A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Death by Deceit

On the occasion of Janamashtami, the birthday of Krishna, I would like to discuss an important allegation leveled against him in the epic Mahabharata. These views are not subjective opinion shrouded in devotion; rather, these are objective views of a rank rational, if there was one!

In the epic, Mahabharat (Mb), the deaths of Bhishma, Drona and Karna are all seen as acts of treachery by Krishna. The perception is that these deaths were unethical and against all norms of war and also the fact that none of the Pandava’s wanted to kill them under the said circumstances. They were made to resort to such unethical means at the behest of Krishna.

Was this fair? Was it moral? Was it ethical?

To put this in perspective, Mb was not about right or wrong or black and white, instead, it teaches that life is grey. Defining the grey is not easy because it is deeply rooted to the context. Every character has a shade of grey and that is what makes him or her closer to a human being. S/he was a combination of strengths and weaknesses and thus consequences.

While the said deaths are seen as injustices in the particular episode of the war, one should also see it along with the innumerable injustices meted out on the Pandavas that had taken place before the Kurukshetra, like the incident of lakshagraha, malpractices in the dice game leading to exile and that too with unfavourable conditions, Draupadi’s insult, not giving the Promised Land after 13 years, to mention some of them. The lives of the Pandavs had been spent more in jungles than the palace which was their rightful home. The war itself was not of equals – the Kauravas had a much bigger army, than that of the Pandavs. However, the deaths of the heroes were not to be seen as a tit-for-tat justice system.

In the ‘killing’ of the said ‘heroes’ there was no ill design. Such decisions were taken in what is better understood in management parlance as ethics of the emergency situation. Ethics of emergency situation implies ethical decisions which have be taken in dire emergencies. Emergency is better understood as crisis or an urgent situation. This ethics of the emergency situation in this case was keeping the greater good of society in view, and certainly not for personal gains. The deviation from the norm, was not really for any personal benefit here at all, including saving of lives. Krishna resorted to the ethics of the emergency situation in getting all of them eliminated (not killed) toward the greater good of humanity, through means that are questionable outside of the context. They were all, by the way, associated with an unjust cause, and had serious personal flaws in their characters.

Bhishma was myopic in his ‘serving the throne’. The focus on saving the throne was so strong that he could not see anything beyond it. He had a very myopic definition of his existence and a life whose virtues had serious ramifications, which in the larger interest were being misused by the perpetrators of evil. Drona was guided by first an initial enmity with Drupad and then the future of his son. Both were personal agendas, and he did not have any serious affinity for either the Kauravs or Pandavs. A teacher of his stature who had much in his power and capabilities was unfortunately driven by narrow considerations of life. Karna, a hero in the truest sense of the word, was a misplaced hero. His entire life was a quest for recognition, which made him fall slave to a person who had nothing right on his side. His need to repay debts was so strong that it became his sole objective of life.

Were any of these heroes fighting a war of ethics and morals and was their objective to fight a just war, when all in their hearts knew that the cause of the war itself was flawed? What significant efforts were made by each one of them to avoid or stop the war, especially when each one of them was in his own way strong and could have insisted on stopping the war, by just not willing to participate in the war?

Pandavs needed justice to regain all they had lost, after paying a heavy price for their mistakes and Krishna was guided here by the consideration of dharma which had been taken to a different dimension altogether. In the accepted interpretation, the ethics of the emergency situation notwithstanding, truth was by and large given an unconditional status. Krishna’s major motivation was to establish a sense of dharma and satya in the world to come. Did Krishna resort to indulging in ‘lies’ (as many call it) anywhere in the epic except in the specific case of Kurukshetra? Nowhere has Krishna advocated duty for the sake of duty, not without consequential consideration, though certainly without selfish motives. If efforts to establish dharma and satya were selfish motives then he surely had been selfish, lied and committed injustice. But ponder here – never has a lie been uttered anywhere. What was uttered was untruth. Lies are spoken with selfish motives, but an untruth need not have selfish motives.

Here I am reminded of an episode from American Civil War. When General Sherman had decided to burn down Atlanta, his Commander was shocked and wrote to him to stop it. The General is supposed to have told his Commander, “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it”. According to him a war has its own logic and momentum once it begins. It inevitably escalates, and you cannot blame the soldiers and generals for the killing, sometimes mindless. You can only blame those who started it.1 Nothing could be different in Kurukshetra too!

A close look of the epic will reveal that an austere and an unforgiving streak of dharma appeared to run through the epic. If good people are not allowed to win by any means, and if they had to fight justly, then one must be prepared to face the fact that they might lose. There was no guarantee that truth and goodness would prevail in human history. The Pandavas then would have had to accept this and wait, for another day. The outcome of the entire world would have been so different if the most important thing then was to just fight fairly. Since they did not and fought the way they did, they failed in their individual dharma, but managed to uphold dharma at large.

Needless to say that they were punished too with none of them allowed to ‘live happily ever after’. Even Krishna and his community faced elimination and died a bitter death. A big price to pay on the part of the Pandava’s and Krishna for eliminating all that stood for wrong and erroneous and establish the rule of the right and just.

What do you think?

1 The Difficulty of Being Good – By Gurcharan Das

Image courtesy - http://www.stephen-knapp.com/krishna_print_onehundredsixtyseven.htm

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Lately, I have been working on relationships. No, don’t take that literally, I mean, I have been working on relationships as a subject! (Phew, I guess I just saved a few relationships!).

Relationships are probably the most important possession that we start with and probably end up with (and often without) in life, without quite realising it. And we don’t realise it, because we are busy acquiring other more ‘profitable’ possessions.

The problem with relationships is that every relationship tends to become unimportant or less important as we proceed to the next one. We start our relationships with our parents. We anchor everything with this one from the time we recognise a smile or a frown, without even understanding the meaning of them. All our initial fears, insecurities and troubles are resolved by this single relationship. Then comes a time when we start moving out of home and often far, to schools and colleges. Then we start working on new relationships, with friends, peers. Soon the previous one with parents is relegated to the back-burner as it is meant to be there when we need and thus is out of one’s radar. During this new phase, friends at everyplace seem to matter and soon we have many of them and with each we seem to be working at different levels. We work on relationships at schools, then colleges. By the time we reach colleges, the school relationships have become less important and a lot of energies are spent on working on the ones that we have acquired or are trying to acquire.

By the time we have settled down on the new ones and sort of relegated the school relationships in the back-burner the ones at home have been totally taken for granted. They exist as where else do they go, and of course they don’t go anywhere, they just stay back and understand.

Soon we have left colleges and are moving towards a career. Now relationships become very important as they are will be supporting us in our career. Who do we get seen with and whose understandings are to be borne with a smile, are all a matter of ‘profit for life’. Needless to say that we have also become more mature, so words which were earlier uttered without a thought are now more measured, at least with relationships which matter in the new circumstances.

Soon we acquire partners, or would-be spouses, who become the cynosure of our very existence. No other relationships seem to matter in comparison to this, (except the ones at the workplace of course)! Friends,
folks they are totally absent at this stage. The honeymoon with this relationship lasts for some time, at times, but we realise quite late that even this one has become trifle boring, what with endless hours of work pressure, competition at workplace, inflationary pressures, children (oh yes, we have forged some new relationships without realising) – just why can’t the old relationships try to understand! By the way, this old relationships are the ones with our spouses – the parents and the old friends have been forgotten, at least in terms of having to work on them!

It is our relationships that make us what we are and an entire life is spent in getting in and out of relationships without realising that these are the ones that give us maximum joys and an occasional sorrow. A time comes when we realise that it is these relationships that we have neglected which mattered the most.

While, pressures of modern day life is quite stressful, meeting two ends meet while climbing the corporate latter or fighting the materialistic peer-pressure can be quite unnerving, an acknowledgement of a relationship is not asking for too much. Life is short and when people will leave us physically or mentally, one never knows. Parents leave physically and we realise it too late. Some friends leave us mentally, and often we don’t even realise it. But tragedy is when close family members leave us mentally while physically living with us.

Relationships need to be worked on, and they need pretty hard work! Not all are able to accept just being on the list of someone’s priorities rather than being somewhere on top of his/her priority of relationships. Many a relationship is a cherished one and many we
realise was a cherished one after the person is gone. The tragedy would be when we don’t realise even after that!

Relationships need to be nurtured, and all they need is a touch, a smile, a call and a few minutes of your time.

Check it out!!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Knowledge Transfer – Lessons from Mythology

Many organisations that I come across seem to have one problem (amongst many) in common and that is Knowledge Transfer (KT). People don’t want to share knowledge and at times people don’t find the existing knowledge worth taking (typical of the Gen X, who have just passed out of elitist colleges), or people not being able to collate and ‘hand-over’ a clearly articulated body of knowledge.

KT is the transfer of knowledge, expertise, skills and capabilities. Is KT a new subject on the horizon or is it just a new phenomenon due to insecurity of the modern day workplaces? KT in its basic form has existed from time immemorial in the form of Gurukuls, and then schools and colleges of present day. Teachers have taught and passed their knowledge to students, some of who have added to the body of work and passed it down to others in the subsequent generations.

Organisations too have seen such transfers earlier. Be they in the form of an Associate, an Apprentice, or just a junior who goes on to learn the tricks of the trade and take on the mantle one fine morning. Sons have been natural heirs, but others too have been honoured with the knowledge and have moved on to start on their own.

But transferring knowledge in an organisation is not as easy as it is in schools and colleges or small set-ups. In a modern-day knowledge based organisations, knowledge is critical. Besides managing knowledge which is in the minds of its employees, transferring the same on their leaving is a critical aspect where many seen to fail, and in many cases, the organisations are not even aware of the failure.

So how does KT become effective and a viable practise for organisations? How do they ensure that nothing is lost or at least substantial is retained before an employee leaves or retires?

KT is effective when the receiver is aware that there is knowledge worth accepting. When the leader is held in awe because of the knowledge, then the transfer is effective. In the epic Ramayan, Ravan was an able administrator. His rule was a golden period for his kingdom (which figuratively was referred to as sone-ki-Lanka, or the land of the gold). When Ravan was on his death-bed, he passed his knowledge of able administration to Ram, which in future came to be referred as Ramrajya. Ram who had dealt the deadly blow to his enemy, accorded Ravan the position of a Guru, and sat down to hear the words of wisdom from the dying asura-King. Knowledge should never die with the person who either created it or mastered it.

In the epic Mahabharat, Vidur has been shown sharing his knowledge of administration frequently with the Pandavs, which is also known as Vidur-niti. This is never done with the Kauravas, since they were never found receptive. Bhishma too promises not to die till he has imparted his knowledge of ethics, morals and values to Yudhishtir and the same was meticulously done from his bed of arrows after the tenth day of the war of Kurukshetra.

Knowledge Transfer is effective, when it is done by the person who is acknowledged to be in a superior position because of the knowledge. His elevated position is because he has some skill, knowledge in his possession. This is akin to the typical guru-shishya parampara where people have gone to acquire the said art or skill. It could be similar to Dronacharya, as a teacher who is willing to pass his skills to all the students in return of some favour, or Parashuram who is willing to pass down his knowledge to Karna in return of no favour.

Knowledge transfer is very effective when it comes in the form of need-of-the-hour. Krishna in his epochal Gita had transferred a huge body of knowledge at the right time to Arjun, which enabled him to fight the war of Kurukshetra. This knowledge till date is translated, interpreted and taught in different ways and the relevance of which seems to be reinvented with changing times.

Knowledge transfer is meaningful, when we know that the said knowledge emanates from reliable sources. The Vedas, Upanishads, etc. are all troves of knowledge which have been recorded for use. Some say, they were passed on by gods through seers for future use, while some say these are learning of the past recorded for generations to come. Even the epic Mahabharat is supposed to have been dictated by Vyas, but written by Ganesha – where is the reason to doubt such an epic which has been written by a god with his own piece of tooth?

Finally what makes KT most effective is the method of the transfer. Many a times, if it is passed down as tomes of knowledge, it is ineffective. Let me tell you a story here. Once upon a time there lived a king who had three sons and according to the king all his sons were idiots and he wondered how could he ever leave the throne to any one of them, when none of them were worth anything? His worry was solved by a person, who promised to educate his sons and make them worthy of the throne. This man focused on the wisdom of the scriptures rather than the scriptures itself. He created stories which would teach a lesson or a moral and make the learning more interesting, instead of didactic or moralistic. Soon the Princes were a Kings delight and each one of them was eligible to occupy the throne! This man was none other than the famous Vishnu Sharma and what he wrote for the princes is known to all of us Panchatantra! The Panchatantra or the five treatise cover all aspects of management, personal life and the cunning that one needs to have to face life.

Just as lessons are easy to impart, but not-so-easy to understand, so is the case with Knowledge Transfer. It is easy to speak about it, even easier to lay down
Courtesy Dilbert.com
the processes that govern the transfer, but very complex to execute. The biggest impediment to the process is the fear of redundancy. In an ever increasing competitive environment, ones knowledge is perceived as ones asset acquired over a long period of time and to pass it down as a process does not settle well with an individual who is feeling insecure in the first place. Needless to say, that the same cannot be done overnight too, after all KT is not a case of divine revelation!

KT needs to be part of an organisational process from day one. Every process or step in an organisation should aid the Knowledge accumulation leading to its dissemination. It has to be a top-down approach. A Bhishma needs to be visible to the system who is willing to share his knowledge or a leader like Ram needs to be seen in all humility willing to accept knowledge from even his enemy.

The day, sharing knowledge becomes a part of an organisations DNA, Knowledge Transfer will be seamless and as normal as any other regular process of the organisation!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Black-magic in Malayalam Mahabharat – Part 3

In the previous articles we read about two similar versions of abhicara. Finally, before we conclude, here is another interesting and many feel a better known version of abhicara in Malayalam versions of Mahabharat. According to this version, a sage by the name of Kaala MaMuni, an expert in rituals arrives at the court of Duryodhan, at his behest. Here the Dushta Chathushtaya (Duryodhana, Duhshasana, Sakuni, Karna), the evil-foursome, urge the sage to perform the abhicara to rid Duryodhan of the Pandavs. The sage is worried that he is being asked to do something that would rid him of all his good deeds accumulated over the last seven births. He tries to reason with the foursome, but they continue to praise him, till he gives in.

At the corner of his ashram, the sage sets out to perform the abhicara ritual. He dug a pit and made a small fire out of some special wood and by the incantation of the mantra’s created a fiery phantom like creature which was as large as the mountains. The sight was truly scary and it is said that one sight of it could even scare the gods for a moment.

All this was being observed by Yama and as the beholder of dharma, he decided to do something. Soon a Brahmin boy’s deer-skin was taken away by a deer. He urged the Pandavs to get it back from him and so the Pandavs set out chasing the deer. The deer chase was a never-ending one, and soon the Pandavs got tired and arrived near a pond, which however was poisoned. Yudhishtir asked Sahadev to go and fetch water for all. Sahadev died on the spot after drinking the water and soon Nakul, Arjun and Bhim were casualties too. However, Bhim managed to write on the ground that the water was poisoned. By then Yudhishtir was too tired and fainted for want of water.

In the meanwhile, the phantom that had emanated out of the ritual fire sought orders from the sage. The sage asked it to kill the Pandavs wherever they were. The phantom said that it would go out in search of the Pandavs and kill them, as it could not see them then, but just in case it did not find them for any reason, then it would return to kill the sage himself.

The phantom then set out in search of the Pandavs. It came across Yudhishtir who was lying unconscious and assumed that he was dead due to heat. He soon found the other four dead too. The phantom was now angry to have been asked to kill people who were already dead. It returned to where the sage was and shouted at the sage for not being able to see that his targets were already dead. It made fun of the sage’s knowledge and beheaded the sage and returned to the fire.

In the meanwhile, Yudhishtir, regained consciousness and went in search of his brothers. When he saw them dead near the pond and tried to drink the water, he was stopped by a voice, which told him to drink the water only after answering some questions. When Yudhishtir answered the questions, he was   allowed to revive one of his dead brothers. When Yudhishtir asked for Sahadev and the voice learned about his reasoning, the voice was pleased and taught him a mantra to revive all his brothers. Later, the voice introduced itself as Yama, and also told him about the abhicara performed by Duryodhan.

While this episode seems to have borrowed from the popular episode of Yaksha-parva from the original, it sure has its own elements of abhicara, weaved in quite effectively.

It is interesting to see how regional beliefs have crept in the retellings of the epic. Every version has an element of localisation and the Malayalam versions are no different. What is interesting is that the retellings have been further made popular in the different dance forms which are regularly enacted, it hasn’t been lost. The rich and thriving art forms which had the sanctity of temple premises have not given way to popular dance forms and are regularly performed even today. This speaks volumes of the desire to save the art forms from dying, while keeping the old and ancient texts alive, even in difference with the original Sanskrit version.

Besides regional flavours, it also throws light on the social structure of the day. While we have read that the rituals are performed by the aboriginal tribes of today, it shows that in a period when caste-system was very strong in other parts of the country, the people of this region did not stop the people from the marginalised sections of the society from entering the temple. Not only did they enter the temples, they even performed some of the rituals and have divinity attached to the origins of the community (as seen in Lord Shiva being the first Velan).

Once again, my sincere thanks to both Mr. A. Purushothaman and Mr. A. Harindranath for sharing their knowledge on the subject with me and simplifying my learning to a large extent, something on which they have been working for years.