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Why should we listen to her?*

Purushottam Agrawal

Because she is the centre of the central episode of the Mahabharata. She is the voice of ethical enquiry into the nature of Dharma. This text, which has been described as the veritable encyclopedia of the land called Bharata, is a text of agonizing moral dilemmas and ethical enquiries. The questions regarding the nature of Dharma, its true meaning, and its import in real life situations, its individual and collective significance haunt the text from beginning to end. And these are not rhetorical pronouncements but the fractions of the real, felt anguish, literally a matter of life and death. The Sarpa in the Ajgar Parva of the Vana Parva or the Yaksha in the famed Yaksha-Prashna is not going to revive the brothers of Yudhishthira if the latter is not able to satisfy the queries of Dharma satisfactorily.   Even the great battle itself is prefaced by a marathon discourse on the nature of Dharma. The conclusion of the war has left the victors in a most distraught mood, forcing the chief amongst them—Yudhishthira—comparing both the victors and losers to a pack of dogs who fought for a piece of flesh, and he—Yudhishthira has no appetite for it now—in his stupendous victory (12/ 7/10). His remorse knows no bounds, he knows he deserves not the laurels but the curses and says as much to Gandhari: “I am the brutal killer of your son, I became the cause of the destruction of the whole earth, I deserve nothing but your curse”(11/15/3).   Mahabharata abounds in graphic descriptions of violence. After all it is a bloody story of fratricidal conflict over the right to rule, and what is left to rule? The poet makes the vanquished antagonist congratulate the protagonist: “bereft of its fertility, of all its gems, all its lords killed, the whole earth is now yours to enjoy!” (8/31/51). The victor is left with the final battle of coming to terms with himself, after all life has to go on, he knows only too well that the essence of Dharma is unfathomable, the ways of the noble souls are the only beacon lights—‘Mahajano yena gatah sah panthah”! So, he too has to go on, has to join the final battle. And it is Bhima of all people who reminds him: “Nothing and nobody comes with any help in this battle, you and you alone have to enter into this, and ...

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