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.

12. The Shattering of Satyavati’s Dreams

Amba was dead, to be born later as Shikhandi in the kingdom of Panchal.

Meanwhile, in Hastinapur, Vichitraveerya was married to Ambika and Ambalika. As was suspected, there was something lacking in Vichitraveerya that kept him from fulfilling the duties of a king in the court and a husband in the bedroom. But Satyavati was determined to see a great line of kings coming from him. She waited and waited. And waited.

One ‘unfine’ day, Vichitraveerya died of a strange disease, without leaving an heir behind. Satyavati’s dreams were in turmoil. The drastic measures that she and her father had taken to assure that her lineage ruled for generations had been rendered fruitless. Hastinapur did not have an heir; she did not have a grandson. Bheeshm, who had sacrificed all pleasures of the world to remove all conflicts in inheritance, was equally aghast.

Satyavati summoned Bheeshm one day. She told him that the need of the hour was that Bheeshm broke his oath of celibacy, got married and gave Hastinapur its heir. But Bheeshm could not make this deal for anything in the world. The oath, that was the basis of his father’s marriage with Satyavati was now an integral part of his life. He was not living a life of his own, he was living a life for Hastinapur. It was an oath he was living.

When nothing worked, Satyavati saw sense in only one solution. That was Niyog. (For more details on Niyog, click here). She summoned her pre-marital son, Ved Vyas, upon agreement with Bheeshm who saw sense in it as Hastinapur was left with no other option. She ordered Vyas to perform Niyog on both the queens to give them sons. Vyas agreed with it but requested for a period of one year, as his long years in forest had made  his body rough and hair matted. The queens could faint at the first sight of a dark ugly hermit. But Satyavati could not wait any longer. She ordered that the process be completed at the earliest.

So, on orders of his mother, Vyas went to Ambika to bear a son on her. She was so horrified at his first sight that she shut her eyes tightly. Now Vyas was a sage, and sages had a hit rate of 200! Of course a son was born, but it was born blind. He was named Dhritrashtra.

Dissatisfied with the first output of the Niyog, Satyavati sent Vyas to Ambalika. Since she knew what happened with Ambika, she did not close her eyes, but the sight of Vyas turned her pale. The son, thus born was pale in appearance. He was named Pandu.

Still dissatisfied that none of the sons were completely healthy, Satyavati sent Vyas again to Ambika. This time the room was kept dark so that Ambika would not have to see Vyas’ face. She would not have had to anyway, as she had sent her maid instead. But Vyas did what he was told to do, irrespective of who was on the receiving end. Contrary to how the two queens had reacted, the maid welcomed Vyas with open arms and without any fear. The son thus born was completely healthy. He was named Vidur. However, he could never become a king as he was born of a maid and not of a queen.

So you see how things are shaping. Satyavati’s dreams were shattered. The sons who could sit on the throne were not completely fit. The one who was born fit could not sit on the throne. Time and again, the throne was calling for its rightful owner, the one who truly deserved to be the king, the last of the Kuru blood, the mightiest of all, the most deserving one – Bheeshm. Satyavati regretted what had happened, but it was too late. Bheeshm would not go back on his oath and Hastinapur would not get a capable king. Poor Hastinapur!

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.