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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Balarama's Pilgrimages (Continued) - Maha Bharatha Series 51

There is a story of Indra becoming afraid of a rishi who is performing severe penance. This attracted my attention for the following reason. Indra, afraid of losing his leadership, tries to interfere with the penance by sending a beautiful damsel. On seeing her, the rishi loses his "vital fluids" into the water. They morph into a child in the river. Indeed, Vyasa himself was born this way. There is more than one such story in Maha Bharata alone.

This leads me to think that the writers of mythology did not consider the rishis as possessing super-human control. All these rishis had all the common passions of a man. Indeed, rishis as generated by Prajapati were neither human nor gods; but, somewhere between.

There are other interesting implications of stories of off-springs arising from the discharge of so-called "vital fluid" into the rivers and pot. In these stories, the woman is always the seductress and therefore, the  “bad one” and the rishi still remains “holy” and keeps his virtues as long as he does not have actual physical contact. That does not agree with my sensibilities.

More interesting is the implication that the male carries all that is needed to make a human. Indeed, it was considered for a long time that everything needed for a human baby to form were in the male. The woman provided only a space for the baby to grow! Some cultures thought that the woman’s fluid had all that was needed. In other words, our ancestors, in several cultures, knew that sexual union between a male and female was needed, but did not know that a sperm and an egg were needed to make an offspring. That lack of knowledge is understandable in those days. This may even be the reason for the emphasis on male offspring in India and in all male-dominant societies. (Please see my essay on The Seeds and the Field. January 1, 2016. Also see Edward Dolnick’s book on The Seeds of Life published in 2017)

From what we know in modern biology, the females of most species carry two X chromosomes and one of them shuts down in each cell. The male is the one who carries an X and a Y. There is at least one reptile in which the female carries an X and a Y and therefore can give rise to off-springs without mating. But, all of them will be males!

The battle between Bhima and Duryodhana is described at the end of Book 9. In this portion, three conversations are worth reading. In one, Krishna tells Arjuna that Bhima may not be able to defeat Duryodhana in a single combat unless he uses a deception. In fact, Krishna approves of it and encourages such deception. He also is critical of Yudhishtra for foolishly agreeing to Duryodhana’s request for one-on-one combat.

In another area, Bhima has broken Duryodhana’s thighs and is standing with one foot on Duryodhana’s head. His soliloquy recounting all the reasons which led to the battle and to the loss of so many lives is worth reading. The third is where Yudhishtra tells Bhima that Duryodhana needs to be pitied and not insulted.

Yudhishtra asks Bhima to cool down, now that he had vanquished him. Yudhishtra also forgives Duryodhana. And goes on to say: “You are the lucky one, dying as a hero and going to heaven. We, who are left behind are the losers in that we have to suffer the loss of all of our family- members and friends and bear the wrath of all the spouses of the fallen heroes”. Is it not true for all of humanity?

Finally, I cannot ignore my suspicion that several passages were not written by Vyasa, the original author, but added by someone at a later period to perpetuate a favorable order of things. It is amazing how firmly these myths are implanted in the minds of people for millennia.  

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