WHEN the war was nearing its end, Balarama arrived at Kurukshetra after completing his tour of holy places. He came just when Bhima and Duryodhana were engaged in their last mortal combat. He saw Bhima aiming the deadly blow which broke Duryodhana's thighs, and his anger flamed up at this great breach of the rules of single combat.
"Fie upon you all! Would any kshatriya hit below the navel? This Bhima has offended the law most disgracefully," he exclaimed and impatiently going up to his brother Krishna, shouted:
"You can look on and tolerate all this. But I cannot bear to see such unclean fighting!" Saying this he advanced towards the offending Bhima with upraised plough. The plough was Balarama's weapon on supreme occasions, as the discus was Krishna's. Krishna was alarmed when he saw his elder brother advancing in a passion towards Bhima.
He rushed forward and, intercepting him, said: "The Pandavas are our friends and closest relations. They have been the victims of insufferable wrongs at the hands of Duryodhana. When Draupadi was insulted in the Assembly Hall, Bhima vowed: 'I will one day in battle break the two thighs of Duryodhana with this mace and kill him.' He proclaimed this solemn oath at that time and everyone has known it. It is the duty of a kshatriya to fulfil the vow he has solemnly taken. Do not let your anger mislead you and do not be unjust to the innocent Pandavas. You should, before condemning Bhima, take into account all the wrongs that the Kauravas have done to the Pandavas. Nothing but error can result if one proceeds to judge conduct without taking into account the chain of events leading up to it. You cannot snatch a particular act out of its context and proceed to give judgment on it alone without gross injustice. The era of Kali has arrived, when the laws of a previous age cannot apply. It was not wrong for Bhima to strike below the navel an enemy who had wickedly contrived against his life on many occasions. It was because of Duryodhana's foul instigation that Karna sent a shaft from behind and broke Abhimanyu's bowstring when he was defending himself against heavy odds. Arjuna's young son was attacked by numerous warriors who surrounded him, when he stood all by himself in the field, deprived of bow and chariot, and in a most cowardly manner, killed him. Duryodhana thought evil and practised deception from the time of his birth and has brought about the destruction of his people. There is no sin in Bhima killing this man. Bhima bore the wrongs done and kept his wrath within himself for thirteen long years. Duryodhana knew well that Bhima had sworn to break his thighs and kill him. When he challenged the aggrieved Pandavas to battle, he knew very well that he invited Bhima to make good his oath. How can you think that it was wrong for Bhima to do this?"
Krishna's words did not change Balarama's opinion, but his anger subsided. "Duryodhana will attain the happy regions reserved for the brave. Bhima's fame has been tarnished for all time. It will be said among men that the son of Pandu broke the laws of war in attacking Duryodhana. It will remain forever a great blot on his good name. I hate to stay here any longer." So saying the indignant Balarama immediately left for Dwaraka.
"Yudhishthira, why this strange silence?" asked Krishna.
"O Madhava, it hurts me to see Bhima leap on cousin Duryodhana's mortally wounded body and trample on his head. I see the end of the glory of our race. We were wronged by the Kauravas. I know the full measure of grief and anger in Vrikodara's heart, and don't wish to blame him beyond reason. We have killed Duryodhana, who was afflicted by uncontained greed and poverty of understanding. What serves it now to debate the ethics of it or nicely to weigh the propriety of a much wronged man's revenges?"
Yudhishthira was greatly oppressed in mind. When men transgress the law, extenuations and excuses are of no avail in giving mental satisfaction.
Arjuna, of penetrating intellect, was silent. He did not show approval of Bhima's act. Nor did he say anything by way of detraction. The rest of the people, who were there, were however loud in condemnation of Duryodhana and were reminding one another of all his misdeeds and errors. Krishna turned towards them and said:
"Warriors, it is not proper that we go on speaking against an enemy who has been defeated and is lying mortally wounded. We should not speak ill of a dying man. He was stupid and brought about his own end. He fell into the company of bad men and was ruined. Let us go."
Duryodhana, who was stretched on the ground in intense, agony, when he heard Krishna say this, went into a paroxysm of rage. He half raised himself on his arms in spite of the excruciating pain, and exclaimed:
"Wretch! Son of a slave! Was not your father Vasudeva Kamsa's slave? You have no business to sit or move with princes. You speak like a shameless wretch. I saw you instigate Bhima to aim his blow at my thigh! Do you think I did not see you, making as though casually talking to Arjuna, pointing to your thigh, but really indicating to Bhima that he should strike me on the thighs, disregarding the laws of single combat? Till then it had been equal battle. You have neither pity nor shame. Did you not contrive the death of the grandsire Bhishma through stratagem? You advised Sikhandin to be placed in front when attacking Bhishma, knowing that the grandsire would scorn to fight a woman, and would let himself be mortally wounded without resistance. You brought about the end of Dronacharya through making Dharmaputra utter a falsehood. You were the father of that deadly lie that issued from Yudhishthira's mouth, and made Dronacharya throw his bow away. Did you not look on without protest, and rejoice, when that, wretch Dhrishtadyumna attacked and killed the acharya who had stopped fighting, throwing away his weapons, and settled down in yoga posture for meditation on the Supreme? Was it not you who wickedly contrived to make Karna hurl the fatal spear at Ghatotkacha instead of reserving it for Arjuna as he had all along resolved to do? O great sinner, surely it was you who instigated Satyaki to butcher Bhurisravas when his right arm had been foully cut off and he stopped fighting and spread his arrows for a seat for holy meditation. It was you who brought about the death of Karna by inducing Arjuna to attack him in a cowardly manner when he was engaged in lifting his chariot wheel which had sunk and stuck in the mud in the field of battle. Oh worthless man, sole cause of our destruction, the whole world has condemned your act when by sorcery you made it appear as if the sun had set. You made Jayadratha, the Sindhu king, believe that the day was over and he was past danger, and thus he was slain when he was off his guard."
Thus did Duryodhana pour his denunciation against Krishna and then, exhausted by the pain of his wounds and the violence of his rage, he fell prostrate again.
"Son of Gandhari," said Krishna, "why do you let your anger add to the pain of your last moments? It is your own misdeeds that have brought about your end. Do not attribute it to me. Bhishma and Drona had to die on account of your sins. So also were you the cause of the death of Karna and others. Need I recount all the wrongs that you were guilty of against the sons of Pandu? What punishment can be too severe for the great outrage, which you inflicted on Draupadi? The animosities and passions that resulted from your misdeeds cannot be made ground for condemning others. All the deceptions and lapses you charge us with were forced on us by reason of your wicked conduct. You have paid off on the battlefield the debt incurred by your greed. But you are dying the death of a brave man. You will go to the happy regions reserved for kshatriyas who lay down their lives on the field of battle."
"Krishna, I go to swarga with my friends and relatives. But you and your friends will live on earth to suffer," said the stubborn Duryodhana. "I studied the Vedas. I have given gifts ordained by law and I have reigned supreme over all the sea-girt earth. While I lived, I stood upon the humbled heads of foes. All human joys, such joys as even the Gods cannot despise and kings sigh for in vain, the very pinnacle of power, were mine. Dying now, such death as warriors deem the crown of kshatriya life, I go to meet in heaven my friends and brothers gone before, eager to welcome me. Who is more blest, I, or you who, doomed to linger here, mourning for slaughtered friends in desolate homes, find the long sought triumph but ashes in your mouth?" said Duryodhana. And the gods showered flowers down on the dying warrior and the gandharvas played music and the sky was illuminated. Vasudeva and the Pandavas felt small.
"There is truth," said Krishna, "in what Duryodhana said. You could not have defeated him by fair means. This wicked man was invincible in battle."