Friday, October 16, 2015

Playing By the Book? I Don’t Think So!

Playing by the book to win is a myth that has cost us dear. We should know better, but we're probably poor learners! Among several arguments put forth to explain Indians’ losses against foreign invaders, one of the more commonly heard one is that Indians could not – or refused to – adapt to the new rules of warfare and insisted on fighting by the more traditional, dharmic, rules of war. But is that really the case?
Kripa and Shikhandi fight
(credit: Wikpedia, the free encyclopedia)

Let’s use the Mahabharata to evaluate this assumption more closely. Was this war at Kurukshetra fought as a dharmic war? The Pandavas certainly believed theirs to be a just war, yes. But the means? Most would disagree, I hope. Women were not supposed to take part in the war – at least one did. There was not supposed to be any fighting at night – there was. The unarmed were not to be attacked – they were. A warrior was not to be engaged in battle without warning – he was. Warriors were not to be attacked when sleeping - they were. And so on… Every single rule was broken, by both sides.

Shikhandi had been born Shikhandini – a woman. You could also see her as Amba reborn. A yaksha gave Shikhandini his male form, and she thus became Shikhandi. Bhishma looked at Shikhandi as a woman and refused to engage him in a duel. The Pandavas used this to shield Arjuna from Bhishma. Thus was brought down the first commander of the Kaurava army. Rules of engagement were clearly asymmetric. The Pandavas adapted when faced with rules that put them at a disadvantage.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fated to Fail, the Sarpa Satra

Sarpa satra of Janamajeya
(credit: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Yagyas do not always end happily in the Mahabharata. I wrote about two such sacrifices earlier, both performed by Yudhishthira. The most famous was the first one - the Rajsuya Yagya. It ended with the death of Shishupala at the hands of Krishna, and initiated a series of events that culminated finally with the eighteen-day war on the battlefield at Kurukshetra.

My favourite however is the Sarpa Satra. This was the sacrifice initiated by Janamejaya to avenge his father's death, who had been bitten to death by Takshaka. The sacrifice was to ensure the destruction of all snakes. The sacrifice started, but did not complete. It was halted, at the instructions of Janamejaya himself! What followed thereafter was the first public retelling of the tale of the sons of Krishna Dvapayana.

So who were batting - so to say - for the sacrifice to be successful?