We have a reader question from Rajat (it was a long question, I am just highlighting the main parts)

I was writing something of an analysis of the various characters of the two Indian epics. I started with characters like Shatrughana, Nakul, Sahadeva. I started out by asking this –  . I thought that a story from POV of a minor character would tell me some new things. But I didn’t get any answers. Then I asked this. After this, I asked this .

Because of all this doubt, I began questioning the very reason such characters are still present. The last, but not the least question was the difference between such type of characters here –  Here, I thought of how Mahabharata has an ensemble cast with huge number of characters. No character is a clear hero or villain, no single protagonist or antagonist, no single minor or major character. Characters like Shakuni, Joker(of Batman) lack any depth. They are not relatable to the audience in any sense. They lack clear motives and desires.

And compared to them, characters like Nakul, Sahadeva,Shatrughana have some reasons, some motives for their actions. But they are the least favoured ones. Keep in mind both type of characters are not given much emphasis. Of the two types, it’s the latter type who is mentioned several times. But even after that, they are ignored. Why?

I will take two examples first.

Example #1 : A Soccer match.

We have 11 players of which 3 are the most agile ones in a team.

  • Lionel Messi – Striker – Arjuna
  • David Beckham – Midfielder  – Yudhisthira (Captain)
  • Roberto Carlos – Defender – Bheema

The match starts. Nobody knows the name of the goalkeeper, the two other defenders, the person running in the flank. People are cheering for the striker, the midfielder and the defender. The team wins the game and the striker is called for an interview, the captain is honored with a prize and everyone goes home happy.

Later, everyone talks about these three players alone. In newspapers, media – everywhere, these three heroes are recognized while rest of the team is forgotten.

  • Nobody comes and congratulates the goalkeeper who saved the goals.
  • Nobody comes and congratulates the person who covered the flanks and made an important pass.
  • Nobody comes and recognizes the defender who stopped the striker of the opponent team.

Example #2 – An Organisation

We have a small private firm with 11 employees part of a team, of which 3 are the most agile ones.

  • The Senior Engineer – Arjuna.
  • The Project Manager – Yudhisthira.
  • The Sales Manager – Bheema.

There are other players in the Organization but they are never taken seriously. This includes Customer support representatives, Quality engineers, designers, junior engineers, office administration, Human resource executive, the peon and so on.

When the Organisation makes profit, the project manager is called in and a prize is given. The engineer is praised for his good work. But nobody ever praises the office peon. Nobody calls the customer support guy and gives him a prize. The key people are recognized and rest of the lot is often forgotten.

I hope you get the point now.

Fundamental Law of Nature: Not every player will be recognized, although every player is needed.

It is impossible for onlookers to recognize the effort of every single team player. No, it won’t happen ever. Regardless of a situation, Organization or a circumstance, recognition will always be given to the front man.

That doesn’t mean that other players are not important. They are important and needed for the team to win.

  • The Striker cannot score a goal is he does not get a pass from the person in the Flank
  • The Defender cannot stop a goal is he does not get support from his fellow defenders.
  • The Midfielder cannot plan an attack if he does not get the right man at the right time at the right place.
  • The Project manager cannot execute his project properly if his customer support guy is on leave and he is pounded with support requests all day long.
  • The engineer cannot build his system properly if he has no insights from the Quality assurance team.
  • The CEO cannot run a company unless the human resource department finds the right people.

Each is great in his own place

Every single player is needed. Always. If any player quits, it disturbs the whole team and the team cannot win.

In Mahabharata, Arjuna, Bheema and Yudhisthira form the agile group and hence they are mentioned more than Nakula and Sahadeva. But that’s just our perception of these two characters. This does not mean that Nakula and Sahadeva are less significant. What this means is that they are needed in places where the agile players aren’t. They will do the grunt work so that the main battle is a little bit easy for the agile ones.

If you remove the customer support guy from the team thinking that this is a lesser important character, the entire project might fail several months down the line. If you remove the person in the Flank thinking that he is not needed, your opponent will use that Flank, take you by surprise and might score a goal.

Nakula and Sahadeva played key roles in the epic, which are not known since their parts have been overshadowed by the parts of Arjuna, Bheema. Again, not every part will be mentioned. What you read in the epic is just a synopsis, it is impossible to document every single thing then the epic will not finish since every character played an equally important part in the whole battle and epic.

It is up-to Us to Choose, Perceive and Draw Conclusions

Again, we have chosen to read that interpretation of the epic which relates to us the most.

There are thousands of interpretations of the same epic, written from someone’s point of view. We don’t know those interpretations since they were not commercialised. Who would want to buy a book written from Satyaki’s point of view? Very less, the book will not do business. Hence, we don’t know that interpretation.

We have chosen to read that version of the epic, to commercialize that version which the majority will read and bring business for the publisher/producer. Due to this, the readers will never know other POV’s and hence the confusion will continue to grow.

You see, Draupadi’s disrobing incident is highlighted in the epic very boldly. It is a shameful incident but it is highlighted. Why? Why do we keep discussing that incident in every other version of Mahabharata? No book of Mahabharata is without that incident? Why? The simple reason – people want to read that thing.

However, very few books on Mahabharata will tell you the sorrows of Karna’s wife. The agony of Bhanumati – Duryodhana’s wife, her relentless effort to bring Duryodhana to right track, her friendship with Draupadi is not known to the world. The heroism of Chitrangada, Arjuna’s wife – she dressed like a man, would ride a horse and would leisurely beat Arjuna in sword fight.

These stories are not highlighted since they won’t bring much value to the producer of the book, since majority is interested in reading the heoric battles of Arjuna, Bheema and key incidents of the epic like the disrobing incident. There are thousands of such incidents but none of them are written.

Do not draw conclusions based on what you have read so far about the epic. Mahabharata is an ocean and we are just standing on the shore thinking what we are seeing is the size of the ocean.

Further reading – Each is great in his own place

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