I could not think of a character whose name starts with O. So I decided to look up a word that starts with the letter and write about it. So here we go, O is for Oaths or solemn promises that we make to ourselves and others. I am sure oaths have a place in our lives and they do come in handy, but as I take a closer look at some of the great oaths taken in the Mahabharata, read between the lines, I sense a cautionary note in them.
The first person who comes to mind, in the context of oaths, is of course the son of king Shantanu and Ganga; the able and well loved, the powerful, strong, wise and good crown prince of Hastinapur, Devavrata.
One day prince Devavrata notices that his father, the king is distracted and sorrowful. He makes some inquiries and finds out that the cause for this sadness, is the rejection of a maiden called Satyavati, whom the king is enamoured with and wants to marry. The father of the intended bride however refuses to give his daughter to the king, until and unless the king promises that a child born out of this union will be made king in the future. Prince Devavrata realizes that he stands in the way of his father’s desire and conjugal bliss and takes the terrible (bheesham in sanskrit) oath, whereby he gives up all claim to the throne and takes the vow of lifelong celibacy and of service to who ever ascends the throne of Hastinapur. It is because of this terrible or bheesham vow that he takes that he comes to be known as Bheeshma. We are told that the Gods shower flower petals on the young and emotional prince when he takes this oath.
It is because of this oath, that he stands by and lets the weak and unfit off springs of his father take over the kingdom of Hastinapur. It is because of this oath that he abducts three princesses from their swayamvar and brings them to marry his weak half brother. It is because of this oath that he stands by and allows the rape of the widows of his dead half brother. It is because of this oath that his hands are tied and he can do nothing as he sees Dhritharashtra, the king misrule and fill his children with a sense of victim-hood and righteous anger against the sons of Pandu. This oath also forces him to sit quietly and watch the attempted disrobing of Draupadi in the court of Hastinapur! And lastly he is forced to fight on the side of the Kauravas even though he believes that the Pandavas are in the right.
And the question begs to be asked, was the oath taken out of the love for your hormonally aroused father, worth the war, the loss of all those thousands of lives? Was it?
The second person who comes to mind is Gandhari, the mother of the hundred Kauravas. On learning that her husband is a blind man, she ties a thick folded cloth across her eyes and vows to remain blind all her life. And I cannot but wonder, how would her hundred sons have turned out if she had chosen to look after them with all the faculties given to her?
And of course the terrible oath taken by Draupadi, after she is insulted by the kaurava brothers, and Dushasana ( the second brother of the hundred kauravas) falls tired to the ground, trying to disrobe her in the court of his father; She vows not to tie her hair until she has decorated it with the blood of Dushasana! A part of me says, this one was at least well deserved, but that’s not the whole story.
What remains unsaid in these stories is this; vows and oaths, they clip our wings, they tie us irrevocably to the past, to the sentiment or injustice of a moment in time, and stop us from reviewing, forgiving and taking decisions in the now.
So what are the oaths that a younger and angrier me might have taken, said or unsaid, consciously or subconsciously that dictates my life now? In this moment, I free myself of all those oaths locked in a time long gone by. I free my older and wiser self (I like to think) to make choices in the now, to live fully in the now.
A wise friend and sister gives me the “official” version, as she puts it: ‘Recant rescind revoke, cancel all oaths, vows, promises, agreements, contracts across all time space dimensions now.’