By Vishwamitra Aashutosh GANGA
Last Friday’s episode of the Mahabharata TV serial focused on the infamous game of dice between the royal cousins Yudhishthira and Duryodhana. As we all know, the righteous Yudhishthira suffered shameful defeat at the hands of the over-ambitious and wicked Duryodhana, the latter playing in association with his shrewd and cunning maternal uncle Shakuni, the king of Gandhaar.
With the proliferation of gaming houses across our country along with innumerable outlets for games of chance such as Loto and scratch cards, the highlights of this episode should provoke some reflexion, especially among those given to heavy betting.
Hailed as an icon of righteousness (Dharmaraaj), Yudhishthira portrays the classic picture of the naïve player who believes that all those involved with the game are honest people like himself. Neither did he contest the condition imposed by Duryodhana that Shakuni would be throwing the dice on behalf of the son of Dhritarashtra, nor did he question the authenticity of the dice in the course of the game when the king of Gandhaar unfailingly got the score he wanted at every throw. Surprisingly, the dice never changed hands, not even once. For Shakuni, it was simply a walkover.
Yudhishthira also belongs to that category of gamblers who are convinced that the next casting would be theirs. That is why he continued betting all his wealth and property, including his army and even his kingdom. Thus he reached the point when all sense of discernment abandoned him and he started staking his family members. That day’s unfortunate game, as we all know, had disastrous consequences resulting in the terrible Mahabharata war which caused heavy loss of lives.
We all have several lessons to learn from this episode of the Magnum Opus of Rishi Ved Vyasa. Yudhishthira’s staking of his brothers and ultimately his wife, is probably symbolical. But it certainly illustrates how low a gambler may fall, thereby depriving his close ones of their dignity as human beings. Furthermore, Yudhishthira’s downfall also teaches us that even a man of principles, though spiritually strong, can become a victim of temptation and fall into evil.
Parents, relatives and friends of a gambler or drug addict have the moral obligation of helping him come out of the pit he has fallen in. Expressing total helplessness in such situations tantamounts to shirking away from one’s responsibility, which is a form of cowardice. Except for Prime Minister Vidura and another prince who made bold to express their dissent at the shameful treatment to be meted out to Draupadi, the attitude of the elders present is unacceptable to any sane person. Their argumentation to the effect that they were helpless because of their loyalty to the throne of Hastinapur sounds lame. It is unfortunate that people of such remarkable wisdom could feel so debilitated especially at such a crucial moment. Why did they not realize that stopping Duryodhana would have precisely been in the interest of Hastinapur to which they claimed they owed allegiance? It was the opportune moment for Gangaputra Bhishma, Guru Dronacharya and Guru Kripacharya to show their valour and greatness. History would have heaped kudos and praises on them for standing up to Duryodhana on his insistence to dishonour Draupadi, even if their action would have earned them the displeasure of the Kuru prince. When elders fail in their duty, the younger generation runs the risk of going astray. Are passive onlookers to be exonerated from all blame? The timely intervention of Bhishma, Drona and Kripacharya might have changed the destiny of Duryodhana and of Hastinapur as well. Nevertheless, the main culprit for whatever happened to the Kuru dynasty afterwards remains Yudhishthira.
Shakuni’s role in prompting Duryodhana towards evil beautifully illustrates how an ill-intentioned relative can bring destruction to an entire clan. It is worthwhile to highlight how Shakuni’s skills at casting the dice always play in his own favour. This should be an eye-opener for present-day punters. Many persons claim that gaming houses could also be resorting to cheating.
As said in the beginning, this emotionally charged, well designed episode should make gamblers think twice. Gaming houses and other games enrich only their owners and/or promoters. Players get only crumbs. Hazard games are actually traps for the credulous and the naive who keep gloating over the rare few times they win small sums but forget the larger amounts they lose most often.
All religions condemn gambling as an unwholesome practice which brings ruin and disgrace to the player. But deep thinking would reveal that even owners of gaming houses are losers. The punter loses hard cash and earns dishonour but gaming house owners commit sin by amassing wealth on the weakness of people.
* Published in print edition on 23 December 2010