Mahabharata (abridged)

258,337 words | ISBN-10: 8121505933

The English translation of the Mahabharata: one of the two major Sanskrit epics of India. Besides its epic narrative of the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pandava princes, the Mahabharata contains philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four "goals of life". NOTE: this is a Summary Study (...

Chapter 3 - Lord Krishna Saves Yudhisthira from Death

Dhritarastra said: O Sanjaya, the feats that Bhima accomplished were exceedingly wonderful. The field of battle could not tolerate the forceful play of his powerful mace. Now, O Suta, please tell me what happened between the two foremost chariot fighters, the son of Kunti, Arjuna and the son of Radha, Karna. Their encounter must have been wonderful for they are both considered the best among adhirathas. Please relate to me all that happened on that seventeenth day of battle.

Sanjaya said: O King, during the progress of the Kurukshetra war, the sound of the Gandiva bow was heard above all else. Arjuna was engaged in slaughtering the Samsaptaka headed by King Susharman. Greatly angered, the Samsaptakas surrounded Arjuna's chariot and began to cover it with a deluge of weapons. King Susharman pierced Arjuna with ten arrows and Krishna with three. He then pierced the monkey Hanuman who was emitting earth trembling screams from Arjuna's banner. Not tolerating that shaft, Hanuman began to roar with a thunderous voice, and the Samsaptaka warriors stood petrified out of intense fear. Indeed, they all stood like trees in a forest. However, inspiring his troops, King Susharman rushed at the chariot of Krishna and Arjuna releasing his mighty weapons. The Samsaptakas overcome with intense anger began to strike Arjuna's divine chariot. They hacked at the wheels, the shaft, the horses and every other part. Some of the soldiers tried to seize Lord Krishna as He was driving the chariot through the mass of soldiers. Others were trying to grab Arjuna or hit him with their weapons. The lotus eyed Lord Krishna pushed away the warriors who were trying desperately to kill Him, and Arjuna began to mangle the soldiers around the chariot with short arrows meant for close encounters. Cutting off their arms, legs and heads, he drove away the large force from the chariot.

Addressing Lord Krishna, Arjuna said, "Behold the mighty Samsaptakas fighting fiercely in battle. Without doubt, there is none on earth that could bear such an attack on his chariot except myself." Arjuna then blew his conchshell the Devadatta, and Lord Krishna blew His the Panchajanya. Then that subduer of hostile armies invoked the Naga (snake) weapon which paralyzed the legs of the Samsaptaka army. While in that helpless condition, Arjuna cut them down like a great wind storm cuts down trees. When the chariot had been freed from the mass of soldiers, Arjuna began slaying the Samsaptakas in thousands. Seeing all his troops tied up in with the snake weapon, King Susharman invoked the Sauparna astra which created countless birds to devour those snakes. Freed from their bonds, the Samsaptakas released their arrows and hurled their weapons at Lord Krishna and Arjuna. King Susharman released a deadly arrow that pierced Arjuna's chest, causing him to fall to the floor of his chariot. All the Samsaptakas loudly cried, "Arjuna is slain!, Arjuna is slain!" To the beating of drums and the blowing of conchshells, they rushed against the chariot of Lord Krishna and Arjuna. Recovering his senses and seeing the Samsaptakas nearing, Arjuna invoked the Aindra weapon, and from that single arrow thousands upon thousands of arrows issued from the Gandiva bow. Striking down the troops like lightning bolts strike down trees, that deadly weapon created a slaughter of men, horses, and elephants. Within a short period of time seventeen thousands warriors, and three thousands elephants littered the battlefield. Those Samsaptaka warriors who were unretreating in battle continued their attack on Arjuna making death or victory their goal.

Sanjaya continued: While Arjuna was engaged in battle with the Samsaptakas, Yudhisthira was fighting with Duryodhana. Sahadeva and Nakula were protecting Yudhisthira's chariot wheels, and also aiding Yudhisthira in his battle with the Kaurava King. Sahadeva invoked a celestial weapon and pierced Duryodhana with many arrows. The King was deeply lacerated and in great danger released many arrows which afflicted the sons of Pandu. Not tolerating the situation, Karna appeared on the scene. He began to destroy the troops supporting Yudhisthira and then pierced him with many arrows. Yudhisthira countered and pierced Karna with fifty arrows. Yudhisthira then began to afflict the Kaurava army with his mighty weapons and cause it to retreat from the field of battle. Wherever Yudhisthira cast his eyes, the Kaurava army broke and fled. Inflamed with rage, Karna assaulted Yudhisthira and lacerated him with many weapons. Karna released three broad headed shafts that caused the King to sit down on the chariot. The Kaurava army, seeing Yudhisthira weakened, called out, "Seize him! Seize him!" To protect the King, seventeen hundred Kekaya soldiers came forward and pushed back the enemy front line.

Karna would not allow Yudhisthira to escape. Yudhisthira had been mangled by Karna's arrows and was returning to his tent to receive attention to his wounds and rest for a while. He was being protected by Nakula and Sahadeva. Karna followed closely behind and pierced Yudhisthira with three arrows. Sahadeva and Nakula turned on Karna and attacked him. They covered him with many arrows, but the son of Radha managed to kill the horses that were drawing Yudhisthira's chariot. Smiling all the while, Karna, with a single arrow, knocked the crown from Yudhisthira's head. He then killed Nakula's horses and shattered his bow. Nakula then ascended Sahadeva's chariot and continued fighting with the cruel Karna.

Wanting to save Yudhisthira's life, Salya said to Karna, "Why are we engaged in this useless battle with Yudhisthira? It is Phalguna that you are to fight with. What will you gain by killing Yudhisthira. Just now you can hear the sound of the Gandiva bow. Certainly, Arjuna is killing the foremost Kaurava warriors. Bhima is also fighting with Duryodhana, and we must act in such a way that the King may not be harmed."

Upon hearing Salya's advice and seeing Duryodhana faring badly in battle with Bhima, Karna ordered the chariot to be taken to the front line. After Karna had left, Yudhisthira ascended Sahadeva's chariot and returned to his camp completely humiliated. He entered his tent, and Nakula and Sahadeva pulled out Karna's arrows. He then laid down on his bed to rest for some time. He ordered Nakula and Sahadeva to go and assist Bhima.

Meanwhile, on the front lines Arjuna engaged in a fierce duel with Ashvatthama and drove him from the battlefield. The mighty armed son of Kunti then looked in all directions, but nowhere could he see Yudhisthira's royal banner. He went to Bhima and inquired about the King's whereabouts. Bhima said, "King Yudhisthira has left the battlefield. His limbs were scorched by Karna's arrows. I am doubtful whether he still lives." Hearing this news, Arjuna ordered Lord Krishna to drive his chariot to the camp.

Upon entering Yudhisthira's tent and seeing that he was still alive, both Krishna and Arjuna were joyful. They worshiped the feet of the King and inquired of his welfare. Yudhisthira thought that Arjuna had slain Karna and had, therefore, brought the good news. He greeted them in the following words, "Welcome, O Lord of the Universe, who has Devaki for a mother, and welcome, O Dhananjaya. I am pleased by your presence. I see that without being wounded, you have slain the evil minded Karna. Karna had engaged me in battle and lacerated me with many arrows. He humiliated me and left without a chariot, horses or weapons. That I am still alive is due only to Bhimasena's prowess. Never before, even while fighting with Bhishma or Drona, did I experience such humiliation. Please tell me in detail how the death of that mighty hero took place."

In reply to the illustrious King's inquiry, Jishnu (Arjuna) said, "O King, after defeating Drona's son in battle and defeating the Samsaptakas, I have come here to see you, not knowing whether you were dead or alive. Bhima doubted that after your duel with Karna, you were still living. Karna is presently slaying our troops in great numbers. With the powerful Bhargava weapon, he has slain seventeen hundred of our foremost princes. Come with me now and witness as I kill Karna with all his kinsmen and followers."

Hearing that Karna was still alive, Yudhisthira was agitated and spoke harshly with Arjuna saying, "The army is being devoured by Karna, and you have come here deserting the brave Bhima on the front line of battle. You have promised to kill Karna. Therefore, why have you come here, except out of fear of the enemy? If, in the Dvaitavana forest, you had said to me that you would not fight with Karna, then I would have made other arrangements. You possess all abilities to slay the Suta's son, yet, out of fear you do not use them. If you had given the Gandiva bow to Keshava, and you had driven the chariot, then certainly He would have slain Karna by now. If you are unable to defeat Karna, then you should give the Gandiva bow to a superior king, and allow him to slay Karna. Because of this cowardly act, it would have been better if you were never been born in Kunti's womb."

When scorched by Yudhisthira's words, Arjuna drew his sword and was prepared to kill his brother. Quickly Lord Krishna pacified his friend and appeased his anger. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said, "Why, O Partha, are you drawing your sword? I do not see, O Dhananjaya, anyone here whom you should fight with. We should now go to the front line of the battle and fight with Dhritarastra's sons or the mighty Karna, whom you have vowed to slay."

Replying to Krishna and casting an enraged glance at Yudhisthira, Arjuna said, "I have taken a secret vow, O Govinda, that anyone who suggests that I give my Gandiva bow to another king should be slain. To keep my vow, I will now kill this brother who faults me for falling from virtue."

The lotus eyed Lord then spoke to Arjuna these words, "O tiger among men, you have yielded to anger at a time when you should not have done so. No one, who is conversant with truth, would act in this way. You desire to commit a deed that is condemned by the holy scriptures. Everything has to be seen through the eyes of scripture and great saintly persons. To kill one's older brother can never sanctioned by learned personalities. The killing of a person not engaged in battle, or one who has turned his face from battle, or one who seeks protection, or one who is carless, is never authorized by scripture. Why then do you wish to kill this revered superior? Morality is very difficult to understand. Listen to a story illustrating this point. Once there was an ascetic named Kausika, who did not have much scriptural knowledge. He lived a small distance from a village where several rivers met. He made a vow saying, 'I will always speak the truth.' He then became famous as one who never told a lie. One day some innocent persons, who were seeking refuge from some robbers, entered the forest near the sage's dwelling. Soon, the dacoits appeared there searching for these men to rob them. Approaching Kausika, they inquired, 'O holy one, by which path have those men gone who recently came here. Asking in the name of truth, reply to us.' When questioned in this way, Kausika said, 'Those men have entered the woods just near here.' The cruel thieves then slaughtered those innocent persons and took their wealth. For this sin, Kausika fell into hellish life and suffered greatly. There must be some process of distinguishing virtue from sin. Therefore, great sages have indicated that seeing through scriptural eye is the only distinct path to follow. However, the scriptures do not provide for every case. Hearing this from me, you should now decide whether your brother should be slain or not."

"O Krishna," Arjuna said, "Your wisdom always saves us from dangerous situations. You are like a father and are a refuge in all circumstances. You know my vow regarding anyone who says that I should give away my Gandiva bow. Now the King has repeatedly used these words. If I kill him, I will not be able to live in this world for a moment. Having vowed my elder brother's death, I am covered by sin. I now ask You to give me good counsel by which I will not break my vow and at the same time Yudhisthira will still live."

"O hero," the lotus eyed Vasudeva replied, "when the King spoke to you, he had just been humiliated by Karna. He was badly wounded and fatigued. It was for this reason that he spoke such unkind words. He, therefore, does not deserve death. Listen now to My instructions by which Yudhisthira will be thought as dead, but his body not slain. As long as one receives respect, he is considered living within this world. When, however, he is disrespected, he is considered dead although still living in this body. The King has always been respected by all your brothers including yourself. If at this time of argument, you speak to him disrespectfully, it will be thought that he is dead although still alive. In the past you have addressed him as 'Your Majesty'. If you chastise him disrespectfully, he can thus be thought of as dead. This kind of death King Yudhisthira will never regard as offensive. Having verbally slain him in this way, you may then worship his feet and soothe his wounded honor. You will be freed from breaking your vow, and the sinful act of killing your brother. You will then be able to slay Karna."

Following Lord Krishna's instruction, Arjuna spoke harshly with his older brother, accusing him of casting the whole kshatriya race into hell because of his desire to gamble. He spoke to him in many unkind words, and after speaking in this manner, he fell at his elder brother's feet and begged forgiveness.

At this time Lord Krishna informed Yudhisthira, "O King, I will now explain to you the vow Arjuna has taken. Arjuna has vowed to kill any person who says, 'Give your Gandiva bow to another.' You have uttered these very words to him in chastisement. To make good the vow and at the same time not see you slain, he has spoken apparent words of disrespect."

Hearing the truth of the matter, King Yudhisthira immediately rose from his resting place, raised his brother and embraced him. Yudhisthira then spoke to Hrishikesha, "O Govinda, I have been guilty of a great sin, and now I have been awakened to the real truth. O husband of the goddess of fortune, by Your mercy we have been saved from a great calamity. We have been rescued from a distressful ocean by taking the boat of Your lotus feet. We, along with are relatives and friends, have now passed over the great mountains of sorrow and grief, having obtained You as our master and Lord." King Yudhisthira then embraced Lord Krishna and then again Arjuna. He requested Arjuna to now kill the Suta's son. Assuring the King of success, Arjuna and Lord Krishna mounted their chariot, and Lord Krishna urged the horses toward the front line of the battle.

Thus Ends the Third Chapter of the Karna Parva, Entitled, Lord Krishna Saves Yudhisthira from Death.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: