Culture, History, Religion

Why did Yudhishthira agree to play the game of dice?

Why did Yudhishthira agree to play the game of dice? The reason that is most often cited is that he had a weakness for the game and couldn’t resist an invite to play the game. This is often used to show Yudhishthira as a weak and gullible fool in the newer re-telling’s  of the Maha Kavya. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While it is true that Dharmaputra did have a weakness for the game on top of being unskilled at it, he however did not jump at the opportunity to match wits against someone of the caliber of Sakuni who was the undisputed master of the game and had an uncanny knack of always winning against any opponent through means fair and foul. To assist him were three brothers of Duryodhana – Vivimsati, Purumitra, and Chitrasena all three, experts at the game. It was an unequal contest with the dice loaded against Yudhishthira right from the beginning. So, why did he agree to the contest. Was it just his “lust” for the game?

A deeper reading of the Mahabharata informs us that Yudhishthira not only knew what was at stake but actually did not want to get into this game. He knew that it was sure to end in utter ruin for himself and the Pandavas but also for the entire Kuru race.

As Kisari Mohan Ganguly’s notes in his voluminous translation (into English) of the Mahabharata:

“…Yudhishthira said,–‘O Kshatta (Vidura), if we sit to a match at dice, we may quarrel. What man is there, who knowing all this, will consent to gamble? What dost thou think fit for us? We all are obedient to thy counsels.’

‘It would seem then that some of the most desperate and terrible gamblers always depending upon deceit are there. This whole universe, however, is at the will of its Maker, under the control of fate. It is not free. O learned one, I do not desire, at the command of king Dhritarashtra to engage myself in gambling.

Unwilling as I am to gamble, I will not do so, if the wicked Sakuni doth not summon me to it in the Sabha? If, however, he challengeth me, I will never refuse. For that, as settled, is my eternal vow.”

Like some brilliant body falling before the eyes, Fate depriveth us of reason, and man, tied as it were with a cord, submitteth to the sway of Providence,

Kamala Subramaniam’s Mahabharata also has this passage:

To a certain extent Yudhishthira could guess the consequences of the game of dice… He told Vidura (when he came to know who he would be up against): “The cleverest of the players have been selected. I am weak at the game, and Sakuni is a veritable wizard at throwing the dice. But, what can I do? All that happens in the World has been ordained by the Creator. What can we do when Fate has already planned the way in which events must take place? I am helpless. The King (Dhritarashtra) knows my principle that I will never disobey the commands of my elders. This Kingdom of mine does not belong to Dhritarashtra, and I am  not bound to obey him… but my uncle has sent for me; he knows that I will not disobey him even if I can afford to…”

I hate to play the game of dice knowing that it leads to evil. But it is the unwritten law that elders must be obeyed. It is also the rule among kshatriyas that one must play when one is invited to play. He must not refuse. Knowing these things, my uncle has sent for me; he knows that I will not disobey him even if I can afford to. Let fate have her way. I will accompany you to the hated city, Hastinapura.”

Further, just before this invite, Yudhishthira had conducted the Rajasuya Yagna where Sishupala was killed by Krishna. Evil omens and portents had been witnessed by all who had assembled there that day and Vyasa had confirmed to Yudhishthira that this was only the beginning and the next 14 years would be terrible for the Pandavas and that would be followed by a terrible internecine war that would cause the destruction of almost the entire Kuru race. Yudhisthira had decided then that he would do nothing to provoke anyone within the extended family in order that such an event must never come to pass. This was also on his mind

Therefore there were several reasons besides his fondness/weakness for gambling. In fact given a choice he would have rejected the invite but he could not or would not because:

  1. He would never disobey his elders
  2. Kshatriya rules dictated that he could not reject the invite without being called a coward
  3. He knew that fate and God’s will were setting the wheels in motion
  4. His desire and love for the game was the last and least of the reasons.

Game-of-dice

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Culture, Religon, Spirituality

THE BOY, THE SWAMI AND A RAINY DAY

Many many years ago a young boy ran into what was then known as the Swami Vivekananda Ashram (now called the Swami Ramakrishna Ashram) in Halasuru, Bengaluru – not because of any love for the Swami or the Hindu Dharma but because it was raining and in the long stretch connecting old Madras road and CMH road this was the one place that seemed ideal to shelter from the pouring rain.

The boy walked into the main hall where a few people were singing bhajans – it was the time for the evening aarati. He walked in and out as the bhajan did not appeal to him and instead went around the little temple and then his eyes fell on the little stone plaque embedded into the wall with the words:

“Every soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy – by one, or more, or all of these and be free.”

The boy stood transfixed staring at the words – reading and re-reading those words. It was like his feet were nailed to the ground below, unable to move. He stood there for no less than 30 minutes oblivious of the men, women, and children filing past till the time one of the young monks (who he would later come to know and respect as Shankar Maharaj) asked him what he wanted and the young boy shuffled away without a word.

For that young deracinated boy it was a homecoming, a return to his source. He has since traveled the world but he has always come back home like a bird with a string tied to its feet – reeled-in each time he crossed a threshold…

I am that boy from many many years ago. I am eternally grateful to that “Hindoo Monk” who woke me up and brought me back into the fold of the Dharma. I have never shared this before but today on the occasion of his 155th Jayanti I was instructed to share it and so I have….Please don’t ask me by whom, what, or why – some things are best left unsaid…

ॐ…

Swami vivekananda

Culture, History, Religion

HANUMAN AND HIS GREAT LEAP (SUNDARA KANDA)

hanuman-great-leap

To me this is the most important and inspirational moment in the great kavya. Without this epochal event, this magnificent leap, there would be no Ramayana, Sita would never have been rescued and Rama would surely have lost his way.

Symbolically too, as my Guru often says this is a moment that comes to everyone in his/her “Quest” and it is then that a leap such as this must be made with the strength of Shraddha and the Sankalpa of a determined will one must take the plunge – that great “Qunatum leap” into the unknown as Swami Vivekananda called it…

// Hanuman looked like a wild bull with his powerful neck stretched to the full and looking upwards. He was to achieve what no one had till then…. He saluted the Gods presiding over the quarters – Surya, Indra, Vayu, and Brahma. He then turned to the East and saluted his father, Vayu. With his mind he saluted the valiant brothers Rama and Lakshmana. He then made obeisance to the seas and to the rivers. Hanuman embraced his companions and made up his mind to set out on the memorable journey.

He shook himself and roared and it was like the rumbling of a thunder cloud. He swung his large tail in the air and the tail looked like an immense snake pulled by Garuda. He placed his two hands on the surface of the rock on which he stood. He shrunk his waist and folded his legs. He then thrust out his neck and so he stood poised for the flight into the air. He looked far and held his breath. He turned to the monkeys and said:

“I will go straight to Lanka as an arrow which is released from the bow of Rama. If I do not find Sita there I will go to the heavens and look for her there. If she is not found even there I will return to Lanka and bring Ravana with me, bound hand and foot. I will somehow return with success. I may even uproot the city and bring it with me. I WILL SUCCEED.”

Thinking that he was Garuda himself the great Hanuman jumped up with great force. Because of the speed of his course, the trees on the mountain were pulled up with their roots. With the flowering trees rushing along with him Hanuman entered the skies. The trees went with him some distance and it seemed as though they were well-wishers who went with him some distance to make the journey fruitful. The sea was now a mass of flowers from the trees which had fallen into it after accompanying the great Hanuman some distance.

Hanuman coursed through the sky like a thunder cloud driven by the air…//

– Kamala Subramniam, Valmiki Ramayana

Every time I read this a divine thrill courses down my spine. This is the determination, this is the shraddha, this is the sankalpa that each one of us needs…

अतुलितबलधामं हेमशैलाभदेहं
दनुजवनकृशानुं ज्ञानिनामग्रगण्यम् ।
सकलगुणनिधानं वानराणामधीशं
रघुपतिप्रियभक्तं वातात्मजं नमामि ॥


Image Source: https://wiralfeed.wordpress.com/2015/11/12/hanuman-fact/