The next day, Kṛṣṇa left from Vṛkasthaḻa and headed towards Hastināpura. Bhīṣma, Droṇa and other older Kauravas received him on the way. The entire city was decorated. The path was filled with hordes of people and the crowd slowed down Kṛṣṇa’s horse. A large number of people had gathered on rooftops and it seemed as though the buildings would collapse because of their weight! Kṛṣṇa visited Dhṛtarāṣṭra at his palace, paid his respect to the King and to the other elders. After spending some time chatting with the Kauravas, he went to Vidura’s house.
Kuntī was overcome with sorrow as she recalled everything that had happened in the past. She couldn’t control her tears and wept on Kṛṣṇa’s shoulders. She lamented with the words, “My children always slept on soft mattresses and were woken up by melodious music and the auspicious sound of the drums. Now, they sleep in the forest on the skins of black buck and wake up to the cries of the wild animals.”
Kṛṣṇa consoled her and let her know of the wellbeing of the Pāṇḍavas. He told his aunt Kuntī, “You will soon see your children defeat those who have cheated them and will be idolized by their people. They will win the throne and rule.” He instilled courage in her and wiped her tears off. He bid farewell to her and arrived at Duryodhana’s palace which resembled the divine abode of Indra. He crossed over several fields and passed by heaps and heaps of wealth. He saw Duryodhana seated amidst several kings who were his supporters. Karṇa, Śakuni, and Duśśāsana were seated by his side. Looking at Kṛṣṇa coming in, the Kauravas and their ministers stood up as a mark of respect and welcomed him. Duryodhana asked him to join for a meal and Kṛṣṇa turned down the invitation. At first, Duryodhana started speaking gently to Kṛṣṇa and then he turned harsher; “Why are you refusing to relish the food and drinks prepared just for you, Janārdana? You have helped both the factions, both of us need you and you are related to both of us! You are an expert at both dharma and artha! I need to know the reason for this!”
Kṛṣṇa, without losing his serenity spoke in a deeply resonating voice, “Suyodhana! A messenger takes his share of the meal only after his task is completed! Thus, going by the tradition, I too will receive your hospitality only after I have achieved my task.”
Duryodhana replied, “It is not right for you to act in this manner with us, Kṛṣṇa! Whether your task is successful or not, how can you turn down our hospitality? I need to know the true reason! We have no enmity or dispute with you. Thus, it is not right for you to speak in this manner!”
Kṛṣṇa said, “Duryodhana, the host must be affectionate for a guest to partake of food in his place. If not, it must be circumstances of grave emergency or danger to take refuge in someone. You have no affection for me and I am in no danger. You were born before me, but you have behaved in an unjust manner with the Pāṇḍavas. You hate them for no reason! Hating the Pāṇḍavas is as good as hating me. They are synonymous with me. A person who is ignorant and is under the spell of anger and lust hates the innocent – such a person is the most inferior kind of human being. All food you offer to me is evil and it is not fair for me to dine with you. I deem it fair only to eat at Vidura’s house.” With these words, he left Duryodhana’s house and went to the noble Vidrua’s house. Droṇa, Kripa, Bhīṣma, Bālhīka and others met Kṛṣṇa at Vidura’s house and requested him to visit their houses too. He sent them away affectionately and had his meal at Vidura’s place. The food was pure and tasty.
That night, after dinner, as Kṛṣṇa sat relaxed, Vidura spoke to him, “Kṛṣṇa! It appears that you should not have come here. Duryodhana knows no difference between dharma and adharma; he is a fool, a hot headed person, an arrogant man. He does not care for the elders and he considers himself to be the greatest. Do you think he will lend an ear even if you speak whatever will do him good? He is proudly beaming at the large army he has accumulated and has decided that Karṇa alone can vanquish the enemies. It is of no use to speak to a person of his nature. You have come here to make a peace treaty between the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas. They have decided that the Pāṇḍavas should not be given their share at any cost. It is of no use talking to people like him. Both soft words and harsh have the same effect on then. Talking to them is like singing a melodious song before a deaf person. I don’t want you to spend time amidst those uncultured brutes. They are filled with youthful pride and intolerance and no words of wisdom will seep into their insides. Mādhava! I love the Pāṇḍavas as much as I love you! I told you these words out of respect and affection to you”.
Kṛṣṇa replied, “Vidura! You, like a parent to me, have spoken words of dharma, artha, and satya. I will tell you the real reason for my coming. I am aware of Duryodhana’s treachery and the nature of the people who are on his side. If I rescue this huge army from the clutches of death, that would be a great deal of dharma on my part. Even if I fail in my efforts of protecting the huge army from getting destroyed, the fact that I even put efforts in that direction will be remembered and the efforts are dhārmic, after all! Similarly, even the thought of a sinful activity will make us accumulate a lot of pāpa. Thus, I am trying to bring peace between the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas who are on the verge of waging a war. A person who does not put efforts to save his friends from danger is going to be considered cruel. It does not matter even if Duryodhana does not value my words. I will have the satisfaction of having done my duty and I will be free of guilt. It will stop the wise from accusing me of not trying my part in bringing peace between the Kauravas and the Pāṇḍavas. I have come here for everyone’s welfare. If Duryodhana does not listen to me because of his adamant nature, Fate will take its own course on him. If he consents for a peace treaty, my life will find its fruit. The Kauravas will thank me for that. If he enrages me, I will turn into a ferocious lion that stands before meek animals”. Kṛṣṇa concluded with these words and retired for the day.
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.
Translators' Note: The words of Kṛṣṇa to Vidura are particularly important in the backdrop of the Hindu approach to war and peace. Although war between the cousins appears to be a foregone conclusion, Kṛṣṇa makes a last-ditch attempt at avoiding war in order to save thousands of lives. Apart from trying the path of reconciliation, he offers incentives and also creates confusion in the enemy ranks by tugging at the emotions of the elders, who know in their hearts of hearts that Duryodhana is evil. When all else fails, Kṛṣṇa warns the Kauravas that a terrible war will be waged and the earth will be drenched in their blood. When the war becomes inevitable, he advises the Pāṇḍavas to dive headlong into the battle and thwart the opponents. Kṛṣṇa pleads for peace before the war begins and the same Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna to raise his bow and destroy the enemies on the battlefield during the Gītopadeśa!