Sunday, October 31, 2010

Episode 30 - Agastya

Episode 30 - The four Pandavas who were left in the forest set off on a tour of the sacred sites of Ancient India, with the Sage Lomasha as their guide.  At a stopover near the historic hermitage that once belonged to Agastya, we are treated to one of the stories about this fabled hermit.

I have to confess to skipping a second story, because I simply couldn't make much sense of it.  While it tangentially involved Agastya, it also involved King Sagara, whose wife gave birth to a pumpkin and he was advised to put the seeds each in a vat of warm ghee, and each seed turned into a baby boy.  The king had 1,000 sons from this pumpkin.  The story then veers off to the draining of the ocean, and how the Ganga was drawn out of the heavens to re-fill the ocean, and how Shiva caught the stream in his dreadlocks.  I guess I'll leave that bit for the unabridged podcast!

Next time, we'll get the story of Rshyashrnga, who was born from a deer!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Episode 29 - Damayanti & Nala, part 2

Episode 29 - We finish the story of Nala.  Brhadashva suggested that this story would cheer up the Pandavas, since there was indeed a king who had it worse than they.  But shortly after hearing the story, they get news that Arjun was up on a mountain top starving himself and they were once again plunged into depression and hopelessness.  At least Yuddistira learned Nala's dicing secrets, so he need not worry about another match with Shakuni.

The story of Nala as it is told in the Mahabharata has some significant discrepancies in the storyline.  They are too obvious and numerous to list out in full, but an example would be that Damayanti remained in hiding in her aunt's palace even though she could have told the queen the truth at any time, and could go home at any time.  Stranger still, the queen mother does not recognize her neice, because the girl was covered in mud all the time and so her famous mole was concealed by the dried muck.

On the other hand, the scenes are very dramatic and would have made a wonderful 19th century opera.

I found the detail about the size of Nala's army to be interesting.  Clearly, chariots were not the most common vehicle on the battle field.  There were 19 elephants and numerous horses, and hundreds of infantry, but just one chariot.  Perhaps by this time the chariot was more of a status symbol than an effective military weapon; alternatively, were they so expensive that one chariot was all that could be afforded on this mission!?!

Finally, thanks for the feedback on the identity of Kali.  They tell me that Kali is the kali in kaliyuga.  His buddy Dvapar is of the Dvaparyuga.  I had always thought the names Dvapar & Kali, in that context, were modifiers that somehow described these various epochs.  But now it seems Kaliyuga is the epoch that is dominated or (perhaps) ruled by the entity Kali.

I always thought a little better of the Dvaparyuga, since during that period people were more humane, but the character of Dvapar is not at all appealing.  As for Kali, he comes off as a small-minded little bastard-- hardly fitting for the demon who dominates an entire Epoch!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Episode 28 - Damayanti & Nala, part 1

Episode 28 - While Arjun remains in heaven, relaxing with his father Indra, news reaches the Kaurava court of Arjun's exploits.  Dhrtarastra then has one of his bouts of regret while Sanjay scolds him for being so stupid.  We then cut over to the rest of the Pandavas, who are still living off the dirt in the foothills of Dehra Dun.  Bhima is ready to chop off some heads and he takes his frustration out on his elder brother.

The sage Brhadashva then shows up with a story of a king who actually had it worse off then even the Pandavas; he recites the story of Nala and his clever wife Damayanti.

It is interesting to think how this story would have been told in different cultures.  If this had been an ancient Greek story, it would have been Indra/Zeus who was the offended one and cursed Nala, rather than a more obscure god.  And if this story had been told in Medieval Europe, then the Five World Guardians would have been human noblemen, and Nala & Damayanti would have been from the middle class.  These noblemen would all have wanted her to be their mistress, but she chose instead an upright townsman whom she loved instead.  Then the noblemen, in their outrage at having been passed over in favor of a commoner, would have taken their revenge in a more traditional manner-- rape & pillage!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Episode 27 - Arjun goes to Heaven

Episode 27 - We follow Arjun's journey into the Himalayas and beyond.  This episode includes Arjun's famous battle with the Mountain Man.  He doesn't come out of the fight very well-- Shiva crushes him into a meatball and ends the fight.  I like to think that he killed Arjun and then revived him and sent him on to Heaven, but the text is a bit vague; did he just get crushed, lose his eyesight and cease breathing?  Or did he go all the way and die on us?  Either way, he's sent off to his dad's kingdom up in Heaven where he acquires WMD in preparation for the big battle.

Meanwhile, the remaining brothers and their angry wife are left waiting in the jungle, swatting flies, while Arjun spends five years in paradise with Indra.  After Arjun has learned all the secrets of Indra's weapons, he is sent to Citrasena to learn the arts of music & dance.  Indra dispatches the sage Lomasha to visit the other Pandavas and tell them to tour the pilgrimage sites while Arjun finishes up his training.

Next time, we'll see how Dhrtarastra reacts to news of Arjun's trip to heaven, and we'll hear the famous story of Nala and Damayanti!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Episode 26 - Debating Dharma

Episode 26 - We begin this episode with the tale of Krishna's adventures when he might otherwise have helped his friends in their distress.  At least he got a few good fight scenes out of it, including his son Pradyumna performing heroic feats defending Dwarka, and a ground-to-air battle with a flying city!

When Krishna is done with his exciting tale, the allies pack up and head for home.  The tacit understanding seems to be that they will wait until the 13 years are up and only then will they come up with a plan for action.  You can imagine Draupadi stewing as all this goes on. 

Things only get worse after the allies leave, and the Brahmins move back in.  They surround their beloved ascetic king and praise him for his meekness and self-control.  The Brahmins re-iterate how important it is for a king to keep lots and lots of Brahmins around at all times.

This is finally too much for poor Draupadi.  She finally gets fed up and starts berating her husband.  The two begin debating the relative value of Dharma vs. Karma.  Sitting in the woods like a Saddhu certainly did not appear to be the Dharma for a King!  Kings should be men of Action.  They should act now and keep acting until they have either succeeded or have died trying, because that is what Kings do!

Bhima also chimes in and picks up the argument, taking up Draupadi's side.  He points out that the ritual calendar is not the same as normal time, and 13 months constitutes 13 years ritually, so they are already done and can start the war right away!  But Yuddistira always out-argues them all, and besides, he's the boss.  Fortunately, things are not allowed to get out of control because Vyasa shows up and gives them something to keep them busy-- find a new forest to camp in, and send Arjun north in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction!