The next morning, Kṛṣṇa woke up and got ready to leave. Duryodhana and Śakuni came to Vidura’s house and informed Kṛṣṇa that Dhṛtarāṣṭra had arrived at the royal court and was looking forward to his arrival. Kṛṣṇa and Vidura left for the court in a chariot. They were followed by Duryodhana, Śakuni, Sātyakī, Kṛtavarma, and the others. Kṛṣṇa’s chariot was followed by warriors wearing strange clothes carrying war weapons. The entourage also consisted of several horses and elephants. As Kṛṣṇa entered the court amidst such grandeur, conches blew to announce his arrival. There was flute music to welcome him. Kṛṣṇa got off the chariot and entered the palace. Vidura held his hand on one side and Sātyakī on the other. Duryodhana and Karṇa went in front of them and they were followed by Sātyakī and other Vṛṣṇis. As soon as Kṛṣṇa entered the court, Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Droṇa, Bhīṣma, and others stood up as a sign of respect. As they stood up, all other kings who had assembled there stood up too. Kṛṣṇa walked with a gentle smile, exchanged pleasantries with everyone assembled there, and he spoke whatever was apt to the person’s age. He sat down with a smile on the golden seat prepared for him. Duśśāsana seated Sātyakī, Vivimśati, and Kritavarma in comfortable seats. Duryodhana and Karṇa shared the same seat and sat at a distance from Kṛṣṇa. Śakuni and his son sat on a chair by Kṛṣṇa’s side. Vidura sat on a deer’s skin right next to Kṛṣṇa’s seat. Kṛṣṇa, who wore pītāmbara (yellow garments) looked brilliant like a gem amidst several rugged stones. All eyes were on him. Nobody spoke a word. The assembly was silent and attentive.
As everyone settled down at the places allotted to them, Kṛṣṇa spoke in a voice that resounded like thunder that precedes a heavy downpour. He addressed Dhṛtarāṣṭra – “O revered king! I have come here to ease the relationship between the Kauravas and the Pāṇḍavas and to strike a treaty of peace between the brothers. The family of Kurus is known for its high values in knowledge, virtue and character. Compassion, grace, empathy, non-violence, justice, patience and honesty are said to be embodied in the Kuru dynasty. Born to such a divine lineage, your children have brushed aside all these values and act in a wicked manner – something that is so far unheard of. This will lead to a great tragedy and the earth will shudder. If you ignore the impending danger, the consequences will be severe. If you make up your mind, you can try avoiding it. I’m here with the belief that it is not impossible to strike a chord of peace. It is right within our control. Your children and you only need to co-operate. It is my responsibility to convince the Pāṇḍavas. If you take the assistance of the Pāṇḍavas and rule the kingdom in a dhārmic manner, who is going to ever question you? You can win over all your enemies and rule the entire world. On the other hand, if you blindly follow the whims of your children, the lineage will soon be ruined. Is that dharma? Tell me, O revered king! If the Pāṇḍavas kill your children or if your children kill the Pāṇḍavas what kind of comfort are you going to gain? Both the parties are experts at fielding weapons and are well trained in warfare. If they come down to the battlefield, it will only result in massive bloodshed and millions of dead bodies will get scattered across the battlefield. If they set out to war, they will be followed by several kings who support them and the kings will be followed by their citizens. In this way, the entire world will be in ruins. Kindly prevent such tragic course of events, your highness! Let the kings assembled here forget their enmity. Let them have a friendly feast and return to their kingdoms peacefully! You took care of the Pāṇḍavas when they came as orphans after losing their father and it is your duty now to protect them too. The Pāṇḍavas have conveyed their respects and salutations to you. They say – ‘We have obeyed you and have spent twelve years in the forest and one year incognito. Pray, adhere to dharma and give us our rightful share! We have undergone great difficulties. You are now our sole parent. As an older person, please correct us when we go wrong. Lead us on the right path!’ They have spoken in a manner that befits them and also adheres to dharma. Tell us if there is any solution other than giving them their rightful share. Let the kings assembled here think about it and tell us their opinion too. Dharmarāja has been honest and just in his behaviour towards you all. You tried to have them burnt alive and you sent them away from their homeland. And yet, they sought refuge in you. You sent them to Indraprastha. They established their city there, defeated several kings, and put them under your emperorship. The Pāṇḍavas possess such a noble heart but were again subject to Śakuni’s crooked games and they lost their wealth in the game of dice. They were helpless when Draupadī was brought to the court and humiliated amidst the Kurus. Yudhiṣṭhira sat there without speaking a word as he has always adhered to the kṣatriya-dharma. I seek the welfare of both the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas. O King! Don’t mistake injustice for justice and adharma for dharma! Don’t push your citizens into ruin. Stop your children from treading the path of adharma. The Pāṇḍavas need to be taken care of by you and they will look after your well-being, in return. They are ready to fight a war too. Give your consent to whatever you deem to be lawful!”
Every king assembled there praised Kṛṣṇa in their minds for his extraordinary speech. Yet, no one came forward to speak. Dhṛtarāṣṭra said, “Keśava! You have spoken dharma. However, I can’t make independent decisions in this matter. Try convincing Duryodhana and that can help us strike a chord of peace!’
Kṛṣṇa turned to Duryodhana and said, “Pray pay attention to my words – I’m speaking for the well-being of the entire country. It will also do well to you and your people. You are learned, wise, and good-natured. A person like you should not go down the path of the lowly and the wicked. The good always tread the path of dharma. In you, I see a behaviour that is contrary to what good men are supposed to be. Adharma is scary and destructive. Thus, give up your evil tendencies and head towards glory. Patch with the Pāṇḍavas – they are wise, courageous, powerful, and honest. Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Vidura, and the others wish to see you all untied. Your relatives and allies will lead a peaceful life, if you agree to this. You are learned too. It will do you good if you can listen to your parents’ words. If not, you will have to repent later on. You are trying to seek the protection of unruly, irresponsible, and adhārmic people – you should, instead, seek the support of the Pāṇḍavas. You have tortured them since birth. They are not annoyed with you because they are dhārmic by nature. They are your relatives, after all! Don’t get angry with them. Try to pacify them and get your wishes fulfilled. You are eating upon the kingdom and wealth they had acquired, and you have sought the support of kings who are adhārmic just as you are! Moreover, while you relish luxuries which the Pāṇḍavas have earned for you, you have put them to tremendous trouble. Karṇa, Duśśāsana, Śakuni, and the others, who you trust, are neither as capable nor as dhārmic as the Pāṇḍavas. None of your men will be able to defeat Bhīma and Arjuna in battle. Bhīṣma and Droṇa are not capable of defeating them too. What is the use of letting several people die, Duryodhana? Let the Kuru lineage at least have a few people alive! Don’t bring upon yourself the blemish of having pushed the family into ruins! They will let Dhṛtarāṣṭra ascend the throne as the emperor and will install you as the crown prince. Don’t brush aside the material wealth that has come to you on its own. Give away half the kingdom to the Pāṇḍavas and make a treaty with them! All of you will live in contentment and peace thereafter!”
Bhīṣma, Droṇa, and Vidura supported Kṛṣṇa’s words and advised Duryodhana that it only makes sense to try for a peace treaty. Dhṛtarāṣṭra finally spoke to him. “O son, Duryodhana! Kṛṣṇa has spoken justice. Please act according to his words. If we have Kṛṣṇa’s support, we can win over anything from anyone. When they are seeking peace with you of their own accord, don’t turn it down. If you turn a deaf ear now, ill fame will haunt you forever.”
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.