The Mahabharata 12
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The Mahābhārata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Rāmāyaṇa. It narrates the struggle between two groups of cousins in the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pāṇḍava princes and their succession. Along with the Rāmāyaṇa, it forms the Hindu Itihasa. It also contains philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four “goals of life” or puruṣārtha (12.161). Among the principal works and stories in the Mahābhārata are the Bhagavad Gita, the story of Damayanti, an abbreviated version of the Rāmāyaṇa, and the story of Ṛṣyasringa, often considered as works in their own right.
The Mahabharata
Book 12: Santi Parva
Kisari Mohan Ganguli, tr.

Part I

Section I

(Rajadharmanusasana Parva)

OM! HAVING BOWED down to Narayana, and Nara, the foremost of male beings, and unto the goddess Saraswati, must the word Jaya be uttered.

“Vaisampayana said, ‘Having offered oblations, of water unto all their friends and kinsmen, the sons of Pandu, and Vidura, and Dhritarashtra, and all the Bharata ladies, continued to dwell there (on the banks of the sacred stream). The high-souled sons of Pandu desired to pass the period of mourning, which extended for a month, outside the Kuru city. After king Yudhishthira the just had performed the water-rites, many high-souled sages crowned with ascetic success and many foremost of regenerate Rishis came there to see the monarch. Among them were the Island-born (Vyasa), and Narada, and the great Rishi Devala, and Devasthana, and Kanwa. They were all accompanied by best of their pupils. Many other members of the regenerate order, possessed of wisdom and accomplished in the Vedas, leading lives of domesticity or belonging to the Snataka class, came to behold the Kuru king. Those high-souled ones, as they came, were duly worshipped by Yudhishthira. The great Rishis then took their seats on costly carpets. Accepting the worship suited to that period (of mourning and impurity) that was offered them, they sat in due order around the king. Thousands of Brahmanas offered consolation and comfort to that king of kings residing on the sacred banks of the Bhagirathi with heart exceedingly agitated by grief. Then Narada, after having accosted the Rishis with the Island-born for their first, in due time, addressed Yudhishthira, the son of Dharma, saying, ‘Through the might of thy arms and the grace of Madhava, the whole Earth, O Yudhishthira, hath been righteously won by thee. By good luck, thou hast escaped with life from this dreadful battle. Observant as thou art o f the duties of a Kshatriya, dost thou not rejoice, O son of Pandu? Having slain all thy foes, shalt thou not gratify thy friends, O king? Having obtained this prosperity, I hope, grief doth not afflict thee still.’

“Yudhishthira said, ‘Indeed the whole Earth hath been subjugated by me through my reliance on the might of Krishna’s arms, through the grace of the Brahmanas, and through the strength of Bhima and Arjuna. This heavy grief, however, is always sitting in my heart, viz., that through covetousness I have caused this dreadful carnage of kinsmen. Having caused the death of the dear son of Subhadra, and of the sons of Draupadi, this victory, O holy one, appears to me in the light of a defeat. What wilt Subhadra of Vrishni’s race, that sister-in-law of mine, say unto me? What also will the people residing in Dwaraka say unto the slayer of Madhu when he goes thither from this place? This Draupadi, again, who is ever engaged in doing what is agreeable to us, bereaved of sons and kinsmen, is paining me exceedingly. This is another topic, O holy Narada, about which I will speak to thee. In consequence of Kunti having kept her counsels close in respect of a very important matter, great has been my grief. That hero who had the strength of ten thousand elephants, who in this world was an unrivalled car-warrior, who was possessed of leonine pride and gait, who was endued with great intelligence and compassion, whose liberality was very great, who practised many high vows, who was the refuge of the Dhartarashtras, who was sensitive about his honour, whose prowess was irresistible, who was ready to pay off all injuries and was always wrathful (in battle), who overthrew us in repeated encounters, who was quick in the use of weapons, conversant with every mode of warfare, possessed of great skill, and endued with wonderful valour (that Karna) was a son of Kunti, born secretly of her, and therefore, a uterine brother of ours. Whilst we were offering oblations of water unto the dead, Kunti spoke of him as the son of Surya. Possessed of every virtue, that child had been cast into the water. Having placed him in a basket made of light materials, Kunti committed him to the current of Ganga. He who was regarded by the world as a Suta’s child born of Radha, was really the eldest son of Kunti and, therefore, our uterine brother. Covetous of kingdom, alas, I have unwittingly caused that brother of mine to be slain. It is this that is burning my limbs like a fire burning a heap of cotton. The white-steeded Arjuna knew him not for a brother. Neither I, nor Bhima, nor the twins, knew him for such. He, however, of excellent bow, knew us (for his brothers). We have heard that on one occasion Pritha went to him for seeking our good and addressed him, saying, ‘Thou art my son!’ That illustrious hero, however, refused to obey Pritha’s wishes. Subsequently, we are informed, he said unto his mother these words, ‘I am unable to desert Duryodhana in battle! If I do so, it would be a dishonourable, cruel, and ungrateful act. If, yielding to thy wishes, I make peace with Yudhishthira, people will say that I am afraid of the white-steeded Arjuna. Having vanquished Arjuna with Kesava, therefore, in battle, I will subsequently make peace with Dharma’s son.’ Even these were his words as we have heard. Thus answered, Pritha once more addressed her son of broad chest and said, ‘Fight Phalguna then, but spare my four other sons.’ The intelligent Karna, with joined hands, then replied unto his trembling mother, saying, ‘If I get thy four other sons even under my power, I will not slay them. Without doubt, O goddess, thou shalt continue to have five sons. If Karna be slain with Arjuna, thou shalt have five! If, on the other hand, Arjuna be slain, thou shalt have five, numbering me.’ Desirous of the good of her children, his mother once more said unto him, ‘Go, O Karna, do good unto those brothers of thine whose good thou always seekest.’ Having said these words, Pritha took his leave and came back to her abode. That hero has been slain by Arjuna,—the uterine brother by the brother! Neither Pritha, nor he, had ever disclosed the secret, O lord! That hero and great bowman was therefore slain by Arjuna in battle. Subsequently I have come to know, O best of regenerate ones, that he was my uterine brother. Indeed, at Pritha’s words I have come to know that Karna was the eldest born! Having caused my brother to be slain, my heart is burning exceedingly. If I had both Karna and Arjuna for aiding me, I could have vanquished Vasudeva himself. Whilst I was tortured in the midst of the assembly by the wicked-souled sons of Dhritarashtra, my wrath, suddenly provoked, became cooled at sight of Karna. Even while listening to the harsh and bitter words of Karna himself on that occasion of our match at dice, to the words, that Karna uttered from desire of doing what was agreeable to Duryodhana, my wrath became cooled at sight of Karna’s feet. It seemed to me that Karna’s feet resembled the feet of our mother Kunti. Desirous of finding out the reason of that resemblance between him and our mother, I reflected for a long time. With even my best exertions I failed to find the cause. Why, indeed, did the earth swallow up the wheels of his car at the time of battle? Why was my brother cursed? It behoveth thee to recite all this to me. I desire to hear everything from thee, O holy one! Thou art acquainted with everything in this world and thou knowest both the past and the future!’

Section II

“Vaisampayana said, ‘That foremost of speakers, the sage Narada, thus questioned, narrated everything about the manner in which he who was believed to be a Suta’s son had been cursed (in former days).’

“Narada said, ‘It is even so, O mighty armed one, as thou sayest, O Bharata! Nothing could resist Karna and Arjuna in battle. This, O sinless one, that I am about to tell thee is unknown to the very gods. Listen to me, O mighty-armed one, as it befell in former days. How all the Kshatriyas, cleansed by weapons should attain to regions of bliss, was the question. For this, a child was conceived by Kunti in her maidenhood, capable of provoking a general war. Endued with great energy, that child came to have the status of a Suta. He subsequently acquired the science of weapons from the preceptor (Drona), that foremost descendant of Angirasa’s race. Thinking of the might of Bhimasena, the quickness of Arjuna in the use of weapons, the intelligence of thyself, O king, the humility of the twins, the friendship, from earliest years, between Vasudeva and the wielder of Gandiva, and the affection of the people for you all, that young man burnt with envy. In early age he made friends with king Duryodhana, led by an accident and his own nature and the hate he bore towards you all. Beholding that Dhananjaya was superior to every one in the science of weapons, Karna. one day approached Drona in private and said these words unto him, ‘I desire to be acquainted with the Brahma weapon, with all its mantras and the power of withdrawing it, for I desire to fight Arjuna. Without doubt, the affection thou bearest to every one of thy pupils is equal to what thou bearest to thy own son. I pray that all the masters of the science of weapons may, through thy grace, regard me as one accomplished in weapons!’ Thus addressed by him, Drona, from partiality for Phalguna, as also from his knowledge of the wickedness of Karna, said, ‘None but a Brahmana, who has duly observed all vows, should be acquainted with the Brahma weapon, or a Kshatriya that has practised austere penances, and no other.’ When Drona had answered thus, Karna, having worshipped him, obtained his leave, and proceeded without delay to Rama then residing on the Mahendra mountains. Approaching Rama, he bent his head unto him and said, ‘I am a Brahmana of Bhrigu’s race.’ This procured honour for him. With this knowledge about his birth and family, Rama received him kindly and said, ‘Thou art welcome!’ at which Karna became highly glad. While residing on the Mahendra mountains that resembled heaven itself, Karna met and mixed with many Gandharvas, Yakshas, and gods. Residing there he acquired all the weapons duly, and became a great favourite of the gods, the Gandharvas, and the Rakshasas. One day he roved on the sea-coast by the side of that asylum. Indeed, Surya’s son, armed with bow and sword, wandered alone, While thus employed, O Partha, he inadvertently slew, without witting it, the Homa cow of a certain utterer of Brahma who daily performed his Agnihotra rite. Knowing that he had perpetrated that act from inadvertence, he informed the Brahmana of it. Indeed Karna, for the object of gratifying the owner, repeatedly said, ‘O holy one, I have killed this thy cow without wilting it. Forgive me the act!’ Filled with wrath, the Brahmana, rebuking him, said these words, ‘O thou of wicked conduct, thou deservest to be killed. Let the fruit of this act be thine, O thou of wicked soul. While fighting him, O wretch whom thou always challengest, and for whose sake thou strivest so much every day, the earth shall swallow the wheel of thy car! And while the wheel of thy car shall thus be swallowed up by the earth, thy foe, putting forth his prowess, will cut off thy head, thyself being stupefied the while! Leave me, O vile man! As thou hast heedlessly slain this my cow, even so wilt thy foe cut off thy head while thou shalt be heedless!’ Though cursed, Karna still sought to gratify that foremost of Brahmanas by offering him kine and wealth and gems. The latter, however, once more answered him, ‘All the words will not succeed in falsifying the words spoken by me! Go hence or remain, do whatever thou likest.’ Thus addressed by the Brahmana, Karna, hanging down his head from cheerlessness, returned timidly to Rama, reflecting on that matter.’

Section III

“Narada said, ‘That tiger of Bhrigu’s race (viz., Rama), was well-pleased with the might of Karna’s arms, his affection (for him), his self-restraint, and the services he did unto his preceptor. Observant of ascetic penances, Rama cheerfully communicated, with due forms, unto his penance-observing disciple, everything about the Brahma weapon with the mantras for withdrawing it. Having acquired a knowledge of that weapon, Karna began to pass his days happily in Bhrigu’s retreat, and endued with wonderful prowess, he devoted himself with great ardour to the science of weapons. One day Rama of great intelligence, while roving with Karna in the vicinity or his retreat, felt very weak in consequence of the fasts he had undergone. From affection begotten by confidence, the tired son of Jamadagni placing his head on Karna’s lap, slept soundly, White his preceptor was thus sleeping (with head) on his lap, a frightful worm, whose bite was very painful and which subsisted on phlegm and fat and flesh and blood, approached the presence of Karna. That blood-sucking worm, approaching Karna’s thigh, began to pierce it. Through fear of (awaking) his preceptor, Karna became unable to either throw away or kill that worm. Though his limb was bored through by that worm, O Bharata, the son of Surya, lest his preceptor should awake, suffered it to do its pleasure. Though the pain was intolerable, Karna bore it with heroic patience, and continued to hold Bhrigu’s son on his lap, without quivering in the least and without manifesting any sign of pain. When at last Karna’s blood touched the body of Rama of great energy, the latter awoke and said these words in fear, ‘Alas, I have been made impure! What is this that thou art doing, Tell me, casting off all fear, what is the truth of this matter!’ Then Karna informed him of that worm’s bite. Rama saw that worm which resembled a hog in shape. It had eight feet and very keen teeth, and it was covered with bristles that were all pointed like needles. Called by the name of Alarka, its limbs were then shrunk (with fear). As soon as Rama cast his, eyes on it, the worm gave up its life-breath, melting in that blood which it had drawn. All this seemed wonderful. Then in the welkin was seen a Rakshasa of terrible form, dark in hue, of a red neck, capable of assuming any form at wilt, and staying on the clouds,—his object fulfilled, the Rakshasa, with joined hands, addressed Rama, saying, ‘O best of ascetics, thou hast rescued me from this hell! Blessed be thou, I adore thee, thou hast done me good!’ Possessed of great energy, the mighty-armed son of Jamadagni said unto him, ‘Who art thou? And why also didst thou fall into hell? Tell me all about it.’ He answered, ‘Formerly I was a great Asura of the name of Dansa. In the Krita period, O sire, I was of the same age with Bhrigu. I ravished the dearly-loved spouse of that sage. Through his curse I felt down on the earth in the form of a worm. In anger thy ancestors said unto me, ‘Subsisting on urine and phlegm, O wretch, thou shalt lead a life of hell.’ I then besought him, saying, ‘When, O Brahmana, shall this curse end?’ Bhrigu replied unto me, saying. ‘This curse shall end through Rama of my race. It was for this that I had obtained such a course of life like one of uncleansed soul. O righteous one, by thee, however, I have been rescued from that sinful life.’ Having said these words, the great Asura, bending his head unto Rama went away. Then Rama wrathfully addressed Karna, saying, ‘O fool, no Brahmana could endure such agony. Thy patience is like that of a Kshatriya. Tell me the truth, without fear.’ Thus asked, Karna, fearing to be cursed, and seeking to gratify him, said these words, ‘O thou of Bhrigu’s race, know me for a Suta, a race that has sprung from the intermixture of Brahmanas with Kshatriyas. People call me Karna the son of Radha. O thou of Bhrigu’s race, be gratified with my poor self that has acted from the desire of obtaining weapons. There is no doubt in this that a reverend preceptor in the Vedas and other branches of knowledge is one’s father. It was for this that I introduced myself to thee as a person of thy own race.’ Unto the cheerless and trembling Karna, prostrated with joined hands upon earth, that foremost one of Bhrigu’s race, smiling though filled with wrath, answered, ‘Since thou hast, from avarice of weapons, behaved here with falsehood, therefore, O wretch, this Brahma weapon shalt not dwell in thy remembrance Since thou art not a Brahmana, truly this Brahma weapon shall not, up to the time of thy death, dwell in thee when thou shalt be engaged with a warrior equal to thyself! Go hence, this is no place for a person of such false behaviour as thou! On earth, no Kshatriya will be thy equal in battle.’ Thus addressed by Rama, Karna came away, having duty taken his leave. Arriving then before Duryodhana, he informed him, saying, ‘I have mastered all weapons!’”

Section IV

“Narada said, ‘Having thus obtained weapons from him of Bhrigu’s race, Karna began to pass his days in great joy, in the company of Duryodhana, O bull of Bharata’s race! Once on a time, O monarch, many kings repaired to a self-choice at the capital of Chitrangada, the ruler of the country of the Kalingas. The city, O Bharata, full of opulence, was known by the name of Rajapura. Hundreds of rulers repaired thither for obtaining the hand of the maiden. Hearing that diverse kings had assembled there, Duryodhana. also, on his golden car, proceeded thither, accompanied by Karna. When the festivities commenced in that self-choice, diverse rulers, O best of kings, came thither for the hand of the maiden. There were amongst them Sisupala and Jarasandha and Bhishmaka and Vakra, and Kapotaroman and Nila and Rukmi of steady prowess, and Sringa who was ruler of the kingdom females, and Asoka and Satadhanwan and the heroic ruler of the Bhojas. Besides these, many others who dwelt in the countries of the South, and many preceptors (in arms) of the mlechcha tribes, and many rulers from the East and the North, O Bharata, came there. All of them were adorned with golden Angadas, and possessed of the splendour of pure gold. Of effulgent bodies, they were like tigers of fierce might. After all those kings had taken their seats, O Bharata, the maiden entered the arena, accompanied by her nurse and a guard of eunuchs. Whilst being informed of the names of the kings (as she made her round), that maiden of the fairest complexion passed by the son of Dhritarashtra (as she had passed others before him). Duryodhana, however, of Kuru’s race, could not tolerate that rejection of himself. Disregarding all the kings, he commanded the maiden to stop. Intoxicated with the pride of energy, and relying upon Bhishma and Drona, king Duryodhana, taking up that maiden on his car, abducted her with force. Armed with sword, clad in mail, and his fingers cased in leathern fences, Karna, that foremost of all wielders of weapons riding on his car, proceeded along Duryodhana’s rear. A great uproar then took place among the kings, all of whom were actuated by the desire for fight, ‘Put on your coats of mail! Let the cars be made ready!’ (These were the sounds that were heard). Filled with wrath, they pursued Karna and Duryodhana, showering their arrows upon them like masses of clouds pouring rain upon a couple of hills. As they thus pursued them, Karna felled their bows and arrows on the ground, each with a single arrow. Amongst them some became bowless, some rushed bow in hand, some were on the point of shooting their shafts, and some pursued them, armed with darts and maces. Possessed of great lightness of hands, Karna, that foremost of all smiters, afflicted them all. He deprived many kings of their drivers and thus vanquished all those lords of earth. They then themselves took up the reins of their steeds, and saying, ‘Go away, go away’, turned away from the battle with cheerless hearts. Protected by Karna, Duryodhana also came away, with a joyous heart, bringing with him the maiden to the city called after the elephant.’”