The Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 1, Vs 14-19
ARJUNA’S DEPRESSION – THE WEAPON OF MEDITATION
In case you are beginning to feel a little overwhelmed with all these names, don’t worry, it won’t go on much longer. Meanwhile, take it seriously. All these folks and their weapons and horns, etc., are aspects of you and what you have to work with. Do consider this as you read. For guidance on how to understand what you read and how to apply it to yourself, see this issue and scroll down to just after verse 6.
Standing in a great chariot with yoked white horses, the Descendant of Madhu [Krishna] and the Son of Pandu [Arjuna] sounded their divine conch horns.
Great Chariot – The body, the vehicle we humans use.
White Horses – The senses, our means of perception.
Descendant of Madhu – An epitaph of Krishna, ‘sweet effect of springtime.’
Son of Pandu – Arjuna, one of the five Pandava brothers.
Conch horns – A horn made from a conch shell; an instrument of sound used to intimidate the enemy when going into battle.
The Bristling Haired One [Krishna] blew Pancajanya, the Conqueror of Wealth [Arjuna] blew Devadatta, and the Wolf-bellied [Bhima] blew the great conch Paundra;
Characters and Conch Horns:
Bristling Haired One – An epitaph of Krisha, meaning ‘master of the senses’. Conch horn Pancajanya, meaning ‘being of five’—being of all five elements (the body), and/or all five classes of beings. The five classes of beings are gods, men, ancestors, and gandharvas (divine musicians) and apsaras (divine dancers)—we would call these last two angels.
Conquerer of Wealth – An epitaph of Arjuna, meaning ‘winner of wealth’. Conch horn Devadatta, meaning ‘God-given’; the vital air exhaled by yawning; God’s Breath.
Wolf-bellied – An epitaph of Bhima (‘formidable strength’), meaning ‘voracious eater’. Conch horn Paundra—finding a definition of this word has given me a merry chase, but I cannot help but notice its correlation with the word ‘Pandu’, the family name of the ‘good guys’ in this story. One definition says paundra is a mark of distinction, and since Bhima is indeed being distinguished in this verse as someone who does ferocious deeds and eats like a wolf, maybe we will just go with that.
The [rightful] king, the son of Kunti, Yudhishthira, blew Anantavijaya, [and] Nakula and Sahadeva blew Sughosha and Manipushpaka.
Characters and Conch Horns:
Yudhishthira – ‘Standing firm in battle’. He is the son of Kunti (lance) and the god Dharma. His conch horn is called Anantavijaya, ‘always victorious’.
Nakula and Sahadeva are the twin Pandu princes, the sons of the twin gods, the Ashvins, and Madri (joy), the second wife of Pandu. The Ashvins (‘possessed of horses’) are ‘The Two Charioteers’, two divinities who appear in the sky before the dawn in a golden carriage drawn by horses. They bring treasures to men and avert misfortune and sickness, and are considered to be the physicians of Heaven.
Nakula means ‘night’, and is also the mystical name of the sound ‘ha’. Sahadeva’s name means ‘with the gods’, and is the mystical name of the sound ‘sa’. These two, ‘ha’ and ‘sa’, represent the outgoing and ingoing breaths, the moon (night, cooling) and sun (day, warming) energies in the body associated with healing and purification. When joined together (‘saha’) they mean ‘together’, ‘joined together’, ‘natural’, ‘innate’.
Nakula’s and Sahadava’s conch horns are called respectively, Sughosha, ‘making a loud pleasant sound’ and Manipushpaka, ‘jewel-flower’, or ‘jewel-lotus’.
The King of Kashi (the splendid) a mighty archer, and Shikhandin the great chariot warrior, Dhrishtadyumna and Virata, and Satyaki the invicible,
Shikhandin – ‘Having a peacock as an emblem’, signifying emancipation from social restrictions—Shikhandin was once a woman who was later changed into a man.
Drishtadyumna – ‘Daring, confident and powerful’.
Virata – ‘One who has many arrows’.
Satyaki – ‘One whose nature is Truth’.
Drupada [quick step], and the Sons of Draupadi [the daughter of Drupada], and the strong-armed Son of Subhadra [Abhimanu, ‘fearless and wise’], all blew their conches simultaneously, O Lord of the Earth [Sanjaya, who has divine sight, is narrating all this to the blind king].
The noise burst asunder, and the tumult caused the sky and the earth to resonate and the hearts of the Sons of Dhritarashtra to tremble.
The sky and the earth are the lower and central areas of the body.
The conch shell resembles the cochlea, the spiral cavity of the inner ear that produces nerve impulses in response to sound vibrations. It is associated with yawning. The response to sound vibrations here refers to the onset of meditation. Notice when your meditation time comes around and you start yawning!
If you have ever heard a conch being blown, you will know that the sound it makes is not noise, but tone. Tones are made of regular vibrations, and noise of irregular vibrations. If you have ever tried using earplugs to block sound, you may have noticed that they block noise fairly well, but they don’t entirely block tone. This is because of the regularity of the vibrations of tones cutting through the barrier like a corkscrew penetrates the cork. Tone is effective. Noise is clutter.
Tone is linked with the meditative state due to its association with nada (divine sound), which is associated with ether, the subtlest element, and the fifth chakra, where the life energy (prana) concentrates to produce pratyahara and generate a true meditative state. The ego and its supporters—Dhritarashtra and his ninety-nine brothers, doership and desires—are always threatened by meditation. So when you think you will just skip your meditation today, think of this and who is winning.
In the story of the Mahabharata war, with all this tumultuous racket, we are being notified that things are about to get dicey. You’ll see why in the next issue.