Krishna against the Kuru-Paandavs
– The apocryphal Dandi Parva of the Mahabharata
The core story of the Mahabharata is well-known: how Krishna helps the five Paandav brothers (three Parths and the twin Maadreyas), sons-and-stepsons of his paternal aunt Pritha-Kunti, win the kingdom of Hastinapur with their seven armies from the eleven armies of Duryodhan and his ninety-nine brothers on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. However, little known is the tale of the sons of Dhritarashtra and Pandu, allied with Jaraasandh of Magadh and Shishupal of Chedi, jointly opposing Krishna and the Yaadavs in battle. It is this tale that formed the matter of Paandav Gaurav (1900), a five-act play in Bengali by Girish Chandra Ghosh, the founder of Bengali theatre, that was a runaway hit on the Calcutta stage. What was his source?
The version of the Mahabharata that we know is what Vaishampaayan recited to Raja Janamejay at Taxila at the bidding of his guru Krishna Dvaipaayan Vyas during intervals of the holocaust of snakes the king had organised to avenge his father Parikshit’s assassination by Takshak naga. Heard there by the bard Ugrashravas Sauti, it was recited by him to Rishi Shaunak and his group of ascetics in the ashram at Naimish forest during intervals of their twelve-year-long yajna. Besides this version, there is another by another of Vyas’ pupils, Jaimini, of which only a few parvas are extant. From his Ashvamedha Parva Girish Ghosh took the very unusual story of Queen Jvaalaa and wrote a successful play on her named Janaa (1894).
Moreover, there is an apocryphal text entitled Mahabharata: Dandi Parva attributed to Krishna Dvaipaayan Vyas narrating, inter alia, the startling story of how the Paandavs and the Kauravs jointly opposed Krishna in battle, which provided Girish Ghosh the material for his play. This rare Sanskrit text was translated into Bengali by Pandit Kaliprasanna Vidyaratna and published in 1900 (reprinted in 1987 by Nabapatra Prakashan, Calcutta). Dinesh Chandra Sen states in his Bangabhasha O Sahitya (pp. 424, 427) that he found a translation in Bengali poetry by Rajaram Datta, containing 1500 verses, the manuscript of which written by Ramprasad Dey is dated to 1809 CE. However, the introduction states that it was composed by (or at the behest of) Nrisimha Das son of Ramkanai Das in the “poyar” metre of 14 letters after studying the Brihat Kurma Purana. This Purana consists of four samhitas: Brahmi, Bhagavati, Sauri and Vaishnavi, of which the Brahmi Samhita is also known as the Kurma Purana. Besides the story of Raja Dandi and Urvashi, it contains the curious tale of Shrivatsa narrated by Krishna to Yudhishthira to console him during the forest-exile. Apparently, Girish Ghosh’s source was a poetic composition called “Dandi Parva” (1870) by Umakanta Chattopadhyay in which the narrator is Shukadeva Goswami, Vyas’s son. Prior to that Rohininandan Sarkar’s “Dandiparva by Maharshi Vedavyasa” had come out in 1885 and in 1886 Prankrishna Ghosh had written “Dandi-charit-ba- Urvashir-Abhishap” (Dandi’s Deeds or Urvashi’s Curse).
What distinguishes this work from the Mahabharata is the excessive overlay of Vaishnava bhakti and unnecessary excursions into didactic peroration at the slightest opportunity, indicating its composition in late medieval times. Further, the stereotype of women as foolish, incapable of taking sound decisions by themselves without the guidance of father, husband or son is repeated often, except in the case of Rukmini, possibly because she is Krishna’s consort.
Parikshit’s Birth and Curse
Rishi Shaunak exhorts the wandering rhapsode Sauti, praising him for his Vaishnava-bhakti, to narrate the story of Bhagwan to enable the audience to achieve salvation in the context of the impending dreadful Kali Yuga and enquires why Raja Parikshit, born into the blessed Paandav family, committed sin.
Sauti then narrates that in his earlier birth Parikshit was a Gandharva named Vidyadhar who used to sing daily in Indra’s celestial court and, waxing proud of his melodious voice, his intellect was overcast by pride. In the season of spring youthful Vidyadhar was overcome with desire for his young wife. Drunk with liquor, both entered the Nandan garden, whose enchanting environs aggravated his loss of self-control, and he began singing lewd songs loudly. This disturbed the blessed rishi Parvat who was seated there speaking to his disciples on salvation. Parvat, approaching the Gandharva, requested him to be restrained and not disturb the peace. Vidyadhar insolently told him that this garden was suitable for enjoyment by him and his companions, servitors of Lord Indra, not for ascetics. If they felt disturbed, they should leave the place. Parvat again warned him that being drunk he was misbehaving, but Vidyadhar boasted he was accountable only to Indra and did not care about anyone else’s anger. Urged by his disciples to discipline the arrogant singer, Parvat cursed Vidyadhar that as punishment for the insult he would take human birth and be consumed by a Brahman’s curse. Overwhelmed with depression and terror, Vidyadhar begged to be spared human birth, that most miserable of all existences. His women also pleaded with the sage for mercy, but Parvat was adamant on cleansing Svarga of the pollution caused by Vidyadhar’s ill-conduct. However, he told him that he would be born in the supremely pure and renowned Paandav family and regain his station after his sins had been burnt away. Indra did not intervene. Thus Vidyadhar was reborn as Parikshit. Yudhishthir gave him this name because he was born when the Paandav dynasty was almost extinguished. Unlike the Mahabharata, which knows of no previous birth of Parikshit, here there is no reference to his being still-born and the resurrection by Krishna.
Parikshit was anointed Crown-Prince by Krishna himself and imparted advice regarding governance by Dhaumya, the family priest of the Paandavs, and Naarad. The sage Kanva advised regarding discarding desire and keeping good company. Sage Lompad advised on moksha-dharma. Vibhanda described the horrors of hundreds of hells and the nature of the Brahman. Krishaashva discoursed on the four classes, the four stages of life and the primacy of domestic life in sustaining the rest. Sage Deval spoke on the dharma of donating, celebrating ahimsa as the supreme dharma and on abstaining from liquor and indulgence in coition, as these were sources of delusion.
Despite all this, after ruling well for years, because of the rishi’s curse Parikshit went to hunt in a forest where the ascetic Shamik lived. Causing havoc among animals, he shot a deer which fled. Giving chase, Parikshit got exhausted, parched and sought for water from the monk who was observing a vow of silence, seated in ascesis. Distracted by hunger and thirst, enraged at the silence, Parikshit insulted the monk by draping a dead snake round his neck. Shamik’s son Shringi infuriated by this cursed that the culprit would die of snakebite within a week. Shamik rebuked his son for cursing the raja and despatched a disciple to warn the king.
Overwhelmed, Parikshit went to the banks of the Bhagirathi and pleaded with sages to rescue him. Vyas also arrived and told him that instead of punishment, cleansing the character was more important. As he himself did not have the time, he deputed his son Shuka for the purpose. (This setting copies that of the Bhaagavat Purana and there are echoes of the Pururavas-Urvashi myth in the tale.) Parikshit begged the sage to tell the tale of why Bhagwan Vaasudev (Krishna) had opposed his favourite Paandavs in battle. Then Shuka recounted the holy tale of Raja Dandi to him.
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