Krishna is considered by many as the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.
Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.
He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.
In this post, we will answer the question: Why did Krishna go to Hastinapur?
Krishna goes to Hastinapur before the Kurukshetra war with the ostensible purpose of persuading Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana that cultivating peace with the Pandavas is a better strategy than fighting them. While there, he also tries to bribe Karna into betraying Duryodhana’s loyalty. But Karna refuses.
Read on to discover more about why Krishna went to Hastinapur.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Yudhishthir asks for Help
As the Kurukshetra war draws near, after both sides have built up their alliances and armies, Yudhishthir – along with his brothers – visits Krishna and admits to a raging debate within himself whether or not to fight.
‘On the one hand,’ he says, ‘we have been humiliated, robbed, and consigned to exile. We have asked for only five villages and even that has been rejected. It appears that to keep our honour intact, we have to fight!
‘But on the other hand, O Damodara, it has been said in every scripture that a man who commits violence against his kinsmen is bound to be sent to hell. If we choose to fight, we will be drawing weapons on none other than our grandfather! Our preceptor!’
Krishna smiles at Yudhishthir’s predicament. He says, ‘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, 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, but we must do our best to prevent war.’
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 33: Krishna Makes Peace.)
At this point, Arjuna asks Krishna a pertinent question. ‘From what you say, Krishna,’ he says, ‘it appears that you are not confident of securing peace for us from the Kauravas. But it is also my feeling that you can do anything that you wish in this world. Can it be, then, that you also secretly wish us to fight?’
Krishna replies to this question with a bit of stoic philosophy. ‘All incidents within the realm of the earth happen, Vibhatsu, because of two factors: the blessings of providence, and the exertion of human beings.
‘It is a mistake to think that human will is strong enough to overpower that of providence, as it is fallacious to believe that providence governs all. Everything that comes your way is a combination of outside factors and your own actions.’
Krishna continues, ‘It is true even for me, Partha. You are wrong in thinking that I can do anything that the world desires. I can only perform actions that are within my purview to the best of my abilities.
‘Duryodhana is his own man, and he must make his choices. I only promise, therefore, to go to the Kuru court and do what I can in order to swerve his mind toward peace. But will he listen? I do not know.
‘However, it is my expectation that Duryodhana is bent upon war. Yudhishthir is not willing to give up his kingdom completely, and the Kauravas are not willing to give away even a cubit of land.
‘The only way this impasse can be bridged is through war. I know this. I expect this. But despite that, if I do not do everything in my power to prevent this dire event from happening, I would not be doing myself justice.’
Krishna therefore makes the decision to visit the royal palace in Hastinapur and speak on behalf of peace.
In Hastinapur, Krishna stays at Vidura’s place, and spends some much-needed time with Kunti, his paternal aunt. On the day of the meeting, he enters the hall of Dhritarashtra – accompanied by Satyaki – and addresses the assembled men.
‘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.
‘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.’
Offering the Pandavas
Krishna explains to Dhritarashtra that the Pandavas are content to live under his rule. He paints a picture of how powerful the Kuru kingdom will become if only the Pandavas and the Kauravas work together.
Imagine the strength of the Kuru army if this comes to pass, O King,’ says Krishna. ‘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.
‘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, however, sees all this as a negotiation tactic to get Dhritarashtra to share the kingdom with the Pandavas. He claims that from the point of view of dharma, artha and kama, his course of action is the right one.
‘The Pandavas should never have been given a share of the kingdom,’ he says, ‘nor should their father have been made king in his time. Those mistakes happened before I had power to stop them. Now that I stand here, O Krishna, I intend to correct them.’
Krishna gets angered by Duryodhana’s sustained arrogance. He threatens the assembly now with what might happen if the Pandavas are fought on the battlefield.
‘You think you have an array of dazzling heroes?’ Krishna asks. ‘You will get a true array on the battleground, when all their bodies hit the dust, pierced by Arjuna’s arrows and pounded by Bhima’s mace.
‘Each one of these mighty Kshatriyas will fall, Prince. Mark my word. And with their dying breaths they will place curses on you!’
Krishna then reiterates all of Duryodhana’s many misdeeds, and issues a warning that the Pandavas are powerful enough to win this war. In response, Duryodhana stands up and walks out of the hall.
Duryodhana also plans to imprison Krishna and keep him captive until the war is finished, so that the Pandavas can be held to ransom. Satyaki and Kritavarma – who are accompanying Krishna on this mission – get wind of this and relay the message to their master.
When Krishna comes to know of it, he laughs and shows everyone his Vishwaroopa. He asks Duryodhana, ‘Do you wish to imprison me? If you do, then you will need to imprison the entire universe.’
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.
His goal for the trip has not succeeded, but he has made sure that the Pandavas are not disadvantaged in any way.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 34: The Vishwaroopa.)
A Bribe for Karna
On his last evening at Vidura’s house, Krishna – in a conversation with Kunti – comes to know the secret of Karna’s birth. Immediately the following morning, he seeks an audience with Karna and reveals the news to him.
Krishna tells Karna, ‘Vasusena, your place is among your brothers, the Pandavas. Not alongside Duryodhana. If you fight on the side of the Pandavas, the kingdom will be yours. You will be the next emperor, not Yudhishthir.
‘Draupadi will be your queen. She will bear your sons, who will become your descendants and carry forward your legacy. Come and fight by your brothers.’
Despite the offer, though, Karna refuses to forsake Duryodhana, citing the fact that Duryodhana had given him support when the entire world was ridiculing him.
(Suggested: Is Karna the real hero of the Mahabharata?)
Krishna thus visits Hastinapur with the ostensible aim of brokering a peaceful solution to the Pandava-Kaurava conflict. Despite his cajoling and threats, Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana do not agree to anything but war.
Toward the end of his trip, Krishna realizes the truth about Karna and tries his level best to make the son of Radha switch over to the Pandava side, but Karna refuses.
Thus, Krishna returns to the Pandavas empty-handed, having failed in his mission. However, it is an outcome that he had predicted before he embarked upon his journey. So no one is surprised by it.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story