Saturday, 10 November 2007

Visiting Mahabharata...29 In Varanavata

The Panadavas reached Varanavata, which belonged to Lord Sankara and had gained immortality because of Harischandra. The city welcomed them in style. On the tenth day Purochana invited them to stay at 'Siva' specially commissioned for them by Dhritarashtra. The palace was surrounded by a moat dug around it, ostensibly to protect the Pandavas.

Yudhisthira speaks to Bheema of the strange smell pervading and his conversation with Vidura. They decide to continue to stay there in spite of the danger of a fire consuming them as they think that Vidura would have plans to save them. They feel that the danger would not be imminent and choose to play a waiting game.

(It is revealing to read about the observations of Yudhisthira of how people would react in case they are burnt to death!)

Our dear uncle will weep crocodile tears. Grandfather would be genuinely sorry but not sorry enough to punish Duryodhana. No one will be bold enough to accuse the king and Duryodhana. They are supreme. Suppose we accuse the Kauravas publicly. We will not be heard. We have no supporters. The best thing to do is to wait. We will surely escape from here thanks to our uncle Vidura. We will go about disguised..... we will collect friends and support..... this the best course of action.

Pandavas continue to live in that house, outwardly unsuspecting and inwardly dreading the ordeal that awaited them. It was the most terrible time of their lives.

(We can think of innumerable situations today which are similar to the terrible times Pandavas went through. Human situation has not really changed much, whether it is was thousands of years ago or it was indeed the another Yuga.)

Friday, 9 November 2007

Visiting Mahabharatha...28 The Pandavas sent to Varanavata (revisited in 2011)

Anyway, the king tells Yudhishthira that they should go and spend a year in Varanavata, a beautiful city. Yudhisthira immediately sees through the whole thing, but being obedient says 'I will do what you wish'. Bheeshma informed about the trip, fails to guess the real intent of this proposed trip. Duryodhana learns about the proposed trip and sets his plans in motion. Asks his trusted minister 'Purochana' to go and build a palace post haste out of inflammable material for the Pandavas and set it on fire after gaining their trust.

Soon the Pandavas are on their way. The people are unhappy and are worried. They suspect the blind king and beseech them not to go. Yudhisthira says he cannot refuse to obey his elders. Anyway, Vidura walks with them and speaks in 'mlecha bhasha' and in code with Yudhisthira. Later his mother Kunthi is curious about what Vidura had said. He tells her that he was warned of danger from fire and treachery from his cousins. They reach Varanavata after a journey of eight days.

(While author Kamala says Yudhisthira suspected treachery from the beginning, Samhita tells us that the Pandavas were happy to go till Vidura warns them of the dangers and suggests ways to overcome them.)

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Visiting Mahabharata 27--The Plot (revisited in 2011)

Dhritarashtra is in a dilemma, while he was the king, it was really his brother Pandu who extended the land of the Kurus. On top of it Yudhishthira was older than his son Duryodhana. Bheeshma, Drona and Vidura were eloquent in their praise of Yudhishthira. Dhritarashra feeling constrained by all this installs Yudhishthira as the Yuvaraja. This as expected upsets Duryodhana and his brothers.

Meahwhile Duryodhana and Bheema learn the art of wielding the mace from the great Balarama. It transpires that Balarama becomes very fond of Duryodhana. Arjuna also finishes his education with Drona, who tells him that he is the greatest archer in the world, barring one and advises the obviously upset Arjuna to develop humility (Sad that this lesson in humility did not include Ekalavya.) and tells him that it is his cousin Krishna from the house of Vrishnis, who 'is the greatest of the greatest'. He also advises Arjuna to develop a friendship with Krishna.
Within one year Yudhishthira gains popularity with the people. Duryodhana being told of this fact by his spies reproaches his father for his rash act. Dhritarashtra tries to pacify him by telling him that after his brother's death that he had to accept Pandavas as his own. Anyway Duryodhana manages to convince his father to send the Pandavas away on some pretext to Varanavata for an year and he would try to gain acceptance of the people during that time. Dhritarashtra equally jealous of the popularity of his brother's son realises that his son has hatched a plot to ensure that the Pandavas would never come back, but keeps silent.

Dhritarashtra also seeks advice from one Kanika a friend of Sakuni, who advises him to get rid of Pandavas by killing them.

(So the plot thickens as the saying goes! It appears that succession of Kings, father to son, was not always the rule. It appears that Dhritharashtra had to do choose Yudhishthira as the yuvaraja because of his popularity with the people. Advise by Kanika is equally revealing, covert action by statesmen, it seems is as ancient as history!
My mind wanders a bit and I wonder whether wielding a mace was all strength and skill or were there mantras that imparted special powers. It would be interesting to know if there was a 'Bramhaastra' like in the case of shooting arrows.)

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Visiting Mahabharata 26--Gurudakshina: Drona's revenge. (revisted in 2011)

(As I think about Karna, my literal mind tries to calculate the age difference between Karna and his brothers.  I also want to know, for instance, the average life expectancy of a human at the time of Mahabharata, when is one an adult and when is one considered old? Well I hope I will be able to find answers to these questions as I go along.

In fact, it is now easy to seek information and it is all just a click away on the web! At the same time, we are cautioned that they may not be reliable, they may not be well researched or may be written with a different agenda altogether. Anything and everything can be published on the web! It is as easy for anyone as it is for me!)

Once the education of the princes is complete, Drona exacts his gurudakshina 'I want you to go to the kingdom of Panchalas. I want you to defeat Drupada and bring him to me, a captive. He must not be killed.' Note again the authors comment: 'The hearts of young men will exult at the thought of fighting. This is specially true of khsatriyas.'

'The house of Kuru collected a huge army and marched towards Panchala. .. ..Drupada could not understand the reason for it'. Initially Pandavas keep aloof. 'The Kauravas were defeated. Their army was routed.' The Pandavas step in without Yudhistara and make it straight towards the chariot of Drupada, 'Bheema felling warriors on either side'. Arjuna captures Drupada and speeds towards Drona.

Drona has his revenge as he taunts Drupada. He gives back half the kingdom to Drupada so that they are now equal. And as they are now equal, he hopes that they become friends again. 'Drona, with the short-sightedness typical of a brahmin, thought that it was the end of the matter. He who could nurse an insult for years and devote his entire life to wreak vengeance on the man who insulted him, forgot that a khastriya was capable of a hatred which was just as terrible as that of a brahmin.'

'The anger of a brahmin is short-lived. It is alive just as long as it is not pacified. ... The wrath of a khastriya is more terrible than that of an insulted brahmin. His form burned with anger, with humiliation and hatred for Drona.'

The whole episode ends with an interesting outcome. 'The khastriya in Drupada was full of admiration for the prowess of the young prince Arjuna.' ... as he makes his way back, his mind is on the future '....I will (try to) get two children: a daughter to be given to Arjuna and a son to kill Drona.'

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Visiting Mahabharata 25--The Tournament (revisted in 2011)

(The tension between sons of Pandu and Dhritarashtra, the hyberboles used by the author to describe the tournament reminds us of the just completed 20-20 format cricket world cup final between India and Pakistan. The crowds went berserk, the country went mad after India literally won the match by a whisker. Anyway reading about the tournament conducted by Guru Drona to showcase his students amply illustrates how a mere tournament could be loaded with so much emotion!)

Drona's intention obviously was to show Bheeshma, the citizens of Hastinapura and other kings the skills of warfare he had taught the princes. But what was seen was the intensity of jealousy and hatred between the cousins Bheema and Duryodhana. But the appearance of Karna as a challenger to the supremacy of Arjuna indeed depressed him and the Pandavas.

The tournament, the author says, was watched by millions. Arjuna shows his skill by shooting his arrows singly and in bunches at such a speed that they could not be seen. (I am sure this speed can be calculated by a physicist! I wish there was some information about the material used for the bow, the arrow and the bow string! May not be relevant if an arrow is moved by a mantra.)

It is time for Karna to make his appearance in the tournament. The twang of his bow-spring was heard all across the stadium like a thunder. Anyway, he duplicates all that Arjuna has demonstrated with ease and challenges Arjuna for a contest.

The story continues, Kunti recognises Karna and faints. Karna's challenge is thwarted by a tradition that 'No prince can fight with his inferior'. Duryodhana has other ideas, he counters that 'bravery is not the birthright of Khastriyas alone' and crowns Karna as the King of Anga so that the fight can go on. Karna's foster father appears on the scene and it is now the turn of Bheema to field objections that a sutaputra is not fit to fight Arjuna and insults Karna.

Duryodhana again is quick to react, he draws attention to the way his father and their father were born and also says 'The world knows that you are the sons of your mother and not your father'. The day ends and so does the tournament and a victory of sorts for Duryodhana. He also gains a very loyal friend in Karna. Yudhistara is a worried man now.

(This story also illustrates that while a lot of importance is given to class it was not a rigid system. Bravery and ability to fight were still paramount. Also interesting to note that people knew how the Kuru and Pandava clan came into existence. Obviously there was no problem with that. This makes me wonder why Kunti kept quiet at this moment and did not come out in the open about Karna being her son and why Vidura who knew everything wanted her to be silent!  Again it must be fate of Karna the unfortunate one.)

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Visiting Mahabharata --24. Radheya and Bhargava's curse. ( revisted in 2011)

(I am back after a break. The break caused largely by the failure of the computer!) (Which is frequent!)

The story reintroduces Kunti's son, the one she abandoned! Radheya is brought up by Athiratha, a charioteer and his wife Radha, hence the name Radheya. When he turns sixteen his father offers him a gift of a chariot and horses! Radheya is not excited and confides with his mother about his desire to learn archery. His mother chooses this moment to tell him that he is not their son and of their belief that he is a khastriya, based on the fact that they found him in a box which was not an ordinary one and was wrapped in silk. They named him Karna as he was with Kavacha and Kundala and brought him up as their own.

Radheya digests this story and later departs, after declaring that for him Radha is the only mother, and goes looking for Drona to learn archery. Predictably his request is refused when Drona realises that he is a sutaputra, son of a charioteer.

He then approaches the Khastriya hater Bhargava, lies to him that he is a brahmin. He is a good student and an obedient one and Bhargava, pleased with him, teaches him all the astras. When he is about to move on, fate intervenes and Radheya is discovered to be a Khastriya. The story is interesting about how as a Khastriya he is able to bear pain stoically. He lets his guru continue to sleep on his lap, when an insect bores his thigh. Bhargava wakes up and realising that a brahmin could never bear such a pain, angry with Radheya for lying to him, curses that he will forget an astra when he needs it most.

His woes do not end there, he manages to get an additional curse from a brahmin whose cow he mistakenly kills thinking it was a deer. (You will be killed by your opponent when you are least prepared for it),

The author again speaks about fate. 'Fate is indeed a wilful woman. She is gifted with a perverse sense of humor. She can laugh only her victims weep. She is happy only when she sees someone hurt by her terrible hand.' True enough in case of Radheya. He is treated as a sutaputra, obviously unfortunate considering he is really the son of a god.

(Intriguing was  the definition of a sutaputra as the son of brahmin and a khastriya. Also was the special quality of the Kavacha, which seems to be organic in the sense that it grows along with the wearer Radheya! No big deal; that was the time when a brahmin could create world destroying weapons with a mantra . Has anyone researched on how Brahmins lost all their power?)

Monday, 10 September 2007

Visiting Mahabharata--23 Ekalavya, The Nishada (revisited in 2011)

This story must have been told and retold hundreds of times. A Nishada (Tribal!) sees Drona teaching the Khsatriya princes, approaches and requests to be taught. He is sent away, kindly as per Kamala's version and rudely in Samhita's version. Undeterred, the boy Ekalavya makes a figurine of Drona out of mud and installs it as his guru and practices archery. He in time becomes a master in archery.

Inevitably, a dog that belongs to princes wanders into the forest and barks at Ekalavya. Irritated, Ekalavya seals off the mouth of the dog with arrows. The dog runs back and princes are astonished to see the skill with which the arrows have sealed the mouth of the dog, retrace the path of the dog along with Drona and meet Ekalavya. They ask him who his guru is and are shocked when he says it is Drona. The boys and also Drona are  upset that a Nishada is a better archer than Arjuna. Drona then seeks Guru Dakshina from his pupil, his right thumb, which would effectively prevents him from being a better archer! Ekalavya readily obliges his guru by cutting of his right thumb.

(This story is best viewed as the one that probably reflects the period. This terrible act was the result of Drona's rash promise to Arjuna to make him the best archer in the world. What prevented him, I wonder, to put the challenge back to Arjuna to do better than Ekalavya. Drona seems to be a flawed person. Earlier, we see that he practically deserts his wife to improve his skills with Bharadwaja, leaving them in utter poverty. Now, he demands a ghastly fee from an innocent boy!

 Probably he was afraid that he would loose his job, as coaches normally do now when their team fails!
This also reminds me of a story where the best person in a sport was ignored and and one well connected was selected to represent India in international meets!)

Friday, 7 September 2007

Visiting Mahabaharata ..22, Drona and Dhrupada (Revisted in 2011)

(We can relate to the story of Drona. Forgotten school friendships are nothing new!)
Drona and Drupada, the prince of Panchalas, were good friends as kids. In fact carried away with this friendship Drupada promises, 'When I become king I will take you with me and we can be friends for life'.

Drona married to Kripi has a son Aswatthama. Drona's ambition was to become the greatest archer of the time. He went to the great Bhargava who had toured the world twenty-one times, destroying the Kshatriyas. Bhargava accepts Drona as a student and Drona comes home after acquiring mastery over all the astras.

Drona is in extreme poverty and they cannot even afford milk for his son Ashwattama. (The story of the Indian origin coaches?) He then remembers Drupada and his promise and hastens with his family to Panchala. Drupada drunk with power laughs at Drona and insults him for imagining that a poor Brahimin like him could be friend of a king. Drona with revenge in his heart turns to Hastinapura, where his brother-in-law is the teacher.

Bheeshma appoints Drona as the teacher of the princes. Several years passed in the education of the young princes. Arjuna with his diligence becomes the favourite student of Drona. Drona also is quick to promise, 'I have never seen an archer like you. I promise to make you the greatest archer in the world'.

Once Arjuna shows his prowess by killing the crocodile which had caught hold of Drona's leg.
Drona extremely happy teaches him an astra 'Brhmasirsha' both how to dispatch it and withdraw it. He cautions Arjuna 'This astra is too strong to be used on ordinary mortals. If it is aimed at poor ineffectual persons it will destroy the entire world. If there is a person who is either a rakshasa or a perverted deva who causes great havoc among men then, only then, should this be used'.

( What is a perverted deva I wonder!  The story of the World in the brink of destruction keeps repeating! But I suppose it is what people like to hear or read. Imagine how rich Vyaasa would be in modern days. It is said that the creator of 'Harry Potter' is a Billionaire. Probably not, we are constantly reminded that Mahabharata should not be read at home!)

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Visiting Mahabharata ..21. Enter Drona (revisited in 2011)

Introducing Drona and his appointment as the teacher of Kauravas, Pandavas and other princes is full of drama. We all know the story of how he pulls out a ball from the well by making a rope of arrows by shooting them one behind the other . (Samhita says it is reeds of grass that were used and were shot after chanting a mantra!)

When the kids, amazed with his remarkable feat, want to know who he is, he tells them 'Just go to your grandfather and tell him what happened here. He will know who I am'. (Drona is not lacking vanity!) When Bheeshma hears the story from the excited kids, he instantly recognises that it is Drona and hurries to meet him and welcomes him to Hastinapura.

To set records straight, Kripa their teacher in the use of arms, is the twin brother of Kripi. Drona is the husband of Kripi. Kripa and Kripi were brought up by Santanu.  He found them in the forest and they are the children of great Gautama.

(This brief introduction is mystifying. There is no explanation why they were left in the forest by their father. Probably it will appear later in the story.

I remember watching on Discovery channel a program called the myth busters. They were trying to confirm whether the myth of splitting an arrow which is already on the target, by shooting another on it was really true. None of the archers who tried were skilled enough to accomplish this feat. Hence a machine was rigged and after many trials they were able to succeed. The second arrow shot was able to split the earlier one, but it did not stick there. The machine was accurate in direction but was not designed to control the speed of impact! We can only marvel at Drona and his superior skills in archery to consistently do this. He of course knew the right mantra!)

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Visiting Mahabharata--20. Jealousy: its first sprouts. (revisited in 2011)

( I am happy that I can take a break. Rishi Vyaasa had to recite the epic non-stop.)
For the first time in their lives Pandava princes tasted the life of luxury that was theirs by birthright. Bheeshma spent a few days of happiness listening to the voices of his grandsons.

Bhima was a wild lad. He enjoyed teasing the other boys and humiliating them. Duryodhana could not take this humiliation .... he hated his cousin Bheema with all his might and heart and thought of avenging this extreme humiliation.

His uncle Sakuni and Duryodhana plot to kill Bheema. They manage to poison his food when they go to the river bank to play and when he sleeps due to the effect of the poison, tie him up and dump him in the river. The brothers somehow miss all this and they go home thinking that Bheema has already reached home. Learning that he is not home they go back to the river and do not find him.

Kunti expresses her fear to Vidura that she suspects Duryodhana ..'I have a fear that he has killed my child when he was sleeping'. Vidura comforts her by saying ....'the rishis have said that your sons will be long-lived' and that he is sure Bheema is safe. Sensibly advises her to keep her suspicions to herself for the safety her other four children! (Any real prophets around now?)  

Bheema is bitten by the snakes in the water. The snake poison works as an antidote. Bheema rid of the poison begins to attack the snakes. Some snakes escape and go to the nether regions and report to Vasuki, their master. Vasuki gets there and  recognises Bheema as son of Kunti, takes a liking to him and rewards him with a bowl of elixir to drink. Bheema facing east drinks eight bowls of the elixir, each bowl supposed to give him the strength of a thousand elephants.

Then Bheema sleeps for eight days and goes home to the relief and delight of his mother and brothers.... Vidura came and heard the story. He advised them to be careful. Duryodhana and Sakuni were amazed that Bheema was safe. Duryodhana's hatred was greater now. But he had to be quiet, because he knew that the Panadavas knew.

(We see a combination of the real, unreal and surreal in most of our Mythology and have become adept in assimilating it into our psyche without batting an eyelid! Life did come cheap those days. First it was Vidura who wanted Duryodhana to go because of bad omens. It is now Sakuni who plots to kill Bheema!)

Monday, 20 August 2007

Visiting Mahabharata ...19 Towards Hastinapura (revisited in 2011)

Rishis accompanied Kunti and her five sons to Hastinapura and were met by Bheeshma and Dritharashtra and the rest of the family. They outlined all that happened from the time Pandu chose to stay in the forest and made this plea before leaving Hastinapura. 'It is up to you, Bheeshma and Dhritarashtra to take up the guardianship of these fatherless children'.

As the family and Hastinapura grieved, royal mourning and funeral rites were arranged for the departed Pandu. The great Vyaasa came to preside over the function. Later Vyaasa speaks to his mother about the future he perceived 'There will be nothing but annihilation. Mother, you have not the strength of mind to watch your great grand children destroy each other; .....Retire to the forest and turn your back on this world'. 'So be it ' said Satyavati. She asked Ambika and Ambalika if they were willing to go with her. They were only too willing to go away with her.

Fate had not been kind to these three women. They had now reached a stage where nothing mattered to them. They set out willingly to the forest, in search of peace to sooth their bruised hearts. Before leaving for the forest she spoke to Bheeshma about the prophecy of Vyaasa and commanded Bheeshma, who wanted to choose death rather than face the bleak future predicted, to guard these children and see that the house of Kurus is established. Bheeshma bent his head in silent consent.

(I quote from the introduction to 'The Mahabharata' by Samhita. "Why did Samhita choose Mahabharata? Why did she not choose to write the Ramayana? When we asked her, she exclaimed that she liked Mahabharata, 'because it so evil'. "

I am also totally intrigued by sage Vyaasa. If he could foresee the calamity that awaited his grand children, I wonder whether he could have done things differently. In fact, his contribution by writing the Mahabharata, as well as being physically responsible for begetting the sons, whose children become the core of the epic, is unparalleled.   When I search the web to learn more about Vyaasa, I am overwhelmed! He is credited with the splitting of the Vedas, writing the Bhagavatha and many more. A veritable genius! Even his father sage Parashara has written a book on Jyotish. A family of intellectuals.

What was his upbringing? Obviously his mother Satyavati had nothing to do with it. Then I saw this in a dictionary! Vaman Shivram Apte says: but he retired to the wilderness as soon as he was born, and there led a life of a hermit, practising the most rigid austerities--.

 Amazing,  Vyaasa was a brilliant person, but a loner and it is not really a surprise that while he was not evil, he could be insensitive!) (Those were weird times it seems! Or were they?)

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Visiting Mahabharata ..18 Death of Pandu (revisited 2011)

Pandu spent fifteen happy years with his sons. (Kamala creates a pretty scene of Pandu getting enticed by spring and his beautiful wife Maadri.) Being alone with Maadri and overcome by desire, he takes her despite her struggle and resistance and falls down dead.

The scene now changes to one of despair and lamentation. Kunti looked on the face of Pandu. A beautiful smile lit up the face of the dead king. Kunti gave way to her grief. Maadri wanted her death with the husband who had to die because of her. "He wanted me" she said. "Before he was able to satisfy himself he died. I have to go to him and satisfy him. I must die with him".

As the rishis who had assembled there were unable to dissuade her, Maadri holding on to her resolve, climbs the funeral pyre. The sacred fire is lit by Yudhisthira, the eldest son. It is all over for them and Kunti and her five sons proceed to Hastinapura, the rightful home of the princes. A journey to the unknown had begun.
( Cannot be more dramatic than this. But surely relieved that the practice of  Sati is illegal.)

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Visiting Mahabharata 17 ... Duryodhana (revisited in 2011)

On the same day as Bheema was born, Ghandari's eldest son was born. He was named Duryodhana, his father Dhritarastra was very pleased. He spoke to his brother Vidura, as he had some concerns. He wondered whether the first son of Pandu, being older had the right to the throne.
He was also worried about the inauspicious omens at the time of his son's birth. Vidura looked grave. He said 'my brother, these omens prophecy that your son will be the cause of the destruction of the entire world'. The king shocked asked 'How can I avert this calamity?'
Vidura's reply was even more shocking, he suggested that the child must be put to death for the good of humanity. 'The wise say that, for the sake of the family, one can be abandoned, the family may be abandoned for the sake of the village, the village for the sake of community; and everything, even this world, may be abandoned for the sake of saving the soul'.
Anyway, Dhirtharashtra does not heed this advice and abandon his first born. He also fathers a daughter Dussala and  hundred more sons!
( I did not expect this shocking advice from Vidura, but babies do get abandoned, put to death sometimes. The occurrence, an aberration, is fortunately very rare. However, abortion is more prevalent while controversial. Some are aborted due to probable birth defects detected by tests and others as they are detected to be female.

Can one  imagine a day when, if 'evil' can be detected not by an omen or prophecy but by medical tests, aborting them would be accepted by a society? Hard to visualise!  Definition of 'evil' would be very tricky! Killing an infant does occur in the animal world. It is all very disturbing and unsavory aspects of life. -Post Anna Hazare movement, would Vidura define corruption as 'evil'?)

Author Kamala, I am not sure why, does not explain how these hundred sons, a big number, arrived. What I remember is close to Samhita's version! To quote "Meanwhile, Gandhari , Dhritarashtra's wife gave birth to a lump of flesh. The whole palace was in gloom. Vyasa arrived and instructed Gandhari to cut the lump into hundred pieces and put them in oil. After nine months the hundred pieces turned into hundred boys. They were called the Kauravas. They hated their cousins Pandavas. The first two sons, Duryodhana and Dushasana were the leaders of the Kauravas."

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

visiting Mahabharata 16-- Birth of Pandavas (revisted in 2011)

As Pandu passed many years in the forest, he wanted children badly as he had heard that a man with no sons was doomed to go to hell. He wanted Kunti to produce a child in the same way his mother had done. Kunti would have none of it. Pandu could not rest in peace and spent his time in misery. Finally taking pity on the king she loved immensely, Kunti relented  and spoke to him about her childhood and of the boon granted by sage Durvasa. The king's joy was immense. They chose to have a son born to lord of Dharma and so Kunti invoked the lord. The child born was named Yudhishthira, personification of Dharma himself. The king was a very happy man.

Year later they had another son, fathered by Vayu, the most powerful of the devas. He was called Bheemsena, who would be most powerful and affectionate. The king wanted another child and Kunti obliged by invoking Indira, the lord of heavens. He was named Arjuna and Indira proclaimed: 'This son of mine will be the conqueror of the entire world'.

Pandu wanted even more sons! Kunti did not agree as she said 'desperate acts are allowed only three times at the most'. Pandu suggested that she teach Maadri the chant and also help her to get a son. Maadri invoked the Ashiwini kumaras, the heavenly twins. The sons of Maadri were called Nakula and Sahadeva. Voices from the heaven said, 'They would be the most handsome in the world and full of good qualities, bravery and wisdom'.

The children grew up in the forest and were taught the skills in the use of arms by Suka, a famed archer, who was doing penance in the forest. Thus the young prices became proficient in the use of weapons. Bheema was good with the mace. Yudishthira in the use of Javelin, the twins with the sword. Arjuna became a good archer.

(The basic urge to have off springs is programmed in to our genes. While 'Niyoga', the practice of inviting rishis/gods while accepted was still a desperate act and surely traumaticLuckily there are many methods of assisted pregnancy now.

With the increase in world population, I wonder if our genes would be modified and there would be no instinctive urge to have children. However for nature to evolve such a genetic code would be a long way off. The process must be on as many couples now opt to have less children and a few have opted not to have any. Thus establishing the role of intellect and the ability to make choices.)
(There is also the case of China where it is coerced.)

Monday, 13 August 2007

Visiting Mahabharata ...15 Pandu is cursed.(Revisited 2011)

Later Kunti chose the handsome Pandu as her husband in a swayamvara. Bheeshma arranged the weddings of both Kunti and Maadri in a manner suited to their rank and race.
It was the golden age of the Kuru house. Pandu went on a tour of the entire Bharatavarsha. He re-established the supremacy of the Kuru house, won fame for himself and was claimed to be the best soldier of his times. After the campaign, Pandu with his two queens, went to the forest for relaxation. He spent many happy days with his two young wives. Later it was the memory of these pleasure-filled days that kept Kunti alive.

In that forest lived a rishi with his wife. The two were intensly in love with each other. As they wanted to enjoy the pleasures of love without restraint, they changed themselves to a couple of deer! Pandu saw them while they were coupled together and as they were easy targets, shot at them with arrows. This heinous action proved to be fatal and the rishi cursed Pandu: 'when, overcome with love, you approach your wife, death will come to you even as it did to me'. Fate had struck Pandu in his happiest moment and at the peak of his life. (As also the Rishi and his wife, who had lost themselves in their idyllic love and were indiscreet.)
(This shifting of humans to the other forms is the staple of the stories in paranormal novels)

Pandu full of self-reproach and remorse decided to renounce his worldly ways and chose to live in the forest like a hermit and do penance. On hearing this news, Bheeshma who had been free from the responsibility of running the kingdom had to rule again and felt that he had become impervious to all hurts.

(My first thought was how can a 'Rishi' freak out this way! Checked the meaning of 'Rishi'. My sanskrit dictionary says: An inspired poet or sage. A sanctified sage, an ascetic,anchorite.
Encarta has this: rishi --South Asia Hindu sage: a Hindu who is revered for holiness, religious knowledge, or piety --
sage-- wise person: somebody who is regarded as knowledgeable, wise, and experienced, especially a man of advanced years revered for his wisdom and good judgment.

Well, an 'inspired poet' can be expected to loose himself the way the rishi did! Our rishis were admirable, they knew how to play and how to do penance and acquire power!)
(Multi-tasking abilities were obviously  handed down by our rishis!)

Friday, 10 August 2007

Visiting Mahabharata ...14 Born of the Sun (Revisited 2011)

(The story of Kunti, the mother of Pandavas is strange.) Sage Durvasa visits king Kuntibhoja, uncle and foster-father of Kunti. Kunti takes care of the sage admirably. The sage famous(!) for his temper is very pleased and grants her a boon. The boon is a mantra, when chanted, the god she wanted would 'come to her'. Kunti, still a child and curious, enraptured by the beauty of the morning sun, invokes the sun god! She is extremely happy when the sun god appears, aghast when she learns the true meaning of 'god coming to her'. Finally, when assured 'she will be a virgin again' accepts the embrace of the seductive sun god.

As he departs the sun god describes the special qualities of their son. He would be born with a Kavacha and a Kundala. He would be a great archer and with a goodness of heart, he would be the greatest of all givers. Proud and sensitive his fame would endure.
(Kamala does well to recreate the scene between the smiling Sun god and the apprehensive Kunti!)

In time Kunti delivers a child and providentially, as she lives near the river, she places the child in a box and sets it afloat on the placid river with tears in her eyes and a prayer for his well being. Thus a laughing girl suddenly becomes a woman with a haunting memory of her beautiful child in a box.

I like to quote Samhita here: 'Kunti grew up to be sad princess, knowing that her fault would never be forgiven. She always had a sad look in her eyes'
( My first reaction was how is it Kunti's fault? Then, whose fault is it anyway? How could a sage give a child such an odd boon! We know that the sages would have their answer pat. 'It was written!' How could the sun god take a mere child? Then again Gods are different apparently with different value systems.

(How old was Kunti anyway? Obviously it would be statutory rape today. It could also explain the reason for child marriages prevalent in old India! One way to protect them!) 

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Visiting Mahabharata .. 13 Vidura, Pandu and Dhritarashtra (revisited 2011)

The three children, born courtesy Vyasa, were brought up by Bheeshma. Dhritarashtra the first born was anointed as the Yuvaraja, Pandu skilled in the use of weapons was appointed the commander of the army and Vidura as the minister to the king. The Kuru trio ruled as a team.

(The epic which in English is termed a mythology is also full of myths! Dhritarashtra and Pandu are called Kuru vamshi's only because of an accepted convention, they do not carry any DNA of the Kuru's as a matter of fact. Two of them are children of Kashi princesses and a Rishi and it is said that one should not seek the Rishi moola or origin. Vidura is not even a Kshatriya! The much flaunted Khandhaan or vamsha, grist of most Bollywood movies is obviously very tenuous here! )

In time, Dhritarashtra was married to Gandhari in Hastinapura. She travelled from Ghandhara with her brother Sakuni. Ghandhari covered her eyes with a peice of silk to be one with her husband who was blind. A tremendous self-sacrifice and a noble gesture. She did not want to see if her husband could not! Pandu who participated in a swayamvara was chosen by the beautiful Madri for is noble looks. Thus the great Kuru house had two wonderful brides.

(It is no surprise that there was no talk of finding a bride for the wise Vidura. He was fortunate that he was brought up in the palace. Today, in all likelihood, both Vidura and his mother would have been sent back to the village she came from. No talk of caste here!
Ghandari is described as gentle and beautiful! She also proved to be very innocent. Her decision meant 'blind leading the blind' as both she and her husband became dependent on others. We can only speculate on the consequences of such a situation, especially in the upbringing of their children!)

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Visiting Mahabharata ..12 'A pause'.... (revisiting in 2011)

 It was Varsha's reaction to my ramble on the Richard Gere - Shilpa kiss episode that triggered this blog.
" Hi Nidhi I wish there was as much, if not more, fuss/protest/effigy burning/raging controversy each time a female foetus is aborted, or a woman is burned to death by her in-laws... not to mention rape and other forms of sexual violence against women (certainly what took place during the Gujarat riots). This GeRe/Shetty show is mild in comparison……………. Varsha".I have this wry thought the about India. The Ramayana (a tale of woes) of India is its endless Mahabharatha (conflict)! The arrest of a student of the Baroda University reinforced this feeling. The complaint was that a art student had painted gods in the nude, thus hurting the sentiments of the people. Anyway, these protests ostensibly were to uphold our tradition and culture and I had hoped that our epics would show us the way. I had hoped to see the wisdom of the Rishis’ distilled in them for our guidance. But I found the first few chapters awkward to say the least!

It is interesting that Ramayana, Ramrajya is what we want to bring back, precedes Mahabharata. I wonder whether Ramayana was thought to be too idealistic and hence Mahabharata was scripted to bring in more reality into our lives. Statistically, we are more certain to meet 100 Kauravas  from Mahabharata in our lives for one Rama. Even that seems to be optimistic. To be honest, when we say someone acts like Rama, we are mostly sardonic, if not derisive. (I am not talking about the time when we are at a satsang!).

Anyway I took a break for about eight weeks from my blogging. While in Seattle I remembered that Nandini had this wonderful version of Mahabharta by Samhita Arni -A child’s view -Publishers: Tara Publishing. Samhita's introduction is outstanding and her sketches are wonderful! Most importantly she has dealt with the subject, one that I found awkward and Tara wanted to hide from the kids and Gayathri chose to skip, without batting her eyelids! I see that while Kamala Subramaniam has tried to sanitise some events, Sam has dealt with them with a refreshing childlike directness. She was all of four when she started reading the epic and was seven she started writing!

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Visiting 'Mahabharata' ...11: ' Is it Time to quit?' (revisited in 2011)

(Gayathri while talking about her experiences about telling stories from the epics, she takes 'Balvihar' classes for young Indian children in Bangkok, said she skips whenever she finds the going awkward to say the least. The following story is so strange that even I am tempted to quit!)

As Satyavati keeps on and on about continuing the line of Kuru, Bheeshma suggests one more custom which was also an accepted practice. A 'noble' brahmin is invited to help revive the royal line. While she really wanted a Kuru to continue the line, she gives up and accepts this suggestion. Satyavati after a lot of hesitation :-) speaks about Vyaasa a son born to Parashara the great rishi before her marriage to Santanu! {I could not resist the smiley icon}

Just that she thought of Vyaasa prompts him visit his mother! Vyaasa understands the situation and is ready to take the wives of his step brother. Satyavati now speaks to the women and convinces them and arranges for the visitation of Vyaasa in the night.

Ambika and Ambalika go through the ordeal for the sake of the Kuru line. Vyaasa was so forbidding and terrible in appearance that Ambika closed her eyes and Ambalika turned pale. It transpires that the son born to Ambika is blind and to Ambalika white.

 Disappointed Satayvati pursuades Ambika to be ready for one more visitation from Vyaasa. Unable to bear even the thought, she sends her maid in her place. The maid manages to stay calm and Vyaasa predicts that his son would turn out be both wise and good. He also requests his mother not to call him again as it is not right for him, as an ascetic, to be with women more than three times and goes back to the forest to continue his penance.

( Interesting to see that Vamsha or lineage was so crucial and it seems that genes, even if they did not have a scientific basis for it, was important. It was imperative to perpetuate a vamsha by any means. Of course, niyoga that was practiced,  did not really perpetuate genes of Kurus but mostly of Satyavati! Why not, as she also is a notable personality by her own right.

 No surprise Satyavati failed to see how gruesome Vyaasa appeared.  I was trying to remember the proverb 'Hettavarige Heggana muddhu', I thank Mohan for telling me, Tara said she also knew! Her Kannada is better than I thought! A very loose translation would be for a mother 'her child is the most beautiful' and the literal one is 'for one who has given birth to a bandicoot, even it is lovable'!

The insensivity of  Rishi Vyaasa amazes me . We expect rishis to be better humans! About the children being born blind and white: While it is difficult to accept, doctors may probably establish medically, some time in the future, the direct effect of mother's state of mind on the newborn at the time of conception. Still the reaction seems to be too severe. Going blind just because the woman closed her eyes. Too much! May be Vyaasa was insulted and cursed them in his mind.)

(I remember reading a book, a long while ago, about unusual law cases. The book was in my father's office, a very old book, early twentieth century! Briefly the story was this, a woman delivers a child, totally different in color with no resembalnce to  either her or the husband. Husband files for divorce and the defense is that the woman had picture of a man, the same color as the baby, in her bedroom and she was looking at it often during her pregnancy. I recall, that the judge believed her story and did not grant a divorce! I wonder if the judge had read 'The Mahabhrata'.)

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Visiting 'Mahabharata' ...10: 'A TURNING POINT' (revisited in 2011)

Satyavati and Bheeshma
Young Vichitraveerya married the two pretty women. He was without a care, as Bheeshma minded the affairs of the state, he was indeed a happy man but not lucky. Fate struck again and he had an early death from consumption, a dreaded disease.

Satyavati was stunned by the calamity. With her own sons gone, her objective now was to find a way of continuing the line of Kuru. After much thought she summoned Bheeshma and explained her plan, often adopted under similar circumstances, ' to continue the lineage you must take the wives of your brother, and your sons will be the true descendants of Kuru'.

Bheeshma taken by surprise, but being aware of the shock and grief she was in, patiently reminded her of the vows he had taken to facilitate his fathers marriage. Satyavati countered with the argument that circumstances had changed now and demanded 'You must obey me. That is a greater Dharma than all the oaths you have taken'. Bheeshma now angered by her command refuses, 'I have once dared to defy my guru for the sake of this oath' and said 'please desist'.

(The author has wonderfully analysed the inner feelings of  Bheeshma which he had curbed. Satyavati was the cause of all his misery. His pleasant times with his mother and his four happy years with his father had changed forever. His oath of celibacy had turned an young man 'old' in an instant. Even the torment he underwent as he was constrained to refuse Amba's appeal was due to this oath. Hence her 'command' to give up his oath seems to have made him even more stubborn. Satyavati wanting him 'take' instead of 'marry' is also interesting!

The idea was not really out of place considering the prevailing practices of the period. For us mortals in Kaliyug this event seems to be a real turning point. If he had only implemented Satyavati's plan, hopefully, there would have been no Mahabharata war.   Bheeshma's inner anger, which he could not deal with rationally, definitely changed the course of human history.

Gods who kept a watch while Bheeshma fought his guru and managed to save the world seem to have ignored this event.)

(Amba who pleaded with so many, including the rigid and helpless Bheeshma, strangely did not approach Vichitraveerya direclty with a request that he marry her along with her sisters. In any case that was the original plan!) 

Monday, 4 June 2007

Visiting 'Mahabharata' ...9 (revisiting in 2011)

Amba's continued thirst for revenge
Amba moved on from the hermitage. She performed a terrible penance. Lord Shanmuka, son of Lord Shankara pleased with her penance gave her a garland of ever-fresh lotuses. He said 'The person who wears it round his neck will be the person who will kill Bheeshma'.

Amba, very happy, set out to persuade one of the powerful kings to take up her cause. They all refused. Such was the fear of the powerful Bheeshma. She went to the court of Drupada and failed to convince him as well. In disgust Amba threw the garland at a pillar in the great hall of Drupada and walked away in a fury. No one dared to touch the garland and it remained on the pillar.

She continued her severe penance with a heart full of hatred. Finally lord Shankara appeared and granted that she herself would kill him in her next birth. Amba said 'I must kill him now', as in her next life she would not remember her hatred and would not taste the joy of revenge . Lord sankara assured her that she would not forget.

Amba built a fire and threw herself into it. Later, was born to King Drupada as his daughter. One day while playing she saw the garland on the pillar and placed it round her neck. She reassured her frantically worried father 'I have been born as your child for the sole purpose of wearing this garland'. She was called Shikandi. The world thought she was a man and was tutored by Drona and years later, thanks to an Yaksha she turned a man. However, her hatred for Bheeshma continued to burn in her heart!

(Funny the way penance is described as 'terrible' and 'severe'. It seems the best way to get attention of Gods is through self-mortification of the severest kind. We know the story of Valmiki who sat unmoved as anthills covered him. Penance is not always about atonement for sins committed, but a way of accumulating immense power. In this case the motivation was revenge.
We see instances in the epics where Gods bestow powers unthinkingly. But we are always assured that there was a very valid reason and the events that follow would explain !)

(We hear stories of past life memories. Mostly it is about child prodigies, scholars and artists. In some cases of persons who had accidental deaths or were murdered. Is it possible that there are Amba's hidden amongst us? Some seem to have an agenda against others without apparent reasons. Hatred carried forward from their past janma?
 I wonder if Gods should take sides and support those who have nothing but hatred in their hearts! Yet to see the mention of being forgiving so far. May be difficult in case of Amba.)

Visiting 'Mahabharata' ...8 (revisiting in 2011)

(Tara adds to the modern 'Amba' story. She said that the girl was forced by her family to get married to the one chosen by them. Both her brother and father beat her up. And the probable reason why her lover did not turn up was that his family had locked him up! A strange story and I see that stranger things happen in the real Amba story!)

Anyway the ill-starred Amba spends six years without a solution to her predicament. She tries to join a hermitage, the ascetics(!) do not want her as they are worried to have an unmarried woman amongst them! Her grandfather Hotravahana tries to influence Bheeshma through Bhargava, his friend and Bheeshma's guru . Bhargava feeling sorry for Amba, summons his pupil and urges him to marry her. Bheeshma holds firm to his oath. Bhargava furious says that he has no choice but to either curse or fight Bheeshma. Bheeshma dreads the curse and choses to fight his guru.

A terrible battle is fought, which rages for days and nights, between the teacher and the pupil. Finally, Bheeshama chose to send the astra called Praswaapa. That meant the destruction of the world. Gods then intervene and convince Bheeshma to be the first one to withdraw fighting. Guru embraces his pupil and says 'you are the greatest of all fighters, I could not defeat you'. He advises Amba to give up as she has seen that even he could not shake Bheeshma's resolution.

(As I read this version of Mahabharata, I see that author Kamala is clearly making a statement on the condition of women in ancient times. We also see Amba is not the one to give up easily! Obvioulsy she was pushed into a corner. Her fault was being honest about her feelings and expecting fairplay!

 The gods who were vigilant and thus saved the world from destruction apparently were not bothered about Amba's predicament! But who can question gods?)

(Wonder if we can name equivalent personalities in Team Anna Hazare's crusade against corruption!)

Friday, 1 June 2007

Visiting 'Mahabharata' ...7 (revisiting in 2011)

(The story as it develops has everything! No wonder the pundits are vary of letting laymen read Mahabharata. )

The swayamvara at Kasi: As Bheeshma thinks of getting Vichitraveerya married to Amba, Ambika and Ambalika, the pretty daughters of King of Kasi, he hears that a swayamvara is already arranged for the princesses . This is an unpleasant surprise and a break in tradition as the princes of the Kuru invariably married the princesses of Kasi. Upset and feeling insulted, Bheeshma descends on Kasi.

There is derision in the voices of some of the assembled kings as they taunt Bheeshma and ask how he is  there as a suitor. They all know 'his oath of celibacy' ! Bheeshma seeks to correct their impression, his voice like the clap of the thunder proclaims, that he has come to take away the princesses as the brides of his brother in Hastinarapura.

The assembled kings fail in their attempts to stop him. The heroic king Salva fights the most furious battle and wounds Bheeshma, but looses his charioteer, horses and his weapons. Bheeshma who could have taken his life spares him and rides on unchallenged back to Hastinapura.

Bheeshma presents the beautiful princesses to Satyavati, who is very pleased and to Vichitraveerya, who falls at the feet of Bheeshma in gratitude. At this moment of  happiness, Amba trembling like a leaf speaks to them. She says that before Bheeshma arrived at the swayamvara she had already given her heart to king Salva and was about to garland him. Bheeshma while annoyed with Amba for not speaking up before she was brought to Hastinapura, concurs with his brother and sends Amba to King Salva with a proper escort.

King Salva does not accept her as she is now the property of Bheeshma according to Khastriya dharma and says he is not a beggar to accept gifts from his enemy. Humiliated and pained Amba goes back to Bheeshma and tells him that as he had pulled her by her right hand into the chariot and had fought with the other kings, she now belongs to him. She pleads with him to marry her as she has no one now.

Bheeshma while full of pity for her, explains that it was fate that stopped her from telling him earlier in Kashi that she had already chosen a husband and that he is unable to marry her as he is bound by his oath and walks away.

(It is difficult to distill  lessons to guide us from this story. Many things wrong here!

 Possibly there were reasons why king of Kashi decided to ignore tradition and did not approach the Kurus. Whether it was because Vichitraveerya was the son of a fisher woman, we do not know, at least in this version of the story.

 It is a pity about the charioteer being killed, but even today chauffeurs of VIP's are in danger.

Again names of old times are fascinating. I checked and found 'Vichitra-veerya' had many meanings depending on the context. It meant 'Beautiful and Valiant', but for me 'Vichitra' meant 'Strange'.      Indeed strange that the prince, a khastriya, was content to let his elder brother to find him wives. (Three in one go?). 

Stranger that I came across 'Amba' on the reality TV channel a few days ago. Modern 'Amba' also waited till she was married to tell her husband that she loved someone else. The man's family were interviewed and were very understanding! Wanted the woman to be happy and she was free to go to her lover! Anyway, she was still waiting and I have a strong feeling that the lover developed cold feet as he had not turned up even after three hours! I do not know how the story ended! But tough for the girl! )

Thursday, 31 May 2007

Visiting 'Mahabharata' ...6 (Revisiting in 2011)

No idea why, but I had taken a break from Mahabharata!

There are many scholarly websites dealing with Mahabharata, the second longest epic known. It is fascinating to browse the map of India depicting places during Mahabharata period on thefullwiki  and the research made to fix the time of Mahabharata. I remember asking a highly respected sanskrit scholar about the possible dates of the events in the epics. His reply, 'even to think in these lines is a sin', came to me as a real surprise. According to him these epics were given to our rishis directly by God to guide us and they were timeless!

I share this quote sent to me by a friend: 'My Child,You may read or discuss scripture as much as you like. But until you forget everything, You will never live in your heart.' -Ashtavakra Gita 16:1
From "The Heart of Awareness: A Translation of the Ashtavakra Gita," by Thomas Byrom, 1990. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston.

I hope I will be able to learn to forget everything, in the meanwhile I hope I will be able to ramble with my heart as my guide.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Visiting 'Mahabharata' ...5--(revisited in 2011).

Santanu, after hearing the story about Devavrata's sacrifice, is overcome with grief at the extent of his son's sacrifice, ...but the web once woven we cannot unweave. In his gratitude he grants, using up all his accumulated merits of his Tapas, a boon to his beloved son. Devavrata could choose the time of his own death.

Santanu and Satyavati are happily married, have two sons Chitrangada and Vichitraveerya. Time has a way of racing and soon Santanu passes on to be with his forefathers. Devavrata acts as the regent, as prince Chitrangada is too young to rule. Tragedy strikes again when a Gandharva King also named Chitrangada taking offense that a mortal is also with the same name, challenges the prince to a fight. The prince is killed in the battle. Bheeshma stricken with grief installs young Vichitraveerya as the Yuvaraja and continues to rule as his regent.

(Rikhi had an interesting comment to make when I told him that I was reading Mahabharata. He said Pandits do not advise either reading or keeping copies of the book at home. It is known to create conflicts in the family. Surprisingly Anita had heard something similar.  It could be true, you begin to seek nuances to events or words which earlier you would not give a second thought.
Spare a thought on Santanu, he really surprised me ! I wonder how he found time for all that penance, so powerful, that its benefits could defy death itself! I thought he was more into hunting. Devavrata at best can be described as a 'pavam' or 'bechara' (Innocent!) type of personality. Due to the fact, in all probability, that he grew up in heaven and under the care of a single parent!
(On second thoughts Santanu's boon was a double edged sword! A long life for Devavrata was more of a punishment, unless of course he had chosen to cut it short much before he finally did.)

I am also glad that the days of hobnobbing with the gods and demi-gods is a thing of the past! Probably Gandharvas moved west! Remember all those western movies we saw where our hero is drawn into a shoot out at the slightest pretext!)
(Now back in Bengaluru, when I see this phenomenon of 'road rage', I begin to think that Ghandarvas are still around!)

Aditya Bhattacharjee posted a link on my posting on FB. The Mahabharata and Ramayana, Week One by Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. While my appraoch is of one who has read or was exposed to bits and pieces of the epic, this is a very comprehensive introduction of Mahabharata. Spare the half hour to listen to the vimeo. You will enjoy it. Thanks Aditya

Visiting 'Mahabharata' ...4 (Revisited in 2011)

King Santanu, while he rejects the condition imposed by the fisherman is unable to forget the girl. One day in a typically round about way speaks to his son about how the Vamsha of the great Kurus run a risk as he is the only son. While he is not keen to marry, ... 'The wise have said that having an only son is like having no son at all'. The prince being perceptive as well proactive gets the story from his father's charioteer. Travels to meet the fisherman and tries to persuade him to drop the conditions. The man while seeming to agree, says he is helpless as a prediction, that a son of his daughter Satyavati would be monarch, is in the way. While he is aware that the prince is the crowned 'Yuvaraja', he does not budge.

 Finally an agreement is reached as Devavarata yields and promises not to make a claim to the throne and further makes a vow to remain celibate, in response to the fisherman's fear that his children could lay a claim to the kingdom.

As the heavens, pleased with his supreme sacrifice, showered flowers on him and the word 'Bheeshma' resounded from the sky, Devavrata speeds towards Hastinapura with his new found 'Mother'.

(The story sounds very familiar!. Attraction to fisher women by town folks seems age old!
We see that while the Prince is intelligent he is also 'Abnormally' unselfish.  He probably wanted to recompense his father as he and his mother Ganga just vanished on that fateful day.
(While Devavrata is soft on his father, his mother Ganga  seems to be rather hard  on the mortal she married! Obviously, Goddesses do have a different set of standards.)

It surprised me that a fisherman had the temerity to lay down conditions to a King, but I suppose the society was less complex and more equal those days. More impressive was his skill in negotiations! It is said that eating fish is good for the brain and this fisherman definitely proves it! See the way he takes advantage of a prediction made by a sage!)

(It is still possible if you consider how Anna Hazare a villager outmaneuvered the very clever and seasoned politicians! 
 Obviously we mortals have adapted and improved upon the heavenly practice of celebrating with flowers. Look at the way our netas are garlanded!  Bigger the garland more the respect!

Visiting 'Mahabharata' ...3 (Revisited in 2011)

Santanu and Devavrata enjoyed four idyllic years, making up for the lost time. In fact, the whole country was delirious with joy. But....'Fate, all the while, was playing a waiting game. The sight of unsullied happiness is too much for her. She always manages to add the bitter drop to the cup of joy'.

It happened this way. The king followed a strange fragrance and discovered a perfect woman with a faultless form. She was not a goddess but a fisher woman. Smitten he went to the father of the girl with a proposal for marriage. Her father overjoyed agreed, but with a condition! He wanted the son born to his daughter would be made king.

The king speechless, came away with a heart full of pain and longing for the unattainable, as he could not countenance a condition which would deny Devavrata his right. Soon the son saw his father a changed person. Gone were the happy days. King lost interest in everything, even hunting! The prince tried his best, but failed to draw him out of his despondency.

(This chapter explains why my grand mother and other elders, brought up on these stories, lived in constant fear of things going wrong! In fact, it is a gut reaction, we get tense, the moment we see a happy and a care free scene in the movies. We know for sure things will go wrong! I recall we as kids, especially girls, were scolded if we laughed too loud! Sure way to invite bad luck!
(Anyway, Kings will be Kings and Fate is a SHE?)

Visiting 'Mahabharata' ...2 (revisited in 2011)

King Santanu whose heart was crushed lead an empty life, spent his time hunting (!) or haunting the banks of river Ganga. Sixteen years later, one day, he was amazed to see that the river had stopped flowing. A net work of arrows had barricaded the river and not a drop of water went thru.

 Suddenly he felt he was not alone turned and saw his beloved Ganga  standing beside him. He was overwhelmed and his tearful pleadings for her to stay was of no avail. She had come back to Earth only to leave behind his eighth son, the son who was saved by his outburst but at a cost. 

They heard a roar and river Ganga which was held back was released and was flowing again. In walked a beautiful youth and  Santanu realised that it was his son. Yes! He is our son, concurred goddess Ganga and Devavrata prostrated to show respect to his father. Ganga the proud mother declared that she had taken care to see that their son would be a worthy heir to the throne of Pauravas. She had ensured that he had the best  Gurus the heavens could provide. Ganga then vanished and Santanu who had been lonely so long galloped towards Hastinapura with his son who soon would be his only obsession!

(The second chapter was easy to deal with. Those of us who know our epics can see the ingredients for  future problems.What intrigues my literal mind is the engineering feat of Devavrata. I wonder how many arrows he needed to shoot and how fast, to create this dam. Difficult to visualise.

Sriram wanted to know more about Kamala Subramaniam, actually more about what she thought of her father. Her father Kailasam was unconventional to say the least. I hope someone  knowledgeable about her times will tell us.

She, self-effacing, was a remarkable person as she wrote her version of the Mahabharata after undergoing an operation for cancer. Her most productive time as an author was the last ten years of her life.)

Visiting Mahabharata ..1 (Revisiting in 2011)

(I wrote this on May 30, 2007 while in Bangkok. Almost an outsider's view. I stopped for a while and plan now to continue blogging. In short, a re-visit!)  

I thought about this blog as I signed an on-line petition protesting to the Governor of the State Gujarat about the latest Baroda episode. I subscribe to the feeling that the British induced democracy and its incredible institutions are on the wane. While they have served us well, they have been modified, partly subverted to suit our own ethos. We proclaim that we are proud to go back to our own true culture. In fact, there is a pressure on us to go back.

We keep raising controversies by the day if not by the hour! (It is no different today!). So I had a few questions! Why are we so oversensitive, is it part of our psyche? Do our great epics teach us how to conduct ourselves? How relevant are they today? Seeking an answer, I chose to read Mahabharata.

Let me begin with the epic story: Adiparva
'On the Banks of Ganga' King Shantanu of Hastinapura falls in love with Ganga and she marries him on one condition.. 'You must not cross me on anything at any time'....They live happily and a son is born and the King is horrified to see his new born son flung into the river Ganga ... The King keeping his promise does not question her.

 The scene is repeated every year for Seven Years and his seven sons are thrown into the river Ganga... FINALLY when it happens for the eighth time, the King cannot bear it anymore, stops her and speaks to her harshly questioning her inhuman acts...There are reasons for her acts, which she explains is due to their past actions and curses thereon... but she fades away from his sight as the King has broken his promise and the King lives a life of utter loneliness.

Why  Mahabharatha? I had the book by Kamala Subramaniam, gifted to me by Srilatha and Jayaram two years ago. Also, I liked the foreword by Dr.K.M.Munshi, I quote ....'it is a whole literature in itself, containing a code of life, a philosophy of social and ethical relations, and speculative thought on human problems that is hard to rival; but, above all, it has for its core the GITA.......Through such books alone, the harmonies underlying true culture, I am convinced, will one day reconcile the disorders of modern life'.

Another reason was that I remembered that we had a copy of Rajaji's Mahabharata in Pune and I was surprised one day to see it in our locked cupboard. Tara, when asked why, said that the book had some strange stories which may be beyond Nandini who was growing up!

As Nandini is now grown up and would soon be concerned with what her own kids read, I thought it was a good time to see what the book said and how it stood the test of times. I was also curious to learn if the two different worlds could be reconciled!

It may interest some to know that Kamala Subramaniam was my mother's (or my aunt's) classmate and we all grew up on her father's (T. P. Kailasam) wonderful 'Kannada' plays.

First chapter seems to support Tara's views! How would the police act now, would they arrest Ganga for homicide and King Shantanu as an accomplice? 

( As I began editing my old blog, I sat up with a jerk as I saw today's papers, 1/9/11. A mother threw kerosene on her 18 month old daughter and set her on fire and then immolated herself. Can anything be more horrid? What kind of Karma is this? Why fate was so cruel to this child?)