Sanjaya’s Celestial Vision

Of Mahabharata and Internet

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

Reports published in the newspapers and broadcast by TV channels in recent years reveal from time to time that the leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whether at the centre or the states, may be lacking in everything but all of them possess an infinite amount of fancy. If the hon'ble prime minister discovers traces of plastic surgery in the elephant-head of Lord Ganesha, the newly appointed chief minister of Tripura has not lagged behind. In a speech delivered on April 17, 2018 at the state capital, Mr Deb boasted that the internet existed in the age of the Mahabharata. A couple of days after, he further asserted, even in the face of all ridicule, that 'during those times, our country had the most developed science and it is reflected in these books—Ramayana, Mahabharata and Upanishads. It is the same country whose Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and his government send 104 satellites a year to space.... So there is evidence to what is said in these books.'

What induced the BJP leader to discover internet in the Mahabharata? He is said to have announced, 'Ramayana, Mahabharata and Upani-shads are credible evidence to Indian civilisation. If a person (Sanjaya) can see what's happening at the battlefield 50 km away and describe it to the King, there has to be a technique. It can't be his eyes. There was some technique—Sanjay's technique is internet today.'

It is futile to make people like the CM of Tripura to see reason. They remind people of the story of what a vakil of Dhaka once told Meghnad Saha, the famous scientist: 'Everything is there in the Vyada' (dialectal pronunciation of veda). Since it is useless to make such ignorant people understand that progress in science and technology occurs on the basis of new inventions, not derived from the discoveries of the past, let us try to make the blind believers of the heritage of India—all for the wrong reason—what is said in the Mahabharata itself about the celestial vision or the eye divine (divya-drishti) of Sanjaya and others.

Right from the Adi Parvan (the Book of Origin, Book I) one learns that Sanjaya was a Suta by caste (actually a mixed caste), whose occupation was to eulogise the king. His father was Gavalgana, hence Sanjaya is sometimes called Gavalagani. He is said to be a constant companion and a comforter of Dhritarashta, the blind king, although he is sometimes found to rebuke him too. He was sometimes employed as a messenger.

When the war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas was imminent, Vyasa, the sage, came to meet Dhritarashtra. In the Bhishma Parvan (Book of Bhisma, Book VI) one hears :
"O king, your sons and the other monarchs have their hour arrived. Mustered in battle they will kill one another. O Bharata, their hour having come, they will all perish. Bearing in mind the changes brought on by time, do not yield your heart to grief. O king, if you wish to see them (fighting) in battle, I will, O son, grant you vision. Behold the battle" (Critical Edition VI.2.4-6).

Dhritarashtra said,—"O best of regenerate Rishi, I like not to behold the slaughter of kinsmen. I shall, however, through your potency hear of this battle minutely" (VI.2.7).

Upon his not wishing to see the battle but wishing to hear of it, Vyasa, that lord of boons, gave a boon to Sanjaya (varam dadau VI.2.8). (And addressing Dhritarashtra he said),—"This Sanjaya, O king, will describe the battle to you. Nothing in the whole battle will be beyond this one's eyes. Endued [Endowed], O king, with celestial vision (chakshusha... divyena), Sanjaya will narrate the battle to you. He will have knowledge of everything. Manifest or concealed, (happening) by day or by night, even that which is thought of in the mind, Sanjaya shall know everything. Weapons will not cut him and exertion will not fatigue him. This son of Gavalgana (=Sanjaya) will come out of the battle with life". (VI.2.9-12)

So, unlike what the hon'ble chief minister of Tripura said, there is the issue of a boon, a supernatural power, not any 'technique'. Yet Mr Deb would assert, 'If a person (Sanjaya) can see what's happening at the battlefield 50 km away [incidentally, how does Mr Deb measure the exact distance?] and describe it to the King, there has to be a technique. It can't be his eyes. There was some technique—Sanjay's technique is Internet today.' Going against the evidence of the Mahabharata itself, he believes that 'Internet, information technology and satellite communication existed in the days of Mahabharata.'

The issue of celestial vision is not unique in the case of Sanjaya. When Arjuna wished to see with his own eyes the features of Krishna (Gita XI.1-4 = Bhishma Parvan, VI.33.1-4), Krishna told him :
'Here, in my body, behold to-day, O Gudakesha [another name of Arjuna], the whole universe, animate and inanimate, in one place contained, and every other thing you wish to see.

'But you are not able to see Me with these your own eyes. I shall give you the eye divine (divyam chakshuh); behold My power as God' (Gita XI.7-8 = Bhishma Parvan XI.33.7-8).'

It was Sanjaya who described to Dhritarashtra the event of Arjuna's newly got vision as a gift from Krishna. Vyasa had given Sanjaya the benefit of satellite communication, but poor Arjuna, alas, had to depend on the boon given by Krishna in order to enable him to see His Universal Form (vishva-rupa). It is also to be noted that Sanjaya, thanks to the boon granted by Vyasa, could even read the mind of the people (which no computer or robot as yet can do), while Arjuna had his divine vision just in order to look only at the Universal Form of Krishna. It is further to be noted that the boons or the gifts in both cases were of a temporary or provisional nature.

Well, ancestors wished to have many things, but unfortunately had no means of attaining them. Therefore they had to resort to sheer fancy that would make any impossible, possible. Krishna's Universal Form, was so dazzling—'brighter than thousand suns,' as the Gita (XI.12 = Bhishma Parvan XI.33.12) describes it—that no human eye could bear the sight. What Arjuna then needed was a pair of welding goggles or at least an eye-protector, as Sanjaya needed a very powerful telescope and an amplifier that could pick up even the almost inaudible sound from the battle field. The authors of the Mahabharata (or the Ramayana or the Upanishads for that matter) could not even conceive of such accessories. So they fell back upon supernatural gifts such as boons, etc. Nowadays, the Hindutva chauvinists in their misplaced zeal to glorify ancient India are out to discover internet, satellite communication and what not in the old texts.

There is yet another occasion when one reads of this mysterious 'eye divine' or celestial vision (Asramabasika Parvan, Book XV. 40). The war is over. The heroes and kings of both sides have been killed in the eighteen-day long battle. The blind king along with others have all left for the forest. Vyasa again appears there one day and, although unasked, offers a boon to the blind king and Gandhari this vision that would permit them to see with their eyes all the warriors, in their battle arrays before they died in Kurukshetra. The passage runs as follows :
'At that time, through the puissance of his penances, the great ascetic, the son of Satyavati [Vyasa], gratified with Dhritarashtra, gave him celestial vision. Endued [Endowed] with celestial knowledge and strength, Gandhari of great fame saw all her children as also all that had been slain in battle. All persons assembled there beheld with steadfast gaze and hearts filled with wonder that amazing and inconceivable phenomenon which made the hair on their bodies stand on its end. It looked like a high carnival of gladdened men and women. That wondrous scene looked like a picture painted on the canvas. Dhritarashtra, beholding all those heroes, with his celestial vision obtained through the grace of that sage, became full of joy....' (XV.40.16-21)

So this is the third instance in which the celestial vision again is a supernatural phenomenon; it has nothing to do with any 'technique' as Mr Deb demands.

Professor Ganesh Thite, the noted indologist of Pune, has rightly pointed out a few years back :
'They [a section of the indologists] try to show that ancient Indian people were very much advanced in science and technology. All the scientific and technological discoveries in the west were already known to the authors of Sanskrit text. According to these scholars, the ancient Sanskrit texts are often written in a codified language. It is the duty of us to decodify these texts and find out the hidden meanings of them' (Kalyan Kale and others (eds.), 2003, p.394).

Then he adds a significant point :
'A strange thing in this context, however is that these texts are decodified and the hidden meanings are found out only after certain things have been discovered in the west and they are published in the regional newspapers. No scientific discovery is ever achieved from the Sanskrit texts before it is known to the western scientists and before the Sanskrit scholars have known it from the newspapers. Thus only those scientific details are sought to be discovered from the Sanskrit texts which have news-value' (p.394. Emphasis added.).

It will be admitted on all hands that ministers are no Sanskritists. Their knowledge of the Indian classical texts is derived from translations, and those too from abridged versions of the original. Does the hon'ble chief minister of Tripura know that Sanjaya's 'technique' failed miserably the moment Duryodhana died? The Suta himself tells Dhritarashtra that his celestial vision which was granted by the sage Vyasa has been destroyed that day as soon as Duryodhana ascended to heaven (Sauptika Parvan, X.9.58: rishi-dattam pranashtam tad divya darshitvam adya vai). Thus the narrative-within-the-narrative that began with the Bhishma Parvan (Book VI), with 'Sanjaya said' (sanjaya uvacha) comes to an end in Book X. Apparently Sanjaya's computer was so programmed by Vyasa that with Duryodhana's demise, the server would be down and remain so thereafter.

In the later Parvans, Sanjaya is found appointed general director and supervisor of the finances by Yudhisthira (Shanti Parvan XII.41.10). Sanjaya, along with the Pandava brothers and some Brahmins like Dhaumya, accompanies the blind king to his way to the forest (XV.21.8). There is another episode (XV.32) in which he features. When Yudhisthira and his family went to the forest retreat to visit Dhritarashtra, we are told:
'There sat around him [Yudhishthira] many highly-blessed ascetics, hailing from diverse regions, from desire of beholding the sons of that lord of Kuru's race, viz., the Pandavas of wide chests. They said, "We wish to know who amongst these is Yudhishthira, who are Bhima and Arjuna, who the twins, and who is Draupadi of great fame." Then the Suta, Sanjaya, in answer to their queries, pointed out to them the Pandavas, naming each, and Draupadi too as also the other ladies of the Kuru household.' (XV.32.2-16)

He succeeds in escaping from the conflagration in which the blind king and his wife and daughter-in-law perished (Ashramavasika Parvan, XV. 45.32). At last he bade farewell to the ascetics and started for the mountains of Himavat (the Himalayas) (XV.45.33). It has already been predicted by Narada (who too had his share of celestial vision) that he would ascend from this world to the Heaven through meditation (XV.26.20).

So much for Sanjaya and his 'celestial vision' or 'eye divine'. There is not the slightest hint in the text of the Mahabharata of any computer or satellite connection or any technical aid for Sanjaya to avail himself of. Everywhere, whether in his case or Arjuna's, the divya-drishti is always mentioned as a special gift, a boon, a supernatural phenomenon. The BJP leaders and their ilk betray their ignorance of ancient Sanskrit texts when, instead of honouring Panini, Charaka, Sushruta, Aryabhata, Bhaskara-charya and other scientists, they vainly resort to the absurd myths and legends of India and thereby only succeed in making themselves the laughing stock of the world.

Works Cited :
Bhagavad Gita, The or The Lord's Lay. Trans. by Mohini M Chatterji, Calcutta: R Cambray, [1888].
Kale, K and others (eds.). Pramodasindhu. Pune: Mansanman Prakashan, 2003.
Mahabharata, The. Critically edited by Vishnu S Sukthankar and others.
Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1933-1966. (Available on the net)
Mahabharata. Trans. by K M Ganguli (1883-1896).
< By KMGanguli.pdf>
Thite, Ganesh Umakanta. See Kale and others (eds).
NB. The numbers of the chapters and verses of the Mahabharata are to the critical edition; the numbers would not always tally with other editions. All thou, thee, and thine in K M Ganguli's translation of the Mahabharata and M M Chatterji's translation of the Gita have been replaced by you and your.

[Acknowledgements : Amitava Bhattacharyya, Sourav Basak, Tarun Basu, Sunish Kumar Deb, Siddhartha Dutta and Aravindhan Nagarajan.]

Vol. 50, No.49, June 10 - 16, 2018