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.