During the past couple of months speakers from each of our two major national parties had described the other as the Kauravas, the evil party in the Mahabharata. The latest leading figure in love with the great epic is Sitaram Yechury who, addressing a seminar at Bhubaneswar on the 13th of this month, likened Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP President Amit Shah to Duryodhana and Duhshasana, respectively.
In a different context Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, the renowned Polish poet and philosopher had said, “When myth meets myth, the collision is very real” (Unkempt Thoughts). Recourses to myths by our political parties are of course occurrences in an ongoing collision and they generally come as a relief to the listeners and readers who momentarily find in these leaders a shadow of our colossal epic heroes fighting for truth and justice. Unfortunately the illusion melts away like hailstones.
However, now that a politician for whom mythology should be taboo had so enthusiastically cited the epic lore, even identifying the RSS with Shakuni, we are entitled to feel reassured that the Mahabharata is being taken seriously and the politicians would be inspired to emulate the ideals set forth by the immortal work. In this context the first thing that comes to mind is the unrelenting self-praise by orators, thunderous congratulations to themselves on their superiority over their rival that shake the lecture theatres.
By and by we have been obliged to absorb the shocks, just as we had to absorb the effect of extravagant display of bizarre pictures of politicos from the stature of dinosaurs to froglings, displays that are often a challenge to your digestive system. A matter of concern is, our sensitiveness gets hammered by such compulsions. To develop immunity to matters that should offend our taste or should embarrass us is an unwelcome sacrifice on our part. This dulls our subtle sense of appreciation of finer things in life and nature.
What does the Mahabharata say on this issue of self-praise? Let us recollect this poignant episode to find the clear answer: Once during the Kurukshetra war Yudhisthira took Arjuna to task for the latter failing to rise to his expectations as a fighter, in the course of which he passed a contemptuous comment on the Gandiva, the mighty bow wielded by Arjuna. It so happened that Arjuna was under an oath that he must not spare the life of one who offends his invincible and sacred bow.
Must he kill Yudhisthira? But violating an oath was hell for a man of dignity. Superiors came to his rescue. They assured him that insulting an adorable person was equivalent to killing him. Arjuna threw some derogatory remarks at his senior and saved himself from the task of killing the venerable elder brother. But according to the dharma of the same order, he must commit suicide himself having insulted the adorable.
He was counselled to sing his own praise. That was the act equal to suicide! It is not difficult for us to imagine how many suicides are committed on public platforms through political harangues on the eve of elections. With their newly cultivated love for the Mahabharata, let us hope that such public demonstrations of suicide will be avoided by our leaders.
Their love for this epic nonpareil should also teach them to be less covetous, protecting our eyes and sensibility from the onslaught of headlines on their hurried deeds while in power to safeguard themselves and their progeny for a couple of centuries from possible want of wealth. What is it, by giving up which, one never grows poor? The answer provided by the Mahabharata may be of some help to such news-makers. It was the last day of the Pandavas in their exile. They felt thirsty while relaxing in an unfamiliar area of the forest. Going in search of water one after another, as the four brothers did not return, Yudhisthira went out and found them lying in a swoon on the brink of a lake.
That was because they had ignored the command of a Yakska in the form of a heron who owned the lake. Yudhisthira successfully answered all the questions put to him by the strange bird who was none other than Dharma in disguise and revived his brothers. The dialogue is a treasure of psychological and mystical profundity. The answer to the question stated above is, one ceases to be poor by giving up desire. For any of us endowed with simple common sense the simple answer is indisputable! If I have a desire for three cars and I have only one, I am poorer by two cars, so on and so forth.
But the most pragmatically useful light the politicians can receive—particularly those who so ardently try to cling to power—radiates from one of the last in this compendium of conversation. What is the most surprising phenomenon in this world? Answers Yudhisthira, every moment we see people around us departing to the abode of the God of Death. Yet those alive wish never to die! What indeed could be more surprising?
If those swearing by the Mahabharata take note of these lessons and mould themselves accordingly, the common people in their generosity would bear with their audacity to imagine themselves as Bhima, Arjuna, et al. Otherwise their bravado will only provide amusement to their audience, like characters in a farce appended to some folk plays on the Mahabharata themes: A Pandava soldier, after the war was over, boasted before his villagers how he cut off the legs of a Kaurava soldier. A colleague surpassed his claim asserting that he had chopped off the legs of two. “Is this true?”queried the awestruck listeners. “Of course true!” corroborated a third soldier. “I saw them doing so. They chopped off their legs because their heads had already been cut off by somebody else!”