|Kurukshetra (credit: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)|
There is an innate human desire to see and interpret things in a monochromatic palette of black-and-white. One could argue that stereotyping is an "energy-saving" device that allows us to make "efficient decisions on the basis of past experiences." ("Stereotypes as energy-saving devices: A peek inside the cognitive toolbox") . Therefore, is it any surprise that many of us look at the characters in the Mahabharata also through similar, stereotypical lenses? It simplifies things if we view Duryodhana as the jealous usurper, Shakuni as the manipulative uncle, Bhishma as the noble but helpless elder, Arjuna as the hero, Karna as the tragic and righteous hero fighting on the wrong side, and so on. No, it is not quite proper or kosher to include in this group of admirers (and critics) of the Mahabharata those that bring their own neuroses and neo-colonial prejudices!
|Ganga presents Devavrata |
(credit: B.P. Banerjee, via
the free encyclopedia)
What about Kunti? A youthful indiscretion on her part led her to first abandon her first-born son, hide the truth from all for as long as Karna lived. Kunti, who chose her meeting with Karna, before the war, to not accept him as much as to ask him to spare her beloved Arjuna's life? Did Kunti do the right and just thing by asking the Pandavas to share what they had brought her - Droupadi? Or was Kunti acting out of a desire to prevent strife between the brothers, who had all been smitten by Droupadi's beauty? Certainly Kunti harboured at least some amount of resentment at her father, who had given her away to Kuntibhoj. But what about the Kunti who had to share her husband with the beautiful Madri, and who had to live with the knowledge that her husband had died a happy man in the arms of Madri? What about Kunti who had to live almost her entire adult life in hardship, deprived of companionship after the death of her husband, and then the company of her children after the game of dice?
|Yudhishthira losing the game of dice and the disrobing of|
Draupadi (credit: Illustration from Persian Mahabharata,
Karna, who heard the truth about his birth, from no less than Krishna and then his mother, Kunti. Yet who chose to fight on the side of the Kauravas, against his own brothers. The great warrior who chose to sit out of more than half of the greatest war fought so as to not fight under Bhishma's command. Had Bhishma and Karna fought together, would the result of the war not been different? Did Bhishma deliberately provoke and belittle Karna's prowess as a "rathi" - he admitted as much on his deathbed, but was the needling also meant to provoke Karna from sitting out of at least part of the war? Did Karna not wrong his friend Duryodhana by giving the vow he gave Kunti? Would not have the death of Bhima broken the back of the Pandava army, for, was it not Bhima who killed every one of the one hundred Kauravas, including Duryodhana in the famous gada-yuddha? Karna was the one who abused Droupadi as a courtesan, but was it not Karna who expressed regret at these harsh words he had spoken - to no less a person than Krishna?
|Upayaja pointing Drupada|
(credit: Mahabharata, published
by Gita Press. via Wikipedia, the
Ghatotkacha, Bhima's son from Hidimba, and the eldest among the children of the Pandavas. He who was invincible in battle during night, but who Krishna wanted dead - but only after Ghatotakacha was the fodder that was used to quench the fire of Karna's shakti weapon. Ghatotakacha's death gave Arjuna life. Because, didn't Krishna tell Arjuna that the combined might of Jishnu and Vishnu would not have been able to counter Karna's Shakti weapon?
|Kripa fights Shikhandi|
(credit: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
What of Krishna Dvapayana, the father of the Kurus who fought on the plains of Kurukshetra? Who warned his mother Satyavati and dughters-in-law Ambika and Ambalika of the impending doom of the Kuru lineage and took them to the forest. But who gave the same advice to the Pandavas, only thirty-six years after the war, after they had witnessed the death and destruction of their entire kith and kin - their sons, brothers, cousins, fathers, teacher, Krishna, the entire Yadav race, all.
|Krishna and Arjuna|
(credit: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Dharma is subtle.