Book Review: The Winds of Hastinapur!

Have you guys been enjoying the current Mahabharat Series on Star Plus? (It is about to end, by the way). Have you been missing the posts here? Yes, there might be a correlation. Personally, I am relishing the series, enjoying reading a few books, so you can say I am more in a receptive mode these days. Also, have been busy with my kartavya (read office work) which hasn’t allowed me to post here in some time. But some things need a mention, especially the one in the first sentence of the next paragraph.

I came across this book named the “Winds of Hastinapur” by Sharath Komarraju some time back and as is the case with every epic-based book I come across, buying it was a snap decision. Took me some time to begin reading though, considering my rate of buying books is always greater than my rate of reading them. I have always regretted this fact, and very heavily especially this time when I completed WOH (taking the liberty of using the acronym).

In the times when feminism is gaining traction in our country (mostly on social media yet hardly in action), WOH becomes one good selection if you want to read something about the Mahabharata. Being a man, Sharath has written this book from the point of view of women, and has done a fantastic job of thinking from not one but from the perspective of multiple women who dominate different chapters of the epic at different points (I can only wonder how a young lad can manage to think from so many women’s perspective in the first place).

The book starts the story of Mahabharata from Ganga and goes to first explain in detail the curse of the 8 vasus (summary here) and then Ganga’s emotions about the idea of being the savior for the vasus from the curse. The latter half of the book is through the lens of Matsyagandha/Satyavati or Kali as you would call her and the details of her desire and almost brutal ambitions. Reading Ganga’s side of the story might appear slightly fantastical while Satyavati appears highly relatable, something that should be obvious as Satyavati resembles more of a common man (no gender hint intended) while Ganga is seen as a goddess (by which I mean not being dominated by inferior emotions as much as humans are). When you consider this factor, the contrast makes total sense.

The author makes you dive rather deeply into the waters of Ganga when he talks about her emotions and you also feel that you are walking with the winds of Hastinapur in your face while reading the book when he mentions the story of Satyavati. In terms of writing, Sharath has mastered  the art of making the reader imagine just what is required to understand and relate to the story well. Caveat: If you know nothing about the Mahabharata, beginning your journey of the epic from this book can be similar to beginning your cricket coaching directly from the Master Blaster. But in case you have undergone preliminary lessons, there are high chances you’re going to love it. You will still require some patience though, because you would have not thought from Ganga’s or Satyavati’s point of view so much ever before and while reading these details the impatient-for-the-masala-moments readers might want to ask – “OK, then?”. At many points in the book you would want to pause and think about what was just mentioned and say “Wow” to yourself because that thought probably never occurred to you before. Narration from Ganga and Satyavati is something that makes this book unique as most retellings have been from an external point of view or at max from the main characters’ point of view (eg., Palace of Illusions or Mrityunjaya).

I happen to know for a fact that the next book in the series will be from the point of view of Amba, Kunti and Gandhari something that should be even more interesting to read as their characters and decisions have always been deemed more controversial or difficult.

Hope you guys cross this book some day during your journey of gaining wisdom through the Mahabharata.

Happy Reading!

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P.S. Please feel free to comment below on how you find the book or what you think about the review.

 

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.

16. Dhritarashtra Becomes the King

When Pandu came back to Hastinapur and revealed that he committed the serious crime of killing a Brahmin, there was at least one happy soul in the Kuru household. This was none other than Shakuni. He was convinced that for the likes of Bheeshm and Pandu, moral standards always overpowered the lust for the throne. He was convinced that the community of Hastinapur will not celebrate a Brahmin-killer on its throne. His sister, who was first married to a blind prince and then deprived the right to become the queen, now finally had a chance to become the queen with Dhritarashtra replacing Pandu.

Pandu expressed that he wasn’t worthy of the throne anymore and that he be allowed to leave for the forest and live a life without luxuries. He felt that penance was the only way of peace for him. Bheeshm and Vidur suggested that for the good of Hastinapur, and since it was more of an accident, Pandu could compensate the burden of guilt by giving charity to brahmins and through other noble deeds, something that was prescribed by the shastras. However, Pandu was too righteous to mould shastras to his convenience. If his heart didn’t allow, he wouldn’t sit on the throne. He decided that he would leave for the forest with his wives.

The throne of Hastinapur, that had seen a capable king after so many years was suddenly deprived of a worthy king again. The question then was: who will be the king? The eldest son, Dhritarashtra was not allowed to be the king in the first place because of his blindness. But even Vidur could not be selected as the king as he was the son of a maid. When nothing made sense, Satyavati finally decided to set Dhritarashtra as the king as royal blood mattered more to her than capabilities. This time Bheeshm was quiet as he had now realized that his oath was to follow the orders of the throne, not to decide who sat on it.

Pandu left for the forest with his wives, Kunti and Madri, never to come back to the palace. He insisted that his wives stayed in the palace as the crime was committed by him and not them. But the wives were too impressed by Sita’s loyalty to her husband and wanted to show to the kingdom that they were no less and followed their husband to the forest.

Dhritarashtra was finally crowned the king. Years of yearning for royal power, recognition and status finally paid off. It was now time for him to make for his blindness through the power of throne. Now the people would listen to him, would be servile towards him, and would consider him to be the representative of God. Now he could enforce his ideas on others and others had no option but to agree. Now his inner fears, that were hidden for years, would take shape in the kingdom of Hastinapur. Now. Now that Hastinapur had a blind king on the throne.

16. Dhritarashtra Becomes the King.

That dark night, in the solitude of his room, Bheeshm, the son of Ganga and Shantanu, the student of Parashuram, the last of Kuru blood, the caretaker of Hastinapur and the pillar of the Mahabharata, cried.

15. The Two Wives of Pandu

The new king of Hastinapur, Pandey ji (read Pandu) proved to be efficient within a very short time. After more than a quarter of a century, there was finally a king in the court of Hastinapur and he was, for a change, pretty good. And being an old reader of this blog you would know the first thing the kings of Hastinapur did when they achieved something. They got married. Pandu was no different. But the question was to find a deserving queen for Hastinapur.

Far somewhere, in the kingdom of Kuntibhoja was a princess who was probably destined for that. Her name was Kunti (orginally Pritha, but was renamed Kunti since she was adopted by Kuntibhoja. Was it tough to guess anyway?) Kunti’s little known secret to all was that she had given birth to a son (Karna) of the Sun when she was just teenager (read here in detail, only if you want to). Since this secret was a secret that remained secret for long, Kunti’s reputation was in tact and so Bheeshm and other elders of the family deemed her worthy of becoming Pandu’s wife and Hastinapur’s new queen.

A grand wedding took place and Kunti became a part of the royal family of Hastinapur. However, Pandu never got the opportunity to sing the evergreen words that Amitabh Bachchan once did, “Suhaagraat hai, ghoonghat utha raha hoon main…” as there was a military urgency that expected him to leave for a battle immediately after his wedding. He promised Kunti that he will return, and he kept his promise much better than Bhairo Singh. I say “much better” because after winning the battle, he did not return alone, but with a second wife. This second wife was Madri, the sister of Shalya, the king of Madra. Pandu had taken a military procession to subdue Madra but Shalya insisted that they avoided war and rather formed an alliance. Thus Pandu and Madri were married. Kunti certainly did not take this very positively, but there was not much she could do. She had already done something before that she was guilty about, and she could not gather confidence to stand for something that was considered normal by the society standards.

Pandu then decided to go on an extended honeymoon with both his wives at once. Bali was not that hot a destination in those days so he settled with going to nearby forests and enjoyed what he and his ancestors had always enjoyed. Hunting. Pandu’s archery skills were profound and it was the impact of these skills that he formed great alliances across the sub-continent. He forgot that there were better things to do on a honeymoon. His needless desire to try those skills on the helpless animals of the forests proved disastrous – for all the animals you see in the forest are not actually animals. They can be human beings in various forms, sometimes having uniquely weird desires. First, the desires are unique; second, they implement them in weird manners.

I am talking about Rishi Kindam and his wife. The couple lived in the same forest that was Pandu’s honeymoon destination. One day an idea occurred to the couple that they should make love in the open. Imagine, Pandu who was on a honeymoon, that too with two wives at once, hadn’t thought of it but these guys had! If this was not enough, they planned to have it in cervine form so that normal human beings would not be able to make out that this is the great sage Rishi Kindam and his wife doing the act. While they were engaged, Pandu shot an arrow in the direction of the sound the couple was making thinking that it was a deer out in the forest. This was a form of archery known to very few. The arrow struck the couple. They cried in agony, suddenly transformed to their original form and lied wounded on the forest floor.

15. Pandu

Pandu was shocked to see what unfolded before him. Rishi Kindam was dying, but his anger for not being able to do what he had been waiting to do for years burst out on Pandu. He said, “Oh King of Hastinapur, Pandu! You killed a couple while they were making love. It was after my years of tapasya that I was finally uniting with my wife and you interrupted it so violently. Therefore, I curse you that you will die moment you try to make love to any woman.

And so, the future of Hastinapur was again in problem with the kingdom having a king who could not have sons. Pandu was engulfed with the guilt of killing a brahmin and being cursed at the same time (Imagine which affected him more!) He planned to go back to Hastinapur and reveal the matter in the court to seek the advice of the elders.

14. Pandu – The More Capable King

With Dhritarashtra getting married and becoming an adult (yes it could be in this order too!) it was now time to give Hastinapur its king. Satyavati and Bheeshm thought it was time for the coronation of a new king, one from the new generation. Dhritarashtra being the eldest of the three, was considered in the first place.

Announcement was made that Vidur would be the chief minister, Pandu the right hand of the king, and Dhritarashtra, the king. Preparations were made, festivities were organized around the kingdom and the auspicious time for the coronation was communicated to the respective parties and rishis. The new generation of the Kuru family was ready to take the reigns of Hastinapur in its hand to lead it to a better future.

After Vidur’s and Pandu’s announcement when the time came for Dhritarashtra to be coronated, Vidur being the chief minister, put forward the point that a person who was blind since birth could not be king as per the shastras. He insisted that Pandu became the king of Hastinapur as he was more capable than Dhritarashtra even if he was younger. Satyavati, Bheeshm and others supported the idea and Pandu was coronated as the king.Pandu, however, thought it would be injustice for a younger brother to inherit the throne while the elder brother was alive.

The blind prince’s longing of years was shattered. He always knew inside that there was something missing in him to become the king. Now it was apparent to the entire kingdom, and there was no hope for him anymore. Though he was broken and indignant inside on hearing the decision, he was smart enough not to reveal his contempt. Rather, he tried displaying a softer side and made himself appear to be more happy on Pandu’s coronation thereby trying to impress the people around. He continued to feel indignant inside, and over time the feeling grew more and more to engulf the entire Kuru clan.

Pandu took the reigns of Hastinapur in his hands but the important task of getting married was still pending. And so, it was decided to fetch a wife for Pandu. As always, Bheeshm was to take the responsibility of finding the best queen for the new king of Hastinapur.

(While Dhritarashtra was blind since birth, Pandu too was pale/weak in appearance. There are speculations that he might have been impotent/sterile which is, of course, highly debatable. But the fact is that where Dhritarashtra’s blindness was visible to the world, Pandu’s impotency was not.)

13. Darkness in Hastinpur

For years, there was darkness in Hastinapur. Not literally, of course. Actually literally too. Because the prospective future king of the kingdom was blind. Not blind by an accident but blind by birth. He was just a level better than Michelle Mcnally in that context, for he could definitely hear and speak. If this was not enough, this prince was also consumed by the fact that one day he, and only he, will inherit the throne. He was determined to make for his incompetence with the succession to the throne. The blind king was thus further blinded by desire. Certainly, God had switched off all lamps on Hastinapur.

This blind brother was none other than Dhritarashtra. He had the company of his step-brothers, Pandu (born out of Ambalika) and Vidur (born out of Ambika’s maid) at every moment since his childhood. Like Chitrangadha and Vichitraveerya, Bheeshm took the responsibility of educating and training the three brothers too. He trained them well in all the arts that he learnt in his growing years – horse-riding, archery, wrestling, scriptures, theatre, spirituality and ‘Bheeshm-knows-what’. As one would expect, the three brothers grew up to be quite capable. Bheeshm tried his best to make out something worthy of the blind-by-birth, weak-by-birth and deprived-of-throne-being-a-maid’s-son.

Dhritarashtra grew up to be extremely powerful and knowledgeable with a hidden lust for succession. Pandu grew up to be skilled in archery and equally knowledgeable as his elder brother but with respect for elders and compassion for the young. Vidur, though skilled in many arts, became profound in scriptures, politics, economics and social-sciences. He came to be known as the most unequivocal voice in the kingdom of Hastinapur, someone who regarded Truth and Dharma over relations and desires.

Time came when the three princes were old enough and it was time to give Hastinapur its new king. Going by the general law, everyone expected that Dhritarashtra would inherit the throne being eldest and the most powerful of Vichitraveerya’s sons. (There were people in the kingdom who realized it was not the best decision but they chose to keep shut till a formal declaration was made) But before that, he had to get married as a king was considered incomplete without a queen.

To bring the most deserving queen for the new king of Hastinapur, Bheeshm went to the mountainous kingdom of Gandhar and asked for the hand of Princess Gandhari for Dhritarashtra. Gandhari was the most beautiful and exquisite princess in the entire mainland at that moment, also a profound devotee of Shiva, and her marriage to Dhritarashtra would have concluded in a relation between Hastinapur and Gandhar that also had many political implications. However, Gandhari’s brother Shakuni, did not approve of the marriage as he could not bear his beloved sister being betrothed to a blind man. But before he could say anything, Gandhari came up with her decision stating that she could reject anything to anyone but nothing to a selfless man like Bheeshm. If he asked for Gandhari’s hand for the blind Dhritarashtra, even that was a matter of respect for her. She gave her consent to the marriage.

However, on that day, Gandhari pledged to tie a cloth on her eyes and never to see the world again. She felt that since her husband was not capable of seeing, it was not right for her to have that advantage as she saw marriage to be a relation among two equals. Many commented that it was her step to avoid herself to get manipulated as there were rumors that Dhritarashtra wanted a pair of loyal eyes in the form of a queen and not genuinely a wife. Since she could not back out after giving a commitment (she was not only a Shiva devotee but also a Salman Khan fan), she covered her eyes with a cloth.

Whatever was the reason, the blind-by-birth prince ended up marrying a blind-by-choice princess. Gandhari chose not to complement her husband, but to replicate his inadequacy. She let the apparent weakness of Dhritarashtra stay a weakness by not becoming his eyes who could view his world for him. Hastinapur thus remained in the darkness. Darkness was there in the eyes of Dhritarashtra, in the actions of Gandhari, in the hopes of Bheeshm and in the heart of an indignant Shakuni.