This book is an oddity in these series because the story doesn’t move forward here. Instead you read about the background of Kuru kings and the bold decisions that they take to continue their kingship. This is also an important book in these series because it shows us the way of life in an Aryan community and we get to know more about Veda Vyasa himself, the man who wrote the Mahabharata.
The book begins with Satyavathi and her fishermen tribe saving Sage Parashara from his burning hermitage. Parashara is injured and Satyavathi tends to him. After about five years, we see Krishna waiting anxiously for his father to arrive. Satyavathi is anxious for him as his obsession for his father’s presence increases every day while her father wants her to get married to someone eligible
Sage Parashara arrives and understands the situation and takes his son away with him and Krishna leaves his mother with a promise that if she ever needs him again, she just needs to call him.
Sage Parashara tutors Krishna and he learns all about vedas and the Aryan way of life. The next few chapters give us a wonderful insight about the daily life of Aryans and their very many traditions. It was a time when the vedas was considered to be three-fold and Atharva veda was not a part of the sacred vedas. A controversial subject in the then arya world, no one taught their pupil the verses of Athrava veda.
After Sage Parashara’s death, Krishna is attacked by wild hoards that leave him injured. Rescued by Maha Atharva Jaabali’s recitation of Atharva veda and its magic potency Krishna is much influenced by this great sage and seeks to learn from him but Atharvan scoffs his attempts and sends him on his way. But his own daughter falls in love with Krishna and helps him to escape her father’s wrath.
Krishna goes to his mother’s island to meet her and is shocked to hear that she had left after her marriage to a king. With no knowledge of her whereabouts, he is left bereft. In the mean time, he continues his mission to unite the four vedas and to bring Atharva veda into the mainstream of vedas. His mission takes him to the Kuru empire but his entry was at an importune time, because Emperor Shantanu lies dying and everyone is distracted.
With Brahmins invoking aswins (Gods of medicine) to heal the king, Krishna recites the newly learnt atharva verses and is successful in healing the king. And he gets the shock of his life when he finds that the Empress is none other than his own mother. Satyavathi proudly introduces her son to Shantanu and Bhishma who are grateful for his timely intervention.
With royal support backing him, Krishna debates with the most learned and erudite teachers of that time to unite the four vedas together. After much arguments, they concede defeat and agree to Vyasa’s decision. Delighted Vyasa hurries to Maha Atharvan Jaabali to relay the momentous news. Jabaali is shocked and surprized to hear what his disciple had achieved.
Veda Vyasa’s role in Mahabharata is well known, he impregnated the queens of Vichitravirya to perpetuate the line of Kuru kings. A controversial situation, Vyasa himself is reluctant to go about the task but the alternative is unthinkable. Vyasa’s agrees to aid his mother and performs his duty but the results are equally bad. He becomes the confidante of his mother and consoles her whenever things turn bad for her.
This book ends with the death of Pandu and the resultant confusion in the succession, as the Five Brothers too were conceived through Niyoga. So who had the higher claim to the throne? Duryodhana and his brothers who were the rightful sons of Dhristrashtra or the sons of Pandu who were obviously not his flesh and blood.
I loved this book because it shows a very vivid picture of vedic India. And Vyasa is probably the best character to give us an impartial insight about the decisions that the Kurus took that finally led them to war.