This is a Rebuttal to Devdutt Pattanaik’s article published in Economic Times and subsequently in his website Devdutt.com titled ‘Children of the Great’ published in the category of applied-mythology and in the sub-category meant for leadership & business audience, which makes its content deserving a rebuttal and critical analysis, based on original sources, as it portrayed Krishna as a bad example for fatherhood. Though this article was published on 7th August 2015, its impact is now far and wide. Spin-offs from this article is found circulating in social-media and WhatsApp groups. It was republished 15 or more times, such as in Speaking Tree and recently (30th August 2016) in the School of Inspirational Leadership.
The basic premise of Devdutt Pattanaik’s (DP’s) article is this: Samba (also rendered as Samva), the son of Krishna, is a spoiled child. Samba was spoiled, because Krishna didn’t give attention to him, as he was busy in his work of advising the Pandavas and completely immersed in the politics of Kurukshetra. In other words, Samba was the product of his workaholic father Krishna’s neglect. He then compares Krishna to the modern-day fathers, who work 24×7 or spend most of their time on internet and smart phones, creating neglected and spoilt children like Samba! Thus, in the eyes of DP, Krishna is a bad father, who neglected his son and turned him into a spoilt adult of bad manners and bad character. He then advices today’s fathers not to be like this workaholic Krishna.
Let us examine how much valid DPs premises are.
If a father has only one son and that son became a bad guy due to neglect, that father may be questioned for his bad parenting and neglect. If he has two or three sons and one became bad, still he can be questioned. Krishna had many sons, who became highly accomplished and gained name and fame like Pradyumna and Charudeshna. Hence, if one of them, Samva, became a bad person, then the father Krishna cannot be blamed. DPs argument falls flat there itself. But, let us dig deeper.
Krishna praises Samba as a great warrior
In Mahabharata, we get to see that despite the bad manners, Samba was a good warrior, a quality his father Krishna had appreciated, which means DP’s charge that Krishna neglected Samba is untrue.
In Sabha Parva, Chapter 14, for example, Krishna says to Yudhisthira: In our race, O king, there are full eighteen thousand brothers and cousins. Ahuka has had a hundred sons, each of whom is almost like a god in prowess, Charudeshna with his brother Chakradeva, Satyaki, myself, Baladeva-the son of Rohini, and my son Samva who is equal unto me in battle, these seven, O king, are Atirathas.
Then again in Vana Parva, Chapter 16, Krishna is showering all praise to Samba for his valiant fight against the Salwa king, who attacked Dvaraka, when Krishna was away at Indraprastha, to attend the Rajasuya Yajna of emperor Yudhisthira.
Here we see Krishna proudly telling Yudhisthira about the valor of his son Samba: “Beholding the army of Salwa, Charudeshna, Samva, and Pradyumna sailed out to attack it. Samva taking up his bows attacked Kshemavriddhi, the commander of Salwa’s forces and his chief counsellor too. The son of Jambavati (Samva) began to shower arrows continuously like Indra showering rain! Kshemavriddhi, bore that shower of arrows, immovable as the Himavat. The Salwa Commander then discharged at Samva a volley of shafts. Samva showered on his adversary’s car a thousand arrows. Then pierced by the shafts of Samva, the commander of the hostile host, left the field by the help of his fleet-steed!
“When the wicked general of Salwa had left the field, a mighty Daitya called Vegavat rushed at my son! The heroic Samva bore that onset of Vegavat, keeping his ground. Whirling a quickly-going mace, he hurled it at Vegavat. Struck with that mace, Vegavat fell down on the ground, like a weather-beaten and faded lord of the forest of decayed roots! Slaying him thus with a mace, my son entered within that mighty host and began to fight with all.”
Here, what we are witness is a father Krishna, feeling great pride in the battle-prowess of his son Samba. Any thought of Samba being a neglected child is washed away by this incidence found vividly in the Mahabharata.
We also learn from the chapter 118 of Vana Parva of Mahabharata that when Yudhishthira with his brothers reached Dvaraka in their pilgrimage, during their 12 yearlong exile, Samba was there with Krishna and Balarama to welcome him: “Yudhisthira cordially met Balarama, Krishna, Samva the son of Krishna, the grandson of Sini and other Vrishnis, and paid honor to them in a suitable form.”
Krishna’s cousin Satyaki has this to say about Samba: “Let Samva chastise, by the force of his arms, Dussasana; let him destroy Dussasana, his charioteer and his car. In the field of battle, when the son of Jamvavati becomes irresistible in fight, there is nothing which can withstand his force. By him was killed in fight Asvachakra. Who is there that would be able to go forward to the car of Samva, who is great in fight, when mounted on a car? As a mortal coming under the clutches of death can never escape; so who is there that once coming under his clutches in the field of battle, is able to return with his life?”
Samba follows father Krishna in his Kurukshetra politics
If DP had cared to look at Virata Parva and Udyoga Parva of Mahabharata, he would have known that Samba was not averse to Krishna’s political activities. Samba was present with his father at the Virata’s court, where Krishna and the Pandavas formulated their war-strategies to prepare for the upcoming Kurukshetra War.
Mahabharata, Virata Parva, Chapter 72: After the kings had come there from different parts of the country, there came Vasudeva decked in floral garlands, Halayudha, Kritavarman the son of Hridika, Yuyudhana the son of Satyaka, Anadhristi, Akrura, Samva and Nisatha.
Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Chapter 1: Side by side with the king of the Matsya sat Krishna, Yudhishthira, all the sons of king Drupada, Bhima, Arjuna, the two sons of Madri, Pradyumna, and Samva both valiant in battle and Abhimanyu with Virata’s sons.
Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Chapter 158: Beholding that a very destructive battle was about to take place, there came into the Pandava encampment, Halayudha, accompanied by Akrura, Gada, Samva, Uddhava, Rukmini’s son Pradyumna, Ahuka’s sons, Charudeshna, and others.
Mahabharata, Drona Parva, Chapter 11: Here Dhritarashta, the king of Hastinapura tells to his minister Sanjaya:- “Gada, Samva, Pradyumna, Viduratha, Charudeshna and other mighty Vrishni heroes, accomplished in smiting, will take up their position in the Pandava host, when summoned by Krishna.”
Mahabharata, Ashvamedha Parva, Chapter 66: Accompanied by Subhadra, Yuyudhana, Charudeshna, Samva, Gada, Kritavarman, Sarana, Nisatha and Unmukha, Krishna came with Balarama as the head to attend king Yudhisthira’s Ashvamedha Yajna.
Doesn’t all of this make it more than clear that Samba was very much part of Krishna’s political life and shared the burden of his work, unlike what DP wants to portray in his articles and essays?
Samba was a son born to Krishna by Shiva’s blessing
A few chapters in the Anushasana Parva of Mahabharata are dedicated to Krishna’s explanation to Yudhishthira detailing how he went to worship the great god Shiva and obtained a son by the blessing of Shiva. That son was Samba!
Krishna to Yudhisthira: “Hear you, how I obtained a sight, so difficult to obtain, of that great god, for the sake of Samva.”
Krishna’s wife Jambavati wanted a son from him, who is equal to Pradyumna, Krishna’s elder son born of his first wife Rukmini. Krishna, then, set forth to meet Shiva who grants him the desired boon.
The spouse of Shiva tells this to Krishna: – “The puissant Mahadeva has granted thee, a son who shall be named Samva.”
Here we see that Samba was the son whom Krishna got as a blessing of Mahadeva, after performing prolonged penances. It is unlikely that such a son will be neglected by his father. It is always better to dig deep into the original sources, than believing the agenda driven opinions of a single mythologist like DP.
As per Mahabharata Samva’s complexion is white
A crucial information found in the Anushasana Parva of Mahabharata is that Samba was pale-complexioned, while Krishna was dark hued. Hence, Samba did not resemble his father in appearance, which means anyone can easily distinguish between Krishna and Samva. Krishna’s elder son Pradyumna, on the other hand, is mentioned as looking exactly like Krishna and Pradyumna is not portrayed as a spoilt son anywhere. This is also repeated in Harivamsha, Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata.
The above description is in conflict with the later description found in some sun-temple folklore, ‘Sthala-purana’ and ‘Aitihya’. According to this, Samba looked exactly like Krishna in appearance. Taking advantage of this, Samva impersonated his father Krishna and some of Krishna’s younger wives got infatuated towards him. One wife Nandini pretended herself as Samba’s wife and embraced him. Knowing this, Krishna cursed Samba to be inflicted with leprosy and his wives to be kidnapped by Abhira robbers after his death. All of this has found its way into Padma Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Varaha Purana and Samba Purana. (Samba Purana one of the Saura Upa-puranas, dedicated to the sun and sun-temples). Samva’s affliction is variously described in these diverse narratives as leprosy, skin lesions on his face or some other skin disease, so that Krishna’s wives can recognize him as different from Krishna.
DP is basing his assumptions fully upon this, without mentioning about the conflicting information in the Mahabharata, for reasons known only to him.
The rest of the narrative is more vividly described in the Samba Purana as per which Samba got cured by worshipping sun-god (Surya). For this, he constructed a temple in Mitra-vana on the banks of Chandrabhaga (Chenab) river upon the advice of sage Kakata. Samba prayed to sun-god there for 12 years. This is identified as the Sun Temple at Multan (Kashyapapura). Tradition holds that Samba constructed it. As per Konark tradition in Odisha, he was cured at Konark temple. Samba Dashami is celebrated on the 10th day of the Shukla Paksha of Pausha Masa in Odisha in memory of Samba getting cured by the sun-god. Mothers pray to Surya for the health of their children on this occasion.
Other narratives of Samba
For those enthusiasts who want to dig deep into the Puranic and Aitihasic narratives, the story of Samba’s abduction of Duryodhana’s daughter leading to war between the Kauravas and Yadavas is mentioned in the 5th book of Vishnu Purana in chapter 35.
Samba carries off the daughter of Duryodhana, but is taken prisoner. Balarama comes to Hastinapura, and demands his liberation. Duryodhana does not oblige. A wrathful Balarama dragged Hastinapura using his plough and threatened to throw it into river Ganga. Only then, Duryodhana releases the couple. This story is not without a geological and historical significance. River Ganga has changed its course due to tectonic activities often flooding Hastinapura and causing tremors and cracks in the city’s dwellings and streets. The relative distance of Hastinapura from Ganga varied in the course of history due to this and a future Kuru king Nichakra abandoned the city and re-established his rule at Kausambi.
The most famous narrative of Samva for which Mahabharata has dedicated an entire Parva, viz. the Musala Parva is about his role in the destruction of Dvaraka. The prankster Samba, disguised himself as a pregnant woman, calling himself the wife of Vabhru. He then insulted a group of sages Narada, Visvamitra and Kanva among them. They were visiting Dvaraka to meet Krishna. Samba in the guise of the pregnant woman jokingly asked them to predict if he will beget a boy or a girl. The sages uttered a curse that Samba will deliver an iron bolt (Musala) and it will become the cause of the destruction of Dvaraka and his entire family. This narrative is also detailed in the 5th book of Vishnu Purana in chapter 37 and also in Harivamsha and Bhagavata Purana.
None of these traditional texts accuse Samba as the sole cause of the destruction of Dvaraka. Rather, he was described as a medium through which Karmic forces acted, causing an end to the glory of the great island city of Dvaraka, for everything that has a beginning, there is an end. This is hinted in the idea that Samba was born to Krishna as a boon of Shiva, the lord of time and final dissolution. Destruction of Dvaraka was also described as an effect of Gandhari’s curse, who mistook Krishna to be the root cause of the Kurukshetra war in which all her 100 sons died, unable to accept that the Adharmic conduct of her own sons was its root cause. Dvaraka’s fateful end was further strengthened by the curse of the ascetics upon Samba.
Destruction of Dvaraka is an example of how excessive wealth (Artha) in a society, when not supported by Dharma can degrade it to anarchy, immorality and finally to destruction. The balance of the Purusharthas viz. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha is essential for a healthy society. When Dharma declines, the society weakens, despite its Artha (wealth and affluence).
Political polarization also was another cause for the destruction of Dvaraka, as the Yadava war-heroes, who participated in the Kurukshetra-war, fighting each other from the side of Pandavas and Kauravas started an internal strife among themselves in Dvaraka, before the city was finally flooded by the sea.
For those, who are curious to know, how many sons Krishna had, the total number of Krishna’s sons as per Vishnu Purana is 180,000 from 16108 wives – which sure is an exaggerated figure, as it counts, as his wife, every woman rescued by him directly or indirectly from the patriarchal societies.
By examining all the traditional sources, we see that Samba was not a son spoilt due to the neglect of a workaholic father Krishna. Though DPs critique of today’s workaholic, internet-addicted, smart-phone-wielding men and women, for neglecting their children is much valid, he chose an incorrect example from Indian tradition to illustrate his point.
We learn that Samba was a son Krishna got as a blessing of Mahadeva, after prolonged penances. We have seen that Krishna held Samba in high esteem as a great warrior and praised him profusely among the company of his political allies and kin viz. the Pandavas. We learn that Samba was very much an active participant of Krishna’s politics and that he accompanied his father Krishna in many of his political campaigns and gatherings.
This leaves DP’s assertions regarding Krishna utterly baseless. Dharmic tradition hails Krishna as a Karma Yogi. His life philosophy of ‘nishkama-karma’ i.e. doing one’s work by relinquishing doer-ship and avoiding the urge to enjoy the fruits of one’s work all by oneself rather than leaving it to the society at large – is a remarkable guiding light even today.
Calling a Karma Yogi as a workaholic and presenting it in front of a leadership and business audience – is it not a mischievous, tacit attack on Karma Yoga and the Dharmic tradition?
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Jijith Nadumuri Ravi is the founder of the Website AncientVoice which contains 23500 pages on Mahabharata,Ramayana, the four Vedas and Vishnu Purana. It contains ancient India maps, analysis articles, lineage maps, the full text of English translation of these texts in Wikified form with 7000 plus nouns analysed creating huge information networks of Indic texts. The author additionally hosts websites like Naalanda, Takshasila and RecentVoice, focusing on Greek, Avestan and Tamil literature. He was a former ISRO scientist (2001-2006) and an artist who loves to paint events from Mahabharata.