The Reign of Deceit’s: A Retrospection of The Real Antagonist

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The Reign of Deceit’s: A Retrospection of the Real Antagonist

published in Vol.II, Issue.XX, September 2016

Introduction to the Authors:

Both the co-authors of the paper, Parvathy and Kiran, are the students of MA in English, 5th Semester in Amrita University, Kochi.


Welcome, thou kind deceiver! Thou best of thieves! Who, with an easy key, Dost open life, an, unperceived by us, Even steal us from ourselves.                                                            John Dryden

The vileness of the deceivers has been portrayed to possess the power of a class higher than those held by the antagonists in literature since time immemorial. This paper endeavors to find the zeal such characters possess and how they cause the birth of the actual antagonist analyzing the roles played by Manthara and Shakuni from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata respectively. The power withheld by the deceivers and how they trifle with the best intentions of the people while they themselves remain under the shadow of the antagonist is also presented.



Epics were always adorned with the glory of the heroes stampeding the vileness of the ‘so-called’ villains. People since time immemorial had continued to worship and praise the heroics of the protagonists. But recently many studies and writings have come up narrating the story through the villains’ point of view. In the course of the list of sins hammered down upon the antagonist though it may be the version of the protagonist, it can be seen that the people who influence the factor of sin is often missing the arena. The actual people responsible for the countless wars fought and the crux of the story becomes just a character in the background and fades away in the shadow of the antagonist’s glory. Their own story of revenge or just the glitch in their making is played sideways when they become the only reason the story moves forward in the first place. The stories of such deceivers have traveled past the eons of time, beginning from the eternal story of Eden where Satan the immortal deceiver caused the fall of man. The many religious texts offering advices and codes of living, therefore, makes up the story of deceivers weaving them intricately such that every such holy book is interconnected and provides the same value and warning under different titles.

Ramayana and Mahabharata, the epics from Indian culture comprise the innumerable sub-themes in addition to the storyline of the protagonist and his exotic victory. The character of Shakuni from the epic Mahabharata seems to have a background of his own where he is pledged to destroy a family. The concept is about the deceiver offering false perceptions which seem true and which creates the hallucination that the stated idea is a fact. A deceiver can make what is true to appear false and also keep the person from the truth by disabling the faculty of judgment, rendering the person to be cognitively enfeebled enough to not arrive at a judgment even in the presence of evidence. A deceiver can withhold information and thereby make a conclusion which is false, a conclusion which would not have been drawn in the presence of the information as a whole.

One among the many talents of the deceiver is seen to be their ardent devotions to the antagonist that makes them leap into conclusions from the bits and pieces of tales told by these master brains. This is done by making the person take scant evidences and inflating it in their minds to create a disastrous pseudo-knowing state of being. Such a person can lure a person into ignoring evidences and misusing the power withheld to cause egged upon culminating acts. In the Indian mythology, the everlasting epic Ramayana pictures a deformed lady under the name of Manthara who becomes the reason of the entire plot to be playing the role of the deceiver. Here it is understood that a deceiver to the society is often always deceived himself/herself. The biased opinion she has about the world around her, which knowingly or unknowingly imbalances her current state of security, forces her to take a stand and misuse the trust placed upon her to be cruel and selfish. The selfishness portrayed is also seen to be a selfless mode of service towards her mistress. In such a way, the characters of Manthara and Shakuni, from the two epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, displays a characteristically big cleavage between the forms of deceit.


Shakuni –the Fickle-Fingered Nemesis

The character of Shakuni is one of a master gambler whose subtle fingers change the course of the story in the epic Mahabharata. He is the driving force who steered the royal power which was till date in the hands of Duryodhana, according to his own whims. The story develops with a traditional aspect of the Indian culture that demands a woman to marry an inanimate object if she is a manglik. It is believed that the marriage between a manglik and a non-manglik would give rise to disastrous effects, failure of the marriage or even death of one partner. A manglik marrying another manglik however would cancel out the ill- effects arising out of marriage. There is yet another belief that the negative consequences of a single manglik marriage can be resolved by conducting a ceremony called ‘Kumbh vivaah”, that is getting the manglik ‘married’ to a banana tree, a peepal tree, a silver or gold idol of Lord Vishnu or, rarely to a sacrificial animal. Legend has it that Gandhari was first married off to a goat, before being married to Dhritarashtra, the blind prince of Hastinapur. He was a non-manglik and hence, her family believed that it would be safe to give her away in marriage to Dhritarashtra, once they sacrificed the goat after getting them married, Dhritarashtra heard of this incident much after their marriage and was enraged, as her secret first marriage technically made him her second husband. As punishment, he decided to put Gandhari’s family in prison, including King Subala. He decided to gradually starve them to death and so, each of them was given only one fistful of rice to eat every day. Knowing that they would not live long on this diet, Gandhari’s father asked his youngest son, Shakuni, to consume all the food given to them, so that at least he would survive to avenge their death. In order to make sure that he would forever remember to take revenge, his father twisted his leg – that gave him the permanent limp that typically characterizes Shakuni. The vengeance that takes birth in his heart and is transformed into words and an oath finally can be seen to be the reason for the destruction of the whole clan whom he is against. In the pact of fulfilling vengeance, the factor that Shakuni seems to look over is the fact that he not just focuses on the actual villain of the scene but intently destroys the whole clan comprising of the villain-Dhritharashtra, his family along with his brother’s family who has long been righteous and unembellished. The plan he worked out was foolproof and gave him immense opportunities of survival since he instead of declaring open war declared a quest of love and brotherhood. In his quest for revenge, he picked at the weaknesses and the force of addiction that power offered the challenged. He formulated a single plan in which his hands would remain clean when the entire Kuru clan would battle against each other in a deadly war. He had been granted the price of freedom and he had chosen to follow the course of death waging a battle that is already pre-destined to be a suicide mission. The only weapon he carried into the arena was his silver-forked tongue and a pair of magical dice but the destruction he created was in the form of the eternally remembered battle of Kurukshetra

Manthara – from Parlance to Providence

Depicted much like the character of Shakuni, though the deformity is transformed into a hunchback and a wicked tongue, she entirely steers the plot of the epic into a world of demons and despair. According to Valmiki Ramayana, the character Manthara had faced atrocities herself since she was the slave who was sent off with Queen Kaikeyi, King Dasharath’s second wife, as her dowry. This factor is found to transform the deformed lady as she now is the property of her mistress and quickly lapses into the service of this young woman. In spite of her deformity and her antagonistic role, she is extremely devoted to her mistress though this aspect is to be taken literally as in she “only” cares for her mistress and her priorities. The factors that Kaikeyi is equally fond of Rama is despised by her and found irrelevant and impeccable. The announcement of the coronation ceremony for Rama throws Manthara off balance, she rushes off to warn Kaikeyi who innocently rewards her for the good news she had brought. Manthara rebukes Kaikeyi for her foolish behavior and tries to show Kaikeyi the “reality”. The stated reality is an embellished lie according to which Rama’s coronation would transform Kaikeyi into a servant. Kaikeyi sees through this pretty quickly and abides by the instructions given to her by her faithful maid. Manthara advices Kaikeyi to send Rama in exile for 14 years and instead coronate her son Bharata. It is rumored in the many versions of Ramayana that “vikatasaraswati” had played a trick on Manthara’s tongue which would supposedly mean her mind which resulted in all the events that followed. On Bharata’s return to the kingdom, he develops a hatred for his own mother since Rama has left with one of his brothers and his wife. The events that followed Rama in his exile are his wife being kidnapped and even his own father’s untimely death. Though Manthara’s deception was to secure her mistresses life and through it her own, she ended up created a chain of events that destroyed a cluster of human lives.

The Arcane Enigma

The lifestyles of Shakuni and Manthara is to be analyzed so as to get a clear cut idea to the point why Shakuni was given a justification for the crimes whereas Manthara had not a speck of idea why she was doing what she did. In her eyes, she laid excuses which revolved around protecting her queen. This outcome when scrutinized can point out to the factor of Manthara’s lack of knowledge about the world. Being a slave she is not considered adept enough to handle a past of her own through which she can work a plan of revenge. Kaikeyi is just as much subjected to criticism for just willfully listening to an elder lady though she was her slave. Obeying the snide advices of Manthara, Kaikeyi falls into the trap and the acts she does for gaining a prominent position in life makes her lose the credibility she had even in her own sons’ mind.

We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves.

In the exceptional case of Shakuni, he becomes the obscure force that places the endless burden of sins on Duryodhana’s shoulders by being his guide who supposedly does everything out of love for him. This is the second set of deceptive skills that advice with humility for pseudo-fear of being run over by his nephew. He creates an egoistic image in Duryodhana by making him adhere unknowingly to Shakuni’s flippant fancies. Never once in the whole epic do they understand the mastermind behind the symbolic war that was fought inside the family which stretched across their whole kingdom. The different forms of humility are portrayed in the epic out of which Shakuni’s is the most dangerous and the only one filled with pretentious love along with the ability to veil his vileness.

Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility

Jane Austen.


The destruction of a clan is easily achieved by the character Shakuni through deceits where he makes them fight among themselves. Shakuni had his reasons; valid enough for revenge, but the way he chose was not right. Deception is symbolized as the act of Satan, his secret and the most powerful weapon. Choosing that way, though it is for justice, is wrong. Even lord Krishna was rebuked for his deceptive methods though his aim too was world peace. The difference is that lord’s motive was world peace but Shakuni’s was personal peace/revenge. The point to be scrutinized is that when such characters took the epic into their hands for either personal revenge or for concepts of misconception, the completely provide a different shade for the antagonist who might have turned good had they not existed. False advices and guidance have often made the antagonists what they are and it might not have been their fault. When the society marks a person to be the villain what goes unnoticed is why they became so and how they never thought of changing. In every story, if we search through there are people hidden behind the real villains. Though we call the one opposite to the hero the villain it is actually these kinds of characters who change the course of the story.

 It is to our own detriment that we underestimate the might of small and simple things.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich


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