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The Making of Bhishma

The Story

It is 2000 B.C.E.. Suyodhana, the effective ruler of Hastinapur, along with his brothers and Karna, has been waging war against his cousins the Pandavas.

It is 2000 B.C.E.. Suyodhana, the effective ruler of Hastinapur, along with his brothers and Karna, has been waging war against his cousins the Pandavas. The Pandavas were forced to abandon their city Indraprastha and are camped somewhere in the depths of the Gangetic forest, between Hastinapur and Kampilya, the capital of the matriarch Queen Draupadi, their joint wife.

Devavrat, the aged Regent of Hastinapur, has been captured by the Pandavas.  He is persuaded by the Vyaasa and Yudhishthira to explain the decisions he made in response to the mass migration caused by the disappearance of the Saraswati.  Yudhishthira hopes to understand what policies should be dropped and which ones should be continued.  The Vyaasa, the head of the Kavi Sangha, wants to add to the historical archives of Hastinapur–the public recitation of this history is one of the traditional roles of the Kavi Sangha and the source of its popularity and power.  He asks a senior kavi Lomaharshana to be the active listener who will compose the oral history. Devavrat finds that he cannot separate events of his own life from the policies he had established, for they were closely interleaved.

With the Vyaasa providing additional background Lomaharshana puts together the story of Devavrat’s life leading up to the birth of Dhritarashtra, father of Suyodhana, and Mahendra, also called Pandu, the father of Yudhishthira and his brothers.

A frame story, set in 850 B.C.E., wraps the narration of the life-story of Devavrat. It is over a thousand years after the Great War, and Hastinapur has been abandoned as a result of one great flood that also kills many kavis, members of the Kavi Sangha.  The memorised history of Hastinapur, memorized for recitation by the kavis, is at risk as there are very few kavis left who know it in its entirety. The city council asks the Kavi Sangha to write down the story – the Vyaasa Vaishampaayana recites the story while the trader Bhargava the Kambhoji attempts to write it down using his limited knowledge of a Western (Phoenician or other Semitic) script.

The Last Kaurava

The project seems to be doomed to fail but is saved by Bhargava’s son Chandrasekhar, who became an expert Scribe when he was stranded in a Western capital (“Babylon”) for many years by the repeated wars endemic to the West.  The Vyaasa collaborates with Chandrasekhar to create a new script that is based on the pedagogical techniques of the Kavi Sangha and can accurately reproduce the language of the Archives.

The frame story explores some aspects of how a sophisticated non-literate culture might function.

The Story - The Last Kaurava