Sunday, December 26, 2010

Episode 38 - The Markandeya Sessions Pt. 2

Episode 38 - The Sage Markandeya continues with his storytelling.  He begins with his own version of the Four Ages or Yugas.  One interesting point is that in his reckoning, the Kali Yuga lasts 1,200 years in total.  Since we are told elsewhere that the Kali Yuga began for us on the death of Krishna, then the Kali Yuga must have ended centuries ago, and we happy people have made it into the next Golden Age!

After an apocalyptic vision of the future, Makandeya gives us the Tale of the Frog, which culminates in a showdown between the brahmin Vamadev and a pair of stubborn kings.  The brahmin, of course, comes out the victor!

There are more stories to come in the next episode, so the Markandeya Sessions will continue...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Episode 37 - The Markandeya Sessions Pt. 1

Episode 37 - While Krishna is still hanging out at the camp, the sages Narada and Markandeya show up.  After some prodding, Markandeya finally opens up and gives us his take on reincarnation, sin and the afterlife.  He follows that up with two stories about Brahmins, and then gives us his rendition of the Fish, Manu, and the Flood.

I also present my theory that the five Pandavas are somehow correllated with the five extremities of the human body.  Yuddistira is clearly the head, while Bhima is associated with the right arm.  Arjuna, the "Left-Handed Archer", seems pretty clearly to be linked with the left arm, and the twins make up the pair of legs.  Since they are all incarnations of a single being-- Indra-- perhaps Indra had himself dismembered and each limb became a different Pandava.

There is also something sexual about Arjun that is different from the others.  We haven't gotten to that part of the story yet, but during the year in hiding, Arjun is disguised as an hermaphrodite, Brihanala, which literally means "Woman with large penis".  Much later in the story, we'll discover that of the five sons of Draupadi, it is Arjun's son and grandson who carry on the line of kings.

Markandeya is still telling stories, so we'll have more from him next time.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Episode 36 - Bhima and the Snake

Episode 36 - The Pandavas journey south, out of the Himalayas and back to the plains.  Along the way, Bhima goes hunting and finds himself captured by a giant magical snake.  The Snake takes his time and tells Bhima his life story before proceeding to eat the hero.  Meanwhile, Yuddistira sees dark omens and heads off to look for his brother on his own.  For the purposes of the later story, Arjun stays at home and Yuddistira does the rescuing.

When Yuddistira gets to the scene, Bhima tells him what is going on, and that the snake is under a curse.  If Yuddistira can answer the snake's question, then all would be well.  Yuddistira is good at quiz games; the question is basically whether one is a Brahmin by birth or by behavior.

The Snake and Yuddistira hit it off really well, and the two discuss questions of the Soul and Karma for a while.  Finally, the snake releases Bhima and then dies, his soul returning to heaven.  The brothers return to the camp, where the Brahmins scold Bhima-- "He shouldn't have been out hunting anyway!  Hunting is bad!"

The Pandavas then journey onward to the Kanyaka forest-- the place where they began their exile 10 years earlier.  At the Kanyaka forest they meet up once again with Krishna.  This time he brings his first wife Satyabhama, and they intend to stay a while.

Krishna brings news of the Pandavas' five sons.  They are teenagers now, and are all being raised at Dwarka, learning the arts of war with Krishna's eldest son Pradyumna.

Finally, two more guests arrive; Narada and Markandeya.  Markandeya has appeared several times in the past, but he has always been a man of few words.  This time he apparently has a lot he wants to say.  We'll get started on it next time!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Episode 35 - Welcome back, Arjun

Episode 35 - It's deja-vu all over again, as the Pandavas move from the hermitage of Nar-Narayan to another one on the slopes of Mt Kailash, named for Arstisena.  Another flower wafts down the hill, and Draupadi again sends Bhima off in search of the source.  Bhima completely forgets Yuddistira's injunction about making trouble and he invades Kubera's kingdom, starting a war with the god's "genial leprechaun" army.

There's no Hanuman this time around, but we do at least get an explanation for Kubera's toleration of Bhima's vandalism and slaughter-- it turns out that Kubera's buddy Manimat had been cursed by Agastya, and was doomed to die at the hands of a mortal.  Bhima was only fulfilling the inevitable.

During the course of this adventure, the fifth year of Arjun's mission comes to an end.  He comes flying in on Indra's chariot, with a load of WMD in the back.  After a joyful reunion, Arjun tells us of his last mission for Indra.  This story is another replay.  It is basically the same story as Krishna's battle with Shalva and his Saubha "flying city".  This time the flying city is inhabited by Nivatakavacas ("beings clad in air-tight armor"), and Arjun fights them to the death, breaking in his new weapons.

Now re-united, the brothers hang out in the gardens of the far north for another four years, making it a total of 10 years they have spent so far in exile.  Next time, they will begin heading south and making preparations for their year in hiding.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Episode 34 - Monkey's Uncle

Episode 34 - The Pandavas resume center stage as the main characters of this episode.  They continue their trek through the mountains until the going gets too rough for Draupadi.  Bhima summons his half-Rakshasa son, Gatotkacha, who can fly, and they are carried the rest of their journey to the Ashram of Nar-Narayan.
While hanging out at this heavenly retreat, Draupadi sends Bhima off to find her some special lotus blossoms.  Along the way, Bhima meets up with Hanuman, who it turns out is his brother (both are sons of the Wind God).
The quest for the Lotus Blossom finally leads Bhima to Kubera's Pleasure Garden, which is guarded by hordes of Rakshasas.  Bhima makes short work of them and takes a dip in Kubera's pond.
Yuddistira gets suspicious and has Gatotkacha take them to Bhima.  Kubera takes the destruction of his gardens and the death of his guards pretty lightly, and he allows the Pandavas to stay in his garden as long as they like.  We leave them there until next Episode, when Arjun finally makes his return.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Episode 33 - The Hawk and the Dove

Episode 33

These are the last three stories of the long series of tales in the Book of the Forest.  The Pandavas are finishing up their pilgrimage across India and are moving northward for their rendezvous with Arjun.  The first story, Yavakrita, is particularly interesting in that the protagonist is not a Twice-born.  In this case, he's a rude and uppity Vaishya, but he's the main character nonetheless.  I find the little detail about the Shudra gaurd particularly interesting.  He works for Yavakri's father, and he inexplicably blocks the boy from getting to safety, which results in Yavakri's death.  I can only guess that it was thought fitting that a Vaishya rapist be killed at the hands of an even lower-caste menial.

Jantu seems to fit in among these stories in that it is another case of a Brahmin helping a king with his fertility problems.  In contrast to many of the other stories, the king's wives are distinctly un-heroic.

The last story, the Hawk & the Dove, stands out as the most unusual of all the stories so far, especially because it involves a king, two gods, but NO BRAHMINS!  Where are the Brahmins?  The Book of the Forest is a very strong piece of propaganda about the importance of having well-bred Brahmins for all occasions, but then this strange tale caps them all off.

This story has the strongest feel of Buddhism that I've seen so far in the Mahabharata.  The king's self-sacrifice is strongly reminiscent of other Buddhist stories in which the Boddhisatva sacrifices his own life for another's benefit.

Next time, we'll finally get back to the deeds of our heroes, as they make their way to the hermitage of Nar-Narayan way up on the slopes of Mt. Kailash.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Episode 32 - Sukanya and Cyavana

Episode 32 - Two more stories from the Book of the Forest.  The first involves another Bhrgu Brahmin with a Kshatriya wife.  The second story, about Mahdhatar, is short, but interesting in how it differs from all the other stories we've had so far from Lomasha.

The first story in this series, Nala, is about a King and his very loyal wife.  The subsequent stories were by and large about Brahmins with very loyal (Kshatriya) wives.  So each story so far has the element of an obedient wife despite hardship.  Mandhatar breaks strongly from this pattern in that the boy doesn't even have a mother (he is born from his father's side), and Indra gives the boy his finger to suckle, thus the boy was entirely free from any female influence.

If this lack of a woman's touch had any influence on his life and later events, we cannot say, because we are given a very stereotypical summary of his later career.  He's just another super king who conquered the world, far back in the past.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Episode 31 - Rshyashrnga

Episode 31 - The Pandavas continue their pilgrimage to all the holy sites of India.  With Lomasha as their guide & storyteller, they hear the stories of Rshyashrnga and then the story of Rama Jamadagnya, or "Battle-Axe" Rama, who cut his own mother's head off and single-handedly killed off the entire race of Kshatriyas 21 times!

Also, J.A.B. Van Buitenen, our translator for most of the podcast so far, gives us a hypothesis that the story of Rshyashrnga made its way to Medieval Europe in the form of the Unicorn myth.  It is certainly interesting that it took a virgin to capture the unicorn for the king.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Episode 30 - Agastya

Episode 30 - The four Pandavas who were left in the forest set off on a tour of the sacred sites of Ancient India, with the Sage Lomasha as their guide.  At a stopover near the historic hermitage that once belonged to Agastya, we are treated to one of the stories about this fabled hermit.

I have to confess to skipping a second story, because I simply couldn't make much sense of it.  While it tangentially involved Agastya, it also involved King Sagara, whose wife gave birth to a pumpkin and he was advised to put the seeds each in a vat of warm ghee, and each seed turned into a baby boy.  The king had 1,000 sons from this pumpkin.  The story then veers off to the draining of the ocean, and how the Ganga was drawn out of the heavens to re-fill the ocean, and how Shiva caught the stream in his dreadlocks.  I guess I'll leave that bit for the unabridged podcast!

Next time, we'll get the story of Rshyashrnga, who was born from a deer!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Episode 29 - Damayanti & Nala, part 2

Episode 29 - We finish the story of Nala.  Brhadashva suggested that this story would cheer up the Pandavas, since there was indeed a king who had it worse than they.  But shortly after hearing the story, they get news that Arjun was up on a mountain top starving himself and they were once again plunged into depression and hopelessness.  At least Yuddistira learned Nala's dicing secrets, so he need not worry about another match with Shakuni.

The story of Nala as it is told in the Mahabharata has some significant discrepancies in the storyline.  They are too obvious and numerous to list out in full, but an example would be that Damayanti remained in hiding in her aunt's palace even though she could have told the queen the truth at any time, and could go home at any time.  Stranger still, the queen mother does not recognize her neice, because the girl was covered in mud all the time and so her famous mole was concealed by the dried muck.

On the other hand, the scenes are very dramatic and would have made a wonderful 19th century opera.

I found the detail about the size of Nala's army to be interesting.  Clearly, chariots were not the most common vehicle on the battle field.  There were 19 elephants and numerous horses, and hundreds of infantry, but just one chariot.  Perhaps by this time the chariot was more of a status symbol than an effective military weapon; alternatively, were they so expensive that one chariot was all that could be afforded on this mission!?!

Finally, thanks for the feedback on the identity of Kali.  They tell me that Kali is the kali in kaliyuga.  His buddy Dvapar is of the Dvaparyuga.  I had always thought the names Dvapar & Kali, in that context, were modifiers that somehow described these various epochs.  But now it seems Kaliyuga is the epoch that is dominated or (perhaps) ruled by the entity Kali.

I always thought a little better of the Dvaparyuga, since during that period people were more humane, but the character of Dvapar is not at all appealing.  As for Kali, he comes off as a small-minded little bastard-- hardly fitting for the demon who dominates an entire Epoch!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Episode 28 - Damayanti & Nala, part 1

Episode 28 - While Arjun remains in heaven, relaxing with his father Indra, news reaches the Kaurava court of Arjun's exploits.  Dhrtarastra then has one of his bouts of regret while Sanjay scolds him for being so stupid.  We then cut over to the rest of the Pandavas, who are still living off the dirt in the foothills of Dehra Dun.  Bhima is ready to chop off some heads and he takes his frustration out on his elder brother.

The sage Brhadashva then shows up with a story of a king who actually had it worse off then even the Pandavas; he recites the story of Nala and his clever wife Damayanti.

It is interesting to think how this story would have been told in different cultures.  If this had been an ancient Greek story, it would have been Indra/Zeus who was the offended one and cursed Nala, rather than a more obscure god.  And if this story had been told in Medieval Europe, then the Five World Guardians would have been human noblemen, and Nala & Damayanti would have been from the middle class.  These noblemen would all have wanted her to be their mistress, but she chose instead an upright townsman whom she loved instead.  Then the noblemen, in their outrage at having been passed over in favor of a commoner, would have taken their revenge in a more traditional manner-- rape & pillage!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Episode 27 - Arjun goes to Heaven

Episode 27 - We follow Arjun's journey into the Himalayas and beyond.  This episode includes Arjun's famous battle with the Mountain Man.  He doesn't come out of the fight very well-- Shiva crushes him into a meatball and ends the fight.  I like to think that he killed Arjun and then revived him and sent him on to Heaven, but the text is a bit vague; did he just get crushed, lose his eyesight and cease breathing?  Or did he go all the way and die on us?  Either way, he's sent off to his dad's kingdom up in Heaven where he acquires WMD in preparation for the big battle.

Meanwhile, the remaining brothers and their angry wife are left waiting in the jungle, swatting flies, while Arjun spends five years in paradise with Indra.  After Arjun has learned all the secrets of Indra's weapons, he is sent to Citrasena to learn the arts of music & dance.  Indra dispatches the sage Lomasha to visit the other Pandavas and tell them to tour the pilgrimage sites while Arjun finishes up his training.

Next time, we'll see how Dhrtarastra reacts to news of Arjun's trip to heaven, and we'll hear the famous story of Nala and Damayanti!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Episode 26 - Debating Dharma

Episode 26 - We begin this episode with the tale of Krishna's adventures when he might otherwise have helped his friends in their distress.  At least he got a few good fight scenes out of it, including his son Pradyumna performing heroic feats defending Dwarka, and a ground-to-air battle with a flying city!

When Krishna is done with his exciting tale, the allies pack up and head for home.  The tacit understanding seems to be that they will wait until the 13 years are up and only then will they come up with a plan for action.  You can imagine Draupadi stewing as all this goes on. 

Things only get worse after the allies leave, and the Brahmins move back in.  They surround their beloved ascetic king and praise him for his meekness and self-control.  The Brahmins re-iterate how important it is for a king to keep lots and lots of Brahmins around at all times.

This is finally too much for poor Draupadi.  She finally gets fed up and starts berating her husband.  The two begin debating the relative value of Dharma vs. Karma.  Sitting in the woods like a Saddhu certainly did not appear to be the Dharma for a King!  Kings should be men of Action.  They should act now and keep acting until they have either succeeded or have died trying, because that is what Kings do!

Bhima also chimes in and picks up the argument, taking up Draupadi's side.  He points out that the ritual calendar is not the same as normal time, and 13 months constitutes 13 years ritually, so they are already done and can start the war right away!  But Yuddistira always out-argues them all, and besides, he's the boss.  Fortunately, things are not allowed to get out of control because Vyasa shows up and gives them something to keep them busy-- find a new forest to camp in, and send Arjun north in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Episode 25 - Draupadi's Lament; Krishna's Excuses

Episode 25 - The continuing adventures of the Pandavas in the forest.  The story picks up with Maitreya's curse and angry departure from the court at Hastinapur.  Dhrtarastra, apparently tired of all the dire predictions decides it is time for a fight scene, and asks Vidur to tell the story of Bhima and Kirmira.  Vidur then recites the battle scene as Bhima kills another Rakshasa.

We then move back to the forest where a meeting of the Pandavas' allies is taking place, Krishna among them.  Krishna and Arjun enjoy a brief love fest, telling each other how wonderful they were and such close friends.  Draupadi finally gets fed up with it and demands to know why the outrages perpetrated against her have still not been avenged, yet she is surrounded by the greatest heroes on the earth.

She points out that if Krishna were so great as everyone keeps saying, then how did this calamity even take place?  Krishna's reply is rather surprising.  There is none of the mystical teachings here-- he wasn't far away because he was far from their hearts.  He wasn't ever-present and yet directing events towards the final great war.  No, none of that.  He was just out of town at the time, fighting king Shalva and his flying saucer, and just hadn't heard the news until it was too late!

Next time, Draupadi will turn on her husbands and really let them have it.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Episode 24 - Into the Forest, part 2

Episode 24 - The Pandavas are now settled into their forest encampment and receive a surprise visitor.  The Kauravas plot to kill the Pandavas while they are defenseless in the forest.  Vyasa himself steps in to put a stop to this outrage, and he then introduces the sage Maitreya, who scolds Duryodhana, and then finally curses him to be struck in the "thigh" by Bhima.

If you ever felt uncomfortable about the fact that Bhima had to cheat and hit Duryodhana below the belt in their final battle, you can now rest assured that it wasn't Bhima's fault.  Maitreya made him do it!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Episode 23 - Into the Forest, part 1

Episode 23 -This episode covers the Pandava's departure for the forest and the initial fears of theKauravas as they considered what they had done.  As things washed out, only the five brothers, Draupadi and a gaggle of Brahmins went into the forest.  Yuddistira did some yoga and some austerities and memorized the 108 names of Surya, and was able to get the Sun God to give him the ability to magically feed everyone while they were in the forest.

Please leave comments at iTunes.  The more the better!  Thanks!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Episode 22 - The Second Dice Game

Episode 22 - At the end of the First Dice Game, it really seemed like King Dhritarastra had put everything back the way it was.  He restored the Pandava's freedom, titles and wealth.  Unfortunately, Bhima had sworn some pretty serious oaths to kill his cousins, and cousin Duryodhana was too filled with hate and fear to allow things to be left the way they were.

The blind king then ordered Yuddistira to return for one final round of dice.  The loser would give up his possessions and retire to the forest for 12 years.  The 13th year would be a year of hiding during which, if they were caught, they would be sent back to the forest for another 12 years.

Since Shakuni once again had control of the dice, you can imagine the outcome...  This ends Book 2 of the Mahabharata.  Next time we'll pick up with Book 3!

I put out another appeal to please visit iTunes and comment or rate my podcast.  I hope it will make this more available for other listeners to find it and tune in!  Thanks!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Episode 21 - The First Dice Game

Episode 21 - This is a big one; this episode covers the tangled details of the incident that sets off the rest of the story.  At the heart of it, it is about Duryodhana and Shakuni cheating at dice to win from the Pandavas all their possessions and even their freedom.  That much is clear, and the match culminates in the deliberate humiliation of Draupadi before the court.  Bhima swears oaths to kill both Duryodhana and his younger brother Dushasan, and the future conflict all arises from the fears and hatred born from this moment.

In detail however, many facts are quite confounding.  For instance, Shakuni says Yuddistira is addicted to dicing but is not good at it.  Where did this come from?  There is no detail either before or after this story that would lead anyone to believe this about Yuddistira.   Then there is the question of Yuddistira's determination to lose everything in the match.  While he may be excused for going forward with the dice game ("for that is the eternal oath I have sworn"), but who really made him gamble away his kingdom, his brothers and his own freedom?   These stakes were his decision and no one else's.

Finally, everyone loves Bhisma and considers him a good man, but on this day he is strangely impotent and brain-addled.  What explains the odd reticence among the Kuru elders?  How is it that the entire court stood by and allowed the maltreatment of one of their own women? 

There is something oddly somnambulistic about this whole scene, where it seems the events had to work themselves out in a certain way, and therefore a spell was cast over the players to ensure things had their proper outcome...

One thing is certain, and that is relations between the Pandavas and the Kauravas will never be the same from here on, and are trending for the worst!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Episode 20 - King of the World

Episode 20 - The Pandavas range the Four Directions and conquer the world, bringing home mountains of treasure.  Soon after, the Rajasuya Sacrifice commences.  Krishna is given the top honor among the guests and this causes a tumult of disgruntled kings and nobles.  They point out the problem that has become apparent in the story, which is that Krishna is a nobody in terms of societal ranking.  He's a former cowherder from a caste of shudras who claims his father is a prince (alas, there were no witnesses to his alleged birth by Devaki).  But even if he were not lying about his descent, he was still a noble of the 3rd tier, and from an insignificant backwater kingdom, where they had been forced to move by Jarasandh's armies.

The general of that army, Sishupal of Chedi, was particularly outraged by this elevation of a milkman over the heads of all the kings of India.  Sishupal had other grievances against Krishna, since his fiance Rukmini had been abducted by Krishna, his boss had been killed by Krishna's plan, and his friend and ally Rukmi had been killed by Krishna's brother.

So Sishupal points out what should be obvious to us all-- that Krishna was a low-class cowherd, who boasted about killing a vulture and a cow, a woman, and an ox cart!  Who said that these animals and the woman and the cart were demons?  Furthermore, Krishna killed his own king-- a treasonous act of regicide that should be obhorred by anyone who desires law & order in society.

Finally, Sishupal suggests that maybe Rukmini had already been used & put aside by himself before Krishna took her as his wife.  That does it for Krishna.  His killer frisbee comes flying and Sishupal is Beheaded.  Check out that link, it's to the picture I mentioned in the podcast.  It's pretty cool.

This episode ends with a little vignette of Duryodhana wandering the Pandavas' palace and getting fooled by the illusions of the place.  He falls into a pond and gets laughed at by his cousins.  I've got more to say about how this scene gets changed over time, but we'll get into that in a later episode.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Episode 19 - Killing Jarasandh

Episode 19 - This episode, Yuddistira gets it into his head that he should be King of the World! As he has been inclined to do since becoming king, he calls for Krishna to advise him on how to accomplish this task. Krishna tells him to send Bhima and Arjun to Magadha and get rid of his main rival to the imperial title, King Jarasandh.

And so, Krishna, Bhima and Arjun go down to Magadha and pick a fight with Jarasandh. Bhima wrestles the old guy for fourteen days and finally body-slams him, killing him instantly.

This whole Rajasuya thing will result in 13 years of misery for the Pandavas, and finally the destruction of nearly the entire race of Kshatriyas. Since dieing on the battlefield is one of the surest means of getting to heaven, I guess it all worked out OK for the men. All those widows probably wished Yuddistira had stuck to his little kingdom of Indraprastha, and been content with his reservation at Lord Yama's palace...
Sorry I've slowed down my production lately. I've had some musical commitments that have eaten up my free time. That's mostly over, so hopefully things will pick up a bit from now on! If you'd like to encourage me, please send a message; it certainly helps morale. Also, it would be great if you were to go into iTunes and rate my podcast. It would help increase its visibility for other potential listeners. Thanks!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Episode 18 - Arjun Slept Here

Episode 18 - This is a longer, pithy episode, covering the way the brothers decided to prevent future conflicts over their shared wife, and Arjun's subsequent adventures when he breaches those rules.  Despite the punishment he receives for breaking the oath he swore, Arjun ended up having a lot of adventures and getting to know a lot of hot princesses around India.  Draupadi would have been better off keeping him closer to home!

So Arjun ends up coming back from his year-long exile with a new wife-- Krishna's sister-- and leaving a trail of baby boys across the sub-continent.  After his return home, he and Krishna spend a lot of time together in Indraprastha, and we are told that they are the re-incarnation of the ancient seers Nar and Narayan.

While they are hanging out together, Krishna suggests that they go to the river for a kind of picnic, and while they are there, Agni the god of fire meets them and requests their aid in burning down the Khandava Forest, which was the home of Taksaka the snake and under the protection of Indra.

Arjun and Krishna get some cool new weapons as part of the deal.  Arjun gets the famous Ghandiva Bow and an inexhaustible quiver of arrows. Krishna gets his Sudarshana discus.  The pair of friends then help the Fire God to burn down the forest, fighting off legions of magical creatures and even an army of Gods.

It is interesting that Arjun's marriage to Subhadra was in large part the result of Krishna's suggestions.  I also noticed that the pair were sitting near the forest where they could meet the Fire God due to Krishna's suggestion that they have a picnic.  I'm going to keep score on this and we'll see just how much of this story moves along due to Krishna's well-placed suggestions!  It's going to be a lot!!!

This episode actually covers the end of  Book 1 of the Mahabharata, called the Book of the Beginning.  There are 18 books in total, and we'll start Book 2 next time, which is called the Book of the Assembly Hall.

In case you were not able to figure it out, I did start using some of the alternate names for Krishna and Arjun in this story. Some of Krishna's alternate names are: Vasudev & Madhusudana.  I refer to Arjun as Partha, Dhananjaya, and Gudakesha.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Episode 17 - Cut the Baby in Half

Episode 17 - With this episode, we finally get back to the main characters and the main storyline.  The news of the Pandava's emergence from obscurity has reached Hastinapur, and King Dhrtarastra has to make a decision-- does he go along with his favorite son and launch a surprise attack on Pancala?  Or does he follow his uncle Bhisma's advice to make Yuddhistira heir to the throne.  His conclusion is to try to strike an impossible balance between these two extremes, and he divides the kingdom, making Yuddhistira king of the lesser half of the Kuru lands.

This episode has a little more commentary than I usually give, and I hope no one is too bent out of shape by my critique of the Bhagavata Purana and the way Krishna is portrayed in there.  If you have anything to say that might change my opinion on the matter, please leave some comments on this blog.  I'd love to hear from you!

Unfortunately, my day job has gotten busy lately, so I've not been able to produce new episodes at the rate I was doing it in February and March, but I'm already started on the next episode, and I've come up with a new way to produce the material that will hopefully make up for the limited amount of time I have for this project!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Episode 16 - Don't Mess with Balaram

Episode 16 - This is the final installment of the "Krishna Episodes", where I've covered Krishna's back story up to and beyond the point when the Pandavas met him in Panchala.  There are still some interesting details in the Bhagavata Purana which I want to compare with later events in the Mahabharata, so I'm not completely done with that book, but for the upcoming episodes, we'll get back to the Mahabharata and see what the Pandavas do next.

I have to apologize for narrating this one kind of fast.  I guess I just had a cup of coffee before I got started, because I did some fast talking.  Next time I'll make it a glass of wine, and I promise I'll slow down a bit, as was suggested to me in one of the comments!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Episode 15 - Kamsa Goes Down

Episode 15 - This episode is about Krishna's spectacular entry into international politics.  Having established his manhood by cuckolding the entire tribe of cowherders, Krishna returns to Mathura to get his revenge on Kamsa.  Killing Kamsa has repercussions, however, because Kamsa had a powerful ally in King Jarasandh.  Krishna ends up killing more than 130 million soldiers as he defeated 17 armies raised by Jarasandh and an 18th army belonging to the Black Greek.  You'd think there were no soldiers left in ancient India after that, but Krishna is only getting started!  Krishna also checks in on his cousins the Pandavas, sending an embassador to report back on how the boys are being treated.

Our two stories are beginning to come together, so next episode we'll have some more adventures of Krishna and Balaram, get them married off (16,000 wives!!!), and see how their sons come along, and then we'll finally be caught up, and will resume the story of the Pandavas.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Episode 14 - Krishna and the Gopis

Episode 14 - Things get hot and heavy this episode, when Krishna plays a tune on his magic flute and all the girls come running.  The association of religious devotion with carnal love is found in Sikhism, Sufi Islam and even mystical Christianity.  I've always suspected that the idea was born in India as Bhakti and then gradually made its way westward through the Islamic world and finally into Western Christianity.  It would be an interesting study-- the timelines certainly fit!  Next episode, we'll get back to the bloodletting and chopping of heads, so never fear, this sexy stuff is nearly behind us!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Episode 13 - Top God

Episode 13 - The further adventures of young Krishna.  This time we cover his youth and teenage years.  He kills a bunch of demons, imitates every boy in the clan plus all the calves, kicks Indra's butt, and then compels the girls to emerge naked from the river to retrieve their clothing-- all in the name of religion of course!  He promises to each one of them that he will make love to them before the end of Autumn, and next episode, he'll make good on it!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Episode 12 - Krishna at Play

Episode 12 - We finally get started with Krishna.  His mother and father were both of the house of Yadu in Mathura-- Krishna's mother Devaki was King Ugrasena's daughter.  Unfortunately, Devaki's brother, Crown Prince Kamsa was a bad guy, and he got an early warning that his sister's eighth child would be the death of him.  After a palace coup, King Kamsa threw Devaki and Vasudeva into prison and killed their first six babies as soon as they were born.

The seventh child, Balaram, was magically transported into the womb of Rohini-- Vasudevas other wife living in Vraja with the Gopas.  Unlike Balaram, Krishna managed to be born in his natural mother's womb, but was secretly exchanged with the Gopa chieftain's daughter within hours of their birth.  As far as anyone could tell, Krishna was born to the Gopi Yashoda, and Devaki had a daughter who was killed by Kamsa as soon as she was discovered.

So, while Krishna and Balaram are technically full brothers, it appeared as if they were unrelated, and Krishna was simply the son of a cowherder chieftain.  This arrangement worked well in keeping him hidden from Kamsa, but it must have been tricky convincing everyone that he really had royal blood and wasn't just some low-caste nobody!  We'll see how he pulls this off in later episodes.

The Bhagavata Purana is so utterly dazzled by Krishna's divinity that these everyday practicalities seem to fade out in the glare, but I'll try to keep a lookout for how the mundane folks around him-- those who did not recognize his divinity-- tried to make sense of his story and his position in society.

I have to admit that so far Balaram is a bit of a cipher to me.  We are told that he is the avatara of Adisesha, who is the Cosmic Snake; Vishnu's pal.  Somehow Adisesha appears as himself when Vasudeva makes his journey with Krishna to Vraja, but Balram was already a child at the time.  Later, we are told that Balaram and Krishna are equally avataras of Vishnu.  Hopefully we'll be able to untangle this riddle as we go along.  So far, I admit that I don't quite get it!

If anyone can explain to me how Balaram relates to Krishna, I'd love to hear it.  I'll try to come up with an analysis of the two characters as we move further along into the story.  They make an amazing contrast, often taking opposite sides on important issues.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Episode 11 - The Loves of King Yayati

Episode 11 - This episode is the first in  a series that will break away from the Mahabharata and use the Bhagavata Purana as the primary source instead.  This is necessary if you want to find out Krishna's life stories.  Up until the Pandavas meet Krishna at Draupadi's Swayamvara, no mention is made of Krishna's birth, childhood, or rise to power.  That information is only available in other books, and the main source is the Bhagavata Purana.

The first time I read a faithful translation of the Mahabharata, I was shocked that Krishna just appears in the story, fully grown, and no information is given about his background.  So in the next two or three episodes, I will try to rectify that, starting with Krishna's common ancestor with the Pandavas, King Yayati.

I meant to push on and cover Krishna's birth and childhood in this single episode, but I was afraid that all the names and details would get overwhelming if I tried to put all this together, so next episode we'll cover Krishna's birth and toddler-hood.

The story is getting much more complicated, and we're meeting many new characters, so I'm doing my best to keep it all as clear as possible in the narrative.  Please send feedback and let me know how I'm doing, and whether there is anything I could do to make the story easier to follow.  Please leave comments on my blog, or email me:  I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Episode 10 - Five Men and One Woman

Episode 10 - This is a long one - over 30 minutes, but I'm pretty happy with how it came out.  You might have noticed that I'm still experimenting with the audio, and I think this one came out clearer than the rest.  I'm trying to keep the file sizes under control, so it is a matter of striking a good balance.

Also, the story is getting interesting.  We've got a few good fight scenes, plus Vyasa intervenes a couple of times to keep the story on track, and we get to meet Krishna for the first time!  By the end, we have our heroes married off to Draupadi and enjoying their honeymoon at King Drupada's palace.  We'll leave them to enjoy that for a while, and in the upcoming episodes, I'll go back in time to cover Krishna's story from the start.

Please visit my blog and leave comments.  I'm really interested to hear what you all think of the production so far!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Episode 9 - Burning down the House

Episode 9 - This episode begins with Drona's revenge against King Drupada for reneging on a promise to share his wealth with his former schoolmate.  The princes have come of age, and perform a demonstration of their battle skills.  The pageant is interrupted by a mysterious Suta, son of a charioteer, named Karna.  Karna has an inexplicable resentment for Arjun and challenges him.  Duryodhana is delighted with the turn of events, and quickly befriends Karna. 

When the battle is about to commence, the master of ceremonies asks him to recite his lineage.  Karna reveals that he is from a lower class, so Duryodhana rectifies the situation by making him King of Anga.  The day is over by then, so nothing is settled between Karna and Arjuna.

Later, Duryodhana schemes to have the Pandavas sent to a neigboring town, and has a house built for them that is highly flammable.  The house burns down, but the boys escape with their mother.  While in the woods, there is a brief episode where Bhima fights with a Rakshasa and kills him.  Bhima marries the Ogre's sister and fathers a powerful half-breed son.

The brothers then wander off incognito, until they settle down in a small town called Ekachakra.  We leave them there until the next episode!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Episode 8 - Princes in Training

Episode 8 - This is the last episode that covers Book 7 of the Mahabharata, called "The Origins".  Almost all of the story I have covered so far comes from Book 7.  The earlier books are much shorter, and full of geneologies and creation myths that are almost impossible to make narrative sense of, so I left a lot of that out! 
I spend some time at the beginning of this episode describing what we're up against in terms of the original Mahabharata as a source.  Then the story gets under way, where we meet the two Gurus Krpa and Drona, and find out some of the early enmities between the Pandavas and their cousins the Kauravas.  Duryodhana's maternal uncle Shakuni makes his debut in the role of chief conspirator, which he will maintain to his dying day! 
I think you'll also agree that the good guys are not 100% good after all-- Bhima is kind of a bully, and Arjun is a serious kiss-up to their teacher and is not above a little cheating to make sure he is unchallenged as the top student!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Episode 7 - The Heroes and the Villains are born

Episode 7 - This episode covers the marriage of the three princes Dhritarastra, Pandu and Vidura.  Here's the map I promised of India during the time of the Mahabharata.  What's important to notice is that first, the Kuru nation was in a very central location and must have been very important in the politics of the age.  The Himalaya mountains acted as an enormous bulwark, keeping each kingdom safe from attack from the north.  Thus the marriage alliances seemingly secured peace with neighbors to the west and south, and Pandu was able to wage a military campaign against the kingdoms dowstream along the Ganges to the east.
It is interesting how Pandu eventually thought of his natural father and tried to convert to a Brahmin later in life, giving up the crown.  In addition to all that, the five Pandavas (good guys) and the 100 Kauravas (bad guys) are born, then Pandu dies, leaving his five sons orphans.  Everyone agrees that the eldest Pandava, Yudhistira should be the first in line for the throne, but his blind uncle King Dhrtarastra has good reason to be resentful for how things worked out, and he won't let us forget it!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Episode 6 - No Good Deed Unpunished

Episode 6 - In this episode, Bhisma's extreme oath comes back to bite them all, when both his brothers die childless and there is no one to continue the Dynasty.  But never fear, because Satyavati has another son, the very author of this story, and he can step in from time to time to set things right.  In this case, he gives us the three brothers, blind, pale & bastard!
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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Animation practice

I don't know if anyone else will find it funny, but this is my practice animation subject.  I've always like this scene from the war when Krishna gets frustrated and, because he promised not to bear arms, uses a chariot wheel instead, but Arjuna stops him. 

Too bad Blogger doesn't allow you to see the whole picture at once. You could also see it here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Episode 5 - Shantanu & Sons

Episode 5 - I briefly give my opinion of the previous episode on Shakuntala and Dushanta, and then get going with the birth of mighty Bhisma and his two not-so-mighty brothers.

This is an important episode, because in many ways, it is Bhisma's over-reaction to his father's desires that ultimately sets the whole tragedy in motion.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Episode 4 - Shakuntala and King Bharata

Episode 4 - The episodes are getting a little longer now, as the stories get more detailed.  Before the book gets to the "direct line" of characters, it takes a bit of a detour to introduce some of the important ancestors in the Bharata Dynasty.  These include Bharata himself, plus his ancestor Yayati (and his son Puru), as well as Bharata's descendent Kuru.  The sketches are in fact quite brief, and the lengthy portions are generally about very specific aspects of their lives.  In the case of Bharata, we'll hear a lot of information about his conception and the questions of his legitimacy, and that's about all. 
As for Kuru, we only hear that he recovered the throne of Hastinapur sometime after his father lost it to the King of Panchala.  The story of Yayati and his sons is much longer, but it is also quite odd.  I'm going to save it for later because it also bears on the descent of Krishna, plus I'm anxious to get going with the main story!
So for this time, it's the story of Bharata, his mother Shakuntala, and his jerk of a father, King Dushanta...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Episode 3 - A Fishy Beginning

Episode 3 - Vaisampayan begins telling the Mahabharata, beginning by telling us that Vyasa spent three years daily working on the poem. Following that, we hear about the Fishy-Fragrant Satyavati and Vyasa's birth.

Episode 2 - The Origins

Episode 2 -The story begins. In this episode I describe how the Mahabharata begins, with the storyteller Ugrasravas telling the hermits in the forest about the great Snake Sacrifice of King Janamejaya, and how Vyasa's composition was told during the festivities.

Episode 1 - Introduction to the Podcast

Episode 1 - I'm excited to announce that the first episode of my podcast about the Mahabharata is now available. There are more episodes to come shortly. This one is just a brief introduction to let you know what this project is all about.

There are a lot of different interpretations of the Mahabharata out there, and they are all so different from each other, because the original writing is often so obtuse that it is very hard to get past. But buried beneath all the archaic language and reptition is a really fascinating story. My problem with the abridgements and adaptations out there is that they all without exception change the facts of the story, and skip a lot of the detail that I think gives one a real feeling for the authors' original intent. I will try to remedy this as best I can in this podcast. Finally, I really appreciate all those great podcasts out there that help me to while away the boring moments of my life, and I hope this offering is a way of giving back.  I hope you enjoy it!