The Killing of Vena

September 24, 2015, Chennai

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MahabarataSometimes I am amazed at the casual manner in which Poet Bharati slips very rare, sparsely known, intricate details, very casually in his works.


  His was a stout intellect that did not even realise the rarity of what wealth of information that he was spilling along his way.  Had he realised, he would have stopped for a while to give us a fuller version of what is scantily known.  It was from his poetry that my search for the details on King Vena started.  While advising Duryodhana against his orders to bring Panchali to the hall of the game of dice, Vidura mentions this, in Subramania Bharati’s Panchali Sabatam.  

muṉṉam oru vēṉaṉ muṭintakatai kēṭṭilaiyō
nallalōr tamatuḷḷam naiyac ceyal ceytāṉ
pollāta vēṉaṉ puḻuvaippōl māyntiṭṭāṉ

Have you not heard of the way Vena was put an end to?  Vena the arrogant, offended the feelings of the good (people) by his (cruel) misdeeds and it was like a worm that he died.

What amazes me even more is that though the speech of Vidura in Bharati’s work is almost a virtual translation of Vyasa, (which holds good for most part of Panchali Sabatam),   Bharati has deliberately passed over, suppressed, certain technical aspects on the game of dice—that is to say, the points of order that Vidura rises (in the original Text), only to be raised later by Draupadi herself—because it was his intention to give credit to Panchali for citing those remarks for the first time.

A person, who has been so faithful to the original to a very large extent, now brings in a piece that’s not to be found in this parallel instance of Vyasa!  There is no reference to Vena in Vyasa Bharata in this particular place.  After long and systematic search, I could find a few lines on Vena in the Santi Parva of Mahabharata, where Bhishma advises Dharmaputra on various aspects of life and Kingship in particular.  There, Bhishma mentions this about Vena:

anaṅga putro 'ti balo nītimān adhigamya vai
abhipede mahī rājyam athendriya vaśo 'bhavat
mṛtyos tu duhitā rājan sunīthā nāma mānasī
prakhyātā triṣu lokeṣu yā sā venam ajījanat
taṃ prajāsu vidharmāṇaṃ rāgadveṣavaśānugam
 mantrapūtaiḥ kuśair jaghnur ṛṣayo brahmavādinaḥ

(Mahabharata, Book 12, Chapter 59, Slokas 98-100)

The English translation of this (Kisari Mohan Ganguli) reads as follows: “Ananga begot a son named Atibala, well versed in policy. Obtaining extensive empire after the demise of his sire, he became a slave of his passions. Mrityu, O king, had a daughter born of his mind, named Sunita and celebrated over the three worlds. She was married to Atibala and gave birth to a son named Vena. Vena, a slave of wrath and malice, became unrighteous in his conduct towards all creatures. The Rishis, those utterers of Brahma, slew him with Kusa blades (as their weapon) inspired with mantras.”  (Book 12, Chapter 59)

That is to say, Vena was born to the couple Atibala and Sunita.  Atibala was the son of Ananga (who was the son of Kardama), and thus was born in a royal line.  This Vena grew up and became filled with malice and was unrighteous of character.  The Rishis could not tolerate his conduct and beat him with bundles of Kusa grass, inspired with mantras, to death.  

Mahabharata does not say any more on this particular incident.  Surprisingly, it was once again Bharati who helped me to come to grips with the basic tenet that is lying embedded in the story of Vena.  He narrates the story of Vena in an editorial in his newspaper, India (dated 14.8.1909) and connects this story with what Bhishma states.  A rough translation of this portion of the editorial would read as, ‘What does Sri Bhishma say in the Raja-dharmanusasana Parva?  It is not a sin in killing any king who is unjust, unrighteous, and despotic.  The people themselves can kill him, like killing a mad dog, pelting stones.  That would not at all be an act of sin.’  That was how my long search on Vena started and ended with Bharati!

That establishes beyond doubt that any despotic, unrighteous prince—eldest or not—may be prevented from becoming a King, and it was the duty of the father (who is the King at that time) to disown and drive away such a son to the forest.  And in case a King gets despotic and unrighteous after assuming power, Bhishma specifies very clearly in the Raja-dharma-anusasana Parva, that he can be stoned to death by the people themselves.  

It is thus that we deduced and arrived at the first two conclusions that we had listed in our earlier post, The Pecking Order.  What remains to be substantiated now are that

The King must be willing to transfer the power to the Prince, even if he is the eldest.

The Prince must be willing to accept the responsibility and that

The people must be willing to accept him as their King.

The stories of Yayati-Yadu-Puru and Santanu are there for us to go into, to examine the validity of what remains of our conclusions.  Let’s move on.

(To be contd.)
                                                                                                                                  
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 Hari Krishnan