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.
Irawati Karve (1905-1970) was an Indian anthropologist. She was born in
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
‘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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
- Though born to Shurasena, he was given to Kuntibhoja who was heirless. There was no aspect of the girl’s consent in this aspect.
- In the author’s words – “The adoptive father employed Kunti to serve and win the favor of a Brahman sage called Durvasa.” [§§§§§]
- “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.
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”-
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.
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.
The story presented in Mahabharata says that it was Agni who came in the form of a Brahman and asked
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
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.
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
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.
As per the essay
The initial part of the essay deals with the early life of
Irawati also mentions that though
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
Continuing in the essay she illustrates some instances form the life of
The author further narrates the instances from the Mahabharata regarding the test of friendship of Arjuna and
There is finally the description of the end of
The author notes that the very people who destroyed Dwaraka – the Abhiras were the ones who brought back
The essay ends with a brief commentary of the dialogs from Geeta between
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