Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Aranya Parva. Visiting Mahabharata 68

Kamala calls it Vana Parva. Does not sound as forbidding as Aranya! It is unsettling times for all.

The Pandavas move fast as they want to get away as fast as possible. Reach the banks of river Ganga, go hungry as they have no food and spend a painful first night of their exile. Several brahmins who had followed them also go hungry. Yudhisthira requests them to go back to the city but they are determined to be with the Pandavas and share their troubles. Yudhisthira is worried as he has no means to feed them.

His guru Dhaumya suggests he pray to the Sun God for help. Yudhisthira worships Sun accordingly.  Sun is pleased with his intense worship and the fact that he is doing it to benefit others. He is given a copper vessel which will always be full! 'As soon as Draupadi begins to serve, she will get all the food she wants.' Yudhisthira is happy and receives the vessel with gratitude.

They all set out towards the forest Kamyaka. Meanwhile Dhritharashtra develops feelings of guilt at his own actions and sends for Vidura looking for solace. Vidura suggests that he call  Pandavas back and return the kingdom and give up his excessive love for his own son. This angers Dhritharashtra who tells his brother to leave Hasitnapura and join the Pandavas if he likes them so much. Vidura for once does not try to placate his brother and meets  Pandavas at Kamyaka. Yudhisthira while happy to see him cannot understand why he is there. Vidura is overcome with grief at the plight of Pandavas, tells them why and says he is there to stay. Yudhisthira is also very happy to have his beloved uncle with him.

Back in Hastinapura Dhritharashtra misses his gentle brother Vidura and wants him back. Sends his charioteer to fetch Vidura with a request full of apologies. This moves Vidura and decides to go back to be with his brother.

These movements of Vidura makes
Duryodhana suspicious and they get worried that Vidura is again trying to influence Dhritharashtra to return Pandavas their kingdom. But Sakuni is sure that Pandavas will not return as their anger runs deep and there is no chance of them returning and being reconciled. Radheya just wants to fight with Pandavas and destroy them. Duryodhana agrees and  they decide to march on the Pandavas.
Vyaasa appears just in time to stop them. He advises Dhirtharashtra not to do anything now and to wait for thirteen years.'You have caused enough damage to yourself and your sons. Please do not allow this mad attempt of your willful son...Try to coax your son to make peace with them....If he will not, what may happen after that is not hard to guess. But nothing should be done now.'

Then, after the departure of Vyaasa, the great sage Maitreya comes to the court of Kurus . Expressing shock at the way Pandavas were treated,  summons Duryodhana and speaks to him in gentle words and attempts to change his attitude and adds: 'They are strong. Think of Bheema and Arjuna. It is not as if you are ignorant of the deaths of Hidimba, Baka and Jarasandha. Bheema has now killed Kirmeera too! (Possibly the reason why the idea of attacking Pandavas is dropped.)

Duryodhana does not pay any attention and has an insolent smile and makes it clear to the sage that he does not care by striking his thigh with force. The sage enraged curses him  'Bheema's oath will come true. you will loose your life when that thigh is broken by Bheema'. Dhritharashtra tries to pacify. and Maitreya relents a bit, 'I have cursed him. If, however, he makes peace with Pandavas the curse can be considered withdrawn.'

While events of the Sabha Parva, the gamble, story of a weak and addicted Yudhisthira, the wily Sakuni and the docile behaviour of the brothers, the ill treatment of Draupadi, are all human situations, with the one exception of the unending supply of saris to protect the honor of Draupadi, Aranya Parva seems to go back to old and predictable territory of  Gods and their miraculous boons; sages appearing at will bestowing advice or curses!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

A pause; while visiting Mahabharata. 67

Reality sinks in and the Pandavas get ready to begin their 12 year Vanavasa in the forests. Kunti being too old stays with her brother-in-law Vidura. Pandavas along with Draupadi bid a sad and tearful farewell to Kunti, wear clothes as hermits, suitable for the forest and head towards the forest. Dussasana unable to control himself, gloats and makes fun of the Pandavas and their dramatic downfall in a matter of a day. 

 Bheema, Arjuna and the twins deep in anger at this unwanted show of derison by Dussasana make terrible vows to destroy kauravas. Bheema promises to kill Dussasana in a war and rip his heart out and drink his blood.

Choosing to take a pause, discovered some interesting features in the design of a blog. While it feels good to  display the total pages viewed for the entire blog. The figures are a bit inflated as they include even my views. The number of page views for each post can also be seen by the blogger. The page views varied on this blog from a flattering 200 on one post to a dismal 9 in another! My guess is that about 20 or so read or at least take a look. A few friends said that they are waiting for me to complete the blog before they read it. An incentive to keep at it.

More impressive was that the blogger design specified audience by country. While it feels great to see  more than 10 countries listed, not clear how Russia, France, Netherlands and Germany are in it! It may be because the servers are stationed in those countries!

In one of my chats with my friend Chandramouli, I marvelled at the hard work put in by our ancients in copying the epic and recopying it again and again. Especially as the palm leaf books could decay and disintegrate, get damaged in handling and by insect bites or even catch fire! Later there was the threat of being destroyed by the non-believers. It must have a been a tremendous task protecting them.

(Today's Bangalore mirror, 28/11/11, writes about an engineer who has designed a machine to write on palm leaf. “It took all of 10 years because the technology was forgotten. The machine itself took two years. Streamlining the leaf processing and preservation techniques took another eight years. In the first instance, I purchased a truckload of palm leaves.

But only 10 of those leaves could be used for writing. People had even forgotten which kind of palm leaves had to be used for this purpose. Preserving our traditional technology should have been the work of the government. I did it out of love for our culture and tradition. Palm leaves cannot replace paper books, but why should we let our tradition die,” Reddy asks.

 So I am not the only one thinking about palm leaf books!)

 He then reminded me about the Vedas, which were preserved for posterity only through memory and recital. And added that the Devanagari script while old was not the oldest. He said it was derived from the Brahmi script. Which again could have originated from something else. (He did mention the name! But did not register over the phone chat we had!).

 Anyway Linguistics is again a fascinating subject and it is impressive that a software engineer, Lawrence Lo, has created a website on ancient scripts.

Discovered another website, Newsfinder, which has extracted information from the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1982 and the article 'The development of Indian scripts by Lobsan Payat' is thought provoking.

To quote:
 The bibliographical evidences indicate that the Vedas are written in the Grantha and Nagari scripts, and according to tradition Veda Vyasa, a Dravidian, compiled and wrote the Vedas. The Grantha script belongs to the southern group of scripts and Veda Vyasa being a Dravidian would certainly have used it. Since the earliest evidence for Grantha is only in the 5th c. AD, the Vedas were written rather late.

Another important fact is brought out in the account of the religion, philosophy, literature, geography, chronology, astronomy, customs, laws and astrology of India about AD 1030 by Alberuni (edited by Dr. Edward C. Sachau). He states that, “The Indian scribes are careless, and do not take pains to produce correct and well-collated copies. In consequence, the highest results of the author’s mental development are lost by their negligence, and his book becomes already in the first or second copy so full of faults, that the text appears as something entirely new, which neither a scholar nor one familiar with the subject, whether Hindu or Muslim, could any longer understand. It will sufficiently illustrate the matter if we tell the reader that we have sometimes written down a word from the mouth of Hindus, taking the greatest pains to fix its pronunciation, and that afterwards when we repeated it to them, they had great difficulty in recognising it.”

This is a clear opposite to Yuan Chwang’s time in the 7th c AD, when this young Chinese Buddhist scholar came to India in search of authentic sacred books which he accomplished. However, scholars indicate that the same is not true with early Tamil classics like the Sangam literature (3rd c. BC - 3rd c. AD) which are remarkably helpful in the reconstruction of history (K.K.Pillai, Tamil Literature as Source Material for History - Journal of Institute for Asian Studies).

The first epigraphic evidence of Sanskrit is seen in 150 AD and this inscription is in the Brahmi script. 

 This prompts a question: 'What about the script by Lord Ganesha which Veda Vyasa dictated not-stop'.

Anyway my aim is to read through the epic and discover for myself the essence of this story and hopefully, understand how it can be applied. More of it later as there is a lot more to read!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The game ends and the exile begins. Visiting Mahabharata. 66

I have said this earlier. It will need many pages to translate from Kannada. As each actor in this high drama, there are no heroes and most of them in differing shades of a 'negative' role, are etched brilliantly by the author and I feel that whatever I write is inadequate. I have muted the narrative a bit as I did not want to keep writing about Draupadi rolling on the floor crying and wailing in abject misery amidst the heartless and cowardly kings.

 I liked the way Samhita has written the final chapter of Sabha Parva and have used her style of narration for this blog.

Suddenly calls of jackals and hyenas rent the air. As Duryodhana goes out to investigate, Dhritharashtra worried by the ill omens, grants Draupadi two wishes lest evil befalls his family. She seeks the release of Yudhisthira first and the release of the rest of her husbands. Dhritharashtra also gifts her Indraprastha hoping to he would never see the Pandavas again. Pandavas are on their way back and Duryodhana returns, learns about the his fathers gifts and rushes to stop the Pandavas.

Breathless with running, he pants, 'let us have another round of dice. Whoever loses in this round shall go into exile for thirteen years, and live for twelve years in the forest. The thirteenth year to be spent in disguise. If the loser is discovered during the thirteenth year, he would have to spend another twelve years in the forest'.

Anyone would think that by now Yudhisthira would have learnt the lesson not to gamble again. But they would be wrong. Yudhisthira did not like to think it was Draupadi who had given them their freedom. He wanted to prove to his brothers that he could win. In vain, they tried to stop him, but he returned to Hastinapura to play the last round.
The gloomy brothers.

The pandavas watched in gloomy silence. Yudhisthira, sure he would win this time, threw the dice and lost. The Pandavas and Draupadi were in exile.

A dejected Yudhisthira after he lost his final game.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Heated exchange of words. Visiting Mahabharata 65

Bheema visibly upset and unable to control his anger shouts 'Listen to me khastriyas! Such words were never spoken before and will not be heard in the future. I will kill Dussasana in a war, gouge his heart out and drink his blood!'

 Meanwhile Dussasana getting tired of continuously pulling sari after sari, gives up in embarrassment. There is a lot of commotion in the hall. Some curse Dussasana, others praise Bheema. Many are critical of Kauravas and fault Drithrashtra for ignoring and refusing to answer Draupadi's question. Vidura then gets up and raises his hands to silence the assembly urges the assembled kings to think and give an answer to her question. None speak. Draupadi, still sobbing, bows her head with respect to the sabha and speaks about her sheltered life, wherein jealous Pandavas would not even tolerate a blowing wind touching her and the present, where Pandavas are quiet even when a wicked man is dragging her. She requests the assembled kings to clarify whether she, a queen, is now a slave. And then appeals to kauravas to decide and says she would abide by their decision as she is unable to bear the humiliation any longer.

Bheeshma again tells her that dharma is indeed subtle and even great souls are unable to fully comprehend it. 'In this world, what a strong man believes is dharma, will become and stay as dharma. Your question is indeed very important and a delicate one, but I cannot answer you. Even Dhrona and other seniors are sitting like lifeless beings and are silent. In my opinion Yudhisthira himself can tell you, whether he lost you or not.' 

Duryodhana now taunts Yudhisthira by challenging him to tell his brothers that they had no right over Draupadi or tell her directly that he had no right over her. And says that the reason why the Kaurava kings are keeping quiet in spite of her grief is because they know that Pandavas are just unlucky losers. Bheema reacts to this insult angrily and says that he is keeping quiet only because Yudhisthira is their master and he is helpless. He would destroy all these evil kauravs, like the lion would kill insignificant animals, if only his brother permits him and makes a provocative gesture as if inviting kauravas for a fight. Bheeshma, Vidura and Drona stop him and ask him to be patient.

Karna joins the fray and opines that slaves, students and women have nothing that they can claim as theirs. And tells Draupadi that she is now the wife of a slave who has no rights and that they are her masters and asks her to go in and start working. He also jeers at her by telling her that as Pandavas are now slaves, it is the same as being without husbands and  advises her to find a husband who will not lose her by gambling. As Bheema fumes with anger, Duryodhana looks at the silent Dharmaraja and suggests that as his brothers are still his obedient followers, he should tell them whether he lost Draupadi or not!  Duryodhana then provokes Bheema by uncovering his left thigh and suggestively shows it to Draupadi. Bheema, his eyes red with anger announces 'If I do not break this thigh with my mace let there no entry to heaven for me.'

Vidura again addresses the sabha and tells them it is shameful the way Draupadi is being treated and says as Dhramaraja had lost himself first, he had no right to pledge her and requests them to follow dharma and declare her free. Duryodhana again intervenes by saying that he would release her if any of the brothers say that Dharmaraja had no right to pledge her. Arjuna replies that  Dharmaraja indeed was their master and it is upto kauravas to decide his status after he lost.

Suddenly the people at the palace hear the braying of donkeys, howls of  fox and terrifying screeches of birds. All considered ill omens. Worried Bheeshma, Gandhari, Vidura, Drona and Krupa keep uttering 'let there be good fortune' and appraise  Dhirtarashtra about  events and the ill omens.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Draupadi is dragged into the sabha. Visiting Mahabharata 64

Surely one of the most dramatic moments, could even be the most, in Mahabharata. I quote mostly from Vachana Bharata this time.

Draupadi shocked to see that even elders Bheeshma and Drona were indifferent to her dire situation and her pleas, concludes that these apathetic khastriyas have become devoid of human values. Full of anguish she looks at the Pandavas with her eyes brimming with tears. Seeing her thus, pale and distraught, it ignites their anger and the intensity of sorrow they feel exceeds everything, even greater than what they felt when they had lost their kingdom and all their wealth. As she looks at her helpless husbands, she feels faint and is unable to stand as her knees buckle. Dussasana laughs at her condition and drags her forward and is encouraged  by the derisive laughter of Karna and Sakuni.

To her question whether Yudhisthira pledged her before or after he had pledged himself, Bheeshma has this to tell her: 'Amma सौभाग्यवती(a married woman is addressed thus, a fortunate woman!). I have thought about your question deeply as dharma here is very intricate . Yes, a slave having no rights, cannot pledge anything. But a woman's status is always that of a dependent of her husband. However I have no answer to your allegation that Yudhisthira was forced to gamble as he had choice not to gamble.'
Draupadi wails: 'These wicked, अनार्य, cheats and gamblers have cleverly manipulated an innocent and a pure hearted man. It surely was not out of his free will. This sabha has elders with sons and daughters-in-law, I urge them to truly examine my situation and answer me!' As she keeps wailing Dussasana continues to speak cruelly and harshly as he drags her towards the center of the sabha. 

 Bheema cannot bear to look Draupadi as her sari is in total disarray full of agony and anger, bursts out at Yudhisthira: 'Maharaja, gamblers do not even pledge their servants out of kindness. I was not upset when you gambled our wealth, kingdom and even us as you our master. But it was not right to have pledged Draupadi and put her through this traumatic experience. These evil and cruel men have humiliated her. I am very upset with you'. He then asks Sahadeva to fetch him a log of fire and says 'I want to burn both his hands'.

Arjuna tries to calm his brother: 'Bheemasena, I had never heard you speak like this. It seems the behaviour of these cruel people has affected you and you have lost both dharma and respect. Don't give up your dharma and overstep your brother. As a khastriya, once invited,  he could not say no to the challenge'.  Bheema replies that he knows his place as otherwise he would have burnt his brother's hand much earlier.

Looking at the anguish of Draupadi and the discomfiture of Pandavas, Vikarna, one of the sons of Dritharashtra appeals to the kings; 'Please give a reply to her question. Both the elders and the wise men have kept silent. It is necessary that we apply our mind dispassionately and give her a reply.'
As no one responds Vikarna speaks his mind 'It does not matter if you do not reply, I would like to say what I think is right. It is well known that kings have a weakness for hunting, drinking, gambling and in sensual pleasures. The wise say people with a such a weakness, will stray from the path of dharma and the world does not approve them. Yudhisthira with a weakness for gambling accepted an invitation by cunning hard-core gamblers. Yudhithira pledged her after he had lost everything including himself, that too at the prompting of Sakuni, considering all this I think Draupadi is not a slave.'

Vikarna's words had a dramatic effect and the sabhikas began to applaud Vikarna and shouted criticisms against Sakuni. Karna upset by this takes charge and castigates Vikarna for being a traitor. He asserts that people are quiet because they know that she was won in a fair manner. And that as a youngster Vikarna spoke irresponsibly in front of his elders. While it could be that Sakuni suggested Draupadi but Pandavas had agreed! And maintains that Sakuni won Draupadi and all their wealth and possessions in  a fair game. He then asks Dussasana to collect clothes from Pandavas and Draupadi. On hearing this Pandavas remove their upper garments and throw them out. Dussasana forcibly pulls out Draupadi's sari and another of the same type appears on her body, this continues; as one is pulled out another appears and there is a commotion in the hall!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Die is cast. Draupadi a slave. Visiting mahabharata 63

Pandavas reach Hastinapura. They are greeted cordially. Excellent arrangements are made for their stay. Pandavas are pleased and spend a pleasant, happy night. Morning they get ready and are taken to Jayantapura to see the new sabha, the excuse which brought them to Hastinapura.

After a quick visit they return. Sakuni proposes a game of dice. Sakuni manages to overcome Yudhisthira's reluctance, who calls it a poison, by terming it just a harmless past time and by taunting him that he is afraid to loose his wealth and to accept the challenge. When Duryodhana says that Sakuni will play on his behalf, Yudhisthira demurs. But agrees to play when Sakuni reacts with 'If you do not want to play, tell us frankly' .

The game begins and Yudhisthira keeps loosing, attempts by Vidura to stop the game with help of his brother and does not succeed. Yudhisthira loses all his material possessions and then wagers his brothers one by one and loses. Then pledges himself and loses again. Then finally wagers Draupadi and loses.

The entire hall is shocked into silence. Duryodhana is jubilant, thanks his uncle Sakuni profusely. He announces that Draupadi is their slave and asks Vidura bring her. 'Let her be made to enter the apartments meant for servants. She must get familiar with her duties'. Vidura advises Duryodhana not to insult her and that Yudhisthira had no right to wager Draupadi and cautions him to heed his words or face the wrath of Pandavas and be destroyed.

Duryodhana reacts with 'We have had enough and more of this low-born man' and asks his attendant of the court and sends him to fetch Draupadi. Draupadi is stunned with the message that her husband had gambled her away, but does not obey the summons and sends back the attendant with some questions to Yudhisthira, who just keeps his head down and is silent.  Duryodhana then sends his brother to fetch her.

Draupadi is horrified by the words of Dussasana and his behaviour and tries to escape but he grabs her long black hair and drags her to the court.

The descriptions and the diaglogues in Vachana Bharata create the scene of the gambling and its aftermath vividly. One detail that Draupadi was in her periods and hence had covered herself with just a sari and was in no condition to present herself to court, but was still dragged into the court is astonishing.
More shocking when Dussasana ignores her pleas and replies: 'You may be in your periods, you may be just covered with one cloth or none at all, it does not matter as you are just our slave'. In this tussle, her sari slips halfway and she cries in shame and in anger 'It appears that dharma and khsatrian values are gone from our land. If not, would the kings and elders like Bhishma and Drona present in this hall could just be a mute witness to this atrocius adhrama?.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Sabha at Jayantha; Farewell to Indraprastha. Visiting mahabharata 62

Sakuni after a number of attempts, finally manages to talk to Duryodhana.  Duryodhana tells his uncle everything that happened at Indraprastha and says that he cannot be happy till he sees the Pandavas destroyed and beseeches Sakuni to think of a plan. Sakuni says 'They can never be defeated in a war'. and has a plan to grab all that immense wealth of the Pandavas without a drop of blood being shed or any blame being attached!

 I hazard a guess that if a poll could be taken, Sakuni will be the most remembered personality in the epics after Krishna and possibly Rama. I am certain that the epithet 'He is cunning like Sakuni' will be heard more often than 'Noble like Rama' when describing a person. Anyway his idea is brilliant. Attacking the weakness of your main opponent.

Sakuni says, 'Yudhisthira has one weakness, gambling. I will use this to serve our ends. I am extremely clever in throwing the dice.' Duryodhana is convinced and requests Sakuni to get the permission from his father to invite the Pandavas for a game of dice. After many discussions the reluctant father, Dhrithrastra is constrained to agree to this ploy and he orders them to build a beautiful hall in Jayanta, a suburb of Hastinapura.

 Vidura tries to stop his brother and warns him that this enterprise of his would create new dissensions between the children, but fails in his effort. The sabha is built and Vidura is asked to go and invite the Pandavas for a game of dice. And he leaves for Indraprastha with a heavy heart.

Yudhisthira is intrigued by the sudden  appearance of his uncle Vidura and the invitation from  Dhritharashtra. When Yudhisthira hears about the game of dice planned and about the players, he becomes despondent. 'The cleverest of the players have been selected.  I am weak in this game and Sakuni is a veritable wizard at throwing the dice. But what can I do? All that happens in this world has been ordained by the creator....The king knows  that I will never disobey the commands of my elders....It is also the rule among Khastriyas that one must play when one is invited to play. Let fate have her way.'

Accompanied by Kunti and Draupadi, followed by his brothers, Yudhisthira went to Hastinapura at the behest of cruel fate which was prodding him on.

Vachana Bharata gives us some interesting details as a frustrated Duryodhana describes the events to Sakuni. He tells his uncle that as he sees no possibilty equaling the wealth acquired by Pandavas, he rather die. Later he meets Dhritharashtra and again expresses his anguish and details the wealth he has seen with Yudhisthira; 88000 snathakas and grihastas are supported by him; each one of them employ 30 servants. In the palace only golden vessels are used for eating. A conch would be sounded each time 10,000 people ate, and he heard the conch a countless number of times. Later as they take decisions to build the Sabha and plan a game of dice, Vidura is totally kept out of it.

Samhita also adds an interesting sidelight to the story. Years ago, Duryodhana had thrown Shakuni and Shakuni's ninety-nine brothers into a prison. Everyday food enough for just one was given to them. They would pounce upon the food like a pack of wolves. A few wise brothers realised that only one could survive. The drew lots and Shakuni was chosen as the one to survive. They dying brothers are promised by the surviving brother that their deaths would be avenged. Shakuni carves out a beautiful dice from the bones of his dead brothers. All the anger and hatred the brothers had towards Duryodhana had gone into the dice. This unique dice would defeat all the opponents mercilessly. For some reason Shakuni does not try to take revenge but joins Duryodhana.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The personalities of Yudhisthira and Duryodhana. Visitng mahabharata 61

Today's TOI announced that 'Cambride launches study of ancient India'. They call the study linguistic archeology...expected to unearth greater knowledge of India's ancient intellectual and religious traditions. The oldest dated and illustrated manuscript known, 10th century Buddhist in Sanskrit, was discovered by chance in 1883 in an unused temple!

To quote: "One reason this collection is so important is because of the age of many of the manuscripts. In the heat and humidity of India, materials deteriorate quickly and manuscripts needed to be copied again and again. As a result, many of the early Indian texts no longer exist."

It surely is a miracle that Mahabharata survived. Just imagine the work involved in copying this epic. Thousands of palm leaves would have to be prepared and used. Copy right has a different meaning here!

More  about  palm leaf manuscripts from another blogger. 

 "The scribe, usually a monk or a scholar, uses a stylus for writing. The scribe places the leaf strip on the palm of hand, as it is easier to gauge the pressure needed for writing. The letters are written from left to right and the scribe uses the parallel lines of the veins of the leaf to guide him to write straight."

"The letters etched with the stylus are colourless and therefore difficult to read. So it has to be ‘inked’ in a special manner. ... Leaf surface is rubbed with a wad of soft cotton cloth dipped in the resinous oil and ... with charcoal. ... The letters on the palm leaf then appears dark black and the words are distinct and easy to read."

There is much more to palm leaf making (linked here), selection of the leaves, preparation, preservation and so on. It is quite an effort and would have been a cottage industry if the demand was high!

Just to imagine the size of Mahabharata itself is exciting. I guess that two slokas per page would mean 50,000 pages, assuming that it is written on one side. If 500 pages are made into one volume, there will be 100 volumes in all. If we fit in 4 volumes in the length of present day book, it will mean 25 books in all. It will be 13 volumes if the writing is on both sides of the palm leaf.

Incidentally  Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute has specially worked on a critical edition of Mahabharata:
The Critical Edition was collated from 1,259 manuscripts.[4] This edition in 19 volumes (more than 15000 demi-quarto size pages) comprised the critically constituted text of the 18 Parvas of the Mahabharata consisting of more than 89000 verses, an elaborate Critical Apparatus and a Prolegomena on the material and methodology (volume I), written by V.S. Sukhtankar.

Back to the story:
As I try to narrate the story with the help of different versions, I see significant differences in their treatment of the same incident. While Kamala narrates the fun Pandavas had at the discomfiture of Duryodhana. She also gives us an insight into the personalities of both Yudhisthira and Duryodhana.

Yudhisthira is worried about the omens at the time of Sisupala's death. As Vyasa came take leave, Yudhisthira asks: 'My lord, Narada said a dreadful calamity is in store for the world. Please tell me what is to happen.' Vyasa concurs and adds: 'You will have a spell of bad luck lasting for fourteen years.That is not all. With you as the cause, Fate has planned the destruction of all the khastriyas on the face of earth. The wrong-doing of Duryodhana, the power of Bheema and that of Arjuna, the anger of Draupadi, will all be instrumental for this universal destruction.'

These dire predictions by Vyasa and the statement that fate cannot be understood or altered sinks Yudhisthira into depths of despair. He unable to think and unable to speak to anyone about it.

Duryodhana returns to Hastinapura. His heart was near the point of breaking. He would not talk to anyone. He sat alone and thought of the way he had been treated by providence. 'Pandavas are favoured by gods....they were dismissed to a barren strip of land....they have now become the masters of the world'. Thoughts like this were chasing each other in his mind. He sat alone hugging grief to his heart.

The childhood jealousy had turned to hatred and now was an obsession with him. Unlike his father who was a coward and could cover his thoughts with a  cloak of hypocrisy, Duryodhana who hated hypocrisy was frank and revelled in speaking his mind. He was a Noble prince and  people liked him and were happy with his thirteen years of rule. But he was cursed with one tragic flaw: ENVY.
This one fault led to his fall. If it had not been for this, Duryodhana would have been great indeed.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Duryoadhana's embarassment. Draupadi is amused. Visiting Mahabharata 60

Samhita's version for its appealing directness.


Rajasuya concluded and the guests left, but Duryodhana stayed back at the invitation of his cousin. He is treated well and is taken round Indraprastha. He saw the marvellous palaces and the tributes received- gold,silver, precious stones, valuable furs, silk, muslin, carpets, embroidered shawls, enamel articles, horses, camels and elephants. He saw how devoted Yudhisthira's subjects were and the number of slaves he  had. All this Duryodhana saw and nursed his envy and jealousy with care.

One day, he decided to explore the whole palace. He came to a corridor in front of which there was a pond. Duryodhana picked up the hem of his robes so that they wouldn't get wet. Then he stepped into the pond, only to find that it was a floor polished so smooth that it looked like water. He looked about hoping no one had seen his foolish mistake. But then saw Nakula at the door with a glint of laughter in his eyes.

Another time, he was walking down a corridor and banged his head in what seemed to be an empty space. Bheema happened to be passing by and told him that, in fact, it was a crystal door. He opened the door for Duryodhana and went on his errands. Bheema had done this with a serious face but even then Duryodhana felt that Bheema was secretly making fun of him.

Later Duryodhana wandered to another part of the palace. This area had wonderful carved wall and pillars inlaid with gems. While looking the carvings and pillars, Duryodhana accidentally stepped into a pond. He was thoroughly wet. Realising that somebody had watched this antic of his, he looked around. At a window, he saw Draupadi with her ladies-in-waiting. When he saw them, they ran back to their quarters, laughing. Every peal of laughter echoed in his mind. He vowed to see them duly punished and not rest until this was done.

Finally, his rage grew to such an extent, that he left Indraprastha and went back to Hastinapura.
Here is an artists impression of Indraprastha  during Pandava times. Maya Sabha in the forefront.

As I thought about the Great Sabha built by Maya for Pandavas, I wondered about the oldest existing palace with Indian architecture. I discovered that Man Mandir palace is probably the oldest. According to architects many of our Palaces mentioned in literature existed but have been cannibalised to build new ones.
The Man Mandir Palace is a testimony to the Rajput culture way back in the medieval era. The Jauhar pond that once sparkled like a jewel in a brass setting served as the burning grounds for the Rajput queens who would commit mass sati here after their kings had been vanquished in battle. Although it has been supposed that the palace was constructed during the 15th century, some regions date further back to the ancient era namely 425 AD
Although the palace does not retain its former glory, traces of its grandiose past can still be found. The tiles that were once used to embellish the exteriors are no longer there. The palace walls also portray a spectacular frieze of ducks wading in the waters. The palace rooms are bare and devoid of their glory and bears testimony to the ravages of time. The large rooms that once functioned as music halls for the womenfolk of the royal family stand in a dilapidated condition today. The palace also houses an underground dungeon where prisoners would be held captive during the Mughal era. The dungeons recount a grisly history. In fact, it was here that the former Mughal emperor Aurangzeb has his sibling Murad incarcerated and executed.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Rajasuya.. Bheeshma's role. Visiting Mahabharata 59

As I read Vachana Bharatha:
 While one could understand the animosity Sisupala had towards Krishna who carried away the girl he was to marry, the extent of anger that Bhishma, an elder, generated just because he suggested Krishna for the Agrapooja was again revealing. Sisupala calls Bhishma weak minded!

When Sisupala storms out of the Sabha, Yudhisthira follows to placate him and Bheeshma seeing this tells his grandson not to waste his time. 'Yudhisthira! Don't try to convince him. He is not worth it. Krishna is superior to all the others here, I do not see anyone who has the strength to defeat him. The reason why we offered him pooja first. Also many wise elders have praised Krishna's qualities. We did not honor him because he was our relative. We considered his fame, bravery and his victories before choosing him. Usually brahmins who are wise and elderly or a khastriya who is the most  powerful are worthy of this honor. Krishna has both the qualities. In addition who can match his generosity, ability, knowledge, courage, politeness, fame and intelligence? Sisupala has complained without knowing all this. No king who is knowledgeable would object to this!

Bheeshma must have spoken within the earshot of Sisupala, who retorts: 'As an elder are you not ashamed to talk like this, trying to scare the other kings? It is like the blind leading the blind. How can you praise an arrogant and foolish person like Keshava. Your tongue should split into hundred strands for having spoken thus. How could a wise elder praise a cowherd? He then belittles all the known achievements of Krishna. He calls the Govardhana hill Krishna lifted to protect his people an anthill! He brands him a sinner for having killed a woman, Pootana. Concludes that the pooja which was performed was just useless. He then goes on to verbally attack Bheeshma ridiculing all he did and considered praiseworthy even by gods.

'Bheeshma you speak dharma but do not follow it yourself. The fact you brought home Amba who had given her heart to another was not dharma. Your brother who rejected her acted in the right manner. Your brahmacharya is useless. You have not served any elder to learn dharma from him. A man who has no son is just wasting his time doing yagna and yaga and other vratas. You, a childless old man, who teaches false dharma will be killed the same away as the old swan which stole eggs from other swans for food, was killed.'

 Sisupala continues his tirade against Krishna and gets even angrier as Bheeshma narrates the story about Sisupala's birth and the heavenly predictions. He threatens Bheeshma: 'You are alive only because these kings here have tolerated you so far. I have not seen anyone like you who is foolish enough to take on the whole world!'. Bheeshma retorts contemptuously: 'Oh! Is it because they have let me be, I am alive? I do not consider these kings even equal to a blade of grass!'

While this remark amused some of the kings, some others were upset. They all shout: 'This old man is too much! Let us not forgive this insult. Let us all together kill him like cattle or put him on fire!' Bhesshma is not cowed down by this threat. He counters: 'Let us not waste time in idle talk. There is no end to it. First hear my suggestion, then you can decide to either kill me or burn me. We have already performed the pooja and have honored Krishna. If anyone is willing to die, challenge him for a fight.'  Sisupala accepts the challenge and fights Krishna and meets his end.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Death of Sisupala during Rajasuya yaga. Visiting Mahabharata 58

On the final day of Rajasuya, Bheeshma advices Yudhisthira to honor with reverence each one of the invitees and suggests that he begin with Krishna. Traditionally, अग्रपूजा, the highest act of reverence and honor, is offered to the best among them. Yudhisthira is too happy to honor Krishna first. But this is not liked by many, especially Sisupala. He is very sarcastic and vocal about his displeasure. 

Kamala's version illustrates the attitude and the language used by the kings of yore.

Sisupala was standing up. He said: 'Very nice! Very nice indeed! Here is a bastard who asks the son of  a river for advice. The advice is given. The special honour as the best amongst us is given to a cowherd. ...All the time, kings, who are great warriors, who are jealous of their honor, look on, like dumb animals....Till now you had been considered to be a righteous man. You have lost your reputation now.'

He continues his tirade against Krishna and strides out of the sabha. Yudhisthira follows to placate him and also tries to justify the choice, but only makes him angrier. Yudhisthira turns to Bheeshma for help. Bheeshma says: 'Do not be afraid my child. Here is a dog trying to bark at the lion....Let him talk if he likes to. His voice seems to please him.' This infuriates Sisupala further and he heaps insults on Bheeshma, calls him an eunuch. Says he did not take a woman, not because of his oath, but because he was an eunuch.

Bheema gets very annoyed and seeks permission from Bheesma to fight and kill Sisupala. Bheeshma tells Bheema not to be in a hurry and that it is ordained that Sisupala will be killed by Krishna and only Krishna and tells him the story of Sisupala.

'When Sisupala was born, he had three eyes and four arms. The parents were horrified at the monstrosity. A heavenly voice told them that as soon as the child was placed on the lap of the man who was to kill him, the extra eyes and arms would disappear.'

'When the child was placed on the lap of Krishna, the child lost the extra eye and the arms. Sisupala's mother and Krishna's aunt unhappy that her child would be killed by his own cousin, requests Krishna to spare her son. Krishna promises to forgive even a hundred insults which may be hurled at him by her son.'

Samhita's imagination!

'There is also the incident of Krishna carrying away Rukmini, at her request, on the day she was to be married to Sisupala, her brother's friend. Ever since Sisupala has been nursing a grievance against Krishna.'  Bheeshma then advises Bheema not to be rash and let Krishna do the needful.

Sisupala getting impatient at all these words, challenges Krishna: 'Come fight with me. Let the world see who is the better man. This is not like stealing a bride and running away with her without fighting with anyone. This is not like stealing clothes of helpless women when they are bathing in the river. This is not like stealing the loves of  Gopi women and cheating their husbands. Krishna this is a man-to-man fight. Let me see if you can fight for once.'

Krishna, while he did not want to spoil the Rajasuya, as a khastriya he could not refuse the challenge and prepares to fight. Bheeshma leads him into the chariot. Krishna addressed the kings who had assembled. He counters: 'He is the son of  a princess who is a daughter of the House of the Vrishnis. But he has been hating them all his life. This man entered Dwaraka while I was away and set fire to it....He captured the sacrificial horse sent by my father, his uncle, just to disturb the sacrifice...It is this man who steals the wives of others....Carried away a maid called Bhadra and many more from Dwaraka. There are a lot of  atrocities perpetrated by him. I have been patient because of my promise to my aunt. But now he has challenged me....I have to kill this sinner who has become impossible.

The fight begins as the unhappy Yudhisthira, who hates unpleasantness watches. He sees several evil omens and asks Narada about them, who tells him that these portends a great calamity. Meanwhile Krishna hurls his chakra at Sisupala. The chakra cuts the head from the his body.

The great Rajasuya, which had begun so well, ends disastrously. This incident spoilt the happiness of all. But nothing could be done about it. Nothing can stop the determined course of destiny.

Kamala also tells us another story about Sisupala. There was infinite love in Krishna's eyes when he did this. A glow left the body of Sisupala and approached Krishna and reached his feet and was lost in his blessed feet..... He had fulfilled his promise to his beloved attendants, Jaya and Vijaya. He had released one of them from human bondage forever and ever.

The death of Sisupala was followed by terrible upheavals in nature. The heavens rained without any reason. Earthquakes were evident. The seas threatened to overlap its boundary. These omens spelt some dreadful calamity as a result of this death.

Intriguing episode. As it veers away from the main story,  my mind wanders as well.

The upheavals after Sisupala's death reminds me of the pictures I saw of the Japanese factories  flooded in Thailand.  First it was the earthquake, than the tsunami in their own shores and now a flood in a country where they have a strong industrial presence. Wonder if they have myths similar to ours to explain the calamities. My sympathies are with the Japanese. They were very good to me in Thailand as customers.

Sisupala's story seems to be an omen, a precursor to the future. It is again the hatred of one cousin to another, which causes death. But it stops at one.

 Samhita's drawing reminded me of a story about a girl Lakshmi born with a parasitic twin. She was operated successfully two years ago. I checked about her on the net! She is doing well but is also in need of some more operations and help. Good to see a follow up on this girls life. The villagers thought she was reincarnation of goddess Lakshmi and did not want her to be operated, but the father went for it. I found one more heartwarming story of a boy Deepak with a parasitic twin operated and doing well.

Compare this with the reaction in Sisupala's times. It was a monstrosity for them, but destiny chose to make him alright through Krishna. God does work in mysterious ways. Today he has given us technology in place of miracles.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Rajasuya. Visiting Mahabharata 57

Vachana Bharata is very brief. The death of Jarsandha cleared a big hurdle in performing Rajasuya yaga. But Pandavas needed to defeat the many kings or befriend them, collect tributes from them for the yaga. The young brothers took permission form Yudhithira and spread out to conquer the world. Bhima went eastwards, Arjuna north, Sahadeva south and Nakula west. They won and returned with the tributes and delivered it to Yudhisthira. This is the first time I see Sahadeva and Nakula being mentioned independent of each other.

 Kamala's version has more details. Arjuna goes to Ramagiri, where Lord Rama had stayed for a few days, climbs the Meru mountains and is inspired by its sublime spectacle. Bheema is received by Sisupala with every show of affection and visits other kingdoms and concludes his conquests easily and returns to Indraprastha. Sahadeva also has successful conquests and defeats Dantavakra and other powerful kings. Sahadeva also meets Vibheeshana at Lanka with the help of his nephew Ghatotkacha and is received with honor and is bestowed with many gifts. He also meets Arjuna's wife Chitrangadha and nephew Babruvahana. Nakula also has a victorious tour of the west.

Krishna arrived soon after, bearing thousands of kinds of gifts. He and Vyaasa take care of the arrangements for Rajasuya. Messengers are sent to all the kings inviting them. Nakula is sent to Hastinapura to invite the elders. Bheeshma, Drona, Dhritarasatra and others. Also sons of the kings. Nakula meets each one of the invitees individually and tells them respectfully about the desire of Yudhisthira to perform the Rajasuya and returns with their blessings.

The guests began to arrive. The city was filled with beautiful mansions specially built for the occasion. Duryodhana was in charge of collecting the homages given and saw the wealth poring in for the Pandavas. He spoke not a word about the feelings in his heart. But his heart was fuming with envy for these cousins of his who had managed to become so wealthy and so very powerful in spite of his repeated attempts to destroy them. His heart was ready to break. But he did not let anyone guess his feelings or the hatred which threatened to consume him.

Here again Kamala takes a peep into the future through the eyes of Narada who is there. His mind was not in the present. It was busy with the thoughts of the future. Narada saw, as in a picture, the war field, the great Kurukheshtra, strewn with the bodies of the many Khsatriyas present there. Detached as he was from all earthly bonds, Narada's mind was filled with vast pity for all these princes who were doomed-- every one of them.

The epic is so well known, there is no real suspense about the story. However a few details are incredible. For instance the fact that Vibheeshana was around during Mahabharata times. And the son of  Jarasandha gets to be the king after his father is killed. Wonder if George Bush would have acted differently if he had read Mahabharata. 

For that matter, a defeated king is all praises for the skill of the victorious Pandava and embraces him and offers his full support to Rajasuya. A parallel would be the gracious acceptance of defeat in a democratic process. Wondered if the present day Rathayathra  can be compared to a Rajasuya. Not really!

 Then got curious and discovered that an early Satavahana king performed Asvamedha sacrifices in around first century BC.

Sri Satakarni-I:
Greatest of early Satavahana rulers. Performed two Asvamedha sacrifices, and several vedic sacrifices. Conquered vast territory according to Nanagha inscription issued by Naganika, wife of Satakarni His conquests include Malwa, Anupa (Narmada Valley), Vidarbha, etc. Exercised control over wider regions of upper Deccan, probably Central and Western India. After conquering Godavari valley, assumed the title 'Daksninapathapathi'. Also possessed the title 'Prathisthanapathi'. Eastern boundaries abutted boundaries of Kharavela of Kalinga. The valour of Satakarni was acknowledged by Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela.