Sunday, 2 November 2014

Draupadi Swayamvara: Why Arjuna, and not Bhima?.............When Arjuna Wanted to Kill Yudhishthira

It was the seventeenth day of battle on the field of Kurukshetra. The most bloody war that had taken a huge toll on human lives and emotions seemed immaterial and irrelevant to many. Even though most of the Maharathis of the Kaurava army had fallen, including Bhishma on the tenth day and Drona on the fifteenth, Karna still remained. He was now the commander of the Kaurava army, and had been unstoppable.

Karna was at his best, scattering the “Pandu soldiers, like a mass of cotton by the speed of a mighty wind.” So much so that a harried Yudhishthira had withdrawn from the battlefield, unable to withstand the force of Karna’s assault, retiring to his camp where he awaited news of Karna’s death. That piece of news, he was confident, would come from Arjuna himself. After all, hadn’t Arjuna vowed to kill Karna. With Krishna as his charioteer, how could he but not succeed?

When Yudhishthira saw both Krishna and Arjuna enter his tent, he thought that the charioteer’s son (Karna) had been killed. Yudhishthira exclaimed, “By killing Karna, you have brought an end to my enemies.” The humiliations suffered at the game of dice at the hands of Karna when he had called the Pandavas “sterile seeds of sesamum”, the anger at knowing that it was Karna’s protection and friendship that fueled Duryodhana’s enmity and the helplessness felt when he called Draupadi a prostitute —all had been avenged.

In this moment of triumph, Yudhishthira revealed the inner torment that had been troubling him all these years. “I have been frightened about him for thirteen years. I was not able to sleep at night. Nor could I be happy during the day… Whether I was awake of sleeping, Karna was always in front of me.” More than Bhishma or Drona, it had been Karna who had been the biggest thorn in the Pandava’s side. Yudhishthira now wanted to know the details of Arjuna’s battle with Karna.

Arjuna, on the other hand, had grown increasingly anxious over the absence of his elder brother from the battlefield. Not seeing Yudhishthira made Arjuna anxious. He had asked Bhima on Yudhishthira’s whereabouts, and then proceeded to the eldest Pandava’s camp. When congratulated and questioned by Yudhishthira, Arjuna responded that he had come to invite Yudhishthira to witness Karna’s death at Arjuna’s hands.
Arjuna said, “Dear brother, I have not killed Karna yet. If you wish to see the battle, there will be a fierce encounter today between me and the son of a suta.” In short, Arjuna had just poured a bucket of cold water over Yudhishthira’s premature joy. Yudhishithira’s disappointment was crushing. His anger and frustration boiled over, and he railed against Arjuna.

Yudhishthira lost his cool and started calling Arjuna “worthless”, accusing him of being “affectionate towards Suyodhana”, of being fearful of Karna, and ending with what today reads like a typical dialogue from a Hindi movie: “It would have been better if you had not been born in Pritha’s womb.” In the heat of the moment, Yudhishthira asks Arjuna to “give up the Gandiva” and says that he will ask Bhima or Lord Krishna to kill Karna.

Gandiva’s insult made Arjuna extremely furious. He draws his sword and rushes towards his brother. Krishna stops him and asks him the reason for drawing the sword. Arjuna replies that he has a secret vow that anyone who asks him to give up his bow shall be slain by him. In those days, Kshatriyas had the habit of making a secret vow at the time of completion of their training and they were expected to keep the vow at any cost.

Yudhishtira, in fact, had a vow of his own that he would never refuse an invitation for a game of dice. No wonder he ended up losing his entire world, twice. Similarly, Bhima had a vow that he would kill the person who calls him moustache-less (which was a symbol of manhood then). Arjuna tells Krishna that he had to stick to his vow at any cost and hence he would have to kill Yudhishtira.
Krishna tells Arjuna that he is making a mistake with such senseless insistence and reminds him of his bigger Dharma – that of winning the war. He tells Arjuna that the right, and only, way to “kill” an elder was to use harsh words and berate the elder. He instructs Arjuna to do the same against Yudhishtira. Arjuna complies and showers his choicest abuses on Yudhishtira. In his outburst, he keeps telling his brother how only Bhima has the right to snub him (Arjuna) and not Yudhishtira.

Arjuna even called Yudhishtira incapable and accused him as the source of all their problems. Upon completing his outburst, he draws his sword out once again. A seemingly surprised Krishna asks him the reason for this repeat act. Arjuna tells him that he can no longer live after having abused his beloved brother in this manner.

Krishna once again counsels him and reminds him that suicide is not appropriate for any human being as the body is the “Kshetra” where the “Sadhana” of the soul can take place. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha can be achieved only by utilizing the body and therefore self-destruction of one’s body is strictly prohibited. Krishna then provides a way out for Arjuna to atone for the sin. He tells him that self-praise is equivalent to suicide and so he should praise himself heartily.

Arjuna follows Krishna’s advice (once again!) and indulges in heavy self-praise for a while. He goes on about how powerful he is and how many kings and kingdoms were defeated by him. Thus, Arjuna “kills” himself. At the end, Yudhishthira who is very down because of Arjuna’s abuses proceeds to kill himself. Krishna stops him and explains the whole situation. Arjuna falls at his brother’s feet and begs for pardon. Yudhishthira excuses him and both of them embrace each other.

Let us pause and ponder. Why would Arjuna, the ideal Pandava in so many respects, who had a little over two weeks ago received the timeless wisdom of the Gita from Krishna, lose control so much? How did matters escalate to the point that these two brothers, the epitome of love, would hurl abuses at each other? To answer this question, ask this: Aren’t we more likely to lose our temper when tired and exhausted, say after a long week and day at work?
The answer may lie in something called “ego depletion”. Self-control, or willpower, can be compared with a muscle - every decision we take that requires us to make a conscious choice tires that muscle. Unlike normal physical muscles however, more use does not seem to make the muscle of willpower stronger. The daily stress of more than two weeks on the battlefield of Kurukshetra took a toll on the warriors.

The anger and frustration that would have been kept under control on day one was no longer under check by day seventeen. The slightest provocation would have sufficed. Ego depletion had set in. Even though Dharmaraj knew better than to snap at his brother Arjuna, and so virulently, the psychological toll of war had withered away self-control.

Relating this incident and Krishna’s message to our own lives, it is startling that murder and suicide are the two things we repeatedly commit in our lives, almost on a daily basis. Berating elders and self-praise is among the most prevalent habits in society today. We do not even realize the extent of the evil in both these behaviors.
In the Mahabharata, the episode of Draupadi Swayamvara is an extremely interesting one. Depending upon the version of Mahabharata one is reading, the same story can be interpreted differently. Also, many of the incidents that occur in this episode are difficult to comprehend if one sticks to just the original. This is where commentaries such as the Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya by Sri Madhvacharya come in very handy.

One of the questions that are constantly asked with regard to the Swayamvara is – why did Bhima not attempt to take the challenge? One naive conclusion drawn usually is that it would not have been possible for him to lift or string the bow. It is established beyond a doubt, in the original Mahabharata itself, that Bhima is incomparably stronger than Arjuna. Further, Draupadi herself declares in the Mahabharata that the three people who can string the Gandiva are Krishna, Arjuna and Bhima.

The other question – Did the Pandavas want Draupadi to marry Arjuna only? Is that the reason why Bhima did not attempt stringing the bow? That is also not true. Even before the Pandavas enter the city of the Panchalas, Lord Veda Vyasa visits them in the forest and informs them that the daughter of Draupadi will become the wives of all five Pandavas. So it was a question of who would string the bow. And Arjuna did it.

One reason for Arjuna getting ahead of Bhima is that, according to the Shastras, an achievement by the younger brother is also considered as an achievement of the older ones. The reverse is not true. Hence one could say that Arjuna stringing the bow is equivalent to Bhima stringing it as well. But that is just a less important reason. The real reason has been brought out beautifully by Sri Madhvacharya.

To understand that reason, we need to briefly recall the story associated with Drupada and the birth of Draupadi. When Bhishma brought Amba, Ambika and Ambalika to Hastinapur as wives for Vichitravirya, Amba revealed that she likes Salva. Bhishma releases her and she approaches Salva. Salva refuses to accept her as he was defeated by Bhishma. She returns to Hastinapur and there she is rejected by Bhishma. Dejected, she performs a penance.
Lord Shiva grants her two boons – First one being that she would, in her next life, be a important part of the plot in killing Bhishma. The same Amba is born as Shikhandini in her next life and later turns into a man called Shikhandi. Shikhandi is the reason why Bhishma lays down arms on the tenth day of the great war! Secondly, Lord Shiva grants Amba a celestial garland and tells her that the person who wears the garland would kill Bhishma.
Amba goes around many kingdoms asking people to wear the same. Knowing the boon of Shiva, and utterly scared of Bhishma, no one dares to accept the garland. Amba finally places the garland on the gates of Drupada’s palace and ends her life. Drupada keeps the garland with him. During the early years of Shikhandi, the garland is worn by him once. Now, the same garland is given to Draupadi during the Swayamvara.

The person whom Draupadi garlands in the Swayamvara will (have to) kill Bhishma. Bhima, a true follower of the Bhagavata Dharma, would never kill a devotee of Krishna (Vishnu). And it is well known that Bhishma is a great devotee of Krishna (he gave us the Vishnu Sahasra Nama). Therefore, since Bhima would not kill Bhishma at any cost, he would not accept that particular garland from Draupadi.

Amba, in her original form, is the wife of the Vasu Dyaus, who incarnates as Bhishma. The fulfillment of Amba’s vow would only unite them back and hence Lord Shiva’s boon was to be honored. So, the real reason for Arjuna stringing the bow ahead of Bhima is because it is Arjuna who has to kill Bhishma and not Bhima.

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