Mahabharata Characters 05 – Bhishma 04 – The celibate becomes the match-maker
This talk is a part of the “Fascinating Mahabharata Characters” series. To know more about this course, please visit: bhakticourses.com
Transcribed by : Sadananda Das
We continue our discussions on Bhisma. In our last session we discussed how Bhisma stayed firm and the dynasty was continued through Vyasadev with the birth of Dhritarastra, Pandu and Vidura.
As these three princes were growing Bhisma continued to very competently rule the kingdom of the Kuru’s and the Kurus were established as the emperors of the whole world because there was no warrior who could match Bhisma.
Vidura because he was born of a Sudrani he was never eligible to become the king, but he was a very learned minister and he became very dear to Bhisma also as a close friend and a trusted minister in the assembly. And as both the two princes Dhritarastra and Pandu grew up, though Dhritarastra was older among the two brothers, but because he was blind he could not become the king. So, Pandu eventually became the king. And Bhisma because he was the father figure – their father was Vyasadev; Vicitravirya had departed and Vyasadev was the surrogate father. So, he was not involved in the direct upbringing. Now he started thinking about how to arrange for their marriages. So, he decided to go to various places. He went to Khandahar in Afganisthan, and there was the king and he had a daughter named Gandhari. Bhisma he asked her hand for marriage, and then he said that, “I want her hand in marriage for the Kuru princess.” The Gandhar king agreed.
Now Gandhari had a brother named Sakuni, and Sakuni came with Gandhari. Just as when the bride comes to the bridegrooms place, at that time often to make the bride comfortable the brother also comes
along sometime. So, he came along. But now what Sakuni had expected was that Gandhari would be married to the prince who would become the king. He had expected her to be married to Pandu. This was the first princess to be brought and Bhisma thought that the older among the two brothers is Dhritarastra. Naturally the older brother should get married first, and that’s why he asked Gandhari to get married to Dhritarastra, and when Gandhari heard about this – as the Mahabharat goes forward we will see what an extraordinary lady she was. She accepted it as the will of providence and she thought that the wife should not be superior to her husband in any way. She thought, “If my husband does not have eyes I should also not have eyes” and therefore she put a blindfold on her eyes and she never took off that blindfold. She actually took it out only once on the morning of the eighteenth day of the war, just before the final day of the war. She took out the blindfold to glance upon Duryodhana and imbue his body with an invincible strength which nothing could break him down. We will come to that later, but the point now is that she covered her eyes completely, and this way she is an emblem of chastity.
Gandhari got married to Dhritarastra, but unfortunately when Shakuni saw this he felt that not only has his sister being wronged, but he felt that he himself had been wronged. Not only he himself had been wronged but the whole Gandhar dynasty had been wronged and he decided that he has to take revenge, and the way to take revenge is that, “I will ensure that if my sister cannot become the queen, then at least her sons will become the king”, and that’s how Sakuni’s envy towards the Pandava’s was triggered. Now here we see that sometimes attachment can pervert people in such ways. We don’t see in the Mahabharat that Gandhari ever craved for a kingdom or she craved to be the queen. She accepted what is the will of the providence, but
actually through Gandhari’s marriage to the Kuru prince it was Sakuni who had been having a lot of expectations. So, we can see that frustration is actually a function of expectation. The greater our expectations, the greater will be our frustration and the greater will be the fury that comes when there is frustration. So, Sakuni’s fury came out as his evil scheming by which he completely perverted Duryodhana who already had evil tendencies, and that’s how this became the womb through which the whole destruction of the Kuru dynasty would eventually take place.
Later on Bhisma decided that queens were needed for Pandu also. Then he went to the Swambhar of the Yadu dynasty and got Kunti from there. Actually Kunti had been born to Surasen who was Vasudev’s father. There was Vasudev, above him is his father generation – Surasen, and then from Vasudev came Krishna. Now because Vasudev and Kunti were brothers, so Krishna is the nephew of Kunti and Kunti is his aunt. But after she was born her birth name was Prutha, but Surasen was a very close friend with another king. That King was Kunti bhoj and Kunti bhoj did not have children. That’s why Prutha’s father Surasen gave his son Prutha or Kunti to his friends family; that is to the family of Kunti Bhoj, and because he gave the family to Kunti bhoj; then she was living there and for her to suddenly leave her mother and father and go away was difficult, but she agreed and she went there and she was living with Kunitbhoj as his daughter, and because she lived with his daughter, she got another name Kunti.
Bhisma went to Kuntibhoj and he asked the hand of Kunti for the Kuru princes. Kunti bhoj agreed. He said that it is an honor for him, and then Kunti came and he was married to Pandu. Then Bhisma thought that actually to ensure that the dynasty goes on it is better that the king has
not one but two queens.
In the Vedic culture polygamy was an accepted part. The purposes of polygamy were manifold. One of the most important purposes was to ensure that all woman got the protection of a husband. In the Vedic culture it often happened that sometimes the number of woman – the female children who were born would be more than the male children. Then if there were no polygamy, then some females would remain unmarried. Secondly it would also happen that some males would become renunciates. If they become renunciates, then the number of males available for marriage would also decrease, and moreover it was also recognized that Ksatriya’s have passion. Generally there is passion within the male body and especially in the ksatriya body there is lot of passion. So, the kstriyas are allowed by the laws given in the vedic scriptures to have many wives. So, the Vedic culture is not against passion. There is regulation of passion within the sacred bounds of dharma. A king can have many queens but the king is expected to be very responsibly and lovingly take care of all the queens, and as long as the king can do that, then he can have many queens also. The important point was that, in the Vedic culture woman were properly protected, and men were also provided the opportunity if they have a lot of desires to fulfill those desires within the precincts of dharma.
Bhisma thought that there should be some other queen also and therefore he went to the king of Madra Pradesh (Madras) who was at that time Salya, and he asked for his sister who was Madri for her hand in marriage. Now Salya said, “I am honored by this, but then we have a different custom.” He says, “In our tradition the custom is that when a girl is to get married the boy’s family should give gifts to the girl’s family and only then can we give our girl in marriage.” Actually in one sense
this is the opposite of our dowry system. The dowry system normally is that the girls family gives some gifts to the boy’s family, and there are many people who say that the Vedic culture led to many evils in the name of dowry, and that unfortunately happens today wherein marriage often becomes like a business where a male is auctioned to the highest bidder from the female family and not only is it like an auction, but afterwards also it is like an extortion business where sometimes the girls family are expected to give more and more money, and money is made into a demand. Otherwise the woman or the wife is tortured, and unfortunately some bridal burnings also happen. All this is an extreme distortion. The original conception in the Vedic culture was that the money that was given at the time of dowry was considered to be the belonging of the daughter, and that was of the daughter who was going to become a wife, and that was her financial security. Normally in the Vedic culture it was such that when the father passes on his legacy the property is not inherited by the woman directly. The property goes to the men or the male children, but that does not mean that the woman is bereaved of it entirely or is cut off entirely. No, at the time of her marriage she gets a lot of dowry and that dowry becomes her property. And the jewelry and the other property that comes, that even the husband cannot take without his wife’s permission. So, the tradition would be that, father would give this dowry money to his daughter at the time of his marriage and the daughter would get married and the jewelry and all such money and wealth would stay with her all her life, and eventually when she would have a daughter and when her daughter would get married she would pass on this dowry money to her. So, dowry in the Vedic culture was neither exploitative nor mandatory. It was not exploitative that the money was being extorted by the male from the female. It was a matter of passing on the
family legacy and giving the gift of love to the daughter who was going to a different house now. It was not exploitative nor was it mandatory. Non mandatory means that it was not that marriages couldn’t have happened if there was no dowry. In this particular marriage what happened was, it was a part of the culture in the particular madra dynasty that when the daughter gets married, rather than giving gifts they are meant to receive gifts.
Bhisma when he heard this, what did he say? Did he say, “O this is deviation; I won’t accept this.” No. He said, “I know about your tradition and I am ready to honor this tradition. Because it is a part of the tradition I am prepared”, and he had brought lots of gifts to give, and basically the gifts that are given are expressions of affection and that expression of affection will be commensurate with the financial social status of the families. If a family is very wealthy then they will express their affection by giving many gifts, and if the family is not so wealthy, then they may express the affection by giving small gifts. For example, in the Vedic culture it is said athiti devo bhava; when a guest comes to our house the guest should be honored as if the guest is God, but it is described that if a person is very poor and cannot give anything, at that time the person can just offer a mat for sitting and some water for drinking and offer some words of appreciation, and that itself is considered to be a good enough reception. So, the essential point is affection. That affection and respect is expressed through the proper respect for a guest and depending on one’s level of opulence one can express it in further way also; the essence is the expression and reciprocation of affection.
Even in whatever way the marriage happened and whichever direction the gifts were given; whether it was from the female side to the male
side or from the male side to the female side, the important thing was the reciprocation of affection. Bhisma honored Madari’s family by giving her a lot of gifts and then he brought Madari back and Madari was also married to Pandu as his junior queen, and then Pandu said that – as Pandu is ruling he was a very valorous prince and he noticed that many of the kings in different parts of the world had started sliding towards unrighteousness, and not only were they defying the Kuru kingdom by not paying tributes regularly but they were also defying the principles of dharma by themselves acting in adharmic ways and also allowing adharma to continue within their kingdom. So, Pandu told Bhisma that our dynasties empire has now loosed its hold on the world and he said, “Please give me your blessings so that I go around and conquer the world.” Bhisma was very happy to see this Ksatriya spirit in Pandu and he blessed him, and Pandu went with the army and he travelled all over the world. He challenged the warriors of the world and seeing his heroism, skills and prowess most of the warriors accepted that the Kuru king is our master and we are willing to give tributes to him. Those who did not accept it Pandu fought with them and he defeated them, and then eventually when Pandu came back he came back practically with a train like procession; a long endless procession of chariots, horses, elephants and so many other animals which were carrying the gifts which had been given by various kings in tribute, and he came and bowed down to Bhisma and Bhisma lifted him up and embraced him and as he looked at the heroic accomplishments of Pandu it was evident from getting all these tributes; yes, true this is a worthy hire for the kingdom, he is indeed a worthy king. So, Pandu in this way proved to be a glorious ksatriya, but at the same time Pandu was not so interested in royal administration. His mind immediately shifted from royal duties and he felt inspired to live simply near the forest. He consulted with
Bhisma and expressed his desire and he told that in my absence Dhritarastra can act as the king and you can act as the protector of the kingdom as you have acted in the past also and I will go and live in the forest. So, Pandu expressed his desire and Dhritarastra in this way became the king in the absence of Pandu, and Pandu went to the foothills of the Himalayas and started living there and now when he went there his wives also went with him; his wives felt that although they were born as princess in the royalty and they had been married into royalty – for them royalty was not as important as loyalty to their husbands and they felt that if their husbands are living in austerity and simplicity in the forest, then we will also live with him.
Of course the local tribal’s who were living in that area were honored that the Kuru king was coming and staying in their midst of them and they were eager to serve Pandu in whatever way they could and that’s what they did abundantly. They served him and provided him with whatever requirements were there and Pandu lived in the forest, he met with the sages and he would travel around and learn from the sages; and he also loved at that time to go into the forest and hunt. Now hunting is a part of the ksatriya culture although from our today’s sensibilities where we consider animal rights and we feel, “Why should animals be killed?”
Hunting is different from the slaughter of animals that happens for poaching purposes or for the meat packing industry. In poaching animals are killed purely for business purposes; maybe their skin can be taken out or in other ways they can be exploited, and of course in the meat packing industry and in the slaughterhouses the animals are sometimes artificially inseminated and grown in large numbers and they have to live in terrible conditions. Hundreds of animals have to live in a
space that is suitable only for a few animals. They never get to see the fresh air, they never get to see the sun and they rarely get to move around freely; that is a horrible way for the animals to live, and then they are slaughtered. This is entirely different. This is diabolical and demoniac. This has nothing to do with the hunting in the Vedic culture.
The purpose of hunting were many. Firstly, one purpose was that in the forest the sages would live, and when the sages are living in the forest they don’t have weapons for self-defense. The sages when they go to the forest understand that the forest is a place for meditation without the distraction and the commercialization of the cities and the towns and even the villages and they want to focus on transcendence. And the forest which is in Satwa guna are conducive for transcendence. But the forests also have animals which are violent and ferocious. So, to keep the forest safe for the sages the ksatriyas would hunt and kill the dangerous animals like the tigers and the lions. The tigers and the lions also knew that there were areas in which they could live and could be safe in; and there were the hermitages of the sages in which the sages would live. And normally the tigers and the lions and the other dangerous animals would not come to those hermitages because they knew that if they came over there they will be attacked and the ksatriyas would come and kill them. And normally these boundaries were maintained and sometimes the way of nature especially in the forest was that the animals would procreate and they will reproduce, and their numbers would become large. When the numbers become too large, at that time they can disrupt the balance in the nature, and especially they may populate in the area where the humans are living and they may disrupt the human order. So, the Ksatriya’s would kill the dangerous animals and keep their numbers in regulation, but apart from that they sometimes will kill other animals also to ensure that
their numbers would not become too much. And the ksatriya’s were also aware of the natural balances, and they would take care of these balances as well.
When the Pandavas were living in the forest, at that time when they were living in a particular area for a good amount of time or for several years; at that time Vyasadev came there and told them, “Don’t stay here for too long. While you are staying here you are hunting the animals over here and the animals here would get wiped off. Now you move deeper into the forest so that the balance is maintained.” So, sensitivity to the ecology is also there in the vedic culture and that was based on the respect of nature and all the flora and fauna of nature. But respect does not mean that the ksatriyas did not do their duties. As a part of their duty they had to kill. Just like they had to kill human beings they had to kill animals also and they would kill, and not only would they kill for the sake of protection of sages, but by killing the dangerous animals they would keep the animal population under control. They would also kill because they had to fight and keep the ksatriya skills in tune. Now we may say, “Why we have to kill someone to practice our skills? If they want to shoot arrows can’t they just shoot arrows at some target and they can practice that way.” Yes, that is one way of practicing, but exercising of ksatriya skills doesn’t mean just accuracy in shooting targets. That is one part but along with that another part is the capacity to see blood and gore and death without getting overwhelmed by it.
Every occupation requires certain disposition. When a doctor is treating patients, and the patients are in great pain, the doctor naturally needs to feel sympathy for the patients. The doctor should not get so overwhelmed by the patient’s pain that the doctor loses the clarity of
thought. In that way the doctor would not be able to function. This is all the more so for a surgeon.
A surgeon has to actually cut the patient’s body, and how can the surgeon do that if the surgeon gets overwhelmed by seeing blood, pain, gore and flesh? Same applies to nurses also. Certain professions require certain dispositions where certain amount of sensitivity has to be put aside and clarity has to be maintained so that the duty can be done. Ksatriyas have to often fight in a dharma yudha or in a righteous war and they have to kill, and when there is killing there is blood and there is gore and screams, and there is so much pain and death, and the ksatriyas cannot get emotionally overwhelmed by that, but they have to stay grim and firm and fight. The preparation for that is also a part of ksatriya training, and for that the ksatiya’s shoot animals, and when they shoot animals they have life targets; when they shoot those moving targets that gives them practice not just in terms of accuracy in hitting the targets, but also practice in terms of becoming desensitized to the sight of blood and gore.
One day when Pandu was going around hunting like this, he was going around hunting in various planes and various places, and before this he had begotten five children. We will discuss about these five children later when we talk about Kunti, but here suffice it to say that he had begotten this five children and they were growing up. But then he went to shoot and he saw a deer over there, and he just shot the deer, and as he shot at the deer the deer suddenly gave a great scream of pain and the deer fell aside, and to Pandu’s shock he saw that the deer had transformed into a human being. Not just a human being but a brahmana, a sage, and then the she deer also got transformed into a human. Pandu was shocked. He said, “What is this? What have I done?”
As he beheld the sage the sage said, “What have you done O King?” Pandu said, “I am a ksatriya and as duty of the ksatriya I shot and killed. It is my duty to hunt and kill.” The sage said, yes it is your duty to hunt and kill but it is not the duty of any ksatriya to kill any creature when it is in the act of procreation; in the act of procreation when they are creating a new life, at that particular time the animals is completely absorbed; when a person is uniting, whichever creature it is, that is quite captivating and a person gets completely absorbed in that, whichever living being it is; not just humans, and that time the animal is not capable of running, and when the animal is not capable of running, at such a time when the animal is lost to the world, absorbed in that activity, you cannot shot and kill at that time. It is a very sinful activity.
When Pandu heard this he hung his head in shame. He could not deny the truth of the words of the sages; and Pandu started regretting, “How did I do such a terrible activity?” And the sage became very grave. He said, “You have done a very sinful activity, and therefore I will curse you.” Pandu looked up in horror. He knew that he deserved a curse, but still he was horrified at the prospect of a curse from a brahman. First of all to be assaulted by a brahmana by a ksatriya is unthinkable, and then to be cursed by a brahmana is equally disastrous. So, he looked up with horror at the sage, and the sage uttered the curse. What that curse was and how that curse eventually materialize in the life of Pandu we will discuss in our next session.
Thank you very much.