Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Mahabharata Part 3

War ensues. Almost everyone is killed on both sides in the 18 days of war. On 19th morning, a war which saw most of the janapadas existent in India at that time participate, left not many alive.
The ground was slippery with human flesh and blood. A war which started with (supposedly) 4,000,000 people left less than 15 alive. 7 on Pandava side (Pandavas, Krishna, Satyaki), 3 on Kaurava side (Ashwathama, Kripa and Kritavarma),  Yuyutsu (Half brother of Kauravas but fought from Pandava camp) and Vrishaketu (Karna's son).

One could say Bhishma did survive the war but was fatally wounded. In many ways MB reflects the purposelessness of Bhishma's life. It unmasked an old man who many thought was great but he himself probably had severe insecurities about his greatness. He never rose to the occasion when fate demanded - not on behalf of Amba, not on behalf of Draupadi, not on behalf of Pandavas, not on behalf of Karna, not on behalf of justice. He could have prevented the war - but he ended up being an utter and complete failure.

When Yudhishtir stands atop the ruin of war, corpses being eaten by vultures, his own elder brother Karna dead (he never knew Karna was his elder brother till the end),  he realizes the futility of all wars and how his success is absolutely meaningless.

"Jayoyam ajayakaro jayatasmat parajayah". His famous lament which roughly translates as "at this very moment of success, i realise we won but we lost, this success is ultimately a failure".

Duryodhana had cursed him saying while Duryodhana was king, he ruled a state full of prosperity, happy cries of children, blessed families - husbands, wives & mothers, where as Yudhishtir will inherit a sea of remorse, a country of corpses and an ocean of widows. And thus it happened.

Many wished it didn't happen. At least on Pandava side there was a clear wish to avoid bloodshed, if at all possible. The two people who were dead against not fighting were two women - Draupadi and Kunti. Two feisty characters who stood their ground in a patriarchal society (one could question this general premise since women enjoyed a far more freer existence in these times than years latter in India) and made their sounds heard and words count. One for revenge, the other for justice.

Draupadi had clear reasons for revenge. She was abused and molested by Kauravas in the Hastinapur royal hall in front of so called stalwarts of dharma including Bhishma, Drona and Vidura, not to mention Dhritarashtra, who should have considered her equal to his own daughter. Draupadi, also referred to as Panchali, since she was princess of Panchala (In today's Uttar Pradesh, close to Himalayas), was gambled away by Yudhishtir, her senior most husband. In what would be India's own "Nora moment" (a.la Nora of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House), she asks if she was gambled before or after Yudhishtir gambled himself and his brothers away in the game of dice against Shakuni (brother of Gandhari). When it was confirmed that the pathetic Yudhishtir had gambled himself before her, Draupadi questions his legal right to put her at stake since he had already become a slave and with that surrendered his right over her. Unfortunately none in the royal court came to her rescue and she was molested in spite of it being illegal and ofcourse adharmic. Some later version of MB says Krishna came to her rescue and gave her a cloth piece to hide herself in, which was of infinite length. Most scholars now agree this was a later addition and not part of the original story. Krishna was not present there and if he was it is highly unlikely Mahabharata war would happened since he would have prevented the unjust treatment of Draupadi, one key factor that played in the final war.

Kunti had lived as a dependent ever since Pandu died. Though she was outwardly respected by all, it was clear no one listened to her after Gandhari became the queen. But revenge was not her driving force. Justice for her sons were. She asks Krishna to not push unequal, unjust negotiations at any cost and exhorts Pandavas to pick arms against their cousins.

Finally though, it is women who loose everything. Gandhari her hundred sons, Draupadi all her sons, most married women their husbands, most children their fathers. Kunti escapes least hurt but loses her first born son Karna who fought from Kaurava side. More importantly the justice she badly wanted came too late for her children and when it did come, there was no meaning nor celebration in the victory.

Jayoyam ajayakaro jayatasmat parajayah....

No comments: