Reading Guide. You probably know something about the importance of the Ganges river for funeral rituals in India. In this episode, you will see something different: in a dramatic scene on the banks of the river, Vyasa will conjure up the ghosts of the dead warriors.
Source. Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913). [800 words]
There was prosperity in the kingdom under Yudhishthira's wise and just government, but blind old Dhritarashtra never ceased to mourn the death of Duryodhana, his first-born, and at length he retired to live in a humble dwelling in the jungle. With him went Queen Gandhari, and Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, and Vidura, and others who were of great age.
Years went past, and a day came when Yudhishthira and his brethren and their wife Draupadi journeyed to the dwelling-place of their elders. They found them all there save Vidura, who had departed to a sacred place on the banks of the Ganges to undergo penance and wait for the coming of Yama, god of the dead. Then all the kinsfolk, young and old, went forth to find Vidura, but when they came to him he was wasted with hunger and great age, nor could he speak unto them. They waited beside him until he died, and then they mourned together. This new sorrow awakened old-time grief, and they spoke of all those who had fallen in the great war. Fathers and mothers lamented for their sons, and wives for their husbands.
While they wept and moaned together, the great sage Vyasa came nigh and spoke, saying, "Verily, I will soothe all your sorrows. Let each one bathe at sunset in the holy waters of the Ganges, and when night falls your lost ones will return to you once again."
Then they all sat waiting on the river bank until evening came on. Slowly passed the day; it seemed to be as long as a year.
At length the sun went down, and they chanted mantras and went into the Ganges. Vyasa bathed beside the old Maharajah Dhritarashtra and Yudhishthira. Then all came out and stood on the bank.
Suddenly the waters began to heave and foam, and Vyasa muttered holy words and called out the names of the dead one by one. Soon all the heroes who had been slain arose one by one. In chariots they came, and on horseback and riding upon lordly elephants. They all uttered triumphant cries; drums were sounded and trumpets were blown, and it seemed as if the armies of the Pandavas and Kauravas were once again assembled for battle, for they swept over the river like a mighty tempest.
Many of the onlookers trembled with fear, until they beheld Bhishma and Drona, clad in armor, standing aloft in their chariots in splendor and in pride; then came Arjuna's son, the noble Abhimanyu, and Bhima's asura son. Soon Gandhari beheld Duryodhana and all his brethren, while Kunti looked with glad eyes upon Karna, and Draupadi welcomed her brother Dhrishtadyumna and her five children who had all been slain by vengeful Ashwatthaman. All the warriors who had fallen in battle returned again on that night of wonder.
With the host came minstrels who sang of the deeds of the heroes, and beautiful girls who danced before them. All strife had ended between kinsmen and old-time rivals; in death there was peace and sweet companionship.
The ghostly warriors crossed the Ganges and were welcomed by those who waited on the bank around Vyasa. It was a night of supreme and heart-stirring gladness. Fathers and mothers found their sons, widows clung to their husbands, sisters embraced their brothers, and all wept tears of joy. The elders who were living conversed with those who were dead; the burdens of grief and despair fell from all hearts after long years of mourning; the past was suddenly forgotten in the rapture of beholding those who had died.
Swiftly passed the night as if it had endured but for an hour. Then when dawn began to break, the dead men returned to their chariots and their horses and their elephants and bade farewells.
Vyasa spoke to the widows and said that those of them who desired to be with their husbands could depart with them. Then the Kaurava princesses and other high-born ladies, who never ceased to mourn for their own, kissed the feet of the Maharajah Dhritarashtra and Queen Gandhari and plunged into the Ganges with the departing hosts. Vyasa chanted mantras, and all the drowned widows were transported to heaven with their husbands.
The Pandavas returned to Hastinapura, and when two years had gone past a new sorrow fell upon them. One day Narada, the sage, stood before Yudhishthira and told that a great fire had swept through the jungle, and that Dhritarashtra, and Gandhari, and Kunti, and all who were with them, had perished.