You can read the previous post in this series here: Part 1
The Surprise Visit of Brahma
When Vyasa had formulated his poem, he desired to teach it to his disciples. At that time, to his surprise, Lord Brahma¹ visited him in person. Surrounded by many tribes of sages, Vyasa paid obeisance to his visitor. As a mark of reverence, the sage circumambulated Lord Brahma and stood humbly near him.
Upon Lord Brahma’s insistence, Vyasa sat next to him and said, “Divine Lord, I’ve composed a poem. It’s a compilation of many scriptures and everything else I know. But, I can’t find a scribe for it.”
“Rishi Vyasa, I esteem your knowledge. Your account is the Divine’s word, and it’s the language of truth. You’ve termed your work as a poem. Hence, poem it will be! No other narrative will equal yours! Please invoke Lord Ganesha. He’ll be your writer,” Lord Brahma replied and retreated to his abode.
Ganesha, The Scribe
Vyasa mentally invoked Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. Soon, Ganesha appeared before the sage.
After offering salutations to him, Vyasa said, “The leader of Ganas²! Please be my writer. I’ve already composed my poem.”
“Sure! I’ll write, as long as my pen doesn’t stop. Even for a moment,” Ganesha challenged.
“Accepted! But, you’ll stop if you can’t comprehend my narration.”
With that, Lord Ganesha chanted the sacred word, Om. He then proceeded to scribe Vyasa’s narration.
The Verse Counts
Sauti continued his narration:
Vyasa recited in plenty. Even the omniscient Ganesha pondered upon some of those complicated verses. Whenever Ganesha stopped, Vyasa got his break! To date, none can decode those mysterious verses.
Vyasa’s son, Suka, and I (Sauti) are familiar with the 8800 verses³. If this epic is a tree, this first chapter is the seed⁴. The other books, chapters, and sections are like the tree’s trunk, branches, and so on⁵!
Ages ago, there lived Bheeshma, the wise son of Ganga. At his request, Vyasa impregnated⁶ the deceased King Vichitravirya’s wives. Then, the sage returned to his reclusive abode and proceeded with his austerities. He had fathered three princes - Dhritarashtra, Pandu, and Vidura. Vyasa published his work in this part of the world only when all three had left their bodies.
During his Snake Yagna (fire sacrifice), King Janamejaya requested Vyasa⁷ to narrate his poem. Vyasa instructed his disciple Vaisampayana to do the honors. The narrations occurred between the ceremonies, and thousands of people heard it.
It’s a compilation of about 24,000 verses⁸ that are called the Bharata. Vyasa created another collection of 600,000 verses⁹. Of those, he released 300,000 in the Devas’ world. And the rest were published in the worlds of Gandharvas, Yakshas, Rakshasas, and others. Of those, I (Sauti) can recite 100,000 verses.
The Summary of Incidents
Book 1-Adi Parva-Chapter 1 is the table of contents. So, it provides a detailed listing of the significant incidents covered in this epic. To avoid redundancy, I’ve skipped these portions.
This listing of events ends with Dhritarashtra receiving the news of Pandavas’ success. He is the King of Hastinapur who has lost the war, and all of his hundred sons have died. He laments to his friend and charioteer, Sanjaya. From pages worth of his lamentations, I’m providing some highlights here.
Sanjaya, I didn’t want this war! I didn’t discriminate between Pandu’s children and mine. My sons disliked me because I’m old and blind.
My son Duryodhana eyed the riches of Pandu’s sons. He was embarrassed due to his awkwardness in the Pandavas’ kingdom. My son couldn’t bear it. He also sensed that he couldn’t defeat the Pandavas in battle. With help from the King of Gandhara¹⁰, he played that unfair game of dice.
Draupadi’s voice choked with tears, and her heart ached in agony. My sons dragged her into court. Sanjaya, at that point, I knew we had no hope of success. Sage Narada¹¹ declared that Arjuna and Krishna were the mighty twin sages Nara and Narayana. Then, I knew we had no hopes!
My wife Gandhari is worthy of pity. She has lost her children, grandchildren, brothers, and almost her entire family. A total of ten warriors are alive! Three of ours and seven on the Pandavas’ side. Armies of warriors have died. Please help me, Sanjaya! I’m sinking in darkness. I don’t desire to live.
My dear King, none can defy the destiny marked for them by the Divine. Time is the root cause of all. Time has created everything, and Time destroys it all. We’re incapable of overcoming it. You’re a king. Please ponder upon this and don’t lose your reasoning.
Benefits of Reading this Epic
Sauti continued his narration:
Taking the above-mentioned events as his theme, Vyasa composed this scripture. The study of Bharata is a pious act.
Devoted persons get cleansed of their negativities if they read even a bit of this scripture. If recited during Shraaddha¹², the offerings made to the ancestors become inexhaustible.
The one who reads this scripture reaps the benefit of learning the Vedas. If we place all the four Vedas on one side of a balance and the Bharata on the other, the latter weighs heavier!
Sauti’s Statutory Warning:
Tapas or penance, the study of scriptures, and the Vedic teachings are harmless. Yet, when abused in their practices, they become sources of evil.
- Lord Brahma: The epic makes Lord Brahma sound like a person. Also, Vyasa addresses him by a couple of different names. Those are: 1) Hiraṇyagarbha —The golden womb. 2) Parameṣṭhi — A superior or chief of gods.
- Ganas: A group of Lord Shiva’s followers and residents of Kailasha, Shiva’s abode. They revered Ganesha as their leader. Thus, Gana + Isha (Lord or Leader) = Ganesha.
- 38800 Verses: Possibly, the original count of verses written by Vyasa. Or, this could be the number of mysterious verses in the epic. Most scholars believe it is the former.
- This first chapter is the seed: This first Parva, chapter or section, is known as Anukramanika. Anukrama means the table of contents. Poetically, the contents table is the seed of the text!
- Author’s Note: Since this chapter is the table of contents, Sauti provides a list of all the books and sections in this epic. I’ve removed this list to prevent redundancy.
- Impregnated: In the days of yore, if a king died without an heir, some non-attached sage was requested to make the queens pregnant. The sages, who had conquered lust, agreed to such an act out of their compassion. They never got attached to such off-springs. The queens consented to the act in a sense of responsibility. They were under pressure to deliver an heir to continue the lineage.
- Vyasa: Sage Veda Vyasa is considered to be a Chiranjeevi, the one who is alive forever. Perhaps, he is out there somewhere even today! Or, it could simply mean that he had an extraordinarily long lifespan.
- 824,000 Verse: What this number means is vague. Considering the context, it appears to be the number of verses narrated by Vaisampayana.
- 600,000 Verses: Perhaps, this could’ve been the detailed version. Based on Sauti’s narration, the Mahabharata that we have today might be a small portion of these verses.
- King of Gandhara: Shakuni, a mastermind behind the war.
- Narada: He’s a Divine sage, who’s said to be Lord Brahma’s son. He was a traveling musician and a storyteller who carried news and enlightening wisdom from one place to another. The scriptures refer to him as someone wise and virtuous yet mischievous.
- Shraaddha: A ceremony performed in honor of our deceased ancestors.
You can read the next part in this series here: Part 3