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  • The Book of Yudhisthir [Parabaas Translation] : Buddhadeva Bose
    translated from Bengali to English by Sujit Mukherjee





    Excerpts from The Book of Yudhisthir

    Buddhadeva Bose


    Translated from Bengali by Sujit Mukherjee








       




    Buddhadeva Bose's well known work, Mahabharater Katha, was
    translated into English by Sujit Mukherjee as The Book of Yudhisthir,
    making this excellent work accessible to non-Bengalis. The translation
    makes excellent reading. The book is meant to be read as a whole, but the
    following excerpts hopefully convey the flavour of the quality of the
    writing as literature, as well as the quality of his logic.


    The author agrees with Rajsekhar Basu in identifying Yudhisthir as the hero
    and central male character of Mahabharat. The excerpts selected here
    are therefore connected with Yudhisthir and the reasons for considering him
    to be the pre-eminent character.



    Excerpt 1: The whole Ch.5, In Search of a Hero: The grounds for not
    considering Yudhisthir to be the hero are set down first! A beginning is made in
    tracing his eventual rise to greatness.



    Excerpt 2: A few paragraphs from Ch. 6, An Institution of Higher Learning--
    dwelling upon the self-searching and self-discovery achieved by Yudhisthir during
    Vana-parva, which led later to greatness.



    Excerpt 3: Much of Ch. 22, The Last Journey, where Yudhisthir marches on to
    Heaven accompanied in the end by a dog. Yudhisthir's greatness is made apparent in
    this chapter, and, briefly, the timeless relevance of the
    Mahabharat
    to the life of man.








    In Search of a Hero




    I know I am not saying anything new. In the preface to his abridged
    translation of Mahabharat, Rajsekhar Basu also identified Yudhisthir as the
    hero and central male character. We shall now have to examine the premises
    on which Yudhisthir's role as hero can rest. Generally, we regard him as weak and
    lacking in any initiative, as perpetually dependent on the prowess of Bhim
    or Arjun and on the counsel of Krishna, Vidur or his own brothers, nearly
    as indecisive as Dhritarastra and, despite his piety, guilty of
    unbelievable moral lapses. How shall we accept such a person as hero? His
    personality is so weakly attractive that no poet from Kalidas to
    Rabindranath has ever composed a kavya or natak with Yudhisthir as the central
    figure. There is no dearth of persons named Partha or Sabyasaci in modern
    Bengal, but it would be difficult to locate an upper-caste Hindu named Yudhisthir.
    In Bangla usage, the epithet 'Dharmaputra Yudhisthir' has a derogatory meaning. It
    is clear that Yudhisthir possesses none of the characteristics of an epic hero. His
    development in the story is also very slow. No such statement like 'Sing,
    goddess, the anger of Achilles' or 'Who is there in the world at the same
    time learned, accomplished and brave in battles' announces his first
    appearance. When the story begins his role is lamentably insignificant.
    Bhim or Arjun or Duryodhan project themselves brightly even while the sons
    of Dhritarastra and Pandu are mere boys. They are already trained athletes,
    full of vigour; their destinies are clearly anticipated. But we do not find
    Yudhisthir participating in those healthy exercises like sprinting, jumping or
    swimming. He is more of the type who stays indoors, hovering nearing his
    mother. We are told that under Drona's tutelage he became an expert
    charioteer, but there is no evidence anywhere in Mahabharat of Yudhisthir's
    ever having demonstrated this skill. As for his skill at arms, the less
    said about this the better. If any pupil failed to graduate in Drona's
    school, he was Yudhisthir. Urged by the master at the archery
    tests, he failed to fix his sight upon the artificial bird set up on a
    tree but saw everything -- the target as well as the tree and his
    teacher and his brothers at the same time -- and Drona dismissed
    him in no uncertain terms: 'Give up, you are worthless' (Adi,
    132). He is generally overshadowed in his youth by the feats of Bhima
    and Arjun. He first attracts our notice in Adi-parva when Vidur, who has
    come to know of Duryodhan's wicked plan, tells Yudhisthir in a code language how
    to escape from being burned alive in the cottage made of lac
    (Adi, 145). That he at all comprehended Vidur's message in a
    strange lingo was his only credit. As for what had to be done before and
    after that incendiary affair was taken care of entirely and alone by
    Bhim, with the aid of his powerful and confident pair of arms. From here
    until the end of Adi-parva, Bhima and Arjun occupy our attention,
    especially Arjun, who does not stop with the winning of Draupadi but
    collects Subhadra as well, and does not ignore Ulupi and Citrangada as
    temporary companions. Even Bhim, whom we do not normally regard as a
    philanderer, finds a companionable female in passing -- not a princess
    but a raksasi, which probably suited him better. All this while Yudhisthir
    remained content with the fifth share of one woman, content in a
    rather abstemious and asexual manner -- or so it seems to us. The most
    insignificant warrior of the Kuru clan, he is also an unworthy progeny
    of Dusyanta and Santanu in amour.



    And there is no doubt that he is the least notable king in history. We
    are told in Asramvasik-parva that he rules for thirtysix years after the
    great battle was over. But that he ruled only in name, that the actual
    ruling was conducted by Vidur, is made abundantly clear in the text.
    Also, there is no account of kingship in action in this book of
    Mahabharat. There is a farewell tone in this part which acts as a
    preamble to the great departure that is to follow. Only once -- and that
    very briefly, in Sabha-parva -- we see Yudhisthir as king, but not in any kingly
    or glorious action. Rather, we find him, in spite of Narad's counsel
    (Sabha, 5), unable to overcome his characteristic timidity,
    mildness and circumambulatory tendencies, failing to grasp the political
    motivation underlying the decisions of a king. Narad's query -- 'O King,
    are you being distracted from the thought of dharma by having to think
    of artha?' -- sounds very much like a jibe because we have known, ever
    since Adi-parva, that Yudhisthir is not in the least inclined towards wealth.
    There are many words of approbation about his reign in Sabha-parva, but
    there is no indication that apart from the welfare of his subjects any
    other regal aspiration ever touched him. This may have pleased his
    subjects but not his well-wishers. Arjun had to voice the thought that
    royal duties remain unfulfilled unless a king goes to war and expands
    his territory (Sabha, 24). Evidently Yudhisthir agreed, but not with much
    enthusiasm, and only because it was not in his nature to firmly protest.
    His brothers and his courtiers persuaded him that he was fit to be a
    king of kings, hence entitled to hold a Rajasuya yajna (Sabha,
    12). Yudhisthir's worry on hearing this is proof enough of his lack of
    confidence in what others said specially about him, even in his own
    ability. It is advisable for kings to seek proper counsel in any
    undertaking, but Yudhisthir seems almost addicted to consultation. He just
    cannot take a political decision on his own. Approval of the priest
    Dhoumya, of several divines and sages, even of Narad himself who also
    carried directives from his dead father Pandu -- all these promptings
    failed to overcome his misgivings, and finally Krishna had to come all
    the way from Dwaraka to persuade him to hold the yajna. Yudhisthir is mentioned
    only in the passive voice. He is not the organiser of any event, only
    the beneficiary; not an executor, but an excuse. When the other four
    brothers set out on digvijay [conquest in many directions] he
    stays back in Indraprastha; the plot to kill Jarasandha frightens him
    but he makes no attempt to deter Krishna. In this way, entirely as a
    result of the great enterprise and toil of others, he obtains the title
    of 'Rajcakravarti' -- for which he himself had expressed no eagerness --
    and that throne to which he has been carried almost bodily by his four
    warlike brothers and the diplomat Krishna. We are amused, even feel some
    pity, when at the rumblings among the angry kings of the Sisupal faction
    attending the yajna, this recently crowned sovereign turns anxiously to
    Bhisma for succour. It is at once clear that all of them from Dhoumya to
    Krishna had been fit to wear the crown, but not Yudhisthir, never Yudhisthir.



    Up to this point he still enjoys our respect, perhaps even some
    affection, because he is such a harmless soul. Probably we remember that
    he had prevented the killing of Hidimba by Bhim and of Angarparna by
    Arjun. Already, though several other slayings, including that of a
    woman, have happened, we have come to recognise him as somebody
    nowhere nearly as ruthless as Arjun or Bhim. When soon after this, at a
    moment of crisis, this inert, innocuous, non-aggressive person, whom we
    have known so far as timid, indecisive and panicky, suddenly turns into
    a wildly irresponsible gambler, we are taken wholly by surprise. And
    when we see him sitting quietly after the disaster, unresponsive to the
    stinging scorn of the Kauravs, unmoved by the agitation of his younger
    brothers, indifferent to the sorrow of his tearful mother -- when we see
    him, further, bid farewell in very few words to Bhisma and other elders
    and set off for the forest-exile without a sign of regret -- we do not
    know what to make of the man. Is he obtuse or patient, dazed or
    detached, insane or inanimate? The question arises in our minds: Has the
    terrible blow turned him into stone or has it not even touched him?



    The answer to this question dawns on us, first slowly but in due course
    quite convincingly, as we follow him into the forest, walk behind his
    steady strides, listen to what he says and also to what he himself
    listens to. Yudhisthir's fondness of the dice is not quite what European
    critics would regard as tragic 'flaw'. He is also much above being the
    object of Aristotelian pity and terror. We have to note that the game of
    dice does not bring about his fall -- or, if it does, it is only from
    his worldly status, not from his character. His moral nature, instead of
    undergoing any disintegration, unfolds itself, develops, and achieves
    fullness simply as a result of the forest-exile caused by the game of
    dice, then of the battle which follows. It may not be too much to
    assert that in some corner of his mind, in the depths of his
    subconscious, this is what he had longed for, this release -- from the
    Indrapuri built by Moydanav, from the shackles of ceremony and
    splendour, from the stifling enormity of wealth and plenty, and, above
    all, release from the kind of political intrigue which caused the deaths
    of Jarasandha and Sisupal. Yudhisthir had wanted a spell of respite before the
    inevitable great battle, in order to live as a mere human being. But
    how was that to be, with so many people around him, so many eyes
    watching him all the time? Isn't this the most likely reason of his
    acute passion for dice, of his sudden and unexpected self-oblivion. It
    may well be that what is for us a painful episode, was for him the only
    means of or pretext for escape -- the only way out available to him. But
    nothing on this earth can be had for nothing. As the price of this
    release he was to accept one item of remorse as his constant companion
    in exile, not so much for his own sake as for the sake of his near
    ones who accompanied him. But even this sorrow was necessary in his
    life, as we shall see in Vana-parva. Yudhisthir's true identity begins to become
    apparent to us from Vana-parva onwards.





    Yudhisthir's growth began during the exile of the Pandavs, where he learnt
    attentively and actively from the discourses with the rishis and munis
    in the forest. The next excerpt describes this phase of his life.




    An Institution of Higher Learning



    His main activity, it would appear, was listening. Not that on occasion
    he does not speak, but certainly he listens much more. Listening seems
    to be his work as well as his predilection. Yudhisthir's listening is the main
    incident of Vana-parva. He has to listen to the angry laments of fiery
    Draupadi, to the rebukes and rash exhortations of violence-prone Bhim.
    What he listens to on his own volition -- eagerly, with great thirst,
    all the time -- is to puranic lore imparted by the munis. What they have
    to tell does not consist of the hoary history of the descendants of
    Bharat, nor of the conventional eulogy of ancestors, but the ageless
    and unfading tales through which we gain entrance into the inner life of
    the universe and discern an elusive point of radiance located very far
    from the familiar blueness and greenery so pleasing to us. The text says
    that these stories were told in order to console Yudhisthir, but we realise
    that, transcending mere solace, outstripping his wretched memory of a
    game of dice, a sensation almost like pleasure is poured into his being.
    This pleasure is not like the sense-indulgence enjoyed by Ram and we
    cannot even say that Yudhisthir is pleased. But slowly there seems to grow amid
    this secret and unrecognised joy a feeling that he is beginning to
    be, beginning to be truly himself.



    According to the text, he did not sit alone before the tale-telling
    munis. Three or four of his brothers were also present, so must have
    been Draupadi at hand occasionally. But in canto after canto, Lomas or
    Brihadasva o Markandeya is asked questions only by Yudhisthir, their main
    auditor, and their replies are addressed only to him. This happens not
    because he is the eldest. There is enough proof in the conduct of the
    others that they hear without listening, that they are not interested.
    And on the final day of the forest-exile, when Yudhisthir confronts the
    mysterious crane, only then do we realise that this forest -- where
    Draupadi spent her days in perpetual discontent, while Bhim and Arjun
    constantly engaged in combat with others -- was something like a school
    for Yudhisthir. At this institution of higher learning, he received instruction
    for twelve years from the greatest of teachers -- instruction not in the
    use of arms or in the acquisition of orthodox learning, but in the ways
    of self-searching and self-discovery through which the meaning of the
    universe can be grasped.





    The next excerpt is taken from the final chapter, which makes apparent
    the pre-eminence achieved by Yudhisthir in the end. He had begun as a very
    ordinary man but gathered together and developed his "boons and curses"
    over his life time to attain greatness, a message of hope to all of us
    ordinary humans.




    The Last Journey




    The sun sets on the eighteenth day of the battle of Kuruksetra. The Pandavs
    and their associates return to camp, leaving behind Duryodhan -- his thighs
    shattered, his body oozing blood all over -- waiting alone for death on the
    shore of Dwaipayan lake. The Pandavs do not bother to look back at the
    enemy they have defeated and kicked. To enjoy more intensely the flavour of
    their victory, they go first to the Kaurav camp -- that sad place like an
    empty theatre where only women, old men and cowards are to be found. Vyas
    has not forgotten to mention that among these victorious visitors are
    Dhristadyumna, Sikhandi and the five sons of Draupadi, none of whom will
    see dawn on the morrow. In fact, life will depart their bodies even before
    Duryodhan dies. This of course is unknown to them all at present, and they
    have all the time to blow triumphantly on their conches.



    In various ways and through many episodes, the image of the prime force of
    fire has been used in many layers of Mahabharat. Agni first appeared
    to us as appetite incarnate -- a vast hunger that could not be satisfied
    with devouring animal fat and spread itself as the conquest lust of
    ksatriyas, the driving force of which has plunged the world into war in
    epoch after epoch and whose red blaze lit up Arjun and Krishna brightly in
    the last section of Adi-parva. Their first ally at Kuruksetra was Agni,
    but that military alliance snapped as soon as the battle was over. Then
    began nature's retribution. Agni, the devourer of Khandav, now consumes the
    chariot gifted by Agni himself. We are made to understand that Arjun had
    received no gifts. These instruments of war had merely been loaned to him,
    and each is being taken back by the lender. Krishna does not prevent this
    because the impoverishment of Arjun is as much a part of his design as it
    is of the intention of these once benevolent gods. This nearly transparent
    truth remains screened from Arjun almost till the very end.



    We shall probably not be wrong in reading the events that follow as the
    conclusion of the first Faust-story of the world. He who had been raised
    higher above all, Arjun, must now be brought low -- this seems to be the
    determined and concerted effort of all nature. In Sauptik-parva it appears
    as if Agni has gone over to the Kaurav side. The terrible god guarding the
    entrance to the Pandav-Pancal encampment is appeased as soon as Aswathama
    offers self-immolation in fire, and the son of Drona accomplishes his
    vengeance successfully. Krishna knowingly allows this massacre to take
    place, and no inkling of this killing about to happen was made available to
    the Pandavs, who only a little while ago had with the help of spies found
    where Duryodhan was hiding (Salya, 31). What is most surprising,
    Krishna does not alert them about it. He even has consented to the
    slaughter of the brother and sons of his favourite womanfriend, Draupadi.
    But no, perhaps it is not surprising, because it is all appropriate and
    according to plan. Arjun's successes were full to the brim, and the time
    had come for breaking the vessel. As we had noted earlier, the first signs
    of Arjun's fall were described in Aswamedhik-parva. Now his condition is
    like that of a person afflicted by the germs of some deadly disease but who
    continues to live normally, shaking off as something transient his
    occasional bouts of lack of vitality, refusing to accept the decline of
    lifeforce which he must be experiencing. His confidence in the lifelong
    vocation of being a ksatriya is shaken, but out of habit he clings to
    the convention that he, Gandiv-bearing Arjun, is invincible. That he 'dies'
    at the hand of his son in order to be redeemed of the sin of killing
    Bhisma; that Dhritarastra, Gandhari and Kunti die in a forest fire
    (Asram, 37) -- these episodes make no impression upon Arjun, but the
    second one worries Yudhisthir. One connection he was able to make (Asram,
    38): the same agni of Khandav, whom Arjun had helped to revive, had now
    consumed the mother of Arjun. But, out of the weakness of the heart's
    responses, he had wrongly accused Agni of 'treachery and ingratitude'.
    Wrongly, because on Agni's side there is no question of betrayal or of
    being ungrateful. It is Arjun who is indebted and the bearer of all
    gratitude. He had been given on loan very much more than is due to one man,
    hence he cannot hesitate when the time comes for repayment; if he does not
    repay voluntarily, the loan-givers will snatch back with ruthless hands
    what they had given. It did not take Yudhisthir long to comprehend the truth, but
    Arjun's power of understanding is not strong. Even after his frustrations
    in Mausal-parva it does not occur to him that he is no longer fit to bear
    the Gandiv, that his talents -- after having served him for so long -- have
    now departed, that he should not carry arms any more. 'The purpose for
    which all of you bore these weapons has now been served, and they have
    returned to where they came from. You have achieved what you wanted
    and
    it will augur well for all of you if you prepared now to depart from this
    world' (Mausal, 8). This clear exposition of Vyas was heard by Arjun
    only with his ears; it caused no change in his mentality. He adhered
    stupidly to the Gandiv that would never again be of use to him, to the pair
    of quivers that had been exhausted for ever ... he carried around with him
    these meaningless symbols of victory, as regrettably and pitifully as the
    dethroned king who cannot forsake his former titles. Hence, even at the
    final stages, he has to be dealt with once more and even more harshly. When
    on the wanderings of their last journey the Pandavs reach the shore of
    Lohitsagar, Arjun's erstwhile friend, Agni, suddenly appears in his way
    and commands him, in a language more direct and less ambiguous than that of
    Vyas, to throw the Gandiv and the quivers into the sea (Mahaprasthan,
    1): 'I had collected this bow and the quivers for you from Varun's store.
    You shall now return these to Varun. Krishna has also discarded his
    Sudarsan disc.'



    The mahaprasthan plan was conceived by Yudhisthir and he also inaugurates
    it. He was the one who first discarded his kingly clothes and dressed
    himself in bark. Draupadi and his four brothers then followed suit. Just
    before leaving home they cast 'fire into water' -- that is, they extinguish
    the constantly burning sacred fire. Yudhisthir abandons his much-cherished
    householder's state. But his breaking up of home cannot be regarded as
    sannyas or even vanaprastha in the sense these terms appear in
    Manu-samhita. This mahaprasthan also bears no trace of the lonely
    wandering as a beggar that had seemed desirable to him after the battle was
    over (Santi, 9). From the west to the east, from the east to the
    south, then back along the western shores -- the way he circumambulates the
    entire coastline of India would make it seem that he bids his last farewell
    to his motherland before heading for a destination known to him. We do not
    yet know what this destination is, nor do any of his companions even ask
    where they are going. Like the episodes of Mausal-parva, this long journey
    is also told in extraordinarily few words -- as if all six of them hardly
    spoke a word on the way. This must be because all that they had to say is
    finished, there is no scope for any debate, and they travel along a
    difficult path amid the wordlessness that has come after their duties are
    done.



    They visit the sea-submerged Dwaraka and head north. They begin climbing
    the Himalaya, and mount Sumeru looms ahead, when suddenly Draupadi is
    overcome by fatigue and falls down. Thereafter, at short intervals, the
    four brothers are felled by the same fatigue -- the brothers whose famed
    prowess used to resound all over India till only the other day. They are
    conquerors of India only in name now, but we see that they have been
    defeated in deeper sense than Karna was or Duryodhan. Nobody greeted them
    with offerings on their way; the eminent persons who could have been
    expected to hail them have all been destroyed by the victory lust of the
    Pandavs. At another level, too, they are defeated. In contrast to the way
    the enemy warriors were hailed in their death, these brothers come to an
    insignificant end -- all except Yudhisthir. The deaths of Bhisma, Drona, Jayadrath,
    have moved our hearts to solemn melodies. The death of Karna, the lifelong
    rival of Arjun, is described at greater length than any other death at
    Kuruksetra. The gods themselves contributed to the account (Karna,
    87-92). Even for Duryodhan, universally regarded as an evil-doer, even at
    his death the earth trembled, the horizons grew dark, and several persons
    were present on the spot to weep (Salya, 63). But the dharma-abiding
    Yajnaseni and the pious-souled Pandavs die meanly -- not struck down by
    weapons, but like the feeble, swooning -- like the sick suddenly falling by
    the wayside. Nature does not register any shock, neither the universe nor
    the minds of of men receive any mark. And the Yudhisthir whom we have known for so
    long as easily moved by grief, is detached and unsorrowing, almost without
    any feelings. These were his wife and brothers from whom he had never
    parted at home or in the forest, in prosperity or adversity, and for whose
    sake he had allowed himself to get involved. Yet how calmly he accepts
    their loss, and does not look behind even once. Instead he walks carrying
    the riches of his deprivation, relying on the conviction that has hardened
    in the heat of misery and the pressure of delusion. He walks on beyond all
    past experience towards the last frontier of earthly life, with strides
    that are unhastening and undesiring. He walks by himself but is not entirely
    alone, because that dog follows him.



    Yudhisthir's last journey is briefly described in Bhagavat-puran (1:15),
    but there is no mention of the dog there. The story of the pious-souled
    king Vipascit who was like Yudhisthir, told in Markandeya-puran (chaps.
    13-15), does not include any counterpart of this animal. And our own
    Bengali poet Kasiram Das has turned the episode almost into a farce. But I
    keep hoping that some poet living amid the din and clamour of a modern city
    will some day compose in some Indian or European language an interpretative
    story that will have as its central character this dog without name or
    pedigree which had followed the six travellers all the way from Hastinapur.
    None of them had called to it nor any of them had noticed it -- and these
    facts should be enough to provoke the poetic imagination. I believe that
    there are many questions, not important enough to be dealt with by the poet
    of the puran, which our modern poet will not be able to ignore. What did
    this dog look like, how consistent was its canine nature, from where did it
    derive the strength to travel such a long distance? The Pandavs might have
    remained without food because they were yoga-absorbed, but did the dog find
    something to eat on the way? Did it soberly bring up the rear, behind
    Draupadi in the line of travellers, or did it sometimes, drawn by some
    smell or suddenly thrilled by the breeze, dash ahead or frisk around and
    bark joyously for no reason, or look at its indifferent masters chosen by
    itself and wait for some show of affection? Alternately, did it not
    sometimes fall behind to urinate against a tree, or chase and kill a hare
    or kitten for meat, or be lured towards a lusty bitch and lose track of its
    fellow-travellers? Was it not startled when five out of those six
    fall like the dead? Did no soft wail or sharp howl issue from its mouth
    when it saw them fall? The modern poet may fill in such details to make the
    picture more lifelike; perhaps he will not hesitate to mention that out of
    weariness and hunger the dog sometimes ate the dung of other animals. And
    why it never gave up going on despite fatigue and hunger, why it did not
    fear for itself even when five companions died -- I presume my imaginary
    storyteller will offer some symbolic explanation for these also. Was it
    because it had come so far without realising it and out of animal-like lack
    of foresight that there was no way for it to return? Or did Yudhisthir for some
    mysterious reason draw it along his own course?



    It is a strange picture that appears before our mind's eye. Mountains all
    around, snow-peaks bright as crystal in sunlight during the day and
    gleaming blue-white in the light of stars at night -- amid this, along a
    narrow and deserted path walks a solitary man accompanied by a dog, walks
    at the same pace whether it is day or night, towards a destination that is
    not yet revealed. The calm, silent and self-absorbed Yudhisthir strides on, and
    accompanying him is not a cow revered by brahman and ksatriya alike, not a
    bull or a swan ridden by the gods, not a handsome, eight-antlered deer
    worthy of sacrifice, but the animal that is most abhorrent to Arya ritual,
    whose mere glancing at the food cooked at a yajna desecrates it, which
    usually spends its life with candals, the lowest of men -- a dog. That the
    final phase of Yudhisthir's ultimate journey should be made in the company of none
    else but an unclean animal uplifts his victory standard. No fresh surprise
    is aroused when the animal is transformed into a god.



    The puran poets were strange in their ways. Where as on the one hand they
    are cryptic on many points that arouse our curiosity (perhaps out of
    consideration for posterity, so that minor modern poets can fill in these
    gaps and somehow stay in business), on the other hand they cannot resist
    shattering the mysteries of their own making by striking these with an
    unnecessary abundance of facts. In the story of Savitri not only does
    Satyavan get back his life, but also in the manner of a folk-tale the blind
    Dyumatsen is given back life as well as sight. And in due course, not only
    are one hundred sons born to Savitri but so does her father procreate a
    hundred sons. All this is good, but much too good. It may satisfy boys and
    girls and common people, but the thinking mind cannot be happy at this
    amplitude of family life. For such a mind, nothing can be higher than the
    death-defying love of Savitri. Similarly, Yudhisthir's mountain climbing is finally
    taken to a commonplace happy ending and we see him settled in 'incomparable
    heaven-enjoyment' amid all the Pandavs and Yadavs and Pancals. The
    enjoyment of heaven may be credible in the case of others -- say of Bhisma
    or Drona or Dhristadyumna or Abhimanyu -- but about Yudhisthir we have to ask
    ourselves: Has he truly merited heaven, or is heaven indeed the appropriate
    resting place for him?



    I had said earlier that Yudhisthir is not a great man, that it is our great
    good fortune he is just a man, a very ordinary man. Now I have to add to it
    that he was not known to have been publicly given any boon by any god (as
    Arjun had been) nor was he put under any curse ( as Karna was). All his
    boons and curses were hidden within him. How he had gathered them together
    and developed them in order to become an earthly being with every attribute
    of humanity -- that is what Mahabharat is all about. If we pause
    here for a moment, at this peak of Yudhisthir's great departure, where he confronts
    Indra's divinity with his own humanity, where he refuses to be persuaded by
    Indra and is ready to forsake entry into heaven for the sake of a dog -- if
    we recall at this point many other past events, then we shall realise that
    this noble and human poem is but an account of Yudhisthir's life. It is he who
    holds together all the incongruities. The radiance of his character
    suddenly makes the hero-bereft battle-torn earth a brighter place than
    heaven. Let Vyas tell the rest of the story as he will and drag his
    grandson into heaven in keeping with hindu custom. But this supremely
    beautiful moment is the one most fitting for us to bid farewell to Yudhisthir. At
    this moment he is unwavering in the fulfilment of truth, he is about to
    turn back from the gates of heaven -- perhaps towards the surpassingly
    beautiful light of some earthly afternoon -- and his testing father has not
    yet discarded animal guise and appeared again.

















    Almost as if picking up the gauntlet thrown by Buddhadeva Bose to reinterpret the Mahabharat, Sunil Gangopadhyay weaves a tongue-in-cheek and fanciful account of Yudhisthira's ascent to heaven. Read Indranil Dasgupta's translation of Sunil's short story Swargadarshan as:The Trip to Heaven.


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