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.

Review: Shikhandi and Other Stories They Don’t Tell You!

(Originally posted here with a slight difference)

How many authors do you know who in a volatile political and cultural environment can come up with a book with the very first statement as terse as:

 Beware of a land where celibate men decide what is good sex.

On a second thought, there could not have been a better time to write this post than now, when feminism is gaining traction in our country and we are talking about breaking stereotypes. We are trying to rise above caste-discrimination, questioning long held beliefs that have made us exclude certain sections of society for long.

There could not have been a better time for Devdutt Pattanaik to write his new book either. I am talking about “Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You!” which is DP’s latest release, that mentions different tales from Indian Mythology that are around queerness or discovering queerness. This time DP doesn’t pick a character or an epic for a retelling, but he targets an entire section of mythology that has been conveniently ignored over generations, reasons debatable.

The book begins with simple definitions of queerness, patriarchy, feminism and even mythology, that are pertinent to DP’s writings. He believes in rolling the pitch every time he is about to bowl you over with his writings. While I think queerness is the epicenter of this book, the reason behind writing this book is more about breaking stereotypes of all kinds. Since there couldn’t have been a better aspect to start from than queerness as it is lesser known, mostly misinterpreted, highly doubted and largely ignored, DP hits the core when he picks queerness for the same. The best of all, he doesn’t just justify it as one would initially expect, he rather celebrates it and recognizes its presence over the ages. The book also mentions various examples of Greek and Biblical mythology that are either tangents to or are direct references to queerness, stories that you are less likely to be aware of unless you are a mythologist or an ardent reader of mythology.

As always, this post is not to discuss the stories mentioned in the book and spoil the fun of reading. DP narrates them in a far better manner, maintaining the interest and realizing the sensitivity of the matter at the same time. I write his post to express why you may read, or not read this book in the first place.

Why you may not read this book:

  • You haven’t read any book by DP and mythology is not your thing. If that’s the case, you might not feel motivated to pick “Shikhandi And …..”. But honestly, understanding this book will still not be a challenge in case you pick it. But reading one or two of DP’s books before reading this will help you understand where he comes from. (If you understand the author’s mind even slightly, you enjoy the book heavily). I recommend Jaya, Sita or maybe even Business Sutra. And then reading this book will be icing on the cake.
  • You’re too wise. You’ve realized that it’s only you who matters and no one else does. You’ve realized what your wisdom is THE wisdom and you don’t want to learn any further. (I don’t know why would you even read this post in the first place).
  • You love to stay within your stereotypes. Enough said!

Why you may read this book:

  • The more you have read, the more incomplete you have felt. You have realized that you know far lesser about things than you actually should. You want to explore more.
  • You are an avid reader of mythology, or an ardent fan of DP, or maybe both. You can’t afford not reading it.
  • You have read this post and you have understood it well.

In your quest for wisdom, this book can be one of the crucial steps, bringing to you ideas that you might have never thought of or maybe bringing old ideas with a freshly new perspective.

 

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.

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.