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RLST 104/ASST 104

Exam 2 Review Sheet

Fall 2012

Prepared and Compiled by Dheepa Sundaram
Please do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use any part or whole of this
document without authors written consent. This is an incomplete
review. You are responsible for all material presented in lectures and
discussions even if it is not included on the review sheet.
***please note that I have used the spellings for names, places, and terms from the
study guide without diacritics for the most part***

I. Main Characters and Relationships

Make sure you are clear on the relationships between the major characters.
Santanu and Ganga are the parents of Bhisma. Bhisma who represents the image
of sacrifice and duty to social and individual orders, takes a vow of celibacy and
helps his father get a second wife, a fishermaid, named Satyavati (represents
Maya). By her, Santanu has two more sons, the half-brothers of Bhisma,
Vicitravirya and Citrangada. Satyavati also has another son by a Brahmin named
Parasara outside of her marriage to Santanu. This sons name is Vyasa.
Bhisma acts as regent for the young king Vicitravirya after the death of Santanu
since he has vowed that only the progeny of Satyavati will rule the kingdom. To
help his young half-brother produce heirs for the throne, Bhisma goes and steals
Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika by defeating all of the warriors at their svayamvara
and brings them to marry his brother. Unfortunately, Amba does not agree being
in love with another king, Salva. Though Bhisma sends her to Salva, he refuses
her, humiliated by his defeat to Bhisma. So, she returns to Vicitravirya who also
rejects her, saying he will not marry a woman whose heart belongs to another
man. Angered by all of this and full of hatred for Bhisma, Amba does tapas first
to Visnu for a garland which could be used to find a warrior to defeat Bhisma.
When she attempts to use this on King Drupada and it fails, she pleads with
Parasurama a Brahmin who has given up his brahmanical ways in order to
exterminate all the Ksatriyas from the earth. When he also fails in defeating
Bhisma, Amba does tapas to Shiva and is told that she will be reborn as a man and
she subsequently builds a fire and kills herself. She is then reborn as Sikhandin
(she becomes Dhristadyumna and Draupadis brother) to King Drupada and
eventually with Arjuna slays Bhisma during the great war (see bed of arrows
Now, despite the marriage to Ambika and Ambalika, no heirs were produced by
King Vicitravirya so, his half-brother, Vyasa exercised his right as the brother and
impregnated his two wives. Ambika gave birth to Dhritarastra while Ambalika
gave birth to Pandu. From these two, spawned the two sides of the war, the
Pandavas (sons of Pandu) and the Kauravas (sons of Dhritarashtra).
Dhritarashtra, the king of Hastinapura, is the son of Ambika, while Pandu, the
king of Indraprastha is the son of Ambalika.
Kunti and Madri become the wives of Pandu that is cursed never to be able to
have intercourse with his wives setting the stage for the divine births of the
Pandavas. Kunti has a magic incantation that can summon any to her. Before
marriage, Kunti gives birth to Karna, by the sun god, Surya, who she
subsequently abandons by floating him down the river in a basket. He is later
rescued by the Kaurava charioteer, Adhiratha, who raises him as his son, never
disclosing his royal birth. After marriage, Kunti uses her magic incantation to call
on Yama or Dharma from which came Yudhisthira, Indra from which came
Arjuna, and Vayu or the wind god from which came Bhima. She then gave the
incantation to her co-wife Madri, who summoned the twin Asvin gods, horsemen
and medicinal gods, and gave birth to Nakula and Sahadeva who were also twins.
Dhritarashtra and his wife Gandhari have a hundred sons of whom Duryodhana
and Duhsasana are important. Duryodhanas attachment to power is a major
factor that leads to the great war. Duhsasanas act of disrobing Draupadi in the
court, which leads to Bhimas vow of revenge, is another important motivating
factor for the war. Other important Kauravas include, Sakuni, the uncle who
instigates and encourages Duryodhana to take power and exterminate his cousins.
He also advises Duryodhana in tricking Yuddhisthira into the games of dice
where he loses his brothers, himself, and Draupadi. In the first one, Draupadi is
able to win back their freedom as she argues that someone who is not his own
master cannot bet someone elses freedom. Dhritarastra agrees and grants her a
boon and she secures their freedom. However, after the second game of dice
where Draupadi is disrobed but ultimately protected by Krishna who makes her
sari neverending, the Pandavas are forced into exile for 13 years and must live in
disguise for a 14
year without being found out.
Drona, though the teacher of arms to both the Pandava and Kaurava princes,
fights for the Kauravas in the great war in order to settle his feud with Drupada
who fights for the Pandavas since her daughter, Draupadi, the wife of the five
Pandava princes, was insulted by Duryodhana and Duhsasana during the dice
game episodes. It is also important to note that Dronas son, Asvatthama
eventually leads to his demise, as he is told falsely, by the Pandavas, that his son
is dead in order to stop the devastation that Drona was causing to the Pandava
armies (they actually killed an elephant with the same name and told Drona it was
his son who was dead). His intense love for his son forces him to stop fighting
and allows him to be slain by Dhristadyumna.
The Pandavas also have important helpers throughout including Vidura, the uncle
who warns them about the impending fire at the House of Lac, and Virata, who is
the king of the city in which the Pandavas hide themselves during the last year of
their exile. The sons of Drupada, Sikhandin (Amba reborn) and Dhristadyumna
are major forces in the great battle, Dhristadyumna slaying Drona while
Sikhandin participates in slaying his/her old enemy Bhisma as Arjunas
Of course, as mentioned earlier, the wife of the five Pandavas, won by Arjuna at
her svayamvara when he shoots five arrows through a small ring, is Draupadi.
Make sure you know the story of Draupadis svayamvara and her public and cold
rejection of Karna (I will not marry the son of a charioteer). Though Arjuna
wins her, he shares her with his brothers since his mother instructs him to share
what he has brought home with everyone not realizing he had brought a woman.
Despite this, she loves Arjuna the most. It is the insult of her in both dice game
episodes but particularly at the moment when she must call on Krishna to prevent
herself from being disrobed in the court that provides a major impetus for the war.
Much like they are on Karna, final diplomatic efforts before the war are lost on
her as she longs for revenge. She fulfills her vow to wash her hair in Duhsasanas
blood. If you remember Karna informs his mother Kunti that no matter what, at
the end of the war, she would still have 5 sons implying that either he or Arjuna
would still be there.
Finally, Krishna, is purportly a neutral figure though he appears on the side of the
Pandavas during the great war as an advisor. His brother Balarama refuses to
fight on either side of the war, disagreeing with it altogether, and Krishna grants a
choice to Duryodhana and Arjuna, saying one could have him, unarmed while the
other could have all of his kingdoms armies. Duryodhana chose the armies while
Arjuna chose Krishna. Krishna advises Arjuna during the portion of the great war
known as the Bhagavad Gita and explains to him that he continue to fight since it
was his duty as a ksatriya and it was his path to moksa or liberation.

II. Important Myths, Themes, and Stories in Mahabharata

Be familiar with the Procession of the Dead story-where Vyasa brings the dead
out of the river one last time at the request of Gandhari (Dhritarastras wife) and
others. Everyone is happy and the tension of the material world is gone after
death. For example Karna and Arjuna are no longer enemies. The point behind
this myth is to demonstrate how the conflict also dies with the body and that there
is no conflict after death since everyone comes from the same source (this point is
also made in Krishnas discussion with Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita).
Know the Pilgrimage of Death story the end of the Mahabharata where each of
the Pandavas falls off the mountain until only Yudhisthira is left. Make sure you
know what happens to Yudhisthira and his brothers and Draupadi in this myth.
This myth shows the continued importance and role of karma and dharma and
how the concepts of heaven and hell work in this mythology. Note that neither
heaven (svarga) nor hell (naraka) is a permanent abode. And heaven is not
considered the goal of life but rather a temporary reward. Hell similarly is a
temporary punishment. Why is this story important for the mythology?
Also, make sure you know why Drupada, Arjuna, and Amba perform Tapas in the
Mahabharata. Be able to explain the stories connected with each one. Tapas is
literally heat and refers the process in which human beings perform austerities
and meditation exercises to focus their power and eventually cause an imbalance
in rta forcing Shiva to come down to prevent premature destruction of the
universe. Be sure you understand how power is now centered within human
beings in that they are able to directly affect the gods without sacrifice but rather
through focused concentration. You will be asked to talk about the change in
power from Early Vedic Mythology (sacrifice to appease the gods, rta and nature
gods have the power) to Later Vedic (rta and brahman all powerful but human
beings can control nature gods through sacrifice) to Mahabharata (locus of power
now rests in human beings who can affect the divine and cause imbalances in rta
through intense focus or concentration-tapas). Be able to answer the following
questions. Where is the locus of power located in each of these periods? How
does the locus move? What does this demonstrate?
Make sure you are familiar with the instances of class warfare beginning with
Satyavati. There are several characters which rebel against their positions in the
social order (Satyavati, Ekalavya, Drona, Karna). Be able to describe how they
rebel, whether or not they are successful, and what this shows about the rigidity of
the social class system at the time of the Mahabharata as compared with the
Ramayana-ie. Personal gain and desires often trump dharma. Also there is no
longer mobility according to ability between the social classes.
Make sure are able to remember what important figures symbolize, for instance,
Bhisma symbolizes sacrifice and duty to his family and society. He is very
unselfish. While, Yudhisthira is known for truthfulness and fairness. Karna is
seen as the loyal/ideal friend. Arjuna is best warrior. Bhima is known for his great
strength. Focus on the major characters and characterizations we have discussed
in lecture or discussion.
Make sure you know and understand the stories behind the important individual
conflicts in the story, such as Arjuna and Karna; Drona and Drupada;
Amba/Sikhandin and Bhisma. Remember, the Mahabharata represents conflict at
individual (ex. Karna vs. Arjuna), social (exs. Drona vs. Drupada, Ekalavya vs
Drona), and cosmic (fire vs water). It is important to be able to make connections
between the conflicts at the various level and see how they work to together in the
narrative of the story (see the competition between Indra (rain god) and Surya
(sun god) and how it plays out through Arjuna and Karna). Please note that there
are more examples for the individual and social conflicts in the text than the ones
I have listed here.
Make sure you know the names of magical weapons that are received by both
Karna (Vasava-arrow from Indra) and Arjuna (Gandiva-bow from Siva) and
where they came from and how the characters received them. Know the myths or
stories associated with each one.
Why are the rules of war or engagement important in the Mahabharata? How are
they broken and why is it significant?
Make sure you understand the significance of the Bhagavad Gita both inside and
outside of the Mahabharata. The two identities of every person are atman (soul-
permanent) and deha (body-impermanent). Krishna explains that the atman is
more important which is why it is ok for him to kill his family members in the
war (their permanent identities are not harmed). Also Arjuna must choose Karma
yoga as his path since he is of the warrior class and has been trained as a warrior-
that is his path. Krishna tells Arjuna that as long as he performs his duty
(dharma) without attachment to the fruits of his actions (karma) then he is doing
the right thing. In this case, that means fighting the war. Be able to answer the
following questions in regards to the Bhagavad Gita section of the Mahabharata.
What kinds of paths are outlined in the Gita for the ultimate goal of life? What is
that goal and how is it different from svarga or heaven? When are people sent to
naraka (hell)? What are Atman and Brahman and how do they relate to moksa?
What are heaven and hell in the Hindu mythology?

Krishna Myths
I. Major Themes

(i) little over the big- Krishna is a champion of the common people
and their struggle against the aristocracy. There is a focus on the traditions and
practices of the common people.
(ii) Krishna represents the human dimension of the divine as he lives
the life of a cowherd and participates in the daily activities and games of the
gopis. He is a trickster and known for his childlike characteristics and behavior.
(iii) Krishna represents the notion of unconventionality of the divine
(compare with Rama). He steals butter, plays tricks, marries 16000 women at the
same time, calls the gopis into the forest with his flute and dances with them
attempting to free them material attachment.
(iv) Krishna myths represent a god that may have originally lay outside of
elite or mainstream Hinduism and was later incorporated as the eighth descent
of Vishnu.
(v) Krishna myths emphasize the path of bhakti yoga, the path of
devotion, exemplified by union of the gopis (tman) with Krishna (Brahman) for
instance through Rs Ll (dance of love). Through complete devotion to the
Supreme Soul one can attain moksha from samsra. Also, Krishna represents the
beautiful and is the very embodiment of love as the eternal union between the
atman and Brahman indicating the divine nature of marriage as representative of
this union.
(vi) The notion of good and evil in Krishna myths is explained by the
notion of balance. When opposing forces are in balance that is considered
good. A disturbance in this balance is considered evil. Good and evil
relative not absolute concepts since all forms emerge from a single divine

II. Myths and Examples

(i) Nearly every myth in Krishna mythology signifies the little over the
big. Examples: the myth of Ptna-Krishna suckles his demon nurse who tries
to poison him to death by sucking the life out of her, killing of Kamsa-Kamsa was
causing the disturbance for which Krishna descends and he killed and merges
back into Krishna and is the last birth of Hiranyakashipu, Baksura-crane
monster, Aghsura-dragon, Kliya- serpent who was quelled by Krishna but not
killed as his wives begged for his life arguing that it was his nature to be
poisonous, myth of Krishnas birth
(ii) vision of the universe myth with Yashoda and Krishna when
Yashoda asks Krishna to open his mouth and drop the butter he had stolen and
instead she sees the entire universe and realizes the Krishna is the Divine but
forgets again when he closes it.
(iii) 16000 women captured by Bhaumsura, Krishnas flute-he leads
the gopis into the forest by the call of his flute (also representative of the cowherd
life) to leave behind their material attachments and come devote oneself to the
(iv) Brahms mischief-Brahma attempts to hide all of Krishnas friends
from him leaving him alone and Krishna responds by recreating all of his friends
and Brahma comes to him and touches his feet and admits his superiority; Indra
and Govardhana mountain- when Krishna tells the people that they should not
worship Indra for water, shelter, food and protection since all of this really came
from the Govardhana mountain and they may as well worship that. So they begin
to do this and Indra angrily sends torrential rains and floods the city. Then people
angry and afraid go to Krishna and ask what can be done and he tells them not to
worry and picks up the Govardhana mountain with his little finger and offers the
people shelter underneath thwarting Indra.
(v) The gopis and Rs Ll-dance of love performed with Krishna and the
gopis and signified in the specific alliance and cosmic love between Krishna and
Radha (his favorite gopi). Each gopi seems to have her own Krishna
demonstrating the atmans union with Brahman and presence of the divine
everywhere and in everything.
(vi) The story of Hiranyakashipu and his three births (has a choice to be
born 7 times good or 3 times evil to achieve moksha and chooses to be the enemy
of the divine for three births and realizes that this was the much more difficult
path. His three births are Hiranyakasipu, Shisupala and finally Kamsa and each
time he is killed by an avatara of Visnu and finally when slain by Krishna, he
merges back into the divine escaping the cycle of rebirth.

III. Main Characters and Relationships

Krishna is born to Vasudeva and Devaki who is the sister of Kamsa, the
tyrannical king of Mathura. Be familiar of the myth that lead to his and his
brother Balaramas rescue from death at the hands of Kamsa. Remember that
Balarama is an incarnation of Ananta while Krishna is considered the eighth
avatar or descent of Visnu. Krishna grows amongst the Gopis or cowherds and
his foster parents are Nanda and Yashoda and he spends in childhood first in
Gokula and in Vrindavana. Balarama is saved by Vasudeva pretending that his
other wife Rohini gives birth to him.
Krishna is known as an unconventional god and the god of the common people.
He is mischievous and pulls all sorts of pranks while representing the path of love
or bhakti yoga to achieving moksa or liberation from the cycle of rebirth. Though
his beloved was Radha, a gopi girl who represents Visnus consort in heaven,
Laksmi, he was the beloved of all the gopi women who were drawn to Krishna by
the call of his flute. They would dance Rasa Lila in order to experience the love
of union with Krishna.
Krishna averts several disasters and saves the gopis on many occasions. He
represents the little over the big, showing that common people, like the cowherds
(gopis) can triumph over the big, like demons, gods, evil kings, and so on.
Make sure you are familiar with the myths/legends listed in Handout 13, #4(a-m).
Particularly, his marriages in which he marries not only humans but animals and
other forms of life denoting again that every form is divine. Make sure you are
familiar with the names in these myths not just the general story. You will see
them on the test.
Be able to explain the concept of good and evil in the Krishna mythology. What
is Hiranyakashipus choice, why is important, what does it show?

Shiva Myths
I. Major Themes

(i) Shiva means auspicious and he represents the ultimate ascetic or
renouncer of the material (My) world while also representing the ideal husband
and union of feminine and masculine as creative force. He represents the fusion
of opposites.
(ii) Shiva signifies the destruction of the universe at the end of the
Mahyuga through Tndava and brings the universe back to its source so that it
may reborn.
(iii) Shiva has three forms, Mahkla (great time), Mrtyu (death), and
Jvara (fever)
(iv) Shiva is also a savior of the people. And he is known as the god who
grants boons when people do tapas.
(v) The Shiva lingam specifically symbolizes the fusion of opposite
energies back to a single source and the union of the feminine and masculine
representing both destruction and creation.
(vi) Shiva probably, like Krishna, was a god representing a non-
mainstream tribal tradition who later incorporated into the elite Hindu
traditions. He is also sometimes called pasupati or lord of the animals which
maybe a reference to the horned male god in the Indus Valley Civilization.
(vii) Shivas wives represent his Shakti (power) and each represents a
different aspect of Shiva.

II. Myths/Examples

(i), (iii) Shiva myths often show Shiva as a fierce god that behaves
rashly and then has to fix his error. For instance, the myth about Kma (God of
love)-burned to ashes by Shivas third-eye but later restored when the world was
dying and when requested by Kamas wife but without a physical form and
Ganesha (Shivas son with the elephant head)-made by Parvati and asked guard
her bathing area and is accidentally killed by Shiva who didnt know who he was.
Shiva then replaces his head with an elephant and deems that he be worshipped
first at every prayer ceremony.
(ii) myth of the birth of death-Brahma and Vishnu want to keep creating
and sustaining and Brahma realizes that if he continues to create and these
creations are eternally sustained then the world will be overpopulated and so he
goes to Shiva who offers the solution of death and rebirth so that Brahma and
Vishnu could maintain their creation and sustenance of life.
(iv) Arjuna, Amba in the Mahabharata all do tapas and Shiva grants them
boons to save the universe from premature destruction. Also see the myth
surrounding Shivas blue throat in which Shiva swallows poison which is released
as a result of the churning of the ocean (see story of the Kurma avatara of Visnu)
to save the people. He also produces Kumara (second son) in order to slay the
demon Taraka to save the people.
(v) the stories of Shivas wives-Shiva represents the ideal husband
devoted to his wives despite being a figure who is uninterested in the transitory
world of Maya. This demonstrates the creative and destructive aspects unified in
the symbol of the lingam which demonstrates the dual nature of Shiva.
(vi) myth of Shivas superiority over Brahm and Vishnu- Brahma and
Vishnu are fighting go the Shiva to determine which was the greater or more
important god. Shiva asks them to find the end of the pole and whoever does this
who be the superior one. When neither could succeed they realize Shivas
superiority and prostrate themselves to him; Daksha and Sati-Shiva marries
Sati and then her father forbids his attendance at a large sacrifice enraged at his
daughters decision to marry a non-aryan. Sati responds by burning herself
alive. After which, Shiva transforms a lock of hair into a terrible demon and
destroys the sacrifice and everyone there and the gods need to beg Shiva to restore
Daksha and allow the sacrifice to proceed and Brahma and Vishnu note how that
they are one with Shiva representing the eternal Self (Brahman).
(vii) Daksha and Sati and the story of Ganesha

III. Main Characters and Relationships

The Shiva myths center around the notion that Shiva represents the fusion of
opposites. Where Visnu represents the multitudes of forms taken by the divine,
the Shiva myths symbolizes all the different forms fusing into one and being
taken back into the source. Shiva represents both creation and destruction
through the image of the Shiva lingam. The lingam represents creation because it
is the fusion of the male and female reproductive organs and destruction since it
represents the fusion of opposites, or of everything in the universe into one. The
universe is destroyed and taken back to its source by Shivas tandava or dance of
death in this moment.
It is important to know the various names given to Shiva since they describe his
functions in the mythology. He is Mahakala or great time and this is because
time represents the deterioration of life or death and Shiva is the one who brings
the destruction of the universe at the end of Kaliyuga. He is also known as
Nataraja or king of dance symbolizing his dance of death or tandava which was
represented in the slide during lecture that shows Shiva dancing surrounded by the
ring of fire and stepping on the goblin. He is also known as Pasupati or lord of
the animals which signifies his possible non-Aryan origins in the mythology.
This epithet links him with the Indus Valley Civilization that probably
worshipped some sort of lord of the creatures figure that was represented by the
figurines found that denote a male figure with horns. This also connects Shiva
with the notion of creation or fertility. He also represents Jvara or the fever of
destruction. This refers to the moment before the destruction of the universe in
which the calamities and unrest of the world attains a fever pitch and perpetuates
in the return of all forms to the source and the subsequent rebirth of the universe.
Shiva has three wives that represent different aspects of his power. Sati
represents creation and you should be familiar with the Sati and Daksha myth,
which is also important regarding Shivas non-Aryan origins. He also marries
Parvati, with whom several myths are associated, who represents love. She is the
mother of his two sons, Kumara or Kartikeya, and Ganesha. His third wife is Kali
or Durga and she represents the destructive elements of Shiva. He marries her to
continue the necessary destruction that Shiva must unleash on the universe and
she represents the force of destruction that returns the universe to its source and
allows it to be reborn at the end of Kaliyuga. Her name itself is derived from
Shiva has two sons, Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, also known as the
remover of obstacles and the god of wisdom and Kartikeya or Kumara, who is the
slayer of the demon Taraka and is born in the river Ganga when the Gods request
that Shiva produce a son to slay the evil demon. Ganesha is created by Parvati
while Shiva is away meditating on Mount Kailasa from clay and butter. Shiva
returns one day to find the boy and mistakenly cuts off his head. Learning who he
is, filled with remorse, Shiva finds the head of the first creature he sees which
happens to be an elephant and places it on the head of his son. Be sure and be
familiar with the details of both of these stories, as I have just given a rough
Be sure and know the two myths surround the non-Aryan origins of Shiva and
know how he was incorporated in the mainstream Hindu mythology. (Daksha
and Sati myth and the Brahma, Visnu, pillar of life myth) Though I didnt
mention this before, the same goes for the Krishna myths in that, you should
know the two myths associated with his assimilation into mainstream Hindu
mythology and how he became known as an avatar of Visnu (the govardhana
mountain myth where he defeats Indra and the myth where he defeats Brahma
who recognizes him as greater god).
Other important myths include why Shiva has a blue neck, this has to do with
Visnus avatar as Kurma the tortoise and the poison that is released during the
churning of the ocean. Shiva drinks the poison to prevent untimely destruction of
the universe as he does when he grants boons to people doing Tapas. He must
descend from the heat or tapas that denotes an imbalance in or concentration of
power as in the case of Arjuna or Amba in the Mahabharata. In order to avert an
untimely destruction of the universe, Shiva must descend and grant a boon to
whoever is doing tapas to alleviate the heat and destructive power being cultivated
by this person through their severe mental and physical exercises. Tapas literally
cultivates or strengthens or empowers the Atman or soul where is creates a
disturbance in rta, a power imbalance that is alleviated when Shiva grants a boon
and prevents untimely destruction of the universe. Be able to give examples to
explain tapas and Shivas role in it, from the mythology. Also, make sure you
know the myth concerning Kama the god of love and significance of it.
Think about how Shiva is a fusion of opposites in both appearance and behavior.
How does he represent creation and destruction? How does Shivas lingam
represent creation and destruction? Be able to give an example from the myth of
Daksa and Sati describing the creation aspect of the lingam.
Be able to compare and contrast the Shiva myths and Krishna myths. How are
these mythologies similar? Different? Be able to support you answers with
specific examples from the mythology.

Good Luck!