Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mahabharata.. and women..

(This post is the 6th post in the one-month challenge I gave myself.)

Mahabhaaaarat... (or Mahabhaaaaratham)- I can still hear the title of that epic series which I used to rush to watch every Sunday morning. I don't think I ever saw the series fully, but I definitely heard the songs. But unlike most people whose introduction to Indian epics is Doordarshan or Amar Chitra Katha, my first introduction to the Hindu epics were a different set of books given by my grandfather. (Of course, not counting the versions that different people in the family had told me) They were a very interesting read and I guess they got me hooked to reading mythology.

The thing I love about mythology (not just Indian) is that these are stories that have survived generations of people- millions and millions of people- who lived their very different lives, who heard some version of the stories just like I did and then added their little mark to it. Just a small change there, just a simple line here that makes you look at one character differently. It is astonishing to think that these stories touched the lives of a villager in Ashoka's kingdom, a flower seller girl in Akbar's reign, and then us- born out of the Internet age. Unlike hardcore philosophy and religion which are often sheathed away from the eyes of the common man (because of how abstruse they are), mythology is supposed to bring the ideas to the masses- through every day events that people can relate to. Through songs. Through stories.

Of course, like most people I know, I loved the Mahabharata much more than the Ramayana. As a story alone, the Ramayana is too ideal. Too serious and too straightforward. And has a hero like itself. Ravana is probably the only guy with any gray within him.And the narrative is almost simplistic. But for a few points where people debate on whether Rama was right- nothing much there.

The Mahabharata, on the other hand, is in a whole different league. For a story written centuries ago (as claimed by historians), think of the layers, the millions of metaphors, characters and scenarios. It is almost like Vyasa wove the different colors of the human fabric in intricate design and made a beautiful garment out of it. The number of ways in which each story intertwines with the others, the situations come back in unexpected ways, characters face dilemmas and still each line, each small move is significant to the story is- in one word- brilliant. (This last line, i once mentioned to a friend and she thought I was talking about Harry Potter. My answer is- yes, Harry Potter is pretty complex. But imagine what you would get if the HP series was given to a country that has 27 official languages and hundreds of tribes who went on adding to it and taking from it over hundreds of years- that's the complexity Mahabharata has!)

Well, I could go on like this in semi-poetic prose, but let me get to my point. The reason I wanted to write about the Mahabharata is because every other day I see it from a different view. Every new tale I hear about it makes me rethink the story. (A month or so ago, I had a long discussion about how Dhritarashtra's character is very interesting- he is the one guy who can't see anything and yet has power. Also how his insecurity plays so much of a role. I almost wanted to rewrite a version of this epic from his viewpoint.) What I read yesterday was an answer on Quora about Draupadi and Karna. I will let you see the link for yourself, but this led me to another link called the Bheel Bharata (Bheels are a tribe in India) where the author mentioned one interesting point- Mahabharata has very strong women characters.

That's something that had never occurred to me before. That this old epic has many incidents that are governed by what the women do. (From Ganga and Sathyavathi to Kunthi to Draupadi. Arguably, it is Sathyavathi's father who gets a promise from Bheeshma, but Sathyavathi is the reason the story begins.) One could almost say that it is the women of Bharata that run the story- the men are merely there as side characters. Pawns. Of course, that's not completely true, but one could view it that way.

Interestingly, the article mentioned that Ramayana's women are not that strong. I agree that Sita and Draupadi are poles apart. What they represent as women are very different. But I still think Ramayana is also a plot where women hold the strings- Kaikeyi, Manthra, Shurpanaka. Why, every important turn in the story is started by a woman!

So ya, I find it very interesting that- apparently, even in those times they knew that though the hero is the man of the house, the plot of life is always driven by the women :P

Tomorrow: Improving teaching in India

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