Ten years ago I read Durdasa’s story in Sarala Mahabharata and for ten long years he has been in my thoughts. In the battlefield of Kurukshetra, responding to Yudhisthira’s call to join him and fight for dharma, he chose to abandon his Kaurava brothers and join the Pandavas. When the angry Duryodhana ordered his army to attack both the deserter and the eldest Pandava, who was unarmed and was still in the Kaurava side of the battlefield, he sheltered the latter on his chariot and fought valiantly against the Kaurava forces all alone till the arrival of the mighty Bhima. He survived the Great War, where ninety-nine Kaurava brothers had perished but when there was no fear to his life, he was mistakenly killed by his own mother.
The mother of course did not know that she had killed her son until Vidura told her. The revengeful woman had wanted to kill Yudhisthira; so she had asked him to remove her eye-cover so that she could see him. She knew that the yogic fire emanating from her eyes would burn him to ashes. But with Krishna around, Yudhisthira could not be killed; the protector of dharma would not allow the embodiment of dharma to be destroyed. He asked Durdasa to remove the cover, which he readily did and perished. There must be no residue of the enemy, was what he told Sahadeva.
Sahadeva alone did not hear these words; these words reverberated and reached lakhs – those who were listening to Sarala as he was telling his Mahabharata in the remote village Jhankada more than five hundred years ago, and all those who heard or read his immortal narrative thereafter. The poet does not tell us what Sahadeva and the other Pandavas felt but at least some of his audience down the centuries would surely have liked to challenge him with the question: “why this revolting unfairness”? We ask him because he is the avatara, the purna avatara. Whatever be the wisdom of eliminating Durdasa, it is utterly hurtful; it comes as a severe affront to those who, despite all the negativities, have not lost their hopes for a fair and just world. Durdasa’s story is there in this blog, posted on September 7, 2007. Therefore, it is unnecessary to go into further details here.
Incidentally, Durdasa’s counterpart in Vyasa Mahabharata, namely Yuyutsu, did not have the same fate. When the Pandavas left for vanaprastha, Yudhisthira asked him to look after the kingdom on behalf of king Parikshita, who was too young for that. As Pradip Bhattacharya observes, Durdasa had to die because he was one of the hundred Dhritarashtras. In Vyasa Mahabharata, Vikarna, who had protested against Durodhana’s command to disrobe Draupadi, had to die because he was one of the sons of Dhritarashtra. Yuyutsu lived because he was the son of a maid and to that extent was on the periphery of the Kaurava family.
Returning to Durdasa, was he really an enemy, as Krishna implied? Was it fair to give him a bad label and burn him? To us, readers of Sarala Mahabharata, he was by no stretch of imagination an enemy. If Krishna thought Durdasa was an enemy, despite all that he had done for the sake of dharma and for the Pandavas, the narrator does not tell us why he thought so. There is nothing at all in the yuddha and subsequent parvas (cantos) that he had done anything which could be considered hostile to the Pandavas. As Vineet Chaitanya says, had he known what his mother had in mind, he would have volunteered to remove the cover from her eyes. I agree. He would have protected Yudhisthira from his mother exactly as he had protected him from his elder brother’s army in the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
As for Krishna, he never gave only one explanation for something he had done, at least in Sarala’s version. If he said one thing to Sahadeva by way of justifying his action, he said another to Gandhari – how can dharma exist on earth if Yudhisthira is killed, he told her. So the protector of dharma had to protect the embodiment of dharma on earth. One would hope that this was the real reason why Krishna pushed Durdasa to his death. This would at least put to rest any skepticism about Durdasa’s integrity!
Many thoughts come to mind. Just as Sarala Mahabharata seriously questions war as the best solution to apparently irresolvable issues facing a kingdom, it rejects hatred and revengefulness in human relationship. These lead to nowhere. Gandhari’s understandable grief on account of the death of her children had made her lose control over herself. So she had decided to kill Yudhishtira by means of treachery when she knew that he had come to Dhritarashtra on a sincere mission of reconciliation, something which he need not have done. What she intended do amounted to reviving a war that was over and bringing it right inside the palace of Hastinapura. She had to pay the price. Vidura’s condemnation was harsh. Cover your eyes and return to your blindness, he told her. She readily obeyed.
And think of Yudhisthira and Bhima. Yudhisthira had assured him of his protection. Bhima had assured him of protection against anyone: man, demon or god. They couldn’t do a thing. Sarala doesn’t tell us so, but we will not violate the spirit of his immortal narrative if we interpret it to mean that humans, no matter how virtuous or powerful, do not control things. In their arrogance, not just humans and demons, gods too in our puranas do not always remember this. When Krishna withdrew his kalaa(attribute) from Arjuna at the time of ending his avatara, the latter no more remained invincible in engagements with mortals or immortals, as he so far had been. He became a mere shadow of the Arjuna who had defeated the god of gods: Mahadeva.
Pandu had abdicated in favour of his elder brother Dhritarashtra in order to make him happy and had voluntarily retired to the forest. The blind king had forgotten his devoted brother’s favour. After the birth of Yudhisthira in the forest, Dhritarastra became insecure and extremely jealous. He badly wanted a son, who would succeed him. He implored the sages to perform yajna for a son – if the gods could be pleased, he would have male children. The sages who knew told him that it was ordained that he would have a daughter and no sons. What would he do with a daughter, the king asked the sages and begged them to perform yajna to please the gods. The sages obliged. Gandhari conceived but did not deliver when the time came. Later what came out of her womb was a lump of flesh. Ignoring details, sage Vyasa cut it into a hundred pieces and those came to life as the hundred Kaurava brothers.
Perhaps Durdasa had to die because he was part of the one that had become a hundred. Ninety-nine could not go out of the world leaving a residue behind. When Krishna left the mortal world, he did not leave a residue of himself behind. He withdrew his kalaafrom Arjuna. At the end, completeness must be restored, in a manner of speaking.
Durdasa and his ninety-nine brothers were the off springs of ambition and jealousy. The way they were born, they did not carry the blessings of the gods who were invoked during the yajna. Destiny was challenged. In due course destiny took away from Dhritarashtra and Gandhari what was not theirs in the first place. Dhritarashtra and Gandhari lived to experience this. The mother lived to see how she had become an instrument in the killing of her only surviving child. The cosmic purpose would not have been served if Durdasa had remained alive. The punishment for his parents would have been less than adequate. The avatara had to make the right happen. The cosmic order had to be restored. Human feelings would not matter. Neither would the ethical code of the humans.
In Sarala Mahabharata, it has been said repeatedly that Narayana does not just take; although it appears that that is what He does. He also gives and He more than amply compensates for what He takes, although mortals may not know. He only knows what he gave Durdasa.
With this understanding I have come to terms with Durdasa’s end and also Krishna’s role in it. May be discontent would disturb me again, forcing me a rethink of the Durdasa episode. May be not.
Niladri Bije, 2016
Key words: Krishna, Durdasa, Gandhari, Sarala Mahabharata, destiny, cosmic purpose
(I am highly thankful to (Brahmachari) Vineet Chaitanya, Pradip Bhattaharya, Sewa Bhattarai, and Vikas Kumar for their valuable observations and suggestions.)