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Chapter 97: Yudhishthira's Anguish

THE Pandavas performed the til and water ceremonies for the peace of the souls of the dead warriors and camped on the bank of the Ganga for a month.

One day, Narada appeared before Yudhishthira. "Son, through Krishna's grace, the valor of Arjuna and the power of your dharma, you were victorious and you are the sovereign lord of the land. Are you happy?" he asked.

Yudhishthira replied: "Bhagavan, it is true the kingdom has come into my possession. But my kinsmen are all gone.

We have lost sons that were dear. This victory appears to me but a great defeat. O Narada, we took our own brother for an enemy and killed him, even Karna who stood rooted like a rock in his honor and at whose valor the world wondered. This terrible act of slaying our own brothers was the result of our sinful attachment to our possessions. Karna, on the other hand, kept the promise he gave to our mother and abstained from killing us. Oh! I am a sinner, a low fellow who murdered his own brother. My mind is troubled greatly at this thought. Karna's feet were so much like our mother's feet. In the large hall, when that great outrage was committed and my anger rose, when I looked at his feet, which were so much like Kunti's feet, my wrath subsided. I remember that now and my grief increases."

So saying, Yudhishthira heaved a deep sigh. Narada told him all about Karna and the curses that had been pronounced on him on various occasions.

Once, when Karna saw that Arjuna was superior to him in archery, he approached Drona and entreated him to teach him how to wield the Brahmastra. Drona declined saying it was not open to him to instruct any but a brahmana of faultless conduct or a kshatriya who had purified himself by much penance. Thereupon, Karna went to the Mahendra hills and deceived Parasurama by saying that he was a brahmana and became his disciple. From him he obtained instruction in archery and the use of many astras.

One day, when Karna was practising with his bow in the forest near Parasurama's asrama, a brahmana's cow was accidentally hit and killed. The brahmana was angry and uttered a curse on Karna:

"In battle, your chariot wheels will stick in the mud and you will be done to death, even like this innocent cow which you have killed."

Parasurama was exceedingly fond of Karna and taught him all the archery he knew and instructed him fully in the use and the withdrawing of the Brahmastra.

One day, however, he discovered that the disciple was not a brahmana. It happened tha an an insect bit a hole into Karna's thigh when one afternoon the teacher had fallen asleep on Karna's lap. Karna bore the acute pain quietly and did not stir, lest the master should wake up. The warm blood trickling from the wound woke up Parasurama. When he saw what had happened, he was angry.

"You are a kshatriya; otherwise you could not have borne this physical pain without stirring. Tell me the truth. You are not a brahmana. You have deceived your teacher. Fool! When your hour comes, your knowledge of astras will fail you and what you have learnt from me through deception will not avail you."

Parasurama's wrath against kshatriyas is well known and, when he discovered that Karna was a kshatriya, he cursed him thus in his anger.

Karna was free in making gifts. One day, Indra, who was Arjuna's father, came in the garb of a brahmana and begged of Karna for a gift of the divine earrings and armor with which he had been born.

Karna took them out and gave them away accordingly. From that time, Karna's strength was reduced.

"Karna's pledge to his mother Kunti that he would not kill more than one of the five of you, Parasurarna's curse, the anger of the brahmana whose cow was killed by Karna, the way in which his charioteer Salya depressed him by underrating his valor and Vasudeva's stratagems, these combined to bring about Karna's end. Do not grieve believing that you alone caused his death." Thus said Narada, but Yudhishthira was not consoled by these words.

"Do not blame yourself, son, for Karna's, death," said Kunti. "His father, the sun lord himself, pleaded with him. He begged of him to give up the wickedhearted Duryodhana and join you. I too tried hard. But he would not listen to us.

He brought his end on himself."

"You deceived us, mother" said Yudhishthira, "by hiding the secret of his birth from us. You became thus the cause of this great sin. May women never be able to keep a secret henceforth."

This is the poet's story of how Yudhishthira cursed all women in his anguish over having killed his own elder brother. It is a common notion that women cannot keep secrets. And this story is a beautiful conception illustrating that popular belief.

It may be that in worldly affairs, it is an advantage to be able to keep secrets. But it is not great virtue from the point of view of moral character, and women need not grieve over an incapacity of this kind, if indeed Kunti's legacy still persists.

The affectionate temperament natural to women may perhaps incline them to openness. But some women do keep secrets very well indeed, and not a man possess this ability either. It is a fallacy to attribute the differences that arise out of training and occupation on nature itself and imagine some qualities as peculiar to a sex.