Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Maha-men in our Epics. Part I

Watching TV was not something that was openly encouraged in my family. In moderation though, this activity was deemed mandatory. 'Moderation' being defined as watching the 7pm news & 'Mahabharat' on Sunday mornings. I am, ofcourse, talking about the pre-Cable , pre- Satellite TV era..when all homes had only 1 channel... our good old Doordharshan.. DD for short.

If I & my sister behaved like nice kids the entire week i.e. did home-work without being forced to, ran errands without sulking, had quieter/shorter arm wrestles & scratch-others-eyes-out-fights, did not put up a fight when woken up for school in morning etc..etc.. we could get to watch chitrahaar on friday night. For 7 whole days of imposed & monitored saintliness, our much awaited reward was seeing the skimpy (chiffon saree in rain!! skirts with flares which rise up to show a stockinged leg when they twirl... OMG!!) dressed hindi film heroines & chocolate heroes (baggy blue jeans, sportshoes, t-shirt with graphic print in front worn with unbuttoned xxxxxl shirt tied into a knot at waist) gyrating their pelvis and dancing amongst earthen pots/flowers/250 dancers.

Watching Mahabharat on a lazy Sunday morning (mostly while downing your breakfast) was something we were supposed to do..but dint mind doing. This programme was made compulsory because
1. We are Hindus by birth..and should know what/how Krishna was.
2. Mom thought that girls should know about culture/mythology so that we dont get 'too-westernized'
3. We would hear something other than 'Dhak..dhak karne lagaa..' & some of that non-dhak-dhak variety of knowledge would find its way into our cranium.
4. Parents did not want us to embarrass them if someone asks me/my sis 'who are the trimurti?' and we would answer confidently ''I think it is really shahrukh, amir & salman..though the movie starred shahrukh,anil kapoor & jackie.''

Now, Mahabharat can be interpreted many many ways...and each of it is right. Some pundits say that this epic holds the key to many of life's questions. And each person in the epic embodies a certain character-trait which should be emulated.. even the villians.. (for ex: Dhuryodhana's loyalty..Kaikeyi's servitude to husband etc. etc.).

For me, instead of solving my questions, this show & the story had infact raised many. Instead of getting awe-inspired by the unshakeable strength  of character that each of the protagonists had, i got more dejected & repulsed with certain events in the storyline. The most common explanations i hear for this 'perceived' flaw in any of the Gods is that 'Even Gods are not perfect..and they do not intend man to be'.. Or 'These incarnations were created in the form of Man & some flaws had to inculcated in them to be more mortal-like'.

I dont buy these arguments... I believe that Gods should be imitation-worthy. They should embody all that we want to achieve & to be. Some fatal lack of strength tarnishes His image in my mind forever.

For ex: Draupati's Saree(?) Act.

Now, to start with, i hated Kunthi for saying 'Share it..whatever it is' to her 5 sons (the Pandavas ) when they came home with the prize(the bride) after Arjun won Draupati's swayamvara competition. This was purportedly done to keep the 5 brothers united. A wife for each = 5 wives in the family.. surely which mother-in-law would like to be outnumbered? With not one but 5 husbands to handle, poor Draupati would have no time to pick up saas-bahu tiffs.. clever, no?

To get around the 'i was here first', 'i am the eldest'., 'but, i won her!' hassles & tug-o-war among the siblings, it was agreed that each one gets a year with his wife..and during that time, none of the other husbands may enjoy her company or even see her. This worked well enough & the five year cycle continued.

Though the Draupati babe had not much of a say on the count of her husbands, there are events which reveal that she had a sense of identity, had her own strong opinions & sense of humour.

Coming to the 'Act'..
The eldest big-bro of Pandavas, Yudhistr, was a gamble-freak. So his cousin-gang Kauravas comprising of Duryodhana & 100 more such (remember: it was time  before 'hum do, hamare ek/do!') hatch a plan to make Yudhi gamble & lose his inheritance ( kingdom, wealth,..blah..blah). Yudhi falls for the trap, gambles on & proceed to lose his wealth, his throne, himself & his brothers. When left with nothing to gamble more, Yudhi did what any self-respecting gambler would do.. gamble on his wife. No brownies for guessing what happened.. he lost..again..

Rendered to the status of a slave due to her husband's deeds, Draupati is hastily summoned to the court..where she is verbally abused (She is called a whore for having 5 husbands).. made passes at (Karna asks her to sit on his lap)..& Dusshasana (another Kaurav sibling) think it would be jolly good fun to strip her naked in the court and proceeds to do so.

Like any 8 yr old fed on a steady diet of Hindi films would ask.. what were her 5 husbands doing all this while.. Isnt the 'man' of the family the protector/provider/avenger ?.. Oh well, in this one..they just sit back & watch.. At times, they hang their heads in shame. At one point of time when Arjun gets up in rage, Yudhi blocks him saying 'Whoaa..nelly.. hang on.. remember ..we too are slaves!!. So jus sit your ass back'.

Draupati realized that her husbands do not have the collective vertebrae to help her & turns to her friend Krishna for help...who does help her & keeps her modesty intact. This dis-robing ordeal over, Pandavas are asked to leave the kingdom & they promptly do so..with Draupati in tow..
("WTF!! why did she go with them?? Does she have short term memory loss....why cant she just file for a divorce & do Ctrl+C 4 times. Or better, why cant she marry Krishna..he got enough wives already, surely one more wont hurt.")

Or perhaps this is a interesting experiment in the group psychology. If an event is witnessed by many people, the probability of reaction decreases with the number of witness. Which is to say, if Draupati had one husband instead of 5..he would have, maybe..just maybe, stood up for her dignity. Here, each thought that anyone of the other four would have the pluck to react.

Anywhich way, embodiment of righteousness or not, what Big B Yudhi did..was just not right.


kummatty said...

"Kaikeyi's servitude to husband" in Mahabaratha? New to me!

Also epics are stories written by humans, that might explain why god is not as "Perfect" as your sense of perfectness!

Bhai said...

Good one... I have always been a critic of the namby pamby heroes of our epics of yore...

At risk of being ostracized (I did need to spell check that word), I have oodles of stuff to write on the hero of our other epic... (the one by the robber turned sage)

let's see if I am motivated enough to blog on that...

keerthy karthikeyan said...

@ gkm: epics written by humans?? i thght it was written by the elephant god with his broken tusk and dictated by a great sage. hardly normal humans!!
yeah..kaikeyi was supposedly the most virtous and dutiful of his wives.. which is why she got the redemption coupon in the first place.

@ bhai: what irks me is that, these namby pamby heroes are supposedly the most ideal male.. no wonder some men/religious groups think that they can take a woman's dignity as a misnomer.

Bhai said...

re read your blog and spotted a boo boo... methinks, it was Duryodhana who slapped his thighs in derision and asked Draupadi to sit on them... isn't that why Bheema took a vow that he would break those thighs one day ... ?

Balaraman (Bala) said...

I had raised the same question and here is the answer I got "Of course Mahabharatha tries to teach both what to do and what not to do, somebody asked Vyasa why he confuses human beings by mingling the dos and the donts.. he lamented thus.. "I compiled the vedas, people had no time to read and hardly any of the 'common man' bothered.. so I thought I will write the morals in a story format and hence Mahabharatha, but even then I could not communicate.. What to do.. " And thus was born Srimad Bhagavadam, which contains only the morals and the essence .. "

Shilpa Menon Mishra said...

Great post... needless to say, totally feel the same about this topic. KT, you must read up "Palace of Illusions", if you havent already - Its Mahabharat through the eyes of Draupadi, and gives voice to all the frustrations towards the namby pamby ones and includes a nice twist to the story.. .. check it out..

Balaraman (Bala) said...

Recently learnt that Draupadi was abused twice later. By Jayadartha who just kidnapped her when they were in the forest and then by Kichaka when they were in disguise. Always painful to read her parts of the story.

And on a side note, two corrections. After the ordeal they were not immediately asked to leave. Thanks to Draupadi, they will get everything back. They will be invited to gamble again after a few days and we know what happened.
Second, apparently Big bro was not a gamble freak. He accepted the "invitation" because it was from elders. Hard to fathom such reasons.