Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mahabharata/Jaya - Appointment of the Generals/Commander in Chief

“I will not fight with Shikandi who was not born as a man but became a man later in his life. Other than Shikandi, I will also not kill the Pandavas. They are as dear to me as you. I will kill 10,000 soldiers of their camp. Like this, I will ensure that the victory is yours”. Thus spoke Bhishma to Duryodhana and the other assembled king at the Kouravas’ camp.

The war preparations were on. Cavalries and chariots were now marching to Kurukshetra (the place where war will be fought). Duryodhana and his advisors thought apt to choose Bhishma as the General of their army.

The Pandavas to have a discussion. The twins are of the suggestion that it should be the old and strong King Virata or King Drupada. Arjuna opines Dhristadhyumna while Bhima suggests Shikandi. Then Yuddhistira decides on Dhristadhyumna as the general.

This selection is in ways a subtle hint. Bhishma stands for whatever is old and dying while Dhristadhyumna stands for new and change. Also, as you see Kauravas have to change the Generals over the course of the war while Dhrisadhyumna guides the Pandavas till the end. It is a clear case of old having to go for the new. That is nature, that is the law of life.

While Duryodhana’s selection of Bhishma is like a conspiracy. With Bhishma as the general, any other king/s who had any doubts about Dharma would believe that Kouravas are right. It will also give them the confidence that victory is sure with the general who has the boon of death by wish. For the Pandavas, it was just a proper war strategy. Dhristadhyumna was a student of Drona and was destined to be the killer of Drona. Dhristadhyumna was young, agile and adept at the use of vyuhas (formations).

In the Kaurava camp, Bhishma is consecrated as the General as per the rituals prescribed. After that, in the assembled place, Duryodhana requests Bhishma to state and explain the strength of both the camps.
Bhishma recounts all the Maharathas and Athirathas in the Kauravas camp. But he specifically insults Karna as not even a ratha. Bhishma states, “This friend of yours is harsh and boastful. I don’t consider him to be a ratha. He always runs from a duel. He has also given away his Kavach Kundal. He is cursed by my Guru (Parshuram) and also by the Bhramana. If I am to be the General, then he will not fight”. Karna too responds, “I will not fight as long as Bhishma is alive”.

Then Bhishma goes about recounting the strengths of Pandava army. For Karna, it looks like he is deliberately stating their strengths in a way which will create fear in the minds of the assembled kings of the war.

Ramayana and Mahabharata is referred to be as “Itihasa” which translates into “As it happened” or “Thus it happened”. The elaborate introduction of the kings and the strength of cavalry is an apt way of recording history. It is said that there were always appointed individuals who had to record the history of a kingdom. Most of them used to be “Suta” loosely translated as charioteer. Suta had a very special place in the society. They were not exactly Shudras or Vaishyas and neither Kshatriyas. Sanjaya who was the charioteer of King Dhritharashtra accompanied him till the death of the latter. Narrations have orated through him many times during the epic. It looks like he was the appointed individual for tracking the history of this kingdom. Vyasa (as the name suggest) would have compiled all the events to bring up the first original Mahabharata. As is with any mythology, folklores and other creative imaginations were then added onto it through generations. No one knows the real Mahabharata or its length. Yet, we assume the one which we have collected has been completely authored by Vyasa.

Bhishma signs off his account as mentioned in the first sentence of the post. Duryodhana accepts his decision of not killing thePandava after putting in some resistance. He knew that if he does not accept it then Bhishma will be relieved of his vow and join the Pandava camp. This will spread panic in the Kaurava camp. Also, he does not stand up for his friend Karna when his great-grandsire was insulting Karna.

Till now, we could have assumed that Duryodhana was just a fool who was being swayed by Shakuni. It is during the war that we see his full personality. His ego-management as far as Bhishma, Drona, Karna and Shalya shows him to be an able leader who could get together different people together to attain his objective. He fails in this objective is a different matter. But he was a strong leader and only if not for his strong hatred for Pandavas, he could have been a deserving ruler.

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