Monday, October 20, 2014

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 2

King Prishata, the king of Panchala, watched his son Drupada run across into the hermitage of the Sage Bharadwaja. He followed his son as he saw the great sage. He bowed to the sage and turned to hear a happy shout of joy from Drupada as Drupada found another boy, his own age, in the hermitage.
'Who is he?' The king asked looking at the serious looking dark boy with whom his son was talking.
'He is Drona! My son!' Bharadwaja said quietly.
'Your son?' The king looked surprised. 'Why do you call him 'Drona'?' [In Sanskrit 'Drona' meant vessel or pot.]
'Yes!' Sage Bharadwaja said. 'Many years ago, I fell in love with an apsara Ghritachi! It was because of my desire for her that I was able to develop this baby from a pot! Drona was not born inside the womb of a woman, but from a pot! That was the reason I named him Drona!'
The king nodded as he smiled as he saw the two boys now playing around the hermitage.

The two boys had a very happy children in the ashram of Sage Bharadwaj.
'My friend!' Drupada said hugging Drona, once after Drona had helped him in a particularly difficult task. 'I am a prince! And there will be a time when I am the king of Panchala! At that time, I will do anything for you! Just come to me and I will help you!' Drupada said with a shining smile.
Drona smiled and took no notice of the words....

Fate took its course as King Prishata died and his son, Drupada ascended the throne. Drona being the son of a sage, engaged himself in penance and meditation.
When Drona grew up, he married Kripi, the daughter of Sarwadat. The two of them had a son. As soon as the son was born, it is said that the baby's crying resembled the neighing of a horse! And so it was decided that the baby should be called as Ashwattaman (Ashwattaman in Sanskrit means 'the one whose voice is like a horse')
But then despite being brought up as a sage, like his father-in-law – Sarwadat, Drona had a natural interest in weapons. Drona practiced with his weapons regularly, in his hermitage. It was even said that when Drona was younger he even learnt to control the use of the powerful weapon – Agneya, from his father.
After Ashwattaman was born, Drona came to know that Sage Parashurama who was one of the greatest warriors of his times was giving away all his wealth.
Drona hurriedly left his hermitage and went to see the sage, who was at that time living in the Mahendra mountains. However the journey was a long one and Drona was late by the time he reached the place, where Parashurama was staying. By this time, the warrior sage Parashurama had given away most of the possessions. 
Seeing Drona, Parashurama looked dismayed. 'I have given away all my gold and money! I have only two more things to give....my body or my weapons! What do you want?'
Drona smiled to himself. 'I am not late! I came here to learn about all the advanced weapons that you know!'
Sage Parashurama smiled. 
Sage Parashurama taught Drona all that he knew about weapons. And Drona was a very good student and he learnt it all. After teaching Drona, Sage Parashurama left the place and went to the mountains to meditate.
Armed with his knowledge Drona went back to his hermitage, happy.
However till now, Drona only had knowledge. He had not yet used it.
Being the son of the sage, Drona was poor. Drona had no interest in making money and he became more poor. Their condition was so bad that they did not have even a cow with them. Once Ashwattaman seeing some rich children drinking milk threw a tantrum about wanting to drink milk....
However that was not the last straw. 
Once when Ashwattaman was playing with the boys...he looked at the boys as they drank milk. 'Can I have some?' Ashwattaman asked his friends.
The boys however played a prank on the young Ashwattaman. They mixed some powdered rice with some water and gave it to the boy.
The rice powder was dripping from his mouth as Ashwattaman ran home to his father. 
'FATHER!' Ashwattaman shouted.'I have tasted milk! I have finally tasted real milk!' he said with innocent eyes....
It was at that minute that Drona decided that he would go to see his childhood friend Drupada. He would go and ask help from the king of Panchala. Drona had no doubt in his mind that King Drupada would help him....
They were after all best friends....

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 1

Saradwat, a sage, was engaged in rigorous meditation in the forest, in earth. Naturally, Indra, the Lord of the Devas was scared of it.
He summoned Janapadi, one of his beautiful apsaras. 'In earth, you will find a sage called Saradwat - a sage with bow and arrows....'
Janapadi looked surprised. 'What? A sage with bow and arrows?' she asked the Deva incredulously. (In those days, the sages performed penance and the warriors knew about weapons. Their paths rarely crossed.)
Indra sighed as he nodded his head. 'Saradwat is the son of Sage Gautham! Though his father was a rishi, it is said that Saradwat was born with bow and arrows! Even as he grew Saradwat showed a natural inclination for learning weapons, more than the ways of meditation and penance! He is a powerfully good warrior!' Indra said gravely.
'Then why is he doing penance?' Janapadi asked completely confused.
Indra sighed shaking his head. 'I do not know! What I do know is that Saradwat is a formidable warrior! Imagine, what would happen if a man like that also has the power of penance and meditation with him!' Indra asked Janapadi with scared eyes. 'Why? He may become more powerful than me! He may even overthrow me from the heavens!' Indra whispered fearfully.
Janapadi sighed mentally not saying anything. The fact remained that every time anyone on earth performed penance, the Lord of the Devas became insecure. Indra tried his best to thwart the penance in some way or the other.
But then this was Indra, the king of the Heavens. No matter what she believed, Janapadi was duty bound to follow the words of her king. So halfheartedly Janapadi left the heavens to tempt the Saradwat, the sage with bow and arrows....
*****

Saradwat opened his eyes as he saw a subtle change in the surrounding. He saw a woman right in front of him, looking radiantly beautiful. In that minute, Sarwadat all but lost control over himself. For a whole second, Saradwat wanted nothing more than to marry the woman before him....But then Saradwat was a sage, a good one too. He realized that he was losing control over himself and with great effort controlled himself.....

Janapadi for her part realized that the sage was in complete control of himself and left the place and went back to the heavens...

Saradwat for his part was dispirited that he had lost control over himself, even for a minute..... Without even picking up the weapons with which he was born, Saradwat left the place without a backward glance. As he walked Saradwat promised himself that he was going to perform even more rigorous penance to make sure he was completely in control of himself.

******

King Shantanu of Hastinapur, was in his favourite place. He was in the wild forests, with the bow and arrow in his hands. Though the Scriptures said that excessive hunting was one of the vices of a king, King Shantanu was unable to stop this habit.

Shantanu moved through the forests as he chased the deer, leaving his people far behind. The deer swiftly ran through and was hiding behind a bush. Shantanu waited behind a tree as he looked at the shrub as he pulled his bow and aimed the arrow at the shrub and waited....He waited patiently for the deer to come out when...

'Your Majesty!' Shantanu was so shocked that he almost let go of the arrow. It was only sheer practice by which he held on to the arrow. Startled by the noise, he saw the deer run away from the bush. Shantanu was about to yell at the young soldier who was running towards him when he saw that the soldier if anything, was badly rattled.

'What?' He snapped getting up.

'Your majesty! There...There....' The soldier spoke pointing towards the opposite side looking incapable of breathing properly.

'What?' Shantanu asked as he pulled his weapons out and went towards the direction the man had pointed. At first Shantanu heard nothing. But then as he walked deeper, Shantanu was shocked. In a place where, the wild animals roamed freely without a single fear, incongruously, he heard the cry of infants.

Bewildered, he put his weapons aside as he walked further. There in the clearing, between the coarse grass, Shantanu was shocked as he saw two beautiful babies – a girl and boy, lying on the deer skin with a bow and arrow nearby. Though a part of Shantanu was wondering about the unlikely combination of the deer skin and the bow and arrows, he gave it no further thought as he looked at the babies. (The deer skin was generally used by sages for meditation)

The minute Shantanu saw the babies, Shantanu felt a strange emotion in his heart....He aborted the hunt as he took the babies, with him. 'These are my children! Henceforth, they will also grow up in the kingdom of Hastinapur!' he announced to all the people in the group.

Shantanu brought the children to the capital and there he decided to perform all the rites and rituals for the children.

'My Lord!' The priest said. 'We need to name the children to perform the ceremony...Have you....'

Shantanu smiled as he saw the twins. 'I was moved to pity when I saw the children. So the boy shall be called 'Kripa' and the girl shall be called 'Kripi!'' [In Sanskrit, 'Krip' means pity.]

And so the children grew up in Hastinapur.

********

A few years later, a powerful looking sage came to King Shantanu. 'Your Majesty! I have divined that you have my children with you!'

Shantanu looked completely nonplussed. 'Who are you? What children are you referring to?'

'My name is Saradwat! I am the son of Sage Gautham! From a young age, I have been interested in weapons and though I am a sage, I learnt the art of warfare well!' The powerful sage said. 'I was performing penances to obtain more knowledge of weapons, when Lord Indra sent Janapadi....' Sardwat told the king everything. '...Though I was able to control my desire....the fact remains that I lost control of myself! I am a sage...so my desires are powerful...These two children emerged from my desire, in a clump of heath....where I fell in love with Janapadi! That is where, you found them....'

Shantanu was convinced that the sage was speaking the truth. He then nodded as the sage continued with with gratitude in his eyes. 'I abandoned my children...But you...You took them in and took good care of them...For that I will always be grateful to you!'

The sage smiled. 'I will teach my children all the science of arms that I have learnt....They would be able to teach it to your descendants, your majesty!'

Shantanu smiled as he nodded his head.

So that was how, Kripa learnt the art of warfare from his father. He learnt all that his father had to teach him and he came back to Hastinapur.

Meanwhile, Shantanu had married and fate took its course as the sons of Dhirdarashtra (Kauravas) and the sons of Pandu (Pandavas) were born in the royal family.


Kripa became the royal teacher in the House of Kuru and he taught the Karuravas and the Pandavas, the basic rules of warfare and the laws of administration of the kingdom. As he was a teacher, he came to be known as Kripacharya. [Acharya means 'teacher' in Sanskrit]

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Vikarna - Part 2 of 2

The war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas was about to commence. Before the commencement of the battle, Yudhishtara felt that he needed the blessing of the elders. So without considering that the elders were on the other side, he got down from his chariot and walked over to the other side. With utmost devotion, he fell at the feet of Bhishma, Droanacharya and Kripacharya and asked for their blessings to win in the war.
After receiving their blessings, Yudhishtara was walking back to his own side when he suddenly turned. He looked at the Kaurava side. ‘If anyone feels like fighting on the side of Dharma, you are welcome to join and fight on our side!’ He shouted.
The entire Kaurava side was silent for a second. However, then one person spoke. ‘I will come if you will have me!’
Yudhishtara turned and saw that it was Yuyutsu. Yuyutsu was the son of Dhirdarashtra. But he was not the son of Gandhari. He was son of Dhirdarashtra and Sauvali, a woman from the trader community.
Yudhishtara happily welcomed Yuyutsu. Probably it was complete faith in Krishna. But whatever the reason Yudhishtara looked at the Kauravas and said smugly. ‘King Dhirdarashtra would now have atleast one son alive, at the end of the war!’
Yuyutsu was obviously always welcome in the Pandava side. Yuyutsu had been silently helping the Pandavas, over the years. Yuyutsu was the person who informed Yudhishtara about Duryodhana’s plan to kill Bheema, when they were children. That was the reason the Pandavas were able to go in search of Bheema, as soon as he went missing.
However, at this stage, rather strangely, Vikarna said nothing. The Vikarna who had defied his brother in open court and who had supported Draupadi, because he felt it was the right thing to do, did nothing when he was given a chance to openly support the Pandavas. It could of course be that Vikarna felt that no matter what, whether his elder brother was right or wrong, it was his duty to fight for him and Vikarna was content to let himself fight for the Kauravas.
When the battle moved on to the 13th day, Drona had formed the Chakravyuha and had trapped the young Abhimanyu inside it. Inside the Vyuha, the young Abhimanyu massacred every Kaurava in sight. Looking at his technique, Dronacharya decided that Abhimanyu could not be defeated as long as he had a bow and arrow in his hands. It was for this reason that Dronacharya ordered a hoard of Kaurava warriors to attack Abhimanyu at the same time. This was against the laws of war. But then no one said anything.
The lone voice which spoke against this was again Vikarna. ‘This is breaking the rules of war!’ he exclaimed aghast at his own teacher.
Dronacharya looked angrily at Vikarna. ‘Did the Pandavas follow the law when they killed Bhishma using Shikandi?’ Drona snapped.
So this time too Vikarna’s words went in vain and all the Kaurava warriors together killed the sixteen year old Abhimanyu.
Hearing the death of Abhimanyu, Arjuna swore that he was going to kill Jayadratha who was the one who made sure that Abhimanyu was all alone in the Chakravyuha, without any backup. Arjuna swore that if he did not kill Jayadratha by the end of the day, he was going to kill himself. Dronacharya being smart realized a golden opportunity and guarded Jayadratha inside three Vyuhas.
But then it was Arjuna they were talking about. When Arjuna started doing something, he did with his whole mind,body and soul. On the fourteenth day of the battle too, it did not matter to Arjuna who was before him. All that mattered to him was to kill Jayadratha. The existence of the other Kaurava soldiers probably did not even come inside his radar.
Arjuna was clinically annihilating the Kaurava army trying to get to Jayadratha.
Obviously there was a catch.
After Bhishma had fallen, when Dronacharya had taken over the reigns as the General of the Kaurava army, Dronacharya had promised Duryodhana that he was going to bring Yudhishtara captive to the Kaurava prince. However every time Dronacharya tried to take Yudhishtara captive, he was thwarted by Arjuna and Krishna. Now with Arjuna deep inside the enemy territory, Dronacharya set out to capture Yudhishtara.
However both Arjuna and Krishna had anticipated this and asked Satyaki and Bheema to protect Yudhishtara.
Satyaki has a very interesting story in the war. Satyaki was a Yadava. Before the beginning of the war, Krishna had assigned the entire Yadava army to fight for the Kauravas. So the Yadava army fought for the Kauravas. Despite this Satyaki fought for the Pandavas because he was a disciple of Arjuna. As Arjuna had taught him the use of weapons, Satyaki supported his Guru in the war.
When Dronacharya attacked Yudhishtara, both Satyaki and Bheema fought off the acharya. However in this short and fierce battle, Yudhishtara lost sight of Arjuna.
Fearing the worst, Yudhishtara sent Satyaki after Arjuna. Satyaki tried to convince Yudhishtara that nothing would happen to Arjuna, but Yudhishtara would not hear anything. So asking Bheema to defend Yudhishtara, Satyaki went inside the Vyugha.
However Satyaki was extraordinarily tired by the time when he reached Arjuna. In fact it was Arjuna who had to protect Satyaki from Bhurishravas. And so Satyaki could not give any message to Yudhishtara, about the well-being of Arjuna.
And so back to the Pandavas, Yudhishtara steadily grew worried as there was no news from Satyaki. Realizing that he had to send his best warrior to protect Arjuna and Satyaki, Yudhishtara sent Bheema into the Vyuha.
Having Dhrishtadyumna protect Yudhishtara, Bheema set out inside the Vyuha.
Dronacharya was standing at the rim of the Vyuha. Both Arjuna and Satyaki had bypassed the teacher because both of them respected Dronacharya. However Bheema saw no such need. To him Dronacharya was no longer worthy of respect. He was just the general of the Kaurava army. Bheema fought well and killed Drona’s horses and charioteer and brought down Drona’s chariot too. Drona ran to another chariot and by this time Bheema was inside the Vyuha.
Inside the Vyuha, there were two intense battles between Karna and Bheema. In the first battle Karna all but killed Bheema, completely humiliating Bheema and letting Bheema live because of his promise to Kunti to not hurt any other Pandava other than Arjuna. However in the second battle, Karna was not so lucky. Bheema fought back and fought back brilliantly. But as Bheema was about to completely disable Karna, Duryodhana sent his seven brothers to attack Bheema.
Bheema let Karna go and turned to Duryodhana’s brothers. He had promised that he was going to kill everyone of Duryodhana’s brothers and he had already killed 39 of Duryodhana’s brothers. Seeing seven more, Bheema’s eyes shone with the insanity of battle as he fell on them. But then Bheema stopped short. Because he suddenly saw who was the seventh Kaurava brother – It was Vikarna.
Bheema tried to push away Vikarna because he did not want to fight him. But in the end, the bloodlust of war won out and Bheema after a ferocious struggle killed Vikarna in battle.
As Vikarna fell dead, Bheema broke down crying. ‘My Vikarna! I killed you too! War is such a hated thing!’ Bheema said looking disgusted with himself. ‘You were a man of Dharma! You knew what was right and were brave enough to act on it! And a wretch that I am, I was forced to kill a man of Dharma like yourself…..’

And thus fell Vikarna, one of the unsung heroes of Mahabharatha….

Friday, September 26, 2014

Vikarna - Part 1 of 2

If there was one particular incident in the Mahabharatha which could be termed as changing the very nature of the story it would probably be the Sabha Parva, where Yudhishtara played dice with Shakuni and lost his kingdom and everything else. Until this point in the story, the Pandavas and the Kauravas were just two groups within a family who were vying for the throne of Hastinapur.
Strangely enough, in this decisive parva, neither the Pandavas, nor the elders of the Kaurava assembly speak much. The actually talking is done by Draupadi and one another person....a Kaurava who spoke in favour of Draupadi.
Read on the story of one such unsung hero in the Mahabharatha...

The ill-fated dice game was going on in the court of Hastinapur. The elders were watching the game fearfully as Shakuni rolled the dice with confidence. Yudhishtara, was heavily losing and was steadily getting reckless.
As the game went on Yudhishtara lost his brothers one by one. In the end Yudhishtara even lost himself as a slave to the Kauravas...But the game was not over....not yet.....
Shakuni looked tauntingly at Yudhishtara. ‘You have lost even yourself, son of Pandu!'
Yudhishtara squirmed unable to meet the eyes of anyone in the court, not believing what he had done....
Shakuni paused studying the former king of Indraprastha and continued with a dangerous smile on his lips. '....However there is one thing you still have! Probably if you stake that, there is a chance you may win yourself back!’ he said softly.
What do I have?’ Yudhishtara asked.
The beautiful Krishna, the princess of Panchala!’ Shakuni whispered.
Though Shakuni spoke softly, every single person in the assembly heard him. There was not a single breath in the assembly as people watched dumbfolded the spectacle which unfolded before them.
Yudhishtara blinked as Shakuni mentioned Draupadi's name. Draupadi, the princess of Panchala, his wife....their wife....the queen of Indraprastha....Too many thoughts passed through Yudhishtara's head.
Not daring to look at any of his brothers, he nodded his head fearfully. I will bet the dark Princess Krishna!’ He said hoarsely.

The elders of the court – Vidura, Bhishma, Drona and Kripa were looking shocked unable to believe the level Yudhishtara had descended into. But not one person spoke….Not one…

King Dhirdarashtra listened with astonishment as Yudhishtara announced that he was going to stake Panchali. His keen ears followed the sound of the dice as Shakuni cast it. King Dhirdarashtra regretted his blindness as he called, 'Was the game won?'

King Dhirdarashtra was even more angry as he realized that no one answered his question. Normally adept at hiding his feelings, he was unable to do so anymore as he called shrilly again, ‘WAS THE GAME WON?’

Yes! It is!’ was all Shakuni said onto the eerily silent court.
HA!’ Duryodhana let out a shout and looking viciously at the Pandavas and then at Vidura, who had collapsed on the floor, looking incapable of getting up. ‘Get that woman here! She is going to sweep these chambers and stay where our servants stay! Go get her!’
Vidura looked at Duryodhana slowly willing himself to speak normally. ‘Carried away by the game, Yudhishtara has failed to understand that he no longer had Krishna! He lost himself!’ he said his voice raising shrilly. ‘After that Yudhishtara, no longer has any rights on the dark Panchali!’
Duryodhana smiled smugly, ignoring Vidura's remarks as usual, when Vidura shouted. ‘You wretch! You foolish wretch! Do not do this! You take one more step and you are inviting your doom! And you will drag the entire Kuru household with you!’
Duryodhana looked dangerously at Vidura and then turned to the Pratikamin. ‘Go! Get her!’
The Pratikamin looked fearfully at the Pandavas when Duryodhana shouted. ‘You have nothing to fear from these slave Pandavas! Vidura….’ Duryodhana said looking at Vidura. ‘…he is just raving! He cannot do anything!’
The Pratikarmin slowly nodded his head as he went to Draupadi's room. 'You are wanted in the Kuru Sabha! The King has lost you in a game of dice!' he said without any preamble.
Draupadi blinked, her mind unable to process anything the man had said. 'WHAT?' she asked faintly.
The man repeated his words.
'Did the king have nothing else to play with, that he staked me in the game?' demanded Draupadi flustered.
The Pratikarmin looked at the furious red face of the Queen of the Pandavas and almost faltered. 'He has lost everything in the game of dice, Princess! He even lost himself and in the end, he staked you too!'
Draupadi looked numbly at the man, unable to believe the insanity of the entire situation. She the queen of Indraprastha, the most prosperous kingdom in the world, the kingdom which rivalled Indra's Amravathi....And she was staked in a game of dice.....Draupadi shook her head trying to make sense of something....
Slowly Draupadi's resolute nature took over as she looked at the Pratikarmin with cool eyes, her heart thundering with fear. 'Go to the Kuru assembly and ask a question! In the game of dice, did the king lose himself or lose me first?'
The Partikarmin hesitated. He was here under the orders of Prince Duryodhana to bring the Princess to the assembly. From experience, the Pratikarmin knew exactly how furious the Prince would be when he went to the court alone....
He was about to open his mouth when the fire-born princess looked at him. 'I NEED THE ANSWER!'
The Pratikarmin quavered at the look of anger in Panchali's eyes and decided that he might as well brave Prince Duryodhana's anger and made way to the Kuru assembly alone.
There slowly, hesitatingly, he asked the Kuru assembly Draupadi's question.
'HA!' Duruyodhana shouted with almost with delirious vengeance. 'Ask the princess to come here and ask the question herself!'
The Pratikarmin looked at Duryodhana and realized that he was almost fearing the prince as much as he feared Draupadi. But realizing that he has no choice in this matter he went back to Draupadi's chambers.
Draupadi looked at the Pratikarmin as he told them of what had happened in the Kuru Sabha, getting more and more bewildered and furious, by the minute.
She took a deep breath and looked at the Pratikarmin. 'I am a daughter-in-law of the Kuru house! Ask the elders about the morality of the issue involved in this case! Ask the elders of the assembly whether my coming to the assembly like this...(it is said that at that time, Draupadi was clad in a single piece of cloth) whether it is moral or not?'
The Prathikarmin hesitated once more, but he knew that the Princess was not going to change her mind.
He returned to the Kuru assembly and repeated her question.
No one answered.
'What shall I tell Krishna?' The Pratikarmin asked swallowing fearfully at the prospect of facing the princess without an answer.
Duryodhana looked at the Pratikarmin with disgust. He turned to Dusshasana. 'This foolish man is afraid of Bheema! Brother, you go and get her!'

Dusshasana nodded his head as he set out for Panchali.
'KRISHNA!' He roared as he entered the her chambers. 'KRISHNA!' he called out again.
When Draupadi heard Dusshasana, she realized that there was no negotiation with the man.
The man was drunk with power and arrogance and beyond negotiation...
She ran from there to the rooms of the Kaurava women. That did not stop Dusshasana. He roared angrily pulling Drauapdi to the Kuru assembly with her long hair as she screamed angrily at him. Karna laughed loudly at the treatment of Draupadi.
Draupadi was brought to the Kuru assembly and there was shocked to find the silent Pandavas sitting beside the dice game.
Draupadi angrily looked at the elders of the Kuru assembly, not believing that these great men would have allowed such a foolishness to be allowed right in front of their own eyes.
That was when she remembered that she was brought her to address a question...one question.
She looked at the grandsire angrily waiting for him to answer.
Bhishma looked down mumbling. 'I cannot decide the morality of the issue! One cannot bet what one does not have! But....I cannot decide....' The great Bhishma said.

Looking at the treatment that Draupadi was receiving at the hands of the Kauravas, Bheema looked angrily at Yudhishtara. 'Even poor gamblers do not bet their women in any games...And you...You, the just king of Hastinapur...' Bheema said sneeringly, '...you staked Panchali.....I will burn your hands for this! Your very hands which threw the dice...!' Bheema said viciously.
'Bheema!' Arjuna looked at him shaking his head. 'You never have spoken to your elder brother like this! Do not do this now....'
Bheema looked at his younger brother and seethed angrily trying his best to keep quiet.

Draupadi watched the entire scene as no one spoke...Not one.
That was when one young man came up to the court. A young man who is Karna's words was an 'immature child'. He was Vikarna, the son of Dhirdarashtra and one of the 99 brothers of Duryodhana.
Vikarna looked at the entire Kuru assembly and angrily came forward. 'How can you people allow this?' He asked the Kuru assembly looking at disgust at his own brothers and the elders of the assembly. 'How can Bhishma, Drona and Vidura, not know the answer that Draupadi has asked us? If you do not answer her question, you will all go to hell! Answer her questions, before doing anything.'
The entire assembly looked at the angry young Kaurava prince who was fighting for Draupadi. But then still no one answered.
Vikarna huffed angrily. 'Fine! You people will not answer! I will! I will answer the question that Draupadi had asked....'
The young prince said looking around. 'I am neither the oldest nor the most knowledgeable in this assembly! But I will say what I know! It is said that hunting, drinking, enjoying the company of too many women and gambling are the evils which a king may have. King Yudhishtara was addicted to one of these, which is why he acted the way he did and he staked Draupadi. When a man acts by evil, how can what he does be called as correct? Besides Draupadi is the wife of all the five Pandavas. How can Yudhistara stake her alone? And Yudhishtara staked her after he staked himself....He has no rights over her, after he lost himself....And remember that the other side cannot ask a person playing dice to stake anything. Shakuni asked for Krishna to cast as a stake! That is wrong! For all these reasons, I think that Draupadi's stake is wrong...Draupadi cannot be considered as won!'
Vikarna looked at the assembly angrily as he let out a deep breath.
The assembly applauded the young prince.
But then Karna looked furious, almost as if he had lost his senses. 'Her husbands are quiet! And who are you to talk in her favour? You talk because you are just an immature kid!' Karna said spluttering. 'Yudhishtara lost himself....after that Draupadi was his possession, she was lost then itself....And...Though Shakuni mentioned her as a stake, Yudhishtara approved it!' Karna looked viciously at Draupadi. 'A woman can have one husband! A woman who has more than one husband....she is no chaste woman....She has to be considered as won by us!'
..........
The story goes on to how the Kuru assembly degraded itself and allowed its daughter-in-law to be humiliated.....

And so in this decisive part of the Mahabhartha, in the entire Kaurava assembly, not the Pandavas or most of the Kauravas, or the great Karna or the elders who were well-versed in Scriptures spoke....
Just one young boy spoke fearlessly. He was the only one who was willing to speak the truth without bothering about the consequences.....

The author thanks Mr. A. Narayanan, Mr. A. Ananthakrishnan and Mr. B.N. Gururaj for their review comments.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

How Dhaumya became the priest of the Pandavas

In those days, a priest was a very important part of any family. Primarily because the priest prayed to the Gods for the well-being of the family and the society as the whole. Such positions went to well-read and trustworthy persons. The priest of the Pandavas was Dhaumya. Here is the story of how he became the priest of the Pandavas....

Duryodhana, the Kaurava prince, hated the Pandavas so much that he along with Karna and Shakuni planned and arranged for the Pandavas to be burnt in the House of Lac. However, with the help of Vidura, the Pandavas thwarted the plan and escaped from there. 
Everyone except ofcourse, Vidura believed the Pandavas to be dead. 
To protect themselves from further attacks, the Pandavas kept up the pretense of their death and went to the town of Ekachakra. There they lived in the house of a Brahmin. To further conceal their real identity, the Pandavas lived on alms there.
It was here that Bheema rescued the Brahmin family by killing the asura Vaka or Baka.
*********
'Do you know that King Drupada of Panchala, he has just performed a yagna?' The Brahmin told Kunti and the brothers.
'For what?' Arjuna asked. He was the one who had been responsible for the defeat of the formidable Drupada in battle. That was the Guru Dakshina which Drona had asked from him.
'Unable to bear the humiliation of being defeated by Drona, Drupada searched far and wide in his kingdom for someone who could defeat Drona!' Arjuna sighed shaking his head as the Brahmin continued. 'King Drupada was unable to find anyone who could defeat Drona. So King Drupada pleased Sage Yaja and Upayaja so that they would perform a yagna on his behalf! The sages performed the yagna and from the fires emerged a handsome man with full armour. They called him Dhristadhyumna!'
'Is he going to kill Dronacharya?' Arjuna demanded from the man.
The Brahmin nodded gravely. 'Yes! When he emerged from the fire, a heavenly voice announced that he was going to bring the death of Drona!'
Arjuna was about to retort something when the man continued. 'But that is not all!'
The brothers listened attentively as the man continued. 'After Dhrishtadyumna, from the fire a beautiful woman also emerged! The woman was so beautiful that she looked like Goddess Sri herself! She was dark with beautiful eyes and has lovely, beautiful curls! It is said that gave out a fragrance which could be scented two miles away! Because she was dark, she was called Krishna!'
The brothers looked wondrously at each other unable to remove the image which the man's words bought. Kunti studied her sons and smiled not saying anything. The man continued, not realizing that the brothers had almost stopped listening. 'When the woman arrived, the heavenly voice announced that she was born to accomplish the work of the Gods!'
Kunti thanked the man and sent him on his way, well realizing the mood of her sons. 
Long after the man had left Kunti called her sons and was surprised to find that for the first time in her life, her sons seemed rather listless and inattentive to her calls. Suppressing a grin, she called the eldest Pandava, 'Son! I think we have stayed enough in this town!' Yudhishtara looked surprised as his mother continued. 'We will have to move on!'
'Where shall we go, mother?' Yudhishtara asked suddenly feeling very happy.
'How about Panchala?' Kunti asked trying hard not to grin.
********
And so the next day, the six of them happily trudged along to the kingdom of Panchala. Probably it was destiny or probably some other undefinable reason, whatever it was the Pandavas never felt the reason to rest, when they were traveling to Panchala. They even traveled at night as they came close to the Ganga.
It was at that time that a Gandharva was there in the river enjoying with his wives. The Gandharva was proud and arrogant. 
Seeing a group of humans come up to the river late at night, made the Gandharva rather haughty. The Gandharva felt that the humans had no right to disturb him when he was enjoying with his wives.
Angrily he came up before the Pandavas. 'Who are you humans, disturbing me at this time?'
The Pandavas looked suitably shocked at the arrogance of the Gandharva. 'We were on our way! We did not want to disturb you....' Arjuna began politely. But the Gandharva rudely interrupted him. 'The night belongs to Gandharvas, yakshas and rakshasas! How dare you interrupt......'
The ever careful Arjuna realized that the Gandharva was thirsting for a fight and pulled out his bow and pointed it straight at Gandharva. Foolishly the Gandharva thought that he could win this fight. He got on a beautiful glowing chariot and laughed. 'I am Angaaraparvana! I am the best friend of Kubera and the best of the Gandharvas! You cannot pass this river!'
'How can you think of barring others from using rivers or any other water body?' Arjuna said angrily. 'Besides this is the Ganga, the river which washes away your sins! How on earth can you prevent anyone from coming to it! It is the purest river in the world.....'
The Gandharva did not even let Arjuna finish the sentence. He pulled out his bow and started firing arrows at top speed at the Pandavas. The Gandharva should have known better....
Arjuna stopped all the arrows with his shield and pulled out a gleaming arrow and pointed it at the Gandharva. The arrow gleamed at night as for the first time, there was fear in the Gandharva's eyes.
Arjuna nodded angrily. 'This arrow was given by the Guru of Indra – Vrihaspasthi to Bharadwaja and from him to Agnivesya! Agnivesya gave this to my Guru Drona and he gave this to me! See what it does!' Quick as lightning, Arjuna fired the arrow and the arrow blazed through the path and burnt the chariot of the Gandharva. The Gandharva watched in horror as his chariot was being burnt down and jumped from it to escape the fire. The impact hit the Gandharva hard and he fell unconscious....
Heaving angrily, Arjuna pulled the Gandharva from the wreckage and dragged him towards Yudhishtara.
Arjuna was looking angrily at the Gandharva who was regaining his conscious when the Gandharvi ladies ran towards Yudhishtara. One of them spoke hurriedly to Yudhishtara. 'I am Kumbasini! I am his wife! Please spare his life!'
Yudhishtara looked angrily at Angaaraparvana and then at the lady. 'Let him go, Arjuna! Don't belittle yourself by killing a man who needs protection from someone else to stay alive!'
Disgusted, Arjuna pushed the Gandharva away. The Gandharva stumbled as he got on his feet. 
'I have been defeated by you! I shall give you anything you want!' He said his voice hoarse from the fire.
'I want nothing from a man, whose life I have spared!' Arjuna said.
'No! No! No!' The Gandharva said desperately trying to save face in front of his wives.
'We Gandharvas have the power of illusion! It is called Chakshusi! This is the power which differentiates Gandharvas from the humans! I will give it to you!' The Gandharva said.
Arjuna was about to protest when the Gandharva continued. 'I will give you each, fifty horses like the once I have! They look lean, but these horses never tire, no matter how much you drive them!'
'I....I...' Arjuna faltered. He cleared his throat. 'I have nothing to give you, in return of what you are offering me!'
'You have saved my life! What more....' The Gandharva asked incredulously. The Gandharva saw that Arjuna really meant what you have said. 'I have met really good people today! For that I am grateful! As a mark of our friendship! I will not call myself, Angaaraparvana anymore!' The Gandharva looked at his chariot which was now in ashes. 'Anyway, I cannot call myself that, anymore!' (Angaaraparvana means 'blazing chariot' in Sanskrit)
'You can give me your arrow in return of my gift!' The Gandharva said finally.
Arjuna agreed happily and the exchange was made.
'Let us be friends for life!' Arjuna smiled.
'Gladly, O Tapatya!' The Gandharva said.
'Why did you call me that?' Arjuna asked frowning. 'Who is Tapti?'
'Tapti is the daughter of Lord Surya! She is the younger sister of Savitri! She was extraordinarily beautiful! A king called Samvarna loved her! It was because of the efforts of Sage Vasishta, who was the royal priest of King Samvarna that the king was able to marry Tapti!' The Gandharva smiled as he continued. 'Samvarna and Tapti had a brave son! Do you know his name?'
The Pandavas shook their heads when the Gandharva continued. 'Their son was Kuru! Kuru is your ancestor! That is the reason you are called from the house of Kurus!'
The Pandavas nodded their head and then Arjuna cleared his head. 'Friend! I will take your horses later on, when I need them! For now, keep them with you!'
The Gandharva nodded, as Arjuna continued. 'You said that the king married Tapti because of Sage Vasishta, who was his priest! Is it so important to have a priest for your own family?'
The Gandharva nodded his head head earnestly. 'Yes! The priest would pray for your welfare and prosperity. That would give you victory in all your battles. Besides it is always good to have good people around you! Such a priest is necessary for your kingdom to flourish!'
The Gadharva talked some more, trying to convince the princes the need for a priest.
'Do you know any person who would be willing to be our priest?' Arjuna finally asked.
'In this very forest, near the Ganga, there is a place called Utkochaka! There you will find a sage by name Dhaumya! He is the younger brother of Sage Devala! He would be the perfect man to be your priest!'
That very night, the Pandavas with Kunti set out to meet the Sage Dhaumya.
Seeing the serene, calm and powerful sage, the Pandavas felt an immediate connection with the sage.
The Pandavas were more than thrilled when Dhaumya accepted the position to be their priest. The relationship between the Pandavas continued throughout their lives. He was the one who performed the marriage of Krishna (Draupadi) with the five Pandavas. He was the one who performed all the yagnas in Indraprastha. Dhaumya even traveled with the Pandavas when they went on a 13 year exile from Indraprastha....He became the perfect friend and spiritual guide for the Pandavas to guide them on the path of righteousness.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Indradyumna

After their exile in the forests, the Pandavas were a dejected lot. 
And adding to their misery of the other Pandavas, the third Pandava went to the Himalayas to meditate and obtain divine weapons from the Gods. 
The remaining four brothers with Draupadi were even more unhappy. So in order to make them happy, many sages came to their hermitage and told them different stories and strange sights that they had seen. One such time Sage Markandeya came to the hermitage. The sage was the one who had conquered death by the grace of Lord Shiva.
The Pandavas received him warmly. Markandeya in turn told them great and lively stories.
The first thing that struck the Pandavas on seeing the sage was that the sage looked not a day older than the day he conquered death. But his eyes were the only giveaway...the eyes spoke of a man with infinite wisdom and of a man who had seen and heard things that others had not even dreamt of.
As they listened to the stories, the Pandavas realized that the man before them was someone ancient...someone who had been there long before them and had seen things they did not even know existed...
Yudhishtara in jest asked a question to the great sage. 'Great sage! Is there anyone who is older than you?'
Markandeya looked amused at the question as he laughed quietly. 'I will tell you a story! You can decide for yourself!'
The Pandavas looked bewildered as Markandeya continued with his story.

'I will tell you of something I saw many years back....'' Markandeya said looking outside of the hermitage with glazed eyes. 'Once I had just returned from a long pilgrimage and was just back home, when I saw a man, suddenly appear before me, out of nowhere. He just appeared, without any warning...Just like that...When he appeared before me, the man himself looked surprised like he could not believe what he was seeing. The man looked around muttering to himself. Despite being shocked, the man looked regal and almost powerful. He had an ancient aura around him, one that I could not define or understand....
'I ran towards him and helped him up. 'Who are you, great one?' I asked.
The man was now looking anguished and sad. 'I have fallen!' He mumbled.
I looked at him not understanding when the man continued. 'Long ago, I was a human and I led a good life. I helped people whenever I could. After my death, because of all the good deeds I had done, I was chosen to go to Indraloka. As you know, after your death, you spend the time in the various realms, depending on the works that you have done! If you do good, you go to one of the swargas! You can stay there till your good merits last! If you do bad things, you stay in the lower realms! The minute your merits get over, you come back to earth for another cycle of birth and death!' The man looked crestfallen. 'It looks like all the merits that I have done have been forgotten!'
'Who are you sir?' I asked.
'I am Indradhyumna!' The man said unhappily.
I looked sympathetically at the man when the man suddenly looked at me with a strange expression. 'You are Markandeya! You are a Chiranjeevi! Have you never seen me before?'
I looked surprised and shook my head. 'I rarely stay in the same place for more than a day! There is no way I would know...!'
The man looked unhappy for a few seconds when he brightened again. 'Do you know anyone who is older than you? Someone who may remember me and my good deeds!'
I nodded my head. 'In Himavat, there is an owl by name Pravarkarna! He is older than me! He may know you! But he is far away from here....'
As soon as I said these words, Indradyumna changed himself into a horse and carried me to Himavat. There we found Pravarkarna.
Indradyumna transformed into a human and asked the owl without any preamble. 'Have you seen me?' The owl looked shocked for a few seconds and then looked at the man up and down. 'I am afraid, I have not seen you.'
'Then is there anyone who is older than you?' Indradhyumna immediately asked.
The owl looked at the king for a few seconds. 'What is your name, sir?'
'Indradyumna!' the man replied.
The owl looked shocked. The man looked eagerly as the owl continued. 'Strange though it may sound there is a lake by name Indradyumna! Near the lake, lives a crane called Nadijangha! He is older than me! He may know you!'
Then me, the sage and the owl went to Nadijangha, the crane, and asked him the same question. Unfortunately the crane also did not know Indradyumna.
But then the crane smiled saying, 'In this very lake, there is a very old tortoise. The name of the tortoise is Akupura. He is older than me!' Saying this Nadijangha turned to the lake and shouted. 'Akupura! Please come here! We need to ask you something!'
The tortoise came out of the lake and the first person he saw was Indradyumna. Seeing the king, the tortoise started trembling with joy and weeping uncontrollably. 'I never thought I would see you again!' Akupura said looking at Indradyumna. 'My king! I am so grateful to you!'
All of us looked astonished at the tortoise as it continued. 'He is a great king! He was the most generous man ever.' The tortoise said looking at Indradyumna with shining eyes. 'Do you know how this lake was formed? It was formed from the hooves of the cattle that he gave away as gifts to other people...These cattle that kept walking in the land, they all together formed a depression in the land, creating this pond! I have lived here, since then!' Akupura finished.
No sooner had the tortoise finished the tale, a heavenly vehicle came whizzing to the place as a heavenly voice said. 'As long as your good deeds are remembered, you will live in heaven! The tortoise still lives because of your merits. Come! Come back to the higher heavens!'
Happily Indradyumna dropped me and the owl back at our places and then rode away on the vehicle, going to the swarga, which he deserved...


Markandeya looked at the Pandavas with playful eyes. 'Does that answer your question, my friends?'...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The mighty warrior - After the end

Arjuna and Krishna had just finished decimating the Samptikas when the conch for the end of the day's battle sounded. Arjuna was about to heave a sigh of relief when he felt an almost giddy, nauseous feeling pass through him. He was finding it difficult to breath when he gasped. 'Keshava! Som...something is wrong!' He said clutching his heart. Krishna said nothing as Arjuna rapidly came out of the chariot. Arjuna looked at the battlefield from far. 'Something terrible....' Arjuna had not even finished talking when he saw the morose looking Pandava camp.
He was breathing in gasps as he continued. 'The tents are normally lighted! Why is it dark?' Arjuna looked around suspiciously. 'Abimanyu is the first one to congratulate me on the end of the day's battle! Where is he?'
The two entered Yudhishtara's tent which still had no Abhimanyu when Arjuna looked at Yudhishtara. 'Dronacharya formed the Chakravyugha today! Whom did you send inside it?'
Yudhishtara looked at Arjuna with bleary eyes silently as Arjuna continued. 'None of you can break it! Abhimanyu is the only one who can break it!' By now Arjuna's was almost sobbing. 'You did not send him alone, inside, did you?' Arjuna demanded as Yudhishtara was still silent.
Yudhishtara did not answer at all when Arjuna looked at Yudhishtara incredulously. 'How can you send a sixteen year old boy against the entire Kuru army?'
Arjuna was feeling a mixture of anger, hatred, grief so badly that he was unable to maintain his balance as he swooned and fell unconscious. When his brothers woke him up, Arjuna was whispering. 'What am I going to tell Subhadra?'Arjuna suddenly looked panic stricken. 'What am I going to tell Uttara? Oh my God! They have been married a few months back....'
'How did he die?' Arjuna asked his brothers. 
None of his brothers said anything as Arjuna shouted. 'TELL ME HOW HE DIED!'
'Jayadratha stopped us!' Bheema said haltingly. For the first time in his life, Bheema looked afraid of his younger brother. Arjuna looked like he was almost over the edge.
'What do you mean Jayadratha stopped you?' Arjuna asked sneeringly. 'YOU single-handed defeated him, at the Kamakya forest!' Arjuna looked at Bheema. 'How on earth can that man stop you especially when my son's life was at stake?'
The brothers said nothing because there was nothing that they could say in their defense....
'Jayadratha has a boon of Lord Shiva, my friend!' It was Krishna who answered. 
Arjuna whipped his head as he looked at Krishna. 
'Lord Shiva gave Jayadratha a boon that he can stop the four Pandavas if Nara and Narayana were not with them!' Krishna said so quietly that Arjuna was the only one who heard him.
Arjuna closed his eyes as the earth suddenly seemed spinning very fast. He wished that the earth would swallow him up.....at least then he would be where his son was, right now....
kaleidoscope of images of Abhimanyu life came to Arjuna. 
A bright child who had made him proud every single time, he had done anything....A child with whom he had spent pitifully less time.....Abhimanyu had died for a battle, which had absolutely nothing to do with him. Abhimanyu got nothing from this war. And he still fought it and fought with his body, mind and soul...And happily gave up his life...
Arjuna felt a sharp anger course through him, almost burning him....
Jayadratha...Jayadratha killed a sixteen year old boy, who was the bravest of them all....
'JAYADRATHA DIES TOMORROW!' Arjuna shouted into the night. 'As sure as the sun rises tomorrow, as sure as Abhimanyu is dead today...Jayadratha dies tomorrow!' Arjuna looked fiercely at all of them. 'If that does not happen by sunset....I will reach the realms of my father by tomorrow evening!' Arjuan said twanging his Gandiva which gave a terrible sound shattering the quiet of the night....
**********
The next day Dronacharya realized was the day which would determine the victor of the battle. If Arjuna could not get to Jayadraratha, Arjuna would keep his word and kill himself. Dronacharya knew that without Arjuna, the battle against the Pandavas was half won. 
The next day Dronacharya forms three vyughas - the shakata vyugha and behind it the padma vyugha and behind these two vyugha the Maharathas were arranged in a needle like a straight line. 
Dronacharya genuinely believed that the three vyughas would have been enough to stop Arjuna.....Dronacharya nearly succeeded too...
Arjuna with clinical efficiency laid waste to almost half the Kaurava army. Even with all his magnificence, Arjuna all but failed at getting to Jayadraratha. It was Krishna, who using the fact that the day was an eclipse, allowed Arjuna to kill Jayadraratha at the time the sun was about to set.
That was the day which singlehanded changed the fate of the battle. After that it was almost a certainty that the Pandavas were going to win...
And all that was because a sixteen year old warrior stood up against the might of the entire Kuru army, all alone....
**********
After the death of Abhimanyu, Princess Uttara was inconsolable...She thought of giving up her life but the fact that she was carrying Abhimanyu's and her child made her go on.....
However even that story had twist..... 
After the Pandavas won the war, Ashwattaman, the son of Drona, unable to take in the deceit with which the Pandavas had killed his father, had his revenge. 
On the day the Pandavas were not in the camp, when the other Pandava soldiers were sleeping, Ashwattaman massacred all the Pandava soldiers, in their sleep...every single one of them.....
The ghastly turn of events, left the Pandavas beyond being shocked...The Pandavas had won the kingdom but had absolutely no one to share it with. 
As if Ashwattamana felt that the damage he did was not enough, he aimed a Brahmastra at the Pandavas. Arjuna countered with his own Brahmastra. But at the advice of the sages, with great concentration, Arjuna recalled the Brahmastra. 
But Ashwattaman never learned how to recall the weapon and instead of recalling it, he fired it at Drauapadi and the other women in the Pandava family. The weapon left the women barren for life.
The child in Uttara's womb died from Ashwattaman's cowardly attack.....
******
As always it was Krishna who came to the rescue of the Pandavas. It is said that Krishna brought the child back to life.
As this child of Abhimanyu, had already been tested by death, the child was called Parikshit. After the Pandavas ruled for 36 years, the Pandavas gave up the kingdom to Parikshit and retired to the Himalayas......
*******
Thus back to the beginning, Abhimanyu's life and death marked the fulfillment of all the boons given to Soma Deva, based on which Soma Deva had let Varchas incarnate on the earth, as Abhimanyu. 
Soma Deva could not be separated from Varchaas for more than 16 years, which was the year Abhimanyu had died. Abhimanyu had decimated one-fourth of the Kaurava army when neither Arjuna nor Krishna (Nara and Narayana) were there. 
And finally, the almost extinct Pandava race was continued by Parikshit, the son of Abhimanyu....