IT is not an exaggeration to say that the persons and incidents portrayed in the great literature of a people influence national character no less potently than the actual heroes and events enshrined in its history. It may be claimed that the former play an even more important part in the formation of ideals, which give to character its impulse of growth.
In the moving history of our land, from time immemorial great minds have been formed and nourished and touched to heroic deeds by the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In most Indian homes, children formerly learnt these immortal stories as they learnt their mother tongue at the mother's knee. And the sweetness and sorrows of Sita and Draupadi, the heroic fortitude of Rama and Arjuna and the loving fidelity of Lakshmana and Hanuman became the stuff of their young philosophy of life.
The growing complexity of life has changed the simple pattern of early home life. Still, there are few in our land who do not know the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Though the stories come to them so embroidered with the garish fancies of the Kalakshepam (devotional meeting where an expert scholar and singer tells a story to his audience) and the cinema as to retain but little of the dignity and approach to truth of Vyasa or Valmiki. Vyasa's Mahabharata is one of our noblest heritages. And it is my cherished belief that to hear it faithfully told is to love it and come under its elevating influence. It strengthens the soul and drives home, as nothing else does, the vanity of ambition and the evil and futility of anger and hatred.
The realities of life are idealised by genius and given the form that makes drama, poetry or great prose. Since literature is closely related to life, so long as the human family is divided into nations, literature cannot escape the effects of such division.
But the highest literature transcends regionalism and through it, when we are properly attuned, we realise the essential oneness of the human family. The Mahabharata is of this class. It belongs to the world and not only to India. To the people of India, indeed, this epic has been an unfailing and perennial source of spiritual strength. Learnt at the mother's knee with reverence and love, it has inspired great men to heroic deeds as well as enabled the humble to face their trials with fortitude and faith.
The Mahabharata was composed many thousand years ago. But generations of gifted reciters have added to Vyasa's original a great mass of material. All the floating literature that was thought to be worth preserving, historical, geographical, legendary political, theological and philosophical, of nearly thirty centuries, found a place in it.
In those days, when there was no printing, interpolation in a recognised classic seemed to correspond to inclusion in the national library. Divested of these accretions, the Mahabharata is a noble poem possessing in a supreme degree the characteristics of a true epic, great and fateful movement, heroic characters and stately diction.
The characters in the epic move with the vitality of real life. It is difficult to find anywhere such vivid portraiture on so ample a canvas. Bhishma, the perfect knight; the venerable Drona; the vain but chivalrous Karna; Duryodhana, whose perverse pride is redeemed by great courage in adversity; the high souled Pandavas with godlike strength as well as power of suffering; Draupadi, most unfortunate of queens; Kunti, the worthy mother of heroes; Gandhari, the devoted wife and sad mother of the wicked sons of Dhritarashtra, these are some of the immortal figures on that crowded, but never confused, canvas.
Then there is great Krishna himself, most energetic of men, whose divinity scintillates through a cloud of very human characteristics. His high purposefulness pervades the whole epic. One can read even a translation and feel the over whelming power of the incomparable vastness and sublimity of the poem.
The Mahabharata discloses a rich civilisation and a highly evolved society, which though of an older world, strangely resembles the India of our own time, with the same values and ideals. India was divided into a number of independent kingdoms.
Occasionally, one king, more distinguished or ambitious than the rest, would assume the title of emperor, securing the acquiescence of other royalties, and signalised it by a great sacrificial feast. The adherence was generally voluntary. The assumption of imperial title conferred no overlordship. The emperor was only first among his peers.
The art of war was highly developed and military prowess and skill were held in high esteem. We read in the Mahabharata of standardised phalanxes and of various tactical movements. There was an accepted code of honorable warfare, deviations from which met with reproof among Kshatriyas. The advent of the Kali age is marked by many breaches of these conventions in the Kurukshetra battle, on account of the bitterness of conflict, frustration and bereavements. Some of the most impressive passages in the epic center round these breaches of dharma.
The population lived in cities and villages. The cities were the headquarters of kings and their household and staff. There were beautiful palaces and gardens and the lives led were cultured and luxurious. There was trade in the cities, but the mass of the people were agriculturists.
Besides this urban and rural life, there was a very highly cultured life in the seclusion of forest recesses, centerd round ascetic teachers. These ashramas kept alive the bright fires of learning and spiritual thought. Young men of noble birth eagerly sought education at these ashramas. World-weary aged went there for peace. These centers of culture were cherished by the rulers of the land and not the proudest of them would dare to treat the members of the hermitages otherwise than with respect and consideration.
Women were highly honored and entered largely in the lives of their husbands and sons. The caste system prevailed, but intercaste marriages were not unknown. Some of the greatest warriors in the Mahabharata were brahmanas. The Mahabharata has moulded the character and civilisation of one of the most numerous of the world's people.
How did it fulfil, how is it still continuing to fulfil, this function? By its gospel of dharma, which like a golden thread runs through all the complex movements in the epic. By its lesson that hatred breeds hatred, that covetousness and violence lead inevitably to ruin, that the only real conquest is in the battle against one's lower nature.
BHAGAVAN VYASA, the celebrated compiler of the Vedas, was the son of the great sage Parasara. It was he who gave to the world the divine epic of the Mahabharata.
Having conceived the Mahabharata he thought of the means of giving the sacred story to the world. He meditated on Brahma, the Creator, who manifested himself before him. Vyasa saluted him with bowed head and folded hands and prayed:
"Lord, I have conceived an excellent work, but cannot think of one who can take it down to my dictation."
Brahma extolled Vyasa and said: "O sage, invoke Ganapati and beg him to be your amanuensis." Having said these words he disappeared. The sage Vyasa meditated on Ganapati who appeared before him. Vyasa received him with due respect and sought his aid.
"Lord Ganapati, I shall dictate the story of the Mahabharata and I pray you to be graciously pleased to write it down."
Ganapati replied: "Very well. I shall do as you wish. But my pen must not stop while I am writing. So you must dictate without pause or hesitation. I can only write on this condition?"
Vyasa agreed, guarding himself, however, with a counter stipulation: "Be it so, but you must first grasp the meaning of what I dictate before you write it down."
Ganapati smiled and agreed to the condition. Then the sage began to sing the story of the Mahabharata. He would occasionally compose some complex stanzas which would make Ganapati pause a while to get at the meaning and Vyasa would avail himself of this interval to compose many stanzas in his mind. Thus the Mahabharata came to be written by Ganapati to the dictation of Vyasa.
It was before the days of printing, when the memory of the learned was the sole repository of books. Vyasa first taught the great epic to his son, the sage Suka. Later, he expounded it to many other disciples. Were it not so, the book might have been lost to future generations.
Tradition has it that Narada told the story of the Mahabharata to the devas while Suka taught it to the Gandharvas, the Rakshasas and the Yakshas. It is well known that the virtuous and learned Vaisampayana, one of the chief disciples of Vyasa, revealed the epic for the benefit of humanity.
Janamejaya, the son of the great King Parikshit, conducted a great sacrifice in the course of which Vaisampayana narrated the story at the request of the former. Afterwards, this story, as told by Vaisampayana, was recited by Suta in the forest of Naimisa to an assembly of sages under the lead of the Rishi Saunaka.
Suta addressed the assembly: "I had the good fortune to hear the story of the Mahabharata composed by Vyasa to teach humanity dharma and the other ends of life. I should like to narrate it to you." At these words the ascetics eagerly gathered round him.
Suta continued: "I heard the main story of the Mahabharata and the episodic tales contained therein told by Vaisampayana at the sacrifice conducted by King Janamejaya. Afterwards, I made an extensive pilgrimage to various sacred places and also visited the battlefield where the great battle described in the epic was fought. I have now come here to meet you all." He then proceeded to tell the whole story of the Mahabharata in the grand assembly.
After the death of the great King Santanu, Chitrangada became King of Hastinapura and he was succeeded by Vichitravirya. The latter had two sons, Dhritarashtra and Pandu. The elder of the two being born blind, Pandu, the younger brother, ascended the throne. In the course of his reign, Pandu committed a certain offence and had to resort to the forest with his two wives where he spent many years in penance.
During their stay in the forest, the two wives of Pandu, Kunti and Madri gave birth to five sons who became well known as the five Pandavas. Pandu passed away while they were still living in the forest. The sages brought up the five Pandavas during their early years.
When Yudhishthira, the eldest, attained the age of sixteen the rishis led them all back to Hastinapura and entrusted them to the old grandsire Bhishma. In a short time the Pandavas gained mastery over the Vedas and the Vedanta as well as over the various arts, especially pertaining to the Kshatriyas. The Kauravas, the sons of the blind Dhritarashtra, became jealous of the Pandavas and tried to injure them in various ways.
Finally Bhishma, the head of the family, intervened to bring about mutual understanding and peace between them. Accordingly the Pandavas and the Kauravas began to rule separately from their respective capitals, Indraprastha and Hastinapura.
Some time later, there was a game of dice between the Kauravas and the Pandavas according to the then prevailing Kshatriya code of honor. Sakuni, who played on behalf of the Kauravas, defeated Yudhishthira. As a result, the Pandavas had to be in exile for a period of thirteen years. They left the kingdom and went to the forest with their devoted wife Draupadi.
According to the conditions of the game, the Pandavas spent twelve years in the forest and the thirteenth year incognito.
When they returned and demanded of Duryodhana their paternal heritage, the latter, who had in the meanwhile usurped their kingdom, refused to return it. War followed as a consequence.
The Pandavas defeated Duryodhana and regained their patrimony. The Pandavas ruled the kingdom for thirty-six years. Afterwards, they transferred the crown to their grandson, Parikshit, and repaired to the forest with Draupadi, all clad humbly in barks of trees.
This is the substance of the story of the Mahabharata. In this ancient and wonderful epic of our land there are many illustrative tales and sublime teachings, besides the narrative of the fortunes of the Pandavas.
The Mahabharata is in fact a veritable ocean containing countless pearls and gems. It is, with the Ramayana, a living fountain of the ethics and culture of our Motherland.
"You must certainly become my wife, whoever you may be." Thus said the great King Santanu to the goddess Ganga who stood before him in human form, intoxicating his senses with her superhuman loveliness.
The king earnestly offered for her love his kingdom, his wealth, his all, his very life.
Ganga replied: "O king, I shall become your wife. But on certain conditions that neither you nor anyone else should ever ask me who I am, or whence I come. You must also not stand in the way of whatever I do, good or bad, nor must you ever be wroth with me on any account whatsoever. You must not say anything displeasing to me. If you act otherwise, I shall leave you then and there. Do you agree?"
The infatuated king vowed his assent, and she became his wife and lived with him.
The heart of the king was captivated by her modesty and grace and the steady love she bore him. King Santanu and Ganga lived a life of perfect happiness, oblivious of the passage of time.
She gave birth to many children; each newborn babe she took to the Ganges and cast into the river, and then returned to the king with a smiling face.
Santanu was filled with horror and anguish at such fiendish conduct, but suffered it all in silence, mindful of the promise be had made. Often he wondered who she was, wherefrom she had come and why she acted like a murderous witch. Still bound by his word, and his all-mastering love for her, he uttered no word of blame or remonstrance.
Thus she killed seven children. When the eighth child was born and she was about to throw it into the Ganges, Santanu could not bear it any longer.
He cried: "Stop, stop, why are you bent on this horrid and unnatural murder of your own innocent babes?" With this outburst the king restrained her.
"O great king," she replied, "you have forgotten your promise, for your heart is set on your child, and you do not need me any more. I go. I shall not kill this child, but listen to my story before you judge me. I, who am constrained to play this hateful role by the curse of Vasishtha, am the goddess Ganga, adored of gods and men. Vasishtha cursed the eight Vasus to be born in the world of men, and moved by their supplications said, I was to be their mother. I bore them to you, and well is it for you that it was so. For you will go to higher regions for this service you have done to the eight Vasus. I shall bring up this last child of yours for some time and then return it to you as my gift."
After saying these words the goddess disappeared with the child. It was this child who later became famous as Bhishma. This was how the Vasus came to incur Vasishtha's curse. They went for a holiday with their wives to a mountain tract where stood the hermitage of Vasishtha: One of them saw Vasishtha's cow, Nandini, grazing there.
Its divinely beautiful form attracted him and he pointed it out to the ladies. They were all loud in praise of the graceful animal, and one of them requested her husband to secure it for her.
He replied: "What need have we, the devas, for the milk of cows? This cow belongs to the sage Vasishtha who is the master of the whole place. Man will certainly become immortal by drinking its milk. But this is no gain to us, who are already immortal. Is it worth our while incurring Vasishtha's wrath merely to satisfy a whim?"
But she was not thus to be put off. "I have a dear companion in the mortal world. It is for her sake that I make this request. Before Vasishtha returns we shall have escaped with the cow. You must certainly do this for my sake, for it is my dearest wish." Finally her husband yielded. All the Vasus joined together and took the cow and its calf away with them.
When Vasishtha returned to his ashrama, he missed the cow and the calf, because they were indispensable for his daily rituals.
Very soon he came to know by his yogic insight all that had taken place. Anger seized him and he uttered a curse against the Vasus. The sage, whose sole wealth was his austerity, willed that they should be born into the world of men. When the Vasus came to know of the curse, repentant too late, they threw themselves on the sage's mercy and implored forgiveness.
Vasishtha said: "The curse must needs take its course. Prabhasa, the Vasu who seized the cow, will live long in the world in all glory, but the others will be freed from the curse as soon as born. My words cannot prove ineffective, but I shall soften the curse to this extent."
Afterwards, Vasishtha set his mind again on his austerities, the effect of which had been slightly impaired by his anger. Sages who perform austerities acquire the power to curse, but every exercise of this power reduces their store of merit.
The Vasus felt relieved and approached the goddess Ganga and begged of her: "We pray you to become our mother. For our sake we beseech you to descend to the earth and marry a worthy man. Throw us into the water as soon as we are born and liberate us from the curse." The goddess granted their prayer, came to the earth and became the wife of Santanu.
When the goddess Ganga left Santanu and disappeared with the eighth child, the king gave up all sensual pleasures and ruled the kingdom in a spirit of asceticism. One day he was wandering along the banks of the Ganges when he saw a boy endowed with the beauty and form of Devendra, the king of the gods.
The child was amusing himself by casting a dam of arrows across the Ganges in flood, playing with the mighty river as a child with an indulgent mother. To the king who stood transfixed with amazement at the sight, the goddess Ganga revealed herself and presented the child as his own son.
She said: "O king, this is that eighth child I bore you. I have brought him up till now. His name is Devavrata. He has mastered the art of arms and equals Parasurama in prowess. He has learnt the Vedas and the Vedanta from Vasishtha, and is well versed in the arts and sciences known to Sukra. Take back with you this child who is a great archer and hero as well as a master in statecraft."
Then she blessed the boy, handed him to his father, the king, and disappeared.
WITH joy the king received to his heart and his kingdom the resplendent and youthful prince Devavrata and crowned him as the Yuvaraja, the heir apparent.
Four years went by. One day as the king was wandering on the banks of the Yamuna, the air was suddenly filled with a fragrance so divinely sweet that the king sought for its cause, and he traced it to a maiden so lovely that she seemed a goddess. A sage had conferred on her the boon that a divine perfume should emanate from her, and this was now pervading the whole forest.
From the moment the goddess Ganga left him, the king had kept his senses under control, but the sight of this divinely beautiful maiden burst the bonds of restraint and filled him with an overmastering desire. He asked her to be his wife.
The maiden said: "I am a fisherwoman, the daughter of the chief of the fishermen. May it please you to ask him and get his consent." Her voice was sweet as her form.
The father was an astute man.
He said: "O king, there is no doubt that this maiden, like every other, has to be married to someone and you are indeed worthy of her. Still you have to make a promise to me before you can have her."
Santanu replied: "If it is a just promise I shall make it."
The chief of the fisherfolk said: "The child born of this maiden should be the king after you."
Though almost mad with passion, the king could not make this promise, as it meant setting aside the godlike Devavrata, the son of Ganga, who was entitled to the crown.
It was a price that could not be thought of without shame. He therefore returned to his capital, Hastinapura, sick with baffled desire. He did not reveal the matter to anyone and languished in silence.
One day Devavrata asked his father: "My father, you have all that your heart could wish. Why then are you so unhappy? How is it that you are like one pining away with a secret sorrow?"
The king replied: "Dear son, what you say is true. I am indeed tortured with mental pain and anxiety. You are my only son and you are always preoccupied with military ambitions. Life in the world is uncertain and wars are incessant. If anything untoward befalls you our family will become extinct. Of course, you are equal to a hundred sons. Still, those who are well read in the scriptures say that in this transitory world having but one son is the same as having no son at all. It is, not proper that the perpetuation of our family should depends on a single life, and above all things I desire the perpetuation of our family. This is the cause of my anguish." The father prevaricated, being ashamed to reveal the whole story to his son.
Thewise Devavrata realised that there must be a secret cause for the mental condition of his father, and questioning the king's charioteer came to know of his meeting with the fishermaiden on the banks of the Yamuna. He went to the chief of the fishermen and besought his daughter's hand on his father's behalf.
The fisherman was respectful, but firm: "My daughter is indeed fit to be the king's spouse. Then should not her son become king? But you have been crowned as the heir apparent and will naturally succeed your father. It is this that stands in the way."
Devavrata replied: "I give you my word that the son born of this maiden shall be king. And I renounce in his favor my right as heir apparent," and he took a vow to that effect.
The chief of the fishermen said: "O best of the Bharata race, you have done what no one else born of royal blood has you have done till now. You are indeed a hero. You can yourself conduct my daughter to the king, your father. Still, hear with patience these words of mine which I say as the father of the girl.
"I have no doubt you will keep your word, but how can I hope that the children born of you will renounce their birthright? Your sons will naturally be mighty heroes like you, and will be hard to resist if they seek to seize the kingdom by force. This is the doubt that torments me."
When he heard this knotty question posed by the girl's father, Devavrata, who was bent on fulfilling the king's desire, made his supreme renunciation. He vowed with upraised arm to the father of the maiden: "I shall never marry and I dedicate myself to a life of unbroken chastity."
And as he uttered these words of renunciation the gods showered flowers on his head, and cries of "Bhishma," "Bhishma" resounded in the air. "Bhishma" means one who undertakes a terrible vow and fulfils it. That name became the celebrated epithet of Devavrata from that time. Then the son of Ganga led the maiden Satyavati to his father.
Two sons were born of Satyavati to Santanu, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya, who ascended the throne one after the other. Vichitravirya had two sons, Dhritarashtra and Pandu, born respectively of his two queens, Ambika and Ambalika.
The sons of Dhritarashtra, a hundred in number, were known as the Kauravas. Pandu had five sons who became famous as the Pandavas. Bhishma lived long, honored by all as the grandsire until the end of the famous battle of Kurukshetra.
The Family Tree
(by Ganga) (by Satyavati)
(by Ambika) (by Ambalika)
The Kauravas The Pandavas
CHITRANGADA, the son of Satyavati, was killed in battle with a Gandharva. As he died childless, his brother, Vichitravirya, was the rightful heir and was duly crowned king. And as he was a minor, Bhishma governed the kingdom in his name till be came of age.
When Vichitravirya reached adolescence Bhishma cast about for a bride for him. And as he heard that the daughters of the king of Kasi were to choose theirhusbands according to the ancient Kshatriya practice he went there to secure them for his brother.
The rulers of Kosla, Vanga, Pundra, Kalinga and other princes and potentates had also repaired to Kasi for the swayamvara, attired in their best. The princesses were so far-famed for beauty and accomplishments that there was fierce competition to win them.
Bhishma was famous among the Kshatriyas as a mighty man-at-arms. At first everyone thought that the redoubtable hero had come merely to witness the festivities of the swayamvara. But when they found that he was also a suitor, the young princes felt themselves let down and were full of chagrin. They did not know that he had really come for the sake of his brother, Vichitravirya.
The princes began to cast affronts at Bhishma: "This most excellent and wise descendant of the Bharata race forgets that he is too old and forgets also his vow of celibacy. What has this old man to do with this swayamvara? Fie on him!" The princesses who were to choose their husbands barely glanced at the old man and looked away.
Bhishma's wrath flamed up. He challenged the assembled princes to a trial of their manhood and defeated them all. And taking the three princesses in his chariot he set out for Hastinapura.
But before he had gone far, Salva, the king of the Saubala country who was attached to Amba, intercepted and opposed him. For that princess had mentally chosen Salva as her husband. After a bitter fight Salva was worsted, and no wonder, as Bhishma was a peerless bowman. But at the request of the princesses Bhishma spared his life.
Arriving in Hastinapura with the princesses, Bhishma made preparations for their marriage to Vichitravirya. When all were assembled for the marriage, Amba smiled mockingly at Bhishma and addressed him as follows: "O son of Ganga, you are aware of what is enjoined in the scriptures. I have mentally chosen Salva, the king of Saubala, as my husband. You have brought me here by force. Knowing this, do what you, learned in the scriptures, should do."
Bhishma admitted the force of her objection and sent her to Salva with proper escort. The marriage of Ambika and Ambalika, the two younger sisters, with Vichitravirya was duly solemnised.
Amba went rejoicing to Salva and told him what had happened: "I have mentally chosen you as my husband from the very start. Bhishma has sent me to you. Marry me according to the sastras."
Salva replied: "Bhishma defeated me in sight of all, and carried you away. I have been disgraced. So, I cannot receive you now as my wife. Return to him and do as he commands." With these words Salva sent her back to Bhishma.
She returned to Hastinapura and told Bhishma of what had taken place. The grandsire tried to induce Vichitravirya to marry her. But Vichitravirya roundly refused to marry a maiden whose heart had already been given to another.
Amba then turned to Bhishma and she sought him to marry her himself as there was no other recourse. It was impossible for Bhishma to break his vow, sorry as he was for Amba. And after some vain attempts to make Vichitravirya change his mind, he told her there was no way left to her but to go again to Salva and seek to persuade him.
This at first she was too proud to do, and for long years she abode in Hastinapura. Finally, in sheer desperation, she went to Salva and found him adamant in refusal.
The lotus-eyed Amba spent six bitter years in sorrow and baffled hope. And her heart was seared with suffering and all the sweetness in her turned to gall and fierce hatred towards Bhishma as the cause of her blighted life.
She sought in vain for a champion among the princes to fight and kill Bhishma and thus avenge her wrongs but even the foremost warriors were afraid of Bhishma and paid no heed to her appeal.
At last, she resorted to hard austerities to get the grace of Lord Subrahmanya. He graciously appeared before her and gave her a garland of ever-fresh lotuses, saying that the wearer of that garland would become the enemy of Bhishma.
Amba took the garland and again be sought every Kshatriya to accept the garland gift of the six-faced Lord and to champion her cause. But no one had the hardihood to antagonise Bhishma.
Finally, she went to King Drupada who also refused to grant her prayer. She then hung the garland at Drupada's palace gate and went away to the forest. Some ascetics whom she met there and to whom she told her sorrowful tale advised her to go to Parasurama as a suppliant. She followed their advice.
On hearing her sad story, Parasurama was moved with compassion and said: "Dear child, what do you want? I can ask Salva to marry you if you wish it."
Amba said: "No, I do not wish it. I no longer desire marriage or home or happiness. There is now but one thing in life for me, revenge on Bhishma. The only boon I seek is the death of Bhishma."
Parasurama moved as much by her anguish as by his abiding hatred of the Kshatriya race, espoused her cause and fought with Bhishma. It was a long and equal combat between the two greatest men-at-arms of the age. But in the end Parasurama had to acknowledge defeat. He told Amba: "I have done all that I could and I have failed. Throw yourself on the mercy of Bhishma. That is the only course left to you."
Consumed with grief and rage, and kept alive only by the passion for revenge, Amba went to the Himalayas and practised rigorous austerities to get the grace of Siva, now that all human aid had failed her. Siva appeared before her and granted her a boon, that in her next birth she would slay Bhishma.
Amba was impatient for that rebirth which would give her heart's desire. She made a pyre and plunged into the fire pouring out the flame in her heart into the scarcely hotter blaze of the pyre.
By the grace of Lord Siva, Amba was born as the daughter of King Drupada. A few years after her birth, she saw the garland of never-fading flowers that still hung at the palace gate and had remained there untouched by anyone through fear. She put it round her neck. Her father Drupada was in consternation at her temerity which he feared would draw on his head the wrath of Bhishma.
He sent his daughter in exile out of the capital to the forest. She practised austerities in the forest and in time was transformed into a male and became known as the warrior Sikhandin.
With Sikhandin as his charioteer, Arjuna attacked Bhishma on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Bhishma knew that Sikhandin was born as female, and true to his code of chivalry he would not fight him under any circumstance.
So it was that Arjuna could fight screened by Sikhandin and conquer Bhishma, especially because Bhishma knew that his long and weary probation on earth was finished and consented to be vanquished.
As the arrows struck Bhishma in his last fight, he singled out those which had pierced him deepest and said: "This is Arjuna's arrow and not Sikhandin's." So fell this great warrior.
IN ancient times, there was a bitter struggle between the devas or gods and the asuras or demons for the lordship of the three worlds. Both belligerents had illustrious preceptors. Brihaspati who was pre-eminent in the knowledge of the Vedas was the guiding spirit of the devas, while the asuras relied on Sukracharya's profound wisdom.
The asuras had the formidable advantage that Sukracharya alone possessed the secret of Sanjivini which could recall the dead to life. Thus the asuras who had fallen in the battle were brought back to life, time and again, and continued their fight with the devas. The devas were thus at a great disadvantage in their long drawn-out war with their natural foes.
They went to Kacha, the son of Brihaspati, and besought his aid. They begged him to win his way into the good graces of Sukracharya and persuade him to take him as a pupil. Once admitted to intimacy and confidence, he was to acquire, by fair means or foul, the secret of Sanjivini and remove the great handicap under which the devas suffered.
Kacha acceded to their request and set out to meet Sukracharya who lived in the capital city of Vrishaparva, the king of the asuras. Kacha went to the house of Sukra, and after due salutation, addressed him thus: "I am Kacha, the grandson of the sage Angiras and the son of Brihaspati. I am a brahmacharin seeking knowledge under your tutelage."
It was the law that the wise teacher should not refuse a worthy pupil who sought knowledge of him. So Sukra acceded and said: "Kacha, you belong to a good family. I accept you as my pupil, the more willingly, that by doing so I shall also be showing my respect for Brihaspati."
Kacha spent many years under Sukracharya, rendering to perfection the prescribed duties in the household of his master. Sukracharya had a lovelydaughter, Devayani, of whom he was extremely fond. Kacha devoted himself to pleasing and serving her with song and dance and pastime and succeeded in winning her affection, without detriment however to the vows of brahmacharya.
When the asuras came to know of this, they became anxious as they suspected that Kacha's object was somehow to wheedle out of Sukracharya the secret of Sanjivini. They naturally sought to prevent such a calamity.
One day, as Kacha was engaged in grazing the cattle of his master the asuras seized him, tore him to pieces and cast his flesh to the dogs. When the cattle returned without Kacha, Devayani was filled with anxiety, and ran to her father with loud lamentations: "The sun has set," she wailed, "and your nightly fire sacrifice has been performed; still Kacha has not returned home. The cattle have come back by themselves. I fear some mishap has befallen Kacha. I cannot live without him."
The fond father employed the art of Sanjivini and invoked the dead youth to appear. At once Kacha came back to life and greeted the master with smiles. Asked by Devayani the reason for his delay, he told her that as he was grazing the cattle the asuras came suddenly on him and slew him. How he came back to life he knew not, but come back to life he did, and there he was.
On another occasion Kacha went to the forest to pluck flowers for Devayani, and again the asuras seized and killed him, and pounding his body to a paste, mixed it up in sea-water. As he did not return even after a long time Devayani went as before to her father who brought Kacha back to life by his Sanjivini, and heard from him all that had taken place.
For the third time again, the Asuras killed Kacha and very cleverly as they thought, burnt his body, mixed the ashes in wine and served it to Sukracharya who drank it, suspecting nothing. Once more the cows returned home without their keeper, and once again Devayani approached her father with her distressful appeal for Kacha.
Sukracharya tried in vain to console his daughter. "Though I have again and again brought back Kacha to life," said he, "the asuras seem bent upon killing him. Well, death is the common lot, and it is not proper for a wise soul like you to sorrow at it. Your life is all before you to enjoy, with youth and beauty and the goodwill of the world."
Devayani deeply loved Kacha, and since the world began, wise words have never cured the ache of bereavement. She said: "Kacha, the grandson of Angiras and the son of Brihaspati, was a blameless boy, who was devoted and tireless in our service. I loved him dearly, and now that he has been killed, life to me has become bleak and insupportable. I shall therefore follow in his path." And Devayani began to fast. Sukracharya, heart-stricken by his daughter's sorrow, became very angry with the asuras, and felt that the heinous sin of killing a brahmana would weigh heavily on their fortunes.
He employed the Sanjivini art and called upon Kacha to appear. By the power of the Sanjivini Kacha dispersed as he was in the wine which was inside Sukracharya's body at the time, regained life, but prevented by the peculiarity of his location from coming out, he could only answer to his name from where he was.
Sukracharya exclaimed in angry amazement: "O brahmacharin, how did you get into me? Is this also the work of the asuras? This is really too bad and makes me feel like killing the asuras immediately and joining the devas. But tell me the whole story."
Kacha narrated it all, in spite of the inconvenience imposed by his position.
Vaisampayana continued: "The high-souled and austere Sukracharya of immeasurable greatness, became angry at the deceit practised on him in his wine, and proclaimed for the benefit of humanity: 'Virtue will desert the man who through lack of wisdom drinks wine. He will be an object of scorn to all, This is my message to humanity, which should be regarded as an imperative scriptural injunction.' Then he turned to his daughter Devayani and said: Dear daughter, here is a problem for you. For Kacha to live, he must rend my stomach and come out of it, and that means death to me. His life can only be bought by my death."
Devayani began to weep and said: "Alas! It is death to me either way. For if either of you perish, I shall not survive." Sukracharya sought a way out of the difficulty. The real explanation of it all flashed on him.
He said to Kacha: "O son of Brihaspati, I now see with what object you came and verily you have secured it! I must bring you out to life for the sake of Devayani, but equally for her sake I must not die either. The only way is to initiate you in the art of Sanjivini so that you can bring me back to life after I shall have died when a way is torn out through my entrails for you. You should employ the knowledge I am going to impart to you and revive me, so that Devayani need not grieve for either of us."
Accordingly Sukracharya imparted the art of Sanjivini to Kacha. Immediately Kacha came forth from Sukracharya's body, emerging like the full moon from a cloud, while the great preceptor fell down mangled and dead.
But Kacha at once brought Sukracharya back to life by means of his newly acquired Sanjivini. Kacha bowed down to Sukracharya and said: "The teacher who imparts wisdom to the ignorant is a father. Besides, as I have issued from your body you are my mother too."
Kacha remained for many more years under the tutelage of Sukracharya. When the period of his vow ended, he took leave of his master to return to the world of the gods.
As he was about to depart Devayani humbly addressed him thus: "O, grandchild of Angiras, you have won my heart by your blameless life, your great attainments and nobility of birth. I have loved you long and tenderly, even while you were faithfully following your vows of a brahmacharin. You should now reciprocate my love and make me happy by marrying me. Brihaspati as well as yourself are fully worthy of being honored by me. "
In those days, it was no uncommon thing for wise and learned brahmana ladies to speak out their mind with honorable frankness. But Kacha said:
"O faultless one, you are my master's daughter and ever worthy of my respect. I got back my life by being born out of your father's body. Hence I am your brother. It is not proper for you, my sister, to ask me to wed you."
Devayani sought in vain to persuade him. "You are the son of Brihaspati," said she, "and not of my father. If I have been the cause of your coming back to life, it was because I loved you as indeed I have always loved you as my husband. It is not fit that you should give up one like me sinless and devoted to you."
Kacha replied: "Do not seek to persuade me to unrighteousness. You are enchanting more so now than ever, flushed as you are with anger. But I am your brother. Pray bid me adieu. Serve unto perfection, ever and always, my master Sukracharya."
With these words Kacha gently disengaged himself and proceeded to the abode of Indra, the king of gods. Sukracharya consoled his daughter.
ONE warm afternoon, pleasantly tired with sporting in the woods Devayani and the daughters of Vrishaparva, king of the asuras, went to bathe in the cool waters of a sylvan pool, depositing their garlands on the bank before they entered its waters.
A strong breeze blew their clothes together into a huddled heap and when they came to take them up again, some mistakes naturally occurred. It so happened that princess Sarmishtha, the daughter of the king, clad herself in Devayani's clothes. The latter was vexed and exclaimed half in jest at the impropriety of the daughter of a disciple wearing the clothes of the master's daughter.
These words were spoken half in jest, but the princess Sarmishtha became very angry and said arrogantly: "Do you not know that your father humbly bows in reverence to my royal father every day? Are you not the daughter of a beggar who lives on my father's bounty? You forget I am of the royal race which proudly gives, while you come of a race which begs and receives, and you dare to speak thus to me."
Sarmishtha went on, getting angrier and angrier as she spoke till, working herself up into a fit of anger, she finally slapped Devayani on the cheek and pushed her into a dry well. The asura maidens thought that Devayani had lost her life and returned to the palace.
Devayani had not been killed by the fall into the well but was in a sad plight because she could not climb up the steep sides. Emperor Yayati of the Bharata race who was hunting in the forest by a happy chance came to this spot in search of water to slake his thirst. When he glanced into the well, he saw something bright, and looking closer, he was surprised to find a beautiful maiden lying in the well.
He asked: "Who are you, O beautiful maiden with bright earrings and ruddy nails? Who is your father? What is your ancestry? How did you fall into the well?" She replied: "I am the daughter of Sukracharya. He does not know that I have fallen into the well. Lift me up" and she held forth her hands. Yayati seized her hand and helped her out of the well.
Devayani did not wish to return to the capital of the king of the asuras. She did not feel it safe to go there, as she pondered again and again on Sarmishtha's conduct. She told Yayati: "You have held a maiden by her right hand, and you must marry her. I feel that you are in every way worthy to be my husband."
Yayati replied: "Loving soul, I am a kshatriya and you are a brahmana maiden. How can I marry you? How can the daughter of Sukracharya, who is worthy to be the preceptor of the whole world, submit to be the wife of a kshatriya like myself? Revered lady, return home." Having said these words Yayati went back to his capital.
A kshatriya maiden could marry a brahmana, according to the ancient tradition, but it was considered wrong for a brahmana maiden to marry a kshatriya. The important thing was to keep the racial status of women unlowered. Hence anuloma or the practice of marrying men of higher castes was legitimate and the reverse practice, known as pratiloma, i.e. marrying men of a lower caste, was prohibited by the sastras.
Devayani had no mind to return home. She remained sunk in sorrow in the shade of a tree in forest. Sukracharya loved Devayani more than his life. After waiting long in vain for the return of his daughter who had gone to play with her companions, he sent a woman in search of her.
The messenger after a weary search came on her at last near the tree where she was sitting in dejection, her eyes red with anger and grief. And she asked her what had happened.
Devayani said: "Friend, go at once and tell my father that I will not set my foot in the capital of Vrishaparva" and she sent her back to Sukracharya.
Extremely grieved at the sad plight of his daughter Sukracharya hurried to her.
Caressing her, he said: "It is by their own actions, good or bad, that men are happy or miserable. The virtues or vices of others will not affect us in the least." With these words of wisdom, he tried to console her.
She replied in sorrow and anger: "Father, leave alone my merits and faults, which are after all my own concern. But tell me this, was Sarmishtha, the daughter of Vrishaparva, right when she told me you were but a minstrel singing the praises of kings? She called me the daughter of a mendicant living on the doles won by flattery. Not content with this arrogant contumely, she slapped me and threw me into a pit which was nearby. I cannot stay in any place within her father's territory." And Devayani began to weep.
Sukracharya drew himself up proudly: "Devayani," he said with dignity, "you are not the daughter of a court minstrel. Your father does not live on the wages of flattery. You are the daughter of one who is reverenced by all the world. Indra, the king of the gods, knows this, and Vrishaparva is not ignorant of his debt to me. But no worthy man extols his own merits, and I shall say no more about myself. Arise, you are a peerless gem among women, bringing prosperity to your family. Be patient. Let us go home."
In this context Bhagavan Vyasa advises humanity in general in the following words of counsel addressed by Sukracharya to his daughter:
"He conquers the world, who patiently puts up with the abuse of his neighbors. He who, controls his anger, as a horseman breaks an unruly horse, is indeed a charioteer and not he who merely holds the reins, but lets the horse go whither it would. He who sheds his anger just as a snake its slough, is a real hero. He who is not moved despite the greatest torments inflicted by others, will realise his aim. He who never gets angry is superior to the ritualist who faith fully performs for a hundred years the sacrifices ordained by scripture. Servants, friends, brothers, wife, children, virtue and truth abandon the man who gives way to anger. The wise will not take to heart the words of boys and girls."
Devayani humbly told her father: "I am indeed a little girl, but, I hope, not too young to benefit by the great truth taught by you. Yet, it is not proper to live with persons who have no sense of decency or decorum. The wise will not keep company with those who speak ill of their family. However rich they may be, the ill-mannered are really the veritable chandalas outside the pale of caste. The virtuous should not mix with them. My mind is ablaze with the anger roused by the taunts of Vrishaparva's daughter. The wounds inflicted by weapons may close in time; scalds may heal gradually; but wounds inflicted by words remain painful as long as one lives."
Sukracharya went to Vrishaparva and fixing his eyes on him gravely said:
"O king, though one's sins may not bring immediate punishment they are sure, sooner or later, to destroy the very germ of prosperity. Kacha, the son of Brihaspati, was a brahmacharin who had conquered his senses and never committed any sin. He served me with fidelity and never strayed from the path of virtue. Your attendants tried to kill him. I bore it. My daughter, who holds her honor high, had to hear dishonoring words uttered by your daughter. Besides, she was pushed into a well by your daughter. She cannot any more stay in your kingdom. Without her I cannot live here either. So, I am going out of your kingdom."
At these words the king of the asuras was sorely troubled and said: "I am ignorant of the charges laid at my door. If you abandon me, I shall enter fire and die."
Sukracharya replied: "I care more for the happiness of my daughter than for the fate of you and your asuras, for she is the one thing I have and dearer to me than life itself. If you can appease her, it is well and good. Otherwise I go."
Vrishaparva and his retinue went to the tree under which Devayani stood and they threw themselves at her feet in supplication.
Devayani was stubborn and said: "Sarmishtha who told me that I was the daughter of a beggar, should become my handmaiden and attend on me in the house into which my father gives me in marriage."
Vrishaparva consented and asked his attendants to fetch his daughter Sarmishtha.
Sarmishtha admitted her fault and bowed in submission. She said: "Let it be as my companion Devayani desires. My father shall not lose his preceptor for a fault committed by me. I will be her attendant," Devayani was pacified and returned to her house with her father.
On another occasion also Devayani came across Yayati. She repeated her request that he should take her as his wife since he had clasped her right hand. Yayati again repeated his objection that he, a kshatriya, could not lawfully marry a brahmana.
Finally they both went to Sukracharya and got his assent to their marriage. This is an instance of the pratiloma marriage which was resorted to on exceptional occasions. The sastras, no doubt, prescribe what is right and forbid what is wrong but a marriage once effected cannot be made invalid.
Yayati and Devayani spent many days in happiness. Sarmishtha remained with her as an attendant. One day Sarmishtha met Yayati in secret and earnestly prayed to betaken also as his wife. He yielded to her prayer and married her without the knowledge of Devayani.
But Devayani came to know of it and was naturally very angry, She complained to her father and Sukracharya in his rage cursed Yayati with premature old age.
Yayati, thus suddenly stricken with age in the very prime of his manhood, begged so humbly for forgiveness that Sukracharya, who had not forgotten Devayani's rescue from the well, at last relented.
He said: "O king, you have lost the glory which is youth. The curse cannot be recalled, but if you can persuade anyone to exchange his youth for your age the exchange will take effect." Thus he blessed Yayati and bade him farewell.
EMPEROR Yayati was one of the ancestors of the Pandavas. He had never known defeat. He followed the dictates of the sastras, adored the gods and venerated his ancestors with intense devotion. He became famous as a ruler devoted to the welfare of his subjects.
But as has already been told, he became prematurely old by the curse of Sukracharya for having wronged his wife Devayani. In the words of the poet of the Mahabharata:
"Yayati attained that old age which destroys beauty and brings on miseries." It is needless to describe the misery of youth suddenly blighted into age, where the horrors of loss are accentuated by pangs of recollection.
Yayati, who found himself suddenly an old man, was still haunted by the desire for sensual enjoyment. He had five beautiful sons, all virtuous and accomplished. Yayati called them and appealed piteously to their affection:
"The curse of your grandfather Sukracharya has made me unexpectedly and prematurely old. I have not had my fill of the joys of life. For, not knowing what was in store for me I lived a life of restraint, denying myself even lawful pleasures. One of you ought to bear the burden of my old age and give his youth in return. He who agrees to this and bestows his youth on me will be the ruler of my kingdom. I desire to enjoy life in the full vigor of youth."
He first asked his eldest son. That son replied: "O great king, women and servants will mock at me if I were to take upon myself your old age. I cannot do go. Ask of my younger brothers who are dearer to you than myself."
When the second son was approached, he gently refused with the words: "Father, you ask me to take up old age that destroys not only strength and beauty but also as I see wisdom. I am not strong enough to do so."
The third son replied: "An old man cannot ride a horse or an elephant. His speech will falter. What can I do in such a helpless plight? I cannot agree."
The king was angry and disappointed that his three sons had declined to do as he wished, but he hoped for better from his fourth son, to whom he said: "You should take up my old age. If you exchange your youth with me, I shall give it back to you after some time and take back the old age with which I have been cursed."
The fourth son begged to be forgiven as this was a thing he could by no means consent to. An old man had to seek the help of others even to keep his body clean, a most pitiful plight. No, much as he loved his father he could not do it.
Yayati was struck with sorrow at the refusal of the four sons. Still, hoping against hope, he supplicated his last son who had never yet opposed his wishes: "You must save me. I am afflicted with this old age with its wrinkles, debility and grey hairs as a result of the curse of Sukracharya. It is too hard a trial! If you will take upon yourself these infirmities, I shall enjoy life for just a while more and then give you back your youth and resume my old age and all its sorrows. Pray, do not refuse as your elder brothers have done."
Puru, the youngest son, moved by filial love, said: "Father, I gladly give you my youth and relieve you of the sorrows of old age and cares of state. Be happy."
Hearing these words Yayati embraced him. As soon as he touched his son, Yayati became a youth. Puru, who accepted the old age of his father, ruled the kingdom and acquired great renown. Yayati enjoyed life for long, and not satisfied, went later to the garden of Kubera and spent many years with an Apsara maiden.
After long years spent in vain efforts to quench desire by indulgence, the truth dawned on him.
Returning to Puru, he said: "Dear son, sensual desire is never quenched by indulgence any more than fire is by pouring ghee in it. I had heard and read this, but till now I had not realised it. No object of desire, corn, gold, cattle or women, nothing can ever satisfy the desire of man, We can reach peace only by a mental poise beyond likes and dislikes. Such is the state of Brahman. Take back your youth and rule the kingdom wisely and well."
With these words Yayati took his old age. Puru, who regained his youth, was made king by Yayati who retired to the forest. He spent his time there in austerities and, in due course, attained heaven.
THE sage Mandavya who had acquired strength of mind and knowledge of the scriptures, spent his days in penance and the practice of truth.
He lived in a hermitage in the forests on the outskirts of the city. One day while he was immersed in silent contemplation under the shade of a tree outside his hut of leaves, a band of robbers fled through the woods with officers of the king in hot pursuit.
The fugitives entered the ashrama thinking that it would be a convenient place to hide themselves in. They placed their booty in a corner and hid themselves. The soldiers of the king came to the ashrama tracking their footsteps.
The commander of the soldiers asked Mandavya, who was rapt in deep meditation in a tone of peremptory command: "Did you see the robbers pass by? Where did they go? Reply at once so that we may give chase and capture them."
The sage, who was absorbed in yoga, remained silent. The commander repeated the question insolently. But the sage did not hear anything. In the meantime some of the attendants entered the ashrama and discovered the stolen goods lying there.
They reported this to their commander. All of them went in and found the stolen goods and the robbers who were in hiding.
The commander thought: "Now I know the reason why the brahmana pretended to be a silent sage. He is indeed the chief of these robbers. He has inspired this robbery." Then he ordered his soldiers to guard the place, went to the king and told him that the sage Mandavya had been caught with the stolen goods.
The king was very angry at the audacity of the chief of the robbers who had put on the garb of a brahmana sage, the better to deceive the world. Without pausing to verify the facts, he ordered the wicked criminal, as he thought him, to be impaled.
The commander returned to the hermitage, impaled Mandavya on a spear and handed over the stolen things to the king.
The virtuous sage, though impaled on the spear, did not die. Since he was in yoga when he was impaled he remained alive by the power of yoga. Sages who lived in other parts of the forest came to his hermitage and asked Mandavya how he came to be in that terrible pass.
Mandavya replied: "Whom shall I blame? The servants of the king, who protect the world, have inflicted this punishment."
The king was surprised and frightened when he heard that the impaled sage was still alive and that he was surrounded by the other sages of the forest. He hastened to the forest with his attendants and at once ordered the sage to be taken down from the spear. Then he prostrated at his feet and prayed humbly to be forgiven for the offence unwittingly committed.
Mandavya was not angry with the king. He went straight to Dharma, the divine dispenser of justice, who was seated on his throne, and asked him: "What crime have I committed to deserve this torture?"
Lord Dharma, who knew the great power of the sage, replied in all humility: "O sage, you have tortured birds and bees. Are you not aware that all deeds, good or bad, however small, inevitably produce their results, good or evil?"
Mandavya was surprised at this reply of Lord Dharma and asked: "When did I commit this offence?"
Lord Dharma replied: "When you were a child."
Mandavya then pronounced a curse on Dharma: "This punishment you have decreed is far in excess of the deserts of a mistake committed by a child in ignorance. Be born, therefore, as a mortal in the world."
Lord Dharma who was thus cursed by the sage Mandavya incarnated as Vidura and was born of the servant-maid of Ambalika, the wife of Vichitravirya.
This story is intended to show that Vidura was the incarnation of Dharma. The great men of the world regarded Vidura as a mahatma who was unparalleled in his knowledge of dharma, sastras and statesmanship and was totally devoid of attachment and anger. Bhishma appointed him, while he was still in his teens, as the chief counsellor of king Dhritarashtra.
Vyasa has it that no one in the three worlds could equal Vidura in virtue and knowledge. When Dhritarashtra gave his, permission for the game of dice, Vidura fell at his feet and protested solemnly: "O king and lord, I cannot approve of this action. Strife will set in among your sons as a result. Pray, do not allow this."
Dhritarashtra also tried in manly ways to dissuade his wicked son. He said to him: "Do not proceed with this game. Vidura does not approve of it, the wise Vidura of lofty intellect who is ever intent on our welfare. He says the game is bound to result in a fierceness of hate which will consume us and our kingdom."
But Duryodhana did not heed this advice. Carried away by his doting fondness for his son, Dhritarashtra surrendered his better judgment and sent to Yudhishthira the fateful invitation to the game.
SURA, the grandfather of Sri Krishna, was a worthy scion of the Yadava race. His daughter Pritha was noted for her beauty and virtues. Since his cousin Kuntibhoja was childless, Sura gave his daughter Pritha in adoption to him. From that time she was known by the name of Kunti after her adoptive father.
When Kunti was a little girl, the sage Durvasa stayed for a time as a guest in her father's house and she served the sage for a year with all care, patience and devotion. He was so pleased with her that he gave her a divine mantra. He said:
"If you call upon any god repeating this mantra, he will manifest himself to you and bless you with a son equal to him in glory." He granted her this boon because he foresaw by his yogic power the misfortune that was in store for her future husband.
The impatient curiosity of youth made Kunti test then and there the efficacy of the mantra by repeating it and invoking the Sun whom she saw shining in the heavens. At once the sky grew dark with clouds, and under cover of them the Sun god approached the beautiful princess Kunti and stood gazing at her with ardent soul scorching admiration. Kunti, overpowered by the glorious vision of her divine visitor, asked: "O god, who art thou?"
The Sun replied: "Dear maiden, I am the Sun. I have been drawn to you by the spell of the son-giving mantra that you have uttered."
Kunti was aghast and said: "I am an unwedded girl dependent on my father. I am not fit for motherhood and do not desire it. I merely wished to test the power of the boon granted by the sage Durvasa. Go back and forgive this childish folly of mine." But the Sun god could not thus return because the power of the mantra held him. She for her part was mortally afraid of being blamed by the world. The Sun god however reassured her:
"No blame shall attach to you. After bearing my son, you will regain virginity.''
Kunti conceived by the grace of the Sun, the giver of light and life to all the world. Divine births take place immediately without the nine months weary course of mortal gestation.
She gave birth to Karna who was born with divine armor and earrings and was bright and beautiful like the Sun. In time, he became one of the world's greatest heroes. After the birth of the child, Kunti once again became a virgin as a result of the boon granted by the Sun.
She wondered what she should do with the child. To hide her fault she placed the child in a sealed box and set it afloat in a river. A childless charioteer happened to see the floating case, and taking it, was surprised and delighted to see within it a gorgeously beautiful child.
He handed it over to his wife who lavished a mother's love on it. Thus Karna, the son of the Sun god, came to be brought up as a charioteer's child. When the time came for giving Kunti in marriage, Kuntibhoja invited all the neighboring princes and held a swayamvara for her to choose her husband.
Many eager suitors flocked to the swayamvara as the princess was widely famed for her great beauty and virtue. Kunti placed the garland on the neck of King Pandu, the bright representative of the Bharata race, whose personality eclipsed the lustre of all the other princes assembled there. The marriage was duly solemnised and she accompanied her husband to his capital Hastinapur.
On the advice of Bhishma and in accordance with the prevailing custom, Pandu took a second wife Madri, the sister of the king of Madra. In the old days the kings took two or three wives for making sure of progeny and not for mere sensual desire.
ONE day King Pandu was out hunting. A sage and his wife were also sporting in the forest in the guise of deer. Pandu shot the male with an arrow, in ignorance of the fact that it was a sage in disguise. Stricken to death the rishi thus cursed Pandu: "Sinner, you will meet with death the moment you taste the pleasures of the bed."
Pandu was heartbroken at this curse and retreated to the forest with his wives after entrusting his kingdom to Bhishma and Vidura and lived there a life of perfect abstinence.
Seeing that Pandu was desirous of offspring, which the rishi’s curse had denied him, Kunti confided to him the story of the mantra she had received from Durvasa. He urged Kunti and Madri to use the mantra and thus it was that the five Pandavas were born of the gods to Kunti and Madri.
They were born and brought up in the forest among ascetics. King Pandu lived for many years in the forest with his wives and children. It was springtime. And one day Pandu and Madri forgot their sorrows in the rapture of sympathy with the throbbing life around them, the happy flowers, creepers, birds and other creatures of the forest.
In spite of Madri’s earnest and repeated protests Pandu’s resolution broke down under the exhilarating influence of the season, and at once the curse of the sage took effect and Pandu fell, dead.
Madri could not contain her sorrow. Since she felt that she was responsible for the death of the king. She burnt herself on the pyre of her husband entreating Kunti to remain and be a mother to her doubly orphaned children.
The sages of the forest took the bereaved and grief-stricken Kunti and the Pandavas to Hastinapura and entrusted them to Bhishma.
Yudhishthira was but sixteen years old at that time. When the sages came to Hastinapura and reported the death of Pandu in the forest, the whole kingdom was plunged in sorrow. Vidura, Bhishma, Vyasa, Dhritarashtra and others performed the funeral rites.
All the people in the kingdom lamented as at a personal loss. Vyasa said to Satyavati, the grandmother: "The past has gone by pleasantly, but the future has many sorrows in store. The world has passed its youth like a happy dream and it is now entering on disillusionment, sin, sorrow and suffering. Time is inexorable. You need not wait to see the miseries and misfortunes that will befall this race. It will be good for you to leave the city and spend the rest of your days in a hermitage in the forest." Satyavati agreed and went to the forest with Ambika and Ambalika. These three aged queens passed through holy asceticism to the higher regions of bliss and spared themselves the sorrows of their children.
THE five sons of Pandu and the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra grew up in mirth and merriment at Hastinapura. Bhima excelled them all in physical prowess. He used to bully Duryodhana and the other Kauravas by dragging them by the hair and beating them.
A great swimmer, he would dive, into pools, with one or more of them clasped helpless in his arms, and remain under water till they were almost drowned. Whenever they climbed up on a tree he would stand on the ground and kick at the tree and shake them down like ripe fruits.
The bodies of the sons of Dhritarashtra would be ever sore with bruises as a result of Bhima's practical jokes. Small wonder that the sons of Dhritarashtra nursed a deep hatred for Bhima from their very infancy.
As the princes grew up. Kripacharya taught them archery and the practice of arms and other things that princes should learn. Duryodhana's jealousy towards Bhima warped his mind and made him commit many improper acts.
Duryodhana was very much worried. His father being blind, the kingdom was ruled by Pandu. After his death Yudhishthira, the heir-apparent, would in course of time become king. Duryodhana thought that as his blind father was quite helpless he must, to prevent Yudhishthira's accession to the throne, contrive a way of killing Bhima.
He made arrangements to carry out his resolve since he thought that the powers of the Pandavas would decline with the death of Bhima.
Duryodhana and his brothers planned to throw Bhima into the Ganges, imprison Arjuna and Yudhishthira, and then seize the kingdom and rule it. So Duryodhana went with his brothers and the Pandavas for a swim in the Ganges.
After the sports they slept in their tents being exhausted. Bhima had exerted himself more than the others and as his food had been poisoned, he felt drowsy and lay down on the bank of the river. Duryodhana bound him with wild creepers and threw him into the river.
The evil Duryodhana had already caused sharp spikes to be planted on the spot. This was done purposely so that Bhima might in falling be impaled on the spikes, and lose his life. Fortunately there was no spike in the place where Bhima fell. Poisonous water-snakes bit his body.
The poisonous food he had taken was counteracted by the snake poison and Bhima came to no harm, and presently, the river washed him to a bank.
Duryodhana thought that Bhima must have died as he had been thrown in the river infested with poisonous snakes and planted with spikes. So he returned to the city with the rest of the party in great joy.
When Yudhishthira inquired about the whereabouts of Bhima, Duryodhana informed him that he had preceded them to the city.
Yudhishthira believed Duryodhana and as soon as he returned home, asked his mother whether Bhima had returned home.
His anxious question brought forth the reply that Bhima had not yet returned, which made Yudhishthira suspect some foul play against his brother. And he went again with his brothers to the forest and searched everywhere. But Bhima could not be found. They went back in great sorrow.
Sometime later Bhima awoke and trudged wearily back home. Kunti and Yudhishthira welcomed him and embraced him in great joy. By the poison that had entered his system Bhima became stronger than before.
Kunti sent for Vidura and told him in secret:
"Duryodhana is wicked and cruel. He seeks to kill Bhima since he wants to rule the kingdom. I am worried."
Vidura replied: "What you say is true, but keep your thoughts to yourself. For if the wicked Duryodhana is accused or blamed, his anger and hatred will only increase. Your sons are blessed with long life. You need have no fear on that account."
Yudhishthira also warned Bhima and said: "Be silent over the matter. Hereafter, we have to be careful and help one another and protect ourselves."
Duryodhana was surprised to see Bhima come back alive. His jealousy and hatred increased. He heaved a deep sigh and pined away in sorrow.
THE Pandavas and the Kauravas learnt the practice of arms first from Kripacharya and later from Drona. A day was fixed for a test and exhibition of their proficiency in the use of arms in the presence of the royal family and as the public had also been invited to witness the performance of their beloved princes. There was a large and enthusiastic crowd.
Arjuna displayed superhuman skill with his weapons and the vast assemblage was lost in wonder and admiration. Duryodhana's brow was dark with envy and hate.
At the close of the day, there came suddenly from the entrance of the arena a sound, loud and compelling like thunder the sound made by the slapping of mighty arms in challenge. All eyes turned in that direction. They saw enter through the crowd, which made way in awed silence, a godlike youth from whom light and power seemed to emanate. He looked proudly round him, cast a negligent salute to Drona and Kripa, and strode up to Arjuna. The brothers, all unaware, by the bitter irony of fate, of their common blood, faced one another; for it was Karna.
Karna addressed Arjuna in a voice deep as rumbling thunder: "Arjuna, I shall show greater skill than you have displayed."
With Drona's leave, Karna the lover of battle, then and there duplicated all of Arjuna's feats with careless ease. Great was Duryodhana's exultation. He threw his arms round Karna and said: "Welcome, O thou with mighty arms, whom good fortune has sent to us. I and this kingdom of the Kurus are at your command."
Said Karna: "I, Karna, am grateful, O king. Only two things I seek, your love and single combat with Partha."
Duryodhana clasped Karna again to his bosom and said: "My prosperity is all thine to enjoy."
As love flooded Duryodhana's heart, even so did blazing wrath fill Arjuna, who felt affronted. And glaring fiercely at Karna who stood, stately as a mountain peak, receiving the greetings of the Kaurava brothers, he said: "O Karna, slain by me thou shalt presently go to the hell appointed for those who intrude uninvited and prate unbidden."
Karna laughed in scorn: "This arena is open to all, O Arjuna, and not to you alone. Might is the sanction of sovereignty and the law is based on it. But what is the use of mere talk which is the weapon of the weak? Shoot arrows instead of words."
Thus challenged, Arjuna, with Drona's permission, hastily embraced his brothers and stood ready for combat. While Karna, taking leave of the Kuru brothers, confronted him weapon in hand.
And, as though the divine parents of the heroes sought to encourage their offspring and witness this fateful battle, Indra, the lord of the thunderclouds, and Bhaskara of the in finite rays, simultaneously appeared in the heavens.
When she saw Karna, Kunti knew him as her first born and fainted away. Vidura instructed the maidservant to attend upon her and she revived. She stood stupefied with anguish not knowing what to do.
As they were about to join in battle, Kripa, well-versed in the rules of single combat, stepped between them and addressed Karna:
"This prince, who is ready to fight with thee, is the son of Pritha and Pandu and a scion of the Kuru race. Reveal O mighty armed thy parentage and the race rendered illustrious by thy birth. It is only after knowing thy lineage that Partha can fight with thee, for high-born princes cannot engage in single combat with unknown adventurers."
When he heard these words, Karna bent down his head like a lotus under the weight of rainwater.
Duryodhana stood up and said: "If the combat cannot take place merely because Karna is not a prince, why, that is easily remedied. I crown Karna as the king of Anga." He then obtained the assent of Bhishma and Dhritarashtra, performed all the necessary rites and invested Karna with the sovereignty of the kingdom of Anga giving him the crown, jewels and other royal insignia.
At that moment, as the combat between the youthful heroes seemed about to commence, the old charioteer Adhiratha, who was the foster-father of Karna, entered the assembly, staff in hand and quaking with fear.
No sooner did he see him, that Karna, the newly crowned king of Anga, bowed his head and did humble obeisance in all filial reverence. The old man called him son, embraced him with his thin and trembling arms, and wept with joy wetting with tears of love his head already moistened by the water of the coronation.
At this sight, Bhima roared with laughter and said: "O he is after all only the son of a charioteer! Take up the driving whip then as befits thy parentage. Thou art not worthy of death at the hands of Arjuna. Nor shouldst thou reign in Anga as a king."
At this outrageous speech, Karna's lips trembled with anguish and he speechlessly looked up at the setting sun with a deep sigh.
But Duryodhana broke in indignantly:
"It is unworthy of you, O Vrikodara, to speak thus. Valor is the hallmark of a kshatriya. Nor is there much sense in tracing great heroes and mighty rivers to their sources. I could give you hundreds of instances of great men of humble birth and I know awkward questions might be asked of your own origin. Look at this warrior, his godlike form and bearing, his armor and earrings, and his skill with weapons. Surely there is some mystery about him. For how could a tiger be born of an antelope? Unworthy of being king of Anga, didst thou say? I verily hold him worthy to rule the whole world."
In generous wrath, Duryodhana took Karna in his chariot and drove away.
The sun set and the crowd dispersed in tumult. There were groups loud in talk under the light of the lamps, some glorifying Arjuna, others Karna, and others again Duryodhana according to their predilection.
Indra foresaw that a supreme contest was inevitable between his son Arjuna and Karna. And he put on the garb of a brahmana and came to Karna, who was reputed for his charity and begged of him his earrings and armor. The Sun god had already warned Karna in a dream that Indra would try to deceive him in this manner.
Still, Karna could not bring himself to refuse any gift that was asked of him. Hence he cut off the earrings and armor with which he was born and gave them to the brahmana.
Indra, the king of gods, was filled with surprise and joy. After accepting the gift, he praised Karna as having done what no one else would do, and, shamed into generosity, bade Karna ask for any boon he wanted.
Karna replied: "I desire to get your weapon, the Sakti, which has the power to kill enemies." Indra granted the boon, but with a fateful proviso. He said: "You can use this weapon against but one enemy, and it will kill him whosoever he may be. But this killing done, this weapon will no longer be available to you but will return to me." With these words Indra disappeared.
Karna went to Parasurama and became his disciple by representing to him that he was a brahmana. He learnt of Parasurama the mantra for using the master weapon known as Brahmastra.
One day Parasurama was reclining with the head on Karna's lap when a stinging worm burrowed into Karna's thigh. Blood began to flow and the pain was terrible. But Karna bore it without tremor lest he should disturb the master's sleep. Parasurama awoke and saw the blood that had poured from the wound.
He said: "Dear pupil, you are not a brahmana. A kshatriya alone can remain unmoved under all bodily torments. Tell me the truth."
Karna confessed that he had told a lie in presenting himself as a brahmana and that he was in fact the son of a charioteer.
Parasurama in his anger pronounced this curse on him: "Since you deceived your guru, the Brahmastra you have learnt shall fail you at the fated moment. You will be unable to recall the invocatory mantra when your hour comes."
It was because of this curse that at the crisis of his last fight with Arjuna, Karna was not able to recall the Brahmastra spell, though he had remembered it till then. Karna was the faithful friend of Duryodhana and remained loyally with the Kauravas until the end.
After the fall of Bhishma and Drona, Karna became the leader of the Kaurava army and fought brilliantly for two days. In the end, the wheel of his chariot stuck in the ground and be was not able to lift it free and drive the chariot along. While he was in this predicament, Arjuna killed him. Kunti was sunk in sorrow, all the more poignant because she had, at that time, to conceal it.
DRONA, the son of a brahmana named Bharadwaja, after completing his study of the Vedas and the Vedangas, devoted himself to the art of archery and became a great master.
Drupada, the son of the king of Panchala, who was a friend of Bharadwaja, was a fellow-student of Drona in the hermitage and there grew up between them the generous intimacy of youth.
Drupada, in his boyish enthusiasm, used often to tell Drona that he would give him half his kingdom when he ascended the throne. After completing his studies, Drona married the sister of Kripa, and a son Aswatthama was born to them.
Drona was passionately attached to his wife and son, and, for their sake, desired to acquire wealth, a thing that he had never cared for before. Learning that Parasurama was distributing his riches among the brahmanas, he first went to him. But he was too late as Parasurama had already given away all his wealth and was about to retire to the forest.
But, anxious to do something for Drona, Parasurama offered to teach him the use of weapons, of which he was supreme master.
Drona joyfully agreed, and great archer as he already was, he became unrivalled master of the military art, worthy of eager welcome as preceptor in any princely house in that warlike age.
Meanwhile, Drupada had ascended the throne of Panchala on the death of his father. Remembering their early intimacy and Drupada's expressions of readiness to serve him, even to the extent of sharing his kingdom, Drona went to him in the confident hope of being treated generously.
But he found the king very different from the student. When he introduced himself as an old friend, Drupada, far from being glad to see him, felt it an intolerable presumption.
Drunk with power and wealth, Drupada said: "O brahmana, how dare you address me familiarly as your friend? What friendship can there be between a throned king and a wandering beggar? What a fool must you be to presume on some long past acquaintance to claim friend ship with a king who rules a kingdom? How can a pauper be the friend of a wealthy man, or an ignorant boor of a learned scholar, or a coward of a hero? Friendship can exist only between equals. A vagrant beggar cannot be the friend of a sovereign." Drona was turned out of the palace with scorn in his ears and a blazing wrath in his heart.
He made a mental vow to punish the arrogant king for this insult and his repudiation of the sacred claims of early friendship. His next move in search of employment was to go to Hastinapura, where he spent a few days, in retirement, in the house of his brother-in-law Kripacharya.
One day, the princes were playing with a ball outside the precincts of the city, and in the course of the game, the ball as well as Yudhishthira's ring fell into a well. The princes had gathered round the well and saw the ring shining from the bottom through the clear water. But could see no way of getting it out. They did not however, notice that a brahmana of dark complexion stood nearby watching them with a smile.
"Princes," he surprised them by saying, "you are the descendants of the heroic Bharata race. Why cannot you take out the ball as anyone skilled in arms should know how to do? Shall I do it for you?"
Yudhishthira laughed and said in fun: "O brahmana, if you take out the ball, we will see that you have a good meal in the house of Kripacharya." Then Drona the brahmana stranger, took a blade of grass and sent it forth into the well after reciting certain words of power for propelling it as an arrow.
The blade of grass straightway sped and stuck into the ball. Afterwards he sent a number of similar blades in succession which clinging together formed a chain, wherewith Drona took out the ball.
The princes were lost in amazement and delight and begged of him to get the ring also. Drona borrowed a bow, fixed an arrow on the string and sent it right into the ring. The arrow rebounding brought up the ring and the brahmana handed it to the prince with a smile.
Seeing these feats, the princes were astonished and said: "We salute you, O brahmana. Who are you? Is there anything we can do for you?" and they bowed to him.
He said: "O princes, go to Bhishma and learn from him who I am."
From the description given by the princes, Bhishma knew that the brahmana was none other than the famous master Drona. He decided that Drona was the fittest person to impart further instruction to the Pandavas and the Kauravas. So, Bhishma received him with special honor and employed him to instruct the princes in the use of arms.
As soon as the Kauravas and the Pandavas had acquired mastery in the science of arms, Drona sent Karna and Duryodhana to seize Drupada and bring him alive, in discharge of the duty they owed to him as their master.
They went as ordered by him, but could not accomplish their task. Then the master sent forth Arjuna on the same errand. He defeated Drupada in battle and brought him and his minister captives to Drona.
Then Drona smilingly addressed Drupada: "Great king, do not fear for your life. In our boyhood we were companions but you were pleased to forget it and dishonor me. You told me that a king alone could be friend to a king. Now I am a king, having conquered your kingdom. Still I seek to regain my friendship with you, and so I give you half of your kingdom that has become mine by conquest. Your creed is that friendship is possible only between equals. And we shall now be equals, each owning a half of your kingdom."
Drona thought this sufficient revenge for the insult he had suffered, set Drupada at liberty and treated him with honor. Drupada's pride was thus humbled but, since hate is never extinguished by retaliation, and few things are harder to bear than the pangs of wounded vanity, hatred of Drona and a wish to be revenged on him became the ruling passion of Drupada's life.
The king performed tapas, underwent fasts and conducted sacrifices in order to win the gratified gods to bless him with a son who should slay Drona and a daughter who should wed Arjuna.
His efforts were crowned with success with the birth of Dhrishtadyumna who commanded the Pandava army at Kurukshetra and, helped by a strange combination of circumstances, slew the otherwise unconquerable Drona, and birth of Draupadi, the consort of the Pandavas.
THE jealousy of Duryodhana began to grow at the sight of the physical strength of Bhima and the dexterity of Arjuna. Karna and Sakuni became Duryodhana's evil counsellors in planning wily stratagems.
As for poor Dhritarashtra, he was a wise man no doubt and he also loved his brother's sons, but he was weak of will and dotingly attached to his own children. For his children's sake the worse became the better reason, and he would sometimes even knowingly follow the wrong path.
Duryodhana sought in various ways to kill the Pandavas. It was by means of the secret help rendered by Vidura who wanted to save the family from a great sin, that the Pandavas escaped with their lives.
One unforgivable offence of the Pandavas in the eyes of Duryodhana was that the people of the city used to praise them openly and declare in season and out of season that Yudhishthira alone was fit to be the king.
They would flock together and argue:
"Dhritarashtra could never be king for he was born blind. It is not proper that he should now hold the kingdom in his hands. Bhishma cannot be king either, because he is devoted to truth and to his vow that he would not be a king. Hence Yudhishthira alone should be crowned as king. He alone can rule the Kuru race and the kingdom with justice." Thus people talked everywhere. These words were poison to Duryodhana's ears, and made him writhe and burn with jealousy.
He went to Dhritarashtra and complained bitterly of the public talk: "Father, the citizens babble irrelevant nonsense. They have no respect even for such venerable persons as Bhishma and yourself. They say that Yudhishthira should be immediately crowned king. This would bring disaster on us. You were set aside because of your blindness, and your brother became the king. If Yudhishthira is to succeed his father, where do we come? What chance has our progeny? After Yudhishthira his son, and his son's son, and then his son will be the kings. We will sink into poor relations dependent on them even for our food. To live in hell would be better than that!"
At these words, Dhritarashtra began to ponder and said: "Son, what you say is true. Still Yudhishthira will not stray from the path of virtue. He loves all. He has truly inherited all the excellent virtues of his deceased father. People praise him and will support him, and all the ministers of the State and commanders of armies, to whom Pandu had endeared himself by his nobility of character, will surely espouse his cause. As for the people, they idolise the Pandavas. We cannot oppose them with any chance of success. If we do injustice, the citizens will rise in insurrection and either kill us or expel us. We shall only cover ourselves with ignominy."
Duryodhana replied: "Your fears are baseless. Bhishma will at worst be neutral, while Ashwatthama is devoted to me, which means that his father Drona and uncle Kripa will also be on our side. Vidura cannot openly oppose us, if for no other reason, because he has not the strength. Send the Pandavas immediately to Varanavata. I tell you the solemn truth that my cup of suffering is full and I can bear no more. It pierces my heart and renders me sleepless and makes my life a torment. After sending the Pandavas to Varanavata we shall try to strengthen our party."
Later, some politicians were prevailed upon to join Duryodhana's party and advise the king in the matter. Kanika, the minister of Sakuni, was their leader. "O king," he said, "guard yourselves against the sons of Pandu, for their goodness and influence are a menace to you and yours. The Pandavas are the sons of your brother, but the nearer the kin, the closer and deadlier the danger. They are very strong."
Sakuni's minister continued: "Be not wroth with me if I say a king should be mighty in action as in name, for nobody will believe in strength which is never displayed. State affairs should be kept secret and the earliest indication to the public, of a wise plan, should be its execution. Also, evils must be eradicated promptly for a thorn which has been allowed to remain in the body may cause a festering wound. Powerful enemies should be destroyed and even a weak foe should not be neglected since a mere spark, if over looked, may cause a forest fire. A strong enemy should be destroyed by means of stratagem and it would be folly to show mercy to him. O king, guard yourself against the sons of Pandu. They are very powerful."
Duryodhana told Dhritarashtra of his success in securing adherents: "I have bought the goodwill of the king's attendants with gifts of wealth and honor. I have won over his ministers to our cause. If you will adroitly prevail upon the Pandavas to go to Varanavata, the city and the whole kingdom will take our side. They will not have a friend left here. Once the kingdom has become ours, there will be no power for harm left in them, and it may even be possible to let them come back."
When many began to say what he himself wished to believe, Dhritarashtra's mind was shaken and he yielded to his sons' counsels. It only remained to give effect to the plot.
The ministers began to praise the beauty of Varanavata in the hearing of the Pandavas and made mention of the fact that a great festival in honor of Siva would be conducted there with all pomp and splendor.
The unsuspecting Pandavas were easily persuaded, especially when Dhritarashtra also told them in tones of great affection that they should certainly go and witness the festivities, not only because they were worth seeing but because the people of the place were eager to welcome them.
The Pandavas took leave of Bhishma and other elders and went to Varanavata. Duryodhana was elated. He plotted with Karna and Sakuni to kill Kunti and her sons at Varanavata. They sent for Purochana, a minister, and gave him secret instructions which he bound himself to carry out faithfully.
Before the Pandavas proceeded to Varanavata, Purochana, true to his instructions, hastened to the spot well in advance and had a beautiful palace built for their reception. Combustible materials like jute, lac, ghee, oil, and fat were used in the construction of the palace. The materials for the plastering of the walls were also inflammable. He skilfully filled up various parts of the building with dry things that could catch fire easily, and had inviting seats and bedsteads disposed at the most combustible places.
Every convenience was furnished for the Pandavas to dwell in the city without fear, until the palace was built. When the Pandavas had settled down in the wax house, the idea was to set fire to it at night when they were sound asleep.
The ostentatious love and solicitude with which the Pandavas had been received and treated would obviate all suspicion and the fire would be taken as a sad case of pure accident. No one would dream of blaming the Kauravas.
AFTER taking reverential leave of the elders and embracing their comrades, the Pandavas proceeded to Varanavata. The citizens accompanied them a part of their way and returned unwillingly to the city. Vidura pointedly warned Yudhishthira in words intelligible only to the prince:
"He alone will escape from danger who forestalls the intentions of an astute enemy. There are weapons sharper than those made of steel. And the wise man who would escape destruction must know the means to guard against them. The conflagration that devastates a forest cannot hurt a rat which shelters itself in a hole or a porcupine which burrows in the earth. The wise man knows his bearings by looking at the stars."
Though they had started on their journey in sunshine of joy, they now proceeded in a dark cloud of sorrow and anxiety.
The people of Varanavata were very happy to learn of the coming of the Pandavas to their city and welcomed them. After a brief stay in other houses while the palace specially meant for them was being got ready, they moved into it under Purochana's guidance.
It was named "Sivam" which means prosperity, and that was the name which, in ghastly irony, was given to the deathtrap. Yudhishthira diligently examined the whole place bearing in mind Vidura's warning and verified that the building was without a shadow of doubt constructed with combustible material.
Yudhishthira told Bhima: "Though we know very well that the palace is a trap of death, we should not make Purochana suspect that we know his plot. We should get away at the right moment but escape would be difficult if we gave room for any suspicion."
So they stayed in that house to all appearance free from care. Meanwhile, Vidura had sent an expert miner who met them in secret and said: "My password is the veiled warning Vidura gave you. I have been sent to help you for your protection."
This was meant to indicate to Yudhishthira and to him alone, Duryodhana's hideous plot and the means of escape from danger. Yudhishthira answered that he had grasped Vidura's meaning, and later he communicated it to Kuntidevi.
Henceforward the miner worked for many days in secret, unknown to Purochana, and completed a subterranean egress from the wax house right under and across the walls and the moat, which ran round the precincts.
Purochana had his quarters at the gateway of the palace. The Pandavas kept armed vigil during night, but by day they used to go out hunting in the forest, to all appearance bent on pleasure but really to make themselves familiar with the forest paths.
As has already been said, they carefully kept to themselves their knowledge of the wicked plot against their lives. On his side Purochana, anxious to lull all suspicion and make the murderous fire seem an accident, waited fully a year before putting the plot into effect.
At last Purochana felt he had waited long enough. And the watchful Yudhishthira, knowing that the fated moment had arrived, called his brothers together and told them that now or never was the time for them to escape.
Kuntidevi arranged a sumptuous feast for the attendants that day. Her idea was to lull them to well-fed sleep at night.
At midnight, Bhima set fire to the palace in several places. Kuntidevi and the Pandava brothers hurried out through the subterranean passage, groping their way out in the darkness. Presently, there was a roaring fire all over the palace and a fast swelling crowd of frightened citizens all around in loud and helpless lamentation.
Some bustled aimlessly in futile efforts to put out the conflagration and all joined in the cry: "Alas! Alas! This surely is Duryodhana's work, and he is killing the sinless Pandavas!"
The palace was reduced to ashes. Purochana's residence was enveloped in flames before he could escape and he fell an unpitied victim to his own wicked plot.
The people of Varanavata, sent the following message to Hastinapura: "The palace which was the abode of the Pandavas has burnt down and no one in it escaped alive."
Vyasa has beautifully described the then mental state of Dhritarashtra: "Just as the water of a deep pool is cool at the bottom and warm on the surface, so the heart of Dhritarashtra was at once warm with joy and chilled with sorrow."
Dhritarashtra and his sons cast off their royal garments in token of mourning for the Pandavas whom they believed consumed in the fire. They dressed themselves in single garments as became sorrowful kinsmen and went to the river and performed the propitiatory funeral rites.
No outward show of heart broken bereavement was omitted. It was noticed by some that Vidura was not so overcome by sorrow as the others and this was set down to his philosophical bent of mind. But the real reason was that he knew that the Pandavas had escaped to safety.
When he looked sad, he was in fact following with his mind's eye the weary wanderings of the Pandavas. Seeing that Bhishma was sunk in sorrow, Vidura secretly comforted him by revealing to him the story of their successful escape.
Bhima saw that his mother and brothers were exhausted by their nightly vigils as well as by fear and anxiety. He therefore carried his mother on his shoulders and took Nakula and Sahadeva on his hips, supporting Yudhishthira and Arjuna with his two hands.
Thus heavily laden, he strode effortlessly like a lordly elephant forcing his way through the forest and pushing aside the shrubs and trees that obstructed his path.
When they reached the Ganges, there was a boat ready for them in charge of a boatman who knew their secret. They crossed the river in the darkness, and entering a mighty forest they went on at night in darkness that wrapped them like a shroud and in a silence broken hideously by the frightful noises of wild animals.
At last, quite fordone by toil, they sat down unable to bear the pangs of thirst and overcome by the drowsiness of sheer fatigue. Kuntidevi said: "I do not care even if the sons of Dhritarashtra are here to seize me, but I must stretch my legs." She forthwith laid herself down and was sunk in sleep.
Bhima forced his way about the tangled forest in search of water in the darkness. And finding a pool, he wetted his upper garment, made cups of lotus leaves and brought water to his mother and brothers who were perishing with thirst.
Then, while the others slept in merciful forgetfulness of their woes, Bhima alone sat awake absorbed in deep thought. "Do not the plants and the creepers of the forest mutually help each other and live in peace?" he reflected; "why should the wicked Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana try to injure us in these ways?" Sinless himself, Bhima could not understand the springs of sinfulness in others and was lost in grief.
The Pandavas marched on, suffering many hardships and overcoming many dangers. Part of the way, they would carry their mother to make better speed. Sometimes, tired beyond even heroic endurance, they would pause and rest. Sometimes, full of life and the glorious strength of youth, they would race with each other.
They met Bhagavan Vyasa on the way. All of them bowed before him and received encouragement and wise counsel from him.
When Kunti told him of the sorrows that had befallen them, Vyasa consoled her with these words: "No virtuous man is strong enough to live in virtue at all times, nor is any sinner bad enough to exist in one welter of sin. Life is a tangled web and there is no one in the world who has not done both good and evil. Each and everyone has to bear the consequence of his actions. Do not give way to sorrow."
Then they put on the garb of brahmanas, as advised by Vyasa, went to the city of Ekachakra and stayed there in a brahmana's house, waiting for better days.
IN the city of Ekachakra, the Pandavas stayed in the guise of brahmanas, begging their food in the brahmana streets and bringing what they got to their mother, who would wait anxiously till their return. If they did not come back in time, she would be worried, fearing that some evil might have befallen them.
Kunti would divide the food they brought in two equal portions. One half would go to Bhima. The other half would be shared by the other brothers and the mother. Bhima, being born of the Wind god had great strength and a mighty appetite.
Vrikodara, one of the names of Bhima, means wolf-bellied, and a wolf, you know, looks always famished. And however much it might eat, its hunger is never quite satisfied.
Bhima's insatiable hunger and the scanty food he used to get at Ekachakra went ill together. And he daily grew thin, which caused much distress to his mother and brothers. Sometime later, Bhima became acquainted with a potter for whom he helped and fetched clay. The potter, in return, presented him with a big earthen pot that became an object of merriment to the street urchins.
One day, when the other brothers had gone to beg for alms, Bhimasena stayed behind with his mother, and they heard loud lamentations from the house of their brahmana landlord. Some great calamity surely had befallen the poor family and Kunti went inside to learn what it was.
The brahmana and his wife could hardly speak for weeping, but, at last the brahmana said to his wife: "O unfortunate and foolish woman, though time and again I wished we should leave this city for good, you would not agree. You persisted in saying that you were born and bred here and here you would stay where your parents and relations had lived and died. How can I think of losing you who have been to me at once my life's mate, loving mother, the wife who bore my children, nay, my all in all? I cannot send you to death while I keep myself alive. This little girl has been given to us by God as a trust to be handed over in time to a worthy man. It is unrighteous to sacrifice her who is a gift of God to perpetuate the race. It is equally impossible to allow this other, our son, to be killed. How can we live after consigning to death our only solace in life and our hope for the here after? If he is lost, who would pour libations for us and our ancestors? Alas! You did not pay heed to my words, and this is the deadly fruit of your perversity. If I give up my life, this girl and boy will surely die soon for want of a protector. What shall I do? It is best that all of us perish together" and the brahmana burst forth sobbing.
The wife replied: "I have been a good wife to you, and done my duty by bearing you a daughter and a son. You are able, and I am not, to bring up and protect your children. Just as cast out offal is pounced upon and seized by rapacious birds, a poor widowed woman is an easy prey to wicked and dishonest people. Dogs fight for a cloth wet with ghee, and in pulling it hither and thither in unclean greed, tear it into foul rags. It would be best if I am handed over to the Rakshasa. Blessed indeed is the woman who passes to the other world, while her husband is alive. This, as you know, is what the scriptures say. Bid me farewell. Take care of my children. I have been happy with you. I have performed many meritorious actions. By my faithful devotion to you, I am sure of heaven. Death has no terror for one who has been a good wife. After I am gone, take another wife. Gladden me with a brave smile, give me your blessing, and send me to the Rakshasa."
Hearing these words of his wife, the brahmana tenderly embraced her and, utterly overcome by her love and courage, he wept like a child. When he could find his voice, he replied: "O beloved and noble one, what words are these? Can I bear to live without you? The first duty of a married man is to protect his wife. I should indeed be a pitiful sinner if I lived after giving you up to the Rakshasa, sacrificing both love and duty."
The daughter who was hearing this piteous conversation, now interposed with sobs: "Listen to me, child though I be, and then do what is proper. It is me alone that you can spare to the Rakshasa. By sacrificing one soul, that is, myself, you can save the others. Let me be the little boat to take you across this river of calamity. In like manner, a woman without a guardian becomes the sport of wicked people who drag her hither and thither. It is impossible for me to protect two fatherless orphans and they will perish miserably like fish in a waterless pond. If both of you pass away, both I and this little baby brother of mine will soon perish unprotected in this hard world. If this family of ours can be saved from destruction by my single death, what a good death mine would be! Even if you consider my welfare alone, you should send me to the Rakshasa."
At these brave words of the poor child, the parents tenderly embraced her and wept. Seeing them all in tears the boy, hardly more than a baby, started up with glowing eyes, lisping: "Father, do not weep. Mother, do not weep. Sister, do not weep," and he went to each and sat on their lap by turns.
Then he rose up took a stick of firewood and brandishing it about, said in his sweet childish treble: "I shall kill the Rakshasa with this stick." The child's action and speech made them smile in the midst of their tears, but only added to their great sorrow.
Feeling this was the moment for intervention, Kuntidevi entered and inquired for the cause of their sorrow and whether there was anything she could do to help them.
The brahmana said: "Mother, this is a sorrow far beyond your aid. There is a cave near the city, where lives a cruel and terribly strong Rakshasa named Bakasura. He forcibly seized this city and kingdom thirteen years ago. Since then he has held us in cruel thraldom. The kshatriya ruler of this country has fled to the city of Vetrakiya and is unable to protect us. This Rakshasa formerly used to issue from his cave whenever he liked and, mad with hunger, indiscriminately kill and eat men, women and children in this city. The citizens prayed to the Rakshasa to come to some sort of stipulation in place of this promiscuous slaughter. They prayed: 'Do not kill us wantonly at your whim and pleasure. Once a week we shall bring you sufficient meat, rice, curds and intoxicating liquors and many other delicacies. We will deliver these to you in a carriage drawn by two bullocks driven by a human being taken from each house in turn. You can make a repast of the rice, along with the bullocks and the man, but refrain from this mad orgy of slaughter.' The Rakshasa agreed to the proposal. From that day, this strong Rakshasa has been protecting this kingdom from foreign raids and wild beasts. This arrangement has been in force for many years. No hero has been found to free this country from this pest, for the Rakshasa has invariably defeated and killed all the brave men who tried. Mother, our legitimate sovereign is unable to protect us. The citizens of a country, whose king is weak, should not marry and beget children. A worthy family life, with culture and domestic happiness, is possible only under the rule of a good, strong king. Wife, wealth and other things are not safe, if there be no proper king ruling over us. And having long suffered with the sight of others' sorrow, our own turn has come now to send a person as prey to the Rakshasa. I have not the means to purchase a substitute. None of us can bear to live after sending one of us to a cruel death, and so I shall go with my whole family to him. Let the wicked glutton gorge himself with all of us. I have pained you with these things, but you wished to know. Only God can help us, but we have lost all hope even of that."
The political truths contained in this story of Ekachakra are noteworthy and suggestive. Kunti talked the matter over with Bhimasena and returned to the brahmana. She said: "Good man, do not despair. God is great. I have five sons. One of them will take the food to the Rakshasa."
The brahmana jumped up in amazed surprise, but then shook his head sadly and would not hear of the substituted sacrifice. Kunti said: "O brahmana, do not be afraid. My son is endowed with superhuman powers derived from mantras and will certainly kill this Rakshasa, as I have myself seen him kill many other such Rakshasas. But keep this a secret, for, if you reveal it, his power will come to naught."
Kunti's fear was that, if the story got noised abroad, Duryodhana's men would see the hand of the Pandavas, and find out their where abouts. Bhima was filled with unbounded joy and enthusiasm at the arrangement made by Kunti.
The other brothers returned to the house with alms. Dharmaputra saw the face of Bhimasena radiant with joy to which it had long been a stranger and inferred that he was resolved on some hazardous adventure and questioned Kunti who told him everything.
Yudhishthira said: "What is this? Is not this rash and thoughtless? Relying on Bhima's strength we sleep without care or fear. It is not through Bhima's strength and daring that we hope to regain the kingdom that has been seized by our deceitful enemies? Was it not through the prowess of Bhima that we escaped from the wax palace? And you are risking the life of Bhima who is our present protection and future hope. I fear your many trials have clouded your judgment!"
Kuntidevi replied: "Dear sons, we have lived happily for many years in the house of this brahmana. Duty, nay, man's highest virtue, is to repay the benefit he has enjoyed by doing good in his turn. I know the heroism of Bhima and have no fears. Remember who carried us from Varanavata and who killed the demon Hidimba. It is our duty to be of service to this brahmana family."
After a fierce battle, the Rakshasa Bakasura was slain by Bhima who pretended to bring him a cartload of food.
WHILE the Pandavas were living in disguise as brahmanas at Ekachakrapura, news of the swayamvara of Draupadi, the daughter of Drupada, King of Panchala, reached them. Many brahmanas of Ekachakrapura planned to go to Panchala in the hope of receiving the customary gifts and to see the festivities and pageant of a royal wedding. Kunti, with her motherly instinct, read her sons' desire to go to Panchala and win Draupadi. So she told Yudhishthira: "We have been in this city so long that it is time to think of going somewhere else. We have seen these hills and dales till we are tired of them. The alms doled out to us are diminishing and it is not good to outstay your entertainment. Let us therefore go to Drupada's kingdom which is reputed to be fair and prosperous." Kunti was second to none in worldly wisdom and sagacity and could gracefully divine her sons' thoughts and spare them the awkwardness of expressing them.
The brahmanas went in groups to witness the swayamvara and the Pandavas mingled with them in the guise of brahmanas. After a long march the party reached the beautiful city of Drupada and billeted themselves in the house of a potter as obscure brahmanas of no note.
Though Drupada and Drona were outwardly at peace, the former never could forget or forgive the humiliation he had suffered at the latter's hands. Drupada's one wish was to give his daughter in marriage to Arjuna.
Drona loved Arjuna so dearly that he could hardly look upon his pupil's father-in-law as his deadly foe. And if there were a war, Drupada would be all the stronger for being Arjuna's father-in-law. When he heard the news of the destruction of the Pandavas at Varanavata, he was plunged in sorrow but was relieved by a later rumour that they had escaped.
The marriage hall was beautifully decorated and built amidst a finely laid out group of new guest-houses designed to accommodate the swayamvara suitors and guests. Attractive sights and sports had been arranged for public entertainment and there were glorious festivities for fourteen days continuously.
A mighty steel bow was placed in the marriage hall. The candidate for the princess' hand was required to string the bow and with it shoot a steel arrow through the central aperture of a revolving disk at a target placed on high.
This required almost superhuman strength and skill, and Drupada proclaimed that the hero who would win his daughter should perform this feat. Many valiant princes had gathered there from all parts of Bharatavarsha. The sons of Dhritarashtra were there as well as Karna, Krishna, Sisupala, Jarasandha, and Salya.
Besides the competitors there was a huge concourse of spectators and visitors. The noise that issued therefrom resembled the uproar of the ocean and over it all arose the auspicious sound of festal music from hundreds of instruments.
Dhrishtadyumna on horseback rode in front of his sister Draupadi seated on an elephant. Fresh from her auspicious bridal bath, and clad in flowing silk Draupadi dismounted and entered the swayamvara hall, seeming to fill it with the sweetness of her presence and perfect beauty.
Garland in hand, and coyly glancing at the valiant princes, who for their part looked at her in speechless admiration, she ascended the dais. The brahmanas repeated the usual mantras and offered oblations in the fire. After the peace invocation had been chanted and the flourish of music had stopped, Dhrishtadyumna took Draupadi by the hand and led her to the center of the hall.
Then he proclaimed in loud, clear tones: "Hear ye, O princes seated in state in this assembly, here is the bow. There is the target and here are the arrows. He who sends five arrows in succession through the hole of the wheel and unerringly hits the target, if he also be of good family and presence, shall win my sister." Then he narrated to Draupadi the name, ancestry and description of the several suitors assembled there.
Many noted princes rose one after another and tried in vain to string the bow. It was too heavy and stiff for them, and they returned to their places abashed and ashamed.
Sisupala, Jarasandha, Salya, and Duryodhana were among these unsuccessful aspirants. When Karna came forward, all the assemblage expected that he would be successful but he failed by just a hair's breadth and the string slid back flashing and the mighty bow jumped out of his hands like a thing of life.
There was great clamor and angry talk, some even saying that it was an impossible test put up to shame the kings. Then all noises were hushed, for there arose from among the group of brahmanas a youth who advanced towards the bow.
It was Arjuna who had come disguised as a brahmana. When he stood up; wild clamor burst forth again from the crowd. The brahmanas themselves were divided in opinion. Some being highly delighted that there should be among them a lad of mettle enough to compete, while others more envious or worldly wise, said what impudence it was for this brahmacharin to enter the lists when heroes like Karna, Salya, and others had met with failure.
But there were others again who spoke differently as they noted the noble and shapely proportions of the youth. They said: "We feel from his appearance that he is going to win. He looks sure of himself and he certainly knows what he is about. The brahmana may be physically weaker, but is it all a matter of brute strength? What about the power of austerities? Why should he not try?" And they blessed him.
Arjuna approached the place where the bow lay and asked Dhrishtadyumna: "Can a brahmana try to bend the bow?"
Dhrishtadyumna answered: "O best of brahmanas, my sister will become the life-mate of any one of good family and presence, who bends the bow and shoots the target. My words stand and there will be no going back on them."
Then Arjuna meditated on Narayana, the Supreme God, and took the bow in his hand and strung it with ease. He placed an arrow on the string and looked around him with a smile, while the crowd was lost in spellbound silence.
Then without pause or hesitation he shot five arrows in succession through the revolving mechanism right into the target so that it fell down. The crowd was in tumult and there was a blare of musical instruments.
The brahmanas who were seated in the assembly in large numbers sent forth shouts of joy, waving aloft their deer-skins in exultation as though the whole community had won Draupadi. The uproar that followed was indescribable.
Draupadi shone with a fresh beauty. Her face glowed with happiness which streamed out of her eyes as she looked on Arjuna. She approached him and placed the garland on his neck. Yudhishthira, Nakula, and Sahadeva returned in haste to the potter's house to convey the glad news immediately to their mother.
Bhima alone remained in the assembly fearing that some danger might befall Arjuna from the kshatriyas. As anticipated by Bhima, the princes were loud in wrath. They said: "The practice of swayamvara, the choosing of a bridegroom, is not prevalent among the brahmanas. If this maiden does not care to marry a prince, she should remain a virgin and burn herself on the pyre. How can a brahmana marry her? We should oppose this marriage and prevent it so as to protect righteousness and save the practice of swayamvara from the peril which threatens it." A free fight seemed imminent.
Bhima plucked a tree by the roots, and stripping it of foliage, stood armed with this formidable bludgeon, by the side of Arjuna ready for any event. Draupadi said nothing but stood holding on to the skirts of the deer-skin in which Arjuna was clad.
Krishna, Balarama and others sought to appease those who had created the confusion. Arjuna proceeded to the house of the potter accompanied by Draupadi.
As Bhima and Arjuna were taking Draupadi to their temporary abode, Dhrishtadyumna followed them at a distance, and, unseen by them, closely observed everything that took place there. He was amazed and delighted at what he saw, and returning, he secretly told King Drupada: "Father, I think they are the Pandavas. Draupadi accompanied them, holding to the skirts of the deer-skin of that youth and she was not at all abashed. I also followed and I saw all five and a venerable and august lady who, I have no doubt, is Kunti herself."
Invited by Drupada Kunti and the Pandavas went to the palace. Dharmaputra confided to the king that they were the Pandavas. He also informed him of their decision to marry Draupadi in common.
Drupada rejoiced at knowing that they were the Pandavas, which set at rest all anxiety regarding the enmity of Drona. But he was surprised and disgusted when he heard that they would jointly marry Draupadi.
Drupada opposed this and said: "How unrighteous! How did this idea get into your head, this immoral idea that goes against the traditional usage?"
Yudhishthira answered: "O king, kindly excuse us. In a time of great peril we vowed that we would share all things in common and we cannot break that pledge. Our mother has commanded us so." Finally Drupada yielded and the marriage was celebrated.
WHEN news of the incidents that took place during the swayamvara at Panchala reached Hastinapura, Vidura was happy. He immediately went to Dhritarashtra and said: "O King, our family has become stronger because the daughter of Drupada has become our daughter-in-law. Our stars are good."
Dhritarashtra thought in his blind fondness for his son that it was Duryodhana, who had also gone to take part in the swayamvara, that had won Draupadi. Under this mistaken impression he replied: "It is indeed, as you say, a good time for us. Go at once and bring Draupadi. Let us give Panchali a joyous welcome."
Vidura hastened to correct the mistake. He said: "The blessed Pandavas are alive and it is Arjuna who has won the daughter of Drupada. The five Pandavas have married her jointly according to the rites enjoined by the sastras. With their mother Kuntidevi they are happy and well under the care of Drupada."
At these words of Vidura, Dhritarashtra felt frustrated but concealed his disappointment. He said to Vidura with apparent joy: "O Vidura, I am delighted at your words. Are the dear Pandavas really alive? We have been mourning them as dead! The news you have now brought is balm to my heart. So the daughter of Drupada has become our daughter-in-law. Well, well, very good."
Duryodhana's jealousy and hatred redoubled when he found that the Pandavas had somehow escaped from the wax palace and after spending a year incognito had now become even more powerful on account of the alliance with the mighty king of Panchala. Duryodhana and his brother Duhsasana went to their uncle Sakuni and said in sorrow: "Uncle, we are undone. We have been let down by relying on Purochana. Our enemies, the Pandavas, are cleverer than ourselves, and fortune also seems to favor them. Dhrishtadyumna and Sikhandin have become their allies. What can we do?"
Karna and Duryodhana went to the blind Dhritarashtra. Duryodhana said: "You told Vidura that better days were ahead of us. Is it good time for us that our natural enemies, the Pandavas, have so waxed in strength that they will certainly destroy us? We could not carry out our plot against them and the fact that they know about it is an added danger. It has now come to this, either we must destroy them here and now or we shall ourselves perish. Favor us with your counsel in this matter."
Dhritarashtra replied: "Dear son, what you say is true. We should not, however, let Vidura know our mind. That was why I spoke to him in that manner. Let me now hear your suggestions as to what we should do."
Duryodhana said: "I feel so distracted that no plan occurs to me. Perhaps, we may take advantage of the fact that these Pandavas are not born of one and the same mother and create enmity between the sons of Madri and those of Kunti. We can also try to bribe Drupada into joining our side. That he has given away his daughter in marriage to the Pandavas will not stand in the way of our making him an ally. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by the power of wealth."
Karna smiled and said: "This is but futile talk."
Duryodhana continued: "We should somehow make sure that the Pandavas do not come here and demand of us the kingdom that is now in our possession. We may commission a few brahmanas to spread convenient rumours in Drupada's city and severally tell the Pandavas that they would meet with great danger if they were to go to Hastinapura. Then the Pandavas would fear to come here and we shall be safe, from them."
Karna replied: "This too is idle talk. You cannot frighten them that way."
Duryodhana continued: "Can we not create discord among the Pandavas by means of Draupadi? Her polyandrous marriage is very convenient for us. We shall arouse doubts and jealousies in their minds through the efforts of experts in the science of erotics. We shall certainly succeed. We can get a beautiful woman to beguile some of the sons of Kunti and thus make Draupadi turn against them. If Draupadi begins to suspect any of them, we can invite him to Hastinapura and use him so that our plan prospers."
Karna laughed this also to scorn. He said: "None of your proposals is any good. You cannot conquer the Pandavas by stratagem. When they were here and were like immature birds with undeveloped wings, we found we could not deceive them, and you think we can deceive them now, when they have acquired experience and are moreover under the protection of Drupada. They have seen through your designs. Stratagems will not do hereafter. You cannot sow dissensions among them. You cannot bribe the wise and honorable Drupada. He will not give up the Pandavas on any account. Draupadi also can never be turned against them. Therefore, there is only one way left for us, and that is to attack them before they grow stronger and other friends join them. We should make a surprise attack on the Pandavas and Drupada before Krishna joins them with his Yadava army. We should take the heroic way out of our difficulty, as befits kshatriyas. Trickery will prove useless." Thus spoke Karna. Dhritarashtra could not make up his mind. The king, therefore, sent for Bhishma and Drona and consulted them.
Bhishma was very happy when he heard that the Pandavas were alive and well as guests of King Drupada of Panchala, whose daughter they had married. Consulted on the steps to be taken, Bhishma, wise with the ripe knowledge of right and wrong, replied:
"The proper course will be to welcome them back and give them half the kingdom. The citizens of the state also desire such a settlement. This is the only way to maintain the dignity of our family. There is much loose talk not creditable to you about the fire incident at the wax house. All blame, even all suspicion, will be set at rest if you invite the Pandavas and hand over half kingdom to them. This is my advice."
Drona also gave the same counsel and suggested sending a proper messenger to bring about an amicable settlement and establish peace.
Karna flew into a rage at this suggestion. He was very much devoted to Duryodhana and could not at all bear the idea of giving a portion of the kingdom to the Pandavas. He told Dhritarashtra:
"I am surprised that Drona, who has received wealth and honors at your hands, has made such a suggestion. A king should examine critically the advice of his ministers before accepting or rejecting it."
At these words of Karna, Drona, his old eyes full of anger, said: "O wicked man, you are advising the king to go on the wrong path. If Dhritarashtra does not do what Bhishma and myself have advised, the Kauravas will certainly meet with destruction in the near future."
Then Dhritarashtra sought the advice of Vidura who replied:
"The counsel given by Bhishma, the head of our race, and Drona, the master, is wise and just and should not be disregarded. The Pandavas are also your children like Duryodhana and his brothers. You should realise that those who advise you to injure the Pandavas are really bent upon the destruction of the race. Drupada and his sons as well as Krishna and the Yadavas are staunch allies of the Pandavas. It is impossible to defeat them in battle. Karna's advice is foolish and wrong. It is reported abroad that we tried to kill the Pandavas in the wax house, and we should first of all try to clear ourselves of the blame. The citizens and the whole country are delighted to know that the Pandavas are alive and they desire to see them once again. Do not listen to the words of Duryodhana. Karna and Sakuni are but raw youths, ignorant of statesmanship and incompetent to advise. Follow Bhishma's advice."
In the end Dhritarashtra determined to establish peace by giving half the kingdom to the sons of Pandu. He sent Vidura to the kingdom of Panchala to fetch the Pandavas and Draupadi.
Vidura went to the city of King Drupada in a speedy vehicle taking along with him many kinds of jewels and other valuable presents.
Vidura rendered due honor to King Drupada and requested him on behalf of Dhritarashtra to send the Pandavas with Panchali to Hastinapura.
Drupada mistrusted Dhritarashtra, but he merely said: "The Pandavas may do as they like."
Vidura went to Kuntidevi and prostrated himself before her. She said: "Son of Vichitravirya, you saved my sons. They are, therefore, your children. I trust you. I shall do as you advise." She was also suspicious of Dhritarashtra's intentions.
Vidura thus assured her: "Your children will never meet with destruction. They will inherit the kingdom and acquire great renown. Come, let us go." At last Drupada also gave his assent and Vidura returned to Hastinapura with the Pandavas, Kunti, and Draupadi.
In jubilant welcome of the beloved princes who were returning home after long years of exile and travail, the streets of Hastinapura had been sprinkled with water and decorated with flowers. As had been already decided, half the kingdom was made over to the Pandavas and Yudhishthira was duly crowned king.
Dhritarashtra blessed the newly crowned Yudhishthira and bade him farewell with these words: "My brother Pandu made this kingdom prosperous. May you prove a worthy heir to his renown! King Pandu delighted in abiding by my advice. Love me in the same manner. My sons are wicked and proud. I have made this settlement so that there may be no strife or hatred between you. Go to Khandavaprastha and make it your capital. Our ancestors Pururavas, Nahusha, and Yayati ruled the kingdom from there. That was our ancient capital. Re-establish that and be famous." In this manner Dhritarashtra spoke affectionately to Yudhishthira.
The Pandavas renovated that ruined city, built palaces and forts, and renamed it Indraprastha. It grew in wealth and beauty and became the admiration of the world.
The Pandavas ruled there happily for thirty-six years with their mother and Draupadi, never straying from the path of dharma.
IN the stories narrated in the Puranas, birds and beasts speak like men, and sometimes they give sound advice and even teach spiritual wisdom. But the natural qualities of those creatures are adroitly made to peep through this human veil.
One of the characteristic beauties of the Puranic literature is this happy fusion of nature and imagination. In a delightful passage in the Ramayana, Hanuman, who is described as very wise and learned, is made to frolic with apish joy, when he imagined that the beautiful damsel he saw at Ravana's inner courtyard was Sita.
It is usual to entertain children with stories in which birds and beasts are made to speak. But the stories of the Puranas are meant for elderly people, and in them usually some background is given in explanation of animals having the gift of human speech.
The usual expedient employed is a previous birth when those creatures were human beings. For instance, a deer was a rishi in a previous birth, or a fox a king. The subsequent degradation being due to a curse.
In such cases the deer will act as a deer and yet speak as a rishi, and in the fox the clever nature is shot through with the characteristics of a wise and experienced king. The stories are thereby made interesting vehicles of the great truths they sometimes convey.
Khandavaprastha, that forest full of uneven places and thorns and prickles and cumbered with the crumbling vestiges of a long dead city, was indeed a frightful place when it came into the possession of the Pandavas.
Birds and beasts had made it their abode, and it was infested with thieves and wicked men. Krishna and Arjuna resolved to set fire to the forest and construct a new city in its place.
A saranga bird was living there with its four fledgelings. The male bird was pleasantly roaming about in the forest with another female bird neglecting wife and children. The mother bird looked after its young ones.
As the forest was set on fire as commanded by Krishna and Arjuna and the fire spread in all directions, doing its destructive work, the worried mother bird began to lament:
'The fire is coming nearer and nearer burning everything, and soon it will be here and destroy us. All forest creatures are in despair and the air is full of the agonising crash of falling trees. Poor wingless babies! You will become a prey to the fire. What shall I do? Your father has deserted us, and I am not strong enough to fly away carrying you with me."
To the mother who was wailing thus, the children said:
"Mother, do not torment yourself on our account. Leave us to our fate. If we die here, we shall attain a good birth in some future life. If you give up your life for our sake, our family will become extinct. Fly to a place of safety, take another mate and be happy. You will soon have other children and be able to forget us. Mother, reflect and do what is best for our race."
Despite this earnest entreaty, the mother had no mind to leave her children. She said: "I shall remain here and perish in the flames with you."
This is the background of the story of the birds. A rishi named Mandapala long lived faithful to his vow of perfect brahmacharya but when he sought entry to the higher regions, the gatekeeper said: "There is no place here for a childless man" and turned him back. He was then born as a saranga bird and lived with a female companion named Jarita. She laid four eggs. Then he left Jarita and wandered in the woods with another female companion, Lapita.
The four eggs of Jarita hatched in time and they were the four birds mentioned above. As they were the children of a rishi they could cheer and encourage their mother in the way they did.
The mother bird told her children: "There is a rat-hole by the side of this tree. I shall put you there. You can get into the hole and escape the fire. I shall close the mouth of the hole with earth and the fire will not touch you. When the fire dies down I shall let you out."
The children would not agree. They said: "The rat in the hole will devour us. It is better to perish in the flames than to die ignobly by being eaten up by rats."
The mother bird tried to relieve the fears of the children and said: "I saw an eagle devour the rat. There is now no danger for you inside the hole."
But the children said: "There are sure to be other rats in the hole. Our danger is not ended by the killing of one rat by the eagle. Kindly save your life by flying before the fire reaches us and this tree catches fire. We cannot get into the rat-hole. Why should you sacrifice your life for our sake? How have we merited it, who have done nothing for you? We have only brought you unhappiness since we came into the world. Take another mate and live happily."
The fire which destroyed the whole forest, mercifully left the baby birds unscathed. When the fire had subsided, the mother bird came back and saw with wonder that her children were safe and chirping merrily. She embraced them and was intensely happy.
While the fire was raging, the male bird, anxious for the safety of his young ones, had expressed his fears to his new love-bird Lapita. She had petulantly upbraided him. Hearing his repeated laments "Is it so?" she said: "I know your mind, I know that you desire to go back to Jarita, having had enough of me. Why falsely bring in the fire and the children? You have yourself told me that the children of Jarita would never perish in fire since the Fire god has given you that boon. You may as well tell the truth and go away, if you like, to your beloved Jarita. I shall only be another of the many trusting females betrayed by unworthy males and cast out wandering in the forest. You may go."
The bird Mandapala said: "Your assumption is untrue. I took birth as a bird for obtaining children and I am naturally anxious about them.
I shall just go and see them and then come back to you " Having thus consoled his new mate, be went to the tree where Jarita was seated.
Jarita paid no attention to her consort but remained absorbed in joy at finding her children alive.
Then she turned to her husband and asked in an indifferent tone why he had come. He replied with affection:
"Are my children happy? Who is the eldest among them?"
Then Jarita cut in icily: "Do you greatly care? Go back to her for whom you abandoned me. Be happy with her."
Mandapala philosophised: "A woman will not care for her husband after she has become a mother. Such is the way of the world. Even the blameless Vasishtha was thus ignored by Arundhati."
THE Pandavas ruled Indraprastha in all glory. Those who surrounded Yudhishthira urged him to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice and assume the title of Emperor. It is evident that imperialism had an irresistible glamour even in those days.
Yudhishthira sought Sri Krishna's advice in this matter. When Krishna learnt that Dharmaputra desired to see him, he set out in a chariot harnessed with swift horses and reached Indraprastha.
Yudhishthira said: "'My people urge me to perform Rajasuya, but as you know, only he who can secure the respect and allegiance of all kings, can perform that sacrifice and win the status of emperor. Advise me, you are not among those whose affection makes them blind and partial. Nor are you one of those who advise to please and whose counsel is pleasant rather than true or wholesome."
Krishna replied: "Quite so and that is why you cannot be emperor while the mighty Jarasandha of Magadha is alive and unconquered. He has conquered many kings and holds them in subjection. All the kshatriyas, including the redoubtable Sisupala himself, are afraid of his prowess and are submissive to him. Have you not heard of the wicked Kamsa, the son of Ugrasena? After he had become the son-in-law and ally of Jarasandha my people and I attacked Jarasandha. After three years of continuous fighting we had to acknowledge defeat and we left Mathura and moved to Dwaraka in the west, and built a new city where we are living in peace and plenty. Even if Duryodhana, Karna and others do not object to your assuming the title of emperor, Jarasandha will certainly oppose it. And the only way to overcome his opposition is to defeat and kill him. You can then not only perform the Rajasuya but also rescue and win the adherence of the kings who languish in his prisons."
At these words of Krishna, Yudhishthira said: "I agree. I am but one of the many kings who rule their kingdoms with fairness and justice and lead happy unambitious lives. It is mere vanity and vainglory to desire to become an emperor. Why should not a king rest satisfied with his own kingdom? So, I shall give up this desire to be an emperor. And really, the title has no temptations for me. It is my brothers who wish it. When you yourself are afraid of Jarasandha what can we hope to do?"
Bhima did not at all like this spirit of cowardly contentment.
Bhima said: "Ambition is the noblest virtue of a king. What is the good of being strong if one does not know his own strength? I cannot reconcile myself to live a life of idle ease and contentment. He who casts off indolence and properly employs political means, can conquer even those stronger than himself. Strength reinforced by stratagem will surely do much. What, indeed, cannot be accomplished by a combination of my physical strength, Krishna's wisdom and Arjuna's dexterity? We can conquer Jarasandha's might, if we three join and set about it without doubts or fears."
Krishna interposed: "Jarasandha should certainly be slain and fully deserves it. He has unjustly cast eighty-six princes in prison. He has planned to immolate a hundred kings and is waiting to lay hold of fourteen more. If Bhima and Arjuna agree, I shall accompany them and together we will slay that king by stratagem and set free the imprisoned princes. I like this suggestion."
Yudhishthira was not pleased with this advice. He said: "This may really mean sacrificing Bhima and Arjuna who are to me as my two eyes, merely to gratify a vain desire to be an emperor. I do not like to send them on this dangerous errand. It seems to me far better to give up the idea altogether."
Arjuna said: "What is the use to us of an existence without heroic deeds, born as we are of an illustrious line? A Kshatriya though endowed with all other good qualities, will not become famous if he does not exert himself. Enthusiasm is the mother of success. We can seize fortune if we do our duties energetically. Even a powerful man may fail if, through lassitude, he does not employ the means he has. Failure is due, in the vast majority of cases, to ignorance of one's own strength. We know we are strong, and we are not afraid of using our strength to the utmost. Why should Yudhishthira suppose that we are incapable of this? When we have become old, it will be time to assume the ochre robe, resort to the forest and pass the rest of our days in penance and austerities. Now, we should lead strenuous lives and do heroic deeds worthy of the traditions of our race."
Krishna was delighted to hear these words and said: "What else can Arjuna, born of Kunti in the Bharata race, advise? Death comes to all, the hero as well as the sluggard. But the noblest duty of a kshatriya is to be true to his race and faith, and overcoming his foes in righteous battle, to win glory."
Finally Yudhishthira assented to the unanimous opinion that their duty lay in slaying Jarasandha.
This conversation has a curiously modern ring about it and shows that powerful men in ancient days used very much the same specious reasoning as now.
BRIHADRATHA, the commander of three regiments, reigned in the kingdom of Magadha and attained celebrity as a great hero. He married the twin daughters of the raja of Kasi and vowed to them that he would not show any partiality to either.
Brihadratha was not blessed with a child for a long time. When he became old, he handed over his kingdom to his ministers, went to the forest with his two wives and engaged himself in austerities.
He went to Sage Kausika of the Gautama family, with a sorrowful longing for children in his heart. And when the sage was moved with pity and asked him what he wanted, he answered:
"I am childless and have come to the forest giving up my kingdom. Give me children."
The sage was filled with compassion and, even as he was thinking how to help the king, a mango fruit fell into his lap. He took it and gave it to the king with this blessing: "Take it. Your wish will be fulfilled."
The king cut the fruit into two halves and gave one to each wife. He did so to keep his vow not to show partiality to either. Some time after they had partaken of the fruit, the wives became pregnant.
The delivery took place in due course. But instead of bringing the expected joy, it plunged them into greater grief than before. For they each gave birth to but a half of a child. Each half was a monstrous birth which seemed a revolting lump.
They were indeed two equal and complementary portions of one baby, consisting of one eye, one leg, half a face, one ear and so on. Seized with grief, they commanded their attendants to tie the gruesome pieces in a cloth and cast them away.
The attendants did as they were instructed and threw the cloth bundle on a heap of refuse in the street. A cannibal Rakshasi chanced upon that place. She was elated at seeing the two pieces of flesh and, as she gathered them up both at once, accidently the halves came together the right way. And they at once adhered together and changed into a whole living child, perfect in every detail.
The surprised Rakshasi did not wish to kill the child. She took on the guise of a beautiful woman and, going to the king, presented the child to him saying: "This is your child."
The king was immensely delighted and handed it over to his two wives. This child became known as Jarasandha. He grew up in to a man of immense physical strength. But his body had one weakness namely, that being made up by the fusion of two separate parts, it could be split again into two, if sufficient force were used.
This interesting story embodies the important truth that two sundered parts joined together will still remain weak, with a tendency to split. When the conquest and slaying of Jarasandha had been resolved upon, Sri Krishna said: "Hamsa, Hidimbaka, Kamsa, and other allies of Jarasandha are no more. Now that he is isolated, this is the right time to kill him. It is useless to fight with armies. He must be provoked to a single combat and slain."
According to the code of honor of those days, a kshatriya had to accept the challenge to a duel whether with or without weapons.
The latter sort was a fight to the death with weighted gauntlets or a wrestling to the death in catch-as-catch-can style. This was the kshatriya tradition to which Krishna and the Pandavas had recourse for slaying Jarasandha.
They disguised themselves as men who had taken religious vows, clad in robes of bark-fibre and carrying the holy darbha grass in their hands. Thus they entered the kingdom of Magadha and arrived at the capital of Jarasandha.
Jarasandha was disturbed by portents of ill omen. To ward off the threatened danger, he had propitiatory rites performed by the priests and himself took to fasts and penance.
Krishna, Bhima, and Arjuna entered the palace unarmed. Jarasandha received them with respect as their noble bearing seemed to indicate an illustrious origin. Bhima and Arjuna made no reply to his words of welcome because they wished to avoid having to tell lies.
Krishna spoke on their behalf: "These two are observing a vow of silence for the present as at part of their austerities. They can speak only after midnight." Jarasandha entertained them in the hall of sacrifice and returned to the palace.
It was the practice of Jarasandha to meet noble guests who had taken vows and talk to them at their leisure and convenience, and so he called at midnight to see them.
Their conduct made Jarasandha suspicious, and he also observed that they had on their hands the scars made by the bowstring and had besides the proud bearing of kshatriyas.
When Jarasandha demanded the truth of them they said frankly: "We are your foes and seek instant combat. You can choose one of us at will to fight with you."
After acquainting himself as to who they were, Jarasandha said: "Krishna, you are a cowherd and Arjuna is a mere boy. Bhima is famous for his physical strength. So, I wish to fight with him." Since Bhima was unarmed, Jarasandha chivalrously agreed to fight him without weapons.
Bhima and Jarasandha were so equally matched in strength that they fought with each other continuously for thirteen days without taking rest or refreshments, while Krishna and Arjuna looked on in alternating hope and anxiety.
On the fourteenth day, Jarasandha showed signs of exhaustion, and Krishna prompted Bhima that the time had come to make an end of him.
At once Bhima lifted him and whirling him round and round a hundred times, dashed him to the earth and seizing his legs tore his body asunder into two halves.
And Bhima roared in exultation. The two halves at once joined and Jarasandha, thus made whole, leapt up into vigorous life and again attacked Bhima.
Bhima aghast at the sight, was at a loss what to do, when he saw Krishna pick up a straw, tear it into two, and cast the bits in opposite directions.
Bhima took the hint, and when once again he tore Jarasandha asunder he threw the two portions in opposite directions, so that they could not come together and join. Thus did Jarasandha meet his end.
The captive princes were released and Jarasandha's son was crowned King of Magadha. And Krishna, Bhima and Arjuna returned to Indraprastha.
With Jarasandha gone, the way was now clear for the Rajasuya which the Pandavas performed with great pomp and splendor. Yudhishthira assumed the title of emperor.
The celebrations were marred by only one incident. Towards the close of the festive celebrations, at the time of paying the first honor, Sisupala behaved disrespectfully in the assembly of princes and provoked a fight with Krishna in which he was slain. This story is told in the next chapter.
THE practice of staging a walkout from an assembly in protest against something is nothing new. We learn from the Mahabharata that walkout was resorted to even in ancient times.
The India of those days consisted of a number of independent states. Though there was one dharma and one culture throughout the land, the autonomy of each state was scrupulosly respected.
Occasionally, some strong and ambitious monarch would seek the assent of his fellow kings to his overlordship, which would sometimes be given without question.
After receiving this assent he would perform a grand Rajasuya sacrifice, which all the acquiescing kings would attend in token of acknowledgement of his supremacy.
In accordance with this custom, the Pandavas invited the other kings after the slaying of Jarasandha and performed the Rajasuya.
The time came for doing the honors of the occasion. The custom was to render first honor to the guest who was considered most worthy of taking precedence over all others.
The question arose as to who should be honored first. The grandsire was emphatically of the opinion that Sri Krishna, the king of Dwaraka, should be honored first, which was also Yudhishthira's own opinion.
Yudhishthira followed the advice and under his instructions Sahadeva offered to Sri Krishna the honors enjoined by tradition. Sisupala, the king of Chedi, who hated Krishna as wickedness alone can hate goodness, could not tolerate it.
He laughed aloud in derision and said: "How ridiculous and unjust, but I am not surprised. The man who sought advice was born in illegitimacy. (This was an insulting allusion to the sons of Kunti) The man who gave advice was born of one who ever declines from high to low. (This is in reference to the fact that Bhishma was born of Ganga, the river naturally flowing from higher to lower levels.) And he who did the honors was also born illegitimately. And what shall I say of the man honored! He is a fool by birth and a cowherd by breeding. Dumb indeed must be the members of this assembly if they have not a word to say to this! This is no place for worthy men."
Some of the assembled princes applauded Sisupala. Encouraged by their applause he addressed Yudhishthira:
"When there are so many kings gathered here, it is a shame that you paid the first honor to Krishna. Not to render respect where it is rightly due and to render it where it is not merited are both equally grave offences. It is a pity that, for all your imperial pretensions you are ignorant of this."
Getting more and more angry as he spoke, he continued: "Ignoring the many kings and heroes who are here at your own invitation and in malicious despise of them, you have paid royal honors to a cowherd boor, a mere nobody. Vasudeva, the father of Krishna, was but a servant of Ugrasena. He is not even of royal blood. Is this the place and the occasion to show your vulgar partiality for Krishna, the son of Devaki? Is this worthy of the children of Pandu? O sons of Pandu, you are raw, untaught youths, altogether ignorant of the way to conduct a royal assembly. This dotard Bhishma guided you foolishly and thus made fools of you. Krishna, why, Krishna is no ruler at all! O Yudhishthira, why did you dare to do this wretch first honor in this illustrious assemblage of kings? He has not even the merit of age and if you admire grey hair, is not his father alive? You could not have honored him as your preceptor surely, for your preceptor is Drona who is here in this assembly. Is it as an expert in performing sacrifices that you have honored him? It cannot be, for Vyasa, the great master, is present. It would have been better even if you had paid the first honor to Bhishma, for dotard as he be, he has still the merit of being the oldest man of your house. Your family teacher, Kripacharya, is also present in this assembly. How could you then pay the first honor to this cowherd? Ashwatthama, the hero who is expert in all sastras, is here. How did you choose Krishna, forgetting him? Among the princes assembled here, there is Duryodhana. And there is also Karna, the disciple of Parasurama. Leaving him aside, out of childish partiality, you chose Krishna for the first honor Krishna who is neither royal, nor heroic, nor learned, nor holy, nor even hoary, who is nothing but a low cowherd! Thus you have dishonored us all, whom you have invited here. O kings, it is not out of fear that we assented to Yudhishthira's assuming the title of emperor. We personally do not much care whether he is friend or foe. But, having heard much prate of his righteousness, we wanted to see him uphold the flag of dharma. He has now wantonly dishonored us, after all that talk of virtue and dharma. What virtue or dharma was there in his giving priority of honor to this villain Krishna who killed Jarasandha in an unjust manner? You should henceforth call Yudhishthira an unrighteous person. O Krishna, what impudence on your part to accept the undeserved honor which these misguided Pandavas did you! Did you forget yourself? Or did you forget decent tradition? Or was it just a case of a dog snatching at a remnant of food which nobody cared to claim or guard? Do you not really see that this farce is a ghastly mockery and disgrace to yourself? It is like the mockery of showing beautiful things to a blind man or offering a maiden in marriage to a eunuch. Likewise, these kingly honors are really an affront to you. It is now evident that the would-be emperor Yudhishthira, the senile Bhishma, and this fellow Krishna are all made of the same stuff."
After Sisupala had spoken these harsh words, he rose from his seat and walked out calling upon the other kings to join him in resenting the insult. Many of them followed him.
Yudhishthira ran after them and tried to appease them with sweet words of peace but in vain, for they were too angry to be appeased.
Sisupala's aggressive vanity waxed to fighting pitch, and there ensued a terrible fight between Krishna and Sisupala, in which the latter was slain by his discus.
The Rajasuya was duly celebrated and Yudhishthira recognised emperor.
AT the close of the Rajasuya, the princes, priests and elders, who had gathered for the purpose, took leave and returned to their places. Vyasa also came to say farewell. Dharmaputra rose and received him with due respect and sat by his side.
The sage said: "O son of Kunti, you have got the title of emperor which you eminently deserve. May the illustrious Kuru race gain even greater glory through you. Give me leave to return to my hermitage."
Yudhishthira touched the feet of his progenitor and guru and said: "O master, you alone can remove my apprehensions. Wise men have predicted from portents the happenings of catastrophic events. Has this prediction been fulfilled by the death of Sisupala or is more to ensue?"
Bhagavan Vyasa replied: "Dear child, much sorrow and suffering is in store for thirteen years to come. The portents indicate the destruction of the Kshatriya race and are not exhausted with the death of Sisupala. It is far from it. Hundreds of kings will perish, and the old order of things will pass away. This catastrophe will spring out of the enmity between you and your brothers on the one side and your cousins, the Dhritarashtras, on the other. It will culminate in a war resulting in practical annihilation of the Kshatriya race. No one can go against destiny. Be firm and steadfast in righteousness. Be vigilant and rule the kingdom, farewell." And Vyasa blessed Yudhishthira. Vyasa's words filled Yudhishthira with grief and with a great repugnance for worldly ambition and life itself.
He informed his brothers of the prediction of unavoidable racial disaster. Life seemed to him a bitter and weary business and his destiny particularly cruel and unbearable.
Arjuna said: "You are a king and it is not right for you to be agitated. Let us meet destiny with an undaunted front and do our duty."
Yudhishthira replied: "Brothers, may God protect us and give us wisdom. For my part, I take this vow never to speak harshly to my brothers or to my kinsmen for the next thirteen years. I shall avoid all pretext for conflict. I shall never give way to anger, which is the root cause of enmity. It shall be my duty to give no occasion for anger or pretext for hostility. Thus shall we profit by Bhagavan Vyasa's warning." His brothers expressed cordial assent.
The first event of the series which culminated in the devastating slaughter on the blood-sodden field of Kurukshetra and the event which was the evil root of all, was the gambling match into which Yudhishthira was inveigled by Sakuni, who was Duryodhana's evil genius.
Why did the wise and good Yudhishthira suffer himself to be persuaded to this step which he must have known to hold evil possibilities?
The main cause was his fixed resolve to be on amicable terms with his cousins by not opposing their wishes. And a friendly invitation to dice could not be summarily turned down, since the etiquette of those days made it a point of honor to accept a game of equal hazard.
Out of his very anxiety to foster goodwill, he laid open the field for the poisonous seed of hatred and death. Here is an illustration of the futility of human plans, however well meant or wise, without divine aid. Our best wisdom is vain against fate, and if destiny is kind, our very follies turn to our advantage.
While Dharmaputra was care-worn with solicitude to avoid a quarrel at all costs, Duryodhana was burning with jealousy at the thought of the prosperity of the Pandavas that he had witnessed in their capital during the Rajasuya sacrifice.
Duryodhana saw unprecedented wealth, attractive and sight eluding crystal doors and many pieces of exquisite artistry in the court-hall of Yudhishthira, all suggestive of great prosperity.
He also saw how glad the kings of many countries were to become the allies of the Pandavas. This gave him unbearable grief. He was so absorbed in sorrow at the prosperity of the Pandavas that he did not at first hear Sakuni who was by his side, speaking to him.
Sakuni asked: "Why are you sighing? Why are you tormented with sorrow?"
Duryodhana replied: "Yudhishthira, surrounded by his brothers, is like Indra, the king of gods. Before the very eyes of the assembled kings Sisupala was slain and not one of them had the courage to come forward to avenge him. Like the vaisyas who live by trade, they bartered their honor and jewels and riches for Yudhishthira's goodwill. How can I avoid giving way to grief after seeing all this? What is the good of living?"
Sakuni said: "O Duryodhana, the Pandavas are your brothers. It is not right on your part to be jealous of their prosperity. They are but enjoying their legitimate inheritance. By their good fortune they have prospered and flourished without doing any injury to others. Why should you be jealous? How can their strength and happiness diminish your greatness? Your brothers and relations stand by you and obey you. Drona, Ashwatthama and Karna are on your side. Why do you grieve when Bhishma, Kripa, Jayadratha, Somadatta and myself are your supporters? You can conquer even the whole world. Do not give way to grief."
At these words, Duryodhana said: "O Sakuni, it is true that I have so many to support me. Why should we not wage war and drive the Pandavas out of Indraprastha?"
But Sakuni said: "No. That will not be easy, but I know a way to drive Yudhishthira out of Indraprastha without a fight or the shedding of blood."
The eyes of Duryodhana lighted up, but it seemed too good to be true. He asked incredulously: "Uncle, is it possible to overcome the Pandavas without sacrificing any life? What is your plan?"
Sakuni replied: "Yudhishthira is fond of the game of dice and being unskillful is altogether ignorant of its tricks and the opportunity it offers to cleverer people. If we invite him to a game, he would accept, following the tradition of the kshatriyas. I know the tricks of the game and I shall play on your behalf. Yudhishthira will be helpless as a child against me. I shall win his kingdom and wealth for you without shedding a drop of blood."
DURYODHANA and Sakuni went to Dhritarashtra. Sakuni opened the conversation. He said: "O king, Duryodhana is wan with grief and anxiety. You are paying no attention to his unbearable sorrow. Why this unconcern?"
Dhritarashtra who doted on his son embraced Duryodhana and said: "I do not see why you should be disconsolate. What is here that you already do not enjoy? The whole world is at your feet. When you are surrounded by all kinds of pleasures like the very gods, why should you pine in sorrow? You have learnt the Vedas, archery, and other sciences from the best of masters. As my first born, you have inherited the throne. What is left you to wish for? Tell me."
Duryodhana replied: "Father, like anybody else, rich or poor, I eat and cover my nakedness, but I find life unbearable. What is the use of leading such a life?"
And then he revealed in detail the envy and hatred that were eating into his vitals and depriving life of its savour. He referred to the prosperity he had seen in the capital of the Pandavas that to him was bitterer than loss of his all would have been.
He burst out: "Contentment with one's lot is not characteristic of a kshatriya. Fear and pity lower the dignity of kings. My wealth and pleasures do not give me any satisfaction since I have witnessed the greater prosperity of Yudhishthira. O king, the Pandavas have grown, while we have shrunk."
Dhritarashtra said: "Beloved child, you are the eldest son of my royal spouse and me and heir to the glory and greatness of our renowned race. Do not cherish any hatred towards the Pandavas. Sorrow and death will be the sole result of hatred of kith and kin, especially when they are blameless. Tell me, why do you hate the guileless Yudhishthira? Is not his prosperity ours too? Our friends are his friends. He has not the least jealousy or hatred towards us. You are equal to him in heroism and ancestry. Why should you be jealous of your brother? No. You should not be jealous." Thus said the old king who, though overfond of his son, did not occasionally hesitate to say what he felt to be just.
Duryodhana did not at all like the advice of his father, and his reply was not very respectful.
He replied: "The man without common sense, but immersed in learning, is like a wooden ladle immersed in savoury food which it neither tastes nor benefits from. You have much learning of statecraft but have no state wisdom at all, as your advice to me clearly shows. The way of the world is one thing and the administration of a state is quite another. Thus has Brihaspati said: 'Forbearance and contentment, though the duties of ordinary men, are not virtues in kings.' The kshatriya's duty is a constant seeking of victory."
Duryodhana spoke thus quoting maxims of politics and citing examples and making the worse appear the better reason.
Then Sakuni intervened and set forth in detail his infallible plan of inviting Yudhishthira to play the game of dice, defeating him utterly and divesting him of his all without recourse to arms.
The wicked Sakuni wound up with saying: "It is enough if you merely send for the son of Kunti to play the game of dice. Leave the rest to me."
Duryodhana added: "Sakuni will win for me the riches of the Pandavas without a fight, if you would only agree to invite Yudhishthira."
Dhritarashtra said: "Your suggestion does not seem proper. Let us ask Vidura about it. He will advise us rightly."
But Duryodhana would not hear of consulting Vidura. He said to his father: "Vidura will only give us the platitudes of ordinary morality, which will not help us to our object. The policy of kings must be very different from the goody maxims of textbooks, and is sterner stuff of which the test is success. Moreover, Vidura does not like me and is partial to the Pandavas. You know this as well as I do."
Dhritarashtra said: "The Pandavas are strong. I do not think it wise to antagonize them. The game of dice will only lead to enmity. The passions resulting from the game will know no bounds. We should not do it."
But Duryodhana was importunate: "Wise statesmanship lies in casting off all fear and protecting oneself by one's own efforts. Should we not force the issue while yet we are more powerful than they are? That will be real foresight. A lost opportunity may never come again, and it is not as though we invented the game of dice to injure the Pandavas. It is an ancient pastime which kshatriyas have always indulged in, and if it will now serve us to win our cause without bloodshed, where is the harm?"
Dhritarashtra replied: "Dear son, I have grown old. Do as you like. But the line that you are taking does not appeal to me. I am sure you will repent later. This is the work of destiny."
In the end, out-argued and through sheer fatigue and hopelessness of dissuading his son, Dhritarashtra assented, and ordered the servants to prepare a hall of games. Yet he could not forbear consulting Vidura in secret about the matter.
Vidura said: "O king, this will undoubtedly bring about the ruin of our race by raising up unquenchable hate."
Dhritarashtra, who could not oppose the demand of his son, said: "If fortune favors us I have no fear regarding this game. If on the contrary, fortune goes against us, how could we help it? For, destiny is all-powerful. Go and invite Yudhishthira on my behalf to come and play dice." Thus commanded, Vidura went to Yudhishthira with an invitation.
The weak-witted Dhritarashtra, over-persuaded, yielded to the desire of his son through his attachment to him in spite of the fact that he knew this was the way that destiny was working itself out.
AT THE sight of Vidura, Yudhishthira anxiously inquired: "Why are you so cheerless? Is it well with all our relations in Hastinapura? Are the king and the princes well?"
Vidura acquainted him with his mission: "Everyone in Hastinapura is well. How fares it with you all? I have come to invite you on behalf of King Dhritarashtra to come and see the newly erected hall of games. A beautiful hall has been erected there even like yours. The king would like you to come with your brothers, see everything, have a game of dice and return to your capital."
Yudhishthira seemed to ask counsel of Vidura: "Wagering games create quarrels among kshatriyas. A wise man will avoid them if he can. We are ever abiding by your advice. What would you have us do?"
Vidura replied: "Everyone is aware that the playing of dice is the root of many evils. I did my best to oppose this idea. Still the king has commanded me to invite you and I have come. You may do as you like."
Despite this warning, Yudhishthira went to Hastinapura with his brothers and retinue. It may be asked why the wise Yudhishthira responded to the invitation.
Three reasons may be given. Men rush consciously on their ruin impelled by lust, gambling and drink. Yudhishthira was fond of gambling. The kshatriya tradition made it a matter of etiquette and honor not to refuse an invitation to a game of dice.
There is a third reason too. True to the vow he took at the time Vyasa had warned him of the quarrels that would arise leading to destruction of the race. Yudhishthira would not give any occasion for displeasure or complaint by refusing the invitation of Dhritarashtra.
These causes conspired with his natural inclination to make Yudhishthira accept the invitation and go to Hastinapura. The Pandavas and their retinue stopped in the magnificent palace reserved for them.
Yudhishthira rested on the day of arrival, and after the daily routine of duties, went to the hall of games the next morning.
After the exchange of customary greetings, Sakuni announced to Yudhishthira that the cloth for playing the game had been spread and invited him to it.
Yudhishthira at first said: "O king, gambling is bad. It is not through heroism or merit that one succeeds in a game of chance. Asita, Devala and other wise rishis who were well-versed in worldly affairs have declared that gambling should be avoided since it offers scope for deceit. They have also said that conquest in battle is the proper path for the kshatriyas. You are not unaware of it."
But a part of himself, weakened by addiction to gambling, was at war with his judgment and in his heart of hearts Yudhishthira desired to play.
In his discussion with Sakuni, we see this inner conflict. The keen-witted Sakuni spotted this weakness at once and said: "What is wrong with the game? What, in fact, is a battle? What is even a discussion between Vedic scholars? The learned man wins victory over the ignorant. The better man wins in every case. It is just a test of strength or skill, that is all, and there is nothing wrong in it. As for the result, in every field of activity, the expert defeats the beginner, and that is what happens in a game of dice also. But if you are afraid, you need not play. But do not come out with this worn excuse of right and wrong."
Yudhishthira replied: "Well, who is to play with me?"
Duryodhana said: "Mine is the responsibility for finding the stakes in the form of wealth and gems to play the game. My uncle Sakuni will actually cast the dice in my stead."
Yudhishthira had thought himself secure of defeating Duryodhana in play but Sakuni was a different matter, for Sakuni was a recognised expert. So he hesitated and said: "It is not, I think, customary for one man to play on behalf of another."
Sakuni retorted tauntingly: "I see that you are forging another excuse."
Yudhishthira flushed and, casting caution to the winds, replied: "Well, I shall play."
The hall was fully crowded. Drona, Kripa, Bhishma, Vidura, and Dhritarashtra were seated there. They knew that the game would end viciously and sat unhappily witnessing what they could not prevent.
The assembled princes watched the game with great interest and enthusiasm. At first they wagered jewels and later gold, silver and then chariots and horses. Yudhishthira lost continually.
When he lost all these, Yudhishthira staked his servants and lost them also. He pledged his elephants and armies and lost them too. The dice thrown by Sakuni seemed at every time to obey his will.
Cows, sheep, cities, villages and citizens and all other possessions were lost by Yudhishthira. Still, drugged with misfortune, he would not stop.
He lost the ornaments of his brothers and himself as well as the very clothes they wore. Still bad luck dogged him, or rather the trickery of Sakuni was too much for him.
Sakuni asked: "Is there anything else that you can offer as wager?"
Yudhishthira said: "Here is the beautiful sky-complexioned Nakula. He is one of my riches. I place him as a wager."
Sakuni replied: "Is it so? We shall be glad to win your beloved prince." With these words Sakuni cast the dice and the result was what he had foretold.
The assembly trembled.
Yudhishthira said: "Here is my brother Sahadeva. He is famous for his infinite knowledge in all the arts. It is wrong to bet him, still I do so. Let us play."
Sakuni cast the dice with the words: "Here, I have played and I have won."Yudhishthira lost Sahadeva too.
The wicked Sakuni was afraid that Yudhishthira might stop there. So be lashed Yudhishthira with these words: "To you, Bhima and Arjuna, being your full brothers, are no doubt dearer than the sons of Madri. You will not offer them, I know."
Yudhishthira, now thoroughly reckless and stung to the quick by the sneering imputation that he held his step-brothers cheap, replied: "Fool, do you seek to divide us? How can you, living an evil life, understand the righteous life we lead?"
He continued: "I offer as wager the ever-victorious Arjuna who successfully voyages across oceans of battle. Let us play."
Sakuni answered: "I cast the dice" and he played. Yudhishthira lost Arjuna also.
The stubborn madness of unbroken misfortune carried Yudhishthira further and deeper. With tears in his eyes, he said: "O king, Bhima, my brother, is our leader in battle. He strikes terror into the heart of demons and is equal to Indra; he can never suffer the least dishonor and he is peerless throughout the world in physical strength. I offer him as a bet" and he played again and lost Bhima too.
The wicked Sakuni asked: "Is there any thing else you can offer?"
Dharmaputra replied: "Yes. Here is myself. If you win, I shall be your slave."
"Look. I win." Thus saying, Sakuni cast the dice and won. After that Sakuni stood up in the assembly and shouted the names of each of the five Pandavas and loudly proclaimed that they had all become his lawful slaves.
The assembly looked on in stunned silence. Sakuni alone turned toYudhishthira and said: "There is one jewel still in your possession by staking which you can yet free yourself. Can you not continue the game cffering your wife Draupadi as wager?"
Yudhishthira despairingly said: "I pledge her," and he trembled unwittingly.
There was audible distress and agitation in that part of the assembly where the elders sat. Soon great shouts of 'Fie! Fie!' arose from all sides. The more emotional wept. Others perspired, and felt the end of the world was come.
Duryodhana, his brothers and Karna shouted with exultation. In that group Yuyutsu alone bent his head in shame and sorrow and heaved a deep sigh. Sakuni cast the dice and shouted again: "I have won."
At once Duryodhana turned to Vidura and said: "Go and fetch Draupadi, the beloved wife of the Pandavas. She must hence forward sweep and clean our house. Let her come without delay."
Vidura exclaimed: "Are you mad that you rush to certain destruction? You are hanging by a slender thread over a bottomless abyss! Drunk with success, you do not see it, but it will engulf you!"
Having thus reprimanded Duryodhana, Vidura turned to the assembly and said: "Yudhishthira had no right to stake Panchali as by then he had himself already lost his freedom and lost all rights. I see that the ruin of the Kauravas is imminent, and that, regardless of the advice of their friends and well-wishers, the sons of Dhritarashtra are on the path to hell."
Duryodhana was angry at these words of Vidura and told Prathikami, his charioteer: "Vidura is jealous of us and he is afraid of the Pandavas. But you are different. Go forth and bring Draupadi immediately."
PRATHIKAMI went to Draupadi as ordered by his master. He said to her: "O revered princess, Yudhishthira fell under the spell of the game of dice and has wagered and lost even you. Now you belong to Duryodhana. I have come by Duryodhana's command to take you to serve in his household as maid servant, which will hereafter be your office."
Draupadi, the spouse of the emperor who had performed Rajasuya, was dumbfounded, at this strange message. She asked: "Prathikami, what do you say? Which prince would pledge his wife? Had he nothing else to pawn?"
Prathikami answered: "It is because he had already lost all other possessions and had nothing else left that he played offering you as a stake."
Then he told her the whole story of how Yudhishthira had lost all his wealth and had finally betted her, after having first forfeited his brothers and himself.
Though the news was such as to break the heart and kill the soul, still, Draupadi soon regained her fortitude and, with anger blazing from her eyes, said: "O charioteer, return. Ask of him who played the game whether in it he first lost himself, or his wife. Ask this question in the open assembly. Bring me his answer and then you can take me." Prathikami went to the assembly and, turning to Yudhishthira, asked of him the question put by Draupadi.
Yudhishthira remained speechless.
Then Duryodhana bade Prathikami bring Panchali herself there to question her husband. Prathikami went again to Draupadi and humbly said: "Princess, the mean-minded Duryodhana desires you to go to the assembly and ask your question yourself."
Draupadi answered: "No. Return to the assembly and put the question and demand an answer."
Prathikami did so.
Enraged, Duryodhana turned to his brother Duhsasana and said: "This man is a fool and is afraid of Bhima. Go and fetch Draupadi even if you have to drag her here."
Thus commanded, the wicked Duhsasana at once sped with joy on his errand. He proceeded to the place where Draupadi was, shouting: "Come, why do you delay? You are now ours. Be not shy, beautiful lady. Make yourself agreeable to us, now that you have been won by us. Come to the assembly" and in his impatience, he bade as though to take her thither by force.
Panchali rose trembling, heart-stricken with sorrow and started to fly for refuge to the inner apartments of Dhritarashtra's queen. Duhsasana darted after her, caught her by the hair and dragged her to the assembly.
It is with a shudder of repugnance that we relate how the sons of Dhritarashtra stooped to commit this vilest of deeds.
As soon as she came to the assembly, Draupadi controlled her anguish and appealed to the elders gathered there:
"How could you consent to my being staked by the king who was himself trapped into the game and cheated by wicked persons, expert in the art? Since he was no longer a free man, how could he stake anything at all?"
Then, stretching out her arms and raising her flowing eyes in agonised supplication she cried in a voice broken with sobs:
"If you have loved and revered the mothers who bore you and gave you suck, if the honor of wife or sister or daughter has been dear to you, if you believe in God and dharma, forsake me not in this horror more cruel than death"'
At this heart-broken cry, as of a poor fawn stricken to death, the elders hung their heads in grief and shame. Bhima could hold himself no longer. His swelling heart found relief in a roar of wrath that shook the very walls, and turning to Yudhishthira he said bitterly:
"Even abandoned professional gamblers would not stake the harlots who live with them, and you, worse than they, have left the daughter of Drupada to the mercy of these ruffians. I cannot bear this injustice. You are the cause of this great crime. Brother Sahadeva, bring fire. I am going to set fire to those hands of his which cast the dice."
Arjuna however remonstrated gently with Bhima: "You have never before spoken thus. The plot devised by our enemies is entangling us also in its meshes and inciting us to wicked action. We should not succumb and play their game. Beware."
With a superhuman effort, Bhima controlled his anger.
Vikarna, the son of Dhritarashtra, could not bear the sight of the agony of Panchali. He rose up and said: "O Kshatriya heroes, why are you silent? I am a mere youth, I know, but your silence compels me to speak. Listen. Yudhishthira was enticed to this game by a deeply plotted invitation and he pledged this lady when he had no right to do so, because she does not belong to Yudhishthira alone. For that reason alone the wager is illegal. Besides, Yudhishthira had already lost his freedom, and being no longer a free man, how could he have a right to offer her as a stake? And there is this further objection. It was Sakuni who suggested her as a pledge, which is against the rules of the game, under which neither player may demand a specific bet. If we consider all these points, we must admit that Panchali has not been legally won by us. This is my opinion."
When the young Vikarna spoke thus courageously, the wisdom given by God to the members of the assembly suddenly illumined their minds. There were great shouts of applause. They shouted: "Dharma has been saved. Dharma has been saved."
At that moment Karna rose up and said:
"O Vikarna, forgetting that there are elders in this assembly, you lay down the law though you are but a stripling. By your ignorance and rashness you are injuring the very family which gave you birth, just as the flame generated by the arani destroys its source, the stick. It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest. At the very beginning, when Yudhishthira was a free man, he forfeited all he possessed and that, of course, included Draupadi. Hence, Draupadi had already come into Sakuni's possession. There is nothing more to be said in the matter. Even the clothes they have on are now Sakuni's property. O Duhsasana, seize the garments of the Pandavas and the robes of Draupadi and hand them over to Sakuni."
As soon as they heard the cruel words of Karna, the Pandavas, feeling that they had to stand the test of dharma to the bitter end, flung off their upper garments to show that they were ready to follow the path of honor and right at any cost.
Seeing this, Duhsasana went to Draupadi and made ready to seize her clothes by force. All earthly aid had failed, and in the anguish of utter helplessness, she implored divine mercy and succour:
"O Lord of the World," she wailed, "God whom I adore and trust, abandon me not in this dire plight. You are my sole refuge. Protect me." And she fainted away.
Then, as the wicked Duhsasana started his shameful work of pulling at Panchali's robes and good men shuddered and averted their eyes, even then, in the mercy of God a miracle occurred.
In vain Duhsasana toiled to strip off her garments, for as he pulled off each, ever fresh garments were seen to clothe her body, and soon a great heap of resplendent clothes was piled up before the assembly till Duhsasana desisted and sat down in sheer fatigue.
The assembly trembled at this marvel and good men praised God and wept. Bhima with quivering lips, loudly uttered this terrible oath: "May I never go to the blest abode of my ancestors if I do not rend the breast and drink the heart's blood of this sinful Duhsasana, this shame of the Bharata race."
Suddenly, the howling of jackals could be heard. Donkeys and carnivorous birds began to send forth weird dissonant cries from all sides, portending calamities to come.
Dhritarashtra who realised that this incident would be the cause of the destruction of his race, for once acted with wisdom and courage. He called Draupadi to his side and attempted to soothe her with words of gentleness and affection.
Then he turned to Yudhishthira and said: "You are so blameless that you can have no enemies. Forgive in your magnanimity the evil done by Duryodhana and dismiss all memory of it from your mind. Take back your kingdom and riches and everything else and be free and prosperous. Return to Indraprastha." And the Pandavas left that accursed hall, bewildered and stunned, and seeing a miracle in this sudden release from calamity. But it was too good to endure.
After Yudhishthira and his brothers had departed, there was a long and angry discussion in the palace of the Kauravas. Incited by Duhsasana, Sakuni and others, Duryodhana upbraided his father with having frustrated their well-laid plans on the very threshold of success.
He quoted Brihaspati's aphorism that no device could be considered wrong which had as its object the destruction of formidable enemies.
He spoke in detail on the prowess of the Pandavas and expressed his conviction that the only hope of overcoming the Pandavas lay in guile and taking advantage of their pride and sense of honor.
No self-respecting kshatriya could decline an invitation to a game of dice. Duryodhana secured his doting father's reluctant and ominous approval to a plan to entice Yudhishthira once again to a game of dice.
A messenger was accordingly dispatched after Yudhisthira who had taken his departure for Indraprastha. He came up with Yudhishthira before the latter had reached his destination and invited him on behalf of king Dhritarashtra to come back.
On hearing this invitation, Yudhishthira said: "Good and evil come from destiny and cannot be avoided. If we must play again we must, that is all. A challenge to dice cannot in honor be refused. I must accept it." Truly, as Sri Vyasa says: "There never was and never can be an antelope of gold! Yet, Rama went in vain pursuit of what seemed one. Surely, when calamities are imminent, the judgment is first destroyed."
Dharmaputra returned to Hastinapura and set again for a game with Sakuni, though everyone in the assembly tried to dissuade him.
He seemed a mere pawn moved by Kali to relieve the burden of the world.
The stake played for was that the defeated party should go with his brothers into exile to the forest and remain there for twelve years and spend the thirteenth year incognito. If they were recognised in the thirteenth year, they should go again into exile for twelve years.
Needless to say, Yudhishthira met with defeat on this occasion also, and the Pandavas took the vows of those who are to go to the forest.
All the members of the assembly bent down their heads in shame.
WHEN the Pandavas set out for the forest, there arose a great clamor of lamentation from people who thronged the streets and climbed the roofs and towers and trees to see them go.
The princes, who, of yore, rode in jewelled chariots or on lordly elephants to strains of auspicious music, now walked away from their birthright on weary feet, accompanied by weeping crowds. On all sides cries arose of: "Fie and Alas! Does not God see this from His heaven?"
The blind Dhritarashtra sent for Vidura and asked him to describe the departure of the Pandavas into exile. Vidura replied: "Yudhishthira, the son of Kunti, went with his face covered with a cloth. Bhima went behind with his eyes lowered on his arms. Arjuna proceeded scattering sand on his path. Nakula and Sahadeva besmeared their bodies with dust and closely followed Yudhishthira. Draupadi accompanied Dharmaputra, her dishevelled hair covering her face and her eyes streaming with tears. Dhaumya, the priest, went along with them singing the Sama hymns, addressed to Yama, the Lord of Death."
When he heard these words, Dhritarashtra was filled with ever-greater fear and anxiety than before. He asked: "What do the citizens say?"
Vidura answered: "O great king, I shall tell you in their own words what the citizens of all castes and creeds say: 'Our leaders have left us. Fie on the elders of the Kuru race who have suffered such things to happen! The covetous Dhritarashtra and his sons have driven away the sons of Pandu to the forest.' While the citizens blame us thus, the heavens are vexed with cloudless lightning, and the distressed earth quakes, and there are other evil portents."
While Dhritarashtra and Vidura were conversing thus, the sage Narada suddenly appeared before them. Narada declared: "Fourteen years from this day the Kauravas will become extinct as the result of the crime committed by Duryodhana" and vanished from sight.
Duryodhana and his companions were filled with fear and approached Drona with a prayer never to abandon them, whatever happened.
Drona answered gravely: "I believe with the wise that the Pandavas are of divine birth and unconquerable. Yet my duty is to fight for the sons of Dhritarashtra who rely on me and whose salt I eat. I shall strive for them, heart and soul. But destiny is all-powerful. The Pandavas will surely return from exile, burning with anger. I should know what anger is, for I dethroned and dishonored Drupada on account of my anger towards him. Implacably revengeful, he has performed a sacrifice so that he might be blessed with a son who would kill me. It is said Dhrishtadyumna is that son. As destiny would have it, he is the brother-in-law and fast friend of the Pandavas. And things are moving as foreordained. Your actions tend in the same direction and your days are numbered. Lose no time in doing good while you may; perform great sacrifice, enjoy sinless pleasures, give alms to the needy. Nemesis will overtake you in the fourteenth year. Duryodhana, make peace withYudhishthira this is my counsel to you. But, of course, you will do what you like."
Duryodhana was not at all pleased with these words of Drona.
Sanjaya asked Dhritarashtra: "O king, why are you worried?"
The blind king replied: "How can I know peace after having injured the Pandavas?"
Sanjaya said: "What you say is quite true. The victim of adverse fate will first become perverted, utterly losing his sense of right and wrong. Time, the all destroyer, does not take a club and break the head of a man but by destroying his judgment, makes him act madly to his own ruin. Your sons have grossly insulted Panchali and put themselves on the path of destruction."
Dhritarashtra said: "I did not follow the wise path of dharma and statesmanship but suffered myself to be misled by my foolish son and, as you say, we are fast hastening towards the abyss."
Vidura used to advise Dhritarashtra earnestly. He would often tell him: "Your son has committed a great wrong. Dharmaputra has been cheated. Was it not your duty to turn your children to the path of virtue and pull them away from vice? You should order even now that the Pandavas get back the kingdom granted to them by you. Recall Yudhishthira from the forest and make peace with him. You should even restrain Duryodhana by force if he will not listen to reason."
At first Dhritarashtra would listen in sad silence when Vidura spoke thus, for he knew Vidura to be a wiser man than himself who wished him well. But gradually his patience wore thin with repeated homilies.
One day, Dhritarashtra could stand it no longer. "O Vidura," he burst out, "you are always speaking for the Pandavas and against my sons. You do not seek our good. Duryodhana was born of my loins. How can I give him up? What is the use of advising such an unnatural course? I have lost my faith in you and do not need you anymore. You are free to go to the Pandavas if you like." Then, turning his back on Vidura, he retired to the inner apartments.
Vidura sorrowfully felt that the destruction of the Kuru race was certain and, taking Dhritarashtra at his word, drove in a chariot with fleet horses to the forest where the Pandavas lived.
Dhritarashtra was filled with anxious remorse. He reflected thin himself: "What have I done? I have only strengthened Duryodhana, while driving the wise Vidura to the Pandavas."
But later he called for Sanjaya and asked him to bear a repentant message to Vidura imploring him to forgive the thoughtless words of an unhappy father and to return.
Sanjaya hurried to the hermitage where the Pandavas were staying and found them clad in deer-skin and surrounded by sages.
He also saw Vidura there and conveyed Dhritarashtra's message adding that the blind king would die broken-hearted if he did not return.
The soft-hearted Vidura, who was dharma incarnate, was greatly moved and returned to Hastinapura.
Dhritarashtra embraced Vidura and the difference between them was washed away in tears of mutual affection.
One day, the sage Maitreya came to the court of Dhritarashtra and was welcomed with great respect.
Dhritarashtra craved his blessing and asked him: "Revered sir, you have certainly met my beloved children, the Pandavas, in Kurujangala. Are they well? Will mutual affection abide in our family without any diminution?"
Maitreya said: "I accidentally met Yudhishthira in the Kamyaka forest. The sages of the place had come to see him. I learnt of the events that took place in Hastinapura, and I marvelled that such things should have been permitted while Bhishma and yourself were alive."
Later, Maitreya saw Duryodhana who was also in the court and advised him, for his own good, not to injure but to make peace with the Pandavas who were not only mighty themselves but related to Krishna and Drupada.
The obstinate and foolish Duryodhana merely laughed, slapping his thighs in derision and, tearing the ground with his feet and without granting an answer, turned away.
Maitreya grew angry and looking at Duryodhana said: "Are you so arrogant and do you slap your thighs in derision of one who wishes you well? Your thighs will be broken by a Bhima's mace and you will die on the battlefield." At this Dhritarashtra jumped up, fell at the feet of the sage and begged forgiveness.
Maitreya said: "My curse will not work if your son makes peace with the Pandavas. Otherwise it will have effect," and strode indignantly out of the assembly.
As SOON as the news of the slaying of Sisupala by Krishna reached his friend Salva, he became very angry and besieged Dwaraka with a mighty force.
Krishna having not yet returned to Dwaraka, old Ugrasena was in charge of the defence of the city. The sieges described in the Mahabharata seem very much like those in wars of the present day.
Dwaraka was a strongly garrisoned fortress built on an island and well provided with means of defence. Ample barracks had been provided and there was an abundant supply of food and weapons and the garrison included many illustrious warriors.
Ugrasena imposed a stringent ban upon drinking and amusements generally for the period of the siege. All the bridges were demolished and ships were forbidd enentry into ports in the realm.
Iron spikes were planted in the moats around the fortress and the city walls kept in good repair.
All entrances to the city were guarded with barbed wire and permits and passwords strictly controlled ingress and egress. Thus no arrangements were neglected that could further strengthen the city which nature had already made impregnable.
The pay of the soldiers was increased. Volunteers for service were rigidly tested before being accepted as soldiers.
The siege was so rigorously pushed that the garrison suffered great privations. Krishna, when he returned, was struck to the heart at the sufferings of his beloved city and he compelled Salva immediately to raise the siege, by attacking and defeating him.
It was only afterwards that Krishna learnt for the first time of the events at Hastinapura, the game of dice and the exile of the Pandavas. At once be set out for the forest where the Pandavas were living.
Along with Krishna went many, including men of the Bhoja and Vrishni tribes, Dhrishtaketu, the king of the Chedi country, and the Kekayas who were all devoted to the Pandavas.
They were filled with righteous indignation when they heard of Duryodhana's perfidy and cried out that surely the earth would drink the blood of such wicked people.
Draupadi approached Sri Krishna and, in a voice drowned in tears and broken with sobs, told the story of her wrongs. She said: "I was dragged to the assembly when I had but a single garment on my body. The sons of Dhritarashtra insulted me most outrageously and gloated over my agony. They thought that I had become their slave and accosted me and treated me as one. Even Bhishma and Dhritarashtra forgot my birth and breeding and my relationship to them. O Janardhana, even my husbands did not protect me from the jeers and the ribald insults of those foul ruffians. Bhima's bodily strength and Arjuna's Gandiva bow were alike of no avail. Under such supreme provocation even weaklings would have found strength and courage to strike the vile insulter dead. The Pandavas are renowned heroes and yet Duryodhana lives! I, the daughter-in-law of the emperor Pandu, was dragged by my hair. I, the wife of five heroes, was dishonored. O Madhusudana, even you had deserted me." She stood trembling, utterly unable to continue, for the grief convulsed her.
Krishna was deeply moved and he consoled the weeping Draupadi. He said: "Those who tormented you will be stricken to death in the bloody quagmire of a lost battle. Wipe your eyes. I solemnly promise that your grievous wrongs shall be amply avenged. I shall help the Pandavas in every way. You will become an empress. The heavens may fall, the Himalayas may split in twain, the earth may crumble or the boundless sea may dry up, but, I tell you verily, my words shall stand. I swear this," and Krishna took a solemn vow before Draupadi.
This vow, it will be seen, was in perfect accord with the purpose of the Lord's avatars, as declared in scriptures:
"For protecting the righteous, for destroying the wicked and for firmly upholding the law, I am born on earth age after age."
Dhrishtadyumna also consoled his sister and told her how nemesis would overtake the Kauravas.
He said: "I will kill Drona, Sikhandin will cause Bhishma's fall. Bhima will take the lives of the wicked Duryodhana and his brothers. Arjuna will slay Karna, the charioteer's son."
Sri Krishna said: "When this calamity befell you, I was in Dwaraka. Had I been in Hastinapur, I would never have allowed this fraudulent game of dice to take place. Uninvited, I would have gone there and stirred up Drona, Kripa and the other elders to a sense of duty. I would, at all costs, have prevented this destructive play of dice. When Sakuni was cheating you, I was fighting King Salva who had besieged my city. It was only after I had defeated him that I came to know of the game of dice and the subsequent sordid story. It grieves me that I am not able to remove your sorrows immediately but you know, some water must be lost before a broken dam is restored."
Then Krishna took leave and returned to Dwaraka with Subhadra, the wife of Arjuna, and their child, Abhimanyu.
Dhrishtadyumna went back to Panchala taking with him the sons of Draupadi.
IN the beginning of their stay in the forest, Bhima and Draupadi used, on occasions, to argue with Yudhishthira.
They would plead that only righteous anger befitted a kshatriya and that patience and forbearance under slights and insults were not worthy of him.
They would quote weighty authorities and argue vehemently in support of their contention. Yudhishthira would firmly reply that they should abide by the promise they had made and that forbearance was the highest virtue of all.
Bhima was burning with impatience to attack and kill Duryodhana immediately and win back the kingdom. He thought it unworthy of warriors to continue to dwell tamely in the forest.
Bhima said to Yudhishthira: "You speak like those who repeat Vedic mantras and are satisfied with the sound of the words though ignorant of their meaning. Your intellect has become confused. You are born as a kshatriya and yet you do not think or behave like one. You have become a brahmana by temperament. You know, the scriptures enjoin on a kshatriya sternness and enterprise. We should not let the wicked sons of Dhritarashtra have their way. Vain is the birth of a kshatriya who does not conquer his deceitful enemies. This is my opinion, and to me, if we go to hell by killing a deceitful foe, such hell is heaven. Your forbearance burns us worse than fire. It scorches Arjuna and myself day and night, making us sleepless. Those miscreants have seized our kingdom by fraud and are enjoying it, while you lie torpid like a gorged python. You say that we should abide by our promise. How can the world-renowned Arjuna live incognito? Can the Himalayas be hidden under a handful of grass? How can the lion-hearted Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva live in hiding? Can the famous Draupadi walk about unrecognized by others? Even if we do these impossible things, the son of Dhritarashtra will find out through his spies. Hence, this promise of ours is impossible of performance and has been put on us merely to thrust us out again for another thirteen years. The sastras too support me when I say that a filched promise is no promise. A handful of grass thrown to a tired bull ought to be enough as expiation for breaking such a promise. You should resolve to kill our enemies immediately. There is no higher duty for a kshatriya."
Bhima was never tired of pressing his view. Draupadi also would refer to the dishonor she had suffered at the hands of Duryodhana, Karna and Duhsasana and would quote authorities from the scriptures that would give Yudhishthira anxiety to think.
He would sometimes answer with common maxims of politics and refer to the relative strength of the parties. He would say: "Our enemy has such adherents as Bhurisravas, Bhishma, Drona, Karna and Aswatthama. Duryodhana and his brothers are expert in warfare. Many feudatory princes, as well as mighty monarchs, are now on their side. Bhishma and Drona, indeed, have no respect for Duryodhana's character, but will not give him up and are prepared to sacrifice their lives on his side in the battlefield. Karna is a brave and skilful fighter, well versed in the use of all the weapons. The course of war is unpredictable and success is uncertain. There is no use in being hasty." Thus Yudhishthira managed with difficulty to restrain the impatience of the younger Pandavas.
Later, as advised by Vyasa, Arjuna went to the Himalayas to practise austerities for the purpose of getting new weapons from the devas. Arjuna took leave of his brothers and went to Panchali to bid her farewell.
She said: "O Dhananjaya, may you prosper in your mission. May God give you all that Kuntidevi hoped and wished for when you were born. The happiness, life, honor and prosperity of us all depend on you. Return after acquiring new weapons." Thus Panchali sent him forth with auspicious words.
It is noteworthy that though the voice was Draupadi the wife's, yet the benediction was Kunti the mother's for the words were: "May God give all that Kuntidevi wished and hoped for when you were born."
Arjuna passed through dense forests and reached the mountain of Indrakila, where he met an old brahmana. The ascetic smiled and spoke affectionately to Arjuna:
"Child, you are clad in armor and carry weapons. Who are you? Weapons are of no use here. What do you seek in this garb of a kshatriya in this abode of ascetics and saints who have conquered anger and passion?" That was Indra, the king of gods, who came to have the pleasure of meeting his son.
Arjuna bowed to his father and said: "I seek arms. Bless me with weapons." Indra replied: "O Dhananjaya, what is the use of weapons? Ask for pleasures or seek to go to higher worlds for enjoyment."
Arjuna answered: "O king of gods, I do not seek pleasures of higher worlds. I have come here after leaving Panchali and my brothers in the forest. I seek but weapons."
The thousand-eyed said: "If you be blessed by the vision of god Siva, the three-eyed god, and obtain his grace, you will receive divine weapons. Do penance unto Siva."
Thus saying Indra disappeared. Then, Arjuna went to the Himalayas and did penance to obtain the grace of Siva.
Siva under the guise of a hunter and accompanied by his divine spouse Umadevi, entered the forest in pursuit of game.
The chase grew fast and furious, and presently a wild boar started charging Arjuna, who shot an arrow into it with his Gandiva bow at the same moment that the hunter Siva transfixed it with a shaft from his Pinaka bow.
Arjuna shouted in loud voice: "Who are you? Why are you ranging in this forest with your wife? How dare you shoot at the game I had aimed at?"
The hunter replied as though in contempt: "This forest, full of game, belongs to us, who live in it. You do not look tough enough to be a forester. Your limbs and bearing bespeak a soft luxurious life. It is rather for me to ask what you are doing here." He also added that it was his shaft that had killed the boar, and that if Arjuna thought differently be was welcome to fight about it.
Nothing could please Arjuna better. He jumped up and showered snake-like arrows at Siva. To his amazement, they seemed to have no effect on the hunter and fell back hurtless like storm-driven rain from a mountain peak.
When he had no more arrows, he started to strike Siva with his bow. But the hunter seemed not to heed it and wrenched with ease the bow out of Arjuna's hand and burst into laughter.
Arjuna, who had been disarmed with humiliating ease by one who seemed an ordinary hunter of the forest, was struck with amazement, almost amounting to doubt. But undaunted, he drew his sword and continued the combat.
The sword was split into pieces on the hunter's adamantine frame. There was now nothing to do but to grapple with the formidable unknown. But here again he was outmatched.
The hunter caught him in an iron clasp so close that Arjuna was quite helpless. Worsted and overmastered, Arjuna humbly sought divine aid and meditated on Siva. As he did so, a light broke on his troubled mind, and at once he knew who the hunter really was.
He fell at the feet of the Lord and, in a broken voice of repentance and adoration he prayed for forgiveness. "I forgive you," said Siva smilingly and gave him back his Gandiva bow, as well as the other weapons, of which he had been deprived. He also bestowed on Arjuna the marvellous Pasupata weapon.
Arjuna's body, battered in the unequal combat, was made whole and perfect by the divine touch of the three-eyed god and became a hundred fold stronger and more brilliant than before.
"Go to heaven and render dutiful respect to your father Indra," said Siva and vanished from view like the setting sun.
Arjuna was overcome with joy and exclaimed: "Have I really seen the Lord face to face and have I been blessed with his divine touch? What more do I need?"
At that moment, Matali, the charioteer of Indra, came there with his chariot and took Arjuna to the kingdom of the gods.
BALARAMA and Krishna came with their retinue to the abode of the Pandavas in the forest. Deeply distressed by what he saw, Balarama said to Krishna:
"O Krishna, it would seem that virtue and wickedness bear contrary fruit in this life. For see, the wicked Duryodhana is ruling his kingdom clad in silk and gold, while the virtuous Yudhishthira lives in the forest wearing the bark of trees. Seeing such unmerited prosperity and undeserved privation, men have lost their faith in God. The praise of virtue in the sastras seems mere mummery when we see the actual results of good and evil in this world. How will Dhritarashtra justify his conduct and defend himself when he is face to face with the god of death? Even the mountains and the earth weep at the sight of the blameless Pandavas dwelling in the forests with the blessed Draupadi, born from the sacrificial fire."
Satyaki, who was seated near, said: "O Balarama, this is no time for lamenting. Should we wait till Yudhishthira asks us to do our duty for the Pandavas? While you and Krishna and all other relations are living, why should the Pandavas waste their precious years in the forest? Let us collect our forces and attack Duryodhana. With the army of the Vrishnis, we are surely strong enough to destroy the Kauravas. Why, where is the need to foil Karna's vaunted archery and cut off his head. Let us kill Duryodhana and his adherents in the battlefield and hand over the kingdom to Abhimanyu if the Pandavas wish to keep their word and stay in the forest. This is good for them and befits us as men of valor."
Vasudeva, who was listening carefully to this speech, said: "What you say is true. But the Pandavas would not like to receive from the hands of others what they have not won by their own efforts. Draupadi for one, born of a heroic race as she is, would not hear of it. Yudhishthira will never give up the path of righteousness for love or fear. When the stipulated period of exile is over the kings of Panchala, Kekaya and Chedi and ourselves will unite our forces to help the Pandavas to conquer their enemies."
Yudhishthira was delighted at these words of Krishna. "Sri Krishna knows my mind," said he. "Truth is greater than power or prosperity and has to be guarded at all costs and not the kingdom. When he wants us to fight, he shall find us ready. The heroes of the Vrishni race may now return with the certainty that we shall meet again when the time is ripe." With these words Yudhishthira gave them leave to return.
Arjuna was still away in the Himalayas and Bhima's anxiety and impatience became well nigh insupportable. He said to Yudhishthira:
"You know that our life depends on Arjuna. He has been away very long, and we have had no tidings of him. If he should be lost to us, then neither the king of Panchala, nor Satyaki nor even Sri Krishna can save us, and I for one cannot survive that loss. All this we owe to that mad game of dice, our sorrows and sufferings, as well as the growing strength of our foes. To be dwelling in the forest is not the duty enjoined on a kshatriya. We should immediately recall Arjuna and wage war with the sons of Dhritarashtra, with the help of Sri Krishna. I shall be satisfied only when the wicked Sakuni, Karna and Duryodhana are slain. After this clear duty is done, you may, if you like, return to the forest and live a life of asceticism. It is not a sin to kill by stratagem an enemy who has resorted to stratagem. I have heard that the Atharva Veda has incantations, which can compress time and reduce its span. If we could, by such means, squeeze thirteen years into thirteen days, we would be perfectly justified in doing so, and you will permit me on the fourteenth day to kill Duryodhana."
Hearing these words of Bhima, Dharmaputra affectionately embraced him and sought to restrain his impetuosity. "Beloved brother, as soon as the period of thirteen years is over, Arjuna, the hero, with the Gandiva bow, and yourself will fight and kill Duryodhana. Be patient till then. Duryodhana and his followers, who are sunk in sin, cannot escape. Be assured of it." While the sorrow-stricken brothers were thus engaged in debate, the great sage Brihadaswa came to the hermitage of the Pandavas and was received with the customary honors.
After a while, Yudhishthira said to him: "Revered sage, our deceitful enemies, drew us into this game of dice and cheated us of our kingdom and riches, and drove my heroic brothers, as well as Panchali and myself, to the forest. Arjuna, who left us a long time ago to get divine weapons, has not returned as yet and we miss him sorely. Will he return with divine arms? And when will he be back? Surely never was there in this world a man who suffered so much sorrow as myself."
The great sage replied: "Do not let your mind dwell on sorrow. Arjuna will return with divine weapons and you will conquer your enemies in the fitness of time. You say that there is no one in this world that is as unfortunate as you. Now, that is not true, though everyone, tried by adversity, is inclined to claim pre-eminence in sorrow, because things felt are more than things heard or seen. Have you heard of king Nala of Nishadha? He suffered more sorrows than yourself even in the forest. He was deceived by Pushkara at a game of dice. He lost his wealth and kingdom and had to go in exile to the forest. Less fortunate than you, he had not with him his brothers or brahmanas. The influence of Kali, the spirit of the dark age, deprived him of his discrimination and good sense. And not knowing what he was doing, he deserted his wife who had accompanied him, and wandered about in the forest, solitary and almost mad. Now, compare your state with his. You have the company of your heroic brothers and devoted wife and are supported by a few learned brahmanas in your adversity. Your mind is sound and steady. Self-pity is natural, but you are really not so badly off."
The sage then narrated the life of Nala which constitutes twenty-eight chapters of the great epic. The sage concluded with these words:
"O Pandava, Nala was tried by sorrows more agonising than yours, yet he triumphed over them all and his life ended happily. You have the alleviations of unclouded intellect and the society of your nearest and dearest. You spend much of your time in exalted contemplation of dharma and in holy converse with brahmanas who are learned in the Vedas and Vedantas. Bear your trials and tribulations with fortitude, for they are the lot of man and not peculiar to you."
Thus did the sage Brihadaswa console Yudhishthira.
THE brahmanas, who had been with Yudhishthira in Indraprastha, had followed him to the forest. It was difficult to maintain such a large establishment.
Some time after Arjuna had gone on his quest of Pasupata, a brahmana sage named Lomasa came to the abode of the Pandavas.
He advised Yudhishthira to minimize his retinue before going on pilgrimage as it would be difficult to move freely from place to place with a large following.
Yudhishthira, who had long felt that difficulty, announced to his followers that such of them, as were unaccustomed to hardship and to hard and scanty fare and those who had followed merely in token of loyalty, might return to Dhritarashtra or, if they preferred it, go to Drupada, the King of Panchala.
Later, with a greatly reduced retinue, the Pandavas started on a pilgrimage to holy places, acquainting themselves with the stories and traditions relating to each. The story of Agastya was one such.
Agastya, it is said, once saw some ancestral spirits dangling head down and asked them who they were and how they had come to be in that unpleasant plight.
They replied: "Dear child, we are your ancestors. If you discharge not your debt to us by marrying and begetting progeny, there will be no one after you to offer us oblations. We have, therefore, resorted to this austerity, in order to persuade you to save us from this peril."
When Agastya heard this, he decided to marry.
The king of the country of Vidarbha was childless and, so, careworn. He repaired to Agastya to get his blessing. In granting him the boon, Agastya announced that the king would be the father of a beautiful girl, who, he stipulated should be given in marriage to him.
Soon the queen gave birth to a girl who was named Lopamudra. She grew with years into a maiden of such rare beauty and charm that she became celebrated in the kshatriya world. But no prince dared to woo her for fear of Agastya.
Later, the sage Agastya came to Vidarbha and demanded the hand of the king's daughter. The king was reluctant to give the delicately nurtured princess in marriage to a sage leading the primitive life of a forester but he also feared the anger of the sage if he said nay, and was plunged in sorrow.
Lopamudra, greatly concerned, discovered the cause of her parent's unhappiness and expressed her readiness, nay her desire, to marry the sage.
The king was relieved, and the marriage of Agastya and Lopamudra was celebrated in due course. When the princess set out to accompany the sage, he bade her give up her costly garments and valuable jewels.
Unquestioningly Lopamudra distributed her priceless jewels and garments amongst her companions and attendants, and covering herself in deerskin and garments of bark, she joyfully accompanied the sage.
During the time Lopamudra and Agastya spent in tapas and meditation at Gangadwara, a strong and abiding love sprang up between them. For conjugal life, Lopamudra's modesty shrank from the lack of privacy in a forest hermitage. And one day, with blushing and humbleness she expressed her mind to her husband.
She said: "My desire is that I may have the royal bedding, the beautiful robes and the valuable jewels I had when I was in my father's place and that you too may have splendid garments and ornaments. And then we shall enjoy life to our heart's content."
Agastya smilingly replied: "I have neither the wealth nor the facilities to provide what you want. Are we not beggars living in the forest?"
But Lopamudra knew her lord's yogic power, and said: "Lord, you are all-powerful by the strength of your austerities. You can get the wealth of the whole world in a moment if you but will."
Agastya said that no doubt that was so, but, if he spent his austerities in gaining things of such little moment as riches, they would soon dwindle to nothing.
She replied: "I do not wish that. What I desire is that you should earn in the ordinary way sufficient wealth for us to live in ease and comfort."
Agastya consented and set out as an ordinary brahmana to beg of various kings. Agastya went to a king who was reputed to be very wealthy. The sage told the king: "I have come in quest of wealth. Give me what I seek, without causing any loss or injury to others."
The king presented a true picture of the income and expenditure of the State and told him he was free to take what he deemed fit. The sage found from the accounts that there was no balance left.
The expenditure of a State turns out always to be at least equal to its income. This seems to have been the case in ancient times also.
Seeing this, Agastya said: "To accept any gift from this king, will be a hardship to the citizens. So, I shall seek elsewhere," and the sage was about to leave. The king said that he would also accompany him and both of them went to another State where also they found the same state of affairs.
Vyasa thus lays down and illustrates the maxim that a king should not tax his subjects more than necessary for rightful public expenditure and that if one accepts as gift anything from the public revenues, one adds to the burden of the subjects to that extent.
Agastya thought he had better go to the wicked asura Ilvala and try his luck. Ilvala and his brother Vatapi cherished an implacable hatred towards brahmanas. They had curious plan for killing them. Ilvala would, with effective hospitality, invite a brahmana to a feast.
By the power of his magic he would transform his brother Vatapi into a goat and he would kill this pseudo-goat for food and serve its meat to the guest. In those days, the brahmanas used to eat meat. The feast over, Ilvala would invoke his brother Vatapi to come out, for he had the art of bringing back to life those whom he had killed.
And Vatapi, who as food had entered the vitals of the unlucky brahmana, would spring up sound and whole and rend his way out with fiendish laughter, of course killing the guest in doing so.
In this manner, many brahmanas had died. Ilvala was very happy when he learnt that Agastya was in the neighborhood, since he felt that here was a good brahmana delivered into his hands.
So, he welcomed him and prepared the usual feast. The sage ate heartily of Vatapi transformed into a goat, and it only remained for Ilvala to call out Vatapi for the rending scene. And, as usual, Ilvala repeated the magic formula and shouted: "Vatapi come out!"
Agastya smiled and, gently rubbing his stomach, said: "O Vatapi, be digested in my stomach for the peace and good of the world." Ilvala shouted again and again in frantic fear: "O Vatapi, come forth."
There was no response and the sage explained the reason. Vatapi had been digested. The trick had been tried once too often.
The asura bowed to Agastya and surrendered to him the riches he sought. Thus was the sage able to satisfy Lopamudra's desire. Agastya asked her what she would prefer whether ten ordinarily good sons or one super-good son with the strength of ten.
Lopamudra replied she would like to have one exceptionally virtuous and learned son. The story goes that she was blessed with such a gifted son.
Once the Vindhyas became jealous of the Meru Mountain and tried to grow in stature, obstructing the sun, the moon and the planets. Unable to prevent this danger, the gods sought aid from Agastya. The sage went to the Vindhya Mountain and said:
"Best of mountains, stop you’re growing till I cross you on my way to the south and return north again. After my return, you can grow, as you like. Wait till then." Since the Vindhya Mountain respected Agastya, it bowed to his request.
Agastya did not return north at all, but settled in the south and so the Vindhyas remain arrested in growth to this day. Such is the story as narrated in the Mahabharata.
IT is an error to think that it is easy for a person to lead a life of chastity if he is brought up in complete ignorance of sensual pleasures. Virtue guarded only by ignorance is very insecure as illustrated by the following story. It is told in the Ramayana also, but not in the same detail.
Vibhandaka who was resplendent like Brahma, the Creator, lived with his son Rishyasringa in a forest. The latter had not come across any mortal, man or woman, except his father.
The country of Anga was once afflicted with a dire famine. Crops had withered for want of rain and men perished for lack of food. All living things were in distress. Romapada, the king of the country, approached the brahmanas to advise him of some means of saving the kingdom from famine.
The brahmanas replied: "Best of kings, there is a young sage called Rishyasringa who lives a life of perfect chastity. Invite him to our kingdom. He has won the power, by his austerities, of bringing rain and plenty wherever he goes."
The king discussed with his courtiers the means by which Rishyasringa could be brought from the hermitage of the sage Vibhandaka. In accordance with their advice, he called together the most charming courtesans of the city and entrusted them with the mission of bringing Rishyasringa to Anga.
The damsels were in a quandary. On the one hand, they feared to disobey the king. On the other, they also feared the sage's wrath. Finally, they made up their minds to go, relying on Providence to help them, in achieving the good work of rescuing the stricken land from famine.
They were suitably equipped for their enterprise before being sent to the hermitage. The leader of this band of courtesans made a beautiful garden of a big boat, with artificial trees and creepers, with an imitation ashrama in the center.
She had the boat moored in the river near Vibhandaka's hermitage, and the courtesans visited the hermitage with quaking hearts. Luckily for them, the sage was not at home. Feeling that this was the opportune moment, one of the beautiful damsels went to the sage's son.
She thus addressed Rishyasringa: "Great sage, are you well? Have you sufficient roots and fruits? Are the penances of the rishis of the forest proceeding satisfactorily? Is your father's glory constantly growing? Is your own study of the Vedas progressing?" This was how rishis used to accost one another in those days.
The youthful anchorite had never before seen such a beautiful human form or heard such a sweet voice.
The instinctive yearning for society, especially of the opposite sex, though he had never seen a woman before, began to work on his mind from the moment he beheld that graceful form.
He thought that she was a young sage like himself, and felt a strange irrepressible joy surging up in his soul. He answered, fixing eyes on his interlocutor:
"You seem to be a bright brahmacharin. Who are you? I bow to you. Where is your hermitage? What are the austerities you are practising?" and he rendered her the customary offerings.
She said to him: "At a distance of three yojanas from here is my ashrama. I have brought fruits for you. I am not fit to receive your prostration, but I shall return your greetings and salutation in the way customary with us." She embraced him warmly, fed him with the sweets she had brought, decorated him with perfumed garlands, and served him with drinks.
She embraced him again, saying that that was their way of salutation to honored guests. He thought it a very agreeable way.
Shortly after, fearing the return of the sage Vibhandaka, the courtesan took her leave of Rishyasringa saying it was time for her to perform the agnihotra sacrifice and gently slipped out of the hermitage.
When Vibhandaka returned to the hermitage, he was shocked to see the place so untidy with sweet meats scattered all over, for the hermitage had not been cleansed. The shrubs and creepers looked draggled and untidy.
His son's face had not its usual lustre but seemed clouded and disturbed as by a storm of passion. The usual simple duties of the hermitage had been neglected.
Vibhandaka was troubled and asked his son: "Dear boy, why have you not yet gathered the sacred firewood? Who has broken these nice plants and shrubs? Has the cow been milked? Has anyone been here to serve you? Who gave you this strange garland? Why do you appear worried?"
The simple and ingenuous Rishyasringa replied: "A brahmacharin of wonderful form was here. I cannot describe his brightness and beauty or the sweetness of his voice. My inner being has been filled with indescribable happiness and affection by listening to his voice and looking at his eyes. When he embraced me, which it seems is his customary greeting, I experienced a joy which I have never felt before, no, not even when eating the sweetest fruits," and then he described to his father the form, beauty and the doings of his fair visitor.
Rishyasringa added wistfully: "My body seems to burn with desire for the company of that brahmacharin and I should like to go and find him and bring him here somehow. How can I give you any idea about his devotion and brightness? My heart pants to see him."
When Rishyasringa had thus brokenly expressed yearnings and disturbances to which he had hitherto been a stranger, Vibhandaka knew what had occurred. He said: "Child, this was no brahmacharin that you saw, but a malignant demon who sought, as demons do, to beguile us and hinder our penances and austerities. They take recourse to many kinds of tricks and stratagems for the purpose. Do not let them come near you."
After that Vibhandaka searched in vain for three days in the forest to find out the wretches who had done this injury, and returned baffled it his purpose.
On another occasion, when Vibhandaka had gone out of the hermitage to bring roots and fruits, the courtesan again came softly to the place where Rishyasringa was seated. As soon as he saw her at a distance, Rishyasringa jumped up and ran to greet her gushingly, as pent up water surges out of a reservoir that has sprung a leak.
Even without waiting for prompting this time, Rishyasringa went near her and after the customary salutation said: "O shining brahmacharin, before my father returns let us go to your hermitage."
This was just what she had hoped and worked for. And together they entered the boat, which had been made to look like a hermitage. As soon as the young sage had entered, the boat was freed from its moorings and floated easily down with its welcome freight to the kingdom of Anga.
As might be expected, the young sage had a pleasant and interesting journey and when he reached Anga, he certainly knew more about the world and its ways than he had done in the forest.
The coming of Rishyasringa delighted Romapada infinitely and he took his welcome guest to the luxuriously provided inner apartments specially prepared for him.
As foretold by the brahmanas, rain began to pour the instant Rishyasringa set his foot in the country. The rivers and the lakes were full and the people rejoiced. Romapada gave his daughter Shanta in marriage to Rishyasringa.
Though all ended as he had planned, the king was uneasy in his mind, for he was afraid that Vibhandaka might come in search of his son and pronounce a curse on him.
So, he sought to mollify Vibhandaka by lining the route he would take with cattle and kind and by instructing the cowherds in charge to say that they were Rishyasringa's servants and had come to welcome and honor their master's father and place themselves at his service.
Not finding his son anywhere in the hermitage, the enraged Vibhandaka thought that this might be the work of the king of Anga.
He crossed intervening rivers and villages and marched to the capital of the king as if to burn him in his anger. But as at each stage of the journey he saw magnificent cattle which belonged to his son and was respectfully welcomed by his son's servants, his angry mood passed gradually as he approached the capital.
When he came to the capital, he was received with great honor and taken to the king's palace where he saw his son sitting in state like the king of the gods in heaven. He saw by his side his wife, the princess Shanta, whose great beauty soothed and pleased him.
Vibhandaka blessed the king. He laid this injunction on his son: "Do all that will please this king. After the birth of a son, come and join me in the forest." Rishyasringa did as his father bade him.
Lomasa concluded the story with these words addressed to Yudhishthira: "Like Damayanti and Nala, Sita and Rama, Arundhati and Vasishtha, Lopamudra and Agastya, and Draupadi and yourself, Shanta and Rishyasringa repaired to the forest in the fullness of time and spent their lives in mutual love and the worship of God. This is the hermitage where Rishyasringa. lived. Bathe in these waters and be purified." The Pandavas bathed there and performed their devotions.
IN the course of their wanderings, the Pandavas reached the hermitage of Raibhya on the banks of the Ganga.
Lomasa told them the story of the place: "This is the ghat where Bharata, the son of Dasaratha, bathed. These waters cleansed Indra of the sin of killing Vritra unfairly. Here also Sanatkumara became one with God. Aditi, the mother of the gods, offered oblations on this mountain and prayed to be blessed with a son. O Yudhishthira, ascend this holy mountain and the misfortunes, which have cast a cloud on your life, will vanish. Anger and passion will be washed off if you bathe in the running waters of this river."
Then Lomasa expatiated in greater detail on the sanctity of the place.
He began the story thus: "Yavakrida, the son of a sage, met with destruction in this very place."
He continued: "There lived in their hermitages two eminent brahmanas, named Bharadwaja and Raibhya, who were dear friends. Raibhya and his two sons, Paravasu and Arvavasu, learnt the Vedas and became famed scholars. Bharadwaja devoted himself wholly to the worship of God. He had a son named Yavakrida who saw with jealousy and hatred that the brahmanas did not respect his ascetic father as they did the learned Raibhya. Yavakrida practised hard penance to gain the grace of Indra. He tortured his body with austerities and thus awakened the compassion of Indra, who appeared and asked him why he so mortified his flesh."
Yavakrida replied: "I wish to be more learned in the Vedas than any has ever been before. I wish to be a great scholar. I am performing these austerities to realise that desire. It takes a long time and involves much hardship to learn the Vedas from a teacher. I am practising austerities to acquire that knowledge directly. Bless me."
Indra smiled and said: "O brahmana, you are on the wrong path. Return home, seek a proper preceptor and learn the Vedas from him. Austerity is not the way to learning. The path is study and study alone." With these words Indra vanished. But the son of Bharadwaja would not give up.
He pursued his course of austerities with even greater rigor, to the horror and the distress of the gods. Indra again manifested himself before Yavakrida and warned him again:
"You have taken the wrong path to acquire knowledge. You can acquire knowledge only by study. Your father learnt the Vedas by patient study and so can you. Go and study the Vedas. Desist from this vain mortification of the body."
Yavakrida did not heed even this second warning of Indra and announced defiantly that if his prayer were not granted, he would cut off his limbs one by one and offer them as oblations to the fire. No, he would never give up.
He continued his penance. One morning, during his austerities, when he went to bathe in the Ganga, be saw a gaunt old brahmana on the bank, laboriously throwing handfuls of sand into the water.
Yavakrida asked: "Old man, what are you doing?" The old man replied: "I am going to build a dam across this river. When, with handful after handful, I have built a dam of sand here, people can cross the river with ease. See how very difficult it is at present to cross it. Useful work, isn't it?"
Yavakrida laughed and said: "What a fool you must be to think you can build a dam across this mighty river with your silly handfuls of sand! Arise and take to some more useful work."
The old man said: "Is my project more foolish than yours of mastering the Vedas not by study but by austerities?" Yavakrida now knew that the old man was Indra. More humble this time, Yavakrida earnestly begged Indra to grant him learning as a personal boon.
Indra blessed, and comforted Yavakrida with the following words:
"Well, I grant you the boon you seek. Go and study the Vedas; you will become learned."
YAVAKRIDA studied the Vedas and became learned. He grew vain with the thought that he had acquired the knowledge of the Vedas through the boon of Indra and not through human tutelage.
Bharadwaja did not like this and feared that his son might ruin himself by slighting Raibhya. He thought it necessary to warm him. "The gods," he said, "grant boons to foolish people who persistently practise penances, as intoxicants are sold to fools for money. They lead to loss of self-control, and this leads to the warping of the mind and utter destruction." He illustrated his advice by the ancient tale, which is given below.
In olden times there was a celebrated sage named Baladhi. He had a son whose untimely death plunged him into grief. So, be practised rigorous penance to get a son who would never meet with death.
The gods told the sage that this could never be, for the human race was necessarily mortal, and there need must be a limit to human life. They asked him to name his own limit.
The sage replied: "In that case grant that the life of my son may persist as long as that mountain lasts." The boon was granted to him and he was duly blessed with a son named Medhavi.
Medhavi grew conceited at the thought that he was safe from death forever, since he would live as long as the mountain existed, and he behaved with arrogance towards all.
One day, this vain man showed disrespect to a great sage named Dhanushaksha. At once that sage cursed that he might be turned to ashes, but the curse took no effect on Medhavi who remained in perfect health.
Seeing this, the high-souled sage was puzzled and then remembered the gift Medhavi had been endowed with at birth. Dhanushaksha took the form of a wild buffalo and by the power of his penances butted at the mountain and broke it to pieces and Medhavi fell down dead.
Bharadwaja concluded the story with this solemn warning to his son: "Learn wisdom from this old story. Be not ruined by vanity. Cultivate self-restraint. Do not transgress the limits of good conduct and do not be disrespectful to the great Raibhya."
It was springtime. The trees and creepers were beautiful with flowers and the whole forest was gorgeous with color and sweet with the song of birds.
The very earth seemed to be under the spell of the god of love. Paravasu's wife was strolling alone in the garden near the hermitage of Raibhya. She appeared more than human, in the sweet union in her of beauty, courage and purity.
At that time Yavakrida came there and was so overwhelmed by her loveliness that he completely lost his sense and self-control and became as a ravening beast with lust.
He accosted her and taking brutal advantage of her fear and shame and bewilderment, he dragged her to a lonely pot and violated her person.
Raibhya returned to his hermitage. He saw his daughter in-law weeping, broken-hearted and inconsolable and learning of the shameful outrage perpetrated on her, he was seized with implacable anger. He plucked a hair from his bead and offered it to the fire reciting a mantra.
At once, a maiden, as beautiful as his daughter-in-law, emerged from the sacrificial fire.
The sage plucked another hair from his knotted lock and offered it as oblation. A terrible ghost rose from the fire. The sage commanded them to kill Yavakrida. Both of them bowed to the order.
While Yavakrida was performing the morning rites, the female spirit went near him and with smiles and allurements put him off his guard and as she ran away with his water-jug, the male ghost rushed on him with uplifted spear.
Yavakrida stood up in fear. Knowing that his mantras would be of no avail until he cleansed himself with water, he looked for his water-jug. When he found it missing, he rushed to a pond for water but the pond was dry. He went to nearby stream, which also dried up at his approach.
There was no water for him anywhere. The terrible fiend pursued him everywhere and Yavakrida fled for his life, with the demon hot on his heels. His sin had consumed the power of his vigils and fasts. At last, he sought refuge in the sacrificial hall of his father.
The half-blind man who was guarding the hermitage stopped him as be could not recognise Yavakrida as, distorted with mortal fear, he sought to force his way in. Meanwhile, the fiend overtook him and killed him with his spear.
When Bharadvaja returned to his hermitage, he came upon his son's corpse and concluded that disrespect to Raibhya must have led to this cruel fate.
"Alas! My child, you died of your pride and vanity. Was it not a great mistake that you tried to learn the Vedas in a way not resorted to by any brahmana? Why did you behave so as to be cursed thus? May Raibhya, who caused the death of my only son, be himself killed by one of his sons!" Thus, carried away by rage and grief the sage cursed Raibhya.
Regaining control soon, he exclaimed in anguish: "Alas! They alone are blessed who have no sons. I have not only lost my only son, but in the madness of my grief I have also cursed my friend and companion. What is the use of continuing my life?" He cremated his son's body and died by throwing himself on the funeral pyre.
KING Brihadyumna, a disciple of the sage Raibhya, performed a great sacrifice at which he requested his teacher to let his two sons Paravasu and Arvavasu officiate. With the permission of their father, both of them went joyfully to the capital of the king.
While arrangements were being made for the sacrifice, Paravasu desired one day to go and see his wife and, walking alone all night, he reached his hermitage before dawn. Near the hermitage, he saw in the twilight, what seemed to him a beast of prey crouching for a spring and, hurling his weapon at it, killed it.
But to his horror and grief, he discovered that he had killed his own father clad in skins, mistaking him for a wild denizen of the forest. He realised that the fatal mistake was the effect of the curse of Bharadwaja.
When he had hastily performed the funeral rites of his father, he went to Arvavasu and told him the doleful tale. He said: "But this mishap should not interfere with the sacrifice of the king. Please do the rites on my behalf in expiation of the sin I have unwittingly committed. There is, mercifully, atonement for sins committed in ignorance. If you can be my substitute here for undergoing the expiation I shall be able to go and assist in conducting the king's sacrifice. I can officiate unaided, which is a thing you cannot do as yet."
The virtuous brother agreed and said: "You may attend to the king's sacrifice. I shall do penance to free you from the terrible taint of having killed a father and a brahmana."
The virtuous Arvavasu, accordingly, took upon himself the expiatory rites on behalf of his brother. That done, he came to the court of the king to join his brother and assist in the sacrifice.
The sin of Paravasu was not washed off, since expiation cannot be by proxy. It tainted his mind with wicked designs.
Becoming jealous of the radiance on his brother's face, Paravasu decided to dishonor him by casting on him an unjustice as a person and accordingly, when Arvavasu entered the hall, Paravasu loudly exclaimed so that the king might hear:
"This man has committed the sin of killing a brahmana and how can he enter this holy sacrificial place?"
Arvavasu indignantly denied the accusation but none heeded him, and he was ignominiously expelled from that hall of sacrifice by the orders of the king.
Arvavasu repeatedly protested his innocence. "It is my brother who has committed the sin and even then it was through a mistake. I have saved him by performing expiatory rites."
This made matters worse for him for nobody believed that the expiation he had undergone was not for his own crime and everyone thought that he was adding false accusation against a blameless brother, to his other sins.
The virtuous Arvavasu who, besides being falsely accused of a monstrous crime, was also slandered as a liar, retreated to the forest in despair of finding justice in the world and betook himself to rigorous austerities.
The gods were gracious and asked him: "O virtuous soul, what is the boon you seek?" High thinking and deep meditation had in the meantime cleansed his heart of all anger at his brother's conduct; and so, he only prayed that his father might be restored to life and that his brother might be freed from wickedness and the sins that he had committed.
The gods granted his prayer.
Lomasa narrated this story to Yudhishthira at a place near Raibhya's hermitage and said: "O Pandavas, bathe here and wash off your passions in this holy river."
Arvavasu and Paravasu were both sons of a great scholar. Both of them learnt at his feet and became eminent scholars themselves.
But learning is one thing and virtue is quite another. It is true that one should know the difference between good and evil, if one is to seek good and shun evil. But this knowledge should soak into every thought and influence every act in one's life.
Then indeed knowledge becomes virtue. The knowledge that is merely so much undigested information crammed into the mind, cannot instill virtue.
It is just an outward show like our clothes and is no real part of us.
WHILE the Pandavas were wandering among holy places in the forest, they came one day to the hermitage of the personages immortalized in the Upanishads. Lomasa told Yudhishthira the story of that place.
Udalaka, a great sage and teacher of Vedanta, had a disciple named Kagola, who was virtuous and devoted but had no great learning. So, the other disciples used to laugh and mock at him.
Uddalaka, however, attached no great weight to his disciple's lack of erudition but really appreciated his virtues, devotion and good conduct and gave his daughter Sujata in marriage to him.
The couple was blessed with a son. A child generally inherits the characteristics of both the parents. But fortunately the grandson of Uddalaka took after his grandfather rather than his father and knew the Vedas even while he was in his mother's womb.
When Kagola made mistakes, as he often did in reciting the Vedas, the child in the womb would twist his body with pain, and so it came to pass that he had eight crooked bends in his body when he was born.
These crooked bends earned him the name of Ashtavakra, which means "Eight crooked bends." Kagola, one ill-fated day, provoked a polemical contest with Vandi, the court scholar of Mithila, and, having been defeated, was made to drown himself.
Meanwhile Ashtavakra grew up to be a towering scholar even in his boyhood, and at the age of twelve he had already completed his study of the Vedas and the Vedanta.
One day, Ashtavakra learnt that Janaka, the king of Mithila was performing a great sacrifice in the course of which the assembled scholars would, as usual, debate on the sastras.
Ashtavakra set out for Mithila, accompanied by his uncle Svetaketu. On their way to the place of sacrifice at Mithila, they came across the king and his retinue.
The attendants of the king marched in front shouting: "Move away. Make way for the King." Ashtavakra instead of moving out of the way said to the retainers:
"O royal attendants, even the king, if he is righteous, has to move and make way for the blind, the deformed, the fair sex, persons bearing loads and brahmanas learned in the Vedas. This is the rule enjoined by the scriptures."
The king, surprised at these wise words of the brahmana boy, accepted the justness of the rebuke and made way, observing to his attendants: "What this brahmana stripling says is true. Fire is fire whether it is tiny or big and it has the power to burn."
Ashtavakra and Svetaketu entered the sacrificial hall. The gatekeeper stopped them and said: "Boys cannot go in. Only old men learned in the Vedas may go into the sacrificial hall."
Ashtavakra replied: "We are not mere boys. We have observed the necessary vows and have learnt the Vedas. Those who have mastered the truths of the Vedanta will not judge another on mere considerations of age or appearance."
The gatekeeper said: "Stop. Have done with your idle brag. How can you, a mere boy, have learnt and realised the Vedanta?"
The boy said: "You mean I am not big like an over-grown gourd with no substance in it? Size is no indication of knowledge or worth, nor is age. A very tall old man may be a tall old fool. Let me pass."
The gatekeeper said: "You are certainly not old, nor tall, though you talk like all the hoary sages. Get out."
Ashtavakra replied: "Gatekeeper, Grey hairs do not prove the ripeness of the soul. The really mature man is the one who has learnt the Vedas and the Vedangas, mastered their gist and realised their essence. I am here to meet the court pandit Vandi. Inform King Janaka of my desire."
At that moment the king himself came there and easily recognized Ashtavakra, the precociously wise boy he had met before.
The king asked: "Do you know that my court pandit Vandi has overthrown in argument many great scholars in the past and caused them to be cast into the ocean? Does that not deter you from this dangerous adventure?"
Ashtavakra replied: "Your eminent scholar has not hitherto encountered men like me who are proficient in the Vedas on Vedanta. He has become arrogant and vain with easy victories over good men who were not real scholars. I have come here to repay the debt due on account of my father, who was defeated by this man and made to drown himself, as I have heard from my mother. I have no doubt I shall vanquish Vandi, whom you will see crumple up like a broken-wheeled cart. Please summon him."
Ashtavakra met Vandi. They took up a debatable thesis and started an argument, each employing his utmost learning and wits to confound the other. And in the end the assembly unanimously declared the victory of Ashtavakra and the defeat of Vandi.
The court pandit of Mithila bowed his head and paid the forfeit by drowning himself in the ocean and going to the abode of Varuna.Then the spirit of Kagola, the father of Ashtavakra, gained peace and joy in the glory of his son.
The author of the epic instructs us through these words put in Kagola's mouth: "A son need not be like his father. A father who is physically weak may have a very strong son and an ignorant father may have a scholarly son. It is wrong to acesess the greatness of a man on his physical appearance or age. External appearances are deceptive." Which shows that the unlearned Kagola was not devoid of common sense.
DRAUPADI used to complain frequently: "This Kamyaka forest is not beautiful without Arjuna. I find no joy in life in the absence of Arjuna."
The other Pandavas shared Draupadi's wretchedness at separation from Arjuna, who had gone to the Himalayas in quest of divine weapons.
Bhimasena told Draupadi: "Blessed lady, I myself feel the same about Arjuna and what you say makes me thrill with love and sympathy. Bereft of Arjuna, this beautiful forest seems desolate. My mind can know no peace without seeing Arjuna. Sahadeva, how do you feel?"
Sahadeva said: "This hermitage seems to be empty without Arjuna. We shall try whether a change of scene will help us to bear the pain of separation better."
Yudhishthira addressing his priest Dhaumya said: "I have sent my younger brother Arjuna to win divine weapons. That dauntless and dexterous hero has not yet returned. We have sent him to the Himalayas to get from Indra, the king of gods, weapons with which we could conquer Bhishma, Drona, Kripa and Aswatthama, since it is certain that these heroes will fight on the side of the sons of Dhritarashtra. Karna knows the secret of divine weapons, and his supreme wish is to fight with Arjuna. I have sent Arjuna to gain Indra's grace and get weapons from him as the Kaurava heroes can be defeated by no other means. Having sent him on a very difficult errand, we cannot live here happily, for we miss him in all our accustomed haunts. I wish to go elsewhere, for that may enable us to bear the separation better. Can you suggest where we could go?"
Dhaumya described many forests and holy places. The Pandavas went the round of those places to relieve themselves to some extent from the pangs of separation.
They spent many years in this pilgrimage and in listening to the traditions, which sanctified each shrine. Draupadi would often feel exhausted by having to traverse mountains and forests. Bhima, sometimes helped by his son Ghalotkacha, would serve and encourage them and make their labors easy.
In the course of their wanderings through the Himalayan regions they came to a terrible forest where the path was rugged and steep.
Yudhishthira was worried and told Bhima that the way would greatly distress Draupadi but that he himself would go on accompanied by Nakula and the sage Lomasa.
He suggested that Bhima and Sahadeva should stay behind at Gangadwara with Draupadi. Bhima would not agree. He said that the pain of separation from Arjuna ought to have taught his brother how much he would suffer if he were parted from Sahadeva, Draupadi and Bhima.
Besides, Bhima could not leave Yudhishthira alone in this forest infested with Rakshasas, demons and wild animals. The way was hard, but he could easily carry Draupadi across the most difficult parts of it. He could carry Nakula and Sahadeva also.
When Bhima said these words, Yudhishthira embraced him and blessed him and wished him an increase of physical strength. Draupadi smiled and said, addressing Yudhishthira: "No one need carry me. I can walk. Do not be anxious about me."
They reached Kulinda, the kingdom of Subahu, on the Himalayas. They accepted the honors rendered to them by that king and rested there awhile. Later on, they went to the charming forest of Narayanasrama and halted there.
One day, a breeze that blew from the northeast wafted a beautiful flower near Draupadi. Draupadi took it in her hands and was so charmed with its fragrance and beauty that she showed it rapturously to Bhima.
"Come and see this flower. What a sweet fragrance! How charming! I shall hand this over to Yudhishthira. Bring some flowers of this kind. We should grow this plant in our Kamyaka forest." Draupadi ran to give the flower to Yudhishthira.
Anxious to please his beloved Draupadi, Bhima went in quest of that plant. He went alone in the direction from which the fragrance seemed to be borne by the breeze, without wasting a thought on the wild beasts that crossed his path.
He presently came to a garden of plantain trees at the foot of a mountain, and there he saw a huge monkey shining like blazing fire, which lay right across his path blocking it.
He tried to frighten the animal out of his way by shouting at it. It only half opened its eyes lazily and drawled: "I am indisposed and so I am lying here. Why lid you wake me? You are a wise human being and I am mere animal. It is proper that the rational man should show mercy to animals as interior creatures. I am afraid you are ignorant of right and wrong. Who are you? Whither are you bound? It is not possible to go further along this mountain path which is the path of the gods. Men cannot cross this limit. Eat what you like of the fruits of this place and if you are wise, go back in peace."
Bhima, unused to being taken so lightly, grew angry and shouted: "Who are you, yourself, you monkey, that indulges in such tall talk? I am a kshatriya hero, a descendant of the Kuru race and a son of Kunti. Know that I am the son of the Wind god. Now move away from the path or stop me at your peril."
Hearing these words the monkey merely smiled and said: "I am, as you say, a monkey, but you will come to destruction if you try to force a way."
Bhima said: "I do not want your advice and it is no concern of yours if I go to destruction. Get up and move out of the way or I will make you."
The monkey replied: "I have no strength to stand up, being but a very old monkey. If you have to go at any cost, jump over me."
Bhima said: "Nothing could be easier but the scriptures forbid it. Otherwise I should jump over you and the mountain in one bound, like Hanuman crossing the ocean."
The monkey remarked as though in surprise: "O best of men, who is that Hanuman who crossed the ocean? If you know his story, enlighten me."
Bhima roared and said: "Have you not heard of Hanuman, my elder brother, who crossed the ocean, a hundred yojanas in breadth, to seek and find Sita, the wife of Rama? I am equal to him in strength and heroism. Well, that is enough talk, now get up and make way and do not provoke me to do you some harm."
The monkey answered: "O mighty hero, be patient. Be gentle as you are strong, and have mercy on the old and weak. I have no strength to rise up as I am decrepit with age. Since you have scruples in jumping over me, kindly move aside my tail and make a path for yourself."
Proud of his immense strength, Bhima thought to pull the monkey out of the way by its tail. But, to his amazement he could not move it in the least, though he exerted all his strength.
He set his jaws and strained every muscle till the very sinews cracked and he was covered with perspiration. But, still, could not move that tail the least, a little bit up or down or sideways. In shame, he bent down his head, and then asked in a chastened mood:
"Who are you? Forgive me and reveal to me whether you are a Siddha, god or Gandharva." Bhima like most strong men, was all respect when he saw one stronger than himself, and spoke like a pupil addressing his master.
Hanuman replied: "O mighty-armed Pandava, know that I am your brother, even that Hanuman, the son of the Wind god, whom you mentioned a little while ago. If you go on this path, which is the road to the spirit-world where the Yakshas and the Rakshasas abide, you will meet with danger and that is why I stop you. No man can go beyond this and live. But here is the stream with its depths where you can find the Saugandhika plant you came to seek."
Bhima was transported with delight: "I count myself the most fortunate of men in that I have been blessed to meet my brother. I wish to see the form in which you crossed the ocean," and he prostrated before Hanuman.
Hanuman smiled and began to increase the size of his body and stood forth firmly to the world like a mountain seeming to fill the landscape.
Bhima was thrilled at actually seeing that divine form of this elder brother, the mere description of which had till then filled him with wonder. He covered his eyes, unable to bear the dazzling light radiating from that figure.
Hanuman said: "Bhima, in the presence of my enemies, my body can grow still more." And Hanuman contracted his body, resuming his former size. He tenderly embraced Bhimasena.
Bhagavan Vyasa says that Bhima felt completely refreshed and became much stronger than before by the embrace of Hanuman.
Hanuman said: "O hero, go to your abode. Think of me whenever you are in need. I felt the same delight when I embraced you that I had in times of yore when I was fortunate enough to touch the divine body of Sri Rama. Ask any boon that you like."
Bhima said: "Blessed are the Pandavas for I have had the good fortune to see you. Inspired with your strength we are sure to conquer our enemies."
Hanuman gave this parting blessing to his brother:
"While you roar like a lion in the battlefield, my voice shall join yours and strike terror into the hearts of your enemies. I shall be present on the flag of the chariot of your brother Arjuna. You will be victorious."
Hanuman pointed out to Bhima the stream nearby, where grew the Saugandhika flowers he had come to seek.
This put Bhima at once in mind of Draupadi who was waiting for his return, and he collected the flowers and returned to her without delay.
ONCE the sage Markandeya came to see the Pandavas. Yudhishthira happened to talk of the virtues of the fair sex and said:
"What greater wonder is there in this world than the patience and the chastity of woman? She gives birth to a child after cherishing it in her womb as dearer than life itself. She brings it into the world inpain and anxiety and thence forward her one thought is for its health and happiness. Large hearted and forgiving, a woman forgives and continues to love even a wicked husband who neglects and hates and subjects her to all sorts of miseries. How strange!"
Hearing this Markandeya told him a sacred story.
There was once a brahmana, named Kausika who observed his vow of brahmacharya. with great steadfastness and devotion.
One day, he sat under a tree reciting the Vedas. A crane, perched on the top of the tree, defiled his head with its droppings. He looked up at it, and his angry look killed the bird and it fell down dead.
The brahmana was pained when he saw the dead bird lying on the ground.
How frightful it would be if wishes fulfilled themselves, if each hasty or angry wish took effect at once! How much there would be to regret or repent afterwards! It is lucky for us that wishes depend onoutward circumstances for accomplishment, since that saves us from much sin and sorrow.
Kausika sorrowed that the evil thought that passed in his mind in a moment of anger had killed an innocent bird. Some time later, he went as usual to beg alms.
He stood before the door of a house to receive his dole. The housewife was cleansing utensils at that time. Kausika waited in the hope that she would attend to him after her work was over.
In the meantime the master of the house returned, tired and hungry, and the wife had to attend to his wants, wash and dry his feet and serve him with food.
In this preoccupation she seemed to have forgotten the mendicant waiting outside. After her husband had been cared for and fed, she came out with alms to the mendicant.
She said: "I am sorry to have kept you waiting long. Pardon me."
Kausika, burning with anger, said: "Lady, you have made me wait for such a long time. This indifference is not fair."
The woman told the brahmana: "Best of brahmanas, kindly do forgive me. I was serving my husband and hence the delay."
The brahmana remarked: "It is right and proper to attend on the husband, but the brahmana also should not be disregarded. You seem an arrogant woman."
She said: "Be not angry with me and remember that I kept you waiting only because I was dutifully serving my husband. I am no crane to be killed by a violent thought and your rage can do no harm to the woman who devotes herself to the service of her husband."
The brahmana was taken aback. He wondered how the woman knew of the crane incident.
She continued: "O great one, you do not know the secret of duty, and you are also not aware that anger is the greatest enemy that dwells in man. Forgive the delay in attending to you. Go to Mithila and be instructed in the secret of good life by Dharmavyadha living in that city."
The brahmana was amazed. He said: "I deserve your just admonition and it will do me good. May all good attend you." With these words he went to Mithila.
Kausika reached Mithila and looked for Dharmavyadha's residence, which he thought would be some lonely hermitage far from the noise and bustle of common life.
He walked along magnificent roads between beautiful houses and gardens in that great city and finally reached a butcher's shop, in which was a man selling meat. His amazement was great when he learnt that this man was Dharmavyadha.
The brahmana was shocked beyond measure and stood at a distance in disgust. The butcher suddenly rose from his seat, came to the brahmana and inquired: "Revered sir, are you well? Did that chaste brahmana lady send you to me?"
The brahmana was stupefied.
"Revered sir, I know why you have come. Let us go home," said the butcher and he took the brahmana to his house where he saw a happy family and was greatly struck by the devotion with which the butcher served his parents.
Kausika took his lessons from that butcher on dharma, man's calling and duty. Afterwards, the brahmana returned to his house and began to tend his parents, a duty, which he had rather neglected before.
The moral of this striking story of Dharmavyadha so skillfully woven by Vedavyasa into the Mahabharata, is the same as the teaching of the Gita. Man reaches perfection by the honest pursuit of whatever calling falls to his lot in life, and that this is really worship of God who created and pervades all. (Bhagavad Gita, XVIII, 45-46)
The occupation may be one he is born to in society or it may have been forced on him by circumstances or be may have taken it up by choice. But what really matters is the spirit of sincerity and faithfulness with which be does his life's work.
Vedavyasa emphasizes this great truth by making a scholarly brahmana, who did not know it, learn it from a butcher, who lived it in his humble and despised life.
MANY brahmanas visited the Pandavas during their exile. And one such, returning to Hastinapura, went to see Dhritarashtra, who received him with due honor.
The brahmana told him how the Pandavas, born princes, were, by unkind destiny, at the mercy of the wind and the sun and suffered great privations.
Dhritarashtra was probably sorry to hear this. But what troubled him most were the consequences to his own sons. Could Yudhishthira continue to hold the justly wrathful Bhima in check?
Dhritarashtra feared that the anger of the Pandavas, long pent up, might one day break its bounds and overflow in a devastating flood.
The king anxiously pondered thus: "Arjuna and Bhima will certainly try to punish us. Sakuni, Karna, Duryodhana and the short-sighted Duhsasana are perched precariously up a tree in search of a honeycomb while below is the abyss of Bhima's anger yawning to receive them to their destruction."
The blind king pursued his thought: "Alas, why did we become a prey to covetousness? It is not as though poverty drove us to it! Why did we take to the path of injustice? Instead of enjoying our boundless wealth in contentment we succumbed to lust of power and possession and coveted what was not ours. Wrong cannot but yield its bitter harvest! Arjuna has returned from heaven with divine weapons. What could tempt one back to earth from heaven but the craving for vengeance? And we have earned it!" These thoughts would haunt and give him no peace.
Though Dhritarashtra was thus worried, Sakuni, Karna and Duryodhana were giddily happy and found much pleasure in exulting congratulation of one another on their prosperity.
Karna and Sakuni said to Duryodhana: "The kingdom which was in the hands of Yudhishthira has become ours. We need no longer burn with jealousy."
Duryodhana replied: "O Karna, all that is true, but would it not be a joy of joys to see with my own eyes the sufferings of the Pandavas and bring their sorrow to a climax by a display of our happiness? The only way to perfect our happiness is to go to the forest and see the distress of the Pandavas, but my father will refuse permission," and Duryodhana shed tears at his father's cruelty in denying him this pleasure.
He said again: "The king fears the Pandavas, as he thinks that they are endowed with the power of austerities. He forbids us to go to the forest and meet them, lest danger should befall us. But I tell you, all we have done so far is labor lost, without a sight of the sufferings of Draupadi, Bhima and Arjuna in the forest. This life of idle ease is torment to me without that great joy. Sakuni and yourself must seek a way of obtaining the king's consent for us to go to the forest and see the Pandavas in their misery."
Early next morning, Karna went to Duryodhana with a cheerful face and announced that he had found a way out of the difficulty.
He said: "What do you think of going to our ranches at Dwaitavana for the annual stock-taking of the cows? The king certainly cannot object to that." Sakuni and Duryodhana applauded this bright idea and sent the leader of the cowherds to the king to secure his permission.
But the king would not assent. He said: "Hunting is indeed beneficial to the princes. It is also desirable to take stock of the cows. But I learn that the Pandavas are dwelling in that forest. It is not advisable for you to go there. I cannot agree to send you to a place near the abode of Bhima and Arjuna while there is still occasion for anger and strife."
Duryodhana said: "We shall not go near them. On the contrary we shall be very careful and avoid them." The king answered:
"However careful you may be, there is danger in mere nearness. Also, it is not right to intrude on the sorrows of the Pandavas in their forest life. Anyone of your soldiers might trespass and give offence, which may lead to trouble. Someone else can go in your stead to count the cattle."
Sakuni said: "O king, Yudhishthira knows and follows the path of dharma. He has given his promise in the open assembly and the Pandavas will follow his bidding. The sons of Kunti will not show any enmity towards us. Do not oppose Duryodhana who is fond of hunting. Let him return after taking stock of the cows. I shall also accompany him and see to it that none of us go anywhere near the Pandavas."
The king, over-persuaded as usual, said: "Well, please yourselves." A heart full of hate can know no contentment. Hate is a cruel fire, which extorts the fuel, on which it lives and grows.
THE Kauravas reached Dwaitavana with a great army and many followers. Duryodhana and Karna went with unconcealed joy at the very thought of being able to gloat on the sad plight of the Pandavas.
They themselves camped in luxurious rest houses in a place four miles off the abode of the Pandavas. They inspected the herds of cows and took stock of them.
After counting the cows, bulls and calves, they enjoyed the dance, the hunt, the sylvan sports and other entertainment’s arranged for them.
While hunting, Duryodhana and his party reached an attractive pond near the hermitage of the Pandavas and ordered a camp to be put on its bank.
Chitrasena, the king of the Gandharvas, and his attendants had already encamped in the neighborhood of the pool and they prevented Duryodhana's men from putting up their camp.
They returned to Duryodhana and represented that some petty prince who was there with his followers was giving them trouble.
Duryodhana was annoyed at this presumption and directed his men to turn the Gandharva prince out and put up the tents. The attendants returned to the lake and tried to carry out their orders but found the Gandharvas too many for them and had to retreat in precipitation.
When Duryodhana came to know of this, he grew very angry and with a large army marched to destroy the audacious enemies who had dared to resist his pleasure. A great fight ensued between the Gandharvas and Duryodhana's army.
At first the fight went in favor of the Kauravas. But the tables were quickly turned when Chitrasena, the king of the Gandharvas, rallied his troops and began using his magic weapons.
Karna and the other Kaurava heroes lost their chariots and weapons and had to retreat in haste and ignominy. Duryodhana alone remained in the battlefield but he was soon seized by Chitrasena, who placed him in his chariot bound hand and foot, and blew his conch in token of victory.
The Gandharvas took many of the prominent Kauravas captive. The Kaurava army fled in all directions and some of the fugitives took refuge in the hermitage of the Pandavas.
Bhima heard the news of Duryodhana's defeat and capture with delight and amusement. He said to Yudhishthira: "These Gandharvas have done our job for us. Duryodhana, who must have come here to mock at us, has got what he deserved. I feel like thanking our Gandharva friend!"
But Yudhishthira reproved him: "Dear brother, this is not the time for you to rejoice. The Kauravas are our kith and kin and their humiliation, at the hands of strangers, is ours. We cannot hold back and take this lying down. We must rescue them."
Bhima did not think this very reasonable. He said: "Why should we save this sinner who tried to burn us alive in the wax house? Why should you feel sorry for the fellow who poisoned my food, bound me hand and foot and wanted to drown me in the river? What brotherly feeling can we really have towards these vile wretches who hauled Draupadi by the hair to theassembly and disgraced her?"
At that moment a cry of agony from Duryodhana reached them faintly from the distance and Yudhishthira, greatly moved, overruled Bhima's objection and bade his brothers go to the rescue of the Kauravas.
Obedient to his behest, Bhima and Arjuna rallied the routed Kaurava forces and offered battle to the Gandharvas. But Chitrasena had no wish to fight with the Pandavas and at their approach, released Duryodhana and the other prisoners saying that all he wanted was to teach a lesson to these arrogant Kauravas.
The dishonored Kauravas returned in haste to Hastinapura, with Karna, who, having been, driven off the battlefield, joined them on the way.
Duryodhana, in great shame and dejection, felt it would have been far better if be had been killed by Chitrasena and announced his wish to fast unto death.
He said to Duhsasana: "Be crowned and rule the kingdom. I can no longer continue to live after having become a laughing stock to my enemies."
Duhsasana protested his unworthiness to be king and caught hold of his brother's feet and wept. Karna could not bear the sight of the brother's sorrow.
Karna said: "This does not befit heroes of the Kuru race. What is the use of just collapsing under sorrow? It will but make your enemies happy. Look at the Pandavas. They have not taken to fasts in spite of the disgrace they have suffered."
Sakuni interposed and said: "Listen to Karna's words. Why do you say that you would give up your life when the kingdom seized from the Pandavas is yours to enjoy? Fasting serves no purpose, for if you really repent of what you have done till now, you should make friends with the Pandavas and give them back their kingdom."
When Duryodhana heard this speech, his evil nature regained ascendancy, for giving back the kingdom to the Pandavas was to him a hundred times worse than defeat or disgrace. He shouted: "I shall conquer the Pandavas."
Karna said: "That is the way for a king to talk."
And he added: "What sense is there in dying? You can do something worthwhile only if you are alive."
While returning home, Karna said: "I swear to you by all that is holy that, when the stipulated period of thirteen years is over, I will kill Arjuna in battle." And then he touched his sword in token of the oath.
WHILE the Pandavas were dwelling in the forest, Duryodhana celebrated a great sacrifice with much pomp and splendor.
He wanted to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice, but the brahmanas told him that he could not do that while Yudhishthira and Dhritarashtra were alive and advised him to perform the sacrifice known as the Vaishnava instead.
He accepted this advice and celebrated the Vaishnava with great splendor. But when the ceremony was over, the citizens began to talk among themselves that Duryodhana's sacrifice had not come up to even a sixteenth part of Yudhishthira's Rajasuya in magnificence.
The friends of Duryodhana, on the other hand, praised him and the sacrifice he had celebrated and likened it to those performed by Yayati, Mandhata, Bharata and others.
Court flatterers were not sparing with their praise. Karna told Duryodhana that his Rajasuya had been only postponed till the Pandavas should be defeated and slain in battle and repeated that his part would be the slaying of Arjuna.
"Till I have slain Arjuna," said he, "I shall not take meat or wine, nor will I refuse the prayer of anyone who asks me for anything." Such was the solemn vow taken by Karna in the assembly.
The sons of Dhritarashtra were delighted to hear this vow of the great hero Karna and shouted in joy. They felt as if the Pandavas had been slain already.
Spies conveyed to the Pandavas in the forest the news of the oath taken by Karna. Yudhishthira was greatly concerned, for he had a great opinion of Karna's prowess.
Karna had been born with divine armor and was undoubtedly a mighty hero. One morning, just before the hour of awakening, Yudhishthira had a dream.
Many of our dreams come either in the beginning or at the end of our sleep. He dreamt that the wild beasts of the forest came and appealed to him piteously not to destroy them altogether, but to move on to some other forest.
Duryodhana felt sure that the Pandavas, who themselves lived from hand to mouth in the forest, would be unable to feed or entertain the sage and his following, and would incur some dreadful curse from that too hasty visitor for their want of hospitality. This would give him greater joy than any benefit he could have asked for himself when the sage offered a boon. Durvasa went with his disciples to the Pandavas as was desired by Duryodhana, as the latter were resting after their midday meal.
The brothers welcomed the sage, saluted and honored him. Then the sage said: "We shall be back soon. Our meals must be ready then, for we are hungry," and hurried off with his disciples to the river.
As a result of the austerities of Yudhishthira at the beginning of their stay in the forest, the Sun god had given him the Akshayapatra, a wonderful vessel that held a never-failing supply of food.
In making the gift, the god had said, "Through this I shall place at your disposal for twelve years as much food as is required for your daily consumption.
Not till everyone has been served and Draupadi herself has taken her share will the vessel become empty for the day."
Accordingly, the brahmanas and other guests would be served first. Afterwards the Pandava brothers would take their meals. Finally, Draupadi would have her share.
When Durvasa reached the place, all of them, including Draupadi, had eaten their meals and so the vessel was empty and denuded of its power for the day.
Draupadi was greatly troubled and perfectly at a loss to find food when the sage and his disciples should return after their ablutions. In the kitchen, she prayed earnestly to Sri Krishna to come to her aid in this hopeless predicament and deliver her from the wrath of the sage.
At once Sri Krishna appeared before her. "I am very hungry," he said, "bring without delay something to eat and we shall speak of other things afterwards."
Here was a pretty pass. It looked as though the ally from whom she hoped for relief had gone over to the foe! She cried out in great confusion: "Alas! Why do you try me thus, O Krishna? The power of the vessel given by the Sun is exhausted for the day. And the sage Durvasa has come. What shall I do? The sage and his disciples will soon be here and as though this were not enough, you have also come at this juncture saying that you are hungry."
Sri Krishna said: "I am terribly hungry and want food, not excuses. Fetch the vessel and let me see for myself." Draupadi brought it to him. A tiny bit of cooked vegetable and a grain of rice were sticking to the rim of the vessel.
Sri Krishna ate them with satisfaction, accepting them as Sri Hari, the Soul of the Universe. Draupadi was filled with shame at her slovenliness in not having cleaned the vessel free of all remnants. A bit had been left which had been partaken by Vasudeva!
Sri Krishna seemed replete with satisfaction after eating his solitary grain and calling Bhima, told him to go to the river and intimate to the revered sage that food was ready and waiting for them.
Bhimasena, greatly puzzled, but full of faith in Sri Krishna, hastened to the river where Durvasa and his followers were bathing.
They were in great surprise to find that their ravenous hunger had given place to a pleased satiety. They had all the comfortable cheerfulness of people who had feasted well.
The disciples told the sage: "We have come here after asking Yudhishthira to prepare food for us, but we feel well-fed and full and cannot eat anything more."
Durvasa knew what it was and he told Bhima: "We have taken our meals. Tell Yudhishthira to forgive us." Then the party went away.
The explanation is that as the whole universe is contained in Sri Krishna, his satisfaction with a single grain of rice satisfied for the time the hunger of all beings including the sage.
THE stipulated period of twelve years was drawing to a close.
One day, a deer was rubbing itself against a poor brahmana's fire-kindling mortar and as it turned to go, the mortar got entangled in its horns and the affrighted animal fled wildly with it into the forest.
In those days matches were unknown and fire was kindled with pieces of wood by mechanical friction.
"Alas! The deer is running away with my fire-kindler. How can I perform the fire sacrifice?" shouted the brahmana and rushed towards the Pandavas for help in his extremity.
The Pandavas pursued the animal but it was a magic deer, which sped in great leaps and bounds, decoying the Pandavas far into the forest and then disappeared. Worn out by the futile chase, the Pandavas sat in great dejection under a banyan tree.
Nakula sighed: "We cannot render even this trifling service to the brahmana. How we have degenerated!" said he sadly.
Bhima said: "Quite so. When Draupadi was dragged into the assembly, we should have killed those wretches. Is it not because we did not do so that we have had to suffer all these sorrows?" and he looked at Arjuna sadly.
Arjuna agreed. "I bore in silence the vulgar and insulting brag of that son of the charioteer, doing nothing. So we have deservedly fallen into this pitiable state."
Yudhishthira noticed with sorrow that all of them had lost their cheerfulness and courage. He thought they would be more cheerful with something to do. He was tormented with thirst and so he said to Nakula: "Brother, climb that tree and see whether there is any pool or river nearby."
Nakula climbed the tree, looked around and said: "At a little distance I see water plants and cranes. There must certainly be water there."
Yudhishthira sent him to fetch some to drink.
Nakula was glad when he got to the place and saw there was a pool. He was very thirsty himself and so thought of quenching his thirst first before taking water in his quiver for his brother. But no sooner did he dip his hand in the transparent water than he heard a voice, which said:
"Do not be rash. This pool belongs to me. O son of Madri, answer my questions and then drink the water."
Nakula was surprised, but carried away by his intense thirst and heedless of the warning, he drank the water. At once, overcome by irresistible drowsiness, he fell down, to all appearance dead.
Surprised that Nakula had not returned, Yudhishthira sent Sahadeva to see what the matter was. When Sahadeva reached the pool and saw his brother lying on the ground, he wondered whether any harm had come to him. But before looking into the matter further, rushed irresistibly to the water to quench his burning thirst.
The voice was heard again: "O Sahadeva, this is my pool. Answer my questions and then only may you quench your thirst."
Like Nakula, Sahadeva also did not heed the warning. He drank the water and at once dropped down.
Puzzled and worried that Sahadeva also did not return, Yudhishthira sent Arjuna to see whether the brothers had met with any danger. "And bring water," he added, for he was very thirsty.
Arjuna went swiftly. He saw both his brothers lying dead near the pool. He was shocked at the sight and felt that they must have been killed by some lurking foe.
Though heart-broken with grief and burning with the desire for revenge, he felt all feelings submerged in a monstrous thirst, which irresistibly impelled him to the fatal pool. Again, a voice was heard: "Answer my question before you drink the water. This pool is mine. If you disobey me, you will follow your brothers."
Arjuna's anger knew no bounds. He cried: "Who are you? Come and stand up to me, and I will kill you," and he shot keen-edged arrows in the direction of the voice. The invisible being laughed in scorn: "Your arrows do but wound the air. Answer my questions and then you can satisfy your thirst. If you drink the water without doing so, you will die."
Greatly vexed, Arjuna made up his mind to seek out and grapple with this elusive foe. But first he had to quench his terrible thirst. Yes, thirst was the enemy he must kill first. So he drank the water and also fell down dead.
After anxious waiting Yudhishthira turned to Bhima: "Dear brother, Arjuna, the great hero, has also not yet returned. Something terrible must have happened to our brothers, for our stars are bad. Please seek them out and be quick about it. Also bring water, for I die of thirst." Bhima, racked with anxiety, hurried away without a word.
His grief and rage can be imagined when he saw his three brothers lying there dead. He thought: "This is certainly the work of the Yakshas. I will hunt them down and kill them. But O! I am so thirsty, I shall first drink water the better to fight them." And then he descended into the pool.
The voice shouted: "Bhimasena, beware. You may drink only after answering my questions. You will die if you disregard my words."
"Who are you to dictate to me?" cried Bhima, and he drank the water avidly, glaring around in defiance. And as he did so, his great strength seemed to slip from him like a garment. And he also fell dead among his brothers.
Alone, Yudhishthira wailed full of anxiety and thirst. "Have they been subjected to a curse or are they wandering about in the forest in a vain search for water or have they fainted or died of thirst?"
Unable to bear these thoughts and driven desperate by an overpowering thirst, he started out to look for his brothers and the pool.
Yudhishthira proceeded in the direction his brothers had taken through tracts infested with wild boar and abounding in spotted dear and huge forest birds. Presently he came upon a beautiful green meadow, girdling a pool of pellucid water, nectar to his eyes.
But when he saw his brothers lying there like sacred flagpoles thrown pell-mell after a festival, unable to restrain his grief, he lifted his voice and wept. He stroked the faces of Bhima and Arjuna as they lay so still and silent there and mourned:
"Was this to be the end of all our vows? Just when our exile is about to end, you have been snatched away. Even the gods have forsaken me in my misfortune!"
As he looked at their mighty limbs, now so helpless, he sadly wondered who could have been powerful enough to kill them. Brokenly, he reflected: "Surely my heart must be made of steel not to break even after seeing Nakula and Sahadeva dead. For what purpose should I continue to live in this world?"
Then a sense of mystery overcame him, for this could be no ordinary occurrence. The world held no warriors who could overcome his brothers. Besides, there were no wounds on their bodies which could have let out life and their faces were faces of men who slept in peace and not of those who died in wrath.
There was also no trace of the footprints of an enemy. There was surely some magic about it. Or, could it be a trick played by Duryodhana? Might he not have poisoned the water? Then Yudhishthira also descended into the pool, in his turn drawn to the water by a consuming thirst.
At once the voice without form warned as before: "Your brothers died because they did not heed my words. Do not follow them. Answer my questions first and then quench your thirst. This pool is mine."
Yudhishthira knew that these could be none other than the words of a Yaksha and guessed what had happened to his brothers. He saw a possible way of redeeming the situation.
He said to the bodiless voice: "Please ask your questions." The voice put questions rapidly one after another.
The Yaksha asked: "What makes sun shine every day?"
Yudhishthira replied: "The power of Brahman."
The Yaksha asked: "What rescues man in danger?"
Yudhishthira replied: "Courage is man's salvation in danger."
The Yaksha asked: "By the study of which science does man become wise?"
Yudhishthira replied: "Not by studying any sastra does man become wise. It is by association with the great in wisdom that he gets wisdom."
The Yaksha asked: "What is more nobly sustaining than the earth?"
Yudhishthira replied: "The mother who brings up the children she has borne is nobler and more sustaining than the earth."
The Yaksha asked: "What is higher than the sky?"
Yudhishthira replied: "The father."
The Yaksha asked: "What is fleeter than wind?"
Yudhishthira replied: "Mind."
The Yaksha asked: "What is more blighted than withered straw?"
Yudhishthira replied: "A sorrow-stricken heart."
The Yaksha asked: "What befriends a traveller?"
Yudhishthira replied: "Learning."
The Yaksha asked: "Who is the friend of one who stays at home?"
Yudhishthira replied: "The wife."
The Yaksha asked: "Who accompanies a man in death?"
Yudhishthira replied: "Dharma. That alone accompanies the soul in its solitary journey after death."
The Yaksha asked: "Which is the biggest vessel?"
Yudhishthira replied: "The earth, which contains all within itself is the greatest vessel."
The Yaksha asked: "What is happiness?"
Yudhishthira replied: "Happiness is the result of good conduct."
The Yaksha asked: "What is that, abandoning which man becomes loved by all?"
Yudhishthira replied: "Pride, for abandoning that man will be loved by all."
The Yaksha asked: "What is the loss which yields joy and not sorrow?"
Yudhishthira replied: "Anger, giving it up, we will no longer subject to sorrow."
The Yaksha asked: "What is that, by giving up which, man becomes rich?"
Yudhishthira replied: "Desire, getting rid of it, man becomes wealthy."
The Yaksha asked: "What makes one a real brahmana? Is it birth, good conduct or learning? Answer decisively."
Yudhishthira replied: "Birth and learning do not make one a brahmana. Good conduct alone does. However learned a person may be he will not be a brahmana if he is a slave to bad habits. Even though he may be learned in the four Vedas, a man of bad conduct falls to a lower class."
The Yaksha asked: "What is the greatest wonder in the world?"
Yudhishthira replied: "Every day, men see creatures depart to Yama's abode and yet, those who remain seek to live forever. This verily is the greatest wonder."
Thus, the Yaksha posed many questions and Yudhishthira answered them all.
In the end the Yaksha asked: "O king, one of your dead brothers can now be revived. Whom do you want revived? He shall come back to life."
Yudhishthira thought for a moment and then replied: "May the cloud-complexioned, lotus-eyed, broad-chested and long-armed Nakula, lying like a fallen ebony tree, arise."
The Yaksha was pleased at this and asked Yudhishthira: "Why did you choose Nakula in preference to Bhima who has the strength of sixteen thousand elephants? I have heard that Bhima is most dear to you. And why not Arjuna, whose prowess in arms is your protection? Tell me why you chose Nakula rather than either of these two."
Yudhishthira replied: "O Yaksha, dharma is the only shield of man and not Bhima or Arjuna. If dharma is set at naught, man will be ruined. Kunti and Madri were the two wives of my father. I am surviving, a son of Kunti, and so, she is not completely bereaved. In order that the scales of justice may be even, I ask that Madri's son Nakula may revive." The Yaksha was pleased with Yudhishthira's impartiality and granted that all his brothers would come back to life.
It was Yama, the Lord of Death, who had taken the form of the deer and the Yaksha so that he might see his son Yudhishthira and test him. He embraced Yudhishthira and blessed him.
Yama said: "Only a few days remain to complete the stipulated period of your exile in the forest. The thirteenth year will also pass by. None of your enemies will be able to discover you. You will successfully fulfil your undertaking," and saying this he disappeared.
The Pandavas had, no doubt, to pass through all sorts of troubles during their exile, but the gains too were not inconsiderable. It was a period of hard discipline and searching probation through which they emerged stronger and nobler men.
Arjuna returned from tapas with divine weapons and strengthened by contact with Indra. Bhima also met his elder brother Hanuman near the lake where the Saugandhika flowers bloomed and got tenfold strength from his embrace. Having met, at the enchanted pool, his father Yama, the Lord of Dharma, Yudhishthira shone with tenfold lustre.
"The minds of those who listen to the sacred story of Yudhishthira's meeting with his father, will never go after evil. They will never seek to create quarrels among friends or covet the wealth of others. They will never fall victims to lust. They will never be unduly attached to transitory things." Thus said Vaisampayana to Janamejaya as he related this story of the Yaksha. May the same good attend the readers of this story as retold by us.
"O BRAHMANAS, we have been deceived by the sons of Dhritarashtra, cheated out of our kingdom and reduced to poverty. Still we have passed these years cheerfully with joy in the forest. The thirteenth year of exile has come, and with it the time for us to part from you. For we have to spend the next twelve months undiscovered by the spies of Duryodhana. God knows when the day will dawn which will see us together again, without fear or concealment. Now, bless us before we go. And may we escape the notice of those who may wish to betray us to the sons of Dhritarashtra, either through fear or hope of reward."
So spoke Yudhishthira to the brahmanas who were living with the Pandavas till then. His voice shook with emotion as he spoke these words.
Dhaumya consoled him. He said: "Parting, is hard, and the dangers are many and great. But you are too wise and learned to be shaken or daunted. You must disguise yourselves. Indra, the Lord of gods, when pested by the demons, disguised himself as a brahmana and lived unknown in the country of Nishadha. Safely concealed thus, he managed to destroy his enemies. You must also do likewise. Did not Mahavishnu, the Lord of the Universe, become a child in the womb of Aditi, suffer human birth, and take away from Emperor Bali his kingdom for the salvation of the world? Did not Lord Narayana, the refuge of men, enter into the weapon of Indra to defeat Vritra, the asura king? Did not the Fire god hide himself in the waters for the sake of the gods? Does not the moon keep out of sight every day? Did not Lord Vishnu, the all-pervading God, descend as the son of Dasaratha and spend long years, suffering many sorrows for the sake of killing Ravana? The greatest souls in the past have sanctified disguise for a good purpose. You will, likewise, conquer your enemies and win prosperity."
Yudhishthira took leave of the brahmanas and gave the members of his retinue leave to go home. The Pandavas retired to a secluded spot in the forest and discussed their future line of action. Yudhishthira sadly asked Arjuna: "You are well conversant with the ways of the world. Where would it be best for us to spend the thirteenth year?"
Arjuna replied: "O great king, you know Yama, the Lord of Death, has blessed us. We can easily pass the twelve months together without being discovered. There are many charming states for us to choose from for our sojourn, states like Panchala, Matsya, Salva, Videha, Bahlika, Dasharna, Surasena, Kalinga, and Magadha. It is, of course, for you to choose. But if I may venture an opinion, the Matsya country of king Virata is the best, prosperous and charming as it is."
Yudhishthira answered: "Virata, the king of Matsya, is very strong and he loves us much. He is of mature judgment and is devoted to the practice of virtue. He will not be won over or frightened by Duryodhana. I agree that it would be best to live incognito in Virata's kingdom."
Arjuna said: "Well then, O king, what work would you seek in the court of Virata?"
When he asked this question, Arjuna was full of sorrow at the thought of Yudhishthira, the great and guileless king, who had performed the Rajasuya sacrifice, having to disguise himself and take service.
Yudhishthira answered: "I am thinking of asking Virata to take me in his service as a courtier. I could delight him with my conversation and my dexterity at dice. I shall take the garb of a sanyasin and shall keep him agreeably engaged by my skill in reading omens and knowledge ofastrology as well as of the Vedas, Vedangas, ethics, politics and other sciences. I shall have to be careful of course, but be not anxious about me. I shall tell him that I was an intimate friend of Yudhishthira and learnt these things while I was privileged to be with him. O Bhima, what works will you, who conquered and slew Baka and Hidimba, take up under Virata? You saved us by killing Jatasura. Valor and strength are over-flowing from you. What disguise can hide your mighty personality and enable you to live unknown in the country of Mastya?" Yudhishthira was in tears as he put this question to Bhima.
Bhima laughingly replied: "O king, I think of taking service as a cook in the court of Virata. You know that I have a great appetite and that I am also an expert in cooking. I shall please Virata by preparing such dainty food as he has never tasted. I shall chop the trees of the forest and bring heaps of fuel. I shall also delight the king by contending with and defeating the wrestlers who come to his court."
This made Yudhishthira anxious for he feared that danger might befall them if Bhima engaged himself in wrestling bouts. At once Bhima spoke thus to calm his fears:
"I shall not kill anyone. I may give a bad jolt to any wrestler who deserves it but I shall not kill anyone. I shall restrain mad bulls, buffaloes and other wild animals and thus entertain king Virata."
Afterwards Yudhishthira addressed Arjuna: "What profession do you propose to take up? How can you hide your towering valor?"
When he asked this question Yudhishthira could not restrain him from narrating the brilliant exploits of Arjuna. He spoke of his brother's glory in twenty verses. Well, who deserves praise if not Arjuna?
Arjuna replied: "Revered brother, I shall hide myself in the guise of a eunuch and serve the ladies of the court. I shall hide under a jacket the scars on my arms made by the constant chafing of the bowstring. When I rejected Urvasi's amorous overtures on the ground that she was like a mother unto me, she cursed me with loss of manhood. But through Indra's grace the curse would hold good only for a year, and the time would be mine to choose. I shall serve out that year of loss of manhood now. Wearing bangles made of white conchs, braiding my hair like a woman, and clothing myself in female attire, I shall engage myself in menial work in the inner apartments of Virata's queen. I shall teach the women singing and dancing. And I shall seek service saying that I used to serve Draupadi in Yudhishthira's court." Saying this, Arjuna turned to Draupadi and smiled.
Yudhishthira was in tears. "Alas! Have the fates decreed that he, who is the equal of Sri Krishna himself in fame and valor, a scion of Bharata's line, who stands high like the great golden Mount Meru, must go and seek employment of Virata as a eunuch in the queen's inner apartments?" he said brokenly.
Yudhishthira then turned to Nakula and asked him what work he would engage in and, as he thought of Madri, the mother of Nakula, tears rolled down his eyes.
Nakula replied: "I shall work in King Virata's stables. My mind delights in training and looking after horses. For I know the heart of horses and have knowledge of their ailments and cure. I can not only ride and break horses but also harness and drive them in a chariot. I shall say that I had looked after the horses of the Pandavas and I have no doubt Virata will take me in his service."
Yudhishthira asked Sahadeva: "You, with the intelligence of Brihaspati, the priest and the preceptor of the gods, and the knowledge of Sukra, the teacher of the asuras, what work will you take up?"
Sahadeva replied: "Let Nakula look after horses. I shall tend the cows. I shall guard Virata's cattle from the ravages of disease and the attacks of wild beasts."
"O Draupadi," but Yudhishthira could not find words to ask her what she proposed to do. She was dearer to him than life itself, worthy of all reverence and protection, and it seemed sacrilege to talk of service. She was a princess, the daughter of a king, nobly born, tenderly nurtured. Yudhishthira felt choked by shame and despair.
Draupadi saw his grief and spoke these brave words: "O best of kings, do not grieve or suffer anxiety on my account. I shall be a sairandhri in the court of the queen of Virata, the companion and attendant of the princess. I shall preserve my freedom and chastity, for the attendant and companion of a princess has this right and can exercise it. I shall pass my days in such light tasks as braiding the hair and entertaining the women of the court with small talk. I shall represent that I had thus served princess Draupadi in Yudhishthira's court and seek employment from the queen. Thus shall I remain unknown to others."
Yudhishthira praised Draupadi's courage and said: "O auspicious one, you speak as befits one of your family."
When the Pandavas thus decided, Dhaumya blessed them and advised them thus: "Those who are engaged in service under a king should always be vigilant. They must serve without talking too much. They may give their counsel only when asked, and never obtrude it. They should praise the king on befitting occasions. All things, no matter how small, may be done only after informing the king, who is a veritable fire in human form. Do not go too near him, nor yet appear to avoid him. Even though a person may be trusted by the king and have great authority, still be should always behave as if he would be dismissed immediately, It would be foolishness to place too much confidence in a king. One may not sit in the conveyance, seat or chariot of the king, presuming on his affection. A servant of the king should ever be active and self-restrained. He should not be excessively elated, nor unduly depressed, by being honored or dishonored by the king. He may not reveal the secrets confided to him, nor may he receive anything in the form of gift from the citizens. He should not be jealous of other servants. The king may place fools in positions of authority, leaving aside the wise. Such waywardness should be ignored. One cannot be too careful with the ladies of the court. There should not be the faintest suggestion of indelicacy in one's conduct towards them."
Dhaumya then blessed the Pandavas: "Live thus in patience for one year, serving the king Virata, and then, you will pass the rest of your days in happiness, regaining your lost throne."
YUDHISHTHIRA put on the garb of a sanyasin. Arjuna transformed himself into a eunuch. Others also disguised themselves. But no disguise could take away their natural charm, grace and nobility of appearance.
When they went to King Virata seeking service, they seemed to him born to command and rule rather than to serve. He hesitated, at first, to engage them in service but yielding to their urgent solicitations, he finally appointed them to the places they sought of him.
Yudhishthira became the king's companion and spent his days in playing dice with him. Bhima worked as the chief of the cooks. He also entertained the king by wrestling with the reputed men of might whom came to the court, and by controlling wild animals.
Arjuna assumed the name of Brihannala and taught dancing, singing and instrumental music to Princess Uttara, the daughter of Virata, and the ladies. Nakula looked after the horses and Sahadeva looked after the cows and the bulls.
The princess Draupadi who, if fate had been less cruel, should herself have been served by many maids, had now to pass her days in serving Sudeshna, Virata's queen. She lived in the inner apartments of the palace as maid and companion, engaging herself in uncongenial tasks.
Kichaka, the brother of Sudeshna, was the commander-in-chief of Virata's army and it was to him that the old king Virata owed his power and prestige. Kichaka wielded such vast influence that people used to say that Kichaka was the real king of the Matsya country and old Virata king only in name.
Kichaka was inordinately vain of his strength and his influence over the king. He was so smitten with Draupadi's beauty that he conceived an uncontrollable passion for her. And he was so sure of his own attractions and power that it never occurred to him that she, though a mere maidservant could resist his will. He made amorous overtures to her, which greatly vexed her.
Draupadi was too shy to speak of this to Sudeshna or to others. She gave out that her husbands were Gandharvas who would mysteriously kill those who tried to dishonor her.
Her good conduct and lustre made every one believe in her story about the Gandharvas. But Kichaka was not to be frightened so easily and he sought persistently to seduce Draupadi.
His persecution became so intolerable that at last she complained of it to Queen Sudeshna, and implored her protection. Kichaka, of course, had greater influence over his sister, and he shamelessly confided to her his unlawful passion for her maid and sought her aid to compass his wish.
He represented himself as dying of desire. "I am so full of torment," he said, "that from the time I met your maid, I do not get any sleep or rest. You must save my life by managing somehow to make her receive my advances favorably." The queen tried to dissuade him but Kichaka would not listen. And finally Sudeshna yielded. Both of them decided upon a plan to entrap Draupadi.
One night, many sweetmeats and intoxicating drinks were prepared in the house of Kichaka and a great feast was arranged. Sudeshna called Sairandhri to her side and handing her a beautiful golden jug bade her go and bring her a jug of wine from Kichaka's house.
Draupadi hesitated to go to the house of the infatuated Kichaka at that hour and begged hard that someone else of her many attendants might be sent, but Sudeshna did not listen. She pretended to be angry and said sharply: "Go, you must. I can not send anyone else," and poor Draupadi had to obey.
Draupadi's fears were justified. When she reached Kichaka's house, that wretch, maddened with lust and wine, began to pester her with urgent entreaties and solicitations.
She rejected his prayers and said: "Why do you, who belong to a noble royal family, seek me, born of a low caste? Why do you take to the wrong path? Why do you approach me, a married lady? You will perish. My protectors, the Gandharvas, will kill you in their anger."
When Draupadi would not yield to his entreaties, Kichaka seized her by the arm and pulled her about. But putting down the vessel she carried, she wrenched herself free and fled, hotly pursued by the maddened Kichaka.
She fled to the court wailing loudly. But even there, intoxicated not only with wine, but even more by his power and influence, Kichaka followed her and kicked her in the presence of all with abusive words.
Everyone was afraid of the all-powerful commander-in-chief and no one was bold enough to oppose him.
Draupadi could not bear the sorrow and anger she felt at the thought of her helplessness under the intolerable insult offered to her.
Her deep distress made her forget the danger that would befall the Pandavas if they were discovered prematurely. She went that night to Bhima and waking him up, gave vent to her agonized sense of wrong.
After telling him how brutally Kichaka had pursued and insulted her, she appealed piteously to Bhima for protection and revenge. She said in a voice choked with sobs:
"I cannot bear this any longer. You must kill this wretch at once. For your sake, to help you keep your promise, I serve in a menial office and even prepare sandal paste for Virata. I have not minded it, I, who have till now served only you or Mother Kunti, whom I love and honor. But now, I have to serve these wretches, fearful every moment of some disgraceful outrage. Not that I mind hard work, see my hands." And she showed her hands, which were cracked and stained with menial tasks.
Bhima respectfully carried her hands to his face and eyes, and speechless with sorrow and pity and love, he dried her tears. Finally he found his voice, and said thickly:
"I care not for the promise of Yudhishthira or the advice of Arjuna. I care not what may happen but I will do as you say. I will kill Kichaka and his gang here and now!" and he rose.
But Draupadi warned Bhima not to be hasty. They talked it over and finally decided that Kichaka should be beguiled to come alone at night to a retired spot in the dancing hall where he should find waiting for him Bhima disguised as a woman, instead of Draupadi.
Next morning, Kichaka renewed his hateful attentions and vaingloriously said to Draupadi: "O Sairandhri, I threw you down and kicked you in the presence of the king. Did any one there come forward to help you? Virata is only king in name of this Matsya country. But I, the commander-in-chief, am the real sovereign. Now, do not be a fool, but come and enjoy life with me, with all royal honors. I shall be your devoted servant." And he begged and bullied and cringed, devouring her the while with lust-reddened eyes.
Draupadi pretended to yield and said: "Kichaka, believe me, I can no longer resist your solicitations. But none of your companions or brothers should know of our relations. If you swear that you will faithfully keep the secret from others, I shall yield to your wish."
Kichaka delightedly agreed to the condition and he promised to go alone to a place of assignation that very night.
She said: "The women have their dancing lessons during daytime in the dancing hall and return to their own quarters at nightfall. None will be in the dancing hall at night. Come there tonight. I shall be waiting for you there. You can have your will of me."
Kichaka reveled in happiness. That night, Kichaka took his bath, perfumed and decked himself, went to the dancing hall and finding with joy that the doors were open, gently entered the place.
In the very dim light, he saw someone lying there on a couch, no doubt Sairandhri. He groped his way in the dark, and gently laid his hands on the person of the sleeper.
Alas! It was not the soft form of Sairandhri that he touched but the iron frame of Bhima who lept forth on him like a lion on its prey and hurled him to the ground. But surprised as he was, Kichaka was no coward, and he was now fighting for dear life.
Grimly they wrestled, Kichaka no doubt thinking he had to do with one of the Gandharva husbands. They were not ill matched, for at that time Bhima, Balarama and Kichaka were reputed to be in the same class in strength and wrestling skill.
The struggle between Bhima and Kichaka was like that between Vali and Sugriva. In the end Bhima killed Kichaka, pounding and kneading his body into a shapeless lump of flesh.
Then he gave the glad news of Kichaka's punishment to Draupadi and went in haste to his kitchen, bathed, rubbed sandal paste over his body and slept with satisfaction.
Draupadi awoke the guards of the court and said to them: "Kichaka came to molest me, but as I had warned him, the Gandharvas, my husbands, made short work of him. Your commander-in-chief, who fell a prey to lust, has been killed. Look at him." And she showed them the corpse of Kichaka, which had been reduced to such a shapeless mass that it had no human semblance.
THE fate of Kichaka made Draupadi an object of fear to the people of Virata. "This woman, so beautiful that she captures all hearts, is as dangerous as she is lovely, for the Gandharvas guard her. She is a great danger to the people of the city and the members of the royal household, for the Gandharvas may stop at nothing in their jealous anger. It would be best to send her out of the city." Reflecting thus, the citizens went to Sudeshna and prayed to her to expel Draupadi.
Sudeshna told Draupadi: "You are, no doubt, a very virtuous lady, but kindly leave our city. I have had enough of you."
There was only one month more to complete the stipulated period of living incognito and Draupadi begged earnestly to be permitted to stay just another month by when, she said, her Gandharva husbands would have realised their objects and would be ready to take her away with them.
The Gandharvas would be very grateful to King Virata and his kingdom. Whether grateful or not, the Gandharvas could be deadly if irritated and Sudeshna was too afraid of Draupadi to refuse her request.
From the beginning of the thirteenth year, the spies of Duryodhana, under his express orders, had searched for the Pandavas in all possible places of hiding.
After several months of futile search, they reported their failure to Duryodhana and added that probably the Pandavas had perished of privations.
Then came the news that the powerful Kichaka had been killed in single combat by some Gandharva on account of a woman.
There were only two persons who could kill Kichaka, and Bhima was one of them. And so they suspected that Bhima might have been the vengeful Gandharva who had killed Kichaka. Duryodhana also felt that the lady who was the cause of the killing might be Draupadi. He expressed his doubts in the open assembly.
He said: "I suspect that the Pandavas are in Virata's city. Now, he is one of the kings who are too stiff-necked to court our friendship. It would be a good thing to invade his country and carry away his cows. If the Pandavas are hiding there, they will certainly come out to fight with us to repay Virata's hospitality and we can easily spot them. If we discover them there and we can sure before the stipulated time, they will have to go to the forest again for another twelve, years. If, on the other hand, the Pandavas are not there, there is nothing lost."
King Susarma, the ruler of Trigarta heartily supported him. "The king of Matsya is my enemy." he said, "and Kichaka has given me a lot of trouble. Kichaka's death must have weakened Virata considerably. Give me leave to attack Virata now."
Karna seconded this proposition. They unanimously came to the decision that Susarma should attack Matsya from the south and draw off the army of Virata to the south for defence. Duryodhana, with the Kaurava army, would then launch a surprise attack on Virata from the northern side, which would be relatively undefended.
Susarma invaded Matsya from the south seized the cattle and laid waste the gardens and fields on the way. The cowherds ran in great distress to Virata, who now very much wished that Kichaka were alive, for he surely would have made short work of the raiders. When he said so to Kanka (the assumed name by which Yudhishthira was known in Virata's court) the latter said: "O king, be not worried. Even though I am a hermit, I am an expert in warfare. I shall put on armor and go in a chariot and drive away your enemies. Please instruct that your horse keeper Dharmagranthi, your chief cook Valala, and your stable herd Tantripala may also get into chariots and help us. I have heard that they are great fighters. Kindly give orders that the necessary chariots and the weapons may be given to us."
Delighted, Virata was only too willing to accept the offer. The chariots were ready. All the Pandavas excepting Arjuna went out with the army of Virata to oppose Susarma and his men.
A fierce fight ensued between the armies of Virata and Susarma, with much loss of life on both sides. Susarma attacked Virata and surrounded his chariot, compelling him to get down and fight on foot.
Susarma captured Virata and held him captive in his chariot. With the capture of Virata, the army of Matsya lost heart and began to scatter in all directions, when Yudhishthira commanded Bhima to attack Susarma and release Virata and rally the scattered Matsya forces.
At these words of Yudhishthira, Bhima was about to uproot a tree, but Yudhishthira stopped him and said: "No such tricks, please, and no battle cry or your identity will be revealed. Fight like anybody else from the chariot with your bows and arrows."
Bhima accordingly got into the chariot attacked the enemy, set Virata free and captured Susarma. The dispersed forces of Matsya rallied into new formations charged and defeated the army of Susarma.
As soon as the news of Susarma's defeat reached the city, the people were extremely jubilant. They decorated the city and went forth to welcome their victorious king back home.
When they were thus making preparations to receive king Virata, the big army of Duryodhana came down on them from the north, and began despoiling the cattle ranches on the outskirts of the city.
The Kaurava army marched in force and rounded up the countless cows that were there. The leader of the cowherds ran to the city and said to the prince Uttara: "O prince, the Kauravas are marching on, robbing us of our cows. King Virata has gone south to fight against the Trigarta. We are in consternation as there is no one to protect us. You are the king's son and we look to you for protection. Pray, come and recover the cows for the honor of your family."
When the leader of the cowherds made this complaint to Uttara in the presence of the people and especially of the women of the palace, the prince felt flushed with valor and proudly said:
"If only I can get someone to be my charioteer I will recover the cows single-handed. Well, my feats of arms will be worth seeing and people will know there is little to choose between Arjuna and myself."
When Uttara said these words Draupadi was in the inner apartments and must have laughed within herself.
She ran to princess Uttara and said: "O princess, great danger has be fallen the country. The cowherds have complained to the young that the Kaurava army is advancing on our city from the north and has captured cattle ranches and cows on the outskirts. The prince is eager to fight them and is in need of a charioteer. Should such a small thing as that stand in the way of victory and glory? I tell you that Brihannala has been Arjuna's charioteer. When I was in the service of the queen of the Pandavas, I heard of this fact and I also know that Brihannala learnt archery from Arjuna. Order Brihannala immediately to go and drive the prince's chariot."
Arjuna as Brihannala pretended to be unfamiliar with armor and raised a laugh at his awkwardness in wearing it.
The women of the palace laughed at his fears and told him again not to be afraid for Uttara would look after him.
Arjuna spent some time in such fun but, when he harnessed the horses, it could be seen that, at least, he was an expert charioteer. And when he held the reins, the horses seemed to love and obey him.
"The prince will be victorious. We shall despoil the enemy of their embroidered robes and distribute them to you as the prize of victory" were the last words of Brihannala to the women of the palace, as the chariot rapidly bore the prince outwards to battle.
UTTARA, the son of Virata, set off with enthusiasm from the city in his chariot with Brihannala as his charioteer and commanded the latter to drive quickly to the place where the Kauravas had rounded up the cows.
Willingly, the horses were put to their best speed. And presently the Kaurava army was sighted, at first a gleaming, line, enveloped in a cloud of dust that seemed to go up to the skies.
Going nearer, Uttara saw the great army drew in battle by Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Duryodhana and Karna. At that sight, his courage, which had been gradually drying up during the rapid rush to the field, was quite gone. His mouth went dry and his hair stood on end.
His limbs were all in a tremble. He shut his eyes with both his hands to keep out the fearsome sight. He said:"How can I, single-handed, attack an army? I have no troops, since the king, my father, has taken all available forces, leaving the city unprotected. It is absurd to think that one man can alone fight a well-equipped army, led by world-renowned warrior! Oh Brihannala, turn back the chariot."
Brihannala laughed and said: "O prince, you started from the city, full of fierce determination and the ladies expect great things of you. The citizens also have put their trust in you. Sairandhri praised me and I have come at your request. If we return without recovering the cows, we shall become the laughing-stock of all. I will not turn back the chariot. Let us stand firm and fight. Have no fear." With these words Brihannala began to drive the chariot towards the enemy and they approached quite close to them.
Uttara's distress was pitiable. He said in a quaking voice: "I cannot do it, I simply cannot. Let the Kauravas march off with the cows and if the women laugh, let them. I do not care. What sense is there in fighting people who are immeasurably stronger than we fight? Do not be a fool! Turn back the chariot. Otherwise, I shall jump out and walk back." With these words Uttara cast off his bows and arrows, got down from the chariot and began to fly towards the city, mad with panic.
This should not be taken as something that has never happened in life. Nor is Uttara's panic during his first battle, by any means, singular.
Fear is a strong instinctive feeling, though it can be overcome by will-power or strong motives like love, shame or hate, or more usually, by discipline.
Even men who have afterwards distinguished themselves by heroic deeds have confessed to having felt something like panic fear, the first time they came under fire. Uttara was by no means an exceptional coward, for he fought and fell gauntly at Kurukshetra.
Arjuna pursued the running prince, shouting to him to stop and behave like a Kshatriya. The braided hair of the charioteer began to dance and his clothes began to wave as he ran in pursuit of Uttara. The prince fled hither and thither, trying to dodge the hands that would stop him.
Those of the Kaurava army, who could see this spectacle, found it amusing. Drona was puzzled at the sight of Brihannala who, albeit dressed fantastically, seemed a man rigged out as a woman and to remind him curiously of Arjuna.
When he remarked about this, Karna said: "How can this be Arjuna? What does it matter even if he is? What can Arjuna alone do against us in the absence of the other Pandavas? The king has left his son alone in the city and gone with his whole army to fight against Susarma. The young prince has brought the attendant of the ladies of the palace as his charioteer. That is all."
Poor Uttara was imploring Brihannala to let him go, promising untold wealth if he did so. He appealed to his pity: "I am the only son of my mother. I am a child grown up on my mother's lap. I am full of fear."
But, Brihannala wanted to save him from himself, and would not let him go. He pursued him, seized him and dragged him to the chariot by force.
Uttara began to sob and said: "What a fool I was to brag! Alas! What will happen to me?"
Arjuna said kindly, soothing the prince's fears: "Be not afraid. I shall fight with the Kauravas. Help me by looking after the horses and driving the chariot, and I shall do the rest. Believe me, no good ever came of flight. We will rout the enemy and recover your cows. You will have all the glory." With these words Arjuna lifted the prince on to the chariot and, putting the reins in his hands, asked him to drive towards a tree near the burial ground.
Drona, who was watching all this intently, knew that the fantastically dressed charioteer was Arjuna and shared his knowledge with Bhishma.
Duryodhana turned to Karna and said: "Why should we worry who he is? Even if he is Arjuna, he will be only playing into our hands, for his being discovered will send the Pandavas to the forest for another twelve years."
As soon as they came near the tree Brihannala bade the prince get down, climb the tree and take down the arms hidden there. The prince said in alarm and grief: "People say that what hangs on this tree is the corpse of an old huntress. How can I touch a dead body? How can you ask me to do such a thing?"
Arjuna said: "It is not a corpse, prince. I know that it contains the weapons of the Pandavas. Climb up the tree bravely and bring them down. Do not delay."
Seeing that resistance was of no avail Uttara climbed up the tree as Brihannala had asked him to and took, in great disgust, the bag tied up there and came down.
When the leather bag was opened, he saw weapons as bright as the sun. Uttara stood amazed at the sight of the gleaming weapons and covered his eyes.
He mustered courage and touched them. The touch seemed to send a stream of hope and high courage into him. He asked with ardor: "O charioteer, what a wonder! You say that these bows, arrows and swords belong to the Pandavas. They have been deprived of their kingdom and they have retired to the forest. Do you know them? Where are they?"
Then Arjuna told him briefly how they were all in Virata's court. He said: "Kanka, who serves the king, is Yudhishthira. Valala, the cook who prepares such nice dishes for your father, is none other than Bhima. Sairandhri, for insulting whom Kichaka was killed, is Draupadi. Dharmagranthi, who looks after the horses and Tantripala, the keeper of the cows, are Nakula and Sahadeva respectively. I am Arjuna. Be not afraid. O prince, you will soon see me defeat the Kauravas even in the sight of Bhishma, Drona and Aswatthama and recover the cows. You will also gain renown and it will be a lesson to you."
Then Uttara folded his hands and said: "O Arjuna, how fortunate I am to see you with my own eyes! So, Arjuna is the victorious hero whose very contact has put heart and courage into me. Forgive the wrongs I have done through ignorance."
As they approached the Kaurava host, Arjuna recounted some of his heroic deeds, so that Uttara might not lose grip of his newly awakened courage. Arriving in front of the Kauravas, he got down, prayed to God, removed the conch-bangles from his hands and put on leather gauntlets.
He then tied a cloth on his flowing hair, stood facing the east, meditated on his armor, got into the chariot and gloried in the familiar feel of his famous Gandiva bow. He stringed it and thrice twanged the string whose shrill note raised an echo from all sides.
Hearing the sound, the heroes of the Kaurava army said to one another: "This surely is Gandiva's voice." When Arjuna stood on the chariot in all his godlike stature and blew his conch Devadatta, the Kaurava army was alarmed and a frenzied shout arose that the Pandavas had come.
The story of Uttara, who spoke boastfully in the ladies' boudoirs and fled in panic at the sight of the hostile array, his not been introduced in the Mahabharata, merely as a comic interlude.
It is in ordinary human nature to look with contempt on lower levels of conduct in ability. The rich scorn the poor, the beautiful scorn the plain, and the strong scorn the weak. Brave men despise cowards. But Arjuna was no ordinary man. He was a great soul and a true hero who felt that his duty as a strong, brave man was to help others to rise above their weakness.
Knowing that nature had endowed him with courage and bravery at birth, and that he owed them to no special exertions on his part, he had the true humility of the really great. And he did what he could to put courage into Uttara and make him worthy of his lineage. This was Arjuna's characteristic nobility. He never abused his strength and power. One of his many names is Bibhatsu, which means one who shrank from doing an unworthy act, and he lived up to it.
THE chariot of Arjuna thundered on its way, seeming to shake the earth. The hearts of the Kauravas quaked when they heard the twang of the Gandiva bow.
"Our army must be arrayed well and with care. Arjuna, has come," said Drona anxiously. Duryodhana did not at all like the honor Drona did Arjuna by this anxiety.
He said to Karna: "The Pandavas' pledge was that they would spend twelve years in the forest and the following year undiscovered. The thirteenth year has not ended yet. Arjuna has revealed himself before the time. Why then should we give way to fear? The Pandavas will have to go again to the forest for another twelve years. Drona is suffering from the cold feet of the too learned. Let us leave him in the rear and advance to the battle."
Karna assented and said: "Our soldiers' heart is not in the fight and they are trembling with fear. They say that the man, who stands so proudly, bow in hand, on the chariot, speeding towards us, is Arjuna. But why need we fear even if it were Parasurama? I will myself stop the advancing warrior and redeem my word to you, and fight him, aye, even if all the others stand back. They may drive away the cows of the Matsya king while, single handed, I shall give them cover, engaging Arjuna in battle," and Karna, as usual, began to blow his own trumpet.
When Kripa heard these words of Karna, he said: "This is pure tomfoolery. We must all make a combined attack on Arjuna. That would be our one chance of success. Do not therefore, brag about your opposing him alone and unaided."
Karna grew angry. He said: "The acharya ever delights in singing Arjuna's praises and in magnifying his prowess. Whether he does so from fear or excessive fondness for the Pandavas, I do not know. Those, who are afraid, need not fight, but may simply look on, while others, who are true to the salt they have eaten, engage in battle. I, for one, a mere soldier who loves my friends and hates my enemies, will stand here and fight. What business have men learned in the Vedas, who love and praise their enemies, got here?" said he sneeringly.
Aswatthama, Drona's son and Kripa's nephew, could not hear unmoved this sneer at the venerable teachers. He said sternly to Karna: "We have not yet taken the king back to Hastinapura, and the battle is yet to be won. Your brag is idle vainglory. It may be that we are not kshatriyas and that we belong to the class that recites the Vedas and the sastras. But I have not been able to find in any sastra that it is honor able for kings to seize kingdoms by cheating at dice. Even those, who fight and conquer kingdoms, do not crow too loudly about it. And I cannot see what you have done to be proud of. The fire is silent and yet cooks the food. The sun shines but not on him. Likewise, Mother earth sustains all things, movable and immovable, and supports her burden without so much as a whisper. What claim to praise has a kshatriya who has unlawfully seized another's kingdom at a game of dice? To have cheated the Pandavas of their kingdom is no more a matter of glory than to have spread traps for unsuspecting birds. O Duryodhana, O Karna, in what battle did your heroes defeat the Pandavas? You dragged Draupadi to the assembly. Are you proud of it? You have destroyed the Kaurava race like an empty-headed clod that fells a big sandal tree for love of its fragrance. A fight with Arjuna, you will find, is a very different thing from a throw of the dice. The Gandiva will send forth sharp arrows and not fours and twos as in the game of dice. Vain fools, do you think that Sakuni can, by mere cheating, sneak a victory in battle for you?"
The leaders of the Kaurava army lost their patience and began a loud wordy warfare. Seeing this, the grandsire was filled with sorrow and said:
"The wise man does not insult his teachers. One should engage in battle only after a careful calculation of time, place and circumstance. Even wise people often lose their balance and good sense over their own affairs. Ruffled by anger, even the usually so sensible Duryodhana fails to recognise that the warrior who stands braving our army is Arjuna. His intellect has been clouded by anger. O Aswatthama, pray do not mind Karna's offensive remarks. You must take them as intended merely to put the preceptors on their best spirit and sting them into action. This is not the time to nurse enmity or sow dissension. Drona, Kripa and Aswatthama should forget and forgive. Where can the Kauravas find in the whole world, heroes superior to Drona, the preceptor, and his son Aswatthama, who combine in themselves Vedic scholarship and kshatriya heroism? We know of none other than Parasurama who can equal Drona. We can conquer Arjuna only if we all join together and fight him. Let us address ourselves to the task before us. If we quarrel amongst ourselves we cannot fight Arjuna."
Thus spoke the grandsire. Soothed by his noble words, angry feelings subsided. Bhishma turned to Duryodhana and continued:
"Best of kings, Arjuna has come. The stipulated period of thirteen years terminated yesterday. Your calculation is wrong, as men learned in the science of planetary movements will tell you. I knew that the period had ended when Arjuna blew his conch. Reflect a little before deciding on war. If you wish to make peace with the Pandavas, now is the time for it. What do you seek, a just and honorable peace or a mutually destructive war? Ponder well and make your choice."
Duryodhana replied: "Revered sire, I have no wish for peace. I shall not give even a village to the Pandavas. Let us get ready for war."
Then Drona said: "Let prince Duryodhana take away a fourth of the army to guard him and return to Hastinapura. Let another surround the cows and seize them. If we return without seizing the cows it would amount to an acknowledgment of defeat. With the rest of the army, the five of us will give battle to Arjuna."
The Kaurava forces ranged themselves accordingly in battle array. Arjuna said: "O Uttara, I do not see Duryodhana's chariot or Duryodhana. I see Bhishma standing, clad in armor. I think Duryodhana is driving away the cows to Hastinapura. Let us pursue him and recover the cows." With these words Arjuna moved away from the Kaurava army and went after Duryodhana and the cows.
And as he was going, he respect fully greeted his teachers and the old grandsire, by drawing his Gandiva bow and sending arrows so as to fall near their feet.
Reverently saluting them in this heroic fashion, he left them and pursued Duryodhana. Arjuna reached the place where the cows were gathered and put to rout the marauding forces.
He then turned to the cowherds and asked them to take the cows to the barns, which they did with great rejoicing. Arjuna then pursued Duryodhana. Seeing this, Bhishma and the other Kaurava warriors rushed to the rescue and, surrounding Arjuna, sent forth arrows against him.
Arjuna carried on a wonderful fight. First, he made at Karna and drove him from the battlefield. After that, he attacked and defeated Drona. Seeing Drona standing spent with fatigue, Aswatthama joined in the fight and attacked Arjuna, which gave Arjuna an opportunity of letting Drona withdraw from the field.
Then, there ensued a bitter struggle between Aswatthama and Arjuna. When Aswatthama grew weary, Kripa relieved him and maintained the attack against Arjuna.
But Kripa also sustained defeat and the whole army was routed and fled in fear. Though rallied and brought back to the attack by Bhishma, Drona and others, there was no fight left in them. Finally, they left the field, after a glorious fight between Bhishma and Arjuna, which, it is said, the gods themselves came to see.
The attempt to head off Arjuna’s pursuit of Duryodhana thus failed and soon Arjuna came up with Duryodhana and strongly attacked him. Duryodhana was defeated and fled from the battlefield, but not far, because, when Arjuna taunted him with cowardice, he turned round like a serpent and resumed the fight.
Bhishma and others surrounded and protected him. Arjuna fought and finally, he employed a magic weapon that made them all fall down unconscious on the battlefield. While they were in that condition he snatched away their garments. The seizure of the clothes of the enemy was the sign of decisive victory in those days.
When Duryodhana came, Bhishma sent him back to the city. The whole army returned to Hastinapura after this humiliating defeat.
Arjuna said: "O Uttara, turn back the horses. Our cows have been regained. Our enemies have fled. O prince, return to your kingdom, adorning your person with sandal paste and decked with flowers."
On the way back, Arjuna deposited the weapons as before on the tree and dressed himself once more as Brihannala. He sent messengers in advance to proclaim in the city that Uttara had won a glorious victory.
AFTER defeating Susarma, king of Trigarta, Virata returned to his capital amidst the acclamations of the citizens. When he reached his palace, he saw that Uttara was not there and the womenfolk told him with much elation that Uttara had set out to conquer the Kauravas.
They had not a doubt that their hand some prince could conquer the whole world. But the king's heart sank within him at the news, for he knew the impossible task which the delicately nurtured prince had taken on himself with no better following than a eunuch.
"My dearly loved son must be dead by now," he cried, overwhelmed with anguish. He then bade his ministers collect and send as strong a force as could be got together for rescuing Uttara if he was still alive and bring him back. Scouts also were immediately despatched to find out Uttara's whereabouts and fate.
Dharmaputra, now disguised as the sanyasin Kanka, tried to comfort Virata by assuring him that the prince could come to no harm, since Brihannala had gone as his charioteer. "You do not know about her," said he. "I do. Whosoever fights from a chariot driven by her, can be sure of victory. Further, the news of Susarma's defeat must have reached there and the Kauravas must have retreated."
Meanwhile courtiers arrived from the field of battle with the glad news that Uttara had defeated the Kaurava forces and recovered the kine.
This seemed too good to be true, even to the fond father, but Yudhishthira smilingly reassured him. Said he: "Have no doubts, O king. What the messengers say must be true. When Brihannala went out as charioteer, success was certain. There is nothing extraordinary in your son's victory. I happen to know that even Indra's charioteer or Krishna's cannot equal Brihannala."
This seemed absurd to Virata, but he was too happy to resent it. He made large gifts of precious stones and other wealth to the messengers who brought the good news and ordered public rejoicing. "My success over Susarma is nothing," he proclaimed. "The prince's is the real victory. Let special prayers of thanksgiving be offered at all places of worship. Let all the principal streets are decorated with flags and the citizen’s go in procession to strains of triumphal music. Make all arrangements to receive, in a befitting manner, my lion-hearted boy."
Virata sent out ministers, soldiers, and maidens to welcome his son, returning in triumph. When the king retired to his private apartments, he asked Sairandhri to bring the dice. He said to Kanka: "I cannot contain my joy. Come, let us play," and sat down to a game with Yudhishthira.
They talked while they played and naturally, the king was full of his son's greatness and prowess. "See the glory of my son, Bhuminjaya. He has put the famed Kaurava warriors to flight."
"Yes," replied Yudhishthira with a smile. "Your son is indeed fortunate for, without the best of good fortune, how could he have secured Brihannala to drive his chariot?"
Virata was angry at this persistent glorification of Brihannala at the expenses of Uttara. "Why do you, again and again babble about the eunuch?" he cried.
"While I am talking about my son's victory, you expatiate on the charioteering skill of the eunuch, as if that were of any significance." The king's anger only increased when Kanka remonstrated: "I know what I am talking about. Brihannala is no ordinary person. The chariot she drives can never see defeat, and whoever is in it, is sure of success in any undertaking, no matter how difficult."
Now, this perverse flouting could not be borne, and Virata in a passion flung the dice at Yudhishthira's face and followed this up with a blow on Yudhishthira's cheek. Yudhishthira was hurt and blood flowed down his face.
Sairandhri who was nearby, wiped the blood with the edge of her garment and squeezed it into a golden cup. "Why all this fuss? What are you collecting the blood into a cup for?" demanded the angry king, who was still in a passion.
"A Sanyasin's blood may not be split on the ground, O king," replied Sairandhri. "The rains will fail in your land for as many years as there are drops in the blood that is split on the earth. That was why I collected the blood in this cup. I fear you do not know Kanka's greatness."
Meanwhile the gatekeeper announced: "Uttara and Brihannala have arrived. The prince is waiting for an audience with the king." Virata got up excitedly and said: "Ask him in, ask him in." And Yudhishthira whispered to the sentry: "Let Uttara come alone. Brihannala should stay behind."
He did this to prevent a catastrophe, for he knew Arjuna would be unable to control his anger when he saw the injury on his brother's face. He could not bear to see Dharmaputra hurt by anyone except in fair battle.
Uttara entered and paid due homage to his royal father. When he turned to do obeisance to Kanka be was horrified to see his bleeding face, for now he knew that Kanka was the great Yudhishthira.
"O king," he cried, "who was it that caused hurt to this great one?"
Virata looked at his son and said: "Why all this fuss about it? I struck him for untimely and envious belittling of you when I was in an ocean of delight at the news of your glorious victory. Each time I mentioned you, this unlucky brahmana extolled your charioteer, the eunuch, and gave the victory to him. It was too silly really, and I am sorry I struck him, but it is not worth talking about."
Uttara was overwhelmed with fear. "Alas! You have done great wrong. Fall at his feet right now, father, and pray forforgiveness or we will be destroyed, root and branch."
Virata, to whom all this was inexplicable, stood with a puzzled frown not knowing what to do. But Uttara was so anxious and importunate that he yielded and bowed to Yudhishthira asking for pardon.
Thereafter, embracing his son and making him sit, Virata said: "My boy, you are truly a hero. I am in a fever of impatience to hear all about it. How did you defeat the Kaurava army? How did you recover the kine?"
Uttara hung his head down. "I conquered no army," he said, "and rescued no cows. All that was the work of a god prince. He took up our cause, rescued me from destruction, put the Kaurava soldiers to flight and brought the herd back. I did nothing."
The king could hardly believe his ears. "Where is that god prince?" he asked. "I must see and thank the hero who rescued my son and beat back my foes. I will give my daughter, Uttara, in marriage to him. Go and fetch him in."
"He has disappeared for the time being," replied the prince, "but I think he will come again either today or tomorrow." Uttara spoke thus because Arjuna was indeed a prince of the gods and had also for the time being disappeared in Brihannala.
In Virata's hall of assembly, all the leading citizens had gathered to celebrate the king's victory and the prince's. Kanka, Valala the cook, Brihannala, Tantripala and Dharmagranthi, who were responsible for the victories, arrived also and entering the hall, to the surprise of everyone, sat among the princes unbid.
Some explained the conduct by saying that, after all, these humbler folk had rendered invaluable service at a critical time and really deserved recognition.
Virata entered the court. On seeing Kanka sanyasin and the cook and the others seated in places reserved for princess and the nobility the king lost his temper and gave loud vent to his displeasure.
When they felt they had enough fun, the Pandavas disclosed their identity to the amazement of all present. Virata was beside himself with joy to think that it was the Pandava princes and Panchali who had been ministering to him all these days in disguise. He embraced Kanka in exuberant gratitude and made a formal surrender of his kingdom and his all to him, of course immediately receiving them back with thanks. Virata also insisted that he should give his daughter in marriage to Arjuna.
But Arjuna said: "No, that would not be proper, for the princess learnt dancing and music from me. I, as her teacher, am in the position of father to her." He, however, agreed to accept her for his son Abhimanyu.
Meanwhile, envoys arrived from the wicked and treacherous Duryodhana with a message for Yudhishthira. "O son of Kunti," they said, "Duryodhana feels very sorry that owing to the hasty action of Dhananjaya, you have to go back to the woods again. He let himself be recognised before the end of the thirteenth year and so, in accordance with your undertaking, you have to dwell in the forest for another twelve years."
Dharmaputra laughed and said: "Messengers, return quickly to Duryodhana and tell him to make further inquiry. The venerable Bhishma and others learned in the stars will no doubt tell him that full thirteen years had been completed before your forces heard again the twang of Dhananjaya's bow and fled in fear."
THE thirteenth year during which the Pandavas had to remain undiscovered came to an end.
No longer obliged to be in disguise, they left Virata's capital as Pandavas and settled openly in Upaplavya, another place in Matsya territory. From there, they sent emissaries to summon their friends and relatives.
From Dwaraka came Balarama and Krishna with Arjuna’s wife Subhadra, and her son, Abhimanyu and accompanied by many Yadava warriors. Loud and long was the blare of trumpet-conchs as the Matsya prince and the Pandavas went forth to receive Janardana.
Indrasena and many others like him, who had at the beginning of the preceding year left the Pandavas in the forest, rejoined them with their chariots at Upaplavya. The Kasi prince and Saibya ruler arrived with their forces.
Drupada, the Panchala prince, was there too with three divisions, bringing with him Sikhandin and Draupadi's sons and her brother Dhrishtadyumna. There were many other princes gathered at Upaplavya, well attached to the Pandavas,
Abhimanyu's marriage to princess Uttara was solemnized according to Vedic rites before that illustrious gathering of friendly heroes. The wedding celebrations over, they met in conclave in Virata's hall of assembly.
Krishna sat next to Yudhishthira and Virata, while Balarama and Satyaki were seated beside Drupada. As the bustle died down, all eyes were turned on Krishna, who now rose to speak.
"You all know," said Krishna to the hushed assembly, "the story of the great deceit how Yudhishthira was cheated at the game board and deprived of his kingdom and exiled with his brothers and Draupadi to the forest. For thirteen years, the sons of Pandu have patiently borne their trouble in redemption of their pledged word. Ponder well and counsel a course, which will be in consonance with dharma and contribute to the glory and welfare of both Pandavas and Kauravas. For, Dharmaputra desires nothing that he cannot justly claim. He wishes nothing but good even to the sons of Dhritarashtra who deceived him and did him grievous wrong. In giving your counsel, bear in mind the fraud and meanness of the Kauravas as well as the honorable magnanimity of the Pandavas. Devise a just and honorable settlement. We do not know what Duryodhana has in his mind. I feel we should send an able and upright emissary to him to persuade him to a peaceful settlement by the restoration of half the kingdom to Yudhishthira."
Balarama then rose to address the gathering. "You have just heard Krishna," he said. "The solution he propounds is wise and just. I endorse it as good for both Duryodhana and Dharmaputra. If Kunti's sons can get back their kingdom by a peaceful settlement, nothing could be better for them, the Kauravas and for all concerned. Only then will there be happiness and peace in the land. Someone has to go to convey to Duryodhana Yudhishthira's wish for a peaceful settlement and bring an answer from him, a man who has the weight and the ability to bring about peace and good understanding. The envoy should get the cooperation of Bhishma, Dhritarashtra, Drona and Vidura, Kripa and Aswatthama and even of Karna and Sakuni if possible, and secure support for Kunti's sons. He should be one who, on no account, would give way to anger. Dharmaputra, with full knowledge of consequences, staked his kingdom and lost it, obstinately disregarding the reasoning of friends. Fully aware that he was no match for the adept Sakuni, he yet played against him. He cannot now complain but can only supplicate for his rights. A fit envoy would be one who is not a warmonger but is dead set, in spite of every difficulty, on achieving a peaceful settlement. Princes, I desire you to approach Duryodhana tactfully and make peace with him. Let us avoid an armed conflict by all the means in our power. Only that which accrues in peace is worth while. Out of war, nothing but wrong can issue."
Balarama's position was that Yudhishthira knew what he was doing when he gambled away his kingdom and could not now claim it as of right.
The fulfilment of the conditions of exile could only give the Pandavas their personal freedom and not their kingdom, that is to say, they need not serve another term of exile in the forest. But it gave them no right to the return of their kingdom.
Dharmaputra could only supplicate for the return of what he had lost and not claim it as of right. Balarama did not relish an armed conflict among scions of the same family and rightly held that war would lead only to disaster.
The poet puts an eternal truth in Balarama's mouth.
Satyaki, the Yadava warrior, who heard Balarama speak thus, could not contain himself. He rose in anger and spoke indignantly:
"Balarama's words do not strike me as in the least degree just. One can, if skilful enough, make out a plausible plea for any case, but not all the skill in the world can convert wrong into right or injustice into justice. I must protest against Balarama's stand, which fills me with disgust. Do we not see in one and the same tree, one branch bowed with fruit and another sticking out gaunt and useless? So, of these brothers, Krishna speaks words that breathe the spirit of dharma while Balarama's attitude is unworthy. And if you grant what cannot be doubted that the Kauravas cheated Yudhishthira of his share of the kingdom, why then, allowing them to keep it is as unjust as confirming a thief in the possession of his booty! Anyone, who finds fault with Dharmaputra, does so in cowardly fear of Duryodhana, not for any sound reason. O princes, forgive my harsh speech. Not of his own volition but because the Kauravas pressed and invited him to do so, did the novice and unwilling Dharmaputra play with a dishonest gambler that game so fraught with disaster. Why should he bow and supplicate before Duryodhana, now that he has fulfilled his pledges? Yudhishthira is not a mendicant and need not beg. He has kept his word and so have his brothers twelve years in exile in the forest and twelve months there after in disguise according to their pledge. And yet, Duryodhana and his associates, most shamelessly and dishonestly, question the performance. I shall defeat these impudent villains in battle and they shall either seek Yudhishthira's pardon or meet their doom. How can a righteous war be wrong in any case? There is no sin in slaying enemies who take up arms and fight. To supplicate before the enemy, is to incur disgrace. If Duryodhana desires war, he can have it and we shall be quite ready for it. Let there be no delay and let us get on with the preparations. Duryodhana is not going to part with territory without a war and it would be folly to waste time."
Drupada's heart was gladdened by Satyaki's resolute words. He rose and said: "Satyaki is right and I support him. Soft words will not bring Duryodhana round to reason. Let us continue our preparations for war and let our friends be warned without loss of time to bring up their forces. Send word instantly to Salya, Dhrishtaketu, Jayatsena and Kekaya. We must, of course, send a suitable envoy to Dhritarashtra. The learned brahmana, who conducts the religious ceremonies in my court, can be sent to Hastinapura, with confidence. Instruct him well as to what he should say to Duryodhana and how he should convey the message to Bhishma, Dhritarashtra and Dronacharya."
When Drupada concluded, Vasudeva (Krishna, the son of Vasudeva) rose and addressing Drupada, said:
"What you suggest is practicable and also conforms to the kingly code. Baladeva and I are bound to the Kauravas and the Pandavas with equal ties of affection. We came here for princess Uttara's wedding and will return now to our city. Great are you among the princes of the land, alike in age and wisdom, and entitled to advise us all. Dhritarashtra too holds you, his boyhood friends, in high esteem like Drona and Kripa. It is therefore only right that you should instruct the brahmana envoy on his mission of peace. If he fails to persuade Duryodhana out of his error, prepare for the inevitable conflict, my friends, and send word to us."
The conference ended and Krishna left for Dwaraka with his people. The Pandavas and their allies went on with their preparations. Messengers went forth to all the friendly princes who got busy and mobilised their respective armies.
Meanwhile, Duryodhana and his brothers were not idle. They also began preparing for the coming conflict and sent word to their friends to get their contingents ready for war.
News of these preparations on both sides soon spread through out the land. "The constant rapid journeying back and forth of princes caused a great stir everywhere. The earth shook beneath the heavy tramp of marching legions," says the poet.
It would appear that even in olden days, military preparations were made in much the same way as in our times.
Drupada called in his brahmana and said to him: "You know Duryodhana's bent of mind as well as the qualities of the Pandavas. Go to him as the emissary of the Pandavas. The Kauravas deceived the Pandavas with the connivance of their father Dhritarashtra who would not listen to the sage advice of Vidura. Show the old, weak king, who is misled by his son, the path of dharma and wisdom. You will find in Vidura a great ally in this task. Your mission may lead to differences of opinion among the elder statesmen such as Bhishma, Drona and Kripa as well as among the warlords. And, if this happens, it will be some time before those differences are smoothed out, which will be time gained for the completion of the Pandavas war preparations. As long as you are in Duryodhana's capital talking of peace, their preparations for war will receive a set-back which is all to the good from the Pandavas' standpoint. If, by a miracle, you are able to come back with good terms of peace, so much the better. I do not expect Duryodhana will agree to a peaceful settlement. Still, to send one on a peace mission will be advantageous to us."
In December 1941, the Japanese were carrying on negotiations with the Americans and, immediately on the breakdown of those talks, took them unawares and attacked Pearl Harbor destroying their naval forces there.
Drupada's instruction to the brahmana would show that this was no new technique. And that, even in the old days, the same method was followed of carrying on negotiations and even sincerely working for peace, but simultaneously preparing, with unremitting vigor, for outbreak of war and carrying on peace talks with the object of creating dissension in the enemy's ranks. There is nothing new under the sun!
HAVING sent Drupada's brahmana to Hastinapura on the peace mission, the Pandavas sent word, at the same time, to the princes likely to favor their cause to collect their forces and hold themselves in readiness for war. To Dwaraka, Arjuna went himself.
Having understood through his spies the turn events were taking, Duryodhana too did not remain idle. Learning that Vasudeva (Krishna) was back in his home city, he sped towards Dwaraka in his chariot, as fast as his swiftest horses could take him. The two of them, Arjuna and Duryodhana, thus reached Dwaraka on the same day.
Krishna was fast asleep. Because they were his close relatives, Arjuna and Duryodhana could go into his bedroom. There they both waited for Krishna to wake up. Duryodhana, who went in first, seated himself on a decorated throne-chair at the head of the bed, while Arjuna kept standing at its foot with arms folded in respectful posture.
When Mahadeva woke up, his eyes fell on Arjuna who stood in front of him and he gave him warm welcome. Turning then to Duryodhana, he welcomed him too and asked them what brought them both to Dwaraka. Duryodhana was the first to speak.
"It looks," said he, "as though war would break out between us soon. If it does, you must support me. Arjuna and I are equally beloved of you. We both claim equally close relationship with you. You cannot say that either of us is nearer to you than the other. I came here before Arjuna. Tradition has it that he who came first should be shown preference. Janardana, you are the greatest among the great; so it is incumbent on you to set an example to others. Confirm with your conduct the traditional dharma and remember that it was I who came first."
To which Purushottama (Krishna) answered: "Son of Dhritarashtra, it may be that you came here first, but it was Kunti's son that I saw immediately on waking up. If you were the first arrival, it was Arjuna who first caught my eye. So, even in this respect, your claims on me are equal and I am therefore bound to render assistance to both sides. In distributing favors, the traditional usage is to begin with the junior-most among the recipients. I would, therefore, offer the choice to Arjuna first. The Narayana, my tribesmen, are my equals in battle and constitute a host, large and almost invincible. In my distribution of assistance, they will be on one side, and I individually on the other. But I shall wield no weapon and take no part in actual fighting."
Turning to Arjuna he said, "Partha, think it over well. Would you want me, alone and weaponless, or would you prefer the prowess of the Narayana? Exercise the right to the first choice which custom gives you as the younger man."
Scarcely had Krishna finished when Arjuna said with reverence and without hesitation: "I would be content if you are with us, though you may wield no weapon."
Duryodhana could hardly contain himself for joy at what he thought was Arjuna's imbecile choice. He gladly chose the help of Vasudevas army and his request was granted. Pleased with the acquisition of a mighty force, Duryodhana went to Baladeva and told him the story.
As he finished speaking, the mighty Balarama said: "Duryodhana, they must have told you all I said at the time of the marriage of Virata's daughter. I pleaded your case and urged everything that could be said for you. Often have I told Krishna that we have equal ties with the Kauravas and the Pandavas. But my words failed to carry conviction to him. I am helpless. It is impossible for me to side with one whom Krishna opposes. I will not help Partha and I cannot support you against Krishna. Duryodhana, you come of an illustrious line, which is respected by all the princes of the land. Well, then, if it must be war, bear yourself in accordance with the Kshatriya code," said he.
Duryodhana returned to Hastinapura in high spirits saying to himself: "Arjuna has made a fool of himself. The great army of Dwaraka will fight on my side and Balarama's good wishes too are with me. Vasudeva has been left without an army."
"Dhananjaya, why did you choose thus unwisely, preferring me alone and unarmed to my fully equipped and heroic forces?" asked Krishna of Arjuna with a smile, when they were alone. Arjuna answered:
"My ambition is to achieve glory even like yours. You have the power and prowess to face all the princes of the land and their hordes in battle single-handed. I too feel I can do it. So, I desire that I should win the battle with you driving my chariot unarmed. I have desired this for long and you have today fulfilled my wish."
Vasudeva smiled again and pronounced this benediction: "Are you trying to compete with me? May you succeed," for he was pleased with Arjuna's decision. This is the sacred story of how Krishna became Partha's charioteer.
SALYA, the ruler of Madradesa, was the brother of Madri, the mother of Nakula and Sahadeva. He heard that the Pandavas were camping in the city of Upaplavya and making preparations for war.
He collected a very big army and set off towards that city to join the Pandavas. Salya's army was so large that where it halted for rest, the encampment extended over a length of nearly fifteen miles.
News of Salya and his marching forces reached Duryodhana. Deciding that Salya should somehow be persuaded to join his side, Duryodhana instructed his officers to provide him and his great army with all facilities and treat them to sumptuous hospitality.
In accordance with Duryodhana's instruction, several beautifully decorated rest houses were erected at several places on the route, at which Salya and his men were treated to wondrous hospitality. Food and drink were lavishly provided.
Salya was exceedingly pleased with the attentions paid to him but assumed that his nephew, Yudhishthira, had arranged all this. Salya's army marched on, the earth shaking beneath their heavy strides.
Feeling very pleased with the hospitality, he called the waiting attendants one day and said to them:
"I must reward you all who have treated me and my soldiers with so much love and attention. Please tell Kunti's son that he should let me do this, and bring me his consent."
The servants went and told their master, Duryodhana, this. Duryodhana, who was all the time moving unobserved with the party waiting on Salya and his soldiers, at once took this opportunity to present himself before Salya, and say how honored he felt at Salya's acceptance of the Kaurava hospitality.
This amazed Salya whom till then had no suspicion of the truth, and he was also touched by the chivalry of Duryodhana in lavishing kingly hospitality on a partisan of the Pandavas.
Greatly moved, he exclaimed, "How noble and kind of you! How can I repay you?"
Duryodhana replied: "You and your forces should fight on my side. This is the reward I ask of you."
Salya was stunned.
The Puranas wherein right conduct is always preached, sometimes set out stories in which conduct, not in conformity with Dharma, seems condoned. Is it right, one may ask, for religious books thus to seem to justify wrong?
A little reflection will enable one to see the matter in proper light. It is necessary to bring home the fact that even wise, good and great men are liable to fall into error.
That is why the Puranas, although ever seeking to instil Dharma, contain narratives to show how in this world even good people sometimes sin against Dharma, as though irresistibly driven to do so.
This is to press home the truth that howsoever learned one may be, humility and constant vigilance are absolutely necessary if one wishes to avoid evil.
Why indeed, did the great authors of our epics write about the lapses of Rama in the Ramayana and Yudhishthira in the Mahabharata?
Where was the need to make mention of them and then labor arguments to explain them away, thereby disturbing men's minds?
It was not as though others had discovered the lapses and Vyasa and Valmiki had to defend their heroes. The stories are artistic creations in which lapses they impress the desired moral.
The parts dealing with the lapses deeply distress the reader's mind and serve as solemn warnings of pitfalls, which wait to engulf the careless.
They dispose the mind to humility and watchfulness and make it realise the need for divine guidance. The modern cinema also projects on the screen much that is bad and immoral.
Whatever may be the explanation offered by the protagonists of the cinema, evil is presented on the screen in an attractive fashion that grips people's minds and tempts them into the path of wickedness.
This is not so in the Puranas. Although they do point out that even great men now and again fell into error and committed wrong, the presentation is such as to warn the reader and not to allure him into evil ways.
This is the striking difference between our epics and the modern talkies, which arises from the difference in the character of the people who produced them.
"You are the same unto us both. I must mean as much to you as the Pandavas. You must agree to come to my aid," said Duryodhana.
Salya answered: "Be it so." Flattered by Duryodhana's splendid reception, Salya deserted the Pandavas who were entitled to his love and esteem and pledged his word to fight on Duryodhana's side which shows what dangers may lurk in receiving the hospitality of kings.
Feeling that it would not be right to go back without meeting Yudhishthira, Salya then turned to Duryodhana saying: "Duryodhana, believe me. I have given you my word of honor. I must however meet Yudhishthira and tell him what I have done."
"Go, see him and return soon. And do not forget your promise to me," said Duryodhana.
"Good luck to you. Go back to your palace. I will not betray you." Saying this, Salya went to the city of Upaplavya where Yudhishthira was camping.
The Pandavas received the ruler of Madra with great eclat. Nakula and Sahadeva were joyous beyond measure to see their uncle to whom the Pandavas narrated all their hardships and sufferings.
When they started talking about obtaining his help in the war that was impending, Salya related to them the story of his promise to Duryodhana.
Yudhishthira saw at once that it had been a mistake to take Salya's assistance for granted, thereby letting Duryodhana forestall them.
Concealing his disappointment as best he could, Yudhishthira addressed Salya thus:
"Great warrior, you are bound to keep the promise you have made to, Duryodhana. You are the equal of Vasudeva in battle and Karna will have you as his charioteer when he seeks Arjuna's life in the battlefield. Are you going to be the cause of Arjuna's death? Or are you going to save him then? I know I cannot fairly ask this of you. Still I do."
To which Salya rejoined: "My lad, I have been tricked into giving Duryodhana my word and I shall be ranged against you in battle. But when Karna proceeds to attack Arjuna, if I happen to be his charioteer, you may take it he will go to battle disheartened and Arjuna shall be saved. Fear not. The sorrows and insults, which were visited on Draupadi and you all, will soon be an avenged memory. Henceforth, yours will be good luck. No one can prevent or alter what has been ordained by fate. I have acted wrongly. Bear with me."
INDRA, the Lord of the three regions, was once so drunk with pride that he quite forgot the courteous manners and forms that the gods had hitherto observed.
When Brihaspati, preceptor of the gods, foremost in all branches of learning, and venerated alike by the gods and the asuras, came to his court, Indra did not rise from his seat to receive the acharya or ask him to be seated and failed to do the customary honors.
In his great conceit, Indra persuaded himself to believe that the sastras allowed him as a king in court the prerogative of receiving guests seated. Brihaspati was hurt by Indra's discourtesy and, attributing it to the arrogance of prosperity, silently left the assembly.
Without the high priest of the gods, the court lost in splendor and dignity and became an unimpressive gathering.
Indra soon realized the foolishness of his conduct and, sensing trouble for himself from the acharya's displeasure, he thought to make up with him by falling at his feet and asking for forgiveness.
But this he could not do, because Brihaspati had, in his anger, made himself invisible. This preyed on Indra's mind.
With Brihaspati gone, Indra's strength began to decline, while that of the asuras increased, which encouraged the latter to attack the gods. Then Brahma, taking pity on the beleaguered gods, advised them to take unto themselves a new acharya.
Said he to them: "You have, through Indra's folly, lost Brihaspati. Go now to Twashta's son Visvarupa and request that noble spirit to be your preceptor and all will be well with you."
Heartened by these words, the gods sought the youthful anchorite Visvarupa and made their request to him saying: "Though young in years, you are well versed in the Vedas. Do us the honor of being our teacher."
Visvarupa agreed, to the great advantage of the gods for, as a result of his guidance and teaching, they were saved from the tormenting asuras.
Visvarupa's, mother was of the asura clan of daityas, which caused Indra to regard Visvarupa with suspicion. He feared that because of his birth, Visvarupa might not be quite loyal and his suspicion gradually deepened.
Apprehending danger to himself from this descendent of the enemies of the gods, Indra sought to entice him into error with the temptresses of his court and so weaken him spiritually. But Visvarupa did not succumb.
The artful and seductive blandishments of Indra's glamour girls had no effect on the young ascetic. He held fast to his vow of celibacy. When Indra found that his plan of seduction failed, he gave way to murderous thoughts and one day killed Visvarupa with the Vajrayudha.
The story goes that the world suffers vicariously for this great sin of Indra. And, as a result of it, parts of the earth turned alkaline and became unsuitable for cultivation and women came to be afflicted with the physical troubles and uncleanness peculiar to them. The frothing of water is also attributed to this.
Twashta in his great rage and grief at Indra's cruel killing of his son and, desirous of avenging his death, performed a great sacrifice. And out of the sacrificial flames sprang Indra's mortal enemy Vritra.
Twashta sent him against the chief of the gods, saying: "Enemy of Indra, may you be strong and may you kill Indra." A great battle raged between the two in which Vritra was gaining the upper hand.
When the battle was going against Indra, the rishis and the gods sought refuge in great Vishnu who offered them protection and said to them: "Be not afraid. I shall enter Indra's Vajrayudha and he will win the battle in the end." And they returned in good heart.
They went to Vritra and said to him: "Please make friends with Indra. You are both equal in strength and valor."
Vritra respectfully answered: "O blameless ones, how can Indra, and I become friends? Forgive me. There cannot be friendship between rivals for supremacy. Two great powers cannot coexist as you know."
The rishis said in reply: "Do not entertain such doubts. Two good souls can be friends and their friendship is often after hostility."
Vritra yielded saying: "Well, then, I shall cease fighting. But I have no faith in Indra. He might take me unawares. So I seek this boon of you, namely, that neither by day nor by night, neither with dry weapons nor with wet ones, neither with stone nor with wood, nor with metals, nor with arrows shall Indra be able to take my life."
"So be it," said the rishis and the gods.
Hostilities ceased. But soon Vritra's fears were confirmed. Indra only feigned friendship for Vritra but was, all the time, waiting for a suitable opportunity to slay him.
One evening, he met Vritra on the beach and began to attack him in the twilight. The battle had raged for a long while when Vritra praising the Lord Vishnu, said to Indra: "Meanest of the mean, why do you not use the unfailing Vajrayudha? Hallowed by Hari, use it against me and I shall attain blessedness through Hari."
Indra maimed Vritra by chopping off his right arm but, undaunted, the latter hurled with his left band, his iron mace at his assailant who thereupon cut down his other arm also. When Indra disappeared into the mouth of Vritra, great was the consternation of the gods.
But Indra was not dead. He ripped Vritra's belly open and issuing forth went to the nearby beach. And directing his thunderbolt at the water hurled it so that the surf flew and hit Vritra. Vishnu having entered the foam, it became a deadly weapon and the mighty Vritra lay dead. The long battle thus ended and the afflicted world heaved a sigh of relief. But to Indra himself, the end of the war brought only ignominy because his victory was secured through sin and deceit and is went into hiding for sheer shame.
Indra's disappearance caused the gods and the rishis great distress. For a people without a king or a council of state to govern them cannot prosper. So they went to the good and mighty king Nahusha and offered him the crown.
"Forgive me, I cannot be your king. Who am I to aspire to the seat of Indra? How can I protect you? It is impossible," he humbly objected. But they insisted, saying: "Do not hesitate. Be anointed our king. All the merit and potency of our penance will be yours and be an addition to your strength. The power and the energy of everyone you set your eyes on shall be transferred to you and you will be invincible." Thus over-powered, he agreed. Revolution is no new thing. This story shows that, even in the world of the gods, there was a revolution leading to Indra's dethronement and Nahusha's installation as king in his stead. The story of Nahusha's fall is also instructive.
THE sin of the unrighteous slaughter of Vritra pulled Indra down from his high estate and made him a fugitive. Nahusha became the king of the gods in his stead. Nahusha started well, assisted by the merit and the fame earned by him while he was a king on earth. Thereafter, he fell on evil days.
The assumption of the kingship of the gods filled him with arrogance, He lost his humility and became filled with lawless desires.
Nahusha indulged freely in the pleasures of heaven and gave him up to untamed and lecherous thoughts. One day, he saw Indra's wife and became enamored of her. Possessed by evil thoughts, he spoke in tones of command to the assembled gods:
"Why has not Sachidevi, the wife of the king of the gods, come to me? Am I not the king of the gods now? Send her to my house soon."
When she learnt this, Indra's wife was indignant. In fear and distress, she went to Brihaspati and cried out: "Preceptor, save me from this wicked person."
Brihaspati offered her protection. "Fear not " he said, "Indra will soon be back. Stay here with me. You will regain your husband." When Nahusha learnt that Sachidevi did not agree to fall in with his wishes and that she sought and obtained shelter under Brihaspati's roof, he became exceedingly angry.
The king's displeasure frightened the gods. They protested: "King of the gods, be not angry. Your anger will make the world sad. Sachidevi is another's wife, do not covet her. Do not swerve from the path of righteousness."
But, the infatuated Nahusha would not listen to them. Tauntingly, he said to them: "When Indra lusted for Ahalya, where were your principles of righteousness and good conduct? Why did you not prevent him then and why do you stop me now? What did you do when he so shamelessly murdered Visvarupa when the latter was in penance and where was your virtuous horror when he killed Vritra through deceit? Sachidevi's only course is to come and live with me and it will be for your good to get her reconciled to my proposal and leave her in my charge. So, now set about it," ordered Nahusha.
The affrighted gods decided to talk the matter over with Brihaspati and somehow contrive to bring Sachidevi to Nahusha. They all went to Brihaspati and related to him what Nahusha had said and pleaded that Sachidevi should submit to Nahusha’s desires.
At which, the chaste Sachidevi shook with shame and fear and cried out: "My God! I cannot do it. I sought refuge in you. Oh brahmana, do protect me."
Brihaspati consoled her and said: "He, who betrays one who has sought refuge, will meet with destruction. The very earth will not let the seed, that he sows, sprout. I will not give you up. Nahusha's end is approaching. Be not afraid."
He indicated a way of escape from her difficult situation by hinting that she should pray for time, and the shrewd Sachidevi took the hint and bravely went to Nahusha's palace.
As soon as Nahusha saw her, pride and lust having deprived him of his senses, he was beside himself with joy and said: "O fair one, do not tremble. I am the lord of the three regions. There can be no sin in your becoming my wife."
Hearing the wicked man's words, the virtuous Indrani, Indra's wife, trembled for a moment. Soon regaining composure she replied: "King of the gods, before I become yours, I have a request to make. Is Indra alive or is he dead? If he is alive, where is he? If, after making enquiries and searching for him, I do not find him, then no sin will attach to me and I could become your wife with a clear conscience."
Nahusha said: "What you say is right. Go and search for him and be sure to return. Remember the plighted word." Saying this, he sent her back to Brihaspati's house.
The gods went to the great Vishnu and complained to him of Nahusha. They said: "Lord, it was your might that killed Vritra but Indra bears, the sin of it, and ashamed and afraid to show himself in his unclean state, he has hidden himself.
Pray indicate a way of deliverance for him." Narayana said in reply: "Let him worship me. He will be cleansed of sin and the evil-minded Nahusha will meet with destruction."
Sachidevi prayed to the goddess of chastity, and, by her grace, reached where Indra was in hiding. Indra had reduced himself to the size of an atom and hid himself in a fibre of the stem of a lotus plant growing in Manasarovara. He was doing penance in that state waiting for better days. Sachidevi could not contain herself for sorrow at her husband's plight and burst into tears. She acquainted him with her troubles.
Indra spoke words of courage to her. "Nahusha's end is drawing near," he said. "Go to him by yourself and tell him that you consent to his proposal. Ask him to come to your residence in a palanquin carried by ascetics. Then Nahusha will be destroyed."
Sachidevi went and pretended to agree to Nahusha's proposal as Indra had asked her to do. Overjoyed that she had returned to him in this complaisant mood, the foolish Nahusha burst out: "Blessed one, I am your slave and ready to do you’re every bidding. You have been true to your word."
"Yes, I have come back. You will be my husband. I want you to do something, which I very much desire. Are you not the lord of the world? It is my wish that you should come majestically to my house in a grander style than the great Vishnu or Rudra or the asuras. Let the palanquin be borne by the seven rishis. I shall then be glad and receive you and bid you welcome," she said.
Nahusha fell into the trap. "What a grand idea! Your imagination is wonderful. It pleases me exceedingly. It is but proper that the great rishis should carry me, who am blessed with the powers of absorbing the energy of those on whom my eyes fall. I shall do exactly as you have wished,"said he, and sent her back home. The infatuated Nahusha called the rishis and bade them carry him on their shoulders.
At this sacrilege, the three worlds were aghast and trembled. But worse was to come as the palanquin was carried along. Inflamed with thoughts of the beautiful Sachidevi waiting for him, Nahusha was impatient to reach her soon. So he began goading the rishi-bearers of his palanquin to go faster. And he went so far in his mad wickedness as to kick Agastya, one of the bearers, saying "sarpa, sarpa." (Sarpa means to move and also a serpent.) The insanity of lust and arrogance had reached its culmination. Nahusha's cup of iniquity was full.
"Meanest of the mean, do thou fall from heaven and become a sarpa on earth," cursed the rishi in his wrath. Immediately Nahusha fell headlong, down from heaven, and became a python in the jungle and had to wait for several thousand years for his deliverance. Indra was restored to his state. He became the king of the gods and Sachidevi's grief ended.
Relating this story of the sufferings of Indra and his wife to Yudhishthira and Draupadi at Upaplavya, their uncle Salya tried to comfort them.
"Victory awaits the patient. Those, whom prosperity makes arrogant, meet with destruction. You, your brothers and Draupadi have gone through untold sufferings like Indra and his wife. Your trials will soon be over and you will regain your kingdom. The evil-minded Karna and Duryodhana will be destroyed even as Nahusha was," said Salya.
THE Pandavas were camping at Upaplavya in Virata's territory. From there, they sent emissaries to all friendly rulers. Contingents arrived from all parts of the country and soon, the Pandavas had a mighty force of seven divisions. The Kauravas did likewise and collected an army of eleven divisions.
Then, as now, a division was made up of all arms grouped together in accordance with established military practice. In those days, a division consisted of 21,870 chariots, an equal number of elephants, thrice as many horses and five times as many foot soldiers, and they were provided with weapons of all kinds and other war equipment.
Chariots were the "armored cars" of ancient warfare and elephants, specially trained for war, corresponded to the " tanks" of modern times.
Drupada's brahmana messenger reached Dhritarashtra's court. After the usual ceremonial introduction and enquiries were over, the messenger addressed the assembled gathering on behalf of the Pandavas:
"Law is eternal and of inherent validity. You know this and I need not point it out to you. Dhritarashtra and Pandu are both Vichitravirya's sons and are, according to our usages, equally entitled to their father's property. In spite of this, Dhritarashtra's sons have taken possession of the whole kingdom, while Pandu's sons are without their share of the common inheritance. There can be no justification for this. Scions of the Kuru dynasty, the Pandavas desire peace. They are prepared to forget the sufferings they have undergone and to let bygones be bygones. They are unwilling to resort to war, because they fully know that war never brings any good but only destruction. Render unto them, therefore, the things that are due to them. This would be in accordance both with justice and with the agreement previously reached. Let there be no delay."
After this appeal of the messenger, the wise and brave Bhishma spoke. "By the grace of God," he said, "the Pandavas are safe and well. Although they have obtained the support of many princes and are strong enough for battle, they are not bent on war. They still seek peace. To restore to them their property is the only right thing to do."
Bhishma had not finished when Karna angrily broke in and, turning to the messenger, exclaimed: "O brahmana, is there anything new in what you have said? What tortures it to tell the same old story? How can Yudhishthira claim the property that he lost at the game board? If, now, Yudhishthira wants anything, he must beg for it as a gift! He arrogantly prefers this absurd claim in fond reliance on the strength of his allies, particularly Matsya and Panchala. Let me tell you clearly that nothing can be got out of Duryodhana by threats. As the plighted word, that the Pandavas should live undiscovered during the thirteenth year, has been broken, they must once again go back to the forest for another twelve years and return thereafter."
Bhishma interposed: "Son of Radha, you speak foolishly. If we do not do as this messenger tells us, war will be upon us in which we are certain to be defeated. And Duryodhana and all of us are doomed to destruction." The disorder and excitement in the assembly made Dhritarashtra intervene.
He said to the messenger: "Having in mind the good of the world and considering the Pandava's welfare, I have decided to send Sanjaya to them. Please return at once and tell Yudhishthira this."
Then Dhritarashtra called Sanjaya aside and instructed him thus: "Sanjaya, go to the sons of Pandu and convey to them my affectionate regards and my kind inquiries about Krishna, Satyaki and Virata. Give all the princes assembled there my regards. Go there on my behalf and speak conciliatingly so as to secure the avoidance of war."
Sanjaya went to Yudhishthira on this mission of peace. After the introductory salutations, Sanjaya thus addressed Yudhishthira in the midst of his court: "Dharmaputra, it is my good fortune to be able to see you again with my eyes. Surrounded by princes, you present the picture of Indra himself. The sight gladdens my heart. King Dhritarashtra sends you his best wishes and desires to know that you are well and happy. The son of Ambika (Dhritarashtra) detests all talk of war. He desires your friendship and yearns for peace."
When Dharmaputra heard Sanjaya say this, he felt glad and answered: "If so, Dhritarashtra's sons have been saved, nay, we have all escaped a great tragedy. I, too, desire only peace and hate war. If our kingdom is returned to us, we will wipe out all memories of the sufferings we have undergone."
Sanjaya spoke again: "Dhritarashtra's sons are perverse. Disregarding their father's advice and their grandsire's wise words, they are still as wicked as ever. But you should not lose patience. Yudhishthira, you stand ever for right conduct. Let us eschew the great evil of war. Can happiness be gained with possessions obtained through war? What good can we reap from a kingdom won after killing our own relatives? Do not therefore commence hostilities. Even if one were to gain the whole earth bounded by the ocean, old age and death are inescapable. Duryodhana and his brothers are fools. But that is no reason why you should swerve from rectitude or lose patience. Even if they do not give back your kingdom, you should not abandon the supreme path of dharma."
Yudhishthira answered: "Sanjaya, what you say is true. Rectitude is the best of possessions, but are we committing wrong? Krishna knows the intricacies of rectitude and dharma. He wishes both sides well. I shall do as Vasudeva orders."
Krishna said: "I desire the welfare of the Pandavas. I desire also that Dhritarashtra and his sons should be happy. This is a difficult matter. I think I can settle this issue by myself going to Hastinapura. If I could obtain peace from the Kauravas on terms that do not conflict with the welfare of all, nothing would make me and the Pandavas happier. If I succeed in doing so, the Kauravas will have been rescued from the jaws of death. I shall also have achieved something good and worthwhile. Even if, through a peaceful settlement, the Pandavas get back what is due to them, they will still serve Dhritarashtra loyally. They desire nothing else. But they are also prepared for war if need be. Of these two alternatives, peace and war, Dhritarashtra can choose what he pleases."
And Yudhishthira said to Sanjaya: "Sanjaya, go back to the Kaurava, court and tell the son of Ambika this from me: 'Was it not through your generosity that we obtained a share of the kingdom when we were young? You, who made me a king once, should not deny us our share now and drive us to make a beggar's living on the charity of others. Dear uncle, there is enough room in the world for both of us and the Kauravas. Let there be no antagonism, therefore, between us.' Thus should you request Dhritarashtra on my behalf. Give the grandsire my love and regards and ask him to devise some way of ensuring that his grandchildren live happily in amity. Convey the same message to Vidura also. Vidura is the person who can best see what is good for all of us and advise accordingly. Explain matters to Duryodhana and tell him on my behalf: 'My dear brother, you made us, who were princes of the realm, live in the forest, clad in skins. You insulted and harassed our weeping wife in the assembly of princes. We bore all this patiently. Give us back, at least now, what is lawfully ours. Do not covet what belongs to others. We are five. For the five of us give at least five villages and make peace with us. We shall be content. Say thus to Duryodhana, Sanjaya. I am prepared and ready for peace as well as for war."
After Yudhishthira had said these words, Sanjaya took leave of Kesava and the Pandavas, and went back to Hastinapura.
AFTER he had despatched Sanjaya to the Pandavas, Dhritarashtra, filled with anxiety, could not get a wink of sleep that night. He sent for Vidura and spent the whole night talking to him.
"To give the Pandavas their share of the kingdom is the safest plan," said Vidura. "Only this can bring good to both sides. Treat the Pandavas and your own sons with equal affection. In this case, the right course is also the wise one."
Vidura counselled Dhritarashtra in this manner at great length.
The next morning Sanjaya returned to Hastinapura. And gave a full account of what had taken place in Yudhishthira's court.
"Chiefly, Duryodhana should know what Arjuna said: 'Krishna and I are going to destroy Duryodhana and his followers, root and branch. Make no mistake about it. The Gandiva bow is impatient for war. My bowstring is throbbing even without my stretching it and from my quiver, arrows keep peeping out impatiently, demanding when? When? Sanjaya, evil stars make the foolish Duryodhana seek war with Krishna and myself. Not even Indra and the gods can defeat us.' Thus spoke Dhananjaya," said Sanjaya.
Bhishma counselled Dhritarashtra against opposing the combined might of Arjuna and Krishna. "Karna, who boasts repeatedly that he will slay the Pandavas", said Bhishma, "is not equal to a sixteenth part of the Pandavas. Your sons are heading for destruction, listening to his words. When Arjuna beat back your son's attack on Virata's capital and humbled his pride, what was Karna able to do? When the Gandharvas took your son prisoner, where did the invincible Karna bide himself? Was it not Arjuna who drove back the Gandharvas?" Thus did Bhisma taunt Karna and warn the Kauravas.
"What grandfather Bhisma says is the only proper thing to do," said Dhritarashtra. "All wise men say, and I know, that it is best to seek peace. But what can I do? These fools would go their own way, however loudly I protest."
Duryodhana, who had been listening to all this, stood up. "Father, do not worry and tremble about our safety. We know how strong we are. That we shall win is certain. Yudhishthira knows it too, for, giving up all hope of kingdom, he only begs now for five villages. Is it not clear from this that he is already scared about our eleven divisions? What can the Pandavas oppose to our eleven divisions? Why then do you doubt our victory?" Duryodhana said to his father and tried to cheer him up.
"My son, let us not have war," said Dhritarashtra. "Be satisfied with half the kingdom. It is enough if we govern that half well." Duryodhana could stand it no longer. "The Pandavas will not receive even a needle-point of territory," he exclaimed, and left the court. In the excitement that prevailed, the court broke up.
Let us now relate what the Pandavas were saying among themselves. After Sanjaya left Upaplavya for Hastinapura, Yudhishthira said to Krishna: "Vasudeva, Sanjaya is Dhritarashtra's alter ego. From his speech, I have divined what is in Dhritarashtra's mind. Dhritarashtra is trying to secure peace without giving us any territory. In my simplicity, I was glad at first when I heard Sanjaya speak. But it soon became clear that my joy was unfounded. He then struck a middle line and spoke desiring peace. But the words with which he ended his message seemed to commend meekness to us, even if our just rights were denied. Dhritarashtra has not been playing fair with us. The crisis is approaching. There are none but you to protect us. I made my offer that we would be content with only five villages. The wicked Kauravas will refuse even this. How can we tolerate this height of intransigence? Only you can advise us in this crisis. There is none but you who knows what our duty is now and can guide us in dharma as well as in statesmanship."
Krishna said in reply: "For the good of you both, I have decided to go to Hastinapura. I shall go to Dhritarashtra's court and try to secure your rights without war. If my mission succeeds, it will be for the good of the world."
Yudhishthira said: "Krishna, pray do not go. What is the good of your going to the enemies' place now? The perverse Duryodhana will stick to his folly. I do not like your going among those unscrupulous men. We cannot let you jeopardise your safety, for the Kauravas will stop at nothing."
Krishna answered: "Dharmaputra, I know how wicked Duryodhana is. But still we should make all attempts at a peaceful solution so as to give the world no cause to accuse us of not having done everything possible to avert war. We must omit nothing, no matter how slender our hopes of success. Have no fears for my safety, for, if the Kauravas offer me, a messenger of peace, any threat of bodily harm, I will reduce them to ashes."
Said Yudhishthira: "You are all-knowing. You know our hearts as well as theirs. In expounding matters and in the art of persuasion, there is none better than you."
Krishna said: "Yes, I know you both. Your mind ever clings to righteousness and theirs is always steeped in hatred, jealousy and enmity. I will do all I can to secure the result, which I know is dear to you, a settlement reached without war even though it may have, but little for you. The signs are ominous and portend war. Still duty demands that we should make the attempt for peace."
Thus saying, Krishna took leave of the Pandavas and set off in his chariot to Hastinapura.
SATYAKI accompanied Govinda (Krishna) to Hastinapura. Before setting out on his journey, Krishna had a lone discussion with the Pandavas. Even the mighty Bhima, rather surprisingly, supported a peaceful settlement.
"Let not the race be destroyed. Peace is very much to be preferred," said he. The poet Vyasa makes Bhima speak thus in order to show that truly great warriors desire peace, and that to seek peace is not a sign of fear.
But Draupadi could not forget her humiliation. Holding her locks in her hand she stood before Krishna, and in a voice quivering with grief, she said: "Madhusudana, look at these tresses of mine and do what honor requires to be done. There can be no peace with honor. Even if Arjuna and Bhima are against war, my father, old though he is, will go to battle, supported by my children. Even if my father can keep out, my children, with Subhadra's son Abhimanyu, at their head, will fight the Kauravas. I have, for the sake of Dharmaputra, these thirteen years, suppressed the burning flame of anger within me. I can restrain myself no longer." And she sobbed, remembering the great outrage.
Krishna was moved and said: "Weep not. Dhritarashtra's sons will not listen to my words of peace. They are going to fall and their bodies will be food for wild dogs and jackals. You will live to see us victorious and the insult to you will be fully avenged, and that too, soon." Draupadi was satisfied.
Madhava (Krishna) halted for the night near the city of Kucasthala. When news of Krishna's forthcoming visit came, the city was in great excitement.
Dhritarashtra issued orders for decorating the city and arrangements for receiving Janardana (Krishna) were in full swing. Dhritarashtra issued instructions that Duhsasana's palace, being bigger and more beautiful than Duryodhana's, should be got ready and placed at the disposal of Krishna and his entourage and large tents were erected at several places outside the city, along the route which Krishna's chariot was to take.
Dhritarashtra consulted Vidura. He said to him: "Make arrangements for presenting Govinda with chariots and elephants. Presents of other kinds should also be got ready." But Vidura said:
"Govinda cannot be bought with presents. Give him that for which he is coming to the land of the Kurus. Does he not come here seeking a peaceful settlement? Make that possible. You cannot satisfy Madhava with other gifts."
When Govinda reached Hastinapura, the citizens had thronged in such numbers in the decorated streets that his chariot could only progress very slowly. He went first to Dhritarashtra's palace and then proceeded to Vidura's house. Kuntidevi met him there.
Thinking of the sufferings of her sons and overpowered by grief, she wept. Krishna comforted her and, taking leave of her, made for Duryodhana's palace.
Duryodhana gave Govinda welcome and invited him to dinner, but Krishna said with a smile: "Emissaries eat only after their mission is fulfilled. You may give a feast when my work here is completed."
Declining Duryodhana's invitation, he returned to Vidura's house where he rested.
Vidura and Krishna took counsel together. Vidura told him that Duryodhana's arrogance was based on his confidence that no one could defeat him as long as Bhishma and Drona, who, he knew, were under a moral obligation not to abandon him, stood by him.
Vidura said that it would be a mistake for Govinda even to enter the wicked man's court. All, who knew Duryodhana and his brothers, apprehended that they would plot, through fraud and deceit, against Krishna's life.
"What you say about Duryodhana is true. I have not come here with any hope that I would be able to secure a peaceful settlement, but only in order that the world might not hold me to blame. Have no fear for my life," said Krishna.
The next morning, Duryodhana and Sakuni came to Krishna and informed him that Dhritarashtra was waiting for him. Govinda went to the court along with Vidura.
As Vasudeva came into the court, that great assemblage of kings stood up. Saluting the elders with folded hands and with a word or a smile for the others, Krishna took his seat. The introductions over, Govinda rose from his seat and, turning to Dhritarashtra explained the object of his visit. He made clear what the Pandavas wanted.
"Dhritarashtra, do not bring ruin to your people. You regard as bad what is good for you and as good what is bad. It is your duty to restrain your sons. The Pandavas are prepared for war but they desire peace. They wish to live in happiness under you. Treat them also as your sons and devise an honorable solution, and the world will acclaim you," said Krishna.
Dhritarashtra said: "My friends know that I am not to blame. I desire precisely what Madhava has stated but I am powerless. My wicked sons do not listen to me. Krishna, I entreat you to advise Duryodhana."
Krishna turned to Duryodhana and said: "You are the descendant of a noble line. Pursue the path of dharma. Your present thoughts are unworthy and befit only men of low birth. On account of you, this famous line is in danger of being destroyed. If you listen to reason and justice, the Pandavas themselves will install Dhritarashtra as king and you as the heir apparent. Make peace with them by giving them half the kingdom."
Bhishma and Drona also pressed Duryodhana to listen to Govinda. But Duryodhana's heart could not be softened. "I pity Dhritarashtra and Gandhari whom Duryodhana is dooming to bereavement and desolation by his misdeeds," said Vidura.
Dhritarashtra once again said to his son: "If you do not listen to Govinda's advice, our race will perish."
Drona and Bhishma also tried repeatedly to persuade Duryodhana and turn him from error. Duryodhana was furious with everyone for pressing him in this matter to agree to a peaceful solution. He rose, and said:
"Madhusudana, you wrong me out of love for the Pandavas. The others here also blame me, but I do not think I am one whit to blame in this matter. The Pandavas, of their own volition, staked their kingdom at play and, being defeated, justly forfeited it. How am I responsible for it? Losing the game, they went to the forests as in honor bound. For what fault of mine do they now seek battle and wish to slay us? I will not yield to threats. When I was young, the elders did us grievous wrong by giving the Pandavas, I do not know why, a part of the kingdom to which they had not a shadow of a right. I acquiesced then but they lost it at play. I refuse to return it to them. I am utterly blameless. I will not give the Pandavas an inch of land, not even a needle-point of it!"
When Duryodhana said that he had not committed wrong, Govinda laughed and said: "The play was fraudulently arranged by you in conspiracy with Sakuni and you afterwards insulted Draupadi in an assembly of princes. And yet, you have the impudence to say that you have committed no wrong," and reminded him of the other iniquities he had perpetrated against the Pandavas.
Duhsasana seeing that Bhishma and others were accepting Krishna's indictment of Duryodhana said: "Brother, it seems that these people have a plot to bind you with ropes and hand you over to the Pandavas. Let us get away from here," and Duryodhana, accompanied by his brothers, walked out of the court.
Govinda addressed the court again and said: "Sires, the Yadavas and Vrishnis live happily, now that Kamsa and Sisupala are dead. In order to save a whole people, it is some times necessary to sacrifice an individual. Does it not happen occasionally that a village is abandoned in order that the country may be saved? I am afraid you will have to sacrifice Duryodhana if you want to save your race. That is the only way."
Dhritarashtra said to Vidura: "Bring far-sighted Gandhari here. It is possible that Duryodhana might listen to her." Gandhari was sent for and, when she came to the court, Duryodhana was sent for.
Duryodhana, his eyes red with anger, returned and Gandhari tried by all the means in her power to bring him round to reason. Duryodhana said 'No' and again walked out of the hall.
He and his friends had plotted to seize Krishna. News of this reached the court. Govinda, who had anticipated all this, laughed and disclosed his divinity.
The blind Dhritarashtra, by the grace of Krishna, temporarily regained his sight and was able to see Krishna in his Visvarupa presence in every form.
"Pundarikaksha, (lotus-eyed Krishna) having seen your Visvarupa, I do not wish to see anything else. I ask that I should be blind again," said Dhritarashtra, and he became blind again. "All our efforts have failed. Duryodhana is obstinate," said Dhritarashtra to Govinda.
And Krishna rose and, with Satyaki and Vidura on either side of him, left the court.
He went straight to Kunti. He told her what had happened and she asked him to convey her blessings to her sons.
"The time has come," said she, "for that for which a kshatriya woman brings forth sons. May you protect my sons!"
A kshatriya mother brings forth children to be sacrificed in war. Purushottamat (Krishna as Supreme Being) got into his chariot and sped towards Upaplavya. War became a certainty.
ANY ray of hope there might have been of a peaceful settlement when Krishna went to Hastinapura was extinguished when he returned and narrated what happened. Kunti was overwhelmed with grief when she learnt that it was to be war to the death.
"How can I" reflected Kunti, "give my thoughts tongue and say to my sons, 'Bear the insults. Let us not ask for any territory and let us avoid war'? How can my sons accept what is contrary to kshatriya tradition?"
"At the same time," she thought, "what can be gained by mutual killings in the war and what happiness attained after the destruction of the race? How shall I face this dilemma?" Thus was she tormented by the prospect of wholesale destruction on the one hand and the claims of kshatriya honor on the other.
"How can my sons defeat the mighty three combined, Bhishma, Drona and Karna? They are warriors who have never yet met defeat. When I think of them, my mind trembles. I do not worry about the others. These three are the only people in the Kaurava army capable of fighting the Pandavas with any hope of slaying them. Of these, Dronacharya might refrain from killing my children from either love or unwillingness to meet one's own disciples in battle. The grandsire will certainly not want to kill them. But Karna is the Pandavas' chief enemy. He is anxious to please Duryodhana by killing my sons. Karna is a great man-at-arms. As I think of him engaged in battle against my other sons, my heart is consumed with agony like a faggot in the fire. Now is the time for me, to seek Karna out and tell him the truth about his birth, on knowing which, he is bound to abandon Duryodhana's cause."
Tormented by these anxious thoughts about her children. Kunti went to the banks of the Ganga where Karna usually offered his daily prayers.
Karna was there at his devotions. Facing east and with uplifted hands he was in deep meditations. Kunti quietly stood behind him and waited.
Karna was in meditation and was unmindful of everything until he felt the hot rays of the sun on his back.
His prayers over, Karna looked back to find Kunti standing behind him and holding the hem of his upper garment over her head to shield it from the burning sun.
That Pandu's queen and the mother of the Pandava princes should be there, waiting patiently for him to finish his prayers, filled him with great confusion and amazement.
"The son of Radha and the chariot-driver Adhiratha bows to you. I am at your service. What can I do for you, O queen?" asked Karna, according to the established forms of respectful address.
"Karna," said Kuntidevi, "you are not Radha's son, nor is the charioteer your father. Do not think that you are a man of the chariot-driver's caste. You are Surya's son born out of the womb of Pritha of royal blood, otherwise known as Kunti. May good fortune attend you"!
She then narrated the story of his birth. "You who were born with full armor and golden earrings," said Kunti, "not knowing that the Pandavas are your brothers, have joined Duryodhana and have come to hate them. To live in dependence on Dhritarashtra's sons, does not befit you. Join Arjuna and be one of the kings of the realm. May you and Arjuna put down the wicked! The whole world will be at your feet. Your fame will reach far and wide, like that of the brothers Balarama and Krishna. Surrounded by your five brothers, your effulgence will be like that of Brahma among the gods. In perplexing situations, one must do what gives satisfaction to loving parents. This is the highest dharma according to our scriptures."
When his mother spoke thus to him at the end of his devotions to the sun, Karna felt a sign in his heart that the Sun god endorsed Kunti's request. But he checked himself and took it to mean that the Sun god was testing his loyalty and strength of mind. He should not be found wanting.
With an effort of the will, he controlled alike the temptations of self-interest and the prompting of natural affection. He said sadly but firmly: "What you have said, dear mother, is contrary to dharma. If I swerve from the path of duty, I shall have done myself much more hurt than any that an enemy might inflict on me in the battlefield. You deprived me of all that was my birthright as a kshatriya when you threw me, a helpless babe, into the river. And now, you talk to me of my duties as a kshatriya. You denied me the motherly love, which blesses all life. And now, thinking of your other children's good, you tell me this story. If I now join the Pandavas, will not the world proclaim that I have done so out of fear? I have eaten the salt of Dhritarashtra's sons, won their confidence as their champion and enjoyed all the consideration and kindness they showed me. And now you want me, when the battle is about to be joined, to be untrue to my salt and go over to the Pandavas. The sons of Dhritarashtra look on me as the ark, which will enable them to cross the deluge of war. I have myself urged them into this war. How can I now desert them? Could there be blacker treachery and baser ingratitude? What in life, or beyond it, would be worth a price like that? Mother dear, I must discharge my debt, aye, with life, if necessary; otherwise, I shall be no better than a common thief purloining my food all these years. I shall surely use all my followers against your sons in this coming war. I cannot deceive you. Please forgive me."
"But yet," continued he, "I cannot have my mother plead completely in vain. Part with Arjuna to me. Either he or myself must die in this war. I will not kill your other sons, whatever they may do unto me. Mother of warrior sons, you will still have five sons. Either I or Arjuna will survive this war. And with the other four sons, you will still have five".
When Kunti heard her first-born speak thus firmly, adhering to the kshatriya code, her heart was full of tumultuous and contrary feelings and, without trusting herself to speak. She embraced him and departed in silence.
"Who can go against what has been ordained?" she thought. "He has, at least, offered not to harm four of my sons. That is enough. May God bless him," and she returned home.
GOVINDA reached Upaplavya and told the Pandavas what had happened in Hastinapura.
"I spoke urging what was right and what was also good for them. But, it was all in vain. There is now no way out except the fourth, that is, the last alternative of war. The foolish Duryodhana would not listen to the advice tendered to him by the elders in the assembly. We must now prepare for war without delay. Kurukshetra is waiting for the holocaust."
"There is no longer any hope of peace," said Yudhishthira, addressing his brothers, and issued orders for marshalling their forces in, battle array.
They formed the army in seven divisions and appointed Drupada, Virata, Dhrishtadyumna, Sikhandin, Satyaki, Chekitana and Bhimasena at the head of each division. They then considered who should be appointed Generalissimo.
Addressing Sahadeva, Yudhishthira said: "We should select one of these seven to be Supreme Commander. He should be one capable of successfully facing the great Bhishma, who can burn enemies to ashes. He should be one who knows how to dispose his forces as circumstances require from time to time. Who do you think is most fitted for this responsibility?"
In the olden days, it was the practice to ascertain the views of younger people first, before consulting elders. This instilled enthusiasm and self-confidence in the younger folk. If the elders were consulted first, it would not be possible for others to speak with freedom, and even honest differences of opinion might savor of disrespect.
"Let us take as our Supreme Commander the king of Virata who helped us when we lived in disguise and with whose support we now demand our share of the kingdom," replied Sahadeva.
"It seems to me best to make Drupada the Generalissimo, for, in point of age, wisdom, courage, birth and strength, he is supreme," said Nakula.
"Drupada, the father of Draupadi, has learnt archery from Bharadwaja, and has for long been waiting for an encounter with Drona. He is much respected by all kings, and is supporting us, as if we were his own sons. He should lead our army against Drona and Bhishma."
Dharmaputra then asked Dhananjaya for his opinion. "I think, Dhrishtadyumna should be our chief in the battlefield. The hero who has his senses under control and who has been born to bring about Drona's end. Dhrishtadyumna alone can withstand the arrows of Bhishma whose skill in archery made even the great Parasurama hold back. He is the only man fitted to be our commander. I can think of no one else," replied Arjuna.
Bhimasena said: "O king, what Arjuna says is true, but the rishis and elders have said that Sikhandin has come into the world to kill Bhishma. My inclination would be to give the command to Sikhandin whose radiant face is like that of Parasurama. I do not think any one else can defeat Bhishma."
Yudhishthira finally asked Kesava for his opinion. "The warriors mentioned are, each one of them, worthy of selection," said Krishna. "Any one of them would fill the Kauravas with fear. All things considered, I would endorse Arjuna's choice. Anoint Dhrishtadyumna, therefore, as your Supreme Commander."
Accordingly, Dhrishtadyumna, Drupada's illustrious son, who led Draupadi at the swayamvara and gave her away to Arjuna, who for thirteen long years was brooding over the insult that his sister had to suffer in Duryodhana's court, and who was waiting for an opportunity to avenge the wrong, was anointed Supreme Commander of the Pandava army.
The lion-roar of warriors, the blowing of conchs and shells and the trumpeting of elephants rent the air, With warlike cheers which made the sky ring, the Pandava army entered Kurukshetra in martial array.
BALARAMA, the illustrious brother of Krishna, visited the Pandavas, in their encampment. As Halayudha (plough bearer), clad in blue silk, entered majestically like a lion. Yudhishthira, Krishna and others gave the broad-shouldered warrior a glad welcome. Bowing to Drupada and Virata, the visitor seated himself beside Dharmaputra.
"I have come to Kurukshetra," said he, "learning that the descendants of Bharata have let themselves be overwhelmed by greed, anger and hatred and that the peace talks have broken down and that war has been declared."
Overcome by emotion, he paused for a while and then continued: "Dharmaputra, dreadful destruction is ahead. The earth is going to is a bloody morass strewn with mangled bodies! It is an evil destiny that has maddened the kshatriya world to foregather here to meet its doom. Often have I told Krishna, 'Duryodhana is the same to us as the Pandavas. We may not take sides in their foolish quarrels.' He would not listen to me. His great affection for Dhananjaya has misled Krishna and he is with you in this war which I see he has approved. How can Krishna and I be in opposite camps? For Bhima and Duryodhana, both of them my pupils, I have equal regard and love. How then can I support one against the other? Nor can I bear to see the Kauravas destroyed. I will therefore have nothing to do with this war, this conflagration that will consume everything. This tragedy has made me lose all interest in the world and so I shall wander among holy places."
Having thus spoken against the calamitous war, Krishna's brother left the place, his heart laden with sorrow and his mind seeking consolation in God.
This episode of Balarama’s, keeping out of the Mahabharata war is illustrative of the perplexing situations in which good and honest men often find themselves.
Compelled to choose between two equally justifiable, but contrary, courses of action, the unhappy individual is caught on the horns of a dilemma. It is only honest men that find themselves in this predicament. The dishonest ones of the earth have no such problems, guided as they are solely by their own attachments and desires, that is, by self-interest.
Not so the great men who have renounced all desire. Witness the great trials to which, in the Mahabharata, Bhishma, Vidura, Yudhishthira and Karna were put.
We read in that epic how they solved their several difficulties. Their solutions did not conform to a single moral pattern but reflected their several individualities. The conduct of each was the reaction of his personality and character to the impact of circumstances.
Modern critics and expositors sometimes forget this underlying basic factor and seek to weigh all in the same scales, which is quite wrong. We may profit by the way in which, in the Ramayana, Dasaratha, Kumbhakarna, Maricha, Bharata and Lakshmana reacted to the difficulties with which each of them was faced.
Likewise, Balarama's neutrality in the Mahabharata war has a lesson. Only two princes kept out of that war. One was Balarama and the other was Rukma, the ruler of Bhojakata. The story of Rukma, whose younger sister Rukmini married Krishna, is told in the next chapter.
BHISHMAKA, the king of Vidarbha, had five sons and an only daughter, Rukmini, a princess of matchless beauty, charm and strength of character.
Having heard of Krishna and his renown, she wished to be united to him in wedlock and the desire daily grew in intensity. Her relatives approved the idea, all except her eldest brother Rukma, the heir apparent, between whom and Krishna there was no love lost.
Rukma pressed his father not to give Rukmini in marriage to the ruler of Dwaraka but to marry her instead to Sisupala, the king of Chedi. The king being old, Rukma's became the dominant voice and it looked as though Rukmini would be compelled to marry Sisupala.
Rukmini, whose heart was wholly Krishna's because she was Lakshmi incarnate, was disconsolate. She feared that her father would be helpless against her domineering brother and would not be able to prevent the unhappy marriage.
Mustering all her strength of mind, Rukmini resolved somehow to find a way out of her predicament. She took counsel with a brahmana whom, abandoning all maidenly reserve, she sent as her emissary to Krishna, charging him to explain matters to her beloved and sue for help.
The brahmana accordingly went toDwaraka and conveyed to Krishna Rukmini's sad plight and her entreaty, and handed to him the letter Rukmini had sent through him. The letter ran as follows:
"My heart has already accepted you as lord and master. I charge you therefore to come and succour me before Sisupala carries me off by force. The matter cannot brook any delay; so you must be here tomorrow. Sisupala's forces, as well as Jarasandha's, will oppose you and will have to be overcome before you can have me. May you be the triumphant hero and capture me! My brother has decided to marry me to Sisupala and, as part of the wedding ceremonies, I am going to the temple along with my retinue to offer worship to Parvati. That would be the best time for you to come and rescue me. If you do not turn up, I will put an end to my life so that I may at least join you in my next birth."
Krishna read this and immediately mounted his chariot. At the king's behest, Kundinapura, the capital of Vidarbha, was most gorgeously decorated and preparations for the wedding of the princess with Sisupala were in full swing.
The bridegroom elect and his associates, all sworn enemies of Krishna, had already assembled in the capital. Balarama came to know of Krishna's sudden and secret departure, all by himself.
Guessing that it must be about the daughter of the king of Vidarbha and anxious lest Krishna should be hemmed in alone by mortal enemies thirsting for his blood, he hurriedly assembled a great force and marched on to Kundinapura.
Leaving her apartments, Rukmini, accompanied by her retinue, went in procession to the temple, where divine service was held.
"Oh Devi," implored Rukmini, praying for her intercession. "I prostrate myself before thee who knowest my devotion. Grant that Krishna may espouse me."
Stepping out of the temple, Rukmini sighted Krishna's chariot and ran straight as a needle to the attracting magnet. She fled to him and got into his chariot. And Krishna drove off with her, to the bewilderment of all around.
The servants ran to Rukma, the heir apparent, and related what had happened. "I will not return without killing Janardana," swore Rukma, and went in pursuit of Krishna with a large force.
But, meanwhile, Balarama had arrived with his army, and a great battle ensued between the two opposing forces in which the enemy was utterly routed. Balarama and Krishna returned home in triumph, where Rukmini's wedding with Krishna was celebrated with customary rites.
The defeated Rukma was ashamed to return to Kundinapura and built at the very site of the battle between Krishna and himself a new city, Bhojakata, over which he ruled.
Hearing of the Kurukshetra battle, Rukma arrived there with a huge force. Thinking that he could thereby win the friendship of Vasudeva, he offered help to the Pandavas.
"Oh Pandavas," said he addressing Dhananjaya, "the enemy forces are very large. I have come to help you. Give me the word and I shall attack whichever sector of the enemy formation you would like me to. I have the strength to attack Drona, Kripa or even Bhishma. I shall bring you victory. Only let me know your wish."
Turning to Vasudeva, Dhananjaya laughed.
"Oh, ruler of Bhojakata," said Arjuna, "we are not afraid of the size of the enemy forces. We have no need of your help and do not particularly desire it. You may either go away or stay on, just as you like."
At this, Rukma was filled with anger and shame and went to Duryodhana's camp with his army. "The Pandavas have refused my proffered assistance." Said he to Duryodhana. "My forces are at your disposal."
"Is it not after the Pandavas rejected your assistance that you have come here?" exclaimed Duryodhana, and added: "I am not in such dire need yet as to welcome their leavings."
Rukma, thus put to disgrace by both sides, returned to his kingdom without taking part in battle. Neutrality in war may be of several kinds.
It may arise from conscientious objection to war or it may be due to mere conceit and self-interest. Yet others may keep aloof through cowardice or sheer inertia.
Balarama was neutral in the Mahabharata war because of his love of peace. Rukma, on the other hand, abstained as a result of his conceit.
Instead of acting according to dharma, he thought of personal glory, and neither side would have him.
IT was the day before the commencement of the great battle. The grandsire, now the Kaurava Generalissimo, was with Duryodhana seeking to inspire him with his own heroic spirit and cheerfulness.
Bhishma spoke of the strength, skill and prowess of the warriors ranged on the Kauravas' side. Duryodhana was cheered up. Presently, Karna became the subject of their talk.
"Karna has earned your affection," said Bhishma, "but I do not think much of him. I do not like his great hatred of the Pandavas, and he is too boastful. There is no limit to his arrogance and he is much given to disparaging others. I would not place him in the highest rank among the warriors of the land. Besides, he has given away the divine armor with which he was born. He is not therefore likely to be of great help to me in this battle. The curse of Parasurama is on him too. His command of supernatural weapons will fail him in his hour of need, for he will not be able to remember the mantras. And the battle that will ensue between him and Arjuna will prove fatal for Karna."
Thus spoke Bhishma without mincing matters, and this was exceedingly unpalatable to Duryodhana and Karna. To make matters worse, Drona agreed with the grandsire and said:
"Karna is full of pride and overconfidence, which will cause him to be neglectful of the finer points of strategy, and through carelessness, he will suffer defeat."
Enraged by these harsh words, Karna turned to the grandsire with flaming eyes. "You sir," said he, "have always slighted me through mere dislike and envy and have never neglected an opportunity of humiliating me, though I gave you no reason. I bore all your taunts and thrusts for the sake of Duryodhana. You have said that I would not be of much help in the impending war. Let me tell you my settled conviction, it is you, not I, who will fail the Kauravas. Why hide your real feelings? The fact of the matter is that you have no genuine affection for Duryodhana, but he does not know it. Hating me you seek to come between me and Duryodhana and poison his mind against me. And in furtherance of your wicked design, you have been belittling my strength and running me down. You have stooped to behavior unworthy of a kshatriya. Age alone does not confer a title to honor and respect among warriors, but prowess does. Desist from poisoning our relations."
Turning then to Duryodhana, Karna said:
"Illustrious warrior, think well and look to your own good. Do not place too great a reliance on the grandsire. He is trying to sow dissension in our ranks. His appraisement of me will injure your cause. By running me down, he seeks to dampen my enthusiasm. He has become senile and his time is up. His arrogance does not let him have regard for anyone else. Age must be respected and experience is useful but, as the sastras warn us, there is a point when age becomes senility and ripeness falls into rottenness and decay. You have made Bhishma your Generalissimo who will, I have no doubt, earn some fame from the heroic deeds of others. But I will not bear arms while he is in command. Only after he has fallen will I do so."
The arrogant man is never conscious of his own arrogance. When accused of it, he charges the accuser with that very fault. His judgment is warped and he considers it a crime on the part of anyone to point out his defect. This is well illustrated in this episode.
Controlling his anger, Bhishma replied: "Son of Surya, we are in a crisis and that is why you have not ceased to live this moment. You have been the evil genius of the Kauravas." Duryodhana was in distress.
"Son of Ganga, I need the help of you both," he said. "You will both do deeds of great heroism, I have no doubt. At the break of dawn, the battle joins. Let there be no fighting among friends, with the foe in full force before us!"
But Karna was adamant in that he would not take up arms so long as Bhishma was in supreme command. Duryodhana eventually yielded to Karna and suffered him to carry out his threat.
Karna kept out during the first ten days of the battle, though all his men participated in it. At the end of the tenth day, when the great Bhishma lay on the battlefield covered all over with arrows, Karna went to him and bowed reverently and asked for forgiveness and blessings, which he received.
Thereafter, Karna cooperated and himself proposed Drona for the command of the Kaurava forces in succession to Bhishma. When Drona also fell, Karna took over the command and led the Kaurava forces.
ALL was ready for the battle. The warriors on both sides gathered together and solemnly bound themselves to honor the traditional rules of war.
The code of conduct in war and methods of warfare vary from time to time. It is only if what was in vogue at the time of the Mahabharata war is kept in mind that we can understand the epic. Otherwise, the story would be puzzling in places.
From what follows, the reader may have some idea of the rules of warfare followed in the Kurukshetra battle. Each day, the battle was over at sunset, and the hostiles mixed freely like friends.
Single combats might only be between equals and one could not use methods not in accordance with dharma. Thus those who left the field or retired would not be attacked. A horseman could attack only a horseman, not one on foot.
Likewise, charioteers, elephant troops and infantrymen could engage themselves in battle only with their opposite numbers in the enemy ranks.
Those who sought quarter or surrendered were safe from slaughter. Nor might one, for the moment disengaged, direct his weapons against another who was engaged in combat.
It was wrong to slay one who had been disarmed or whose attention was directed elsewhere or who was retreating or who had lost his armor. And no shafts were to be directed against non-combatant attendants or those engaged in blowing conchs or beating drums.
These were the rules that the Kauravas and the Pandavas solemnly declared they would follow.
The passage of time has witnessed many changes in men's ideas of right and wrong. Nothing is exempt from attack in modern warfare.
Not only are munitions made the target of attack, but dumb animals such as horses, camels, mules and medical stores, nay, non-combatants of all ages, are destroyed without compunction.
Sometimes the established conventions went overboard even in the Mahabharata war.
We see clearly in the story that occasional transgressions took place for one reason or another. But, on the whole, the accepted rules of honorable and humane war were observed by both sides in the Kurukshetra battle. And the occasional violations were looked upon as wrong and shameful.
Addressing the princes under his command, Bhishma said: "Heroes, yours is a glorious opportunity. Before you, are the gates of heaven wide open. The joy of living with Indra and Brahma awaits you. Pursue the path of your ancestors and follow the kshatriya dharma. Fight with joy and attain fame and greatness. A kshatriya does not wish to die of disease or old age in his bed but prefers to die on the battlefield," and the princes responded by ordering their trumpets to be sounded and shouted victory to the Kauravas.
On Bhishma's flag shone brightly the palm tree and five stars. On Aswatthama's the lion tail fluttered in the air.
In Drona's golden-hued standard, the ascetic's bowl and the bow glistened, and the cobra of Duryodhana's famed banner danced proudly with outspread hood.
On Kripa's flag was depicted a bull, while Jayadratha's carried a wild boar. Likewise others and the battlefield thus presented a pageant of flags.
Seeing the Kaurava forces ranged in battle array, Yudhishthira gave orders to Arjuna:
"The enemy force is very large. Our army being smaller, our tactics should be concentration rather than deployment that will only weaken us. Array our forces, therefore, in needle formation."
Now, when Arjuna saw men arrayed on both sides for mutual slaughter, he was deeply agitated and Krishna spoke to him in order to quell his agitation and remove his doubts.
Krishna's exhortation to Arjuna at this juncture is the Bhagavad Gita, which is enshrined in millions of hearts as the Word of God. The Bhagavad Gita is acknowledged by all as one of the supreme treasures of human literature.
Its gospel of devotion to duty, without attachment or desire of reward, has shown the way of life for all men, rich or poor, learned or ignorant, who have sought for light in the dark problems of life.
EVERYTHING was ready for the battle to begin. At this tense moment, both armies saw with amazement Yudhishthira, the steadfast and brave son of Pandu, suddenly doff his armor and put away his weapons. Descending from his chariot, he proceeded on foot towards the commander of the Kaurava forces.
"What is this that Yudhishthira is doing?" asked everyone and was puzzled by this sudden and silent proceeding on the part of the Pandava.
Dhananjaya too was perplexed and he jumped down from his chariot and ran to Yudhishthira. The other brothers and Krishna also joined.
They feared that perhaps Yudhishthira, surrendering to his natural inclination, had suddenly decided to seek peace on any terms and was going forward to announce this.
"King, why are you proceeding to the enemy's lines in this strange manner? You have told us nothing. The enemy is ready for battle, their soldiers sheathed in armor and with uplifted weapons. But you have doffed your armor and thrown aside your weapons and are proceeding forward, unattended and on foot. Tell us what you are about." Thus said Arjuna to Dharmaputra. But Yudhishthira was immersed in deep thought and proceeded forward silently.
Then Vasudeva, who knew the hearts of men, smiled and said: "He is going to the elders to ask for their benediction before commencing this terrible fight. He feels it is not right to start such a grave proceeding without formally taking such benediction and permission. He goes to the grandsire to take his blessing and that of Dronacharya. So he goes unarmed. It is right that he does this. He knows proprieties. It is only thus that we might fare well in this battle."
The men in Duryodhana's army, when they saw Yudhishthira advancing with hands clasped in humble attitude, thought: "Here is the Pandava coming to sue for peace, frightened at our strength. Truly this man brings disgrace to the race of kshatriyas. Why was this coward born among us?" Thus did they talk among themselves reviling Dharmaputra though delighted at the prospect of securing victory without a blow.
Yudhishthira went through the lines of soldiers armed from head to foot and proceeded straight to where Bhishma was and, bending low and touching his feet in salutation, said:
"Grandsire, permit us to begin the battle. We have dared to give battle to you, our unconquerable and incomparable grandsire. We seek benediction before beginning the fight."
"Child," replied the grandsire, "born in the race of Bharatas, you have acted worthily and according to our code of conduct. It gives me joy to see this. Fight and you will have victory. I am not a free agent. I am bound by my obligation to the king and must fight on the side of the Kauravas. But you will not be defeated."
After thus obtaining the permission and the blessings of the grandsire, Yudhishthira went to Drona and circumambulated and bowed, according to form, to the acharya, who also gave his blessings, saying:
"I am under inescapable obligations to the Kauravas, O son of Dharma. Our vested interests enslave us and become our masters. Thus have I become bound to the Kauravas. I shall fight on their side. But yours will be the victory."
Yudhishthira similarly approached and obtained the blessings of Kripacharya and uncle Salya and returned to the Pandava lines.
The battle began, commencing with single combats between the leading chiefs armed with equal weapons. Bhishma and Partha, Satyaki and Kritavarma, Abhimanyu and Brihatbala, Duryodhana and Bhima, Yudhishthira and Salya, and Dbrishtadyumna and Drona were thus engaged in great battles.
Similarly, thousands of other warriors fought severally according to the rules of war of those days.
Besides these numerous single combats between renowned warriors, there was also indiscriminate fighting among common soldiers. The name of "sankula yuddha" was given to such free fighting and promiscuous carnage. The Kurukshetra battle witnessed many such "sankula" fights wherein countless men fought and died in the mad lust of battle. On the field lay piles of slaughtered soldiers, charioteers, elephants and horses. The ground became a bloody mire in which it was difficult for the chariots to move about. In modern battles there is no such thing as single combats. It is all "sankula."
The Kauravas fought under Bhishma's command for ten days. After him, Drona took the command. When Drona died, Karna succeeded to the command. Karna fell towards the close of the seventeenth day's battle. And Salya led the Kaurava army on the eighteenth and last day.
Towards the latter part of the battle, many savage and unchivalrous deeds were done. Chivalry and rules of war die hard, for there is an innate nobility in human nature. But difficult situations and temptations arise which men are too weak to resist, especially when they are exhausted with fighting and warped with hatred and bloodshed.
Even great men commit wrong and their lapses thereafter furnish bad examples to others, and dharma comes to be disregarded more and more easily and frequently. Thus does violence beget and nourish adharma and plunge the world in wickedness.
DUHSASANA was leading the Kaurava forces and Bhimasena did the same on the Pandava side. The noise of battle rolled and rent the air. The kettledrums, trumpets, horns and conchs made the sky ring with their clamor.
Horses neighed, charging elephants trumpeted and the warriors uttered their lion-roars. Arrows flew in the air like burning meteors. Fathers and sons, uncles and nephews slew one another forgetful of old affection and ties of blood. It was a mad and terrible carnage. In the forenoon of the first day's battle the Pandava army was badly shaken. Wherever Bhishma's chariot went, it was like the dance of the destroyer. Abhimanyu could not bear this and he attacked the grandsire. When the oldest and the youngest warriors thus met in battle, the gods came to watch the combat. Abhimanyu's flag, displaying the golden karnikara tree brightly waved on his chariot.
Kritavarma was hit by one of his arrows and Salya was hit five times. Bhishma himself was hit nine times by Abhimanyu's shafts. Durmukha's charioteer was struck by one of Abhimanyu's sword-edge arrow and his severed head rolled on the ground.
Another broke Kripa's bow. Abhimanyu's feats brought down showers of flowers from the gods who looked on. Bhishma and the warrior supporting him exclaimed: "Indeed, a worthy son to Dhananjaya!"
Then the Kaurava warriors made a combined attack on the valiant youth. But he stood against them all. He parried with his own all the shafts discharged by Bhishma.
One of his well-aimed arrows brought the grandsire's palm tree flag down. Seeing this, Bhimasena was overjoyed and made a great lion-roar that further inspired the valiant nephew. Great was the grandsire's joy, seeing the valor of the young hero. Unwillingly, he had to use his full strength against the boy. Virata, his son Uttara, Dhrishtadyumna, the son of Drupada and Bhima came to relieve the young hero and attacked the grandsire who then turned his attentions on them.
Uttara, the son of Virata, rode an elephant and led a fierce charge on Salya. Salya's chariot horses were trampled to death and thereupon he hurled a javelin at Uttara. It went with unerring aim and pierced him in the chest.
The goad he had in his hand dropped and he rolled down dead. But the elephant did not withdraw. It continued charging until Salya cut off its trunk and hit it in many places with his arrows. And then it uttered a loud cry and fell dead. Salya got into Kritavarma's car.
Virata's son Sveta saw Salya slay his younger brother. His anger rose, like fire fed by libations of butter. And he drove his chariot towards Salya. Seven chariot warriors at once came up in support of Salya and protected him from all sides.
Arrows were showered on Sveta and the missiles sped across like lightning in clouds. Sveta defended himself marvelously. He parried their shafts with his own and cut their javelins down as they sped towards him. The warriors in both armies were amazed at the skill displayed by Sveta. Duryodhana lost no time now and sent forces to relieve Salya. Whereupon there was a great battle. Thousands of soldiers perished, and numerous were the chariots broken and the horses and elephants killed. Sveta succeeded in putting Duryodhana's men to flight and he pushed forward and attacked Bhishma.
Bhishma's flag was brought down by Sveta. Bhishma, in his turn, killed Sveta's horses and charioteer. There upon, they hurled javelins at one another and fought on.
Sveta took a mace, and swinging it, sent it at Bhishma's car which was smashed to pieces. But the grandsire, even before the mace dashed against the chariot, had anticipated it and jumped down. From the ground he pulled the string of his bow to his ear and sent a fatal arrow at Sveta. Sveta was struck and fell dead. Duhsasana blew his horn and danced in joy. This was followed by a great attack on the Pandava army by Bhishma.
The Pandava forces suffered greatly on the first day of the battle. Dharmaputra was seized with apprehension, and Duryodhana's joy was unbounded. The brothers came to Krishna and were engaged in anxious consultations.
"Chief among Bharatas," said Krishna to Yudhishthira, "do not fear. God has blessed you with valiant brothers. Why should you entertain any doubts? There is Satyaki and there are Virata, Drupada and Dhrishtadyumna, besides myself. What reason is there for you to be dejected? Do you forget that Sikhandin is awaiting for his predestined victim Bhishma?" Thus did Krishna comfort Yudhishthira.
THE Pandava army, having fared badly on the first day of the battle, Dhrishtadyumna, the Generalissimo, devised measures to avoid a repetition of it. On the second day, the army was most carefully arrayed and everything was done to instil confidence.
Duryodhana, filled with conceit on account of the success on the first day, stood in the center of his army and addressed his warriors.
"Heroes in armor", he said in a loud voice, "our victory is assured. Fight and care not for life."
The Kaurava army, led by Bhishma, again made strong attack on the Pandava forces and broke their formation, killing large numbers.
Arjuna, turning to Krishna, his charioteer, said: "If we continue in this way, our army will soon be totally destroyed by the grandsire. Unless we slay Bhishma, I am afraid we can not save our army."
"Dhananjaya, then get ready. There is the grandsire's chariot," replied Krishna, and drove straight towards him.
The chariot sped forward at a great pace. The grandsire sent his shafts welcoming the challenge. Duryodhana had ordered his men to protect the grandsire most vigilantly and never to let him expose himself to danger.
Accordingly, all the warriors, supporting the grandsire, at once intervened and attacked Arjuna who, however, fought on unconcerned.
It was well known that there were but three on the Kaurava side who could stand against Arjuna with any chance of success the grandsire Bhishma, Drona and Karna. Arjuna made short work of the warriors, who intervened in support of Bhishma.
The way in which he wielded his great bow on this occasion, extorted the admiration of all the great generals in the army. His chariot flashed hither and thither sundering hostile ranks like forked lightning, so rapidly that the eye ached to follow its career.
Duryodhana's heart beat fast as he watched this combat. His confidence in the great Bhishma began to be shaken.
"Son of Ganga," Duryodhana said, "it seems as if even while you and Drona are alive and fighting, this irresistible combination of Arjuna and Krishna will destroy our entire army. Karna whose devotion and loyalty to me are most genuine stands aside and does not fight for me only because of you. I fear I shall be deceived and you will not take steps quickly to destroy Phalguna (Arjuna)."
The gods came down to watch the combat between Bhishma and Arjuna. These were two of the greatest warriors on earth. Both chariots were drawn by white steeds.
From either side flew arrows in countless number. Shaft met shaft in the air and sometimes the grandsire's missile hit Arjuna's breast and that of Madhava (Krishna). And the blood flowing made Madhava more beautiful than ever as he stood like a green palasa tree in full bloom with crimson flowers.
Arjuna's wrath rose when he saw his dear charioteer hit and he pulled his bow and sent well-aimed arrows at the grandsire. The combatants were equal and the battle raged for a long while.
In the movements the chariots made they were so close to one another and moved about so fast that it was not possible to say where Arjuna was and where Bhishma. Only the flag could be distinguished.
As this great and wonderful scene was enacted in one part of the field, at another place a fierce battle was being fought between Drona and his born enemy Dhrishtadyumna, the son of the king of the Panchalas and brother of Draupadi.
Drona's attack was powerful and Dhrishtadyumna was wounded badly. But the latter retaliated with equal vigor and with a grin of hatred he shot arrows and sped other missiles at Drona.
Drona defended himself with great skill. He parried the sharp missiles and the heavy maces hurled at him with his arrows and broke them to pieces even as they sped in the air.
Many times did Dhrishtadyumna's bow break, hit by Drona's arrows. One of Drona's arrows killed the Panchala prince's charioteer. Thereupon Dhrishtadyumna took up a mace and, jumping down from the chariot, went forward on foot.
Drona sent an arrow that brought the mace down. Dhrishtadyumna then drew his sword and rushed forward like a lion springing on its elephant prey. But Drona again disabled him and prevented his advance.
Just then Bhima, who saw the Panchala's predicament, sent a shower of arrows on Drona and carried Dhrishtadyumna to safety in his chariot.
Duryodhana who saw this sent the Kalinga forces against Bhimasena. Bhima killed the Kalinga warriors in great number. Like Death itself he moved about among his enemies and felled them to the ground. So fierce was the destruction that the entire army trembled in fear.
When Bhishma saw this, he came to relieve the Kalingas. Satyaki, Abhimanyu and other warriors came up in support of Bhima. One of Satyaki's shafts brought Bhishma's charioteer down and the horses of Bhishma's chariot, left uncontrolled, bolted carrying Bhishma away from the field.
The Pandava army was wild with enthusiasm when Bhishma's chariot sped thus out of the field. They took advantage of the situation and made a fierce attack on the Kaurava army.
Great was the loss the Kaurava army suffered in that day's battle as a result of Arjuna's deeds of valor. The generals of the Kaurava army were greatly perturbed and their previous day's enthusiasm had all disappeared.
They eagerly looked forward to sunset when there would be an end to the day's battle. As the sun sank in the west, Bhishma said to Drona: "It is well we stop the fighting now. Our army is disheartened and weary."
On the side of the Pandavas, Dhananjaya and others returned in great cheer to their camp, with bands playing. At the end of the second day's battle, the Kauravas were in the mood that the Pandavas were in the previous evening.
ON the morning of the third day Bhishma arrayed his army in eagle formation and himself led it while Duryodhana and his forces protected the rear. So great was the care taken over every detail that the Kauravas were certain that there could be no mishap for them that day.
The Pandavas too arrayed their forces with skill. Dhananjaya and Dhrishtadyumna decided in favor of a crescent formation of their army so as more effectually to cope with the eagle formation of the enemy's forces.
On the right horn of the crescent stood Bhima and on the left Arjuna, leading the respective divisions. The battle began. All arms were at once engaged and blood flowed in torrents and the dust that was raised by chariots, horses and elephants rose to hide the sun.
Dhananjaya's attack was powerful but the enemy stood firm. A counter-attack was made by the Kauravas concentrating on Arjuna's position. Javelins and spears and other missiles flew in the air shining like forked lightning in a thunderstorm.
Like a great cloud of locusts the shafts covered Arjuna's chariot. But with amazing skill he raised a moving fortification around his chariot with arrows discharged in an unending stream from his famous bow.
At another point Sakuni led a large force against Satyaki and Abhimanyu. Satyaki's chariot was broken to pieces and he had to scramble up Abhimanyu's chariot and thereafter both fought from the same chariot.
They were able to destroy Sakuni's forces. Drona and Bhishma jointly attacked Dharmaputra's division and Nakula and Sahadeva joined their brother in opposing Drona's offensive.
Bhima and his son Ghatotkacha attacked Duryodhana's division and in that day's battle the son appeared to excel his great father in valor.
Bhima's shafts hit Duryodhana and he lay in swoon in his chariot. His charioteer quickly drove the chariot away from the scene. He feared that the Kaurava forces would be completely demoralised if they saw that the prince had been disabled.
But even this movement created great confusion. Bhimasena took full advantage of the position and worked havoc among the fleeing Kaurava forces.
Drona and Bhishma who saw the discomfiture and confusion of the Kaurava army came up quickly and restored confidence. The scattered forces were brought together and Duryodhana was again seen leading them.
"How can you stand thus," said Duryodhana to the grandsire, "looking on when our forces are scattered and put to disgraceful flight? I fear you are too kind to the Pandavas. Why did you not tell me frankly 'I love the Pandavas; Dhrishtadyumna and Satyaki are my friends and I cannot attack or slay them.' You should have stated the position explicitly to me. Surely these men are not equal to you. And if you were so minded, you could deal with them easily. Even now, it would be best if you and Drona told me frankly your mind in the matter."
The chagrin of defeat, and the knowledge that the grandsire disapproved of his ways made Duryodhana speak thus bitterly. But Bhishma merely smiled and said: "Wasn't I quite frank in my advice to you? That advice you rejected when you decided on war. I tried to prevent the war but, now that it has come, I am fulfilling my duties by you with all my might. I am an old man and what I am doing is quite my utmost."
Saying thus, the grandsire resumed his operations. The turn of events in the forenoon had been so much in their favor that the delighted Pandavas were now somewhat careless.
They did not expect Bhishma to rally his forces and attack them again. But stung by Duryodhana's reproaches, the grandsire raged about the field like a destroying fire.
He rallied his men and delivered the most severe attack yet made on the Pandava army. The latter thought that the grandsire had multiplied himself into a number of Bhishmas fighting at several points. So swift were his movements that afternoon.
Those who opposed him were struck down and perished like months in the fire. The Pandava army was thoroughly broken and began to scatter. Vasudeva, Partha and Sikhandin tried hard to restore order and confidence, but were unsuccessful.
"Dhanjaya," said Krishna, "now has the critical time come. Be true to your decision not to flinch from your duty to kill in battle Bhishma, Drona and all the other friends and relatives and respected elders. You have pledged yourself to it and you have now to carry it out. Otherwise our army is lost beyond redemption. You must now attack the grandsire."
"Drive on," said Arjuna.
As Dhananjaya's chariot sped on towards Bhishma, it met a hot reception from the grandsire, who covered it with his arrows.
But, Arjuna bent his bow and discharged three shafts that broke the grandsire's bow. Bhishma picked up another bow but it too met the same fate. The grandsire's heart was gladdened when he saw Arjuna's skill in archery.
"Hail, brave warrior!" applauded the grandsire, even as, taking up another bow; he poured shafts on Arjuna's chariot with unerring aim.
Krishna was not happy at the way Arjuna met the attack. The grandsire's bow was working fiercely. But Arjuna's hands did not do their best, for his heart was not in it.
He had too much regard for his great grandsire. Krishna thought that, if Arjuna went on like this, the army, which had been so badly demoralized already, would be utterly destroyed and all would be lost.
Krishna managed the chariot skilfully, but in spite of it, both he and Arjuna were hit many times by Bhishma's arrows.
Janardana's (Krishna) anger rose. "I can stand this no longer, Arjuna. I shall kill Bhishma myself if you will not do it!" he exclaimed, and dropping the reins, he took up his discus and jumped down from the chariot and dashed forward towards Bhishma.
Bhishma was far from being perturbed at this. On the contrary, his face expanded with ecstatic joy. "Come, come, Oh Lotus-eyed One!" he exclaimed.
"I bow to you, Oh Madhava. Lord of the World, have you indeed come down from the chariot for my sake? I offer you my life. If I be slain by you, I shall be glorified in the three worlds. Give me that boon. May your hands take this life away and save me for eternity."
Arjuna was distressed to see this. He jumped down and ran after Krishna. Overtaking him with great difficulty, he entreated Krishna to turn back.
"Do not lose your patience with me. Desist and I promise not to flinch," he said, and persuaded Krishna to return. The chariot reins were again in Krishna's hands. Arjuna attacked the Kaurava forces furiously and thousands were slain by him.
the kauravas suffered a severe defeat on the evening of the third day. as they returned to their camps in torchlight, they said to one another: "who can equal arjuna? there is nothing strange in his being victorious." so marvelous was arjuna's prowess that day.
THE battle was very much the same every day and the narrative is one of monotonous fighting and killing. Still, the great battle is the central event in the Mahabharata and, if we skip over it, we cannot fully understand the epic heroes of that crowded stage.
At break of day, Bhishma arrayed the Kaurava forces again. Surrounded by Drona, Duryodhana and others, the grandsire looked verily like great Indra, holding his thunder bolt, surrounded by the devas.
The Kaurava army, with its chariots, elephants and horses all arrayed in battle order and ready for the fight, presented the appearance of the sky in a great thunderstorm.
The grandsire gave orders for advance. Arjuna watched the hostile movements from his chariot, whereon the Hanuman flag was waving, and he too got ready.
The battle commenced. Aswatthama, Bhurisravas, Salya, Chitrasena and the son of Chala surrounded Abhimanyu and attacked him. The warrior fought like a lion opposing five elephants.
Arjuna saw this combined attack on his son and, with a wrathful lion roar joined his son whereat the tempo of fighting flared up. Dhrishtadyumna also arrived with a large force. The son of Chala was killed.
Chala himself now joined and he with Salya, made a strong attack on Dhrishtadyumna. The latter's bow was severed into two by a sharp missile discharged by Salya.
Abhimanyu saw this and sent a shower of arrows on Salya and put him in such danger that Duryodhana and his brothers rushed to Salya's help. Bhimasena also appeared on the scene at this juncture.
When Bhima raised his mace aloft, Duryodhana's brothers lost courage. Duryodhana, who saw this, was exceedingly angry and immediately charged against Bhima with a large force of elephants.
As soon as Bhima saw the elephants coming up, he descended from his chariot, iron mace in hand, attacked them so fiercely that they scattered in a wild stampede, throwing the Kaurava ranks into disorder.
It will be seen that even in our Puranic stories elephants fared as badly in battle as they did in the wars of the Greeks and the Romans. Bhima's attack on the elephants was like Indra's devastating onslaught on the winged mountains.
The slaughtered elephants lay dead on the field like great hills. Those that escaped fled in panic and caused great havoc in the Kaurava army, trampling numerous soldiers in their wild race. Duryodhana, thereupon, ordered a wholesale attack on Bhima.
But he stood firm as a rock and presently, the Pandava warriors came up and joined him. A number of Duryodhana's arrows struck Bhima's chest and he climbed up his chariot again.
"Visoka, now is the glad hour," said Bhima to his charioteer. "I see a number of Dhritarashtra's sons before me, ready to be shaken down like ripe fruits on a tree. Keep your hold well on the reins and drive on. I am going to dispatch these wretches to Yama's abode." Bhima's arrows would have killed Duryodhana then and there, had it not been for his armor.
Eight of Duryodhana's brothers were slain in that day's battle by Bhima. Duryodhana fought fiercely. Bhima's bow was smashed by one of Duryodhana's arrows. Taking up a fresh bow, Bhima sent an arrow with a knife-edge at Duryodhana that cut the latter's bow into two.
Not baffled by this, Duryodhana took up a fresh bow and discharged a well-aimed shaft which struck Bhima on his chest with such force that he reeled and sat down.
The Pandava warriors now poured a great shower of arrows on Duryodhana. Ghatotkacha, who saw his father sit dazed with the force of the blow, got exceedingly angry and fell on the Kaurava army, which was unable to stand against his onslaught.
"We cannot fight this Rakshasa today." said Bhishma to Drona. "Our men are weary. It is nearing sunset and at night of the Rakshasas grows stronger with the darkness. Let us deal with Ghatotkacha tomorrow."
The grandsire ordered his army to retire for the night. Duryodhana sat musing in his tent, his eyes filled with tears. He had lost many of his brothers in that day's battle.
"Sanjaya," exclaimed Dhritarashtra. "Every day, you give me nothing but bad news. Your tale has ever been one of sorrow, of defeat and loss of dear ones! I cannot stand this any more. What stratagem can save my people? How are we going to win in this fight? Indeed, I am full of fear. It seems fate is more powerful than human effort."
"King " said Sanjaya in reply, "is this not all the result of your own folly? Of what avail is grief? How can I manufacture good news for you? You should hear the truth with fortitude."
"Ah! Vidura's words are coming true," said the blind old king, plunged in great grief.
"I AM like a shipwrecked man seeking to save himself by swimming in a storm tossed ocean. I shall surely drown, overwhelmed in this sea of sorrow."
Again and again, when Sanjaya related the happenings of the great battle, Dhritarashtra would thus lament, unable to bear his grief.
"Bhima is going to kill all my sons," he said. "I do not believe there is anyone with prowess enough in our army to protect my sons from death. Did Bhishma, Drona, Kripa and Aswatthama look on unconcerned when our army fled in terror? What indeed is their plan? When and how are they going to help Duryodhana? How are my sons to escape from destruction?"
Saying thus, the blind old king burst into tears.
"Calm yourself, King," said Sanjaya. "The Pandavas rest on the strength of a just cause. So, they win. Your sons are brave but their thoughts are wicked. Therefore, luck does not favor them. They have done great injustice to the Pandavas, and they are reaping the harvest of their sins. The Pandavas are not winning by charms or magic incantations. They are fighting according to the practice of kshatriyas. Their cause being just, they have strength. Friends advised you, but you discarded wise counsel. Vidura, Bhishma, Drona and I tried to stop you in your unwise course, but you did not listen and you went on. Like a foolish sick man who refuses to drink bitter medicine, you obstinately refused to follow our advice, which would have saved your people, preferring to do as your foolish son desired. You are in distress now. Last night, Duryodhana asked Bhishma the same question as you put to me now. And Bhishma gave the same answer as I give you."
When the fighting was stopped on the evening of the fourth day, Duryodhana went by himself to Bhishma's tent and, bowing reverently, said:
"Grandsire, the world knows that you are a warrior who knows not fear. The same is the case with Drona, Kripa, Aswatthama, Kritavarma, Sudakshin, Bhurisravas, Vikarna and Bhagadatta. Death has no terror for these veterans. There is no doubt, the prowess of these great warriors is limitless, even like your own. All the Pandavas combined cannot defeat any one of you. What then is the mystery behind this daily defeat of our army at the hands of the sons of Kunti?"
Bhishma replied: "Prince, listen to me. I have given you advice on every occasion and told you what was good for you. But, you have always refused to follow what your elders counselled you to do. Again, I tell you that it is best for you to make peace with Pandu's sons. For your good as well as for that of the world, that is the only course that should be followed. Belonging to the same royal house, you can all enjoy this vast country as yours. I gave you this advice, but you disregarded it and have grievously wronged the Pandavas, the fruit of which you are now reaping. The Pandavas are protected by Krishna himself. How then can you hope for victory? Even now, it is not loo late for making peace and that is the way to rule your kingdom, making the Pandavas, your powerful brothers, friends instead of enemies. Destruction awaits you if you insult Dhananjaya and Krishna, who are none other than Nara and Narayana."
Duryodhana took leave and went to his tent, but he could not sleep that night.
The battle was resumed the next morning. Bhishma arrayed the Kaurava forces in a strong formation. So did Dhrishtadyumna for the Pandava army.
Bhima stood at the head of the advance lines as usual. And Sikhandin, Dhrishtadyumna and Satyaki stood behind, securely guarding the main body, aided by other generals.
Dharmaputra and the twin brothers held the rear. Bhishma bent his bow and discharged his shafts. The Pandava army suffered greatly under the grandsire's attack.
Dhananjaya saw this and retaliated by fierce shafts aimed at Bhishma. Duryodhana went to Drona and complained bitterly according to his custom.
Drona upbraided him severely: "Obstinate prince, you talk without understanding. You are ignorant of the Pandavas' strength. We are doing our best."
Drona's powerful attack on the Pandava army was too much for Satyaki who was meeting it and Bhima therefore turned his attentions to Drona. The battle grew fiercer still. Drona, Bhishma and Salya made a combined attack on Bhima.
Sikhandin supported Bhima by pouring a shower of arrows on Bhishma. As soon as Sikhandin stepped in, Bhishma turned away. For Sikhandin was born a girl, and Bhishma's principles did not permit him to attack a woman.
In the end, this same objection proved to be the cause of Bhishma's death. When Drona saw Bhishma turn away, he attacked Sikhandin fiercely and compelled him to withdraw.
There was a promiscuous battle the whole of the morning of the fifth day, and the slaughter was terrific. In the after noon, Duryodhana sent a large force to oppose Satyaki.
But Satyaki destroyed it completely and advanced to attack Bhurisravas. Bhurisravas, who was a powerful opponent, put Satyaki's men to fight, and pressed Satyaki himself so fiercely that he was in distress.
Satyaki's ten sons saw their father's plight and sought to relieve him by launching an offensive against Bhurisravas, but Bhurisravas undaunted by numbers, opposed the combined attack and was not to be shaken. His well-aimed darts broke their weapons and they were all slain, strewn on the field like so many tall trees struck down by lightning. Satyaki, wild with rage and grief, drove forward at a furious pace to slay Bhurisravas.
The chariots of the two warriors dashed against each other and crumbled to pieces. And the warriors stood face to face with sword and shield in desperate single combat.
Then, Bhima came and took away Satyaki by force into his chariot and drove away. For Bhima knew that Bhurisravas was an unrivalled swordsman and he did not want Satyaki to be slain.
Arjuna killed thousands of warriors that evening. The soldiers, dispatched against him by Duryodhana, perished like moths in the fire. As the sun went down and Bhishma gave orders to cease fighting, the princes on the Pandava army surrounded Arjuna and greeted him with loud cries of admiration and victory.
The armies on both sides retired to camp, along with the tired horses and elephants.
ACCORDING to Yudhishthira's order Dhrishtadyumna arrayed the Pandava army in makara (fish) formation for the sixth day's battle. The Kaurava army was arrayed in krauncha (heron) formation.
We know, how, similarly, names were given to physical exercise, asanas, or postures. Vyuha was the general name for battle array. Which Vyuha was best for any particular occasion, depended on the requirements of the offensive and defensive plans of the day.
What the strength and composition of the forces arrayed should be and what positions they should take up were decided upon, according to the situation as it developed from time to time.
The sixth day was marked by a prodigious slaughter, even in the first part of the morning. Drona's charioteer was killed and Drona took the reins of the horses himself and used his bow as well.
Great was the destruction he effected. He went about like fire among cotton heaps. The formations of both armies were soon broken and indiscriminate and fierce fighting went on. Blood flowed in torrents and the field was covered by dead bodies of soldiers, elephants and horses and the debris of chariots.
Bhimasena pierced the enemy's lines to seek out Duryodhana's brothers and finish them. They, for their part, did not wait to be sought, but rushed on him, in a combined attack from all sides. He was attacked by Duhsasana, Durvishaha, Durmata, Jaya, Jayatsena, Vikarna, Chitrasena, Sudarsana, Charuchitra, Suvarma, Dushkarna and others, all together.
Bhimasena, who did not know what fear was, stood up and fought them all. They desired to take him prisoner and he to kill them all on the spot.
The battle raged fiercely, even like the ancient battle between the gods and the asuras. Suddenly, the son of Pandu lost his patience and jumped down from his chariot, mace in band, and made straight on foot for the sons of Dhritarashtra, in hot haste to slay them.
When Dhrishtadyumna saw Bhima's chariot disappear in the enemy lines, he was alarmed and rushed to prevent disaster. He reached Bhima's car, but found it was occupied only by the charioteer and Bhima was not in it. With tears in his eyes, he asked the charioteer: "Visoka, where is Bhima dearer to me than life?" Dhrishtadyumna naturally thought Bhima had fallen.
Visoka bowed and said to the son of Drupada: "The son of Pandu asked me to stay here and, without waiting for my reply rushed forward on foot, mace in hand, into the enemy ranks."
Fearing that Bhima would be overpowered and killed Dhrishtadyumna drove his chariot into the enemy lines in search of Bhimasena, whose path was marked by the bodies of slain elephants.
When Dhrishtadyumna found Bhima, he saw him surrounded on all sides by enemies fighting from their chariots. Bhima stood against them all, mace in hand, wounded all over and breathing fire.
Dhrishtadyumna embraced him and took him into his chariot and proceeded to pick out the shafts that had stuck in his body. Duryodhana now ordered his warriors to attack Bhimasena and Dhrishtadyumna and not to wait for them to attack or challenge.
Accordingly, they made a combined attack even though they were not inclined to engage themselves in further fighting. Dhrishtadyumna had a secret weapon, which he had obtained from Dronacharya and, discharging it, threw the enemy forces into a stupor.
But Duryodhana then joined the fray and discharged weapons to counter the stupor weapons of Dhrishtadyumna. Just then, reinforcements sent by Yudhishthira arrived.
A force of twelve chariots with their retinue led by Abhimanyu came upon the scene to support Bhima.
Dhrishtadyumna was greatly relieved when he saw this. Bhimasena had also by now refreshed himself and was ready to renew the fight. He got into Kekaya's chariot and took up his position along with the rest.
Drona, however, was terrible that day. He killed Dhrishtadyumna's charioteer and horses and smashed his chariot and Drupada's son had to seek a place in Abhimanyu's car. The Pandava forces began to waver and Drona was cheered by the Kaurava army.
Indiscriminate mass fighting and slaughter went on that day. At one time, Bhima and Duryodhana met face to face. The usual exchange of hot words took place and was followed by a great battle of archery.
Duryodhana was hit and fell unconscious. Kripa extricated him with great skill and took him away in his own chariot. Bhishma personally arrived at the spot now and led the attack and scattered the Pandava forces.
The sun was sinking, but the battle was continued for an hour yet and the fighting was fierce and many thousands perished. Then the day's battle ceased. Yudhishthira was glad that Dhrishtadyumna and Bhima returned to camp alive.
DURYODHANA, wounded all over and suffering greatly, went to Bhishma and said:
"The battle had been going against us every day. Our formations are broken and our warriors are being slain in large numbers. You are looking on doing nothing."
The grandsire soothed Duryodhana with comforting words:
"Why do you let yourself be disheartened? Here are all of us, Drona, Salya, Kritavarma, Aswatthama, Vikarna, Bhagadatta, Sakuni, the two brothers of Avanti, the Trigarta chief, the king of Magadha, and Kripacharya. When these great warriors are here, ready to give up their lives for you, why should you feel downhearted? Get rid of this mood of dejection."
Saying this, he issued orders for the day.
"See there," the grandsire said to Duryodhana. "These thousands of cars, horses and horsemen, great war elephants, and those armed foot soldiers from various kingdoms are all ready to fight for you. With this fine army, you can vanquish even the gods. Fear not."
Thus cheering up the dejected Duryodhana, he gave him a healing balm for his wounds. Duryodhana rubbed it over his numerous wounds and felt relieved.
He went to the field, heartened by the grandsire's words of confidence. The army was that day arrayed in circular formation. With each war elephant were seven chariots fully equipped.
Each chariot was supported by seven horsemen. To each horseman were attached ten shield bearers. Everyone wore armor.
Duryodhana stood resplendent like Indra at the center of this great and well-equipped army. Yudhishthira arrayed the Pandava army in vajravyuha. This day's battle was fiercely fought simultaneously at many sectors.
Bhishma personally opposed Arjuna's attacks. Drona and Virata were engaged with each other at another point. Sikhandin and Aswatthama fought a big battle at another sector.
Duryodhana and Dhrishtadyumna fought with each other at yet another point. Nakula and Sahadeva attacked their uncle Salya. The Avanti kings opposed Yudhamanyu, while Bhimasena opposed Kritavarma, Chitrasena, Vikarna and Durmarsha.
There were great battles between Ghatotkacha and Bhagadatta, between Alambasa and Satyaki, between Bhurisravas and Dhrishtaketu, between Yudhishthira and Srutayu and between Chekitana and Kripa.
In the battle between Drona and Virata, the latter was worsted and he had to climb into the chariot of his son Sanga, having lost his own chariot, horses and charioteer.
Virata's sons Uttara and Sveta had fallen in the first day's battle. On this seventh day, Sanga also was slain just as his father came up to his side. Sikhandin, Drupada's son, was defeated by Aswatthama.
His chariot was smashed and he jumped down and stood sword and shield in hand. Aswatthama aimed his shaft at his sword and broke it. Sikhandin then whirled the broken sword and hurled it at Aswatthama with tremendous force, but it was met by Aswatthama's arrow.
Sikhandin, badly beaten, got into Satyaki's chariot and retired. In the fight between Satyaki and Alambasa, the former had the worst of it at first but later recovered ground and Alambasa had to flee.
In the battle between Dhrishtadyumna and Duryodhana, the horses of the latter were killed and he had to alight from his chariot. He, however, continued the fight, sword in hand. Sakuni came then and took the prince away in his chariot.
Kritavarma made a strong attack on Bhima but was worsted. He lost his chariot and horses and acknowledging defeat, fled towards Sakuni's car, with Bhima's arrows sticking all over him, making him look like a porcupine speeding away in the forest.
Vinda and Anuvinda of Avanti were defeated by Yudhamanyu, and their armies were completely destroyed. Bhagadatta attacked Ghatotkacha and put to flight all his supporters.
But, alone, Ghatotkacha stood and fought bravely. But in the end, he too had to save himself by flight, which gladdened the whole Kaurava army.
Salya attacked his nephews. Nakula's horses were killed and he had to join his brother in the latter's chariot. Both continued the fight from the same car. Salya was hit by Sahadeva's arrow and swooned. The charioteer skilfully drove the car away and saved Salya.
When the Madra king (Salya) was seen retreating from the field Duryodhana's army lost heart and the twin sons of Madri blew their conchs in triumph. Taking advantage of the situation, they inflicted heavy damage on Salya's forces.
At noon, Yudhishthira led an attack on Srutayu. The latter's well-aimed arrows intercepted Dharmaputra's missiles, and his armor was pierced and he was severely wounded.
Yudhishthira then lost his temper and sent a powerful arrow that pierced Srutayu's breast-plate. That day, Yudhishthira was not his normal self and burnt with anger.
Srutayu's charioteer and horses were killed and the chariot was smashed and he had to flee on foot from the field. This completed the demorahsation of Duryodhana's army.
In the attack on Kripa, Chekitana, losing his chariot and charioteer, alighted and attacked Kripa's charioteer and horses with mace in hand and killed them.
Kripa also alighted, and standing on the ground, discharged his arrows. Chekitana was badly hit. He then whirled his mace and hurled it at Kripacharya, but the latter was able to intercept it with his own arrow.
Thereupon they closed with each other, sword in hand. Both were wounded and fell on the ground, when Bhima came and took Chekitana away in his chariot. Sakuni similarly took wounded Kripa away in his car.
Ninety-six arrows of Dhrishtaketu struck Bhurisravas. And the great warrior was like a sun radiating glory, as the arrows, all sticking in his breast-plate, shone bright around his radiant face. Even in that condition, he compelled Dhrishtaketu to admit defeat and retire. Three of Duryodhana's brothers attacked Abhimanyu who inflicted a heavy defeat on them but spared their lives, because Bhima had sworn to kill them. Thereupon, Bhishma attacked Abhimanyu.
Arjuna saw this and said to his illustrious charioteer: "Krishna, drive the car towards Bhishma."
At that moment, the other Pandavas also joined Arjuna. But the grandsire was able to hold his own against all five until the sunset, and the battle was suspended for the day. And the warriors of both sides, weary and wounded, retired to their tents for rest and for having their injuries attended to.
After this, for an hour, soft music was played, soothing the warriors to their rest. That hour was spent, says the poet, without a word about war or hatred. It was an hour of heavenly bliss, and it was a glad sight to see. One can see herein what the great lesson of the Mahabharata is.
WHEN the eighth day dawned, Bhishma arrayed his army in tortoise formation. Yudhishthira said to Dhrishtadyumna:
"See there, the enemy is in kurma vyuha (tortoise formation). You have to answer at once with a formation that can break it."
Dhrishtadyumna immediately proceeded to his task. The Pandava forces were arrayed in a three-pronged formation.
Bhima was at the head of one prong, Satyaki of another, and Yudhishthira at the crest of the middle division. Our ancestors had developed the science of war very well.
It was not reduced to writing but was preserved by tradition in the families of kshatriyas. Armor and tactics were employed suitably to meet the weapons of offence and the tactics that the enemy used in those days.
The Kurukshetra battle was fought some thousands of years ago. Reading the story of the battle in the Mahabharata, we should not, having the practice and incidents of modern warfare in mind, reject the Mahabharata narrative as mere myth with no relation to fact.
Only about a century and a half ago, the English admiral Nelson fought great sea battles and won undying renown.
The weapons used and the vessels that actually took part in Nelson's battles, would seem almost weird and even ridiculous if compared with those of modern naval warfare.
If a hundred and fifty years can make so much difference, we must be prepared for very strange things in the procedure and events of a period, so long back as that of the Mahabharata war.
Another matter to be kept in mind is that we cannot expect, in the books of poets and literary writers, accurate or full details about weapons and tactics, although the narrative may be of battles.
Military affairs were in ancient times the sole concern of the military order, the kshatriyas. Their culture and their training were entirely their own charge.
The principles and the secrets of warfare and the science and art of the use of military weapons were handed down from generation to generation by tradition and personal instruction.
There were no military textbooks and there was not any place for them in the works of poets and rishis. If a modern novel deals in some chapters with the treatment and cure of a sick person, we can not expect to see such details in it as might interest a medical man. No author would care, even if he were able, to include scientific details in his story.
So, we cannot hope to find in the epic of Vyasa, precise details as to what is tortoise formation or lotus formation. We have no explanation as to how one could, by discharging a continuous stream of arrows, build a defence around himself or intercept and cut missiles in transit, or how one could be living when pierced all over by arrows, or how far the armor worn by the soldiers and officers could protect them against missiles or what were the ambulance arrangements or how the dead were disposed of.
All these things appertaining to ancient war, however interesting, will have to be in the realm of the unknown in spite of the vivid narrative we have in the Mahabharata epic.
Bhima killed eight of Dhritarashtra's sons early in the battle that day. Duryodhana's heart lost courage before this. It seemed to his friends as if Bhimasena would complete his revenge this very day, even as he swore in the assembly ball, where the great outrage was enacted.
Arjuna had a great bereavement in this day's battle. His dear son Iravan was killed. This son of Arjuna by his Naga wife had come and joined the Pandava forces at Kurukshetra. Duryodhana sent his friend, the Rakshasa Alambasa, to oppose the Naga warrior.
Iravan was slain after a fierce fight. When Arjuna heard this, he broke down completely. Said he turning to Vasudeva: "Vidura had indeed told us plainly that both sides would be plunged in grief unbearable. What are we doing all this wretched destruction up on one another for? Just for the sake of property. After all this killing, what joy are we or they likely to find in the end? O Madhusudana, I now see why the far seeing Yudhishthira said he would be content if Duryodhana