Some Thoughts on the Mahabharata

My fascination with the shadow began during my initial visit/interview at Pacifica, when I bought a copy of Robert Johnson’s Owning Your Own Shadow with the open house gift certificate. I read the entire book on the plane between Salt Lake City and Austin. The book altered my perspective so much I have found the shadow everywhere since I read it. Perhaps this is a proverbial call to adventure to explore this particular nature of myself; or perhaps it is simply that exploring the hidden depths of psyche’s closet is much more interesting than analyzing the conscious world. When trying to decide what topic to explore of The Mahabharata, I realized I was attracted to two things. Deciding to not write a love letter to Arjuna, I decided to explore the shadow nature of Duryodhana. As a literary character, Duryodhana is cunning like a fox who is afraid of losing the power given to him, which sounds chillingly like most shadow figures in both popular culture and politics these days.

By Western standards, Duryodhana’s jealousy of his cousin-brothers is expected. Duryodhana came to believe he was going to inherit the kingdom, and faced conflict with the family dharma. His prejudice was fueled in part by his rivalry to Bhima. This scenario appears often in Western literature, except that I cannot recall a story in which the banished brother or brothers are allowed to return to the kingdom after a period of time. In the stories I recall, the usurping brother will try to have the unfavored brothers permanently incapacitated, rather than hope the fates will destroy them during the period of banishment. I think Duryodhana genuinely thought his brothers would not survive the exile, but his actions were guided by jealousy, rendering his reason blind.

In my preliminary research of Duryodhana, I came to realize that The Mahabharata acts as the myth to usher in the Kali Yuga. Before this Hinduism class, I vaguely understood through reading Joseph Campbell that the Kali Yuga is a Hindu epoch of time, but I mostly understood the word as the name of Kilik’s Bo staff in the video game, Soul Calibur. At the end of a battle, Kilik cries, "Kali-Yuga, show me the way!" I mention this battle-cry because the Kali Yuga is the time of the shadow: the time when all of humanity’s dragons and demons roam free and create chaos and destruction. Some might call this pure religious bunk, but I cannot overlook the coincidence that our current world is experiencing chaos and destruction through war, epidemics, economic insecurity, and illogical, irrational leaders. To borrow from a Love and Rockets song, the world seems, from my perspective, to be a massive "Ball of Confusion." It seems to me that this is exactly what the Pandavas were fighting against, yet were powerless to prevent. Since The Mahabharata is not a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story, I can only speculate whether the paradigm shift was inevitable, or whether Duryodhana’s actions set the change in motion. Perhaps the blame lies not with Duryodhana, but with his great-grandmother, Satyavati, who married King Shantanu only on the condition that her children would inherit the throne. She had to manipulate destiny to produce heirs, and perhaps this is the catalyst that foraged the path for Duryodhana’s jealousy and the epic war between the Kurus and the Pandavas.

When reading The Mahabharata, I kept mentally comparing Duryodhana to the Harry Potter shadow character Lord Voldemort. They each embody a different degree of evil, using whatever techniques are necessary to achieve their goals. However, the question is not the degree to which Duryodhana is evil, but, rather, to what extent his characteristics are found within my psyche. By exploring these characteristics, I will be one step closer to owning my own shadow.


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