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.

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.