Dharmarāja walked past all the women who were shouting at him, went to the old king Dhṛtarāṣṭra, and bowed down to him. The others too called out their own names and saluted the king. Dhṛtarāṣṭra embraced Dharmarāja without any affection. He asked, “Where is Bhīmasena?” His anger was getting invigorated by winds of rage and it seemed as though he would burn Bhīma to death. Kṛṣṇa, who knew Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s heart, was already prepared for such a situation. He pulled Bhīma back and pushed an iron image of Bhīma towards the king. Thinking that the image was the real Bhīma, the blind king embraced it tightly. The image was shattered into pieces with his tight embrace. With this, Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s chest was injured and he fell to the ground, spitting blood all around. Sañjaya held him and raised him up.
Dhṛtarāṣṭra thought that Bhīma was dead and lamented, “O Bhīma! My dear Bhīma!” His anger had by then subsided. Kṛṣṇa, who understood the king’s state of mind, said: “O king! You didn’t kill Bhīma! You only destroyed an iron image! Looking at your anger, I pulled him back and instead let you embrace an iron image of Bhīma, which your son, Duryodhana, had prepared. Who can match your strength? Falling into your embrace is like falling into the clutches of death. You were overcome with sorrow and had decided to kill Bhīma, ignoring dharma! That is not right, O revered king! Your sons won’t come back alive, no matter what you do. Bring down your anger and sorrow – try to understand my words and actions!”
Dhṛtarāṣṭra brought his anger under control and blessed the Pāṇḍavas by touching their bodies. Next, the Pāṇḍavas approached Gāndhārī. Dharmarāja, overcome by fear, said softly, “O Mother! Here I am – I am Yudhiṣṭhira, the cruel one who caused the death of all your sons. I deserve to be cursed; please curse me. What is the use of me surviving? I don’t need the kingdom or any of its pleasures. Having lost my relatives and friends, I don’t know what I should do!”
Gāndhārī was overcome with sorrow; her voice was choked and she was unable to speak a word. She gave out a heavy sigh. She could only see the tips of his finger with her eyes behind her blindfold. With her look, all his nails were burned. Looking at this, Arjuna hid behind Kṛṣṇa. Her anger quickly subsided and she spoke to them all like a loving mother. Taking her leave, they all left the palace to visit Kuntī.
It had been a long time since the mother and the sons had seen each other. Kuntī couldn’t stand the sight of her children’s wounded bodies. She closed her face with her palm and cried uncontrollably. She then wiped her eyes with her saree and touched her sons’ bodies again and again. She then looked at Draupadī who was sitting on the floor, having lost all her children. Draupadī said, “Mother! Abhimanyu and all your other grandsons are no more. Having lost such valorous sons, what am I to gain from this kingdom now?”
Kuntī lifted her up and took them all back to Gāndhārī. Gāndhārī then spoke to Draupadī, “Please don’t cry, my dear! You must console yourself by looking at me. These are the days when the entire world is under turmoil. Thus, whatever was to inevitably take place has actually happened. It is not under our control. I lost my children to the battle too just as you did. Don’t cry for them. You are like me and I am like you. We are in the same situation. Who is to console whom, my dear?”
They all then left to the place where the warriors had fought each other given up their lives. Elephants and horses that once belonged to the heroes had fallen dead, orphaned, and scattered all around the battlefield. There were streams of blood flowing and the soil was wet. Amidst the dead, women were crying, wailing and shouting and were looking for the bodies of their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. Gāndhārī called Kṛṣṇa and asked, “Are you able to hear my daughter and daughters-in-law wailing over the dead bodies of their husbands? Just like them, there are several other women who are looking for the remnants of their brothers, fathers, sons, and husbands. My heart crumbles in pain listening to their cries and imagining their sorrowful state!”
They found Duryodhana as they walked further on the battlefield. Gāndhārī fell down like a banana tree that was chopped off. She cried out loud, “O Duryodhana!” Then she said, “When the war was imminent, he had come to me. He prostrated before me and said, ‘I’m going to fight my relatives. Please bless me that I may be victorious, O Mother!’ I had said, ‘Victory prevails where dharma exists. You will attain the vīra-svarga (heaven for heroes) by fighting the war!’ My words have come true. I won’t cry much for him. I feel sorry for Dhṛtarāṣṭra who has lost all his relatives and friends. Who would have imagined that Jayadratha, Karṇa, Droṇa, Bhīṣma, and such other heroes would die in the war? They too took the side of Duryodhana, fought the war, and now are like fires that have got extinguished. What is difficult for Fate to handle? When you visited us trying to negotiate a treaty of peace, I had already imagined all my children to be dead. Bhīṣma and Vidura also told me the same thing: ‘You may now give up all hopes about your children!’ Can their words go false? Within a few days, they are all fallen dead!” Gāndhārī fainted even as she uttered those words.
She regained consciousness after a while and was immensely pained. She lost her sense and with great rage said, “Kṛṣṇa! It is because of your carelessness that the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas fought each other! You have the strength and the wisdom and you could have easily stopped this huge massacre. You didn’t do so. Thus, you will be the reason for the death of your own relatives in the future. Thirty-six years from now, you will lose at once all your relatives, friends, children, and ministers and you will get a lowly death like an orphan, all alone in a forest! Your women too will lament over their dead men just as these women belonging to the Bharata clan are today lamenting!”
Hearing her wrathful curse, Kṛṣṇa said with a smile, “O mother! I know what is in store for me. As per Divine Providence, the Yādavas too will fight amongst themselves and kill each other. They will die because of me. No one else can kill them! Let that be; stop crying and get up now. Don’t blame me for your mistakes. The Kuru clan got destroyed because of you. Your son was filled with jealously, malice, arrogance, and evil. He was stone-hearted and never listened to his elders. He harboured animosity all his life. You are under the impression that all his deeds were noble. Just as a hardworking cow gives birth to a calf of its own nature and just as a swift horse produces a swift horse as its child, it is only fitting that a son like Duryodhana was born to a mother like you!” Gāndhārī became silent listening to those unpleasant words of Kṛṣṇa.
They made arrangements for performing the final rites of the men who had given up their lives on the battlefield. With Dhṛtarāṣṭra leading them, they all headed to the shores of Gaṅgā. Women took dips in the pure waters of the divine river and with tears rolling down their eyes they offered tarpaṇa to their dead fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, and relatives. Dharmarāja offered tarpaṇa to Karṇa, for he learnt from his mother that Karṇa was his elder brother. Dhṛtarāṣṭra too offered tarpaṇa to all his relatives and got back on to the shore with Gāndhārī.
The Gaṅgā was like an ocean flowing between two shores. But today, with thousands of wailing women taking dip in the river, it seemed to have lost its liveliness and speed. It seemed to be flowing with sorrow and lacked enthusiasm.
End of the Strī-parva.
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.