Comments on the
Bhagavad Gita

Using the Juan Mascaró translation (Penguin Books, 1962), with references to the Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore translation (A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, Princeton, 1957)

Hare Râma

Mohandas Gandhi, his last words, 1948

The Bhagavad Gîta, , is a chapter in the Epic, the , Mahâbhârata. A gîta, , alone is a "song or poem," and there is actually more than one gîta just in the Mahâbhârata. However, anyone talking about "The Gîta" will almost certainly be taken to refer to the Bhagavad Gîta. Bhagavad is an interesting word. Bhaga, , alone means "lord" or "good fortune, grandure, loveliness," etc. This is a cognate of bog, Бог, which is "God" in Russian, but also of phagein, φαγεῖν, "to eat" in Greek. So the Indo-European meanings have drifted around a bit [cf. The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, Second Edition, revised and edited by Calvert Watkins, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000, p.7]. In turn, bhagavat, , is "fortunate, blessed, adorable, venerable, divine, holy," etc. [A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary by Arthur Anthony MacDonell, Oxford, 1929, 1971, p.200]. So the Bhagavad Gîta, , is the "Song of God," or of the "Adorable One," "Blessed One," "Holy One," etc. The "Adorable One," of course, is Krishna, , Sanskrit Kṛṣṇa, who is an Incarnation of Viṣṇu, .

This page consists of "comments" on the Bhagavad Gîta, rather than a "commentary," because not every verse is disucussed. Also, the point of view here is not devotionalistic but historical and philosophical. The Gîta is a composite document, built over time, like the larger Mahâbhârata itself. Different parts of the Gîta reflect different and sometimes conflicting influences and values. The question that Arjuna asks at the beginning of Chapter 3, which asserts that Krishna has contradicted himself in Chapter 2, reflects no contradiction in Chapter 2, which was perfectly consistent, but does signal the conflict between action and renunciation that will emerge in Krishna's answer to Arjuna. This is a key issue in all of Indian religion, where the renunciation of the world is the ultimate value in Jainism and Buddhism, and is deeply engrained in Hinduism. But it is opposed or limited by the doctrine of karmayoga, , in the Bhagavad Gîta, where the conflict is evident in the text. Sometimes karmayoga is not even regarded as a means of salvation, and may only be cited as karmamarga, "the way of action." Nevertheless, karmayoga underlies the sanctified practice of Mohandas Gandhi. Devotionalistic commentary on the Gîta may be found through the link to the Online Bhagavad Gîta at the bottom of the page.

The Śîmad Bhagavad Gîtâ Online -- with Devanagari, transliteration, grammatical analysis, translation, and commentaries

The Major and Minor Books of the Mahâbhârata and Synopsis

History of Philosophy, Indian Philosophy

History of Philosophy

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Copyright (c) 1997, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2019 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Comments of the Bhagavad Gita, Note

Karmaṇy evâdhikâras te mâ phaleṣu kadâcana /
mâ karmaphalahetur bhûr mâ te sango 'stv akarmaṇi

Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward. /
Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work.

I did not have a hope of understanding the grammar of this passage, or even of what words into which to divide it, without the help of the Sanskritist Herman Tull.

The first word is , karman, used in the locative case, karmaṇi. This means "action" or "work" (the familiar "karma"). The "i" gets written as a "y" at the beginning of the next word. That word is , eva, an emphatic particle, "so, just so," etc. Next is , adhikâra, "concern, striving, endeavour for" (which takes the locative, as here with karman). Next we get te, which is the genitive or possessive form of , tvam, the word for "you." , , is the negative, "not." Then comes , phala, "fruit, result, or reward," used as phaleṣu, the locative plural. The line ends with , kadâcana, "some time, ever," which with the previous negative will mean "never."

Thus, the first line of the verse, Juan Mascaró's "Set thy heart on thy work," we could render more literally as "your concern is with the act." "Never on its reward," substitutes "reward" for "fruit," which has the potential of sounding silly, and less to the point, in English. The most familiar example of something like this in English is Matthew 7:20, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." Jesus, however, appears to mean "consequences" rather than "reward."

The second line of the verse begins with again, and then , karmaphalahetur, a compound that would mean the "cause/impulse for the fruit of action," where karman and phala are already familiar and , hetu is "cause, motive." The next word, bhûr, is the aorist injunctive of , bhû, "be" (and a cognate of "be" itself). In both karmaphalahetur and bhûr the final "r" is a euphonic transformation (Sanskrit sandhi) of nominative "s" because of the labials ("bh" and "m") in the following words.

Then we get and te again, followed by sango, from , sanga, "desire, attachment" -- the "o" is another euphonic transformation of nominative "-as" followed by (elided) "a." Next is , astu, the third person imperative of as, "be," which is cognate to "is" in English (the Sanskrit "a" was an "e" in Proto-Indo-European, which turns up as "i" in Germanic languages). The "a" at the beginning of astu is elided with the avagraha sign, . As the "i" in karmaṇi above becomes a "y" on the following word, the "u" here becomes a "v" on the following "a." Finally, we find , akarmaṇi, the privative (with the prefixed a -- the "alpha privative" in Greek, making a negative) of karman in the locative again.

What Juan Mascaró translates as, "Work not for a reward," Dr. Tull suggests can be rendered, "Let there not arise the impulse for the fruit of action." "But never cease to do thy work," in turn, could be, "For you let there not be attachment to non-action." Mascaró's translation is not very literal, but it does not appear to distort the meaning at all.

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The Major and Minor Books of the Mahâbhârata
and Synopsis

The Mahâbhârata, (Mǝhabharǝt in Hindi), may be the longest epic is world history. And there is even a saying, "Everything that ever happened is in the Mahâbhârata." There is even a version of the companion epic, the , within the Mahâbhârata. Part of the reason for all this is the idea in the Indian tradition that all events are cyclical, so that anything that has ever happened happens over and over again, like Nietzsche's "eternal recurrence." Thus, "history" does not consist of unique events and does not need to be recorded as such -- as indeed it wasn't, to the frustration of modern historians. The Mahâbhârata and the Ramayâna, as the "Fifth Veda," contain the archetype and the paradigm for any other history.

The Mahâbhârata is supposed to have been composed by the Sage , whose anomalous parentage is also recounted in the epic, and where he is a participant himself. The Indian equivalent of Homer, Vyâsa is thus likewise of legendary status, with elements of the miraculous that attend Indian sages.

The J.A.B. van Buitenen (1928-1979) translation of the Mahâbhârata at three volumes, for the University of Chiago Press remains incomplete due to his tragic untimely death (aged 51 years). The Press continued the task of completing the planned volumes by distributing them to different scholars, certainly with the hope to speed things along. However, completion of the project, which will render the unabridged Epic, as promised by the Press, has still been slow, with release dates for subsequent volumes getting postponed. Volume 7, containing Books 11 and 12 (Part 1), translated by James L. Fitzgerald, was published in 2003. I cannot find any other volumes yet, which seems like an extraordinary delay, since that was already fifteen years ago as I write.

A project closer to being complete is the edition of the Mahâbhârata for the Clay Sanskrit Library, which is published by the New York University Press and the JJC Foundation. Like the Loeb Classical Library with Greek and Latin, and in similar sized volumes, this gives the Sanskrit text and the translation on facing pages, although the Sanskrit is transcribed and not in Denanagari. The publications of the Library were begun in 2005. So far, the following volumes of the Mahâbhârata, from several different translators, are in print: Part II, "The Great Hall"; Part III, "The Forest" (volume four of four); Part IV, "Viráta"; Part V, "Preparations for War" (volume one); Part V, "Preparations for War (volume two); Part VI, "Bhishma" (volume one), Including the “Bhagavad Gita” in Context; Part VI, "Bhishma" (volume two); Part VII, "Drona" (volume one of four); Part VII, "Drona" (volume two of four); Part VIII, "Karna" (volume one); Part VIII, "Karna" (volume two); Part IX, "Śalya" (volume one); Part IX, "Śalya" (volume two); Part X-XI, "Dead of Night & The Women"; Part XII, "Peace" (volume three of five). Thus, there are several missing volumes, but from different parts of the epic, perhaps giving one a better feel for the whole than what is available in the Chicago translation.

(1) The Book of the Beginning
  • (1) The List of Contents
  • (2) The Summaries of the Books
  • (3) Pauṣya
  • (4) Puloman
  • (5) Âstîka
  • (6) Descent of the First Generations
  • (7) The Origins
  • (8) The Fire in the Lacquer House
  • (9) The Slaying of Hiḍimba
  • (10) The Slaying of Baka
  • (11) Citraratha
  • (12) Draupadî's Bridegroom Choice
  • (13) The Wedding
  • (14) The Coming of Vidura
  • (15) The Acquisition of the Kingdom
  • (16) Arjuna's Sojourn in the Forest
  • (17) The Abduction of Subhadrâ
  • (18) The Fetching of the Gift
  • (19) The Burning of the Khâṇḍava Forest
(2) The Book of the Assembly Hall
  • (20) The Assembly Hall
  • (21) The Council
  • (22) The Slaying of Jarâsm.dha
  • (23) The Conquest of the World
  • (24) The Royal Consecration
  • (25) The Taking of the Guest Gift
  • (26) The Slaying of Śiśupâla
  • (27) The Gambling Match
  • (28) The Sequel to the Gambling
(3) The Book of the Forest
  • (29) The Forest Teachings
  • (30) The Slaying of Kirmîra
  • (31) The Battle Arjuna and the Mountain Man
  • (32) The Journey to the World of Indra
  • (33) The Pilgrimage
  • (34) The Slaying of Jaṭâsura
  • (35) The War of the Yakṣas
  • (36) The Boa
  • (37) The Meeting with Mârkaṇḍeya
  • (38) The Dialogue of Draupadî and Satyabhâmâ
  • (39) The Cattle Expedition
  • (40) The Deer in the Dream
  • (41) The Measure of Rice
  • (42) The Abduction of Draupadî
  • (43) The Theft of the Earrings
  • (44) The Fire Drilling Woods
(4) The Book of Virâṭa
  • (45) Virâṭa
  • (46) The Slaying of Kîcaka
  • (47) The Cattle Robbery
  • (48) Abhimanyu & Uttarâ's Wedding
(5) The Book of the Effort
  • (49) The Effort
  • (50) The Coming of Sam.jaya
  • (51) The Sleeplessness
  • (52) Sanatsujâta
  • (53) The Suing for Peace
  • (54) The Coming of Kṛṣṇa
  • (55) The Quarrel
  • (56) The Marching Out
  • (57) The Warriors and Greater Warriors
  • (58) The Arrival of the Messenger Ulûka
  • (59) The Narrative of Ambâ
(6) The Book of Bhîṣma
  • (60) The Wonderful Installation of Bhîṣma
  • (61) The Creation of Continent of Jambû
  • (62) The Earth
  • (63) The Bhagavadgîtâ
  • (64) The Slaying of Bhîṣma
(7) The Book of Droṇa
  • (65) The Installation of Droṇa
  • (66) The Slaughter of the Sworn Warriors
  • (67) The Slaying of Abhimanyu
  • (68) The Promise
  • (69) The Slaying of Jayadratha
  • (70) The Slaying of

  • (71) The Slaying of Droṇa
  • (72) Casting of the Nârâyaṇa Weapon
(8) The Book of Karṇa
  • (73) Karṇa
(9) The Book of Śalya
  • (74) Śalya
  • (75) The Entering of the Lake
  • (76) The Battle of the Bludgeons
  • (77) The River Sarasvatî
(10) The Book of the Sleeping Warriors
  • (78) The Massacre of The Sleeping Warriors
  • (79) The Aiṣîka Weapon
  • (80) The Offering of the Water
(11) The Book of the Women
  • (81) The Women
  • (82) The Funeral Oblation
  • (83) The Royal Consecration
  • (84) The Subduing of Carvâka
  • (85) The Distribution of the Houses
(12) The Book of the Peace
  • (86) The Peace
  • (87) The Law of Emergencies
  • (88) The Law of Salvation
(13) The Book of the Instructions
  • (89) The Instuctions
  • (90) The Ascent to Heaven
(14) The Book of the Horse Sacrifice
  • (91) The Horse Sacrifice
  • (92) The Anugîtâ
(15) The Book of the Hermitage
  • (93) The Sojourn in the Hermitage
  • (94) The Encounter with the Sons
  • (95) The Arrival of Nârada
(16) The Book of the Clubs
  • (96) The Battle of the Clubs
(17) The Book of the Great Journey
  • (97) The Great Journey
(18) The Book of the Ascent to Heaven
  • (98) The Ascension to Heaven
  • (99) The Appendix of Genealogy of Hari
  • (100) The Book of the Future

The Mahâbhârata ("Great Bharatas") is virtually the national epic of India. It is the story of a civil war in the Bhârata, , clan, and it contains the Bhagavad Gita (minor book number 63), which is used in my Introduction to Philosophy class. The Mahâbhârata is perhaps the largest epic in world literature, with 100,000 some verses. It is divided into 18 major and 100 minor books, listed at left.

Since "India" is Greek, Ἰνδία, and the other common name for the country, "Hindustan," is Persian, (Hendustân), when India became independent in 1947, "Bhârat" was chosen to be the official name of the country. We get "Bhârat" rather than "Bhârata" because short final a's are not pronounced in Hindî:  thus you may see Arjuna called "Arjun," Bhîma "Bhîm," and the Mahâbhârata itself "Mahâbhârat."

After some background, the story begins when the heir of the Bhâratas, , whose mother is actually the goddess , the Ganges River, renounces both the kingship and marriage. This is so that his father can be remarried to a woman, , who requires that the succession to the throne go through her children and that there be no conflict about it, i.e. no alternative heirs. The conflict comes later. Bhîṣma is named after the Oath he swears of celibacy, for which the gods grant him, not exactly immortality, but his choice of when to die.

After the natural heirs, Satayvatî's sons, for whom all this trouble was generated, die untimely deaths, the dynasty is continued by the later heirs not being conceived by their mother's husband, who has died, but by the Sage Vyâsa himself as a substitute.

Bhîṣma had seized three princesses for his half-brother's wives, , , and . He releases Ambâ as betrothed to another -- by whom she is nevertheless rejected, leaving her vowing eternal vengeance on Bhîsma. Bhîṣma ends up with two nephews, and .

Because the Sage is frightening in the unkempt state of a Wandering Ascetic, covered with ashes, Dhṛtarâṣṭra's mother, Ambikâ, closes her eyes during their union, and the child is born blind. This is why Vyâsa wanted to clean up before performing this service, but he was told not to. Pâṇḍu's mother, Ambâlikâ, is warned, but she pales in her fright, and the child is born pale (which is his name) and perhaps sickly. For good measure, Vyâsa also impregates the maid, who gives birth to a half-brother who becomes the wise counselor of the realm.

Dhṛtarâṣṭra becomes the father of 100 sons, called the Kurus or Kauravas. These are born from the earth, since Dhṛtarâṣṭra's wife, who wears a blindfold to share her husband's blindness, gave birth to a large ball of flesh, which was divided into 100 pieces that were planted like seeds. These grew into babies.

Pâṇḍu, although the younger brother, succeeds to the throne because of his brother's blindness, but then he abdicates after falling under a curse that he cannot sleep with his two wives, or he will die. Although married to two women, Pâṇḍu displays a curious reluctance to consumate his marriages. They all take a "vacation" as Forest Dwellers to see if Pâṇḍu can get relaxed or aroused enough to do what he should. Before that can happen, Pâṇḍu rushes off on the hunt at the word of a tiger nearby. Unfortunately, what he shoots is not a tirger, but a Sage and his wife, who have taken the form of deer to make love. The curse is from the Sage, who denies to Pâṇḍu the joy that he denied to them. With his wives, Pâṇḍu thus retires permanently to the Forest, and Dhṛtarâṣṭra becomes king after all.

Kuntî, , Pâṇḍu's elder wife, has a secret. She possesses a spell that enables her to call down the gods; and Pâṇḍu agrees that she should conceive children by them. The god Dharma (duty) begets , Vâyu (the wind) begets , and Indra begets . Using the same device Pâṇḍu's second wife, , Mâdrî, calls down the twin gods the Ashvins who beget the twins and .

Doubtlessly frustrated by all this going on, and seeing Mâdrî bathing, Pâṇḍu then attempts to copulate with her, and he dies. Mâdrî joins him on the funeral pyre (a case of "suttee"), and Kuntî is left to raise the five sons, each a , in their uncle's court, to which she returns.

Kuntî, as it happens, had used her spell before she was married. She had a son, named , by Sûrya, the sun god. Fearing disgrace, she set Karṇa floating down the river in a basket (like Moses or the great Mesopotamian king Sargon of Akkad). Karṇa was raised by a royal chariot-driver. After growing up, sensing his own power, Karṇa tries to participate in a royal tournament, but he is snubbed as a commoner by the Pâṇḍavas. He is then accepted as a friend and equal by the eldest of the Kurus, , to spite the Pâṇḍavas. This will have tragic results, as Karṇa refuses to be disloyal to Duryodhana, even after learning the truth of his own origin and understanding the wrongness of Duryodhan'a cause.

Besides the curious nature of their parentage, another odd feature about the Pâṇḍavas is that they all share the same wife, Draupadî, . Draupadî's father wanted her to marry Arjuna, so he set up a bride contest where suitors were required to string a bow that had been made so powerful that only Arjuna, presumably, could do so and then achieve a difficult shot, again, presumably, that only Arjuna would be able to do. This is reminiscent of a similar situation in the Odyssey, where Penelope, awaiting the long overdue return of Odysseus from Troy, requires that suitors for her hand string Odysseus's bow. They cannot do it; and when Odysseus does return (after twenty years), he strings the bow and then shoots them all. Arjuna, as it happens, strings the bow, makes the shot, and wins Draupadî's hand. But when he returns home and announces to his mother that he has won something, Kuntî, who thinks the boys have been out getting some food, says that he must share it with his brothers. Since Kuntî is a queen, she cannot take back her order, so Draupadî marries all five Pâṇḍavas. Their agreement, however, is that only one husband sleeps with Draupadî at a time and that the other husbands cannot even enter the room when Draupadî is with one.

While they grew up together, the eldest Kuru, Duryodhana, became jealous of his cousins -- with Yudhiṣṭhira, the eldest cousin, actually the heir to the Throne -- and over the years continually plots to kill or dispossess them. Even as a child, he drugs Bhîma and throws him in the river to drown. Unfortunately, Bhîma is related to the Nagas, semi-human serpents, who rescue him and endow him with the strength of ten elephants. Although the story sometimes seems to forget that he has this strength, he does display it occasionally, to spectacular effect.

Eventually Duryodhana tricks Yudhiṣṭhira into a crooked dice game, run by Ghândârî's venegeful brother (who blames the Bhâratas for his sister's assumed blindness), who cheats him out of the half of the kingdom that Dhṛtarâṣṭra had bestowed on the Pâṇḍavas and even out of their and Draupadî's own freedom. Then he insults Draupadî by asking his brother, Duḥśâsana, to pull off her clothes. In a famous scene, Draupadî's clothes are miraculously restored as they are pulled off. Although the text does not say so (and Kṛṣṇa is not even present), this miracle is believed by the pious to have been effected by the Lord Kṛṣṇa (, Krishna in Hindî), a king and friend of Arjuna. Arjuna had taken Kṛṣṇa's sister, , as a second wife.

But Kṛṣṇa is more than he seems:  He is really an incarnation of God -- as God is conceived in sectarian form as Viṣṇu. When Duḥśâsana gives up trying to strip Draupadî, Bhîma, the most physically powerful brother (who later will crush a man into a small ball for insulting Draupadî) vows that he is going to kill him, tear open his chest, and drink his blood. Draupadî herself vows that she will wash her hair in Duḥśâsana's blood. Gândhârî is shocked that things have been allowed to go this far, and Dhṛtarâṣṭra restores the freedom of the Pâṇḍavas and Draupadî. However, Duryodhana challenges Yudhiṣṭhira to a last bet, that the Pâṇḍavas must go into exile for twelve years and into hiding for one, or forfeit their kingdom. Yudhiṣṭhira loses, but then the Pâṇḍavas successfully complete the exile. Duryodhana refuses to restore their kingdom. That, and the recollection of the insults and humiliations of the dice game, results in war:  the eleven armies of the Kurus against the seven armies of the Pâṇḍavas.

The Lord Kṛṣṇa offers a choice to Duryodhana, either he can have Kṛṣṇa's armies or Kṛṣṇa himself as a non-combatant advisor and charioteer. Duryodhana foolishly takes the armies; but Arjuna is wisely pleased to have Kṛṣṇa. The Bhagavad Gita takes place as the battle between the Kurus and Pâṇḍavas is about to start. Arjuna asks Kṛṣṇa to drive their chariot out between the armies so he can see them all. But, seeing them, Arjuna decides that he does not want to fight and kill his relatives and friends after all. The entire Gita is then Kṛṣṇa explaining why Arjuna must fight and how he can fight and achieve salvation at the same time.

In the battle, the Pâṇḍavas kill all the Kurus and win the whole kingdom. However, it is at great cost. All the sons of the Pâṇḍavas and Draupadî, Draupadî's father and brothers, and Arjuna and Subhadrâ's son, are killed. Arjuna unwittingly kills his own brother, Karṇa, who labors under various curses that he has undeservedly acquired. The loyalty of many in the Kuru army, including Bhîṣma and Droṇa, to the Throne also overrides their judgment that it is the wrong cause.

An intriguing feature of the battle is that at key points Kṛṣṇa advises the Pâṇḍavas to gain advantages by violating the rules of the war. Thus, when Karṇa's chariot sinks into the ground (because of a curse), and Karṇa is on foot trying to dislodge it, which should, by agreement, make him immune to attack, Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna to shoot him. Arjuna balks, but Kṛṣṇa taunts and exhorts him. Arjuna finally shoots and kills the luckless and tragic Karṇa.

Karṇa labored under three curses, one from the Avatar Paraśurâma, who had also taught Bhîṣma and Droṇa. Paraśurâma refused to teach Kṣatriyas; and, of course, Karṇa does not know that he is one. When Paraśurâma discovers that he is, because of his ability to endure pain, Karṇa is cursed that he will forgot his knowledge, such as the ability to call on divine weapons, when he needs it the most. That is what hapepned.

Later, Kṛṣṇa urges Bhîma, who has fared poorly in combat with Duryodhana, to break the Kuru's legs with his club. Again, by agreement, strikes below the belt have been ruled out; but Bhîma obeys, and so Duryodhana is disabled and left to die. Curiously, like Achilles, Duryodhana had been rendered invulnerable to harm, when Ghândârî uncovered her eyes and looked upon him, with her accumulated power, one and only one time. She had instructed him to stand naked, but Duryodhana had modestly covered his loins, which thus were unaffected. This is where Bhîma strikes him.

The Pâṇadavas already had to deal with Bhîṣma and Droṇa, whom they could not defeat in open combat. Bhîṣma is undone by the vengeance of Ambhâ, who is reincarned as a man, and appears in the battle, but whom Bhîṣma recognizes and will not shoot. Behind her(/him), Arjuna immobilizes Bhîṣma by filling him with arrows, so that he lies on the "bed" of arrows until deciding to die, after the battle and after instructing the Pâṇadavas in political wisdom.

, the teacher of the Pâṇḍavas and Kurus, is defeated when Kṛṣṇa persuades Yudhiṣṭhira -- who, like George Washington, cannot tell a lie -- to lie to Droṇa that his son, Aśvatthâmâ, has been killed. Droṇa is undone, lets his weapons drop, and is killed by Draupadî's brother, who has his own reasons for vengeance.

Kṛṣṇa's willingness to break faith in order that the better side should win is reminiscent of the counsel of Machiavelli. Similarly, the willingness to go beyond the rules of war in a good cause, together with the other associations of the Bhagavad Gita with it, draw us back to the Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was detonated. Indeed, the battle ends when Aśvatthâmâ casts a celestial weapon, the Aṣîka weapon, powerful enough to destroy the universe, to kill, in revenge for his father, the grandson of Arjuna, through Subhadrâ, in the very womb of his mother Uttarâ. This is what happens. But Kṛṣṇa says that it cannot be allowed to be, and he brings the baby back to life.

The moral ambivalence of the Mahâbhârata, reminiscent of the fifth characteristic of mytho-poeic thought, and so true to life, contributes to its power. It is triumphant and tragic at once, where good wins out but at a great cost in fortune and conscience, and with some acknowledgement of the virtues of the enemy, especially with those like Bhîṣma, Droṇa, and Karṇa who are good themselves but honor-bound to fight on the wrong side. The moral ambiguity of the story is continued afterwards, where the rewards of Heaven do not seem to always match the desserts of the Kurus and Pâṇḍavas.

The dilemmas of Bhîṣma, Droṇa, and Karṇa have an application in recent American politics. Were Robert E. Lee and Stonwall Jackson good men? Did they know they were fighting in a evil cause? Was Lee, especially, bound by honor to his State, Virginia, right or wrong? Should Lee himself continue to be, as it happens, honored? Bhîṣma, certainly is. The moral issues of the Mahâbhârata thus may be universally sobering.

I am familiar with two video versions of the Mahâbhârata in Hindi, one from 1988 in 94 episdoes, produced by B.R. and Ravi Chopra, and one from 2013, produced by Swastik [! !] Productions Pvt. Ltd. The former was too early for much sophistication in special effects, which are generally cheesy and sometimes ludicrous. However, the casting and acting are brilliant, and the story is presented in some detail. The 2013 production, naturally, excels in special effects and is beautifully done, but it leaves out large parts of the story, perhaps to avoid the strange, uncomfortable, or embarrassing features of the original epic. There is a little of that in the 1988 version, which avoids the story of the odd origin of the Kurus and skips over the case of suttee on the part of Madrî. However, the 2013 version gives us almost no information about the birth of any of the major characters, without even the detail of Dhṛtarâṣṭra being born blind, or why that happened. Instead, we get largely irrelevant comments to the audience from Krishna, long before he is even introduced into the story. I do not find that helpful, or even interesting. Thus, the 1988 version remains superior, despite the demands it makes on more sophisticated viewers.

An ambitious version of the Mahâbhârata as a play was first staged, in French, in 1985. It was translated into English by director Peter Brook in 1987 and performed thereafter for two years, on world tours, in both French and English. The play was nine hours long, expanded to eleven hours with breaks. With an international cast, it transformed the story into a world, not just an Indian, epic. It contains some details that the Hindi versions do not have, including a treatment of the story after the battle, which the 1988 Hindi version completely skips. But the play also reduces the Bhagavad Gita to about five minutes, with little evident understanding of what it is all about. A six hour version of the play was produced for a mini-series in 1989, later released on video; and a three or four hour version was then given a theaterical movie release.

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