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.

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.

 

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.

The Birth of Karna

Kunti, the wife of Pandu and the mother of five Pandavas, has been projected as one of the most tragic characters in Mahabharata. She was married to an arguably impotent king and in no time was put to competition against her husband’s second wife. Being the wife of a king, she spent a considerable part of her life in the forest, first with her husband and then twice with her sons (each phase consisted of several years). Yet, the biggest of all tragedies that she probably faced was seeing her eldest son die at the hands of her fourth son in the Kurukshetra war. What made it worse was that all her life she couldn’t give her eldest son the love of a mother and the care that was his right. This son, of course, was Karna.

Kunti’s original name was Pritha and she was the daughter of Shurasena. Biologically, she belonged to the Yadava clan. However, she was adopted by Shurasena’s friend, Kuntibhoja and he renamed her Kunti. She led a life of princesses at the palace of Kuntibhoja. Those were probably the only years of her without misery.

Once Rishi Durvasa, the sage known for temper as short as the name of Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘superhit’ movie “D”, an expert at pronouncing curses, visited the kingdom of Kuntibhoja. People were so scared of crossing his path that they weren’t sure what would anger the sage that would make him pronounce a curse that will ruin their lives forever. I have never been able to understand why this person was honoured and respected so much by one and all when being a sage he had not get rid of his anger. Anyway, the king, being aware of Mr. D’s special requirements, made sure that he is not attended by any maid, but by his adopted daughter, Kunti.

Kunti’s values par excellence ensured that no wish of Mr. D was returned unfulfilled. As a fourteen year old teenager, she displayed extra-ordinary skills of hospitality that far from a curse, Mr. D was actually impressed. When it was time to leave he told Kunti…

Mr. D: Kid, you’re good! Your parents have brought you up well and I’m impressed. Tell me what do you wish for and it will be yours.

Kunti: Respectable Mr. D, I have still not added items on my Flipkart wish-list, and my wifi is down, so please bless me with something that you think I will require in future.

Now no one knows what Mr. D actually foresaw, but he blessed Kunti with a mantra through which she could invoke a deva and bear a son from him. Probably, he foresaw that Kunti would be married to a (arguably) impotent king and would need this boon to run the future generations. Or simply, he would have thought what could be a better blessing for a future queen to have supernatural sons. Finally, he left.

Remember the time when you were a teenager and your parents told you to take care. Not many parents allow their kids to experience some kind of adventures too early in life. This female has a big role to play in that. One day, when Kunti was offering her early morning prayers to the Sun-god, she was fascinated by the sheer purity of the light that originated from the far-away star. She wondered whether the boons she had actually had the power to invoke a deva and make him appear before her. In her curiosity, she invoked the mantra given by Mr. D while thinking of the Sun-god. In an instant, she was surrounded by the brightest beam of light and saw the Sun-god appear before her.

Sun-god: Thanks for the invitation Kunti! Let me offer what I have been invited for.

Kunti: No Sun-god. I invoked you just to check if the mantras really worked. I have no such intentions. I am still a kid. A fourteen and a half year old teenager who still plays with dolls.

Sun-god: That might be true Kunti, but no one can overturn the power of mantras. If I have been invited on earth by this specific mantra, then I will have to give you a son irrespective of your situation. Not performing up to the mantra will disrupt the cosmic balance of nature. Your culture might not allow you to have a son as a teenager, but nature has no such barriers. The son has to be provided.

Kunti: But please think about me once. I will grow up to be married to a king. Who will marry me once I deliver a child before marriage. No king shall accept me as his wife if I am not a virgin.

Sun-god: What you will do is not my concern. I am here to perform my duty and I will. You decide what you want to do with the son. You have taken an action, bear the consequences. All that I can do is to ensure that your virginity will stay in tact even after your delivery. Your husband will never know about the reality unless you reveal it to him personally.

Saying this, the Sun-god finally gave Kunti a beautiful son, an infant bedecked with a celestial armor and earrings.

The Birth of Karna 1

Sun-god: This celestial armor and earrings are my blessings to this son of ours. No weapon can harm this boy as long as they are on him. He is destined to be a great warrior, and he will need these. It’s time for me to leave.

And the Sun-god disappeared just as quickly as he had arrived. The teenager Kunti was now suddenly a mother. But who could she reveal it to? No one. For having a son as a teenager would have brought great shame to her as per the culture and more so, as she was the daughter of a king. With great agony in her heart, she decided to abandon the son and promised herself not to reveal the secret to anyone.

She swaddled the baby and placed him in a box. She put some of her jewelry into the box to ensure that whosoever finds the box just doesn’t view the baby as an onus but as a reward and that jewelry help him take care of the son, for as long as it could. Finally, the teenaged mother floated the box in the river and prayed Sun-god to take care of their child from the sky as she knew she would fail to do it on earth.

The Birth of Karna 2

This son was found by Adirath, the charioteer of the king of Hastinapur, Dhritarashtra. Adirath had always longed for a son but he and his wife, Radha could never have one. He saw this son with celestial armor and earrings as a blessing of God and decided to adopt him. They named this son Vasusena, but the people who knew him also called him Radheya (the son of Radha). However, in her graduation certificate, the official name appeared as Karna.

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.