I began writing this summary study of the Mahabharata in the early 1980's while living in the Radha-Rasabihari Temple at Juhu in Bombay. Previously, from 1972 to 1979, I had lived at the ISKCON, temple in Calcutta, at 3, Albert Road, where I served as a pujari for the Deities, Sri Sri Radha -Govinda. This was a wonderful period for me in many ways, although living conditions were very austere. However, as a pujari, I was fully and happily engaged in Krsna consciousness for the first time. Before that, Krsna consciousness had been a struggle for me because I hadn't found an engagement that really absorbed my interest. It was my wife, Narayani devi dasi, who urged me to begin my life as a pujari and so I must always be thankful for that push in the right direction. The temple was very small and so the feeling was that we were living in the same small house as the Deities, as Their servants.
Some years later, my wife urged me to begin learning the Bhagavad-gita in Sanskrit, assuring me that it would greatly enhance my Krsna consciousness. Again, I was skeptical, but soon I found there was great pleasure in memorizing the transcendental words of Lord Krsna, and so I took to it wholeheartedly. I had a lot of work to do as a pujari, but in my spare time, I would go on the roof, where there was solitude, and recite the Bhagavad-gita.
In 1979, we moved to the ISKCON temple at Juhu, in Bombay. I didn't want to be a pujari like before, and I didn't like having to go into the city every day and struggle to enroll life members. So, I increased my studies of Srila Prabhupada's books, thinking that this would be the best course for my life to take. After memorizing the Bhagavad-gitd, I began to memorize parts of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. I took great pleasure in giving classes in the temple, and devotees thought of me as something of a scholar. Still, there were so many volumes of the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, that it was difficult to remember even the simple story lines.
I read somewhere that Srila Prabhupada had said that the best way to study was to read a small portion and then summarize what was read. That would require one to pay attention to what he was reading so that he could summarize it at the end. This led me to the decision that I should summarize the entire Srimad-Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. This was about 1980. I started with a pen and notebook and after making some progress, I bought a portable manual typewriter for ten dollars at a garage sale in America while visiting my mother.
At the temple, I would sometimes man the question-and-answer booth during festivals. People would often ask me something about the Ramayana and Mahabharata, but because these books had not been presented by Srila Prabhupada, I knew virtually nothing about them. This led me to decide that I should find English translations of these two great epics and summarize them as well, just so that I would at least understand their basics. Thus, during the years 1980 to 1986, I summarized these four great books, and went over them again and again, editing them.
The Mahabharata summary was taken from the Ganguly edition that consisted of twelve volumes. It was a complete translation of the one hundred thousand verses, and had been composed about one hundred years ago. Because of this, the English was a bit quaint and so part of my work was to transform the story into simple readable language. Basically, my summary studies are narrations of the stories contained in these great works of literature. While telling the stories, I weave in the philosophical understandings that the stories are meant to convey.
Mahabharata was a challenge not only in the sense that it is a very long work, but also because it deals with many topics that are of very little interest to members of ISKCON. The main story of the Mahabharata is the history of the Kuru dynasty, and the events that led to the great battle at Kuruksetra. It begins with the lives of those from whom the Panclavas and Kauravas descended. The story really takes hold when Pandu dies and his wife and five sons arrive at Hastinapura to live under the care of their uncle, Dhrtarastra. Besides this main story, however, there are countless other stories told when the Pandavas meet great sages while in exile, or while sitting before Grandfather Bhisma on his deathbed of arrows.
This is the way that life was in former times. The arrival of a great sage would be an event to celebrate for everyone in these ancient times. They didn't have movies, computers, or television and so the great sage, who was a reservoir of histories, would entertain and enlighten people with stories and the lessons to be learned from them. People would be happy to sit for hours, or even days, and listen to the stories told by the visiting sage, and they considered the lessons learned from such stories to be the essence of education.
As the Mahabharata recounts the lives of the Paticlavas, it vividly describes their meetings with many great sages, and the stories these sages tell constitute a large portion of the Mahabharata. Some of these stories, which are thus interwoven with the main story, are also very well-known, such as the tale of King Nala and Damayanti, and the story of Savitri and Satyavan. For this reason, my telling of the Mahabharata goes beyond the mere recounting of the lives of the Paniclavas and Kauravas. I took great pleasure in adding many of these secondary stories when I found them to be either entertaining or instructive.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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