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At the Feet of The Mother

Reflections on the Mahabharata 7: The Old and the New Dharma

Bhishma the fierce stands as the very noblest and best of the old world. He is dutiful and virtuous and mighty. His virtues and might were at the service of the clan. To protect the clan was his dharma. That was the highest collective unit of the times. But Sri Krishna had come to break the clan system and establish instead a larger nation unit. Bhishma with all his wisdom and virtue and might stood on the wrong side of history. He had to go and towards this end destiny had already provided a big chink in his armour. He carries a blemish from the past. He once forcibly takes away the three daughters of the king of Kashi to get his co-brothers married so that the clan could continue. This opens the doors to his nemesis. In this story as in quite a few others we see also the complex workings of destiny. Bhishma and Karna silently watched the disrobing of Draupadi, an act heinous for a Kshatriya.  Whatever their justification may have been, they had fixed their destiny at that very moment as also others like Dronacharya and Dhritrashtra. Strangely, while they win the immediate game of dice, by this very act the dice of destiny is loaded heavily against them. The time comes and destiny brings out its destined cards and Bhishma and Drona and Karna all fall helplessly on the field of Kuruskhetra. People often start debating about the fairness of the means that Pandavas used. Well it is a war where the balance of justice must prevail. It is not a competition about who fought the war fairly when the war itself was unfairly thrust upon the Pandavas. The rules of the game were already altered with the killing of Abhimanyu, and the end was just a matter of time.

Abhimanyu is of course a rare jewel of the Mahabharata. His life typifies the difference between courage and valour. Capacities are inborn, skills can be developed, courage can be imbibed but the birthplace of valour is in the soul of man. Abhimanyu defies death, then embraces it and becomes immortal in history. Men would later swear by his courage and valour. His life shows us the distinction between true glory, kirti, and mere name and fame, yash. Men like Duryodhana pursue their blind ambition. They have earned name and fame for their outer position, wealth and also strength and might. But they are weak in their soul power. Abhimanyu is endowed with soul-power and that is why he fights as if death does not exist. This is true valour and in his life we see one of the highest Kshatriya type. No wonder that it is his seed, Parikshit, who must eventually inherit the great kingdom. The stress in the Mahabharata is on the heroic soul since Dwapara was the age of heroism everywhere, in Greece and in Egypt and India where the clash of forces were taking place at the vital level.

There are of course, many other interesting characters as if a whole range of humanity is at display, all shades and varieties of human possibilities are there in the Mahabharata. There is the infamous Dhritrashtra, blind physically but also psychologically. His charioteer Sanjay, who is blessed with a subtle vision can be seen symbolically. But it is also true that the power of subtle vision exists and Sanjay has been blessed with it. But this blessing is more of a curse for the king who must now not only hear but see through Sanjay all the gory details of his children’s death one by one. It is as if the Divine Wisdom wants him to know what fate befalls a man who stays with adharma despite knowing what is the right thing to do. He is by far the most unfortunate character but a misfortune of his own making. Then his wife Gandhari, who chooses to blindfold herself sharing her husband’s pain, instead of keeping her eyes open and guide him on the path of dharma. No wonder they pass on their shadows to the one hundred children. Of course Vikarna and the hundredth one Kaurava, Yuyutsu, child of Dhritrashtra and a maid turns out to be the only jewel in the entire clan. It is Yuyutsu who later looks after the kingdom and also his parents proving the point that a high position does not necessarily maketh a high human being. We see this point stressed again and again in the Mahabharata. Vyasa the sage, the author of the great epic which is also incidentally the longest epic in any language is a multifaceted genius who can be termed as an illegitimate offspring (in modern language) born of a sage and fisherwoman whose destiny changes with this strange betrothal. Satyavati will go on to become the empress of one of the greatest kingdoms of all times. Vidura, again the son of a dasi, maid turns out to be another jewel in the Kuru clan. We see this point reiterated again when son of Bhima the mighty born of a Rakshasi tribal woman turns out to be another strong and valiant character whose sacrifice is one of the least sung, yet among the most glorious of all. There are many other characters and stories interwoven in the epic such as that of Aswatthama whose immortality itself is a curse or of Eklavya which lays emphasis on “adhikara bheda”, an ill understood concept in modern times where everything is freely available to all. The world is only beginning to realise its consequences with the quick transfer of dangerous technology falling in the hands of the unchaste. Eklavya did finally join the rank of Duryodhana though, ideally he should have stood up against Dronacharya! But the most fascinating story that we find is the story of Draupadi who also occupies quite a centre-stage in the Mahabharata.

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There is nothing sentimental in the true weeping that comes from the soul. All that you feel now is the blossoming of the psychic being in you and the growth of a real bhakti.