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Chapter 51: Salya Against His Nephews

SALYA, the ruler of Madradesa, was the brother of Madri, the mother of Nakula and Sahadeva. He heard that the Pandavas were camping in the city of Upaplavya and making preparations for war.

He collected a very big army and set off towards that city to join the Pandavas.

Salya's army was so large that where it halted for rest, the encampment extended over a length of nearly fifteen miles.

News of Salya and his marching forces reached Duryodhana. Deciding that Salya should somehow be persuaded to join his side, Duryodhana instructed his officers to provide him and his great army with all facilities and treat them to sumptuous hospitality.

In accordance with Duryodhana's instruction, several beautifully decorated rest houses were erected at several places on the route, at which Salya and his men were treated to wondrous hospitality.

Food and drink were lavishly provided.

Salya was exceedingly pleased with the attentions paid to him but assumed that his nephew, Yudhishthira, had arranged all this. Salya's army marched on, the earth shaking beneath their heavy strides.

Feeling very pleased with the hospitality, he called the waiting attendants one day and said to them:

"I must reward you all who have treated me and my soldiers with so much love and attention. Please tell Kunti's son that he should let me do this, and bring me his consent."

The servants went and told their master, Duryodhana, this. Duryodhana, who was all the time moving unobserved with the party waiting on Salya and his soldiers, at once took this opportunity to present himself before Salya, and say how honored he felt at Salya's acceptance of the Kaurava hospitality.

This amazed Salya whom till then had no suspicion of the truth, and he was also touched by the chivalry of Duryodhana in lavishing kingly hospitality on a partisan of the Pandavas.

Greatly moved, he exclaimed, "How noble and kind of you! How can I repay you?"

Duryodhana replied: "You and your forces should fight on my side. This is the reward I ask of you."

Salya was stunned.

The Puranas wherein right conduct is always preached, sometimes set out stories in which conduct, not in conformity with Dharma, seems condoned. Is it right, one may ask, for religious books thus to seem to justify wrong? A little reflection will enable one to see the matter in proper light. It is necessary to bring home the fact that even wise, good and great men are liable to fall into error.

That is why the Puranas, although ever seeking to instil Dharma, contain narratives to show how in this world even good people sometimes sin against Dharma, as though irresistibly driven to do so.

This is to press home the truth that howsoever learned one may be, humility and constant vigilance are absolutely necessary if one wishes to avoid evil.

Why indeed, did the great authors of our epics write about the lapses of Rama in the Ramayana and Yudhishthira in the Mahabharata? Where was the need to make mention of them and then labor arguments to explain them away, thereby disturbing men's minds? It was not as though others had discovered the lapses and Vyasa and Valmiki had to defend their heroes. The stories are artistic creations in which lapses they impress the desired moral.

The parts dealing with the lapses deeply distress the reader's mind and serve as solemn warnings of pitfalls, which wait to engulf the careless.

They dispose the mind to humility and watchfulness and make it realise the need for divine guidance. The modern cinema also projects on the screen much that is bad and immoral.

Whatever may be the explanation offered by the protagonists of the cinema, evil is presented on the screen in an attractive fashion that grips people's minds and tempts them into the path of wickedness.

This is not so in the Puranas. Although they do point out that even great men now and again fell into error and committed wrong, the presentation is such as to warn the reader and not to allure him into evil ways.

This is the striking difference between our epics and the modern talkies, which arises from the difference in the character of the people who produced them.

"You are the same unto us both. I must mean as much to you as the Pandavas.

You must agree to come to my aid," said Duryodhana.

Salya answered: "Be it so." Flattered by Duryodhana's splendid reception, Salya deserted the Pandavas who were entitled to his love and esteem and pledged his word to fight on Duryodhana's side which shows what dangers may lurk in receiving the hospitality of kings.

Feeling that it would not be right to go back without meeting Yudhishthira, Salya then turned to Duryodhana saying:

"Duryodhana, believe me. I have given you my word of honor. I must however meet Yudhishthira and tell him what I have done."

"Go, see him and return soon. And do not forget your promise to me," said Duryodhana.

"Good luck to you. Go back to your palace. I will not betray you." Saying this, Salya went to the city of Upaplavya where Yudhishthira was camping.

The Pandavas received the ruler of Madra with great eclat. Nakula and Sahadeva were joyous beyond measure to see their uncle to whom the Pandavas narrated all their hardships and sufferings.

When they started talking about obtaining his help in the war that was impending, Salya related to them the story of his promise to Duryodhana.

Yudhishthira saw at once that it had been a mistake to take Salya's assistance for granted, thereby letting Duryodhana forestall them.

Concealing his disappointment as best he could, Yudhishthira addressed Salya thus:

"Great warrior, you are bound to keep the promise you have made to, Duryodhana.

You are the equal of Vasudeva in battle and Karna will have you as his charioteer when he seeks Arjuna's life in the battlefield. Are you going to be the cause of Arjuna's death? Or are you going to save him then? I know I cannot fairly ask this of you. Still I do."

To which Salya rejoined: "My lad, I have been tricked into giving Duryodhana my word and I shall be ranged against you in battle. But when Karna proceeds to attack Arjuna, if I happen to be his charioteer, you may take it he will go to battle disheartened and Arjuna shall be saved.

Fear not. The sorrows and insults, which were visited on Draupadi and you all, will soon be an avenged memory. Henceforth, yours will be good luck. No one can prevent or alter what has been ordained by fate. I have acted wrongly. Bear with me."