Sunday, April 26, 2009


Story telling is an art which has long evolved since the ancient days. Well, no wonder that epics like Homer’s Iliad, Sage Ved Vyasa’s Mahabharata, and Sage Valmiki’s Ramayana among others find an unparalleled readership. Agreed that these have been extolled to be nearly divine; yet, credit must be given to these authors / poets for composing these epics in the most interesting and even exciting fashion.

But what is it that makes these tales virtually everlasting? What is it, apart from their holiness, which makes them a favourite among all the generations? The prime reason, I believe, behind this is the fact that they are ‘Open to Interpretation(s)’. But what is it that renders them so? Among many attributes, I feel, there are a couple of reasons which work wonders even to this. Not only today, they will be regarded the ultimate recipe to make tales interesting for a long time to come. They are Controversy and Conspiracy. Expected something better, didn't you? But mind you, they have great power – For they can turn a smooth running story upside down! And this is what precisely makes these tales very catchy; and the mythological stories are quite full of those.

So, let us embark on a journey to know about a few such incidents which, according to me, give a new face to the tales we thought we knew so much about. But mind you, no absolute conclusions here; that would be totally left to your taste and perception.

As we’d discussed previously, Surpanakha was a sister of Ravana; the youngest one, in fact. She was at birth christened Meenakshi (whether she had fish like big beautiful eyes is debatable); only to be later titled as Surpanakha, owing to her very sharp nails.

We know of her as one attracted to Lord Rama who attempted to hurt Sita to win over the Lord. Lakshman’s act of punishing her and her eventual provocation of Ravana to abduct Sita and teach Rama a lesson is common knowledge. But as is usually the case, is there more than what meets the eye? Let us attempt to know more about Surpanakha and see whether we can associate any of our 2 Cs with her tale.

Valmiki describes Surpanakha, during the time when she encounters Lord Rama, as a pot bellied and cross eyed Ugly woman with thinning hair and a voice too harsh for the ears. Certain versions, mainly Kamban’s, however describe her as a very beautiful woman with long, beautiful, fish-shaped eyes (validating her birth-name ‘Meenakshi’), a slender shape and a bewitching personality who possessed magical powers. Surpanakha was married to Dushtabuddhi, an Asura. It is said that initially this couple enjoyed high favor with Ravana and were privileged members of his court. But owing to a fall out, due to Dushtabuddhi’s scheming nature, Ravana had him killed, which was a matter of great displeasure to Surpanakha. It is this that instigated Surpanakha to hatch a plan to take revenge upon her Brother. Yes, there is a Conspiracy theory associated with Surpanakha’s true motive in provoking her brother to abduct Sita and wage a war against Lord Rama, who she knew was none other than Lord Vishnu incarnate.

Surpanakha was seeking an opportunity to be the cause of Ravana’s end, when one day she heard of a Prince who had killed both her Grandmother Tataka and Uncle Subahu in the Dandaka forest. After her observations, she was convinced that Lord Rama was more than a match for her brother and was actually Lord Vishnu incarnate. She conspired to pit Ravana against Lord Rama by latching onto Ravana’s weakest point – Women. Surpanakha was confident that her attack on Sita would bring the Princes upon her, thus creating a valid reason for her request to Ravana to take revenge by humiliating Rama by abducting his wife. She knew that Ravana would never let go this opportunity to win the hand, though by force and trickery, of the most beautiful woman (As some sources say, he already had attempted to win her hand in the Swayamvara but was unable to lift the Rudra Bow). The rest of course is common knowledge.

Apart from this theory, there is a controversy over Surpanakha’s treatment by the princes, which is more commonly debated. Why, for instance, did Lakshmana have to teach her a lesson by cutting her nose (Some versions also add the tip of her ear and breast to this)? Why, did Rama ask her to instead propose Lakshmana, whom he knew was also married? Was Surpanakha shunned by the brothers only because she was a Rakshasi and not good looking? The answers to the above range from the obvious to the outrageous. Some of them are:

1. Lord Rama had no mal-intent in asking her to propose to Lakshmana, as he genuinely thought that Lakshmana could have done with a companion during his forest life (Urmila was in a trance at Home).
2. Rama and Lakshmana had seen through her disguise and wanted to play a while. But as the situation got out of hand, Lakshmana was compelled to act out of desperation (Killing her may not have been an option, as she was a woman. This may, however, be countered by the example of Tataka’s killing.).
3. Surpanakha genuinely loved Lord Rama. But she was afraid of approaching him as she was quite older than him and also far less beautiful. So, she changed her form and very politely asked if she could give him some company as he seemed lost and in need of some rest. Rama and Lakshmana, knowing who she really was and seeking entertainment, toyed with her and punished her for her boldness (Sita is conspicuous by her absence).

We may stick to one and rubbish the other; but each view should be acknowledged for it shows each character in different lights.

Shakuni, the prince of the Gandhara kingdom, is characteristically famous for his reference in B.R Chopra’s Mahabharata as ‘Mamashri’. Like Surpanakha, he played the crucial role of instigating the chief antagonist of the epic. Shakuni was Duryodhana’s chief confidant and is known for his intelligent yet devious ways. However, unlike Surpanakha, he doesn’t fall in the background after having kindled the fire. He instead keeps on stoking it using his sharp skills and the constant drive to attain his…Ulterior Motive! Yes, just the way with Surpanakha, we can associate a Conspiracy theory with Shakuni too. Let us attempt to know more about this wise yet cunning brother of Gandhari - Mamashri.

This theory has close association with his favorite Dice, using which he crushes (defeat is too mild a word to express what he did) the Pandavas. The Dice were made up of his Father’s thigh bones (King Subala). The theory states that Shakuni did all that he did to cause the downfall of the Kaurava Race. To attain this, he thought of no method better than corrupting the young, impressionable minds of the 100 sons of King Dhrithrashtra. As to what he did is common knowledge. Wise as he was, Shakuni was firmly of the belief that the Kauravas would be of no match for the Pandavas and their righteous ways. As for the war, though he was one among the important counsels of Duryodhana, he was never in doubt of the Pandava victory especially with Lord Krishna on their side. So aware was he of the true form of the Lord that he had called Duryodhana a fool for preferring the Lord’s Mayavi Army over the Lord himself. But the question still remains; why had he done so?

There are two versions to this; one simple and straight forward and the other devious and maybe even difficult to digest. Whereas one relates to the Grand Sire of the Kuru race, Bheeshma the other relates to his own nephew, Duryodhana.
1. Shakuni took a simplistic vow to be the cause of the Kaurava’s downfall upon learning that the great Bheeshma had asked for the hand of Gandhari for his blind nephew Dhrithrashtra. He regarded this to be a matter of great insult and was further aghast by her sister’s decision to remain blind-folded herself.
2. Following the advice of astrologers, Gandhari was married to a goat (subsequently sacrificed) prior to her marriage to Dhrithrashtra to avoid a certain calamity (known to be practiced in case of Manglik brides). So, technically this made Dhrithrashtra her second husband. Duryodhana upon having learnt this was deeply enraged and wanted to extract revenge from his maternal relations. He promptly had King Subala and his relations imprisoned. So cruel was his treatment that the entire family was only provided with one fistful of rice daily. King Subala realizing the elaborate plan to starve them to death decreed that only his youngest son would eat the sparse food and take revenge from the entire Kuru race. This son happened to be Shakuni, who after his father’s death got dice made out of his father’s thigh bones which he used to his advantage during the Game of Dice against Yudhishthir. He moved to Hastinapur to stay with his sister and constantly fed Duryodhana’s mind with the foulest of the ideas to usurp the power, which was deemed to be Yudhishthir’s for taking, as he was the eldest of the Kuru princes. He finally succeeded in orchestrating the war between the just Pandavas and the vile Kauravas, especially with Lord Krishna supporting the former.

Certain other details about Shakuni are:
1. Shakuni had two sons, Ulook and Vrikaasur. Ulook is known to have been the messenger sent by the Kauravas before the war to the Pandavas carrying their response to the Pandava’s proposal of peace. Ulook was killed by Nakul on the 17th day of the battle.
2. Shakuni was killed by Sahadev in a melee sword combat on the 17th day of the battle
3. Was Shakuni really lame? Or was Gufi Paintal, the actor, lame? Certainly not the latter. Gufi Paintal was the Associate Director of the Mega series, Mahabharat. He recommended B R Chopra to have him act lame, as it would make the character appear more sinister. So, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Shakuni was lame. But in an earlier movie on Mahabharat, Shakuni was lame too. So, does this mean that Shakuni was lame as per legends? Or did the director ingenuously want the character lame? I wonder if we will ever know.

This, I assure you, would be the last tale for today’s menu; and possibly the intriguing of the lot. Abhimanyu’s tale is that of valor and courage par excellence displayed at a tender age of sixteen. He was born to, what one might term, a high profile couple; Subhadra (Lord Krishna’s step sister) and the great archer Arjuna.
What we most commonly know about him is his tragic death at the hands of seven warriors from the Kaurava camp. It is also known that he partially knew the art of entering the famous Chakravyuha (Lotus formation) but was not aware of the art of exiting from it. Before we get down to more exciting part, let us collate a few more facts about Abhimanyu.
1. He spent his childhood in Dwaraka where he was trained by Pradumnya (Lord Krishna’s son). He was regarded an equal to his father in the art of war. Abhimanyu literally means ‘Excessive Anger’.
2. He was married to Uttara, daughter of King Virata of the Matsya Kingdom. This alliance was also meant to seal Virata’s allegiance towards the Pandavas.
3. He was equal to virtually all the warriors of his time including the great Bheeshma himself in a duel. Once inside the Chakravyuha, he was able to badly injure Karna and render Dusshasana unconscious. His victims included Lakshamana, Duryodhana’s son and several other Maharathis (whose name we happen to be woefully unaware of).
4. His death blow was a crushing mace attack by Dusshasana’s son. When rendered weapon-less, he requested Karna to give him a sword to fight with and as it was high noon, Karna had to oblige to his request. But shockingly he stuck the sword into Abhimanyu’s abdomen and asked him to take it out.
5. He gained the knowledge of entering the Chakravyuha when in his mother’s womb. However, half way through the description Arjuna realized that Subhadra was asleep and didn’t explain the method of egress from the formation. During his stay in Dwaraka, Abhimanyu wished to learn the remainder lesson from Lord Krishna. However the Lord didn’t do so and asked him to ask Arjuna when back from the exile. Abhimanyu could never have a dialogue with his father about this, which resulted in his undoing.

The reason for including Abhimanyu in this article is that there is a certain controversy and even a conspiracy chiefly associated with his death. But fret not; I will not out rightly brand him a conspirer with an ulterior motive as the driving force. His death, as was the case with most of the great warriors, was pre-destined. Meanwhile, does it make you wonder why Lord Krishna didn’t explain the method of egress from the Chakravyuha to Abhimanyu? Keep this in mind as we get to know the various reasons associated with Abhimanyu’s destiny.
1. Abhimanyu was Soma Dev’s (Moon) son incarnate, upon the request of the other devas. However, Soma Dev agreed for a separation of no more than 16 years.
2. Abhimanyu was Soma Dev incarnate. Soma Dev was cursed by Sage Garga for impenitence but subsequently was given a reprieve by the sage to spend a reduced time of 16 years in the human form.
3. Certain sects (Draupadi Cult) regard Abhimanyu to be a Rakshasa. Born in the human form, he had the potential to destroy mankind. As per one legend, Abhimanyu was born so in accordance to a curse he had received in the Treta Yuga, when he was the Gate Keeper of Lord Rama’s palace. He was cursed by Sage Durvasa, for not letting him enter Lord Rama’s court. Aware of this, Lord Krishna saw to it that Abhimanyu’s knowledge of the Chakravyuha remained incomplete.
Certain theories state of Abhimanyu being capable of killing Lord Krishna, earlier than destined. His death may have been the result of an elaborate plan.
4. It is generally accepted that Lord Krishna deliberately kept Abhimanyu unaware of the egress method from the Chakravyuha. Apart from the relatively obscure reasons mentioned above, there is one reason which sounds reasonable. Lord Krishna was certain that the Kauravas would break the battle rules to kill Abhimanyu (as he was undefeatable in duels). It is by referring to this incident that Lord Krishna was sufficiently able to provoke Arjuna to kill Karna (he otherwise wouldn’t have as Karna was disarmed). It is also said that, this precisely was the only unprovoked sin that Karna had committed, for which he deserved an ignominious end!

Interesting weren’t they; but unfortunately, a little lengthy. That you can attribute to my over-thought and complex writing method resulting into tedium in reading. So, I have decided to skip further few interesting stories such as that of Vali and Karna, for now. Anyway that apart, it only proves that many a times sufficient probing into such epic stories is required; not that it will reveal the absolute truth. Because, I feel that in Mythology, like a personal God one can also maintain a personal truth! The value of such a truth is little until it translates into better perception and cleaner action.

Now, where do we stand - a long way from the assorted beginning which we had some half a year ago? No way; we are still running in circles. Also I think assorted is the way it goes with Mythology. So, I think we will go through this ordeal once again; maybe one last time. But I swear to make it a lot more objective (even one liners!) and easier to read than its predecessors. Until then…Adios Amigos!


Bhup said...

Surprised to see no comments yet!
good one man... nice reading man..
keep on writing ..

Samyukta said...

I finally read your blog..though a bit late..but yes I did. I wish you write about 'Karna' in your next blog. His character has always fascinated me..I would love to read more about him or your blog on the same ;)

Good Job!kudos!