Jaya jaya mahabharatham prema Nandakumar narayanam namaskritya naram chaiva narottamam / devim sarasvatim vyasam tato jaya udirayet

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Mahabharata. After all, they are superb personifications of our racial experience. As for Sri Krishna, even if we want to take leave of him, he will not allow us to do so. Our beloved Flute-player keeps us as willing prisoners of the anahata naada (unheard sound) he generates within us, so that we can sail safely on the waves of this samsara:
“The world’s jarring notes and violences

Are nothing: Prema-Bhakti,

Love of Krishna – the plenary Delight

Of Being – is everything.

The stirring and the splendid resonances

Are heard by the inner Self,

And the heavenly harmony sublime

Cancels out the joyless tunes.

And Nav-Chetana is active all round

Sensitizes Body-Mind,

And charges the Will with right direction

To attain the destined Goal.”70


I was initiated into Mahabharata studies in my father’s personal library sixty years ago, and received his personal guidance for half a century on the subject. As I took up Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri for my doctoral subject in 1957, the ties with Mahabharata became stronger. When I was married in 1958, my husband gifted me the first Sanskrit edition published by Pratap Chandra Roy which had belonged to his great-grandfather. I felt blessed and since then the epic has been an unfailing inspiration for my personal and literary work in innumerable ways.

I was delighted when Sri R. Krishnaswami, Secretary, Natyarangam of the Narada Gana Sabha of Chennai invited me as the resource person for a week-long production of the epic tale in terms of Bharata Natyam. From 27th August to 2nd September, 2009, seven major characters were brought alive on the stage by seven well-known Bharata Natyam artistes: V.P. Dhananjayan (Bhishma), Priya Murle (Amba), Chitra Chandrasekhar Dasarathi (Kunti), Sridhar and Anuradha (Karna), Sreelatha Vinod (Draupadi), N. Srikanth (Arjuna) and Sheejith Krishna (Krishna). As part of the assignment I had to present a paper on the epic with particular reference to the characters chosen for the programme which was released as a souvenir at the inauguration of the dance festival on 27th August. My thanks are due to Sri Krishnaswami for helping me wander again in my favourite haunts in our cultural spaces; and to Srimati Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, Sri Charukesi and Srimati Janaki who helped me interact with the dancers during the months prior to the actual production for this too proved to be an immensely rewarding experience.

My grateful thanks to Pradip Bhattacharya for patiently going through the script. Once again I learnt the truth of the dictum: It is not knowledge which is vast but one’s own ignorance that is immeasurable!

References to slokas in Sanskrit follow the Gita Press, Gorakhpur edition of Mahabharata. For English translations used in this essay, I have preferred the versions of Kisari Mohan Ganguli who translated the complete epic in 1896 and Purushottama Lal who has published his rendering in this century. My sincere thanks to Prof. Lal for having demonstrated how one can forge new accents to hear Vyasa’s character speaking in a way we can understand with ease. Though more than a hundred years divide the two adaptations, one can also notice that Vyasa remains firm on his pedestal, as sublime as ever.

Bharatam paramam punyam Barathe vividhaah kathaah /

Bharatam sevyate devaih Bharatam paramam padam //

1 On the Mahabharata (1991), pp. 172-3

2 Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, ‘Svargarohana Parva’, Canto 5, verses 60-63

3 Vyasa and Valmiki (1964), p. 39

4 Udyoga Parva, Canto 29, verses12-13. All translations from Vyasa quoted are by Prof. P.Lal unless otherwise stated.

5 Ibid. verses 31-32

6 Adi Parva, Canto 108. verses 1-7

7 Part I, verse 38. Translated by Prema Nandakumar

8 Part V, verse 67. Translated by Prema Nandakumar

9 Ibid., verses 95-6. Translated by Prema Nandakumar

10 Canto 3. verses 23-24

11 Ibid, verses 9-12

12 Svargarohana Parva, canto 3, verses 31-37. Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli

13 Adi Parva, Canto 100, verses 35-39.

14 Ibid. verses 64-71

15 Ibid. 94-96

16 Translations from Bhishma’s Bed of Arrows by J.M. Sengupta quoted here are by Pradip Bhattacharya

17 Sabha Parva, canto 69, verses 14-16.

18 Bhishma Parva, canto 119, verses 87-93 Translated by Prema Nandakumar

19 Ibid. verses 97-104 Translated by Prema Nandakumar

20 Ibid., canto 121, verses 24-25

21 Ibid, canto 122, verses 16-19

22 Ibid.verses 24-31

23 Anushasana Parva, Canto 168, verses 21-28. Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli

24 Ibid. 30-35

25 Srimad Bhagavatham, Book I, Canto 8, verses,23-25 Translated by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada

26 Adi Parva, Canto 110. verses16-18

27 Canto 127, verses 26-30.

28 Canto 161,verses 17-22

29 Canto 190, verses 1-5

30 Sabha Parva, canto 79, verses 15-19

31 Udyoga Parva, canto 90, verses 85-86

32 Canto 133, verses 3-6 Translated by Sri Aurobindo

33 Translations from Karna and Kunti are by Ketaki Kushari Dyson

34 Ibid.

35 Stri Parva, canto 27, 7-12, Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli

36 Ibid., verses 21-25

37 Adi Parva, canto 184, verses 35-37.

38 Ibid., canto 186, verses 22-23.

39 Ibid., canto 213, verses 18-20 Translated by Prema Nandakumar

40 Ibid., verses 21-29 Translated by Prema Nandakumar

41 Sabha Parva, canto 68, verses 1-6.

42 Ibid., verses 7-9

43 Virata Parva, canto 36, verses 5-9,

44 Ibid., Canto 37, verses 23-31.

45 Mahaprasthanika Parva, canto 1, verses 39-41

46 Udyoga Parva, canto 175, verses 16-18

47 Ibid., canto 177, verses 39-42

48 Ibid., canto 186, verses 20-23

49 Bhishma Parva, canto 117, verses 59-66.

50 Adi Parva, canto 110, verses 25-26

51 Ibid., verses 30-31

52 Santi Parva, canto 3, verses 30-31 Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli

53 Adi Parva, canto 189, verses 16-19

54 Sabha Parva, canto 68, verses 27-31

55 Udyoga Parva, canto 62, verses 5-6

56 Ibid., verse 17

57 Ibid., canto 143, verses 35-36

58 Karna Parva, canto 90, verse 86 Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli

59 Ibid., canto 91, verses 11-12 Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli

60 Vana Parva, canto 233, verses 26-29

61 Sabha Parva, canto 68, verses 47-50

62 Sabha Parva, Canto 2, Verses 246-248 Translated by Prema Nandakumar

63 Book Six, verses 597-600

64 Translated by Pradip Bhattacharya

65 Adi Parva, canto 186, verses 9-10

66 Ibid., canto 220, verses 2-7

67 Sabha Parva, canto 20, verses 18-20

68 Udyoga Parva, Canto 1, verses 23-25 Translated by Sri Aurobindo

69Vyasa and Valmiki )1964), pp. 142-3

70 K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar, Krishna Geetam, Epilogue, verses 234-236.
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