E240 Mahabharata Questions

Assigned: from The Mahabharata (953-1001).

Note: I use modified spellings below since the wiki text editor can't handle the special transliteration markings of our anthology's translation. )

Book 1. "Origins" (959-65).

1. What is common to the several stories about the birth of the Kuru generation of rulers (the children of Dhrtarashtra and Pandu)? What expectations for the future do such stories give rise to?

2. How does the narrative style your understanding of this epic? Consider the order in which the various characters' origins are recounted — how are they related temporally, and how do they set up later events?

3. What causes the enmity between the Pandus and the Kauravas? Examine especially the rivalry of Arjuna and Karna. And what role does King Duryodhana play in engendering this rivalry?

Book 2. "The Assembly Hall" (967-83).

4. Yudhishthira wagers all he has and loses every bit of it — even the wife of the Pandavas, Draupadi. How does this situation come about? To what "legal riddle" does Yudhisthira's predicament give rise? How is it dealt with?

5. Which characters intervene most forcefully in the wake of the dice-game crisis? What perspectives and solutions do they offer? Consider Draupadi and at least one other character.

Book 5. "The Preparation for War" (983-89).

6. Who is Krishna? What does Dhrtarashtra want from him? How does Krishna begin to assert his powers, and how does Duryodhana respond to Krishna's mediation?

7. When Krishna tries win over Karna to the Pandavas' side, how does Karna justify his steadfast refusal to abandon Duryodhana?

8. In section 45 (988-89), Balarama surveys the battle situation, and promptly takes his leave — why does he do so, and what point might the narrator be making when he includes this brief mention of Balarama's discomfort over the coming battle?

Book 8. "The Book of Karna" (990-94).

9. Consider the battle ethics of Bhima (who kills Duhshasana) and Arjuna (who kills Karna) as well as Krishna, who advises Arjuna to kill Karna. What attitude does the text take up towards the violence of battle?

10. What virtues does Karna possess? How do his faults haunt him? One thing to examine is how he bears up in confronting his violent end — what does this say about him? Is he entirely "evil," or is that an oversimplification?

Book 9. "The Book of Shalya" (994-98).

11. Duryodhana has been a grand villain in the epic. When he flees to the water, how does he justify his decision? What do others apparently think of him and of his fight with Bhima?

Book 11. "The Book of the Women" (998-1000).

12. What reproaches do Draupadi, Ghandari, and Kunti level against the Pandava brothers and Krishna? Do the accusations ring true? Explain.

Book 12. "The Book of Peace" (1000-01).

13. What kind of peace is established? Does it seem like a satisfactory ending? Why or why not?

14. How does Vyasa reconcile Yudhishthira to the devastation that has gone before? How much of the narrative has been ascribed to fate, and how much to human error? On the whole, are the Mahabharata selections we have read a story about a destiny that was bound to come about, or is it a tale of individual characters' actions — or is there a problem with making such a distinction in the first place? Explain.

Lawall, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 2nd edition. Volumes 1ABC. New York: Norton, 2002. ISBN A = 0-393-97755-2, B = 0-393-97756-0, C = 0-393-97757-9.