Sage Vyas, the author of Mahabharat, was such a master of his craft that the dilemmas and conundrums he has woven into the saga have brought modern readers at loggerheads with each other as passionately as the contending characters in the epic.
Obviously, Vyas doesn't merely want to tell a story but wants his readers to pause and ponder.
I must make it clear that here I intend to discuss only those dilemmas that are integral to the plot of the epic and not those debates among scholars which have not been raised as part of the plot by Vyas. For example, ‘Was Yudhishthir Vidur’s son?’ (Ref. Irawati Karve); ‘Was Karn Durvas’ son?’; ‘Was Vidur the eldest or youngest of the three brothers?’ (Ref. Indrajit Bandopadhyay) are speculations. In my humble opinion these scholars are confused about ‘what is hidden by some characters from other characters’ and ‘what is hidden by the author from the reader’. If Yudhishtir were Vidur’s son by niyog or Karn was Kunti’s son from a pre-marital encounter with Durvas, what was there to prevent Vyas from narrating it to the reader, even if Kunti chose to hide it from the world?
The issues I have presented here have engendered much debate among the characters within the epic as well as among readers; some of these questions have answers in the epic itself, whereas we have to arrive at some answers by inference, and some don’t have a clear answer.
- Who was the real successor to the throne of Hastinapur – ‘Duryodhan or Yudhishthir?’
- ‘Did Kunti and Yudhishthir burn six persons in the house of lac at Varnavat?’
- Draupadi’s question in the gambling hall – ‘Did Yudhishthir lose himself first or did he lose Draupadi first?’
- Completion of the term of exile – ‘Did the Pandavs complete their term of exile and anonymity?’
- Yudhishthir’s untruth – ‘Man or Elephant?’