Tuesday, 31 July 2012

स्त्री Parva. Mahabharata 172

The chapter devoted entirely to स्त्री (women) after a war is significant.  .
Sanjaya has been reporting the events of the day in detail to Dhritarashtra. On the eighteenth day the king is overcome with grief as he hears the news of Duryodhana's death along with his entire army. The  king is unable to think and is stupefied and falls silent. He appears like a tree stump whose branches have been cut.

Sanjaya consoles his king and tells him 'What is the use of this grief Maharaja! Arrange suitable ceremonies for the dead,'  The king hears these words from Sanjaya and faints. Recovers and laments, 'Sanjaya what is the point of my living? My heart feels like it is sliced into many pieces. What did I do to cause me so much grief! I do not remember committing such a sin. It must be from my last birth! Is there any sinner who in his old age has faced unhappiness like me?'

Sanjaya says, 'Maharaja, you have been taught vedas, shastras and the doctrines to guide you, hence stop being sorrowful! You did not listen to your well-wishers and depended only on your sharp intellect! You are now facing the consequence! Even your son, ingnored Kripa, Krishna and others who were giving him sound advice, but depended on Karna, Dusshyasana and others and brought about the extinction of khsatriyas. Even if you did say that a war is always filled with adharma, you never took a firm stand and a balanced view. If a man follows the right path from the begining, he does not regret his actions later! Your life is like that of a man who, while looking up and dreaming about  the honey up in the tree as he walked missed noticing the ditch and fell into it. Feeling sad now does not help, it does not bring you happiness or victory. It is prudent to give up being sad.'

Vidura adds his bit of wisdom, probably it makes sense to have a seperate blog about  Vidura's words dealing with his brother's loss of his children and grand children.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Ashwatthama manages to escape death but is cursed. Mahabharata 171

Krishna and Arjuna soon catch up with Bheema but are unable to dissuade him from going after Ashwatthama. They decide to accompany him and look for Ashwatthama. And the moment Ashwatthama sees Bheema in combat readiness and also the others, he picks up a blade of grass, invokes a powerful astra and directs it to destroy the pandavas! The blade of grass moves spewing fire and looks capable of destroying the three worlds! Krishna who had anticipated this, urges Arjuna to release an equally powerful astra in reply. Arjuna invokes a divyaastra with a prayer, 'Let the acharya putra be safe, let me and my brothers be blessed, let this astra cool the other astra!' and releases it. The released astra moves speedily,  fiery and also capable of  destroying the three worlds. 

Vyasa and Narada realising the threat to the world, rush between the two astras to stop them and address both Arjuna and Ashwatthama, 'You brave men! No warrior however powerful has used this weapon against humans. Take it back!'  Arjuna complies. But Ashwatthama refuses, 'I have used this astra both in sadness and to save myself. It was adharma the way Bheema killed Duryodhana. Hence it is not possible to withdraw the astra. It will surely kill the progeny of pandavas.'

 Vyasa urges Ashwatthama, 'Do not do this! Arjuna had released the astra to counter your astra and has withdrawn it. You should reciprocate. Give up the jewel on your head and in exchange they will let you go!' Ashwatthama replies, 'I will give them the jewel, but I cannot withdraw. It will enter the embryo of pandava children and kill them'. Krishna  asks, 'At least spare the child Uttarae is carrying!'  But Ashwatthama refuses. Krishna says, 'Not to worry, the embroyo will die but will come alive again and will live long! But you will face the consequence of  शिशुहत्या (infanticide). You will wander alone in deserted lands and forests for 3000 years. But Parikshit will be the student of Kripacharya and rule Kurudesha for sixty years.' Ashwatthama takes the jewel from his head, hands it over and walks away in a black mood. 

Krishna and pandavas  return swiftly and Bheema gives the jewel to Draupadi, 'Here is the precious stone you wanted. I got it by defeating the man who killed your children. Duryodhana is dead,  the blood of Dushyasana has been drunk and you have been avenged'. And consoles her with, 'Ashwatthama has lost his power and respect as a brahmin and what remains is just his body.'

Draupadi agrees, 'I have been avenged. As a guruputra Ashwatthama is equal in status to a guru. Let Maharaja take the precious stone!'. Yudhisthira in order to please his wife and also as a respect for his guru takes the stone and wears it on his head.

It finally seems to be the end of the war! But there are still many more parvas in the epic narration. It is tempting to stop here, but my friend Raghu tells me that विष्णुसहस्रनामन् (thousand names of Vishnu) is part of the Mahabharta in Shantiparva which comes later.. In a way it is intriguing! We had Bhagvad Gita at the beginning of the war and later a prayer which is recited daily by many . In fact, Tara and Gayathri recited this on the banks of Gangaji at Rishikesh. I remember my father used to recite this regularly.

I had hoped to have a greater insight into our hindu psyche in the story of Mahabharata. It is rather straightforward, if one accepts our mythology in toto. There are gods, heavens and hell. At one time gods and humans did mingle. Even had children with humans. Gods are still in heaven and have super powers.  

Brahmins were revered and khsatriyas were men of valor who protected and followed their dharma. The merchants, I guess, went about commerce as  practically as they do now. I imagine that the farmers and other artisans toiled as ever. I imagine the farmers never struck work in those days. It is practically the same now! 

We also learn that we are responsible for our actions and pay for bad actions which are not considered dharma. There is a system of accounting which carries forward the history of our actions to the many cycles of birth and rebirth. I must mention that in the recent retreat we attended in Rishikesh, I learnt that in this accounting a good action does not necessarily cancel a bad action! The results of bad action and that of the good action will manifest separately in due time as ordained. This raised a lot of questions in my mind. What about the belief that a dip in ganga washes away our sins? What about those who donate a percentage of their ill-gotten gains to temples. How would they react to this  नियम precept?

Coming back to the story, it is significant that while khsatriyas as a rule were ready to die in a war, Ashwatthama being a brahmin sees no merit in it and prefers to wander the earth for many many years.
As we read the story we are told in so many ways that Krishna planned the destruction of kshatriyas and used them as pawns in his grand design. He chose to save only five pandavas and the one still in the womb of Uttarae.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Draupadi seeks revenge for the death of her children! Mahabharata 170

I am back to blogging after 3 weeks. In one way it was a relief! Writing about the great war and the killings was demanding and it was just a 18 days war! History tells us that  humans never could give up war and have persisted with it all through.

In the morning, Dhristadhyumna's charioteer who had managed to survive informs the pandavas about the brutal massacre. Yudhisthira faints when he hears the news. He recovers with the ministrations of his brothers and Satyaki. Yudhisthira then laments 'Our victory  has now turned  into defeat. People who faced Karna have now given up their lives due to carelessness. Merchants who crossed the seas have now drowned in the river. Those who died will attain heaven, but how will Draupadi. who has lost her father, brother and her sons face this calamity?'

Yudhisthira then asks Nakula to fetch Draupadi and walks to the place of  massacre. Draupadi faints as soon as she sees Yudhisthira and Bheema supports her from falling. She recovers and then addresses Yudhisthira, 'Maharaja! You sacrificed your children for Khsatriya dharma, but you have got your kingdom and will soon  forget this tragedy and will be happy! But how can I forget that my children were killed while they were asleep. The pain is unbearable. If you do not kill that evil man along with the others who were part of this, I will take my life!' and sinks down next to Dharmaraja.

 Yudhisthira looks at the inconsolable Draupadi,  'Krishne! You are aware of dharma, your brother and the children all died while following khsatriya dharma. Do not grieve for them. Ashwatthama has gone away to some far away place. How will you come to know that he has been killed?'

Draupadi has an answer, 'I have heard that he was born with a jewel on his head, if you bring me the jewel from his head I will know that he is dead.' and she turns towards Bheema, 'There is no one equal to you in valor. In the past, you have saved us in Varanavarata, later from Hidimba and me from Keechaka in Viratnagara. Now you must go and kill Ashwatthama for me!' and starts to cry uncontrollably!

Unable to see bear the sight of Draupadi's  miserable condition Bheema takes  Nakula as his charioteer and proceeds. After Bheema departs Krishna asks Yudhisthira, 'How is it that you sent only Bheema? He is going to be in great danger. Ashwatthama has a special astra Brahmashira, which was given to him by his father. Drona gave it  to Arjuna first, but Ashwatthama also wanted it. Drona yielded unwillingly with a condition that he should not use it during a war. Drona was not certain that Ashwatthama would use it wisely. Ashwatthama has it still and he is short tempered, cruel, evil natured and thoughtless. He may use it. We must protect Bheema.' He then readies his chariot and takes Arjuna along with him and races to stop Bheema.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Duryodhna dies a happy man! Mahabharata 169

When Krupa, Kritivarma and Aswhatthama arrive, Duryodhna is barely alive. He is struggling to breathe, blood is flowing out of his mouth and is soaking  the earth! Wild animals; fox, wolf and others have surrounded him and are trying to feed on his flesh. Duryodhana is chasing them away with great difficulty. Seeing his condition both Krupa and Ashwatthama feel terrible. Ashwatthama is still unable to accept that Duryodhana  is about to die.  'Maharaja! You are a disciple of Balarama and how could that evil helper of a cook manage to hit you? It is fate and we have no power over it! You were  unfairly hit below the waist and even kicked! How did Dharmaraja allow such a behaviour?  How can pandavas now face the world and claim victory without being ashamed?

'You are a khsatriya and will surely attain heaven, so I am not too worried about you! I am very distressed when I think of your father and mother who have lost all their children!  What will happen to them? I feel terrible to lose a master like you. You took such good care of us.   How can we three be still living while you are about to die? Shame on us! Maharaja, go and meet my father, offer my prayers and tell him that I have killed Dhrishtadhyumna. Also greet Saindhava, Bhurisravs and all the brave warriors in heaven.'

'I have  news which will please your ears. On the  other side, only the five pandavas, Krishna and Satyaki remain. Draupadi's children and sons of Dhristadhymna, remaining panchalas, matsyas are all destroyed! We entered their camp in the night and took our revenge. I killed Dhristadhyumna like one would kill an animal.' 

This news makes Duryodhana happy. He brightens up a little.  ' Neither Bheeshma nor your father could do what you, Krupa and Kritivarma accomplished. I am so happy to hear that Shikandi is dead! It is as if I have achieved the status of God Indra. I wish you well. Let us all meet in heaven!' and dies. The three depart overcome with grief, Krupa returns to HastinapuraKritivarma back to his city.  Ashwatthama goes to Vyasa's ashram on the banks of river Ganga.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Saupthika (Nocturnal combat) parva. Ashwatthama keeps his promise to Duryodhana. Mahabharata 168

Ashwatthama, Krupa and Kritivarma take leave of the dying Duryodhana and enter a nearby forest by sunset and rest under a banyan tree after taking care of their horses. Soon it is night and a beautiful  starry one! The trio, very tired, injured and deeply distressed, lie down to sleep. Krupa and Kritivarma  manage to sleep, but an angry and troubled Ashwatthama cannot! He keeps brooding and staring at the dark forest, when suddenly a large owl swoops in and starts attacking the crows which are asleep, perched on the branches. In no time numerous crows fall, mutilated and dying and a satiated owl flies away!  Ashwatthama thinks, 'This bird has given me a lesson in warfare! I cannot destroy the strong, brave and now triumphant pandavas in a war, but I have promised my king that I will! It is possible to keep this promise only by unfair means! Anyway pandavas also have adopted unethical practices!'  Once this thought takes hold of him, he gets impatient and wakes up the other two and asks them what they think they should do!

Kripa says that they require help from above in addition to their ability and effort to succeed. He also thinks that they should consult the elders, Gandhaari, Dhritarashtra and Vidura. He feels that Duryodhana even in this condition will not listen to sound advice. This does not please Ashwatthama, his attitude has hardened with grief. He also realises that what he proposes may not be liked.'We all should change with time. And one has to follow what he thinks is right thing to do. Only then will it work. I will tell you what I want to do in this time of difficulty. The panchalas are now unworried, have taken off their armorur and are sleeping. I plan to kill them in their camp as they sleep! I will have peace only if I kill them and avenge the deaths of my father,  Duryodhana, Karna, Bheeshma and Saindhava. 

Krupa reacts. 'It is  god's will that you have this thirst for revenge. It seems no one can change it. But let us wait till tomorrow.  You have the power to kill them, but you have been awake all the time, sleep and take some  rest. We will also join you in the morning, and together let us kill them or die and go to heaven!' But Ashwatthama does not want to wait. He says he cannot sleep till he has killed Dhristadhymna, 'I can sleep only after I have killed the enemies. I have decided to kill them tonight!'

Krupa tries to dissuade Ashwatthama, tells him it is not dharma. But Ashwatthama argues that pandavas are also guilty of adharma and declares, 'I do not care if it is a sin, but I must kill Dhristadhyumna  tonight, as he sleeps unarmed, I will kill him like we kill an animal'. Gets his chariot ready and proceeds. Krupa and Kritivarma tell him that they are with him for better or worse and follow him. 

When they near the camp Ashwatthama stops and tells the other two that he will go in alone and they should take care of those who try to run away! Ashwatthama sneaks in from a side entrance, locates Drishtadhymna, kicks him. Awoken, Drishtadhyumna stands up and is lifted up and thrown down with force.  He is stamped upon and kicked all over his body, his chest,, his vulnerable and vital parts. Drishtadhyumna pleads, 'Acharyaputra kill me with a weapon so that I can go to heaven'.  Ashwatthama tells him, 'A man who killed a teacher has  no hopes of going to heaven!' and again kicks him on his vital part and kills him. The carnage continues and Ashwatthama kills many more. In this confusion elephants and horses stampede and those who managed to escape the carnage die in the stampede. A few who escape through the main gates are killed by Kripa and Kritivarma. They also set fire to the camp in a few places and those who had to die are burnt to death.

Ashwatthama is finally satisfied and joins the other two. 'We have killed panchalas, sons of draupadi, somakas and matsyakas. We have accomplished our objectives. Let us see if Duryodhana is still alive! If so, we can give him the good news and make him happy!'  And they hurry towards the place where Duryodhana was struck down!