Thursday, 29 September 2011

Draupadi's swayamvara... Mother Kunthi speaks and Krishna meets them. Visiting Mahabharata 42

It is late in the afternoon and mother Kunthi starts to worry. 'It is time for collecting Bhiksha, but no sign of the boys! Hope they are not in trouble. Pray that Kauravas have not recognised them or that the demons have not caught them and they are alive'. Typical worries of the times for a mother!.

Kunti is shocked to see Draupadi as she walks out.

As she keeps fretting Arjuna appears, like the sun among the clouds, surrounded by the brahmins. Both he and Bhima announce 'Amma we have brought Bhiksha'! Kunthi relieved utters 'All of you share it',  as she walks out to meet them and is totally surprised to see a girl with them.

Feeling awkward that she spoke unthinkingly, is also worried. She addresses Yudhisthira thus 'Son, Your brothers brought me this girl and I carelessly asked all of you to share. What should we do? It should not be that I have spoken an untruth or that Draupadi has not followed  dharma.'

Yudhisthira consoles his mother and tells Arjuna 'Arjuna, you won her, so it is right that you marry her!' Arjuna replies 'No maharaja! Let me not do an adharma. You marry her first, then Bhima, me, Nakula and Sahadeva.'  He also adds, 'We will follow your words. Please think and  tell us what is dharma, what gives us fame and what pleases you and we will do it!'

Meanwhile, it transpires that all of them begin to desire her and she has similar feelings about them. Yudhisthira notices this and thinks that there should be no anguish in any of their minds and decides 'Let her be a wife for all us.' This sets all of them thinking.
 Krishna with an intention to confirm his suspicions walks to the potter's home along with Balarama and sees Yudhisthira seated amongst the others. He approaches and says 'I am krishna' and touches the feet of Yudhisthira and Balarama follows suit. They then prostrate before their aunt Kunthi.

Krishna answers Yudhisthira's query, 'How did you find us Vasudeva?'  Krishna tells him that he guessed that only Pandavas could show this entreprise and advises them to be cautious and returns.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Draupadi's swayamvara- The combat- Visiting Mahabharata 41

(The story of Draupadi's swayamvara is based on Vachana Bharata. It is delightfully compact and each sentence, word is so packed with meaning that it is a challenge to imitate it in English!)

The enraged kings moved towards Drupada with an intent to kill. Arjuna and Bhima block this stampede of the virtually angry elephants. A fight ensues and the brahmins pitch in by throwing their Kamandalu at them.  Arjuna with a smile asks the brahmins to keep away and tells them he will take care. Bhima stands next to him firm like a mountain. The kings decide to kill the brahmins as they have engaged in a battle.

Karna attacks Arjuna and Shalya falls on Bhima. Very soon Karna realises that this brahmin is skilled and full of courage. He tells  Arjuna 'I am impressed with your ability. It is only Indra or Arjuna who can equal me. Tell me who you are?'. Arjuna replies 'Karna I am just a skilled archer and my guru has even taught me how to use the Brahmaastra!' Karna aware that he had no answer to this astra stops the fight. While Bhima easily lifts Shalya up and slams him down on the ground, but does not kill him. The others give up when they see the best amongst them defeated.                                                                                                           
Krishna who was keeping an eye on the combat suspects that they must be Bhima and Arjuna and suggests to the assembled kings that they stop fighting as these brahmins have won the competition  in the right way. Thus Bhima and Arjuna  with Draupadi accompanying him walk towards home surrounded by the happy brahmins.                                                                                                                                             

I find many aspects of the story intriguing. While the angry kings had no compunction about throwing Draupadi into the fire if she refused to choose one of them, they seemed to have a code of conduct when it concerned a fight. While one would expect a fracas from such a group angry alpha males, it turned out to be an orderly combat. Also there is obvioulsy a rule against killing brahmins.

 They also did not hesitate to give up the fight once they recognised the superiority of the opponent. If you watch a tv series animal planet, you will be reminded of the male lions, faced with a much stronger lion, suddenly give up fight and walk away with their tails between the legs,.

Most surprising of all was the way Draupadi just accompanies Arjuna without apparently even looking back. 

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Draupadi's Swayamvara -The competition...Visiting Mahaharata ..40

Freind Raghu dropped in and we had a chat about my blog. His view was that trying to draw lessons from a period so long ago and to apply them to present day situations is not going to be easy! He observed that human nature is the same, while conditions have changed. True enough.

Drishtadhyumna then turns to his sister and points out to each of the assembled kings by name and tells her 'They have come from different countries to win you in the contest and you will marry the one who is victorius'

The arrogant kings, so sure of themselves, have already begun to imagine that Draupadi is theirs. This rivalry has even converted friendships into enmities. As they keep attempting none of them are even able to string the bow. They fall down in their efforts, damage their attires and having lost face walk away in shame.

Now Arjuna gets up from the midst of brahmins and approaches the stage. The reactions of the brahmins are varied as expected. Some as they observe his physique feel confident, while others wonder how a mere brahmin can succeed while skilled archers like Shalya and Karna have failed. A few feel so embarrassed that they do not even bear to look! As the brahmins keep murmuring, Arjuna salutes respectfully to the bow and lifts it in a trice and shoots the five arrows and splits the target.

There is utter chaos in the surprised crowd. Flowers are showered from above and praises are heard. In the confusion that ensues, Yudhisthara along with Nakula and Sahadeva head back home. Meanwhile Draupadi having seen that Arjuna has succeeded garlands him and he beams with pleasure. As the happy brahmins surround him, Arjuna begins to move from there.

Now there is a sudden change in the mood of the kings as the ugly reality of loosing to an ordinary brahmin hits them. They are very upset and angry and see it as an affront to all the khsatriyas assembled there.

They declare 'Drupada is treating us like mere strands of straw and is neglecting us. He is now bent upon giving this jewel of a woman Draupadi to a brahmin. Let us kill him. There is no need to worry about tradition here. True, he invited us and gave us hospitality, but finally he is insulting us! It is not as if he cannot find a suitable king in this veritable pantheon of gods. How can a brahmin be allowed to contest?  He has no right and this contest was meant for us. If the girl does not want any of us, let us throw her in the fire and go back. Anyway, let us not kill the brahmin, he just acted in haste and was greedy. This way our dharma is upheld and will not affect future swayamvaras' and begin to converge on Drupada with an intent to kill. 

I guess Raghu is right. Human nature has not changed one bit. Just look at  our new kings!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Draupadi's Swayamvara-- Visiting Mahabharata 39

( It was difficult to choose between the versions. While the story is similar, its sequence in 'Vachana Bharata' was intriguing!)
The Pandavas quietly enter Panchala, go around the town and take shelter in a potter's house. They are still disguised as Brahmins and survive by going around begging for alms.

Drupada still hopes that Arjuna is alive, tries his best to get news of  the Pandavas but with no success. Finally he orders that a very strong bow and a rotating contraption with a target is made. He send messages all around which says: 'Anyone who  bends this bow and strings it and shoots five arrows through the machine and pierces the target will get my daughter!'

The kings from various countries, including Duryodhana and Karna, brahmins and rishis all arrive. Drupada greets them with due respect and offers great hospitality. The town wears a festive look. The swayamvara hall is specially made in an auspicious location. Surrounded by beautiful buildings, entrances are decorated with flowers and the grounds are well carpeted and with incense burning at many locations. Musical instruments are played all over. The buildings are many storeyed with numerous doors, painted walls and golden windows. Stairs are easy to climb, hundreds of chairs and cots covered with sheer white fabrics are provided for the convenience of the guests. The exquisite scents used spreads for yojanas!

The kings occupy the many pavilions, they are fashionably dressed for the occasion. The competitive spirit has already set in among the kings! The populace  seated in the specially built stadium are trying to identify all the famous kings who have assembled. The Pandavas get there and sit among the group of  brahmins.

The festivities go on for 15 days as more and more people join. They are entertained by actors and dancers who are suitably rewarded  by the pleased royalty.  On the sixteenth day Draupadi has a ritual bath, is dressed in a grand sari and is adorned with beautiful jewellery walks in with a specially decorated golden kalasha. The music stops and the crowd goes silent.

Her brother Dhristadhyumna comes to the center of the stage and speaks with a loud and clear voice and explains the much publicised rules of the swayamvara.

Draupadi as imagined by the seven year old Samhita Arni.

Friday, 23 September 2011

The advent of Dhaumya - Visiting Mahabharata 38

It was midnight. Pandavas reach river Ganga and prepare to take a bath. A gandharva was there with his wives and resents the intrusion. An argument ensues and Arjuna claims that the sea, the slopes of the mountains and waters of rivers are common to all!  Predictably it escalates to an armed conflict and the gandharva shoots arrows at Arjuna. Arjuna uses the Agneya astra and sets fire to the chariot and pulls him out. Wives of gandharva fall at the feet of Yudhisthira and beg for mercy. Released, he wants to be friends with them.

The gandharva seeks information on the agneya astra and gifts Arjuna the power to see the happenings in all the three worlds and horses that knew no fatigue. Learns that they are Pandavas and speaks of the necessity of a kulaguru for future kings and suggests Dhaumya. Arjuna thanks the gandharva and asks him to take care of the horses for them till their circumstances have changed for the better and takes an affectionate farewell.

They seek Dhaumya, who impressed with their humility and behaviour agrees to be their guru. Feeling that dark clouds were lifting, Pandavas hurried towards Panchala where, according to Vyasa, great good fortune awaited them.

There must be something about Arjuna and the Pandavas. A defeated Drupada admires Arjuna for his skills and wants him for a son-in-law! Now it is this defeated gandharva who befriends him. (The Gandharvas generally had their dwelling in the sky or atmosphere, and one of their offices was to prepare the heavenly soma juice for the gods. They had a great partiality for women, and had a mystic power over them. The Atharvaveda speaks of "the 6333 Gandharvas." Chitraratha was chief of the Gandharvas; and the Apsarases were their wives or mistresses. The "cities of the Gandharvas" are often referred to as being very splendid.)

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Brahmin's story.. Visiting Mahabharata 37

The Pandavas continued to live in the house of the brahmin. One day a brahmin traveller came to the house, a welcome visit, a stranger coming from another country was a great event. People were eager to hear stories of others. His real mission this time..'I have been made to travel like this to tell the world about the swayamvara of a princess'. News did travel in the old days!

The Pandavas hear the stories they already know and also hear about things they did not know. The hatred of Drupada for Drona..his only aim is to get a son great enough to kill Drona. He decides to perform a yajna for this purpose. 'A son to kill Drona and a daughter as my gift to Arjuna'.

After a year spent in pleasing two rishis, Yaja and Upayaja, they perform a yaga called Putrakama. At the end of the yaga, there arose a chariot out of the sacrificial fire. Seated in it was a god-like youth (Dhrishtadyumna), dressed like a warrior. Drupada was speechless with joy. He knew that the death of Drona was certain. Then arose a beautiful woman (Draupadi), her flashing eyes bewitched everyone. A voice from the heaven proclaimed: 'This woman, who is the most beautiful of all women, will be the cause of the destruction of all kshatriyas...'

They also hear from the brahmin the story of their own death and how Drupada looked as if he was mourning the death of his own sons and of his guru's feeling that Pandavas were not dead! The guru suggests a plan to proclaim that there will be a swayamvara held in the city and there would be a test of archery. He is sure that Pandavas are somewhere, disguised and Arjuna would surely attend!

My friend Raghu disagreed with me when I said mine was an outsider's view. He said it was not as I have grown up with the epic as any other Indian. True, but I do feel strange when I see two rishis helping Drupada in his path of revenge. Or for that matter Drona tutoring Dhrishtadyumna even though the prince was born to kill him, accepting the fact that there was no use fighting fate. But I probably could accept the voice from heaven about Draupadi! Shades of a greek tragedy here.

The princes are silent for a long time after the brahmin slept and Kunti realises that they all wish to go to Panchala. The arguments she uses in Vachana Bharata is more nuanced, but she manages to convince the already willing Pandavas to move on. She tells them that they probably are overstaying their welcome in the city. There is less biksha (alms) when they go begging.

The pandavas did not sleep. They knew that Draupadi was meant for Arjuna. But ever since they heard the description of this woman, the thoughts of all of them were hovering round her. Even the eldest Yudhisthira felt he wanted this woman for himself. He was distressed at these thoughts that haunted him. But he could not help it.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The slaying of Bakasura..Visiting Mahabharata 36-- 2011

This story delighted us kids no end. We used to call a greedy eater a 'Bakasura!'
No surprise I chose 'A child's view' here.
With heavy hearts the Pandavas journeyed from their idyll in the forest to the nearest city Ekachakrapura. The city was sad, silent and mysterious. One day Kunthi finds the reason for the whole city's sorrow.
 A demon called Bakasura appeared out of nowhere and started devouring the people. The king and noblemen fled to save their own lives! The people reach an agreement with the demon and agree to send a man every day with a cart full of food pulled by two buffaloes. Later just the empty cart is returned without the man or the buffaloes!
Kunthi offers to send one of her sons in place of the person whose turn it was to go! Bhima volunteers, the other brothers agree after an initial protest and Bhima is on his way the next morning. Hungry, Bhima ate with relish the food which was meant for Bakasura. (This part of the story was thrilling and fun!)
Anyway they fight, Bakasura raining trees, stones and other hard materials at Bhima. Finally Bhima seized Bakasura and flung him down with a great force that Bakasura's back was broken. He died instantly.
Bhima returns to the city and is received by the joyful citizens. The Pandavas do not accept any reward and say 'Don't say a word about our comings and goings. This will be the best reward for us.'

Samhita's sketches:
                                                                                            Bakasura, an ugly creature!

Bhima on his way to meet Bakasura.

Monday, 19 September 2011

A detour in my Mahabharata visit.. 2011--35

Friend Chandramouli 'Suggested' that I read the Kannada edition 'Vachana Bharata' by A R Krishna Shastry M.A. I know Kannada and can understand, but I am no scholar! I am thankful to him as a perspective from an Indian language is invaluable.

Written about 50 years ago, it is recent, but India has changed a lot since then. The well made book is priced at Rs.7 and 50 paise only and the author was apologetic that he could could not sell it for less due to high costs.

The first thing that my caught my eye was 'The place where Parashurama killed the Khsatriyas was the same place where Kauravas and Pandavas fought and 18 akshohinis of warriors died in 18 days of war'. 
The author gives us the actual numbers in his preface and it is huge:
Chariots - 393,660, Elephants- 393,660, Horses - 1,049,760, men - 1,968,300
(Quote from TOI, 2-11-2011: Total strength of Indian Army - 1,100,000. It is the third largest armed forces in the world after China- 2,285,000 , USA- 1,477,000 and India 1,325,000)
Curious, I found that the estimated casualty for the second world war in 5 years of war including civilian deaths is 70,000,000. (Wikipedia). This prorated to 18 days of war will be 690,411.  Difficult to comprehend that people killed in the 18 days of Mahabharata war were almost three times that of second world war and the proportion would be higher if civilian deaths are not considered! Civilians did not die in the Mahabharata war.
 This world map puts the areas of conflicts in perspective. Kurukhestra would be just a dot in the map.

This brilliant panel from Angkor Wat in Cambodia tell us how close and fierce was the battle!
 The noise, the blood, the pain and anguish of the injured and the dying is palpable!
You have to just close your eyes and imagine a battle field thousands of times larger.

Times of India: 2 nov 2011. Army likely to recruit one lakh soldiers for China border. 


Sunday, 18 September 2011

Revisiting Mahabharata in 2011

Panadavas had a good time, an idyll.
 Hidimbi took them all to to the sacred lake called Salivahana. She built a beautiful cottage for them, Bheema spent a very happy time with her. She took him to many beautiful spots in the forest. With her he saw many rivers, mountains and valleys.

I remember driving up the Vindhya ranges near Kanha national park and stopping in the midst of a forest stretching to the horizon all around. It was a humbling experience! Not surprising if there were demons hiding in them or even if we just imagined them. I looked for a few pictures of Kanha forest and could find only this.

I tried to imagine the place and coincidentally saw the BBC program about the rain forests of Borneo. A team of explorers were trying to map the area and take pictures of the fauna and flora for posterity. While the forest was beautiful, it was intimidating.  They were bitten by leaches, had fever and upsets due to parasites, were injured and also in danger when wild elephants passed them too close for comfort. This was today when technology helped them in their project.

Compare this with what Samhita has to say about Hidimbi: 'She proved to be useful, knowing how to make tasty food out of roots and plants available for them, how to identify a poisonous plant and last but not least, how to treat snake and other bites.'

Here are a few pictures which might tell us how our own forests appeared in those times.

This is a satelite picture of Borneo. Possibly what the devatas could see!

Mt. Kinabalu. Imagine Pandavas in such a forest. They must have been happy that Hidimbi could carry all of them and fly!

Must have been daunting experience for them: walking and hunting.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Revisiting Mahabharata Bhima and Hidimbi...33 (2011)

A diversion for the Pandavas as they try to settle in the deep forests. Largely Samhita's version.

Hidimba a Rakshasa saw the Pandavas hunting. Craving to drink blood and eat human flesh, asks his sister to locate them. She does easily and the moment Hidhimbi saw Bhima she fell in love with him.
As Hidimbi does not return her brother goes looking for her and finds that Hidimbi has transformed herself into a beautiful young woman. He realises instantly that she has fallen in love with Bhima and is angry.

Fearing for Pandavas she offers to take them on her back to safety. But they refuse. Bhima and Hidimba have a tough and ferocious fight which Bhima won and killed Hidimba... Soon Bhima and Hidimbi got married.... She proved to be useful, knowing how to make tasty food out of roots and plants... She was also very strong and could carry all the five Pandavas and their mother at the same time. She used to guard the Panadavas while they slept....Sometime later, Hidimbi gave birth to a son called Gatotkacha... Soon it was time for Pandavas to  move on..Sadly, Hidimbi assumed the role of the ruler of the forest. Gatotkacha promised his father the if ever needed him, Bhima had to just think of him and he would be there... 
 Hidimbi and Hidimba
Bhima and Hidimba. Sketches from Samhita!
(A story and we used to love it as kids. Seems not all she-demons are bad! Why she could even cook tasty food! )

Revisiting Mahabharata in 2011. ...32 News reaches Hastinapura

The people saw the seven burnt bodies and their wrath was great. But they were happy to see that Purochana was punished for his sinfulness.Vidura gets the news of the escape of Pandavas through his network and is happy.
The people of Hastinapura were sunk in despair. Hearing the news the wily Dhritarashtra pretended to be grief stricken. He ordered the treasurer to distribute wealth and clothing to the poor. Vidura later touched at the grief of Bheeshama told him the entire story and said no harm can come to the Pandavas. Bheeshma applauded Vidura for his wisdom and his farsightedness.

The old king and his sons were now happy. They felt that their days of worry were at an end.

(Just imagine how it would have been today!)

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Revisiting Mahabharata 2011 ...31 The Escape

Kunti and others were so sleepy and so nervy that they could not walk fast enough.With his dear mother on his back, the twins on his hips and the other two in his arms, the great hero walked the entire length of the tunnel. There they met a man who had been stationed by the thoughtful Vidura. Then the boatman ferried them across the river and they entered the terrible forest. Distance was a dire necessity now. They hurried along with quick steps. They could trust these people as they spoke in Mlecha Bhasha used by Vidura.

Pretty straightforward narrative! An operation which defines Bheema's strength. Must have been a large tunnel to accomplish this feat!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Visiting Mahabharata..30 The burning of the house of Lac.

Vidura sends a miner to meet Yudhishthira. The miner tells him of a plan to build a tunnel from the palace to the river Ganga. As Purochana is always with them, they go hunting to wean him away from the palace to enable the miner to do his work. After about a year the tunnel is ready and the door hidden by covering it with a costly rug. Just in time, as the miner tells Yudhisthira of the plan to set fire to the palace on the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight.

The pandavas hatch a plan to set fire to the palace before the set day and escape through the tunnel. Kunti holds a feast and a Nishada woman and her five sons whom Kunti had befriended stay back. They were made to drink their fill and thus unable to travel in the night. Purochana was drunk too. Kunti and the four pandavas enter the tunnel. Bheema sets fire to the palace, making sure that the areas where Purochana and the six were sleeping and hastens to the tunnel and escapes.

The entire city was woken up by the fire and people were helpless as the moat could not be crossed. They stood all night watching the palace of lac being burnt to ashes.

(Human history is full of stories where the poorer are victims of such chicanery! Truly some are more equal than others?)