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Saturday, November 18, 2017

After the battle - Maha Bharatha Series 53

Book 11 is about the lamentations of all those left behind after the battle of Kurukshetra. There were seven survivors on the Pandava side and three on the Kaurava side. Other than the Five brothers, Satyaki and Krishna were the survivors on the Pandava side. On the Kaurava side only Aswatthama, Kritavarman and Kripa were spared. Two others survived, namely Vrishaketu, son of Karna and Yuyutsu, born to Dhrithrashtra of a vaisya woman. He performs the ablutions for all his half-brothers.

Everybody alive is cursing everybody else. That includes Yudhishtra blaming his mother Kunti for not telling them until after the battle that she is Karna’s mother and therefore Karna is a half-brother for the Pandavas; Gandhari scolding Krishna for not stopping the carnage and cursing him to a pitiable death; Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva criticizing Yudhishtra for his wanting to go to the forest and lead a life of a mendicant after all the bloodshed . And,  Draupadi wants revenge for the death of her sons! All of these conversations are worth reading.

In all these conversations, there is a passage in which Yudhishtra curses that “no woman will ever be able to keep a secret in the future”! This is because he was upset with his mother for keeping Karna’s birth as a secret. Of course, this passage from a mythology continues even now. The general statement that women cannot keep a secret is a myth and here is its origin.

In one passage in Book 12, Arjuna criticizes Yudhishtra when the latter wants to become an ascetic and let Arjuna rule the land. He points out that the duty of a kshatriya king is to learn, teach, sacrifice and assist others at sacrifices and a kshatriya has to protect his subjects, and in order to do that he needs wealth. The only way to obtain wealth is to take it from someone else! He asks: “Have you ever seen wealth that was earned without harming someone?”. Arjuna goers on to say that kings conquer others, get their wealth and then they call it theirs. Our scriptures accept this fact about kings. It also says that the king can wash away his “sins” by performing sacrifices and making donations of gold and cattle. With these arguments, Arjuna asks Yudhishtra to enjoy the territory won at the sacrifice of so many lives and rule the land.

In the following chapter, Bhima comes on even stronger on Yudhishtra. He says: “You have become blind to the truth just as people who recite Vedas  blindly, without understanding. If this is the way you interpret the duties of a king, the entire war was unnecessary. The destruction of the Kauravas was uncalled for. If you had told us this, we would not have raised our arms against our own kin. You are acting like a person digging a well and stopping just before hitting the water. All of us are heroes capable of mighty acts but we are obedient to you, our elder, who acts like a eunuch”.

He further says: “If living in the forest is the way to Moksha, all the birds and animals should be in heaven. If living in solitude is the way to moksha, then the mountains and trees can also attain it.  One not acting according to the duty assigned by birth cannot obtain success. Renunciation is not the duty of a kshatriya” etc

Nakula’s talk (Book 12, Section 11) lists the duties of the 4 varnas and 4 ashramas (stages of life). The talk implies that the second stage of life (householder) requires a kshatriya to protect his subjects against enemies, and give donations to brahmanas and perform sacrifices. It also implies that tapas (penance) which is meant for the 4th stage of life is not as conducive to liberation for kshatriya as performing his duties.

Sahadeva’s plea to Yudhishtra is based on the fact that mental detachment is more important than physical detachment and performing one’s duties with detachment is the way to go. (Bhagvat Gita) He also says that one should see oneself in others and others in one-self. This is the same as in one of the Upanishads (Yastu sarvani bhutani…. Isa Upanishad, 1:6))

Sahadeva also uses the words “mama” (In Sanskrit, this word means “mine”) and “na-mama” (not mine) to indicate the attitudes of the mind in sacrifices. These words are still used during “homas” (fire offerings) when the priest deposits offerings into the fire.

When Gandhari curses Krishna for an ignoble death, Krishna’s words to Gandhari are cruel. He says that just as cattle give birth to offspring just to multiply, Kshatriya women give birth to sons so that they may die in battles. One would not expect such harsh words from a Divine Character to a woman who has lost all her sons. I certainly did not expect. If there is a hidden meaning, I do not get it.

Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in the battles and to Bhima in his battle with Duryodhana are also what you would not expect from a Divine character. May be, that is the point. Krishna may be Divine incarnation; but when he comes as a human, he acts like all human beings. Besides, in this world one may have to use whatever means to succeed. May be that is the point of all these lamenting and fault-finding.

In the final analysis, this is a mythology and is meant to bring out the complexity of life and ethical dilemmas in making decisions. There are no “black and white”, “yes” or “no” answers in real life situations. There are shades of grey. Even killing and telling a lie may be necessary under certain circumstances. But what are the guidelines to know when it is acceptable to break acceptable virtues?

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