Theatrical Responses to the Mahabharata.

K G Paulose
The eternal saga of Mahabharata( mba) is described in the Adiparva. It proclaims – Every age has its own mba and every mba has its own interpreter. Our search here is for the mba of our age.

Determinism and Free ‐ will

Many of you might have seen the Mba serial of B.R.Chopra on TV. Every episode in it starts with a rolling Wheel and many other wheels of different size on the screen. Wheel is the symbol of kala ‐ time. For us kala is chakra –cyclic. Never does kala takes a linear path. We do not, therefore, have
progression or regression. Extended further, we reach the solar system wherein every planet has its position motion and speed. There is no choice. Everything is predetermined. This is the universal rtam of life in which our role is pre destined.

In spite of it each planet moves in the orbit in its own axis. Here it has a limited choice. Ekalavya had no option to exercise his free will, yet he survived and practiced to send arrows with the remaining four fingers. His successors of the tribe still do not use the thumb while shooting .This is what we call the survival instinct. Thump, in India, is a great symbol. The weavers in Bengal, in the 19th cen. when the colonial masters imposed laws against their traditional job cut their thumps in protest

Let us come to more recent times. Many of us were born as slaves in the British Empire. When we were children grandmothers encouraged us to read Ramayana and Puranas. But they did not permit us to read or hear Mahabharata. They feared that reading mba will bring in quarrel in the household. As there is a philosophy for reading there is also one for unreading. A king of ours put in jail his uncle suspecting his loyalty. He was the greatest of the Malayalam poet of that time. In all humility he composed thousand verses of apology seeking pardon and sent it to the king. The king read the first verse and let it out. The poet was enraged. In his anger he wrote hundred slokas praying the God of
Death to take away the life of the king. The interesting part of the story is the reason given by the king for not reading it. The first verse the king feared that if he continues to read he will pardon the poet much against his own will. This is the philosophy of unreading the text. What our grandmothers feared in mba?

The two primordial instincts inherent in man, crude and savage, are the greed for wealth and women. Had not Santanu run mad after the fisher girl the story have been otherwise same with the fisher man. His claim on the throne upset everything. The objects of human life were only two. Artha and Kama. Bharata allows only two rasas to dominate a play‐ vira and sringara. It was after a long time in the history of humanity that a regulatory mechanism to distinguish man from anima became necessary. So when Dushyanta became infatuated on the hermit girl his first doubt was whether she is fit to be married or not. It is here that the Dharma came in. It provides a value

Acquire wealth, enjoy women; but be within this frame. Thus trivarga governed the life for long. It became difficult to enforce this moral code? Of course police and penal code are there. But a better way is to persuade so as to ensure their will full acc eptance. Like we tell our children go and study today tomorrow we will take you to the film .Remember, if only you get good marks. Thus came the concept of Svarga. The elders offered a temptation to enforce dharma. The chief attraction of svarga is that the apsaras will be all around us .Then all kinds of allurements, dishes, gardens flowers and what more. It is a kind of tourist destination once the purse is empty one has to check out. Humanity by this time had marched a long way. Other thoughts began to disturb the minds.Goutama found the escape in nirvana. Svarga pleases, nirvana freezes. By 9thcen. Santa became accepted as the chief motive of mba. Two centuries later Abhinava accepted santa as maharasa.

Those grandmas are no more. The value system in which they lived has also vanished. The children today are born to an entirely different set of values which give them multiple choices. No more, any of us teachers take Drona as a model; not because we have grown immensely good but Ekalavyas before us have the freedom to choose. They will either lock us in our room or file a suit in the Highcourt. This is the background of the Mba School encouraging us to read the epic. The distance from the grandmas to the scholars is not of decades but of values that govern the society. To put it in the language of agency the track for universal movement remains more or less pre destined. But that of
individuals have become more flexible. Individual fate is not as pre determined as it was in older generations. The system now provides a public space and a civil society for Ekalavya to move though he is conditioned by the universal ordinances.