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
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
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
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
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.
17. DRAUPADI'S SWAYAMVARAM
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
Khandavaprastha and make it your
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
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
19. THE SARANGA BIRDS
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
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
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
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
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
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
To the mother who was wailing thus, the
"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."
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