Saturday, 31 December 2011

Kauravas make a trip to the forest to count their cattle wealth! Mahabharata 80

The scene shifts to Hastinapura. A wayfaring brahmin brings news of the Pandavas; 'Constantly exposed to rain, winds and the sun, they appear weak and tired'. Dritharashtra's initial reaction was one of  guilt and then it was all worry. News that Arjuna has received powerful astras from Indralokha is not good news for the kauravas.

Karna's reacts differently to the news. He tells Duryodhana; 'Maharaja! Why don't you go to the forest and dazzle them with your pomp and glory. Let those losers who ridiculed you see the difference now! There is no better feeling on this earth than to see your enemies in an impoverished state. Let your wife show herself to Draupadi with all her finery.  Draupadi will surely bemoan her fate and suffer, her misery will be keener than what she felt in midst of the sabha.'

 Duryodhana is delighted with the idea, then becomes despondent! He is certain that his father will not agree to an expedition nearby the Pandavas. He asks Karna to think of a convincing reason why they should go. Karna comes up with an idea that they visit the neighbouring village of cowherds and take a check; count  the number of  cows with them.  While they are with Dhritarashtra, Sakuni stage manages a visit by a cowherd, who announces that a new batch of cattle has been recieved in the village. Sakuni proposes that they go and check on the cattle and seeks Dritharashtra's permission. Also adds that it is also a good time for hunting.

While Dritharashtra agrees that it is good to keep track and not leave it entirely to the cowherds, he is not to keen about their proposed trip. He tells them ' I am not in favour of your trip as I hear that Pandavas live in the proximity. While Dharmaraja may be peaceful, Bheema is hot tempered. Arjuna is now very strong with all the new astras he has acquired and Draupadi is verily the Agni! I am afraid you will provoke them and there will be a fight.  You will be destroyed by the powers they have acquired. In case you attack them with your superior manpower,  it is wrong and also it is not possible to defeat them! Even if you keep quiet because of me, it is not going to be fun or your men may create a problem with their behaviour!' and suggests that they send some trusted servants instead.

Sakuni replies 'Maharaja! Dharmaraja has taken a vow in front of a full assembly that he will go on Vanavasa for twelve years. He is bound to  keep his promise and he is not the one to get provoked easily, also his brothers obey him. We just want go hunting and at the same time take an account of our cattle. We have no desire to meet the Pandavas and we intend to keep away from them. So where is the likelihood for any confrontation between us?'

Dhritharashtra is unable to contradict Sakuni and agrees. Duryodhana collects a huge army and along with his brother Dussasana, Sakuni, the women of the palace and others, proceeds towards the forest. Many )more, merchants with their vehicles, prostitutes, tradesmen and hunters follow them, making  a noisy exit from the city. 

Those were the times when cattle was wealth! 'Cattle were held in high esteem and frequently appear in Rigvedic hymns; goddesses were often compared to cows, and gods to bulls. Agriculture grew more prominent with time as the community gradually began to settle down in post-Rigvedic times[citation needed]. The economy was based on bartering with cattle and other valuables such as salt or metals[citation )     (wikiepeida)

Sunday, 25 December 2011

An anectode from Aranya parva. Mahabharata 79

It is not difficult to imagine how boring it was for the Pandavas, holed up in a place full of rishis and brahmins. Luckily it was not all that bad as many of the brahmins were good story tellers. They knew many stories from the puranas which were entertaining. But this one about a housewife and a hunter teaching a brahmin is different. The story is from Vachana Bharata.

Once upon a time a brahmin named Kaushika sat under a tree reciting veda. A crane which was perching on the tree did what the birds do! The brahmin looked up and stared at the bird with terrible anger and the bird dropped down dead. Feeling  guilty and full of remorse at his uncontrolled anger, he got up went about the town begging for alms. As he stood at a door,  the lady of the house came out and asked him to wait. In the meantime her husband came home tired and hungry and  the lady taking care of her husband forgot all about the brahmin. She later remembered him and feeling embarrassed to have made him wait apologised. The brahmin very upset, showed his displeasure for having made him wait. She again apologised politely and said as her husband had come home hungry and she had to take care of him.

This apology does not mollify the still angry brahmin and he castigates her with 'You arrogant woman! Is your husband more important than a brahmin? How can you insult a brahmin by ignoring him in this way? Have you not heard from elders that a brahmin is like the veritable fire capable of destroying the whole world?'
The reply from the lady stuns the angry brahmin. 'Sir, I am aware that you have just killed a crane by the power of your anger. Brahmins are as divine as the gods and I would never show contempt towards them. Please forgive me! I treat my husband as my god and hence had to take care of him!' And she adds 'Anger is like the enemy within you! Hence please do not be angry. A man who can control his senses, who does not retaliate a wrong, who treats the world as he would treat himself is a brahmin. It seems while you have the knowledge, you have not fully  understood dharma. If you are keen to learn, please go to Mithila and meet a hunter who resides there. Please forgive me if you think I was not attentive to you. Anyway you should not kill a woman!'

The brahmin  cools down and curious goes to Mithila to meet the hunter who practices dharma and finds him in a butchers shop. He waits for the hunter, who is attending to customers who buy the meat of deer, buffaloes and other animals and approaches him when the customers leave. The hunter greets him with 'Did  the housewife send you? I know why you have come here!'. 
The brahmin is pleased with this second miracle. The hunter suggests they go home to talk. The brahmin is treated with hospitality and the brahmin feeling compassionate tells the hunter 'It seems the work you do is not suitable for you. I feel sad that you do this dreadful job!'.

The hunter replies that he was born into this situation due to his karma and he is performing his work accordingly. And that it is his dharma and he follows it. In addition he says he is serving his parents well, is truthful, has no envy and gives to charity to the extent possible. 'I do not blame anyone, not do I treat elders with contempt. I do not kill animals even if I sell their meat and I do not eat meat. In some ways there is no one in the world, who has not illtreated animals.'

He then analyses concept of dharma in detail and says dharma is not visible easily, it is hidden like the water in a lake covered by hyacinth. One has to probe deeper to understand dharma and there are not many who do this!

Kaushika, the brahmin tells the hunter with admiration that he agrees with him and happy that he has achieved fulfilment in dharma. The hunter then takes him in to meet his parents and tells Kaushika 'They are my gods, whatever seva  one does for the gods, I do it for them.  Taking care of them is my penance (tapas), In the same way the housewife does her tapas by taking care of her husband and her family. If you want me to give any advice, it is this. Go home and take care of your parents, they are very unhappy, Go quickly and make them happy. There is no better dharma than this.' With this advice the hunter bids farewell to Kaushika.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Arjuna returns and Yudhisthira answers a few questions. Mahabharata 78

While Bheema goes looking for the flowers Draupadi had desired,  a rakshasa named Jatasura manages to abduct the Pandavas. As Sahadeva gets free from him and begins to fight, Bheema appears at the nick of time and kills him.
Arjuna appears one day in Indra's chariot to the great delight and relief of his brothers and Draupadi. Arjuna tells them about his penance and the astras he has acquired and about Uravashi. Also speaks about killing more rakshsas, Kalakeyas and Nivatakavachas, who were invincible to the devas, at the behest of Indra.
They continue to stay at this Gandhamadhana mountains, enjoying its beauty and later move back to Dvaitavana. A few days before their move Bheema goes hunting and a python swiftly coils around him and Bheema with all his super human powers is unable to get free. Yudhisthira goes looking for Bheema and discovers him in the death grip of  a python. The python then addresses Yudhisthira and tells him that he is actually king Nahusha. He was born as a python as he was cursed by sage Agasthya for his arrogant behaviour and would release Bheema if Yudhisthira answers his questions correctly!
The questions and the answers:
N: Who is a brahmin and what should he know?
Y: Whoever has these qualities; truth, patience,charity,character,non-violence,kindness and self-restraint is a brahmin. He should be aware of  the supreme state which is neither joy nor sadness.
N: Even a shudra has these qualities and I have not seen anything which is bereft of either joy or sadness.
Y: If a shudra has these qualities and brahmin does not have it, then shudra is not a shudra and brahmin is not a brahmin. As there surely is a condition between the hot and the cold, there should be a state between joy and sadness!
N: If a brahmin is defined only by his actions what is the point of being born as a brahmin?
Y: As anyone can have children from anybody, it is not possible to examine and establish caste only on the basis of birth! Hence moral conduct, integrity are very important. A brahmin who does not learn vedas is equal to a shudra.

They continue with their conversation and Nahusha also answers some questions Yudhisthiras has on dharma. Nahusha is then released from the curse of Agasthya and goes back to heaven. And Bheema gets free from the python's grip helped by Yudhisthira's superior knowledge about dharma and its nuances.

Interesting conversation to say the least! We are constantly reminded that varna was occupation-based initially. It changed later and society was  classified on the basis of caste by birth. My guess is that it did not take long for us to adopt to this basis of caste by birth. While upward mobility of a human because of his intellect and greater skills and knowledge did happen, probably more often in the begining of a civilised society, our innate nature would surely not permit a downward movement. Which parent would accept that his offspring did not deserve to be in the starta of society he was born into?  I cannot imagine, for instance, a brahmin declaring to the world that his son had failed to memorise the vedas and hence should  become a shudra or lower?

While it was a big deal about being a brahmin during the vedic times. Today, we are more familiar with the stories of a 'poor brahmin' than otherwise! I am not aware of any rishi being worshipped on a large scale! There are shrines dedicated to them in one corner of a temple  dedicated to either Vishnu or Shiva or their avatars. The most worshipped of the gods today, Rama and Krishna, were both born as khsatriyas.

 Brahmins had their good times, most recently with the brits, but in the present day dynamics, it is certain that many poor brahmins would not mind being called a backward class and get some benefits for themselves. How many non-brahmins, intelligent and skilled in debate would be thrilled to be called a brahmin?

 However, I am with Yudhisthira and his argument that a person's status should not be based on birth alone. It is even more relevant in today's context. But our style of democracy and the vote bank politics will not let caste die! It will flourish with all its ramifications.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

More stories from Aranya Parva.Mahabharata 77

As the Panadavas continue their theertha yatra, they decide to go up the Mandara mountain.  Bheema carries Draupadi as she finds it difficult to manage the high altitude and the climb is very steep. Even Yudhisthira finds it difficult and is breathless and feverish. The weather changes  dramatically. The sky is overcast and there is a fierce gale. Many large trees are uprooted and even Bheema finds it difficult to carry Draupadi and push fallen trees away from their path at the same time. As the gale abates in its fury, rain lashes at them like sharp arrows. Water flows in torrents and rocks get dislodged and many more trees fall. It is a magnificent but a terrifying sight.

As suddenly as it began, the rain stops, but the Pandavas find it hard to go further. Yudhisthira suggests that Bheema should ask his son Ghatotkhacha to come and help. Bheema thinks of his son and he appears the next instant. He carries Draupadi and his minions carry the Pandavas. Only guru Dhaumya and Lomasa walk by themselves! Soon they see the peak of the great Kailash mountain. They reach Badari and the rishis who have an ashrama there welcome them and Pandavas spend many happy days and feel at peace!

Interesting story in that it is the first time Pandavas face nature's fury and are unable to cope! Intriguing also that the sages proved to be more resilient! It is also here that Bheema following a trail of scented flowers, meets his older brother Hanuman, both sons of Vayu, and is taught a lesson in humility by Hanuman. Bheema also fights Kubera's Rakshasa guards and collects beautiful flowers to please Draupadi.  A story which kids would love. The picture on the right is claimed to be of Hanuman still alive and living in a cave in Manasarovar.

 As I read the stories, in which myths and fantasies are in plenty, I wondered about changes that have crept in over time in the language and in the story! I am thankful to friend Chandramouli who said written Sanskrit came much later! While a lot of stories did get added, it is indeed amazing that in spite of this lack of a written script, the integrity of the main theme seems to have been maintained, .

 Also important was the prevalent technology of those times. I am obliged to Wikipedia (In fact, there is an appeal for us to donate to the Wiki website, which is a non-profit one!) for the articles below. The invention of Chariots and the skills developed in making iron had a significant impact in changing  the course of human history. It is estimated that the world population before agriculture was around 1 million and 50 million around 1000 BCE. Thought provoking when you think of the numbers in the Mahabharata war. The figures given in Vachana Bharata is close to 400k chariots and 2 million men.
The pre-Classical form of Sanskrit is known as Vedic Sanskrit, with the language of the Rigveda being the oldest and most archaic stage preserved, its oldest core dating back to as early as 1500 BCE.[6]
 No written records from such an early period survive. However, scholars are confident that the oral transmission of the texts is reliable: they were ceremonial literature whose correct pronunciation was considered crucial to its religious efficacy.[13]
From the Rigveda until the time of Pāṇini (fl. 4th century BCE) the development of the Sanskrit language may be observed in other Vedic texts: the Samaveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, Brahmanas, and Upanishads. During this time, the prestige of the language, its use for sacred purposes, and the importance attached to its correct enunciation all served as powerful conservative forces resisting the normal processes of linguistic change.[14]
] A significant form of post-Vedic Sanskrit is found in the Sanskrit of the Hindu Epics—the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The deviations from Pāṇini in the epics are generally considered to be on account of interference from Prakrits, or "innovations" and not because they are pre-Paninean.[
 The 2nd millennium BC marks the transition from the Middle to the Late Bronze Age.
Its first half is dominated by the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and Babylonia. The alphabet develops. Indo-Iranian migration onto the Iranian plateau and onto the Indian subcontinent propagates the use of the chariot. Chariot warfare and population movements lead to violent changes at the center of the millennium, and a new order emerges with Greek dominance of the Aegean and the rise of the Hittite Empire. The end of the millennium sees the transition to the Iron Age. World population begins to rise steadily, reaching some 50 million towards 1000 BC.
Iron Age India, the Iron Age in the Indian subcontinent, succeeds the Late Harappan (Cemetery H) culture, also known as the last phase of the Indus Valley Tradition. The main Iron Age archaeological cultures of India are the Painted Grey Ware culture (1100 to 350 BC) and the Northern Black Polished Ware (700 to 200 BC).
The earliest Iron Age sites in South India are Hallur, Karnataka and Adichanallur, Tamil Nadu[1] at around 1000 BC. Technical studies on materials dated c. 1000 BCE at Komaranhalli (Karnataka) showed that the smiths of this site could deal with large artifacts, implying that they had already been experimenting for centuries,[2][3] which drew attention to the presence of iron in Chalcolithic deposits at Ahar, and suggested that “the date of the beginning of iron smelting in India may well be placed as early as the sixteenth century BC” and “by about the early decade of thirteenth century BC iron smelting was definitely known in India on a bigger scale”.[4]

Monday, 19 December 2011

Pandavas go on a Theertha Yatra. Mahabharata 76

The story meanders. Perhaps sage Vyaasa wanted to give Panadavas, especially Yudhisthira and us a break. Yudhisthira has a tough time, troubled by his own sense of guilt and the grim faces of his brothers and especially Draupadi; also the frequent impassioned pleas by both Bheema and Draupadi to rethink his decision.

Surely the novelty of living in a forest would have palled after a while. I would bet that being surrounded by rishis would have its own share of challenges, innumerable poojas and rituals at the ashram. Not sure whether the concept of satsang was already in vogue. To be a part of it, day after day for twelve years, (It is in fact 4380 days!) especially for a khsatriya is unimaginable. There is also no mention of Rakshasas attacking the ashrams. This at least would  have kept the Pandavas busy.

Theertha Yatra was indeed a good idea, an absolute must to maintain their sanity. As I think back, in my child hood days, members of joint families were permitted to get away only on a theertha yatra. A good break for the mother-in-law as well as the long suffering daughters-in-law. Trips would be longer, ardous but well worth it.

We have an impressive tradition:
It is said that there are more than 5 millions of theerthas in India as per SkhandaPurana. All these places have great religious and spiritual significance and each one of them is capable of liberating a man from all his sins and providing a direction towards Moksha. Some of these places are located on the banks of sacred rivers like Ganga,Sindhu,Saraswathi,Yamuna,Godavari,Narmada,Kaveri,Krishna andThungaBhadra. It is said and believed that these sacred rivers have taken birth from the sacred  foot  of  Lord Sri Hari. 
Prominent among them are 108 Divya Desams related to Lord Maha Vishnu out of which eight self manifested (swayam Vyaktha Kshethras) holy places viz., Sri Rangam,Tirumala, Sri Mushnam, Thotadri, Salagram, Pushkara, Badrinath and Naimisharanya,108 Divya Desams related to Lord Siva out of which Twelve Jyothirlinga Kshetras and five Pancha Bhootha linga Kshethras, 51 Shakthi Peetas of Goddess Shakti out of which very prominent Ashtadasa Shakthi Peetas (18), prominent places like Dwaraka,Ayodhya, Mathura, Kanchi, Puri, Haridwar, Kurukshetra, Kasi,Prayaga, Gaya, Kshetras related to Lord Sri Rama, Lord Vinayaka, Lord Subramanya, Lord Hanuman, places attached to the significance of saints like Mantralayam (Sri Raghavendra Swamy),Udupi (Sri Madhwacharya) etc., and  the  list  goes  on. (Courtsey
The story of their pilgrimage is about places they visited and their importance. Here are a few nuggets:
Restless and bored Pandavas decide to go on a pilgrimage.They visit Naimisharanya and other places and arrive at the ashrama of reknowned Agasthya. Some of his feats are amazing!

Agasthya visits Illvala. He is welcomed and a goat is killed for his meal. The goat is actually Illvala's younger brother. The ploy is to feed the guest and then the brother is called out. He  breaks through the guests' stomach and the dead guest would then be their meal! This gambit does not work with Agasthya as he eats and digests even before the brother is called out.
Rakshasas hide in the occean and come out in the night and raid rishi's ashram and eat them. At the request of the devatas, Agasthya  drinks up the ocean and the devatas seek out the demons and kill them.

 Sagara's sacrificial horse goes missing in the dry ocean and his 60,000 sons dig a hole right down to the netherworld to rescue the horse and get burnt by the power of sage Kapila. Much later Bhageeratha from the same 'vamsha' performs a great penance and  river Ganga comes down to earth. The ocean fills up again and the ashes of his forefathers are immersed in water and they are able to go to svarga.

The Vindhya range of mountains stop growing at the request of Agasthya. He requests Vindhyas to wait for his return before they grow again and as Agasthya never returns, so they stop growing. (Interesting as Himalaya is said to be growing even today!)

There is the story of Rhushyasringa who brought rains where ever he went. His father, a mysogyinist had brought him up without the help of women and the boy had even grown up without  seeing them. Finally, he is enticed by a woman to visit a country which had no rains and brings rain immediately. Predictably he marries the daughter of the king. (I remember seeing a movie about him with my grandmother more than sixty years ago!) 

There are many more. Most of these are strange, paranormal stories of interactions between gods and humans.  Stories of gods testing humans abound, especially of those who are known to follow dharma with sincerity.

 Some are even absurd. A story where the winner of a debate kills the loser by drowning him in the river! He is in turn is killed by a relative of the dead debater, again  after being defeated in a debate.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

As they wait for Arjuna to return. Mahabharata 75

As they wait for Arjuna, missing  him, the loss of their kingdom and its repercussions are felt more keenly by the Pandavas, . Bheema keeps worrying and expresses his fears to Yudhisthra, 'Maharaja, Arjuna was our life. He has gone away as per your wish. If anything happens to him we are all  finished. I cannot imagine the difficulties he is facing now. Let us not wait for twelve years. I will go and bring Arjuna back and call Krishna as well. We should  go and kill our opponents now! You can continue your vanavasa later. I do not think it is wrong. If you think it is so, we can perform a yaga to expiate our wrong  deeds. Let us act like the khsatriyas we are, it is not right for us to live in a forest!'

Yudhisthira does not agree and says it is still not time and  holds firm to his dharma and wants to complete the thirteen years! At they keep discussing, rishi Bhruhadashwa comes for a visit. Yudhisthira tells the rishi the story of his woes and bemoans 'Is there anyone as ill-fated as I am? I am sure no one has suffered the way I have!'  The rishi consoles him by saying, ' king Nala suffered even more after loosing everything in gambling. He also went to the forest with his wife. You have your brothers with you, he had none. Don't grieve so much'. Yudhisthira is keen to hear the story and the rishi narrates the story of  Nala and Damayanti. (wikipedia link)
The rishi concludes the story and urges Yudhisthira to take courage and try to be happy,  teaches him 'Akshahrudaya', in case he is invited to gamble again!

The vachana bharata devotes many pages to this story. I guess it is added as a filler! I had heard the story as a kid. The story is about a very beautiful princess, Damayanti, who hears the qualities of king Nala through a golden swan which speaks, falls deeply in love, chooses him rejecting many devatas in a swayamvara! This obviously is too hard for devatas to accept. A mere human had upstaged them and they scheme to teach Nala a lesson! Not easy as Nala is perfect in everything! He is even the greatest chef in the world. 'Nala paaka' is an epithet used to praise a good recipe and cooking.

 But one day this perfect man forgets to wash his feet thoroughly and there is one unwashed spot in his heel. Just what the devatas were waiting for and Shani  manages to take advantage of this one imperfect action and Nala's luck changes and  bad luck begins. There are many twists and turns to the story but happily all ends well for the couple.

Raj Ravi Varma's  painting.  Nala had to manage with half the sari of  Damaynati as he had lost everything in a game of dice, even his clothes. However, the artist depicts Nala, the king, with his crown! The scene depicts how Nala slinks away while his wife is sleeping, thinking it is for her own good!

( This grandmothers' story  is the reason why we kids would wash our feet thoroughly before entering our homes. Most houses had water taps outside in the garden or we would enter home from the back door and wash our feet in the bath room and only then  were we allowed to enter the other rooms! We would also be asked whether we had washed our hands and feet well!  It was even more important at a temple. We better wash our feet well before entering the temple or invite Shani kaata. I am not joking. It was pretty serious!)

Friday, 16 December 2011

Arjuna upsets Urvashi. Tells her that he thinks of her as a mother. Mahabharata 74

 While Vachana Bharata has a description of Amaravati, the abode of Indra, the episode concerning Urvashi is missing! It is Kamala's version which tells us how Arjuna, ignorant of the ways of the heavenly damsels, upsets Urvashi and is cursed by her.

The moment Arjuna sat in the chariot, it zoomed up. The earth was no more visible, neither Surya nor Chandra were to be seen. There was only a glow caused by the good deeds of the people! Amaravati was a beautiful city. The gardens were full of  flowers which bloomed and  trees which yielded fruits all the time. The breeze  gently moved the trees and the plants and the air was fragrant. The city was full of  nice houses where in Siddhas (saints), Charanas(celestial singers) and Apsaras moved about. Only those who had earned merit through penance or those who fought  a valiant battle in the wars were permitted to live in the city.

Arjuna enters the court and sees Indra seated on a golden throne, surrounded by Apsaras and singers.  Indra welcomes Arjuna with an embrace and  seats him on the throne next to himself! Indra happy to see his son, continues to gaze at him lovingly, with his thousand eyes and does not get tired of looking at his son. Gandharvas sang and Apsaras danced with grace and beauty.  Later, Arjuna was taken into the palace with due ceremony. Arjuna stayed with his father for five years and was tutored  in the use many powerful weapons. He was also taught  to play music and dance at the suggestion of Indra!

The story of Arjuna's visit ends here in Vachana Bharata. Read on to see what author Kamala has to say:
There was music and dance at his father's court. Arjuna was thrilled as he heard the music and saw the apsaras dance. While he was watching the dance intently, Urvashi, the favourite of Indra, was smitten with love for the dark, handsome Arjuna. She was restless the whole night. Her mind was fixed on Arjuna. She thought of him as her lover. She felt that she had to have him. 
Her love was just unbearable. Suddenly she got up from her bed. She walked towards the mansions of  Arjuna. She was wearing flowers on her arms and her neck. Her form was perfect. It was made for love. Her beautiful skin, glowing like molten gold, was now wet with sweat. Her breasts were perfectly shaped. She walked towards the mansion with her wide beautiful hips swinging gracefully. Wearing a thin mantle which was the colour of clouds, she tempted even the rishis with the beauty of her form.
She reaches her destination and wakes up Arjuna. She looks at him with eyes full of desire. Arjuna is embarrassed. Urvashi shocks him with ' Today at the court I saw you looking at me. I have never seen anyone like you before. I want you. I could not sleep since thoughts of you have banished sleep from my eyes. You must take me and put an end to my suffering. I am burning with love for you.'
Arjuna tells her he thinks of her as a mother, and says 'I looked at you as I had heard that my ancestor Pururavas  was in love with you and that you returned his love. Please do not ask me to think of you in a different manner.' 
Uravasi smiles at him and says:' you do not seem to understand. We apsaras have no age. We are always young. the rules that bind ordinary people do not bind us or affect us. We belong to everyone. I am just a dancer. You will not be committing any sin in accepting my love. I love you and you must not disappoint me. Do you not know that it is the dharma for a man to please the woman who comes to him asking him to satisfy her desire? You must accept me'.

Arjuna does not yield and finally Urvasi out of anger and frustration, she has never been insulted before with a rejection, curses him to become an eunuch.(Indra learning about it, later gets Urvashi to commute it to one year's duration.)

The episode is typical as it transpires that Urvashi's curse will become a blessing. Arjuna's need for a good disguise during the thirteenth year of their exile is thus met. It cannot get better than this!

As a kid, my concept of heaven was simple. All good people go to heaven and enjoy limitless goodies! I also thought it to be a democratic place where all were equal with no special favors accorded to some. 
As I read about Indra lokha it seems I was wrong. Entry into Amaravati was limited to sages and warriors who died in a battle. It meant that Amaravati was essentially full of men! No wonder apsaras were created!

Obviously there are different heavens for the rest of us, hopefully that includes women! It gets complicated as we think about the concept of heaven. I can guarantee that there are many couples who would rather be in different heavens! That may apply to siblings and in general to others as well. Unless of course we become one happy family over there, till it is time to move on or move down!
Curious I  searched the web:
Highway to heaven, Surprisingly  this website says:  The early Hindus never believed in heaven, and never prayed to attain a permanent place there. The earliest concept of afterlife, say Vedic scholars, was that the dead reunite with Mother Nature and live in some other form on this earth.

Vedic folks were satisfied with living their life to the fullest; they never aspired to attain immortality. ....However, as time passed by, the idea of eternity for mortals evolved. Thus later in the same Veda we come to read: "…Grant us food, and may I obtain immortality through my posterity." 
(That was simple enough, but if you search deeper you may get answers or end up being confused.)  
I now quote from the teachings of Sri Kripalu ji, Radha Madav Society.
First of all, the term heaven is largely misunderstood as the dwelling place of God and His angels. Followers of different religions mistake heaven to be the Godly abode. The Vedas say that God's kingdom is very different from heaven, which they refer to as svarg or svarg-lok . There are seven levels of svarg: Bhuvah, Svah, Mahah, Janah, Tapah, Satah and Brahmlok.

Svarg, according to the Vedas, is a temporary abode of transient pleasures, albeit great pleasures. Svarg is included within the realm of Maya, and as such, it is not a Divine Abode. It is above the earth and it accommodates those who have fulfilled the requirements for gaining entrance. Popular belief says that if you have led a good life, without knowingly harming others, and if you have been kind and generous, there will be a seat reserved for you in svarg. And then there are those who believe that simply dying assures one space in svarg. This ignorance leads them to think that their deceased loved ones are dwelling there, awaiting their arrival.

According to the Vedas, if one wishes to attain svarg after death, he must perform the Vedic ceremonies known as yagyas. In the yagya, the officiating pundit recites Sanskrit mantras while offering pure ingredients to the fire with the view to appease the devtas dwelling in svarg-lok. This sounds easy enough until you hear about the six conditions that are to be fulfilled exactly in the performance of yagyas. Three are given below:
1.The recitation of the mantras by the priest must be 100% accurate. Even the slightest mistake made in pronunciation or intonation will greatly alter the meaning of the mantra, bringing great harm to the host.
2.The place where the yagya is hosted, must be a place where no sin has ever been committed.
3.The host must use white money in hosting the yagya. This means that he must have scrupulously donated one dime out of every dollar that he has ever earned. Otherwise, his money is black money.

Fulfilling all the six conditions is nearly impossible, especially in the times that we are living in. But if the host does succeed in fulfilling all six conditions accurately, he will be sent to svarg after death, where he will enjoy material pleasures the likes of which do not exist on earth. He will become a devta in svarg, ruled by Indra. He will be given a very attractive body that never needs cleansing, since it is ever fresh and clean; a body that exudes fragrance at all times. He will be able to attain anything material by simply thinking about it, without making any external effort. 

But that is not all. There is more! 
However, the Mundakopanishad says that only the highly foolish ones desire and reach svarg after death. (1.2.8) The reasons are the following: 
1.The inhabitants of svarg-lok suffer from anger, greed, lust, pride, envy and hypocrisy, just like humans.
2.The Bhagvatam says that one lives in svarg-lok as long as his virtuous actions are intact, (11.10.26) and as soon as they are exhausted, says Mundakopanishad, the soul departs from svarg and is born in lower forms of life on earth. In the Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjun that the pleasures of svarg are temporary. 
They who have attained enlightenment explain that svarg is a prison. Granted this prison is made of gold, yet it is verily a prison. While in svarg one cannot fulfill the purpose of life, which is God-realization.

Now for the concept of hell. According to Hindu scriptures there are 28 hells, some of which are Aveechi, Kaalsutra, Raurav, Maharaurav and Kumbhipak. These are detailed in Garud Puran and Bhagvatam. Just as Svarg (heaven) is a temporary abode, so is Narak (hell). One is made to suffer the torments of hell as a punishment for one's misdeeds. When one is sent to hell after death, he is given a body that is fit to withstand the torments of hell. Needless to say, hell is not a comfortable place to live in. However, the situation is not hopeless. After finishing its term in hell, the soul is resent to earth in any one of the 8.4 million life-forms. It may be given the body of an insect, bird, tree or an animal. Then, based on the devotion it has performed in innumerable past lifetimes, the soul one day becomes deserving of the most desirable form: the human form.
Once in the possession of the human body, the soul once again has an opportunity to work towards the attainment of heaven, hell, earth or God's Abode.

Actually there is even more to read. If you are curious, just google 'the concept of heaven and hell in hinduism!'

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Arjuna acquires astras. Visiting Mahabharata 73

The abode of Pandavas
Yudhisthira with the holy sages.
 Time must have weighed heavily on the pandavas. While both the narrations deal with their feelings, both expressed and suppressed, they fall short in describing their lives in the forest. However, Samhita depicts them in her delightful sketches. She adds that Yudhisthira was happy in the forest meditating but her brothers were bored! She leaves it to us think about how Draupadi felt.

Providentially sage Vyaasa appears (In author 
 Kamala's version) and supports Yudhisthira  by suggesting that it is too early to think of a war as Kauravas have now become stronger. He advises them that Arjuna should acquire pashupatha astra from Lord Shiva and get more astras, which were promised earlier by god Indra! He also suggests that they move back to Kamyaka, which they do.

It is already their sixth year in exile. Arjuna bids farewell to the family goes up north to the Himalayas and reaches Indrakila. Indra appears, first as a sage, (It is how it is with gods! They test you before they show up in their true form.) advises Arjuna to shed his weapons as it the abode of rishis and a place of peace.When Arjuna demurs, he reveals himself and asks Arjuna what he wants. When Arjuna explains his need for divine astras, Indra advises that he should first perform penance and please Lord Shiva and obtain pasupatha astra and that he will come later and disappears!

Arjuna performing a penance to please lord shiva.
Arjuna performs intense penance and Shiva finally appears in the form of  a hunter and his consort Parvati as a huntress! At this moment Arjuna is attacked by a Rakshasa who has taken  the form of a wild boar. The arrows of both Arjuna and Shiva hit the wild boar at the same time and there is an argument  between Arjuna and Shiva as to who had transgressed the rules of hunting! A fight ensues and Arjuna discovers his opponent is too strong and is about to loose his fight. He offers a prayer to shiva in his mind and places a garland on the image of shiva and is shocked when he sees it on the neck of the hunter! Arjuna realsies that he has been fighting with shiva and falls at his feet. The lord pleased at his bravery, reveals himself along with Parvati and gives him the pashupatha astra and disappears.

Soon the many gods who were witness to the fight between Shiva and Arjuna land on Indrakila and bless Arjuna. Varuna the lord of the oceans, Kubera the lord of riches, Yama the lord of death and Indra his father, all certain that he will use them wisely,  bestow their astras and bless him and vanish. Soon Matali the charioteer of Indra appears and takes him to Indralokha.

( Raghu reminded me about this bas-relief monolith at Mahabalipuram. It appears the whole world is keenly watching Arjuna's penance anticipating Shiva's arrival at any moment!)
Arhuna's penace at Mahabaipuram.

Photo by maremagna: courtsey

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The debate continues in Dvaitavana. Visiting Mahabharata 72

Yudhisthira in reply analyses the nature of anger in detail and concludes that anger leads to destruction and says progress in the world comes through forgiveness. He tells Draupadi that all evolved souls believe in forgiveness and non-violence and he too chooses to adhere to this principle.

Draupadi counters with an argument that none of these qualities; dharma, ahimsa, forgiveness, kindness and uprightness, which he thought more important than life itself has not helped him! She says: 'I had heard that dharma protects us if we practice it. You have been a strict follower of dharma and even here in the forest you have not given it up. In spite of this, how is it you were drawn into gambling? How did you manage to loose your kingdom and even us? The world is not in  our control, it is the almighty Ishwara who controls the world. A man is helpless!  God does not take care of us with kindness like parents do! It seems  god is angry with us. If not why do good people suffer and the evil ones flourish? I feel like cursing god, when I think of our difficulties and the way Duryodhana thrives.'

Yudhisthira replies that he does not observe dharma expecting benefits and that it is his nature to follow dharma and that Draupadi is speaking against dharma because of her anger. Draupadi admits that it is her anguish that makes her say things, but is insistent that they cannot afford to be passive and resigned to fate as it will only lead  to unhappiness.

Bheema who has been listening to the conversation is exasperated and tries to convince Yudhisthira that as they were cheated, there is no justification in keeping quiet quoting dharma. He argues that forgiveness is mistakenly construed as a weakness by the kauravas. and urges that they wage a war, especially as they have the support of Krishna.

Yudhisthira is deeply hurt by this onslaught both by his wife and his brother, but still argues that it is better to accept the loss and wait for good times to come again. And declares that 'Dharma is dearer to me than all the wealth, fame, kingdom and even children. Nothing is equal to it!.

Bheema does not give up easily and argues that there is no guarantee that they would be alive after the twelve years of vanavasa! Even asks Yudhisthira with sarcasm whether he has a special deal with time to ensure they are alive till they recover their kingdom. Bheema adds that he is unable to sleep and Arjuna is just boiling within, while the rest of them, though unhappy are keeping quiet so as not to upset him. 

 The normally taciturn Bheema becomes eloquent! 'You are unnecessarily suffering in the name of forgiveness and dharma. Forgiveness suits a brahmin and not a khsatriya. I even wonder how you were born as a khsatriya! Your attempt to cover us under this wrap is like trying hide Himalayas with just one handful of grass. I just cannot imagine how we can hide under a disguise for another year after the vanavasa. It is like trying to hide the great Meru mountain! The kauravas will have so many spies; if discovered it will be a calamity. It is now thirteen months since we are in the forest, think it is thirteen years and lets us attack. If you so want, we can atone this lapse by offering nourishment to a bull. There is no better dharma for a khsatriya than waging a war.'

Yudhishira sighs despondently and then tells Bheema that he agrees with him and asks him to consider this: 'Those who commit a sin out of bravado will surely pay for their sins. Let us think deeply and then decide. In my opinion it is not the right time to attack, at the moment elders like Bheeshma and Drona are with them and most of the kings we defeated have aligned themselves with the kauravas. Duryodhana has also pleased them and has won them over to his side. You have to defeat Karna first before you are able to kill Duryodhana. Bheema, these thoughts are not letting me sleep as well.'
Bheema with no real answers to these words, chooses to go silent.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Pandavas move to a more habitable Dvaitavana. But Draupadi is not happy. Visitng Mahabharata 71.

The Pandavas decide to move to Dvaitavana and stay near the lake, a place where rishis lived and is surrounded by an abundance of fruit trees and flowering plants. While it was peaceful, the dramatic change in their lifestyle frustrates Draupadi and understandably she chooses to take it out on Yudhisthira.

One evening Draupadi reveals her thoughts to Yudhisthira, 'Lord, there is no peace in my mind. How could Duryodhana be so cruel as to drive us to a forest? His heart must be made of iron. While the rest of Hastinapura were shedding tears, these four heartless men showed no feelings! I cannot bear to even look at the type of bed you sleep on. You were surrounded by attendants all the time, now there are none. The body which was adorned with sandal paste is now covered by dust. Fine clothes are now replaced by coverings made of hemp. Thousands of people ate, served by you in vessels of gold, before you ate. Now you and your brothers have to eat whatever is found in the forest.'

 She is unable stomach the fact that  he has chosen to tolerate a situation wherein his brothers are suffering. They are bound by his passive acceptance and their respect for him, which prevent them from fighting. She is upset that she, daughter of a king and married to the sons of Pandu, is now constrained to live in a forest.  She is dismayed that he has no anger, which is so normal for a  khastriya! She points out that a khastriya, who has no anger even at this juncture will face contempt by all beings. She urges him to fight as it is the time to show valor and defeat the enemies.

She quotes from a conversation between Bali and Prahlada. Bali asked his grandfather 'Which is better Forgiveness or attack?'  Prahlada said that 'We cannot choose one or the other. It depends. If one is always forgiving, even servants will neglect such a person. None will show respect! Evil people will think nothing of stealing from them. They will take away his money, clothes, valuables and even food. They will even try to steal his wife. Even his wife will become independent! It is better to die than face such a humiliation'.

'At the same time a person with an unforgiving nature, will make enemies of his friends even. Such people will even be killed because of their unforgiving nature. It is best to forgive the first mistake, but punish the next one. Forgive those who make mistakes unknowingly. So there is a time for forgiveness and there is a time to be tough.'  And Draupadi concludes: 'Maharaja I think it is time to teach a lesson to the greedy and criminal minded kauravas.'

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Draupadi laments and Krishna takes an oath. Visiting Mahabharata 70

It is incredible! As I blog about the life of Pandavas in the forest, Bangalore Mirror talks of 'Forest Loot'. My first reaction was; 'The fear of rakshashas, if they were still around in the forest, would have surely prevented this loot'. Then it dawned on me that Rakshashas were known to change form at will! They now exist, unfortunately in the form of sleepy (pretending to sleep?) government officials and a mafia of middlemen and maufacturers.

The report says:.. The state’s forest wealth is being ruthlessly exploited by a mafia of middlemen and manufacturers, with the government only just waking up to the Rs 20,000-crore scam happening under its very nose. ...mega scam being perpetrated by a nexus that involves middlemen, drugs and cosmetic manufacturers, and leading breweries. Unfortunately, the livelihood demands of farmers and tribals of these areas have made them a part of this nexus in stripping their own habitats of valuable produce like cinnamon, black pepper, cocum, soap nuts, gooseberry, blueberry, cane, snuffbox sea bean, honey and ‘dhoopa’....“A contract was given two years ago for cinnamon extraction in Belgaum, Chikmagalur and Shimoga. Driven by greed, the private parties have denuded entire trees — branches, leaves and all. This has virtually reduced cinnamon production to zero, and the government has decided to ban extraction of cinnamon henceforth,” said a senior forest official. (The same old Ramayana!)
The tribals who get a pittance for their work.
  Draupadi's angst: I am quoting from Vachana Bharata
 Draupadi is unable to contain her grief when she sees Krishna and her brother cries aloud: 'How is it that your friend, the wife of Pandavas and sister of Dhristadhyumna be reduced to this state? How is it possible that I was, scantily dressed as I was, dragged about? How could I be a 'daasi'? Am I  not a daughter-in-law of Dhritharashtra? How is it the Pandavas kept quiet when I was being ill-treated? Shame on the most powerful Bheema and the very skilled Arjuna. Even mere weaklings try to protect their wives. They could  have protected me at least for the sake of my five children?. 

Overcome she is unable to even breath and laments 'Krishna there is no one for me now. My husbands, my brother, father, even relatives and friends; none are for me. Even you are not there for me. How I can forget the humiliation and the laughter of Karna which is silll ringing in my ears?.'

Krishna consoles her and promises, 'Those who humiliated you will surely die by the piercing arrows of Arjuna. Their wives will cry as you are doing now. I propose to help Pandavas help in every manner possible. You will be queen again. It is my promise. The skies may fall, earth may shatter and the occean may dry but my promise to you shall not fail!'

Krishan then turns towards Yudhisthira and says, 'If I were in Dwaraka, I would have surely come and stopped you from gambling. I would have tried to convince you about the harm gambling can do and stopped you by force, if need be! It is indeed unfortunate that I was away and I came running as soon as I heard about your misfortune.' He then narrates how Dwaraka was attacked by Salva, brother of Sisupala, to avenge the death of Sisupala and that many of his clan were killed. So he had go after Salva and kill him and decimate his clan. And adds,'The reason I could not come even after I heard about the gambling. If not, Duryodhana would not have been alive today.'

Krishna after placating the Pandavas, goes back to Dwaraka, taking Subhadra and Abimanyu along with him. Dhristadyumna accompanied by the children of Draupadi and Drhustakethu and his sister Renumathi, Nakula's wfe, all return to their respective cities, leaving Pandavas and Draupadi all by themselves in the forest.

 Taking back Draupadi's children and others makes sense at the human level.  But those of us, who are brought up with the stories of  Krishna and his miracles, will wonder why Yudhisthira was not helped, while he was gambling away his life. Surely Krishna could have influenced the game of 'dies' from wherever he was. While these narrations did not say, it is said that it was Krishna who protected Draupadi from afar with a never ending supply of saris, so why not a miracle to help Yudhisthira? Kamala, probably anticipating such a question, does say in her version that Krishna had decided to punish the Khsatriyas and had set the events in motion.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Aranya Parva: 2, Visiting Mahabharata 69

My older cousin used to speak with admiration about how I walked all the way up the B R hills when just four. I do vaguely remember being worried and looking out for tigers and snakes coming out of the dense forest. I guess my elders had fun scaring me and by asking me to keep a watch.  But I would surely have been very scared if I had heard this story about a Rakshasha from Aranya parva!  

Dhritharashtra wants to know all about the killing of Kirmeera. Stories of killing  fascinated the khastiryas! Vidura tells him that just three days after their departure, the Pandavas were accosted by a dreadful Rakshasa, who announced, 'I am Kirmeera, brother of Baka. I live here killing all the animals and foolish humans who enter the forest.' And as soon as he knew  their identity and that Bheema was with them, he declared: 'The time has come to avenge the death of Hidimba and Baka. Bheema has been the death of these dear people of mine. I will kill Bheema.'

Bheema seeing Arjuna getting ready to help, said: 'Arjuna there is no need for the Gandiva. It does not need two to crush this worm.' Bheema then uprooted a tree and the terrible fight began. In the end Bheema put Kimeera across his knees and killed him by breaking his back.' Vidura's narration which exemplified Bheema's power made the kaurava king very thoughtful and worried.

Then it is Krishna's turn to visit along with Dhirhstadyumna and other kings. Shocked and upset, Krishna says 'The earth has become thirsty for blood. She will drink the blood of these sinners. It was not a fair game and nor was it right on them to impose unfavorable conditions. Why should you live here in a forest? We have brought the armies, let us march against the city of Hastinapura. We can vanquish the kauravas easily.'

Dhritharashtra does not agree. 'No, Krishna. I have done a wrong thing and this exile is the expiation for it. My brothers and my  beloved queen have to suffer for what I did. I would give anything to recall the past. But I cannot. Fate is inexorable. I have to suffer. The great Vyaasa foretold me about this spell of bad luck. I have to refuse your offer. Please forgive me.

For a moment I thought why did Yudhisthira not accept Krishna's offer? They could have regained the kingdom and then he could go all by himself as an expiation for his weaknesses and spare the misery for the others. But I suppose the story then would have become similar to Ramayana with the wife and brothers refusing to let him go alone to the forest.