Invitation to World Literature
The Bhagavad Gita The Bhagavad Gita – Read the Text
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The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna's Counsel in Time of War
Translated by Barbara Stoler Miller
(Bantam Classic, 2004)
The First Teaching
Sanjaya, tell me what my sons
and the sons of Pandu did when they met,
wanting to battle on the field of Kuru,
on the field of sacred duty?
Your son Duryodhana, the king,
seeing the Pandava forces arrayed,
approached his teacher Drona
and spoke in command.
“My teacher, see
the great Pandava army arrayed
by Drupada’s son,
your pupil, intent on revenge.
Here are heroes, mighty archers
equal to Bhima and Arjuna in warfare,
Yuyudhana, Virata, and Drupada,
your sworn foe on his great chariot.
Here too are Dhrishtaketu, Cekitana,
and the brave king of Benares;
and the manly king of the Shibis.
Yudhamanyu is bold,
and Uttamaujas is brave;
the sons of Subhadra and Draupadi
all command great chariots.
Now, honored priest, mark
the superb men on our side
as I tell you the names
of my leaders.
They are you and Bhishma,
Karna and Kripa, a victor in battles,
your own son Ashvatthama,
Vikarna, and the son of Somadatta.
Many other heroes also risk
their lives for my sake,
bearing varied weapons
and skilled in the ways of war.
Guarded by Bhishma, the strength
of our army is without limit;
but the strength of their army,
guarded by Bhima, is limited.
In all the movements of battle,
you and your men,
stationed according to plan,
must guard Bhishma well!”
Bhishma, fiery elder of the Kurus,
roared his lion’s roar
and blew his conch horn,
exciting Duryodhana’s delight.
Conches and kettledrums,
cymbals, tabors, and trumpets
were sounded at once
and the din of a tumult arose.
Standing on their great chariot
yoked with white stallions,
Krishna and Arjuna, Pandu’s son,
Sounded their divine conches.
Krishna blew Pancajanya, won from a demon;
Arjuna blew Devadatta, a gift of the gods;
fierce wolf-bellied Bhima blew Paundra,
his great conch of the east.
Yudhishthira, Kunti’s son, the king,
blew Anantavijaya, conch of boundless victory;
his twin brothers Nakula and Sahadeva
blew conches resonant and jeweled-toned.
The king of Benares, a superb archer,
and Shikhandin on his great chariot,
Drishtadyumna, Virata, and indomitable Satyaki,
all blew their conches.
Drupada, with his five grandsons,
and Subhadra’s strong-armed son,
each in his turn blew
their conches, O, King.
The noise tore the hearts
of Dhritarashtra’s sons,
and tumult echoed
through heaven and earth.
Arjuna, his war flag a rampant monkey,
saw Dhritarashtra’s sons assembled
as weapons were ready to clash,
and he lifted his bow.
He told his charioteer:
halt my chariot
between the armies!
Far enough for me to see
these men who lust for war,
ready to fight with me
in the strain of battle.
I see men gathered here,
eager to fight,
bent on serving the folly
of Dhritarashtra’s son.”
When Arjuna had spoken
their splendid chariot
between the armies.
Facing Bhishma and Drona
and all the great kings,
he said, “Arjuna, see
the Kuru men assembled here!”
Arjuna saw them standing there:
fathers, grandfathers, teachers,
uncles, brothers, sons,
grandsons, and friends.
He surveyed his elders
and companions in both armies,
all his kinsmen
Dejected, filled with strange pity,
he said this:
“Krishna, I see my kinsmen
gathered here, wanting war.
My limbs sink,
my mouth is parched,
my body trembles,
the hair bristles on my flesh.
The magic bow slips
from my hand, my skin burns,
I cannot stand still.
my mind reels.
I see omens of chaos,
Krishna; I see no good
in killing my kinsmen
Krishna, I seek no victory,
or kingship or pleasures.
What use to us are kingship,
delights, or life itself?
We sought kingship, delights
and pleasures for the sake of those
assembled to abandon their lives
and fortunes in battle.
They are teachers, fathers, sons,
and grandfathers, uncles, grandsons,
fathers and brothers of wives,
and other men of our family.
I do not want to kill them
even if I am killed, Krishna;
not for kingship of all three worlds,
much less for the earth!
What joy is there for us, Krishna
in killing Dhritarashtra’s sons?
Evil will haunt us if we kill them,
though their bows are drawn to kill.
Honor forbids us to kill
our cousins, Dhritarashtra’s sons;
how can we know happiness
if we kill our own kinsmen?
The greed that distorts their reason
blinds them to the sin they commit
in ruining the family, blinds them
to the crime of betraying friends.
How can we ignore the wisdom
of turning from this evil
when we see the sin
of family destruction, Krishna?
When the family is ruined,
the timeless laws of family duty
perish; and when duty is lost,
chaos overwhelms the family.
In overwhelming chaos, Krishna,
women of the family are corrupted;
and when women are corrupted,
disorder is born in society.
This disorder drags the violators
and the family itself into hell;
for ancestors fall when rites
of offering rice and water lapse.
The sins of men who violate
the family create disorder in society
that undermines the constant laws
of caste and family duty.
Krishna, we have heard
that a place in hell
is reserved for men
who undermine family duties.
I lament the great sin
we commit when our greed
for kinship and pleasures
drives us to kill our kinsmen.
If Dhritarashtra’s armed sons
kill me in battle when I am unarmed
and offer no resistance,
it will be my reward.”
Saying this in the time of war,
Arjuna slumped into the chariot
and laid down his bow and arrows,
his mind tormented by grief.
Unit 1 The Epic of Gilgamesh
The first known human story is that of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk. Images of artifacts from ancient Iraq mix with beautiful illustrations, dance, and costume to tell of the relations between gods and mortals, the search for friendship, love, and immortality. Featured cast members include Assyriologist Ben Foster, comic book illustrator Jim Starlin, and poet and playwright Yusef Komunyakaa.
Unit 2 My Name Is Red
Both an historical novel and a graphic murder mystery set among the miniaturists of the Ottoman court. With its focus on Istambul, a major crossroads of the world, it tells of the artistic/cultural contest between Europe and the East. Cast members include the book's Nobel-prize winning author, Orhan Pamuk, and its English translator, Erdağ Göknar.
Unit 3 The Odyssey
Odysseus must travel the known and unknown world before he can return home to his beloved island kingdom of Ithaca. What does this ancient story say to readers today? In this program, Odysseus's story is given ancient and modern historical and philosophical context, and illustrated with centuries of art. Featured are theater director Mary Zimmerman, actor-director Tim Blake-Nelson, and psychologist/author Jonathan Shay.
Unit 4 The Bacchae
The city of Thebes is torn apart by the conflicting demands of reason and religion, as the disguised god Dionysus returns to his home town demanding to be worshipped. Opposing him is the young king Pentheus, who is doomed to suffer the ultimate punishment for his disbelief. Featured speakers include world-renowned playwright/author Wole Soyinka, actor Alan Cumming, and Daniel Mendelsohn of Bard College.
Unit 5 The Bhagavad Gita
This epic tale of the warrior-prince Arjuna confronting a life-or-death dilemma during civil war presents a unique and powerful philosophy of duty, discipline, and serving a higher purpose. Beautiful illustrations connect the story with its rich history and culture. Featured speakers include Sheldon Pollock, Professor of Sanskrit Studies and acclaimed composer Philip Glass.
Unit 6 The Tale of Genji
This portrait of court life in medieval Japan follows the life and exploits of the great Genji. Written by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady of the Japanese court, it provides an insider's view of Japanese court life, the official and behind the screen. Art, clothing, music from the time of the novel illustrate the obserations of authors Jane Smiley and Chiori Miyagawa, among others.
Unit 7 Journey to the West
The powerful and mischievous Stone Monkey King brings chaos to heaven and earth. Freed from a mountain prison in order to guard a Chinese monk on his journey to retrieve the Buddhist scriptures from India, Monkey seeks his own spiritual transformation. Modern performance, contemporary art, and Buddhist philosophers provide a rich context to the ancient tale. Featured cast members include playwright David Henry Huang, storyteller Diane Wolkstein, and translator Professor Anthony Yu.
Unit 8 Popol Vuh
The Mayan book of creation, the dawn of life, and the glories of gods and kings. This magnificent epic was saved from destruction at the hands of the Spanish by Quiché chroniclers. Once repressed, the story is now interwoven with the history of today's Mayan people. Featured speakers include archaeologist Richard Hanson, humorist Mo Rocca, and Guatemalan artist Shuni Giron.
Unit 9 Candide
A satirical novel following the travails of Candide, a hopeless optimist whose faith in his tutor's mantra that his is "the best of all possible worlds" is tested beyond all limits. Voltaire's challenge to the aristocracy of his day proves refreshingly amusing and biting today. Original illustrations, songs, and comic book figures plumb the depths of this satire. Featured speakers include director Harold Ramis, actress Kristin Chenoweth, and cartoonist Chris Ware.
Unit 10 Things Fall Apart
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Unit 11 One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez's multigenerational saga of the Buendía family in the isolated town of Macondo inaugurated the boom in Latin American literature in the 1970s and marked the beginning of magical realism. Writer Sandra Cisneros and scholar of Latin American literature, Ilan Stavans lend their thoughts and voices to the discussion of this epic novel.
Unit 12 The God of Small Things
Fraternal twins Rahel and Estha struggle to reclaim their lives after their childhood is destroyed by tragic circumstances. As past and present merge in this narrative of Indian society and politics, the many layers of the caste system are mirrored in the poetic and inventive language of the author. Featured speakers include Simon Gikandi of Princeton University, author Evelyn Ch'ien.
Unit 13 The Thousand and One Nights
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