Sunday, January 17, 2016


What is Sarala’s take on this, Mr. Sudeep Kanwal asks. Before answering this question, we should like to observe that in the context of Sarala Mahabharata this question translates itself into “Did Arjuna use celestial arrows after the Kurukshetra War?” because in this narrative it is Krishna, not Arjuna, who fought Aswasthama in the episode we have in mind. The latter’s brahmastra killed Uttara’s child in her womb. The child born dead was restored to life by Krishna. For more details, would you please see “The End of Aswasthama’s Story” in this blog?

As Mr. Kanwal says, Arjuna fought many times after the Great War in Vyasa Mahabharata. He had to, because King Yudhisthira had decided to perform aswamedha jajna.  In Sarala’s retelling Arjuna fought many battles too. But not all were related to aswamedha jajna. And sometimes he did use celestial arrows; in the terrible fight against the demon Kadambasura, which had no connection with the jajna, he used the infallible divine arrow pasupata, which he had got from Bhagawan Shiva. This arrow was ineffective against the demon, but that’s a story I will tell some other day. 

In Sarala Mahabharata too Arjuna was in charge of the jajna horse for the aswamedha jajna. Ignoring details, the king of Jenabali, the young Babrubahana, would not release the sacred horse. So Arjuna had to fight against with him. In that encounter Arjuna used pasupata astra to destroy his mighty army. He then used the infallible narayanastra (the arrow of Narayana) against the young king and Babrubahana used brahmastra to counter it. Arjuna’s arrow killed Babrubahana and Babrubahana’s killed Arjuna. The sage Vyasa at Hastinapura learnt about what had happened from the all-knowing Sahadeva and by his yogic powers he travelled a long distance in no time and reached the battlefield. He knew the mritasanjeevani (a mantra that could bring life to the dead) mantra and revived them by using this life-restoring mantra. Incidentally, this episode does not bring in Krishna. More of this story, some other day. 

When the avatara left his mortal body, a deeply disappointed, agitated and confused Arjuna fought furiously with the forest dweller, a deeply troubled and much devastated Jara, who had shot that fatal arrow at Krishna’s foot unknowingly. He used the infallible divine arrows babalastra and manavedi against Jara. Jara had countered them with celestial weapons. The Creator god, Brahma, had to intervene and stop that pointless fight. Let’s keep the rest of the story for another post. 

With Krishna’s leaving for his celestial abode, Arjuna lost the Vaishnavic power. He was no more the same warrior. But he was Indra’s son and Drona’s pupil. The power and knowledge that remained with him was sufficient to tie up Yama’s messengers and then the god of death himself at the time of Suhani’s wedding with Yudhisthira. The celestial arrows that he used then were kala phasa and manavedi . This story occurs in the post “Suhani” in this blog. 

Thus at least on these four occasions Arjuna had used celestial weapons. But in the narrative of these engagements excitement is missing. After the Kurukshetra War, no fight is memorable. From one point of view, the divyastras (divine weapons) become totally ineffective in a rather fundamental sense: they fail to bring intensity and thrill to the narrative.

Monday, January 4, 2016


Recently a friend who had been kind enough to go through many pieces in this blog asked me how the Pandavas came to live in Indraprastha in Sarala Mahabharata. In Sarala’s retelling the kingdom of Hastinapura was never divided and Yudhisthira was not the king of Indraprastha when he lost the game of dice. Along with Kunti, the Pandavas came, in this narrative, to live in Indraprastha because king Dhritarastra asked them to do so. 

After Pandu’s death, Dhritarastra insisted that Kunti and her and Madri’s children, the five who later came to be known as “Pandavas” because together they had killed the asura named “Pandava”, return to Hastinapura and live in the palace of the Kurus. Thus the Pandavas and the Kauravas grew up together. But the relationship between them was not cordial. Bhima was exceptionally strong and mischievous. He generally disliked the Kauravas and sometimes as they played, they quarrelled and fought, which was natural for them at that age. Bhima would then bash up some Kaurava cousins badly on such occasions and they were very scared of him. Now, one can hardly fear anyone so much without hating him.  Thus the Kauravas hated him and Dussasana hated him intensely. Karna and Arjuna had a tense relationship and Duryodhana disliked Yudhisthira. Grandfather Bhishma insisted that they play together, hoping surely that this would generate mutual good will among them. Karna and Aswasthama, who had studied with them under guru Drona, would join them at play. 

One day they decided to play jhimini, which could be an ancestral version of the modern kabaddi. As he was chasing Yudhisthira in the game, Dussasana hit Yudhisthira and blood flowed out of his nose. It isn’t clear in the text whether he hurt him out of malice or it just happened by accident. A mere push of his could severely hurt a person like Yudhisthira; after all, hadn’t he been blessed, when he was a baby, by the great sage Durvasa that his body have the strength and the power of a hundred lions. Incidentally, immediately after, the sage pronounced a terrible curse on him, but we will tell this story later. 

Now Bhima was greatly agitated seeing Yudhisthira’s condition. He chased Dussasana and hit him on his chest and Dussasana fell unconscious. Then he chased each of the Kaurava brothers and hit them all and they too fell unconscious. Karna and Aswasthama suffered the same fate. Listen O Vaibasuta Manu, said the sage Agasti, who was narrating to him the story of Mahabharata, it is this event that strongly bound the Pandavas and the Kauravas with unqualified hatred and enmity. 

His minister Sanjaya told the king Dritarashtra what had happened in the game.  Bhishma and Sanjaya soon went to the play ground and revived the still unconscious Kauravas and their friends. 

Dhritarashtra felt helpless and miserable and was extremely worried. He was deeply concerned about the safety and the life of his sons. The fear that one day Bhima could kill them all troubled him greatly. He had no human to turn to. He invoked Bhagawan Balaram. He responded to his prayer and arrived at Hastinapura. Dhritarashtra was in tears as he poured out his grief to Balarama. Balarama smiled. Do not worry, said Balaram, such things happen at play. To reassure him, he placed his hand on his sons’ heads and told him not to fear for his children. He would protect them. Duryodhana was his pupil and he would be able to kill the Pandava brothers and become the king, he told Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra felt reassured. Balaram, who hardly had any interest in people or things that did not directly relate to him or concern him in some way, did not know that Arjuna was very dear to his dearest brother. 

Now the brother, the One who is everywhere knows what is happening where, would want to know about things from others. That is his leela. The same night he arrived at the mountainous Indraprastha and wished for Arjuna to meet him there. Arjuna arrived and prostrated himself at his feet again and again. He told him about all that had happened and what all Balarama had told Dhritarashtra. Krishna told him to be very careful. He said that Dhritarashtra was using Balaram to execute his evil designs against them; therefore they must not trust Dhritarashtra and also Karna, Aswasthama, Shalya and Duryodhana. Arjuna was unfazed; if he, Krishna, was concerned about them, what harm could a lakh Balarams cause them, he told the purna avatara (the fullest avataric manifestation of Narayana).

Krishna was pleased with his confidence but at the same time he repeated that the Pandavas should be very alert at all times, whether awake or asleep. The enemy could take advantage of even some slight carelessness on their part to harm them. He told him that he must inform his brothers of their delicate situation and stay away from the Kauravas. Saying this, Krishna left. 

When Arjuna told Yudhisthira what Krishna had told him, he was unimpressed. There was of course nothing that Krishna wouldn’t know, he said, but why should the Pandavas have fear from Dhritarashtra? Why must Dhritarashtra think of harming them, he told Arjuna, when they were devoted to him? Why suspect that he bore them ill will? The son of Dharma, who bore no ill will towards anyone and had no enemies, would not imagine that others could be different. Thus he very mildly chided Arjuna, saying that the one who nurses suspicion is the one who nurses sin in his heart. Remain steadfast in dharma, he advised Arjuna, because dharma saves one from sins.

As the virtuous and unsuspecting Yudhisthira was talking dharma to Arjuna, Dhritarashtra was telling his minister Sanjaya about his fears about Bhima. Once you start differentiating between the Kuru princes, Sanjaya told him, how would you live with those who you distrust? So the right thing to do would be to relocate the Pandavas elsewhere, he said. Dhritarashtra found it a reasonable proposal, so one night he called his brother and minister Vidura to his palace to consult him in this regard. Children would do things like this when they play, said Vidura, so he should not be worried on that account. With their father Pandu dead, he, Dhritarashtra was like their father. How could he think of sending them away, he asked him. But so long as Bhima was alive, his own sons were unsafe, the old king told Vidura, so it would be injudicious, he said, to encourage the Pandavas and the Kauravas staying together.  If this is how he thought and if he was differentiating between the princes, then, said Vidura, it would be better to relocate the Pandavas elsewhere. Dhritarashtra was happy and he got a house built in the mountainous Indraprastha that was on the outskirts of Hastinapura. 

Soon after, one day, as Yudhisthira, Bhima and Arjuna were paying respects to him, Dhritarashtra told the eldest Pandava that he and his brothers should live in Indraprastha. Your brother Bhima is wicked, he said. There was always conflict between Duryodhana and Bhima and Duryodhana always found Bhima’s boastful words insulting and intolerable. Things might go so bad that someday a situation might emerge when the Kaurava brothers might get together and even kill him. If he wanted him and his brothers to live in Indraprastha, he would happily obey his command, said Yudhisthira.

Kunti was sad. She blamed Bhishma for her situation. She had happily adjusted to life in the forest around the Satasringa mountains. Trusting Bhishma’s words she had come to live in the Hastinapur palace. Now she had to relocate again.  She left for Indraprastha with the children. There one day she scolded Bhima for being so wicked. Dhritarashtra had been so kind to them, and he had spoiled everything, she told him. Bhima did not say anything. He certainly didn’t regret anything.

Unlike in the canonical version, in Sarala’s, it was Krishna who was the first to tell Arjuna that the Pandavas should stay separately from the Kauravas. His had been the voice of destiny. The Pandavas did not follow his advice but things turned out that way. But was Krishna really worried about the safety of the Pandavas? Was he uneasy about Balaram? What can one say? Only Krishna knows about Krishna!