In Sarala Mahabharata there is no character other than Jara, who is anywhere as childlike and endearing and as innocent and pure as Lakshmana Kumara. For the last ten years, ever since I read his story, he has often been in my thought. In my quiet moments I have felt hurt on his account, have grieved for him.
Lakshmana Kumara was Duryodhana’s son. He had fought with his father in the Great War of Kurukshetra for seventeen days. All of Duryodhana’s brothers had been killed by then, as were all the greatest among the great maharathisor great warriors in the Kaurava’s army. Only Duryodhana was alive. The sun had set long back and it was already very dark but the fight was going on, which was against the war code. The Pandavas had started smelling victory; at that point of time they had no patience to obey the code and wait for another sunrise. They wanted to end the war that night itself. Besides who would implement the code – the virtuous men, Bhishma, Drona and Karna, who could have done so, were no more in the battlefield.
The father Duryodhana wanted his son to flee the battlefield and save his life. At that point of time, in his eyes, his son’s life was important; his son’s kshatra dharma (the duty of the kshatriya) was not. He himself would perform his kshatra dharma. The one who never forgave Ashwasthama for valuing life and fearing death, which he said wasn’t right for one who had chosen to fight on the battlefield like a kshatriya, wanted that night his son to live and not perish in the battlefield. He commanded his reluctant son to flee the battlefield under the cover of darkness. He obeyed his father. As he was trying to escape, he got caught in a fierce engagement where in the deep darkness it was unclear who was the friend and who the enemy and who was killing who, and got killed – by who, neither he nor anyone else knew.
His father did not know that his son had died. He had no way to know. He had lost control over what was happening in the battlefield. He had hidden himself, looking for an opportunity to escape from the battlefield for some rest and rejuvenation. When the tired soldiers became too weak to fight and the silence of death reigned in the dark battlefield, Duryodhana emerged. He saw a river of blood in front of him, which he knew he had to cross to escape. Many bodies came floating but the one which safely ferried him across the river turned out to be the body of Lakshmana Kumar. “Duryodhana’s Crossing the River of Blood” in this blog tells that heart-rending story. I do not have the courage to tell it again. In life and in death the young warrior served his father as no son in Sarala’s narrative had done for his.
This is the end of Lakshmana Kumara’s story. What is the beginning then? For me, it is when he met Krishna. That is in Udyoga Parva of Sarala Mahabharata. Along with his divine spouse, goddess Lakshmi, who had deserted king Duryodhana at his bidding, Krishna was returning from the Kaurava court where he had gone as Yudhisthira’s emissary. He felt someone was coming, so he turned back and saw Lakshmana Kumara running towards him. He was panting. Krishna stopped. What is it, he asked him. Listen Janardana, said the young man, in the Mahabharata War brothers will kill brothers. Bhima will kill all. O Chakrapani (The One with Sudarshana chakra), give them place in Vaikuntha (the permanent divine abode of Vishnu (whose avatara is Krishna)). This is what my mother has asked me to seek from you. As tears were streaming down from his pleading eyes, he prostrated at his feet.
I am very pleased with you. I will grant you a boon, said the avatara. Tell me what you want. Would you really give me what I seek from you?, said the young prince. Trust me, said the giver of moksa, my words will not go in vain. Ask whatever you want. I will grant you anything. If you really want to fulfil my wish, said the young prince, then grant me this, O Narayana: may my head be severed by your Sudarshana chakra! He knew what he was asking for. He knew the way to moksa, to eternal freedom from the karmic cycle. He knew that moksa could come from grace alone – grace of Narayana.
I wanted to give you a different boon, Babu (an affectionate term for someone very young), said Krishna. I wanted you to live and continue the Kaurava lineage, I wanted to give you your share of the kingdom after the war. His wise and virtuous mother, Bhanumati, had realized the true worth, the true meaning of things, she knew who to ask for the most exalted of all states – moksa. She had taught her child well.
I have no desire for those things, Sridhara (another name of Narayana); may your chakra fall on my neck! That’s all I ask of you. So be it, said the lord of all the worlds, and blew his divine conk, Panchayanya. Never forget your word to me, Lakshana Kumara told Krishna and returned home, full of divine contentment.
The prince, who had complete faith in Krishna, did not die the way promised him by the Complete Avatara himself. He, who had assured him that his word would never go in vain, allowed it to go in vain. As a reader of Sarala’s narrative, I grieve for the young and trusting prince and feel terribly let down by both Krishna and the poet. The great narrative does not return to Lakshmana Kumara after his father, inconsolable in grief, gave him a burial on the other side of the river of blood. Bhagawan Krishna never said why he did not honour his own words given to a bhakta, to an innocent, trusting child. In Sarala Mahabharata, Krishna never explained himself. Fair enough, from one point of view, perhaps: explaining oneself is essentially justifying oneself. Man would never be satisfied with God’s justifications. Cosmic purpose is beyond the understanding of the mortals. Let alone humans, Narayana’s lila is beyond the comprehension of the greatest of the gods and the greatest of the sages.
True, but still I do not feel reconciled. Not at all. Narayana chose to descend to the mortal world. Krishna lived among the mortals, lived like other mortals in many ways. So the mortals would expect him to be intelligible to them, to explain his ways to them. He surely knows that humans cannot feel at ease in a universe they cannot comprehend and would give things meanings from their own limited capacity. If not from the avatara, who lives with them as one of them, from where would the mortals expect clarity from?
Note: Rethinking about the avatara’s not keeping his word to his bhakta
more than two years after posting this piece:
All said, who knows about the doings of the avatara! May be he kept his word! Only the world didn’t know! In Sarala’s version, Duryodhana was felled by Bhagawan Vishnu’s mace, Kaumudi, not Bhima’s mace. Bhima didn’t know; no one did. Who killed Dussasana? Was it really Bhima who tore him apart? When Bhima challenged even Krishna to save Dussasana from him, Arjuna told Krishna that he was bound by his promise to self not to allow insult to Krishna go unpunished. He was going to kill that despicable sinner, he told him, let Dussasana escape, he said. Krishna took away from him his bow and the unfailing divine arrow pasupata he had chosen to use, and held him tight. “Look at Bhima”, he told him and what Arjuna saw was the terrible form of Bhagawan Nrisingha himself. Sarala’s suggestion is clear: what the world sees is only an illusion. The truth is something else! We can say that in the spirit of Sarala Mahabharata, Krishna did not forget his word to his bhakta Lakshmana Kumara. It is just that the Supreme Doer did not bless the mortals to understand His leela.