pippala leaf

October 8, 2007

Mahabharata – The story of contradictions

Filed under: Indian Epics — MBN @ 12:28 am

Malayalam literature is blessed with so many brilliant writers. The short piece ‘Sita continues to be abandoned’ by Sri N.V.P Unithiri brings to mind two Malayalam masterpieces based on Mahabharata: Randaamoozham by M T Vasudevan Nair and Ini Njan Urangatte by P K Balakrishnan. Former was written from the perspective of Bhima and later of Draupati. The essay ‘Mahabharathathile dharmma sankalpam’ by Yati is an excellent critical analysis on the concept of ‘dharma’ in Mahabharata. These works encourage the reader to look into these epics from a different perspective.

If one strip off the divinity from the characters Vyasa and Valmiki had created, one would invariably see one’s own reflection in them. The characters of Yudhishtira and Rama tell the tragedy of egoistic human nature: his craving for social approval, his blind faith, his fanatic adherence to the social, religious, cultural norms and rules that were set by his ancestors, his distorted interpretations of the scriptures without any understanding of underlying fundamental principles and finally his tragic end. At the end of Mahabharata one witness the very dharma that Yudhishtira has been ardently following, fails him. It brings him nothing but misery and pain. The very thing that meant to bring happiness made him pitifully helpless and miserable. He becomes a prisoner of his own ‘dharma’. At the end of the tragic war everyone loses. The dharma of Yudhishtira and Duriyodhana had failed them both. Apparently the dharma that had been practiced throughout Mahabharata was not the dharma Vyasa had in mind when he proclaimed ‘yato dharma tato jaya’ – victory is where dharma prevails. Yudhishtira and others understood it rather differently.

Rama of Valmiki also suffered similar fate. Happiness evaded him throughout his life. He was busy following the path of dharma. Every one of them missed that essential ‘knowledge’ which is sublime and subtle. They all missed except one. In Mahabharata only one character had lived his life in full – Krishna. We never saw his eyes wet at any stage of his life. Instead Mahabharata says ‘he smiled’. When he faced defeat from his formidable enemies, when he lost his kingdom, when he was forced to retreat and hide in mountains, his countenance never faded. When Gandhari, from her heart wrenching pain cursed him, he smiled. When he witnessed the annihilation of his own family before his very eyes, he smiled. Like Rama he also suffered immensely in his life, but he always stood like a rock. And Rama wailed throughout his life. In their approach to life, one may say, Rama and Yudhishtira were idealists. Krishna, who saw the truth of life, was realistic and pragmatic. Interesting are these characters and their outlook towards life.

Often I wonder – why did Vyasa tell that story, the story of contradictions: the dharma that no one can ever follow, the bunch of people who had tried to follow and failed? Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa has been trying to tell us something that we tend to miss always.


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