Page:Myths of the Hindus & Buddhists.djvu/154

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Introduction to the Mahabharata

THE Indian national saga, beyond all dispute, is the Mahabharata. This is to the Indian village and the Indian home what the Iliad was to the Greek, and, to a certain extent also, what the Scriptures and Gospels are to ourselves. It is the most popular of all the sacred books. It contains, as an interlude, the Bhagavad Gita, the national gospel. But with this it is also an epic. The story of a divine incarnation, Krishna, as he is called, has been wrought into and upon an immense ballad and military epic of unknown antiquity. Of this epic the main theme is a great battle waged between two families of cousins, the sons of Pandu and the sons of Dhritarashtra or the Pandavas and the Kauravas, or Kurus by name. And although, after the fashion of ancient literature, a thousand other tales, some more and some less ancient, have been embedded in its interstices, yet this great drama moves on, full of swiftness and colour, from one end of the poem to the other. It is marked by extraordinary vividness and richness of imagination. But perhaps most of us, remembering that the work is ancient, will be still more impressed by the subtlety and modernness of the social intercourse which it portrays. Here and there we may find an anomalous custom or a curious belief, but in delicacy of character-painting, in the play of personality, and in reflection of all the light and shade of life in society we find ourselves, in the Mahabharata, fully on a level with the novels and dramas of modern Europe. The fortitude of Kama when his mother embraces him ; the low voice in which