The war was just about to begin. The two armies – that of the Kauravas and the Pandavas – were arrayed facing each other, on the battlefield.
Yudhishtra suddenly got down from his chariot and walked towards the Kaurava camp. His brothers were surprised and worried. They called out to him, asking him where he was going and why. But he did not reply.
The Kaurava warriors started exclaiming: “He’s developed cold feet!” “He’s come to ask for peace.” “The sight of the Kaurava army has frightened him!”
The other Pandavas and Krishna followed along with Satyaki. Krishna quietened the brothers. “Do not worry. He knows what he is doing.”
He walked across the battlefield where Bheeshma’s chariot stood. Bheeshma was the commander of the Kaurava forces and his chariot was right in front.
Yudhishtra approached the grandsire, touching his feet with great humility and reverence. “O Grandsire,” he said, “Forgive me for my dharma has forced me to fight you. However, I seek your blessings.”
Bheeshma blessed him with love and affection, “My dharma pits me against you and I but do my duty. Ask for any boon except for the request to fight on your side.”
“O great warrior,” said Yudhishtra, “How do I conquer you?”
Bheeshma said, “Victory will be yours. Come to me at the correct time, and I will tell you.”
Next Yudhishtra went to Drona. After seeking his blessings, Drona too gave him a boon. Yudhishtra asked the same question, “How can we conquer you?”
Drona said, “As long as the bow is in my hand, I cannot be conquered. But if my mind is disturbed, I may throw away the bow.”
He similarly went to Kripacharya, who told him, “I will live to see you win.”
Next, he went to King Salya, uncle to the Pandavas, with the same request for blessings. Salya too blessed him and wished him well. On the way back to joining his army, Yudhishtra saw Karna, who had vowed not to fight under Bhishma. “O Karna,” he said, “Join us if you will. You can fight the grandsire and avenge your humiliation.”
But Karna declined. He said, “I had vowed to fight with Duryodhana.”
Then Yudhishtra went back to his army and facing the Kaurava side, his palms joined, said, “Whoever wishes to join the Pandavas, you are welcome. I will treat you as my brother.”
Yuyutsu, King Dhridhrashtra’s son by a Vaisya wife, immediately left the Kaurava ranks and joined the Pandavas with his huge army. This boosted the Pandava morale.
Duryodhana consulted his brothers and advisors on who would be the Commander of the Kaurava forces, when the war was declared.
As expected, the choice of Commander fell on Bheeshma. Duryodhana approached the grandsire and requested him to take up the post.
Bheeshma replied, “I hope you came to this decision after thinking things out properly. I am for peace. But this war is forced on me. I will not kill the Pandavas and their children. But I will kill their armies, about ten thousand me a day. However, I think you should make Karna your Commander. Think about it.”
But Duryodhana was sure. He then asked Bheeshma, “You know both us and the Pandavas, our strengths and weaknesses. Please tell us our strengths and weaknesses.”
Bheeshma did so, saying that he was giving his opinion. He said that Arjuna and Abhimanyu were Athirathis, or great warriors. Then he spoke about Karna. “I am afraid Duryodhana, that Karna, despite being a brave and accomplished warrior, may not be the warrior you think him to be. He is but half a warrior, thanks to some of factors, like Parashurama’s curse, and his donating away his natural armour. He boasts and is over-confident.”
Karna was furious. He stood up and said, “O grandsire! I know you have no love for me. But there was no need to insult me before others.” He turned to Duryodhana. “He says he will not kill the Pandavas. I don’t think he will win the war for you. I will not fight under him.”
Karna stormed out.
Bheeshma was upset, but Duryodhana pacified him and requested him, “O great warrior. I need you at this crucial hour. Please do not be offended by what Karna said.”
And that’s how Bheeshma became Commander of the Kaurava forces.
The value of humility
Having lost at their kingdom at the game of dice, Yudhistra and his brothers travelled to many holy spots. During one such travel to the Himalayas, Bhima was wandering around in a forest when he came upon a python. The giant snake pounced on him and wound around him, in a tight grip. He could not escape, however much he tried. His legendary strength proved of no use to him.
Yudhishtra came in search of him, wondering at Bhima’s long absence. He found his brother in the grip of the phython. He said, “O great soul. You are not really a python. Let him go. If you are hungry, I will give you food to satisfy you. If there is anything else, please let me know.”
The python replied, “You are right. I am your great-ancestor, Nahusha. Due to a curse by Rishi Agasthya, here I am in this form. If you answer my questions correctly, I will let your brother go.”
Wise Yudhistra answered all Nahusha’s questions and soon, Bhima was free! Nahusha too was free from his curse.
On their way back from the forest, Yudhishtra told Bhima, “My dear brother, today, you have become a real hero. You have learnt that no strength is greater than humility. This you have learnt from our own ancestor, Nahusha. You have escaped death by a hair’s breath. You will never forget this.”
Why people turn to revenge?
The game of dice was over. The Pandavas had lost their kingdom and were leaving Hastinapura. As they walked through the city, the people sorrowfully lamented at their plight.
The blind Dhridharashtra called for Vidura, asking him to relate what was happening.
Vidura described the sorry sight – “Yudhishtra is walking past the crowds of people, covering his face with a cloth. Bhima looks down as he walks. Arjuna is scattering sand, while the twins, Nakula and Sahadeva have smeared their bodies with Ash. Draupadi, her hair in disarray, is walking, tears streaming down her cheeks…”
Listening to this, a great fear came over the blind king. He asked, “What do the people say?”
“The people say that you and your sons have done this. They blame the elders for allowing this to happen.”
As they were talking, Sage Narada appeared before them and said, “What has taken place here will have far reaching effects – the Pandavas will wipe out the Kauravas in the future.”
Terrified of what was going to happen now, Dhridharashtra went to Drona who said, “It is my duty to stand by you and your clan but let me tell you, the Kauravas will be wiped out by the anger of the Pandavas once their exile is over. Duryodhana, make peace with the Pandavas.”
However, Duryodhana was in no mood to listen.
Dhridhrashtra’s charioteer Sanjaya then said, “Oh king! When bad things happen to someone, he becomes angered and unhappy, losing his understanding of right and wrong. What matters to him then, is only one thing – to take revenge. What has been done to Draupadi is this – there is no turning back the clock.”
When the war was about to begin, an agitated Dhirdhrashtra sat with his charioteer Sanjaya, worried and unhappy. Vedavyasa arrived there to console him. The blind king was overcome with emotion when he told the sage, “The brothers are going to fight. What am I to do? My sons don’t listen to me.”
Vedavyasa replied, “What has to happen will happen. Let the righteous win, O king!”
Dhridhrashtra said, “For the first time in my life, I feel happy to be born blind. I need not witness this. But I would like to know what is truly happening. What do I do?”
Vyasa then said, “My dear child. Sanjaya will be your reporter. He will watch all that is going on in the battlefield first hand and tell you. I give him the boons to be able to move from place to place at will. He will also be able to witness all conversations, secret plans… no weapon will hurt him. He will not feel tired at all, though this would require him to move about from morning to evening. He will be invisible and he will be able to see things that happen at more than one place at a time.”
Sanjaya bowed to the sage and thanked him.
Throughout the Mahabharata war, it is Sanjaya who stands by Dhridharashtra’s side, recounting to him all that takes place in battle and the reasons why, much like our modern-day television news channels!
The ‘blind’ couple
Though the king Dhridhrashtra was blind, and his wife Gandhari lived her life blindfolded in sympathy with her husband’s condition, they were not unaware of their son’s true nature.
Duryodhana could not be reasoned with by both parents, who gave in to his will time and again, thanks to their love for their son.
However, they were aware of their weakness. Dhridhrashtra constantly lived with the fear as to what his son may do and the consequences of his actions.
Gandhari meanwhile, was similarly aware.
When Duryodhana could not be persuaded to make peace with his cousins, even when Krishna spoke, Dhridhrashtra called for Gandhari, hoping she would make him see sense.
But of course, Duryodhana would not listen to her. Instead he asked her to bless him that he would be victorious.
Gandhari’s reply was, “I bless you my son. May righteousness and justice win.”