After the tumultuous cattle expedition, in which their pride is wounded by Pandavas, the Kauravas return to Hastinapura and discuss their next course of action. Karna, always eager to ramp up the intensity of the conflict a few notches, asks Duryodhana to conduct a rajasuya sacrifice, the same sacrifice that Yudhisthira had performed before his exile (when he was the king of Indraprastha). Close readers of this column would recall that it was during Yudhisthira’s rajasuya sacrifice that Duryodhana was infected with the inferiority complex that defines a majority of his actions.
But there are technicalities that prevent Duryodhana from conducting the rajasuya sacrifice. The first of all is that Yudhisthira, the conductor of the last rajasuya, is still alive. Readers would again recall that a precondition for Yudhisthira’s rajasuya was the termination of king Jarasandha, the undisputed ruler of rulers at that time.
Jarasandha’s murder was accomplished by a secret force comprising Bhima, Arjuna, and Krishna. But Duryodhana, one can assume, has no means to execute a similar plan for Yudhisthira. The second hurdle is that it is Dhritarashtra, Duryodhana’s father, who presides over the throne of Hastinapura. So the rajasuya sacrifice, if undertaken, would have to be in Dhritarashtra’s name. This is clearly not what an arrogant man like Duryodhana would choose.
Another sacrifice, equal to the rajasuya in importance, is suggested to Duryodhana. In this one, a plough shall be made of all the gold that is given as tribute in the name of Duryodhana, and the Kaurava prince shall use it upon the sacrificial ground.Most notably, a messenger is sent to Dvaitavana to invite the Pandavas to the plough sacrifice. The Pandavas refuse, with Bhima declaring that the five shall return to Hastinapura only to conduct a sacrifice in which Duryodhana “will be offered as oblation into the fire of war by the angry Pandavas.” The message is taken as-is to the capital, and should perhaps be read as a declaration of war in advance.
Duryodhana’s plough sacrifice divides public opinion in Hastinapura, with some extolling it as equal to Yudhisthira’s rajasuya sacrifice and others demeaning it as an inferior event (“...does not equal a sixteenth part of that sacrifice”). Neither opinion, we must understand, is to the Kaurava’s disliking. His sacrifice, if inferior to Yudhisthira’s, only gives hithe political sanction to consider the next step — in other words, given that Duryodhana now operates in the small company of those who have declared themselves the supreme sovereigns, it is only natural for him to aspire to eliminate Yudhisthira.
Whether the public considers his sacrifice the better one or not, they shall certainly want him to attempt to be the greatest. Which is to say: Hastinapura now wants Yudhisthira eliminated, because the conflict between the cousins has now elevated to the status of two supreme leaders aspiring to the status of the global sovereign. One is there crown prince, the other a castaway exile. The choice is simple.