After reconciliation with the Pandavas, the gandharva king Chitrasena releases the Kauravas from captivity. A divine shower of ambrosia then revives the gandharvas who had lost their lives in the battle with the four Pandavas (Yudhisthira had skipped the battle for reasons discussed last week in this space).
When the two meet, Yudhisthira advises Duryodhana not to be rash in the future, and asks him to take his entourage back to Hastinapura.
The Kaurava price’s return journey to Hastinapura is, expectedly, full of shame and sorrow, and the text, which for long periods has ignored the Kaurava princes altogether, choosing to focus instead on the sentimental education of the Pandavas to boring extremes, does not miss this chance to turn the camera, so to say, towards Duryodhana.
As the Kaurava entourage reaches a resting place, Karna approaches Duryodhana and expresses his amazement at the Kauravas’ health (Karna, apparently, had fled the battle!). Duryodhana hangs his head in shame, clarifying that he did not vanquish the gandharvas by his own energy but was saved by the Pandavas. In recounting the story of his escape, Duryodhana ends up compounding his humiliation, and eventually decides to fast till death in the forest, asking the rest of the Kauravas to proceed towards Hastinapura. He even tells Duhshasana to get ready to be a future king. Duhshasana does not accept this and implores Duryodhana to relent.
Karna then tries to put an end to the grieving by pointing out that the Pandavas, living under the rule of the Kauravas, were in fact expected to do what they did: protecting the royal family was their duty. Karna even suggests that the Pandavas should have joined the first Kaurava fight with the gandharvas.
When he is alone, Duryodhana is approached by danavas, who tell him that suicide is not an option, and who go on to reveal how destiny demands that he push the cousins into an eventual war. “You are our recourse,” the danavas tell Duryodhana, “just as Pandavas are of the gods.” They suggest that key members of the Kaurava court will be possessed by demons and will, therefore, show no remorse while killing their own relatives.
This revelation, which Duryodhana doubts as having occurred in a dream and not in reality, is the clearest categorization of the Pandavas and the Kauravas as good and bad. Quite like the main conflict in the Ramayana, the conflict between the Hastinapur cousins is now presented as having clear celestial origins, or as being a battle in the eternal war between good and evil. The key actors cannot do anything that can avert the path of destiny now. In harsher words: the book has to go on, there have to be winners and losers, and so Duryodhana’s petulance about fasting to death must end.
As next course of action, the Kauravas decide to showcase their strength and undertake the rajasuya sacrifice, the same sacrifice that Yudhisthira had successfully performed when he was the king of Indraprastha.
The writer is reading the unabridged Mahabharata