"What we do now echoes in eternity"
- Marcus Aurelius
It was the evening before the start of the great war. All 18 armies were gathered around the field. Soldiers were setting up the camps and tents, unsure how long this war is going to last. Most of them had traveled through the length and breadth of the country to get there, and were already missing their families. The animals were restless. There was a general commotion all around and the air was filled with expectation, excitement and mostly, fear. Most men were anxiously passing glances towards the royal tents, hoping against hope for peace, knowing fully well that from the time the Pandava's esteemed messenger - Krishna - was treated rudely in the court of Hastinapur, war was inevitable.
The royals and the statesmen in both camps were gathered in their chambers behind closed doors, preparing last minute strategies for the next day. In the Pandava camp, Dhrishtadyunma was planning the different divisions and their placements, and Bhima and other maharathis - great warriors - were planning their revenge.
In the Kaurava camp, things were a bit messy. Karna had stormed out over the insults Bhishma had pelted on him, and had declared against fighting until the old patriarch was dead or out of action without considering that most of his dear friend Duryodhana's confidence was driven from his fighting prowess. Bhishma on the other hand had promised Duryodhana that he will kill 10,000 soldiers each day he fights, but it was hardly a consolation as he had also promised that he will not touch his grandsons the Pandavas. Drona was trying to reason with him. Shakuni was plotting how to bring down the Pandavas with his own schemes. Ashwatthama was meddling in everything.
And Duryodhana was looking around the table, his confidence wavering by each passing moment -- feeling more like a victim and a loser than a monarch as he should have been feeling by right. How did it come to this? His was the larger army - largest that was ever gathered under one banner in the history; he had the most experienced warriors with him; he had already won minor strategic duels with Pandavas - like their own uncle Shalya joining his side instead of theirs. Yet, why can he not hold his side together; why does he not feel confident to face tomorrow?
It is at this time that we find a messenger rushing to Duryodhana's shelter, speedy in purpose yet careful as to not rouse any suspicion in the neighboring enemy camp. He comes from the royal tents of the ruling Kuru king and queen - specifically Queen Gandhari. He manages to fulfill his duty, that is to deliver the queer message to the prince and rushes back. While going back though, he is seen by some of the spies of Krishna who promptly pass the message to the great statesman - who has retired to his chambers by then.
Now Krishna gets very curious. Why would Gandhari want to send a clandestine message to her son? She was his mother and a queen. It was her right to have a word with her son, who would be championing a great war and hopefully a grand victory tomorrow. There was no need for secrecy, no need for sending a messenger under cover and hurriedly ... unless there was more to it than meets the eye. And Krishna is keen to find out what lies beyond the obvious.
As usual, Krishna decides to take the matters in his own hands. He gets up, gets ready, goes to the stables and frees the horses from Arjun's chariot. He ushers them out of the stable, and slowly and as if by natural course of movement, he strolls them towards pastures, grass fields and water near the foots of the hills - away from the battlefield and closer to the tents where the royalty of Hastinapur and other kingdoms is stationed. That way, he could easily see all movements around the royal tents, especially the ones of the Queen mother Gandhari.
And he waits. He waits till the horses get bored and doze off while standing. He waits till it turns dark. And then, just when he feels that this was all for nothing, and he could have spent the time resting more for tomorrow, his wait becomes fruitful. Just as he expected, he seems movement from the Kaurava camp. A lone man, with cloak over his head hiding his face, hurriedly walks in the direction of the royal tents.
Quickly, Krishna moves his horses towards the man's path, as if moving them for grazing and for exercise. From far, he seems the built of Duryodhana, and once he is within an ear's shout, calls him by name. Startled, Duryodhana turns around to find his cousin waving at him with a playful smile on his face.
"Shouldn't the head of state and the esteemed Hastinapur army be resting, or at least planning his strategies against us on the eve before the great battle?" He asks, with the little mischief that is always associated with Krishna's eyes. "Where are you off to at this hour, Duryodhana? Or are you just taking a stroll?"
Duryodhana, frankly, is relieved to see someone other than from his own side. He is torn in the mind about the politics in his camp, his anger about his cousins, the anxiety of the greatest war of his life and his mother's strange request, and finds a sympathetic ear in Krishna. Being family relations has its own perks, and although Krishna was not fighting on Duryodhana's side, he had indeed given his Narayani army to Duryodhana for tomorrow's battle against Pandavas, which made him an alley. In fact, Duryodhana thought in one of his weak moments, he is at least a fair and neutral party, if not a friend and there is nothing wrong in thinking aloud in front of him.
So relaxed in his own folly, Duryodhana shares what he was up to - he was going to meet his mother Gandhari as she had called him with a peculiar message. The message was for him to come alone, come quickly and - the queer part is - when he enters her tent, he should be stark naked - no clothes!
What? Krishna says that it was just preposterous and bizarre, to say the least - and quite indecent too. He asks if his cousin was joking, but stops short as he sees Duryodhana's troubled face.
Even for someone like Krishna, this is an enigma. Why would the Queen Mother call her son on the night of the battle, naked in her chamber? Secretly he is pleased to see the haughty Duryodhana so unsure of himself. But more than that, at the back of his mind, a thousand warning lights flash instantly. He does not know what this was all about, but he is smart enough to figure out intuitively that it was something bad for his party, and that he needed to do something, and something quick, to avoid this happening - that too without letting Duryodhana know that he, Krishna, is feeling threatened by this seemingly silly incident.
Duryodhana seems as puzzled as he is about Gandhari's motive behind it, but he trusted his mother. He is just too uncomfortable doing it, that's all. Krishna senses the hesitation, and decides to play along and make the most of it.
He agrees with Duryodhana that it is indeed puzzling and unconventional, but then the mother would have some reasons. It's just that it looks so damn odd, doesn't it, so against the social norms? I mean look at it - what if some guards or helpers see him going into his mother's tent in nothing but his birthday suit? Wouldn't that be a scandal? What if the gossip spreads across the ranks? What would the elders say - Duryodhana's grandfather, his guru, his father? What if it reaches his cousins on the other side? I mean, think about it - if Bhima comes to know of it, oh how he will taunt him! Oh, the humiliation!
Well, that was it. Duryodhana already had too many problems. Bhima had enough to taunt Duryodhana already. He could not allow this to happen, and give the nasty devil another reason to laugh at him. But how could he turn down her mother's request, that too sent in such earnest?
Krishna thinks for a moment. He could not turn Duryodhana away, no ... that would raise suspicion, and even if Duryodhana returns now, his mother might call him again in the night. So he has to find a way to stall and make something go wrong. What was it? She wanted to meet him naked ... yes, yes ... at least that can be avoided.
Krishna takes out one of the garlands made of flower he is wearing, and slowly re-arranges the flowers like a net.
"Here, take this and wear around your waist. That way you will fulfill your mother's request of visiting her without clothes, and at the same time this will cover your modesty, so you don't need to feel embarrassed."
Duryodhana is not convinced at first, but he sees that Krishna has a point. He has no better idea either, so it is either the flower garland or nothing. Slowly the idea of wearing a net of flowers around the waist starts to seem like the best thing to do, given the circumstances. Krishna's cunning positioning of the garland makes it seem like the only sensible thing to do at this stage, and finally Duryodhana agrees to it.
He takes the garland, thanks Krishna, and resumes his walk towards the royal tent. At the door, he orders the guards to walk away; and ensuring that no one is seeing him, makes the transition from clothes to a net of flowers. Feeling pleased with the decision, his confidence slowly returning, he walks inside.
To his surprise he sees only his mother, and no attendants. She asks him if he is alone and if he is wearing any clothes. He says that he has complied to her request. Gandhari, pleased with this, removes the bandage over the eyes for the first time in all these years of her marriage, and glances at the son from top to bottom -- only to her horror, finding the son covered around the waist !!!
Unable to control her anger, she stumbles ahead and starts cursing her son. What is the matter with you, she asks. Did I not tell you specifically about this, she shouts. Duryodhana is petrified, and does not know what to do. Here he is a moment ago, happy and confident that he has resolved a solution for himself, only to find that his mother is all howling and upset as if she has seen him dead.
But indeed she has, Duryodhana. Gandhari, by the power of her hardship she chose for herself by tying the bandage on her eyes and living the life of a disabled, just to be part of her husband's disability - had gained great powers in her vision. She was told only that morning by a sage that the first person she sees when she opens her eyes will be invincible - in that all his body parts that she rests her gaze on will be indestructible, and she of course wanted to bestow this boon on her eldest and dearest son.
Alas! What could have been a moment of absolute joy and definite victory turns out to be exactly the opposite of at - by covering his waist, Duryodhana has made his body waist down vulnerable. And although this incident is private, and only the two of them are witness to it right now, the enemy is bound to come to know of this one day sooner or later.
Gandhari beats her chest and her forehead in grief. She finally realizes that hers is not the happy lot, and she can no longer protect her son; he is as good as gone. It is only a matter of time now. She holds her son close to her in a final embrace before the great war, with Duryodhana feeling stupid and repentant -- repentant and helpless in the knowledge that his doom was sung in the halls of Hastinapur when he and his brother lost all objectivity and dragged a royal princess in the public court. All this was just playing out his eventual destruction.
Gandhari curses Krishna and his lot to no end, but she knows that this was helpless too. The deed was done. The dark Lord had once again foiled their attempts to win by his crafty means. Their only hope, as the mother and son know while giving each other silent goodbyes, is to keep this as secret as possible, for as much time as possible.
But that was easier said than done. Two dark blue and deep eyes on top of a nearby hill were already keenly following Duryodhana's steps out of Gandhari's tent, and Duryodhana's his weak gait and unsure posture due to grief and regret, had already concluded that the intervention was successful - which would mean that here was something of great importance that could come handy tomorrow.
And indeed it did. But that is a story very well-known yeah? So that is how, exactly 18 days after this incident around the same time, Bhima is able to break Duryodhana's thighs during the mace fight - the fight after the fight, the fight that ended all the fighting. The garland of flowers finally turned out to be an "Achilles' heel" for the unhappy Duryodhana.
10 Nov 2014