MBK: 1.42: Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s Message

The Pāṇḍavas were sitting alone with Kṛṣṇa when they received word of Sañjaya’s arrival. Yudhiṣṭhira asked that he be brought in at once and then received him warmly. Sañjaya bowed before Kṛṣṇa and all the brothers. After he was seated he said to Yudhiṣṭhira, “It is fortunate, O King, that I find you in good health and among friends. Surrounded by your brothers and the illustrious Kṛṣṇa, you appear like Indra. The aged and wise Dhṛtarāṣṭra inquires after your welfare, along with the well-being of your wife and other relatives.”

After saying that everything was well, and asking after the Kurus’ welfare, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “Do the Kurus still think well of us? Do they remember Arjuna’s unequalled prowess and that he can send sixty arrows at once from his bow? Do they remember the mighty Bhīma, who can make entire armies tremble when he picks up his mace? Do they remember the twins, who conquered so many regions of the earth by the strength of their arms? Surely Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons have not forgotten the defeat they met at Dwaitavana, when Bhīma and Arjuna had them released. Although we would be their friends and live with them in peace, I fear this will not come to pass. Alas, Sañjaya, there seems to be no way to win Duryodhana over despite our best endeavors.”

“It is exactly as you say,” Sañjaya replied sadly. “The Kurus are well and they certainly remember you. Duryodhana is surrounded by both wise and wicked men, but he takes his inspiration only from the latter. His behavior toward you is surely reprehensible. His father sincerely regrets it. Indeed, the old king often sits sighing, lost in feelings of repentance for the ill treatment you brothers have received at Kuru hands. He has consulted Brahmins and knows that conspiring against friends is the worst of all sins. The king wants only to make a lasting peace among us all. Yes, the Kurus remember your power. It is a mystery how men of your caliber are forced to suffer so much misery, but we are sure that you will never abandon virtue for the sake of pleasure. O you who have created no enemies, listen now as I convey to you Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s message.”

Yudhiṣṭhira asked that Sañjaya speak the message before all the kings gathered at Virata’s court. The charioteer then stood in their midst and bowed before speaking. “I offer you my respects. Dhṛtarāṣṭra has sent me here to say that he desires peace. He inquires about your welfare and asks with all sincerity that there be peace among us. This is what he said. The sons of Pāṇḍu are all virtuous. They are incapable of a mean act. Yudhiṣṭhira is mild, generous and forgiving, and acts only for the welfare of all beings. How could he be responsible for an act which will destroy us all, which is sinful, and which leads only to hell--an act which will bring the same result regardless of who is successful. Blessed are those who promote their cousins’ interests. They are truly sons, well-wishers and friends of the Kurus who are prepared to sacrifice their own interests for that of the dynasty.”

Kṛṣṇa smiled. The kings glanced at each other. Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s message was clear. They listened as Sañjaya clarified it further.

“If you succeed in subjugating the Kauravas, O sons of Kuntī, and thus regain your kingdom, what will you gain? Having slain your relatives, your life will be like death. What will be the result of a battle in which heroes such as yourselves, Keśava, Sātyaki, Chekitana and others contend with Droṇa, Bhīṣma, Kṛpa, Aśvatthāmā and the Kuru warriors? It means total annihilation. There will be no good to either side. I find it hard to believe that the Pāṇḍavas are capable of causing such destruction. With clasped hands I fall at the feet of Kṛṣṇa and of the aged Drupada. Throwing myself upon your protection, I beg that all be well between the Kurus and the Pāṇḍavas. If someone requested it, you would give up your lives; why, then, would you not act to preserve all these warriors?”

The hall remained silent. Yudhiṣṭhira waited until Sañjaya had taken his seat and said mildly, “What have I said that made you think I wanted war, Sañjaya? What man, so cursed by the gods, would choose war when peace could be made? The sons of Kuntī will act only according to virtue and thus bring happiness to all. One who acts according to the senses’ dictates follows the path leading to misery. We become free from misery only when we are free from the longing to gratify our senses. Dhṛtarāṣṭra and his foolish sons fail to understand this truth. Thus they act in ways which never bring happiness.”

Yudhiṣṭhira looked at Kṛṣṇa, who smiled in approval. The Pāṇḍava stood up as he continued to speak, appearing in his robes and ornaments like a golden banner raised in honor of Indra.

“Having accepted the advice of his dull-headed son, who is wicked and addicted to sin, the king now laments. Why did he not heed Vidura’s words, who desired only the Kurus’ well-being? To gain prestige for himself, Duryodhana seeks to deprive others of prestige. He is jealous, wrathful, haughty, spiteful, and filled with lust. Dhṛtarāṣṭra knows what his son has done, but still he chooses to follow him, thus forsaking both virtue and pleasure. He cannot hold his ill-gotten gains for long, although he wishes for unending prosperity. He and his son desire to rule the earth undisputed. We have heard nothing to indicate that they have changed their minds, O Sañjaya. They now consider whatever of our wealth they possess to be rightfully theirs.”

Yudhiṣṭhira indicated the kings who sat in a circle around the hall. “All these monarchs know well how Duryodhana came to possess our kingdom. He and his brothers, along with the unintelligent Karṇa, think they can overcome us in battle. Obviously, they have not seen Arjuna with his Gāṇḍīva bow stretched to its limit, nor have they seen Bhīma whirling his mace or the twins with their swords in hand. Sañjaya, you know the troubles we have borne at the Kurus’ hands. Even so I forgive them. Let there be peace between us. Let them return Indraprastha to me and they keep Hastināpura. Let Dhṛtarāṣṭra return what is rightfully ours.”

Sañjaya had delivered Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s message, but he now wished to speak on his own behalf. He was surprised to see the usually peaceful Yudhiṣṭhira so inclined toward war. “There can be no doubt that you are attached to virtue, O king of men. Why do you desire to destroy the Kurus? Death may come at any moment. It behooves all men to remain fixed on the path of truth. No one should even contemplate sin, for that may immediately lead one to hell. O Bharata, if the Kurus will not return your kingdom without war, would it not be better for you to live as a beggar than to seek to annihilate them? Indeed, you could live happily with Kṛṣṇa and the Yādavas. Desire for wealth is the enemy of virtue. A wise man should shun it entirely. One who renounces desires and lives simply, even though devoid of wealth, shines like the sun and becomes famous in this world; but one who is the slave of desire, even if he obtains the earth, is ruined.”

As Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s intimate servant, Sañjaya wanted to carry out his mission to secure peace. He knew the Kauravas could not win in a war, but he also doubted Yudhiṣṭhira’s motives. Sañjaya was a spiritual disciple of Vyāsadeva and had received many instructions from the ṛṣi. It seemed to him that Yudhiṣṭhira was allowing himself to be overpowered by material desire without considering what might be in his spiritual interests.

Sañjaya maintained a respectful tone. “O son of Pṛthā, you have studied all the Vedas and performed asceticism. You have controlled your mind and senses and you are dedicated to performing sacrifices and giving charity. Why are you now giving way to anger? You are already famous in this world as a man of the highest principles; you have presided over the Rājasūya and offered gifts to hundreds of thousands of Brahmins. O King, do not let this go in vain by now committing a great sin. Do not act impelled by malice and thereby destroy the results of all your asceticism and sacrifice. Forbearance is surely best for you now, not the enjoyment gained at the cost of great men’s lives. What happiness do you think you will enjoy when you and your brothers have slain all your relatives? Even after gaining the earth, you will have to reap the results of your good and bad deeds. Happiness and distress will arrive in due course, and in the end you will meet with decrepitude and death. O hero, knowing all this you should not fight. If your advisors would have you fight, then you should abandon them. Do not forsake the path that leads to the worlds of the gods and beyond.”

Sañjaya sat down again and Yudhiṣṭhira thought before replying. The sound of the jeweled fountains in the gardens just outside made a gentle cascading resonance. Temple bells chimed in the distance. Fragrant incense billowed through the hall. The kings awaited Yudhiṣṭhira.

Finally, he said, “It is undoubtedly as you say. One should never stray from virtue. But before blaming me, you should first ascertain whether it is virtue or vice I am following. Sometimes virtue may look like vice and vice as virtue. Only after careful deliberation can one discriminate between the two. All men should follow the duties prescribed for them according to their respective social positions. Brahmins may beg for a living, but kṣatriyas may never beg. Even in times of distress, kings and rulers should not accept alms. The creator has ordained that we should live by gaining lordship over lands and protecting the people. I would not accept this entire earth, nor even the kingdoms of the gods, through unrighteousness.

“Here is Kṛṣṇa. He knows every facet of Vedic knowledge and possesses full wisdom. Let Him decide what is right in this case. I will always follow His dictate and will never ignore His advice. Keśava is our friend and well-wisher; we will hear His opinion and decide what should be done.”

As Yudhiṣṭhira took his seat, Kṛṣṇa stood. His bodily lustre seemed to illuminate the hall with a mystical radiance. Shining yellow silks and gold ornaments framed His complexion, which resembled a blackish autumnal rain cloud. Turning His lotus-petal eyes toward Sañjaya, He said, “O Sañjaya, I desire that both the Pāṇḍavas and the Kurus be happy and prosperous. I want peace and I am happy to see that Dhṛtarāṣṭra also desires it. Yudhiṣṭhira has already shown a rare kind of commitment to peace, since it is he who has been antagonized and abused by the Kurus. Why should he suddenly wish to escalate the conflict between himself and his cousins? Surely, Sañjaya, you know as well as I do the nature of right and wrong. Why, then, do you find fault with Pāṇḍu’s son, who has always adhered to his duties as they have been laid down in the scriptures since the days of old?

“Regarding our present discussion, there are two schools of thought among the Brahmins. Some say that by renouncing our duties we shall achieve perfection, and others say that duties should never be renounced but should be performed without attachment. My opinion concurs with this latter view, O Sañjaya. Even to maintain himself a man must perform his duties in this world. Knowledge without work yields no fruit.”

Kṛṣṇa held up a bejeweled hand as He spoke. “See how the gods in heaven shine through work, how through work the wind blows and the sleepless sun gives rise to day and night? Sleepless does the Earth goddess carry her load, and sleepless do the rivers carry their waters to satisfy all creatures. Indra attained his exalted status by giving up pleasure and sense gratification. This is true of all the principal deities. Knowing this, O suta, why do you plead on behalf of the Kauravas, exhorting the Pāṇḍavas to renounce their prescribed duties? You are wise and aware of the truth. Then consider this question: does a king’s duty lie in fighting or in not fighting? Surely you know that the creator endowed kings with the power to check and even kill miscreants. Dhṛtarāṣṭra has robbed Yudhiṣṭhira of his rightful property. Whether one steals covertly or openly, stealing is sinful. Should Duryodhana and his followers not then face the consequences of their sin? Is Yudhiṣṭhira not justified in seeking to recover his stolen property, even if it means killing the robbers?”

Kṛṣṇa looked at Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers, who sat together like a pride of lions. The eyes of all the kings turned toward them as Kṛṣṇa continued.

“Certainly Yudhiṣṭhira desires peace; but if his kingdom is not returned, then in My opinion it is his duty to declare war. Indeed, it would be virtuous and praiseworthy to be killed fighting in such a religious war. It is better that Yudhiṣṭhira regain his own ancestral kingdom than to take the kingdom of another. O Sañjaya, go now and lay these ancient principles before Dhṛtarāṣṭra amid his sons and the assembled chiefs of the various countries.”

Kṛṣṇa paused. His audience was absorbed, accepting His gently spoken arguments. Even Sañjaya nodded his head in agreement as Kṛṣṇa went on.

“My dear Sañjaya, let Me remind you that the Kurus committed their sin in their own council hall. All of them, even Bhīṣma, was silent when the chaste Draupadī stood weeping in Dushashana’s clutches. That slave of lust viciously dragged her before her fathers-in-law to abuse and insult her. If Dhṛtarāṣṭra had checked his sons, he would then have pleased Me. He and all the Kurus said nothing. That is, all except Vidura and one honest kṣatriya. The other kings also remained silent. You too, Sañjaya, did not utter a word. Now you want to preach righteousness to Yudhiṣṭhira.”

Kṛṣṇa’s eyes flashed as He described the incident. “At that time Karṇa spoke such sharp words to Draupadī that they pierced her heart. ‘Become the Kauravas’ slave,’ the fool said. ‘Your husbands are no longer your husbands. Choose another man.’ Karṇa’s arrow of words also buried itself deep into Arjuna’s heart.

“The sinful Śakuni again and again urged Yudhiṣṭhira in the dice game, ‘You have only Draupadī left. Stake her, O King.’

“Again, when the Pāṇḍavas were about to depart to honor their vow, clad in black deerskins, Dushashana said, ‘These eunuchs, vanquished and ruined, are going to hell for a long time.’”

Kṛṣṇa paused again to allow His words to sink in. After thirteen years the shock of those terrible events had worn off, but as Kṛṣṇa described them, Sañjaya remembered the horror of that day. He knew he had been wrong to stand by silently as Duryodhana and his friends committed their crime. Out of loyalty to the blind king he had watched in anguish as the noble Pāṇḍavas, and especially their gentle wife, had suffered unbearable insults. Without doubt the seeds of the present calamity had been sown at that time. The arrows the Kauravas had shot at that time would now come back at them as blazing shafts launched from the Gāṇḍīva. The elders’ silence on that day would soon be answered by the clamor of fierce battle. Sañjaya bowed his head.

Kṛṣṇa continued. “I shall go to Hastināpura to remind the Kurus of all these events. We will settle the matter. If I can bring about peace without injuring the Pāṇḍavas’ interests, then I will have performed a virtuous act. I will also have released the Kurus from the clutches of death. I hope Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons will receive Me with respect when I go there to speak of virtue and humanity. If it is otherwise, you can be sure that those men, consumed by their own viciousness, will lose everything on the battlefield. At the proper time, Bhīma, mace in hand, will remind Duryodhana of his cruel words.”

Looking around the hall, Kṛṣṇa concluded with a number of poetic metaphors. “Duryodhana is a tree full of malice, Karṇa is its trunk, Śakuni its branch, Dushashana and his brothers the numerous fruits and flowers, and the blind king Dhṛtarāṣṭra its root. On the other hand, Yudhiṣṭhira is a tall tree full of virtue, Arjuna is its trunk, Bhīma its branch, and the twins its fruits and flowers. I myself, along with the Vedas and the Brahmins, are its root.

“O Sañjaya, tell your master that peace with the Pāṇḍavas is the only intelligent course. The Kurus are like a forest and the Pāṇḍavas are the tigers. Without tigers men would cut down the trees, and without the forest the tigers have no protection. They need each other.

“The Kauravas are creepers of virtue while the Pāṇḍavas are huge sal trees. Without the support of a tree the creepers cannot grow. Pāṇḍu’s sons are ready to either wait on Dhṛtarāṣṭra or ready to fight. Everything depends on how the king acts now. Go back, wise one, and explain all this to Dhṛtarāṣṭra.”

Sañjaya made no reply. He knew that Kṛṣṇa spoke the truth. Bowing respectfully to Him, he turned to Yudhiṣṭhira and said, “With your permission I will leave. O god among men, I hope I have not offended you in any way. After saying good-bye to Janārdana, Bhīmasena, Arjuna and Mādrī’s sons, as well as the other heroes in the assembly, please give me leave to depart. May happiness and prosperity be yours. May the king look upon you with goodwill.”

Yudhiṣṭhira folded his palms toward Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s secretary and replied, “O Sañjaya, we know you are our well-wisher. Your speech did not offend us, for you spoke with a pure heart. Surely you are our favorite and you have always shown us so much affection. Other than you, only Vidura could have come here. O wise one, please convey our regards to our elders and friends. Offer our respects to the Brahmins and our affection to the people. Is the king protecting them well? O Sañjaya, are the arrangements we made for the well-being of all our subjects still in place? I hope no person is needy or afflicted within the Kurus’ jurisdiction.”

Yudhiṣṭhira named the Kurus one by one and asked Sañjaya to go to each of them on his behalf and ask after their health. At last he said, “Go to Duryodhana, who is dull-headed, ignorant, wicked and addicted to vice, and say that the desire tormenting his heart for undisputed rulership is not justified. Tell him this: ‘We shall not do anything disagreeable to you. Either give back Indraprastha or fight, O chief of the Bharatas.’”

The assembled kings cheered Yudhiṣṭhira’s words and the Pāṇḍava raised his hand to silence them. Turning again to Sañjaya he said, “I pray that the Supreme Lord will bless that foolish man with wisdom. Sañjaya, also say this to Duryodhana: ‘Pāṇḍu’s sons are ready to forget even the disrobing and abuse of their wife just so that the Kurus may not be slaughtered. We will bear all the ills and insults they have heaped upon us, but we want our due share. O best among men, give up your greed for others’ property. Only then will there be peace. We will accept even one province so that we may perform our God-given duty of ruling over and protecting the people. Give us just five villages, one for each of us, and let there be an end to this quarrel. Let brother follow brother and father unite with son. I desire to see the Kauravas and the Pañchālas coming together with cheerful hearts. To do my duty I am prepared for peace or war. The choice is in your hands.’”

When Yudhiṣṭhira was finished, each of his brothers gave messages for the Kauravas. When they had all spoken, Sañjaya said he would repeat their messages exactly as they had been spoken. Then he bowed before the assembly and departed for Hastināpura.