Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Episode 87 - Rama's Famous Genocide

Episode 87 - Yuddistira is finally convinced that he should remain king, and he gets down to business.  He marches straight to the palace and has himself anointed and consecrated.  He appoints his council and gets his kingdom in order.  As soon as he has a chance to catch his breath, Krishna suggests that they hurry over to uncle Bhisma, who isn't long for this world.

Along the way, Krishna tells the story of Battleaxe Rama, who wiped out the race of Kshatriyas 21 times in succession.

The podcast may be taking something of a hiatus after this episode.  We are now entering the section of the Mahabharata that is dedicated to Bhisma's teaching on Dharma.  This constitutes nearly one-third of the entire text, and from what I've seen so far, is extremely legalistic and detailed.  This means I will need to pour over a lot of text to extract enough information to make a full episode.  That may take a while.

On the positive side, once we are through this section of Bhisma's teachings, we are almost at the end of the story!

Thanks for sticking with me on this long journey.  I'll be sure to keep you posted as things develop.  Just keep watching this blog!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Holiday Message - Is Kubera Santa Claus?

Merry Christmas to all you Christians (and folks who just like getting gifts)!  It struck me last night that the myth of Santa Claus is awfully similar to the story of Kubera that we get from the Mahbarata.  Both live in the far north, both are famous for their wealth & generosity, and both are surrounded by halflings-- they are called Elves in the case of Santa Claus, and Yakshas in the Mahabharata.  Kubera is King of the Yakshas.

I recall that it was Kubera who donated wealth for the construction of the palace at Indraprastha.

Is it possible that the legend of Kubera made it all the way to Northern Europe and survived the arrival of Christianity?  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Episode 86 - To be (king), or not to be...

Episode 86 - It seems like Yuddistira always had a secret desire to give up the world and live like a sadhu.  But now he has a pretty good justification-- after all, he even killed his elder brother.  Crimes like this demand extreme penance, and Yuddistira would like nothing better than to embrace that lifestyle.

No one else agrees with the new king however, and his brothers, Krishna, and the Rishis all take turns trying to convince him that the best use of his life would be to take up the crown and rule, according to his dharma.

They never quite seem to convince him, but Krishna and Narada at least manage to distract him with a story of a boy who crapped gold nuggets (Suvarnashthivin).  Also, Yuddistira has learned to always obey Krishna, and Krishna is adamant that he take up the throne and rule.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Episode 85 - Remembering Karna

Episode 85 - We begin the Book of Peace, the Shanti Parva.  After boasting to his uncle about his special clairvoyant powers, Yuddistira is blindsided by the news that he & Karna shared the same mother.  Now the Dharma Raja has learned that he killed his own brother-- aside from killing one's parents, perhaps one of the worst things a person could do.

The brothers spend a month outside in the city walls as a sort of penance, and are joined by the great sages of the ancient world.  Narada comforts the brothers by telling stories of Karna's past.  The sage argues that Karna's life & circumstances were custom-designed to spark this war and ensure its completion.

We finally learn of Karna's tutelage under Rama Jamadagnya (Parasurama), and we get the story of how he was cursed for killing a Brahmin's cow.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Episode 84 - The Book of the Women

Episode 84 - Vidur & Vyasa tell a few parables to help Dhrtarastra pull himself together.  When the king is finally pacified, he leads all the bereaved women of Hastinapur in a great procession to deal with their fallen men.  They march along the banks of the Ganga to Kurukshetra, where they encounter Ashwatthaman, Krpa & Krtavarman, who are still on the run after killing the Pandava's sons & allies.

Ashwatthaman heads of to Vyasa's ashram, Krpa goes home to Hastinapur, and Krtavarman also heads for home.

The procession later meets up with the Pandavas, fresh from Ashwatthaman's downfall, and together they proceed to the battlefield.  Following the great cremation, a memorial is conducted on the banks of the Ganga.  Kunti joins in and tells her sons to honor their fallen brother-- this is the first time the Pandavas were told they had a brother!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Episode 83 - Daksha's Sacrifice

Episode 83 - The brothers learn of the massacre of their sons & allies, and summon Draupadi to break the news.  As usual, all she wants is revenge.  Thus the Pandavas go off on one final mission to avenge the death of their sons.  They track down Ashwatthaman and find him hanging out with Vyasa and Narada.  As soon as they set eyes on each other, the boy Brahmin sets off his Brahmashira weapon, which is 100s of times more powerful than the Brahmastra, and sounds a lot like a hydrogen bomb-- "All living things are destroyed and no rains fall for 12 years."

The Rishis step in and order Arjun to put his guns away, but Ashwatthaman cannot retract this weapon once it is unleashed, so instead, he turns it loose on the wombs of the Pandava women, making them sterile and killing their one remaining heir-- Uttara's unborn son Parikshit.

Fortunately, Krishna revives the kid, but there shall be no more Pandava offspring after this.

To help explain how Ashwatthaman was able to pull off this massacre single-handedly, Krishna tells a few stories about Shiva, and just how temperamental and dangerous he can be.  In fact, Shiva really comes off as more of a force of nature than a Saddhu living in the hills.

My guess is, that if we understood the physics of Time, we might realize that Shiva stands in for one of the main functions of time, which is change.  The other aspects of time are novelty (Brahma), and the moment of Now, which I believe is represented by Vishnu.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Episode 82 - Blowback

Episode 82 - Well, it seems there is no end to the tit for tat revenge cycle that Duryodhana forced into motion so long ago.  Now that he has been defeated, his survivors seek revenge for his fall.  Ashwatthaman is unable to let it go, and since he is vastly outnumbered, he prays to Shiva for the power to kill his enemies.  Shiva allows him to exterminate the remains of the Pandava army while they sleep.  So now there will be another vendetta.  How much further can this go?  Find out next time!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Episode 81 - Downfall

Episode 81 - So this is it; the moment everyone has been waiting for.  Ever since Episode 7 when Duryodhana was born, he has finally received his well-deserved defeat.  But even as he falls, the finger pointing, hand-wringing and grief at the price that has been paid for this victory has already begun.

Balaram shows up just in time to referee the final death match between Bhima & Duryodhana, only to get really annoyed when Bhima is forced to bend the rules a bit in order to win.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Episode 80 - Kurukshetra, Day 18: Shalya & the dissolution of the Kauravas

Episode 80 - This episode covers the final day of the great war.  If you were expecting things to go out with a bang, you'll be disappointed.  Once the Kaurava general Shalya is killed, things just sort of disintegrate.  Duryodhana's remaining brothers are all killed.  Shakuni is killed.  Karna's sons are exterminated.  The Pandavas make one final sweep over the field, killing literally everyone who was left standing.  They spend the rest of the day sifting through the corpses in search of Duryodhana.

By this point, the only survivors are Krpa, Aswatthaman, Kritavarman, Sanjay, & Duryodhana.  Everyone else is dead.  The Pandavas still have their tight group of heroes and Draupadi's sons, but most of their troops are dead.

Duryodhana finds himself standing alone, abandoned & on foot in the midst of the battlefield.  Everyone is dead or has fled the scene.  Stunned, he wanders off the field and makes his way aimlessly towards Hastinapur.  Sanjay finds his prince, filthy in blood & gore, in a state of shock, standing by a lake shore.  When the Kaurava finally comes to his senses, he submerges himself into the lake, where he intends to rest, indefinitely.

Aside from Duryodhana, blind king Dhrtarastra still has one son yet living.  It is his illegitimate son Yuyutsu, who had joined with the Pandavas at the beginning of the war.  He is given leave to comfort his brothers' retainers & womenfolk and returns with them to Hastinapur.  There are no recriminations for his having gone over to the enemy.  Now they are just glad that some one son of Dhrtarastra has survived to carry on the line.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Episode 79 - Kurukshetra, Day 17: Down with Dushasan/Killing Karna

Episode 79 - This is a big day in the war.  Bhisma fulfills one of his oaths by killing Dushasan and drinking his blood.  Now he will be gunning for Duryodhana.

Arjun & Karna finally get busy with their final showdown.  The whole universe apparently took sides in this conflict, with everyone choosing a champion to cheer for.  The pair begin fighting with conventional weapons, but soon escalate to magical weapons.

At one point, Arjun gets the upper hand, and strikes Karna until he's lost his wits and drops his weapons. Arjun then allows his opponent to recover somewhat before they resume fighting.  Krishna scolds Arjun (not for the first time!), for failing to strike the enemy when he's down.  Arjun has quit arguing with Krishna over these things, so he resolves to kill Karna at the next possible opportunity.

At this point, Fate and Mother Earth have had enough and they intervene directly.  Mother Earth seizes Karna's chariot wheel, bringing her enemy to a halt.  Karna jumps down to pull free the wheel, but it won't budge.  He asks Arjun to think of the Warrior Code, or his Dharma, and not to fire until he could fix his chariot and get moving again.

This annoys Krishna, who scolds Karna for even bringing up the subject of Dharma.  Where was his Dharma when Draupadi was molested?  This speech both shames Karna and enrages Arjun, who finally obeys Krishna's orders and kills his enemy.

There's that wheel again!  What does it mean that in the course of this war, we've had a Wheel Formation (that killed Abhimanyu), and Arjun's son dies using a Chariot wheel as his only weapon, and then Karna dies, clinging to a wheel which was stuck in the earth.  Is there some deeper meaning to the image of a wheel in this war?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Episode 78 - Kurukshetra, Day 17: A Counterfeit Curfuffle

Episode 78 - Karna begins the 17th day of the war by fighting each Pandava except Arjun.  He is actually defeated by both Yuddistira and Bhima, but then he defeats Nakul and Sahadev.   Both of the elder brothers spare his life, out of consideration for Arjun's oaths.  Yuddistira then goes for a second round with Karna, but this time it doesn't work out so well.

Karna defeats Yuddistira and nearly captures him, but he reconsiders and lets the Pandava go.  Yuddistira then flees to his camp to have his wounds tended to, and there he slips into a strange funk.  What follows seems completely bogus to me.  Arjun retreats to the camp to check on his brother's health, and Yuddistira perversely assumes that he must have already killed Karna.

Yuddistira admits that he's been terrified of Karna and hasn't slept for 13 years out of fear for him. When he finds out that Karna isn't killed, he gets really mad at Arjun and suggests that Arjun hand his bow to Krishna and that they change places.  Arjun takes great exception to this, and pulls an oath out of his ass that he says he swore when he was younger.  This oath was to kill anyone who suggested that he give up his Gandiva bow.  So now he must kill Yuddistira.

Pretty lame, eh?  Krishna is there, and he does his usual thing, by coming up with a "workaround", in which Arjun need only insult his brother, then brag about himself.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Episode 77 - Kurukshetra, Day 16: Karna's in charge

Episode 77 - Drona is dead and a new commander is needed.  Ashwatthaman proposes that Karna be given the position and everyone else agrees.  Karna leads the army through a rather desultory day of fighting and then complains that what he is missing is a good driver.  Shalya is drafted to be his charioteer.
Shalya had promised to cause trouble should things come to this pass, and he lives up to it by constantly bickering with Karna.  For some reason, Karna chooses this moment to confess how he deceived Rama Jamadagnya in order to obtain the Brahma weapon.  When Rama finds out Karna is just a Suta disguised as a Brahmin, he curses Karna.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Episode 76 - Some thoughts on the story so far...

Episode 76 - I present my wild theories and hypotheses about the Mahabharata.  Among other things, we discuss its relationship to the Precession of the Equinoxes and the Yuga cycle as defined by Markandeya and Sri Yukteshvar.  We look into the role of magic in the story and our prospects for regaining this lost knowledge in the future. We delve into the mystery of the metaphysical origins of the Pandavas and consider whether the five brothers might have originally been based on just a single hero-- the proto-Arjun.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Episode 75 - Kurukshetra, Day 15: Ashwatthaman goes Ballistic!

Episode 75 - Earlier in day 15, Drona is killed by Dhrstadyumna.  The Kaurava army literally comes unraveled until Ashwatthaman hears the news.  The boy is outraged at the way his father was treated and swears revenge on both Dhrstadyumna (for killing him), and Yuddistira (for betraying his trust).

Drona's son then pulls the army together and rushes to battle waving his WMD.  First he tries to use the Narayana weapon, but Krishna is too tricky for that-- he knows its weakness, which is that it is ineffective against unarmed men.  The Pandavas all drop their weapons and the bomb is a dud.  One other problem with the Narayana weapon: it's only good for one shot.  So much for that.

Next, he pulls out his Agneya weapon, which is pretty much like a thermonuclear device.  Without a second thought, he gets into range with Arjun and sets the thing off.  It wipes out perhaps half of the Pandavas' remaining army, but Arjun & Krishna simply brush off the ashes and resume fighting.  Not even nukes can take out the incarnated Rishis Nar & Narayan!

Ashwatthaman asks heaven why his nuke failed to have the desired effect, and Vyasa shows up to explain that while his power derives from Shiva, Krishna's power derives from Narayana, so there's no comparison.

Finally, we find a funny reference to Sanjay rushing back to Hastinapur to report on the war.  What happened to his divine vision?  My guess is that originally the author had him running back & forth from the battle to the palace to report to the king what had happened.  This proved to be too limiting for the author's desires, so he switched the premise to include divine sight.  But then he forgot to expunge the earlier device from the books he'd already written! 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Episode 74 - Kurukshetra, Day 15: Drona

Episode 74 - Two significant deaths this episode-- first Gatotkacha basically gets sacrificed by Krishna so that Arjun need not face Karna's special unstoppable Indra Dart.  It's a mean trick, but Krishna explained that one of the purposes of this war is to eradicate the race of Rakshasas, so if they didn't have Karna kill him, then they would have had to do it themselves.  Besides, it was a small price to pay in order to save Arjun for the final showdown.

The second big shot to go down is their old guru Drona.  I must confess that I never really took a shine to this fighting brahmin.  He always seemed over-proud and a bit prickly.  Also, I never liked the way he manipulated the Pandava kids into fighting his own grudge match with King Drupad.  After he took half of Drupad's kingdom, he said that they could be friends again.  Some friend-- he then kills Drupad earlier in the day without a second thought.

And what the hell is a brahmin doing fighting anyway?  They are supposed to merit their honor of being the priestly caste by dedicating their lives to ritual and spirituality.   But here's this guy who demands the highest honor for being from the priestly caste, and yet he fights dirty-- in ways that a kshatriya would be ashamed to fight, such as using magic weapons against footsoldiers.  His ounce of loyalty goes to the guys who feed him & pay him, and all the rest of his love is for his own skin, and that of his dear son, Ashvatthaman.  More on that punk later.

Man, I really don't like Drona!

Anyway, next time we'll find out what Ashwatthaman does when he hears the news.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Episode 73 - Kurukshetra, Day 14: Killing Jayadratha

Episode 73 - We continue with the events of the 14th day of war.  You can relax because we find out that both Satyaki and Bhim made it to Arjun's side, and everyone is OK after all.  Arjun finally spots Jayadratha, but he is very well protected, and the sun is about to set.  It is time for one of Krishna's tricks!

Following Jayadratha's "exploding head syndrome", the Kauravas are so bent out of shape that they ignore the sunset and just keep fighting.   Next episode will cover the night battle of the 14th day.

Thanks for all your nice comments.  I love to hear from you!  If you haven't already, please visit my blog at mahabharatapodcast.com and leave a message.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Episode 72 - Kurukshetra, Day 14: Killing Alambusha

Episode 72 - We begin the 14th day of the war.  The morning starts with many dark omens, but no one is quite sure for which side they portend doom.  Arjun sets off immediately to fight his way through the Kaurava army and to find and kill the miserable king Jayadratha.  He & Krishna soon disappear into the hordes while Yuddistira struggles to avoid capture at the hands of Drona.

By mid-day, with no news from the two Krishnas, Yuddistira begins to worry about them.  He hears their conches and interprets the sound to have some urgency.  Eventually, his concerns are too much, and he sends Satyaki, his very best bodyguard, off on a solo mission to find and rescue their kinsmen.

Then Satyaki also crashes through the enemy lines and disappears.  Not long after, the lack of news from either Satyaki or the Krishnas again proves too much for Yuddistira's nerves.  This time, he sends Bhima away to find the others.

Now Yuddistira has only Dhrstadyumna to protect him, and the rest of his very best fighters are lost and alone, deep in the hordes of the Kaurava army.

This was all too much to fit into a single episode, so we need to wait until next time to find out how the 14th day comes to a close.  Will Satyaki and Bhima make it through?  Will Arjun complete his vow to kill Jayadratha before sunset?  Find out next time!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Book Review: The Yugas by Joseph Selbie & David Steinmetz

Although I spend a good deal of my free time working through the original text of the Mahabharata and producing the podcast, I also read quite a lot.  Not long ago, I was lent a copy of The Holy Science by Swami Sri Yuktesvar.  Mostly, it was in line with a lot of spiritual literature from early 20th century India: the author demonstrates the ultimate unity in the world's religious teachings.

While I agree with the sentiment, it is also quite commonplace in our day and age for any spiritual seeker.  It comes as little surprise to us that the deepest messages of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism & Hinduism are all pretty much the same.

But this little book also contains a chapter on revising the traditional interpretation of the Yugas.  Sri Yuktesvar brought the Yuga system in line with the 25,000-year Precession of the Equinoxes.

I have long been fascinated by this astronomical phenomenon, because there are so many hints at this secret knowledge hidden in our most ancient legends and structures.  For instance, the beautiful Hindu legend of the Gods & Asuras churning the cosmic ocean to produce the Amrit, or Elixir of Immortality.  The way the Amrit was produced was by looping the Cosmic Snake around the base of Mount Meru, and using the mountain as a vast churning stick, the cosmit ocean of milk was churned like butter to produce the Amrit.  The Gods were unable to accomplish this alone, so they requested the aid of the demonic Asuras, promising to share in the Amrit for their assistance.

The Asuras joined in, and together they churned the ocean of milk and produced the Elixir, but then the Gods reneged on their promise, and kept the Amrit to themselves.  What followed were many exciting battles over possession of this most sacred substance.

This mythology underlies the entire epic of the Mahabharata, in that, once the Asuras were finally defeated, they flocked to be born on the earth, and it was these evil incarnations that lead Mother Earth to request the help of Vishnu and the Devas to come to earth and eradicate them.

This myth has long been important to me because the imagery of the northern-most peak revolving like a butter churn matches precisely what one's observations of the Precession of the Equinoxes would look like.  If viewed over the course of 25,000 years, we would see the earth's axis of rotation wobbling from one pole star to the next.

There is no question in my mind that the legend of the Amrit is referring to the reality of the precessional cycle, so then why was this subtle phenomenon so important to our ancient storytellers?  Furthermore, this is just one legend among many.  The book Hamlet's Mill includes numerous references to this phenomenon from all over the ancient world.  It is abundantly clear that the slow wobble in the earth's polar axis was something extremely important to our ancient forbears.  I have long suspected that we might better understand our ancient stories if we could just crack the code.

The recent interest in the Mayan calendar has also sparked interest in the nature and secret of the Precessional Cycle.  For one, there is no question that the Mayan calendar is based on the precession of the equinoxes, and that according to it, we are currently crossing an important landmark in our journey through the cycle.  Western Astrology has always been aware of Precession as well, and that is where we get the notion of leaving the Age of Pisces and entering the Age of Aquarius.

I have had an interest in the precession ever since I read Hamlet's Mill in college.  Thus, the traditional Yuga system always seemed a bit odd to me, in that it was the only ancient system that seemed to ignore the precessionary calender and instead talked of period of time in the millions of years.  

So, when I read Sri Yukteshvar's Holy Science, I was impressed that he was able to reconcile the two systems.   This was not the first time that I came across this timing however.  Back in Episode 30, Markandeya also described the four Yugas as taking 12,000 years to complete.  I even commented at the time that it meant that we are no longer living in the Kali Yuga, which is comforting to know!

Thus, it was serendipitous that I came across a new work, based on Sri Yukteshvar's analysis, that tries to explain our history in terms of the precessionary cycle, the four Yugas, and the mechanism behind each of these ages.  The authors of The Yugas, starting from this thin chapter out of a thin book by Sri Yukteshvar, provide the framework for a new theory of history which explains many of the conundrums of ancient history and may even be able to predict our future!

What I find that is important for our subject here, the Mahabharata, is the way the Yuga cycles run forward and then in reverse.  This is the revolutionary part of Sri Yukteshvar's work.  The traditional, descending four Yugas from Satya to Kali, is only half the story.  The trip from Kali Yuga back to Satya Yuga is not immediate.  Nothing in life works that way.  Instead, we creep our way slowly back up the Yugas in reverse!

Accepting Sri Yuktesvar's calculation of AD 500 as the beginning of the present ascending Kali Yuga, time has an unusual way of running in circles.  Thus, the descending era's ancient awakening of Confucius, Buddha, and Socrates coincides with the same time as the ascending era's Renaissance.

Amazingly, it looks like the senseless violence of the Mahabharata War coincides with World War II!  Both wars involved senseless slaughter of vast numbers of fighters.  As the authors in The Yugas argue, the descending era is about the decline in the power of magic, while the ascending era is about the increase in the power of technology.  Thus, just as modern man found himself in the 20th century AD with more technology to kill than they had sense not to fight, in the 10th century BC, an insanely violent war broke out among people with more magic than then had sense not to kill each other with it.  The connection is my own, but the coincidence is uncanny.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Episode 71 - Kurukshetra: A Dramatic Interlude

Episode 71 - Vyasa finishes his comforting storytelling, and then vanishes, leaving it up to Yuddistira to deal with breaking the news to Arjun that his son is dead.  Arjun comes home expecting a party, only to find the camp in mourning over the loss of his son.  He responds by swearing to kill Jayadratha by sunset tomorrow.

The Kauravas find out about his oath and hastily make plans to keep the prince safe long enough for Arjun's vow to fail.  That is all it will take to get the Pandava out of the war!

Now Arjun is a bit worried, but still he's got Krishna to help out.  Even though the oath was sworn without Krishna's advice, he arranges a meeting with Shiva.  Shiva provides a magic missile that should take care of everything.  Arjun still has a long row to hoe-- we'll see how it works out tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Episode 70 - The death of Abhimanyu

Episode 70 - Drona has been in charge now for two days, and so far he has failed in his mission to capture Yuddistira.  This despite the fact that they have sacrificed a whole nation of warriors just to keep Arjun away long enough for them to grab his brother.  The Trigartas are nearly all dead so they need to come up with a new idea.  This time, Drona implements a fancy new formation, based on a wheel, which few know how to break.

It turns out that Abhimanyu is one of those who know its secrets.  But with Arjun busy, he is the only one.  Helpless to protect himself and his followers any other way, Yuddistira sends the boy wonder into the jaws of death.  Even then, they could have protected the boy, except they were stopped by old Jayadratha of Sindh.

Remember this guy?  He's actually related in marriage to Duryodhana-- he married Duryodhana's sister.  But one wife wasn't good enough for him, and he stupidly tried to run off with Draupadi, without first defeating the Pandavas.  He paid the price of humiliation for his impudence: he was beaten severely and had his head shaved by an arrow head by Bhimasena.  Too humiliated to return home, Jayadratha remained in the woods, praying to Shiva.  When he finally coaxed Shiva to grant him a wish, he asked for the ability to kill all five Pandavas!

This was a bit too much even for Shiva. The best he could do was grant him the ability to stop the Pandavas briefly, but not Arjun.  Obviously, now was a perfect moment to use this boon, so Jayadratha rode out to forstall the Pandavas, while Drona, Krpa, Karna & Ashvatthaman ganged up on young Abhimanyu and killed him in an ambush.  It was Dushasan's son, Daushasani, who dealt the death blow.

What is Arjun going to say when he finds out they let his son get killed?!?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Episode 69 - Kurukshetra, Days 11 & 12: The Drona Parva

Episode 69 - Bhisma is out of commission, and his book is nearly over.  In one last scene, Karna comes to meet his fallen nemesis.  Bhisma is quite affectionate toward his prodigal nephew, and he tells him that he was only pretending to be antagonistic.  He really didn't mean it, he just wanted to discourage Karna from enabling Duryodhana's evil ways.

Bhisma begs Karna to forget his grievances and to join with his brothers and end the war this moment.  But Karna is too far gone.  He owes Duryodhana too much, and he has nursed his grievances for far too long to ever reconcile with the Pandavas.  It is better that he exit this world in the most honorable manner possible-- on the field of battle, at the loving hands of his famous brother, Arjuna.

This scene ends the Bhisma Parva, and we pick up the story the next morning, in the Drona Parva.  Drona is made commander of the Kaurava army, and their strategy is to kidnap Yuddistira.  If they get him, then they could force him to gamble and send the Pandavas back to the forest.  But Arjun presents a major problem with this plan.

After one fruitless day of battle, the Kauravas decide to distract Arjun with a suicide squad.  The entire army of the Trigartas volunteer to go to their deaths in order to keep Arjun away from protecting his brother.  On day 12, they almost pull it off, sacrificing the lives of one half their numbers, but Arjuna is too much for them, and he breaks away just when it seemed Yuddistira would be taken.

Now, at the end of day 12, there is still another half of the suicidal Trigartas, so a final attempt will be made on grabbing Yuddistira on day 13.  13 is an unlucky number, and someone will have to pay for Yuddistira's freedom!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Episode 68 - Kurukshetra, Day 10: The Bed of Arrows

Episode 68 - I know it feels like this war is really dragging on; but I think that is precisely how Vyasa wanted us to feel by this point in the battle.  We are all getting tired of the unending violence.  Even the main cause of all the violence, Bhisma, is getting tired of this, and he has begun looking for a way out.

On day 9, the old Kuru apparently relieved himself of the last of his commitments, which was to wipe out the army of the Saumakas.  Now the only thing left for him to do was to find the most noble way to meet his death.  On the evening of the ninth day, the Pandavas visit their grand-uncle in his tent and walk away with the old man's permission and even blessing to kill him on the tenth day.

So this is it-- Arjun is finally committed to this action, and Sikhandin is put at the head of the attack.  By the time they are done, Bhisma is literally a human pincushion.  He is impaled by so many arrows that his body does not touch the ground when he finally falls.

Arjun kindly provides a pillow of arrows and a nice little drinking fountain, so Bhisma may wait until the seasons change and the sun finally resumes its northward course in the heavens.  Until then, he's content to hang out on his prickly bed and watch the action from the sidelines.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Episode 67 - Kurukshetra, Day 9

Episode 67 - On the previous day, Duryodhana was quickly losing faith with his uncle.  He began to suspect that Bhisma was throwing the contest in favor of the Pandavas.  Karna didn't help any when he offered to take charge in place of the old man.  So Duryodhana asked the old man to either fulfill his oaths or get out of the game.  Now today, on the 9th day, Bhisma sets out to finish off his Dharma so he could move on to the next phase in his life.

On the battlefield, he kills hundreds of thousands, including the entire nation of the Saumakas.  Bhisma takes out a large chunk of the Pandava army.  If he keeps this up another day or two, there will be no one left to fight on the Pandavas' side.

So that night, after the battle, they go unarmed to Bhisma's tent and ask him what they should do about this and how they should win the war.  Of course, they've known what they needed to do all along, but it's nice to have Bhisma tell you himself and to even give his blessing!  We'll see tomorrow if Arjun finally carries through with his duty...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

News: Episodes 1-4 have been re-issued!

If you are following this blog, you have probably already listened to the first four or five episodes of this podcast.

I recently listened to those old episodes and sort of cringed at the production quality and the pace of my speaking.  I like to think that my production skills have improved somewhat since those early days-- my equipment is certainly much better now-- and I wondered if I might have scared off some proportion of my listeners with those first few episodes.

Therefore, I decided to re-record them to bring them up to the quality of our later episodes.  I also took the opportunity to edit and include more information than was in the original recordings.

Episode 5 could also use some improvement, so in the coming weeks I will also release a new recording of that episode.

I simply replaced the old .mp3 files with a new one of the same name.  If you decide you'd like to hear the new version, but it still sounds like the old one, it may be the cache on your computer is holding onto the old file.  You may need to clear your browser cache files to get past that problem.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Episode 66 - Kurukshetra, Days 7 & 8

Episode 66 - The seventh and eighth days of the War.  Bhisma kills a few more Dhartarastras, king Virata loses another son, and we meet Arjun's son Iravat, a Naga prince from Arjun's tour of the holy places, long long ago.

We meet Iravat only to see him killed by the demon Alambusha.  Alambusha is also the son of a famous father-- none other than the peculiar half-deer Rshyashrnga!  In the story we get from the epic, Rshyashrnga's son is the child of a Kshatriya princess, and becomes Raja of the kingdom.  We are not told where or on whom he begot this demon!

Arjun and Bhisma seem ready to get down and fight, but it never seems to happen.  Maybe on day 9?  Duryodhana is quickly losing faith in his general, and Karna is making trouble on the sidelines, so he'd better do something big on day 9...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Episode 65 - Kurukshetra, Days 5 & 6

Episode 65 - The fifth and sixth days of the great war.  Arjun wipes out an army of 25,000, and we find out Satyaki has 10 fully grown sons.  Soon after we learn about these sons, they get decapitated by King Bhurishravas.  In return, Satyaki kills off the king's entire army, but the pair are too well-matched and both must be dragged off of the battlefield after sunset.

Bhima can't resist an opportunity to kill more cousins, but risks getting himself killed or captured behind enemy lines.  Dhrstadyumna rescues him, only to require rescuing by Abhimanyu.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Episode 64 - Kurukshetra, Days 3 & 4

Episode 64 - The third and fourth days of the great war.  It seems like the tide may be turning somewhat, since both days of fighting were dominated by Arjun and Bhimasena.  Despite having the honor of receiving Krishna's teaching firsthand, Arjun still seems to be holding back somewhat.  His lassitude gets so bad that Krishna finally gets annoyed with him, and takes matters in his own hands.

Contrary to the way I've always heard the story told, Krishna does not take any consideration for his oath not to fight, and does not use a chariot wheel as his weapon.  Instead, he just pulls out his Sudarshana Chakra, and sets out to destroy the Kauravas in one blow.

Arjun does not explain why this cannot happen.  He just dives for his friend and tries to tackle him before any damage could be done.  Meanwhile, Bhisma is waiting with open arms to receive his lord.

Having made his point, Krishna puts out his frisbee and takes up the reins again.  Arjun promises to do better next time.  But it still seems like he's holding back!

Aside from that drama, many heroic feats are performed, especially by Abhimanyu & friends.  Also, Bhima gets to make a big showing, fighting off the combined Kaurava forces almost single-handedly, and to top it off, he gets his hands on 14 of his odious cousins and sends them straight to Yama for safekeeping!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Episode 63 - Kurukshetra, Day 2

Episode 63 - The second day of battle comes and goes.  If the first day went to the Kauravas, the 2nd day certainly belonged to the Pandavas.  The day ends with Bhimasena and Arjun dominating the field, and the Kaurava soldiers crapping their pants.  The cream of Kalinga manhood has been exterminated on the field, and even their enemies are forced to admire the way the two brothers cleared the field of all comers.

Lots more people died, but so far, not much has been accomplished.  Maybe day 3 will go better?  I doubt it!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Episode 62 - Kurukshetra, Day 1: Concluded

Episode 62 - Let's admit it, we were all impatient for this war to get started.  Like the characters in the story, we concluded many episodes back that there was never going to be a peaceful solution, and it would take nothing less than a massive bloodletting to make sure the bad guys were punished and the good guys got their rightful honors.

But now that the war has started, those frustrating days of exile in the forest are looking more attractive.  Sure, we all feel that Duryodhana deserves a good kick in the ass, but wars are never that satisfying.  Entire nations of warriors will be extinct before Duryodhana gets his first bruise.  And then there are the other 98 Kaurava brothers.  Sure, they might have collectively done some sneaky things, but how exactly did they earn the fate of preceding their elder brother into the underworld, like some primitive escort?

We might have learned thousands of years ago that war can never have a satisfactory outcome, and by now we should have found better ways of resolving our differences.  But here we are today, a bunch of "civilized" readers, looking forward to the battle books and anticipating the final denouement of the evil Kaurava brothers.

There is no such satisfaction on this, the first day of war.  Instead, Virata was deprived of both of his sons, and we found out too late that his second son Shveta was a fine Kshatriya and would have made a great ally.  But now he's dead; another life wasted.

Brace yourself, however, because there is much more of this yet to come...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Episode 61 - Kurukshetra, Day 1: War is Hell

Episode 61 - It is the morning of the first day of battle.  Already Krishna has revealed his great song to Arjuna, and now there are some final formalities, as Yuddistira runs to his elders on the enemy side for their blessings.  Krishan tags along and tries to tempt Karna over to the Pandava side, just until Bhisma is dead.  It must have been tempting, since it would have given him the chance to even kill the old bugger.  But Karna is too loyal to go for such an under-handed thing.  He turns Krishna down without a second thought.

Finally, just as Yuddistira returns to his lines, he invites anyone who'd like to change sides.  Yuyutsu, Dhrtarastra's 101st son, the illegitimate son of a serving girl, volunteers to change sides.  Now at least the old king can reasonably hope to have a son who survives this war and can make offerings to his ghost.

With this betrayal, Duryodhana starts the fight with a raid directly on his cousins.  What follows is a litany of the numerous duels, none of which ended in a fatality, and the violent slaughter of the un-named masses.  There is a bloody stalemate until the sun reached mid-day, and Bhisma launched a frontal attack on his enemies.  More on that next time!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Episode 60 - The Gita, part 2: The Godhead

Episode 60 - This concludes Krishna's dialog with Arjun about Dharma, Bhakti, Yoga, and the Gunas.  During the course of this, Arjun is granted divine sight, and is able to catch a glimpse of Krishna's true appearance; it nearly blows his mind.

Getting back to Arjun's original question-- Does Arjun's Dharma really require him to kill his relatives and gurus? and how can this can be a good thing?  It seems like a lot of Krishna's teaching is addressed to posterity, because advice to meditate more often isn't exactly going to propel Arjun into the battlefield.  I think the convincing part of it for Arjun was the divine vision in which he saw his enemies rushing inexorably to their deaths. Whether he followed his Dharma, or ran away, these guys were dead men walking.  So the decision to fight was a personal one.  Whether he fired the arrow that killed his grandfather or not, the sin of murder would not be on his conscience.

This ends the Gita.  We have only one small formality to take care of, and then finally the battle will begin-- next episode!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Episode 59 - The Gita, part 1: Arjun's Dejection

Episode 59 - We begin the famous holy book, the Bhagavad Gita.  The scene for this revelation is the midst of the fateful battlefield of Kurukshetra.  Arjun surveys the field, seeing his relatives, friends, cousins, uncles, elders and gurus, all ready to draw each other's blood and die for the sake of his dynastic dispute.  For the good guys to win, Arjun will personally be responsible for the death of the people he respects the most in the whole world.

He simple cannot go on with it.  Arjun drops his bow and sits down.  Better to die than to go forward with the slaughter.  Fortunately, Krishna is right there to remind him, and us, what life is really about.  It is not about sitting around, worrying about the outcomes of our actions.  We are here to get on with the story, keep moving, and most of all, follow our Dharma.

We get a lesson in cosmology, philosophy and even advice on how to meditate.  It's good stuff, and there's more to come.  We're about half-way through the Gita.  We'll get to the remainder next time!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Episode 58 - The Bhisma Parva

Episode 58 - The Battle Books, but not the battle, begin here.  Since we are at the second most important beginning of the epic, aside from the very beginning, there is a lot of unnecessary material stuffed into the narrative.  I tried my best to make sense of it, and to leave out the voluminous details that had nothing to do with the story at hand.  I also tried to iron out the repeated descriptions of the armies' dispositions, and the scene of the two sides lined up prior to battle.  This is one of the most difficult episodes I've had to produce, so I hope I was able to make some sense out of it.

We also belatedly get an explanation for Sanjay's magic vision.  It turns out Vyasa popped in and granted him that ability.  Maybe this scene really occurred when Krishna was still in town for negotiations, because it was Krishna's conversation with Karna that Sanjay was first able to report on without actually being there.  Otherwise, there is no explanation for those earlier feats of clairvoyance.

This confusing little prelude leads right up to the Bhagavad Gita, which is the very next chapter in the Bhisma Parva.  We'll begin on that in the next episode.

It is also worth repeating the observation J.A.B. van Buitenen made about the composition of the two armies facing off at Kurukshetra.  It turns out that the armies that allied with the Pandavas all came from kingdoms to the south and east of Hastinapur, while the Kauravas' allies were all from the north and west.

The timeless pattern of Indian migrations and invasions has always been a flow of people coming out of the northwest and conquering or settling in the richer lands of the south and east.  If there is some macro-economic or demographic movement happening behind the human drama, perhaps we are looking at a folk recollection of some past invasion, which was stopped by the Indian heroes and their advisor Krishna.  Maybe Alexander was in there somewhere, on the Kauravas' side?!?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Episode 57 - Amba, part 2

Episode 57 - Bhisma finishes bringing us up-to-date on who Sikhandin is, who he used to be, and why Bhisma won't fight him.

This also finishes the Udyoga Parva; the Book of the Effort.  Next time, we start in on the Bhisma Parva, the first of the eight Battle Books.  Don't assume that the war is about to start, just because we end off on the dawn of the first day of the war.  We still have a lengthy introduction in the Bhisma Parva, and then there is the Bhagavad Gita, which will take a few episodes-- we don't want to rush things!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Episode 56 - Amba, part 1

Episode 56 - Bhisma begins telling the story of Amba/Sikhandin-- the only person, barring the Pandavas, whom he will not fight in the coming battle.  The reason for this is that Sikhandin had once been a female.  She was not just any female at that-- she was Draupadi's sister, and in her past life, she'd had a bad run-in with Bhisma, making her his sworn enemy from beyond the grave.

We begin the story with Amba's abduction, along with her sisters Ambika and Ambalika, by Bhisma to provide wives for his brother.  When she announces her pre-arranged betrothal with Shalva, she is freed to go to him.  A comedy of errors ensues when he questions her virtue, and then she breaks from her escort, ruining her reputation.  But this is a deadly serious matter.  The girl is now unmarriageable, and her father would be unlikely to take her back.  She has died to her caste and is possibly the most vulnerable person in all of India.

Amba seeks shelter with the Brahmins & ascetics, and finally enlists Rama Jamadagni as her champion.  Bhisma is too stubborn to even allow his own guru to make him take a woman of questionable virtue into his house, so Rama kills him.  Bhisma has a near-death experience and is reminded of his past existence as one of the divine Vasus, and discovers that his holy brothers are still looking out for him.

Bhisma cannot die now, because his appointment with Destiny has already been set with the incarnation of the Primeval God, Nara Prajapati-- Arjuna Kaunteya.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Episode 55 - Cutting the Muster

Episode 55 - As if intending to seal his fate, Duryodhana warms up the Pandavas by sending over an odious gambler Uluka as a messenger to goad them into fighting.  Then Bhisma kindly gives us an inventory of the fighters who will take place in the coming battle.

There are a bunch of guys who I've never heard of, and do not seem to have any important role to play in the story, so I've left them out, trying to keep the cast of characters under control.  As for the rest, they are all rated between Rathas and Atirathas.

Finally, Bhisma assures the Kauravas that he could personally beat anyone on the opposing side, except for Arjun, but not to worry about Arjun, because he would never kill his elders or gurus.  The others he would not kill: the Pandavas, any women, and anyone who used to be a woman.   It turns out, there is one of these trannies on the Pandava side-- it's Drupad's 2nd son, Sikhandin.  Next episode, Bhisma will tell us why it is he cannot kill this particular warrior.

Episode 54 - The March on Kurukshetra

Episode 54 - Krishna returns from his mission to Hastinpur with war on his mind.  Yuddistira, having spent the last 12-14 years undergoing massive hardship to prevent this war, is reluctant to accept this truth.  He begs for more information, trying to find any way out of this situation.  So Krishna obliges by giving us the details of a few more speeches made in the Kuru court, but none of it helps.  War is truly inevitable.

So both sides round up their armies and march on Kurukshetra.  When they arrive, each side appoints a Commander in Chief.  It is Bhisma on the Kaurava side, and King Drupad on the Pandavas' side.

From this point until the end of the war, the main narrative frame of the story will be told in terms of a conversation between Sanjay and Dhrtarastra.  The Epic has so far not explained how it is that Sanjay knows what is going on at the far-off battlefield, but somehow he knows everything, and is able to relate it all to his king.  Occasionally, Dhrtarastra will interrupt with questions or react to the events, so it will be through his blind eyes that we shall perceive the coming war.

But don't be deceived that just because we are on the eve of war, that we will be soon getting to it.  The Epic always takes its time, and there will still be quite a few more episodes before the action really starts.  After al, we still need to get through the Bhagavad Gita!!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Episode 53 - The Temptation of Karna

Episode 53 - This episode is devoted to the classic scene of the Mahabharata in which Krishna reveals to Karna his true descent.  He never was the Son of a Suta, which everyone called him with scorn.  No, he was in fact the eldest of the Pandavas-- the original Partha.  Now that the truth was out, all Karna needed to do was embrace his Dharma, join his brothers, and assume the title of King of India.

Poor Karna, always the victim of bad timing.  It was way too late for such an offer.  Perhaps if Kunti had stood up and claimed him as her son during the Pandavas' first military exhibition, he might have come around then, but now there was too much water under the bridge.  Karna had been tossed out as a baby like the day's garbage, and had been scorned as a Suta when he tried to display his Kshatriya nature.  His modest Suta parents and the evil Kauravas had been the only ones to come to his aid, and he would never give them up.

Krishna failed in turning Karna, but somehow he allowed Sanjay to know of the entire conversation, so the story of Karna's descent and temptation was made known to all the Kauravas.  Kunti caught wind of the encounter, and she made a go at turning him.  She also failed, but she at least got the promise that he would spare her other sons, and should Arjun die, Karna would take his place as her fifth son.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Episode 52 - Krishna reveals Himself

Episode 52 - The peace talks break down completely.  It starts well, when no one can come up with a rebuttal to Krishna's speech.  Narada and Kanva tell a couple of parables to help with the decision making, but Duryodhana was not interested.  It seems he believed that the terms of the Dice Game were that the Pandavas were to go to the forest forever, not just 13 years.  Maybe it's true?  What if the Pandavas had indeed been banished for life, but they decided to change the rules when Krishna & Drupad offered to help them overthrow their cousins?  How would we know, since we only get the version of the story as told by the survivors of this war!?!

In any case, Duryodhana stuck to his story, and was adamant about refusing to bow to threats.  They began talking of restraining the boy and sending him in fetters to the Pandavas, and Duryodhana in turn planned on capturing Krishna. When news of this arrived at the palace, Dhrtarastra blew his top and yelled at the boy.  Then Krishna revealed his true nature, in front of the Kuru court.

The peace talks have failed.  There is nothing more to do but get ready for war.  But Krishna will stick around a little longer to meet with Kunti and then stir up some trouble by telling Karna about his true descent...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Episode 51 - Krishna comes to Town

Episode 51 - Sanjay's mission clearly did not accomplish much, so this time Krishna offers to go to Hastinapur as the Pandavas' chief negotiator.  When the Kauravas hear he is coming, Dhrtarastra plans on bribing him, while Duryodhana hopes to imprison him.

Krishna senses all the bad vibes and decides to only stay & eat with Vidur.  He also visits with the Pandavas' poor widowed mother Kunti, whom he tries to console.  Surprisingly, Kunti blames her father for all her suffering.  Kunti's father, Sura, was also Krishna's grandfather, and for some reason he gave her up for adoption to the chieftain Kuntibhoja.  It was there, while living under Kuntibhoja's roof, that she was assigned to serve the creepy saddhu Durvasas.  The result was that poor Kunti was saddled with an illegitimate baby-- young Karna.

Krishna assures his aunt that the Pandavas will soon make their comeback and all will be well.  Then he pays a visit to Duryodhana.  Duryodhana attempts to bribe him, but Krishna refuses to even eat with them.  The following day, Krishna is summoned before the court of Hastinapur, where he makes his case for a settlement with the Pandavas.

The king and his councilors really don't have much to say by way of a rebuttal, so Parashurama breaks the silence by offering to tell a couple of parables.  Next time, we'll hear these parables and then see how the negotiations turn out.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Episode 50 - The Kauravas React

Episode 50 - Sanjay returns to Hastinapur with messages and intelligence from the Pandava camp.  The king's charioteer delivers this information before the royal assembly, while Dhrarastra, Duryodhana, Bhisma and Karna argue over the significance of these threats.

Having gone a good long while since Karna last washed his feet, the mess must have started getting to him, because he finally blows his top at Bhisma and swears he will not fight until Bhisma is dead.

In the course of this debate, we get hints at some other tales that we are yet to hear about.  One of these involves Bhisma and Sikhandin.  We only get a few tantalizing hints at their back story, but we are told that this warrior is destined to kill Bhisma.  Rest assured that Bhisma will tell the full story a little later in the current book.

The other unfinished tale involves Karna's enrollment as Parashurama's student.  Again, we only get a brief summary, but we hear that Karna had lied to the old Brahmin about his birth, saying he was a fellow Brahmin in order to learn the secrets of the Brahma-head missile.  When Parashurama discovered Karna's deception, he cursed him, saying that the weapon would fail him when he needed it the most.  I'm not sure when we will get the full version of this tale, because it does not show up in the Book of the Effort, and I do not have an index for the books to follow.  It's a good story, so I hope we get to it soon!

Karna is kind of a pitiable figure.  While Arjun is getting magical weapons by the cartload heaped on him lovingly by the best of the Gods, poor Karna is forced to sacrifice his natural-born armor for a single measly arrow from Indra, and must compromise his reputation and sacrifice his spiritual tapas in order to get the Brahma-head missile.  Despite the sacrifices, both weapons are fatally flawed, since Indra's weapon cannot be used against the Pandavas, and the Brahma-head has been cursed to fail in its objective.  Poor Karna-- he never seems to be able to catch a break!

Finally, in a more private setting, Sanjay reveals that he has converted to a new religion!  Krishna and Arjun are beginning shed their human aspects and increasingly appear as divine beings.  The charioteer was quick to notice the transformation, and he appears to be an early adopter of the new cult of Krishna-worship.  With Vyasa present to endorse his newfound religious zeal, Sanjay presents the king with the first tenet of Bhakti worship.  Duryodhana remains obstinate, but the king & queen both become converts.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

News Update: I've found a solution to my Book 6 translation problem!

Good news:  There will not be an interruption in the publications due to the end of the Van Buitenen translation.

I've mentioned before that the translation of the Critical Edition into English was begun, but not completed, by J.A.B van Buitenen.  I've been relying on the print edition of his translation for the bulk of this podcast.  The only complete translation is by Ganguli, and I only have that version in my iPhone! 

I can't really write my episodes while referring to a 3" iphone screen, so as we get near the end of Book 5, I was getting desperate for a solution.  Amazon carries the full Ganguli translation-- all 18 books-- for the low low price of $350 US!

I sort of threw this conundrum out there to my audience to see if anyone had any suggestions on how I might find a cheaper copy.  I guess you all are too used to "free" stuff on the internet, because I got a rather tepid response.

One listener kindly offerred to look into buying a copy in India, where it should be cheaper, but it was all rather hypothetical and time is running out.  I guess I would have drawn more attention if I'd waited until the end of Book 5, and the podcast came to a stop...

But all that is water under the bridge now.  It turns out that Amazon is selling the Kindle edition of Ganguli for $6!  All 18 books!  Kindles are running for about $189, so for the price of a Kindle, I get Ganguli nearly for free.  As long as I use the kindle for something other than Ganguli, I can at least say that I didn't blow another $200 on a podcast that nets me $0 in return.  So that's good news...

Now the Kindle is in the mail, so as long as the mail gods keep the deliveries on schedule, our podcast should continue to run on its normal schedule!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Episode 49 - Peace talks begin

Episode 49 - Now that both sides are armed to the teeth and infested with vast armies, they are ready to talk peace terms.  The Pandavas start the first round by sending Drupad's unnamed priest as their ambassador.  This priest travels to Hastinapur and asks only for the terms of the Dice Game to be fulfilled.  Dhrtarastra responds well enough, sending his Charioteer Sanjay as the returning ambassador.  Sanjay's message is also for peace, but the terms are rather unacceptable.  The Kauravas suggested that the Pandavas simply disarm, and go away.  No land, no titles, no nothing.

Yuddistira sends Sanjay back with his counter-arguments and counter-proposal.  When the charioteer returns home, it is late, so he drops in on Dhrtarastra just to let him know he's back and will be delivering the Pandavas' rejoinders in the morning.  Now the old blind king is left to stew all night.

Dhrtarastra cannot sleep, so he summons his younger brother Vidur to entertain him.  Vidur treats us to some lengthy speeches on virtue and Dharma, and by the end of the night, he is apparently channeling spirits!  We hear from the immortal sage Sanatsujata, but this guy is apparently senile, because none of his teachings make any sense!

Next time, we'll find out what the Pandavas have to say in reply to Dhrtarastra's niggardly terms.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Episode 48 - War by other means

Episode 48 - The Pandavas have come out of hiding and are demanding their lands back from the Kauravas.  Duryodhana has already indicated that he has no interest in giving these back, so it would be best to negotiate from a position of strength.  An arms race ensues, with both sides scrambling to get commitments from their allies across India and beyond.

Duryodhana wins the first couple of rounds at this game.  He rushes to Dwaraka, and gets Krishna to commit his armies to the Kaurava side.  The Pandavas get Krishna; as an unarmed advisor.  Duryodhana also plays on the generosity of the Pandavas' ally King Shalya, by providing hospitality to Shalya's army while it was on the march.  When Shalya offers a boon to his host, Duryodhana presents himself, and asks for Shalya's support in the war.  The king has no choice but to grant the request.

The king journeys on to meet with the Pandavas and tells them what had happened.  Since Duryodhana fooled them fair & square, Yuddistira accepts the fait accompli.  He only asks that Shalya do whatever he can to throw Karna off his game when the big chariot duel between Arjun & Karna takes place.

Shalya also takes the sting off a bit by telling the story of Indra's Victory.  This is a strange story in which the brahmins completely dominate the course of events.  A brahmin picks a fight with Indra, and although Indra acts in self-defense, he is nevertheless guilty of brahmin-murder, and he suffers accordingly.  The force of the punishment makes Indra sort of resign his post and go into hiding.

The Man-God Nahusha is then nominated king of heaven (by brahmins & gods), and the brahmins give him his very own superpower.  When Nahusha turns out to be a power-hungry lecher, the brahmin priest Brhaspati advises the gods on how to get their old Indra back.  Indra is powerless at this point, so he suggests to his wife that the best way to take down Nahusha would be to get him into a fight with the brahmins.  Nahusha walks right into the trap, makes himself a brahmin-drawn chariot, and ends up offending the entire race of priests.  It's all over when he specifically annoys Agastya, and gets cursed to life as a snake for 10,000 years.  It seems that in this story the "kshatriya" gods are just pawns in a brahmin game!

Finally, the Pandavas and Kauravas have gathered their allies-- 7 grand armies for the good guys, and 11 armies for the bad guys.  Now the negotiations can commence!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Episode 47 - The Wedding

Episode 47 - The brothers formally come out of hiding, and thick-headed Virata finally realizes he has been sheltering the famous Pandavas.  To avoid any question of scandal, Virata's daughter is quickly married to Arjun's son, Abhimanyu.  The allies are summoned for the wedding, and the brothers set up a temporary headquarters at Virata's second city, Upaplavya.

This ends the book of Virata.  Next time, we'll start the Udyoga Parva-- the Book of the Effort.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Episode 46 - The Cattle Raid

Episode 46 - News of Kicaka's death reaches the neighboring kingdoms, and precipitates an attack from the Trigartas and the Kauravas.  Virata sends his entire force against the Trigartas and leaves the rest of the country open for the Kuru's sneak attack.

Kanka, Balava and the twins are all recuited into the army, but Brhannala is left at home.  Thus, it is up to the young crown prince and the eunuch to rescue the kingdom from invasion.  As they are riding out to meet the Kurus, the 13th year of exile comes to an end.  Arjun is free to reveal himself, so he retrieves his magic weapons and takes charge of the defenses.

Arjun and Karna finally get their chance to fight, but Karna's boasts don't amount to much, after all.  Arjun literally blows him off the battlefield one time, and then later, when Karna gives it another go, he shots an arrow right into Karna's chest, knocking him unconscious and off the battlefield once again.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Episode 45 - The Book of Virata

Episode 45 - The Pandavas send away their hangers-on, and enter hiding at the kingdom of the Matsyas, in the service of King Virata.  Things go well for the first 10 months, but then the king's brother-in-law gets smitten with the Queen's new serving girl.  Kicaka takes his infatuation a little too far, and Bhima ends up restoring her virtue the hard way.  By the end of this ordeal, everyone is terrified of Draupadi and her Gandharva husbands.

King Virata is so frightened of her that he sends the queen to beg her to leave town as soon as possible.

Next time we'll find out what happens as news spreads of the killing of Kicaka.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Episode 44 - Karna cuts a deal

Episode 44 - We finish off the Book of the Forest with a couple of the more famous vignettes from the epic.  The first is the classic tale in which Karna is forewarned that Indra will come to beg from him his magical armor & earrings, but Karna refuses to prevent it.  He lives up to his claim of complete generosity and literally flays the armor off of his body and hands it all over to Indra.

Since transactions with Gods usually go both ways, Karna for his part demanded the "Never-failing Spear", which he figured would be good enough to take out his nemesis Arjun.  This spear will get used, but the outcome will be quite unexpected.

The second story is probably equally famous-- Yuddistira is tested by his father, who is disguised as a yaksha pretending to be a duck.  Yuddistira passes the test with flying colors, and is granted in return the assurance that he and his brothers would not be discovered during the year in hiding.

Next episode, we'll get started on Book 4, the Book of Virata.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Episode 43 - Savitri and Rama

Episode 43 - Despite the offensive raid on their camp by Jayadratha, old Markandeya is still hanging out with the Pandavas.  Yuddistira, feeling sorry for himself and for Draupadi, goes to him for consolation.  Markandeya replies with the entire story of the Ramayana.

I've spared you the re-telling of that epic, since it would have us out on a sidetrack for possibly months, and, really, the Ramayana deserves a podcast of its own, right?

So, jumping over that chapter, we find ourselves back where we were; Yuddistira moping around feeling sorry for himself and for Draupadi.  Again, he goes to Markandeya for consolation.  This time Markandeya replies with the story of Savitri.

This time, the story apparently works, because at the end of the chapter Vaisampayana tells us that the Pandavas  spent the rest of their exile in Kanyaka "without sorrow or fear".  That's a pretty effective story!

As it turns out, this is the last of the Markandeya stories.  We are nearly at the end of the Book of the Forest, and next episode we'll get back to the main plot with one of Karna's adventures.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Episode 42 - Kidnapped!

Episode 42 - Vyasa stops by the Pandava camp and tells the story of Mudgala, who turns down the opportunity to go bodily to heaven because it wasn't permanent enough!  He chose instead to stay on earth, eking out his miserable existence until his natural death, when he finally attained total extinction.

That seems to be Vyasa's only mission, because after the story, he leaves.  Soon after, King Jayadratha of Sindh passes by the camp while the brothers are away hunting.  He spots Draupadi alone and undefended, so he grabs her and runs off.

The brothers quickly get wind of this and pursue him through the jungle.  The princess is retrieved and Jayadratha's followers decimated, but the king himself has his life spared because he happens to be a kinsman of theirs-- he is Ghandari's nephew.

Jayadratha is not nearly so forgiving as the Pandavas, and he seeks revenge for the humiliation he suffered during his captivity at the hands of Bhimasena.  He lives in the wilderness, worshipping Shiva until the god offers him a boon.  After some negotiation, they settle on granting him the ability to stay the brothers during a cavalry attack, except for Arjun, whom even gods have a hard time stopping!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Episode 41 - The Golden Plough

Episode 41 - This one covers Duryodhana reaction to the humiliation of being captured by the Gandharvas and then released by the valor of his hated cousins the Pandavas.  Unable to face his clan after the ignominious defeat, the prince resolves to sit down and starve himself to death.

This decision sets off alarm bells in Hell, where the Daityas and Danavas have big plans for Duryodhana.  They summon a genie and have her deliver Duryodhana to them, and they tell him about the cosmic nature of this conflict, that powerful Asuras have already taken their places for the great war, and only he can see it through to victory.

Duryodhana returns, his old attitude back, and he leads his brothers back to Hastinapur, as if they had just conquered half the world.  But the boy's ego was a fragile thing, and when Bhisma scolds him, he needs something to cheer him up.  Karna first proposes another Rajasuya, but that is limited to one per family, so they must settle for the Vaishnava ritual, which involves a golden plough, which Duryodhana would use to plow a sacred enclosure.

The episode ends with Duryodhana once again feeling bad about himself, and Karna going to ever greater lengths to keep his patron happy.  This time he swears to never wash his feet again until Arjun is dead!  This will probably contribute to some of the trouble he has later one while in command of the Kaurava forces!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Episode 40 - The Cattle Expedition

Episode 40 - This one starts with some girl talk.  Draupadi and Satyabhama get bored of Markandeya's endless mythologies, and sneak off for a more private conversation.  Satyabhama wants to know how Draupadi maintains her hold over all five husbands.  Draupadi then advises us on the behaviors a woman should perform to keep her husband from straying to other women's beds.

Krishna too finally gets bored of Markandeya and decides it is time to head for home.  He loads up the wife and they head out.  If he knew of the impending attack on his friends, he didn't bother to tell them.  The scene then changes to the court at Hastinapur, where Dhrtarastra is getting news of Arjun's return from heaven with the WMD and how they seem intent on waiting out their exile before taking revenge.

Duryodhana overhears Dhrtarastra's lament, and calls a meeting of his cronies.  Karna suggests they go out to watch the Pandavas in their misery and laugh at them.  What ensues is the Cattle Expedition.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Episode 39 - The Markandeya Sessions Pt. 3

Episode 39 - Two more stories from the Sage Markandeya.  The first is a rousing fight story, where the king of Ayodhya gets super powers from the god Vishnu and defeats a dragon.

I find the second story more interesting.  Yuddistira wants to know about the specific problems that women and servants must have in following their dharma.  Markandeya replies with a story about a short-tempered Brahmin Kaushika, who encounters a particularly wise peasant woman, whose devotion to her husband grants her great wisdom and insight.  Noticing that the brahmin could use some advice on dharma, she sends him to the local butcher, who, it turns out, knows even more about dharma than the woman.

We are nearly through with Markandeya.  Next episode we'll get back to the main protagonists, with a tete-a-tete between Draupadi and Krishna's wife Satyabhama.