Variations in Folk Mahabharata

of Garhwal Madmaheshwar

Madmaheshwar is one of the five Kedars in India – the others being Rudranatah, Kedarnath, Tunganath and Kalpeshwar, all in the present state of Uttarakhanda. The sixth Kedar is the Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal. The legend is that the Pandavas established the temples. (See Madmaheshwar Trek and Rudranath Trek)

Indeed Mahabharata is deeply entrenched in the cultural psyche of Uttarakhanda. In some parts of Garhwal, people trace their origin to the Kurus and Pandavas.

I am fortunate to have travelled extensively in Uttarakhanda, and I am also happy to have done fieldwork on Folk Mahabharata in some regions for a Research Project sponsored by the University Grants Commission.

Having studied the Mahabharata legends associated with several places, I have found considerable and interesting variations here than found in Classical Sanskrit Mahabharata. There are often sub-regional variations in narratives that make the study of Folk Mahabharata more interesting.

In this article, I will highlight some such variations in Folk Mahabharata of Madmaheshwar region. I would call it the Madmaheshwar Mahabharata for convenience of reference.

During one of my treks to Madmaheshwar, I collected these narratives from Shivraja Singh Panwar, a Pandava-gatha singer of Rakeshwari temple in a village called Ranshi, enroute Madmaheshwar. He said he learnt the Pandava-gatha from his Gurus Jagath Singh Bhatt and Shash Singh Panwar.

In Classical or Sanskrit Mahabharata (hereinafter to be referred to as CM), Kunti and Madri are co-wives of Pandu. Here in Madmaheshwar Mahabharata (hereinafter to be referred to as MM), Madri has no existence. All Pandavas are Kunti’s sons.

In CM, Shiva has role to play in Pandavas’ birth, because as per Mythical Narrative, it is by Shiva’s wish and Will that Present Indra (Shakra) and four ex-Indras are born as Pandavas. Shiva also creates Draupadi for them. Kunti receives boon from Durvasa in her childhood in the form of Deva-taming Mantras, and later when Pandu cannot produce offspring, Kunti uses that Mantra to invoke Dharma, Vayu and Indra to give birth to Yudhishthira, Bhima and Arjuna. She later teaches the Mantra to Madri who in turn produces Nakula-Sahadeva in the seeds of the Ashvins.

Our MM might be bearing that Memory of Mantra though with a creative variation. Here there is no Durvasa's Mantra. Kunti gets boon to produce sons from Mahadeva. Mahadeva is thus more directly involved in Pandavas birth. In CM, Durvasa is Shiva’s Avatara. Here the original, and not the Avatara participates in Destiny of Kunti’s life.

In the Dominant Narrative in CM, all Pandavas are God-sons born in Forest, however, in our MM, the Pandavas are however, not born during Pandu’s Forest-Life. All are born in palace. The Gods who give birth to Yudhishthira, Bhima and Arjuna are same – that is, Dharma, Vayu and Indra.

Now, comes the interesting variation in MM. Nakula is fathered by Pandu! Sahadeva is fathered by Brahma; that is, Nakula-Sahadeva is not twins. Thus, Pandu has at least one biological progeny – Nakula.

I have already speculated elsewhere about the human identity of Pandavas’ biological fathers (see “The Mystery of The Pandava ‘God-Fathers’”), and later settled in favour of the theory that all Pandavas are actually Pandu’s biological sons (see “Pandava Birth-Mystery Reconsidered”), and Pandu was neither impotent nor had lost his procreative power as is usually believed in Popular Myth. I am really glad to find at least some confirmation of my theory in MM.

Brahma as father of Sahadeva is interesting because in CM, Brahma is marginalized to Shiva and Vishnu.

Nakula being Pandu’s biological son, he indeed has a special place among Pandavas in MM. Any reader of CM surely detects that Nakula-Sahadeva are overshadowed by their senior brothers. While the Pandavas cannot be thought of without Nakula-Sahadeva, and while they are an integrated Pandava-Purusha (see “Draupadi and Pandava Purusha Upanishidic Significance”), the marginalization of Nakula-Sahadeva leaves us with the conclusion that the CM must have undergone narrative loss.

It is heartening that MM remembers the marginalized characters and gives them their due importance. This trend of Folk Mahabharata is already observed in the Indonesian Mahabharata and other Folk versions (see “Variations in Indonesian Mahabharata” and “Balarama is Abhimanyu’s Father-In-Law: A Study In Folk Mahabharata”). In MM, however, the importance accorded to Pandu’s only biological son Nakula surpasses all. He is even greater in prowess to his senior brothers and willingly sidelines himself to glorify his brothers. Nakula is the best fighter in Virata war. He alone kills 11 Akshauhini soldiers of Duryodhana by a single whip. Only with the motive of not shadowing his elder brothers’ glories, Nakula stays away from the Kurukshetra War and does not participate even once.

The Garhwali people at large have retained cattle rearing as essential economics. Nakula’s weapon “whip” is actually glorification of the shepherd. While in CM, the glorification of the shepherd is mostly metaphoric (e,g, Krishna the shepherd, or Ideal King and Ideal Brahmana as the “shepherd”), here it is literal. Perhaps it is a way of saying that the Common People are stronger than weapon wielding Kshatriya rulers.

My informant Kathaka Shivraja Singh Panwar explained that Nakula did not take part in the Kurukshetra war; otherwise he could have destroyed all Kauravas in a single day, and the glory of Karna, Bhima and Arjuna would have been lost.

In Popular Myth about CM as also in Dominant Narrative of CM, Yudhishthira is elder to Duryodhana. However, Alternative Narratives suggest that Duryodhana is actually elder to Yudhishthira. The MM leaves no doubt. Here, Duryodhana is elder. The dispute with Yudhishthira is not over the fact who is elder. Yudhishthira claims throne because he is king’s son. Duryodhana disputes because Yudhishthira is not ‘present’ king’s son. The MM has thus not only simplified the cause of conflict, but also made it logical and less confusing.

While Krishna’s role in fomenting Kuru-Pandava dispute and make it culminate to war is mostly a matter of good inference in CM (bolstered by Sauti, Dhrtarashtra, Gandhari and Uttanka’s directly holding him responsible for not stopping the war and causing destruction thus), in our MM, Krishna’s role is even clearer. Here, Krishna provokes Duryodhana to play Dice Game. Obviously large scale destruction of corrupt Kshatriyas is his mission.

The Virata Parvan is given much importance in MM, and in it, I mentioned, Nakula’s role. Now, Virata Parvan is the period of Pandavas’ Incognito Exile as part of terms and conditions of the infamous Dice Game. In CM, Pandavas and Draupadi go to exile, and Draupadi's exile is an explicit term in the second round of the Dice Game. In MM, after Dice Game loss, Kunti too accompanies Pandavas in their Forest Exile, whereas in CM, she stays in Hastinapura in Vidura’s house. In MM, in Virata, Kunti is in charge of king Virata’s store, and is known as Buriya Deshoyali. Here, Kunti accompanies Pandavas and Draupadi in their last journey too – during Svargarohana. In CM, Kunti is long dead being burnt in forest fire along with Dhrtarashtra and Gandhari.

Kunti as “Buriya Deshoyali” (literally, “the old woman of the country”) gives us a glimpse of the socio-economic background of Common People as also the role of the eldest woman in the household. Food is the most important essential for sustenance, and when it is in the custody of the eldest woman of the household, there is sense of security and equity in such arrangement.

In MM, in Virata, there is an interesting narrative that shows how Folk Culture tries to find explanations of incomprehensible matters. Geographically, Uttarakhanda borders Tibet in the North, and this region was once Trade-Routes with Tibet and China. Therefore, cross border socio-economic exchange is historical. The MM explains the birth of Chinese language in a unique way.

Here, like in CM, after Kichaka molests Draupadi, Bhima kills him. Bhima also kills Kichaka’s followers or brothers in arm known as Upa-Kichakas. However, in MM, Bhima tears apart the tongue of one Upa-Kichaka and throws him to China. The modern Chinese are the progenies of that Upa-Kichaka (Whew! If only the modern Chinese leadership knew this!) because the Upa-Kichaka’s tongue was `shortened' by Bhima, Chinese language is thus difficult to understand.

In MM, Kunti accompanies Pandavas and Draupadi in their last journey. This is again a commentary on the strongly bonded family, or “joint family system”, in which the mother is never separate from her sons and daughter-in-law. While in CM, Draupadi falls first, here Kunti falls first. The fall of other Pandavas are in similar order, but there is a twist about Yudhishthira. The Popular Myth on CM is that, Yudhishthira goes to Svarga in physical body, though the narrative in Svargarohana Parvan actually tells us that Yudhishthira discards his physical body before entering Svarga. In MM, Half of Yudhishthira's body is decayed and only one-half could reach Heavens.

While the Popular Myth on CM is that, Vyasa, Kripacharya and Ashvatthama are immortals, and the Text narrates in Mausala Parvan that Krishna died at the hands of a hunter named Jara after Yadava Destruction, our MM does not let Krishna die.

Krishna is the only immortal character in MM.

Now, if we compare and analyze the MM with Folk Mahabharata of other parts of India, some common patterns emerge (with exceptions, of course) –

1. Simultaneous reverence for and ‘rebellion’ against CM
2. Centralizing the Marginal characters, and putting into doubt the greatness and glory of the Central characters
3. Localizing the Myths and Mythical Narratives
4. Redefining human relations and human’s relation with God

In my opinion, the Folk Mahabharata thus teaches us on the value of the marginal by questioning the so-called mainstream. The universal truth highlighted thus is: every socio-cultural entity has the birthright to pride in own culture.

Such an interesting Folk Mahabharata of Garhwal had made me thirstier. So, I made it a point to gather information on Mahabharata narratives of Garhwal whenever I make a trek in some regions. The result is: I have some more interesting narrative variations in my collection. I will share them with readers in near future.

I cannot end this part without another pertinent question. The CM is ultimately narrated by a Kathaka – Ugrashrava Sauti – and the identity of the final narrator (who narrates Sauti’s narrative) is ambiguous. Thus, in the textual scheme or textual architecture (see “Mahabharata – Text and Textuality”), it is the folk narrator or Kathaka who dominates even over the original creator Vyasa and his chosen narrator Vaishampayana. The CM itself states that Vyasa created several versions of Mahabharata for different narrators and with different target audience in mind.

In this article, I have considered the MM as variation by holding CM as the central narrative. I am in doubt. Who knows whether the MM bears the legacy of Folk Narratives even more ancient to the CM?


More by :  Indrajit Bandyopadhyay

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