Virat Parva: lesson from Mahabharata in COVID-19 lockdown


Owing to the COVID-19 lockdown, the Indian government decided to telecast the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Hence, the Ramayana on the National channel has shattered records of viewership. However, Mahabharata has not gained that amount of traction. One reason for this slight difference between the two is the latter’s complexity. My family’s complaint about Mahabharata reinforced this.

Having said that, both Ramayana and Mahabharata have a unique flavour. To emphasize this, I would like to quote Kamala Subramaniam’s analogy with the Ganga river.

The analogy with Ganga

In the preface of her abridged translation of Ramayana, Kamala Subramaniam says:

It has been universally accepted that the three epics, Mahabharata, Bhagavata and Ramayana, comprise our cultural heritage.  It has been my dream to render all three of them into English in a manner which will appeal to the young people and my dream seems to have come true.  I have finally managed to complete the narration of the Ramayana in the same vein as I have the other two. What is fascinating about these three treasure – houses is the fact that each is completely different from the other. One cannot but think of the river Ganga in this context.  Ganga, hurtling through space, rushing down in a torrent towards the earth from the heavens, makes one think of the great epic Mahabharata which is full of action, full of passions, full of force, full of emotion.  There is nothing placid about the flow of the narration.”

“Now think of Ganga as she enters the sea, when she becomes one with her lord.  There is a feeling that the long tortuous journey is ended: that the strife is over:  that at last, at long last, all passion spent, she has found Peace.  This, to me, seems to compare with Srimad Bhagavatam. Let us watch Ganga between these two extremities.  Flowing calmly, placidly, in an unruffled manner, like the Mandakranta metre, chastening everyone who comes in contact with her: this Ganga makes me want to compare her to the Ramayana.  There is, in the Ramayana, everything that is beautiful and the very atmosphere is purifying.

The times of COVID-19

From Physics, we know that turbulent flow is complicated and unpredictable, while the streamlined flow is comparatively simpler to understand. That is the case with Mahabharata and Ramayana. While Ramayana has a simpler flow with lesser number of twists-of course it is smaller as well- Mahabharata goes all over the place with complex twists and turns in the story.

Having said that, we are living in turbulent times. With uncertainty looming over world health, economy and politics, we are literally at war with the tiniest virus called COVID-19. This invisible has halted the biggest superpowers with their nuclear powers. Major countries including India are under a stringent lockdown.

Notwithstanding that, individual lives have been hampered. People cannot move around freely. Social lives have come to a halt. This is having adverse effects of the physical, mental and emotional well being of people. In these gloomy times, what can we learn from Mahabharata? Well, let me tell you a story.

The incognito of Pandavas

After the unfortunate game of dice, in which the Pandavas faced a humiliating defeat, they were in for two stipulations. Firstly, they had to serve a 12-year exile in forests. Besides, they were supposed to go incognito for 1 year. Secondly, if discovered during the Incognito year, they were supposed to repeat the same cycle.

Though unfair, the Pandavas accepted the stipulations and went to the forest along with their common wife Draupadi. With great character and patience, they spent 12 years in various forests across India. Furthermore, Arjuna gained a host of destructive weapons through great penance. Thus, having sailed through the 12 years productively, they were in for another challenge: the incognito!

Related Article: When Amarendra Bahubali reminded me of Arjuna

The challenge of incognito

There were two challenges with incognito. Firstly, finding the place to hide, since they knew that Duryodhana won’t leave any table unturned to trace them. Hence, it was smartly decided that they would live in the kingdom of Matsya, ruled by king Virat and protected by the commander Keechaka. Matsya was an immediate neighbour to the south of Hastinapura. They knew that Duryodhana would ignore the immediate neighbour as a potential ally to Pandavas.

However, the bigger challenge was disguising their radiant selves. How could the dignified Yudhishthira hide his imperial bearing? Was it possible to hide Bheem’s daunting physique? Could Draupadi hide here unblemished beauty? How could Nakula and Sahadeva disguise their handsome faces? Last but not least, how could the world-famous Arjuna conceal his masculinity?

The new Avatars

The answers lied in their questions. The answer lied in exploring the other side of their personalities. Accordingly, Yudhishthira became Kanka, a minister in Virat’s court. The emperor who was used to ministers surrounding him became one himself.

Bheema became Valava, the royal cook. The man who enjoyed the best of delicacies by the most eminent cooks became a cook himself.

Nakula and Sahadeva became Dhamagranthi and Tantipala. They took to tend horses and cows of Virata. Men who owned the entire cavalry and livestock of the kingdom had to tend to someone else’s livestock.

Draupadi became Malini, the royal maid. Being used to tended by thousands of maids, she was now tending to a queen herself.

However, the most dramatic role was taken by Arjuna. He became Brihannala, the eunuch who became a music teacher to the princess of Matsya. The man who was the very symbol of masculinity became a eunuch!

What can we learn from them during COVID-19 lockdown?

One theme is common. The entire Pandava family moved out of their comfort zone. Being constantly used to attention, comfort and glory, they had to avoid attention, live in discomfort and accept disguise.

We have often heard a complaint in the COVID-19 lockdown about not being able to move around in cosy places, eat in cosy restaurants etc. I admit that people enjoy social life and outgoing nature. However, for once you need to embrace the other side of the coin i.e. introversion and solitude.

If that doesn’t help, imagine that the COVID-19 virus is similar to Duryodhana’s spies who are looking out for Pandavas and you, are the Pandavas, who need to stay incognito and avoid the virus.

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Prasad Kulkarni is a Data and Analytics professional. At work, he analyses historical data and ponders over historical events otherwise.

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