Southeast Asia: Crossroads of the World
Professor Patricia Henry
Dept. of Foreign Languages
I. (Hindu) Cultural Concepts Underlying
A. Karma: every action has a result.
B. Rebirth: after death, one is reborn according to one's karma in one's
C. Caste: humans are born into a particular caste which they cannot change
except through rebirth.
1. brahmana = specialists in
religion and ritual
2. ksatriya = specialists in war and
3. vaisya = artisans
4. sudra = peasants
D. Dharma: dutry, virtue, righteousness; doing what is appropriate to one's position in
E. Meditation: concentration on the inner truth of fundamental reality; not being
distracted by the multiplicity of the world as it appears through the senses; seeing this
world as an illusion.
F. Release: through meditation as a result of the power gained to remove oneself from the
circle of karma and rebirth.
G. Powerful language: instead of being of being used for release, this power may be used
in this world; words of a powerful rishi (holy man), who has gained strength through
meditation, can modify the world.
II. The Story
A. Conflict among two sets of cousins
over the throne of Hastinapura.
1. The Pandawas: five sons
of King Pandu (actually they are of semi-divine origin).
(son of god of Justice, Dharma)
of god of Wind, Vayu)
of god of Rain, Indra)
& Sahadeva (twin sons of twin gods, the Asvins)
2. The Kauravas: 100 sons of King
Dhritarashtra, Duryodana, and others
3. Krishna: kinsman of both sides,
ally of the Pandavas.
B. Childhood and youth of the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
1. Early conflict
2. The wax-palace plot
3. The dividing of the Kingdom;
Indraprastha for the Pandavas
C. The Dice-game.
1. The Kauravas cheat, with
the help of Sakuni
2. Humiliation of the Pandavas and
their wife Draupadi.
3. Banishment of the Pandavas.
D. The return of the Pandavas.
1. Attempts to avert war are
2. The Bhagavad Gita: "God's
(i.e. Krishna's) Song", a dialogue between Arjuna,
can't face killing his kinsmen, and Krishna, who persuades Arjuna that he
do his duty as a ksatriya.
3. The Baratayuddha:
"Bharata-war." There is a great loss of life of both sides; the
Pandavas eventually destroy the Kauravas.
E. The restoration of Hastinapura to
III. The Sages (rishis) who
speak in the story
A. Vasishta's curse: results in birth
of the hero Bhisma, the King Santanu and Gangga.
B. Sanatanu's promise to the goddess
Gangga: She leaves him after giving birth to Bhisma.
C. Bhisma's oath of chastity:
Satyavati, grandmother of P's and K's, marries King Santanu.
D. Vyasa's curse: handicaps of King
Pandu and King Dhitarashtra.
E. Kunti's boon: divine fathers of
F. The Curse of Pandu: hadicaps of king
Pandu and King Dhritarashtra.
G. Draupadi's vow: eventual destruction
of the Kauravas.
IV. The Sages who Speak in telling the
A. Vyasa dictates the story to the god
Ganesha. Vyasa is in the story itself as the father of Pandu and Dhritarashtra.
B. The sage Vaisampayana tells the
story to the King Janamejaya, the great-grandson of Arjuna.
C. Another sage, Suta, tells the story
to the sages in the Naimisa forest.
V. The Role of Language in the Mahabharata
A. The main events of the story are
motivated by language: blessings, curses, oaths, especially those spoken by sages who by
the power of their asceticism must speak the truth; whatever they say comes true.
B. The telling of the story
itself is an auspicious use of language. reading it, especially aloud, and listening to
it, are seen as good in and of themselves. Those who read it are protected, benefited and
taught about the reality of the world.