Saturday, March 15, 2008

Yuganta-Irawati Karve

Most of us have heard, or read, or seen the story of Mahabharata. Some people also go ahead and call it the “Fifth Veda” – to reflect the amount of knowledge that it gives to people. It deals with a wide array of issues, from personal relations, politics, administration. The most memorable section of Mahabharata for most people is obviously the “Bhagavad-Gita Geeta” – which gives a lot of thought provoking explanations to queries which arise in the minds of normal people. I was searching for some new perspective on the great piece, that is when I came across this book – “Yuganta” Authored by Irawati Karve. This book is primarily a collection of essays on a few characters that come in the Mahabharata.

Author’s profile:

Irawati Karve (1905-1970) was an Indian anthropologist. She was born in Burma and educated in Pune. A master’s degree in Sociology form Bombay in 1928 and a doctoral degree in Anthropology from Berlin in 1930 marked the onset of a long and distinguishing career of pioneering research. She wore in both English and Marathi, on academic subjects as well as on topics of general interest, and thus commanded an enviably wide circle of readership. She served as the Head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Deccan College till her retirement. Her principal works include - Hindu Society - an interpretation(1961), Kinship Organization in India(1953), Maharashtra -Land and People (1968), Yuganta etc.[*]

About the book

Wikipedia[†] had the following to say about the “Yuganta” - A look at the main characters of the Mahabharata. These character studies treat the protagonists as historical characters and use their attitudes and behavior to understand the times they lived in. Written originally in Marathi, it was later translated by the author into English. The book won the Sahitya Academy award in 1968.

‘Yuganta’ studies the principal mythical-heroic figures of the Mahabharata from historical, anthropological and secular perspectives. The usually venerated characters of the ancient Indian epic are here subjected to a rational enquiry that places them in context, unravels their hopes and fears, and imbues them with wholly human motives, and thereby making their stories more relevant and astonishing to contemporary reader.[‡]

Personally, for me this book has changed the way I had perceived the story of Mahabharata itself; it has instilled a new insight into my perception of the then society and characters that appear in the story. She challenges the familiar and formulates refreshingly new interpretations, all of the while refusing to judge harshly or venerate blindly. I shall in the proceeding sections deal with the characters that are mentioned in the book and discuss a bit on those.

This book is priced at Rs 275/- and is an Orient Longman publication and is around 200 pages.

Book review

The book has various chapters – each of which is in fact essays in their own right. I would not go in the sequence of the chapters in the book but take a different approach, which I think would help improve the understanding of the book as a whole. There are a lot of views which can be debated upon and interpreted in different ways, but none the less each has its own implication and perspective. The book takes a more realistic picture of things and tries to give this novel perspective to its readers.

Chapter: The End of a Yuga

I shall begin this review with the name of the book itself and then relate it to the chapter – “End of a yuga.” The book title “Yuganta” itself means end of a ‘Yuga’. As mentioned in the book ‘Yuga’ in Sanskrit means one fourth of the cycle of the universe.[§] There are four yugas – Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali. The story of Mahabharata took place at the concluding part of the Dwapara Yuga, so in the sense the name “yuganta” implies the end of the Dwapara Yuga.

In this chapter Irawati, looks at the transformation is society that might have taken place form the period to the current, and the possible additions that might have taken place in the course of time. To substantiate; some of the immediate things that she notes that have continues till date have been – the social system of patriarchal household. She also points out that while the whole of the Krishna Cult must have begun immediately after the war, some others like the literary form itself vanished. We can classify these changes that she highlights in the book in various sections themselves.

Social structure:

The story of Mahabharata is about a Kshatriya Family. There are also Brahman families and persons who appear in the story. The other two classes Vaishyas and Shudras are barely represented. There was relation between the first two classes not just one of rivalry but also of mutual dependence – we find instances of these throughout the story of Mahabharata. The Vaishyas were involved with farming, herding cattle, and trade; while the Shudras served all the three classes. She illustrates through references in the Buddhist and Jain stories that, the preset positions in the society changed and in due course Vaishyas gave up farming and cow-herding and took to trade exclusively. The Shudras took over these occupations requiring hard labor. These four classes are referred to as varnas. There is no mention of castes, jatis, in Mahabharata; but there is no doubt about existence of such endogamous groups, like for example – the Sutas. They served the two upper varnas and were inferior to them, while they were above the other two ones.

The other major people mentioned in the Mahabharata were the Nagas, who were rulers and were called kings. There are also some more types of people often having the names of birds and beasts. They were mostly jungle people with the clan-names of birds and beasts.

Irawati’s guess from the Mahabharata is though there is a mention about this caste society, it is not represented in its fullness and it might not have been as complex as in post-Christian times.

Despite the blurred background for the caste society, Irawati highlight that the patriarchal Kshatriya family picture is clearly visible. Each of the ruling families were located in the capital city for generations, and began to be know as the house belonging to the capital. The family lives in a courtyard and the important members had separate houses. The family some times consisted of four to five generations.

She highlights that the kinship terms used in Mahabharata were only primary terms like – Father, Mother, and terms for cousins, uncles and aunts. There was a lack of distinction between ones own son and ones brothers sun…similarly we can find may others connotations which are not used. The men were born in the family while women were brought into the family from other families. The women’s quarters were away from the men’s and they generally did not participate in the men’s assemblies. The two worlds that made up a man’s universe were his father’s family and his in-laws family. The in-laws were always on ready to fight on behalf of their son- or brother-in law.[**]

The state of women

Another importing to note form the book was the points the author highlighted on the aspect of loyalty of women. She makes the following statement “It was customary then to acquire a son begotten by another man on ones own wife, if one happened to have no heir. This was called Niyoga, and was considered to be superior to adoption”[††]. We find that the whole concept of loyalty to ones husband has changed over the period and today this is considered synonymous to treachery. The whole concept of looking at women has changed – from a period during the Mahabharata as Irawati points out where in women were considered similar to fields on which the crop of children were to be grown; this slowly faded out and the system of adoption has taken more prominence. Another aspect that she points out is the willingness to accept the women who had been rescued from the enemies clutches. She would be brought back and given back her earlier status. This might not be due to compassion but due to the view that a women was a man’s possession; and loosing her would be a matter of shame – this is in complete contrast to, says the author to the current trend were in women who are returned from Pakistan are not taken back into the family. Clearly through these arguments she is highlighting the way the current society norms are brought out and the reason for the way the women of current day are treated, more so because of such change in the perception.


Irawati has the following to say about philosophy and it seems so real – “The values are always relative to the time and place is the stand taken by the Indian philosophy. Even acceptance may be more theoretical than practical.” [‡‡]

In our class discussion on values we were able to relate to the self the goal and the sense of purpose giving us a sense of fulfillment and happiness. The point noted above indicates that values are product of the time and place; to continue this further; these become a part of the culture of a country, and would influence people in their actions.

This also indicates that as people it’s important to understand that culture is dynamic with respect to time and place; and only by understands the culture in the context of time and place would we be able to make our decisions and judgments robust, contextual and more practical.

She also says – “Each character in the Mahabharata was aware of the framework of moral values and when faced with a choice, chose according to his or her lights.”[§§] This is typically what every man has to do when he is in a dilemma of right and wrong. We are limited by our bounded rationality and it’s only within our thinking sphere that we would be able to deliver what we intend to deliver. We cannot give a view of right and wrong in hindsight as the whole context has to be involved, the personal hierarchy of values is to be considered in the process.

The Political System

The political system seems to have been influenced a lot by the family system, the rule was hereditary. There was a strict code of conduct to be followed by the numerous kingdoms that existed. These were mainly the directions or doctrines for the coexistence of kingdoms, and were mandatory for them to follow to live in harmony. These numerous kingdoms might be the reason why India’s culture is so different from one place to another; so to say it changes every 70-80 miles. A typical kingdom had a capital city surrounded by a number of villages. These villages were close to the capital city, and the king provided them protection. There were forests between each kingdom, and between villages.

The Gods and religion and philosophy

Irawati has to say – “The Gods of the Mahabharata are Vedic, classical or puranic. Even temples are not mentioned. Hymns in the praise of Shiva, the thousand sacred names of Vishnu and many names of the Sun-god, seem to be later interpolations”[***]. We have heard about in the Harappan/civilization about the worship of sun god and the by the author’s predictions, he might be the oldest of the three mentioned earlier, Shiva might have come later on and Vishnu much later. Another interesting thing which I could relate between the Harappan, civilization and the Mahabharata story was the “Pashupathi”, while the people of civilization worshipped Pashupathi, in the Mahabharata, Arjuna is said to have fought Shiva and got his weapon – Pashupatastra. – Might sound strange but my guess they might have some relation to do – Who knows?

Indra, Surya and Rudra are said to be the chief deities during the period. The idea of Heaven was prevalent and Indra was assumed to be the king, while that of hell was not too distinct. In all big sacrifices, animals were slaughtered and offered to the fire. Offerings were made once every month to the ancestors. The doctrine of “karma” and rebirth were firmly established.

The author highlights the specialty of the concept of Hinduism, which is not completely defined. A Hindu to this day cannot define what his religion is; he would only be able to give his interpretation of the religion. The religion has evolved over years and from a period of nature worship, to intellectual probing to the Bhakti cult and to the modern religion that we see, this ancient religion has been a culmination pot to all that it has gone through. In the story, there is detailed discussion of topics like dharma and non-dharma, Atman and the world.

She also highlights another aspect of the religion – “Nowhere else does one find so many discussions about what is dharma and what is not, as in the Mahabharata. In works like the Bible and the Quran there are categorical statements of what constitutes a religion. In Mahabharata there are questions and answers and doubts regarding the nature of religion and human destiny. That is the reason this story comes so close to us”[†††] The validity of these dialogs of the Mahabharata are so vast that they can be applied in the context of the confusion of life that we face today. It is interesting the extent to which the discussion on the intellectual questioning is done – what ever may be the purpose; this is a very good documentation of the mental thoughts of the age and always serves as the guiding lamp for the ages to come.

She says the reality of life is what is upheld in the story – “The matter and style of Mahabharata is suited to this harsh, bare, stark and demanding philosophy of life.” There are numerous incidents that are listed in the story where in people adhere to the harshness of life and don’t deter themselves from facing the actuality of life. This is in itself a beauty of the concept, when we have to choose between actions that benefit us, and our philosophies of life. The life of Bhishma, Karna and on a different scale life of all other is just to serve the single cause of doing what we have to do and what is appropriate for the situation.

She highlights another subtlety in the literature, and takes it a step further when she discusses about Heidegger and his thoughts. “Dasein is destructible by its very nature and in its birth carries the seeds of its death. ‘Being’ is constantly afraid of ‘not being’. He tires to make believe that this fear of his is on account of others and not on his own account and is as a result filled with anxiety of the whole world.”[‡‡‡] In a sense this whole story gives the reader a power to realize that he is the source of all his anxiety and pain. It is only his action by which he is in the state that he is in, and nothing else. It empowers and encourages him to face life’s challenges with an open heart and try to succeed in life. It’s a book which prepares us by means of narrating incidents from the so called ‘heroes’ and states that our life is nothing special; its just another one which can be faced with courage and determination.

She also highlights in that in the Mahabharata, Arjuna is not thought to be devotee of Krishna but a very dear friend. She also points out that at the time of Mahabharata, the Bhakti cult had not begun and so there was no aspect of devotion assigned to the relation between the Pandavas and Krishna. The roots of hero-worship seems to have come with Bhakti cult. Put in her words – “Man hoped that the hero-figure or ‘god’ might be able to rescue him from the pointlessness of life. This hope in turn gave rise to two kinds of literature. The kind not found in India was the inflammatory, fanatical propaganda literature, mostly based on the worship of a ‘Leader’ or a ‘Prophet’. The other kind, found all over the world was sentimental and sweet, where ‘god’ always fulfilled one’s heart’s desire and whose help was available in times of difficulty. The idea of kindhearted gods, devotion, monotheism, esape from reality, is not found in Mahabharata; they all came later. In this sense the Mahabharata marks the end of an era. India retained her polytheism, did not give into fanaticism, but made up for the lack of these two by abounding in sentimental, dreamy literature. The pervading despair and frustration, hardness and realism of the Mahabharata never again appeared in Indian Literature.”[§§§] From the above extract we see how she is able to convey the essence of and the title when she say – “end of an era”. She is deemed correct as never again could we see the reality of Mahabharata as reality of our life without lacing it with more “dreamy” literature, having more of hero worship. The literature which followed was more of a romantic sort – highlighted by the works like Shakuntala by Kalidasa etc.She also highlights the way the pre existent stories went ahead to have a sea change during the period following Mahabharata – this is illustrated with the story of Harishchandra. She also points out -“The ideals of truth, valor, fidelity, devotion were taken to the extreme. The way, in which characters were made to behave in order to reach these ideals and the ideals themselves, both ring false.”[****] If we go by blind belief in what is shown on the television we would loose out these interpretations; which are really worth knowing to get the fair and closer to life picture of the story. Another subtle thing to be noted is the discussion on the aspect of purpose, where she mentions the gods would rescue humans from a “pointless” life; here we see the importance of purpose in the journey of self towards its goal.

Irawati also highlights the facts from the story that there was no written documents at the time, to state it differently there was no writing script known to people then. She gives numerous examples in the story to prove the point. It was only in the 5th century B. C. that the first written records of the Sanskrit people appear, but she also thinks that it might be known to people during the time of Buddha (Seventh Century B C) as commerce was a major stay during the time.

She also does a small comparison of the Greek culture with the Indian, which gives various perspectives of commonality if we are able to eliminate the superficial differences.

She concludes this chapter of change of era; rather call it end of an era with a number of unanswered questions which are worth thinking on. All through in this book she has tried to give a more realistic picture of this great epic and try to give the thinking mind fodder to ponder further. But yes, as she says its purpose is neither to lead a student to idol worship, nor to a frenzy of idol-breaking.

These discussions are very thought provoking and worth giving a thought, there is no doubt that after reading this book any person would not perceive the ancient story in the same old fashion but use his scientific thinking to get a more real picture. I would now intend to look at the other chapters which are just going to be an extension of the logic of this chapter on “Yuganta”. As I see, it this would create more meaning by giving in the context more appropriately.

Chapter: Introduction

This chapter has been introduced for the English edition of the book, and it sets up a platform for the people who would not have know a few facts and the context of the essays which would follow. She gives the interpretation of the word Mahabharata = Maha + Bharata meaning “the great book about the descendants of Bharata. She also indicates that this work was earlier called ‘Jaya’ and was sung as the account of the victory of once king.

She highlights the role of narrators who were called ‘suta’ in effectively passing on the information across generations. They were counselors and friends of kings, and charioteers. She indicates that the ‘suta’ literature had lead a huge impact on the consequential literature and the impact can also be seen in Stories like the Arabian Nights.

These are the non story related aspects in this chapter that interested me and which I felt like sharing it. They may not have much significance to a well-read user, but for me they indicated the way this has developed over the ages. I slowly have begun to see the way these anthropologists get a sequence and propose a theory which would match the reality to a great extent.

In the chapters that follow, the essays would mainly concentrate on the roles in Mahabharata which she considers being important, and tries to understand the role in greater detail. There would be a lot of opinions expresses, they are just the authors opinion, may or may not be true; I would discuss my views on them.

Chapter: The final effort

This essay is about “Bhishma – The terrible”, who is called so because of the terrible vow which he makes of not marrying whole life. Bhishma’s original name was Devavratha. The essay starts with a brief about the previous birth of Bhishma, where he was one of the cursed vasu.

As the author says – “Bhishma’s life is full of apparent contradictions, but beneath these contradiction there was a logic in his actions and thought”[††††] – I think in this is the central theme of this essay. Through out the essay she gets out this subtle aspect to the reader in great detail.

As stated earlier, Bhishma was a vasu, who sought Ganga’s assistance to leave the earthly existence immediately after birth but as fate would have it he was forced into life on earth. As she puts this point across to the readers she says-“This being, eager to escape the world, had been trapped as the prince of an ancient house.”[‡‡‡‡] The basic purpose of Devvratha as he was then called was to circumvent the curse. His purpose of birth was to get free from the curse but it was unfortunate that he had to live a life on earth, and not just that going ahead leads the family.

The second contradiction arises when he decides to remain unmarried and arranges his father’ marriage. His father impressed by his sacrifice grants him the boon of death at will. Bhishma’s sacrifice had been made with no thought of a return. Bhishma was not aware that he was a cursed being and his whole purpose of birth on earth was to die. If we look at it in light of Bhishma knowing was born to escape from the curse, he might have chosen to die the very moment and the whole story of Mahabharata would have taken a different turn. As Irawati says – “Unburdened by kingdom and marriage, endowed with the power to die at will, Bhishma was free to leave the world.”[§§§§]

There as lot of other contradictions – “though he was not the king, for over two generations, he took care of the kingdom and wielded authority.”; “The bachelor who had no children of his own, spent his whole life in caring for other people’s children.”; these are just some of the contradictions in the life of Bhishma. This book gave me a different perspective of looking at Mahabharata, rather than just considering the story as said, it has given me the capacity to look at it from an anthropological perspective; the challenges of life are shown to be more real and happening than being imaginary.

Bhishma, my understanding says, was a personality who like most other people had forgotten the purpose of birth, and was involved in the mundane activities of life. His sorrows all through his life seem to be self imposed – weather it might be Amba, or it might be his support to the Kauravas in the Mahabharata battle.

The essay is titled the last effort to highlight the effort that he put to stop the war amongst cousins. Though not wanting to kill his own grand children; he was in war. For Duryodhana, it might have been a ploy to dissuade the Pandavas from fighting the war and surrendering the empire to him; Bhishma’s intent was to keep the war so that none of the side gets an upper hand; and finally ensure peace. It was in this aspect that the great old man of the Mahabharata story tries to keep the war with out any result for 9 days; after which he was disabled.

Irawati highlights another aspect when he is shot with arrows; Bhishma had been given protection from all sides; then how is it that he was attacked by arrows? Her argument suggests that Duryodhana who was not having any result in his favor wanted to get rid of the grand old man to try and fight for the empire. Well this situation can be interpreted in various ways; and the actual thing can be due to any reason.

Irawati highlights another aspect that it might be that Bhishma may not actually be as selfless as seen at first sight. Bhishma had Vyasa another person who had given up every worldly thing, rather than any other person in the court; probably because he was frightened of loosing his authority. This particular event is what the author sights to raise doubts about the intent of Bhishma; this as mentioned earlier is an author’s view and need not be an accepted.

Another paradox in the story comes when we consider the death of the old warrior; though wounded, he was not dead. He prolonged his death by six months; it was during this period that he had to see the kuru clan which he so dearly protected perish in front of him. He had to hear the pain of the widow’s who were crying; all these go to suggest that it is because of his choices that he had to face all that he faced.

This essay gives a brief on one of the most revered characters of Mahabharata, and point out at life’s purpose, the challenges faced, the choices made and finally the end result due to choice all going to show that human being can control to a great extent what happens to him if he know what he actually wants in life. With out purpose the life is just a flow which is driven by fate and the choice will just not be helpful. Making the right choices at the right moment is very important to keep our self from misery and sorrow. Responsibility has to be mixed with a bit of caution and should be completed with the context for its application.

I would now take the chapters of the book which deal with the prominent women roles in the book. Irawati deals with three ladies namely – Kunti, Gandhari, and Draupadi. These are interesting essays where she highlights on the life of women in greater detail. I would deal with Gandhari to begin with followed by Kunti and finally Draupadi.

Chapter: Gandhari

Gandhari was the wife of Dhritarashtra, and the mother of the Kauravas. He is from the Gandhar province and hence named Gandhari. Her brother Shakuni, who accompanied her during her marriage decided to stay in Hastinapur even after the marriage. Irawati in the essay gets out the anticipations of a newly wed bride when she goes to her husbands home. The fear and the awe which she finds when she goes into her husbands house and the slow transformation which is felt in her mental state are beautifully brought out.

Gandhari on realizing that her husband is a born blind ties her eyes up with cloth. I in my interpretation of the Mahabharata have taken this to also symbolize anther reality of life – If one cannot see the reality and his companion denied seeing the reality; then the work which they do will only be one which harms the peaceful existence of a lot of people.

There is an interesting situation which Irawati narrates in the essay where Gandhari say her close companion about her close feeling; to quote – “There is nothing that can upset me now. After I had many children, you thought that your Gandhari would at least be happy. But it was never so. If they were hurt, my heart would start to pound; if heard them crying, I used to grieve and get flurried. If I heard they didn’t win in the chariot race, I would get dejected.”[*****] She continued on to tell more about the sorrow that she had to bear due to her great love her children continuing in the dialogue, we also realize that she had a motive of self in all her action. I get a lot of messages through this section of her confession to her companion. It was her extreme attachment which was the cause of her sorrow; as stated earlier – a detachment, to her affection and looking into the reality of the situation would have enabled her to reduce the sorrow a great deal. Another thought which I get form the dialog is one relating to the aspect of ego; and learning how to handle it; this thought is primarily due to my reading of the book “The new world” simultaneously along with this book. While “The new world” gave me a peep into the spiritual aspect of life; this book “Yuganta” helped me see the life of the characters form a spiritual aspect as well. The anxiety, the sorrow, the pain; all these are just due to manifestation of the mental images which are created by thought, its awareness which breaks the darkness of ignorance and gives us a new lease of life. It gives us the courage to handle life with a realization of self.

In this chapter there is also mention of the Dhritarashtra, Gandhari, and Kunti going into Vanaprasta[†††††] (The last of the four ashrams of Hindu life). I could related this well to the phases of realization which man that there is life beyond what is seen by the naked eyes and that is the real life; this too is an influence of the book – “The New Earth”[‡‡‡‡‡]

Irawati writes that when Gandhari removed her eye cloth and tied seeing the world she tells – “Your Majesty, I have uncovered my eyes, but still I can’t see it clearly.” – This gives a very sublet meaning; if we are having a strict mindset and there if we try to get out of the mindset we would not be able to look at the reality to being with easily; we need to slowly “unlearn all the learning and then relearn”; its only through this relearning that we would be able to relive the life in its full glory. If we live in our past we cannot life a complete and fulfilling life; only through consciously learning the ways of a better life can be actually become better.

The last part of the essay deals with “Dhritarashtra” reflecting back on his life and stating his deep concerns with Gandhari and the way she responds to him. The essay ends with her getting into the fire with her husband in the form of sati.

Chapter: Kunti

In this essay on Kunti; Irawati gets the emotions of a women whose life is filled with nothing but sorrows; she claims – Kunti’s life to be controlled more by fate and the men in her life than by anything else. Irawati gives numerous instances to substantiate this and highlights the plight of women in those ages. Some of the instances which are highlighted are:

  1. Though born to Shurasena, he was given to Kuntibhoja who was heirless. There was no aspect of the girl’s consent in this aspect.
  2. In the author’s words – “The adoptive father employed Kunti to serve and win the favor of a Brahman sage called Durvasa.” [§§§§§]
  3. “Her adoptive father gave her in marriage to an impotent man, and all the rest of the sorrows were a result of this union.”[******]

Irawati also highlights the “selfishness” of Kunti, through numerous instances in the story which would otherwise not been noticed to a normal reader. This is why an anthropologist’s view gives the reader a much larger perspective than a normal narrator; with focus on details which would generally escape others. The author tries to get into the mind of Kunti and look at the possible thought processes that might have gone on in her mind – its really nice to know these aspect; an this would help us understand the female psychology in a better manner.

The author also highlights the aspect of motivation which Kunti gives to her sons and especially “Dharma”; I see this aspect form a leader’s perspective; Dharma was the head of the pandavas and was he one whose orders none would be broken. Though having the capability to go ahead and win the war; Dharma was not ready – she aptly chooses a balance between the telling and participative styles of leadership and was able to convince “Dharma” to go ahead for the battle. She also displays tact in getting Draupadi to marry both her and Madri’s sons and there by binding them into a single chord. This would serve as a hedge against Kauravas plot to break the Pandavas into two halves – we see the aspect of a shrewd politician if we consider these cases.

All along the essays – The author goes a head to point out the possible interpolations which are also logical and more realistic if we look at the Mahabharata not as a religious text but a document of the life of people and the society. This is another take away for me – don’t take every thing as given; we need to look for possible interpolations and other manipulations.

The last episode of Kunti’s life - where she denies the material wealth which her children had won; in some aspects shows her selflessness in all the motivation!!! Well this might be true that she only wanted to remind her children of their rights and responsibilities; it might also guide a leader in working selflessly and ensuring that there is always – “attachment with detachment” .

Personally, I see this specialty of the story – while Kunti to a great extent represents “attachment with detachment”; Gandhari had only attachment which was the major cause of her sorrows.

Chapter: Draupadi

Draupadi was the daughter of the king of Drupada and the wife of the Pandavas. This essay on Draupadi is a comparison of the similarities between Ramayana’s Sita’s and Draupadi’s lives; the heroin of the Mahabharata tale. Irawati also makes a comparison between the so called Indian Epics in the English vocabulary; how ever from the Indian context while Mahabharata is a record of event – history; the Ramayana is a poem. While the Mahabharata represented a reality to a great extent, the Ramayana was more a story which was to show what the ideal was; in the author’s words – “The Mahabharata is a record of human beings with human weakness. The entire Ramayana, in the other hand, is in praise of an ideal man. Ramayana is principally the story of one man, with other characters serving as a background to hero in relief.[††††††]

In the comparison of the characters of the 2 epics, she says the difference in personalities of the two women may partly be due to the multiple generations in the story. While the Mahabharata was a story of three generations, the Ramayana was mostly limited to the Ikshwaku family and there is no mention of the in laws to the extent of Mahabharata.

The whole of the essay gives a comparison between the two women – Draupadi and Sita. On of the startling comparisons made is amongst the relative position of the women to their in-laws family. The arrival of Sita into Rama’s life gave him a devout wife, while for the Pandavas their marriage with Draupadi gave them a new position.

Draupadi’s role also achieve much higher prominence, when we consider that she was responsible in saving some grace after the game of dice. To sum this experience the author just quotes Karna – “Up till now we have heard of many beautiful women in the world, but no one has done anything equal to what Draupadi has done today. The Pandavas and Kauravas were burning with anger, and in that conflagration o one can say what might have happened, but Draupadi has reestablished peace. Like a boat she has saved the Pandavas when they were about to drown in a sea of disgrace. ” The importance of the statement can seen in the light that all the 5 men were ace in some field or the other; but each had a weakness and it is that weakness which was compensated for by Draupadi.

All through the essay the author makes start comparisons between the two heroines of the two great epics, each of these is worth taking note of to get the subtle messages that are hidden in the personality of the women. While Sita represented ability to bear with suffering; Draupadi was more open, ready to take revenge – may be this is why she is said to be the daughter of fire (this is from the serial of Mahabharata.). In her own words, Draupadi gets her sorry out – “nathavati anathavat” meaning having husband, but still like a widow. This single sentence gets all the pain and suffering she had in her mind.

The author also highlights the reality of causality – that is the two heroines had to face the results of their own wrongs. While Sita was abducted by sending off Laxmana by doubting his intention; Draupadi had to face the consequence of rebuking Duryodhana. There is a clear message of cause and action; the suffering that you get is only because of your misdeeds or mis-intentions. The solution this is realization of the ego that is innate and trying to grow – this has come from the book a new world. Relating these two books has helped me see the story of Mahabharata in multi dimensions; as a normal person to whom the book is a religious text, as a student of anthropology who has begun looking at the possible reality in the story, and as a person who is search of the illusory question – “Who am I”. It seems to be a co-incidence that I have been able to think in all these different ways but I am really beginning to enjoy it.

The author also states that Draupadi was trying to resist the oppression[‡‡‡‡‡‡] that was being infused on her, and suggests that she should not have argued. I how ever differ, when it comes to the freedom of an individual, I would always fight for freedom; of choice, of expression and right. I don’t find fault in what she had done in the Kauravas court.

The author also expresses some aspect of spirituality, when discussing about the last journey they had to heaven. When Draupadi falls down, Dharma says it is because she loved Arjuna the most, then when she reflected she realized the reality. She was deeply unsettled, and when Bhima managed to come back to see her over she asked him to be the eldest in the next birth – this however doesn’t make much sense with the spirituality, but for a moment she did realize the futility of life in form and structures and had understood her being through awareness.

Chapter: Father and Son

This chapter is about Vidura and Dharma (Yudhishtira). Irawati in this chapter makes a hunch that Vidura might be the biological father of Dharma through Kunti. Though the story of Mahabharata says that Kunti obtained sons by meditating a “Mantra”; Irawati’s arguments are a bit different. She says this might not be the case – to hide the identity of the fathers of the Pandavas and Karna this might have been written in this fashion. Her hunch is to make the story realistic, while she says Karna might have born off Durvasa to Kunti; and the Son God is just an extrapolation of the story, Vidura might have fathered Dharma biologically.

Her basis of the argument that Dharma is the son of Vidura is his persistent efforts to do good to the Pandavas, to quote from the book – “Vidura was the one who strove like a father for the good of the Pandavas.”[§§§§§§] She also highlights the special care which he rendered Kunti – the mother of the Pandavas in the whole story; he took care of her when she almost fainted in fright on hearing Karna challenge Arjuna, and he was the one who sheltered Kunti when the Pandavas were in exile.

Vidura belonged to the Suta class of people. He was fathered by Vyasa of a maid. At this juncture he author also lets us know the specialty of the Sutas. The Sutas helped the Kshatriyas in various capacities. They “were charioteers, warriors and the repositories of lore and genealogies of the kingly families. In this last capacity, they were also storytellers and were greatly in demand at all social gathering.” – This hints to me why there is a mention in most purana’s about Suta maharshi narrating the story to a lot of people in a social gathering, about some particular incidents; my hunch is that after retiring form the service of the king these Sutas would go from country to country and dissipate the knowledge to the people who are interested. They played an important role in the development of the Indian culture through their role as information dissipaters, and letting lot of people know about the stories of various other places. In Mahabharata most of the Sutas were half brothers of Kshatriyas, - Vidura, Yuyutsu, and Sanjaya are just some of them.

The meaning of Vidura is “Knowing much”[*******]. He had profound knowledge and advised Dhritarashtra when needed. The knowledge was not materialistic but of ultimate values. Though he counseled Dhritarashtra to a great deal, there was nothing concrete that changed in him. It is only in one situation where Draupadi was de-robed that he retaliated. Relative to other characters in the story, it seems to be the one whose life was the most happiest. He led a happy life, a calm life out of the restlessness felt by other characters in the story. Vidura kept both himself and his family away from the intense mental and physical conflicts described in the Mahabharata. He almost led the life of a sage. Probably I can say he was amongst the most spiritual people who appear in the story of Mahabharata – might this be a reason why the so call “Yogishwar”- Krishna decided to stay in his home? I cannot say with conviction; there are also other reasons for the same, but after looking at Vidura in closer detail I cannot deny this might be one of the factors which might have influenced Krishna’s decision to stay there.

Analyzing the Mahabharata further, the author gives a comparison of the lives of Vidura and Dharma. Some of the note worthy quotes are– “Not getting what he fully merited was Vidura’s sorrow. Having to pay an awful price for what was his by right – that was the sorrow of Dharma.” [†††††††]

The author goes on to give more points form the Mahabharata which would help support her argument that Vidura and Dharma were father and son. Vidura is supposed to be an incarnation of Yamadharma, and Yudhistira is also called the son of Yamadharma – so the author surmises that Kunti did not call the god but her husband’s brother, Vidura. Another incident which Irawati sight’s to get the point across is when Dhritarashtra, Kunti and Gandhari were in the forest. When Yudhistira went searching for Vidura, and met him after some chase in the forest, Vidura gave everything to Dharma through his yogic power – this, as argued by Irawati, was a tradition of father giving everything he had to his son. Irawati also gets an ambiguous statement[‡‡‡‡‡‡‡] from the Mahabharata which Vyasa says to Dhritarashtra as another support to the argument.

The author also gives us a new dimension to the way we look at Mahabharata; if we consider that Dharma was Vidura’s son, the whole of Mahabharata takes a different light. The war is no more between the sons of two brothers but a triangular fight, but this would not surface as Pandu and Vidura had a common son.

Chapter: The Palace of Maya

This is a very different essay; this essay doesn’t primarily deal with any of the characters in the story of Mahabharata, but deals with an incident. Krishna and Arjuna supposedly burn down a forest and kill the escaping animals. It’s an account of the carnage that was done. Maya was the name of the architect who had built the palace.

The story presented in Mahabharata says that it was Agni who came in the form of a Brahman and asked Krishna and Arjuna to help satisfy his hunger by burning down the forest. The two agreed in return for Agni giving grand chariots and superb weapons. This is how Arjuna got his chariot and his bow – the Gandhiva. Krishna got his discuss from Agni. Then Agni started devouring the forest, the two guarded the forest from the side and killed or chased back the escaping animals. Indra’s attempt to save the forest, had no success, and on the advice of other gods he returned. Only seven creatures are supposed to have escaped from the holocaust. Maya was one of these creatures and in gratitude he built the palace.

Forest was actually a residence of a ‘Nagas’ (this may be the name of a particular clang of people who resided in the forest.). They were lead by the king Takshaka. All the Nagas excepting Takshaka and his son were devour in the fire. It might be due to the large massacre and the curse of so many people that the palace built on this land was the very cause of the troubles the Pandavas would have to face in future.

Is there any more realistic explanation to the burning of the forest? The author gets two points in this aspect; to quote – “Either the fire was a natural catastrophe and some how Krishna and Arjuna were credited with it, or the tow did actually and deliberately burn the forest.” If it was the second then it might be that to grow the newly set empire, the two decided to clear the forest and thereby make way for agriculture and new settlements, which would further improve the prosperity of the kingdom they had set up. Why should they choose to burn down some forest rather than get some more land through conquest? The author sights the reason as code of conduct of the Kshatriyas. They could not separate the kings of their kingdom, they could only collect some taxes from the defeated king, and so gaining land by burning down the forest seemed to be a better idea.

Chapter: Paradharmo Bhayavahaha

This chapter or essay deals with the life of two Brahmins who tried to give up their traditional class work and took to doing the work of a Kshatriyas. I some how feel its not the problem of them trying to change the class which was the problem but not internalizing the rules and regulations that the class has for itself which is at fault, however I would do ahead giving a brief of what the author has to say.

There seems to be a bias in this chapter at the beginning to show that Brahmans aren’t as good as the Kshatriyas in use of weapons. She gives instances of Parshurama appearing in the story and Karna’s defeat at the hands of Arjuna as examples. She then goes on to give a brief about the relative importance of the Brahmans in the story of Mahabharata.

The two Brahmins who had a major role to play were Drona and his son Ashwatthama. Drona enters into Mahabharata when the Pandavas and the Kauravas were young kids. He joined his brother in law Kripa, the hereditary teacher of the Kuru clang. Drona was skilled in the use of all weapons and was in search of a shelter under some king.

Drona and Drupada were very good friends during the student days, but when Drona went to ask for shelter to Drupada, he was insulted and turned away; Drona was nurturing a revenge in him, so when his students were ready, he sent them to defeat the Drupada; after the Pandavas has defeated the Drupadas, they took him to Drona, who took away half of the empire and proclaimed they were equal. But according to the Kshatriyas code of conduct this was not justified, - no king was to be separated from his land. This, the author claims was one of the biggest mistakes which he did. She also claims that Drona was not too bent on getting peace between the Pandavas and Kauravas, she highlight this by pointing to the aspect that Drona had fought heart and soul for the Kauravas during the war. Drona had felt he had to be loyal to his pupil Duryodhana who was now his employer as well.

Ashwatthama was the son of Drona. Like his father he had taken to arms and become an expert in their usage. Arjuna always succeed that Drona had taught some thing to Ashwatthama which he had not been taught. In the use of astras (magical weapons) he is supposed to be equal to Arjuna.

The three days of battle under the generalship of Drona were very fierce. He had committed to beating the pandavas if they could keep Arjuna away from the war. The slaughter in the three days was when; people like Abhimanyu, Jayadrata were killed. The last day is narrated in great detail by Irawati and personally I was very moved by the description given in the book – it’s a bloody explanation of the scene of Drona’s death.

Though Ashwatthama was equally well versed with the use of magical weapons as Arjuna, he was never considered the ideal warrior. He was always on the side of Duryodhana, and helped him in all activities.

Towards the last section of the essay Irawati explains the circumstances of Duryodhana’s death – him hiding in a stone shelter in the pool, Ashwatthama and others speaking to him, the pandavas getting to know about Duryodhana’s where-about, forcing Duryodhana out of the pool and killing him and finally the episode of Ashwatthama killing the sons of pandavas and Dhrishtidyumna, and momentarily Duryodhana’s rejoice on it.

I see nothing more than just a complete story of bloodshed just by the thought of revenge; every one wanted to avenge one or the other person cause of one or the other reason – this is why the story is much closer to real life. What do we think is the way out? They way out of the trivialities where our potential energy gets trapped is to reduce conflict to a great extent and appreciate the bigger picture. If the bigger picture includes the benefits of all the parties included, there is no reason for any such conflict or energy getting tied up. Getting in touch with the inner peace by every individual is another way out of the problem, through the process of reflection we understand our self better and prevent blockage of vital energy, we begin to channelise the energy into various other works which benefit us further. We rise up from the trivialities and grow to being a much better human being.

The final part of the essay deals a bit with the Indian philosophy and the importance of smriti (memory, consciousness) and moha (confusion). It is interesting to note the explanation given in the Geeta and quoted in the book regarding these – “Anger leads to loss of consciousness, loss of consciousness brings about confusion in memory, which leads, in turn, to loss of thinking power. And the loss of thinking power destroys a person”.[§§§§§§§] Smriti is the “awareness of being” as stated in the book ‘A new World’ and stated in other words it is “the ever-present consciousness of who he is and the knowledge that he is the same person moment to moment. It is due to smirti that a man understands what his duties are, and where he is going.”[********] These are profound gems of spirituality which one can find in the essay and worth understanding in greater detail.

Chapter: Karna

This essay is devoted on the illegitimate son of Kunti. Karna’s life too seems to be filled with paradoxes. His whole story seems to be a search for his identity, the answer to one question – “Who am I?” At the beginning of this chapter too there is a nice commentary on the concepts of spirituality[††††††††].

His mother having given him away, he was brought up by a suta couple – Adhiratha and Radha who found him floating in the river. His real name was Vasusena, and he was called Karna as he was found having the ear-rings and armor when he was found in the river. He was interested in learning archery and the use of weapons. He disguised himself as a Brahmin and learnt the use of weapons from Parashurama; but was cursed for the false identity. Karna was always in search of a position which he thought was due to him, he wanted to be known as a great warrior, and it was for this reason that he challenged Arjuna when there was a demonstration of their learning that being held.

All through this life Karna was having an internal strife, some sort of effort to find his identity; I think he had spent enormous energy on this and was dissatisfied by not finding one. The thought which kept hurting him was that he was the illegitimate son of a Kshatriya. After the incident at the occasion of the pandavas and Kauravas showing their learnt skill, he gained the friendship of Duryodhana. All the remaining work that Karna did was only to work for his master and friend Duryodhana.

I personally feel it was the dissatisfaction which Karna faced which was the reason for his behavior all through his life and his bitter anger. All his actions had this innate dissatisfaction and the ego in him was trying to overpower him and enlarge itself. It was his ego which tried to make him big, and this was supported by his internal confusion or as stated earlier his smriti being eroded by maya. There are a number of instances which are illustrating the wrongs of Karna and his inability to completely function the way his duty demanded.

It is said that Karna was the son of Sun-god. Occasionally in the stories there are gods who come in and take away the birth armor and the ear-rings of Karna, were these just interpolations to show his superiority in some way? No one can clearly say. It would be left to the reader’s imagination and ability to grasp the reality/interpretation which would create opinions on these.

The author highlights some better moments in his otherwise sad life, which is when he was revealed his identity. Some how I feel the author is a bit biased against Karna in her essays or may be I am a bit more partial to him, well its all about personal opinions finally – weather he was just or not so just in all he did. The author goes on to discuss the instances of Krishna and Kunti meeting Karna and discussing the identity of birth.

The last part of the essay the author deals in great detail about the war when Karna took on Arjuna in the battlefield. The essay ends with a discussion on Karna’s death. This essay for me was a great insight form the aspect of holding back mental thoughts and loss of the actual need of the hour. If we are obsessed by the thought of revenge, anger and similar feeling we would not be able to achieve what we need to achieve, as individuals we need to be clearer in our understanding our self and our situations; we should not grudge the situation we are in but accept the reality and try to improve ourselves.

Chapter: Krishna

As per the essay Krishna makes his first presence in Mahabharata at the time of Draupadi’s marriage. Kunti is Krishna’s aunt. Krishna’s closest friend was Arjuna, Kunti’s son. He always helped the Pandavas and helped them as a canceller, giving them good advice when it was most needed.

The initial part of the essay deals with the early life of Krishna, his relations with the Pandavas. The author points out that the Krishna mentioned in the Mahabharata has no resemblance with at all with “the flute playing lover of milk maids, and the divine child, or the miracle worker of later tradition.” Krishna was very tactful in all this actions and this can be seen from his ploy to kill Jarasandha, this alliance with the pandavas by giving his sister in marriage to Arjuna and many other such incidents. There are a number of instances mentioned in the essay to further illustrate the tactfulness of Krishna in his approach and also to highlight the code of conduct of the Kshatriyas.

Irawati also mentions that though Krishna had made great efforts on behalf of his family, the yadavas, his friends Pandavas, and the whole Kshatriya class; he had a personal ambition of being a “‘vasudeva’, a position approaching divinity”[‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡]. She also makes a claim “Krishna in the Mahabharata is definitely not a god, as depicted in later literature. He was, however an extraordinary man, and his great personal ambition was to be called vasudeva.”[§§§§§§§§]

The author also makes references to the Jain literature to help the reader grasp the concept of “vasudeva”. For being a vasudeva there was a necessity of seven things; and Krishna fitted closely to this description.

Continuing in the essay she illustrates some instances form the life of Krishna. One of the most remarkable instants was of both Arjuna and Duryodhana going to Krishna and asking for help during the war. Arjuna took along an unarmed Krishna while his army was given away to Duryodhana. The pandavas needed a very able companion and a counselor and they found one in Krishna.

All of Krishna’s persuasive power was needed to get Arjuna to fight again. It was in this instance that once of India’s best works on spirituality was created – “The Bhagavad-Gita Geeta.” Every individual has something to learn form this master piece.

The author further narrates the instances from the Mahabharata regarding the test of friendship of Arjuna and Krishna. She gives a detailed description of the different situations, and explains the very prominent role played by the unarmed Krishna. It was Krishna’s presence of mind that saved the Pandavas form the attack of Ashwatthama.

There is finally the description of the end of Krishna and the Yadava clan. This was an interesting read and I had not heard of this story earlier. The author herself says “the story is full of contradiction and absurdities.”[*********]

The author notes that the very people who destroyed Dwaraka – the Abhiras were the ones who brought back Krishna to life by making him a god. She also says – “the Krishna of the Mahabharata was wholly human, but his complexity and a kind of non- involvement in his most intense action make him hard to grasp.” She also points out that the first six chapters of the Geeta are guidance to a person in mental crisis; they are between equals. The later chapters on ‘Bhakti’ might have been later additions. These first six chapter, she says have a simpler philosophy and also a sterner one.

The essay ends with a brief commentary of the dialogs from Geeta between Krishna and Arjuna. In all Krishna remains a hard to understand personality primarily due to his conceptual practice of attachment with detachment.


Through out the book review I have given some interpretation on the individual essays and my own take away from them. The most profound impact on me was in the way I see the complete story of Mahabharata now. From being an epic with super heroes I am now able to appreciate the record of complex humanity and see the faces which we wear in the characters mentioned in the story.

In my first read of the story I was a bit surprised by few of the arguments of spirituality, and when I started reading the book “A New World”, I decided to look at the spiritual aspects in greater detail, and was able to understand it better. Surely a worth read these two books would be great combination to read together.



[‡] Coverpage - “Yuganta” – Irawati Karve.

[§] Page 162, Line 1, “Yuganta” – Irawati Karve.

[**] Page 167, “Yuganta”-Irawati Karve

[††] Page 167, “Yuganta”-Irawati Karve

[‡‡] Page 169, “Yuganta”-Irawati Karve

[§§] Page 170, “Yuganta”-Irawati Karve

[***] Page 171, “Yuganta”-Irawati Karve

[†††] Page 172, “Yuganta”-Irawati Karve

[‡‡‡] Page 174, “Yuganta”-Irawati Karve

[§§§] Page 175, “Yuganta”-Irawati Karve

[****] Page 180, “Yuganta” - Irawati Karve

[††††] Page 11, “Yuganta” - Irawati Karve

[‡‡‡‡] Page 12, “Yuganta” - Irawati Karve

[§§§§] Page 13, “Yuganta” – Irawati Karve

[*****] Page 31, , “Yuganta” - Irawati Karve



[§§§§§] Page 41, “Yuganta”, Irawati Karve

[******] Page 43, “Yuganta”, Irawati Karve

[††††††] Page 14, “Yuganta”, Irawati Karve

[‡‡‡‡‡‡] Page 90, “Yuganta”- Irawati Karve

[§§§§§§] Page 59, “Yuganta”, Irawati Karve

[*******] Page 64, “Yuganta”, Irawati Karve

[†††††††] Page 68, “Yuganta”, Irawati Karve

[‡‡‡‡‡‡‡] Page 71, “Yuganta”, Irawati Karve

[§§§§§§§] Page 121, “Yuganta” – Irawati Karve

[********] Page 122, “Yuganta” – Irawati Karve

[††††††††] Page 124, “Yuganta” – Irawati Karve

[‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡] Page 148, “Yuganta” – Irawati Karve

[§§§§§§§§] Page 148, “Yuganta”- Irawati Karve

[*********] Page 157, “Yuganta”, Irawati Karve

Sam Walton

“Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is an American public corporation that runs a chain of large, discount department stores. It is the world's largest public corporation by revenue, according to the 2007 Fortune Global 500. It was founded by Sam Walton in 1962, incorporated on October 31, 1969, and listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1972. It is the largest private employer in the world and the fourth largest utility or commercial employer, trailing the Chinese army, the British National Health Service, and the Indian Railways.[1]

The above extract from the Wikipedia, just gives and idea of how large an establishment the Organization - Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is currently. This Wal-Mart store is the brain child of its founding father – Sam Walton. In this document we intend to capture the learning form the life of Sam Walton. These learning are primarily focused on the perspective of developing leadership abilities in us.

We start this document with a brief biography of the leader and then, dwell deeper into our understandings and take away from the same. The document is primarily based on the autobiography of Sam Walton – “Made in America (so we have not made partial listing as references at all places) and other online reading material that we could find (reference to which we have give as footnotes). We have given references where ever we have quote some text as is from the source.

We are sure the life and learning form the will excite every one who reads this document.


Born to Thomas Gibson Walton and Nancy Lee Walton at Kingfisher, Oklahoma on March 29, 1918, he lived with his parents on their farm until 1923. The family then moved from Oklahoma to Missouri, where they were involved in the profession of mortgage. There they moved from one small town to another for several years. While attending 8th grade in Shelbina, Sam became the youngest Eagle Scout in the state's history. In adult life, Walton became a recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. While at school Sam excelled exceptionally in sports. He always had the spirit of challenging himself to tougher goals and working towards them with full commitment and enthusiasm. While at Hickman, he also served as vice president of the student body in his junior year and as president in his senior year. He performed well enough academically to become an honors student.

Growing up during the Great Depression, Walton had numerous chores to help make financial ends meet for his family. He milked the family cow, bottled the surplus and drove it to customers. Afterwards, he would deliver newspapers on a paper route. Upon graduating, he was voted "Most Versatile Boy." After High School, Walton decided to attend college, hoping to find a better way to help support his family. He attended the University of Missouri and majored in economics and was an ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) officer.

Walton joined JCPenney as a management trainee in Des Moines, Iowa three days after graduating from college. This position earned him $75 a month. He resigned in 1942 in anticipation of being inducted into the military for service in World War II. In the meantime, he worked at a DuPont munitions plant near Tulsa, Oklahoma. There he met his future wife, Helen Robson, in April 1942.

Robson was the valedictorian of her high school class and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma at Norman with a degree in business. She was the daughter of L.S. Robson, a prosperous banker and rancher. She and Sam were married February 14, 1943.

Soon afterwards, Walton joined the military in the US Army Intelligence Corps, supervising security at aircraft plants and prisoner of war camps. In this position he served in the continental United States. He eventually reached the rank of captain.

In 1945, after leaving the military, Walton decided he wanted to own a department store but would settle for a variety store. With some help from his father-in-law with a loan of $20,000, plus $5000 he had saved from his time in the Army, Walton purchased a Ben Franklin variety store in Newport, Arkansas. The store was a franchise of the Butler Brothers chain. It was here that Walton pioneered many concepts that would prove to be crucial to his success. Over time, Walton went on to open more Ben Franklin stores with the help of his brother, father-in-law, and brother-in-law.

In 1954, he opened a store with his brother in a shopping center in Ruskin Heights, a suburb of Kansas City. He opened another in Arkansas, but it failed to be as successful as his other stores. Walton decided to concentrate on retail business instead of the shopping centers and opened larger stores which were called "Walton's Family Center."

By 1962, Walton and his brother Bud owned sixteen variety stores in Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas (fifteen Ben Franklin and the one independent Fayetteville store). The first true Wal-Mart opened in 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas. Wal-Mart eventually became the world's largest retailer. He committed himself to the growth of Wal-Mart right since and was associated with its administration and worked tirelessly to take deliver value to its stakeholders till late 1980’s.

Forbes ranked Sam Walton as the richest man in the United States from 1985 to 1988, ceding the top spot to John Kluge in 1989 when the editors began to credit Walton's fortune jointly to him and his four children. Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated also runs Sam's Club warehouse stores. Wal-Mart stores operate in The United States, Mexico, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, China, Puerto Rico and in the United Kingdom.

Walton supported various charitable causes, including those of his church, the Presbyterian Church (USA). The Sam and Helen R. Walton Award was created in 1991 when the Waltons made a gift of six million dollars which included an endowment in the amount of three million dollars to provide annual awards to new church developments that are working in creative ways to share the Christian faith in local communities.

In 1998, Walton was included in Time Magazine's list of 100 most influential people of the 20th Century. Walton was honored for all his pioneering efforts in retail in March 1992, when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush. That year, the Jiangsu province of the People's Republic of China awarded him the Golden Star Foreigner's Award for "tireless assistance in the development of People's owned factories in the Suzhou area".

He left his ownership in Wal-Mart to his wife and their children: S. Robson "Rob" Walton, John T. Walton, Jim Walton, and Alice Walton. Rob Walton succeeded his father as the Chairman of the Board of Wal-Mart, and John was a director until his death in a 2005 plane crash. The others are not directly involved in the company (except through their voting power as shareholders). The Walton family held 5 spots in the top 10 richest people in the United States until 2005. Two daughters of Sam's brother Bud Walton, Ann Kroenke and Nancy Laurie, hold smaller shares in the company and are also billionaires in their own right.

Walton died Sunday April 5, 1992, of a type of multiple myeloma. [2]

The Learnings

In this section we look at various facets of life of Sam Walton and try to gain insights from them related to personal relations, leadership etc.

The Value of a dollar

“I learned from a very early age that it was important for us kids to help provide for the home, to be contributors rather than just takers. In the process, of course, we learned how much hard work it took to get your hands on a dollar and that when you did it was worth something.”

Living in the period of great depression, Sam Walton and his brother had seen the difficulty of a financially tight situation first hand. Sam had to do all sorts of odd jobs to be a self created man that he was. This economic crisis let him to realize the value of a single dollar and he was determined to give the benefits which he perceived to the customers who would flock his stores later on in life.

This forms a basis of the personal leadership which he followed; he ensured that he communicated the message and importance of dollar to his kids as well. He would get them to work for his store and pay them for the work they did, it was very essential part of his interaction with them as it was this philosophy of valuing a dollar which would enable them to lead a customer oriented retailing store like the Wal-Mart.

His sprit of serving his customers and giving them the highest possible value for money is evident form his statement in his book quoted.

“But sometimes I'm asked why today, when Wal-Mart has been so successful, when we're a $50 billion-plus company, should we stay so cheap? That's simple: because we believe in the value of the dollar. We exist to provide value to our customers, which means that in addition to quality and service, we have to save them money. Every time Wal-Mart spends one dollar foolishly, it comes right out of our customers' pockets. Every time we save them a dollar, that puts us one more step ahead of the competition—which is where we always plan to be.”


Though he was tremendously committed to giving the community a much better value for money, money in itself was not the driving force for Sam. Sam was tremendously competent and abundant with energy, which was contagious.

“I have always pursued everything I was interested in with a true passion—some would say obsession—to win. I've always held the bar pretty high for myself: I've set extremely high personal goals.”

By setting high goals for the things that he was interested in, Sam was able to raise him from just doing to doing with a purpose. His purpose gave him the energy and enthusiasm – call it the “obsession” to excel in all that he set himself on. He had a “strong bias towards action” which he claims has been very critical in making Wal-Mart what is currently.

Having enormous energy is one of the basics for a leader, the leaders energy comes form his passion, his drive to achieve what he is interested in. This obsession/passion gives him the energy to cross any barriers that are posed to him.

Valuing Team work

This is what Sam Walton had to say this about team work at Wal-Mart -

“One person seeking glory doesn't accomplish much; at Wal-Mart, everything we've done has been the result of people pulling together to meet one common goal—teamwork—something I also picked up at an early age.”

Team work has been the corner stone of Wal-Mart’s success. Though competition in encouraged amongst team members at stores, it is a combined effort off all the people involved that actually leads to success. The whole structure of Wal-Mart functions really well because everyone in the team are supportive - The distribution channel, the store manager, the associates … every one.

Though the leader might have the energy to pursue a lot of things with passion, it is really essential that he is able to work with people and get them to work as a team. This is quite essential – Sam says that his short comings where most of the time overcome by working with his team.


The success of a leader is qualified by his/her ability to take risk. Experimenting is an essential aspect of success in retail. We must not be moved to settle down once we are successful – this is one of the most dangerous mistakes any leader can commit.

Once we are the leader in any field, the challenge is upon us to keep up the lead. With leader’s position comes the threat of imitation and some else taking a lead, so it is very important to keep experimenting.

Wal-Mart has induced this in its culture – every store manager is allowed to set his own policies and choice of items so as to improve the store. This allowed each of the stores to experiment and adapt to the competition much quickly – ensuring that Wal-Mart had the edge all the time.

The effectiveness of this ability to experiment can be seen clearly in Sam’s words – “This was the beginning of our way of operating for a long while to come. We were innovating, experimenting, and expanding.”

The approach has always been to be able to experiment and try untried things, be different.

Dissipate learning

The learning obtained from experimentation has to be dissipated through out the organization and it helps propel the organization further. Ensuring that there is communication of such learning in a clear manner will help reduce the redundancy that may creep into the system. This has to be warded off and ensure that the working of the organization has to be based on these learning and stay ahead of competition.

Delegate responsibility – servant manager

“That's probably when I first began thinking about some of the very real ways that we could improve our teamwork and put more authority in the hands of our people in the stores.”

Sam Walton emphasized on the importance of being a servant manager. This might not be absolutely workable all the time but attains high importance when the associates with whom you are working are the people who are directly doing the core work of the organization. This is typically valid in the retail business. The logic is the store managers and associates will be more responsive to the customers depending on the way they are treated. The more happier the associate is with the managements way of operation the better care he would take of the customers.

Delegation of authority to the associates will increase their commitment through encouraging them to be more responsible and giving a sense of ownership in the work they do.

Ability to face failure and bounce back – Resilience

“I've never been one to dwell on reverses, and I didn't do so then. It's not just a corny saying that you can make a positive out of most any negative if you work at it hard enough. I've always thought of problems as challenges, and this one wasn't any different. I don't know if that experience changed me or not. “

Failure is an essential part of every story; it’s the phase where we learn the maximum. It is very essential to ensure that the failures don’t deter us from achieving what we actually intend to achieve. It is the ability to take failure in the stride and commit again that is the stepping stone to success… it is also a measure of the risk appetite that a leader needs to possess. The passion of an idea is tested when we fail in some thing that we really want – obsessed with.

Resilience is one of the personal characteristics of the manager which can motivate his followers and associates to perform better in what they do, take their chances again. Just to high light this point one of his associates in Wal-Mart had to say the following

"Two things about Sam Walton distinguish him from almost everyone else I know. First, he gets up every day bound and determined to improve something. Second, he is less afraid of being wrong than anyone I've ever known. And once he sees he's wrong, he just shakes it off and heads in another direction."

Swimming upstream

“I can tell you this, though: after a lifetime of swimming upstream, I am convinced that one of the real secrets to Wal-Mart's phenomenal success has been that very tendency. Many of our best opportunities were created out of necessity. The things that we were forced to learn and do, because we started out underfinanced and undercapitalized in these remote, small communities, contributed mightily to the way we've grown as a company.“

Not everyone believes I what they believe!!! Well by this statement what we mean is we are no completely confident of the route we choose when we are chasing our dreams. We tend to evaluate it through others perspective rather than looking at the actual scenario. It is in such a situation that the ability to – “swim upstream” comes in. when confronted with challenges and dismisses by onlookers it is at that time that we really have to act and move against the tide, with strict confidence in ourselves and let action do most of the talking.

Just to show how much of enthusiasm Sam had in his work and how much he was persuasive in what he did, we quote on of his customers – “You know, he's a very persuasive man; he could charm a bird out of a tree.”

Share the joy of achieving things – doing– hands on.

“But the truth is, some of my fondest memories are of plain old everyday items that we sold a ton of by presenting nicely on endcaps (displays at the end of aisles)—or on tables out in action alley”

When working with associates it actually motivates them when they see the leaders working with them. They open themselves up and try to give more to the leader than ever before. It is very important to be associated with the joys of the associate when we are doing a lot work relying on the associates.

When they see that the leader enjoys their success it energizes them further and enables them to work towards acting to lead the organization further.

Ability to see patterns detect change early

Simply restated we can put this as “Not doing different things but doing things differently.”

“But while the big guys were leapfrogging from large city to large city, they became so spread out and so involved in real estate and zoning laws and city politics that they left huge pockets of business out there for us. Our growth strategy was born out of necessity, but at least we recognized it as a strategy pretty early on.”

This aspect from the life of Sam is more relevant for an entrepreneur. He doesn’t have to find something that is totally out of the world to begin what he likes. He just has to be very observative and look at niches where he can fit in and work with all the enthusiasm and see his dream to success.

Wal-Mart was not something that came out of the blue; it was a slow evolution in the retailing business. Sam was instrumental in chasing the patterns and making the best applying his philosophy of working.

Plan for succession

” I agonized over all this. I rarely lose sleep over crises at the office, but this time I did. I didn't want to disappoint Ron, didn't want to lose him. But the company was headed in the wrong direction. So finally I called him in one Saturday in June of 1976, thirty months after I had given up the chairman's job, and just said simply, "Well, Ron, I thought I was ready to step out, but I see that really I wasn't. I've been so involved that in a way it has put you under a real handicap." I told him I wanted to come back in as chairman and CEO, and have him assume another job—vice chairman and chief financial officer, I believe.”

This extract shows how hard a decision Sam had to take when he realized that he had made a wrong plan for succession. It is very essential to carefully map the individual aspirations of the associates and look if they actually fit into the culture of the organization. The leader’s job is not complete till he ensures that the company can move on without his presence. If the company can’t, then it means his work is not complete.

Sam had to acquaint with the reality and learn that he had a lot of problems which he had ignored; such things must take priority when ensuring there is smooth transfer of power.

Stick to the basics

What's really worried me over the years is not our stock price, but that we might someday fail to take care of our customers, or that our managers might fail to motivate and take care of our associates.

Invest in people

“Sam would take people with hardly any retail experience, give them six months with us, and if he thought they showed any real potential to merchandise a store and manage people, he'd give them a chance.”

When people see that they are being empowered and people believed in their ability to do things, they tend to work harder and perform above expectation. Sam had developed a tradition of recruiting that is described in the quote above, when they people saw Sam get involved with them, they would get energized and give a better performance.

Appreciate of the efforts played a major role in what they did, a appreciation by whom they consider leader would enable them to work better and achieve higher things they next time – a source of motivation.

Partners in success

“Over the years, we've also had a variety of incentive and bonus plans to keep every associate involved in the business as partners”

Realizing that the floor employees are the people who matter the most, it is absolutely essential to get them associated with the success of the company. Profit sharing and similar incentive would help them get associated with the company in a much better manner and ensure that they are having the improvement of the organization as the focus. The employees are no more employees but are partners who work towards the success of the company.


“It is just the proudest I get. Because if we, as managers, truly dedicate ourselves to instilling that thrill of merchandising—the thrill of buying and selling something at a profit—into every single one of our associate- partners, nothing can ever stop us”

When in the retailing business, the focus of all the people is on buying and selling; when the leader understands them really well and is able to see the joys and sorrows really well it gets to be even more motivating to work with such a team. Empathy is the source of all this motivation.

Be open and accept your mistakes

“But there was nobody around preaching that philosophy in those days, and I guess I was just too worried about my own debt, and in too big a hurry to get somewhere fast.”

It is very essential that we accept our mistakes and learn to correct ourselves quickly, some in the enthusiasm of chasing a dream we may not go on the wrong track. Accepting a mistake and working on it would send signals to the people about transparency and this would motivate the people further to act with commitment.

There are a few interesting things that Sam Walton suggest for being ahead of competition, we think these are very interesting and are essential to be a leader. We would not explain these in great detail.

Think One Step at a Time

Though the leader has to have a long term vision its essential he concentrates on achieving one task at a time, he has to be focused on his priorities and that is the quickest way to success.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

It is very essential that every person with whom you work is on the same page, they see the same thing and work towards the same goal. This can be achieved only through thorough communication.

Keep Your Ear to the Ground

Listen and find new opportunities. It is the patterns that we need to identify in order to ensure that we have a lead. We might be faltering or missing something if we are not on the watch out always.

Push Responsibility—and Authority—Down

The more the lower ranks of people are empowered the more they get involved in what they are doing. The feel the responsibility of their action and develop an ownership which helps them perform better in what they do.

Force Ideas to Bubble Up

The lower rank of people are the ones who are generally in touch with the actual core work of the organization, it is very essential that they are given a hearing. They come up with new ideas that may give a competitive edge, hence it is essential that we give the ideas a free flow.

Stay Lean, Fight Bureaucracy

The more of bureaucracy in the organization we build, the more there is resistance to change. So its essential to have a lean and flexible bureaucracy which will appreciate the action that is taken and encourage growth.


To summarize the whole learning we think it would be apt to use the main points from the chapter of this autobiography - Running a Successful Company: Ten Rules That Worked for Me

He again states 10 principles which are just extensions of his life and are valuable for any company to be successful. These are a combination of leadership and strategic aspects involved.


Commit to your business. Believe in it more than anybody else. Sam overcame every single one of my personal shortcomings by the sheer passion he brought to my work. This passion is what is most needed. If you love your work, you'll be out there every day trying to do it the best you possibly can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you —like a fever.


Share your profits with all your associates, and treat them as partners. In turn, they will treat you as a partner, and together you will all perform beyond your wildest expectations. Remain a corporation and retain control if you like, but behave as a servant leader in a partnership.


MOTIVATE your partners, Constantly, day by day, think of new and more interesting ways to motivate and challenge your partners. Set high goals, encourage competition, and then keep score.


COMMUNICATE everything you possibly can to your partners. The more they know, the more they'll understand. The more they understand, the more they'll care. Once they care, there's no stopping them. If you don't trust your associates to know what's going on, they'll know you don't really consider them partners. Information is power, and the gain you get from empowering your associates more than offsets the risk of informing your competitors.


APPRECIATE everything your associates do for the business. All of us like to be told how much somebody appreciates what we do for them. We like to hear it often, and especially when we have done something we're really proud of. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They're absolutely free—and worth a fortune.


CELEBRATE your successes. Find some humor in your failures. Don't take yourself so seriously. Loosen up, and everybody around you will loosen up. Have fun. Show enthusiasm—always.


LISTEN to everyone in your company. And figure out ways to get them talking. This really is what total quality is all about. To push responsibility down in your organization, and to force good ideas to bubble up within it, you must listen to what your associates are trying to tell you.


EXCEED your customers' expectations. If you do, they'll come back over and over. Give them what they want—and a little more. Let them know you appreciate them. Make good on all your mistakes, and don't make excuses—apologize. Stand behind everything you do.


CONTROL your expenses better than your competition. This is where you can always find the competitive advantage.


SWIM upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom. If everybody else is doing it one way, there's a good chance you can find your niche by going in exactly the opposite direction. But be prepared for a lot of folks to wave you down and tell you you're headed the wrong way.

The most important factor which has lead Wal-Mart reach the current stage is its current adaptation to changing paradigms in the retailing segment. Once Wal-Mart and in particular Sam, who would be constantly lookout on improving by comparing himself with his competitors, would notice a trend change, he/they would be amongst the first to latch on to it an make theirs.

Sam himself says that its change that is constant and they need to work constantly to adapt to change and be the best. The organization which has been a leader has to constantly guard itself against the inertia and be ready for a change – this alone ensures success… and the role of a leader in such a change management/creation can never be undermined.