In this series of posts, I am reconstructing the Mahabharata as a sequence of episodes.
This will provide a quick and easy way for someone new to the story to become acquainted with it.
(For the previous post in this series, see Episode 55: Ashwatthama is Cursed. To access the full repository of Mahabharata episodes, see: 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story.)
Dhritarashtra Hugs Bhima
After the Pandavas have taken their revenge on Ashwatthama and after Draupadi is gifted the gem, they hear that Dhritarashtra is on his way to meet them.
Yudhishthir summons his brothers together, and along with Krishna, they set out in their chariots to meet the visitors half-way. Satyaki and Draupadi also go with him.
Yudhishthir salutes the feet of his eldest uncle. The five brothers surround Dhritarashtra and announce themselves by name. The king first reluctantly embraces the eldest son of Kunti, and then, as his feelings run away with him, asks for Bhima to be presented.
Bhima is about to step up and take his uncle’s fumbling hands, but Krishna silently intervenes and points to an iron statue built in the likeness of Vrikodara that he has brought along for this very purpose. (This little anecdote is probably a later interpolation designed to embellish further the heroism of Krishna, so we need not look for logic here.)
Armed with the strength of ten thousand elephants, Dhritarashtra hugs the iron statue, and with the sheer strength of his muscles, breaks it into pieces. But immediately after he does it, he is consumed by guilt, and falls to the ground with moans of ‘Bhima, Bhima’.
Understanding that the king’s wrath has been quelled, Krishna consoles him. ‘Do not grieve, O King,’ he says, ‘for you have not killed Bhimasena. Knowing that you were filled with rage, I dragged the son of Kunti away and replaced him with an iron statue.
‘However, harm to the Pandavas will do you no good, O King. Your sons will not be revived by it. Therefore, accept the Pandavas as your kings, protectors and sons. Let peace reign on this land at long last.’
Dhritarashtra commands the Pandavas to next go and visit Gandhari. The sister of Shakuni is at this stage overwhelmed by the death of her hundred sons, and knowing that Yudhishthir is at the root of all this destruction, she resolves to curse the sons of Kunti.
However, Vyasa foresees just this eventuality and visits her beforehand. Having cleansed himself with the water of the Ganga, and using his power of transporting himself at will to any place in the world, he arrives at Gandhari’s place and talks to her.
‘Do not take this opportunity to place a curse, O Gandhari,’ he says. ‘Use your immense ascetic energy instead to forgive the sons of Pandu. Restrain the words that are rushing to fall out of your lips. Set your heart on peace.’
Gandhari listens to the great sage patiently, and replies, ‘I do not cherish ill feelings toward the Pandavas, O venerable one. The battle has come to pass due to the evil machinations of Shakuni, Duryodhana, Karna and Duhsasana.
‘I know that the Pandavas are not to be blamed for the extermination of the Kuru race. Only the sons of Dhritarashtra are to be blamed for that.
‘But there is one aspect over which I am aggrieved that Dharma has not won. In the mace fight between Bhima and Duryodhana, the former hit the latter below the navel and secured victory by unfair means.
‘Knowing that my son is superior to him in skill, the second son of Kunti resorted to cunning and deception in order to win. It is this that moves my wrath. Why should heroes, for the sake of their lives, cast off obligations to duty that have been passed down by generations of wise men?’
Bhima arrives just in time to hear Gandhari’s words. Bowing in reverence with his hands joined together, he asks of the queen’s forgiveness.
‘Whether righteous or unrighteous,’ he says, ‘that act was performed by me through fear and for the object of protecting my own self. Your mighty son was incapable of being vanquished in fair fight, Mother, and for the sake of protecting my brothers, I had to pursue means that were unfair.’
‘For all the wicked things that your son did, Mother, if it were not for the command of our brother Yudhishthir, we would have killed him a long time ago.
‘The many years of our suffering only hardened our resolve to take back what is ours. And on our return, it did not seem to us that Dharma ought to be preserved against a man who has flouted it at every turn.’
Gandhari listens to Bhima’s words with pursed lips. Then she nods. ‘What you say about Duryodhana is true. I have another question for you though, Vrikodara.
‘On the occasion of Duhsasana’s death, you drank blood from his chest as if you were a beast. Such an act is cruel and is censured by the gods.’
Bhima replies, ‘It is improper to quaff the blood of a stranger, Mother, let alone that of a kinsman. However, you should know that when I drank the blood of Duhsasana, I did not let it pass through my lips down my throat.
‘I merely touched my lips to his bleeding wounds in honour of the vow I took in the assembly during the dice game.’
Now Yudhishthir walks up to her and takes her hands in his. ‘Here is Yudhishthir, Mother,’ he says, ‘that cruel slayer of your sons. I deserve all your curses, for I am the cause of this universal destruction.
‘I have no longer any need for life or kingdom or wealth. Having caused such friends and kinsmen to be slain, I have proved myself to be a fool and a hater of friends.’
Unto the new king, Gandhari says nothing. With long sighs she controls her welling anger, and just as Yudhishthir is stepping forward to bow down to her, she directs her eyes from under the folds of the cloth that cover them to the tip of the Pandava’s toe.
The toenail of Yudhishthir thus, which had always been beautiful and clear, now turns black.
The Pandavas are gripped with fear at seeing this, and they glance at one another as if to ask whether they should remain in the queen’s presence.
But unbeknownst to them, the charring of Yudhishthir’s toenail is Gandhari’s way of letting out her rage at her nephews without hurting them. Now that her heart has been freed of it, she realizes that there is love within her heart for the sons of Pandu.
A Curse upon Krishna
During the Stree Parva, Gandhari senses the carnage that took place on Kurukshetra. All her anger is now trained toward the one person who allowed it all to happen: Krishna.
‘The Pandavas and the Dhartarashtras have both been burnt by this sacrifice, O Madhava,’ she says. ‘While they were thus being exterminated, why did you stay so indifferent?
‘You are blessed with the gift of eloquence. You have the power to bring about peace. You were capable of commanding the large numbers of your followers to resist from fighting. But you remained silent. You abetted the destruction of the Kuru clan.
‘By whatever little merit I have acquired through waiting dutifully upon my husband, by that merit that is so difficult to attain, I shall curse you.
‘Since you were indifferent to the Kurus and the Pandavas while they killed each other, you shall similarly be forced to watch helplessly as your own kinsmen devour one another.
‘After the Yadava race has thus been exterminated, you will meet your own end while you are alone, by a manner as disgusting as the deaths of all these great warriors.
‘The ladies of the Vrishni clan will weep at your death even as the Bharata women are today crying over the deaths of their husbands.’
The Pandavas are shocked by the meaning of this curse, but Krishna accepts it with good cheer. ‘There is no one in the world save for myself,’ he says, thinly smiling, ‘who is capable of bringing the Vrishni race to its end. I know this well.
‘Even as we speak I am considering ways in which I can bring it about. The Yadavas cannot be defeated by the gods, the Danavas, the Rakshas or the Yakshas. They have to die at their own hand.
‘Now that you have placed your curse, my lady Gandhari, you have aided me in the accomplishment of this task. For that I thank you.’
Kunti Reveals her Secret
Later, with the Pandavas assembling at the Ganges to pay their respects to departed relatives, they find Kunti making a strange suggestion.
‘I wish,’ she says, ‘that a rite should be carried out for that great hero and bowman, that warrior who was distinguished by all marks of heroism, that man who was killed by Arjuna, he who was derided all his life as a Sutaputra.’
Yudhishthir’s face changes in puzzlement, but Kunti goes on. ‘He was your eldest brother, O Dharmaraja,’ she says. ‘That hero was born with a pair of celestial earrings, clad in armour, to me before I was wed to King Pandu. Offer oblations to that son of Surya, so that his soul may at last know peace.’
Yudhishthir is struck by a sudden invisible sword, and he steps away from his mother. All his four brothers, who have heard their mother’s words, also look at one another, not sure how to respond.
Kunti then tells them about how Karna had been born to her by the grace of Durvasa’s chant, and how she had been forced to give him up in order to guard the reputation of Kuntibhoja.
After listening to the story, Yudhishthir says, ‘The grief that I feel now at the death of Karna is a hundred times that which I felt when Abhimanyu was slain, Mother. All this while, I thought I was killing only cousins and uncles and grandfathers in this great war.
‘But now I know that I killed my brother too. We have truly come undone. The man who we have hated all our lives, the man Arjuna wished over years and years to kill, the man who gave me sleepless nights – is he none other than your firstborn?
‘How subtle are the ways of Time! It appears as though the gods are teaching us a lesson. This is not victory that has been granted us. It is defeat! Suyodhana was right, alas. After all that we have done to win back our sovereignty, Suyodhana was right.’
Saying this, Yudhishthir leads his brothers in seeking out the widowed wives of Karna, and pays them his respects. He leads them back to the bank of the river and joins them in personally performing the death rite of his brother.
Yudhishthir assumes the mantle of king on this somber note.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story
- 300+ Mahabharata Stories to Thrill, Delight and Enchant You
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered