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Chapter 45

The Pāṇḍavas Consult Kṛṣṇa

In Virata the Pāṇḍavas received the Kurus’ response: no lands or wealth would be returned. Dhṛtarāṣṭra was pleading for peace, but he wanted to keep his world sovereignty. Duryodhana was his usual obstinate and wrathful self.

Yudhiṣṭhira was not surprised. All that remained now was for Kṛṣṇa to go to Hastināpura, as He had promised. “The time has arrived for You to show Your friendship, O Lord.” Yudhiṣṭhira folded his hands as he addressed Kṛṣṇa. “It is known throughout the world that You are devoted to the welfare of Your friends. Depending upon You we have asked the Kurus to return our kingdom. I do not see anyone other than You who could get us through this difficulty. O Madhava, You are our only shelter.”

Kṛṣṇa was seated slightly lower than Yudhiṣṭhira on a gold throne decked with precious stones. His curling black hair fell around His smiling face. A diamond-encrusted crown shone from His head, and His brilliant, shark-shaped earrings flashed as He turned toward Yudhiṣṭhira. “Here I am,” He replied to the Pāṇḍava. “I am ready to do whatever you ask. What do you want to say?”

Yudhiṣṭhira was moved by Kṛṣṇa’s response. What had he and his brothers done to merit such support from Him? Here was the greatest of all personalities ready to carry their message and act as an envoy for peace. All five brothers gazed intently at Kṛṣṇa’s face and tears pricked their eyes.

“You have heard Sañjaya describe Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s mind and feelings, O Kṛṣṇa. He wants peace without giving us what is ours. That covetous man, partial to his own sons, has a sinful heart. We lived for twelve years in the forest and, at his command, a further miserable year in this kingdom. The Brahmins know that we were true to our promise, but he has reneged on his agreement. Following his foolish son’s advice, he desires to follow a deceitful course. He will not even grant us five villages. He thinks he owns the world. He has no shame. Because of his greed we have been reduced to poverty and are unable to perform our kṣatriya duties. Without wealth it is difficult for us to acquire virtue. Asceticism and begging are not a kṣatriya’s duty, O Kṛṣṇa. We are meant to rule over people and to maintain large treasuries in order to support Brahmins and the needy. Alas, what greater misery is there than for a prosperous man to lose his wealth? Death would be better.”

Yudhiṣṭhira looked at his brothers, who sat in silent agreement. At his command they would have accepted even a village each, but Dhṛtarāṣṭra wanted them to remain beggars. The old monarch’s suggestion was outrageous. It was unthinkable for a powerful kṣatriya to beg. Even their having to beseech the Kurus for their own kingdom was painful and humiliating.

Yudhiṣṭhira continued, “Although it would be a vicious act to take back our kingdom by slaying our relatives, I cannot see any other course. Fighting when the proper time comes is the hard duty of kṣatriyas, but war means suffering for all. Even if we win we will suffer repentance and grieve the death of our relatives and friends. If we lose we will suffer extinction. Yet without a kingdom we are as good as dead. Therefore I ask Dhṛtarāṣṭra to peacefully return to us what is already ours. Failing this, then war is the righteous course of action for us, even though it be fraught with misery.”

Yudhiṣṭhira did not relish the prospect of a war with his elders. According to sacred texts, one should always acquiesce to his superiors in an argument. He asked Kṛṣṇa to clear his doubts. “What is Your opinion, O Keśava? What is the path of virtue that I should now tread? Is it right for us to fight with Dhṛtarāṣṭra and his followers? I doubt he will accept any peaceful approach because he is too attached to his sons. He will simply laugh at our respectful submission.”

“O Dharmarāja, whether or not to fight is not your choice. Rather, the choice belongs to Dhṛtarāṣṭra. For the good of you both I will go there and sue for peace. If peace can be achieved, then I will have done something virtuous and the Kuru and Pāṇḍava armies will be freed from the death trap.”

Yudhiṣṭhira looked doubtful. “It is not my wish that You go to the Kurus, O Kṛṣṇa. Even if You address Duryodhana in a friendly way, he will not listen to You. I am sure he will try to harm You in some way. What will be the use of any of this if some harm befalls You?”

Kṛṣṇa laughed. “I know Duryodhana’s vicious nature, but by going to the Kurus and trying for peace, we will not be censured. No one will be able to say that we did not do everything in our power to avoid war. Do not be afraid for Me. All the earth’s rulers united could not stand before Me in battle when I am angry. If the Kurus insult Me when I desire their good, then I shall consume them.”

“As You wish, O Kṛṣṇa,” Yudhiṣṭhira acceded. “Go to Hastināpura. May all good come from it and may we see You returned in good health with Your object achieved. You are as dear a friend to me as to Arjuna. Relying on Your friendship I am not anxious. You should speak to Duryodhana in a way which will secure peace, even if it means we have to sacrifice virtue. I will accept less than my rightful share, or even play another game of dice if necessary, if war can be averted.”

Yudhiṣṭhira was confident that he would not lose another dice game, having learned the secrets of the game from Vṛṣaparvā in the forest. He was also alluding to the fact that he would peacefully accept just five villages. He was prepared to make any personal sacrifice in order to avoid fighting his relatives and teachers. Yudhiṣṭhira was even beginning to wonder if it may not be better to simply let the Kauravas keep the kingdom. Perhaps he could stay with his brothers in a country belonging to their allies. He was certain both Kṛṣṇa and Drupada would be happy to give them some territory to rule.

Kṛṣṇa’s face assumed a grave expression. “I know well both your intentions and Duryodhana’s intentions. Although you would prefer peace by any means, it is not a kṣatriya’s duty to avoid a righteous fight. Rather, the creator has ordained that a kṣatriya must meet victory or death. He cannot gain his livelihood by gentleness--begging or gathering fruits and roots in the forest. When the time comes, he must show his power rather than retiring in a spirit of humility.”

Yudhiṣṭhira was almost too humble. Kṛṣṇa knew that Duryodhana would only take advantage of his mildness and tolerance if he displayed it. The language of strength and threats was the only way to sway the Kaurava from his sinful aims. It would benefit no one if Duryodhana was allowed to get away with his cruelty and deceit. The world would be deprived of its most virtuous ruler and would be led instead by a man given over to selfishness. Kṛṣṇa reminded Yudhiṣṭhira of the many insults the Kurus had offered the Pāṇḍavas.

“Duryodhana has shown no remorse or shame for having sent you to the forest clad in deerskins. Indeed, he and his brothers spoke harshly at the time. The elder Kurus simply watched as you were cheated of your kingdom in the dice game. Then the evil-minded Dushashana dragged the weeping Draupadī by her hair into the assembly hall.”

Kṛṣṇa’s eyes blazed as he recalled Draupadī’s violation. His stern voice echoed through the hall. “All the kings present shed tears and censured Duryodhana but did nothing. For that act alone he is fit to be killed by anyone, what to speak of yourself. He is blamed and condemned by the Brahmins and all virtuous men. Thus he is as good as dead already. Just as there is no sin attached to killing a serpent, so there is no sin attached to killing him. Those who would follow him into battle also deserve death for supporting one so wicked.”

Kṛṣṇa paused. Yudhiṣṭhira had rarely seen Him so angry. What hope was there for the Kauravas when they had incited Kṛṣṇa to such fury? He seemed about to consume the entire cosmos by His mere glance. Yudhiṣṭhira saw Him looking over at Draupadī, who had been moved to anger as He recalled Dushashana’s terrible act. Tears dropped from her eyes and she breathed heavily as Kṛṣṇa went on speaking.

“By going to Hastināpura I will remove all doubts. Everyone will see your good-heartedness and Duryodhana’s sinfulness. I will remind the Kauravas of all the evils they have perpetrated against you. None shall call you sinful, for you ask for peace. The world will blame the Kurus, headed by Dhṛtarāṣṭra. I will ask for peace without sacrificing your interests, O ruler of men. Hearing their reply and understanding their intentions, I will then return.”

Kṛṣṇa looked around the room. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on Him as He turned back to Yudhiṣṭhira and solemnly concluded His speech. “Know that war will certainly result. Duryodhana will not return to you any portion of your prosperous territories. It shall only remain for you to kill he who has already been killed by his own sins. And I shall assist you.”

Yudhiṣṭhira accepted Kṛṣṇa’s speech. He knew that Kṛṣṇa’s acts were always meant for the good of all beings. If He deemed war as necessary, then it could not be avoided--even if it meant killing the esteemed Kuru elders.

Kṛṣṇa wanted to hear from all of the Pāṇḍavas before He left. He looked across at Bhīma. Realizing Kṛṣṇa’s desire, Bhīma said, “I think You should say whatever You can to achieve peace, O Madhusudana.” His voice was amazingly impassive. “But please be careful. Duryodhana is resentful, wrathful, arrogant, and unable to hear good advice. Do not address him in harsh words or he will react violently. Treat him with courtesy. It will be difficult to effect peace, but please try Your best. Still, I foresee the imminent destruction of the Kurus. Even as Kali was born among the Asuras, so has this wicked Duryodhana taken birth among the Kurus. Try to assuage him with mild words, O Kṛṣṇa, or our race will be extinguished. Let there be peace among us, let us avoid the sin of annihilating our relatives, and let us live together as brothers.”

Kṛṣṇa was surprised. Glancing at Yudhiṣṭhira and Arjuna He began to laugh. “O Bhīmasena, your words are like coldness in fire or lightness in the earth.”

Bhīma frowned as Kṛṣṇa went on, “What has brought about this change of heart? Until now you have spoken only words indicative of war. You have spent entire nights sitting with your face bent downwards, breathing hot sighs. Running about and beating the earth, you sometimes appear insane. You spend your time in solitude and nothing can give you delight. Suddenly you will laugh out loud and at other times weep profusely. For long periods you sit with your head between your knees with your eyes closed. All this is the work of wrath. O Bhīma, you have sworn to kill Duryodhana and all his brothers. Why this sudden display of mildness?”

Kṛṣṇa smiled. “Alas, it seems that even the powerful are struck by terror when the time for battle arrives. Surely you are seeing unfavorable omens and so you desire peace. Seized by fear you have become like a eunuch, devoid of manliness. O son of Kuntī, the minds of men are inconstant and easily swayed, like saplings moved by the wind. O hero, be firm. Do not give way to fear. I am totally amazed to see you in this state. Without you, your brothers will sink in an ocean of despair. Think of your noble lineage. You are a kṣatriya and meant to live by your might. This weakness of heart is unbecoming, O Bhīma.”

Like a first-class horse prodded by its rider, Bhīma quickly stood and said loudly, “Do not think my mind has been swayed, O Kṛṣṇa. I am cheerful at the prospect of war. You know this well enough as we have lived together many times. Or perhaps You do not know me, as one swimming in a lake does not know its depths. Thus do You find fault with me. Who, knowing me as Bhīmasena, could possibly have spoken such words? Although it is always condemned to praise oneself, I shall speak of my prowess in order to ease Your mind.”

Bhīma held out his arms, which resembled a pair of elephant trunks. “Who is there who having once entered within the circle of these arms could escape? Even if he were assisted by Indra, the ocean, and the Himavat in person, he would die. If the earth and heavens were to suddenly come against one another in fury like two great mountains, I could hold them apart with my two arms, along with all their movable and immovable creatures. All those who oppose the Pāṇḍavas I will trample under my feet. O Achyuta, although You do not know me now, You will surely know me in the turmoil of battle. Your words pain me like the lancing of an old boil. My strength is even greater than I have described. When the time comes, You and the world will see me cutting down the foremost warriors with their elephants, horses and chariots. I would not be afraid even if the three worlds rushed against me. I spoke only out of mercy, O Kṛṣṇa, and could bear any sort of trouble to avoid annihilating the Bharatas.”

Kṛṣṇa smiled broadly as Bhīma returned to his seat. “Desiring to know your intentions, I spoke only out of affection. I was not finding fault with you because I know you are capable of all you have said and more. I know the greatness of your soul and the strength you possess. My words were only meant to inspire you to be determined. Firm action will soon be required. Without action a man cannot achieve his ends in this world. Although it is the ultimate cause, destiny alone is not sufficient. One who acts with full knowledge of cause and effect, without attachment to the results, can bring about his highest goals. Those who remain idle, either out of ignorance or fear, do not achieve success.”

Kṛṣṇa turned toward Arjuna. “What is your view, O Dhanañjaya? I shall leave at dawn for Hastināpura. Do you have any final thoughts?”

Arjuna had been silently taking everything in. He looked around the great hall. The many kings and Brahmins present looked back at him as he began to speak.

“I think Yudhiṣṭhira has said all that needs to be said, O Janārdana. But it seems to me that You do not see peace as being easily obtained, owing to either Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s avarice or to our weakness. You consider too that man’s desires are useless unless attended by action--that one should not simply depend on destiny.”

Having stated his understanding of Kṛṣṇa’s speech, Arjuna gave his response. “I am in agreement. In my opinion, O Keśava, there is nothing unattainable to one who acts in knowledge. I know You to be the best well-wisher of both ourselves and the Kurus. Whatever You decide to do I will accept. If peace is desired by You, then it shall be so; and if You desire war, then I am ready to fight.”

Arjuna paused. His hand rested on the long sword by his side. Surely he had been born only to wield weapons in combat. He could not honestly see any chance of peace, even with Kṛṣṇa going to Hastināpura. Despite His power, Kṛṣṇa never compelled others to act against their own desires. He would offer them wisdom, present logic and reason, but in the end everything would depend upon Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Duryodhana’s free will. There was nothing to indicate that they would respond favorably. In all probability Kṛṣṇa would return insulted.

Arjuna’s voice rose in anger as he thought about it. “Without doubt the evil-minded Duryodhana deserves to die. He and his brothers cruelly and deceitfully robbed us of our kingdom and insulted the innocent Draupadī. I cannot see him accepting any good counsel. Your words will be like throwing seeds on barren land. If You think he should be destroyed, then do it at once, O Lord, for there is nothing to be considered in this matter. Otherwise, let their be battle! What kṣatriya would turn away from such a fight, even if death stares down upon him?”

Kṛṣṇa nodded slowly. “It is exactly as you say, Arjuna. Peace and war both lie in My hands, but I will not force either. Even the divine agency which causes the results of actions allows men their free choice. Every man must accept the consequences of his own actions. Blinded by attachment, men do not see the final results of their acts, but the divine power always brings about those results. I will convey in full Yudhiṣṭhira’s message to the Kurus. As you say, Arjuna, Yudhiṣṭhira has already said everything that should be said. Duryodhana is likely to be too vicious to accept My advice. He is unable to part with even a tiny piece of land for a brief period. Thus there will be war. You will be required to fight, Bhibatsu. Fix your mind on battle, for whomever you determine to defeat is already vanquished. For My part, I desire to do whatever is good for Dharmarāja. I will always follow the instructions of that pious king, and I will also duly consider Duryodhana’s wicked acts.”

Kṛṣṇa turned toward the twins. Both of them expressed their willingness for battle. Sātyaki also spoke of his determination to fight. There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that war was unavoidable. Duryodhana would simply laugh at Kṛṣṇa.

Draupadī was also seated in the assembly. The talk of peace had alarmed her. For thirteen long years she had waited for the time when Duryodhana and his brothers would receive justice. She wanted the battle to begin at once. Kṛṣṇa’s final peace mission worried her. What if He succeeded? It seemed her husbands--even Bhīma--were ready to accept peace if Kṛṣṇa could somehow secure it without sacrificing their interests. How, then, would she be avenged for her suffering at the Kauravas’ hands? How would her defiled honor be restored? She addressed Kṛṣṇa with anguish in her voice.

“O Achyuta, why are You going to Hastināpura? What do You hope to achieve? Has Duryodhana not made it clear that he will never return Yudhiṣṭhira’s kingdom? Yudhiṣṭhira asked for five small villages, and still the evil one would not agree. Not by peaceful means nor by surrender will we attain our ends. Only by battle will we recover our kingdom. I cannot see any point in Your going there, O Kṛṣṇa, unless it is to annihilate those sinful men. You should not show mercy at this time. It is said that the sin of killing an innocent man accrues to a ruler who fails to kill one who is guilty. Do not let Yourself be touched by sin, O Janārdana.”

Draupadī reminded Kṛṣṇa of the pain she felt in the Kurus’ assembly hall. Her voice was choked. “Shame to Arjuna’s skill in archery, and shame to Bhīma’s strength that Duryodhana still lives for even a moment longer. O Lord, if I am fit to be favored by You, if You feel mercy toward me, then direct the full force of Your wrath on Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons.”

Draupadī rose up from her seat behind the Pāṇḍavas. Taking hold of her ringlets of deep blue hair, she approached Kṛṣṇa. “O lotus-eyed one, this is the hair that Dushashana seized. If Bhīma and Arjuna are so mean as to desire peace, then my old father and his sons will fight for my virtue. So too will my heroic sons, with Abhimanyu at their head, come to avenge me. If I do not see Dushashana’s hand torn from his body, then how can I ever experience peace? For thirteen years my mind has been ablaze with thoughts of revenge. My heart has been rent asunder upon seeing Bhīma inclined toward mildness.”

Draupadī stopped speaking. Hot tears fell on her breasts and she covered her face with her delicate hands. Kṛṣṇa consoled her gently. “Before long, Pāñcālī, you will see the Kauravas’ wives weep as you weep now. Those with whom you are angry are already destroyed along with all their kinsmen and followers. The gods have ordained it. Bhīma, Arjuna, the twins, Yudhiṣṭhira and I will kill them. Do not doubt this. If Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons do not heed My advice, they shall lie upon the bare earth, their bodies food for dogs and jackals. O gentle lady, stop crying. You will soon see your husbands regain their kingdom after killing their enemies.”

Draupadī was pacified by Kṛṣṇa’s words. There was nothing left to be said. It was late afternoon and Yudhiṣṭhira adjourned the assembly. Kṛṣṇa would leave early the next morning. He rose and bowed to Yudhiṣṭhira, leaving the hall like the sun going behind a cloud. The Pāṇḍavas followed Him and gradually the others dispersed, all reflecting upon Kṛṣṇa’s momentous words.