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Monday, December 10, 2012

Shalya: a serious biography

I had promised the mysterious rgb, one of the few followers of my blog, that I will do a write-up on Shalya sometime soon. This, as you must have realised by the title of the post, is that post.

Now that I have used two commas in each of my first two sentences, I might as well get along with it. Let me first put a disclaimer that Shalya was not a great surgeon by any means, and shalyachikitsha, a word generally used for surgery, has no relationship whatsoever with Shalya.

No more commas for some time, then.

Also, this is going to be one hell of a serious biography. Not the usual yadda yadda you expect from my blog. I mean business here, folks. Serious business. Which means that I shall abstain from using Microsoft Paint.

Shalya was not your everyday guy. He was the king of Madra, or modern day Punjab, the valiant land that has produced valiant Sons of valiant Sardars over centuries and generations. Madra, where the actions of men are perceived as ones determined by brawn rather than brain and where the women are as lethally pretty as their counterparts anywhere in the world, had been where the Aryans had settled down first, before moving on to the Gangetic plains of the east.

In other words, Shalya was not a person you'd ordinarily mess around with. Like Gabbar. Shakaal. Loin. Mogambo. Only with a good soul. You get the basic idea.

Shalya had somehow acquired another mysterious characteristic: during any war, the more aggressive his opponent was, the more powerful and indomitable Shalya became. In other words, Fardeen Khan had a far more chance of defeating Shalya in a battle than Mahima Chaudhary had.

Anyway, Shalya ruled Madra quite peacefully with all his traits, probably dancing lusty bhangras to while  away his time; he had no business in getting connected to the nearby Hastinapur - the centre of all drama - and knowing him, he had no intention to either.

However, his days of bliss were not to last: Bhishma, the Grand Old Man of Hastinapur and possibly The Most Eligible Bachelor of India (true, there were some who questioned his orientations, but we will not pay attention to these back-biters), arrived at the doorsteps of the illustrious Shalya with a proposal.


We will use a flashback here (drumroll):
Pandu, Bhishma's nephew and the king of Hastinapur, had once been out hunting in the forest. He came across a couple of deer involved in, well, a rather intimate act. Pandu, possibly thought it was incredibly brave to shoot a mating couple with one arrow, went ahead. This was probably the reason for a popular swear-word being coined to rhyme with Pandu's name.

However, the duo turned out to be a sage and his wife with an insatiable cervine fetish: they had somehow come to the conclusion that making it out deer-style would satisfy their desire in a way more fulfilling than missionary or other pedestrian poses.

The sage (my guess is that they both died in the nude, but this is not a post dedicated to naked women) had cursed Pandu in his last moments that the latter would die whenever he made an attempt to have intercourse (animal forms were not exempted either).

This meant that his conjugal life with Kunti came to an abrupt end.
(end of flashback)


Bhishma, however, had reached Madra, asking for Madri's hand in marriage for Pandu. Madri was a woman of unmatched beauty and sex appeal; when her bright gold complexion dazzled brighter than the Sun; her face could bring about downfalls of kingdoms; the serpents of her hair could mermerise all and sundry; the mystique of her eyes turned the proudest of men to her slaves; in short, she was someone every man would have liked to you-know-what.

So Bhishma asked her hand for a man sworn to lifelong celibacy. Go figure.

Shalya was pleased and confused at the same time. Being related to Hastinapur meant power, but there was a rather uncommon ritual he had to ask Bhishma for: in Madra the dowry worked the other way round - the groom had to pay the bride a hefty amount. To his surprise, Bhishma consented and took Madri away.

The rest, as they say, is history. Between them, Kunti and Madri underwent exactly five (it may be four - given that Nakul and Sahadeb were twins - read more on that here) registered incidents of coitus; Pandu could not resist Madri any more after a certain point of time; had a steamy session and died subsequently; Madri accompanied him to the pyre; the Pandavs and Kunti went out on a hideout; Bheem and Arjun went to Draupadi's swayamvar disguised as Brahmins; and met Shalya yet again.

Bheem and Arjun must have felt somewhat awkward. Meeting your step-mama at a swayamvar must have been a feeling as unnerving as bumping into Rabindranath Tagore in a Sulabh Complex.

We know the rest. Shalya, unlike a couple of big names like Jarasandha and Shishupal, was at least able to lift the bow, but could not pierce the target. Arjun won over Draupadi; the kings, not able to digest a defeat in the hands of two innocuous-looking Brahmins, stood up against the duo; Karna and Shalya - later to feature together in one of the most poignant days of the epic - were the chief protagonists. However, Bheem wrestled and thrashed Shalya, and that was that. Karna lost his duel against Arjun, as expected (more on that here).

Had Shalya been able to hit the target that day, the whole epic might have been written differently. Sigh.


Shalya mysteriously disappears from the scenario after the swayamvar. It should be noted that the swayamvar marks the appearance of Krishna in the lives of the Pandavs as well. The two queens, Kunti and Madri, had families significantly different from each other in their respective roles in framing the course of Hastinapur; while Kunti's brother's son Krishna was instrumental in the royal politics of the kingdom, Shalya remained completely aloof, waging wars elsewhere in the country.

When news went out the Great War was about to commence at Kurukshetra, our hero was summoned by the Pandavs to join forces with them. Shalya set forth with his massive army to join his nephews and stepnephews. On his way he came across an establishment of sort where the army was greeted in the most exotic of fashion.

This was no ordinary arrangement: food, alcohol and other non-trivial pleasure were in abundance. The predecessors of the Sardars made merry in abundance; they ate, well, in all likelihood, heaps of makai di roti dipped in a gargantuan quagmire of sarson da saag, accompanied with drunken revelry of the highest order. There was possibly tandoori chicken to boot as well.

Shalya was pleased.

No, this deserves to be written with a capital P. Shalya was Pleased. Such was his satisfaction level that he called for the organiser of the entire arrangement, and - hold your breath - promised whatever the man behind the curtains would ask for.

He was sure it was Yudhishthir. Who else, after all, would arrange for such a welcome for his fatigued garrison? He had called for Shalya in the first place.

It was just that it turned out to be the wily Duryodhan. He had heard about Shalya's fun-loving nature, and had helped him indulge in the grandest of pleasures on his route. A helpless Shalya had no option but to grant Duryodhan his wish - and join the Kauravs at Kurukshetra.

He had a request, though. He wanted to visit Yudhishthir once to inform him about the latest change of plans.  Yudhishthir did not hide his resentment, but he managed to keep his calm. Always a great judge of character, seasoned by thirteen long years of exile, he knew the characters of Duryodhan, Karna and Shalya like the palm of his hand. He requested Shalya for a two-fold favour:
1. If Duryodhan and Karna ever asked Shalya, who had mastered Ashwahriday (the art of riding and driving horses), to become Karna's charioteer, Shalya would oblige; and
2. Once condition 1 was fulfilled, Shalya was sledge Karna to the fullest, thereby making the latter lose concentration, especially during his duels with Arjun.

Before the Great War commenced, Yudhishthir went ahead and took the blessings of his the elders - Bhishma, Dron, Kripa and Shalya; during the process he reminded Shalya of his promise.


Shalya entered the Great War with his two sons, Rukmangad and Rukmarath, and his brothers - all of whom were renowned warriors. He fought a furious duel with Abhimanyu on the first day: they started with bows and arrows, and then stepped down to fight with maces. After a fierce battle both of them had to be carried away in their respective chariots.

However, Shalya came back some time later with a single-mindedness as strong as diarrhoea and attacked Uttar, Abhimanyu's brother-in-law. After a bloody tussle, Uttar, fighting from atop an elephant, managed to destroyed Shalya's chariot, but the Shalya fought valiantly, and finally had his revenge when he killed Uttar with a spear.

Shalya was thus responsible for the first major killing of The Great War.

Shalya fought several mini-wars here and there, but remained largely away from the forefront till the thirteenth day. As Abhimanyu entered the Chakravyuha, Shalya was one of the few who had been seriously injured in the hands of the teenage hero. He recovered the next day, though, and took an active part in defending Jayadrath - albeit in vain - the next day.


After Dron's fall, Karna was appointed the senapati of the Kauravs. After a largely eventless sixteenth day, Karna maintained that he was superior to Arjun (mwahahahahaha), but could not produce the desired results because he did not have a charioteer as competent as Krishna.

The conversation went somewhat like this:
Duryodhan: Dude, I need you to become Karna's chauffeur for the day.
Shalya: Are you bonkers? Do you even know who I am? I, Shalya, emperor of the cool Madra - you want me to drive for the son of a chauffeur? Are you aware of my strengths, my power?
Karna: Look here, mate. I wanna defeat this Arjun guy. He is acting too big for his boots - and I all I need is a suave chauffeur to help me. My guy is a retard, and cannot tell one end of the chariot from the other. I also need someone who can do a stock-taking of my inventory from time to time, and -
Shalya: Hang on. Who do you think you are? Julius Effing Caesar?
Karna: Mate, will you explain this guy what he's supposed to do?
Duryodhan: Dude, do you know who drives this Arjun guy's chariot thingy? It's Krishna. You know why I'm asking you? Because you're greater than this Krishna guy. You rock, man.
Shalya: Both of you are morons, since none of you could see that I was play-acting. I'll drive anyway. This obnoxious son-of-a-charioteer will die today anyway.

Thus began the eventful seventeenth day of The Great War. Shalya decided to keep a fresh Karna away from Arjun; he sledged him skilfully throughout the day. He compared him to a fox trying to take on a lion or a crow attempting to fly with geese.

Karna, the hot-tempered person that he was, retaliated rather harshly: he accused that Madra was infested with men who ate beef and fish and women who got drunk on an excess of alcohol and often turned desperate in search of partners. They never hesitated to sleep with strangers in exchange of alcohol, and shouted out loud during the most intimate of moments.

(Dear reader, between you and me, doesn't Madra sound a rather cool place to live in given the era? Sigh.)

Shalya retaliated with more stories and fables and managed to get further under Karna's skin; this led to Karna getting enraged and losing his ATP and concentration in the process. When Karna rushed to capture Yudhishthir alive, Shalya mocked him for chasing lesser warriors and not pursuing Arjun instead, calling him a liar.

The mental disintegration thus completed, the day eventually ended in the famed duel between Arjun and Karna; all of us are aware of the outcome.


Shalya's role in the Great War, however, did not end there. The next morning Duryodhan appointed him as the new senapati for what would turn out to be the last day of the Great War. On his appointment, Shalya immediately drew up a plan: no Kaurav would fight the Pandavs alone: they should always attack and defend as a group.

Krishna, of course, was aware of exactly how great a warrior Shalya was. He knew that Shalya was no less a warrior when compared to Bhishma, Dron or Karna; he was also aware of Shalya's special characteristic in a battlefield; he knew that a Bheem or an Arjun may not be able to defeat him.

Keeping everything in mind, he knew that Yudhishthir was the correct person to slay Shalya. It would also go a long way to inflate the warrior's ego and reputation just before he was on the verge of ascending the throne of Hastinapur.

So Yudhishthir is had to be. Flanked by Satyaki (a warrior; not Arjun's charioteer: a grave error made by both Satyajit Ray and Sujoy Ghosh) on his right, Dhrishtadyumna on his left, Bheem in front and the invincible Arjun behind him, Yudhishthir sat smugly despite resembling a horizontal crucifix.

Shalya and Yudhishthir attacked each other in this unmatched five-against-one battle. He fought Bheem first, and after a ferocious battle, both of them managed to injure each other sufficiently to make them retire temporarily from the battle. However, since both of them were incredibly macho, they returned to the battlefield with a vengeance.

Enough was enough, thought Yudhishthir. He had already performed way above potential on the final day of the war. He vowed in public to kill Shalya or be killed. This was a vow almost as incredible as Fardeen Khan's assurance to provide multiple facial expressions, but then, Yudhishthir meant business.

He managed to kill Shalya's charioteer and horses; once again Shalya was rescued - this time by Ashwatthama. He returned to the battlefield, flanked by Duryodhan and Ashwatthama, among others. Meanwhile, Yudhishthir fought like he was on dope, alcohol and Viagara at the same time, and killed thousands of Kaurav soldiers.

While the big names had dominated the first seventeen days of the war, the final day belonged almost entirely to Yudhishthir: he surprised everyone by massacring thousands of Kaurav soldiers. As Shalya charged against him, Bheem killed his horses again. Shalya, being a genuine horse-lover, was not inclined on losing any more horses: he stepped on the ground with a sword and a shield in his hand.

Bheem, in a rare display of archery skills, smashed both the shield and the sword; with Shalya disarmed, the stage was now set for Yudhishthir. He picked up a jewel-encrusted (why, I wonder) heavy-duty spear and hurled it at the great man.

The spear pierced Shalya's chest; he staggered for a few steps, trying to advance towards Yudhishthir, with the possible intent of killing him with his bare hands: but this was a task as uphill as AK Hangal trying to look like a teenager - and the mighty Punjabi munda fell on his face, his hands still outstretched like Shah Rukh Khan, the hilt of the spear protruding out of his back, his chest immersed in dust soaked in his own blood.

It was several centuries too early for him to utter "waheguru ji ka khalsa, waheguru ji ki fateh"; instead, he possibly thought of the vast stretches of Brassica juncea fields in which he had spent his childhood days; and then, it all ended.

No, even if the name suggests, Yash Chopra's last movie was not named after one of the greatest sons of his soil. It should have been, though.


  1. "Fardeen Khan had a far more chance of defeating Shalya in a battle than Mahima Chaudhary." :D :D Trust you to come up with that one. A very informative and yet an enjoyable read. Loved it...again.

  2. Again I reiterate-your representation of mythology needs to go out of the limited readership of blog. Madra indeed sounds heavenly.:D:D:D

  3. can you enlighten me on the satyajit ray mistake please? I'd like to know.

    Also, can you rewrite the Mahabharata please, in your own way? It would be so much more interesting and fun to read. Also, having that available before I have children will be highly beneficial. I plan to read this to them in an attempt to immerse them into Indian culture. Please, and thank you.

    1. মন্টু সুটকেসটা হাতে তুলে নিয়ে বলল, "আমার নাম সাত্যকি বোস।"
      "অর্জুনের সারথি, না সুরেশ বোসের পুত্র?"

      - অতিথি, "আরো বারো", সত্যজিৎ রায়।

      Writing the Mahabharat won't be an issue; getting it published, and more importantly, read, will be a real challenge, though.

  4. Fardeen Khan er opor erokom "haat dhuye" porechhis keno proti 3rd blog a? (ei phrase ta interesting, pore kono blog a dissect korte paris). or baap ta jothesto macho chhilo, nawab-tawab hole ei becharao probably (tui stat er lok nischoi probability manbi) life a aro beshi chance peye kichu kore uthto, who knows?

  5. Thank you for responding to the question with a serious (as in substantial), humurous as usual biography of Shalya!

    Reading these posts on the epics which I have not read myself since the time I was in school, always makes me think differently. For example, your description of Pandu's hunting act is one such issue. Obviously, when I first learned about the stories of the Mahabharata (either listening to the story from the elders, or maybe reading some children's version), the exact circumstances of the sage and his wife was censored (even though lots of things in our epics make little sense when censored).
    But even when the fundamentals of the case were cleared up, I had the distinct impression (till today), that Pandu was not aware of the circumstances.

    Another one is Bheeshma. It is not uncommon to see people's support of Karna, or hear about the valiant heroes Ravana and Indrajit, and the traitorous Vibhishan. But in how many ways did Bheeshma mess everything up, and yet stay in evrybody's good books as the self sacrificing hero?

    1. A post on Bheeshma is long due, you know. However, it will not be the easiest post to write and will take some time. I will possibly need to split it into multiple posts.

    2. Seriously, why dont you just write and publish the entire Mahabharat. It will be such a brilliant read.

    3. PLEASE write the post(s) on Bheeshma..actually I agree with Diptee--Please write and publish the entire thing--perhaps as a series?

  6. If Krishna was the grand puppeteer, then Yudhishthir really, really orchestrated the specific downfalls of the four pradhaan senapatis. Very nice biography!

  7. Chomotkar!! Besh kichhu notun jinis janlam!!

  8. What about Gandhari brother? Do you have something about her? I am very curious..

    BTW, you write great. It is mucho fun.. and I read your mythology again and again ( I give 6 months gap).... but don't succumb to requests for writing a book.. reason being, that your wittiness has a context.. and that will be lost to new readers.

  9. you seem to be a prodigy of mythology...have you seen the film "sita sings the blues'?
    here's the link

  10. This one too, needs to be written in Bangla.

  11. Uff your write up had me in god...keep them coming...

    1. You're missing the point. this is a serious biography.

  12. Why nothing on ramayana so far? Too simple?

  13. Can you please help me by giving a detailed information about the birth of shalya?? As i ve heard somewhere tat he was given birth just to kill karna. so any specific mystery or secret behind his birth??