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Chapter 20: Jarasandha

THE Pandavas ruled Indraprastha in all glory. Those who surrounded Yudhishthira urged him to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice and assume the title of Emperor. It is evident that imperialism had an irresistible glamour even in those days.

Yudhishthira sought Sri Krishna's advice in this matter. When Krishna learnt that Dharmaputra desired to see him, he set out in a chariot harnessed with swift horses and reached Indraprastha.

Yudhishthira said: "'My people urge me to perform Rajasuya, but as you know, only he who can secure the respect and allegiance of all kings, can perform that sacrifice and win the status of emperor.

Advise me, you are not among those whose affection makes them blind and partial. Nor are you one of those who advise to please and whose counsel is pleasant rather than true or wholesome."

Krishna replied: "Quite so and that is why you cannot be emperor while the mighty Jarasandha of Magadha is alive and unconquered. He has conquered many kings and holds them in subjection. All the kshatriyas, including the redoubtable Sisupala himself, are afraid of his prowess and are submissive to him. Have you not heard of the wicked Kamsa, the son of Ugrasena? After he had become the sonin- law and ally of Jarasandha my people and I attacked Jarasandha. After three years of continuous fighting we had to acknowledge defeat and we left Mathura and moved to Dwaraka in the west, and built a new city where we are living in peace and plenty. Even if Duryodhana, Karna and others do not object to your assuming the title of emperor, Jarasandha will certainly oppose it. And the only way to overcome his opposition is to defeat and kill him. You can then not only perform the Rajasuya but also rescue and win the adherence of the kings who languish in his prisons."

At these words of Krishna, Yudhishthira said: "I agree. I am but one of the many kings who rule their kingdoms with fairness and justice and lead happy unambitious lives. It is mere vanity and vainglory to desire to become an emperor.

Why should not a king rest satisfied with his own kingdom? So, I shall give up this desire to be an emperor. And really, the title has no temptations for me. It is my brothers who wish it. When you yourself are afraid of Jarasandha what can we hope to do?"

Bhima did not at all like this spirit of cowardly contentment.

Bhima said: "Ambition is the noblest virtue of a king. What is the good of being strong if one does not know his own strength? I cannot reconcile myself to live a life of idle ease and contentment. He who casts off indolence and properly employs political means, can conquer even those stronger than himself. Strength reinforced by stratagem will surely do much. What, indeed, cannot be accomplished by a combination of my physical strength, Krishna's wisdom and Arjuna's dexterity? We can conquer Jarasandha's might, if we three join and set about it without doubts or fears."

Krishna interposed: "Jarasandha should certainly be slain and fully deserves it. He has unjustly cast eighty-six princes in prison. He has planned to immolate a hundred kings and is waiting to lay hold of fourteen more. If Bhima and Arjuna agree, I shall accompany them and together we will slay that king by stratagem and set free the imprisoned princes. I like this suggestion."

Yudhishthira was not pleased with this advice. He said: "This may really mean sacrificing Bhima and Arjuna who are to me as my two eyes, merely to gratify a vain desire to be an emperor. I do not like to send them on this dangerous errand. It seems to me far better to give up the idea altogether."

Arjuna said: "What is the use to us of an existence without heroic deeds, born as we are of an illustrious line? A Kshatriya though endowed with all other good qualities, will not become famous if he does not exert himself. Enthusiasm is the mother of success. We can seize fortune if we do our duties energetically. Even a powerful man may fail if, through lassitude, he does not employ the means he has. Failure is due, in the vast majority of cases, to ignorance of one's own strength. We know we are strong, and we are not afraid of using our strength to the utmost. Why should Yudhishthira suppose that we are incapable of this? When we have become old, it will be time to assume the ochre robe, resort to the forest and pass the rest of our days in penance and austerities. Now, we should lead strenuous lives and do heroic deeds worthy of the traditions of our race."

Krishna was delighted to hear these words and said: "What else can Arjuna, born of Kunti in the Bharata race, advise? Death comes to all, the hero as well as the sluggard. But the noblest duty of a kshatriya is to be true to his race and faith, and overcoming his foes in righteous battle, to win glory."

Finally Yudhishthira assented to the unanimous opinion that their duty lay in slaying Jarasandha.

This conversation has a curiously modern ring about it and shows that powerful men in ancient days used very much the same specious reasoning as now.