Mahabharata Parva 60: The Bhagavatyana Parva

Mahabharata Parvas - Bhagavatyana - Featured Image - Picture of twin fetuses sharing a womb, representing Karna's brotherhood with the Pandavas

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 Bhagavatyana Parva.

(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)

Yudhishthir Asks for Help

After Sanjaya leaves from the Pandava camp, meanwhile, Yudhishthir and the other Pandavas meet with Krishna. The eldest of them is the first to speak of what must lie ahead. ‘Sanjaya’s words are a reflection of what is on Duryodhana’s mind, O Krishna,’ he says.

‘King Dhritarashtra seeks to make peace with us without giving us our share of the kingdom. How foolish we were to expect that the king would stay true to his word.

‘With the blessed support of Kasi, Panchala, Chedi, Matsya and you, I prayed for only five villages – Avishthala, Vrikashthala, Makandi, Varanavata, and a fifth of their choosing. But even that has been rejected, O Madhava.

‘What can be more sorrowful than this? For a Kshatriya, loss of wealth is equivalent to loss of life, is it not? A poor Kshatriya is shunned by his relatives, loved ones and friends, just as birds shun a tree that bears neither leaves nor fruits.

‘So all of this tells me that it is right to fight, Krishna. No doubt about it! But on the other hand, what good can come of fighting our own kinsmen? Enmity is never neutralized by enmity.

‘He that kills never gains fame in this world; indeed, such men earn eternal infamy in the estimation of all.

‘If it is true that there is no death worse than humiliation, Krishna, then the Pandavas and Draupadi have died many times over in the hands of the Kauravas. All scriptures point out that when conciliatory means fail, frightful ones must follow.

‘If we are to resort to violence at this juncture, Cousin, I do not believe that the sin of killing one’s own will attach itself to us. Or will it?’

Krishna Offers

Krishna smiles at Yudhishthir’s debate with himself. ‘I will tell you what I will do, Yudhishthir. I will go to the court of the Kurus. And without sacrificing your interests, I will ask for peace.

‘That way, I will accrue some merit for myself too, because even at this late moment, if we can avoid war and death to thousands, what can be more desirable than that?’

Yudhishthir wonders if this is a good idea. ‘The more we ask for peace, Krishna,’ he says, ‘the more we are perceived as weaklings. I doubt that you should go.’

But Krishna insists. ‘By my going there, we will escape the censure of all the kings of the land, and of all neutral observers, here on Earth and up there in heaven.

‘I know the designs of Duryodhana, and I do not expect them to accept my offer, Yudhishthir, but we must do our part to the full so that we might never be blamed for being too eager to fight.’

Krishna Leaves for Hastinapur

At dawn the day following the meeting, Krishna makes arrangements to leave for Hastinapur. We are told that the month is Kaumuda Kartika under the constellation Revati, and the hour is Maitra.

The rays of the sun are still mild when he begins performing all the rituals in company of Brahmins. After they have all been completed, he addresses Satyaki and says:

‘Arrange for my conch, discus, mace, darts and all other weapons to be loaded into my chariot, O Yuyudhana. Duryodhana and his henchmen are wicked souls and are our foes. They might make the mistake of wanting to fight me.’

And the Yadava princes come together to yoke Saivya and Sugriva (Krishna’s horses) to the chariot first, and then Meghapushpa and Valahaka as well. Just as Krishna is about to set out, Garuda comes flying down from the heavens and perches on top of the flagstaff.

Auspicious animals and birds accompany the prince on his way out of the city, with Yudhishthir following him and bidding him goodbye at the boundary of Upaplavya.

‘Please visit our mother, Pritha,’ Yudhishthir reminds Krishna. ‘She has forever been engaged in penance, virtue, propitiatory rites and ceremonies. She is devoted to gods and sages, and always looks upon her elders with respect.

‘She is pious in all ways, and it is to her credit that we have grown to this stature. She now lives with Vidura, I am given to believe, and that she hopes that her sons will one day return and rescue her.

‘Please drop in on her, Krishna, and soothe her with your friendly words. Give her my love and assure her that we are doing everything in our power to end this long drought.’

Satyaki by his Side

Krishna accepts Yudhishthir’s request, and with Satyaki on his side, sets out on his chariot as natural and unnatural omens appear. There are no clouds, but thunder rattles the sky, and flashes of lightning can be seen along the horizon’s edges.

A harsh south-westerly wind, uprooting trees by the thousands, crushes the city of Hastinapur to portend the arrival of Krishna, but wherever he stops on his journey, he is accompanied by gentle breezes and the smell of fragrant flowers.

By sunset he comes to Vrikasthala, one of the villages that Yudhishthir had asked for, and camps there. ‘Let us stay here for the night and resume our journey tomorrow,’ he instructs Daruka, his charioteer.

The people of the village welcome him with all due honours, and the Brahmins of the place attend upon him with Vedic chants and gifts brought from their hermitages.

Krishna accepts all of this with good grace, and spends the night happily over here, knowing in his mind that news of his impending visit would have reached Dhritarashtra by then.

Hastinapur Welcomes Krishna

Meanwhile, having been told of Krishna’s arrival in Vrikasthala by his spies, Dhritarashtra calls for a meeting of the Kaurava elders – Bhishma, Drona, Sanjaya, Kripa, Duryodhana, Vidura – in order to make necessary arrangements for his welcome.

‘Let there be no doubt in this matter,’ he says, eyeing his son. ‘Krishna is one of the most powerful men of the world. If we welcome him in the proper manner with gifts that he seeks, he will bestow on us the advantages of his friendship.

‘Let pavilions be set up along the path he is taking to Hastinapur, and at each stop, may there be enough provisions made for his refreshment and rest. Let a beautiful palace be erected in Vrikasthala, full of precious gems.

‘May he be given a hundred golden chariots laden with fragrant flowers and other-worldly jewels.’

But Vidura is not impressed by the king’s superficial show of generosity. ‘Your Majesty,’ he says, ‘the gifts that you desire to give Keshava, indeed, are worthy of him. In fact, Krishna deserves the whole Earth for himself, such is his personality.

‘But I feel that you do not wish to give him gifts out of feelings of virtue but out of hope for future profit. O King! Krishna comes here with one sole purpose, and that is to speak on behalf of the Pandava brothers.

‘Such as it is, he intends only those five villages that Yudhishthir has asked for, nothing more.

‘If your mind is truly bent upon the good of the Kurus, as you repeatedly say it is, do not give Madhava any of the gifts you just cited, Your Highness. He will not think ill of you for even one moment. Give him instead the five villages.’

Duryodhana’s Irritation

Duryodhana claps his thigh in irritation at Vidura’s words. ‘What Vidura has said is right, Father. The battle lines have been drawn. Krishna is now our enemy, and therefore is unworthy of our respect.

‘We all know that he only has the good of the Pandavas at heart; when has he ever done something for our welfare? It is quite out of place, therefore, to heap all these gifts on him, because he might construe it as our attempt to bribe him for insidious gains.’

Bhishma says, ‘Whether you give him gifts or not, whether you worship him or not, he will not get angry at you, Duryodhana. If you have any hope of saving your life and your honour, do as he says and seek his blessings.

‘Time is still in your favour. Otherwise, whether you treat him with gifts or with mere words will not make any difference.’

‘Then why must I not imprison him?’ says Duryodhana, looking around the court, to stunned silence. ‘Yes! I said why must I not imprison him?

‘If we all know that he is the lynchpin of the Pandava force, and if he is coming here unarmed, then I dare say that we should take matters into our own hands, and cast him into the dungeons until the war is over.’

Bhishma’s Rage

Bhishma shakes with rage at these words. ‘You!’ he says. ‘You speak of imprisoning Krishna, who comes here as the Pandavas’ messenger?’

‘Yes,’ says Duryodhana. ‘It seems to me that this is the easiest way we can secure victory over those wretches.’

Bhishma does not try to argue with his grandson. He addresses Dhritarashtra and says, ‘This prince has become blinded by vanity and wickedness, O King. I dare not listen to these words, seeped as they are in vice.

‘If you excuse me from this court, then, I shall take my leave.’

Saying that, Bhishma leaves the place, with the attending members still in shock.

Krishna Visits Pritha

Upon arriving in Hastinapur, Krishna accepts the welcome laid out for him by the Kuru elders, though he does not even look at the various gifts that Dhritarashtra has paraded out. He seeks out Vidura and expresses a desire to visit Kunti, his maternal aunt.

At Vidura’s place, when he first sees her and touches her feet, Kunti breaks down in a mixture of relief and grief. ‘I did not think that you will come for me ever again, Krishna,’ she says.

‘And I did not think that my sons will assemble enough force on their side to challenge the mighty army of the Kurus.’

Krishna takes her inside, and they sit together in one of the inner rooms to talk. After they have had their refreshments, Kunti says, ‘Of all the travails that have come my way throughout my life, Krishna, this one that has separated me from my sons has been the hardest.

‘For thirteen years I have had to stay away from them, and now I feel as though I do not remember their faces. How is Arjuna? How is Yudhishthir, the prince with the golden complexion?

‘How is Vrikodara, and how are the sons of Madri? Is Draupadi keeping well? I hear that her sons have been fostered in Dwaraka. Have they been educated well?

‘Vidura tells me that they all have taken up arms in the army that Dhrishtadyumna commands. Have they been trained well enough to fight?’

Krishna’s Assurance

Krishna listens to her with due deference, and tells her that all her wishes will soon be fulfilled. ‘The prophecies you have heard at the birth of Arjuna are not to go in vain, Aunt,’ he says.

‘Your sons have conducted themselves along the strictest path of righteousness all these years, and even during the upcoming war, I assure you that they will be on the right side of dharma.

‘And no, Aunt, there is nothing illusory about virtue, though it is often elusive. It is, perhaps, the only tangible value in the world of men. And I will help your sons uphold it right to the very end.’

Thus consoled, Kunti says, ‘My sons are indeed fortunate that they have you for a guide, Krishna. I know how powerful you are, and how virtuous and how truthful, how knowledgeable.

‘If you say that the Pandavas will indeed fulfil their storied destinies, then I have nothing more to ask of you.’

Krishna then takes leave of her after respectfully walking around her three times, and then departs for Duryodhana’s mansion.

Opening Statement – Part One

The next day, early in the morning, Krishna wakes up and worships the Sun god. He takes an early bath, offers libations to the fire, seeks blessings from sages, and ascends his chariot that would take him to the Kuru court.

Accompanying him is Satyaki, and on the way, a conclave of great sages meets him. Included in this group are rishis like Kanva, Parashurama and Narada.

They are all welcomed with due respect at the Kuru court. Bhishma embraces Krishna and escorts him personally to his seat. After all the commotion has died down and the time has come to start proceedings, Krishna clears his throat to perfect silence.

All the important kings of Aryavarta and all the prominent members of the Kuru court are present, listening intently.

‘The Kuru race is considered to be the most distinguished in all of Aryavarta, O King,’ says Krishna, addressing Dhritarashtra in a deep, low voice.

‘Joy in the happiness of others, grief at people’s misery, desire to alleviate suffering, abstaining from causing injury, forgiveness, truth – these have been some of the tenets that your predecessors have staunchly adopted.

‘It would be a pity if anything improper were to be done to the honour of the Kuru dynasty by someone who belongs to it. It would be a bigger tragedy, Your Majesty, if that someone were you. You are the king. You are the ruler of this land.

‘If a quarrel is to develop between your sons, as the patriarch it is you who must douse it. Your sons, led by Duryodhana, have behaved most unrighteously toward your other sons – the Pandavas.

‘Overseeing it all, you have so far remained indifferent, sir, and if that is to continue, there will be a slaughter of the kind Aryavarta has never seen.’

Opening Statement – Part Two

Krishna continues: ‘Does the Kuru clan need this disrepute? Why let centuries of righteous conduct be washed away by mere indecision? If you do not trust the Pandavas, leave them to me.

‘You counsel your sons and make them accept this offering of peace. I will, on my end, speak to the sons of Pandu and bring them around too. Let us stop this feud here and now, before weapons are drawn and made to clash.

‘Imagine the strength of the Kuru army if this comes to pass, O King. Along with Duryodhana, Bhishma, Drona, Kripacharya and Shalya, what if you could add the might of Arjuna, Bhimasena, Satyaki, the sons of Madri, Dhrishtadyumna and Shikhandi?

‘With such an array of dazzling warriors, you will be the monarch of monarchs. Your power will rival that of Indra, and no one in the land will ever think of fighting you.

‘And you will be well-respected too, Dhritarashtra. The Pandavas would like nothing more than a chance to wait upon you. They love you. They are eager to live with you as kinsmen.

‘They will not disobey a single command of yours if you just bring yourself to make a decision on this one matter.

‘They are fatherless; you become their father. And like a true father, clutch them to your bosom and give them the respect that they seek. Treat them fairly, on equal footing. Those five will repay your affection many times over, Your Majesty.

‘Do not let hate consume this great throne of the Kurus; you are merely its custodian. Ask yourself what your ancestors would say if you were to bring about the great battle that will end this age of Dwapara.’

Duryodhana’s Reply

Duryodhana’s reply is along expected lines. ‘First of all, Krishna,’ he says, his eyes bristling with wrath, ‘I do not believe that the Pandavas are as strong as you believe them.

‘True, Arjuna won the battle in Virata against our army, but you must remember that we were then fighting for low stakes indeed; why would any of us exert ourselves for mere cattle?

‘The same warriors will shed all their inhibitions when participating in a war for the kingdom itself. Do you think Grandsire Bhishma will stand by and watch while the throne of Hastinapur is broken by Arjuna’s arrows?

‘Do you think Dronacharya and Ashwatthama will hold back their celestial weapons? Do you think I will think twice before crushing the skull of Bhimasena?

‘In every one of the instances you cite of Pandava valour, Madhusudana, they are seen fighting for their lives or honour. We have never had to do so. It is a mistake to compare us to them, therefore, and to conclude that they are more heroic than us.

‘It has been said that it is a moment that throws up a champion. I believe that with skilled warriors such as Kripacharya and Karna and Shalya on our side, when the hour calls for courage, there will be plenty on display.’

Speaking of Virtue

Duryodhana continues: ‘Now we speak of virtue, that eternal point of discussion in all our debates. You say it was sinful of me to cheat the Pandavas out of a kingdom. I ask: how so?

‘We invited them to a game of dice, and we communicated to them the terms before we began playing. They had full freedom to say no. Even then, after they lost everything in the first round of gambling, we returned everything we had won.

‘But they participated in the game again, after agreeing to the terms of exile. How is any of this unrighteous or wrong on my part?

‘As for desire, O Madhava, who in the world is not compelled by it? From the smallest ant to the biggest elephant, it is desire that makes life and death chase each other in a never-ending cycle.

‘I do not make apologies for being a servant to my desires, and I am not ashamed of them. No, sir, not even for a moment!

‘So as you can see, Krishna, by the three things you have named – profit, desire and virtue – I believe I am taking the right course of action. The Pandavas should never have been given a share of the kingdom, nor should their father ever have been made king in his time.

‘Those mistakes happened before I had gained the power to stop them, O Hrishikesha. But now that I stand here, erect and strong, in the company of these illustrious men, let me declare that the land will never, in my lifetime, be given back to them.’

Apprehending Krishna

Duryodhana then resolves to do the impossible: to apprehend Krishna.

‘Like Indra subjugating Bali,’ he says, ‘let us bind this prince of Dwaraka and put him in prison. Once he has been seized, the Pandavas will find themselves without a rudder, and they will be easy to defeat.

‘They will become like snakes whose fangs have been sawed off, and they will find their will broken to pieces. They will think no more of war or kingdom; they will just be enamoured by my power and slink away in silence.’

This plan, though, does not remain secret for too long. Satyaki, who had accompanied Krishna to Hastinapur, gets wind of it, and he instructs Kritavarma:

‘Take your akshauhini of troops and have them stay at the ready a short distance from here. It is probable that the son of Dhritarashtra will make an offensive move at Krishna.’

(It is to be noted here that though Kritavarma has pledged support to Duryodhana in the war against the Pandavas, his loyalties do not extend to causing direct harm to Krishna.)

Krishna himself is unperturbed by the suggestion. He stands up and smiles at Duryodhana. ‘You think that I am just one person, Prince,’ he says, ‘and that is why you entertain delusions that you will be able to capture me.

‘But let me show you my true form, and then you shall decide on your own whether this is a good idea.’

The Vishwaroopa

‘Here,’ says Krishna, ‘are all the Pandavas and the Vrishnis and the Andhakas. Here are the Adityas, the Rudras, the Vasus, and the saptarishis.’

He opens his mouth to laugh, and from his body, resembling a blazing fire, an array of gods stream out, each no bigger than the size of a thumb.

On his forehead appears Brahman, and Rudra sits on his breast. The regents of the world are perched upon his arms, and from his mouth come Agni, the Adityas, the Sadhyas, the Ashwins, the Maruts, Indra and the Vishwadevas.

He also brings about images of thousands of Yakshas, Gandharvas and Rakshasas.

From one of his arms emerges Arjuna, bow in hand, and from the other comes Balarama, plough mounted upon his shoulder.

Bhima, Yudhishthir, Madri’s sons and all the other Vrishnis (with Pradyumna at their head) stand in front of him in miniature, their weapons raised, ready to do battle.

He bears the conch, the discus, the mace, the Saranga bow, the plough, the javelin, the Nandaka, and every other weapon known to man. Each arm is raised, poised to strike. From his eyes and nose and ears issue fierce sparks mixed with smoke.

The form is such that it induces in equal parts awe and fright.

Krishna Leaves

After a few moments of holding this grand pose, Krishna resumes his human form, and with Satyaki on one arm and Kritavarma on the other, leaves the assembly hall to mount his chariot outside.

Dhritarashtra, who comes to see him off, laments his plight once again. ‘I hope you saw, O Krishna, how powerless I am to stop Duryodhana. I hope you agree that I have done everything I could to stop this war.’

To that Krishna merely smiles. He addresses Dhritarashtra and the rest of the Kuru elders too. ‘I have heard the words you have spoken, O King, and the words that these great men have not.

‘I have received my answer. I will now return to Yudhishthir and tell him of all that has happened. In three short words: prepare for war.’

From there, Krishna instructs Daruka, his charioteer, to take him to the abode of Kunti.

Proposal for Karna

The next day, after spending the night at Vidura’s place, Krishna takes Karna in his chariot and takes him to the outskirts of the city. Once they are out of earshot of anyone important, Krishna says:

‘You have studied the scriptures as deeply as I have, O Vasusena. You will know, therefore, that there are two kinds of sons that a maiden might have. One is called the Sahoda, who are the sons born to her fathered by her husband.

‘The other kind is called the Kanina, children born to her of other men from before her marriage. On both occasions, the sons are considered morally to be the children of the maiden’s wedded husband.’

‘Why do you tell me all this, Krishna?’ asks Karna.

‘I do so because you are one of the kanina sons of Kunti, O Karna, and by the declaration of the scriptures, you are also the moral heir to Pandu. On the side of your father, you have the five Pandavas as your younger brothers.

‘On the side of your mother, you have the Vrishnis for kinsmen. Balarama and I will be happy to serve you as regents. If you come with me, I shall let the Pandavas know that you were born of Kunti before Yudhishthir.

‘They, along with Draupadi and Subhadra, will embrace your feet.’

Draupadi as Karna’s Wife

Krishna continues: ‘All the kings and princes who have assembled to fight for the Pandavas will pay you the utmost respect, O Karna. During her sixth period, Draupadi will come to unite with you as wife, and will bear your son in due course.

‘Your wish of being her husband will also thus be fulfilled. You will be the ruler of Indraprastha when it is won back from Duryodhana, and you will be the overlord of the earth, ahead of Yudhishthir.

‘His chariot will forever drive behind yours, and Draupadi will forever stand by your side, not his.

‘The mighty Bhimasena will hold an umbrella over your head. Arjuna will be your charioteer. Nakula and Sahadeva your willing slaves. I myself, along with the Andhakas and the Vrishnis, will walk behind your chariot, calling out your name repeatedly in reverence.

‘The Panchalas will raise you to the very heavens; Dhrishtadyumna and Shikhandi, the sons of Drupada, will wait upon you every second. Poets and balladeers will sing your praises, and they will say, victory to Vasusena!

‘Let there be a reunion between the brothers, all six of you who were born of the same woman. She will be beside herself with joy if this happens, O Karna, and at long last, you will be given all the respect that you deserve, if not more.

‘The entire world will know of you as the eldest Pandava, and it is you who will lead them into the glorious future. You are all sons of the gods, Karna. You belong together.’

Karna’s Response

This is Karna’s moment of reckoning. All his life, he has been searching desperately for his identity. He has longed for acceptance.

Derided as a sutaputra at every turn of phrase (by Arjuna and Draupadi, among others), he has lived his whole life craving the status and wealth of a high-born Kshatriya.

At least part of his antagonism toward the Pandavas stems from – one could argue – knowledge that he could never be one of them.

And here, if he could utter one word, all his past would be rewritten. His legacy would become immortal as the reinstated monarch of Indraprastha, the eldest son of Kunti, the foremost of the Pandavas.

But at the crucial moment, Karna manages to find an inner truth. ‘It is true that I am the moral son of Pandu, O Kesava,’ he says. ‘It is also true that I was born in Kunti’s womb to Surya. But my mother abandoned me at birth.

It is Adiratha who found me and raised me as his own. His wife, Radha, suckled me at her breast, and washed my urine and other excreta. She fed me, reared me, loved me.

‘Neither of those two is as well-versed in the study of scriptures as you and I are, Krishna. My mother Radha is uneducated. How can I today forsake her for a mother who, after bearing me, fulfilled none of the duties of motherhood?

‘What shall I tell my father, who had me schooled under various rishis? That I have found a more moral father? Who can be more moral than Adiratha, who found it in his heart to give everything to a boy who was not of his seed?’

Staying by Duryodhana

Krishna does not reply; he merely watches. Karna now speaks of his later life. ‘And what of Duryodhana? It is due to him that I have enjoyed the pleasures of kingship while staying within the boundaries of my clan.

He relies upon me to slay Arjuna in the upcoming battle, as he relies upon himself to defeat Bhimasena. How can I desert him at this hour, just as the battle conch is about to go off?’

He implores Krishna that the secret of his birth should be kept a secret. ‘We must ensure that the Pandavas do not realize this truth, O Krishna. If Yudhishthir comes to know of my identity, he will not fight. He will not accept the kingdom.

‘On the other hand, if I defeat Arjuna in battle and win the war for Duryodhana, Yudhishthir will remain a king because he has you by his side, and Arjuna and Bhimasena and the lustrous Draupadi.

‘As for me – I have lived my whole life a Sutaputra. I shall die a Sutaputra.’

Krishna Declares War

After having listened to Karna’s reply, Krishna declares that war is inevitable.

‘Return to the court of Hastinapur now, Karna,’ he says, ‘and tell Drona and Bhishma and Kripa that this present month is a delightful one in which food, drink and fuel are abundant. All plants and herbivores are teeming with life, and there is no sign of death.

‘The roads are free of mire, and the water of every lake is sweet. The weather is neither hot nor cold.

‘But seven days after the end of this month will be the day of the new moon. Let the battle commence then, for it is said that Indra himself watches over the earth on this day.

‘Also tell the kings that are fighting on the side of Duryodhana that they will all reach exalted states of being in the afterlife, that no man who meets his death in Kurukshetra will have to enter the gates of hell.

‘Tell them that they will be forever immortalized on the dusty plains of Samantapanchaka.’

Kunti Meets Karna

After Krishna leaves Hastinapur, Vidura and Kunti sit together and worry a little about the upcoming war. During this conversation, Kunti decides that she should meet Karna and let him know the truth about his birth.

(From this it is obvious that she does not know that he knows.) So on the following day, early in the morning, she goes to the bank of the river Ganga where Karna is known to perform his daily prayers to the sun.

When he emerges from the river with his shoulders reddened by the morning heat, they come face to face. Karna bows to her with modest restraint, though one assumes he guesses her intention.

‘I am Vasusena,’ he says, ‘given that name by my mother Radha and my father Adiratha. How can I be of service to you, my lady?’

‘No,’ says Kunti, suddenly stepping out from the shade and looking up at him. ‘You are my son, not the son of a Suta. I had you when I was but a maiden, but I could not keep you because of the bad name associated with unwed mothers.

‘You are the elder brother to Yudhishthir, and therefore it is a travesty for me to think that you will be fighting him instead of supporting him.’

A voice appears in the sky now, from the direction of the sun, confirming what Kunti has said. But Karna remains unmoved.

Karna Rejects Kunti

‘My lady,’ he says, ‘at the time I needed you the most, you abandoned me to the elements. I was not even old enough to know the world in which I lived. Only the cruellest of human beings are capable of such an action.

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‘And then all these years, you did not wish to claim me as your own. You were content to let me bear all the insults that came my way. Now you come to me not because of love but because of fear for the safety of your own children.

‘Adiratha and Radha are my parents. They will remain my parents throughout my life. I love them as a child ought to love those that gave him birth. I can never feel that way about you, my lady, because you did not perform any acts of motherhood.

‘And no, I cannot now go to the Pandavas and offer them my support. What will the assembled Kshatriyas say then? What will Duryodhana think? He has rested all his hopes on me. I cannot fail him now.’

But before sending her away, Karna does give her a promise. ‘My enmity is with Arjuna alone, and it is to kill him that I shall do everything in my power. I shall not kill any of the four other brothers, so even after the war, you will still have five sons.’

Somewhat assuaged by this promise, Kunti takes her leave and returns to Vidura’s place.

The Bhagavatyana Parva ends on this note.