A summary of the books of the Mahābhārata
The Ādiparva – the Book of the Beginning Opening in the Naimiṣa forest, at the extended Vedic sacrifi ce of the Brahmin patriarch, Śaunaka, the wondering bard Ugraśravas appears and is asked to narrate the great Bhārata. Having explained where he heard the tale, at the snake sacrifi ce of the Bhārata king, Janamejaya, from a student of the tale’s author, Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyaṇa Vyāsa, he commences his narration. The book presents various lists of contents and summaries as well as asides on various characters. It also lists the divine and the human cast. This includes the miraculous births of the central protagonists of the story: the fi ve Pāṇḍava brothers, Yudhiṣṭhira, Bhīma, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva, as well as their antagonist, Duryodhana, and his ninety-nine brothers (known as the Kauravas, though this designation, meaning descendent of Kuru, technically includes the Pāṇḍavas as well). It provides an overview of the story as a whole by means of a series of dramatic recollections of events by king Dhṛtarāṣṭra, who is Duryodhana’s father and who rules over both his son and the Pāṇḍavas. The book tells of the early years of the main characters of the Mahābhārata. It makes clear the divine rationale for the confl ict, which is that the earth is over-run with Asuras (demonic beings) who, having incarnated as warriors, are wreaking havoc such that the earth must be aided by the gods (the Devas) in order to be rid of them. Viṣṇu and a variety of other deities incarnate themselves. Viṣṇu incarnates as Kṛṣṇa. The book also tells of the marriage of the Pāṇḍava brothers to their common wife Draupadī and the circumstances under which such a strange event occurred. It relates the marriage of Arjuna to Subhadrā and tells of the cruel tricks played by Duryodhana on his cousins, the Pāṇḍavas, which include attempts on their lives and their being forced into exile for a period. The book closes with Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa burning a vast area of forest at the behest of Agni, the god of fi re. This event foreshadows the great destruction to come.