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

Coming up with a book based on Indian history/mythology.
Please join the Facebook page and invite others as well to do the same.
Please help me promote the book and the page and make it a huge success.

Please click here and like the page which comes up - Finders, Keepers

I would like to end the post as of now, and would like to know what you thought about it. If you are on Facebook and are interested in such topics, please click on the link below and like the page which comes up.Khoj-In Search of Lost Signs

Also, you can subscribe to the posts and keep getting latest updates on your mail. yep, its that easy!!.


  1. Nice retelling of Mahabharata. I didn't know Subala's story so learnt something very interesting from the Mahabharata. Thanks.

    1. Namaste Sanjay,
      Thanks for the appreciation. There are a lot many stories of Mahabharat and Ramayana which are equally interesting and reveal a lot about the entire build up of the legends.
      Do visit more often for similar posts and stories

  2. Thanks for sharing this.... keep sharing your wisdom to enlighten us! thanks for sharing this.... keep sharing your wisdom to enlighten us!

    thank you again!

    -Krishna Sharma

    1. Namaste Krishna,
      Thanks for your words of appreciation

  3. Very interesting part of our great mythological story ....... I liked your presentation.

    1. Namaste ,
      Thanks for your words of appreciation

  4. Unfold Story of Mahabharata and Shakuni, I has a long discussion with my wife about role of Shakuni, for me he is taking revenge of injustice to his sister. as usual nice and well researched

    1. Namaste Sanddep,
      I agree, Each step of Shakuni was a selfless motive of Shakuni to achieve the ultimate aim-the destruction of Kuru clan

  5. Replies
    1. Namaste Mukesh,
      Thanks for your words of appreciation

  6. thank you for the presentation,but i want to know that how the pandavas at time of child knows that the kouravas were the sons of widow(gandhari).that means who told them (small kids pandavas) at that time and why?

  7. Unfortunately, the whole epic of the Mahabharata is so complex and interweaved that it takes a lot of reading to understand what actually happened. The seeds of the war had been sown long ago when King Yayati had passed over his elder sons - Yadu, Anu, Druhyu and Turvasu for Puru. Puru was the youngest yet was given the kindgom to rule because he agreed exchange his youth for his father's old age. Other sons did not agree to this condition from Yayati and hence they were given other kingdoms to rule. Turvasu's lineage ruled separately for 6 generations after him and then in the 7th generation, there was no male heir and it got assimilated into Puru's lineage by marriage. However, some references point to the fact Turvasu had a son from a lady who was not the queen and he colonized Turan. Druhyu's descendants eventually gave rise to Shakuni in their lineage during the Mahabharata times. Anu's progeny became the Yavanas. Yadu's descendants multiplied and grew into strength in Central and Western India. Sri Krishna ruled the Yadava confederacy during the Mahabharata times.

    Another important occurrence was when King Pratipa's kingdom in the line of Puru whose kingdom gets passed over to the youngest son Shantanu and Devapi and Bahlika not ascending the throne. Devapi was physically unfit and the ministerial council did not allow him to ascend. Bahlika chose to rule northern regions, north of Kuru kingdom and became strong there. His lineage gave rise to famous warriors - Sala, Bhuri and Bhurishravas, the unrivalled swordsman. These three were cousins to both Pandavas and Kauravas. They sided with the Kauravas in the war and died valiantly in the war. Yudhishthira was great friends with Bhurishravas from their school (Gurukul) days. Technically, neither the Pandavas nor the Kauravas were supposed to rule Hastinapur since they were not born of the biological children of King Vichitravirya. Among King Shantanu's sons, Lord Bhishma remained celebate throughout life. Chitrangada died in a war and was childless. Vichitravirya did marry but died childless. Hence, Shantanu's line was extinguished at that time. The throne should have gone over to the lineage of Bahlika then and there but it did not. Instead, Sage Vyasa's children begotten on the widows of the dead King Vichitravirya were recognized as heirs and their lineage was accepted to rule Hastinapur. Instead they brought war upon the whole Bharatavarsha. This war more or less decimated a lot of population within 18 days and brought economic depression (Kaliyuga) to the forefront.

  8. i love it. can you show me some other unknown stories from Mahabharata?