The Mahabharata is a collection of hundred Parvas (or ‘sections’) that tell the story of a long-standing family feud between two sets of cousins – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – for control of the Kuru throne in Hastinapur.
The climactic event of the story is an eighteen-day war that happens between the two factions on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
It is commonly understood that the Pandavas are the protagonists of this tale and the Kauravas the antagonists – though many retellings have appeared over the years that flip this structure.
In this post, we will summarize the Anugita Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
Birth of Parikshit
With the Ashwamedha proceeding as scheduled, the Yadavas arrive as guests at the auspicious time. Krishna is now accompanied by Balarama, Satyaki and other such Vrishni heroes.
After they are welcomed into Hastinapur and given their seats, Kunti comes into the assembly and addresses Krishna directly.
‘O Prince of Dwaraka,’ she says, ‘we welcome you into the city named after the elephant. We have heard before that you are the saviour of the Kuru race. Indeed, it is due to your greatness that my sons occupy places of power in this assembly.
‘However, a ghastly incident has occurred yesterday in our ladies’ quarters, one which you should help us rectify.’
Krishna, though he can guess what Kunti is referring to, feigns ignorance and says, ‘What is it that I can do for you, Aunt?’
‘Uttara, the wife of Abhimanyu,’ says Kunti, ‘has given birth to a son yesterday. But stricken as he was in the womb by the powerful weapon of Ashwatthama, he is as still as a rock.
‘No blood flows in his veins. He is the future of the Kuru kingdom, O Govinda. Without him, the line of Pandavas is as good as extinct!’
Revival of Parikshit
Krishna does not need to be persuaded so much. Consoling both Pritha and Subhadra with his glances, he gets up and declares in the midst of the assembly that he will fulfil the promise he made to Ashwatthama during the final battle.
‘I shall do whatever it takes to bring back this young boy to life,’ he says, and as the people in the assembly shower him with applause, he gets taken into the ladies’ chamber, where Uttara sits forlorn with her dead child.
‘O lotus-eyed one,’ she says, getting up as Krishna arrives, ‘both Abhimanyu and I have been equally slain in this war. By killing my son while he is yet in the womb, that wicked Ashwatthama has taken my life too.
‘All this while I have lived with hope that I shall see the image of my lord in my son, but now even that hope has been killed. I have nowhere to go now, O Janardana, except to you.
‘You said on that day that the blade of grass should not harm the unconscious mother. O, how I wish it was my life that it took in that moment. Why were you unable to protect my womb with all your powers, O Madhava?’
While Uttara is carrying on thus, Krishna places a comforting hand on the girl’s cheek, and says, ‘I have never so far spoken an untruth, O daughter of Virata. My words will still prove to be true.
‘I shall revive this child of yours in the presence of all these elders and great men. Never have I spoken an untruth in my life. Never have I turned my back from battle. Never has a misunderstanding risen between me and my friend Arjuna.
‘If it is true that I have killed Kamsa and Kesini, if it is true that the wicked Duryodhana deserved to die like he did, if it is true that Yudhishthir is the incarnation of Dharma upon Earth, may this child be returned to life.’
At these words, life enters the still body of the baby, and his limbs begin to stir. Krishna places his hand on the chest of the infant, and as if performing an extraction, removes the fragment of the Brahmastra that is lodged inside the small body.
At this moment, a corporeal voice descends from the sky and says the words, ‘Excellent, O Kesava! Excellent!’
The blazing Brahmastra then leaves Krishna’s hands and makes its way back to the abode of Brahma.
Krishna takes the boy from Uttara’s hands and holds him for everyone to see. ‘Since this child of Abhimanyu has been born at a time when this race has nearly become extinct, may he be named Parikshit!’
A few days after this miracle is performed by Krishna, Vyasa arrives in Hastinapur, and the Pandavas take it as a sign for the Ashwamedha to begin in earnest. King Yudhishthir performs all the necessary welcome rituals and says to the sage:
‘This treasure, O Holy One, which has been brought through your grace, I wish to devote it to that great sacrifice known by the name of the horse. I desire to have your permission, O Rishi. We are all at your disposal, and at that of the high-souled Krishna.’
And Vyasa replies, ‘I give you permission, O King. Do all that has to be done after this. Worship all the deities that must be worshipped during the horse-sacrifice, and give gifts away to celestials and to Brahmins.
‘The Ashwamedha is the cleanser of all sins, O Yudhishthir. Without doubt it will cleanse all of your sins too.’
Yudhishthir takes this opportunity to honour Krishna once more, like he had done so during the Rajasuya all those years ago. In the midst of the assembly he bows to Krishna and says:
‘You have been our friend and protector for as long as we can remember, O Madhava. And today we sit here, as rulers of the earth, due to your kindness. Please, therefore, accept the responsibility of conducting the initiation rites.’
Arjuna the Protector
Krishna replies, ‘All this has come to you because of your unflinching commitment to truth, Yudhishthir. You are our senior, and now you are the emperor, which means you rule over the Yadavas as well.
‘Please accept my blessings, therefore, and carry out all the rites of the ceremony as laid out by the island-born sage. We will sit here and watch you accept the pre-eminence among all the kings of Aryavarta. Let it not be said that Dwaraka does not support its king.’
Vyasa thus steps up to the role of the chief officiating priest. ‘Let Brahmins well-versed in horse lore select a worthy animal in order for the sacrifice to be completed.
‘Loosening the horse according to the injunctions of the scriptures, O King, let him wander over the earth, from seas to mountains.’
Yudhishthir nods at Vyasa’s instructions, and asks the sage a question. ‘Who will protect this horse while it roams over the earth, O Sage?’
And Vyasa says, ‘There is none other than Arjuna who is deserving of such a role. While Bhimasena and Nakula protecting the city, and with Sahadeva looking after the many guests, may the mighty-armed Dhananjaya accompany the horse.’
Battle with the Trigartas
Arjuna locks horns once again with the Trigartas during the Ashwamedha sacrifice.
The horse wanders over into their territory, and the sons and grandsons of the Trigartas are in no mood to forgive the diadem-decked for all the misfortune he heaped on them during the Kurukshetra war.
Mounted on their cars, drawn by excellent and well-decked horses, and with quivers on their backs, they surround the sacrificial animal, intending to capture it. But Arjuna comes up to them and tries to ward them off with conciliatory words.
‘Why must we continue to fight now, O Kings?’ he says. ‘I brook no ill-feeling toward you. I fought you only because we happened to be on opposing sides of an ill-fated battle. Accept the sovereignty of Yudhishthir now, and rule your kingdoms wisely and well.’
But the Trigartas do not listen, and insist on fighting.
After a long battle, Arjuna manages to subdue the Trigartan army.
The Trigartas fall on their knees and ask for mercy. ‘We are your slaves,’ they say. ‘We yield to you. Do command us, O Partha.’ And Arjuna gives them the rolled parchment that carries Yudhishthir’s seal.
The next city that Arjuna visits belongs to the Saindhava clan, a remnant of which continues to live on even after the war of Kurukshetra.
Hearing that the Pandava has come to their city, they come out of their gates, proclaiming their names and lineages, intending to pick a battle with the curly-haired one.
Some of them attempt to seize the horse while others try to waylay the path of Arjuna, who is standing on his two feet and fighting from the ground.
But all of this does not have any effect on Arjuna. Standing immovable like a hill, and drawing upon his celestial bow, he withstands the great shower of arrows thrown in his direction by the Saindhavas.
Like the great Indra wielding the thunderbolt and scattering his enemies in a hundred directions, Arjuna shoots numerous arrows into the air in all four directions, thus stupefying the many heroes who have come to fight him.
At this juncture, Dusshala, the sister of Duryodhana and widow of Jayadratha, comes out onto the battlefield and addresses Arjuna thus.
Dusshala appears on the battlefield with an infant in her arms. When Arjuna sees her approach, he bids all fighting to stop and lowers his bow. He receives his sister with comforting words and asks her:
‘This is no place for a woman, Dusshala. Why are you here? Pray, what do you wish me to do?’
Dusshala shows the baby in her arms to Arjuna. ‘This is my grandson, O Partha,’ she says, ‘the son of Jayadratha’s son Suratha. This young boy wishes to salute you with all respect. Please look into his eyes.’
Arjuna does so, but he also asks Dusshala what has happened to Suratha.
‘When he heard of Jayadratha’s death at your hands, Arjuna,’ replies Dusshala, ‘Suratha gave up his life, smitten as he was by grief. Now he has left the future of his clan in my hands.
‘And I have come to tell you that the Saindhavas will become friends to the Pandavas, O Gudakesha. Let this fighting stop, for there is nothing to be gained from it.’
Arjuna descends from his chariot, and clutches Dusshala in a warm embrace. After blessing her grandson, he assures her that the fighting will stop if she decrees it so.
The Saindhavas thus become Yudhishthir’s allies.
Arjuna next goes to the kingdom of Manipura, where Babruvahana, his son by Chitrangada, is ruling.
As soon as the prince gets to know that his father has come into the city, he sets out in the garb of a priest with a retinue of courtiers in order to invite him in with all honours. But Arjuna does not take kindly to this gesture.
‘Are you a true Kshatriya, my son?’ he asks, quite harshly, when the prince extends his arms of welcome. ‘I have come following the sacred horse of Yudhishthir, and we have trespassed into your city.
‘Is this how you have been taught to deal with unwelcome visitors to your land? I wished that you will encounter me with bow and arrow, not with a plate of gifts! Indeed, you look like a woman in these robes, not like the son of a Pandava.’
While Babruvahana is weighing his options in the face of this unexpected speech from his father, another surprise visitor appears there.
Ulupi, the other wife of Arjuna (by whom he has a son named Iravan, who dies in the Kurukshetra war), springs out of the earth and addresses her step-son with the following words.
‘My name is Ulupi, O Baburavahana,’ she says, ‘and I am the daughter of the Naga king that rules the kingdom that lies west of here.
‘Do not doubt whether or not you must fight your father today, for it is in the performing of your order’s dictates that you make yourself worthy of your throne.
‘Even if you have to clash weapons with your sire, you must do so. Do not, therefore, tarry any longer, Prince, and return to this field in your battle-gear.’
Thus advised by his step-mother to fight against his father, Babruvahana reluctantly picks up his weapon and challenges Arjuna to a duel.
Putting on his armour of bright gold and his resplendent head-gear, Babruvahana ascends his chariot with a bow in hand. The chariot has been equipped with all the necessities of battle.
Its horses run with the speed of the wind, and golden ornaments adorn it from all four sides. Raising his standard which depicts the image of a golden lion, Babruvahana blows on his conch and proceeds against his father.
Almost immediately, he proves himself an able warrior, shooting arrows through the arm of Arjuna, and then sending one slicing through the Pandava’s shoulder.
Arjuna loses consciousness owing to this relentless onslaught, and on regaining his senses he applauds the son of Chitrangada. ‘Bravo!’ he says. ‘I am highly gratified seeing you perform such worthy feats with the bow and arrow.’
Arjuna tries to return to the battle with a new set of arrows, but Babruvahana does not allow him to settle, overwhelming him once again with a steady stream of sharp shafts.
So numerous are they that the Pandava again loses consciousness, and before anyone can rush to his help, his breathing slows down to a stop.
Ulupi Revives Arjuna
This causes much alarm in the battlefield, for not even the spectators of the fight might have expected Arjuna to die at the hands of his son. More distraught is Babruvahana himself, who is now saddled with the sin of killing his own father.
Ulupi is standing aside watching, and Chitrangada comes out of the palace too, no doubt having heard the news, and throws herself at the body of Arjuna, ready to tear out her hair in grief.
‘Look, Ulupi!’ she says. ‘Behold our ever-victorious husband slain in battle by none other than his own son! Are you a woman who knows what is good and what is bad? Are you not conversant with the dictates of virtue?
‘It is due to your suggestion that my son fought with his sire, and it is due to you that our husband is now dead. What have you done, O Princess? Why did you do this?’
Ulupi, for her part, is calm and composed, as if she has been expecting all this to happen. She takes out from her garment a jewel of the Naga kingdom, and placing it on the chest of Arjuna, utters a chant under her breath.
No sooner have the words left her mouth than Arjuna’s eyes blink open, and he is restored to life.
Everyone rejoices at this wonderful happening, but Arjuna and Babruvahana still have questions of Ulupi. They ask her what is going on, and the Naga princess gives the following explanation.
The Anger of Ganga
‘What business you here, O Ulupi?’ asks Arjuna. ‘And what is it that brought you onto the battlefield when I am fighting with the son of Chitrangada? Do you entertain friendly feelings toward this boy? Did you intend to harm me by instigating me against my own son?
‘But then, if harm was your motive, why did you revive me with your magic? Your actions puzzle us, O Princess of the Nagas. Tell us where you have come from, and why you are here.’
Ulupi smiles upon Arjuna and replies, ‘Neither you nor Babruvahana has done me any wrong, my lord. Nor has this prince’s mother done me any harm. All that I have done today is for your own good. Listen carefully as I tell you the reason behind my visit.
‘In the great war of the Bharatas, you had slain the grandsire Bhishma by unfair means. You did not rely on the might of your own arms to defeat him, O Pandava, but you used deceit by hiding behind Shikhandi.
‘This act of yours has incurred the wrath of the Vasus – the brothers of Bhishma – and that of Ganga, his mother.
‘At the fall of the son of Shantanu, those deities, the Vasus, came to the bank of the Ganga, and decreed that Dhananjaya must serve the punishment for his unworthy act.’
Ulupi continues: ‘I heard them converse with one another, my lord, and I told my father about it.
‘When he went to the Vasus and asked them of the nature of this curse, they told him that Arjuna will have to meet his death at the hands of his son, and with that death the sin of having killed Bhishma will leave him.
‘If he is to ascend to Heaven without performing this cleansing ritual, they said, he will have to be cast into Hell for a few years before being admitted into Heaven.
‘When I heard this, I hurried over here because I knew you were protecting the sacrificial horse. It was therefore my intention to see to it that Babruvahana and you fight each other, my lord, and that you die at his hands.
‘I wanted to be here at that moment because I can then use the jewel of the Nagas to bring you back to life.
‘They say one’s son is one’s own self, O Arjuna. So on this occasion, it is to be understood that you merely lost to a part of yourself. In that sense, your title of Vijaya is still intact, and has not been falsified.
‘It is for this reason that I eagerly suggested Babruvahana should fight you and win against you. Only because I wanted you to be freed from the curse of having killed Bhishma, my lord.’
A Blue-eyed Mongoose
After this Arjuna successfully brings back the horse to Hastinapur. And Yudhishthir performs the Ashwamedha.
At the conclusion of the horse sacrifice, a strange incident happens that Janamejaya refers to, and Vaisampayana narrates it in full in the following way.
After all the Brahmins and kinsmen and relatives and friends and the poor and the blind and the helpless have been gratified, when the gifts have finished being spoken for on all sides, after the rain of flowers has stopped, a blue-eyed mongoose appears on the scene.
It stands directly in the path of Yudhishthir’s chariot. One side of its body is golden, the other side is dark brown. In a voice loud and deep as thunder, it frightens all the people assembled there, and adopting a human tongue, it says the following words.
‘This great sacrifice, O Kings,’ it says, ‘is not equal to a prastha of powdered barley given away by a liberal Brahmin of Kurukshetra who was observing the unccha vow.’
The mongoose explains that it is easy for a rich man like Yudhishthir to be generous with his wealth. Charity is considered great, however, only when you give away objects in your possession that you need.
With this, the Anugita Parva ends.