A wealth of stories from India's greatest epic
Sanjaya Spettigue from Ipswich, England has been studying meditation with Sri Chinmoy since 1976. Over the years, he has developed an encyclopediac knowledge of the Mahabharata, India's great epic story which is longer than the Illiad and the Oddyssey combined. During our meditation gatherings, Sri Chinmoy would often ask him to regale us with stories from this epic, and in doing so he would bring forward such a wealth of knowledge, it seemed as if he was telling us events that he had seen happen before his very eyes.
Now in his eighties, Sanjaya is still entertaining us and illumining us with these immortal stories. For the first time, 39 of these stories told over the years have been brought together for the public to enjoy on Radio Sri Chinmoy.
The Mahabharata, which means 'Great India' in Sanskrit, tells the story of the struggle which culminates in the 18-day battle of Kurukshetra and the destruction of most of the princely families of India. Its breadth of storytelling is such that it is said that 'What is found in the Mahabharata may be found somewhere else, but what is not found in the Mahabharata may not be found anywhere else.' The Mahabharata also contains the Bhagavad-Gita, or Song Celestial, the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna that is a foundational text of Indian spirituality.
Much of the tragic quality of the Mahabharata comes from the fact that the two sides of the struggle are closely related. In this story that Sri Chinmoy related which takes place during the battle of Kurukshetra, Vishma is the grandfather of Arjuna. Krishna had promised not to fight in the battle, but instead be Arjuna's charioteer.
When Arjuna saw Vishma advancing towards him on the battlefield, he said to Krishna, “We lost our father when we were quite young, and Vishma became our father. Such affection, such love he had for us! Is there anything that we would not have done for him? He is so dear to me. I cannot fight him.”
Krishna told Arjuna, “He is already dead in the inner world. You have to fight him!” Still Arjuna could not bring himself to fight with his grandsire; so Krishna came out of the chariot with his discus. When Krishna decided to fight, he said, “My love for my Arjuna is infinitely more important to me than my so-called promise. People will say that I am not a man of my word. I do not care. I want to prove that my love for my Arjuna is infinitely more important than preserving honour in the eyes of the world. I am prepared to go against the ordinary light of morality in order to win the victory for Arjuna.”
When Vishma saw that it was Krishna himself who had come to fight him, he came running to be killed. He said, “My Lord, my Lord, I know who You are! If You kill me, I will be the happiest person. On the one hand, I am so sad that You are breaking Your Promise. But again, I am so glad that I will die by Your Hand. Kill me, kill me! I am dying to die by Your Hand!”
Then Arjuna said, “No, no, I am ready to fight!” He pulled Krishna back into the chariot and fought Vishma with utmost determination. At last, Vishma lay dying, and Arjuna brought water to his grandsire. When Arjuna saw that Vishma was shedding tears, he said to Krishna, “Our grandfather did not do anything wrong. He was so good, so divine. Why does he have to suffer? Why are there tears in his eyes?”
Krishna said to Arjuna, “Why are you asking me? Ask him! He will tell you.” So Arjuna asked his grandfather, “Please tell me why you are crying, Grandfather. In our kingdom, there is nobody as divine as you. It was you yourself who told us how to kill you. Who else on earth would have been so noble? But now that your death is fast approaching, why are you crying? Are you afraid of death?”
Vishma replied, “You fool! I am weeping not because I am afraid of death, but because the Pandavas have suffered so much. Krishna, the Lord of the Universe, was all the time with you and for you. So how is it that you have suffered so much? I do not understand the Lord’s Game. That is why I am shedding tears.”
Krishna answered him, “This is my creation. You will never be able to understand it. My mystery is unfathomable.”
The Mahabharata is sweeter than the sweetest and, at the same time, deeper than the deepest. On the mental level, we cannot justify many of the things that Krishna did. But, again, his divinity is all the justification that is needed.
Sanjaya has been active in the interfaith movement in Ipswich for decades. For many years, he also narrated a short segment on BBC radio called Thought of the Day.