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 Ulukabhigamana Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
A Message for Yudhishthir
The Ulukabhigamana Parva (sometimes called Uluka Dutabhigamana Parva) concerns Duryodhana sending a messenger called Uluka to the Pandava camp with personalized messages for each of the five brothers.
The intention behind this act is to instigate the Pandava army into a frenzy so that their decision-making is impaired.
Uluka begins with a disclaimer that he is merely a carrier of messages, not their composer.
‘The words I am going to speak now do not belong to me, O King,’ he tells Yudhishthir, after he had been invited into the main tent of the Pandavas. ‘They are Prince Duryodhana’s. So I hope that you will not think to punish me out of hurt feelings.’
After he gets an assurance from Krishna that he is safe, he begins, ‘This is what Duryodhana wishes to convey to Yudhishthir, the eldest of the Pandavas.
‘You have always been reluctant to fight, O King, and you have always chosen to silence your powerful brothers from acting in the way true Kshatriyas ought.
‘You call yourself a Kshatriya too, but where is your spirit? All these years, we have prodded and prodded you in the hope that you will one day react with anger, but you have been spineless as a snake.’
Uluka Shames Yudhishthir
Uluka continues: ‘Without any shame, after all that we have heaped upon you, you sent Krishna as an emissary to ask for a mere five villages! Vasudeva even said that if we abstained from war, you will be content to live as noblemen at my father’s court.
‘You are a blight upon your race, O Dharmaraja, for entertaining these thoughts. What will your mother say if she comes to know that you tried to court me thus? How hypocritical of you, Yudhishthir, that you say one thing and do quite another?
‘Let us dispense with all this “wisdom”. Let us instead embrace the purpose of all Kshatriya men, which is to engage in war.
‘And why do you, O Yudhishthir, who has been trained by men such as Drona and Bhishma, men who are higher born than you are, take refuge at Vasudeva’s side, who is after all born in the same order as you?
‘Relinquish your obsession with that cowherd, and come out onto the battlefield to meet me in your armour.’
Uluka then segues to address Krishna with the following words.
A Message for Krishna
‘When you came to our court, O Vasudeva,’ says Uluka, echoing Duryodhana’s words, ‘you created an impressive illusion which plunged fear into the hearts of our many allies. But on the battlefield, just visual tricks will not work.
‘When faced with an army, one has to kill or die. We are also competent with our skills of illusion. The warriors on our side have access to many divine weapons that you have never seen.
‘The Self-Create has brought us all into being as equals, O Madhusudana. You are as human as I am. Even Dhananjaya, he whose praises you sing every waking moment, is as fallible as the rest of us.
‘On numerous occasions in the past I have heard you say that you will bring about the annihilation of the Kauravas. Now is your chance, O Regent of Dwaraka. Come and meet us in battle so that we can see your much-vaunted power at work.
‘It is only when the time of war comes that the valour of people is truly known, O Krishna. Our world contains many men who are mere eunuchs in the privacy of their homes but parade as champions due to tales told of past glories.
‘We will now see who among these are heroes and who are not.’
For Nakula and Sahadeva
To Nakula and Sahadeva, Uluka says, ‘Rise, O sons of Madri, and display the reverence you have for your elder brother today. I know both of you hate me intensely. I welcome it.
‘Let the hatred spill over onto the field of battle tomorrow, and let destiny decide who should win and who should lose. Remind yourself of all the harrowing experiences we put Draupadi through on the day of the dice game, and how helpless you all were in stopping us.
‘Pick up your weapons. Cover yourselves in armour. Show the world that you really meant all those oaths you took.’
For the Panchala Princes
To Shikhandi: ‘You are the prince that is tasked with the killing of Bhishma, is it not? You are less than half as old as the grandsire, and he has won more battles than you have fought.
‘I wish you the best in achieving that which is impossible, but it will be my pleasure to see you fail.’
To Dhrishtadyumna: ‘And you, Prince, who dreams of killing Dronacharya, he who has taught Arjuna all that he knows, I can only say good luck.
‘Whether you succeed or fail, the heroic thing to do is to try, O Son of Drupada, so come to the battlefield and challenge us with the best of your weapons. I assure you that we will be ready.’
For Bhima and Arjuna
To Bhima, with a laugh of mockery: ‘You are like a bull divested of horns, Brother. You became a cook by name Vallabha in the court of Virata to escape recognition by my spies.
‘That, indeed, is a sign of your manliness. Let me remind you of the vow you took in the assembly hall when Draupadi was disrobed. You said that you will drink Duhsasana’s blood in battle.
‘This is the time to achieve all of what you had dreamed of, O Vrikodara. So far, all you have done is learn to cook delicious food. Worthy, indeed, of a fearless Kshatriya!’
To Arjuna: ‘Either vanquish us and rule the world, O Hero, or be vanquished by us and lie down on the earth, dead. Recall to your mind all the sufferings that you had to endure due to being banished from the kingdom.
‘For a long time now we have heard you speak of the Gandiva, of the celestial weapons that you have gathered from the gods, and the absolute greatness of your skill with the bow and arrow.
‘Your Gandiva might be six cubits long. It might be the best bow in all the three worlds. You might have all the desirable weapons that have been forged in the land of the gods. And yet here I sit, with my kingdom intact.
‘Where were all these weapons when you were won at stake to become my slave, O Arjuna? It was Draupadi who saved you all; otherwise, even today you would all have been serving me as mere attendants!
‘So remember, O Jishnu, it is not lineage that provides one with valour. But it is action. I have acted. You are yet to do so. Come. Rain your arrows upon my ocean of warriors. See if you can cause even a ripple!’
After Uluka has had his say, Bhima is the first to rise and reply. ‘Uluka you ignorant fool! These words, sent through you by Duryodhana, were constructed only to provoke us into mindless acts. Do you think we are a set of imbeciles?
‘The only thing that saved Suyodhana on the day of the dice game was Brother Yudhishthir’s orders that we must not swerve from the path of virtue. We always seek to gratify our king, so we have not ever taken up arms against him.
‘Does he not feel grateful for that? Because he must! It was only for the good of the Kuru race that Yudhishthir sent Kesava over to the Kuru court in order to speak for peace. But impelled by fate, of course you wish to fight!
‘You wish to hasten to Yama’s abode. I have indeed vowed to kill all of you; do not think that I have forgotten my words. I certainly do not need you remind me of them.
‘The very mountains may split, the very ocean may overflow onto the continents of Earth, the very denizens of heaven might come to assist you, O Duryodhana, but my vow will not go unfulfilled.
‘I shall end this war by drinking the blood of Duhsasana. And the Pandavas, my brothers, will each fulfil their respective oaths. Of that I assure you.’
Arjuna now turns to face Uluka. ‘If you wish to fight us, O Duryodhana,’ he says, ‘do so on the strength of your own arms. Do not hide behind men we respect, like Drona and Kripacharya and Bhishma.
‘Those virtuous men fight not for you but for the throne of Hastinapur, which you have subjugated from behind your pitiful father. Since you have told me what a Kshatriya ought and ought not do, let me remind you that a true Kshatriya fights on his own.
‘He who shoots from behind the shoulders of giants is a mere coward, and that is what you are, O Prince. Being weak and unable to do anything of import yourself, why do you then roar with the strength of borrowed voices?’
‘Anyone who relies on the strength of his allies in making pronouncements is not a worthy Kshatriya. And you, Duryodhana, have installed Bhishma, our beloved grandfather, as the commander of your forces.
‘Why? Because you think the Pandavas will be too consumed by love and respect to attack him?
‘Do not delude yourself with such thoughts! Here I take a vow that it will be me who slays Grandsire Bhishma in the course of battle. At sunrise, you will know the price of bragging which you indulge in tonight because you think you are invincible.
‘Tomorrow, in front of your very eyes, I shall bring Bhishma down from his chariot with my arrows, and see to it that he hits the ground, unable to fight anymore.
‘After Bhishma, Drona, Kripacharya and Karna are silenced, what will you be left with, Prince? All your greed and lust will die with you, and all your sons too.
‘The Pandavas will destroy everything that you hold sacred today, and upon your dead body will we erect a second Amaravati, the envy of all the kings of Aryavarta!’
Yudhishthir says, ‘The difference between me and you, Duryodhana, is that I do not wish to harm even an insect, let alone my own kinsmen. That is why I asked for no more than five villages.
‘But you are eager to fight and kill men of your own family; not just us, but also the likes of Bhishma and Kripacharya, who do not wish to fight. You have chosen to sacrifice thousands upon thousands of lives just to satisfy your own personal greed.
‘Your words have been heard, and they have been understood. There is nothing more to be said. We will meet tomorrow and let our weapons speak.’
Nakula and Sahadeva add their own small speeches to this. So do Virata and Drupada. Shikhandi and Dhrishtadyumna reinforce their vows to kill Bhishma and Drona respectively.
Taking these messages, Uluka leaves the Pandava camp and returns to Duryodhana.
This brings to an end to the Ulukabhigamana Parva.