Thirty Three Years or Gods?

The Thirty three years since Khandava Vana Daha

There was a very good question raised by couple of readers. I am actually thrilled that our visitors are reading the various recessions of Epics and Asking Questions!! That is the essence of any informed discussion. And the question they have asked is on a sloka that reflects the construction of Mahabharata itself.

The KMG edition stated: (Chapter 52 Udyoga Parva)

Dhritrashtra to Sanjaya:

Three and thirty years have passed away since the time, when Arjuna, having invited Agni, gratified him at Khandava, vanquishing all the celestials.

त्रयस्त्रिंशत्समाहूय खाण्डवेऽग्निमतर्पयत्
जिगाय च सुरान्सर्वान्नास्य वेद्मि पराजयम्
तरयस तरिंशत समाहूय खाण्डवे ऽगनिम अतर्पयत
जिगाय च सुरान सर्वान नास्य वेद्मि पराजयम

BORI translated the same sloka as (Chapter 51 in BORI Udyoga Parva)
He challenged the thirty-three gods and satisfied Agni in Khandava

Actually Dhritrashtra had already stated this to Sanjaya in Chapter 22 of the Udyoga Parva.

यश्चैव देवान्खाण्डवे सव्यसाची; गाण्डीवधन्वा प्रजिगाय सेन्द्रान्
उपाहरत्फल्गुनो जातवेदसे; यशो मानं वर्धयन्पाण्डवानाम्
The lower line is also written as 
उपाहरत पाण्डवो जातवेदसे; यशॊ मानं वर्धयन पाण्डवानाम


It was Falguna, the wielder of the Gandiva, who defeating in the Khandava woods all the gods together with Indra, made offerings to Agni, enhancing the honour and fame of the Pandavas.


It was Savyasachi the wielder of Gandiva who in the Khandava vana, defeated the Indra and all the gods, To increase Padavas fame and honor, Phaluguna (Pandava) gifted that forest to Agni Deva.

The same information has been told by Dhritrashtra to Sanjaya in Chapter 22. He repeated that in Chapter 51/52.

The sandhivigraha also makes the Chapter 51 sloka as त्रयस्त्रिंशत्समाहूय split as तरयस तरिंशत समाSSहूय

That makes the translation as Thirty three years have elapsed since Arjuna satisfied Agni at Khandava Vana.

Dhritrashtra is repeating same information to Sanjaya, that device indicates that Dhritrashtra is conveying different information to the Sanjaya in the second telling.

There are also several other indicators that Dhritrashtra is conveying different information. Dhrishtrashtra in second retelling uses Thirty Three Gods. Thirty Three gods are 8 Vasus including Agni and Prabahsa, 11 Rudras, 12 Adityas including Sakra and Vishnu and Aswins.

But, Agni and Asvins did not take side of Indra in the Khandava Vana war. 
Also Prabhasa Vasu was Bheeshma. Upendra was Narayana was Krishna was fighting as Arjuna’s charioteer.

Sakra was not involved because Mahabharata specifically makes Indra and Prajapati as two other gods who replaced Aswins in the Gods fighting Arjuna. Both Sakra and Indra are identified as separate gods in this instance. It is clearly stated that Indra father of Arjuna was on Arjuna’s side and Deputy or replacement Indra was the leader of Devas who fought Arjuna. Prajapati is listed in 33 elsewhere in the Epic but not in this battle.

Vivasvan also is missing in chapter 226 among list of Gods fighting Arjuna and Krishna. So, 7 Gods did not fight.

Replacement Indra fought as extra god. Aryama was acting Yamadharma but was included in thirty-three as well as deputy Aryama most likely Vaishvanar. Kubera is added as was Jaya, Mrtyudeva and Skanda. Varuna gave the weapons to Arjuna but fought him as well. Dhata and Tvashtra as well as Ansha, Mitra, Pusha, Bhaga and Savita came also. As did the Rudras, Vasus, Marudgana, Visvedevas, Sadhyas as well.

So, number of Gods who fought Arjuna actually is 33 minus 7 plus six and also sadhyas and visvedevas and 7 Maruts also fought. So number of gods were more than thirty three. Of the original Thirty three, twenty eight or nine (missing Prajapati) would be ones fighting Arjuna.

That makes the number of Gods different. Dhrishtrarstra’s use of 33 here indicates, he is using the value 33 to indicate the time which has gone by. The day of Devas, diva, is a year of Humans.

Now, does that mean BORI translation is wrong?

Nope, it is not.

The exercise of any initiative like BORI to identify the Critical edition has FOUR components. The canon of the Chaturvarga of the classical Philologist are:

  1. Heuristic: Assembling and arranging the entire material consisting of all the manuscripts and the related testimonia in form of a genealogical tree of how the text passed from one manuscript to later manuscript.
  2. Recensio: The restoration of the text of the archetype.
  3. Emendatio: restoration of the text of the original Author. 
  4. Higher Criticism, separation of sources utilized by author and modifying the text to explain the allegories.

Read: Comments on Critical Edition & Comments on Critical Edition – Part 2

Now most ancient texts from round the world are worked on by many teams of philologists and all four canon identified and fulfilled.

The Critical edition does not try to do that. The Mahabharata is so much larger than any other text that all four chaturvarga cannot be satisfied. As Suthankar puts it in 1928 edition of second volume of BORI annals, fourth is only possible after the entire critical edition is translated. That is something he will never live to see. The critical edition was completed in 1967, forty years later. For an effort that started in 1897 originally!

The Critical edition never claimed to complete the “Higher Criticism” or de allegorize.

Suthankar in same article also made it clear, the aim is not even Three. That is impossible given the size and gaps. We can at best get at the closest simulacrum to the Archetype.

And, that too Northern Archetype (which is some 40K slokas smaller than Southern Archetype). Though, there were emedatios done, like 1 every 300 slokas, we do find the editors of BORI, added what would be different from Archetype but makes sense as something author would give. A lot more emendatios entered in as supplementary passages. This sloka is an example where two meanings, one the meaning from Archetype and other an Emendatio is also entered. The BORI main translation does not include supplementary passages. The new Calcutta writers workshop edition currently has all the meanings.

ALL The Meanings!

Yes, as we have mentioned else where, Mahabharata has three interpretations atleast.

  • Upachariradi
  • Astiakdi
  • Manvadi

This sloka actually clearly reflects the Uprachariradi and Astikadi interpretations.

Vaisampayana started the story with story of Uparacharira Vasu and told the story to Janamejaya in Transcendental interpretation. The Higher Intrepretation or Uparacharira!

The Sootji came to the Sacrifice hosted by Saunaka and told the story to Saunaka and assembled Rishis starting from Story of Astika. That is called Astikadi or Historical interpretation.

Later editors added religious and other bhakti slokas thus creating the Manvadi or Dharmik interpretation edition.

So, three chief editors, three interpretation: Upachardi or transcendental, Astikadi or historical and Manvadi or (men) aka Dharmik.

So each sloka can be read in three equally true ways. of course not all slokas are changed by Manvadi editors. And one of the earliest achievements of the Critical edition of BORI was identification of a different edition.

  • The Sootji comes at start of 1st chapter and starts the story of Mahabharata at request of Rishis.
  • The Sootji comes at start of 4th chapter and starts the story of Mahabharata at request of Rishis.
  • Two Ugrashrva origin points!!
  • It is well known that Northern Edition in five scripts and 40 different recessions is from Single original source.
  • It is also known that Southern edition in three scripts and 21 different recessions is from Single original source.
  • It is also well known that both Northern and Southern editions are similar but have independent origins.

Both are from school of Ugrashrvas who based in on Vaishampayana narration and also validated by Rishis Pramati and Ruru (ancestors to Shaunaka) who instructed the school of Ugrashrvas.

One of earliest points clarified by Critical edition regarded the two beginnings of Story by Sootji Ugrashrvas.

One was to Shaunakasatraadi Rishis, the Rishis at the Satra of Shauanaka. That is called Paushya start.

Other was when Saunaka came. Saunaka was conducting this 12 year sacrifice and would be busy with Yagna work for long time.

Sootji starts the Astikadi narration to Shaunakadi aka Shaunaka and other Rishis!!

Sootji did two narrations in the twelve year period of Naimisharanya forest Saunaka Sacrifice. Once to the assembled Rishis and other to Saunaka and assembled rishis again.

It makes sense that he would change the narration to keep the audience interested with some details or different stories separate in second narration than first one. It makes sense that second narration may also be shorter than first one which involved Rishis not connected to 16 Rishi positions of the Yajna.

That is why Yudhishthara meets Nahusha in Vana Parva and talks at length with him and at same time Yudhishthara meets Shalya later in Udyoga Parva and listens to Nahusha’s story again.

That is why we have two Savitri stories et all. And so on.

That is also probably the difference in Northern and Southern editions. Each represents a faithful archetype of two narrations of Sootji.

Later on someone inserted the Puloma story as well between the Paushya and Astikadi starts.

Trayartho Veda”.

The Vedas have three meanings.

Mahabharata has three meanings, Astikadi, Manavadi and Upachariradi.

(Historical, Religious and Transcendental)

According to Nirukta (Grammer book for the Vedas), each mantra of the Vedas has three meanings: ‘AdyiYagyik’, ‘AdyiDaivik’ and ‘Adhyatmik’.

Primal Sacrificial or Remedy, Primal Divine and Spiritual (or moral story).

They also mean Today’s Yoga, Today’s Deva and Spiritual.

That is one reason, the Critical edition differs from the archetype. Each start of Parva and major upa-parvas have mangalachar slokas. The interpolations from Bhakti era were kept as the Mangalachar mantras of bygone Hindu eras would be not be known now. Also, critical edition was hard on Krishna bhaktas so they kept the Bhakti Mangalachar mantras!

by Pranshu B. Saxena

Post Author: Mahabharata World

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