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 Hrada Pravesha Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
Duryodhana is Found
Meanwhile, Kripa, Kritavarma and Ashwatthama come to the lake where Duryodhana is hiding, and attempt to draw him out so that they may go back to the battlefield and fight again. Ashwatthama, for his part, is particularly rambunctious.
‘Arise, O King,’ he says. ‘We can still vanquish the foe if you come out and fight. The forces of the Pandavas are also on the brink of complete annihilation. They will not be able to survive if we gather our army once again and fight.’
Duryodhana, though, is not keen. ‘The sun has almost set for today, O Drauna,’ he says. ‘By good fortune the three of you have escaped the Pandavas. Let us rest for the night, and tomorrow we can mount an attack afresh on the enemy.
‘Though your hearts are noble and your devotion to me is great, this is perhaps not the time to show our prowess. Let us lie low for a few hours and resume our battle tomorrow.’
Ashwatthama replies, ‘I promise you, O King, that I will slay today all the remaining Somakas and Panchalas that fight under that wretch, Dhrishtadyumna. Without killing all those men who caused the death of my father, I shall not remove my armour.
‘Come out now, Duryodhana, so that we can rally our troops again.’
The Pandavas Arrive
While they are talking in this fashion, a group of hunters – who had been instructed by the Pandavas to search for Duryodhana – pass by that way and overhear the words.
Realizing that they had found the Kuru king, they hurry back to the battlefield and inform Yudhishthir of what they had seen.
Bhimasena is beside himself with joy that the hunters had come through. ‘Give them all the wealth they can carry, Brother,’ he tells Yudhishthir. ‘And let us make haste in finding the eldest Dhartarashtra before he slips away again from our grasp.’
The five Pandavas, along with Dhrishtadyumna, Shikhandin, the Upapandavas, Satyaki Yudhamanyu and Uttamaujas follow the hunters and reach the lake where Duryodhana is hiding.
Hearing them approach, the three Kaurava warriors move away from there, after having told Duryodhana to stay where he is. Ashwatthama has a bad feeling about leaving the king alone like this.
The Pandavas have found Duryodhana, he thinks, and they are here now to exact their revenge. What will happen of the son of Dhritarashtra? Will he be able to escape unhurt?
Krishna Unfreezes the Lake
Yudhishthir leads his small band of warriors to the lake, and they stand on its bank, looking around to see where Duryodhana is hiding. Then the eldest Pandava happens to look at the water’s surface, and sees that it has been solidified by magic.
Pointing it to Krishna, he says, ‘Look, Vasudeva, Duryodhana has frozen this lake with his powers of illusion. It is my presumption, therefore, that he is hiding under it.’
Krishna smiles in agreement, and with his own powers he shatters the spell that Duryodhana had cast on the water. This reveals him in full sight, and the Pandavas encircle him.
Seeing Duryodhana still not budging from his hiding spot, Yudhishthir addresses him thus: ‘Why, O Suyodhana, have you entered these waters and allowed all the great Kshatriyas that fought on your behalf to perish?
‘You instigated the entire world to battle with us, and to throw their lives into jeopardy, but now when the moment arrives, you show none of the courage that you demanded from your followers.
‘You have gained the reputation of being a hero, Brother. But seeing now how you hide out of fear and love for your own life, I doubt that if the titles you have earned are deserved.
‘Staying away from battle is the ultimate matter of shame for any Kshatriya, and you are the foremost of the race, the eldest son of Dhritarashtra, the king of Hastinapur.
‘This behaviour does not befit you. Pick up your weapon, therefore, Duryodhana, and face us in battle.’
Duryodhana replies, ‘I am not hiding out of fear, O King. Nor do I conceal myself because I see no way of winning the war. But my chariot has been destroyed. All my followers have been killed.
‘After fighting on the field for all these days, I find myself overcome by fatigue. It is only to rest awhile that I came here. My suggestion to you and your brothers is to return to camp and sleep through the night. On the morrow, we will fight again on the battlefield.’
Yudhishthir laughs. ‘We are all sufficiently rested, Dhartarashtra. And the sun has not yet set for the battle to be called off. Today, before nightfall, either you will kill the Parthas and keep your kingdom, or lose your life and surrender the city of Hastinapur to us.’
‘I do not care for the battle anymore!’ says Duryodhana. ‘Those for whose sake I intended to win the kingdom – my uterine brothers – are all dead. The earth today is shorn of wealth and good men, O King.
‘When Drona and Karna and Bhishma and Shalya have been slain, what further need is there of battle? Even if I do win, what will I preside over?
‘I grant you the kingdom if you so wish to possess it, O Dharmaraja. Rule it as you see fit, but remember it is nothing more than a wasteland now, divested of everything that once made it great.’
Duryodhana breathes out hot and long sighs from under the water. He waves his arms again and again, and after reluctantly setting his heart on battle, addresses the Pandavas all at once with these words.
‘O sons of Pritha,’ he says, ‘you are all possessed of friends and chariots and wealth. I, however, am alone, without even a car to carry me. This being the case, how can I venture to fight on foot all of you mounted on your vehicles?
‘In order to make this a fair proposition, I challenge you, Yudhishthir, that the Pandavas must fight me one at a time.
‘I do not fear any of you – not Vrikodara, not Arjuna, not the Madreyas, not Vasudeva even. I shall fight all of you, and like the sun destroying the light of many stars, I shall even defeat you.
‘Today I shall free myself of the debt that I owe Drona, Bhishma, Karna, and all my dead brothers. But I shall engage with you only one at a time.’
Yudhishthir, perhaps eager to draw Duryodhana out under any circumstances, gives his agreement. ‘I am glad that you have set your heart to battle. And I shall make the challenge even fairer than you wish, Brother.
‘Fight any one of us Pandavas, with a weapon of your choosing. All the rest of us will stand as spectators. I also grant you, O hero, that if you slay your opponent, I shall give you back the kingdom.’
This is foolishness of the highest order from the firstborn Pandava, and it gives us a reminder that no matter how much a man changes, the more he remains the same. Duryodhana is quick to pounce on this promise, and says:
‘You are a brave and good man, Yudhishthir, for having given me the option of fighting only one of you. I hereby choose the mace as my weapon.’
With these words, he comes out of the water and stands on the lake’s shore, his limbs glistening in the dusky light. With mace in hand he once again repeats his condition.
‘Only one of you, remember! It is not in keeping with the moral precepts of our age that many should converge upon an unarmed one.’
Yudhishthir replies, ‘Why did you not think of this moral rule when Abhimanyu was surrounded by six atirathas? All of you were heroes. All of you knew the dictates of war.
‘And yet you did not hesitate in killing him. But now, O Duryodhana, your time has come. Choose which one among us you would like to fight, and if you win against him, reclaim the kingdom as yours.’
Duryodhana, surprisingly, does not choose the easier option of (maybe) fighting against Sahadeva or Nakula. He hands over the choice back to the eldest Pandava.
‘Send any one of your brothers to fight me, O King,’ he says. ‘I am willing today to defeat even Bhimasena in this mace fight.’
While Yudhishthir is thinking over the matter, he earns the wrath of Krishna.
The Anger of Krishna
‘What rash words have you spoken, O Yudhishthir,’ says Krishna, ‘that slaying one of the Pandavas will give Duryodhana back the throne of Hastinapur?
‘If, indeed, the son of Dhritarashtra chooses you or Arjuna or Nakula or Sahadeva for battle with the mace, what will be the consequence?
‘From desire of slaying Bhimasena, the Kaurava has practised day and night with the mace upon a statue of iron. How, then, will our purpose be achieved by this generosity of yours?
‘At this moment, I do not see anyone among us who is a match for Duryodhana other than Bhima. But even Vrikodara has not practised with the mace as much as Duryodhana has.
‘For all the amount of strength and might that your brother possesses, the Dhartarashtra is more skilful. In a contest between strength and skill, O King, the latter always prevails.
‘Have the last eighteen days – and the last thirteen years – taught you nothing?’
But Bhima, stepping up with his weapon and feeling a lot more confident than Krishna, says, ‘Do not worry, O Yadushreshtha. However difficult it might be, I shall bring an end to this war today. Without doubt I shall slay Suyodhana in this battle.
‘It has been destined that I should be the one to land the fatal blow upon him. Let all of you stand as spectators while I win the kingdom that is rightfully ours and place it at the feet of the virtuous Yudhishthir.’
He holds up the mace in his hand. ‘This weapon of mine is heavier than that of Duryodhana by one and a half times. It is not always true that skill wins over strength, O Madhusudana.
‘I shall show you by defeating this wretch today, and returning the Pandavas and their wife Draupadi to the glory that they have experienced in the past.’
A Challenge is Thrown
Bhimasena addresses Yudhishthir and reassures him that he must not have any fear. ‘This is the moment when the purpose of my life gets realized, my brother, my king,’ he says.
‘Like the conflagration of Khandava, the fire of wrath has been burning inside my heart all these years. I shall quench it today.
‘I shall pluck out that dart that has been stuck to your bosom all this while, and I shall restore you to your rightful spot on the throne of Hastinapur.
‘Today Suyodhana will be laid low by my mace, and today he shall remember all the wrongs that he has perpetuated against the sons of Pritha.’
In the meantime, Duryodhana is ready with mace held over his shoulder, standing with his legs parted, sturdy as the mountain Kailasa with all its crests. He shows no alarm, no anxiety and no fear.
The stage is set for the final climactic battle between Bhima and Duryodhana.
With this, the Hrada Pravesha Parva ends.