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 Arghyaharana Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
An Offering for Krishna
On the final day, when the time comes for the giving away of Arghya (an offering made usually to an ascetic), there occurs a discussion on who should receive it.
Yudhishthir consults Bhishma on the issue, and the grandsire says, ‘I believe that among all of us present here, it is Krishna that deserves the offering the most.
‘Our sacrificial mansion has become illuminated due to his presence, as though a sunless region by the sun. If I were you, Yudhishthir, my child, I shall give the Arghya to none other than the prince of Dwaraka.’
The Pandavas are overjoyed at Bhishma’s recommendation, because they have in their minds also wanted to pick Krishna for the honour.
Sahadeva then makes the offering to the prince of Dwaraka in accordance with all the require rites, and Krishna accepts it.
But at this moment, the king of Chedi, Shishupala, once the commander of Jarasandha’s forces, stands up and raises a ruckus.
It should be noted that Shishupala, when visited by Bhimasena after the death of Jarasandha, invites the Pandava warmly into his capital and pledges his support toward Yudhishthir.
So it is possible that he is not disinclined toward the Pandavas; but friendship with Jarasandha might have meant an automatic enmity with the Yadavas.
And seeing Krishna being accorded a position of respect in Yudhishthir’s court must have rankled him.
It must have also driven home to him that in the new power structure of Aryavarta, which came into being after Jarasandha’s death, the Yadavas were stationed alongside the Kurus right at the top.
Whatever the reason, he stands up in the assembly right after the sacrificial offering is made to Krishna, and asks Yudhishthir: ‘In what capacity are you honouring this man thus, O King?
‘Is it his seniority in age that you respect, for if that is the case we have his father Vasudeva in attendance right here. How can be superior to him?
‘If you’re feting him as a friend and kinsman, could he mean more to you than Drupada, who gave you his daughter and the strength of the Panchala kingdom when you were all mere beggars in hiding?
‘Is he a matchless preceptor, perhaps? But then, with Dronacharya sitting amongst us, how could he be? Shall we think that he is a sage without peer, a Ritwija? But that would be folly, for we have Dwaipayana himself overseeing the sacrifice.’
‘Bhishma, the foremost man of the Kurus,’ continues Shishupala, ‘stands here. There is Ashwatthama, Duryodhana, Kripacharya, Druma the king of the Kimpurushas, Bhishmaka, Pandya, Rukmi, Salya, Karna…
‘Is there a dearth of men in this assembly that is deserving of this honour that you were forced to pick a mere cowherd?
‘This man is not a king. He does not bear on his person any royal insignia. He is not virtuous, for we all know the means with which he took the life of King Jarasandha.
‘Why do you then insist on insulting all of us by bestowing such high respect on a man that deserves it not?’
Saying so, Shishupala, gathering around him a few of the kings that agreed with him, prepared to storm out of the assembly.
With Yudhishthir hurrying behind the departing king in order to placate him, Bhishma rises and addresses the assembly, telling them all why he thought Krishna was the most suited to receive the first offering.
Yudhishthir succeeds in bringing back Shishupala into the assembly.
But at this point, Sahadeva impetuously says: ‘If there is anyone here that rejects the choosing of Krishna and my worship of him, then let it be considered that I have placed my foot on the heads of all such men.’
He raises his foot to the full sight of those assembled, and a good number of kings at the hall cheer for the young Pandava.
Sahadeva Performs the Ritual
When Sahadeva shows his foot in that manner to the assembly, none of the kings dare to say anything in response.
A shower of flowers fall on the youngest Pandava’s head. A divine voice proclaims that what he has undertaken to do is ‘excellent’.
Sahadeva proceeds to perform the ritual and by washing Krishna’s feet, and by giving him the arghya. Krishna silently accepts this honour, even as Shishupala seethes.
He looks around at the kings in the hall and says: ‘Why are you all scared when I am here to lead you? Let us all unite and battle against the assembled Vrishnis and Pandavas!’
Among the invited monarchs, some of them stay quiet and seated. But a good number of them are roused by Shishupala’s speech. They begin to openly discuss how to obstruct the sacrifice.
The Kings Revolt
At last, after a suitable time has passed, the kings rise up together and proclaim: ‘We do not approve of Yudhishthir honouring Krishna in this manner at this event.’
Shishupala thus succeeds in causing an uprising at Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya. Whether this is a premeditated tactic on his part or whether he is swayed by his emotions, we do not know.
But Krishna sees this and comes to a realization that unless an intervention is made, Yudhishthir’s supremacy as emperor can come to a halt right at that moment.
All the efforts that Pandavas have taken over the last few months may come to nought if Shishupala and his aides create a formal alliance of their own against Yudhishthir.
With this, the Arghyaharana Parva ends.