Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mahabharata, Episode 1

Where do yo begin the Mahabharata from? Where do you start? Do you start with the snake sacrifice (सर्प सत्र) ? And what do you do if you are making a television serial of the epic? And what happens if you also want to inject a subtext of political probity, even if the powers that be may see it as less than politically acceptable - of having the king be told that he is a प्रतिनिधि, not a नीतिपति, or that even royal succession has to be on the basis of merit, and not birth? This is not explicit in the epic, but notable is the fact that such a message was only somewhat unpalatable in the 1980s, but would be seen as a direct, full-frontal assault on the royal, imported dynasty in India today.

So, talking about beginnings, what about starting with King Bharata, son of King Dushyanta and Queen Shakuntala, who appointed not one of his sons as his successor, but instead chose someone else as his heir, and thus set perhaps the first precedent of democracy? Would that be a stretch? What if this beginning, the sapling that King Bharata planted, would be uprooted several generations later, during King Shantanu's reign? Such is the beginning of the Mahabharata that BR Chopra's epic serialization of the panch-veda chooses - a tale with time, समय , as the sutradhar, सूत्रधार| King Shantanu is besotted with the river goddess Ganga, and the two marry. But here is a condition. A condition that is the first of several conditions that will dot the epic, and each condition an attempt to control fate, a futile, human attempt. Ganga imposes a condition on Shantanu - that he will not question her, no matter what she does. Shantanu agrees. Ganga tests him, repeatedly, and most cruelly so, by drowning their first born son, and then the second born, and then the third, and so on... Shantanu can only watch.

 © 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.