The Mahabharata

This is an excerpt from The Mahabharata, told in English prose by William Buck. The Mahabharata is an ancient epic story from India. It is the story of Krishna and the Pandava brothers and their battle with the prince who stole their kingdom. It is beautiful prose, extraordinary warfare, eternal friendship, and royal intrigue.

Translated by William Buck, introduction by B.A. Van Nooten.
Copyright (c) 1973 by the University of California.
Reprinted with permission.

This excerpt is from the middle of the story. The Pandavas are traveling through the forest, and Krishna visits them in the evening.


It was growing dark when Yudhishthira, Arjuna, and Bhima returned to their forest home. Draupadi and the twins were sitting around a fire, and they joined them there and told them what had happened with Jayadratha. Then there was a movement at the edge of the firelight, and an old man, shaggy and dark, walked noiselessly up to them and sat down.

"Welcome, Vyasa," said Yudhishthira. "It has been many years. Will you have dinner with us? We've had nothing to eat since morning."

Vyasa smiled and Draupadi went inside her kitchen. She lit the cooking fire from the tiny flame that burned for the household gods. Then she realized that they had no food.

She frowned, and thought, "Oh, Krishna, What will I do?"

Krishna stood smiling and leaning back against the wall. Draupadi jumped and put her hand to her breast. "Oh! You scared me."

Krishna said, "Princess, you got me out of bed and I'm hungry. Give me a little something to eat."

"That's just it. There's nothing."

"Can't your husbands catch anything?"

"Only King Jayadratha."

Krishna looked around the kitchen. "Nothing at all? I don't believe it. Just let me take a look," and he began to go through the pots and pans.

Draupadi watched him. "Why were you in bed so early?"

"Don't you know I have sixteen thousand wives?"

"You do really? I heard that but I never believed it."

"Well, why should I deny it. But look." Krishna took a rice grain and a tiny shred of vegetable from the rim of an iron pot. "Now sit down facing me, close your eyes, and be quiet. This is hard to do."

Krishna sat on the kitchen floor, holding the bit of leaf and grain of rice in his fingers. The sounds of the forest night fell away, and the fire flickered and died. Krishna began to speak softly in the silence.

"Now listen, ... so have I heard —

The moonlight is your smile. Earth and sky are your illusion.

At the end of Time, first comes the drought, then the seven suns that bring fire and leave Earth hushed in death and deep ashes, overhung by burning colored clouds.

Then the lightning breaks and the water falls. Drowned are the sun and moon, and Earth and stars. You swallow the winds and float sleeping on the dark waters, resting on Sesha the thousand-hooded serpent white as pearls.

Then you awake, and like a winking firefly at night during the rains, you dart over the water, seeking Earth. You dive and bring her back as before, and place her on Sesha as before, and create all beings as before.

And after Time has begun again, when Sesha yawns, quaking the Earth, do you not go to him and say:

"Just a little longer?"

Narayana — if I have said well, take this food for all the world."

Krishna swallowed the bit of vegetable and the grain of rice. The fires danced into life, and Draupadi heard the Pandavas talking outside with Vyasa.

"Princess, open your eyes. It is done."

Draupadi looked at him. "I was hungry before, but now ..."

"Now no one in all the world is hungry," said Krishna. "Everyone is full of food right up to his throat." He shivered. "But it is very hard to do."