The Mahabharata is a collection of hundred Parvas (or ‘sections’) that tell the story of a long-standing family feud between two sets of cousins – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – for control of the Kuru throne in Hastinapur.
The climactic event of the story is an eighteen-day war that happens between the two factions on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
It is commonly understood that the Pandavas are the protagonists of this tale and the Kauravas the antagonists – though many retellings have appeared over the years that flip this structure.
In this post, we will summarize the Jarasandha Vadha Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
‘The time has come for the death of Jarasandha,’ declares Krishna. ‘But he is too strong to be defeated in a battle. Even if all the celestials and the Asuras fight together, they will fail to destroy him.
‘I think he should be vanquished in a personal struggle with bare arms. As a prelude to your Rajasuya, I will take Bhima and Arjuna with me to Magadha. And there I shall seek to kill the king of Magadha.
‘I have tactical nous. Bhima has strength. In Arjuna there is triumph. Between the three of us, we cannot fail!
‘When we approach Jarasandha in secret, and when we challenge him to a duel, his pride will not allow him to pick anyone but Bhimasena as his opponent.
‘So if you trust me, Yudhishthir, pledge me your two younger brothers. And let me take them to Magadha.’
Needless to say, Yudhishthir gladly gives Krishna the services of Bhima and Arjuna for this project. The three of them go to Magadha disguised as Brahmins.
At the royal court of Magadha, the three Brahmins present themselves to Jarasandha. The king’s spies had already watched these intruders enter the kingdom, and have informed Jarasandha about them.
Nevertheless, Jarasandha says, ‘Welcome to my city!’
He washes their feet with honey and milk. He offers them gifts of cows and gold. But when Arjuna and Bhima remain silent at this show of charity, Krishna says:
‘These two are observing a vow of silence, O King. They will not speak a word until midnight is upon us.’
The king accepts this without comment. He provides his guests with rooms to stay in at night. And at the stroke of midnight, he visits them to see how they are.
Krishna Reveals the Truth
Jarasandha immediately sees that the three men in front of him are not Brahmins.
‘I know enough about Snataka Brahmins to know that they never deck their bodies with garlands and fragrant paste. You, on the other hand, not only have flowers on you but your hands betray marks of the bowstring.
‘Who are you, O Strangers? Why have you come into my kingdom? And why have you not accepted my gifts?’
Krishna replies: ‘O King, we are certainly observing the Snataka vow. This can be observed by Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas alike. We are definitely Kshatriyas, with all the energy that the creator has planted in our bodies.
‘As for why we did not accept your gifts, it is our vow that having entered an enemy’s abode for the purpose of killing him, we must not take any of his offerings.’
Jarasandha is surprised at this speech by Krishna. He says, ‘I have never acted violently toward you. Despite racking my brain, I cannot remember where our paths have crossed in the past. Why do you consider me your foe?’
Krishna replies: ‘A certain person at the head of a royal line of kings in the North has commanded us to visit you here, O King. As for your crime, you have imprisoned a number of kings with the intention of sacrificing them to Rudra.
‘Sacrifice of a human being to the gods is considered unholy! You are behaving with members of your own order like an animal does to its prey.
‘We wish to help all people in distress. Therefore, we have come here to challenge you, to kill you, and to free all the kings you have capture unlawfully.’
Jarasandha is bemused at this accusation. ‘I have captured them only after defeating them in battle!’ he protests. ‘This is consistent with the rules set out for Kshatriyas.
‘Whether it is army against army, or man against man, I only take as prisoners those men that I have defeated in battle.’
‘Be that as it may,’ says Krishna, ‘I have come to tell you that I am Hrishikesha, and these two men are the sons of Pandu: Bhimasena and Arjuna. Fight standing before us. Either set free all those kings, or be prepared to go to the house of Yama.’
Jarasandha Agrees to Fight
Jarasandha accepts Krishna’s challenge. He gives instructions to ministers to install his son Sahadeva on the throne.
Then he speaks with his Generals, Kausika and Chitrasena, as to their duties to the new king. Afterward, he sets aside his royal clothes and dons his fighting gear.
Krishna asks him, ‘Who among us should prepare for battle with you, O King?’
And just as Krishna predicted, Jarasandha picks Bhimasena as his opponent.
Jarasandha’s priest then steps forward and places the necessary marks on both his king and his challenger. The two of them step into the wrestling arena, overseen by all of Jarasandha’s ministers.
A Fourteen-day Fight
We’re told that Bhima and Jarasandha begin fighting one another on the first lunar day of the month of Karthika of that year, and they continue their duel without interruption until the night of the fourteenth lunar day.
During this time, they wrestle with one another with much skill and strength. They display many techniques for the benefit of onlookers. They draw praise from spectators about how well they are fighting.
On the fourteenth night, Jarasandha is overcome by fatigue. Addressing Bhima, he says, ‘O son of Kunti, an opponent who is fatigued should not be pressed beyond his abilities, for then he might die.
‘You must only expend as much energy as he possesses in his flagging body. It is improper to kill a king in this manner after first stripping him of all his strength!’
But Bhima is not in the mood to hear lectures about virtue. He tells Krishna that he is not going to show Jarasandha any mercy.
And Krishna agrees. ‘O Bhima, show this king the power that runs in your veins through the blessing of your father, Maruta!’
At these words from Krishna, Bhima lifts Jarasandha up in his arms and begins to whirl him over his head. Then he brings the king’s backbone down on his knee and cracks it open.
After having broken Jarasandha’s body in two, Bhima roars like a wild animal.
The citizens of Magadha are dumbstruck at hearing the news. Krishna makes haste and frees all the kings that Jarasandha had imprisoned.
When they express their gratitude to Krishna, he replies: ‘Yudhishthir has undertaken the Rajasuya sacrifice. I implore you to assist him in his endeavours.’
All the newly-free kings therefore immediately pledge their allegiance to Yudhishthir.
Sahadeva, the son of Jarasandha who is now on the throne, also lends support to the Pandavas. Their quest successful, Krishna, Arjuna and Bhimasena return to Khandavaprastha.
This brings the Jarasandha Vadha Parva to a close.