Tomorrow is Vijayadashami, [also called Dasara/ Dussehra]. Of the many legends associated wih this festival, the one about the Pandavas hiding their weapons in a hollow in the Shami tree, is one of my favourites.
In the Mahabharata, after Yudhisthira lost to Duryodhana in the game of Dice, the Pandavas had to spend twelve years in the forest [vanavas]. After that, they had to spend one year in agyatvas- disguised so that no one could recognise them.
They decided to spend this last year in the Matsya kingdom ruled by Virat. Before going there, the Pandavas hid their weapons in a hollow in a Shami tree.
As their year of agyatvas drew to an end, the Kauravas attacked King Virat’s kingdom. They retrieved their weapoms from the Shami tree. Yudhisthira took his spear, Bhima his mace, and Arjuna his Gandiva bow. Nakula and Sahadeva brought out their swords. They then ceremoniously worshipped the weapons.
The Pandavas revealed their true identities, and defeated the attacking Kauravas.
It was on the auspicious day of Vijayadashami, or Dasara, that the Pandavas took out their weapons from the hollow in the Shami tree.
And this is how the tradition started, of Shastra-Poojan [शस्त्र-पूजन]- worshipping weapons- on the occasion of Vijayadashami.
Thousands of years have gone by since the time the events of the Mahabharata took place. But have things really changed that much?
The Kings and kingdoms of the past have given way to Democracy and the rule of the people. The education system has changed. Technologies have changed.
However, the struggle for supremacy between good and evil, that is still going on.
Instead of the cruel Kauravas, we have Corruption and Crime. We have politicians who often misuse the power that they have. We have Bureaucrats who, instead of facilitating socially beneficial projects, hinder them.
We frequently face discrimination. We fear for the safety of our children. We fear unemployment, insecurity, and senseless violence. Crimes against women are on the rise. The politically connected tend to feel that they are above the law.
A sense of hopelessness is increasing. The rising number of suicides is an indication of this.
And therefore the need for weapons is still there. But since the threats have evolved, so must our weapons. Swords and bows and arrows are not the weapons we need today.
Information is one of the most effective weapons at our disposal today.
Just a few decades ago we were dependent on newspapers for information. The government could effectively control what information reached the general public. Then television came and news channels brought more information into the homes of people. Visuals of events as they happened became available, though tv channels were prone to be biased in favour of certain political groups.
With the arrival of the internet, a startling transformation has taken place in the way we are able to obtain and share information. Social media has made it possible for us to find out the truth about events, as they happen, quite easily.
Those in power are very aware of this, and have tried from time to time to place curbs on Face-book, Twitter, and other forms of social media. The necessity to stop the spread of rumours is usually the reason officially given for this. However, it is evident that the authorities also want to stop the expression of views against those in power.
The Right to Information Act is also a powerful weapon. The RTI legislation makes it possible to obtain access to certain governmental documents which would otherwise would not have been accessible to ordinary citizens.
RTI activists frequently face threats from big businesses.
In January, 2010, RTI activist Sunil Shetty was murdered for exposing a number of land-scans in the Talegaon, Lonavala, Maharashtra. And there have been many other attacks on RTI activists, with some activists sacrificing their lives.
Recently, RTI activist Ramesh Agrawal, made the startling disclosure that Naveen Jindal had hired contract killers to murder him ‘as he was proving to be too much of an impediment for the Jindal Steel and Power Ltd’s ambitious plans in Raigarh’.
A few days ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh voiced his concern that vexatious appeals should not invade privacy and hamper the working of a government. This has been seen by some activists as a suggestion that the RTI provisions may be diluted.
Armed with such tools, it may be possible to effect change in the discouraging situation around us today. This may happen in the near future. But it is more likely that change will take place slowly, over many years.
So in the meantime, how can we prepare today’s children to meet the challenges they will surely have to face in this Kaliyug?
The only way is by instilling in them those values that are needed to sustain human society. Courage in adverse situations, a sense of justice, truthfulness, mercy, faith, empathy – these are values which will help today’s children to hold their own in any adverse situations.
After the great Mahabharata war was ended, Kaliyug commenced. Krishna left this world. The Pandavas decided to start their last journey to the Himalayas. As the climbed, one by one, Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula, Sahadev and Draupadi fell by the way and died. Yudhisthira was the only one granted the privilege of entering Heaven in his mortal form, without dying.
The others could not, because they had all committed some sins. None of them was perfect. Bhima was a glutton. Draupadi was vain. The rest also had some vices.
But they had fought the war on the side of Dharma, on the side of righteousness, and for the right reasons.
Whether they had made any mistakes or not- that was not important in their fight against evil.
Whether they went to heaven in their mortal forms- that was also not important.
What was important was that they fought on the side of Dharma. They fought for the good of the people.
Similarly today we must also decide on which side we will fight.
We need not use physical weapons. Swords and bows and arrows are not for us. Our methods are different, our weapons are different. But it is still a struggle to ensure the triumph of good over evil.
We are none of us perfect. We all have flaws. We have all made mistakes at some time or the other. But that does not matter.
What matters is that we choose to fight to make our society a better place. For ourselves, and for our children.
The Pandavas made the right decision thousands of years ago. Now it is the time for us to do so.