Sanjay, a Sanskrit name meaning victory, was the son of Gavalyagana. Like his father before him, he was a charioteer and adviser of Dhritarashtra, the King of Hastinapur. A loyal, humble and devoted man, Sanjay, who was a great devotee of Maharishi Ved Vyasa, didn’t directly participate in the Kurukshetra battle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas but, through his divine vision, which he was blessed with by his guru Maharishi Ved Vyas, he had the knowledge of everything that was happening during the battle.
Sanjay’s Appointment As The Charioteer
After Adirath, the charioteer of King Dhritarashtra, took leave from the King to tend to his adopted child, Bheesma along with Guru Kripacharya and Vidur conducted a recruitment process, one which demanded a clear understanding of one’s duties and responsibilities. Sanjay, who was selected for his intelligence and decision-making abilities, displayed his prowess and, along with Vidur, became close confidantes of Dhritarashtra. He was a Suta who drove chariots, attended and provided news and information to the King, composed epic poems that praised the heroic deeds of kings and warriors and entertained the King by singing songs that glorified his achievements.
A good counselor, he made Dhritarashtra aware of Shakuni’s evil schemes and Kauravas’ misdeeds. A true follower of dharma and a man of principle, Sanjay acted as an ambassador between the Pandavas and the Kauravas during the unsuccessful peace negotiations. Such was his nature that Dhritarashtra and the Kauravas believed that the only person who could convey their message of not agreeing to the Pandavas’ demand that Indraprastha be handed back to them was Sanjay, who would put forward the message in the politest way possible.
Divya Drishti (Divine Vision)
In Mahabharata, the night before the war, the Pandavas and the Kauravas have already discussed the plans and strategies for the first day of the war. Bhisma, aware of the ruins the war would certainly bring, is at unease and wants to do something to prevent the war. As a last resort, he visits Lord Krishna and asks him for some solution. Lord Krishna tries to explain that the war is unavoidable but offers Bhisma a glimmer of hope. He advises Bhisma to ask Maharishi Ved Vyasa to visit Dhritarashtra. Ved Vyasa complies and visits Dhritarashtra, who Sanjay is attending to.
Maharishi Vyasa admonishes the King for submitting passively to the immoral desires of his sons, esp. Duryodhana and Dushasana, and tries, albeit unsuccessfully, to persuade Dhritarashtra to act as a mediator between the Kauravas and Pandavas. Furious at Dhritarashtra, Maharishi Vyasa tells him that his name would forever be tainted for his passivity, which has resulted in a chaotic situation. Showing remorse for his actions and asking for forgiveness, Dhritarashtra then mentions to Vyasa his desire to know the events during the battle and puts forward a request to bestow upon his charioteer Sanjay the divine vision or Divya Drishti. Maharishi Vyasa tells Dhritarashtra that if he wants divine vision, he himself could accept it. Dhritarashtra, fearing that he might have to witness the deaths of his sons and his army, refuses to accept it and asks him to grant Sanjay the divine vision. Sanjay, being loyal to his master, accepts it with grace.
After being endowed with Divya Drishti, Sanjay, at the request of King Dhritarastra, starts to explain to him everything about the then world. This is mentioned at the beginning of Bhisma Parva in the Mahabharata. He describes to his master, in great detail, the diversity of life, his theories on matter, life forms, geography, etc.
During the battle, Sanjay reports everything to Dhritarashtra in great detail. Clear, honest and without taking sides, Sanjay never turns away from reporting the loss of his master’s sons in the battlefield, though it’s an excruciating job telling a parent the gruesome death of his sons at the hands of the Pandavas. Despite this, he never shies away from narrating the actual events; he, however, comforts Dhritarashtra and Gandhari whenever he reports the loss of their sons.
Along with Arjun, Hanuman, and Barbarika, Sanjay is a direct listener of the Gita, recited by Lord Krishna himself, which he then narrates to his master, King Dhritarashtra. He is also one of the two witnesses to the Vishwaroop, the universal form of Lord Krishna.
After the battle
After the war was over which ended in the Pandavas being victorious, Sanjay followed Dhritarashtra, Gandhari, Vidur and Kunti into retirement to Vyasa’s ashram, or hut, to spend the rest of their lives as sanyasi or saints where Vidur died. They, then, decided to head to Gangadwara, currently known as Haridwara, to meditate along the banks of the holy river Ganges. One day, there was a wildfire, one which Dhritarashtra, Gandhari, and Kunti choose to be consumed by since being engulfed by fire is a death befitting a saint. However, on Dhritarashtra’s instruction to escape the fire and leave them be, he then retired to the Himalayas, never to be seen again, which is described by Narada to Yudhishthir, now the King of Hastinapur, in this chapter of the Ashramavasika Parva of the Mahabharata:
“Listen, O King, with calmness to me as I tell thee what I have heard and seen in that ascetic retreat. After thy return from Kurukshetra, O delighter of the Kurus, thy sire, O King, proceeded towards Gangadwara. That intelligent monarch took with him his (sacred) fire, Gandhari and his daughter-in-law Kunti, as also Sanjaya of the Suta caste, and all the Yajakas. Possessed of the wealth of penances, thy sire set himself to the practice of severe austerities. He held pebbles of stone in his mouth and had air alone for his subsistence, and abstained altogether from speech. Engaged in severe penances, he was worshipped by all the ascetics in the woods. In six months the King was reduced only to a skeleton. Gandhari subsisted on water alone, while Kunti took a little every sixth day.
The sacred fire, O monarch, (belonging to the Kuru King) was duly worshipped by the sacrificing assistants that were with him, with libations of clarified butter poured on it. They did this whether the King saw the rite or not. The King had no fixed habitation. He became a wanderer through those woods. The two queens, as also Sanjaya, followed him. Sanjaya acted as the guide on even and uneven land. The faultless Pritha, O King, became the eye of Gandhari. One day, that best of kings proceeded to a spot on the margin of Ganga. He then bathed in the sacred stream and finishing his ablutions turned his face towards his retreat. The wind rose high. A fierce forest-conflagration set in. It began to burn that forest all around. When the herds of animals were being burnt all around, as also the snakes that inhabited that region, herds of wild boars began to take themselves to the nearest marshes and waters. When that forest was thus afflicted on all sides and such distress came upon all the living creatures residing there, the King, who had taken no food, was incapable of moving or exerting himself at all. Thy two mothers also, exceedingly emaciated, were unable to move. The King, seeing the conflagration approach him from all sides, addressed the Suta Sanjaya, that foremost of skillful charioteers, saying, ‘Go, O Sanjaya, to such a place where the fire may not burn thee.
As regards ourselves, we shall suffer our bodies to be destroyed by this fire and attain to the highest goal.’ Unto him, Sanjaya, that foremost of speakers, said, ‘O King, this death, brought on by a fire that is not sacred, will prove calamitous to thee. I do not, however, see any means by which thou canst escape from this conflagration. That which should next be done should be indicated by thee.’ Thus, addressed by Sanjaya the King once more said, ‘This death cannot be calamitous to us, for we have left our home of our own accord. Water, fire, wind, and abstention from food (as means of death), are laudable for ascetics. Do thou, therefore, leave us, O Sanjaya, without any delay. Having said these words to Sanjaya, the King concentrated his mind. Facing the east, he sat down, with Gandhari and Kunti. Beholding him in that attitude, Sanjaya walked around him. Endued with intelligence, Sanjaya said, ‘Do thou concentrate thy soul, O puissant one.’ The son of a Rishi and himself possessed of great wisdom, the King acted as he was told. Restraining all the senses, he remained like a post of wood. The highly blessed Gandhari and thy mother Pritha too remained in the same attitude. Then thy royal sire was overtaken by the forest-conflagration. Sanjaya, his minister, succeeded in escaping from that conflagration. I saw him on the banks of Ganga in the midst of ascetics. Endued with great energy and great intelligence, he bade them farewell and then started for the mountains of Himavat.”