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Chapter 21: The Slaying Of Jarasandha

BRIHADRATHA, the commander of three regiments, reigned in the kingdom of Magadha and attained celebrity as a great hero. He married the twin daughters of the raja of Kasi and vowed to them that he would not show any partiality to either.

Brihadratha was not blessed with a child for a long time. When he became old, he handed over his kingdom to his ministers, went to the forest with his two wives and engaged himself in austerities.

He went to Sage Kausika of the Gautama family, with a sorrowful longing for children in his heart. And when the sage was moved with pity and asked him what he wanted, he answered:

"I am childless and have come to the forest giving up my kingdom. Give me children."

The sage was filled with compassion and, even as he was thinking how to help the king, a mango fruit fell into his lap. He took it and gave it to the king with this blessing: "Take it. Your wish will be fulfilled."

The king cut the fruit into two halves and gave one to each wife. He did so to keep his vow not to show partiality to either.

Some time after they had partaken of the fruit, the wives became pregnant.

The delivery took place in due course. But instead of bringing the expected joy, it plunged them into greater grief than before. For they each gave birth to but a half of a child. Each half was a monstrous birth which seemed a revolting lump.

They were indeed two equal and complementary portions of one baby, consisting of one eye, one leg, half a face, one ear and so on. Seized with grief, they commanded their attendants to tie the gruesome pieces in a cloth and cast them away.

The attendants did as they were instructed and threw the cloth bundle on a heap of refuse in the street. A cannibal Rakshasi chanced upon that place. She was elated at seeing the two pieces of flesh and, as she gathered them up both at once, accidently the halves came together the right way.

And they at once adhered together and changed into a whole living child, perfect in every detail.

The surprised Rakshasi did not wish to kill the child. She took on the guise of a beautiful woman and, going to the king, presented the child to him saying: "This is your child."

The king was immensely delighted and handed it over to his two wives. This child became known as Jarasandha. He grew up in to a man of immense physical strength.

But his body had one weakness namely, that being made up by the fusion of two separate parts, it could be split again into two, if sufficient force were used.

This interesting story embodies the important truth that two sundered parts joined together will still remain weak, with a tendency to split. When the conquest and slaying of Jarasandha had been resolved upon, Sri Krishna said:

"Hamsa, Hidimbaka, Kamsa, and other allies of Jarasandha are no more. Now that he is isolated, this is the right time to kill him. It is useless to fight with armies. He must be provoked to a single combat and slain."

According to the code of honor of those days, a kshatriya had to accept the challenge to a duel whether with or without weapons.

The latter sort was a fight to the death with weighted gauntlets or a wrestling to the death in catch-as-catch-can style. This was the kshatriya tradition to which Krishna and the Pandavas had recourse for slaying Jarasandha.

They disguised themselves as men who had taken religious vows, clad in robes of bark-fibre and carrying the holy darbha grass in their hands. Thus they entered the kingdom of Magadha and arrived at the capital of Jarasandha.

Jarasandha was disturbed by portents of ill omen. To ward off the threatened danger, he had propitiatory rites performed by the priests and himself took to fasts and penance.

Krishna, Bhima, and Arjuna entered the palace unarmed. Jarasandha received them with respect as their noble bearing seemed to indicate an illustrious origin. Bhima and Arjuna made no reply to his words of welcome because they wished to avoid having to tell lies.

Krishna spoke on their behalf: "These two are observing a vow of silence for the present as at part of their austerities. They can speak only after midnight."

Jarasandha entertained them in the hall of sacrifice and returned to the palace.

It was the practice of Jarasandha to meet noble guests who had taken vows and talk to them at their leisure and convenience, and so he called at midnight to see them.

Their conduct made Jarasandha suspicious, and he also observed that they had on their hands the scars made by the bowstring and had besides the proud bearing of kshatriyas.

When Jarasandha demanded the truth of them they said frankly: "We are your foes and seek instant combat. You can choose one of us at will to fight with you."

After acquainting himself as to who they were, Jarasandha said: "Krishna, you are a cowherd and Arjuna is a mere boy. Bhima is famous for his physical strength. So, I wish to fight with him." Since Bhima was unarmed, Jarasandha chivalrously agreed to fight him without weapons.

Bhima and Jarasandha were so equally matched in strength that they fought with each other continuously for thirteen days without taking rest or refreshments, while Krishna and Arjuna looked on in alternating hope and anxiety.

On the fourteenth day, Jarasandha showed signs of exhaustion, and Krishna prompted Bhima that the time had come to make an end of him.

At once Bhima lifted him and whirling him round and round a hundred times, dashed him to the earth and seizing his legs tore his body asunder into two halves.

And Bhima roared in exultation. The two halves at once joined and Jarasandha, thus made whole, leapt up into vigorous life and again attacked Bhima.

Bhima aghast at the sight, was at a loss what to do, when he saw Krishna pick up a straw, tear it into two, and cast the bits in opposite directions.

Bhima took the hint, and when once again he tore Jarasandha asunder he threw the two portions in opposite directions, so that they could not come together and join.

Thus did Jarasandha meet his end.

The captive princes were released and Jarasandha's son was crowned King of Magadha. And Krishna, Bhima and Arjuna returned to Indraprastha.

With Jarasandha gone, the way was now clear for the Rajasuya which the Pandavas performed with great pomp and splendor.

Yudhishthira assumed the title of emperor.

The celebrations were marred by only one incident. Towards the close of the festive celebrations, at the time of paying the first honor, Sisupala behaved disrespectfully in the assembly of princes and provoked a fight with Krishna in which he was slain.

This story is told in the next chapter.