-Munmi Buragohain |
I have a story to tell, however, this is not a story I created. I have heard and read it many times for its sheer brilliance and it is my humble effort that it reaches everyone else.
We have heard of the great Mahabharat, the epic tale of battle between the cousins of Kuru dynasty, a battle fought for Dharma, justice, kingdom due to sibling rivalry. It is beyond me to enumerate the vast richness of this lore, as I am just a lost soul in this cosmic order trying to decipher the simple truth of our very existence. At the periphery of the Mahabharat battle, there existed some magnificent characters I had rarely heard while growing up. One of them was the talking head without a body who witnessed a panoramic view of this battle from atop a hill. Let’s see how it all started.
The Pandava brothers were trekking the north of India to escape the devious traps of the Kauravas when they stumbled across a strong demon king named Hidimb in a forest. He challenged Bheemsen, the second of the Pandavas, to a duel and eventually lost his life to his mighty opponent. His sister, Hidimba, who watched them fight from a distance was smitten by Bheema, the son of Vayu and Kunti. With Kunti’s approval, Hidimba was married to Bheema and bore him a son named Ghatotkacha, half-demon and half-human. Some evidences indicate these events happened in the present-day state , Nagaland, and ,it is believed that Dimapur, the buzzing city in Nagaland, might have been named after Hidimbapur. After her brother’s death, Hidimba ruled his kingdom with Ghatotkacha by her side, while Bheema, her husband, travelled for the rest of the exile with his entourage of Kunti and his brothers.
As years rolled by, Ghatotkacha was married to an intelligent warrior princess, Ahilyawati who lived in Pragjyotisha, the present-day Kamrup in Assam. She was skilled in warfare and an ardent devotee of Goddess Maa Kamakhya. In her previous birth, she was the daughter of Vasuki Naag, the serpent king and was destined to marry Ghatotkacha. Interestingly, Vasuki is the same divine snake adorning Lord Shiva’s neck, the consort of Goddess Kamakhya. Ahilyawati and Ghatotkacha had three sons, one of them being the brave and just Barbarik. Here begins the tale of an unfortunate warrior fallen by destiny.
Barbarik was a righteous soul and taught all aspects of warfare by his mother and excelled in archery. To gain more prowess as a warrior, he sat in deep penance and finally Lord Shiva gifted him a celestial bow and quiver with three arrows. But these three arrows made him invincible! The first arrow allowed Barbarik to mark his targets in the battlefield, the second could mark everything he wished to save and the third arrow would destroy his target marked with first arrow. All he had to do was to invoke the mantra and no one could escape his arrows in a battle. His mother had taught him to support the losing side in battle , so he went around helping the needy and weak with his 3 arrows and came to be known as ‘The One with Three Arrows’ (Teen Baan Dhari).
The wheel of time had set forth many other events in the meantime and that era was on the verge of witnessing the epoch battle of the Dwapara Yug. It must have been the calm before the storm which unsettled the hearts of all – the soldiers busy readying their weapons, the army-general devising the gameplan, their wives nervous for their safety, small children playing war-games in excitement and the rest of the people in a frenzy about the outcome of war. The horses and elephants in royal stables whined at the evil omens in the Natures, the fear of the imminent death gripped their hearts. The Kaurava army had a clear advantage of might and armour having eleven akshauhinis of soldiers, horses and elephants compared to only seven akshauhinis of their opponent, the Pandava side. Barbarik was growing restless as an irresistible sense of destiny stirred within him. He went to his mother the next morning and bowed his head with folded hands –
“O Mother, I cannot bear to see my grandfathers fight this biggest war of Dharma without me. Please allow me to join this holy war and bless me to be victorious.”
His mother, Ahilyawati, looked at her beloved son and knew the time of the great sacrifice had come. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Seeing his distressed mother, Barbarik consoled her,
“Fear not Mother, no misfortune shall befall me as long as I am on the path of Dharma and I vow to help the weaker side only in this battle.”
His mother blessed him, ” Vijayi Bhava. Go ahead and fulfil your destiny, my son, for the Pandavas cannot win this battle without you. Your supreme loyalty and bravery shall be retold in all ages to come.” She placed a red tilak and bade him success just like a soldier setting out on a war.
Barbarik mounted his blue stallion and set on his journey towards Kurukshetra. After a few hours, he stopped near a grove to let his horse graze in the greenery. As he stood there, shining like a brilliant star with his magical quiver of arrows and huge bow fastened across his chest, an old Brahmin in tattered clothes approached him. He paid his obeisance to the Brahmin, who surprised by his imposing structure and sheer brilliance, enquired,
“Who are you, brave Kshatriya? What is thy name and where are you off to with such exuberance that your entire self glows with an ethereal radiance?”
Barbarik noticed the old Brahmin was in frail health but an aura of serenity and calmness prevailed suddenly with his presence. The birds seemed to sing more melodiously and the flowers smelled divinely sweet in the soft breeze. He replied,
“O learned one, I am Barbarik, the son of brave Ghatotkacha and the grandson of the mighty Bheemsen of Kuru Dynasty. I am on my way to help my father and grandfather win this battle of Kurukshetra.”
The Brahmin bared his toothless mouth as he laughed loudly in a mocking tone, “Do you think you can win this battle with only three arrows? I never saw a bigger fool in my life.”
Barbarik calmly replied, “O revered one, do not mistake my arrows as ordinary ones for they are the very reason which can end this war in just one minute.”
“Have not you heard Guru Dronacharya thinks it will take him 25 days to finish this Mahabharat war, even great archers like Karna and Arjuna need 24 and 28 days to end this battle? Son, I would advise you to return back home instead of undertaking this arduous journey”, the old Brahmin continued to mock him.
Barbarik replied arrogantly,” I can choose all my targets to decimate with my first arrow and save my dear ones in the battlefield using my second arrow. My third arrow will annihilate all the targets and the three arrows return back to my quiver. The enemy would not last a day before me!”
The old man smiled, “Can you prove it by marking all the leaves in this tree?”, pointing to the banyan tree above them.
Happy to show off his prowess, Barbarik strung his huge bow, closed his eyes and quietly meditated on the mantra to invoke his first arrow. Meanwhile, the Brahmin quietly plucked a leaf of that tree and stepped on the leaf to conceal it under his toes without Barbarik’s knowledge. The next moment, with a loud twang off went the arrow from Barbarik’s bow dancing like a lightening striking each and every leaf of the banyan tree. It meticulously picked each leaf on the tree and the Brahmin watched it in awe, impressed by what he saw. Finally, the arrow approached the old man’s feet and pierced this toe thumb, hence, marking the leaf underneath as blood spurted from his wound.
Barbarik was surprised and apologized at having hurt the elderly Brahmin. But the old man only smiled, “This is indeed miraculous. Your arrows can find your hidden target even without your knowledge, so everyone in the enemy can be killed by your arrows. Now tell me, who will You fight for in this battle of Mahabharat?”
“I always fight for the weaker side so it is the Pandavas I shall join. They have only 7 akshauhinis against the Kauravas with 11 akshauhinis which is their disadvantage.” the brave warrior replied.
Now the eyes of the Brahmin twinkled,” This is the silliest thing I have heard. How can you fight for the weaker section when your presence makes your opponent weak? Have you thought of its consequence?”
Barbarik was now puzzled, the old man elaborated,” Don’t you know Shantanu’s son, Bhisma, has the boon of Iccha-Mrityu? You cannot kill Bhisma unless he wishes to die himself. This means your 3 arrows will kill all Kauravas and their army leaving Bhisma. Then, he alone would be the weaker side against the 7 akshauhinis of Pandavas and you are bound by your vow to fight for the Kauravas and kill the Pandavas. No one would survive this war except you, Barbarik.’
And slowly the realization dawned upon Barbarik that it was indeed true that his vow proved to be his bane. He would be bound by his word to change sides in the battle and annihilate both parties and eventually, no one would be victorious.
“Alas!”, he cried with remorse, ” You are right, O wise one. It is futile for me to participate in this battle and I am bound by my principle. Please forgive me and my arrogance to have hurt you. I pray you advise me what should I do now?”
To this the Brahmin replied, “A kshatriya can never refuse charity to a Brahmin. I seek your head as charity.”
As the old man said these words, the world around seemed to plunge into a silence as if Time stood still to witness their conversation.
Barbarik was at a loss of words, not that he hesitated to give up his life in charity, but because he was baffled of what use was the sacrifice of his life to this old Brahmin. His suspicion grew stronger about the true identity of this old man. Perceiving the turmoil in Barbarik’s mind, “O Brave Barbarik, I am none other than Shri Krishna, you have proved today that you are the bravest of all warriors. No one can be more worthy of sacrifice to Goddess Kali to sanctify the battlefield for this war.’
In a flash, the old Brahmin manifested himself the Supreme God, Vishnu, in his cosmic form. Barbarik’s heart was filled with joy as he realized he was chosen by the Divine Lord himself for this service. He prostrated before Lord Vishnu and prayed that he may be allowed to view the Mahabharat war after his sacrifice. So saying, he cut off his head and placed it at the Lord’s feet and his lifeless body lay still. Lord Vishnu returned to his mortal form of Krishna and gently picked up Barbarik’s lifeless head and breathed life into it. Barbarik opened his eyes again as if from a deep slumber and found back his voice. Since he had witnessed Lord Vishnu in the supreme form, he was now an enlightened being with divine vision.
Lord Krishna blessed him saying he would be worshipped in the next Yug for his utmost devotion and sacrifice. He then placed his head on a hilltop from where it could view the entire battlefield.
At this point, I would like to pause and reflect at these events. Was the sacrifice of Barbarik justified? What did Lord Krishna gain by making a pure soul like Barbarik give up his life? What would have happened if the Mahabharat had really ended in 1 minute …. instead of 18 days?
A man is born into this world by his Karma and he leaves it by fate alone when time comes. This is a lesson we learnt from Lord Krishna in his divine song, the Bhagavat Gita. In his previous life, Barbaric was a Yaksha who was very arrogant and declared to Gods that he was more powerful than Lord Vishnu and hence was cursed that he would be killed by Vishnu in his next life before removing all the evil in a battle.
On the other hand, 36 years after the end of Mahabharat battle, a hunter named Jara shot a poisoned arrow at the exact spot of Lord Krishna’s feet where Barbarik’s arrow had pierced it , bringing an end to the Krishna Avatar of the Dwapar Yug and heralding the beginning of the nefarious Kali Yug.
But I cannot help wondering if in a parallel universe, Barbarik had participated in the war, what would have been different in the Mahabharat? Would Lord Krishna have stopped the wheel of Time to narrate the Bhagavat Gita to Arjuna? Would Shikandi’s revenge of killing Bhisma ever be complete? What about the curse of Parashurama on Karna? What about the third Kaurav, Vikarna, who was the only one that stood up for Draupadi during the game of dice and questioned his elder brother Duryodhana against the humiliation of Draupadi, would he have been saved by Barbarik’s arrow?
In the book ‘Palace of Illusions’, the author says the night before the Kurukshetra battle began, Veda Vyasa met Draupadi while she was wandering alone , worrying about her husbands and children. She felt the guilt of being the one who had brought about this war, to which the great sage revealed that all events about to take place in this battle are already prophesized in his book. He had offered a special gift of divine vision (Divya-drishti) to his blind son, Dhritarashtra, so that he could see the most important parts from afar. But Dhritarashtra refused and gave it to Sanjay instead. Vyasa offered the same divya-drishti to Draupadi who accepted it reluctantly.
So, Draupadi, Barbarik and Sanjay had witnessed the entire battle of Mahabharat without actively being part of it. At the end of the 18 long days, an argument ensued about who was responsible for the victory of Pandavas. Lord Krishna led them to the talking head of Barbarik on the hilltop who revealed it was actually the Sudarshan Chakra of Lord Vishnu killing the unworthy and Goddess Kali in guise of Draupadi cleaning every drop of their blood from this earth. Everyone returned home realizing they were mere actors in the Divine scheme of this universe , capable of only playing their roles on its behalf and having no claim to the fruits of their victory.
Till today, Barbarik is worshipped in some parts of western India. Strange are the ways of God, for he who was cursed by Lord Vishnu in one life due to his arrogance, is blessed by Lord Krishna in the next life due to his righteousness and sacrifice. Even in this Kali Yug, we can do that in one lifetime by letting go of all vices like anger, fear, greed, violence, jealousy and embracing the path of selflessness and non-violence. It makes me wonder if the three arrows of Barbarik signify our perception of the bad, our perception of the good and the emotional judgement to distinguish among them, respectively. However, we must not forget our judgement of the good and the bad is clouded by our karma, just as what we perceive as the good and bad is clouded by our judgement. The one we consider enemy in this life might have been a loved one in our past life. Were the Kaurava side all evil and were the Pandava side all good? The Dwapar Yug, unlike the Treta Yug of Lord Ram, was not about the good and the bad or the black and the white but delved deeper into the complex moral challenges of mankind. So, the three arrows of Barbarik had no place in this battle of grey personalities.