Did you know that the Indian Naval Ships (INS) used to dock at tactically important locations whenever some chief personnel of our Nation gets engaged in a diplomatic conversation with another from an unfriendly country? You might be wondering what this has to do with Mahabharata. We will surely come back to this, but later.
Overture to the Peace Mission
As a prelude, let us briefly navigate through the immediate circumstances that led to this peace mission. Losing the bet to the deceitful games of Shakuni, the five pandavas and their wife Droupadi lived in the forest for 12 years facing severe hardships and the 13th year incognito at the kingdom of Virata. Having completed the stipulated time of 13 years in exile, now the Pandavas could claim back their rightful share of the kingdom.
The “Udyoga Parva” of Mahabharata starts here. In Sanskrit, Udyoga means effort or an
active preparation. Here we could see, very strenuous effort towards ‘peace’ as well as a
preparation for ‘war’, hence the befitting word choice “Udyoga” parva by the Sage author.
We see war preparations and simultaneously peace options being explored here, in this
Parva of the Itihasa.
Back to the story, a well learned house priest of the panchala king Drupada is sent as the first delegate to Hastinapura, to talk peace. In the meantime, anticipating that the wicked Duryodhana will have no intention to give back the kingdom, the Pandavas raised an army of 7 Akshouhinis: an Akshouhini is a unit of battle formation consisting of huge number of chariots, horses, elephants, cavalries and infantries in particular ratios.
Learning about this proactive measure through his spies, Duryodhana also starts gathering his side of the army and raises up to 11 Akshouhinis.
The Brahmin purohita messenger reaches Hastinapura and politely demands back half the kingdom to Pandavas as it was rightfully theirs. Bhishma supports him but Karna ridicules stating that not even one fourth of the kingdom will be given back, leave alone the half. As not being able to arrive at any decision, king Dhritarashtra sends Sanjaya to the pandavas as the next step towards negotiation.
Sanjaya reaches the Pandava camp and conveys that Dritharashtra desires peace and not war. Dharmaputra Yudhishtira echoes back that they too consider peace as superior and If their kingdom at Indraprastha could be returned, they are willing to pardon for every single suffering that they have undergone till date due to the misdoings of the Kauravas.
Slipping off from that demand, Sanjaya rather sermonizes Pandavas on the evil effects of war. “Can happiness be gained with possessions obtained through war? Even if you do not get back your kingdom, you should not abandon the supreme path of Dharma.” etc.
Bhagavan Krishna intervenes in the conversion and recounts all the misconduct of Kauravas towards Pandavas, including the disrobing of Droupadi in the court. He expresses that still he desires peace and so he himself would visit the Kauravas to settle the matters before a disaster happens. Sanjaya goes back to Hastinapura.
Thereafter Krishna consults all the five brothers and their wife Droupadi to know about their views and get prepared to embark on this peace mission to Hastinapura. Yudhishtira points out that this mission would mostly be a futile exercise since unprincipled Duryodhana will have no honest wish to give back the places they acquired.
The wise Pandava even reckons that Duryodhana might even try to harm Sri Krishna during this visit.
Bhagavan Krishna agrees that even he too understands that this journey to establish peace shall mostly be fruitless, but still an effort has to be made in all ways to attempt for peace before massive destruction happens.
Also, he reveals his invincible strength announcing that if Duryodhana heedlessly tries to capture him, he will fight and burn everything to the ground. Lord Krishna undertakes his journey with his chariot equipped with weapons and also 10 Maharathi’s and a thousand soldiers accompanying.
Learning about Krishna’s arrival, Dritharashtra arranges for a grand welcome. He keeps ready many ornamented citadels with all riches en route for Krishna to take rest but all these lavishing gifts were in fact only a pretence to win him over! Knower of all hearts, the Yadava king wilfully brushed aside all these arrangements and went directly to Hastinapura.
Duryodhana has made splendid arrangements for Krishna’s stay but Krishna did not accept his hospitality and went to the house of Vidura for his stay. Vidura was overwhelmed by this singular honour.
Next day morning, Vidura expresses the same concern to Krishna that this mission was not likely to succeed since Duryodhana was lost to all good counsel.
Duryodhana was just eager for war since he thinks that with Bhishma, Drona, Kripa and Karna on his side, the war results would be in his favour. Bhagavan Krishna patiently replies that he knows what the Kauravas think.
“I know what effect my words will have on them. Still I want to save them from imminent death. They all are certain to die in the war. If I can save them by my efforts I shall win eternal fame.
Even if I am not successful, I shall have the consolation that I have made my best efforts. I see the destruction of the Kauravas and I am keen to avoid that.
I also want to tell everyone present in the court about the great injustice done to the Pandavas. The war is inevitable but let everyone know who is responsible for it.” 
Sri Krishna in the court of Kauravas
Next-Day in the royal court, Krishna addressed King Dhritharashtra stating that his purpose of visit to Hastinapura is to stop the war by any means. This will avoid unnecessary massacre of eighteen Akshouhinis’ of army, many Maharathis, other warriors and heroes.
Govinda points out the injustice that has been done to the Pandavas. He exclaimed that if the Kauravas and the Pandavas live together, peacefully, they shall have no rival in the world to challenge the house of the Kurus.
Some thoughtful sentences are worth mentioning: ” I see all the kings gathered here in this august assembly, going into the jaws of death. Only you are capable of preventing it! Save the world from destruction and let your sons and the Pandavas live peacefully.
Don’t let the opportunity slip out of your hands. Therefore, it is my humble request to you, that the kingdom of the Pandavas be returned to them.”
Listening to this, Dhritarashtra just whines that he is powerless since his sons don’t listen to him! He asks Krishna to talk and convince Duryodhana and Karna since even Bhishma and Vidura cannot make them see the right path. Krishna tries that too by praising Duryodhana, “You are a descendant of a very great family.
You are endowed with great wealth and many good qualities. I am not able to understand your unjust treatment towards your cousins, Pandavas. My dear Duryodhana, You should choose the path, which may bring happiness to your mother, father, elders and your teachers. You can make them happy by following the path of the truth and righteousness only.”
Bhishma, Drona and Vidura also approve of what Krishna had said but on hearing such unpalatable advice from Krishna, Duryodhana alleges that Krishna is partial towards the Pandavas. He proudly boasts that he is ready to face the war and will not give them half the kingdom or five villages or even that much land that can be held by the point of a sharp needle.
Though Krishna gets angry by the thoughtless words of Duryodhana, he makes another try as well and reaffirm all unrighteous actions done earlier like plotting to burn pandavas in wax palace, deceitful gambling, trying to disrobe Droupadi, insulting words of Dushasana and Karna, etc.
Krishna holds everybody in that assembly responsible for such a situation by pampering and not correcting Duryodhana.
Krishna says, “A person may be abandoned for the sake of the family, a family may be sacrificed for the sake of a village, the village may be sacrificed for the sake of a Nation. For the sake of one’s soul the entire world may be forsaken.” Duryodhana walks out of the assembly hall full of rage along with his brother Dushasana.
“Does it not happen occasionally that a village is abandoned in order that the country may be saved? I am afraid you will have to sacrifice Duryodhana if you want to save your race. That is the only way.” 
Now Dhritarashtra gave it another whirl by calling Gandhari thinking perhaps Duryodhana may listen to his mother, but Duryodhana remains rock-ribbed and disregards his mother’s words and leaves the assembly hall without speaking.
Meanwhile outside, Duryodhana, Dushasana, Karna and Sakuni secretly conspire among themselves to capture and imprison Sri Krishna. Satyaki who accompanied Madhava was very alert. He understood the evil plan of the wicked four and immediately alerted their soldiers at the main gate to get ready for a battle ambush and gave hint of the scheme to Sri Krishna.
Then he revealed it to Dhritarashtra and Vidura also, laughingly. They were taken aback and at the command of Dhritarashtra, Vidura brings Duryodhana and his brothers back to the assembly. Both Dhritarashtra and Vidura again described the greatness of Sri Krishna, and advice him to take the path of virtue.
Sri Krishna scoffs at Duryodhana for the latter’s ignorance in trying to seize him saying that Duryodhana out of his folly considers Krishna as a single person, while he is everything in the universe. Krishna laughs out loud and all Gods and all Suns and everything emerges from him, in his Viswarupa.
His radiant form had many arms that carried many weapons. Except Drona, Bhishma, Vidura, Sanjaya and other Rishis, everybody got frightened at this terrible form and closed their eyes. Shortly, Madhushoodhana took permission of Rishis and left the court to meet his paternal aunt Kunti.
Insights and Analysis of Sri Krishna’s peace mission
This episode might seem trivial, but it’s not! Comprehending this part is very decisive in
obtaining a holistic and unambiguous understanding of the Itihasa. Let us have a careful glance through the event and take home a few of our learnings.
1. The first and foremost thing to appreciate is the ‘spare no effort’ attempt of Sri Krishna to establish peace amongst the cousin brothers. Sanjaya’s message from Dhritarashtra was very clear that they (kauravas) do not want a war to happen but as well they have least intention to give back any part of the empire.
As Sri Krishna prepares to go as a Pandava messenger, Yudhishtira ponders over the utility of such a mission. He believes that the wicked Duryodhana is not going to give back any land no matter who goes for the negotiation. When that is the case, why should Krishna take up this mission? Later, this same concern is shared by the Dharmic Icon Vidura too.
The lord replies to both of them that he too knows in certainty that Duryodhana won’t lend an ear to his peace talk nor he would give back the kingdom share, nevertheless, before proceeding to a war that shall bring about colossal damage to both sides, it would be ideal to try for a peace resolution. At least this act would leave a message to our future generations that we tried our best for
Secondly if we observe the conversation of Sri Krishna in the court of the Kauravas, we can see him trying in all ways to avoid the war. This audacious step taken by Bhagavan Sri Krishna is a very firm evidence against the misrepresentation of him as one who sought for war and instigated Arjuna towards it.
Completely wrong! He, in all his honesty, cared for both sides and dedicated himself to achieve peace even when knowing the probable chances for the peace attempt to work out was next to nothing!
2. Bhagavan Sri Krishna is rightly warned by Yudhishtira in a prior conversation to his
peace mission, that Duryodhana is wickedness personified and he would go even to the
extent of harming the messenger Krishna.
The lord acknowledges the concern and says that if such a foolish experiment is tried by the Kauravas, he will bring a complete destruction to them. The same expected untoward attempt happens and we all know that Sri Krishna exhibited his Viswaroopa (all encompassing form). Keeping aside this Godly spectacle, we could even find a political strategy too hidden beneath.
There are 10 Maharathis and a 1000 soldiers who travel along with Krishna when he goes for the peace mission and Mahabharata particularly mentions that Krishna has his chariot equipped full with arms, if in case required. You will be surprised to learn that a Maharathi is a warrior who can fight with more than 7 lakh warriors simultaneously.
Karna, Bhishma, Ravana, Abhimanyu, Drona, Kumbhakarna etc were Maharathis. You will be even more surprised to learn that of the 10 Maharathis who accompany Sri Krishna, one is the chief army general Satyaki who has even defeated Karna in the Kurukshetra war.
Satyaki is present there with Krishna throughout during the peace talk and will be very alert and prepare his army outside when he senses that Duryodhana might try capturing Krishna.
Such political precautionary measures were pursued during this negotiation meeting. As mentioned in the introduction, even today, the Indian Naval Ships INS used to dock at strategic locations whenever some chief personnel of our Nation is engaged in a diplomatic conversation with another from an unfriendly country.
Thousands of years passed on after the Mahabharata, but still there are plenty such examples of similar ideals, practices and strategies practiced today!  We can only humbly bow down to the great visionary Sage Vyasa, in wonderment.
3. As the peace mission concludes without any positive outcome, Sri Krishna tells
Dritharashtra this. In Sanskrit it would be
A person may be abandoned for the sake of the family, a family may be sacrificed for the sake of a village, a village may be sacrificed for the sake of a Nation. For the sake of one’s soul the entire world may be forsaken.
Family prevails over individual; Village over family; Nation over Village; When the emptiness of worldly pleasures are comprehended through experiences and wisdom, one may give them up.
Krishna is not the first person who advocates this idea in Mahabharata. More than twice the same sloka is recited at different instances implying that the underlying idea could be a bedrock philosophy during Mahabharata times.
A careful glance would show the essence of Indian Culture being reflected in this verse. The Dharmic view of a greater good perspective which allows for one to denounce relatively smaller things and the spiritual view of complete renunciation which leads one to Divinity.
- Bibek Debroy. “The Mahabharata, 10 vols.” In: Gurgaon: Penguin (2015)
- C. Rajagopalachari. “Mahabharata Retold” Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, (1958)
- Mahabharatam, Nilakandi, Chitrasala Edition (1929)
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