Mahabharat Not A Myth Anymore
Recently while planning a trip to Tembhli (Shahada taluka) via Amravati, a district in Maharashtra, to cover distribution of biometric Aadhar identity cards there, I was surprised by a minor detail about Chikhaldara, a green waterfall retreat located in its Satpura plateau.
Chikhaldara, the search engine revealed, was the new acronym for Kichakdara (dara stands for valley in Marathi), and originated from the legend that Pandava warrior Bhima slayed Kichak there and threw his body into the valley.
Chikhaldara is also called Bhima kund because Bhima was believed to have bathed in this thousand-foot-deep lake after killing the brother-in-law of king Virata. Kichak, as the story goes, had set an eye on Draupadi, the Pandavas’ wife.
The district named after Audumber trees which were found in abundance there once or after an ancient Ambadevi temple (you may find equal number of people believing in either), has over the years mispronounced the word Kichakdara into Chikhaldara.
I had to drop the idea of going via Amravati or Chikhaldara as my contacts in the state advised a shorter route via Jalgaon and Shahada. But it seemed there was no getting away from history—in particular the Mahabharat tales. Shahada, a municipality in Nandurbar district, Google disclosed, had Pandava Leni (cave), at the confluence of Tapti and Gomai Rivers.
Carved out of stone, the caves located on the banks of Gomai River (drowns during monsoons) had sculptures of Mahavir and several other deities including the Paanch (five) Pandavas in an enclosure. The search claimed that in 1955, BK Thapar excavated the caves on behalf of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It also informed that the caves were located about 10 kilometres from Shahada near a village called Damerkheda.
But the real search proved to be quite deceptive. In Shahada, nobody—from the villagers to auto rickshaw drivers to property agents to grocery owners—had heard anything about Pandava Leni. The auto rickshaw, I hired from Shahada took me to the place where the Gomai and the Tapti joined and the government had put up iron barriers to control the flow of rainwater.
“This must be the Pandava Leni,” the auto rickshaw driver declared with an air of finality. The villagers passing by on the road also had no knowledge of the hidden treasure. When I had given up and our auto rickshaw was on its way back to Shahada, we accidentally bumped into Bhau Laxman Patil, a farmer from Lonkheda, a village in vicinity. Patil took us to Pandava Leni, the half a dozen enclosures which had close to two dozen sculptures. Most of the enclosures were half filled with yellow sand. Many sculptures are damaged beyond recognition. The ones in sitting postures have no fingers and noses. Many have developed cracks in their bust.
Patil was sure the sculptures particularly the five housed in one enclosure were of Pandava brothers. “Pandavas’ chariot was stuck here,” he said pointing towards the few cracks developed on top of the rocks. Apparently Laxman Patil had no evidence to support his theory. But the same applies to ones who call Mahabharat a work of fiction, a myth or an imaginary tale. They too have no proof to back their claim.
Fact or Fiction—Believers have it
In fact, look at the overall picture and the latters’ case appears to have relatively less credibility. The believers at least have circumstantial, geological, geographical and documentary evidence somewhat on their side. For example, Indraprastha, also spelt Indrapata, the village which happened to be the capital of Pandavas, was in existence till 1935 at the same spot where the old fort stands now. A booklet distributed to tourists by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in the old fort substantiates this. It says the Englishmen demolished the village during the construction of New Delhi. Excavations carried out at the old fort site (in late 1960s) by the ASI and at other sites associated with the epic have unearthed painted grey pottery confirming the existence of Mahabharat period.
Then we have Sonaprastha (Sonepat), Paniprastha (Panipat), Bahakprastha (Baghpat) and Tilprastha (Tilpat) still in existence. So is Kurukshetra where about 11 lakh-strong (11 akshuni) and approximately 7 lakh-strong (7 akshuni) armies of Kauravas and Pandavas battled for supremacy. So is Hastinapur, the throne of which was mainly responsible for the epic war. There exists even the village Kaunteya (near the ravines of Chambal) where Kunti, the mother of Pandavas, hailed from. Gandhar, the kingdom, where Shakuni and his sister Gandhari belonged to, has since become Kandhar. The mighty Saraswati River, which was a witness to the bloody saga, but has since disappeared, is set to come to life again as geological and satellite imagery have proved the existence of paleo-channels under its course. The river finds at least a few mentions in Mahabharat and adds credence to the epoch event.
Hastinapur & Parikshitgarh
Hastinapur and Parikshitgarh from where the Pandava descendents ruled for several decades after the Mahabharat battle is present in Meerut district. It is also a historical fact that a great flood in the Ganges (its old course was next to Parikshitgarh) overturned whatever evidence was there of the Pandavas and the then king Nichakshu, the fifth king after Parikshit, Arjuna’s grandson, was forced to relocate his capital to Kaushambi, a place about 50 kilometres from Allahabad. So devastating was the flood that silt rose up to rooftops.
Today, there is a large mound, which has been taken over by the ASI. The mound besides populated with trees and shrubs also houses ashram of Rishi Shringi, the great sage who blessed an infertile King Dashrath with four sons. Gurjar king Nain Singh tried to restore the fort in 18th century. Apart from an ashram, there is an ancient Shiva temple behind the mound. The old Ganges’ course (now called Budhi (old Ganga) is still visible a stone’s throw from Parikshitgarh.
Hastinapur was witness to major events during the Mahabharat period. Yudhishthir, the eldest of Pandavas lost his brothers and Draupadi and his wealth in a gamble here. And Krishna visited the court of Dhritrashtra as a peace messenger of the Pandavas. Bhisma’s father Shantanu married a boatman’s daughter Satyavati here and was responsible for his son’s oath not to marry in life and let go of his right on Hastinapur throne.
BB Lal, a renowned archaeologist, carried out excavations on the mound in 1950s and found painted grey ware (PGW) there. The excavations, besides the PGW, in 1952 reportedly revealed the existence of Vidur-ka-Tilla (Vidura’s palace), Draupadi-ki-Rasoi (Draupadi’s kitchen) and Draupadi Ghat (for bathing), besides copper utensils, iron seals, ornaments made of gold and silver, terracotta discs and several oblong-shaped ivory dice used in the game of chaupar.
The excavated ground today stands covered with rubble and even the temporary plastic sheet with which the ground was covered is buried into the soil. There is also a Shiva temple near the old course of the Ganges where the lingam was said to have been established by Karna, the Pandavas’ eldest brother who fought for Duryodhana.
Today, Hastinapur has become a tale of neglect and indifference. A biggest proof of this is comparative study of the two parts of the town. While the part, which was ruled by Pandavas, is in a state of despair; its opposite part, which was given to Kauravas, boasts of some of most exquisite Jain temples. The latter is visited by thousands of Jain pilgrims every day and called Jamboodweep.
Not far from Hastinapur is Barnava, the place where Duryodhana constructed a palace of wax to burn the Pandava brothers alive. There is still a tunnel in Barnava which the Pandavas used to escape from the fire in the wax palace. During Mahabharat period, Barnava was called Varnavat.
Evidence—Historical & Circumstantial
The 20 yojanas (one yojana is equivalent to eight miles) around Kurukshetra where the battle waged between the two mighty armies is replete with historical evidence. A village called Ameen, situated about six kilometres from Kurukshetra city, still has a mound where there are tell-tale signs of a fort. There is an ancient well on the mound where people come from as far as Bihar to worship. The mound, now inhabited by people, has huge walls made of Lakhori bricks. Under the small bricks, the villagers find large bricks (about 2×2 feet). It is believed that the actual battle started from Ameen and Abhimanyu, the son of Arjun, was trapped into a chakravyuh at the same spot. A major fair is organised in the village near a lake, which is known as Surajkund.
Move over to Sahastradhara, a place about 10 kilometres from Dehradun and you hear more stories about Guru Dronacharya and his son Ashwatthama. Dehradun in fact was known as Dron Nagar or Dron Doon in the past. The legendry guru was supposed to have meditated in a Shiva temple at Sahastradhara, the stream famous for its sulphur water springs. Ashwatthama, the child, it is said, was fed milk by Shiva in Tapkeshwar, a place about five kilometres from Dehradun.
Since the existence of Krishna too in a way would substantiate Mahabharat, there is fresh evidence that has surfaced under the sea near present Dwarka. The explorers have found anchors and boulders which indicate that there was a city which got buried under the sea. One of these anchors has been exhibited in Kurukshetra museum. Mahabharat refers to the drowning of Dwarka.
Arjuna who had gone to Dwarka to rescue Krishna’s sons, grandsons and wives, says, “The sea rushed into the city. It coursed through the streets of the beautiful city. The sea covered up everything in the city. I saw the beautiful buildings becoming submerged one by one. In a matter of a few moments it was all over. The sea had now become as placid as a lake. There was no trace of the city. Dwarka was just a name; just a memory.” Even Vishnu Purana mentions the submersion of Dwarka.
Recently, the ASI stumbled upon more evidence of Krishna’s existence when it discovered the cave in Tezpur (Sonitpur during Mahabharat) in Assam where Banasur, the then king, had imprisoned his daughter Usha and Aniruddha, Krishna’s grandson. Krishna defeated Banasur and brought the lovers together. Yaksha questioned Yudhishthir and his four brothers at a place in Multan district of Pakistan. Today, Katasraj temple stands there. And who can leave out Gurgaon, the guru-ka-gaon (teacher’s village), which was gifted to Dronacharya by his disciples. Today the village has converted into a concrete jungle with sky rises competing with each other in the vertical space.
There is also Jaunsar, a tribal place close to Chakrata (near Dehradun), where the inhabitants consider themselves descendents of the Pandavas. Till some time back, there was a tradition of polygamy prevalent in the tribe. While the tribe in Jaunsar-Bawar area of Western Garhwal is devoted to Karna, people in the upper valleys of Ton, Yamuna, Bhagirathi, Balganga and Bhilangana worship Duryodhana. It is believed that during Mahabharat, Duryodhana came to Purola after travelling through Kullu and Kashmir. He liked the place so much that he demanded a piece of land from Mahasu Devta to stay there. The deity not only accepted his plea but also made him the King of the area. Duryodhana made Jakholi his capital village and constructed Mahasu Devta Temple.