitable for the present-day international world.

I am grateful to the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan which has brought out these fresh reprints of my Ramayana and Mahabharata books. The Bhavan has achieved great success through the very wide distribution organized by it these two books, seek to bring Valmiki and Vyasa near to those who have no access to the unrivaled original classics. The characters and incidents of these two itihasas have come to be the raw material for the works of numerous poets and saints that came later to write dramas and sing poems and hymns to keep this nation on the straight path. Oral discourses have further played with them in order to entertain and instruct pious audiences and not a few variations and additions have been made to the original. All the languages of India have the Ramayana and Mahabharata retold by their poets, with additions and variations of their own. It is good to have the narrative written up for young people as told in the original epics, and these two books of mine seek to serve that object.

I appeal particularly to the young men in schools and colleges to read these books. There is not a page in them but after reading you will emerge with greater courage, a stronger will, and a purer mind. They are not just storybooks, although they are very good in their way too. They are the records of the mind and spirit of our forefathers who carved for the good, ever so much more than for the pleasant, and who saw more of the mystery of life than we can do in our interminable pursuit for petty and illusory achievements in the material plane. We should be thankful to those who preserved for us these many centuries-old epics in spite of all the vicissitudes through which our nation passed since Vyasa and Valmiki’s time. Even the poets who wrote these epics in the original did not create but built out of the inherited bricks of national memory prior to their own time Reading the Ramayana and Mahabharata even in the form I have given them. We go back to live with our ancient forbears and listen to their grand voices.

Mythology is an integral part of religion. It is necessary for religion and national culture as the skin and skeleton preserve fruit with its juice and its taste. The form is no less essential than the substance. We cannot squeeze religion and hope to bottle and keep the essence by itself. It would neither be very useful nor last very long. Mythology and holy figures are necessary for any great culture to rest on its stable spiritual foundation and function as a life-giving inspiration and guide.

Let us keep ever in our mind the fact that it is the Ramayana and the Mahabharata that bind our vast numbers together as one people, despite caste, space, and language that seemingly divide them.

I wish I were gifted with greater vision and greater ability so that I could have done this work, to which I was called better than I have done. I am thankful however for what I have been enabled to do. Thorough familiarity with our ancient heritage is necessary if we desire to preserve our individuality as a nation and serve the world through dharma which alone can save mankind from error and extinction.



Ganapati, the Scribe 1
I Devavrata 5
II Bhishma’s Vow 9
III Amba and Bhishma 13
IV Devayani and Kacha 18
V The Marriage of Devayani 24
VI Yayati 30
VII Vidura 33
VIII Kunti Devi 36
IX Death of Pandu 38
X Bhima 40
XI Karna 43
XII Drona 48
XIII The Wax Palace 52
XIV The Escape of the Pandavas 56
XV The Slaying of Bakasura 61
XVI Draupadi’s Swayamvara 68
XVII Indraprastha 74
XVIII The Saranga Birds 80
XIX Jarasandha 85
XX The Slaying of Jarasandha 88
XXI The First Honour 92
XXII Sakuni Comes In 96
XXIII The Invitation 100
XXIV The Wager 104
XXV Draupadi’s Grief 110
XXVI Dhritarashtra’s Anxiety 116
XXVII Krishna’ Vow 121
XXVIII Pasupata 124
XXIX Affliction is Nothing New 129
XXX Agastya 133
XXXI Rishyasringa 138
XXXII Fruitless Penance: Story of Yavakrida 144
XXXIII Yavakrida’s End 147
XXXIV Mere Learning is not Enough 150
XXXV Ashtavakra 153
XXXVI Bhima and Hanuma 157
XXXVII I am no Crane 163
XXXVIII The Wicked are Never Satisfied 166
XXXIX Duryodhana Disgraced 169
XL Sri Krishna’s Hunger 173
XLI The Krishna’s Hunger 177
XLII Domestic Service 185
XLIII Virtue Vindicated 191
XLIV Matsya Defended 196
XLV Prince Uttara 201
XLVI Promise Fulfilled 206
XLVII Virata’s Delusion 212
XLVIII Taking Counsel 218
XLIX Arjuna’s Charioteer 224
L Salya Against His Nephews 227
LI Vritra 231
LII Nahusha 235
LIII Sanjaya’s Mission 240
LIV Not a Needle-Point of Territory 245
LV Krishna’s Mission 249
LVI Attachment and Duty 255
LVII The Pandava Generalissimo 259
LVIII The Kaurava Generalissimo 262
LIX Balarama 263
LX Rukmini 265
LXI Non-Co-operation 269
LXII Krishna Teaches 272
LXIII Yudhishthira Seeks Benediction 275
LXIV The First Day’s Battle 278
LXV The Second Day 281
LXVI The Third Day’s Battle 285
LXVII The Fourth Day 289
LXVIII The Fifth Day 292
LXIX The Sixth Day 296
LXX The Seventh Day 299
LXXI The Eighth Day 303
LXXII The Ninth Day 307
LXXIII The Passing of Bhishma 310
LXXIV Karna and the Grandsire 313
LXXV Drona in Command 316
LXXVI To Seize Yudhishthira Alive 318
LXXVII The Twelfth Day 322
LXXVIII Brave Bhagadatta 327
LXXIX Abhimanyu 333
LXXX The Death of Abhimanyu 339
LXXXI A Father’s Grief 342
LXXXII The Sindhu King 346
LXXXIII Borrowed Armour 351
LXXXIV Yudhishthira’s Misgivings 355
LXXXV Yudhishthira’s Fond Hope 359
LXXXVI Karna and Bhima 362
LXXXVII Pledge Respected 367
LXXXVIII Bhurisravas’ End 371
LXXXIX Jayadratha Slain 376
XC Drona Passes Away 380
XCI The Death of Karna 385
XCII Duryodhana 390
XCIII The Pandavas Reproached 395
XCIV Aswatthama 400
XCV Avenged 404
XCVI Who can Give Solace? 406
XCVII Yudhishthira’s Anguish 410
XCVIII Yudhishthira Comforted 413
XCIX Envy 415
C Utanga 419
CI A Pound of Flour 422
CII Yudhishthira Rules 428
CIII Dhritarashtra 430
CIV The Passing Away of the Three 434
CV Krishna Passes Away 436
CVI Yudhishthira’s Final Trial 439
Glossary 445

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