Mahabharat is not only about gambling away Draupadi: An open letter to Kamal Haasan

Dear Kamal Haasan,

I am a big fan of yours. I was in your support when the controversy around your movie Vishwroopam had arisen and supported your views on Jallikattu too. Not just because I am your fan, but my views were exactly the same as yours were. I hope you are very well aware how the so-called torch bearers of the free speech ditched you on both the occasions.

Recently, you have made some comments about the most celebrated epic of Indian society in general and Hindus in particular. Being a Hindu I don’t find any derogatory or objectionable element in your comment. And unlike those so-called torch bearers of free speech, I am not going to ditch you and I support your right to make those comments.

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Those who pretend to be offended by your comments are either ignorant of the complexities of relations offered by the Mahabharata or have some vested political motives. They have lodged complaint against you and the law of the land will decide if they have any valid arguments. Personally, I feel there was no need to bring in legal battle when we can argue based on logic and merits.

My observation about the story in Mahabharat as a whole almost echoes yours. Yes, Yudhishthir without having any authority whatsoever gambled away his wife Draupadi, which was the most inhuman act of him. Even Draupadi questioned the authority of her husband over her by asking how could he, having lost himself first, put her on stake. None in the assembly including Dharmaraj could answer her.

But I have a little disagreement with you when you say that Indian society honours a book which narrates the story of a gambler who gambled away his wife. And then you go on to link that with status of women in the Indian society. That is unfair.

Yes, we do honour the Mahabharat as the greatest epic of the Hindu society. But as far as I know the Mahabharat isn’t a holy book for Hindus like there are holy books for Abrahamic religions.

Bhagavad Gita, essentially a part of the great epic Mahabharat, is considered sacred, and perhaps, you are confused between Mahabharat and Bhagavad Gita. In fact, I have heard from our elders that many people didn’t keep Mahabharat in our in-house library, as it is believed, the story can ignite the fight in the family!

Moreover, Mahabharat is not only about gambling but about almost every aspect of human life, be it morally good or bad. Gambling is merely a part of it. Mahabharat is all about the action and its consequences faced by almost every major characters in the epic. Even the most celebrated and honoured character Sri Krishna wasn’t spared. He also had to accept the curse of Gandhari. It’s interesting to know that Krishna had the power to undo the curse but he didn’t.

Yudhishthir, the gambler according to you, with his brothers ultimately paid the price of having uncontrollable love affair with the gambling. Draupadi too lost her all the sons because of her supposed lust for war and revenge. You can find almost every character in the epic facing the consequences of his/her own actions at some point or other. This is story about Karma.

Even the Brahmins, the most pious soul considered in Hindu society at that time, weren’t spared and got punished, be it Dronacharya or Ashvatthama. In a way, Mahabharata challenges the supremacy of Brahmins, as Dronacharya suffers the consequences of his actions, which includes discrimination against students of “lower castes” like Karna and Eklavya.

Yes, we do honour Mahabharata, but at the same time we don’t honour Yudhishthira gambling away his own wife. We honour the complexities of the human relationships and the human psychology, very effectively depicted in the epic. We honour the concept of Karma, that we will have to face consequences of our actions. That we will be doomed if we treat women like possessions to be lost in gambling.

Mahabharat has no hero and no villain unlike the western epics, but it is the situation, waved around the characters, which made them acted like hero or villain.

In that sense, Mahabharata is more modern than some of the modern literary works. Mahabharata has the courage to absorb all the criticism against itself as well as its characters including even Sri Krishna. It doesn’t shy away from talking about the harsh realities of the human’s behaviour, relationship, strength and weaknesses. The way it challenges the moral standards of the society, is incomparable. It, literally, redefined the morality of the society, be it sexual or non-sexual.

Dear Kamal Haasan, we don’t honour Yudhishthira gambling away his brothers and his wife but the narrator’s honesty which invites the constructive criticism, is what we honour.

I understand that you have your own views about the epic which doesn’t necessarily match with everyone, but I hope you understand the complexities of the epic and pass your judgement on the basis of thorough understanding of the story, and not on the basis of a part of the story.


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