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Jaya, Vijaya, Bharat and Mahabharat

As Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, the award-winning author of ‘The Radiance of a Thousand Suns’ puts it: no story can exist in the world if it has not already been told in the Mahabharata.

But the Mahabharata is much more than all the stories it puts together. Is it then a treatise on war? Yes, and No. Sanjaya spends quite some time in describing the armies on the side of the Kauravas and Pandavas and giving a description on the events leading to the war.

It is not- because essentially it is about understanding Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha “dharma arthe ca kame ca mokse ca”.

So, the longest epic poem ever written is so many things to different people. Starting with the Jaya – spiritual victory, which is the core message, it then covers Vijaya – the physical victory, or victory of armies over territories.

It is Bharat when  Sanjaya gives a description of the various continents of the Earth, the other planets, and focuses on the Indian Subcontinent, then gives an elaborate list of hundreds of kingdoms, tribes, provinces, cities, towns, villages, rivers, mountains, forests, etc. of the (ancient) Indian Subcontinent (Bharata Varsha).

He tells Dhritrashtra of all the kings and confederations which had been lined up for the War, and finally, the longest epic poem of all times is the Mahabharata – which places everything in context.

Over the next few weeks, the focus of this column will be on understanding the geographical construct of the battle, and how armies from across the country, and beyond were arrayed in the battlefield.

For beginners, it is important to note that there were twenty eight armies on the side of the Pandavas , and fifty one on the side of Kauravas ,

five remained neutral for a variety of reasons, and the King of Udupi was in charge of food related logistics for an army of five hundred thousand, who initially agreed on the terms of the Dharam Yudha – righteous war – which included the timings for the battle (sunrise to sunset) rules for individual combat, non-injury to a person who has surrendered , is unarmed, or wounded , non-injury to animals which is not a direct threat etcetera).

This time we will focus on the neutrals in the Mahabharata war, and the reasons thereof. The kingdom of Bhojakata, with its King Rukmi, Vidura, the ex-prime minister of Hastinapur and younger brother to Dhritrashtra, and Balarama, the king of Kashmir, Kichaka, Mahishakha and Videha.

Rukmi wanted to join the war, but Arjuna refused to allow him because he had lost to Krishna during Rukmini’s swayamvar, yet he boasted about his war strength and army, whereas Duryodhana did not want Arjuna’s rejection. Vidura did not want to see the bloodshed of the war and was insulted extremely by Duryodhana, although he was the embodiment of Dharma himself and would have won the war for the Kauravas.

The powerful Balarama refused to fight at Kurukshetra because he was both Bhima’s and Duryodhana’s coach in gadayudh (fighting with maces) and his brother Krishna was on the other side.

The King of Kashmir was a minor, Kichak was under the control of the Matsya, and the Videha and Mahishakha armies were too small to make a difference to either side.

But they had their troops on stand-by and offered to help either side. One must also realize that a major dilemma for all the participants was that they were all related to each other – by blood or marriage or common teachers!

The views expressed by the author are personal.

The article was first published in