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Readers Write In #271: Why ought to we learn the Mahabharata?

(by G Waugh)

I had at all times wished to put in writing solely concerning the Mahabharata. The under query from a reader Varsha Ganesh on the feedback part got here as an excuse for me to do it.  

“I’m actually interested in your touch upon the Mahabharata too. What made you learn all these totally different interpretations on it? Why wasn’t one model sufficient for a narrative that you just’d know by coronary heart by now”

Right here we go.

There’s a normal notion concerning the Mahabharata that it’s simply one other conflict between two quarreling branches of the identical household. Duryodhan, the unhealthy man denies the rightful share of his brother’s property (Yudhishtra, the great), in order that they lock horns and the great defeats the unhealthy lastly. The steadiness of justice is restored and the world is again to regular. Even when the whole narrative of the epic is decreased to the confines of this ‘good-bad’ battle, the philosophical dimensions and the dramatic heft that it carries are merely luxurious to say the least. Select a personality from this ‘decreased’ battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, say Yudhishtra and attempt to interview him for his model of the story. You continue to get quite a lot of absorbing drama by way of what he undergoes – his obsession with guidelines and conventional values that usually battle with actuality, his unquestionable sense of justice typically going for a toss in essential conditions, his sympathy for everybody round him together with his ‘sworn’ rivals even underneath demanding situations and at last an incurable dependancy in the direction of playing that contrasts sharply together with his ‘famed’ good qualities and broad data of the methods of the world.

Equally choose a personality from the opposite camp, you will see that ‘his’ story too brimming with inexhaustible potential for drama, pressure and philosophy. If all these characters are mortals who’re flawed and whose variations you take into account to be stuffed with handy lies and malice, you’ve a God proper there of their midst within the type of Krishna whose model would supply much more intriguing insights. However as I informed you earlier, the Mahabharata will not be merely a narrative between the Good and the Unhealthy. To cut back it to the above dimensions and choose its deserves is equal to roaming inside some city neighbourhood in Chennai like Adyar and pretending to provide a panoramic overview about the entire of Tamilnadu.

The Mahabharata, if you happen to would select to zoom out barely may also be seen because the story of a patriarch who thought of safeguarding his kingdom, his household and its honour as his foremost responsibility, to which he gave every thing in his life for.His identify was Bhishma whose look occurs near the half-way mark within the epic. By means of laborious work and ‘gifted’ intelligence, he turns into the bravest man within the nation and turns into proficient in all types of preventing. He’s well-versed in all of the scriptures and non secular texts and his sense of justice is solely other-worldly. He additionally acquires a ‘divine’ privilege to stay immortal one thing which he can select to terminate in line with his comfort. At some extent when the reader thinks that he’s the very best man accessible to rule the nation underneath whose dynamism and intelligence it shall prosper for generations, his father, an ageing King Shantanu falls for a phenomenal, but scheming girl who received’t consent to marriage so simply. Bhishma, probably the most devoted son that he’s to his father vows to stay celibate all through his life in order that he or his kids shall by no means get the prospect to put declare to the throne sooner or later. This convinces the lady, Satyavati who consents to marry the King and the story of the Mahabharata turns into a brand new course. Bhishma stays a part of the royal household as a silent guardian, the lone ‘disaster’ man overseeing the passing of generations remaining the only real voice of sanity amid the chaos that quickly involves grip the ruling dynasty.

In order one might even see, the Mahabharata that had the potential to captivate the reader even merely as a conflict between the ‘Good’ and the ‘Evil’ with a slight rewind turns into one man’s long-winded biography who assumed the accountability of guarding and shepherding his household throughout each flip and disaster for generations collectively. Bhishma’s demise arrives solely on the finish of the ‘Good’ vs ‘Unhealthy’ conflict that we noticed earlier and the person’s passing marks the top of an period and even of a life that gave every thing and took again just about nothing. Even Bhishma’s foremost goal of holding the household collectively for which he sacrificed every thing, crumbles grievously when his grandson Duryodhan declares warfare on his brothers. He stays alive solely to undergo a lifetime of ache and anguish bearing witness to the horrible tragedy of his kids and grand-children slaying one another like blood-thirsty savages merely as a helpless spectator.

However Bhishma’s story too unusually will not be all of Mahabharata. If there’s one character who’s witness to all that occurs within the epic, it’s none apart from the creator Vyas himself. Apparently, Vyas too seems as a personality within the epic, making cameos on the most important junctures. He’s the son of the scheming girl Satyavati who later married King Shantanu however Vyas chooses to reside the lifetime of a hermit. When it’s found that not one of the sons of Shantanu can‘scale’ as much as the duty of manufacturing an ‘inheritor’ to the throne, Vyas is summoned out of the blue. He fathers three kids – two of whom grow to be kings later whereas the third one, the son of a low-born maid and probably the most clever amongst all of them, stays with the household performing as its information and counsel.

This act of an creator leaping into his personal story when it appears to be approaching a dead-end so astotake it ahead is without doubt one of the most ingenious literary methods I’ve seen in basic literature. Vyas nonetheless vanishes once more because the story picks up from the place he left. When he’s virtually forgotten he makes an look out of the blue after greater than 4 generations on the finish of the Nice Yagna referred to as SarpaSatra (snake sacrifice) organized by Arjuna’s great-grandson King Janamejaya. It is just from right here the Mahabharata begins and the whole story you’ve seen is only one huge flashback narrated by the Sage Vyas.

However once more Mahabharata, can’t be decreased to merely an extended story that’s narrated by a sage who lived lengthy sufficient to witness all that occurred within the ‘nice nation of Bharat’. The political subtext of the story are just too treasured to be ignored. Krishna, one of many Avatars of Lord Vishnu was a Yadava chieftain whose ‘delivery’ was thought of to be lesser than the ever-dominant Brahmin and Kshatriya castes. Krishna’s essential function in providing counsel to the royal household as and when required and his indispensability within the scheme of issues, is usually thought of to be an indication of lower-caste re-assertion that occurred through the Vedic instances in opposition to the dominant castes. Many oppressed communities in India nonetheless regard Krishna as an emblem of rebel and liberation. Karna and Eklavya’s tales too illustrate the stress that simmered between the oppressed and the oppressing castes in these instances in delicate, touching element. Some students argue that the Mahabharata depicts actual occasions that occurred between tribal households in North-Central India lengthy, way back and the allusions to Gods and faith might need been inserted into the story by lessons that grew to become hegemonic later.


The character of Draupadi compensates for the entire lack of feminine illustration within the story and her insatiable intuition to insurgent and query the established order simply matches as much as the ‘progressive’ requirements set by feminists and social activists of at present. In actual fact her character is the one one in the whole story that continues to be a insurgent all through and she or he retains confounding the judgement of the reader escaping all his makes an attempt to field her right into a class. She falls immediately in love with a low-born Karna however curiously decides in opposition to marrying him. She later will get interested in probably the most good-looking of her suitors, the valorous Arjuna, the third brother of the Pandavas and marries him. When she is condemned shockingly to share her life with 5 males, she accepts the phrase of her mother-in-law who imposed it upon her obediently however by no means shies from questioning her authority again and again. She is usually proven to function out of vengeance to reclaim her spoilt life, desperately by manipulating the 5 brothers for her personal profit. Regardless of her indifference to everybody besides Arjuna, Draupadi additionally grows keen on Bhima whose intimidating giant-like persona a lot to her amusement,typically contrasts with the respect and the subservience he harbours in the direction of her. What makes Draupadi much more attention-grabbing is the best way she continues to protect a particular place in her coronary heart for Karna even when he has grown too distant from her. If Draupadi’s life might be made into a movie tailored to go well with present-day situations, Imitiaz Ali would merely be salivating on the prospect.

If some individuals don’t take into account Mahabharata as a ‘progressive’ work of fiction, it’s as a result of they haven’t thought of digging it sufficient. The character of Shikhandi is a superb portrayal of gender ambivalence and Jeyamohan’s Venmurasu dedicates sufficient pages for example the psychological pulls and pressures endured by such a confused particular person. S Ramakrishnan’s Ubapandavam hints on the query of incest whereas describing Bhishma’s relation to Satyavati whom he initially falls for however is pressured later to just accept as his mom.


In case you assume I’m coping with the story of Mahabharata in a non-linear vogue, it’s as a result of the story itself is written typically in ‘circles’. Some unlucky occasions that occur earlier discover an echo eerily some generations down the lane, which provides you the impression of a curse that comes again repeatedly to hang-out all of the members of the royal lineage. Pandu, the daddy of the Pandavas is cursed fatally by the King of the snake-world, Takshak whereas his son Arjuna in an act of revenge burns down the forest of Khandava killing virtually all of the members of the snake dynasty. One surviving member of the snake-world, Mayan often called the best architect of the day secretes himself into the Pandava household assuming the accountability of constructing a grand palace for them. The palace is designed with a lot vengeance and malice that guests frequenting it are sometimes confused as to methods to navigate it. It’s this palace that later turns into the trigger for Duryodhan’s fury in opposition to the Pandavas that morphs later into an unquenchable thirst for revenge.

However the snakes don’t disappear away as soon as and for all. They later come to hang-out the grandson of Arjuna, the King Parikshit because of which his son Janamejaya decides to complete their dynasty as soon as and for all. This turns into the explanation why he organizes the nice sacrifice of the snakes which a surviving member of the snake dynasty, sage Astika manages to interrupt. Takshaka, the king of snakes reappears and Janamejaya is obtainable a possibility to find out about his household’s traditionally fractured relationship with the reptile dynasty.Checked out this fashion, the Mahabharata may also be interpretedas a full-blown battle that occurs between snakes and human kings.

However wait, there’s extra to substantiate Mahabharata’s round storytelling gadget. King Nahusha, the forefathers of the Kuru kingdom at first of the epic hopelessly falls in love with a celestial angel and loses every thing in his pursuit. The identical destiny befalls considered one of his descendants, King Shantanu who loses his every thing on account of his unrequited love for the elusive Ganga, the princess of the river. Each ladies in these tales marry the kings primarily based on a tough promise to maintain and none of those marriages handle to outlive for lengthy.

Additionally the traditional apply of Niyogais adopted twice within the story on totally different events. Identical to how the sons of the Kuru clan are fathered by Sage Vyas on account of Vichitravirya’s lack of virility, the Pandavas too are fathered by the Gods as a substitute of King Pandu. The round narration will get much more attention-grabbing when Vayu’s son Bhima, the second Pandava meets within the forest one other son from his father, the nice Hanuman who exits out of the Ramayana to make a cameo right here.

However Mahabharata’s hyperlinks with Ramayana get much more attention-grabbing if you happen to learn extra texts from varied areas within the nation. In Ramayana, Vaali, one of many enemies of Rama curses him for having shot him from behind, an act that’s completely at odds with the conventions of war-making. Rama accepts the curse and guarantees to get killed within the arms of Vaali in his subsequent delivery as Krishna. Later when Krishna, after the top of the Mahabharata warfare will get killed by mistake by a hunter named Jara, it’s revealed that he’s none apart from the reincarnation of Ramayana’s Vaali. In some texts, the Naga who was chargeable for the enemity between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, the architect Mayan is believed to be the father-in-law of Ravana within the story of Ramayana.


Some components in India deal with the entire conflict-ridden relationship between the Nagas and the Kuru dynasty as a conflict between the Dravidians and the Aryans respectively. Dravidians are, in some areas believed to have descended from the Nagas who’re typically dubbed as Asuras in sure tales whereas the descendants of the Kuru clan are thought of to be Aryans, near the Devas or Gods who typically inhabit the sky. However historians Irawati Karwe and RomilaThapar don’t consider within the persistent fantasy that the Mahabharata was written by a single creator and the textual content that survives at present is the one which Lord Ganesha wrote as Vyas dictated it. As many students have identified, within the textual content that survives at present there are too many discrepancies in the best way the entire narrative is structured, which might solely imply one thing- the story was edited and revised a number of instances over so a few years by individuals of various origins and identities. This turns into one of many foremost explanation why we should attain out for variations written by authors hailing from totally different components of the nation to get an entire understanding of the ‘epic’ dimensions of the story.

However the surviving textual content, no matter its ‘synthetic’ shifts in tone and minor inconsistencies doesn’t fail to shock the reader, even at present. The entire story, researcher Devdutt Pattanaik says, is neither an internecine battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas neither is it one between the Asuras and the Devas. He says that the entire scope of the epic is sensible solely with the completion of the revenge of Bhoomadevi, who had as soon as complained to Lord Vishnu about the best way successive generations of males have violated the earthly environs with abandon and impunity, for their very own profit. Bhoomadevi appeared to have begged Vishnu the privilege of ingesting the blood of people in an effort to educate them a lesson. Vishnu appears to have acceded to the request and the nice warfare of Mahabharata that occurred for a mere eighteen days drank the lives of near a billion, in line with Vyasa’s textual content. Seen this fashion, the epic amongst lots of its aforementioned interpretations seems to have narrated an attention-grabbing episode within the ever-ongoing conflict between man and Nature. Because it at all times occurs, even right here it’s Nature that lastly received.

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