The Mahabharat, Book 5: Udyoga Parva

Pre-War Parvas

The Udyoga Parva is the fifth Parva (book) of the Mahabharata, abounding with incidents appertaining to war and peace. “Udyog” means effort. It is the Book of the “Effort”, the Padavas and Kauravas make various attempts at peace to avoid war but also start the preparations for war in case the peace accord does not work out.

After the celebration of the wedding of Abhimanyu and Uttara, a conclave of kings was held at Virat’s court. Drupad, Balaram, Krishna, Satyaki (of the Yadavas), Abhimanyu, Pradyumna (Krishna’s son), Drupad with his sons, and the five sons of Draupadi were gathered, in addition to the Pandava brothers and Virat himself. Reviewing the events that had led to the Pandavas’ misfortunes, Krishna strongly condemned the atrocities committed by the Kauravas.

“What would be Duryodhana’s next move?” pondered the Vrishni, “Let us immediately send a messenger to ascertain their plans. If they are willing to return to Yudhishthira his kingdom, then there would be peace. If not, it is wisdom that we prepare for war.”

Balarama was in favour of conciliation. He said, “Yudhishthira lost his kingdom due to his own folly. Let us not think of war with the Kurus. Let a messenger proceed to Hastinapura to conciliate the king.” Satyaki criticized Balarama for his views, while endorsing Krishna’s plan. Drupada’s counsel was, “By now Duryodhana must be sending his messengers to various kings, seeking their support in the war that is certain to take place soon. Let us also send word to our friends to be prepared. In the meantime, let us send a messenger to Dhritarashtra.” His advise was accepted by everyone. After the departure of Krishna and Balarama to Dwaraka, Virat started his war preparations. He, as well as Drupada, enlisted the support of all those who were sympathetic to the Pandava cause. In a similar action, the Kurus were contacting their supporters, most of who began to send their armies.

Duryodhan and Arjun both seek the help of Krishna. This incident is well known and Krishna offers his 10 crore Narayani army on one side and he himself single, with a vow to not participate in the war. Arjun chooses the lord while Duryodhan is most happy with the Narayani sena. Duryodhan also cleverly traps Shalya into supporting him while Shalya had set out with an intention of joining Yudhishthir. And so, the various camps swell with allies and their armies.

Meanwhile, the peace mission begins. The first messenger is sent from Pandava side. He is the rajpurohit or the royal priest of King Drupad. His message of peace is received in reverence but not too kindly. He said,

“Our king, Yudhishthira, is of the opinion that the Pandavas have fulfilled the conditions laid upon them at the dice game thirteen years ago. They would now want you to return to them the kingdom that they lost. If a proper settlement was not arrived at, there may be war, with a high cost of human lives and material. We are aware that your son Duryodhana has already started preparing for a war with the Pandavas and has gathered a force of eleven Akshauhinis. Please be informed that the Pandavas also have at their call seven Akshauhinis from their supporters. No doubt there is a difference in numbers. But that is more than made up by the presence among the Pandavas of that wielder of celestial weapons, their middle brother, Arjuna.”

Bhishm says to him that “O Brahman, you speak the truth but your tone is harsh”. When emotions started to run high, Dhritarashtra said that, after due deliberation, he would send Sanjay to Yudhishthira. The brahmin was asked to return to the Pandavas with that message.

Thereafter Sanjay goes to Yudhishthir with Dhristarashtra message that Yudhishthir should not seek a war. Dhritarashtra message was for peace and reconcilliation but at no point promised the kingdom back to the Pandavas. After some futile discussions, Sanjay took leave of the Pandavas, the final message he carried from Yudhishthira being, “Give me back my Indraprastha or fight with me.”

After Sanjay’s return and his report, the elders conferred once again and everyone urged Dhritarashtra to make peace. But Duryodhan, Karna and other do not agree. Finally Krishna’s embarks on his mission for peace. Duryodhan is adamant and makes the famous statement, “I shall not give the Pandavas even that much land that can rest on the needlepoint”. When Duryodhan tried to take Krishna forcibly as a captive, Krishna’s reveals his vishwaroop.

The last part of the book deals with Krishna talking to Karna and revealing Karna’s birth secret and urging him to join the Pandava side. Karna reluctantly exhibits his inability to desert Duryodhan at this stage. Kunti tries the same but is refused the same. But Kunti does extract a “daan” from Karna that he will not kill any Pandava except Arjun so that at the end of the war, either he or Arjun will live and Kunti will continue to have five sons.

Now that war is inevitable, Pandavas and Kauravas decide their battle strategy. Dhrishtadumya becomes the commander-in-chief of the Pandava army and likewise Pitamah Bhishm of the Kaurava army. The armies march to Kurukshetra.

Bhishm describes the rathis, atirathis and maharathis of each side (please see: Rathi, Atirathi/Maharathi, AtiMaharathi, etc.)

Due to the severe disagreement between Bhishm and Karna, Karna decides that he will not fight till the grandsire is part of the army.

Balaram is saddened by the prospect of war and decides not to participate in the war. He favoured Duryodhan but could not bring himself to oppose Krishna. Hence he leaves for a piligrimage.

Rukmi, the king of Vidharbha, and father-in-law of Krishna, offers Arjun his help and his army boasting that he can destroy the Kaurava army himself. Arjun smiles at him and tells him that he does not need his help. Rukmi goes to Duryodhan and repeats his offer. Duryodhan also rejects him.

(Thus Balaram and Rukmi are the only two personalities that did not participate in the war).

Duryodhan asked his advisers, how long would it take to annihilate the Pandava forces.

Bhishma said, “One month.”
Drona said, “One month.”
Kripa said, “Two months.”
Aswatthama said, “Ten nights.”
Karna said, “Five nights.”

Bhishma smiled and said, “So you definitely can do it in five nights, if you do not encounter Arjuna. Till then you can say anything. It costs nothing to say what pleases you.”

(Here ends the pre-war parvas. To be continued with the post war parvas)…

(Picture shows Krishna’s Vishwaroop)

Post Author: Prasanna Bhalerao

IT Professional with interest in History, Mythology and Photography. Likes to travel and see interesting places.

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