Chapter 7: Dangerous Encounters
viṣān mahāgneḥ puruṣāda-darśanād
mṛdhe mṛdhe ’neka-mahārathāstrato
drauṇy-astrataś cāsma hare ’bhirakṣitāḥ
My dear Kṛṣṇa, Your Lordship has protected us from a poisoned cake, from a great ﬁre, from cannibals, from the vicious assembly, from sufferings during our exile in the forest, and from the battle where great generals fought. And now You have saved us from the weapon of Aśvatthāmā.
The list of dangerous encounters is submitted herein. Devakī was once put into difﬁculty by her envious brother, otherwise she was well. But Kuntīdevī and her sons were put into one difﬁculty after another for years and years together. They were put into trouble by Duryodhana and his party due to the kingdom, and each and every time the sons of Kuntī were saved by the Lord. Once Bhīma was administered poison in a cake, once they were put into the house made of shellac and set aﬁre, and once Draupadī was dragged out, and attempts were made to insult her by stripping her naked in the vicious assembly of the Kurus. The Lord saved Draupadī by supplying an immeasurable length of cloth, and Duryodhana’s party failed to see her naked. Similarly, when they were exiled in the forest, Bhīma had to ﬁght with the man-eater demon Hiḍimba Rākṣasa, but the Lord saved him. So it was not ﬁnished there. After all these tribulations, there was the great Battle of Kurukṣetra, and Arjuna had to meet such great generals as Droṇa, Bhīṣma, and Karṇa, all powerful ﬁghters. And at last, even when everything was done away with, there was the brahmāstra released by the son of Droṇācārya to kill the child within the womb of Uttarā, and so the Lord saved the only surviving descendant of the Kurus, Mahārāja Parīkṣit.
Here Kuntī remembers all the dangers through which she passed before the Pāṇḍavas regained their kingdom. In Bhagavad-gītā Lord Kṛṣṇa says, kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati: “My dear Arjuna, you may declare to the world that My devotee is never vanquished.” The Pāṇḍavas, the sons of Pāṇḍu, were great devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa, but because people in the material world are interested in material things, the Pāṇḍavas were put into many dangers. Their materialistic uncle Dhṛtarāṣṭra was always planning to kill them and usurp the kingdom for his own sons. That was his policy from the very beginning.
Once Dhṛtarāṣṭra constructed a house of lac, which was so inﬂammable that when touched with a match it would immediately burst into ﬁre. Then he told his nephews and his sister-in-law, Kuntī, “I’ve constructed a very nice house, and you should go live there for some time.” But Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s brother Vidura informed them of Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s policy: “He wants you to go to that house so that you may burn to ashes.” When Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s son Duryodhana understood that Vidura had thus informed the Pāṇḍavas, he was very angry. Such is the nature of politics. Then, although the Pāṇḍavas knew, “Our uncle’s plan is to send us into that house and set it aﬁre,” they agreed to go there. After all, Dhṛtarāṣṭra was their guardian, and they did not want to be disobedient to the order of a superior. But they dug a tunnel under that house, and when the house was set on ﬁre they escaped.
Another time, when the Pāṇḍavas were at home, Dhṛtarāṣṭra gave them poison cakes, but they escaped from being poisoned. Then puruṣāda-darśanāt: they met a man-eating demon named Hiḍimba Rākṣasa, but Bhīma fought with him and killed him.
On another occasion, the Pāṇḍavas were cheated in a game of chess in the royal assembly of the Kurus. Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Bhīṣmadeva, Droṇācārya, and other elderly persons were present, and somehow or other Draupadī, the wife of the Pāṇḍavas, was placed as a bet. “Now if you lose,” the Kurus told the Pāṇḍavas, “Draupadī will no longer be your wife.” So when the Pāṇḍavas lost the game, Karṇa and Duḥśāsana immediately captured her. “Now you no longer belong to your husbands,” they told her. “You are our property. We can deal with you as we like.”
Previously, Karṇa had been insulted during Draupadī’s svayaṁvara. In those days a very qualiﬁed princess would select her own husband in a ceremony called a svayaṁvara. In modern America, of course, any girl may select a husband as she likes, although for a common girl this is actually not very good. But even in those times an uncommon, highly qualiﬁed girl who knew how to select a good husband was given the chance to do so. Even this, however, was limited by very strict conditions. Draupadī’s father, for example, placed a ﬁsh on the ceiling, and he stipulated that in order to qualify to marry his daughter, a prince had to shoot an arrow and pierce the eye of the ﬁsh, without directly seeing the ﬁsh but seeing only its reﬂection in a pot of water on the ﬂoor. When these conditions were declared, many princes came to compete, for responding to a challenge is a principle for a kṣatriya, a heroic leader.
In the assembly for Draupadī’s svayaṁvara, Karṇa was present. Draupadī’s real purpose was to accept Arjuna as her husband, but Karṇa was there, and she knew that if he competed, Arjuna would not be able to succeed. At that time it was not known that Karṇa was a kṣatriya. He was born the son of Kuntī before her marriage, but that was a secret. Karṇa had been maintained by a carpenter, and therefore he was known as a śūdra, a member of the lowest occupational division of society. Draupadī took advantage of this by saying, “In this assembly, only kṣatriyas may compete. I do not want any carpenter to come here and take part in the competition.” In this way, Karṇa was excluded.
Karṇa regarded this as a great insult, and therefore when Draupadī was lost in the game, he was the ﬁrst to come forward. He was Duryodhana’s great friend, and he said, “Now we want to see the naked beauty of Draupadī.” Present at that meeting were elderly persons like Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Bhīṣma, and Droṇācārya, but they did not protest. They did not say, “What is this? You are going to strip a lady naked in this assembly?” Because they did not protest, they are described as asat-sabhāyāḥ, an assembly of uncultured men. Only an uncultured man wants to see a woman naked, although nowadays that has become fashionable. According to the Vedic culture, a woman is not supposed to be naked before anyone except her husband. Therefore, because these men wanted to see Draupadī naked in that great assembly, they were all rascals. The word sat means “gentle,” and asat means “rude.” Therefore Kuntīdevī prays to Lord Kṛṣṇa, “You saved Draupadī in that assembly of rude men.” When the Kurus were taking away Draupadī’s sārī to see her naked, Kṛṣṇa supplied more and more cloth for the sārī, and therefore they could not come to the end of it. Finally, with heaps of cloth stacked in the room, they became tired and realized she would never be naked. They could understand, “It is impossible.”
At ﬁrst, Draupadī had tried to hold on to her sārī. But what could she do? After all, she was a woman, and the Kurus were trying to strip her naked. So she cried and prayed to Kṛṣṇa, “Save my honor,” but she also tried to save herself by holding on to her sārī. Then she thought, “It is impossible to save my honor in this way,” and she let go and simply raised her arms and prayed, “Kṛṣṇa, if You like You can save me.” Thus the Lord responded to her prayers.
Therefore, it is not very good to try to save oneself. Rather, one should simply depend on Kṛṣṇa: “Kṛṣṇa, if You save me, that is all right. Otherwise, kill me. You may do as You like.” As Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says:
mānasa, deha, geha—yo kichu mora
arpiluṅ tuya pade, nanda-kiśora
“My dear Lord, whatever I have in my possession I surrender unto You. And what do I have? I have this body and mind, I have a little home and my wife and children, but whatever I have, I surrender everything unto You.” This is full surrender.
A devotee of Kṛṣṇa surrenders unto Kṛṣṇa without reservation, and therefore he is called akiñcana. The word kiñcana refers to something one reserves for oneself, and akiñcana means that one does not keep anything for oneself. Of course, although actually one should surrender in this way, in the material world one should not artiﬁcially imitate those who are fully surrendered. According to the example set by Rūpa Gosvāmī, whatever possessions one has, one should give ﬁfty percent for Kṛṣṇa and twenty-ﬁve percent for one’s relatives, who will also expect something, and one should keep twenty-ﬁve percent for personal emergencies. Before his retirement, Rūpa Gosvāmī divided his money in this way, although later, when his brother Sanātana Gosvāmī, another great devotee, was arrested, Rūpa Gosvāmī spent everything. This is full surrender. Similarly, Draupadī fully surrendered to Kṛṣṇa without trying to save herself, and then unlimited yards of cloth were supplied, and the Kurus could not see her naked.
But then, in the next game of chess, the bet was that if the Pāṇḍavas lost the game they would go to the forest for twelve years. Thereafter they were to remain incognito for one year, and if detected they would have to live in the forest again for another twelve years. This game also the Pāṇḍavas lost, so for twelve years they lived in the forest and for one year incognito. It was while they were living incognito that Arjuna won Uttarā.
These incidents are all recorded in the book known as the Mahābhārata. The word mahā means “great” or “greater,” and bhārata refers to India. Thus the Mahābhārata is the history of greater India. Sometimes people regard these accounts as stories or mythology, but that is nonsense. The Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas are histories, although they are not chronological. If the history of such a vast period of time was recorded chronologically, how many pages would it have to be? Therefore, only the most important incidents are selected and described in the Mahābhārata.
Kuntī prays to Kṛṣṇa by describing how He saved the Pāṇḍavas on the Battleﬁeld of Kurukṣetra. Mṛdhe mṛdhe ’neka-mahārathāstrataḥ. On the Battleﬁeld of Kurukṣetra there were great, great ﬁghters called mahārathas. Just as military men in modern days are given titles like lieutenant, captain, commander, and commander-in-chief, formerly there were titles like eka-ratha, ati-ratha, and mahā-ratha. The word ratha means “chariot.” So if a warrior could ﬁght against one chariot, he was called eka-ratha, and if he could ﬁght against thousands of chariots he was called mahā-ratha. All the commanders on the Battleﬁeld of Kurukṣetra were mahā-rathas. Many of them are mentioned in Bhagavad-gītā. Bhīṣma, Karṇa, and Droṇācārya were especially great commanders. They were such powerful ﬁghters that although Arjuna was also a mahā-ratha, before them he was nothing. But by the grace of Kṛṣṇa he was able to kill Karṇa, Bhīṣma, Droṇācārya, and the others and come out victorious. While speaking with Śukadeva Gosvāmī, Mahārāja Parīkṣit also referred to this. “The Battleﬁeld of Kurukṣetra,” he said, “was just like an ocean, and the warriors were like many ferocious aquatic animals. But by the grace of Kṛṣṇa, my grandfather Arjuna crossed over this ocean very easily.”
This is very signiﬁcant. We may have many enemies who may be very powerful ﬁghters, but if we remain under the protection of Kṛṣṇa, no one can do us any harm. Rakhe kṛṣṇa māre ke māre kṛṣṇa rakhe ke. “He whom Kṛṣṇa protects, no one can kill, but if Kṛṣṇa wants to kill someone, no one can give him protection.” For example, suppose a very rich man is suffering from disease. He may have a ﬁrst-class physician, medicine, and hospital available for him, but still he may die. This means that Kṛṣṇa desired, “This man must die.” Therefore, the so-called protective methods we have devised will be useless if Kṛṣṇa does not desire us to live. The demon Rāvaṇa was very powerful, but when Kṛṣṇa in the form of Lord Rāmacandra desired to kill him, no one could protect him. Rāvaṇa was a great devotee of Lord Śiva and was praying to Lord Śiva, “Please come save me from this danger.” But Lord Śiva did not come. Then Pārvatī, Lord Siva’s wife, asked Lord Śiva, “What is this? He is such a great devotee and has served you so much, and now he is in danger and is asking your help. Why are you not going to help him?” Then Lord Śiva replied, “My dear Pārvatī, what shall I do? I cannot give him protection. It is not possible. Why shall I go?” Therefore, if God wants to kill someone, no one can give him protection, and if God wants to protect someone, no one can kill him. Rakhe kṛṣṇa māre ke māre kṛṣṇa rakhe ke.
Thus Kuntī is remembering how Kṛṣṇa saved her and her sons one time after another. This is smaraṇam, thinking of Kṛṣṇa. “Kṛṣṇa, You are so kind to us that You saved us from many great dangers. Without You there was no hope.”
Then the last danger was drauṇy-astra, the weapon of Aśvatthāmā, the son of Droṇa. Aśvatthāmā performed a most abominable act by killing the ﬁve sons of the Pāṇḍavas. Of course, in the Battle of Kurukṣetra both sides belonged to the same family, and practically everyone was killed, but the ﬁve sons of the Pāṇḍavas survived. So Aśvatthāmā thought, “If I kill these ﬁve sons of the Pāṇḍavas and present their heads to Duryodhana, he will be very much pleased.” Therefore, when the ﬁve sons were sleeping, he severed their heads, which he then presented to Duryodhana. At that time, Duryodhana was incapacitated. His spine was broken, and he could not move. Aśvatthāmā said, “I have brought the ﬁve heads of the Pāṇḍavas, my dear Duryodhana.” At ﬁrst, Duryodhana was very glad, but he knew how to test the heads to see whether they were in fact the heads of the Pāṇḍavas. When he pressed the heads, the heads collapsed, and Duryodhana said, “Oh, these are not the heads of the Pāṇḍavas. They must be the heads of their sons.” When Aśvatthāmā admitted that this was so, Duryodhana fainted, and when he revived he said, “You have killed all our hopes. I had hoped that in our family at least these ﬁve sons would survive, but now you have killed them.” Thus in lamentation he died.
Subsequently, Arjuna arrested Aśvatthāmā and was going to kill him. In fact, Kṛṣṇa ordered, “Kill him. He is not a brāhmaṇa; he is less than a śūdra.” But then Draupadī said, “I am suffering because of the death of my sons, and this rascal is the son of our Guru Mahārāja, Droṇācārya, who has done so much for us. If Aśvatthāmā dies, then Droṇācārya’s wife, our mother guru, will be very much unhappy. So release him and let him go away.” Thus Arjuna freed Aśvatthāmā. But then Aśvatthāmā, having been insulted, retaliated by unleashing a brahmāstra. The brahmāstra is something like a nuclear weapon. It can go to the enemy, wherever he is, and kill him. Aśvatthāmā knew, “The last descendant of the Kuru family is Parīkṣit, the son of Abhimanyu. He is in the womb of Uttarā, so let me kill him also, and then the entire dynasty will be ﬁnished.”
When that weapon was unleashed, Parīkṣit Mahārāja’s mother, Uttarā, felt that she was going to have a miscarriage, and therefore she approached Kṛṣṇa, saying, “Please save me.” Kṛṣṇa, by His mystic power, therefore entered the womb of Uttarā and saved the child. After the Battle of Kurukṣetra, Parīkṣit Mahārāja, who was still in the womb of his mother, was the last remaining descendant of the Pāṇḍavas, and in mature time, when he was born, only his grandfathers were still alive. Parīkṣit Mahārāja was the son of Abhimanyu, who was the son of Arjuna and Subhadrā, Kṛṣṇa’s sister. When Abhimanyu was sixteen years old, he went to ﬁght, and seven great commanders joined forces to kill him. Subhadrā had only one grandchild, Parīkṣit Mahārāja. As soon as he grew up, the entire estate of the Pāṇḍavas was entrusted to him, and all the Pāṇḍavas left home and went to the Himalayas. This history is described in the Mahābhārata. Many great misfortunes befell the Pāṇḍavas, but in all circumstances they simply depended on Kṛṣṇa, who always saved them. Queen Kuntī’s response to these misfortunes is recorded in the next verse.