Mahabharat: The Greatest Tragedy Ever Quilled
People talk of Greek tragedies. After reading and reading for 65 years I have come to the conclusion that there is no greater tragedy written in the history of mankind than our own Mahabharat. Nor was there any story ever told of more epic dimensions. Let us get down to the barest outlines. The characters are human, vibrant, and full of foibles. Not as weak as they are in Ramayan as they are all idealistic in the latter. Anyway my idea is not to compare the two great epics but to talk about Mahabharat. Do you know that in Indian homes womenfolk were not supposed to read Mahabharat. They were of course supposed to know Sunderkand of Tulsi's Ramcharitmanas by heart. This was about Sita in Ashokvan in the captivity of Ravan. The reason was simple. All the women in Mahabharat are amoral and independent: Ganga killed her seven children by drowning, Kunti had 4 children born out of wedlock, Draupadi had five husbands, and Krishna had a harem to beat any Mogul empereor. Draupadi was proud and insulting, and she paid for it by being stripped in front of everybody and ultimately rescued by Krishna, and she in turn never combed her hair till she washed her hair with the blood of the person who dared disrobe her. This was done for Draupadi by Bhima, but she had her heart on Arjun as compared to all his brothers. Which conservative household in India would like their daughters and daughters-in-law to go through such stories and get ideas? And the end of the story. The battle of Kurukshetra lasted for 18 days. Kauravas started with 11 akshauhini and Pandavas with 7. Each akshauhini is a chaturangini force consisting of charioteers, horsemen, elephants and foot soldiers. The total comes to a mind-boggling 2,18,700 in an akshauhini (if you include mahouts and chariot drivers the figure comes to 2,62,440) and the total of Kaurav and Pandav forces to be a mind-boggling figure of about 47 lakh. This is obviously an exaggerated figure, and has to be discounted. My own guess is that they started with armies of 75 and 50 thousand. But at the end of eighteen days you were left with only a handful. The one hundred Kauravas were finished, all the army on both sides almost completely wiped out, and Draupadi's five children (by five respective husbands) treacherously killed by Ashwatthama. And the Pandavas. Ultimately Abhimanyu's wife begets a child who was born dead and was brought to life by Krishna (blue baby?). Parikshit. Come to the ancestors. In their last days Kunti, Dhritrashtra and company started living deep in the forests, and then one day they all perished in the jungle fire. Pandavas perished on the way to don't know where in the Himalayas. Only Yudhishthira stayed alive, and went to golok which means he died some time later, though peacefully. And the worst was to come to Krishna. His clan fought among themselves and perished. At that time the sea rose in height and submerged the kingdom (it is proved now by undersea archaeological remains) which Krishna had built so assiduously over the years away from Mathura where he was troubled by the frequent incursions by Jarasandh. He entrusted his womenfolk to Arjun. On to way to a safe hideout, the caravan was attacked by bandits. Arjun was confident that he could beat back the entire horde by his famous Gandiva. But lo and behold, he couldn't even string his bow. And almost half of the ladies were looted away right in front of his eyes. And Krishna: forlorn, dejected, alone was sitting under a tree where he was killed by the arrow of a professional hunter. After the Pandavas left for Himalayas the throne went to Parikshit who it seems was killed by snake bite. Not true because he was probably killed by Nag tribals. And his son Janmejaya had a Nag-yagya, which would mean that he hunted and killed whichever member of Naag community he found. I remember, in Chhota Nagpur area of Bihar (now Jharkhand) there are some Nagvanshi Kshatriya who were landlords and minor ruling princes. To sum up, whenever I think of Mahabharat, it fills me with sadness and sometimes moves me to tears. Which tragedy can equal this great epic of ours? To end the story on a farcical note. To think that Devilals and Chautalas are the descendants of the same Kauravas and Pandavas!
(This was originally published in the e-magazine SAWF)