Delhi: Down the Ages is a handy, informative, useful, and good value-for-money book for travelers. In this book, you read and see history. The graphic description is accompanied with interpretations. For example, the history of the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid is intertwined with detailed directions to reach there, poining out landmarks, well-known joints, buildings with a meaning, even the number of traffic lights you way come across. This way you will know the city works; you’re your will not be restricted to monuments alone. With this book in hand, you will not need another guide.
Dinesh Kapoor is a multifaceted personality. He has been a lecturer, journalist, banker, writer theatre person, actor, director and producer of films. He ran an art gallery of budding artistes for three years. Above all, he is an avid traveler who has been to most part of the globe. He lived in Miami in the US for several years. A man of restless energy, he is into writing, touring and making films. At 21, his first book was a critical analysis of Samuel Johason’s poems Landon and vanity of Human wishes. He wrote it while he was doing master in English Literature from the University of Delhi. He writes in Hindi and English both with equal ease. His latest film Pyaar ke Rang Hazaar is also due for release soon. He devises a new way of learning history and our heritage simultaneously in this latest book Delhi: Down in ages.
The story of Delhi starts with Satyawati and Parashara way back in about 1200 BCE. Since mythology is based on myths, your analysis and interpretation of accounts of events happening in that era is as good as mine. The events were apparently compiled by sages of the times, contemporary as well as the ones following those eras. Mostly, the tales were told by wise men to their congregations by word of mouth until writing material and system came up. Even so, in these holy discourses, the need to relate events that would hold the listener's interest was paramount. Who wants to listen to the true but boring accounts of the warring royalty? This realization led to some preachers adding fiction to the holy tales. And they added a liberal dose of religion to wash down those weird and unbelievable details. Because nothing works like the mystery of the unknown with the poor and the oppressed. This mixing of sagas went on for more than 3000 years, and whatever we have today is a mix of concocted stories told by preachers over these years with some factual ones. The idea was to preach morals and a tolerant way. of life. Even if this was to be done by fictitious examples.
Satyawati was the adopted daughter of a fisherman. She was visited by the wandering rishi Parashara and a son named Vyasa was born out of this union. Vyasa later went on to author the epic Mahabharata. This author understands and has read the great epic Mahabharata and most of what has been written on it. The summary of events related below is based on the stories told in its 18 Parvas (chapters), the Puranas, the Upanishads and the books depicting and analysing the Mahabharata. Since for many centuries the tale of the epic was orally spoken and carried over, it is difficult to substantiate stories associated with it. They contradict each other much too often and rationalism has to succumb to faith.
Sample the following and trust me there are numerous such stories we are a supposed to believe.
The story of the birth of Satyavati is as follows. Satyavati in her previous life was Achchhoda, daughter of the pitras, meaning ancestors. According to the Mahabharata, Harivamsa and the Devi Bhagavata Purana, Satyavati was the daughter of a cursed apsara (celestial nymph) called Adrika. Adrika became a fish in the River Yamuna. The Chedi king Vasu had a wet dream on a hunting expedition. He sent his semen to his queen through an eagle who fought with another eagle on the way. The semen dropped into the river and was swallowed by the cursed Adrika-flsh. Consequently, the fish became pregnant. The chief fisherman caught the fish, and cut it open. He found two babies in the womb of the fish: one male and one female. He presented the children to the king, who kept the male child. As the female child smelt of the fish, the king gave her back to the fisherman, naming her Matsya-gandha.
The boy grew up and founded the Matsya kingdom. The fisherman raised the girl as his daughter and named her Kali, the dark-complexioned. However, in portraits, Satyawati is always painted white - a perfect example for all Indian girls and boys who think only fair is beautiful! Satyavati helped her father in his job as a ferryman and grew up to become a beautiful maiden. Over the course of time, for no apparent reason, Kali became Satyavati the truthful. She was cunning, conniving and spoke lies at the drop of her dupatta - a stole to cover the already-covered chest. Howzzat!
For a generation fed on TV serials or tales told by their mothers and self- appointed guardians of the Hindu faith, the kings and princes and other members of the households of those days never wore informal clothes. They were mostly clean-shaven when they were young and had long white beards when old. They were always laden with jewellery, wore their armour and probably even slept in them. Their subjects were mostly in rags. The sages had flowing beards and wore saffron clothes. But the truth is these apparently larger-than-life characters too had shades of grey. Like us, these royal figures hated, envied, loved, intrigued and indulged in every petty and minor squabble. The only exception perhaps was Lord Krishna, whose godliness cannot be doubted.
Now, Shantanu was the Kuru king of Hastinapur. He fell in love with Satyavati and asked her to marry him. For fear of social boycott she had already abandoned Vyasa, an illegitimate son she had from Parashara, immediately after ' his birth. Shantanu was already married and had a teenaged son Bheeshma, who I was an able and brave man. Bheeshma was born out of a strange wedlock between Shantanu and Ganga, who had killed the first seven of their eight children.
In fact, the roots of the Mahabharata go back till king Bharat seven generations earlier. But for our purpose, let us take off from Shantanu. Satyavati could see that the prospects of her son from Shantanu becoming the next king were very bright. But what if Bheeshma objected, she asked. Bheeshma said he would gladly take a vow relinquishing his claim to the throne. This sacrifice on f the part of the son doing his best to facilitate his father's lust for the conniving fisherwoman was not enough. What if Bheeshma's son put a claim over the throne? So Bheeshma took the ultimate vow of celibacy. And he never did marry. He merely facilitated the marriage of his good-for-nothing half-brother. Satisfied with his vow of celibacy, Satyavati decided to bury her past and did not tell anything about her son Vyasa to her husband. For good measure, she elicited a promise from Shantanu that only her son would be the future king. She thus became the queen of the Kuru king Shantanu and bore him two children, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya.
Later, when her abandoned son Vyasa went out to search for his mother, he found her ruling Hastinapur. King Shantanu had died and her own children were worthless. Chitrangada was killed by a gandharva, a celestial musician. His minor brother Vichitravirya had been crowned the king. And Bheeshma, the legitimate, sacrificing and obedient son of the lusty king Shantanu, was ruling on his behalf until he grew up. Now, Vichitravirya. had to be married if Satyawati's dream of continuing to don the mantle of queen-mother was to be fulfilled. Satyawati asked Bheeshma to win the princesses of Kashi-Kosala, Ambika and Ambalika, for him in swayamvara, a sort of competition wherein princes from various kingdoms came and displayed their worthiness to claim the hand of the princess in marriage. Bheeshma dutifully won the princesses but Vichitravirya failed to produce an heir. Suffering from tuberculosis, he was weak and impotent. Later, he even died of the fatal disease. Satyawati first asked Bheeshma to forget his vow of celibacy and impregnate his daughters-in-law. But when he refused she quickly sent for Vyasa to father the children of the two widows of Vichitravirya through niyoga.
Niyoga was a practice by which an impotent husband or a widow could arrange for a man who would impregnate the woman for the sole purpose of implanting his seed in her womb. Much like today's artificial insemination or hiring of a womb by a childless couple.
Vyasa refused initially, saying they were like his daughters. but later relented after being persuaded by Satyawati. In due course, the blind Dhritarashtra and the pale Pandu were born. Satyavati accepted Vyasa as she needed him to sire children for her two daughters-in-law for the dynasty to continue. She was perhaps the first royal lady indulging in realpolitik and her political manoeuvres could put the likes of Thatchers and Gandhis to shame. Thus, as fate would have it, Vyasa, the illegitimate son of Satyawati, went on to become the grandfather of the Pandava and Kaurava princes. And she their great-grandmother through a different route!
Dhritarashtra's eyes were bereft of vision apparently because his mother Ambika had shut her eyes and flinched when she saw vyasa, who looked awful with oil all over his body. She had nearly fainted on seeing the man who would impregnate her. Similarly, Ambalika had turned pale and bloodless upon seeing him, and thus her son Pandu was born pale and unhealthy. There you go again! In fact, the name Pandu itself is derived from a disease that means jaundice. Sensing there would not be much of hope with these deformed children, Satyavati asked Vyasa to try once again. However, this time Ambika and Ambalika sent their maid to vyasa's room. vyasa fathered a third son Vidur by the maid. Since the maid remain unflinched, Vidur was born healthy and grew up to be one of the wisest characters in the Mahabharata. However, he was constantly taunted because of his low caste. Even so he served as prime minister (mahamantn) to both Pandu and Dhritarashtra.
The pale, thin and physically weak king Pandu was unable to father children even though he married twice. So, history had to get repeated again. This time deities were invoked by his two wives Kunti and Madri to father the five Pandavas. Like Satyavati's Vyasa, Kama was the son Kunti had out of wedlock, from Surya. And like Vyasa, he too would be abandoned. Yudhishthira, Arjuna and Bheema were born to Kunti from various deities. Nakul and Sahadeva, both born to Madri, were fraternal twins. They were fathered by the divine physicians Ashvins, who were identical twins themselves. Consequently neither any of the Panda vas nor their father Pandu had a legitimate father.
The blind supremo Dhritarashtra ruled Hastinapur and had a hundred sons known as Kauravas. In normal course, the throne of Hastinapur and the properties around would have gone to Duryodhana, his eldest son. But cousin Yudhishthira laid his claim to the throne on the basis that he was older than Duryodhana. Dhritarashtra wanted his son Duryodhana to be the successor but was helpless before the family customs. Dhritarashtra himself had been denied kingship by Vidura, even though he was the elder brother of Pandu, based on the rule that a blind man cannot be the ruler, though he did become the king after Pandu's untimely death.
Duryodhana, assisted by his brothers and uncle Shakuni, plotted to oust the Pandavas from the race to the throne. An architect Purvanchan was deployed to build Lakshagriha, a palace made of inflammable materials like lac and ghee (processed butter), and the Panda vas were tricked to stay there. As the plot thickened, the Pandavas were tipped by their uncle Vidur that the intention of their wily cousins was to burn them alive in the Lakshagriha. Vidur then sent a miner to dig a tunnel, through which they escaped. Back home in Hastinapur, the celebrations began as the rivals were presumed dead. This rivalry and enmity between the Kauravas and the Pandavas led to the battle in Kurukshetra when the latter returned to Hastinapur later after their exile. This battle is the basis of the second Hindu epic Mahabharata, the first being the Ramayana.
During their period of hiding, the Pandavas won Draupadi at a swayamvara and brought her home. She became wife of all the five brothers. When the Pandavas eventually went back home to Hastinapur to claim their rightful throne, the elders in the family sat and decided to split the kingdom and divide it between the cousins. This was reluctantly accepted by the warring cousins. The Pandavas were greatly agonized by the fact that the territory of Khandavaprastha given to them was a bushy patch of wild forestry, uncultivable and uninhabitable. This is the first ever mention of a capital on the banks of the river Yamuna in modern Delhi. They hired Maya the Danava to build a beautiful city Indraprastha, which was the first-ever settlement of Delhi as capital. It is from here that the seeds of contempt grew and finally resulted in the epic battle.
When it came to choosing a successor from amongst the hundred sons, the Rajya Pramukh (head of the state) Dhritarashtra had only one choice. Yudhishthira was a strict follower of dharma (righteousness) and the eldest amongst the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Only, he was from the rival side and was therefore handed over the estate reluctantly. Soon, the battlelines were drawn when Dhritarashtra's son Duryodhana, the eldest of the 100 Kaurava brothers, raised an objection. The Pandavas offered a truce. Alright, just give us five villages to rule, they said, and take away the rest of the property. Duryodhana refused. Despite the fact that the Kauravas are painted black in the epic - possibly because of Krishna being on the Pandavas' side - all the elders in the family were on the side of the Kauravas and fought for them even though they recognised that they were on the wrong side of dharma. This was probably because of their allegiance to the then ruler Dhritarashtra. As events develop leading to the battle, it would appear both sides were indulging in all sort of dirty politics, tricks, conniving plots and unlawful means to gain favourable ends. Sounds like the Kalmadi era, eh?
In hindsight, it would appear that the Kauravas were pitched against Krishna alone, who at every step corrected and undid foolish pratigyas (vows) taken by the Pandavas. In fact, the Pandavas would have perished long before the battle. But they were saved a lot of humiliation from the Kauravas and other quarters because of Krishna. The war essentially was between the Kauravas and Lord Krishna. The most poignant error of judgment on the part of Duryodhana was when he chose Krishna's 18 Akshohini araini army instead of the Lord himself. He chose physical power over mental and paid for it with his kingdom and life. By all standards, the Mahabharata is in many ways a tale more poignant than the Ramayana. It teaches us the value of brotherhood and pleads that the way out for the warring parties in any argument is through mediation and listening to the pieces of advice from experienced elders. War should be avoided.
The Mahabharata is, at best, the epic story of a dynastic struggle for the throne of Hastinapur. At worst, it is a tale of property dispute amongst cousin brothers. Either way, today's Delhi was the epicentre of the struggles and subsequent battles. In times to come it would remain so for ever - the city of contention. Anyone who wanted a foothold in India would have to capture this city first. Delhi became forever the epitome of victory.
About 3000 years later, the remains of Indraprastha would be found in a totally different era. Humayun and then Shershah in the mid-16th century built their cities over the ruins of Indraprastha. Like in ancient times, the two rivals fought for the kingdom. Like the epic battle of yore, their war was full of intrigues and betrayals. Unlike it, however, their tales were not epic in proportion. The British rulers and later the Indians changed the shape of Delhi completely, polluting the river Yamuna severely - the river on the banks of which 100 miles downstream in Mathura the greatest of theyogzs, the God who turned the battle in favour of the Pandavas, Lord Krishna, had spent his colourful childhood and boyhood. It is not the river alone that would change its colours. The city of yore changed colours often with every marauding invader. Many a time its riches were looted by successive plunderers and its cultures were ruthlessly torn. Each time it rose from the ashes like a Phoenix. Today, its fears stem from rampant corruption and terrorism. However, the civic society is taking care of the former and the army is well equipped for the latter. Surely, in the changing times, both will be uprooted to a substantial extent.
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