Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mahabharat : Part 4 : A New Empire.

Arjun returned to Indraprashtha at the end of his All-India travel, with the Gujarati princess Subhadra. Draupadi, though the common wife of the five Pandavs, was in love with Arjun. Threatened by Subhadra as a potential rival to her royal power, she used Arjun as sounding board to vent her anger. But Subhadra (on Krishna's instructions), met her as a meager cowherdress. Draupadi'a insecurities subsided and she welcomed Subhadra as her younger sister (not a contender).

As Indraprashtha became more and more economically and militarily powerful, she decided to assert her political suzerainty over the Indian sub-continent. King Yudhishthir sent out his four brothers in four directions to subjugate smaller kingdoms and make them tax-payers to Indraprashtha. Most kingdoms were glad to come under the umbrella of Indraprashtha. The few who resisted we overthrown in war. Arjun traveled North to the Himalayas; Bheem travelled East (met Karn in Bhagalpur), Nakul traveled West and met his maternal uncle Shalya at Madra, and Sahadev traveled South with lieutenant nephew Ghatotkach, and invited the old king of Lanka Vibhishan to Delhi. (Vibhishan was the younger brother of the legendary king Ravan, who was slain by Ram, the prince of Ayodhya).

The only hurdle in Yudhisthir's sovereignty was Jarasandh, the king of Magadh (Jharkhand). He was the father-in-law of Kans, the prince/king of Mathura who was slain by his own nephew Krishna. Angry at the widowhood of his two daughters, he had attacked Mathura repeatedly and had forced Krishna to flee to Dwarka. Krishna had long wanted to eliminate this stubborn enemy. Powerless to do it himself, he encouraged Bheem to slay Jarasandh in a wrestling match. Bheem and Arjun accompanied Krishna to Girivraj (modern Rajgriha), the capital of Jarasandh, as disguised scholars. Bheem challenged him in a fight-to-death wrestling match, which continued for 14 days. Jarasandh was an ace wrestler, while Bheem was renowned as the most powerful warrior. Krishna disclosed Jarasandh's weakness to Bheem, that he was born deformed and his torso was artificially reconstructed by a tribal female doctor called Jara. Bheem ruptured Jarasandh'a torso on the final day of the fight and killed him. Magadh became a tax-paying kingdom of Indraprashtha, and Jarasandh's son Sahadev ascended the throne. The fifth Pandav, Sahadev, married the princess of Magadh as a token of courtesy.

The rulers of  Hanstinapur, Kashi, Koshal, Anga, Kalinga (Orissa), Banga (Bengal), Magadha, Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Vidharba, Himachal, Uttaranchal, Sindh, Punjab and Dwaraka were invited to the coronation of Yudhisthir was the emperor of India. This was the second such gathering of all the contemporary rulers of India, after Draupadi's swayamvar. All these kingdoms pledged their allegiance to Yudhisthir's rule. Krishna was honored as the chief guest of the occasion, much to the objection of Shishupal, the ruler of Chedi (Bundelkhand). Shishupal was Kunti and Vasudev's sister's son, i.e. he was the first cousin of both Krishna-Balaram and the Pandavs. Shishupal had been the able commander-in-chief of Jarasandh, and Krishna feared that he might continue Jarasandh's legacy of enmity with Dwaraka. He murdered Shishupal in open court with his Sudarshan Chakra (spinning saw weapon). This weapon was awarded to Krishna at the graduation ceremony at his college in Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh), by the chief guest of the convocation, the veteran archer Parashuram Bhargav. Everyone stood still in awe of Krishna, and no one dared to object.

Shakuni realized that the prime strength of the Pandavs lay in their alliance with Krishna. He and Duryodhan stayed back in Indraprashtha a few days after all the rulers took leave, including Krishna. Shakuni spend time with Yudhisthir playing dice, and lost intentionally every time. Yudhisthir was a dice-addict since childhood, but was a lousy player. Shakuni was a skilled dicer, and an able strategist in this game of chance. Duryodhan left the losing game and roamed about in the royal palace of the Pandavs, awe-struck by the architecture of Maya the engineer. Illusionary paths, walls, windows, doors and pools stunned him, arousing simmering jealousy. He fell into an illusionary pool which looked like a carpet, drenching himself. Draupadi saw and laughed uproariously, followed by the infamous "You are the blind son of a blind man" taunt.

Hell broke loose as Duryodhan stormed back to Hastinapur, almost suicidal. Karna suggested attacking Indraprashtha to take revenge, but Shakuni discouraged the idea, saying that there was a simpler, bloodless way to win Indraprashtha. He suggested a game of dice, and Duryodhan was able to convince king Dritarashtra to invite the Pandavs. Prime Minister Vidur was sent to Indraprastha to invite Yudhisthir; who tried to convince the latter to turn down the invitation, but failed. The Pandavs arrived at Hastinapur with their common wife Draupadi. be continued.

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