Saturday, May 28, 2016


Chitravirya and Vichitravirya were the sage-king Shantanu’s sons, but they were not born out of the womb of any woman. They were born of pictures of women. They were cursed by Ganga, Shantanu’s wife, for no fault of theirs. This is their sad story:

Ganga knew that she had married the wrong person in Shantanu and not Shiva, the god of the gods she had been waiting for, for years. She had to free herself from her marriage. She worked out a plan for it almost when the wedding rituals were going on. She extracted a promise from Shantanu that no matter what she did, however sinful or unacceptable her doings might be, he must never get angry with her. He must never deny her, must never rebuke her and must not speak to her rudely or even impolitely. The moment he broke his promise, she would leave him, she warned the king. She made Shantanu’s life utterly miserable in many ways, hoping that in an angry moment he would break his promise deliberately or accidentally and be hurtful to her in action or word.  At that very moment she would leave him. She hoped that that blessed moment would come for her soon.  Ganga’s story as Shantanu’s wife is narrated in some detail in the post “Ganga” posted in this blog on May 6, 2008. 

She would force him to have sex with her and would deny him when he desired it, craved for it. One day he was so aroused that when she refused him union, in desperation he experienced sex with the portrait of a beautiful woman hanging on a wall. From that union a baby was born right then and the happy father named him Chitravirya because he was born of a chitra, a portrait. Terribly scared that Ganga might harm the baby, he left him in the care of sage Pareshwara (more known as Parashara) and his wife Satyavati. Incidentally Satyavati was never Shantanu’s wife. Her story is in this blog, posted on May 22, 08.

Ganga conceived and gave birth to their first son. Overwhelmed with joy, Shantanu entered her private chamber to see his son. Right in front of him Ganga cut the baby into two pieces. Terribly shocked, Santanu uttered “Narayana”, “Narayana”, as he came out of the room.

He was very upset with Ganga but he controlled himself. If her baby did not matter to the mother, who had undergone pregnancy and child birth, he must not lose his calm, he consoled himself. One day after this incident, Ganga denied Shantanu once again when he was very much excited.  Very rudely she pushed him out. The poor husband experienced union with the picture of a beautiful woman and as earlier, a baby was born. Shantanu named him “Vichitravirya”. Fearing Ganga he again clandestinely took the baby to Pareshwara and Satyavati and left him under their care and protection. They looked after both Chitravirya and Vichitravirya.

On an auspicious day, Shantanu and Ganga went to the sea near Chandrabhaga for a ritual bath and sage Pareshwara and Satyavati went there too for the same reason. Neither knew about the other’s visit. Their destiny brought them together. They both were having their holy bath at the same time and in close proximity to each other. The children saw their father and came running towards him, saying “father”, “father” and prostrated at his feet. Shantanu was scared. Ganga was there standing next to him. She asked him whether they were his children, they looked so very much like him, she said. Afraid that she might do the same as she had done to their eldest born, Shantanu said no. Who could he get a child from, he replied, since she was his only wife? But Ganga was no ordinary woman, she knew what all had happened and what all would happen. Wild at Shantanu for his lie, she cursed the children, who he had hidden from her, that they would die issue-less. In the belief system articulated in Sarala Mahabharata, dying issue-less would arrest one’s progress in the higher worlds. Sage Pareshwara and Satyavati took the little ones away from Ganga’s angry presence. The innocent children had to pay for their father’s karma (doing). In Sarala Mahabharata, there are those who suffered or gained in their present life because of their karma in some earlier existence. This takes away agency from the one who curses or blesses and renders one a mere nimitta or instrument of destiny.  Sarala Mahabharata does not relate the curses on the two children to any karma of theirs in their previous birth. Thus it leaves Ganga unredeemed. 

Immediately after the birth of their last child, Ganga left Shantanu. Shantanu named the baby Bhishma. He lived with his three sons. Satyavati came to live with them. When their children reached their marriageable age, sage Pareshwara’s son, sage Vyasa, was married to the beautiful Padmavati, the daughter of Bharadwadasa. Now King Padmanabha, the ruler of Padmadala, who was a great devotee of Narayana, had four beautiful, well bred daughters: Amba, Ambika, Ambalika and Ambilika. Ambika chose to marry Chitravirya. At the auspicious moment, Shantanu and brothers Pareshwara and Bhurishrava accompanied the bridegroom when he left for Padmadala for the wedding.  Not one, but two weddings took place there: Chitravirya married Ambika and Vichitravirya married Ambalika. Later, arrangements were made for the marriage of Bhishma with Amba, but it did not take place. That’s a story we will tell some other time. 

After their wedding, there isn’t much to tell about the unfortunate Chitravirya and Vichitravirya. They performed jajnas, gave ritual gifts, etc. for a child. But goddess Ganga’s curse could not be undone. Then they fell victim to a deadly form of leprosy. No treatment was of any help. Chitravirya died of it. In order to absolve himself from the sin of being issueless, Vichitravirya went to Prayag tirtha (place of pilgrimage) and sacrificed himself at the sacred Triveni, where the three rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati meet.  

Monday, May 9, 2016


The Pandavas and mother Kunti had only just escaped the huge fire in the laksha griha (wax palace). They were standing on the bank of the river Suranadi which was in full spate. It had rained heavily that night and the sky was overcast and it was dark. Uncle Vidura had told them that they must go to the other side of the river where they would be safe. For some time they must live in disguise so that Duryodhana would remain under the impression that they were all dead. They knew that Vidura had made arrangements for their crossing the river.

The boatman Kandeia met them. He told them that Vidura had instructed him to ferry them across the river. The Pandavas and Kunti stepped into the boat. After they had covered just a little distance, the boat became unsteady. It was unable to carry so much load – six persons, one of whom, Bhima, was very heavy and his two huge maces were very heavy too. Sahadeva suggested that the maces be thrown into the river. They could collect them from the bottom of the river at the time of their return. Bhima threw his maces into the water. The impact was so great that the crocodile asura (demon), Jalaprava, was greatly startled. The mighty demon emerged from the water and thundered “give!”, “give”! Yudhisthira asked the boatman about the monstrous creature and his demand. He is an asura in the body of a crocodile, he told him. Whenever he saw a boat with people on board, he would demand his food in the form of a human. One had to be sacrificed, or else he would sink the boat and eat up everyone. The boatman said that one person on the boat had to be given to the asura. There was just no escape, he said.

Who could be given to the asura, asked Yudhisthira to Bhima. Bhima readily named Sahadeva. He was the youngest, was good for nothing and was of no real use. Yudhisthira did not agree. Name someone else, Yudhisthira said. Then it should be Nakula, he said. Too concerned with his appearance and too comfort-loving, he would be a problem during their years in the forest.  But Yudhisthira would not agree. Nakuala was his step mother’s son and his mother was dead. He deserved protection, and there was no question of giving him up to the demon, said the son of Dharma. In that case, let the demon have Arjuna, said Bhima. Too kind-hearted and considerate towards the enemy, he would be a real nuisance during a war.  Yudhisthira disagreed. He was dear to Krishna; besides, Guru Drona had told him that he should take care special of Arjuna because he was invincible and because of him much good would come to the Pandavas, said Yudhisthira.

Bhima was clear in his mind. He was not going to be the food for the demon. He told his elder brother that he knew it very well that he himself wouldn’t go into the water and also that he would expect him to do so. But he made it clear to him that even if he asked him to jump into the waters for the asura, he wasn’t going to obey him. 

Bhima came up with yet another suggestion to solve the problem. The best choice would really be mother Kunti, he told the eldest Pandava. She had lived her life and was old now. In the forest, things would be difficult and life would be very hard and at her age she wouldn’t be able to cope with the many privations of forest life. In view of these, would Yudhisthira consider giving up mother Kunti, he asked the eldest Pandava. Yudhisthira was very upset. He sharply reprimanded Bhima. Such a wicked idea occurred to him because he was wicked, he told him.

Scolding from Yudhisthira was not new; he had received such harsh scolding from him many times earlier. So nonplussed, he came up with yet another suggestion. The boatman Kandeiar was outside their family. They were not going to be troubled in case Yudhisthira chose to sacrifice him, he told his brother. This time Yudhisthira did not scold Bhima. His words had silenced him. After a while he gave him a very sad smile. You have no moral sense, he told him. If you had even an iota of it, you wouldn’t have thought of having someone killed who was their benefactor.

Yudhishthira turned to his mother. Which of your three sons would you choose to give the asura, he asked her. Kunti’s reply was immediate. She named Bhima. Because of him, they had lost Dhritarashtra’s affection, she said. He would eat a lot but could not be asked to beg because of his proneness to anger. Not everyone would give alms. Now if someone refused to give him alms, then one would never know what he would do. He might ravage that house and harm the members of that household. It would be the best to get rid of him. Bhima must be given to Jalaprava, she said. 

Bhima appears to have felt hurt at his mother’s words although such harsh language from her was nothing new for hm.  I know your mind, he said and jumped into the water.  Jalaprava swallowed him up in one gulp. In comparison with the enormous asura Bhima was like an insect. Completely unhurt, he landed in the asura’s stomach. 

There was no more problem for the passengers. They safely landed on the bank.  Thinking of their dear brother Bhima, Yudhisthira and his brothers broke into tears. They were utterly miserable. Kunti consoled them and asked them to enter the forest. The night would soon end and they would then run the risk of being found out if they did not leave the river bank right then. One must not wait for the one who is lost, she told them. How cruel you are mother, said Yudhisthira. His eyes were tearful and heart heavy with grief. She held his hand and saying “Nrusingha”, “Nrusingha”, she lead them into the forest. 

Bhima sensed that they left without waiting for him and got very angry. In an instance tore open the asura’s body and emerged from it, saying “Jagannatha”, “Jagannatha”. As he was nearing the bank, he saw the boatman Kandeia, who was returning. He remembered that when his mother and elder brother were talking about giving him up to the demon, Kandeia supported them. This made him angry and he gave him one big slap and killed him. Then he broke the boat into pieces. Incidentally, the alleged complicity of Kandeia was completely without a basis because neither had anyone sought the boatman’s opinion nor did he volunteer it. Bhima took out his anger with his mother and elder brother on the poor, helpless boatman. 

The saddest and morally the most disturbing part of the boatman’s story is that he disappeared from the narrative. There is no reference to his entirely condemnable killing in Sarala Mahabharata

One wonders whether the narrative needed this killing. One thing is clear: with this death there remained no evidence of the Pandavas’ escape into the forest. Those who knew, knew.  Krishna, Sakuni, Sanjaya and Vidura, who did, would tell no one. But perhaps the boatman could not be trusted. He was a forest dweller, whose loyalty Vidura had bought with valuables. It wasn’t unimaginable that Duryodhana might have bought him with even more valuables! After all, neither Vidura nor Duryodhana meant anything to him in personal terms.

Let us return to the Pandavas. Suddenly they heard urgent, huge steps behind them. Yudhisthira was scared. Probably a demon had spotted them and was following them. He would soon catch up with them and kill them all. Kunti was completely composed. Have no worry, she told her son, it was his brother Bhima who was coming to join them after killing Jalaprava. It was Bhima’s mother who knew his power and potential, as goes the Odia saying.

Soon Bhima arrived and prostrated himself at his mother’s feet. Yudhisthira hugged him most affectionately. They had seen the crocodile asura swallowing him. How did he come out, he asked him. Bhima’s answer was matter of fact and brief: he had torn open his body from inside and come out. He had things to do: attend to his mother and brothers who were all tired and were finding it difficult to walk. Soon there would be dawn.

Akshi Trutiya
(Akshaya Tritiya)  


When Karna was born, he carried on his body his father Sun god’s blessings in the form of armour and a pair of earrings. They protected him from harm. No arrow could break the armour and pierce into his body. No sword or mace could do so either. Not just ordinary arrows and weapons, the divine ones as well. He was safe. Everyone knew this. His enemies knew it very well that he had to be dispossessed of his divine protection if he had to be killed. But then this obviously could never be done by force. It could be done only by his consent. But why would he consent to lose his protection?

May be obtaining his consent was beyond the ability of the mortals, but perhaps gods might succeed where mortal fail. Arjuna must have thought so when he sought god Indra’s help. The king of gods was his biological father – this he knew as did everyone else in the celebrated narrative. Thus when he was leaving the abode of the gods to return to the mortal world to join his brothers and Draupadi, who were serving their term of exile in the forest, Indra wanted him to ask him for a boon. All he wanted as boon, said Arjuna, was for Karna to be dispossessed of his divine protection. While Arjuna knew that this was necessary for Karna to be killed, he also knew, as did everyone else in Sarala Mahabharata, namely that he, not Yudhisthira, was his eldest brother. But what meaning can relationships have for those who seek victory and glory?

Soon after Arjuna’s return, one day Krishna visited them all. Arjuna told Krishna about his time in gods’ loka, about Urvashi’s curse and her assurance that at the right time it would prove to be a blessing for him and then about what he had sought from Indra. Who all were there at that time, asked Krishna. All the gods were there, he told him; it was in an assembly of gods where it happened. He had committed a grave error, the avatara said; god Surya, who was present there, would surely inform his son about what had transpired between Indra and him and ask him never to part with his divine protection. Therefore the boon of the king of gods would not come about.

Yudhisthira did not think so. Karna was a virtuous person, a great dani (a giver of ritual gifts) and would not disappoint any supplicant, no matter what he asked as dana (ritual gift). Krishna said he would like to test him. He would ask for his son’s life as dana, and if Karna gave him the dana, then he would feel certain that he would not deny Indra his armour and earrings. 

In the form of a brahmin he went to Karna. The dana time was over and Karna was left with nothing. With utmost reverence he appealed to him to stay with him for that day. On the following morning he would get many mounds of gold from goddess Earth and then he would be in a position to offer him a dana. Kanheia Panda, as the brahmin introduced himself to his royal host, agreed. Karna made arrangements for his food. He knew that his guest, being a brahmin, would not eat the food cooked by him, a non-brahmin. He gave him rice, vegetables, fruit, etc., but the guest said that he had no need for vegetarian food and wanted meat. Aghast, Karna asked him where he came from and what was his lineage. He had never heard of meat-eating brahmins, he told him.  Kahneia Panda said that he belonged to a community of brahmins who consumed meat. Karna asked his son, Bishwakasena, to hunt a deer in the nearby forest. That he did but the guest was not pleased. He wanted human meat. Karna was shocked. How could he kill a human for food, Karna asked him. This would be a grievous sin, he told his guest. The guest said he was aware of that, so he wouldn’t ask him to kill just anyone. He wanted him to kill his son Bishwakasena and offer him his meat. Karna was dumbfounded. He decided that he was not going to satisfy his guest. He could rather live with his curse. His guest did not say anything and was leaving. Bishwakasena prostrated himself at his feet and clutching his feet in tearful eyes appealed to him not to leave. As the brahmin consented to stay for the meal, he went to his father and pleaded with him not to break his promise and deviate from dharma. Moha (attachment) must not come in the way of dharma, he told his father. As the father was killing his dear son, the Witness was telling Himself that for Karna, Vaikuntha was the only fit place. 

The father chopped the meat for the brahmin’s meal, but the brahmin would not take the trouble of cooking his food. His community had no compunctions about eating cooked food from non-brahmins, he told Karna. His wife should cook the meat for him, he said. Karna was wondering what a terribly cruel person his guest was. But his dharma would not allow him to utter a word to express the agony he was going through.

So the mother cooked her dear son’s meat. When the dishes arrived and Karna invited his guest to have his meal, the guest said that he would not eat alone. His wife and he must join him – how could he be sure that they hadn’t poisoned his food? With tears flowing down her cheeks, his wife sat down to eat, as her husband did. But the guest would not accept the food. Not you, but your wife had cheated, he told Karna. She didn’t cook the whole body. She didn’t cook the head, the best part of the body. She had hidden it. Now Kanhei Panda wanted her to cook the head but he demanded that they break it and grind it in his presence. He would not trust them to do it out of his sight. So the parents ground the head and prepared dishes out of it. 

Now the guest was prepared to eat. Queen Suktatamaschala, Karna’s wife, was wondering whether their guest was really that demonic or was some divine in disguise who had come to test them. She had heard about how in another yuga (aeon) Narayana had come as a dwarf to king Bali for dana. She told her husband to remain calm.

The guest laid four leaves on the floor. Who was the fourth leave for, asked Karna. It is for Bishwakasena, said the brahmin. How could I eat without him, asked the guest. Thoroughly nonplussed,   Karna asked him how he could join them when they were going to eat his meat. Why was he pretending ignorance, he asked his guest. But the brahmin would not have food without Bishwakasena. He asked Karna’s wife to go out and call her son. When she did, her son came running to her. He was playing with his friends, he told her, and when he heard her calling out his name, he left his play and came rushing to her.

As the mother and the son entered, Karna could not believe his eyes. Bishwakasena’s meat was in front of him and so was Bishwakasena. What was real and what was illusion? He fell at the brahmin’s feet. Who was you, he asked him. The illusion disappeared and the truth was manifest; the brahmin had disappeared and in his place was Narayana Himself. Karna was overwhelmed and prayed to Him. I do not know in which birth I had served you, told Karna to the Supreme god, but in this birth I have done nothing for you. Why then did you give me so much pain, he asked Him. I go for dana to the virtuous among the virtuous alone, said Narayana. And this child of yours is mine from now, Narayana told Karna as He left. 

Surely many must have heard about this dana of danas, but no one talked about it. Only Duryodhana did. Sitting by the dead body of Karna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, he was weeping for his friend and he was recounting his numerous heroic and virtuous deeds. He recounted how his virtuous friend had pleased Krishna – you could never please Narayana with dana or bhakti, no matter how much, Sakuni had warned him once - with his dana and how Krishna had brought his son back to life and had called him the greatest of danis (the givers of dana).