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Chapter 50: Arjuna's Charioteer

HAVING sent Drupada's brahmana to Hastinapura on the peace mission, the Pandavas sent word, at the same time, to the princes likely to favor their cause to collect their forces and hold themselves in readiness for war. To Dwaraka, Arjuna went himself.

Having understood through his spies the turn events were taking, Duryodhana too did not remain idle. Learning that Vasudeva (Krishna) was back in his home city, he sped towards Dwaraka in his chariot, as fast as his swiftest horses could take him. The two of them, Arjuna and Duryodhana, thus reached Dwaraka on the same day.

Krishna was fast asleep. Because they were his close relatives, Arjuna and Duryodhana could go into his bedroom.

There they both waited for Krishna to wake up. Duryodhana, who went in first, seated himself on a decorated throne-chair at the head of the bed, while Arjuna kept standing at its foot with arms folded in respectful posture.

When Mahadeva woke up, his eyes fell on Arjuna who stood in front of him and he gave him warm welcome. Turning then to Duryodhana, he welcomed him too and asked them what brought them both to Dwaraka. Duryodhana was the first to speak.

"It looks," said he, "as though war would break out between us soon. If it does, you must support me. Arjuna and I are equally beloved of you. We both claim equally close relationship with you. You cannot say that either of us is nearer to you than the other. I came here before Arjuna.

Tradition has it that he who came first should be shown preference. Janardana, you are the greatest among the great; so it is incumbent on you to set an example to others. Confirm with your conduct the traditional dharma and remember that it was I who came first."

To which Purushottama (Krishna) answered: "Son of Dhritarashtra, it may be that you came here first, but it was Kunti's son that I saw immediately on waking up.

If you were the first arrival, it was Arjuna who first caught my eye. So, even in this respect, your claims on me are equal and I am therefore bound to render assistance to both sides. In distributing favors, the traditional usage is to begin with the junior-most among the recipients. I would, therefore, offer the choice to Arjuna first.

The Narayana, my tribesmen, are my equals in battle and constitute a host, large and almost invincible. In my distribution of assistance, they will be on one side, and I individually on the other. But I shall wield no weapon and take no part in actual fighting."

Turning to Arjuna he said, "Partha, think it over well. Would you want me, alone and weaponless, or would you prefer the prowess of the Narayana? Exercise the right to the first choice which custom gives you as the younger man."

Scarcely had Krishna finished when Arjuna said with reverence and without hesitation: "I would be content if you are with us, though you may wield no weapon."

Duryodhana could hardly contain himself for joy at what he thought was Arjuna's imbecile choice. He gladly chose the help of Vasudevas army and his request was granted. Pleased with the acquisition of a mighty force, Duryodhana went to Baladeva and told him the story.

As he finished speaking, the mighty Balarama said: "Duryodhana, they must have told you all I said at the time of the marriage of Virata's daughter. I pleaded your case and urged everything that could be said for you. Often have I told Krishna that we have equal ties with the Kauravas and the Pandavas. But my words failed to carry conviction to him. I am helpless. It is impossible for me to side with one whom Krishna opposes. I will not help Partha and I cannot support you against Krishna. Duryodhana, you come of an illustrious line, which is respected by all the princes of the land. Well, then, if it must be war, bear yourself in accordance with the Kshatriya code," said he.

Duryodhana returned to Hastinapura in high spirits saying to himself: "Arjuna has made a fool of himself. The great army of Dwaraka will fight on my side and Balarama's good wishes too are with me.

Vasudeva has been left without an army."

"Dhananjaya, why did you choose thus unwisely, preferring me alone and unarmed to my fully equipped and heroic forces?" asked Krishna of Arjuna with a smile, when they were alone. Arjuna answered:

"My ambition is to achieve glory even like yours. You have the power and prowess to face all the princes of the land and their hordes in battle single-handed. I too feel I can do it. So, I desire that I should win the battle with you driving my chariot unarmed. I have desired this for long and you have today fulfilled my wish."

Vasudeva smiled again and pronounced this benediction: "Are you trying to compete with me? May you succeed," for he was pleased with Arjuna's decision.

This is the sacred story of how Krishna became Partha's charioteer.