A Comparative Study of the Personae in the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavatham
The study of literature helps widening the horizons of thinking and understanding. A comparative study of literature refines and updates the skills for acquiring deeper, lasting and valid insights for worthy self-disciplining.
Anger is an elemental emotion or feeling. Though it is only the second of the Six Formidable Enemies of Man, arishadvarga, it could be the most dangerous, for it can ruin not only the inflamed, infected and infested one with it and his target but also many around.
The Buddha said the action could be dangerous for its repercussions. When once you throw a stone into a pond there is no stopping the ripples till they reach the bank. Anger may be triggered by the five others in the varga. Conjoined with one or many of these, anger could be more virulent, more vicious and more venomous. Every human being is subject to this and acts committed in anger have, in many cases, far reaching consequences. Anger could be a state or condition of mind that may change sooner or later. There are several grades or depths of intensity of anger and it is a feeling, which does not have any way to calibrate it.
The Bhagavad-Gita, a text, which is considered to be the essence of both the Vedas and the Upanishads mentions how this does extensive damage.
krodhaad bhavati sammohah sammohaat smriti-vibrhamah
smriti-bhramshaad buddhi nasho buddhi naashaarpranasyati – II-63
Swami Prabhupada rendered this into English as: “From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion, bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost and when intelligence is lost one falls down again in to the material pool.”
Later the Gita describes Yajna Chakra in III.14, which implies a cyclic activity. Compared to that Chakra, anger is only a rising curve, a tidal wave. It leads one to perdition or condemnation. Anger leads to violence and violence to sin. In Telugu, comparatively a modern language, anger is equated with the sin of murdering a pious learned person. Though the damage that anger could do has been recognized, heinous sins are committed in anger or its related emotions. In Telugu there is a saying: kopam paapaanni bolu, paapam brahmahatyani bolu meaning anger resembles sin and sin resembles killing a learned, pious person.
This work is not an attempt to grade or calibrate anger. The aim is to study the portrayal of anger in some important personae in our national epics, also known as classical texts. The idea is to make statements about the situations, persons, personages, their qualities etc. It studies the attitude of the sacred sages and seers, Sage Valmiki and Sage Vedavyasa, in their respective delineation of this powerful emotion. Anger is the trigger for curses and curses have been interwoven into these mega narratives in such a way that they cannot be ignored. The narratives gain in depth of feeling and stand testimony to the consummate envisioning and masterly narrative art of those visionaries of yore.
Sage Valmiki is held in the highest esteem by being lauded as Adikavi, the earliest poet. His literary creation, the Ramayana, has in it the tale relating to Rama. Rama is of Tretayuga. Sage Vedavyasa is the seer who made the division of the Vedas. He writes about the incarnation of the divinity of later age. We can assert with certainty that his creations, Mahabharata, and Bhagavatam relate to action in the subsequent aeon, the Dvapara Yuga. In these epics the action, the scenes and the personae are laid in very distant past. Sages and seers like Narada and Parashurama are of many ages. In these our classical texts Time and Action overlap. They are not restricted by the modern concept of the Unities. Valmiki envisioned his epic. Vyasa becomes a participant too in the action of Mahabharata. Though it is not possible to give their dates with any degree of certainty that would satisfy scientists, we can safely assume that the two visionaries who dealt with their personae lived in two different ages. The passage of time can be easily inferred by a careful study.
Anger has led to the degeneration of man over the yugas. The question is, to how far is it a matter of perception or of the change in man’s mind itself. Anger is a common (not good or really worthy) emotion. Day in and day out we suffer and inflict the heat. The surprising thing is that even the most learned and accomplished are no exception to falling prey to this weakness. A study of the anger of great heroes, sages and seers would help us understand the nature of that emotion and in the process we become sadder and wiser.
The flames of anger aren’t easy to douse. Bhrugu Rama, grandson of Bhrugu and the son of Renuka and Jamadagni, destroys the Kshatriyas twenty-one times to avenge the killing of his father by Haihaya king Kartaveeryarjuna. Dattatreya blesses the Haihaya king with thousand arms. He permits Agni to consume Girinagara forest to assuage his hunger. In the conflagration the hermitage of Maitravaruna is also burnt. Angered, Maitravaruna curses that Parashurama would chop off his thousand arms. Even after accomplishing that the sage’s anger is not abated. In Ramayana he makes his appearance dramatically. Sita swayamvara is over. King Janaka is happy and so are sage Viswamitra and everyone around. Parashurama comes there with Mahavishnu’s bow in hand. He is furious that Shiva’ bow is broken by the young man. He challenges Rama angrily to string Vishnu’s bow. This he does telling the young bridegroom that he would engage him in single combat later after assuring himself of his prowess. Rama strings the bow and fits the arrow. He asks the sage to tell him as to where he should target it. Having seen Rama’s prowess, the sage cools down. But Rama tells him that an arrow fitted in his drawn bow must be discharged against something or somebody. The sage asks Rama to direct it against his title to ethereal worlds. We need to understand the sage and his anger, in spite of his being mighty by dint of his protracted tapas.
Anger defies reason and rationality. Ire, the size of a mustard seed can grow to the size of a mountain. Parashurama’s wrath against Kshatriyas is a fire that never gets fully extinguished till Vishnu Himself in His incarnation as Rama divests him of all his powers earned by his tapas. The visionary Valmiki could look not only beyond but also right into the workings of his persona’s mind.
Rama, the divine figure is conceived to have taken an incarnation as a human being. As such, he is not above that weakness. Rama and Lakshmana trudge through the wilds searching for Sita. Rama asks a mountain to tell him where his Sita is. When no answer comes, he grows wild: “Show me Sita., … before I shatter all your crests, O mountain!” He goes on: “Consumed by the fire of my shafts you will be reduced to ashes. Nay, I shall even dry up this Godavari river today.”
This is fury comparable to the flames from a burning Palmyra leaf – this kind of fury gets forgotten in no time. Anger is of two types: deergha kopa, intense and lasting fury and the other one like the flames from Palmyra leaf.
Finding Sugreeva engrossed in his own pleasures and indolence to discharge the debt of gratitude the monkey king owes him, Rama once again bursts forth into a fury. Lakshmana also tells him: “Unable to contain my wrath whose vehemence has been intensified I shall get rid of the faithless Sugreeva this very day.” Being Adisesha in his earlier birth, by nature his anger is always fierce. Earlier he opposes the idea of Rama going into exile. He asks Rama to take the reins of ruling the country into his hands. He says “Whosoever is a supporter of Bharata and whoever seeks to advance his interests, I shall kill them all,” and goes on: “Let him (their father King Dasaratha) be made captive or even get rid of him without any attachment.” This anger restrained in time by Rama and reined in by Lakshmana is only a quickening force, which does not invite censure or condemnation.
The visionary poets dealt with this emotion in their personages and personae with consummate skill. The value system that obtained in their times is reflected in the portrayal. In Sage Veda Vyasa’s later epic we see that the value system has undergone a change. In Mahabharata, Vashishta’s anger causes him to pronounce a curse on Prabhasa, one of the Vasus who steals the sage’s cow. This Vasu is cursed to be born as a human being to live very long to suffer endlessly. The Vasu is born as Bhishma, who led a life performing his duty without joy.
Once again it is Amba’s anger that leads him to his end when he gives up his arms and goes to his Sharashayya. Anger provokes imprecations but not all curses turn out to be for ultimate good. Amba’s anger appeals to the modern mind as righteous indignation.
In some cases, anger leads to imprecations, which have irreversible consequences. King Pandu owing to his excessive desire for hunting kills a deer while it is engaged in amorous sport. The male deer was a sage called Gindama. Gindama, coming into his original form, tells the king that killing an animal in that state is against Dharma. Pandu argues with him that he could forgive an enemy but could not let a beast escape his arrow. This infuriates Gindama. He curses Pandu that he would die the moment he touched his beloved in passion. This anger of the sage strikes one as like an eye for an eye.
Indignation of the pious and the righteous in some cases leads to their pronouncing curses that have a decisive and far reaching significance like the curses on Karna. Parashurama curses Karna for telling him a lie that he was a Brahmin. Later a Brahmin curses him for killing his heifer. The result is that his astras obtained dishonestly become useless and the wheel of his chariot sinks at a time when he starts to fight enthusiastically. Karna becomes a pitiable figure. But the ethos of the age and its value system were such. Sage Veda Vysasa is poignantly alive to both.
Jealousy makes one easily irascible. A tiny spark can cause a conflagration. Draupadi’s laughter seeing Duryodhana fall in that glorious building constructed by the Pandavas ignites lasting fury in Duryodhana. His fury is fanned by his jealousy and aggravated by Shakuni’s machinations, one after another, leading to the fierce war in Mahabharata.
The unfolding of the action in Bhagavatham almost begins with the boy Sringi cursing King Parkshit in uncontrollable fury. Sringi is the son of Shameeka, a great sage. King Parikshit goes hunting and gets thirsty. He goes into the hermitage of Shameeka and sees the sage engrossed in his contemplation. Provoked to anger by the neglect he suffered he throws round the sage’s neck a dead serpent and goes his way. Boys in the hermitage who observed the king’s action report this to their friend. Veda Vyasa makes Sringi explain to his friends that they in the hermitage are not Brahmins who accept charity in gold, hiranya daan or give blessings with deceit. Having rationalized thus, Sringi immediately goes to the river Kaushiki, touches water and pronounces a curse that the king would die of a serpent bite on the seventh day. The juvenile act of the boy’s curse and the father’s reaction on learning about his son’s deed offer a contrast. The sage knows how Parikshit has been saved by Krishna while still in Uttara’s womb from the apaandavaastra shot by Aswaththama. The sage is worried that without an able ruler the kingdom would suffer. Sringi in his fury did not have any idea of the far- reaching consequences of his hideous rashness.
Renowned Sanaka, Sanandana and others always spent their time in the worship of the supreme deity. Maha Vishnu Himself loved them. Jaya and Vijaya, the gatekeepers at the deity’s palace in Vykuntha, provoke even such devout ones. When the sages wanted to enter, they are prevented. Forthwith they pronounced a curse that the duo would be born of an ogress’ womb. Vishnu who emerges on the scene having listened o the altercation says that they would be born of Diti, sage Agastya’s wife. Diti seeks union with her husband Kashyapa at dusk, a time forbidden for copulation. Importuned by his wife, against his own wish, Kashyapa obliges her, with the result that she delivers the ogre duo Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakasipu.
Agastya is a very great sage. He is known as the one who could take the entire ocean in his flexed palm. His anger caused the birth of King Indradyumna of Dravida Desa as an elephant in his later birth. This devout king not getting up to greet him with the usual fervour of respect and devotion angers Agastya. The sage’s anger leads to the most often read episode of Gajendra attaining moksha in Bhagavatham.
Devi Parvati’s indignation and curse on Chitraketu are something unique in that it took a whole yuga for the righteous and the pious to kill Vrittasura. Blessed by Vishnu for his piety with an aircraft, Chitraketu goes to Kailasha. He finds Shiva in full view of his court, which consisted of sages, seers and his servitors, having Parvati in his embrace engaged in amorous acts. Seeing this, Chitraketu breaks into peals of laughter and says in tones audible even to Shiva’s consort: “It is surprising that one considered a personification of dharma is dallying with his better half in the open court filled with seers, sages and his own servitors.” Listening to this, Shiva only smiled without saying anything. The court too kept silent. While Chitraketu goes on commenting, Parvati said to him that comments like that are never made ever before. Saying that his making light of Shiva is punishable, she pronounces a curse that he would be born of a rakshas yoni, womb of an ogress.
Parvati’s curse is directed against an offender. But the offender born as Vrittasura is so powerful that Indra had to fight for a whole yuga to kill him with the support of deities along with the forward-looking sacrifice of Dadhichi.
A comparative study of the anger in various personages and persona in our national epics would yield very interesting insights into anger, into the situations and its consequences in the framework of the narratives. We understand the attitudes of the visionaries and the value systems of those distant times when sanaatanadharma, the eternal, ageless code prevailed.