In the darkness of the night, Duryodhana, rattled, scared, intensely lonely and blood all over his body, fled from the battlefield. All his brothers had been killed, as had been Sakuni, his mighty generals and other celebrated warriors and his beloved son, Lakshmana Kumara. He directly went to Bhishma, lying on a bed of arrows, waiting for the auspicious moment to come when he would wish for his death. Duryodhana told him that he had lost everyone in the war and had come to him to take refuge in him. He prayed to him to save him. A kshatriya does not abandon the one who had surrendered to him and a grandfather cannot see his grandchild perish, no matter how wicked he might have been. Bhishma did not upbraid him but he did tell him, in much sorrow, how he had been responsible for his misery. He advised him to go to sage Durvasa, who was in charge of Vyasa Sarovara (the lake named Vyasa), take refuge in the venerable sage and with his permission, enter the lake. Once in the lake, none could harm him; be they mortals or immortals, he told him. He urged hm to hurry. The night was in its last phase. Once the day broke, the Pandavas would start looking for him, he said. Duryodhana thought of meeting his parents; so he headed to Hastinapura.

Earlier that night, Sanjaya had told Dhritarashtra about Duryodhana’s plight. The distressed father asked Vidura and him to go to the battlefield right then and bring his son to the safety of Hastinapura, taking advantage of the thick darkness of the night.  That was not possible, Sanjaya old him; the Pandava army was everywhere.

When Duryodhana arrived at his palace in Hastinapura, he found his wife Bhanumati waiting to welcome him ceremonially but when he told her that he alone of the Kauravas was alive and their son had fallen, she was completely devastated. But he consoled her, saying that not all was over. It was just that he was extremely tired and desperately needed rest. Having rested, the following morning he would return to the battlefield and win the war. Bhanumati couldn’t hear any of this; she had passed out.

Then he went to his parents. Sanjaya told Dhritarashtra that his son was in front of him. The father, who had been so very worried for the safety of his only surviving son, now that he was there with him, was missing the rest of his sons. He upbraided his eldest. He had come alone; where were his brothers, he asked him. He reprimanded him for not having given their due to the Pandavas, his brothers, for having listened to the wicked Sakuni instead of the wise Vidura, and for insulting Krishna – Narayana Himself! Because of him, he told him, his begetting a hundred sons had become futile. Utterly sad, defeated and mourning for his brothers himself, who he knew had sacrificed themselves for him, there was nothing meaningful that Duryodhana could say to his father by way of consolation.

Overcome with grief, the father continued in the same vein: having started the jajna of war (war viewed as sacrificial fire), he should not have wished to live alone. Looking at Krishna, he should have fallen in the war, fighting, and attained Vaikuntha (the abode of Vishnu). Then the devastated father said something he had never told him before. That moment of loss was too unbearable for him, an ordinary mortal in spiritual terms, to control himself. This is the best that can be said for him.

He should have listened to the sage counsel of the wise Vidura, he told his son. Vidura had advised him to have his infant eldest killed. If he lived, he would attain much prosperity and greatness but would bring him great grief by becoming the cause of the utter ruination of the entire family. If he was killed, his ninety-nine younger brothers would live, Vidura had said. Duryodhana’s killing would have ensured the continuance of his lineage and he, Vidura, was willing to perform that act of sacrifice himself. Dhritarashtra had turned down his brother’s advice. He told Duryodhana that he was regretting having done so now. Hurt by those cruel words, the son said,” Father, why are you being so merciless? At this difficult moment of mine, instead of pity, you are giving me pitiless words. Protect me for the night. I will win the war the following day.”

When he uttered those unfeeling and insensitive words to his eldest, he seemed to have forgotten why he had not allowed Vidura to kill his eldest born. As he gave the infants, one after the other, to the blind father to feel him, Vidura said of hm that he would be wicked. Much before he could hold all his sons, Dhritarashtra stopped him. If that was what he was forecasting for each infant, why must he sacrifice his eldest, he had asked Vidura. He would rather accept whatever destiny would bring him – that was what he had told Vidura, which he seemed to have forgotten. There is absolutely no suggestion in Sarala Mahabharata that Dhritarashtra’s decision was wrong. It just cannot be, if we think about it. Can it be a good reason for a father to sacrifice his eldest born so that his lineage continued with ninety-nine wicked sons?

Returning to the meeting of Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana, the troubled father expressed his helplessness to give him protection, even for that night. With the all-knowing Sahadeva, there was no place in the three worlds where he could be safe, he told his son. He told him then what Bhishma had told him: “take refuge in sage Durvasa and enter Vyasa Sarovara”. The difference was that Bhishma had given him that advice with kindness and Dhritarashta’s advice was expressed in hurtful language: jamaku dekhi darilu palai pasa ja ja – seeing Yama’s face, you got scared. Now, go away and enter (the lake).  Very harsh, unfeeling, unkind and unfair words for the one, who, even his worst enemies never considered to be a coward, who was afraid of death. And those were the parting words of the father to his son.

How very comforting it is to put the blame on someone else for one’s suffering! The blind king had forgotten that when he was the king, he had been grossly unfair towards the Pandavas and had deprived them of their due long before his son did so.


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