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4 pm Nov 14, 2013

Feminism, Politics and History in the Mahabharata

Author of 'The Aryavarta Chronicles' and 'Objects of Affection' on feminism, politics and history in the Mahabharata.
30 questions answered
  • Putting aside the idea that Krishna is God, how would you comparatively rate his ethics(for instance encouraging bhima to break the thigh of a combatant) vs that of someone like yudhistira who willingly accepted punishment for a just one poor decision in life. One is tempted to argue that Yudishtira is the more ethical Asked by: Rakesh
  • Krishna Udayasankar I think that is a question of approach. "Morality is a subtle thing" : This statement is made (as per the critical edition of the MBh), many times, by Bhisma and Yudhisthir, whereas Krishna-Govinda is clearly oriented towards the greater common good. Having said, it is not as if he was above making mistakes, or error. The point is, the he no worse than any of the others, whereas those we hold up as ideals - e.g. Yudhisthir are not as moral as we think.
  • Bigamy was acceptable in Mahabaratha. Is that OK with today's Indian women ?? Asked by: sundar1950in
  • Krishna Udayasankar Do you think bigamy does not exist in today's society? Switch on the TV and watch your average evening soap opera - most men in these serials have more than one partner (where married or otherwise). I know that is a broad statement on my part, but I can say there's more than one channel which shows such things as commonplace. Having said, that doesnt make it acceptable, but it is tolerated, endured, by many.
  • Mahabharata as a Management science book should be the best. your take on this ?/ Asked by: sundar1950in
  • Krishna Udayasankar I thought of writing, to be honest. But there is way so much more - philosophy, science, psychology, politics that it contains, that I had to finally write the Aryavarta Chronicles as a story, which brings in all these elements. But yes, I still have my notes from the time I explored the Bhagavad Gita as an idea for my PhD thesis! :)
  • Why does Draupadi claim so much space in the Mahabharata despite having stronger voices such as Kunti, Shakuntala and Vidula? Also, which books would you recommend lay readers related to the Mahabharata Asked by: Akshay Iyer
  • Krishna Udayasankar I think there are two reasons for that - one of course, is that this is something each narrator has to choose and decide. Irawati Karve, for example, goes into the characters and motivations of Kunti and Gandhari. But the second reason, one which I'm not too happy about, is how, over the years, we tend to point to the violence against Draupadi as a cause for the war. Really? What about all the other factors, all the greed and ambition and envy of many of the others, which subsequently led to the war? Focussing on Draupadi may well have been a way to downplay Yudhisthir's mistakes (and even Krishna-Govinda's), as causes of the great war. I'm not saying that is why it is that way, just that this could be one explanation.
  • Hello Ma'am! Do you think that old civilisations were indeed so advanced that even the term evolution looks like a misnomer? Asked by: Akshay
  • Krishna Udayasankar Hello! Evolution is not a misnomer, because true evolution is not measured in terms of technology and power alone. Evolution is about who we are as human beings, the choices we make. We, humanity, are learning but we make mistakes to get there. Democracy, for example, is an institution that is a result of social evolution - in fact, thats what fascinates me about Govinda and the Mahabharata - the strong ideas of democracy and rights that underlie the story. At the end of the day, the epic is a story of evolution and revolution, both!
  • Lifting the mountains and providing shelters to the yadavas - - - what is it's significance to today's rulers ?/ Asked by: sundar1950in
  • Krishna Udayasankar The environment! Tragedy of the commons! Sustainability. Resource-sharing. There are so many themes that emerge from that incident, particularly the whole idea of a sacrifice to Indra (which Krishna questions, thus leading, as the story goes, to storms, and the subsequent raising of Govardhana). I think particularly there are underlying themes of feudalism and economic justice involved in that incident. There is a lot we can learn from these incidents if we see them as symbolic and metaphorical, instead of taking them literally.
  • Lord Rama and then in the Avatar of Lord Krishna. Earlier an Idealist then a realist. Significance of the change in persona ??/ Asked by: sundar1950in
  • Krishna Udayasankar Krishna is very much an idealist, I think. He believes in humanity, in the goodness of people. But his idealism is not driven by emotion, but by reason. Also, your question seems to imply that you think they both were the same person/ individual. Is that what you think?
  • Draupadi in Mahabaratha and Sita in Ramayan - - Do you see similarities. Both were subjected to difficulties. What is the relevance of it ?/ Asked by: sundar1950in
  • Krishna Udayasankar Both are symbols of the earth, the people, the world around us. Their suffering suggests that all is not well, that a change, even a revolution must follow. It's not uncommon in literature that characters are used as representative devices, to symbolise a larger context.
  • Didn't it ever daunt you; that reinterpreting the Mahabharata, something that we have grown up on, could totally backfire? Asked by: Priya
  • Krishna Udayasankar No. Not in the sense of that people may not like it. I believe that anything done with honesty and integrity has its merit. Also, writers are products of their times. That this idea comes to me, is a result of the world around me. At the same time, what did scare me is whether I've done right, or done justice to the characters. It is a thought that bothers me with every book, that have I worked hard enough, done enough research, been logical enough in presenting the conclusions as a story. If I may quote Govinda Shauri here "Nimmitramatram Bhava, Savyasachin." I am merely the instrument, the narrator of this version of the story. Like us all, I am the product of time :)
  • By when can we expect the third book in this Aryavarta series ? Asked by: meetneo
  • Krishna Udayasankar The target is 2014. On that note, I shall panic :)
  • After Kurukshetra, have you thought of what next? Asked by: Shriya
  • Krishna Udayasankar After Kurukshetra: The Cowherd Prince - a prequel. I dont think I could bear to part from my characters on a mournful note, at the end of the war! Surprisingly, I read that, when Veda Vyasa finished scribing the Mahabharata he too was so despondent that he decided to tell a happier story - that of the Harivamsa, i.e. Govinda's childhood and youth. I don't plan to go into Govinda's childhood through - I plan to maintain the theme of The Aryavarta Chronicles by looking at the socio-political conditions that surround the rise of a gwala to become a prince.
  • Be it Satya, Panchaali or Uttara, your women in Aryavarta Chronicles do have a strong and individual voice. But then was it possible for women to grow without a supportive eco-system? Want to ask if the perceived misogyny in the Mahabharata is over rated.(Save that one fateful incident of Draupadi's insult) Asked by: Swaroopa
  • Krishna Udayasankar I'd be happy if the misogyny were overrated, but I think it is unlikely. However, I do want to stress that misogyny is but one of the many issues that are relevant to the context, and that is what I try to bring out as part of The Aryavarta Chronicles. As Panchali herself says in Book 2: Kaurava - before Yudhisthir stakes the brothers and her, he plays away the citizenry, their possessions, their dwellings. Essentially, all his subjects are slaves, not just Panchali and the brothers! The violence against Draupadi was but a dramatic playing-out of the whole thing. Also, I really do think what happened to her was more than an "insult". It was violence, not just shaming. I don't mean to be argumentative, but calling it a humiliation is on the same logic as all those 80-s movies where the hero's sister commits suicide after eve-teasing in order to keep the family's "honour".
  • Can the Kurukshetra war be considered a historical incident? If yes, what are your sources from Archeological or other perspectives? Asked by: Raja K
  • Krishna Udayasankar Hi. I do think it is likely that the war is a historical incident. However, to treat is as such means we have be willing and open to review the evidence that may be present without bringing in supernatural forces and active divinity. There are many sources that I have drawn upon, to present a probable version of events, and these are detailed in the note on sources that can be found at the back of both Books 1 and 2 (Govinda and Kaurava)
  • Identity Crash of Arjuna in Mahabharata repaired by Krishna by preaching Geeta...in today' time at every second every adult crashes his/her identity by any mean how do u explain the need of live Krishna in adult' life as their companion? Asked by: Atman,HSDas@ydsyouth.org
  • Krishna Udayasankar Krishna-Govinda is more than a companion. He is what we can all be, each of us, a better state of human existence that we should all aspire to. The place to find him in not by our side, but within (and I mean that in a non-spiritual way)
  • i really get upset when people(mainly the christian missionaries) start calling lord krishna a war monger. lord krishna tried everything to avert the war. he even went to kauravas and begged them for five villages. but in the end to defend oneself you have to go to war. aren't the christian nations doing the same? Asked by: anand
  • Krishna Udayasankar We human beings have a long history, and religion has always been a part of it. I dont think there is any organised religion that does not have violence or other atrocities attached to its name, including both Christianity and Hinduism. As far as Krishna/Govinda goes - I think he went from not wanting war to wanting it, but with "good" reason. I do not condone war and violence, but it has been a means of revolution in the past. Perhaps that is how he saw it too?
  • Many claim that Bhima was the one who loved Draupadi the most. But they say Draupadi's first and only love was Arjuna. How much truth do you think exists in this? Asked by: Richa Singh
  • Krishna Udayasankar Honestly, its tough to talk about truth - all I can offer you are probabilities. I dont dispute that Bhima may have had feelings for her, but I think calling Arjuna her only love is not well-supported. Again this is a symbolic device that has crept in over the years - I've read commentators who say that Panchali's love for Arjuna is because he resembles/ reminds her of Krishna-Govinda. Again and again the similarities between the two men, and also the interaction of "3 Krishnas' comes up. Also, Panchali is supposed to be a "partial" incarnation of Lakshmi. I shall leave you to form your own conclusions from these various pieces :)
  • As you draw inspiration from the great epic as author, do you consider it anything more than a fiction? Asked by: S Chaturvedi
  • Krishna Udayasankar It is more than fiction. It is history, it is an intrinsic part of our cultural fabric, something that is alive and relevant because we still interact with it, and reshape and define by our interaction. I see it as philosophy, as science, as many things... But most of all, I think it is history that has been obscured, and recast, and the characters deified to what we see today.
  • Hi Krishna,what inspired you to write yet another re telling of Mahabharat? What's the pressure like to deliver Kurukshetra? Asked by: Bhaskar
  • Krishna Udayasankar Actually, I would say this is not "yet another re-telling". The Aryavarta Chronicles are a reconstruction - which means that many of the basic facts/ assumptions that underlie the Mahabharata (and so can be found in retellings) have been questioned and removed - such as supernatural influences. At the same time, it is not a re-telling in terms of a totally-fictitious take, because I have tried to base it on scientific reasoning and valid research, to tell the story that may well have happened. As for the pressure to deliver Kurukshetra - it's huge. And most of it is internal. I am still trying to figure out what sort of a man Govinda Shauri must have been to stand up on the battlefield and deliver a speech like the Bhagavad Gita. That makes Kurukshetra the toughest book yet in the series!
  • Which books would you recommend lay readers related to the Mahabharata? Asked by: Akshay Iyer
  • Krishna Udayasankar Wow! There are many, many books out there - both discussions and retellings as well as reinterpretations. I would say, start with Irawati Karve's Yuganta. Its a mix of essays/ short stories that makes you think about the Mahabharata differently. You could also check out Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay's Krishnacharitra. There's a note on the sources at the back of both Books 1 and 2 - you might find some leads there.
  • One of your reviewers has called you an author who's 'accessible' through social media. Is it a conscious effort, or just the way you are? Do you, at any point, think it makes you a little more vulnerable to criticism? Asked by: Piyu
  • Krishna Udayasankar Confession time: I think its just the way I am :) My family keeps telling me I'll get more writing done if I close down my twitter and FB account! Having said, I don't like to be "an author" all the time, if that makes sense. I love books, I love the story of the books I've written, and I'm happy to discuss and debate with anyone who wants to talk about these issues. I dont deny that there is pressure on all writers these days to be interactive, but for someone like me, social media is the only way - reason being I'm an introvert by personality. But I'm also horribly forthright, and yes, that does get me into trouble. As for criticism - its tough to not hear/see it, unless you completely cut yourself off from the online world, whether or not you participate in social media. In any case, I'm all for criticism based on logic - you'll find that some reviewers/readers are mentioned in the acknowledgements for book 2 - some of these are actually folks who gave me much to think about and learn from, after book 1.
  • Krishna Udayasankar No. Lying makes me uncomfortable, even though its not like I've never told a lie (most recent one being when I told my mother I finished all my vegetables for lunch). Having said, there is a difference between lying and innuendo or double speak, and many of the instances in the epic are along those lines.
  • playing politics to reach objectives,which are ideal, is no sin - - Is this what Mahabaratha says ?/ Asked by: sundar1950in
  • Krishna Udayasankar I dont think so, even though this is how we commonly interpret the Mahabharata's core principle. But the ends cannot justify reprehensible means, though some characters, like Bhisma might believe so. (He makes statements along the lines of morality and justice are determined by those in power, etc.) But I dont think that is what Govinda stood for.
  • After Kurukshetra, have you thought of what next? Asked by: Shriya
  • Krishna Udayasankar Hi Shriya, please see my earlier response to your question :)
  • Mahabaratha as perceived is a limited to northern part of the sub continent. Why the southern part of Vindhya and down did not get involved ?? Asked by: sundar1950in
  • Krishna Udayasankar There are references to Dakshinavarta in the Mahabharata. Also, more interestingly, there are various versions of the Mahabharata in the south. In fact, Draupadi is revered as "Amman" or Devi and "thee-midi" or firewalking is done in her honour. Also the legend of Aravan has a special place in the south. There are many more instances, including temples to Duryodhana, the link between Dwaraka and Guruvayoor... I could go on and on! :)
  • Strong female characters define The Aryavarta Chronicles. Did you at any point of time stopped to compare or begin to perceive the modern Indian society and the role women play in it differently after you wrote the books? Asked by: Atula
  • Krishna Udayasankar I dont know if I saw it differently, but I certainly began to understand it better. I think particularly with book 2: Kaurava, the parallels to women of then and now became very strong. In fact, I'd submitted the manuscript to my editor when the horrific December 16th incident happened. Now, its not like this issue did not exist in India before that date, in fact, I began to see the violence Draupadi was subjected to as one of the oldest recorded instances of such a crime, in our culture and history. I felt responsible to deal with it in all its gruesome complexity, than dismissing it as 'dishonour' or pretending that all things were set alright because she was duly avenged. Then and now, the issue of violence against women, of gender equality is a complex one. Did I compare the two eras? Yes. Was I changed for the experience? Yes. Are things very different then, and now: No.
  • Your favourite authors/books? Asked by: Sameeha
  • Krishna Udayasankar Many! Isaac Asimov, Herman Hesse, JRR Tolkein, Kalki Krishnamurthy, Rudyard Kipling... and then, there are the poets. That list will take another day to type :)
  • the vastrahan chapter and panchali's conversation with govinda towards the end seem to reflect a certain anger towards events in our recent times. there are references too to insensitive comments. how was your viewpoint affected by what is happening to women today, in 2013 while writing that bit? Asked by: jaya
  • Krishna Udayasankar Oh yes, the anger is there and I will not deny it. However, as a writer, I cannot ignore the integrity of the book, just to put forward my point of view. In the Vastraharan chapter, especially, I have relied heavily on the critical edition of the Mahabharata - particularly in terms of the things said about Panchali and the language used. Having said that, one of the reasons why I wanted to keep close to the critical edition was because of what is happening to women today, of the ideas, perceptions and the incomprehensible acceptance of wrong that seems to be part of our thinking. Such misogynistic views are typically built over centuries, even millennia. The good news is, they were challenged then, now and in the future too.
  • is there any other story in mythology that would inspire you to reconstruct and reinterpret? Asked by: jaya
  • Krishna Udayasankar Yes. I've been wanting to look at Yayati's story, and that of his children, for a while. It seems to be a splendid metaphor for nation-building and conquest and many other things, so will probably work on that, someday. Right now I am working on a novel based on the mythological origins of Singapore - again, trying to take out the magic and supernatural, to construct a socio-political story.
  • Who, If any is your Favorite Character from Mahabharat both in terms of writing the character and otherwise? Asked by: Bhaskar
  • Krishna Udayasankar Shikandin! He's my idea of a best friend - rock solid and reliable. I also liked reconstructing his character as a man, but without losing the sensitivity to gender issues that the Mahabharata ascribes to him, by virtue of being a eunuch. I also enjoyed trying to get inside Govinda's head: Once the divine and supernatural is taken out, it became necessary to find rational and logical explanations for the chain of events, including the things he did or caused done. That was tough, but exciting! I've also liked writing about Panchali and more recently, Uttara.
  • What is the major difference between preaching and practical ? Every one has great level of understanding why every one can not convert it into practicality ? What are the obstacles to do so.. Asked by: Atman,HSDas@ydsyouth.org
  • Krishna Udayasankar Practice is a personal thing. I lack the wisdom and competence to comment on why anyone might not be able to convert knowledge into practicality. All I can say is that personally, I am limited by my own understanding of myself, of humanity - I guess what Govinda-Krishna would call ego or the identification of the self. Perhaps, someday I will understand. But even then, I dont know if would be able to give an answer that works for everyone.

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