0520043936, 9780520043930

Table of contents :
Title Page
Publisher's Preface
Introduction by B. A. van Nooten
Part One: In the Beginning
1. A Mine of Jewels & Gems
2. The Ring & the Well
3. Fire & Flame
4. Indraprastha
5. The Falling Sand
Part Two: In the Middle
6. Nala & Damayanti
7. The Thousand-Petaled Lotus
8. An Iron Net
9. Virata
10. The Invasion
11. Do Not Tell
12. Sanjaya Returns
13. Trees of Gold
14. The Enchanted Lake
15. The Night
Part Three: In the End
16. The Blade of Grass
17. The Lonely Encounter
18. Parikshita
19. The Timeless Path
20. The City of Gates
Reference List of Characters

Citation preview

"REDOLENT WITH ACTION, ANECDOTES, WISDOM and the social mores and customs

of the East and of the era."

-Boston Globe

"We are fortunate indeed to have the new rendering....No other recent translator in America has clambered so high on this epic mountainside."

_.Asian Studeni

"Meaningful today, yet true to its origins lively, readable preserving the original flavor." .

-Library Journal

"Sensitive to the tensions and power of the main story . . expressed in a rhy th mical prose which has particular appeal to the American ear a good balance between the main epic story and the episodes which are interwoven to highlight it and afford fur­ ther delight and education to the audien ce excellent." Choice .



Before his tragically e arly death in 1970 at the age of WILLIAM BUCK had devoted fifteen years to his magnificent renderings of the two major Indi an epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana; the latter book is also


available in a Mentor edition.




Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand Penguin Books ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England Published by Meridian, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc. Published by arrangement with the University of California Press. For information address the University of California Press, 2120 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94720. First Meridian Printing, September, 1987 13 12 I I 10 9 8 7 6 5 Copyright·@ 1973 by The Regents of the University of California All rights reserved. Mahabharata previously appeared in a Mentor edition.



Buck, William. Mahabharata f by William Buck; introduction by B.A. van Nooten. em. p. ISBN 0-452-00913-8 I. Krishna (Hindu deity)-Fiction. 2. Mythology, Hindu-Fiction. 3. Mahlibhlirata-Adaptations. PS3552.U335M3 1993 813'.54-dc20 93-33371

I. Title. CIP

Printed in the United States of America Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT QUANTITY DISCOUNTS WHEN USED TO PROMOTE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES. FOR INFORMATION PLEASE WRITE TO PREMIUM MARKETING DIVISION, PENGUIN BOOKS USA INC., NEW YORK, NEW YORK




+ Lovers call again to their minds old gentleness and old service, and many kind deeds that were forgotten by negligence. For like as winter rasure doth always arase and deface grene summer, so fareth it by unstable love in man and woman. For in many persons there is no stability; for we may see all day, for a little blast of winter's rasure, anon we shall deface and lay apart true love for little or nought, that cost much think; this is no wisdom nor stability, but it is feebleness of nature and great disworship, whomsoever useth this.

1,Iorte Darthur



contents ix

Publisher's Pref:lce



Part One: In the Beginning


1: A Mine of Jewels and Ge:=.s 2: The Ring and the Well 3:



Fire and Flame

4: Indraprastha


5: The Falling Sand


Part Two: In the Middle

6: Nala and Damayanti

69 71

7: The Thousand-Petaled Lotus 8: An Iron Net

9: Virata



10: The Invasion 11: Do Not Tell 12: Sanjaya Returns

13: Trees of Gold


131 143 151 160


14: The Enchanted Lake

15: The Night



Part Three: In the End


16: The Blade of Grass


17: The Lonely Encounter 18: Parikshita



19: The Timeless Path


20: The City of Gates




Reference List of Characters



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puBl1Sh€JtS pR€�aC€ In 1955 Bill Buck discovered an elaborate nineteenth century edition of The Sacred Song of the Lord, the Bhagavad-Gita of Lord Krishna, in a state library in Carson City, Nevada. Immediately captivated, he plunged into a study of Indian literature which has resulted in this rendering of the Ma­ habharata, one of the Ramayana, and an unfinished manuscript of Harivamsa-unfinished because of the death of Bill Buck in 1970 at the age of thirty-seven. His discovery of the Bhagavad- G ita moved Bill Buck to read the Mahabharata, and he would be satisfied with nothing but the full translation, an eleven volume set of which was then being reprinted in India. So determined was he that he subsidized the reprinting when it became apparent that the publisher had insufficient funds to complete his task. Midway through his reading of volume 3, Buck decided the Mahabharata should be rewritten for a modern English­ speaking audience. In his own words, "Malwbharata was about 5,000 pages, and Ramayana much shorter. When I read these translations I thought how nice to tell the story so it wouldn't be so hard to read. We talk about all the repeti­ tion and digression of the originals, but as you read all that endless impossible prose a very definite character comes to each actor in the story, and the land and times are most clearly shown. I wanted to transfer this story to a readable book." To this end, Bill Buck began years of reading and reread­ ix



ing the translations, studying Sanskrit, planning, and writing. One of tis approt.ches to his task was to dec!pher all t!le elaborate appellatives used for heroes and gods, kings and Frincesses which were used in the original text, often in place of names. These were qualities related to the characters, of which Buck compiled lists. He later used the adjectives inter­ laced with descriptions to preserve the mood and meanings of the characters in his own renderings. He also read all avail2.ble English translations and versions of the two great epics, lz.ter saying of them, "I have never seen any versions of ei­ ther story in English that were not mere outlines, or incom­ plete, except for the two literal translations." He was always aware that the epics were originally sung, so reading aloud both the original translations and his own work became part cf the Buck family Jife. But the writing was done in seclu­ sion, many hours at a time, with only finished cha!,)ters presented to the family. During the course of his work, Bill Buck grew to iove the characters of the epics, above all Krishna. He loved, too, the friendship between Krishna and Arjuna, the ancient bond of which Krishna could remember all the incarnations, although they were obscure to Arjuna. It was a theme Buck intendd to enlarge in his Harivamsa. He had also a great respect for Duryodhana and felt that without an understanding of this character one would miss the meaning of the story and "of Life." Buck's vision of his task was firm, with a balanced form that remained clearly in his mind as he worked. He said, "It is always apparent just what is the thread of the story-the great story that was told at the Horse Sacrifice-and what are later interpolations. It is stuffed with preachments, treatises of special interests, doctrines of later caste systems, long pas­ sages of theological dogma, but these are in chunks, and only slow the story." His great goal was to tell the tales in such a way that the modern reader would not be discouraged from knowing and loving the stories as he did. He wanted to con­ vey the spirit, the truth, of the epics. In answer to a critic of his manuscripts he replied, "I've made many changes and combinations in both books, but I wish to have them considered as stories which they are, rather than as examples of technically accurate scholarship, which I told you they weren't. I'd be more than willing to make any changes that could help the internal structures of



the books, but I wouldn't want to change anything to con­ form to the 'real story,' either iri details of the stories or, more subtle, in some of the places where I have given the people some of the characteristics that we adll'ire today, and which make a story we can read today. One thing however is true. Read the stories and you get the real spirit of the origi­ nal once you're done, and if they're entertaining that's all I ask." And to a friend, "I have changed my Mahabharata from the original i n a few little ways besides length. I got a good story out of it, but what will a professor think of its use or its scholarly fidelity? Still, if you read it you know the Ma­ habharata."

That was his aim-to make it possible for the modern reader to know the Mahabharata in a way meaningful in terms of modern life, as well as in terms of its origins. Of the finished manuscripts he wrote, "My method in writing both Mahabharata and Ramayana was to begin with a literal translation from which to extract the story, and then to tell that story in an interesting way that would preserve the spirit and flavor of the original. The Mahabharata especially is a case of a good story lost among an overgrown _garden of di­ gressions, interruptions and no few sermons. My motive is therefore that of the storyteller. I'm not trying to prove any­ thing and I have made my own changes to tell the story better. Here are two great stories just waiting for people to read them. Based on the words of ancient songs, I have written books. I tried to make them interesting to read. I don't think you will find many other books like them."




I am the King; My wealth and my treasure Are too great to be counted.


I have nothing.

If all my City burns to ashes, Nothing of mine will be harmed.

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