Sunday, April 08, 2007

Mahabharata.. re-looked and re-told !!

Have finally finished reading a magnum opus of a book. Magnum opus not because of any great literary achievements the book has had and not because the author is any stalwart. Magnum opus because of its sheer size (865 pages full of text only, and that too of small font) and because of the fact that it is in my mother tongue Marathi (the written word of which, I hate to admit, takes effort out of me to read). Anyways, after 4 months of chipping away, I finally managed to finish it, surviving my wife’s disapproving looks and comments J.

So what is this book about, you might ask? The book is titled ‘Duryodhan’ by Kaka Vidhate. As the name suggests, it is the story of the eldest Kaurava prince. It starts with his father Dritrashtra lamenting about being a blind prince just before his wedding with Gandhari and ends with Duryodhan dying near the river-bank on the last day of the Mahabharata war. Now the Mahabharata has always fascinated me since childhood. For me, it is quite simply, the greatest story ever sold (and even the ultimate soap opera J). BR Chopra did an outstanding job transferring the epic on the small screen (someday, I will buy the entire collection of DVDs) and hopefully, some director some day will craft an all-start-cast on the big screen. But this book was different from all other books that I have read on the Mahabharata. For once, this was more of a biography rather than being about the actual war (the war only takes about the last 200 pages or so). But more importantly, this was a view from the ‘other’ side, as it were. Though I have read and enjoyed ‘Mrityunjay’ (another outstanding book on my Mahabharata hero Karna, which, strangely enough, I read while doing my MBA at Bangalore), this book tells the epic in a different light, from the eyes of someone who, as history tells us, is the villain of the piece.

But the book raises several questions forcing us to re-look our generally accepted beliefs about the Mahabharata. For example, history tells us that the Pandavas were bound to win the war because they were on the side of truth, of dharma. But take a closer look at what actually happened in the war. Each one of the Kaurava commanders were killed rather than defeated (‘hatya’ as the book calls it as opposed to ‘vadh’ which is the Kshatriya way of overcoming your enemy in battle). Bhishma was killed when he refused to fight Shikhandi, Drona was mercilessly beheaded after he laid down his arms on hearing the false news of his son’s death. And Karna was defeated in the only way Arjuna could have, when he was without his weapons trying to get his stuck wheel out. And all this is generally accepted, not some new theory the book is trying to put forth. Against this, the only legitimate and accepted ‘adharm’ from the Kaurava side was in killing Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu (which the book incidentally denies but lets go with widely held and accepted ‘facts’.) So, atleast as far as the actual war is concerned, there is not much doubt on who acted according to ‘dharma’ and who did not.

The other important point that the book brings out is that Duryodhana lost the war not because he was in the wrong, but because of all his trusted aids betrayed him. Bhishma and Drona could not kill the Pandavas because they were so dear to them. But most importantly, Karna also did him in. He was the rock on which Duryodhana had pinned his hopes on, knowing fully well that in a legitimate battle, even Arjuna could not stop him. But just a few days before the war, out came Krishna (who, not surprisingly, is painted in more black than white by the book) and told Karna the story of his birth, shattering Karna from within. This led to Karma promising Kunti that he would not kill any other Pandava except Arjuna. In the actual war, Karna had each one of the 4 remaining Pandavas at his mercy, had he killed any one of them, the war would have stopped then and Yudhistir would have accepted defeat. So that left Duryodhana with absolutely no friends in battle. He was a marked man from the time the battle started and fate caught up with him eighteen days later (that too, courtesy of a cowardly act from Bheem who hit Duryodhana below the belt after realizing that he was not going to win otherwise).

All in all, the book tells an interesting and often, heart-touching tale of a prince and prospective (and maybe, even rightful) emperor wronged by fate, his father, his friends and his dear ones, leaving him to wage a lonely battle to get what he regarded as rightfully his in life. And, on top of all this, history regards him as a villain and the instigator of the war.

After all, what is history but not a story told by the victorious???



Monsieur K said...

very well written. i havent read this book, but it does bring out very valid points. i have read "radheya" based on karna, and it also says that while the kauravas followed dharma, it was the pandavas who bent the rules in the war.
anyways, it was good to read your thoughts.
keep writing.

Samir said...

well written.. but isn't there any mention in the book about the 'adharma' of kaurvas especially the episode of 'chir haran'. and what about the offer of pandavas to compromise with 5 villages? wasn't it adahrma not to return the kingdom to Pandavas? what are the views of the book on these?

Amit Gokhale said...

hi samcho..

valid questions... yes, the book admits that the kauravas were not right in the 'chir haran' episode.. the part excuse given for that is draupadi insulting karna during her swayamvar and calling duryodhana a blind man's son.. incidentally the book comes down heavily on yudhisthir basically for his refusal for back down from the offer of the dice game.. saying that he himself wanted the kingdom and backed himself to win the dice game against shakuni.. regarding the other question, duryodhana never regarded Kunti's 5 sons as 'Pandavas' because Pandu was not capable of bearing sons and each of the Pandavas were born courtesy of someone else.. infact it alleges Yudhisthir was actually vidur's son.. neways the fact the dhritarashtra was denied his kingdom (he was elder than Pandu) because he was blind also was a source of duryodhana's refusal to give Pandavas the kingdom..

Anonymous said...

Hello sir,
I just wanted to ask whether this book titled "Duryodhan" by Kaka Vidhate is available in Hindi?

I am very eager to read this book .can you tell the publication house etc details of this book.
I would suggest you another book on the same theme "MAHABHARAT KI EK SAANJH" by B.B.Aggarwal.
Waiting for your reply

Anonymous said...

I am still waiting for your reply,to get the details of this book.
I am very eager to read the book mentioned by you.
Please take out some part of your precious time and reply soon.


vaishali said...

hi amit,

yes, the war was won deceptively -and Arjuna was not ready for the war at all - but Lord Krishna forced him to! and all the "dhoorthata" was brought in by Krishna - imagine what means Kaurav could have opted to win the war. But what consequences that would have led to! A country ruled by Kauravas? Would that have been good? So, God says (Krishna) -that to win good over evil - it's diplomacy that is required. Just being "good" is not enough. After all- all this was done, to save the country being led by someone like Kauravas! So, we should not have any soft-corner for the Kauravas! :-)


स्वरुप said...

bhai kayee dinon se "mahaabhaarat ki ek saanjh" ekaanki ki talaash kar rahaa hoon, aapake paas ho to kripayaa bhejane ki kripaa karein. yadi kisi kitaab mein ho to bataayein. please
-ganpat swarup pathak

Dr. Vikas Awalekar said...

Hi Amit.. I am crazy about the book DURYODHAN. Now days I worship Samrat Duryodhana instead of selfish krisna. I want to revise some lines from Duryodhana which touch my heart
Rajyache tukade padale apahar bhumicha zala
Durvar sangharshacha janu payach rovala gela
Raktachi salsal mazya tadfadat atmyacha
Aikun game Duryodhan janu jagata jagata mela

Dr. Vikas Awalekar said...

Hi Amit.. I am crazy about the book DURYODHAN. Now days I worship Samrat Duryodhana instead of selfish krisna. I want to revise some lines from Duryodhana which touch my heart
Rajyache tukade padale apahar bhumicha zala
Durvar sangharshacha janu payach rovala gela
Raktachi salsal mazya tadfadat atmyacha
Aikun game Duryodhan janu jagata jagata mela

Panchaali Kazi said...

Very nice analysis. I have read Mrityunjaya, and I believe there's no other book yet written that can be paralleled with it. For the first time ever, I felt a lilting sympathy for Duryodhana by reading that book, and the concept of this one certainly interests me.

Prafulla said...

Dear Vaishali,

Replying to your point of ruling Kauravas (so called devils) the earth.

Its an (False??) assumption from all of us that Pandavas are all good spirits & Kauravas are bad rulers.

For your kind information, before the war, kaurava's only leading Hastinapur for many years, & its no where written or proved that they were no doing a good job. In-fact there PRAJA was very happy in there RAJYA as stated in Mahabharata's earlier parts.

Considering the fact that no kingdom is 100% good or satisfactory (not even RAM RAJYA) as been proved by history time & again; it makes no difference to a common man.. that who wins the war.. kaurava or pandava.