Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Twist in the Tale

So, which is the greatest story of all times?
Would you say, Godan? Or, Devdas? Or Sholay or Guide?
Or shall we expand the horizon? Gulliver's Travels? Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? What about The Godfather? The Dark Knight? Harry Potter? There are too many contenders, really. And I could have just missed your favourite pick.

What makes a good narration a contender for one of the greatest stories of all times? A twist, which quite often is not the very soul of the story, not even the protagonist or the narrator. A trigger which causes the very events to start and flow which form the very backbone of the entire story. The twist may not be that apparent or may even lose its face as the story progresses, but is the most important singular point in the story.
While in Devdas, the twist could be attributed to Narayan Mukherjee who caught Paro with Devdas in his room, Sybill Trelawney takes the honours in Harry Potter when she made the famous prophecy. Be it the villagers who caught Raju guide stealing from temple or Dr. Jekyll's insanity to differentiate from his wicked self. Be it the train robbery in Sholay or the shipwreck in Gulliver's Travels, not always have the twists got the recognition, or shall I say, coverage, they deserved.

What about the Mahabharata?

The first marriage: King Subala of Gandhara, which now falls around modern day Kandahar in Afghanistan, once performed a very holy Yagna in his kingdom.
An astrologer who had attended the Yagna advised him to get his daughter married off to a goat, to bring fortunes upon herself and her family. Heeding to his advise, King Subala got Gandhari married to a goat, and then killed the goat subsequently. Technically, this made Gandhari a widow and Dhritrashtra her second husband.
This fact, though a bit trivial, however was kept hidden from Dhritrashtra, the eldest prince of Kuru kingdom, who was blind since birth. Gandhari had voluntarily decided to blindfold herself throughout her married life.

The moment of truth: Dhritrashtra, eventually learned about the truth of her wife, and decided to punish the entire Subala clan. He imprisoned all of them, and used to supply one handful of rice for all of them every single day. With such a meager amount of food, most of the members of the family died eventually.
King Subala decided that one of them should live and avenge the death of the entire family. From then itself, all the rice allocated for the family was fed to the youngest son, who eventually went on to become stronger and much sharper than before.

Why Shakuni?: Subala had 100 sons whom Dhritrashtra had imprisoned when he came to know of the absolute truth about his wife's marriage to a goat. Subala decided to take a test of all the sons, so as to decide who would be getting that one handful of rice to live and sustain and avenge their family's destruction. He gave a bone to each one of his son, and asked them to put a thread through it. None of his other sons were able to complete the task when Shakuni tied the thread to an ant who went through the entire length of the bone to reach a grain of rice at the other end.

Death of Subala: Subala realized that he could no longer survive, and would eventually die of hunger, he requested Dhritrashtra to forgive him and his only son left till then. He promised that his son would not claim any right to his throne and would always be a guardian to all the 101 children of Dhritrashtra, the Kauravas.
Dhritrashtra took pity on the old man and freed him eventually.and his son.

The Twist in the Tale: King Subala, before dying, instructed to make a pair of dice from his bones, which would always produce the numbers requested by him. He also asked Shakuni to be the reason of downfall of the entire Kaurava clan.
As promised, Shakuni became the guardian of the 101 Kauravas, and was the sheet anchor of the entire "Chaupad" episode in Mahabharata, which then led to the very war of Mahabharat. He provoked the Kauravas to do all the incorrect acts and thus formed the very basis of all the wrongdoings of Kauravas.
As per other legends, it is believed that when Bhishmapitamah brought the matrimonial proposal of Dhritrashtra for Gandhari. The royal Gandhars felt angry and insulted that their princess was proposed of marrying a blind person. The Kurus were mighty kingdom, and refusing the proposal of a mighty king was akin to being suicidal, so they were left with practically no choice but to accept the proposal of Bhishmapitamah.
The anger, however propelled the king and his son Shakuni to avenge for the insult and Shakuni vowed to being an important tool in eliminating the entire Kaurava clan.

The Smart moves: Shakuni, by his sheer intelligence and judgement of characters, was smart enough to sense the jealousy and anger trapped inside the heart of Duryodhana towards his cousin brothers, and how he also feared them for their chivalry. He had also judged Yudhishtir's love for gambling and how he could be manipulated to keep playing in spite of losses.
Another smart move which Shakuni applied was that he had guessed Krishna as one of those persons who would be able to successfully foil all his plans for Kauravas in pitching them against Pandavas. For this reason, each one of his manipulations and moves was done at a time when Krishna was away from the Pandavas.

The Tricks and Tweaks: To say that Shakuni was the brains behind all the master plans which the Kauravas instrumented against Pandavas, would not at all be exaggerating things. He was the brains behind cajoling Yudhishtir to play Chaupad and then lose all of his kingdom and royalty, right to his family to Duryodhana. He again, was the one who suggested 12 year exile for Pandavas and 1 year anonymity exile after their loss in Chaupad. He was the one who suggested to wage a war against the kingdom that was holding the Pandavas secretly, so that they are revealed and they may again be sent for 12 year exile.
It was Shakuni idea to burn down the house of lac where Pandavas were supposedly hidden and could have died, and also it was his idea to send Durvasa sage to the forests where the Pandavas were living so that he may curse them.

A figure to worship?: Even though, unlike Ravana, the name of Shakuni is associated with pure villainy, a temple of Shakuni is located in Kerela at Pavitreshwaram. The temple as such doesnt encourage any puja or worship, just a few offerings are  made in the form of coconuts.

It is notable indeed that in his endeavour to avenge the destruction of his family, or maybe to help his nephews out in defeating the Pandavas, Shakuni himself never properly ruled his own kingdom. Seeing the atrocities he meted out on Pandavas, keeping Kauravas in front, Sahadeva, one out of the five Pandavas vowed to kill Shakuni and avenge all that he did to hurt their dignity and prestige. Shakuni had two sons, Uluk, who was killed by Nakul and Kalikeya, who was killed by Abhimanyu. Shakuni himself was killed by Sahadeva on 18th day of Mahabharat.

Symbolically, Shakuni represented the Dwapar Yuga, a time when brother would kill brother in the quest for power, and Shakuni was the catalyst.

Twists have a peculiar habit, they make a story a legend, but somehow get lost amidst the main themes, the protagonists, the major players of the story. Shakuni, as such, doesn't enjoy any kind of divinity which his contemporary characters command and receive, but his role in one of the biggest epics of all times, certainly deserves a special mention

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Sunday, 8 September 2013


What if someone was to explain Indology, albeit in symbols? How would he do it? What if someone was asked to jot down any three symbols of Indology, symbols which define it or characterize the very basis of Indology. What if you were asked to compile the list?

While the presence of Swastika would be a bit debatable despite it being a major symbol in Hinduism since eternity, because the symbol finds its presence in other ancient civilizations as well, OM would make it to the list thanks to the ascendancy and the rich symbolism it boasts of. Any such attempt, specially of a comparatively later Indian context would be incomplete without the analysis of undoubtedly the most revered and prime symbol of Sikhism, the Khanda.

Around the year 1499, when Guru Nanaka was thirty years old, he laid the first foundations of a new stream of spirituality, the obvious signs of divinity being already acknowledged by those near and around him. He began teaching and spreading the very lessons of this new branch of spirituality, called Sikhi. The followers came to be known as Sikhs.

The Khanda:  Primarily, the Khanda consists of three distinct entities taken together, a solid circle, two interlocked swords, one double-edged sword at the center. The emblem of Khanda appears on Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag. Commonly, it is called the "Coat of arms" or Khalsa crest.

Symbolically, Khanda is rich in meanings and connotations more than what meets the eye. There are a number of triads, which the Khanda as a whole composite unit signify. Primarily, the two swords represent Piri and Miri, literally meaning spiritual and secular respectively and were wore by Guru Har Gobind.  The circle, or Chakra is a circlet, which is a throwing weapon used in battles.
The double-edged sword, also known as Khanda, represents sword which is used to stir the immortalizing nectar of Amrit given to initiates to drink in the Sikh baptism ceremony.

The two swords represent balance in every phase of life. While one symbolizes that a person needs power to protect his faith, the other symbolizes that a person needs to power to protect and help the needy and the weak, thus teaming up to brand the bearer Sant-Sipahi.
The Chakra represents eternity of Godliness, the continuous cycle of life and death, of creation and destruction, a concept quite similar to the symbolism of Shiva.
The Khanda itself represents a weapon to cut the evil down both ways.

Literally, the Khanda depicts the Sikh doctrine Deg Teg Fateh in the form of an emblem, which means "Victory to charity and sword". This would mean that a person who wears the Khanda needs to protect the oppressed and to provide food to the needy and the hungry.

Other meanings: The Khanda below is shown in a slightly different manner using ears of Wheat, the basis of all bread on earth - the common food for all people.  The Khanda is dedicated to all those seeking freedom from suffering where ever they may be.

The Sikh flag is a saffron-colored triangular-shaped cloth, usually reinforced in the middle with Sikh insignia in blue. It is usually mounted on a long steel pole (which is also covered with saffron-colored cloth) headed with a Khanda. The Sikh flag is often seen near the entrance to the Gurdwara, standing firmly on the platform, overlooking the whole building. Sikhs show great respect to their flag as it is, indeed, the symbol of the freedom of the Khalsa.

At times, the Khanda is rendered in the form of a pin and can be worn on the turbans.

From the endless of pages of the history of India, no one, and just no one can take away the very fact that Sikhism and Sanatana Dharma share a common lineage and ancestry. The Constitution of India powers this country to place both of them under the broader heading of 'Hinduism' and an analysis of either one of their later years is incomplete without the mention of other. The interweaving of two distinct schools of thoughts into one another, is what makes India such diverse, and Indology, a mighty interesting topic.

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