Series: Mahabharata Unveiled : Q&A Edition
Book Title: Sabha Parva Explorations - Mahabharat Book 2
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 texts like ‘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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 know about 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.
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.
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.
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 and Transliteration 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, 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 between 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, less wordy, less 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), worshiped, worshipping, color, program, luster, 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 Yajnya, 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 even for the native Bhartiya therefore I am using hyphenation to make reading easy. So you will find the following in this book. Dur-yo-dhana instead of Duryodhana, Yu-dhi-sh-thira instead of Yudhishthira, etc. Frequently used long sanskrit words in this book are Dur-yo-dhana (दुर्योधन), Yu-dhi-sh-thira (युधिष्ठर), Jara-san-dha (जरासंध), Kuru-jangala (कुरुजंल), Dirgha-yaghna (दीर्घयज्ञ), Utsava-sanketas (उत्सव संकेत),Madhya-makeyas (माध्यमकेय), Palha-vas (पल्लव), Ya-jnya (यज्ञ).
Introduction to Mahabharat Book 2: Sabha Parva
The number of sections, sub-parvas, and shlokas (verses) in the Mahabharata can vary depending on different translations and editions. Apart from KM Ganguli’s Mahabharata translation, the critical edition of the Mahabharata, prepared by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, is considered a standard reference. This book has approximately 260 questions and answers based on Ganguli’s translated Sabha Parva of Mahabharata. In Book 2 of the Mahabharata, also known as the Sabha Parva, there are 80 Adhyayas (sections or chapters) and 8 Parvas (sub-parvas or books). The total number of shlokas in Book 2 is around 10,818.
- Lokapala Sabhakhayana Parva: This sub-parva describes the construction of the assembly hall and the Rajasuya Yajna performed by Yudhishthira.
- Maya Danava Vadha Parva: This section narrates the killing of the rakshasa Maya Danava, who was assigned the task of constructing the assembly hall.
- Sabha Parva: This is the main sub-parva that describes the game of dice played between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, leading to the exile of the Pandavas.
- Jarasandhta Vadha Parva: This sub-parva narrates the killing of Jarasandha by Bhima, Krishna, and Arjuna.
- Digvijaya Parva: This sub-parva describes the military campaigns and conquests of the Pandavas following the Rajasuya Yajna.
- Rajasuya Parva: This sub-parva details the Rajasuya Yajna performed by Yudhishthira, showcasing his sovereignty.
- Arghya Parva: The Arghya Parva deals with the formal presentation of gifts and respects during the Rajasuya Yajna.
- Shisupala Vadha Parva: This sub-parva narrates the slaying of Shishupala by Lord Krishna during the Rajasuya Yajna.