Friday, September 10, 2010

Gandhari - Queen of Hastinapur Part VIII

This is part of my ongoing series on the Mahabharat, an epic poem of ancient India. For links to all previous Mahabharat posts go here. Or you can simply click on the Mahabharat page link above.

This is the eighth part of my Gandhari - Queen of Hastinapur series. Click to read the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh parts.

In the previous part we saw that Gandhari bore the deaths of ninety-nine of her sons. Then she tried to protect her last remaining son, Duryodhan, by giving him an invincible armour.

This is what happened next:

All Gandhari's efforts to protect her last remaining son were fruitless.

Bhima defeated Duryodhan by smashing his thigh, the same thigh Duryodhan had told Draupadi to sit upon. The eldest Kaurava was left to lie on the battlefield, alone and friendless, bleeding to death.

The women of Hastinapur went to Kurukshetra to grieve over their fallen men.

Gandhari also went to the battlefield, leaving the camp behind. Though she was blindfolded, she identified her children, knowing which one was Duryodhan, which was Dushashan, which was Vikarna, Sama, Sulohan, and on and on until she found all her sons.

The Pandavas also came with Krishna to the battlefield to perform the last rites for their cousins and offer solace to the grieving masses.

It was as they passed Gandhari that she turned her blindfolded face to Krishna. "I know who you are, Lord."

He paused and looked at her. "You are wise in many ways."

She stood and folded her hands together. "You are my mother and you are my father. You are my brother and my friend. You are my knowledge and my true wealth. You are my all, my everything, my God."

Krishna moved close to her, taking her hands in his.

"You could have saved my family, Lord," Gandhari said. "You could have stopped this war."

"Yes," he said, compassion in his eyes. "I could have compelled Duryodhan to change his path."

"But you didn't." Her voice rose. "You let him die."

"Because he had to choose. I could advise him, not force him. And his choices made this war necessary. Otherwise Earth would have been choked under the burden of so much evil."

Gandhari shook her head. "Your mother Devki will understand my feelings, Krishna. Ask her what it's like to lose a child. She knows. She will tell you that it is much worse than the pain of birthing one," she shouted the last.

He was silent.

"And because she knows your mother will understand why I'm going to curse you." She tore her hands from his and pointed at him.

The Pandavas gasped but Krishna appeared unsurprised. He only watched her.

"I curse you, Krishna, my Lord, my Saviour! I curse you that your family is destroyed just as mine was. That you have to stand by and watch your children fight each other. Then you will feel what I am feeling and know my pain."

Kurukshetra reverberated with her words. All waited for Krishna to speak, sure he would refute her anger.

Instead, he remained near to her and closed his eyes. He spoke: "Devotee of Shiv, I accept your words."

She'd not wept since before Dushashan's death. Now she broke down, her body shaking with harsh ugly sobs. Krishna moved to put his arms around her fragile form, pressing her head upon his shoulder. With all Kurukshetra watching them, Krishna consoled the one who'd cursed him.

Gandhari had to go through the ultimate nightmare of any parent: The death of her child. But she didn't go through that just once. Or even twice. She went through it one hundred times. How can anyone bear that much pain?

She was a woman of faith. An enlightened soul. The prayer she spoke to Krishna, recognising him as her one true relation, is a prayer Hindus say every day.

Yet at the same time she was angry. She blamed the Almighty for what happened to her family. She cursed him for allowing her nightmare to be.

How many people blame God for the events of their lives? Countless numbers turn away from him in their anger, rejecting their relationship with him. Many even refuse to believe in him from the beginning, deciding that with so much pain in the world the existence of any deity is a delusion.

Gandhari did not turn away from Krishna. She acknowledged him even in the midst of her nightmare. She turned to him and told him what was in her heart.

Though she felt great anger she was not blinded to the truth. And it was because she remained enlightened - a devotee - that Krishna accepted her words. It is a teaching of the Mahabharat that the Lord never allows the words of his devotee to go unfulfilled even if those words are against him. So her curse came to pass. Krishna's family, his many sons and grandsons, were destroyed. A simple argument turned into a fight which turned into a feud which turned into a war. They all died, returning to the divine realm where they waited for Krishna to join them.

It is something ordinary people cannot fathom - that a single person might tell the Almighty what to do and he would do it. But Gandhari had that power because she had a pure love for Krishna. When we surrender to the Lord we gain a spiritual power that is unmatched by any force on this earth.

There is another point to this story. When we're angry we curse those we love. Especially our family. We scream and shout and blame them for everything. But how many family members stand by and accept our anger? How many offer silent comfort in return for curses? Not many. Duryodhan never listened to Gandhari no matter what she told him. Dritrashtra, despite Gandhari's devotion to him, only listened to her when it was convenient for him to do so. Her brother Shakuni always ignored Gandhari's wishes, even though he professed to love her. None of her family members provided understanding or acceptance.

The Mahabharat teaches that, in fact, there is only one relation who does this and that relation is the Lord. Krishna was the only person who listened to Gandhari and respected her words as the truth. No matter what she said, the Lord accepted her. Unconditionally. And of course he did. He always does. For he is our mother, our father, our brother and our friend. He is our knowledge and our true wealth. He is our all, our everything, our God.

The Mahabharat teaches that such an unconditonal love is possible only with him. Gandhari's story demonstrates this truth.


Tvameva – You alone; Mata – the mother; cha – and; pita-tvameva – you alone are the father; tvameva – You alone; bandushcha – are the brother, and; sakha tvameva – you alone are my friend; Tvameva-vidya – You alone are the knowledge; dravinam tvameva – you are the wealth; tvameva sarvam – you are everything for me; mama-dev-deva – O My ultimate God.

Lord, You are my mother and you are my father. You are my brother and my friend. You are my knowledge, my true wealth. You are my all, my everything, my God.

Go here to read the next Mahabharat post entitled Bhima's Brother.


Eric W. Trant said...

That's a great lesson to remember when you catch your son peeing in his closet when he sleepwalks at night.


Ah, unconditional love...

- Eric

Jaleh D said...

And your own love in the Lord shines brightly in relating these stories to us. Thank you.

Jai Joshi said...

Eric, that is hilarious! Peeing in the closet while sleepwalking. I suspect all parents have similar stories that they save up to blackmail their kids with later on in life.

If only Duryodhan's worst action was to pee in the closet. Things might have been a lot easier for Gandhari.


Jai Joshi said...

Jaleh, thank you. My greatest wish in writing these posts is to try to relate the depth of the Mahabharat. Your comments always encourage me in this.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Unconditional love is something we all try to master and fall short.

Jai Joshi said...

Diane, very true.


Rachna Chhabria said...

Jai..thanks for yet another wonderful post. I had no idea that Gandhari had cursed Lord Krishna. I need to read my Mahabharata again. Your research and knowledge of this epic really stuns me.

Jai Joshi said...

Rachna, I've been obssessed with the Mahabharat for a long time and read practically every book I can find on the subject. I also listen to a lot of Kathas so that helps to understand a lot of the philosophy and symbolism. Love it.


A Cuban In London said...

I know that it is an epic poem and that many of the conflicts described happened many centuries ago, but when I read this sentence 'She will tell you that it is much worse than the pain of birthing one' my eyes became moist. Jai, you are bringing to those of us unfamiliar with the Mahabharat, a piece of history that reverbarates today in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Congo, to name but three countries where women will, sadly be saying the same words. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Hema P. said...

That was a wonderful series, Jai!

Jai Joshi said...

Cuban, you are quite right. Gandhari's experience is universal and every mother who has gone through that nightmare (and even those who haven't) can attest to it. I think that's why it touches us all so deeply.


Jai Joshi said...

Hema, thanks. It was a long one but worth the work.


Tara Maya said...

Such a powerful scene. You really bring it to life.

Jai Joshi said...

Tara, thanks. I'm glad I was able to do it justice for you.