Mahabharata

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WHEN the battle was over, Hastinapura was a city of mourning. All the women and children were weeping and lamenting their slain, nearest and dearest. With many thousands of bereaved women accompanying, Dhritarashtra went to the field of battle. At Kurukshetra, the scene of terrible destruction, the blind king thought of all that had passed, and wept aloud. But, of what avail was weeping?

"O king, words of consolation addressed to a bereaved person do not remove his grief. Thousands of rulers have given up their lives in battle for your sons. It is now time that you should arrange for proper funeral ceremonies for the dead," said Sanjaya to Dhritarashtra.

"It is not right to grieve for those who die in battle. When souls have left their bodies, there is nothing like relationship, nothing like brother or son or relative. Your sons have really no connection with you. Relationship ends with death, being only a bodily connection and a mere minor incident in the soul's eternal life. From the nowhere do lives come, and, with death, they again disappear into nowhere. Why should we weep for them? Those who die in battle after a heroic fight go as guests to receive Indra's hospitality. Grieving for what is past, you cannot gain anything in the nature of dharma, pleasure or wealth." Thus, and in many more ways, did the wise and good Vidura try to assuage the king's grief.

Vyasa also approached Dhritarashtra tenderly and said: "Dear son, there is nothing that you do not know and which you have to learn from me. You know very well that all living beings must die. This great battle came to reduce earth's burden as I have heard from Lord Vishnu Himself. That is why this calamity could not be prevented. Henceforth, Yudhishthira is your son. You should try to love him and in that way bear the burden of life, giving up grief."

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Making his way, through the crowd of weeping women Yudhishthira approached Dhritarashtra and bowed before him. Dhritarashtra embraced Yudhishthira, but there was no love in that embrace.

Then Bhimasena was announced to the blind king. "Come," said Dhritarashtra.

But Vasudeva was wise. He gently pushed Bhima aside and placed an iron figure before the blind Dhritarashtra, knowing the old king's exceeding anger. Dhritarashtra hugged the metal statue to his bosom in a firm embrace and then the thought came to him of how this man had killed everyone of his sons. And his wrath increased to such a pitch that the image was crushed to pieces in his embrace.

"Ha! My anger has deceived me," cried Dhritarashtra. "I have killed dear Bhima."

Then Krishna said to the blind king:

"Lord, I knew that it would be thus and I prevented the disaster. You have not killed Bhimasena. You have crushed only an iron image that I placed instead before you. May your anger be appeased with what you have done to this image. Bhima is still alive."

The king was composed somewhat and he blessed Bhima and the other Pandavas who then took leave of him and went to Gandhari.

Vyasa was with Gandhari. "Oh queen,"said the rishi, "be not angry with the Pandavas. Did you not tell them even when the battle began: 'Where there is dharma, there surely will be victory'? And so it has happened. It is not right to let the mind dwell on what is past and nurse one's anger. You must now call to aid your great fortitude."

Gandhari said: "Bhagavan, I do not envy the victory of the Pandavas. It is true that grief for the death of my sons has robbed me of my understanding. These Pandavas also are my sons. I know that Duhsasana and Sakuni brought about this destruction of our people. Arjuna and Bhima are blameless. Pride brought this battle about and my sons deserve the fate they have met. I do not complain about it. But then, in Vasudeva's presence, Bhima called Duryodhana to battle and they fought. And, knowing that Duryodhana was stronger and could not be defeated in single combat, Bhima struck him below the navel and killed him. Vasudeva was looking on. This was wrong and it is this that I find it impossible to forgive."

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Bhima, who heard this, came near and said: "Mother, I did this to save myself in battle. Whether it was right or wrong, you should bear with me. Your son was invincible in combat and so I did in self-protection what was undoubtedly wrong. He called Yudhishthira to play and deceived him. We had been wronged by your son in so many ways. He would not give back the kingdom, of which be took unlawful possession. And you know what your son did to blameless Draupadi. If we had killed your son on the spot, when he misbehaved in the Hall of Assembly, surely you would not have blamed us. Bound by Dharmaraja's vow, we restrained ourselves with difficulty then. We have since discharged honor's debt and found satisfaction in battle. Mother, you should forgive me."

"Dear son, if you had left but one out of my hundred sons and killed all the rest and satisfied your anger, I and my old husband would have found solace in that surviving son for the rest of our lives. Where is Dharmaputra? Call him." She said.

Hearing this, Yudhishthira trembled as he, with clasped hands, approached Gandhari, whose eyes were bound in a cloth in loyal lifelong penance for her husband's blindness. He bowed low before her and said softly:

"Queen, the cruel Yudhishthira, who killed your sons, stands before you fit to be cursed. Do curse me who have committed great sin. I care not for life or for kingdom." Saying this, he fell on the ground and touched her feet.

Gandhari heaved a deep sigh and stood mute. She turned her head aside knowing that if, through the cloth with which her eyes were bound, her vision fell on the prostrate Yudhishthira he would be reduced to ashes on the spot. But through a little space in the cloth, even as she turned her face away, her eyes fell on the toe of the prostrate Yudhishthira. At once, says the poet, the toe was charred black.

Arjuna knew the power of bereaved Gandhari's wrath, and hid himself behind Vasudeva. The wise and good Gandhari suppressed all her anger and blessed the Pandavas and sent them to Kunti.

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Gandhari turned to Draupadi, who was in lamentation, having lost all her sons. "Dear girl," said Gandhari. "Do not grieve. Who can give solace to you and me? It is through my fault that this great tribe has been destroyed altogether."