After Abhimanyu’s wedding, the kings who were on the side of the Pāṇḍavas assembled in Virāṭa’s court. Among those who had gathered were the Pāṇḍavas, their children, Drupada, Virāṭa, Balarāma, Kṛṣṇa, Vāsudeva, Sātyaki, and several others. Śrīkṛṣṇa spoke first. “The Pāṇḍavas have fulfilled their oath and have successfully completed their thirteen-year forest exile and one year of living incognito. Now we’ll have to think what would work the best for Duryodhana and them. It should adhere to dharma. Even if Yudhiṣṭhira is offered the empire of the devatas in violation of dharma, he will certainly refuse it. He will find joy and satisfaction even if he is granted a village through dhārmic means. All of you are aware how the Kauravas snatched away the ancestral kingdom of the Pāṇḍavas through crooked means and you also know the sufferings that the Pāṇḍavas were subject to. The Kauravas were unable to defeat Arjuna in war. The Pāṇḍavas declare that they are content with whatever they can win through valour. The Kauravas, however, are bent upon seizing the share of the Pāṇḍavas and eliminating them. Therefore we have to keep in mind the avarice of the Kauravas, the integrity of the Pāṇḍavas, their blood relation, and such factors before we proceed in our plans. If the Kauravas behave unjustly, the Pāṇḍavas—though small in number—will take help from their friends and wage a bloody war. And they are sure to defeat the Kauravas! We don’t know, however, what is Duryodhana’s view in this matter. Without learning of his plans it is inappropriate for us to formulate our strategy. Let us send an able mediator to the Kaurava court and ask them to give back half the kingdom to the Pāṇḍavas!”
Balarāma said, “If they give half the kingdom to the Pāṇḍavas, then all will be well and everyone can live in peace. I too like the idea of sending a messenger to their court to discuss this issue with them. Let the mediator go to Hastināpura, bow down to the elders like Bhīṣma, Droṇa, and others; after doing so, he may bring up the matter in the presence of these elders and the Kauravas. Dharmarāja foolishly succumbed to the invitation given by Śakuni to gamble. Although the elders advised him against it, he pursued it nevertheless and lost everything. What is Śakuni’s fault in all this? Therefore, let us tread the path of Sāma – reconciliation!”
Sātyaki couldn’t tolerate Balarāma’s words. He said, “Everyone behaves in a manner aligned to his thoughts! Therefore, I’m not angry with Balarāma for saying so. I am, however, enraged at those who were silently listening to these words. The Kauravas, who are well-trained in the game of deceit took the first step and invited the Pāṇḍavas to gamble. They defeated the Pāṇḍavas by fraud and treachery. What is Dharmarāja’s fault in all this? After having returned from the forest exile, why should the Pāṇḍavas be gentle and plead with the Kauravas for what is rightfully theirs? It is adharma to beg before the enemy! It is an insult! Therefore, if the Kauravas give the rightful share to the Pāṇḍavas without any fuss, let them do so; if not, let them draw their last breaths on the battlefield!”
Drupada encouraged Sātyaki and continued in the same tone. “Duryodhana will never cede his kingdom in response to gentle words. Dhṛtarāṣṭra too, out of blind affection for this son, will support him. Bhīṣma and Droṇa, out of their cowardice; Karṇa and Śakuni out of their foolishness will support Duryodhana. Speaking to Duryodhana with sweet words is as useless as using gentleness on a donkey. Duryodhana will mistake our politeness for weakness. Thus, let us prepare for a full-fledged war; we should alert friendly kings like Śalya and Dhṛṣṭaketu. I’m sure that Duryodhana too will try to get them on his side. It is natural for the kings to take the side of one who approaches him first. We must act fast! I’ll send my purohita to the court of the Kauravas. You may instruct him on what needs to be communicated there.”
Kṛṣṇa too was of a similar view and said, “O king of Pāñcāla! Both the Kauravas and the Pāṇḍavas are my relatives. When they were behaving of their own accord, it is we who entered the scene via marital alliances. You are the eldest here. You have varied experience and you’re well read. We are like your disciples. I’m sure Dhṛtarāṣṭra will respect your words. Moreover, you have been a long-time friend of Droṇa and Kṛpa. Thus, you are the best judge of what can be said to the Kauravas in a manner that will eventually favour the Pāṇḍavas. It will certainly be agreeable to the rest of us. If the Kaurava chooses to take the path of peace and justice, their relationship as siblings will remain intact; they can live joyfully together. On the other hand, if he displays his arrogance, let us inform all the kings at once. You may send me a formal call as well. The idiot will see his end along with his aides and will burn in Arjuna’s fury!”
Drupada respectfully offered gifts to Śrīkṛṣṇa and the other kings before seeing them off. As Kṛṣṇa left for Dvāraka, the preparations for the war began. When Duryodhana heard that the Pāṇḍavas were garnering the support of other kings and were building a large army, he too began getting in touch with his favourite kings. The entire landscape was full of emissaries going on missions to liaise with potential allies. In the meanwhile, Drupada sent his aged purohita to the court of Duryodhana. He was not hopeful of brokering peace with Duryodhana. However, Drupada thought that if the purohita spoke words of dharma, it would win the hearts of Bhīṣma, Droṇa, and Vidura. It would take a while for Duryodhana to change the opinion of the elders and to impress his view upon them. He would also need time to gather the support of the other kings. Some time would elapse in trying to make a peace treaty. That would give the Pāṇḍavas sufficient time to equip themselves for the war. This was Drupada’s primary strategy.
Even as Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma returned to Dvāravatī, Duryodhana rushed to the city to seek Kṛṣṇa’s help. Arjuna too reached there on the same day. When they both arrived at Kṛṣṇa’s palace, he was fast asleep and both of them waited for him to wake up. Duryodhana first entered the room and sat on a well-decked seat by the bedside of Kṛṣṇa, close to his head. Arjuna stood with folded hands at the other end of the bed, near Kṛṣṇa’s feet. When Kṛṣṇa woke up, Arjuna caught his eye first. He saw Duryodhana next. After exchanging pleasantries with both, he asked them the purpose of their visit. Duryodhana said, “O Kṛṣṇa! I’ve come to seek your help for an upcoming war. You have great affection for both Arjuna and me. We are both are related to you in the same way. I came here first. Thus it is only appropriate for you to heed to my request first. This is also in accordance with what the wise people say!”
Kṛṣṇa said, “O Duryodhana! You might have come first. I have no doubts about it! However, I saw Arjuna first. You came here first and I saw Arjuna first, so it is only right for me to help both of you. In my opinion, the request of the younger ones should be fulfilled first. I shall ask Arjuna first. Tell me, Arjuna! Do you want me or my army for the war? My army consists of an arbudha (billion) warriors. On the other hand, I am not going to raise a weapon on the battlefield.”
Arjuna wanted Kṛṣṇa on his side, irrespective of whether he would engage in combat. Duryodhana was delighted that he obtained such a huge army. He went to Balarāma, who narrated to him all that which transpired in Virāṭa’s court. He also told Duryodhana the words he spoke there and Kṛṣṇa differed in his view. He said, “O Duryodhana, I cannot live without Kṛṣṇa! He is on Arjuna’s side. Thus I have decided that I will not take sides in the war. You are a kṣatriya born in the Bharata dynasty. Go and fight like a brave warrior!” Duryodhana was in fact pleased to hear this. After this, he also took an akṣauhiṇī (large platoon) that Kṛtavarma gave him and returned to his capital with great enthusiasm.
Once Duryodhana left his palace, Kṛṣṇa spoke with Arjuna. He asked, “Why did you choose me, Arjuna, though I had mentioned that I wouldn’t lift a single weapon?” Arjuna replied, “Kṛṣṇa, you alone are capable vanquishing them all. I am also sure of my valour and I can single-handedly defeat them. You be my charioteer. This has been my wish for a long time.”
Kṛṣṇa said, “I love this arrangement, Pārtha! So be it! I shall be your charioteer. Let your desires by fulfilled.”
To be continued…
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. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review and astute feedback.
 Translators’ Note: Drupada’s daughter was married to the Pāṇḍavas. Kṛṣṇa’s son was married to Duryodhana’s daughter.