The epic of one lakh verses begins with a casual discussion after a hard day’s work done with devotion and cheer. The scene is Naimisharanya. Kulapati Shaunaka (like a dean of a modern-day educational institution) has just finished the day’s yagna with his disciples. The yagna is a daily event to continue for a 12-year period.
One of those days, Ugrashravah—one who has been intensely listening, also called Sauti and Pauranika because he is well-versed in the art of story-telling, the son of Lomaharshana—approached the Rishis. They welcomed him and he enquired how their penances were progressing. After the exchange of pleasantries, one of the Rishis asked Ugrashravah, “Where have you come from, O respectful Sauti?”
Sauti replied, “At the Sarpa Satra Yaga, serpent sacrifice of the royal seer Janamejaya, son of King Parikshit, I have been listening to the tale of the Mahabharata with amazing meanings told by Vaishampayana.
He had learnt the story in the proper manner from the author of the legend, Veda Vyasa himself. I also went to many holy places the last being Samanta Panchakam, worshipped by venerable people. That where the great war happened between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. I came to see you all. What can I narrate? I can tell tales of the Puranas, stories that give a lot of merit to the listener, or stories of kings, seers or great souls?”
The Rishis cried in unison, “Tell us that story told by Dwaipayana, Veda Vyasa, the tale that was listened to worshipfully by the gods and the men of realisation, that story of all stories which has amazing language and chapterisations, has very subtle meanings and logic embellished by the meanings of the sacred texts? We wish to listen to that most holy story of Mahabharata, which has the capacity to drive away all fears and includes the salient portions of very great texts and has the ability to create a great impression in the minds of listeners.”
The Sauti saluted the gods and began the narrative of the Mahabharata. The first narrative is of the creation of this universe we see. When everything was enveloped in darkness, there arose a golden egg that contained the seeds of all creation. From this cosmic egg emerged the creator Brahma and all the gods and the other different creatures of this universe, the seers, kings, years, months, fortnights, days and nights. This cosmic egg was the great womb of all forms of thoughts and ideas which preceded creation.
This was a narrative of just one glimpse of the eternal cosmic cycle of creation and distruction that included different universes and royalties, the books of rights and duties, seeking wealth, the types of pleasures and desires and the means to liberation. The great Rishi Veda Vyasa has had a great intuitive glimpse of the reality across various levels of evolution of this universe which is told in the Mahabharata that I am going to narrate to you, Ugrashravah concluded.
The author is Acharya, Chinmaya Mission, Tiruchi