Another Prophecy, of our Times?
It had been many years since reading the Mahabharata. It is one of the great epics of Hindi culture. It, like the other religious epics of the world, is full of battles between good and evil, forces of light and forces of darkness. Unlike the Levantine doctrines, however, good is not entirely good, nor is it presented that way, nor evil entirely bad. In Earth Under Fire, Portland State's Dr. Paul La Violette takes us on a tour of geology, geochemistry, astronomy, and astrophysics to prove the origins of these epics. Most represented celestial events, a theme which Acharya applies quite conclusively to her study of the Hebrew Bible in The Christ Conspiracy. Both books are available from Adventures Unlimited Press P. O. Box 74; Kempton, IL 60946.
They both see so many common themes in the origins of religion as a pseudoscience of astrotheology, that she concludes, and I concur, that there must have been a worldwide religion or group of similar religions in a time so distant that we today would consider it prehistory. Another source, available from the same publisher, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings by Charles Hapgood, uses geography, and incredible similarities in surviving fragments of ancient maps to prove the same points. Some of these maps show ice-free stretches of Antarctic coastline, whose real outlines, beneath the snow, have only today with radar topography from space become identifiable, as prove of a worldwide advanced civilization, which probably existed over 30,000 years ago.
That said, the prophecies within the Mahabharata, just like those which Dr. La Violette examines from the Voluspa, can be evaluated as possibly referring to catastrophic events of truly ancient occurrence. Indeed, what may happen is a great cycle, where the earth sprouts advanced civilizations and then massive incursions of cosmic dust, pole shifts of even a few degrees, or catastrophic comet strikes. These set into motion geological events which wipe out most populations and leave the survivors huddling to a mere subsistence. After several generations, the memories of the now vanquished advanced civilization seem a mere fable, fantasy, or metaphor of the internal life, because few physical evidences remain, and these are hard for descendants of the survivors to interpret.
This said, I can't tell you whether or not the catastrophic events forecast in the Mahabharata refer to a bygone time, or, like Mother Sefton's (or Shipton-it's been spelled both ways, due to the peculiarities of Old English) prophecy, made in the 13th Century, can refer only to our own time. The latter was printed whole, and discussed in a prior GS issue.
What is of great interest is what, to the ancient prophets, were the marks of a time during which savagery would emerge triumphant over civilization, a time when human institutions become perverted so that the catastrophe becomes as much one of cultures as it is of natural events. In recently seeing the videotape series of the Mahabharata, which is marked by the modern, Western penchant for producing multiracial teams of actors, with only a few shown as the real ancestors of today's Indians, I questioned a local, learned Indian. Memory rang a bell on most of the dialogue, which was dramatic enough without any screenwriter's re-writing for effect. He assured me that the dialogues, which I wanted to write about, were authentic interpretations of the original. Actually, what racial amalgamation is shown in the casting is precisely one of the markers of the Indian view of the 'end time.'
The exiled king Yudhishthira Pandabar has, with his four brothers, and wife, been exiled for 13 years, after losing his lands to a rival. In the 13th year, the rival king's forces, fearing his return, seek him out. He and his family hide in the court of neighboring kingdom, that of King Virata, where Yudhishthira, the most spiritual of the lot, has lived, disguised as a Brahmin. At last, Virata discovers the identity of his courtiers, and Yudhishthira takes leave to go raise armies in order to regain his kingdom. As they are leaving, Virata calls out, "Yudhishthira, said we have entered the Age of Destruction. Is it true? Don't go away without answering me."
Yudhishthira: I see the coming of another age where barbaric kings rule over a vicious, broken world, when puny, fearful, hard men live tiny lives. White hair at sixty, copulating with animals, their women, perfect whores, making love with greedy mouths, their cows dry and sterile. Trees stand lifeless, no more flowers, no more beauty.
Ambition, corruption, commerce- it is the Age of Kali, the Black Time. The countryside, a desert, crime stalks the cities. Beasts drink blood and sleep in the street. All the water is sucked up by the sky, the scalded earth, scorched to dead ash. The fire rises, blown by the wind. The fire pierces the earth, cracks open the underground world.
Wind and fire calcinate the world and man's clouds gather and glow yellow and red. They rise like deep sea monsters, like shattered cities, forked with lightning, the rains fall.
The rains fall and engulf the earth. Twelve years of storm; the mountains split the waters. I no longer see the world.
Then, the primary god, when all that remains is gray sea without man or beast or tree, drinks the terrible wind and falls asleep.
In the above, as in many accounts of a future barbarity following the catastrophic end of civilization, or perhaps, the barbarity precedes the natural catastrophe, sexual promiscuity is a sign of demise. Also, as in the ages of society, covered in our review of the Sarkarian analysis by Dr. Ravi Batra in the fourth edition of this journal (should be accessible to you on the web), this decline in human behavior is linked to leadership by the commercial caste. P. I. Sarkar saw the cycles as being leadership by military-idealistic-heroic figures, leadership by intellectuals-theocrats, and leadership by commercial interests and technocrats, the latter being the lowest point to which a civilization would sink.
Our next dialogue takes place in the castle of the opposing king, as the God, Krishna, intervening directly in human affairs, speaks with one of the opposing generals:
Karna: If you're here to bring the earth to its end, very well. The time has come.
Krishna: No, I'm not here to destroy.
Karna: Flesh and blood rain from the sky. Bodiless voices cry in the night. Horses weep. One eyed, one legged monstrosities hop across the land. Birds perch on flags with fire in their beaks, crying, "Ripe! It's ripe"
A cow gives birth to an ass, a woman a jackal. New born babies dance. Couples laugh. The different races merge.
Vultures come to prey. The setting sun is surrounded by disfigured corpses. Time will destroy the universe.
Now, in Karna's vision (and, interestingly, he was played by a negro actor), race mixing is one of the signs of the end of things, the complete perversion of the natural order. If you can imagine an ancient prophet's time travel and his or her vision of a distant time, without the logical means to interpret it, perhaps the other passages from Karna are not so abstract. Modern high explosive bombs and artillery shells can, unlike anything at those times, create a 'rain' of body parts and gore. The one- legged monstrosities may very well refer to tanks, which, when traveling quickly across uneven terrain, may appear to "hop." Their gun turrets may appear to have one eye, the muzzle, mounted in the middle. Birds with fire in their beaks and flags on their fuselages could refer to attack helicopters or close-support aircraft with forward-mounted machine guns and rocket launchers.
Another passage is interesting, not in a prophetic sense, but in its weighing of the causes of war. "When is something worth fighting for?" it seems to ask. If nothing is deemed worth fighting for, then your government betrays your interests, without your vote, and pursues policies, like school desegregation, by court order (1954), not vote, or open non-White immigration (1948- Harry Truman was president) by executive order, not vote. Meanwhile, you are taught that what makes your land 'democratic' is that you get to vote on its policies. Neither of those royal impositions by barbaric kings would have passed a plebiscite! The passage asks, what is the meaning of life if one does not live intensely, and for a higher purpose. Even someone on the other side, a leftist, Saul Alinsky, in his Reveille for Radicals, wrote, "Once you can accept your own death all of a sudden you're free to live. You no longer care about your reputation. You no longer care except so far as your life can be used tactically- to promote a cause you believe in."
Here, on the eve of war, Krishna makes yet another gesture to mediate the coming crisis, to give all parties the opportunity to avert conflict. He counsels the exiled king's mother, Kunti, on why there should be war, and what (since he is a God and knows Yudhishthira's ambivalence) the king would say about it.
Krishna: Kunti, what should I tell your sons, that I found you sad and silent because of this war, which is drawing nearer and nearer and which fills you with horror?
Kunti: No, tell Yudhishthira that a bad king is a contagious disease, that he perverts his age. Say to him, "Awake! Arise!"
Krishna: Your son could answer, "What does a piece of land mean to me? Or pleasure? Or life?"
Kunti: Answer him that he is not alone. For all the creatures around him, he is the center.
Krishna: And if he says, "You have shot your heart to pity?"
Kunti: Tell him to forge himself a heart of iron. Tell him pity is a poison.
Krishna: He will say he feels tenderly towards his body. What right do we have to destroy our bodies?
Kunti: I would tell my son, "Your body is beautiful. Your body is noble. But, if you live with the fear of death, why were you given life? Burn like a torch, if only for an instant."
She seems to say that there are some values which justify conflict, as they are the very affirmation of life itself, territory, ethnicity, ethnic identity. These things are so innate. Yet, in an era where the mass consciousness is conditioned to consider them inconvenient interruptions to his or her hedonic pursuits, the warrior, out of context, would only be tried as the criminal, or, like the freedom demonstrators at Tien A Mien Square, crushed in the jaws of the machine.
There is much heavy thought in the Mahabharata, also, like most ancient documents, the -to our tastes- excessive decorativeness of poetic repetition, over-naming, and other devices from a time when ballads and oral traditions became written accounts, but kept their poetic devices, meant for court entertainment. Still, the visions of a future of environmental ruin, widespread promiscuity, rule of a commercial elite, and the destruction of tribes and races beneath the juggernaut of global capitalism, ring uncomfortably authentic.