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Tuesday 5 December 2017

Of Prenups and Bhishma Pratigyas

A man's life is not easy. On the job and career front, you have to be incredibly pushy and aggressive to get anywhere. On the domestic front, you need to be that strong shoulder to lean on, while at the same time you've got to be broad-minded, witty, suave, earn handsomely, be a sympathetic listener with a penchant for traveling and cooking, chores and oh, yeah, good at clicking Insta-worthy pictures! Yes, these are prerequisites for good husband material. (Feminists are so going to sue me!)

Cheer up guys! You think these testing demands are all to do with modern changing times? Nah, far from it! The compelling stories from Mahabharata, stand witness to the fact that women hold the sway while men are fooled into thinking they do! From the maze of tale-within-tales and countless characters of this mighty epic, just one tale, of one man is enough to confirm that men have never held the upper hand!

The story and face that comes to mind is of a perpetually distressed actor Rishabh Shukla portraying the role of Maharaj Shantanu in B.R.Chopra's epic serial Mahabharat. 

Fear not if you've not seen this ol' timer's once upon a time Sunday staple serial. The point here is, the man has played his role perfectly, Maharaj Shantanu had every reason to be distressed.

The Tale of King Shantanu

In his previous life, Shantanu had been the powerful king Mahabhisha of the Iskhvaku dynasty who had ascended to the heavens after a successful innings on earth. A blessing, no? Apparently not, for despite reaching heaven, he gets cursed by Lord Brahma for ogling Devi Ganga at a gathering when an errant wind displaces her clothing, revealing her body, while all other Gods bow their heads in bashfulness. And what a curse! To be born as a mortal and be emotionally traumatized by the woman he had cast his lecherous gaze on! 

Thus the cursed Mahabhisha is born as Shantanu to the virtuous Kuru King Pratipa. Since Shantanu's two brothers relinquish their desire to rule Hastinapur, he becomes the default emperor. Good things don't last, do they?

As is fated, Shantanu meets the divine Ganga and is swept away by her beauty. Here, dear friends, comes my first understanding of a prenuptial contract. Devi Ganga agrees to Shantanu's marriage proposal on the condition that he will never, like ever, question her actions. One question and she's out, and the marriage kaput! Pretty strong, huh? Well, the good king agrees and the two get married. Soon, they have a baby. 

The excited, first-time father gets a shock when he sees his beloved wife calmly carrying the new born to the river and drowning it. This repeats on a loop six more times! All he can do is be a mute spectator, helplessly wring his hands in despair (You do remember the prenup?) His beautiful Ganga heartlessly drowns seven children born to them.
Each time he follows her and is dying to ask her, why is she perpetrating such a heinous act but refrains from speaking out loud for fear of losing her. (No questions asked, takes a whole new meaning here, doesn't it?)

Finally the eighth time around, Shantanu cannot stop himself. As Ganga is about to carry forth the same act, he stops her. A simple, why are you doing this? And poof goes the marriage!

Ganga swiftly carries out her threat, deserting a flabbergasted Shantanu with the explanation for having drowned the seven babies. The seven babies were reincarnations of Vasus who had been cursed by Sage Vashistha to be born in the mortal world. As a favor to these Vasus, Ganga had agreed to give birth and liberate them from the mortal world at the earliest. (Doesn't say much about life on earth even way back then, what with everyone wanting to escape it!)
The eighth Vasu, the eighth baby that Ganga had failed to drown, thanks to Shantanu, had been cursed to a long life on earth. This baby she now carries away with her, promising to deliver him to the king at the right time.

Lonely King Shantanu, free of any family distractions, performs his kingly duties exceptionally well (point to be noted) and is declared Emperor by all. One day, some years later while strolling along the banks of Ganga, he comes across a divine youth arresting the flow of the mighty river with a barricade of skilfully shot arrows. His doubts as to the youth's identity are confirmed when Ganga appears before him, introducing the boy as his long-lost son Devavrata, now proficient in the scriptures and every kind of weaponry and warfare. Devavrata is joyfully welcomed and crowned Yuvraj/heir-apparent by the king. 

The king, now relieved to be handing over reins of the kingdom to capable hands, is enjoying a brief respite on the banks of the river, Yamuna for a change. What is it about the riverside and this man? 
A beautiful fragrance grabs his attention. He traces its origin to be emanating from the beautiful Satyavati, adopted daughter of Dusharaj, the chieftain of fisher-folk. How a lady smelling like fish (she was also called matsyagandha) drove the king into a hopelessly romantic tizzy, we shall never know, but that is what happened!

King Shantanu, now bitten by the love bug approaches Dusharaj with the intent of marrying his daughter. Once bitten, twice shy, didn't seem to have been written way back then. This wily fisherman with the point of ascertaining an advantageous match for his daughter lays forth, you guessed it, a prenuptial condition, the condition that Satyavati's children will inherit the throne. This of course is in all unfairness to his first-born son, Devavrata the crown prince and it is rejected vehemently by King Shantanu. 

The king returns to his palace, pining desolately over his lost love. Perceptive Devavrata notices his father's condition and decides to find out the reason for his moroseness. When he comes to know of the reason, he goes to meet Dusharaj. The adamant chieftain refuses to budge from his stand, wherein the large-hearted Devavrata renounces his throne in favor of the children born to Satyavati. Not satisfied with this, Dusharaj still voices his doubts on Devavrata's future progeny laying claim to the throne. 
And THAT makes the young prince take the unimaginable oath, the oath of never marrying, of lifelong celibacy and to serve the throne of Hastinapur till his last breath. (Yeah, that incredibly memorable scene from BRC's Mahabharat, of Mukesh Khanna a.k.a Bhishma taking this immense vow - aakhand pratigya amidst deafening thunder and lightening!)

Suffice it to say, King Shantanu doesn't know whether to be happy to have gained his love or to be crushed by the fact that he's lost such a capable son/crown prince to the whims of a fisherman and the probability of handing over the throne of Hastinapur to an uncertain future.

What ensues of course is the rest of the lengthy and convoluted epic that is Mahabharata! 

A man, an Emperor with virtually limitless power and sway over his subjects was dictated by the ways of his heart and manipulated by those wielding control over it. 


So dear men, see what a tough time men, nay even Emperors of yore faced? 
Your misery has company from times unknown!

Reference: Wikipedia

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