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ISSN: 0974-892X


January, 2023



The Struggle over Righteousness - Dharma in S.L. Bhyrappa’s Novel Parva- a Tale of War, Peace, Love, Death, God and Man

Dr. Prasanna Deshpande, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Fergusson College, Pune



‘What is righteousness?’ is a question which does not have one answer. The quest for an answer to this question, which is acceptable to all, forms the base of the self-knowledge and the knowledge of the society of which we are a part. The uniqueness of every individual’s experiences of life accentuates a particular value or view about those experiences. It makes us understand ourselves, our life and the world. What a human being experiences in life forms his or her understanding of what is right to do in a particular situation. The formation of one’s values of life largely happens as a result of the communication and interaction with one’s own surroundings. Personal thought process and cultural understanding are vitally influenced by these social transactions. One’s own choices in life, decisions, actions, talks, and thoughts, feelings and the manifestation, materialization of them all, are always and permanently haunted by the concerns over righteousness. The issue most commonly faced by us, in this regard, is the issue of correspondence between what is right for one and what is right for all or what is right now and what is right always. A cumulative understanding of identity, individuality and temporality-the times one belongs to and the spatial position-the place one is located at, the society, the culture, the people and the family that we belong to-help us form the ‘sense of righteousness’. Individual thinking is not necessarily in contradiction with the consciousness of a society or civilization as a whole. One understands one’s own and others’ life, character, nature, personality, actions, choices and decisions; questions, challenges or agrees upon, supports or rejects, with regards to the prevalent discourse of righteousness. This prevalent idea of righteousness in a particular age, of a particular region is understood, responded to, reacted against or acted upon through communication of social consciousness, through introspection and through the interaction with society.

Righteousness is Dharma

Factors like religion and Dharma, social institutions, family institutions, knowledge systems, education, faith, value system, cultural philosophies and belief systems, contribute vitally in the propagation and perpetuation of the sense of righteousness and sagacity. In most ancient civilizations of the world these factors fashioned and nurtured the sense of righteousness with regards to their respective dispositions and approaches to human life and the world. To mention a few, the ancient civilizations like Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Chinese and the Indus Valley civilization, popularly known as Sindhu Sanskriti in Indian languages, became the cultural inventories of the successive generations in their corresponding regions. These cultural inventories sourced the artistic, aesthetic expressions of the humans through their creative faculty. Thus, was created language and literature, shapes and drawing, colours and painting, sound and music, movements and dance. These aesthetic, artistic, creative manifestations of human experiences and imaginations drew a lot from the life, society and culture prevalent in different periods of human history and at different regions of the human world. These creations could not be believed to have happened in isolation from the myriad aspects of human life being felt, thought over, contemplated over and cognised by those who put them into effect. A perpetual exchange between the world without and the world within, between the outer, physical world and the inner, spiritual world, between the self and the world formulates certain directives for human conduct, behaviour, actions, choices, decisions and the whole way of life. The artistic, intellectual verisimilitude sourcing from the cultural inventories of civilizational consciousness settles the understanding and practice of righteousness.

Traditionally, the practice of religion and culture of worship, spirituality and divine philosophies in different faith systems have exerted an influence on what different societies in the world held supreme as ‘righteousness’. In the culturally pluralistic, multicultural, polytheist society of India, this ‘sense of righteousness’ emanates from the diverse ways of life. These ways of life and the overall cultural milieu are so dynamic and different in nature that each single cultural identity or thought often probes into every other cultural thought, idea or practice.  This probing often takes the form of an interactive, argumentative and dialogic form of dialectical examination of issues and ideas. The cultural struggle owing to the dialectical nature of the moral laws of behaviour and actions, the personal and social understanding of the ‘righteous’ conduct occupies a significant position in the narratives of S.L. Bhyrappa’s novels. This sense of righteousness becomes a complex psychological, philosophical concern on account of the continual contemplations of the major characters in the novels selected for the study. In Bhyrappa’s novels, since the characters, situation, plot, narrative and the overall cultural milieu are strictly Indian, the present discussion demands some explanation on the respective meanings of and distinctions between ‘religion’, the word in English, which is used conventionally to describe the discourse of moral law that monitors the sense of righteousness in all the societies in the world; and the word in Sanskrit, ‘Dharma’ which nourishes the diverse cultural ethos and value systems of India. The researcher proposes to differ from the conventional usage of the word ‘religion’ being applied to the consciousness that forms the sense of righteousness for the major characters in the novels. The intellectual, philosophical deliberations and reflections made by the characters in Bhyrappa’s novels can be identified with those of the general population in India that experiences a similar outlook towards life. These complex concerns over righteousness as felt and expressed by the major characters in the selected novels can be identified as the contemplative, introspective and persuasive stirring of ideas and thoughts related to ‘righteousness’ as prompted by the empirical, experiential significance of the word ‘Dharma’ more than as the signifying examples of the word ‘religion’.

 Righteousness in Parva

Parva’ is the realistic rendering of the great Epic Mahabharata. The ethos of the Mahabharata epic is integral to the ethos of India. In the various renderings of the Mahabharata brought out in different periods of history, the fundamental aspect of its cultural ‘rootedness’, binds all these versions with a common string. The Mahabharata is the most ancient literary work with a prodigious modern and contemporary significance with regards to the Indian society in different periods. The work represents life and culture of India in all its periods of history with clarity and precision. It is difficult to tell whether the epic is a reflection of India or the India of bygone times with its entire people living with a distinctive culture of their own is a reflection of the life and its milieu presented into the epic. It is this aspect of perennial social and cultural relevance of the epic that has inspired a galaxy of authors in different periods in and out of India to extract their own perspective of the Mahabharata. There is literally a God’s plenty in it so much so that each mind that engages itself with the epic is likely to produce his or her logical rendering of the same work in a unique way and still retain an allegiance to the original.

The novel Parva is a realistic adaptation of the Mahabharata. S.L Bhyrappa has marvellously maintained the mastery of adhering to the epic real in terms of its thematic, philosophical ethos and yet offering a very humane, philosophically replete, realistic, true-to-life representation of the original epic. In addition to the other merits of this novel like detailing of characterization through their revealing monologues, philosophical background to the great war, the point of views behind every action and decision of every character, the overall progression of the plot with the war as its central motif, all these aspects grant the novel the status of an incomparable creation in literature. As the subtitle of the novel ‘Parva’ suggests, it is a Tale of War, Peace, Love, Death, God and Man.  It brings out the innumerable aspects of human life with all its dynamism. There is nothing in the human world that is not found in Mahabharata and there is nothing that the epic contains which cannot be found in the human world. It is an account of an age, a period and a civilization in its entirety of the narrative.

The Great War fought on the battlefield of Kurukshetra between the Kauravas and the Pandavas is the central motif, the most significant action in the novel Parva. Bhyrappa foregrounds this happening of the war emphatically in his novel. Through the successive narratives presented in the form of monologues of the Madra King, Salya, Pandava’s mother- Kunti, Bheema, Draupadi, Arjuna, Yuyudhana, Karna, Bhishma and Dronacharya- the centrality of the war is maintained with absolute details. The final part is the narration of the actual war. The concerns of the either parties pitted against one another to fight this war are fundamentally the concerns over ‘righteousness’. Righteousness or one’s own ‘Dharma’- the guiding principles or the moral laws held by one person or one group differ sharply from those of another. This diversity of views about righteousness results into a collision, a confrontation, a struggle of culture in the society of which these humans are a part. This struggle is carried out, is executed in the form of a dialectical approach, an interactively analytical examination of the truth about the particular issue. Bhyrappa’s emphasis on the issue of righteousness as the most fundamental cause of the war is so concretely presented that it drives us to form a perspective about the war as the ‘War of Righteousness’. This war of righteousness is fought on the fields as well as in the minds of all those who actually fight on the field and also those who do not. Such are the complexities of the values of righteousness as presented in the novel ‘Parva’ that no one can claim non-partisanship on his or her part. The massive churning of thoughts, principles, values and views between two or more rival parties, communities, societies or individuals and between the contesting, dialectical views about the most righteous choice to be made, creates a situation of cultural struggle undertaken in order to be in union with the reality.

The Conflict of Loyalty

The novel opens with a comprehensive narrative of the Madra King, Salya, the patriarch, the brother of Madri-the second wife of Pandu, the mother of Nakula and Sahadeva, two of the five brothers identified as Pandavas. Salya represents the older generation of the Mahabharata times. We see that this octogenarian king is agitated over the issue of the Great War. The concerns of righteousness in this regard haunt him continually. The cause and situations that made the war so imminent are summed up in the following account of Rukmartha, Salya’s son. He reports to his father that Duryodhana, the son of Dhritrashtra has refused to return the kingdom to the Pandavas who have come back after twelve years of stay in forest and one year of incognito life. There was a dispute of progeny between Dhritrashtra and his brother Pandu. Duryodhana argued that the five Pandavas were not born to Pandu. Their mothers conceived and delivered them after an intercourse with utter strangers. Rukmartha presents Duryodhana’s view that only he and his thirteen brothers and one sister are born to Dhritrashtra and Gandhari, thus, they are the legitimate successors of the throne of Hastinavati and the lineage of the Kuru clan. This contention between the Kauravas and the Pandavas has now become intense and hence the war is inevitable. After listening to this report of the state of affairs, Salya, the old Madra King loses his calm and he criticises Duryodhana for his lack of discretion. He maintains that although the Pandavas were not born to Pandu, although their mother conceived them from different men, their birth is not illegitimate. He adds that their birth occurred as a result of a wilful consent of Pandu for their birth through the practice of Niyoga’. The Niyoga practice sanctioned the birth of a child through the intercourse between a man and a woman on the husband’s consent in case of the infertility of the husband and solely in the interest of consistency of the clan as the supreme duty of a householder. Salya proceeds that it was Pandu himself who ordered his wives to practise Niyoga in order to perpetuate the lineage. This was done according to the established moral code of the times. This was done to keep up with the ultimate duty of a family, namely, of ‘perpetuation of the clan.’ Salya strongly claims that in order to keep up with the commitment of perpetuation of lineage, the practice of Niyoga is sanctioned by the Dharma or the convention of righteousness. He further adds that Duryodhana’s father Dhritrashtra and Pandava’s father Pandu, both were born in consonance with the same practice. Hence, Salya does not find a violation of righteousness or violation of Dharma in the claim made by the Pandavas that they are the legitimate heirs of the throne of Hastinavati. Hence, Salya makes it clear that if the war happens, he will support the Pandavas because their stand is righteous while Duryodhana, in his view, is blinded by selfishness, egoism and ambition.

While Salya finds that the Pandava’s demand of their kingdom is legitimate for they are the legitimate descendants of the Kuru lineage, his own son Rukmartha is rather inclined to second the view of Duryodhana. The changing social, cultural values are seen clearly at a point of collision. The moral principles of the older generation are discarded by their own children. Rukmartha finds that Duryodhana’s claim is righteous as against the view of the Pandavas. He believes that posterity cannot be determined by faith and convention. Hence, in the war, after his support would be solicited by both the contesting parties, Rukmartha wants to extend his support to Duryodhana because in his view, this would be a righteous choice on his part. He also thinks that his father is viewing the situation sentimentally because Madri, his sister was wedded to Pandu. It is his love for his sister and her sons which does not allow him to be with the righteous party, that is, the Kauravas. He also finds serious faults with his father’s inclination to the Pandavas considering his ignorance of the sin of polyandry committed by the wife of Pandavas. He considers this practice as a regressive convention, a primitive and uncivilized act on the part of the Pandavas. When he questions his father about this, even his father fails to offer a convincing answer. He barely tells his son that it is because the wisest of the wise men like Bhishma and Dronacharya found nothing wrong in approving this marriage of five Pandavas with one woman; even he does not find anything wrong in it. While citing this fact even Salya is aware of the meek logic he is offering to justify his support to the Pandavas. Both, the father and the son find that they are not able to reach to a conclusion in this debate over who must they support in the Great War. This dilemma of Salya and the dialectical tension continues till the beginning of the war. Salya personally feels that the Pandavas are righteous hence he should go with them. However, his admiration of Bhishma compels him to side with the Kauravas. Ironically, towards the end, we find that Bhishma himself is confused about his own choice of staying with Duryodhana not because he agrees with Duryodhana’s rejection of the rightful demands of Pandavas but because of his loyalty to the throne of Hastinavati. Thus, the initial description of this conflict sets the dialectic tone of the cultural struggle which encompasses the entire novel.

Later in the novel, Yuyudhana, also called Satyaki, devoted to Krishna and Arjuna, is seen experiencing a mental turmoil and conflict of whom to support in the war. Yuyudhana belongs to the Yadava-Vrishni dynasty of the Yadavas in the North. Krishna’s elder cousin Balarama has already made up his mind to extend his support to Duryodhana because he finds Duryodhana’s stand against the Niyoga as quite justifiable according to the norms of Dharma. Duryodhana also meets Yuyudhana’s father, Satyaka. He advocates his cause very strongly before Satyaka and Yuyudhana. He vehemently argues that if the Niyoga had to be there, why Pandu and Kunti went to the far-off regions of the Himalayas. Why beget sons from the barbarians? He continues, if the Niyoga is practised for progeny should they have not stopped after the birth of one son? Why did they give birth to three children from Kunti and the twins through Madri through Niyoga? Hence, Duryodhana proclaims himself as the rightful heir of the Kuru lineage. He declares that if the Yadavas support him in the war, it would be an act of upholding the Dharma. Thus, the unsettling debate on the dialectical views retains its enigmatic nature for all those who are compelled to take a stand on righteousness or Dharma.

The Conflict of Progeny

The person most deeply affected by Duryodhana’s strong indictment of the Pandavas for the alleged illegitimacy of their birth is of course Kunti- the woman who has given birth to them, the mother of three of the five Pandavas. The dialectical exposition of this most central issue, the most fundamental cause of the ever growing dispute, hostility and finally the approaching war which drags almost the entire population into it, is developed further through the narrative of Kunti, the wife of the late Pandu. She is infuriated to know that Duryodhana identifies the Pandavas as ‘Kunti’s sons’, thus, disapproving the legitimacy of their royal descend. She feels that Duryodhana’s own father Dhritrastra himself was born through the Niyoga practice performed by Kunti’s mother-in-law. Kunti’s reflection over the account of Duryodhana’s spiteful remark as ‘Kunti’s sons’ leads her to recollect her past memories. She remembers her marriage with Pandu, his distancing from her due to his unexposed impotency, Kunti’s suppression of her youthful desire for physical love, her bewilderment over Pandu’s behaviour and all those awkward moments when Pandu himself would plunge into depression. She also remembers how the other members of the family started despising her as a woman with a sterile womb unable to carry a child and to continue the consistency of the clan. Her situation had become so deplorable that she could not even share her predicament with anyone. She was upset with Bhishma who was desperate for the consistency of the Kuru clan because of the delay caused in the perpetuation of the lineage and for executing the second marriage of Pandu with a hope that Madri, the second wife, will at least bear a child of Pandu. When nothing really worked, Pandu had announced his decision of going for penance to the Himalayas and staying there for some time. It was due to Kunti’s insistence that Pandu finally agreed to allow both his wives accompany him. Even after staying in the salubrious atmosphere of the forest near the Himalayas for a long time, Pandu had lost all hopes of any cure to his ailment. During their stay in the realm of Himalayas, they encountered the Devas community, the people who lived their life with a distinct culture from that of the Aryans. They were known as the original ancestors of the Aryans. One day, the servant who used to bring their grocery and other essentials from Hastinavati, brought the news that Dhritrashtra, the younger brother of Pandu, married the princess of Gandhar. The news made Pandu anxious of the future of his own progeny. He thought that if the younger brother begets sons, they will inherit the throne of Hastinavati while Pandu’s heirs, in spite of he being the eldest between the two, will be deprived of the claim of succession. He found it difficult to accept the fact that he or his decedents will lose their claim on the throne if he continues being issueless. It was during this time that Pandu had consulted Kunti for the Niyoga practice as the last measure for ensuring the lineage. The practice had a moral sanction on the condition that there would be no emotional relationship between the man who would father a child in Kunti’s womb and his wife. After a lot of persuasion, Kunti and Madri both agreed for the solution and this is how the Devas men begot three sons from Kunti and two from Madri.

The recollection of Kunti of her past and the circumstances that led to the birth of the Pandavas reveals the prevalent notion of righteousness or Dharma centred on the concerns over consistency of clan or the progeny as the greatest value of family life. The social, cultural, moral conventions of the times gave enormous importance to the lineage, succession and inheritance of the royal order. The family consciousness and family institution plays a vital role in the generation of social, domestic and cultural practices in India even today. The average population of India even in the ultramodern times today recognises this vital importance of family in their life. If we cast a glance around, we find that the general discourse of a successful and happy life rests mostly on the fulfilment of this aspiration of a ‘complete’ family experience. This attitude is so deeply ingrained into the psyche of the people of India that the state of ‘happy life’ is hardly believed to be different from the state of a ‘happy family’. Quite closely attached to the family consciousness are the issues of inheritance and legacy. The contemporary popular culture in India is not an exception to this either. If we think of this consciousness as the transferable notion from generation to generation, we find that it forms the ‘essential’ character of the people of India. Even the massively turbulent times, upheavals in the history of India and immensity of diverse cultures in different regions have not wiped out the significance of family consciousness. It is easy, then, to understand how deeply and committedly the civilizations that existed in the bygone times must be concerned about the consistency of clan and progeny. This aspect of life occupied their entire thought processes and influenced all their actions and life’s choices. No wonder that Pandu, the eldest of the two brothers, went through these social, cultural and moral pressures of progeny. The compelling order of the society prevalent in those times, the concern of righteousness of the times, the Dharma of the land and of the times drove them to adopt the practice of Niyoga to ensure the fulfilment of their sense of duty. It was this intense anxiety of claiming the succession of the royal order which made it obvious for them to beget children. However, Duryodhana vehemently opposes the very idea of Dharma being followed in the birth of the Pandavas. He conveniently neglects the fact of the birth of his own father as a result of the same practice of Niyoga. He goes on arguing that the illegitimacy of the birth of Pandavas makes their claim on the throne of Hastinavati illegitimate. He even disapproves them the status of members of the Kuru family. He rejects to return them their kingdom. This basic conflict leads to a situation of cultural struggle with all the parties advocating their reasoning as the truth.

The Matrimonial Conflict

Another equally complex issue which Bhyrappa deals with in the novel ‘Parva’ is the issue of Draupadi’s marriage with five men. Through the popular story found in the original epic we know that the marriage institution in those times rather functioned as a measure of extension of kingdom and building diplomatic ties with neighbouring kingdoms or provinces. This would be a means to secure the dominion of a particular monarch in his own kingdom. Secondly, the marriage settlement itself would happen in the form of a ceremony not less than a show off of power, valour, talent, skill and mastery into something. The ‘svayavnwara’ or the ‘contest-marriage’ tradition would require the prospective grooms, qualifying the criterion of social, ancestral status and norm of nobility, would meet the challenge set by the bride’s family, parents or herself in order to ‘win’ her as a reward of the ‘performance’ against those who lose. The sole winner in the end would marry the bride. Thus, Draupadi was won by Arjuna by exhibiting his dexterous skill of archery. He fulfils the challenge of fish contraption set by Draupadi’s father, Drupada, the King of Panchal. Soon after winning her, a clash starts between Kauravas and Pandavas and others who lost the challenge. After defeating the claims made by others a quarrel erupts among the Pandavas themselves. Bhyrappa’s absolutely realistic and non-mystifying treatment of this episode brings out the human and the ordinary disposition of all the five brothers. Each one claims Draupadi as his saying that each one of the Pandavas cannot live for oneself. There cannot be a single Pandava, meaning, they are five brothers living one life. Arjuna, Bhima, Dhrmaraja and others spit fire against one another and the dispute gets further complicated. It is only after Kunti’s intervention that the bewildered Draupadi gets an answer. In response to Draupadi’s question, ‘What is right?’ in this situation, Kunti tells Draupadi that the Devas community, from whom the Aryans have descended, have a similar tradition. Other non-Aryan communities like the Raksasas, the Nagas, the Gandharvas have many such practices which the Aryan clan may not approve of but the practice of polyandry is not forbidden in specific circumstances in the neighbouring societies. In addition to this, Kunti offers a personal and a more intimate reason to this marriage. She tells Draupadi that in order to achieve the mark of legitimacy and lineage, the Pandavas must establish themselves as the rulers of the Hastinavati. This must happen because according to the laws prevalent in those times, Pandu, the late husband of Kunti, was the elder brother of Dhritrashtra and hence the legitimate successor to the throne. Dhritrashtra became the King of Hstinavati in the absence of Pandu. Now, since, Pandu’s successors are claiming the throne, it must be returned to them. However, this could happen only if the Pandavas stay together, stick together and live together with one mind and one heart. Anything that causes rift among the brothers may give a very dangerous turn to their pursuit. The consistency of the clan and the rule of the legitimate successor will never take place. Hence, Draupadi could either make them by consenting to be the sole wife of the five brothers or break them into factions by rejecting the proposal. If Draupadi refuses to accept her condition as the wife of the five brothers, they would turn into each other’s enemies and this would be a disastrous end of Kunti’s long cherished ideal of righteousness and Dharma of posterity. This is how we find that the issue of Draupadi’s so called polyandry is addressed by Kunti.

Bhyrappa’s deft dialectical touches are clearly seen in the description of the quarrel among the brothers, Draupadis’s question to Kunti and Kunti’s response to her questions. In addition to this, Drupada, Draupadi’s father, the King of Panchal, when he asks Dharmaraja, the eldest of the Pandavas, whether this marriage of five brothers with a woman is a non- Aryan practice or not?, Dharmaraja argues back saying that he does not deny that it is a practice among the non-Aryan communities but he points out that such people, such communities are living in the kingdom of Drupada, that they are a part of the kingdom of Panchal, hence, Drupada should not object to this marriage. Drupada agrees with this argument instantly. Personally too, Drupada sees this whole proposition as politically and practically advantageous because this marriage would make his own kingdom strong through the relation with the Kuru lineage.

At a later stage, in the narrative of Arjuna, we come across with this criticism of Draupadi’s polyandry by Balarama-Krishna’s elder cousin who is opposing Arjuna’s marriage with Subhadra, Krishna’s sister. Balarama’s and Krishna’s aversion of this practice is clearly seen in the fact that when Balarama gets angry over Subhadra’s elopement with Arjuna, Krishna tries to quieten his brother’s anger by assuring him that Subhadra will not meet the same fate of being the wife of all five brothers . Krishna says,

“Let us call them back, and impose on Arjuna the condition that our sister will have him and him only as her husband. After he accepts such a condition, we shall celebrate the wedding.” (p. 317)

It is important to understand here that a panoramic view of the issue of Draupadi’s marriage with the Pandavas shows the diversity of cultural practices prevalent in the early days of the foundation of civilization. It is also not that each practice executed by each of the communities stayed in isolation from one another. In fact, these practices and their corresponding values often collided, clashed, confronted against each other. At times, this collision led to an amalgamation, an incorporation of the practice or value followed by another community. Thus, the debate on the polyandry of Draupadi does not end abruptly with a customary conclusion of its prohibition in the Aryan culture, but continues being addressed dialectically by referring to what other communities like the Devas, Nagas and Rakshasas practised in this regard. The ‘meeting-points’ of these practices often created a situation of a dialectical manner of addressing the issue in question. It shows the continual struggle to validate and pursue righteousness in everything.

The Conflict of Supremacy

Yet another incident in the novel based on one of the most significant actions, a watershed moment in the original epic Mahabharata, which causes profound reflection on the part of all the major characters on the issue of the exact meaning, nature of Dharma or righteousness is the incident of gambling episode which leads to disastrous consequences. In the novel ‘Parva, in her stream of consciousness, Draupadi thinks about the intricacies of Dhrama or righteousness pertaining to one’s own identity and position in the world. She thinks that the Kshatriya community or the warrior class has a typically traditional culture. The accepted norm for the members of royal family and the established tenets of the Kshatriya Dharma would not allow a Kshatriya to waver but to accept an invitation or challenge to play the game of dice and the challenge to fight. Any rejection to this would be considered as rudeness or cowardice and would be looked upon as the violation of the norm of righteousness for the Kshatriyas. Moreover, Dharmaraja, the eldest of the Pandavas, has a ‘weakness’ for the game of dice. It is the ‘tragic flaw’ in his character to use the concept of the Greek Tragedies. Hence, we find that in spite of Draupadi’s and his brother’s best efforts to dissuade Dharmaraja from accepting the challenge, he defies them all and goes on defending his will to accept the challenge of gamble put forward by Duryodhana. The passion for winning lures him to keep playing it until he loses everything, his rule, his kingship of Indraprastha, all his belongings, wealth and assets. Still, after he is provoked by Duryodhana’s uncle Shakuni, he stakes Draupadi, his wife, and plays his turn. To his and other Pandava’s worst dismay, he loses in the last turn and the opponent group wins Draupadi. As soon as their defeat is final, we see that Bhima scolds Dharmaraja for ruining everyone’s life for his insane passion for gambling. He sheds off the usual respect and awe of the elder brother and exposes him to the reality of predicament in which he dragged all of them due to his addiction. Arjuna, on the other hand, prefers to follow the so called Dharma in his thoughts over the situation. He rather finds faults with Bhima and asks him not to speak disrespectfully of the elder brother. The contentious nature of their respective ideas about Dharma reveals the dialectic nature of the ideas of righteousness between the two brothers. While Bhima holds that it was totally a violation of Dharma on the part of Dharmaraja to spoil everyone’s life on account of his passion for playing dice and the worst of all, to stake and lose Draupadi in the gamble, Arjuna thinks that the consequences of good or bad actions of the deeds of the eldest brothers are to be borne and faced by all is in accordance with Dharma. Their arguments over the matter halt abruptly when they see that Draupadi is pulled into the court in front of all the men like a slave woman by Dussasana, Duryodhana’s younger brother. He misbehaves with her, molests her, challenges her virtue right in the presence of all, even of the elderly members of the family and the court. Seeing the Pandavas as completely crushed having lost their moral voice to speak up against the molesters of a woman, the agonised Draupadi turns to Bhishma, the most senior, most revered member of the court, the grandfather of Kauravas and Pandavas, and one who is known for his sound knowledge of Dharma and its intricacies. She asks him poignantly about what explanation he would offer of her misery in the present situation according to the tenets of Dharma. Bhishma disappoints her merely saying that the principles of Dharma are ambiguous but his own Dharma, his own sense of righteousness does not allow him to go against the wishes of those who rule over the kingdom of Hastinavati because he is bound by his own vow to protect the interest of this kingdom even in extreme conditions. Moreover, his sense of duty as the patriarch in the dynasty compels him to be loyal to those who fend for his livelihood. He would not waver from his Dharma of being loyal to the dynasty and to the ruler of Hastinavati. That would be against ‘his Dharma’. Draupadi gets a similar reply from another revered person, Dronacharya, the guru of Kauravas and Pandavas. Finally, when she finds that no one present in the Court could protect her dignity against the lustful advancements of Dussasana and from the lewd remarks passed by Duryodhana, she threatens the malefactors by warning them of Krishna’s wrath. She cautions them saying that her cousin Krishna is no less a warrior and that he is the saviour of a sufferer. The very mention of Krishna by Draupadi scares the wrongdoers. Bhima also threatens to kill Duryodhana and his brothers in a fit of rage. The Kauravas argue that since the Pandavas have lost their kingdom, wealth and everything, they should agree to live next twelve years in forest and another year in an incognito life. Pandavas have no choice but to accept the sad fate. Thus, the gambling episode comes to a close but it opens up an unending enquiry into the issue of righteousness. Draupadi’s questions to Kunti about marrying the five brothers and Kunti’s reply to her, Draupadi’s questions to Bhishma and other elderly men in the Court about the nature of Dharma or righteousness, their inability either to give a sound response to her call for an intervention or to give a convincing reply, all these questions present a situation of an intense cultural struggle on the part of a woman, herself hard-pressed by these questions which only move forward as the dialectics of the cultural struggle.

The entire episode of the gamble, Draupadi’s humiliation, torture and molestation is a very scathing criticism of the discrepancy between the idealist perceptions of Dharma or righteousness and its real life implications. A very sound reasoning of this enigmatic question of whether rejecting the challenge to fight and gamble is against the norm of righteousness or not, is given by Krishna. When Krishna comes to know of the hideous manner in which Draupadi, his cousin was molested in the Court, he rushes to meet them in the forest a couple of months after the incident took place. In a conversation with Dhrmaraja on the position of Dharma in this regard, Krishna states that when one refuses an offer of war, the enemy may compel you to fight. You must fight then. But such a compulsion is not exercised in the invitation to gamble. The other party will not force you to gamble. Krishna continues,

“Should we surrender to the mercy of the blind rolling of the dice, our life and fortune? There is no habit more contemptible and more stupid than gambling.” (p. 255)

This dialectical situation of the intense examination of righteousness is presented as the most integral aspect of Mahabharata. Bhyrappa’s novel emphasises on this aspect as the essence of the epic. Such is the enigmatic nature of the dialectics of this cultural struggle that enquiry exceeds the conclusions. In fact, there can be no conclusion to the examination of values when the dialectics are so elusive. They become elusive because they are not bound by the usual dichotomous mode of binary logic. The dichotomy of cultural struggle between different views might only perpetuate antagonism provoked by ‘the ‘Otherness’ of another’s views or position. S.L. Bhyrappa’s delineation of the debate over righteousness shows that the cultural issues of perceptions of righteousness rather move forward as ‘dialectics’ of cultural struggle than as ‘binary’ standpoints having only two parts with a stagnant logic. The ‘binary’ logic if applied to the analysis of reality leads to a dualistic conclusion which often results into a ‘dichotomous’ understanding with irreconcilable differences. Whereas, the dialectic approach, the unsettling conclusiveness of the most fundamental question of righteousness as examined in the novel Parva adheres more to the pursuit of the truth than to the determinedness of an authoritative conclusiveness of the dominant group. Hence, we find that Duryodhana’s rejection of legitimacy of the lineage of the Pandavas, as the novelist suggests it, is prompted by his perception of a violation of the moral, cultural principles of righteousness. His doubt and denigration of Pandavas is based on his disagreement of Pandava’s view of Dharma while the Pandavas’ resistance of Duryodhana’s vilification of their stand of legitimacy is also prompted by their understanding of Dharma, of righteousness. Thus, the struggle is dialectic and exploratory moving forward with the enquiry of truth rather than as dichotomous duality and binary categories settling down with an authoritative conclusion. What then, is the conclusion of this debate over righteousness carried out by the either parties of Mahabharta, is certainly not the central concern of Bhyrappa’s novel Parva. The novelist seems to be rather grappling a greater question than that and that greater question, that higher truth could be the delineation of the dialectic churning of values of righteousness as an unending process or the pursuit of a conclusion, of the truth of the matter. It is the conclusiveness and not the conclusion of this dialectics of righteousness that matter more to the Indian consciousness than the premature termination of enquiry with a static conclusion. The luxury of ‘poetic justice’ is affordable to those who rather float on the surface but for those who dive into the fathomless depth of an idea or a thought, there is no luxury of a singular conclusion. There can be only too many approaches to reach the higher truth than one’s own perception of the reality about something. These approaches generally originate into one’s own understanding of righteousness. This plurality and diversity makes way for dialectic rather than a dichotomous examination of values. The Mahabharata times, as the novel Parva suggests, is actually an epoch or an era of changing, colliding, contesting values. That is why the title Parva, which means ‘an era’. Mahabharata is that era of most reflective and enigmatic questions faced by the mankind.



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