Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Rama’s 14 years, Pandavas’ 13 years and Gandhari’s 36th year.
Is there any specific rationale behind the differing number of years of exile undertaken by Rama and Pandavas is a question I have often heard right from my childhood. The most common answer was the stipulation of 7 years beyond which if a person doesn’t return he/ she can be assumed to be lost forever or kind of ex-communicated. A woman whose husband did not show up for 7 years can treat his absence as lost forever and seek remarriage. Perhaps the former Justice Katju can throw more light on this feature that is part of Indian penal code for divorce cases.
If the person makes appearance after 7 years, certain rites were to be performed for taking the person back into the fold. Based on this rationale the first meeting with the bridegroom –a stranger until then – is done in a temple where the families make friendship with each other in the presence of God. This was done for the first time acquaintance and also for renewed acquaintances that were away for more than 7 years. Based on this the elders used to say that twice that duration was suggested by Kaikeyi to completely keep Rama ex-communicated.
This explanation doesn’t fit with the reunion with Rama after 14 years in Nandigrama in the outskirts of the city with no report of rituals of taking him back into the community. This also doesn’t fit with the exile period of the Pandavas. And there is a third instance too – of 35 years in the curse of Gandhari to Krishna. This makes me go through the contexts of the texts where the time period is stipulated. Needless to say it turns out to be rewarding.
Rama’s exile of 14 years.
The idea of 14 year exile is planted by Manthara with the justification that within that period Bharata can get intimate association in the hearts of the people and get stabilized in his kingdom.(VR: 2-9-21) Having laid his roots within the 14 year period, Bharata can stay in power for the remaining period also- even after Rama comes back. (VR: 2-9-31). By the time Rama returns, Bharata would have established his roots firmly by making many friends and drawing people to his side (VR: 2-9-34) All these imply that a 14 year period is needed to cause an influence to endear oneself to people and to erase the memory of the one who was away. It would be difficult for one to make an impact after being away from sight for 14 long years.
In the course of this sermon Manthara doesn’t fail to remind Kaikeyi of an old tussle Kaikeyi had with Kausalya that is likely to be paid back by Kausalya if her son ascends the throne. (VR: 2-8-37) This would cause Kaikeyi and Bharata servile to Kausalya and Rama (VR: 2-8-10 &11)
It must be mentioned here that Rama recounted similar kind of ill-treatment to siblings and their families by the king and his family as a prevailing norm in those days, in the context of accepting Vibhishana in his fold. (VR: 6-18-10 & 14) It was perhaps for reasons that younger siblings cannot thrive under the crowned elder brother, Janaka’s younger brother, Kushadvaja too made his home very far away in the west in a moat in the river Ikshumati (Swat) (VR:1-70-2)
Having said all these, why 14 years is a question that becomes decipherable from Bharat’s first reaction on knowing that Rama had left for the forest.
When Kaikeyi informed Bharata that Rama wearing long narrow pieces of bark went to the forest followed by Lakshmana and Sita (VR: 2-72-42) Bharata feared whether Rama was sent on exile for any unrighteous act. (VR: 2-72-44) This prompted him to ask,
“Has not Rama indeed stolen the wealth of some Brahmana?” (VR: 2-72-45)
This is in line with what Manu Smruti says for stealing the gold of a Brahman that,
“He who desires to remove by austerities the guilt of stealing the gold (of a Brahmana), shall perform the penance (prescribed) for the slayer of a Brahmana, (living) in a forest and dressed in (garments) made of bark.” (11- 102)
The punishment for slayer of a Brahma is exile to forest as ascetic for 12 years, says Manu Smruti in the same chapter.
“For his purification the slayer of a Brahmana shall make a hut in the forest and dwell (in it) during twelve years, subsisting on alms and making the skull of a dead man his flag.” (11-73)
Rama was asked by Kaikeyi to lead the life of an ascetic with matted hair, covered with a hide, and living beyond pleasure and pain in the forest. This is same as what Manu Smruti has prescribed for one who either killed a Brahmana or stole his gold. Bharata wondered the whether Rama had stolen the wealth of a Brahma thereby indicating that the nature of exile and duration was in consonance with this clause of Manu. It is 12 years in Manu Smruti, but 14 years for Rama, perhaps adding one year each as sandhi before and after the 12 year rigorous exiled life of an ascetic.
The stipulation of living like an ascetic is repeated at several places in Valmiki Ramayana. While breaking the news of his exile to his mother Kausalya, Rama says that he is going to “live in a solitary (vijane) forest like a sage for fourteen years, leaving off meat and living with roots, fruits and honey”.(VR:2-20-29 & 31)
At the time of taking leave of all, Rama asks for “shovel and a basket” (VR: 2-37-5) the two things needed by him in his life as an ascetic to subsist on roots and fruits.
Kaikeyi had no qualms in sending Sita along with him dressed in wooden bark, so that ensures that Sita cannot play a spoilsport to her plans, by drawing people’s sympathy and affection towards her that can work to Rama’s favour when he comes back.
Another probable thought in her mind could be that by the time Rama returns he would have completed 25 years of married life, with the ascetic life in exile ensuring that he would remain childless for that long. By the time he comes back, Bharat’s progeny would be in place and old enough to ensure continuity of Bharata’s lineage.
The solitary life deprives Rama of developing any coterie that could be of help to him on his return to claim the throne. The 14 year long ascetic life as a couple would make them conditioned to such life even after returning to Ayodhya. They may not be able to get back to the city and royal life. This is not possible in 7 year exile. Therefore Kaikeyi (Manthara) had chosen 14 year period.
So we can say that the first issue raised by Bharata on the cause of exile (stealing the wealth of a Brahman) offers a clarity on why the insistence on the life of an ascetic for 14 long years.
But Bharata doesn’t stop with that; he continues to mention 2 more offences that invite the kind of exile that Rama was made to undertake.
They are (1) harm done to either rich or poor virtuous (apaapa / अपाप) person
(2) Desiring the wife of another.
It seems these three (including killing a Brahman or stealing the wealth of a Brahman) invited exile of the kind Rama was made to undertake. Valmiki Ramayana itself becomes the pramana for the 14 year exile – originally derived from 12 year exile of the same kind given by Manu Smruti. This revelation helps in deciphering the 12+1 year exile of the Pandavas.
Pandavas’ exile of 13 years.
The Pandavas were ordained to undergo a straight 12 year exile of the same kind that Rama underwent (ascetic life with barks and hides in the solitude of the forest) with the 13th year (incognito) acting as a buffer to enable the Kauravas pick them out and push them back to another round of exile. The 12 year exile has one relevance as far as Manu Smruti is concerned and two other relevances as per Bharata’s version in Valmiki Ramayana.
With no scope of harm to a Brahmin in the events that unfolded, we can deduce that the other two causes cited by Bharata must be examined to understand the stipulation of 12 year period of exile.
In the first instance of losing the dice game, Draupadi raises the legality of her status as the wife of the five Pandavas. Her status as wife of five brothers was against the norm of the day as known from frequent derisions thrown at her. Notwithstanding that her status was approved by her mother in law, it remains questionable if it was approved by the ethics of the then society. Since the tenets of Dharma are very subtle for us to understand, I am left with pointing out what could be her status as wives of other four if she is accepted as won in the dice game as a property of the eldest Pandava. This attracts the third point in Bharata’s narration for causes for the exile. I am leaving this to the reader to ponder over and not want to elaborate it here.
After Draupadi and the Pandavas were let off, they were once again called back to play the dice game. It was then the 12+1 year exile condition was made. The winner could take up all the wealth of the other which will be returned if the loser successfully completed 13 year exile. The 12 year exile being the core component here, I am led to link the other cause given by the Bharata, that of harm done to rich or poor virtuous person.
It begins from the time before the Pandavas were born. Pandu relinquished the throne in favour of his elder brother Dhritarashtra and left to the forest where the five sons were born. On their return to the country troubles had started. What would be the stance of the Kauravas who had legally inherited the kingdom from their father that was legally given by the father of the Pandavas?
When they were not willing to and not bound to part with any part of the kingdom, the ceding away of the territory to the Pandavas however barren it may be, under coercion and persuasion by the elders would be seen by them as injustice meted out to them. From this angle, the Kaurava-side contention will be that of losing their wealth for no fault of theirs. This is the other cause given by Bharata for exile which must have been an accepted norm of the day.
When the Kauravas could not subdue the Pandavas by other means, they must have felt justified in 12 year exile demand in the dice game, by virtue of legal heirs to the kingdom. The way the elders had kept quiet through all these goes to show that the elders were not able to take contrary stance with reference to this clause on exile.
The bottom-line for the topic of this blog is that the 12 year exile was prompted by any of the last two causes mentioned by Bharata in Valmiki Ramayana. Much like Kaikeyi, the Kauravas had intended to isolate the Pandavas while enabling themsleves strengthen friendship with as many kingdoms as possible in their absence. They penetrated the friends of Pandavas and got the brother of Krishna (Balarama) speak for their side. They even maintained friendly relations with the maternal uncle (Shalya) of Nakula and Sahadeva.
Unfortunately for them, the Pandavas too had a huge network or friends and relatives by the time they left on exile. They managed all the networking and contacts in their absence - something expected to be non-existent in favour of Rama when Kaikeyi devised her plan.
Gandhari’s curse of destruction on the 36th year.
The following is produced from my upcoming book on the Date of Mahabharata war (wherein I have defended the traditional date 35 years before Kali Yuga started / Krishna left the world)
(Should not be reproduced without my consent)
“On seeing the death of her children and all relatives in the war Gandhari vented out her frustration at Krishna that he (Krishna) after causing the slaughter of his kinsmen would perish in the wilderness on the 36th year. On the 36th year a huge carnage did take place wiping out the Krishna-clan.
The number 36 has a special relevance for the welfare of one’s progeny. A 36-year sacrifice (sattra) was in vogue during Mahabharata times. It is known from Pancavimsa Brahmana that the descendants of Sakti had conducted 36 year sattra. By the mention of Gauriviti as one who did the satttra , Sakti is identified as the father of Parasara whose son was Vyasa. It is further said in the Brahmana text that the one who performs this sattra gets rulership and also ten strong sons. Without doubt this sattra must have been popular with the Kauravas, the Pandavas and the Vrishinis.
As biological descendants of Vyasa, the Kuru kings could have performed the sattra. Perhaps the Kauravas could not complete the 36 year long sattra or else they could have won the war, retained rulership and children. It is doubtful the Pandavas had completed the sattra in view of the exile they had to undertake. Only the Vrishinis had survived the war and were expected to prosper more in the years after the war. The Vrishnis headed by Krishna were very clever in having chosen to support both the warring sides. Whichever side wins the war, the Vrishnis would bring home the advantages of the winner.
Gandhari’s anger naturally turned towards Krishna who she accused as not having worked enough to avert the slaughter of the Kuru-s. The Kauravas lost their progeny, so did the Pandavas by the time the war ended, but only the Vrishnis survived! The Vrishnis were already known for wealth creation and didn’t mind relocating to newer terrains (Dvaraka) to safeguard their wealth, works and resources. Their clan continued to be intact after the war, unlike the Kuru clan which suffered heavy losses. Gandhari’s anger was such that the new 36 year sattra that was likely to be initiated by the Vrishnis after the war was over should collapse at the penultimate hour, thereby wiping out their progeny and rulership.
This gives rise to the presumption that the Kauravas failed to complete the 36 year sattra and lost in the last year of the Sattra. This caused Gandhari to cast a similar doom on Vrishnis whom she thought would initiate the Sattra for their welfare. It is not known if the sattra was done by the Vrishnis, but their end came in the 36th year just before the Sun entered Aries with all the planets gathered around it.”