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Chapter 29

Aśvatthāmā Punished

In the Kaurava camp, the Pāṇḍavas had risen before sunrise to say their prayers and perform their morning rites. As Yudhiṣṭhira completed his ablutions, Dṛṣṭadyumna’s panicked chariot driver ran into his tent. After he had been calmed, he described the night’s events.

“O King, Draupadī’s sons as well as those of Drupada have all been slain. Aśvatthmā, Kṛpa and Kṛtavarmā have committed a most cruel act. Even as our men slept, they were killed without mercy. Aśvatthāmā came like Death himself and slashed at everyone with his sword. Anyone who tried to flee was cut down by the arrows of the other two. I think I am the only survivor. Somehow I managed to escape from the camp and have come here to tell you.”

Yudhiṣṭhira dropped to the ground and cried out. Upon hearing their brother’s distress cry, the other Pāṇḍava brothers ran in to him and he informed them of what had happened. They too began to cry and fell to the earth. Yudhiṣṭhira’s voice rose above the others. “Alas, after defeating our enemies we are now defeated. An already bitter victory, gained at the cost of the lives of so many kinsmen, has become still more bitter. What happiness can we now enjoy with all our sons, friends and followers slain? Alas, they have died like merchants in a boat, who, having crossed the ocean, are wrecked in a shallow river. What will become of Draupadī? How will she live after hearing that her sons were so brutally slaughtered?”

Yudhiṣṭhira turned to Nakula and asked him to bring Draupadī to the Pāṇḍava camp so that he could break the terrible news to her. After Nakula left, the other brothers comforted Yudhiṣṭhira, who then left the tent and mounted his chariot. Accompanied by his brothers and Sātyaki, who had stayed with them in the Kaurava camp, he made his way to his own camp.

As Yudhiṣṭhira entered the camp he saw the ground littered by bodies. Severed heads and limbs lay strewn about, birds picking at them and beasts tearing them apart. Seeing how the men had been slain without armor or weapons, the Pāṇḍavas seized their weapons and looked about wildly for signs of the killers. Upon not finding Aśvatthāmā or his party, they tearfully entered their sons’ tent and found the five headless corpses still lying on their beds. Horrified, they wailed in sorrow. Yudhiṣṭhira, feeling responsible for all the deaths, fell trembling to the ground.

As Yudhiṣṭhira’s brothers tried to comfort him, Nakula entered the tent with Draupadī. As soon as she saw her sons’ bodies she dropped senseless to the earth. Sprinkling her face with cool water, Bhīma raised her and held onto her as she stood shaking uncontrollably. Her delicate face was darkened with grief, resembling the sun covered by storm clouds.

Supported by Bhīma, the Pañchāla princess said, “By good luck, O King, you have regained the earth after conquering your enemies. By good luck your thoughts do not dwell on Subhadrā’s son, that mighty-armed hero who was so cruelly killed by the Kauravas. Now it is my own sons who have been slain through sin. Seeing how they have been killed by Droṇa’s vicious son even while they slept, I burn with unbearable grief. If that wretch does not pay for this crime, then I will die. I promise to observe the Praya vow and fast until death.”

Draupadī sat down and assumed a yogic posture, her legs folded by her side and her arms outstretched. “I will not move from this spot until you bring me the shining jewel from Aśvatthāmā’s head, having slain him like a beast.”

Yudhiṣṭhira consoled the weeping princess. Draupadī looked up at Bhīma and implored, “Mindful of a kṣatriya’s duties, O Bhīma, kill that wretch like Indra killed Shambara. There is no man in the world who can equal your prowess. Again and again you have been my refuge, and indeed the refuge of all your brothers. Remembering those deeds, kill Droṇa’s son and be happy.”

Draupadī’s voice was a wail. She covered her tear-streaked face with her hands. Her head fell to her breast and she wailed piteously. She could not get the sight of her five headless sons out of her mind. Repeatedly beating her chest, she filled the tent with her loud sobs.

Bhīma looked around at the carnage caused by Aśvatthāmā. His eyes blazed and his huge chest rose and fell rapidly. He lifted his mace, still bloodstained from his battle with Duryodhana. Asking Nakula to become his charioteer, he ran out of the tent and leapt aboard his chariot. Within moments he was speeding out of the camp. He knew Aśvatthāmā would have first gone to see the dying Duryodhana and would then head for Hastināpura. Nakula drove his chariot like the wind toward the road to Hastināpura.

Soon after, Kṛṣṇa arrived and discovered the grisly scene. After being informed that Bhīma had set off in pursuit of Aśvatthāmā, he said, “O Yudhiṣṭhira, Bhīma is dearer to you than life. Why do you stand here without acting? Surely you know that Droṇa gave Aśvatthāmā the Brahmashira, capable of consuming all three worlds. Although his father ordered him to never use that weapon against men, I am sure that in his desperation he will release it against Bhīma. Only Arjuna, who also received the weapon from Droṇa, can check it. Do not delay. Order him to go after his brother. I will go with him.”

Kṛṣṇa reminded Yudhiṣṭhira of an incident which had occurred many years ago in Dwārakā, which indicated Aśvatthāmā’s shameless and brazen nature. Knowing that there was no weapon more powerful than Kṛṣṇa’s Sudarśanaa discus, he had gone to Dwārakā and asked Kṛṣṇa to exchange it for the Brahmashira. Kṛṣṇa had said, smiling, “The discus is here by My side, O hero. You may take it freely. I do not wish to have your weapon in exchange.” But even after exerting all his strength, Aśvatthāmā could not move the discus. When he gave up, Kṛṣṇa asked why he desired the discus. Aśvatthāmā replied, “If I had managed to take it, I would have challenged You to battle, O Yadu hero. After defeating You, and holding Your discus, I would then have been the most powerful man on earth.”

“You must stop him at once,” Kṛṣṇa concluded. “He is wrathful, wicked and cruel. Let us leave immediately.”

Yudhiṣṭhira agreed. Kṛṣṇa spoke consoling words to Draupadī and, after bowing to Yudhiṣṭhira, headed out of the tent. Preparing to follow him, Arjuna said to Draupadī, “O gentle lady, when I behead that Brahmin, I will present you with his head. Then I will wipe the tears from your eyes and pacify you. After burning your sons’ bodies, you can then take your bath standing on his head.”

Arjuna spat out the words “that Brahmin.” He knew it was forbidden to kill a Brahmin, but by his behavior Aśvatthāmā had shown himself to have fallen far from the path of Brahminical life.

Kṛṣṇa’s charioteer, Dāruka, still ready, stood just outside the tent. The chariot was yoked to His four horses: Śaibya, Sugrīva, Meghapushpa and Balahaka. They stood still as Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna climbed onto the chariot. Dāruka gave the command and the chariot moved off, quickly and smoothly picking up speed. The celestial standard, bearing the emblem of Garuḍa and decked with gold and gems, fluttered in the breeze as the chariot traveled rapidly toward Aśvatthāmā.

Within a short time they caught up with Bhīma, who could not be deterred from pursuing Aśvatthāmā. Thinking only of the grieving Draupadī, he raced on with his mace held aloft.

The two chariots sped toward the Ganges. When they reached its banks they saw Aśvatthāmā amid the ṛṣis. Droṇa’s son had sought their shelter in hopes of being protected from the Pāṇḍavas. He knew there was nowhere within the world--indeed the three worlds--where he could hide from Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa. He had thus entered among the Brahmins, knowing of the Pāṇḍavas’ respect for them. He sat in their midst, clad in only a deerskin.

Bhīma leapt from his chariot and ran toward him with a roar. Aśvatthāmā looked up and saw the furious Pāṇḍava charging, as well as Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa standing on their chariot nearby. Śiva’s terrible power had left him as soon as he had emerged from the Pāṇḍavas’ camp, and he was terror-stricken when he saw the two mighty Pāṇḍavas and Kṛṣṇa. He thought of the Brahmashira. That irresistible weapon was his only hope.

Taking up a reed of kusha grass, Aśvatthāmā recited the incantations to invoke the Brahmashira. Seeing this, Kṛṣṇa shouted to Bhīma to stop. The Pāṇḍava obediently halted in his tracks.

As Aśvatthāmā invoked his weapon, a glaring light spread in all directions. Witnessing the blinding force of the most powerful of all the Brahmā missiles, which even he had never seen before, Arjuna offered prayers to Kṛṣṇa. “My dear Lord Kṛṣṇa, You are the almighty Personality of Godhead. There is no limit to Your different energies. Therefore, only You are capable of instilling fearlessness in the hearts of Your devotees. Everyone in the flames of material miseries can find the path of liberation in You only. You are beyond the illusion of this world and nothing is unknown to You. Therefore kindly tell me, what is this blazing light which threatens to consume everything?”

“Know from Me that this is the all-powerful Brahmashira. This wicked man, afraid of imminent death, has thrown the weapon. But, O Pārtha, he has no knowledge of how to withdraw it.”

Kṛṣṇa knew that Droṇa had not fully instructed his son on how to use the weapon, realizing that he would likely abuse its power. Now he had desperately released it, not caring that it could destroy the world even with himself in it.

Kṛṣṇa urged Arjuna to counter the weapon. “Release your own Brahmā missile, O Pārtha, which will combine with Aśvatthāmā’s. Then you may withdraw both.”

Arjuna immediately touched Kṛṣṇa’s feet and thought of the mantras to invoke the weapon. He released the missile and it met with Aśvatthāmā’s in the sky. A great circle of blazing light filled the heavens. It appeared as if a second brilliant sun had risen and was about to burn the universe to ashes.

Vyāsadeva was sitting among the ṛṣis on the bank of the river. Witnessing the combined power of the two Brahmā weapons, he became alarmed. He ran over to Aśvatthāmā and said, “O Brahmin, what are you doing? Why have you thrown this weapon? It will destroy the world. Withdraw it at once.”

Aśvatthāmā looked at the ṛṣi but made no reply. He was unable to withdraw the weapon, but he could redirect it to another target. Aśvatthāmā saw that his attempt to kill Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa was being thwarted. His own powers were no match for Arjuna’s superior military skills.

Aśvatthāmā realized that death now stared him in the face. Surely the Pāṇḍavas would show him no mercy. Frustrated and filled with despair, he remembered that Uttarā, Abhimanyu’s wife, was pregnant with the child conceived before the prince’s death. She was carrying the last of the Kuru line. Aśvatthāmā’s mind raced. It was the proud Kurus who had killed his father, and who were about to kill him too. Deciding that if he was to die he would take the last hopes of the Kuru house with him, Aśvatthāmā concentrated on Uttarā--and, in particular, on the child in her womb. He uttered mantras to redirect the Brahmashira and it flew toward the Pāṇḍavas’ camp, where Uttarā had gone with Draupadī.

Unaware of Aśvatthāmā’s evil desire, Arjuna chanted the mantras to withdraw his own weapon and the brilliant glare in the sky gradually subsided. Seeing that the danger had passed, Vyāsadeva returned to his place amid the sages, who were in the midst of performing a sacrifice to Viṣṇu.

In the Pāṇḍavas’ camp, Uttarā suddenly felt herself in danger. She was not sure of the cause, but could sense the approach of something. The beautiful princess, still only a young girl, fell to the ground. Her limbs trembled and she felt apprehensive. Terrified, she offered prayers to Kṛṣṇa, whom she saw as her only shelter. Folding her palms and bowing her head, she said, “O Lord of lords, Lord of the universe! You are the greatest of mystics. Please protect me, for there is no one else who can save me from the clutches of death in this world of duality.”

Hearing her heartfelt prayer even as He sat on the chariot with Arjuna, Kṛṣṇa, who understood Aśvatthāmā’s intentions, at once expanded His personal energy to protect Uttarā. He entered her womb in a mystical form and covered the child. As the Brahmashira approached, it was neutralized by Kṛṣṇa and sent harmlessly into the sky. Uttarā and the other Pāṇḍava ladies looked with wonder at the missile as it rose upwards like a blazing comet. Surely Kṛṣṇa had saved them all from certain death.

After withdrawing his celestial Brahmā weapon, Arjuna fired another weapon at Aśvatthāmā which immediately bound him with strong cords. Leaping from Kṛṣṇa’s chariot, he ran over to Aśvatthāmā and seized him by the hair, dragging him up onto the chariot. Although capable, Arjuna was reluctant to kill the son of his teacher.

Seeing Arjuna sparing Aśvatthāmā’s life, Kṛṣṇa said, “O Pārtha, you should not show mercy to him. He is no Brahmin--he has killed innocent boys in their sleep. This is always against religious codes. His sins have been great. You should kill him for his own good. Otherwise, he will descend into hell. Furthermore, you have promised Draupadī that you will bring her the head of her sons’ killer. Do not hesitate. He has brutally murdered your family members and deserves death at your hands without doubt. Having blighted his own family name, he is but the burnt remnants of his dynasty. Kill him at once!”

Throwing Aśvatthāmā to the chariot floor, Arjuna replied, “I do not feel able to kill him, O Kṛṣṇa. How could I perpetrate an act so painful to my own guru’s heart? If it is Your order, then it will be done; but for myself, I would rather take him to Yudhiṣṭhira to hear his judgment. Draupadī, too, may decide what should be done with this wretch.”

Kṛṣṇa nodded. Dāruka urged on his horses and in a short while they arrived at the camp, Bhīma following just behind.

Arjuna dragged Aśvatthāmā before Yudhiṣṭhira and Draupadī, saying, “Here is the killer of our sons. What should be done with him now?”

The soft-hearted Draupadī felt compassion for Aśvatthāmā, who sat with his head down. As he was a Brahmin she folded her palms in respect and said, “Release him, Arjuna, for he is the son of your martial teacher. It is said that the son is one with his father, and thus it is as if Droṇa himself were here. Indeed, Droṇa’s wife did not ascend his funeral pyre because she had a son. Killing Aśvatthāmā will cause her, our worshipful superior, grief and cannot be in accord with religious principles. My lord, do not make her cry like me. Nor should we, the kingly order, become guilty of the sin of needlessly slaying Brahmins. Such a sin can burn the whole body of a royal family to ashes.”

Yudhiṣṭhira, approving Draupadī’s words, said, “Excellent, excellent. O gentle lady, your words are quite in accord with the sacred teachings of the Vedas.”

Arjuna and the twins also expressed their agreement--but not Bhīma. “We need show this man no mercy. He has mercilessly killed sleeping men for no purpose other than his own interests. Killing him is the only fitting punishment.”

Bhīma advanced menacingly toward Aśvatthāmā with his fists clenched. His eyes were wide with fury and he ground his teeth. Draupadī quickly came between him and Aśvatthāmā, who still said nothing and stared at the ground.

Seeing the conflict, Kṛṣṇa moved forward and placed a hand on Bhīma’s shoulder, telling him to be peaceful. Turning to Arjuna, He said, “A Brahmin, even when guilty of sin, is not to be killed; but if he is an aggressor, he must be killed. All these rulings are in the scriptures. You should act accordingly. You have to fulfill your promise to your wife, and you must also act to Bhīmasena’s satisfaction—and Mine. We both want you to kill this culprit.”

Arjuna looked at Kṛṣṇa, who appeared to have four arms as He stood holding Bhīma at bay and comforting Draupadī. He could understand Kṛṣṇa’s equivocal instructions. Aśvatthāmā should both be killed and not killed. Taking out his razor-edged sword, he grabbed hold of Aśvatthāmā’s top-knot and severed the hair along with the shining jewel that bound it. The jewel was the repository of Aśvatthāmā’s mystic power, and as it was removed, he shriveled and collapsed.

Presenting the jewel to Draupadī, Arjuna said, “Here is the gem you desired, O beautiful lady. Aśvatthāmā is now as good as dead, for to cut off the hair of a powerful warrior is equal to killing him. Indeed, the Vedas also prescribe such punishment for fallen Brahmins, but they never sanction killing the body.”

Bhīma praised Arjuna for his intelligent act which had satisfied everyone. He led Draupadī to a nearby couch and sat her down as Kṛṣṇa spoke to Aśvatthāmā. “O son of Droṇa, all wise men will know you as a coward and a wretch from now on. You will have to endure the fruits of your sinful acts. For three thousand years you will wander the earth, afflicted by disease and completely alone, unable to speak to anyone. Wretched and foul-smelling, you will dwell in deep forests and dreary wastelands. At the end of this period, purified at last of your sins, you will ascend to the higher regions. Go now, O wicked man.”

Arjuna and Bhīma dragged Aśvatthāmā to his feet and, unbinding him, drove him from the camp. Deprived of his jewel and cursed by Kṛṣṇa, his power was gone and he disappeared into the woods to begin his lonely exile.

After his departure, Yudhiṣṭhira sorrowfully asked Kṛṣṇa how Droṇa’s son had been able to kill the warriors in their camp. “I cannot see how it was possible that the sinful Aśvatthāmā could slay Dṛṣṭadyumna and so many other powerful fighters. Tell me, O Kṛṣṇa, what power possessed him?”

Kṛṣṇa explained how Aśvatthāmā had worshipped Śiva and obtained from him the power to kill the warriors. “But know from Me that their time had come. Having carried out My will, they have now reached everlasting regions of bliss. Therefore, O King, you need not lament for them.” Kṛṣṇa consoled Yudhiṣṭhira with Vedic wisdom, while the other Pāṇḍavas and their women listened to His words. The sun was approaching the meridian and Yudhiṣṭhira, feeling comforted, told his brothers that they should go to the Ganges to perform the last rites of their sons and other relatives. Wrapped in simple cotton cloths, the bodies of all the slain men were carried to the river bank, followed by the mournful procession of the Pāṇḍavas. The women walked at the head of the procession, followed by hundreds of Brahmins who were reciting Vedic mantras and throwing kusha grass on the ground.

Gradually they approached the river and began the funeral ceremonies. The many servants who had been brought from the city placed the thousands of corpses on large pyres built along the river bank. As the women’s piteous wails carried into the breeze, the Brahmins performed the rituals and the pyres were ignited. Everyone then entered the water and offered prayers for the departed souls.

After the funerals were complete, the Pāṇḍavas and Kṛṣṇa slowly began the journey to Hastināpura.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Gāndhārī sat alone in their chamber. After Kṛṣṇa had left them, they were once again overcome by grief. The blind king sat with his head fallen to his chest, his breath coming in tearful sighs. He looked like a once-great tree shorn of its branches. Sañjaya entered the chamber. As he announced himself, Dhṛtarāṣṭra stood to greet him, then collapsed.

Sañjaya lifted the old king gently and said, “Why do you grieve, O Monarch? Grief is useless. Eighteen akshauhinis have been killed and the earth divested of hundreds of kings. All your sons have been slain, along with so many of their kinsmen, friends and counselors. You should now perform their funeral rites. What is the use of lying here shedding tears?”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra cried out and dropped back onto the silk rug spread over the floor of his darkened chamber. Sañjaya pulled back the heavy drapes from the nearby window and sunshine poured into the room. The king and queen both appeared disheveled and withered by grief. Neither had slept for days.

Sañjaya again helped Dhṛtarāṣṭra to his feet and the old king fell back onto his throne. In a choked voice he said, “Bereft as I am of sons, friends and counselors, I will have to wander the earth in a wretched state. What is the use of living? Alas, I did not heed my advisors’ words and now I lament. Kṛṣṇa told me to make peace with the Pāṇḍavas and rule the earth without a rival. Bhīṣma and Vidura agreed. I chose to follow my wicked son. Now he is dead and I am experiencing an ocean of grief. Surely my sins in previous lives have been great and thus I suffer now. Who on earth is more afflicted than me? Destiny has dealt me unbearable blows. I will end my life. Let the Pāṇḍavas come here and see me bent upon taking that final great journey toward the eternal Brahman.”

Sañjaya shook his head. He had heard Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s empty lamentations so many times. Taking hold of the king’s hand, he replied, “Cast off your grief, O King. You are well acquainted with Vedic instructions regarding the certainty of death and the eternality of the soul. Everything happens as it should. All men receive the proper results of their own acts. For your fault your sons have been destroyed. Only out of covetousness did you follow your son, who was ever guided by wicked men. Thus has your own perverted intelligence cut you, exactly like a sharp sword. So many people tried to redirect you to the path of virtue, but you would not listen. Although learned and intelligent, you were not qualified to be emperor of the earth, for you lacked discrimination.”

As he had done on previous occasions, Sañjaya made it clear to Dhṛtarāṣṭra that he had only himself to blame. Now he was forced to repent. “A man who keeps a burning coal in the folds of his cloth and then is burned by the fire is simply a fool if he laments. You and your son kept that Pāṇḍava fire in your midst and fanned it with your words and deeds. Now your sons have fallen into the blaze like insects. Why do you weep?”

Since Vidura had left the palace to go on pilgrimage, Sañjaya had more and more assumed the role of the king’s advisor. As Vidura had always done, he spoke frankly and without fear. “Rise up, O Monarch, and attend your duties. Why do you cry for that which can no longer be avoided? All created beings will be destroyed, everything high will eventually fall, union always ends in separation, and life always ends in death. All creatures are like members of a caravan bound for the same country. Death will meet each of them in turn; none will escape. Thus it is immaterial who goes first. Your sons, meeting a glorious death in the thick of battle, have surely gone to higher places. The scriptures clearly state this. For a kṣatriya, there is no better death than to die in battle. Your grief for your sons is unwarranted and meaningless. It will only increase if you indulge it. Only the less intelligent allow themselves to be overcome by grief. It does not bestow any benefit upon the grief-stricken; rather, it deviates him from his duty and thwarts his aims in life.”

Sañjaya had never stopped advising Dhṛtarāṣṭra for his own good, despite the fact that his advice was ignored. Now that the king had lost everything, he would be far more likely to take good counsel seriously. Sañjaya spoke for some time, repeating the wisdom he had heard from the ṛṣis. Dhṛtarāṣṭra listened attentively, encouraging him to continue and feeling a sense of relief from his words.

“O King, all men receive the results of their own actions alone. By acting with a desire for profit, one attains only repeated births in this world along with their concomitant sufferings. Those who are wise act only to achieve liberation. By surrendering their acts unto the Supreme, they free themselves from the bondage of work. One who does his duty only as a sacrifice for the pleasure of Viṣṇu will surely rise to regions of deathlessness where eternal happiness is enjoyed. Those whose hearts are possessed by lust and greed for material enjoyment, however, will continue to suffer.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra felt Sañjaya’s reprimand. Repenting his foolishness, he rose from his throne and again fell to the floor. Gāndhārī wept silently as Sañjaya attended to him by sprinkling cool, perfumed water on his face.

While the old charioteer consoled Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Vyāsadeva entered the chamber. He shone with spiritual effulgence, seeming to glide across the chamber as he approached the king.

Hearing that the sage was present, Dhṛtarāṣṭra got up to welcome him and said, “Alas, O lord, I am undone. Fie on this world and fie on humanity. All our pains have their root in the state of human existence. How can one tolerate the pain of losing one’s wealth and all one’s loved ones? The calamity that has befallen me will only end with life itself. Therefore, I shall end my miserable existence today.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra again fell sobbing to the ground. Seeing him in that state, Vyāsadeva said, “O mighty monarch, hear my words. You are learned and intelligent. You know everything, so take recourse in that wisdom now. When everything in this world is temporary, why do you grieve for that which is lost? Time itself, making your son the cause, has brought about this destruction. No one can change destiny. I have known destiny’s course, settled by the celestials, and I will explain it to you now so that you may find peace of mind.”

Vyāsadeva explained how he had attended an assembly in Indra’s court some time ago. There he had seen many great ṛṣis, headed by Nārada, and also the Goddess Earth herself. The all-powerful Viṣṇu had come to the assembly, where Earth had beseeched him: “My dear lord, you have promised to relieve my burden. Let that come to pass soon.”

Viṣṇu had replied, “The eldest of Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s one hundred sons will accomplish your desire. Through that king, your object will be achieved. Fighting for his cause, all the kings who are exploiting your resources will meet in a fierce battle and slay one another. O beautiful damsel, return and continue to bear the weight of all creatures. Your burden will soon be lightened by the battle.”

Vyāsadeva went on to explain that Duryodhana was an incarnation of Kali, the deity presiding over the impending age of quarrel and suffering. It was by his dark influence that the slaughter had been brought about. Dhṛtarāṣṭra should not blame the Pāṇḍavas. They too had been told by Nārada of the arrangement made by the celestials. Filled with grief to hear that they would be involved in such carnage, they had endeavored to avoid it--but Duryodhana would not be swayed.

Vyāsadeva concluded, “I have thus revealed to you the gods’ secret, O King. You should not grieve. All the warriors who died are now living in the higher planets in joy. The earth is no longer feeling the burden of them, and a righteous monarch has assumed rulership in the form of Yudhiṣṭhira. Thus the world will now be led on the path of virtue. Cast off your sorrow. If the compassionate Yudhiṣṭhira sees you in this state, he will give up his life. Take hold of yourself. Spend your remaining days in asceticism and attain the goal of life.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra sighed. Getting to his feet with Sañjaya’s assistance, he replied, “O best of ṛṣis, thinking of my sons I am sunk in grief and almost losing consciousness, but your words have convinced me to continue living. Understanding that everything has been ordained by the gods, I will endeavor to put aside my sorrow. Thus will I live.”

Vyāsadeva then disappeared. Feeling comforted, Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Gāndhārī retired to their private quarters to rest, having spent the night grieving.