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Chapter 6

The Kauravas’ Hatred Grows

It was now time for the princes to leave Droṇa’s school. To complete their training they had to pay their guru’s fees by offering him dakṣiṇa. Traditionally, the dakṣiṇa was determined by the guru himself. Droṇa assembled the princes and said, “There is only one thing I want. You should take King Drupada prisoner. Then bring him before me as your captive.”

The princes replied, “So be it.” They knew of their guru’s enmity with the king. Drupada and Droṇa had lived together as children under the Ṛṣi Agniveśya. Drupada had promised that when he inherited his kingdom he would bestow half of it on his dear friend Droṇa. Later, when they had both grown to maturity, Droṇa went to Drupada and reminded him of their friendship and the promise. Seeing the poor Droṇa standing before him, Drupada had said, “O luckless Brahmin, how do you consider me as your friend now? Past friendships are meaningless. Only equals can be friends. I am a great king and you are an indigent Brahmin. Do not try to invoke a long-dead relationship.”

Drupada had then laughed at Droṇa and offered him a little charity. Deeply insulted, Droṇa had left Pañchāla, Drupada’s vast kingdom, his mind fixed on revenge. The time for that revenge had arrived. Droṇa looked about at his accomplished students and knew that Drupada would soon regret his arrogance.

The princes mounted their chariots and sped toward Pañchāla. Accompanied by a large force of horsemen, they soon arrived at Drupada’s capital, Kāmpilya. Duryodhana and his brothers vied with one another to lead the attack. They rushed toward the city gates with weapons raised. Sending up cries, they burst into Kāmpilya along its main highway while the terrified citizens hid in their houses.

Outside the city Droṇa waited with the Pāṇḍavas. Arjuna had suggested to his brothers that they not accompany the Kauravas. “They will not be able to overpower the mighty Drupada,” Arjuna had said. “We should make our attack after theirs has been repulsed.”

Drupada heard the attacking Kauravas crashing through his city and came straight out of his palace, mounted on his huge, white chariot. Roaring with joy at the chance for battle, he charged at the head of his army to defend the city. He showered his enemies with forceful arrows. His speed and lightness of motion were such that the Kauravas thought they were facing many Drupadas. He careered fearlessly in his chariot and entered into their midst, his bow constantly drawn to a circle and his searing shafts flying in all directions.

The Pañchālas sounded thousands of conches, trumpets and drums, creating a noise that sounded like the roar of a tremendous lion. Drupada struck the Kuru princes with his arrows and sent them reeling. Seeing their king in the forefront of battle, the citizens came out of their houses to hurl clubs, maces and other missiles at the Kurus. The princes were surrounded by thousands of assailants and they felt oppressed and overwhelmed. They fled howling from the city with the Pañchālas in pursuit.

The Pāṇḍavas laughed. Arjuna said scornfully to Yudhiṣṭhira, “Here come the proud Kauravas, put to flight by Drupada. They are strong in words only. It is time for us to fight. You stay here. I shall go with the others.”

Yudhiṣṭhira remained behind with Droṇa. His four brothers flew toward Kāmpilya. Bhīma bounded along with mace held aloft, while Arjuna raced behind him on a chariot with Nakula and Sahadeva on either side. The Pañchālas were waiting for them and had blocked the city gates with a row of elephants. Bhīma struck at them with his club. With their heads smashed and covered in blood, the elephants fell to the ground like cliffs broken off by thunderbolts. Bhīma spun like a furious tornado amid the Pañchāla warriors. Elephants, chariots and infantrymen fell in the thousands. The Pāṇḍavas drove the hostile force back as a herdsman drives cattle.

Arjuna, keen to please his preceptor, released volleys of arrows at the immense Pañchāla forces. His straight-flying shafts came in an endless stream and sped unerringly at the enemy warriors. Arjuna resembled the all-devouring fire that appears at the end of an aeon. Protected on either side by his two brothers, he felled thousands of fighters.

Drupada raced to the head of his troops and they rallied with lion-like roars. Led by their king, they mounted a powerful counterattack against the Pāṇḍavas. Arrows, darts, spears and clubs rained down on the four brothers. Arjuna repelled all their missiles with his arrows. The Pañchālas enraged him with their furious attack and fought with redoubled energy. His foes could not mark any interval between his pulling an arrow from his quiver and bending his bow to fire it. All they saw was a constant stream of shafts speeding toward them. The mighty Pañchāla warriors shouted praises at Arjuna for his prowess.

Along with his commander-in-chief Satyajit, Drupada personally rushed toward Arjuna. Like the king, Satyajit was a warrior capable of contending with thousands of other warriors at once. He struck Arjuna with a hundred fierce arrows and sent up a great roar. Not tolerating the attack, Arjuna pierced Satyajit with ten arrows and simultaneously cut his bow to pieces with three more shafts. Seeing this wonderful feat, the other warriors cheered. Satyajit grasped another bow and immediately pierced Arjuna’s steeds as well as his charioteer. Arjuna again split Satyajit’s bow, then killed his horses and smashed his chariot to pieces.

Drupada came quickly to his commander’s assistance. A powerful exchange of arrows and other missiles followed between the king and Arjuna. Gradually Arjuna overpowered Drupada. He shattered the king’s bow, tore off his armor, felled his flagstaff and killed his horses. Seeing Drupada confounded, Arjuna threw down his own bow and took up a huge scimitar. He leapt down from his chariot and jumped onto Drupada’s, seizing him and holding the sword to his throat.

Bhīma had meanwhile been wreaking havoc among Drupada’s troops. Arjuna shouted to him to withdraw. They had achieved their aim and captured Drupada. The troops saw their king’s plight and fled in fear. Arjuna then dragged Drupada onto his own chariot and rode back toward Droṇa.

When Droṇa saw the captive king, he smiled. “So, O mighty king, do you now desire to revive our old friendship? It seems that your kingdom and wealth have become mine.”

Drupada squirmed and blushed. He looked down as Droṇa continued, “You need not fear for your life for I am a Brahmin and it is my duty to be ever forgiving. Indeed, I have always cherished an affection for you since we were children.”

Droṇa then ordered Arjuna to release Drupada. The king listened in silence as Droṇa continued. “I still desire your friendship, Drupada, but how can one who is not a king be a king’s friend? Therefore I have decided to allow you to keep half your kingdom. I shall take the other half.”

Drupada was in no position to argue. He knew that Droṇa’s martial power far exceeded his own--especially as he now had the mighty Kurus as disciples. There would be no question of defeating him in battle. Drupada nodded in assent. “You are a truly noble soul to act in this way, Droṇa,” he replied, summoning all his patience. “Great personalities like yourself are always magnanimous. I, too, desire your friendship. Let us live peacefully, each ruling his own half of the Pañchāla kingdom.”

Drupada had Brahmins perform appropriate rituals and bestowed the northern half of his kingdom upon Droṇa, who then left with the Pāṇḍavas for Hastināpura. Drupada burned with humiliation. Somehow he had to avenge his honor. Absorbed in thought, the king returned to his palace.

As they returned to Hastināpura, Droṇa rode on Arjuna’s chariot and spoke to him affectionately. He loved this prince as dearly as his own son, and he knew there was nothing Arjuna would not do for him. Droṇa said, “O hero, you are now the best of all bowmen in this world. Although you have repaid me by defeating Drupada, I will ask one more thing from you as dakṣiṇa. You must fight with me when I come to fight with you.”

Arjuna was surprised. How could he ever fight with his teacher? Still, he replied without hesitating, “It shall be so. I am always your servant.”

The Kurus had heard of a wonderful occurrence in Mathurā, the city where Kuntī had been born. Kuntī had a brother named Vasudeva who had been imprisoned by the wicked King Kaṁsa. This powerful monarch had been viciously terrorizing Brahmins and other kings. Hearing a divine prophesy that Vasudeva’s eighth child would kill him, Kaṁsa imprisoned both Vasudeva and his wife Devakī. He then killed their first six children at birth. But somehow, despite Kaṁsa’s vigilance, the seventh and eighth children, Balarāma and Kṛṣṇa, had escaped death. By some mystical arrangement Kṛṣṇa had been carried away from Mathurā and raised in Vṛndāvana, a small village of cowherds, by its leader, Nanda. The great ṛṣis said that Kṛṣṇa was in fact the Supreme Lord and that it had been by his own divine arrangement he had gone to Vṛndāvana. The Kurus were amazed to hear from the sages that God himself had appeared in the neighboring kingdom of the Yadus.

When he became a youth, Kṛṣṇa had returned to Mathurā and killed Kaṁsa with his bare hands. This tremendous deed astonished all those who saw it and confirmed for them Kṛṣṇa’s divine identity. Kaṁsa had struck fear even into the gods’ hearts. There had been no earthly king capable of standing against him. But the young Kṛṣṇa, still only a boy, and His brother, Balarāma, had overpowered Kaṁsa’s troops and generals, finally killing the king along with his evil ministers. The two brothers then became chiefs of the Yadu dynasty. They maintained a friendship with the Kurus in Hastināpura, taking a special interest in the welfare of their Aunt Kuntī and her five fatherless sons.

Balarāma, also said by the ṛṣis to be a manifestation of the Supreme Godhead, became famous as a peerless mace fighter. At Droṇa’s request, he agreed to train Bhīma and Duryodhana in the skills of handling a mace. Thus Balarāma spent time in Hastināpura. While there, he learned of the fierce rivalry and envy the Kauravas felt toward their cousins. When Kṛṣṇa heard this, He became concerned for Kuntī and her sons. Therefore He asked one of his advisors, Akrūra, to visit Hastināpura and assess the situation, and to see if he could be of any help.

The Kurus received Akrūra in friendship. Kuntī was overjoyed to see him. She inquired about her kinsmen and friends in Mathurā. Kuntī especially wanted to know everything about Kṛṣṇa, whom she accepted as the Supreme Lord. “Does my nephew Kṛṣṇa think of me and my sons?” she asked. “Does he know how I am suffering in the midst of my enemies, like a doe in the midst of wolves?”

Akrūra asked her to tell him more about the situation in the city and she began explaining everything. Kuntī knew that Duryodhana and his brothers were always intriguing against her sons. The Kauravas could not tolerate the Pāṇḍavas’ superior prowess. The humiliation they had recently received at Kāmpilya had made them even more keen to dispose of Pāṇḍu’s sons. Kuntī spoke to Akrūra with tears in her eyes, “Will Kṛṣṇa come here to console me? I always pray to that all-powerful protector of the universe. Indeed, I see no other shelter for myself and my sons.”

Kuntī cried out to Kṣṇa in front of Akrūra. He gently reassured her that Kṛṣṇa was often speaking about her and had sent him to analyze the situation. Both Akrūra and Vidura comforted Kuntī and reminded her about her sons’ extraordinary birth. The Pāṇḍava boys were expansions of the gods. There was no way that the evil Kaurava princes could overcome them.

Akrūra remained in Hastināpura for several months. Then, when he felt he had understood the situation fully, he decided it was time to return to Mathurā. Before leaving, however, he met with Dhṛtarāṣṭra to offer some advice. Ultimately the blind king was responsible for his sons’ acts and he could certainly check their behavior if he chose. Akrūra said, “My dear King, you have obtained the throne only because your brother Pāṇḍu passed away prematurely. Therefore Pāṇḍu’s sons have first claim on the throne. You should not discriminate against them in favor of your own sons.”

Akrūra also advised Dhṛtarāṣṭra to rule the kingdom strictly according to moral principles. He should treat all his subjects equally, what to speak of the Pāṇḍavas, his own nephews and heirs to the throne. Over-attachment for one’s close relatives is simply born of ignorance. Every creature in the world is born alone and dies alone. He experiences the results of his own good and evil deeds and in the end leaves the present body to accept another. The belief that one person is the relation of another is nothing more than illusion.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra listened in silence as Akrūra spoke. He understood the implications of his words. Akrūra had made it clear that the Pāṇḍavas’ cause was righteous and that by opposing them he would reap only grief. Dhṛtarāṣṭra bowed his head as Akrūra concluded, “By favoring your own sons, O lord of the earth, you are acting out of ignorance. How then can you hope for any good result? Ignorance always leads to sorrow. Therefore, act virtuously and deal with Pāṇḍu’s sons as they rightfully deserve.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra sighed, “O wise one, your words are like the immortal nectar of the gods. I could go on hearing them forever. You have surely spoken the truth. But just as a person on the verge of death cannot be saved by nectar, so your instructions do not stay in my heart.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra admitted that he was prejudiced by affection for his sons. He told Akrūra that he felt helpless to overcome that affection. Like Kuntī, the king also understood Kṛṣṇa’s position. “Surely everything moves according to the will of the Supreme Lord. No man can influence the Lord’s will. Now he has appeared to relieve the earth’s burden and that will surely happen. What then can I do? Destiny is surely all-powerful.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra had heard the sages describe how Kṛṣṇa’s mission was to destroy the large number of demonic kings who had begun to populate the earth. Pāṇḍu had managed to check them, but since his retirement they had formed alliances and built huge armies, posing a constant threat to world security.

Akrūra could understand that Dhṛtarāṣṭra was set upon a course that would lead to his ruin. By favoring his own sons over the Pāṇḍavas, the king would ultimately ignite a conflict between them which would result in the destruction of the Kuru race. Akrūra felt there was nothing more he could do. Dhṛtarāṣṭra refused to accept responsibility for his acts. Taking his leave from the king, Akrūra made his way back to Mathurā.

When Akrūra was gone, Dhṛtarāṣṭra pondered on his words. It was true that Pāṇḍu’s sons were the rightful heirs to the kingdom. That could not be denied. It was especially clear that the eldest of them, Yudhiṣṭhira, was qualified to be the king. The king had seen how the prince was noted for his honesty, patience, kindness and unswerving adherence to duty. Along with his brothers, he was a firm favorite of the people. The citizens had loved Pāṇḍu and it seemed to them that he returned to live among them as his sons. Everywhere people were speaking of their desire to see Yudhiṣṭhira installed as the king. Dhṛtarāṣṭra had heard of their talks: “Now we have a qualified prince. Why should the blind Dhṛtarāṣṭra remain king? Let us place the pious Yudhiṣṭhira on the throne. He will surely be a righteous and benevolent ruler.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra consulted with Bhīṣma, Vidura and the Brahmins. They all decided that Yudhiṣṭhira should be installed as prince regent. The ceremony was soon performed and the people rejoiced.

Duryodhana, however, was seething. How had his father bypassed him to make Yudhiṣṭhira prince regent? When Bhīma sneered at his distress, making it even more unbearable, he went with Karṇa and Dushashana to discuss with Śakuni a way to eradicate the Pāṇḍavas.

Śakuni’s eyes narrowed as Duryodhana and the others vented their rage. He pressed his fingertips together to think. “The only answer,” he said finally, “is to get the Pāṇḍavas out of Hastināpura to a place where they can be killed without interference. We should somehow contrive to have them burned to death, making it seem like an accident.”

Duryodhana smiled, but Karṇa was not so sure. He did not like Śakuni’s devious ways. “Only cowards resort to deceit and underhanded methods. Powerful men favor open combat. If the Pāṇḍavas are our enemies, then let us march out to the battlefield and settle this dispute.”

Śakuni’s lips tightened. Then he smiled slightly. “My child, you are powerful but foolish. It seems you have forgotten Bhīma’s superhuman strength. And do you not remember the incident at Kāmpilya? All of the Kaurava princes, with you by their side, could not overpower Drupada. But with only four fighting, the Pāṇḍavas were successful. It is unlikely that we will win in a confrontation with those five brothers. Take heed of my words.”

Reminded of Kāmpilya, Karṇa was embarrassed. He let out an angry shout. They had been taken by surprise there. Drupada had been stronger than they expected. The Pāṇḍavas had the advantage, confronting Drupada after having witnessed his actual power. Next time, if the Pāṇḍavas confronted the Kauravas directly, things would be different. Karṇa shook his head and left the room. “Do what you will, but I cannot be a party to such cowardice.”

The cunning Śakuni had carefully assessed the situation. He pressed Duryodhana to approach his father and ask for the Pāṇḍavas to be sent away. He knew that Dhṛtarāṣṭra would not refuse his son anything. Duryodhana nodded slowly. He trusted Śakuni’s judgment. Together they worked out the details of their plan. Then Duryodhana went to see the king.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra knew well of his sons’ hatred for the Pāṇḍavas. He knew that Yudhiṣṭhira’s installation as the heir-apparent had been a bitter blow to Duryodhana. The king thought about what he could do for his sons. He had spoken with Śakuni. His brother-in-law, knowing that Dhṛtarāṣṭra never acted without counsel, had suggested that he seek advice from Śakuni’s Brahmin friend, Kaṇika. This Brahmin, Śakuni had said, was an expert in statecraft and politics. Śakuni then personally brought Kaṇika to see Dhṛtarāṣṭra.

Kaṇika told Dhṛtarāṣṭra that he should feel no compunction about rooting out his enemies before they harmed him. If he saw the Pāṇḍavas as his enemies, then he should destroy them without hesitation by any means possible. Because they were stronger than his own sons, a direct confrontation would probably fail. Better to employ some devious means. In the meantime the king should continue to appear as the Pāṇḍavas’ well-wisher. Then as soon as an opportunity arose, he should strike.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra thanked the Brahmin for his advice and dismissed him. He sat alone in his chamber for some time. The thought of killing Pāṇḍu’s sons distressed him. Perhaps there was some way they could be removed from Hastināpura. While they were present his own sons would never be happy. Duryodhana complained constantly about his cousins. Now the monarchy was about to pass back to Pāṇḍu’s line. Dhṛtarāṣṭra had enjoyed his opportunity to occupy Hastināpura’s throne as the world emperor. Although the firstborn son, and thus the first in line for the throne, he had thought his blindness had forever denied him the chance to be king. But in the years since Pāṇḍu’s departure he had become accustomed to holding the reins of power. It would not be easy to let go.

As Dhṛtarāṣṭra sat in his darkened room, Duryodhana came to see him. He heard his son’s heavy steps approaching and his sighs as he sat before him. Dhṛtarāṣṭra gently greeted the prince and asked what ailed him.

“I am hearing ill news of the kingdom, Father. The citizens are growing restless. They want you to soon hand over the throne to the Pāṇḍavas. ‘Why should we have the blind king now that Yudhiṣṭhira is grown?’ are the words they utter. They care not for you or for myself.”

Duryodhana stood up sharply and began to pace, his gold ornaments jangling. As he strode about, he punched his hand with his clenched fist.

“Soon we shall become dependent upon the Pāṇḍavas. They will be the kings and after them their sons will inherit the throne. Thus our line will be plunged into misfortune. We shall become powerless and lose the honor we have long enjoyed. What could be more painful for us? I have been considering how to deliver us. Listen as I explain my idea.”

Duryodhana first suggested the Pāṇḍavas be sent to a distant city. On the pretext of sending them on holiday, they could be sent to Vāraṇāvata, where a splendid festival honoring Śiva would soon be celebrated. The town was noted for its attractions. The Pāṇḍavas would surely be pleased to visit it. Once they left Hastināpura, perhaps they would never return.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra immediately understood what was on his son’s mind. How could he possibly agree? “Pāṇḍu was always devoted to virtue,” he said. “He did not care for wealth. My pious brother was devoted to me. He gave me everything, including this wide and prosperous kingdom. How could I hurt his sons?”

Besides that consideration, said Dhṛtarāṣṭra, the people love the Pāṇḍavas. They would be angered if the Kurus sent them away. Perhaps they would rise up against their leaders and remove them by force. And certainly Bhīṣma and the other senior Kurus would favor the Pāṇḍavas.

Duryodhana was ready for this objection. Before sending the Pāṇḍavas away, the Kurus should try to win over the people by various means. By bestowing wealth and honors on them they would gain their love and trust. Then, in the Pāṇḍavas’ absence, it would be possible for Duryodhana to become king. The prince went on, “Once my position is established in Hastināpura, Kuntī and her sons could even return. Do not fear for their welfare.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra sat up and leaned toward his son. “This very thought has been on my mind, but I have not spoken it because it is a sinful thought. I am still doubtful. How do you propose that we deal with Bhīṣma, Vidura, Droṇa and Kṛpa? They love the Pāṇḍavas as if they were their own sons.”

Duryodhana smiled. “Bhīṣma will remain neutral, as he always does. Droṇa’s son is my staunch supporter. His father will never go against him. Droṇa has married Kṛpa’s sister. Therefore Kṛpa’s support is assured. Vidura is the only one we cannot trust--he will certainly side with the Pāṇḍavas--but what harm can he alone do to us?”

Duryodhana implored his father to agree. If the Pāṇḍavas were allowed to remain in Hastināpura, he would not be able to live. His heart was burning and he lived in constant anxiety.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra was torn. He sat sighing for some moments. Finally, he gave his assent. Everything lay in the hands of Providence. What could he, a mere mortal filled with desire and fears, do against destiny? The king called his servants and retired for the night.