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.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Game of Dice

A recent research on Shakuni made me focus on the game of dice. Why is the game of dice so important and integral to some of the myths in our mythology? Also are there any other references of the game of dice other than that of Mahabharata? Let’s see.

The significance of the game of dice has been read by one and all. The visual depiction of the game too has been viewed by many. The game of dice and the vice of gambling associated with it is evident in the way Yudhishtira loses all his assets and family, including his wife even after repeated efforts to stop the game. The way he loses it all is one aspect, just as the fact that there was also some amount of trickery in the game, but that is another subject. For the present, we will stick to the game of dice.

The game of dice, or chaupar or paasa, as it were better known was similar to a board game with dice. Except that these dice were not cubical as they are in  the modern times. These were rectangular, six sided dice with two sides being the smaller sides with no numbers. That left four longer sides which carried numbers 1 to 4. Dice were made of different objects, like terracotta, Vibhitaka nuts (the fruits of the Vibhitaka tree, which were sometimes the size of a hazelnut), ivory, bones, wood and even metals. The method of the game varied from location to location, but the basic motive generally remained gambling, besides recreation. This we see as the common theme in all the myths associated with the game.

The first myth is associated with Lord Shiva and Parvati. According to the Puranas, Lord Shiva and Parvati used to play the game of dice regularly. Once the game got so interesting that they started betting during the game. Parvati pledged her jewels, Shiva pledged his trident, and Shiva lost.  To get his trident back, Shiva pledged his serpent, which too he lost and this way, Shiva was left with just his begging bowl. Humiliated, Shiva left for the forest. Lord Vishnu intervened and asked him play again and win back all that he had lost. Shiva went on to play again, and this time he won everything back. Parvati smelt a rat and called Shiva a cheat and this led to an argument, till Lord Vishnu came and revealed that the dice moved as per his commands and that is how Shiva had won. He also went on to say that a game of dice was as unpredictable as life and was always beyond control, sounding the players to be careful before wagering during the game. The story moves on, but we will discuss the rest of the story some other time as the rest does not have anything to do with a game of dice.

The next story is associated with Lord Krishna and Rukmini. According to this tale, the King of Vidarbha had promised her daughter’s hand to Shishupala. His daughter, Rukmini was in love with Lord Krishna and both run away (Krishna was supposed to have ‘kidnapped’ Rukmini). Rukmin, the brother of Rukmini felt insulted and vowed never to return to his region till he had not avenged the insult by killing Krishna. A battle followed, but Rukmin lost, and was granted a lease of life by Krishna. However, Rukmin never returned to his region to honour his vow. Krishna and Rukmini get married in Dwarka. As the story moves on and during one such family wedding, all the relatives instigate Rukmin to invite Balarama, Krishna’s elder brother to a game of dice as he had a weakness for gambling. During the game, Rukmin and his group win by cheating which infuriates Balarama and he ends up killing Rukmin for cheating. The game of dice was organized at a grand scale and the trickery was acknowledged by an aakashvani (voice from the skies).

There are quite a few stories in our mythology which gives importance to the game of dice. At the core of the game, is gambling and at times cheating. This very clearly shows that the game was associated with a lot of merry-making, drinking and wagering just about anything, land, kingdoms, humans and even wives! Though this was played in full public view, there were many instances of misdemeanor and breaking of rules for an ulterior motive. But as Lord Vishnu said in the myth of Shiva and Parvati, a game of dice is an unpredictable and an uncontrollable game. Players should be careful, and as any vice, know when to say no and must have the ability to withdraw.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Big Fat Indian Democracy

We have been made to believe with a lot of pride, that India and Democracy are synonymous. I would like to make a slight correction. India and ‘a large democracy’ are synonymous and the pride should end just there. There isn’t anything positive with our democracy, even if our politicians and the social commentators would want us to believe otherwise.
We live in a massive democracy which is definitely not a matured one. We can’t dream of the heads of our political parties coming together for a public debate prior to elections on matters that concern the masses. Unthinkable, especially when they haven’t even gone past ‘buying’ the voters with handful of rice, TV-sets and sarees. In our country we can’t even think of a public-wrong-doer (or a scamster) being interrogated by parliamentarians being televised live. This can happen anywhere, but in India. We haven’t even received a single apology for the unending errors that our politicians make – folded hands before the elections do not epitomize humility.
I think as a country we have lots to learn from US & UK, who might be smaller democracies, but are definitely highly matured and much-evolved, besides being quite transparent. Their governments can fall due to ethical issues and people have the humility to apologize and take moral ownership for wrong-doings under their leadership, even if they were not involved. Further, you won’t find them in power after a few years wearing a different cap.  In our country they will deny till it is out of people’s mind and another new scam makes the headlines. Our politicians lack the strength of conviction and their moral fabric is already in shreds.
The once-in-five-years ritual called elections is hardly a weapon for change. An average Indian who is working 24x7 to make two ends meet, is so busy fighting the inflation and other issues created by the politicians, that he is unable to keep track of the numerous scandals, scams and other issues of the last half-decade, for him to vote for change and change for the right. To aggravate the situation, his choice is between bad and worse, so what does he choose? The poor common man then simply gives up and elects who he thinks is just bad and needless to mention the elected lives up to his expectation – just bad!
After the elections, the new people in power start their share of looting and ensure that we keep toiling for our daily dry bread (rather half bread!). Life in India just goes on – from the frying pan to the fire and after the elections from the fire to the frying pan!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Shakuni was considered to be the villain of Mahabharata. He instigated Duryodhan and constantly plotted against the Pandavas. But is this the whole truth? Did he do all this out of devotion to his sister’s clan or was there something else? Was he inherently evil as we know him and have seen in popular depiction, clad in black robes and wearing an evil look and an impish smile?
Shakuni as represented in Kathakali
Dance Form
Shakuni was the brother of Gandhari, the wife of the blind king Dhritarashtra of Hastinapur. Shakuni has also been referred to as the King of Gandhar, a region smaller than Hastinapur. It is said that Shakuni was angry and felt insulted when Bhishmapitamah brought the matrimonial proposal of the blind Dhritarashtra. In those days, refusing the proposal would have been suicidal for the region and they were left with no choice but to accept it. To add fuel to the fire, Gandhari, Shakuni’s sister, embraced darkness for life. Shakuni felt vindictive and decided to avenge the insult to Gandhar and his father, King Subala, by ruining the entire Kuru clan of Bhishmapitamah who was the proud guardian of the kingdom. But this he could not do by waging a war against them as Gandhar Pradesh was too small in comparison to Hastinapur. He decided to live with them and eat into the system and destroy it from within. Just as a rat destroys cloth, for the sake of destroying, not because it wants to eat it, Shakuni became the rat in Hastinapur and kept Duryodhan under his tutelage and kept fanning his ambitions and stoking the fire of jealousy and ambition alive in him, till the entire extended family was brought to a naught. This is the version according to Ved Vyasa or at least a popular explanation of Shakuni’s behavior.
There are some other versions to his evil. According to a version (which does not find space in Vyasa’s version), Gandhari’s stars foretold that she would be a widow as soon as she married, but if married again, her second husband would survive. So her father got her married to a goat and killed it soon after, which made her a ‘widow’ in technical terms. Later, when Dhritarashtra comes to know about this, he waged a battle against the kingdom of Gandhar and took King Subala, along with his 100 sons as prisoners. As prisoners all of them were given just a handful of rice to sustain. The King realized that this way all of them would meet their end soon. He then decided that all would sacrifice their portion for one of them to eat, who should live on to avenge this insult meted out on them. The son selected to carry on living was Shakuni. After his father and all the brothers had died one by one, Shakuni was released on the request of Gandhari and he then came over to Hastinapur and continue his task that his father and brothers had given him.
There is an interesting story on the selection of Shakuni to take the task forward. King Subala of Gandhar wanted an intelligent son to survive to avenge the insult, so to test them, he gave each one a bone and asked them to put a thread through it. None could do it, except Shakuni, who tied a thread to an ant who went through the bone to reach the other end, to eat a grain of rice which was tied to the other end of the bone!  One by one all the brothers died and so did his father and it is said that the dice that Shakuni carried with him was carved out of his father’s thigh bones. The dice constantly reminded him of the insult and his objective entrusted on him by his family.
In all the negative qualities associated with Shakuni, a very important quality of his has been overlooked. Shakuni was a very good judge of human nature and character. He knew well about Dhritarashtra’s lust for monarchy and his inability to hold on to it due to his lack of vision, both literally as well as figuratively. He was aware of his nephew, Duryodhan’s hatred for his cousins and his ambition to become the King and continued to fan the flame of hatred in his heart and mind. He was also aware of Yudhishtira’s weakness for gambling and knew that Yudhishtira would give in to the slightest provocation and that is what he ensured during the dice-game. He was also well aware of Krishna’s love and support for the Pandava’s and also recognized the fact that Krishna was the only match to his guile and intelligence in the Pandava camp, and ensured that all the wrong meted out to the Pandavas occurred in Krishna’s absence. One can see these examples as evil intentions, or as smart strategist who moved towards his personal objective in a slow, but steady pace.
Popular notion sees Shakuni as the villain, but was he really one? Wouldn’t any individual with slightest of self-respect feel insulted if a matrimonial proposal was sent for his daughter/sister from a person who is not only ineligible but also handicapped? Who would not feel insulted if such a proposal was given to them, just because it was not in their power to decline? Was this not exploitation of one’s superiority? Did Bhishmapitamah not know the inadequacies of Dhritarashtra, who though elder of the family was not eligible to be the King? Was the matrimonial alliance not being sought after more for physical and political reasons rather than simple matrimony? With all this and more, what else can a relatively weaker person do, if not act like a termite and eat into the system, to avenge his insult? This is exactly how rebels are created due to acts of insult, injury and oppression. The case of Shakuni was no different. In the light of such acts by the mighty stalwarts and guardians of Hastinapur, was Shakuni really a villain?  
Shakuni was later killed by Sahadev in the battle of Kurukshetra.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Myth of Baba Dhokal

During one of my recent visits to Ahmedabad, Gujarat, I came across a rain myth. As mentioned earlier during the myths of Rain (See articles dated June, 7, 9 & 10, 2011) there are a number of general and local myths associated with rain. They could be the causes of rain or myths related to the need to rain. Sometimes they are also associated with causes of no-rain. This one is associated with no-rain.
This is a myth which is called the myth of Baba Dhokal. Sultan Ahmed Shah, who established the city of Ahmedabad, needed four Ahmed’s (meaning holy souls) and twelve saints to be a part of the ceremony to establish the city. Baba Dhokal, better known as Hazrat Sheikh Mahmud Chishty, who was a renowned Sufi saint of the times was chosen to preside over the ceremony. The myth is regarding him.
It is said that soon after the establishment of the city, the city did not receive rains. So people went to him and requested to do something to get the rains. On their request, he started chanting 'Baba Dhokal, varsad mokal' (Baba Dhokal, send rain), and according to the myth, the city received rains soon after. People were so pleased with his efforts that they made dhokla’s (a steamed food item, very commonly found in Gujarati cuisine) and distributed amongst the poor and needy. It is said that even today, when people fear a drought-like situation, they throng to his burial and chant 'Baba Dhokal, varsad mokal' and also distribute dhokla’s to all.
This is a small and localized myth associated with a person whose burial can be found in the city of Ahmedabad (in the Madhvpura area). He was no god and no imaginary character but a person who was living till about 600 years ago (the city was established in the year 1411). This is a case in point of the strength and importance of myths in our country and the universality and occasional secularity of the same.
(Why has the name Baba Dhokal been associated with the Sufi saint and its association with dhokla’s is unknown.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

1st Anniversary

Today is the first anniversary of this Blog and I am feeling as proud as any father does when his child celebrates her first birthday! On this day I look back with nostalgia and pride. Nostalgia, because it seems like just yesterday when the word Blog was a techno-phrase for me and a touch-me-not subject for me. Pride, because I have said so much and on so many things and so many people have read it. To get statistical, my Blog has got close to 29,500 hits in the last 8 months (I got the Total Pageviews widget working after nearly four months of the launching of the Blog).
On this day, I feel like a celebrity, so let me make the most of my brief flirtation with self-imposed-stardom and true to my role, here’s my Thank-you speech –
y     I would like to say thanks to my wife who first suggested that I should write instead of ‘talk so much’ (that way she would have a choice to read or not!)

y    I would like to thank my friend who suggested that I should Blog, someone might notice my writing and give me an offer to write a book (No I did not fall for that, but I took it up nonetheless)

y     I would like to thank all those correspondents and editors who did not revert back to my suggestions for writing for them (I guess that’s why they are unknown editors and not well-known authors – they don’t know what is good writing!)

y     I want to thank my friend who forwards my articles to all his friends (I think he has the best taste in literature and should be the next editor of Times of India!)

y     I would like to thank all my friends and well-wishers for telling me I write well and should keep writing (but I wonder why they tell me not to write long pieces?!? Oh hell I don’t need to have all the answers; after all ignorance is bliss!)
Here’s saying a big thank you to all who read and commented and also to those who read but did not comment. If the Blog has added to your info-base, then I am happy.
So keep coming back and reading and send in your requests and suggestions.
Thank you all once again!!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Guru Purnima

गुरु ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णु: गुरुदेव महेश्वर:
गुरु साक्षात्परब्रह्म तस्मैश्री गुरुवे नम: ।।

The full moon in the month of Ashad is observed as Guru-Purnima. However, this day is also known as Vyas Purnima. On this day Ved Vyas is remembered for his enormous contribution to ancient literature. Ved Vyas is credited with editing and arranging the four Vedas and also having written the eighteen Puranas, besides the Mahabharata.

In the times of the Gurkul, the Guru was paid respect on this day was literally worshipped and offered obeisance. A Guru in the Indian tradition is God on earth.

According to a shloka from Brahmanda Puran

A Guru is Shiva sans his three eyes,
He is Vishnu sans his four arms
He is Brahma sans his four heads.
He is parama Shiva himself in human form

A Guru is not just who teaches you but to widen the scope of the word, s/he could also be someone who guides you through the different walks of life. S/he could be a friend, philosopher and guide. The Mahabharata refers to Dronacharya, Kripacharya and even Parshuram as Guru’s to different heroes, but wasn’t Krishna a Guru too? He guides Arjun during the war and delivers the great song of life, the Gita. Even today, modern day thinkers find relevance of what was said then in Gita then.

On this day, it is good to pay respects to all who have taught you and guided you through the journey of your life. Treat this as a Thanksgiving Day for your teachers and guides.

To conclude, many pseudo-spiritual gurus have changed the meaning and relevance of this day, but we don’t have to succumb to those attempts. Let us all identify our own Guru’s and pay respects, even if it means a silent wish for some, do so.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Vithoba of Pandarpur – Pundalik

Last time we read about Vithoba and Rakhumai and their association with Vishnu. We will now discuss about Pundalik, a devotee of Vithoba. There are a few stories associated with Pundalik.
According to one of the myths, an ascetic by the name of Pundarika (same as Pundalik) was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and was dedicated to the service of his aged parents. It is said that pleased with his devotion, Lord Krishna (again a form of Vishnu) came from the Mount Govardhana along with his cows to graze and meet Pundarika. Krishna at that time was in described as wearing a headdress made out of peacock feathers, with his hands on his hips and his cow-stick between his thighs. Pundarika, moved by the divine sight, requested Krishna to stay on at the site, which was at the banks of the river Bhima, as that would make the area a sacred place or a tirtha-sthana. The location is today identified as Pandarpur which is at the banks of river Bhima and the description of Krishna matches with the image of Vithoba at Pandarpur.
Another legend has it that Pundalik who was devoted to his parents, started neglecting his parents after his marriage since he had madly fallen in love with his wife. However, a sage made him aware of his folly and he felt guilty of what had happened and re-dedicated his life to the service of his parents. Meanwhile Radha, came to visit Krishna at Dwarka and sat on the lap of Krishna and did not even acknowledge Rukmini who was the queen of Krishna. As if this act by itself was not offending enough, Krishna did not even find Radha guilty of the act. Rukmini took offence to this and left the palace and went to the forest of Dandivan which is near the modern day Pandarpur. Later Krishna who was saddened by the absence of Rukmini went to Dandivan in search of Rukmini and later found her resting near Pundalik’s house. After a lot of coaxing and cajoling, Rumini agreed to return with Krishna. They then went to visit Pundalik who was busy taking care of his parents. On hearing Krishna, he threw a brick outside and asked him to wait and rest on it till he is done with his parents. Krishna stood and waited and it is said that on the request of Pundalik Krishna remained on the brick with Rukmini as Rakhumai.
Both the myths have very simple rustic origins, which imply that Vithoba was a local deity who in due course of time got assimilated with the larger Hindu pantheon. The larger association of Vithoba, with Krishna and thus Vishnu proves the ‘long-distance’ association with the mainstream gods. However, the local flavor has not changed and the rituals and the legends still bear testimony to the same. The legends of Pundalik also gives moral messages of taking care of aged-parents as that seems to be the underlying theme in both the above mentioned variants of the myth. Thus the myths have both religious as well as moral undertones.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ashadi Ekadashi – Vithoba of Pandarpur

July 11, is the day of Ashadi Ekadashi (the eleventh day of the month of Ashad). The day is significant according to the Hindus as it marks the beginning of Chatur-masa (four months). On this day, Lord Vishnu goes to sleep for four months and thus these four months are considered to be inauspicious for any religious or social activities like marriage. Many people observe fasts and abstinence of different sort during these four months.
However, for Mahrashtrians, this has another significance which is associated with Vithoba or Vitthala of Pandarpur. As per the Bhakti cult of Maharashtra, two main exponents of the Bhakti movement, Sant Tukaram and Sant Jnaneshwar are supposed to have reached Pandarpur on the day of Ashadi Ekadashi. The day till date is commemorated by undertaking a pilgrimage to Pandarpur by the devotees which is better known as the Pandarpur Yatra. The unique feature of the temple is that the shrines of Vithoba and his consort, Rakhumai have two different temples. Let me tell you the myth associated with this.
Vithoba’s (a name for Lord Vishnu) wife was fondly called Padubai and was always busy with her household chores. Once she was so busy with her work that she did not attend to Maliraya, a guest of Vithoba. Vithoba’s anger knew no bounds and in his anger he cursed her that she would go mad and be separated from her. True to her curse, Padubai went to a forest and died. Vithoba was so angry that he took the form of a snake and came in between the corpse of Padubai and her parents who had come to see her at the sad turn of events. He then had clouds turn to rain and wash away her bones into the sea, after allowing the kites and vultures eat up her body.
All this upset Maliraya to no end as he felt guilty for the events. He took severe penance for twelve years at the sea-shore and then got the release of Padubai’s bones from the lord of the sea. He then immersed the bones in the Chandrabhaga River and a beautiful lotus emerged out of it. Meanwhile Vithoba was sad and guilty for his acts, was roaming and looking for Padubai all over, till he reached Chandrabhaga River. When he saw the lotus, he plucked it and Padubai emerged as Rukmini. But by then Vithoba had renounced family life and could not undo his own curse and so they decided not to live under the same roof, but decided to meet regularly and speak to each other. The two separate temples symbolize Vithoba’s non-attachment and a life of suffering and a life of duty, devotion and forgiveness.
Many see Vithoba as a pastoral deity, who got assimilated in the Hindu pantheon in due course of time. Many have said that Vithoba is a form of Shiva, like majority of the pastoral deities and this could be based out of the fact that Pandarpur has many Shiva temples. However, the exponents of the bhakti cult like Sant Tukaram and Sant Eknath have identified Vithoba with Vishnu and Rakhumai with Rukmini.
Vithoba is also associated with his devotee Pundalik and as a savior of the Varkhari community. Next time we will go thru the myths associated with Pundalik.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Modern Day Dronacharyas

A recent news item of students who have secured more than 95% in their Board exams, not getting admission in ‘good’ colleges has set me thinking. A particular college even had a cut-off of 100% - just what is ‘cut-off at 100%’?
This and some other colleges sound like Dronacharya’s (of Mahabharata) school. Dronacharya used to teach only children of kings, the family of Bhishma to be precise. When an equally qualified, if not more, pupil like Eklavya tried to take ‘admission’ in Drona’s school, he was denied admission, however, fees was extracted out of him. Nobody questioned the faulty education system and the injustice meted out to a deserving student, by a well-known ‘head of an institution’, rather, an elitist institution. This was similar to rejecting a deserving student because the son(s) of the trustees or the governing body feel insecure of other students’ capabilities or the head of the institution’s loyalties lying elsewhere. Such biases are seen even today, except that the bosses have changed, and at times this is not done so openly.
Further down, when a qualified pupil, like Karna tried to appear for exams in what seemed to be an ‘open-exam’, he was disqualified from the same on the grounds of unknown caste of birth or lower caste to be precise. This is similar to someone who is inherently intelligent and qualified, but cannot produce his domicile certificate or other such credentials! This is exactly why many students leave their own states and go to other states or some deserving students decided to leave the country due to such inherent impediments in our Education system, like reservations for example.
How long will deserving students be deprived of good institutions? Are students who secure anything above 80% not supposed to be good in studies? Are the above-average students now becoming mediocre students, as certified by a few ‘academics’?  Are students who get 95% any less better than those who secure 98%? Just who decides such ‘cut-offs’ and who authorizes such people to occupy such seats of learning, who sow the seeds of discord and end up creating an education based caste-system?
Dronacharya himself jumped his caste by fighting the war of Kurkshetra, which was the domain of Kshatriyas, even though he was a Brahmin. But he deprived Eklavya and Karna on grounds of not-deserving of education for similar reasons, which were unethical. Dronacharya got away with such petty acts, but why are we letting the modern-day Drona’s get away with such academic bias? Why are we allowing them to create a rift between all deserving students, by making some feel more gifted than the others? The modern day Drona’s are creating new set of haves and have-nots amongst the academic-haves.
It would be a service done to the nation, if the Education Minister takes firm steps than just laughing the matter away. We know he would not get admission if he had to secure one today, but why not take steps to stop such a menace unleashed by the modern-day Drona’s? Stop them before they create a new unviable educational eco-system, where many deserving students will be made to perish.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The (un)Health(y) Minister

The Honourable (?) Health Minister says that man-to-man sex is unnatural. By this statement, he implies that man-to-woman sex is natural. I have the following questions for him –
?         Is forced man on woman sex natural (rape)?
?         Is marital sexual violence meted out by a man to a woman natural?
?         Is father raping his daughter natural?
?         Is an older man having sex with younger women (at times minors) 
?         Is one man having sex with many women (read harem) natural?
?         Is having unnatural sex by a man with a woman, natural?
The honourable minister would do good not to question one supposedly unnatural act, when hundreds of ‘natural’ acts need to be questioned!
I hope he doesn’t become a ‘gulam’ of popular notions and soon becomes ‘azad’ from ancient prejudices!