“Mahaprasthan” means “the great (last) journey” or the journey of the soul leaving the body. Mahaprasthanik Parva describes the last journey of the Pandavas as they relinquish the royal garbs and take up the great journey to the Himalayas with the ultimate aim to achieve “mukti or Mokasha” or salvation.
Background of Mausala Parva
At the end of the “Mausala Parva”, all the Yadavas (यादव)/Vrishnis (वृष्णि) and Andhakas (अन्धक) are killed by the curse the Saptrishis (the great seven sages). Balarama also gives up his life and Krishna is killed in accordance to Gandhari’s curse. Yudhishthir, meanwhile, has been observing many ill omens. Just then, the news of the end of Yadavas/Vrishnis and Andhakas including Balaram and Krishna reaches Hastinapur. Arjun goes to Dwaraka on hearing this. There he comes to know that the city is going to drown in the advancing sea in seven days.
Arjun gathers all the women widows and leads them out of Dwaraka. Vasudev dies in meditation. Women and children take whatever wealth they have and set off for Hastinapur with Arjun. On the way, they are attacked by the abhira tribe, who see a lone archer travelling with this group. Arjun tries to defend the group valiantly but is unable to regain his past stamina. He soon discovers that his divine celestial weapons are not usable any more and he cannot remember how to invoke them. So he tries to fight with conventional arrows. But to his dismay, his two inexhaustible quivers of arrows soon become empty. He is no more able to fight.
Many women kill themselves by drowning or self-immolation. The survivors and Arjun arrive at Hastinapur, where Arjun confesses his anguish over the fate of the Yadavas and his friend Krishna to the sage Vyas. The great sage consoles him by saying that the death of the Yadavas was predestined. The sage advises Arjun that his archery skills are meant to be used only on this Earth. Since there is no need for his celestial weapons they have been repossessed back. Arjun is all humbled and sorrowful and he returns to Hastinapur. There he narrates the whole tale to Yudhishthir and the rest.
Cut back to Mahaprasthanik Parva
Yudhishthir, on hearing everything from Arjun, about “the destruction of the Yadavas men using Mausalas in Prabasha, the death of Lord Krishna and Balaram, the submersion of Dwaraka into the Sea and Arjun’s inability to rescue the Yadav women while bringing them to Hastinapur”, gets severely dejected. All five brothers and Draupadi lose interest in the world. They conclude that now the time for their own departure from Earth has arrived. Consequently, King Yudhishthir coronate Parikshit (son of Abhimanyu) as the king of Hastinapur. They start their journey towards the Himalayas for their departure.
The Pandavas make a final visit to various holy places across India before ascending towards heaven. They first come to Dwaraka, which was once a very beautiful city, but now submerged under the Sea. They get highly depressed. They begin to recollect all the beautiful pastimes of the duo Krishna-Balarama who used to help them in overcoming various ordeals from time to time. From there they start walking towards Himalayas. On their way, Lord Agni appears before the Pandavas and asks Arjun to return his bow. Agni says that this bow was given to him from Varun for destroying all the demons on the Earth. Now, the purpose of Arjun’s bow has been served and so he requests him to return it. On hearing this, Arjun returns his bow to Lord Agni who in turn disappears the moment he gets the bow from Arjun and the Pandavas continue their journey. On their way, the Pandavas pray to Lord Shiva and install a Shivalingam near Rishikesh. Now they start to ascend towards the Heaven in the high Himalayas.
On their way, a dog accompanies the Pandavas. The dog follows the Pandavas throughout their journey.
As the brothers walk, Draupadi is the first person to fall. Bheem asks Yudhishthir the reason behind the death of Draupadi. Yudhishthir replies that although all the five brothers loved her equally, yet, she showed more inclination towards Arjun. It was because of this partiality towards Arjun, she died midway.
The remaining Pandavas continue their journey leaving Draupadi behind. Now, Sahadev is the next person to fall. Bheem again asks Yudhishthir the reason for the death of Sahadev. Yudhishthir replies that Sahadev was very proud that none was equal to him in wisdom. It was for this reason he died midway.
The others continue to move leaving Sahadev behind. Now, Nakul is the next person to die. Over this, Yudhishthir replies to Bheem that Nakul thought that he was the most handsome person in the world. It was because of this pride in him that he too had to die in the middle before they could reach heaven. Yudhishthir instructs Arjun and Bheem not to look back and to continue their journey.
As they travel further, now Arjun is the next person to die on their way. Bheem again gets very astonished. He asks Yudhishthir the reason behind Arjun’s inability to reach heaven in human form. Yudhishthir replies that Arjun boasted and took a vow before the beginning of the Kurukshetra war that he would destroy the entire Kauravas in a single day. Being so proud of his archery skills took the vow but he could not do fulfill it and the war took place for eighteen days. So, Arjun was deprived of reaching heaven on being so proud over his archery skills.
Now, they leave Arjun too behind. Yudhishthir, Bheem and the Dog proceed further. However, now it was the turn of Bheem to fall down. He asks his elder brother to narrate him the reason behind his own inability to reach heaven. Yudhishthir replies that Bheem used to eat too much without even thinking about the hunger of others. Also, Bheem kicked fallen Duryodhan’s head. It was due to this sin that he was now ordained to die.
Finally, Yudhishthir along with the dog continue their journey and reach the highest ascent point where they are met by the celestials.
(to be continued)…