When to speak a Lie?
Contrary to the rules of the war, Dronacharya, the Guru of the Kauravas, started attacking common soldiers with his specialized weapons, killing them in thousands, on the 15th day of the war. Krishna was worried at the slaughter of the Pāṇdava army by Droņāchārya and said to Arjuna, “If Droņāchārya is not killed now and is allowed to fight in the afternoon, we will not have a single soldier left alive by sunset. We must kill him as soon as possible. He is using his divine weapons, even against the ordinary soldiers. This is very cruel and is totally against the time-honored traditions of warfare.”
Krishna then approached the Pāṇdava brothers and suggested a plan to kill Droņāchārya, “No one can defeat your Guru today or at any time unless he lays down his arms. We will have to think of a plan, which causes him to give up his weapons. Bheema can kill the elephant named Ashvathhāma in our army. Then, we should spread the word that ‘Ashvatthāmā has been killed.’ As Droņāchārya loves his son whose name is also Ashvatthāmā, he will think that his own son has been killed. In grief, he will lay down his weapons. At that moment, Dhrishtyadumna can attack and kill him.”
Yudhishthira agreed to the plan with hesitation. But Arjuna did not accept Krishna’s suggestion, because he loved his Guru, and because it was not fair to lie to kill Droņāchārya. But, Krishna argued, “Look, you Pāṇdavas have followed Dharma your entire life. You are fighting this war too only for the sake of Dharma. On the other hand, Droņāchārya is fighting on the side of Adharma (evil and unrighteousness). Sometimes you have to plant a bush of thorns around a flowering plant, to stop the beasts from coming to the plant and eat up its flowers. In the same way, it is sometimes necessary to use alternative means to protect Dharma against attacks by evil people. When your goal is noble, and you have to protect Dharma, do not hesitate to use incorrect means to win, especially when you are left with no other choice. If you have a choice, then, of course, you should stick to the right means. But in this case, you have no other choice to defeat Droņāchārya.”
Arjuna agreed to Krishna’s logic with some reluctance. According to the plan, Bheema killed their elephant, whose name was Ashvatthāmā, and then the Pāṇdava army announced loudly, “Ashvatthāmā is dead!” The message was even sent to Droņāchārya.
But, the Guru refused to believe the news, because his son was a brave warrior. Moreover, Ashvatthāmā had a magical gem on his forehead that protected him from all weapons. Therefore, Droņāchārya approached Yudhishthira and asked, “You always speak the truth. Tell me, is my son Ashvatthāmā truly dead?” Yudhishthira answered, “Yes, Ashvatthāmā is dead, but it was either a man or an elephant of that name.” But, Yudhishthira said the words ‘Yes, Ashvatthāmā is dead,’ loudly, whereas, he said the remaining words so softly that they were drowned by the sound of Pānchajanya, the conch shell that Krishna blew loudly at that very moment. Therefore, the Guru only heard that Ashvatthāmā was dead.
Prior to this incident, Yudhishthira’s chariot wheels always levitated a few inches above the ground. But after he spoke the first lie of his life, the wheels came down to the ground with a thud.
Droņāchārya was now drowned in sorrow. He saw Dhrishtadyumna approaching him. Bheema too approached Droņāchārya and said to him, “Gurudeva, after spending your life in poverty, you decided to earn a lot of wealth so that your only son Ashvatthāmā could live a life of luxury. Your greed for money made you ignore all the evil actions of Duryodhana. You know that we are fighting for Dharma. Now, you want to kill us and defeat us, so that Duryodhana gives you even more money for your son. But your son is now dead. So, what are you fighting for any longer? For the sake of your son, you have committed several crimes and have killed helpless soldiers in thousands with powerful weapons. But, your son is now dead. There is no one left to inherit your wealth! When will you stop your killing? Ahimsā is the highest Dharma for a Brahmana. But, if Brahmanas like you give up Ahimsā and become cruel, then how will other people learn to practice their Dharma?”
Bheema’s taunts hurt Droņāchārya’s heart. He laid down his weapons and told Duryodhana and others on the Kaurava side that he did not want to live any more. He decided to give up his life through meditation, and sat on the floor of his chariot, remembering Bhagavān. Dhrishtadyumna immediately took advantage of this opportunity and rushed to behead him. As Droņāchārya’s headless body fell dead, a light emerged from it and went up to the heavens.
When not to speak the Truth, or Break one’s Vows?
On the 17th day of the war, Yudhishthira got upset with Arjuna and insulted the latter’s bow. He said angrily, “Of what use is your Gānḍīva bow, if you cannot kill Karṇa?”
Now, Arjuna had vowed that he would kill anyone, who criticizes his Gānḍīva bow. He rushed towards Yudhishthira with his sword to kill him. But, Krishna stopped him forcibly and said, “Do not behave like a fool, Arjuna. Yudhishthira was very tired and therefore got angry. He did not really mean to criticize your bow.” But, Arjuna said, “I took a vow that I will kill anyone, who criticizes my bow. And, now, I must follow my vow.”
Krishna replied, “If your vow leads to anger, greed, ignorance, violence and other evil things, then there is no need to follow it. We should practice our vow only if it leads to happiness and progress. Let me tell you a story to explain my teaching.” Krishna then narrates the following story-
There was a Brahmana named Kaushika, who took a vow of speaking truth at all the times. The Brahmana constructed a hut on the banks of Ganga, and spent all his time praying and practicing meditation. He never spoke a single lie, and became famous as a saint, who always spoke the truth.
One day, a band of bandits came to his home, chasing a group of innocent people, who were trying to escape the bandits and had passed by Kaushika’s home. The bandits said to Kaushika – “You never speak a lie. Therefore, tell us – in which direction have the people we are chasing gone?”
Kaushika knew that if he spoke the truth, the bandits will find the innocent fleeing people, and they will rob and kill them. But, he thought that he must not speak untruth, because he had taken a vow to speak the truth always. Therefore, Kaushika showed the bandits the direction in which the people had gone. As a result, the bandits captured the innocent victims and killed them.
This ‘truthful’ Kaushika was a fool, as one ignorant of Dharma, who misused his vow of always speaking the truth to cause harm to innocent people; and as a result of speaking this ‘truth’, Kaushika went to Hell.
When Arjuna heard the teaching of Krishna on how we should speak the truth, he felt very ashamed. He apologized to Yudhishthira, and then went out with Krishna again to fight Karṇa.
When Rules Can be Broken
On the same day (17th day) of the war, the final battle was being fought between Arjuna, and the new commander of Kaurava army – Karna.
Now, Arjuna vowed that he will definitely kill Karṇa before the battle ends that day. Numerous warriors from both sides gathered to protect Arjuna as well as Karṇa. They both hurled all types of divine weapons on each other. When Arjuna hurled a missile, Karṇa would launch a counter-missile to stop and destroy it. And when Karṇa launched a deadly weapon, Arjuna did the same. The Devas appeared in the sky to see this magnificent battle between the two heroes. Karṇa shot his arrows and broke the bow of Arjuna 11 times. But every time, Arjuna quickly pulled out a new bow from his chariot and started shooting more arrows. Even Karṇa admired how quick Arjuna was in replacing his bows.
Suddenly, Karṇa took aim with the snake-missile on his bow. His charioteer Shalya advised, “Aim it at his chest, not at his neck.” But Karṇa replied proudly, “Do not tell me how to use my weapons.” He launched the missile, which flew in the air with streaks of lightening. Everyone, including the Pāṇdavas got scared that it will definitely kill Arjuna.
To the surprise of everyone however, Bhagavān Krishna immediately pressed the chariot down with so much force that even the horses had to bend their knees. Arjuna too moved down by 5 inches due to this. Karṇa’s missile missed its aim. It did not cut his neck or his head, but only knocked off Arjuna’s crown. Arjuna tied his hair with a white scarf and continued to fight. Karṇa was disappointed that his prized weapon had gone waste. Krishna then raised the chariot to its normal level again with his hands. Arjuna had been very close to death, and became a little nervous.
Suddenly, Karṇa’s chariot got stuck in the mud. Karṇa requested Shalya to get down and free the stuck wheel. But King Shalya refused and said, “I am a King. It is not my job to free anyone’s chariot stuck in the mud.” Karṇa had no choice but to get down himself and get the wheel out of the muddy hole.
The brutal murder of His nephew Abhimanyu flashed in the eyes of Krishna. With tears as well as anger in his eyes, Krishna said to Arjuna, “Arjuna, now is your chance to kill him. The war is almost over and it is certain that Kauravas will die. End the war sooner and save the lives of soldiers, who are still alive. Come on, take aim at his neck and kill Karṇa.”
When Karṇa heard this, he shouted back and said, “You cannot attack a warrior, who is not able to fight. My chariot wheel is stuck. It is against the rules of war to try to kill me at this time.” But Krishna replied, “Evil people talk about rules only when it is convenient for them. Where was your Dharma, when Shakuni was cheating in the game of dice with Yudhishthira? You knew about it and yet you kept quiet. Where was your Dharma when your friends dragged Draupadi to the court and humiliated her? Instead of stopping them, you actually joined them and abused her too. In fact, you asked her to choose another husband! You have always supported Duryodhana in his evil actions against the Pāṇdavas even when they were in the forest. Where was your Dharma when half a dozen warriors attacked Abhimanyu at the same time and killed him? Did you not also join them to kill him? You are the one who came from behind to cut his bow into two pieces. So, do not talk about Dharma now. Those who do not follow the rules cannot expect that others will treat them according to the rules.”
To protect himself, Karṇa decided to hurl the Brahmāstra missile at Arjuna. But, all of a sudden, he was not able to recall the mantras needed for shooting that weapon.
Looking at Arjuna, Krishna commanded, “Do not waste any more time Arjuna. Shoot a deadly arrow at him and kill him before he gets back on the chariot.” Arjuna did as he was told. His arrow stuck Karṇa’s throat and blood gushed out of his neck. For several moments, his body stood erect in that state, and then he fell down.
The Pāṇdava army cheered and celebrated. The Kauravas became very scared, sad and desperate as their last great warrior had died.
Krishna Blesses Karṇa and Reveals His Vishwaroopa to him
As Karṇa lay dying on the ground, Bhagavān Krishna said to Arjuna, “Look at Karṇa carefully, my friend. There has not been and will never be a greater giver of charity than Karṇa.” Krishna then transformed Himself into a Brahmana and approached Karṇa to show the greatness of Karṇa to Arjuna.
The Brahmana said to Karṇa, “King, I am so unlucky that you are dying. While you were alive, you never refused any request for gifts from anyone. Now, who will take care of a poor Brahmana like me?” Karṇa replied, “Do not worry as long as my body has still some life in it. I will break my tooth with a stone. It has a gold crown on it. Sell the gold and feed your family.” But, the Brahmana refused to take it, saying, “This gold is impure, because your blood is on it.”
Karṇa then mustered all his strength one last time, and shot an arrow deep into the earth. The holy water from Ganga started spouting from the ground. Karṇa purified the tooth with that water and the Brahmana accepted it gratefully.”
Krishna was so pleased with the generosity of Karṇa that now He appeared in His true form and blessed Karṇa before he died. According to some traditions, before Karṇa died, he requested Him to perform his cremation with His own hands. Krishna agreed, and therefore Karṇa became the only dead warrior in the war whose cremation was done by none other than Krishna.
Krishna prevents Duryodhana from becoming Invincible
Before and during the war, Duryodhana would ask Gāndhārī to bless him for his victory, because her words always came true. But, she would bless him only with these words, “Where there is Dharma, there is victory (‘Yato Dharmastato Vijaya’).”
Duryodhana knew in his heart that he was fighting on the side of Adharma and therefore, grew worried that his enemies, the Pāṇdavas, will win the war. One day, he had asked Gāndhārī, “Why don’t you say instead, ‘May my sons win this war?’” But Gāndhārī refused to change the words of her blessing.
When she and her husband learned that Duryodhana was their only son alive, he said to her, “He may have done a lot of evil actions. But after all, he is still our son. It is our duty to protect him from all harm.” The Queen’s heart melted and she sent the message to Duryodhana asking him to take a bath and come to her without any clothes on him and she would give him the blessing he desires. Throughout her life, Gāndhārī had prayed to Shiva and had served her husband by keeping herself blind by tying a piece of cloth over her eyes. She had decided to take off her eye covering make the power of her spiritual energy gained over the years through her austerity to fall on the body of Duryodhana, thus making him so strong that no weapon could have hurt him.
Krishna, who knew this, decided to prevent this from happening. When Duryodhana was going to see his mother, Krishna suddenly appeared in front of him and said: “I know she is your mother. But, you are a grown up man. How can you go in front of your mother without any clothing on you? Aren’t you ashamed to do that?”
Duryodhana saw some sense in what Krishna said. He covered his thighs with banana leaves and appeared before Gāndhārī. The Queen took off her blindfold and the powerful rays from her eyes made every part of Duryodhana’s body hard and invincible. But, she was disappointed to see that Duryodhana had put on a covering of leaves on his thighs. She said, “I wish you had not listened to Krishna. Now, you will meet your death if someone breaks your thighs. It is true that no one can change what Krishna has decided to do! If he has willed your death, then I cannot save you.”
Duryodhana realized that Krishna had tricked him. But, it was too late to do anything now. After the fall of Karna, he hid back in the lake. Soon thereafter, Yudhishthira arrived with his brothers and Krishna and called out to Duryodhana. He said, “Do not hide like a coward. Come out and fight us.” Duryodhana replied, “I am not hiding from anyone. I am just cooling my body. I have no interest left in ruling my kingdom, because all of my near and dear ones have died. Therefore, I am gifting my kingdom to you.”
Yudhishthira replied, “You cannot gift something that does not belong to you. You have already lost the war. Do not behave like a coward. We are warriors, and we do not accept any gifts from others. We will take our kingdom back from you after defeating you and killing you.”
Duryodhana was hurt by Yudhishthira’s reply. He came out of the water and said, “I am ready to fight you and defeat all of you. But I am tired and injured. Therefore, I will fight you all one by one.” Yudhishthira replied, “Your entire army has been destroyed. Therefore, I will have mercy on you. I will allow you to choose which one of us you want to fight, and whatever weapon you’d like to use. And if you win, the kingdom is yours.”
Krishna was annoyed when he heard Yudhishthira’s offer of choices to Duryodhana. He said, “Being kind does not mean that you become foolish. We have fought a hard war in the last 18 days. Do you now want to risk all that we have won by your offer to Duryodhana? What if he chooses to fight the weakest of your brothers with a weapon of his own choice? Several years ago, you had gambled away your kingdom. And now, you are treating this war also as a game of dice in which luck is more important than bravery and skill. All these 13 years, Duryodhana has been practicing the art of fighting with the mace. Duryodhana has lost everything and therefore he has nothing more to lose now. He will try his best now to win by taking advantage of the conditions set by you. One should always fear the last surviving traces of an enemy that is totally defeated and has nothing more left to lose. Because, the surviving enemy is very determined to cause as much harm as he can before he dies, just as a surviving spark can re-ignite a forest.”
Luckily, however, Duryodhana did not take unfair advantage of Yudhishthira’s offer. He knew that no one could defeat him in a mace duel, not even Bheema. Therefore, he said, “I choose to fight with my mace. And whichever of you five brothers want to fight with me can step forward.” Bheema stepped forward. At that moment, their Guru Balarāma returned after his 42 day long pilgrimage to see his two best students show their skills at mace-dueling. He suggested that they carry out the duel at the nearby Sāmantapanchaka Lake. This lake was very holy and it was believed that a warrior who died on its banks went to heaven. Therefore, the Pāṇdavas, Duryodhana, Krishna and Balarāma moved from the Dvaipāyana Lake to the Sāmantapanchaka Lake, which was at a very short distance.
The mace duel started and the two warriors started demonstrating their skills and strength. Krishna realized that Bheema could never defeat Duryodhana in a mace-duel. He said to Arjuna, “I am not sure how Bheema will fulfill his vow of breaking the left thigh of Duryodhana.” When Arjuna heard this, he called out Bheema’s name and slapped his left thigh several times. Suddenly, Bheema remembered his vow. He remembered how Duryodhana had humiliated Draupadi and had asked her to sit on his left thigh. In a fit of anger, he hit Duryodhana hard on his left thigh with his mace. When Duryodhana had gone to see Gāndhārī earlier, he had covered his thighs. Her gaze did not fall on his covered thighs and they had remained weak. Therefore, the strike from Bheema’s mace broke his thigh bones.
Duryodhana fell down, writhing in pain. He knew that his end was near. Bheema was so angry that he started pushing Duryodhana’s head with his feet very roughly and kicked Duryodhana’s chest. This angered everyone gathered and Krishna asked Yudhishthira to command Bheema to behave in a civilized manner. When Yudhishthira did not do as Krishna asked, he said, “It is not acceptable to humiliate a fallen enemy. We must never mutilate or torture the bodies of soldiers who are dying or dead, even if they are our enemies. And Duryodhana is in fact your brother and you must never forget this fact.”
Balarāma was so angry with Bheema for having killed Duryodhana with a foul blow that he picked up his ploughshare (his weapon) and rushed to kill Bheema with it. He said, “Duryodhana was my favorite student, but Bheema was my student as well. I did not teach either of them to fight using the wrong tactics.” Krishna immediately leaped forward and stopped Balarāma forcibly. He tried to calm Balarāma with these words, “Brother, Duryodhana had slapped his left thigh to insult Draupadi and the Pāṇdavas in front of everyone. Was that civilized behavior? You never showed your anger towards your favorite student after that. Bheema had taken a vow to break Duryodhana’s thighs for this insult to Draupadi. Rishi Maitreya had also cursed Duryodhana that he will die by a blow to his thighs. The words of Rishis must come true. And how can you forget that he had tried to kill the Pāṇdavas using wrong means several times, and that he snatched their kingdom with the help of his crooked Uncle Shakuni? In fact, it was Duryodhana, who is responsible for millions of deaths in the war. Those who live by the laws of the jungle finally die by the laws of the jungle.”
Balarāma did not agree with what Krishna said, but he had no answer to Krishna’s arguments. Therefore, Balarāma just mounted his chariot and left for Dwārakā. Krishna also expressed his unhappiness to Yudhishthira that Bheema had insulted Duryodhana by jumping on his body and pushing around his head with his foot.
Duryodhana’s anger at Krishna and the Pāṇdavas
Duryodhana was now dying and he let out his anger at Krishna for leading the Pāṇdavas to victory. He said, “Krishna, the Pāṇdavas have won this war not because they were better warriors, but because of your ugly tricks. You killed Bheeshma, Jayadratha, Droņāchārya, Karṇa and many others, who fought for me using dirty tricks and by breaking the rules of the war. And now, you are the one who hinted to Arjuna to slap his thighs. It was only after seeing Arjuna’s action that Bheema made this unfair blow with his mace and broke my thighs. I have absolutely no respect for you.”
Krishna replied, “When evil people like you get the punishment of their own bad actions, they still do not accept that it was their own mistakes, which brought their downfall. You tried to poison Bheema and had him thrown into the river. Then, you tried to burn them and even your Aunt Kunti alive in the palace made of flammable materials. After that, you cheated them out of their kingdom with the help of your crooked Uncle Shakuni. And worst, you insulted Draupadi in front of many people. Your evil actions did not end even there. You tried to kill the Pāṇdavas in the forest, but was stopped by Rishi Veda Vyāsa. Then, you tried to humiliate them in the Dvaitavana Lake. But, even then, Yudhishthira freed you from the captivity of Chitrasena. Then, you deliberately sent Rishi Durvāsā to the Pāṇdavas so that he curses them. Your brother in law Jayadratha once again tried to insult Draupadi and kidnapped her. He lost his life because of this crime. The Pāṇdavas fulfilled all their conditions of exile, but you refused to return their kingdom to them. It is because of your greed and jealousy that this war happened. You used foul means to win King Shalya over to your side. And even in the war, it was you and your supporters, who first broke the rules. Abhimanyu was killed in the most unfair manner. All these and many other bad Karma committed by you have today put you in the condition that you are. So, take responsibility for what you have done instead of blaming others for your problems. And stop defending your friends like Karṇa, who supported you in every evil action. He too died because of his own evil deeds. And Droṇa and Bheeshma died because of you. Had you returned the kingdom of the Pāṇdavas, or had they refused to fight for you, they would be living today. You are a wicked man, and it is for this reason that you have met your death in this battlefield.”
But, Duryodhana simply refused to acknowledge his faults. Even on his deathbed, he was unrepentant and full of selfish pride. As the Pāṇdavas were leaving with Krishna, he shouted back, “All my life, I have lived with my head held high. Whenever my enemies have opposed me, I have crushed their heads. I gave charity to everyone in my kingdom. I ruled my kingdom well. I fought bravely and never fled from my enemies. Now, I am dying the death of a brave warrior. For my sake, all these millions died in the war fighting on my side. And now when I die, I will go straight to heaven. And what will you get? Just a kingdom in which there are hardly any people left, because most have been killed in the war, a kingdom full of little orphan kids and crying widows. There is no wealth left. Your own family members and friends are dead, whereas I will meet mine in heaven. I am dying with pride, but you will live in shame and in sorrow for the rest of your lives. So tell me, whose life was better? Your life or mine? Obviously, I have lived a better life than you. And now I am dying a better death than you will.”
Krishna advised the Pāṇdavas to keep quiet and leave Duryodhana alone, because he was dying and there was no purpose in arguing with him and hurting him more. But, some of the things that Duryodhana had said were true indeed. Therefore, they stood by the Sāmantapanchaka Lake with their heads bowed in shame. Krishna said to them, “There are times when evil forces become very powerful. It then becomes impossible to defeat them using fair means. In the past, even the Devatās have used cunning means to defeat the evil Asuras. We were fighting for Dharma and our enemy was more powerful than us. Therefore, we had no option, but to break the rules after they had started to do so.” The Pāṇdavas agreed to what Krishna said, and they left that place cheerfully.
Krishna as the Savior of the Pāṇdavas
According to the rules of the war, the Pāṇdavas and Krishna went to the tents of the Kaurava army to spend the night there and take possession of the Kaurava treasury. This meant to show the world that the Pāṇdavas now face no danger from the Kaurava army and could even sleep without any fear in the Kaurava camp.
When the chariot of Arjuna reached the Kaurava camp, Krishna asked Arjuna to take his bow and other weapons, get off from the chariot and walk away to some distance. When Arjuna did this, Hanuman immediately flew off from the flag of the chariot and disappeared. Then, Krishna got off and walked towards Arjuna. Immediately, the chariot burst into flames and exploded as the Pāṇdavas looked in shock!
Yudhishthira asked Krishna as to why this happened. Krishna explained, “During the war, the chariot was hit by many missiles and it should have exploded several days ago. But, my presence kept it intact. Now the war is over, and we do not need it anymore. Therefore, I have allowed it to get destroyed.” Yudhishthira then bowed to Krishna with respect and said, “We owe our victory to you Krishna. If you had not been there to look after us, we would have lost our lives a long time ago.”
Think of the numerous times that you were in great danger but escaped unharmed. It was Bhagavān who was watching over you and protecting you. We take many things in our life for granted, or say that it was our ‘good luck.’ But in reality, it is Bhagavān who saves us or leaves us.
Krishna saves the Dynasty of the Pandavas
To take revenge for the killing of his father Dronacharya, Ashvatthāmā stealthily crept into the camp of the Pandavas at night, when their warriors were sleeping. In the darkness, he killed all the five sons of Draupadi, and many other relatives of the Pandavas. When all this happened, the Pāṇdavas were away in the Kaurava camp. Next morning, when they learned about the death of the five sons of Draupadi, they all broke down with grief. Draupadi said, “I can never forgive Ashvatthāmā for killing all of my sons. I want him to be punished. Ashvatthāmā is protected by a gem given to him by his father Droņāchārya. This gem protects him from all harm. I would like that gem to be taken from him, and given to my husband, King Yudhishthira.”
The Pāṇdavas searched for Ashvatthāmā and found him hiding in the Āshrama of Rishi Veda Vyāsa. Seeing Arjuna, Ashvatthāmā launched the deadliest of weapons – the Brahmashiras. To counter his weapon, Arjuna too launched his own Brahmashiras. The two weapons moved towards each other, with blazing heat and threatened to destroy the entire country, if they collided with each other.
Veda Vyāsa and Rishi Nārada stood between the two weapons approaching each other and stopped them with their spiritual powers. They appealed to Arjuna as well as Ashvatthāmā to withdraw them. Arjuna withdrew his, but Ashvatthāmā said that he does not know how to withdraw his Brahmashiras missile. His father Droņāchārya had taught the secret of withdrawing the weapon only to his favorite student Arjuna. However, Ashvatthāmā had the knowledge to deflect it in the direction of Pāṇdava women and kill their unborn children.
And that is what he did. Uttarā, the wife of Abhimanyu was pregnant, and the effect of the weapon of Ashvatthāmā caused the unborn child to die. Krishna was furious that Ashvatthāmā should have killed an innocent and unborn child, and he promised to the Pāṇdavas that he would bring the dead baby back to life, once it was born.
As a punishment to Ashvatthāmā, Krishna took his gem and gave it to Draupadi, who later gave it to Yudhishthira, so that he could place it in his crown. Krishna also cursed Ashvatthāmā that he would get numerous painful diseases, but he will not die. Instead, He said, Ashvatthāmā will live for 3000 years and suffer from pain because of his evil act of killing an unborn child. Krishna said, “While you go around from one place to another, people will look at you in disgust for your despicable act, and will take pity on you.” This was the only time that Krishna had cursed someone.
Krishna saves Bheema from the anger of King Dhritarāshtra
When Dhritarāshtra learned about the death of his dearest son Duryodhana, he became very upset. He blamed himself for not controlling his son, but said, “I must have done something wrong in my previous life, or perhaps it was just bad luck.” Sanjaya and Vidura scolded Dhritarāshtra and said, “Don’t blame your luck or your previous lives for the destruction of the war. It was completely your fault, because you refused to put sense in Duryodhana’s mind. You knew that your son was wrong, but you did not stop him.”
Dhritarāshtra and Gāndhārī, then, left the palace and started leaving Hastināpura in their chariots towards the battlefield. When the Pāṇdavas learned this, they too left for the battlefield to meet them. All along the way, they met widows and older men crying over the bodies of their dead fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. They all blamed the royal family for their misery. They criticized Yudhishthira for the cruel war, which killed millions of soldiers and his own family members.
The Pāṇdavas respectfully bowed to the old couple, who silently accepted their respects. But, in his heart, Dhritarāshtra was still full of hatred for Bheema, because Bheema had killed his favorite son Duryodhana by unfair means. When Bheema came forward to greet Dhritarāshtra, the latter indicated that he wanted to embrace Bheema.
But, Krishna, who had read the mind of Dhritarāshtra, immediately placed an iron statue of Bheema in his embrace. Duryodhana had used this statue to motivate himself during his mace-fight practices. Knowing what Dhritarāshtra was planning to do to Bheema, Krishna had brought the statue with him from Hastināpura. Thinking of the statue to be Bheema, and full of anger and hatred for Bheema, Dhritarāshtra crushed the statue with his powerful might. As King Dhritarāshtra had applied a lot of force, he coughed blood. Then, he broke down crying saying, “O Bheema, I could not forgive you and had to kill you.”
Due to Krishna, the life of Bheema was saved. Krishna then scolded Dhritarāshtra and said, “Why do you blame Bheema for your son’s death? Don’t you remember, how Duryodhana had humiliated Draupadi in front of the entire royal court? Don’t you remember, how Duryodhana cheated the Pāṇdavas out of their kingdom, and did not let them live peacefully even in the forest? Duryodhana made several attempts to kill the Pāṇdavas for no fault of theirs. Therefore, Duryodhana deserved his death.”
When Dhritarāshtra heard these words of Krishna, he admitted, “You are correct. I was blinded by my love for Duryodhana. I now promise to give up my anger and hatred towards the Pāṇdavas.”
Krishna then told Dhritarāshtra that he had only crushed a statue of Bheema, and not Bheema himself. Dhritarāshtra thanked Krishna for this, and then embraced King Yudhishthira and his other brothers lovingly.
Krishna Accepts the Curse of Gāndhārī, the mother of the Kauravas
Then, the Pāṇdava brothers and Krishna went to see Queen Gāndhārī. Rishi Veda Vyāsa feared that she might curse the Pandavas. Therefore, he immediately appeared in front of her and reminded her of her own blessing to Duryodhana, “Did you not bless him saying ‘Victory is where Dharma is?’ Those very blessings have come true, because Yudhishthira and his brothers were on the side of Dharma. And do not forget that the Pāṇdavas are also like your own children.”
Then, she turned to Krishna and cursed Him, “Krishna, they say that you are an Avatāra of Bhagavān Vishnu. Then, why did you not stop this horrible war? Don’t you think you are responsible for this destruction in Bhārata? Your mother Devakī lost 8 children, and I have lost a 100. She alone can understand the pain in my heart. Therefore, I curse you, that 36 years from now, all of your own Yādava people will kill each other. I curse you, that you will also see them die in front of your eyes, and will be left alone, just as I and my husband have been left alone! And, you too will face death when you are alone, and there is no one beside you.”
Krishna merely bowed His head and said, “Aunt, the fact is that you did not try enough to restrain your son. But, nevertheless, I will accept your curse with grace. My clansmen, the Vrishnis, are predicted to become very evil and very powerful. No one, but I could have killed them to save the people of this earth from their atrocities. Now, your curse has freed me from this responsibility. The Vrishnis will kill themselves, due to your curse. But I have one thing to beg of you. If you wish, please curse me as much as you wish. But please forgive the Pāṇdavas and do not curse them, because they have already suffered a lot in their lives.”
Even though Krishna could have chosen to make the curse of Gāndhārī not work at all, he accepted the curse of a grieving mother with a smile and with respect. The dead were then cremated on the banks of the Ganga with the ceremonies described in the Vedas.
Krishna brings back the infant Pareekshit to Life
Krishna returned to Hastināpura sometime before the Ashvamedha Yajna, because Uttarā, the wife of Abhimanyu, was due to give birth to the only surviving descendant of the Pāṇdavas. Soon after the child was born, the women inside the birth-chamber started crying, because the child was born dead.
Kunti rushed out with tears and urged Krishna to fulfill his promise that He will save the child from the effects of Ashvatthāmā’s Brahmashiras weapon. Krishna rushed into the birth chamber and took the child in his arms lovingly and said, “If I have always followed the path of truth in my life, then may this child come back to life. May the fruit of all my good Karma get transferred to this baby.”
A miracle happened. The room was filled with white light. The child came alive and he started crying. The baby was named ‘Pareekshit’ and he inherited the throne of Hastināpura, 36 years later after the Pāṇdavas retired.
Krishna explains the Harms of Excessive Charity to King Yudhishthira
During the ceremony, King Yudhishthira gave a lot of money by way of charity to the Brahmanas, and all other members of his society. Every day while the ceremony was on, thousands of people came to eat in the feast organized by him for free.
Yudhishthira said to Krishna, “See, so many people are benefitting from my generosity.” Krishna realized that Yudhishthira was becoming a little proud of his good actions of donating money and food. So, he said – “King, I praise your good actions. But, I want you to meet someone, who is even greater than you.” Now, Yudhishthira was really eager to meet someone, who according to Krishna was even more generous than he himself was! So, they went below the surface of the earth, where King Bali was meditating.
When King Bali finished his meditation, he noticed the arrival of his guests and bowed to Krishna, asking him to introduce the other guest to him. Krishna said – “King Bali, this is King Yudhishthira of Hastināpura. He is a very generous king, who feeds thousands of Brahmanas, soldiers, farmers and others, every day.”
Upon hearing this, King Bali suddenly looked horrified and he said – “Forgive me Bhagavān, but I do not want to hear any praise of King Yudhishthira. I do not think he is doing a good deed by distributing money for free and giving food to thousands of people every day without any reason. If even the learned and the wise Brahmanas in his kingdom become dependent on him for free food, then I am scared to think of the condition of other sections of his society. They too will become lazy. I also wonder whether there are a lot of people in his kingdom, who are poor, because all of them seem to need charity from the King. If his people were all well-off, then why would they come to eat free food at his palace?”
Lord Krishna smiled, because King Yudhishthira had learned his lesson. He said to King Yudhishthira – “One gives medicine to a person, only when he is sick. Likewise, money and food should be given only to the poor, not to the rich. We should certainly help those, who are sick and poor. But, we should not just give food and money to people for free all the time, because then they will become lazy and will stop working. Everyone must earn their own bread, instead of expecting free money or food without putting in any effort.”
Queen Kunti meets Krishna for the last time
Krishna spent a few days with his friend Arjuna and then departed towards Dwaraka. Queen Kunti knew that this would be the last time that she would be seeing her beloved nephew, Krishna, who was the Lord of the Universe. She became very sad and said, “Now that our bad times are gone and I am scared that you will never see us again. In the past, we had to face one difficulty after another. But, every time when we were in trouble, you appeared immediately to help us. May we keep facing all kinds of difficulties in our life in future too, so that I am forced to remember you every moment, and you are forced to appear in front of us to take away our sorrows! What is the use of that happiness, which makes us forget our Bhagavān!” Krishna was moved by the devotion of Kunti.
Krishna returns to Vaikuntha, the Abode of Bhagavān Vishnu
Krishna, then, returned to Dwaraka for good. There, he found that his people, the Yādavas, had become very rich, and had gotten into the habit of taking alcoholic drinks. They would get so intoxicated that they had no sense of what was right and what was wrong. Street fights became common. Drunken young men would abuse women and Rishis and even kill each other. In one of these fights, even a son of Krishna got killed.
Krishna and Balarāma decided that their time on this earth was now over. Balarāma went to the seacoast and went into deep meditation. His soul left his body and returned to heaven. Krishna wore his yellow clothes and went to a forest close to Dwaraka. As he sat under a tree, a hunter mistook his ankle for the mouth of a deer and shot an arrow. The arrow hit Krishna. When the hunter realized his mistake, he rushed and apologized to Krishna, who immediately forgave him.
Uddhava, the friend and cousin of Krishna rushed to the site, when he heard about this incident. He said, “Bhagavān, before You leave us, please give me some good teachings.”
Krishna said, “Uddhava, learn good things from everyone, whether it is a bee or an ant. Associate with good people. Avoid the company of bad people. Respect everyone, whether poor or rich, of your own country or a foreigner, one born in a great family or in a humble family. See Bhagavān inside everyone. Whatever you do, offer it to Me, thinking, “I am doing this good act to please Krishna.” Practice meditation. Do not hate people just because they are different from you. In fact, you should try to see what is common between you and others. Try to be a vegetarian. Spread My teachings to everyone. Remember Me at all times in your heart. Try to learn more and more about Bhagavān. Do not get addicted to the pleasures of this world. Be patient. Remember, that I am always present with you, in your own heart.”
This last message of Krishna to Uddhava is recorded in a holy book called ‘Uddhava Gita’, which is a part of the Shrimad Bhāgavatam.
Soon after that, Krishna’s soul left his body and went back to Vaikuntha.
Through this incident, Bhagavān wanted us to learn that no one’s body is eternal, only our soul is eternal. With a portion of His power, Bhagavān Vishnu had taken on the body of Krishna to destroy the evil doers on earth, and when the purpose of His form as Krishna was over, He discarded that body and returned to Vaikuntha. But, even today, if we worship Bhagavān as Krishna, he will appear to us in that form out of compassion and love for us.