Ganesha, also known as Ganapati among other names,
is the Hindu deity of wisdom, writing, and beginnings. Depicted with elephant's head on a
human body, Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati.
Ganesha is the scribe to whom Vyasa (compiler of the Mahabharata, and sometimes
narrator and vital participant) is telling the story. Lord of Multitudes, Remover of
A Family Chart
"It's about you . . . If
you listen carefully, at the end you'll be someone else."
|The Mahabharata, in its original
Sanskrit probably the longest epic ever composed, embodies much of the essence of Indian
culture. Said to be written down by the god of writing and beginnings, Ganesha (the
elephant-headed god), it is a fascinating story of a feud between two parts of a single
Indian ruling family (the Bharata), featuring a gambling contest in which one set of
cousins is tricked out of their kingdom. The war culminates in a vast, cataclysmic
battle, told in a heroic and moral context. In the final battle, Krishna teaches the warrior that the ultimate conflict is not about
land and riches and worldly power. The ultimate battle, waged on cosmic ground, is
about the human spirit. In the Mahabharata, the Ultimate Weapon is
summoned, a weapon that if used will destroy the world of both matter and
spirit. Shrinking from one's moral duty, refusal to act even when it is most
difficult to act, and egotistical attachment to one's actions--these human weaknesses pose
the greatest dangers to survival of the individual and the species.
Plot Summary for the Mahabharata | Online Resources |
| Shiva-Parvati-Ganesha | Krishna
Mahbharata Seminar | Peter
Brook's Film Version
from "Bharat"=Indian; King Bharata. KRISHNA:
Avatar of Vishnu, god of preservation who takes on human form when chaos threatens; serves
as charioteer for Arjuna and delivers the Bhagavad Gita. SHIVA: God of destruction (also creation and
preservation); provides the ultimate weapon to Arjuna. GANESHA:
elephant-headed Hindu god of education and learning, knowledge and wisdom, literature and
the fine arts, Lord of success, prosperity, and peace. and "good luck"; scribe
for the Mahabharata, recited by Vyasa: "Listen to stories: Its always
pleasant and sometimes it improves you." VYASA: Krishna Dvaipaiyana
Vyasa, 4th century B.C.E. Written text attributed to him. (Vyasa means
"collector.") According to legend, Vyasa and Ganesha worked together to get the
text fully recited and written down; the epic is said to have been originally written with
a tusk. HISTORY: The events (the war) in the epic is based on a
historical event, just as the Iliad portrays an actual war (Trojan War). The date
of the Bharata war has been variously set at 5000 BCE, 3000 BCE, 3138 BCE (the Indus
Valley Civilization dates are c. 3200-2000 BCE). ORAL TRADITION: It is
believed that all the ancient stories, songs, and epics were preserved through recitation,
performance, storytelling (in the oral tradition) before the technology of writing was
|PANDU: younger brother of Dhritarashtra; patriarch; retired
from kingdom to hunt and enjoy life. The actor who plays Pandu
also plays Shiva.
blind elder brother of Pandu; becomes patriarch, king;
takes charge of Pandavas after Pandus death.
KUNTI: wife of Pandu, Kunti
uses a mantra to mate with gods (virgin birth) and beget her four sons: Karna,
Yudishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna
MADRI, second wife of Pandu, mother of
Nakula and Sahadeva
GANDHARI: blindfolded wife of Dhritarashtra, jealous of Kunti
who had son first; queen mother of 100 sons (grown over 2 years in her belly to form a
hard, cold ball, which is forced out of her and then split in 100 pieces and watered into
The Court: the Dice
Bhisma, Gandhari, Dhritarashtra, Drona
|THE WARRING COUSINS
|Karna: first son of Kunti, sired by the Sun god; left to
drift in a basket. Brought up by chariot driver. Unrecognized by his mother, Kunti,
Karna goes to the other side
--> --> --
Yudhishthira: second son of Kunti and god Dharma; born to be king--LAW. Has a weakness for
Bhima: third son, son of the wind god; strong as thunder.
With Hidimbi, goddess of the forest, sires Ghatotkatcha, who later assists him in war
Arjuna: fourth son of Kunti and Indra, king of gods; perfect
warrior, born to conquer
Nakula and Sahadeva: sons of Madri, representing patience and wisdom
does not know his origin, becomes bitter: fights for the Kauravas.
Duryodhana: first son of
Gandhari; fierce angry leader of Kauravas, "comes to destroy".
nothing. I am nothing. . . . I want to be discontented."
Dushashana: Son of Gandhari; drags Draupadi by hair; she later
washes her hair in his blood
Draupadi: daughter of Panchala kings; won by Arjuna in a
contest; wife of the five Pandavas (Yudishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva)
KRISHNA: Cousin of Kunti, Krishna serves as spiritual and
military counselor and friend to the
whole family--both Pandavas and Kauravas.
Offers his services to both Yudhishthira and Duryodhana--giving them this choice: Krishna
himself, alone, or all Krishna's warriors and weapons. Yudishthira chooses
Krishna. And so Krishna becomes the charioteer for the Pandavas' chief warrior, Arjuna.
|SHAKUNI: uncle of Duryodhana, younger brother of Gandhari.
An expert dice player; suggests and plays the dice game with the Pandavas
BHISHMA: uncle and noble counselor to King Dhritharashtra; raises both
Padavas and Kauravas, but leads in battle for the Kauravas. The Gods
have given him the power to choose the
time of his death.
second teacher of cousins. Cares for both Pandavas and
Kauravas, but fights for the Kauravas
Mahabharata: Part I
1. Look for
examples of the motif of sight and blindness. In what ways are the various characters
blinded or in the dark? In what ways do they see the light?
2. "I compose everything," Vyasa tells the boy
toward the end of Part I. "Nothing is written down and I hesitate in moments when
thought escapes me." Note the various techniques used by the filmmaker to evoke the
storytelling roots of the Mahabharata, the oral tradition represented by Vyasa, who
enters the narrative at various points, describing action and feeling, sometimes even
talking to his characters. Pay special attention when Vyasa intervenes between the
Kauravas and Pandavas, saying "Put down that weapon! No crime should corrupt this
3. Note the use of dark and light by the filmmaker. What
are the most brightly lit scenes? Does Part I end in light or darkness? What do you make
4. The feud between the Kauravas and Pandavas takes up
only about 25% of the whole book (the rest is poetry, lengends and myths, instruction in
the worship of Shiva and Vishnu). Why does Peter Brook make it seem like the feud is
5. What characteristics of the epic are apparent in the Mahabharata?
6. Compare and contrast Arjuna and Odysseus.
7. How does Gandhari finally bear her 100 sons?
8. How does Duryodhana get Karnas loyalty?
9. After Draupadi is humiliated before the Kauravas and
Pandavas, King Dhritarashtra grants her favors. She asks nothing for herself. What does
she ask for and why doesnt she ask anything for herself?
10. Note the curses and prophesies made: Draupadi curses
the Kauravas; she says that Duryodhanas death will come when he is struck in the
knee. Bhima predicts that he will eat the heart of Duhshasana, and Draupadi vows to leave
her hair down until the moment when she washes it in Duhshasanas blood.
Arjuna promises to kill Karna, and Bhisma predicts that
Karna will forget the formula for the ultimate weapon at the moment of his death. Krishna
says, rather matter-of-factly, that the Pandavas will be victorious in the end. What is
the function or meaning of these curses and prophesies?
11. Consider Bashupadha, the ultimate weapon, given to
Arjuna by Shiva, also given (in formula) to Karna by Bhisma. It is an absolute weapon that
can destroy the world; it is a weapon that can be launched with a bow, an eye, a word, a
thought. Once released, it cannot be recalled. It cannot be disposed of, nor given back.
The Earth shakes when it hears the name. In what ways does this 4000-year-old story
foretell the fate of the 20th century?
12. Both Duryodhana and Arjuna visit Krishna to ask for
his allegiance in the war. Krishna says he will not fight, and cannot take sides because
he loves them all equally. But he does give them a choice: one may have all his men and
armies and chariots, the other may have himunarmedby his side. Arjuna chooses
Krishna, and Duryodhana is happy to have 11 armies to the Pandavas 7. What do these
choices say about the two leaders? And when Duryodhana refuses to give the Pandavas 5
villages to avoid war, Krishna shouts: "You will have your glorious death. We will
see a glorious massacre!"and then reveals his fire to Dhritherashta, who
momentarily sees the light. What is the effect of ending Part I at this point?
For film students: What
other cinematic techniques (photography, mise-en-scene, movement, editing, acting, etc. do
you notice as particularly effective or ineffective?
1. Why does Karna
ask his mother to keep the secret of his birth from his brothers?
2. Why does Arjuna, a warrior, hesitate to blow the
conch signaling the beginning of battle?
3. Why does the filmmaker have Vyasa say what Krishna is
saying to Arjuna, even when the image shows Krishnas lips whispering into
Arjunas ear? What does Vyasa say that Krisha is telling Arjuna here about action and
detachment? In this same scene, the filmmaker has the character Krishna talk about
Krishna (himself) in the third person. ("To reply to this question," Krishna
says, "Krishna led Arjuna through the tangled forest [to teach him] the ancient yoga
of wisdom. . . the mysterious path of action. . . ."
4. What secret knowledge does Arjuna get from Krishna
that enables him to blow the conch shell?
5. Note the curses that come to pass:
Duryodhana's death comes when he is struck in the knee, as foretold by Draupadi. Bhima
does as he predicts: he eats the heart of Dushassana.
And Draupadi does as she says she will:
she leaves her hair down until the moment when she washes it in Dushassanas blood.
Arjuna, as prophesized, kills Karna, whoas Bhisma foretellsforgets the formula
for the ultimate weapon at the moment of his death. And the Pandavas are victorious in the
end. What is the function or meaning of these fulfillments of curses and prophesies?
6. It is known that the war will continue until
Bhisma is killed, but because of the blessing of life given to him, no one believes it is
possible to kill him. When Arjuna asks how Bhisma can be killed in order to end the
war, Bhisma identifies Sikhandim as a warrior who can kill him? Who is Sikhandim?
7. In Part I, Bhimas son Ghatotkatcha
promises to help him when he needs him. Krishna claims that no one can stop Karna except
Ghatotkatcha, and asks him to offer Karna to the gods. But Karna throws his spear into
Ghatotokatchas heart and kills him. Was Krishna wrong?
8. "When dharma is protected, it protects.
When dharma is destroyed, it destroys." What does this mean?
9. "Death doesnt exist. Death is
powerless against eternity." What does this mean?
10. After the battle, Gandhari, mother of the
Kauravas, curses Krishna, telling him he will be killed and rejected. He says to her, I
know, and tells the story about how in 36 years a hunter, mistaking his feet for the ears
of a deer, will kill him. How is it possible for a god to be killed?
11. Near the end of the film, Krishna says, "Even
if you cant see it, the light has been saved." What does he mean here?
12. Note the use of dark and light by the
filmmaker. What are the most brightly lit scenes? Does the film end in light or darkness?
What do you make of this?
13. Vyasa tells the boy that all the Pandavas died
without children, except for one of Arjunas, saved by Krishna. The boy comes from
this child. At the end of the story Ganesha gives the boy the book, and the boy takes it
out of the cave while Ganesha and Vyasa talk with one another. What meanings lie in these
final words and images?
For film students: What other cinematic techniques
(photography, mise-en-scene, movement, editing, acting, etc. do you notice as particularly
effective or ineffective?
Gloria Floren, Letters Department,
One Barnard Drive, Oceanside, California 92056. U.S.A.
February 2000. Revised 22 September 2003.
2000-2003 Gloria L. Floren. All rights reserved
| MiraCosta College |CyberCosta Contact Page | Floren Home