Translated by Alex Cherniak
Foreword by Ranajit Guha

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‘Bhishma,’ the sixth book of the eighteen-book epic “Maha·bhárata,” narrates the first ten days of the great war between the Káuravas and the Pándavas.

This first volume covers four days from the beginning of the great battle and includes the famous “Bhagavad Gita” (“Song of the Lord”), presented here within its original epic context. In this “bible” of Indian civilisation the charioteer Krishna empowers his disciple Árjuna to resolve his personal dilemma: whether to follow his righteous duty as a warrior and slay his opponent relatives in the just battle, or to abstain from fighting and renounce the warrior code to which he is born.

The “Gita” culmintates in Krishna’s theophany, when he reveals himself in the horrendous form of Death as the all-devouring fire of Time, a manifestation famously echoed by Oppenheimer when he witnessed the first atom bomb exploding.

Árjuna said:
You lick and lick everywhere with your blazing mouths, devouring all peoples, all worlds. Your savage rays fill the whole universe with brilliance and burn it up, Vishnu! Tell me who are you, my lord, with your horrifying form? Homage to you, best of gods; have mercy! I want to understand his lordship, the primordial one, for I don’t know what you are up to.
The Lord said:
I am Time, the world destroyer, ripened, and here I am busy crushing the worlds. Even without you, all the warriors drawn up in the opposing ranks will cease to exist. So get up and win your fame! Conquer your enemies and enjoy the full sovereignty. I have myself long since doomed them to perish; you just be the instrument, left-handed archer. Drona, and Bhishma, and Jayad·ratha, and Karna, and other heroic warriors too: kill them, for I have already slain them. Don’t hesitate! Fight! You will conquer your rivals in the battle.

615 pp.  |  ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-1696-0  |  ISBN-10: 0-8147-1696-2  |  Co-published by New York University Press and JJC Foundation

About the Translator

Lecturer in Sanskrit, University of Tel Aviv.

About the Foreword Writer

Ranajit Guha is the founding editor of Subaltern Studies and author of History at the Limit of World-History (2002), Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India (1997), and Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (1999).