Akrüra asked Kunti to tell him more about the situation in the city and she began explaining everything. Kunti knew that Duryodhana and his brothers were always intriguing against her sons. The Kauravas could not tolerate the Pandavas’ superior prowess. The humiliation they had recently received at Kämpilya had made them even more keen to dispose of Pandu’s sons. Kunti spoke to Akrüra with tears in her eyes, “Will Krishna come here to console me? I always pray to that all-powerful protector of the universe. Indeed, I see no other shelter for myself and my sons.”
Kunti cried out to Krishna in front of Akrüra. He gently reassured her that Krishna was often speaking about her and had sent him to analyze the situation. Both Akrüra and Vidura comforted Kunti and reminded her about her sons’ extraordinary birth. The Pandava boys were expansions of the gods. There was no way that the evil Kaurava princes could overcome them.
Akrüra remained in Hastinäpura for several months. Then, when he felt he had understood the situation fully, he decided it was time to return to Mathurä. Before leaving, however, he met with Dhritarashtra to offer some advice. Ultimately the blind king was responsible for his sons’ acts and he could certainly check their behavior if he chose. Akrüra said, “My dear King, you have obtained the throne only because your brother Pandu passed away prematurely. Therefore Pandu’s sons have first claim on the throne. You should not discriminate against them in favor of your own sons.”
Akrüra also advised Dhritarashtra to rule the kingdom strictly according to moral principles. He should treat all his subjects equally, what to speak of the Pandavas, his own nephews and heirs to the throne. Over-attachment for one’s close relatives is simply born of ignorance. Every creature in the world is born alone and dies alone. He experiences the results of his own good and evil deeds and in the end leaves the present body to accept another. The belief that one person is the relation of another is nothing more than illusion.
Dhritarashtra listened in silence as Akrüra spoke. He understood the implications of his words. Akrüra had made it clear that the Pandavas’ cause was righteous and that by opposing them he would reap only grief. Dhritarashtra bowed his head as Akrüra concluded, “By favoring your own sons, O lord of the earth, you are acting out of ignorance. How then can you hope for any good result? Ignorance always leads to sorrow. Therefore, act virtuously and deal with Pandu’s sons as they rightfully deserve.”
Dhritarashtra sighed, “O wise one, your words are like the immortal nectar of the gods. I could go on hearing them forever. You have surely spoken the truth. But just as a person on the verge of death cannot be saved by nectar, so your instructions do not stay in my heart.”
Dhritarashtra admitted that he was prejudiced by affection for his sons. He told Akrüra that he felt helpless to overcome that affection. Like Kunti, the king also understood Krishna’s position. “Surely everything moves according to the will of the Supreme Lord. No man can influence the Lord’s will. Now he has appeared to relieve the earth’s burden and that will surely happen. What then can I do? Destiny is surely all-powerful.”
Dhritarashtra had heard the sages describe how Krishna’s mission was to destroy the large number of demonic kings who had begun to populate the earth. Pandu had managed to check them, but since his retirement they had formed alliances and built huge armies, posing a constant threat to world security.
Akrüra could understand that Dhritarashtra was set upon a course that would lead to his ruin. By favoring his own sons over the Pandavas, the king would ultimately ignite a conflict between them which would result in the destruction of the Kuru race. Akrüra felt there was nothing more he could do. Dhritarashtra refused to accept responsibility for his acts. Taking his leave from the king, Akrüra made his way back to Mathurä.
When Akrüra was gone, Dhritarashtra pondered on his words. It was true that Pandu’s sons were the rightful heirs to the kingdom. That could not be denied. It was especially clear that the eldest of them, Yudhisthira, was qualified to be the king. The king had seen how the prince was noted for his honesty, patience, kindness and unswerving adherence to duty. Along with his brothers, he was a firm favorite of the people. The citizens had loved Pandu and it seemed to them that he returned to live among them as his sons. Everywhere people were speaking of their desire to see Yudhisthira installed as the king. Dhritarashtra had heard of their talks: “Now we have a qualified prince. Why should the blind Dhritarashtra remain king? Let us place the pious Yudhisthira on the throne. He will surely be a righteous and benevolent ruler.”
Dhritarashtra consulted with Bhishma, Vidura and the Brahmins. They all decided that Yudhisthira should be installed as prince regent. The ceremony was soon performed and the people rejoiced.
Duryodhana, however, was seething. How had his father bypassed him to make Yudhisthira prince regent? When Bhima sneered at his distress, making it even more unbearable, he went with Karëa and Dushashana to discuss with Shakuni a way to eradicate the Pandavas.
Shakuni’s eyes narrowed as Duryodhana and the others vented their rage. He pressed his fingertips together to think. “The only answer,” he said finally, “is to get the Pandavas out of Hastinäpura to a place where they can be killed without interference. We should somehow contrive to have them burned to death, making it seem like an accident.”
Duryodhana smiled, but Karëa was not so sure. He did not like Shakuni’s devious ways. “Only cowards resort to deceit and underhanded methods. Powerful men favor open combat. If the Pandavas are our enemies, then let us march out to the battlefield and settle this dispute.”
Shakuni’s lips tightened. Then he smiled slightly. “My child, you are powerful but foolish. It seems you have forgotten Bhima’s superhuman strength. And do you not remember the incident at Kämpilya? All of the Kaurava princes, with you by their side, could not overpower Drupada. But with only four fighting, the Pandavas were successful. It is unlikely that we will win in a confrontation with those five brothers. Take heed of my words.”
Reminded of Kämpilya, Karëa was embarrassed. He let out an angry shout. They had been taken by surprise there. Drupada had been stronger than they expected. The Pandavas had the advantage, confronting Drupada after having witnessed his actual power. Next time, if the Pandavas confronted the Kauravas directly, things would be different. Karëa shook his head and left the room. “Do what you will, but I cannot be a party to such cowardice.”
The cunning Shakuni had carefully assessed the situation. He pressed Duryodhana to approach his father and ask for the Pandavas to be sent away. He knew that Dhritarashtra would not refuse his son anything. Duryodhana nodded slowly. He trusted Shakuni’s judgment. Together they worked out the details of their plan. Then Duryodhana went to see the king.
* * *
Dhritarashtra knew well of his sons’ hatred for the Pandavas. He knew that Yudhisthira’s installation as the heir-apparent had been a bitter blow to Duryodhana. The king thought about what he could do for his sons. He had spoken with Shakuni. His brother-in-law, knowing that Dhritarashtra never acted without counsel, had suggested that he seek advice from Shakuni’s Brahmin friend, Kaëika. This Brahmin, Shakuni had said, was an expert in statecraft and politics. Shakuni then personally brought Kaëika to see Dhritarashtra.
Kaëika told Dhritarashtra that he should feel no compunction about rooting out his enemies before they harmed him. If he saw the Pandavas as his enemies, then he should destroy them without hesitation by any means possible. Because they were stronger than his own sons, a direct confrontation would probably fail. Better to employ some devious means. In the meantime the king should continue to appear as the Pandavas’ well-wisher. Then as soon as an opportunity arose, he should strike.
Dhritarashtra thanked the Brahmin for his advice and dismissed him. He sat alone in his chamber for some time. The thought of killing Pandu’s sons distressed him. Perhaps there was some way they could be removed from Hastinäpura. While they were present his own sons would never be happy. Duryodhana complained constantly about his cousins. Now the monarchy was about to pass back to Pandu’s line. Dhritarashtra had enjoyed his opportunity to occupy Hastinäpura’s throne as the world emperor. Although the firstborn son, and thus the first in line for the throne, he had thought his blindness had forever denied him the chance to be king. But in the years since Pandu’s departure he had become accustomed to holding the reins of power. It would not be easy to let go.
As Dhritarashtra sat in his darkened room, Duryodhana came to see him. He heard his son’s heavy steps approaching and his sighs as he sat before him. Dhritarashtra gently greeted the prince and asked what ailed him.
“I am hearing ill news of the kingdom, Father. The citizens are growing restless. They want you to soon hand over the throne to the Pandavas. ‘Why should we have the blind king now that Yudhisthira is grown?’ are the words they utter. They care not for you or for myself.”
Duryodhana stood up sharply and began to pace, his gold ornaments jangling. As he strode about, he punched his hand with his clenched fist.
“Soon we shall become dependent upon the Pandavas. They will be the kings and after them their sons will inherit the throne. Thus our line will be plunged into misfortune. We shall become powerless and lose the honor we have long enjoyed. What could be more painful for us? I have been considering how to deliver us. Listen as I explain my idea.”
Duryodhana first suggested the Pandavas be sent to a distant city. On the pretext of sending them on holiday, they could be sent to Väraëävata, where a splendid festival honoring Çiva would soon be celebrated. The town was noted for its attractions. The Pandavas would surely be pleased to visit it. Once they left Hastinäpura, perhaps they would never return.
Dhritarashtra immediately understood what was on his son’s mind. How could he possibly agree? “Pandu was always devoted to virtue,” he said. “He did not care for wealth. My pious brother was devoted to me. He gave me everything, including this wide and prosperous kingdom. How could I hurt his sons?”
Besides that consideration, said Dhritarashtra, the people love the Pandavas. They would be angered if the Kurus sent them away. Perhaps they would rise up against their leaders and remove them by force. And certainly Bhishma and the other senior Kurus would favor the Pandavas.
Duryodhana was ready for this objection. Before sending the Pandavas away, the Kurus should try to win over the people by various means. By bestowing wealth and honors on them they would gain their love and trust. Then, in the Pandavas’ absence, it would be possible for Duryodhana to become king. The prince went on, “Once my position is established in Hastinäpura, Kunti and her sons could even return. Do not fear for their welfare.”
Dhritarashtra sat up and leaned toward his son. “This very thought has been on my mind, but I have not spoken it because it is a sinful thought. I am still doubtful. How do you propose that we deal with Bhishma, Vidura, Drona and Kripa? They love the Pandavas as if they were their own sons.”
Duryodhana smiled. “Bhishma will remain neutral, as he always does. Drona’s son is my staunch supporter. His father will never go against him. Drona has married Kripa’s sister. Therefore Kripa’s support is assured. Vidura is the only one we cannot trust––he will certainly side with the Pandavas––but what harm can he alone do to us?”
Duryodhana implored his father to agree. If the Pandavas were allowed to remain in Hastinäpura, he would not be able to live. His heart was burning and he lived in constant anxiety.
Dhritarashtra was torn. He sat sighing for some moments. Finally, he gave his assent. Everything lay in the hands of Providence. What could he, a mere mortal filled with desire and fears, do against destiny? The king called his servants and retired for the night.
[Adopted from Mahabharata by Krishna Dharma Das]