Monday, 30 April 2012

Third day of the war. Mahabharata 138

On the third day of the war, Bheeshma chooses the eagle formation and  stations himself at the beak. Pandavas answer with a half moon formation! Initially Arjuna has the upper hand and the kauravas retreat. Duryodhana, upset approaches Bheeshma and criticises him, 'Grandfather, being partial to pandavas, you and drona are not fighting enough considering your abilities.'  This angers Bheeshma 'Hey! I told you a number of times, for your own good, that pandavas are unbeatable! That is the truth! I am doing  as  best as I can as an old man!'  But stung by the remark he stands firm and manages to scatter the pandava army. Arjuna confronts his grandfather but is unable to shake him. Bheeshma continues to shower arrows and pick the pandava soldiers at will and kill them.

Krishna sees this and thinks that Arjuna, forgetting his duty is acting soft in spite of loosing so many of his men, decides to kill Bheeshma and reduce the burden on pandavas. He walks towards Bheeshma with his chakra in readiness. Bheeshma  seeing this, welcomes him, 'It is an honor to be defeated by you. If you kill me I am ensured of a place beyond'. Arjuna jumps out of the chariot, tries to stop Krishna by holding his arms, but Krishna does not stop and drags him  along like a Storm dragging the trees in its path. Then Arjuna holds on to Krishna's legs, but is not able to stop him for another ten steps. Finally Krishna stops and Arjuna pleads with him, 'Do not be angry Krishna! If you forsake us, who is there for us! I take a vow in the name of my brothers and children. I will not hold back. I will destroy the kauravs'. Krishna is satisfied with this promise and returns to the chariot still holding his weapon is readiness. He blows on his conch 'Panchajanya'. There is an immediate difference in Arjuna and his arrows fill the air in all directions and the day belongs to Arjuna. As Bheeshma, Drona, Duryodhana and others retreat unable to face this barrage of arrows, the sun sets and the war is stopped. 

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The war! Mahabharata 137

After his dialogue with Krishna, Arjuna is ready to fight.  Yudhisthira  meets Bheeshma, Drona and other gurus and receives their blessings and is praised by all the rajas for his devotion and concern for elders and is now prepared.

There is again a small variation in detail between versions.
Yudhisthira walks towards Bheeshma, does not explain to his confused brothers the reason why, and the enemy army becomes quiet and watchful. They think Yudhisthira is approaching Bheeshma to surrender! He falls at Bheeshma's feet and seeks permission 'Grand father, I am waging a war against you! Please permit me and bless me!'  Bheeshma is happy, 'Yudhisthira, I am glad you came, if not,  you would have been cursed and would have lost the war. I permit you to fight. Fight and be victorious. You can ask me anything, but do not ask me to stop the war. I am obliged to fight the war along with kauravas, but you are assured of victory!' 

In the same manner, Yudhisthira prostrates before Drona and is blessed by his guru. Drona says 'I give you permission,  with Krishna as your mantri, your victory is assured.'  Dharmaraja has one question, 'Acharya, how do we win against you?'  Drona reponds, 'As long as I am fighting you have no hope of a victory! So you and your brothers must plan to kill me very quickly'.

Yudhisthira then asks, 'Acharya then please tell me the way we can do this, I beg you to tell me with folded hands!'  Drona suggests, 'I do not think anyone can kill me while I am fighting. The only way is to kill me when I drop my weapons and sit still. For me to give up my weapons  in a war, I should hear a very unpleasant news from someone I totally trust.' Yudhisthira also meets Kripa and Shalya and gets thier blessings and permission. Shalya remembers the promise he had given Yudhisthira and tells him that he will try to demoralise Karna as promised....

To signal the beginning of the war, conches are sounded and drum are beat. Dussasana begins the attack as Bheeshma leads  them from the front. Pandavas counter attack with Bheema in the lead. They fight relentlessly, forgetting relationships and earlier friendships. By afternoon Uttara is killed while in combat with Shalya. Bheeshma radiant like the afternoon sun, showers arrows continuously without stopping from his bow. Pandavas' army scatters unable to face this incessant stream of arrows. They scream in pain and distress. By that time, the sun sets and it becomes dark and the combat is stopped due to lack of visibility.

The second day, the combat begins again in the morning, Dhristadyumna sets the formation of 'Krauncha'  a heron and installs Arjuna as its leader in front. Arjuna engages Bheeshma, Dhirstadyumna attacks Drona and Bheema  kills the king of Kalinga. As kaurava army withdraws with exhaustion by evening, the second day of war ends.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Different aspects of Vishwaroopa. Mahabharata 136

While vachana bharata has just couple of words to describe Vishwaroopa, Kamala's version has more.
Arjuna says: 'I desire to see your divine form, if you think I am fit enough to behold it.'  Krishna grants him divine eyes and reveals his divine form. Like the splendour of a thousand suns, the splendour of the mighty one was seen by Arjuna. He beheld the entire universe with all its myriad manifestations all gathered together in one. Arjuna salutes with pressed palms and says, "Lord of lords! In thy body I see all the gods and all the varied hosts of beings as well. I see brahma and all the rishis. You are infinite in form. There is no beginning or middle or end. You are a glowing mass of light. You are the imperishable, the supreme that has to be realised. You are the home for the entire universe. You are the guardian of the entire law. You are the primal being. Your eyes are the sun and moon, and your face is glowing with the radiance of fire, this universe is being devoured by the fire that is you. By the thee are filled the inter-spaces of heaven and earth and the sky. Looking at you the world trembles and so do I'. ......

Vishwaroopa  darshana being dealt with just a couple of  words in vachana bharata  is not surprising. The vachana focuses on the story. While the concept of Atma is implicit, awareness of the world around you is intrinsic. We have a 'darshana' every moment of our life. What we make out of it is dependent on so many factors. While the sky is more or less the same, earth below has changed dramatically since Mahabharata times.

We see more of the universe  now thanks to science and technology. We even have the power, thanks to the nuclear bombs,  to wreak havoc on earth, equaling the devastation wrought by the angry gods.  What the rishis could imagine or see with their special vision and intelligence is now  partly available to many, thanks to the pictures from the hubble telescope or a highly powerful  microscope. It is not that the scientist can explain everything about the universe with the certitude of a rishi, but we know that it is larger than we ever thought, more complex and certainly more confusing!  At the same time, there are multitudes of us, who are still limited to the vision of the vishwaroopa darshan that sage vysasa described and are impressed and content. A lot more have no clue to either of the versions, either of the rishis or of the technology !
Vishwaroopa that Arjuna was shown by Krishna
Today we know the age of the Universe to a much higher precision than before Hubble: around 13.7 billion years.

head of a human flea

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Bhagavad Gita in brief, as in Vachana Bharata. Mahabharata 135

Krishna looks at the teary eyed Arjuna and asks with a laugh 'What happened Arjuna? You appear to talk intelligently, but you express grief for those who do not deserve to be grieved. Those who know, will neither grieve for the dead nor those who are yet to die. You, I and all the kings were existing earlier and will continue to exist in the future. Even if the body falls the atma will continue to exist. As long as this body is alive it passes through the stages of childhood, youth and old age and it passes on ... and then again gains a new body. As we throw our old clothes and wear new ones. Similarly atma leaves old bodies and enters a new one. Which weapon can destroy the atma? In addition, those born must die. Also war is a khsatriya dharma. It is an open door to heaven for the war heroes.  If you do not fight, you forsake your dharma and it is a sin. Also your enemies will speak ill of you.  For an honourable man, a bad name is worse than death. So do what is required to be done, regardless of the results.  One who works with committment is never unhappy, his mind is steady and he will have peace. Without peace will there be happiness?'

'Action is much superior to inaction!  Do you believe that sitting quiet is inaction? No one can avoid action even for a split second. Nature ensures that there is constant action. Even the very learned are under its control. Can you  stop its functioning? To think you can ,is just your ego. You are a khsatriya; rushing eagerly to fight is the true nature of your caste. If you think otherwise it is due to your ignorance. Bound by your nature and your karma, you have to do what you are required to do. It is now the time for destruction. All those here are bound to die, whether you are here or not. We can even say that they are already dead. Look at vishwaroopa, you can see it for yourself.'

'Renunciation is not just avoiding work. Doing your work devoid of expectations is sanyasa. Working without aiming at rewards is sanyasa.  You should not give up work that is ordained. Ishwara sits in everyone's heart turns  everything around like a machine. Have faith and leave it to him. You will have peace of mind. Anyway it is now left you. Do what you think is right!'

The terse pep talk by Krishna is closer to my understanding of  what is needed to overcome the last minute nervousness of a warrior.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Arjuna does not want to kill his kinsmen. Mahabharata 134

Raghu would say, almost challenge, I am waiting to see how you deal with Krishna's 'Gitopadesha!'
It is not difficult as Vachana Bharata, the version I follow, has dealt with it very briefly.

My questions were, once I learnt that Gita was originally enunciated by  Krishna on the first day of the great war, how long did it take him to reveal this gem of  hindu philosophy, called the Upanishad of  Upanishads?  Did Arjuna really grasp it one hearing?  Most would dismiss it as irrelevant questions and a few would claim that it all happened in the blink of an eye and tell me both 'Krishna and Arjuna were not just ordinary humans'. Anyway it was lucky for us that Sanjaya heard and Vyasa divined Bhagavad Gita and included it in Mahabharata.

Before I get back to the Vachana Bharata there are a few nuggets from Kamala's version:
The warriors on either side met and set the rules of the war: The fight should be between equals, two archers, two charioteers and so on. If during the fight if one withdrew he should not be harassed. If one fought with words, he should not be attacked with arrows! Anyone who runs away should not be killed. Charioteers, animals and servants who blow the trumpet or beat the drums should not be attacked.

The night before the war, Vyasa meets Dhritharashtra and offers him eyesight if he wants to see the war and Dhritharashtra declines the offer as he does not want to see his sons die. He would be satisfied if he could hear about it. So Vyasa gifts Sanjaya with ability to see everything that happens in the war. Hear their spoken words and even know their thoughts. 'He will see the battle in the day and relate it to you in the night. He will know no fatigue and exhaustion.' He tells Dhritarashtra that the omens prophesies the death of kauravas and the victory of pandavas, comforts his unhappy son and leaves.

... Yudhisthira sheds his armour and drops his weapons and goes barefoot towards kauravas. Perplexed his brothers follow him. Yudhisthira approaches Bheeshma and seeks his blessings as war is now about to begin. Bheeshma is pleased to bless him and says that the pandavas are assured of a victory. Yudhisthira then goes to his gurus Drona, Kripa  and Salya and is blessed by them as well.

Meanwhile Krishna goes to Radheya with an offer that as he is not fighting along with Bheeshma, he could join pandavas, at least till Bheeshma is killed and then join Duryodhana again. Radheya laughs  and requests Krishna to let him meet his fate with the kauravas. Krishna leaves saddened at the thought that Karna, a great hero, would die in a few days.

Then Yuyutsu one of the brothers of Duryodhana seeks to join pandavas and Yudhisthira welcomes him with the words that there will be at least one son from Kauravas who would perform rites when Dhritarashtra dies. These words spreads gloom amogst the kauravas.

To continue with Vachana Bharata:
Krishna moves the chariot to the centre of Kurukhsetra and Arjuna looks around and spots his grandfather, uncles, cousins and his gurus. Looking at them his heart melts. 'Krishna is it really right to kill my own relatives for the sake of the kingdom?  I do not want it. I will not fight even if I am offered the three worlds. There is no fun in killing your own kin. They are without sense and are greedy and are ready to fight even if it means the destruction of our clan. Should we  be like them? It is a great sin! It is better to live as a beggar than acquire wealth by killing your own elders and teachers. It is better that kauravs kill me!'   Full of sadness, Arjuna then  drops his weapons and sits still!.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Bheeshma parva. Mahabharata 133

The day before the war Duryodhana talks to his commanders about the need to protect Bheeshma and ensure that he is not killed, as he alone is capable of destroying the pandava army. They must aim to kill Shikandi as Bheeshma will not fight him. Accordingly the next day, as Bheeshma  leads the army, he is  surrounded by many valiant warriors in chariots who are not afraid of death, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and a large army of elephants to protect him. 

Pandavas with a smaller army adopt a diamond formation and are lead by Dhristadhyumna  along with Bheema, Nakula and Sahadeva. While Arjuna concentrates  on protecting Bheeshma's enemy Shikandi. 

Early in the morning as the armies face the sun and offer prayers to Surya, a loud thunder is heard and there is lightening, even though the sky is cloudless. There is a strong wind; hailstorm; dust rises and it becomes dark.  The earth shakes and cracks appear. As a dull sun appears over the horizon, a screeching meteor strikes the rising sun.

Duryodhana looks at the pandava sena in formation and worried, goes to Dronacharya and requests, 'Acharya, we have with us, like you, many brave men ready to die, even then I feel we do not have enough strength. Please take extra care to protect Bheeshma.'

Soon Bheeshma's conch is heard and the other warriors blow on their own conch. In reply pandavas, Arjuna and Krishna sound theirs. The sound fills the sky and creates a tremor in kauravs heart. Arjuna expresss a wish to see both the armies and Krishna brings the chariot to the center.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

As the warring factions try to sleep the night before the war! Mahabharata 132

I have no idea how the pandavas or the kauravs spent the night before the war or for that matter the hundreds of thousands of recruited foot soldiers and the volunteers. I do remember reading in one of the chapters of Ramayana that the soldiers would get restless if they were kept idle for too long. That was in treta yuga, and it could be the same in dwapara yuga and I suppose we can ask our army friends whether it is still true in kali yuga! But, I am sure the arms makers will surely be desperate if there is peace on earth for too long.

I began with some questions; 'Why are we so oversensitive? Is it part of our psyche? Do our great epics teach us how to conduct ourselves? How relevant are they today? .....and the answers have to wait!

The story, by itself is strange. Whether it is Ganga throwing her children into the river or Satyavathi having a child by sage Parashara and blessed to be a Virgin again. The plight of Kunti and the boons given her by an (irresponsible?)  rishi Durvasa. The birth of Draupadi. The direct interaction between mortals and gods, apsaras and the rakshas.  The constant visits by Vyasa and Narada, all need explanations which test ones' rational approach to events.

My own approach which began with an incredulous and sarcastic note has seen many changes. I have taken many detours. My basic approach has been of one, who has only heard the stories in bits and is now trying  read it in full. In fact, we may at the end of this blog discover what an untutored, an anpad, will make out of this epic story!

We have numerous examples of  the many beliefs that persist. As I walk around, I discover  temples dedicated to the diverse manifestations of goddess shakti. One takes care of all the summer ailments. Another, you should see the queue in the mornings, where children with diaherria are brought to be blessed. I am told that  they prefer to go there instead of getting medicines from doctors!'

I have a  picked a few comments made in my blogs which illustrates that the answers are not easy.
" wonder if this type of analysis is valid in this age. However, parallels can be seen demonstrating that human nature has not changed but the milieu has.. ..

That was Dwapara Yuga when the hotline between the gods and man was still operating, albeit after 'ghor tapasya'. In Kali Yuga it has been replaced by power lines that connect only mortals. Therefore only 'nasmarana' is effective! But cannot elicit boons ..

Single women wanting to have children is common in Western societies. I read an article about chat groups formed by offspring of a single sperm donor. So the craving for offspring i.e. progressers of lineage is not too strange. Kerala provided a modern example in India! Lysenko postulated the influence of environment on the outcome of pregnancy. Derided outside Soviet Union but may have an iota of truth! ...Raghunath"

 'Why are we so oversensitive?'  The question itself needs to be rephrased. While I try hard at my age to avoid becoming oversensitive, I see that it is mostly a political act! True most of us, the aam admi, are just long suffering Mr. Citizens! Those in power and those who are influential, barring a few exceptions are just overbearing! My friend chandramouli calls them Rakshas. Mahabharata tells us that they could be the new khsatriyas. In fact, many are classified as khsatriyas.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The last day before the great war. Mahabharata 131

While Bheeshma and Karna squabbled in the kaurava camp, Balarama visits the Pandavas. He is not happy that there is to be a war! 'Yudhisthira! It is certain that the appalling destruction of human race is inevitable. It is god's will and no one can escape. I pray and hope that all of you return  unharmed from this war. The entire clan of khsatriyas have assembled.  Soon, the earth will be drenched in blood and littered with severed bodies.

"I have spoken  many times with Krishna .'Both are our relatives. Treat them equally! Help Duryodhana the way you help pandavas.'  But he did not pay heed. Your victory is assured. It is Krishna's decision. As I do not like go against him, I have to agree with his actions. Both Bheema and Duryodhna are my students in the art of warfare using a mace. I like them equally. I do not want to see them fight and witness the annihilation of the kauravas. So, I am going on a pilgrimage to the auspicious places near river saraswati."

Like Balarama Krishna's brother-in-law, Rukmi, upset that neither pandavas nor kauravas showed him respect or gave importance,  does not join either of them.

Interestingly while Balarama accepts that it is god's will, he speaks of his efforts to prevent this war. By now we have come to understand that Krishna has orchestrated a series of events which precludes any possibilty of avoiding the war.

 Before the story takes on a new dimension as it describes the bloody eighteen days of the great war, I  pause to do a recap! I have no memories of reading the story of the war in its full detail. I do know that the war is not always fought as a 'dharma yuddha'. There are many instances adharma practiced during the war.

When I began to write, I had some questions:
Why are we so oversensitive? Is it part of our psyche? Do our great epics teach us how to conduct ourselves? How relevant are they today? I plan to dwell on these questions and others if they have cropped up, before I go into the eighteen days of war and its aftermath.

My reaction to the assertion that Lord Krishna planned this war so as to anhiliate khsatriyas, 'Why did Krishna have to take this extreme  step?'

Monday, 16 April 2012

Bheeshma criticises Karna. Mahabharata 130

Bheeshma elaborates on why he deliberately left Karna out of the list of great warriors! 'Your friend Karna, who is addicted to war, incites you to fight, is an inferior person. He is not  even a complete warrior and definitely not one of the great warriors! He has lost  his natural protection of Kavacha and Kundala. (I missed this episode!). Cursed by Parusharama, he lacks power to use weapons. Due to this curse he is weak and helpless and in my opinion he is just a half -warrior अर्धरथ and is no match to Arjuna in a war and will not return alive.'  Drona agrees with Bheeshma and says that Karna is arrogant, a coward in war and also lacking in judgement.

These comments provoke Karna and  his eyes enlarged in anger, confronts Bheeshma,' Pithamaha, you are speaking against me for no fault of mine. I am tolerating this because of Duryodhana. You consider me weak and contemptible and  I think even you are a half- warrior. Only such, will behave in this manner, criticise one amongst equals and bring a division in them. The greatness of a khsatriya is not due his age, grey hair, wealth or his relatives. A khsatriya is respected for his strength, a brahmin for his ability to cast spells, a vaishya for his wealth and sudra for his age.  With no real knowledge, mostly out of arrogance, anger and jealousy, you have mindlessly decided who is a great warrior and who is not!

Karna turns towards Duryodhana,' Suyodhana, think carefully! Give up this offensive Bheeshma who will bring you only misfortune. Unity, once broken in the army, is not easy to repair. Bheeshma with his limited knowledge of warfare will not be able to stop the pandavas. I will stop them with my arrows. Pandavas unable to face me will scatter like cattle on sighting a tiger. How can Bheeshma, senile and feeble minded, meet the demands of a complex war? But, he thinks there is none equal to him! It is true that we should listen to elders, but not someone who is so old, that he is in his second childhood. I am sure I can defeat the pandavas single-handed, but the credit will go to Bheeshma as the commander in chief and not to the soldier! Hence, I will not fight till this Gangeya is alive. Once he is dead, I will fight with all the great warriors!' 

Bheeshma reacts to the harsh, stinging words from Karna and speaks of his many acts of valor and challenges Karna to fight Arjuna and come back alive. Duryodhana steps in and pacifies them 'Grandfather look at me and think of my welfare! A lot of work is required to be done and we have great expectations from both of you and the war begins tomorrow!'

Mollified, Bheeshma promises to fight all the great warriors and stop them.  But he has some conditions, 'I will not fight Shikandi as he was born as a woman first and I have taken a vow not to kill women since the time I relinquished my kingdom for the sake of my father. And I will not kill Pandavas!'

Friday, 13 April 2012

Krishna returns from Hastinapura. Mahabharata 129

 Krishna returns to the pandava camp and relates the events that transpired at Hastinapura and the various strategies he employed. 'But my efforts at truce or to divide them or scare them with miracles, did not succeed! Duryodhana refused to  give you even five villages. He was rude and walked out from the sabha in anger. It is only the fourth ploy दाण्ड punishment that will now work.. The time of their death is near!'

'They all have moved to Kurukhsetra, an eleven अक्षौहिणी akshohini  sized army (consisting of  240570 elephants, 240570 chariots, 721710 horses and 1202850 foot soldiers) is assembled  and Bheeshma is their commander. It is now time for you to do what is required.'

As war is inevitable, preparations begin. Pandavas appoint seven commanders for their 'seven akshohini' army and Dhristadhyumna is the supreme commander. There is excitement all round. The sound of marching soldiers, neighing  horses and the trumpeting  elephants, the screech of the chariot wheels and the sound of conchs all rent the air. Soon the army moves with the force of river Ganga. Included in the army are vehicles with supplies, shops, weapons and equipment, doctors, physicians and attendants.

As pandava army  reaches  Kurukhsetra, the sky is filled with war-cries, the sound of conchs and the beating of the drums reverberates all across. A level place, dry and soft is chosen for the army to camp. Then the chiefs survey and locate their royal tents near the river Hiranvati and trenches are dug around the tents. The doctors and skilled men are stationed there and it is well stocked with food and drink. Elephants covered with metal armours surround the royal camp and it appears as if the hills are protecting them.

On the other side, Bheeshma, the supreme commander selects eleven commanders, one each for the eleven akshohinis. The army occupies the west side of Kurukhsetra. Bheeshma as senapathi offers prayers to Lord Kumaraswamy, the Senapathi of the Gods.

Bheeshma then speaks encouragingly to Duryodhana, 'Maharaja, I have accepted the position of senapathi. I will use both the soldiers who are paid, as also the volunteers very effectively. I  will create formations which will amaze the enemies and I will protect your army and fight with total committment, hence do not worry!'

Duryodhana responds, 'Grandfather, it is in my nature not to be afraid of anyone, even devas and asuras. Now with you as the commander and guru Drona on my side I have nothing to fear. With such great men on my side, our victory is assured. I am interested to know according to you who are all the great warriors on both sides! You know them all very  well and it is my desire to know about them!'

Bheeshma lists them out and surprisingly Karna is not amongst them!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Kunti and Karna after their moment as mother and son, part ways. Mahabharata 128

The moment passes, Karna wakes up and thanks Kunti 'I thank you  mother for this moment, I do not know if it was a  क्षण (second) or hours. I have been so happy. It is time to get up from this sleep of peace. What is the boon you want from Radheya?'

Kunti implores, 'Not Radheya! You are Kaunteya, my first son!'  Karna full of anguish tells her, 'Mother, I would love to be called a Kaunteya, but I am proud of my parents and will  remain a Radeya till my death. Can you not see how unhappy I am? Please tell me the boon you want from me!'

Kunti more or less repeats what Krishna had said and invites Karna 'Come with me to join pandavas and gladden my heart. That is the  boon I want from you!'  Karna, his eyes bright with unshed tears says, 'Within two days two noble people have offered me the world!....'  Kunti echoes, 'Yes, you will be the lord of the world. You will no longer be a sutaputra!' .....A voice from above is heard. His father Surya urges him 'Listen to your mother son! I beseech you! Do as she says and live long!'

Radheya hears all this and is unmoved, looks at Kunti, 'Mother, if you only knew how angry I was with my unknown mother all these years! Now looking at you, my anger and my bitterness has vanished like to melting snow in a desert. I feel infinite sadness.' Radheya and Kunti embrace each other again and again as the sun smiles at them.

The outcome of the conversation between Karna and Kunti is the same. But Karna is seen to be more emotional and confused, unable to deal with his new found identity and his longing for the family he had learnt to hate! He tells his mother that he will not desert Duryodhana even though he yearns to be part of the pandava family. He promises her that he will not kill his four brothers, except that he has to fight Arjuna.

'Either way you will have five sons! Go back home, my beloved mother.'  Kunti's frame was racked by her sobs. She had found her son and lost him too! Radheya helps Kunti, who has  become so weak with anguish, to stand. They embrace again and Kunti walks away with slow hesitant steps. Radheya stood there, rooted to the spot, long after she had vanished from his sight.

My friend Raghu tells me 'Karna is the epitome of Mahabharata, hence, a subject of numerous interpretations each more poignant than the other. He should be analysed separately in your blogs.'
While Kamala's version is very appealing, I prefer the stoic image of Karna created in Vachana Bharata. I guess as Raghu sugested Karna requires a deeper analysis!
My focus has been on Kunti and this episode brings me back to what my friend, Raji K clarified  on FB:
''s not about mother but motherhood....we have so many mothers...i have a great day i might also be a mother...but motherhood and realization are dad used to tell us..."if a mother is really a mother, she should have same love for all children, how can it be only her son or daughter be so special for her, it's just biological instinct.....i think my dad is right....'

Kunti does personify 'Motherhood' if you look at the way she handled the five brothers and kept them together against all odds! But she manages to blank out any feelings for Karna from her mind. I suppose her life has been even more complex. I quote from my  own introduction made earlier:

'Took a look at what others had to say about the story of Kunti. Why was she given such a raw deal?
Father sends her away, his first child, to Kunti Bhoja for adoption!
Her adopted father deputes her to serve the most short tempered difficult rishi.
No mention of her adopted mother! What was she doing?
And Durvasa gives her a boon with no advice on, when to use it!
And no user caution on the dangers if used unwisely.'

Her married life is nothing to write home about! Her husband Pandu seems to be on perpetual expeditions. He also marries Madri almost immediately. Her husband unable to beget offspring due to a self-inflicted curse, lives the life of an ascetic. Then coaxes her to have sons through the help of others!

 The only quality that appears to be dominant in her personality is her sense of duty. Not surprising considering that while she chose Pandu at a swayamvara, probably there was no real love between them for whatever reason. We know that Kunti went through a trauma in her puberty and would have surely made an impact on her personality. We can only guess that Pandu was a typical khsatriya. While romantic love cannot be ruled out in those times, Kunti surely had little to do with it.

Anyway those were the times, when the expectation from a woman was different. Limited to being a mother of many children, preferably sons! Self fulfilment for women was millenniums away.

Kunti and Karna again. Mahabharata 127

It seems I am unable to leave the story of Kunti! The powerful bond between a mother and child is self-evident and speaking about it is treated as a cliche, but it is never so for the person who is experiencing it.  As I thought about the obvious lack of bonding between Karna and Kunti when they met, I saw this posted on FB by friend Raji K: 'my longing for a mother within me made me see the goddess.....' . Obviously the need for a mother is very strong!

In fact, Karna had wonderful foster parents and his problems began only because he was very different from them, his appearance, needs and ambitions! His desire to know his real parents must have been strong. But by the time he got to know it was too late! Actually being told of his origin by Krishna was not for his benefit!

I go back to the story to give you a glimpse of how author Kamala, a woman, viewed it.  As soon as Kunti concludes that the greatest threat for pandavas is from Karna, she walks to meet Karna. She hopes to win him over to the side of Yudhisthira. 'I will tell him he is the brother of pandavas. I will ask for a boon. I am his mother! He is a noble man and will not refuse his mother.'

She sees Karna arms uplifted, eyes closed, his face towards the sun. She stands behind him and as the rays were too sharp, she takes shelter under his upper cloth and waits. In time, Karna turns round and is surprised to see a woman taking shelter behind him. She appears wilted like a wreath of lotus blossoms. He makes her sit down, introduces himself as Radheya and asks her with a lot of concern, 'You seem to be unused to hardships. I usually grant boons at this time of the day. Let me know what I should do?'

Kunti looks at him again and again. Her eyes are full of tears and the tears soak her clothes. Karna waits for her patiently to speak. Finally she speaks, 'You may or may not know me. I have come to ask for a boon!'  Karna looks at her for a long moment, 'I do not know you, but I feel as though I have known you all my life.' Then suddenly he shouts, 'I know you. You are the woman in my dreams!'

Karna then tells her the story of his life, that his real mother abandoned him at birth and all about his dream. "It was always the same dream. She would bend over me, hot tears from her eyes would burn me. I would ask, who are you and why are you crying? She would reply, 'I cry because of the injustice I have done to you. I long for you but you can never be mine!'......... As I reached for her and tried to raise her veil, she would  vanish like a startled ghost. As years passed, the dream would haunt me only once in a while and gradually the dream stopped. I think she had other children and did not think of me! You look very much like the dream mother of mine. Who are you and what do you want?"

Kunti after a long pause, 'Yes you are right, I am your dream woman, your mother'. They look at each other and in a moment they are in each others arms. Kunti's tears drench Radheya. Radheya then looks at her and tells her, 'If you only knew how much I longed for this moment! Mother why did you stay away from me so long! Yes mother, I know who I am. I know I was born to you and the sun. I know you were afraid to keep me and threw me into the river.'

Kunti is amazed, 'I did not dream that you knew. When did you know and knowing this why did you not come to me? Why did you wait for me to come to you?'  Radheya looks at her intently and tells her that he leant of this only the day before from Krishna. Karna does not want to talk anymore. 'I just wants to keep my head on your lap and be silent.'  He places his head on her lap and closes his eyes. She had found her long-lost son and he had found his mother. It was a sacred moment. For those moments they were happy!


Saturday, 7 April 2012

Kunti waits for Karna in the mid day sun! Mahabharata 126

My last blog had links to a few versions of the story of Kunti that exists in the world wide web and there are quite a few on the net. Some do have special insights! One dwells on the relationship that could have existed between sisters-in-law, Gandhari and Kunti. Especially when Kunti goes back to Hastinapura as a widow. Another deals with Kunti and Madri and their life with Pandu in the forest. Some go back deeper into our mythology, tell us why sage Durvasa gave such a strange boon to an young unmarried girl. He foresaw the future! Some are totally absurd! There is one wherein Krishna and Tiger Woods are compared. Both are dark skinned and....! Time to get back to Vachana Bharata!
Samhita's imagination! The blazing Sun as a witness!

After Krishna's departure, Kunti realising that the war is inevitable worries about her children. 'What is the meaning of a victory when relatives kill each other? I am scared of just three, Bhishma, Drona and Karna. Bhishma is fond of the pandavas, Drona likes them as they are his disciples, I feel they would not attack pandavas. It is only Karna, who follows Duryodhana blindly and hates pandavas is creating anguish in my heart'. She then decides to meet Karna, try and convince  him to switch his allegiance and join pandavas.

She reaches river Ganga and sees Karna performing his noon prayers. Unable to bear the direct sun, she covers her head and waits for him. Karna turns round after his prayer and sees Kunti and introduces himself, 'Karna, son of Radha and Athiratha salutes you! Why are you here ತಾಯೀ! What can I do for you?' (Elderly women are addressed as mother!)

Kunti who has been waiting for long begins without a preamble, 'Karna! You are Kaunteya, not Radheya. Atiratha is not your father, you are my कानीन son, child of my youthful days. Lord Surya is your father. You are unknowingly serving kauravs instead of being with your brothers. Join them and enjoy the kingdom which Arjuna had won and is now with the kauravas! Let kauravas see the friendship between you and Arjuna. If you two are together there is nothing impossible for you in this world. It is the duty of children to please the parents!'

Karna is equally direct, 'Amma! You are a khsatirya lady, hence I cannot disbelieve you. It may be dharma to accept your proposals. But you abandoned me and my status is low. Even though born a khsatriya, I could not enjoy the benefits of being  brought up as one. Who else but an enemy would behave in this unjust manner? You did not show compassion when it was required. You did not act like a mother then, but now out of selfishness you are here to tell me that you are my mother. If I join pandavas now, people will say that I joined them out of fear. Having never mentioned the existence of any brothers, what will khsatriyas say if I speak about them when a war is imminent? Kauravas have fulfilled many of my desires, shown respect, shared their wealth and have taken care of me all this while. Should all this become useless? Shall I disappoint them while they are really hoping that I would defeat their enemies even at the cost of my life? It is the time for the subjects of Duryodhana to pledge their life without a second thought. If I betray my patron now, who has cared for me, during his time of need, it is a great sin! Because of all this, I will fight your sons with all my might.'

'But your visit should not go waste. While your children deserve to be killed, I will not kill Yudhisthira, Bheema, Nakula and Sahadeva. There is bound to be a fight between me and Arjuna. If I kill him, my purpose is served. If he kills me I will have fame and you will have not lost your five children!.'

Kunti is saddened by Karna's curt words, stern and hard hearted, she then embraces him,' Karna, so be it. It seems gods have willed the annihilation of kauravas. Do not forget the assurances you have given me about your four brothers. I wish you well!'  Karna touches her feet and they go their separate ways!

Kunti meets Karna for the first time!


Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The story of Kunti. Mahabharata 125

The story of Kunti is fascinating and as expected Kamala's version devotes many pages to the historic meet between mother and son! Vachana Bharata is as usual crisp in dealing with this emotion packed meeting!

But before narrating the story of the meeting, I searched the web library and share with you a few interesting sites. The many questions that come to our mind are raised in them.
 Especially :
  • Why did  Kunti not speak up about Karna when the society seemed to accept children of unwed mothers?
  • How could Kunti and Gandhari let the rivalry between the cousins develop and escalate? It was probably easier to control them as they were still young.
Here is also a version which deals with the story very differently!

Hinduism Share This Page
Bheel Mahabharata:
Kunti and the Birth of the Sun God’s Child
by Satya Chaitanya
The tribal Bheels have a Mahabharata version of their own, episodes of which are narrated or sung during their festivals, usually accompanied by music and sometimes with dance – a captivating version that never fails to thrill, one of the secrets of its allure being its truly enchanting folktale-like quality. This article tries to understand an episode from it, on its own and in relation to Vyasa’s epic.  

The seven-sages are engaged in tapas. As the tapas progresses, Shiva and Shakti come to know about it and think what to do. They take the form of eagles. Shakti circles the windy sky and flies down on to the trident stuck on the ground at the dhooni. Pierced by the trident, the eagle dies on it. After completing twelve years of tapas, the seven-rishis wake up in the thirteenth year and they bewail their karma, for what has happened is inauspicious. They throw magical substances on the dead eagle. From the skeleton of the eagle is born Gandhari and from its flesh and blood, Kunti. The two children begin growing up fast at the dhooni.
One morning, finding that their stock of water is over, Kunti takes a pot and goes to fetch water. There she bathes in the lake, removing her outer clothes and wearing just her undergarments and after her bath bows to the sun covering herself in a thin shawl. The sun is enamored by her beauty and she is struck by his arrows of rays. The rays enter her belly and Kunti conceives. The pregnancy grows instantly and soon the child comes out breaking open her skull. Kunti takes the baby and kissing him, tells him that she had no right to give birth to him since she is a virgin and now she can’t take him to the dhooni for that will taint the holy place.
She takes the baby to Gakalgarh and digging a pit in a rubbish heap, places the child in it and gives him her blessings and asks him to come to her aid if the enemy wakes up. It is a perfectly beautiful baby, and he smiles at his mother. Her eyes are full of tears. Standing on one foot, she prays to the sun, endorses the baby to him saying it is his and he must watch over it. She picks up a large stone and covers the pit with it, asking mother earth to look after the baby. She tells mother earth: “I’m free now and you are bound.” Kunti now walks back to the dhooni, on the way taking a purificatory bath and filling water in the pot.
Kunti is one of the most prodigious women in the epic of Mahabharata filled with unforgettable women. She has an impressive lineage there. She is the daughter of the Yadava Shoorasena and can thus trace her ancestry to such mighty emperors as Puroorava, Yayati and Nahusha, rulers of perhaps India’s largest ever empires, made at a time India was an empire-builder. Puroorava’s story has inspired countless generations of poets to compose immortal classics. So great was Nahusha’s fame as a ruler and so mighty was he as a monarch that when a temporary substitute was needed in Indra’s place in heaven, it was Nahusha who was requested to take over and he remained the ruler of the gods until Indra was able to return. In more historical terms, it has been claimed that Nahusha’s empire spread right up to Egypt in the west. The legendary Yayati was no less great as an emperor. It is the blood of such mighty emperors that runs through Kunti’s veins. And as Shoorasena’s daughter, she is Vasudeva’s sister and Krishna’s maternal aunt.
If such is her family background in the Mahabharata, the Bheel Bharata takes it to still greater heights. In the epic of the Bheels, we do not have to quote the names of her ancestors to establish the nobility of her birth – for here she is Shakti herself. Shakti takes the form of an eagle and it is from the blood and flesh of this eagle that Kunti is born.
And for those who are familiar with Kunti’s nature in Vyasa’s epic, this should come as no surprise. For there, if she is not Shakti herself born as a woman, she lives her life as an embodiment of Shakti.

As one reads the Bheel Bharata, one is amazed by the directness with which the tribal mind perceives the truth. It is as though a door has been left open exclusively for them to walk into the innermost secrets of the Mahabharata, secrets that the more sophisticated minds often fail to perceive and if they perceive, it takes them long journeys to reach there.
Kunti in the Mahabharata is a woman who battled all alone against the might of what was perhaps the mightiest empire of her time. Fought and won, for eventually it is her blood that inherits the throne of Hastinapura – her Yadava blood. Pareekshit who inherits the throne from Yudhishthira is Abhimanyu’s son – and Abhimanyu is the son of Arjuna and Subhadra, both of them of Yadava blood, since one is Kunti’s son and the other her niece. The Bharata empire, at the end of the Mahabharata, through Kunti, goes to the Yadava blood. Yadu, the ancestor of the Yadavas, disinherited by his father Yayati though he was his eldest son, claims the empire back through Kunti.

The full article can be read from the link above. Worth a read!

The links below illustrates the amount of thought bestowed and research done on Kunti. The teachings of Kunti is compiled here. The only intriguing part is that there is no mention of Karna in the introduction.

Kunti's meeting with Karna has inspired poems:
Jat gotras descended from Kunti
The descendants of kunti are known as Kaunteya or Kuntal, which is a Jat gotra.[1] The Jat clans originated from Kunti are:
And a few more.

And just for fun!
 Kunti : Japanese restaurant in Kuta in Bali, Indonesia.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Krishna and Karna. Mahabharata 124

Krishna  takes leave of Kunti, the elders and kauravas. Then invites Karna to join him on the chariot. Once they are out of the city Krishna addresses Karna with a purpose, 'Karna! You have served Brhamins who are authorities in Vedas and have learnt from them the complexities of our dharma shastra. You know that a सहोढ,  a youth born to an unwed mother, becomes the son of the man she marries later. You, born to a very young mother, are Pandu's son as per this dharma. You are the eldest! Hence the kingdom should go to you. Both pandavas through your father and vrishnis through your mother are your family. So come with me! Pandavas will  respect you as their elder brother. Draupadi and Subhadra's children and kings aligned to pandavas will pay homage to you. In time Draupadi will think of you as her sixth husband. I will install you as the king and Yudhisthira as the yuvaraja. Pandavas, Panchalas and Vrishnis will all be your subjects. Like the moon among the stars rule the kingdom. This will please your mother and your well wishers!'

This is an emotionally charged moment for Karna. In Kamala's version he even faints when learns from Krishna that Surya is his father. But he is not tempted by Krishna's offer. He still wants to be true to his friendship with Duryodhana and is happy to be the son of the woman who took care of an abondoned child with so much love!

Vachana Bharata is a bit different:
Karna knew all this, as Surya appeared a day before, told him who he was and had warned him to be careful as Indra might come and ask for his Kavacha and Kundala so that Arjuna could be saved. 

Karna replies, 'Yes, I know about my birth. But Kunti abondoned me in a manner that could have been perilous. Athiratha, a suta, found me and picked me up with love and took me home. The moment Radha saw me she was filled with tenderness and as she held me in her arms, she began to produce milk! Should I not take care of her as a son and be there for her last rites when the time comes? Athiratha loves me as his own son and this love is reciprocated by me and I consider him to be my father. Because of this love, he has performed all the rituals as per the shastras and has given me the name of  Vasushena. He got me married at the right time, and I have children and grandchildren and  I am fond of them! I have developed good relationships with the sutas.'

'Even if I am given untold wealth or offered the whole earth, I cannot tell a lie. I have been very happy as a king the last thirteen years in the kingdom provided by Duryodhana. It is because of his trust in me, Duryodhana has decided to wage a war. I have to face Arjuna in a combat, if not we both will get a bad name! I know that it is in my interest and I assume that pandavas will listen to you. The moment Yudhisthira learns that I am Kunti's son, he will not accept the kingdom. If it is given to me, I will give it back to Duryodhana! So, let the Virtuous Yudhisthira rule the kingdom. I am sure there will be a great war, which will end only when Bheema kills Duryodhana. The kaurava women will shed tears at the final parting of their men! '

'Conduct the war as you wish. But let the elderly khsatriyas be saved and the large clan of khsatriyas fight and attain heaven in this war. Bring me and Arjuna  face to face. Let this conversation be a secret'

Krishna smiles at Karna, "So you have no desire to be a king and rule the kingdom I was planning to get you! Let it be! There is no doubt that pandavas will be victorius. You will soon face Arjuna in a war. When you return, you can suggest to Bheeshma and Drona that 'The season is right. The weather is mild. The trees are full of fruits. The earth is dry, there is enough water and insects are not too many. Seven days from today is the new moon and we can begin the war on that day'. The kings who are under Duryodhana will all die in the war and attain सद्गति the happy state. 

Karna says that he is aware of this as he has seen many ill-omens and bad dreams already. 'I do not know if we will ever meet after this destructive war!'. Karna then embraces Krishna and gets off from his chariot and climbs on his own and retuns with a heavy heart. Krishna and Satyaki also leave and urge their charioteers to make haste!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Krishna meets Kunti. Mahabharata 123

 Krishna walks out of the sabha after his spectacular display, which  only a chosen few mortals could bear to see, climbs the chariot!  Dhritarashtra walks up to Krishna and tries to placate him, 'Janardhana! You have seen the extent of my control over my children. Every one knows that I have been advocating and trying my best for a truce with the pandavas.'  Krishna turns his gaze towards Bheeshma and Drona, 'You have seen what transpired at the court of Kauravas! You also saw how the ignorant and ill-mannered (Duryodhana) left the sabha in anger a number of times. Now Dhritarashtra says he is helpless!' With that Krishna seeks persmission of the elders and proceeds to meet Kunti.

He arrives and  prostartes to Kunti. Tells her what happened at the sabha,  and as he leaves asks, 'Aunt!  I must leave and meet pandavas as early as possible. What shall I tell the pandavas?'
 Kunti replies, "Keshava! Ask Yudhisthira to follow kshatriya dharma. Tell him, 'The path you have chosen is not the one neither your father or grandfather would choose. Fight according to Rajadharma. Do not push your forefathers towards degradation and thus you and brothers reap क्षीणपुण्य (low merit!) and face misfortune.' Remind him that 'Your mother has to depend on others for a handful of rice and that your wife is still suffering because of the dis-respect she was shown!' Tell him the story of how a defeated Sanjaya was encouraged by his mother Vipula to fight again. Take care of the boys, let your travel be comfortable."

The story goes back to mortal levels after the 'Darshana' of Lord Krishna. It is now mother Kunti in the picture. Gandhari, whatever her reasons; it could be fair play for her nephews or the concern for her own children, had advocated truce. Kunti does not speak of truce, probably she realises that it is not going to happen after she learns about events in the sabha. She preaches war!

It seems obvious that women were always in the picture. Draupadi was very vocal and decisive when she spoke to Krishna before he went to Hastinapura looking for peace. (Some would say ostensibly!). So is Kunti when she sends a message to her sons. One can only wonder why Gandhari failed to inflence her son!