Sunday afternoons as children meant Doordarshan. I studied in a boarding school where we were not shown TV, so when I went home for holidays, I didn’t spare anyone, not even the news readers who looked like the Anganwadi didi next door. Rangoli, Superhit Muqabla and Chitrahaar were other shows, but one that had the attention of every member in the house was Mahabharat.
The Mahabharat is a great story in itself. Its got all the heroes, sub-plots and villians that make for an epic. In our school, the Mahabharat was shown on Sundays, to the boys admitted in the sick ward, and when there was no other movie to show. And there were the Amar Chitra Katha Comics too. It was but natural that we had our favourite characters in the story. And it was also natural that there are innumerable discussions on this topic to decide who’s the coolest of the lot. Here are my options:
Ekalavya’s could have been the greatest rags to riches story. Tribal boy watches Guru Drona teach the Pandavas and Kauravas from behind the bushes. He makes a statue of Guru and starts practising the art himself. He soon becomes a dhansu archer himself.
One day, Ekalavya is doing something, and a dog barks. Ekalavya is pissed off and shoots 14 arrows straight into the mouth of the dog. Dog goes yelping and Drona finds it was E who did it.
Drona: “You, boy. Who is your Guru?”
Ekalavya: “You are my Guru.”
Drona: “Yeah, whatever. Now give me my fees. Your right thumb.”
Ekalavya, who is seen to be an impulsive person as seen from the dog incident, cuts off his thumb and gives it to Guru.
BIG, FAT, MISTAKE: If I were in his place, I would have shown Guru another finger and rushed to the side which offered me the highest price. I wonder what Ekalavya did after that incident. If E hadn’t gotten so swept by emotions, he could have been the coolest. Close, but not quite there.
I do not have too much respect for Yudhishtir. Think of it, you are gambling and you lose a lot of money. You can just get up and say, “Dude, I don’t want to play anymore.” Or excuse yourself and rush to the wash room and not come back. But no, male ego. Royal Male Ego. The man puts his wife at stake.
Not cool, bro. And that too when he had no role in getting married to Droupadi in the first place. Poor Arjun, you hit fish’s eye and win the competition and the wife, and then have to share her with your brothers. To add insult to injury, each brother stays with the wife for two years, and your turn is after Bheem. Just plain bad luck. And then, your elder brother puts her at stake at a gambling game? What about women’s rights, guys?
But anyway, Arjun is another candidate who could have been the coolest person, but he loses out. Arjun was among the most talented archers of the time. He was the son of Indra and won Droupadi on his own. But what works against Arjun is that he had constant help. When your charioteer and chief strategist is a dude who could woo 1,86, 000 + women, and was God, you clearly have an upper hand. Not to mention the Brihannala incident. To dress up as a woman and sing and dance for a year? Naaah.
Bheeshma is another author backed role in the epic. Like all the great characters, he has a great origin myth. He is the son of Ganga and Shantanu. Very early in life, he swore that he shall never, ever get married. Bheeshma then goes on to kick serious ass in the story, being the Pitamah of the entire clan. He goes to a Swayamvar, wins the brides (all three of them – Amba, Ambika and Ambalika), and brings them home for his brother. Very cool.
Bheeshm was a master of war, and quite invincible. He, however, met with death. Bheeshm also scores on the cool quotient because after ten years, Bheeshm would come back dressed in a tight dark red suit and kick superhero ass on Doordarshan as ‘Shaktimaan’. Bheeshm was invincible in the battlefield, and was only defeated when he refused to shoot at Shikhandi, who was the aforementioned Amba, in her previous birth. Bheeshma would not raise his weapons on a woman, and so, Arjuna, from behind Shikhandi’s shoulder, shot Bheeshma.
Abhimanyu was another hero of the Mahabharata. He was the son of Arjuna and Subhadra, Krishna’s sister. Abhimanyu was bestowed with maturity beyond his age (Proof is the fact that he was married and had a son at the time of his death, 16).
When Abhimanyu was in his mother’s womb, Arjuna was explaining to Subhadra about the Chakravyu. The Chakravyuh was a complex military formation in which the army made seven concentric circles so that the enemy could not target one particular opponent, as all the circles were constantly moving. While Abhimanyu was still in the womb, he listened to and understood from inside the womb how to break into the chakravyuh. However, before he could listen to the part about how he was to come out of it, his mother fell asleep and he could not listen to the latter half.
When the Mahabharata war was going, the Pandavas were in a sticky spot on the 13th day. Arjuna was kept busy by some enemies, and the Chakravyuh was advancing towards the Pandavas. Abhimanyu volunteered to fight the chakravyuh. However, the other Pandavas were to follow him and help him get out of it. The Pandavas were defeated by Jayadratha, and could not follow Abhimanyu.
Abhimanyu fights off Drona, Kripacharya, Bheeshma, Duryodhana, and many other stalwarts. Unfortunately, when he was battling with Lakshmana, the son of Dushasan, the two of them fall down. Before Abhimanyu could get up, Lakshmana takes a club and smashes his head with it. Abhimanyu died on the spot, a hero, a martyr, and not even an adult.
Shishupal makes it to the list on the basis of sheer guts. This guy was the son of Vasuki’s sister, and hence Krishna’s cousin. Apparently, this Shishupal fellow was a chronic pain in the ass for everyone around him. Krishna, as the reason for his birth was to get rid of all evil, had made up his mind to kill him. But knowing her son’s track record, Shishupal’s mother asks Krishna to promise that she would forgive him a hundred sins.
Shishupal grows up and on the day of his wedding, Krishna crashes into the wedding and kidnaps Shishupal’s bride to be, Rukmini and leaves. Shishupal is infuriated, and remember, Krishna has promised to pardon hundred of his sins. Think about it. If you were given a chance to commit a hundred sins, what would you do? I would visit a few banks, and then go to some Hollywood studios. But no, our guy Shishupal is the kind of guy about whom it is said, “He has guts in his butts and dum in his bum.” What does he do?
He walks straight into Krishna’s court, and starts abusing him. Krishna being the king, does not react. He keeps his calm and says nothing. Mentally, he is going, “97, 98, 99…100, “ And then, he gets up, and raises the finger.
Not the middle finger, come on, he is god. He raises his index finger, out comes the Sudarshan Chakra, and Shishupal gets beheaded on the spot. Shishupal is among the colourful villanous characters who tried to take on Gods in their own game, and realised its of no use.
Without doubt, the coolest character of them all has to be Karna. Lke Achilees, Harman Baweja, and other tragic heroes, Karna’s is the story of a hero who met with doom. My admiration for Karna rose partly due to Pankaj Dheer’s fantastic portrayal of him in the Mahabharat. The Amar Chitra Katha comic of the same name only added to the legend.
There is a story in the Mahabharat, when Arjuna complains about the fact that Krishna keeps praising Karna for his charity, but Arjuna can match up to him. Krishna smiles and gives them both a test. He creates two mountains of gold and asks both Arjuna and Karna to distribute the mountains of gold, and whoever does it quicker is the winner. Arjuna quickly calls all the people of his kingdom, young and old, male and female, and starts distributing the gold to them all. Karna, meanwhile, sees a man walking on the road, calls him and tell him, “Take all this gold. It’s yours.”
Even Karna’s death is tragic. His wheel is stuck in the mud, and when Karna bends down to repair it, Arjuna shoots him. A clear case of hitting below the belt.
The lowest point for Karna is probably when Jackie Shroff wore his kavacha and kundala in the film Naksha, but for the remaining part, Karna is the coolest character in the Mahabharat.