Peace or War?

Force is all conquering, but its victories are short lived.
Abraham Lincoln

When two sides do not see eye-to-eye, how far must one go to look for a compromise, especially if one side is seemingly weaker than the other? What is the tipping point when diplomacy should give way to ego and pride? Is there even a possibility of peace when the underlying mental anguishes, rage, and perceived injustices are not addressed?

What is the effect and impact of succumbing to mind’s desires (arishadvarga – lust (kAma), anger/rage (krodha), greed (lObha), undue desire/attachment (mOha), pride (madha), jealousy/envy (mAtsarya)?

These are heavy questions that occur time and again over the course of history and will continue to do so. The nature of these questions are such that even if there is a clear answer, the implementation is near impossible due to inherent deficiencies within human emotions and we are destined to keep repeating them.

That doesn’t mean that we cannot learn about them and try to understand them, and maybe, just maybe, try to detach ourselves from them. Perhaps the greatest source of such analysis lies within the magnum opus of Indian Literature – the Mahabharata (or Jaya, as it was originally called).


Mahabharata says of itself:

धर्मे चार्थे च कामे च मोक्षे च भरतर्षभ
यदिहास्ति तदन्यत्र यन्नेहास्ति न तत् क्कचित्

dharmey ca artey ca kaamey ca mokshey ca bharatarshabha

yadihaasti tadanyatra yanneyhaasti na tat kkachit

For everything that is related to the objectives of human life (purushaartha) dharma (righteous way of living / moral goals), artha (gaining wealth / economic goals), kAma (art of love / emotional goals), and mOksha (path to salvation / spiritual goals), whatever can be found here can also be found elsewhere. However, whatever is not here, won’t be found anywhere else.

This is often quoted to imply the breadth and depth of coverage provided by this epic of more than 100,000 verses – a no mean feat. People spend their lifetime trying to decipher the various meanings and values embedded in each verse.

Even with such a monumental work, people have attempted over time, driven by their passion to pass the message to a broader audience, to translate this epic into various languages. As we have seen in Kamba RamAyana, same guiding principles apply to such translations, where the author walks the fine line between providing an appropriate and selective summarization of the text without compromising the integrity of the source – a feat not many have succeeded in doing, especially not in the recent times.

In Thamizh, Villbharatham (வில்லிபாரதம்) is considered the authoritative translation of Mahabharata. It is said to be written around the 14th century by a poet named Villiputhooraar (the poet from Srivilliputhur), who also goes by the name Villiputhur Azhawar, due to his affinity to Vaishnavism. Hence the name (short form of  வில்லிபுத்தூரார் அருளிய பாரதம்   – the MahabhAratha provided by Villiputhooraar)

While we are not qualified to compare and contrast the talents of Villiputhorraar and Kamban for their translation abilities, it does not prevent us from enjoying the literary beauty of the work. We can imagine that the author would arguably have had a tougher time in summarizing the work due to the comparative size and complexity of the source. Even so, we can see the dedication and artistry in the work in many places.

The scene

Let’s now zoom in on one of the critical points in the story to further our original thought process.

After having lost everything in a gambling game against their step-brothers – the Kauravas – Pandavas complete their exile for 12 years plus an extra year in hiding as per the bet. The implicit understanding (but not contractually agreed upon) is that they will share the kingdom in some form once they come back. Of course, having enjoyed years of power, Duryodhana – the current king and the eldest of the Kauravas – is in no mood to part with any of that.

So, there are two options in front of Yudhishtra – the eldest of the Pandavas and the rightful heir to the throne – either fight the Kauravas, which is sure to be a bloody battle, or go for a compromise. Yudhistira’s inclination is to avoid war, which is sure to result in the death of a lot of his friends and relatives, and seek a compromise instead. However, his brothers are in no mood for such niceties. After all, they have been roundly humiliated in the palace during the game, an attempt was made to molest their wife Draupadi, they were sent to exile for many years, and on top of it, the other side has refused to bring back status quo after they have completed their dues.

It is said that time heals. But time can also harden emotions. Most conflicts in our society start off with an injustice perceived by one group by another. Some take the path of healing – either emotionally forgiving the deed or rationalizing it away, but many take the path of hardening. Years upon years, the feelings of resentment keep growing, like drops in a cave that slowly harden to form stalactites and stalagmites – eventually becoming hard, rigid, inflexible, powerful, and at the same time increasingly brittle and heavy that it breaks and shatters to pieces when it reaches a tipping point.

Yudhishtra’s Thought

Yudhishtra asks Krishna to be their ambassador for Duryodhana and ask for a compromise. He states his four negotiation positions: First, half the kingdom, if not one of the countries that are part of the kingdom, if not 5 villages, and if not 5 houses. If all of these fail, then declare war.

He then proceeds to ask his brothers for their feedback on his decision.

Bheema’s Anger

Bheema – the next eldest – and arguably, the more hot-tempered of the lot, is disgusted by Yudhishtra’s suggestion. He is in no mood for a compromise. He scolds Yudhishtra for even thinking of compromise and implores that he be sent instead as the messenger so that he can see Duryodhana and beat him black and blue!

மலை கண்டதென என் கைம் மறத் தண்டின் வலி கண்டும், மகவான் மைந்தன்
சிலை கண்டும், இருவர் பொரும் திறல் கண்டும், எமக்காகத் திருமால் நின்ற
நிலை கண்டும், இவள் விரித்த குழல் கண்டும், இமைப்பொழுதில் நேரார்தம்மைக்
கொலைகண்டு மகிழாமல், அவன் குடைக் கீழ் உயிர் வாழக் குறிக்கின்றாயே.

malai kaNdadhena en kai marathaNdin vali kaNdum, magavaan maindan
silai kaNdum, iruvar porum thiRal kaNdum, emakkaaga thirumaal nindRa
nilai kaNdum, ival viritha kuzhal kaNdum, imai pozhuthil nEraar thammai
kolai kaNdu magizhaamal, avan kudai keezh uyir vaazha kuRikkindRaayE!

Even after knowing the power of my mace and my ability to wield it, knowing Arjuna’s skill in wielding his bow, knowing Nakula and Sahadeva’s skills in warfare, having comfort that divinity personified Krishna is on our side, and seeing Draupadi’s open hair and her vow not to tie it till she got justice, instead of wanting to get the satisfaction of seeing us killing those who did us wrong in a heartbeat, why the heck would you want to beg them to live in their shadow?

Bheema doesn’t mince words here! You would think anyone with some சொரணை (soranai – pride/ego) will bristle at these words and get ready for war! However, Yudhishtra maintains his calm and says he would rather live humbly than be the cause for carnage. Krishna also interjects and says it doesn’t behoove Bheema to go against his elder brother’s words.

Arjuna’s Frustration

அக் காலம் பொறுத்த எலாம் அமையாமல், இன்னம் இருந்து அறமே சொன்னால்,
எக்காலம் பகை முடித்து, திரௌபதியும் குழல் முடிக்க, இருக்கின்றாளே?

சொன்னாலும், அவன் கேளான்; விதி வலியால் கெடு மதி கண் தோன்றாது அன்றே!
எந் நாளும் உவர் நிலத்தின் என் முளை வித்திடினும் விளைவு எய்திடாது;
பன்னாகம் தனக்கு அமிர்தம் கொடுத்தாலும் விடம் ஒழியப் பயன் கொடாதே.

akkaalam poRutha ellaam amayaamal, innam irundhu aRamE sonnaal
ekkaalam pagai mudithu, Draupadiyum kuzhal mudikka irukkindRaaLE?

sonnaalum avan kELaan; vidhi valiyaal kedu madhi kaN thondRaadhu andRE!
ennaaLum uvar nilathin en muLai vithidinum viLaivu eididaadhu;
pannaagam thanakku amirdham koduthaalum vidam ozhiya payan kodaathe.

We have tolerated the injustices meted to us in the palace and have kept on suffering. If we still continue to keep talking about dharma, when will we ever fight back and avenge the assault on Draupadi?

Even if we talk conciliatory words to Duryodhana, he is in no mood to listen. His rage has blinded his sensibilities. You cannot grow crops in a wasteland. You cannot give nectar to a snake and expect it to stop giving poison in return.

Arjuna invokes similar sentiments of Bheema about Draupadi’s insult and is frustrated that even with all their prowess, they iare being constrained from going to war.

Nakula’s Reasoning

அன்ன நடை அரம்பைதனை அவுணர் கவர்ந்திட, இமையோர் அரசுக்காக,
முன்னம் அவருடன் பொருது, சிறை மீட்டான், நம் குலத்து முதல்வன் அன்றோ?

மா நகரும் வள நாடும் உரிமையும் தன் மொழிப்படியே வழங்கான்ஆகில்,
தான் அறியாதவன் பிறர் போய்க் கற்பித்தால், அறிவனோ?

anna nadai arambai thanai avuNar kavarndhida, imayor arasukkaaga
munnam avarudan porudhu, siRai meettaan, nam kulathu mudhalvan andRO?

maa nagarum vaLa naadum urimayum than mozhippadiyE vazhangaan aagil
thaan aRiyaadhavan piRar pOi kaRpithaal aRivaanO?

Our ancestor (a king called Purooravan) waged war on asuras when they tried to assault Urvasi – one of Indra’s divine ladies. Having come from such an ancestry where we can’t even bear the assault on someone who is not even related to us, how can we continue to tolerate the injustice meted to our own wife and not avenge it?

Interestingly, when we read it initially, we thought this referred to rAama – the similarities are striking (although rAma was from a different clan). When rAma destroyed rAvana and his kingdom to get back sIta and is being hailed for his actions, why shouldn’t they do the same for Draupadi?

Duryodhana should know by himself that it is only right for him to share his land with us. If he doesn’t listen to his own conscience, how we can expect him to listen to someone else? (meaning, morality is realized and not taught)

While the sentiments are similar to Bheema and Arjuna, Nakula’s approach is different – seeing that the emotional tactic by his brothers have failed, he takes a logical approach and argues that they will be ridiculed as being impotent and spineless by everyone if they go for compromise.

Sahadeva’s Foresight

Now, we see an interesting twist in the story. Of the five brothers, Sahadeva is considered to be highly skilled in astrology and is thought to have the gift / skill to predict the future. At the same time he is an extremely honest and virtuous person and knows that “with great power, comes great responsibility”!

Instead of towing  the same line as his brothers, he says something quite different:

சிந்தித்தபடி நீயும் சென்றால் என்? ஒழிந்தால் என்? செறிந்த நூறு
மைந்தர்க்குள் முதல்வன் நிலம் வழங்காமல் இருந்தால் என்? வழங்கினால் என்?
கொந்துற்ற குழல் இவளும் முடித்தால் என்? விரித்தால் என்? குறித்த செய்கை
அந்தத்தில் முடியும்வகை அடியேற்குத் தெரியுமோ?-ஆதி மூர்த்தி!

ஒருவருக்கும் தெரியாது இங்கு உன் மாயை; யான் அறிவேன், உண்மையாக;
திருவுளத்துக் கருத்து எதுவோ, அது எனக்கும் கருத்து!

sindithapadi neeyum sendRaal en? ozhindaal en? seRindha nooRu
maintharkkuL mudhalvan nilam vazhangaamal irunthaal en? vazhanginaal en?
kondhutRa kuzhal ivaLum mudithaal en? virindhaal en? kuRitha seigai
andhathil mudiyum vagai adiyERkku theriyumO? aadhi moorthi!

oruvarukkum theriyaadhu ingu un maayai; yaan aRivEn, uNmaiyaaga
thiruvuLathu karuthu edhuvO, athu enakkum karuthu!

How does it matter if you go to Duryodhana per Yudhishtra’s wish? Or not?
How does it matter if Duryodhana does not give the land? Or gives it?
How does it matter if Draupadi gets to tie her hair? Or keeps it open?
How can we predict the results of your intent?

No one can figure out the illusion you create – but I do, truly.
Whatever is your wish, so is mine.

Say what?! While starting out in a seemingly defeatist / apathetic tone, Sahadeva gives hints of things to come – and even the crux of Bhagavad Gita that comes later on!

While everyone knows that Krishna is divinity personified (Bheema explicitly says so), they are so blinded by their own emotional states that they forget that they are in front of divinity. Instead of arguing among themselves, shouldn’t they simply ask Him?! That’s what Sahadeva does. He knows that he is simply participating in the play enacted by Krishna for a greater purpose and simply states that he will do whatever He wills him to do!

Sahadeva’s Solution

Krishna smiles on hearing this and takes him aside (away from others) and asks him innocently what the solution is, in that case, to avoid the war. The beauty here is the respect that Krishna – the all knowing personality – gives to the skill of Sahadeva in knowing the future!

‘பார் ஆளக் கன்னன், இகல் பார்த்தனை முன் கொன்று, அணங்கின்
கார் ஆர் குழல் களைந்து, காலில் தளை பூட்டி
நேராகக் கைப் பிடித்து, நின்னையும் யான் கட்டுவனேல்,
வாராமல் காக்கலாம் மா பாரதம்’ என்றான்.

‘paar aaLa kannan (Karnan), igal paarthanai mun kondRu, aNangin
kaar kuzhal kaLaindhu, kaalil thaLai pootti
nEraaga kai pidithu, ninnayum yaan kattuvanEl,
vaaraamal kaakkalaam maa bharatham’, endRaan.

To avoid the Mahabharatha war, the following have to be done:

  1. Make Karnan the king
  2. Kill Arjuna
  3. Cut off Draupadi’s hair
  4. Tie you (Krishna) up!

This demonstrates Sahadeva’s honesty to his skill – even if he knows the damage that the suggestion would cause him and his family, he does not hesitate to share it with Krishna. The verse also beautifully describes an elegant solution as well as the primary reasons for the war.

Even though Karnan didn’t stop Draupadi’s molestation attempt – he is otherwise considered a wise and just ruler. More importantly, since Karnan is the eldest of all brothers and is the closest friend of Duryodhana, no one will go against him coming to power (Karnan’s birth is explained after this point – which shows Sahadeva’s foresight).

This also means Arjuna cannot live – since he has sworn to kill Karnan or die. Cutting off Draupadi’s hair solves Bheema’s problem of tying it back.

Last but not least, this whole thing is Krishna’s illusion – so first we got to tie him up!

In all this, Villputhooraar retains the crux of the Mahabharata story, selectively brings about the a core elements of the story, accentuating the overall story, and brings about the beauty of the language through masterful rhymes and rhythms. No wonder it is revered to this day!

The answer

So, what’s the answer to our earlier questions? The answer seems to be in this interaction:

  • The devout believe that what happens is part of a broader play and they are mere actors in the play and go about playing their part and try to be detached from the emotions.
  • Those that are not devout believe they control the destiny and continue performing the actions and are emotionally attached to the actions and the results.

Who are we to say what’s right and what’s not? But maybe one leans more towards healing and the other toward hardening? Or maybe they both go either way depending on the level of self-realization?

As in this case, we are often faced with challenges in life where we know the solution – but find it impossible to implement them due to our emotional prejudices and attachments. When that happens, what seems to matter is not how powerful we are but resolute we are in implementing the solution, no matter how hard it is.

Maybe that is the answer – to look for the root cause of the emotional scars and to address them head on, however emotionally draining such acts may be – but it’s easier said than done.

Side Note

While all the brothers point out Draupadi’s vow about tying her hair only after being avenged, it is interesting to note that Yudhishtra does not directly ask Draupadi for her opinion – after all, she was wronged the most! Draupadi, the strong woman that she is, doesn’t wait for Yudhishtra to ask her and intervenes instead when everyone seem to agree to the compromise. This is a potential window to the social aspects of those times – both of women potentially not being involved in politics directly, and also of women having the liberty when needed to speak their mind.



2 thoughts on “Peace or War?

  1. Excellent narrative, bringing out different points than the usually dished out opinions about war and peace. I didn’t know earlier about Sahadeva’s reaction to this. While Bhima and Arjuna’s perspective are analyzed a lot, Nakula and Sahadeva are not. Would be nice to compile gems from them. Never thought about Villiputhurar much, except remembering when we memorized a single stanza in 10th or 11th grade.

    Btw, when you get a chance, read Parvan by Sri SL Bhyrappa.


  2. Enjoyed the pace and the ease with which you have narrated, Sathya.. very nice!

    I could visualise the Amar Chitra Katha series with each character acting to their characteristic ( especially Bheema’s response :-))..

    Keep up the good work.. looking forward to the next one..




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