Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Best of Enemies.

I don't know why enmity was so widely and avidly practised by the Aryan denizens of The Mahabharata. It's astounding how most of the principal characters had prima donna tendencies: quick to take offence, quick to anger, quick to feel envy, quick to seek revenge and retribution. The higher-caste ones, Brahmin and Kshatriya, were remarkably similar in this respect. They would do just about anything for power, glory, fame and all that jazz. To my mind, the only totally harmless and thoroughly well-meaning character was the low-born (suta putra) Vidura, the half-brother of the defective duo: blind Dhritarashtra and impotent Pandu. The poor fellow would have most likely made an able and just ruler. But just because his mother was of suta extraction, he was denied the throne. He looked after the Pandavas and, in their absence, after their mother, Kunti. The other (mock) suta putra, Karna, was of course a thorough scoundrel of the first order. He was the one who provoked the Kauravas to disrobe Draupadi in the royal assembly, saying that any woman who married five men was no better than a whore. This was after Dharma had gambled away everything the Pandavas owned in the dice game master-minded by Shakunimama. What's more, Karna was no match for Arjuna as a couple of instances before the Great War amply proved. Drona, a Brahmin turned Kshatriya, was the tutor of martial skills for the royal cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. He got Arjuna to vanquish King Drupad because, earlier on, the latter, who was his fellow-student and a close friend, had insulted him when he went to his court seeking his patronage. Thereafter, instead of ending the feud there and then by reminding Drupad of the error of his ways, he deprived his former friend of half his kingdom. In the best of the Mahabharata vein, Drupad promptly worshipped Agni and asked for a son who would avenge him. Out of the ceremonial fire emerged the fully grown twins, Dhrishtaduymna and his sister, Draupadi. The themes of greed and hate, retribution and revenge, oneupmanship, jealousy and envy keep recurring in the epic. There was also the pastoral Aryan lifestyle being forcibly imposed on the native Nagas, very much reminiscent of what is going on even today in India. If there is a moral to the story, it is probably the following. Learn not to take offence. Learn to keep anger in check. Avoid violence. Eschew greed. Learn to compromise. Learn to control your tongue. Maybe, I'm looking at it through a post-modern pair of glasses, though. (By the way, "Maya", the previous post, is also about The Mahabharata. http://tinyurl.com/5suent)