Krishna then asked him to kill Sakuni first, since he was the root cause of this fight between the brothers. Arjuna refused; being all knowing, he, Krishna, was very well aware that Sakuni was the benefactor of the Pandavas and was actually trying to eliminate the Kauravas. Besides, Sakuni was no ordinary person; he was greatly knowledgeable; he knew the past and the future. Therefore he could not kill him either. He must then kill Duryodhana, Krishna said, but Arjuna said that he would not kill his elder brother. Whosoever he could see in the battlefield was related to him, he told Krishna; therefore he was not interested in reclaiming their kingdom at the cost of his relatives. They were quite happy living in the forest, and he would prefer going back there to killing his relatives. He implored him not to force a fight on him.
Krishna was stunned, and wondered what to do to persuade him to overcome his hesitation and get engaged in the battle. However he didn’t tell him a word. He surely might have thought that in the ultimate analysis it wasn’t his problem. The Pandavas must decide; they were the kartaa (roughly “agent”); the war would be their karma. He drove the chariot to Yudhisthira, the head of the Pandava family, and informed him about his brother’s unwillingness to fight.
The profoundly humane person and the great romantic that he was, Yudhisthira told him that Arjuna was right, and that he himself had hesitations to fight his brothers. Bhima was impatient with all this, recalled the humiliation, and injustice that Duryodhana had meted out to them on numerous occasions, and asked Krishna’s permission so that he could start the war and kill Bhishma, Drona and the rest, if Yudhisthira and Arjuna were unwilling to do so. Krishna readily asked him to attack Dussasana. And as Bhima readied himself, Yudhisthira stopped him. He would like to make one last effort, he told them; he would go to Duryodhana in the battlefield itself, and ask him once again for just five villages in one last attempt at avoiding the war. Krishna was skeptical about the outcome.
He got off from his chariot and walked barefoot to the Kaurava side, ignoring the warnings of his worried brothers that it could be dangerous. He went to Bhishma, Bhurishrava, Salya, Drona, Aswasthama, and Krupacharya, and received blessings for victory from each of them. To each he asked how his blessing would materialize, when he was unconquerable in war. To this, each except Aswasthama told him how the war would progress and how he would die. For instance, Bhishma told him that on the tenth day of the war, Yudhisthira should keep Sikhandi in the front, seeing whom, he would give up weapons. Aswasthama told Yudhisthira that the Kaurava army would be defeated since Krishna was on their side. He couldn’t tell the secret of his death, as had done the others, because there was no such secret for him to tell – everyone knew he was immortal. So his blessings would not materialize in terms of his death, but of the death of the Kauravas.
Yudhisthira then went to Karna, and implored him to join the Pandavas. Being their elder brother, he was like their father. He told him that he would be the king and that the Pandavas would serve him. If he stayed with the Kauravas, he would face disaster. Karna blessed him for victory over the enemy, for prosperity and long life, but expressed his inability to abandon Duryodhana, as that would be adharma for him. In desperation, Yudhisthira looked up to the sky and declared as though to the celestials above that he would not be responsible for his elder brother who had abandoned both his own brothers and dharma.
Interestingly, Yudhisthira did not ask Karna about the secret of his defeat and death. Why didn’t he do so? Why this asymmetry? If Karna was father-like, so was Bhishma, so was guru Drona. Yudhisthira had persisted with his grandfather for a clue to his defeat. Was it because he didn’t consider Karna as great a barrier to his aspirations as Bhishma? After all, the grandfather had defeated the great Parasuram. Besides, death could not come to him except with his consent; he enjoyed this protection from the boon of ichchaa mrutyu (“death only when wished for”). Or was it because, for Yudhisthira, the relationship caused by the sharing of the same womb was far deeper than any other?
Yudhisthira went to Duryodhana, who was with Dhritarashtra, and his minister Sakuni. Yudhisthira paid due respects to his uncle and received his blessings for the fulfillment of his desires. There he repeatedly implored Duryodhana to give him just five villages, even of the latter’s choice, or to give him just one village, if giving five or three or two villages was unacceptable to him. But he refused, saying that let alone a village, he would not give him even as much land as the sharp end of a needle would measure, without a fight.
Then Yudhisthira called upon the Kaurava warriors and announced that anyone among them who wished to live and not perish in the war, and who wished to support dharma, should change side and come under his protection. One of the Kaurava princes, Durdasa, responded to the call and along with his army, proceeded to join Yudhisthira, who blessed him for a long life.
Now Durdasa’s conduct upset the Kaurava brothers and they attacked him. Duryodhana ordered his army to attack Yudhisthira, and thus the Kurukshetra war started. Unarmed and defenceless in the enemy territory, Yudhisthira regretted his decision to come to the Kaurava side, ignoring the advice of his brothers. As Durdasa fought valiantly, Yudhisthira prayed to goddess Mangala for protection. Directed by Krishna to protect Yudhisthira, Bhima engaged in the fight and when he fought his way to reach his brother, he found Yudhisthira on Durdasa’s chariot, and Durdasa fighting heroically against the Kaurava army.
Krishna had learnt in the meantime from Hanuman, manifest on the top of Arjuna’s chariot, that Yudhisthira had been surrounded by the Kaurava forces, and he promptly told Arjuna about it. Arjuna was very upset. He implored Krishna to drive him to Yudhisthira, as he apprehended that his brother might be taken prisoner by the enemy. Why should he be anxious, Krishna taunted him, weren’t the Kauravas Yudhisthira’s brothers, he said. Now Arjuna, really worried, asked Krishna not to taunt him and take him to his brother. He said he was ready to join the war.
One might consider it a surprise that Arjuna so quickly got over his hesitations. One might think that his hesitations were rather superficial, and merely sentimental. But perhaps one must rethink it. The change in his attitude was caused by the dynamics of the war. Once the fighting started, the very rawness of it drowned all delicate thoughts and feelings in him, and brought to the surface feelings of fear, anxiety and apprehension for his eldest brother. Yudhisthira was in danger, and at that moment, there was no place for anything in his mind except his brother’s safety.