Bahubali Theme Post: Dharma Versus Justice

I was trying to explain this to my father in the car after seeing the film with him.  The difference between Dharma and Justice.  And it’s a hard one to explain, if you aren’t already familiar with the meaning of Dharma.  Because a quick one-to-one Hindi to English translation would actually be Dharma=Justice.  But it’s so much more than that, as the film shows. (full index of all Bahubali posts here)

For me, the best way to express the concept of Dharma is to think of it as “rightness”.  Not as in right or wrong, but as just pure “right”.

Like, arranging furniture.  You put the chair in the spot by the window, or by the table, or the desk.  And it looks fine in all those spots, it’s not really “wrong” anywhere.  But if you put it by the window, suddenly everything is just perfectly balanced and perfectly right, in a way it just isn’t anywhere else.

dbd4a-bah

(This is also the effect you get from a perfectly composted film shot, like this one, everything obeying the rules of symmetry and perspective and the golden triangle and so on and so on.  It’s just “right”)

You can use this same metaphor for anything.  Like, jobs.  This job was okay, that job was okay, you didn’t actively hate them.  But then you had that one job that was just perfect, like it was designed for you.  Sweaters, books, blogs (hopefully this blog is “Dharma” for some of you!), whatever example works for you.  Just so you can grasp that idea of something being kind of more-right than anything else, even if something else is also right.

To be clear, I’m not saying it is the chair’s “Dharma” to be in the spot by the window, or the sweater’s “Dharma” to be worn by you.  Maybe it could be your “Dharma” to have a particular job, I’m not sure.  But all the other examples are definitely not an appropriate use of the term, not big enough and serious enough.

But take that same idea of something being “more right” than other right options, being somehow just exactly what must be done, and extend it to big ideas like, “Should I fight this court case or settle?” or “how should I punish my child for this serious infraction?” or “should I end our friendship over this insult?”, and that gets close to the idea of Dharma.

Dharma can be translated (poorly) as “Justice”, but also as “Fate”.  The exact thing that must happen and should happen.  A wise person is always questioning if what they are doing, or if what is happening in general, is proper “Dharma”.  And if it is not, they should fight against it.  And if it is, they should give in to it.

Dharma means doing the right thing at the right moment for the right reasons to the right people.  It encompasses everything in a situation.  And it is both something you do, and something that can be done to you.  It could be my Dharma to miss the bus today.  And I should not respond with anger, but with acceptance, and questioning what the purpose might be of this, and how I can make use of it.  And maybe considering that would tell me that I need to enact Dharma on the bus driver by contacting the CTA and complaining about this bus driver leaving the stop early.

(Or maybe it was my Dharma to be on a later bus so young Abhishek Bachchan can fall in love with me)

Now, bringing it back to Bahubali, how do we see that play out?  Let us start with Prabhas 2 and his forest childhood. Prabhas 2 is clearly our Krishna stand in character in these films (forest upbringing, not too worried about “rules”).  Krishna was all about when you should feel your Dharma shifting, how you can determine what is right in any particular situation.  If you look at a lot of Krishna’s actions in the Mahabharata, they are about breaking rules.  But he was always looking at the big picture, at what is “more right”.  Of course, he was also a God, so he always knew what was “more right”.  Our more human characters, like Arjun, give us an example of proper behavior for humans.  Which is doubt.  To always be considering all options and, even after choosing one, to still doubt yourself and try to determine if you are on the right or wrong path.

This doubt alternating with certainty, that is what we see in the opening showing Prabhas 2’s childhood.  He tries to climb the waterfall, his mother tells him to stop, he agrees, and then he tries again anyway.  On the one hand, it is “Dharmic” to obey his mother.  But on the other hand, he has this urge to climb the waterfall, which feels more “right” than obeying his mother.  He is torn between competing options, and thus he keeps falling.

It is only when the mask comes down and he falls in love with Tamannah/is inspired with the thought of there being something waiting for him on top of the waterfall, that suddenly his doubts are gone and the path is clear.  And thus, he is able to climb without faltering (as the song says).

 

Tamannah also appears at a moment of Dharmic doubt.  Her intro is clear.  She is confident in the rightness of her fight, and in the justness of her killing.  That’s not a problem, she is more confident and more “right” than her enemies.  The cause is just, the cause is “Dharmic”.

No, the doubt is in if Tamannah is doing what is best and most right for herself.  In the heat of battle, there is a clear path forward.  But later, we see that she doubts her role while in the fire circle in the cave, and while sneaking off by herself to wash in the river.  Is it truly her “Dharma” to be simply a weapon, a warrior?  Is this the best way she can serve?

Just because she is doubting her current path does not necessarily make that path wrong.  Later, we see her “try” the other path.  Enjoying love and beauty with Prabhas 2.  And then deciding that this is not the right way.  It is a sad thing for her to walk away from love, but her face shows clarity, not doubt.  This may be hard, what she is about to do and what she has done, but it is the right thing for her to do.

(and in the moment, this was right too.  But then that time passed, and her Dharma was something different)

As for Prabhas 2, his Dharma is continually changing through out the films.  Until the final shot, when he declares that his word is law in all of Mahishmati.  That is his one clear path for the rest of his life.  But otherwise it goes from following and loving Tamannah, to taking on her “Dharma” as his own and rescuing Anushka, to gaining vengeance for his parents’ against Rana, to rescuing Anushka again, and finally to defeating Rana.  And then, in the end, to ruling Mahishmati for its own sake and doing what is right for his people.

And this is a good thing too.  Something can be the right thing for you to do today, and the wrong thing tomorrow.  In fact, that is what it should be.  Dharma isn’t just about doing what is right, it is about doing what is right at this time in this situation, and that is going to change all the time.  Going back to my point about doubt, it is a good thing to be constantly questioning your Dharma, asking yourself “is this still the right thing?  Or have things changed, is it time for a new solution?”  Or, as is true for Prabhas 2, sometimes the “right” thing isn’t fully apparent until you have more information, until more time has gone by.

And this is where we get into how Dharma is shown to us through the narrative.  As a viewer, it is frustrating to think of Anushka spending 25 years in chains, Mahishmati struggling under unjust rule for 25 years, Tamannah’s band dying everyday, and meanwhile Prabhas 2 is all “fa-la-la, life is great, I am in the forest!”  Why couldn’t he have known about this sooner, like at 18 or 16 instead of 25?  Why couldn’t the forest people climb to the top of the waterfall when they first found this baby to see what’s what and maybe join in with the rebels?  Why couldn’t the Kuntala rebels have coordinated with the peasants of Mahishmati sooner to lead a joint attack?

Well, because it wasn’t time yet.  Prabhas 2 had to grow strong and wise before he was ready to lead.  The rebels had to suffer to harden their resolve.  The people had to suffer before revolt seemed necessary.  Anushka had to show her endurance and resolve and through that, weaken Rana.  This is Dharma.  Not just for wrong to be overthrown and right to triumph, but for it to happen in the right way and at the right time.  Mahishmati needed to welcome Prabhas 2 as a savior, to be ready for his rule, and Prabhas 2 had to be ready to rule, and there is no way to hurry that.  If this concept sounds familiar to you, and you are Christian rather than Hindu, it is because the same idea is expressed in Christianity, “Let go and let God”, or “Man proposes and God disposes”, or simply “God has a plan for all of us”.  It’s probably in other religions, these are just the two I know best.  We have to believe that there is a bigger plan and we are only seeing one small part of it, that our job is merely to do the best we can with the small part we have, and have faith that everything else is being worked out in some manner.

All of this is just talking about the “present day” questions.  These aren’t even where the questions of Dharma are most apparent, but I want you to see how they are always there.  Really, they are always there in any well written narrative, by different names.  Harry Potter, say, you can have the same questions.  Why didn’t Dumbledore just take control of the Ministry of Magic?  Why did it take so long for the adults to believe Valdemort was back?  Why did Harry and Hermione (how is her name not in spellcheck?) and Ron spend so much time futzing around when they should have been collecting Horcruxes (how is this not in spellcheck either?)?  Well, because it was Dharma.  Everything had to happen exactly as it happened, or it may not have ended in the way it should.

Image result for harry potter ending

(Okay, maybe you don’t want it to end exactly like this.  But Dharma is about big picture, and big picture is that evil was defeated once and for all)

Now, going into the past era of Bahubali, the Prabhas 1 and Anushka and Rana and Ramya era, here is where Dharma gets really twisted.  Angie, who is new to finishing the films and joining our discussions (yay!  Welcome Angie!) was just struggling with how Anushka messed everything up, and yet was right.  And I think maybe it is that Anushka’s actions were always right in the bigger sense.  And what she was encouraging others to do was right as well.  It was just that she could have chosen a better manner in which to express it all.  But in the greater sense of things, Anushka is a clear measure of Dharmic rightness.  She never suffered from the doubt between choices that others did.  In fact, that is her flaw, that she is not capable of doubt.  She can always see so clearly what is the right path, it makes her impatient with those who cannot.

Prabhas 1 is such a great character, because he is both quick to act and also always doubting himself.  But in a good way.  He grows, not because circumstances force him to grow, but because he forces himself to grow, to constantly achieve new heights of wisdom, of farsightedness.  While Rana and Ramya and Nassar are purposefully blinding themselves, refusing to progress as people, to question themselves, to always search for a better way, Prabhas 1 is the opposite.  He starts off pretty great, anyone else might have been tempted to just stay there, as this perfect brave warrior and wise ruler and so on.  But no, that isn’t enough for him.  On his travels, he is constantly learning more, accepting ways he could improve, could be better.  Any situation that life throws at him, he does not sit down and suffer, nor does he necessarily fight back.  He chooses instead of look at the situation and consider what it is best to do.  What is Dharmic for him, why this has become his Dharma.

The tragedy of the flashback period is that it is so clearly Prabhas 1’s Dharma to be king.  He is suited for it in every way, and the world conspires over and over again to put him in that place.  And yet, the forces of unDharma (I know there is a word for it, tell me in the comments!) conspire to prevent it.  It’s that sense of huge “wrongness” that leaves such bitterness for the audience.  It’s not just sad that he is exiled, that he is killed, it is Wrong.  And it takes 25 years of suffering to set it right again.

Which brings us to the big central Justice versus Dharma scene.  The issue is the laws that are on the books in Mahishmati to handle the situation of an accused being put in chains and forced to defend herself instead of being presumed innocent.  But those laws, that is not Dharma.  No, Dharma is the higher questions of the situation.  Ramya sees her Dharma to be upholding the laws of Mahishmati without regard to the person to whom they are applied.  Rana sees Prabhas 1’s Dharma as to respect his authority as king.

These are not petty considerations.  Ramya fears rebellion, mutiny, if the laws are disregarded.  The highest priority must always be respecting their power.  Rana sees rebellion if his authority as king is questioned, the stability of the kingdom rests on monarchical power being unquestioned.  And yes, stability of civilization is a high Dharma requirement.

But Prabhas 1 sees a different Dharma.  And sees that the considerations of stability and obeying tradition and law have blinded Ramya and Rana, and the kingdom as a whole, to this higher Dharma.  Which adds another layer to it, it is his Dharma both to uphold real Dharmic justice in this situation, and to remind the kingdom of a higher justice, to remind Ramya that she should not merely be upholding the law books and to remind Rana that his rule should not be upheld merely by blind obedience.  These things must always fall behind the question of what is the truly Dharmic choice in the moment.

 

Okay, have I used the word “Dharma” so much that it has lost all meaning?  Like when you say “buoy buoy buoy buoy buoy buoy buoy” over and over again and it just becomes a series of sounds?  Yeah, I think so.  I better stop here.

 

Obviously, I am not a scholar of philosophy, nor am I the end all-be all for discussing Bahubali.  But this should give you all a nice starting point to disagree with me, or point out all the big things I missed, or otherwise continue the discussion.

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19 thoughts on “Bahubali Theme Post: Dharma Versus Justice

  1. Pingback: Bahubali Posts Index | dontcallitbollywood

    • Yes! Except along with people being in the “place just right”, it is also actions, beliefs, laws, all kinds of abstract concepts.

      On Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 6:30 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • thank you! I knew someone would know.

      Is this also where “ahimsa” comes from?

      On Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 8:38 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yes, himsa means to torture or give pain.

        When someone is pestering us we tell then “imsai pannadhae” i.e don’t do himsa (on me)

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  2. Margaret, your analysis of dharma and justice is good. I would like to see how these two words play role in the hollywood movie ‘A few good men’.

    Dharma of the two accused marines is to fight for those who could not fight for themselves. So when they failed to fight for Santiago and instead killed him, they failed in their dharma. Hence they were dishonorably discharged from marine duties. But they obeyed the superior’s orders meaning they followed law and justice. Hence they were not guilty of murdering Santiago.

    What are your thoughts on the above?

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    • I’m glad you liked the post!

      For A Few Good Men, the handy thing is that they were Marines, right? So their Dharma is spelled out for us in the oath they took. The full oath that everyone who enlists in the US Armed Forces takes is “I, (state name of enlistee), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

      The first duty is to defend the constitution against all enemies, foriegn and domestic. And after that, to bare faith and allegiance to the Constitution. After that to obey the orders of the President. And finally, to obey the orders of the officers.

      So, in terms of Dharma, the question is whether their actions were by and for the constitution. Since the first words of the Constitution guarantee everyone the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I would say no. They failed in their first duty by making someone miserable, taking away his freedom, and finally his life. That is their primary goal, not obeying their officers.

      On Tue, Jun 13, 2017 at 1:51 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Dharma is a very complex Matter to discuss. I never understood it earlier. Recently I took a course on Ethics, and world Philosophy. It is then I started to realize conflicting ideas, how one should look at world and how one should make choices.

    I am sorry to say this, but I am proud that my religion chose something called Dharma over something like Piety or charity or something. I see that Abrahamic religions place emphasis on donation, suffering and stuff like that, and when seen from a point of view of Dharma-karma (note that these two go hand in hand in Hinduism), everything has a purpose. If someone is begging, it has a meaning too. Nobody is sinned by birth, and nobody needs to die for anybody, or feel responsible for somebody’s death – especially deaths that happened across times. He did what was right, so are we to do.

    Nice of you to take Harry Potter example. Nice of you to take it, as I saw people completely ignoring how Dharmic Dumbledore, or James Potter was and started abusing Harry, James, Dumbledore to glorify Severus Snape. It really angered me. Atleast someone knew the deeper meaning and purpose behind all of it.

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    • I’m glad you liked the post! And yes, I find it fascinating as well how different the Dharmic religions are from the Abrahamic. I had the reverse experience, I didn’t realize how much my upbringing and background, in a million small ways, was based on Abrahamic beliefs until I started taking religious classes in college. Little things, like my father volunteering at a homeless shelter when I was little, or seeing my mother send off money to various not for profit organizations every month. It’s not something you really think about from a philosophical level when you are little, you just see the actions around you. And then when you are an adult, you gain the depth to start thinking and understanding what grounds those actions.

      On Tue, Jun 13, 2017 at 3:58 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Dharma vs Justice, I couldn’t help but remember this scene from Bahubali: The lost Legends. In one of the episodes, Sivagami approves an alternate trade route for Mahishmati via the jungles as the regular route comes under attack from bandits. Soon, there are complaints about demons killing the traders who take the jungle route. Baahu finds claw marks on one of the survivors. Sivagami promises the traders that demon will be killed and body displayed and deputes Baahu and Bhalla along with a small team to take the demon down. Baahu, with half the team, camps in the jungle and is attacked by a tiger (the tiger has two cubs). Another animal which tries to attack the cubs is killed by Baahu and he doesn’t kill the tiger.

    On being asked by his team mate why, despite the tiger killing their traders and despite Sivagami’s promise to the traders, Baahu doesn’t kill the tiger, Baahu answers that perhaps killing the tiger is justice for it killed their traders but he says he understands that the tiger is simply trying to protect its two cubs by attacking those who cross the tiger’s paths. Killing the tiger doesn’t seem right as the jungle belongs to her and other animals, she is protecting her cubs, and they (Mahishmati traders) are simply the intruders.

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    • That is a great example! The higher “rightness” of the universe is for a mother to protect her children, and for children to grow and thrive. That is above any verbal promise or written law.

      On Tue, Jun 13, 2017 at 11:57 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Hi, I’m from Sri Lanka and I have some questions regarding the movie.
    1. The crown usually goes to the eldest. It’s clearly explained that Balla is the eldest. So clearly, the crown was robbed from him. Why are you saying that forces that want Baahubali as king are “good” and the forces that don’t want that are “bad”?
    2. Shivagami made the two princes equal by her law. So the elder brother was not treated as the elder brother but as an equal of the younger Baahubali. How is this OK with Dharma? It’s against everything we learn in Mahabharatha.
    3. The first movie clearly tells that the two princes were equal. They were equal in prowess and also in knowledge. Shivagami also agrees on it and wonder who to choose. But at that moment, Balla was still the eldest. Why didn’t Shivagami consider this and put him in the throne? Clearly, the throne was robbed from Balla for the second time.
    4. Sending gifts to a king asking for the hand of his daughter is perfectly OK with Kshathriya Dharma and an accepted tradition. Refusing that union is also OK with Dharma. But insulting the Queen-Mother and calling her son a wimp/eunuch/whatever is totally against any dharma we know of. Devasena not only did that but she went far beyond it and even sent her sword to Shivagami (whom she doesn’t know and has done nothing wrong to her) with more insulting words. Her father, the king accepted her words and consented to deliver that message and that also is against dharma. Because of these two, the whole kingdom was destroyed.
    5. Instead of following his mother’s command, Baahubali places the princess under his protection. I’m not saying this is adharma but this effectively prevents her from any kind of prosecution from that point onward. She has already insulted the queen but she can’t be punished for that. She has insulted Balla and again, she can’t be punished. The biggest crime she commits is open treason. She openly asks her husband to occupy the throne (the only possible way is to kill his brother and king). If someone else did it, he/she will be immediately put to death. But Devasena goes Scott free because she’s protected by a powerful person. How is this even remotely resemble dharma?
    6. After committing treason and going free, she then asks why she is in chains before her guilt is decided. Baahubali walks in and slits the throat of a witness/culprit/suspect before he even finishes his testimony. This is somehow Dharma?

    My point is Baahubali also bent Dharma to serve his own purpose.

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    • 1. This goes back to the Mahabharata example as well. Remember that the Mahabharata broke birth order many times as well. Bhishma gave up his claim, and Dhritirashtra was removed from the line due to his blindness. There is no clear law of primogeniture, it is primogeniture combined with fitness for rule. In Mahishmati, the rules of primogeniture were confused at this moment. They had already been overthrown in the previous generation when the younger son was declared more fit to rule than the older son. Now, that younger son is dead, but his son is alive. You could argue that as the son of the last king, Bahubali is clearly the proper heir. But you could also argue that as the son of the oldest son, and the slightly older child, Bhalla is the correct heir. Both sides of valid arguments, just like in the Mahabharata.

      2. The two individuals, Bhalla and Bahubali, treat each other as brothers with Bhalla slightly older. It is why Bahubali teases his brother and steps aside to give his brother place in the family realm. But in terms of their right to the throne, as explained above, this has no bearing. Again, if we look to the Mahabharata, Bhishma is treated as the elder of the family. But not as heir to the throne, that is a separate issue.

      3. Again, in the previous generation, birth order was upended, the youngest was put on the throne because he was more fit to rule. Mahishmati does not follow strict primogeniture, any child of the royal family could be chosen. The question is, who has the right to make that choice? Sivagami takes it for herself, but there is no clear reason for that. In the previous generation, presumably the old king picked between his two sons and trained one as heir but not the other. But now there is no king, Sivagami has made herself regent and decider based on force of personality.

      4. This gets into a larger question. Were Devasena’s criticisms valid? Was Mahishmati a kingdom that had come to rely too much on wealth and power and not enough on personal worth? Most of all, were her criticisms towards the individuals of the royal family or to the kingdom as a whole? As I saw it, she was refusing a proposal in the most insulting way possible, but her insults were directed towards the persons involved, not towards the entire kingdom. If I saw that Prince Charles of England has big ears, should England attack me? Or should Charles simply send an insulting letter back? As I see the film (and you can feel free to disagree), Sivagami was in the wrong on a personal level to send a proposal which seemed to demand and expect agreement based on nothing. Devasena sent a blistering reply, which was also wrong on the personal level. But Sivagami went into the realm of adharma when she suggested using the military might of Mahishmati to respond to a personal insult. And that is a reaction that Devasena might not have anticipated.

      5. As I see it, this is the difference between “dharma” and some smaller concept like justice, or ethics. Justice or ethics would say that Bahubali has to follow the laws of his kingdom and the commands of his ruler. But “dharma” says that he must consider the highest possible concepts of right and wrong and weight them in the balance. And he chooses to protect Devasena because she is clearly innocent of wrongdoing. I think he would have done the same for a child or an old man or anyone else wrongfully accused and forced back as a prisoner. He is willing to take Devasena back to Mahishmati, to make her apologize and be judged. But he is sure of her innocence, and therefore sure that the judgement will be light and his vow will not interfere with it. It is only when, again, Sivagami reacts to a personal misunderstanding by abusing state power that Bahubali reacts. His vow did not make Devasena free from apologizing and admitting wrong-doing. But it does save her from physical punishment that is out of balance with her mistake.

      6. Same response, Mahishmati sees justice as enshrined in law books and traditions of judgement. Bahubali is answering to a higher Dharma, weighing guilt and sin in the balance and making his decisions.

      Really, the biggest question the film asks is if free will is the greatest Dharma. If it is, then most of Mahishmati’s laws and judgements are corrupt, since they require individuals to bend to a higher power. In which case, Bahubali must respond by breaking those unjust laws where he sees them.

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  6. Hi Yasas, Thank you so much for asking these questions and thank you Margaret for creating the space to have this discussion.

    Yasas – the questions you have asked are what are called as moral dilemmas or dharm sankat. The Mahabharata revels in this. Nothing is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. There are several alternative course of action and you can have valid arguments for each. Which then is the path of Dharma? The answer simply is to choose the path that is least self-serving. That’s all there is to it. If you are being driven by your own self-interests, which in other words is the need to satisfy your ego then it is not the path of dharma but adharma. Let us examine your questions with this premise and in the context of the movie.

    1. The crown usually goes to the eldest. It’s clearly explained that Balla is the eldest. So clearly, the crown was robbed from him. Why are you saying that forces that want Baahubali as king are “good” and the forces that don’t want that are “bad”?

    Laws can be limiting. This comes-up again and again in the Mahabaratha. Laws are not synonymous with Dharma. This is important to understand. We have the right to questions laws and test if they are dharmic or not when applied within a specific context. In Bahubali, the deviation from this rule was not done by Sivagami but by Bijaladeva’s father when he chose Amarendra Bahubali’s father, who is the younger brother as the king. Sivagami takes the middle path. Technically, now that Bijala is not the king, their son should not have the right to the throne but she knows that law alone is not sufficient when it comes to naming a king, having understood her father-in laws decision. So she declares that both Amarendra and Balla have equal rights. This is the middle path because she has brought her son into the game, which is self-serving but she did not declare him the king. On the other hand, Bijala’s drive to see Balla as the king is purely driven by his need to satisfy his ego which was hurt badly when he himself was not declared the king. This is the reason he is “bad”. Again, it is important to understand the subtleties in this. It is not adharmic for a parent to want the best for their child. That is their duty and their Karma. In that context Bijala wanting his son to be the king is not adharma but what drives his desire is not this duty as a parent but his bruised ego.

    2. Shivagami made the two princes equal by her law. So the elder brother was not treated as the elder brother but as an equal of the younger Baahubali. How is this OK with Dharma? It’s against everything we learn in Mahabharatha.

    Yes, Sivagami made Amarendra and Balla equal contenders to the throne. Sivagami had three options – (i) declare baby Balla as the king or (ii) declare baby Amarendra as the king or (iii) delay the decision. If we follow the code of Dharma, the least self-serving is option 2. So you are right in saying that she did not follow Dharma. But she does not come out as “bad” because we are factoring her action from the perspective of her karma i.e. her duty as a responsible ruler. Given what had happened in the previous generation, the person who is the lawful heir might not be worthy of it, so to delay the decision until you can judge who is capable is fair. Yet we have to acknowledge that it is a deviation from the path of Dharma. This acknowledgement is important and I will come to it later in answer to another of your question.

    3. The first movie clearly tells that the two princes were equal. They were equal in prowess and also in knowledge. Shivagami also agrees on it and wonder who to choose. But at that moment, Balla was still the eldest. Why didn’t Shivagami consider this and put him in the throne?
    Clearly, the throne was robbed from Balla for the second time.

    I think this has already been answered in the previous questions. She made her decision to make them equal contenders, ignoring both hierarchy (Balla) and lawful right (Amarendra), and she will test them until she gets a clear answer. No issues in this.

    4. Sending gifts to a king asking for the hand of his daughter is perfectly OK with Kshathriya Dharma and an accepted tradition. Refusing that union is also OK with Dharma. But insulting the Queen-Mother and calling her son a wimp/eunuch/whatever is totally against any dharma we know of. Devasena not only did that but she went far beyond it and even sent her sword to Shivagami (whom she doesn’t know and has done nothing wrong to her) with more insulting words. Her father, the king accepted her words and consented to deliver that message and that also is against dharma. Because of these two, the whole kingdom was destroyed.

    Yes, thank you, very good question. You are absolutely right! Insulting someone, whatever be the justification for that, is absolutely adharmic. The need to insult arises from the need to satisfy one’s ego by shaming or belittling others. When the core ethos of Dharma is to transcend the need to satisfy one’s ego, there is no place for insults. Thank you for questioning the Kunthala King / Devasena’s borther. Devasena at least I can forgive by thinking she was young and impulsive, so was not wise enough. But her brother being the King should have definitely known better. He was not only her brother but also the king so he has a duty not only towards his sister but also to his people. Kunthala being a vassal of Mahishmathi, he should know Devasena’s reply would not be taken lightly. Devasena had the right to refuse but not insult.

    Now, let’s go back to the answer to question 2 where we acknowledged that Sivagami did not necessarily choose the path of Dharma, combine it with Devasena’s adharmic act of sending an insulting reply and Bahubali’s actions that you are questioning below. Evil things happen in this world not only because “bad” people do bad things but also because “good” people deviate from the path of Dharma. This is important to understand and a very important message. The narratives that we get to see or hear or read in today’s world very conveniently classify things as good vs evil without questioning what is good or what is evil. The Mahabharata and Ramayana are epics because they get into this question and come out with very definite and very clear answer. Any action that transcends one’s ego is Dharma / good. Any action that feeds one’s ego is adharma / evil. Through the Geeta, Mahabharata even tells us to not just accept or believe this statement blindly instead gives us the different ways in which you, as an individual, can go about understanding this.

    5. Instead of following his mother’s command, Baahubali places the princess under his protection. I’m not saying this is adharma but this effectively prevents her from any kind of prosecution from that point onward. She has already insulted the queen but she can’t be punished for that. She has insulted Balla and again, she can’t be punished. The biggest crime she commits is open treason. She openly asks her husband to occupy the throne (the only possible way is to kill his brother and king). If someone else did it, he/she will be immediately put to death. But Devasena goes Scott free because she’s protected by a powerful person. How is this even remotely resemble dharma?

    Bahubali promising to protect the princess is a deviation from his Karma. His duty is to follow the royal orders but he deviated from this by agreeing to not treat her as how a prisoner would be treated. By this point in time in the movie, some level of trust has been developed between Devasena and Bahubali. His promise to her is a commitment to that trust and is not driven by his need to satisfy his ego. So the promise is not adharmic. But Devasena wanting such a promise, now that is a different question altogether!

    Devasena “ordering” her husband to become the king is as impulsive as her insulting response to the marriage proposal. Her message is dharmic but the manner it has been delivered is adharmic. It is not her ego that drives her to want Bahubali to be the king or not want Balla to be the king. So there is Dharma in her message. But the need to deliver it at that point in time before everybody in that manner is clearly driven by her ego and her need to insult Balla for insulting her husband and Sivagami for keeping silent at that time. So the classic question of does the cause justify the means gets answered here – both have to be dharmic. This again is an example of a “good” person with good intentions deviating from the path of Dharma.

    6. After committing treason and going free, she then asks why she is in chains before her guilt is decided. Baahubali walks in and slits the throat of a witness/culprit/suspect before he even finishes his testimony. This is somehow Dharma?

    This is the most crucial scene in this movie because it is this act that makes Sivagami later agree to kill Amarendra. Sivagami first witnessed Bahubali move away from his Karma, as a crown prince, he had a duty towards his people by accepting the throne. He deviates from this. Later his wife openly orders him to become the King. Bahubali then takes the law/the king’s powers into himself and executes it.

    “Bad” people i.e. those driven by their egos do not by themselves have much agency. In this case, Balla does not just go and kill Amarendra even if he wants to or Bijala does not kill Sivagami even if he wants to, they are able to do so only when “good” people deviate from the path of Dharma. The deviation gives agency to adharma and also amplifies the negative consequences. In case of royalty, the amplification is much more intense because of their power as rulers over other people. This is also why Ramayana and Mahabharata deal with royalty as central characters.

    Despite the deviations from the path of Dharma, Sivagami, Devasena and Amarendra come-out as good or feel to be good people because they are not always driven by their ego. This is especially true for Amarendra and why we grow to respect him. The obvious places that should have hurt his ego – when he is made the senapthi or when that title is taken away from him or when he is expelled from the palace – he emerges unscathed and happy. Bijala and Balla come-out as bad or feel to be bad people as they are shown to be singularly driven by their ego. The former are people who are trying to walk the path of Dharma while the latter are clearly adharmic. This movie does throw-up interesting questions on Dharma, on how we define our values and morality but it is not the Mahabaratha or the Ramayana. So this movie is not the place to search for answers on Dharma or adharma. Kudos to Rajamouli to have made a movie that has at least made us ask these questions and seek these answers.

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  7. Thank you very much for the great answers you provided Anu. These clarified most of the stuff. And yes you’re right, this is just a movie and not Mahabharatha. Even though I’m a foreigner, I consider Mahabharatha the greatest artwork ever created (never read the other epic). I don’t even like Indian movies but these two movies interested me because I saw a fraction of the greatness and beauty I witnessed (reading the great epic) in them. You guys seriously need to produce more of these kind of movies.

    Anyways Mahabharatha repeatedly says “Morality is subtle. Even the most intelligent people fail to understand morality”. As you said, nothing is absolutely right or absolutely wrong.

    1. Balla’s right to the throne – I simply reasoned, “Baahubali’s parents are dead and therefore Shivagami and Bijala are his parents. He’s their younger son”. I understand that things are more complicated. Overall, Shivagami was righteous in her decision.

    2. Thanks for agreeing with me on the actions of Kunthala King. His actions were pretty ridiculous to say the least. The two kingdoms were close by (judging by the time took for the envoy/bird to travel). Baahubali’s/Balla’s prowess was nothing human and they should have known it or heard of it.
    Queen: Yo I’d like my son (who has superhuman powers BTW) to wed your princess. Find the truckload of gifts attached and ship her ass to us.
    King: I dunno man. What should I say?
    Princess: Screw your son and the bed he sleeps in. He’s an eunuch and you’re the mother of an eunuch. Even our dogs don’t want him. Here’s my sword so he can play with it.
    King: Sounds about right. Write that down.
    One intelligent person (who doesn’t appear in the movie): My king, you DO realize that this could very well be the decision of the queen alone and her son may not even know about it? You DO know the message is addressed to YOU right? Also assuming half of what we hear is true, you really think it’s wise to call the mightiest warrior in a 100-mile radius (who BTW, has done nothing wrong to us) a wimp and put the royal stamp on it?
    King: The Royal Stamp! Almost forgot.

    Sometimes, the enemy doesn’t even exist till you go LOOKING for one.

    3. Devasena’s behavior comes from her overwhelming desire to be in control. As you can see, she always thinks she’s in control when the reality is far from it. While she’s composing that BS ‘answer’, the enemy is plotting to kill every last one of them. They were saved only by a stroke of luck (Baahubali being there). Then she makes sure Baahubali’s under her thumb before she goes to her potential enemy the queen. Again, it’s about power and control. She rebukes the queen believing she’s in control (Baahubali’s words) but in reality, Balla’s planning his next move and HE’S the one who’s really in control.
    Then comes the treason scenario. This is again about showing “who’s the boss”. The key element here is the behavior of Baahubali (Devasena has already established who she is and her behavior is not surprising). Baahubali doesn’t say a word against his wife. Not a word. When Shivagami talked about her promise about Balla’s wedding, Baahubali said she was WRONG to do that (was she really? Even carrying away a bride by force is not considered wrong in Kshathriya tradition. What about Duryodhana’s wife?). Anyhow, he doesn’t say anything when his wife asks him to kill his brother and become king. This proves “who’s the boss” and Shivagami probably decides at that point she no longer has two sons.
    Note that Balla also says nothing. He knows this power game and lets it continue. He’ll take the upper hand in time.
    The next episode is the execution of the pervert. This was too haste and wrong on many levels (you can always kill the dude later). The lame excuse he gives also works against him and he had no answer to what Shivagami says. This time, no one asks her to change her mind. All limits were crossed.

    So these deviations from dharma, as you correctly points out, allows people like Bijala and Balla to win simply by playing others. Balla gets the throne simply by playing his mother and brother against each other. Then he kills his brother again using similar tactics.

    Now, a few places where the movie fails;
    1. Balla’s character – A great villain character but failed due to inconsistency. You need a cold, calculating brain to plan what he planned and play the game he played. Such a person would not let his whole life be defined by his hate towards a DEAD person. Should have followed Duryodhana more closely.
    2. Mahendra’s whole storyline – Epic fail here. A young, good natured person with a peaceful life and no violence goes out of the village, kills a truckload of men and feels……. Nothing? No remorse, no fear, nothing. That’s the definition of a clinical psychopath. And then he inherits all the combat skills through genes? That works as a fantasy element but it’s inconsistent with the other storyline where his father and uncle earned all these skills through a lifetime of training.
    3. Everything that happens after Mahendra decides to use ….. ok enough said.

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  8. Hi Yasas, I believe Rajamouli and team do have answers to many of these open questions but they were limited by how long a movie they can make, resources and the need to balance commercial elements of fight, songs etc. This is why many are requesting the team to realease a dvd with director’s cut where Rajamouli could atleast verbalise all that he wanted to show in terms of the story.

    Ramayana is a fascinating epic and surely worth reading. Reading both Mahabharata and Ramayana is nearly mandatory to get a wholesome perspective on Dharma. Colloquially we actually say that, with respect to Dharma we should follow Rama’s deeds and Krishna’s words! Rama did not say much so it is through what he did we get to understand what Dharma is. Krishna’s words refers to the Geeta. So what the saying indirectly says is that not all of Krishna’s actions in the Mahabharata would qualify as Dharmic!

    More than Rama, I actually believe Ravana is the most relevant character for today’s generation as he is a go getter. He had to work extremely hard for each of his achievements and he went after success in everything unabashedly. He is referred to as Dasanan – one with ten heads not because he literally had ten heads but because this one man in one life time accomplished what would take ten men ten lifetimes to accomplish. He was that talented. As a sample, in Bahubali 1, when Shivudu carries the shiv ling, in the song that plays (in the hindi, telugu and malyalam versions), the sanskrit lyrics in that song are from Shiv Tanadava Stotram which is credited to have been written by Ravana. However, one moment of weakness, one moment of giving into his ego brought all that he worked for, all that he accomplished and his life crashing down. This is just one aspect of Ramayana I wanted to highlight there are many more layers to it. If you want more inspiration to read it then remember that the Ramayana captured the imagination of people in our part of the world so much so that it is part of folk art in Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Korea that still exists!!

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