Dharmarāja offered tarpaṇa to Bhīṣma and as he neared the shores of Ganga, he collapsed out of sorrow. Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Kṛṣṇa, Vyāsa and everyone else present there consoled him and got him back to his senses. Dhṛtarāṣṭra said – “Get up, Yudhiṣṭhira! Take care of the things that you need to hereafter. Rule the kingdom that you have won over as per the dharma of the Kṣatriyas! It is only Gāndhārī and I who will need to lament at this juncture. The hundred children that she gave birth to have only become objects of a fantastical dream. I didn’t listen to Vidura’s timely advice and am now drowned in a sea of sorrows. Just have a look at us – your languished parents. Please do console yourselves!
Kṛṣṇa advised Yudhiṣṭhira too. He said – “You shouldn’t lament at all. O King! If you cry now, the dead ones will face greater troubles. Whatever was doomed to happen has taken place already. What is the point in crying over past events? Can you see people who have lost lives in the war in flesh and blood right now? None of them took a back foot in the war; it is, after all befitting for Kṣatriyas to attain this kind of death. Instead of lamenting helplessly now, hold the reigns of the kingdom which your father and grandfather held. You have heard a lot of preaching of dharma from Bhīṣma so far. Perform yajñas and yāgas. Make sure that your ancestors, devatas and the guests are satisfied and their needs are fulfilled!”
Yudhiṣṭhira replied – “Kṛṣṇa! After having got my grandfather and Karṇa killed, I have no peace left in my mind. I feel like discarding everything and retiring to a forest. What kind of prāyaścitta am I supposed to undertake to regain equanimity and free myself of all guilt?”
Vyāsa then replied – “Yudhiṣṭhira! Your thoughts are not sound. Tell me, is it possible for a man to act as per his own will alone? Īśvara motivates a man to do good or evil acts and man merely performs them. Even with this, if you are under the impression that you have performed pāpa, there is certainly a method to undo whatever has already been done. Men who have accumulated pāpa can free themselves of their guilt by performing yajña, tapas and dāna. The devatas shooed away the strong and evil dānavas in the same manner. Just as Śrī-rāma and Bharata performed Aśvamedha-yāga in the past, you too can perform it now. Offer large amounts of money and gifts to people!”
Yudhiṣṭhira accepted Vyāsa’s advice and said – “Yes; Aśvamedha frees the world of pāpa. There are no two words to be said in this matter. But, tell me, where can I get all the wealth that is needed for its performance now? I have absolutely no motivation to send these boys asking them to fetch wealth for my sake. I have vanquished all the kings with my own hands – where can I fetch tributes from? The treasury of Kauravas is gone empty. It does not suffice even if we offer the entire earth as donation in the Aśvamedha-yajña!”
Vyāsa heard Yudhiṣṭhira say thus and replied – “Maruttarāja had performed a yāga in the Himavat-parvata in the past. He had accumulated a lot of wealth back then and large amounts of it are available even today. Brāhmaṇas were not able to carry all the donations he gave and have left it back there. You can have it brought here! It will certainly aid your task!”
These words of Vyāsa, Kṛṣṇa and Dhṛtarāṣṭra greatly consoled Yudhiṣṭhira and he performed all the death rites for Bhīṣma. He ascended the throne and started ruling his vast empire.
A few days later, Kṛṣṇa went back to Dvāraka with his younger sister, Subhadrā. It had been long since he had left his native town. He now returned to his home town gloriously just as Devendra would return after vanquishing the evil dānavas. Kṛṣṇa had successfully employed his tactics to reduce the adhārmic men to ashes. People of Dvāraka were thrilled at his return – they congratulated him for his success at the Mahābhārata war. He was welcomed by the Bhojas, Vṛṣṇis and Andhakas – Kṛṣṇa reciprocated their gesture and rewarded them appropriately. He then proceeded to enquire about the well-being of his parents and went to their abode. He bowed down to them and paid his respects.
Vāsudeva said – “My dear child, Kṛṣṇa! Everyday, I got to hear the story of the great war from many others. You witnessed the battle with your own eyes and you were fully involved in it. You are valorous and are a great warrior. Thus, please do narrate the battle that ensued between Bhīṣma, Karṇa, Kṛpa, Droṇa and the other Kṣatriyas. Please tell us in detail just as it took place in reality!”
Śrī-kṛṣṇa said, “to recount the deeds of those great men would need at least a hundred years. Thus, I will put together the important incidents and will tell you in a nutshell. Pray, listen!” He narrated everything starting from Bhīṣma’s commandership until the death of Duryodhana. He, however, did not mention anything about Abhimanyu’s death. He did not want the old man to lament over the death of his grandson and thus, intentionally avoided the particular segment of the story. However, Subhadrā who was right next to him said – “Why have you left out the death of Abhimanyu, Kṛṣṇa, Tell our parents about that too!” Even as she said this, she was overcome with sorrow as she remembered all the events that occurred in a flash. She fell down on to the floor, unconscious.
Vasudeva too lost his consciousness. Once he got back to his senses, he said “Kṛṣṇa! You have really become famous all around the world. Yet, do you want to hide the facts about my own grandson’s death? Please tell me about that too! How did he die? Did he have any message for his mother? Did he want something to be conveyed to me? Ah! I had so much of affection for him – I am very attached to the boy. So much of love! He did not get killed by his enemies as he tried to escape from the battlefield, right?”
Kṛṣṇa then replied with immense pride – “What does running away from the battlefield even mean? He was the foremost among the warriors and surpassed everyone in his valour. There was no sign of diffidence on his face at all! He killed thousands of kings. He fought Droṇa and Karṇa valiantly and when he was grasping for breath, he fell into the hands of Duśśāsana’s son! If they were to go on a one-on-one combat, is there anyone defeat Abhimanyu? Indra cannot do that either. The samśaptakas were a decoy for leading Arjuna away from the battlefield. Such being the case, Abhimanyu was left all alone to face Droṇa and others and got killed by Duśśāsana’s son. He has certainly reached the svarga. Will a person who has fought Droṇa and Karṇa not go to the heavens? Subhadrā started weeping out loud upon hearing about his death. She ran to Draupadī and begged – ‘Oh mother! Where are your sons? Let me at least see them!’ She went to Uttarā and cried – ‘Oh my dear child! Where is your husband gone? Let me know if he comes back. He never set out without informing me. Why isn’t he coming back even if I call him so much?’ She had lost control over herself overcome with emotion. Kuntī then consoled her and said ‘What can we do, dear? It is natural for human beings to die; Though he was trained under the able hands of Vasudeva, Sātyaki and Arjuna, he had to meet his death in the battlefield! He is brave and has gone up to the world of the noblemen. You are born to a renowned lineage of the Kṣatriyas. Therefore, don’t lament for this. Take care of Uttarā who is carrying a child! She is going to give birth in a few days!’ Everything that was to ritualistically follow took place after this”
This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form.