Thirty-six years after the Mahābhārata War transpired, yet another catastrophe struck. Once, the three mahaṛṣis – Viśvāmitra, Kaṇva, and Nārada – came to Dvāraka. Sāraṇa and other Yādavas desired to play a prank on them; they got Sāmba, one of the Yādavas, dressed as a girl and took him to them with a request: “This is Babhru’s wife; he wishes a son to be born to him. Now, will this damsel give birth to a boy or a girl, please tell us! You are all ṛṣis; you will indeed know this correctly!”
Their eyes red with anger, the mahaṛṣis said, “This cousin of Vāsudeva will give birth to an iron pestle that will become the cause of destruction of the Vṛṣṇi and Andhaka vaṃśas (lineages). All of you shall become evil murderers and shall kill each other, destroying yourselves completely; with the exception of Balarāma and Kṛṣṇa, all of you shall die!” So saying, they looked at each other’s faces and went away just as they arrived.
When Kṛṣṇa learnt about this, he simply said, “Alright! It is bound to happen, isn’t it!”
The following day, Samba gave birth to an iron pestle. When the Yādava king heard this news, he was terrified; he had the iron pestle pulverised into small bits and had the powdered pestle thrown in the sea. He also ordered an immediate and absolute prohibition on the consumption of alcohol and the closing down of all breweries; anyone violating the prohibition would be punished with impaling on a spear.
Time passed by and at one point, in all the houses of the Vṛṣṇis, there was seen an apparition in the terrifying form of a blackened ruddy-coloured man with a shaven head. Even after trying to paint it with a thousand colours, the ghastly form couldn’t be touched. It would disappear even as they saw it. A fierce wind blew all the time. Bandicoots would chew up the nails and hair of those who were asleep. Parrots and other birds in cages would shriek in fear. Cranes began screaming in the tones of sparrows and goats in the manner of foxes. White doves with red-coloured legs flew about in every home. The Vṛṣṇis hesitated not to indulge in sin and began mocking gurus, elders, deities, and brāhmaṇas. Men and women lost all inhibitions and restrictions, leading to absolute anarchy. Looking at the disastrous turn of events, Kṛṣṇa realized that it was time for Gāndhārī’s curse to take effect and told everyone that they must go to the sea-shore for a tīrtha-yātrā.
Accordingly, all the Yādavas of the Vṛṣṇi and Andhaka lineages along their wives and consorts, got on to their elephants, horses, and chariots, and rode to the Prabhāsa tīrtha-kṣetra (pilgrimage spot) taking with them alcohol, meat, snacks, drinks, and all other types of supplies. Looking at this, Uddhava went away from there. Drinking, dancing, and singing began with great gusto. In front of Kṛṣna, many of them including Balarāma, Kṛtavarma, Sātyaki, Gada, and Babhru were drinking alcohol. After Sātyaki got drunk, he mocked Kṛtavarma with the words: “Which other kṣatriya apart from you could have sunk to the level of killing warriors who were dead asleep after a long battle, having been wounded by the enemy! That heinous act of yours, no Yādava can tolerate!” Pradyumna supported his statement and spoke a few words. Kṛtavarma was enraged. With his left hand, he poked at Sātyaki’s face and said, “Oh! You are a great warrior! The man who ruthlessly took the life of Bhūriśravas after his two hands had been chopped off!” Upon listening to those words, Kṛṣṇa was furious and stared piercingly at him. Sātyaki recalled the episode of the syamantaka-maṇi and extolled the qualities of Kṛṣṇa. Satyabhāmā was overcome by sorrow upon recollecting that instance and she began weeping after placing her head on Kṛṣṇa’s lap. Kṛṣṇa was further angered. At that point, Sātyaki rose and said, “Now, I avenge the deaths of Draupadī’s children, Dhṛṣṭadyumna, and Śikhaṇḍi – and will then go to the place they have gone; this wretch joined hands with Aśvatthāma and killed warriors who were asleep – his time is now finished!” Saying so, blinded by rage, he chopped off the head of Kṛtavarma. When he wanted to kill other people too, Kṛṣṇa stood up and tried to stop him. Meanwhile the Bhojas and the Andhakas surrounded Sātyaki and beat him to death with the vessels and bowls from which they had been eating their meal. Pradyumna, who tried to protect Sātyaki, himself suffered several blows and fell dead. Seeing his son and his brother-in-law die in front of his eyes, Kṛṣṇa was shaken; he could take it no longer. Enraged, he pulled out a bunch of grass-blades from the ground. It transformed into an iron pestle in his hands. Using that he smashed anyone and everyone who came in his path. Driven by the machinations of Time, all the Andhakas, Bhojas, Śaineyas, and Vṛṣṇis pulled out bunches of grass-blades and stood ready for war with iron pestles in hand. Anyone who pulled out a fistful of grass was empowered with an unassailable weapon. There blades of grass turned into iron pestles! And there, without discrimination of father and son, or brother and brother, they all fought and destroyed each other; they died like fireflies falling into the burning flames. For a while Kṛṣṇa stood still holding the weapon in his hand but soon, upon seeing the corpses of Sāmba, Cārudeṣṇa, Pradyumna, Aniruddha, and others strewn around him, he was further enraged and began killing his people indiscriminately. At that point, Babhru and Dāruka came forward and said, “O Lord! Almost everyone is dead. Where is Balarāma? Find him and we shall go to him.” Saying so, they took him in search of his brother. In an isolated part of the forest, Balarāma was seated, resting against the trunk of a tree, in deep meditation. As soon as Kṛṣṇa saw him, he called Dāruka and said, “Go at once to Hastināvati, O Dāruka, and give them the news of what just took place. Let Arjuna come here immediately!” Sending him off with these words, Kṛṣṇa turned towards Babhru and said, “Rush to Dvāraka, Babhru, and protect the womenfolk there. Robbers and dacoits are bound to harass the women there!” As Babhru rapidly proceeded towards Dvāraka, on the way, he fell to a trap laid for animals by a group of hunters and met his end. Seeing that Kṛṣṇa said, “O Balarāma! Wait here for a while, I shall return!” He went to Dvāraka himself and met his father Vasudeva.
“Father, Arjuna will be here soon; until then, please take charge of the situation here. Balarāma is waiting for me; I have to go there now. Earlier, we saw the destruction of the Kauravas; now we have seen the destruction of the Yādavas too. I am unable to see this lifeless town filled with emptiness; I will go away into the forest with Balarāma and embark upon deep tapas.” Saying so, he touched his father’s feet and prostrated to him. Then he went away in great speed. As he was leaving Dvāraka, he saw the widows and orphaned children of all the dead Yādavas wailing loudly. He told them, “Arjuna is coming, be calm! He will drive away all your troubles!” He spoke a few words of solace and went to the place where Balarāma was seated. He was in the state of yoga; a white-coloured thousand-hooded snake came out of his mouth and slithered away into the ocean. The Nāga chiefs as well as the deity Varuṇa were there to receive him.
After the departure of his elder brother, Kṛṣṇa began wondering what to do next and roamed about the desolate forest. Recalling once again Gāndhārī’s curse, he sat down on the ground. He felt that his time had come. Drawing within his senses, speech, and mind, he lay flat on the ground in a yogic state. When he lay thus on the ground, a hunter name Jara (literally ‘old age’) mistook his feet for those of an animal and shot an arrow. That struck Kṛṣṇa’s leg. When the hunter approached his prey, he found to his utter shock, Kṛṣṇa lying in a deep state of yoga! Realizing that he had committed a great sin, he held both the feet of Kṛṣṇa and prostrated himself. Kṛṣṇa breathed his last.
Arjuna heard the news of the destruction of the Yādavas from Dāruka and rushed at once to Dvāraka only to find the city bereft of all its charm like a dried up river. When Satyabhāmā, Rukmiṇī, and other Yādava women looked at him, they began sobbing. He spoke words of solace and calmed them down before going to Vasudeva’s abode. He fell at Vasudeva’s feet. Recalling his children, Vasudeva said, “Arjuna! These warriors who had defeated and killed hundreds of demons and kings have all been killed! I am still alive. My life is bloody strong! Your favourites, your dearest Pradyumna and Sātyaki became the primary reason for the destruction of the Vṛṣṇis. Well, when Kṛṣṇa himself became aloof, why should we blame anyone else? He brought back to life the child who was killed by Aśvatthāma; such a person surely would have known how to protect his own people, wouldn’t he? But he didn’t desire that. Children, grandchildren, relatives, friends – after all of them fell dead, he came to me and said, ‘Lo! The time has come for the annihilation of our race; Arjuna will be here soon; tell him all that happened; indeed he is me and I am him; do as he says! After he departs from here, this entire city will be flooded by the ocean and will sink. I shall return to the forest and will depart to some sacred place along with Balarāma and wait for my death!’ So saying, Kṛṣṇa left the children in my care and went away. Amidst these worries, I want neither food nor water. I am not alive. I am not dead. It is my good fortune that you came! Do as Kṛṣṇa has instructed. Take care of all the womenfolk, children, and the treasures of the kingdom! I shall depart from my mortal coil.”
The next morning, Vasudeva went into a yogic state and departed from the world. His four wives joined him by undergoing sahagamana. Arjuna then offered jala-tarpaṇa and performed the post-death rites for Vasudeva, Kṛṣṇa, Balarāma, and all the Yādavas who had died. Since the city was soon going to be drowned in the ocean, Arjuna gave everyone a week’s time to all the citizens to pack their belongings and get ready to depart. As per his instructions, all the townsfolk filled all their possessions in their chariots and on their elephants, horses, camels, and mules; thus they set out on their journey. Since all the warriors and heroes were dead, the townsfolk had to serve as the sentinels. Arjuna was leading them all, going right in the front of the group. Even as they departed, the sea began encroaching the land. Whatever space they left behind would soon be flooded with water. They went a little ahead and immediately that place was filled with water. They all looked at this miracle and said, “All this is divinely ordained!” They began moving ahead faster. Crossing many hills, valleys, fields, and forests, Arjuna took them to a place called Pañcanada, a place that was rich in cows and grains. The dacoits who lived there laid their greedy eyes on this large group. The group consisted mostly of women. Arjuna was the sole protector. All the others who served as sentinels—the servants and the soldiers—were all rather helpless. Seeing this, the dacoits came by the thousands with sticks in their hands, screaming and shouting, and fell upon this hapless group of women. Arjuna came to the spot and tried to scare them away. They paid no heed to his threats. And so Arjuna held the Gāṇḍīva in his hand. But when he tried to string the bow, he found it nearly impossible to bend the bow itself! With great difficulty he strung the bow but he was simply unable to remember the use of any of his charmed arrows or weapons! He felt ashamed looking at the plight of his physical strength and this pitiable situation where he had forgotten the use of his weapons. The Vṛṣṇi soldiers seated on chariots, elephants, and horses were also unable to inflict any damage on the band of dacoits. Everywhere there were women. Here and there, the dacoits fell on the women and began looting and pillaging. They dragged several women and took them away. Arjuna shot arrows from his Gāṇḍīva and killed a thousand dacoits. But soon, his quiver of arrows had become empty! In the Bhārata War he had the fame of possessing an inexhaustible quiver of arrows but that same quiver was now empty! He soon recovered from this shock and began attacking people with the edge of his bow and drove away as many as he could; but he couldn’t do much. He heaved a sigh of helplessness and felt it was all divinely ordained. He was overcome with great sorrow. Thus he had to leave behind those who he could not protect and proceeded with the rest of them who survived the onslaught of the dacoits. He finally brought them to Kurukṣetra.
After some time, Arjuna took the permission of Yudhiṣṭhira and established the different children of the Yādava clan in different parts of the kingdom for the rejuvenation of the dynasty. He established Kṛtavarma’s son in Mṛttikāvata, Aśvapati in the Khāṇḍava forest, and Sātyaki’s son on the banks of the Sarasvatī. He installed Kṛṣṇa’s grandson Vajra on the throne of Indraprastha.
Akrūra’s wife went away to do tapas; Rukmiṇi, Gāndhārakumārī, Śaibyā, Haimavatī, Jāmbavatī, and others entered the fire. Satyabhāmā and the other wives of Kṛṣṇa went away to the forest to perform tapas.
Without Kṛṣṇa, Arjuna felt like he had lost his arms!
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. This episode contains the Mausala-parva.