After offering the jala-tarpaṇa and other funeral rites to their departed relatives, Dharmarāja, Dhṛtarāṣṭra, and the rest of the Pāṇḍavas and Kauravas spent a month on the banks of the Gaṅgā until their mourning period was complete. Yudhiṣṭhira was overcome with disgust and cynicism. He looked at Arjuna and said, “Arjuna! It would have been better for us to spend our days seeking alms in the kingdom of the Yādavas rather than attain this terrible state of having killed all our male relatives without sparing anyone! Having killed each other, having murdered our own people, what great dharma-phala did we end up achieving? Fie upon this kṣatriya karma! Far superior indeed is the forbearance, self-control, honesty, purity, non-injury, and non-opposition seen in the forest dwellers. Having reached this pitiable state owing to our greed, attachment, hypocrisy, arrogance, and pride, we now have to bear the terrible burden of ruling over this kingdom; this taint has entangled us. We tore apart each other in battle, like dogs fighting for a piece of meat. But the winning dog didn’t get the joy of eating the meat-piece; such is our situation. We now carry the infamy of being the people who destroyed the world. These are the people who uprooted the family tree and annihilated the Kuru lineage, feels Dhṛtarāṣṭra. Having killed our enemies, no doubt our anger has been doused; but we earned sin. Our śāstras say that a man who renounces everything further goes wades through life and death without committing sin and only then attains the highest realm. Therefore, I shall renounce this land, this treasure, these comforts, this peace, go away to some distant place, and live the rest of my life without worries, without taints. You all rule over this land that is free of enemies!”
In response, Arjuna said, “Oh, what sorrow! What despair! Having fought our enemies by adhering to dharma, killed them, and victoriously attained the kingdom you wish to discard all the wealth and prosperity you’ve gained? What will the people of the world say about this? Abandoning dharma, artha, etc. and retiring to the forests is sheer madness! Dharma is also possible only through wealth; indeed one who steals wealth is stealing dharma itself. Poverty is decrepitude; it is a sin; who indeed will praise it? Without artha, the journey of life itself will not move forward. Withou artha, there is neither material nor spiritual, neither here nor hereafter. This kingdom has come to you following a grand lineage that once had kings like Dilīpa and Nṛga. It is your dharma to rule over this kingdom. If you fail to do so, you will be forsaking your duty. It is indeed the sceptre of the king that protects dharma and artha, wealth, and grain; it is owing to the fear of daṇḍa that citizens remain subdued. That is no sin; it is not deceit; aren’t devas and asuras related by blood? Didn’t the devatas fight against the asuras and kill them? Without causing injury, which being can survive in this world? Life for an animal comes from the death of another animal. The weak is the food for the strong. Without causing harm or injury, one cannot even milk a cow. Therefore adhere to the dharma you have learnt and protect the people of our kingdom! Conduct yajñas and yāgas! Undertake activities of dāna and dharma! Control evil in the land! Protect the wise and the noble!”
Bhīma said, “What’s this brother! You’re speaking like a thick-headed scholar who reads and reads the Vedas and ends up having nothing but blind belief. If you’re going to give in to such lethargy, letting your mind fall for laziness, and if you’re going to ignore rāja-dharma, what’s the benefit of having killed all the Kauravas? This is like digging a well after hours of toil and instead of bathing in the water that was dug from the earth, you rise to the ground applying slimy mud all over your body! Saṃnyāsa is for old age, during times of trouble. If you take up saṃnyāsa now, those who are learned would surely denounce it as against dharma! Without nourishing children, without taking care of young ones, and without satisfying the deities, the seers, the ancestors, and the guests, it is possible for you to live all alone in the forest; if that will help you attain svarga, then indeed deer, pigs, pigeons and other birds, all would attain svarga! For indeed they are constant saṃnyāsis, constant brahmacaris; they don’t cause trouble to anyone else. Therefore, everyone must perform the work assigned to them; perfection and attainment come from work alone and not by abstaining from work!”
Nakula said, “Mahārāja! The true tyāgi is one who earns wealth by adhering to dharma and then employs that wealth judiciously by conducting yāgas and such activities. The learned scholars have said that among the four āśramas, if three āśramas are on one side of the weighing scale that is matched by the gṛhasthāśrama on the other side of the scale. Both material and spiritual, here and hereafter are contained within the gṛhasthāśrama. If a fool leaves his house, goes to the forest, and falls for desires there, he just becomes one who is dressed in ochre robes and meets his end as a pseudo-saṃnyāsi. Therefore it appears that the best approach is to adhere to dharma within the framework of gṛhasthāśrama!”
Sahadeva said, “Mahārāja! One does not attain perfection simply by discarding external objects and walking away. It might be possible if one discards desire, anger, etc., which are within; even so, it might not be possible. Discarding your attachments and affection, if you rule over the kingdom, that leads to adhering of dharma as well as to joy and peace. Having attained a great kingdom, if the king doesn’t enjoy it, what’s the use of obtaining it? If you go away to the forest, then you might develop affection towards things that are present here; the result of affection is death; what I’ve learnt may be right or wrong! Whatever be the case. What I felt, I have said with bhakti.”
In this manner, Yudhiṣṭhira’s younger brothers tried to effect a change in his heart by voicing their opinions and putting forth their arguments; yet Yudhiṣṭhira didn’t utter a syllable and remained silent. At that point, Draupadī looked at her husband and said, “Mahārāja! Your younger brothers are eagerly awaiting your response and looking at you, like famished cātaka birds. Make them happy by responding in an appropriate manner. Earlier, when we were struggling in the Dvaita forest facing torrential rains, gales, and scorching heat, you had looked at us and said, ‘Having killed Duryodhana, all the kings on his side, all the warriors fighting for him, and his vast army, we shall obtain lordship over the kingdom and experience all the joys of life! The more we struggle during our forest exile, the more happiness and comfort lies ahead of us!’ Having said all this, why do say such things now and pain our hearts? The Kauravas abandoned dharma and turned out to be wicked; there is absolutely no blemish in having killed them. Did you obtain this kingdom as a honorary gift from someone, or did you receive it as a gift of charity? Didn’t you win this war after fighting and defeating Droṇa, Karṇa, Kṛpa, and others warriors? What’s wrong in ruling over such a kingdom and enjoying the bountiful earth? Your younger brothers are indeed like bulls, like elephants in rut, like gods. Be delighted looking at them, give them delight, cast away your worries, and rule over this kingdom by adhering to dharma!” Kṛṣṇa too agreed with their views and in support of their opinions he said, “If you become the king, Draupadī will be happy and so will your relatives like us. It will also be beneficial to the world.” After listening to all of them, Dharmarāja gave up his anxiety and found solace. Preparations were underway to return to the capital.
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.