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Friday, July 14, 2017

Kurukshetra Battle - Maha Bharatha Series 37

The details of the famous battle are described in Book 6, starting with the name of Kurukshetra. We learn that this was known originally as Tapas-Kshetra, a place for tapas, or penance. (Prof. Roberto Calasso, the Italian scholar translates tapas to mean ardor, intense burning of the thought). Since Kuru, the ancestor of the Kauravas did his penance there, the name changed to Kurukshetra.

In section 1, rules of conduct of war are described, such as “children and old ones should not be harmed. Unarmed adversary should not be attacked. Each soldier will have a “watch-word” which will identify him with the side he belongs to”.

As the troops are getting ready, Vyasa arrives. He is disturbed and tells Dhrithrashtra: “No use grieving now. This is destiny and cannot be prevented. This is the effect of kaala (time or lord of death). As regards victory, it is there where righteousness is”. In other words, the war was preordained, an explanation given for almost everything that happens in Maha Bharatha.

Vyasa offers Dhrithrashtra ability to see everything in the battle field. But, he declines saying that he cannot bring himself to seeing all his kith and kin being killed. Therefore, Vyasa gives a special celestial vision to Sanjaya, Dhrithrashtra’s charioteer so that he will see every detail in every corner of the battle-field and narrate the events to Dhrithrashtra at the end of each day.

Vyasa’s account of various planets at the time of the famous battle may be significant. Not knowing Vedic astrology, I am unable to decipher them. He mentions specific positions of each of the planets (including the moon, which we know is not a planet) in relation to the 27 stars. In this list there is mention of a white planet called kethu “blazing like fire, having attacked the Jeshta, and having passed beyond the constellation, Chitra”.  He also mentions Rahu as taken a position between constellations, Chitra and Swati. We know that there is no planet equivalent to Rahu or Kethu existent now. May be, he was describing a comet or a planet like Pluto which has gone out of the solar system! May be, they were twin planets.

Vyasa mentions that the constellation of seven-stars (sapta rishi mandala) has dimmed. He points out that Brihaspati and Sani approaching Vishaka have become stationary and that the duration of a fortnight has shortened by two days. There are descriptions of lunar and solar eclipses coming back to back and 2 eclipses within a fortnight etc. Such clear descriptions tell us that our ancestors were keen observers of the sky and of the stars and planets. These facts also suggest that Mahabharatha is based on some historical event very much like the Iliad of Homer in Greek history.  I hope some scholar has been able to establish the epoch when these events could have happened based on these descriptions of the planets and the stars. Indeed, I found one person who has tried to verify these dates with past calendars. (   September 1, 2010 by Ramesh Panchwagh)

In Section 4, Sanjay starts describing the land to Dhrithrashtra. He says that there are things mobile and immobile. Among the mobiles he includes three kinds: oviparous, viviparous and those that come from heat and damp (similar to the idea in the west about the origins of insects and flies from miasma). Of the mobile, viviparous are the most important. There are 14 species in this group, with seven living wild and seven domestic. It is interesting that man is included as one among the seven domestic creatures. Among the immobile, plants are included and Sanjaya lists four: trees, shrubs, creepers, creeping plants existing for only a year, and all stemless plants of the grass species. Here we also learn that the term valli (kodi in Tamizh) is specifically for creepers that spread horizontally) and the word for stemless plants such as grass in thruna.

Two other statements found in this book are significant: 1. All creatures support their life by living upon one another. 2. Everything springs from the earth and everything, when destroyed, merges into the Earth.

In his description of Bharata Varsha (the ancient India), Sanjaya recounts Bharata, Manu and Ikshvaku as its inhabitants. Malaya and Vindhya mountains are mentioned. So are many well-known rivers such as Ganga, Kauveri and Tamra. He says that Saraswati is seen in some places and not in some other places along its route. Now we know that it does not exist anymore, although evidences of an ancient river bed are there. Among the people, dravidas, andhras and keralas are mentioned. Also mentioned are Mlcechas, Chinas, and Huns. It appears that the word mleccha referred to the uncivilized and a related word called meluha was used in the ancient Akkadia kingdom. 

In section 12, when Vyasa describes planet Swabhanu, he says that the diameter is 12 yojanas and the circumference 42 yojanas (3.5). For moon, he mentions 11 and 38 and to the sun (?) it is 10 to 35. It is clear that these are approximations to the value of pi.

In a later chapter, Sanjaya says: “Victory is not won by just might, but by truth, compassion, righteousness and energy”

According to this text by Ganguli, Bhagavat Gita starts with Section 25 of Book 6. I will not cover these sections which are so well-known.

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