6: Bhishma Parva
Mohan Ganguli, tr.
book of the Mahabharata is important for two reasons. First of all, it contains
the Bhagavad Gita, the best-known Hindu sacred text. Secondly, this book
describes the start of the enormous battle which is the center-piece of the
work, specifically the first ten days of conflict, up to the fate of the hero
Bhishma Parva starts with an overture of apocalyptic and unnatural portents.
It then immediately digresses into a treatise on geography and natural history--one
of several texts which the great epic accreted over time.
this comes the Bhagavad Gita, which unlike some of the other digressions, is
a good thematic fit in the narrative. Arjuna, facing a battle in which he will
have to fight many of his immediate relatives, is understandably hesitant to
fight. The Avatar Krishna then proceeds to explain to Arjuna why he must fulfill
his duty as a warrior, and how he can emerge from this spiritual crisis of conscience
with a clean slate. This text deals with the contradictions of living a devotional
life in an imperfect world. Even non-Hindus have found the Gita meaningful for
this reason. Then Krishna reveals to Arjuna his divine form; this section is
one of the best attempts to describe the indescribable ever written.
we move on to the battle itself, which occupies two-thirds of Book 6, a relentless
and immersive description of the horror of war. This is literally a blow-by-blow
description of each incident of combat over a period of ten days. And this is
no ordinary battle. The combatants absorb incredible numbers of arrows and are
still standing, ready to fight the next day. The field is stalked by vampires
and cannibals. There are rivers and oceans of blood and gore. The heroes wield
superweapons and magic spells, only described elliptically, with which they
slay thousands of opponents at a time. And at the end we learn how Bhishma,
the undefeatable leader of Duryodhana's army, is finally brought down.
Bruno Hare, January 23, 2004.