Friday, March 2, 2018

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!)

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