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!