Discourse 7: Sri Krishna’s Kurukshetra Lila
The life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna, as mentioned, is divided into three stages, known as Vrindavana Lila, Dvarka Lila, and Kurukshetra Lila. The last phase is the great epic of his association with the Pandavas and Kauravas. Although very soon after the Kamsa episode Sri Krishna sent Akrura to Dhritarashtra in order to ascertain the condition of the Pandavas who were in great trouble, and Akrura did not receive any reasonable response from Dhritarashtra, he had not yet seen the Pandavas personally.
Sri Krishna met the Pandavas for the first time during the svayamvara ceremony of Draupadi at the court of King Drupada. He was an uninvited guest, and silently witnessed the ceremony. After they had won Draupadi, the Pandavas returned to their abode disguised as Brahmin pundits. No one knew who they were. Everyone thought some Brahmins had won Draupadi; no one knew the truth that they were the Pandavas. Sri Krishna alone knew that, and when the Pandava brothers returned home with Draupadi, he followed them with all his retinue and lots of presents—elephants and horses, gold and silver, and so many other things—and offered these gifts to Yudhishthira. Yudhishthira was surprised.
“How did you recognise us?” he asked.
Sri Krishna replied, “Fire cannot be hidden even if it is covered by a bushel or smothered by ashes. Your greatness can be seen by your demeanour, though you are dressed as Brahmins.”
After replying thus and receiving the gratitude and respect of the disguised Pandava brothers, Sri Krishna returned to Dvarka without saying anything further on that occasion.
The next important association of Sri Krishna with the Pandavas was when Dhritarashtra grudgingly granted a rocky, stony piece of land to the Pandava brothers for their residence—called Pandavaprastha, which is now called Indraprastha. Again, Sri Krishna came and assisted the Pandavas, especially Arjuna, in making the land fertile and beautiful with the help of angelic associates such as Maya Danava, who built a great, unsurpassed, glittering palace for the Pandavas. With that, his particular function was over. He went back to Dvarka once again, and never returned.
The only incident which is associated with Sri Krishna’s invisible presence was the cry of Draupadi, as described to us in the Sabha Parva of the Mahabharata, during the unfortunate incident through which she had to pass in the midst of the Kurus after the Pandava brothers were defeated in the play of dice. Her condition was worse than wretched. There was no one to help her, not even her husbands or veterans such as Bhishma and Drona who were seated there. She had only one support.
He krishna dvarka vasin: kauravaih paribhutam mam kim na janasi keshava: “Insulted and humiliated by the Kurus, I am standing here unbefriended. Are you aware of this tragedy in which I am today?”
For whatever reason, mysterious being Sri Krishna’s way of working, he did not physically respond. Nobody knows the reason why. It was not impossible for him to come, but he did not. God can come before us just now, but he does not want to. Interpreters of the situation say the reason why Sri Krishna did not come is because Draupadi was lifting one hand, crying loudly, while her other hand was holding her sari tightly. Cruel as it may look, subtle are the ways of God. He took her literally: If you have some strength, show it; My presence is not necessary. When Draupadi found that she had no strength whatsoever and uplifted both her arms, a miracle took place. We are told that Sri Krishna discharged the Sudarshana Chakra, which became an endless sari for her. Others feel that he manifested himself as an infinitely long divine sari for her. The drama ended with that. It was all a miracle and a surprise, and nobody knew what happened finally. Having blessed Draupadi with this immense gift of grace, Sri Krishna’s goodness and greatness was such that he never mentioned this incident again, even when he met her later on. He could have asked: Did you receive the sari that I sent? The blessings of the greatest of people come to us unknown, undiscovered, and undemonstrated.
The next meeting of Sri Krishna with the Pandavas was when they were in the forest, having been defeated in a dice game a second time. He did not send any messenger. He himself went with all his retinue, sat before the Pandavas, and asked about their welfare. The Pandavas wept. It is told to us in the Mahabharata that Sri Krishna sat without uttering a word, and in his personality a gesture appeared to manifest as if it would burn everybody.
Then Arjuna offered prayers to Krishna: “Great Master, if you get angry, the Earth cannot stand. Come down. Come down. Come down.”
Satyaki, who was an associate and relative of Sri Krishna, said, “Why keep quiet? We shall face the Kurus, fight with them, throw them out, and hand over all the land to the Pandavas. Why not do this?”
Sri Krishna could have done that, but he said, “No. This will not be appreciated by Yudhishthira. He is a Kshatriya who does not receive gifts. He always gives. So, your adventurous spirit of facing the Kurus and handing over the kingdom to Yudhishthira would be finally a very unpleasant gesture, ending in nothing good. He will not accept it. I know the mind of Yudhishthira.”
With these words and blessing, after having a very cordial talk with the brothers in that unfortunate condition, he returned to Dvarka.
The next occasion when Sri Krishna met the Pandavas was when they were living incognito in the court of King Virat, during the thirteenth year of their exile. After the thirteen years of exile were over and the condition imposed on them ended, they removed their disguises and declared themselves to be the Pandavas, to the great consternation of King Virat, who did not know that for one year the Pandavas and Draupadi were living in disguise in his own court. Sri Krishna came with his retinue once again and summoned an audience, giving instructions regarding the necessary steps that should be taken in the matter of handing back to the Pandavas their share of the kingdom. Having conducted this audience, he sent a Brahmin as a messenger to the Kurus. The Kurus sent Sanjaya in response who, on behalf of the Kurus, came and talked about peace and the unworthiness of having war between the two cousins. But this talk of peace projected by the Kurus was rejected by the Pandavas and Sri Krishna himself, and they were asked to prepare for war.
Then Sri Krishna again returned to Dvarka. Everybody knew the greatness of Krishna as a military genius, and everybody wanted his help in the war which was to ensue, as it was decided that there was no other alternative than to wage war. Both Duryodhana on behalf of the Kurus and Arjuna on behalf of the Pandavas went to Dvarka to plead to Sri Krishna, the great Yadava hero, for assistance in the oncoming war.
Sri Krishna was lying down, resting, when Duryodhana and Arjuna arrived. Duryodhana entered first, and sat near the head of Sri Krishna. He grabbed a chair and reclined. Arjuna did not sit on a chair. He stood with folded hands at the feet of Sri Krishna. After a while, Sri Krishna opened his eyes, and first, naturally, he could see only what was near his feet, not his head.
“Arjuna, how come you are here at this moment?” said Sri Krishna.
“No sir! I have come first,” said Duryodhana from behind.
“Oh! You have also come,” said Krishna.
Students of the Mahabharata tell us that Krishna’s sideward glance at Duryodhana was enough to seal Duryodhana’s fate at that moment. It is believed that it is very inauspicious for a person to be looked at askance by anybody; and that is what happened.
Sri Krishna said, “You have come first, but I saw Arjuna first. Also, he is younger, you are the elder. Don’t you think it is proper for me to speak to the younger one first, especially as I saw him first?”
Then turning to Arjuna, Sri Krishna asked, “What made you come here?”
Arjuna replied, “Great Master, you know what is going to happen. War has become inevitable. We all want your help.”
Sri Krishna said, “What can I give you? I have two things. I have a large army called Narayani Sena; if you want it, you can take it. Otherwise I am here, but unarmed, doing nothing. I will merely sit and discuss with you. I will not take part in the war. If you want such a man as I am, take me. Or if you think this is not going to be of any utility to you, take the large army which will help you, as it is almost invincible.”
“I want you only, Master,” replied Arjuna.
Immediately Duryodhana retorted, “I want the army.”
“Take it,” said Sri Krishna.
Duryodhana left the place hurriedly, and declared to the Kuru family that he had already won victory in the war, that his victory was certain because of the invincible forces that he had received from Sri Krishna.
When Duryodhana left the place, Sri Krishna accosted Arjuna and said, “What a foolish person you are! Why did you not ask for the army? What good is it if I sit idle without doing anything for you? Why have you made this wrong choice? The other man took the good forces, and you are asking for me, who is as good as nothing.”
Arjuna replied, “Thou art all for me, great Master. I know you very well. Don’t try to deceive me by this query as to why I have chosen you.”
“Oh! You want to vie with me. Okay, all right. Do that,” said Krishna.
Then they both left.
After that, Sri Krishna’s role in the Mahabharata was only when it became necessary as a policy of political science to plead for peace with the Kurus. The policy of Sri Krishna is called simha nyaya, the attitude of a lion. If a lion is lying down and we walk by it, it will not give any regard to us because it knows its strength. Even if we throw a stone at a lion that is lying down, it may not wake up. But if it wakes up, no one can face it.
In the Artha Shastra, which was the political science of the day, there are four ways prescribed to approach a contending party: sama, dana, bheda and danda. We do not suddenly attack the enemy, even if we despise them. We always try to pacify and calm them, and plead for proper sense to prevail in the mind of the enemy, saying that it is not good to have war—neither is it good for them, nor is it good for us, because it will end in mutual destruction.
From that point of view, Sri Krishna told the Pandavas’ Yudhishthira, “The earlier messengers that you sent have not brought any good results. It was only an exchange of ideas from both sides, but nothing materialised. A proper person, with a good knowledge of politics and capable of expressing himself, should go and speak to the Kurus, saying that your share is due.”
Yudhishthira replied, “I do not know who I’ll send.”
Sri Krishna said, “Why you are worrying? I am here at your service. I will go.”
“No, Master! I will not send you. No! This is not possible. You are our beloved. You are our heart. You are our soul. You are our everything! Will I send you to the land of wolves, risking your life?” cried Yudhishthira.
“You need not worry about that. I think I may be able to guard myself and protect myself if the Kurus intend anything untoward towards me. You need not be afraid for my safety. I shall take care of myself,” replied Sri Krishna.
“As you say, Master. I am not fit to talk to you,” said Yudhishthira.
While this talk of peace was taking place between the Pandava brothers and Sri Krishna, Draupadi, who was inside, came out in great anger.
“Who is talking of peace? I heard the word ‘peace’. Who is saying this? These cowardly husbands of mine, are they talking of peace? Or Sri Krishna, are you also talking of peace?” Draupadi said.
She gestured to her untied hair, and cried loudly, “Oh! Krishna, you also deserted me when I was in trouble. You never came to help me. You, being my friend and well-wisher, what help can you give me? Now you are talking of peace? No, please go and tell the Kurus I want war. Tell them I have come to wage war. If you do not say that, if you are intent on peace, okay, work for peace. I have my children. They will gather an army and fight the Kurus. Only then shall I be satisfied. I don’t want peace. I want war.”
Sri Krishna consoled her. “My dear sister, don’t be annoyed. I promise you I shall speak the truth to you. Let the oceans dry up and the Himalayas get plucked from their roots, but my words cannot become false. Within eighteen days, you will see yourself crowned as queen of this land. I am going to the Kurus only to follow a political policy. Otherwise the public will censure us, saying that we declared war without even trying for peace. Why should we have this tarnishing attitude of people on us? Let me try. I know very well they will not listen to me. But anyhow, I should do my duty. Let me go now.”
Getting up, Krishna told Sarathi, “Let us go. Harness the horses to the chariot.”
When Dhritarashtra heard that something was happening, he called Sanjaya and said, “I hear that Krishna is coming. Who is Krishna? Please tell me. Why is he coming? I do not know much about him. I would like to know how to properly receive him.”
Sanjaya said, “I am very glad, Your Highness, that you ask who Krishna is. I will tell you who he is. You cannot even see him, as you are wedded to the sense organs, and he is the master of the senses. One who is the master of the sense organs cannot be beheld by anyone who is a slave of the sense organs; and you want to see him, and you ask me why he is coming. He knows very well the injustice that you have done to the Pandavas by your love for your foolish children. Do you know why he is coming? His intention is to burn the Kurus. He will reduce you all to ashes.”
Dhritarashtra was frightened, “Receive him well. Let the streets be cleaned, let there be festoons, music, a band, and dancing. Receive him gracefully. Let him not be annoyed with us. Receive him well, treat him well.”
All this was arranged, and a wonderful reception was awaiting Sri Krishna.
Duryodhana greeted him and said, “Great Master, you are welcome. A separate palace has been reserved for your stay here. You will rest in the palace today and have dinner with us.”
Sri Krishna said, “Well, I am grateful for your offer. You see, one accepts dinner or lunch, whatever it is, when one is hungry or when food is offered with love even if one is not hungry. But you know very well that I am not hungry, and you do not offer it with love.”
Duryodhana said, “Krishna, you should not speak like this. It is highly uncharitable on your part to speak to me in this stern manner at the very outset, when I am ready to receive you with all affection. What harm have I done to you?”
“You have done everything that you could do. I shall see you tomorrow morning,” replied Krishna.
Sri Krishna went to Vidura’s hut, and was received by him.
“Oh, what a surprise! How is the great Master coming to my hut! What has happened?” Vidura thought. He lost himself completely. He did not know how to receive Sri Krishna. He ran here and there, and brought some bananas. In the joy and ecstasy of merging his soul in Krishna’s presence, he forgot himself completely; he peeled the bananas mechanically, and not knowing what he was doing, gave the peels to Sri Krishna, and threw away the fruit. Sri Krishna went on eating the peels without uttering one word.
Vidura’s wife suddenly came inside and said, “Hey! What are you doing? You are giving the peels to Sri Krishna.”
“Oh!” Vidura wept, and said, “Very great mistake! I lost myself. Here, have the bananas.”
Krishna said, “No, the peels are sweeter than the bananas because your soul offered the peels and your person is offering the bananas. I am satisfied. I don’t want any dinner or anything. I have only come to see how you are. I want to rest here. Tomorrow morning I am going back to the Kuru assembly.”
“You are going to the Kuru assembly? They are very dangerous people. No, this is not good,” said Vidura.
“Don’t worry about that. I shall take care of myself. I have the means to protect myself. I will go,” said Sri Krishna.
The next morning Sri Krishna took leave of Vidura, and on the way he saw rishis, saints and sages standing on the roadside. He was surprised that they were all standing there.
Sri Krishna got down from the chariot, prostrated himself before them, and inquired, “Why are you great masters standing here?”
“We heard that you are going to give a discourse on dharma in the assembly of the Kurus, and we want to listen to it, so we are also going.”
Sri Krishna laughed and said, “Thank you. Bless me,” and he returned to his chariot and went directly to the palace.
Sri Krishna was received with great grandeur by Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Duryodhana, Kripa, and everyone. He entered the hall. At that time, he saw the rishis already standing there, and instructed that they be seated first. Then Bhishma ordered thousands of seats to be brought, and all the rishis were seated. After everyone sat, Sri Krishna sat humbly, without uttering a word. Nobody spoke one word. It was all dead silence. Each one thought the other would speak first. When nobody spoke, and time was passing in utter silence without anyone knowing what was going to happen, Bhishma stood up and broke the silence.
“It is a great blessing to this assembly of the Kurus that we have the great Yadava hero among us. His greatness surpasses the magnificence of the whole world. The great luminary that he is, he is radiating his presence in this august assembly of the Kurus. May we have the permission to ask him for his message, which we shall follow readily as he would ask us to follow. We would like the great Master to speak, and tell us what our duty is,” said Bhishma.
Sri Krishna stood up and spoke, “What am I going to tell you? Everyone knows why I have come here. The suffering of the Pandavas is actually intolerable. The mischievous way in which the Kurus have treated the Pandavas is intolerable. These Kurus tried to poison Bhima, they wanted to burn the Pandavas alive in the lakshagrah, they tried every way to destroy them, and played crooked dice through which means they humiliated them and threw them into wilderness where they underwent thirteen years of suffering. Now, after having undergone that sorrow of thirteen years of life in the wilderness, they have come to ask for their share. I have come to plead before you great people that the share due to the Pandavas be given.”
Duryodhana struck his thigh and said, “No! I don’t want to hear anything of this kind.”
Krishna said, “How is this young man speaking to me like that, when I spoke a few words on behalf of the poor Pandavas? Sages and saints, elders in the assembly! Is it proper behaviour that this young man rebuts me in one minute even before listening to me?”
Bhishma stood up and said, “I agree with whatever Sri Krishna has said. Their share is due to them.”
Drona, Kripa, and everybody said, “Wonderful! Wonderful!”
Duryodhana said, “I shall not agree. War is the only solution.”
“Oh! You want war?” said Sri Krishna. “You shall have it.”
After a long lecture, Sri Krishna in rage said to Bhishma, Drona, Kripa and the whole audience, “This is a shame to the audience. How do you allow this wretched fellow in the assembly of the Kurus? Is he a human being? If only you permit me, I will bind him up just now and throw him at the feet of Yudhishthira. Will you permit me to do that?”
When Sri Krishna uttered these words, Duryodhana hissed like a snake in anger, got up from his seat and returned to his house, where he connived, with the help of Karna, Dushasana and Sakuni, his henchmen: “This man wants to bind me and imprison me. We shall imprison him first. When Krishna is imprisoned, the Pandavas will be paralysed automatically.”
This news of conniving a tragic approach towards Sri Krishna was somehow or other known to Satyaki. He immediately ran to Krishna and said, “Master! They want to imprison you. Shall I bring the army?”
“Keep quiet,” Sri Krishna said. “I do not want any army.”
“No, Master. We’ll take care of it. I shall call the forces,” said Satyaki.
“No. Sit quiet,” replied Sri Krishna.
Then Sri Krishna stood up and said, “Bhishma, Drona, and others, great heroes seated here, I think Duryodhana is asking for trouble. He wants to bind me. Let him. Let all the people come.”
Gandhari, who was also there, wept. “Oh! How is this possible that my son is talking like that?”
She summoned him, and at the behest of his mother, Duryodhana, in great anger, came to the audience. Reprimanding him, she said, “Have you any shame? Idiot! You talk of binding this ambassador. Are ambassadors bound? You must respect them. Keep quiet. Don’t talk. Have you any sense?”
When she said that and everybody kept quiet, Sri Krishna stood up and uttered the last word to Duryodhana. “Young man, are you under the impression that I am alone here and you can bind me? This is a false notion in your mind. I am not alone here. All the gods and all the uplifted weapons are here just now. The Pandavas, with all the army, are inside here. Look at me.”
Immediately Sri Krishna showed his Cosmic Form. Brahma was sitting on his head, Rudra on his chest, and all the angels started shining like tiny rays of lustre emanating from every pore of his body. The Earth shook, it is said, and the oceans rose with ferocious waves. No one knew what was happening.
Everybody said, “Hail! Hail! Wonder! Wonder!”
Dhritarashtra, who was blind, heard people cry, “Wonder! Wonder!” and said, “What is this wonder? I cannot see anything. May I see? May I have sight?”
Sri Krishna blessed him with sight for a minute, and Dhritarashtra saw this miracle. Then he prayed to the great Master, “After having seen this, I do not want to see anything else. Make me blind once again.”
Sri Krishna withdrew himself and, uttering not a word, left the audience and returned to the Pandavas.
War took place. Without going into detail of the further events, we can sum up by saying that Sri Krishna was even ready to break his promise of not taking up weapons in the war when he found that Arjuna had a subtle inner respect for Bhishma as his grandfather and would not actually face him with the strength that he could have exercised at that moment. Arjuna was going a little slow, as if he was not eager to fight, and Bhishma was destroying everybody. Bhishma was raging like fire, and thousands and thousands of Pandava forces were dying.
Sri Krishna jumped from the chariot and said, “You are not able to do anything! I shall myself do everything. I shall destroy Bhishma just now.”
When Sri Krishna rushed forward with his Sudarshana Chakra, Arjuna ran after him and pulled him back. Weeping, he said, “Master, I shall do whatever you say. Don’t break your promise. Come back.”
Then Bhishma threw down his weapons and prayed, “Great Master, if you come and destroy me today, I shall be blessed. I shall have entry into your body, and attain moksha just now. Please come.”
Finally the war ended. Bhishma, Drona, Karna and Duryodhana were all completely felled by various methods of warfare, and the Pandavas won victory. Yudhishthira was declared king, Draupadi was anointed queen, and all went well. Sri Krishna went back to Dvarka, as his mission was over. He again returned to the Pandavas during the asvamedha yajna that Yudhishthira performed.
I have omitted one incident, which is the rajasuya of Yudhishthira where Sisupala expressed his outrage and was destroyed. Due to the limited time available, I cannot go into the entire story of the Mahabharata. Here we have the TenthSkandha of the Srimad Bhagavata and the Mahabharata combined.
In the Eleventh Skandha there is the conversation of Sri Krishna with Uddhava as the last message, where Sri Krishna gives to everybody, through the mouthpiece of Uddhava, a large, very elaborate lecture on dharma, artha, kama and moksha, emphasising that devotion to God is the only way to attain Him. Bhakti is final.
Thus, Sri Krishna completed his great mission of Divinity incarnate on Earth, and withdrew himself into the very form of Narayana that he himself originally was.
In the Twelfth Skandha, Parikshit attains salvation, moksha. The last message of Suka is given, wherein he asks Parikshit to consider himself as a soul which is identical with the Universal Soul. Ahaṁ brahma paraṁ dhāma, brahmāhaṁ paramaṁ padam (S.B. 12.5.11): “On that may you meditate. Forget the idea that you are Parikshit, and when the snake comes and bites, let it bite the body. After hearing this whole Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana katha, and the glory of Bhagavan Sri Krishna and the glory of Narayana, have no doubt in your mind that you will attain moksha. King Khatvanga attained moksha in forty-five minutes, and you had seven days to listen to this glorious lecture, which is a great meditation on God Himself. You had this blessed opportunity. Be happy.”
Suka blessed Parikshit, and Parikshit sat in deep meditation; and unaware of the snake coming and biting him, he left his body, and his soul reached the Almighty Lord’s feet and attained moksha, the final aim of existence.
This is the story of the Srimad Bhagavata, the Mahabharata, and the great message of Bhagavan Sri Krishna, God incarnate on Earth.