Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Hated Characters from the Mahabharata: Shisupala, the Bull of Chedi

Shishupala's meets his end

Shishupala, the Bull of Chedi is a much loathed figure in the Mahabharata. A mortal enemy of Krishna, he was an abductor of women, stealer of cattle, and an arsonist among other things. A brute of a man, he also had a venomous tongue and a vile temper. At the Rajasuya, yagna performed by the Pandavas he abused Krishna and Bhishma in the most uncouth way possible. Krishna, having forgiven Shishupala a thousand times at the behest of the villain's mother who was his aunt, decapitated him at the yagna to the horror of all present.

Now, one of the interesting things about our epics is there are so many shades to these characters and nobody is unilaterally evil. Shishupala has a very interesting back story and if you acquaint yourself with it, you will realize that the heights of his hate and anger, came from the depths of the purest love and devotion. 

Jaya and Vijaya were the gatekeepers of Lord Vishnu. On one occasion they refused entry to the four Kumaras - pure minded souls who had the physical appearance of 5 year old boys. Angered by their ignorance and unwillingness to see past the obvious, the Kumaras cursed Jaya and Vijaya, condemning them to lose their status as celestials, take birth on Earth and live as mortals.

At Vishnu's request, the Kumaras softened the curse and gave the gatekeepers two options. They could either take birth as devotees of Vishnu for seven lifetimes or be born as his enemies for three lifetimes. Jaya and Vijaya did not hesitate. Unable to bear the thought of being separated from Vishnu for seven lifetimes, they chose to swim across an ocean of blood, battling the winds of extreme passion and violence over the course of three lifetimes in order to take their place as his gatekeepers again, as soon as possible.

In the Satya Yuga, Jaya and Vijaya were born as the asuras, Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu who were slain by Vishnu in his Varaha (boar) and Narasimha (man - lion) avatars. In the Treta yuga, they were born as Ravana and Kumbhakarna. Both were killed by Rama. And in the Dvapara yuga, they were born as Shishupala and Dandavakra, both of whom met their end at the hands of Krishna. Having endured the terms of the curse, Jaya and Vijaya returned to their place at the feet of one they had loved enough to endure three lifetimes filled with hatred.

For the details of Shishupala's story and death, do check out episode 10 of #MahabharataWithAnuja right here.

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