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Gandhar, which is Afghanistan of today, has played a special part in each yuga. In Treta Yuga, Gandhar, came under the Kingdom of Sri Rama when it was won over by the sons of Bharat - Taksh and Pushkar; and two beautiful cities of Taxshila and Pushkarvati flourished there (as dicussed in our previous article).

In Dwapar Yuga,the Yuga of Sri Krishna,once again Afghanistan found a very significant place. Gandhar has been elaborately mentioned in Mahabharata. In the great war of Mahabharata, there is a mention of Gandhari and Shakuni; Gandhari was from Gandhar, which is modern day Afghanistan and Shakuni was her brother. Shakuni was the one responsible for conspiring the war of Mahabharata; the eighteen day war fought with eighteen Akshauhini senas; the war which became inevitable after gambling between Pandavas and Kauravas; the war incited by the master of gambling Shakuni, which killed all the hundred sons of Gandhari. This great war of Mahabharata was instrumental in yuga parivartan (change of yuga) and was the design of Lord Sri Krishna.

The Lord takes avtaar in the mrityuloka (earth) when evil reigns supreme. In this era, it was Lord Sri Krishna himself who had to come and clear the earth of evil and start a new yuga. A brief of events which progressed towards Mahabharata are given thus.

Gandhari, the daughter of King Subal of Gandhar, had worshipped Lord Shiva and obtained the boon of having hundred sons (Mahabharata: Aadi parv-Sambhav Parv). Then there was this vast Kuru Kingdom, with its capital at Hastinapur, which wanted to expand well; what could be better than marrying the Kuru King to this blessed girl Gandhari.

A proposal for marriage was sent for her by Bheeshma Pitamah, the esteemed elder of Kuru Kingdom, to marry King Dhritrashtra. Dhritrashtra was a very brave man, with the strength of many elephants, but he was blind.

King Subal could not dare to refuse the proposal for he was scared of attack by the powerful Kingdom; the proposal was accepted. As soon as Gandhari got to know that her would-be-husband was blind, she blind-folded herself; pledging never to see, as a mark of devotion to her husband.

Gandhari got married to Dhritrashtra and became the Queen. A relation got established, but friendship and camaraderie never did come into it. On the contrary, feeling disappointed and wronged, Shakuni, the elder brother of Gandhari, who was very upset with this alliance, pledged to destroy the Kuru Kingdom with his wicked scheming.

In time, the shrewd man Shakuni, created massive differences among her sister’s sons Kauravas (hundred in number) and their cousins Pandavas (five sons of Pandu, the brother of Dhritrashtra).

A house of lacquer (lakshagrah), which is very flammable, was made in Varnavrat. The Pandavas were duped into going there, with an intention of killing them all; which was the major start to trouble in the family. Pandavas got to know in time and were saved. They went into anonymity and prepared themselves for future.

When they came back, Hastinapur stayed with Kauravas and Khandavprastha was given to Pandavas. Khandavprastha was a rough land which they nurtured into a beautiful city Indraprastha. Utterly jealous of them, Kauravas invited Pandavas for a game of dice (chausar, dyoot kreeda). Shakuni, the master of dice, played on behalf of the Kauravas and Pandavas lost their entire Kingdom, their wealth, soldiers, servants and also their wife Draupadi. When Pandavas lost Draupadi in the game of dice, she was pulled by her hair and dragged into the hall by Dusshasana, one of the sons of Gandhari, who insulted and shamed her.

Here, comes the time when her helpless husbands, who had dared to bet her in the game, watched silently. Dusshasana tried to disrobe her, he pulled at her saree; Duryodhan, the eldest Kaurav invited Draupadi to sit on his thigh. Draupadi prayed and remembered Sri Krishna who came to her help; who had vowed to help if she ever was in trouble, when way back, Draupadi had tied a piece of her saree on his wound. Well, what came about was an endless robe, an endless saree, Dusshasana was exhausted but could not disrobe her, it was not in his might to disrobe the one blessed by Sri Krishna.

This is the time when certain vows were made. Bhimsen, one of the husbands of Draupadi, vowed to break the thigh of Duryodhan; he vowed to drink the blood of Dusshasana; Draupadi vowed to keep her hair open till she could wash the same with the blood of Dusshasana.

The aforesaid event had sown the seeds of war for sure which could not be avoided hence. As destiny would have it, another game of dice and another exile for Pandavas followed. Some years hence when Pandavas returned from their exile, the unavoidable time of war came.

Some more pledges were taken which shaped the war. Sri Krishna pledged that he would not pick upaweaponinthiswarofMahabharata.Yudhishtra pledged that he would always speak the truth. Drona pledged that he would always educate the sons of royal family. Parshuram pledged to teach only the Brahmins. Shakuni pledged that he would wipe out the whole Kuru vansh.

At the start of Mahabharata, Arjuna, the favourite disciple of Sri Krishna, was very reluctant to fight the war in the first place, which is very well explained in the first chapter of Geeta. He was full of doubt; so much so that his chariot, drawn by Sri Krishna himself, was stopped between the two armies in the battle ground of Kurushetra and Krishna listened to his doubts.

Arjuna pinpointed the repercussions of war and then asked Sri Krishna, why it was necessary to indulge in one. He explained how a war can destroy the families and subsequent generations.

In the dire times, morals can go for a toss and females can go awry, varnsankar (mixed breed) take birth, who with their religious faiths all mixed- up, would not follow the regular norms of oblation, what can be worse than that. Without proper rituals and oblations, the ancestors ruin in the lokas above; dharma gets destroyed.

Furthermore, Arjuna showed his apprehension of fighting against his brothers and Uncles, his Gurus, his perceptors. He thought it was much better to die, than to fight with his own people.

Arjun’s questions were many; these are the questions that all of us face everyday; these dilemmas catch up and build up tensions in our mind each day. Sri Krishna gave answers to Arjuna, which in no way answered the questions of Arjuna directly but when we analyse critically, we understand that the questions asked by Arjuna were on a mere physical level; answers given by Sri Krishna, were actually given with a cosmic vision in mind; keeping in view that Kaliyug was approaching. Questions by Arjuna were down to earth questions of a regular house holder. Answers were given by Trilokinath (Master of the three lokas), who did not address petty worries of Arjuna; but at the same time, Arjuna was reminded of his final aim in life.. Aisha Brahmi sthithi Parth; the all merciful Lord directed his favourite disciple to the actual aim of one’s life, achieving that transcendental stage of a Yogi, which can be obtained by complete surrender to the Supreme.

MAHABHARATA was a part of the COSMIC PLAN. Arjuna was told to let go of his weaknesses and get up to fight. Krishna knew what was happening, could not be avoided. What was scheduled to happen, would happen anyway, being part of a cosmic plan. Kaliyug had to come so war had to be fought, however much havoc it may cause.

In Mahabharata Stri parv, there is a heart- wrenching description of Gandhari grieving after watching her dead sons in the battle field of Kurushetra. After the war, Gandhari was given divya drishti (special vision) by Vyas ji so she could look at the bodies in the war ground of Kurukshetra. Here is what Gandhari views; which gives a glimpse of what a battle-field looks like after a war.

- Dark, gloomy and scary battle ground with

eerie sounds of birds, animals and wailing of some old men and mostly women

- Dead bodies sprawled all over, streams of blood everywhere

- Mangled body parts of warriors lying in a heap; one could not distinguish whose body parts had come together

- Many birds pecking at the flesh of the deceased men

- Wild animals eating the portions of bodies of the soldiers

- People whose near and dear had been killed, roamed around listlessly in the war ground, trying to locate their kith and kin

- Women barely wrapped in some clothing, running around mindlessly, looking for the bodies of their sons and husbands

- Women crying over the bodies of their loved ones; some holding the body parts separated from the bodies of their men

- Along with soldiers, some saints/wise men who had accompanied their disciples, got killed

Watching her sons lying dead in the battle ground, some with body parts separated from their body; crows, eagles feeding on the rotting bodies. Among those bodies, Gandhari gets a glance of Shakuni, her brother and she utters: (some shlokas from Mahabharata are translated here):
- Here is lying the powerful King of Gandhar, Shakuni. Sahdev has killed him. Nephew has killed his Uncle.

- The one who could disguise in hundreds and thousands of ways; that magical person’s capabilities could not match the grace of Sahdev and got all burnt.

- The one who excelled in cheating; the one who in the game of dice (chausar game, dyut kreeda) had won over Yudhishtra and his vast Kingdom; he has lost his life now.

- Sri Krishna, today shakuni (one of the meaning of shakuni is birds) only are worshipping Shakuni (the person) from all sides. He learnt the game of dice viz. game of cheating, for the destruction of my sons.

- He is the one who created huge differences

between Pandavas and Kauravas and his own sons; to have them all killed by the Pandavas.

- Lord, the way my sons have gotten these lokas by dying while fighting bravely; similarly this ill- minded Shakuni also, he will get to reach those lokas.

- Krishna, my sons were all simple-minded. I hope when all of them reach higher lokas (punya- lokas) there at least he doesn’t bring about ill-will and hate among the brothers.

Gandhari knew her brother well. She was expecting that this King of Gandhar would join her sons in lokas above and create trouble there too. It looks like the seeds of war are somehow sown deep in the soil of Gandhar and the people there can not stay without fighting a war or inciting a war.

In the Mahabharata, Gandhar occupies a stellar position through the character of Shakuni, notorious Mama Shakuni. He was the one responsible for Mahabharata. Through him, Gandhar gets represented in Mahabharata prominently.

So many people lost their lives in Mahabharata. Eighteen Akshauhini armies fought this war. One such army consists of

- 1,09,350 Infantry 
- 21,870 Chariots
- 21,870 Elephants
- 65,610 Horses

In all eighteen such armies of Kauravas and Pandavas fought the war and perished.

Annie Besant, an Irish woman, gives a bril- liant account of Mahabharata in her book “The story of the Great War”. It states “Mahabharata is not a fairy-tale, but a history. The mighty Kshattriya caste, the warrior-caste of India, was for the most part destroyed in the Great War. Her soldiers that kept her safe, and made an iron wall around her, were slain in this war, and that caste ceased to ex- ist as a powerful order, and was carried on only by scattered families. Its destruction opened the way for India's conquest and fall.” [Loss of belief] She aptly describes how the death of so many Kshatriyas resulted in the shortage of people fighting for the safety of the country.

What Arjuna anticipated in the first chapter of Geeta, such destruction did happen in this eighteen day long war of Mahabharata.

The cosmic plan was that Kaliyug had to come. For that, Mahabharata had to be fought. Mahabharata was the turning point and had to happen; that was part of the cosmic design of Sri Krishna.

Nothing could come in the path of that CosmicPlan. When Arjuna kept dwindling from the path of duty; look at the sequence of events when Sri Krishna drove Arjuna far from the war ground, his son Abhimanyu entered the Chakravyuha, didn’t know his way out and was mercilessly killed. After that, Arjun’s wrath knew no bar. There is nothing worse than the loss of a son. After Abhimanyu’s death, all affections forgotten, Arjuna fought with all his might and defeated the Kauravas.

After the war, loosing all her hundred sons, Gandhari was obviously upset. Raging with grief, she cursed Sri Krishna.

- You have ignored Kauravas, so you will destroy your family and relatives too.

- On the 36th year from now, your relatives, ministers and sons, all will fight among themselves and die. You will roam around anonymously in the forests, like an orphan and meet your death through lowly means.

- Like the ladies of this Bharat vansh, the ladies of your vansh too will fall with grief over the bodies of your sons and brotheren; when they all die.

Sri Krishna let the words of the pious lady come true. When Sri Krishna chose to leave this world, that day Kaliyug started. A yuga about which Vyas ji says -

Dhanya Kali! Dhanya Shudra! Dhanya Nari!

What blessing we can get after ten years of tapa and bhramacharya (penance and celibacy) in Satyuga, that we get in an year in Tretayug and one month in Dwaparyug; that can be attained in just a day by simply chanting the name of the Lord.

Kaliyug kewal Naam aadhara| Simar simar Nar utrahi paara||

In Kaliyug, all we need to do is chant the name of the Lord and we will be free of all bondage.

Harernaam Harernaam Harernaam Kevalam| Kalau Nastyeva Nastyeva Gatiranyatha||

Name of Hari is the only way to go; nothing else, nothing else and nothing else.

Why does Vyas ji say “Dhanya Shudra, Dhanya Nari”

There are no strict rules of worship to adhere to for shudras (lower castes) they can just take the name of the lord and it will be accepted.

As for females of Kaliyug, they can win over the Lord by just serving (sewa) their husband and their preceptors with complete devotion.

This was the new facet of dharma that Kaliyug brought forth. The rigorous flavour of dharma was not there any more; it was not the prerogative of the Brahmins only, it was reshaped into a more pliable form, much approachable by many. 

Keywords: KN Rao, Mahabharata, Afghanistan, Sri Krishna, Arjun, Annie Besant, Gandhar, Pandavas, Kauravas, Gandhari, Dhritrashtra, Shakuni, Draupadi, Duryodhan, Ved Vyasa, Kaliyuga

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