Mahabharata

The begining

(work in progress) 

 

 

As epics go, there is nothing bigger than the Mahabharata !  At 100,000 verses, it is more than six times bigger than other epics, like Iliad, and bigger than all other scriptures from around the world.  Mahabharata has a very complex plot with myriad subplots that all swirl into one mega vortex of activities, culminating in the great war at Kurushetra.  The epic continues even after the war and deals with a huge number of questions on politics, ethics, morality, philosophy etc. 

 

At the heart of the epic, is the intestinal feud between the royal cousins Kauravs and Pandavs.  Born in the divine Lunar dynasties of Yayati, they are the descendants of Bharata, Kuru and Shantanu, they are the sons of Dhritrastra and Pandu.  Both brothers sat on the throne and hence both sets of princes claimed sole rights to the kingdom of Kuru.  The feud became so bloody, the cousins were wiling to kill each other and all others who got in their way for the throne.  Grandsires, in-laws, uncles, cousins, sons, nephews, friends, teachers are all killed for the right to sit on the throne of their ancestors.  At the end, heroes of Mahabharata leave the kingdom they fought so hard to win and ascend the Himalayas to bodily enter the heaven.  Only Yudhisthir manages to enter heaven in his human body and even than, when he gets into heaven, he is disappointed at seeing his enemies there.  The end is tidied up when Pandavs go to a higher heaven and their descendants rule the kingdom in peace.

 

The epic has more twists and turns than most novels, more foundlings and hidden secrets than any Bollywood movie, tons of melodrama and long eternal monologues to rival Greek orators.  The epic is full of beautiful verses, poetic nuances, emotive speeches, sublime prayers, romance, tragedy, comedy, philosophy, grand rituals and profound insight into human behaviour.  There are detailed description of places, people and their habits.  The Bhagvad Gita is just one of many

 

It all starts with King Shantanu’s love for a maiden on the banks of Ganges.  He makes her his queen and is disappointed that she kills off seven of her sons.  Eighth son is saved by the king, but his queen deserts him and takes her son with her.  In a dramatic style, prince Gangeya returns as a teenager and is an ideal son who adores his father so much, he is willing to sacrifice his own personal happiness for him.  Meanwhile, Shantanu falls in love with a fisher woman, but her father has ambitions above his station !  The Fisherman wants his grandson to become the king.  Here is the first prenuptial agreement in the making !  Shantanu refuses to put his marital bliss before the rights of his son.  But Gangeya renounces his right to the throne for his father.  The fisherman is greedier and more cunning than his looks would betray and coolly asks, “You have renounced the throne, but what of your sons fighting my grandchildren for their patrimony ?”  Gangeya takes great oath – never to marry or have children !!  All because a man loved a woman !!  Because of his fervour and devotion to his father, Gangeya is hence known as Bhishma – man who has terrible a fierce / terrible oath.  Shantanu blesses his son so that he death will only come to him at his bidding and not before. 

 

Shantanu has a brief period of family bliss.  His eldest son is a doting sibling to his two sons by his new bride.  However, the king dies before the sons are mature enough to marry.  One of the princes dies in a hunting accident and the other prince is not warrior enough to procure a bride for himself.  Bhishma took care of this necessity and kidnapped three princess of Kashi to wed his brothers.  Two princesses acquiesced to this plan but a third did not.  She had planned to marry prince Shalwa she was in love with.  Bhishma delivered the princess to her lover, with full honours, but he refused “to take what has been touch by others” !  Despite fierce threats from Bhishma, Shalwa refused and in turn the princess of Kashi also refused to marry anyone other than Bhishma – as he is responsible for ruining her chances of marital bliss.  Despite several people’s interventions and a deadly dual with Parshurama, Bhishma refused to abandon his vow of life long celibacy.  Kashi princess Amba decided to perform terrible tapas to avenge her humiliation and Shiva granted her a boon that in her next life, she will be the cause of Bhishma’s death.

 

Her sisters did not have an easy life either.  Though married to handsome prince, they were widowed without having secured a crown prince for the kingdom.  The old Fisherman had not counted on his gene pool drying up so soon.  Bhishma refused to marry even when the throne was in jeopardy.  As a final solution, Satyavati, the widowed queen of Shantanu than revealed that as fisher woman, she had an illegitimate son from a one night stand with sage Parashar !!

 

Austere Veda Vyasa, the author of many scriptures, was Satyavati’s secret love-child.  He was persuaded to sire sons with the widowed wives of the dead prince.  Fearful and tearful, they complied but once.  On the third occasion, they sent a maid.  Hence, eldest was born blind, next one ill and third – though brilliant – socially inferior to his siblings.  Vyas told his mother to be satisfied with three grandsons he had granted her and left for his sylvan retreat.

 

Bhishma saw to it that the three grandsons of his step-mother were taught all the arts befitting princes of royal descent.  However, the throne could only be passed to Pandu, the “ill prince” as he had the least disadvantage of the three.  Dhrutarastra was blind, and hence unfit due to his disability.  Vidur was unacceptable due to his ancestry as the son a maid.  Merit was sacrificed in place of social acceptability and Kuru dynasty suffered the consequences. 

 

Pandu married two princesses from different parts of India.  Dhrutarastra married a princess from Gandhar in Afghanistan.  Pandu established himself as the “Emperor” by re-affirming the borders of Kuru-Jangle and exacting tribute from vassal states.  However, Pandu’s ill health forced him to retire to the forest for “rest and recuperation”.  Unable to have sons of his own loins, Pandu requested his wives to get pregnant by any other means !!!  His senior wife, Kunti confided that she could summon Gods to fulfil his wish !!  Pandu jumped at the idea and carefully planned which Gods should be summoned to maximise the advantages of his line.  Kunti summoned Dharma, Vayu and Indra.  Madri, the younger queen summoned the heavenly doctors (twins).  Thus were born the five Pandavas – Ydhisthira, Bhima, Arjun, Sahadev and Nakul.  Pandu died whilst the children were still young.  His widows returned to the ancestral kingdom to seek the birthright of their sons.

 

 

 To be continued....

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