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Maha Bharat Maha Election

The philosophical and political narratives of one of the greatest epics of ancient India still find resemblance in the actions of Indian politicians

Ritwik Mukherjee
Mon, Apr 28 2014

About Ritwik

A senior journalist and author, Ritwik Mukherjee is a keen observer of Indian politics with a shade of humour.


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Mahabharata is considered to be the great tale of the ‘Bharata dynasty’ or the descendants of King Bharata (or Bharat), from whom the name ‘Bharatbarsha’ is believed to have been derived. Large stretches of Bharat may have become India, but an etymological study will show that the essence of Mahabharata (or Mahabharat) still remains ingrained in what a vast majority of the Indians do. Especially, the philosophical and political narratives of one of the greatest epics of ancient India still find resemblance in the actions and deeds of Indian politicians.

Narendra Modi’s much-talked about affidavit with the Election Commission (EC) - India’s poll watchdog, while filing his nomination for the 2014 general elections in India, where he mentioned Jashodaben as his wife, reminds me of a story from the great epic.

Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five Pandava brothers, and often called the Dharmaraj (or the righteous king), was perceived to be one who never committed any mistake, or carried out any injustice and never lied, to say the least. Nevertheless, this pious King also had to pay a visit to hell for the solitary tactical truth (or tactical lie) that Yudhisthira came up with during his life time.

The following story explains everything.

In Mahabharata, Dronacharya (Drona in short) - the royal guru of the Kauravas and the Pandavas - with his impeccable wartime prowess, was responsible for devising the Chakravyuha (a strategic military formation) that trapped Abhimanyu. The son of Arjuna and Krishna’s sister Shubhadra, Abhimanyu was eventually killed as a lone soldier by more than one Kaurava warriors. This was considered a serious violation of the rules of engagement, devised by Bhishma Pitamaha (grandfather), the patriarchal custodian of the Kuru dynasty.

Drona’s only son Ashwatthama was also fighting for the Kauravas.

When Drona became irresistible, Krishna asked Bhima, second of the five Pandava brothers, who mustered immense physical strength, to find an elephant named Ashwatthama and kill him. Bhima did just that and announced in the presence of Drona that Ashwatthama was dead.

Drona did not believe Bhima's claim and asked Yudhishthira, who was the most honest person known to mankind. Yudhishthira confirmed it by saying "Ashwatthama Hata: Iti, Narova Kunjarova", meaning Ashwatthama is slain, whether human or elephant.

Yudhishthira uttered the last part ‘Iti, Narova Kunjarova’ silently (in some version), as Yudhisthira was uttering the last part, members the Pandava army started to blow conches so that Drona could only hear the first part: ‘Ashwatthama is slain’. He fell to the ground in despondency and grief. As he laid his weapons down, Dhrishtadyumna, the commander-in-chief of the Pandavas, not realising what happened, killed Drona.

The words ‘Ashwatthama Hata: Iti, Narova Kunjarova' have over the centuries symbolised ambiguity in Indian culture. Such ambiguity, uncertainty, vagueness, red herrings are tools often used tactically and creatively to fool people.

Cut to the present.

BJP’s prime ministerial candidate got away with keeping just a blank space in his marital status every time he filed nominations for the state elections in the past. This time round with the country’s top court’s diktat coming in the way, he had to disclose it.

Krishna and other war managers of Pandava could successfully convince Yudhisthira that he was not telling a lie. It must have been the same case with Modi’s poll managers. Poor Yudhisthira never realised that Chitragupta, the Hindu mythological character assigned with the task of keeping a record of the actions of human beings, would consider his ambiguous and tactical truth as a ‘lie’ and he would be sent to hell for that!

The rebuttal from the BJP camp is based on a counter argument that so many leaders from the opposition camp keep their illicit relationships under wraps.

This is not to support such an act, but there can be more reasons than one to hide an illegitimate relationship. But give one good reason, why one would keep any ambiguity over a legitimate relationship.

Given that the relationship between Modi and Jashodaben was not illegitimate, the opposition Congress decided not to use it as a political weapon against the Gujarat chief minister.

BJP and Modi’s relations defended the Gujarat strongman’s actions by stating that he was made to marry at a very young age not by his own wishes but that of his family. It is believed that Modi renounced the marriage to lead a celibate life, considered high on morality by many in India.

A kick in the butt

As India braces for multi-phase elections, I’m also reminded of a hilarious story from Gopal Bhand, a legendary court jester in medieval Bengal. He was in the court of Raja Krishna Chandra, the famous king of Nadia in 18th century AD.

Such was the genius of Gopal that the king considered him as one of the Navaratnas (nine jewels) of his court. Gopal’s statue can still be seen in the palace of Raja Krishna Chandra in Krishnanagar.

Once a foreigner with a deceptive look arrived at Raja Krishna Chandra’s court. He was fluent in many languages and was well versed with the art, culture, rituals of different places and communities. So much so that it was very difficult to figure out his true identity.

Raja Krishna Chandra and others were curious to know where this man hailed from and Gopal was assigned with the task of finding it out.

One fine morning, Gopal was hiding behind the main entrance of the Raja’s courtyard, waiting for the man. The very moment, the man arrived and stepped inside the courtyard, he was greeted with a kick in the butt. Pat came his reaction: “Sora andho ochhi?” (a slang in Oriya followed by an angry outburst: Are you blind?).

Gopal told the King that he had no doubt whatsoever that this stranger was from Orissa, a south-eastern state in India. Later the stranger also admitted to it.

During election time, one would come across many similar instances when the true colours of a person would be manifested by his or her actions, despite the best of efforts to conceal them.

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