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The Mahabharata

Book 6: Bhishma Parva

Kisari Mohan Ganguli, tr.


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This book of the Mahabharata is important for two reasons. First of all, it contains the Bhagavad Gita, the best-known Hindu sacred text. Secondly, this book describes the start of the enormous battle which is the center-piece of the work, specifically the first ten days of conflict, up to the fate of the hero Bhishma.

The Bhishma Parva starts with an overture of apocalyptic and unnatural portents. It then immediately digresses into a treatise on geography and natural history--one of several texts which the great epic accreted over time.

After this comes the Bhagavad Gita, which unlike some of the other digressions, is a good thematic fit in the narrative. Arjuna, facing a battle in which he will have to fight many of his immediate relatives, is understandably hesitant to fight. The Avatar Krishna then proceeds to explain to Arjuna why he must fulfill his duty as a warrior, and how he can emerge from this spiritual crisis of conscience with a clean slate. This text deals with the contradictions of living a devotional life in an imperfect world. Even non-Hindus have found the Gita meaningful for this reason. Then Krishna reveals to Arjuna his divine form; this section is one of the best attempts to describe the indescribable ever written.

Finally we move on to the battle itself, which occupies two-thirds of Book 6, a relentless and immersive description of the horror of war. This is literally a blow-by-blow description of each incident of combat over a period of ten days. And this is no ordinary battle. The combatants absorb incredible numbers of arrows and are still standing, ready to fight the next day. The field is stalked by vampires and cannibals. There are rivers and oceans of blood and gore. The heroes wield superweapons and magic spells, only described elliptically, with which they slay thousands of opponents at a time. And at the end we learn how Bhishma, the undefeatable leader of Duryodhana's army, is finally brought down.

--John Bruno Hare, January 23, 2004.

Title Page

Jamvu-khanda Nirmana Parva

Section I
Section II
Section III
Section IV
Section V
Section VI
Section VII
Section VIII
Section IX
Section X

Bhumi Parva

Section XI
Section XII

Bhagavat-Gita Parva

Section XIII
Section XIV
Section XV
Section XVI
Section XVII
Section XVIII
Section XIX
Section XX
Section XXI
Section XXII
Section XXIII
Section XXIV
Section XXV (Bhagavad Gita Chapter I)
Section XXVI (Bhagavad Gita Chapter II)
Section XXVII (Bhagavad Gita Chapter III)
Section XXVIII (Bhagavad Gita Chapter IV)
Section XXIX (Bhagavad Gita Chapter V)
Section XXX (Bhagavad Gita Chapter VI)
Section XXXI (Bhagavad Gita Chapter VII)
Section XXXII (Bhagavad Gita Chapter VIII)
Section XXXIII (Bhagavad Gita Chapter IX)
Section XXXIV (Bhagavad Gita Chapter X)
Section XXXV (Bhagavad Gita Chapter XI)
Section XXXVI (Bhagavad Gita Chapter XII)
Section XXXVII (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XIII)
Section XXXVIII (Bhagavad Gita Chapter XIV)
Section XXXIX (Bhagavad Gita Chapter XV)
Section XL (Bhagavad Gita Chapter XVI)
Section XLI (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVII)
Section XLII (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVIII)
Section XLIII
Section XLIV
Section XLV
Section XLVI
Section XLVII
Section XLVIII
Section XLIX
Section L
Section LI
Section LII
Section LIII
Section LIV
Section LV
Section LVI
Section LVII
Section LVIII
Section LIX
Section LX
Section LXI
Section LXII
Section LXIII
Section LXIV
Section LXV
Section LXVI
Section LXVII
Section LXVIII
Section LXIX
Section LXX
Section LXXI
Section LXXII
Section LXXIII
Section LXXIV
Section LXXV
Section LXXVI
Section LXXVII
Section LXXIX
Section LXXX
Section LXXXI
Section LXXXII
Section LXXXIV
Section LXXXV
Section LXXXVI
Section LXXXIX
Section XC
Section XCI
Section XCII
Section XCIII
Section XCIV
Section XCV
Section XCVI
Section XCVII
Section XCVIII
Section XCIX
Section C
Section CI
Section CII
Section CIII
Section CIV
Section CV
Section CVI
Section CVII
Section CVIII
Section CIX
Section CX
Section CXI
Section CXII
Section CXIII
Section CXIV
Section CXV
Section CXVI
Section CXVII
Section CXVIII
Section CXIX
Section CXX
Section CXXI
Section CXXII
Section CXXIII
Section CXXIV