Janamejaya said, "O holy one, according to what rites should the learned listen to the Bharata? What are the fruits (acquirable by hearing it)? What deities are to be worshipped during the several paranas? What should be the gifts that one should make, O holy one, at every parva or sacred day (during the continuance of the recitation)? What should be the qualification of the reciter to be engaged? Tell me all this!
Vaishampayana said, "Hear, O king, what the procedure is, and what the fruits, O Bharata, are that will spring from ones listening (to a recitation of the Bharata). Even this, O king of kings, is what thou askest me. The deities of Heaven, O ruler of Earth, came to this world for sport. Having achieved their task, they ascended once more to Heaven. Listen to what I shall tell thee in brief. In the Mahabharata is to be found the births of Rishis and deities on the Earth. In this treatise, called Bharata, O foremost one of Bharatas race, are to be seen in one place the eternal Rudras, the Saddhyas, and the Viswedevas; the Adityas, the two deities named the Ashvinis, the regents of the World, the great Rishis, the Guhyakas, the Gandharvas, the Nagas, the Vidyadharas, the Siddhas, the diverse deities, the Self-born visible in a body, with many ascetics; the Hills and Mountains, Oceans and Seas and Rivers, the diverse tribes of Apsaras; the Planets, the Years, the Half-years, and the Seasons; and the whole universe of mobile and immobile entities, with all the gods and Asuras.
"Hearing their celebrity, and in consequence of a recitation of their names and achievements, a man that has committed even terrible sins, will be cleansed. Having, with a concentrated soul and cleansed body, heard this history duly, from the beginning, and having reached its end, one should make Sraddha offerings, O Bharata, unto those (foremost of persons who have been mentioned in it). Unto the Brahmanas also, O chief of Bharatas race, should, with due devotion and according to ones power, be made large gifts and diverse kinds of gems, and kine, and vessels of white brass for milking kine, and maidens decked with every ornament, and possessed of every accomplishment suited to enjoyment, as also diverse kinds of conveyances, beautiful mansions, plots of land, and cloths. Animals also should be given, such as horses and elephants in rage, and beds, and covered conveyances borne on the shoulders of men, and well-decked cars. Whatever objects occur in the house, of the foremost kind, whatever wealth of great value occurs in it, should be given away unto Brahmanas. Indeed, one should give away ones own self, wives, and children.
"One desirous of hearing the Bharata, should hear it without a doubting heart, with cheerfulness and joy; and as, he proceeds listening to its recitation, he should according to the extent of his power, make gifts with great devotion.
"Hear how a person that is devoted to truth and sincerity, that is self-restrained, pure (in mind), and observant of those acts which lead to purity of body, that is endued with faith, and that has subjugated wrath, attains to success (in the matter of a recitation of the Bharata). He should appoint as reciter one that is pure (of body), that is endued with good and pious conduct, that should be robed in white, that should have a complete mastery over his passions, that is cleansed of all offences, that is conversant with every branch of learning, that is endued with faith, that is free from malice, that is possessed of handsome features, that is blessed, self-restrained, truthful, and with passions under control, and that is beloved of all for the gifts he makes and the honours of which he is the possessor.
"The reciter, seated at his ease, free from all bodily complaints, and with rapt attention, should recite the text without too much slowness, without a labouring voice, without being fast or quick, quietly, with sufficient energy, without confusing the letters and words together, in a sweet intonation and with such accent and emphasis as would indicate the sense giving full utterance to the three and sixty letters of the alphabet from the eight places of their formation. Bowing unto Narayana, and to Nara, that foremost of men, as also to the goddess Sarasvati, should the word Jaya be uttered.
"Listening to the Bharata, O king, when recited, O thou of Bharatas race, by a reader of this kind, the listener, observant of vows all the while and cleansed by purificatory rites, acquires valuable fruits. When the first Parana is reached, the hearer should gratify Brahmanas with presents of all desirable objects. By doing this, one obtains the fruits of the Agnishtoma sacrifice. He acquires a large (celestial) car teeming with diverse orders of Apsaras (that wait upon him). With a glad heart, and with the deities in his company, he proceeds to Heaven, his heart rapt (in felicity).
"When the second Parana is reached, the hearer acquires the fruits of the Atiratra vow. Indeed, he ascends a celestial car made entirely of precious gems. Wearing celestial garlands and robes, and decked with celestial unguents and always shedding a celestial fragrance around, he receives high honours in Heaven.
"When the third Parana is reached, he acquires the fruits of the Dwadasaha vow. Indeed be resides in Heaven for myriads of years, like a god.
"At the fourth Parana he acquires the fruits of the Vajapeya sacrifice.
"At the fifth, twice those fruits are his. Ascending a celestial car that resembles the rising sun or a blazing fire, and with the deities for his companions, he goes to Heaven and sports in felicity for myriads of years in the abode of Indra.
"At the sixth Parana, twice, and at the seventh, thrice those fruits become his. Ascending a celestial car that resembles the summit of the Kailasa mountains (in beauty), that is equipt with an altar made of stones of lapis lazuli and other precious gems, that is surrounded by beautiful objects of diverse kinds, that is decked with gems and corals, that moves at the will of the rider, and that teems with waiting Apsaras, he roves through all the regions of felicity, like a second deity of the Sun.
"At the eight Parana, he acquires the fruits of the Rajasuya sacrifice. He ascends a car as beautiful as the rising moon, and unto which are yoked steeds white as the rays of the moon and endued with the speed of thought. He is served by women of the foremost beauty and whose faces are more charming than the moon. He hears the music of the garlands that encircle their waists and the Nupuras encircling their ankles. Sleeping with his head resting on the laps of women of transcendent beauty, he awakes greatly refreshed.
"At the ninth Parana, he acquires, O Bharata, the fruits of that foremost of sacrifices, viz., the Horse-sacrifice. Ascending on a car equipt with a chamber consisting of a top supported by columns of gold, furnished with a seat made of stones of lapis lazuli, with windows on all sides made of pure gold, and teeming with waiting Apsaras and Gandharvas and other celestials, he blazes forth in splendour. Wearing celestial garlands and robes, and decked with celestial unguents, he sports in bliss, with deities for his companions, in Heaven, like a second deity himself.
"Reaching the tenth Parana and gratifying Brahmanas, he acquires a car which tinkles with innumerable bells, which is decked with flags and banners, which is equipt with a seat made of precious gems, which has many arches made of lapis lazuli, which has a net-work of gold all round, which has turrets made of corals, which is adorned with Gandharvas and Apsaras well-skilled in singing, and which is fit for the residence of the Righteous. Crowned with a diadem of the complexion of fire, decked with ornaments of gold, his person smeared with celestial sandalpaste, garnished with celestial wreaths, he roves through all celestial regions, enjoying all celestial objects of enjoyment, and endued with great splendour, through the grace of the deities.
"Thus accoutred, he receives high honours in Heaven for many long years. With Gandharvas in his company, for full 21,000 years, he sports in bliss with Indra himself in abode of Indra. He roves at pleasure every day through the diverse regions of the gods, riding on celestial cars and conveyances, and surrounded by celestial damsels of transcendent beauty. He is able to go to the abode of the solar deity, of the lunar deity, and of Siva, O king. Indeed, he succeeds in living in the same region with Vishnu himself. It is even so, O monarch. There is no doubt in this. A person listening with faith, becomes even so. My preceptor has said this. Unto the reciter should be given all such objects as he may wish. Elephants and steeds and cars and conveyances, especially animals and the vehicles they draw, a bracelet of gold, a pair of ear-rings, sacred threads, beautiful robes, and perfumes in especial (should be given). By worshipping him as a deity one attains to the regions of Vishnu.
"After this I shall declare what should be given away, as each parva is reached of the Bharata in course of its recitation, unto brahmanas, after ascertaining their birth, country, truthfulness, and greatness, O chief of Bharatas race, as also their inclination for piety, and unto kshatriyas too, O king, after ascertainment of similar particulars. Causing the Brahmanas to utter benedictions, the business of recitation should be begun. When a parva is finished, the brahmanas should be worshipped to the best of ones power. At first, the reciter, clad in good robes and smeared with perfumed paste, should, O king, be duly fed with honey and frumenty of the best kind.
"When the Astika-parva is being recited, brahmanas should be entertained with fruits and roots, and frumenty, and honey and clarified butter, and rice boiled with raw sugar.
"When the Sabha-parva is being recited, brahmanas should be fed with habisya along with apupas and pupas and modakas, O king.
"When the Aranyaka-parva is being recited, superior brahmanas should be fed with fruits and roots.
"When the Arani-parva is reached, water-pots full of water should be given away. Many superior kinds of delicious food, also rice and fruits and roots, and food possessed of every agreeable attribute, should be presented unto the brahmanas.
"During the recitation of the Virata-parva diverse kinds of robes should be given away; and during that of the Udyoga-parva, O chief of the Bharatas, the twice-born ones, after being decked with perfumes and garlands, should be entertained with food possessed of every agreeable quality.
"During the recitation of the Bhishma-parva, O king of kings, after giving them excellent cars and conveyances, food should be given that is pure and well-cooked and possessed of every desirable attribute.
"During the Drona-parva food of very superior kind should be given to learned brahmanas, as also beds, O monarch, and bows and good swords.
"During the recitation of the Karna-parva, food of the foremost kind, besides being pure and well-cooked, should be presented unto the brahmanas by the house-holder with rapt mind.
"During the recitation of the Shalya-parva, O king of kings, food with confectionery and rice boiled with raw sugar, as also cakes of wheat and soothing and nutritive viands and drinks should be presented.
"During the recitation of the Gada-parva, brahmanas should be entertained with food mixed with mudga.
"During the recitation of the Stri-parva, foremost of brahmanas should be entertained with gems and precious stones; and during the recitation of the Aishika-parva, rice boiled in ghee should first be given, and then food pure and well-cooked, and possessed of every desirable quality, should be presented.
"During the recitation of the Shanti-parva, the brahmanas should be fed with havisya.
"When the Asvamedhika-parva is reached, food possessed of every agreeable quality should be given; and when the Asramvasika is reached, brahmanas should be entertained with havisya.
"When the Mausala is reached, scents and garlands possessed of agreeable qualities should be given away.
"During the Mahaprasthanika, similar presents should be made, possessed of every quality of an agreeable kind.
"When the Svarga-parva is reached, the brahmanas should be fed with havisya.
"Upon the conclusion of the Harivansa, a 1,000 brahmanas should be fed. Unto each of them should be presented a cow accompanied with a piece of gold. Half of this should be presented to each poor man, O king.
"Upon the conclusion of all the Parvas, the house-holder of wisdom should give unto the reciter a copy of the Mahabharata with a piece of gold. When the Harivansa Parva is being recited, Brahmanas should be fed with frumenty at each successive Parana, O king. Having finished all the Parvas, one versed in the scriptures, robing himself in white, wearing garlands, decked with ornaments, and properly purified, should place a copy of the Mahabharata on an auspicious spot and cover it with a piece of silken cloth and worship it, according to due rites, with scents and garlands, offering each at a time. Indeed, O king, the several volumes of this treatise should be worshipped by one with devotion and concentrated mind. Offerings should be made unto them of diverse kinds of food and garlands and drinks and diverse auspicious articles of enjoyment. Gold and other precious metals should be given as Dakshina. The names should then be taken of all the deities as also of Nara and Narayana. Then, adorning the persons of some foremost of Brahmanas with scents and garlands, they should be gratified with diverse kinds of gifts of enjoyable and very superior or costly articles. By doing this, one attains to the merits of the Atiratra sacrifice. Indeed, at each successive Parva, he acquires the merits that attach to the performance of a sacrifice. The reciter, O chief of the Bharatas, should be possessed of learning and endued with a good voice and a clear utterance respecting both letters and words. Even such a man should, O chief of the Bharatas, recite the Bharata. After entertaining a number of foremost Brahmanas, presents should be made unto them according to the ordinances. The reciter also, O chief of the Bharatas, should be decked with ornaments and fed sumptuously. The reciter being gratified, the house-holder attains to an excellent and auspicious contentment. If the Brahmanas are gratified, all the deities are gratified. After this, O chief of the Bharatas, Brahmanas should be duly entertained with diverse kinds of enjoyable articles and superior things.
"I have thus indicated the ordinances, O foremost of men, (about the manner of reciting these scriptures) in answer to thy enquiries. Thou shouldst observe them with faith. In listening to a recitation of the Bharata and at each Parana, O best of kings, one that desires to attain to the highest good should listen with the greatest care and attention. One should listen to the Bharata every day. One should proclaim the merits of the Bharata every day. One in whose house the Bharata occurs, has in his hands all those scriptures which are known by the name of Jaya. The Bharata is cleansing and sacred. In the Bharata are diverse topics. The Bharata is worshipped by the very gods. The Bharata is the highest goal. The Bharata, O chief of the Bharatas, is the foremost of all scriptures. One attains to Emancipation through the Bharata. This that I tell thee is certain truth. One that proclaims the merits of this history called the Mahabharata, of the Earth, of the cow, of Sarasvati (the goddess of speech), of Brahmanas, and of Keshava, has never to languish.
"In the Vedas, in the Ramayana, and in the sacred Bharata, O chief of Bharatas race, Hari is sung in the beginning, the middle, and at the end. That in which occur excellent statements relating to Vishnu, and the eternal Srutis, should be listened to by men desirous of attaining to the highest goal. This treatise is sanctifying. This is the highest indicator as regards duties; this is endued with every merit. One desirous of prosperity should listen to it. Sins committed by means of the body, by means of words, and by means of the mind, are all destroyed (through listening to the Bharata) as Darkness at sunrise. One devoted to Vishnu acquires (through this) that merit which is acquired by listening to the eighteen Puranas. There is no doubt in this. Men and women (by listening to this) would certainly attain to the status of Vishnu. Women desirous of having children should certainly listen to this which proclaims the fame of Vishnu. One desirous of attaining to the fruits that attach to a recitation of the Bharata should, according to ones power, give unto the reciter Dakshina, as also an honorarium in gold. One desirous of ones own good should give unto the reciter a Kapila cow with horns cased in gold and accompanied by her calf, covered with a cloth. Ornaments, O chief of Bharatas race, for the arms, as also those for the ears, should be given. Besides these, other kinds of wealth should be presented. Unto the reciter, O king of men, gift of land should be made. No gift like that of land could ever be or will be. The man that listens (to the Bharata) or that recites it to other people, becomes cleansed of all his sins and attains at last to the status of Vishnu. Such a man rescues his ancestors to the eleventh degree, as also himself with his wives and sons, O chief of Bharatas race. After concluding a recitation of the Bharata, one should, O king, perform a Homa with all its ten parts.
"I have thus, O chief of men, told everything in thy presence. He that listens with devotion to this Bharata from the beginning becomes cleansed of every sin even if he be guilty of Brahmanicide or the violation of his preceptors bed, or even if he be a drinker of alcohol or a robber of other peoples wares, or even if he be born in the Chandala order. Destroying all his sins like the maker of day destroying darkness, such a man, without doubt, sports in felicity in the region of Vishnu like Vishnu himself."
The End of the Svargarohanika-parva
The Eighteen parvas of the Mahabharata are thus completed