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On the Killing of Sisupala
|by Dr. A. Harindranath|
We are in Sabha Parva at the Rajasuya of Yudhisthira. All-knowing Narada had this vision :
The arghya offering to Krishna is about to take place, enraging Sisupala who will attempt the disruption of the Rajasuya yajna.
Let us rewind to the beginning of Sabha Parva where Narada pays a visit to Yudhisthira's Sabha. Narada has just returned from visiting the Sabhas of Indra, Yama, Kubera and Brahma. In the Sabha of Yama, where all the past kings of the earth reside, he has met Pandu. Narada has come with a request from Pandu to Yudhisthira to conduct Rajasuya so that he (Pandu), like Hariscandra in the past, can live blissfully in Indra's Sabha. After telling Yudhisthira to act according to your father's wishes, Narada, who is most knowledgeable in the happening of time cycles(purakalpavi sesavit) adds:
Yudhisthira doesn't ask any questions. But the listener is too well aware that according to Vyasa, desire for Heaven is the gateway to Hell. After the disastrous dice game, in his tirthayatras, Yudhisthira will be told to visit Somatirtha where taking a ritual bath brings one the merits of Rajasuya. Yudhisthira doesn't ask why.
Towards the end of the war, in Salya Parva, we hear about Balarama's tirthayatra, where he will first visit Yamunatirtha and then Somatirtha. We learn from Vaisampayana that Yamunatirtha is where Varuna conducted Rajasuya and a great war took place between Devas and Asuras . Somatirtha is where Soma conducted Rajasuya and, again, a great war took place .
Now fast forward to the Bhavisya Parva (Knot of the Future), the last Parva of Harivamsa, the khila (appendix) to the Mahabharata. Janamejaya, having listened carefully to the entire (disastrous) history of his great grandfathers, having learned about the Rajasuyas of Varuna and Soma and the accompanying great wars, now confronts Vyasa. He correctly deduces that Yudhisthira's Rajasuya was the root cause of the destruction of Kurus. Being the progenitor of his great grandfathers, being knowledgeable in both past and future, why didn't Vyasa give them the right advice?
In Valmiki Ramayana, it is significant that Rama, after the war, thought of conducting Rajasuya, citing the previous ones conducted by Mitra (Varuna) and Soma. It is Bharata who, citing the disastrous consequences of Rajasuya (rajakulaksayam), prevents Rama from conducting it .
The hells Hariscandra and the world had to suffer as a result of his conducting Rajasuya are well-documented in the Markandeya Purana .
Now back to the impending doom and Narada at Yudhistira's Rajasuya. Having recalled the purpose of Krishnavatara, knowledgeable in both past and future, he is all excited about the immediate great war which will lead to the destruction of Kstriyas, thereby relieving Goddess Earth of her unbearable burden.
What follows next is the offering of arghya to Krishna at the advice of Bhisma. Sisupala, Krishna's cousin and the king of Cedi gets flared up. On what basis one can justify this, he wants to know . Bhisma replies which makes Sisupala even angrier.
Through the words of Bhisma and Krishna, Sisupala's (and Krishna's) past and present lives unravel before the listener. With his cakra, Krishna cuts of Sisupala's head thereby preventing the disruption of Yudhisthira's yajna.
It is important to note that the southern recension  of Mahabharata contains, prior to the killing of Sisupala by Krishna using cakra, a detailed description of portents by Narada who is replying to a query by Yudhisthira. This is followed by a full-fledged, one-to-one war between Krishna and Sisupala. It is interesting that when the killing of Sisupala is recounted by Dhrtarastra in Udyoga Parva , a one-to-one war is mentioned; but there is no mention of Krishna's use of cakra.
If we expected a shower of flowers from heaven to follow Krishna's act, we are in for a surprise. Vyasa says:
For the answer, we don't have to wait for long. In between the seemingly successful conclusion of Rajasuya and the beginning of the disastrous dice game we are told of a conversation between departing Vyasa and Yudhisthira. Troubled by the omens following Sisupala's death, Yudhisthira queries Vyasa about their meaning. Vy asa replies:
Yudhisthira is further told that he will soon have a vision of Rudra - Siva. Of course. We simply need to recall 
The stage is set for moving from one Sabh a to another. Soon Duryodhana will experience great shame in this Sabha and the roles will be reversed in the next Sabha. The great war which has to accompany Rajasuya, after all, will take place. In this war Krishna will not bear weapon, thus paving the way for total destruction.
By killing Sisupala thereby protecting Yudhisthira's yajna, Krishna simply postponed the great war which was to accompany the Rajasuya as usual. Now Indra has to wait next thirteen years to welcome the slain heroes to heaven; Goddess Earth has to suffer the unbearable burden for thirteen years more. No wonder, they are greatly upset.
According to Madhvacarya , Mahabharata has three layers of languages (samadhi, darsana, and guhya) and delineates three subjects (Manvadi, Astikadi, and Uparicaradi). So far we found the episode occupied with the first two, namely, Manvadi and Astikadi. Nilakantha  saw in the killing of Sisupala, in addition to the story, brahmani jivasya layam, the dissolution of Jiva in Brahma.
Images from Rajasuya episode of Krishnanattam at Guruvayur Temple, Kerala.
|More by : Dr. A. Harindranath|
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