Mahābhārata – Episode 86 – Hastinapura Engulfed in Sorrow

This article is part 86 of 112 in the series Mahābhārata


Starting from the first day of the war, Sañjaya went to the battlefield from the capital city every day and reported the day’s events to Dhṛtarāṣṭra. As the old king heard that Duryodhana was killed along with his entire army, he was engulfed in sorrow and sat motionless like a stone, unable to speak or think anything. He appeared like a huge tree that had lost all its leaves, branches, and fruits with only a part of its stump left behind. Sañjaya tried to console him with the words – “You don’t have to be morose and miserable at this hour, O king! It serves no purpose. Arrange for the cremation and death rituals for those who have passed way!”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra fainted and fell to the ground upon hearing Sañjaya’s words. He regained consciousness in a while and said, “Why should I live after having lost my children, friends, and relatives? Sañjaya! I’m like a Garuḍa that has lost its wings and feathers. What pāpa had I performed in the past that could have brought such intense sorrow upon me? I can’t recall any bad deed that I might have performed! I had, perhaps, erred in my past lives! Is there anybody else in the world who has experienced this kind of pain in their old age?” Thus Dhṛtarāṣṭra lamented.

Sañjaya replied, “O revered king! You have learnt the Vedas, śāstras, and siddhāntas from your ancestors and teachers. Give up your agony! You didn’t pay heed to the words of the noble and wise when they tried to advice you. You just went by your own mind, which was like the edge of a sword. Your son Duryodhana brushed aside the dhārmic advice given by Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa, and the others and instead befriended malicious men such as Karṇa and Duśśāsana. He acted as per their crooked suggestions and brought this destruction upon the kṣatriyas. Though you always said that a war is invariably filled with adharma, you did nothing to prevent it from happening. You were not vocal about your honest opinion about the war. You didn’t take a neutral stance and examine the pros and cons in an unbiased manner. If a man adheres to the right path from the beginning he will not need to repent later on. The events of your life are akin to falling into a pit on the ground, having ignored it all the while as your eyes were fixed on the beehive at the top. What’s the use of crying now? Will that bring you happiness or victory? Come back to your senses, be wise and stop lamenting!”

Vidura forward next and tried to console his elder brother – “O king! All animals finally meet their end. Birth and death are natural to everyone. A brave person and a coward – both fall into the jaws of Death sooner or later. When such is the case can a kṣatriya sit silent without fighting a war?  When his Time comes, even a person who does not fight a war may die. If his Time has not come, even a person who has fought several battles may survive. None can understand or transcend the working of Time. It pulls everything towards it; Time neither hates nor loves anyone. Time might come earlier for a certain person among who belongs to a group and another person of the same group might have his time later. While making a pot, some break when they are on the potter’s wheel, some when they are put off the wheel. Some get shattered when they are lifted up from the ground and some when they are being plastered. A few pots may also break when they are being heated in the oven. So don’t lament over your children who have been consumed by death. If the words of the śāstras are true, they will all go to the higher worlds through meritorious paths. They came from a place we know not where and are now gone to a world which we have not seen. They were not present on the earth before they were born and are not here now too! Just as travellers stay for a while in a wayward rest house, all animals come, stay here for a couple of days and leave. We don’t know how many births we have had, how many parents, wives and children we have been associated with in this world? Who are we to them now? The life of a fool is eternally filled with thousands of elements that cause him fear and sorrow. The wise man, however, has no fear or sorrow! Just as physical ailments can be cured by the consumption of medicine, mental agony can only be cured by wisdom. It is hard to develop wisdom even in the times of great penury.

“Once, a certain brāhmaṇa was going through a forest. He was scared because the forest was full of wild animals such as tigers, lions, and elephants. As soon as he saw the animals, his heart skipped a beat and he had goosebumps. He ran helter-skelter without knowing want to do, and finally reached a patch of fenced land. He went in there thinking that it was a safe place to stay. However, he discovered that there lived a fierce-looking woman, who forcibly hugged him with her large arms. There was a deep well nearby, which was covered by an overgrowth of foliage. As he tried to escape from the woman, he ran around and fell into the well, upside down. He was caught by creepers and lay dangling in the well. There was a poisonous snake at the bottom of the well. And at the top, a wild elephant waited for him at the mouth of the well. Around him, there were bees that had built there hives on the walls of the well! Even when he was in such a state, he was licking the honey that was trickling down the walls. He wished to live for long and wanted to enjoy fresh honey! Wisdom never dawned upon him nor did he develop any detachment. In the meanwhile, two rats – one white and one black were biting through the branch of the tree to which the creepers were attached. He could fall into the well along with the branch at any moment! Yet, he couldn’t give up his desire to live. Desire is the root cause of all sorrow; it is your greed that brought upon you so much of agony. It is only a knowledge of the Self and spiritual wisdom that can act as an antidote to sorrow! Bring courage to your mind and use wisdom as a medicine to treat your ailment of sorrow. One can get rid of sadness only by firming up one’s own mind. No friend, relative, wealth, or bravery can help one cleanse himself of all sorrows. Thus, bring your mind under your control and act in an affectionate manner. The puṇya that you will earn by providing refuge to people in need cannot be earned even by performing a hundred yajñas and by doing upavāsa everyday. Keep this in mind and develop compassion. Perform the required rituals to those have passed away – it will bring you good merit!”

It appeared like Dhṛtarāṣṭra had lost his mind, as he was overcome with sorrow. He climbed on to a chariot. Gāndhārī asked Kuntī and other women to join her and followed Dhṛtarāṣṭra. Vidura consoled the women and joined them. As they passed through the streets of Hastināpura, they heard loud cries and wailing of women in all Kaurava houses! The entire city was full of children and old men who were crying. Women who were not seen outside their hosues until then had come out, clad in just a sari, with their hair unkempt and unbraided, wearing no jewellery. They were wailing; uncontrollably weeping and walking around the streets, they were unaware of what they were doing. Thousands of women fell upon Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s chariot, like they had lost their minds. They had given up all self-respect and had lost control over themselves. Their shouts pierced everyone’s hearts and it could shatter the three worlds.

Back at his camp, Dharmarāja heard about all this. He came to the capital city along with his brothers, Kṛṣṇa and Draupadī to see Dhṛtarāṣṭra. As soon as the women who had surrounded Dhṛtarāṣṭra saw him, they shouted with their arms raised up – “Where did this king’s morals, dharma, and peace go away? You killed your brothers, teachers, and all elders! What does he gain from a kingdom after killing all the children, the older ones, gurus, and the revered men?” Their laments knew no bounds.

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.

The original Kannada version of Vacanabhārata is available for free online reading here. To read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri, click here.



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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