MBK: 1.47: Duryodhana’s Obstinacy

In the hall, the assembled Kuru elders waited with anticipation. As they heard Kṛṣṇa’s chariot approach, the hall buzzed, and as Kṛṣṇa dismounted from His chariot, shouts of “Hail to Govinda!” and “All glories to Kṛṣṇa, lord of the Yādavas!” rang out.

Kṛṣṇa caught hold of both Vidura’s and Sātyaki’s hands on either side of Him and walked into the hall. Dhṛtarāṣṭra rose, along with Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa and others. Crossing the floor, Kṛṣṇa greeted Dhṛtarāṣṭra respectfully. The king offered Him a beautiful throne encrusted with jewels. With His divine vision Kṛṣṇa saw numerous celestial ṛṣis approaching the assembly from the sky. He said, “Many ṛṣis, hoping to witness what will happen here today, have assembled. See, there is Nārada Muni. Offer them suitable seats, for how can any of us sit down while they remain standing?”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra ordered his servants to fetch golden seats. The ṛṣis entered the hall like glowing planets descended from the heavens and accepted the seats. After they had been worshipped with all respect, Kṛṣṇa accepted His own seat and was in turn worshipped by the Kurus. Vidura sat next to Kṛṣṇa on a seat covered with white deerskin and decked with gems. Opposite Kṛṣṇa, Duryodhana and Karṇa sat together on a single throne. As the monarchs took their places, Brahmins recited Vedic hymns to invoke an auspicious atmosphere. Gradually everyone fell silent and gazed at Kṛṣṇa. Seated on His throne, He looked like a dark gem set in gold. There was perfect stillness in the hall as everyone waited for Him to speak.

Kṛṣṇa looked toward Dhṛtarāṣṭra and said, “May there be peace between the Kurus and Pāṇḍavas, O Bharata. May no heroes be slain on either side. Only for this have I come. O King, I have nothing more to say.”

Hearing Kṛṣṇa speak reminded the assembly of the soft thunder of autumnal rain clouds. All eyes remained fixed upon Him. “O King, you know as well as I do the cause for the present situation. Peace lies in your hands. You have a great responsibility. Your dynasty is famed for its virtue and nobility. The Kurus are especially known for their knowledge of scripture, good behavior, kindness, compassion, forgiveness and truthfulness. Do not allow your fine heritage to be sullied. You are the Kurus’ leader and must bear the reaction to any sinful acts they perform. A calamity now faces your race, caused by the Kurus’ behavior. If you do not check it, O monarch, it will destroy the world.”

Kṛṣṇa looked over at Duryodhana. The prince appeared distracted, looking away from Kṛṣṇa and rubbing his face with a hand covered in gleaming gems.

Kṛṣṇa went on, “O King, your sons are not considering morality or even profit. They are wicked and overcome by avarice. They are being unfair toward their own friends. I do not think peace would be so difficult to achieve. It depends upon you and Me. You should give an order and your sons should follow it. The Pāṇḍavas never ignore My advice. Set your sons on the path of peace and I will do the same with the Pāṇḍavas. Consider everything carefully, O King. Even if you desire to rule this world, it is still better to establish peace with the Pāṇḍavas than to make them your enemies. At present, they see you as a worshipable elder. They will wait upon you and protect you and even the gods will not be able to assail you. You will not find better allies than the Pāṇḍavas. With them at your side, you would lead troops headed by Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa, Karṇa, Aśvatthāmā, Yudhiṣṭhira, Bhīma, Arjuna, and so many other great heroes. Where is that fool who would fight such warriors?”

The blind king sat with his head bowed. Kṛṣṇa’s speech was as he had expected--cutting and painfully true. His throat was parched and he called for water as Kṛṣṇa continued.

“On the other hand, O King, what profit will there be in fighting with the Pāṇḍavas? What merit do you see in arranging for so many men to die? O best of the Bharatas, just imagine what you will feel when you hear of the deaths on either side. There is no question that both parties will not survive the war. The kings you see here and the kings at Virata will slay each other mercilessly, influenced by anger. O Emperor, rescue them from death. Save this world from disaster. Let the feelings of affection you once bore for the Pāṇḍavas again flood your heart. Bring them here as your children. According to worldly virtue, such fatherless boys deserve your protection, especially in their distress. Now hear their message to you, which they asked Me to repeat in the assembly.”

Kṛṣṇa repeated what Yudhiṣṭhira had said just before Kṛṣṇa departed. “‘At your command, O King, we have spent thirteen years in exile expecting that you would keep your word. As we have carefully kept our pledge, so we ask you to keep yours. We have suffered greatly and now desire to return to our kingdom. O Bharata, you know the principles of virtue. Act toward us as a father should act toward his sons. We will act as your sons. You are our worshipable elder. If you find us remiss in our duties, do not hesitate to correct us, O King. Set us on the proper course and yourself follow the excellent path of virtue.’”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra shifted uncomfortably. His guilt at having mistreated Pāṇḍu’s sons bothered him more than anything else. They had been brought to him as young children after their father, his brother, had died. It was true that he should treat them no differently than his own sons. This was surely his greatest sin, that he had neglected and even inflicted suffering on those deserving his protection. Tears fell from his blind eyes as Kṛṣṇa continued.

“In an assembly where virtue is overcome by vice, it is the duty of the members of that assembly to remove it by all means. If vice is not removed, then it will kill all those who have participated in it. If vice prevails over virtue, falsehood over truth, then those who allow it will be ruined.

“What else could you do but return the Pāṇḍavas’ kingdom? I desire both your good and what is best for the Pāṇḍavas. If My words are true, then let the Kurus confirm them and release the kṣatriya race from the shackles of death. Make the large-souled, virtuous Yudhiṣṭhira your ally. Do not destroy these kings for the sake of vice, nor morality for the sake of so-called happiness. Do not mistake good for evil and evil for good. O lord of the earth, restrain your sons, who are too attached to avarice. Kuntī’s sons are ready to serve you and to fight for you. This is My advice. Choose now that course which appears best to you, O King.”

Everyone remained silent. Having listened carefully to Kṛṣṇa, the kings were speechless. No one could argue with anything He said. Only Duryodhana found fault with Him, and he looked at Kṛṣṇa with a sly smile.

Paraśurāma was among the ṛṣis, and when Kṛṣṇa finished speaking, he stood to address the assembly. All eyes rested upon him as his voice rang out around the hall. He wore a black deerskin and had matted hair. His dark eyes glowed, and his body shone with a mystical luminosity. He told the assembly a story about the ancient king Dambhodbhava. That king had possessed incomparable power but had become excessively proud and arrogant. He searched continuously for opponents to defeat in battle. One day, he heard that the two ṛṣis, Nara and Nārāyaṇa, were the most powerful men on earth. He went at once to Gandhamādana where they were practicing asceticism and challenged them. Although they declined, the king insisted. Finally Nara said, “Fight, then, if you must, O kṣatriya. Bring your entire army and all your weapons. I will soon destroy your thirst for war.”

The king attacked the ṛṣi with all his power. Nara pulled up a handful of grass and, imbuing it with mystic power, hurled it at the king and his army. The grass transformed into razor-sharp steel shafts that sliced off the ears and noses of all the soldiers. So many shafts rained down upon them that they were unable to move. Dambhodbhava fell at Nara’s feet and begged for mercy. The ṛṣi forgave him his insolence and instructed him to never again insult someone without first establishing his opponent’s power.

Paraśurāma looked around the assembly. “Nara’s feat was wonderful. Nārāyaṇa is capable of still greater deeds. Those two high-souled ṛṣis are now present as Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa. Do not, like the vain Dambhodbhava, try to face them in battle. Men suffer from eight vices that steal their life duration: desire, anger, greed, vanity, insolence, pride, malice, and selfishness. Influenced by these evils, men are bewildered and act like fools. O heroes, do not fall victim to these vices and lose your lives. No one can defeat Arjuna within the three worlds, and Janārdana exceeds him. Make peace with them and do what is good for yourselves and the whole world.”

Then another ṛṣi, Kanwa, spoke. Confirming what Paraśurāma had said about Nara and Nārāyaṇa, he added, “One should not consider he who possesses great physical strength powerful. Real strength lies in virtue. The Pāṇḍavas are virtuous. Furthermore, Kṛṣṇa, the reservoir of all virtue, is on their side. Those five heroes combined with Kṛṣṇa are no less than Dharma, Vāyu, Indra, and the twin Aśvinī gods united with Viṣṇu. O Duryodhana, how will you even look at them? Effect peace at once or be annihilated.”

Duryodhana was breathing heavily, his brow contracted. He gazed at Karṇa and laughed aloud when Kanwa stopped speaking. Slapping his thigh he said defiantly, “I am whatever God has made me. It is He who created me and He who decides my fate. I will do exactly as He has determined and nothing else. What use is this discussion?”

The prince had little faith in any supreme power and his voice dripped with sarcasm. He looked at Karṇa, and both of them smiled. They were not interested in the ṛṣi’s words. Then Nārada spoke. Like Paraśurāma, he narrated an ancient history about a king who had suffered as a result of his own obstinacy and ignorance. In conclusion he said, “O ruler of the earth, listen to your well-wishers’ advice. Obstinacy leads to ruin. Abandon your anger and vanity and make peace with the Pāṇḍavas. Reflect carefully on this story I have just told, which is full of profound instructions and is approved by learned men. By understanding these instructions and by curbing desire and anger, a man may attain sovereignty over the world. By acting otherwise, one achieves only destruction.”

Duryodhana said nothing. Dhṛtarāṣṭra lifted his hand and replied, “O Nārada, what you have said is true. I too wish for peace, but I am not the master in this case.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra turned toward Kṛṣṇa, who sat easily on His throne, one foot on the seat and the other resting on the cushion at His feet. “O Keśava, I accept what You have said as the truth. What You have said is for our benefit and the benefit of the world. By following Your words we can attain heaven.

“But I am not my own master. O best of men, try to persuade my wicked son Duryodhana, who disregards all scriptural injunctions and never does what pleases me. He will not listen to me, and neither will he hear from Vidura, Bhīṣma, or any of his elders. Please instruct him Yourself, O Kṛṣṇa. If You can correct my son of crooked intellect and sinful heart, then You will have performed Your duty as a friend.”

Kṛṣṇa turned towards Duryodhana. “I will speak only for your good, O best of the Bharatas. I desire your prosperity and happiness as much as you do. What you are contemplating will make you suffer. Wise men in this world act only for virtue and profit. Thus they fulfill their desires. What you are proposing will not fulfill your desires. Your obstinacy is vicious, frightful and destructive. It will hurt you, and there is no reason for it. Give it up. Pursue instead a course that will benefit you, your brothers, your followers, your friends. O chastiser of foes, make peace with your cousins. This will please your father and all the Kuru elders. Your father has commanded you to seek peace. A good man never neglects his father’s order. Nor does he ignore the advice of friends who know what is good. One who disregards the orders of seniors and the advice of well-wishers will be consumed as one who eats poisonous fruit dies. He never achieves his goal and is ultimately left sunk in remorse.”

Kṛṣṇa paused. He looked steadily at Duryodhana, who remained silent. The prince looked downward and rubbed the floor with his sandaled foot. All eyes in the hall were on him.

Kṛṣṇa continued to speak in measured tones. “He who prefers the advice of inferior men to that of learned elders meets dangers. Nothing can rescue him. Who but you would abandon kinsmen who are equal in battle to Indra in favor of incompetent and dishonest strangers? Peace with the Pāṇḍavas is more in your interests than union with wicked men. Even though you treated them with deceit and harshness since they were born, they are prepared to forgive everything and live with you as friends. O best of the Bharatas, do not show anger toward your own relatives. Live for virtue and not only for pleasure. Only then will you be able to achieve what you desire. Living in peace with the Pāṇḍavas, all your aims will be achieved, and your fame will spread far and wide. How can you prefer the shelter of Karṇa, Śakuni and Dushashana to that of your noble cousins?”

Karṇa felt insulted by Kṛṣṇa’s words. He glanced at Duryodhana, who kept his head lowered. Both men were finding Kṛṣṇa’s speech hard to stomach. Both were convinced that their cause was no less righteous than that of the Pāṇḍavas. How was Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s claim to the throne any less than Pāṇḍu’s, his younger brother? Duryodhana’s right to the kingdom was at least equal to, if not greater than, the Pāṇḍavas’ claim. They would not be able to live together in peace. That was clear. Then why should Duryodhana be the one to make concessions? The Pāṇḍavas left Hastināpura long ago. Things were going on well enough without them. It seemed that Kṛṣṇa favored them, perhaps because they were close friends. How could He say that He had Duryodhana’s interest at heart?

Karṇa turned his angry eyes toward Kṛṣṇa, who, seeing both his and Duryodhana’s defiance, said, “O hero, show me the man who is capable of standing against the enraged Bhīmasena.”

Having first cajoled, then cited the benefits of peace, Kṛṣṇa ended by explaining the likely results of a war with the Pāṇḍavas. He hoped to instill fear and dissension among the Kurus.

“Again, who can go into battle against Arjuna and return home alive? Why do you seek war? What benefit do you see in slaughtering all these men? At Khāṇḍava, Arjuna vanquished the gods and the Gandharvas, Asuras and Nāgas. What chance do you have? Will it be any different from what you experienced when you came to attack the Matsya kingdom? Look at your kinsmen and friends. Do not let them be killed for your own stupidity. Let not the prosperous Kuru race be destroyed for your sake. Bring the Pāṇḍavas here in peace. They will surely install your father as the emperor and you as his viceroy. That is your only chance to achieve lasting prosperity and happiness. Do not ignore it. After making peace with the Pāṇḍavas, you will attain a blessed state.”

Duryodhana showed no sign of agreeing with Kṛṣṇa’s words. He sat as if on fire, resembling a heap of hot coals.

Seeing the prince unmoved, Bhīṣma said, “Kṛṣṇa’s words are those of a friend, dear son. Follow his advice and do not be vindictive. If you ignore what Kṛṣṇa is saying, you will achieve neither prosperity nor happiness. He has told you what will lead to virtue and profit; any other course will result in ruin. O King, do not destroy the Kuru’s prosperity. Do not cause the death of all these kṣatriyas. Do not destroy your brothers. Do not destroy yourself. Do not drown your parents in a sea of grief. Accept Keśava’s advice.”

When Bhīṣma was finished, Droṇa stood. “I too accept what Kṛṣṇa has advised. His advice is pregnant with virtue and will profit all of us. Duryodhana, follow that advice. Do not insult Madhava with your perverted understanding. Those who now encourage you to fight will do little when the time comes. Rather, like you, they will have to depend on others. Know from me that none of us are capable of withstanding Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa in battle. If you reject my words, you will be left to grieve before long. You have heard all this again and again. What point is there in repeating it? Do as you wish. I do not wish to address you any more.”

The Kuru elders had lost patience with Duryodhana. It seemed that nothing could make him see sense. That all these kṣatriyas were soon to die seemed inevitable. There could be no outcome other than what Kṛṣṇa and so many others had described.

After Droṇa, Vidura spoke. He knew Duryodhana would not hear him, but he wanted to show his solidarity with Kṛṣṇa’s speech, as Kṛṣṇa had requested. “I do not grieve for you, Duryodhana. Rather I grieve for your old parents. With only you to protect them, they will soon wander about without anyone. All their friends and ministers will be slain like birds shorn of their wings. Because they begot such a vicious son, they are destined to become beggars in this world.”

Having heard his three chief ministers concurring with Kṛṣṇa, Dhṛtarāṣṭra leaned forward on his throne. “The time has come to make peace, Duryodhana. The great-souled Keśava has spoken the truth for our benefit and ultimate salvation. With his help, we can attain our goals. Go with him in peace to Virata and arrange to bring the Pāṇḍavas here. Let the hostilities cease. Let the virtuous Yudhiṣṭhira place his red-palmed hand on your back with affection. Let the broad-shouldered Vṛkodara embrace you with goodwill. Let Arjuna and the twins offer you respects while you offer them blessings. You and they may enjoy sovereignty over the world together. I think that time has arrived, dear son. Do not disobey me. Choose peace, for you cannot be victorious in battle.”

Duryodhana was furious. Why was everyone afraid of the Pāṇḍavas? Perhaps he had been unfortunate when he had encountered them in the past, but that would soon change. Now, aided by the Dānavas’ mystic power and the combined might of the Kuru heroes, he was invincible. The prince looked at his father. How could the old man order him in this way? Accept Bhīma’s embrace? Bhīma was his mortal foe! Duryodhana shuddered at the thought. And, having ruled over the entire earth, how could he be expected to now offer his respects to Yudhiṣṭhira?

Duryodhana felt it was time he spoke his mind. Calming himself, he rose from his seat and looked at Kṛṣṇa. “Although You speak out of concern for me, O Madhusudana, You nevertheless criticize me alone. Why, O Keśava, do You praise the Pāṇḍavas and accuse me without properly understanding the situation? You, Vidura, Bhīṣma, Droṇa, and my father have all found fault with me, but not with any other. Yet in this matter, I do not find I have acted in any way unworthy. I have not committed the slightest fault. Even after much introspection, I see nothing wrong.

“The Pāṇḍavas lost their kingdom at dice. They were not forced to play that game. Even when their wealth was returned, they agreed to play a final game and were thus exiled. Was that my fault? Why do they regard me as an enemy? Even now, although they are weak and incapable, they threaten the Kurus.”

Duryodhana looked at Karṇa, who clenched his fist in support. The Kaurava prince continued. “We are powerful kṣatriyas and will not bow down to any man out of fear. I do not see anyone who can face the Kuru army in battle, O Keśava. Why should I give anything to the Pāṇḍavas under threat of war? Rather, it is my duty to fight. If I lay down my body in battle, then I will achieve a glorious destination in my next life. What kṣatriya born in a noble family would avoid battle out of fear of the enemy? No self-respecting ruler would bow to one who threatened him with harsh words. I am not afraid of the Pāṇḍavas. O Madhava, I will never give them any part of this kingdom. It now belongs to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and so it will remain. We are simply his servants. Although he once gave away that which should not have been given, we have rectified his error. When I was a child and dependent on others, the Pāṇḍavas were mistakenly given the kingdom. We will not make the same mistake again.”

Duryodhana paused and glanced at his audience. He rested one hand on his hip and the other on his sword hilt. He concluded, “O Keśava, this is my reply: as long as I rule this kingdom on my father’s behalf, I will not give the Pāṇḍavas even that much land which can be pierced by the point of a needle.”

Duryodhana sat down, his eyes fixed on Kṛṣṇa. Karṇa lifted his huge arm, smeared with red sandalwood paste, and placed it over Duryodhana’s shoulders. Vidura looked at the two men and shook his head sadly. Dhṛtarāṣṭra was the only one who could prevent the impending calamity, but the old monarch remained silent--hearing everything, seeing nothing. If the king desired peace as he said he did, he would have to restrain his son forcibly. Duryodhana was not going to listen to him unless he was prepared to back his words with action. He would have to have the prince arrested. Otherwise, his words were empty.

Reflecting a moment, Kṛṣṇa said, “You obviously desire the endless sleep of the hero, and so you shall have it. Wait just a little longer. Then there will be the massacre you desire.

“O fool! You think you have no blame, but everyone here knows the truth. You were jealous of the Pāṇḍavas’ prosperity, and you plotted with Śakuni to defeat Yudhiṣṭhira at dice. Who else could have treated his brother’s wife as you treated Draupadī? Draupadī is chaste, of noble birth, and is well-behaved. She is dearer to the Pāṇḍavas than their own lives. Still you insulted her before all the Kurus.”

Kṛṣṇa reminded Duryodhana how Dushashana had addressed the Pāṇḍavas as they left Hastināpura, and how even before the dice game the Kurus had antagonized them. To plead innocence was simply evidence of his arrogance.

Kṛṣṇa was stern as He continued. “If you do not return their kingdom to them willingly, you will have to return it to them when they defeat you in battle. You have committed so many evil deeds toward the Pāṇḍavas and now you try to appear innocent. You have been repeatedly ordered by your elders to make peace, but you ignore them. Only by peace will everyone be benefited, including yourself. That it appears otherwise to you is a sign of your lack of intelligence.”

Kṛṣṇa’s speech had convinced even some of Duryodhana’s brothers. Dushashana in particular had begun to favor peace. Remembering Bhīma’s vow to tear out his heart, he addressed his elder brother. “If you are so foolish that you will not willingly make peace, then the Kauravas will bind you hand and foot and offer you to Yudhiṣṭhira.”

Duryodhana stormed out of the hall. Then Duryodhana’s one hundred brothers and all of his ministers followed him.

After they had gone Bhīṣma said, “One who abandons virtue and profit out of wrath will soon be sunk in a sea of troubles. This prince lacks wisdom and knowledge. He is influenced only by anger and greed. O Janārdana, I think the kṣatriya race is about to be annihilated, for his brothers and ministers follow him out of folly.”

Kṛṣṇa turned His lotus-like eyes toward Dhṛtarāṣṭra. “This is the fault of all the Kuru leaders. You should have restrained Duryodhana by force. O sinless men, it is time for you to act. Listen as I describe what is in your best interests.

“You all know how Kaṁsa, king of the Bhojas and Ugrasena’s wicked son, was rejected by his kinsmen. In the end, I killed him. By this one act, the Yādavas, Andhakas and Vrishnis all became happy. One man should be sacrificed for the sake of a race, the race for the good of a town, the town for the benefit of the country, and the earth for the sake of the soul. O Bharatas, after binding Duryodhana, Karṇa, Śakuni and Dushashana, make peace with the Pāṇḍavas. In this way the kṣatriyas may be saved.”

This made Dhṛtarāṣṭra even more uncomfortable. From Duryodhana’s birth his advisors had insisted he reject his son. He had refused. Now he was tasting the bitter fruit of his mistaken judgment. He was too attached to his son, and that attachment had not weakened over the years. Duryodhana took advantage of his weakness and ignored him. It seemed Duryodhana could be checked only if he were executed, or at least imprisoned. Now Kṛṣṇa was suggesting that they carry this through. How could he contemplate such an option? He thought of Gāndhārī. Maybe the prince would listen to his mother.

He decided to ask her to enter the assembly. “O Vidura, please go and bring the queen here. Then order my son to return to the assembly. Perhaps the wise Gāndhārī will be able to persuade him.”

Vidura left the hall and soon Gāndhārī entered, maidservants leading the blindfolded queen to her place next to the king. After being seated and informed of the situation, she addressed Dhṛtarāṣṭra.

“Your son is full of lust and greed. Only by your blessings has he obtained this kingdom, which he in no way deserves. O King, although you know he is sinful, you support him out of fondness. For this you are as much to blame for the present situation as he is. It will be difficult now to check Duryodhana.”

As Gāndhārī finished, Duryodhana returned, strode angrily across the hall, bowed slightly to his parents, and sat down. He was still breathing heavily, his eyes red.

Gāndhārī spoke gently. “My dear son, listen as I offer advice meant only for your benefit. It is my most earnest wish that you make peace with the Pāṇḍavas. Follow your elders’ guidance, my son, and reap the fruits of virtue. You want to control the earth only because you are full of sense desire and anger. You do not know that only by overcoming those two impulses can a man attain success in life. One who is controlled by his senses cannot control a kingdom. Only after conquering ourselves can we conquer the earth. Otherwise, it is not possible. The uncontrolled senses are powerful enough to kill a man, just as untrained horses can kill an incompetent driver. Prosperity always attends the king who has mastered his passions and who stands ready to chastise offenders, acting only after careful consideration. He who gives in to desire and wrath will lose everything in the end. Such a man cannot even attain heaven. Therefore, strive to control your senses, for in this lies your greatest good.”

Gāndhārī spoke from her own realization. Since the Pāṇḍavas’ exile, she had begun to practice asceticism. Feeling guilty for the way the Kurus had insulted Draupadī, she fasted and performed constant sacrifices. She practiced penance, praying that her licentious son might somehow be brought to his senses. But that seemed impossible. His heart was steeped in greed and envy, but he could not recognize these qualities in himself.

Imploring, the queen continued. “By joining with the virtuous and self-controlled Pāṇḍavas, you can enjoy this earth for a long time. What will you gain by fighting with them? Here is Kṛṣṇa, who performs powerful acts with little exertion. He is able to destroy all the kings alone. What then will happen when He unites with Arjuna? You have heard this advice again and again. One who ignores his well-wishers will only lament. But his enemies will rejoice.

“O child, your father gave the Pāṇḍavas their due share afraid of a dispute. Now you are enjoying the fruits of that gift. It was those heroes who subjugated the world. Surely half the kingdom can satisfy your needs. Do not invite destruction by igniting a dispute with the Pāṇḍavas. They have suffered enough these last thirteen years. Give them back what is theirs and save the world from disaster. When Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa, Karṇa, Bhīmasena, Dhanañjaya and Dṛṣṭadyumna come together in anger, all creatures will be destroyed. Therefore, quench your greed and act with wisdom. This is my advice to you, dear child.”

Duryodhana snorted. He had heard it all before. Everyone praised the Pāṇḍavas and criticized him. There didn’t seem to be anything he could say to convince them otherwise. Seeing that his mother had finished, he again left the hall. It was time to act.

He went straight to Dushashana’s palace. His brother was sitting with Karṇa and Śakuni. Slapping his thigh in anger he said to them, “It seems that Kṛṣṇa is swaying everyone’s minds toward the Pāṇḍavas. He is urging the king to have us arrested. I am worrying about this. Kṛṣṇa is very persuasive.”

Duryodhana looked at Dushashana. “Kṛṣṇa even turned your mind in the hall.” Dushashana looked ashamed as his elder brother went on. “We must quickly execute our plan to capture Kṛṣṇa. Even as Viṣṇu seized Bali we will grab Kṛṣṇa and bind Him. When the Pāṇḍavas hear of His capture, they will lose both heart and energy for the fight, just like serpents whose fangs are broken. Let us do it swiftly before the old man gives everything away again.”

Dushashana and Śakuni agreed, but Karṇa was uncertain. “I do not believe we will be able to capture Keśava, O King. If you wish to try, I will do what I can to help, but I doubt we can overcome Him.”

Unlike Duryodhana, Karṇa felt no anger toward Kṛṣṇa, whom he respected as a great warrior. Kṛṣṇa had killed many powerful fighters. According to the ṛṣis He was an incarnation of the original Supreme Person. Karṇa thought it likely. He only joined in the plot to capture Kṛṣṇa out of friendship for Duryodhana. But he had little faith it would succeed.

Duryodhana laughed away his friend’s doubts. “Kṛṣṇa will be unprepared for our move. He has come without weapons and not expecting to fight. We can catch Him off guard and have Him bound and taken away before He even realizes what is happening.”

The prince had no doubts about his plan. Perhaps it may fail, but there was nothing to lose. He had already declared open hostility against the Pāṇḍavas. The fight may as well start immediately; and if Kṛṣṇa could be captured, then the odds would shift dramatically in his favor. With the still uncertain Karṇa, he left to make the arrangements.

* * *

In the hall Sātyaki had watched Duryodhana closely. He noted that as the prince left, certain key Kuru leaders had also departed. It was obvious that Duryodhana was about to try something. Sātyaki knew that he had already stated his intention to capture Kṛṣṇa. It seemed he was about to try.

Leaning across to Kṛṣṇa, Sātyaki whispered, “I think Duryodhana will now try to seize You. He has taken a contingent of warriors out of the hall with him. I am sure he will try to take Your life. O Keśava, this wicked man has lost all sense of propriety.”

Kṛṣṇa smiled and reassured Sātyaki. “Do not fear, My friend. All the kings on earth together could not capture Me. Speak to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and see what he decides should be done.”

Sātyaki addressed the old king. “It seems your foolish son intends to make good his threat to capture Madhava. O leader of men, he and his evil counselors, overpowered by desire and anger, seek to do something exceedingly mean. Yet they cannot possibly succeed any more than children can take hold of blazing fire.”

Vidura had also noted Duryodhana’s intentions. Rising from his seat he said, “O King, your sons’ time has come. They are preparing to do something which cannot be done. Even so, it is sinful beyond all limits to even contemplate it. Standing against Kṛṣṇa, they will die like worms falling into a fire. He will send them all to Yamarāja’s abode as a lion destroys a flock of sheep.”

Kṛṣṇa laughed. “Let them try! Maybe this is how this problem will be solved. But do not worry. I will not do anything for which I can be censured. Although I could slay them all outright, I will not do so. In any event, they have already been killed by their own sinful desires. By coveting Yudhiṣṭhira’s wealth they have weakened themselves and will soon be ruined. O King, let Duryodhana do as he likes.”

When Kṛṣṇa stopped speaking, Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s voice boomed through the court. “Bring my wicked son here at once and bring his ministers with him. I will again try to bring him to the path of righteousness.”

Once again Duryodhana was brought back into the hall. He entered with Karṇa and Dushashana just behind him. Again he strode across the hall and took his place.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra was angry. “O you of inhuman conduct and extreme sinfulness, having as your support only men of small deeds, you want to perpetrate an act which is too difficult to accomplish and which is heinous beyond limit. Like a child wanting to hold the moon, you desire to capture the lotus-eyed Kṛṣṇa. All virtuous men would condemn you. Anyway, it is not possible for you to carry this through. Even the gods could not take Keśava prisoner. O fool, give up your absurd notions and come to your senses immediately.”

Duryodhana was seething with anger. He said nothing. He had already ordered his men to come into the hall as soon as Kṛṣṇa rose to leave. Everyone else may be afraid of the Yādava, but he was not. The prince glanced across at Kṛṣṇa, who sat smiling and at ease. Soon everyone would see just how strong He was.

Vidura, clearly remembering how the Kurus had violated Draupadī, could not stand the thought of Kṛṣṇa receiving similar treatment in the same hall. He spoke again, trying one last time to influence Duryodhana.

“O Bharata, listen as I remind you once more of the many demons who have tried and failed to overpower Kṛṣṇa. The hugely powerful Naraka, who was son of the Earth goddess herself, lived for thousands of years surrounded by his vast forces. Kṛṣṇa killed him easily. He also destroyed the five-headed Mura, who struck fear into the hearts of the gods. When He was a child He killed Putana and the evil wizards Arishta and Dhenuka. When He was seven years old He held Govardhana Hill aloft with one hand.”

Vidura named various other Asuras and kings whom Kṛṣṇa had defeated. Finally, he said, “Kṛṣṇa is the doer of everything. He is the cause of all causes. From Him comes all power and opulence. He can do anything without the least effort. O Duryodhana, you do not understand Govinda. His prowess is incomparable and it will reduce you and your followers to ashes. Attempting to take Him prisoner is ludicrous.”

Kṛṣṇa looked at Duryodhana. “O Kaurava, out of folly you think Me to be alone and vulnerable. O one of small intellect, see now as I show you the truth. Here are all the Pāṇḍavas, the Vrishnis, and the Andhakas. Here too are the gods, the Adityas, Rudras, Vasus, and great ṛṣis.”

Duryodhana could take no more. He jumped up and pointed at Kṛṣṇa. “Seize Him now!” At once his soldiers began running into the hall from all its entrances. With swords and bows at the ready they closed in on Kṛṣṇa.

Kṛṣṇa laughed and as He did, His body suddenly flashed like lightning. He began to grow in size and various gods issued from Him. Brahmā sprang from His forehead and Śiva from His chest. The Lokapālas sat on His arms and Agni appeared from His mouth. Then Indra and the Maruts appeared along with hosts of Gandharvas, Yakṣas and Rākṣasas. From His two eyes came Balarāma and Arjuna, who stood on His left and right sides. Behind Him stood Yudhiṣṭhira, Bhīma, and the twins, and behind them were the Vrishnis and Andhakas, headed by Pradyumna. Kṛṣṇa’s mace, discus and club weapons appeared, blazing brilliantly. His pores emanated light, sparks and clouds of smoke.

The sight was too frightening. Almost everyone in the assembly closed their eyes. Only Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Vidura and Sañjaya were able to look upon Kṛṣṇa as He manifested His universal form. The ṛṣis also gazed upon Him, folding their palms and offering prayers. The sky resounded with celestial drums and flowers showered from the heavens into the hall.

Sañjaya described the event to Dhṛtarāṣṭra, who said, “O Kṛṣṇa, You are ever doing good for the world. Therefore, it is right that You should bless me with the eyes to see Your form. O best of the Yādavas, I pray for the sight to see You.”

“O Kuru leader, let your eyes have sight,” Kṛṣṇa replied, and immediately Dhṛtarāṣṭra could see Him standing within the great hall. He also saw numerous gods approaching Kṛṣṇa and worshipping Him with Vedic mantras.

Outside the hall a fierce wind blew. Huge waves moved over the ocean and thunderclaps reverberated in the sky. The earth trembled.

The hall was in a tumult. Kṛṣṇa withdrew His mystical form and again assumed a two-armed form. Taking permission from the ṛṣis, He left the hall, holding the hands of Sātyaki and Kṛtavarmā. The ṛṣis, headed by Nārada, rose from their seats and vanished--their minds astonished. Dhṛtarāṣṭra again became blind and he sat in silent amazement.

As Kṛṣṇa left, the Kurus followed Him with folded hands, like the gods following Indra. Only Duryodhana and his ministers remained seated. They were struck with wonder and unable to do or say anything. Their plan to capture Kṛṣṇa was obviously futile.

Outside the hall all the natural disturbances had stopped and a gentle breeze was blowing. Kṛṣṇa mounted His chariot and prepared to leave. As He sat upon His golden car, spread with white tiger skins, Dhṛtarāṣṭra came out of the hall. Led by Vidura, he went up to Kṛṣṇa and said, “You have seen the influence I wield over my sons, O Janārdana. You have seen everything. Nothing has been hidden from You. It is not proper to blame me, O Keśava, for I desire only peace. I have no wicked intentions against the Pāṇḍavas. You have heard me speak to Duryodhana and seen his response. I have done my best.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra was surrounded by the Kuru elders. Kṛṣṇa looked at all of them and said, “You have also witnessed everything, how that uncultured man walked out, even as he was receiving instructions meant for his good. You have also heard the ruler of the earth state that he is powerless. With your permission, I will now return to Yudhiṣṭhira.”

Kṛṣṇa sat down with Sātyaki and Kṛtavarmā on either side of Him. Dāruka urged on the horses and the chariot moved off. The Kurus watched it move along the broad highway, cheered on all sides by crowds of citizens. Kṛṣṇa ordered Dāruka to take Him back to Vidura’s house. He wanted to speak once more to Kuntī before He left for Virata.

Going before His aunt with Sātyaki, Kṛṣṇa touched her feet and told her what had transpired in the assembly. Kuntī was not surprised. She had not expected Duryodhana to listen. Fearing that Yudhiṣṭhira might be too forgiving, she asked Kṛṣṇa to exhort him to fight. She knew he would be loathe to fight with his kinsmen and elders only to win a kingdom. As a kṣatriya princess, Kuntī had been educated in the rules of conduct for warriors. She spoke for some time with Kṛṣṇa, citing the rules and making it clear that the proper course for Yudhiṣṭhira was war. Her sons should harbor no doubt about it.

Again reminding Kṛṣṇa of the prophetic voices which had foretold great things for her sons at their births, Kuntī said, “Let it be as the divine oracles predicted. O Kṛṣṇa, my sons must now fulfill their destiny and take control of this earth. They will not achieve it through peaceful means. Nor can Draupadī’s honor be restored unless my sons fight. For me this is the most compelling reason for war. They must avenge their wife. They have not freed themselves of that obligation. They failed to protect her in the vicious assembly at the dice game. They must now rectify this wrong.”

Kuntī bowed down and touched Kṛṣṇa’s feet with her hands. Standing again she concluded, “O Keśava, tell my sons that I am well. Go now on Your auspicious way.”

Kṛṣṇa stood up to leave. After walking respectfully around His aunt He bid her farewell and left the room. Outside, He found Bhīṣma and the other Kuru leaders waiting to see Him off. Kṛṣṇa bowed before them, exchanged farewells, and mounted His chariot with Sātyaki. Then He headed out of Hastināpura.

The Kurus watched as the chariot sped toward the city’s southern gate. Urged on by Dāruka, Kṛṣṇa’s horses seemed to leap into the sky again and again. In a short time He was out of sight. The Kuru chiefs turned and headed toward the king’s palace. Kṛṣṇa’s peace mission had failed. War was certain.