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Mahabharata on TV - 1

Written on Aug 24, '14

With the recent version of the Mahabharata television serial being aired, there has been a palpable resurgence in interest in this great epic. An entirely new generation of fan following has come into being, with the characters of Arjuna, Karna and Krishna, among others being played by a new set of actors, generating a lot of viewer interest.

Those who can remember the older Mahabharata (in the 80s) will also remember a similar interest in the members of that cast of actors. I distinctly remember being entertained by a larger than life portrayal of Duryadhana by Mr Puneet Issar (who also became a famous 'Bollywood' villain in later years), and being attracted by Rupa Ganguli's portrayal of Draupadi - she was/is, after all a Kolkata girl! Terms like 'Pitashree', 'Matashree' became quite popular at that time.

Admittedly, I haven't watched much of the recent, Hindi version, but have watched a few of the dubbed episodes in Bengali in a regional channel. The quintessential nit-picker in me tended to find fault in everything, including direction, acting and dialogue (as if I could do better!) and the real reason I watched was because of my interest in the story itself. However, I could not but admire the huge production effort behind this, and will heartily congratulate the team for daring to take up such a challenge. I also liked the portrayal/casting of Arjuna, my Mahabharata hero from childhood.

This brings me to one particular verse of the Bhagavad Gita, which is such an important (if not, THE most important) part of the epic. In the Chapter 2, verse 12, Krishna says -

"Never did I not exist, nor thou, nor these rulers of men;
and none of us will hereafter cease to exist"

(From the translation of Adi Shankaracharya's commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, by Alladi. M. Sastry)

Readers familiar with the story will know that this was after Arjuna had declined to fight, lamenting that he'd have to kill his close relatives, friends and preceptors in order to win the war. He'd much rather not enjoy such blood-tainted spoils, and lead a mendicant's life. It is then that Krishna begins to bring him out of his deep dejection, and the Bhagavad Gita really flows...

In that verse he was of course referring to the men Arjuna had earlier refused to fight and kill. What used to puzzle me about it is that - did he actually mean that all these people were always alive, and that they would never die? Even Krishna, or the embodied person in his life's story, ultimately dies when a hunter shoots him mistakenly. Similarly, most of characters referred to above will perish in the war. The story of Krishna's birth is also well known. So, considered literally, this makes no sense.

But, I later realized, that he was not referring to the actual characters, for all embodied, created beings must eventually decay and die. He was referring, in a collective sense, to what pervades them - the imperishable, immutable consciousness, which is beyond individuation, beyond all subject-object duality.

As a crude analogy, we may consider waves in an ocean (taking the ocean to be eternal). If the waves are like the characters who, Krishna says 'never did not exist, or will hereafter not cease to exist', this would indicate that waves indeed are like that - for a wave is not a discrete entity, separable from the ocean. Even at the height of its 'wave-ness' so to speak, its still nothing but the ocean. Its not as if the ocean is a collection of waves, or that consciousness is a collection of beings. In that ocean, waves are created, and eventually destroyed - just like the characters in Mahabharata (whom Arjuna refuses to harm) will be. But the 'ocean' never was NOT there before the 'wave' came into being, and will not cease to exist, even after a particular wave has subsided.

Seen in this wave-ocean analogy, that verse became clearer to me.


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