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Chapter 22: The First Honor

THE practice of staging a walkout from an assembly in protest against something is nothing new. We learn from the Mahabharata that walkout was resorted to even in ancient times.

The India of those days consisted of a number of independent states. Though there was one dharma and one culture throughout the land, the autonomy of each state was scrupulosly respected.

Occasionally, some strong and ambitious monarch would seek the assent of his fellow kings to his overlordship, which would sometimes be given without question.

After receiving this assent he would perform a grand Rajasuya sacrifice, which all the acquiescing kings would attend in token of acknowledgement of his supremacy.

In accordance with this custom, the Pandavas invited the other kings after the slaying of Jarasandha and performed the Rajasuya.

The time came for doing the honors of the occasion. The custom was to render first honor to the guest who was considered most worthy of taking precedence over all others.

The question arose as to who should be honored first. The grandsire was emphatically of the opinion that Sri Krishna, the king of Dwaraka, should be honored first, which was also Yudhishthira's own opinion.

Yudhishthira followed the advice and under his instructions Sahadeva offered to Sri Krishna the honors enjoined by tradition. Sisupala, the king of Chedi, who hated Krishna as wickedness alone can hate goodness, could not tolerate it.

He laughed aloud in derision and said:

"How ridiculous and unjust, but I am not surprised. The man who sought advice was born in illegitimacy. (This was an insulting allusion to the sons of Kunti) The man who gave advice was born of one who ever declines from high to low. (This is in reference to the fact that Bhishma was born of Ganga, the river naturally flowing from higher to lower levels.) And he who did the honors was also born illegitimately. And what shall I say of the man honored! He is a fool by birth and a cowherd by breeding. Dumb indeed must be the members of this assembly if they have not a word to say to this! This is no place for worthy men."

Some of the assembled princes applauded Sisupala. Encouraged by their applause he addressed Yudhishthira:

"When there are so many kings gathered here, it is a shame that you paid the first honor to Krishna. Not to render respect where it is rightly due and to render it where it is not merited are both equally grave offences. It is a pity that, for all your imperial pretensions you are ignorant of this."

Getting more and more angry as he spoke, he continued: "Ignoring the many kings and heroes who are here at your own invitation and in malicious despise of them, you have paid royal honors to a cowherd boor, a mere nobody. Vasudeva, the father of Krishna, was but a servant of Ugrasena. He is not even of royal blood.

Is this the place and the occasion to show your vulgar partiality for Krishna, the son of Devaki? Is this worthy of the children of Pandu? O sons of Pandu, you are raw, untaught youths, altogether ignorant of the way to conduct a royal assembly. This dotard Bhishma guided you foolishly and thus made fools of you. Krishna, why, Krishna is no ruler at all! O Yudhishthira, why did you dare to do this wretch first honor in this illustrious assemblage of kings? He has not even the merit of age and if you admire grey hair, is not his father alive? You could not have honored him as your preceptor surely, for your preceptor is Drona who is here in this assembly. Is it as an expert in performing sacrifices that you have honored him? It cannot be, for Vyasa, the great master, is present. It would have been better even if you had paid the first honor to Bhishma, for dotard as he be, he has still the merit of being the oldest man of your house.

Your family teacher, Kripacharya, is also present in this assembly. How could you then pay the first honor to this cowherd? Ashwatthama, the hero who is expert in all sastras, is here. How did you choose Krishna, forgetting him? Among the princes assembled here, there is Duryodhana. And there is also Karna, the disciple of Parasurama. Leaving him aside, out of childish partiality, you chose Krishna for the first honor Krishna who is neither royal, nor heroic, nor learned, nor holy, nor even hoary, who is nothing but a low cowherd! Thus you have dishonored us all, whom you have invited here. O kings, it is not out of fear that we assented to Yudhishthira's assuming the title of emperor. We personally do not much care whether he is friend or foe. But, having heard much prate of his righteousness, we wanted to see him uphold the flag of dharma. He has now wantonly dishonored us, after all that talk of virtue and dharma.

What virtue or dharma was there in his giving priority of honor to this villain Krishna who killed Jarasandha in an unjust manner? You should henceforth call Yudhishthira an unrighteous person.

O Krishna, what impudence on your part to accept the undeserved honor which these misguided Pandavas did you! Did you forget yourself? Or did you forget decent tradition? Or was it just a case of a dog snatching at a remnant of food which nobody cared to claim or guard? Do you not really see that this farce is a ghastly mockery and disgrace to yourself? It is like the mockery of showing beautiful things to a blind man or offering a maiden in marriage to a eunuch. Likewise, these kingly honors are really an affront to you.

It is now evident that the would-be emperor Yudhishthira, the senile Bhishma, and this fellow Krishna are all made of the same stuff."

After Sisupala had spoken these harsh words, he rose from his seat and walked out calling upon the other kings to join him in resenting the insult. Many of them followed him.

Yudhishthira ran after them and tried to appease them with sweet words of peace but in vain, for they were too angry to be appeased.

Sisupala's aggressive vanity waxed to fighting pitch, and there ensued a terrible fight between Krishna and Sisupala, in which the latter was slain by his discus.

The Rajasuya was duly celebrated and Yudhishthira recognised emperor.