by B P Wadia
© 2003 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet Malmö
The Epic named JAYA
must be listened to by him who desires
—Adi Parva, Mahabharata
Scholarly and very useful work has been done by painstaking Sanskritists at Poona's Bhandarkar Oriental Institute with the recension of the authentic text of the great Epic. That recension of the original text of the Mahabharata is a monument of more than historical significance.
We hope that a team of able men of insight will undertake the task of translating the Mahabharata using the Bhandarkar Institute text. Meantime we continue to be indebted to the translation published in the last century by Pratap Chandra Roy. The bulky volumes of that "close and valuable translation" do not attract many readers among the busy public of our busy civilization. We therefore welcome the result of two new ventures at abridgment; both commencements are based upon that translation. The first is the issue of the Adi and Sabha Parvas by Shri C.V. Srinivasa Rao, M.A., CIE, of Bangalore; the second is "selections from" the Adi and Sabha Parvas by Mr. S.C. Nott of Chelsea, London.
These two condensations are done from different points of view: the former should interest especially many Indians, not only Hindus, but also all who are Indian citizens and who have their roots in the Noble Land of Aryas, whose culture is chronicled in the Mahabharata. Long generations of Hindus have learned the Mahabharata´s lore mainly by osmosis, through hearing the stories and legends repeated for children by their mothers and grandmothers, for the youths by their instructors. Now, when education is dependent chiefly on sight and reading, that osmosis process has stopped its beneficent work. Shri Srinivasa Rao's labor of love in planning an English translation in abridged form will supply a need. The first installment is attractively got up and the contents are very readable. It is "a smaller canvas, but sufficiently large to admit ... as much as possible of this unique epic." This abridgment is being issued in parts and so the ordinary reader will not be frightened by the bulk of the original. The point of view of Shri Rao is not only to present the main story, so very admirably done in verse by the great Indian, Romesh Chunder Dutt, whose handy volume is most attractive. Valuing highly "the greatest work of imagination that Asia has produced," Shri Dutt regrets that "tales, traditions, legends, and myths... found a shelter under the expanding wings of this wonderful epic." His abridged rendition is modeled on the Greek Epics, and it certainly is pleasing and informative and in many respects remains the best version of the main story.
The Mahabharata, however, has many aspects. To quote Shri Srinivasa Rao, it is "an encyclopedia of knowledge and a social history of the times." To give some idea of it to his Western friends and readers Shri Dutt described the heterogeneous contents of the Epic thus:—
"The religious works of Hooker and Jeremy Taylor, the philosophy of Hobbes and Locke, the commentaries of Blackstone and the Ballads of Percy, together with the tractarian writings of Newman, Keble, and Pusey, were all thrown into blank verse and incorporated with the Paradise Lost."
Shri Rao has rightly given in his rendition some mystical and mythical incidents also which will interest many readers. These incidents do not mar the smooth running of the main story, while they bring out some other important features of the colossal Epic.
Allegories, myths, and mystical doctrines are valued by the student of Eastern Occultism. Thus, for example, Shri Dutt mentions, "the 18 battles fought on 18 days." We might add that there are 18 chapters of the Gita; and that the contending armies were divided into 18 army corps. Is this only coincidence? The late Shri T. Subba Row, an Adwaiti philosopher and a devotee of Adi Shankara, states: "The book is called by a name which means 'eighteen.' This number is mysteriously connected with Arjuna."
It was the mystical and the occult current of traditional thought running through the Mahabharata that greatly attracted the late Mr. A.R. Orage —of the very few Europeans who had this intuitive conviction: "What Greek and Roman culture did for the dark ages, I believe the Mahabharata may do for our own benighted age —more, in fact, because it springs from a higher source." With these words, he closed his first contribution to THE ARYAN PATH (Vol. I, page 89, February 1930) entitled "The Next Renaissance."
The second abridged selection mentioned above, which has now been done by Mr. S.C. Nott, is inspired by the memory and work of Mr. Orage. In an Appendix to the volume, a few extracts are given from his writings.
Mr. Orage, a philosopher familiar with Esoteric Doctrines has impressed Mr. Nott, who himself is attracted by the Occult; therefore in his selection the student of the Gupta Vidya, the Secret Science, will find many thought-provoking, clarifying, and uplifting ideas.
H.P. Blavatsky believed in the esoteric character of the Mahabharata. She says that the allegorical descriptions are full of significance to the students of the Secret Doctrine. In another place she writes: "The Mahabharatan War, which to the Europeans is the fabulous, to the Hindus and Occultists the historical."
The Epic is also designated as Niti-Shastra —Code of Morality: how men and women of all ages, different castes and classes, various stages and statures, should behave. Especially is this to be found in the Shanti Parva and in the magnificent discourse of Bhishma.
Or take this: For those who aspire to live the Higher Life a teaching is offered for practice. This piece of practical instruction is to be found in the Anugita, which like the more popular Bhagavad Gita is part of the great Epic. The Instructor says:—
"I have crossed beyond that very impassable place, in which fancies are the gadflies and mosquitoes, in which grief and joy are cold and heat, in which delusion is the blinding darkness, in which avarice is the beasts of prey and reptiles, in which desire and anger are the obstructers, the way to which consists in worldly objects, and is to be crossed by one singly. I have entered the great forest."
Then follows the description:
"There is nothing else more delightful than that, when there is no distinction from it. There is nothing more afflicting than that, when there is a distinction from it. There is nothing smaller than that; there is nothing larger than that. There is nothing subtler than that; there is no other happiness equal to that. Entering it, the twice-born do not grieve, and do not exult. They are not afraid of anybody, and nobody is afraid of them. In that forest are seven large trees, seven fruits, and seven guests, seven hermitages, seven forms of concentration, and seven forms of initiation. This is the description of the forest."
H.P. Blavatsky has spoken of the Anugita as "a very occult treatise" and quoting at some length from it offers explanations that the earnest student of psycho-philosophy will do well to read.
This Epic is great (Mahat) and weighty (Bharavat) and of it, there is this record:— "Where the Bharata is read, there all sins subside, and there prosperity, fame and knowledge flourish in all joy."
B. P. WADIA
From "Thus have I heard", pages 158-162. Utgiven av Indian Institute of World Culture, 1959.
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