What’s in a name!

September 24, 2015, Chennai

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What’s in a name!When we get over the problem of the narrative style and the subject of Time in Mahabharata, the next biggest task is to come to grips with names.


  No.  I am not talking about the many number of people, exceedingly difficult number of characters and their names, and the task of keeping a track of who-is-the-son-of-who and how and why he is fighting either for Kaurava or for Pandava.  It is a different issue altogether.  What I am talking about now is the many names of one person.  In other words, many names of each and every one of the many, many persons one comes across in the Epic.  

This is a very important task.  If one does not get familiar with this fact, there always exists the danger of identifying one person as another, leading to disastrous, preposterous and even blasphemous conclusions.  Sometime back in the Internet, my attention was called to a discussion in one of the blogs which called Krishna and Arjuna as homosexuals.  Pardon me for stating this.  And the blogger had quoted Chapter and Verse from Vyasa to support his case.  I could not but laugh.  Yet I did nothing and acted as if I did not take notice of such an aberration at all.  After all, there is no point in jumping into a blind battle.  All that I could do was to pray to Lord Krishna to shed the Light of Truth on whoever it was that came to this conclusion.  

But the blogger was right, in part.  It was a romantic scene, containing romantic and endearing terms with which Arjuna addresses Krishna.  The simple fact is, Krishna is the other name of Draupadi!  Panchali, Draupadi, Yajnaseni, Krishna are but few of the names by which she was known.  If we go into details, there are three Krishnas in the Mahabharata.  Number one is our Lord Krishna.  Draupadi is the second (the pronunciation differing slightly in Sanskrit).  And the third is none other than Vyasa himself.  Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa.  And therefore, whenever one comes across the phrase Krishna uvaca (Krishna said) one has to stay tuned and identify which Krishna said what.  Similarly, there are a minimum of two Karnas.  One is our familiar archer-opponent of Arjuna and the other is one among the ninety-nine brothers of Duryodhana.  There are three Chitrasenas.  One was a Gandharva and friend of Arjuna; another fought on the side of Pandavas and a third fought for Duryodhana!  There were two Chitrangadas. One Chitrangada was the elder brother of Vichitravirya, the father of Dhritarashtra.   This Chitrangada (paternal uncle of Dhritarashtra) died in a duel with a Gandharva of the same name.  The Gandharva Chitrangada could not tolerate that a human could call himself by his name and hence the duel started!  If one can see this much, this is only the tip of an iceberg.  

If there are many persons with the same name, there also is the case of one person with many names.  This is not unknown to us.  Rama is known as Raghava, Kakutstha and a hundred and more different names, though the names Raghava and Kakutstha belonged to the family and shared by all men in the family.  Dasaratha was as much a Raghava as Lakshmana or Bharata for that matter.  Fortunately many of these names are known to all and Rama can be identified no matter by what name he is mentioned.  If Yudhishthira was known as Dharma and Dharmaputra, he was also known as Ajatasatru.  Arjuna had ten names, though experts inform that his names number108, if one goes by the many endearing ways in which Lord Krishna addresses him in the Gita.    The names Partha and Kaunteya are shared by Dharma, Bhima and Arjuna alike, being matronymic. They are derived from the names of their mother, Kunti, also known as Pritha.   And therefore, one has to very closely follow the Text in order to understand which of the three Parthas says or does which or what.  

My experience is that it was very difficult to follow Karna, in particular.  Many are his names.  Radheya (son of Radha); Vaikartana (son of Vikartana); Vasusena—the name by which the charioteer Vikartana aka Adhiratha called Karna, before he was known as Karna.  There are a few more names of Karna, which I would try to give later. Most of these names are not known widely and there is every likelihood of a reader missing what Karna did or said because he is called by a name not familiar to him or her.  Anyway, that was part of the job.  A job of my own seeking.  The only person who made my job easier on this count is Duryodhana, who fortunately has only one other name, Suyodhana. (I am not for the moment speaking about adjectival nouns like ‘One who bears the Cobra Standard’ or ‘one who has the drum on his flag’ etc.)   Contrasting names though!  Dur-yodhna means ‘one who fights for bad causes’.  And Su-yodhna means (going by the word meaning) ‘one who fights for good’.  I used to wonder as to why this Shakespearean way of naming has been adopted in the case of Duryodhana!  There is a character in the play As You Like It.  He is a priest and is known by the name Sir Oliver Martext.  Mar-text.  One who spoils the Bible!  Shakespeare had the comic value in mind when he chose to call a priest that way.  It however was no joke in the case of Suyodhana.  The intended meaning of the name is as simple as ‘a good fighter’.  One who fights well and (hopefully) does not retreat. As simple as that and no more.  There were many instances when Duryodhana tasted defeat and retreated, right from Abhimanyu to Bhima.  As for Bhima, I am not talking about the mace combat of the last day.  I am talking about the 16th, 17th days of wars in particular, and a few earlier instances.  

There is a reason behind my mentioning this issue here.  It is a matter of abundant precaution, however.  It will so happen that the Sloka I cite may contain the name Vaikartana, while I would be interpreting it as Karna, which would lead the reader to think that I am trying to misquote.  Or that I might be wrong because the Sloka does not mention the name of Karna, or whoever else it might be.  

I have given the basic tools of approach to the Epic before going into the questions one by one.  Now there is one more job that I have to complete before we can take the right foot forward.  We have to define what are the areas that would come for our discussions and what are the rough areas that are out-of-bounds for us.  Let us define that and move into the first question, the biggest ever question, Did Yudhishthira inherit the kingdom and what right could he have on the Kingdom while his father was only the second son of Vichitravirya.  Some may say it was Vyasa who was the actual father.  I prefer to stick to the statement that they were the sons of Vichitravirya.  

Let’s get into that.  

(To be contd.)
                                                                                                                                  
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                                                                                                                                Hari Krishnan