yudhishthira is one of mahabhArata’s wisest men. The extent of his knowledge and understanding of shruti, smriti & shAstrA is clearly elucidated in the famous yaksha prashna during the pANDavA brothers’ 13 year exile. He was already a very popular king and yet after the war he goes to dEvavrata, his grandsire, to seek his blessings. Despite being king for many years he desires to relearn statecraft from the greatest statesman of the kuru race. That he is respectful to his elders was clearly evident when, just before the war was about to begin, he walked straight to bhIshma, drONa & kripa to ask for their forgiveness because he dared to attack them and seek their blessings.
yudhishthira‘s soft nature is usually illuminated by one of his names: ajAtashatru. It means one without an enemy. It is also explained by one of those famous Indian anecdotes where a rishi asks him who is the evilest of them all and all yudhishthira could do was see the good in everyone and replies there is no evil on the planet. He is also exceptionally patient when volatile bhIma and vindictive draupadi repeatedly ask him to break their exile and attack the kauravAs to get back what is rightfully theirs.
He readily forgave duryOdhana even though, over the ages, he poisoned his most favourite brother, tried to burn down his entire family and disrobed his wife in front of all the elders of the clan. Despite all the humiliations, he implored bhIma & arjuna to save his cousins when they were captured by the gandharvAs even though the kauravAs had camped next to them just to see how much the pANDavAs suffered in their vanavAsa. He stoically bore everything to prevent wars and loss of life.
All of the above stories are upamAnams of the soft & friendly nature of ajAtashatru but beneath the soft & friendly exterior was a steely & determined interior that was just biding for the right time to strike. Whilst he was explaining why ahimsa is paramo dharma to his krishNa & vrikOdara, he had sent savyasAchi to the himAlayAs to procure divine weapons that they lacked and will need for the inevitable war. His prescient nature saw the firepower possessed by drONa, kripa, bhIshma & karNa and wanted the pANDavAs to start on as level a playing field as possible in kurukshEtra.
When he sent gOvinda as his peace emissary he asks for just 5 villages in return for peace. This has led to many labelling him as a weak man but as explained by shrI Sridhar here*, those five villages weren’t randomly chosen. Each village was a reminder to duryOdhana about the atrocities that he had committed in his petty jealousy & irrational hatred for his cousins.
Yudhishthira is not a fool. He has asked you for these five villages in particular. He could have asked for just any five. Why should he have mentioned the names? I will tell you. He knows full well that you are not going to listen to anyone. He knows that he will have to fight for his kingdom and kill you all for the sake of that kingdom. This request of his for five villages is just a reminder to you and to the elders of this court, in particular, about the sufferings of the Pandavas. Even one of the names is sufficient.
Take Varanavata. It reminds everyone of the infamous plot at Varanavata when you and your uncle instigated Purochana to build the palace of lac. It was a dastardly plot to kill your cousins. Yudhishthira wants to remind you and us about it. Then comes the name Indraprastha. That is the next injustice done to them. You must remember that your father decided to give them half the Kuru land. This was after their wedding Draupadi. The half which was given to them was the barren land called Khandavaprastha. They got the help of Indra to make it fruitful. That is why Yudhishthira mentions Indraprastha as one of the village he wants. Then comes Jayanta. Surely, surely you could not have forgotten the hall you built after you came back from the Rajasuya. Jayanta is a suburb of Hastinapura and there was built the hall which was the excuse which brought the Pandavas to Hastinapura. Yudhishthira wants us to remember that the game of dice has not been forgotten by him. The fourth is Vrikaprastha. That was where Bheema was fed with poisoned food by you. That is the place adjoining the coppice, Pramanavata. That is where the Pandavas spent the first night of their twelve years’ exile. He has allowed you to choose the fifth village yourself. It makes up the rest of the injustices done to them by you.
Now you can see how angry and sarcastic Yudhishthira can be if he wants to? That is his way of saying: ‘After all this, you want us to be patient. My uncle says that I am bent on war. Which man will be patient after all these things have happened to him? It is possible to avert the war only if my kingdom is returned to me.’ That is the message of Yudhishthira to all of you.
His cryptically scheming nature is evinced when he comes know to his uncle (stepmother’s brother) shalya has been forced to fight against them by the chicanery of gAndhArI‘s son. He subtly puts the king of madra on the back foot (from Rajaji’s mahAbhArata) by these words:
Great warrior, you are bound to keep the promise you have made to, Duryodhana. You are the equal of Vasudeva in battle and Karna will have you as his charioteer when he seeks Arjuna’s life in the battlefield. Are you going to be the cause of Arjuna’s death? Or are you going to save him then? I know I cannot fairly ask this of you. Still I do.
shalya promises his nephew that he will do his best to keep rAdhEya discouraged and unfocused during the grand battle between the two great archer brothers.
yudhishthira‘s patience was ultimately broken on the 13th day of the war when he sent abhimanyu to break open the padmavyUha. The boy knew how to enter but not exit but bhIma promised he will enter and support him but jayadratha blocked their entry into the formation. yudhishthira realized the importance of the day’s fight and that he did not (fully) hesitate in sending his 16 year old son to fight stalwarts like karNa & drONa shows his powerful character.
Two days later, he vacillated but ultimately steeled himself to say ashvatthAma hata narOvA kunjarOvA. With or without pArtha, he saw no clear way to defeat the AchArya and brought himself to say the half-truth that ultimately brought the end of drupada‘s classmate. Apparently, dharma‘s son was so pure that he (or his chariot) never touched the ground. It was an ode to his uncontaminated nature. The desperation to win that led to his uttering of the aforementioned statement literally brought him to ground. When all is said and done, yudhishthira saw the bigger picture and got the job done so to speak.
The last evidence in dharmaputra‘s determined nature was his refusal to let duryOdhana go once the kauravA prince accepted defeat and gave up his throne. yudhishthira taunts his cousin with these words (Rajaji’s mahabhAratA):
“Duryodhana!” exclaimed Yudhishthira, “after destroying family and tribe, would you yourself escape death by concealing yourself in this pond? Where is your pride now? Have you no shame? Come up and fight. A kshatriya by birth, do you shirk battle and death?”
After duryOdhana‘s retort, yudhishthira is stinging in his reply:
“Now, that is really generous, especially after you said you would not allow us even a needle-point of land. When we begged for peace and entreated you to give us a portion, you spurned our proposal. Now, you say we may take it all. It is not for kingdom or land that we fight. Must I recount all your sins? The wrongs you did us, and the outrage you perpetrated on Draupadi, cannot be expiated except with your life.”
Doubly shamed, duryOdhana asks nay begs them not to join together and attack but dharmaputra‘s response to that is even more searing:
“If indeed it be wrong for many to join together and attack a single person, pray tell us how Abhimanyu was attacked and killed? Did you not consent to many combining and attacking that boy, standing all alone amidst your crowd? Yes, when men face misfortune, they see and preach dharma and chivalry to others. Wear your coat of armor. Choose any of us you like and fight. Die and go to swarga or win and be king.”
Clearly, yudhishthira was ready to forgive but never forget. Like a good hata, the son of yama never forgot a single injustice done to him and his family. He diligently prepared to face his enemies and patiently waited for the opportune moment to strike. His words may, occasionally, have been preachy but his actions were always in anticipation of the worst. A great man who has been overshadowed by his elder brother & two younger brothers in the epic even though he was as great if not better than the trio.
There is a lesson for our PM in the story of dharmarAjA. Patience is most certainly a virtue but unending tolerance is not. Not seeing the cases through against the pillars of corruption i.e. Sonia, Chidambaram & Co and repeatedly not correcting the media (mis)reporting does not enthuse the people who have given him a historic mandate. They, like bhIma & draupadi, will see this as a weakness and not strength and unlike them (who were blood related) will not support him eternally through thick and thin. It behooves our PM to assuage the fear of his supporters and keep the fence-sitters engaged.
There is no doubting that PM has excelled in his foreign affairs what with the complete de-hyphenation and isolation of Pakistan but internally the same level of engagement is severely lacking. This was so eloquently explained by the master media exposer that is Ravinar aka Mediacrooks. They say always end with a flourish and I will end with this flourishing paragraph that mediacrooks ended his post with.
Increasingly, ModiSarkar looks more and more like the previous regime on social issues and where Hindutva is concerned. There is not much to distinguish it except the fact that this is govt without any corruption or scams so far. But keeping the corrupt unchained does leave a serious question on the willingness and courage of ModiSarkar to act decisively. It appears more like protecting and shielding the corrupt, rather than prosecuting them.
HAPPY JANMASHTAMI ON RESPECTIVE DAYS!
*The astute @kal_chiron says it is krishna who decided on the set of villages and not ajAtashatru.