Mahabharat Episode 27: Rajasuya Yagna - Paving the Path to Power
One day, they were sitting under a beautiful tree on the banks of Yamuna, in the Khandavaprastha, a thick jungle, and Krishna said, “It is time we extend the city and build many other structures. We will have to burn this forest down.” Arjuna said, “This is such a beautiful forest, and it is full of life. How can we burn it down?” Krishna said, “Now that you have chosen to be kings, you must civilize the place. There will be no glory for you as kings without this responsibility and burden.”
As he and Arjuna set out to burn the forest down, Krishna added, “You must kill every creature that tries to escape the fire.” Arjuna asked, “Why kill them?” Krishna replied, “If you want to live and rule the nation in peace, do not let your enemies go. If you let them go today, they will come back tomorrow.”
The ruthlessness with which Krishna acted needs to be understood in its historical context. This was five thousand years ago, when the whole land, from the Himalayan foothills to Kanyakumari, was covered with thick jungle, and densely populated by wild animals. Burning forest and killing animals was necessary to make the land habitable for human beings. The idea of saving the environment did not exist at that time, since the situation was completely different.
A Hall Like No Other
In the process of creating human habitat, Krishna and Arjuna killed almost all other creatures in the area. Only one particular snake, who later came back to cause trouble, and his friend Mayasura, an asura king, escaped. Mayasura surrendered to Krishna and Arjuna and pleaded with them, “I am a great architect and builder. I can build a great assembly hall for you, the kind of hall that humans have not seen in this part of the world. Please do not take my life.” Questioningly, Arjuna looked at Krishna, and the latter said, “Let him be. He will be useful for you.”
Mayasura built the Maya Sabha, an assembly hall unlike any other, exquisite in every aspect. He even made panes of thinly cut crystal sheets that people could look through without even knowing these sheets are there. In those days, no one had seen glass. When guests came, they walked into the crystal sheets, thinking they were open doorways. And of all the people, later on one day, Duryodhana would walk into one of them. He was a very proud man, which means if he accidentally banged his head against something that you built, you were in for trouble.
Narada Arrives in Indraprastha
Indraprastha was such a beautiful and prosperous city that many people started moving there. Half the population of Hastinapur relocated to Indraprastha, including the best and most talented townspeople. As he saw so many of their residents leave for Indraprastha, anger and resentment against the Pandavas welled up again in Duryodhana’s heart. Even his brothers wanted to go and see Indraprastha, which made him furious.
Then the inevitable thing happened – Narada came to the Pandavas. When Narada appeared, trouble always came in the form of goodness. The five brothers prostrated in front of him. Narada said, “Now you have become prosperous.” And he told them a story about two rakshasa brothers – Shunda and Ashunda.
The two brothers built a huge kingdom for themselves and ruled it together. They loved each other very much, and their influence and power kept growing. Certain people, who envied their success, sent a gandharvi to them. Her name was Tilottama. She was a ravishingly beautiful woman, and she made sure both the brothers were substantially drawn to her. When things came to a crux, she said, “I will marry whoever is the strongest between you.” Immediately, the two brothers started to fight. Both were equally strong, and they ended up killing each other.
After telling this story, Narada cautioned the Pandavas, “Tilottama was also a dark beauty, like Panchali. You are not just two – you are five. When you were facing hardship together, you did not fight. But as your wellbeing grows, you will fight over this woman. The only way you can avoid that is to absolutely follow the rule that Krishna has established for your marriage.” The rule was that Draupadi should live with one brother for one year, and that none of the other four should go near her at that time. Otherwise, they would be banished.
While they lived in Hastinapur and all these intrigues and politics were going on, they did not really stick to this rule. Now that they had built their own kingdom and the situation was stable, Narada, in the presence of Krishna, admonished them to stick to this rule.
Everyone was happy. The city of Indraprastha was beautiful and getting bigger by the day, brimming with activity and talent. They had a fabulous palace, and the assembly hall that Mayasura had built was sensational. People were traveling long distances just to see this hall. At this point, Narada gave them the following advice: “Now that you have created your own kingdom and Krishna is here, wanting to establish dharma, it is time for you to perform a Rajasuya Yagna.”
Preparing for the Rajasuya Yagna
A Rajasuya Yagna was a ritual to transform a king into an emperor. It was about sending out the message that this king has become fit and powerful enough to be the king of kings. Either others accept that, or if they do not, you fight with them. Yudhishthira said, “Where is the need? We are happy in Indraprastha. Why should we go and invade other places? Why should we force or coerce other people to take us as their sovereigns? I have no such ambition.”
Narada said, “It is not about you. Your father has still not made it to heaven. He is still in the land of Yama. You are his children. Unless you do the Rajasuya Yagna, he cannot rise to Devaloka, the land of gods.” This argument convinced Yudhishthira to agree.
Only once in many centuries did a king acquire enough power and prominence to claim that he could perform a Rajasuya Yagna. This was the biggest event that could happen to a Kshatriya. They sent out invitations. To those who refused, they sent their armies. The four other brothers – Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva – went in different directions and conquered land after land, kingdom after kingdom, and brought back immense wealth. They brought back elephant-loads of gold, jewelry, and diamonds as gifts and signs of surrender from other kings. The only kingdom they spared was that of the Kauravas, because they were cousins. The Kauravas were invited to the Rajasuya Yagna as family members, so they could not refuse.
Duryodhana’s heart burnt with rage. He could not bear it anymore. He had sent them to a wax palace and burnt it down – they did not die. He had sent them into a desert – they turned it into a paradise and built a glorious city. And now they were going to perform a Rajasuya Yagna. In one generation, only one king could perform a Rajasuya Yagna. That meant Duryodhana would not get such a chance in his life – unless Yudhishthira died. Immediately, this became Duryodhana’s only ambition.
To be continued
Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published in Forest Flower, April 2017.