Week 13: Buck's Mahabharata (pp. 191-305)

Assignments - Reading Guide A - Reading Guide B - Mahabharata Resources

Reading Guide: B

Your Reading B for this week is Buck's Mahabharata, pp. 247-305. You might want to read over the previous reading guide to remind yourself of what has happened so far.

p. 247. Before the battle. Vyasa comes to Hastinapura to tell Dhritarashtra of the battle preparations. Vyasa sees many bad omens before the battle of Kurukshetra. Dhritarashtra sadly admits to Vyasa that he is not able to control his sons. Vyasa bestows heavenly sight on Sanjaya in order to observe the battle so that he can come back to Dhritarashtra and tell him everything that happens. Duryodhana, meanwhile, appoints Bhishma as his commander. Because of this, Karna refuses to fight (since he felt slighted by Bhishma, Karna had vowed not to fight so long as Bhishma participated in the battle). Bhishma agrees to command Duryodhana's army, but explains that he will not fight a woman or anyone born as a woman.

p. 252. Amba's story. Remember Amba? Bhishma had won Amba at a swayamvara but let her go because Amba was in love with king Śalwa. Yet Śalwa also rejected Amba. When Śalwa rejected Amba, she had nowhere to go so she went into the forest where she met a hermit. The hermit gave Amba a bow and a knife and told her to make an arrow. After Amba made the arrow, Śiva appeared to her and gave her a piece of cloth to tie around the arrow she had made. When Amba shot the arrow, she fell down dead at Śiva's feet. Meanwhile, Drupada had been praying to Śiva for a child. Śiva told Drupada that his wife was carrying a son, yet when his wife gave birth the child was a daughter, named Sikhandini. But because Drupada was expecting a son, he treated his daughter Sikhandini as if she were a boy. He even arranged a marriage for Sikhandini, but the bride of Sikhandini was appalled to find out Sikhandini was a woman, not a man. SIkhandini then went off into the forest, where she met a yaksha named Sthuna. Sikhandini asked the yaksha to make her into a man. The yaksha agreed to trade genders with Sikhandini so Sikhandini could become male. When Vaiśravana found out that Sthuna - now Sthuni - had become female, he was enraged and cursed Sthuni to remain female forever. Sthuni begged Vaiśravana not to make her remain a female forever so Vaiśravana agreed that Sthuni would become male when Sikhandin died. Sikhandini was grateful to the yaksha for trading genders and went into battle as a male warrior called Sikhandin.

p. 257. The battle begins. We hear about the battle as Sanjaya narrates the story to Dhritarashtra (so it means that Sanjaya survives the battle and comes back to tell Dhritarashtra all that he saw). As the battle opens, Duryodhana's army is larger than the army of Yudhishthira. Bhishma is leading Duryodhana's army and Arjuna is in despair at the thought of fighting Bhishma, whom he regards as a grandfather. Arjuna is also in despair over fighting his gurus Kripa and Drona. Krishna tells Arjuna that there was nothing that could be done to stop the war and thus persuades him to fight. Yudhishthira, meanwhile, puts aside his armor Yudhishthira cast off his armor and bows down before Bhishma. Bhishma is pleased that Yudhishthira has come to salute him before battle. Yudhishthira tells the Kauravas he will accept anyone who came over to their side. Yuyutsu, the son of Dhritarashtra and a female servant, goes over to the Pandava side.

p. 265. Bhishma in battle. Bhishma kills Virata, the king of the Matsyas, in battle. Bhishma's fighting powers are awesome, even though he is an old man. When Krishna decides to attack Bhishma with his discus, Arjuna stops him. Duryodhana tells Bhishma not to spare the Pandavas because of his love for them. Meanwhile, Arjuna teams up with Sikhandin to attack Bhishma. Bhishma is pierced with so many arrows his body does not touch the ground when he falls from his chariot. When Bhishma falls, all fighting ceases on the battlefield and flowers rain down from heaven. Arjuna creates a pillow for Bhishma's head with his arrows, and he shoots an arrow into the ground to bring water to Bhishma. Bhishma has the power to choose the exact moment of his death, and he plans to lie on his bed of arrows until the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Krishna comes to Bhishma and bestows on him a peaceful sleep that releases him from pain.

p. 272. The death of Uttara and of Jayadratha. Duryodhana makes Drona the chief general after Bhishma falls in battle and he tells Drona to capture Yudhishthira alive. Drona asks Suśarman's help to lure Arjuna way so he can catch Yudhishthira. Arjuna, however, manages to bind Suśarman with snakes with a naga mantra. In the meantime, Uttara has launched an attack on Drona, but Jayadratha cuts him off from behind, leaving young prince Uttara trapped behind enemy lines. [Notice here that Buck has replaced the character of Arjuna's young son Abhimanyu with Arjuna's young friend Uttara.] Uttara is slaughtered by the Kauravas. Arjuna returns, and is distraught over the death of young prince Uttara. He vows to kill Jayadratha to avenge Uttara's death. To find Jayadratha, Arjuna presses ahead. Drona ties Duryodhana's armor with special gandharva knots to protect him from Arjuna's advance. Because of the secret knots in his armor, Arjuna's attack does not harm Duryodhana. Arjuna then beheads Jayadratha, but doesn't let the head fall to the ground, fearing the curse of Jayadratha's father, Vriddhakshetra. When Jayadratha was born, it was predicted that he would be beheaded, so his father had put a curse on the man who let his son's head fall to the ground: that man's head would also burst. So when Arjuna beheads Jayadratha he makes the head fly through the air and fall into the lap of Jayadratha's own father, who is deep in meditation in the forest. Jayadratha's father stands up, he lets Jayadratha's head fall to the ground, causing his own head to burst into pieces.

p. 278. The death of Drona. In battle Drona manages to kill Drupada, his sworn enemy. Yet when Drona hears that Aśwatthaman has been killed, he falls into despair. (Aśwatthaman is not really dead - it is an elephant named Aśwatthaman that Bhima has killed, but Drona thinks that it is his son Aśwatthaman who has been killed.) In grief, Drona puts aside all his weapons. Dhristadyumna, the son of Drupada, finds Drona unarmed and beheads him. Arjuna weeps when Drona dies. Aśwatthaman is prepared to use a weapon of enormous power to avenge his father's death. Aśwatthaman launches his death weapon, but Krishna tells everyone to drop their weapons, stand on the earth and put all thoughts of war out of their minds. This causes Aśwatthaman's weapon to fail.

p. 285. The duel of Karna and Arjuna. Karna pays a visit to Arjuna and challenges Arjuna to battle. Arjuna accepts. Karna has been made general after Drona's death and he has told Duryodhana that he will defeat Arjuna and kill all the Pandavas. Duryodhana thus refuses to surrender and fights on, convinced that fate could change at any moment and bring him victory. Krishna is Arjuna's charioteer, and Śalya (the father of Madri) is Karna's charioteer. Karna has saved his special weapon for Arjuna's death, but during the battle his chariot wheel gets stuck in the ground. As Arjuna approaches him, Karna launches the weapon he had gotten from Indra but Krishna uses his foot to lower Arjuna's chariot into the ground. Arjuna thus escapes from Karna's weapon, and while Karna is still trying to get his chariot wheel free from the ground, he kills him, chopping off his head. Duryodhana weeps when Karna dies, and the Kaurava army despairs. Śalya asks to lead the army after Karna's death, but he is soon killed by Yudhishtira in battle. Nakula and Sahadeva, meanwhile, kill Śakuni in battle. When Sanjaya is caught, Dhristadyumna wants to kill him but Krishna protects him. Now that the Kaurava forces have been completely routed, Yuyutsu takes the widows of the warriors back to Hastinapura.

p. 303. Duryodhana. Although Yuyutsu goes back to Hastinapura, Sanjaya stays on the battlefield and he finds Duryodhana alone, badly wounded. Sanjaya feels sorrow when he sees Duryodhana in this condition. Duryodhana asked Sanjaya to lead him to a nearby lake and he then uses the power of illusion to enter into the water of the lake and hide. The few survivors on the Kaurava side - Kripa, Kritavarman and Aśwatthaman - find Sanjaya beside the lake and ask where they can find Duryodhana. Sanjaya shows them the lake where Duryodhana has concealed himself. Aśwatthaman speaks to Duryodhana inside the lake. Duryodhana tells Aśwatthaman that he is tired and will come out of the lake the next day. Meanwhile, hunters see Aśwatthaman speaking to the lake and they go tell Bhima what they have seen. Kripa, Kritavarman, Aśwatthaman and Sanjaya hide when the Pandavas came to the lake for their final confrontation with Duryodhana.

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