Episodes from the Udyoga Parva as Sagacious Guides to the Contemporary Hindu Society

Episodes from the Udyoga Parva as Sagacious Guides to the Contemporary Hindu Society

The Udyoga Parva is one of the most glorious sections in the Mahabharata offering a wealth of insights and guidance for the contemporary Hindu society.

— 1— 

THE UDYOGA PARVA is to the Mahabharata what the Sundara Kanda is to Srimad Ramayana. Both are harbingers to the subsequent decisive action taken to defend Dharma by uprooting Adharma. But there are some differences.

Sri Ramachandra’s job was relatively easier — he vanquished Adharma by slaying Ravana, its most representative embodiment. Ravana was not related to him in any manner. It was a straightforward fight with clear lines separating Dharma and Adharma. Sri Rama himself frontally led the war to protect Dharma and didn’t need the Bhagavad Gita to inspire his Dharma-Yuddha.

But the scene dramatically changes in the Mahabharata. On the Adhidaiva plane, the Ramayana war was fought between the Deva embodied by Sri Rama and the Danava embodied by Ravana. In the Mahabharata, the Kurukshetra war was fought entirely between humans. The Deva in the form of Sri Krishna was a guide, facilitator and enabler of the destruction of the Danava element in humans.

The Pandavas weren’t exactly perfect but they were inherently virtuous. Which is why they heeded to sage counsel and sought out Rishis and other wise men. Which is also why Sri Krishna favoured them. But for Sri Krishna’s constant guidance, confusion and vacillation were the hallmarks on the Pandava side even when they knew that they had always abided by Dharma. 

In contrast, the Kauravas were representatives of unqualified evil. Bhagavan Veda Vyasa describes Duryodhana as an incarnation of Kali-Purusha and Shakuni as the incarnation of Dvapara-Purusha. In DVG’s memorable words:

Duryodhana, born out of Gandhari’s womb is an aspect of Kali-Purusha. He has no tolerance. He is strong, valorous, and an obstinate person who listens to no one… Kali-Purusha is an embodiment of jealousy… The chief defect in Duryodhana is spite. Jealousy is at the root of all his thoughts and endeavours… it alone was enough to wipe out all of his great power and enormous wealth. That indeed, is the element of Kali… Shakuni is the incarnation of Dvāpara-Purusha. Dvāpara means gambling, and deceit is the mindset of gambling, and the implement of gambling is the dice… And now, the same deity of deceit stood in support of Duryodhana, the embodiment of Kali. This is but natural.   

Thus, both uncle and nephew had no confusion as to what they were doing. Both took pride and sadistic pleasure in inflicting wanton humiliation upon the Pandavas. Both perverted the meaning of Dharma to justify their wrongdoing. But they got away with it at a pivotal juncture because of Yudhishtira’s fatal confusion regarding the real nature and essence of Dharma. Fabled as Dharmaraja, Yudhishtira was a blighted literalist of Dharma. He understood only the Sthiti of Dharma but not its Gati — i.e., he was unclear about the static and the dynamic elements of Dharma. Nothing else explains why he accepted the invitation to the gambling match not once but twice…this, after he was conclusively beaten in the first round. His weakness for gambling and an exaggerated sense of his own infallibility at the dice game was the real source of his downfall. It made him interpret Duryodhana’s poison-tipped invitation to gambling as a discharge of his Raja Dharma. It also made him forget that Raja Dharma is a mere subset of Dharma. The ill-fated gambling match was the practical demonstration of Yudhishtira abandoning Dharma itself. The price was self-inflicted slavery and the public disrobing of his own wife. The loss of his kingdom and the rest are secondary losses in comparison.

Duryodhana is the original progenitor of the archetypal depraved Indian politician of today. Instead of emulating Yudhishtira’s manifold virtues, he targets his weakness and drags him down to his basal level by corrupting him just once. And at that nadir, it naturally becomes impossible for Yudhishtira to beat his cousin, and loses everything. This episode is also the one-line analysis of seven decades of Indian democracy: corroding the country by corrupting the voter.   

Thus, what Yudhishtira had lost in gambling had to be recovered by fighting a cataclysmic war. A war that was forced by Duryodhana. 

The events leading up to this final confrontation form the contents of the Udyoga Parva. 

— 2 — 

INDEED, THE WHOLE OF UDYOGA PARVA is an encyclopaedic manual of statecraft, diplomacy, ethics, ideals, values and hard-nosed pragmatism. One of its resplendent jewels is the fabled Vidura-niti. The Udyoga Parva provides the clearest exposition of Dharma-Yuddha or the righteous war that must be fought and won. It is also the best rebuttal to the woolly-headed and hypocritical purveyors of the perfidy that all war is bad.          

Reading and contemplating on the Udyoga Parva is an urgent imperative for the contemporary Hindu society. It is a phenomenal spine-strengthening exercise. The Sri Krishna that we witness here is the Krishna that today’s Hindus must really worship. It is here that Krishna sculpts the ultimate victory of the Kurukshetra war using the hammer and chisel of his shrewd diplomacy and unswerving conviction in Dharma. It is diplomacy sans weakness. It is conviction sans compromise. Confusion is the father of compromise. Conviction is the mother of Dharma. 

A powerful episode illustrates this. It occurs in Duryodhana’s mansion, opulently decked up to lure and beguile Sri Krishna, now the envoy of the Pandavas. An extensive feast has been arranged. Ever smiling, Krishna politely refuses to eat. But Duryodhana, the hardened deceiver is persistent in his phoney politeness. Sri Krishna is equally persistent in his refusal. Finally, he reveals the real reason: “I will never abandon Dharma for any reason be it desire, greed, enmity, suspicion or wealth. O Son of Dhritarashtra, a person will eat another person’s food for two reasons only. One, if he has absolutely no means of survival. Two, if he has genuine affection for that person. O King! You are not dear to me. And I am not in dire straits. Your food has been tainted by your heinousness and is therefore unpalatable to me.” 

This is the uncompromising spirit that the Hindu society has abandoned or forgotten over the centuries for various reasons. The spirit of unambiguously recognising evil for what it is and telling it to its face. This is the spirit that informed fiery Hindu heroes like Maharana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji.  

Sri Krishna exits Duryodhana’s palace of vice and sin and proceeds to Vidura’s modest home to have his meals. The sublime genius of Veda Vyasa describes Vidura’s food using two profound adjectives: Śuci (hygienic, pure) and guṇavanti (meritorious, virtuous). 

Vidura. Used by Dhritarashtra like a washcloth to assuage his permanent guilty conscience. 

Vidura. Shunned by Duryodhana’s evil cabal which never fails to remind him of his low status. 

Vidura. Dear to Sri Krishna. 

To be continued 

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