With more than 74,000 verses, long prose passages, and about 1.8 million words in total, the Maha-Bharat (The Great story of the Bharat Dynasty) is one of the longest epic poems in world history. Including the Harivamsha, the Maha-Bharat has a total length of more than 90,000 verses.
The Maha-Bharat is an integral part of World History. The boundaries of Indian influence at that time reached vast areas far beyond the boundaries of today’s India. Armies and warriors from all corners of the then known world participated in the final Maha-Bharat War. The Bhishma-Parva and the Drona-Parva (The Books of Bhishma, Drona) of the Maha-Bharat mentions the Yavans (Greeks), the Chinas, the Kambojas, the Hunas (Huns), the Pahlavas (Iranians), Gandharas (Afghans), the Shakas (Central Asians) among the armies that fought in the Maha-Bharat War.
(India during the Maha-Bharat period)
The Maha-Bharat is of immense significance to the history of Indian Culture. This epic is alive today in India as it has been for the past 2500 (or so) years. Regardless of race, ethnic identity, religion, the Maha-Bharat represents the history of all people and especially people who speak Indo-European languages.
The rivalry between Karna and Arjun starts the inexorable march to the final Maha-Bharat War. Karna and Arjun are blood-brothers born to the same mother Kunti. The great sage Durwas blesses young Kunti with a Divine Mantra that gives her the power to summon any representation of God to give her a son with the qualities of that representation.
- Karna was the result of the divine conception of Surya, representation of the Brightness of God and represented physically in the universe as the Sun.
- Arjun was the result of the divine conception of Indra, the Lord Protector of Heaven, the representation of the Prowess of God.
- Karna was born when Kunti was unmarried. Kunti gives birth to Karna in seclusion, places the child in a basket and let it sail down the river. The basket is picked up by a humble charioteer and Karna is known all his life as a mere charioteer’s son.
- Arjun is born after Kunti was married to Emperor Pandu and is hailed all his life as a royal prince.
Both Arjun and Karna grow up to be the greatest warriors of the Maha-Bharat war. The final battle between Karna and Arjun decides the victor of the Maha-Bharat War. Arjun himself says to Krishna moments before he engages Karna on the seventeenth day of the War, “yaj janah katha-yisyanti yavad bhumir dharisyati” (as long the world lives, people will describe it (this battle)).
I have read about this final battle in many translations of the original Maha-Bharat. I have seen it played out in theaters and in cinema. None of these translations prepared me for the real description of this epic battle in the original Maha-Bharat.
Adam Bowles has translated the Karna-Parva (Book of Karna) of the Maha-Bharat in two volumes published by the New York University Press (http://www.nyupress.org) and the JJC Foundation, as a part of the Clay Sanskrit Library (see our article – The Greatest Publishing Project of Recent Years – June 28).
I was spellbound and mesmerized by the description of this epic battle in the Maha-Bharat. I intend to write a separate review of the Book of Karna. For now, let me just say that this translation by Adam Bowles revealed the epic battle to me in its total glory. Nothing I had heard before or read before prepared me for the actual description of this battle from the Maha-Bharat. The Book of Karna by Adam Bowles is a must for any reader’s library.
The story of Karna-Arjun is deeply engrained in Indian Psyche. Karna, or its modern Hindi usage Karan, is a common name in India and in Bollywood which has tried to bring back this story in different ways. Followers of Bollywood movies will recall that separation of brothers, lost at an early age, has been the foundation for many Bollywood movies. In a few cases, these brothers find themselves on opposing sides. But in the end, lost brothers in Bollywood films always unite. These stories, I believe, all stem from the Karna-Arjun saga.
Arjun has been proved to be totally correct. For the past 2500-3000 years, people have continuously described this battle and will continue to do so as long as the world lives.
In the next few articles, we will do our small part in exploring the Karna-Arjun story.
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