Friday, March 2, 2018

Agnivarsha: Girish Karnad's twisted version of a Mahabharata story part-4

Continuing from part 3, here we look at more deviations in the Raibhya and his story as per Mahabharata and as per the film Agnivarsha.
Previous posts on this can be found here:
Part - 2
Part - 3

Here we will look at two more incidences from the story and discuss its deviation in the film.

Scene 5: Raibhya's death

Actual story
Raibhya had two sons: Paravasu and Arvavasu. They both were invited by the king Vrihadyumna to perform a great yagya. While they were away performing the sacrifice, Raibhya used to stay with his daughter-in-law in his hermitage. One night, Paravasu, the elder son, returned home in the night. His father was wearing black dear skin and wandering in forest. Because of dark night and lack of visibility he mistook Raibhya for a wild animal. He shot an arrow and killed his own father. This way the curse of Bharadwaj came true. Paravasu then approached his younger brother Arvavasu and explained him of his folly. He asks his brother to perform the funeral rites of their father and to later join him in the sacrifice. He argues that Arvavasu alone cannot complete the sacrifice but he, Paravasu, can. The obedient younger brother agrees.

Story as per Agnivasrha
Since the film showed that Raibhya was jealous of his son Paravasu as he was chosen the chief priest of the sacrifice, the filmmakers had to resort to a different version of Raibhya's death story. It is shown that Paravasu visits his home one night. (It is shown in the film that only Paravasu was involved in the sacrifice and not Arvavasu.) He meets his father who taunts him for leaving the yagya ceremony and coming to his home like a thief in night. He also boasts that he will outlive his feeble minded sons and that the king will repent his decision of making Paravasu the chief priest. Paravasu listens silently. Disgusted by Paravasu, Raibhya leaves for a walk in the night. Paravasu then meets Arvavasu and Vishakha, his own wife. He had learnt about Vishakha and Yavakrit. Vishakha confesses of her love for Yavakrit. She also tells Paravasu that his father Raibhya is molesting her. Paravasu takes up bow and arrow, aims at his wife, but instead shoots his father. When Vishakha tells Paravasu that he will now never know whether she was telling the truth. Paravasu replies that doesnt matter. He had come down that night to kill his father only. He tells that his father was jealous of him and wanted to do something to disrupt the yagya and cause the shaming of his wife's name. He just killed the old man so he could concentrate on the yagya. Vishakha is left speechless. Meanwhile when Arvavasu finds out that his father is dead, he is devastated. Paravasu tells his brother that he killed his father by mistake. He also asks him to carry out the funeral duties and perform the required 'prayashchit' (repentence) on his behalf. The confused but innocent Arvavasu agrees.

God knows why they twisted the story to portray Raibhya as a jealous father. Perhaps the mention of killing his own father clad in a black deer skin in night by mistake seemed too flimsy for the makers of the film and play. Why would a man, who left his young wife with his old father alone at home, returns and kills the old man? The immediate answer, that would come to mind of those who believe that ancient India was repressive of women, would be that the old man was molesting the young daughter-in-law. This event as shown in the film further aggravated the corrupt representation of old sages.

Scene 6: Paravasu's betrayal

Actual story
Arvavasu returns to his elder brother after performing last rites of his father at the grand sacrifice, Paravasu reprimands him and calls him a 'brahmin slayer'. He asks king Vrihadyumn to throw Arvavasu out of the sacrifice ceremony. Arvavasu is shocked at this behavior.

Story as per Agnivarsha
The film adds a lot of melodrama and back story after Paravasu leaves from his hermitage home towards the place of the sacrifice. Arvavasu performs the final rites of his father and hence could not go to meet parents of Nithiliayi a tribal girl whom he loved. When Arvavasu couldnt come to meet her parents, the tribal people believe that Arvavasu had ditched her like all high caste men do to lower castes. Nithilayi is married off to some other man. Arvavasu is devastated. He anyways, dejected comes to the place of sacrifice, where his older brother Paravasu accuses him of killing his own father. He calls him a rakshasa and asks the king to throw him out. Arvavasu is shocked.

Apart from the love angle of Arvavasu, the story is intact. However, the interesting aspect is why did Paravasu lie? In both the epic Mahabharata and the film, Paravasu's actions are filled with malice. The major difference in the two representations is that in the actual story, both Arvavasu and Paravasu were involved in performing the sacrifice. It was only Paravasu who returns to his home one night and kills his father by mistake. He then returns to his brother saying that he (Arvavasu) cannot perform the sacrifice alone but he (Paravasu) can. So he asks his younger brother to perform the funeral rites. After the rites are done, Arvavasu returns to the sacrifice where he is accused by his brother. In the film, Arvavasu is shown as an innocent man whom everyone use for their own benefit. He is also shown as very obedient, like in the epic. He does perform the final rites and the prayashchit (repentence) on his brother's behalf and returns. Paravasu, however, the self-centered man who wanted to take the entire credit of the sacrifice ridicules him and asks the king to throw him out.

More on this series in next post.

Click here to read the final post in this series, Part - 5

Agnivarsha: Girish Karnad's twisted version of a Mahabharata story part-5 (final)

This is the final part of the series of posts in which I discussed the deviations in the film Agnivarsha from the actual story in Mahabharata.

The previous posts can be found here:
Part -1
Part -2

In this post we will look at the ending of the story as shown in the film vs. as written in Mahabharata.

Scene 7: Arvavasu wins

Actual story
Arvavasu is dragged out of the sacrifice ceremony by the king's guards. He keeps on shouting "I didnt kill our father, it was you (Paravasu) who did it! I am innocent".
Gods are pleased with Arvavasu and they bless him. They also banish Paravasu from the sacrifice. Arvavasu asks as a boon that his father Raibhya be alive and that his brother may get absolved of the sin. He further asks to revive Bharadwaj and Yavakrit. The Gods give him everything. When revived, Yavakrit asks the Gods "Why I, who studied all the vedas as per your blessing, was slain by Raibhya treacherously?" The Gods reply "the path to learn Vedas is not as easy as you think, O Yavakrit. You got the knowledge of vedas manifested within you through the Gods grace and not via studying under tutelage of a proper guru. Raibhya and his sons, on the other hand, learnt Vedas by properly gratifying their perceptors. So, learn this, there is no short cut to any hard work." Thus the story ends

Story as per Agnivarsha
There is much of drama in the film Agnivarsha. After Arvavasu is dragged out of the sacrifice, he joins a group of bards and then, in the end, all the bards come to the sacrifice to perform before the audience at the sacrifice ground. They portray, in the play, the story of Indra treacherously killing Vishvarupa, the brother of Vritra. When Paravasu witnesses this play, he realizes his mistake. Arvavasu, during the act, sets the sacrifice ground on fire. Paravasu, to repent, enters in the fire immolating himself. In the ensuing chaos, Arvavasu's beloved Nithilayi is killed by her husband who believed she left him for Arvavasu. Then, lord Indra appears. He asks Arvavasu of a boon. Arvavasu asks to revive Nithilayi. Just then the rakshasa born out of his father Raibhya's hair strand appears and asks for his moksha (freeing of soul from life and death). Arvavasu reluctantly asks for the rakshasa's moksha. Indra is pleased and he showers rain in the kingdom which long suffering from drought.

The makers of the film took creative liberty in filming the climax. In order to show brahmin and upper caste supremacy, they added many small scenes and gestures which would ridicule the lifestyle of ancient India. It is shown that while the sacrifice place was set ablaze by Arvavasu, the poor commoners ran and took away all the valuables including utensils and costly pots used in the sacrifice. This symbolizes in some way that yagya was an act of pump and show for the upper class and the king, while the general public was starving and deprived.
The modern artist community is sadly much influenced by this thought about ancient India being discriminatory place for women and lower castes. Of course we had a shameful history of maltreatment of some sections of society and which continues to this date, in many small parts of the country. But equating them with the lifestyle of vedic India or that of Mahabharata period is not fair. It is motivated by misinterpretation and wrong understanding of ancient scriptures. It is also important to point out these flaws as the modern generation is not very much aware about these scriptures. These are not as widely accepted among young masses as the movies and plays that the artist community portray. So, it is natural for younger generations to assume that what is being shown in these representations is what actually happened and what really was ancient Indian society.

I believe the major factors that prompted the play writer and film makers for this particular story were:

1. Paravasu's wife agreeing to have sex with other man: Since the modern so-called scholars and liberal artist community has already established in their minds that women were ridiculed and oppressed in ancient India, it was hard for them to digest that a woman, on her own, agreed to have sex with another man when invited. The story says that she was scared of newly found yogic powers of Yavakrit and was confident of the powers of her father-in-law. But this argument is hard to digest for this community as they fail to understand how much power a yogi can have, how much merit the manifestation of Vedas may have even though they were acquired without a guru's blessings. When belief meets logic, belief gets defeated. Then they have to create another story that poor woman already loved this man but was married off to Paravasu. To justify the plight of the woman, they had to show that her father-in-law, a revered sage in our epic, was an evil and lusty man. The whole point of argument was how can a woman sleeping with other man was forgiven in this story when Sita was asked to perform the agni-pariksha. They didnt have answer so they showed that the two were not able to make love and were interrupted. While it is clearly written in the epic is not only did Paravasu's wife makes love with Yavakrit, she also confesses it before her father-in-law that she did it because of fear of Yavakrit's power and, and most importantly, Raibhya is not angry at her. He comforts her with soothing words and promises to punish Yavakrit.

2. Paravasu killing his father and framing his brother for it: Now since they already showed that Raibhya was evil so they had to show that evil's seed was evil as well. Paravasu came in the night to kill his father while in the epic it is written that Paravasu kills his father by mistake as the latter was wearing a black deer skin. Similar incidences are mentioned elsewhere in the Mahabharata as well when Pandu kills sage Kindam who is in deer form by mistake. Similarly when Paravasu frames Arvavasu in the film, it is not clearly shown what was the motive. The character of Paravasu, beautifully portrayed by Jackie Shroff, says that he was afraid and didnt want the yagya to stop. While in the story its all result of the curse of Yavakrit's father, Bharadwaj. Paravasu becomes crooked and vile because of Bharadwaj's curse and kills his father and frames his borther.

3. Arvavasu's penance: The Gita Press version of Mahabharata mentions that Arvavasu was dragged out of the yagya and then he performs a lot of tapa and pleases Gods. And then Gods install him as the head of yagya and banish Paravasu. However, the critical edition of Mahabharata removes all those shloka and simply mentions that as soon as Arvavasu utters the words 'I am not the killer of our father, but you (Paravasu) are' and refuses to take blame of something he hadnt done, Gods are pleased with him. It is an important point.

The whole story is about Karma. Remember, Mahabharata is about Karma. Yavakrit gets veda power manifested in him without doing proper karma of a student. Result, his molestation of Paravasu's wife results in his death. Paravasu asks Arvavasu to do the prayashchit on his behalf, which the latter does but still Paravasu is banished from the yagya. It showed that since the sin was committed by Paravasu he wasnt absolved of killing a brahmin and his father when his brother did it on his behalf. When Arvavasu refuses to be called as killer of his own father, Gods shower their blessing.
Remember, this story was being told to Yudhishthir. By this story, sage Lomasha was telling Yudhishthir that there is a limit to which a sincere person should take blame for others. There is a limit of restrain that should not be passed, but once it is passed, a person should retaliate, even if he has to retaliate against his nears and dear ones. And the Pandavas do retaliate in the battle of Kurukshetra. The teachings of this story remain solid in Yudhishthir's mind and he takes the bold step to fight against his own kin.

Similarly this story teaches us a lot of things: First, knowledge through short cut or overview is not really a knowledge. If you think you have read the english translations of Vedas and now "know" the vedas, then you are wrong. The knowledge power of this ancient text cannot be manifested by one reading. Second, one bears the fruits of his own karma and it cannot be done via any other method. No one else is gonna take blame for you and no one else is gonna take credit for what you have done. Stop gratifying others if it is costing you on principles. Third, you should not be too proud about any knowledge or power you may possess, as everything can fade and go away in twinkling of eye.

This is a beautiful and inspiring story brutally murdered in spirit by film Agnivarsha and I blame the writers for faulty interpretations. However, performance wise the film still remains in my favorites list. You must enjoy the film and all such representations, but make sure next time you see something remotely related to Mahabharata or Vedas make sure to double check the original text before considering everything shown to you as word of Bible (or in this case Mahabharata!)

Agnivarsha: Girish Karnad's twisted version of a Mahabharata story part-3

Continuing from part-2, here we will look at some more deviations presented in the Agnivarsha play and the film.

Previous parts can be found here:
Part -1
Part - 2

Here we will look at two incidences mentioned in the epic and shown in the film. First is Raibhya's anger and other is Yavakrit's death.
Scene 3: Raibhya's anger

Actual story:
When Raibhya returns to his ashram he finds his daughter-in-law weeping. When asked for the reason, she tells him about Yavakrit. She tells him what Yavakrit had asked of her and how did she responded. Raibhya consoles her with kind words. He is then enraged at Yavakrit. He plucks out some of his hair from his matted locks and as soon as he throws it on ground, it splits open and a fierce rakshasa and a damsel replica of his daughter-in-law emerge from below. He orders the damsel to distract Yavakrit and orders the rakshasa to kill Yavakrit. The trident holding rakshasa and the damsel sped towards where Yavakrit was.

Story as per Agnivarsha:
In the film Agnivarsha, Raibhya is shown as a lusty, vengeful and evil person. He is jealous of his own son Paravasu because he, and not Raibhya himself, was called in to oversee the grand yagya of king Vrihadyumna. Raibhya considered it as his insult. It is also shown that he mistreats his daughter-in-law. He calls her characterless and catches her as soon as she returns after meeting Yavakrit. He tortures her and asks her whom had she met. Infuriated, Vishakha, the daughter-in-law yells that she had met Yavakrit. Raibhya is livid with anger. He sits in tapa mudra and it appears that through his yogic vision, he realizes that by doing that heinous crime of touching Vishakha, Yavakrit has challenged him. He accepts the challenge and with one strand of his hair he produces a fierce rakshasa (the role was played by the talented choreographer, actor, director Prabhu Deva) holding a trident. No damsel appear. Instead, Vishakha asks Paravasu's younger brother Arvavasu to go to Yavakrit's father's ashram and ask the shudra gatekeeper (whose name was 'Andhaka' in the film) to keep Yavakrit safe. Since they showed in the film that Vishakha loved Yavakrit before her marriage, she runs to save his life.

The distortion in presentation of Raibhya's character is outrageous and beyond comprehension. A revered sage is shown as lusty, vengeful and defiled man (though the role was played exceptionally well by veteran actor Mohan Aghashe). It is later revealed in the film that since Raibhya was jealous of his own son Paravasu, he started sexually exploiting Vishakha in her husband's absence and thought that Vishakha was his own property. As soon as he learnt that Vishakha spent some time with Yavakrit, he becomes angry and produces a brahma rakshasa to kill him. Also worth noting is that in the epic, it is clearly mentioned that Raibhya comforts his daughter-in-law. It would have been beyond digestion for the modern scholars and academicians to agree that a woman was forgiven by her father-in-law in ancient India even after she committed adultery, though in fear. So they weaved a story of a lusty old man who doesnt want to lose a chance to exploit his daughter-in-law's life. Its shameful.

Scene 4: Yavakrit's death

Actual story
The damsel disguised as Paravasu's wife lures Yavakrit and throws away the sacred water Yavakrit had prepared to save himself. As soon as the sacred water is gone, Yavakrit runs towards his father's hermitage. A shudra was guarding the gates of Bharadwaj's hermitage. He was blind. As Yavakrit tried to run into the hermitage, the shudra held him in his strong arms not allowing him to get in. At that moment, the fierce rakshasa appears and kills Yavakrit with the trident. After killing Yavakrit, the rakshasa and the damsel returned to Raibhya and then lived there serving the sage.
Meanwhile when sage Bharadwaj returns to his hermitage and learns of his son's death, he is stricken with grief and anger. He laments his son's death and curses Raibhya. He says that Raibhya will be killed by his own son Paravasu and after giving this curse, he cremates Yavakrit's body and enters into a pyre himself.

Story as per Agnivarsha
In the film Agnivarsha, it is shown that Vishakha goes to meet Yavakrit where Yavakrit reveals that it was his own plan to lure Vishakha in desolation and to have her father-in-law Raibhya know about their little adventure. He knew that this will enrage Raibhya. He had planned to challenge Raibhya to defeat him in yogic powers. He also reveals Vishakha that he has some sacred water which will protect him from the rakshasa. Vishakha feels cheated. To make Yavakrit pay for his treachery, she throws away the sacred water. Then Yavakrit is scared and runs for his life but is caught by the rakshasa who kills him. Bharadwaja is not at all shown in the film so the incidence of his death is not applicable. The rakshasa plays an important part in the film later as well.

Dont know why the film did not show the duplicate of Raibhya's daughter-in-law, who, as per her father-in-law's orders, lures Yavakrit and make him lose his sacred water pot. May be it was not possible to show a woman who was already exploited by her father-in-law to execute his orders. So they showed the story that she was used by her ex-lover to exact revenge on her father-in-law. Her pride wounded, she threw away his protection thus helping her father-in-law kill him.

More deviation on this interesting story in the next post.
Click here to read the next post in this series, Part -4

Agnivarsha: Girish Karnad's twisted version of a Mahabharata story part-2

Continuing from part-1, here we will look at some more deviations presented in the Agnivarsha play and the film.
Previous parts of this discussion can be found here:
Part - 1

Yavakrit molests Paravasu's wife: 

Actual story as per Mahabharata: Yavakri, after feeling haughty and arrogant because of the boon he recieved, returns to his father, Bharadwaj. He tells his father that the knowledge of Vedas is now manifested in both of them. He says that they are now as powerful and learned as Raibhya and his sons. Yavakrit's father warns him not to mess with Raibhya and his sons. He tells him that Raibhya is very powerful sage and that he should not do anything to irk him. Yavakrit ignores his father's advice and goes to Raibhya's hermitage. There he finds Raibhya's beautiful daughter-in-law, the wife of Paravasu. Attracted by her beauty, Yavakrit asks her to come to him for sexual favors. Now, Yavakrit boasts his powers and Paravasu's wife, well aware of the consequences of rejecting his desire and facing his newly found prowess, agrees to do his bidding. She was also very much aware of the ascetic powers of her own father-in-law, Raibhya. Yavakrit rapes Paravsu's wife and leaves.

Story as per Agnivarsha: In the film Agnivarsha, it is shown that Paravasu's wife Vishakha loved Yavakrit before her marriage. When Yavakrit returns after his 'failed' penance, he meets Vishakha and tells her about his meetings with Indra and his own austerities. Then Vishakha narrates to him that she was married to Paravsu after he (Yavakrit) went for penance. She also reveals that her father-in-law Raibhya is a vile and evil man. In the film too, its shown that during their conversation Yavakrit and Vishakha get intimate and Raveen Tandon, the actress playing the role of Vishakha, gave one of the most controversial bare back exposing scene in the film. However, no actual intercourse happen between the two as they are interrupted by Paravasu's younger brother Arvavasu (who was named 'Aravasu' in the film). Arvavasu was also present there to meet his beloved Nithilayi, a tribal girl of scheduled caste whom he loved. After seeing her brother-in-law, Vishakha is ashamed and she runs away from there. It is shown in the film that Yavakrit meets Vishakha in the outskirts and not in Raibhya's ashram. It is also shown that Vishakha was carrying some water to her house, which she was very concerned to not spill.

Analysis: The assent of Paravasu's wife to have intercourse with Yavakrit is indeed controversial. This assent, well spelled in Mahabharata, is actually a great example of the mature thinking of society in that era. It is difficult for modern intellectuals and for those who hate ancient Indian scriptures to accept that a woman could go with another man for sex on her own will in ancient India. So they had to weave a story of a past love between Yavakrit and Vishakha. In the epic, it is mentioned that Paravasu's wife, though did not wish to submit to Yavakrit, did so in fear of the latter's power and in full confidence of her father-in-law's prowess. The bottom line is having sex with other man was not a taboo. During this incidence and later as well, no one blames Paravasu's wife. However, the film showed a completely different story in this regard.

More on this in the next post.
Click here to read next post in this series, Part - 3

Agnivarsha: Girish Karnad's twisted version of a Mahabharata story part-1

Time teaches you a lot. It gives you an understanding to view, from a different angle, things that you once appreciated. Age gives you maturity enough to appreciate both good and bad aspects of things you liked when you were only a child.
Agnivarsha -- film by Arjun Sajnani, based on play by Girish Karnad

I was a fan of the 2002 film Agni Varsha, which was based on a play by Girish Karnad and was directed by Arjun Sajnani. When I first watched the film, I was fascinated by the fact that the film was based on a story from the Mahabharata.  However, at that time, I was not that well versed with the stories of Mahabharata and my vision about this epic was clouded by the various representations in the form of TV series, novels, films, etc. Later, when I actually read the epic and its various translations, I came to know that there are lot of discrepancies in many representations. In the name of creative freedom, a lot of liberty has been taken which actually misrepresents and, in a horrifying way, insults some great characterization. The play and the film Agni Varsha was one of these many examples. Despite having a great cinematography and performances by lead actors like Jackie Shroff, Raveena Tandon, Milind Soman, Sonali Kulkarni Nagarjun and Mohan Aghashe; the film does commit a serious error in representing a great story. Though this is a deviation from facts as mentioned in the epic but what is alarming is the reason for this deviation, which now seem so obvious to me.

It is important to highlight these inaccuracies and faulty representations. There is little to no understanding of the values of these scriptures among a large set of masses today. Epics like Mahabharata are not just mere stories whose essence can be understood in one reading of a novel or watching a film/ TV serial based on it. The reason being, each creative representation has a bias of the creator himself and it mirrors his or her own understanding of the story. Unfortunately a large section of the creative fraternity in our country comprises of people who were and are still inspired by a different set of ideology, mostly inspired by the Marxist and socialist thought process. Adding to the unfortunate set of reasons is the fact that our scriptures, Vedas are often misunderstood and misrepresented. We also had a shameful history of awful treatment of fellow human beings whom we assigned to scheduled caste and tribes based on faulty understanding of the Vedas. Caste discrimination and discriminatory treatment of women, was and still, to some extent, is a reality. Because of these reasons, the anti-scriptures mentality inspired more and more artists to create their own versions of some great stories as they viewed those stories with the lens of their own ideology. When these representations are lauded for their creative presentations among the masses who are already less informed about the values of the great epics, it not only strengthens the degradation of our ancient history but also forms a negative opinion about our great heritage. Agnivarsha film and play is a perfect example of the above.

To summarise, the plot of both the film and the play revolves around the story of sage named Raibhya and his family. In the film, Raibhya's elder son Paravasu is conducting a great sacrifice for the king. This has surprisingly made Raibhya jealous of his own son. Things get more complicated when Yavakri, the son of Raibhya's elder brother, returns after his failed attempts at penances. Yavakri seduces Paravasu's wife Vishakha which enrages Raibhya. Raibhya sends a brahmaraksh, a demon, to kill Yavakri. After Yavakri's death, Paravasu returns home one night and kills his own father Raibhya, citing the reason that his father deliberately created chaos by committing Yavakri's murder. He asks his younger brother Aravasu to perform all the funeral rites of his father and do the required prayashchit on his behalf. When poor Aravasu returns to his brother at his sacrifice after performing everything that he asked him to do, the older brother throws him out of the sacrifice calling him killer of a brahmana. Dejected and grief stricken, Aravasu joins party of bards and comes back to the sacrifice to stage a play. The representation of the story in the play compels the elder brother to realize his mistake. Paravasu immolates himself in the fire and Gods, pleased with the younger brother, shower rain on the kingdom fighting with drought for many years.

Now in this series of posts, I will highlight many discrepancies and deviation from the original story. I believe a lot of hatred towards the varna system and anti-brahmanic sentiments played key role in shaping up the story of both AgniVarsha play and film.

Let's follow the chronological order of the story as per the epic and highlight the errornous representation in the film (and also the play on which the film is based on). The story is part of Mahabharat Vana Parva, specifically Tirth Yatra parva, in which the Pandavas take shelter in the Ashram of sage Raibhya and sage Lomaharsha narrates the story:

  1. Yavakrit's penance - Actual story: Yavakrit was the son of sage Bharadwaj. Bharadwaj and Raibhya were friends but Bharadwaj used to live a hermit kind of life and Raibhya was a revered sage. Yavakrit was jealous of the popularity of sage Raibhya and his sons. He decided to perform severe penances to please the Gods so that he and his father both can have the knowledge of Supreme Vedas. The King of Gods Indra once visited Yavakrit and and told him that one cannot simply acquire the knowledge of Vedas by performing penances. He told him that he needs to study the Vedas under the supervision of a guru to understand the power and significance of this ancient knowledge. Yavakrit disregarded Indra's advice and continued his penances. To teach him a lesson Lord Indra took form of an old brahmin and again came to Yavakrit. Yavakrit was performing penances on the bank of river Ganga. Indra came there and he started picking up some sand and pouring it into the river. Yavakrit ask him what he was doing to which Indra replied that he is trying to build a bridge on the river with sand. Yavakrit laughed and said that this is impossible and will take forever, to which Indra replied so is your penance.
    He asked Yavakrit to study under guidance of a guru who will act as a bridge for him to cross the knowledge river. Still adamant, Yavakrit continued with his penance and finally the Gods gave him and his father the knowledge of Vedas without blessings of any guru. 
Yavakrit's story - Agnivarsha film: Agni Varsha film shows that Yavakrit (whose name was 'Yavakri' in the film for unknown reasons) was performing penances to get universal knowledge. The film showed that Bharadwaj and Raibhya were brothers and Bharadwaj was already dead, while he was pretty much alive as per Mahabharata. Yavakrit was furious because his uncle Raibhya (who was shown as vile and evil by nature in the film) was given more respect than his own father. He wanted to learn "Universal Knowledge" through penance. Indra visits him and tells him the futility of the exercise.

The major deviation from the story as shown in the film is, it never showed why Indra calls Yavakrit's efforts useless. In Mahabharata, Indra tells Yavakrit that Vedas can only be learned from a proper brahmin teacher. Vedic knowledge and gaining associated powers could only be accomplished by following the life of a student. Yavakrit wanted to get all the knowledge and power through penance only and not follow the karma of a student. This important point was excluded in the film. Also the film shows that Yavakrit getting fed up of the penance gives up finally and comes back thinking that he has won over Gods. He says that he had learnt some cheap tricks and mantras. In Mahabharata, he and his father both are granted the knowledge of Veda.

The film has many more such deviations which are important to highlight because no matter how good the film is, it misrepresents the basic value of the story.
I will highlight more such points from this film in subsequent posts.

Click here to read next post on this series, Part - 2

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Decline of Vedic lifestyle, Shunga period and the advent of Regicide- India in 185 BC

The tenth mandala (10.90) of Rig Veda states:
ब्राह्मणोऽस्य मुखमासीद बाहू राजन्य कृतः।
ऊरु तदस्य यद्वैश्य पद्भयां शुद्रो अजायत॥
This verse describes the perfect human being called "The Purusha". From his mouth came Brahmanas, from his arms came Kshatriyas, from his thighs came Vaishyas and from his feet came the Shudras. This division is called "Varna" system, often misinterpreted as caste system.

Time and again the Varna system created in this verse is misunderstood, misrepresented and many a times mistranslated to show that the ancient Vedic culture (on which present Hinduism is based on) favored evils like untouchability, oppression of weaker classes, evil caste system. The verse, in no way, distinguishes men suggesting one being superior than other. This division is definitely not based on birth. So the whole concept of son of a brahmin should be a brahmin and son of a shudra should be a shudra is absurd. The varna or characteristic comes from karma(deeds) and not by birth.

The Purusha sukta also emphasizes on Yagya(sacrifice) as being the starting point in which the Purusha is used as a means (sadhana). Yagya or the act of sacrifice plays a very vital role in our ancient scriptures. While performing a yagya, the arms does the act of sacrifice (kshatriyas sacrifices the love for life and near and dear ones to protect others), mouth enchants the mantras (brahmins speak for betterment, for imparting knowledge to others), the sitting posture (lap) carries the materials to be used in the yagya (the vaishyas doing the cultivation and producing grains for others) and feet supporting the entire body of the Purusha (shudras assisting others so that they can perform their duties well). The Rig veda states that the devas (Gods) perform the Yagya and the Purusha is being used a means to perform the yagya.

The Vedic culture kept the greater part of the Indian subcontinent intact and bound by faith of belief for a very large span of time. Any social system that binds a large chunk of people always play a pivotal role in politics and path of progress for the society. But the systems fail to stay strong when they are not able to accept changes. "The only constant thing is the world is change". Any belief system should remember and imbibe this eternal truth for its growth.

Vedic period comprised of people leading their lives as prescribed in the vedas. With the progress of time and misrepresentation and wrong interpretation of the vedas, the practice of discrimination against weaker sections of society started. The yagyas became more like a promotion activity of the ruling class. The brahmins used to assist and coordinate yagyas actively only because kings used to give donations and gifts to them. Brahmins thus prospered and society started looking down upon shudras. The society started 'assigning' varnas based on birth rather than profession.The vedic period that started somewhere in 5000 BC begin to lose its grip and luster by mid 500 BC.

The advent of Buddhism in 6th-5th century BC in India changed a lot of things. Buddha's teachings led to adoption of a lifestyle which was very different from Vedic culture. Buddha censured any kind of violence and also preached the dharma of forgiveness and peace.
You can read in detail about various stories of Buddha with my sketches in post:
Buddha: the celebrated Guru

The age-old practices of vedas were being challenged. Some yagyas conducted by kings used to involve animal sacrifices. Buddha desisted violence and he also pitied and supported the weaker sections of the society. The shudras, who were already being exploited by those using corrupted interpretation of Vedic lifestyle, were supported by Buddha. The advent of Mahavira and Jainism also had the similar effect. The ascend of shudra born Mahapadma Nanada (4th century BC) to the throne of Magadha, insult of a brahmin Chanakya in Nanda court were some of the examples.
To know more about Chanakya please visit another post:
Chanakya : The God of Political Science

After the establishment of the Maurya kingdom by Chandragupta Maurya (Chandragupta Maurya: The first emperor of united India) the greater part of India was united into a single great kingdom. The power of vedic lifestyle which was fading could not hold the society together so the might of the king and expansion of his power brought everyone under one umbrella. In such a scenario, the belief system adopted and supported by the king would play a very important role, as the subjects would also tend to follow the same belief system. Chandragupta Maurya and then later his descendant Ashok focused on uniting the Indian subcontinent under one power and under one belief system.
King Ashok is considered to be the greatest king to rule India. (To know more about Ashok, please read my post: Ashoka - The greatest king of Indian history ) Ashok initially followed the policy of expansion of the kingdom through blood and war. However, having being inspired by the teachings of Buddha, he left the path of violence and started promoting Buddhism. The extent of his kingdom was vast. The influence he could have over his subjects was voluminous. With the support of the policies of King Ashok and later Mauryan kings, Buddhism prospered and various Buddhist stupas and monasteries were established throughout the length and breadth of Indian sub-continent.

The later Mauryan kings however, were not as effective as Ashok. The later descendants of Mauryan dynasty failed to hold the uprising and revolt of the kingdoms won by Chandragupta and Ashok. As a result, disintegration started and various kingdoms like Ashmaka(present Maharashtra), Kalinga(Orissa), Madra, Kekaya, Gandhar(in present Pakistan) declared independence from the Magadha empire. On top of that, the Mauryan kings ruling Pataliputra (Patna, Bihar) were supporting and appeasing Buddhism while neglecting the age old Vedic lifestyle.
There was a growing sense of resentment among the people favoring old ways of Vedic lifestyle. All this resulted in a shocking event during the reign of Brihadratha, the last Mauryan king in 185 BC.

Pushyamitra Shunga was the commander-in-chief of Brihadratha's army. He was a brahmin and a strong follower of Vedic lifestyle. It is said that he was extremely unhappy with the way Brihadratha was running his kingdom. He was also not happy with the appeasement policy towards Buddhism. The appeasement and inaction of the Magadha not only led to independence of provinces but also led to military campaigns by foreign invaders. The Macedonian kings (Indo-Greek) who were vanquished by Chandragupta and who never dared to enter Indian sub continent during the reign of Ashok, attacked and captured a large portion of North western region (Gandhar, Kekaya, etc). It is said that Menander-I, also known as Milind, was ruling Sakala (Sialkot) at that time.
The Macedonians were marching against different Indian states including the Magadha empire. Some of the Indo-Greek kings were followers of Buddhism so there was a general sentiment that the king of Magadha Brihadratha would hardly show any resistance.
Frustrated by the lethargic attitude of the king, decline of the Vedic culture and favoritism of Buddhism above Vedic beliefs, Pushyamitra and his army started believing that Brihadratha is not fit to rule. In a fit of rage, one day Pushyamitra Shunga killed the king Brihadratha while he was inspecting the army. This was the advent of Regicide in Indian history.
 Pushyamitra Shunga killing Brihadratha
Pushyamitra Shunga killing Brihadratha, 185 BC 

After killing the Maurya king, Pushyamitra declared himself the king. He was supported by the army and he established what the history knows today as the Shunga Empire. Soon after ascending the throne, Pushyamitra made his intentions clear. He started the Ashwamedha Yagya, a vedic sacrifice ritual conducted to extend the boundaries of the kingdom through the might of arms. He annexed many kingdoms which declared independence from the Magadha empire rule. His empire included Mathura, Sanchi and also Ujjaini and Sialkot according to some sources. It is said that Macedonian king Milind died in a military campaign and it is also said that he attacked Pataliputra at that time. There could be a possibility that Milind did attack Pataliputra but was defeated and killed by Shungas or Pushyamitra attacked Sakala and conquered it and killed Milind there. Milind was not able to conquer Magadha for sure as Shunga's descendants ruled there for some time. Whatever be the case, it is quite evident that Pushyamitra's reign must have witnessed one or more battle with the Macedonians.
Not only the Indo-Greek kings, Pushyamitra Shunga did also fight many wars with the neighboring Shatavahanas and Kalingas. However, the Shungas were able to defend the territories of Magadha against invaders.
The Shunga Empire (185 BC-73 BC)

Pushyamitra Shunga is often portrayed as villain in some Buddhist texts as he allegedly destroyed many stupas and monasteries because of his hatred towards Buddhism. Some other sources including some Buddhist sources, however, suggest that he was quiet tolerant towards Buddhism. The only thing he promoted was long lost ways of Vedic lifestyle. But by that time, the vedic culture was already corrupted. The culture of "Samanta" (Nobility) started and discrimination of varnas like Shudras started.

However, Shunga empire did contribute a lot in the cultural and literary growth of our country. The third and most famous commentary on compilation of grammatical rules of Sanskrit language(written by an ancient acharya named Panini) was done by an acharya known as Patanjali during this period. This commentary was called "Mahabhashya".
Much of that era must have been documented. So much so that son of Pushyamitra, Agnimitra was a chief character in a play written by Kalidasa 450 years later. The play "Malavikagnimitra" by Kalidasa tells the story of king Agnimitra smitten by the beauty of a royal courtesan dancer named Malavika by just looking at the painting. He organizes a dance competition among the best of royal dance trainers just to get a chance to see Malavika in person. On a parallel track there is a story of a military expedition of Magadha towards Ujjain. While the queens of king try to keep Malavika away from the sight of the king, Agnimitra finally is able to meet Malavika with the help of his jester. Furious queen imprisons Malavika only to know that Malavika is actually a princess of Ujjain. Acknowledging the royal lineage of Malavika, the queen agrees for the marriage between king and Malavika. In the end Malavika and Agnimitra marry.
Malavika and Agnimitra Shunga from Kalidasa's play

So, the credit for keeping the Vedic lifestyle alive, keeping the foreign forces at bay and for the immense contribution towards art and literature, Shungas will always be remembered for giving a glorious past to our country between 185 BC and 73 BC. The main blot on the names of Shunga is the way they usurped the throne. The culture of regicide started by Shunga was continued for many generations later and Shungas line itself ended when the last Shunga king was killed by his own minister.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ashoka - The greatest king of Indian history

The history of India can never be told without referring to the greatest king who ever ruled on our lands. King Ashoka, or Samraat Ashoka ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from 269 BC to 232 BC. He was the only king in our history to have ruled over a vast majority of land.

Ashoka (or "Ashok", I would omit this extra 'a' as it is not an English word) was the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of Maurya dynasty. I have written much about Chandragupta Maurya in my earlier post, Chandragupta Maurya: The first emperor of United India.

Chandragupta Maurya's son was Bindusar and Bindusar had number of queens. One of his queens was Shubadrangi (also known as Dhamma). It is believed that Shubadrangi was from a poor family and her reputation as compared to other queens was very low and she was unpopular. So much so, Bindusar himself never gave much importance to Shubhadrangi. Ashok was born to Shubadrangi in 304 BC. He was among the many sons Bindusar had. When he was born, his mother said that now I am 'shoka-mukta' (devoid of all sorrow) hence the child was named as 'Ashok'. Ashok displayed extra ordinary skills in fighting and military tactics at an early age. A legend also says that he killed a lion without any weapon in his teens. Being the son of a king he was given royal training, and he soon proved to be all worthy of succeeding the king.

Some legends say that Bindusar had a century of sons. He favored his one particular son whom many stories name Sushim. Bindusar wanted Sushim to succeed him as a king after his death. The ministers however wanted Ashok. Thanks to his military tactics and his persona he displayed at a younger age, Ashok was able to impress many nobles and ministers of his father.

When Bindusar learnt about his sons valor and the intentions of his minsters that they wanted Ashok to rule the kingdom after his death, he got scared of the might of his own son and sent him to curb revolt in other kingdoms. It started with Ujjain (the then existing Avanti kingdom, in modern Madhya Pradesh). After Ashok curbed a revolt in Ujjain, he was appointed as a governer for Avanti. Later when his brothers fail to curb another great revolt in  Takshashila (in modern Pakistan) Ashoka was sent there.

Meanwhile Bindusar's time had come. On his death bed, he wanted Sushim to be crowned as king. On learning this, the ministers called for Ashok to come to Magadha at once. It is said that Ashok entered the capital riding the royal elephant and he was crowned as the new king. Many sources confirm that Ashok went on a killing rampage and annihilated all his brothers. Some sources say that he spared the youngest one named Tissa, who later joined Buddhism.

Ashok was an ambitious king who believed in the power of might. He led many military expeditions in the kingdoms across Indian continent and challenged, fought and killed countless people. It is believed that he had a secret torture chamber called 'Ashok's Hell' where his executioner used to perform unspeakable torture acts to the captives. For all these acts of his, he was named as 'Chanda' Ashok (barbaric Ashok)
King Ashoka-drawn by Mrinal Rai
Ashok won many kingdoms in east, west, north, south. His empire established through the power of sword stretched from Western Iran in the West to Bangladesh, Bhutan in East, Kashmir, South-east Turkmenistan, South Uzbekistan, Tajikistan in the North and as far as Tamil-Nadu in the South. He actually ruled almost the entire stretch of present Indian sub-continent.
The only kingdom which still wasn't included in his territories was Kaling (modern Orissa). Kalinga was ruled by independent local leaders. Ashok waged a war against the Kaling. The Kalingas retaliated with force and Ashok's general was killed. Furious at this, Ashok ordered full strength assault on Kaling. Kaling was decimated by Ashok's forces. With the victory over Kaling, Ashok expanded his kingdom and included the territories which even his grand father could not win.
Ashoka's empire stretch
However, when he saw the amount of bloodshed that took place in the war (its is said that around 10000 people died in the war), he felt ashamed. He understood the futility of war and bloodshed. He left the path of violence started following Buddhism. He was very affected by the teachings of Buddha. He decided to undo all his evil deeds. He burnt his chamber of torture and started working for betterment of his subjects and vast empire.
Kalinga war transformed Ashoka-drawn by Mrinal Rai
His administrative system was anyway flawless following the footsteps of his mighty grandfather. His administrator structure followed division of the vast land that he ruled in smaller administrative bodies much like the present hierarchical  structure. Though autonomy in lifestyle was allowed in different provinces, no province was allowed to go as far as a revolt. However, Ashok took steps to reduce the harshness of the punishment. The teachings of Buddha transformed him from 'Chanda' Ashok to sympathetic Ashok, who promoted the equality of men. He also appointed special ministers to take care matters of people following different lifestyles and belief systems.

Ashok also undertook the massive project of constructing structures to depict his lifestyle and teachings of Buddhism and the main pillars of his administrative style, called 'edicts'. Ashok constructed tall 20-30 feet high stone structures called 'edicts' across his empire. Most of those edicts have been demolished  in the course of time. The image of Lion symbolises the Mauryan empire. One of the Ashok's edicts showed the four lions standing back to back with a circle of 24 spokes. These symbols have been recognised as national symbol of India. The 24 spoke wheel finds its place in Indian national flag.
King Ashoka and his edicts-drawn by Mrinal Rai
Ashok also did great work for which he finds special place in Indian history and perhaps world's history. He send emissaries across his kingdom and outside his kingdom to spread Buddhism. He is responsible for promotion and establishment of Buddhism in China and Sri Lanka and other neighbouring countries.

Many legends are also associated with Ashok. The story of his life is depicted in 'Ashokavadana' a 2nd century text of Buddhism. Some believe that Ashok was an ardent follower of Buddha from the beginning. Some believe that he erected those edicts throughout his empire with inscriptions describing all the good things of his reign only to wash off the guilt of all the wrong things he had done.
There is yet another legend associated with Ashok about the secret society of nine unknown men whom he entrusted with knowledge of power that different areas of sciences, technology possess which could endanger or threaten the existence of life and harmony on the earth. Ashok believed that the power of certain knowledge should be protected as if they fell in wrong hands, could led to disaster.
These areas are:

  1. Propaganda and Psychological warfare, which can entice people to go for war by getting instigated because of a planned propoganda and brainwashing Psychology.
  2. Physiology power, knowing the touch of death. It is believed that art of Judo originated from here.
  3. Microbiology. It is believed that chemical weapons developed using this knowledge.
  4. Transmutation of Gold and other metals through knowledge of Alchemy
  5. Communication with extra terrestrials; researched but still unexplored
  6. Gravity and Anti-Gravity (Vimana) sciene; the Airforce and Airplanes are examples.
  7. Cosmology; the science of space travel; still unexplored through humans
  8. Light and technology to modify the speed of light; still unexplored 
  9. Sociology; including laws of predicting rise and fall of empire.: Well, this is debatable.
Ashoka and secret society of Nine unknown men - drawn by Mrinal Rai
This legend is the subject of the novel "The Nine Unkown" by Talbot Mundy published in 1923.

It is believed that none of the sons of Ashok proved to be worthy successor. His son Kunal was blinded by one of his jealous wives. Kunal's son was worthy to be a king as seen by Ashok, but he was too young at that time. Another of Ashok's grandson Dashratha succeeded him.

Ashoka died at a very old age peacefully in around 232 BC. After his death, Dasharatha was not able to control the declaration of autonomy by various kingdoms and imperial rule of Mauryan Kingdom started on its downward curve.

Ashok as a king and as a person will always remain as a great example for those who want to be in any administrative position or who want to give up their vices. He was indeed the greatest king of India and perhaps one of the greatest kings of the world. I salute him.