Sunday 21 April 2024

News Analysed, Opinions Expressed


Revisiting the Epics


Had these ingenuous inhabitants of the hills, who till about 30 years ago proudly claimed to be Duryodhana's descendants, suddenly discarded him because he was a villain in the plains?

Some four months ago, I was in Garhwal with friends. We had planned a 6-day trek in this heavenly district of Uttarakhand and our final destination was Jaundhar glacier (at a height of 4300 mts). As we walked up the steep slopes through pine and deodar forests, legends and myths seemed to share every step with us. In a land steeped in traditions, it needed only a little prodding for a flood of stories from our guide and from the shepherds and other locals we met. As we trudged uphill through the villages of Sankri - the starting point of our trek, Taluka, and Seema to Har-ki-Doon (Valley of the Gods), I pictured myself treading in the very footsteps the Pandavas had taken on their final journey. Could the villages along our path have been the spots where Draupadi and each of Yudishthira's brothers had fallen? And were the hirsute shepherd dogs that guarded the flocks of sheep and goats descendants of Yudhishthira's companion as he attained the heavens?

We reached Har-ki-Doon on the third day of our trek. The Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Limited's guest house, where we stayed for 2 nights, was located at the base of ‘Ata' peak amongst gigantic rocks. As the sun played hide and seek with the mountains around the valley creating picture postcards all around, we could see the ‘Swargarohani' peak in all its glory and grandeur. ‘Swargarohan' (ascent to heaven) was Yudhishthira's destination and the glacier at the foot of Swargarohani, which we were to reach the next day, was ‘Jaundhar' - an obvious corruption of ‘Yamadwar' (door to death). That evening, when we sat around the kitchen fire with our guide and the guest house staff, our very basic dinner of chapatti-sabji was garnished with many more stories from the scriptures with a large dollop of local flavour. The Pandavas - the ‘good guys' of the Mahabharata - dominated the tales. We learnt that each village in this part of the world had a "dance floor" where the Pandava-nrutya (dance of the Pandavas) was performed. The spirits of the five Pandavas and Draupadi possessed certain villagers for the duration of the dance which marked the celebration of festivities.

The next day we trekked to Jaundhar and back to Har-ki-Doon. It was an exciting, very tiring and at the same time rejuvenating experience. A sound night's sleep and we were refreshed for the next day's easier journey downhill. However, on the way back, a short detour to the village of Osla was a revelation of sorts. Osla, a hamlet of 35-40 houses, has a temple dedicated to Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas - the ‘bad guys' of the Mahabharata. This discovery turned the epic upside down for me. How could the celebration of Pandava-nrutya co-exist with the worship of Duryodhana? I also learnt that the village of Netwar, further down the hills from Sankri, had a Karna temple. Karna was an ally of the Kauravas. So who were the good guys and who were the bad ones? There didn't seem to be any answers. At least, I didn't get any there. But something very alarming was also taking place in the hills, apart from global warming, which is very real - our guide claimed that the snout of the Jaundhar glacier had receded 3 kms in the last 30 years. The traditional beliefs of the hill-dwellers were being subverted. A youngster in Osla refused to accept that the deity in the temple is Duryodhana. He told us that the village elders had been mistaken for decades, or was it centuries. "Hamare buzurgon ne galati ki" he said. He claimed that the idol is of Someshwara (Shankara) and was offended because Duryodhana, he said, is a rakshasa (demon). When we sought more details he seemed quite irritated, but disclosed that a ‘learned person' from the plains had visited Osla some years ago and had convinced them that the idol was Someshwara and not Duryodhana. I smelt a "saffron" rat, or was I over-reacting? Had these ingenuous inhabitants of the hills, who till about 30 years ago proudly claimed to be Duryodhana's descendants, suddenly discarded him because he was a villain in the plains? Was it a fear of cultural isolation? All very confusing, but it does merit serious anthropological and sociological study. We also learnt that 22 villages of the region worship the same deity and that the very same idol resides for fixed periods in each of the 22 temples. Could it mean that one fine morning 22 villages decided to abandon Duryodhana for Someshwara? But all did not seem to be lost in Sankri, the village to which our guide Rajmohan Rawat belonged, and where we stayed an extra day to witness the "Jagran" festival. The people here seemed unconcerned about Duryodhana's ‘rakshasi' antecedents and confirmed his reign as the village deity. Rajmohan's wife plays Draupadi during Pandava-nrutya and the couple worships Duryodhana. Whither Mahabharata? My cultural roots were being taken for a toss. Any answers?

A footnote: Rajmohan also told us that another village (I forget the name) in Garhwal abhors the mention of Rama & Hanuman. This village is situated on the slopes below a plateau, which, from afar, looks like a hill with the conical top sliced off. Legend has it that it was the top of this hill that Hanuman carried off to Lanka at Rama's command when Lakshman was wounded in battle. The villagers, Hindus all, blame Rama and Hanuman for robbing them of their hilltop and refuse to accept them as gods. And Ravana temples exist at Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh and Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Food for thought!!!

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Fascinating write up, Dilip. Just shows us that there are no good guys and bad guys in the long run. We are all fellow travellers on the path of life. Your writing is like magical realism!

Jose Lourenco |

Interesting article. I always have a feeling, our epics assume India as a full world and All our Gods reside in North India(Swarg) common man resides in Mid India (Bhulok) and All demons(Rakshasa) reside in South India (Patal). We placed our Shiva on Kailas, Vishnu on Vaikunth and Ravana in Lanka. Our surrendered mind can not digest the fact that the god it believe also had evil's mind.

Expecting more of such interesting stories.

Chetan |

Dilip, Your piece is great. Our land is a mystery. Fact and fiction dwell here side by side. God for one could very well be demon for another. The Dravidian leadership of the yore led by Ramswamy Naicker discarded Rama and all other Aryan Gods.After all the bad guy Duryodhana also had some good guys like Bhishma and Drona fighting for him in the epic battle. Please go ahead and compile many such tales while you explore the Himalayas. They do make good reading.

Ramakant Khalap |

Blogger's Profile


Dilip Prabhudesai

An electrical engineer by profession and social activist by compulsion, loves the wild, dabbles in theatre, and is a cine buff.


Previous Post