Series: Mahabharata Unveiled : Q&A Edition
Book Title: Aranyaka Parva Explorations - Mahabharat Book 3
Dive into Lengthy Topics with Short Questions and Answers
English is undeniably an international language, and the fact that you’re reading this book signifies our shared ability to communicate through this common language of writing and reading. Yet, every language possesses distinct strengths and inherent weaknesses. Over time, certain languages have gained prominence due to business demands and governmental preferences. In the English language, we use two distinct words: ‘History’ and ‘Mythology.’
Understanding ancient texts within their rightful context isn’t a simple task. Without this context, we risk losing the essence of our humanity. What sets humans apart from other beings on this planet is our possession of language, modes of communication, and the ability to pass knowledge from one generation to the next. We maintain records of events, history, and chronology, analyzing them to draw lessons. The past offers us valuable insights into how events elsewhere in the world might guide us in our society today. However, without accurate documentation and proper analysis, we are at risk of repeating history due to our own ignorance.
Throughout history, societies have utilized various means to document their past. Paintings, music, books, architectural structures, inscriptions on walls, and even cave art are among these methods. However, the advent of the digital revolution is transforming these traditions. Today, much of our work is digitally stored. Yet, there remains a concern that if a catastrophic event were to occur, eradicating a significant portion of humanity, future generations might struggle to access information from today’s digital devices. Our current understanding of the past largely relies on inscriptions on walls or ancient manuscripts.
The term ‘History’ refers to an account of past events, as interpreted by the historian (the writer). Different historians can interpret the same event in diverse ways. The sequencing of events and the actors involved are crucial elements in understanding these historical events. The interpretation of historical events varies based on a historian’s affiliations, available facts, and personal perspectives. Consequently, different historians might offer varying interpretations of the same sequence of events. While recording history, the primary focus remains on the truth behind events—whether they occurred, the manner in which they transpired, and the involved actors. The narrative of history often reflects the historian’s desire to substantiate claims, personal biases, intellectual capacity, disposition, or inclinations.
In Bharat, two immensely popular texts hold significant cultural importance: the oldest being the Ramayana, followed by the Mahabharata. In the English language, these epics are regarded as ‘History,’ while in the Bharatiya language, they are known as ‘Itihas.’ ‘Itihas’ is a Sanskrit term that translates to ‘as it happened,’ taking into account ‘Dharma’ (one’s duties as per their position, location, and time). While narrating ‘Itihas,’ the emphasis is less on the actions of figures like Rama or Arjuna and more on their adherence to their respective Dharma. The author of ‘Itihas’ lives in the time of the events, acting as a witness rather than an active participant. They strive to maintain an impartial and self-realized perspective.
Mythology refers to stories that are not considered factual but rather mythical. They are narratives created within the human mind to entertain, impart moral lessons, or serve various other purposes.
In Bharat, we use two terms: Itihasa and Purana. Despite English being a prevalent global language for communication and understanding, we continue using the terms ‘history’ and ‘mythology’ to convey our narrative to the world. Not only that, but we also often blur the lines between these terms. Many individuals interchangeably use Itihas, history, mythology, and Purana. Those well-versed in texts like Mahabharat, Garuda Purana, or ‘Sivaji and The Rise of the Mahrattas’ distinctly understand the first as Itihas, the second as Purana, and the third as history.
Loosely, some might equate Mythology and Purana. However, Itihas, such as Mahabharat or Ramayana, fall into neither the category of history nor mythology. Referring to Mahabharat as history is an incorrect classification while labeling it as mythology is equally inaccurate.
Mahabharata is an extensive text, comprising approximately 100,000 Sanskrit slokas. Given its ancient Sanskrit origin, comprehending it is challenging for the world. Scholars have consequently written commentaries on this text. Commentaries serve to simplify the text. When we read the Mahabharata in English or Hindi, it is often a translation derived from these commentaries.
However, these commentary books are also extensive, spanning thousands of pages. To make this text accessible to those interested in ancient culture or learning from ancient works, various methods have been attempted. Summarizing chapters or Parvas is one such approach. Some authors have selected specific characters from the book and crafted stories around them. Books, podcasts, TV series, and movies have been inspired by this work.
In my opinion, when people are unfamiliar with a particular work, concise question-and-answer formats or quizzes can spark interest. If someone finds it intriguing, they can explore the complete text from its original or translated source. With this in mind, I am developing this series in a question-answer format. The aim is to pique people’s interest while providing insights from the work of Maharshi Vedvyasa.
Originally named ‘Jaya,’ Mahabharat evolved into ‘Bharat’ and eventually ‘Mahabharat’ over time. This monumental work is attributed to Krishna-Dwaipayana, also known as Vedvyasa or Maharshi Vedvyasad. Within Mahabharat, there are 18 Parvas plus 1 Hari Vansam (a type of Parva). Some English translations refer to Parvas as books. Each Parva contains Sub-Parvas, totaling 98. These Sub-Parvas further consist of multiple Adhyayas, referred to as sections. For the convenience of an international audience, I will use the term ‘sections.’ Mahabharat encompasses a total of 2113 sections or Adhyayas. Each Adhyaya contains numerous Sanskrit slokas.
Numerous translations of Mahabharat exist, with a popular copyright-free version by Kisari Mohan Ganguli (KM Ganguli) (1848–1908) available in the public domain. This edition, known as the Ganguli translation, is written in an older English style and may sometimes pose challenges in interpretation. However, for my work, I sought a copyright-free edition, hence selecting this translation. While creating the question-and-answer format, I have taken care to maintain an English style that I trust readers will comprehend and appreciate alongside the original work. Access to the original translated text is available on this webpage.
Should you find this format conducive to learning historical texts, feel free to share your feedback with us at email@example.com.
Why Question-Answer Format to Learn Mahabharat?
Humans are one of the highly evolved intelligent life in the known cosmos. Asking questions is a sign that humans think and humans are intelligent. No single human being knows the answer to all the questions. But whatever answer we know, it is because we asked questions in our past. People ask questions for various reasons like the following:
- To acquire knowledge
- To eliminate confusion
- To cause someone else to feel special
- To guide a conversation in a direction
- To demonstrate humility to another
- To enable a person to discover answers for themselves
- To gain empathy through a better understanding of another’s view
- To influence/alter someone else’s opinion/view
- To begin a relationship
- To strengthen a relationship
- To humbly show we have knowledge on a specific topic
- To stimulate creativity and idea generation
- To gain a person’s attention
- To solve a problem
- To reach agreement or to “agree to disagree” with clarity
Use of Artificial Intelligence
My doctoral and master’s degrees are in AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP). My thesis was titled ‘AI-Powered Historical Book Question Answering.’ Therefore, I’m utilizing AI technology for this task; otherwise, manually crafting hundreds of questions and ensuring their correctness and relevance would be an extremely challenging endeavor. Even with AI, rigorous quality checks, proofreading, and relevance assessments are essential.
Question answering presents another method of comprehending text. It’s more meaningful when the reader is familiar with the text, having read or heard it. For instance, questions like ‘What did the Rakshasa ask the flaming element?’ gauge the reader’s comprehension of the story. Some readers find these questions stimulating and delve into the full text, while others may opt to skip them. Contrastingly, questions like ‘Who killed Karna?’ don’t necessarily require context; they test general knowledge. Anyone with a basic awareness of the Mahabharata knows who Karna is, and if they don’t, it becomes a general knowledge query for them. Enhancing general knowledge or awareness about the topic can be achieved through two approaches: thorough reading of the entire text or attempting some questions and answers.
Certain questions might yield different answers for the same query in various chapters or contexts. For example, ‘What is the reward for listening to or reading this story?’ or ‘What was the name of the Purana recited by Krishna-Dwaipayana?’ While Krishna-Dwaipayana recited numerous Puranas, the name may differ based on the specific chapter or context. Thus, placing these questions towards the chapter’s end can provide coherence. Alternatively, readers can approach them independently, driven by their interest in the specific text’s full content.
Why different answers to the same question?
If you’re familiar with other translations of Mahabharat and find discrepancies between the answers in this book and your understanding, please notify me. I will assess whether it’s an AI-related issue or stems from differences in primary translation work among the authors.
Every English translation differs in several aspects, including writing style, word choice, story inclusion, and interpretation.
Why Question-Format to learn History?
The objectives of this question-answer format book are as follows:
- Stimulate interest in readers to explore the original text.
- Provide readers with a foundational understanding of the Mahabharata text.
- Validate their comprehension and existing knowledge.
- Acknowledge that different scholars offer diverse interpretations of the original work, leading to varied understandings.
What can you learn from these questions and answers?
- Identifying characters in the Mahabharata book.
- Understanding the relationships among different individuals in the Mahabharata era.
- Determining actions taken by characters.
- Discovering their dwellings.
- Observing their responses to situations.
- Understanding how they managed businesses, relationships, and royal courts, and ensured justice in those times.
- Exploring the types of businesses they engaged in
Missing Sections (Adhyaya)
You may notice that certain sections are absent from this QA compilation. This doesn’t imply their lack of importance. The decision to omit specific sections was made while considering the following criteria:
- To maintain a concise work.
- To avoid redundant questions.
- To minimize context-specific queries.
- To exclude questions related to book statistics, as they may not significantly contribute to the readers’ understanding.
Translation of Sanskrit Word
Mahabharat, originally is a Sanskrit text. Scholars have written commentaries in different languages. In the process of translation when we transcribe the Sanskrit noun then it creates unique challenges for us because the phonetic base of Sanskrit is much broader than the English. Due to this reason when a reader reads Sanskrit words in Latin script’s it it is a painful reading experience for those who don’t know Sanskrit but not any less for those who know Sanskrit.
For the readers of this book, let me make the difference of language and script clear. Language is that which we speak (brain, mouth/tongue coordination), and the script is that which we write and read (hand, eye, and brain coordination). In reading, we may not use our mouths.
I am using American English, which is more popular because of technology, lessor wordy, lessor formal, and social media usage. You may have seen words like following in the old English language (many translations are available in old-style English), worshipped, worshipping, colour, programme, lustre, doeth, etc.
Writing Sanskrit words in Latin script for the English language is challenging. If we do so, then reading nouns in the English text becomes an even more painful experience for Bhartiya people. To address this, translators use non-latin letters like IAST, which can be used to preserve the sound. But that becomes a training issue for most English readers. For example, when we read a word like Yagnya, Pitrya, Swayamvar, or Ganga written in Latin script, we struggle to pronounce the same sound as produced by reading when we read these words from Bhartiya scripts. It is impractical for me to write these Sanskrit terms in all Bhartiya languages. At the time, if I write only in Latin script then this makes native Bhartiya uncomfortable while reading. I have experienced this personally and many people around. Although, nowadays people are using Latin letters to write even Bhartiya languages and it is fine for social media or social interaction but for serious literary work, and serious discussion it is not an appropriate script. Keeping this in mind, I am going to write all Sanskrit words in the Devanagari script along with the Latin script. Those who know the Devanagari script would love to read the book in the flow rather than trying to figure out the correct pronunciation of the words written in Latin letters. For those who cannot read Devanagari, this book remains like any other Bhartiya classical work written in the English language.
The second problem we encounter in English language work around the Bhartiya civilization is the use of non-translatable words. By force, we do that translation and we compromise the original meaning of the Sanskrit word. There are many words like that. Whatever words I found are not the correct interpretation in English I am writing them as original Sanskrit words. Sometimes, if needed I am using suitable English translation.
Third, to read long Sanskrit words written in Latin script is painful therefore I am using hyphenation to make reading easy.
Below is a list of English words in alphabetical order. In the list below # means not. For example Mahabharat - #Mahabharata - महाभारत, Correct spelling of this word, what is not correct spelling, Devanagari spelling of the word. If you familarize yourself with this list then reading would be smoother for you.
- Agnishtoma - अग्निस्तोम
- Ahikshatra - अहिच्छत्र
- Anarta - #Anarttas - अनर्त
- Anartta - अनर्त्त
- Avyakta - अव्यक्त
- Brahmana - ब्राह्मण
- Chyavana - च्यवन
- Dhumraksha - धुम्राक्ष
- Dhundhu - धुन्धु - #ढुन्ढु
- Dvaita - #Dvaita - द्वैतवन
- Faith - Sraddha - श्रद्धा
- Hastinapur - #Hastinapura - हस्तिनापुर
- Hiranyavinda -हिरण्यविन्द
- Ikshwaku - इक्ष्वाकु
- Ishtikrita - इष्टिकृत
- Jnyana - #Gyana - ज्ञान
- Kartavirya - कर्तविर्य
- Kasyapa - कश्यप
- Kshatriya - क्षत्रिय
- Mahabharat - महाभारत
- Mridanga - मृदंग
- Mrittikavati - मृत्तिकावती
- Nairita - नैरित
- Parva - पर्व
- Paurnamasya - पौर्णमासी
- Pitrya - पित्र्य
- Pitrya vow (पित्र्यं व्रतं)
- Sacrifice - Yajnya - #Yagnya - यज्ञ
- Sanskrit - #संस्क्रित - संस्कृत (Even Sanskrit is not correct spelling but it is popular spelling on the internet so I am continuing this spelling)
- Sattva - #Sattwa -सत्व
- Shakti - #Sakti -शक्ति
- Surashtra - Saurashtra - सौराष्ट्र
- Sutasoma - सुतोस्म
- Swayamvar - स्वयंवर
- Triratra - त्रिरात्र
- Tugna - #टुंगा - तुंगा
- Udagdhara - उदगधारा
- Vadhusar - वधुसार
- Vidharbhas - Vidharbha - विधर्व
- Visakhayup - विशाखयूप
- Vishakhayupa - #Visakhayupa - विशाखयूप
- Vrihadyumna -व्रहद्धुम्न
- Vrishaparba - वृषपर्वा
- Vrishaparba - व्रशपर्व
- Vyakta - व्यक्त
- Yog - #Yoga - योग
Some words are interchangeably used in English-translated Vedic literature. In Bhartiya classical literature they are not the same. Because I am using translated text for this work therefore I am not touching this aspect of the Mahabharat translation. For example Daitya, Asura, Rakshsha. Sometimes we roughly translate these to English words Damon and Devil.
Introduction to Mahabharat Book 3: Aranyaka Parva
The Vana Parva, also known as the Aranya Parva, is the third book of the Mahabharata, renowned as the “Book of the Forest.” This extensive Parva extensively details the lives of the Pandavas during their twelve-year exile in the forest, offering vivid descriptions of their discussions, learnings, and experiences during this period. The tales narrated during their forest sojourn remain popular stories, often passed down by generations.
This Parva encompasses the accounts of the Pandavas’ trials and tribulations in the Kamyaka forest, interwoven with sagely discourses, sage counsel, and interactions with celestial beings. Notably, the preparations for the impending war by the Pandavas are also explored in this Parva. This Parva is rich in philosophical discourse, moral lessons, and gripping narratives that delve into human dilemmas, relationships, and the complexities of life.
The Ganguli edition of the Vana Parva comprises 21 sub-parvas, totaling 312 chapters, and covers various episodes and teachings. The number of sub-parva, number of chapters or sections or adhyaya under Parva or sub-parva, and number of slokas in a parva, sub-parva, and section are not the same in all the translations of Mahabharat. Here are the sub-parvas within the Vana Parva:
- Aranyaka Parva: The Pandavas’ exile to the Kamyaka forest, advice from sages, and discussions with Vidura and Vyasa.
- Kirmira-vadha Parva (Slaying of Kirmira): Bhima’s battle and victory over the man-eating demon Kirmira.
- Arjun-abhigamana Parva (The travels of Arjuna): Introduces Krishna, discusses the perils of gambling, debates on virtue, wealth, and pleasure, and Arjuna’s quest for celestial weapons.
- Kairata Parva (Kirata Parva) (Shiva, mountain-dwelling hunter): Arjuna’s penance and encounter with the god of Pinaka, disguised as Kirata.
- Indraloka-gamana Parva: Arjuna’s visit to heaven, the celestial weapons bestowed upon him, and encounters with gods.
- Nal-opakhyana Parva (Story of Nala): The tale of Nala and Damayanti, recounting love, separation, tribulations, and eventual reunion.
- The Tirtha-yatra Parva (Pilgrimage): Sage Narada visits the Pandava brothers during their exile and suggests undertaking a pilgrimage to various sacred sites in India. He guides them on the directions and benefits of visiting these tirthas (holy places), including Kurukshetra, Ganga, Yamuna, Prayaga, Pratisthana, and Brahmasara. Along their journey, the Pandavas encounter numerous tales, including the story of Ushinara, a pigeon, and a hawk, which delves into concepts of dharma and conflicting virtues. Other narratives narrate the significance of rituals, karma, and philosophical discussions on morality.
- Jatasura Vadha (Slaying of Jatasura) (not in Ganguli Edition)
- The Yaksha-yuddha Parva (Battle with a Yaksha ): Yudhishthira, Draupadi, and the twins are kidnapped by a demon. Bhima rescues them by slaying the demon. Meanwhile, Arjuna returns from heaven.
- The Nivata-kavacha-yuddha Parva (Battle with Nivata-kavachas, a supernatural race of Asuras ): Arjuna recounts his travels, displays his celestial weapons’ prowess, and receives sage advice from Narada on the judicious use of weapons. He pledges to avoid unnecessary violence.
- The Ajagara Parva (King Nahusha in the form of a boa): Bhima is ensnared by the mighty snake Nahusha, and Yudhishthira engages in a profound conversation with the serpent on matters of dharma, transmigration, and universal spirit. Eventually, Nahusha releases Bhima after obtaining enlightenment and liberation.
- The Markandeya-Samasya Parva: The Parva touches upon the concept of yugas (ages) and presents contrasting views on traditions, karma, virtues, and self-discipline. It includes stories of Rishi Mudgala, Jnyana (ज्ञान) yoga, and the relationship between virtues and achieving spiritual knowledge. Markandeya-Samasya Parva recites the story of Vrihaspati and Skanda.
- The Draupadi-Satyabhama Samvada Parva: Satyabhama seeks advice from Draupadi on winning Krishna’s affections, where Draupadi outlines the duties of a wife.
- The Ghosha-yatra Parva (Expedition, undertaken by Kings to inspect the cows in various lands): Duryodhana plans to confront the Pandavas in exile but faces defeat by the Gandharvas. Arjuna intervenes to rescue Duryodhana, exhibiting kindness despite Duryodhana’s animosity.
- The Mriga Sapnov-bhava Parva (Dream of the Deer): Yudhishthira has a dream about wildlife facing extinction due to their residence in the Pandavas’ abode. They decide to move to protect the wildlife.
- The Vrihi Drounika Parva Sage Mudgala, one who lives on a measure of rice): Sage Vyasa imparts moral teachings, narrates the story of Rishi Mudgala, and discusses Parabrahma and Jnyana (ज्ञान) yoga.
- The Draupadi-harana Parva: Draupadi is kidnapped by Jayadratha, prompting the Pandavas to launch a rescue mission.
- The Jaya-dhra-tha Vimo-kshana Parva (Release of Jaya-dhra-tha): Yudhishthira releases Jayadratha, who plans revenge against the Pandavas.
- The Rama Upakhyana Parva (Story of Rama): A condensed summary of the Ramayana comforts Yudhishthira during his brothers’ prolonged exile.
- The Pativrata-mahatmya Parva (Significance of chastity): Portrays the story of Savitri and Satyavan, highlighting Savitri’s unwavering dedication to her husband and her successful plea to Yama for Satyavan’s revival.
- The Kundala-harana Parva (Theft of Ear-rings): Details the upbringing and life of Karna, depicting his unwavering principles and Yagnya (यज्ञ)s.
- The Aranya Parva (The Deer: The Pandavas return to the Dvaita (द्वैतवन) Aranya forest, encounter a mysterious lake, and face a series of trials, including a conversation with a Yaksha (a celestial being) who tests Yudhishthira’s wisdom and rewards him for his righteousness. Yaksha appears and interrogates Yudhishthira with 124 questions about the nature of human life, the necessary virtues for a happy life, ethics, and morality, which Yudhishthira answers correctly.