Bhimsen: Episode 67

[Episode 66] [Archives]

Duryodhana leapt high. I bent at the knee, going low in a counter.

In a move I had never seen before, his left hand came off the mace. The right hand slid down the handle till his fingers held it by the tip, and then he flicked it at my face like a whip.

I blocked it with ease – and realized too late that the move was meant to distract, not hurt. Even as I moved to defend, Duryodhana lashed out with his leg, smashing his heel against my shoulder and sending me staggering backwards.

We had been fighting for a long time. Or maybe it just felt that way. Early into our bout, I realized that Duryodhana’s mace – his favorite one with the gold-plated handle and the wickedly sharp spikes along the head – was considerably lighter than mine. Whatever it lost in power, it more than made up in the speed with which he could wield the lighter weapon.

All those years ago, when we fought for the first time during the trial of strength, I had won by using my strength, hammering my mace repeatedly against his to tire his wrists and arms.

Thinking to repeat that tactic, I went at him hard from the moment Balarama finished his little speech. “Just in time to watch your two disciples in battle,” Krishna had said as Balarama’s chariot rolled into the glade.

Balarama always spoke of impartiality, of how the Pandavas and Kauravas were equally dear to him and how he wanted no part of our quarrels – but for all that, he had over the years favored Duryodhana, taking him under his wing and teaching him the tricks of the mace.

When war seemed inevitable, Balarama had gone off on an extended pilgrimage to avoid taking sides – but only after he made sure the bulk of the Dwaraka army would fight under the Kaurava flag.

I had listened to his little speech about fair play, about the rules of combat and about making him proud of us, with growing disbelief – did he think this was some contest got up for his amusement?

Duryodhana swung at me – a powerful, underarm swing aimed at the right side of my chest; as my mace met his in a block he disengaged, spun in reverse with startling speed, and swung at my left.

There was no time to bring my mace around. I smothered the impact by stepping into the blow and blocking the handle with my body — but even so it stung, driving the breath out of me and forcing me to one knee.

Duryodhana roared in triumph and charged, swinging; I parried and, still on my knee, spun around with a sweeping strike at his legs that forced him to jump back, giving me room to recover.

What had started off as a contest of speed and strength was slowly turning into a battle of skill and wits. My arms were beginning to feel the strain; I was gasping for breath and struggling with the sweat that poured down my face and into my eyes – and by the look of him, he was as drained as I was.

I sensed desperation in him as our battle dragged on. There was an increased frenzy to his attacks. He must have known his best chance was to finish me off quickly, before my strength and endurance began to wear him down.

I realized I had to change my tactics, find his weakness and figure out how to exploit it.

Duryodhana jumped high, as he had repeatedly done since our battle began, using his lighter mace and his agility to advantage. What made his tactic dangerous was that he kept changing the angle of attack – sometimes he jumped high and swung down at my head; at other times he feinted, forced me into a defensive posture, then waited till he was on the way down to attack me from an angle lower than I was prepared for.

With sudden clarity, I saw the flaw in his tactics – and what I had to do.

I breathed deep to center myself, and settled down to a calculated defense, blocking his attacks without launching any of my own, conserving my strength and waiting for my opportunity.

I had to make him think I was more tired than I was, that my reflexes were slowing down, that it was all I could do to defend — and that he had no reason to fear a sudden counterattack.

Duryodhana changed tack and launched a series of swift attacks, swinging the mace to the left and right with great dexterity and putting all his power into each strike. I countered with force; our maces struck sparks off each other.

Seemingly hard-pressed, I staggered back, letting one hand come off the handle and taking one of his strikes on my body.

Dimly, I heard my brothers yelling encouragement. I shut it all out – their shouts, my rage, the memories of all the insults Duryodhana had visited on us…

It was only a matter of time, I knew, before Duryodhana would go airborne again. This time, as he reached the apex of his jump he swung from the right, aiming for my shoulders and chest. I made as if to block, waited till he was committed and then pulled out of the feint.

To exploit the weakness I had spotted, I knew I had to take a serious blow – and this was it. I did the best I could to minimize the impact, but even so his mace landed on my side with a thud that drove the breath out of me. I bit down hard on the searing pain, spun around and using the momentum of my turn and the full strength of my arms, I smashed my mace against his momentarily unprotected ribs.

The crack of breaking bones as the head of my mace smacked into his side told me all I needed to know. Duryodhana crashed to the ground, the mace flying out of his hand.

Vaguely through the percussive pounding of blood in my head, I heard the voices:


“Bhima, he is unarmed, you have won …”


Almost as if it had a will of my own, my mace rose high overhead. Duryodhana raised his legs in a desperate attempt to block. I adjusted and smashed the mace down against Duryodhana’s thigh, just below his waist.

“What have you done?!” Yudhishtira rushed up to me. “He was unarmed – to hit him then… it was wrong!”

I stared at my brother in disbelief, amazed –not for the first time – at a sense of wrong and right that he seemed able to switch on and off at will.

Just yesterday, he had danced with glee when Arjuna felled Karna.

Karna had voluntarily put down his weapons; Duryodhana had lost his in a battle that had not yet ended – that was right, this was wrong?!

I looked away and caught Balarama’s eye. His face contorted with rage, he was straining to get away from Krishna and Satyaki, who struggled to hold him back.

“Coward!” he screamed. “Duryodhana was the better fighter — you tricked him and then, when he was unarmed, defenseless and hurt you hit him! Your act was against dharma, against the laws of combat! Coward!”

Deep inside of me, something snapped. Duryodhana was finished – I knew that he would die of his wounds even if I didn’t lay another finger on him. But this – this was more than I had the fortitude to bear.

“Let him go!” I roared at Krishna. “I vowed to kill Duryodhana – and kill him I will, right here, right now. I know no kshatriya dharma greater than that!”

I raised my mace high overhead.

“Anyone who thinks to stop me can step forward now and try!”

I waited, mace poised, as Krishna and Satyaki let Balarama go and stepped back. He took a step towards me, then another, his eyes locked on mine.

And then he stopped.

I held his eyes with mine as my mace came down with all my strength, crashing into the side of Duryodhana’s head. Almost in continuation of that blow, I flung my mace away. I had no further use for it – my war was over.

For long moments I stood there, mentally and physically drained by the toughest battle I had ever fought in my life.

I felt their eyes… my brothers’, my kinsmen’s, my friends’… eyes that looked down on my dying enemy with pity… eyes that lacerated me with a scorn I had done nothing to deserve…

I walked over to where Visokan waited with the chariot, and painfully hauled myself in. On the deck, I saw my blood spattered mace.

“It is a good weapon,” Visokan said gently, as he held out a cloth for me to dry the sweat that poured off me in an unending stream. “What does it know of dharma and adharma? What does it care?”

He drove slowly towards the river. I threw away my robes – and felt the soothing, healing caress of a gentle breeze.  My ‘father’, Vaayu – where were you when I was all alone, when my enemies covered me with their arrows and my friends with their contempt?

As I dived into the river, I heard the sound of Visokan driving away.

I floated in the water, letting the gentle eddies rock me like a baby in its cradle, and thought back to what I once was – the little boy who, every evening, would come to the riverbank looking for his father… the boy who, on feeling that first gentle touch of breeze on skin, would pray with all his heart to become the strongest, the bravest, the best warrior of all time.

That prayer had come true. I had grown big and strong – there was in my world no warrior to equal me, no one who had ever bested me in combat. I had fulfilled my vows, every last one of them; my last remaining enemy lay breathing his last in the dust, the thigh he had slapped in a lascivious invitation to my wife a bloodied, broken mess.

I had become what I wanted to be, done all that I vowed to do — and yet, what did I have? A wife I shared with four others… two other wives whose faces I couldn’t remember… a son who had given up his life for those who had delighted in his dying, two other sons who I did not know… and brothers who could never appreciate the depth of feeling I had for them…

Evening gave way to the pitch black of night, matching the darkness that swamped my mind, my heart.

I sat there for a long, long time. At some point, I thought I smelt smoke…

The urgent clatter of horses’ hooves woke me from my reverie. I looked around for my robe as Visokan drove up at reckless speed.

He jumped down before the chariot had come to a halt and ran towards me, sobbing.

“They are dead… Ashwathama… he came in the night, like a thief… he set fire to our camp… he killed them all while they slept…”

He collapsed to the ground, sobs wracking his frame.

From the depths of a heart grown suddenly cold, a question welled up and lodged in my throat: who?

My brothers had gone off into the forest to celebrate the victory, with them went Krishna and Satyaki. Dhristadyumna broke away from the party – I want to celebrate with the first good night’s sleep I have had since this started, he told them.

Ashwathama came in the middle of the night. With him was Kritavarma, and Kripa – the guru of our race. They set the camp on fire – that must have been the smoke I sensed, and ignored… as our people woke to this conflagration and rushed out in panic, Ashwathama cut them down one by one in the dark.

Dhristadyumna… our children, Draupadi’s sons… Prativindhya, Suthasoma, Shrutakirti, Shatanika, Shrutakarma… my son Sarvadha, who had become inseparable from his cousins…

Young men… boys, really – the future of the Kuru race, for whom we had slaughtered our kin and won a kingdom…

All dead.

I looked down at hands that seemed suddenly drained of their strength.

The war was over, but the enemy still lived.

The enemy never dies…

159 thoughts on “Bhimsen: Episode 67

  1. If what Bhimsen did to Duryodhan, what Arjun did to Karna and Bhishma, and what Dhrushtadyumna did to Dronacharya was correct, then why do we consider Kauravas as villians of Mahabharata?
    If all of the above is correct,then all that the Kauravas did the whole of their life was also correct.
    Isnt it?

  2. This piqued my interest in this epic. I appreciate if some of the folks here suggest English versions of Maha Bharatham, preferably non-vanilla versions with different POVs.

    Thanks Prem. I spent countless hours reading your content on variety of topics over the last 15 years. My US life would have been a lot poorer without your online presence since the Rediff’s early days.I still get amazed with how well read you are and the superb analytical reasoning skills you possess.

    • Jagadeesh,
      Welcome to the fan club. I agree with you wholeheartedly, been a great fan and follower of Prem since Rediff days. I used to read every word of his cricket match reports and now his blog.


  3. anybody know of a english version of Vijayam? is there any such version available anywhere in any language? been trying to get hold of such a version since long. Any help is greatly appreciated.

  4. Hi Prem
    I have been a great fan of Mahabharata since I was a kid, and my fascination has grown over the years with every new version, POV or interpretation. Your version of the epic through Bhima’s point of view is one of the most fascinating reads. I feel that one reason for the attention that Mahabharata has been enjoying over the years is because it is a very realisitc story of human life , with black & white often merging into various shades of grey. Hence it has always been contemporary in every age and time, and people have found so much to research and interprete . Even hundred years hence there will be people like you will keep discovering new joys within the age old tale.

    Wanted to recommend/ suggest a couple of things( I understand its your call what you want to write, but as a fan I will love to see these)-
    1. A POV of Duryodhan, as many others have suggested. I imagine it in two ways. D has a lot of justification in his claim to the throne for which he fights the P. His father was the elder Prince but was denied the throne on some technicality, but he rightfully inherited the kingdom once pandu died. As such , Dhritarashtra’s son could claim to be the the legal heir in line for the kingdom, being the present King’s eldest son. Pandavas , it can be said , had usurped the throne from D. Even his defeat on the battlefield has been the result of a long chain of manipulations, half-lies & opportunistic below-the belt hits by pandavas and Krishna. With this in mind, it be interesting to imagine how the epic would have panned out had D managed to win the war. We all know that history is written by the victors. Maybe thats why we know of the Pandavas as the heroes of mahabharata 🙂

    b) There is a very interesting Bengali play , Shakunir Pasha, a one-man act that presents Mahabharata from Shakuni’s POV. Instead of a cunning villain we see a man imprisoned , broken and forced to do the bidding of his powerful relatives. He is torn between his own conscience and his fear and helplessness in the face of D’s ruthlessness. Infact, I have read somewhere that Shakuni’s story isnt quite as simple as we know it. Shakuni was one of 100 Gandhara Princes who were imprisoned by Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra’s marriage to Gandhari was a political setup meant to broker peace between Hastinapur & Gandhara But later the wise men of Hastinapur felt that the 100 gandhara Princes(including Shakuni) posed a great threat and managed to put them all in the dungeons where they were given 100 grains of rice everyday. Gandhara Princes drew lots and selected Shakuni who got to eat all of the 100 rice grains, so that he could live and avenge his brothers and destroy the Kuru royal line. later he managed to make himself useful to Duryodhana as a lackey & used D’s ambition and ego as instuments for his own revenge.

    I will love to hear from you about your views on these points and will love it even better if you consider one or both of these as a future project.


    P.S > P.S- Are there any good English translations available for the two books you mentioned -Ini Nhaan Urangatte & Shivaji Sawant’s Mrityunjaya. And any other recommendations?

    • The Shakuni part is a popular version. In fact the dice that shakuni used were purportedly made from the bones of his dead brothers and hence gave him an unfair advantage whenever he used them in a game of dice. 🙂

      but no…I don’t think this is a very original version. Shakuni was a scheming villain who did all that to benefit his nephew. that is how I see it – no point in attributing other motives to his actions.

      • Hi Kalki
        About the idea of Shakuni’s motivation, didnt intend to pass it off as an original idea. As I mentioned, I read it somewhere. So obviously the version already exists. My point was that an extrapolation of this premise, or even just a POV from this angle the way Prem’s Bhimsen is , can be quite interesting to read as well. I feel that none of the Mahabharata’s characters, atleast the major ones , are unidimensional. For eg Duryodhana is the villain and yet he is strong , brave , generous and commands the respect and loyalty of many stalwarts in Mahabharata.Infact I find it surprising that majority of the characters in mahabharata are allies of D and most them go to a lot of trouble to honor the friendship seemingly out of loyalty- Karna, Ashwathama, Balarama, Shalya(related to Pandavas),Drona, Kripa, Bhagadutta. Based on sheer strength of character, I think Duryodhana would have made a better King than Y.
        Take out some of the moral trappings & the mythical hyperboles( boons, curses etc) and its the richness of the characters that make it so relevant in all ages. Again Mahabharata can also be percieved and interpreted in many ways and so your view of one person as pure evil is understandable. But like rest of the characters , Shakuni can also be explored to find new facets to the story as we know it. mahabharata as we know it is not an original work by a single author- most of what we know of Mahabharata is the result of centuries of modifications, additons , explorations by scores of story-tellers, & may be that is also how it will servive 1000 years from now. Amen! 🙂

        • Shalya was tricked to join D since he gave his wordas a Kshatriya , he originally he had intended to join Pandavas.
          Think only K was truly loyal to D due to his friendship. Others had to be loyal as they were part of royal court and were his subjects (Drona, Kripa). Balarama thought he was the best disciple! Most others were kings who were aligned with his kingdom.

          Agree he had some redeeming qualities, but his obsession with humiliating his cousins ended in his downfall!

    • Another version I have heard:
      To determine who was the smartest of the Gandhara princes while in the prison, the task was to thread a bone without the person making a hole in it. Shakuni tied the thread to an ant which bore a hole into the bone and came out with the thread tied, at the other end of the bone. Thus it was decided that Shakuni should get to eat and live so that he may take revenge while the other brothers starved to death.

  5. Pingback: links for 2009-08-11 « Unjustly

  6. after so much discussion on ‘Y’ , views and counter views. I got interested to know how the narrative would be through Y’s point of view.

    What was going through his mind..when he made all these dubious decisions…
    what did he think of his strengths compared to his younger ( stronger and skilled) brothers.
    what would have gone through his mind whenever his ‘DharamRaja’ tag got a beating ??

  7. I was thinking of how difficult it would be to write another POV for ramayana as opposed to Mahabharatha. I am aware of Ramayana through the eyes of Ravan. I was thinking of something through the eyes of say lakshman. He also has to undergo vanvas, and what more, he doesn’t even have his wife for company 🙂

    My thinking is loopholes for another POV is less in Ramayana, compared to Mahabharatha. Or could be just me. Maybe it needs someone like MT/Prem to imagine that.

    And also humanizing Rama seems to be more dangerous than humanizing Krishan, atleast in these times.

    As they say, what do I know, I just code.

    • I have read a poem called urmila ki virag (dont know the author), which explains the feelings of laskman’s wife Urmila. That is a nice angle to look at.

      As you said, it would be interesting to look at Ramayana from lakshman’s POV

    • “And also humanizing Rama seems to be more dangerous than humanizing Krishan, atleast in these times.”

      True but there are enough grey areas in Ramayana that can be interpreted as against character for the key roles. To name a few, Ram’s shooting down Vali from behind a tree when Vali is engaged in a fight with his brother, Ram’s insistence on Sita proving that she is chaste and again his sending her off to the forest based on a commoner’s opinion of his decision to take Sita back are events that humanize Ram. As for Ravan’s character, the positives of his character (loyalty towards his brothers and sister, his respectful treatment of Sita when she is in his custody) that are glossed over in the conventional version can be brought into focus to balance the characterizations. The conventional version seems to highlight the positives of Ram and either glosses over his negatives or comes with some sort of mythological excuse to explain his actions. In Ravan’s case, it is vice versa.

      • Rama banishing Sita to the forest is not from Valmiki Ramayana. That was Bhavabhuti’s imagination. The entire uttara ramayana is bhavabhuti’s addition. Valmiki ends his version with the Rama pattabhishekam.

        • When and by whom it was added is besides the point. What is relevant is that it is the accepted version.

          • who says it is the accepted version?

            actually even in Indian tradition, uttar ramayan is avalmikam, that is not written by valmiki and quite a few people reject the whole thing as unauthentic. There is wealth of info available thru research which clearly shows how far removed the uttar ramayan is from original, the language, the knowledge of geography, the setting, the caste considerations in soceity are totally different from original, it was clearly written atleast a 1000 yrs after the original. According to many historians, there is a subtle competition between kshatriyas and brahmins in ramayan and is evident in parushuram episode. Priestly class got their chance to set the record straight with the cooked up uttar ramayan version by making even Rama kill a sudra for reciting vedas.

            • There you go again…all I tried to convey by using the term “accepted” is to refer to the version most people are aware of. Whether or not some people reject it is again besides the point. The exercise to retell Ramayan with a realistic view of the characters (as wished by Rahul above) would have the objective of presenting an alternate view to what most people are acquainted with.

            • din’t mean to tick you off mate..I only wanted to bring out the fact that quite a few people think uttar ramayan is not authentic.

              leaving uttar ramayan alone, I agree with your broad point that there are enough things in ramayan itself which are grey and can be explored. I do not like uttar ramayan mainly because it is not written by valmiki and is clearly a later age cook up and also because the fascinating aspect of original ramayan like ideal prince etc. are largely missing from this one.

              Here are a few pointers
              a. the attempted swearing in of Rama by Dhasharath itself is grey area. Dasharath alreadyt promised kaikeyi that her son will be king before marrying her. Dhasarath in fact mentions that since Bharat & Shatrugna are away, now is the right time to appoint Rama heir apparent in valmiki version.

              b. Valmiki version clearly sees Rama as human and not god, the bala kanda and other aspects are later age additions to make God out of a idealistic human. This is a historical fact based on etymology.

              c. Rama eventhough agrees to goto forest, was not happy with his father and it comes out quiet clearly during initial stages. Valmiki deals with it beautifully and shows us how Rama grows with it and deals with it.

              d. Cutting off Shurpanaka’s nose is huge mistake

              e. To many Vali’s killing is controversial eventhough personally I don’t find it wrong based on Rama’s regal explaination. If you read valmiki ramayan, it is also possible that Rama was in fact not hiding behind trees as is popularly believed.

              f. sita’s test of chastity is a later age addition and any humane, rationale version cannot deal with something like agnipravesha.

              Many more instances but personally, reading valmiki’s version is great experience and you can’t help but fall in love with Rama if you start by treating him as a human which is what Valmiki’s version did, nowhere is any mentioned of Rama’s avatar etc.

  8. Fascianting, as others mentioned, both the episode as well as comments/discussions!
    I am already saddened by the fact that that it will come to an end in 4-6 weeks 😦 , partially redeemed by the fact that the episodes I have been looking forward to most are set to begin now.

    Prem, I am sure you deserve all the rest/break after Bhim finishes, but do you have any vague plans to do something similar in future?

    On Y-B discussion, I did not feel that there is considerable difference between the conventional and this narrative. After listening to MB in my childhood also, the impression of Y was that of an impractical/incompetent person; same here.
    The incident which was a bit jarring for me was Krishna’s gloating over G’s death. I am fine with K’s portrayal as a scheming person who wants to win at all costs. To that end, I would have been fine even at his gloating over success of his plan of sending G towards Karna. What was a bit discordant was K also belittling G as a tribal, etc.


    • As on date, all I want to do after this is over — 8, 10, 12 episodes should do it, hopefully, since the peace time narrative is merely intended to round off a few ongoing questions, and to underline a few thought processes — is take a break.

      The writing hasn’t been particularly taxing, but the amount of thought certainly has been. My fault in part, because I opted to digress from the MT version to a very large extent while still painting within his lines, but to do that meant more effort than I had bargained for while simultaneously earning my keep.

      A month or so down the line? I don’t yet know. I am fascinated by the idea of using this forum to round off the narrative — but I am not yet mentally clear whether such a rounding off will happen if you look at this through Draupadi’s eyes [in which case, it would have to be a retelling of PK Balakrishnan’s book Ini Nhaan Urangatte] or through Karna’s, in which case Shivaji Sawant’s Mrityunjaya suggests itself [this work also tends to be more in line with the demi-god narrative stream of the original, so maybe it will better balance the demystification of the Bhim version].

      I don’t want to do too much thinking of those things just now, though. The episodes thus far were relatively easy because they are driven by fairly spectacular incidents; the ones to follow are considerably more about internalizing, about the mental side of this whole thing, hence I suspect far harder to do, and thinking of what next is not ideal just now.

      About K and his gloating, that was a natural reaction of a strategist whose ploy worked — underlined by the immense relief he would feel on knowing that his dearest friend is now safe. Caste considerations weighed very strongly then — vide G’s own angst about how no one ever treated him as a human being since he joined the war, for instance.

      For K, G is a problem on two counts: his lower caste means he is expendable, which is prima facie; equally to the point, as a king himself and as a person aware of the larger picture, he is distinctly uncomfortable with the thought of any maverick band of high quality warriors running around loose, unchecked, pillaging at will, and hence to put an end to that is part of his vision of statecraft, and entirely consonant with the ethos of the time.

      I didn’t touch on this much because Bhim was not in situ at the time, but if you think back to the creation of Indraprastha, the Pandavas were fobbed off with a small, infertile tract of land in the midst of an enormous forest. For them to be able to create a kingdom, they needed to clear land, and to establish their suzerainity. They achieved both objectives when Krishna and Arjuna set fire to the Khandava forest, and ruthlessly killed the Nagas for whom it was home. The conventional narrative gives the nagas demigod status, with Takshaka the friend of Indra as their ruler, but if you see it in practical terms, the Nagas were an expendable band of tribals who owed no allegiance to any king, to have them running around this close to the nascent kingdom was a clear and present danger, so K and A did what their notion of statecraft suggested, without any qualms about the mass slaughter. [I merely touched on it by having Bhim see the burnt out huts of the tribals when he returns to Indraprastha after his trip and marriage to Balandhara].

      Yeah, I’ll grant it is discordant. Largely because we are more comfortable with the narrative that creates all kinds of boons and curses to explain actions that otherwise would seem less than humane.

      • Perhaps ideal (from rounding-off perspective) would be a Duryodhan or Dhritrashtra POV.
        Not only would the narrative itself make for extremely interesting reading, but imagine the comments and discussions (If Y’s “humanizing” could spark such discussions, imagine…).

      • If you do write a Draupadi version of your own, based on the book “And now let me sleep” i.e Ini Nhaan Urangatte, please don’t go off on the Karna tangent and stay faithful to the character chosen.
        Why does everyone want D to either fall in love with K or to see his “godly, amazing, larger than life kind and charitable, etc” side? That too after he is dead and when none of it matters? I would understand if K survived the war and was somehow crowned king, etc. I would, however, have liked to have put D in to the Krishna and Karna convo in which Krishna, in addition to the throne and kingdom, also offers D as bonus package to K. But within character and the actual grittiness and without the rose-tinted glasses.

        The same with Karna as a POV, based on Mrityunjay (anyone have an english translated pdf of it??). I would avoid the whole Draupadi tangle in his POV.
        Enough of the icky Titanic-romance.

        Anyways, I just came across Bhimsen now, so have hijacked your comments section, so many years late! Good work. 🙂

  9. Comments on this episode have gone beyond 100. 🙂

    I have learnt a lot from the comments section too – as much as I have from the main narration. As someone suggested, the comments could be included in an appendix or something like that when you are ready to publish the book. 😀

  10. Hi

    Slightly off the trend of the discussion …

    In the Tamil renderings of MB, I have read that Duryodhana was showered with flowers after the duel. It is an honour not even accorded to Bishma. It is a popular pastime on prime time Tamil TV to endlessly debate why that is so.

    Prem: I was just wondering if B would reflect on D’s redeeming qualities now that he has had his revenge and put his demons to rest. I know that even in most conventional narratives it is not so; but given the B’s characterisation as “the thinking Bheem” I am just wondering …

    The way I think about it, it is a reflection of the shades-of-grey-ness that pervades MB; no character is black nor white. That, to me, is why MB is so interesting even after so many years.

    • The showering of flowers bit would be a reflection of the line of predestination and atonement. D does the evil he does because it is all part of the cosmic plan; once he dies in battle he fulfills his role in that plan, and atones for all he has done, and hence is lauded by the gods. Also witness the episode where Y goes to heaven and finds Duryodhana and others already there, while his own brothers are in hell — the thinking again being that D and company have lived out their hell on earth, whereas the Pandavas barring Y still need to atone.

      Bhim wouldn’t agonize about D too much because he never has the opportunity to encounter any of D’s good qualities, such as they were — their antipathy dates all the way back to their childhood, unlike the case with the other Pandavas who felt the brunt of D’s fury only in their late teens.

      • Sorry to harp on this, but I cant buy your first line of argument.

        Surely the Ps suffered more than the Ks and therefore did more ‘atoning’? So, where is the question of D squaring accounts by death? And the cosmic plan angle does not work also because of the lot, D has the least backstory.

        Regarding B, I was just hoping; not really in keeping with the character to talk/ think about D, I agree.

        Would be fascinating to look @ MB from D’s PoV; there is enough scope for black-white reversal with Krishna being the Shakuni equivalent in the black-MB!

        • Eh? It is not *my* argument; it is what the conventional narrative says at the end of the swargarohan chapter.

          There would be great fun to do a Duryodhana point of view yes — except much of it would have to be entirely made up. The MB follows the Pandavas most faithfully at all times, and hence provides considerable backdrops to work against, whereas we meet the Kauravas only on those occasions when they are in conflict with the Pandavas.

          Doesn’t stop you from making up stuff out of whole cloth about what they were up to in the interim, I know — but that is the kind of exercise that will require considerable time in isolation, to think, plan etc. Too much of a luxury just now

      • This is precisely why this version of the story is so deeply unsatisfying despite being rich in superficial detail like for example the description of the mace duel in this episode. In reality this imagining is deeply informed with the leftist zeitgeist of today. Thus the emphasis on (1) glorification of tribals and other so called “victims” of the Aryan domination of India, (2) belittling of authority figures like Yudhishthira. Krishna, Bhishma etc and cynical interpretation of their motives, and (3) the depiction of a “thinking” Bhim full of racial guilt and fraternal frustration.

        The Mahabharat is a transcendental experience for nearly all readers because it is a story about human frailties and failings above all else. Duryodhan, or Suyodhan, is not an evil person. He is a learned prince, a highly skilled and talented warrior, and a leader of men. His failing however is that despite his obvious good qualities he is insecure, envious and covetous. His adharma lies not in torturing and insulting his relatives, regardless of the rightfulness of their claims – it lies in his selfishness in putting his own interests before those of his “kul” or blood. In his qualities he is superhuman, but his failings humanize him. Krodh, ahankaar and lobh are his adharm. Yudhishthira on the other hand is above these baser instincts, and thus better suited to discharge the role of a king. He has infinite patience, humility and does not covet. Such a person is suited to be king, because his actions are deliberate, unemotional and considered. To label his actions as weakness and cowardice is to call Gandhi a coward for his call to non-violence. It reflects a populist and superficial understanding of morality and ethics. In fact, even the definition of dharm as understood by the present author is far off the mark – dharm as used in the original Mahabharat, and in fact in Hindu thought, is not morality, and certainly not the modern western-judaeo-Christian morality. Dharm in Mahabharat refers to Neeti, or the law. In fact, Mahabharat as well as Hindu thought sees no sunlight between Dharm and the law. In this thought, man is neither the karta (giver) of law nor is it open to his interpretation. There is no morality in law. The law is absolute, given by the Brahma, and humans simply must adhere. To the extent that they do, they are dharmic, and if they do not, they are adharmi. Yudhishthira’s actions viewed through the prism of today’s prevalent morality may appear immoral or unjust, but those words had no meaning for him and his contemporaries because their quality lay in adherence to the law as given by the Brahma and taught by the elders and teachers.

        Prem’s retelling of MTV Nair’s novel is doubtless a good exercise in rendering an important vernacular work into English. However, let us not elevate it, or the original for that matter, to the level of an epic. It remains a political interpretation with a clear leftist-populist agenda bound to appeal to shallow intellects. It is folly to interpret an epic as old as the Mahabharat (or Ramayan) through modern morality. I maintain that this is the National Enquirer version of Mahabharat.

        Also, I should clarify that I am neither a Hindu fundamentalist, nor a left-hater. In fact, I am a proud Nehruvian and hate the RSS/BJP types. Nehru himself gets slotted into a narrow leftist category, when he was a humanist and a much deeper thinker than he gets credit for. I prefer to enjoy the epics for their richness, texture, detail and beauty of form, and make an effort to deal with them on their own terms rather than attempt to fit them to my own leanings and beliefs. Any effort to do so seems to me rather self-serving and bourgeois.

        • Gaurav, out of your total post, I agree with only your below quote

          To label his actions as weakness and cowardice is to call Gandhi a coward for his call to non-violence.

          Y is a much misunderstood character in MB and for those times filled with war, killing etc., he was in fact equivalent to Gandhi. Out of the whole MB, he was the one main character who was steadfastly opposed to war, he was the only guy who recognized how killing millions to avenge an insult to one women is not worth it. There is a reason why various characters including enemies respected and showered praises on Y inspite of his lack of skills in actual combat.

          On a larger context, I do caution those who on this forum posted how they are reading Prem’s version to their kids. I think because of the format of Prem’s narrative, the strength, the vigour and majesty of original characters is lost to a large extent. MB’s main advantage lies in the sheer strength of character shown by even supposedly villians like karna. This romanticized version is to a large extent responsible for the universal popularity of MB after so many years. I wouldn’t trade that sheer joy/emotion I felt as a child reading rajaji’s MB. We did be robbing our kids of something if we skip the original romanticized version and go straight to different POV takes on it.

          • Completely agree with you, EE.

            Reason why we all enjoy this POV is because we are aware of the original narrative. Without the backdrop of the original, this is just a simple tale. (No offence to Prem or MT)

        • Hey Gaurav:

          I think you have taken out much more than was originally present either in my post or in Prem’s MB. Critic’s privilege, I guess.

          I am not very sure how you say “This is precisely why this version of the story is so deeply unsatisfying despite being rich in superficial detail …”. The logical thread from my post to this conclusion is not visible to me.

          I dont really see all the zeitgeist angst in Bhimsen. It is a simple tale told from a neglected point of view. I dont think Prem is competing with Vyasa or even Rajaji. Therefore there is no need to confer any status on it, epic or otherwise. Why is it so difficult for you to just accept it as a well told retelling of great story?

          Regarding your arguments about D & Y, again, it is a point of view & no less valid (nor more) than other informed points of view. It is a subject of great debate and I dont think it will be resolved by you or me on a forum like this.

          What I am objecting to in your post is the statement “It is folly to interpret an epic as old as the Mahabharat (or Ramayan) through modern morality”. Why?

          Even the epics & the upanishads that you so adore with sesquipedalian words encourage questioning and self realization of truth, be it ephemeral or ultimate.

          I aver that a truth that can not withstand questioning is no truth at all. Times change; one’s belief systems have to take cognizance of the changed mores & incorporate them.

          That being said, once again, I think Prem is not looking at re-interpreting the MB or its messages. Why overload Bhimsen with layers of meaning and motivation?

          If it bothers you so much, you dont really have to visit the site, you know?

          • Sridhar, I started off my previous comment that way in response to Prem’s reply, specifically the quote “The showering of flowers bit would be a reflection of the line of predestination and atonement. D does the evil he does because it is all part of the cosmic plan; once he dies in battle he fulfills his role in that plan, and atones for all he has done, and hence is lauded by the gods.” etc.

            Per my reading/understanding of the epic the above is not borne out. The Gods shower the stricken Duryodhan with flowers in appreciation of the epic battle he fought with Bhim – the 2 best mace fighters of their time in a fight the likes of which would never be seen again. It is in appreciation for the aesthetic beauty of such a battle – sort of like a Sachin v Warne. It is also in appreciation for Duryodhan’s honorable conduct in following the accepted rules of mace fighting – after all, he could also have hit below the belt, specially since he was the manifestly evil one. He fought well, and with honor, proving his invincibility within the norms of mace fighting, and hence the flowers.

            Anyway, my comment about judging an apic through modern morality is rather obvious I thought. Each age is informed with its own code of good and bad which to later generations might appear downright nasty. As a very mild example, polygamy appears evil to us all today, but not so long ago it was the accepted norm and no stigma was attached to it. Hence for me to say today that my great-great-great-grandfather was an evil man for having 5 wives is stupid, because I am using today’s POV for something that was the norm then. Notions of Good and Evil are relative to space as well as time, and while today’s morality may dictate that the Aryans were racist people who despised the tribals and called them asur or rakshas, this ignores the simple fact that it was perfectly normal to do so in their day and age. For us to judge them, reflects a superior attitude which is juvenile & presumptuous and hence I term it folly. I am a great believer in “let he who hath no sin cast the first stone” or “judge not lest you shall be judged”. Thus, I would rather deal with an epic on its own terms – the actions shown in the Mahabharat were conventional, legal and neeti-sammat for their time, however evil they might be by today’s yardstick. The 3 themes I have identified in Prem’s narrative are repeated throughout, and show modern leftist morality at work – racial guilt, anti-establishment rebellion, and victim-philia. Calling it as i see it. Of course, if you do not like, you don’t have to read my comment. 🙂

            Surprisingly, I do find myself in rather close agreement with almost all of Prem’s non-MB related writings. Hence surprised at the superficialty behind this interpretation. Excellent writing from a technical sense, but poor subject matter choice. Interesting concept, but vehicle for facile socio-political moralizing rather than any deep appreciation for the epic’s worth. Hoping a lot of the underlying morality bits are from MTV Nair, and not Prem’s own original thoughts. Would be interested to find MTV’s political leanings. Assuming mid-20th century Kerala intellectual bourgeois communist/leftist, based solely on this work.

            • Also in a separate reply Prem reference Achilles’ Heel as a story device. It has always struck me how similar the Greek story Achilles is to the Indo-Aryan one of Duryodhan. Achilles’s mother picked him up by his heel and dipped his body in the river Tethys to make him indestructible. Since the only undipped part was the heel, it remained his only weakness, and he died from an injury there. When the war was about to begin, Gandhari called Duryodhan to appear naked before her. Knowing Bhim’s vow and his skill with the mace, she wanted to make his body indestructible by taking off her blindfold for an instant and looking upon him with her eyes. The accumulated power in her eyes of her self-sacrifice in blindfolding herself for life, would make his body indestructible. Duryodhan, being shy about appearing naked before his mother, covered his thighs with a banana leaf, and thus when Gandhari opened her blindfold his entire body became like Vajra except for his thighs and lower belly. Since that area was forbidden in combat anyway, Duryodhan thought he’d be safe but Bhim hit him on the thigh to kill him. The similarities between these two episodes has always fascinated me. Which legend came first, and then travelled to the other land and when?

  11. Was Visokan depicted to be this wise in the conventional narratives? He sure seems to come across as Krishna Jr. in awareness and tactics.


    • Visokan does play an active role in the earlier narrations, not just as charioteer but also as strategist. It is in keeping with the times, where the charioteer was more than a bloke with a driving license — witness for instance the high premium top warriors placed on getting the best charioteers for themselves — Krishna for Arjuna, Shalya for Karna…

      The charioteer needed to have a finely tuned awareness of war craft, because his handling of the reins could create chances for the warrior he was piloting, or mar those chances. That means he had to know to a nicety the strengths and weaknesses of his master, and be able to play to them in the way he handled the chariot.

      That said, he is a tad more proactive in this version, because on occasion I had to use him as the means to ferry information to Bhima. 🙂

  12. I just would like to point out that Shikandi dies along with Dhristadyumna. In this narrative, Bhim has not accounted for him yet.

    • It was one of the names I didn’t mention, because I was trying to keep the focus on Draupadi’s brother [Shikandi is one too, but she never really has anything to do with him] and children. In that massacre, almost everyone dies — not just D and S and the kids, but the bulk of the remaining Pandava forces as well, burnt to death as they slept. I didn’t bother with the full list, is all.

      • Hi Prem,

        In Episode 52 Bhim proposes Shikandi to be the Commander-in-Chief of Pandava army. Hence, I thought Bhim should be taking note of his death. Anyway, it is only a thought.

        • When Bhim proposes Shikandi it is not out of any sense of attachment, but merely as a practical proposition on the basis of his having watched the guy at practice and figured him for an adept — plus, young enough to fulfill the requirement. That said, yeah, leaving Shikandi’s name out of the list was likely bad thinking on my part 😦 Or equally a function of a muddled mind, I initially wrote Satyaki where I meant Shikandi. Age catching up with me. 🙂

      • A little off topic. You have shown Shikandi ashaving none of the androgynous qualities that is mentioned in the Mahabhatha. Any guesses when did such a description of him start?

        • At some point between the Vaisampayana narration to Janamejaya — the version we call Bharata, the second in the sequence that we know of though there appears to be a lost retelling by another of Vyasa’s disciples — there seemed to have begun an attempt to retell the basic story in a larger, epic-scale format.

          Among other things, such recreations brought in the whole mythological element, created demigods out of human beings, created divine intervention as a constant, used the device of boons and curses to scale up the narrative. Hard to say when in this process the whole Shikandi thing kicked in, but easier to see the hows and whys.

          As Karve points out in Yuganta for instance, Bhisma had the rep of a warrior without having done too much to deserve it. As the narrative gained in heft, he became a demigod, temporarily here on earth, and unassailable.

          The problem with setting up someone as superhuman is that you then need to create a loophole. The Amba/Ambika/Ambalika episode played into that, with the scorned Amba committing suicide so she could be reborn as a man and be responsible for taking Bheesma’s life.

          The logical trouble is, we believe in rebirth, and none of us have a clue what we were in the previous avtaar, let alone what everyone else was. Shikandi may have been a woman, or a dog for all anyone knows, in a previous birth — in the one in question, however, he is a man. Period. Even the boon Amba asks for as she enters the fire is to be born as a man — not a eunuch.

          Stands to reason then that it is as a man that Shikandi exists in that particular life, and has to be seen in that light — to say she was a woman in the past birth is neither here nor there [by that token, what the hell, Karna could in a previous birth have been the greatest king of all time, does that mean you don’t see him as a suta putra in this birth?].

          Once all these bells and whistles began getting tacked on, the product of multiple imaginations of varying quality, the epic developed considerable heft and interest, and the enormous scope and sweep of the narrative meant we didn’t examine such loopholes too closely, nor did we mind much that they existed. Fair enough [consider for instance the bit about Achilles only vulnerability being his heel. If the argument is that is the only way he could be killed, I find myself asking — when was the last time we heard of someone being killed by an arrow/wound to the achilles? Crippled, yes. Killed? You can’t even bleed to death that way. But does that matter? No — we just get swept along on the narrative, we know the flaw exists, and we wait with a sort of awed fascination for the moment when it manifests.]

    • Nope, this is pretty much all I had to say in this segment. I could have made the battle with D an episode all its own, and elaborated on the battle a bit more, but that would have left me with having to do an episode on the massacre, where the problem is there are no eyewitnesses to it, so there is just so much detail B could have gotten. Would have ended up stretching that episode more than it deserved to be, so I clubbed it with this one, and reduced the battle description by a couple of paras tops.

  13. I read all the replies from Prem and but whatever it is worth, here is my 2 cents.

    It is simply inconceivable for me to think that Bhim will have such low, dim view of Y. You can have resentment and anger for Y’s messing up in dice game, but other than that Y was rock solid in doing the right thing and also making sure that age’s who who applauding pandavas as righteous. To me, it is inconceivable that Bhim would have trouble understanding such a basic thing howver volatile he might be.

    for the record, it is not about Bhim thinking of Y as less than perfect, it is not about Bhim resenting some decisions of Y, it is not about Prem’s narrative missing the dharma aspect as the overriding theme, it is about Bhim’s character totally lacking respect for Y ( there is no evidence of Bhim deep down thinking of Y as a good guy), it is about Bhim thinking of Y as a total hypocrite and a wimp without the neccessary strength to realize his kingdom dreams etc.

    • Bhim does not “totally lack respect” for Y — he respects him for his strengths. Respect does not mean not seeing the weaknesses of people, it means obeying them despite those perceived weaknesses, because he is in that position to command obedience.

      If that fact and line of thinking hasn’t come across to you guys yet after all these episodes and elaboration in discussions, put that down to my lack of skill in communicating a thought that is very clear in my mind — and let’s move on, please.

      Not to be dismissive, but seriously — this particular line of argument has gone on endlessly, with neither of us having anything to say we haven’t said about 25 times before. Time to move on.

      • Prem, you were definitely being dismissive. I know it is your blog but since we are here, I hope you appreciate the fact that you need to let people post on something as long as they want, of course you are not obligated to respond. In fact, if you paid attension, you would have realized that my above post was not even addressed to you, in my mind, both of us said whatever we needed to say and there is nothing much to add. I was hoping for a discussion on it from other members. if this not something you support, please let me know and I will never ever leave a comment like that.

  14. Prem,
    I am actually surprised that the brothers and allies (besides Yudi) reacted in this way after the slaying of Duryodhan. You have already mentioned that your perception of Arjun as that of a self centered individual who is blind to another’s angst or POV. However, I expected Krishna (as per the conventional narrative) to step in and defend Bheem here. It was in fact Krishna who always came up with “non-dharmic” ideas to defeat the enemy (like Drona, Jayadrata and then Karna). It is a little out of character for him to stay silent here.
    Balarama is the least qualified to speak here. This man constantly supported an individual who had publicly disgraced a royal princess and tried to kill his cousins by some of the most treacherous means possible. He comes across as a hot headed person with hardly any brains. Moreover of all the ugly glares the allies and bros give Bheem, they finally go to the forest to celebrate ….. what a bunch of hypocrites !
    BTW, the Pandavas are still relatively young when this war gets over. All their sons are dead. How come they did not have any more children after the war ? Why was Parikshit, the grandson of Arjun and Subhadra the next king of Hastinapur ?

    • well pandavas were well into their late 50s or even 60s after the war, I don’t think it is surprising that they did not beget any more children.

      As for Krishna and his non-dharmic ideas, not relevent to the narrative here, but below link might be interesting in seeing krishna and bhisma and their individual interpretations. Basically, the bottomline is, a person can be so attached to his own personal dharma that he loses sight of the greater good, Bhisma & Y falls into this catgory, they are bent on sticking to the letter of the dharma, to protect their own personal dhrma, reputation etc. Krishna in contrast is willing to wager his own personal dharma at the alter of greater good. In modern times, sometimes, we see good guys incapable to do good things because they are too worried about their image getting tarnished, Anthony with a squeaky clean image is one example. He is known to be extra careful and bent towards not doing anything to avoid pointing fingers. In contrast, Gandhi accepted removal of his turban ( for which he fought earlier and refused to stay in court) in SA court to continue taking up the cause of greater indian community.

      my 2 cents

    • Krishna and Balarama shared a fairly precarious relationship — so logically, even though K would have seen B as being in the right, he would at that point be more preoccupied in ensuring that Balarama in his anger didn’t do something stupid. Besides, K would have reckoned that Bhim was perfectly well able to take care of himself 🙂

      About the lack of other children, there is a passing reference to the whys and wherefores in a subsequent episode, so I’ll leave that aside for now.

  15. Prem,
    I am a long time fan, followed you from Rediff days through your blog and everywhere i can find your writing. But, this is the first time, I am commenting. I am not a writer, so please forgive my poor language.

    Like all the readers here, I am also a big fan of history, mythology and hybrids like Mahabharata. I have watched BRC’s TV creation, about 20 times, each time finding something new, even in that dramatized and sometime over simplified telling of this greatest story ever told.

    One of things I always find fascinating about MB is the way every character is justified in doing what they are doing. Every character has a POV, a back story that justified his or her motives and actions. Even the villains(if you could call them), like Duryodhana and Shakuni have their reasons and these reasons could be perfectly justified in another story that could be written from their POV. But the beauty of the great epic is that one character’s POV doesn’t necessarily negate another character’s views or motivations. Which is kind of what happens in real-life, where there are no heroes or villains only different POVs, motivations, reasons and circumstances.

    That’s the only problem I have with your narration and for that I agree with Kalki and others. Kalki seemed to have expressed that the best but many of us are trying to say the same think. And, it’s not because we are finding it hard to accept a different interpretation. Somehow Y’s character comes out weak, manipulative and incoherent with his status in the story and the time depicted. Somehow, you haven’t done that to any other character. Why this fixation to bring down Y?

    We have a large family, 6 brothers and my eldest brother is like Y. I don’t like him and have lot of resentment against him because of expectations unfulfilled. But still, I have my love and reverence for him, still till this date, I find it hard to argue with him straight. Every time hate starts building inside me, the moments of unconditional love he has shown at times and the father figure he has been balances it out and deep down I always think that he is a good guy who just doesn’t understand some things the way I do.
    Of course, every case is different. But the way the big story is written, it seems unlikely that what Bheem and Arjun had was more than frustration and some resentment.

    • Hi, mate, and thanks for the kind words.

      About B and Y — here we go again 🙂 — I have a hard time dealing with questions that suggest [I don’t mean this in an irritated sense, but merely in a practical one] that one of my objectives is to bring down Y.

      “Why this obsession”, you and others ask. Why indeed? There is no answer, no logical reason anyone out there can give for why I would do that — so could the answer be that I am not trying to, have never tried to, do that?

      This narrative sees events through the prism of Bhima’s vision. Take that as a starting point.

      Second, keep in mind that it is perfectly human for an individual to dislike, even feel contempt for, particular actions of another individual without feeling contempt for the individual itself.

      What, for instance, do you think a Bhim or in fact anyone would feel for a brother who, having struggled for years to build up the family fortune, having narrowly escaped death in the process [thanks largely to Bhim, not the brother himself], and having somehow revived the fortunes of the family, then walks into what everyone can see is a trap, and foolishly continues the dice game even when the opposition gives him a perfectly logical way out? [D does say, accept defeat and leave now, we have no problem with that — when Y doesn’t, is it possible that B could have thought he was putting individual pride ahead of the family, when as the eldest, it is axiomatic that family always comes first?].

      I could go on, but throughout the narrative, B’s “contempt” as you call it is for things his brother does that he does not agree with. You can or cannot agree with B’s point of view, but I see nothing in any accepted narrative to suggest he should not have a point of view, or that this is not the right one. In any case, I don’t know what went on in B’s mind, neither do the multiple authors who wrote the original epic. In such narrations, you try to conceive of the character, and then to make sure that all his thoughts are consonant with that character — which is all I try to do here.

      If everyone has a problem with my Bhim’s attitude to his brother, I would suggest — like I said elsewhere, this argument is now beginning to chase its tail, and since I have nothing of substance to add to what I have been saying, I’d like to desist, rather than say the same thing over and over — I would suggest that you read the *conventional* narrative once more.

      Bhim does question Y at several points in that narrative — why is that okay, but the questioning in this narrative not okay?

      You mention your family. I would say — precisely! Throughout this narrative, does Bhim ever, once, openly voice his doubts or what you guys call his “contempt”? Never.

      In the conventional narrative he railed at Y in the presence of an assembly of not just his enemies, but of the entire town. Now why is that easy to accept? Why do you see no harm, no contempt, in B openly criticizing his brother, calling him an immoral gambler in such a forum, and asking for fire so he could burn his brother’s hand?

      Everyone gladly accepts that narrative, but has problems with Bhim’s contempt in this one — a feeling he never, ever, shows in the open, or even expresses to his brother in private. So just what are we talking about here? Yes, Bhim has feelings. And since this is his point of view, I do touch on those feelings — but outside Bhim and the readers, no one knows what those feelings are, so where is the problem?

      You mentioned your extended family. Thank you — you gave me the answer to your own question, when you said “I don’t like him and have a lot of resentment… but I have my love and reverence for him… every time hate starts building, the moments of unconditional love he has show…”


      You then are Bhim, and should be able to understand this narrative. Bhim has considerable resentment. But always, over and above all his own hurts and wounded feelings, there is the strong sense of the respect and reverence due an elder brother, that he unfailingly tenders; there is the sense of the brother as a father figure [Y calls him son and child, on more than one occasion] that stills his tongue; there is the duty he believes he owes Y, and the sense that it is Y that is keeping the family together… all of which balances out his wounds, and keeps him constantly at Y’s side, no matter what.

      So what is the problem? As far as I can see, those who disagree with this portrayal appear to be saying it is not enough for B to lay his life in service of his brother, to give him unquestioned obedience, respect, to defend him against everyone — including even Arjuna, when the latter gets upset.

      Apparently in addition to all this, he is not even allowed to feel hurt deep inside.

      Your own experience, I would suggest, should tell you it doesn’t work like that — and help you understand both this narrative, and the Bhim who lives in these words.

      • Prem,
        Thanks for the long response!
        Well, I feel more like a Karna, instead of Bhim, but I get your point 🙂

  16. posting it here again because adding it to kalki,prem exchange became too difficult to read.

    Prem, I agree with kalki here. In fact, this was exactly the point I was trying to make during our brief interaction in the last episode. To me, the most jarring aspect of this narrative is the lack of rationale or characterization which would make someone like Bhim stand quiet while his wife is being molested. I did read your justification regarding joint families etc., but I don’t think that would explain a character as volatile & strong as Bhim not doing anything while his wife is molested.

    I think, in our effort to humanize the epic, we should not lose sight of the cold fact that pandavas stuck to their version of dharma thru thick and thin inspite of repeated attempts to kill them in a non-combat scenario, they value their word and left their kingdom after a mere dice game (a kingdom they built from the ground up). What will a person like Bhim be thinking when he stands quiet like draupadi is getting molested? what will a person like Bhimbe thinking when he agrees to give up kingdom and goto forest? Can a mere loyalty to his king alone make him do it, don’t you think he needs to have some notions of dharma which makes him follow him? even bad guys know in their heart of hearts what is right, so why is so difficult for someone like Bhim to know in his heart that Y is dharmic and not hypocritical? if even enemies in war are willing to believe Y’s word, why will Y’s own bro have so lil value for his righteousness? I think Prem, you are probably making a mistake in comparing these characters to your own personal life experiences with your father and joint family. We should look at other known momentous characters in known history to possibly dwell into what someone like Bhim might be thinking. For example, take the example of Gandhi & Vallabhai Patel ( Gandhi and patel will be Y & Bhim, while Gandhi and Nehru will be Y & Arjuna..there is a lil bit of lonelyness and sadness in Patel’s life too). Patel disagreed vehemently with Gandhi many many times, but he knew about Gandhi’s righteousness and never doubted his intentions, in the end Patel many times went with Gandhi’s word inspite of not agreeing with him. but to think that patel thought gandhi is a hypocrite is really a stretch. To further add to this parallel, 1000 yrs from now, people might as well find it very difficult to believe that someone like Gandhi existed( just like Einstein predicted) and might seek to dumb him down and make it a battle for the right to rule India between the brits and congresswalas. No?

    bottomline is, going by your own characterization of bhim, it is really hard to fathom or expect someone like Prem’s bhim to stick with Y inspite of his so much dislike for Y’s ways and methods, inspite of him thinking that Y is a hypocrite who turns dharma on and off at his convenience. I don’t think joint family alone explains this part of Bhim’s character. Also, if you don’t mind me saying, it looks like you rebelled and took your own decisions and went your own way inspite of your father’s objections, eventhough you were deeply touched and cried like a baby when he passed away. in contrast, in your narrative, Bhim never really rebelled against his king/elder bro, he always, all thru his life stood by his bro thru thick and thin, even when that bro lost entire kingdom. I am not able to understand how you are seeking to explain Bhim’s characterization using your experience with your father, afterall , we are not questioning bhim’s strong feelings for his bros. A volatile character like bhim is more likely to rebel just like you did, don’t you think? unless, Bhim too, at some level, bought into prevailing mores and values and honor etc. but there is no evidence of his buying into that stuff anywhere in the narrative.

    • Guys, due respect to all who are asking this question, but don’t you think this argument has begun to chase its own tail and needs to be given a rest?

      As far as I can see, your point is Bhim should have had some notion of dharma, hence he bought into whatever his brother said and did and looked up to Y as the embodiment of Dharma.

      Fair enough. But what is that view based on? The conventional narrative? Okay, what about the conventional narrative buttresses that argument? Y’s interpretation of Dharma, for instance, is that no kshatriya can in honor refuse a challenge to a duel, or to a game of dice, hence he plays. Does the conventional narrative say for instance that Bhim was okay with that? No. In fact, he wants to burn the hand that pledged his brothers and his wife.

      I could go on, but here’s my point: I don’t mean to diss your viewpoint; I have no reason to. Nor do I mean to show up Y as a characterless wimp — again, I have no reason to. Finally, I never intended to use my own experiences to interpret Bhim — if I used the argument, it is *merely* to underline the point that in joint families, it is often not necessary to think in a way identical to the patriarch — it is merely necessary to recognize that he *is* the patriarch, and that you owe him a duty that supersedes your own feelings on the subject du jour.

      I therefore argue that Bhim had that sense of duty [which is, in case you hadn’t noticed, an aspect of dharma]. And that hence, whatever disagreement he had he constantly sublimated; he even sublimated his own rage at the insult to Draupadi [the conventional narrative and mine both show him angry at the time, ready to shed blood, but is restrained by Y — so in what way do the narratives really differ here?]

      The problem is that you get a perception of Y as a wimp. Again, that is something I have tried to explain — you are seeing, in situations of constant stress, a man who is not brought up to handle these stresses — and you are seeing him through the eyes of a man who by contrast is made for such situations. So yeah, he would seem a little undercooked — had you seen him in peacetime situations, through his eyes or through the eyes of others who can recognize the qualities that make him a great peace time monarch, you would get another impression — but that is another narrative, another viewpoint, maybe another day.

      What I don’t get is this: why is it so difficult to understand that Bhim could have seen his brother as less than perfect? You don’t only follow and obey perfection — so there is really no dichotomy here. Incidentally, Bhim has his own notions of dharma [he says, for instance, that the kshatriya’s dharma is to honor the vows he makes, and if that vow is to kill Duryodhana then so be it. Y thinks the kshatriya dharma begins and ends with don’t kill someone who is defenseless. So what you have is not a case of one believing in dharma and one not, but merely two people having conflicting views of what that dharma is — and that is absolutely fine, there is nothing to say there is only one way of viewing anything, including the meaning of words like dharma, duty, et al. And incidentally, no, a volatile character like Bhim is not apt to rebel like I did — I rebelled in a different time and a different age, had I been born in my family a generation earlier, I would not have; vide the fact that one of my uncles is even more volatile than I am, but he accepted decisions he furiously disagreed with. What I keep trying to point out is, this relates to an age where people obeyed the elder, no matter what they themselves thought — they needed no further buttressing.

      And I think that I am pretty much all talked out on the subject. I am willing to accept that you have your viewpoint on why Bhim does what he does; I’ll ask that you accept mine. 🙂

      • Prem, you got me wrong on two count, in my view

        1. It is not about Bhim and Y differing on what constitutes dharma. My question was about Bhim viewing Y from a decidedly negative angle, thinking of him as a hypocrite and as a wimp. You can differ with someone on what constitutes dharma, but to think your elder brother is wimp and a hypocrite with vehemence and still follow him in everything is not believable.

        2. You again got me wrong about accepting one another’s point of view. Each has his own POV, as I mentioned earlier I differ with you on many counts but did not bring them out because it is merely your take Vs my take. What I wanted to brought out was that the way you built your narrative, the characterization of Bhim did not gel well with someone who will goto forest just because his elder bro asked him to. SO, no prem, it is not about me accepting your POV. We are only discussing the characterization here, not arguing about which POV is correct

        • 1. Yes it is. Or are you suggesting that Bhim would, while watching his elder brother play the part of the village idiot in that dice chamber, have felt — what, admiration? Of course he will differ with Y and still follow him — for him, there is no greater dharma than family, no greater duty that what he owes that family, and nothing greater in life than to lay that life at service to that family, of which in his mind Y is the unquestioned head. All of which is a point I have made time out of mind.

          2. Okay let me try it this way. In the conventional narrative, which is what everyone is using as template, Bhim violently protests the dice game. Bhim excoriates his brother in open assembly [not a nice thing to do, no? he not only treats him with contempt, but does it in front of strangers and enemies]. he openly threatens bodily harm to his eldest brother. [I would point out, superfluously, that he does none of those things in THIS narrative].

          So tell me, why then does Bhim meekly walk off into the forest, because his brother says so? He has less reason to do so in that narrative, than he does in this.

          I am not suggesting you accept my PoV, mate. Merely spelling out what my PoV is. As to discussing what is “correct”, I don’t think there is any such thing. Clearly, you cannot accept mine, and I didn’t pull mine out of a hat or create the characterization without thought, so neither of us is going to accept the other’s pov.

          That is fine. Let’s move on.

      • “I therefore argue that Bhim had that sense of duty [which is, in case you hadn’t noticed, an aspect of dharma]. And that hence, whatever disagreement he had he constantly sublimated; he even sublimated his own rage at the insult to Draupadi [the conventional narrative and mine both show him angry at the time, ready to shed blood, but is restrained by Y — so in what way do the narratives really differ here?]”

        Absolutely agree. Bhim has time and again shown that his dharma is to be on Y’s side and fulfill his promises/vows. He has been steadfast on that throughout. So yes – Bheema has that notion of dharma always instilled in him. There is no confusion on that count.

        As I said earlier, it is the way Y comes across in this narration. But I am ready to take it – nothing wrong in Bhim thinking Y is a wimp (I dont think he does even in this narration but for argument sake…) so long as he does not let him down in front of others. I think this was highlighted in his exchange with Arjuna where Bhim feels that Arjuna can only vent to him and not even to Krishna as Krishna is not family.

        So maybe, we can put this discussion to rest? 😉

        • 🙂 Yeah, I already did. And your final para is the point I have been driving at, with no success, for quite a few episodes now. And that Arjuna episode has one other thing: Bhim’s very simple philosophy, that he has lived by all his life:

          To wit: My duty is to my family, and my elder brother is head of that family — so that as far as I am concerned is it. Yes, you can be hurt [as Arjuna is here]; yes, you could be in the right and he in the wrong [as is the case here]. Bottomline, though? None of that matters — our job is to make sure our elder brother gets his rights; if you can’t do that job because your tiny ego got pricked, fine, I can — and will.

          To cast B in that light is not to belittle anyone else, least of all Y. When that thought intrudes, it might help for us to remember that if the brother had been an amoral, wine swilling, characterless wastrel, he would never have evoked that degree of commitment in a man who, clearly, could have carved out a life, a kingdom, a career for himself.

      • Prem, it is futile to change the mindset of those who grew up reading the ACK or Rajaji version or watching BRC’s TV serial. Both Mahabharatha and Ramayana in their conventional form show the characters as black or white and the relationships as strongly positive without any discontent or strongly negative without any common interests providing no opportunity for reconciliation. It is quite as easy to question the conventional characterization of Rama and Ravana by making Rama as an insecure husband who didn’t trust his wife enough and Ravana as a person who in a bout of anger kidnaps Rama’s wife and then develops genuine love towards her but still had enough good values to never lay a finger on her throughout her long stay. Maniratnam’s upcoming Ravan explores this angle without getting into an argument with the ultra-religious groups by setting the story in current times.

        What I see here with some of your readers is a refusal to believe that there could be disagreements between the brothers and B and A could have seen Y as manipulative and somewhat hypocritical in his interpretation of Dharma but they could still stay united to take revenge on their cousins who insulted their wife and had taken away their Kingdom.

        • Even in the conventional Ramayana narration, Ravana is a man of many skills to his name. He is considered to be very learned, handsome, a great warrior, very good musician and actually a man for whom most women fall for his charms.

          And that is where he miscalculates. He thinks Sita will for him and leave her exiled husband – so he wants to do a double whammy by insulting Rama by abducting his wife and also getting one more trophy wife in his palace. However Sita is made of different stuff.

          For Ravana, forcing himself on Sita would have hurt his pride. He wanted her to come to him, accept him as superior to Rama.

          And when Hanuman and Rama first set their eyes on Lanka, they see it as a very prosperous and beautiful city. Both feel that Ravana must be a very good king to have made his country so prosperous and the people happy.

          While fighting Ravana, Raama is amazed to see his dexterity and skill that he mentions to Vibeeshanan. And even gives an opportunity once to Ravana to come back and fight another day when Ravana loses all his weapons and is stranded on the battle field.

          If you read Ravana’s character, the only blemish you may find there is his mistake in abducting Sita. Otherwise, he was a dutiful king and a wonderful administrator.

          • Skills, charm and being handsome are not part of one’s character. In the conventional version, Ram is an avatar of Vishnu and Ravana is an Asura and that in itself sets the framework for the characterization and the story which is – no points for guessing – the battle between good vs evil.

            • And Pray – why should an Asura be ugly and unskilled? In fact most well known Asuras were fairly learned and skilled – Prahlad, Maha Bali, Ravana, Kumbakarna, Vibeeshana, were all such types. The Rakshasas also have a very able guru in Sukrachariya.

              And again, the conventional Ramayana as written by Valmiki does not name Rama as an avatar. That was a later addition. 🙂 In Valmiki Ramayana, Rama is a human and a great human being and had one more unique quality that set him apart from the rest – he was the type who would not think about any other woman than Sita.

              And that quality is contrasted with Ravana who abducts another man’s wife and as a result terming him as an asura. The human and Asura terms in the Ramayana refer to qualities and not as we commonly come to understand the term Asura.

              Also, Ravana is a brahmin born to Sage Vishravar and grandson of Sage Pulastyar. So the Ramayana is not actually as black and white as the Ramayana teleserial made it out to be. 🙂

            • You are missing the point again. Skills and outward appearance do NOT define a person’s character. The discussion here is about characterizations and not how skilled, learned or charming a person is shown to be.

        • 🙂 But that is the point, mate: it is no part of my agenda to change anyone’s mind, or to undercut the conventional work. In my mind, both versions — and all others — co-exist quite happily. I am only attempting to point out that I didn’t do these characterizations without thought.

          • Agreed, Prem. My point is, there will always be some among your readers who cannot be convinced with this sort of characterization and it is not your fault.

            • You guys should watch Ravana epic being telecast on Zee TV, it has Ravana POV. In this epic they have shown Ravana being hell bent on establishing asura dhrama by converting all arya kings to asura dharma. His fault was not only abducting Seeta.

  17. A brilliant post to end the war Prem…the Bhim-Duryodhan battle was as good as I expected it to be.

    In the conventional narration Krishna supports Bhim on his killing Duryodhan, just like he eggs Arjuna to kill Karna when he was unarmed. But you have chosen to show Bhim as being unsupported in his act of killing D.
    But you have indeed portrayed the emotions going through Bhim quite beautifully.


    • Thanks mate. Yeah, true — but then, in the Karna episode, A is confused and almost about to give up his best chance to kill the main enemy, which would necessitate Krishna’s urgent intervention. There was never any question in Bhim’s mind that his war would not end until D died at his hands, so there was no need to bring in K [as later narratives, which among other things sought to use the story largely as a showcase for the avtaar version of K and hence had him intervene in every aspect did].

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