Lately, I have been reading about Mahabharat and Bhagwad Gita. Many scholars and experts have written essays and treatises on the subject. I am reading these more out of curiosity to understand what the thought processes were, during those times. I will not go into disputed area whether Mahabharat happened at all. One thing I have realized after some reading, is that to understand events and incidents of those times, we should understand the thought processes and the societal norms of those times. If we try to judge them against today’s thinking, then we may not be able to appreciate and absorb many things and in fact we will not understand many things. But again, in some areas, the thought processes have not changed much, even today.
In those times, if a ruler did not have a male child then he would marry many times till the male child was produced. If all the methods failed then the rulers would ask their brothers or someone from outside their families to “help” the wives to produce a male child. There is a reference of outsider Ved Vyas helping the queens Ambika and Ambalika. How did it fit in the norms of patriarchal society is not understood by me when the confirmed bachelor and celibate Bhishma, from the family, was available for this noble work. Why services of outsider were taken? But he had taken a vow not to marry and to remain a celibate! So, what was important in those days? His vow or was it his ego or their clan’s lineage, using outside help, though help at home was available? If it were ego, then not much has changed even today!
Images show Kunti invoking Gods for Karna and Arjuna! We see more such examples. Pandu was sterile so he asked Kunti to invoke the boon she had received before her marriage. She invoked three different gods for the births of Dharma, Bhim and Arjun. Whereas Madri also used the same boon (looks like the boon was not patented!) and invoked Ashwini Kumars to produce Nakul and Sahadev!
My question is why different men for each child? In those days the only method available was to use a good old system for producing babies! (It is a different story that 101 Kauravas were born by a method similar to IVF! Really?) Should these episodes be discussed under scientific churning? In all cases apparently, the pregnancy took place after one intercourse which is statistically impossible. With this thought, I shudder to think about “family life” during the period when any of these children were born (using boon method)! Another thing was the birth of Karna! It appears that at a later stage, Kunti did not find it embarrassing to discuss the birth of a child before she was married. Were these the social norms or Kunti was an exception? I am assuming that Kunti was an exception so there is not much change in old and new thought processes about a child being born before marriage! But about producing heir, old and current thought processes are vastly different.
On the lighter vein let me analyze one more thing. When Ved Vyasa the father of Dhritarashtra, to impregnate, Ambika his mother, was so scared when she saw Ved Vyasa, that she supposedly closed her eyes tightly shut! Dhritarashtra was born blind! Masters and Johnson the famous sex experts, should be able to comment on how many blind children should have been born to parents if shutting eyes theory was true! 😊😀🤣
Another observation is that among the clans, only Brahmans & Kshatriyas are mentioned everywhere. Other than this, “Suta” a clan of charioteers, is mentioned in case of Karna. There is another reference where Dhritarashtra fathered a child with a Vaishya woman!
A Suta is a child fathered with a Brahmana woman by a Kshatriya man. Since Brahmanas are higher up in the Varna system than Kshatriyas, this mixed marriage was considered to be against the scriptures, and the children born of such a union possess a low status. If a Brahmana man, fathers a child with a Kshatriya woman, the child acquires the caste of the father and becomes a Brahmana, and no stigma is attached to it.
Hence Karna is referred to as Suta-Putra, a derogatory term. In case of Karna, this is unfortunate because his mother was Kunti, a Kshatriya and the father was Bhagwan Surya! He was brought up by Atiratha, who was Suta! Another prominent personality was Sanjay, counsellor to Dhritarashtra; he was also Suta! One interesting thing was the case of Vidura. His father was Vyasa and mother were a dasi. So, Vidura’s children had no rights to the throne nor did Vidura! But he was still royalty! How come there is hardly mention of other so-called “lower status” (not my words) people? We don’t read about farmers, artisans, dhobis (we read in Ramayana) and such people. Were they so unimportant that they are not even mentioned? Not much has changed even today, in human behaviour about varnas and castes!
How big were the nation states in those days? It seems that those were a town surrounded by a few villages, with some farmland and land to rare cattle herds. This was surrounded by deep jungles all around till one reached the next nation-state. I have not understood how they created wealth in those days. Apparently, in Mahabharata times, Akhand (unified) Bharat spread from Afghanistan to Bihar, the southern-most reference was Dwarka in Gujarat. Even Bengal does not come under discussion. Madri’s clan was supposedly from Afghanistan.
Some norms during those days were a little different, looting and raping started with Mughal invaders! In a war, if a state lost the war, the king was restored or in case he died in the war, his son would be coronated. The reason for this was to bring clarity about who was the “Samrat” or the strongest King! There was no looting and taking away of womenfolk. There is even mention that the women folk were honourably (sic) taken back in the clan even if they had suffered indignities!
There is a mention that in certain states, four/five generations from families lived together. To me, this is an exaggeration. Lifespan of humans has gone up in the last 100 years in India. In the year 1900, average life expectancy was 24 years. So, having people from 3 to 4 generations was an exception to the rule or it was an impossibility. As a story, it feels nice to read about so many generations living under one roof, so it must be read with a pinch of salt.
There are many facets to this discussion. I have simply written about the questions that came to my mind from the point of view of logic! When the logic goes haywire in a story or discussion, I try to accept these things as metaphors of how the society was in those days! Things may not actually happened, the way they are depicted. It is also possible that some events and stories may have been interpolated by writers/poets later; these merged quite smoothly over a period, and we think that such events did occur! One thing is sure what I have written is not to hurt anybody’s sentiments or faith! More things some other time! But one thing is sure, I am all the time intrigued by Mahabharata and Gita!