The Story of Shalya and its Message

Long time back when I started my career, I had a boss who used to discourage me on any project I undertook – not just me, but anyone going to him to share a good idea or thought . He would instantly dismiss an idea with an off-the-cuff remark. One never knew the psychology behind it. Perhaps he was smarting under a complex caused by a similar treatment he got from his boss early in his career. One has to have steely nerves to withstand such an onslaught from a boss.This guy always reminded me of the infamous character from Mahabharata, Shalya. Recently, I happened to hear this little known story of Shalya in some detail. I will narrate this story since it has a message for all of us:

Shalya was a great warrior and was related to Kunti (he was the brother of Madri the second wife of Pandu)and hence was a natural ally of Pandavas. Before the war, Yudhishtira sent word to him to join the Pandavas. Shalya set out on his long journey to Hastinapur with his large army. On the way, excellent arrangements were made for his stay by his host. Great feast followed by endless entertainment made his journey very relaxing. Shalya was impressed and immensely pleased with the hospitality.  After he reached Hastinapur, he learnt to his dismay that Duryodhana, not Yudhishtira was his host during the journey. Therefore, he had to politely refuse to fight for the Pandavas. However, Yudhishtira extracted a promise from him to keep demoralizing Karna and dampen his spirits.

Most of us know the rest of the story of how Shalya becomes Karna’s Charioteer and discourages Karna at every stage of the war. He would keep praising Arjuna while pointing out the shortcomings of Karna. However, there is one little known or less publicized fact about Shalya. It appears he found his respect for Karna later in the war when he sees him fighting brilliantly.

The story of Shalya impresses me at different levels. Look at Duryodhana. The story highlights his brilliant human resource management. Yudhishtira may be virtuous, noble etc. But these things alone do not win a war. He scores a big zero in HRM(Human resource management). On the other hand, Duryodhana had shown on several occasions he was great in that department. Appointing Karna as the king of ”Anga Desh” at the most vunerable time of his life made sure to win the latter’s loyalty for life. This was a brilliant move, for if Karna had sided with Pandavas, there would have been no Mahabharata war! Likewise, see how he provided hospitality to Shalya to win over him. This is unbeatable in terms of strategy in human resource management. He first gathered information about Shalya’s journey and then provided excellent hospitality which ensured that Shalya would not defect to the side of Pandavas. This is akin to how corporates woo outstanding performers from competition in today’s world!

Another aspect highlighted by Shalya’s story is the strength of character of Karna. In spite all the negative comments by Shalya, Karna believed in his ability, showed his brilliance and even made Shalya applaud his bravery during the war!

Yet another point of interest in Shalya’s story is its relevance to our everyday lives. Don’t we all have our Shalyas within, not to forget the Shalyas outside? I can talk for myself. Early in my career, I wanted to become an entrepreneur. However, the Shalya within made sure I did not take the challenge. I was told repeatedly by the Shalya within: “This is not for you. You are a scientist fit only for the lab. Entrepreneurs are made of different stuff”. I succumbed and soon gave up my ambitions.

I can hear my Shalya within even now every time I try to take a big initiative whether it’s dieting or giving up caffeinated drinks. My Shalya would say: Learn to enjoy life. You only live once. Dieting stories are humbug. Coconut oil and ghee are great for health. Didn’t you read the news papers articles? You can binge on them, go ahead and enjoy.

The examples of Shalyas quietly dampening one’s spirits are plenty. Shalya’s character stands in stark contrast to that of Krishna as the charioteer. People who succeed in life are the ones who are able to activate their Krishnas within and suppress their Shalyas.

Published in: on September 11, 2016 at 1:30 am  Comments (4)  
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“What is here is found elsewhere – What is not here is nowhere”

This is a famous line taken from the epic Mahabharata. I was intrigued by this line and was keen to test it practically. Mahabharata has stories within stories and one can find all kinds of characters in them – the good, the bad and the ugly. How does one test the veracity of this claim in the quotation? I considered some of the present day horror stories  hitting the headlines. Yes, as you would have guessed,  one of the ugly stories is the Delhi gang rape and the other one is the beheading of an Indian soldier by Pakistanis. I tried to see if  Mahabharata has anything parallel to these stories. Sure enough, there are at least a couple of them to report and surprisingly I did not have to dig deep into the epic to find them. No, I am not talking about the infamous attempt to disrobe Draupadi, although that is one immediate example that would come to anyone’s mind. I am talking about another controversial and (according to me) infamous episode involving Bhishma. For all the great virtues he is supposed to be endowed with, there is an ugly side to his personality. Here is the story in brief:

Bhishma abducts the 3 princesses of King of Kasi – Amba, Ambika & Ambalika – merely to please his step mother Satyavati. The motive behind this despicable act was to get them married to Satyavati’s son Vichitraveerya. One of the 3 sisters Amba, however, had already been engaged to the King of Salva and therefore Vichitraveerya had the decency to let her go. Unfortunately the King of Salva rejected her. She then asked Bhishma to marry her since he was responsible for ruining her life. Bhishma refused citing his vow of celibacy as the reason. The episode speaks volumes about the status of women during the ancient times.  For Bhishma, his vow was more important than saving the life of a woman he ruined by abduction. And what was the big purpose of his vow? It was to please his father Shantanu. The latter was intoxicated with love for a fisher-woman, who insisted unjustly that only her son should succeed the throne after Shantanu . Instead of advising his father to desist from a marriage which stipulated unfair conditions, he took this grave vow of celibacy!  The story of Amba smacks of male chauvinism at its worst showing absolutely no consideration for a woman’s perspective.

In yet another damning incident related to gambling, Bhishma tells Draupadi that a woman is the property of a man even if  he is not free. And it is such an attitude towards woman which led to  the infamous attempt to disrobe Draupadi.

As for the second story on beheading an Indian soldier by Pakistanis, the well-known parallel story from the epic is that of Aswathama and his gruesome killings. He attacked Pandava camp in the night,  killed Draupadi’s sons (Upapandavas) by beheading and presented the heads to Duryodhana.

Mahabharata is after all a story reflecting all that is sublime as well as ugly & dirty in the society. And these stories amply justify the proud boast contained in the quote.

Published in: on January 19, 2013 at 10:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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