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!)