THE WAR OF THE GODS
An ancient Sanskrit "mythological" Account
This little-known account, found in the Karna Parva of the Mahabharata, provides details concerning the triumph of the godsthus ending the warwhich are not contained in the more familiar Greek traditions. According to the latter, the war between the Titans and Olympians raged on for ten years in a sort of stalemate, until Zeus "no longer restrained his soul, but straightway his mind was filled with fury and he showed forth all his might." His bolts "flew near at hand" with thunder and with lightning, while in his hands he was "rolling a holy flame." It crashed as it "burned the life-giving earth," and the "infinite wood cried aloud with fire." The oceans "seethed and boiled" as volcanoes (Cottus, Briareus and Gyes) hurled rocks by the hundreds. Once defeated, the warlike Titans are bound and imprisoned forever in Tartarus, a mythological prison far beneath the "waves of the restless ocean" in the far West. The hint is given that "divine weapons"given to Zeus by Kyklopes and Hekatoncheiresturned the tide against the Titans.
WAR OF THE GODS AND ASURAS
From the Karna Parva of the Mahabharata
Translated from the Sanskrit
by Protap Chandra Roy
Bas-relief of Samudra Manthan from Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Depicted is the Great War between the Devas and the Asuras.
The Sanskrit Karna Parva, given below in English translation, is much more detailed, describing at least two battles involving aerial vehicles known as vimanas. The first battle fails to topple the ocean-based regime; but eventually an especially large vimana is constructed and equipt with celestial weaponry, including something containing the "power of the universe" (nuclear energy?). Sankara (herein called Mahadeva or "Great God") is given command of this aerial vehicle. He enters this celestial car, accompanied by cheering deities, and ascends into the heavens fully armed with powerful celestial weapons. Flying resolutely toward his enemies the Daityas and Danavas (Titans), Sankara streaks from the skies in his radiant vimana, and ends the ten year-long war by firing this god-given weapon straight at Tripura, the capital city of Atala, totally destroying Triple City and sending the entire rebellious race of Asuras burning to the bottom of the "Western Ocean". Here is the account (edited because it is about a dozen pages long) from the Karna Parva:
Duryodhana said,Listen, once more, O ruler of the Madras, to what I will say unto thee, about what happened, O lord, in the battle between the gods and the Asuras in the days of yore! The great Rishi Markandeya narrated it to my sire. I will now recite it without leaving out anything, O best of royal sages! Listen to that account confidingly and without mistrusting it at all. Between the gods and the Asuras, each desirous of vanquishing the other, there happened a great battle, O king, which had Takara for its evil (root). . . Those Asuras then, filled with joy . . .and having settled it among themselves about the construction of the three cities [Tripura], selected for the purpose the great Asura Maya, the celestial artificer, knowing no fatigue or decay, and worshipped by all the Daityas and Danavas. Then Maya, of great intelligence, by the aid of his own ascetic merit, constructed the three cities . . . all in such a way as to revolve in a circle, O lord of Earth! Each of those cities measured a hundred Yojanas in breadth and a hundred in length. And they consisted of houses and mansions and lofty walls and porches. And though teeming with lordly palaces close to each other yet the streets were wide and spacious. And they were adorned with diverse mansions and gate-ways . . .
Those three Daitya kings, soon assailing the three worlds with their energy, continued to dwell and reign, and began to say,"Who is he called the Creator?" . . . Crowned with success by means of austere penances, those enhancers of the fears of the gods sustained, O king, no diminution [sic] in battle. Stupified then by covetousness and folly, and deprived of their senses, all of them began to shamelessly exterminate the cities and towns established all over the universe. Filled with pride . . . the wicked Danavas ceased to show any respect for anybody. While the worlds were thus afflicted, Sakra [Cukra, in some translations], surrounded by the Maruts, battled against the three cities by hurling his thunder upon them from every side. When however Paradara failed to pierce those cities . . . the chief of the celestials . . . asked the divine Grandsire the means by which triple city could be destroyed. The illustrious deity, hearing the words of Indra, told the gods,"He that is an offender against you offends me also . . . Those three forts are to be pierced with one shaft. By no other means can their destruction be effected." (Karna Parva, Section XXXIII)
The gods said,"Gathering all forms that may be found in the three worlds and taking portions of each, we will, O Lord of the gods, construct a car [vimana] of great energy for thee. It will be a large car, the handy-work of Viswakarman, designed with intelligence."Saying this, those tigers among the gods began the construction of that car . . . the Mind became the ground upon which that car stood, and Speech the tracks upon which it was to proceed. Beautiful banners of various hues waved in the air. With lightning and Indra's bow [celestial weapons?] attached to it, that blazing car gave fierce light.
Thus equipt, that car shone brilliantly, like a blazing fire in the midst of the priests officiating at a sacrifice. Beholding that car properly equipt, the gods became filled with wonder. Seeing the energies of the entire universe united together in one place, O sire, the gods wondered, and at last represented unto that illustrious Deity that the car was ready. After, O monarch, that best of cars had thus been constructed by the gods . . . Sankara placed upon it his own celestial weapons . . . the gods repaired unto the Grandsire, and inclining him to grace, said these words . . . 'A car [vimana] has been constructed by us, equipt with many wonderful weapons . . .'
Then Mahadeva, terrifying the very gods, and making the very Earth tremble, ascended that car resolutely . . . When that boon-giving Lord, that despeller of the fears of the three worlds, thus proceeded, the entire universe, all the gods, O best of men, became exceedingly gratified . . . having ascended the car [Sankara], set out for the Asuras . . . to the spot where the Daityas are!
When the boon-giving Brahman, having ascended the car, set out for the Asuras . . . towards that spot where triple city . . . stood, protected by the Daityas and Danavas . . . The triple city then appeared immediately before that god of unbearable energy, that deity of fierce and indescribable form, that warrior who was desirous of slaying the Asuras. The illustrious deity . . . sped that shaft which represented the might of the whole universe, at the triple city. . . loud wails of woe were heard from those cities as they began to fall . . . Burning those Asuras, he threw them down into the Western Ocean. Thus was the triple city burnt and thus were the Danavas exterminated by Maheswara . . . (Karna Parva, Section XXXIV)
* * * COMMENTS * * *
Notice that the war occurred in "the days of yore," which indicates an immense distance in time prior to the narration of the story. Just as Plato related in his account, the oral succession (the means by which the tale was passed down) is also given. Notice that Tripura is described as of circular construction and divided into three concentric parts. According to Plato, the capital city of Atlantis was disk-shaped, and divided into three parts by circular canals.
According to this account (Section XXXIII), the "excellent Ocean" was said to be the abode of the Danavas, just as Okeanos (located in the far West) was the location of Hesiod's Titanslikewise the Atlanteans of Plato's account. According to a standard Sanskrit Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1974) the Danavas of the Mahabharata are identical with the Titans; and according to Diodorus the gods of the Atlanteans originated in that same Ocean, known today as the Atlantic Ocean (Ullman & Henry, 1953).