On a chosen day, Dharmarāja sat on a new chariot drawn by sixteen white steeds. Bhīma was the charioteer; Arjuna held a white umbrella; Nakula and Sahadeva fanned him with cāmaras (feathered fans). Yuyutsu, Sātyaki, and Kṛṣṇa were seated in different chariots that went behind Yudhiṣṭhira. Kuntī, Draupadī, Subhadrā, and other women received gifts from Vidura and set out on their own chariots. Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Gāndhārī went in front of everyone else, sitting on a palanquin. Behind them came decorated elephants, horses, foot soldiers, and bards, all of whom entered the city. All the royal highways of the city were decorated with flowers and with flags. The streets were spotlessly clean and filled with the smell of incense sticks and sandalwood powder. At the entrance of the city and also at various spots within the city, auspicious pūrṇa-kumbhas were kept. All through the way, people huddled together to catch a glimpse of the Pāṇḍavas and Draupadī and offer their best wishes. Thus, the Pāṇḍavas entered the palace amidst the spirited roars of conches and kettle-drums.
Dharmarāja sat down on a golden throne facing eastwards. Kṛṣṇa and Sātyaki sat in front of him while Bhīma and Arjuna sat down on either side of the throne. The rest of them sat down on seats appropriate to their stature; the head of the citizens brought a gift symbolizing good fortune. Soon after, the purohita made Dharmarāja and Draupadī sit down in the sarvatobhadra manner on the hide of a tiger that had been spread out and began making preparations for the coronation; he started doing all the activities typically undertaken before a paṭṭābhiṣeka. After that, Śrīkṛṣṇa, Dhṛtarāṣṭra, and leaders of the community performed abhiṣeka to Dharmarāja. The brāhmaṇas received their dakṣiṇas and extended their good wishes. In this manner Dharmarāja was coronated as king and obtained the overlordship of the vast, expansive kingdom; having obtained this great kingdom, he made everyone happy.
Bhīma became the crown prince; Vidura became a minister. Sañjaya was placed in charge of managing income and expenditure; Nakula was made the commander-in-chief of the army; Arjuna was made in charge of foreign affairs. Sahadeva became Yudhiṣṭhira’s personal guard. Vidura, Sañjaya, and Yuyutsu would take care of Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s health and fulfill his desires; the three of them were also responsible for addressing the day-to-day concerns of the people. Dharmarāja firmly said, "All those of you who wish to do good to me should look upon Dhṛtarāṣṭra as a god and fulfil his desires. If I am alive in spite of willingly engaging in killing my relatives, it is only for his sake!"
The next morning Dharmarāja went to Śrīkṛṣṇa's room, and after exchanging pleasantries, said, "Kṛṣṇa! We gained the kingdom and fame only because of your compassion. We did not cause dharma to be violated!"
Kṛṣṇa did not reply; it appeared that he was deep in thought. Looking at that Yudhiṣṭhira said, "What's this surprise, Kṛṣṇa! You're thinking about something so deeply! The three worlds are doing well, are they?"
In response, Kṛṣṇa said, "I was thinking about Bhīṣma, who is lying on a bed of arrows; he is fading away like a fire on the verge of being extinguished. Yudhiṣṭhira! Born to Gaṅgā herself, becoming a disciple of Vasiṣṭha and learning the Vedas in a methodical manner with all its auxiliary sciences, and learning the martial arts from Paraśurāma to whom he was a dear student, Bhīṣma is indeed a great soul who knows about past, present, and future; I was thinking about him. If he dies, the world would become dark like a night without the moon. Yudhiṣṭhira! Therefore, when he is alive, go to him and learn from him all those things you desire to know, about a variety of topics like rāja-dharma and so forth!" Dharmarāja's eyes were filled with tears. “You also come with me! We shall go at once.” Kṛṣṇa agreed and both of them went to meet Bhīṣma.
Bhīṣma lay on the banks of the Oghavatī river on a bed of arrows, just like the setting sun. Both of them bowed down to him from a distance. With a lot of devotion, Kṛṣṇa said, "O Lord, how is your health? Are your indriyas functioning just as before? Is your intellect clear? Is the pain from the arrows too much? Even if a small thorn were to prick us, it hurts so much. That being the case, how must it be to have several arrows struck in the body! Owing to the boon you received from your father, you can let go of your life any time that you desire; but that boon doesn't help you reduce any bodily pain! In such matters, what is it that we can tell you? You are capable of instructing even the divinities. You know the past, present, and future. Among men, I have neither seen nor heard of someone who is endowed with the qualities that you have. You are a great mahārathika who knows both Vedas and martial arts; there is none to match you in forbearance, restraint, love, and other such qualities. You are well-versed in dharma that has been laid out in the Vedas as well as Yoga, Sāṅkhya, Itihāsa, Purāṇa, dharma-śāstra, śiṣṭācāra, and other disciplines. When a doubt arises in any of these topics, there is no one other than you who can resolve it; and therefore, I request you to give a word or two of counsel to this Yudhiṣṭhira. Having killed all his relatives in war, he is overcome by dejection. It is only by a wise man like yourself that sorrow and mental turbulence can be cured!" Embarassed, Dharmarāja was hesitant in his step, slowly drifting backwards. Bhīṣma addressed him and said, "Why are you so hesitant? Just as it is the dharma of a brāhmaṇa to engage in charity, study, and penance, it is the duty of a kṣatriya to wage war! If called for war, a kṣatriya must necessarily go. Those who have taken the path of adharma – be it one's father, or brother, or grandfather – must be punished. It is indeed the dharma of a kṣatriya to battle those who have crossed the limits of dharma owing to their avarice. A kṣatriya has to wage war against such evil men and kill them.” Thus he uttered a few words that instilled courage in Yudhiṣṭhira. At that point, Yudhiṣṭhira stepped forward and paid obeisance to the grandsire by touching his feet. Bhīṣma was delighted. He smelt Dharmarāja's head and said, "Sit down!" Then he said, "Whatever you wish to learn, ask me without fear or hesitation; I will tell you!"
Yudhiṣṭhira said, "Grandfather! Those who know dharma say that the greatest is the dharma of the king. I feel that it is a great burden to rule over a kingdom. Therefore tell me in detail about rāja-dharma!"
Bhīṣma was exhausted that day and therefore everyone returned home. They came the next morning. Bhīṣma first offered his greetings to Dharma, Kṛṣṇa, and brāhmaṇas. Then he began his exposition on rāja-dharma.
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.