Translated by Kathleen Garbutt
Foreword by Gurcharan Das
At the beginning of “Preparations For War,” the Pándavas have just completed their thirteen year exile, most recently having lived in disguise and in humiliating service in Viráta’s city. The Pándavas believe they have completed the terms of their exile, though Duryódhana claims that they did not manage to live unknown for the full thirteenth year, since Árjuna was recognised in the battle at the end of the preceding book, “Viráta.” This first volume of “Preparations For War” sees the Pándavas and Kurus gathering arms for the coming war and making preparations to fight. However, at the same time they organise a series of embassies to negotiate peace. The translation of this book’s title may therefore seem a strange choice. The Sanskrit word (udyoga) has neutral connotations and refers to both the peaceful and aggressive tendencies of the book, but though the embassies comprise the structure, there is no real chance for peace. Duryódhana, the Kuru king, has no intention of negotiating, and right from the beginning each side starts assembling their armies. The embassies are depicted as merely futile formalities.
“I’ll entreat them forcibly in battle with sharp arrows and topple them at the feet of high-souled Kauntéya! But if they decide not to prostrate themselves before this wise man, then they and their ministers will go to Yama’s realm! For they can no more sustain the powerful force of an enraged warrior lusting for battle, than mountains can sustain the force of a lightning strike!” (3.12–15)
“Let the Pándava take back the kingdom which Dhrita·rashtra transferred to him. Let Yudhi·shthira, the son of Pandu, either take his kingdom now, or let them all be killed in battle and sleep on the surface of the earth.”(3.22–23)
“Well, long-armed man, no doubt that is how it will be. For Duryódhana will certainly not hand over his kingdom with good grace. And Dhrita·rashtra will obey him because he loves his son. Bhíshma and Drona will obey on account of their poverty and Rádheya and Súbala’s son will obey out of foolishness.” (4.1–4.2)
This volume also constantly highlights the inevitability of conflict and the futility of negotiation. Both sides are well aware that war is the only outcome, and so this first volume of “Preparations For War” contains a great deal of discussion about Dharma, which in the context of the looming war, seems well-placed. Most characters are concerned that war between family cannot fail to be sinful. While there are many passages of standard, non-specific advice about caste duties and other general rules, this volume also contains the “Sanat·sujatíya,” a philosophical passage to rival the “Bhagavadgita.” While not as famous, it contains a similar message, and appears to be a product of the same time and thinking. Sanat·sujáta teaches the Vedantic philosophy of seeking Brahman, the ultimate creative power, by truly understanding that one's soul and Brahman are one, and understanding that the universe as we know it is only illusion. The “Sanat·sujatíya,” like the “Bhagavadgita,” informs us that karma does not necessarily have to chain us to the cycle of rebirth. One can escape the consequences of actions by refraining from any desire. Total self discipline and indifference to the objects of the senses allow one to extricate oneself from the normally inevitable karma that follows us to the next life. By completely pure restrained asceticism (mauna), one can win moksha, or release. The world falls away as one understands it is mere illusion and one is subsumed into eternal existence with Brahman when one understands the truth of non-duality.
“Impassable and beyond darkness; even death is subsumed within it at the time of destruction. Its form is both keener than a razor’s edge and yet at the same time as vast as mountains. It is the basis, the immortal, the worlds, Brahman and the glory; creatures take birth from it and so reach their dissolution within it. Huge, it defies defects and is elevated glory. Sages claim its only example of transformation is the speech which describes it. This whole universe is established within it and those who come to understand it become immortal.” (44.29–44.31)
760 pp. | ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-3191-8 |
ISBN-10: 0-8147-3191-0 |
Co-published by New York University Press and JJC Foundation
About the Translator
Kathleen Garbutt translates and edits Sanskrit literature for the JJC Foundation, co-publishers (with NYU Press) of the Clay Sanskrit Library. She has also translated Maha·bhárata IV: Viráta and Maha·bhárata V: Preparations for War (volume two of two).
About the Foreword Writer
Gurcharan Das, former CEO of Procter & Gamble India, is author of the international bestseller India Unbound: From Independence to the Global Information Age as well as several plays, a novel, and numerous essays and countless columns.