The Pandavas established their own kingdom at Khandavaprastha, a region which was a half of the Kuru kingdom in extent, but barren and desolate. The territory was given to them by Dhritarashtra after he had invited them with all honours to return to Hastinapur from their volitional exile. Vidura, Dhritarashtra’s younger brother, had personally journeyed to Dhrupad’s court to request the Pandavas to return. The brothers were reluctant, but Krishna advised them to accept the invitation. When Dhritarashtra made the offer of Khandavaprastha, Krishna knew that it was an unfair and unequal settlement. But again, he advised Yudhishthira to accept it. He was present at the formal ceremony arranged by Dhritarashtra to consecrate Yudhishthira as the ruler of Khandavaprastha. And finally it was he who helped the Pandavas transform Khandavaprastha into a rich and fertile region. Indraprastha, its capital, soon emerged as a city to rival all others. According to the Mahabharata, at Krishna’s behest, Vishyakarma the celestial architect himself planned and executed the construction of the city.
Having made his kingdom secure and prosperous, Yudhishthira wanted to perform the traditional Rajasuya sacrifice to project his political pre-eminence among the other states and kingdoms. His advisers were enthusiastic, but Krishna, whose advice was as usual sought, advised caution. In a remarkable portrayal of the unsentimental, calm and dispassionate military strategist, Krishna clinically essayed the political situation. It would be a mistake, he said, to underestimate the strength of Jarasandha, the as yet unvanquished ruler of Magadha. Jarasandha’s position was bolstered by a host of important alliances. Sisupala, prince of the Chedi kingdom, was a good friend of his, and other Kshatriya scions—Dantavaletra, Rukmi and Paundraka Vasudeva—were known to be close to him.
Yudhishthira’s own cousin, Duryodhana, would, in a conflict, probably be on the side of the Magadha ruler. Bhishma, Dronacharya and Kripacharya, formidable warriors of the Kuru kingdom, would perforce have to support Duryodhana. Even if they did not, Kama, an archer to match Arjuna, would surely go with Duryodhana.
‘With such a formidable team of foes you have absolutely no chance of performing the Rajasuya,’ Krishna argued. ‘Jarasandha has captured ninety-eight kings and he keeps them mprisoned. He has an idea of making a sacrifice of royal heads to lord Sankara. The man is mad. But he is too powerful to be ignored or to be defeated. So long as this Jarasandha is alive, your hopes of performing the Rajasuya are thin indeed. If, however, we manage to kill him, then there is nothing to worry about. The other kings, seeing him killed, will not have the courage to defy you and your brothers. This is my firm opinion. Think of a way to kill Jarasandha, and the rest is easy.”
Jarasandha was killed, but not in open battle. According to a plan hatched by Krishna, he was tricked into accepting a one to one wrestling match with Bheema. Even in such a bout, he would not have been defeated, for he had been gifted with divine powers by the sage Chandrakansika. Every time Bheema tore his body into two, the two halves would miraculously rejoin. Bheema was at his wit’s end, until Krishna came to his rescue.
When he was able to manage it, Krishna caught the eye of Bheema. Krishna had a small leaf of a plantain in his hand. He split the leaf into two. He then turned one piece round and threw the two pieces at two corners of the floor. Bheema understood what he was trying to say. Again, Bheema threw Jarasandha up in the air. He caught the descending form of the king by the legs. He tore him in two. Bheema now threw the two pieces at two corners of the hall such that one leg and one half of the head were corresponding. The halves did not join up any more. Jarasandha, the favoured of Shankara, was now dead.
With Jarasandha out of the way, Yudhishthira’s Rajasuya was eminently successful, and a grand ceremony was arranged for his coronation. Kings and princes and sages and distinguished guests poured in from all the four corners. The Kauravas, led by Duryodhana, had been specially invited. Krishna, of course, was one of the first to arrive. After the ceremony was over, it was incumbent upon Yudhishthira to express his gratitude to each of his guests personally. As per traditional practice, it was also necessary for him to identify a special guest of honour. Bhishma’s advice was to select Krishna for this honour, an advice more than enthusiastically accepted by Yudhishthira and the Pandavas. Accordingly, Krishna was ritually ‘worshipped’ by Yudhishthira. In conformity with the custom to show respect and obeisance, Yudhishthira, aided by Sahadeva, washed Krishna’s feet with his own hands. Appropriately, so the Mahabharata says, the very heavens rained down flowers on this happy event.