Invocation: Having saluted Narayana and Nara, and also Sarasvati, let us cry "Success!" The wonderful stories of the Mahabharata, composed by Krshna Dvaipayana (Vyasa), were recited by the sage Vaisampayana at the great Snake-sacrifice held by Janamejaya, the son of Parikrit. The Mahabharata is composed in beautiful language, and it includes all other works. It is explained by all Sastras, and contains the essence of the four Vedas, and is a great source of knowledge in the three worlds.
Vyasa and Ganesa: The son of Satyavati (Vyasa), after penance and meditation, having classified the four Vedas, composed this holy history. When he had compiled it, he began to consider how he could teach it to the people. Then Brahma, knowing the anxiety of the li, appeared in person before him, and asked him to call upon Ganesa to write the poem. Vyasa thought of Ganesa and, as soon as he did so, Ganesa appeared before him. Vyasa requested him to become the writer of the Bharata, which he had composed in his mind. Ganesa agreed on condition that his pen would not be made to stop even for a moment. Vyasa consented, and Ganesa proceeded to write to the dictation of Vyasa.
The Character of the Mahabharata: The wisdom of this work, like the stick used for applying collyrium, has opened the eyes of the world. The whole house of the womb of Nature is properly and completely lighted up by the lamp of this history which destroys the darkness of ignorance. The eternal Vasudeva (Krshna) is described in it, as also the eternal Brahma, from whom has been produced the non-existent and existent-non-existent universe, with the principle of reproduction and progression, birth, death, and re-birth. That which is in it is elsewhere. That which does not occur here, occurs nowhere else. This history is known by the name of Jaya. It should be heard by everyone desirous of liberation.
We shall begin from the story of Uparichara: There was a king named Uparichara. He was also called Vasu. He ruled over the kingdom of Chedi, was engaged in practising austerities, and worshipped Indra, the lord of the celestials. He was married to Girika; but one day, when he was filled with desire, Girika was not to be found. Then, as he was sitting under a tree, his seminal fluid came out a hawk carried it away, but it fell into the waters of the Yamuna. There lived in the Yamuna an Apsara, named Adrika, who dwelt there in the form of a fish, and she swallowed it. As a result of this she had two children, a boy and a girl. The former became that virtuous and powerful monarch, named Matsya; and the latter, a girl of sweet smiles, was known by the name of Satyavati.
Satyavati and Vyasa: Satyavati was left by the king with the fishermen, where she had a son by the Rishi Parasara, and yet retained her virginity. The boy adopted asceticism from his very birth, and went away, saying, "As soon as I am remembered by you on any occasion, I shall appear before you." Thus was born Vyasa, the compiler of the four Vedas, and the author of the fifth, the Mahabharata.
The Court of Brahma; Mahabhisa and Ganga: There was born a king in the race of Iksvaku, and he was known by the name of Mahabhisa. He was a lord of the world, and truly powerful; and after performing many Asvamedha and Rajasuya sacrifices, had ascended to heaven.
The Curse of Brahma: Once upon a time the celestials were worshipping Brahma, and Mahabhisa was also present there. There came also the queen of rivers, Ganga, to pay adorations to the Grandsire (Brahma). Her garments were blown away by the wind, and the royal sage, Mahabhisa, gazed and stared at her, and for this he was cursed by Brahma, who said, "You will be born on earth, and then again attain to these regions." The king then wished to be born as the son of the powerful monarch Pratipa.
Ganga and the Eight Vasus: Ganga also went away, thinking of the king in her mind. She saw on her way the eight Vasus, who were sad at heart for they had been cursed by Vasistha and told that they would be born as men. They begged Ganga to make them her Sons by becoming a woman on earth, and wished to be born in the house of Pratipa, and to have his new son (Mahabhisa) for their father. Ganga agreed, and then they asked her to throw them into water as soon as they were born, so that they might not have to live long on the earth. Ganga consented on condition that at least one of them should live. They agreed to give each an eighth part of their energies, from which should be born a son who would live; but he was to remain childless forever, and not to beget any children. After this arrangement, the Vasus went their way.
Pratipa and Ganga: There was a king named Pratipa. He had spent many years in penance, and went to the source of the river Ganga. One day the beautiful and accomplished Ganga rose from the waters in the form of a woman, and came to the king. She sat upon his Right thigh, and offered herself to him. But she had chosen a seat meant for daughters and daughters-in-law; and so the king accepted her as a wife for his son. Ganga agreed and then disappeared.
Santanu: Time passed, and Pratipa had a son. He was Mahabhisa, and came to be called Santanu. When he grew up to be a youth, Pratipa told him how a celestial damsel had appeared before him, and enjoined him, if he should meet her, to accept her as his wife, and judge not the propriety or impropriety of what she did. He then installed Santanu on the throne and retired into a forest.
Santanu and Ganga: Santanu was fond of hunting; and one day, wandering along the banks of the Ganga, he met a lovely damsel of blazing beauty, like Sri herself. They were both filled with rapture at each other's sight, and the king begged her to become his wife. Ganga, for it was she, agreed on condition that the king would not interfere in any of her acts, whether agreeable or disagreeable to him, saying, "So long as you act in this way, I shall live with you; but I shall leave you as soon as you interfere with me or speak harsh words to me." The king accepted this condition and they both lived together in great happiness.
Bhishma or Dyaus: Santanu had eight sons by Ganga, and they were all like the celestials. But as soon as they were born, she threw them into the river, and the king could not complain for fear of losing her. When the eighth son was born and Ganga was ready to throw it into water, the king, filled with sorrow, begged her to spare it, saying, "Who are you? Why do you kill your own sons? Murderess of your sons, you are committing great sins by your acts." Hearing this, Ganga spared the child, saying, "as you desire for a son, I shall not kill this child. You have become the foremost of fathers. But there must be an end to my stay with you according to our agreement. I am Ganga, the daughter of Jahnu; and these sons were the eight celestial Vasus, who had to assume human form as the result of the curse of Vasistha, the son of Varuna, and known by the name of Apava, for attempting to steal his cow. I alone could be their mother, and for that purpose assumed a human form; and I had promised that I would free them from birth as soon as they were born. I must leave you now. Rear this child of rigid vows, and let him be known by the name of Gangadatta (given by Ganga). He is Dyaus and, by the curse of the Rishi, has to remain long on the earth. He will abstain from the pleasures of women, and will not beget any offspring at all."
Having said this, the goddess disappeared. She took her son with herself; and after many years, during which he studied all the Vedas with Vasistha, and understood the use of all the weapons known to Parasurama, the great bowman, she restored him to his father as an expert in all weapons belonging to heaven and earth.
Santanu and Satyavati: Santanu was a virtuous and accomplished king, and lived happily with his son. One day he went to a forest on the banks of the river Yamuna, and perceived a sweet smell coming from an unknown direction. Proceeding further, he saw a maiden of celestial beauty, belonging to the fishermen class. Enraptured by her beauty, the king went to her (adoptive) father and asked her hand in marriage. The chief of fishermen agreed on condition that the son born of the girl should be installed on the throne. But the king had already a son, and so he could not consent to this, and returned to his city, Hastinapura, thinking of the fisherman's daughter, with his heart sore afflicted by desire.
His son Gangadatta, finding him sad at heart, came to him and inquired about the cause of his grief. Then an old minister, devoted to his father's welfare, told him all about the pledge regarding the maiden. Thereupon the prince went to the chief of the fishermen and begged his daughter for his father, promising to relinquish his own title to the throne, so that the son of his daughter might rule as king; and he took a vow of celibacy so that no child might be born to him to dispute the claim. The fisherman then agreed to give his daughter in marriage to the king, and Gangadatta came to be known as Bhishma (the terrible), because of the vow he had taken. The prince then took the maiden in his chariot and brought her to Hastinapura to be his father's queen.
Citrangada and Vicitravirya: Santanu lived happily with his wife Satyavati; and after a time a son, named Citrangada, was born to him. Then he got another son, named Vicitravirya, and soon after that Santanu passed away. Citrangada was a powerful prince, and he became king after his father. But a great Gandharva chief made war on him a fearful combat took place between them on the field of Kurukshetra, on the banks of the Sarasvati, in which that best of Kurus. (Citrangada) was killed by the Gandharva through his Maya.
Amba, Ambika, Ambalika: After the death of Citrangada Bhima placed Vicitravirya on the throne of the kingdom; and, when the young king had attained maturity, thought of marrying him. He heard that the three daughters of the king of Kasi would be married at a Svayamvara (choice of a husband); and so, riding in his chariot, he came to the city of Kasi. He saw the three maidens and chose them for the prince; and, holding that a wife taken by force amidst an assemblage of kings was most highly prized, placed them in his car, and carried them away. The assembled kings and princes rose in anger against him and pursued him, but he defeated them all, and came with the maidens to Hastinapura.
After consulting Satyavati, he began to make preparations for his brother's marriage, when Amba, the eldest daughter of the king of Kasi, informed him that she had chosen in her heart the king of Saubha as her husband, and he too had accepted her in his heart as his wife; and she would have chosen him as her husband in the Svayamvara. Hearing this, Bhishma allowed her to do as she desired.
He then bestowed the two princesses, Ambika and Ambalika, on his brother Vicitravirya according to the ordained rites. Vicitravirya lived with his wives for seven years, and then he was attacked with consumption and passed away, plunging everyone in sorrow and grief.
The Niyoga of Vyasa: Satyavati was now plunged in anxiety for the continuance of the Kuru race. She begged Bhima to marry the two, wives of his brother and get offspring, but he had taken a vow of celibacy and could not break it. So Kali (Satyavati) thought of her son Vyasa, otherwise known as Krshna Dvaipayana, Krsna because he was black, and Dvaipayana because he was born on an island. As soon as he was remembered, Vyasa appeared before her; and Satyavati asked him, for the sake of perpetuating the line of Santanu and the protection of the people, to beget sons on the two wives of Vicitravirya. Vyasa consented, saying that he would produce sons that would be like Yama and Varuna.
Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura: Then because Ambika closed her eyes for fear of his ugliness, the son horn, though equal to a thousand elephants in strength, and known as Dhritarashtra in after years, was blind. The second princess, Ambalika, grew pale with fear at his sight, and so the son born was pale in complexion and called Pandu. Vyasa also begot on a maidservant, a Udra woman, a son who was known in after years as Vidura, an incarnation of Dharma, the god of Justice.
The Marriage of the Princes: Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were brought up by Bhima as if they were his own sons. They engaged themselves in study and vows, and grew into accomplished youths, learned in the Vedas, expert in archery, skilled in the use of arms, well versed in history, and proficient in the science of morality, of the three Pandu became king, for Dhritarashtra was born blind, and Vidura was born of a Sudra woman.
Gandhari: Bhima succeeded in obtaining the hand of princess Gandhari, the daughter of Subala, in marriage for Dhritarashtra; and she, because her husband was blind, bandaged her own eyes out of love and respect for him. Sakuni, her brother, brought her to Hastinapura, where she was married to Dhritarashtra and had a hundred sons and one daughter by him. Bhishma obtained for Vidura the daughter of king Devaka by a Sudra wife, and he had many children as graceful and accomplished as himself.
One Hundred Sons of Dhritarashtra: Gandhari had been favoured with a boon by Vyasa that she should have a hundred Sons. But instead of children she brought forth a hard mass of flesh like an iron ball. Thereupon Vyasa, who was called to help, sprinkled the ball with cold water, when it divided into a hundred and one parts. They were put into jars filled with clarified butter or ghee; and out of them were born in time a hundred sons and one daughter. Duryodhana was the eldest of all, and the daughter's name was Duhsala.
The Story of Kunti: There was a chief among the Yadus, named Sura, who was the father of Vasudeva. He had a daughter, named Prtha. He gave his first born child to his childless cousin, Kuntibhoja, and so she came to be called Kunti.
The Birth of Karna: While living in her (adoptive) father's house, she had been taught a Mantra (invocation) by a Brahmana, by reciting which she could call any of the celestials to have children by him. Kunti, curious to know the efficacy of the charm, invoked in her maidenhood the god Arka (Sun); and of her union with him was born a hero, encased in a natural armour, with a face brightened by ear-rings, known all over the world by the name of Karna. Then the Sun, after giving back to Prtha her maidenhood, went away to heaven, and Kunti threw her powerful son into water.
Karna was taken up by Adhiratha, the illustrious husband of Radha, and brought up by them as their son. He grew in strength and became expert in the use of arms. He used to worship the Sun until his back was scorched with its rays; and when he was engaged in his worship, there was nothing on earth that he would not give to the Brahmanas.
Prtha and Pandu: Prtha was a beautiful, accomplished and virtuous maiden; and, placing the nuptial garland round the neck of Pandu, chose him for her husband at her Svayamvara. Their wedding rites were duly performed, and Pandu brought her to his capital as his queen.
The Marriage of Madri: After some time Bhishma thought of marrying Pandu to a second wife, and went to the capital of Salya, the king of Madra, to ask for the hand of his sister, Madri, for the king. Salya demanded a tribute in return, as it was a custom of his race. Bhishma agreed, and he gave his sister in marriage to Pandu. Bhishma brought her to Hastinapura, where she was married to Pandu in due form.
The Five Sons of Pandu: Pandu lived happily for a time with his two wives, and was honoured by all and acknowledged as the only hero on earth. But thereafter, having mastered his senses, he retired into a forest with Kunti and Madri.
One day, while roaming in the forest, Pandu shot a deer in company with its mate; and the deer, who was a Rishi in that guise, cursed him, saying, "As you have killed me, so will death overtake you as soon as you feel the influence of desire." Thereupon Pandu adopted the vow of Brahmacharya, practised great asceticism together with his wives, and lived in the forest in the company of Siddhas and great Rishi.
One day Pandu was filled with a desire to see the self-created Brahma; but realizing that there was no heaven for the sonless, he wished to have sons. But having lost his power of procreation, he begged Kunti to assist. Kunti then bethought her of the Brahmana's Mantra and, at the request of her husband, wished god Dharma to give her an offspring. So by him was born the eldest son of Pandu, Yudhisthira the truthful. Again, at the bidding of her husband, she invoked Vayu, and by him was born Bhima, the foremost among the Kshatriyas, whose body was hard as the thunderbolt. On the day of his birth Duryodhana was also born to Gandhari.
Desirous of yet another son, Pandu asked Kunti to invoke Indra, the lord of the celestials; and of him was born Arjuna, possessed of great soul, effulgent as the sun, in splendour like Indra, and like Vishnu himself.
Pandu was desirous of still more sons. But Madri, who regarded herself as superior to Kunti by birth, though inferior to her in station, was childless; and so Kunti, at Pandu's request and Madri's desire, thought of the two Asvins for her; and by them were born of Madri the twins, Nakula and Sahadeva, matchless in energy and beauty on earth. Thus were born to Pandu five sons begotten by the celestials and endued with great strength.
The Death of Pandu and Madri: Seeing his five sons before him, Pandu felt that his old strength of arms had come back to him; and one day he was overpowered by desire for his wife Madri and so the curse of the Rishi in the deer's guise fell on him, and he died. Kunti, being the eldest of his wives, desired to follow her lord in death; but at the entreaties of Madri allowed her (Madri) to ascend the funeral pyre of the king.
Then the Rishis who dwelt with the king in the mountains, took the remains of Pandu and Madri; and, with Kunti and the five children, started for the city of Hastinapura, to place them in the hands of Dhritarashtra and Bhishma. They reached the capital, and told them all about the birth of the five princes. The heart of every one was filled with sorrow and grief; and the last rites over the remains of Pandu and Madri were then performed by Vidura at the command of Dhritarashtra.
The Death of Satyavati and Ambalika: When the ceremonies had ended, Vyasa comforted his bereaved and afflicted mother Satyavati, and advised her to devote herself to Yoga meditation. Then she, with the mother of Pandu, retired into a forest with the permission of Bhishma and, after performing severe austerities, they passed away and ascended to heaven. The Sons of Pandu grew up in royal style in the house of their father, and soon excelled the sons of Dhritarashtra in sports and feats of strength.
The Story of Krpa: There was a great Rishi, by name Gautama, and he had a son by name Saradvat, who was a great ascetic. One day he saw a celestial Apsara of matchless beauty, clad in a single piece of cloth, and his eyes wandered in joy at her sight. His body trembled, causing an emission of his vital fluid which, falling on a clump of heath, divided into two parts, whence sprang two children, who were twins a soldier of king Santanu saw them and brought them to the king, who was filled with pity at the sight, and so gave them the names of Krpa and Krpi. They were brought up by him, and Krpa became proficient in all branches of science and arms and other kinds of knowledge. The sons of Dhritarashtra, Pandu, and other princes came to study with him.
The Story of Drona: There lived at the source of the Ganga a great and high-souled Rishi, who was known as Bharadvaja. One day, as he went to the Ganges to offer oblations, he saw the Apsara Ghritachi rising from the waters. As she rose, her cloth became loose, at which the Rishi was filled with desire. His mind was attracted to her, and his vital fluid dropped. But he held it in a Drona (water vessel), out of which was born a child who came to be known as Drona, for he was born out of Drona or a water vessel. Drona was well versed in the Vedas and Vedangas, and became foremost of all wielders of arms.
Asvatthaman: Drona was married to Krpi, the sister of Krpa, and they had a son named Asvatthaman.
Drupada: Bharadvaja had a friend, named Prsata, who was a king, and he had a son named Drupada. Drona and Drupada studied and played together; and when Prsata died, Drupada became king of the northern Pancalas. Bharadvaja also passed away, and Drona continued to dwell in the hermitage, engaged in ascetic austerities. He learnt the science of arms from Parasurama, and received all his weapons from him.
Drona and Drupada: One day Drona went to king Drupada, but the latter refused to recognise him as his friend. Drona was filled with anger at this and, making up his mind as to his course of action, went to the city of the Kurus, Hastinapura.
Drona as Teacher of the Princes: Arrived at Hastinapura, he stayed in the house of Krpa; but his fame in the science of arms soon spread and reached the ears of Bhishma, who appointed him as a preceptor of the Kaurava and Pandava. princes. Many other princes also, including Karna, came to him to learn the science of arms. Karna, jealous of Arjuna, always defied that prince as well as the other Pandavas, and was supported by Duryodhana in this.
The Proficiency of the Princes: Though Drona gave equal instruction to all, Arjuna became the foremost in skill. Drona taught him the art of fighting on horseback, on elephant, on car, and on the ground; and he taught him to fight with club, sword, lance, spear, and the dart; and showed him the use of many other weapons. Duryodhana and Bhima became great experts in club fighting, and were jealous of each other. Asvatthaman excelled all in the mysteries of the science of arms; while the twins, Nakula and Sahadeva, excelled everyone in handling the sword; and Yudhisthira became the best of car-Warriors. Arjuna surpassed all in intelligence and skill in arms, and Drona gave him an irresistible weapon, Brahmasira, and showed him the method of hurling and recalling it.
The Tournament: The education of the princes having been completed, Drona desired that they should show their skill in arms; and so the mighty princes, equipped with bows, arrows, and finger protectors, entered the arena of fight. They showed their skill in riding and managing swift horses and in feats of archery. Then Bhima and Duryodhana entered the lists, and circled round fighting with their clubs. The contest was an equal one, and great excitement and enthusiasm prevailed among the spectators at the sight; and the heroes were stopped from further trial of strength by Asvatthaman, the son of Drona.
Then, at the command of Drona, Arjuna appeared in the arena to show his skill. He created Fire by the Agneya weapon; by the Varuna weapon he created Water; he created Wind by the Vayava weapon; and by the Parjanya weapon he created the clouds. He created Land by the Bhauma weapon, and mountains by the Parvatya weapon; and by the Antardhana weapon he made them all to disappear. Then he showed his skill in arms with the sword, bow, and club, and all the spectators were amazed at the sight.
Karna and Arjuna: But when the tournament was almost ended, Karna, the son of Kunti and the Sun, entered the lists and, with the permission of Drona, displayed all the feats that Arjuna had shown before, and longed for a single combat with that prince. The two then displayed their skill; but, as a real trial in arms could take place only between equals, Duryodhana installed Karna as the king of Anga on the spot, and thereby secured him for a friend and ally forever. But at this time the Sun went down and the tournament came to a close. Some named Arjuna, some Karna, some Duryodhana as the victor of the day; and even Yudhisthira was impressed with the belief that there was no warrior like Karna on earth.
The Defeat of Drupada: After completing the education of the Pandava princes, Drona claimed his preceptor's gift (Dakshina) that they should seize the king of Panchala (Drupada), and bring him before the preceptor. The Kaurava and Pandava brothers went out on this mission together with Karna. But, with the permission of Drona, Arjuna and his brothers waited till the others had shown their strength. King Drupada came out to fight and afflicted the Kaurava army, till they broke and fled, wailing towards the Pandavas. Then Arjuna asked Yudhisthira not to engage in battle. He appointed Nakula and Sahadeva as the protectors of his chariot wheels, and, accompanied by Bhima, rushed out to the fight. They attacked the Panchala forces, headed by the king himself, and defeated them; and Dhananjaya (Arjuna) seized Drupada and brought him before the preceptor. Then Drona reminded the king of the insult he had received when he had refused to recognise him as a friend; but he forgave him, and, dividing his kingdom into two halves, kept the northern part for himself, and returned the part on the southern side of the Bhagirathi to the humbled king.
King Drupada thereafter ruled over the southern Panchala; and, convinced that he could not defeat Drona by Ksatriya might alone, and he was inferior to him (Drona) in Brahma power, he wandered over the earth to find the means of obtaining a son.
Yudhisthira as Heir Apparent; Bhima and Balarama: After the expiration of a year, Yudhisthira was installed as heir apparent to the throne. Bhima began to receive lessons from Sankarsana (Balarama, the brother of Krshna) in sword-fight club-fight and cars-fight. Arjuna became famous for his skill in arms, and Drona said that there was no one in the world equal to him (Arjuna); and, for a preceptor's gift, he made him promise to fight with him (Drona) when called upon by Drona to do so.