Mr. Ramuel Mendoza RaagasComparative Literature 40 TFX
CAL 1992-79204Dr. Lily Rose Roxas Tope
October 21-29, 2001


Less Than a Little Pizza Slice of a Large Pie

    Episodes for Focus
  1. Snakes, Fathers and Sons
  2. Yudhisthira's Throwing it all away

What does a relay reader get out of a glimpse of the Mahabharata--- a glimpse, let's say, of about a month? A timeless text can do with a brief moment to come down with a strong impact. The Erster Teil of Goethe's Faust can impress a viewer without even four hours' stage traffic. Dante's Drama is purported as having taken full course within the Christian Holy Week.

Of all literary texts ever produced in the world, the Mahabharata is the one which most defies a single-sitting reading. A San Beda alumnus claimed to have read the Bantam Classic full English translation of Tolstoy's War and Peace in a single sitting. Having tasted his rellenong bangus, which he had served as a duly-employed chef of the Manila Hotel, I am inclined to believe in his intellect. No one, to my knowledge, has claimed to having read the full text of the Mahabharata within a single sitting. It is mathematically impossible. Samuel Coleridge may have wrapped a much shorter epic of his own composition in a single session of cocaine, but Vyasa took three years to compose the Mahabharata in his head.

I myself, at my very rare best, get at three-hundred fifty or so pages cover-to-cover with a few novels by Malamud or Marquez.

Can the Mahabharata be read end-to-end in a linear fashion, even through the course of several sessions? It seems more like the Judaeo-Christian Bible, which may be read in its entireity, but not by sequentially reading each of its section only once over until a single, complete reading has been attained. Nevertheless, the Bible does not at all claim to have the singular narrativity that the Mahabharata explicitly does. Vyasa, by force of contract with Ganesh, streamed forth the entire Mahabharata in a single oral session. I have not read yet evidence as to how long his oral recital or chanting took, whether it traversed a week or half-a-month.

There is a lot of repetition in the Mahabharata. Imagery is recycled, such as when two might warriors fighting each other are compared to elephants gone mad. Here and there, trees are torn from the forest (usually by Bhima). The Mahabharata and Homer both present us with texts each with substantive textual repetition within themselves as evidence of their orality. Vergil gives us a less internally repetitive text (Vergil's repetitions are intertextual carry-overs from Homer's two books, as Noel Canlas points out), and this has been attributed to his being committed to the written (rather than the spoken) word.

Even the Bhagavad-Gita is a lot into reinforcements of concepts. The Song of God calls for a detachment of the consciousness from the senses. There is a lot of reiteration. One consistency of repetition is the grammar of geneaology, which is also evident in the Judaeo-Christian Bible. The Maranao Darangen, all in all, does have its own formidable genealogical set-up, but it does not have the "x begot Y... Y begot Z..." passages characteristic of the Judaeo-Christian Bible (satirized by Homer Simpson's sleep-inducing cassette, The Good Book) and the Mahabharata. In the Mahabharata, we may notice (and not in any of the Great Western epics nor the Jewish Sephar and Jesus core texts) there is explicit flat-out tabulation of genealogy. Some passages, even in the first Parva, feature an entire block of descendenants name-dropped without even so much as epithetical description.

Of course, the Mahabharata is more voluminous than the Judaeo-Christian Bible and the Quran combined, and its testimony of faith is more singular. Only perhaps Cats Stevens and a few other religious Muslims firmly believe in the Three Books as forming a continuum, or a singulart holy trinity of texts. Of course, we saw Cats Stevens transgress the Old Testament eschewal of murder-thirst as he affirmed the Ayatollah Khomeini's death sentence against Salman Rushdie.

The Mahabharata's encapsulation of myriad sub-narratives by means of conversational interaction has been taken up even in the twentieth century Peruvian-turned-European author Mario Vargas Llosa in his Conversacion en la catedral. Conversation between two people or among a handful runs as does the narrative of so many events and personalities. It is quite clear that Llosa had the Mahabharata in mind in doing his novel, because his protagonist, Santiago Zavala, is set-up also as a member of the highest echelon of society (not the prince-turned-king that was Janamejaya, but at least the son of a senator in a society with conservatism seated in power).

Tha Mahabharata is a divine epic, but its author is projected to be substantially human. Vyasa is the son of Satyavati. Although the author is a man, the poem's scribe is a god, the elephant Ganesh. This set-up is the reverse of the Sephardic-Biblical-Quranic configuration of the God being the author and man being the scribe.

Vyasa comes forth early in the epic as an ugly man. His ugliness casts peculiar effects on a couple of widows. One shuts her eyes to him, and thus gives birth to a blind son, Dhrtrasthra.

The voluminous epic is strewn with rituals, reflection, austerities, mortifications, violence, curses, damnation and resolution. The Mahabharata recounts so many trials of religious faith, such as that undergone by Upamanyu.

Vedic knowledge is extolled in the epic.

...he began to praise the divine Asvins with verses of the Rgveda
(Buitenen, p. 47)

As in the Iliad, and not so much like in Dante's Commedia, a primacy is given to parenthood as a determining characteristic of many, different individuals. It is a big deal that Janamejaya is the son of Pariksit.

The phallic force of the epic is often unequalled. The power and dynamism of sperm is writ large as is nowhere else to be found in world literature, not even Playboy Party Jokes. In U.S.A. culture, Andrew Dice Clay noted, "The dick has a mind of its own." Not even that stand-up comedian, however, could project semen as "having a mind of its own." Of course, sperm cells as organism do have their drive not over-dependent on the human brain once they have been produced and released. The hyperactivity of Mahabharata semen, however, well exceeds any empitical statistics that we may cull from a biology textbook. There is even one episode in Book I in which the semen breaks into eight, each part still carrying over enough an amount of vitality.

The epic is one of much slaughter. Even before the great grand clash after the Bhagavad-Gita, there is the slaying of the raksasas Hidimba and Baka.

Evidenced within the text itself of the epic is the slef-consciousness of its own greatness. This spelled-out testimony is more vocal than Dante's own praise of his Commedia. Dante more frequently spoke of his work lowly, although his ultimate assessment of himself is quite obvious in his self-canonization alongside Homer, Vergil and the other poetic giants.

Throughout the epic, animals as images turn up. When two mighty warriors fight, they are compared to two berserk elephants. Such a comparison is not to be noted so much in the writing of other cultures, where lions are used. Interestingly enough, one male character, Vidura, is compared to a female lion (a lioness) being forced from her station of comfort, in the Sabha Parva incident, when he refuses to hand over Draupadi to the bull-headed Duryodhana.

The metaphorization of a hero's violence potential as being that of a tiger or a lion is universal, and does, too, find its way into the Mahambharata.

In the epic, we can note hunting as a pastime of kings. Pariksit sets about hunting, as does Shakuntala's husband-to-be. Hunting becomes more than a pastime, however, for the Pandavas, when they are driven to exile, when Yudhisthira loses the much more curt second round of dice-betting.

Arjuna is the best archer of the Bharatas.

The Snake Sacrifice is one of the major starting narratives of the epic.

Adi Parva

Samika and Srngi, Pariksit and Janamejaya--- these are two pairs of father-and-son that come into interaction early in the epic. Of the four men, only Samika and Pariksit ever do meet. These two people meet twice. In the first, only the King Pariksit does the talking. In the second meeting, it is Samika who flows speech.

Three of the men (Srngi, Pariksit and Janamejaya) get heated up into a rage. Three of them also may be noted for a placated disposition (Samika, Pariksit and Janamejaya).

The sons take it upon themselves to avenge their fathers. Srngi avenged his ridiculed father by cursing the perpetrator. Janamejaya avenged his father's death by organizing a snake sacrifice. Astika, a brahmin himself born of a snake who was the very sister of Taksasa, placates Janamejaya into discontinuing the ritual.

One crack at revenge was the curse that Srngi hurled. The other crack at revenge was the ritual that Janamejaya had scheduled. Quite apparently, the high-stationed man had recourse to a more methodical revenge. As the King Janamejaya's revenge was taking progress, there was the relishing of snake-after-snake burning.

The curse was irrevocable (despite efforts); the ritual was undone, however. May we say then that cursing is more effective than ritual? Janamejaya, all in all, actually wins over Srngi. What was not important was the enacted slaying of the intended victim. Janamejaya's victory is the praise and respect he receives from brahmins. In fact, it is Janamejaya who earns the sagely right to sit through a good deal of the epic, having his inquiries of the history fulfilled.

The Adi Parva narrative has a noted characterizability of juxtapositions; these allow, rather than restrict, the characters' dimensions. The juxtapositions are an effective conceptualization of design. There is enough working around them, so as not too have the characters fall into flatness.

The characters do not fall into flatness, but the narrative has a lot of repetitive stumbling to and fro. The story does not come as a stream of once-over-only recounted events, much unlike what we may appreciate in Vergil's and Dante's epic poems. Of course, there is reiteration in Vergil, of the very necessary sort, when the prophecy of eating tables (mensis edendi) must be recalled when it is actually fulfilled. Neither Vergil nor Dante may be blamed of having re-statement of events strewn as may be gleaned from the Mahabharata.

Homer is the worse, however, reiterating entire passages in verbatim. Exact repetition of passages during recital is quite tolerable in oral performance. It is not taken as blunting the meaning.

Sabha Parva

May we so undoubtingly believe in the Pandava brother's being "the wise Pandava brothers" as the epic would state? When the bard points them out as being "the wise Pandava brothers", we may expect an ironic manner of statement comparable to the Tagalog, "Magaling [talaga] siya."

How could Yudhisthira allow himself to lose more and more in a game of craps? Did he feel that he was double betting? Since the currency of the stakes was not strictly quantitative-monetary (people were gambled off, as if they were slaves, even if they were those stationed for the highest echelon of the kingdom's society).

Yudhisthira's resolve in going through what he really believed was his obligation is definitely comparable to that of Rama. A Hindu of king's material carries a resolve which does not shake even upon approaching a steep descent.

There thus might be something more binding than direction in the sensibility of the Hindu ruler. Throughout the narrative of Sabha Parva, Yudhisthira is noted for keeping in mind a sense of obligation.

"All creatures receive good or evil at the command of the Creator," said Yudhisthira. "If I have to play once more, it is inevitable. I know that this command of the king, this fresh invitation to a game of dice, will cause desolation all round. But even so, I am not able to disregard it." So saying, he returned to the gambling hall.
(p. 56, continuing paragraph, Narasihman)

If upon impulse, we find Yudhisthira a very "bahala na" type of guy, the above evidences his groundedness on a "Bathala na" attitude, or what would be "Diyos na ang bahala," in our common terms.

I agree with Shakuni, however, who sees in Yudhisthira's dice-readiness more of a weakness than a virtue. Yudhisthira is a disgrace to Sun Tzu, who impels all prudent men not to be easily read by their foes.

God-entrusting (or the "Diyos na ang bahala" attitude) does prevail, in the episode, however. Krshna does not meddle with the dice with which Shakuni cheated, but he does answer Draupadi's silent prayer to provide her succour as she was on the brink of great disgrace--- about to be disrobed publicly in the court.

Sabha Parva, like the Book of Job, is a narrative about faith and losing all properties. The Book of Job, of course is a far greater story, because it has the dialectics lacking in Sabha. Job goes through a lot of poetic inner examination.

Throwing dice in itself is not a dramatic game as other sports are (i.e. the UAAP Championship, in which the Blue Eagles, attested to "We Believe," and held on to their credo even after the final buzzer, except for Joe Lipa and Enrico Villanueva). Nonetheless, Sabha Parva proved as great a gambling story as Erap's doing baccarat, due to the high stakes involved. Yudhisthira posted stakes greater than Erap. In both, the Sabha and Erap adventures we notice the lust of man over woman, lust as carried about in the highest echelon of material society.

Most of gambling is actually done not really so much to win at the table. When I join illegal on-campus petty gambling with Filipino card games, it is not so much to win forty or more pesos in an afternoon, but a symptom of my insecure inability to secure my youthful peers to a more preferable, productive direction.

Many Filipinas have been known to take to gambling (i.e. Corazon Cojuangco Aquino and her mahjong, especially before 1986), because they have not been trained in other ways of circulating money. One particular woman in Ermita, whom an Anglo-Saxon Protestant brought up in financial situation by marrying her, lost all of that money which she had maritally acquired. She compulsively gambled it away.

Yudhisthira was actually as habitual a gambler as many of us Filipinos, but the Sabha episode definitely stands out way above any of the other gambling sessions that he ever participated in throughout his life. Never before, and never thereafter, did Yudhisthira come to face with such a malicious opponent in gambling.

Character notes
decapitates Karna.
is the common wife of the five Pandava brothers. She is the ultimate prize in the first face-off between the cheat Sakuni and Yudhisthira in games of dice.
is the male raksasa
Hidimbaa is
Hidimba's sister.
had three brothers: Srutasena, Ugrasena and Bhimasena.
is Kunti's eldest son.
is the consistent cheater in the game of dice. He belongs to the Kaurava camp. It is Yudhisthira whom he suckers.
Sarama is the mother of a dog who was beaten up by Janamejaya's brothers.
before becoming the world-famous play, as written by Kalidasa, was an episode in the Mahabharata.
marries the goddess Ganga.
Tapati Sauri
was Samvarana's wife. She bore him the son Kuru.
is the brother of Dhrtarastra and Pandu (cf. p. xvii, Narasihman).
is Satyavati's son.
Yayati Nahusa
is a king who took a fall, due to his excessive pride over his performance of spiritual training.