The Brutality of Mahabharata, Ramayana and ISIS

In just a few years, ISIS has become a sensation of sorts, an alternate religious cult movement that has its roots in radical Islam. As per their ideology, they want to carve an independent khalif at a Muslim state ruled by the Sharia laws and ancient Islamic tradition thus restoring Islam to its former glory. The means to do it is through Jihad, a holy war, with the rest of the world so that they can claim their own alternate identity. The western media and social media went abuzz some time back when beheading videos of captured foreign aid workers started appearing on YouTube and other sites. The rage of terror that spread throughout the world was trifling and barbaric. People being shot into open graves, mass beheading, ethnic culling, buying and rape of women, abuse of children and man hunting man like a wild beast. All this was available for the world to watch on the internet and through mass media. The brutality of that kind and the heinousness of the murderers and killings of innocent lives sent chills down everyone’s spine. It was sensational and provocative stuff almost like a scary and chilly soap opera. Sermons of their leader, Al-Baghdadi, and his armies of masked men, riding with black flags on top of tanks and armoured vehicles, masqueraded through these troubled Arab lands. CNN Al Jazeera reported live throwing these images to us through television.

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Somehow, all this reminded me of how we were captivated when Mahabharata and Ramayana were playing on our television sets. Not only that we live with these great epics through our Nautankis, dances, music and even comic books, the thing that I found in common with the ISIS epic was that we are currently watching it unfold, similar to it is in terms of brutality, blood, gore and spine numbing fear. I mean look at Mahabharata’s Bheem rip off Dushasana arms, tears his chest and drink his blood. That compares well with the Jihadi John Execution and beheading videos. Arjun beheads Jarasandha with his arrow, Krishna beheads Shishupal, Bheem lies on a carpet of arrows, Abhimanyu is brutally killed as his killers dance around his dead body. All equally brutal and vengeful.

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In Ramayana, we see Ram cut off Kumbhakarna’s hands before he finally kills him. Meghanada is beheaded by Laxman and Shurpanakha has her nose and ears chopped off by Laxman. Jatayu has his wings cut off for showing the termite to fight with Raavan and Arjun beheads Karna as he defends to take his chariot wheel out of the mud. Women get tossed around and abused too which is just like the ISIS keeping women as sex slaves. Seeta is kidnapped by Raavan and kept as a slave in Ashok Vatika, Draupadi is pulled and disrobed in an open sabha in the Mahabharata. Amba, Ambika and Ambalika are stolen by Bhishma. Uttara’s womb is attacked by the Brahmastra of Ashwatthama. As can be seen, women were not having a very good time even in the era of Mahabharata and Ramayana.

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So don’t be shocked if somehow this new ISIS brutality looks a bit appealing and draws your subconscious mind towards it. In the innermost recesses of our minds, we are drawn to its brutality. It has always been part of us through these legends that are played out in front of us all the time. We, as Hindus, see so much of it in our epics and religious stories. Whether it is the image of the bloodthirsty Kali with her tongue hanging out or Narsimha avatar tearing the stomach of Mahishasura, we have been accustomed to seeing and absorbing brutal acts and murders.

So next time you cringe after seeing an ISIS video, give a thought. These have also been part of your own legends and myths.

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