CFFC: An Eye on the Window

Ready for a peek through the window or at the window? Let’s take the bus first 🙂

bus

There’s something about mountains and water – I am irresistibly drawn to them. This is taken from the window of a bus.

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Traveling by car, we stopped at this roadside restaurant at an unearthly hour. Windows were being washed – doesn’t it look as if the water is washing away the colors of the flowers too?

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This is a double window view – through the (transparent) window of the dining hall and of the reflective windows. Let’s hop on to a flight now 😉

To see another type of window – the gorgeous stained windows at St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague.

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A typical small town railway station – Deoli perhaps? 😀

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A glimpse of the kanwariyas from the train window. Kanwariyas are devotees of Lord Shiva who undertake this annual pilgrimage to fetch holy water from the Ganga to bathe the Lord who resides in their hometowns. If you look carefully, you can make out a colorful and decorated ‘burden’ on the shoulder of the devotees. That’s the kanwar – a pole, usually bamboo, with two pots hanging on each side for ease of carrying.

There is an interesting  story behind this custom – I find Indian mythology fascinating and can’t get enough of it 🙂

Briefly, once, the Devas and Asuras (supernatural beings who represent good and bad respectively and are incidentally half-brothers i.e share the same father and mothers are sisters – all this happened when the earth had just begun to be populated) joined hands to churn the ocean to extract its hidden treasures, including Amrit or ambrosia. [On a side note, the churning of the ocean is believed to represent the process of self-analysis to enable oneself to move from the darkness of ignorance to the light of self-realization. Only when we overcome the mental poisons (of anger, greed, lust, ego) that pollute our psyche can we reach the real treasures that lie within us – and that self-realization is equivalent to Amrit.]

Anyway, coming back to the topic, when the sea was churned (another captivating story!), the first to be released was poison, which threatened to destroy the three worlds. Lord Shiva (God of the gods),stepped in. He drank the poison to save the world. But he didn’t swallow it. Instead, he held the poison in his throat, which turned blue – and hence Shiva is also known as Neelkanth or the Blue-throated One.

So powerful was the poison that even the Shiva was not unaffected. To ease His pain, the ten-headed Asura King Ravan (the primary villain of the epic Ramayana), Shiva’s greatest devotee, brought water from the holy Ganga on a kanwar to cool the Lord’s brow. Since then, every year devotees of Shiva walk hundreds of kilometers to bring water from the holy Ganga to anoint Shiva’s resident idol in their respective hometowns.

I do have a bit of a doubt though – Lord Shiva holds Ganga in his locks and is called Gangadhar so why would He need water from Ganga? I think Ravan just wanted to show off his devotion and concern to Shiva 😀

Oops that wasn’t very brief was it?

Hope you enjoyed looking through the window, have a look at Cee’s Challenge for some stunning photos.

The Bhishma Perspective

Ever since my Amar Chitra Katha days, I have been a diehard fan of Bhishma, the ageless grand old man of the Mahabharata.

The image of the handsome young Debabrata standing tall and proud as he stood there taking his ‘terrible’ oath (though I must admit that as an 8-year old I couldn’t quite comprehend the terribleness of the oath) forcing the gods shower him with flowers and bless him with death at his convenience is permanently etched in my mind’s eye.

Side note: Just in case any of you is not familiar with the terrible oath of Debabrata – never to marry and lifelong service to the throne and whoever sat on it. It is because of this oath that he was henceforth known as Bhishma –terrible or dreadful.

Bhishma’s marksmanship, his victories on the battlefield, his unfaltering dedication to the throne of Hastinapur, his upright moral character, his steadfastness (he refused to give up his oath and marry even when his step-mother Satyavati, who instigated him to take oath, begged him) really wowed me. I couldn’t help but think here was the ideal man – one who followed his self-defined path of dharma and righteousness regardless of any sort of extraneous pressure.

Amba – I faltered. Poor thing to be left alone rejected by one and all for no fault of hers – but I recovered quickly. How dare she vow to kill Bhishma! What was his fault? Why did she curse him? Salwa was the one who put his ego before his love while Bhishma was only following his true path, his vow, how could she expect him to marry her? No, no she didn’t deserve my sympathy. I turned my back on Amba and stared starry-eyed at my hero Bhishma.

A quick recap for those not tuned into the Amba–Bhishma saga: Bhishma, on the orders of his stepmother, duly went on a quest to procure a wife for his half-brother, the young (and not so healthy) king Vichitravirya. He abducted princesses Amba, Ambika and Ambalika of Kashi from their swayamvara. Salwa, who loved Amba, attempted to stop Bhishma but was roundly trounced. Later, when Amba confessed her feelings for Salwa, Bhishma generously sent her back to Salwa. But Salwa, reeling from the bitter blow to his ego, rejected Amba. Upset and disgraced, Amba demanded that Bhishma marry her. But how could he? He was oath-bound. Enraged and humiliated, Amba vowed she wouldn’t rest until she avenged herself against Bhishma. But then, even the mighty Parashuram (avatar of Lord Vishnu) couldn’t defeat Bhishma.

How cool was that! I fell deeper and deeper into hero-worship – I marveled at the way he stood rock steady as things became messy and complicated between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Never once did he falter or deviate from his proclaimed path to remain true to the one who sat on throne of Hastinapur. My heart broke for him when his oath bound him and gagged him. What else could he do but watch while Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas was insulted, humiliated and disrobed in full public view? How painful was his predicament, his curse – the price he had to pay for his greatness.

There was no let up for him – he could only watch in helpless agony from his bed of arrows as his kith and kin were slaughtered on the battlefield. But duty was duty, he hung on grimly till the very bitter end, even though taking advantage of his boon of ‘death at will’ he could have chosen to give all the suffering pain and misery an easy miss. But he chose not to. How much greater could anyone be?

Hungry for more, I switched from the written word to the audio-visual mode – Mahabharata, the tele-serial that brought India to a mesmerized standstill every Sunday morning. Bhishma was just as great as I had pictured him to be. I watched the scenes unfold with bated breath and unblinking attention. Until the Draupadi disrobing episode.

Wide-eyed, I watched the publicly humiliated Draupadi scream, rave and rant, and horror of horrors, even accuse Grand old Bhishma of being an unmanly, unrighteous, cowardly stooge to the throne of Hastinapur.

Worse, Bhishma just sat there, head bowed, defenseless.

There was no denying it – my idol had feet of clay. He had no sense of right or wrong! He was just a rule follower. And for all his ‘greatness’, he had no power or guts to even call a spade a spade. His duty was to the throne and the one who sat on it – Dhritarashtra. So why didn’t he pull up Duryodhana or put a stop to the game when it was being played out? What was his loyalty to the son of the king?

The ill-fated game of dice was a well-publicized event and it was apparently an open secret that cheating was going on – yet Bhishma didn’t say anything. Not even to Yudhishtir, who surely would not have disobeyed his revered grandfather and desisted from playing?

When Yudhishtir staked his brothers or himself, Bhishma could have cited ‘rules’ and said that one who has lost himself had also lost the right to put his wife as stake?

The silence of the stalwarts of kingdom of Hastinapur – Bhishma, Dronacharya, Kripacharya is not only inexplicable but also untenable. Only a deep-rooted fear of being banished from the kingdom and losing their rights as favored members of the court could explain their behavior. Or is there something I am missing?

I sincerely hope so!

But that is not all – Bhishma was the one who chose (or rather ‘won’) Gandhari as Dhritarashtra’s wife (with disastrous consequences). Seeing Bhishma’s mighty army, Subala, the king of Gandhara had no choice but agree to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to the blind stand-in king of Hastinapur. In fact there are stories of Gandhara being attacked by Bhishma with the imprisonment of King Subala and his 100 sons – all died, except Shakuni who swore revenge against Bhishma for the injustice meted to his beloved sister Gandhari.

That brings me to some terrible questions (and dreadful answers) – could Bhishma be the root cause of the bloody battle of Kurukshetra? Could he have prevented the mindless massacre of his kinsmen?

And dare I say it – was it a subconscious (or conscious) plan on his part to destroy the very clan that forced him into celibacy and relinquish his right to the throne of Hastinapur?

Thoughts anyone?

Ahh well – here’s picnic update Chapter 44 and Calvin (and Hobbes!)

A few (more) thoughts for the day

“A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.” ― Robertson Davies

“Sometimes your light shines so bright that it blinds people from seeing who you really are.” ― Shannon L. Alder

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, “What else could this mean?” ― Shannon L. Alder

Until next time 🙂

And just in case anyone is interested, the Blog Index

What if?

Stories have enthralled me ever since I can remember. And for me, the Mahabharata has always been the best treasure house of collected short stories woven into one of the most fascinating stories ever. I have never passed up an opportunity to read yet another version. I seem to never tire of the Mahabharata, besides, there is always some new angle, new story or the other. No wonder, Ved Vyaas worked in that clause in response to Ganesh’s condition… What? You don’t have any idea what I am talking about?

Tsk tsk, I simply must narrate it to you at the cost of digressing from the topic at hand.

Legend has it that sage Ved Vyaas wanted a writer to pen down the epic as it flowed out from his lips. He appealed to the gods for help, who directed him to the elephant headed god Sri Ganesh, who agreed but on one condition. Ved Vyaas couldn’t stop his dictation.

Ved Vyaas agreed but on a counter condition – that Ganesh wouldn’t write down anything until he had understood it completely. Ganesh agreed and the task of writing down the Mahabharata began. When Ved Vyaas wished to take a break, he would pause at a point that offered numerous interpretations and connotations. Ganesh would be left pondering on the implications while Ved Vyaas ate, bathed or even slept. If that isn’t cool what is!

Oh and while I am at it – do you know why Sri Ganesh has a broken tusk? Once while Ved Vyaas was dictating, Ganesh’s quill broke, since he couldn’t break his own condition of non-stop dictation, he simply broke off a part of his tusk and continued writing!

Of course there are other versions as well.

But coming back to the topic, over the years, although my fascination with the Mahabharata hasn’t dimmed, but my focus has shifted from the story and the circumstances to the characters themselves. Each is a finely crafted, layered and compelling case in point.

Let’s take Gandhari for instance. She has often been portrayed as the ultimate self-sacrificing wife, who voluntarily shunned eyesight just because her husband Dhritadashtra was blind. If my better half cannot see, as a compassionate and devoted companion, I too should not see was apparently her mantra. At least that is how I have always viewed her.

But of late, I cannot help but wonder if she wore her blindfold as a mark of protest against her forced marriage to a blind king. Did she hold a covert (nonetheless bitter) grudge at not being the Queen of Hastinapur despite being the wife of the eldest son of the Kuru clan? When Kunti’s son was born before hers, she was upset enough to pound her abdomen in frustration at having lost the chance to be Queen mother as well.

Was her blindfold real or metaphorical? Could her blindfold symbolize her turning a blind eye to her brother Shakuni’s evil machinations? Didn’t she, by her passivity, enable Shakuni, her brother, to fulfill his vow to destroy the Kuru clan?

Gandhari had no choice but to marry Dhritadashtra. But she never let the world (or herself) forget the injustice done to her. By wearing the blindfold she succeeded in constantly reminding the world of her silent protest (at great cost to herself), her pathetic condition, her great sacrifice. But in reality, was she the real villain of Mahabharata – acting behind a façade of goodness and forbearance whilst allowing the Kuru clan to hurtle towards its inevitable destruction.

Quite the classic case of cutting of one’s nose to spite one’s face.

But was it worth it? Did she gain more than she lost? Did she ever visualize the consequences of her desire for retribution at all cost – death and destruction of her one hundred sons? Given another chance, would she have done it again? Yet how else could she have registered her protest?

What if she had not deliberately closed her eyes? Would the story of Mahabharata been different?

Questions, questions…Answers anyone?

Before you, do have go a look at Chapter 39 and in case you have missed the previous post, you can find it in the Blog IndexCalvin doesnt need any invitation does he?

 

Thought for the day

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
Carrie Fisher