Friday, June 2, 2017


The Mahabharatas in question are Sarala’s Mahabharata of the fifteenth century and Mahabharata by the sixteenth century poet, Jagannatha Dasa, known and revered as the author of Odia Bhagabata, which is a sacred text. Incidentally, there are at least three retellings of the Mahabharata in Odia. The third is the Mahabharata which seems to have been written in the early eighteenth century by Krushna Singha.

Not many in Odisha, including those who, because of their profession are expected to know, are aware that Jagannatha Dasa wrote the Mahabharata. Some of the few who do, tend to believe that it was really composed by someone else and came to be known much later as Jagannatha Dasa’s work. By then Dasa had acquired fame and this work was ascribed to him - when, one would probably never know -  so that it did not suffer oblivion. When I asked him over phone whether there is any Odia Mahabharata other than Sarala’s and Krushna Singha’s, Asit Mohanty, journalist, editor and writer, told me that there is one that goes in the name of Jagannatha Dasa. In any case, from our present point of view, who the author of this text is matters little. What does, is that there is yet another retelling of Mahabharata in Odia.

Suryanarayan Das, in his authoritative history of Odia literature, says of this retelling that it is indeed a summary – a “summary” that runs into about nine hundred pages in print! - of Sarala Mahabharata, written in nabakshari brutta, the metre where each line of a couplet contains nine (naba) letters (akshara). Sarala Mahabharata was written in a different metre, known as dandi brutta, details of which are of no concern to us here. What is worth noting is that this (i.e., Jagannatha Dasa’s) retelling is a retelling, not of the canonical text, but of a prior retelling (i.e., Sarala Mahabharata) in the same language composed just a few decades ago. One would wonder why Jagannatha Dasa, a major poet, who knew Sanskrit, chose to do so, instead of retelling Vyasa Mahabharata. Was it to establish nabakhsari brutta as the metre of puranic narrative in Odia? Or were there other considerations as well? In any case, I do not know if, in any other regional language, there are such full-length retellings of a prior retelling of the Mahabharata in the same language.

Turning to the episode in question in Sarala Mahabharata, namely whether or not the Great Kurukshetra War would take place, I have presented Sarala’s version earlier, so here a summary should do. The following morning the rituals for the start of the war were to be performed. The night was deep when Krishna, Sakuni and Sahadeva met. Krishna asked Sakuni whether there must be war and Sakuni said that whatever he wanted would happen. If he didn’t want war and didn’t thereby want to perform his avataric task, then he, Sakuni, his servitor in Vaikuntha and on earth, would ensure that there would be no war. Krishna said that he would relieve the mother earth of her burden.

In Jagannatha Dasa Mahabharata, the story is almost the same as in Sarala Mahabharata. The context of their meeting is the same. They were staying together that night in Indraprastha. Earlier that day, by sheer coincidence, Sakuni had had arrived there to meet Yudhisthira. A while ago, just before his arrival, on hearing from Krishna about his humiliation in the Kaurava court, the eldest Pandava had asked his brothers to get ready for war to avenge the Kauravas’ ill treatment of Hari. Sakuni had come to work out a plan with the Pandavas for dividing the war field of Kurukshetra - who would camp in which half and related matters. But instead, he proposed peace. He suggested to Yudhisthira to give up his claim to the kingdom and retire to forest with his brothers. The ignorant may prosper in this life but suffer in narka (hell), said Sakuni, whereas the virtuous may suffer in this life but are amply compensated in the next. His words had no impact on the eldest Pandava. He had already made up his mind on war.

That night Sakuni spent in Indraprastha and that was how the three met. Sakuni said, O Govinda, now war is inevitable. However, if you order me, I will ensure that the Kauravas and the Pandavas become friends and peace prevails.” Krishna said, “Sakuni, no. …kaurabe thile srushti kahin // pandabe ebe panthu rajya / tu puni kara pitru karjya (Where would the world be if the Kauravas remain alive / Let the Pandavas get the kingdom / You do the work for your father) //” Sakuni told Krishna that the adversaries should then start the work of dividing the war field and that the Pandavas would win if they stayed in the eastern half. And he, Krishna, he told the avatara, must make it happen.

Sahadeva said nothing to all this. In both versions he was only the witness. But why did Sarala Dasa and Jagannatha Dasa choose to have a witness at all? No answer emerges from the texts; there aren’t even hints. One might suggest that what Sanjaya was to the Srimad Bhagavad Gita discourse, Sahadeva was to this conversation. The narratives posited a third person listener, a potential reporter or a drasta (seer) who sees the sense of happening at the alaukika (cosmic) level. In any case, it this conversation indeed that settled the question of war - not Duryodhana’s refusing to give the Pandavas anything at all of the kingdom, not Draupadi’s humiliation or the Pandavas’ suffering during the long years of exile, Draupadi’s untied hair or even Krishna’s humiliation, etc.

Now, the similarities between Sarala’s and Jagannatha Dasa’s versions are many, which is to be expected, going by Suryanarayana Das’s observations on the relation between these two texts. But there are some nuanced differences as well.

The exchange is Sarala Mahabharata can be seen as a little lila of Krishna. When Sakuni asked him whether there would be war or not, Krishna’s answer was what he, Sakuni, thought about it. Humans must decide what concerns them, could be said to be the import of Krishna’s counter question to Sakuni. But Sakuni, who thought of himself as Krishna’s servitor, would not be caught in the maya of Krishna that would make him see the humans as the karta (agent) of events. He knew who the karta was; so he turned the question on to Krishna; he wanted him to make the choice and say it – for him the choices were peace or doing what he had taken avatara for. When Krishna said explicitly that he was for the latter, it was the victory of the bhakta over bhagawan, who had failed to delude the bhakta and make him act as though he was the decider of things.

In Jagannatha Dasa Mahabharata, this lila is missing. Equally or even more significantly, here, war or no war was not going to be the decision of the humans. It would be Krishna’s decision. There was no place for conversation in the narrative, even for the sake of form. The Kauravas had to perish for reasons of restoration of the cosmic balance. Jagannatha Dasa’s perspective is different from Sarala’s in a subtle sense.

Jagannatha Dasa deviated significantly from Sarala Dasa again when his Krishna asked his Sakuni to avenge his father’s killing, explicitly, in so many words. With that, embodied in the second line of the second couplet, quoted above, the poet transformed that act of revenge, rooted in treachery, into an act of maha punya (great virtue) for the victim of Duryodhana’s treachery.

(I am grateful to Mr. Asit Mohanty, who not only told me about Jagannatha Dasa Mahabharata but also went out of his way to lend me his only copy. This is a very generous gesture in view of the fact that this book is no longer available in the market.)

Sunday, May 21, 2017


From one point of view, it was not Sakuni who avenged the brutal murder of his father, uncles and relatives by his nephew, Duryodhana; it was indeed his father, King Gandharasena himself who did. He was the Causer Agent: Sakuni was merely “doing agent”, more an instrument than an agent. In fact, in a Sanskrit causative sentence with the explicit causer agent, the “doer” takes the instrumental marker. Gandharasena could not do it himself, so he armed his son with an unfailing revenge tool and told him how to go about destroying the Kauravas with it.

All the captives of Duryodhana were dead; there were just the father and the son alive. Gandharasena knew that his moment would soon come. “Listen, Sakuni,” he told his son, “you are my eldest son, you are capable and very knowledgeable (maha jnani). I have protected you. We all starved so that you do not. You had assured us that you would avenge us. Tell me, how will you do it?” Sakuni told him that he was an ignoramus and appealed to his father to tell him how he should go about it. “You are going, father”, he said, “tell me and rest assured that I will ever forget what you tell me.”  

Some might feel disappointed. Even the parent-child relationship is not without self-interest, not without expectation. Gandharasena’s sacrifice for his son was not unselfish. And what dark expectation! But wasn’t the world of Mahabharata a dark, dark world!

Some consolation that Sarala’s Gandharasena wasn’t that cruel to his son as Gandharasena in some versions of the Mahabharata. He didn’t make him lame, so that he never forgot that he had to take revenge.

Come to think of it, Sarala’s Gandharasena wasn’t a really a bad man. Like any father, he was worried about his daughter’s marriage. She was born in an inauspicious moment, so when she got engaged to a prince, the prince died. He readily accepted sage Vyasa’s advice to get his daughter married to a sahada tree first and then to Dhritarashtra. Vyasa himself conducted the marriages. Vyasa, Dhritarashtra’s father, knew that Gandhari and Dhritarashtra’s marriage was arranged by the stars because when the latter got engaged to a princess, she would die. The arrogant and foolish Duryodhana punished his maternal grandfather entirely unjustly. Like any other grandfather, Gandharasena loved his grandchild. That was why he told Duryodhana what he did not want to hear but what would be good for him, namely that he must never go to war against his cousins, the Pandavas, because being sons of gods, they were stronger than him. He trusted Duryodhana. He acted like the grandfather and not the king, when he sent his army back to the capital when asked to do so by his nephew and came with him Duryodhana along with his brothers and relatives, not even knowing where he was taking them. Till his imprisonment he had done nothing that could have been viewed as unworthy of a loving grandfather or a father.

To return to what Gandharasena told Sakuni. Duryodhana had brutally tortured and killed his family and relatives without any wrong doing by him or them. The dead must be avenged, he told Sakuni. He gave him the revenge plan and with that he bound him up for life. He told him that after his death, he must collect the bones of his hands. In complete secrecy, from the bones of his right palm, he must get two dice sticks made and from the bones of his left palm, thirty dice cubes. Those sticks would obey his demands. One day Duryodhana would surely free him and make him his minister and most trusted adviser. He must take full advantage of that opportunity. Playing dice on behalf of Duryodhana, he must defeat Yudhisthira and make sure that he lost all his possessions, that the Pandava brothers became slaves of Duryodhana and their wife was dragged to the Kaurava court where she would be disrobed. Bhima would not stand that terrible humiliation and would never forget it. That would lead to a war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas and Bhima would wipe out Duryodhana and his brothers and their children. “I am telling you, my son,” said Gandharasena, “that war would end no other way. The Pandavas cannot be killed on the ground or in water or by fire.” Therefore the Pandavas must be used to eliminate the Kauravas. Poisonous sweets and the house of wax were not in Gandharasena’s scheme; for him two dice sticks were enough.

“After getting your nephews killed, do not live, my son,” said Gandharasena, “fight with Sahadeva and get killed in the war.” He had predetermined his life and now his death.

Not for nothing did his father have such complete trust on his eldest son’s competence. That intelligent prince appeared to be justly sceptical. Two dice sticks and a few dice cubes made of the bones of his father’s palms could really be the unfailing tools for taking on the mighty Duryodhana, Sakuni must have wondered. “Tell me, father”, Sakuni said, “when did your hands do so much punya (action that brings religious merit to the doer) that they are bestowed with such super human power?”

“It happened many, many years ago”, said Gandharasena. He was a recognized scholar of more shastras – sahasra shahastre (a thousand shastras), says Sarala - than anyone else then. But he would always lose a game of dice. So for fifteen years he did severe tapas to please goddess Ganga. The primordial goddess appeared and asked him what he wanted. He asked her for the divine dice sticks and cubes with which he would never lose a game of dice. The goddess gave him the sticks and cubes and asked him to return them to her after three years.

He defeated many kings and amassed a lot of wealth in the form of gold, gems, elephants, armies and much else. His treasury was overflowing. His reputation spread and kings were afraid of meeting him, lest he challenged them to a game of dice.  Three years over, he went to a place of pilgrimage called Uttrankura and prayed to the goddess. As he was placing the sticks and the cubes on the palm of the goddess, he made an appeal to her in all prayerful humility. “Grant me, Mother, this: let this grace of yours remain with my family in some form.” The Mother goddess granted his wish. She told him that after his death, his son must make sticks and cubes from the bones of his palms. Those would be bestowed with special powers and no one would defeat him in a game of dice if he played with the same. “Mother Ganga’s words with never be untrue, my son,” he said and those were his last words.  


A manuscript of Sarala Mahabharata has a slightly different story of King Gandharasena but the difference is both quite interesting and significant. This story is about his greed and punishment.

Pleased with Gandharasena, goddess Ganga had given him divine dice sticks and dice cubes and told him to return those to her on the completion of three years. For three years Gandharasena won all games of dice he played and amassed a lot of wealth and great reputation as a dice player. He had been a loser before he received the goddess’s boon and in just three years his fortune had changed so dramatically. Greed possessed him. He did not return those divine objects to the goddess.

Four more years passed. He must have been increasingly troubled by the fear of goddess’s wrath, if not by the voice of his conscience. Seven years over, one day he decided to return them to Ganga. The goddess was much displeased with him. She didn’t have the sticks and cubes when she needed them and had received scolding from her lord, Bhagawan Shiva. She cursed Gandharasena: jaare gandharasena pathara ghare bansa maru tohari (go Gandharasena, may your vansa – family - die in a house of stone).  Her curse was very harsh and very unjust. Why did she curse his brothers and relatives for his karma? If we know Sarala’s Ganga – impulsive, wild and impetuous - this would not surprise us.  

The rest of the story is the same as in the published version, edited by Artaballava Mohanty. In this version, the three couplets telling the story above are mentioned in a foot note. The cursed king got the boon from the goddess that her grace in empowering him in the game of dice would remain in his family in some form – the man’s greed was not confined to the present; it extended to the future. We know the rest of story of Gandharasena – the story of his bones that became sticks and cubes to play dice with.

Those sticks were never used by Sakuni to acquire wealth for himself, either before that fateful game of dice in the Kaurava court or after. That day he was playing on behalf of Duryodhana and for Duryodhana, but he alone knew that he was playing against Duryodhana and for revenge. It may not be accidental that all the wealth that Duryodhana gained that day, he lost on that very day itself! Did the poet want to tell his audience across centuries that the other side of the boon of the goddess was her curse, that the fruits of excessive greed could never be sweet?

Gandharasena did not forget that curse. As we know, he told his son about it. He knew that the curse of the goddess would materialize someday. How it was going to happen he did not of course know; the goddess, if even she herself did, hadn’t told him. That it would materialize through his grandchild and that along with his kin, he would die of starvation, he didn’t know. But even so, why did he think in terms of revenge when he knew that he was carrying the curse of the goddess? It didn’t occur to him that for what had happened to him and his kin, Duryodhana was a mere instrument in the hands of Destiny. It didn’t occur to him that he himself was responsible for their suffering. That realization might have calmed him and he wouldn’t have bound his son to do what he knew was very sinful. Why else did he ask him not to live after getting the Kauravas killed?

All the same. We should not perhaps judge him harshly. The pangs of starvation, the pain of seeing his dear ones die of hunger and the associated indignity and humiliation surely made him forget that all that was the fruit of his karma. He was an ordinary person; was no Bhishma or Drona. In Sarala Mahabharata, Bhishma knew that he had wronged Amba. She wanted to take revenge; unknown to her, he wanted to cooperate with her in that regard. Drona accepted Dhristadyumna as his pupil and taught him well, without discriminating between him and his other pupils, despite knowing that he was born to kill him.

17.5. 2017

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Here my main purpose is not to retell a story from Sarala Mahabharata but only respond, by way of story-telling, to some important questions that friends have asked, who – in particular, Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya and Dr. Vineet Chaitanya, both eminent Mahabharata scholars - have been kind enough to read the post on why there is no “Sakuni Mamu” in Odia. That post contained a brief account of how Duryodhana had starved his maternal grandfather, his brothers and close relatives to death. The questions are mainly about how he could manage to do it, who all knew about it and by implication, why none prevented him from doing such a terrible, heinous act.

Duryodhana one day told Gandhari that he wanted to pay a visit to his maternal grandfather to see how he was faring and how he was taking care of his subjects. He sought her permission for this. This happened twelve years after Duryodhana’s humiliation in the Kaurava court by Bhima (see the post “I am siting, O Son of Golaka”). Gandhari had forgotten about it all and she happily gave her consent.

Duryodhana started for his maternal grandfather’s kingdom in great style. With him were his brothers Dussasana and Durjaya, his confidants Karna, Shalya, Kripa and Ashwasthama, a few loyal kings and a part of the Kaurava army. King Gandharasena received them in royal style.

Duryodhana told him that he wanted to meet him alone. The grandfather and the grandson met at an isolated place – on a nearby mountain. Duryodhana told him that he detested the Pandavas and was greatly troubled because of them. He had come to consult him in that regard, he told his grandfather. The latter counselled him not to be hostile towards his cousins because they were far stronger than him, born as they were from gods. The self-conceited nephew would not hear of it. He simply could not live with them and would have to get rid of them somehow, he told him. The loving grandfather invited him to stay with him for a few days. Duryodhana declined, saying that he was not in a proper frame of mind to relax then. He had to eliminate the Pandavas first.

He then invited his grandfather to come with him along with his brothers and close relatives and told him not bring his army with him. He agreed – which grandfather would not! Duryodhana didn’t invite them to Hastinapura; there is no mention of it in the narrative. It also does not say where he wanted to take them. From the context one could infer that he wanted the king of Gandhara, who considered the Pandavas invincible, to see for himself what plans he had made to eliminate them. So he brought them to the prison carved out, in great secrecy, by his orders, of the mountain, Lohagiri, in the forest named Saubhadra. He led them inside, asked the venerable guests to assess whether it would indeed be an impregnable prison for the Pandavas. Soon he came out and bolted the only door from outside and left, telling King Gandharasena that he had built that prison for him and not the Pandavas.

After they reached the kingdom of Gandhara, Dussasana, Karna and the rest of them disappear from the narrative. One possible interpretation would be the following: as they were talking about the Pandavas in that lonely place, the nephew told his grandfather to send his army back to the city; at that time he might have told all who had come with him to go back to Hastinapura.  Maybe to assure those who were coming with Gandharasena, if not him himself, that his intentions were absolutely honest. Maybe it was a proactive step. When he closed the prison door on his helpless victims, there was no one there. No one saw; there was none to tell what had happened. So goes the narrative.

Somehow – Sarala doesn’t tell us who told her, surely there was nothing dramatic or spectacular about it – Gandhari got to know about it. The noble mother reproached her sinful son. “You, evil-doer, are killing my father. He would have stood by you, would been an asset for you”, she told him. Her son paid no heed to her. She then pleaded with him to at least provide them food so long as they were alive. “I will do as you wish, Mother”, said the son. But the wicked one had other things in mind. He gave them a certain measure of food and water (bhaareka anna – one big basketful of rice and paani kalashaye – one big container of water). This was obviously grossly inadequate for the one hundred and ninety-seven unfortunate inmates. And after six months he asked the cook to provide them half of what they were getting till then. Then after some time he reduced it to just one plateful of rice.

Time came when Duryodhana freed Sakuni, believing, firmly, that he was the knower of the past, the present and the future. As for why he set him free, would you please turn to the post ‘Sarala Mahabharata as a novel prison-revenge story” (posted on July 18, 2016) in this blog? “I cannot give you back your father, brothers and relatives,” he told him, in a tone of sincere regret and reconciliation. He made him his chief adviser and since then, for him, Sakuni’s words were final.

He took him to Gandhari. “Listen, O daughter of King Gandharasena,” he said, “only one of your brothers is alive”. He must have thought that she would be happy. She was not. She was worried, on the contrary. Right in her brother’s presence, she told him not to trust him, who she was certain, would take revenge and destroy the Kauravas. The daughter had lost her father and now the mother did not want to lose her sons. 

Soon after all this, he wise Vidura met Yudhisthira. Duryodhana hated him and his brothers, he told him and warned him. He said that it was his wild anger and contempt for them that had resulted in the annihilation of Gandharasena and his family and relatives. That was how he saw it. Yudhisthira must always remain alert because Duryodhana and Sakuni would now try to harm him and his brothers. In particular, he should keep an eye on the rash and irresponsible Bhima, said Vidura.

“Is he so angry with me?” asked the embodiment of Dharma. If it would so happen that one day Dhritarashtra would become unloving to him, he, uncle Vidura, must be kind to him, he told him in a pleading tone. He would have none to be worried about in all the lokas, he said, if he enjoyed his blessings and the grace of Vasudeva.

Ever since I read Sarala Mahabharata, I have appreciated it a great deal more than ever before that the grand and profound narratives, especially the Mahabharata, the greatest and the grandest of them all, have not only characters but situations as well, that are in dire need of empathetic authors who would redeem them. 

By the way, it is worth noting that in Sarala Mahabharata, Sakuni has no leg injury or any other deformity. 

Friday, April 14, 2017


One day the Kauravas and the Pandavas were playing a game which, today, we would most likely call “kabaddi”. When there is jealousy, malice and hatred in the mind, a game like this could turn into a mini battlefield. This was precisely what happened that day. Misusing the rules of the game, Dussasana hit Yudhisthira so hard that he vomited blood. In response, Bhima mercilessly thrashed each of the hundred Kaurava brothers and they all passed out. Bhishma and Sanjaya arrived and revived the Kaurava princes.

Dhritarashtra was extremely worried. Most fervently he prayed to Bhagawan Balarama and he arrived. Dhritarashtra told him about what Bhima had done. He was very fearful about his children, he told him. Balarama smiled and said that things like that would happen in a game and that he should not be unduly worried. Dhritarashtra did not feel reassured by these words. So Balarama touched the head of each of his sons and said that from then on, they were his children too and that he himself would protect them. Saying that he left. Dhritarashtra was relieved.

Reaching home in Dwaraka, he told everything to his younger brother. No brother, not just in Sarala Mahabharata, in the entire puranic literature in Odia, was as indulgent to his younger brother as Balarama was to Krishna. He told Krishna that he had assured Dhritarashtra that he would protect his children. He would teach the use of mace to the Kauravas, so that in case the Pandavas fought them, Duryodhana would kill them all and become king.

Now Balarama didn’t know that Arjuna was very dear to Krishna. Krishna was worried. Without telling his brother, that very night he went to Indraprastha and met Arjuna. Since they met outside the palace, no one knew about their meeting - neither Kunti nor Arjuna’s brothers.  Arjuna prostrated himself at his feet again and again. Krishna asked him what had happened during the game. Arjuna told him everything: how Dussasana had hit Yudhisthira maliciously, how Bhima had got angry and beaten up the Kaurava brothers, how Balarama had arrived and assured Dritarashtra that he would henceforth protect his sons.

Krishna told him that Dhritarashtra was trying to exploit Balarama’s naivety, natural kindness and generosity and set him against them. From then on, he warned Arjuna, the Pandavas must never trust not only Dhritarashtra, but also Duryodhana, Karna, Ashwasthama and Shalya. Arjuna was overwhelmed with Krishna’s concern for them. “If you are so concerned for us, O Lord,” said Arjuna, “we will not be defeated even if we are pitted against not just one, but one lakh Balaramas.” Krishna liked his friend’s self-confidence but warmed him again. “Remember, Arjuna”, he told him,” you all must be extremely careful on matters of food and sleep. Often one falls into the enemy’s trap because of one’s lack of attention and other minor lapses. You must convey my message to your brothers and you must find a way of moving away from those who you must not trust.” Saying this, he left.

We might pause a while and reflect on these words of Destiny. Often one’s vulnerability relates to food and sleep. Bhima was given poisonous ladoos (sweets) after this meeting of Krishna and Ajuna and later, attempt was made to burn the Pandavas and their mother to death in a house of lak (wax) during their sleep. Destiny is not unkind; it forewarns, but ordinary mortals do not often understand its language.

To return to Arjuna. He went to Yudhisthira and told him what all Krishna had said. The son of Dharma was unruffled. “He is the Lord of the Universe and is the Soul of the Universe”, Yudhisthira told his brother, “he knows what is in whose mind, who thinks in terms of adharma and who, dharma.” However, there was no reason, he told Arjuna, for them to be worried on account of Dhritarashtra. They had always treated him with utmost respect. They were devoted to him. Why then would he want to harm them, he asked. One who wished ill of others would be consumed by one’s own adharma, he said. Therefore, the one who was ever untouched by anger and who could never look upon any one as his enemy, told Arjuna that the Pandavas must live in accordance with dharma and not worry about Dhritashtra.

One day, soon after his meeting with Balarama, Dhritarashtra told Sanjaya, his trusted advisor, that he was very worried about Bhima. His sons were not safe, he told him. He feared that being extremely wicked and powerful, Bhima might harm them. Sanjaya did not like Dhritarashtra’s attitude. If he was distinguishing between Pandu’s sons and his, then how would he look after the former, he asked him. With suspicion in his heart, how would he trust Pandu’s children and live with them? That very night Dhritarashtra sent for Vidura. 

“You are learned and wise,” said Dhritarashtra, “what do you think of Bhima?” Vidura told him that he must not worry about him. He was a mere child. Children in their innocence would always be like that – sometimes they would be friends, sometimes they would fight among themselves. Besides, he was their father’s elder brother. Their father having died, who, but he, was there to look after them, he counselled Dhritarashtra. The blind king was unimpressed. His sons would be unsafe so long as Bhima was alive, he told Vidura.

If that was in his mind, he must stop living with those five, said Vidura. Dhritarashtra was happy. He had given sensible advice, he told cousin Vidura. On the outskirts of Hastinapura, there was a hilly terrain called Indraprastha and he got a modest palace built there for his brother’s sons. Incidentally, Indraprastha became very prosperous only later – mainly at the time of Yudhisthira’s rajaswiya (alternatively, “rajaswa”) yajna. All that for a different post!

In the meantime, one day the wise elder Bhishma visited Dhritarashtra. He had just witnessed Bhima’s energy and power, he told him. Near Indraprastha there was the hill named Karabira. Bhima flattened that hill with just one hit with his mace and Bhima was a mere child! Knowing the wicked nature of the Kaurava princes, he advised Dhritarashtra to keep his children under control. The king was very nervous and disturbed. At what unfortunate moment had Kunti given birth to that son of hers, he wondered.

Sanjaya was there with him when the Pandavas paid their respects to him the following morning. Dhritarashtra ritually blessed them, sat with them and told Yudhisthira that along with his brothers he should live in Indraprastha. Duryodhana and Bhima could not stand each other. “Your brother, Bhima, is very wicked”, he told Yudhisthira”, “if he stayed in Hastinapura, there would be continuous tension and conflict.” “That was proper”, said the sinless Yudhisthira. He told him that they would happily leave for Indraprastha, in obedience to his wish.  

Kunti was very upset. She blamed Bhishma for having persuaded her to come to Hastinapura. She had settled down at the mountains of Satasringha. That was not very long ago. Now she again had to leave for a new place with her children. All this was unsettling for her.

One day, after they had moved to Indraprastha, Kunti chided Bhima. It was all because of his wickedness, she told him, that such problems arose for them from time to time. King Dhritarashtra was so kind and considerate towards them, and he spoiled everything.

Bhima behaved as though he was completely deaf.    

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Kunti and the Pandavas had just settled down at Indraprastha. Every morning Yudhisthira would pay respects to Kunti and then proceed to Hastinapura to pay respects to bada baapaa (father’s elder brother) Dhritarashtra and bada maa (father’s elder brother’s wife). His brothers would join him, although Bhima did not like it at all. He didn’t like his elder brother treating the evil-minded Dhritarashtra as though he was the Lord of Kashi! Not just that. Yudhisthira would partake of food only after paying respects to that blind scoundrel.

And what did the wicked man do after receiving their respects? Would ask them to attend the Kuru court, where in front of Bhishma, Bhrishrava, Vidura, Kripacharya Karna and Shalya, his eldest son, the wicked Duryodhana, would taunt them, saying, “Please have your seat, the son of Dharma”, “Sit down, you, the son of Pavana”, “Sit down, you, the son of Indra”, etc. Duryodhana’s taunt did not affect Yudhisthira. Dark forces like anger and ill-will did not rule his heart. Even Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva did not mind Duryodhana’s words. But Bhima was not like them. He felt hurt, humiliated and extremely angry, but he knew that he had no option but to control himself.

This happened day after day. That was getting too much to swallow for the son of the wind-god, Pavana, who had in him some of the wild energy of the god. One day after they returned to Indraprastha, Bhima prostrated himself before mother Kunti and asked her what was it all about. He told her that the Kaurava brothers were mocking at him and his brothers and it was becoming very difficult to tolerate the insult.

“You are wicked”, said Kunti, “all the time you look for a cause to fight your brothers”. It was a good thing for the father’s name being taken in front of his son, she told him. Listening to one’s father’s name was nothing short of receiving a blessing, she told him. “Duryodhana takes the name of five different fathers for us, brothers,” said Bhima, “now, isn’t that a humiliation for us?”, Bhima asked her in anger. Those five different gods were the five different forms of the same one, said Kunti and told him not to be dull-witted and understand that truth. Bhima was unmoved. But why wasn’t Pandu’s name ever mentioned in the court? How did she give birth to them? he persisted with her. Kunti told him that Pandu was a mortal, and those five were gods whose “kalaas (attributes)” got embodied in him – kointaae boile pandu atanti manushya / deba kalaae hin se sabu sharire prabesha (Kunti said that Pandu was a human being / it was the attributes of the (that is, those specific) gods that had entered his body). “My son”, said Kunti,” what Duryodhana is saying is good. Do not twist his words and extract a dark meaning.” Bhima was pacified.

Duryodhana continued to address the Pandavas in that offending manner. His brothers would jeer at them. Their mother had violated the code and her sons were the carriers of her failing. One day Bhima found it unbearable. It would be better to die than put up with such insult, he thought. That day, he returned quietly from the court with his brothers, entered his room and closed the door from inside. He did not have his bath and did not take his food. Kunti was worried. Her food-crazy, hungry child had not eaten. It would not be long before the sun would set. She pleaded with him to come out and eat. But Bhima would not respond. He didn’t respond to the requests of his younger brothers. Then came Yudhisthira. “Who are you so angry with? You love to eat. Why are you starving yourself and punishing your body so much?”, he asked him. The sun would soon set and taking food after sunset would harm the body, he told him. Bhima said nothing. The sun set.

No one in the family had eaten anything. No one knew what had troubled Bhima so much. Yudhisthira looked at Arjuna. Arjuna invoked Krishna. And Krishna arrived and paid due respects to Yudhisthira.

Yudhisthira was troubled in the extreme and he narrated to him the story of their sufferings from their birth. Now Bhima’s inexplicable doing had added to the family’s misery, he told Krishna. Krishna asked Bhima to open the door and tell him what had pained him. Bhima didn’t open the door but responded to his call. He poured out to him all the agony he had gone through. He told him how, day after day, he had been humiliated in the Hastinapura court. For his elder brother, that blind man was like the Lord of Kashi and he would not take food before paying his respects to him. In response, the vicious old man would ask them to go to the Kuru court where his eldest son would insult them and his brothers would join him in that wicked act. And the shameless Yudhisthira would tolerate that. Had he asked him – just once - to punish the Kaurava brothers, he would have killed them all. Yudhisthira was not just a disgrace to the Kshatriya community, he was a sinner, he told Krishna. He had decided to end his life, Bhima told him. “Let me not be deprived of your mercy, O Merciful Lord”, he said to him.

“Open the door and I will tell you what to do”, said the avatara to him. Bhima opened the door and Krishna and he met. There was no one else with them. Krishna told him that he must expose Duryodhana in the court. But he didn’t know any secret about Duryodhana, Bhima told him. Next time, said Krishna, when the eldest Kaurava would ask him to take his seat, calling him Pavana’s son, he should just say, “aaho golakaputra mu basuachi (O the son of Golaka, I am sitting”). Duryodhana would feel terribly humiliated, the Supreme Destroyer of conceit and arrogance assured Bhima and disappeared.

Very excited and buoyant, Bhima had his bath. It was already night but that did not deter him from having his food. In fact, that night he ate more than usual. And ever since Krishna left, he had kept muttering “golakaputra, golakaputra”. Everyone in the family was asleep, but he was awake, fighting sleep for fear of forgetting that magic word. However, his best efforts were not enough; at pre-dawn, he fell asleep.

When he woke up, he realized that he had lost that word. He went almost crazy, groping for the word here and there in the room as though it was some tiny material object. It suddenly occurred to him to ask Sahadeva. He was believed to be the knower of the past and the future. Sahadeva told him that Krishna had said ‘golakaputra”. Bhima was ecstatic.

He soon got ready to go to the court. That morning he hurried Yudhisthira. “Let us go and pay our respects to our venerable Lord of Kashi”, he taunted Yudhisthira. As they were going to Hastinapura, Bhima was muttering the magic word. Yudhisthira heard him muttering something he didn’t understand. Feeling uneasy, he asked Bhima what he was repeating with such concentration. It appeared sinister to him, he said. He, for whom the Kaurava brothers were as dear to him as his own brothers, feared that his wicked brother was devising yet another means for creating hostility among them.

That morning Bhima was in real hurry. He was walking way ahead of his brothers, unlike on other days. At times, he would stop and look back. Earlier, Yudhisthira would walk first, then Arjuna, then Nakula, then Sahadeva and Bhima would be the last. Yudhisthira asked him why he was walking ahead and walking so fast. “If it displeases you”, said Bhima, “I will be the last as usual.” That indeed was what he had wanted.

What happened in the Kaurava court that morning has been narrated in the foregoing post.

Let us turn our thoughts to the mothers: Gandhari and Kunti. There will not be a better time than now to reflect on them with pride and joy. They both wanted their children to live together in harmony and sharply upbraided their sons whose ways threatened their children’s togetherness and cordiality. Many sufferings after, came a day when Kunti brayed for the blood of the Kaurava brothers and later, Gandhari became thirsty for Yudhisthira’s. From one point of view, this painful journey of the two mothers captures the terrible tragedy of Mahabharata, be it Vyasa’s version, be it Sarala’s. 

Monday, April 10, 2017


(aho golakaputra mu basuchi) said Bhima to Duryodhana as the latter invited him to take his seat in the Kuru court, saying, “take your seat, O son of Pavana (pabanaputra basa)”. The family elders, Bhishma and Bhurishrava, clapped and laughed loudly. ‘How on earth, did you get to know of this secret?”, they asked Bhima, not expecting an answer and not receiving one. Duryodhana was stung by all these. Before anyone could make sense of what had happened, Duryodhana left the court.  

He entered a room in the palace and closed the door from inside. When the time came for food, the royal cooks looked for him. When they traced him, they entreated him to have his food. But he wouldn’t open the door. Then came Sanjaya and Vidura. They failed to persuade him to open the door. Soon came the venerable elders: Bhishma and Bhurishrava. “What troubles you?”, they asked. “There is a time for food”, they told him; “once the sun sets, having food was prohibited”. So he must come out and dine. Duryodhana was unmoved. His father came. What on earth could he, the lord of the land, want and would not get, asked Dhritarashtra. Then arrived the great Karna, his close friend. “Why are you so upset”, he asked him. Duryodhana said nothing to anyone.

Finally came mother: Gandhari. “You are the one favoured by fortune. You are the lord of the kingdom. You have the authority and the power to destroy anyone who offends you. Then why are you so very upset?”, she asked him. Sleeping on an improper bed brought misfortune, she told him; a bed of grass was not worthy of a kshatriya, certainly not of a kshatriya as powerful and noble as he, she said. Therefore he must abandon it forthwith, she told her son.

Duryodhana responded to his mother’s words. Bhima had insulted him in the court that morning, calling him “golakaputra”, he told her. Bhishma and Bhurishrava had laughed. He had felt very hurt and humiliated. She, the daughter of king Gandharasena, was his mother and Dhritarashtra was his father. Then what was his being golakaputra about, he virtually demanded of her.

Gandhari scolded her son. She told him bluntly that what had happened was all due to his folly and wickedness and he was now reaping what he had sown. Yudhisthira was his elder brother and instead of showing him due respect, he tried to hurt him by addressing him, day after day, as the “son of Dharma”, while asking him to take his seat in the court. Were those five not his own, whom he humiliated every day in the court addressing them as the “son of Dharma”, the “son of Pavana’, etc., she asked him. Dhritarashtra and Pandu were brothers; and whatever was the weakness of one was the weakness of the other. He should have known that whatever would be embarrassing to Yudhisthira would be embarrassing to him too; whatever would shame Yudhisthira would shame him too.

As for golakaputra, she told him that she would tell him everything, but he must first have his food. Duryodhana told her that she must first tell him about that dark, shameful secret encapsulated in that word and only then would he have his meal. Gandhari then began the story.

She was born on the moonless day in the month of Jyestha during the ascendancy of the nakshatra called “Krutika”. That was a very inauspicious time for a girl to be born. Such a girl was called “Uansi” and she being an uansi”, no one dared to marry her for fear of death. Her father tried to arrange her marriage but the prince would die even as the engagement took place. Twenty-two times had her father tried to arrange her marriage and twenty-two princes had died. Then her father sought sage Vyasa’s help.

The celebrated sage advised king Gandharasena to marry her to a golaka (commonly known as “sahada”) tree. There was a big golaka tree in the palace itself. The sage dressed the tree as a bridegroom. He himself conducted the wedding. The ceremony was performed in utmost secrecy. He tied the bride’s hand to a branch of that tree. The king performed the necessary rituals as the bride’s father. As soon as the wedding took place, the huge tree died.

Gandhari told her son how, then, Vyasa arranged her marriage with Dhritarashtra, who was also born in an inauspicious moment. One hundred and eight princesses had died after engagement with him. No father was willing to marry his daughter to him. It was a very embarrassing situation for the great Kuru family but they could do nothing. At the behest of the venerable sage, Dhritarashtra came to Gandhara and the sage himself performed her marriage with him, said Gandhari. The computational linguist and scholar, brahmachari Vineet Chaitanya, asks what the poet Sarala says about why Gandhari did not die. Sarala says nothing but, keeping in view the spirit of the narrative, one can surmise that a sage like Vyasa, with such great spiritual attainment had the yogic power to neutralize the effect of malignant constellations. Later the sage played a significant role in Dhritarashtra’s having a hundred sons whereas Gandhari and he were destined to have just one daughter.  

The circumstances of her marriage were a secret in the Kuru family. Outside the family, only Vasudeva knew, Gandhari told Duryodhana. The poet does not tell us how Krishna knew. But the reader of course knows how - in Sarala Mahabharata nothing happened without Krishna’s knowledge. He didn’t have to be told. Because he was the doer of all that was done. Unaware of this, others deluded themselves to be doers. And Krishna would sometimes help them nourish such illusions about themselves. Such was his lila.

To return to Gandhari and Duryodhana. Gandhari told him that it was only his misdemeanour that let that secret of the family out. Duryodhana was dismayed. He was extremely sad. Not because of the attitude of his mother. Not because of her blaming him for what had come to pass. What was killing him was his knowing that what Bhima had said was true and that henceforth in the court, day after day, he would taunt him calling him golakaputra. He wondered how he knew. But he was not the kind to trouble himself at that traumatic moment of self-discovery about discovering the source of Bhima’s information!

All the bitterness, frustration and anger of Duryodhana now found a target in his maternal grandfather, king Gandharasena. How could that wretched person dare to marry her to his father, he shouted at his mother. “If you were born so unlucky, why didn’t you stay in your father’s house and die there?’, he said to her. He knew that there was nothing he could do now to undo what had happened. He calmed himself, quietly left the place, bathed and performed the daily rituals.

When they returned from the court that day, Yudhisthira chided Bhima. What he had done was unethical, he told him. Why did he call Duryodhana golakaputra, he asked him. Bhima said that he had done no wrong. Duryodhana had been taunting them every day and his brothers were mocking at them, as he named their different fathers. They had to swallow that humiliation day after day. The son of Dharma was unmoved. His father’s name was Dhritarashtra and his mother’s, Gandhari. Knowing this, why did he call him the son of golaka, he asked gain. All Bhima said was that if that were indeed the case, then why was Duryodhana so upset?

His words left Yudhisthira stunned.