Mahabharat Episode 30: Duryodhana Humiliated to the Core
Bhishma said, “Of all the men who are here, I may be the eldest, but the greatest is definitely Krishna, because he is more than a man. So, naturally he must be the guest of honor.” The moment he said this, Shishupala, Krishna’s cousin, stood up in a rage. Shishupala was the king of Chedi. He was known as the “Bull of Chedi,” because he was an extraordinarily large man.
Shishupala’s Anger Boils Over
There had been a string of problems with Shishupala in the past. One important incident occurred when Shishupala was set to marry Rukmini. Rukmini’s brother Rukmi promised Shishupala, who was his friend, that he would give his sister in marriage to Shishupala.
Instead of simply conducting a marriage, they called for a swayamvara. In a swayamvara, the girl is supposed to choose her groom. But they set up a fake swayamvara, in which Rukmini’s brother had already made the choice. They chose to do a swayamvara to satisfy everyone and use it to forge a strategic alliance.
But Rukmini was in love with Krishna, whom she had not even seen. Just hearing about Krishna, she fell in love with him. Krishna knew that she loved him, and he did not want Rukmi and Shishupala to set a precedent of conducting fake swayamvaras.
Krishna went to the swayamvara and abducted the princess. When Rukmi and Shishupala gave him chase, he trounced both of them. Krishna did not want to kill Rukmi because he was Rukmini’s brother. He disarmed Rukmi and shaved his head, his eyebrows, and his moustache, and sent him back. This was the greatest shame you could inflict on a Kshatriya.
And he did not kill Shishupala either, because he had made a promise to Shishupala’s mother, many years before. When Shishupala was young, out of pure arrogance, he abused Krishna. At some point, Krishna got a little irritated and said, “This is uncalled-for.” Knowing who Krishna was, Shishupala’s mother begged him, “Promise me that you will never kill Shishupala,” to which he replied, “Even if he abuses me a hundred times, I will not kill him.”
Many years later, when Bhishma said Krishna should be the guest of honor at the Rajasuya Yagna, Shishupala was incensed. All the old anger and shame he held inside burst out, and he stood up and started abusing Krishna. Bhishma intervened and said, “There is no need to abuse the guest of honor at an event like this. It is I who chose him.”
Then Shishupala started verbally abusing Bhishma too, while continuing to hurl abuses at Krishna as well. Krishna just sat there smiling and counting the number of abuses. When it came to ninety-nine, Krishna said, “I promised your mother that even if you abuse me a hundred times, I will not kill you. There is just one more left for you. If you go beyond that, you will be dead.”
The Yagna Turns Ugly
But Shishupala was not in the mood or state to listen. He was foaming and throwing abuses. So Krishna took up his famous weapon, the deadly Sudarshan Chakra. It says in the Mahabharat that when Jarasandha attacked Krishna and he had to leave Mathura, Krishna went up a mountain and met a sage who was working with metallurgy who taught him how to extract the hardest kind of metal, which was otherwise unknown at that time, from a reddish-brown rock. Until then, all the arms were made of brass. Now, for the first time, Krishna forged a disc from iron. He learnt to use the disc in such a way that people ascribed all kinds of magical powers to it. Krishna threw the disc, and it severed Shishupala’s head and those of many of Shishupala’s friends.
People who had resented the killing of Jarasandha all drew their swords. The Pandavas were unarmed. But the people who were on the Pandavas’ side outnumbered those who had drawn their swords, and they prevented a larger outbreak of violence. But the Rajasuya Yagna, which should have been the greatest event in a king’s life and happen beautifully, turned ugly. One thing was Krishna had to kill his own cousin. Another thing was that the situation was on the verge of turning into a battle. It was mainly Krishna’s Yadava soldiers who prevented a mass carnage.
A Treasured Task
During the Rajasuya Yagna, everyone in the family was given some responsibility, so that the uncles, aunts, and cousins felt at home. Even today, this is common practice at Indian weddings. Some family members take up genuine responsibilities, others just nominal ones.
When Yudhishthira asked Krishna, “What responsibility should I give Duryodhana?” Krishna smiled and said, “Make him the keeper of your treasury.” Yudhishthira innocently gave Duryodhana the responsibility of managing the treasury for those few days. Duryodhana walked into the treasury. There were heaps of treasures – a kind of wealth that he could not even dream of. When he saw all this, his envy knew no bounds.
After the Rajasuya Yagna was over and all the other guests left, Yudhishthira, as was his nature, particularly requested Duryodhana and his brothers to stay back for a few more days. “Be our guests. It has been such a long time – we have been missing all the bad blood.” Such a good man he was.
Now that the function was over, there was finally time to show them the whole palace, and they were taking them on a tour of the Maya Sabha, a magical hall like no one had ever seen before, because the architect came from elsewhere. It was designed to create maya, an illusion.
The architect created crystal screens that were completely transparent and water pools whose surface looked like flooring. One had to really watch out as to not be deceived. Duryodhana was not someone you could take on a tour. You can see this sometimes – when you take a group of people on a tour, usually, women, children, and a few men walk with the guide, but there are some, mostly men, who just cannot.
Likewise, it was impossible for Duryodhana to join a guided tour, and to follow and listen to someone. After all, he was a king. But he did not see the crystal screen and walked into it. As if that was not embarrassment enough, he fell into a pool, thinking it was a solid floor.
Draupadi, who was passing by, and Nakula, Sahadeva, Arjuna, and Bhima, who were sitting there, burst into peals of laughter. When Yudhishthira sternly looked at them, the four brothers stopped laughing. But Draupadi could not contain herself. She laughed out louder and louder. And to top it all, she said, “What can you expect of a blind man’s son?” Fueled by the humiliation, Duryodhana’s jealousy, envy, fear, and anger, grew beyond measure. Had her husbands not been there, he would have ripped Draupadi apart.
Duryodhana went away, consumed by shame. On the way back to Hastinapur, he did not eat for many days. He wanted to die. He said, “I cannot bear this shame that their city has grown to such an extent that they have become so wealthy, and now they have done a Rajasuya Yagna, which I will not be able to do in my whole life. And on top of everything, this woman laughed at me! I want to die.” When he reached the Hastinapur palace, he sat down. For many weeks, he did not eat. He did not wash his body. He did not change his clothes. He just sat there like a mad man.
Dhritarashtra got worried that his son was going insane. Whatever anyone said, he was in no mood to listen. He just wanted to die. He did not know how else to fix the situation. Then Shakuni stepped in.
To be continued
Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published in Forest Flower, July 2017.