VEDABACE

Chapter One

The History of the Kuru Dynasty

Teachers should read about the following events in the Mahabharat:

  • the birth of Devavrata
  • marriage of King Santanu to Satyavati
  • births, deaths and marriages of Chitrangada and Vichitravirya
  • births ofPandu, Dhritarashtra and Vidura
  • marriage ofDhritarashtra to Gandhari; marriage ofPandu to Kunti
    and Madri

1. Introduce the topic for the session by holding up a Bhagavad Gita and asking a volunteer to tell you what it is. Ask other questions about the book like, “Who is speaking in the Bhagavad Gita?” “Why is it an important book?” “How many of you have read some things from the Bhagavad Gita?” End with the question, “Where was the Bhagavad Gita spoken?” (On the battlefield ofKurukshetra.)

Tell the children that many people wonder why tIle Bhagavad Gita was spoken on a battlefield. Religion is generally thought of as teaching peace and love, yet we have our scripture spoken on a battlefield with Krishna telling Arjuna, “Fight!” In this session we’ll look at the reasons that led to the war.

Ask the children ifwar is good or bad. They will probably all say it’s bad. Ask them to tell you the reasons for their opinion. Tell them that we do usually think ofwar as being bad and we’ll see if we still have that opinion at the end ofthe session.

2. Introduce the verse for the session. It is the very first verse ofthe Bhagavad Gita (1.1):

dhrtarastra uvaca
dharma-ksetre kuru-ksetre
samaveta yuyutsavah
mamakah pandavas caiva
kim akurvata sanjaya

Translation

Dhritarashtra said, 0 Sanjaya, after my sons and the sons of Pandu assembled in the place of pilgrimage at Kurukshetra, desiring to fight, what did they do?

 This should be written in advance on a large chart paper or chalkboard that can be seen by all the children. It is also in their booklets on Page 1. Teach it the same way we learn a Bhagavatam verse — first having students repeat each word, then each line, as you lead. With younger children, it helps to point to each word as you chant, so they can gradually recognize the word and eventually read it on their own. Chant three or four times with thenl responding, then ask for volllnteers to lead the chanting. As students lead, the rest of class still chants responsively. Students then repeat English translation after you.

Chanting of the sloka should be done at the beginning of each weekly lesson. It is an excellent way of getting the children settled in and their attention focused. By the end of the session, they should easily have mastered the verse having practiced this way.

3. We will use the figures on Worksheets 1 – 4 as visual aids (flannel board figures) for this chapter. Color and cut them out in advance. Attach velcro on the back of each figure as recommended in the Introduction. With the figures, we will introduce the characters and bllild a “family tree” on a flannel board. Doing it in this manner will help the children see who is related. Using the figures, they can also retell the story to you. If you don’t have a flannel board, the same activity can be done on the wall using blue tack to stick up the figures.

The story follows as it appears in the student booklets. The stories are shortened to avoid lengthiness and present only the basic facts. Feel free to add more details and descriptions. Fill in with dialogue whenever possible to nlake it nlore interesting and alive.

You’ll find suggestions in the story for placing the flannel board figures to create a family tree. Feel free to move the figures about as you tell the story, using them to portray the actions of the characters.

Devavrata

         Once upon a time, the great King Santanu and his wife Ganga had a beautiful son born to them. (Place the figure of Santanu on the flannelboard and place Ganga on the right of Santanu.) His name was Devavrata. (Place the figure of Bhishma above Ganga.) Ganga was a heavenly being who had been cursed to take birth upon the earth for some time. After Devavrata was born, Ganga was free to return to the heavenly planets and she took her baby son with her. (Remove the figures of Ganga and Bhisma and place them up high as ifin the heavens.) Devavrata stayed with her through his childhood years and was trained in all the ksatriya arts. His mother returned him to King Santanu when he was 16 years old and went back to her heavenly home. (Place Bhishma back above Santanu.) Devavrata was an extremely handsome boy, skillful and noble. He filled his lonely father’s heart with a joy that King Santanu hadn’t felt for many years. King Santanu was proud of this fine young man who would soon take his place as king of the world. Father and son spent a few happy years together and King Santanu crowned Devavrata as the yuvaraja, or future king. The citizens were overjoyed. But fate cast a dark shadow upon these happy plans. The king had been lonely since Ganga had left him for the heavens. Even the happiness of having his son with him couldn’t fill the ache in his heart. One time while out hunting, he fell in love with a beautiful fisher girl. (Place Satya,vati on the flannelboard.) He wanted to marry her, but the girl’s father would only agree if in the future King Santanu would make the fisher girl’s son the king. King Santanu couldn’t disappoint his own qualified Devavrata this way and he left without taking the girl as his wife. Devavrata soon noticed a change in his father. He seemed quiet and depressed. After inquiring front others, Devavrata discovered that the king was unhappy because he felt he could not marry the fisher girl. The faithful son set out for the forest to meet the girl’s father. He demanded to know why the fisherman would not allow his daughter to marry the great king. “Of course, I know it is a great honor for the king to desire my daughter as his wife,” explained the fisherman. “But it has been predicted that the son of my daughter Satyavati will be a king. I asked the king to pronlise that he would grant this. That is what happened.” Devavrata couldn’t stand the thought of his father not getting what he wanted. He said, “You want your grandson to be king after my father? So be it. I renounce the kingdom. And I promise never to marry so that no sons of ntine will ever claim the throne! I vow that I will not marry as long as I live.” (Cue students to shout, “Bhishma, Bhishma!” when you point to them. Let them practice a few times and warn them to pay attention.) The vow he had taken was so serious and astonishing that the devas rained flowers on him from above. The word (Point to the students) “Bhishma! Bhishma!” resounded from the skies. (Point to the students) “Bhishma! Bhishma!” was heard from all quarters of the earth. Devavrata, now known as Bhishma, took Satyavati into his chariot and rushed to the home of his father. He presented Satyavati to the king. (place Satyavati on the left of the king.) When the king heard all that had happened, he was struck with grief. His wonderful son, so full of manliness and beauty, had taken a tremendous vow. Out of love and gratitude the king bestowed a boon upon Bhishma. Bhishma could die only when he wished. Death would have to wait for his word. In this way King Santanu hoped to make up for all that Bhishma would miss in life.

Heirs to the Kuru Dynasty

      King Santanu and Satyavati spent happy years together. They had two sons named Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. (Place Chitrangada and Vichitravirya above Satyavati.) In the course of time the king passed away. Chitrangada and Vichitravirya were heirs to the throne but since they were too young to rule, Bhishma acted as the regent. Tragedy soon struck and Chitrangada was killed in a battle. (Lay Chitrangada on his side or place a strip of construction paper across him to show that he died.) Vichitravirya was Satyavati’s only hope now. As Vichitravirya got older, Bhishma arranged his marriage. Two princesses, Ambika and Ambalika, were married to the young prince. (Place Ambika and Ambalika above Vichitravirya.) Fate struck again, however. Vichitravirya suffered from a deadly disease, and the best doctors could not save the young man from an early death. He died before having a son, and again there was no heir to the throne. (Lay him 011 his side or place a strip of construction paper over him.) In special cases like this, it was allowed that a noble brahman could father a son to carry on the lineage. It was decided that the great sage, Vyasadeva, would father a child to both Ambika and Ambalika. (place Vyasadeva near Ambika and Ambalika.) Their sons could then rule the kingdom. Vyasadeva was very dark and had a frightening appearance. When he met with Ambika, she was so scared that she closed her eyes and refused to look at him. As a result, she had a son but he was born blind. His name was Dhritarashtra. (Place Dhritarashtra above Ambika.) Ambalika was just as petrified as Ambika about meeting Vyasadeva. When he came to visit her, Ambalika was pale with fright and dread. As a result, the child born to her was handsome and gentle but pale and white. His name was Pandu. (Place Pandu above Ambika, leaving space for other figures to be placed.) Satyavati was disturbed and wanted a more qualified heir to be born. She requested Vyasadeva to visit Ambika again after Dhritarashtra was born. Ambika couldn’t bear the thought of meeting the fearsome sage again and so she sent her maid instead. The maid was very kind to Vyasadeva and he was pleased with her. The next day Vyasadeva told Satyavati that a wise and good son would be born. “But the mother of this child is not your daughter-in-law,” he revealed. “She sent her maid to me and this maid is lucky to be the mother of the best of my children.” This wise child was named Vidura. (Place Vidura to the right ofPandu.) Now there were three young children. Bhishma again had the task of bringing up the boys and ruling the kingdom until Pandu and Dhritarashtra were old enough. Bhishma acted as their father, teaching them all they would need to know as ksatriya princes. Dhritarashtra had great strength; Pandu was especially skilled in archery; Vidura was the wisest. The three boys had their duties. Dhritarashtra was appointed the yuvaraja, Pandu was the commander of the army, and Vidura was trained to be the lOng’s minister. Because he was blind, Dhritarashtra could not rule the kingdom. Pandu was ruling it in his name with Vidura assisting him. As the years went by, Bhishma found himself concerned with the marriages of the two princes. Bhishma chose Gandhari for the wife of the blind Dhritarashtra. (Place Gandhari next to Dhritarashtra.) Gandhari was a noble woman and her next action proved it. She thought that she should not be better than her husband in anything. Therefore, she got a piece of silk and tied it around her eyes, refusing to see the world that her lord could not see. In the Madra kingdom, a swayamvara was held for the princess Madri, who chose Pandu as her husband. Pandu’s beauty and skill were greater than all other princes who sought her hand in marriage. (Madri can be placed next to Pandu on the left.) Kunti, daughter of King Kuntibhoja, also held a swayamvara and chose Pandu for her husband. Bhishma made arrangements for the weddings and he was pleased with the wonderful brides who were to be the queens of the great Kuru dynasty. (Kllnti can be placed next to Pandu on the right.)

4. To quickly review the story and relationships, pass out the figures to the children in random order. Let them help you sumnlarize by telling the correct l1ames and placing the figures up as they were before. Since some children may know the story quite well, allow them to fill in some details or other bits ofthe story that nlay not have been narrated.

5. Emphasize how the three brothers, Dhritarashtra, Pandu al1d Vidura, worked as a team. Dhritarashtra was oldest and therefore heir to the throne but he was blind. So Pandu ruled it in his name. But the wise Vidura advised ” Pandu what to do. They worked together and were not jealous of each other. Each used his talent in ruling the kingdom the best way possible. Take a few moments here to talk about cooperation. Ask the students ifthey can give you some reasons why it is good to cooperate with each other (it’s more peaceful, more things can get done, you make friends, it’s fun to work together). Ask ifthey can give you some experience from their own lives showing how they cooperated. Have they had any experiences where NOT cooperating caused problems?

6. Ask the children what might happen in the following situations if the people involved didn’t cooperate:

• four children are working in a group making a clay statue of a dinosaur
• a truck full offIremen is rushing to put out a fIre in an office building
• three cooks are planning a menu and cooking for a large wedding
• a class of 30 children is taking the bus to the zoo for a field trip

Emphasize that many times cooperation means that we can’t do everything we want to do. Weare willing to sacrifice and compromise so that things go sn100thly. We cooperate to get our task done nicely. Again point out how Vidura, Pandu and Dhritarashtra cooperated to run the kingdom. They didn’t fight about who should be king.

7. Ask the children to name some of the things Dhritarashtra could not do because he was blind. (Fight in battle, learn archery, read, many practical things.) Now have them imagine what a great sacrifice it was for Gandhari to become voluntarily blind. Think of all the things she would now be unable to do. This shows her humility and love for her husband.

8. Homework assignment: Tell the children that during the week they are to read Chapter One and complete the questions. Since some of your class may be new readers, tell them that their parents can read the chapter to them and help them with the questions. Answers will be checked next week in class. Ask them to make a special effort this week to cooperate at home and at school. See if they can make a difference in helping things run smoqthly. Students can share their experiences next week.

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