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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

As Savitri persistently follows him


The

episodes of the Mahabharata are numerous and often very extensive, constituting, as we have seen, about four-fifths of the whole poem. Many of them are interesting for various reasons, and some are distinguished by considerable poetic beauty. One of them, the story of Cakuntala (occurring in Book I.), supplied Kalidasa with the subject of his famous play. Episodes are specially plentiful in Book III., being related to while away the time of the exiled Pandus. Here is found the Matsyopakhyana, or "Episode of the fish," being the story of the flood, narrated with more diffuseness than the simple story told in the Catapatha Brahmana. The fish here declares itself to be Brahma, Lord of creatures, and not yet Vishnu, as in the Bhagavata Purana. Manu no longer appears as the progenitor of mankind, but as a creator who produces all beings and worlds anew by means of his ascetic power.

Another episode is the history of Rama, interesting in its relation to Valmiki's Ramayana, which deals with the same subject at much greater length. The myth of the descent of the Ganges from heaven to earth, here narrated, is told in the Ramayana also.

Another legend is that of the sage Ricya-cringa, who having produced rain in the country of Lomapada, king of the Angas, was rewarded with the hand of the princess Canta, and performed that sacrifice for King Dacaratha which brought about the birth of Rama. This episode is peculiarly important

from a critical point of view, as the legend recurs not only in the Ramayana, but also in the Padma Purana, the Skanda Purana, and a number of other sources.

Of special interest is the story of King Ucinara, son of Cibi, who sacrificed his life to save a pigeon from a hawk. It is told again in another part of Book III. about Cibi himself, as well as in Book XIII. about Vrishadarbha, son of Cibi. Distinctly Buddhistic in origin and character, the story is famous in Pali as well as Sanskrit literature, and spread beyond the limits of India.

The story of the abduction of Draupadi forms an episode of her life while she dwelt with the Pandus in the Kamyaka forest. Accidentally seen when alone by King Jayadratha of Sindhu, who was passing with a great army, and fell in love with her at first sight, she was forcibly carried off, and only rescued after a terrible fight, in which the Pandus annihilated Jayadratha's host.

Interesting as an illustration of the mythological ideas of the age is the episode which describes the journey of Arjuna to Indra's heaven. Here we see the mighty warrior-god of the Vedas transformed into a glorified king of later times, living a life of ease amid the splendours of his celestial court, where the ear is lulled by strains of music, while the eye is ravished by the graceful dancing and exquisite beauty of heavenly nymphs.

In the story of Savitri we have one of the finest of the many ideal female characters which the older epic poetry of India has created. Savitri, daughter of Acvapati, king of Madra, chooses as her husband Satyavat, the handsome and noble son of a blind and exiled king, who dwells in a forest hermitage. Though warned by the sage Narada that the prince is fated to live but a single year, she persists in her choice, and after the wedding departs with her husband to his father's forest retreat. Here she lives happily till she begins to be tortured with anxiety on the approach of the fatal day. When it arrives, she follows her husband on his way to cut wood in the forest. After a time he lies down exhausted. Yama, the god of death, appears, and taking his soul, departs. As Savitri persistently follows him, Yama grants her various boons, always excepting the life of her husband; but yielding at last to her importunities, he restores the soul to the lifeless body. Satyavat recovers, and lives happily for many years with his faithful Savitri.


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