Monday, August 30, 2021

Jarasandha: The Issue of Succession

The slaying of Jarasandha, King of Magadha, is described in the Shanti Parva section of the Mahabharata. Krishna, Bhima, and Arjuna travel to Magadha and challenge Jarasandha to a life and death kind of duel. Jarasandha accepts the challenge and chooses to fight Bhima. They fought in the arena for two and a half to three hours, till both were fully exhausted, everyday for twenty-six days.  Bhima tried every tactic of fighting but he could not kill Jarasandha. On the twenty-seventh day when they were fighting, Bhima looked at Krishna and asked, “What should I do?” Krishna picked up a leaf and tore it into two. Bhima instantly knew the way by which Jarasandha could be killed. He placed one leg on Jarasandha’s left leg and tore him into two.

Jara, the Jungle Goddess, had created Jarasandha by uniting the two halves of a divided-son born to King Brihadratha. There was only one way by which Jarasandha could be killed: the two halves of his body had to be ripped apart. After Jarasandha’s death, Krishna, Bhima, and Arjuna did not usurp his Kingdom of Magadha. They installed his son Sahadeva on the throne and departed from the kingdom. In the Mahabharata war, Sahadeva fights on the side of Krishna and the Pandavas, the people who were responsible for his father’s death.

The notion that the throne of a kingdom should go to the rightful heir has been part of the Hindu tradition since the Vedic period. When a king defeated another kingdom and killed its ruler, in most cases he allowed the next person in the legitimate line of succession to occupy the defeated kingdom’s throne. This system of the throne always going to the legitimate heir has hindered the consolidation of the Indian subcontinent into a single empire. In this land, for much of history, there have been around 500 hereditary kings who could trace their ancestry to the ancient periods. They often went to war but most winners did not try to annex the kingdom of the losing side. This code of hereditary right of succession probably led to fewer wars.

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