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! )