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Chapter 32

Kṛṣṇa Returns to Dwārakā

Yudhiṣṭhira began ruling the earth as lord of the Kurus. Surrounded by his brothers, he resembled Indra seated in Amarāvatī. Yudhiṣṭhira had arranged that Dhṛtarāṣṭra continue as chief administrator of Hastināpura. The blind king, attended by Sañjaya and Yuyutsu, gave orders which even the Pāṇḍavas followed out of deference. Draupadī, Subhadrā and the other ladies treated Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Gāndhārī as father and mother. Even Kuntī behaved toward Gāndhārī as one would act toward a senior. Kṛpa had returned to the city and become Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s trusted counselor, and Vyāsadeva and other ṛṣis also advised him.

Yudhiṣṭhira, however, still felt a deep sense of guilt and shame. Seeing the thousands of bereaved women and children in the city, he was consumed by sorrow. Kṛṣṇa, who at Yudhiṣṭhira’s request had agreed to live in Hastināpura for some time, spoke to the mourning king. “Do not indulge your grief, O best of men, for by so doing you will increase the grief of your people and even give pain to your departed relatives. You should celebrate and perform sacrifices. Give joy to your subjects. Make profuse offerings to your forefathers and distribute charity to the Brahmins. Thus any trace of sin caused by the war will be washed off. Perform the Ashvemedha sacrifice, O King, and renounce this useless grief.”

Sighing, Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “O Govinda, I know You are fond of me. You have always favored me and my brothers. O Janārdana, speak again of eternal spiritual truths, for my mind is still heavy. Reassured by Your words, which I imbibe like nectar, I will become enthused to carry out my duties.”

Kṛṣṇa was always inclined to satisfy Yudhiṣṭhira’s desires. He knew that the Pāṇḍava monarch had no other refuge. Although Kṛṣṇa wanted to return to Dwārakā to see His relatives, He had acceded to Yudhiṣṭhira’s repeated pleas that He stay in Hastināpura. Now, seeing his dejection, Kṛṣṇa spoke once more to assuage his sorrow.

“O foremost of Bharata’s race, you must now contend with the most powerful enemy of all: your mind. Your only weapon in this battle is knowledge, and you have no army to assist you. O King, you already know everything. You know that all beings are undying, spiritual entities, that this material world is nothing more than a temporary illusion, and that the primary aim of life is to seek spiritual emancipation. Stand firm on this knowledge, O Yudhiṣṭhira, and do your duty.”

Kṛṣṇa explained how one desiring liberation must become free from attachment and aversion to material objects, which included the material body and all its designations. Yudhiṣṭhira’s lamentation was based on seeing only the external situation. He was grieving for matter without seeing spirit. All those who had been killed were still existing in new bodies. Those who were grieving for them would also soon die, forgetting their present sorrow. The prime duty of every man is to realize his true identity as an eternal part of the Supreme. That realization would bring complete freedom from the material misery caused by ignorance.

“By doing your material duties only for God’s pleasure will you gain this realization, O King, for such actions are on the spiritual platform and will soon raise you to spiritual consciousness. Throw off your ignorance and do what must be done. Prepare for the sacrifice, please the gods and Viṣṇu, satisfy the Brahmins, and rule this world with justice and compassion.”

Solaced, and instructed by Dhaumya and other ṛṣis, Yudhiṣṭhira gradually gave up his anguish. He thanked Kṛṣṇa, who then asked if He may go to Indraprastha with Arjuna. The two friends wanted to spend some time together in that beautiful city, especially in the celestial Mayasabha. Yudhiṣṭhira gave his permission and soon they were traveling in Kṛṣṇa’s chariot, moving swiftly along the broad highway that went from Hastināpura toward the north.

Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa spent weeks at Indraprastha. Upon their arrival they were greeted by thousands of overjoyed citizens. Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa then retired to the Mayasabha and also spent time together in the delightful, wooded regions surrounding the city. They spoke together about the many battles that had been fought and which the Pāṇḍavas had won. Kṛṣṇa could see that Arjuna too was grieving for the loss of his sons and friends and thus He consoled him.

After some weeks, Kṛṣṇa again wanted to return to Dwārakā and He asked Arjuna to secure Yudhiṣṭhira’s permission. “You should know that I am unable to do anything which may displease your brother. My life, wealth and followers are at his disposal. But I think I should return to see My aging father Vasudeva and My other relatives. The earth with her belt of seas and mountains, mines, and forests has come under Yudhiṣṭhira’s sway. I have spoken words of reason and wisdom to comfort him. He is now determined to do his duty. Therefore, I think it is time for Me to go. Let us approach Yudhiṣṭhira together and seek his approval.”

Arjuna’s heart sank at the thought of Kṛṣṇa’s departure, but he knew it was time. Kṛṣṇa had not seen His relatives since the war. They would surely be grieving for Abhimanyu, and would be missing Kṛṣṇa Himself. Reluctantly, Arjuna assented to Kṛṣṇa’s request. Early the next day, they made their way back to Hastināpura.

As they traveled Arjuna said, “Dear Madhava, I have come to know Your true identity from Your profound instructions delivered on the first day of the war, but, my Lord, I find it difficult to recall those instructions. Indeed, my mind is confused now that You are about to leave us. Please, if You are agreeable, repeat that knowledge to me.”

Kṛṣṇa smiled affectionately, “Surely you are fickle-minded, O son of Pāṇḍu. Those truths I spoke were confidential and unknown even to the gods. I am not pleased that you have forgotten them, and I do not think I can repeat them now. But I will recite an ancient history on the same subject. Focus your mind and try to understand, O Pārtha, for this knowledge will free you from material bondage.”

As Dāruka drove the chariot to Hastināpura, Kṛṣṇa narrated the history. Lost in his love for Kṛṣṇa, Arjuna was captivated by His eloquent speech. The chariot moved swiftly along the smooth road, passing through various villages and alongside fields full of crops or grazing cattle. When the day’s journey was almost over, Kṛṣṇa concluded His instructions and said, “If you have any love for Me, O scion of Kuru, you will lead your life according to these instructions. Always remember your actual identity as soul and remain fixed in rendering service to the Supreme Soul. In that way, you will never fall into illusion again.”

Arjuna replied that as far as he was concerned, Kṛṣṇa was the Supreme Soul. Remembrance of Him was all that was required to achieve perfection in life. “I am convinced of Your glories, O Govinda. Indeed, I could not reach the end of Your glories if I were to recite them continuously with a thousand mouths and for a thousand years. You are the one Lord of all creatures, known variously only due to the various perceptions of different men. Everything that we, the Pāṇḍavas, have achieved is simply due to Your favor.”

Kṛṣṇa embraced Arjuna, who assured Him that he would gain Yudhiṣṭhira’s permission for His departure. “Although my heart is breaking at the thought of You leaving, I understand that You must return to Your family. We have already been favored by Your long presence here.”

The chariot entered Hastināpura, passing throngs of cheering citizens who rushed to the roadside to watch it go by. Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa smiled at the people and received their worship by offering them blessings. They soon reached the royal palace and went quickly before Yudhiṣṭhira, bowing at his feet and greeting him with affection. They then offered their obeisances to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Gāndhārī, who occupied thrones close to Yudhiṣṭhira’s.

When the formal greetings were over, Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa sat before Yudhiṣṭhira, being fanned by maidservants with chamara whisks. Seeing them both looking up at him, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “It appears you have something on your minds. Speak it out, O heroes. Whatever you desire, I will satisfy it. Do not hesitate to reveal your minds.”

Arjuna, who had expected his brother to say just that, smiled. “The lord of the Vṛṣṇis and Yadus, Keśava, wishes to see His father and other relatives in Dwārakā. O King, if you think it proper, then please let Him go. Grant Him permission to repair to His own city.”

Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers gazed at Kṛṣṇa, who had been with them now for months. As soon as He had heard of their coming out of exile, He had left Dwārakā to be with them, guiding them back toward their former positions as rulers of the world. All the brothers knew that without Kṛṣṇa they could not possibly have succeeded. Now His work was done. Duryodhana and his army of invincible warriors had been overcome. The Pāṇḍavas were now the undisputed monarchs, their position better now than before their exile. Both Hastināpura and Indraprastha, the two great capitals of the earth, were now under their command.

But the Pāṇḍavas cared little for power and opulence. For them, Kṛṣṇa’s presence and love was more valuable than rulership of the earth. Yudhiṣṭhira’s acceptance of the throne, and even his declaring war against the Kauravas, had been due ultimately to his understanding that it was Kṛṣṇa’s desire. Hearing that He now desired to return to Dwārakā, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “O lotus-eyed one, O Madhava, I will allow You to go. Go and see my maternal uncle and the goddess Devakī. You have been away for a long time. Offer them my deepest respects, and also Balarāma, who is ever worthy of the world’s worship. Think of us daily, and if it pleases You, return when we perform the Ashvamedha. Everything we possess is simply due to Your favor.”

Yudhiṣṭhira immediately dispatched swift messengers to Dwārakā to inform the citizens of Kṛṣṇa’s impending arrival. He also ordered that Kṛṣṇa be given gems and gold in large amounts. Graciously accepting the gifts, Kṛṣṇa said, “O mighty-armed one, you are the lord of the earth. Whatever I possess is yours and you may do with it as you wish. I will go now, but I will surely return to see your sacrifice.”

Kṛṣṇa decided to leave for Dwārakā early the next morning. He rose from His seat like the sun rising above the eastern hills and left the assembly hall with Arjuna and Sātyaki at His side. Yudhiṣṭhira and the other Pāṇḍavas followed Him as He mounted His chariot, going with His two friends to Arjuna’s palace for the night.

After sunrise Kṛṣṇa prepared to leave. Mounting His jeweled chariot, He proceeded to Yudhiṣṭhira’s palace to say His final farewells. Hearing that He was about to depart, Kuntī and the other Kuru ladies came out to see Him. The noble ladies, resplendent in silk, stood with tears in their eyes, mentally offering their obeisances at Kṛṣṇa’s feet again and again.

Remembering the many times that Kṛṣṇa had protected her and her sons, Kuntī stood by the side of His chariot with folded palms and offered prayers.

“O Kṛṣṇa, You are the original personality, unaffected by anything in this material world. You exist within and without, yet You are invisible to all. Foolish men fail to recognize Your identity as the Supersoul in all beings, for You cannot be known by the material senses. Only those who are free from lust and avarice can approach and know You, for otherwise You remain covered by Your own illusory energy. Yet You reciprocate with those who come to You in love, acting from within their hearts to free them from illusion.”

Standing outside the great royal palace, which towered above her like a white mountain, Kuntī praised Kṛṣṇa for some time. She described the many occasions that she and her sons had been in danger and how Kṛṣṇa had saved them. Her voice trembled with a sublime joy. “O Govinda, I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated birth and death.”

During her sons’ exile, Kuntī had devoted herself to fasts and asceticism. She was a self-realized soul and understood that the ultimate aim of life was to achieve freedom from rebirth in the material world. Realizing that her many difficulties in life had forced her to meditate on Kṛṣṇa, she felt that those difficulties had been a great blessing, for she had come to know Kṛṣṇa as the final goal of all spiritual practices. Kuntī had cultivated detachment from matter and prayed that Kṛṣṇa would sever her last attachments to the world in the form of her feelings of affection for her sons and other relatives. Kuntī knew that in order to achieve complete liberation, she had to see all living beings, including her own family, as eternal spirit souls. One in true knowledge sees and loves all creatures equally, knowing them to be parts of the Supreme. Bodily designations are temporary and, ultimately, meaningless.

After describing Kṛṣṇa’s transcendental qualities, Kuntī concluded her prayers with a heartfelt plea. “O Lord of Madhu, as the Ganges forever flows to the sea without hindrance, let my attraction be constantly drawn to You without being diverted to anyone else. You are my and my sons’ only shelter. How are You leaving us today, even though we are completely dependent on You and have no one else to protect us, especially now that so many kings are at enmity with us?”

Kuntī knew that although the Pāṇḍavas had conquered their enemies, they would soon have to contend with the sons and followers of the kings they had killed. Those kings had only brought some of their forces to fight at Kurukṣetra, leaving sons or brothers to rule in their absence. Thus there were still many rulers around the world who commanded armies and who would likely be antagonistic to the Pāṇḍavas.

With her gaze fixed on Kṛṣṇa’s face, she added, “As the name and fame of a particular body is finished with the disappearance of the living spirit, similarly, if You do not look upon us, all our fame and activities will end at once. O Kṛṣṇa, You possess all mystic powers, and You are the preceptor of the entire universe. You are the almighty God, and I offer You my respectful obeisances.”

Kṛṣṇa held up His hand, decorated with jewels and red sandalwood paste, in blessing as Kuntī ended her prayers, enchanting all who saw Him with His beauty and grace. He told Kuntī that just as she was always thinking of Him, He never forgot her or her sons.

Then it was time for Kṛṣṇa to leave. Sātyaki mounted the chariot, and the royal escort Yudhiṣṭhira had arranged led Him from the city. Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers climbed up on Kṛṣṇa’s chariot and embraced him. The palace ladies praised Kṛṣṇa from the balconies, showering Him with flowers. The streets were lined with citizens longing for one final sight of Kṛṣṇa. After the Pāṇḍavas had said their farewells and dismounted, Dāruka commanded Kṛṣṇa’s celestial horses and His chariot moved off.

The Pāṇḍavas stood gazing after the chariot as it went along the red stone road leading from the city. When it was out of sight, they slowly and silently made their way back into the palace.

When Kṛṣṇa was alone on His chariot, Dāruka urged on the horses. The chariot quickly reached the speed of the wind. Passing lakes, rivers, forests and hills, as well as towns and hamlets, it finally arrived in Dwārakā. As He approached the city, Kṛṣṇa blew a blast on His conch shell. The guards heard the sound and threw open the city gates with shouts of joy. They announced Kṛṣṇa’s imminent arrival and the citizens ran out of the city. Seeing Kṛṣṇa returning after so long, they felt as if they had woken from a long sleep. They offered Him cows, gold and gems, and cheered and beat drums as He passed.

Tall flags lined the roofs of mansions, and the ground was strewn with flower petals. As Kṛṣṇa’s chariot moved slowly along the road, the citizens waved branches of palm, banana and mango trees. In every doorway stood golden waterpots, baskets of fruit, sugarcane, pots of milk, and other auspicious articles. Incense billowed from every house and hundreds of thousands of candles burned.

As He moved toward His father’s palace, Kṛṣṇa saw the opulence of His city—the orchards and flower gardens, the beautiful lakes teeming with swans and thick with red and blue lotuses. Golden archways studded with precious stones stood at every crossroad, and white mansions lined the roads.

Numerous Brahmins worshipped Kṛṣṇa, and Kṛṣṇa heard them praising Him as He passed. In voices suffused with ecstasy they said, “O Almighty One, You are worshipable by even the gods and are the ultimate goal of life for all transcendentalists. You are our protector, guide and worshipable Lord. By good fortune have we seen You again, for You rarely visit even the denizens of heaven.”

The Brahmins prayed that Kṛṣṇa not leave Dwārakā again, saying that each day He was absent felt like thousands of years.

Kṛṣṇa received their prayers and worship by glancing at them affectionately. As the chariot moved forward, a number of powerful men went ahead to clear the road. Followed by a procession of elephants, chariots and walking citizens, Kṛṣṇa’s chariot gradually made its way through the dense crowds and arrived at Vasudeva’s palace. In the courtyard He saw colorfully dressed dancers and actors expertly enacting His pastimes with grace, while singers and poets glorified Him to musical instruments.

Pleased, Kṛṣṇa dismounted from His chariot and met the leading citizens. According to their status He bowed before them, embraced them, or offered them His blessings. He exchanged greetings, shook hands, and offered benedictions to hundreds of citizens. Then He entered His father’s house.

Devakī was the first to greet Kṛṣṇa as He came into the house. After He had placed His head at her feet, she embraced Him and sat Him upon her lap, stroking His head and offering Him her blessings.

Kṛṣṇa then greeted all the senior palace ladies, seeing them as mothers, and then went before Vasudeva. After He had touched His father’s feet and received his embrace, Kṛṣṇa sat by his side and told him the news from Hastināpura. Vasudeva had not heard much about the war, and he asked Kṛṣṇa to tell him everything that had happened since His departure.

Surrounded by other Vrishni elders, Vasudeva listened to Kṛṣṇa’s narration. Kṛṣṇa deliberately avoided telling His father about Abhimanyu’s death.

When Kṛṣṇa stopped speaking, Subhadrā, present by her father’s side, asked, “Why, O Kṛṣṇa, have You not told Your father about my son’s death?” After saying this, she dropped to the palace floor in a swoon.

When Vasudeva heard her words, he also fell, overcome by grief. Kṛṣṇa quickly took them both up and consoled them. “My dear father, dearest sister, how could I speak that which would only give you sorrow? You should know that the heroic Abhimanyu died in the thick of battle. While contending with numerous invincible fighters, never once showing his back, he finally gave up his life. Only due to the inevitable influence of time did the mighty hero fall in battle. None could have slain him. He has now reached regions of undying happiness. Cast off your burning grief and we will make his funeral offerings.”

After going to a sanctified spot in the palace compound, Kṛṣṇa, along with Balarāma and aided by the Brahmins, personally performed Abhimanyu’s śraddhā ceremony. On behalf of His departed nephew He gave charity to millions of Brahmins. He distributed heaps of gold and gems, along with hundreds of thousands of cows. The ceremony was attended by all the leading Vrishnis, headed by their king, Ugrasena, and all of Kṛṣṇa’s thousands of sons and other relatives.

After the ceremony, Kṛṣṇa retired to His personal quarters in Rukmīṇī’s palace, and the citizens of Dwārakā returned home feeling both joy and sorrow.