Mahābhārata – Episode 61 – Winning Over Śalya, Talks for Peace

This article is part 61 of 112 in the series Mahābhārata

In another part of the country, Śalya, the king of Madra, was on his way along with army and his sons, who were both mahārathas. He was acting as per the wishes of the Pāṇḍavas and Duryodhana happened to notice this. With a view to entice the entourage, he erected delightful pleasure houses on their path. He arranged to host them with myriad luxuries. Śalya was enchanted looking at the marvellous arrangements. He said, “Who built these magnificent rest-houses? I wish to reward them!” Duryodhana, who was observing all this from a hidden spot, came forward and told Śalya and his men that it was his idea to make those arrangements. Śalya was delighted with Duryodhana and asked him how he could return this favour. He replied, “Uncle, I request you to be the commander-in-chief of the entire Kaurava army!” Śalya agreed and asked, “What more do you want?” Duryodhana said with great satisfaction, “There’s nothing more, nothing more I would ask of you, Uncle! That’s all I seek!” Duryodhana returned to his capital.

Śalya headed towards the town of Upaplavya to see Yudhiṣṭhira. Upon reaching there, he embraced Yudhiṣṭhira with great affection and exchanged pleasantries. He narrated everything that transpired on his journey.

“That is good news,” said Yudhiṣṭhira, “I only request you to do a favour to us. You and Vāsudeva (Kṛṣṇa) are known to be equals on the battlefield. Karṇa and Arjuna are a match for each other. In the future, when Arjuna and Karṇa are locked in single combat, you will need to pull the reins of Karṇa’s chariot. Uncle, if you trust me, please pay heed to my words. When such a circumstance arises, you will need to protect Arjuna. You must bring down Karṇa’s confidence and morale. This is something that must not be done, but I beg you to do it for our sake.

Śalya replied, “You’re right, Dharmarāja! I will certainly be his charioteer on the battlefield. When he sets out to wage war, I will ensure that I prick the bubble of his pride and engage in a heated argument with him. I will ensure that he softens and that my words pierce his ego. As a result, it will be easier to defeat him. Further, whatever I can do within my limits, I shall. Kṛṣṇā (Draupadī) and you all have experienced great pain since the game of dice. You've also been victims of Karṇa’s cruel and hurtful speech. You've been hassled by Jāṭāsura, Kīcaka, and others – I’m aware of all this. I’m certain that all your sorrows will end and you shall attain peace. Don’t fret about it! Fate is firmly on your side. Even the devas cannot escape suffering. Devendra and Śacī-devī – both underwent great difficulties –

“In the past, Tvaṣṭṛ-prajāpati, who wanted to deceive Indra, begot a son by name Triśiras. He wanted to occupy Indra’s throne by performing a long penance. As it was difficult to distract him from his tapas, Indra had to kill him. An enraged Tvaṣṭṛ, gave birth to an even more powerful son called Vṛtra. Indra had to flee because he was unable to compete with Vṛtra. The devas then brought Indra and Vṛtra together and made them come togther with a treaty of peace. Yet, Indra waited for an occasion to eliminate Vṛtra. He once saw Vṛtra by the side of an ocean and killed him with the help of the forth of bubbles in the sea. However, because he killed these two men, Indra was afflicted with Brahma-hatyā-doṣa (the blemish incurred due to the murder of a brāhmaṇa). Ashamed, he went into hiding, unable to get himself seen by anyone.

"The devas thought a lot and finally appointed Nahuṣa as their leader and made him ascend Indra’s throne. Over time, Nahuṣa’s inclination turned away from dharma and towards sexual pleasure. The apsarās could not satiate his thirst and he longed for Śacī-devī. Trying to keep him away, Śacī-devī asked him for some time to think. In the meanwhile, the devatas found Indra in his hiding place. They made him perform an Aśvamedha-yāga by which Indra overcame the brahma-hatyā-doṣa that afflicted him. Śacī met Nahuṣa again and told him that she would marry him only if he was brought to her in a palanquin carried by the Saptarṣis. Nahuṣa, overcome with excessive lust, thought that such a parade would also add to his luxuries. When he was being carried in the palanquin, Nahuṣa’s feet touched Agastya’s back who took it as an insult and cursed Nahuṣa to lose all his accumulated puṇya. Nahuṣa fell from the svarga and turned into a snake according to the curse. The devatas immediately got Indra, who was hiding in his atomic form in a lotus stalk and installed him back on this throne. He was reunited to Śacī-devī and continued ruling the upper worlds in peace.

"In this manner, Indra and his consort, Śacī-devī underwent great difficulties. He too had to live under cover, incognito because out of fear for his enemies. Just as Indra’s enemies got vanquished, you too will defeat Karṇa, Duryodhana, and the others and will rule the entire earth with your wife and brothers. You will have a long, prosperous life!”

After Śalya left the place, Sātyakī, Dṛṣṭaketu, Jayatsena, Pāṇḍya, and several others brought their armies and joined the Pāṇḍava league. On the other side, Bhagadatta, Bhūriśrava, Kṛtavarma, Jayadratha, and several others joined the Kaurava faction. Hastinagara was filled with people and the neighbouring forests and waste lands were overflowing with people who had come from various places. There was no space to even move about freely. The place was packed with soldiers.

As both the sides were gathering their armies, Drupada's purohita went to the Kaurava court and was welcomed with great respect by Bhīṣma and the other elders there. They exchanged pleasantries. The purohita spoke to an assembly that consisted of the kings and commanders-in-chief who had sided with the Kauravas. He said, “You're all well-versed in the ancient political lore and the laws of administration. Yet, I am here, speaking to you, as I have been asked to do so and the circumstances demand my participation. Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Pāṇḍu are born to the same father. Thus, whatever they have inherited from their father should get equally divided between the two.  The Kauravas got their share; however, the Pāṇḍavas are yet to receive their rightful share. I'm sure that you're all aware of the reason behind this. There were also attempts to eliminate the Pāṇḍavas. They still live, as fate has decided it to be so. They had built their kingdom from scratch, all by their own efforts, and they lost it by themselves. Here, the Kauravas played a crucial role in snatching away their share of the kingdom and sending them to the forest. They have finished their years of exile in the forest, have lived incognito in Virāṭa’s kingdom, as though living the lives of different people and are now back. Now, however, they have forgotten their difficulties and are trying to have a harmonious relationship with the Kauravas through sāma (peaceful means). They do not want to wage a war. There might be reasons for Duryodhana to want a war. He thinks he is stronger than the rest but it is in your hands to disprove him. Yudhiṣṭira too has seven akṣauhiṇis (army platoons) under his command. You might be the lords of eleven akṣauhiṇis. Your huge army is no match for Arjuna’s valour. Kṛṣṇa, the most intelligent and shrewd warrior is also on their side. Thus, please make sure that the Pāṇḍavas get their share in a dhārmic manner. Don’t lose this opportunity!”

Bhīṣma was in agreement and said, “Everything that you have spoken is true, sir! As you are brāhmaṇa, you have spoken with so much of confidence and with a tone of finality. The Pāṇḍavas, indeed, have experienced a lot of difficulties. They certainly must get their share in the ancestral property. Arjuna is skilled at arms – who can defeat him in a battle?" Even as these words escaped Bhīṣma’s mouth, an enraged Karṇa stared at Duryodhana. With a voice mixed with malice, he said, “O Brāhmaṇa! Whatever you've spoken isn't something that no animal knows about. What is the use of repeating the same thing over and over again? Śakuni played dice in Duryodhana’s name and he won. As per the word he had given us in advance, Yudhiṣṭira went to the forest as he lost the game. However, he no longer cares about the agreement we had made. Duryodhana need not offer them even a foot of his land out of fear for the Pāṇḍavas. My friend is so dhārmic that he will even sacrifice the entire earth if law demands him to do so. If they want a share in the kingdom, let them go back to the forest again and return. Once back, they can come and seat themselves on Duryodhana’s thigh – no one will stop them! This adhārmic approach that they are taking is only out of their foolishness, nothing else. If they want to wage a war at the cost of dharma, let them do so! They might understand my words then.”

Bhīṣma replied, “Rādheya! There is no point in speaking. Try recalling how Pārtha single-handedly defeated the ṣaḍrathikas! If we don’t act according to the words of this brāhmaṇa, we will lose war and eat dust!”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra consoled Bhīṣma and raised his voice against Karṇa saying, “Bhīṣma’s words are pleasing to us and will do good to the Pāṇḍavas, Kauravas, and to the three worlds. I will think over the matter and send Sañjaya to the Pāṇḍavas.” With these words, he graciously sent the brāhmaṇa back and called for Sañjaya.

He spoke to Sañjaya thus – “Look here, Sañjaya! Though the Pāṇḍavas have experienced tremendous pain, they have been upright and peaceful with us. Karṇa and Duryodhana are under the impression that whatever they do is right; they are unnecessarily kindling Pāṇḍavas’ anger. However, it would be best to give the Pāṇḍavas their share of the kingdom, without hurting Yudhiṣṭira or waging a war. Arjuna can single-handedly turn the world upside down with his Gāṇḍīva. We have heard that Kṛṣṇa is going to join him as his charioteer. It would be better if my foolish son does not get into any kind of combat with them. I, for one, fear Dharmarāja’s anger more than the combined strength of Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna. Dharmarāja is a great tapasvī. So, I suggest you go to them, have peace talks, and convey that coming to a compromise and avoiding war is my wish too. In sum, tell them that we will take the course that will do good to our clan. Make sure that you don’t enrage anyone!”



Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh


Hari is a writer, translator, editor, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 25+ books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.

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