Scholastic India has brought out the Mahabharata for children in two volumes, written by Soma Guha, a journalist and writer who passed away only last year after a short but eventful life. The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of India, the other being the Ramayana. Valued for its literary merit and its religious inspiration, the Mahabharata has all the ingredients that make for a good story?intrigue, romance, politics and adventure.
Volume One is called The Game and it begins with the birth of the great patriarch of the Kuru clan, Bhishma and follows the destiny of Pandavs and Kauravs until it becomes obvious that war between the two clans is inevitable. Volume Two is called The War and depicts how the Pandavs and Kauravs are pulled into the vortex of a war that divides a family and pits everyone against the other. It traces the bloody conflict with its stories of bravery, loyalty and deceit, right up to the final battle between two giants.
In the first volume, Shantanu, the king of Hastinapur has a short-lived marriage with Goddess Ganga who gives birth to her youngest son called Devavrata (later called Bhishma) after giving birth to seven older siblings of Bhishma. The siblings were drowned by Mother Ganga herself soon after they were born due to a curse upon them. Bhishma becomes the heir apparent to the throne of Hastinapur.
Shantanu comes across Satyavati, who is the daughter of a fisherman and he wants to marry her. Her father refuses to consent to the marriage unless King Shantanu promises to make any future son of Satyavati the king upon his death. The king is caught in a dilemma till Devavrata agrees not to take the throne and vows to observe lifelong celibacy to ensure his father'spromise to make Satyavati'sfuture son as the heir.
Shantanu has two sons by Satyavati and they are Chitrangad and Vichitravirya. Upon Shantanu'sdeath, Chitrangad becomes king. After his death, Vichitravirya rules Hastinapur. Bhishma arranges a swayamvar (a marriage competition) in Kashi of the three princesses Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. Vichitravirya is married to Ambika and Ambalika, but dies young without any heir. Satyavati then asks her first son Vyas (born before her marriage to King Shantanu) to go to Vichitravirya'swidow and give them the divine vision of giving birth to sons without losing their chastity. Vyas sires the royal children? Dhritarashtra, who is born blind and Pandu, who is born pale. Through a maid of the widows, he also fathers their commoner half-brother Vidura.
Pandu marries twice, to Kunti and Madri. Dhritarashtra is married to Gandhari, who blindfolds herself when she finds her husband is blind. Pandu takes the throne because of Dhritarashtra'sblindness. Pandu while out hunting deer, is however cursed that if he engages in a sexual act he would die. He retires to the forest along with his two wives while his bother Dhritarashtra rules thereafter despite his blindness. Pandu'selder queen, Kunti however asks the gods Dharma, Vayu and Indra for sons by using a boon granted by Sage Durvasha. She gives birth to three sons?Yudhishthir, Bheem and Arjun through these gods. Kunti shares her boon with the younger queen Madri, who bears the twins Nakul and Sahadev through the Ashwini twins.
Dhritarashtra has a hundred sons through Gandhari, the Kaurav brothers, the eldest being Duryodhan. There is rivalry between the sets of cousins, from their youth and into manhood. Duryodhan tries to get rid of the Pandavs by killing them by setting fire to their palace but as the Pandavs were warned by their uncle Vidura, they escape to safety and go into hiding. Bhishma goes to River Ganga to perform the last rites of the people found dead in the burned palace. Vidura then informs him that the Pandavs are alive and tells him to keep the secret to himself.
In the course of their exile, the Pandavs are informed of a swayamvar, of the Panchala princess, Draupadi. The Pandavs enter the competition. Most of the princes fail in the competition where a fish is the target on the ceiling meant to be shot down with a steel bow by looking at its reflection in the water below. Arjun however succeeds and he returns with his brother and bride to his mother.
After the wedding, the Pandav brothers are invited back to Hastinapur. The Kuru elders and relatives negotiate and broker a split of the kingdom, with the Pandavs getting new land. Neither the Pandavs nor the Kauravs are happy with the arrangement. Yudhishthir wishes to establish his seniority and seeks Krishna'sadvice who does so. Yudhishthir carries out a yagna to be recognised as pre-eminent among the kings.
Sakuni, Duryodhan'suncle, arranges a dice game which is played against Yudhishthir with a loaded dice. Yudhishthir loses his wealth and kingdom. He even gambles his bothers and wife Draupadi and loses. The jubilant Kauravs insult the Pandavs further by disrobing Draupadi in front of the entire court.
In the second volume, Krishna advises the Pandavs to send an emissary to Dhritarashtra'scourt to negotiate for restoration of Yudhishthir'sshare of half the kingdom. But Duryodhan refuses to relent despite Bhishma warning him, ?When Krishna and Arjun board the same chariot, doom stares the Kauravs in the face.? He also tells the Kauravs, ?Arjun enjoys the protection of Krishna himself. If he chooses to, Krishna can send a proud warrior like you into instant oblivion.?
Duryodhan glances at Bhishma, ?We don'tlag behind the Pandavs in weaponry, skill or troops, and yet you always glorify the enemy?I don'tneed you or anyone else for support.?
Meanwhile Krishna knows that a war is approaching fast.
The two sides summon vast armies to their help in the famous Kurukshetra war. In this war Krishna acts as the charioteer for Arjun. Before the battle, Arjun faces his great uncle Bhishma on the other side and refuses to attack his own kinsman. It is then Krishna advises him to stand up to his call of duty. In the battle Bhishma fights to the death like a roaring lion. At last Arjun cunningly shoots arrows into Bhishma who drops to rest on a bed of arrows. Silence descends on the earth. Fifty-eight days he spends on his bed of arrows till the sun rises in the north. Telling Dhritarashtra not to grieve, Bhishma takes leave of Krishna and entreats, ?Allow me to depart. Remember always to stand by truth. For truth remains the greatest strength.? One by one, the piercing arrows fall off leaving the body whole and unmarked. The Pandavs decide to renounce everything and retire to the Himalayas. A stray dog travels with them. One by one the brothers and Draupadi fall while Yudhishthir and his dog who in reality is God Dharma reach heaven.
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