Was Sakuni totally responsible for the Kaurava-Pandava rift?

What if Sakuni is given a chance to present his case? The dark character of the Mahabharata is synonymous with villainy and guile and he engineers the exile of the Pandavas and ultimately the battle of the Kurukshetra. But is he alone to blame for the mess in which the Kauravas and the Pandavas landed?

“Sakuni - Let the Game Begin” in Tamil, presented by Manu Artz, allows the character to think aloud and seek justice.

In a bid to get rid of the shadow cast by his misdeeds (are they really misdeeds and if so by what standards?), the Maya that shrouds him, and to attain Moksha that will “free him from the cycle of birth and death.”

Parandhama calls from behind and the voice gets louder. Sakuni listens and then invites Lord Krishna to play dice with him. Krishna, the manipulator that he is, thinks twice before accepting. He recommends Panchali, “the Goddess herself” as she was the one “who had suffered most in your hands.” And Panchali gets “caught” in the dice-game, yet again. Victim then player now. It is her turn to frame the rules.

The game begins - a series of eight rounds. Sakuni wins four on a trot, but loses the next three miserably. And the eighth game, the decider, is left unresolved. There are no winners or losers in the drama of life.

It would have been a tie, assuming a win for Panchali. Well, the audience have to determine the final result?

Characters walk in and walk out and face questions thrown by Sakuni.

First is Gandhari. Why did she blindfold herself? Did she want the Kauravas to emerge good or valiant? (Nallavana? Vallavana?) Did he (Sakuni) not nurture and develop the Kauravas? Made them warriors of repute? And thus discharge his duty? All those rishis and seers, who were on the side of the Kauravas - did they live up to their expectations?

Parandhama: That great God with a scheming mind. Yes. He “waged a war without waging a war.” The enmity was between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. A clash within “one titanic family.” How and where did Krishna get into all this? And Krishna never played the game according to any prescribed rules. Why has none questioned him? Because he was an avatar?

Sakuni attacks Kunti Devi. She had the temerity to extract two boons from Karna, thus spelling Kauravas’ doom.

Sakuni turns to Karna. Was he worth his salt? He had handed over his Kavacha Kundalas to Indra, knowing well who the beseecher was. Where was Duryodhana’s sanction for this act of benevolence? “Oh! Dear Karna, you were indeed settling your personal scores with Arjuna. You were jealous of his ability with the bow. And at the war-front you made a deliberate tactical error in the deployment of the Nagastra. You took faulty aim and never directed it at Arjuna’s bosom. Krishna used his thumb and saved Arjuna. You failed to reuse the Astra, courtesy Kunthi Devi. Where was your loyalty to Duryodhana? You behaved as Kunthi’s son and that is what you were. Do not call me uncle any more.”

Returning to Panchali, he says: “Will you accept that your laughter at the “fall” of Duryodhana was the cause of the Kurkshetra war? Countless heads were lost. Women were left weeping at the horrors of this bloody war. Thus the entire group, including Panchali, had formed a war-mongering coterie but the one who is blamed is Sakuni.

The only person who earns a good chit is Duryodhana. “All sins, said to have been committed by me, get washed away by Duryodhana’s true love. Duryodhana was the only one who ‘realised’ me fully.”

This whole drama with its the specific mode of fiction represented in performance, not only shed light on the “lesser known dimensions of Mahabharatha - those untold stories” but was able to create a paradigm shift in our own mindsets. Circumstances maketh a man and determine what he is.

The presentation had a strong flavour of Therukoothu. One artist donning many roles, the plot which formed the basic storyline of the play, its subtle theme, the characters’ astute methods in carrying the play forward, powerful dialogue that propelled the action – all came together so well.

There was not much in terms of a spectacle, minimalism observed in sets, costumes and special effects. There was no amplification either. One had the feeling of watching the play within the precincts of a temple. And the venue was the idyllic Dakshina Chitra, ECR.

There was a bit of stammering during the delivery of dialogue when the lines came in a rush. Panchali’s diction needed correction at many places. Wasn’t the actor a Tamil?

The credits: Direction G. Selva, script – Elavazhagan. Cast: Vishnu as Sakuni, Yuvina Malathi as Panchali supported by Vemelen, Rubean and Darshini.

(The presentation, made a couple of months ago, was waitlisted and finds room thanks to its uniqueness.)

(sivakumar2004@gmail.com)

Keywords: SakuniMahabharata