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Chapter 49: Taking Counsel

THE thirteenth year during which the Pandavas had to remain undiscovered came to an end.

No longer obliged to be in disguise, they left Virata's capital as Pandavas and settled openly in Upaplavya, another place in Matsya territory. From there, they sent emissaries to summon their friends and relatives.

From Dwaraka came Balarama and Krishna with Arjuna’s wife Subhadra, and her son, Abhimanyu and accompanied by many Yadava warriors. Loud and long was the blare of trumpet-conchs as the Matsya prince and the Pandavas went forth to receive Janardana.

Indrasena and many others like him, who had at the beginning of the preceding year left the Pandavas in the forest, rejoined them with their chariots at Upaplavya.

The Kasi prince and Saibya ruler arrived with their forces.

Drupada, the Panchala prince, was there too with three divisions, bringing with him Sikhandin and Draupadi's sons and her brother Dhrishtadyumna. There were many other princes gathered at Upaplavya, well attached to the Pandavas, Abhimanyu's marriage to princess Uttara was solemnized according to Vedic rites before that illustrious gathering of friendly heroes. The wedding celebrations over, they met in conclave in Virata's hall of assembly.

Krishna sat next to Yudhishthira and Virata, while Balarama and Satyaki were seated beside Drupada. As the bustle died down, all eyes were turned on Krishna, who now rose to speak.

"You all know," said Krishna to the hushed assembly, "the story of the great deceit how Yudhishthira was cheated at the game board and deprived of his kingdom and exiled with his brothers and Draupadi to the forest. For thirteen years, the sons of Pandu have patiently borne their trouble in redemption of their pledged word. Ponder well and counsel a course, which will be in consonance with dharma and contribute to the glory and welfare of both Pandavas and Kauravas.

For, Dharmaputra desires nothing that he cannot justly claim. He wishes nothing but good even to the sons of Dhritarashtra who deceived him and did him grievous wrong. In giving your counsel, bear in mind the fraud and meanness of the Kauravas as well as the honorable magnanimity of the Pandavas. Devise a just and honorable settlement. We do not know what Duryodhana has in his mind. I feel we should send an able and upright emissary to him to persuade him to a peaceful settlement by the restoration of half the kingdom to Yudhishthira."

Balarama then rose to address the gathering. "You have just heard Krishna,"

he said. "The solution he propounds is wise and just. I endorse it as good for both Duryodhana and Dharmaputra. If Kunti's sons can get back their kingdom by a peaceful settlement, nothing could be better for them, the Kauravas and for all concerned. Only then will there be happiness and peace in the land. Someone has to go to convey to Duryodhana Yudhishthira's wish for a peaceful settlement and bring an answer from him, a man who has the weight and the ability to bring about peace and good understanding. The envoy should get the cooperation of Bhishma, Dhritarashtra, Drona and Vidura, Kripa and Aswatthama and even of Karna and Sakuni if possible, and secure support for Kunti's sons. He should be one who, on no account, would give way to anger. Dharmaputra, with full knowledge of consequences, staked his kingdom and lost it, obstinately disregarding the reasoning of friends.

Fully aware that he was no match for the adept Sakuni, he yet played against him.

He cannot now complain but can only supplicate for his rights. A fit envoy would be one who is not a warmonger but is dead set, in spite of every difficulty, on achieving a peaceful settlement. Princes, I desire you to approach Duryodhana tactfully and make peace with him. Let us avoid an armed conflict by all the means in our power. Only that which accrues in peace is worth while. Out of war, nothing but wrong can issue."

Balarama's position was that Yudhishthira knew what he was doing when he gambled away his kingdom and could not now claim it as of right.

The fulfilment of the conditions of exile could only give the Pandavas their personal freedom and not their kingdom, that is to say, they need not serve another term of exile in the forest. But it gave them no right to the return of their kingdom.

Dharmaputra could only supplicate for the return of what he had lost and not claim it as of right. Balarama did not relish an armed conflict among scions of the same family and rightly held that war would lead only to disaster.

The poet puts an eternal truth in Balarama's mouth.

Satyaki, the Yadava warrior, who heard Balarama speak thus, could not contain himself. He rose in anger and spoke indignantly:

"Balarama's words do not strike me as in the least degree just. One can, if skilful enough, make out a plausible plea for any case, but not all the skill in the world can convert wrong into right or injustice into justice. I must protest against Balarama's stand, which fills me with disgust. Do we not see in one and the same tree, one branch bowed with fruit and another sticking out gaunt and useless? So, of these brothers, Krishna speaks words that breathe the spirit of dharma while Balarama's attitude is unworthy. And if you grant what cannot be doubted that the Kauravas cheated Yudhishthira of his share of the kingdom, why then, allowing them to keep it is as unjust as confirming a thief in the possession of his booty! Anyone, who finds fault with Dharmaputra, does so in cowardly fear of Duryodhana, not for any sound reason. O princes, forgive my harsh speech. Not of his own volition but because the Kauravas pressed and invited him to do so, did the novice and unwilling Dharmaputra play with a dishonest gambler that game so fraught with disaster. Why should he bow and supplicate before Duryodhana, now that he has fulfilled his pledges? Yudhishthira is not a mendicant and need not beg. He has kept his word and so have his brothers twelve years in exile in the forest and twelve months there after in disguise according to their pledge. And yet, Duryodhana and his associates, most shamelessly and dishonestly, question the performance. I shall defeat these impudent villains in battle and they shall either seek Yudhishthira's pardon or meet their doom.

How can a righteous war be wrong in any case? There is no sin in slaying enemies who take up arms and fight. To supplicate before the enemy, is to incur disgrace. If Duryodhana desires war, he can have it and we shall be quite ready for it. Let there be no delay and let us get on with the preparations. Duryodhana is not going to part with territory without a war and it would be folly to waste time."

Drupada's heart was gladdened by Satyaki's resolute words. He rose and said:

"Satyaki is right and I support him. Soft words will not bring Duryodhana round to reason. Let us continue our preparations for war and let our friends be warned without loss of time to bring up their forces. Send word instantly to Salya, Dhrishtaketu, Jayatsena and Kekaya. We must, of course, send a suitable envoy to Dhritarashtra. The learned brahmana, who conducts the religious ceremonies in my court, can be sent to Hastinapura, with confidence. Instruct him well as to what he should say to Duryodhana and how he should convey the message to Bhishma, Dhritarashtra and Dronacharya."

When Drupada concluded, Vasudeva (Krishna, the son of Vasudeva) rose and addressing Drupada, said:

"What you suggest is practicable and also conforms to the kingly code. Baladeva and I are bound to the Kauravas and the Pandavas with equal ties of affection. We came here for princess Uttara's wedding and will return now to our city. Great are you among the princes of the land, alike in age and wisdom, and entitled to advise us all. Dhritarashtra too holds you, his boyhood friends, in high esteem like Drona and Kripa. It is therefore only right that you should instruct the brahmana envoy on his mission of peace. If he fails to persuade Duryodhana out of his error, prepare for the inevitable conflict, my friends, and send word to us."

The conference ended and Krishna left for Dwaraka with his people. The Pandavas and their allies went on with their preparations. Messengers went forth to all the friendly princes who got busy and mobilised their respective armies.

Meanwhile, Duryodhana and his brothers were not idle. They also began preparing for the coming conflict and sent word to their friends to get their contingents ready for war.

News of these preparations on both sides soon spread through out the land. "The constant rapid journeying back and forth of princes caused a great stir everywhere.

The earth shook beneath the heavy tramp of marching legions," says the poet.

It would appear that even in olden days, military preparations were made in much the same way as in our times.

Drupada called in his brahmana and said to him: "You know Duryodhana's bent of mind as well as the qualities of the Pandavas. Go to him as the emissary of the Pandavas. The Kauravas deceived the Pandavas with the connivance of their father Dhritarashtra who would not listen to the sage advice of Vidura. Show the old, weak king, who is misled by his son, the path of dharma and wisdom. You will find in Vidura a great ally in this task.

Your mission may lead to differences of opinion among the elder statesmen such as Bhishma, Drona and Kripa as well as among the warlords. And, if this happens, it will be some time before those differences are smoothed out, which will be time gained for the completion of the Pandavas war preparations. As long as you are in Duryodhana's capital talking of peace, their preparations for war will receive a set-back which is all to the good from the Pandavas' standpoint. If, by a miracle, you are able to come back with good terms of peace, so much the better. I do not expect Duryodhana will agree to a peaceful settlement. Still, to send one on a peace mission will be advantageous to us."

In December 1941, the Japanese were carrying on negotiations with the Americans and, immediately on the breakdown of those talks, took them unawares and attacked Pearl Harbor destroying their naval forces there.

Drupada's instruction to the brahmana would show that this was no new technique. And that, even in the old days, the same method was followed of carrying on negotiations and even sincerely working for peace, but simultaneously preparing, with unremitting vigor, for outbreak of war and carrying on peace talks with the object of creating dissension in the enemy's ranks. There is nothing new under the sun!