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?)