Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Wow, it has been an incredibly long time since I wrote on this blog. I would like to write more about this later but here is something for now. I have recently got a bunch of Indian channels to watch thanks to a new deal with my TV provider. I now get the 'Star' network of Indian TV channels, and every Sunday there is a wonderful "soap opera" serial of the life of Krishna. It is called 'Krishna Kathaiyen' and is broadcast on Star Plus, produced and directed by Ramanand Sagar who produces a lot of religion-oriented soap operas.

Krishna Kathaiyen has a wonderful theme tune that I just like listening to over and over again, and the opening credits are something to behold, showing a collage of scenes where the storyline is currently set. At the current point, we are at the start of the Mahabharata war and Krishna is advising Arjuna to overcome his grief and to fight. However, another important figure was shown in the opening credits who always plucks my heartstrings whenever I remember him: Abhimanyu.

Abhimanyu was, in my view, one of the truly great heroes of the Mahabharata. Being the son of Arjuna, he had mastered military strategy theory while still in the womb of his mother as he had heard Arjuna explaining these things to his mother. He enjoyed a particularly affectionate relationship with Krishna due to the latter's strong friendship with Arjuna. By the time of the Mahabharata he was sixteen years old, an exceptionally handsome and dashing young lad with the rare combination of joie-de-vivre and humility. Despite his parents' feelings of unease due to his young age, he managed to convince them that he was good enough and that it was his duty to fight.

And did he fight! His warrior skills were exceptional and he was incredibly good on the battlefield! His heroism was something to behold, and even the great elders on the Kaurava side were secretly full of admiration for his audacious bravery and valiant fighting skills. So valiant, that he was able to disarm great commanders with just a single arrow. So valiant, that some ran away from the battlefield for fear of tangling with him! So valiant, that he was able to fend off attacks from seasoned warrios such as Bhishma, Karna, Dushasana, and Drona. So valiant, that he managed to slay anyone who got in his way single-handed, including Duryodhana's son Laxman. So valiant, that he presented a serious problem to the opposing side who knew that they could not win the war without slaying Abhimanyu.

And so it happened. At the close of fighting for the day, the Kauravas hatched a plan to employ the 'Chakravyuha' formation in the next day's fighting with the intention of protecting what was left of their forces. This Chakravyuha formation was such a complex battle strategy that only a few knew how to penetrate and disarm it, a few such as Arjuna, Krishna and Pradyumna. Abhimanyu had learnt about this formation in the womb of his mother, though ironically she fell asleep after Arjuna had explained how to penetrate the formation. As a result, Abhimanyu was party to this knowledge but had not learnt how to exit from the formation. As fate would have it, Abhimanyu successfully penetrated the formation the next day but soon ran into problems when it was time to exit. He was caught in the coils of the serpent.

Seizing the opportunity, Duryodhana ordered his Kaurava colleagues to launch a full-scale attack on Abhimanyu. Although Abhimanyu continued to fight valiantly, his arsenal was gradually reduced with having to fight a gang of senior warriors and running out of ammunition. Nobody was able to help him because they did not know how to enter the formation, and Krishna and Arjuna had been successfully distracted in fighting elsewhere on the battlefield. An arrow sliced Abhimanyu's bow into half while another killed his charioteer. He then took a sword and chariot wheel for a shield and got down from the chariot in an attempt to make a ground attack. Almost predictably his sword was cut into half,and he was left to fight with only the chariot wheel. More arrows soon took care of that. However, the wonderful thing was that with every weapon reduction, Abhimanyu fought just as strongly, bravely and valiantly as he had fought with weapons. Hand-to-hand combat was the only thing left to do once all the weapons had been destroyed, with the result that the fight turned into a free-for-all with multiple warriors all ganging up on the young lad. Abhimanyu fought as best as he could but was no match for the attack launched upon him. Faced with fatigue, a final blow from Dushasana crushed his skull and killed him.

The principle of "All's fair in love and war" is inapplicable for this sick episode, because this event represented a turning-point in the history of combat whereby the rule of "honour in fighting" was deliberately disregarded for a military end. It was commonly accepted that multiple warriors should not gang up on a single warrior, but the greed and hatred of the Kauravas was so intense that they broke all the rules of war in their haste to kill Abhimanyu. As a result, Abhimanyu remains one of the heartbreakingly tragic heroes of the war.

As I said, we are now at the point in the series where the Mahabharata war is about to start just as soon as Krishna finishes giving the Gita to Arjuna. I'm not looking forward to watching the Abhimanyu episode for fear it will break my heart. I have always admired Abhimanyu ever since I read about him as a child. In my mind he represents a beautiful fresh flower that is cut down in the prime of its life. With events in the world today, one can only wonder how many young Abhimanyus are being cut down in ways that are far more despicable as performed by the Kauravas.

One saving grace is that Abhimanyu had been married at a young age and his beautiful wife was pregnant with their child: Pariksit Maharaja. He who would one day become the perfect 'hearer' just as Sri Sukadeva Gosvami was the perfect 'speaker' of the Holy Bhagavata.

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