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 Jala Pradanika Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
On the Ganga’s Bank
The Pandavas arrive at the Ganga and cast off all their ornaments and weapons. The Kuru women, still crying, offer oblations of water unto their sires and grandsons and brothers and other kinsmen.
Conversant with duties, they also perform the water-rites in memory of their numerous dead friends.
While the thousands of women perform their own individual prayers, Kunti is suddenly paralyzed in apparent grief, and she calls for Yudhishthir. The eldest Pandava goes to her side and takes her arm.
‘I wish that a rite should be carried out for that great hero and bowman, that warrior who was distinguished by all marks of heroism, that man who was killed by Arjuna, he who was derided all his life as a Sutaputra.’
Kunti Reveals her Secret
Yudhishthir’s face changes in puzzlement, but Kunti goes on. ‘He was your eldest brother, O Dharmaraja,’ she says. ‘That hero was born with a pair of celestial earrings, clad in armour, to me before I was wed to King Pandu.
‘Offer oblations to that son of Surya, so that his soul may at last know peace.’
Yudhishthir is struck by a sudden invisible sword, and he steps away from his mother. All his four brothers, who have heard their mother’s words, also look at one another, not sure how to respond.
Kunti then tells them about how Karna had been born to her by the grace of Durvasa’s chant, and how she had been forced to give him up in order to guard the reputation of Kuntibhoja.
After listening to the story, Yudhishthir says, ‘The grief that I feel now at the death of Karna is a hundred times that which I felt when Abhimanyu was slain, Mother. All this while, I thought I was killing only cousins and uncles and grandfathers in this great war.
‘But now I know that I killed my brother too. We have truly come undone. The man who we have hated all our lives, the man Arjuna wished over years and years to kill, the man who gave me sleepless nights – is he none other than your firstborn?
‘How subtle are the ways of Time! It appears as though the gods are teaching us a lesson. This is not victory that has been granted us. It is defeat! Suyodhana was right, alas. After all that we have done to win back our sovereignty, Suyodhana was right.’
Saying this, Yudhishthir leads his brothers in seeking out the widowed wives of Karna, and pays them his respects. He leads them back to the bank of the river and joins them in personally performing the death rite of his brother.
On this note ends the Jala Pradanika Parva of the Mahabharata.