Two half empty lives – Part 2


Bhima-killing-Jarasandha

<< Part 1 | Part 3 >>

After a few years, the sage Chandakausika once again came to the kingdom of Magadha. Filled with joy at the arrival of the sage, king Vrihadratha went to meet him and pay his respects to him.

Pleased with the respects paid by the king, the holy man informed him that his son Jarasandha would grow in prosperity and endued with great prowess. Just like no other bird could match the speed of the mighty Garuda, so too no other kings would be able to match the energy of Jarasandha. Just like how even mighty currents of water make no impression on sturdy rocks, so too he would remain unaffected by any celestial weapons used against him. Just like the mighty sun diminishes the luster of all divine bodies around it, so too will Jarasandha’s magnificence rob all surrounding kings of their splendor. Even kings with mighty armies with countless vehicles and animals will perish before Jarasandha, just like insects do when they approach a fire. All the kings of this earth will live in obedience of him just like all humans rely upon Vayu for their survival.

Pleased and enthused with the holy man’s words, Vrihadratha came back to his capital city and installed Jarasandha on the throne of Magadha. Soon after he retired to the forest with his wives to live the rest of his life as an ascetic away from all worldly pleasures.

By virtue of the boon granted on him by the sage, Jarasandha grew from strength to strength. He conquered all the kingdoms neighboring Magadha and developed a reputation for being a fierce warrior.

Some years later when his friend king Kamsa was killed by his nephew Krishna, Jarasandha whirled a mace ninety nine times and hurled it towards Mathura, where Krishna was residing. The citizens of the place where the mace fell went and informed Krishna of this occurrence. The killing of Kamsa was the beginning of his rivalry with the mighty Jarasandha.

In the meantime, Jarasandha had built the loyalties of two followers, Hansa and Dimvaka, both of whom were incapable of being killed by weapons. They were extremely intelligent and well versed in the science of politics and morality. Along with Jarasandha, the trio believed that they were more than a match for anybody in the three worlds. Between the three of them, they enjoyed a reputation for being such fierce and brave warriors that none of the kingdoms of the time harbored any intentions of cultivating unfriendly relations with Magadha.

In fact the formidable trio went on to capture and imprison many kings who dared to refuse to accept to their sovereignty and superiority. They also annexed the lands and kingdoms of these kings and unjustly ruled over them for many years.

As the years went by Hansa and Dimvaka died and this left Jarasandha significantly weaker, at least mentally.

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After narrating this story to the Pandavas, Krishna went on to advise Yudhisthira that the time had come for the destruction of Jarasandha. Given that he could not be defeated by entire armies of asuras and devas, he suggested that the only way he could be vanquished would be in a fight with bare arms. He went on to suggest that Bhima with his physical prowess, Arjuna with his ability to triumph over all odds and himself would undertake this task incognito before the Rajasuya yagna as this would ensure that all other rulers would pledge their allegiance to Yudhisthira without any hesitation.

Upon receiving permission from Yudhisthira to do so, the trio then reached the capital city of Magadha in the guise of Snataka brahmanas to avoid being recognized and alert Jarasandha of their arrival and intentions. On their way there, instead of walking into the capital city through the royal gate, they instead broke the heart of the Chaityaka peak which was worshipped since the time of Vrihadratha and entered the city.

As the trio reached the capital city, the priests and brahmans of the royal court saw many evil omens which they reported to their king Jarasandha. With a view to ward off any oncoming evils, the king started a holy sacrifice by performing all the necessary rites to do so. As part of the rituals, he intended to sacrifice all the kings and monarchs he had imprisoned over the years to appease the gods.

It was in this milieu that the trio reached the city. They went on to adorn their bodies with sandal paste and garlanded themselves with flowers. In this attire, they arrived at the court of the mighty king. Upon seeing them arrive in their naturally resplendent glory, the king, as was customary welcomed them to the sacrifice. While Bhima and Arjuna remained silent, Krishna spoke- O king of kings, these two are in observance of a vow of silence. They will remain silent till midnight, after which they will talk to you.

The king then made necessary lodging arrangements for them and approached them after the midnight hour. Addressing them he said – It is well known to me that Snataka Brahmans don’t adorn themselves with sandal paste and flowers. Attired in such colorful robes and decked with flowers and sandal paste, tell me who you are and to what end have you arrived in my capital city? The fact that you destroyed the holy Chaityaka peak and entered the city through the wrong gate clearly portends that you have arrived here with a specific intention in your minds. Pray tell me that your intentions are. Also let me know why you didn’t accept my offerings and worship as you entered the hall where the sacrifice was being performed.

Krishna responded thus- O king, the rules of ordinance state that an enemy’s abode should always be entered through the wrong gate as against a friend’s abode which should always be entered through the right gate. And also know this o king, it is our eternal vow that having entered a foe’s abode for accomplishment of a purpose, we will not accept the worship offered to us.

Jarasandha said- I do not recollect if I have ever acted unjustly towards you. I very well know that a Kshatriya who injures an innocent man will be subject to the fate of sinners. And since I adhere to the Kshatriya practices judiciously, your charge of me being your foe seems erroneous.

Krishna replied- O king, we represent the head of a royal line who intends to uphold the dignity of his race. At his command we have come to your capital city. You have brought many Kshatriya kings to your city as captives and have held them prisoner for many years. Having perpetrated such an act, how can you consider yourself innocent? As if that were not enough, you now intend to offer these kings as sacrifice to appease the evil omens that your holy men recently saw. And yet you state that you follow the rules laid down for virtuous Kshatriyas. Why do you seek to perform a sacrifice by slaughtering these kings? Therefore, desirous of helping these kings, and for the prosperity of our race, we have come to slay you.

I am Krishna of the Yadava clan and my companions are Bhima and Arjuna, the sons of Pandu. O king of Magadha, we hereby challenge you in bare arms combat. Either set free all the kings you have kept captive or die at our hands.

<< Part 1 | Part 3 >>

Two half empty lives – Part 1


Three people walk into a bar, or in their case, a ‘public house’ in the capital city of the kingdom. They formed a curious trio; one of them big, gigantic and endowed with great strength, one of them lithe, athletic and handsome and the third one with a ‘divine aura’ surrounding him. They did not look like people who usually frequented such places.

And to be honest, they were not from the group of people who frequented such places; if anything they belonged to a class of people who were usually served food and drinks in their private chambers and rarely even appeared in public, even less as commoners, as they did right now.

They had a good reason to put aside all ‘formal rules of engagement’ and adopt this unconventional approach. They were on a mission to gauge the public sentiment regarding the ‘powers that be’ of the city they were in; this information would prove invaluable to them in achieving their goal.

The trio of Bhima, Arjuna and Krishna knew that they had a formidable task ahead of them; that of slaying Jarasandha, the ruler of Magadha.

Bhima-killing-Jarasandha

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After being crowned the king of Indraprastha, Yudhisthira on the advice of elders and senior counselors sought out to perform the Rajasuya yagna to be crowned Chakravarthi, the king of kings, the emperor.

Krishna then mentioned that Yudhisthira could become an emperor only after he defeated Jarasandha, the king of Magadha. While the Pandavas had heard about the legend of the king and how he had been undefeated for a long time, they did not know his whole story. Upon being requested to do so, Krishna then proceeded to narrate the story to them.

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There once lived a might king Vrihadratha, in Magadha. He was handsome, endued with energy and possessed affluence and wealth beyond measure. His glory was comparable with that of Surya, his forgiveness with Prithvi, his wrath with Yama and his wealth to Kubera.

He was married to the twin daughters of the king of Kasi and had an understanding with both of them that he would love them both equally and would not provide only one of them with preferential treatment. However, the king did not manage to have any progeny despite the passage of time. Despite his best efforts and performing various yagnas and sacrifices for being blessed with a child, he was not successful.

One day Vrihadratha heard that the holy man Chanda Kausika, the son of Kakshivat had come to Magadha in the course of his wandering and was now seated under a mango tree in the capital city. The king along with his wives went to the holy man bearing gifts and offered his obeisance to him. Pleased with his offering and his obeisance, the holy man granted the king a boon of his choice.

The king replied O holy one, it is time for me to forsake my kingdom and worldly pleasures and go into the woods to practice ascetic penances. However, I have no son to whom I can hand over my kingdom and do so.

Hearing these words of the king, the holy man closed his eyes and concentrated hard in his mind. Suddenly a mango from the tree he was sitting under fell on his lap. He took up the fruit, and chanting a few mantras, gave it to the king. O king, desist from going into the forest yet. Your wish is hereby fulfilled.

Hearing these words and filled with hope, the king and his wives returned to the palace. Keeping in mind the promise he had made to them, the king cut the mango into two equal halves and gave one half to each of his wives. And as an effect of the holy man’s powers, both the queens conceived with a child each. The king’s joy knew no bounds that day.

After a few months when both the queens delivered their babies, the king was shocked. Both of them delivered babies that were fragmented; each baby was born with one eye, one arm, one leg, half a stomach and half a face. The two midwives who oversaw the delivery of the babies wrapped them up, took them outside the palace by the back door and threw them away.

A rakshasha woman by name Jara happened to pass by on the path that these two half-babies lay. She took up the fragments and as if by force of fate she united the fragments of the babies with an intention of carrying away the babies. As soon as the fragments were united they formed a sturdy child of one body endued with life.

Then suddenly Jara found herself unable to carry the child which seemed to have a body as strong and hard as a thunderbolt. The infant then closed his fists, inserted them into his mouth as babies do and began to make a noise. The noise was akin to rain charged clouds thundering loudly.

Alarmed at this sound, the inmates of the palace including king Vrihadratha himself and his queens came running out. Seeing the lactating mothers, the sonless king, Jara thought to herself – I live within the dominion of a king who strongly desires progeny. It does not bode me well to think of killing this child.

Suddenly assuming a human form gave the child to the king O Vrihadratha, this is your child, given back to you by me. Take it, as it has been born of both your wives by virtue of the command of the holy man. Cast away by the midwives, your son has been returned to you by Jara.

Having spoken these words Jara disappeared from there.

The king took the child and performed all the rites of infancy thereof. He named the child Jarasandha – the child which had been united by Jara. As the boy grew up he was endued with great energy and began to grow in bulk and strength like fire on which clarified butter had been poured.

<< Part 2 >>

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This post has been written for the WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts where the idea is to publish at least one post a day based on the prompts provided.

Today’s prompt was “Three people walk into a bar …” and I took the liberty of using this prompt as the first post in a series about the story of Jarasandha, the ruler of Magadha.

The big picture


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Do I focus on ‘the big picture’ or do I fret over ‘the smaller details’? Is it enough if I focus my attention, energy, and efforts on achieving the overall goal or do I need to pay equal attention to all the smaller tasks and milestones that I have to cross before I reach the final destination?

I am sure these are questions that most of us ask ourselves whenever we set out on any endeavor. Ranging from the small mundane tasks such as taking the family out on an impulsive breakfast outing where the decision has to range from the cuisine to be chosen, which determines the restaurant to be visited, which determines the parking space available at the venue, which in turn determines the choice of a four wheeler versus a two wheeler, which further determines the amount of ‘dressing up’ to be done by the whole family. So, while ‘the big picture’ remains the family going out for breakfast, ‘the smaller details’ determine the final decision, in this case, at least.

Let’s talk about how this so called ‘dichotomy’ affects the way we read books and imbibe them. While the choice of the book itself is based on the big picture, ie, book reviews, author reputation, the overall genre to which the book belongs to, what makes the book a good or a bad one for readers remains the smaller details. The character quirks of the main protagonist and the antagonist/s, the setting and the milieu in which the plot is set, the character and plot development, the pace at which the story chugs along, the supporting cast, the tone of the overall book, these are a few of the things that either make or break a book. These are the elements which ensure that a book remains memorable for a long time after it is read, or not.

That being said, there are cases where some books beautifully build up the smaller details and get almost all of them correct, but completely miss out on the big picture. At the end of the book, readers, while suitably impressed and happy with everything else, end up having the impression of ‘there was something missing in that book’ without being able to put a finger on it. The easiest way to know whether a book missed out on the big picture or not would be to try and explain its essence in one sentence using ten words or less. And if that one sentence manages to capture the overall essence of the book, then it paints the big picture for sure.

In one of my recent posts, Second Time Around, I had pretty unequivocally stated that my all time favorite book remains the great epic, the Mahabharata. When it comes to reading this book, it has been my experience that while imbuing the ‘big picture’ of the entire epic, it also helps readers a lot if they pay attention to the ‘smaller details’ as well.

An endless treasure trove of information, this book contains various sub-plots, smaller side stories and memorable characters with interesting back-stories of their own, that one can end up spending quite a few years of ‘reading hours’ on them. Although I had read the Amar Chitra Katha comic book series on the epic and had also watched BR Chopra’s TV series on Doordarshan, it is only in recent times that I have realized the sheer depth of the Mahabharata. And regular readers of my blog can vouch for the fact that it has always been my endeavor to highlight some of the lesser known stories from this epic from time to time.

So, here’s hoping that the smaller details of the Mahabharata continue to educate me and provide you with enough interesting reading material on my blog, while not missing out on the big picture.

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This post has been written for the WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts where the idea is to publish at least one post a day based on the prompts provided.

Today’s prompt was “When you gaze out of your window – real or figurative – do you see the forest first, or the trees?” and I took the liberty of interpreting this prompt as a question as to what I see first – the big picture or the smaller details.

Second time around


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Today’s prompt was “Tell us about a book that you can read again and again without getting bored – what is it that speaks to you?

Now anybody that knows me to some extent and have been following my blog knows that I am interested in Indian mythology quite a bit, and it therefore should come as no surprise that my favorite book of all time would be The Mahabharata – no two ways about that.

Most of us know that the heart of this great epic is the constant confrontation between the Pandava and the Kaurava princes for the kingdom of Hastinapur, and that the epochal Bhagvad Gita also forms an important part of the Mahabharata. However, the fact remains that this great epic contains within it countless side stories of equal significance and which contain important lessons of life within them.

The story of Shakuntala’s love, that of Damayanti and Nala, an abbreviated version of the Ramayana, the story of Rishyashringa, the story of Krishna’s life, the story of the Yadava clan, all of these form important but constantly overlooked parts of the Mahabharata. If someone were to actually read through the entire 18 parvas (or books) that this great epic consists of, only then would he/she actually get a feel of how massive this body of knowledge is.

This book has something for everybody to enjoy. Whether it is Bhima’s shows of strength at various points in the story or Arjuna’s valor on the battlefield, or the disrespect meted out to Draupadi when she was disrobed, or Karna’s loyalty and friendship to Duryodhana, or Shakuni’s unending devious planning to cheat the Pandavas out of their rightful inheritance, or Bhishma’s steadfast adherence to his terrible vow, all of these characters and situations have given rise to unending debates among readers of this epic. There cannot be a single reader who has read the book and has not been impacted by it in some manner or the other.

All of us have our favorite characters from the book, and most of us tend to have very strong likes and dislikes of other characters as well. And in my opinion, any book which generates such strong emotions in people, and that too such a large number of people, surely does have an appeal which transcends barriers of language, caste, education, gender and even nationalities.

For me personally, this book is a treasure trove of various stories, human emotions, the inherent moral dilemmas that almost all the characters face, and the subsequent lessons that all readers can learn from them. Almost all the lessons that I have learnt from the Mahabharata are universal in nature and can easily be adopted by me in my daily life and that to me, takes this book to an entirely different level altogether. The original Sanskrit version (or its complete English translation) is something that I still have to read in its entirety, but the various other abridged versions, the reinterpretations (modern and medieval) that I have read have given me more than enough material to constantly keep revisiting whenever I am on the lookout for some mythological material for my blog posts.

This book is also special to me as it rekindles memories of my father buying all those Amar Chitra Katha comics when I was around 3 yrs old. And his habit of maintaining all his books really well meant that all of them are well bound and safely tucked away in cupboards in my house. One of these days I will get around to pulling them out and reading them all over again. The 42 part Mahabharata series published by ACK remains something that I treasure from my childhood for all time.

While I am aware that all this time I have only been talking about the epic itself and have not dwelt upon what it is that this book talks to me about, the only reason is that there are just too many things that I have learnt and keep learning from the Mahabharata. Every time I revisit parts of this book to come up with material for my blog, I learn something new and that to me is what makes this book so magical and something that I keep going back to time and again. The Mahabharata, that way, remains a good old friend who I can look for to give some solid and critical advice.

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This post has been written for the WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts where the idea is to publish at least one post a day based on the prompts provided.

Today’s prompt was “Tell us about a book that you can read again and again without getting bored – what is it that speaks to you?

Shakuntala and Dushyanta – The Mahabharata version


Raja_Ravi_Varma_-_Mahabharata_-_Shakuntala

Although today’s prompt was to write a post about “Erasure: You have the choice to erase one incident from your past, as though it never happened. What would you erase and why?” I chose to liberally interpret the prompt and post about one of Indian mythology’s immortal love stories, that of Shakuntala and Dushyanta and one incident in their story which deals with ‘erasing the past’, so to speak.

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Shakuntala, the adopted daughter of Rishi Kanwa and the young king Dushyanta fell in love with each other when the king happened to see her in the forest near the rishi’s hermitage on one of his hunting expeditions. As is the norm with all clichéd love stories, their love was also ‘at first sight’ so to speak and they fell hopelessly in love with each other and got married. After the initial few days of being blissfully married, the king then goes back to his kingdom promising his new bride that he would come back soon to take her with him.

But once he reaches the kingdom, he gets so involved with the nitty-gritty’s of administration, politics, solving the problems of his subjects that he ends up forgetting his lovely Shakuntala. In the meantime, his wife, Shakuntala delivers a strong baby boy Sarvadamana (subdue of all) as a result of their union.

By the time the boy was six years old, he had proven to be brave beyond his age, courtesy a boon granted by his maternal grandfather to his mother. And around this time was when Rishi Kanwa told Shakuntala that it was time for her to take her son to Dushyanta and ask him to install the young boy as the heir apparent to the throne. It was time for the world to know of this wonderful son of Dushyanta.

However, when Shakuntala and her son reached the kingdom and had an audience with King Dushyanta, the king conveniently seemed to have forgotten all about his wife and the fact that they had married six years ago in the forest. He behaved as though this was one of those embarrassing incidents from his past life which he would not acknowledge and least of all make the young Sarvadamana as his heir apparent.

It was almost as if Dushyanta wanted ‘erasure’ of this particular incident and Shakuntala from his past as it did nothing but embarrass him in public.

Upon being accused of lying in open court, Shakuntala loses her temper and asks Dushyanta as to how he could have forgotten her and accuse her of such falsehood. She warns him of the fact that Lord Vishnu, the protector was well aware of their union and that any refusal to acknowledge the truth would result in grave consequences for him. Despite Shakuntala’s anger and grief, Dushyanta remains unmoved following which she leaves the palace in a huff.

As soon as she goes out, celestial voices are heard in the palace admonishing Dushyanta for his lies. These voices remind and reassure him that the boy is indeed his son and is destined for far more greatness than anybody can imagine. The voices then command him to accept his son and christen him Bharata.

On hearing these voices, Dushyanta then addresses the court and tells everyone present “If I had accepted the boy as my son purely based on lady Shakuntala’s words, then all of you would have been suspicious and my son would also have not been regarded as pure. However, now that all of you have heard the celestial voices from heaven stating the facts as they are, I will gladly publicly accept the boy as my son and name him Bharata as instructed.

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This post is written for WordPress Daily Prompts: 365 Writing Prompts where the idea is to publish at least one post a day based on the prompts provided.

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The abhijnanasakuntala poem penned by Kalidasa has a version of the story where Shakuntala is cursed by Rishi Durvasa which ends up with Dushyanta forgetting all about her and then being reminded of her when he comes across a golden ring of his inside a fish’s stomach. However, the version I have presented above is based on the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata written by Veda Vyasa.

It is quite interesting to know that the Kalidasa version is the more popular one even though it is only an adaptation of the original text of the Mahabharata. And I am sure that not too many people are aware of the fact that the story of Shakuntala is a part of the Mahabharata. Most people treat it as a standalone story by itself.

And the image used at the very top of the post is none other than the one immortalized by Raja Ravi Varma titled Sakuntala looking back to glimpse Dushyanta, one of the many wonderful paintings that this legendary painter has painted using Indian mythology as the theme.