Saturday, 29 September 2012

Kunti, Vidura and Sanjaya join the old couple in the forest. Mahabharata 200

A few days later, in the month of Kartika,  Dhritharashtra performs a ten day ceremony in honor of the dead and distributes gifts. The ceremonies are performed for his deceased children, grandchildren and his forefathers, also for himself and Gandhaari and thus becomes free from all his obligations..
Next morning Dhritharashtra and Gandhaari wear clothes made out of fibre and a cover of deer skin and  proceed towards the forest. Carried right in front is a pot of sacred fire and Kunti walks just behind, Gandhaari, her eyes covered with a cloth, puts her hand on Kunti's shoulder and the blind Dhritharashtra follows; his hand resting on Gandhaari's shoulder. With them are the Pandavas, Draupadi and Subhadra, Vidura and Sanjaya. The day is similar to the day when pandavas left town, many sad citizens throng around them. Dhritharashtra makes his way through them with folded hands. The people return once they reach the main gate of the city.

Vidura and Sanjaya have come prepared to be with the royal couple. At the gate Yudhisthira asks Kunti to return along with his daughters-in-law.  But Kunti continues to walk, 'I will go with them and take care of them as if they are my parents-in-law and wash my sins. Not speaking about Karna earlier turned out to be a big mistake. Do not forget him.  You and your brothers offer numerous gifts in his name. Do not hurt Sahadeva, he loves me a lot! Always behave in a way that pleases Draupadi.'  Yudhisthira pleads with her to change her mind and return home. He tells that it is because of her words that he went into war and is worried how she will manage in the forest, but Kunti continues to walk.

Bheema asks 'Don't  you want to see  your children rule the kingdom and feel happy? If not, why did you ask us to fight this war? Where is the need for you to go to the forest. If you wanted to live in the forest, then why did you, while we were boys , bring us out of it? Please have mercy on us mother and do not leave!'

She keeps walking as she has decided that to go to the forest is the right decision. The pleadings of her sons, bring teas into her eyes. She tells them, 'What you say is right! I lifted you up when you lost the kingdom in gambling, were insulted by your cousins and had lost everything. I propped you up as I did not want the pandu lineage lost, your fame destroyed and you get into new difficulties. I supported you so that the raja vamsha did not end with you. When my husband was the king I enjoyed plenty of royal privileges, offered many many gifts in charity and drank nectar. Also I did not encourage Krishna for my sake. I do not want the fruits my sons victory. What I want now is  to perform enough penance, as I aspire to go to patilokha and join my husband. I will serve elders who live in the forest. Take Bheema and others back to the kingdom'. 

Pandavas duly chastened give up and turn back. The efforts of Dhritarashtra to convince Kunti to go back through Gandaari, Vidura has no effect on Kunti. While Pandavas return feeling like orphans, Dhritarashtra and the rest walk a long distance and arrive at a grove near Bhagirathi river.  Being used the comforts of a city, the first night is hard on them. Having rested the night, they bathe in the morning and walk to the hermitage of Shatayoopa,  a king who is there to perform penance after handing over his kingdom to his son. Vidura and Sanjaya change clothes and begin a severe form of penance.

My thoughts were about how it would be if I were one of the seniors around that time. Life would be different. Simpler?  I am not so sure. I cannot imagine myself doing severe penance. It is certain that not many seniors would be around those days. Surely no blogging or golf.

As it happens there is TOI report on seniors.
The report, 29/9/2012, said that every third senior citizen in India is abused, mainly by his son or by his daughter-in-law. The study said that in India, the family has been the mainstay of social support. "Even in this age and time, 58% of older persons in India are living with the family. The findings of this report also affirm confidence in the ability of the family to care for its older members,".

The National Policy on Older Persons has also recognized the importance of family for the well being of older persons and has decided to have programmes to promote family values, sensitize the young on the necessity and desirability of inter-generational bonding and continuity and the desirability of meeting filial obligations.

"State policies will encourage children to co-reside with their parents by providing tax relief, allowing rebates for medical expenses and giving preference in the allotment of houses. The policy also says that short-term staying facilities for older persons will be supported so that families can get some relief when they go out," the study said.

The report made an interesting recommendation. In order to prevent elder abuse, it said there should be nationwide programmes in schools and colleges for sensitizing children and young adults towards the ageing and the aged, sensitization of healthcare workers to recognize and develop a protocol for treatment, develop a robust social security system that not only ensures income security to the older persons but also gives them opportunities for income generation.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Ashramavasika Parva. Mahabharata 199

Pandavas begin their rule. Yudhisthira treats Dhritharashtra as the head of the family. Pandavas take all decisions after consulting Dhritarashtra, Draupadi, Subhadra, other wives and Gandhari. It is Sanjaya, Vidhura and Yuyutsu  who take care of Dhritarashtra's well being and needs. Pandavas do not make any distinction between themselves and the elderly royal couple.  Knowing their grief at the loss of all their sons, it is Yudhisthira's intention to give them as much solace as possible. The couple also understand, are at peace and show their appreciation.

 Dhritharashtra continues to feel sad as he thinks of his foolhardy son. But each day after offering his morning prayers, he includes a special prayer for the well being of pandavas. If someone, even unintentionally, hurts Dhritharashtra, Yudhisthira is prone to get very upset and angry. Because of this none dare talk about the misadventure of Dhritharashtra's children at any time. While Bheema is also careful about this, he just cannot contain his feelings. He is still full of anger. Hence once in a while, he gives his arms a resounding slap within the earshot of Dhritharashtra, and mutter 'Because of my powerful arms, I banished the blind king's skilled children to the other world.'  Dhritharashtra feels deeply hurt at such words!

Fifteen years go by and it becomes more and more difficult for Dhritharashtra to bear Bheema's taunts. One day  he calls his close friends and family,  speaks to them. He is in tears,'You know that it was due to my folly that the kaurava vamsha was destroyed'. He then recounts how he suffers because of this, unable to eat and sleep. He says that he and Gandhari have chosen to lead a very austere life. 

He then addresses Yudhisthira, thanks him for his care and says while he is happy, he desires to go and live in a forest. As his children are dead because of their deeds, there is nothing for him to do. Anyway, he says it is the tradition in their family and it is time to think about themselves and do penance. He adds that Yudhisthira  will also benefit. A portion of the the good or the bad deeds by his citizens goes to the king.

Yudhisthira is unhappy and also is upset that he was not aware of the austere lifestyle of his uncle. Typically he offers to renounce the kingdom as he cannot think of living in the palace without them. He offers to make Yuyutsu, his uncle's only surviving son the king, and follow them to the forest. Dhritharashtra does not want change his mind and requests others to convince Yudhisthira to let him go. He faints and looses his balance due his weakness and Gandhari supports her husband. This again makes Yudhisthira more upset, as he remembers the strength of Dhritharashtra compared to his present state. He caresses his uncle and revives him. The scene is charged with emotion. The uncle has not eaten for four days and is weak. Yudhisthira embraces his uncle and urges him to eat. Dhritharashtra says that he will eat only if Yudhisthira agrees to let him go. Yudhisthira has no other option but to agree!

The next day the old king talks to his people and seeks permission from them to go to the forest. He talks about the past and assures the people that they will be well looked after by the Pandavas and seeks forgiveness for any mistakes he or his children had made and thanks them for their loyalty and support. A brahmin represents the populace and assures the king that eighteen day war was not because of Duryodhana and others, but it was destined to be so. He also states that his kuru vamsha has always taken care of the people. They wish the old king well and expresses the confidnece that the kunti putras will take very good care of them. Dhirtharashtra is satisfied and he returns home with Gandhari.

  How old was Dhritharashtra? Anyway age seems to have finally caught up with him. The taunts from Bheema finally begins to affect him. I have seen, as we grow older, me included, we get more sensitive. I do not think our society  treats age with respect, if it ever did, unless there is more to it than just age. They need to be the ever green politicians or heads of family owned industries or those with money or occasionally a scholar! In fact, if you are just old, it is the other way round, no respect. 

I remember a documentary about a speices of monkeys. In this species a group of she monkeys are the leaders and they support each other, so that  males dare not bother them, especially the bachelors. Then one day one of the older ladies  falls out of favor. Apparently her old age is the reason. She can only hover around the fringe of the community and without protection she is attacked by the males and dies. But life is as usual in the community of the monkeys. It shocked me then and it still is disturbing!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Ashwamedika parva ends with a story. Mahabharata 198

On the final day a strange thing happened. While brahmins, relatives and friends, the blind and the lame all were noisily happy with the gifts received, a mongoose came out of a hole nearby. One side of its body was all gold. Its shout sounded like the thunder and it spoke like the humans. 'Hey kings! This yagna is not even equal to one seer of flour gifted by a brahmin who made a living by gleaning!'. People around were curious to know why it spoke this way. Here is the story:-

'In the past there lived a brahmin who survived by gleaning. (To gather grain left behind by reapers). His family consisted of his wife, son and daughter-in-law. Once there was a drought and he was unable to collect any grains and on that day the family went hungry. The next day , he was able to collect a bit of maize by afternoon. They ground the maize and cooked it and were about to eat after the afternoon rituals when an atithi, a unexpected visitor, dropped in. After receiving him with due formality, the brahmin served his portion of the food to the visitor. The visitor was still hungry. Then the portion meant for his wife was served and this way the visitor was satisfied only after all the portions meant for the family was served. While the brahmin was reluctant to give away the portions meant for his family,  they were sure that the hungry guest was to be served till he was fully satisfied.'

'After the meal, the visitor spoke, 'Ayya! What you gave me was a pure gift. You got it in the right way and from practising dharma. Hence it is superior. Your forefathers all  have reached a high status in heaven because of your gift. Devatas are pleased with the way you have performed your tapas. It is not easy to be hungry. Hunger makes you loose your mind, it affects your virtues, you will experience a loss of judgement and courage. For one who overcomes hunger, it is as if,  he has attained heaven. Under severe circumstances of hunger, you did not bother about your own hunger, disregarded the love of your wife and children and only thought that it is your dharma to give. If you give, at the right time and to the one who is deserving, the gates of heaven will be opened. It is not written how much one should give, it could be hundred or a thousand, but what is important is the sincerity with which it is given. In the past Rantideva, who had nothing, just gave water with a pure heart and attained heaven. More than big and bigger gifts, the gift  which is given should be obtained in the right manner. It is more pleasing to Dharma, if it is given faithfully. The gift you have given is superior to the many gifts that are given at the time of Rajasuya and Ashwamedha. You have attained brahmalokha with your small gift of one measure of flour. Look, a vimana has arrived to take you and your family.'

The mongoose, continues the story, 'I came out after they left. Due to the small amounts of flour scattered on the ground, half of my body turned to gold. When I heard about the Yagna Dharmaraja is performing, I came with the hope that the other half of my body will also turn to gold. But nothing happened. That was the reason why, I shouted that this yagna is not equal to the gift of one measure of flour!'  and scampers away. 

The parva concludes with what Vaishampayana  tells Janamejaya: 'Crores of Rishis have gone to heaven with just penance. Rishi Agastya pleased Indra with Dhyana yagna. Because of this, rain, crops were in plenty. Not hurting animals, being content, character, penance, uprightness, self-restraint, truth and charity are all equal.

It is as though the author(s) anticipated my thoughts from my previous blog. I hope this story, narrated by a mongoose, is read by all those who plan to perform many rituals while they could do better by addressing more serious issues with the money they collect and spend. The fact that Ashwamedha is performed in the 21st century is beyond my comprehension.

 In fact, I almost skipped reading this anecdote as I wanted to move on with the main story. The concluding chapters of Mahabharata remind me of the long lectures, the chief guest and other vip's give as they are asked to speak two words after a programme of music. 

It is true that many illustrative stories are narrated making valid and valuable points. It was obviously the intention of Vyasa to draw lessons from the epic war and teach us. I just cannot imagine staying with the many thousands of couplets in the original. Even this abridged version is tough to keep up.

The author A.R Krishna Sastry, again decides not to include 'Vaishanva Dharma Parva' which he says is only seen in the southern Indian versions. My friend Raghu was looking forward to this part!

Notes from wikipedia: (I borrow from wikipedia, as it is easy to access. Hopefully they are resonably accurate and fair!)
Vaishampayana was the traditional narrator of the Mahabharata.
He was a pupil of Vyasa, from whom he learned the Jaya, the original 8,800 verses of the Mahabharata. He later expanded the Jaya to 24,000 verses under the name Bharata, which he recited to King Janamejaya at his sarpa satra (snake sacrifice). 

 Janamejaya was a Kuru king. He was the son of Parikshit and Madravati. He was the grandson of Abhimanyu and the great-grandson of Arjuna. He wanted to exterminate the race of Nagas, since Takshaka was responsible for the death of his father Parikshit. Emperor Janamejaya was responsible for the retelling of the famous epic Mahabharata a story of Janamejaya's ancestors from the time of Bharata up to the great Kurukhsetra war between his great grandfathers the Paandavas and their paternal cousins the Kauravas. The Mahabharata states that it was recited to Janamejaya at the sarpa satra (snake sacrifice) by the sage Vaishampayana to whom it had been imparted by his perceptor Vedavyasa.

The full 100,000 verses of the Mahabharata was not complete until several centuries later.

Yudhisthira peforms Ashwamedha yagna. Mahbharata 197

All preparations are made for the yagna. The horse is released to wander as it wishes. Arjuna as the main protector follows and his soldiers accompany him. Arjuna successfully protects the horse as it passes through Trigarta, Pragjothisha and Sindu. Next they reach the Manaloorapura. Their king, Babruvahana,  is Arjuna and Chitrangade's son. ( Their story is in Adiparva.).  Babruvahana knows this and greets Arjuna with respect and devotion. He does not stop the horse, tie it up and wage a war with the visitors.  For some reason this does not please Arjuna. 'If I had come without weapons, greeting me this way is alright. As I have come fully armed, it is not khsatriya dharma to greet me in a peaceful manner.'

Hearing this rebuke, Babruvahana's step mother, Uloopi, A Nagakanya and one more wife of Arjuna, breaks through earth and addresses her crestfallen stepson. 'Son, fight with Arjuna, he will be happy if you fight him!'  So, Babruvahana ties up the horse and starts to fight with his father. Arjuna is pleased with his son's skills and responds without much seriousness. Suddenly Babhruvahana aims an arrow directly at Arjuna's heart and finds its mark. Arjuna struck very hard faints and falls! Babhruvahana distaught and tired, also faints. Chitrangade hears of this and runs to the war front. She blames Uloopi, 'All this happened because of you!'

Meanwhile Babhruvahana comes out from his stupor and sees his mother next to the very still, fallen Arjuna, crying her heart out. He becomes very sad and is worried. Thinks that if Arjuna dies, it is better he also dies, sits next to his father  waiting for death (Prayopravesha) to come to him! Uloopi thinks of  sanjeevini, a precious stone capable of reviving;  it falls into her hand. She gives it to Babruvahana and tells him, 'Place this on the heart of your father.  You have not killed him, he will revive. He wanted to see how brave you are! The reason why, I encouraged you to fight'. Arjuna is revived by the stone and he gets up. Uloopi comforts  Arjuna with  'You have now atoned the sin of killing Bheeshma, if not you would have faced misfortune.'

Arjuna continues with his triumphant journey behind the sacrificial Horse and returns to Hastinapura. The yagna is performed in great style and pomp. Kings, invitees and the unfortunate are all treated well. There are mountains of great variety food everywhere and oceans of drinks of all types. The fame of this Ashwamedha  spreads all over the world. Gifts of money, jewels and gold rain on people. By his munificence, the king is blessed and becomes free from his sins and enters the city!

I found this story astounding! It could be one of the quickest recoveries in history of a country engaged in a massive war ! The story probably explains our present day attitudes. We seem to take everything in our stride as long as we are assured that we can atone for our sins, by taking a dip in a holy river, give away money or spend it on a temple. I guess no one wants to know how the money came into its coffers! In Mahabharata days, invading a neighboring country, fighting a khsatriya war was acceptable and the bounty collected was legitimate.
Yagnas are performed even today. Ashwamedha was performed recently in Madurai.  A modified version. No need for a king. No sacrifice of a horse.. And hopefully  no bizarre rituals, as prescribed in the original form,  to be performed by the queens of the kartas.

Posted 29 December 2005 - 01:48 PM
Aswamedha Yagna in Madurai, India—Live on Internet

From times immemorial, daily Gayatri Mantra Chanting and Agnihotra (Yagya) have been the two cardinal principles and upholders of perennial Vedic Culture of Ancient India. Gayatri  Mantra Chanting symbolizes constant remembrance of the Supreme Spirit of the Cosmos that guides us towards the righteous wisdom; and Yagya symbolizes the mutual ceaseless sharing and caring of the cosmic energies and processes, which keep the harmony of the spheres intact.

Ashwamedha Yagya: As ‘Ashwa’ is the symbol of mobility, valour and strength and the ‘medha’ is the symbol of supreme wisdom and intelligence, the natural meaning of ‘Ashwamedha’ can be taken as “the combination of the valour and strength and illumined power of intellect”. It is the combination of these two for selfless and other-centered motives that may create an ideal society and nation. This is the reason, why the making of a nation has been called ‘Ashwamedha’.

Ashwamedha yagyas as propounded and performed by All World Gayatri Pariwar in the present day context, means – Cosmic Energy (Ashwa) led and guided by Medha (Enlightened Intelligence) for collective awakening and ennobling of society. Shantikunj, Haridwar based All World Gayatri Pariwar has so far performed 29 such mass scale Mahayagyas (23 in India and 6 abroad). The one going to be performed at Madurai Meenakshi Teerth from Dec 29, 2005 to Jan 1 2006 will be the thirtieth in this chain and the first in the holy land of Tamilnadu, India.  More details and  the official flyer of the yagna can be found at:

The integrated science of Yagna
The Extra Sensory Potentials of Mind
The Absolute law of Karma
Spiritual Science of Sex Elements
Music- the Nectar of Life
Eternity of Sound and Science of Mantra
Life beyond Physical Death
Who am I
The Divine Message of Vedas
Gayatri Sadhna- Truths and Distortions
21st Century  - The Dawn of The Era Of The Divine Descent On Earth  

Live Broadcast

Sanskar channel is going to broadcast the Ashwamedha Yagna live on Sanskar TV Channel. The live broadcast is also available on the internet via their website

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A scene from Dwaraka and the birth of Parikshit, before we continue with Ashwameda. Mahabharata 196

The author takes us away from Hastinapura to Dwaraka.

Once Yudhisthira starts functioning as a king, Krishna goes back to Dwaraka along with his sister Subhadra. He has been away a  long time!  Krishna, who allowed the Mahabharata war to be fought, was returning home like Devendra, who returned after killing all the demons! Every one is happy to see Krishna and felicitate him. After responding suitably to the invitations of the Bhojas, Vrishnis and others, Krishna goes to meet his parents.

A happy Vasudeva asks; 'Dear child! I have heard stories from others  about this extraordinary war! You have seen this war with your own eyes, you were involved with it and I would like to hear from you, as a man of valor, how this war was waged by pandavas and by Bheeshma, Karna, Krupa and Drona. Krishna, tell us as it happened, in detail .'

Krishna replies that it will take a hundred years to describe the miraculous feats by the great warriors in this war! He describes the war briefly from the time Bheeshma takes charge as the chief of the army until the death of Duryodhana. He does not tell them about the death of Abhimanyu as he deliberately avoids it, to spare his father from hearing about his  grandson's death. Subhadra who was present asks, 'Why did you omit the death of Abhimanyu? Tell him!'  And she faints and falls down just at the thought of her dead son.

Vasudeva also faints and on recovering asks Krishna, 'You are known in the world as a man who always speaks the truth. How is it that you hid the news of my own grandson's death? Tell me! How did he die? What was his message to his mother? Did he tell me anything? Oh, how I loved him! I hope he did not hesitate to fight and was not killed while he tried to run away?

Krishna gives his father the full details of Abhimanyu's bravery and declares that he has surely gone to heaven as there is nothing more sacred for a khsatriya than to die in a war, especially with death caused by a weapon. He also speaks about Subhadra going practically mad with grief and the way Kunti consoles her, advising her to behave like a true khsatriya woman;  face the death of her son bravely and take care of Uttarae, her daughter-in-law who is fully pregnant.

Meanwhile Yudhisthira collects enough money and materials from Himalayas and starts preparations to perform Ashwamedha yagna. Krishna and Subhadra return to Hastinapura. While there Uttarae gives birth to a son. As was expected it is a stillborn baby as a result of Ashwatthama's astra. The happiness at the birth of a child to perpetuate the vamsha turns into a uncontrollable wail of sadness.

Kunti, Draupadi and Subhadra and the rest appeal to Krishna, 'Krishna you had promised that you would save the child. It is now without life. We will all live if that child lives, all our prana is now in that child.'  

Krishna walks into the room where the child is lying lifeless. He looks solemnly at the child and speaks, 'If I have not uttered a single lie even in fun, have not retreated from a fight in a war, let this child live! If dharma and brahmins are dear to me, let this child live. If truth and dharma  recide in me, let this child live.'  Krishna then moves his palm from its feet to the head and the child starts breathing. As the child is born after the clan of kurus was destroyed, he is given the name Parikshit, one who extended the lineage!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Ashwamedika Parva. Mahabharata 195

Yudhisthira faints after returning from offering  jalatharpana to Bheeshma, . Both Dhritharashtra and Krishna help him recover and urge him to take courage; Krishna is in fact a bit stern with Yudhisthira. But Yudhisthira is still distraught; tells Krishna that he feels like giving up everything and going to the forest. He then asks if there is some way he can atone for his sins and clear his mind.

Vyasa, who is present there, tells Yudhisthira that he is confused and asks, 'Is it really possible that a man can act independently and do as he pleases? Whether it is good or bad, Ishwara sets it in motion and man just implements it. But if you really think that you have committed a sin, there are ways to atone for it. People who have been wicked are known to perform yagna, penance and give charity to purify themselves. Devatas became strong with this practice and were able to defeat the demons. You can perform Ashwamedha Yagna the way  Srirama and Bharatha chakravarty had done earlier and give away plenty of  food and money.'

Yudhisthira agrees that Ashwamedha saves the world itself from sins, but has a problem. 'Where will I get the money for this? I do not have the heart to ask my brothers to go and get it for me. With so many  kings dead, from where do I get tributes? The treasury of the kauravas is empty and  ashwamedha costs money. Even if I pledge the earth it will not be enough!'

Vyasa gives him a solution, 'Previously, the Maruttha king had performed the yagna in the himalayas. There is still a lot of money lying there as the brahmins could not transport it. You can arrange to get it, there is enough for you!' 

With this news Yudhisthira calms down and get busy with ruling his kingdom.

There is a note from the author that he is not including 'Anugita' which is part of this parva.  
'It contains Krishna's conversation with Arjuna when Krishna decided to return to Dwaraka after restoring to the Pandavas, their kingdom. The main topics discussed are transmigration of souls, means of attaining liberation, description of gunas and ashramas, dharma, and the effects of tapas or austerity.'

There is one more link:  THE ANUGITA



My curiosity took me back to wikipedia about ashwamedha yagna:
There is more to it than just letting a horse to wander for a year!  There is a role for the queens in this sacrifice. I guess I will let you read about it by yourself !

Bheeshma departs. Mahabharata 194

Bheeshma had asked Yudhisthira to return after fifty days, on the day Uttarayana began. Yudhisthira arrives along with Dhritharashtra, Kunti, Krishna, Vidura and others. They also come with ghee,  chips, incense, flowers, sandal wood and sandal wood paste. Bheeshma welcomes Yudhisthira. 'Come Yudhisthira come! It is fifty eight days since I fell, but it feels like a hundred years! It is the month of magha and shukla paksha, very auspicious. 

(There is no mention of more royal visits during the period! It must have rather lonely for Bheeshma pitamaha!)

Bheeshma then addresses Dhritharashtra, 'Maharaja, you are one who knows dharma well. You have served  men learned in the vedas, hence do not grieve any further. Whatever had to happen happened! As per dharma, pandavas are also your children. They will be obedient to you and will take good care. Your children adopted wrong methods due to their greed, jealousy and anger and were destroyed. Stop feeling sad for them.' He then looks at Krishna, 'Vasudeva, protect the pandavas, you are their refuge. I had advised Duryodhana to make peace, I had told him that whoever Krishna supports will win. But he foolishly ignored me and paid a price. I was told by both Vyasa and Narada that you are the incarnation of an ancient rishi  Narayana. Please permit to leave my body, if  you approve, I will attain bliss!'

Krishna permits him, 'I have given you permission Bheeshma! Go and join the astavasus! You are without a fault, pure soul, worshipper of ancestors, a rajarishi and the second Markandeya; hence death is waiting for you like a servant.' 

Bheeshma then turns towards all those surrounding them, 'I am taking leave of you, permit me! Be the followers of truth, it is the highest form of strength; practise self-control, non-violence, be virtuous and practise austerities.' 

 He salutes all with folded hands, becomes still and draws a  deep breath. His Prana, breath of life rises from his body. As it starts leaving the body, the arrows which were embedded in his body begin to fall from portions from which life force has departed and in a second his body is free of arrows. Prana breaks away from his forehead like a volcano and disappears into the sky. The celestial drums are heard and flowers shower on the body from the sky.

Bheeshma is cremated with due ceremony by his grandchildren and others. They then go the banks of river Ganga and make sacred offerings to the river. Mother Ganga rises tearfully from the river and speaks about her heroic son and bemoans the fact that he was killed by Shikandi and cries without control. Krishna pacifies her and tells her that it was Arjuna who killed him and not Shikandi. He reminds her that her son was a vasu, who was cursed to be born as a man and has now chosen to go back to join other vasus! Everyone there salute her with respect and leave and mother Ganga gets back into the river and disappears.

The story of Bheeshma became clearer as I read about 'Vasus' and the reason he was cursed to live a hard life on earth. In hinduism, the Vasus are attendant deities of  Indra, and later Vishnu. They are eight elemental gods representing aspects of nature, representing cosmic natural phenomenon. The name Vasu means 'Dweller' or 'Dwelling'. They are eight among the Thirty-Three Gods.

While Bheeshma was all that Krishna said of him. He was not all that simple in his earlier life form. He stole a cow to please his wife and unfortunately not an ordinary one and was cursed by the owner rishi Vashishta. So in a way he had it coming!

His punishment seems severe considering the demeanour, but those days stealing a sacred cow must have been a very serious offence. Being a deity must be another reason why, he was given such a stiff punishment as a deterrent.

It still did not explain why he stayed on with Duryodhana! Then I read that Bheeshma had given one more promise that he would serve whoever occupied the throne of kurus. 

'The clan Guru then asked who would be held responsible if the future crown prince isn't capable enough. Bheeshma then took another vow that he would always see his father's image in whoever sits on the King's throne & will serve him.'

 It is admirable that he kept his promises, but it sad for him that he was so generous with his promises and  steadfast in keeping them.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Dharmaraja's last question strikes a chord! Mahabharata 193

Dharmaraja's final question struck a chord!
'However able and qualified, if one is not lucky one does not get wealthy. On the other hand, if lucky, the incompetent and even a kid will get rich. There are hundreds who in spite of trying hard  are denied wealth, whereas there are some who get everything with out working for it. It seems that people who adapt evil ways  are rewarded with wealth, while those who mind their own business and do their duty remain poor! Those who are well read in नीतिशास्त् , ethics and morality, do not practice it. The incompetent become ministers! The well read behave stupidly. There are some who do not die even if hundreds of arrows are aimed at them, while another dies, even if a blade of grass touches him. What is the reason for all this?'

I am sure we all have our own answers for these legitimate questions! But here is what Bheeshma says, like it or not! While he blamed karma squarely for the war that destroyed so many, he gives some hope when he suggests action, so that one can hope to change things!

Bheeshma replies, 'If one is not wealthy, one must perform severe penance; there are no crops unless  the seeds are sown! It is said that with charity comes enjoyment, taking care of elders gives you awareness, with non-violence, you live longer. Hence you must give to the needy, serve those who follow dharma, only speak of good things, do the right things and practice non-violence. Whether it is a mosquito, an ant or an insect, their nature and thier share of good or bad is predetermined at the time of their birth.  You must believe in the benefit of doing good, should not depend on evil ways to achieve your ends. 'Time' will enter your mind and ensure that you will follow dharma and eschew adharma! It is only dharma that will finally bring you victory.

Finally Yudhisthira has no more questions! Bheeshma then asks them to go back and come to him on uttarayana day, when the sun commences to move north.of the equator!

It surprises me that pitamaha Bheeshma worried about the day of his passing. He knew or believed  that on uttaranyana day the gates of vaikunta opened and his soul would have the darshan of mahavishnu right away. My thoughts are about others who have no way choosing their time of death. What about them or what if Bheeshma had decided to die the day he was defeated. Would his and other souls would be in a limbo till the gates opened. There are so many speculations and so many questions!

 Bheeshma's choice reminds of an incident which unnerved us all.  It is about a boy of 12, steeped in our rituals and our beliefs, who for whatever personal reasons, committed suicide. He chose the most auspicious day and time to hang himself. He spoke to all his relatives in India the night before, to his father who was travelling. He wrote a beautiful letter to his parents, bidding them good bye, with a prayer that he would be born to them again. (In their next janma?).  The parents gradually recovered and spoke about the signs that they had seen all his life. The boy dreamt of snakes and wanted to see them all the time, the proof that their son was from naga lokha. His time had come as a snake lived for 12 about years. The couple, they were very active socially and dynamic, were consoled by the fact that having chosen the right day and time their son would be back from where he had come from! I honestly found it a little odd that the parents encouraged him to go to his school with his caste marks, an international school in a different country. When I asked them about it, they said that the boy wanted it. There were many confusing statements which we wisely decided not to question! It was not the time.

It was very difficult for me to relate to these beliefs as for me, one day is as auspicious or inauspicious as the next day! The same goes with Rahukala and with fasting, giving up a dinner once a week and so on.  It is nothing to do with belief or non-belief. It probably is the way I am made!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Yudhisthira asks for more advice. Mahabharata 192

Bheeshma consoles Yudhisthira, tells him that it was not his doing but the many individual actions   resulted in the deaths of hundred of thousands in the 18 day mahabharata war. It is not the only time  that so many died in a war. The second world war resulted in the death of  many millions over a period of 5 years. If the mahabharata madness lasted only 18 days,  the wars in later years lasted much longer. It could be that in modern day wars, improved technology sustained wars for longer periods.

I wonder about the way the Karma accounting is done and how the 'Time' of death is decided for so many in the times of war. It is easy to say that war or accident happens because the 'Time' had come for so many! Whatever it is, the crunching of data is phenomenal.

As Bheeshma puts the blame on Karma for all the deaths, I wondered more about this five letter word! I go back to web to see what is now said about karma!

Karma (Sanskrit: कर्म ; Pali: kamma) in Indian religions is the concept of "action" or "deed", understood as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect (i.e., the cycle called saṃsāra) originating in ancient India and treated in the Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh religions.

A concept of karma (along with samsara and moksha) may originate in the shramana tradition of which Buddhism and Jainism are continuations. This tradition influenced the Brahmanic religion in the early Vedantic (Upanishadic) movement of the 1st millennium BC. This worldview was adopted from this religious culture by Brahmin orthodoxy, and Brahmins wrote the earliest recorded scriptures containing these ideas in the early Upanishads. Until recently, the scholarly consensus was that reincarnation is absent from the earliest strata of Brahminical literature. However, a new translation of two stanzas of the Rig Veda indicate that the Brahmins may have had the idea, common among small-scale societies around the world, that an individual cycles back and forth between the earth and a heavenly realm of ancestors. In this worldview, moral behavior has no influence on rebirth. The idea that the moral quality of one's actions influences one's rebirth is absent from India until the period of the shramana religions, and the Brahmins appear to have adopted this idea from other religious groups.


Some traditions (i.e., the Vedanta), believe that a supreme being plays some kind of role, for example, as the dispenser of the 'fruits' of karma[ or as exercising the option to change one's karma in rare instances. In general, followers of Buddhism and many followers of Hinduism consider the natural laws of causation sufficient to explain the effects of karma.  Another view holds that a Sadguru, acting on a god's behalf, can mitigate or work out some of the karma of the disciple. And according to the Jainism perspective, neither a god nor a guru have any role in a person's karma—the individual is considered to be the sole doer and enjoyer of his karmas and their 'fruits'. Laws of karma are codified in some books.

While we try to absorb what is said in wikipedia, we can go back to the anushashana parva.

Yudhisthira seems insatiable, he has more questions. It is amazing how Bheeshma, bleeding and lying of a painful bed of arrows, is able to think clearly, remember anecdotes and discussions of learned people of the times.

Yudhisthira asks:  'Among learning, charity and penance which is superior?
Bheeshma quotes from Vyasa Maitreya samvada (conversation!), 'It is said that freedom from malice, charity and truth are the tools to achieve higher status, There is no doubt that among them Charity is superior. The learned, the charitable and the ascetic all are to be worshipped. They attain happiness here and hereafter. But people who are charitable and  donate food are highly respected. Donating food is like giving life. It equals the learning of the vedas, control of the senses and the freedom from worldly desires.

There is one more question from Yudhisthira, but before we go into it, I see there is a foot note in the book. The author states that this parva deals with the various types of charity, the time it is to be given and when not to give, the worthy and the unworthy people, the dharma of caste and order, the ways to perform ceremonies to honor the dead and many issues concerning dharma. It also deals with Vishnu sahasranama  and Shiva sahasranama (Thousand names of vishnu and shiva) and so on.

The author chooses not to include them in his version.

Anushashana Parva. Bheesma consoles Yudhisthira. Mahabharata 191

Yudhisthira is still not at peace even after listening to his grandfather's calming words of wisdom.
'How can I have peace when I know that I have performed an evil act! As I see your body pierced with arrows and  blood oozing from it, I feel troubled and I can never have peace. It is because of me you are in this condition! I feel terribly sad when I remember that  so many kings, relatives and their children all died because of me. This henious act  of mine was the result of my anger against Duryodhana, and my desire for the kingdom. I do not know what type of punishment will be meted out to me in future. We all are sinners, and Duryodhana is fortunate not see you in this condition!'

Bheeshma again consoles Yudhisthira, that it is not his doing, but the result of karma and not easy to understand as karma acts in subtle ways. Bheeshma  again tells him a story:

 There lived an old woman, Gautami. One day her son bitten by a snake, dies and a hunter goes after the snake and catches it. He ties the snake to a rope and brings it back and asks the woman what she wants to do with it. Whether she wants it burned or cut into pieces and he wants her answer in a hurry. He is angered at the sight of the dead son and wants to eliminate the snake, the cause of his death.

The woman does not want the snake to be killed. She says that her son would not come back by punishing  the snake and asks the hunter to release it. She does not know in what form death will come, but she does not want to be the cause of its death and become a sinner!

The hunter does not agree with her and suggests that the snake has to be killed and this action will diminish her anguish. And in such cases immediate retribution is a must. The woman does not agree, she says she has no desire for revenge.

'A series arguments are given for and against this vengeful action. The hunter says that  it is  possible that the snake may kill again so it is necessary to eliminate an enemy and does not think any major merit will be gained by the woman by saving a small creature as this!'

Meanwhile the snake recovers and speaks! It says it is not really responsible, 'Death incited me to kill and I bit! I had no desire to kill, neither was I angry and provoked, the blame should go to death.' The hunter does not agree, he says there was no need for the snake to listen to death, so it has to share the blame.

 At this moment death appears, 'Dear snake, I incited you to kill as 'काल' time wanted me to kill. The whole world, we, the sun and the moon, the seas, the earth and the sky, they are all dependent on 'time'. They come and go as per its dictates, If you call me guilty, then you are also guilty.' The snake does not agree!

As the argument goes on,  'Time' makes an appearance to resolve the issues. Time says 'It is dependent on karma, action! The boy was killed because of his actions! None of us are responsible for his death, but his karma killed him. We all are in its control. Karma sets us in motion and we incite it to act. Like the shadow and the light, karma and the doer are linked to each other.

It is then the old woman declares that her son died because of her Karma and as well as his. She urges the hunter to set the snake free and they all go their separate ways.

Bheeshma concludes, 'Hence do not keep grieving, calm down. The kings who died, died not because of your karma or that of Duryodhana,  their time had come because of their own karma'

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Bheeshma answers some more questions. Mahabharata 190

What should a man hold on to? Is it karma or wealth or wisdom to discriminate?
Bheeshma declares that wisdom is superior and the one to depend upon. He narrates a story of  Kashyapa, a rishi putra who is knocked down by the chariot of a rich merchant. He is badly hurt and decides to give up his life and starts crying. Indra comes in the guise of a fox and talks to him.

Fox tells Kashyapa that it wished  it  had ten fingers. It could then pull out a thorn from its body, remove insects from it and cover itself with clothes. A  man can do it! So he should be grateful that he is not born as a rat, a snake or an insect. The fox advises him to follow dharma and improve his chances in the afterlife. Something only a human can do.  If not he runs the risk of being born as a fox instead. Indra's message: One who is fortunate to be born as a human should not give in so easily.  Suddenly Kashyapa realises he is talking to lord Indra, gets up and seeks permission respectfully and goes home.

Grandfather, is there a benefit in Yagna, Charity, Penance and Service to gurus?
All good karmas are beneficial and follows the doer of good karma and at the right time its benefits are seen. It is like the tree which bears fruit and flowers at the appointed time. Your karma finds you like the calf is able to find its mother among thousand other cows. A good karma washes away your sins and you are benefited.

How was this world created, the animate and the inanimate? Where do they go when destroyed?

Bheeshma quotes from Manu Brihaspati samvada. The world was created from the imperishable, अक्षर. From it came the sky and from it the air; from it came vital power तेजस्; from it came water and from it came the world. At the end of the world the process is reversed. He also speaks of  'wells' into which the sky merges into पर the supreme and does not come back. He then describes 'Para'  and says that it cannot be understood unless one has अध्यात्मज्ञान, knowledge of the supreme spirit.

A number of compact sanskritised kannada words are used to describe the qualities of the supreme. To translate them correctly is a challenge that at the moment I unable to take. In any case there are more answers to this question today, scientific and otherwise.

Similarly his question about the difference between Sankhya and yoga can also be left alone for the present. There are so many who have written about this subject.

There is one more question: Did any king achieve a higher state without relinquishing his order as householder गृहस्थाश्रम? What is shape of his salvation?

Bheeshma again narrates a story which illustrates that a householder has as much opportunity as a sanyasi to achieve liberation.

I see that while Shantiparva ends here, Bheeshma still has a few things to say in the next parva, named Anushashana parva; अनुशासन. The word is translated as laying down the law, precept.

Monday, 17 September 2012

There is more of Bheeshma. Mahabharata 189

The essence of Bheeshma's advice is: each person chooses a responsibility and a role defined by himself; and then proceeds to spend his life fulfilling it way beyond its parameters through will power and intelligence, in the process of which he automatically protects " Dharma "; thus one who protects "Dharma" will be protected by it. Hence the famous " Mahavaakya ", " Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitaam ". Thus upholding such morality and ethics which generates social harmony through example is the primary function of every individual  however placed he may be in society. Hence the depth of function and the breadth of responsibility are always interrelated and limitless..

There are similar dialogues  such as "Yoga Vaashista ", " Vidura Neeti " " Ashtavakra Geeta "; " Yajnavalkya- Janaka Samvaaada " etc: Chanakya's " Rajaneeti " incorporates much of the past  and redefines it for his  times.
With this summary sent by my friend Chandramouli,  I could conclude Shantiparva and move on. But let us see how Bheeshma answers a few more questions.

How can one be free of anxiety and achieve a happy state (सद्गति)?
Bheeshma quotes again a brahmin who answered a similar question from Prahlada. He quotes the brahmin: 'Animals are born when we do not ask for it, come without an adequate cause, grow and die. When I see this I am neither happy or unhappy. Each one follows its own nature. What is together must part, what is joined must melt. None of these affect me! Everything, the big and the small,  the moving and the non-moving, the flying and the aquatic, all have to die. Even the big big stars fall down! Hence with the knowledge that all living things will die, I sleep without anxiety.'

'If by chance I get a lot of food to eat, I eat it all. In case I do not find  food for many days, I just lie down. Sometimes, I get plenty of very tasty food and other times there is nothing. Often it is just a bit of cooked broken rice or  a piece of meat. I eat whatever I manage to get. I sleep on a cot, I also sleep on the floor. I wear whatever clothes I find, they can be made of hemp, raw cotton or  skin or it could also be the most expensive silk. I do not reject things I enjoy, if  it comes to me and it is not against dharma. But I do not go seeking them. I practice अजगर  व्रत (the conduct of  a huge serpent) and have given up anger and hatred, fear and greed, worries and desires and live a life without anxiety and I am happy.'

Interesting attitude. I had a feeling that in ancient times brahmins were normally well taken care of by the rest. Then again we know that Dronacharya was poor and his son did not even have milk to drink. 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Many more questions are answered by Bheeshma. Mahabharata 188

'If one loses his wealth, parents, his wife and children, how should one bear such a loss with wisdom?'
Bheeshma's quotes a brahmin; depending on your day it will sound profound or just platitude. Parting is inevitable, no one escapes it. Nothing is permanent and so on. He ends with 'You should give up desires, but it is not easy for the dull minded, does not go away even with old age! Once you have desires it will stay with you till the end like a disease!'

As time passes and all are pulled towards death, what is the best way to behave?
Quotes an intelligent man. 'Do not postpone, do good before death takes you away! Death does not wait for you to finish your tasks. It is better to follow dharma from an young age. It is not easy as you go older. The love for your wife and children will force you to do things which should not be done.'

How do the rich and the poor experience happiness and sadness. What are their characteristics? 
He quotes a brahmin Shyamaka 'There is no happiness or release, unless you forsake. You cannot even sleep without giving. One who sacrifices everything is the happiest.'
 'A rich man has constant fear of loosing his wealth. Money makes him greedy and arrogant, he looses his mind easily, his attitudes change, he always looks angry, is tight lipped and harsh in speaking. He is egoistic, gets carried away easily, thinks he is the most handsome, well-born, a great achiever and rich. He even thinks that he is a superior human being. If he loses all his wealth by indulgence, he will try to steal it from others and will be punished! In one way having nothing is better than all the wealth of a kingdom. You must reason well and understand the real nature of happiness or of being sad. You should not overreact when you are happy and not become despondent when unhappy'.

In spite of  the best efforts there is no money, but desires are never ending, what should one do to be happy?
'By being impartial, not grieving, by truth, renunciation and non-excitement. You cannot be happy unless you are lucky. It is dependent on divine will. Hence to be happy  you should be indifferent to worldly objects and life. There is no one who has fulfilled all his desires, but as long as a man is alive, the needs and desires keep growing. If you yield to desires you are unhappy, the more you renounce desires, the happier you are.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Bheeshma's advice continues. Mahabharata 187

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

This question is very topical . Our state had no rains in the beginning of the monsoon season, immediately many rituals and poojas were arranged at many temples all across the state. Several crores of rupees were spent. Still no rain! Then there was a debate whether cloud seeding should have been resorted to. To be honest I do not know the outcome of the debate.

I sought Raghu's opinion about the whole exercise. His reply: 'Drought is still there but not severe. The money spent on pooja could have been better used to carry more water to these affected areas. Cloud seeding is not always successful. And the present day kings, the legislators, solve the problem by going on a jaunt abroad!'    

 The reactions of the legislators were typical; one said there was no drought in his constituency! Another said it was planned and the expenses were just a few lakhs, so the trip was justified. The reports say that they went on a sight-seeing spree. Do they make a report on their return. They should, as they also are given ipads. All at our cost!

 Let us see what Bheeshma says:

'It is the responsibility of the king to ensure good rains and crops and the welfare of people!  Anyhow, in difficult times each one of us must use our intelligence and stay alive. Even sage Vishwamitra stayed alive by stealing dog meat from the house of a low caste person. His main purpose was to live at any cost.

Bheeshma  uses many stories, anecdotes to teach. In these stories, the animal world and the humans talk to each other. I guess they are just  fables. If indeed animals and birds spoke, when did they stop and why? 

'In difficult times, when there is no food, you should help even your enemies. He narrates a story, wherein a pigeon sacrifices itself, so that the hunter can eat!'

'You  should not loose your confidence in such times, god willing your problems will be solved.
There is long story about a couple who have lost their only son and are wailing in the cremation ground. A vulture and a fox approach them and speak. The vulture tells them to leave the child and go home before it gets dark. The fox tells them to wait till it is dark, gives them hope that sometimes a child just wakes from its deep sleep. While both appear to give well intentioned advice, the real intent is selfish. If the couple leave immediately the vulture gets to eat, but if they leave after dark it is the fox. The couple are totally confused with the clever arguments and begin to cry. Luckily for them lord Shankara appears before them and resurrects the child as a boon!    

Bheeshma concludes: 'Whatever the difficulty, you should be grateful for the help received and should not betray your friends. The real reason is your greed. Excessive greed is the root cause for all the sins! Greed begets anger, desire, infatuation, cruelty, deceit and so on. Those who do not succumb to greed are the only right minded people.'


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Bheeshma answers! Mahabharata 186

'What do I (we) do, if with the passage of time dharma declines and we are attacked by enemies and thieves?'

Bheeshma advocates punishment as the main tool with which to deal with the wicked and action should be prompt
'Only then will people be afraid and behave well. While you should be soft spoken, your heart should be made of steel and sharp like a sword. Even if there is a treaty with the enemy, you should be vigilant. An enemy is like a snake hiding inside your house and you are always in threat. Hence you should beguile the enemy by talking sweetly to him, by giving him gifts, if necessary by falling at his feet and shedding tears! Once you have charmed him, destroy him, like you smash an earthen pot against the rock, at the first opportunity! There should be no mercy, an enemy has to be eradicated totally! It does not matter, if  you regret it later and cry! A thorn which has not been removed fully will pain for a long time. There is a time to be harsh, there is a time to be soft! If you are always soft, people will ignore you. If you are too harsh,  there is only fear around you. You have to yield to those who are stronger and to those who are afraid, keep them in fear. Do not develop useless enmities, avoid being overly adventurous, it is like chewing a horn of a cow, there is no juice, no taste, just pain for your teeth. It does not mean you should become timid, you should study the situation well. Be patient like a stork, crafty like a wolf, brave like a lion and be attacking  like an arrow! Only then is a king able to control the enemy and achieve his objectives.
Considering the nature of Yudhisthiraa, I thought it was a tall order. So it will be, if I am able to pass this on to our beleaguered PM. But I am sure he would get some solace by trying! The only problem would be to identify his real enemies.