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Modern Day Kurukshetra

Mahabharata is Itihas. Not because it’s history, but because it keeps repeating itself –Devdutt Pattanaik.

Mahabharata – An ancient Indian epic that has been passed down since centuries. It has probably been told to you by your grandma at some point in time, or you may have read the famous Amar Chitra Kathas on this great saga. Originally narrated as a poem in Sanskrit, it has been converted to numerous languages for our readings. It is primarily a story of the great war at Kurukshetra, between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. However, it is much more than that.

The world has changed a lot from the Mahabharata’s time. Some say it has become better, some say worse. Well, I say not much has changed. The reason why Mahabharata has lived on through the centuries is that people still relate to it in numerous ways. Mahabharata is not a story about gods and immortal beings but of normal people like you and me who commit mistakes, desire material things, and get jealous. None of the characters in Mahabharata are perfect as opposed to popular belief. Even Krishna (earthly incarnation of Bhagavan Vishnu) isn’t shown as being perfect, which is what according to me is one of the most peculiar and interesting aspects of Mahabharata.

Through this article, I would like to draw parallels between countries acting in the geopolitical scenario today and the characters in the Mahabharata. Like every character, each country has its own characteristics, its past, its strengths and weaknesses, and its own flaws and mistakes.

Disclaimer – I do not intend to be 100% factually correct. It’s an attempt to relate the modern-day Kurukshetra to the original Kurukshetra. The parallels I draw in this article are open to interpretations and differing opinions.

1. Yudhishthira – India: So, let’s start with our own country. The Dharmic king. The one who never lied. The just ruler. One cannot help but notice those same qualities in the way our country has functioned over the decades. India has always kept justness and being right over being practical and diplomatic, which is one of the reasons why we have never been the aggressors in history, Right from the Mauryan period in 322BC, it is always India (I refer to the region of modern India) that has been attacked by outsiders and not the other way around. We have always “adjusted”, been “forgiving” and “accepted” our circumstances. This is not to say that we aren’t powerful enough to defend ourselves. However, the lack of showcase of that power is the reason for us to be taken for granted in numerous instances throughout history. Yudhishthira went to play the game of dice for the second time even though he knew he was being cheated, only because he couldn’t say “no” to an invitation and it would be “morally” wrong. In the process, he lost his kingdom and had to live with his brothers and wife in exile for 13 years. Similarly, after the 1971 war, India had 90,000 prisoners of war (the most after world war II) but we did not use that to our advantage and released all of them; the result – we all know the state of our relations with Pakistan. Forget peace, they don’t even respect us as a country and take us for granted.

2. Krishna – United States of America: Krishna, the earthly incarnation of God, was a very central character in the entire saga. Just like America has been in the world saga in modern history. In fact, there have been hardly any instances of world affairs where America has not been involved, whether directly or indirectly. Also, Krishna, as we know, has always been shown as the good guy. He was god – yes. But he wasn’t perfect in any way, just like the other characters in Mahabharata. So why this pedestal for Krishna? Maybe the same question arises when we think of all the atrocities America has committed but the world still looks up to it as their savior.

The main reason for this image of USA has been its diplomacy. For example, despite absolutely destroying it in World War II, USA has Japan as one of its closest allies today. In fact, all its activities have always been marked with an image that the act is for your betterment, whereas in fact, it has always been for its own betterment. Just like it was in the case of Krishna. Before the Kurukshetra war, when Duryodhana and Arjuna came to him for choosing sides during the war, he clearly wanted to be on the Pandavas side. However, by making Arjun choose between Krishna and his army, he made it look like he was fair. Starting with World War II, it was the US that forced Japan to attack Pearl Harbour by blocking all their trade routes and thus leaving Japan with no choice but to enter the war. Thus, just like Krishna, it painted the picture of Japan being the bad guy.

During the war, there are several instances of Krishna using adharma for the “greater good”. The most prominent example is of Krishna convincing Yudhishthira to half lie in order to bring down Drona. In Vedic society, this is the worst possible crime. The Pandavas killed an unarmed Brahmin on the back of subterfuge who in their younger years was a teacher to them as well. But it had to be done for the sake of “dharma”, argues Krishna. The war in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iraq and the nuclear bombing of two Japanese cities are few of the many instances that have been justified for the greater good by Uncle Sam as Krishna justified the killing of Bhishma and Duryodhana during the Mahabharata.

3. China – Duryodhana: The eldest son. The heir to the throne, the one who does as he pleases. He likes to get into quarrels and fights in order to show his supremacy. Never satisfied and always greedy for more. An unloved ruler. Duryodhana has all the qualities of China. China, a bully in its truest sense, who seeks to expand its influence on all other countries and build up its kingdom. It has more enemies and fewer friends. The Belt and Road Initiative is an epitome of how ambitious China is. The rest of the Kauravas signify the countries that China has invested in (Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the African nations). Some of them are on China’s side because of compulsions like debt, or alienation like in the case of North Korea and Pakistan. Just like Karna was to Duryodhana. Moreover, if given a choice, some of them would surely want to align with other countries like in the case of Maldives recently, just like Yuyutsu switched sides before the war.

The expansion of the kingdom is another aspect of parallelism between Duryodhana and China. Duryodhana was selfish and did not want to share his kingdom with the Pandavas (not even five villages), and so is China, when they constantly lay claim to other autonomous territories and even territories of other countries. In its quest for supremacy, it has forgotten the distinction between what is morally right and wrong. It isn’t wrong to be ambitious, but it is wrong to be ambitious on somebody else’s suffering. As was the distinction between Duryodhana and Yudhishthira.

4. Shakuni – Pakistan: Shakuni Mama, as the Pandavas and Kauravas called him, was arguably responsible for war at Kurukshetra. He was a master manipulator, who used the situation to his advantage. Why Pakistan is Shakuni for me is because, just like Shakuni, it is a destructive force. A force that cannot be tamed, and that riches or diplomacy cannot buy. They have their own ideology and agenda, that cannot be shaken. In Shakuni’s case, it was the destruction of the Kuru household and in Pakistan’s case, it is the flourishing of terrorism. However, both of them did/do not have any absolute power to fulfill their objectives. So as Shakuni used Duryodhana, Pakistan first used the USA and is now using China. Again, just like Shakuni invited Yudhishthira to play a game of die to “settle differences”, Pakistan keeps inviting India for talks and negotiations whereas the reality is they aren’t interested in peace.

5. Bheema – Russia: Now this parallel is going to be a very short one since the lines of parallelism with respect to both are less. Out of the 5 Pandavas, Bheema was the most powerful of them all. However, because of that excess power, he was also a bit impulsive and not really diplomatic, which was one of the reasons why he wasn’t given the full recognition for his efforts during the war, as compared to Arjuna, Krishna, and Yudhishthira. Russia or the Soviet Union, is comparable to Bheema, in ways like it is impulsive-not very diplomatic with the rest of the world, not given its full due for the World War 2 and an extremely powerful country. Lastly, Bheema was always a source of support for Yudhishthira all throughout the Mahabharata, just like Russia has mostly been an ally of India (Yudhishthira) in modern history.

The Mahabharata was full of rights and wrongs, just like this article may have been for you. However what Mahabharata did teach us that even the most revered characters in Hinduism, were far from being perfect. They did what they felt was right considering the circumstances, just like we do in the modern world. A bit of wrong for the greater good was also justified. A brother fought a brother for land. A student killed a teacher. A son gave up marriage for his father. However, the most important teaching of Mahabharata was that we all pay for our deeds. Whether now or later. Even the Pandavas had to experience Hell before they could go to Heaven whereas the Kauravas attained heaven-hood. Today we aren’t restricted to just black or white, but many shades of grey, that define our choices. But we have to remember to set our own value…and choose the harder right over the easier wrong.

By By Aryaman Roongta.
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