Introduction to The Maha-Bharata, Vol. 1

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Offering obeisances and asking for blessings

mukam karoti vacalam

pangum langhayate girim

yat krpa tam aham vande

sri gurum dina-taranam

I offer my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual master, the deliverer of the fallen souls. His mercy turns a dumb man into an eloquent person, and enables the lame to cross mountains.

nama om visnu-padaya krsna-presthaya bhu-tale

srimate bhaktivedanta-svamin iti namine

I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krishna, having taken shelter at His lotus feet.

namas te sarasvate deve gaura-vani-pracarine

irvisesa-sunyavadi-pascatya-desa-tarine

Our respectful obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Sarasvati Gosvami. You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Caitanyadeva and delivering the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism.

 

Without him the Maha-bharata would not have been read nor would we have been able to tell it later. Therefore this edition of the Maha-bharata exists through his merit.

 

All glories to His Divine Grace Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada!

 

 

 

Introduction

The epoch: five thousand years ago; the place: a quiet and luxuriant forest of India; the setting: a conclave of holy ascetics. Suta Gosvami, a young yet already renowned sage arrives. The ascetics ask about his last pilgrimages and Suta tells of having witnessed a great sacrifice, during which Vaishampayana, one of the disciples of the famous Vyasa, tells the wonderful story called Maha-bharata. Saunaka asks Suta to faithfully repeat everything he has heard, and the latter willingly accepts.

Thus began the Maha-bharata of Vyasa, one of the most magnificent works that humanity has ever seen.

 

Why did you write the Maha-bharata?

Let’s start by saying the most obvious thing, and that is that I didn’t write it, in the sense that I’m not the author. The author is Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa. In a sense he is not, either, since the Maha-bharata, like the Ramayana, is not a novel, but a history book that narrates real events. It is probably one of the oldest history texts existing on our planet. I have done nothing but retell the events.

The reason why I’ve done this is simple: I am deeply in love with it. The characters, the story, the philosophy it contains can make anyone fall in love with them. This is one of those rare books that you wish would never end and of which, once you get to the last page, you immediately begin to miss, as if you were suddenly exiled from that world populated by extraordinary characters and, in order to return to be part of it, you would rather start reading all over again.

 

Some notes from scholars and friends

Before sending the volume to print, I gave the “manuscript” (in a poetic sense, almost no one now writes by hand) to several people who have made various observations, some of which will surely come to your mind too. That’s why I think it would be helpful to talk briefly about it in this introductory column.

 

The most frequent criticism I’ve received is this:

“The Maha-bharata is indeed a history text, as it tells a series of real events, but it is also a philosophical book, and it seemed to me that this edition contains few and sparse notes on philosophy and theology. It would have been appropriate for you to have commented more extensively about the issues.”

I’ve responded in these terms:

When writing an article or a book, the impossibility of satisfying everyone’s needs and opinions, at least in the same text, is a common experience. I had to face serious problems of space, and if I had had to deal with all the philosophical problems proposed, the volume of the book would had been significantly affected[1].

So, I made a choice: in this work I would essentially limit myself to recounting historical facts, while in other publications I would deal with the philosophical discussion. I believe this is the best way to avoid harming either aspect.

It should be noted, however, that there is no shortage of hints at all, and sometimes quite extensive, of the spiritualistic philosophy of which India is supremely rich; see above all the eighty-eighth paragraph of Bhishma Parva, the one in which Krishna speaks the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna.

 

Why not the full book?

 Another question asked is:

“Why, instead of summarizing it, you haven’t translated it in full?”

The reason is obvious: because the original is too large. Just think that it is seven times longer than the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. That’s over 100,000 verses! It would have been an impractical commitment, especially from a financial point of view, which for us was impossible to assume. Yet, this does not exclude that this can be done in the future[2].

 However, we believe that the main story has been told without any manipulation.

 

Sanskrit terms

This note regards those who find problems with the numerous Sanskrit terms:

Certainly, some of you will find it difficult getting acquainted with the many names of people, places and terms in the story as you belong to another culture and speak a different language. To help you, we have included in the last pages of the book a glossary with all the names and terms in the Sanskrit language. We recommend that you use it as needed.

 

We dedicate this work

We dedicate this work to Sri Krishna Bhagavan, to whom we owe everything and to the maha-bhagavata (Srila Prabhupada), without whom we would not be so fortunate to be able to discuss these issues with the bhaktas, for whom I have narrated the Maha-bharata.

 

About errors…

It may be that you’ll find errors in this book. In this regard, I would like to mention the Srimad-Bhagavatam verse 1.5.11, which says:

tad-vag-visargo janatagha-viplavo

yasmin prati-slokam abaddhavaty api

namany anantasya yaso ’nkitani yat

srnvanti gayanti grnanti sadhavah

“On the other hand, that literature which is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, forms, pastimes, etc., of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a different creation, full of transcendental words directed toward bringing about a revolution in the impious lives of this world’s misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though imperfectly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.”

So if you find any errors in this edition of the Maha-bharata, please forgive us. We went to great lengths to give you a perfect book. But we are sure you will enjoy it anyway.

 

Acknowledgements

We could not leave you to read the Maha-bharata without first thanking those who have selflessly offered their service for this book to be published. We therefore offer our warmest thanks to Bhaktin Rosario, Bhakta Andy, Isvara Dasa and Madhavendra Puri Dasa.

 

 

The time has come! We are leaving you with the Maha-bharata.

 

 

Manonatha Dasa (ACBSP)

Rome, July 21, 1992

The first edition in Italian was published on July 1992.

[1] I wrote this introduction in 1991, when there was no Amazon or other companies that print and sell books “on demand”. The problem of the size of the book does not exist today but then it was a serious obstacle.

[2] And in fact today is just what we are doing. We will publish as soon as possible the complete Maha-bharata, verse by verse.

 

This is a section of the book “Maha-bharata, Vol. 1”.

To buy the complete book, click above

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