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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Maha Bharata - Some hidden gems 6 - Whose life is precious?

This is from Book 1, section 159-162

This episode occurs during the time when Kunti and her sons are in exile living in the house of a poor householder with a wife, one son and one daughter. There is a rakshasa in that town who gives protection to the people – if you call it protection – on one condition. That condition is that one family has to provide him with food every day. That includes one human being also!

On learning that this was his turn to send in a cart-load of food and one human for the Rakshasa’s food, the Brahmana lamented that this earthly life is hollow as the reed and so fruitless filled with sorrow. He says: “Life is sorrow and disease; life is truly a record of misery in pursuit of virtue, wealth and pleasure. Salvation (moksha) is the highest object of our desire. But it can never be attained. Now I have to give away one of my own family to the Rakshasa or give myself away”.

He addresses his wife and says “I cannot give you away. You have been my true friend, helping me in all my duties, as affectionate as my mother, and the mother of my children. You have been devoted to me, and so innocent.  I cannot abandon you to save my life. I cannot abandon my son or daughter either. Some people think that the father's affection for a son is greater; others, that his affection for a daughter is greater. But, I love them both equally.  The sacrifice of any of you would be cruel and censurable. On the other hand, if I sacrifice myself, who will protect you?”

On hearing these words of the Brahmana, his wife gives some interesting reasons for her becoming the food for the rakshasa. She says: “You talk like an uneducated man. You know that all men are sure to die; none should grieve for that which is inevitable. I will myself go there. This indeed, is the highest and the eternal duty of a woman and this act will make me happy, bring me fame in this world and eternal bliss hereafter. I had given you a son and a daughter and thus have discharged my duties and debt. You can take better care of children without me than I can without you. As you know, people will take advantage of a widow and her children. I will not be able to protect myself and our daughter from unworthy wicked men. I will not be able to teach our son either and all three of us will perish without you. So let me go to the Rakshasa. It is possible that the Rakshasa will not kill a woman. If he does you can always remarry according to our custom, whereas I cannot”.

Having heard this plea, the Brahmana embraced his wife and they cried in silence. On hearing her parent’s lamentations and dilemma, the daughter answered as follows: “I have to go away sooner or later to someone else’s house. Besides it is considered that the son is one's own self; the wife is one's friend; the daughter, however, is a source of trouble. Without my father, my brother will wither away and so will my mother. I will then be left alone. Besides, instead of waiting for my son to save my ancestors, I will protect them by rescuing my father’s life who can perform the rites for the ancestors. So, please let me be the food for the Rakshasa”.

Hearing all this, the young boy (son) came with a blade of grass in his hands and said with an infant’s lisp; “Do not worry dad, mom and sister. I will kill that Rakshasa with this weapon”.  All of them had to break into a smile with those innocent words. At this time, Kunti entered the room, and having heard all of this from her hiding place, told them that she will send her son, Bhima to the Rakshasa and assured them that Bhima will destroy him. And Bhima did!

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