19. The Childhood of Kauravs and Pandavas

The news spread across the kingdom that Pandu was no more. The kingdom was filled with rumors about the reason for Pandu’s death. Some speculated that Pandu discovered his wife, Kunti, had conceived multiple sons from other men (who were actually devas) and he couldn’t bear the shame and thus, committed suicide. Others, who were aware that the sons were actually conceived on Pandu’s will knew that Kunti wasn’t to be blamed, but they were equally unaware of the reasons. No one knew the complete picture but what they knew was enough for them to be depressed. The capable king was dead and now his blind elder brother would be the acting king forever.

Bheeshm and Vidhur arranged for Kunti and her 5 sons to be brought to the palace where they would grow with the 100 sons of Dhritarashtra as the princes of the Kuru clan. They believed that the sons of Kunti, though being born by the grace of the gods, were ultimately sons of Pandu as Kunti was Pandu’s wife. But not every person in the house saw it this way.

Shakuni perceived Pandavas as a challenge to his dear Duryodhan’s claim to the throne and since beginning set Duryodhan against them re-insisting it in Duryodhan’s mind if there’s was somebody who was the legitimate heir to the throne, it was he and not the five random kids from the jungle. The elders of the Kuru family and the subjects of Hastinapur welcomed the Pandavas with affection. Duryodhan, along with his 99 brothers, saw them as weeds to be wiped out of the palace farm as soon as possible.

It was decided by the elders of the family that the 100 sons of Dhritarashtra and 5 sons of Pandu should grow under tutelage of the royal guru, Kripacharya (details of his origin will be here some day). Kripacharya was considered a Brahmin by all, thanks to his knowledge of the Vedas, and was a man with simplistic expectations in life. He had a twin sister, Kripi, who was married to sage Dronacharya (details of whose origin will be here some day). From the first day in his gurukul, Kripacharya knew that he was not going to raise any ordinary set of Kshatriya students but rather and entire generation of princes of Hastinapur. Education of princes was carried out differently than rest of the students of the society because they eventually had to evolve into beings whose life was meant for a bigger cause, optimistically speaking, welfare of the nation.

(Realistically speaking, a devastating war!)

Days passed and the princes grew up with decent knowledge of Vedas, literature, economics, philosophy, theatre and other arts. There was fierce yet hidden competition amongst the sons of Pandu and Dhritarashtra from the first day of school. Yudhishthira could quote esoteric sections of vedas as a teenager and Arjun had a unique talent of not missing a mark ever in throwball. All other brothers too had some unique strengths (and weaknesses, but they will find a place in the story later).

Since the increasing responsibility on the shoulders of Kripacharya was leading to his ignoring political matters, Bheeshm and Vidhur realized that someone has to take up the martial arts training of the princes and ease of some pressure from Kripacharya. But they knew that these princes can’t be handed over to any ordinary tutor. “Where can be one such tutor?” wondered both.

Somewhere, hundreds of miles away, there was an old sage lying down on his grass bed with closed eyes, trying to fall asleep. His sleep was however ruined by one old memory – a sarcastic remark from a dear friend that had shattered his honour to pieces once.

18. The Death of Pandu

Dhritarashtra was acting as the representative of the king in the palace of Hastinapur with his hundred sons and blind-folded wife beside him while Pandu was residing in forest with his two wives and five sons.

The childhood of the hundred princes in the palace was, however, very different from that of the five princes in the forest.

Duryodhan was growing up under the care of Shakuni, who constantly nurtured hatred in his mind against the Pandavas stating that they were the sons of the man because of whom Duryodhan’s father couldn’t become the king. Yudhishthir was growing up under the care of his father, Pandu, who taught him only about righteousness, serving the nation and how to be the ideal king. The eldest sons of both fathers definitely received more attention than the rest of the sons as in the eyes of the elders they would be the king.

When the princes would ask: Who’s a great king?

Shakuni to Duryodhan: A great king is the one who has his set of loyalists, who is aware of his enemies and wipes them whenever there’s an opportunity. A great king does anything in his capacity to safeguard his right to the throne.

Pandu to Yudhishthir: A great king is the one who lives for his subjects, who works for their improvement and uplift, who helps them in droughts and natural catastrophes and safeguards them in the boundary of his nation.

When the princes would ask: What is the duty of a kshatriya?

Shakuni to Duryodhan: To become a powerful warrior, the one whom everybody should be afraid of. No one should dare to raise an eyebrow against him and the one who does should not be left with an eye!

Pandu to Yudhishthir: To become a powerful warrior, so that he can save his people and their fundamental rights. A true Kshatriya acquires martial skills not to dominate but prevent domination of the weak.

Both the princes were growing to become kings but of opposite kinds. But only the wiser Bheeshm and Vidur could sense the problem ahead. A kingdom could not have two kings.

One thing that was common to both the princes, however, was the ultimate loyalty of their younger brothers towards them. While the ninety-nine sons of Dhritarashtra would do whatever Duryodhan would demand, the younger Pandavas would also never refute an order of Yudhishthir.

One day, in the forest, Kunti had gone to pluck flowers for her morning prayers. Yudhishthir was busy in one of the Yoga forms, Bheem had found a tree laden with fruits and was determined to unladen it, Arjun was trying to tie the two ends of a curved wooden shaft with a rope, Nakul was busy with a facial and Sahadev was busy meditating.  Pandu found a moment alone with his wife Madri and years of his separation from either of his wives culminated into one strong desire in him to with the beautiful Madri.

He approached her with a will he had never thought he will approach her with and took her in his arms. Madri was excited at the thought but the curse of Rishi Kindam was still on top of her mind. She tried to push Pandu away but he found her too irresistible for the moment to let her go. The next instant, the curse took effect and Pandu suffered a severe heart-attack. Madri was in the arms of her husband a while before and in the arms of a corpse a while later.

When Kunti returned she saw a wailing Madri in the cottage with an exposed shoulder and in an instant she realized what had happened. rush of mixed emotions filled her heart and she wasn’t sure if she should cry over her husband’s death or get furious on Madri for letting Pandu approach her.

(Kunti’s life was ironical in many ways. When she had not intended any relation, she was given a son by Sun. When she was willing for a relation, her husband married another woman. When the husband wasn’t able to produce sons, she gave him heirs and even two sons to Madri. But at the end, her husband died of getting attracted to not her but Madri.)

The news spread to Hastinapur that their former king died in the forest.  Bheeshm and Vidhur reached the spot and saw a young Yudhishthir completing the funeral rites of his father. He did not need anybody’s guidance and he appeared to know everything more than the pandits around.

Kunti decided to die on her husband’s pyre being a Sati but Madri insisted that she will not be able to live in the world alone with the guilt that her husband died because of her. She chose to become Sati instead and leaped on Pandu’s pyre leaving her two sons with Kunti. Kunti was now a mother of five sons with no husband and no palace.  Life was harsh to this princess of Kuntibhoj.

17. The Generation of Supernatural Warriors

Hastinapur now had its worthy king in the forest, repenting for his mistake, and his blind representative on the throne. Except for time (and me….huhahaha) no one knew what was to come.

One day (or maybe night), Dhritarashtra felt that the only way he could ensure his bloodline continued to rule the kingdom was that he had a son before Pandu. He expressed his desire to Gandhari who, being the most obedient wife ever, agreed.

Soon, the news spread in the kingdom that Gandhari was expecting. There was a wave of exhilaration in the kingdom as a pregnant queen promised a bright future ahead. But could a queen, who had willingly embraced darkness for life, bring brightness to the future of a kingdom? Time revealed it in the most evil of forms.

The news of Gandhari’s pregnancy also reached Pandu, who was residing in the forest with his wives. While he was happy for his brother and his wife, the news also dejected him as it made him aware of what he wasn’t capable of doing (or maybe not allowed to do, courtesy Rishi Kashyap’s curse). He shared his concern with his wives Kunti and Madri. On hearing her husband’s concern, Kunti revealed about a special privilege that she had in the form of a boon.

Long ago, even before she got married, Kunti had served Rishi Durvasa (who was a guest to her palace) so well that even the short-tempered rishi was impressed with her extra-ordinary hospitality and offered her a boon. Now Kunti was a teenager and had no idea what to ask for. She requested him to give her a boon that would help her in future. Rishi Durvasa foresaw here future with his yogic powers and gave her a boon in form of a mantra to be able to invite a devta and bear a son from him. (It was the accidental use of this boon before her wedding that Kunti ended up with a son of the Sun, Karna, whom she abandoned into the river to save her reputation). 

She told Pandu that she could use these boons to invite devas and have sons from them to ensure that Pandu had sons too. Pandu found the idea of letting his wife bear sons through another men (sorry deva) awkward. This is when she reminded him that she wasn’t doing something new. Pandu himself was a son of niyog performed by Vyas and it had almost been the legacy of Kuru clan to have sons through niyog since the kings had often been sterile / impotent / cursed / uninterested / under-oath and as a result, could not give birth to sons. What’s more? Those niyog operations were through men or rishis but here it was the intervention of a god. Also, these sons would be born almost instantaneously, without Kunti having to lose her virginity or get pregnant.

Pandu agreed to it and told Kunti to invite none other than Dharma deva (the god of righteousness). He believed that the future generation could not ensure the security of Hastinapur unless there was establishment of dharma in the kingdom. And therefore, first and foremost quality that he desired in his son was his adherence to dharma. So Kunti summoned Dharma deva and received a son from him. Dharma deva stated that this son would always be patient, empathetic, brave and stable in war (yudh mein sthir) and he was named Yudhishthir.

Image Courtesy: Star Plus India

Image Courtesy: Star Plus India

Had it been completely up to the natural processes, Gandhari’s son would have been the eldest. But Kunti’s sudden use of the trump card resulted in an instant son without a pregnancy ended up breaking the dreams of both Gandhari and Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra felt that like he was not allowed to become the king because of his blindness, now his son would not be able to become the king because of his age. But more importantly, Gandhari’s pregnancy had prolonged and she did not deliver a child even after nine months.

Months passed but there was no sign of Gandhari giving birth to a child. Gandhari’s patience exceeded all limits and she ordered her maids to hit her belly with an iron rod and get her rid of what was inside her womb. What came out stunned everyone! It was a life-less ball of flesh. She wailed and her wailing brought tears in the eyes of every woman of Hastinapur. She questioned Rishi Vyas that why was her fate playing this game when she had been blessed for a hundred sons.

Rishi Vyas promised her to keep the dignity of that blessing. He divided that ball of flesh into hundred pieces and put them in hundred pots of ghee. He promised Gandhari that those hundred pieces would grow up to become her hundred sons. Gandhari, even at this moment of tension, expressed that she also always wanted a daughter. You can guess what Mr. Vyas did next.

Gandhari's sons in pots of ghee

Image Courtesy: Star Plus India

Meanwhile in the forest, on learning that his elder brother was about to get hundred sons, Pandu did feel – Kaurav 100 aur Pandav 1, bahut na insaafi hai! So once again on Pandu’s will Kunti summoned Vayu Devta (god of wind) who gave her a son as strong as storms and tornados put together. When the child cried, he was so loud that out of fear Kunti dropped it on a rock. Poor rock…it was found cracked! This child was named Bheem.

Then on her own will, Kunti summoned Indra who gave her a son who was to grow up into an extremely skilled man and achieve great adulation from history, none other than Arjun. Now Pandu had started believing that Kunti was no less than a hen who laid golden eggs and he wanted to populate the poultry farm of his lineage with golden eggs from Kunti. This was also because he had got the news that his brother was about to become a father of hundred sons. But Kunti said that she could not bear any more sons as shastras didn’t allow a woman to be with more than four men (Ahem Ahem….really? Sun god, Pandu, Dharma god, Wind god, Indra – What’s the total?). So she shared the mantras with Madri who shot two targets with one arrow and invited Ashwini twins who gave her two sons – Nakul, the most handsome man and Sahadev, the most knowledgeable man.

And meanwhile, hundred sons and one daughter were born from the pots in Hastinapur. When the first pot broke, a child came out amidst the wailing of owls, jackals and crows on the streets. Kripacharya and Vidur suggested that since it was a bad omen, the child would bring misfortune to the kingdom and thus Dhritarashtra should get rid of the new born. While on one hand it was an inhumane task to kill a new-born based on the signals, Vidur argued that it was required for the larger good of the kingdom and also because Dhritarashtra would still be left with ninety-nine sons and one daughter anyway. Bheeshm did not speak.

Image Courtesy: Star Plus India

But for the blind king, emotions overpowered logic and he clung to that son. This son was named Duryodhan, one who would be difficult to overpower. The remaining ninety-nine sons were also given names, and probably later, even ID badges so that they could be recognized. The one daughter born was named Dushala.

Gandhari’s 100 sons

Thus was born the generation of supernatural warriors, sons of Pandu and sons of Dhritarashtra, who actually were the two opposing sides in the Kurukshetra war. But there is a long way to go, so let’s leave Hastinapur with its own moment of jubilation.

Shiva – The Destroyer of Maya


Shiva – The Destroyer

The Hindu Mythology talks about three manifestations of the Almighty. Brahma – the Creator, Vishnu – the Preserver and Shiva – the Destroyer.

In the first place, it would appear that Creator and Preserver must be good and Destroyer must be bad. However, in India we worship the Preserver and the Destroyer but not the Creator. Confusing?

The confusion occurs because the notion of the world in our scriptures is very different and we are not much aware of it.

According to the scriptures, in the beginning only Narayan existed. From his navel emerged Brahma who was scared to be in a dark space. This feeling of insecurity generated fear in his mind and to materialize his significance he created the world. The world was, thus, not a result of divine grace but a result of Brahma’s desire. The world is thus considered Maya, or Illusion. It is this Illusion that Shiva ignores. He believes in the existence of soul and the power of tapasya so he rejects this materialistic world and thus metaphorically destroys it. Therefore he is called the Destroyer.

After he created the world, Brahma’s desire did not end but increased even more and he went to chase the Goddess Saraswati. She ran away from Brahma. She went to the East so Brahma emerged a head in the East. She went to the West so he propped a head in the West. She went behind him so he emerged a head at his back. She ran in the upward direction so he emerged a fifth head on the top.

Shiva got so disgusted by this utter display of desire by Brahma that he beheaded his fifth head. Thus the Destroyer destroyed the excessive desire of the one who created Maya. Therefore the Destroyer is worshipped and the Creator is not.

(Vishnu, the Preserver, recognizes that the world is an illusion and believes in the power of tapasya. But at the same time he understands the existence of Brahma’s desire and believes in preserving it as long as the desires are in limits. This concept of limited desire is called Dharma. A man who learns to control his desire and outgrow his fear walks on the path of Dharma. He who is overwhelmed by his fear and cannot control his desires steps on the path of Adharma. Vishnu creates this balance on Earth, therefore he is the Preserver. He watches it sportfully when Dharma is being followed and allows Brahma existence. When he sees Adharma overpowering Dharma, he takes an avatar and sets things right.)

To destroy, Shiva needs power therefore he is associated with the Goddess of power, Shakti. Throughout the epic Mahabharata, many characters worship Shiva to seek power in some form or the other. Amba worships Shiva to get a boon to kill Bheeshm. Arjuna worships Shiva during his exile to achieve deadly weapons to prepare for the Kurukshetra war. Jayadrath worships Shiva to obtain a boon of overpowering the four Pandavas (this is how he gets Abhimanyu killed).

It is also interesting to note that three people mentioned in the above example are obtaining power to avenge some kind of humiliation.

Important Terminologies from Mahabharata

There are a few terminologies that appear as frequently in Mahabharata as cheer-leaders appear in the IPL matches. The only difference is that the terminologies mostly appear for a reason.

I hope knowing these terminologies would help in understanding the Epic more. Dissecting them, however, would not do much good. They can be highly confusing and unbelievably random but that’s true for most of our studies. Isn’t it?

1. Boon / Vardaan

A boon is a promise made by a higher party (a demi-god, rishi or a parent) that grants the receiver a certain power or some kind of advantage. Sometimes the receivers achieve boons by the virtue of their devotion in the party and sometimes just because of their luck. Boons can be highly technical and may come with if-else conditions. Eg., Jaydrath receives a boon from Shiva that one day in a war he would be able to overpower the Pandavs IF Arjuna is away!

2. Curse / Shaap aka Shraap

Curses are the antonyms of boons. They are the most undesirable things or situations that one is bound to suffer mostly because of a mistake he made or a crime that he committed. Eg., Karna is cursed to die in the battlefield unarmed because he killed an innocent cow by mistake. Curses are highly technical too, can be modified and sometimes intelligent people use them to their advantage. Eg., Arjuna was cursed by Urvashi to become a eunuch for life but Indra’s intervention reduced the duration of that curse to ‘one’ year. Arjuna used this curse during the 13th year of his exile when he was required to conceal his identity.

3. The Law of Karma

This law is the actual source from which Newton derived the third law of motion. It simply states that for every action there is a consequence, either in this life or in the next. No person can escape the consequences of his action. An action taken today will yield a result one day and the person concerned will suffer its consequences. If he doesn’t, then his relatives or progeny does. But there is no escape.

4. Niyog

This was the concept of surrogate father which was much prevalent in those days. To ensure a continued and unharmed inheritance kings always desired sons. But some were not lucky enough to effectuate their desires into results. So they summoned higher mortals, and at times immortals, to make their wives conceive sons. Ideally, the chosen man was supposed to be of a higher stature and preferably a stranger who would have no emotional attachment or anything to do with the wife after the moment. The culture considered the husband and not the biological father to be the child’s actual father. It would require data analytic experts years to calculate how many characters in the Mahabharata were a result of Niyog.

5. Brahmastra

This was one of the most potent missiles, the weapon of Brahma, that the best warriors possessed. In Ramayana, Ram, Lakshman and Meghnadh are known to have possessed the Brahmastra. In Mahabharata, Krishna, Bheeshm, Dronacharya, Arjun and Ashwatthama possess it. The scarcity power comes from the fact that a warrior could receive it only from his guru through a mantra after displaying extremely profound learning of archery. If the guru did not find his student worthy, he chose not to give it to him and he could not attain it in any other way. Karna received the Brahmastra from Parshuram but the curse of Parshuram made him forget that mantra. The Brahmastra was close (or probably a little more intense) than the nuclear bomb of today and its use meant nothing but the destruction of the entire world hence it was never practically executed.

6. Pashupatastra

This was another terrific missile, the weapon of Shiva (Pashupati), that was possessed by a few great warriors. Meghnad, Bheeshm and Arjun are known to have possessed it but never practically used it. As opposed to the Brahmastra that destroyed the entire world, Pashupatastra could be focussed even to a needle point but possessed infinite energy to destroy that object within a fraction of a second.

7. Narayanastra:

This was the terrific weapon of Vishnu, with almost equal in impact as the Brahmastra but could also be customized to damage selected areas like the Pashupatastra could be. The major condition of using this weapon that it could be used only against someone who was violent. The weapon wouldn’t harm anyone who was calm. Meghnad and Ashwatthama are known to have possessed the Narayanastra.

8. Prayshchit / Pashchataap:

The English translation of these two words is “Penance”. It is the act of observing severe austerities or inflicting pain on oneself as an expression of repentance of a wrong-doing. Throughout the Mahabharata, there are many characters who underwent through this as a mistake they made. Eg., On discovering that the deer he killed in the forest were Rishi Kindam and his wife, Pandu left the throne of Hastinapur and went to the forest away from all luxuries for pryayshchit. It must me noted that it is a self-inflicted punishment and wasn’t imposed on anyone by the society. A person followed it out of guilt in order to punish himself for his own mistake.