It was a lazy Sunday afternoon. I had absolutely nothing to do. Only seldom does one get a change to say I had nothing to do and not be procrastinating something important. I thought of spending some time on Facebook. While scrolling through the page I saw this game “Which Mahabharata character are you?”. The game was simple, you are asked a few questions. Based on your answers the algorithm computes similarities between you and the characters in Mahabharata. While I waited for my result, I expected the result to be Arjuna or Karna, or considering my stout built, I would have even accepted Bheem. But what turned out really shocked me. I got SHAKUNI….. I am not a cunning, deceiving and deceitful person like Shakuni. I was not just disappointed but at some level, even felt offended. I wanted to protest, but where and to whom. This was just a stupid game on internet. Not wanting to waste the rest of my afternoon. I tried to remember all the stories from Mahabharata that my grandmother told me as a kid. I went off to sleep.
When I woke up, I felt as though I had new insight on Mahabharata and found a whole new perspective on Shakuni. May be the saying “Sleep over it!” does work after all.
Here is Shakuni’s story. Shakuni is no ordinary man. He was a prince from the land of Gandhar, son of King Subala and brother of Gandhari. According to folklore, rulers of Hastinapur attacked and conquered Gandhar. They imprisoned all the male members of the royal family. The prisoners were given only one grain of rice per person per day to eat. ‘Surrender or perish’ was the message from the invaders. One grain of rice was not enough to feed them all, but all the grains put together could be enough to feed one person. They decided that the individual they choose to donate their share of rice to must be strong, wise and most importantly capable to avenge the misery brought upon Gandhar. Unanimously they voted “Shakuni!!!” They gathered around Shakuni and hit him hard near his knee, this made Shakuni slightly limp for the rest of his life. But this was done as a permanent reminder to the sacrifice his fellow countrymen made for him and the revenge which he had to accomplish. To add to Shakuni’s misery, his beautiful sister Gandhari was married to blind prince of Histinapur Dhrutarashtra. This infuriated Shakuni. He vowed to erase the entire lineage of rulers of Hastinapur. We only remember Shakuni for his treacherous deeds in Mahabharata. Considering the injustice Shakuni was subjected to, his actions seem justified and at the end he was successful the bloodline of Hastinapur royals perished.
The quiet nap that I took brought back a few more stories to mind.
When the great war at Kurukshetra seemed inevitable, Lord Krishna visited Duryodhana to persuade him to not go ahead with the war. Lives of countless men and destiny of two mighty dynasties were at stake. But Duryodhana wouldn’t relent. Having exhausted all his faculties. Krishna said “Duryodhana, I shall share with you knowledge that no one other than me has ever known. I shall share with you the secrets of ‘Bhagwat Geeta’. In the divine light of Geeta you will forget your lust for war.” Duryodhana smiled slightly and replied “I beg you Krishna not to endow me with the knowledge of Bhagwat Geeta, for I know that it would make me a better person. But to be bad is my Dharma. Let me have the privilege to live by it.”
Time and again in this epic, the supposedly bad characters have behaved good and the good characters have deviated to do bad things. Take the example of Yudhisthir, also known as Dharmaraj, and yet this is the same person who looses his kingdom, his wealth, his brothers and his wife at a game of dice. Now you would say they game was rigged and he would have lost the game of dice no matter what. But the fact is that the one who is glorified for self control, restraint and patience, is the one who is tempted and does not show restraint and bets over and over again in a game when clearly the luck just wasn’t on his side.
When the world shunned Karna, believing he was inferior because of his inferior class he was born in; It was Shakuni who recognized the strengths of Karna. Shakuni always advised Duryodhana to befriend Karna and others for the strengths they possess, regardless of their social class.
If you look at other stories from this epic, you see that no character can be clearly defined as good or bad. All the characters constitute a grey mix between black and white. So which version of story do you believe in. The version that your grandmother told you when you were kids. Where moralities of characters from the epic were confined to a binary system of heroes and villains. Stories in which heroes are good because you have been told that they are good regardless of there misdemeanor. Or the kind of version that I had realization of after the sound nap, where characters in the epic are not binary but complex and have multiple shades to their constitution.
You really haven’t understood the moral of the epic, if you still believe in rigid classification between good and bad, right and wrong. Truth is formed by the experiences one has over his lifetime. The beliefs and value system one grows with and develops over time. Truth is relative to the perspective of each individual. So the next time you tell a story don’t be disappointed if your assertions are refuted or challenged. Your story is your version of truth, yet not necessarily of your listeners.