Sarala’ Nakula almost always remained in shadow, hardly ever came into lime light. He was noble and tried to live a life of virtue, was an accomplished warrior, although in the Kurukshetra War he didn’t do anything that was remarkable and memorable. He once held the earth on the tip of his spear so that the great naga, Vasuki, on whose head it rested, could participate in Yudhisthira’s rajaswiya jajna, but war is war; the battlefield is the place where reputation is made and war heroes are born. With Krishna of course it is different. How often in our puranic literature has withdrawal from the battlefield has been celebrated? And spoken of so endearingly? Nakula had a special gift, like his brother Sahadeva. He knew how to relate to animals, especially horses. But he suffers in comparison; how impressive is this knowledge in comparison with the knowledge of the past and the future! With Govinda it is different though. He related to the cows in our puranic literature as none else, mortal or immortal and this has been the theme of numerous beautiful and touching songs and stories in all our languages over centuries. Nakula was very handsome and was very proud of his looks. But his handsomeness didn’t make him special in Draupadi’s eyes. If he won other hearts, Sarala says nothing about it. He took particular care to look handsome and often indulged in eloquent self-praise about his handsomeness. For Yudhisthira, the man of dharma, all this constituted his single greatest moral flaw. Self-praise was sin in terms of the moral code of those days, but for Yudhisthira, self-praise in even thought was no less sinful.
There is no evidence in Sarala’s narrative to suggest that Kunti distinguished between her children and Madri’s children. She never forgot that they had lost their mother and she became mother to them. Of the five brothers she was particularly fond of Sahadeva, probably because he was the youngest. When she joined her brother-in-law Dhritarashtra and sister-in-law Gandhari for vanaprastha, she told Draupadi to take care of him, concerned that he was the one son of hers who needed to be taken care of when she was gone. Ironically, the distinction was made by Yudhisthira, who was affectionate and generous to all and had no favourites.
It was a very difficult situation. All his brothers were lying dead in front of him and Dharma in disguise offered to restore one of them to life. Who would he choose, he asked the eldest Pandava, whose wisdom and sense of discrimination had pleased him. Nakula, said the son of Dharma. But why Nakula? Since the eldest son of Kunti was alive, the eldest son of Madri should be alive too, was Yudhisthira’s answer. So pleased with his commitment to dharma was the god that he restored all his brothers to life. If Kunti- Madri or mother-younger mother distinction was made here in explicit terms for the first time in Sarala Mahabharata, it was only for reasons of dharma.
It was made again in the narrative, this time, ironically, by Nakula and there was no consideration of dharma here. And to my mind this is where this character’s individuality found its best expression. What he did was unpredictable. Krishna was going to king Duryodhana as Yudhisthira’s emissary to persuade him to choose peace over a fratricidal war; all he wanted from him was just one village for the Pandavas. Without telling him, Krishna decided to ask every Pandava brother and Draupadi and Kunti as well, about Yudhisthira’s peace initiative. One village would not be sufficient, said Bhima. He requested Krishna to ask for one village for himself. Arjuna did the same. Nakula said he wanted two, one for himself and one for Sahadeva. As his elder brother he was trying to take care of his younger brother’s interests; he wasn’t sure whether his brother would have the sense to ask a village for himself. His attitude to Sahadeva is reminiscent of Kunti’s towards him.
He told Krishna that so far everything had been fine, but who knew whether Kunti’s sons’ attitude would not change after the war was over and the Kauravas eliminated. Victory and prosperity changes people, the togetherness at the time of suffering is forgotten. After all, they were Madri’s sons, so he was worried that they might not share their prosperity with them. No one ever knew what he told Krishna.
Have no doubt about Nakula’s commitment to Yudhisthira. It was as strong as Bhima’s and Arjuna’s. As for Sahadeva, his story can wait for some other day. Only this much for now: he too was deeply committed to Yudhisthira, but if this commitment of his clashed with the cosmic design, about which he was aware, he would choose to work for the latter. Returning to Nakula, the poet does not blame him for his suspicion. He only shows that there was a distinct ordinariness to this character as well.
Sarala also shows how deeply ingrained in the children is the mother-younger mother distinction. Even in the most blessed of situations, it does not disappear. Only Rama, the noblest among gods, humans, and all the rest, was the exception. Nakula knew about what choice Yudhisthira had made when he had to decide which of his brothers he wanted restored to life. But that couldn’t reassure him. Or was he was apprehensive about how much control over his own brothers would Yudhisthira have after becoming king?