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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bhima and Nahusha - Maha Bharatha Series 17


In Book 3, Section 161, Yudhishtra is conversing with Kubera. Kubera says: “Patience, ability, proper timing, proper place and strength are the five requirements for success”. He then gives his assessment of Arjuna and Bhima. Kubera thinks that Arjuna has self-control, charity, strength, intelligence, modesty, energy and a will. Bhima on the other hand is “like a child, fearless, haughty and therefore forgets his duties and unforgiving”. Therefore, Kubera advises Yudhishtra to keep Bhima under check!

In a description by Arshtisena of the Sun revolving around a celestial mountain called Meru, the stars are said to revolve around this Meru giving the 6 seasons.  Here, Sun is called ‘the wheel of Time, cyclic, unerring and moving without rest”.

In Section 166 and 167, Arjuna is on his journey acquiring celestial weapons from Indra, Rudra and Agni. Arjuna defeats Daityas and Danavas. When, Arjuna is away on this quest, the rest of the Pandavas are on a pilgrimage to holy rivers, and holy places. Two areas mentioned in those wanderings are: China (?) and a desert close to the river Saraswati. During the stay in Kubera’s land, Bhima encountered a huge snake which got hold of him and would not let go. In spite of his enormous strength, Bhima could not extricate himself. So, he asked the snake who he was (Section 178).

The snake told Bhima that he was cursed to take the life of a snake and that his curse will end when someone who knows the relationship between the soul and the supreme can answer his questions. Bhima told the snake that happiness and misery are sometimes in our hands and sometimes it is not. Destiny is more powerful and therefore one should not fret. He himself is not so sorry for himself becoming a food for the snake. But he was concerned for his brothers and his mother.

At about this time Yudhishtra got anxious not knowing where Bhima was. He went in search and found Bhima in the grips of the huge snake. Yudhishtra requested the snake to release his brother. The snake said that whoever comes into his territory is his food. Life is precious for every living being and “I need the food. Since you are also in my territory, if you stay longer, I am entitled to you also as my food for tomorrow”. Yudhisthra asked what would satisfy the snake to release Bhima.

The snake said that he is Nahusha, one of the ancestors of Pandavas and that he is under the curse of Agastya and the curse will fall off if Yudhishtra can answer his questions. Then comes an interesting conversation.

Snake: “Who is a Brahamana?”

Yudhishtra: “A Brahmana is one who practices truth, charity, forgiveness, good conduct, benevolence and mercy and one who practices proper rites”

S: “I see all those great qualities in sudras also. If Brahmana is known by character alone, and not by birth, the idea of Varna does not arise, if character is left out”

Y: “Sudra is not a sudra by birth alone. Nor does a Brahmana becomes a Brahmana by birth alone. The wise ones recognize a Brahmana by the qualities in them. If a Brahmana by birth does not have those qualities, he will be called a sudra”. Besides, men tend to be promiscuous. That is why the caste of the individual is uttered aloud at the beginning of yagnas. That is also why the natal ceremony is performed even before the umbilical cord is cut, with mother officiating as the savitri and the father as a priest. Everyone is a sudra until he learns the vedas. I myself consider those of pure and virtuous conduct as a Brahmana”.

S: “What should be known?”

Y: “Brahman, which is beyond misery and happiness is the one to be known”.

S: “But, I have not found any such entity”.

Y: “And, as for your other objection, just as cold cannot exist in heat and heat cannot exist in cold, there cannot be an object in which both cannot exist. So goes the argument for happiness and misery. There has to be something which is beyond both”.

The snake is pleased and lets go of Bhima.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Genealogy of the Kauravas and Pandavas - Maha Bharata Series 16


Genealogy from Bharata to Janamejaya
Kauravas and Pandavas belong to a line of dynasty that starts with Bharata. That is why India is called Bharata Varasha. (This is similar to how China got its name  from the first emperor whose name was Qin Shi Huang.  Qin is pronounced  “chin”). Those of you who have visited Xian to look at the famous burial ground of this king with the terracotta warriors will know this). The genealogy of the Kauravas and Pandavas is given in Book1, section 95. It is interesting that in the Old Testament, the early chapters are about the genealogy of the first 12 tribes of the Holy Land.
The history starts with Sakuntala and Dushyanta and their  son, called Bharata. This story is well-known because of Kalidasa’s Abhignana Shakuntalam. Bharata married Sunanda, the daughter of the king of Kasi, and had a son named Bhumanyu. Bhumanyu married Vijaya, the daughter of Dasarha and had a son. Suhotra was his name and he married Suvarna, the daughter of Ikshvaku (Remember that this is the family in which Rama was born in the previous yuga). To her was born a son named Hasti who founded the city called Hastinapura.
And Hasti married Yasodhara, the princess of Trigarta and their son was named Vikunthana. He married Sudeva, the princess of Dasarha and had  a son named Ajamidha. Ajamidha had four wives named Raikeyi, Gandhari, Visala and Riksha and had two thousand and four hundred sons! (after all, this is why this is called purana and not history) One of them by name Samvarana became the perpetuator of the dynasty. Samvarana married Tapati, the daughter of Vivaswat. Their son Kuru married Subhangi, the princess of Dasarha. They had a son named Viduratha, who married Supriya, the daughter of the Madhavas. Anaswan was their son and Anaswan married Amrita. Parikshit was the son of Amrita and Anaswan. Parikshit married Suvasa, the daughter of the Vahudas, and Bhimasena(a different Bhima) was their son. Bhimasena married Kumari, the princess of Kekaya and their son was Pratisravas whose son was Pratipa. Pratipa married Sunanda, the daughter of Sivi, and had three sons, viz., Devapi, Santanu and Valhika. Devapi became a hermit and therefore Santanu became the king.
Santanu married Ganga, whose son was known as Devavrata. Bhishma is none other than this Devavrata. After Devavrata was born, Santanu met Satyavati and wanted to marry her. But she demanded that a son born to her, and not Bhishma and his line, should ascend the throne. In order to help his father’s wishes, Bhishma took a vow of Brahmacharya (and thus assuring no progeny). Satyavati already had a son by Parasara, named Dwaipayana (Who was later called Vyasa, the rishi who wrote the Mahabharata).
Santanu had two sons by Satyavati, named Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Chitrangada was killed by the Gandharvas. Vichitravirya became king, married the two daughters of the king of Kasi, named Ambika and Ambalika and died childless. To make sure that the lineage of her son (Vichitravirya) rule the kingdom, Satyavati thought about the customs of those days. It was acceptable in those days for a brother to get children through the brother’s wife. Therefore, she called Vyasa and asked him to get children for the sake of his brother (half-brother’s) dynasty. Dwaipayana, consented to his mother’s and got three children, viz., Dhritarashtra, Pandu, and Vidura.
King Dhritarashtra had a hundred sons by his wife, Gandhari.(This is also an interesting story to read; but too long to recount here). And amongst those hundred sons, four are well-known: Duryodhana, Duhsasana, Vikarna, and Chitrasena. And Pandu had two wives, Kunti ( also called Pritha), and Madri. Pandu, while out a-hunting, killed a deer during the act of mating. He was cursed that he will die if he tried to co-habit with his wives. He stopped going to his wives but wanted children to help him go to the world of the ancestors. He requested Kunti and Madri to get children through someone else. Kunti will not think of it but remembered a special boon she had received earlier. Using that boon, Kunti united with Dharma and Yudhishtra (Dharma) was born. Bhima was born of Marut (Vayu, also father of Hanuman) and Arjuna through Indra. Madri got Nakula and Sahadeva through the twin Aswins, with the help of Kunti. Madri entered the funeral pyre when Pandu died.
Before the Kurukshetra war, after marrying Draupadi, each of the Pandavas had one son each through her: Yudhishthira got Prativindhya; Bhima, Sutasoma; Arjuna, Srutakriti; Nakula, Satanika; and Sahadeva, Srutakarman. Yudhishthira, had another wife Devika, the daughter of Govasana of the Saivya tribe, and had a son named Yaudheya. And Bhima married Valandhara, the daughter of the king of Kasi, and had a son named Sarvaga. Bhima also had a son through a she-demon (Hidimva) and was called Gatothkacha. Arjuna  abducted Subhadra, Krishna’s sister with Krishna’s help and had a son named Abhimanyu. And Nakula married Karenumati, the princess of Chedi, had a son named Niramitra. Sahadeva married Vijaya, the daughter of the king of Madra, and had a son named Suhotra.
Abhimanyu was the perpetuator of the Pandava family.All the other sons of the Pandavas were killed in the war. He married Uttara, the daughter of Virata. She was pregnant with Abhimanyu’s son during the war. A weapon used by Aswattaman burnt this child in the womb. The child was born premature but Krishna asked Kunti to take care of the child with the promise that he will revive the child to full strength by the age of six months. Krishna fulfilled his promise. And after reviving him, Vasudeva (Krishna) said, 'Because this child is born in an extinct race, he will be called Parikshit'. And Parikshit married Madravati, and their son was Janamejaya.
It was during the performance of Aswamedha yaga by Janamejaya of the Pandava dynasty that the story of Mahabharata was recounted by Sanjaya, who was Dhrithrashtra’s charioteer and a witness to the war. He was also given special powers by Lord Krishna to be able to see everything that went on in the battle field. In essence, Sanjaya was the official reporter from the war front.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Ashtavakra and Vandin - Maha Bharata Series 15


In Book 3, Sections 133-134, there is a story of a contest between Ashtavakra and a priest in King Janaka’s court, by the name of Vandin.  Ashtavakra was the son of Kahoda, a disciple of the famous Uddalaka of Upanishad fame and Sujata, Uddalaka’s daughter.

Ashtavakra goes to the court of King Janaka to regain his father’s life which was taken by Vandin. Vandin had a habit of punishing those whom he defeated in philosophical arguments by drowning them in water. The gate-keepers did not let Ashtavakra in since he was a child.  Ashtavakra tells them that he has mastered all the Vedas and reminds them that one should not ignore fire even if it be small, because it is capable of consuming everything. He also says: “True growth cannot be inferred from the mere development of the body”. Also, “ One does not become knowledgeable just because his hair is gray. Even a child can be possessed of knowledge . A man's merit consists in not years, or gray hair, or wealth, or friends. He is great who is versed in the Vedas”. He is admitted to the king’s court.

Ashtavakra then addresses the king and says that he came to defeat Vandin in arguments and get him drowned. The king cautions him but Ashtavakra says Vandin has not met with anyone who is superior to him. “That is why he is so arrogant”.

The king wanted to test Ashtavakra and so asked a few questions. When he asked: “What has thirty divisions, twelve part, 24 joints and 360 spokes?”, Ashtavakra identified it as the wheel of time.

Janaka asked: “who among the gods bears those two who are yoked to a car and sweep like a hawk and what do they give birth to?”. Ashtavakra answered: “Thunder and lightning with cloud (as the base); or misery and death and mind (as the base)”.

Janaka asked: “What is that which does not close its eyes when asleep? What is it that does not move when born? What is it that has no heart? What increases its own speed?”  Ashtavakra answered: “Fish, egg, stone and a river.

Janaka was pleased and invited Vandin to face the challenge from Ashtavakra. The contest is for Ashtavakra to establish that there is only one Supreme Being (advaita). Ashtavakra said “You answer my questions and I will answer yours”. Vandin starts with “Only one fire takes various shapes. Only one sun illuminates this world. Only one hero, Indra destroys enemies. Only one Yama is the Lord of pitris (ancestors)”. The hidden idea is that just the one intellect guides the senses and gives us perception.

Ashtavakra says: “Indra and Agni move together. Narada and Parvata are two sages; Aswins are twins; there are two wheels to a car; a husband and wife make a couple”. He means that there is another faculty besides intellect which is consciousness and the two of them have to act together to guide the senses.

Vandin says: “Three is the number of words; three are the number of divine lights; three kinds of beings are born; three Vedas are needed to perform Vajapeya yagna; the Adhwaryus commence sacrificial rites three different times”. The suggested meaning is that intellect and consciousness are subservient to acts.

Ashtavakra points out the four ashramas, the four orders who perform sacrifices; four cardinal directions and the four legs of a cow. Even if acts are important, when the fourth, namely the Supreme Being becomes manifest to the individual Atman, It stands on Its own and without any need to act.

Vandin says: “there are five fires; the poetic meter called pankti has five feet; there are five sacrifices; and there are five sacred rivers”. He is now referring to the five senses which are capable of cognizing their respective objects. Ashtavakra counters with the custom of donating six cows at the start of a sacred fire, the six seasons, six senses, the six stars in the constellation krithika. The implication is that the five senses cannot do anything without the mind, and mind is considered a sense organ in the Vedic philosophy.

Vandin now counts all seven: domestic animals, wild animals, seven rishis, seven ways of paying homage and seven strings of the Veena. The point is that although the five senses and the mind are needed to perceive, the intellect is involved in the happiness or misery generated by those perceptions.

It is now Ashtavakra’s turn for listing number eight: eight legs of a mythical animal called Sarabha which is said to be an enemy or lion; eight Vasus; and eight angles of a sacrificial stake. This leads to the eight items in Samkhya philosophy, namely five senses, the mind, intellect and ego. Vandin answers with nine mantras used to kindle fire in sacrifices to the ancestors, functions in the process of creation, the meter (chandas) called brahati and the maximum single digit. (Incidentally, this number is important in the Bahai faith)

I could not understand the hidden meanings beyond number eight. Only thing I am sure is that they refer to arguments based on the differences between Samkhya philosophy and Advaita.

Ashtavakra lists 10 cardinal points, 10 months of pregnancy and 10 big teachers of the past. Vandin lists 11 objects of enjoyment and 11 stages in the life cycle of animals. Ashtavakra lists the following items for number 12: months of a year; number of feet in the meter (chandas) Jagati and the number of Adityas (which includes Vishnu and the Sun). The number 12 also includes a list of 12 virtues such as truth, self-restraint, tapas, forgiveness and charity.

Vandin starts with 13, but  is not able to complete the list. Ashtavkara does (13th month, 13 special sacrifices and 13 long poetic meters) and thus wins the contest.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Bhima and Hanuman - Maha Bharata Series 14


In Book 3, Section 141, Vishnu says that he will one day separate the soul from the body of Narakasura. This, of course, happens during his avatar (reincarnation) as Krishna. The point for me is about separating the soul from the body. Vishnu did not say “I will take Naraka’s life; but the soul”. Obviously, our ancestors believed, as did the western cultures, in an entity called the “soul”, separate from the body capable of independent existence.

Later in this section, there is an episode where the Pandavas and Draupadi are on their way to Kailas. This was the time Arjuna had been sent by Dharma to acquire celestial weapons. When they are walking, they see an unusual - looking lotus flower. Draupadi asks Bhima to find out its source and bring her some more of those lotuses. Bhima being Bhima, causes havoc walking through the forest uprooting trees and crushing animals. At one point, Hanuman shows up. We learn that Hanuman is also a son of Vayu (God of the Wind) just as Bhima is; only that Hanuman was in Treta yuga and Bhima in Dwapara Yuga.

Hanuman tells Bhima: “Why are you hurting innocent animals like an ignorant child? You should be kind to all creatures. We animals are ignorant of virtues. But, you humans are endowed with reason and should show kindness”.

 Actually, Hanuman showed up because Bhima came to a crossroad and started walking the path of the celestials. Hanuman wants Bhima to take the path of the mortals. Hanuman lies down on the path and asks Bhima to jump over him. Bhima does not and gives a reason I do not understand. Then Bhima asks Hanuman to show his full form. (This is forerunner of the later episode during Gitopadesa when Arjuna asks Krishna to show his full form and Krishna obliges) Hanuman declines to do so. He says: “The times are different. I did it in a previous yuga. Rivers, trees, plants and Gods conform to time, and in harmony with the contexts”.

Later, Hanuman talks about the varnas (the so-called castes) and the duties of people in each varna. He talks about order in society when everyone does his/her duty according to the dharma for the varna. In Section 148, Hanuman says that in Krita yuga, there was only one eternal religion (Sanatana Dharma). There was no need for sacrifices (yagnas). There was harmony and full health. There were no Vedas or Gods. There was only Brahman and only one mantra (OM). In the next yuga (Treta), Vedas came in and sacrifices were introduced. Virtues declined. Religions and religious rites and rituals came in. In Dwapara Yuga, religion declined. Vedas divided into four. People who knew Vedas declined but those who knew Shastras increased. Truth declined and passion increased. In Kali Yuga, he predicted that Dharma (virtues) will decline by 3/4th. Vedas and religions will be abandoned. Six things will lead to fear, famine and scarcity. They are: excess rain, draught, rats and locusts  (pests), birds and “other” people. This last list is interesting and I do not know who is referred to as “other people”.

In section 157, there are lists of several kinds of fruits, flowers, and birds. Some of them are either extinct or mythical like the chataka bird, who is supposed to drink only rain water as the rain is falling or the Sarabha, an animal with eight legs.  Others are well-known such as mango, pomegranate, jujube (ilandai) and fig; peacock and woodpecker; champaka and palmyra.

Then, there are celestials beings such as kinnara (deformed), kimpurusha (half-man and half-steed, yaksha ( superhuman beings living in inaccessible halls and mountains), gandharvas (celestial musicians), apsaras (celestial dancers), siddhas (perfected, emancipated, semi-divine), charanas (wandering minsterlsm bards), rakshasas (barbarians with funny years, born on the day they are conceived and grow fast within a year) with conditional immortality and their counterparts Asuras, celestials with no death.

Among all of these, mrudangam (musical instrument, a drum used in classical south indian music)  is also mentioned.