The largest cowboy expedition in literature

In Hastinapura, as a storyteller recounts the Pandavas’ forest-life miseries to Dhritarashtra, the king laments the turn of events, blaming himself in part.

Published: 11th June 2018 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th June 2018 10:06 PM   |  A+A-

In Hastinapura, as a storyteller recounts the Pandavas’ forest-life miseries to Dhritarashtra, the king laments the turn of events, blaming himself in part. But he’s also fearful of the wrath that is brewing inside the Pandavas. About Bhima, Dhritarashtra says: “He is heaving terrible and warm sighs, as if he wants to burn down my sons and grandsons.” There are enough hints in this monologue about the oncoming destruction of the dynasty, a fate that Dhritarashtra by now regards as inevitable.

When Duryodhana and Shakuni inform Karna of the king’s premonitions, the king of Anga allays the Hastina’s prince’s fears by trying to convince him that his recent prosperity, equal to what Yudhistira had enjoyed in Indraprastha, has been won through his own valour and dexterity. Karna encourages Duryodhana to go to Lake Dvaitavana in full splendour and torment the Pandavas by showing off his riches. Duryodhana is delighted at the suggestion, though he is also sure that his father will not give him permission to undertake the journey. Therefore, he requests Karna to invent a reason for the travel and propose it to the court assembly in Hastinapura.

A cattle expedition for the buying (or stealing) of calves is the reason that Karna comes up with. At first, suspecting that the travel may lead to a confrontation between the cousins, Dhritarashtra rejects the idea. Shakuni responds to the king, telling him that the Kaurava expedition shall have no intention of engaging with the Pandavas. Also, Shakuni reminds Dhritarashtra of the goodness of Yudhistira, implying that the Pandavas, too, shall follow dharma and not look for a fight. Reluctantly, Dhritarashtra gives Duryodhana and his entourage permission to go.

What we have next is probably the biggest cowboy expedition in all of literature. “There were eight thousand chariots, thirty thousand elephants, many thousands of infantry and nine thousand horses, carriages, shopping carts, whores, traders, bards and men who were skilled in hunting, in hundreds and thousands.” In the camps each night, Dionysian parties that put the opening of Gustave Flaubert’s Salammbo to shame take place. Of course, they are only suggested in the text, though there is clear mention of the cowherds’ daughters pleasuring with the princes.

As the Kaurava army prepares to build pleasure houses in the forests abutting Lake Dvaitavana, they engage in a conflict with an army of creatures called Gandharvas (Chitrasena’s subjects). A battle ensues with Karna at the head of the Kaurava army. Initially, he causes great harm to the Gandharvas, but when Chitrasena enters the battle and uses magical weapons, the tide turns and the Kauravas start losing miserably. Eventually, Duryodhana and his brothers are all captured. His aged advisers, who had survived the battle by hiding, approach the Pandavas and seek their help.

Bhima sees justice in the Kauravas’ plight, but Yudhistira reminds him that the Kauravas are related to them by blood, and so despite their internal feud, the Pandavas shouldn’t allow strangers to harm their brothers.

Tanuj Solanki

Twitter@tanujsolanki

The writer is reading the unabridged Mahabharata

Stay up to date on all the latest Opinions news with The New Indian Express App. Download now

Comments

Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

Asian Games 2018