Pritha - The Mahabharata Chronicles #6

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I was named Pritha.

Pritha. Meaning the well-endowed one.

Pritha. Birth Daughter of Surasena. Foster daughter to KuntiBhoja. Sister of Vasudeva. Paternal aunt to Lord Krishna. Mother of the Pandavas.

Individualistic. Willful. Righteous. Intractable.

Born into a clan of kingmakers. Wedded into a clan of kings and rulers.

This was how people spoke of me. This was how they described me.

I was given up in early childhood, to my father’s cousin, Kunti Bhoja who was childless. He took care of me as his own daughter, lavishing upon me all affection and care. Brought up in all ways befitting the princess of an illustrious kingdom and trained in all matters of administration of a kingdom as well as in warfare, I was allowed the indulgence of being independent right from a young age. However, the fact that I was only an adopted daughter of the family still irked me from time to time. In my heart and soul, I was still a Vrishni.

When I was young, my foster-father entrusted to me the duty of looking after the irascible sage, Durvasa. I duly did so, and pleased with my services he offered me a boon. Na├»ve girl that I was, I asked him to bless me with a boon that would be useful to me in my future life. The all-knowing one blessed me with a mantra that would enable me to beget progeny from celestials. I did not know of the course my life would take then. Soon after, I chose King Pandu at my swayamvar. While this was an easy decision to make, I realized soon that my life was fraught with difficulties. I was forced to share my husband with another princess, unparalleled in beauty, soon after my marriage. Scared of the fact that his family line would not flourish after having been cursed by Rishi Kindama, he begged me to undergo niyoga with other men and beget children in order to carry forward the Kuru lineage. The scriptures did allow this and so I let him know of the boon I had received. He was thrilled and upon his requests, I soon became mother to three strapping young boys – Yudhishthira (son of Dharma), Bhima (son of Vayu) and Arjuna (son of Indra). I was also asked to share the boon with Madri who then proceeded to invoke the Ashwini Kumaras and was blessed with Nakula and Sahadeva. It was a happy time in the forests for a short while until I was witness to Pandu’s death, owing to his lack of self-control and Madri’s by Sati. It was in my Dharma to go the same way as her, but the onus of looking after our five sons fell upon me.

                                                                             [Pic Couresty: http://molee.deviantart.com/]

I had to provide for their well-being, and so I went back to the kingdom that my husband had renounced.  The same kingdom that then questioned the parenthood of my sons. The same kingdom that was now ruled by a king birthed from a Suta. And whose lineage descended from a fisherwoman. They had the audacity to question me on the parenthood and the caste of my sons. I did not deem it fit to answer their questions. My only answer to them in the face of all their questions was that my sons had an equal right to the throne, Yudhishthira being the eldest of all the crown princes. It was an arduous task to put up with the politics, scheming and the jealousy that we encountered in the palace.  Over the years, adversaries made innumerable attempts on our lives. I could not pretend to be unaware of what was happening; neither could I afford to be tolerant of the same.  I had to be vigilant and ensure that I always stayed one-step ahead of the scheming parties. I managed this largely, due to the support and help received from Vidura, friend and confidant as well as the unquestioning nature of my sons.

For my sons, I was both their father and mother. And I never made them feel otherwise. They abided by my suggestions, took my opinion on everything and never ever strayed away from what I told them to. To them, my word was the be-all and end-all of all things said and done. I was their guiding force and their partner-in-crime over the years of struggles and obstacles. To say that we have been through a lot would be an understatement.

You know me as the mother of the Pandavas. You talk of me as the woman who made her sons share their wife, between the five of them. You speak of me as the woman who without any second thoughts cast away her newborn son into the river. You identify me as the spineless person, who offered the same son, the kingdom and the illustrious daughter in law as his wife, knowing that he had loved her once, provided he came over to the side of Dharma. You declare that I was the sole reason that a son cursed the entire women clan that we would not be able to keep any secrets. You proclaim me as the villain who brought forth fratricide between children of the same family.

I agree; I am guilty of all this and much more.

I AM the mother of Pandavas. I brought up my sons fairly and justly, instilling in them a sense of Dharma as well as my own individualistic spirit and tenacity. I motivated them to be masters of their own being, while being persistent in their unity in face of adversity. I taught them of the rights and wrongs, ensuring that their skills and morality would hold them in good stead.

Yes, I am the woman who made her sons share their wife, between the five of them. The strength of my sons lay in their unity. United they were an unbreakable force, a power to be reckoned with. Divided, none would even see light of the day. The lust in each of their eyes upon sighting the renowned princess of Panchala, made me realize how much they all craved her. Hence, I ensured that they all got married to the same woman. That she was the driving force behind the course of my sons’ lives. That she would be the one they would now be answerable to, and the one who would propel them towards their destiny. I could now leave them in safe hands and step back.   

I am also the person who without any second thoughts cast away her firstborn son into the river, fearing scorn of the society and ruin of the family honor. I cannot truly justify this act in any way, but I can only say this in my defense. Curiosity got the better of me and I invoked the mantra that I was blessed with. I called down Arka in all his blazing grandeur and was blessed with a boy. He was born in resplendent glory, with his shining kundals and indestructible kavach. However, the thought of tarnishing the family honor scared me out of my wits and with a heavy heart, I gave up the baby and entrusted him to the care of the river goddess. The guilt overwhelmed me, but I was powerless and helpless. For a young virgin princess, upholding the honor of the clan took more weightage at that point than the life she held in her hands. The guilt of letting go of my firstborn always weighs me down, because I could never shower upon him any motherly affections not could I offer him a mothers’ love.

And yes, I am that spineless woman, who then offered the same son, the kingdom and the illustrious daughter in law as his wife, knowing that he had loved her once, provided he came over to the side of Dharma. You will speak of it as my selfishness for without him, Duryodhana’s strongest ally and closest friend, the Kauravas would be weakened. What you may not know was that inwardly, it was also a mother’s last hope to save her first-born and be united with him again. Besides, righting the wrong that I had done to him, it would also save him from certain death in the War of Dharma.  What I did not reckon for was the intractable loyalty that my son took after me. He refused to give up on his friendship and stood staunchly by his friends’ side, even in his death.

I was also the reason that a son cursed the entire women clan that we would not be able to keep any secrets. When my sons heard that they had killed one of their own, they could not bear it. They derided me for keeping this a secret from them for so long. For the first ever time, I saw my sons look at me with something other than love and respect. For the first ever time, I saw them look at me with derision in their eyes. They could not believe that their mother, the one they thought was above all reproach could do something like this. I had my reasons, but my reasons were not good enough for them. The only one who understood me was my nephew, the one who knows all. However, there was not much that he could do for me either.

Fate has a strange way of playing out. I was born into a cursed clan and funnily enough married, into the clan that had originally cursed my ancestors to be kingmakers and not kings. Though married into the kingdom of Hastinapura, I have never ruled happily as its queen. I, who was wedded into the lineage of the Kurus, have never enjoyed sovereignty. My entire existence has been a testament to the follow the one truth that was ingrained into me ever since I was aware.

That the way of the Dharma was the way of life. That the honor of the lineage was my own honor.

It did not matter whether it was the clan that I was born in, or the one that I wedded into. What mattered was that it was my destiny and duty to protect and uphold the integrity of the lineage I belonged to and the one that I was a part of.

My biggest failing lies in the fact that for eons to come, none will ever speak of me as the righteous woman who upheld Dharma even in the toughest times. They will talk of me as the woman who made her sons share their wife. They will speak of me as the woman who without any second thoughts cast away her newborn son into the river. They will identify me as the spineless person, who offered the same son, the kingdom and the illustrious daughter in law as his wife, provided he came over to the side of Dharma. And they will declare that I was the reason that a son cursed the entire women clan that we would not be able to keep any secrets. They will herald me as the villain who brought forth fratricide between children of the same family.

However, my biggest victory lies in the fact that the lineage of Yayati will been united finally. The blood of the Yadus flows through me onto my grandson Abhimanyu, through Arjuna and Subhadra, his parents.

For in the end it all comes down to this, this truth.

“Dharma when cultivated preserves, Dharma when violated destroys.”

Ashwatthama, the Chiranjeevi - The Mahabharata Chronicles #5

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

“I infuse thee, this blade of grass, 
with the power of the Brahmastra, 
for the annihilation of the Pandavas and Krishna.”

I hear these words that I uttered, ringing inside my ears, as if it happened yesterday.

I see the blade of grass, infused with the weapon of destruction, hurtling towards the group of warriors gathered at the ashram of Sage Vyasa - the warriors who had come in search of me, to extract their revenge.

I feel the rage that coursed through me then, for all the slaughter, the deceit, and the genocide that took place over the last eighteen days.

And I feel the helplessness that surged through me, when I redirected the weapon to the womb of Uttara, the unborn heir of Abhimanyu, and the future of the Pandava lineage.

3000 years thence, I roam these lands paying the price for my heinous act, living a cursed life, trapped in a body filled with pus, sores, and diseases, waiting for the so-called judgement day, the end of Kali Yuga – the age of darkness.

I do not seek forgiveness nor do I feel remorse or repentance for my deeds anymore.

For I know that all these were preordained. For I understand this is how this magnum opus is meant to be played out. 

Know me as Ashwatthama, the Chiranjeevi – partial incarnation of Lord Rudra, named so because I neighed like a horse at birth.

                                                                                           [Pic Couresty: http://molee.deviantart.com/]

I, who was born as a Brahmin, but was drawn towards the life of a Kshatriya.

Progeny of the famous Acharya, Guru Drona, who always preferred Arjuna’s skill to mine. Comrade to the Kaurava heir, Duryodhana, who always favoured Karna’s friendship over mine. 

Master of astras and shastras, and once upon a Yuga, the possessor of a famed jewel.

The jewel that I was born with. The jewel that adorned my forehead and protected me from diseases, fear, and enemies. The jewel that was prised from me for my monstrous act.

The act of destroying the lineage of the Pandavas.

My life as I knew it had always been encumbered with wants, longings, and desires. Filled with instances of people’s derision of our lifestyle, I do not remember anything about my childhood apart from our impoverished existence, until Father became Acharya to the Kuru princes.  However, the fact that we were still at the mercy of others always irked me. Even as a friend of the Kauravas, I never could feel equal to them. Even though none of them said so explicitly, there was always a difference. Always a thin line that demarcated me from them, because I was the son of their Acharya.

I remember the early days of learning where Father favoured me over his new students. By virtue of being his son, he taught me mantras and weapons that he did not impart to the others. He was partial to me until his favouritism found a new heir. Arjuna.

Arjuna, to whom Father imparted all his skills and knowledge. Arjuna, who soon impressed his Guru with his dedication and sincerity to learn and become the world’s best archer. Arjuna, who became Father’s prized pupil. Arjuna, who got my Father’s attention and affection, the care that I yearned for.

Father was not happy about the fact that I was friendlier with the Kauravas than with his preferred Pandavas. However, I felt more at home with the high-spirited Kauravas rather than the virtuous sons of Kunti. Sometimes, at night, when he thought I was asleep, I could hear him pour his grievances to Mother about how I was falling into bad company, and how he wished that I were more like Arjuna, instead of following Duryodhana around. Yet, as much as he slighted my choice of friends, he would sit near my head, stroke my hair, and hold my hand, weeping silent tears, while I pretended to be asleep. These instances of paternal affection, though few and rare, made me happy and filled me with warmth, though they also hardened my jealousy of Arjuna. I knew he loved me more than anyone else in the world. I knew all that he was undertaking, was for my happiness and well-being. Yet, I was never able to get over the fact that he believed I was not as skilled as Arjuna. I was never able to accept the fact that Arjuna was getting the concern and the attention that I thought I deserved.

That night when I butchered the Pandava camp, with the Chandrahaas in my hand, it was as though the Mahadev himself had entered my body and led me to avenge the fallen of our camp including Father. I did not think twice before I sneaked into their camp and slew them all. There was only one thought on my mind then – to retaliate. To avenge my kith and kin. To make the enemy pay for what they had done including killing my Father. When I realized later, that I had killed not the Pandavas but their sons, I was contrite and headed towards Sage Vyasa’s ashram where I intended to do penance and calm my mind. However, when I saw Arjuna along with the rest of the Pandavas, charging towards me with retribution on their minds, my anger knew no bounds. I invoked the Brahmastra and uttered those ominous words;

“I infuse thee, this blade of grass, 
with the power of the Brahmastra, 
for the annihilation of the Pandavas and Krishna.”

I knew that Arjuna would invoke an astra to counter mine and he did. But when ordered by Vyasa Maharishi to recall the weapons, I was unable to, unlike Arjuna. I was unable to recall the astra that my Father had taught me because he had not trusted me enough with the knowledge to recall the astra. He had revealed to me only partial knowledge of invoking the astra, while imparting the full knowledge of the astra to his favoured pupil – Arjuna.

Overridden yet again by partiality, filled with a sense of helplessness and driven by jealousy and rage, I redirected the weapon to the womb of Uttara, towards the unborn heir of Abhimanyu, and the future of the Pandava lineage. Condemned for this cowardly and dastardly act, I roam these lands now, cursed to live the life of a leper, unloved and castaway by all, awaiting redemption.

The bloodshed of the Great War that I was a part of was prophesied during the Ksheerasagara Madhanam, the churning of the great ocean of milk. Springing forth from the Halahal that Lord Mahadev drank, to save the universe, the Vish-Purush that I embodied, was blessed so, stating I would kill brutal Kshatriyas during the Dwapara Yuga.

I was born therefore, as Ashwatthama, one of the chiranjeevis, in the lineage of the great sage Bharadwaj.

I was birthed as a Brahmin. I lived as a Kshatriya. And I am condemned as a slayer.

For all these were preordained. For this is how this magnum opus is meant to be played out.

I have executed my part to perfection and now, I await the warrior with his blazing sword on his great white steed, to grant me deliverance.

To usher me into the Satya Yuga, to the start of time again, wherein, I shall be honoured as a Saptarishi.

For this is the circle of my life, with no beginning and with no end.  

 
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