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.

3. Pururava and Urvashi – A Tragic Love Story

Indian Cinema has, for long, been portraying obsessed lovers. Some of them possess an extra-ordinary verbal communication style (K-K-K-K-Kiran). Others possess supposedly cool hairstyles. And some have a story where they leave the world for somebody and then that ‘somebody’ leaves them. When you go back in time, you see the same happening in Mahabharata too and the victims such tragedies are mostly the kings. Would you really be that interested if it were to happen to a commoner anyway?!

Pururava was a young and handsome king. When I say young and handsome, it means that practicing warrior-skills, hunting and partying were his major hobbies. Administration of kingdom, for such kings, was usually the second priority. There are a very few examples of kings who were young and handsome and capable at the same time. Unfortunately, Pururava was not. And before he could make his transition from young and handsome to capable, something happened!

Once when he was out hunting in a forest, he came across the apsara (river-nymph) Urvashi. The sight of the scantily dressed apsara, who was a favourite even among the Devas, was definitely the most enthralling sight of Pururava’s youth.

With the confidence characteristic of kings and attitude characteristic of self-proclaimed handsome men, Pururava went to Urvashi and asked her out.

***

Pururava: The Almighty must have exhausted all his creativity in carving a beauty like you. What would it take of me to make you mine? I want you to marry me and be my queen.

Urvashi: No ordinary man can ask me out in this fashion. Your confidence and your flashy attire indicate that you are from the royal bloodline. But are you worthy enough for the beautiful creation of the Almighty like you just said?

Pururava: There is no feat in this world impossible for me to perform as long as I possess my bow and arrows. You can be sure about me.

Urvashi: I would rather marry a lover than a warrior. I don’t seek the power of your weapons, I only seek the power of your words. You will have to promise me that you will take care of my pet goats. They are very dear to me. Also, promise me that except for me you will never appear naked in front of anybody. If you are willing to make these two promises, I will marry you.

Pururava: I am a Kshatriya, to protect the helpless is my Dharma. Will I not protect your goats? I promise I will. And I will protect your second promise too. My Kshatriya instincts are not limited to people alone!

***

These promises were perhaps Urvashi’s ways of ensuring that her husband remains loyal to her concerns and never brings in a second wife that decreases her importance. Pururava didn’t think much before making the promises either. The Kshatriya factor often deluded the decision making powers of the kings. Anyway, they both got married and lived happily for some time, increasing the prospective candidates for the royal inheritance and inspiring stories that would be carved out later in Indian temples meant for selective visitors.

Indra, the original boss of apsaras, could not bear this long separation from the apple of his eye, Urvashi. He wanted her back at any cost, so he ordered the gandharvas to bring Urvashi back. The gandharvas stole the pet goats of Urvashi one day when Pururava was busy making love to her. Urvashi, on realizing that her goats had been stolen, requested Pururava to rescue them. He hurried out without bothering to cover himself keen to keep the first promise he made to his wife while forgetting the second one. At that moment, Indra launched a thunder in the sky causing a public display of the king’s private properties.

In spite of his best efforts, Pururava could not keep both his promises. Urvashi decided to leave Pururava the way he was, not continuing her stay with the husband king since the promises that were the basis of their marriage were broken.

Pururava and Urvashi

Pururava and Urvashi

The separation left Pururava devastated and he lost all sense. He isolated himself from his kingdom and became mad, not being able to rule the kingdom anymore. Had India had access to Italian Marble in those days, a Taj Mahal would have come into existence much before in Indian History than when it actually did. Pururava was replaced by one of his more capable sons.

The story of Pururava and Urvashi holds relevance for two major reasons in the Mahabharata:

1. Generations later, much like Pururava, Shantanu was also smitten by beautiful nymphs/ladies. First, it was Ganga to whom he made promises without giving any thought and then Satyavati, to whom he did not make any promises but somehow the situation was quite similar (wait for the related post).

2. When Arjuna visited Amravati during the exile, he was approached by Urvashi with amorous intents. He politely declined the tempting offer of the celestial beauty following the code of conduct of his civilization which ended in his being cursed by her.

Numerous incidents of previous generations keep on influencing the course of lives and decisions of characters throughout the Mahabharata.

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.