Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Yudhisthira has many questions! MB blog 185

Yudhisthira has many more questions!
'What do we do, if with the passage of time dharma declines and we are attacked by enemies and thieves?

If dharma totally declines and there is drought, What should the brahmins do and the king do?

If one loses his wealth, parents, his wife and children, how should one bear such a loss with wisdom?

As time passes and all are pulled towards death, what is the best way to behave?

How do the rich and the poor experience happiness and sadness. What are their characteristics? 

Inspite of  the best efforts there is no money, but desires are never ending, what should one do to be happy?

What is the way to be without worries and and attain a happy state of mind?

What should a man hold on to? Is it karma or wealth or wisdom to discriminate?

How was this world created, the animate and the inanimate?

What is the difference between Sankhya and Yoga?

While the few who are with me think about these questions, I let it rest for a while!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Bheeshma continues. Mahabharata 184

 Bheeshma's wish list of desired qualities for a king, his priest and minister would have crystallised during Duryodhana's regime. Note also the importance he gives to family background while choosing men to administer the kingdom! One can ask what family? Was there  layer of noblemen from which  men of quality could be picked up? There would be, but the cast of characters we have seen so far does not give us any clue.

  Imagine Bheeshma, a virtuous man, who would not break his promise at any cost, living as a dependent and an unhappy one. I wonder why he stayed on, he could have moved out! He could have stayed with the pandavas in Indraprastha. But for Bheeshma, Hastinapura was home and  one can understand the reluctance to move when one is old! Also, it seems being part of a clan is important to a khsatriya, whatever the consequences. Add to that his nature, his inflexibility.

 Bheeshma continues: 'A king should aim at victory only through dharma. His treasury should always be full. Going to war is not wrong. Punishing the evil is as important as protecting the good, harvesting does not destroy the crops, it helps. It is not dharma for a khsatriya to die on a bed. It is the brave who protect the world. He carries the world, like a child is carried, in his arms.  You should not go on campaigns without making sure of a victory. If it is possible, try other means; negotiations, reward or creating dissensions among the enemy, to ensure victory. It is also good to yield a little, like a plant yields and bends in a flood, when it is necessary to do so.  You need to be intelligent, Manu has said that it is the brain which is chiefly instrumental in a victory. Brain power is superior, The power of your arm is medium and that of the leg is the lowest. Character is very important! Dhritharashtra used to praise your character. A man without character may get rich, but it will not last.

 He narrates many stories and anecdotes to emphasise his views. There is a story which  tells us that Prahlada defeated Indra and ruled the three worlds. The wily Indra succeeds in pleasing Prahlada and asks for character as a boon! As the story goes, once character leaves Prahlada, he looses gradually everything!

Yudhisthira describes a scenario, 'Let us assume that a king is facing bad times, he has become inactive, his conscience does not permit him to send his friends and relatives to war and get them killed! He has no faith in the leaders of the people. Ministers do not offer well thought out advice, people are frustrated, there is no money, friends have become distant, there is a rift amongst ministers and added to this a powerful enemy is after him, what should he do under these circumstances?

We can do many things here, we can draw parallels and conclude that nothing has changed or see what Bheeshma has to say. He advocates a peace move if the enemy is trustworthy. If the king is inclined to fight, he can fight and attain veera swarga, Or he may find ways to stay alive, as there is hope in getting everything back if one is alive! A king should learn to anticipate dangers to his kingdom and be proactive. He tells a story  from the animal world. An anglophile would say 'Tom and Jerry'! The mouse gets better of the cat!

There is story which teaches one to be beware of soft spoken enemies! A king and a bird have offspring at the same time. The bird brings a very special fruit for her chick and out of generosity, one more for the child. But the child grows well because of the fruit and as it gets bigger, kills the chick. The bird, very angry pierces the eyes of the child in revenge. The king, a kind person is shocked, but the bird declares that the enmity beween them is timelesss, as humans have always been cruel to birds.The bird has also has some harsh words about humans and the inability of the king to protect.  Remember the movie 'Birds'!

Yudhisthira has one more question! 'What do we do, if  with the passage of time dharma declines and  we are attacked by enemies and thieves?

If dharma totally declines and there is drought, What should the brahmins do and the king do?

The answers are complex and again in these stories there is an interaction between animals and humans! They could converse wth each other and with humans.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Bheeshma has more advice. Mahabharata 183

I am encouraged by my friends to keep it up. Two at the moment, Raghu and BSIK Murthy:-).

As I browse the web, I see that the interest in Shantiparva is immense. One website allows us to down load Shantiparva  in sanskrit as an ebook in pdf format . Impressive! And there are many more websites which deal with Shantiparva. Anyway I continue with my translation of  vachana bharata.

Bheeshma continues, 'A king should take care to appoint the right persons to help him in protecting his people. Persons who are courageous, devoted, respectable, born to good and noble families, healthy and strong bodied, cultured, disciplined, with self-respect, who are not contemptuous of others, educated, experienced in the ways of the world, who also think of the after-life, followers of dharma, virtuous and who are stable, and who keep the company of similar and like minded people.'

'Do not employ 2 or 3 persons to do one job! It will create jealousies and disagreements. Only those, who are eager to earn a good name for themselves, who are conservative, who do not dislike others who are able, who do not attempt harmful ventures, who do not give up dharma because of their desires, fear, anger or greed, those who act quickly, from a good family and endowed with good character, forgiving and tolerant, free from self-praise, are eligible to become your ministers. In the same manner, one who is able to discriminate and help you in protecting the good and avoid the bad should be your Priest. While the welfare of the people is your responsibility, the welfare of the king is his job. If these two have a good relationship, the people will live happy.'

'You should not trust anyone implicitly, at the same time if you do not trust anyone, it is worse than death. It is better if the king takes care of the affairs of the state on his own. The treasurer should be given full protection; greedy ministers who are after money will trouble him. If someone reports that the treasury is getting emptied, you should talk to them in secrecy and obtain facts. You should judge and determine, who likes you, who is polite because he is afraid and who is neutral.'

Bheeshma narrates a story of a rishi who out of kindness keeps changing his dog to different forms to protect it from his various predators, a cheetah, a tiger and so on. The story ends when he changes it into a शरभ 'sharabha', a mythical animal, of which even a lion is afraid. But when the sharabha tries to eat the rishi, he converts it back into a dog and drives him out of his hermitage.
'The lesson is that a intelligent king will verify the qualities of his deputies before appointing them. 
It is risky to allow one who is not from a proper lineage to get closer. If a person who is not from a good family is allowed to gain importance, he may become your enemy. Whereas, even if you scold one from a noble family he will not react and go against you.'

I had not heard of this mythical animal, sharabha, while it is fairly straight forward mythical animal in mahabharata, there is more to it if you go online to check.  

In Puranic literature, Sharabha is associated with god Shiva, who incarnates as Sharabha to subdue fierce manifestations of Vishnu. The legend of Sharabha fighting Narasimha - the man-lion form of Vishnu - brings to fore the overt rivalry between the devotees of Vishnu (Vaishnavite sect) and those of Shiva (Shaivite sect), which exposes the gory blood-letting aspect. According to Roy, the Narasimha-Sharabha encounter may be a shaivite version of Vedic tale of Vishnu piercing the boar. Shiva Purana describes Sharabha as thousand-armed, lion-faced and with matted hair, wings and eight feet. Sharabha Upanishad portrays Sharabha with two heads, two wings, eight legs of the lion with sharp claws and a long tail. Kalika Purana which mentions Shiva as Sharabha subduing Varaha - the boar form of Vishnu - describes Sharabha as black in colour, with four feet downwards and four feet uplifted, with an enormous body. It also has a long face and nose, nails, eight legs, eight tusks, a cluster of manes, and a long tail. It jumps high repeatedly making a loud cry.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Bheeshma speaks! Mahabharata 182

I have heard so much about Shantiparva and about Bheeshma's wisdom. Before I go into the teachings, here are two pictures of Bheeshma on a bed of arrows. While Samhita depicts what is described, the other is very considerate to Bheeshma.
Courtesy: Samhita Arni

 Bheeshma speaks about Raja dharma: (I have just picked up a few nuggets!)

'A king, before anything else, should show devotion to devatas and brahmins. This will please the world. Truth, honesty and right deeds are very important. He should have compassion but should not be too soft. Should not worry about conflicts and opposition and  face them without hesitation. Be friends with those who offer friendship, but oppose those who are hostile. He should punish even his guru if he is arrogant and selfish and does not know the difference between good and bad deeds.' 

'He should give up hunting, gambling and other bad habits. Like a pregnant mother who only thinks of the well being of her child, a king should only think of the needs of his people. Protecting his people is paramount. To ensure this, he must have good assistants, help of good people, offer charity on  time, be without jealousy; show courage, ability,  collect grains and money, support sadhus and good families, keep the army satisfied, deal with friends, enemies and neutrals suitably!'

Bheeshma quotes Angirasa, 'A king who takes care of his subjects well, has in fact performed all dharmas, there is no need to do anything  else, neither penance nor yaaga.'. Bheeshma compares subjects to a fortress and says that if this fortress is strong, there is no fear. 'A king who treats his subjects well has no fear of enemies. Even if he falls to an enemy, he will always recover. He must continuously endeavour to take care of his people. That is the base of Raja dharma. The king is the root cause of an era! There is no doubt it. He must  constantly administer justice! ....
A good king should possesses 36 qualities.--'

 They are very practical and timeless, some controversial  and some beyond us, but here we go:
 1.Perform dharma with happiness. 
2. Do not be friendless.
3. Be pious 
4. Earn money without violence हिंसा.
5. Enjoy pleasures, but do not be intoxicated with it.
6. Speak well but without being meek
7. Be brave but not boastful
8. Be charitable but give it to the deserving
9. Be strong, able, but do not be harsh
10. Be able to bring people together, but not useless and unsuitable ones.
11. Seize from enemies.
12. Do not appoint spies who are not close to you.
13.Get work done without hurting anyone.
14. Do not keep bad people informed of your thoughts and events
15. Praise virtues in others, but do not boast about your own.
16. Earn well, but do not take it away from 'Saadu's ' ( pious people.)
17. Do not pay homage to those who are not good people
18. Do not punish without due deliberation
19, Do not advertise your consultations and deliberations to others
20. Do not yield to greedy persons
21. Do not trust who have done wrong and are harmful
22. Protect your queen's abode, without creating jealousies
23. You must  be impartial and pure
24. Do not spend excessive time with women. (स्त्री सहवास)
25. Eat well, but within limits, let it not make you ill.
26. Show respect to venerable persons  unreservedly
27. Worship god without ostentation
28. Desire wealth, but let it not be unseemly, improper.
29. Enjoy, but be free from attachment
30. Show your abilities at the appropriate time
31. Do not  speak insincerely just to get rid of a problem, a person
32. Help without expecting a return
33. Do not go to war without thinking well about your decision
34. Do not  grieve or regret after you have killed your enemies
35. Do not get angry without reason
36.Be soft, but not to those who have evil intentions towards you.

There is more, a lot more in the style of Q and A between Bheeshma and Yudhisthira.
There are stories which illustrates a point. It is well meaning and as it is from a dying man, it is honest and from the heart. Obviously some of his advice is particular to the seeker.

Human lore is full of such well intentioned advice, sermons and so on. God has come down to preach, has revealed truth in dreams, appeared in person  for those who were doing penance. Surprisingly or not so surprisingly, he chooses to reveal himself, more or less on a very personal basis.

With so many religions and so much of proprietary claims to his words, in so many languages, it is confusing to a person who wants to know, wants to take the good things from each one of them and does not want to be identified with one religion, caste or creed. But at the moment. it seems to be a loosing battle. Identify we must, if you want to be a part of something.

Luckily, there are many who are attempting to give a meaning to the knowledge given us from the past, connect it to the new discoveries that are being made today. One can only wait and see how these attempts to give us a larger picture, clarify and exemplify by applying the new knowledge, will  affect humanity in the future. Hope it does and I get to see some of it in my lifetime.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Yudhisthira and Krishna meet Bheeshma. Mahabharata 181

The next morning Yudhisthira goes to meet Krishna at his abode to ask him whether he had a comfortable night and thanks Krishna again, 'With your help, we won our kingdom and fame!'. Krishna does not reply and is deep in thought. Yudhisthira tells him, 'It is a surprise to see you worried. I hope the three worlds are safe?'

Krishna replies, 'Yudhisthira! I was thinking of Bheeshma, the dying ember, lying on a bed of arrows! Ganga's son, tutored in the vedas as a student of rishi Vashista, well versed in warfare as a favorite student of Parusharama!  A great man who knows the past, present and the future. When he goes, the world will go dark like a night without the moon. Yudhisthira, hence go and meet him when he is still alive and ask him whatever you want to know about राजधर्म (laws relating to kings)!'  Yudhisthira's eyes are filled with tears as he hears this. He requests Krishna to join him and both go to meet Bheema forthwith.

Bheeshma is sleeping on his bed of arrows on the banks of Ogavathi. Both salute him from a distance. Krishna asks with devotion, 'Lord! How are you?  Are your body functions as before? Is your mind clear? Are the arrows hurting you too much?  While even a small pin can give so much pain, it must be excruciatingly painful for you with so many arrows! You can choose the time of your death, thanks to a boon given by your father, but you cannot reduce pain with that. You are  capable of guiding the devatas. There is no one who can match your qualities. At least we have not heard of anyone! You are an expert both in the vedas and the art of archery! In equanimity, self-restraint and affection, there is no one equal to you. You are an authority in the practice of dharma as it is declared in vedas, yoga,
rationale and discrimination, history and tradition, ancient lore, dharma shastra and 
proper behaviour. There is none better than you in clearing doubts on any of these subjects.
 Hence I request you to give a few words of advice to Yudhisthira. Who having killed his relatives,
 is suffering immensely'.

Bheeshma looks at Yudhisthira, who is still unable to face Bheeshma.'Why are you feeling shy?
 While it is dharma for brahmins to study, do penance and to give. In the same way, it is dharma 
for a khsatriya to engage in war. If invited, a khsatriya cannot refuse to fight. If someone is going
 in the wrong path, whether it is a father, a brother or a grandfather, he should be punished. 
It is khsatriya dharma to kill anyone who transgresses dharma out of greed'. Hearing these words 
Yudhisthira comes forward and touches Bheeshma's feet and stands in front of him with folded hands!
 Bheeshma is pleased with this.and he smells Dharmaraja's head in a gesture of affection
 and asks him to sit down.

He then asks Dharmaraja to ask him whatever he wants, with out feeling afraid or shy! 
Yudhisthira speaks, 'Grandfather, people who know dharma say that a kings dharma is the biggest! 
I feel ruling a kingdom is a heavy burden! So please teach me raja dharma. I want to learn this.'

 As Bheeshma was tired he asked them to go home and come the next day. When they arrived 
the next day, Bheema offers salutaions to dharma, Krishna and the brahmins and starts to 
explain dharma. 

Here is a good example of one  speaking with humility. Krishna, acknowledged as a god, practices it
to perfection. Praising one, making him feel good, is an art. It is not flattery here as Bheeshma has all the 
qualities which Krishna speaks of and extolls. But Bheeshma was never the king!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Yudhisthira agrees to stay and is the king! Mahabharata 180

Finally Krishna speaks supporting the others, 'If you become the king, it will please Draupadi, also  your friends and relatives. It will be good for the world!'  These words Krishna and of the others, calms Yudhisthira's troubled mind and they get ready to return to the city.

On the appointed day, Dharmaraja sits on a newly made chariot which is drawn by sixteen white horses. Bheema is the charioteer, Arjuna holds up the white umbrella and are fanned by Nakula and Sahadeva. Yuyutsu, Satyaki and Krishna follow in different chariots. Kunti, Draupadi, Subhadra and other women, accompanied by Vidura  join. Right in front are Dhritharashtra and Gandhari in a palanquin. Well decorated elephants and horses, foot soldiers, balladeers and minstrels follow in the rear.

The city is decorated with flags, the streets are clean and the aroma of incense wafts in the air. Holy water is kept at different places to be used at the consecration ceremony of the king. People throng the streets and greet Pandavas and Draupadi as they enter. Conches are sounded, drums are beat and the vedic chants are heard as pandavas enter the palace.

Yudhisthira sits on golden throne facing east. Krishna and Satyaki are in front and Bheema and Arjuna on the sides. Rest are seated suitably. Leading citizens approach  and offer tribute. Then the priests begin the consecration which Krishna, Dhritharashtra and many prominent citizens participate. Brahmins bless the king and receive fees due to them. Thus Dharmaraja becomes the king of a large kingdom and the people are happy.

Bheema is declared as the Yuvaraja, and Vidura as the minister . Then Sanjaya  is appointed in-charge of treasury, Nakula as chief of their forces and Arjuna to deal with other countries. Sahadeva becomes the guard of Yudhisthira.  It is the special responsibility of Vidura, Sanjaya and Yuyutsu to take special care of Dhritharashtra. He also announce that whoever wants to please him, would do so by treating Dhritharashtra like a devata and taking care of his wishes. 'Even if I have killed my relatives, I live only for him.'

While the description of the ceremony installing Dharmaraja as the king seems routine. The fact that the city has gone through a traumatic war very recently tells us that humans recover and get on with life quickly. It is obvious that while the royalty were at the river front, the massive operation of dealing with the dead, the men, horses and elephants, was being done. Who were these people, and how did they accomplish this huge task? With millions reported dead in the war of 18 days, it would have been mega task indeed! Did they identify the dead and were the family allowed to take the dead bodies? Or was it a mass burial? One can only guess! I do not know if the full text of Mahabharata deals with this aspect of the war. May be not!

As the war was mostly fought in the day, we can assume that in the evening, the wounded and the dead were carried away and the dead were probably cremated with proper rituals. We also know towards the end of the war, whichever group performing this task, were overwhelmed with the number of dead. We read that  the dying Duryodhana was lying on the ground and was chasing away wild animals with great difficulty. Ashwatthama and the others who came to see him, did not try to move him or make serious attempts to alleviate his misery. They were only bent on revenge. It is very apparent that those were strange times or attitudes were different. Even the resolve of the soldiers to die in a war and assure themselves of a place in heaven made sense. Being seriously wounded and incapacitated was not really an option for these warriors.

I was also worried about the dead bodies lying unattended and  about serious risks of an epidemic. 

There is some reassurance in this ICRC article linked above:
 'Surprisingly, the answer is " Don’t rush! " Contrary to popular belief, dead bodies are a negligible health hazard. After a disaster, the top priority is to look after the living. Rushing to bury the dead diverts resources away from rescue efforts and can make it impossible to identify bodies later.
Having said which, there is the question of dignity for the dead, and the sight and smell of dead bodies can be distressing. We therefore recommend moving all unidentified dead bodies to specially designated body collection areas once resources become available.'

Here is another article about burial of the dead in world war I. WWI being the closest to the great Mahabharata war. It was also a conventional war with lots of man-to-man combats!


October 21, 1918

From:        Chief Surgeon, First Army Corps, American E.F.

To:           Chief Surgeon, S.O.S., American E.F.

Subject:     Systematic Method for Burial of Dead

     1. Attention is invited to the necessity for establishing for the entire A.E.F. a system for burial of dead during open operations.

Dead Doughboy of the 38th Infantry

     During active open operations burial of the dead becomes a sanitary matter of the greatest importance. During the Chateau-Thierry campaign many bodies of men and animals lay on the battlefield for days after their death. During the warm weather prevailing then, they soon decomposed and formed most unsightly and insanitary objects. The stench was terrific but the worst feature was that of fly breeding. The bodies of both men and horses soon become a mass of maggots and flies bred by millions - the surrounding country was infested with them. The result was a widespread outbreak of enteric disease that fortunately carried with it no mortality. Men were usually sick only a few days and were not seriously ill. A few however showed blood and mucus in the stools and were real dysentary. Bacteriologically, Flexner and Shiga bacilli were isolated as well as paratyphoid. It is therefore apparent that a serious outbreak of real dysentary was narrowly averted. It is not certain that flies were responsible for this outbreak but the presumptive evidence is strong.

     2. It at once became evident that some systematic method of solving this problem must be adopted

     The writer felt very strongly that combatant troops should not be called upon for this work for several reasons:

          (a) From a sanitary viewpoint, burials should be accomplished promptly. Fighting troops cannot be removed from the line for this purpose.

          (b) After an engagement, combatant troops are exhausted and should not be called upon to perform manual labor, at least until they have been thoroughly rested.

          (c) The effect upon the morale of combatant troops of being compelled to bury their own dead is very bad. During conditions such as they were at Chateau-Thierry when the bodies soon became black, swollen, discolored remnants of humanity, literarily covered with maggots, the effect is of course tremendously bad.

          (d) If left to combat troops, each division will have its own method or no method at all and the results are bound to be unsatisfactory

     3. Upon the recommendation of the Corps Surgeon, the following plan was adopted by the 1st Army Corps.

     One company of Pioneer Infantry (Corps Troops) is assigned to each division and is placed under the control of the Division Sanitary Inspector. They are to be used for no other purpose than burial of the dead - men and animals. They follow up the advancing combatant troops as closely as possible and bury the dead as they find them. They are supplied with picks and shovels and rationed with the division.

     Bodies of men are collected whenever possible into groups and buried together in selected spots.

Dead Horses

     Animals are buried wherever it is most convenient - as near where they fall as may be in order to avoid dragging them any distance.

     Chaplains of the division are charged with all other details except the actual burying. They collect personal belongings, hold whatever services are possible and in conjunction with the Graves Registration Service, assure proper identification.

     The plan has worked admirably and the present battlefield is in great contrast in this respect to those preceding. No dead bodies can be found until one reaches the very advanced areas where the Pioneer troops have not yet arrived.

     The labor in burying a number of dead horses is enormous, and with heavy casualties of both men and animals, one company to a division is not sufficient.

     4. This detail is also utilized in filling old latrines and doing other necessary work as they pass along the area.

     5. It is believed that probably better administration could be secured by placing all the companies of Pioneers that are available for this work under the control of the Corps Sanitary Inspector. He can then distribute them and change them as circumstances require.

     6. It is repeated that this is a most important sanitary problem that has been very satisfactorily solved in this Corps by the above plan.

Burial Detail

It is felt that some similar plan should be universally adopted.

J.W. GRISSINGER Colonel, Medical Corps, U.S.A.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

It is the turn of Nakula, Sahadev and Draupadi to express themselves. Mahabharata 179

Nakula has this to say, 'Mahraja! One who creates wealth by the right means and performs yaga and yagna with his wealth is a true tyagi. (one who sacrifices!). Of the four stages of man, the state of a married man   (गृहस्थाश्रम),  the pundits say, is equal to the other three combined! Both the here and the hereafter are within your reach. If one foolishly leaves home to live in the forest and allows desire to overtake him, he will only die as a hypocrite. So, I feel it is better you follow the dharma as a householder.'

, 'Maharaja! Just by giving up your possessions, you will not attain bliss. You may or may not attain perfection by giving up your desire and anger within you! But, you will be happy by ruling the kingdom without self-interest. It is also dharma. If you go and live in the forest, it is possible that you may keep thinking of things which you gave up, this state of mind will result only in death. I do not know if I am right! But, I have told you what I feel with utmost devotion.'

Yudhisthira does not react to the opinions expressed by his brothers in their attempt to change his
 mind. Draupadi  then looks at her quiet husband, "Maharaja! Your brothers are eagerly waiting 
for your reply. Make them happy with a suitable reply. While we were in Dvaithavana, looking 
at the difficult time they had in the forest, constantly facing rains, wind and the hot sun, you 
had said, 'We will kill Duryodhna  and his warriors, get our kingdom back and enjoy its wealth. 
While you are now suffering in our vanavasa, good times are waiting for us!'  Why are you hurting
 us now?' 

'Kauravas gave up dharma and turned wicked. There was no sin in killing them! You did 
not get the kingdom easily. It was not gifted to you! You fought heroes like Drona, Kripa 
and Karna and killed them to achieve this. What is wrong in enjoying such an achievement? 
Your brothers, strong  like the elephants and bulls, are like the devatas. Look at them and 
feel happy, and make them happy. Stop worrying, rule the kingdom with  dharma.'

As I keep at it, Shantiparva reminds me of the panel discussions on TV channels. The discussions 

go on endlessly! Only reason it is stopped is to make room for the advertisements! Anyway Draupadi 
has spoken and Yudhisthira now has to decide or take a call, as it is said in to-days lingo!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Shanti parva continued: Bheema and Arjuna speak their minds. Mahabharata 178

Arjuna responds, 'Aha! What sadness! What anguish! After having fought a righteous war, winning  the kingdom by killing our enemies, should we just relinquish all this? How will the world react to this act? It is madness to give up our dharma and our wealth and go to a forest. You need money to practise dharma. One who steals our money, in fact, also takes away our dharma. Poverty is a sin! Who appreciates poverty? Our journey through life has a meaning! There is a here and a here-after. This kingdom has come to you from Dilipa and Nruga because of your heredity. It is your dharma to rule this kingdom. If you give up, there is a lapse of duty on your part.  It is the king's authority which protects the wealth of the state and its dharma. It is the fear of this authority that  keeps the citizens in control. Were not devas and asuras related? Did not the devas kill the asuras? There is violence in the nature of things. No one can survive without violence. One species subsists because of another! The weaker is food for the stronger! You cannot even milk a cow without hurting it. Hence follow the dharma which has been in force since long and rule the kingdom and protect its citizens. Perform yagna and yaga! Give charity! Punish the guilty and foster the upright'. 

Bheema adds,  'What is this Anna! (elder brother). You are speaking like an old vedic scholar, whose brain has been dulled by too much of veda! By yielding to lassitude, if you neglect your rajadharma, what is the point of defeating kauravas? It is like digging a well and when the water fills up, you do not bathe in it, but come up with all the dirt on your body. Sanyasa is for old age or for bad times! If you take sanyasa now, learned people will tell you that it is against your dharma. It is possible to live alone in the forest without taking care of  children and grandchildren and not satisfying the devatas, rishis, pithru (parents) and athithi (guests),  but you are mistaken if  you think you will go to heaven. If that was possible, deer and pigs, birds could go to heaven! Trees and hills would attain bliss! Because they are always ascetic, they practice chastity and they do not trouble anyone! Hence we have to perform duties we are meant and destined to do. we achieve peace and bliss by action and not by inaction.

Pearls of wisdom by both the khsatriya brothers! There is no denying that violence is inherent in us. While individually we can and some of us try and do eschew violence its prevalence is universal.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Much awaited Shanti Parva. Mahabharata 177

Yudhisthira, Dhritarsashtra and other pandavas and kauravas, after offering  jala-tharpana to the departed, continue to stay on the banks of Ganga for a month. A month is required to be free of impurity caused by the death of relatives.

 Dharmaraja is still dejected and distressed, 'Ajruna! It would have been better if we had continued to live in the yadava kingdom. Even living there as beggars was better than killing all our relatives and facing resultant misfortunes because of our deeds. What did we achieve by killing our own? What special merit did we get from our acts? This khsatriya karma is worthless! The people who live in the forests have better set of values; they are quiet, have self-control, truthful, clean, non-violent and are co-operative.'

'We are paying for our greed, desire, fraud and false pride. We have descended to a sorry state and have the painful task of ruling this kingdom. We fought like dogs fighting for meat! But this winning dog is unable to enjoy its meat. We have now the ill repute of being the destroyers of this world. Dhritharashtra feels  that we have decimated his clan. Killing our enemies has no doubt taken away our anger, but we have collected  ill-luck because of this guilt.'

'It is said in shastras that if one renounces everything and stops doing evil, such a being will be eligible to reach a happy state where there is no cycle of birth and death. Therefore, I want to give up this kingdom and its wealth, the comfort and the pleasures and go to a place where I will have peace and quiet and lead a life of total unselfishness. You can take over this  kingdom without enemies and lead  a safe life.'

Predictably each of the brothers have reactions and opinions to this statement of renunciation by Dharmaraja. It is interesting to see what each one has to say.

We also see the levels of degradation of the powerful khsatriyas have reached, when Yudhishthira compares them to the tribal people and is all praises for the tribal people!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Gandhari's curse to diminish khsatriyas further. Mahabharata 176

Gandhari reminisces about her dead son. "The day war began, Duryodhana came to see me and said,     ' I am waging a war with my cousins भ्रातृव्य. Mother,  bless me so that I will be victorious'. (another meaning of the word भ्रातृव्य  hostile cousin!)

"I had told him then, 'Where is dharma there is victory. You will fight and attain veeraswarga (heaven).' And it has happened. So I do not grieve so much for his death. But it is very difficult to see Dhritharashtra. He has lost all his friends, relatives and children and is now helpless and orphaned. This hurts me more. Who could imagine that indestructible men like Jayadhrata, Karna and Drona would die! But they supported Duryodhana and his war. They are now like a doused fire.'

 'What is not possible for fate? The day you came to seek a compromise and returned, I knew that my children were doomed. Bheeshma and Vidura told me the same thing. They asked me to give up hope for my children. How can it, what they foresaw, be wrong? Now in a short time, all my children are lying dead.'  She then faints as the enormity of her misfortune finally hits her.

As she recovers, there is a change in her. In her desperate sorrow, she has lost her forbearance and her judgement and speaks angrily to Krishna. 'When Kauravas and Pandavas lost patience with each other and were ready to destroy each other, you were unconcerned. If you had wanted, you could have averted this calamity, you had the capacity and the power.  But you chose not to do so!  So, you will be the one who will become responsible for the death of your cousins. In thirty-six years from now, you will lose your nears, dears and children!  You will be orphaned, be unknown and wander in the forests and die reviled by all. Your women will cry in misery, like the Bharatha women who are crying now'.

Krishna hears these dreadful words and smiles, 'Amma! Khsatriye! I know this. It is ordained that Yadavas will destroy each other by fighting amongst themselves. They have to die only because of me. No one else can kill them. Let it be! Stop crying and get up! But do not blame me for your mistakes. It is because of you that the Kuru vamsha is destroyed. Your son was jealous, intolerably proud, cruel minded, revengeful and one who did not listen to elders or respect them. And you thought what he did was right!

'Like the cows who will only beget beasts of burden and horses beget horses which run swiftly. It is natural that a princess like you will give birth to one who desires to kill'. Gandhari becomes quiet after hearing this harsh reply from Krishna.

Then, they make arrangements for the cremation of the dead and arrive at the banks of Ganga. The women  bathe in the holy river and offer water ('jalatharpana)' as they pray for the souls of their fathers, brothers and children. They also pray for their relatives and friends. Dharmaraja learns that Karna is his brother and offers tharpana. Dhhritharashtra also offers tharpana to all those he had to give and climbs back to the bank. 

Ganga, as large as a sea, appears different as the women at  the river, wives of dead war heroes,  are very sad and quiet as they go about their rituals.

As I read Krishna's reply to Gandhari I felt vindicated! I remember that there was praise for Gandhari when she covered her eyes, because  she married a blind person. I had felt that it was not a wise thing to do as they both became dependent on others. And this could possibly affect the supervison of their children. 

Then again,  Gandhari was probably right. It is seen even now that mostly it is the blind who get married to blind. They start life with equal handicaps! But I actually know a person who was very supportive of his wife, when she sadly lost her sight! Hence it probably  was upto Dhritharashtra to have said no, when Gandhari chose to cover her eyes!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Gandhari forgives Pandavas. Mahabharata 175

It is fascinating to see the depth of anger engendered in a khsatriya and how it is resolved. Dhritharashtra blind by birth, while physically strong, always dependent on others, would have deep scars in his psyche. He is complex, does not give up easily, but finally Dhritarashtra is a broken man.

Pandavas walk towards Gandhari. Dharmaraja speaks with great hesitation. Addresses her very softly, 'Amma! Here I am, the cruel man who killed all your children! I deserve to be punished. Curse me! What is the use of my living. I neither want the kingdom nor happiness.  I do not know what to do after losing all my relatives and friends!'  Gandhari is unable to speak, let us out a deep sigh of anguish. While eyes are bound, the toe-ends of Yudhisthira are visible to her and the nails change colour as her eyes focuses on them. Seeing this Arjuna gets behind Krishna. Soon, she lets go of her anger and speaks to them as a mother would. They take her permission to leave and meet Kunti.

The mother and children have not met for a long time. Kunti is unable to bear the sight of injuries caused by the weapons on the body of her children. She cries as she caresses each injury and she speaks to each one of them as she caresses them again and again. She then looks at a very distraught Draupadi, who unable to contain her emotions has slumped on the floor. Draupadi begins to weep, 'Amma! Abhimanyu and other grand children of yours are all gone!  They are no more able to come and see you! What use is this kingdom, when I have lost such wonderful brave children?'

Kunti lifts Draupadi up and she takes her and the pandavas to meet Gandhari. Gandhari consoles Draupadi, 'Do not cry mother! Look at me and compose yourself. This is the time of destruction of the world! Hence what had to happen did happen! It is not in our control. Your children died in the war. So did mine. Do not grieve for them. You have become like me and I have become like you and who is there to console us?.

Later they all proceed to the warfield where soldiers had fought and died. They see only dead bodies, dead elephants and horses as far as the eyes could see. The earth is red and slushy soaked in blood! Vultures, crows and foxes are surrounding these dead bodies and are pecking away at them. Amongst them are the wailing women moving and falling as they try to locate their husbands or children.

She then addresses Krishna, 'You hear my daughter and my daughters-in-law crying without control Krishna. In the same manner many women are remembering their husbands, children as they keep looking for them. This scene is burning me!.'  And as she keeps walking, they find Duryodhana and Gandhari falls down like a severed plantain tree wailing ''Oh! Duryodhana!'

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The women come out of their homes in thousands. Mahbharata 174

Dhritharashtra still inconsolable with grief and totally distraught appears to have lost his mind completely, gets on to the chariot.  Gandhari accompanied by Kunti and other women, follow him. Vidhura speaks soothingly to the women and joins them. As they go down the streets, they hear the wail of women, children and the old men. Women, who had lead a sheltered life, even the devatas had not seen them, having lost their husbands are stepping out of their homes, bereft of their jewellery, hair untied and with a single cloth covering their bodies. Thousands of such women, crying uncontrollably, run towards the Dhritharashtra's chariot unmindful of propriety and their self-respect. Their cry of pain rises to the skies and the whole world  mourns with them.

Dharmaraja hears the news and goes to meet Dhritharashtra along with his brothers, Krishna and Draupadi. On seeing him, the thousands of women around Dhritharashtra cry out loud, 'Where did the king's dharma and ahimsa go? He has killed elders, his gurus and brothers! What is the use of his kingdom without his children, gurus and the elders?'

Dharmaraja wades through this throng of women and salutes Dhritharashtra with reverence and the rest also announce themselves one by one and salute him. The old king embraces Dharmaraja perfunctorily without any show of emotion and asks for Bheema. His anger and grief is palpable and appears capable of burning Bheema. Krishna reads his mind and pulls back Bheema and pushes forward an iron statue. Dhritharashtra thinking it is Bheema, embraces it strongly with both his arms and crushes it. The iron sculpture  is disfigured beyond recognition  and Dhritharashta's chest is also pierced and blood gushes out. Dritharashtra falls behind and Sanjaya supports him. Thinking that he has killed Bheema shouts with sadness 'Ayyo Bheema! Ayyo Bheema!', not angry anymore.

Krishna realising this tells him, 'Maharaja, you did not kill Bheema! I saw the anger in you and pushed Bheeema back and pushed forward an iron sculpture which belonged to your son. No one has your strength. Being in the grip of your arms is like being the grip of lord Yama. In  extreme grief after' loosing your children you had planned to kill Bheemasena. It is not right Maharaja. Whatever you do, your children will not come back alive. Please understand that I did this to eliminate your anger. Control you grief.' Dhritharashtra then comes to his senses, crying blesses the Pandavas as he strokes their bodies.' .

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Stree Parva continued, Vidura advises his brother. Mahabharata 173

Later Vidura makes an attempt to console his elder brother, ‘Maharaja, all life forms have to end. Birth and death are both part of nature. Yama takes away both the coward and the hero; a kshatriya cannot sit idle just because of this. When the time comes, one who does not fight also dies; if it is not his time, he will survive even the war. None can escape, death pulls everyone towards it, some early and some late. It does not spare anyone’.

‘A pot can break while it is being spun on the wheel or while it is being removed. A few break as it is put down and a few when it is lifted up. It can break when it is still raw or when it is being baked or after it is baked. Hence do not grieve for your children. If what the shastras say is right, they will all go to heaven. They came from somewhere and go somewhere else. They were not yours before their birth and now that they are dead they are not yours anymore. Like the travelers who are here a few days, all life forms appear and stay for a few days and then go. In our life cycle, we do not know how many thousands of fathers and mothers we have had, how many wives and children came and went! We do not know what they are now and they do not know who we are! A unwise man has thousands of worries and hundreds of fears. But one who knows has no worries. Like we take care of our bodies with medicines, we must take care of the illness of our minds with wisdom.’

‘But it is not easy to have this wisdom'. Vidura tells an allegorical story. 'It is said that a brahmin was walking in a dark scary forest (existence) full of wild and cruel animals (disease). Scared he ran helter-skelter and finally found refuge in a place which was fenced all round. But an ugly demon (old age) lived there and embraced him. In trying to escape he fell into a well and grabbed at the branches covering the well and hung upside down. A poisonous snake (god of death) waited below and an elephant (age) stood near the well. Bees (desire) which were disturbed by his fall were buzzing around him. As the beehive was full of honey (enjoyment), it dripped down on his face and he licked it with relish and wanted to live so that he could enjoy more honey. In the meanwhile two rats,(day and night) one white and other black, were nibbling at the tree he was hanging on to. (desire to live). He does not know when the tree would break and when he would fall down. But he still wants to live and enjoy the honey’.
Vidura then continues with his advice.
'Desire is the main cause for unhappiness. Your excessive greed brought you into this state. Logical understanding is the best medicine for your sadness. Control your mind and using the medicine of knowledge cure yourself. It is this that will bring you happiness. It is not the wealth, friends, relatives and victory that brings you happiness. In this time of calamity, stabilize your mind and become friends with everyone. The real merit comes by offering peace and not by fasting thousands of days or performing many yagnas. Understand this and be forgiving and perform the rituals for the dead.'
 Offering condolences is always tough. Here Vidura, who was always offering counsel to his brother, mostly without success, has his final say. I suppose it is difficult to avoid the tone of 'I told you so!' I am sure he could not avoid feeling vindicated. He had even gone to extent of telling his brother to kill the child Duryodhana as the child's stars foretold serious calamities.
The women have not yet made an appearance in the parva! But it is better to stop here and think of Vidura and his life in the palace of the kauravas!