Most of my mythological posts invariably have a comment where one of the readers tries to ‘rationalize’ parts of the story or the whole story based on their interpretation of the events from a contemporary perspective. For example, any post or story involving the infamous ‘Game of Dice’ episode and Draupadi instigates a discussion about whether Yudhishtira was right and correct in placing Draupadi as wager on the game and whether it was right for him to do so after he had lost his own freedom in the game. Another oft repeated question is whether Rama was right in making Sita go through the ‘ordeal by fire’, the agni-pariksha at all.
While there are no easy and unambiguous answers to questions such as the ones above, which deal with moral dilemmas, I have a simple thumb rule when I respond to such queries. One, do not judge characters, their choices, their decisions keeping our ‘contemporary world view’ as the yardstick. The world in which these characters lived, the age in which their stories took place, the circumstances they found themselves in when these incidents occurred, were all completely different and none of us should even pretend to understand the justifications behind their actions.
Two, and this probably is the most sagely advice that I have ever received when I used to pose such questions was “everything happens for a reason.” When I was younger, I used to think that this particular answer was escapist at best and the person who gave that answer didn’t really have the answer himself and he hid behind this statement as a reason. However, as I read more and more of these great texts and stories, I have begun to realize that all of them are one giant jigsaw puzzle as Dr Devdutt Pattanaik quotes. Each of these stories, characters, events are all part of one giant mosaic which forms the fabric of Indic thought (the word ‘Indic’ is purposely used to broaden the ambit beyond specific religions, once again a contribution from the Doctor).
Let me narrate a story to prove the statement I made earlier – everything happens for a reason.
Arjuna’s grandson and Abhimanyu’s son Parikshit was out hunting when he experienced great thirst. He reached the hermitage of a holy man who was in deep penance. When he asked the holy man for water to quench his thirst, his requests were not heeded to as the holy man remained in his meditative state. Annoyed at being ignored, Parikshit picked up a dead snake which was nearby and placed it on the sage’s neck. One of the sage’s disciples who saw this from afar was so enraged with the king’s action and cursed him that he would die of snakebite within the next seven days.
Realizing that he had committed a grave mistake, Parikshit begged for the sage’s forgiveness and requested that he be excused from the curse. However, as things stood, the curse could not be withdrawn and he was destined to die within seven days from this event.
He immediately ran back to his capital city and locked himself up in a high tower. He ordered his guards to keep a watch out for any snakes and serpents within the kingdom and kill them immediately. He refused to allow anybody to visit him in the tower and only allowed servants to serve him food and drink. He however, did not share details of the rationale behind these actions of his with anybody.
Thus, he managed to stay alive for six days and nights. However, on the seventh day, when he bit into a fruit, hidden within it was a worm. And the worm on being freed from the fruit, transformed into a serpent, Takshaka, the Naga.
Before Parikshit could even get over his shock of seeing Takshaka and react, the serpent sank his deadly fangs into him and spread his venom killing the king.
<< PART 2 >>