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Stark epic truths

The Mahabharata draws no neat lines between good guys and bad guys; its actors are all too human, their fates determined by the inexorable l...

Written by R. P. Subramanian |
April 29, 2004

The Mahabharata draws no neat lines between good guys and bad guys; its actors are all too human, their fates determined by the inexorable laws of Dharma, causality. This is starkly portrayed by T.P. Kailasam in his play on Ekalavya, titled ‘Fulfilment’ (1933) that I recently re-read.

It is the eve of the great battle. Ekalavya, now Chief of the Nishadas, is a better archer than Arjuna even sans the thumb which he surrendered to his teacher-by-proxy Drona. Krishna visits Ekalavya’s forest kingdom to make him change his decision to fight for Duryodhana: To no avail. Strangely, even as they argue heatedly, Ekalavya is drawn towards this flute-playing stranger who obviously loves the forest and its creatures as much as he does. Suddenly, Krishna points to a tree laden with fruit and asks its name. Ekalavya replies that it is a Bakula, or ‘Bird Tree’, named so because it shelters migratory birds from the north during winter. He adds that his people leave the Bakula’s sweet fruit for the birds to eat. “If you are as fond of fawns and birds as I am,” he says to Krishna, “you cannot be the hard man I first took you to be…”

But even as Ekalavya speaks, Krishna draws a knife and stabs him. Carefully, tenderly, he cradles the dying man in his arms and explains that as Death he will claim not just Ekalavya but all warriors on both sides. To his own surprise, Ekalavya still does not feel any animosity towards the stranger. A remarkable exchange follows:

Ekalavya: I grieve because my mother will have nothing to love or live for in all this world when I am gone.

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Krishna: If your mother will have nothing to love and nothing to live for when you are gone, and will still have nothing to love and live for in this world when she herself goes, it will be really very good for her as she will have nothing to be born again for in this world.

Ekalavya (intrigued): Then if one loves something in this world and wants to live to love this thing, but in the meanwhile dies, is one born once again in this world?

Krishna: Yes…it is but fair, it is but just, that one should be born again in this world to have this thing that one loved to live for…

Further, Krishna explains: “No thing can bring happiness for ever in a world where everything is destined to die. Your happiness at having it must change to the misery of losing it when it dies… or you die…”

Ekalavya dies, at peace after Krishna promises that he will save Ekalavya’s mother from the pain of losing her son. The play ends with Krishna seeking Ekalavya’s mother, knife in hand…

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