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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Dharmaputra returned to Hastinapura and
set again for a game with Sakuni, though
everyone in the assembly tried to dissuade
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.
27. DHRITARASHTRA'S ANXIETY
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The obstinate and foolish Duryodhana
merely laughed, slapping his thighs in
derision and, tearing the ground with his
feet and without granting an answer,
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.
28. KRISHNA'S VOW
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Dhrishtadyumna also consoled his sister
and told her how nemesis would overtake
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
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,
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
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
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,
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