Duryodhana fell when Bhima hit his thigh hard, and then he tore his wounded enemy him up to his navel. As blood gushed out, Bhima made a tikaa (“ritual mark”) with it on his forehead. Then with his left foot he crushed his victim’s regal crown studded with precious gems. Still wild with anger and hatred, as he proceeded to mutilate his body the way he had done earlier to Dussasana’s, Yudhisthira held him in tight embrace and stopped him. Bhima told him that he should not stand on his way; for all he had done to them, Duryodhana deserved no mercy or consideration. The eldest Pandava told him that all was over now with his defeat, and that he should therefore refrain from hurting him any further or humiliating him any more.

Tears flowing from his eyes, Yudhisthira went to his cousin. He held him on his arms, and regretted that blinded by his arrogance, Duryodhana had wasted away his prosperity and brought so much destruction to his own people. He told him that he had actually given him everything because he did not want to see this day: baabu kaalaka samprandhi dilain munhi tote / tohara abasthaa re na dekhibaara nimante (“My dear, I gave you so much prosperity / So that I do not see you suffer”) (Gadaa Parva: 94: 109). With his brothers, he had left the kingdom, and undergone so much suffering in exile, but still Duryodhana had shown no consideration or pity for them. Like an affectionate elder who has punished his errant younger brother for his misdeeds and is himself distressed at the pain the punishment has brought him, he asked him how he could be so unwise as to fight with people whose prowess he had himself seen many times. He surely knew that Arjuna had defeated Bhagawan Shiva himself and had received extremely destructive divine weapons from him. He also surely knew that Arjuna had defeated Hanuman himself. Yudhisthira went on telling him of the great successes of Arjuna and of the mighty Bhima. He then told him that with a person like Sahadeva on his side as his minister, who had the knowledge of the past and of the secrets of everyone’s death, Duryodhana was in a very vulnerable position. And finally with Narayana on the Pandavas’ side, how could he, Duryodhana, ever think that he was going to win the war, he asked him. He then reminded him of the efforts he had made to avoid the war, but of how Duryodhana had thwarted them all – how at Sakuni’s behest he had mocked at the family priest Dhoumya, and how out of sheer stupidity and wickedness he had not only insulted Krishna but also tried to kill him. He reminded him how he had pleaded with him for just one village, and how he had denied him even that and had insisted on war.

Then he said something which was surely unexpected – here one has yet another example of the difference between Saaralaa Mahaabhaarata and Vyasa’s Mahabharata. He said that he would now give him the kingdom of Hastinapur and retire to the forest with his brothers. Bhima mocked at the idea – the idea of a blind father and his lame son ruling over the kingdom. Yudhisthira found nothing odd in the arrangement; after all, wasn’t this that his father Pandu had done? Hadn’t he given his kingdom to his blind brother Dhritarashtra? How was the shameless Duryodhana still alive after listening to these words, Bhima said to Krishna in the former’s hearing? Bhima was right, said Duryodhana. Soon they all left the battlefield as Krishna reminded them about their mother Kunti’s waiting for the news of Duryodhana’s conclusive defeat and death. She might kill herself if the news did not reach him by the end of the day, he told them.

Yudhisthira’s agonized words ring absolutely sincere. He was an authentic person. He valued his relationship with his cousin Duryodhana despite the ill will he bore against him, and despite the hurt he had caused him many times. He was not unaware of the rich resources of power that he controlled, but he was totally disinclined to use the same against his cousin either for revenge or for claiming his due. Probably this is what he meant when he said that he had given him so much prosperity because he did not want to see him perish. He had forced his unwilling brothers Bhima and Arjuna to get Duryodhana released from the captivity of his enemies on an occasion or two. He was reluctant to go to war with Duryodhana, but was almost tricked into it by Krishna. In order to avoid war, what he had asked for was just one village in case Duryodhana was unwilling to give him five, but he didn’t ask for some specific village. Advised by Sahadeva, Krishna asked for five particular villages, which simply could not be given, making the war inevitable. He succeeded in creating the impression that it was Duryodhana who was responsible for the war. Yudhisthira had no knowledge that he had been betrayed by his mother, his wife, his brothers except Arjuna, and his emissary Krishna on whom he had absolute trust.

But what could one make of Yudhishthira’s statement about handing over the kingdom to Duryodhana? It couldn’t be anything more than a statement of his sincere intention, for at that time he was not in a position to implement it. Leave alone that the vanquished would not have accepted the offer, no one would have allowed him to do so – neither his brothers nor Krishna nor his mother. He surely knew that. That might have been why he did not even raise the issue again. Later of course he declared his unwillingness to assume the kingship of Hastinapur and his intention to retire to the forest alone – “alone” because he must have figured out that at that time that his brothers were not with him on that matter. He was dissuaded from such a step by his brothers and his well wishers including the great sage and family elder Vyasa.

However, by making that statement Yudhisthira, at one stroke, rejected the approach that when people take positions that are or eventually become irreconcilable, then war provides the only possible resolution. Duryodhana was unwilling to share his kingdom with the Pandavas because with the exception of Sahadeva, the Pandavas, in his view, born of gods such as Dharma, Pavana, Indra, etc., were not the legitimate members of the Kuru family. As such they had no right to the throne. Incidentally, in Saaralaa Mahaabhaarata, the brothers were called Pandavas not because they were sons of Pandu, but because they had killed a demon called Pandabasura. Sahadeva alone was Pandu’s son. He had died soon after his birth, and was restored to life by the gods Ashwini Kumaras. The Kauravas recognized Sahadeva’s rights, and were not unwilling to give him his share of the kingdom. However the Kaurava elders such as Bhishma, and Bidura, etc. did not share Duryodhana’s position, and neither did even his parents, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari. The Pandavas were already rulers of Indraprastha, which was part of Hastinapur earlier, when they lost their kingdom to Duryodhana in the game of dice. For Duryodhana it was righting a wrong – regaining something that had wrongly gone to the Pandavas – whereas for the Pandavas it was losing their kingdom through deceit, and they naturally wanted it back. However, by wishing to return the kingdom to the Kauravas (to Duryodhana, but effectively to Dhritarashtra), Yudhisthira had most emphatically declared the futility of war. If nothing else, Yudhisthira’s words served just this one purpose.

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