Sunday, March 24, 2019

Guide: Sudama

This is a guide to Sudama: The Power of True Friendship (Volume 532). You can find it at Amazon.

Bizzell Reserves call number: PN 6790 .I443 A437 v.532

Summary: This story provides a perfect contrast to the story of Drona and Drupada! Sudama, a poor brahmin boy, became a childhood friend of Krishna when they studied with the same guru. Later, when he goes to visit Krishna, he brings a humble gift of flattened rice (powa). Krishna is delighted by the gift and, when Sudama returns home, he finds that a miracle has taken place in his absence.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Guide: Krishna and Narakasura

This is a guide to Krishna and Narakasura: Confidence Versus Arrogance (Volume 522). You can find it at Amazon.

All the ACK comic books are on Reserve in Bizzell, and the call number for this issue is: PN 6790 .I443 A437 v.522

Summary: Narakasura was a terrifying asura, son of Bhoomi, the Earth Goddess. He terrorized the gods and even stole the earrings of Aditi, mother of the gods. It's up to Krishna and his daring wife Satyabhama to retrieve those earrings! Krishna defeats Narakasura and installs his son Bhagadatta on the throne. You can read more about Narakasura at Wikipedia.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Guide: Ghatotkacha

This is a guide to Ghatotkacha: The Chivalrous Demon (Volume 592). You can find it at Amazon.

Bizzell Reserves call number: PN 6790 .I443 A437 v.592

See the detailed Reading Guide below.

Bhima and the Pandavas (pp. 1-3). The story begins with the sons of King Pandu, the Pandavas, growing up with their cousins, the Kauravas, who are jealous of the Pandavas' popularity. Duroyodhana, eldest of the Kaurava brothers, plots the death of the Pandavas, but the Pandavas escape and flee with their mother into the forest. Bhima, the strongest of the five Pandava brothers, carries the family on his shoulders.
Additional reading: You can read more about Kunti and the Pandava brothers at Wikipedia, with separate articles about each brother. The most important for this story are Bhima and Arjuna.
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Bhima's rakshasa wife and son (pp. 3-6). In that same forest live a rakshasa brother and sister, Hidimba and Hidimbaa. They like to eat humans! When Hidimbaa sees Bhima, she falls in love and changes herself into a beautiful woman. Her brother sees this and attacks Bhima. Bhima's mother and brothers hear what is happening and come watch the fight. Bhima kills Hidimba, and then Hidimbaa (still in her human form) asks to marry Bhima. Bhima and Hidimbaa have a son: Ghatotkacha. As a rakshasa, he is full-grown at birth and he has magical powers. He promises to come whenever his father needs him. The Pandavas continue their journey in exile, leaving Hidimbaa and Ghatotkacha in the forest.
Additional reading: The spelling "aa" is used here to convey the long vowel in Sanskrit. In Sanskrit there is a long "a" letter ("ah") and a short "a" ("uh") letter, but in English, we have only one letter "a," which can lead to some confusion with transliterated Sanskrit names. Hidimba (short a) is the masculine name, and Hidimbā (Hidimbaa, long a) is the feminine form. She is also called Hidimbi. You can read more about rakshasas at Wikipedia. This comic book explains the story of why they are born full-grown: Kubera (see the section about "Rakshasas in Lanka").
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Abhimanyu and Vatsala (pp. 7-9). The Pandavas gain a kingdom and build a beautiful palace, making the Kauravas even more jealous. They lure the eldest Pandava, Yudhishthira, into a game of dice and he loses everything. The Pandavas go into the forest as exiles, this time with their shared wife, Draupadi. The great Pandava archer, Arjuna, leaves his wife, Subhadra (Krishna's sister), and son, Abhimanyu, behind; Subhadra and Abhimanyu go to Dwaraka, Subhadra's family home. Abhimanyu is engaged to Vatsala (the daughter of Balarama, Krishna's brother), but Balarama decides to marry Vatsala to Lakshmana, Duryodhana's son instead. As Subhadra and Abhimanyu cross the forest, a rakshasa attacks them: it is Bhima's son, Ghatotkacha, Abhimanyu's cousin.
Additional reading: This wonderful story about Vatsala is not part of the traditional Mahabharata, but it is a famous folktale. You can learn more at these Wikipedia pages: Revati (she is Vatsala's mother) and Lakshmana Kumara. You can learn more about Abhimanyu in this comic book: Abhimanyu.
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Ghatotkacha and the wedding (pp. 10-15). Ghatotkacha agrees to help Abhimanyu. The rakshasas go to Dwaraka and, disguised as humans, buy up the shops and offer new clothes for old. The Kauravas, who have come for the wedding of Vatsala and Lakshmana, are delighted. Ghatotkacha then carries Vatsala away to Abhimanyu. Next, he transforms himself to look like Vatsala. During the wedding ceremony, Lakshmana is surprised by how tight the bride's grip is; Ghatotkacha squeezes Lakshmana's hand so tight that he faints. The rakshasas all fly away, as do the new clothes, leaving the Kauravas naked and helpless. Abhimanyu then comes to Dwaraka with Vatsala and they live happily there.
Additional reading: This story about Ghatotkacha in disguise might remind you of the story about the Norse god Thor disguised as a bride
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The war (pp. 16-21). When the Pandavas and Kauravas finally go to war, Bhima summons Ghatotkacha, and he arrives with his rakshasa warriors. Ghatotkacha rescues his father when King Bhagadatta attacks him, and the next day Ghatotkacha uses illusions to terrify the Kauravas. When Abhimanyu is killed in battle, Arjuna vows to avenge his death by killing Jayadratha, and when Arjuna manages to kill Jayadratha, the Kauravas vow to avenge his death. The Pandavas call on Ghatotkacha to defeat Karna, one of the greatest of the Kaurava warriors.
Additional reading: Arjuna eventually slays Bhagadatta; you can read about that confrontation at Wikipedia.
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Ghatotkacha and Karna (pp. 22-27). Ghatotkacha throws a chakrayudha (disc) at Karna, but Karna smashes it with his arrows. Ghatotkacha creates a mountain that pours forth weapons, but Karna destroys it with a Vajra Astra, the thunderbolt weapon. Ghatotkacha conjures up a cloud that rains stones, but Karna counters with a Vayu Astra, a wind weapon. Ghatotkacha hurls trees at Karna, but he snaps them with arrows. Ghatotkacha multiplies himself, but Karna shoots arrows at all the Ghatotkachas, and then Ghatotkacha swallows the arrows.
Additional reading: You can read more about the battle chakrams and supernatural astra weapons at Wikipedia, including a specific article about the god Indra's Vajra. Many of the astras are associated with specific gods; the Vayu Astra is named for Vayu, the god of wind.
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Ghatotkacha falls (pp. 27-31). When Ghatotkacha shrinks and becomes invisible, shooting forth weapons of fire, the terrified Kaurava warriors beg Karna to use the Shakti weapon of Indra, which can only be used once. Karna wants to save that weapon for Arjuna, but he realizes he must save the Kaurava warriors, so he launches the weapon at Ghatotkacha. As Ghatotkacha is dying, he makes his body into a gigantic size and falls on a Kaurava regiment, crushing them to death beneath his corpse. The Pandavas mourn Ghatotkacha, and Krishna explains that his death has saved Arjuna's life and guaranteed a Pandava victory in the end.
Additional reading: The rivalry between Arjuna and Karna is one of the main themes of the Mahabharata, and this comic book explains how Karna came to possess the Shakti weapon: Karna

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Guide: Tales of Narada

This is a guide to Tales of Narada: Tales of Devotion and Rivalry (Volume 520). You can find it at Amazon.

All the ACK comic books are on Reserve in Bizzell, and the call number for this issue is: PN 6790.I443 A437 v. 520

This comic book contains three stories:

Narada Conquers Temptation. Fearing Narada's powers, Indra sends Kamadeva, god of desire, to tempt him. Having resisted Kama, Narada decides to brag about this to Shiva, and then to Vishnu. Narada then goes to the city of King Sheelanidhi, whose daughter is having a swayamvara to choose a husband. Narada prays to Vishnu for help, but Vishnu tricks Narada in order to teach him a lesson.

Who is the Greater Devotee? Narada is convinced that he is Vishnu's greatest devotee, but Vishnu takes him to see a poor farmer whose devotion to Vishnu is even greater. At first Narada scoffs at this demonstration, but then with a simple test Vishnu convinces Narada of the farmer's true devotion.

Narada Enlightened. In the final story, Vishnu teaches Narada the meaning of "Maya," the illusion that we call reality. If you are a fan of Star Trek Next Generation, you will recognize this story as being something very similar to Picard's adventure in the episode called "The Inner Light" (regarded by many as the best ST TNG episode of all).

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Guide: Abhimanyu

This is a guide to Abhimanyu: Star-Crossed Prince (Volume 533). You can find it at Amazon.

[I'll add the Bizzell Library Call Number when the books are processed.]

In the commentary below, I have provided links so that you can compare the comic book version with other accounts of the story and/or important background information. Make sure you read BOTH the comic-book version AND the additional reading listed below, and then you will be ready to write your Diary post. Doing the reading and writing the blog post will take 1-2 hours.

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Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna (pp. 1-4). Prince Abhimanyu is the son of Arjuna and Subhadra, Krishna's sister, so Abhimanyu is a descendant of the Pandavas (sons of Pandu, including Arjuna) and the Yadavas (Krishna's people). The Pandavas' cousins send the Pandavas into exile; Abhimanyu and his mother remain in the royal city, and as he grew up, he vowed to avenge the wrong done to his father Arjuna and the other Pandavas.
Additional reading: You can find out more about Arjuna and Subhadra at Wikipedia, and there is also a long article about Abhimanyu.
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Abhimanyu and Uttara (pp. 5-7). The Pandavas spend the thirteenth year of exile in the court of King Virata, and they reveal their identity to him. Virata offers his daughter Uttara to Arjuna, and Arjuna proposes that she marry Abhimanyu. Virata agrees and Abhimanyu and Uttara get married. Krishna attempts to make peace between the Pandavas and the Kauravas now that the time of exile is over, but the Kauravas want war.
Additional reading: In Sanskrit there is a long "a" letter ("ah") and a short "a" ("uh") letter, but in English, we have only one letter "a," which can lead to some confusion with transliterated Sanskrit names. For example, Uttarā (the mark over the "a" is sometimes used to indicate a long a) is the feminine name; Abhimanyu marries Princess Uttara (Uttarā). Her brother, meanwhile, is named Uttara (short a), the masculine form of the name.
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The battle begins (pp. 8-13). On the first day of battle, Abhimanyu bravely attacks Bhishma, general of the Kaurava army. The battle goes back-and-forth for days. Arjuna kills Bhishma, and Drona becomes the Kaurava general. In Arjuna's absence, Drona attacks in a special formation that only Abhimanyu knows how to break. Abhimanyu explains that he knows how to break into the formation but not how to get back out again, and Yudhishthira promises that the army will be able to protect him if he can just break the formation.
Additional reading: There is a great story about why Abhimanyu only has this partial knowledge of the formation: he learned about it while in his mother's womb as his father, Arjuna, was speaking about it. But Arjuna did not explain all the details, so, as a result, Abhimanyu knew only how to break through the formation, not how to exit it (see Wikipedia for the story). The name of Drona's special formation is Chakravyuha, from the word "chakra" which means a circle or a disk because it looks like a circle from above; the warriors on the ground experience it as a labyrinth. Here is an illustration from the Wikipedia article: Padmavyuha - Chakravyuha.

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Abhimanyu battles alone (pp. 14-19). Abhimanyu rides out in his chariot to confront Drona's massed troops. Much to Drona's surprise, Abhimanyu is able to break through the formation, but Jayadratha closes the breach, cutting Abhimanyu off alone. Abhimanyu fights bravely, and then Duryodhana, eldest of the Kauravas, charges him. Drona fears for Duryodhana's life and manages to rescue him, and then Drona and his men attack Abhimanyu.
Additional reading: This is the same Jayadratha who attempted to abduct Draupadi when the Pandavas were living in the forest. You can read more about Jayadratha at Wikipedia; he is married to Duhshala, the one sister to the one hundred Kaurava brothers.
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The death of Duryodhana's son (pp. 20-25). Abhimanyu continues to defend himself, even managing to wound the great warrior Karna and also Shalya. Shalya's brother attacks, but Abhimanyu smashes his chariot. Drona is impressed, which angers Duryodhana, and Duryodhana's brother Duhshasana vows to kill Abhimanyu himself, but fails. Karna makes another attack, and Abhimanyu counters his attack also. Next, Duryodhana's son Lakshmana attacks, and Abhimanyu kills him. Duryodhana is enraged.
Additional reading: Don't confuse this Lakshmana with the famous brother of Rama in the Ramayana, also named Lakshmana. There is a wonderful folktale about Lakshmana and why he vowed to never take a wife; you can read that story in the Wikipedia article about him: Lakshmana Kumara; the story if also told in the article about Revati and her daughter Vatsala.
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The death of Abhimanyu (pp. 26-32). Then use their arrows to slice through the reins of Abhimanyu's horses, shatter his bow, and slay his chariot driver. Abhimanyu then fights on foot, using his sword, until Drona and Karna shatter both his sword and his shield. He then grabs the wheel of his chariot and uses that as a weapon. When the wheel shatters, Abhimanyu grabs a mace and fights with Duhshasana's son, and it is Duhshasana's son who strikes the fatal blow. The Kauravas dance with joy around Abhimanyu's body... but in the end they will all perish in the war as Arjuna and the Pandavas vow to avenge Abhimanyu's death.
Additional reading: At the time of Abhimanyu's death, his wife Uttara is pregnant with their child; it is that child, Parikshit, who will be the only survivor to carry on the family line, inheriting the throne of Hastinapura.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Guide: Karna

This is a guide to Karna: Brave, Generous, Ill-Fated Prince (Volume 531). You can find it at Amazon.

Bizzell Reserves call number: PN 6790 .I443 A437 v.531

See the detailed reading guide below.

Kunti and Surya (pp. 1-3). King Kuntibhoja adopts his niece Pritha as his own daughter, giving her the name Kunti. When the sage Durvasa, renowned for his bad temper, stays with the king for a year, Kunti's gracious behavior impresses him and he gives her a mantra that allows her to invoke a god and bear that god's son. She tries out the mantra by calling on Surya, the sun-god, just out of curiosity to test the mantra. Kunti doesn't want a son, but the power of the mantra cannot be stopped, and she gives birth to a baby, Karna, who has kavacha (armor) and kundalas (earrings) from the Sun, his father.
Additional reading: The word "kundala" means "coil," and you can see the same root in the word kundalini, the energy "coil" in the spine according to yoga theory. You can read more about the irascible sage Durvasa at Wikipedia: Durvasa; it is Durvasa who is responsible for Lakshmana's death in the Ramayana: Durvasa, Rama, and Lakshmana.
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The Young Karna (pp. 4-7). Kunti sets the baby adrift in a basket in the river and a charioteer named Adhiratha, finds him. He brings the baby home to his wife, Radha, and they call him Radheya, the son of Radha. Meanwhile, Kunti, now the co-wife of King Pandu along with his other wife, Madri, uses the mantra so that the childless Pandu can have sons. Kunti has three sons (Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna), and Madri has twins (Nakula and Sahadeva). After Pandu dies, Madri casts herself on his funeral pyre, and Kunti is left to raise all five boys. The sons of Pandu, the Pandavas, are rivals of their cousins, the Kauravas, and young Karna often sees them fighting. Drona taught the Pandava boys and the Kauravas, and he was also Karna's teacher, but his favorite pupil was Arjuna.
Additional reading: The rivalry between Karna and Arjuna is one of the most important themes of the whole epic; you can read more about Arjuna at Wikipedia: Arjuna.
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Curses (pp. 8-15). When Drona refuses to teach Karna the Brahmastra weapon because Karna is not a kshatriya (warrior) but only the son of a charioteer, he goes to the great guru Parashurama to learn the secret. Parashurama hates the kshatriya (warrior) class and accepts only brahmins (priests) as his pupils, so Karna disguises himself as a brahmin. Parahsurama becomes Karna's teacher. One day, Karna allows an insect to dig a hole in his flesh rather than disturb his guru. Parashurama realizes that the boy must be a kshatriya and curses him so that his knowledge of weapons will fail him when he most needs it. Karna accidentally shoots a brahmin's cow, and he is cursed again: Karna will be killed like that cow, unable to defend himself.
Additional reading: The Brahmastra is one of the most powerful of the supernatural weapons called astras. Parashurama (Rama-with-an-axe) is considered to be one of the avatars of Vishnu, and you can read about his epic hatred of the kshatriya class at Wikipedia: Vengeance Against the Kshatriyas.
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Prince of Anga (pp. 11-16). Karna returns to live with his mother. He hears about a tournament and wants to compete. Arjuna seems to be the winner, but then Karna comes on to the field and accomplishes all the same feats as Arjuna. Duryodhana is thrilled to find someone with skills to match those of his hated cousin. Karna wants to duel with Arjuna, but another of the royal gurus, Kripa, insists on knowing Karna's lineage. Karna does not know what to say, but Duryodhana declares him to be Prince of Anga. At that moment, Adhiratha the charioteer enters and embraces Karna. Bhima is outraged and mocks Karna for being the son of a charioteer, but Duryodhana embraces and comforts him, and Karna is absolutely loyal to Duryodhana in the years to come when they prepare for war with the Pandavas.
Additional reading: You can read more about Duryodhana, the oldest of the Kaurava brothers, at Wikipedia: Duryodhana
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Before the War (pp. 17-20). The god Indra, Arjuna's father, is worried about the threat that Karna poses and plans to deprive Karna of his armor and earrings. Surya, the sun god, warns Karna in a dream, but when Indra, disguised as a brahmin, asks Karna for alms, Karna gives in because of his generous nature. Indra is impressed and gives Karna the Shakti weapon, but on condition that he can only use it once. Krishna, meanwhile, decides it is time for Karna to learn the trust of his birth. Krishna urges him to come over to the side of the Pandavas, but Karna is loyal to Duryodhana. He asks Krishna to keep the secret of Karna's birth until he dies. Kunti also speaks with Karna, hoping to prevent the war. He still remains loyal to Duryodhana but promises that, of the Pandavas, he will kill only Karna so that, no matter what, Kunti will have five sons.
Additional reading: Indra's weapon is also known as the Vasava Shakti (the Shakti of Indra, Lord of the Vasus = Vasava), and the word Shakti itself means "power." Shakti is also used as the name for the divine feminine force; you can read more about the goddess dimension of Shakti at Wikipedia.
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The War (pp. 20-24). Karna, angry that Bhishma is leading Duryodhana's army, refuses to fight at first, but when Bhishma falls on the tenth day of battle, Karna seeks and receives Bhishma's blessing. Bhishma also knows the secret of Karna's birth, but he acknowledges that it is Karna's Dharma to be loyal to Duryodhana. Karna agrees that Drona should be general. As the battle rages, Karna has the chance to kill Bhima, but he spares him because of the promise he made to their mother. At night, Bhima's rakshasa son Ghatotkacha comes out to fight. Without thinking, Karna uses the Shakti weapon to slay Ghatotkacha, instead of reserving it for Arjuna.
Additional reading: You can find out more about Kunti's son Bhima, his rakshasi wife Hidimbi, their son Ghatotkacha at Wikipedia.
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General Karna (pp. 25-32). When Drona falls on the fifteenth day, Karna becomes general. He has the chance to kill Nakula in battle but again lets him go. He asks Duryodhana to appoint Shalya as his charioteer so that he can confront Arjuna, whose charioteer is Krishna. On the next day Karna spares Yudhishthira's life, but he still plans to kill Arjuna. Karna's wheel gets stuck in the mud, and then he cannot remember how to use his powerful mantras. He jumps down to release the wheel from the mud, and Arjuna kills him. The curses of Parashurama and the brahmin thus both come true. Kunti reveals the secret of Karna's birth to the Pandavas after the battle. The Pandavas are deeply moved and arrange for Karna's funeral as one of their kinsmen.
Additional reading: To find out more about the life of Karna and his role in the Mahabharata, see Wikipedia: Karna.