Wild River Review

WRR 4.4 — 1 AUGUST 2007

NEW IN WILD RIVER REVIEW

NOVEL EXCERPT: In a State of Partition by Aneesha Capur

SPOTLIGHT: The Other Side Of Abu Ghraib (Part 1) — The Detainees’ Quest for Justice by Joy E. Stocke, Kim Nagy, and Chris Tiefel

COLUMN: The Mystic Pen — The Gift by Katherine Schimmel Abdel Baki

FILM REVIEW: The Prisoner, or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair by Elizabeth Sheldon

AIRMAIL: Confessions of a Global Traveler — Hong Kong Diary: Of Courtesans and Kings by the Professor

NOVEL EXCERPT: Blood Grip Chapter 4 by Constance Garcia-Barrio

BLOG: WRR@LARGE

UP THE CREEK: Editor’s Notes — Art, Yoga, and Abu Ghraib




Song of the Blessed One

The Bhagavad-Gita, Canto 11:

Vision of the Universal Form [1]

EDITOR’S NOTE: There at least five ways to experience John Timpane’s glorious and ambitious translation:

  • straight through, without any aids, just beginning to end
  • with footnotes — including definition of terms, glossing of names, explanations of difficulties
  • with parallel poems (accessible by hyperlinked text within the body of the piece) — giving a much-expanded dramatic monologues of Arjuna as he experiences God directly in God’s full splendor and horror
  • with both
  • also read the parallel poems alone as a standalone — with or without the footnotes

I

Arjuna said [2]
favoring me
supreme profound
touching the divide between
self and not
these
You-spoken
teachings
have dispelled
this
my illusion

II

origin ah and undoing
of all beings
has been heard intimate
by me
and also of You
Lovely Lotus-Eye [3]
Your deathless grandeur

III

so it is
as You have declared
Your utter Self
O Transcending Lord
yet I
wish to
see Your
supreme Cyberself [4]
your all-powerful
majestic
Form

IV

if You think
I could withstand
seeing
that
O Master
O Yoker
O Isvara
that    to me
then
with grace
manifest
your transcendent
utter self

V

the Blessed One    said
BEHOLD
Son of Prtha [5]
forms My forms
by the hundreds
by the thousands
everyshape
everywhere
celestial
multicolor
cosmiform

VI

BEHOLD
the 12 Eternal Sustainers of Light
the Skygod’s 8 Attendants
the 11 Forms of Destruction
the Twin Horsemen
49 Stormbreakers [6]
numberless
never-seen-before
BEHOLD
wonders
O best of Bharatas [7]

VII

centered in one whole
the whole cosmos
all at once
BEHOLD
moving beings
unmoving
in this My
Body
O Conqueror of Sleep [8]
and all else
you
desire to
see

VIII

yet
you
Me
are disabled
from seeing
with these
now-eyes of yours
so I grant you
sight divine
BEHOLD
ME
YOGA
ISVARA

IX

(Sanjaya said [1]
Thus having spoken    O King Dhritarashtra
That Sovereign Lord
Of Yoga
Of Isvara
Revealed
to the son of Prtha
His Supreme
Isvara
Form)

X

INNUMERABLE MOUTHS
INNUMERABLE EYES
NUMEROUS WONDERS
COUNTLESS CELESTIAL ORNAMENTS BEDECKED
BRANDISHING INNUMERABLE DAZZLING WEAPONS

XI

ARRAYED IN MAGNIFICENCE STAR-VESTMENTS STAR-GARLANDS
ANNOINTED IN CELESTIAL-SCENTED UNGUENTS
All-WONDROUS-ASTONISHING    BOUNDLESS-DAZZLING
THROUGH-AND-THROUGH-ALL

XII

in the heavens
if 1,000 suns
if their 1,000 splendors
all at once
dawned
perhaps
that
might compare
to the blazing forth
of that
Ultimate
Self

XIII

there
then
saw the son of Pandu [9]
the whole universe
coursed in multivariate unfolding pathways
resting in one
the person
of the God of Gods

XIV

then
staggered
a basket of wonder
hair on end
the Conqueror of Wealth [10]
bowed his body
to the Deva
hands folded
spoke

XV

Arjuna said
O Deva
I

I


see in
You The Body
all the Gods
all panoplies all divisions
of beings
the Seven Sages [11]
divine serpents
Lord Brahma and Siva
lotus-seated

XVI

UNNUMBERED ARMS STOMACHS so many FACES
DEFEATING-IN-NUMBER eyes
I

I

behold


YOU-ON-EVERY-SIDE AGAIN
BEYONDLIMIT FORM
YOU
neither end
nor middle
nor beginning
of You
ah FORM OF THE YOUNIVERSE
ah GOVERNOR OF THE COSMOS

XVII

CROWNED and CROWNED
GRASPING YOUR CUDGEL
THE GREAT WHEEL
MASSES OF SUPERLATIVE RADIANCE
EVERYWHERE SUNFLOODING
I suffer to gaze on
tornadic fires of skyblaze
hard
indeterminable

XVIII

YOU
BEING
SUPREME
the one thing to be known
You
of this universe
the One Pillar
You
Imperishable Guardian
Of Eternal Righteousness [12]
Everlasting

XIX

nobeginningmiddleendno
ENERGY INFINITE ENERGY
ARMS ARMS INFINITE ARMS
SUNEYEMOONEYE
I see the
blastfurnace
Your mouth
by the Heat of Your Glory
this Universe
warmed

XX

O
One
Soul
Primal
Ultimate
space shrieks
between heaven and earth
You alone pervade
it calm it embrace it
all the hidden corners
You alone
Greatest of All
O You
Solitude

beholding
this
Your Wonder
this the
Terror
the three worlds [13]        awe-paralyzed
TREMBLE

XXI

hosts of godss        truly
enter You
some terrified
palms joined
hosts of great sages
veritable masters, the accomplished
the achieved
May it be well
so saying
unearthly with hymn
praise You

XXII

Those Mortal with Difficulty
Sunchildren
Eternal Sustainers of Light
The Natural Itself
Children of Duty and Prayer
Every Single All God
The Twin Horsemen
7 Stormgods
Ancestral Warmthdrinkers
Hosts and Hosts of Birdhorse SongSpirits
Ghosts of Nature
The Hungry Warrior Breath of God
The Accomplished
astonished    all astonished [14]
You
They behold

XXIII

MAGNIGICENT FORM
Yours
FACES SO MANY FACES EYES
EYES SO MANY
O
MIGHTY ARMED
ARMS ARMS LEGS FEET
STOMACHS        EYES        ARMS
STOMACHS        EYES        LEGS        EYES        ARMS
AND O GOD
SEEING
SO        O        GOD
MANY
TERRIFYING
TEETH
all worlds
tremble
and so
do
I [15]

XXIV

terrible    TUSKS
Your visage
just by seeing
voracious as the Fire of the End
north    south    east    west
I cease to
know    peace I do
not find
mercy
Master of Gods
Universe Refuge

XXV

breasting the sky
stunned in countless colors
ABYSSES of MOUTHS
BACKDRAFT of EYES
just seeing
You
I
shatter
terrified
within myself
keep no
courage
no
balance
O
Vishnu

XXVI

Earth’s kings
hosts and hosts rank after rank
sons of Dhritarashtra
even Bishma
even Drona
even Karna
and with them
our own warriors and chiefs
FALL HEADLONG INTO THY MOUTHS
TERRIBLE WITH TUSKS
SEEING TERROR
Thee
some are
stuck between
Your teeth
HEADS CRUSHED TO POWDER [16]

XXVII

ON ALL SIDES
TORMENTS OF MANY RIVERS
TUMULTING TO THE OCEAN
truly
these men
heroes in the world of men
YOUR FIERCEWILDFLAMING MOUTHS PITCH DOWN HEADLONG

XXVIII

headlong
moths
career
sudden
into the flame
DRAWN SCREAMING DESIROUS MAD
these Your creatures
pitch into Your
MOUTHS

XXIX

flaming with MOUTHS incinerant
all the worlds swallowing
on every side
You lick
Your LIPS
O
Vishnu
Your fierce
EFFULGENCE
PIERCES THE WHOLE WORLD
It SEARS

XXX

fierceformed
tell me who
You are
nahmas [17] to You
O God Supreme
mercy have mercy
O
Primeval You
to know I desire so
much
I CAN NOT FATHOM YOUR PURPOSE

XXXI

The Blessed One said
WORLD-DESTROYING
MIGHTY TIME
I AM
engaged here to lay waste to all beings
in all worlds
these warriors
in hostile armies arrayed
even without you
none shall live [18]

XXXII

therefore    you    arise
O-You-Who-Can-Shoot-With-Either-Hand
achieve fame
conquer your enemies
enjoy matchless dominion
even already by
Myself they are slain
you
you
are but you
the instrument

XXXIII

go and kill your teacher Drona
go and kill Bhishma
go and kill Karna
go and kill Jayadratha [19]
all those brave warriors
all set up to fight
gone
already slain by Me
go kill them
no fear
in battle you
will conquer your enemies



FIGHT

XXXIV

(Sanjaya said
hearing this Speech
of Demondestroyer [20]
hands folded
quaking
undone with fear
bowing    bowing again
prostrating himself
in a strangled voice
Manyhelmeted Arjuna
addressed Krsna)

XXXV

Arjuna said
O Master of the Senses [21]
in Your praise
the world delights    rejoices
demons
in fear fly
cross-cosmos
all hosts of the Accomplished
bow to You
and that is
fitting

XXXVI

O Great-Souled
O Endless
O Lord of Gods
O Home of the Universe
Greater even than Brahma
First Cause of Brahma
ah to You
why should they
not bow
Being        Seen        What is Manifest
Nonbeing        Unseen        What is Hidden
You Deathless Beyond

XXXVII

Originary Godhead
Eternal Personhood [22]
You
Refuge of this universe
The Knower
And the One Thing to be known
Goal Supreme
by You
is the cosmos
pervaded

XXXVIII

God of winds
God of deaths
God of fire
God of waters
God of the moon [23]
The Lord of Creatures
And His Creator [24]
to You
1,000 times        nahmas        nahmas
nahmas and again nahmas
nahmas to You nahmas

XXXIX

O
Totality
to You
nahmas
before you
behind you
nahmas
to You
on every infinite side every infinite where
nahmas
powerlimitpower
prowesslimitprowess
everyYouthing
You pervade
that is why
You
are
all

XL-XLI

if
unconscious of
this Your greatness
lovecareless
taking for granted Your friendship —
O Krishna        O Yadava [25]        Pal of mine
with others
or alone
walking
reclining
sitting
dinner
for a joke’s sake
whatever I have said        in lessthan respect
Immeasurable You
forgive
I implore

XLII

Power Unrivalled
You
Movingunmoving
FatherWorldMother
Worship Nexus
Greater than Great
in EarthHeavenBetween
Your equal
none
is none
could You
surpass

XLIII

so
I
prostrate
salute
Adorable Lord You
hunger    forgive
father/son
friend/friend
beloved/beloved
that is how
You
forgive

XLIV

the Never-Before-Seen
having seen
elated I am with terror
my soul distracted
show me
just
a form that has mercy
Lord of Lord
Universe Home

XLV

diademed
mace-wielding
discuss in hand
You as before
I desire to see
that same
Four-Armed Form
O Thousand-Forms-You
be
of universal
form

XLVI

The Blessed Lord said
by Gracious Me
O Arjuna
by My Yoking Power
to you
has been shown
RESPLENDENT INFINITE EPOCHAL ORIGIN
ME
Supreme Cosmic Form
by anyone not Arjuna
not before
seen

XLVII

best of the Kurus [26]
neither by studying texts
nor penance
nor by gifts
nor by rituals
nor by severe self-denial
in such Form
am I
possible
to be seen
by any beside you
in the human world

XLVIII

terrible terrible
this Form of mine
but let not
fear let not
bewilderment
be yours a Form
of Mine
dispels fear
gladdens heart
again
now
see

XLIX

(Sanjaya said
Universal God to Arjuna thus
having spoken
His Form
showed
Great-Souled
Being again
Of Gentle Form
calmed the man
terrifed)

L

Arjuna said
O Worshiped O Agitator O World Mover [27]
This Your
Gentle
Human
Form
I see
now
thoughts composed
am I
to my nature
restored

LI

The Blessed One said
This Form of Mine
Very Hard to See
you have seen
even gods
forever long
this form
to behold

LII

impossible to see
as you have seen Me
study won’t do it
not whips or slashes or fasts
nor gifts
nor burnt bulls

LIII

O Scorcher of Enemies
Arjuna
only by
devotion
one-mindedness
am I
possible
to be
known
seen
enetered into

LIV

works for Me
alone
Me the Goal
devoted
is set free
from attachment
to all things
no enmity
it is me
he enters
O Pandava [28]

END

ELEVENTH CHAPTER
SONG OF THE BLESSED ONE
VISION OF THE UNIVERSAL FORM

[1] The word gita means “song,” and the word bhagavad means “blessed (or “honored,” “revered,” “venerable,” “adored”)” — a frequent name for Krsna or more generally for God. Thus the Bhagavad-Gita is often titled The Song of God. The Bhagavad-Gita is a small excerpt from the Mahabharata, often called the world’s longest poem. The Mahabharata begins with the blind king Dhritarashtra asking Sanjaya, his charioteer, to tell him stories about the great war between the Pandavas (the sons of Pandu) (Arjuna is a Pandava) and their 100 cousins, the Kauravas (Dhritarashtra’s sons), on Kurukshetra field. Thus Sanjaya is narrating all of the action of The Bhagavad-Gita.

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[2] Arjuna the archer speaks to Krsna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu the Preserver-God, on the nature of life, warfare, duty, and God. The great war is about to have its climactic, decisive battle when Arjuna and Krsna have their exchange.

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[3] A nickname for Krsna, the god who is Arjuna’s chariot driver, and who sometimes is both human warrior and celestial Ultimate... indeed, a few times in the larger Mahabharata, the name Krsna is given to Arjuna himself. (See note 5.)

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[4] “Your Isvara self” — the word isvara suggests control, dominance, lordliness; it is the intimate, pervasive, permeating personhood that governs and characterizes the universe.

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[5] A name for Arjuna, nicknamed as often as Krsna is in this poem, indicating awareness, acknowledgment, respect, honor. But there’s more. Arjuna is the son of Prtha, who was the sister of Krsna’s father, Vasudeva (“The All-Playing, All-Pervading One”). Krsna and Arjuna thus are cousins. Krsna tends to address Arjuna this way when he wishes to invoke their kinship, either to spur Arjuna to honorable conduct or to explain something Krsna himself does or says. At the moment The Blessed One throws himself open, at this unprecedented revelation, he does so not only as God to man but also as cousin to cousin.

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[6] The first BEHOLD reveals, laid out before Arjuna, the 33 traditional devotional gods of the Aryan/Hindu pantheon, along with 49 stormgods sometimes included in the brilliant flux of traditional Hinduism. I have not used their actual names. This passage would literally read:
the 12 Adityas
8 Vasus
11 Rudras
two Ashvini
49 Maruts

The Adityas (from aditi, [the] unbegun, the eternal) were the sustainers of light in the universe — not the celestial bodies that showed light, but the gods who made light continue. The Vasus were the attendants of Indra, the Sky God; the Vasus were good at kicking up trouble. The Rudras were different manifestations of Siva, the Destroyer God. And the 49 Maruts (from a word meaning “breakers”) were gods of storm.

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[7] The Bharatas appear in the ancient texts as an old and supremely honored ancestral dynastic family, a family among families. Indeed, the title of the Mahabharata refers to them: “Epic of the Bharatas.” The irony of the Mahabharata is that both sides in this world-threatening war are Bharatas. To call Arjuna “Best of Bharatas” is more than just a compliment. It reminds us that Arjuna, for all his emotional vulnerability and hesitation, is the best a human being can hope to be.

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[8] A favorite nickname for Arjuna. In Sanskrit it is Gudakesha, something like “He who has mastery over sleep” and thus “Lord of Sleep” — a good characteristic for a warrior to possess.

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[9] Again, Arjuna. Pandu was the father of the Pandavas.

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[10] Arjuna. The word is Dhananjaya, the conqueror of wealth both in having won great wealth through victory and in not caring for wealth.

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[11] The Seven Sages, known as the Rishis, were the seven stars in the Big Dipper. Their job was to ensure that the sun rose.

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[12] The word is dharma, which means things like “duty,” “right conduct,” and “religious observance.”

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[13] “The three worlds” (Sanskrit triloka) were the three planes of existence and experience, or the three great divisions of the cosmos. Bhuloka or “Earth world” is our plane, that of physical existence; Antarloka, the inner or “Between-world,” where souls stay between incarnations, and also when they sleep; and Sivaloka, “Siva’s World,” world of the gods and highly-evolved souls. This is the causal plane. It’s also called Karanaloka, “World of the Superconsciousness,” where the 12 organs of perception and action are on deific tunings.

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[14] A cavalcade of the subsidiary gods, semigods, and not-quite-gods of the Hindu pantheon attend on the Great Ultimate. I have not used their names here, so much as epithets suggesting the meaning or significance of those names. A more literal list would read
The Rudras
The Adityas
The Vasus
The Sadhyas
The Visvedevas
The Ashvins
The Maruts
The Ushmapas
The Gandharvas
The Yakshas
The Asuras
The Siddhas

The Rudras, who name does indeed mean “mortal with difficulty,” were divine entities who passed into mortal state and drove many of the things that happen in the middle-world between Earth and the world of God. The Adityas (or “children of the Aditi,”[6]) were thought to be the offspring of the sun. The Vasus were gods corresponding to the elements and forces of nature. The Sadhyas were gods who personified the benefits of prayer and religious ritual. The Visvedevas were an expression of the sense of “all the gods who are throughout the universe.” We have met the Ashvins and Maruts before [6]. The Ushmapas were the spirits of ancestors; the Sanskrit suggests those who feed on warmth. The Gandharvas were spirits of birds, horses, and other animals; they were thought of as a celestial choir. The Asuras, from a word meaning “breath,” were thought to be warrior-gods, gods of hunger and frustrated roaming between astral planes. And the Siddhas, already seen, are those who accomplish transcendent wisdom and enlightenment.

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[15] This stanza is for me the turning point of this canto, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Mahabharata, and potentially the entire history of human thought about the nature of the divine. For the ancient Aryan notion of God, already old before the Vedas set it down, already old when the Mahabharata was assembled — and many scholars believe the great battle at Kurukshetra really happened, around 3,100 BC — rejects an aspect of theology incorporated into most Western belief. Arjuna already has seen and ecstatically (if insecurely) accepted that God exists, pervades the universe, is all-wise and beautiful, possesses irresistible power, and encompasses all good — but here the poem wheels about, whips comfort out from under our feet (at least, us readers; Arjuna never really is comfortable with God), and forces us to behold a terrifying, ugly, alien, dismaying divinity, and to accept that this, too, is an aspect of the divine, that Vishnu is here to preserve, but also Siva to destroy, and that we can never rest secure in this universe acknowledging only one — as so much Western theology does — but must, if we wish to be wise, assent to both, intertwined and constantly asserted in reality. And Krsna/Vishnu, in stanza XLIX, does take pity on Arjuna, acknowledging that “this form of mine is terrible,” and reverts to his human incarnation to make Arjuna glad again. But before that, this turn in stanza xxiii turn is a terrific challenge and offering — and it is perhaps the single most frightening moment in all writing.

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[16] Arjuna, in seeing all the kings of the Earth line up to be destroyed in the mouth of Vishnu, sees inevitably the death of Dhritarashtra himself, who, as we recall, is being told this story by his charioteer. Since part of the story is Arjuna’s vision of the future, Dhritarashtra thus must listen to the story of his own destruction. This is a foresight of the outcome of the war at Kurukshetra. For Dhritarashtra’s side will lose. And Arjuna sees that three of the absolute ideals of human prowess will themselves be destroyed in God’s maw. The vision of the destruction of Bhishma is startling. He is even more respected than Arjuna: he is the commander-in-chief of the Kauravas, a terrific warrior, a wise politician and diplomat, an exemplary king. In fact, Krsna comes out of a self-willed retirement to fight and kill him, a death he receives willingly. Drona is a great guru and warrior; he is Arjuna’s archery teacher. And Karna, a lower-class man who through prowess and righteousness ascends to the status of king, is a warrior superior even to Arjuna. In their one showdown on Kurukshetra, Karna has the upper hand when Krsna intervenes, saves Arjuna through one trick, and then through another (quite unfair) trick allows Arjuna to kill him. Karna’s death is one of the most tragic moments of the entire Mahabharata. If Karna, Drona, and Bhishma can be destroyed, anyone can.

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[17] This is the greeting of honor, as in the daily nahmas te. It means “honor,” “peace,” “obeisance.”

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[18] This begins The Ultimate’s final argument for Arjuna. It is harsh, uncompromising, and yet cast with a call to act and be heroic. It is also a forecast of the terrible destruction of the final battle of Kurukshetra. One side, the Kurus, are wiped out; the other, the Pandavas, Arjuna’s side, are victorious, but are gutted and decimated. Very little remains except for the surviving few to make a trek to heaven. God’s argument is that fate is cast, and that Arjuna cannot change it whether he fights or does not — and so it is better that he fight as well as he can, since he shall prevail. It does not matter, evidently, if that fate is deserved or makes sense. These are not considerations in which the terrifying, intoxicating Primeval One is interested.

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[19] Jayadratha is a fierce warrior who marries into the Kaurava family. Arjuna does eventually kill all these great warriors, the very flower of the other side. All of them are technically either his teachers or his cousins, so in killing them he is committing apparently horrible, polluting acts, and the prospect of this, and the waste and futility of it, is what paralyzes Arjuna at the beginning of the Bhagavad-Gita. The Primeval One is uninterested in resolving the moral or religious question of their deaths, even less in assuaging Arjuna’s conflicts.

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[20] A name for Krsna, who slayed the demon Keshi.

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[21] A name for Krsna. The Sanskrit is Hrishikesha.

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[22] Or “eternal Personality,” purana purushah. The Purusha is sometimes spoken of as a separate God.

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[23] The original reads
Vayu
Yama
Agni
Varuma
Shashanka

These are some of the oldest gods in Hinduism.

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[24] “Lord of Creatures” in Sanskrit is Prajapati, which is the name of a very ancient creator god in the oldest religious texts. With time it became a name for Brahma. And the creator of Brahma is Vishnu.

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[25] A “Yadava” was a descendant of Yadu, son of King Yayati of the lunar race. Krsna was a descendant of Yadu.

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[26] “Kurus” is another name for “Kauravas,” the enemies of the Pandavas, for whom Arjuna is fighting. But since the Kurus and the Pandavas are cousins, Arjuna, who will be the best of the victorious side, is the best of the Kurus as well.

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[27] All of these are contained in Janardana, a name for Krsna, “he who excites to worship,” “he who agitates,” “he who moves.”

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[28] “Pandava” means “of the line of Pandu.” Arjuna was one of the five sons of Pandu.

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John Timpane

John Timpane

John Timpane is Associate Editor of the Editorial Board of the Philadelphia Inquirer. He edits “Currents”, the Inquirer’s Sunday ideas section; he also writes editorials and op-eds and consults on the daily “Commentary Page.” Before coming to the Inquirer in 1997, he taught English at colleges and universities for 17 years. He has published poetry, fiction, essays, criticism, and four books: Writing Worth Reading (coauthored with Nancy H. Packer: NY: St. Martin, 1994), It Could Be Verse (Berkeley: Ten Speed, 1995), Poetry for Dummies (coauthored with Maureen Watts: NY: Hungry Minds, 2000), and Usonia, NY: Building a Community with Frank Lloyd Wright (coauthored with Roland Reiseley: NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000). He is married to Maria-Christina Keller, copy executive of Scientific American; they live in Lawrenceville with their children, Pilar and Conor.

JOHN TIMPANE IN THIS EDITION:
ART: Natural Beauty — Paintings by Eliza Drake Auth & Poems by John Timpane
POETRY: Song of the Blessed One — The Bhagavad-Gita, Canto 11
SPOTLIGHT: Poetry, Science, and the Big Bang: John Timpane