Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Lessons from the Mahabharata 1: how Rukmi learnt to stop worrying and love the war

Reading Ramesh Menon’s translation of the Mahabharata, which I mentioned here, I come to a passage shortly before the Great War, with the kings of Bharatvarsha swearing their fealty to either the Kauravas or the Pandavas. Rukmi, the king of Vidarbha, arrives at the Pandava camp, sits down and promptly pisses everyone off by saying words to this effect:
“I have come to win the war for you, Arjuna! Without your lifting your bow, I shall make corpses of Duryodhana’s best kshatriyas. When I have slain your enemies, I shall make a gift of the earth to you! Fear nothing any more, Arjuna, your war is already won.”
As expected, the proud Arjuna is outraged by this and tells Rukmi to bugger off (in slightly more high-falutin language):
“Dare you come here and speak to me of my being afraid? Who are you that you dare speak of winning the war for us? We have no need for the likes of you. You may stay or leave, as you please.”
So Rukmi leaves, rides straight to Duryodhana and speaks to the Kaurava in much the same vein. And predictably:
Duryodhana laughed in his face. So the lord of Vidarbha returned to his capital, seething. Thus, apart from Krishna’s brother Balarama, he was the only king of Bharatvarsha who did not fight in the Kurukshetra war.
“Seething”, indeed. Like he had been forced to miss the college prom or something. I mean, here the end of the Dwapara Yuga is in sight, jackals are howling away forebodingly, vultures are making whatever sounds they make and you have every billboard and advertising agency in the place proclaiming the onset of the war to end all wars – the war that will end the lives of nearly all who participate in it, and make living corpses of the survivors. And it’s compulsory for everyone to attend. But here’s this clever king who wriggles neatly out of the whole mess just by stoking the egos of the main players.

I say smart cookie, this Rukmi. We should all aspire to be like him. Only then will the great wars of our own time be avoided.


  1. I have a friend called Rukmi who is a girl. She's very peaceful also.

  2. And she's still your friend? Astonishing. Tell her Rukmi is a man's name and her whole life has been a joke perpetuated by her parents. (She can still switch to Rukmini.)

  3. Remember Rukmi of course, though the words are slightly different in my memory - similar in effect, of course. But never thought of it like this.

    More importantly though, do you remember what he did afterwards? Is there any mention of him at all in the future chapters?

    And hey, Balaram did take part in the war in a sense - man almost killed Bheema after he buggered Duryodhana's thigh.

    And there were so many instances of his anger with Krishna for his role in the Kauaravas' mess, plus his having taught the princes to use the mace.

    Though yes, he did not actually kill anyone or actually ride out in a towering oliphaunt or anything.

  4. Balarama rules, dude. When he died a giant five-headed serpent came out of his mouth, slithered into the sea and swam northwards. Best death ever! What more could anyone wish for...

    Don't remember much else about Rukmi except that he was mighty annoyed with Krishna for running off with his sister when she was about to marry Shishupala.

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  6. I was reminded of an essay I read a long time ago about how war and death is glorified and even eroticised in the Mahabharata. You can read that essay here. Sample this:
    “The field, O monarch, indented with the hoofs of those steeds, looked beautiful like a beautiful woman bearing the marks of (her lover’s) nails on her person… Strewn with those fallen heads that were crimson with blood, the Earth looked resplendent as if adorned with gold-colored lotuses in their season."

    I wonder about this obsession with "lover's nail marks on a woman's bosom" in ancient Indian literature . I have come accross that idea in some of Kalidasa's verses too.

  7. Thanks for the post. I chanced upon it today and then searched my local library catalogue for Ramesh Menon - no results.
    I'll get hold of the copies when i travel to India.
    Thanks again

  8. However, there is the question of war for what and whose war? What about the wars that are fought against evils of society, for the marginalised, for rights. Rukmi seemed to have slimed out and no war stops bcos few people choose to sit either on the fence or far away from the battle field. Wars are still fought.

  9. Yeah, Arundhati's got a point, you know...

    War for what? Whose war? Why are wars still fought?

    While glorifying the Mahabharata and suchlike works of fiction, we often tend to gloss over the more important bits.

    Surely the war could have been avoided. Whether it was for a good cause or a wrong cause of whatever...

    What do you think, Jabberwock?

    PS: And today the word verification has asked me to spell 'vnldamsa'. Why 'vnldamsa'?

  10. Neat, very neat. Both the king and this scribe.

  11. Great piece :)

  12. I agree. Smart move Rukmi.
    I wonder how Krishn would have dealt with Balram, if the latter decided to fight the war from Duryodhan's side. That would have definitely required Krishn to practice what he preached.