Nepal in the Mahabharata Period, Part 48


BY: SUN STAFF - 3.1 2019

Mahabharata Character Actors, Nepal Festival 

The Yadava dynasty's presence in Nepal, and the events that preceded and followed.


Barka Naach - Nepal's Tribal Mahabharata

When considering regional or tribal versions of great epics like the Mahabharata, we can learn a great deal about the religious history and culture of the people by seeing how they present various pastimes, and which personalities are elevated, and occasionally even minimized or omitted from the story.

Sometimes new characters are added, as an author writes-in legendary local personality as a means of honouring tradition. While reading these various editions is always interesting, one should be sure to take only the authorized version as factual and siddhantically accurate.

Author Pradip Bhattacharya offers this commentary on the 10 songs comprising the Nepali Mahabharata, Barka Naach. These songs are performed by Tharu tribal dancers accompanied by a chorus.

"The first song is "Lakhagirak Paidhar" relating the house of lac episode in 29 stanzas. Kunti stays behind in Jaitapur. Shakuni is sent on an elephant to invite the brothers from Jaitapur to Hastinapur. Shadev refuses to mount it, and is persuaded by his brothers "Oh! Brother Shadev, climb up or we shall be killed by the elephant." On reaching, he refuses to dismount and is persuaded. Similarly, he refuses to enter the house of wax and is told, "Come into the house or we will be thrown on the ground and killed". Daunagir locks the door at Duryodhan's orders. Shadev reviews the plan of the house and advises pulling out the pearl pillar, below which is a tunnel to escape underground. Bhim saves his brothers.

The second song is "Jatiyak Paidhar" told in 30 stanzas, each ends with the chorus: "King Yudhishthir is a pious king, And the Pandavas' kingdom must be returned". En route Jaitapur after escaping the house of lac, the Pandavas prepare to cook the alms they have collected. Nakul, Bhim, Arjun, Yudhishthir go by turn with a golden kettle to fetch water guarded by Danu who demands to eat one of them. Yudhishthir thinks: if he sacrifices Nakul, he loses a brother; if Shadev, he loses a scholar; if himself, the kingdom loses a king; sacrificing Bhim he loses his strength; sacrificing Arjun he loses his weapons. Unable to decide, he plants a stick in the middle of the river and leaves it to decide. It sounds "beem beem beem". So, Yudhishthir sends Bhim.

Bhim addresses Danu that Queen Kunti is his sister, hence he is his Uncle and so while eating him, he should not use his teeth. Danu agrees. Bhim sits with folded legs and Danu swallows him. Danu gets stomach pain. Bhim cuts Danu's liver, blocks the rectum, cuts the lungs, blocks his mouth, rips open his stomach, emerges and heads home, crying out for his older brother. Then he makes crutches from branches, ties a sacred thread round his neck, disguising himself as a Brahmin priest.

Pandavas reach Jaitapur. Kunti demands the true story. They tell her how they were locked up in Hastinapur and escaped pulling out the ruby pillar (changed from pearl) and later Bhim was eaten by Danu the giant. For performing his last rites they send Duhariya the messenger to locate a priest in Jaitapur. He meets Bhim disguised and returns with him. After he has done the rites, food is brought. Kunti says: "When the lentils are served, you eat lentils. When rice is served, you eat rice. You eat like my son Bhim used to eat, oh priest!" Bhim blames her for being blind and mourning her son who is before her but she cannot recognise him. "Pluck seven leaves of purain (a lotus like plant) and lay them over my mouth and sprinkle your milk over them." Duwariya brings and she sprinkles her milk that tears a hole through the leaves and goes into his mouth. "Oh dear Son, if you had revealed yourself before, I would have cooked 52 kinds of fritters just for you", says Kunti and celebrates that her five sons are again with her.

Pancha Pandava 
Surya Temple, Somanth

The third song in 68 stanzas relates to Draupadi's svayamvara and is called "Rau Bedhak Paidhar". Drupad's vow is to wed her to the person who hits the beautiful rau bird. Every stanza ends with the refrain "The one chosen by Princess Draupadi will be immortal forever". First to try is Daunagir, a brother of Duryodhan. Dronacharya is referred to as "Prince" who comes to see for himself how lovely Draupadi is and to observe the target. Next Shakuni tries and fails, followed by King Chuchanka, King Sapkewa, King Hasta, King Bidur, King Vagdanta, King Balabhadra, Duryodhan, and Padovir; all fail. Draupadi waxes furious and scolds Duryodhan for failing and leaving her unmarried: "I will be left unmarried. For 12 years I have been unmarried. Now who shall ask for my hand in marriage"? Bhim wishes to compete at this insult if permitted by his older brother, but Yudhishthir advises patience.

Arjun, to test Karna's interest, poses as a Brahmin priest and asks for his secret knowledge of war as alms and Karna agrees provided he is allowed to marry Draupadi. Arjun says, "I am a priest and she is our priestess, How dare you ask for our priestess!" And he forecasts a carnage on Kurukshetra. Karna makes out he is Arjun and confirms the prophecy. So Arjun approaches his uncle Krishna and begs to fill his brain with knowledge and wisdom to win Draupadi. Krishna obliges. But it is Bhima who shoots and hits the rau bird. Draupadi climbs into his chariot and reaches his mother saying, "I have found a fruit, and with your permission I will eat it alone". Kunti says her five sons are equally dear to her so all must equally share the fruit. Bhim says, "If it were anyone else, I would tear open her belly, or slap her across the face, but you are my mother, Queen Kunti, I shall let it pass". She says, "All the brothers will sleep in one room".

Fourth song is "Pashawarak Paidhar" on the dice game told in 54 stanzas each ending, "Virtuous Prince Yudhishthir follows the path of honesty, but we must deny the Pandavas their kingdom". Yudhishthir wins the first throw, whereupon Duryodhan calls in Shakuni and his crooked dice. Bhim is sent off to fetch water with Duhshasan. Bhim finds the pail does not hold water and is delayed. In his absence, Yudhishthir loses everything. Bhim returns and heaves Duryodhan and Dushasan aside, threatening to smash the crooked dice with his club. Draupadi too is lost, but there is no disrobing. They go into exile via Jaitapur where they tell Kunti what happened. She laments, "Five sons I have, all beloved by me, and among all, the youngest Nakul is the most dear". In the epic, the favourite is Sahadev.

The fifth song is "Banabasak Paidhar" in 35 stanzas with the chorus: "King Yudhishthir is a pious king, And the Pandavas' kingdom must be returned". This narrates the exile. Bhim collects fruits but brings back only the unripe ones, which Draupadi cooks for all of them, having eaten all the ripe fruits. In the 13th year Bhim is angry at being accused of eating the ripe fruits. He now fails to fill even one basket. Bhim protests against living on fruit and losing their strength. Shadev advises the kingdom of Banaras. En route they find the villages of Ahirs whom Bhim criticises as "virtuous, but also devious. They must give me an axe to work or I will slap their faces." Arjun advises going to a place of religious faith, viz. King Bairath (Virat of the epic). The brothers decide upon their disguises. Nakul instead of Sahadev is the astrologer and herds cows with the Ahirs. Shadev milks cows. Bhim takes care of horses instead of becoming the cook. Arjun carries a flute and a drum, disguised as a woman. Yudhishthir becomes the tutor of the king's children.

(To be continued…)