Art from "Mahabharata for Kids" by A. Murugesan
Parents Corner

Parent’s Corner Discussion: By being a loving father, did King Dhritarashtra fail his people?

This is the third topic of discussion in the Parents Corner Initiative. Do share your thoughts in the comments section of this post. It helps to understand your perspective and how you think that this topic can be best explained to a young reader. The first topic was “The game of dice” and how Yudhishtira shaped the events that were to follow. The second topic was about Kunti’s decision to ask Draupadi to take all the Pandavas as her husbands. In this third topic, we circle back to King Dhritarashtra’s choices and how they shaped the course of events of the great Bharata war.

One of the silently important characters of Mahabharata is King Dhritarashtra. Admittedly, he is the King of Hastinapura for much of the story but Bheeshma ends up playing a much more prominent role. And Pandu, while being absent for much of the proceedings has an oversized impact on it by virtue of his actions. Dhritarashtra initially earns the reader’s pity for being born blind for no fault of his. As he grows up, he continues to get the reader’s sympathy when Pandu gets picked over him for the same reason.  It is almost as if everything is being set up in time for Dhritarashtra to have his huge impact on the future of the empire.

Varanavata

When Duryodhana and Yudhishtira are ready to be Kings, favoring his son, Dhritarashtra sends the Pandavas to the town of Varanavata. Fully knowing that Yudhishtira was the rightful heir to the throne of Hastinapura, Dhritarashtra shows nepotism and gives it to Duryodhana.  More importantly, he sows the seeds of distrust among the cousins that would slowly but steadily grow to engulf the entire nation. Could the war have been averted if he had done what was fair and made Yudhishtira, the King of Hastinapura?

Indraprastha

When the Pandavas return back to the kingdom, Dhritarashtra has a second opportunity to fix things. But he does not. Instead, he gives Pandavas a desolate and arid region at the fringes of the kingdom. Little does he realise that with the help of Maya and Krishna, the Pandavas turn the desolate land into a city of untold mysteries, Indraprastha. The very same Indraprastha then excites Duryodhana leading to the game of dice. From the time the game of dice is proposed, Dhritarashtra has a bad feeling about it and he echoes that to Duryodhana. But he refuses to override his son and Shakuni.

Draupadi

All this brings us to the game of dice. Duryodhana and Dushasana with the help of Shakuni and Karna make a mockery of the Pandavas eventually resulting in the disrobing of Draupadi in the court in front of Dhritarashtra. As a King, Dhritarashtra stays mute as the rightful queen of the empire is insulted and disrobed in front of the audience. He demonstrates his inability to be a ruler and a good father at that critical juncture. This event, more than any other, triggers the chain reaction resulting in the great war. And Dhritarashtra is a silent spectator when he could and should have changed the course of events.

One last chance

The Pandavas finish their 13 years in exile and are itching to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. Yudhishtira wants to avert a war with his cousins and uncles and sends Krishna as a peace envoy to Hastinapura. Duryodhana wants war and is unwilling to listen to the advice of anyone else. As his father, Dhritarashtra has the one last opportunity to fix things. But he refuses to impose his will on his son. And the stage is set for the war.

So did Dhritarashtra fail his people because he was blinded by the love for his son? Should he have intervened in the many opportunities he had to avert the impending crisis? Did he put his son in front of the lives of the sons of the hundreds of thousands of citizens of the country? And is that really wrong?

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Draupadi's swayamvar
Parents Corner

Parents Corner Discussion: Kunti’s decision on Draupadi’s marriage

This is the second topic of discussion in the Parents Corner initiative. Do share your thoughts in the comments section of this post. It helps to understand your perspective and how you think that this topic can be best explained to a young reader. The first topic was “The game of dice” and how Yudhishtira shaped the events that were to follow. In this post, we will talk about Kunti’s decision to ask Draupadi to take all the Pandavas as her husbands.

Draupadi's swayamvar

The Event

Before we delve into the discussion itself, let me outline the plot points leading to the event. The Pandavas are assumed to be dead in the fire at Varnavata. They roam the lands disguised as brahmans. They hear about the swayamvar of Draupadi, daughter of King Drupada of Panchala and sister of Drishtadyumna. Arjuna, always on the lookout for a warrior’s challenge, participates in the event and wins the hand of Draupadi. The excited Pandavas bring Draupadi home where Kunti is sitting unaware of the events of the day. Arjuna decides to surprise his mother by saying, “Mother, look what we have brought home.” Kunti, assuming that it was their daily bhiksha (alms) said, “Whatever it is, do share equally with all your brothers.” At that point, Kunti realises that it was Draupadi. And here is where things get interesting and discussion worthy.

The Arguments

Once Kunti found out that the “entity to be shared equally among the brothers” was Draupadi, she did not change her mind. She asked Draupadi to marry all the Pandavas. The first question that pops on one’s mind is as a woman, shouldn’t Kunti have known better?. Kunti had problems sharing her husband Pandu with Madri. How could she expect the young Draupadi to share 5 husbands? Why didnt she change her mind and fix the problem then and there?.

The second element of this episode are the Pandavas, primarily Yudhishtira, the eldest and most virtuous and Arjuna, the rightful winner of Draupadi’s hand. Shouldnt they have registered their discomfort with the idea of sharing Draupadi and thus convince their mother to change her mind. Surely, the wise words of Yudhisthtira might have made her reconsider?

The third piece, albeit the most important one is Draupadi herself. Agreed that in those days, the brides had no voice of their own. But Draupadi was a strong woman as evidenced in the later parts of the story. Should she have put her foot down and rebelled?

In Hindsight

As I was pondering this topic and shared my views with a friend, he added a completely different angle to this conversation, one worth bringing up here. If we take the episode in its entirety and examine its consequences, what would have happened if the Pandavas had rebelled against their mother (something unheard of in those days). Would the Mahabharata turned out the way it did?. Would the Pandavas have achieved immortality?. Draupadi is at the crux of the whole epic. Would the war have been averted if she had just married Arjuna?

The Parent’s Perspective

As a parent, this episode is very interesting to explain to kids. How do we tell them its OK for Kunti to ask Draupadi to marry five men while we strongly teach them values of having one partner in real life.

We are all told that disobeying elders is a sin and comes in the way of Moksha (if you believe that line of thinking). But it could have averted a major war. Isn’t that worth disobeying one’s mother?. Of course, I have the luxury of hindsight which the Pandavas didn’t have at that time.

As always, do share your thoughts on the topic. The first discussion topic elicited an excellent response on Facebook and hopefully this one is worth a good discussion as well.

 

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The game of dice
Parents Corner

Parents Corner Discussion: The game of dice

This is the first topic of discussion in the Parents Corner initiative. Do share your thoughts in the comments section of this post. It helps to understand your perspective and how you think that this topic can be best explained to a young reader.

One of the most important events in the Mahabharata, is the game of dice. Specifically the second time the Pandavas and Kauravas play the game of dice in Hastinapura and Yudhishtira bets and loses his empire, family and himself. There are multiple topics of interest here – the game and Yudhishtira’s bets itself and the disrobing of Draupadi. I will leave the second event for a different post. We will instead focus only on Yudhishtira’s weakness for the game and his inability to control his betting urges.

The game of dice

Let us start with the circumstances surrounding the event. Duryodhana (and Shakuni) had the simple intention of getting Yudhishtira to bet big and lose all his possessions in the game of dice. Yudhishtira knew that Shakuni would win the game when it mattered. Fully knowing that, he gave in to his vice and continued to bet everything he had. Even if we accept the argument that the game was a royal event that a King could not turn down, Yudhishtira was not committed to betting everything he had. In that case, why did he?. Did he have the right to bet his brothers and wife?. Having lost Draupadi, where was his obligation as a husband and responsibility for the well being of his wife?.  These are just some of the questions that can come up for discussion.

In my opinion, I see Yudhishtira as flawed, just like everyone else. To elevate him on the basis of his fairness and morality is unfair. He is no different than his brothers and in this episode, irresponsible. I would tell my son that Yudhishtira made a mistake and he paid a big price for it. His brothers, while respectful to their elder brother, also needed to have intervened when they were made the pawn in the game. Brother as it may be, an irresponsible decision needs to be questioned and they should have. You would want people to have a backbone. Not just be obedient for the sake of being so to their brother. Finally, all the elders in the hall like Bhishma, Drona and Dritarashtra should have intervened well in advance. To blame it all on Duryodhana is to be unfair on him. Respect for elders also needs to be earned some times. And this was one such occasion.

This is just my perspective. I would recommend that parents and educators think long and hard and discuss with friends (and maybe even folks in this forum) to get a cohesive answer in place. If not with “Mahabharata for Kids”, but with Amar Chitra Katha’s version or some other rendition of the epic, the game of dice is bound to come up and needs to be explained meaningfully to the child.

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