The Council at Virata--Speeches of Kings and Princes--Army to be raised for the Pandavas--Krishna's Attitude--His Army on one side and Himself on the other--Ambassador visits Kauravas--Pandavas invited to Hastinapur--A Deadlock--Krishna visits Hastinapur--Elders counsel Peace--Duryodhana refuses to Yield--Plot to seize Krishna--A Revelation of Divine Power--Krishna's Interview with Karna--Pritha informs Karna of his Birth--Karna refuses to desert Duryodhana--His Resolution and Promise.
ERE the wedding guests departed from Virata, after merrymaking and song and dance, the elders and princes and chieftains assembled in the council chamber. Drupada was there with his son, and Krishna with his brother Balarama and Satyaki his kinsman, and all the Pandava brethren were there also, and many others both valiant and powerful. Bright and numerous as the stars were the gems that glittered on the robes of the mighty warriors. For a time they spake kindly greetings one to another, and jested and made merry. Krishna sat pondering in silence, and at length he arose and spake, saying:
"O rajahs and princes, may your fame endure for ever! Thou knowest well that Yudhishthira was deprived of his kingdom by the evil trickster Shakuni. He hath endured twelve years of exile, and hath served, like his brethren, as a humble menial for a further year in the palace of the Rajah of Virata. After long suffering Yudhishthira desires peace; his heart is without anger,
although he hath endured great shame. The heart of Duryodhana, however, still burns with hate and jealous wrath; still, as in his youth, he desires to work evil by deceit against the Pandava brethren. Now, consider well, O ye monarchs, what Yudhishthira should do. Should he call many chieftains to his aid and wage war to punish his ancient foes? Or should he send friendly messengers to Duryodhana, asking him to restore the kingdom which he still continues to possess?"
Balarama then spoke and said: "Ye pious rajahs! ye have heard the words of my brother, who loveth Yudhishthira. It is true, indeed, that the Kauravas have wronged the Pandavas. Yet I would counsel peace, so that this matter may be arranged between kinsmen. Yudhishthira hath brought his sufferings upon his own head. He was unwise to play with cunning Shakuni, and also to continue playing, despite the warnings of the elders and his friends. He hath suffered for his folly. Now let a messenger be sent to Duryodhana, entreating him to restore the throne unto Yudhishthira. I do not advise war. What hath been gambled away cannot be restored in battle."
Next arose Satyaki, the kinsman of Krishna. He said: "O Balarama, thou hast spoken like to a woman. Thou remindest me that weaklings are sometimes born to warriors, like to barren saplings sprung from sturdy trees. Timid words come from timid hearts. Proud monarchs heed not counsel so weakly as thine. O Balarama! canst thou justify Duryodhana and blame the pious-hearted and gracious Yudhishthira? If it had chanced that Yudhishthira while playing with his brethren had been visited by Duryodhana, who, having thrown the dice, achieved success, then the contest would have been fair in the eyes of all men. But Duryodhana plotted to ruin his kinsman,
and invited him to Hastinapur to play with the evil-hearted Shakuni, who threw loaded dice. But that is ended. Yudhishthira hath fulfilled his obligation; his exile is past, and he is entitled to his kingdom. Why, therefore, should he beg for that which is his own? A Kshatriya begs of no man; what is refused him he seizeth in battle at all times. . . . Duryodhana still clings to Yudhishthira's kingdom, despite the wise counsel of Bhishma and Drona. Remember, O Balarama, it is not sinful to slay one's enemies, but it is shameful to beg from them. I now declare my advice to be that we should give the Kauravas an opportunity to restore the throne of Yudhishthira; if they hesitate to de so, then let the Pandavas secure justice on the battlefield."
Drupada, Rajah of Panchala, then arose and said: "Ye monarchs, I fear that Satyaki hath spoken truly. The Kauravas are a stubborn people. Methinks it is useless to entreat Duryodhana, whose heart is consumed with greed. It is vain to plead with Dhritarashtra, who is but as clay in the hands of his proud son. Bhishma and Drona have already counselled in vain. Karna thirsts for war, and Duryodhana intrigues with him and also with false and cunning Shakuni. Methinks it were idle to follow the advice of Balarama. Duryodhana will never yield up what he now possesseth, nor doth he desire peace. If we should send to him an ambassador who will speak mild words, he will think that we are weak, and become more boastful and arrogant than heretofore. My advice is that we should gather together a great army without delay: the rajahs will side with him who asketh first. Meanwhile let us offer peace and friendship unto Duryodhana: my family priest will carry our message. If Duryodhana is willing to give up the kingdom of
[paragraph continues] Yudhishthira, there will be peace; if he scorns our friendship, he will find us ready for war."
Krishna again addressed the assembly and said: "Drupada hath spoken wisely. The Pandavas would do well to accept his counsel. If Duryodhana will agree to restore the raj unto Yudhishthira, there will be no strife or bloodshed. . . . You all know that the Pandavas and Kauravas are my kinsmen; know also that they are equally dear unto me. . . . I will now go hence. When ye send out messengers of war, let them enter my kingdom last of all."
After Krishna had returned home, he was visited by Duryodhana and Arjuna, for both parties desired greatly his help in the war. He spake to the rival kinsmen and said: "Behold, I stand before you as in the balance; I have put myself on one side, and all my army is on the other. Choose now between you whether you desire me or my forces. I shall not fight, but will give advice in battle."
Then Duryodhana asked for the army, but Arjuna preferred to have Krishna alone. And Krishna promised to be Arjuna's charioteer.
Duryodhana sought to prevail upon Balarama to aid him, but Krishna's brother said: "I have no heart for this war. I spake to Krishna in thy favour, but he answered me not. Well, thou knowest that thou hast wronged Yudhishthira, and that it would well become thee to act justly in this matter. Do thy duty, and thy renown will be great."
Duryodhana departed in sullen anger from Balarama.
In time Drupada's priest appeared in the city of Hastinapur, and the elders and princes sat with Dhritarashtra to hear his message. Said the Brahman: "Thus speaketh the Pandavas--'Pandu and Dhritarashtra were
brothers: why, therefore, should Dhritarashtra's sons possess the whole kingdom, while the sons of Pandu are denied inheritance? Duryodhana hath ever worked evil against his kinsman. He invited them to a gambling match to play with loaded dice, and they lost their possessions and had to go into exile like beggars. Now they have fulfilled the conditions, and are prepared to forget the past if their raj is restored to them. If their rightful claim is rejected, then Arjuna will scatter the Kauravas in battle.'"
Bhishma said: "What thou hast said is well justified, but it is wrong to boast regarding Arjuna. It would be wise of thee not to speak of him in such manner again."
Angrily rose Karna and said: "If the Pandavas have suffered, they are themselves to blame. It is but fitting that they should plead for peace, for they are without followers. If they can prove their right to possessions, Duryodhana will yield; but he will not be forced by vain threatenings, or because the Rajahs of Panchala and Virata support them. O Brahman! tell thou the Pandavas that they have failed to fulfil their obligations, for Arjuna was beheld by us before the thirteenth year of banishment was completed. Let them return to a jungle for another term, and then come hither and submit to Duryodhana and beg for his favours."
Said Bhishma: "Thou didst not boast in this manner, O Karna, when Arjuna opposed thee at the Virata cattle raid. Remember that Arjuna is still powerful. If war comes, he will trample thee in the dust."
Dhritarashtra reproved Karna for his hasty speech, and said unto Bhishma: "He is young and unaccustomed to debate; be not angry with him."
Then the blind old monarch sent his minister and charioteer, Sanjaya, to the Pandavas to speak thus: "If
you desire to have peace, come before me and I will do justice. Except wicked Duryodhana and hasty Karna all who are here are well disposed to you."
When Sanjaya reached the Pandavas, he was astonished to behold that they had assembled together a mighty army. He greeted the brethren and delivered his message.
Said Yudhishthira: "We honour Dhritarashtra, but fear that he has listened to the counsel of his son Duryodhana, who desires to have us in his power. The maharajah offers us protection, but not the fulfilment of our claims."
Krishna then spake, saying: "The Pandavas have assembled a mighty army, and cannot reward these soldiers unless they receive their raj. It is not yet too late to make peace. Deliver unto the Kauravas, O Sanjaya, this message: 'If you seek peace, you will have peace; if you desire war, then let there be war.'"
Ere Sanjaya left, Yudhishthira spoke to him and said: "Tell thou Duryodhana that we will accept that portion of the raj which we ourselves have conquered and settled: he can retain the rest. My desire is for peace."
Many days went past, and the Pandavas waited in vain for an answer to their message. Then Yudhishthira spake to Krishna, saying: "We have offered to make peace by accepting but a portion of our kingdom, yet the Kauravas remain silent."
Said Krishna: "I will now journey unto Hastinapur and address the maharajah and his counsellors on thy behalf."
Yudhishthira said: "Mayst thou secure peace between kinsmen."
Then Draupadi entered and, addressing Krishna, said:
[paragraph continues] "Yudhishthira is too generous towards the Kauravas in offering to give up part of his kingdom unto them. He entreateth them overmuch, as well, to grant him that which belongs not unto them. If the Kauravas wage war, my sire and many other rajahs will assist the Pandavas. . . . Oh! can it be forgotten how Duhsasana dragged me by the hair to the Gambling Pavilion, and how I was put to shame before the elders and the princes?" . . .
She wept bitterly, and Krishna pitied her. "Why do you sorrow thus?" he asked with gentle voice. "The time is drawing nigh when all the Kauravas will be laid low, and their wives will shed tears more bitter than thine that fall now, O fair one."
Messengers who arrived at Hastinapur announced the coming of Krishna. Wise Vidura counselled that he should be welcomed in state, whereupon Duryodhana proclaimed a public holiday, and all the people rejoiced, and decorated the streets with streamers and flowers.
Vidura was well pleased, and he said to Duryodhana: "Thou hast done well. But these preparations are in vain if thou art unwilling to do justice unto the Pandavas."
Duryodhana was wroth, and said: "I will give naught except what they can win in battle. If the success of the Pandavas depends upon Krishna, then let us seize Krishna and put him in prison."
Dhritarashtra was horror-stricken, and cried out: "Thou canst not thus treat an ambassador, and especially an ambassador like unto Krishna."
Bhishma rose up and said: "O maharajah, thy son desireth to work evil and bring ruin and shame upon us all. Methinks disaster is not now afar off."
So saying, he departed unto his own house, and Vidura did likewise.
All the Kauravas went forth to meet the royal ambassador save Duryodhana, who scarcely looked upon Krishna when he arrived at the palace.
Krishna went to the house of Vidura, and there he saw Pritha, who wept and said: "How fares it with my sons, whom I have not beheld for fourteen years? How fares it with Draupadi? In sorrow have I heard of their sufferings in desolate places. Ah! who can understand mine own misery, for every day is full of weariness and grief unto me?"
Said Krishna: "Be comforted, O widow of Pandu! Thy sons have many allies, and ere long they will return in triumph to their own land."
Thereafter Krishna went to the house of Duryodhana, who sat haughtily in the feasting chamber. At length Dhritarashtra's son spake unto his kinsman, who ate naught. He said: "Why art thou unfriendly towards me?"
Said Krishna: "I cannot be thy friend until thou dost act justly towards thy kinsmen, the Pandavas."
When Krishna went again to the house of Vidura, the aged counsellor said to him: "'Twere better if thou hadst not come hither. Duryodhana will take no man's advice. When he speaketh he doth expect all men to agree with him."
Said Krishna: "It is my desire to prevent bloodshed. I came to Hastinapur to save the Kauravas from destruction, and I will warn them in the council chamber on the morrow. If they will heed me, all will be well; if they scorn my advice, then let their blood be upon their own heads."
When the princes and the elders sat with Dhritarashtra
in the council chamber, Narada and other great Rishis appeared in the heavens and were invited to come down and share in the deliberations, and they came down.
Krishna arose, and in a voice like thunder spake forth, saying: "I have come hither not to seek war, but to utter words of peace and love. O maharajah, let not your heart be stained with sin. Thy sons have wronged their kinsmen, and a danger threatens all: it approacheth now like an angry comet, and I can behold kinsmen slaying kinsmen, and many noble lords laid in the dust. All of you here gathered together are already in the clutch of death. O Dhritarashtra, man of peace, stretch forth thine hand and avert the dread calamity which is about to fall upon thy house. Grant unto the Pandavas their rightful claim, and thy reign will close in glory unsurpassed and in blessed peace. . . . What if all the Pandavas were slain in battle! Would their fall bring thee joy? Are they not thine own brother's children? . . . But, know thou, the Pandavas are as ready for war as they are eager for peace; and if war comes, it will be polluted with the blood of these thy sons. O gracious maharajah, let the last years of thy life be peaceful and pleasant, so that thou mayst be blessed indeed."
Dhritarashtra wept and said: "Fain would I do as thou hast counselled so wisely, O Krishna, but Duryodhana, my vicious son, will not listen to me or obey, nor will he give heed unto his mother, nor to Vidura, nor unto Bhishma."
Next Bhishma spoke, and he addressed Duryodhana, saying: "’Twould be well with thee if thou wouldst follow the advice of Krishna. Thou art evil-hearted and a wrongdoer; thou art the curse of our family; thou takest pleasure in disobeying thy royal sire and in scorning
to be guided by Krishna and Vidura. Soon thy sire will be bereft of his kingdom because of thy deeds; thy pride will bring death to thy kinsmen. Hear and follow my advice; do not bring eternal sorrow to thine aged parents."
Duryodhana heard these words in anger, but was silent.
Then Drona spake to him and said: "I join with Bhishma and Krishna in making appeal unto thee. Those who advise thee to make peace are thy friends; those who counsel war are thine enemies. Be not too certain of victory; tempt not the hand of vengeance; leave the night-black road of evil and seek out the road of light and welldoing, O Duryodhana."
Next Vidura rose up. He spoke with slow, gentle voice, and said: "Thou hast heard words of wisdom, O Duryodhana. . . . I sorrow deeply in this hour. My grief is not for thee, but for thine aged sire and thine aged mother, who will fall into the hands of thine enemies; my grief is for kinsmen and friends who must die in battle, and for those who will thereafter be driven forth as beggars, friendless and without a home. The few survivors of war will curse the day of thy birth, O Duryodhana."
Again Bhishma spoke. He praised the valour of the Pandavas, and said: "It is not yet too late to avoid calamity. The field of battle is still unstained by the blood of thousands; thine army hath not yet met the arrows of death, O Duryodhana. Ere it is too late, make thy peace with thy kinsmen, the Pandavas, so that all men may rejoice. Banish evil from thine heart for ever; rule the whole world with the heirs of Pandu."
Dhritarashtra still wept. . . . The Rishis counselled peace like the elders.
Then angry Duryodhana spoke, while his eyes burned bright and his brows hung darkly, and said: "Krishna counsels me to be just, yet he hateth me and loveth the Pandavas. Bishma scowls upon me, and Vidura and Drona look coldly on; my sire weeps for my sins. Yet what have I done that ye, O elders, should turn my sire's affection from me? If Yudhishthira loved gambling and staked and lost his throne and freedom, am I to blame? If he played a second time after being set at liberty, and became an exile, why should he now call me a robber? Pallid and inconstant is the star of the Pandavas' destiny: their friends are few, and feeble is their army. Shall we, who fear not Indra even, he threatened and browbeaten by the weak sons of Pandu? No warrior lives who can overcome us. A Kshatriya fears no foeman; he may fall in battle, but he will never yield. So have the sages spoken. . . . Hear me, my kinsmen all! My sire gifted Indra-prastha to the Pandavas in a moment of weakness. Never, so long as I and my brother live, will they possess it again. Never again will the kingdom of Maharajah Dhritarashtra be severed in twain. It has been united, and so will remain for ever. My words are firm and plain. So tell thou the Pandavas, O Krishna, that they ask in vain for territory. Nor town nor village will they again possess with my consent. I swear by the gods that I will never humble myself before the Pandavas."
Said Krishna: "How canst thou speak in such a manner, O Duryodhana? How canst thou pretend that thou didst never wrong thy kinsmen? Be mindful of thine evil thoughts and deeds."
Duhsasana whispered to his elder brother: "I fear, if thou dost not make peace with the Pandavas, the elders will seize thee and send thee as a prisoner to
[paragraph continues] Yudhishthira. They desire to make thee and me and Karna to kneel before the Pandavas."
Angry was Duryodhana, and he rose and left the council chamber. Duhsasana and Karna and Shakuni followed him.
Krishna then turned to Dhritarashtra and said: "Thou shouldst arrest these four rebellious princes and act freely and justly towards the Pandavas."
The weak old maharajah was stricken with grief, and he sent Vidura for his elder son. Then came Queen Gándhári and remonstrated with Duryodhana; but when she had spoken he answered not, and went away again.
Shakuni and Karna and Duhsasana waited outside for Duryodhana, and they plotted to lay hands on Krishna so that the power of the Pandavas might be weakened. But to Krishna came knowledge of their thoughts, and he informed the elders who were there.
Once again the maharajah summoned Duryodhana before him, and Krishna said: "Ah! thou of little understanding, is it thy desire to take me captive? Know now that I am not alone here, for all the gods and holy beings are with me."
Having spoken thus, Krishna suddenly revealed himself in divine splendour. His body was transformed into a tongue of flame; gods and divine beings appeared about him; fire issued from his mouth and eyes and ears; sparks broke from his skin, which became as radiant as the sun. . . .
All the rajahs closed their eyes; they trembled when an earthquake shook the palace. But Duryodhana remained defiant.
Krishna, having resumed his human form, then bade farewell to the maharajah, who lamented the doings of Duryodhana. The divine one spake and said: "O
[paragraph continues] Dhritarashtra, thee I forgive freely; but alas! a father is often cursed by the people because of the wicked doings of his own son."
Ere Krishna left the city he met Karna and spake to him, saying: "Come with me, and the Pandavas will regard thee as their elder brother, and thou wilt become the king."
Said Karna: "Although Duryodhana is a rajah, he rules according to my counsel. . . . I know, without doubt, that a great battle is pending which will cover the earth with blood. Terrible are the omens. Calamity awaits the Kauravas. . . . Yet I cannot desert those who have given me their friendship. Besides, if I went with thee now, men would regard me as Arjuna's inferior. Arjuna and I must meet in battle, and fate will decide who is the greater. I know I shall fall in this war, but I must fight for my friends. . . . O mighty one, may we meet on earth again. If not, may we meet in heaven."
Then Krishna and Karna embraced one another, and each went his own way.
Vidura spake to Pritha, mother of the Pandavas, and said: "O mother of living sons, my desire is ever for peace, but although I cry myself hoarse, Duryodhana will not listen to my words. Dhritarashtra is old, yet he doth not work for peace; he is intoxicated with pride for his sons. When Krishna returneth to the Pandavas, war will certainly break out; the sin of the Kauravas will cause much bloodshed. I cannot sleep, thinking of approaching disaster."
Pritha sighed and wept. "Fie to wealth!" she said, "that it should cause kinsmen to slaughter one another. War should be waged between foemen, not friends. If the Pandavas do not fight, they will suffer poverty; if they go to war and win, the destruction of kinsmen will
not bring triumph. My heart is full of sorrow. And alas! it is Karna who supports Duryodhana in his folly; he hath again become powerful."
Pritha lamented the folly of her girlhood which caused Karna to be, and she went forth to look for him. She found her son bathing in sacred waters, and she spoke, saying: "Thou art mine own son, and thy sire is Surya. I hid thee at birth, and Radha, who found thee, is not thy mother. It is not seemly that thou shouldst in ignorance plot with Duryodhana against thine own brethren. Let the Kauravas this day behold the friendship of thee and Arjuna. If you two were side by side you would conquer the world. My eldest son, it is meet that thou shouldst be with thy brethren now. Be no longer known as one of lowly birth."
A voice spoke from the sun, saying: "What Pritha hath said is truth. O tiger among men, great good will be accomplished if thou wilt obey her command."
Karna remained steadfast, for his heart was full of honour. He said unto Pritha, his mother: "O lady, it is now too late to command my obedience. Why didst thou abandon me at birth? If I am a Kshatriya, I have been deprived of my rank. No foeman could have done me a greater injury than thou hast done. Thou hast never been a mother to me, nor do thy sons know I am their brother. How can I now desert the Kauravas, who trust in me in waging this war. I am their boat on which to cross a stormy sea. . . . I will speak without deceit unto thee. For the sake of Duryodhana I will combat against thy sons. I cannot forget his kindness; I cannot forget mine own honour. Thy command cannot now be obeyed by me. Yet thy solicitation to me will not be fruitless. I have power to slay Yudhishthira, and Bhima, and Nakula, and Sahadeva,
but I promise they shall not fall by my hand. I will fight with Arjuna alone. If I slay Arjuna, I will achieve great fame; if I am slain by him, I will be covered with glory."
Said Pritha: "Thou hast pledged the lives of four of thy brethren. Be that remembered to thee in the perils of battle. Blessed be thou, and let health be given thee."
Karna said: "So be it," and then they parted, the mother going one way and the son another.
After this the Pandavas and Kauravas gathered together their mighty armies and marched to the field of battle.