Don’t compare my son with Yudhisthira. He was a virtuous king and as a king he was duty-bound to accept a challenge, whether it was a game or war; he was made to gamble and lost by deceit”. Thus the mother of my colleague argued, reflecting on her son who had come out of the clutches of gambling. I was speechless by her arguments, shifting the blame of Yudhisthira’s gambling on Duryodhana and Sakhuni.
I wonder whether we understand the Mahabharata in the right perspective. The Mahabharata as the legend goes was not a story, but a recording of events and that is why it is known as ithihasa. The epic derives its name as the fifth veda for it is abound with morals. It was not just a moral of good over evil, but a larger life lesson. It teaches us to avoid being a victim of circumstances. Even a cursory reading drives home the point that no one is infallible, and it depicts human nature at different circumstances. An embodiment of envy and greed — Duryodhana was never depicted as a bad king tyrannising his subjects. A noble and virtuous person — Yudhisthira was shown falling to abysmal level of betting his wife. During the infamous game of gambling in the Mahabharata, so many right thinking people were shown to be spineless before the seats of power, which we come across in our day-to-day life. The epic also tells us that winning a war is more dependent on strategies than the size of an army.
More than anything the epic elaborately dealt with the evils of gambling; it showed us how a game of gambling slowly turns out to be sinister, making a person to lose ethical, moral, social and human values by the lure of game. Every time the dice was rolled, Yudhisthira got the promise that he would get back everything he had lost in a single win, and that is how most of the gamblers are trapped in the quick sand of gambling. The epic also showed us the impact of pervading executive decisions. A single wrong decision of a single person to gamble had spelt 13 years of misery on all the family members. The Mahabharata also teaches us that what was lost swiftly in gambling was regained in protracted struggle.
The powerful message and its intended purpose was lost when later narrators of the epic behaved like modern playwrights, for whom heroes are purity personified. So as to retain the heroic values, playwrights and screenplay writers weave backgrounds to justify every action of the hero. When a hero steals, it has a noble purpose of feeding the poor and underprivileged, whereas when a villain steals it is avarice. When a villain loses it is just and when a hero loses it is deceit. Perhaps to answer a rational question of how a gambler who had staked his wife in gambling is extolled as a man of virtues, I believe many storytellers resort to justification. When a highly intriguing epic depicting human nature, relevant at all times is reduced to a story of good over evil, the larger moral is lost. It is time one revisits the Mahabharata to cherish the gems of abundant wisdom than to extol heroes.