Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 15

The Pandavas spent thirteen years in exile according to the conditions of the dice game.
However, the inevitable happened and Duryodhana refused to give Indraprastha back to the Pandavas. War was the verdict.
Being the Royal teacher of Hastinapur, Dronacharya and Kripacharya fought on the side of the Kauravas. Ashwattaman, was already drawn towards the Kauravas and also fought on their side.
Bhishma was the eldest and was a formidable warrior. So for the first ten days of the battle, Bhishma was made as the general of the army.
Using Shikhandi, Drauapdi’s sibling, the Pandavas incapacitated Bhishma. For the remaining 8 days of the battle, Bhishma was lying on the bed of arrows as he watched the battle unfold .
(Shikhandi was Amba reborn. Amba was the Princess of Kashi, and wanted to marry Bhishma. When Bhishma refused to marry her, Amba vowed to be the cause of Bhishma’s death and killed herself. Amba was reborn as Shikhandin, the daughter of the Princess of Panchala. Even as Shikhandin, she remembered who she was in her past life and prayed to a yaksha in the forest. The yaksha converted Shikhandin into a man.
Bhishma had taken a vow that he would never fire a weapon against a woman or children. As Shikhandi was originally a female, Bhishma refused to engage in battle with Shikhandi. Shikhandi went with Arjuna in his chariot on the tenth day. Bhishma refused to fire at Shikhandi allowing Arjuna to incapacitate Bhishma. However the interesting part is that in this story, the Pandavas looking at how much damage Bhishma was causing to the Pandava army, went to Bhishma and asked him the advice on how they could defeat him. Bhishma himself gave the Pandavas the way of killing him!)
After Bhishma fell, the first thing which happened was that Karna was called to fight the battle. When Bhishma assumed the command of the Kaurava army, the first condition that Bhishma imposed was that he did not want Karna to be fighting in his army. (The reason given by Bhishma for not letting Karna fight was that Karna was taught by Parashurama, whom Bhishma thought of as an enemy. Both Bhishma and Karna were taught by Parashurama. However when Bhishma spurned Amba’s proposal to marry her, Amba went to many kings to have Bhishma killed. None of the kings were brave enough to fight Bhishma. The only person who came forward to fight for Amba was Parashurama. Both Parashurama and Bhishma fought for a long time. However Parashurama withdrew from the fight saying that he could not win this fight. It was only after this that Amba killed herself. As Parashurama had fought with Bhishma, Bhishma was angry with him and hence refused to let Karna, Parashurama’s disciple, fight. However there could be another reason also. Bhishma was one of the few people in the Kaurava army who knew of Karna’s origin. Bhishma knew that Karna was the son of Kunti and he wanted to make sure that all the six sons of Kunti survived the war, which could be why Bhishma refused to let Karna fight)
Almost everyone in the Kaurava army wanted Karna to succeed Bhishma, but then Karna was a smart warrior. He realized that he was neither the eldest in the Kaurava army nor did he have the respect of the entire Kaurava army (Karna was always considered as a charioteer’s son and throughout the epic, he was never respected as a warrior.) Karna realized that for any army to win the war it was important not to have any internal strife between the warriors. So Karna performed a brilliant move to avert any misgivings. He suggested the name of Drona as the commander of the Kaurava army.
Duryodhana gladly accepted the suggestion and so Dronacharya was made the general of the army.
Drona was shocked. The newfound position made the simple Dronacharya think that Duryodhana actually trusted him. In a spur of the moment, Dronacharya looked at Duryodhana proudly and told him. ‘Ask me any boon in the battle and I will grant it to you!’
Duryodhana smiled. ‘Bring Yudhishtara to me, alive!’ was all he said.
Alive?’ Drona asked surprised.
Duryodhana nodded. ‘If you kill Yudhishtara, you will bring in the wrath of Arjuna!’ Duryodhana almost shuddered as he continued. ‘And he would possibly destroy all of us, the very same day! So….please bring Yudhishtara alive! I can make Yudhishtara play dice with me! And I will make sure Yudhishtara is exiled again….Yudhishtara is a man of his words! If he lost, he would walk away and the Pandavas would follow him! There would be no further bloodshed!’ Duryodhana said triumphantly.

Dronacharya looked at the Pandava army at a distance and turned to Duryodhana. ‘If Arjuna is not there with Yudhishtara….!’ Drona smiled faintly. ‘Yudhishtara would be here, tied and bound, by sundown!’

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 14

When Dhirdarashtra came to know of the marriage of the Pandavas to Draupadi, he probably realized that the Pandavas were no longer poor sons of his brother - Pandu. Dhirdarastra immediately divided the kingdom of Hastinapur and assigned the Khandavaprastha to the Pandavas. It is interesting to note that the exact reason given by Dhiradarashtra for dividing the kingdom was that he wanted to make sure that there was no difference of opinion between his sons and the Pandavas and that he wanted to make sure that the Pandavas faced no further injury.
Khandavaprastha was originally a desert. Arjuna and Krishna helped Lord Agni in burning the dangerous forest of Khandava which was home to many asuras and nagas.
In doing so, Arjuna and Krishna won the friendship of one of the most brilliant architects of an era long gone – Maya, the architect of the asuras.
When Arjuna spared the life of Maya, who resided in the Khandaprastha, Maya insisted on doing something in return to the Pandavas. Wanting nothing for himself, Arjuna asked Maya to obey the wishes of Krishna. Krishna asked Maya to build a ‘sabha’ (Meeting Hall) in Khandavaprastha, of such grandeur that no one would be able to imitate the sabha even a after examining the same again and again. Krishna asked Maya to build the sabha combining the architecture of the Devas, Asuras and the humans.
And thus in the place of the barren Khandavaprastha came the exquisite Indraprastha. It is said that Indraprastha rivaled the beauty of the Bhogvathi, the prosperous city in the netherworld and Amaravathi, the city of Indra, in the heavens.
Such a beautiful place was one of the root causes for the ultimate war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas….
Subsequently with the help of Krishna, the Pandavas killed Jarasandha, a powerful king of Magadha. After the death of Jarasandha, Yudhishtara performed the Rajasuya yagna which was for proclaiming himself as the emperor of the country.
Yudhishtara invited Dhiradarashtra and the other elders of Hastinapur for the Rajasuya. It was during the Rajasuya yagna, Duryodhana was given the job of handling the wealth which came in from the various kings of the country. The collected wealth was enormous and given generously. The ‘Sabha’ was probably built using optic illusions because in some places it looked like a stream was running through the palace and some places looked like the place was closed, though the door was open wide.
Duryodhana saw all this and he burned with jealousy. Already he felt insecure of his cousins, now their prosperity almost drove him insane.
He along with Karna, Dusshasana and Shakuni hatched a plot to take everything away from the Pandavas without any unnecessary bloodshed. And so with Dhirdarashtra’s blessings came the dice game…A simple game which went so much out of control that it changed the very essence of the enmity between the Pandavas and the Kauravas….
During the dice game, Duryodhana, Dusshasana and Karna misbehaved with Draupadi so badly that it was said that unholy signs which signified the end of the entire Kaurava race was heard and seen by all the people in the Kuru assembly. And in the name of the dice game being considered proper, the Pandavas were also quiet and did not question the atrocities of Duryodhana, Dusshasana and Karna.
And strangely enough, the great teacher – Dronacharya, the man who had taught the Kauravas and the Pandavas, kept quiet when Drauapdi came asking him about the rightness of Duryodhana’s act. Not just him, Bhishma and Kripacharya also chose to remain silent…..


Friday, January 9, 2015

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 13

'Her intelligence is unrivaled!' The people whispered.
'She is supposed to be as beautiful as Goddess Sri herself!' Others spoke.
'The fragrance from her body is supposed to spread for two miles!' Yet another spoke.
The Pandavas heard the words of people around them as they were walking towards the Panchala kingdom to attend the swayamvara of the fire-born princess. As they were still in hiding from the Kauravas, the Pandavas joined with the Scholars of the Vedas and dressed as the scholars as they went to the Panchala kingdom.

The swayamvara of Princess Draupadi was a colourful affair to say the least. The festivities were nothing compared to anything ever seen in the country. Princes and Kings from the entire country had gathered to see the swayamvara...all of them nursing a secret hope of marrying the glorious princess.

And when the royalty saw Draupadi, they all realized that all that they had done was still not worth it. The dark princess with her intelligent, sharp eyes was beyond any wealth that the monarchs could offer.
Dhrishtadyumna led his sister to the hall and the entire hall drew collective gasp at the sight of the princess. Realizing that he had the attention of every single person in the hall, Dhrishtadhyumna pointed to the heavy bow lying on a pedestal in the middle of the hall. 'Any person who strings this bow and hits the tiny target on the machine above shall win my sister's hand!'

Dhrishtadhyumna introduced his sister to all the suitors as she signaled for the people to start with the competition.

All the princes came and tried their luck. But none of them could even lift the heavy bow...stringing it...was a distant dream.

Looking disdainfully at all of them, Karna got up as he went towards the bow. He effortlessly lifted it and was about to string it when Draupadi called out. 'I will not marry him!' 
And so that was it. Even before Karna could participate in the swayamvara, Draupadi rejected him as her suitor. Karna was vexed as he dropped the bow back and walked back to his seat.
(As Veda Vyasa's Mahabharatha makes no mention of anybody protesting Draupadi's comment, it is obvious that during the swayamvara, the bride could decide who could or could not participate in the tournament. )

In the first row of the royalty was a dark prince watching the events. He eyed all the princes who had come and was shaking his head as he saw them one by one. He then turned his attention to the scholars who had come to attend the event. He watched all of them and suddenly his eyes widened. He turned to his brother beside him. 'Rama! Do you see those five scholars?' he whispered

The strong Rama turned to the people whom his brother was pointing and grinned to himself. 'Those scholars look smitten by the princess of Panchala! And....' Rama frowned as he studied them again. 'These men hardly look like scholars....They look so strong and powerful....'
'Yes they do!' his brother said nodding as he smiled....

*******

Drupada was getting worried. He expected that the competition that he had set for the person winning his daughter's hand was difficult....but this was getting out of hand. Almost all the princes had tried to lift the bow and none of them had succeeded....

Dhrishtadhyumna sensing his father's discomfiture called out to all the people in the assembly. 'This competition is open to all the people here! Any of you may also try to lift the bow....'

The princes and the kings scoffed at this idea. When the mighty warriors were struggling with to even lift the bow, there was no way that the puny scholars could do anything....But the warriors were in for a surprise.

Among the scholars, a man came forward. The man looked powerful...hardly like any scholar that the royalty had ever seen. The scholar looked at Draupadi before going towards the bow. The princess and the commoner saw each other....speaking volumes without uttering word.

The scholar came forward and much to the surprise of all the people there, the man first prostrated to the bow. Getting up, the man touched the bow and before anybody could blink, the man picked up the bow and began to string it....

The warriors were awestruck as the man picked up the arrow and shot at the tiny target in the machine...The five arrows flew in one after the other in such quick succession that nobody was even able to see the five arrows being shot...

The entire assembly watched as the fire-born princess eagerly came forward with a beautiful smile as shegarlanded the scholar...

The dark prince was watching the entire event with a smile....

******

The kings and the princes could not believe it. The dark Panchali was going to be the wife of a scholar...There was a big uproar in the assembly as the kings and the princes were now angrily pulling out their swords trying to kill the man whom Panchali had chosen as her husband.
But then none of the princes knew who they were up against.

The scholar was able to swiftly deal with all of them. Karna and the scholar fought with each other but as the fight progressed, Karna began to have doubts of who the man was....The man fought like someone else that Karna knew....But then, Karna believing that the man was not a warrior, stopped the fighting. Meanwhile another gigantic hefty scholar was fighting with Shalya, the king of Madra and effortlessly defeated him.

In the ensuring confusion, five scholars led the princess of Panchala away with them....

*****

'Mother!' Arjuna shouted as he came inside the house of the potter that they were staying for the night. 'Mother! See what I have brought!'
Kunti was worried about her sons gone for so long and missed her son's ecstatic expression. 'Share it between your brothers!' she said absently looking for her other sons.
Kunti was lost for words when she saw five shocked expressions looking back at her. Frowning she wondered what she had said wrong, when she spied a heavenly perfume in the room. She saw at the door and saw a gloriously beautiful girl standing there. That was when Kunti realized the folly of what she had said. It dawned on her that her son had won the swayamvara...The Princess of Panchala had chosen Arjuna as her husband and she, Kunti, had unthinkingly asked Arjuna to...Kunti shook her head trying to clear it wondering how she had spoken without thinking.
'I spoke without realizing...' Kunti said looking very embarrassed.
Yudhishtara felt as if someone had just flicked on a light in his head. He remembered what his great grandfather Veda Vyasa had said just before they had come here...
You shall not have one husband...but five of them....

*****

'Do you know who I am?' A mischievous voice reached the group as they all turned. Standing before them was a tall, sturdily built, dark man with a smiling face.

The five Pandavas looked at each other and then their mother who was looking speechless as the dark prince continued. 'I am Krishna, a prince of the Yadavas and I am also....' Krishna looked at Kunti with a another mischievous smile. '...your mother's brother's son!' (Surasena was the father of Vasudeva and Prutha. Surasena gave Prutha in adoption to his cousin Kuntibhoja who changed Prutha's name to Kunti. Krishna was Vasudeva's son and the Pandavas were the sons of Kunti.)

'How did you know that we were alive?'Yudhishtara asked as he looked at the Dark Lord, bewildered.

'Whatever you do, you can never hide who you really are!' Krishna said as he watched the five Pandavas with their mother and Draupadi. 'I am really glad that you survived the fire at the house of lac!' Krishna said.

Then realizing that the Pandavas were still in hiding from the Kauravas and that they were drawing unnecessary attention to themselves by staying there, Krishna and Balarama left the place as quickly as they had come...

*******

Drupada badly wanted to know the name of the man who had won the competition. Seeing the man in action, for one second Drupada wondered whether it was indeed the great Arjuna himself. But then remembering that Arjuna had perished in the house of lac, Drupada had tried to come forward trying to know more about the man.

But the fight between the princes and man whom Draupadi had chosen, made it impossible for Drupada to come any closer.

And by the time all the mess was sorted out, the princess and the winner were both missing.

Drupada sent his son Dhristadhyumna to find out about the people, wondering who the winner really was....

Dhrishtadhyumna followed his sister and quietly overheard the conversation of the people in the potter's hut and realized that whoever the people were, they were warriors...He happily went back and reported the matter to his father.

Drupada called on the people in the potter's house and invited them to the palace.

The five Pandavas came with Kunti and Draupadi to the Panchala palace. Drupada was ecstatic when he realized that it was indeed the great Arjuna who had won his daughter's hand.

But then he was in for a shock...

'All the five of us would marry the princess of Panchala!' Yudhishtara, the eldest Pandava told the flabbergasted king.

Yudhishtara was badly worried as he saw the shocked expression on the face of the king and was almost relieved when he heard a voice behind him. 'Yes! That is what is meant to be, King Drupada!'

King Drupada and Yudhishtara turned as they saw Veda Vyasa come inside the royal palace. 'Yudhishtara speaks the truth! The princess of Panchala is meant to marry all the five Pandavas!' the sage said in a grave voice.

Before Drupada could speak, Sage Vyasa continued. 'Before you speak, there is a story from the ancient times which you must know!Drupada sat in an uneasy silence as Sage Veda Vyasa continued.

'There was a time when Lord Shiva was playing dice with the Goddess! It was during this time that Lord Indra was very disrespectful towards the couple! Lord Shiva got very angry with Indra and pushed Indra inside a cave! Inside that cave Indra was in for a surprise as he found that there were four other people! The other four men were all powerful Indras, of different times. The five Indras who were named Vishwabhuk, Bhutadhaman, Sivi, Santi and Tejaswin were all looking morose because they had all at some point of time angered the three eyed Lord.

Lord Shiva looked at the five Indras and cursed them 'It is only when the five of you are born among humans and fight with ordinary and celestial weapons that you will regain your place in the heavens!' he thundered.

The present Indra however appealed to Lord Shiva. 'Please your Lord, instead of me being born as a human...I would send a portion of myself with all my energy...and create a person and please send that person to earth, instead of me! Please Lord concede this one wish!'

Lord Shiva relented and granted this wish. He allowed the five Indras to each create a human being who would have a portion of their powers and be born on earth as them.
Seeing them, the Goddess Sri herself agreed to be the wife of the five Indras in the mortal human world.

Veda Vyasa smiled as he looked at Drupada. 'The five Pandavas that you see are the five Indras of old....'

'That means...' Drupada asked shocked as Veda Vyasa nodded his head.

'Draupadi is the incarnation of Goddess Sri! And she is meant to marry all the five of them!' Veda Vyasa said firmly.

Drupada looked shocked as Veda Vyasa continued and told Drupada the story of the daughter of the sage who prayed to Lord Shiva for a husband. 'The daughter asked for a husband who had every single accomplishment, in the world! Lord Shiva knew that it was impossible for one man to have all those characteristics, which is why Lord Shiva made sure that the sage's daughter married five men!' Veda Vyasa said finally.

- The author thanks Mr. A. Narayanan for his review comments .

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 12

The miner who had helped the Pandavas build the canal out of palace after the burning of the house of lac come back had come back and closed the hole. He had done such a skillful job that nobody realized that the Pandavas could have escaped the fire.
Realizing that they were not yet powerful enough to fight against the sons of Dhirdarashtra, the Pandavas along with their mother were in hiding in the villages near the banks of the river Ganga.
That was the time when they were hiding in the village of Ekachakra. While they were hiding there, Bheema killed a monster named Bakasura to protect the family in whose house they were staying.
Destiny definitely worked in mysterious ways here.
In the village of Ekachakra, a man who had traveled far and wide for the study of the Vedas came and stayed in the house of the Pandavas. There the man spoke of all the kingdoms that he had visited. That was when the man spoke of how Arjuna helped his teacher Drona in defeating the King Drupada of Panchala. The man who told the stories had no idea to whom he was telling the story! The man further told the Pandavas about the birth of the three children of King Drupada – Shikandi, Dhrishtadhyumna and Draupadi.
All the five Pandavas were smitten the minute they heard of the beauty of Draupadi. None of them spoke out aloud but all the five of them wanted to marry this dark, celestial beauty.
Kunti realized this almost immediately and immediately made preparations to leave for the kingdom of Panchala,
Together as they were about to set out to the kingdom of Panchala, they had a very distinguished guest coming to meet them. The Pandavas were shocked when standing before them was none other than their own great-grandfather Veda Vyasa, the son of Satyavathi!
As they bowed to the sage, the sage told them a very interesting story. 'Before you begin your journey, my children, there is something that you need to know! A story!'
The Pandavas looked at each other wondering what the great man had to say when he continued.
'In times of old, there lived an illustrious sage who had a beautiful daughter! The daughter was extremely intelligent and well-versed in all the arts but she unfortunately could not get married!'
'The daughter wanted to get married and she performed severe penances to Lord Shiva! After Lord Shiva appeared before her, the woman was completely speechless. But when the Lord Shiva agreed to grant her a boon, the woman spoke of the topmost wish in her mind.
She said 'I want a husband! Oh, I definitely want a husband! I need a husband! I need to have a husband! Please Lord, I want to have a husband!'
Lord Shiva heard the woman and smiled to himself. 'I grant you your boon! You shall not have one husband! You shall have five of them!'
The woman was aghast as she rapidly shook her head. 'No! My Lord! I wish for only one husband!'
The three-eyed Lord shook his head. 'You asked for a husband not once, but five times...so in another life you shall have five husbands!'
The Pandavas listened to this story as Sage Veda Vyasa continued. 'I think that sage's daughter has been reborn now! I think you will meet her when you travel to the kingdom of Panchala! Go and fulfill yours and her destiny, my children!'
With these blessings, the sages vanished from there, as the Pandavas set out for the capital of Panchala.
**********
Meanwhile Drupada who had been defeated by Arjuna had actually been spell-bound by the archery of the young man. Though Arjuna had worked for Drona, Drupada could not forget the fact that Arjuna was the most faultless archer ever. As much as Drupada wanted revenge on Drona, Drupada wanted to somehow be related to Arjuna. And so the minute Draupadi had sprung up from the sacrificial fire, the only desire Drupada had was to marry Draupadi to Arjuna.
But then Drupada got the information about the death of the Pandavas in the house of lac. Drupada was devastated.
He finally decided that if he could have not have Arjuna as his son-in-law, he needed to have someone who was atleast half as talented as Arjuna, as his son-in-law.
So for this purpose, Drupada organized a difficult archery contest which only the likes of Arjuna would win. He invited the people from all over the country to participate in the contest with the condition that the winner could marry his daughter.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 11

Drupada searched the entire kingdom for a warrior powerful enough fight Drona. But Drupada’s search was futile. Drona was almost as powerful as Parashurama the warrior sage and no one was willing to stand up against him. Drupada realized that the only option he had to avenge his humiliation was to perform a yagna for an offspring who could kill Drona.
Yaja, a powerful sage performed a yagna and from the yagna emerged not one but two children. First was a son who was physically strong and looked ferocious. As soon as the boy emerged, a voice from the heavens announced: ‘This boy is born to slay Drona and he shall spread the renown of Panchala and remove the sorrow of the king.
The entire kingdom was delirious with joy watching the handsome face of the young warrior. But then the yagna was not over. Before the people could even blink, from the fire emerged a dark, exceedingly beautiful girl. The people let out a gasp as the voice from the heaven announced: ‘She is born to carry out the purposes of the Gods! She will bring the downfall of the Kauravas and be responsible for the death of many warriors!
Because the boy was born with a natural armour, he was called Dhrishtadyumna (Dyumna means armour in Sanskrit) and because the girl was dark-complexioned, she was called Krishna (the Dark one)
Drupada was joyous that he would now have revenge he had waited for so long. All the ceremonies for making Dhrishtadyuma the heir apparent of Panchala started....
There is however another rather strange thing mentioned in Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharatha. It states that Drishtadyumna was taught the science of arms, by none other than Dronacharya! Dronacharya taught the very man who was born to kill him because it is said that Drona accepted the inevitability of fate and accepted that Death would eventually come to him….
*************
Meanwhile back in Hastinapur, it is said that Dhirdarashtra seeing the firmness, fortitude, benevolence, frankness and honesty of Yudhishtara made him the heir apparent to the throne of Hastinapur.
Bheema continued to receive mace lessons from Balarama and became more and more powerful harnessing his power and learning to use it to afflict maximum damage to the enemy.
Sahadeva focused himself in the science of morality and duties and Nakula because a skillful warrior.
Now that Drona had given Arjuna the Brahmasira, as a precaution, Drona demanded a promise from Arjuna in public, that Arjuna would never use the Brahmasira against a weak enemy. Arjuna happily promised his teacher, never to misuse the Brahmasira.
This was probably when Drona had another premonition. Because at that time he said words to Arjuna which proved prophetic. ‘Son! There will be a time when you will fight against me! Promise me that you will fight to the best of your abilities, at that time!’
Whether Arjuna understood the gravity of the promise or not, Arjuna promised his teacher this too….

The Pandavas then set about to extend the kingdom of Hastinapur with sheer military brilliance and their expertise in weapons.

Though now the kingdom of Hastinapur extended all over the country….this was the time when Dhirdarashtra started getting worried. He realized that his brother’s sons were no ordinary warriors and could subjugate anyone….That was when Dhirdarashtra started feeling insecure about his own rule.
This feeling was further fanned by Kanika, a minister of Dhirdarashtra, Shakuni, Duryodhana, Duhshana and Karna.
With Dhirdarashtra’s permission, Shakuni and the others hatched a plot to get rid of the Pandavas. Duryodhana had a man called Purochana build a house of lac in the place of Varanavata. Shakuni's plan was to have Purochana burn the Pandavas when the Pandavas were asleep in the house of lac…
However the wise Vidura warned the Pandavas. The Pandavas while staying in the palace of Varanavata, with the help of a miner sent by Vidura, built an underground tunnel leading away from the palace towards the river Ganga. 
When the escape route was completed, the Pandavas themselves set fire to the Palace of lac and escaped through the underground tunnel.  
Purochana was killed in the fire. A Nishada woman with her five sons were also killed in the fire.

The whole kingdom grieved because now they all assumed that the burnt body of the Nishada woman and her sons were actually Kunti and the Pandavas. 
Now the people kingdom also turned against Duryodhana because they realized that the young prince was in over his head with ambition and would do anything for the throne of Hastinapur….

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 10

After the exhibition was over, Drona realized that the time had come to fulfill the reason why he had come to Hastinapur.... 
Dronacharya went to his students the next morning. ‘All of you are well-versed in the use of arms! I have kept up my promise! Now I ask you for my Guru dakshina!’
What do you wish for, Acharya?’ Duryodhana asked, above the hub-hub of the class.
Capture Drupada, the king of Panchala, and bring him to me!’ Drona said simply.
For a second, there was complete silence in the class. The Panchala kingdom was almost as powerful as the kingdom of Hastinapur and since the ferocious Drupada had taken over the reins of the kingdom, no one had even dared to wage a war against it. But then these were the tough princes of Hastinapur, who had recently mastered the use of arms. They obviously felt that they were infallible in battle.
Duryodhana looked at the Pandavas smugly and then turned to look at Dronacharya. ‘We can do it alone!’ he said turning away from there.
Dronacharya was about to say something when Arjuna nodded his head. ‘Fine Duryodhana! You can go in with your brothers! Me and my brothers would not join this battle!’
And so Duryodhana with Karna, Yuyutsu, Duhshasana, Vikarna, Jalasandha and the other Kuru princes laid siege over the Panchala kingdom, while Arjuna and the other Pandavas watched the battle without participating.
A fierce battle ensued between the young Hastinapur princes and wizened king of Panchala. Though Drupada was old, the man was swift, strong and a dangerous adversary.
For a very small time it looked like the Kuru princes would win the war. But then Drupada fought back and he fought back so ferociously that for a few seconds the entire Hastinapur army was in confusion. No matter which side the Hastinapur warriors turned, they saw Drupada fighting the soldiers of the Hastinapur. Drupada seemed to be everywhere and fighting ruthlessly. All the Hastinapur soldiers heard was the twang of Drupada's bow and then….a group of the Hastinapur soldiers would fall dead.
Angrily Duryodhana rallied his people together and attacked Drupada. But Drupada was still the better warrior. He effortlessly defeated Duryodhana and Vikarna in battle. Even the great Karna was no match for Drupada.
Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharatha makes a very unique observation during this battle. Usually the battles in the Mahabharatha were fought such that it was only the warriors who fought the battles. Almost no one else was hurt or injured during these battles. But in this one case, Veda Vyasa states that watching Drupada fight, even the citizens of Panchala, both young and old, joined the fight and rained missiles on the Kuru princes. It is said that this is what completely routed the Hastinapur army. 
The Kauravas ran from the battlefield completely defeated….
Watching the retreating flags of Hastinapur, Arjuna turned to his teacher and nodded. Arjuna obtained the blessings of his teacher and then turned to Yudishtara. ‘Do not join the fight! The four of us are sufficient for this battle!’
Yudhishtara looked surprised but then he almost never argued with his brother in these matters. 
And so it was just Arjuna with his three brothers who now charged into the kingdom of Panchala. Nakula and Sahadeva were given the job of protecting Arjuna’s chariot wheels. Bheema, of course was given a separate chariot and went ahead of Arjuna, his deadly mace in his hand.
Bheema, almost singlehandedly killed the entire elephant section of the Panchala army. With his mace, Bheema almost seemed like the God of Death killing any person or animal who had the misfortune to come before him. And as if the damage done by Bheema was not enough, Arjuna followed….He finished what Bheema had left and in no time the tables had turned and this time it was the Panchala army which was running in fear….

After routing the Hastinapur army and watching them run away, Drupada was almost returning to his palace with his general Satyajit, when the terrified cries of his soldiers reached the king.
Wondering who was leading the fresh assault, Drupada and Satyajit turned their chariots and charged towards the two chariots plodding through the kingdom.
Satyajit realizing that the attacker was a younger and fresh looking man decided to give his king some resting time. Satyajit attacked Arjuna first. The battle between Arjuna and Satyajit was fierce….It was a battle of experience against brilliance.
Almost immediately after the fight started, Satyajit realized that the archer before him was a league of his own. Satyajit had to use all his battle experiences just to contain Arjuna.

In the beginning Arjuna did not want to waste too much time with Satyajit, as he was here only for Drupada. Wanting to end the battle quickly, Arjuna broke Satyajit’s bow. But the veteran was prepared for it. Without wasting a breath, Satyajit picked up another bow and started fighting. 
Realizing that the man before him would not give up easily, Arjuna continued the battle right earnest. Arjuna and Satyajit were furiously exchanging arrows and many of Satyajit’s arrows pierced Arjuna but then this was Arjuna.....
Satyajit was bleeding profusely by the time Arjuna was through with him. Adding on top of it, Arjuna kept breaking Satyajit’s bows repeatedly. After some time Satyajit was unable to keep up with Arjuna and fell back…

Drupada watched, almost marveling at the flawless archery skill of the young man before him. But then it was his friend who was facing the archery of the young man and Drupada knew that if he did not interfere soon….Satyajit’s chances of survival were minimum…..Drupada came forward and Arjuna finally got down to the real battle.....
If the battle between Arjuna and Satyajit could be described as fierce, there was no word to describe the battle between Drupada and Arjuna. What Arjuna lacked in experience, he more than made up for it with his brilliant archery. As Drupada fought with the young man, he realized why his general had appeared to fumble so many times with this young man….No matter what Drupada did, Arjuna had an answer for it and had nimble and swift hands to execute exactly what he had planned.....
Losing steadily to the young man, Drupada realized that the man before him was an archer par excellence and that there was nothing that could be done against him....
And then the inevitable happened. Arjuna cut off Drupada’s bow. Before Drupada could react to it, in successive arrows, Arjuna broke Drupada's flagstaff, killed Drupada’s horses and finally also killed Drupada's charioteer.
The king of Panchala stood unprotected before the young Arjuna....
The entire Panchala army watched with horrid fascination as Arjuna pulled out his sword as he jumped out of the chariot. In one fluid moment Arjuna was before the king of Panchala and took the king captive.
A cheer ran up the Hastinapur army and the soldiers were now looking angrily at the Panchala soldiers wanting their revenge for the humiliating defeat they had suffered some time back. That was when Arjuna shouted. ‘We are here for Drupada! We have him! Drupada is a relative of ours! Do not destroy his kingdom! Let us go back now!’
Bheema and the other soldiers reluctantly agreed to Arjuna’s logic and they were out of the kingdom with their captive.
*****
Drona heard the horses long before anyone else could. He came out of the tent slowly realizing that he was going to finally achieve what he had wanted for a very long time. When Drona had sent Arjuna against Drupada, Drona had not really doubted that there would be any other outcome for the battle....
Drona came out of the tent and sure enough saw Arjuna near a bound Drupada on the chariot. The chariot stopped as Arjuna brought forth the captive.

Drupada looked furiously at the man who had been his childhood friend….a friend with whom he had studied and spent a lot of time, generally enjoying all the joys of childhood. A friend, to whom in a childish moment, he had once promised to give half his kingdom….A friend whom he had not seen since the day Drona had come to him asking him to keep up his promise. A friend who was now looking at him with utter hatred 
Your kingdom is mine!’ Drona said arrogantly. ‘I am the ruler of a kingdom and you are my captive! And we are still not equals!’ Drona spat out. ‘But then there was a time when we were friends and there was a time I came asking you for something…..believing in that friendship! At that time you told me that we could not be friends!’ Drona smiled haughtily as Drupada said nothing.
Drona continued. ‘I will give you half of my kingdom! The kingdom of Panchala to the south of the river Bhagirathi is yours!’ Drupada watched with horrid fascination as Drona continued. ‘The kingdom on the north is mine! Now that we are equals, will you accept to be my friend, Drupada?’
Drupada was burning with shame and humiliation, but he wisely hid his anger and nodded his head. ‘I accept your friendship!’ Drupada mumbled.

And so it was done. Drona retained half the kingdom of Panchala. Drupada ruled the southern half of the kingdom. 
His burning hatred for Drona set him on an irrevocable path…one that ended up changing the destiny of the Pandavas and ultimately in the death of Drona….

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 9

Ashwattaman returned to Hastinapur. But his father could see a change in him. There were times when Ashwattaman used to sit quietly in the corner and sulk…glazing into nothingness. His son was a changed man.
But Dronacharya was a busy man and could not devote too much time to his son. As the royal teacher of the princes, Drona had other responsibilities.
The princes were now ready to exhibit their talents before all the people of Hastinapur.
And so on the appointed day, the other princes started with their talents first.

Bheema and Duryodhana fought with their maces. The two of them fought so angrily and brilliantly, that for a second an uneasy feeling entered the minds of the people watching the battle…All the people realized that the princes were not merely to exhibit their powers…They were actually fighting to the end…Drona sensed this immediately and with his son Ashwattaman, pulled the two warriors apart and called in the other warriors to display their skills.
Realizing that the only way to make the people forget about the mace fighting was to distract them, Drona called in Arjuna. Arjuna dazzled the crowd with his Agneya astra (the weapon to create fire), Varuna astra (water), Vayavya astra (air), Parjanya astra (clouds), Bhauma astra (the weapon to create land) and Parvatya astra (mountains) and the crowd all but forgot about the bout between Bheema and Duryodhana. Finally Arjuna pulled out the Antardhana astra and he made all the things that he had created disappear from there. Before the crowd could realize what was happening, Arjuna fired an astra and…Arjuna suddenly disappeared from the spot he had been standing…only to appear on the top of the chariot nearby. Before a gasp went up from the crowd, Arjuna was back to the spot he had originally been.
Arjuna continued to marvel the crowd by showing his dexterity with the bow (Arjuna could fire arrows from both left and right hand) and his capacity to shoot the target no matter where it was. The audience was now watching spell bound the entire spectacle unfolding before them.
It almost looked like no one would remember anything from the exhibition except Arjuna….when someone entered the arena. The man entered the arena with a cool confidence looking handsome and shining like Surya Deva himself. Indifferently he bowed to Drona and Kripacharya and then turned to Arjuna. ‘What you have done is nothing special! I can do that and more…Watch!’
And the man did it. He did everything that Arjuna had done and he did it effortlessly.
After finishing he stood quietly before the speechless arena.
Duryodhana was elated. He knew that the warrior before him was sent by the heavens as an answer to Arjuna. With this man near him, Duryodhana knew that nothing…nothing could stand in his way. Joyously he ran towards the man. ‘My friend! You are my friend! Come and join us! Come….’
The man smiled. ‘Thank you prince! I am Karna and there are only two things I have ever wanted – your friendship and…’ the man turned looking at Arjuna almost burning hatred. ‘…a fight to the finish with Arjuna!’
The words were music to Duryodhana’s ears. He smiled nodding his head and turned to Arjuna. ‘You shall have both, my friend!’
Arjuna realized that the man before him was out to insult him hastily embraced his brothers and obtained the blessings of his teachers so that he could give the man what he wanted. Arjuna and the man turned to each other, their weapons drawn….The sun reflected off the armour of the man as the royalty saw the stranger’s features clearly for the first time.
Vidura was sitting in the arena with his blind brother – King Dhirdarashtra and his blindfolded sister-in-law – Gandhari. Beside them sat Kunti who had been watching Arjuna with great joy in her heart.
The sudden turn of events troubled her.
But then she was a warrior queen and she accepted the fact that the exhibition was turning into a battle. But there was something else which was bothering Kunti…a lot.
The stranger….there was something familiar about him. The manner he walked, he spoke, was something that Kunti had seen before. As the sunlight reflected off the stranger’s armour, which seemed strangely attached to him. Kunti had a sudden vision…The man’s features…Kunti gasped as she saw the earrings and the armour as she realized that she was seeing her first born son – Karna, the son born to her and the Sun God before she married Pandu, the King of Hastinapur. The son who looked radiantly beautiful when he was born, the son who was born with a natural coat of armour and earrings even at the time of his birth, the son whom she had abandoned soon after birth because she thought he would bring her shame….
That was when, the sudden implication of what she was seeing hit Kunti…Her son – Karna was fighting with her son – Arjuna.
The strong-willed Kunti could take it no more as the two brothers looked angrily at each other and she fainted. Vidura saw this and was shocked. Kunti was a very strong woman, both physically and mentally. Her fainting was not something that was normal under any circumstances.
Vidura saw the two men in the arena and wondered what was wrong. He caught the eyes of Kripacharya and shook his head. Kripa understood and nodded his head. Vidura then turned back to Kunti and tried to revive her….
Kripacharya looked at the two contestants. ‘This Arjuna is the son of Pandu from the Kuru line! Stranger! Before he fights you, we demand to know who you are!’
Duryodhana was shocked when he saw Karna’s face almost wilt at Kripacharya’s words. The confidence that Karna had displayed a few seconds back suddenly withered away as the man looked downcast unable to talk. Duryodhana however did not want to let this beautiful opportunity go. He wanted to make sure that this fight happened. Without even knowing who Karna was, he turned to the priests and whispered something in their ears. He then looked at Kripacharya. ‘I think Arjuna can definitely fight someone who is a king!’ he said sneeringly, as all the people in the arena looked shocked at Duryodhana.
Duryodhana nodded his head and clasped Karna and embraced him. ‘This friend of mine…Karna, from now will be the King of Anga! All the preparations are being made by the priests for this!’
Karna was spellbound. Because he just could not believe what Duryodhana was doing. Right there in front of all the people, Duryodhana conducted the coronation ceremony. Karna was now King Karna, the ruler of Anga…..
There is nothing I can do for you, for what you have done for me!’ Karna said looking at Duryodhana, numb with a strange emotion, he could barely identify.
Duryodhana smiled. ‘You can my friend! Just give me your friendship! That is all I….’
You will have it! Always!’ Karna said fiercely nodding his head.
However Duryodhana’s wish of a battle between Arjuna and Karna was not granted that day.
Adhiratha (Karna’s adopted father, who was a fisherman from a charioteer caste) was as shocked, as his son at the turn of events. He came forward to embrace his son. As Karna bowed to his father, Bheema, the second Pandava cruelly belittled Karna. ‘You do not deserve to die in Arjuna’s hands! You are a charioteer’s son…Just take a whip…that will suit you!’
Before Karna could open his mouth, Duryodhana came to Karna’s rescue. ‘Look at the man, Bheema!’ Duryodhana thundered. ‘Does it look to you that this man is not capable of being a warrior! There is nothing else he can be, except a warrior!’ Realizing that the elders would not let the fight be today, Duryodhana took the hand of his friend and angrily led him away from there.
Confused the Pandavas went back to their home.
Excited the people went back from the arena….
There is one more thing which happened. After this event, Ashwattaman made his loyalties also clear. Ashwattaman sided with the Kauravas....