Monday, 30 January 2012

Pandavas enter Viraata Nagara one by one. Mahabharata 91

Yudhisthira is the first to enter Viraata Nagara. He walks into the court of  king Viraata, introduces himself as a friend of Yudhisthira. 'My name is Kanka, I am a brahmin skilled in the game of  dice, I have lost all my possessions and I am here seeking a livelihood.'

King Virata is very impressed by the charismatic personality of Yudhisthira and tells him, 'I like people who are skilled in the game of dice and when I look at you, I feel that I am looking at a god. Please stay here without any fear'. Yudhisthira stays with the king, earns respect and is happy. No one guesses his true identity.

Bheema enters next. He is dramatically dressed for his role as a cook. He carries with him a ladle, a churner and a small knife. But his strong personality and aura is evident even if his clothes are blackened with soot. He meets king Virata and addresses him, 'Oh king! I can cook well and king Yudhisthira enjoyed my cooking. I can also wrestle and please you by engaging in a battle with lions and elephants. I am here looking for work as a cook.'  King Virata responds with 'Your physique and demeanour tells me that a job as a cook is not right for you. However, if that is what you wish to do, I am pleased to appoint you as my head cook.' Bheema enters the kitchen and is able to please the king with his skills. None in the kitchen  suspect his real identity.

Later it is Draupadi's turn to walk into the city. Trying to appear as a maid, she wears dirty clothes and holds her untied hair in front with her right hand. Curious people follow her and ask her ' Who are you? Why are you here?'. She tells them she is a  राज सैरंध्री (a maid for the royals!) and is looking for work. Queen Sudheshne hears about this and sends for her. One look at her the queen expresses her doubt, 'It is impossible for a good looking woman like you to be a maid. Tell me, are you a devata or a gandharva or an apsara?' (In Kamala's version, Draupadi is terrified  by a jeering crowd who follow her and is luckily seen by the queen from her balcony. The queen taking pity on the lone, harassed weeping woman sends her maids to bring Draupadi into the palace and speaks to her kindly.)

Draupadi, ties her hair into a nice looking bun, as  she replies. She tells the queen that she in none of these and is just a hairdresser and that she could also help with her dresses and deck her hair with flowers. She says 'I have worked with both Satyabhama and Draupadi and was happy working with them and would like to work here.'

Sudheshne is not totally convinced. 'I could happily employ you! But look here, I see that my women, why even the plants and trees seem to be enamoured by you! It is then certain that no man can resist being attracted to you! I am afraid that even my king, with just one look at you, may forget me and go behind you! So would other men who set their eyes on you. I am worried that taking you into my house is to invite serious trouble.

Draupadi responds with, 'I am not available for anyone. I am married to five young gandharvas and they protect me. If a man makes the mistake of imagining that I am just an ordinary woman, an easy prey and tries to seduce me, will pay the price with his life.  Also it will make my husbands very happy if  I am treated  well, by not giving me left over food and asking me to wash  other's feet.' Sudheshne decides to employ Draupadi inspite of her earlier reservations and people in the palace do not suspect that she is actually a queen pretending to be a maid!

The very good looking Sahadeva manages to pass himself as a cowherd. A cowherd who had worked for Yudhisthira, with an ability to keep the cows in good health, increase their numbers by identifying the bulls which are good for breeding. Impressed, the king hires him. The handsome Arjuna then appears dressed as woman and secures a job as music and dance teacher for the princess and her friends. No one thinks that the woman-like man is  Arjuna.  Finally Nakula appears and impresses the king with his knowledge and love for horses and is employed.

Thus Pandavas find a place to stay, are able hide their true personalities and live reasonably close to each other. Draupadi manages to see her husbands as she moves about the palace and is able to bear her hardships with equanimity and with her attitude even manages bring a semblance of happiness in them.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Pandavas last day together before they enter Viraata Nagar. Mahabharata 90

I am translating more often from Vachana Bharata. I see from Kamala's version that Pandavas offer a prayer as they hide their weapons.

All the eyes were wet as they put away their weapons. Yudhisthira invoked the gods, 'I call upon all of you to be present here, now, to hear me. I ask Brahma, Indra, Kubera, Varuna, Rudra, Yama, Vishnu, Surya and Chandra, the sky, the earth, Agni and Maruts, I ask all of you to guard these our dearest possessions. I request you to return these weapons either to me or Arjuna at the end of our Ajnaatavaasa. It must not be given to Bheema even if he claims them. He is short-tempered and he may in a mad moment claim these weapons on his own before the year is completed.....You must guard us against discovery. We do not want to be exiled for another twelve years.... Please bless us.'

Yudhisthira climbs the tree and places the bundle on it. Looking at Bheema and his tear filled eyes, Yudhisthira embraces Bheema to console him. A few curious villagers collect around them when they see the bundle up the tree, the chanting and the weeping. The villagers are told the story of their mother's death and the dire consequences one would face if one tried to disturb the dead body. The villagers get worried and leave.

Later they become emotional as they realise that this will be last day together as they plan to go to the city one by one and after which they cannot meet each other openly. They decide on code names for each one of them and rest at the edge of the city for the night.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Pandavas reach Viraata Nagara. Mahabharata 89

The people who had served them well the last twelve years went different ways as instructed and Pandavas were on their own. They performed Agni pooja and sought blessings of the tapasvi brahmins and commenced their journey. They moved forward carefully avoiding habitation by staying on hilly areas, reached Yamuna river and entered the country of Virata through  the surrounding forests.

As they neared Virata Nagara, Draupadi, very tired suggested that they halt and enter the city the next day. Yudhisthira wanted to press on and asked Arjuna to carry Draupadi till they reached the outskirts. As they got closer to the city, thinking  rightly that they would scare the people if they entered with their weapons and also risk being discovered and compelled to go to back the forest for another twelve years, chose to hide their weapons.

Looking for a place to hide, and spotted a 'Banni' tree near a cremation ground and felt it is the best  place to hide their weapons. They reasoned, 'The tree is thorny and no one will dare to check if they think it is a corpse up there'. Hence they tied their weapons in the shape of a corpse and hung it up high on the tree. They also announced it to a few boys around grazing their herd, 'Our mother is dead, As per our custom we have tied her body up on the tree!'

Having done this, Yudhisthira  gave each one of them a code name. They also decided to enter the city one by one. Yudhisthira was the first one to enter the city.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

अज्ञातवास begins. Mahabharata 88

While Pandavas have been blessed by the god of Dharma that they will not be recognised, they still discuss amongst themselves the best way to live incognito. Yudhisthira asks his brothers, 'It is not easy to live without being discovered by the enemies. Where do you think we should stay?'

Arjuna lists a few neighbouring countries where he thinks it is possible to stay in secrecy. Yudhisthira then picks up Matsya Desha,'The country is beautiful, safe and auspicious and we can live without fear. Their king Virata is strong, follower of dharma, wealthy and generous. So let us choose Viratanagara'. He then asks, 'What do you plan to do when you are there?'

Arjuna replies,'Elder brother, let us begin with you! You are soft, generous, humble, truthful and follower of  dharma and one who has suffered a lot. What work are you planning to take up?' Yudhisthira says that he plans to work as an assistant in the court of Virata. 'I will go as Kanka, a brahmin and a good friend of Yudhisthira, skilled in the game of dice! He will be pleased to see my specially made, bejewelled dice.'

Bheema plans to go as 'Ballava', a cook and a general handyman, 'I will please the king with  my special skills in cooking by making dishes better than he has ever tasted. Become useful by collecting plenty of wood. Also work as his body guard if required. If  asked, I will say I was performing these duties for Yudhisthira.'

Arjuna plans to disguise himself as a woman as he feels, as a man, it is difficult to hide the marks of the bow on his shoulder, 'I will spend time in the anthahpura,  teaching women singing and dancing as Brihannale. I will claim that I worked as a servant of Draupadi.' Nakula says he will take care of the horses and Sahadeva the cattle. They both  say they understand and like animals and are skilled in treating their ailments. Draupadi chooses to go as सैरंध्री, a maid servant of  queen Sudheshne and take care of  dressing her hair!

Yudhisthira agrees with their ideas and commands his charioteers to take the chariots to Dwaravati. Tells the maids of Draupadi, the cooks and other servants to go to Panchala. He instructs them that if anyone asks they should say that 'We don't know where they have gone, they all left Dwaitavana together.'

Friday, 20 January 2012

A map of Epic India. Mahabharata 87

 It is nice to see the forests of  Dwaita and Kamyaka in a map of  the epic periods. I see no mention of  lake Dwaita in a current map. Worth investigating how many of the lakes mentioned in the epics, are still existing!

It is also interesting to estimate the distances people travelled, walking or on horses and chariots  those days and the time they needed to cover the distances.  Krishna for instance, who lived in Dwaraka,  had to travel about 900 or more kilometres to visit the pandavas.

 It is said that a man used to walking could cover 50 km per day, depending on the terrain. Man on a horse would probably cover about 100 kms. It is more complex when horses were used as they needed to be fed, groomed and so on. Probably a courier would go faster, especially if he changed horses, but it meant that horses were available at certain locations for a rider. Use of Chariots meant that there were level roads or paths which were made and maintained. Amazing that civilisation managed in this manner till the steam engines began a new era in human existence less than 300 years ago.

 Pandavas survived the many tests of living in a forest. They managed to stay as a family. There is mention of many loyal people from Indraprastha joining  and living with them. So they must have made themselves comfortable as they settled down. On an individual level they managed to acquire various astras and boons from their god-fathers! Many stories are incredible. But you start expecting them and even try to accept them.

If you see a program called man,woman, wild on discovery channel, you will appreciate why Savithri and her husband were so worried to be alone in the forest in the night . The couple in the movie who brave the forest find it really hard. Even the lowly mosquitoes become unbearable and it is just the beginning of their problems and the terror they face.

 In the story, by the time Savithri manages to get her husband's life back  from  Yama, it is almost night and they discuss seriously whether to  get back in the night or wait till the morning. Both decisions are fraught with dangers. Then Satyavanta gets seriously worried about how their parents would react if they do not return. They decide to brave the dark.

Then there is the story of a brahmin who requests the pandavas to recover the spindles used to kindle fire from the deer which runs away with the spindles, accidentally stuck to its horns. We  understood why the brahmin becomes so desperate. It was not easy for the man and the woman in the movie to find the right kind of wood and in the right shape for it to work. It took them three hours before they could really get a fire started. Without which they could not, boil the water to purify it or cook the small bird they had killed for their lunch.

 We obviously see an extreme situation, but it did highlight how difficult life was when our technology was primitive and  how lucky we are at present.  It is also time to get worried as we can so easily mess up our world beyond repair. We all know how unforgiving nature really is!

Aryanavasa ends for the pandavas. Mahabharata 86

Yudhisthira becomes calm after hearing the reassuring story of Savithri. They return to Dvaitanvana after a short stay at Kamyaka. Their twelve years of Aranyavasa ends while they are at Dvaitavana.  While at Dvaitavana they face a very serious calamity thanks to a brahmin. Yudhisthira is relaxing with his brothers when a brahmin comes running and makes a request. 'I had hung my अरणि (pieces of wood used for kindling fire) to the tree and it got stuck to the horn of a deer which was rubbing its body against it and it has run away with it. Now I am unable to perform sacrifices to agni. Please  get them back for me!'

The pandavas go chasing the deer and are unable to catch it in spite of shooting many arrows at it. Finally it runs out of their sight. They get very perturbed and tired and take a break under a tree. Nakula, seeking water, climbs a tree and spots a lake a little distance away. Dharmaraja sends him to  bring them water. Nakula reaches the place and as he is about to drink from the lake, a voice from the sky tells him not to dare touch the water. If he really needs to drink, he must first answer a  few questions put to him. Nakula ignores the warning, drinks and immediately falls down dead. As Nakula does not return for a long time, Yudhisthira, worried, sends Sahadeva to check. Sahadeva also ignores the voice from above and meets the same fate. Arjuna goes next, sees his two brothers dead, starts shooting arrows  at the voice which forbids him from drinking water.  He is unable to do any damage. Tired and thirsty takes a drink and falls down dead. It is then the turn of Bheema to die the same way as his brothers.

 Finally Yudhisthira goes and discovers the bodies of his dead brothers and is confused as he notices that they are not injured in any way. He wonders whether kauravas had a hand in it. Anyway he gets into the water to quench his thirst and the voice tells him to stop, 'I am the one who killed the other four and to avoid being the fifth, I suggest you answer a few questions before taking a drink from my lake'. Then a very forbidding looking Yaksha appears from above.  Yudhisthira replies 'Good people will not take things which belong to others, hence I do not desire what is yours, however I do not claim to be very intelligent, but I will try to answer your questions.'

Yaksha: Who is it that who makes the sun rise? Who are the ones going round it? Who gets him to set. Where does he reside?
Yudhisthira: It is Brahma who gets the sun to rise. The devatas go around him. Dharma ensures that the sun sets, Truth is where he resides.

There are many questions which are answered well by Yudhisthira. The answers validate his understanding of dharma and reflect his sense of values and the Yaksha is pleased. The questions seem easy to answer, but not really so.

Yaksha asks Yudhisthira  'What is it that  when relinquished,  makes you a pleasant person? When you forgo this, you are not unhappy, what is it? What is that when you give up, you become rich? And by forsaking this you become happy? 

I let you think of your own answers to these riddles!

Finally Yaksha very pleased, asks Yudhisthira to choose one of brothers who would be given his life back. Yudhisthira picks Nakula and the reason why he chose Nakula so impresses the yaksha that he gives life back to all the brothers.  

As one can easily guess, it is Dharma,  father of Yudhisthira who came down to meet his son and also test him.  

A very happy Dharmadeva offers Yudhisthira a boon. Yudhisthira requests that the pieces of wood needed by the brahmin be given back. Yudhisthira, offered another boon,  requests that  they will not be discovered when they live incognito for the next one year. Dharma bestows this boon and asks Yudhisthira to seek one more! Yudhisthira requests that he be given the ability to overcome greed, anger and desire and that his mind is able to concentrate on tapas, generosity and truth. Dharma blesses him and says that 'You already have these qualities!' and disappears from their view.

As I read though the questions and answers, it was an abridged one in vachana bharatha, it focused on the expected qualities of  brahmins and khsatriyas, only two out of the four varnas. I wonder why? I am not sure if the OBC's were ever classified as such during the epic period.  Is Varna in the present day social structure irrelevant? Apparently not! I suppose I am trying to open a pandora's box!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Yudhisthira gets to hear another story by the rishi. Mahabharata 85

In the ancient times  news spread mostly through eagerly awaited merchants and pilgrims. Also from the messengers of the kings and  his warriors. Poeple also had the privilege of divine service through visits of sage Narada and an occasional अशरीरवाणी. (Unseen voice from above). Importantly most rishis were blessed with a special inner vision (ज्ञानचक्षुस्!) and it seems they loved to tell stories. I am sure most kannda students would have read the story of sati Savithri:

Yudhisthira reacts to  the story of  Rama  'Maharshi! It is not for myself or my brothers that I feel sad. But  feel terrible when I see Draupadi. She is the one who managed to get us released after I had lost everything in gambling. And she had the most terrible experience at the sabha. Then she  faced ill treatment, here in this forest, when Jayadratha  forcibly dragged her away! I have not seen or heard of any other Pativrata and a woman of  good conduct, who had to go through such tough times!'  But the great Rishi says 'Yes there is one!' and tells them the story of Savithri.

In  Madra desha  lived a king Ashwapathi; popular, truthful and a follower of dharma. But alas he had no children. Seeking offspring, he observed very severe holy practices and performed thousands of homa  to supplicate goddess Savithri. After eighteen long years the goddess appeared and said 'I have come to you after speaking to god Brahma and he has decided to bless you with the most radiant daughter!'  and disappeared.

In good time, the queen gave birth to a daughter and they named her Savithri. She grew up to become the most radiant and beautiful girl possible and shone like a golden doll! People mistook her to be a deva kanya (a goddess!). Perhaps, because of her divine radiance  men hesitated to marry her. Her father getting worried tells her 'My dear it is time for you to marry. But no one has come forward seeking for your hand in marriage. I suggest that you go and look for a husband on your own. I will  get you married to the man of your choice.' 

Savithri leaves home in the company of elderly ministers in a golden chariot. She visits many places and is blessed by many raja rishis and finally she returns home.  She meets her father and the sage Narada, who is there on a visit and seeks their blessings. Narada asks the king 'Maharaja! Where did your daughter go and why is she still not married?'. The king replies 'I had sent her for the same reason, let us hear what she has to say, whether she has found anyone to marry!'

Savihri tells  them about her efforts to find  a husband: 'In  Salva desha, king Dhyumyatsena ruled by following dharma. Unfortunately he lost his eyes and his old enemy from the neighbouring state grabbed his kingdom and the blind king went to the forest and began to perform a penance. His son grew up in the forest, his name is Satyavanta (the truthful one!). I like him and I think he is the right match for me!'

Narada appears worried  but tells the king that Satyavantha is suitable in all respects, radiant like the sun, wise like the Brihaspati, patient like the earth and valiant like Indra; 'He is also very generous, handsome, a good friend, without jealousy and has all the good qualities, but he has one serious defect. He destined to die exactly one year from now!'

Aghast King Ashwapathi  advises his daughter to go and seek another, but the daughter tells him that she has already chosen and does not want to change her mind and is ready to face the consequences.  Narada recognising her resolve advises the king that marriage seems to be the only option left and suggests that he get her married to Satyavantha.

Savithri is married and goes to live with her husband  and his parents in the forest. She relinquishes her fine clothes and jewellery and is content to wear saffron coloured cotton clothes. She devotes all her time taking care of his parents as a dutiful daughter-in-law and her husband. She is soft spoken and agreeable. While busy with her duties, her mind is constantly preoccupied as she keeps count of the number of days gone by. As the predicted day of death nears and only four days are left, she undertakes the most austere religious practises, which worries her father-in-law due to its severity. 

On the day of his forecasted death, she seeks permission to join her husband as he leaves home to collect firewood. It is the first time she has stepped out into the forest and while she manages to appear happy with the walk her mind is full of trepidation. The couple collect some fruits and Satyavantha begins to split wood and starts sweating. Suddenly he is not even able to stand and tells Savithri that he is very tired and he needs to sleep. Savithri supports him and then takes his head on her lap. As she realises that the time has come, she sees a well built man, radiant like the sun, dark skinned and with red eyes standing near her husband and terror strikes her heart. She gently keeps the head of Satyavanta on the ground and springs up with alacrity with  her heart palpitating, addresses the man  with folded hands 'Swami, you must be a devata. Please tell me who  you are and what is your purpose?'

The man replies 'Savithri! You are a Pativrata and  a  tapaswini. So I will reply. I am Yama.  Your husbands duration of life has ended. I have come to take it away. As he is a good man, I have come personally come to collect his जीवा'. He then pulls the thumb sized life from Satyavantha's body and ties it up with a rope. Satyavantha body becomes still as Yama walks towards south with the life tied to the rope.

Savithri follows Yama in despair. She is able to do it as she is a pativrata and because of the merits she acquired through her observations of various rituals. Yama asks her to go back and take care of her husband's last rites and that her obligation as a wife has ended! She replies that it is her dharma to go wherever her husband goes or takes her. And she does not want to reliquish her dharma. She speaks to Yama as if she is talking to a friend and convinces him that she  has no other alternative but to follow him. Yama is pleased with her arguments and the way it is presented and asks her seek a boon except her husband's life.

She asks for the restoration of her father-in-law's sight. Yama gives her this boon and tells her that she is looking tired and asks her to return. But Savithri does not go back and continues to engage him in a conversation. Pleased with her ways and her understanding of dharma, he bestows her with many more boons. She thus manages to get her father-in-law's kingdom restored, her father blessed with a hundred sons and also hundred sons for herself. Finally the life of Satyavanta itself and a life with him for four hundred years.

The resurrected Satyavahana and Savithri walk the forest in the night and return home to the worried but happy parents. And in time all the boons bestowed on them come true. Rishi Markendeya concludes the story and tells Yudhithira that 'Draupadi like Savithri will  bring you luck and end your troubles!'

Recently I saw a show 'swar kathopanishad'  about how Nachiketa meets Yama  in Yamalokha and learns the way one can come out of the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth. Now it is about Savithri who mangaes to postpone the inevitable by speaking intelligently and sweetly to Yamaraja.

In the present, we do hear about people who had near death experience!  There is no mention of meeting the powerful and the dark god of death, but interesting none the less. Here is what the International Association for Near Death Studies has to say:

  • No two experiences are identical and no single feature is found in every NDE.5
  • The most commonly reported type of NDE involves intense feelings of peace, joy and love, often an encounter with an unconditionally loving light.
  • Harrowing experiences are sometimes reported involving similar common elements but with opposite emotional states—extreme fear, isolation, non-being, confusion, occasional torment or guilt.

  • Sunday, 15 January 2012

    Draupadi is abducted and is then rescued immediately. Mahabharata 84

    One day Yudhisthira has a dream. The animals of the Dvaitavana forest plead with him to spare them from being killed. He decides to move to Kamyaka forest.

    The decision by Dharmaraja to move to a new location made me practically sit up. Surely talk of wild animals being in  threat of becoming extinct would be non-existent in Mahabharata times. In fact, humans living in forests were probably under a greater threat!  We also hear about ashramas of great rishis wherein wild animals lived in harmony with domesticated animals. But the fact a khsatriya heeds a message received through a dream indicates a level of awareness which seems to be missing now.

    Times have now changed dramatically. We visited Kanha National park  28  years ago and were extremely fortunate to see a tiger on the third day of our stay. And saw just one bison and some deer including a black buck and of course lots of monkeys.  The normally tolerated  monkeys have been killed to save crop in HimachalChief Wild Life Warden A K Gulati informed that 259 permits were issued and 15 monkeys were shot from November to December 15, 2010.  There are stories of  leopard attacks and elephants raiding farms in some parts of India and of being counter attacked with vengeance by the affected people.

    The animal rights activisits continue protesting and there are many conservation movements afoot to save naure, wild life! The most visible action of saving wild life is the much flaunted project tiger.  I remember being told by project officer in MP during our Kanha visit that there were about 3000 tigers in India. The latest numbers are much lower at 1411 individuals (2008 census)!  Obviously tigers did not appear in the dreams of people that matter. If at all, they may be the subject of day dreams of poachers intent on making money.

    The Indian tiger population at the turn of the 20th century was estimated at 20,000 to 40,000 individuals. The first country-wide tiger census conducted in 1995 estimated the population to comprise a little more than 1,800 individuals.[1] In 1973, the project was launched in Palamau Tiger Reserve, and various tiger reserves were created in the country based on a 'core-buffer' strategy. (wikipedia)

    Typically we also discover things about the project which is not flattering to us, actually a bloody shame : Global organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) contributed much funding to Project Tiger. Eventually, however, it was discovered that the project's field directors had been manipulating tiger census numbers in order to encourage more financial support. In fact, the numbers were so exaggerated as to be biologically impossible in some cases. In addition, Project Tiger's efforts were damaged by poaching, as well as the Sariska debacle and the latest Namdapha tragedy, both of which were reported extensively in the Indian media.

    But it is good to see a movement for  Animal rights in the world, which Yudhisthira instinctively understood. A movement, also known as animal liberation, is the idea that the most basic interests of non-human animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings. As I read about these efforts, I develop a little more respect for Yudhhisthira!

    Pandavas now in Kamyaka vana, go hunting one day, leaving Draupadi all be herself. It transpires that the king Jayadratha of Sauvira and Sindhu, sees Draupadi and is smitten! Being a king, he refuses to accept her rejection of his overtures and abducts her by force. Pandavas luckily arrive in time and go after him. Jayadratha seeing them releases Draupadi and speeds away. But Pandavas chase, catch and teach him a lesson of his life. They do not take his life, as Yudhisthira tells Bhima and Arjuna 'He is the husband of Dhushala, so he is one of us! Do not kill him!' Bhima and Arjuna let him go only on the condition that he tells the world that he is a slave of pandavas.

    The rishi Markandeya tries to console Yudhisthira and by telling him the story of Rama and his suffering when Sita was abducted and how he was helped by monkeys and a bear. He tells Yudhisthira 'When compared to Rama you are much better off''.

    Friday, 13 January 2012

    Duryodhana performs an Yagna. Mahabharata 83

    Duryodhana stops brooding and wishes to perform Rajasuya yaga. Karna is very enthusiastically supportive. 'All the kings are already under your control, all we have to do is to get the purohits to prepare for the yagna!'  The priests have a problem with that. 'As Yudhisthira and your father are both living, it will go against the shastras'. They give him an alternative. 'Vaishanva mahayagna is equal to Rajasuya. Let the kings contribute in the form of gold for the yagna. You can use this gold to make a plough to prepare the yagna bhumi'. Duryodhna agrees to the suggestion and preparations are made and invitations sent to the kings and brahmins.

    As messengers leave to give invitations, Dussasana tells them 'Go and invite the पापि (wicked)  pandavas'. They go and invite Yudhisthira, who expresses his pleasure that an yagna is planned but says that they unable to attend as they are bound by their oath . Bheema is not too pleased with Yudhisthira's response, 'Tell them we will undertake a  रण (battle) yagna after thirteen years and throw you in the fire first!'. The rest of the pandavas maintain silence.

    Duryodhana performed the yagna with a lot of enthusiasm, Vidura was given the responsibility to take care of the hospitality of the invitees and the event was a success. While most were pleased, there were some who thought that it was no match to the yaaga that was performed by Yudhisthira.

    Karna congratulated his king and expressed a wish that 'It is my desire to be around  to serve you when you perform the rajasuya  after killing the pandavas'. Duryodhana enormously pleased embraces his friend and says 'It will happen, but I don't know when!' Karna on hearing this says 'Maharaja! I will not wash my feet till this happens. It is my oath!' The pandavas get to hear this oath and are worried!

    Thursday, 12 January 2012

    Duryodhana says he rather die, Mahabharata 82

     A very depressed Duryodhana halts on the way to Hastinapura. Karna arrives and mistakenly congratulates Duryodhana and says that he had to retreat as he was beaten very badly by the gandharvas. This depresses Duryodhana further and he tells Karna the story of his defeat and the insult to his injury he faced as it was  Arjuna  who rescued him. He decides to stay back and observe प्रायोपवेशन (fast until death!). Karna and Sakuni try to dissaude him and say that it was pandavas duty as his subjects.  But Duryodhana is adamant. They again argue that he can see the end of pandavas after thirteen years and Karna takes a oath that he would kill Arjuna in the war and take others as Duryodhanas' captive. This promise mollifies Duryodhana and they return to Hastinapura.

    My mind goes back thier life in the forest. I have not seen the TV series Mahabharata and a few episodes I did see were not about Aranyaparava. As I wondered how aranyaprava was depicted by our movie makers, I chanced on a movie Apocalypto produced by Mel Gibson. In fact, I saw the last 40 dramatic minutes of the movie on cable. It was facinating! The Mayan aranya gave me a feel of what pandavas would have experienced. Then thanks to technology I saw the whole movie on my computer.

    While the Mayan civilisation withered away more than 1000 years ago, we have done better. The two clips below are meant for people like me who have not seen the movie. The movie drew some heavy criticism for the pundits for not being true to known facts about Mayan history. (Though it gave rise to awe-inspiring architecture and surprisingly advanced science, the Maya civilization—which thrived in what are now Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras—began declining around A.D. 800 (map of Central and North America). Archaeological evidence points to a multitude of factors that could have led to this decline, including internecine warfare, the loss of trade routes, drought, and disease.

     While one can imagine that the brutality of a hand to hand combat would be no different, our civilisation has largely managed to eschew human sacrifice. At least there is no mention of these practises so far in Mahabharata. While the forest in the movie appears more dense, pandavas lived in  forests which were maintained, closer to other humans, except perhaps when they went on a Teerthayatra.

    Friday, 6 January 2012

    Duryodhana's misadventure in the forest. Mahabharata 81

    It is clear that celestial gods were truly in favour of the pandavas. While in our times, the kaliyuga, gods work in inscrutable ways, behind the scenes, during Mahabhrata times their actions were very direct and visible.

    Duryodhana and his retinue reach the village and set up camp in a scenic spot, well shaded and where water is easily accessible.  They inspect and take a count of the cattle. Later the gopalakas, men and women, dress up for the festivities and entertain the visitors with dance and music. Duryodhana rewards them generously.

    Kauravas then go hunting and on excursions enjoying the sights of the very scenic and beautiful parts of the forest, full of flowers and dancing peacocks. Finally they approach  Dvaitavana lake with full regal pomp and splendour. The sevants go ahead to prepare the place for the royals and are stopped by the gandharvas and sent back. In reply Duryodhana's soldiers confront the gandharvas and command them to vacate. Gandharvas laugh at the soldiers and tell them they are devatas and are not obliged to listen and mock at them, 'Neither you nor your king seem to have any sense, run back if you value your lives'. Duryodhana on hearing this gets very angry and orders his soldiers to go and punish them and that he does not care even if god Indra is there with them.

    The soldiers go back and attack as ordered and unable bear the onslaught of the gandharvas, take flight and scatter. Then Duryodhana, Sakuni and Karna engage the gandharvas and fight with great valour and gain an upper hand. Gandhravas facing defeat switch to maya yuddha (illusory war), Karna is badly beaten and absconds in his chariot. Duryodhana and Dussasana are captured.

    Kaurava soldiers and the camp followers go to Yudisthira and plead for help. Bheema reacts to their request with, 'The gandharvas did what we should have done and the kauravas have been punished for their adharma!'. Yudhisthira thinks differently. 'Bheema! This is not the time for harsh words. We cannot ignore a plea for help. In any case they are our relatives and it is an insult to  our kula(clan) if  Duryodhana and his women are dragged away in this manner. Use kauravas' chariots and charioteers and secure their release. Let Duryodhana spend the rest of his life, with the thought that he is alive because of your strength. Nothing is better than the feeling that he is forever obliged to you.'

    Arjuna and Bheema then go and demand that kauravas be realeased, but the gandharvas refuse! Arjuna launches an attack on the gandhravas with a shower of arrows and gandharvas unable to face the superior pandava jump to the sky and fight, but fail to stop him. The gandharvas then become invisible and continue the fight. But Arjuna making use of his शब्दवेध (sound sensor) skills is still able to attack them. At this point king Chitrasena becomes visible and announces 'Arjuna I am your friend Chitrasena'. Seeing his friend Arjuna stops the stream of arrows.

    Chitrasena tells Arjuna that they were sent by god Indra to fight Duryodhana and briefs them of his real intentions in coming to Dvaitavana and says they are taking Duryodhana captive as instructed by Indra. Arjuna tells Chitrasena that they are brothers of Duryodhana and are also ordered by Yudhisthira to get them released. Chitrasena advises Arjuna 'It is not wise to release these evil people, but if it is the wish of Yudhisthira, so be it!' and releases his captors.

    Yudhisthira offers gandharvas due hospitality and bids them a thankful farewell. Then advises Duryodhana not to attempt such misadventures and urges him to go back without  nursing any ill-feelings. Duryodhana leaves  with a lowered head and a heavy heart.