Monday, August 28, 2006

The Mahabharata - Shakuni

Yesterday was Mahabharata day, of course. I found a website that lists all 94 episodes of this series, with a little synopsis for each. It turns out we are up to episode 52, and to my great surprise, I discovered that we didn't really miss very much at the beginning, only 4 or 5 episodes. We didn't see the early story of Bishma, and came in just as Pandu was married and cursed. I guess we've been watching it for about a year now, though it doesn't seem that long.

Anyway, yesterday's episode had Shakuni (Uncle Sneaky) in it. Any episode with him is a good one - he's an interesting character, and we like the actor playing him. Dean also likes Vidur, the Prime Minister - so many of the figures are half-gods or related to the gods, it's nice to find some downright human people. Personally, I think the actor who plays Vidur is a dead ringer for Eugene Levy. IMDb has a very incomplete cast list; next week I'll have to write down the names of the actors in the end credits and do some updating.

This episode had a great scene where the Sage Duravasa is visiting Hastinapura with his entourage of holy men, and Shakuni has roped Duryodhana into helping him serve them rice. Of course, Duryodhana has all the patience of a boiling kettle, so he grabs his uncle and tells him, "Listen, get rid of these sages or I'll..." and Shakuni quickly tries to shut him up, but it's too late. Duravasa has heard the complaints, and is on the point of leaving in a huff when Shakuni manages to smooth things over.

I love this character, because he's so recognizable. He isn't a religious man - he doesn't really honour the sages for their enlightenment. In fact, he thinks it's pretty much bunk. But he doesn't believe in unnecessarily alienating them. In a past episode, when Duryodhana was complaining about the holy men and their influence on his father, Shakuni quickly told him off. "You're wrong! They're simple folk - honour them, be respectful, listen to what they advise. You don't have to DO it." He reminds me a bit of Thomas Jefferson; HE can see through all this religion nonsense, but he recognizes that it's useful for keeping order in society, and it doesn't pay to make enemies among the believers. Just pay lip service, and go ahead and do whatever you want to do.

At the same time, he's a touch superstitious - he's worried that if Duravasa is offended, he'll curse Duryodhana, and that's a risk he doesn't want to take. Just in case; you never know, it's just good policy to keep these holy men sweet, because they might surprise you. Anyway, it's delightful to see him cringing and flattering this cranky old rishi, pretending that it's a great honour to be serving him and his followers rice, while Duryodhana fumes at the indignity.

In this episode, we also saw Krishna telling the Pandavas that war is inevitable, and the should start preparing. If you try, you can relate this to what's happening today; Dhritarashtra had many chances to defuse the hostility between his son and the Pandavas, but he was weak, and shrunk from outright conflict because he wanted to protect Duryodhana. Because he forbade war earlier on, now there will be a much worse war, that will involve everyone and threaten to destroy the world. And now even the gods are becoming involved. This reminds me of the way the West keeps shrinking from the battle with Islam, and settles for unsatisfactory deals and settlements because we want peace at all costs. The result is that war will be inevitable, and it will be much worse than it would have been had things been stopped at an earlier stage. It's not a new story.

Even the disgrace of Draupadi is like the rise of anti-Semitism in the world; all the great men, the wise ones, the enlightened, are standing by silent, passive and embarrassed, like Bhisma, Drona and Kripa, as evil tramples good. Afterwards, they torment themselves with the questions, "Why did we just sit there? Why didn't we act? How could we let something so terrible happen right before us and do nothing?" But they did. And that failure at the moment of test brings terrible consequences.

As they say, Whatever is not in the Mahabharata does not exist in this world.


Blogger multisubj yb said...

I appreciate your analysis. How did you find time to write so much and so well?

8:59 am  

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