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Chapter 16

Mighty Jarāsandha

After leaving Indraprastha, Kṛṣṇa had traveled quickly back to Dwārakā. As He entered the city He was greeted by His relatives, friends, and countless citizens. After approaching King Ugrasena to offer respects, Kṛṣṇa saluted Balarāma and then went to see His wives and sons. Finally He entered the palace of His principal queen, Rukmīṇī, to rest.

During the coming months He heard about the Pāṇḍavas’ incomparable assembly hall. He also heard that Subhadrā’s first son had been born, and that they had named him Abhimanyu. Kṛṣṇa was joyful to hear that the Pāṇḍavas were flourishing and He began to desire to see them again.

Each day Kṛṣṇa went to the Sudharmā assembly hall to meet with the citizens. Viśvakarmā, the architect of the gods, had constructed this hall, and it had the special quality of freeing those who entered it from the six kinds of material sufferings: hunger, thirst, lamentation, illusion, old age and death. When Kṛṣṇa entered the hall, He would bow before King Ugrasena, then take His seat on a bejeweled golden throne. Although not Dwārakā’s king, Kṛṣṇa was nevertheless respected as the most important person present. The city’s inhabitants understood His divine status. They regarded Him as their natural leader, especially after He had personally deposed the previous king, Kaṁsa, Ugrasena’s cruel son, and freed them from his reign of terror.

Once everyone was settled in the hall, jesters, dancers and musicians were called out to entertain the Yādavas. Brahmins recited Vedic texts or chanted hymns and prayers, and one could hear the sounds of mṛdaṅga drums, flutes and bells around the hall, as well as blasts from numerous conch shells. Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma enjoyed the various performances, and they resembled the sun and moon amid so many shining planets.

One day, soon after Kṛṣṇa had received news of the opening of the Mayasabha, a stranger arrived at the Sudharmā hall. Kṛṣṇa gave him permission to enter and he stepped forward with folded palms. The man introduced himself as a king from a distant territory--one that Jarāsandha had conquered. He explained how the Magadha king had become more and more aggressive, how he imprisoned the thousands of kings he conquered, and how he kept them in a wretched condition until he was ready to kill them. He had managed to escape and had come as a messenger on the other kings’ behalf.

“O Kṛṣṇa, O unlimited one. We beg You to deliver us from our miserable condition. Jarāsandha is as powerful as ten thousand elephants. He has therefore been able to imprison us just as a lion captures a flock of sheep. You are the most powerful person and are always kindly disposed to those who seek Your shelter. Therefore, please act for our good fortune.”

It was well known that Kṛṣṇa had fought and defeated Jarāsandha many times, but the evil monarch had somehow escaped with his life. Jarāsandha hated Kṛṣṇa for his killing of Kaṁsa, who was both Jarāsandha’s friend and his son-in-law. In an attempt to avenge Kaṁsa, Jarāsandha had marched against the Yadus again and again at the front of a vast army, but each time his army had been destroyed and he had returned in shame to his kingdom to rebuild his forces, still burning with hatred for Kṛṣṇa.

Kṛṣṇa looked compassionately at the messenger. As He was about to reply, Nārada Ṛṣi suddenly entered the hall. The sage came before Kṛṣṇa, who immediately rose with His ministers to offer His heartfelt obeisances.

Kṛṣṇa offered the sage a seat and personally worshipped him with arghya. He then said, “O sage among the gods, it is fortunate indeed that we see you here today. You are able to travel freely throughout the worlds and therefore you know everything. Please tell us how the Pāṇḍavas are faring at present and what are Yudhiṣṭhira’s plans?”

Kṛṣṇa’s question was significant. By His mystic power He understood that Yudhiṣṭhira was desiring to perform the Rājasūya sacrifice, which would entail his having to conquer Jarāsandha.

Nārada replied, “My dear Lord, I know that nothing is beyond Your knowledge, yet still You act like an ordinary man and question me. I can therefore tell You that Yudhiṣṭhira is as well established in his kingdom as Indra is in Amarāvatī. He now desires to perform the great Rājasūya sacrifice, and he is making the necessary preparations. Even now he is praying that You will go to Indraprastha and assist him. Indeed, he has asked me to come and invite You.”

Kṛṣṇa thanked Nārada for the information and turned to His chief advisor Uddhava. “What should be done?”

Uddhava replied, “It seems that You can achieve two things at once. By going to Indraprastha You will both enable Your cousin to perform the sacrifice and bring about Jarāsandha’s destruction. Jarāsandha has now amassed such a large army that the only way we can defeat him is in a one-on-one encounter. Only one person is capable of facing him in hand-to-hand combat: Bhīma. If Bhīma approaches Jarāsandha disguised as a Brahmin, then he can beg from him a fight. Jarāsandha is famous for never refusing a Brahmin’s request. My dear Kṛṣṇa, You should accompany Bhīma to Magadha. He will certainly be successful in the fight if You are there to guide him.”

The assembly voiced their approval. The Yadus had already been planning how to kill the belligerent Jarāsandha. This seemed like a good solution. Thus Kṛṣṇa agreed to go to Indraprastha. Reassuring the imprisoned kings’ messenger, He took permission from King Ugrasena and His father Vasudeva to depart, then rose and left the assembly.

Kṛṣṇa decided to travel in state with all His family members to Indraprastha, so He had arranged the Yadus in a long procession around Him. Amid the sounds of bugles, drums, trumpets and conch shells, the party left Dwārakā on thousands of golden chariots adorned with jewels, silks and flags. Soldiers armed with swords and lances and mounted upon great black horses protected them on all sides. The noble ladies proceeded in their palanquins; behind them, bulls, mules and asses carried supplies and paraphernalia for the long journey. Kṛṣṇa and Rukmīṇī traveled in the center of the procession on a chariot driven by Dāruka and Jaitra, His two personal servants.

The party passed through the provinces of Anartha, Sauvīra and Kurukṣetra. They crossed the rivers Drishadvati and Sarasvatī and then passed through the districts of Pañchāla and Matsya. Finally they arrived at the outskirts of Indraprastha and sent an advance party to inform the Pāṇḍavas that they would soon arrive.

When Yudhiṣṭhira heard that Kṛṣṇa had arrived, he cried out in joy. Along with his brothers he immediately ran out of the city to greet Him. He ordered the royal musicians to play and learned Brahmins to recite sacred hymns from the Vedas. The Pāṇḍavas then embraced Kṛṣṇa with affection and led Him into Indraprastha. Kṛṣṇa saw that the city was festively decorated with festoons, streamers and colorful garlands. Thousands of citizens crowded in the streets as He passed by with the Pāṇḍavas on His way to their palace. The procession of Yādavas following Him moved with difficulty through the thick crowds. They were all led to the royal quarters by Indraprastha’s chief citizens and leaders.

After Kṛṣṇa had rested and refreshed Himself, and His family had been settled, Yudhiṣṭhira approached Him to discuss the Rājasūya. “My dear Kṛṣṇa, I desire to perform this sacrifice but I wonder if I shall be successful. Please tell me what is best for me. I know You will never speak out of any motive other than for my welfare. Therefore I shall depend entirely upon Your words in deciding my course of action.”

Yudhiṣṭhira sat in his hall surrounded by his brothers. An iridescent glow from the thousands of celestial gems set in the walls lit up their faces as they looked at Kṛṣṇa, awaiting His advice. In the expectant silence of the hall the soft murmur of Brahmins chanting hymns could be heard drifting in from nearby temples.

Kṛṣṇa sat peacefully with His hands in His lap. Maidservants adorned with bright gold ornaments fanned Him gently with cāmaras and fans made of peacock feathers. Turning to Yudhiṣṭhira, He said, “You are fit in every way to perform the Rājasūya sacrifice and become the world emperor, but You will first have to overthrow the powerful Jarāsandha, who has formed a near invincible alliance with numerous other monarchs. He has extended his influence and control throughout the middle portion of the earth and has designs on the rest. He is the biggest stumbling block to your plans.”

Kṛṣṇa then listed the names of the many kings subservient to Jarāsandha. All were Kṛṣṇa’s enemies, and many of them had been defeated by Him and Balarāma in various battles over the years. Now they had come together under Jarāsandha’s leadership. With these kings united, their armies would be impossible to defeat. “What then do you think should be done, O descendent of Kuru? How will you overpower Jarāsandha?”

Bhīma leapt to his feet. “It would not be wise to send out an army to oppose Jarāsandha in his own province. We should challenge him to single combat. I have the strength to defeat him, and You, Kṛṣṇa, are expert in policy. Arjuna always brings victory. Therefore let us three go to Magadha and challenge him. I am confident of success.”

Kṛṣṇa replied, “This is My thought also. Indeed, the wise Uddhava advised Me in the same way. I for one am prepared to accompany Bhīma and Arjuna to Magadha to bring about the sinful Jarāsandha’s death.”

Yudhiṣṭhira was uncertain. He moved uneasily on his throne. “How can I allow You to go on my behalf?” he asked. “How too can I risk the lives of Bhīma and Arjuna? They are my eyes and You are my mind, O Kṛṣṇa. Bereft of any of you I could not possibly continue to live. Do not go. I think that even Yamarāja would not be able to face Jarāsandha. Pray desist from this determination to fight with him. I shall give up my desire to perform the Rājasūya. It seems an impossible goal.”

Yudhiṣṭhira’s voice was pleading. His love for Kṛṣṇa overpowered any thought of Kṛṣṇa’s divinity and unassailable position.

Arjuna then spoke. “We are born in a race famous for its valor and prowess. How can we, like weak men, shrink back in fear of an enemy? We are kṣatriyas. Our duty is to fight and--if necessary--lay down our lives in battle. There can be no higher act for us than to fight Jarāsandha and try to rescue the imprisoned kings. If we do not go, men shall revile us as worthless. Such dishonor would be worse than death.”

Kṛṣṇa agreed. “Arjuna has shown the mood of one born in the Bharata race. We do not know when death will overtake us, nor have we heard that immortality has been obtained by desisting from battle. The wise have decreed that one should, by taking recourse in strength and policy, confront his enemies. Let us therefore encounter Jarāsandha. Either we shall kill him or, being ourselves killed, ascend to heaven.”

Yudhiṣṭhira then became curious to know more of Jarāsandha’s history. Kṛṣṇa explained that he been born to King Bṛhadratha, a powerful ruler of Magadha, when a ṛṣi had blessed the king to attain a son. The ṛṣi had given Bṛhadratha a charmed mango to give to his senior queen, but the king divided it into two so that both his queens might conceive. Both wives then gave birth to only half a child. The sorrowing queens threw the two halves into the forest, where a Rākṣasa woman named Jara had picked them up. She put them together and the child suddenly came to life with a roar. Jara returned the baby to the king, who named him Jarāsandha, or “one who was joined by Jara.”

Kṛṣṇa added, “The time has now come to destroy this Jarāsandha. Without a doubt Bhīma will defeat him in single combat. Jarāsandha will not refuse to fight. Therefore, O King, grant us your permission to depart.”

Yudhiṣṭhira assented to Kṛṣṇa’s desire. “Seeing Your mind set upon this purpose, O Keśava, I consider Jarāsandha already killed and all the imprisoned kings released. You will certainly lead Bhīma and Arjuna to victory over that evil monarch. O Kṛṣṇa, what cannot be accomplished by one who has You as his guide?”

The three heroes decided to set off immediately. They dressed themselves as snatakas, students just finishing their education and seeking charity. Leaving Indraprastha they resembled the sun, the moon and the fire-god joined together. Their wrath toward Jarāsandha inflamed, their bodies appeared to blaze. When the people saw the three of them resolutely heading out, they considered Jarāsandha already killed.

They traveled east for many days. At last they came to the Goratha hill, from where they could see Jarāsandha’s capital, Girivraja. Sitting amid forest land, the city was beautiful with its lakes and grazing cattle. Fine mansions and palaces shone from the city center, and five large hills covered with blossoming trees surrounded it. Kṛṣṇa told the two Pāṇḍavas that this region had long ago been developed by Manu himself, the father of mankind.

The largest of the five hills, Chaityaka, protected the city’s main gate. The three heroes ascended this hill and began to tear down its peak with their bare hands. They hurled boulders and created a landslide. At the foot of the hill was a massive drum made from the skin of a Rākṣasa that Jarāsandha had slain. Having been struck once, the drum would vibrate for a full month, and Jarāsandha had it continually sounded to warn anyone who even thought of attacking the city. Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa smashed the drum to pieces.

Climbing down the hill they clambered over the wall surrounding the city to gain entrance. The guards stood back in surprise as the three apparent Brahmins made their unusual entrance. Bhīma led them along the streets toward the king’s palace. They saw numerous, attractive well-stocked shops. As they walked past the flower vendors, they snatched garlands and put them on. They strode into Jarāsandha’s palace and made their way to the central courtyard, where the king was performing a sacrifice.

Girivraja’s learned Brahmins had been witnessing fearful omens portending calamity. Thus they had advised the king to fast and to perform sacrifice to ward off evil. As Jarāsandha sat before the blazing fire, he saw three powerful men, dressed as snatakas and adorned with garlands, approaching him. Accepting them as Brahmins he immediately rose to greet them, saying, “You are welcome.”

Kṛṣṇa told the king that His two friends were observing a vow and would not speak until midnight. At that time, they would tell him the purpose of their visit. Kṛṣṇa knew that the king had himself made a vow that he would give to any Brahmin whatever he asked, even if he came at midnight. Jarāsandha had them quartered in his palace and said he would visit them at midnight.

That night, Jarāsandha entered their room and worshipped his three guests with proper ceremonies, offering them gifts of milk-bearing cows.

But his guests refused his worship and gifts. Kṛṣṇa said, “O King, we have come seeking a special kind of charity from you, who are famous for giving the Brahmins whatever they want. For a great man there is no charity that cannot be given. Even the body may be sacrificed for a proper cause. Therefore, please grant us our request.”

Jarāsandha looked at them closely. With their colorful robes and bright garlands they did not look like any Brahmins he had ever seen. But as they had come to him in that guise and were asking charity he could not refuse. He said, “I will give you whatever you may ask. However, you three do not appear to be Brahmins, dressed as you are and decorated with flowers. Your long arms, smeared with fragrant sandal paste, resemble tree trunks. Your hands carry scars from a bowstring. You tore down the peak of the Chaityaka hill and entered the city as enemies do, avoiding the gate. You have also refused my worship. Such behavior befits an enemy. I think you are kṣatriyas. Tell me honestly, for truth is the ornament even of kings.”

Kṛṣṇa returned the king’s icy stare with a smile. “Your observations are accurate. We are not Brahmins. The snataka vow may be followed by kṣatriyas as well as Brahmins. And you have surmised correctly that we are enemies. Thus we have entered your city violently and declined your worship. We have come to beg from you a duel.”

Jarāsandha was surprised. “I do not recall ever having done you any harm. Indeed, I am innocent of any crime. One who assails an innocent man receives sinful reactions which will send him to hell. I always observe the duties of my order, protecting the people and rendering them no harm. Why then do you see me as an enemy?”

Angry, Kṛṣṇa replied, “O King, we represent one who desires to uphold the dignity of a royal line and establish religion throughout the world. How do you consider yourself religious when you have imprisoned so many kings? You even intend to offer them as human sacrifices to Rudra. To treat these kings as if they were beasts--who could do such a thing except someone as sinful as yourself? You will certainly reap the results of your sinful acts, for the law of karma is infallible. Although you consider yourself without an equal, we will soon crush your pride. We wish to free the captive kings. Know Me to be Kṛṣṇa and these two to be Bhīma and Arjuna. Follow now your kṣatriya duty and fight with us today. Either free the kings or go to Yamarāja’s abode.”

Jarāsandha laughed. “I should have guessed. My old enemy Kṛṣṇa, come in disguise to try to kill me after failing so many times. What sin have I committed by capturing kings for Śiva’s pleasure? I defeated all of them fairly in battle. Therefore it is my prerogative to do with them whatever I please. I will not release them out of fear of You or these other two. I will fight, either by placing my troops in battle array, or by standing alone against the three of you. Or, if you prefer, I will fight whichever one of you most desires death at my hands.”

Kṛṣṇa looked at his two friends. “It is your choice, Jarāsandha. Select any one of us for single combat and let that settle our dispute.”

Jarāsandha preferred to fight with Bhīma. He considered Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna no match for his strength. Only Bhīma seemed powerful enough.

Bhīma smiled grimly and clenched his fists. He furrowed his brows and glared at Jarāsandha. They agreed to meet at sunrise and the king left to make preparations for the fight.

Jarāsandha had Brahmins utter auspicious Vedic hymns over him, and he smeared his body with sacred unguents that had been offered to the gods. He then placed his son upon the throne and bound his hair in a tight knot. Removing his royal robes, he donned only a loin cloth. As the sun rose he went out of the city along with Bhīma, for whom Kṛṣṇa had performed the propitiatory ceremonies to invoke the gods. The king had two massive clubs fetched from his armory. The two fighters took hold of the clubs and entered a large roped-off arena just outside the city gates. They appeared like two mighty lions staring at each other in fury. At a signal given by a Brahmin, they rushed at each other, shaking the earth with their steps.

The two powerful heroes roared as they came together. They each swung huge blows, creating fearful sounds and a shower of sparks as their maces met. Wheeling and dodging, they resembled two dancers on a stage. Onlookers were dazzled by their expertise with the club. They smashed one another with all their strength but neither gave way. Each was as powerful as ten thousand elephants and they merely laughed as the mace struck them. Soon both clubs were shattered and they threw them aside, continuing the fight with their bare hands.

They seized each other’s necks and dragged one another around the arena. Each looked for an opportunity to throw his opponent down. Bhīma grabbed his enemy and tried to crush him with his arms. Jarāsandha broke free and swung out his leg, trying to unbalance Bhīma. Sometimes they raised their arms, sometimes dropped them and sometimes held them close. Lifting their fists they aimed blows at particular parts of their opponent’s body, and then suddenly brought them down somewhere else. The arena resounded with their shouts and the sounds of their slaps and punches. Both were expert wrestlers, and again they exhibited many wonderful movements. They clasped each other’s arms and waists and pressed with great force. Roaring like clouds they fought relentlessly like a pair of maddened elephants.

By now a large crowd had formed around the arena. Citizens of every class came to see the fight, and they gasped in astonishment as the two men grappled. The sound coming from the arena resembled claps of thunder or a falling cliff. The earth shook violently as they rolled about, locked together. Neither showed any sign of fatigue as the fight continued throughout the day and up until sunset. As darkness fell, the fight was stopped until the next morning. Jarāsandha invited Bhīma and his two friends back to his palace and entertained them as honored guests. Even though they were enemies, Jarāsandha felt duty bound to respect them.

The next morning the fight resumed. Again it continued for the entire day without either fighter gaining an advantage. And as evening fell they again returned to the king’s palace.

The fight went on for twenty-eight days. Bhīma began to feel it would never end. There seemed to be no way to overpower Jarāsandha. The king too felt respect for his opponent. Jarāsandha had never before been equalled in single combat, but it appeared that the Pāṇḍava was invincible. On the twenty-eighth day, Kṛṣṇa considered how Bhīma might end the fight. Since Jarāsandha had been joined at birth by the Rākṣasī, Kṛṣṇa knew that he would be weak along that join. Bhīma should tear him in two. When Bhīma was able to see him, Kṛṣṇa picked up a twig and split it right down the middle. Bhīma took the hint. Finding an opportunity, he threw Jarāsandha to the ground and stood on one his legs. He then took hold of the other leg and pushed it forward. With a tremendous roar, he tore Jarāsandha in two from the anus to the head.

The king died with a scream that echoed throughout his entire city. The citizens were shocked by the cry and they rushed to see what had happened. They found Bhīma standing over the two halves of the slain monarch. As all the citizens cried out “Alas!” Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna came forward to embrace Bhīma. The three of them then went back to the city and ordered Jarāsandha’s son, Jayatsena, to release the imprisoned kings from the mountain fortress where they were held. The kings came down to the city and offered their respects and worship to Kṛṣṇa.

As Kṛṣṇa and the two Pāṇḍavas sat within Jarāsandha’s palace, all of the many thousands of captive kings bowed before them. On behalf of all of them one king addressed Kṛṣṇa, “My Lord, we can understand that our sufferings at Jarāsandha’s hands is the result of our own past sinful activities. We can now realize that Jarāsandha’s humiliation of us was actually providential, for it has forced us to give up our false prestige. We were proud of our strength and positions, and we simply engaged in fighting other kings for supremacy and wealth, thereby causing the death of so many people. Now we are in a helpless and wretched condition and can only depend upon You. This is our great fortune.”

Kṛṣṇa accepted their worship and arranged for them to be given food and clothing. He then told them to return to their kingdoms and accept Yudhiṣṭhira as the world’s emperor. Soon the Pāṇḍavas would perform the Rājasūya sacrifice, and they should all attend.

Jayatsena also agreed to accept Yudhiṣṭhira’s authority, and after being properly installed by Kṛṣṇa as the king of Magadha, he arranged transport back to Indraprastha for Kṛṣṇa and the Pāṇḍavas. Upon their arrival, Kṛṣṇa went to Yudhiṣṭhira and said, “O best of kings, by good fortune Jarāsandha has been killed and the imprisoned kings freed. Both Bhīma and Arjuna are unharmed.”

Yudhiṣṭhira joyfully embraced his two younger brothers and Kṛṣṇa. “By Your grace, dear Kṛṣṇa, anything can be achieved,” he said. “Indeed, it is only by Your power that anyone else can exhibit power. We are kings and rulers only as long as You permit; yet although You are the unlimited Supreme, devoid of mundane desire and hatred, You still appear as an ordinary human being.”

Kṛṣṇa smiled and asked Yudhiṣṭhira for permission to depart. Yudhiṣṭhira then set a date to begin the Rājasūya and Kṛṣṇa agreed to return at that time. First, however, the Pāṇḍavas would have to subjugate the other monarchs of the earth. Having bade farewell to Kuntī and Draupadī, Kṛṣṇa mounted His chariot and headed back to Dwārakā.

After Kṛṣṇa had departed, Arjuna said to Yudhiṣṭhira, “O King, I possess the Gāṇḍīva bow and inexhaustible quivers of arrows, as well as the prowess to use them in your service. I would like to go out and make the kings of the world pay you tribute. Allow me to go north and conquer all those kingdoms.”

Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “You have my permission, O Dhanañjaya. Leave on an auspicious day after gaining the Brahmins’ blessings. You will doubtlessly gain victory over all.”

Arjuna gathered a large number of troops and soon left for the north. Bhīma, surrounded by a similar number of men, went east, while Sahadeva went south and Nakula west.

Yudhiṣṭhira was thrilled at the prospect of soon being able to perform the Rājasūya. So many things would thus be achieved. His noble father would be raised to the highest heaven, the world would be placed firmly on the path of religion and, most of all, Kṛṣṇa would be honored above all others as the Supreme Person. Soon the king was consulting with Dhaumya and the other exalted Brahmins in his kingdom as to the preparations for the sacrifice, and Vyāsadeva arrived to further advise the king.