real Epic ends with the war and the funerals of the deceased warriors.
Much of what follows in the original Sanscrit poem is either episodical
or comparatively recent interpolation. The great and venerable warrior
Bhishma, still lying on his death bed, discourses for the instruction
of the newly crowned Yudhishthir on various subjects like the Duties
of Kings, the Duties of the Four Castes, and the Four Stages of
Life. He repeats the discourses of other saints, of Bbrigu and Bharadwaja,
of Manu and Brihaspati, of Vyasa and Suka, of Yajnavalkya and Janaka,
of Narada and Nairayana. He explains Sankhya philosophy and Yoga
philosophy, and lays down the laws of Marriage, the laws of Succession,
the rules of Gifts, and the rules of Funeral Rites. He preaches
the cult of Krishna, and narrates endless legends, tales, traditions,
and myths about sages and saints, gods and mortal kings. All this
is told in two Books containing about twenty-two thousand couplets,
and forming nearly one-fourth of the entire Sanscrit Epic!
reason of adding all this episodical and comparatively recent matter
to the ancient Epic is not far to seek. The Epic became more popular
with the nation at large than dry codes of law and philosophy, and
generations of Brahmanical writers laboured therefore to insert
in the Epic itself their rules of caste and moral conduct, their
laws and philosophy. There is no more venerable character in the
Epic than Bhishma, and these rules and laws have therefore been
supposed to come from his lips on the solemn occasion of his death.
As a storehouse of Hindu laws and traditions and moral rules these
episodes are invaluable; but they form no part of the real Epic,
they are not a portion of the leading story of the Epic, and we
pass them by.
dies and is cremated; but the endless exposition of laws, legends,
and moral rules is not yet over. Krishna himself takes up the task
in a new Book, and, as he has done once before in the Bhagavat-gita,
he now once more explains to Arjun in the Anu-gita the great truths
about Soul and Emancipation, Creation and the Wheel of Life, True
Knowledge and Ritea and Penance. The adventures of the sage Utanka,
whom Krishna meets, then take up a good many pages. All this forms
no part of the real Epic, and we pass it by.
has in the meantime been crowned king of the Kurus at Hastinapura,
and a posthumous child of Abhimanyu is named Parikshit, and is destined
to succeed to the throne of the Kurus. But Yudhishthir's mind is
still troubled with the thoughts of the carnage of the war, of which
he considers himself guilty, and the great saint Vyasa advises the
performance of the aswa medha, or the Sacrifice of the Horse, for
the expiation of the sin.
Sacrifice of the Horse was an ancient Hindu custom practised by
kings exercising suzerain powers over surrounding kings. A horse
was let free, and was allowed to wander from place to place, accompanied
by the king's guard. If any neighbouring king ventured to detain
the animal, it was a signal for war. If no king ventured to restrain
the wanderer, it was considered a tacit mark of submission to the
owner of the animal. And when the horse returned from its peregrinations,
it was sacrificed with great poinp and splendour at a feast to which
all neighbouring kings were invited.
allowed the sacrificial horse to wander at will, and Arjun accompanied
it. Wherever the horse was stopped, Arjun fought and conquered,
and thus proclaimed the supremacy of Yudhishthir over all neighbouring
potentates. After various wars and adventures in various regions,
Arjun at last returned victorious with the steed to Hastinapura,
and the sacrifice commenced. The description of the sacrifice is
somewhat artificial, and concerns itself with rites and ceremonious
details and gifts to Brahmans, and altogether bears unmistakable
evidence of the interpolating hand of later priestly writers. Nevertheless
we cannot exclude from this translation of the leading incidents
of the Epic the last great and crowning act of Yudhishthir, now
anointed monarch of Kuru land.
portion translated in this Book forms Sections lxxxv. And parts
of Sections lxxxviii. and lxxxix. of Book xiv. of the original text.
Victor of a hundred battles, Arjun bent his homeward way,
Following still the sacred charger free to wander as it may,
minstrels to Yudhishthir spake of the returning steed,
Spake of Arjun wending homeward with the victor's crown of meed,
they sang of Arjun's triumph's in Gandhara's distant vale,
On the banks of Brahmaputra and in Sindhu's rocky dale.
day came of Magha's bright moon and auspicious was the star,
Nigher came the victor Arjun from his conquests near and far,
Yudhishthir called his brothers, faithful twins and Bhima true,
Spake to them in gentle accents, and his words were grave and few:
Now returneth Arjun with the steed from many a fray,
So they tell me, noble brother, who have met him on the way,
the time of aswa-medha day by day is drawing nigh,
Magha's full moon is approaching, and the winter passeth by,
the Brahmans versed in Vedas choose the sacrificial site,
For the feast of many nations, for the aswa-medha rite."
heard of Arjun's coming,--hero with the curly hair,--
And to do Yudhishthir's mandate did with gladsome heart repair,
versed in sacrifices, cunning architects of fame,
Builders of each various altar with the son of Pritha came,
upon a level greensward measured forth the sacred site,
Laid it out with halls and pathways for the sacrificial rite.
graced with gem and jewel round the bright arena shone,
Palaces of golden lustre glinted in the morning sun,
and blazoned with devices lofty columns stood around,
Graceful arches gold-surmounted spanned the consecrated ground,
pavilions rose in beauty round the sacrificial site,
For the queens of crownéd monarchs wending to the holy rite,
dwellings rose for Brahmans, priests of learning and of fame,
Come to view Yudhishthir's yajna and to bless Yudhishthir's name.
with kindly greetings went to monarchs far-renowned,
Asked them to Hastina's city, to the consecrated ground,
to pleasethe great Yudhishthir came each king and chieftain bold,
With their slaves and dark-eye damsels, arms and horses, gems and
and found a royal welcome in pavilions rich and high,
And the sealike voice of nations smote the echoing vault of sky!
his greetings did Yudhishthir, for each chief and king of men,
Cooling drinks and sumptuous viands, beds of regal pride ordain,
filled with corn and barley and with milk and luscious cane
Greeted tall and warlike tuskers and the steeds with flowing mane.
from their hermitages to the sacred yajna came,
Rishis from the grove and forest lisping BRAHMA'S holy name,
Acharyas versed in Vedas to the city held their way,
Brahmacharins with grass-girdle, chanting sweet the saman lay,
Kuru's pious monarch, saint and sage and man of grace,
And with gentle condescension showed each priest his fitting place.
mechanics, cunning artists, raised the structures for the rite,
And with every needful object graced the sacrificial site,
duty thus completed, joyful Yudhishthir's mind,
And he blessed his faithful brothers with an elder's blessings kind.
Men in nations are assembled, hymns are sung by saint and sage,
And in learnéd disputations keen disputants oft engage,
the concourse of the monarchs view the splendour of the rite,
Like the glorious sky of INDRA is the sacrificial site!
festoons and flaming streamers are on golden arches hung,
Groups of men and gay-dressed women form a bright and joyous throng,
of cool and sparkling waters, vessels rich with gold inlaid,
Costly cups and golden vases are in order due arrayed.
stakes of timber with their golden fastenings graced,
Consecrated by the mantra are in sumptuous order placed,
creatures of the wide earth, fishes from the lake and flood.
Buffaloes and bulls from pasture, beasts of prey from jungle wood,
and every egg-born creature, insects that from moisture spring,
Denizens of cave and mountain for the sacrifice they bring.
chiefs and mighty monarchs gaze in wonder on the site,
Filled with every living object, corn and cattle for the rite,
and cake and sweet confection are for feasting Brahmans spread,
And a hundred thousand people are with sumptuous viands fed!
the accents of the rain-cloud drum and trumpet raise their voice,
Speak Yudhishthir's noble bounty, bid the sons of men rejoice,
by day the holy yajna grows in splendour and in joy,
Rice in hillocks feeds all comers, maid and matron, man and boy,
of curd and lakes of butter speak Yudhishthir's bounteous feast,
Nations of the Jambu-dwipa share it, greatest and the least!
a hundred diverse races from a hundred regions came,
Ate of good Yudhishthir's bounty, sang of good Yudhishthir's fame,
a thousand proud attendants, gay with earrings, garland-graced,
Carried food unto the feeders and the sweet confections placed,
fit for crownéd monarchs were unto the Brahmans given,
Drinks of rich and cooling fragrance like the nectar-drink of heaven!
SACRIFICE OF ANIMALS
Victor of a hundred battles, Arjun came with conquering steed,
Vyasa herald of the Vedas bade the holy rite proceed:
the day is come, Yudhishthir, let the sacrifice be done,
Let the priests repeat the mantra golden as the morning sun!
bounteous be thy presents and a threefold merit gain,
For thy wealth of gold is ample, be thy gifts like summer's rain,
the threefold rich performance purify the darkening stain,
Blood of warriors and of kinsmen slaughtered on the gory plain,
the yajna's pure ablution wash thee of the cruel sin,
And the meed of sacrificers may the good Yudhishthir win!
spake; and good Yudhishthir took the diksha of the rite,
And commenced the aswa-medha gladdening every living wight,
the altar's holy lustre moved the priests with sacred awe,
Swerved not from the rule of duty, failed not in the sacred law.
the rite of pure pravargya with the pious hymn and lay,
To the task of abhishava priests and Brahmans led the way,
the holy Soma-drinkers pressed the sacred Soma plant,
And performed the pure savana with the solemn saman chant.
waits on squalid hunger, gifts dispel the suppliant's fear,
Gold revives the poor and lowly, mercy wipes the mourner's tear,
care relieves the stricken by the gracious king's command,
Charity with loving sweetness spreads her smile o'er all the land!
by day the aswa-medha doth with sacred rites proceed,
Day by day on royal bounty poor and grateful myriads feed,
adept in six Vedangas, strict in vow and rich in lore,
Sage preceptors, holy teachers, grew in virtue ever more!
good stakes of vilwa timber, six of hard khadira wood,
Six of seasoned sarvavarnin, on the place of yajna stood,
were made of devadaru, pine that on Himalay grows,
One was made of wood of slesha, which the sacrificer knows,
stakes of golden lustre quaint with curious carving done,
Draped in silk and gold-brocaded like the constellations shone!
the consecrated altar built and raised of bricks of gold,
Shone in splendour like the altar Daksha built in days of old,
cubits square the structure, four deep layers of brick in height,
With a spacious winged triangle like an eagle in its flight!
whose flesh is pure and wholesome, dwellers of the lake or sky,
Priests assigned each varied offering to each heavenly power on
of various breed and colour, steeds of mettle true and tried,
Other creatures, full three hundred, to the many stakes were tied.
viewed the feasting, sweet Gandharvas woke the song,
Apsaras like gleams of sunlight on the greensward tripped along,
and Kim-purushas mingled in the holy rite,
Siddhas of austerest penance stood around the sacred site,
great and gifted pupils who the holy hymns compiled,
Helped the royal aswa-medha, on the royal yajna smiled!
the bright ethereal mansions heavenly minstrel Narad came,
Chitra-sena woke the music, singer of celestial fame,
by more than mortal music priests their holy task begun,
And Yudhishthir's fame and virtue with a brighter lustre shone!
SACRIFICE OF THE HORSE
Birds and beasts were immolated for the sacrificial food,
Then before the sacred charger priests in rank and order stood,
by rules of Veda guided slew the horse of noble breed,
Placed Draupadi, Queen of yajna, by the slain and lifeless steed,
and gifts and deep devotion sanctified the noble Queen,
Woman's true and stainless virtue, woman's worth and wisdom keen!
adept in sacred duty cooked the steed with pious rite,
And the steam of welcome fragrance sanctified the sacred site,
Yudhishthir and his brothers, by the rules by rishis spoke,
Piously inhaled the fragrance and the sin-destroying smoke!
limbs and sacred fragments of the courser duly dressed,
Priests upon the blazing altar as a pious offering placed,
herald of the Vedas raised his voice in holy song,
Blessed Hastina's righteous monarch and the many-nationed throng!
Unto Brahmans gave Yudhishthir countless nishkas of bright gold,
Unto sage and saintly Vyasa all his realm and wealth untold,
the bard and ancient rishi who the holy Vedas spake,
Rendered back the monarch's present, earthly gift he might not take!
is Kuru's ancient empire, rule the nations of the earth,
Gods have destined thee as monarch from the moment of thy birth,
and wealth and costly present let the priests and Brahmans hoard,
Be it thine to rule thy subjects as their father and their lord!
too in gentle accents to the doubting monarch said:
"Vyasa. speaketh word of wisdom and his mandate be obeyed!"
the rishi good Yudhishthir then received the Kuru-land,
With a threefold gift of riches gladdened all the priestly band,
priests and grateful nations to their distant regions went,
And his share of presents Vyasa to the ancient Pritha sent.
and virtue Kuru's monarch by the aswa-medha wins,
And the rite of pure ablution cleanses all Yudhishthir's sins,
be stands amid his brothers, brightly beaming, pure and high,
Even as INDRA stands encircled by the dwellers of the sky,
the concourse of the monarchs grace Yudhishthir's regal might,
As the stars and radiant planets grace the stillness of the night!
and jewels in his bounty, gold and garnients rich and rare,
Gave Yudhishthir to each monarch, slaves and damsels passing fair,
gifts to dear relations gave the king of righteous fame,
And the grateful parting monarchs blessed Yudhishthir's hallowed
of all with many tear-drops Krishna mounts his lofty car,
Faithful still in joy or sorrow, faithful still in peace or war,
comrade. Bhima's helper, good Yudhishthir's friend of yore,
Krishna leaves Hastina's mansions for the sea-girt Dwarka's shore!
THE real Epic ends with the war and with the funerals of the deceased
warriors, as we have stated before, and Yudhishthir's Horse-Sacrifice
is rather a crowning ornament than a part of the solid edifice.
What follows the sacrifice is in no sense a part of the real Epic;
it consists merely of concluding personal narratives of the heroes
who have figured in the poem.
retires into a forest with his queen Gandhari, and Pritha, the mother
of the Pandav brothers, accompanies them. In the solitude of the
forest the old Dhrita-rashtra sees as in a vision the spirits of
all the slain warriors, his sons and grandsons and kins men, clad
and armed as they were in battle. The spirits disappear in the morning
at the bidding of Vyasa, who had called them up. At last Dhrita-rashtra
and Gandhari and Pritha are burnt to death in a forest conflagration,
death by fire being considered holy.
at Dwarka meets with strange and tragic adventures. The Vrishnis
and the Andbakas become irreligious and addicted to drinking, and
fall a prey to internal dissensions. Valadeva and Krishna die shortly
after, and the city of the Yadavas is swallowed up by the ocean.
follow the two concluding Books of the Epic, the Great Journey and
the Ascent to Heaven, so beautifully rendered into English by Sir
Edwin Arnold. On hearing of the death of their friend Krishna, the
Pandav brothers place Prakshit, the grandson of Arjun, on the throne,
and retire to the Himalayas. Draupadi drops down dead on the way,
then Sahadeva, then Nakula, then Arjun, and then Bhima. Yudhishthir
alone proceeds to heaven in person in a celestial car.
Yudhishthir undergoes some trial, bathes in the celestial Ganges,
and rises with a celestial body. He then meets Krishna, now in his
heavenly form, blazing in splendour and glory. He meets his brothers
whom he had lost on earth, but who are now Immortals in the sky,
clad in heavenly forms. INDRA himself appears before Yudhishthir,
and introduces him to others who were dear to him on earth, and
are dear to him in heaven. Thus speaks INDRA to Yudhishthir:
is She the fair Immortal! Her no human mother bore,
Sprung from altar as Draupadi human shape for thee she wore,
the Wielder of the Trident she was waked to form and life,
Bom in royal Drupad's mansion, righteous man, to be thy wife,
are bright aérial beings, went for thee to lower earth,
Borne by Drupad's stainless daughter as thy children took their
is monarch Dhrita-rashtra who doth o'er Gandharvas reign,
This is peerless archer Karna, erst on earth by Arjun slain,
the Sun in ruddy splendour, for the Sun inspired his birth,
As the son of chariot-driver he was known upon the earth!
the Sadhyas and the Maruts, 'midst Immortals pure and bright,
Seek thy friends the faithful Vrishnis matchless in their warlike
and find the brave Satyaki who upheld thy cause so well,
Seek the Bhojas and Andhakas who in Kuru-kshetra fell!
is gallant Abhimanyu whom the fair Subhadra bore,
Still unconquered in the battle, slain by fraud in yonder shore,
son of Arjun, wielding Arjun's peerless might,
With the Lord of Night he ranges, beauteous as the Lord of Night!
Yudhishthir, is thy father, by thy mother joined in heaven,
Oft he comes into my mansions in his flowery chariot driven.
is Bhishma stainless warrior, by the Vasus is his place,
By the god of heavenly wisdom teacher Drona sits in grace!
and other mighty warriors in the earthly battle slain,
By their valour and their virtue walk the bright ethereal plain,
have cast their mortal bodies, crossed the radiant gate of heaven,
For to win celestial mansions unto mortals it is given,
them strive by kindly action, gentle speech, endurance long,
Brighter life and holier future into sons of men belong!"