Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mahabharata Fragments (Beginnings)

In my continuing quest to read the chief texts of the major world religions, I've begun reading the great Hindu epic The Mahabharata, which is often called the longest poem ever written.  If the whole thing was translated, it would be nearly 4,000 pages!  I'm reading an abridged translation (which is still quite long).  As I read the first of the Mahabharata's 18 parvans (or books), called "Beginnings" (not unlike the title of the first book of the Bible, Genesis), I was so overwhelmed with the sheer scope of this story, with its huge cast of characters, its endless digressions and stories-within-stories.  In order to make sense of this, I started jotting down lines, fragments, that I found particularly beautiful, and I have composed them into a kind of "found poem."  I call it "Mahabharata Fragments: Beginnings."  Expect a book report soon!

Lotus-eyed one, tell all:
I wish to know!

Visnu, who confers bliss and bliss.

This great body of knowledge,
It is the delight of the learned.
The great Mahabharata is holy;
study of it frees one from sin.
It is full of dharma,
and dispels evil and fear!

This is the ksatriya way,
as when Janamejaya
sacrificed the snakes,
and the Brahmin Astika
rescued them.

Kastapa relates the story
of the two ascetic brothers
who had quarreled and cursed each other:
now one of them lives
as a colossal elephant,
the other as a colossal turtle.

Brahma grants Sesa a boon,
and he chooses dharma,
passionlessness and asceticism.
Brahma is pleased and
appoints him to support the earth.

Jaratkaru the ascetic wanders
the world performing austerities.

Best of Brahmins,
you have told me in short form
the whole Mahabharata narrative,
the great tale of the Kurus.
Sir, please tell it again in full,
for I am never sated with hearing
the great deeds of my forebears.

How was it that wolf-belly Bhima,
mighty of arm and with
the vigor of ten thousand elephants,
repressed his fury,
best of Brahmins,
though suffering torment?

Tell me all as it happened,
great ascetic!
These hundred thousand verses,
ultimate power of reason.
This history is named
The Tale of Victory.
Here is supreme instruction
on dharma.
Any evil that a man may
do in error as he goes
about his daily tasks
melts away as soon as
he hears the Mahabharata tale.
It is called Mahabharata
because it is the great story
of the birth of Bharata’s heirs.
What is not found here
is to be found nowhere.
Protect it, for dharma maintained
maintains the universe!
Oh Brahmin, I wish to hear in full
of all those heroes.

Kings cast aside the vices
that arise from desire and anger,
and protected their people.
Such was life during
that excellent Krta Age,
O king, and the whole earth
was completely filled
with many living creatures.

When the human world had
reached such heights,
O bull-like hero,
demons were born in
royal lineages…
those sacrilegious beings,
drunk with their power
and with strong drink
even assailed the great seers
in their hermitages.
When Earth found herself
oppressed in this way…
afflicted by the burden she bore,
and troubled for her safety,
she sought refuge with that god,
the grandfather of all beings.
She saw Lord Brahma,
the undying creator of the worlds.

Indra spoke:
In order to cleanse Earth,
use a portion of yourself
to descend to earth.
Hari replied:
“I shall do so.”

He who hears of
the partial incarnations of the gods…
comes to understand
the beginnings and ends of things.

I have no doubt that a son
contains within himself
the eternal triple Veda.

Hear, O mighty fisher king,
these words I speak for my father’s sake!
Give up one member
for the sake of the family;
Give up one family
for the sake of the village;
Give up one village
for the sake of the kingdom;
Give up the earth
for the sake of yourself!

She gazed at her two sons in their armor,
and she grieved.

The source of heroism
is as mysterious as the source of rivers.
The blessed god of war is
utterly mysterious, for he is said
to be the son of Fire,
of the Krttika stars,
of Siva,
and of Ganga.

Drona our teacher was born from a jar.
This man was born
with earrings and armor,
and bears celestial marks;
he resembles the very Sun.
How could a doe give birth
to such a tiger?

Parasara,
who is a great seer,
resolves to destroy
the entire world.
In order to dissuade him,
Vasitha tells him a story.

Indra saw a woman
weeping into the Ganges River:
each of her tears
became a golden lotus.


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