Thursday, September 2, 2010

#41. Kingdoms on Auto-Pilot

Mahabharat: Kingdoms on Auto- Pilot
Thre are so many doubts and puzzles that Mahabharat throws up. Here I am goig to relate something that has puzzled me for sometime now: kingdoms run by absentee rulers. Two cases come to mind which are quite glaring.
Absentee rulers are a tradition which has come down over the millennia to the 20th century also. One hears of rulers of princely states during the British time who spent their summer in the salubrious weather of England or French reviera. Then there were rulers who spent the winter in Bombay race course. The craze was so much that many of them had their second home in Bombay. In Delhi of course every prince had a huge establishemt: Hyderabad House, Bikaner House, Patiala House. Thanks to them so many govt. offices and institutions did not have to search for a new establishment in 1947. The crown princes studied abroad, and did their schooling in elite private schools which were created for them only. Mayo College, Rajkumar Colleges, Scindia School. Some colleges had separate living accommodation for such princes who stayed with all the paraphernalia and retinue. During the absence of the ruler and the crown prince, the ministers looked after the work, some of them were honest and sincere and some not so.
Go back to Mahabharat days. Let us first decide what governance meant during those days. Realizing tax which the ruler spent either wisely or foolishly, providing security to the public by saving the kingdom from other greedy rulers, general security and making the kingdom safe for the subject that is policing function, punishing wrongdoers from robbers and thieves to murderers and trouble-creators. and creating some basic infrastructure like a few arterial roads, especially in and to and from the capital, I don’t know what other function was performed by the ruler in 2500-1500 B.C.E. For water there were as yet unpolluted rivers and streams, community and private wells: as a matter of fact all the civilizations of the world developed on the bank of some river; for sanitation, well, there were open fields which are available even now in our villages; for transport there were horses (and chariots drawn by them) and bullock carts. Cultivators sweated in the fields, traders did business in towns and a large number who went to the army maintained by the ruler, either for show or for encroaching on the neighbouring state’s land. Farmers paid taxes in kind mostly, and probably there was some sort of levy on the traders, especially when the goods entered the borders of the kingdom. But these seths had fulfilled another obligation: giving loan to the ruler for their luxurious living and harem, or for battles with the next door rulers. On top of that there was the system of Rajsuya and Ashwamedha yajna which was purely a matter of personal aggrandizement. The loan given by the trader to the ruler was mostly non-returnable, and therefore, in a way gift or lumpsum levy paid to the ruler.
Anyway the two cases I have in mind are: Krishna and Shakuni.
Krishna at a very young age (some say at 11 years) defeated and killed his maternal uncle Kansa in wrestling, and became the ruler of Mathura. Kansa had imprisoned Krishna’s parents and had killed all the six elder siblings of Krishna immediately after they were born except for Balram who was not the son of Devaki, Kansa’s sister, but of Rohini (and Vasudeo). However. Krishna’s woes did not end there. The two daughters Asti and Prapti of Jarasandh, the powerful ruler of Magadha were married to Kansa, and after his death went to their father’s place. Jarasandh attacked Mathura 18 times. The first 17 times he was defeated, thanks to Ugrasena, Kansa’s father, whom Krishna had put on the throne, and Akrur who were shrewd military strategists, helped by Vasudeo, Krishna’s father who was the crown prince. On the18th attempt Jarasandh took the help of demon Kaalyavan who created havoc in the Mathura forces. Krishna was already fed up with the frequent skirmishes with Jarasandh, and this time at the brink of defeat and capture, he left the battlefield and decided to shift his base to Dwarika where he set up a new capital. Since then, Krishna is also known by the name of Ranchhoddas. Incidentally I remember visiting a place in Gujarat which is associated with this incident and there is a temple there of Ranchhoddasji.
Now when you read Mahabharaat, Krishna is more often seen in Hastinapur, Indraprastha and later in the forest where Pandavas spent their days of exile. Before Draupadi’s marriage, he went often to Panchal to meet Panchali, his friend who is also known as Krishnaa. With all the roaming around when did he find time for governance? Or was it Balram who was looking after the affairs of the state during Krishna’s frequent absences?
Krishna avenged himself of Jarasadh when the Pandavas decided to go for Rajsuya yajna. Krishna told the Pandavas that it would be necessary for the success of the rajsuya to eliminate Jarasandh who would have refused to accept the suzerainty of the Pandavas. He also advised that it would be impossible for the Pandavas to defeat him in open battle, and therefore some covert means had to be adopted. Accordingly Krishna, Bhima and Arjun went in the guise of Brahmans and challenged Jarasandh to a wrestling match with anyone he chooses. Proud as Jarasandh was, he chose Bhima, and the match went on for 27 days without any result . On the 27th day Krishna by slitting a glass blade in two and throwing the two pieces in separate directions told Bhima abut how he should go about. Bhima understood and tore Jarasandh from the middle, and throwing the two parts in two different directios which were joined by a demoness named Jara when he was an infant, and thereby resurrected the baby.
Shakuni’s case is really pathetic. He was the youngest son of King Suvala, King of Gandhar and therefore the brother of Gandhari who was married to Dhritarashtra. Gandhari’s astro-stars predicted that her first husband will not survive for long and it is only the second husband who had long life. When Gandhari’s marriage wa fixed with Dhritarashtra, she was first married to a goat, and then the goat was sacrificed. Thus technically, a widow she was married to Dhritarashtra. At the time Duryodhan was made the crown prince of Hastinapur, Bhima taunted him that he was the son of a widow. When Duryodhan learnt the real story, he was enraged, and attacked, defeated and imprisoned Suvala with all his 100 sons. In jail they were allowed the ration of just a fistful of rice everyday. Suval decided that as the intention of Duryodhan was to starve them all to death, the rice will be pooled and eaten by Shakuni alone who in his opinion was the cleverest of all his sons, and therefore most suitable for the throne. Ultimately everybody except Shakuni died, and Duryodhan released the sole survivor. Shakuni was devious and cunning, even though he had a good military brain he believed more in covert methods. His brain was more like that of a chess player who thinks of several steps ahead before making a move. When he was released, Shakuni decided to take revenge from Duryodhan and see to it that the entire Kuru clan was finished. But overtly he let everybody know that his goal was to get for Duryodhan the other half of his kingdom which was excised and given to Pandavas by Dhriatarashtra. Pandavas had diligently developed the jungle area into a fine city with a beautiful palace to live in. Shakuni was an expert dice player, and he had a pair of dice made out of the thigh bones of his father which always did his biding. With the loaded dice, he could manage to wrest the kingdom and all the riches from the Pandavas for Duryodhan, and thus made himself the closest to his nephew, whereas all the time in his devious mind he knew that there had to be a fratricidal fight between the two groups of the same Kuru clan which will finish all of them. Even on the side of the victor Pandavas, after the battle the survivors were the five Pandavas, Krishna, Satyaki and Yuyutsu. Nobody was left on their side to succeed Yudhishthira to the throne except the child Uttara, widow of Abhimanyu, was expecting. Shakuni went down fighting bravely, and so was his son Ulook, who were killed by Sahadev and Nakul respectivey.
Now the same question. We find Shakuni almost all the time in Hastinapur, scheming and plotting for his nephews. How did he manage his kingdom, and how was it saved from marauders and greedy neighbours? We don’t know anything, although most of his kingdom was hilly, and the population would have been small. Shakuni had another son Kalikeya, and I expect that after the battle he became the king and stayed at Gandhara, the capital of the kingdom. Shakuni’s army fought on Kaurav’s side and was completely decimated. So Kalikeya must have quickly raised another army from amongst the able-bodied subject of his.

Another question is thrown up. It is said that Mahabharat happened because of the spontaneous and foolish utterance of Draupadi that blind beget blind, after which Duryodhan took revenge on her by disrobing her in the assembly before everyone which further ensured the inevitability of war. Should it be right to say that it was actually Shakuni and not Draupadi's utterance and her subsequent insult by Duryodhan which precipitaated the great battle? Well, you decide.
Did the Yadu clan destroy itself in fratricidal fight because Krishna was not always around to exercise a firm and benevolent control over his clan and subject? That is a moot point.


malu said...

Hey Anand,
Quite an interesting post. I have just finished reading the Krishnavatara by K.M. Munshi, and I must say it made for riveting reading. Some of the stories you have mentioned here are new to me and quite interesting. Its interesting to read these now, as it changes a lot of my earlier thoughts gathered through serials, movies and childhood stories. The more I read them, the more questions it raises in my mind - the hallmark of a truly great literary work. Continue these posts - I am amazed at what all you can manage.

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Anand Kumar Bhatt said...

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