by Swami Krishnananda
(Spoken on Sri Krishna Janmasthami in 1972)
Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa is the biographer of Bhagavan Sri Krishna. But for the writings, we would have known nothing of the existence or the deeds of Sri Krishna. Among the many writings of Vyasa on this subject of the life of Sri Krishna, the prominent ones are the Srimad Bhagavata and the Mahabharata.
We may write the life of Sri Krishna in three books, three sections or three parts: The early life, the family life and the public life. In the Tenth Skanda, the tenth book of the Srimad Bhagavata, Vyasa describes to us in great detail the early life of Krishna and his home life the family life, we may say. From the birth of Krishna until the death of Kamsa can be called the early life of Krishna. From his encounter with Virasunda until his marriage to Rukmini and others, and his encounter with certain local kings, may be called his home life or his family life. But the public life of Krishna, which is of a different character altogether, is found only in the Mahabharata. It is not in the Srimad Bhagavata or any other Purana. Vyasa is silent about his public life when he writes the Bhagavata, and he is silent about his early life and family life when he writes the Mahabharata. We have to read the two together. In one sense, we may say the Mahabharata follows the Srimad Bhagavata.
There is a tradition called the Bhagavata Saptaha, and we know what Vyasa has written about Sri Krishna in the Tenth Skanda of the Srimad Bhagavata. I shall try to append these glorious descriptions of the Tenth Skanda with the other aspect of the life of Sri Krishna which Vyasa tells us in the Mahabharata without which, a very important aspect of his life will be completely out of our mind’s picture.
We may say that the intention of Vyasa in writing the life of Sri Krishna in the Mahabharata is to demonstrate the character of a most-unselfish life of perfection. It is action to the core, and action not bringing any good to oneself. That is the essence of unselfish perfect action. This is very magnificently given to us in this sonorous, soul-lifting and powerful style of the Mahabharata.
The style of the Mahabharata is different from that of the Bhagavata. Only if you read it will you know what the difference is. The style of an epic is different from the style of a Purana. It is a lifted, elevated and stirring style that is called the epic style of writing. We are possessed by a power, rather than by a feeling, when we read an epic like the Mahabharata or the Ramayana, or any other epic of the world. A sense of unimaginable power creeps into our veins when we read an epic. That is the difference between an epic presentation and a mere narration.
As I said, the early life of Sri Krishna commences from the prayer of the gods for the descent of divine force to the earth, passing through various lilas until the demolition of Kamsa, the tyrant. Then starts his more active life in the field of society wherein he has to set right various defects, errors, anomalies and disharmonies in the society of those days. Then he turned his attention to a new type of activity to rid the world of the embodiment of evil. That is how we see him making his presence in the court of Draupada at the Swayamvar of Draupadi. For the first time, his mention is made in the Mahabharata, in the Adi Parva, where he silently was seated in a corner in the court of Draupada where hundreds of thousands of kings and princes had assembled to woo Draupadi’s hand. He had no part to play there; he was a witness. And we know what happened there. Many kings attempted; Arjuna succeeded.
But these Pandava brothers who were there in the court of Draupada were disguised as Brahmins. They were out of their kingdom due to their problems with Duryodhana and the Kaurava brothers, and they had moved away from the capital in the guise of Brahmins, not as Kshatriyas. Brahmins were not supposed to sit in the court of Draupada, for that purpose at least; but when all the princes failed in their attempt, one young Brahmin boy got up and hit the mark and won the hand of Draupadi to the consternation, fury, greed and anger of all seated there. “How could it be possible, a Brahmin boy defeating all the princes and kings? They could not understand how this could be. “Is it magic, or are our eyes not all right? We don’t see things properly.”
Well, what has happened has happened. The celebration was over; the Pandavas, disguised as Brahmins, went to their cottage and narrated this happy incident to their mother Kunti, who was waiting for them at sunset. Then Krishna came there and offered rich, costly presents to Yudhisthira and his brothers. Yudhisthira asked, “What is the matter? How is it that you have brought such valuable presents to us?”
Sri Krishna said, “Because the glory of the Pandavas has been seen today in the court of Draupada.”
“But how do you know that we are Pandavas?”
Sri Krishna smiled and said, “Fire cannot be hidden, wherever it is kept.” That is all that he said, and he gave his good wishes and returned to Dwarka. He did nothing else.
Then we know what happened to the Pandava brothers the great hardship that they had to pass through. Duryodhana and his brothers, with the help of Dhritarashtra, did not allow them peace. They knew that these Brahmin boys were Pandavas. Duryodhana said, “Oh, this is very bad. They are still alive. I thought they had burned in the wax house. They have escaped with the help of Vidura and they have come back victorious, putting all other princes to shame in the court of Draupada. Now what to do? Some lesson has to be taught to them.”
The Sabha Parva of the Mahabharata gives us a more stirring description of the conniving of the Kauravas. The invitation was extended to Yudhisthira for playing dice so that he could be ousted from the kingdom. There was no mention of Krishna anywhere. After departing to Dwarka and having given presents to Yudhisthira, he is completely out of the scene. And the next scene is when he helps Arjuna in establishing himself and his brothers from the tyranny of Dhritarasthra and the Kauravas.
When Dhirtarasthra knew that the Pandavas were alive and had come back, he said, “Give them a part of the kingdom. Why do you trouble them? Let them stay somewhere.” Grudgingly, a piece of dry land was given which was good for nothing no water, infertile all stones and thorns, with wild animals in the forest. For namesake, a part of the kingdom was given, but only this.
Sri Krishna helped the Pandavas in levelling the ground. It was called Khandava-prastha and then renamed Indraprastha and is now, at present, Delhi. It was a thick forest once upon a time, with no human beings living there – Khandava-prastha, which was converted into Indraprastha with the help of Sri Krishna. Krishna said, “Don’t bother if it is thorny. We shall see that a beautiful palace is built there which will vie even with the palace of Indra.” And it was built a wonderful palace, shining, excelling Duryodhana’s palace.
Narada, who visited Indraprastha, said, “I have never seen a palace of this kind. I have visited Yamaloka, I have visited Indraloka, I have seen the palaces of all the gods, but they are nothing of this kind.”
This became known to Duryodhana. “Oh, still these fellows are prospering! Even if I throw them into the jungle and thorns, they have become like this.” Then it was that he played the trick of dice. When the dice game was played, Sri Krishna was not present. He was outside. It was all a miracle that in crucial moments his presence was not seen. Later on he says, “If I had been present, I would have prevented it. Unfortunately, I was not present.” He was not present; and why he was not present, he only knew. He said, “I was very busy.” That was all he said. “I had a lot of work to do in Dwarka.”
Dice was played; the Pandavas were made slaves, and Draupadi was insulted. Then a miraculous invisible presence was felt in the court of the Kauravas, an incident known to everyone. “Sri Krishna, can you not see me?” cried Draupadi. Then he saw her in a mysterious way and saved her honour by the supply of celestial garments which flowed like lightening through the windows of the court, as it is told to us. This is a miracle. Nobody knew what that miracle was. Nobody could understand how it could happen, but something happened. Then a second time dice was played because even though the Pandavas were turned to slaves, Dhirtarasthra pardoned them and said, “You go back home,” because Draupadi begged for pardon. A second time dice was played, and this time the condition was, “You go to the forest and do not stay here.” And they were driven out.
Then the news reached Dwarka that the Pandavas were in the forest, thrown out of their kingdom, having nothing in their hands like beggars, suffering intense pain and sleepless nights in the jungle. The whole Yadava army moved to the forest to see them, sympathise with them, and ask if they needed any help in their predicament. “I am very grieved at this scene,” said Sri Krishna. “Yudhisthira, I am very grieved indeed. Very pitiable is your case. I am sorry I was not present at that moment when you played dice. Someone was attacking Dwarka. I was busy with him, so I could not come. Had I been present, this dice play would not have taken place. I would have seen that you are installed on the throne. Anyhow, you are in this condition. Now what help can we give you?”
Then Satyaki said, “Why do you ask what help you can give him? We will demolish the Kauravas just now.”
Then Sri Krishna said, “Yudhisthira is a Kshatriya. He will not take charity from others. Why should you try to tell him that we will win victory for him and hand over the kingdom to him? He is not a man to take that. He will follow Kshatriya dharma and take it with the power of his own arms. He is not a beggar! I know his mind. But we can help him in getting the kingdom back in whatever manner he feels fit.”
But Yudhisthira said, “Krishna, for thirteen years we will not say anything because we have to fulfil the vow. Afterwards, let us see.”
“All right, as you wish. Thank you. I am going,” said Krishna. He went back to Dwarka. After his departure, Draupadi said, “You old man!” She called Yudhisthira, “You want to stay here for thirteen years? You have no common sense! When they offered help, why did you refuse? Could you not go just now and teach a lesson to these fellows?”
Bhima said, “Right! I am ready just now.”
And Arjuna said, “I think it is all right. There is no point in fulfilling a vow that has been thrust upon us by a trick, by a falsehood, by a fraud. Should we fulfil this vow? I think a lie is counteracted by a lie. We shall go back and see our valour.” Draupadi gave a very long lecture to Yudhisthira, condemning him for his imbecility, for his weakness of thought and his unKshatriya-like behaviour, and pitying herself for having married him.
Then Yudhisthira said, “I understand everything. I know what you say. And I know that the Yadava princes came here and offered help. Everything is clear to my mind. But I shall not break my vow, for reasons known to me alone.” And they cursed him, but stayed with him because they had no other hope. They had great obedience to him in spite of disagreeing with him. The reason why Yudhisthira was not agreeable to breaking the vow was twofold. One thing is that it is immoral for a person of his stature to break a vow. Secondly, it was not the time to meet the Kauravas because they had great powers like Bhishma, Drona and Karna, and nobody knew the consequences of a battle with them. “Let us wait for our own time.” And we know Indra and Rudra bless Arjuna, and Arjuna is invested with Astras; only then he becomes competent to meet them, not before. All this happens in the Aranya Parva of the Mahabharata, the third Parva.
That is all. We have no mention of Krishna again for a long time, until thirteen years are over and they entered the fourteenth year. The Pandavas had to live incognito in the court of Virata. They suffered very much, but nobody came there. They had to live unknown. Then Sri Krishna came to the court of Virata when the fourteenth year was over. There begins the Udyoga Parva of the Mahabharata, and there also begins the real scene of the epic. Up to the Virata Parva, we have one section the preliminary introduction or the sowing of the seed of the Mahabharata. Then the germ begins to sprout as the Udygya Parva commences in a glorious manner. Sri Krishna came to the court of Virata where the Pandavas were incognito. Of course, the period of fourteen years was over, and they were known as Pandavas then. He comes there and holds a conference. “Now the time has come for us to think what has to be done.” This is what he said. “Thirteen years are over; the fourteenth year is over. Now what steps do I have to take to help the poor brothers in gaining their kingdom back? I ask you, wise friends in this assembly.” That was all he said. He never gave an opinion or made any suggestion.
Then Balarama got up. He was partial to Duryodhana because he was a Guru of Duryodhana. He got up and said, “Well, I fully agree that the Pandavas should regain their kingdom, but we should not hurt Duryodhana; we should not displease him in any manner. He is also a friend of ours a brother, an honourable ruler; and if the Pandavas have lost their kingdom, it is of their own fault, and no fault of Duryodhana. So I do not suggest any kind of insulting or pain-giving attitude on the part of people here. This is my advice. Very cautiously, amicably, the matter should be settled.”
Satyaki got up and said, “Birds of the same feather flock together. I understand the partiality of Balarama to Duryodhana. It is most unbecoming of a hero like Balarama to speak like this when the poor brothers have eaten humble pie in the jungle. We shall not be satisfied with anything short of a war.” Then there is a very lengthy process of argument and counter-argument, suggestion and counter-suggestion, and so on and so forth.
Finally it was decided that a messenger be sent to Duryodhana: “My dear friend, the brothers have come back. You give the portion due to them.” A Brahmin who knew how to speak was sent. But the reply from Duryodhana was curt and cutting. “Nothing doing!” he said. “They are due nothing. Go back and tell them.”
Well, this was the news they received back. And then, in turn, Dhirtarasthra sent a messenger in the form of Sanjaya. “Sanjaya, you go and tell the Pandavas we shall not be cowed down by a show of their powers or their threats, and war is the only solution. If they have power, let them show their strength.”
That portion of the Udyoga Parva is very interesting as a piece of literature, as a piece of poetry, an artistic presentation of ideas, a glorification of divinity, and many other interesting things. Sanjaya’s message is conveyed, which is very unpleasant and most unjust, which made out in the end that the Pandavas are not to be given anything. And then another messenger needed to be sent from the side of Yudhisthira to the Kauravas to finally settle the matter: “Is war essential, or can we get on without it?”
Who will go? At present, nobody was left other than Sri Krishna. Yudhisthira said, “Sri Krishna, I am ashamed to send you as my messenger. I weep. It is better I die than send you as a message carrier. But I have agreed to this proposal for one reason not because I am unable to recognise your greatness, but because nobody can deal with this problem better than you can. This is why, Krishna, I have agreed to this proposal of your going. But I am afraid, also, from the bottom of my heart, that I am sending you to a jungle of beasts where one’s life itself can be in danger. No! Krishna, don’t go! Sit down,” he said. “It is not necessary. I don’t want anything now.” Immediately he changed his mind, in a minute. “I understand the whole situation. It is dangerous to go there. They may attack you and harm your life. I have cancelled the whole program. You sit!” he said. In a few minutes he wound up the whole thing. “I shall live on biksha. I do not want to endanger your life.”
Then Sri Krishna said, “If that is your fear and there is no other reason behind your cancelling this proposal if you are thinking that my life will be in danger well, I think you need not worry about it. I can take care of myself.” He said in one sentence, “I am one; they are many. That is your fear. But I am one like a lion, and they are many like jackals. So you need not be afraid. If your permission is there, I am going.”
In a glorious, most magnificent manner with all music and celebration, a send-off was given to Sri Krishna. He went to the court of the Kauravas, but refused the hospitality of Duryodhana. He never ate salt there because he said, “One eats food only on two grounds. When does a person take food? For two reasons he can take food: If he is hungry, he will take food. But he will also take food if it is offered with great affection. Even if I am not hungry, I may eat if it is offered with tremendous love. But I am not hungry now, and you are not offering it with love, so how can I take it? So for these two reasons, I am sorry; I cannot take anything from your hand. I will see you officially tomorrow morning for the business I have come for.”
He went to the hut of Vidura, a poor man who was in consternation to see Krishna coming to his cottage for no reason whatsoever, uninvited, at an unearthly hour. In his ecstasy, as the story goes, he offered him whatever he had a few plantains and his ecstasy rose to such a height that he forgot what he was doing. He offered the peels and threw away the plantains. Very politely, smilingly, Sri Krishna enjoyed the peels. He did not say anything, and ate the peels. These are the peculiarities of a great man. I cannot describe them in a few minutes. You have to read between the lines in the Mahabharata, not merely the lines. The greatness of a perfected person, the greatness which is identical with humility and goodness and unselfishness that can be read not only in the lines of the Mahabharata, but also between the lines of the Mahabharata. The peels were swallowed, and when Vidura realised it, he wept, “Oh, what have I done!” He then offered plantain. Then Sri Krishna said, “The peel was more tasty than the plantain now, because the peel was offered in the ecstasy of love. So the peel was better; it was tastier.” Vidura puts the same doubt, “I am afraid of your going there alone, knowing what they are.” Sri Krishna gave the same reply, “Don’t bother about it. I shall look to the matter.”
When Sri Krishna arrived in the court of the Kauravas, wonderful arrangements for reception were made on the order of Bhishma and Dhirtarasthra, against the wish of Duryodhana. Beautiful, grand arrangements were made. The roads were sprinkled with water and there were festoons and flower garlands, etc. Everything was ready. The rishis Narada, Parasurama and others were also present there, and Sri Krishna said, “How did you happen to come here?”
“Oh, we heard that you have a mission here in the court of the Kauravas. Naturally you’ll be speaking something interesting. We want to hear it. So we have come to listen to you.”
“Oh, very good,” Sri Krishna said. Narada and Parasurama and other great rishis were uninvited, so they were standing outside. They did not enter the hall. But when Sri Krishna entered and all sat down, Sri Krishna did not sit. He said, “Let all the rishis sit first. Let them be seated. Then I will sit.” Then Bhishma ordered seats, and hundreds of seats were brought and the rishis were made to sit in their proper places. Then Sri Krishna sat down.
There is another story that when Sri Krishna entered the hall of the king of the Kurus, all got up except Duryodhana. He was seated on a throne on the other end of the hall. When Sri Krishna entered, all got up, but he did not get up. The story goes that Sri Krishna pressed the earth with his thumb, and when he pressed the earth at one end of the hall, the other end rose up, and the throne on which Duryodhana was seated fell. He was made to prostrate, which was an insult to him, and he had very much wrath over it in the presence of all people. He did not know what was happening. He thought there was something wrong with the throne that the leg was broken or something. He was very irritated over this incident but he simply smiled falsely and sat again.
Then Sri Krishna said, “I have nothing to say. All wise people here know the purpose for which I came. I don’t know if I have to say anything.”
Then Parasurama got up. Drona, Bhishma, Vidura, and all wise people started speaking. “We know the glorious purpose for which you have come, and nothing could be more befitting than your having kindly condescended to grace our place. We all agree that the Pandava brothers should be given their due. Duryodhana, we hope that you agree with this proposal.”
Duryodhana said, “No. I don’t agree.”
Then Parasurama said, “Duryodhana, anger and egoism are bad. No person thrives in this world by egoism.”
He told the story of a king called Damodava, who was king of the whole earth. He had conquered all his contemporaries. But he was such an egoistic man that he wanted to go on fighting but whom to fight? When everyone had been subdued, there was no one to fight with. So he prayed to Brahma, “Give me some man with whom I can fight.”
Brahma thought, “Look at his terrible ego. He wants someone to fight with. He is so very restless.” Brahma said, “There are two persons in Badrinath called Nara and Narayana. You meet them. They will give you a fight.”
Damodava thought, “Oh, there are still people I have not conquered? Who are these people?” He went to Badrinath with a huge army, and saw two frail persons seated, meditating.
They said, “How is it that you have come here to this place of tapas?”
Damodava replied, “I have heard of you. Brahma told me I can fight with you, so I have come to fight.”
They said, “We are not warriors. We are tapasvins, so we cannot fight with you. Go to someone else.”
“No. Brahma said you are the fit persons to fight with me.”
“This is a place of tapasya, where battle and war cannot take place. You have come to the wrong place. You can go.”
“No. I am not going. I have to fight with you because Brahma has said that you are the fit people to fight with me.”
This argument goes on and Nara says, “This is not a place for fighting. We can’t fight with you. You are a king, we are sages. Go back.” When Damodava still insisted, Nara took up a small piece of a broomstick and let it off. This small piece of a broomstick became millionfold in number, and pierced the eyes of every soldier including the king, and came out from the other side. They all cried at the top of their voices, “Oh, our eyes are gone! We can’t see anything.” The king started shouting, screaming because his eyes were gone and he was in terrible pain. He wept and fell flat and prostrated. And all the soldiers started cursing the king for having brought them there. Then Nara said, “I can withdraw these pieces of astra I threw, but hereafter don’t go and talk in this way to anybody.”
Parasurama said, “This is the result of ahamkara, Duryodhana. Don’t behave like this.”
Duryodhana said, “Nothing doing! I will give not even that much of land as would be covered by the pinprick of a needle.” He struck his thigh with pride. Then it was that he got so wild with Krishna that he wanted to bind him and throw him into prison so that he may not go back at all, and the question of his helping the Pandavas would not arise. He connived with Dushasana, Sakuni and Karna: “We shall bind him and put him behind bars.” He was blabbering this in the court before all people. This news was carried by Satyaki to Sri Krishna: “They want to bind you.”
Then Sri Krishna told Dhritarashtra, Bhishma and Vidura, “This kind of person you are keeping in your palace! It is a shame to you. He wants to bind me. And you want to listen to all this? If you give me permission, I myself shall bind him and take him just now to the feet of Yudhisthira.”
Gandhari got very wild and went on reprimanding Duryodhana. She said, “What is happening to my son? Why does he talk like this?” She called him to the court and said, “Have you gone crazy? Why do you talk of binding him? What harm has he done? He is an ambassador. He is not your enemy. Have you no shame?”
Then Sri Krishna said, “Duryodhana, don’t be under any misapprehension. You may be thinking that I am alone here that I have no friends, no assistance, no support of any kind and that you can bind me and throw me into prison. Everybody is here; all help is here. You can see me, if you like.”
Immediately there was a miracle. The body of Krishna began to grow in larger and larger proportions, and Brahma and Rudra and Arjuna and the Pandavas and all the warriors everybody started shining in his body. Lustrous he became, and blinded were all people who could not see him. Only four people could see him, they say Vidura, Drona, Bhishma and Sanjaya, and the rishis, of course. They saw him and said, “Oh wonder! A marvel! What is this mystery?”
Dhritarashtra, who was blind, wept, “What is this? Krishna, they say there is a wonder and miracle I cannot see. Will you not bless me?” Then for a few minutes he was blessed with vision. Then he again prayed, “Having seen this, I do not want to see anything else, so make me blind again.” So once again he was made blind.
Sri Krishna withdrew his form and said, “I have done my work. I am going back. Duryodhana, you wait for your destiny.”
Then preparations were made for war, and Sri Krishna took up the work of the charioteer. He did not say he would be commander-in-chief. That is the interesting part of it. He wanted to be the cart driver, not the generalissimo or the field marshal in the army. This arrangement was made already in Dwarka where Sri Krishna was met and importuned by Duryodhana and Arjuna who went for help. Duryodhana said, “I have come first to ask for help. Arjuna came later on. You offer me the choice.”
Sri Krishna said, “Well, I saw him first because he was sitting at my feet. Arjuna, what do you want?” “I want help in the impending war which is inevitable.” Duryodhana said, “I have also come for the same purpose. I want help from you. You are an impartial man, so you give me help, you give him help.” Both were asking. Sri Krishna said, “What help can I give you? I have only two things. I am here myself, and I have a vast army. You can choose either of these. You can choose the vast army which is invincible almost Narayani Sena, it is called. I am a puny man. I cannot do anything. I can sit with you and chat with you, perhaps. Whom do you like, Arjuna?”
“You come. I am not in need of the army.”
Duryodhana said, “I have taken the butter. He has taken the buttermilk. I am going. Wonderful! Foolhardy and stupid is Arjuna.” He said to Sri Krishna, “Thank you for the army.” He thought he had already half won the victory. “What is the use of one man? The whole army is mine.” He went and told his brothers, “Victory is ours.”
Then Krishna said to Arjuna, “You are a foolish man. Why did you choose me? What made you choose me, who will do nothing?” Arjuna said, “Even if you do not do anything, your presence will do more than others can do by hands and feet. I know your greatness.”
“All right, as you wish,” he said. “What work can I do?”
“You guide me in the war.”
Krishna said, “I will be your charioteer.”
And then the Udogya Parva closes and the Bhishma Parva starts, where we have the incident of cosmic vision bestowed upon Sanjaya by Vyasa for describing to him the events of the forthcoming war, and people rushed to the field. An array of armies was seen there. Arjuna looked at the large army of the Kauravas and suddenly his mind changed. He became despondent. That is the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita. And then the Bhagavadgita continues. Sri Krishna reprimanded him for his mood of melancholy, and again showed the Visvarupa which he showed in the court of the Kauravas. Then the war began. A fierce battle took place where Bhishma was the commander-in-chief of the other side, and he worked for the massacre of the whole Pandava army. Arjuna’s conscience pricked him. “After all, he is my grandfather. How can I attack him?”
Krishna began to feel this. “Oh, this fellow has changed his mind again even after hearing the Gita, and if this sort of thing is to be allowed, today itself Bhishma will finish all the army of the Pandavas.” Krishna said, “Arjuna, if you cannot fight, keep quiet. I shall do all the work.” Then he jumped down from the chariot and said, “I shall finish Bhishma today, myself.” And then the earth shook. Brahma thought the world had come to an end when Sri Krishna jumped from the chariot like that with a fierce, fire-like energy.
Then Bhishma prayed, “Lord, if you kill me I shall regard myself as blessed, but I shall not stop fighting.”
Then Arjuna begged pardon, “Well, I shall fight. Please don’t break your vow, because you had vowed you would not take up arms. Now why are you jumping? You come back!” Twice Sri Krishna jumped like that in the Bhishma Parva.
The Drona Parva is again a masterpiece of Vyasa’s literary beauty. Only those who know Sanskrit can appreciate the literary beauty of Vyasa; but even in a translation, one may enjoy it because of the magnificent high pitch of language used. It is difficult to read it without a thrill, without hair standing on end, and without a tumult of emotion in one’s mind. In the Drona Parva, the work was very difficult. It became more complicated, and Sri Krishna had to help Arjuna from various calamities and catastrophes. Sri Krishna was alone, grooming the horses, while Arjuna fought alone, singlehandedly, on foot in the battlefield.
And there was a very powerful man called Bhagadatta. He was a very old man. He used to fight on a very powerful elephant which was supposed to be a descendent of Airavata of Indra. A very fierce elephant it was; it could simply dash down all warriors. Hundreds started dying and running away at the very sight of the elephant of Bhagadatta. He was a very old man, past one hundred years, but he was fighting such a fierce battle. Krishna said, “This man will finish you if you do not meet him. You go and meet him yourself.” Arjuna with all his might fought with Bhagadatta, maimed his elephant and killed it finally, but Bhagadatta would not be overcome. He sent a missile which came like a meteor, a comet. Immediately Sri Krishna raised his chest and withdrew it into himself.
Arjuna said, “You said you will not take part in the war. Now why are you interfering with me? I would have done something myself. I could have broken it into pieces. Why did you interfere?”
Sri Krishna said, “You do not know what it was. It was Vaishnav Astra, and nobody can stand before it. You would have died just now. It was given to Bhagadatta through Narakasura once upon a time, from a divine source. It has come from Me only, so I have taken it back. Otherwise, you would not have been left alive just now,” he said.
“All right, whatever you say. Now let the war continue.”
Then we have a portion of the Drona Parva called the Jayadrathavata, a very beautiful section. Jayadratha killed Abhimanyu through the help of many others who joined together to kill him, but he was responsible for the death of Abhimanyu the boy because he blocked the passage of the Chakravyuha. Arjuna vowed that before sunset the next evening he would finish Jayadratha; otherwise he would enter into fire. Then Krishna said, “Why did you take this foolish vow without consulting me? How do you know that you will be able to kill him tomorrow? Will you enter into fire tomorrow?”
“Whatever it is,” Arjuna replied, “let me try.” Then that night Sri Krishna took him to Rudra in Kailasha in a mysterious manner, and Rudra blessed him with the Pasupata Astra. And then the battle took place near sunset. Jayadratha was not killed. Sri Krishna cast his Sudarshana Chakra on the sun and made darkness. Then Jayadratha stood up, thinking it was night, because he wanted to see the funeral pyre of Arjuna, who would be falling into the fire. He was a very tall man, taller than others, and when he stood up immediately Sri Krishna withdrew his Sudarshana and told Arjuna, “Look at that man. Cut off his head.” Immediately an arrow was shot and he was hit. And then Krishna said, “Shoot another arrow.”
“No. I will not shoot at a dead man,” said Arjuna.
“You foolish man! Do it. There is a purpose behind it.”
Then Arjuna hit him with another arrow. This second arrow was shot because the father of Jayadratha was doing tapas on the shore of the ocean and doing agya: “Whoever drops the head of my son, his head may be broken to pieces.” So if Arjuna dropped Jayadratha’s head, what would happen? Arjuna’s head would break to pieces. So another arrow was shot which brought the head on the palm of the very same man who was doing this agyam, so he dropped it not knowing what it was, and his head was broken. The father’s head was broken to pieces because he did not know what was dropping on him. See the wonder! This is all described in the Drona Parva.
Arjuna was saved from many calamities. There are many other incidents which cannot be described in a short compass. Then in the Karna Parva, Sri Krishna pressed the chariot, making it sink down a few inches into the earth so that the arrow of Karna passed over the head of Arjuna, taking his crown but missing his head.
Then, when all the war was over and everyone had finished his work, Sri Krishna said to Arjuna, “By providence, your work is done. Now you get down from the chariot first.” Generally the chariot driver gets down first. He does not tell the passenger to get down first. But here the chariot driver said, “You get down first.” Arjuna could not understand what the matter was. He got down. Then Sri Krishna got down from the chariot. When he got down, the whole chariot, together with the horses, burst into flames and was reduced to ashes.
Arjuna asked, “What is this miracle, Krishna?”
“That is why I asked you to get down first. Otherwise, you would have gone into the fire.”
“What is this? Why?”
“You know the astras of Drona and Karna had already burnt this chariot of yours at that time, but because I was sitting there, I kept it intact. Now I have got down, and it is reduced to its original condition.”
“Oh, I never knew! What would have happened if by mistake you had got down first!”
“Yes, I knew it very well so I did not get down first and asked you to get down first.” That was the power.
Then through the various Parvas of the Mahabharata right until the Shanti Parva where Sri Krishna advised Yudhisthira to receive the blessings of Bhishma he saw to it that the poor brothers were helped, and the king was installed on the throne, and he gave the last message to him. He said, “Yudhisthira, now my work is done. By the power of Bhima and dexterity of Arjuna, you have won victory.” He did not say, “With my help you have won victory. I have done so much for you. What are you going to give me?” He never uttered a word about himself: “Yudhisthira, I am glad that providentially, with the power of Bhima and the dexterity of Arjuna, you have won victory.”
Yudhisthira knew the secret. “Krishna, don’t say this. Your grace, it was. It was your grace that has brought us to this state of glory.” He wept. Because Krishna had uttered these words, he wept. He could not contain it. “You don’t mention yourself. You tell about my brothers only.” Anyhow, that was his greatness; that was his humility. The height of knowledge went with the height of humility. That which was everything looked like nothing. That was Krishna.
Wonderful is the Srimad Bhagavata. Wonderful is the Mahabharata. Wonderful is the writing of Bhagavan Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa. Glorious is this day of Krishna Janmasthami. May the grace of Bhagavan Sri Krishna be upon us all.