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Mahabharata. Book 3. The Forest Book (Aranyakaparva) [Махабхарата. Книга третья. Лесная (Араньякапарва)]. Tr. from Sanskrit, with introduction and notes by Y.V.Vassilkov and S.L.Neveleva. Moscow 1987 (Pamyatniki pismennosti Vostoka, LXXX). 799 p.


Summary

The central matter of the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata is the struggle for supremacy between the two rival groups of relatives, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The third book of the Mahabhaiata, known as the Aranyakaparva or the Forest Book, is one of the biggest (11.5 thousand slokas) and the richest and the most diverse in subject-matter of the 18 books of the epic. The book covers the twelve year period which the Pandavas had to spend in the forest in exile, after their game of dice with the Kauravas.

The Mahabharata took about a millennium to be compiled as a monument of ancient Indian poetry (approximately from the V-IV cc. B.C. to the III-IV cc. A. D.). The two main factors, the length of the compilation period and the multiplicity of arrangements have resulted in a rather motley combination of ideas and themes; the elements of archaic epic, heroic epic and late religious didactic poetry have become closely intertwined in the poem. The Mahabharata as it survives today is an encyclopaedia of mythological, religious, moral, ethical and socio-economic ideals prevailing in ancient India, making it a valuable source for the history of human culture.

The Aranyakaparva includes the best specimens of virtually all literary forms and genres traditionally included in ancient Indian epic poetry. These are, in particular, the epic renderings of myths, for instance the myth of the combat between India and Vritra central to Vedic mythology, or several versions of the Indian Flood myth one of which suspiciously resembles the Mesopotamian-Biblical story. Alongside heroic tales about the Panel avas (the episode of the fight between Arjuna and Shiva in the guise of a Kirata, and the hero's ascent to Indra's heaven; the story of Bhimasena fighting Kirmira, yaksas, etc.) the Forest Book contains tales which are likely to belong to the different epic cycles (the episode of Krishna-fighting with the demon-king Salva, a version of the story of Rama, the mam character of the Ramayana). The Aranyakaparva also incorporates the Tale of Nala, a unique sample of lyrico-epic poetry which has gained individual worldwide renown. It is not improbable that oral tradition of “ascetic” poetry has provided the epic with numerous tales of ancient ages and hermits (tales of Yavakrlta, Agastya, Astavakra, Syavana, etc.: the famous Story of Savitri may also be considered as a borrowing).

“Didactic” poetry is also richly represented in the Aranyaka. It includes narrations of “worldly wisdom” having nuch in common with the oldest Indian politico-juridical treatise, Manava Dharmashastra or Manu's Law Code, “pilgrimage” texts, the main of which is Pulastya's Tirthayatra (in The Tale of the Pilgrimage to Tirthas), the pilgrim's itinerary covering the whole territory of the subcontinent and providing nuch information on the geography of ancient India, which nay be regarded as very reliable. A number of “didactic” texts provides a profound analysis of ethical and philosophical ssues. Here we can mention the argument between Yudhishthira and Draupadi and Bhima (Chapters 31-33), which V. S. Sukthankar called “the core of the ethico-philosophical problem in the Mahabharata”.

The meaning and the literary, mythological and ritual allusions and references of each of the more important themes of he main narative in the Aranyakaparva are, when possible, ;larified by the translators in the commentary. In the Aranyakaparva as nowhere in the Mahabharata one can immeliately find, by the reasons mentioned above, an accumulation of many “wandering” tales and themes borrowed from the common stock of ancient Indian epic folklore. Versions of many tales can be found not only in the Ramayana or the Puranas, but in Buddhist Jatakas and Jaina stories as well. The themes initially fixed in the Aranyakaparva have for many centuries fertilized the visual and verbal arts in India and its philosophy.

The style of the Aranyakaparva and of the whole of the Mahabharata is mostly the formular style of epic texts which are the result of oral tradition for which the predominance of improvisation over transmission by memory is essentially characteristic. The style is strongly marked by standard epithets, and similes involving a well-established system of comparison, as well as by broad use of the metaphor, metonymy and ono-matopoetic techniques, etc.

The present translation of theAranyakaparva is made from the critical edition (Poona, 1942). As in the first, second, fourth and fifth books of the Mahabharata translated by V. I. Kalyanov, the poetic text of the Forest Book (mainly written in shlokas) is given in prose translation. Assuming the inevitable loss of such artistic values as sound and rythm of the Sanskrit text, the translators aimed at as accurate as possible rendering of the meaning of every sloka using the facilities offered by the Russian literary language.

The translation of the Aranyakaparva is provided with notes and glossaries of main epic and mythological characters, geographic and ethnic names, items and terms, and related indici. A glossary of flora and fauna is at the same time an index. The notes and the nature of reference entries are largely determined by the content of the Forest Book, very characteristic of which is the recurrent reference to myths. Therefore, many of the notes are given to explain myths, more so that in the study of ancient Indian mythology very much yet remains to be done. The glossary of main characters contains the explanation of names and, if required, gives a functional characteristic of a personage. The glossary gives a good idea of the system of ancient Indian nomination combining proper names, patronymics, various derivatives of the kin-name, as well as names-epithets providing an immediate characteristic of a personage with allusion to his or her appearance, specific feature, attribute, function, deed, or place of residence, etc. In addition, special glossaries are provided to introduce the reader to ancient Indian rituals and customs, epic geography, philosophy, etc. As for Indian flora, the glossary-index contains mainly the Latin name of a species and, if the specific role played by a plant in epic imagery (e. g. kimsuka or sala trees) or in the ritual (e. g. asvattha and udurhbara trees) requires, it provides a more detailed description. The notes are arranged by tales, and inside each section, by ordinal numbers. The indici contain references to both the translation and the notes (pages of the latter are given in bold type).

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Keywords


Aranyakaparva
Indian epic
Mahabharata
The Forest Book

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