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.

 

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.

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.)

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!

9. Chitrangadha and Vichitraveerya – Undesired fruits of desire

Mahabharata constantly reminds us of one thing – we can wish for something, we can try for it and we can even take brutal steps to ensure that it happens. But what actually happens is never completely in our hands.

When the news reached Shantanu that his eldest son had taken a terrible oath, he was heartbroken. He wanted Bheeshm to take the oath back but it was no ordinary oath and Bheeshm was no ordinary man. Impressed with his son’s devotion towards his father, Shantanu gave Bheeshm the boon to decide the time of his death. Bheeshm promised that the oath was taken for the happiness of his father and the security of Hastinapur so he would not leave the world unless he saw Hastinapur in safe hands.

There was resentment in the people of Hastinapur that why a promise was made to make someone else the king when the most capable of all, Bheeshm was amidst. Bheeshm ensured that his oath would not prevent his service to the kingdom. He passionately argued and convinced the citizens of Hastinapur that he was not facing any injustice, it was his own will and that he would serve the king with utmost devotion and anybody sitting on the throne would be as respectable to him as his father.

Satyavati’s father had foreseen that his daughter would be a mother of kings but he probably didn’t see that how strong or how capable they would be. Had he seen that, probably the father and daughter would not have kept the condition in front of Shantanu that made Devavrata take that terrible oath.

The effects of the oath were terrible, both in the short and long term. As a result of this oath, Shantanu was able to marry Satyavati, but his guilt never stopped eating into his health. In due course, Shantanu and Satyavati were blessed with two sons. The elder one was named Chitrangadha (this has nothing to do with Chitrangadha Singh and I am glad about it.) and the younger one was named Vichitraveerya (this suggests strangely powerful. There are speculations that he was named so because of his doubted masculinity.) A few days later, consumed by guilt and grief for his eldest son, Shantanu breathed his last and left everything behind. Bheeshm was now an unmarried man handling the family of his father that included a mother and two sons. Bheeshm took the responsibility of educating and training Chitrangadha and Vichitraveerya.9. Chitrangadha and Vichitraveerya - Undesired fruits of desire

Chitrangadha grew up to be a powerful but extremely arrogant man.  Of course, when you are told from your childhood that the throne belongs only to you and you see the most powerful of all warrior like Bheeshm serving as a regent, you are bound to have the illusion of superiority. He was challenged for a duel by a gandharva of the same name for sharing the name and was killed by him. The throne then ultimately went to Vichitraveerya. As his veerta was vichitra, everyone knew that the so-called king is not good for nothing.

Hastinapur’s throne now had a weakling as its king as a result of an oath which was in turn the result of a condition. And we know what happens to the kingdoms with weaklings as kings. Right? They are doomed. And so was Hastinapur supposed to be.

8. Bheeshm Pratigya! – A Terrible Sacrifice of a Son

Devavrata was now an adult and had been declared the heir to the kingdom. Everyone had full trust in his capabilities and Shantanu also relaxed the reigns of Hastinapur into the hands of Devarata.

One day Shantanu thought of taking a break from the daily kingdom chores and go for what Kuru kings did best – hunt! During the hunt in the forest, he reached the banks of Ganga, where a gentle breeze brought to him a heavenly fragrance. The fragrance aroused in Shantanu the desires that he had been unaware of ever since his wife Ganga left him. Shantanu realized that the source of fragrance was a woman who was ferrying across the river; daughter of the leader of fishermen. This woman was Satyavati.

Shantanu ordered his charioteer to stop the chariot and alighted from it to proceed towards Satyavati. He told Satyavati that he had fallen in love with her (Love at first sight is the trend in our generation. In those days love happened at first sniff!)

Shantanu: Marry me and be my queen. The kingdom of Hastinapur has not had a queen in quite some time.

Satyavati: Maharaj, I am not the one who can decide this on my own. If you wish to marry me, you should ask my father for my hand in marriage.

Within an hour, Shantanu and Satyavati were in the cottage of the head of the fisher-folks, Daashraaj. Shantanu told Daashraaj that he wished to marry Satyavati. Daashraaj was more than happy at knowing this but he had to refuse Shantanu. On being questioned, he said that since his daughter was destined to become a mother of kings, marrying Shantanu who had already declared Devavrata his heir would be a hindrance to that prediction. The revelation infuriated Shantanu. Even though he was madly in love with Satyavati, he could not deprive his beloved Devavrata of his rights for anything.

Shantanu: Kurus are not famous for taking back their words and depriving the rightful people of what they deserve. If you have such a condition, then I shall not marry your daughter.

Shantanu left the cottage without looking in Satyavati’s direction for even an instant. On that day, and on the following days Shantanu again felt the void that had been created ever since Ganga left him. In his old age, the void seemed to hurt more and he was also losing his capability of hiding his sorrows.

Devavrata could not see his father sad and so he tried to investigate but Shantanu never told anything. He then went to Shantanu’s charioteer expecting that the charioteer might reveal to the prince what the father was not revealing to the son. The charioteer told the entire story to Devavrata.

On the very evening, when the thick clouds were eclipsing the moon desperate to shower themselves on the city of Hastinapur, the fisher community heard the sound of armies proceeding in their direction. The fisher-folks were convinced that the audacity of their chief had succeeded in incurring Devavrata’s wrath and that he had come to savage the entire village that dared to harm his prospects of inheriting the throne.

Powerful men are usually understood by the weak.

Devavrata summoned Daashraaj, who came along with his daughter and asked him what stopped him from giving his daughter’s hand to the king of Hastinapur. Daashraaj explained the foretelling and its implications.

Devavrata: It was not wise on your part to have asked from my father what is mine, Daashraaj. My father could not promise to your grandsons the throne of Hastinapur because he has already given it to me. And if this is what is keeping my father away from happiness then I promise you that I will never sit on that throne. You can now proceed with the arrangements of the wedding. Mother Satyavati shall marry my father with no further delay.

Daashraaj: That’s very kind and brave of you my prince! History will always remember your sacrifice. But I have a question. If your father had no right to promise on your behalf, then how come you have the right to promise on the behalf of your sons? What if your sons raise swords against my grandsons for this very throne. How can I be sure of their future?8. Bheeshma Pratigya - A terrible sacrifice of a son

Devavrata: You are right dude! I cannot decide and promise on behalf of my sons. But I can certainly decide something for myself. And so to remove all your doubt and apprehensions about future of your grandsons, I decide never to marry. May Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hear it today; may the devas and asuras hear it today; may all the directions hear it today; may all organic and inorganic forms of matter hear it today; may earth, fire, wind and water hear it today clearly – I, Devavrata, the son of Ganga and Shantanu, pledge never to marry and father children on any woman. I SHALL LIVE WITHOUT A WIFE AND A SON AND I SHALL DIE WITHOUT A WIFE AND A SON. THIS IS MY ULTIMATE PROMISE TO YOU!!!

The pledge disturbed the rhythm of the cosmos, the clouds burst into heavy rains and the devas descended on Earth to shower Devavrata with flowers and blessings. Time had never seen such a terrible oath being taken by anyone. Time would never see such a terrible oath being taken by anyone. There were tears in the eyes of every soldier that had accompanied Devavrata. Princes were known to slaughter the weak to show off their might and here they had the mightiest of their leaders sacrificing everything for the sake of his old father and his kingdom’s future. They felt blessed to have seen the most historical moment in time.

This terrible oath, also known as Bheeshm Pratigya in Hindi, earned Devavrata the title of Bheeshm. Though Bheeshm sacrificed everything to ensure that the king of Hastinapur stayed well and so did Hastinapur, he did not foresee the implications that this terrible oath would have and how his rigidity towards his oath would cost Kuru clan dearly. There were certain things only time could tell and this was one of those.