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.