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On the western periphery of the Kuru-jangal kingdom, there was a densely forested region along the Yamuna river called Khandav-van. At one time, it was teaming with wildlife and was the home of tribal Nagas and Danavas. Takshat was the head of the Naga tribe and Maya (pronounced Mya) was the head of the Danava tribe that had taken refuge there.
After the failed assassination attempt of Pandavas at Varnavat and their subsequent marriage to the princes of Panchal, King Dhritarastra decided to split the kingdom between his sons and his nephews to stop them from arguing and fighting about who should inherit what. He kept the developed eastern half of the kingdom and gave the less developed, more forested area of Khandav-van to the Pandavas.
Kuru capital of Hastinapur was on the banks of the Ganges. Indraprastha became the capital of Pandavas on the banks of the Yamuna. As agriculture and trade were the economic powerhouse of society at the time, the Pandavas wanted to increase the arable land in their half of the kingdom and thus develop their economy. Unfortunately, to do this, they had to destroy the forest of Khandav-van.
This is an age old debate about progress vs preservation. What is better? Who is it better for? What can society at large vs local community do to improve the economic lot of the maximum number of people? What could / should the king do to improve the lot of its citizens ? Should he pit the interest of one set of people against another? Is it sensible? Is it possible to do ‘justice’ for everyone? Should the tribals be ‘allowed’ to remain ‘primitive’? Should they be given the choice to join the rest of society at their own pace or should they be dragged kicking and screaming into ‘modern time’? Given the choice, would they want to remain in their leafy huts in the forest would they also want the benefits of modern housing, education and urban lifestyle? If we insist on preserving / reserving / maintaining their lifestyle, are we trying to retain their ‘exoticness’ for our benefit or theirs? Are they like a fossilised version of our past that we are preserving as a living documentary for our amusement and study ? Are we denying them the benefits of modern technology and education if we ‘preserve’ them on ‘reservations’ and in ‘national parks’?
I appreciate these are all man-made concepts. ‘We’, the educated, modern, civilised, progressive people have created these ‘concepts’ to intellectually justify our domination of the world. Are we right? Are we wrong?
These questions troubled the Pandavas too. Un/fortunately, they decided to destroy Khandav-van to expand their arable land. Negotiations must have broken down so totally that the usually peaceful Pandavas decided to destroy the entire forest and offer no refuge to anyone – not even the Nagas and Danavas. It must be noted that the Pandavas had grown up in the forest and Bhima had married the Rakshasha princess Hedamba. Their step mother Madri was related to the Nagas and a tribe of Nagas living on the Ganges had rescued Bhim when he was poisoned and drowned by Duryodhan. Arjun himself was married to the Naga princess Ulupi. The tribes living in Khandav-van must have refused all negotiations for accommodation with the Aryan community of Indraprastha. Pandavas took the unusual step to totally annihilate all living beings of the forest.
However, there is an old adage – if you are going to kill your enemy, you had better make sure you kill everyone in their family to avoid a blood feud. As horrid and shocking as it sounds, this is the reality of warring tribes and nations. As long as even a single heir is left of the enemy clan, you can be sure the enemy will kill you and your descendants at some time in the future. As proved by the incidence, Kuru-Naga feud went on for 4 generations because the naga king Takshat escaped the conflagration. In ‘modern time’ this may not be the politically correct thing to say, but that was the reality of its time.
The genocide at Khandav vana demonstrates how a strong nation subdues a weaker one. Matsya-Nyaya of politics suggests big fish eat little ones. Kuru fish devoured the Khandav fish by burning the forest down. The kingdom of Indraprastha became rich by attracting farmers, traders and craftsmen to its newly opened lands.
However, karma is karma and it spares no one – Kuru or Krishna – everyone is equally affected by Karma. Genocide of the inhabitants of Khandav vana costs the Kurus and the Yadavas very dear. They were both brought to near extinction and suffered genocides of their own. Shri Krushna was fully aware of this and used the impact of various karmic repercussions to annihilate the very nation he had built.
Rescuing Mya Danav’s tribe had the benefit of transferring their building skills to Indraprastha. Like all refugee populations, the Danavas were keen to progress in their new environment and worked hard to please the host population. Pandavas showed faith in the Danavs by giving them the plum job of designing and building their main palace, its gardens and the prestigious Court-of-Yudhishthir. But because the Danvas had only been ‘rescued’ from their pitiful situation and the karmic load of burning Khandav-van was so large, even this magnanimous synthesis of Arya-un-arya sowed the seeds of future disaster. It was the use of Myan / un-Aryan architectural style in their main sabha (court) that confounded Duryodhan, causing him huge embarrassment and desire for revenge. Ofcourse, by nature, Duryodhan was jealous and avaricious and would have wanted to own whatever the Pandavas wanted – even it were mud huts – just because it belonged to the Pandavas. The court of Mya was just one more excuse for him to rave and rant to his father that he had given much too much to the Pandavas.
Karmic repercussion of killing Takshat Naga’s tribe were more tragic. Takshat waited and tried to find a way to wreck revenge on the Pandavas and Arjun in particular. Rajasu-yagna was too soon and even during the 13 years of exile, Takshat wasn’t able to gather enough forces to harm the Pandavas. During the Mahabharata war, he stood by the Kauravas to fight and destroy his old adversary. However, he wasn’t skilled enough to kill Arjun by himself and though he tried to use Karna to seek revenge, Krushna foiled him. Unable to kill Arjun by stealth or strength , Takshat killed his grandson Pariksheet by stratagem.
While Shri Krushna was alive, the Pandavas were protected from their own follies. Karmic retributions came thick and fast after the departure of Shri Krushna. Pandavas handed their kingdom to their grandson Pariksheet and retired to the woods of Himalayas where they had grown up. Influenced by karma, the Kuru king forgave Kali-Yug and allowed him to remain in his kingdom. Driven by Karma and Kali-yuga, the king committed an unthinkable transgression of all protocols and placed a dead snake around the neck of Sage Shamik. Impaled by karma and Kali-yuga, Sage Shamik’s son Shringi cursed the King to die at the hands of Takshat!
Karmic tornado of genocide had yet to run its course and Arjun’s great grandson king Janmanjay decided to perform the great Sarpa-Satra to kill of ALL Nagas!!! One conflagration killed off the tribe of Takshat, this conflagration was aimed at killing off ALL Naga tribes! Had this been successful, the karmic repercussions of this would have been catastrophic for Kurus for all times. Fortunately through the recitation of the ‘Jaya’ (Mahabharata) by sage Vaishampayan and Astika rishi’s intervention on behalf of the Nagas, the Sarpa-Satra was stopped. Takshat escaped death and the karmic cycle of vengeance wreacking more vengeance was stopped.
God’s purpose is mysterious for us. Reasons for mass destruction during the time of TretaYug-Avatar of Shri Krushna is beyond our ken of knowledge and understanding. As my other article suggests, maybe this was God’s way to liberate a huge number of souls all at once. All those who died in HIS divine presence, human and animal, achieved moksha. It also helped lighten the load of Earth by stopping its over-exploitation. Divine lila restored the balance of man vs nature. If God hadn’t removed so may souls from the cycle of rebirth, the entire planet would be been consumed by the selfish attitude of human.