I’ve often felt that while Draupadi was being humiliated by Duryodhana and assaulted by Dushashana in the court of Hustinapur; why did her mighty warrior husbands not get up there and then and then and fight? Also, while Yuddhistira was gambling away recklessly, why didn’t one or more of the other brothers slap him and say “look enough is enough; we’re not going along with this”?
However to really understand the values of another era – we have to look at the difference between our mentality and theirs. Nowadays we defy loved ones very easily. Be it parents, cousins, brothers, sisters – it is commonplace. The strength of family bonds or respect for an elder or wiser person than us are not so pronounced in our society. The strength of the bonds of restraint and respect were a lot stronger between the Pandavas; it is difficult to grasp this after a gap of thousands of years in a society with different values.
On the other hand there must by a limit into which you can follow your loved ones in their mistakes. Some characters of the epics have not followed their brothers into evil. One is Vibhishana (abandoning Ravana) and another is Yuyutsu (abandoning Duryodhana).
It could be understood that Yuddishtira was generally known to be most just and learned, calm and compassionate, unlike Ravana and Duryodhana. But surely in the individual reckless act of gambling away one’s kingdom and sacrificing the dignity of his wife, he should have been defied?
On the whole, I do feel that in an absolute sense it was a mistake of the other Pandavas to allow Yuddhistira to continue in stupidity and not defy him; and even more so for not defending Draupadi. Krishna scolded them severely for it. The sorry tale shows that Pandavas were indeed a much less effective unit when Krishna was not present.
The great thing about the Mahabharata is that nobody is wholly good or nobody is wholly bad. Yuddhishtira, the very epitome of righteousness had a weakness for gambling which he never repeated, but which was devastating in its effect.
To Krishna, despite their weaknesses, the Pandavas were to be instrumental in bringing about the kind society he wished. Krishna didn’t become discouraged by the huge setback, he just kept working with a delayed or longer vision.
When I look at the Mahabharata, I do not look upon the conduct of the great characters as something to be emulated in its own right. I reflect on the various incidents and stories, and try and understand the spirit that animated the actions.
That which has a living truth behind it, which can be reformulated or have relevance beyond the immediate time and place should be imbibed and understood, and where possible take a living presence in our lives.
If our sincere enquiry and reflection leads us to disagree with a cultural hero or even with an Avatar, that is fine. As long as you truly think for yourself, with an open mind.
When I reflect on the spirit behind Arjuna and Bhima’s restraint in the court of Hustinapur on that fateful day, I do not agree with their actions. However, I do not wish to reject the honour and respect with which they followed their older brother which displays a stronger, more powerful familial bond than we have today. Yet familial bonds and respect are also to have their limit. Yuddhishtira despite his devastating weakness as a gambler on that day was a character who was otherwise worthy of honour, someone who was learned and strove for dharma. Affording the same honour to someone like Ravana or Duryodhana is a step too far.