When Arjuna killed Yudhishtira

In the Karna Parva of the Mahabharata, a very interesting incident takes place on the 17th day, just prior to the slaying of Karna by Arjuna. This particular episode has some great lessons that are valid even today.

Karna and Yudhishtira enter into a duel. Karna defeats Yudhishtira very badly and in fact the Pandava suffers serious injuries. He is carried back to the camp and is made to rest and recover there. Arjuna after fighting valiantly with the Samsaptakas approaches Bhimasena and enquires about Yudhishtira. Bhimasena tells him about how the King was badly injured fighting Karna. Arjuna then requests Bhimasena to head back to the camp and check on the older brother’s health. Bhimasena refuses to do this. He says that he will never return from the battlefield leaving a fight in-between. He instructs Arjuna to check on Yudhishtira and calmly assures him that the Samsaptakas will be taken care of!

Heeding to Bhimasena’s advise, Arjuna returns to the camp with Lord Krishna and approaches Yudhishtira. Being very weak on account of the injuries and seeing Arjuna near him, Yudhishtira mistakenly assumes that Karna has been killed and Arjuna has returned to give him that news. Insult and injury by Karna makes Yudhishtira’s anger towards him very acute. Arjuna replies that he had arrived there only to check on him and that he will return back and kill Karna. This news disappoints Yudhishtira a lot and he resorts to berating Arjuna. Yudhishtira vents out all his frustration at Arjuna and accuses him of deserting  Bhimasena and returning from the battlefield.

In the heat of the moment, Yudhishtira asks Arjuna to “give up the Gandiva” and says that he will ask Bhimasena or Lord Krishna to kill Karna. This statement makes Arjuna extremely furious. He draws his sword and rushes towards his brother. Krishna stops him and asks him the reason for drawing the sword. Arjuna replies that he has a secret vow that anyone who asks him to give up his bow shall be slain by him. In those days, Kshatriyas had the habit of making a secret vow at the time of completion of their training and they were expected to keep the vow at any cost. Yudhishtira, in fact, had a vow of his own that he would never refuse an invitation for a game of dice. No wonder he ended up losing his entire world, and twice at that. Similarly, Bhimasena had a vow that he would kill the person who calls him moustache-less (which was a symbol of manhood then).

Arjuna tells Krishna that he had to stick to his vow at any cost and hence he would kill Yudhishtira. Krishna tells him that he is making a mistake with such senseless insistence and reminds him of his bigger Dharma – that of winning the war. He tells Arjuna that the right, and only, way to “kill” an elder was to use harsh words and berate the elder. He instructs Arjuna to do the same against Yudhishtira. Arjuna complies and showers his choicest abuses on Yudhishtira. In his outburst, he keeps telling his brother how only Bhimasena has the right to snub him (Arjuna) and not Yudhishtira. He calls Yudhishtira incapable.

Upon completing his outburst, he draws his sword out once again. A seemingly surprised Krishna asks him the reason for this repeat act. Arjuna tells him that he can no longer live after having abused his beloved brother in this manner. Krishna once again counsels him and reminds him that suicide is not appropriate for any human being as the body is the “Kshetra” where the “Sadhana” of the soul can take place. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha can be achieved only by utilizing the body and therefore self-destruction of one’s body is strictly prohibited. Krishna then provides a way out for Arjuna to atone for the sin. He tells him that self-praise is equivalent to suicide and so he should praise himself from the core of his heart.

Arjuna follows Krishna’s advice (once again!) and indulges in heavy self-praise for a while. He goes on about how powerful he is and how many kings and kingdoms were defeated by him. Thus, Arjuna “kills” himself.

At the end, Yudhishtira who is very down because of Arjuna’s abuses proceeds to kill himself. Krishna stops him and explains the whole situation. Arjuna falls at his brother’s feet and begs for pardon. Yudhishtira excuses him and both of them embrace each other.

Thus, Arjuna “kills” Yudhishtira and also commits “suicide” during the war.

Relating this incident and Krishna’s message to our own lives, it is startling that murder and suicide are the two things we repeatedly commit in our lives, almost on a daily basis. Berating elders and self-praise is among the most prevalent habits in society today. We do not even realize the extent of the evil in both these behaviors.

When Bhima vowed to kill Karna

Strange as the title may seem, it is true that it was Bhimasena who vowed to kill Karna, through Arjuna of course. Similarly, it was Bhimasena who vowed that Shakuni will be killed by Sahadeva.

Popular legends have it that Bhima, during the game of dice, vowed to break the thigh of Duryodhana and drink the blood of Dushashana. It is also wrongly assumed that Arjuna at the same time vowed to kill Karna and Sahadeva vowed to kill Shakuni. The TV serials also show events in this way. But what actually occured was completely different.

It was Sri Madhvacharya, in his magnum opus Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya,  who highlighted the fact that it was Bhima who made all the three vows just after the game of dice. Even the original Mahabharata has the same story. Unfortunately, Mahabharata has been diluted and distorted significantly and this very important aspect has been twisted.

During the game of dice, Bhimasena is the only who protests against the crime (from the Pandavas side of course – along with Vidura from the Kauravas). In fact, he gets extremely upset over Yudhishthira and asks Sahadeva to bring some fire so that he can “burn the hands of Yudhishtira”. When Arjuna objects, Bhima tells him that when elders commit mistakes, insulting them by words is equal to punishing them. The same principle is mentioned by Lord Krishna later during the 17th day of the war when Arjuna intends to kill Yudhishthira (yes, Arjuna tries to kill Yudhisthira! – more about this in another article)!

Later, when the Pandavas lose the game of dice a second time and start to move out of the palace, Dushashana and Duryodhana, aided by Karna and Shakuni, start to heap insults on the Pandavas. At that time, Bhima once again reiterates his vow concerning Dushashana and Duryodhana. And then, he makes two very interesting vows. I quote from the translation available at sacred texts.

I will slay Duryodhana, and Dhananjaya will slay Karna, and Sahadeva will slay Sakuni that gambler with dice. I also repeat in this assembly these proud words which the gods will assuredly make good, if ever we engage in battle with the Kurus, I will slay this wretched Duryodhana in battle with my mace, and prostrating him on the ground I will place my foot on his head. And as regards this (other) wicked person–Dussasana who is audacious in speech, I will drink his blood like a lion”

It is only after this that both Arjuna and Sahadeva take their vows. They both acknowledge Bhima and tell the audience that, as directed by Bhima, they shall slay Karna and Sahadeva.

In the Mahabharata, truly, while Lord Krishna is the “director”, Bhimasena is the “screenplay writer” who ensures that the events unfold as per Krishna’s plans.

Did you know? 5th August 2008

Prior to the Kurukshetra war, there were at least two occasions when Duryodhana and his (99) brothers were caught by opposing kings (once by Drupada and another time by a Gandharva king). On both occasions, upon the instructions of Yudhisthira, Bhima saved all of them. Eventually though, all 100 of them were killed by Bhima himself!