Irresponsible Kuru Elders

In our Indian, Hindu culture, we give elders the same respect and honour as if they are the very “Gods on Earth”.  We are taught never to disrespect them or disobey them, no matter how aggrieved we may feel.  Their love and nurture is supposed to sustain us.  We expect their life’s experience to be our guiding light in our troubled times.  We expect them to be fair and just referees in our family disputes.  We expect them to protect us against rough times.  For all these reasons, and more, we are supposed to give them unconditional love and unstinted respect.

Pandavas respected and honoured their elders from the first moment till the last.  At no point, no matter how pressed by circumstance, they never failed to give them their dues.  Fatherless, they expected the Kuru elders to protect, nurture, support, protect and look after their interests.  Sadly, they were badly let down by these very elders time and again and again and again.

When they first came back from the forest with their father’s cadaver, Pandavas expected their elders to take the place of their father.  However, Dhrutrastra was unwilling to accept them as Pandu’s sons !  Only at the insistence of his grandmother, mother and Bhishma, were the boys spared the insult of being rejected by their family. 

Kaurav princes showed utter dislike for the Pandavas.  Their undisguised opposition was an open secret known to all the elders.  Yet, neither Bhishma, Dron, Krupacharya, Dhurtrastra or Gandhari did anything concrete to address the issue.  They did not correct the behaviour of the Kaurav princes during public or private occasions.  When Bhima was poisoned and missing for over a week, what did the Kuru elders do ?  Nothing !!  When he came back, what did they do ?  Nothing !!  They did not even try to investigate the reasons for a Kuru prince’s sudden disappearance.  Surely, elders with experience and a spy network as thorough as they had, surely they would have discovered the facts.  Out of respect for the elders, and to keep peace, Pandavas said nothing on advise of Vidur and Kunti.

When the Varnavat plot was made, Dhrurastra knew for sure.  Others in the court may have known something was not right, so why did they not investigate ?  When the palace Pandavas were given was burnt down, why did they not investigate to root out the culprits ?  Having seen how elders had failed Pandavas in the past, Vidur kept his own counsel and helped the Pandavas escape without informing other elders.  If Vidur could gather this information, why not others ?  Had Bhishma been informed of the plot, what would the grandsire have done ?  He may have fumed and shouted, the plot would have been shelved, but he would not have punished anyone !  The plotters would have simply tried again.  Vidur knew this, hence he kept his own counsel and helped without being obvious about it.

Kauravas could afford to fail a hundred times.  Pandavas could not afford to fail even once without incurring a fatal setback.  Plotters knew this.  They also knew, the self-appointed police of Kuru clan were toothless and apart from glaring at the culprits, they would do nothing more ! 

Like the current Indian Governments pronunciations on terrorists and terrorism, Kuru elders presumed kindness and understanding was the balm required to calm the “hot headed Kaurava boys”.  Current government believes all it needs is to demonstrate how lenient it is and the terrorists will automatically see the error of their ways.  Terrorists can afford to have their hundred plots fail against Indian citizens, but a single successful terror strike is guarantied to kill and maim hundreds of innocents.  Sadly, our current government is happy to expend a hundred innocent lives to protect a single evil one.

After Varnavat, the Kauravas were convinced they were rid of the Pandav menace.  Kuru elders performed the funerary rites for Pandavas and queen Kunti

Once the Pandavas had remerged in Panchal, once again, the Kuru elders dithered.  They did not welcome them back warmly.  Despite the love, respect and honour Pandavas gave to their elders, they were not given true justice by the elders.  No one was punished for plotting to assassinate them.  No one was rebuked.  After much dithering, elders chose to divide the kingdom between Kauravas and Pandavas, giving the better half to the sons of the incumbent king.  Pandavas were once again dealt a bad hand. 

Kuru elders show great care, concern and compassion for the Pandav cause.  They continually bless them and wish them well, yet, interestingly enough, they do nothing – nothing at all – to help them.  Their support is verbal, maybe moral, but certainly not practical.  Like USA, which keeps giving verbal support to democracy, human rights and fair trade, but does nothing concrete to support it.  With their active support of Pakistan and many other regressive fundamentalists in the middle-east, how can USA ever expect to win its much-vaunted war on Terrorism ?  By providing tactical, financial and military support to many anti-western governments and societies, USA and Europe are cutting their very noses to spite their faces.  Like the Kuru elders, who say one thing and so another, USA and Europe are also guilty of hypocrisy which leads to frustration and futility.  

As the eldest Kuru, Bhishma was looked upon as the final arbitrator for the entire clan.  As the ultimate referee, he was suppose to keep peace in the family and deal equitably with everyone.  He certainly did not do it when the princes were young and impressionable.  Time and again, he betrayed the trust Pandavas put in his impartiality.  He did not keep peace between the princes despite noticing the dangers of dithering between solutions.  Ineffective peace enforced by the grandsire did nothing to root out the causes of low level war between the cousins. 

Cessation of war is not peace !  Like the cold war between Israel and Palestine or the two Koreas, or India and the two Pakistans.  Constant bubbling hostility between such nations is nothing short of a festering wound that has no way of being healed.  Until the wounds that caused their rift in the first place are healed, how can these nations move on ?

Similarly, the Kuru princes could not move to peaceful cohabitation till the root of their discord was eliminated.  Kaurava princes felt their father should have become the king and only due to his blindness their low-caste uncle Vidur had declared him unfit for the royal crown.  What they did not realise was that Vidur or not, the political climate of the time necessitated the kings to be fighting men.  A blind or disabled king would be quickly unseated.  Just as it wasn’t their fault that their father was blind, it was not the fault of the Pandavas that their father was the king !  Pandavas could not understand this deep seated inferiority complex of the Kauravas.  They kept thinking their cousins’ actions were being ruled by the same principles as their own.  Despite several instances to the contrary, the Pandavas kept hoping, dreaming, feeling that the Kauravas would reform. 

By simply massaging the outward perception of family unity, Kuru elders, and to some extent the Pandavas, did no one any favours.  Papering over the seismic cracks between the cousins became increasingly difficult as the years went on and Kaurav belligerence reached its peak during the gambling match.  For years, it was an open secret that the cousins were at variance on any topic of importance and hence all the powers to be aligned themselves with one side or the other in accordance with their own interests.  By not calling spade a spade, they delayed the inevitable and the carnage of the final war was horrible to behold.  Almost every royal family lost someone or another in that great war.  All because the elders could not enforce peace between the cousins.  

Kuru elders failed the family, clan, nation and history when they failed to intervene after Drupadi was dragged into open court during the gambling match.  When a daughter-in-law is insulted so publicly, what sort of elders sit quietly and watch ?  What sort of royal court does not deliver a judgement based on legality, morality or ethical behavior ?  Laws are forever changing, but what of ethical behavior and moral outrage at transgression of all things civilised ?  While Kuru elders debated the facts and nuances of gambling rules (in itself amoral), did the Kuru elders not consider the fact that their own daughter-in-law was being disgraced in public by their own sons ? 

An empress, wife of Kuru Emperor, mother of five Kuru princes, Kuru-kula-vadhu was dragged into public court by her hair and Kuru elders sat musing on what was lost first ?  Wasn’t Kuru honour being lost first and foremost in their presence ?  Wasn’t it their duty, as revered elders, to protect the honour of the clan before all other considerations ?  Were the elders so process driven that they could not see the future consequences of their inactivity ?  Where was their conscious ?  Where was their humanity ?

Having had the sham of the first gambling match dismissed, they all agreed to the second match !  Having had a divine opportunity to repair the damage, the elders sat back and let Duryodhan and his cohorts carry out their evil scheme a second time.  Inactivity, apathy and self-induced confusion made the elders repeat their mistakes again and again.

Bhishma, Drona, Krupacharya and others once again failed the Pandavs when they tried to help Duryodhan and others unmask the Pandavas in the 13th year of their exile.  Not only did they add their vocal support for this, they helped them actively when Pandavas were attacked at Upalavya.  Revered elders of Kuru court took an active part in planning and executing the shameful plan to out the Pandavas.  Cow is especially sacred in Hindu mind.  To steal cattle is a heinous crime in Hindu code of conduct.  To do so as a strategy of war on your neighbour is reprehensible.  Kuru elders worked with Trigartas to carry out the cattle raid and attack from the other side in a two pronged attack on Matsya kingdom.  These were revered men of great learning and for them to have taken an active part in this, shows the depth they could fall to for the Kauravas.

After loosing the battle of Upalavya, Kuru elders had every reason to counsel Duryodhan for peace.  Having lost to Arjun, who fought them all single handedly, they knew how difficult it would be to stand against all 5 Pandavas.  Arjun had disrobed Kuru princes after the war but spared Kuru elders the shame of being disrobed in that battle at the gates of Upalavya.  Was this restraint respected by the Kauravas or the Kuru elders ? 

To avoid the fraternal war, Shri Krushna himself came to seek for peaceful settlement.  To their credit, elders did counsel for peace.  Yet, the moment Duryodhan became obstinent, the elders caved in and supported him despite their own reservations.  Kuru elders should have convinced the Kuru court and army that peace was the only option.  Even if Duryodhan disagreed, there wasn’t much he could do without their backing.  They could and should have withdrawn their backing for the war to register their desire for peace. 

Kuru elders failed to stop the war.  By taking an active role in the war, the elders did exactly what Duryodhan wanted.  For all their much vaunted opposition to evil, the great and the grand of Kurus did nothing concrete to check it. Having seen the futility and unfairness of this war, Vidur and Balarama had abstained and withdrawn from war.  Krushna, having seen the unavoidability of it all, had pledged to a non-combatant advisor.  Surely, the elders could have followed their example and either gone on a pilgrimage or refused to take an active part in the war.  They had the precedence for such action from Krushna and Balarama whom they constantly praised as incarnation of God !  So why didn’t they follow their lead ? 

What is the point of saying “no” if you don’t mean it ?  Duryodhan knew that everytime he threw a temper tantrum or threatened to commit suicide, his father would cave in for sure.  Once king Dhrutarastra was convinced, all his courtiers - elders included - were bound to follow suit.  Duryodhan knew this and so played it to the hilt.  Having had a lifetime’s experience of how hollow the elders’ threats were or how impotent their censor against all his activities, Duryodhan and his friends knew they just had to bide their time and the elders would eventually tow the line. 

For all the temper tantrums of children, which may shake the house with their fury, children have to do as their parents / elders want.  In Kuru household, it was the other way around.  Fury & fumes of the elders were quickly cooled and irresponsible children had their way everytime.  Duryodhan knew for sure, that despite all the sharp rebukes and pronouncements of doom and gloom, these elders’ fury would calm down and they will do exactly as he directs.  Though a minor in comparison to his aged elders, he knew, he was the one whose will will win. 

Kuru elders spoke eloquently. 
Kuru elders spoke passionately. 
Yet, they did not follow their conscience or their own advise. 
Apart from Vidur, who always followed his conscience, the rest did Duryodhan’s bidding everytime. 
Kuru elders blessed the Pandavas in flowery language, yet, never lifted a finger to help them in their hour of need. 
Kuru elders berated the Kauravas in fiery language, yet, they fought to death – literally – to protected Kaurav interests. 
Constantly, even during the war, the Krus elders blessed Pandavas and yet helped the Kauravas.  In doing so, they failed both sides ! 
Hypocrisy of the situation did not escape sage Vaysa as he wrote the great epic to expose the chasm between thoughts, words and actions of even the great and good of society.

Arjun cried bitterly at the very thought of fighting his own elders.  He fondly remembered the times he played in their laps or honed his skills under their tutelage.  He even unstrung his Gandiv and resolved not to fight his beloved elders.  Did the same feeling get reciprocated in any of those elders ?  Did Bhishma, Krupacharya or Drona set aside their weapons and thought of desisting from fighting the side wedded to Dharma  ----is this the right word choice might be not sure ?  If not, then were they worthy of the respect they were accorded by Arjun / Pandavas ?

During the final war, the Kuru elders fought tooth and nail (literally on some occasions) for the side that they themselves acknowledged as evil to the core !  Why fight for evil ?  What compelled them to do so ?  Despite all their prowess in war, despite all their exulted ranks in Kuru court, despite all their pious studies of scriptures, they could not stop themselves from helping the Kauravas.  Often, during the tumultuous war, they promised to humble the Pandavas and bring them bound like cattle to Duryodhan’s tent.  Why promise to do this if they truly thought Pandavas were good and Kauravas were evil ?  l ? 

Remarkably, the eldest Kuru – grandsire Bhishma – fought for 10 terrible days.  He wrecked terrible havoc in the Pandava armies every day.  Drona, the beloved teacher of Arjun, fought for 5 fateful days and when the war got truly bitter, he even resorted to underhanded methods to secure victory.  It was Drona who advised Kauravas to kill Arjun’s youngest son by unfair means.  It was Drona who gave the order to carry on fighting during the night.  It was Drona who used celestial weapons against ordinary soldiers which was against the rules of war.  Though an acharya of impeccable reputation, he certainly did not fight fair.  As with Eklavya, Drona was willing to bend the rules to suit his purpose, morality and ethics be damned !  What sort of Guru was this who cheated his own disciples ?  Despite the fact that Pandavas held him in highest regard, he failed them time and again. 

Ashvasthama, though not an elder in terms of age, was certainly a highly revered figure due to his relationship with Drona and Krupacharya.  Being a Guru-putra, he was accorded all the respect due to Guru himself.  Yet, the same Ashvasthama was guilty of the heinous act of murdering sleeping army.  Even more reprehensibly, it was Ashvasthama who tried to kill the unborn baby of Abhimanu to wipe out the very last vestiges of the Pandava DNA.  In his all consuming hate for Pandavas, Ashvasthama sunk to the level of attacking a fetus, an act reprehensible in every possible society – civilised or otherwise.  Was such a person worthy of any respect ?  Was he due the dues he was given as Guru-Putra ?

Handsome is as handsome does.  Kuru elders, though impressive in the accolades they had collected or the vast array of knowledge they had, their actions were even more limited than the discipline exercised by a single parent in their home.  It was because of their inactions that the Kaurav princes kept harassing the Pandavas for so long.  Pandavas’ respect for their teachers and elders was unstinting.  Sadly, the teachers and elders’ support for them was never reciprocated in the same way. 

When the Kuru elders failed, entire family, whole clan and entire country failed, resulting in the Mahabharta war.habharta war.


Return to Index

Return to Mahabharta Index

Return to ShriNathji's Haveli 

© Bhagwat Shah    [email protected]