Wednesday, 6 March 2013
Background to the Verses for #SanskritAppreciationHour on Twitter 3-4pm GMT 6.3.13
The background to the verses we are translating today:
Bhishma has been mortally injured, and is lying on his bed of arrows on the battle field, surrounded by blood-splattered carnage. But he has been given the boon of choosing his moment of death. Upon falling, he notices that the sun is in the Southern Quarter. He decides to retain his vital breaths (प्राणाः) i.e. stay alive, till the Sun is reaches the Northern Quarter. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, this is a reference to the path of the gods (deva-yaana) and the path of the ancestors (pitr-yaana). The earliest reference to these two paths after death are to be found in the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad (6.2.15-16)
The relevance to today's verses is that Bhishma has a lot of time for contemplation and more importantly for sharing his vast knowledge. The battle ends; last rites are performed; Yudhishthira becomes king. Then the Pandavas along with Krishna return to the battlefield to ask the grandsire about dharma. The result is the शान्ति पर्व of the Mahabharata. Chapters 55 to 167 are taken from Hindu dharma texts (dharmasutras and dharmashastras) and relate to the duties, conduct, sin, penance and punishment relating to the king, and for each of the castes.
From Chapter 174 onward, the मोक्षधर्म पर्व of the शान्ति पर्व begins. It is one of the most complex chapters in the entire epic, encapsulating the teaching of all the schools of Hindu philosophy, the importance of the Veda and Vedic rites, accounts of the soul and other philosphical concepts like liberation and salvation. PhDs have been written and continue to be written about this chapter - speculating on its function, its raison, d'etre, its legacy.
It's not my place to tell you what I think. My advise as always is - read it for yourself, and make up your mind. At least in a good translation, or better still, learn Sanskrit and read the original.
My job today is to translate a few verses from this incredible chapter of the Mahabharata.
See you on Twitter at 3pm GMT.