Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Vimanas of Ancient India

In the Vedic literature of India, there are many descriptions of flying machines that are generally called vimanas. These fall into two cate- gories: (l) manmade craft that resemble airplanes and fly with the aid of birdlike wings, and (2) unstreamlined structures that fly in a mysterious manner and are generally not made by human beings. The machines in category (l) are described mainly in medieval, secular Sanskrit works dealing with architecture, automata, military siege engines, and other mechanical contrivances. Those in category (2) are described in ancient works such as the Rg Veda, the Maha-bha-rata, the Rama-yana, and the Pura-nas, and they have many features reminis- cent of UFOs.




What is a puja? I’m not giving you the literal translation. A puja is an expression of your compassion for another person, another being. A puja is an expression, an action, a direct initiative to do something for someone who has an obstacle, who has a problem, who has a difficulty, who has some kind of pain or sickness or fear. And so, to watch these people have fear and pain and suffering and difficulties, and we don’t do something about it doesn’t make us a better person, doesn’t help our spiritual practice, doesn’t make our minds become enlightened or open up



Once a huge black serpent called Kaliya came to live in the river Yamuna. He poisoned the water of the river with his venom. The people of Vrindavan were very scared of the serpent, who was very strong. One day, Krishna decided to teach Kaliya a lesson. He jumped into Lord Krishna teaching lesson to venomous Kaliathe river to kill the serpent. Kaliya was furious and rushed to attack Krishna. But before the snake could catch him, Krishna quickly climbed on Kaliya's head. To shake him off, Kaliya tried to coil around Krishna and crush him. He even tried to drown him but Krishna stayed underwater without breathing. Eventually, Kaliya got tired. Krishna then started jumping and stamping on Kaliya's head and the serpent started vomiting poison. Kaliya begged Krishna for forgiveness and Krishna ordered the serpent to leave the Yamauna. kaliya bowed his head and quietly left, and the people of Vrindavan rejoiced.


Holi is a festival of colors, celebrated primarily in India. The festival falls on the last full moon day of Falgun according to Hindu calendar. It is celebrated sometime in the month of March, usually in the latter half of the month. According to mythology, the festival is celebrates the killing Holika, the sister of Hrinyakashyapu. The festival also holds significance with respect to end of winter season and the onset of summer season.

There is no comprehensive data to know the origins of the festival. However, Holi as we see it today is believed to have originated in Bengal, where the day was celebrated as Gaudiya Vaishnava festival. However, there are several mythological ??? stories ??   TRUTH behind the origins of the festival. The most popular one is related to the killing of Holika. Mythology states that when Prahlad disobeyed the orders of Hrinyakashyapu and kept praying for Lord Vishnu, Hrinyakashyapu took the help of her sister, Holika, to kill him. Holika took Prahlad in her lap and sat in a bonfire as she had immunity against fire. However, to everyone’s amazement, Holika was burnt alive while Prahlad was unaffected. Thus, Holika Dahan is celebrated a day before Holi.

The festival is also believed to be a celebration of Radha’s undying love for Lord Krishna. Still another mythological tale states that when Lord Shiva destroyed Kamadeva, he later resurrected him for the sake of his wife Rati. However, Kamadeva was brought to life only as a mental image. The festival is believed to celebrate that event.

The festival is celebrated in different ways around the country, the most famous one being in Mathura. Here, the festival lasts for 16 days, and is primarily played with flowers. In large parts of India, the festival is celebrated with a lot of colors, water balloons and water guns. Parties are often organized across the length and breadth of the country where people dance to music and greet each other with colors. Sweets are an important part of the festival.




Everyone should get up from bed in Braahma muhurtham,i.e. five nazhigas (two hours) before sunrise, i.e. 4 a.m. If we sleep beyond that time, we will not only lose the merit we have, but also attract the curse of Pitrus.

During Sandhya times, taking food, enjoying sex, sleep, reading- these four are prohibited. As soon as we get up from bed, we should see auspicious objects while waking up. We should contemplate on God, Rishis and Punyatmas (holy persons). We should then go to a deserted place at least 100 feet away in east, south or north direction, keep water and soil, conceal head with cloth, face north in daytime or south in night time and pass stools silently.


Mannarshala (Refuge for snakes)

Kerala has many esoteric secrets of which many of them are hidden in the
annals of its temples. One of the strangest of the temples to be found in
Kerala is known as Mannarshala, which is a refuge for snakes of every type
and description. It's hoary past intrudes into the 21st century but it
continues to retain the mystic magic of another age. It still clings to its
ancient customs, which are as old as life itself. These traditions are
centred round the belief in the power of serpents - their ability to protect
as well as to destroy.


Hinduism is a unique way of life. What it feared or could not understand, it
enfolded into its capacious bosom and revered and loved so that it became
tame and domesticated. It was the power of love that could transform a wild
creature into a tame one. The more you fear a thing, the more power it has
to harm you. This fact was a well-known aspect of Hindu thought.


Snakes are things which all human beings have dreaded and shunned yet the
ancient civilizations always gave respect to them. They were said to possess
the power to curse you if not in this life then in another. Their curse
would follow you life after life, until you atoned for it by some means or
other. All skin diseases as well as leprosy as said to be due to the curse
of the snakes (sarpa dosha). Many other misfortunes are also accounted for
by their curse. Therefore all over India it is considered most inauspicious
to kill snakes. It is only the moderns who kill what they fear! The Hindus
knew that death was not the end of the story of life. By killing a snake
they might be able to save this life but it would result in untold suffering
in another life. Thus we find that many of the old houses of Kerala had a
little copse exclusively reserved for the use of snakes. They lived there in
comfort and the family used to worship them and give them milk to drink and
they left the family alone and never bothered any of the members. With the
breakdown of the ancient joint family system and the compulsion to move into
concrete flats instead of houses surrounded by land, these habitats for the
snakes became a big problem. Unless they were housed properly the family was
sure to incur their curse. Luckily in Kerala there are three big temples
totally dedicated to snake worship. Most families transferred their snake
families to these temples and thus got rid of their burdens. In ancient days
snakes were not considered a burden but were a part of the family just like
the cows and goats and birds,  but now the word "family" has narrowed down
to mean only a father, mother and their human children, and in this there is
certainly no place for a snake or for any other creature for that matter!


The king of snakes is known as Nagaraja and the temple of Mannarshala is
dedicated to him. It has a unique history even in a place like Kerala, where
fact and fiction, myth and miracle mingle together. The town of Haripad lies
twenty miles north of Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala. The Nagaraja temple
of Mannarshala is three kilometres to the north of Haripad. The history of
this temple is a fascinating blend of fact, legends and events that have
been handed down through the generations. In fact it is said to have existed
at the very start of this present epoch known as Kali Yuga.

Parashurama was the 6th incarnation of Lord Vishnu and he is closely
connected with the formation as well as the history of the land known as
Kerala. He is said to have propitiated Varuna, the god of the sea who
allowed him to carve out a land for himself out of the seabed. Parashurama
threw his axe far out to the sea and the land mass known as Kerala rose up.
Unfortunately the ground was totally saline and unfit for cultivation. He
then did tapasya to Lord Shiva who told him that the land could be made
habitable only by spreading the poison of snakes all over it. For this he
would have to worship Nagaraja, the king of snakes.

Undaunted by this, Parashurama chose a fitting spot for his tapasya and
proceeded to worship Nagaraja who eventually appeared to him in all his
splendour. He spread his deadly venom all over the land until it was
completely desalinated and Kerala emerged as an emerald paradise, rich in
natural vegetation and resources. Parashurama now begged Nagaraja to take up
his permanent abode in this beautiful spot, to which he agreed. Parashurama
then struck the earth with his axe so that water spouted out of it. He
bathed himself in this water and took the same for the installation of the
temple of Nagaraja. This is the spot where the present temple of Nagaraja is
located in Mannarshala and even today this water has to be used in all the
rituals. The idol of Nagaraja, which was consecrated here by Parashurama, is
supposed to contain the spiritual essence of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Its
original name was Mandarashala due to the fact that the region was covered
with Mandara bushes containing white flowers. In the course of time this was
shortened to Mannarshala.

As in many other famous temples of Kerala, Parashurama himself performed the
first worship of the deity and then taught the method to the priests
appointed by him. They were warned of the dire consequences, which would
accrue to them if they went against his mandates so it is that this is one
of the few temples, which has escaped the invasive modern culture and sticks
faithfully to its ancient principles of worship. He also advised every home
in Kerala to reserve the southeast or southwest corner of their compound for
snakes who were the true guardians of this land.

Many years passed until a time came when the family of priests was
threatened with extinction since they had no male heir to carry on the
sacred trust of the worship of Nagaraja. In fact just one couple was left of
the erstwhile large family. They didn't know what to do and prayed to their
family deity to help them. Just then another disaster struck. A raging
forest fire consumed all the surroundings but miraculously, left the temple
untouched. All the snakes in the vicinity rushed to take shelter at the feet
of Nagaraja. Many of them were badly burnt. The couple were most distressed
to see their snake children in such a plight and did their best to treat the
victims with mantras and herbs. They also made little abodes for them and
told them to stay there in peace.

Nagaraja was so pleased by their compassion for his family that he appeared
before the lady known as Sri Devi and told her that he would be born as her
son in two forms - one in his own form as a five-hooded snake and another as
a human child. To the amazement of the couple this vision came to pass
within a year. In the Malayalam month of Kumbhom (February\march), on the
day when the star known as Ayilyam was in ascendancy, Sri Devi gave birth to
two boys. The elder was a snake and the younger a human. The star Ayilyam is
supposed to be a very auspicious one for snakes. The children grew up
together and were initiated into all the Vedic rites and rituals pertaining
to the worship of Nagaraja. After the birth of the children, the couple gave
up conjugal life and became recluses, totally engaging themselves in puja
and prayer.

The day on which the star Ayilyam falls in the month of Kanni,
(September\October) is very important in all snake temples and many special
pujas are done on that day. One year due to some unforeseen circumstance the
husband was unable to attend to the puja on that day. In fact he was half
way through the puja on the previous day when he was told about the
occurrence, because of which he was unable to complete even that puja. This
is supposed to be a serious crime and one which is sure to incur the wrath
of the deity concerned which in this case happened to be Nagaraja himself.
There was no male available to continue the puja on that day. The next day,
was the all-important festival of snakes that was mandatory for them to
perform.  Sri Devi was sunk in despair when she heard this. However she
decided to take matters into her own hands. She purified herself in the
waters of the holy tank and went into the sanctum sanctorum where she sat in
deep meditation. At that time she heard Nagaraja telling her to continue
with the puja herself. She was to complete that day's puja as well as
perform the next day's all-important puja. From that day onwards she was to
remain within the temple precincts and forget about her duties in the house
and concentrate only on the worship in the temple.

A new chapter was opened in the annals of the temple. In fact it was a new
chapter in the annals of Kerala temple history. The eldest female member of
the family was accepted as the high priestess. Normally the work of
conducting pujas was one which was totally in the hands of males and this
was a most unorthodox and unprecedented procedure but such was the devotion
and spiritual quality of the female members of this family that they soon
rose to a highly respected and revered position in society. To this day the
main pujas of this temple are conducted by the eldest female member of the
family who is tutored from a young age to accept the mantle of
responsibility, which would fall on her. They are to be completely celibate
and have to follow a rigid discipline of prayer and meditation.

To get back to our original story. When the boys attained manhood, the human
boy got married. The snake son was known as Ananta and due to his presence,
the family prospered and devotees started pouring in. The family was the
guardian of the sacred lore pertaining to the cure of snake bits, rats
bites, skin diseases and so on. Even now they practise this and it is a
closely guarded secret of the family, which has been passed down from
generation to generation.

The snake Ananta used to roam about freely in the compound. He was perfectly
harmless but the pilgrims were not to know this and his form was enough to
terrify most of them.  On one Shivaratri day (festival of Shiva), there was
a big crowd and Ananta went around scaring people in a playful way, until at
last his mother got a bit annoyed and told him, "Why don't you stop
startling people and go and sit in a corner in the cellar?" Hardly were the
words out of her mouth when she realised her mistake and apologised for her
words. But by then he had slithered into the cellar and only his voice could
be heard.

"In future if you wish to see me, you can come to the cellar but see to it
that no one except my family members are allowed entry". With these words
the door banged shut. The mother was heart broken. Next day she took his
favourite food and went in but she could not see him anywhere. She broke
down and wept. Ananta's voice was heard once again. "Mother leave the food
and go away but you may return on the 5th day. If there are any leftovers it
can be distributed among the family members. Once a year on this day (the
day after Shivaratri) you may offer food to me. The rest of the time I shall
remain here in samadhi. On this day the members of the family may come here
to get my blessings. The rest of the time no one should disturb me.".

This custom is followed to this day and the family members assemble in the
cellar on this day to get the blessings of Ananta who is endearingly
referred to as Mutthassan or grandfather.

Mannarshala is an exceptional place since the senior most female member of
the family is the final authority on all matters pertaining to the puja at
this temple. She is known as Valliamma (big mother), and is installed before
the cremation of the previous Valliamma. There are many unique facets about
the mode of worship in this temple. The Valliamma has to be a celibate and
she is not allowed to go out of the temple compound for long. If she is
forced to go she has to return before nightfall. She is not allowed to
communicate directly with non-family members.  Her time is to be spent
exclusively in puja, prayer and meditation.

The Valliamma who became a living legend was known as Savitri Antharjanam. .
She stepped into the honourable position of Valliamma at the tender age of
fourteen and for the next seventy-five years she lived the life of a yogi.
Many are the miracles and cures, which are attributed to her.

As one passes the ornamental gate into the compound it appears as if we have
entered another age where nature and man lived in an amicable relationship
with each other. There is a mysterious aura about the place, which is
covered with medicinal trees, creepers and plants all favoured by snakes. We
know that we have entered another world that belongs to another species.
Rows upon rows of snake figures carved on granite sit on the walls and line
the grounds. There are also many snake pits made of sand in which numerous
snakes live happily. These include snake families that have been brought
here from other houses in Kerala, which have no facilities to keep the
snakes in their own abodes. It is a common occurrence to see snakes
slithering away into the bushes. We are brought to a realisation that this
is their ground and we are the trespassers. They are totally unafraid and in
turn they generate a feeling of awe and respect rather than fear and

The little temple of Nagaraja is supposed to be six thousand years old and
is the one, which had been consecrated by Parashurama. Nagaraja's idol made
of granite stands surrounded by serpents on all sides. His two hands depict
the symbols of protection and boon giving. He is believed to be a
combination of the potency of Ananta ( the snake on which Vishnu lies) and
Vasuki (the snake round Shiva's neck). Part of the worship offered to him is
supposed to reach Ananta who resides in the cellar.

Sarpayakshi is his consort and has a separate shrine of her own. Her idol is
made of a quartz like, transparent white stone. These two idols are hoary in
antiquity and have defied the growth of centuries.

A group of granite idols representing serpent divinities are to be seen in
front of the temple. They are mainly offerings by devotees. The cellar is
another of the most sanctified areas of this temple. An idol of her serpent
son, Ananta has been installed on the porch of the cellar and here the
Valliamma offers food to her beloved son on the day after Shivaratri. Close
by is a clump of trees called Appupan Kavu, the grandfather's grove, which
is supposed to be his favourite haunt. Some fierce looking yellow snakes,
supposed to be his attendants, inhabit this place. They move about freely
here as well as in the house without fearing or harming anyone. The family
can know what situation is in store for them by observing their stance. If
they sway gently with upraised hood, they are happy and everything is well.
If the hood is put down misfortune is indicated. Many of the family members
mention seeing a golden snake that entered the room of the senior family
member and lay there with lowered head, refusing to budge. Within a short
time, Savitri Antharjanam, the great Valliamma, breathed her last.

Traditional music sung by the caste known as Pulluvas accompanied by their
simple hand-made stringed instruments, is highly beloved by snakes. Many of
these people are given sanctuary by the family and live in the compound, as
their presence is compulsory for all, important festivals. They are supposed
to be the descendents of the original family who had sung for Nagaraja's

Once in forty-one years, the festival known as "Sarpa Pattu", (Serpent Song)
is conducted here. This is one of the fabled festivals connected with snake
worship in Kerala. Records reveal that it has been performed in this temple,
one hundred and seventy-four times with only one break. This is a very
elaborate ritual and includes the performance of tantric rites based on
highly scientific principles. The expenditure is astronomical. Many
traditional art forms of music and dance are encouraged during this

Stories of cures of snakebites and other miracles are often to be heard in
this temple. It also conducts pujas for the removal of "sarpa dosha" or the
curse of the snakes. Barren women make an offering of a round pot known as
an "uruli" to Ananta and are blessed with a child. Mannarshala is really a
place of mystery where the supernatural holds hands with the natural, where
time seems to have stood still and nature and man live in harmony and peace.



Persecution of Hindus


Persecution of Hindus refers to the religious persecution inflicted upon Hindus. Hindus have been historically persecuted during Islamic rule of the Indian subcontinent and during the Goa Inquisition. In modern times, Hindus in the Muslim-majority regions of Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh have also suffered persecution.

Freedom of religion


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Story of Mahabharata

-Story of Mahabharata


Long ago in Bharatavarsha, as India was known then, there was a sage by name Krishna Dwaipayana. His name in Sanskrit meant, the dark one, born in an island, because he was dark and was born in an island. He was not merely dark. He was rather fierce looking as well. That was the reason why poor Ambika got frightened and closed her eyes when he entered her bedroom. But wait, this comes later in the story and there are many things to know before we reach there.

Krishna Dwaipayana was, by far, the most intelligent person of all times. He consolidated the four Vedas or eternal truth, which are like the four pillars on which the entire edifice of Hindu religion is built. This earned him the name Veda Vyasa, the elaborator of the Vedas. We shall also refer to him as Vyasa in future.

Vyasa had a great tale to relate to posterity. A tale in which he himself was an important character. But the tale was too big for any human to write it down. In fact, it took a god to write it.

One day the creator, Brahma, appeared before Vyasa. The sage prostrated before the god and stood with his hands joined. The god told Vyasa, “You appear to be disturbed. What is the reason?” Vyasa answered, “Venerable Lord, I need someone to write the epic tale of the Bharata War, which I have formed in verse in my mind.” The god advised Vyasa to meditate on the elephant-faced god, Vinayaka.

When Vyasa did as Brahma had advised him, Vinayaka materialized before his eyes. Vyasa told the god of his desire for an amanuensis to write his tale. “I can help you in writing down the tale," Vinayaka told Vyasa. "Actually, I can write it for you. But you must agree to a condition.” Vyasa replied, “It would be my privilege to observe any condition that you may lay down.”

Vinayaka said, “I am a busy god. I can give only one opportunity for you to dictate your story for me to write. You should recite the verses without a break. If you break even once, I shall stop and leave you.”

Vyasa agreed, but not before laying down a counter-condition. Vinayaka should understand every verse that Vyasa dictated. The god smiled and nodded his head in agreement.

The tale was to be written on palm leaf. For a pen, Vinayaka broke one of his tusks and used the sharp edge. This is the reason why the elephant-god is always depicted with one tusk broken.

The tale Vyasa narrated was enormous. It ran into 88,000 verses. But Vyasa was a human. So many verses cannot be dictated without a break. He found a solution to this problem. Whenever he wanted a break he would recite a verse which was difficult even for the god to understand. While Vinayaka would try to fathom the meaning of the verse with his pen on his nose, Vyasa would utilize the interval to leave the god’s presence.

It is no wonder that Vyasa, who could manipulate the most intelligent god himself, found it quite easy to manipulate men and remained an influence on all the characters of his epic. It is hard to guess who was more tired at the end of the 88,000th verse, Vinayaka or Vyasa.

The number 18 has a mystical significance in the story that Vyasa told. The Great War, which is the centre piece of this epic tale, was fought for 18 days. The Gita, as told to Arjuna by Krishna, has 18 sections. And the narration itself has 18 chapters, or Parvas, in it. The first of these chapters is the Adi Parva.

Chapter 1 Adiparva - Part 1

Part 1

Vyasa asks Vaisampayana to recite the Mahabharata. The Kaurava Ancestors. Santanu becomes King. Mahavisa’s crime and punishment. How Satyavati was born. Vyasa is born to Satyavati. The tale of the eight Vasus.

Vyasa asks Vaisampayana to recite the Mahabharata

The Naimisha Forest in the Himalayan range contained dense vegetation. The holy aura it wore made it ideal for rishis or sages to dwell in, meditate and perform sacrifices.

Suta, a learned and much traveled sage, arrived at Naimisha forest where he went to the ashram of some eminent sages who were engaged in performing a sacrifice. The sages were happy at Suta’s visit since Suta was a learned man who gathered much information during his travels. After duly honouring their guest, the sages sat around his feet and asked him, “O great sage, tell us what is happening in the three worlds as we are totally cut off from them in our meditation of the Lord.” The three worlds referred to ether, earth and sea.

Suta told them that the great Vyasa had composed an incomparable history of the War between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, the sons of Dhritarashtra and Pandu respectively. “I had the privilege of hearing it,” Suta said. “If you worthy souls are inclined, I would recite it for you.” The sages answered in the affirmative and Suta began his tale.

King Janamejaya, son of Parikshit, who in turn was the grandson of Arjuna, was holding a snake sacrifice. Janamajeya was intent on having all the snakes in the three worlds, including their king, Takshaka, thrown into the sacrificial fire. This was in revenge for Takshaka killing Parikshit. A search was on to catch Takshaka who was hiding in some dark corner for his dear life. Meanwhile, a learned brahmin boy, Astika, appeared at the sacrificial hall and succeeded in persuading the king to stop the sacrifice. Takshaka and his tribe escaped, by the skin of their backs, from becoming extinct.

While the sacrifice was being performed, Vyasa with his disciples reached the hall. Janamejaya received him with reverence and asked him, “O Maharishi, we hear that you have composed an epic about the Great War fought between my ancestors and their evil cousins, in which, the Pandavas, whose grandson I am, were victorious. That tale should be music to our ears. Could you recite it for us?”

Vyasa assured the king that they would hear the tale, “But not from me. I have to hurry elsewhere. My favourite disciple here, Vaisampayana, who has heard it once from me and hence remembers the entire story, would recite it to you”.

“I had the good fortune to be present at the sacrifice when Vaisampayana recited the tale,” Suta said. “I shall now repeat it to you.”

The Kaurava Ancestors

Kings of ancient India belonged to either the Surya Vamsa (Sun dynasty) or the Chandra Vamsa (Moon dynasty). The Kauravas belonged to the Chandra Vamsa.

Manu, a grandson of Daksha who was created from Brahma’s toe in the beginning, was the progenitor of human beings. To his daughter, Ila, was born the valiant and learned Pururavas. In the line of Pururavas was born King Yayati.

Yayati had two wives. The first, Deveyani, was the beautiful daughter of Sukra, the brahmin seer of the Danavas who were asuras or demons. Being very learned, Sukra was a great asset to the asuras. In the continuing battle between the asuras and the devas (gods), Sukra’s knowledge of reviving the dead to life was a matter of great concern to the devas who did not possess this skill. Day by day the asuras were increasing in numbers whereas the population of devas started dwindling. In desperation, the gods devised a scheme whereby a spy, Kacha, was planted among the asuras to steal the secret of resuscitation. Kacha was able to gain Sukra’s confidence. Soon he secured the secret, much to the relief of the gods.

To Yayati and Sukra’s daughter, Deveyani, were born two sons, Yadu and Turvasu. Yayati’s life became complicated when he fell in love with Sharmishta, Deveyani’s maid. Sharmishta, was a princess, being the daughter of the asura King Vishaparva. She and Deveyani were friends from childhood. By winning a wager, Deveyani had made Sharmishta her maid.

Yayati married Sharmishta secretly. They had three sons in succession, Drahyu, Anu and Puru.

Truth would be out, as they say. Deveyani one day discovered that her husband and her maid had married secretly. She became furious. Deveyani rushed to her father, Sukra, and told him how her husband had betrayed her. This in turn made Sukra furious. He cornered Yayati and released on him a curse. He said, “You proud monarch, you were unfaithful to my daughter. It is because of your youth that you betrayed her. May you lose that youth and become old and decrepit.”

When Yayati sought Sukra’s forgiveness, the sage relented. He told Yayati, “I can, out of compassion, modify the curse. If you are keen to remain young and vigorous, you may exchange your old age with any one of your sons for a period of time. The son who agrees to your proposal would, one day, become a great monarch.”

Yayati called his sons and told them about Sukra’s curse and the way he could be redeemed from it. The first four sons valued their youth too much to agree to switch it for their father’s old age. It was the last son, Puru, who readily stepped forward and offered to help his father.

The exchange of old age with youth between the father and son lasted a thousand years. At the end of that period the process was reversed. Puru became young again and Yayati relapsed to old age. Yayati handed over his kingdom to his faithful son and retired to the forest to meditate upon the Lord.

The young Puru ruled as a wise king. This was the beginning of the Puru dynasty. From Yadu rose the Yadavas, among whom were born Krishna and Balarama. The tribes of Yavanas, Bhojas and Mleechas sprang from the other sons, Turvasu, Drahyu and Anu respectively. All these tribes had their roles to play in the Kurukshetra War.

A distinguished king of the Chandra Vamsa was Dushyanta. He married Sakuntala, daughter of the sage Viswamitra and the apsara (nymph), Menaka. A saga was enacted in their life when they had to separate. But their son, Bharata, achieved great fame. Bharata had three wives who together gave him nine sons. These nine sons did not possess the character to please the king. Hence the wives killed them all.

In order to obtain a successor the king performed a sacrifice. The sacrificial fire yielded a son, Bhumanyu, who fulfilled his father’s expectation in all ways.

A few generations later there appeared in this line a great king, Kuru by name. It was he who established the holy site of Kurukshetra at a place called Kurujangala, all named after him. Kurukshetra became a holy site in which great sacrifices were performed and great battles were fought.

Santanu becomes King

Generations later came King Pratipa, a descendent of these illustrious kings. He ruled a vast kingdom with his capital in Hastinapura. Pratipa had three sons, Devapi, Balhika and Santanu. The eldest, Devapi, was afflicted by skin disease. He was therefore declared unfit for kingship by the brahmins and other elders. A disappointed Devapi renounced the world and wandered as an ascetic. The next son, Balhika, was adopted by his maternal grandfather whose rich kingdom he became heir to. It was to Santanu that the prized possession of Hastinapura fell when Pratipa died. Santanu was a worthy scion of the Kuru dynasty and he ruled wisely.

Mahavisa’s crime and punishment

King Santanu’s birth as Pratipa’s son was due to certain happenings in the heavenly court of the Supreme Lord. All kings who had performed their duties properly on earth were eligible to enter heaven when their mortal life was over. King Mahavisa was one such who had gained admittance to heaven. In the great hall of the Lord, Mahavisa was seated along with many sages and kings worshipping the Supreme Being. When Goddess Ganga, the Queen of Rivers, entered the hall, her garment inadvertently fell off her person. All those assembled in the august conclave avoided looking at her. But Mahavisa alone kept his gaze fixed on her. This angered the Lord who cursed him, “For your wretched action, you shall be re-born on earth. Ganga would also be born on earth and provoke your anger.”

As a result of this curse, Mahavisa was born to King Pratipa on earth and given the name Santanu.

If it were not for a chance encounter with a maiden by Santanu, this entire story would not have been written. The maiden’s name was Satyavati. We should investigate how this happened.

How Satyavati was born

During the time our story is set, there were several other kingdoms in India apart from Hastinapura. One of them was Chedi whose ruler was Uparichara. Besides being a benevolent king, Uparichara was also deeply religious. He performed great sacrifices to the Supreme Lord. This activity of his was causing concern to Indra who was the lord of the regions inhabited by gods. There had been instances when a king, through severe penance, had pleased the Lord. The king would then ask for a boon. He would want to depose Indra and sit in his throne. Indra had constantly to guard himself from such usurpers. He would distract such kings and mislead them into bad ways. An easy way would be to send apsaras to dance before them. This device worked with Uparichara who relapsed into an easy life.

Uparichara was fond of hunting. He would leave alone with his bow and arrows on distant expeditions, deep into the jungle. In one such trip he suddenly realized that the stars had aligned in a way that it was auspicious to have a progeny. It was not possible to return to his kingdom. So he used an eagle to send his vital energy to his queen. The eagle, while on its way to Chedi, was attacked by another eagle and its precious cargo fell into the River Yamuna.

A fish swallowed what the eagle dropped. This fish was in reality an apsara who was undergoing a curse. Ten months after this strange happening, a fisherman chief caught the fish. When he took it home and cut it he was surprised to see a male and a female human baby in the fish’s stomach.

The fisherman was surprised and also frightened at what he found. He took the two babies to the king and told him of the strange occurrence. It happened that the king was issueless and was just then looking for a boy to adopt. He thought that God had sent him the baby in answer to his prayers. He therefore kept the boy and asked the fisherman chief to take away the girl. The fisherman named her Satyavati and brought her up as his daughter.

Vyasa is born to Satyavati

Satyavati grew up to be a beautiful maiden. But, being born of a fish, she had the repulsive smell of fish emanating from her. No effort on her part could rid her of this smell. Being a dutiful daughter, she assisted her father by plying a boat in the River Yamuna.

The sage Parasar, who had great mystic powers, was one day being ferried across the river by Satyavati. He was captivated by her beauty and told her of his desire for her. Satyavati pleaded that she wanted to remain a maiden. Parasar persisted and finally won her consent by giving her two boons.

Parasar’s first boon was that Satyavati would remain a maiden, even after union with him. The second boon was that the offensive odour she carried would disappear and, instead, she would smell of perfume. The second boon benefited Satyavati so much that she began to smell of flowers. She was transformed from Matsyagandha (she who smelt of fish) to Yojanagandha (she whose fragrance spread to a ‘yojana’ or nine miles).

On the boat, to avoid being seen by the rishis on either bank, Parasar caused a fog to occur. As soon as the sage left her, Sayavati conceived. By Parasar’s grace she gave birth to a male child immediately in an island in the river. Since the child had a dark complexion Satyavati named him Krishna. Since he was born in an island, Dwaipayana, or island-born, was added to his name. Krishna attained maturity as soon as he was born, again thanks to the mystical powers of his father. He was, after he grew up, to become proficient in scriptures and to earn the name Veda Vyasa for his elaboration of the Vedas. He left his mother to seek knowledge after assuring her that he would return to her side whenever she called him in her mind. For the present we shall leave Satyavati to ply her trade and turn to Santanu.

The tale of the eight Vasus

Santanu was walking along the banks of the river Ganga, admiring its vast expanse and tranquil surface. Suddenly there appeared on the waters a beautiful damsel, dressed in white, walking towards him gracefully. Captivated by her sight, Santanu wanted to know more about her. He beckoned to her and asked her who she was. The maiden introduced herself as Ganga. She seemed to be equally attracted by the king. When Santanu proposed marriage to her, she immediately consented. But she was willing to marry Santanu only on a condition. Once married, he would, at no time, restrain her from doing what she pleased, nor ask her to explain any of her actions.

Santanu took Ganga to his palace where he celebrated his marriage with her. They were soon blessed with a son. But as soon as the baby was born, Ganga carried him to the river and threw him into the water. Santanu who was watching this strange act was helpless to intervene, remembering his promise not to interfere with anything Ganga did.

When the next son was born, Ganga repeated the same act of throwing the baby into the river. This behaviour of Ganga went on till seven sons were born and all the seven were killed. When the eighth son was born, Ganga, as usual, picked up the baby and started walking towards the river.

Santanu had come to the end of his patience. His anger and frustration at seeing his sons thrown into the river got the better of him and he confronted Ganga. He bade her to stop killing his children and demanded an explanation from her for her action.

Ganga told Santanu that since the king had broken the contract made at the time of their marriage, she was leaving him. She would however not kill the eighth child. Ganga then related to Santanu the reason for all her actions. Ganga said :

There is a group of eight demigods in the ether world known as the Vasus, They are always found together. Once, when they were roaming about on earth with their wives, they came to the forest where the sage Vasishta had his hermitage. In the pasture nearby they saw the divine cow, Nandini, the proud possession of the sage. The cow was grazing peacefully. She had a glorious appearance, and her milk, which she yielded in abundance, was known to have a rejuvenating power. The wife of the Vasu Dyau desired to obtain the cow so that she can present it to her dear friend, Jitavati, daughter of the sage Usinara.

Dyau wanted to satisfy his wife’s desire. He found that the sage had left the hermitage and gone to the river. The cow was unguarded and Dyau had no difficulty in capturing her.

When the sage returned to the hermitage, he found the cow missing. Through his vision he learnt that the Vasus had abducted her in his absence. An angry Vasishta cursed the Vasus, “Because you stole the cow Nandini, you should all be born as humans on earth.”

Realising their mistake, the Vasus rushed to the sage and fell at his feet, begging forgiveness. They prayed for the withdrawal of the curse. It is in the nature of a curse that once it is given, it cannot be withdrawn. It can however be modified or redemption can be offered.

Vasishta felt pacified and he modified the curse. He said that the Vasus cannot escape from being born on earth. But they could return to heaven immediately after their birth. That is, all of them except Dyau who actually stole the cow. He will remain on earth for a longer period. While on earth, he would be devoted to his father. Due to his strength, virtue and knowledge, his fame would spread far and wide. But female companionship or progeny, he will have none.

“The Vasus then approached me,” Ganga continued. “After explaining their predicament, they sought my help. They desired to be born to me on earth. I agreed to help them in their deliverance.”

The seven children which were born to me were seven of the Vasus. I killed them immediately so that they could return to heaven. The eighth one, Dyau, who is born as your son now, will remain alive. He will live a noble life on earth until he finally gets his release.”

After relating the story of the Vasus to Santanu, Ganga took the child with her, promising to return him to the king after nursing him through his childhood. She gave the child, who was named Devavrata, the best of education in all disciplines, from Vedas to warfare, under preceptors as distinguished as the sages Vasishta and Parasurama. After some years, Ganga returned Devavrata, now a youth, to Santanu as promised. There was none in the three worlds to equal the handsome young prince in bravery, wisdom and dedication to truth. Santanu installed Devavrata as his heir apparent.

Chapter 1 Adiparva - Part 2

Part 2

Satyavati enters Santanu’s life. This is the terrible one, a Bhishma.
Santanu’s boon to Bhishma. The abduction of the Kasi princesses. Parasurama intervenes for Amba. Amba seeks a boon from Siva. Amba becomes Sikhandin. Sex exchange with a Yaksha. A lifeline for the Kuru race, the birth of Dhritarashtra and Pandu. Vidura is born. The story of Mandavya. Bhishma brings up Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura. A bride for Dhritarashtra. The birth of Vasusena. Two wives for Pandu.
The curse on Pandu. The birth of Yudhishthira and his brothers. The strange birth of Duryodhana, his brothers and sister

 Satyavati enters Santanu’s life.

Ever an admirer of rivers, Santanu was this time walking on the banks of the river Yamuna. A sweet fragrance floating in the air captivated him. Looking for its source, he found a lovely maiden negotiating the waters with her boat. He learnt from her that she was the daughter of a fisherman chief, engaged in transporting passengers across the river. Santanu was instantly ensnared by her beauty and decided to have her as his wife. He approached the maiden’s father and asked for her hand in marriage.

The wise fisherman chief told the king, “I would certainly like to get a good husband for my daughter. But you already have a son who has a claim on your throne. Given in marriage to you, my daughter’s children cannot dream of becoming your heir. I could, however, consider making her your wife if you give a solemn commitment that only descendents of Satyavati would occupy the throne, and that your son Devavrata would be disinherited.”  

This is the terrible one, a Bhishma

His affection for Devavrata being unqualified, Santanu had no inclination to agree to the condition laid down by the fisherman chief. He turned down the proposal and returned to his palace. But his longing for Satyavati was clearly reflected in his behaviour, and Devavrata was quick to observe the change in his father. When he questioned Santanu, the father had this to say. “Devavrata, you are my only son and the future of the Kuru race depends on your being well and alive. How better it would be for me to have more children!”

Devavrata, who sensed a deeper meaning in Santanu’s speech, learnt from his father’s old minister and charioteer about the king’s infatuation for the fisherman’s daughter. Repairing to the banks of River Yamuna, Devavrata sought the fisherman chief. He solicited the chief’s daughter for the king. The fisherman chief repeated what he had already told the king.

Devavrata immediately allayed the chief’s fears. Then and there he vowed that he would not claim the throne, nor would he marry, lest his progenies may compete with Satyavati’s progenies. Hearing this vow pronounced in his majestic voice, the devas and apsaras from above hailed, this is the terrible one, a Bhishma. That name stuck to him all his life.

Santanu’s boon to Bhishma

Santanu married Satyavati. Although Satyavati was about his own age, Bhishma was devoted to her as a son to his mother. Santanu was greatly pleased by Bhishma’s action. Having acquired powers through austerity, Santanu gave a boon to his son. He could choose the time of his own death. This made Bhishma invincible.

Out of the union of Santanu and Satyavati were born two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. On Santanu’s death, Chitrangada succeeded to the throne. He was a headstrong monarch, fond of wars, who did not last long. After a three-year battle with the Gandharvas, a heavenly tribe whose king bore his name, Chitrangada lost his life while fighting. He was not married and had left no issues.
The abduction of the Kasi princesses

A grieving Bhishma installed the second son of Satyavati, Vichitravirya, as king. The new king was still a young boy and Bhishma himself looked after the governance and welfare of the state. As Vichitravirya grew up, Bhishma thought it was time to get him married. He had just heard that the King of Kasi had three pretty and accomplished daughters for whom he was looking for grooms.

Among kings of the warring race, Kshatriyas, there existed the practice of holding a Swayamvara, where the prospective bride would choose her future lord from among the many eligible young men who had come to the function splendidly attired to catch her eye. She would go around the hall and garland the person she chose. This was accepted by all the others with grace.

The King of Kasi organized one such Swayamvara for his three daughters. On the Swayamvara day, Bhishma reached Kasi and walked into the function hall. Already many powerful and eligible monarchs had gathered there and were waiting for the princesses to arrive. Although Bhishma was the most powerful of the princes present, nobody thought he was in the race, knowing fully about his age and celibacy vow.

The sisters, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika, beautifully dressed and radiating charm, arrived at the hall and started on their selection tour. Garland in hand, they went from one prince to another. Hardly had they passed a few when an impatient Bhishma rounded them up and took them away to his chariot that was waiting outside. As Bhishma was about to drive away with his booty, the greatly incensed monarchs who were present, King Salwa of Saubha among them, chased the abductor and showered arrows on him. Bhishma stood up and warded them all off, subduing Salwa who fought fiercely. Secure in his chariot, Bhishma returned to his capital, Hastinapura, where he offered all three girls for the prince, Vichitravirya, to marry.

While Ambika and Ambalika were quickly reconciled to the situation and thought that their prayers had been answered, the eldest, Amba, pleaded with Bhishma that she had already lost her heart to the Saubha king. Not desiring to force her into marrying Vichitravirya against her wishes, Bhishma released her and sent her back to Kasi. Amba approached the Saubha king, Salwa, and expressed her desire to marry him. Salwa turned her down. He was unwilling to accept a girl discarded by another prince. Amba’s pleadings were of no avail as the Saubha king stood firm.

Parasurama intervenes for Amba

Rejected at both places, Amba regretted not having jumped out of Bhishma’s chariot when she was abducted. She cursed herself, but instead of returning to her father, she wandered into the woods. When she reached a hermitage, the ascetics there took pity on her. Just then, a venerable sage, Hotravahana, came to the hermitage. It turned out that the sage was Amba’s maternal grandfather. Hearing her story, he suggested that Amba should approach the sage Jamadagni’s son, Parasurama, the legendary warrior and destroyer of Kshatriyas, and seek his help.

While they were discussing on how to meet Parasurama who had retired to a resort in the Himalayas, by a strange coincidence, the warrior himself turned up at the hermitage.

Parasurama was a great friend of Hotravahana. Hearing the story of Amba, he offered to persuade Saubha to marry her. Alternatively, he would ask Bhishma to marry her. Amba declined both offers. After Saubha’s refusal, that king was now out of question. As for Bhishma, she wanted revenge. She wanted Bhishma’s life.

Reluctant to fight, Parasurama decided on a path of conciliation. He took Amba and proceeded to Kurukshetra along with his followers. He then sent word to Bhishma at Hastinapura about his arrival. Joyous at the opportunity of meeting his preceptor of old, Bhishma reached Kurukshetra with gifts of cows and other valuables. After paying his respects to the guest, Bhishma asked him what he owed this visit to.

Parasurama told Bhishma, “I have brought here with me Amba, the daughter of the Kasi king. Having no desires yourself, you abducted this innocent girl from the Swayamvara. You then sent her back to join Saubha. Unfortunately, Saubha has also rejected her. It therefore falls on you to accept her as your wife.”

Bhishma replied, “Sir, my brother Vichitravirya for whose sake I abducted this girl, refuses to marry her after hearing her declare her love for Saubha. As for me, I have vowed never to marry.”

Bhishma’s refusal to accept Amba angered the ancient warrior who was not used to his requests being turned down.  A battle between the two ensued.

At the end of twenty-three days of fierce fighting, neither could vanquish the other. So equally matched were they. At this point Bhishma prepared to use the deadliest of the weapons in his armoury, the Praswapa. Knowing its efficacy and terrible side-effects on the world, the gods and the Vasus themselves appeared before Bhishma to dissuade him from using it. “Parasurama is a brahmin by birth,” they said, “and killing a brahmin is a sin. He has also once been your preceptor. Using this weapon will certainly destroy him. Killing him would be doubly sinful for you.” But Bhishma showed no sign of relenting.

When Parasurama saw Bhishma take up the weapon he was truly frightened. He cried, “Cease Bhishma! I am vanquished.” As Bhishma saw his adversary surrender, he laid down his bow. The ancestors of Parasurama appeared before him. They told him that his persecution of the Kshatriyas should come to an end. From that moment he should kill them no more.

Amba seeks a boon from Siva

Disappointed at Parasurama’s failure to bring to book the great Bhishma, the princess Amba retired to the forest. For twelve years she was engaged in severe penance, invoking the god Siva. Pleased with her devotion, Siva appeared before her.

“My child,” Siva said, “Your devotion gratifies me. Ask me a boon and I will grant it.”

Amba related to him her story and prayed that she should be given the power to destroy Bhishma. “So be it,” the god said. When Amba asked how a woman could vanquish the mighty Bhishma, the god told her that she would soon have another birth when, although a woman, she would be a man for some time. The relevance of such a strange boon would become evident later in the story.

Amba becomes Sikhandin

Amba could hardly wait for her next birth. She set fire to herself to end her present life. Her next birth was as the daughter of Drupada, the King of Panchala.

Drupada, who had no male issue, prayed intensely to Siva for a son. The god granted him his wish, adding, “The child you get would be a female first, and then a male.”

A female child was born to Drupada’s queen. But the queen, knowing that her husband was longing for a male issue, misinformed him that the new born child was a son. Drupada believed her words and the child, named Sikhandin, was brought up as a prince. She was even taught warfare under the great teacher Drona who took her to be a prince. When Sikhandin came of age, Drupada wanted to get his ‘son’ married. The daughter of King Hiranyavarman of the Dasarnas was chosen as the bride.

Soon after the wedding, Hiranyavarman received news from his daughter that Sikhandin was a girl. In anger, he vowed to kill both Drupada and Sikhandin. Hiranyavarman marched a huge army towards Panchala.
Sex exchange with a Yaksha

When news reached Drupada that Hiranyavarman was on his way to Panchala to fight with him, he found out the reason for Hiranyavarman’s chagrin. It was only now that the truth about Sikhandin’s sex was revealed to Drupada by his queen. He started making preparations to meet the threat from Hiranyavarman. Pressed by the sudden turn of events and not ready for war, he despaired over the situation to his queen. Amba overheard the conversation.

Amba felt guilty for having caused all this misery to her parents. She decided to end her life and, with that object, set out to a forest in the region of Kubera (god of wealth and patron of Yakshas, a celestial tribe). Seeing a mansion in the forest, Amba took refuge there. She then starved with the idea of killing herself.

The mansion belonged to a Yaksha called Sthuna. He appeared before Amba who acquainted him of her story.

“What is the use of my existence?” Amba asked Sthuna. “My only purpose to be born was to be the cause of Bhishma’s death. How could I achieve that, being a woman?”

Sthuna took pity on Amba and by his magical power exchanged his sex with hers. Sikhandin transformed into a man. This arrangement was to be for a temporary period, at the end of which Sikhandin was to return to Sthuna his manhood.

With her new identity as a man Sikhandin went back to Drupada’s capital, Kampilya. She proved her credentials to Drupada and Hiranyavarman and reconciliation was brought about between the two.

Soon after this, Kubera visited Sthuna. When he learnt about the Yaksha’s action, the god became angry. He cursed Sthuna that the sex exchange would not be of a temporary nature but that he would remain a woman until Sikhandin’s death.
A lifeline for the Kuru race, the birth of Dhritarashtra and Pandu

Vichitravirya, the Kuru King, under the benevolent guidance of Bhishma, ruled wisely. However, after seven years of married life, he fell victim to a deadly disease. He died, leaving his two wives without children. A crisis of the first order descended on the family. They had lost a young king and there was no successor to the throne.

The Queen Mother, Satyavati, was plunged in grief at the loss of both her sons with no progeny to occupy the throne. She summoned her stepson, Bhishma, and told him, “Virtuous prince! It is in your hands to ensure the perpetuation of the Kuru race. Your brother has left two wives, neither having children. Oh! If I could only release you from the promise you made to my father that you would neither be a king nor marry and beget children.

“I however see a way out. You may be aware of the convention that permits you to act as the husband of Vichitravirya’s queens and sire a successor to our dynasty.”

Bhishma turned down the proposal, reminding Satyavati of his vow of strict celibacy. He instead came up with a plan. He said, “Parasurama, the son of Jamadagni, vowed to destroy all the Kshatriya males on earth. He wiped them out twenty-one times. The Kshatriyas had to find a way to perpetuate their race. The widowed women begot children through the priestly class of brahmins. Hence, seeking the help of a brahmin to be a father is an accepted Kshatriya practice.”

With Bhishma’s refusal, Satyavati’s thoughts now turned to her son from the sage Parasar. Vyasa was both a brahmin and a brother of Vichitravirya. Satyavati related to Bhishma the story of Vyasa’s birth and his promise to appear whenever Satyavati desired his presence. “I would call him now,” she said, “and ask him to help us during this critical time.” Bhishma fully supported the idea of Vyasa siring the queens’ children. Satyavati mentally summoned Vyasa.

Vyasa appeared before his mother and after paying his respects to her, asked her the reason for her summoning him. Satyavati explained to him the grave crisis faced by the Kuru dynasty.

Satyavati told Vyasa, “Only you can ensure the future of our dynasty. With the death of Vichitravirya, only you can sire his successors through his queens.”

Vyasa replied, “Your plan is certainly sanctioned by our laws. I shall follow your wishes.”

Ambika, the elder of Vichitravirya’s two widows, was selected by Satyavati for the purpose of begetting a child. Ambika agreed to the plan. But what she expected was that Bhishma would take her husband’s place.

Although Vyasa was endowed with all the best qualities, he was dark in complexion, with matted locks and blazing eyes. Waiting in her chamber, Ambika was expecting to receive the handsome Bhishma. On seeing the formidable-looking Vyasa enter her room, a frightened Ambika closed her eyes. When later Satyavati asked her son about the meeting, Vyasa replied that Ambika would have a strong and powerful son, but he would be born blind. Satyavati anxiously asked Vyasa, how a blind man can rule a kingdom like the Kauravas’, although he may be endowed with all the best qualities of a king. Vyasa expressed that what was done could not be undone.

Even as Vyasa had predicted, Ambika brought forth a healthy baby with the one handicap of being blind. The baby was named Dhritarashtra,

A dissatisfied Satyavati again summoned Vyasa and persuaded him to give her another grandson. This time a meeting with the younger wife of Vichithravirya, Ambalika, was arranged. Unlike her sister, Ambalika kept her eyes open while receiving Vyasa in her chamber. But she became pale out of fear when Vyasa came near her. The result was that the son born to her was of sallow complexion. But Ambalika’s son, Pandu, otherwise looked a noble child, born to be a king. This gave Satyavati great satisfaction.

 Vidura is born

The Queen Mother still had doubts lingering in her mind. What if some harm befell both the grandsons? She thought that one more son eligible for succession would be playing it safe. She asked for Vyasa’s help for a third time. Ambika was chosen for the purpose.

After her earlier experience with Vyasa, Ambika was keen to avoid another similar encounter. She called her maid attendant and instructed her to wait for Vyasa in the bedchamber.

When Vyasa entered Ambica’s bedchamber, the maid received him with great reverence. She was about to leave when Vyasa stopped her.

Vyasa told the maid, “I am pleased with your behaviour. I would therefore bless you with a child who would one day become the wisest man in the kingdom.”

As a result of Vyasa’s liaison with the maid, Vidhura was born.

The story of Mandavya

An interesting story surrounds Vidura’s antecedent. There was a sage by the name of Mandavya. He was in deep meditation in the forest one day when soldiers of a nearby kingdom intruded into his hermitage and asked if he had seen some thieves who were running away with loot. His eyes closed, the sage made no reply. When the soldiers searched the woods nearby, they were able to catch the thieves red handed with the loot. They suspected that the sage had given the thieves asylum in his hermitage and was therefore their accomplice. Arresting him along with the thieves, they handed him over to the king. In the inquiry, Mandavya was not given an opportunity to defend himself. The rash king gave the unfortunate sage the same punishment that he gave the thieves. He was impaled.
While the other thieves died when they were impaled, Mandavya languished, all the time performing penance. A few Rishis came to know about the sufferings of Mandavya. They approached him and asked what offence he had committed to be so condemned. The sage was unable to recollect having done anything to deserve this punishment. The king soon came to know that even after several days in the stake the sage had not died. He realized that the sage had mystic powers and he had erred in his dispensation of justice. Rushing to Mandavya, the king begged forgiveness. Mandavya generously forgave him.

After his term of life in the world was over, Mandavya was rewarded with heaven. There he encountered the God of Justice (Dharma) from whom he demanded to know what sin he had committed to be punished on earth with impalement. Dharma said that as a boy, the sage once tortured a fly by piercing it with a wire. As a consequence, he also had to be similarly punished.

Mandavya pointed out to Dharma that, according to the scriptures, no punishment was to be given if a child of less than twelve years committed a sin. Hence, Dharma had erred and he should pay for it. The sage condemned Dharma to be born on earth to a woman of the working class (Sudra). As a result Dharma came to be born as Vidura.

When Vidura grew up, he mastered law and justice and his fame spread far and wide. He became the conscience keeper of the Kauravas and a storehouse of virtue.

Bhishma brings up Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura

Bhishma brought up Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura with great care, as if they were his own children. They were taught all the Vedas and were trained to be excellent warriors. Till they reached adulthood, Bhishma himself conducted the business of government for which his fame spread everywhere. When the time came to install a king, Pandu was chosen. Dhritarashtra was overlooked because of his blindness.

A bride for Dhritarashtra

Bhishma then addressed himself to the task of finding suitable brides for the three brothers.

Suvala, the King of Gandhara, had a daughter by name Gandhari. She was beautiful and accomplished. Austere by nature, she was a great devotee of the god Siva. Pleased with her constant prayers, Siva appeared before her and gave her a boon, that she would one day be blessed with a hundred sons.

Bhishma thought that Gandhari would make an ideal bride for Dhritarashtra. When Bhishma approached Suvala with the proposal, the Gandhara King at first hesitated to give away his daughter in marriage to a blind man. But considering the reputation of the Kurus, he agreed for the union. The marriage of Dhritarashtra with Gandhari was consecrated with pomp, the Prince of Suvala, Sakuni, being in the forefront of the ceremonies. Gandhari, as a mark of love and respect for her blind husband, denied herself sight by bandaging her eyes and vowed to remain thus till the end of her life. She gained the reputation of being a devoted wife and a respecter of the elders.

Having settled Dhritarashtra’s wedding, Bhishma turned his attention to Pandu. His search led him to the Yadava kingdom.

The birth of Vasusena

The Yadava race into which Krishna and his brother Balarama were born, was ruled by King Sura. To him were born a son, Vasudeva (father of Krishna and Balarama), and a daughter, Pritha by name. Pritha was unrivalled in her beauty and also became well versed in religious matters. Bhishma decided that Pritha would make an ideal wife for the younger Kuru prince, Pandu.

When Bhishma sought her hand for Pandu, Sura readily agreed. Pritha was then living with Sura’s cousin, King Kuntibhoja, who was childless, to whom she had been given in adoption. For this reason the princess was also known as Kunti.

Once, Durvasa, a sage of radiance and great learning, visited Kuntibhoja. A young Pritha was assigned to look after his comforts. Known for his quick temper, the sage was very irregular in his habits, and handling him needed great patience. But Pritha so pleased him with her devotion that he granted her a boon. He taught her a Mantra (holy verse), on reciting which she could summon any celestial to her side and beget a child through him.

Soon after, the ascetic left. Kunti could not get her mind off the boon Durvasa had given her. One morning, alone in her apartment, Pritha, yielded to her curiosity. She summoned the lord Surya (Sun) to her side to test the boon. When Surya appeared, Pritha got frightened and wanted to withdraw her wish. But the god persuaded her to have a child through him.

Surya told Kunti that she would beget a son who would be adorned with a pair of ear-rings and an armour around his chest. These appendages would invest him with invincibility. The god then disappeared. By Surya’s grace, Pritha remained a maiden even after this incident.

Fearing adverse reaction from members of her family, Pritha decided to keep concealed her meeting with Surya. She kept her confinement a secret by remaining in her apartments with only a nurse to attend on her. In due time, a son was born to her.

As soon as the baby was born, she put him in a basket and cast him into the River Aswa, a tributary of the River Ganga. She prayed to god that the child should be safe until someone found him and took him home. The basket drifted along until it reached the Ganga. There it was found by Radha, the wife of Adhiratha, a charioteer who had once served Dhritarashtra. Radha and Adhiratha took the baby to their home and brought it up as their own. The adopted child was named Vasusena. He remained the charioteer’s son till the end of his life, his true identity hidden from the world.

The son of Radha, or Radheya, was possessed of great beauty and strength. When he grew up, he became a very skilful wielder of weapons and, besides, acquired fame for his charitable disposition. From dawn to midday, everyday, he would stand in the river and worship the sun. During this period he would give away anything that he possessed to brahmins who approached him.

Two wives for Pandu

In order to choose a husband for Pritha, Kuntibhoja invited the leading princes of the country for a Swayamvara. Many princes turned up for the ceremony, Pandu being one. His fame had preceded him and Pritha’s choice fell on him. Kuntibhoja was more than happy to give away his daughter as bride to Pandu. Immediate arrangements were made for their wedding.

After some time, Bhishma desired to have a second wife for Pandu. Madra or Salya, king of the Balhikas, had a beautiful sister, Madri by name. Bhishma set his heart on having her married to Pandu. Arriving at the Madras’ capital, Bhishma made his proposal to Salya after offering the king gifts of elephants, horses, cars and money. Salya consented to Pandu marrying his sister.

Nor did Bhishma forget Vidura. He obtained for him a beautiful and intelligent bride, a daughter born to King Devaka of a working woman.

The curse on Pandu

Pandu was a brave king who extended his kingdom far and wide. He soon became the foremost of rulers. With his empire well established, Pandu retired to the forest with his two wives to devote himself to his favourite pastime, deer hunting.

An event happened to disturb the tranquil and joyous life of Pandu. One day, while hunting on the foothills of the Himalayas, he shot his arrows on a couple of deer that were mating. He was not aware that the stag was a sage of high merit, in disguise. The stag began to moan in human voice. Before dying, it cursed the king for his reckless act. Pandu was condemned to meet his end when in the intimate company of a woman.

After this incident Pandu became depressed. He realized that he was spending all his time in pleasure, without observing austerities. His immediate reaction was to leave his two wives and take to the life of an ascetic and wander without an aim. He wanted to leave alone since he wanted to observe strict celibacy. But both Kunti and Madri persuaded him to take them along in his wanderings, assuring him that they would not interfere with his vow..

Pandu ordered his retinue to return to Hastinapura, taking with them all the wealth that he was carrying. Clad in deerskin, he started wandering in the forests in the company of his wives. He observed severe austerity, which pleased the gods.

The birth of Yudhishthira and his brothers

On one occasion, certain Rishis whom Pandu met blessed him with progenies. This made him suddenly realize that he had no children to succeed him as king. He therefore approached Kunti and proposed to her that she beget a child through the offices of a good brahmin. He quoted examples of kings taking such a course in order to continue their lineage.

Kunti told Pandu of the boon she had received from the sage Durvasa whereby she could invoke any of the gods to give her a child. She however took care not mention her earlier adventure with the Sun god. Pandu’s face brightened and he urged her to use the boon.

They discussed which of the various gods should be invoked by Kunti’s Mantra to bless them with a child. Pandu desired to have a son who would be the embodiment of justice. Kunti invoked the god of Justice, Dharma. The god appeared before her and gave her a son. The child was named Yudhishthira. At about the same time that Yudhishthira was born in the forest, in the palace in Hastinapura, Gandhari, Dhritarashtra’s wife, was pregnant for a year.

Happy with the success of the experiment with Dharma, Pandu’s desire for children grew further. He now desired to have a son who would be brave and strong. Vayu (god of Wind) was chosen as the sire. Accordingly, Bhimasena was born as the son of Vayu. The child was very strong. When, by accident, he fell from his mother’s arms, instead of getting hurt, he broke the stone below.

Bhimasena was born on the same day as Gandhari’s eldest son, Duryodhana, was born. How and why Gandhari delivered her child so late after her conception, we shall know soon.

Not satisfied with the two sons Kunti had given him, Pandu dreamed of having one more son, a son who would become the foremost warrior in the world and whose fame would be everlasting. Who better than the lord of the celestials, Indra, to be the sire? Towards this goal, Pandu undertook a severe penance directed towards that god. Indra was highly pleased. He appeared before Kunti and gave her a son. As a result, Arjuna was born. The birth of Arjuna was heralded by great rejoicing in the ether world, where apsaras and gandharvas sang and danced and showered their blessings.

All along, Pandu’s other wife, Madri, was watching the arrival of Kunti’s sons with awe. The desire to have children was kindled in her. She approached her husband, Pandu, and pleaded with him to talk to Kunti. If Kunti could utter the Mantra on her behalf and summon a god, her desire could also be fulfilled. Pandu understood Madri’s longings. He talked to Kunti who graciously agreed to help Madri.

Kunti asked Madri to summon any god of her choice. The clever Madri closed her eyes and invoked the twin Aswins, gods who were like two sides of the same coin. The Mantra took effect and Madri was able to obtain two sons from a single boon. The twins Nakula and Sahadeva were born. Pandu now had five sons, all of them sprung from gods.

The strange birth of Duryodhana, his brothers and sister

Vyasa one day visited Dhritarashtra’s queen, Gandhari. He was received with great respect by her. This pleased the sage who asked the queen what she would like most. Gandhari told Vyasa of her desire to have a hundred sons.

“You can rest assured,” Vyasa told her. “Your wish will certainly be fulfilled.”

When Gandhari at last conceived, for two years she did not bring forth a child. In the meanwhile news of Yudhishthira’s birth reached her. She waited patiently for her labour, but in the end her longing gave way to frustration. She beat her own stomach. As a result of this desperate act she brought forth a big piece of flesh.

Vyasa was aware of Gandhari’s action. He had the ascetic power to see everything that happened everywhere. He now appeared before the grieving woman.

Consoling Gandhari, Vyasa told her that all was not lost. He directed her to prepare a hundred-and-one vessels and fill them with clarified butter. He caused water to be sprinkled on the flesh that Gandhari had delivered. The flesh became divided into a hundred-and-one parts, each the size of a thumb. In each vessel, one piece of the flesh was placed, and all the vessels were carefully preserved.

After two years, from the first of the hundred-and-one vessels, Gandhari’s eldest son, Duryodhana, was born. When the baby issued from the vessel, he frightened all the elders, as his crying resembled the braying of an ass.

Dhritarashtra anxiously addressed Bhishma and Vidura, “Yudhishthira is elder to Duryodhana and he would become king. Will Duryodhana also become king?”

As soon as Dhritarashtra asked this question, the hideous calls of jackals and other animals were heard. Vidura interpreted this as an evil sign, and recommended that Duryodhana should be killed then and there. Of course, no father would agree to kill his son.

It happened that the day Duryodhana was born was the same as on which Bhima was born to Kunti.

Within a month, the remaining ninety-nine sons of Gandhari were born. From the hundred-and-first vessel was born, a daughter. This satisfied Gandhari who had the desire for a daughter in addition to her hundred sons. In due time, the daughter, Dussala, was married to Jayadratha, the King of Sindhu.

During the pregnancy of Gandhari, Dhritarashtra liaised with a Vaisya (service class) woman as a result of which he got a son, Yuyutsu.

Chapter 1 Adiparva - Part 3


Pandu, a victim of desire. Vyasa warns of dark days. Duryodhana’s attempt to kill Bhima. Bhima visits the netherworld. Tutor for the princes. Drona’s birth. Drona gets Parasurama’s weapons. Drupada turns out Drona. Drona’s skill wins him a job.

A thumb for preceptor’s fee. Arjuna is Drona’s foremost pupil. Duryodhana gifts Anga kingdom to Radheya. Drona humbles Drupada. Yudhishthira is heir apparent. Arjuna’s fee to his preceptor. Minister Kanika cautions Dhritarashtra.

Pandu, a victim of desire

Pandu, with his wives and five handsome sons, was leading a happy life in the forest. Remembering the curse that was upon him, he carefully followed his discipline of maintaining his celibacy. But Fate cannot be cheated. In a weak moment, when Kunti was absent, Pandu desired the company of Madri. Madri agreed. The curse chased Pandu, and he died in Madri’s arms.

The family was plunged in deep sorrow, and Madri could not forgive herself for causing Pandu’s death. Her remorse was such that she decided to kill herself by climbing into her husband’s funeral pyre, an accepted practice among Kshatriya women. Before Madri mounted the funeral pyre, Kunti promised that she would show the same affection to the twins, as she did to her own three sons, a promise which she kept.

The ascetics in the forest came to know about Pandu’s death. Since they regarded the departed king highly, they took Kunti and the children to the Kaurava capital of Hastinapura.

The kingdom was plunged in sorrow when they learnt about Pandu’s death. The ascetics were given full honours and were sent back with appropriate presents.

Vyasa warns of dark days

Vyasa met Satyavati during the obsequies that were performed for Pandu and Madri, She asked him anxiously, “With your power to visualize the future, what do you see ahead for this family?”

Vyasa replied, “Respectful mother, I see destruction and misery to the world, caused by infighting among your great-grandchildren. Rather than your witnessing those sorrowful events, I would advise you to retire to the forest and devote yourself to prayers.”

Satyavati followed Vyasa’s advice. Joined by Ambika and Ambalika, she left Hastinapura and entered the woods.

Duryodhana’s attempt to kill Bhima

With Pandu dead, the reins of government now passed into the hands of Dhritarashtra. The Kaurava (Dhritarashtra’s family) and the Pandava children grew up together in Hastinapura. From the earliest days the Pandava children were miles ahead of the Kauravas in intelligence, capacity to learn and physical strength. Bhima who was a strong lad, was also a big bully. He was fond of teasing his Kaurava cousins whose despair he soon became. Duryodhana, in particular, grew a deep hatred for Bhima, resulting in his earliest attempt to kill his cousin.

Duryodhana had a water pavilion built at a place called Pramankoti on the banks of the River Ganga. He then proposed that all his brothers and his five cousins spend a holiday there.

The children were sent to the new resort where they had a happy time, bathing in the river and feasting. At an opportune moment, Duryodhana managed to slip poison into Bhima’s food. Towards evening, while all the other children dressed up and returned to the palace, Bhima, under the influence of the poison, fell unconscious on the river bank and was lying alone. Making sure that nobody was watching, Duryodhana bound Bhima in ropes of creepers and threw him into the deep water. He then returned to the palace, sure that his cousin would be eaten by the creatures under the water.

Bhima visits the netherworld

Bhima sank to the bottom of the river, reaching the kingdom of snakes. Poisonous snakes living there bit him all over his body, excepting his chest, which was too hard to be penetrated. The venom of the snakes acted as antidote to the poison that Bhima had consumed. He regained his consciousness and broke the ropes binding him. The strong Bhima then pushed the snakes down. Soon the oppressed snakes took him to Vasuki, king of the Naga world.

At the Naga court, Bhima met a snake, Aryaka, who turned out to be the great-grandfather of Kunti. Intermixing of humans with asuras, nagas and apsaras was not uncommon in the epic. The venerable old snake was pleased to recognize Kunti’s son. He admired the boy’s strength and recommended to Vasuki that Bhima should be given Rasakunda (vessels with nectar) that would restore him from his recent ordeal. After swallowing eight vessels-full of the nectar, Bhima went off to sleep.

Meanwhile, in the palace in Hastinapura, there was great commotion as Bhima’s absence was noticed. Kunti was inconsolable. Vidura pacified her by saying that Bhima would definitely return, although he suspected foul play by Duryodhana.

There was great relief when, eight days after he disappeared, Bhima walked in, happy and majestic. He related to his brothers what he felt certain was Duryodhana’s treachery and his own adventures in the nether world. Yudhishthira instructed him not to mention this to anyone. At the same time he advised his brothers to be cautious.

Duryodhana made yet another attempt to poison Bhima and failed. By now Duryodhana had formed a coterie with his uncle Sakuni and friend Radheya. Together they kept plotting against the Pandavas.

As the Kaurava and Pandava princes grew up, Bhishma looked out for a tutor for them. His choice fell on Kripa.

Tutor for the princes

Maharishi Gautama, the great sage, due to his penance, had acquired immense prowess in the wielding of the bow and arrow. When Indra observed him intensely meditating, he became concerned. In order to disturb his concentration, he sent the apsara, Janapadi, of unsurpassed beauty, to the lonely spot where Gautama was meditating. The sage was momentarily distracted by the apsara, but pulling himself together, he fled the scene. Due to the haste of his departure, he left his bow and arrow and deerskin on the ground. In that split second, his energy fell into a bush from which a pair of twins, a boy and a girl, materialized.

King Santanu who was passing that way while hunting, saw the twins. He took them with him and brought them up in the palace. Santanu named them Kripa (pity) and Kripi since he took them with him out of pity.

Gautama, through his spiritual insight, came to know that his son and daughter were with Santanu. The sage called on the king and explained the children’s lineage to him. He also spent time to teach Kripa arms and related sciences.

In due course, Kripa was appointed tutor to the Kaurava and Pandava princes. On Bhishma’s recommendation Kripa also took under his wings the Vrishnis (of Yadava origin).

After the children had learnt all that Kripa had to offer, Bhishma, ever concerned about his clan, felt the need to appoint a preceptor who could impart them higher education. The choice fell on Drona, a brahmin well versed in the Vedas and equally so in the various branches of warfare. The Kauravas, Pandavas and other princes, all benefited from this great teacher.

Drona’s birth

Drona means born out of a vessel. The sage Bharadwaja, one who observed the most rigid vows and was well versed in arms, once went to the River Ganga to bathe. There he saw the beautiful apsara, Gritachi, and momentarily lost his concentration. His vital energy was held in a vessel, out of which Drona was born. As he grew up Drona learnt all the Vedas and the science of warfare under various teachers. Bharadwaja had knowledge of an astra (arrow) called Agneya, which was all-powerful. This knowledge was imparted by him to a sage, Agnivesa by name. Agnivesa, in turn, taught this astra to Drona.

Drona’s sire, Bharadwaja, was a friend of the Panchala king, Prishata, father of King Drupada. As children, Drona and Drupada used to play together. Drupada, once in play, offered Drona his kingdom, whenever he became king. When Prishata died Drupada became monarch of the powerful kingdom.

Bharadwaja soon attained heaven. Drona grew up to marry Kripi, the twin sister of Kripa. To them was born a son, who, as soon as he was born, gave a cry which resembled the neighing of a horse. Those who heard the sound compared it to the neighing of the divine steed Ucchaisravas. The child was therefore named Aswatthama (horse-voiced). This son of Drona was endowed with immense strength and intelligence.

Drona gets Parasurama’s weapons

The great destroyer of Kshatriyas, Parasurama, after his encounter with Bhishma, laid down his arms and turned his attention to performing penance. Drona heard about this and immediately went to Parasurama. Drona’s obeisance towards him pleased Parasurama.

Parasurama told Drona, “Lo! I do not know how to reward you. You have come to me at a time when I have left with me only two things. My body and my weapons. You can have either of them, if you so desire.”

Drona chose the warrior’s his weapons. Parasurama obliged by handing over to Drona all his powerful weapons.

Drupada turns out Drona
Drona spent his early life in poverty. He was so poor that, after Aswatthama’s birth, he found that once he could not even buy milk for his child. It was then that he remembered the promise made by Drupada when they were children, that the prince would give his kingdom to his friend. Drona repaired to Panchala with his wife and son, and met the king.

After being received with the civility due to a brahmin, Drona reminded Drupada of the promise he had made when they were children.

“I do not ask for your entire kingdom. Give me at least part of it,” Drona told the king. Drupada rudely turned Drona out saying, “A promise made in childhood has no meaning. You are in no way equal to me and should not desire my friendship. One who is not a king, should not aspire to be a king’s friend, let alone ask for his kingdom.”

Drona walked out in a rage. Revenge was foremost in his mind. But he had no means of countering a powerful monarch like Drupada. He therefore thought of a scheme. He would acquire intelligent and loyal pupils who would fight for him and help him subdue Drupada. For the present, he sought the shelter of his brother-in-law, Kripa, who was living in Dhritarashtra’s court.

Drona’s skill wins him a job

One day, the princes of Hastinapura who were playing in the vast palace garden, chanced to stray near where Drona lived with Kripa. One of the princes dropped a ball into a well and could not get it out. Drona who was watching him, offered to help. He took his bow and formed a chain of arrows from willows of grass. He shot one end of the chain into the well. The leading arrow pierced the ball, and as the chain was pulled, the ball was retrieved. Drona gave a further demonstration of his skill. He threw a ring into the well and retrieved it in a similar fashion.

The princes, who were watching Drona’s awesome skill, ran to Bhishma. They told their grandfather the story of how a strange brahmin had recovered the ball and the ring from the well. Realising that the brahmin could be none other than Drona, Bhishma sent for him. When Drona arrived, he was received with warmth and respect. Bhishma offered him the tutorship of the sons of Dhritarashtra and Pandu. Drona readily accepted the offer.

On the first day of his tutorship, Drona asked his young pupils, “I shall impart to you excellent knowledge on warfare. I however have an object in mind. Would you help me achieve it?” All the children were quiet. Arjuna alone stepped out and assured to do whatever his preceptor bid him to do. This pleased Drona and Arjuna became his favourite pupil from that day.

Drona taught his wards, which included his own son Aswatthama, all skills, spiritual and martial. His fame as a teacher spread far and wide. Soon princes of the Vrishni and Andhaka clans, as well as Radheya, the charioteer’s son, became his pupils.

Drona treated all his pupils with the same care. But it was Arjuna who became his favourite.

As a father, however, Drona did show some partiality towards Aswatthama, He would set all the princes on the job of fetching water from a nearby river. Aswatthama was always given a receptacle with a broad mouth, which he could fill ahead of others so that he returned to his father’s side earlier than the others. Drona taught extra skills to his son during the period when they were alone.

The clever Arjuna, however, was quick to discover Drona’s trick. He would fill the receptacle with the Varuna (god of Water) arrow, and rush to Drona’s side, in time to catch any special lessons Aswatthama might receive.

The ambidextrous Arjuna was an ideal student. He learnt everything that his teacher had to offer, including the skill to operate his weapons in the dark. All this pleased the preceptor to no end and he vowed to make Arjuna the greatest bowman of all time.

A thumb for preceptor’s fee

An interesting side story of this period is that of Ekalavya who was the son of the ruler of the Nishadas, a tribe of hunters living in the forest. Ekalavya desired to become the greatest bowman in the world.

The Nishada prince realized that to become a great bowman he needed to have a great teacher. He had heard about Drona, the celebrated tutor of Hastinapura. Ekalavya approached the venerable teacher for lessons. But Drona turned him down because of his low birth. Ekalavya had to return to the forest in disappointment.

Some time later, the Pandava princes went on a deer hunt. A dog that was being led by an attendant strayed into the forest. The attendant later found it lying dead with five arrows piercing it from its mouth and leaving through its tail. The attendant brought this to the attention of the Pandavas who set out to find who could shoot so skillfully with his bow. When they saw Ekalavya practicing in the forest, they asked him who he was and who his teacher was. Declaring himself to be the prince of the Nishadas, he told them that Drona was his teacher.

Arjuna heard this and was deeply perturbed. With Drona’s tutelage, the Nishada could very well overtake him in archery. He rushed to his teacher.

Arjuna described the incident in the forest to Drona, at the same time reminding his mater of his promise that no other pupil of his would excel the Pandava prince in archery. Drona asked to be taken to Ekalavya.

The Nishada prince, after prostrating before the revered Guru, told him that, having been rejected as a pupil, he made an image of Drona and installed it on a pedestal. He practiced in front of the image and acquired all his skill. He therefore acknowledged Drona as his teacher.

 “As the preceptor,” Drona told Ekalavya, “I should be paid a fee.” Ekalavya assured that he would pay anything the teacher asked. Drona demanded that Ekalavya should cut his right thumb and offer it. Without hesitation, the Nishada prince cut off the thumb.          

Arjuna is Drona’s foremost pupil
Besides being excellent with the bow and arrow, Arjuna also became an Atiratha, one who can, from his chariot, vanquish sixty thousand foes. A supreme test of Arjuna’s abilities as an archer was when the teacher asked his students to aim at a clay bird installed on the tree. He asked each student what he saw as he set his aim. All the pupils described the tree, the branch, the leaves and finally the bird. Arjuna said he saw only the bird and nothing else. When Drona questioned further, Arjuna said that he saw only the bird’s head. The next moment Arjuna released his arrow, which took the bird’s head.

In the wielding of the mace, both Bhima and Duryodhana showed equal ability. Being an excellent preceptor, Drona developed a particular skill in each of the princes. Arjuna alone was skilful in all disciplines.

Once Drona and his pupils went to the River Ganga for a bath. As he stepped into the water, a ferocious crocodile caught hold of his foot. As Drona cried for help, there was only one who could react fast enough. It was Arjuna, who sent five deadly arrows and destroyed the reptile. Pleased at Arjuna’s readiness and quick reflexes, Drona taught him a divine weapon, the Brahmastra. It was so potent that, if it was directed against an inferior opponent, it will destroy the whole world. Arjuna was cautioned to use it only against celestials, not humans.

Duryodhana gifts Anga kingdom to Radheya

On graduation day, an arena was built where the students displayed all the skills that they had acquired under Drona’s tutelage. The King, Bhishma and all the other elders watched the students as they showed their mastery over various martial arts. Arjuna impressed all by his skills with the bow. But he was challenged by the charioteer’s son, Radheya, who boasted that he was a better bowman. Duryodhana and his brothers felt elated at the prospect of Arjuna being humiliated by Radheya.

To settle the issue as to who was the better archer, Arjuna or Radheya, a contest between the two was arranged. In keeping with the vogue, the two contestants were introduced to the assembly, the master of ceremonies being Kripa. While Arjuna’s credentials as a prince were clear, Radheya could make no such claim. He was only the son of a charioteer.

Objections were raised from the assembly that Radheya, due to his low rank, was not eligible to challenge Arjuna. The contest was about to be called off when Duryodhana intervened.

“If all that is wanting is that Radheya should be a king to challenge Arjuna,” Duryodhana said, “then I would make him a king now and here.” He immediately offered his friend a kingdom that was under his suzerainty, Anga, and Radheya was installed a king. The friendship between Duryodhana and Radheya was sealed forever.

Before the fight between Arjuna and the newly crowned king of Anga could take place, the sun went down and the meet was called off.  Duryodhana proudly led his friend by his hand, out of the arena.

Drona humbles Drupada

Drona now thought that he should ask from his pupils, his fee as preceptor. The moment he was waiting for, to avenge the insult he had received from Drupada, had arrived. He told the princes that they should march on Panchala and seize its king, Drupada. All joined the campaign enthusiastically.

Drona, with his army of young princes, marched on Panchala. In the battle that ensued, Duryodhana, supported by his brothers and Radheya, was given the first opportunity to attack Drupada. The Panchala king fought bravely and the Kauravas had to show their back.

The Pandavas now took over. Leaving out Yudhishthira, the other four brothers attacked the Panchala forces. Both Bhima and Arjuna distinguished themselves in the battle, and soon Drupada was captured and brought before Drona.

Drona addressed Drupada thus. “Fear not for your life. Once again I seek your friendship. You told me that one, who is not a king, should not aspire to be a king’s friend. I shall become a king by taking half of your kingdom. We can then be friends.”

After the defeat of Drupada in the battle, the Panchala kingdom was divided into two. Drona took the northern part of the kingdom with Ahicchatra as its capital. The southern part, with Kampilya as its capital, was returned to Drupada.

Made to swallow his pride, Drupada realized that being a Kshatriya was not enough. One should, in addition, be as learned as a brahmin to be able to subdue an enemy like Drona. He decided to seek knowledge and also get a son who would one day destroy his arch-enemy.

Yudhishthira is heir apparent

A year after the above incidents, Dhritarashtra installed Yudhishthira as his heir apparent, and in stages handed over to him the administration of the Kaurava kingdom. Yudhishthira, with the active support of his brothers, was quick in showing the Pandava stamp of quality in administration, justice and security for the subjects. Bhima who continued his education on the use of the mace under Balarama, the illustrious elder brother of Krishna, became a source of strength to Yudhishthira. He and Arjuna launched an extensive campaign to subdue several powerful kings and extended the kingdom. While Nakula became an expert in handling the chariot, Sahadeva learnt spiritualism from Brihaspati, the teacher of gods, himself.

Arjuna’s fee to his preceptor

One day, Drona asked Arjuna, “I have given you the celestial weapon, Brahmastra. I now demand a fee for imparting that knowledge to you. There may come a day when you may have to fight with me in battle. You should then do so wholeheartedly, and not yield ground because I am your teacher.” Arjuna agreed, not fully realizing the implications of this undertaking.

Minister Kanika cautions Dhritarashtra

The success and fame of the five brothers slowly started working in the mind of Dhritarashtra, jealousy making its appearance. In his restlessness, he summoned his minister Kanika to whom he told of his misgivings and asked for advice.

Kanika gave his master a lecture on the art of diplomacy and statecraft. He said that the king should always have his mace raised in order to strike the enemy. He should be alert like a deer, always apprehending danger. Like a jackal, he should outwit everyone while reaching his goal. Killing of anyone, even if it is a friend or a relative, was permitted for the king if his security was threatened. Kanika’s lecture was a treatise on diplomacy, fit to be followed by any king. He concluded by saying that the Pandavas were a threat to Dhritarashtra’s sons and the king should act with this in mind.

Chapter 1 Adiparva - Part 4


Burning the Pandavas alive. Dhritarashtra bemoans the Pandavas’ death. A demoness’ infatuation for Bhima.

Bhima deals with rakshasa Bakasura. The birth of Draupadi. Pandavas desire Draupadi.

Arjuna chastises Angararpana. Draupadi’s Swayamvara. Krishna endorses the Swayamvara result.

One bride and five grooms. Drupada gives away Draupadi to the five brothers.

Burning the Pandavas alive

Nor was Duryodhana unaffected by the fame of the Pandavas. This was a subject of constant discussion between him and his associates - his brother Duscasana, uncle Sakuni and friend Radheya. They decided that the only way to halt the Pandavas and bring Duryodhana to prominence was to kill all five of them. A plan was hatched for this purpose.

A Siva festival was to be held in the nearby town of Varanavata. Dhritarashtra suggested to his nephews to go on a holiday to the beautiful town and take part in the festival. The five brothers agreed and left for Varanavata along with their mother, Kunti.

Meanwhile, Duryodhana had a castle built exclusively for the Pandavas’ stay at Varanavata. He engaged Purochana from the Mleecha class, known for their lowness, to design and build the spacious castle. On Duryodhana’s instruction, Purochana built the entire structure with lac, a highly inflammable material. The furniture was also of inflammable material. It was planned to burn the Pandavas alive when they retired for the night.

Vidura, who had spies everywhere, came to know about the conspiracy. He warned Yudhishthira in advance about Duryodhana’s nefarious plot and took immediate steps to devise an escape. A subterranean passage leading out of the death trap was secretly dug for the Pandavas. The passage ended at the riverfront where a boat was placed for them. It was decided that the Pandavas would set fire to the palace and escape unharmed through the secret tunnel.

It so happened that during the night, a tribal (Nishada) woman entered the castle along with her five sons. Fully drunk, they all fell deep asleep in one of the rooms. The architect Purochana himself was sleeping in another room. Bhima chose this moment to set fire to the castle. In no time at all the pleasure palace was engulfed in flames. The five brothers and Kunti escaped from the blazing inferno through the secret tunnel.

Later, observing the charred remains of Purochana in one room and that of the Nishada woman and her sons in another, everyone, in great distress, believed that Kunti and her five sons had perished in the fire along with the Mleecha architect.

Dhritarashtra bemoans the Pandavas’ death

News of the disaster at Varanavata was received in Hastinapura with shock. Everyone, except Vidura, was wailing at the fate of Kunti and her sons. Dhritarashtra ordered that obsequies for the wife and children of his beloved brother be fittingly performed.

A demoness’ infatuation for Bhima

The posse of escapees from the burning lac house crossed the Ganga in the dead of night and reached the opposite shore. Leaving the boat behind, they made their way into the forest. Fatigue soon overtook them. Bhima alone seemed to possess the strength to carry on. At Yudhishthira’s bidding, he carried his mother and four brothers on his shoulders and wended southwards. After some distance they stopped to have rest. They were all very thirsty.

Leaving the others behind, Bhima set off to find a watering place. He soon found one nearby where he quenched his thirst. He then went back to fetch the others.

On returning, he found that his mother and brothers had gone to sleep in exhaustion. He stood guard over them as he waited for them to rise. This part of the forest was the haunt of a terrible demon, the rakshasa Hidimbva. He and his sister, Hidimbvi, were cannibals, living on human beings who strayed into their domain. Hidimbva’s nose picked up the scent of humans, and his appetite was wetted.

“We have a nice dinner coming our way,” Hidimbva told his sister. “I could smell humans in that direction. You go and get them while I wait for you in the cave.”

Obeying his orders, Hidimbvi reached the spot where the Pandavas were resting. On seeing the handsome and well-built Bhima, Hidimbvi lost her heart to him. She wanted to have him as her husband. Rakshasas knew magic and were masters of disguise. Hidimbvi turned herself into a beautiful female and approached Bhima. She declared her love to Bhima who found he had similar feelings for her.

“My lord,” Hidimbvi told Bhima. “My brother would be getting impatient and is probably on his way here. He is such a terrible monster that he would pounce on you and kill you. It is better that we flee from here. I can carry you away on my shoulders.”

Bhima did not want to leave his mother and brothers behind. Infatuated by her though he was, he refused to accompany her.

Even as they were talking, Hidimbva, with a mighty roar, made his appearance. A terrible fight ensued between the rakshasa and Bhima. The sleeping persons woke up to see the strange spectacle. The mighty Pandava broke the Rakshasa’s back and sent him packing to the next world.

Kunti and Yudhishthira heard from Hidimbvi of her infatuation for Bhima. She told them, “I yearn to have a son through this mighty human.” The elders advised Bhima to marry Hidimbvi. Although at first he resisted, Bhima eventually agreed. He however laid one condition: Hidimbvi should leave him as soon as a son was born to them.

In a reversal of roles, the bride lifted the groom and carried him to a distant spot in the mountains for their honeymoon. Soon the couple was blessed with a mighty rakshasa boy whom they named Ghatotkaja (one whose head was bald like a mud pot). The god Indra gave a portion of himself to this son of Bhima, knowing that he had an important role in the war that would one day take place. As was common with rakshasas, Ghatotkaja was born the day he was conceived and immediately attained maturity. Acting on her promise, Hidimbvi, along with her son, took leave of the Pandavas, with Ghatotkaja assuring his father and uncles to return whenever he was summoned.

Bhima deals with rakshasa Bakasura

The Pandavas had no desire to return to Hastinapura in a hurry. They dressed as ascetics and wandered from place to place, seeing many strange countries. After a period they encountered their grandsire, Vyasa. The sage consoled them for their misfortune but predicted that they would one day regain their lost kingdom and rule the world. For the present, he said, he would take them to a brahmin family in the town of Ekachakra.

The Pandavas reached Ekachakra disguised as brahmins. The family with whom they stayed consisted of husband, wife, a son and a daughter. Although poor, they were kind and helpful to the Pandavas. The five brothers, adopting the brahmin tradition, set out every morning and collected alms from far and wide. In the evening they would pool the food and Kunti would divide it amongst them all. An extra allowance was always made for the insatiable Bhima.

In that region there lived a fierce rakshasa, Baka by name. He was a cannibal. Since the local ruler was weak-kneed and could not control the predations of the rakshasa, the town’s inhabitants had made an arrangement with him. Every day a man was sent to him with a cartload of rice and two buffaloes. Baka would eat all the food and, as a bonus, eat the human who brought it. In return, the rakshasa left the inhabitants alone, and even protected them from any external danger. Every family in the village sent a member to the cannibal by turn.

The turn of the brahmin family soon arrived, and there was naturally wailing emanating from their quarters. Kunti enquired and found out the reason. The brahmin told her that from among the husband, wife, son and daughter, one of them had to go to Baka as his food the next morning.

The brahmin told Kunti, “We are in despair, with each insisting on going so that the others could live. The only solution seems to be for all of us to go tomorrow and offer ourselves to the rakshasa.”

Kunti offered to help the brahmin by sending one of her sons to Baka. “I have five sons,” she told the couple, “whereas you have only one. Besides, I know that the son I intend sending would easily slay the rakshasa.” With great reluctance, the brahmin family agreed to Kunti’s proposal. Yudhishthira initially expressed to Kunti his misgivings on being involved in the whole affair. But he yielded ultimately, and Bhima was chosen to go.

Bhima left the next morning to the rakshasa’s abode, taking the rice and buffaloes with him. Arriving at the forest, Bhima started to eat the food himself while calling out for Baka. The rakshasa was enraged at Bhima’s conduct, and a fight ensued between the two. In that fierce battle, Bhima killed the rakshasa and threw him to the ground. Baka’s kinsmen who were watching the slaughter with awe were warned not to harass human beings any more. Peace and happiness returned to the region.

The birth of Draupadi

King Drupada, who was humbled by Drona, was living in one half of his erstwhile kingdom. The desire to take revenge on Drona was burning in Drupada’s heart. But he realised that Kshatriya power alone was not enough to subdue Drona. He needed brahmin power as well.

Drupada approached the sages Yaja and Upayaja and with their help performed a sacrifice for obtaining a son who would have the strength and knowledge to kill Drona. Drupada was amply rewarded for his efforts. Out of the sacrificial fire came a male and a female child. The male was born with an armour (dyumna) and looked big and majestic. He was named Drishtadyumna. This prince, when he grew up, ironically, learned weaponry from Drona himself, whom he was destined to slay.

The female child was radiant, with big eyes, long hair and sharp features. Since she had a dark complexion, she was named Krishna (dark). Better known as Draupadi, the daughter of Drupada, this child grew up to be a very accomplished princess. When she came of age, Drupada wanted to find a suitable husband for her. He arranged a Swayamvara.

 Pandavas desire Draupadi

At Ekachakra, a traveling mendicant stopped at the brahmin’s house where the Pandavas were staying, and narrated his experiences during his wanderings. He mentioned that in the Kingdom of Panchala, King Drupada was holding the Swayamvara of his daughter, Krishna, to choose a husband for her.

The same thought, namely to win over Krishna as a daughter-in-law for the family, passed the minds of the mother and five sons. Kunti, not expressing her real intent, proposed that they travel to Panchala where brahmins received much respect and alms. There was total agreement from the brothers.

Coincidentally, Vyasa made one of his appearances in their abode, and was received with great respect. Vyasa related to them the story of a rishi’s daughter who observed a great penance honouring Lord Siva. Pleased with her efforts, Siva appeared before her and asked her what she wished.

The maiden was overwhelmed by the god’s presence and nervously stuttered, five times, that she wanted a husband possessing the best of qualities. Siva granted her the boon and told her that since she had repeated her request five times, she would get five husbands who would all of them become famous. For this, she would be born in the sacrificial fire of King Drupada in Panchala. This was the origin of Krishna’s birth. Vyasa advised the Pandava brothers to proceed to Panchala and participate in the Swayamvara.

Arjuna chastises Angararpana

As the mother and five sons were wending their way through the forest towards Panchala, they reached the bank of the river Ganga. A gandharva, Angararpana by name, stopped them and warned that the time was reserved only for his kind to visit that spot. With disdain, Arjuna replied that Ganga was everybody’s property and challenged the gandharva from stopping him.

The infuriated gandharva attacked the Pandavas. In the battle that ensued, Arjuna humbled Angararpana whose life was spared only due to the pleas of the gandharva’s wife. The gandharva himself was grateful to the Pandavas to be let off alive. He bowed to them and offered to teach them the secret of seeing the past and the future, a skill possessed by his tribe. He also gave the brothers several thousand horses, which Arjuna assured, would be collected later. Arjuna, in return, taught the gandharva the use of the celestial fire weapon. A close friendship was forged between Angararpana and Arjuna.

Desiring to have a family priest, Arjuna asked the gandharva to suggest a person. Angararpana directed the Pandavas to a brahmin, well versed in the Vedas and moral conduct, Dhaumya by name. When the Pandavas approached Dhaumya who was living nearby, the latter agreed to become their adviser on religious matters and accompanied them to Panchala. Arriving at Panchala, the group, still dressed as brahmins, took residence at a potter’s house.

Draupadi’s Swayamvara

Having witnessed the beauty and valour of Arjuna when he fought on behalf of Drona, Drupada was nurturing the desire that the prince who married his daughter would stand up in comparison to the Pandava hero. To test the valour of the suitors, an archery competition was devised for the Swayamvara. An elaborate machine was installed in which there was a moving object. The aspiring prince should shoot five arrows through an orifice and hit the object, a task which none inferior to Arjuna could perform. The bow itself was so heavy that only an Arjuna could lift it.

On the appointed day the city was gaily decorated, even as hundreds of princes rode into Panchala as participants or observers of the Swayamvara. The list of kings read like a who-is-who of royalty of that period. Kalinga, Salya, Duryodhana and his brothers, Sakhuni, Radheya, were all there. Even Balarama and Krishna, the illustrious sons of Vasudeva, turned up for the event.

In the crowd of spectators were the five Pandava brothers, disguised as brahmins. They however did not escape being observed by Krishna who whispered to Balarama, “Behold those five. They must be the Pandavas, escaped from the house of lac.”

One by one the suitors tried their hand at the bow. Amidst ‘hoos and haas’ from the crowd, those who could lift the mighty bow, fixed the arrow and had a go at the target. None succeeded in even clearing the orifice, and it looked as though that Draupadi would have to spend the rest of her life as a maiden.

When Radheya walked into the arena and stringed the bow, there was hope that he would be successful. But the princess declared that she would not marry a person of low class. Radheya had to leave the bow on the ground and withdraw.

When all the assembled princes had failed in the contest, there emerged from among the spectators a brahmin youth, tall, handsome and radiating brilliance. He boldly stepped into the arena and offered to string the bow. There was mixed reaction all around, some of those assembled ridiculing him and some encouraging him. The young man, ignoring all comments, took his stand. Even as the entire assembly watched him with bated breath, he performed the task of hitting the target with consummate ease.  And lo! A hero had emerged to claim Draupadi’s hand. Drupada himself was gladdened by the brahmin’s feat and felt relieved that someone in the assembly could pass the test and win Draupadi for his bride.

Yudhishthira and the twins left the hall immediately to carry the happy news of Arjuna’s success in the Swayamvara to their mother.

Krishna endorses the Swayamvara result

The feat of the brahmin youth incensed the assembly of princes who felt dishonoured. They accused Drupada of deliberately insulting them, and together they rose to attack the hapless king. The two Pandava brothers who were present came to his defence. Among the suitors who were foremost who took up arms against Drupada were Radheya and Salya. Arjuna fought off Radheya with his arrows, while Bhima viciously attacked Salya with his fists.

Observing the fight, Krishna rose and announced to the assembly that the brahmin had won the princess in a fair contest. The jilted princes should therefore retire in good grace. His counsel was accepted.

One bride and five grooms

Arjuna and Bhima took Draupadi with them and caught up with Yudhishthira and the twins. On reaching the potter’s house, they left Draupadi at the door and went inside. They told Kunti that they had returned with the alms collected during the day. The mother, as was usual, told them to enjoy the fruit equally. When Draupadi was led in, Kunti was shocked to find that what was to be equally shared was a wife. There ensued an argument amongst the mother and the brothers as to who should marry the princess. They then recalled Vyasa’s words that the princess was destined to have five husbands, and it was agreed that all five brothers should marry Draupadi.

Krishna found out where the Pandavas were staying and reached there with his consort Rukmini and brother Balarama. They were meeting their aunt and cousins after a long period. Krishna expressed his happiness in finding the Pandavas alive and well. Soon after, Krishna left for his kingdom of Dwaraka.

Drupada gives away Draupadi to the five brothers

Draupadi’s brother, Drishtyadumna, secretly followed the brahmins and the princess to the potter’s hut. Spying on the Pandavas he discovered by their behaviour that they were of high, royal lineage. He returned to his father and told of his conviction that the brahmin youth was Arjuna and that the Pandavas who were believed to have perished in a terrible fire were, in fact, alive.

The next morning Drupada sent his high priest to escort the wedding party to the palace. Yudhishthira revealed to the king their identity. The king became happy as he pictured in his mind Arjuna marrying his daughter. It therefore came as a shock to Drupada when Yudhishthira told him that Draupadi was to be married to all the five Pandava brothers.

Seeing the confusion Drupada was in, Yudhishthira narrated to him instances of polyandry from mythology, justifying their proposed action. Drupada still believed that it was sinful for one woman to marry many husbands.

It was at moments like these that Vyasa, who watched everything through his insight, stepped in to clarify matters. He appeared now on the scene. Taking Drupada aside, Vyasa told him that the five brothers were parts of the god Indra.

Vyasa explained to the king, “The present Indra and four of his predecessors had offended the god Siva by their proud behaviour. As punishment, Siva wanted them to be born as humans. On their pleading with the god, he made them a concession. He blessed them with power and fame while they were humans. The supreme goddess Sree (consort of Mahavishnu) would be born to become their wife. Siva approached Vishnu and told him of these developments. Vishnu endorsed Siva’s action.”

Vyasa also told Drupada of Siva’s blessing to Draupadi in a previous birth, that she would have five husbands. The five brothers were the Indras, while Draupadi was the goddess Sree. Drupada was now satisfied and he felt happy at his good fortune. He celebrated his daughter’s wedding with the Pandava brothers in pomp and ceremony.

Chapter 1 Adiparva - Part 5


Kauravas’ reaction to Pandavas’ return. A kingdom for the Pandavas. The birth of Indraprastha. Narada’s advise to Pandavas on domestic bliss. Arjuna’s exile as he breaks the code. Arjuna meets Ulipi. A son for Arjuna through Chitrangada.
Arjuna redeems five Apsaras. Arjuna abducts Subhadra. Birth of Abhimanyu. Arjuna gets his Gandiva and Krishna his Chakra.

Kauravas’ reaction to Pandavas’ return

When tidings reached Dhritarashtra that a prince from his family had won the hand of the Panchala princess, the king felt elated. He assumed that the prince who was talked about was his own son, Duryodhana. It was Vidura, who met the king soon after, who pricked the bubble by telling him that the Pandavas were alive and it was they who were successful in the Swayamvara.

Dhritarashtra was disappointed at his son’s failure in the Swayamvara. Added to this was the shock of knowing that the Pandavas were alive. Although he pretended to be happy, his heart was festering with hatred for the Pandavas. As soon as Vidura left, he sent for Duryodhana and Radheya. He told them that the Pandavas were alive and would no doubt come back and claim the kingdom. Duryodhana strongly represented to the king that the Pandava power should be broken by some intrigue or internal dissension. Radheya pointed out that Pandava unity could not be breached. He argued instead for the forceful elimination of the Pandavas by attacking them immediately, when they were not backed with military might.

The indecisive monarch summoned the elders for advice. Bhishma and Drona declared that their love for the Pandavas was no less than their love for Dhritarashtra’s sons. Discouraging the king from any thought of attacking the Pandavas, they pointed to the invincibility of the Pandavas in battle. They derided the ‘low born’ Radheya for giving pernicious advice to the king. Vidura forcefully endorsed their views. The king had to bow to superior counsel.

A kingdom for the Pandavas

Dhritarashtra sent Vidura to Panchala to fetch Kunti and her sons back to Hastinapura. When the Pandavas arrived, they were given a rousing reception by the gentry, while the elders in the palace embraced them in happiness. There was much rejoicing all around over the family reunion.

Dhritarashtra proposed that the Pandavas be given half the kingdom, with their capital located in Khandavaprastha. The region allotted to them was wild and backward, partly desert and partly forest. But the Pandavas accepted the proposal and immediately moved to their new habitation.

The birth of Indraprastha

Vyasa paid a brief visit to the Pandavas at Khandavaprastha and blessed them. Krishna visited them and helped them to settle down. With their blessings and encouragement, the Pandavas transformed the desert into a garden. Innumerable trees of different kinds were planted, several lakes were dug and in a very short time, Khandavaprastha became like a paradise. A variety of animals migrated into that area. Brahmins took residence to receive benefits from the Pandavas. Vaisyas set up flourishing trade. A mighty fortification with wide trenches and high walls was built around the town. The new city was named Indraprastha, a city fit for gods. Neighbouring kings became vassals, some willingly and some being forced to. Seeing his cousins well settled, Krishna returned to his capital, Dwaraka.

Narada’s advise to Pandavas on domestic bliss

The divine sage Narada, always a well-wisher of the Pandavas, made a visit to bless the new king and offer him advise on various matters. A subject he touched upon was that of family harmony. Pointing out, with appropriate instances in mythology, to the likely unpleasant situations that might arise when a woman had more than one husband, Narada made a suggestion. At any time, when Draupadi was with one of the brothers, the others should stay away from the couple’s apartment. If anyone breached this understanding, he should observe celibacy and depart from the kingdom for twelve years. Yudhishthira and his brothers agreed to follow the advise of Narada.

Arjuna’s exile as he breaks the code

One day a brahmin came running to Arjuna, wailing that his belongings had been robbed and that the robbers were fleeing. He appealed to Arjuna to give them a chase. It so happened that all the Pandava arms were stored in the quarter occupied by Yudhishthira who was then in the company of Draupadi. Since he was called upon to help a person in distress, Arjuna dashed into Yudhishthira’s apartment, disregarding the consequences. Picking his weapons, Arjuna chased the robbers and brought them to justice.

Returning to the palace, Arjuna approached Yudhishthira and told him that he had breached the understanding the brothers had. The punishment agreed upon, namely exile, should be imposed on Arjuna.

Despite Yudhishthira’s arguments to dissuade Arjuna, the latter was determined to banish himself from Indraprastha for twelve years.

A host of brahmins followed Arjuna as he set out from Indraprastha. They chanted hymns from the Vedas, and Arjuna distributed food, kind and cattle liberally to them. They entered the region at the foot of the Himalayas where Ganga made her descent into the plains. There they camped and performed sacrifices.

Arjuna meets Ulipi

One day, when Arjuna was bathing in the river, he was dragged to the bottom by Ulupi, the daughter of the Naga king. On reaching the snakeworld, she expressed her desire for union with the Pandava hero. When Arjuna told her of his celibacy vow, Ulipi said she knew all about it. But the vow, she explained, pertained only to Draupadi and did not prohibit Arjuna from having relations with other women. Satisfied with her argument, Arjuna acceded to her request.

Ulipi later took Arjuna to their king, Kauravya. The king was pleased with the Pandava prince and treated him warmly. The Nagas taught Arjuna the art of staying inside water for a long time. They also made him invincible when attacked by an amphibian. A few strong snakes were sent along with Arjuna to escort him to the riverbank.

Travelling northwards, Arjuna ascended the peak of Vasishta in the Himalayas. From there he traversed the rich, green forests of Naimisha, reaching the gate of the Kingdom of Kalinga in the East. Here the brahmins took leave of their benefactor. Arjuna crossed the Kalinga country and arrived at the Mahendra Mountains. Along the Himalayas he traversed to Manipura in Northeast India.

A son for Arjuna through Chitrangada

Manipura was ruled by King Chitravahana whose daughter, the princess Chitrangada, was a great beauty. The king welcomed Arjuna and treated him as his guest.

While walking in the garden one day, Arjuna happened to see the princess. The god of love, ever ready with his bow, aimed a few darts at Arjuna’s heart. Arjuna approached Chitravahana and asked for the princess’ hand. Chitravahana was pleased with Arjuna.

The king, however, had this to say, “Due to a curse on one of my ancestors, every succeeding king could have not more than one child. Hitherto only sons were born in the family, and the dynasty continued without a hitch. I have, however, been blessed with a daughter. You could marry my daughter only if you promise to leave behind your wife and progeny in Manipura, so that the dynasty could continue.”

Arjuna agreed to Chitravahana’s condition. He took Chitrangada for his wife. When he left Manipura three years later, Arjuna had given Chitrangada a bonny son who resembled his father in his splendid appearanc . The son was named Babruvahana.

Arjuna redeems five Apsaras

Travelling South, Arjuna reached the shores of the ocean. He arrived at a place having five regions inhabited by ascetics. Each of these regions had a sacred watering place. But the ascetics were afraid of stepping into these waters as a ferocious crocodile lived in each of the five watering places. Hearing about this, Arjuna resolved to destroy those creatures and make the waters safe for the ascetics.

When Arjuna stepped into one of these holy waters, a crocodile tried to drag him in. Arjuna grabbed the reptile and pulled it out of the water. The crocodile immediately turned into an apsara. She bowed to the prince and told him that she was grateful to him for releasing her from a terrible curse.

The apsara related to Arjuna how a sage had cursed her and four of her companions when they disturbed him while he was in penance. They would all become crocodiles for a hundred years, the sage had pronounced. When the apsaras pleaded with the sage to forgive them, he told them that their deliverance would come when one day a hero of great fame would pull them out of the waters and set them free. The apsara asked Arjuna to help her companions also to regain their previous form. Arjuna obliged her. The five spots where the apsaras were redeemed from their curse acquired the name, Narithirthas (the holy waters of the nymphs).

Arjuna abducts Subhadra

Travelling West, Vibhatsu (which was one of Arjuna’s names) reached the holy sea shore of Prabhasa in the vicinity of Dwaraka. Krishna who lived in Dwaraka among the Yadavas, heard about Arjuna’s arrival and rushed to meet his alter ego. For indeed, Arjuna and Krishna were the sages Nara and Narayana of yore. Together they had performed great deeds in the past, cleansing the world of evil forces. Krishna escorted Arjuna to Dwaraka where a great welcome had been arranged for the Pandava hero. Arjuna paid his respects to Krishna’s father Vasudeva, mother Devaki and elder brother Balarama. There was feasting and rejoicing.

Arjuna decided to stay as the Yadavas’ guest for a few months. When Arjuna was one day strolling in the company of Krishna, he spied a maiden of divine beauty, elegant in walk, with eyes like a doe’s. Arjuna was smitten with desire.

Sizing the situation, Krishna explained to Arjuna, “The maiden you just saw is none other than my sister Subhadra. I could see from your look that you would like to win her. You have my consent to marry her.”

Describing the various ways a man could obtain a bride, Krishna listed abduction as one of them, sanctioned by Kshatriya code. Subhadra also gave her consent for the proposal, having been similarly afflicted in her heart on seeing Arjuna. Krishna sent a fast messenger to Yudhishthira and obtained his permission for the union.

A grand festival was at that time being held at the nearby Raivataka Mountain where the entire royal family, nobility and common people had assembled. Krishna chose this moment for Arjuna to abduct the princess, providing a chariot for the purpose.

As Arjuna swept the princess in his chariot and was about to leave, bystanders observed the act and raised a cry. The chariot was stopped and both Balarama and Vasudeva were about to attack Arjuna. But seeing Krishna calmly watching the proceedings with a smile on his face, Balarama realized that it was all his younger brother’s machination. He called off the attack and consent was given for the wedding. The marriage was duly sanctified, and all the elders joined in blessing the couple.

Birth of Abhimanyu

After a year of bliss at Dwaraka, Arjuna spent the last year of his exile with Subhadra in the holy town of Prabhasa.

Kunti and the other members of the family gave Arjuna and his bride a warm welcome when they finally reached Indraprastha. Closely following this, Krishna and his family members, along with their close relatives, arrived at the Pandava capital, bringing with them a handsome dowry. It consisted of a thousand cars having gold frills, each with four steeds and a charioteer, ten thousand of the best Mathura cows, a thousand mares, a thousand mules, a thousand attending maids, hundreds and thousands of draught horses, ten carrier loads of gold, a thousand elephants, gems and rich clothing.

After much merriment, the bride’s party of Vrishnis, Andhakas and Bhojas, all of the Yadava tribe, returned to Dwaraka. Krishna alone stayed back to spend some time with Arjuna.

To Arjuna and Subhadra was born a son, Abhimanyu. And Panchali bore a son to each of the five brothers, in intervals of one year. They were Prativindhya of Yudhishthira, Sutasoma of Bhima, Srutakarman of Arjuna, Satanika of Nakula and Srutasena of Sahadeva.

Arjuna gets his Gandiva and Krishna his Chakra

During Krishna’s stay with the Pandavas, Arjuna proposed to Krishna that they spend a day at the Yamuna River. Accordingly, they reached the banks of the river early in the morning accompanied by a retinue. Arjuna and Krishna then ventured alone into the woods known as Khandava forest. They were suddenly confronted by a brahmin who appeared to be hungry and wanted food. The royal visitors promised to satisfy the brahmin.

The brahmin who was in disguise, took his real form and introduced himself as the god Agni (Fire). He narrated to them a strange story.

There once lived a famous king, Swetaki by name. He was fond of performing sacrifices where sages chanted Vedas, sitting around a huge fire. The incessant and unbroken performance of sacrifices left the sages rubbing their eyes in pain, irritated as they were by the smoke.

There soon came a stage when the sages would no more cooperate with the king in carrying out his sacrifice. After the sages left, a desperate Swetaki undertook a severe penance, concentrating his thought on the god Siva. Mightily pleased with his devotee, the great god appeared before the king and asked what he desired. The king told him his story and asked the god himself to be the officiating priest in the sacrifice.

Mahadeva told Swetaki that he would assist the king if he satisfied a condition. For twelve years, Swetaki should lead the life of a celibate. During this period, he should continuously pour libation in the sacrificial fire. Swetaki fulfilled this condition and prayed to Siva again.

Siva once again appeared before him. Satisfied with Swetaki, he deputed the sage Durvasa to assist in his sacrifice.

The god of Fire, Agni, is the receiver of all sacrificial libation. The twelve years of continuous offering of clarified butter by Swetaki, led to Agni becoming satiated. The overdose of libation made him sick and pale.

In despair, Agni approached the supreme lord, Brahman, and sought his help. Brahman advised that the cure for his surfeit lay in his destroying the entire forest known as Khandava, and eating the fat of all who lived there. The forest was populated by creatures hostile to god.

Agni followed Brahman’s advise, but every time he spread his ferocious flame in the forest, the inhabitants found ways of quelling the fire. The elephants splashed water from their trunks and the serpents snuffed the fire with their hoods. In addition, Indra kept striking with his thunderbolt, causing rain. His interest was to protect his friend, the serpent Takshaka, who lived in that forest.

Seven times Agni tried; and seven times he failed to destroy the forest. He rushed to Brahman and once again poured his woe unto him. Brahman told him, “Do not despair. The great sages Nara and Narayana have become incarnate on earth as Arjuna and Krishna in order to fight evil forces. Even now they are in the Khandava forest. Seek their help in consuming the forest.”

Arjuna and Krishna expressed their willingness to help Agni but pointed out that they did not possess the necessary weapons to carry out such a massive operation. Agni, with Varuna’s help, immediately provided Arjuna with a divine bow, Gandiva by name, and a splendid car with the celestial ape in its flag. The bow was endowed with great power, and even its twang could bring death to enemies through the fear it inspired. Along with the bow came two quivers, which were inexhaustible. These were the weapons that the god Soma had used to vanquish the demonic Danavas.

As for Krishna, Agni gave him a disc endowed with the power to destroy any enemy and return to the owner after the deed was done. He also gave Krishna a mace of immense prowess, the Kaumudaki. Armed with these weapons, the two brave princes fought the forces opposing Agni.

With the protection given by Nara and Narayana, Agni was able to consume the entire forest. Indra tried his best to thwart Agni, but failed in the face of Arjuna’s arrows. Takshaka, the serpent king, being away at Kurukshetra, escaped. His son Aswasena was caught in the fire along with his mother. Aswasena escaped by deceiving Arjuna with Indra’s help, but his mother was killed by Arjuna’s arrows. Arjuna, Krishna and Agni cursed Aswasena for his deceit, “You shall never become famous.”

The fire raged for fifteen days. Only five other creatures, besides Aswasena, escaped death as the forest was destroyed, the Danava demon Maya who pleaded for mercy, and four birds called Sarangakas. These birds were in fact the sons of the sage Mandapala who met Agni when the latter was proceeding towards Khandava. Knowing his mission, Mandapala appealed to Agni to spare his sons. Agni acquiesced.

Strangely, the destruction of the Khandava forest that harboured the enemies of god pleased Indra immensely despite his earlier opposition to Agni. He asked the two defenders of truth to seek boons from him. Arjuna sought the famous weapons of Indra, which were of immense power. Indra promised to oblige when the appropriate time came. Krishna’s wish was that the friendship between him and Arjuna should endure forever. The boon was given. He also gave them the boon that they could go to any region, nether, earth or ether, at will.

Soon after their return to the palace Krishna left for Dwaraka.

Chapter 2 Sabha Parva - Part 1

Part 1


Maya builds a Hall. Pandu not qualified for Indrasabha, says Narada.
Yudhishthira consults Krishna on Rajasuya. Two halves of a baby.
Can Jarasandha be killed?Financing the Rajasuya sacrifice.
Yudhishthira’s Rajasuya sacrifice. Sisupala obstructs the Rajasuya sacrifice.
The three eyes and four hands of Sisupala.
Sisupala’s blasphemy and its consequences. Vyasa’s prediction after the Rajasuya. Yudhishthira’s vow.
Duryodhana’s exhibition in Maya’s hall. Sakuni’s scheme for a dice game.
Pandavas invited for dice game

Maya builds a Hall

The Danava demon, Maya, whose life was spared during the exhumation of the Khandava forest, felt grateful to Arjuna. He wanted an opportunity to return the favour. Maya was the son of the foremost asura, Diti, and was renowned for his skill in architecture.

Maya told Arjuna, “For the mercy you showed me when you burnt down the Khandava forest, the least I can do in return would be to build for you a hall in Indraprastha, where I can show my skill as an architect.”

Arjuna accepted Maya’s offer. Over a period of fourteen months, the Danava put up a hall of great majesty in Indraparastha, lavishly decorated by gems, and comparable to the god Indra’s assembly hall. The huge amphitheatre was admired by one and all as an architectural marvel.

Pandu not qualified for Indrasabha, says Narada

As the Pandava fame spread far and wide, many kings and celestials visited Yudhishthira’s court where they were received with the courtesy and honour due to them. The divine sage Narada was one such visitor. After his feet were washed by the king and the symbolic Arghya grass was offered to him, the sage expressed his happiness at the courtesy shown to him.

When Yudhshthira showed Narada around the newly built hall of Maya, the sage expressed his admiration for its architectural brilliance. “This is easily one of the best I have seen,” the sage said. He then described to Yudhishthira the halls of the various gods.

Narada said, “By gradation, they start with the hall of Yama, God of Death, at the lower end, and progress to that of the Supreme Brahman. But the most prestigious is the Indrasabha, the Hall of Indra. This houses a conclave which is limited to the most outstanding of kings and sages.”

Yudhishthira asked Narada eagerly, “Surely, my father, the incomparable Pandu, should be occupying a prominent place there.”

Narada replied, “Alas, I regret to say that your father, for all the fame he enjoyed on earth, has not been admitted to Indrasabha. For a king to enter the Hall, he should have at least one of three qualifications. While on earth, he should have performed the Rajasuya (assertion of omnipotence) sacrifice, he should have lost his life in battle or he should have performed severe penance. Since your father had done none of the above, he is not to be found in Indra’s company.”

Narada continued, “I met your illustrious father while I was on my way to earth. When he heard that I was visiting your court, he wanted me to convey to you his desire that you hold a Rajasuya sacrifice where you could establish your supremacy over all the kings of the earth. Your father would get the benefit of such a sacrifice and would qualify for admission into Indra’s court.” Narada then took leave of the king.

Yudhishthira felt deeply saddened that his father did no find a place in Indra’s court. Fired by Narada’s words, Yudhishthira consulted the elders and his brothers and decided to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice. The Rajasuya was of a rigorous nature when all other kings on earth were made to acknowledge voluntarily or through force, the superiority of the performer. It was well known that the demons known as Brahma Rakshas would try all they could to disturb and destroy the sacrifice. The king performing the sacrifice had therefore to be very powerful. He should also be virtuous, just and charitable.

Yudhishthira consults Krishna on Rajasuya

All those around Yudhishthira eulogized him and urged him to embark on the Rajasuya sacrifice. But Yudhishthira would not take a final decision without consulting the knower of all things, Krishna. He sent a messenger to Dwaraka, seeking Krishna’s advise. Krishna took the opportunity to visit Indraprastha where he could meet his cousins, aunt and sister. He proceeded in his celestial chariot that traveled like a ray of the sun.

On reaching Indraprastha, Krishna paid his regards to Yudhishthira and Kunti, affectionately embraced his other cousins and blessed his sister Subhadra. He then sat down to answer the king’s query about his eligibility to perform the Rajasuya.

Krishna told the mighty Pandava monarch, “Narada’s advice is worthy of being followed. I, however, have a concern. A survey of the kings in the country shows that you are superior to all of them. There is, however, one exception. And that is the Magadha king, Jarasandha. This evil oppressor of mankind is so powerful that even I had to abandon my capital, Mathura, for fear of him, and flee to the Western coast.

“We had to build a very strong fort at Dwaraka so that my people and I could live free of Jarasandha’s attacks. Jarasandha carries a grouse against us because I killed the evil king Kamsa who was married to two of his daughters. All kings have become Jarasandha’s vassals, and those who resist him are imprisoned in a fort. He has so far imprisoned eighty-six kings. After capturing fourteen more, he intends to offer them one by one as sacrifice to the god Rudra. He will surely not accept you as superior to him, and would do all he could to obstruct the sacrifice. He would seek eternal fame by defeating you.”

“What makes him so invincible?” Yudhishthira asked Krishna.

Krishna related Jarasandha’s story to the king.

Two halves of a baby

Brihadratha, the mighty king of Magadha, married the twins of the Kasi ruler, both endowed with beauty and intelligence. The two wives gave him great happiness but failed to provide a son to carry on the dynasty. One day, he heard that a sage, Chandakausika, was camping at the outskirts of his capital. Thither the king went with his wives.

Brihadratha pleased the rishi by worshipping him and offering him valuable presents. When the king told the sage of his desire to have a son, the rishi blessed him and said, so be it. Just then a mango from the tree under which they were sitting, fell on the lap of Chandakausika. The holy man handed over the fruit to the king and asked him to give it to his wives. The sage left after assuring the king that he would get a son who would be a mighty monarch.

Being equally fond of both his wives, Brihadratha divided the fruit between them. Both of them conceived. When they delivered, each wife had half of a baby, having one arm, one leg, half a head and half a torso. The disappointed queens disposed of the sundered baby through a maid who threw the parts out through the backdoor of the palace.

A rakshasa woman, Jara by name, who lived on flesh, was foraging in the garbage for food. She found the two halves of the baby thrown by the maid. Fate playing a part, she joined the two symmetrical pieces together. A healthy baby was formed which started to howl in a thunderous voice. It was so large and heavy that Jara could not carry it away. The inmates of the palace came running to find out what the commotion was about. Jara handed over the baby to them and ran away. When the queens recognised the baby, they were overjoyed. The baby was given the name Jarasandha, joined together by Jara.

Some time later, the rishi Chandakausika again visited Magadha. King Brihadrada received him with great respect and worshipped him. The learned one predicted to the king that the child born to him would grow in strength and conquer the whole world. All the kings of the earth would tremble before his might. After making this prediction, the sage went away to attend to his business. When Jarasandha came of age, Brihadrada retired to the forest, installing his son as ruler.

In time Jarasandha grew into a fearsome king. Being a friend of Kamsa whom I slew, Jarasandha drove our tribe of Vrishnis along with our cousins, the Kukuras and the Andhakas, out of Mathura. I recognized that Jarasandha was invincible and his death was not yet due, and to keep out of his way, I moved to Dwaraka.

Can Jarasandha be killed?

Krishna told Yudhishthira that he would not be able to perform his Rajasuya unless Jarasandha was eliminated. This could be achieved only if Jarasandha was engaged in a personal combat, as the Magadha king was incapable of being vanquished in the battlefield. It was decided that Arjuna and Bhima, along with Krishna, should proceed to Magadha to put an end to this oppressor of kings.

On arriving at Magadha, Arjuna, Bhima and Krishna gained entry into the city disguised as brahmins. They did not want to be recognized as princes. Soon they were in the presence of Jarasandha.

Once they reached Jarasandha’s presence, they revealed their identity to him. Krishna demanded that all the kings that Jarasandha had imprisoned should be released.

Jarasandha scornfully replied that he would add these three to those imprisoned.  “But,” he said, “I always defeat my foe in war before killing or imprisoning him. In your case, since you are without an army, I am prepared to fight you individually.”

It was decided that a combat between the king and one of the three visitors should be held. When asked to select his opponent, the proud Jarasandha pointed to Bhima, the one who looked the biggest and strongest.

Jarasandha took the precaution of installing his son Sahadeva as king before the battle started, in the unlikely event of his being killed in the fight.

What followed was a war between two mountains. Bhima and Jarasandha were engaged in personal combat for fourteen days even as the earth shook under them. They clashed like elephants and let out roars that sent fear in the spines of those who heard them. Finally, Bhima overwhelmed Jarasandha who lay down exhausted. Jarasandha appealed to Bhima to give him time to recover. But Krishna prompted the mighty Pandava to put an end to the Magadha king. Bhima lifted his opponent and dashed him to the ground. He then broke Jarasandha’s back with his knee. There was a great roar from Jarasandha as he met his death.

Krishna released all the kings imprisoned by Jarasandha in the hill fortress known as Girivraja. The liberated kings worshipped Krishna and asked what command he had for them. Krishna told them that they were free to return to their kingdoms.

“You have Bhima to thank for your liberation,” Krishna told the kings. “He is the brother of the great king, Yudhishthira, who is holding a Rajasuya sacrifice. You should all assist the Pandava king in his Rajasuya.” The kings agreed in one voice.

The new king of Maghada, Sahadeva, sought Krishna’s blessings and commenced his beneficial rule.

The victorious three were given a rousing welcome when they returned to Indraparastha. Krishna took leave of the Pandavas and left for Dwaraka, having accomplished his objective of eliminating Jarasandha.

Financing the Rajasuya sacrifice

With the one big obstacle in performing the Rajasuya removed, Yudhishthira, his brothers and their counselors met to plan for the sacrifice. An event of this size and importance, they realized, would cost enormous money, what with hosting innumerable kings and providing presents to an ocean of brahmins and others who would turn up on the occasion. The Pandava coffers just did not have enough gold to meet these expenses.

It was therefore decided that the four brothers of Yudhishthira would undertake a tour of conquest and extract money from the various kings of the country. Accordingly, Arjuna went North, Bhima went East, Nakula went West and Sahadeva went South. The Pandava brothers marched fearlessly in the four directions. Most kings acknowledged Yudhishthira’s suzerainty and paid generously. Those who hesitated were brought to their knees.

The princes met with resistance only once, when Sahadeva had an encounter with Agni, the god of fire, in the city of Mahishmati. The ruler of the city, Nila, was protected by Agni. Agni had been enamoured of the daughter of Nila whose hand he sought. Nila agreed for the marriage on condition that Agni would always protect his city.

Sahadeva was unable to defeat Agni. He bowed to the god and prayed to him. Agni was pleased by the prayer and bade Nila to accept Pandava superiority and pay tribute.

When they returned, the four brothers had brought enough wealth for the Pandava treasury to overflow.

Nakula was chosen as Yudhishthira’s ambassador to Dhritarashtra’s court to invite the king for the sacrifice. He repaired to Hastinapura where, after paying his respect to his grandsire, uncles and preceptors, he told them, “My brother, the King of Khandavaprastha, by your leave, desires to hold the Rajasuya sacrifice. He seeks your blessings and encouragement to do so.”

“I am proud that Yudhishthira is taking this step,” Dhritarashtra said. “We are all behind this enterprise and shall attend the sacrifice and personally give him our blessings.”

Sahadeva also called on Duryodhana and his brothers and invited to grace the function.

Yudhishthira’s Rajasuya sacrifice

On the day of the sacrifice, hundreds of Kshatriya kings, in addition to those he had invited at Hastinapura, turned up for the grand sacrifice. Sakuni, Radheya, Jayadratha, Drupada and Salya were all present. The illustrious princes of the Yadava race, Balarama and Krishna, came well ahead to help in the preparations. People of all four classes flowed into Indraprastha.

Those that were near and dear to Yudhishthira were given various offices. Duryodhana was the receiver of gifts and tributes from the kings. Duscasana took charge of the kitchen. Aswatthama attended to the comfort of the brahmins. Kripa handled the gifts to those brahmins. Sanjaya recieved the kings. Vidura was the disburser of funds. Krishna himself went around washing the feet of brahmins.

The sacrifice was planned fully observing the established rules, and in a manner that pleased both those on earth and those above. The sage Narada appeared and was pleased to observe the grand event. Being a god, he could foresee the future. Narada was struck by the thought that very soon this august assembly of Kshatriyas would be divided into two camps and would battle each other till they were all effaced from the earth. He knew that Lord Narayana who had already incarnated himself on earth as Krishna would take away all these whom he had caused to be born from the gods.

 Sisupala obstructs the Rajasuya sacrifice

As the sacrifice commenced, Bhishma told Yudhishthira that it was necessary to first honour the distinguished guests by offering them the Arghya (holy grass, symbolic of respect). The foremost among the guests should be offered the Arghya first. Bhishma named Krishna as best suited to receive the honour.

In that great assembly was present Sisupala, the King of Chedi. When Bhishma suggested Krishna’s name, Sisupala stood up and protested loudly.

Sisupala said, “To propose Krishna for the honour is an insult to many of the eminent kings who are assembled here. I am myself much superior to Krishna in valour and strength. My own claim should be met first.”

Sisupala then went on to heap insults on Krishna. “This Krishna is a mere cowherd. He uses magic to meet his ends. He tricked other princes and abducted Rukmini, much against the wishes of her family.” And so on.

A few other kings joined Sisupala in a chorus. When Yudhishthira did not accede to Sisupala’s demands, the Chedi King prepared to walk out of the hall. Yudhishthira ran after him, trying to conciliate him. An angry Bhishma asked the Pandava king to desist, and declared, “Those who know not the nature of Krishna do not deserve to be conciliated.”

Sahadeva stood up and warned that anyone trying to obstruct Krishna being honoured would have his head ground by his foot. On behalf of his king, he proceeded to wash Krishna’s feet and offered him the Arghya.

Sisupala and his followers rose in arms, aiming to disrupt the sacrifice. When Bhima prepared to meet their attack, Bhishma restrained him saying, “Fear not, prince. The lion would know how to deal with the dogs.” He then related to the assembly, the story of Sisupala. Bhishma said,

The three eyes and four hands of Sisupala

This Sisupala was born to the King of Chedi with three eyes and four hands. He brayed like a donkey when he was born. The Chedi king and the queen, who was the Yadava Vasudeva’s sister, frightened by the child’s appearance and behaviour, wanted to destroy him. A voice from the heavens told them that this child was destined to become a great king. Although his exterminator was already born, his time to die was not now. The king asked who his killer would be. The voice said, ‘The person by whose presence the third eye and the two extra arms would get detached and fall off would be the person to kill Sisupala.’

Many monarchs visiting Chedi were shown the baby with the hope that his would-be killer be identified. Balarama and Krishna heard about the happenings in Chedi and made a visit to their aunt. The child was shown to the brothers. When Krishna lifted the baby and put him on his lap, its extra eye and extra hands fell to the ground.

The frightened aunt appealed to Krishna to show mercy on her child and asked for a boon.  “Please do not kill my son, even if he offended you.” she pleaded. Krishna agreed, adding that he would forgive Sisupala if he offended him, not once, but a hundred times.

In time Sisupala became a cruel and wicked monarch, causing distress to his subjects and other kings. The fool does not realize that destiny is beckoning him, and he is insulting none other than his deliverer.

Sisupala’s blasphemy and its consequences

Bhishma’s words only incensed Sisupala further. He continued to mount insult upon insult on Krishna. Krishna told the assembly that the low minded Sisupala coveted his own aunt, the wife of Akrura, and was even claiming the hand of Rukmini, Krishna’s consort. Sisupala continued to challenge Krishna, mounting abuse upon abuse on him. Krishna said that in keeping with his promise to his aunt, he had patiently listened to a hundred insults from the wretch, but now the time had come to show Sisupala the way. So saying, he released his disc, which, with a great blaze, flew at Sisupala and dismembered his head.

Vyasa’s prediction after the Rajasuya

With all impediments removed, the sacrifice was carried to a successful conclusion. After receiving as much gifts as they could carry, the kings and commoners who had converged in Indraprastha started to leave. Krishna, satisfied at the success of the sacrifice, left for Dwaraka.

Vyasa informed Yudhishthira that he was leaving. The king bowed to the illustrious sage and asked a question. “Whenever a sacrifice of the dimension of Rajasuya is performed, there may be a terrible fallout, like an earthquake or flood. Is this condition satisfied with the death of Sisupala?”

Vyasa replied, “I see terrible times in the next thirteen years, and you, Yudhishthira, would be in the eye of the storm. As a portend, the mighty god Siva might appear in your dream.” With this, the dark one left.

Yudhishthira’s vow

Rattled by Vyasa’s words, Yudhishthira became so remorseful that he wanted to end his life rather than live and cause misery to the world. His brothers consoled him and asked him to meet the coming events with the fortitude he was famous for. Yudhishthira resolved that he would, from that day, observe the strictest self-discipline. He would not offend anyone by word or deed and would preserve his equanimity in the most trying conditions.

Duryodhana’s exhibition in Maya’s hall

After the departure of all the guests, Duryodhana and Sakuni alone remained in Indraprastha to enjoy the hospitality of the Pandavas. It happened that Duryodhana was one day strolling inside the famous assembly hall built by the asura Maya. The crystal floor and the doors had a magical quality about them. Where there appeared to be a pool, there was none, and where it looked like solid ground there was water. Where there appeared to be a door, there was a wall, and where there was a door, one could not see it. All this confused Duryodhana to no end. He kept falling into the pool and dashing against the wall. Yudhishthira was engaged in matters of state. But the other four Pandava brothers who were watching Duryodhana, were greatly amused and were ridiculing their cousin. Duryodhana flushed with shame.

Sakuni’s scheme for a dice game

On their way home from Indraprastha, Duryodhana, in his misery, expressed to his uncle Sakuni that he would like to end his life, being unable to endure the Pandavas’ prosperity. Sakuni talked to him encouragingly.

The scheming uncle of Duryodhana said, “Where the might of arms cannot win, cunning could. I have a plan precisely for this. I know that Yudhishthira loves to gamble with the dice but possesses poor skill in that game. I am a past master in rolling the dice and could outwit any opponent.”

By the time they reached Hastinapura, the idea of inviting Yudhishthira for a game of dice had taken deep root in Duryodhana’s mind.

Duryodhana was raving with hatred and jealousy for the Pandavas as he reached Hastinapura. He declared to his father that he could not continue living, after seeing the fame and prosperity of the Pandavas. Having been the treasurer at the Rajasuya, he was witness to the enormous wealth that came pouring in from kings all over the world. “When would I ever become as wealthy as the Pandavas?” he asked Dhritarashtra. His father tried to console him.

Dhritarashtra told his son, “You are in no way inferior to the Pandavas. You are equally wealthy and your kingdom extends far and wide. You have all the pleasures of life at your beck and call.”

With gnawing jealousy Duryodhana responded that he would rather die than continue with this wretched existence.

Sakuni, who was with the father and son, intervened and said that Duryodhana’s woes could end if the Pandava king be brought to Indraprastha for a game of dice. Sakuni knew all about how to call the right number as well as to play any number he wanted.

“With the dice as my bow and the numbers as my arrows,” the son of Suvala declared, “I shall defeat the Pandavas. Yuthishthira is fond of the game but is very poor in play. If thou, O King, invited the Pandavas for a friendly game, they would respond without demurring.”
Pandavas invited for dice game

The irresolute king consulted Kshatta (as his brother Vidura was known) who stoutly opposed Sakuni’s idea of inviting Yuthishthira to gamble. When the king showed no inclination to listen to good counsel, Vidura realised that the Kauravas were heading towards their own destruction. Kali, the age of decay, has started, he grimly reflected. Not only was his opposition to the dice game ignored, the king sent Vidura himself to Indraprastha to invite Yudhishthira.

Meanwhile, an enormous hall with thousand pillars, walls studded with gems, was specially constructed and furnished lavishly in preparation for the game.

Arriving at Indraprastha, Vidura was received with all honours by his nephews. After exchanging pleasantries, Vidura conveyed to Yudhishthira, Dhritarashtra’s invitation to the Pandavas to see the newly constructed palace at Hastinapura and compare it with the famous hall at Indraprastha.

“Incidentally,” Vidura said, “You could participate in a game of dice. Many eminent dice players, including Sakuni, have been invited, and an exciting fare is in the offing.”

Yudhishthira clearly expressed his disinclination to engage in a dice game, which, he said, might lead to enmity within the family. Vidura agreed with him but pleaded helplessness in the face of Dhritarashtra’s insistence to hold the game.

Resigning to fate, and duly honouring the king’s invitation, Yudhishthira set out to Hastinapura in the company of his wife and brothers.


Chapter 2 Sabha Parva - Part 2

Part 2


Hurrah! I have won. Duryodhana insults Vidura. Yudhishthira wagers brothers .and Draupadi. Draupadi is dragged to the gambling hall. Draupadi’s appeals fall on deaf ears. The attempt to disrobe Draupadi.
Radheya's hurting words.Bhima’s vow. Dhritarashtra is frightened. Hook Yudhishthira once again, cries Duryodhana.
The second dice game. Pandavas vow again. Vidura describes Pandavas’ exit.
Ominous forebodings. Drona's warning to Duryodhana.

Hurrah! I have won

At Hastinapura, the gamblers and those close to the two families had already gathered at the new pleasure palace. When the Pandavas arrived, Dhritarashtra welcomed them and smelt each on his head out of affection. They were then shown to their magnificent apartment, and the night was spent in sport and joy.

The next morning all the guests assembled in the game hall. Without wasting time, Sakuni stood up and invited Yudhishthira for the dice game.

The great defender of truth said, “O son of Suvala. Deceitful gambling is contrary to the code of Kshatriyas. Wealth should be won in fair battle and wealth so won should be distributed to the brahmins. However, having been invited by the king, I would play. We shall accept whatever destiny has in store for us.”

Duryodhana, instead of himself playing, nominated Sakuni to play on his behalf, contrary to established practice. Here again Yudhishthira acquiesced and the game commenced.

For the first throw of the dice by Sakuni, Yudhishthira pledged some costly jewelry. The dice rolled and Sakuni called it right. “Hurrah! I have won,” he cried.

Yudhishthira next pledged his royal car, known for its splendour. Adopting unfair means, Sakuni once again won. “Hurrah! I have won,” he exclaimed.

A hundred thousand girls and a thousand soldiers were staked by Yudhishthira. The result was the same and so was Sakuni’s refrain, “Hurrah! I have won.”

The stakes kept mounting. Elephants, steeds, chariots, draught animals. The dice decided their fate and every time it was in Sakuni’s favour. “Hurrah! I have won.” The shrill voice of the villain rent the air again and again.

As the game progressed inexorably in favour of the plotters, the elders sat with their heads hanging, unable to intervene. Vidura however got up and addressed the king, warning him against the perilous direction in which events were unfolding. “Call off the game and save the Kuru race,” he urged Dhritarashtra. “This son of yours would be the cause of the destruction of our entire race.”

Duryodhana insults Vidura

Stung to the quick, Duryodhana flared like a hooded snake. “Eating my salt, you show no loyalty to me,” he told Vidura. “You pretend to know everything, but do not understand that you are only the son of a menial and have not the status to advise me. Treachery comes to you easily and you are known to always favour my enemy. If you do not approve of the goings on here, you should walk out.”

Ignoring Duryodhana’s outburst, Vidura addressed Dhritarashtra again. “Do not encourage this evil. This son of yours is blinded by rage. Call off the game. Remember how the Andhakas, the Yadavas and the Bhojas united to put an end to Kamsa. It is time now to put an end to Duryodhana. Let Arjuna kill your evil son. Destroy him before he destroys your race. Keep the Pandavas with you. To save the peacocks, a crow may be sacrificed. To save the tigers, a jackal may be sacrificed. Further than this, I have nothing to say.” So saying, Vidura sat down. Dhritarashtra was unmoved.

Yudhishthira wagers brothers and Draupadi

All his personal wealth lost in wager, Yuthishthira started setting parts of his kingdom on the dice floor. In no time Sakuni, through his skilful manipulations, won all of it. Soon there was nothing left with Yudhishthira to play with.

“My brothers are my wealth,” Yudhishthira declared. Nakula was offered and lost. The dice favoured its master, Sakuni. It was Sahadeva next, and he too was lost.

The cunning Sakuni taunted Yudhishthira. “These are after all Madri’s sons. But Bhimasena and Arjuna are dear to you, being born to Kunti along with you,” the Gandhari king said. “You wretch,” Yudhishthira snapped, “you are trying to sow the seed of disunion amongst us. Here, I offer Arjuna”.

“My lucky dice,” Sakuni whispered to the contrivance in his hand and let it roll. And Arjuna was lost. Bhima followed. Yudhishthira had now only himself to offer.

Once more the dice rolled and he too was lost.

“Do not despair,” Sakuni told Yudhishthira. “I shall give you one more chance to regain all that you have lost. Bring the beautiful daughter of Panchala. With her as stake you may still regain all that you have lost.”

As if possessed, Yudhishthira accepted the challenge and announced that he was wagering what was nearest to his heart, his queen, the faultless Draupadi.

Hardly waiting for the dice to roll, Dhritarashtra impatiently enquired, “Has the wager been won?” Radheya and Duscasana were clapping their hands and laughing. Bhishma, Drona, and Kripa were staring at the floor, covered with perspiration, despair written on their faces. Vidura sat with his hands holding his head.

Sakuni, savouring the situation, took his time, knowing fully well that the dice would obey his command. He kissed the contraption and threw it on the ground. After rolling for a few fearful moments, the dice settled down. Exactly as Sakuni had called. “Hurrah! I have won,” he cried out in triumph.

Draupadi is dragged to the gambling hall

Duryodhana jumped up in joy and commanded Vidura to fetch Draupadi. “The Pandavas are all my slaves,” he said. “And so is Draupadi. Her quarters from now should be with the servants and not where the queens and princesses live.” Vidura stood up and angrily rebuked Duryodhana for the insults he was heaping on the Pandava brothers and their faultless wife. “The consequences are going to be serious and the destruction of the Kurus is sure to follow,” he warned.

“Fie unto you Kshatta,” cried Duryodhana, intoxicated with Sakuni’s success. He called a Pratikamin (attendant) standing nearby. He commanded the servant to seek Draupadi and fetch her to the hall. The Pratikamin went to where the royal ladies were resting and told Draupadi that her lord had lost everything in the gamble, including his queen. At his master’s command, the Pratikamin continued, he had come to take her to the gambling hall. A shocked and distraught Draupadi sent back the attendant saying, “Go find out first whether my lord lost me before he lost himself or after.”

The Paratikamin returned to the hall and repeated Draupadi’s words to those present. He looked at Yudhishthira for an answer. Yudhishthira sat grimly, without uttering a word. Nor did any of the elders speak. It was Duryodhana who burst out. “Let the Panchali princess come hither and put the question to her husband so that the entire assembly can hear the answer. Go and fetch her hither.” he commanded the attendant.

Yudhishthira managed to send a message secretly to Draupadi, asking her to come, scantily dressed though she was due to her season, and appeal to the king.

Meanwhile, the impatient Duryodhana howled once again at the attendant to carry out his command. The Pratikamin stood terrified at the prospect of having to face Draupadi again. “What should I tell her?” he stuttered.

“This fool is possessed of fear,” Duryodhana shouted to his brother Duscasana. “You go and fetch her. If necessary, by force.” Duscasana, with his eyes red, went to where Draupadi was. On seeing him Draupadi tried to run to the interior, but the evil brother of Duryodhana chased her and caught her. Disregarding her protests and pleas he dragged her by her tresses to the assembly. The Panchali princess looked up and prayed, “Krishna, thou very incarnation of the supreme god Narayana, I look to thee alone to protect me.”

Draupadi’s appeals fall on deaf ears

As she was dragged to the gambling hall, Draupadi appealed to the elders who were seated frozen in silence. “Do not let this wretch abuse me,” she cried. She turned to her husbands and her fiery glance seemed to scorch them. Witnessing her misery, Duscasana kept calling her “Slave”. He received applause from his brother and the vicious Radheya and Sakuni. All the others in that great assembly sat benumbed, as if hit by a thunderbolt.

Draupadi turned to the grandsire and pleaded, “Have I been won?” Looking at the floor, Bhishma said, “Lo! What can I say? Indeed, morality is subtle. Yudhishthira himself is silent. I do not know if I can justifiably intervene.”

Duscasana continued to mouth profanities, pulling at Draupadi’s clothes. Inflamed though they were, the Pandava brothers sat as if their hands were tied. Bhima however could no longer bear to witness the abuses suffered by their queen. Looking at Yudhishthira’s hands he swore, “All this misery is due to those hands. Let me burn them.” Arjuna remained self-possessed and he pacified his brother, “Be not angry with our venerable elder brother. He has done nothing wrong. He has followed truth. Have faith in him.” Bhima remained silent.

From the shocked and confused assembly of kings there arose one voice defending Draupadi. It was that of Vikarna, one of Dhritarashtra’s sons. “Draupadi has not been won,” he declared. “She was not the wife of Yudhishthira alone. Besides, there was deceit practiced by Sakuni. He made Yudhishthira gamble her away. Yudhishthira had no right to stake her when he himself had been won. Why are the great Bhishma, Drona, Kripa and Vidura silent when such a travesty of justice is taking place?” So argued Vikarna, the only one of the hundred brothers who showed sympathy for the Pandavas.

It was Radheya who spoke now, ridiculing Vikarna as immature and ill informed. “When her own husbands are not defending her, it is obvious that Draupadi has been lost by them in a fair game. She is a slave. Strip her of her clothes.” screamed to Duscasana. “What is the impropriety in this action on a woman who could submit herself to five husbands? Take off her husbands’ clothes as well.” Thus did Radheya spew poison.

The attempt to disrobe Draupadi

The Pandava brothers removed their upper garments and sat with their heads dropped. Duscasana caught one end of the cloth Draupadi was draped in and started to pull at it. Closing her eyes, her palms joined in prayer, Draupadi cried, “Hey Krishna, thou protector of the weak and the faithful, see thou not the well into which we have fallen? See thou not how the Kauravas are humiliating us? Thou art our only salvation.” And Krishna heard her voice. Appearing in the scene but invisible to everyone, he covered his faithful devotee with many layers of clothes of different colours.

As the miscreant Duscasana tried to remove her scanty dress, Draupadi found herself draped once again in a different apparel. Once more Duscasana pulled and yet again a new apparel appeared on her. Soon there was a hillock of clothing as Duscasana, his energy giving way, continued in his attempt to disrobe the Panchali princess. Like a river flowing from its source, the clothing kept coming. Until Duscasana fell on the ground, exhausted and numb.

His eyes fiery and his countenance terrible, Bhima swore, “I shall one day kill this Duscasana who has caused blemish to the Bharata race. I shall tear his breast and drink his blood. If this happens not, let me not deserve to join my ancestors when I am dead.”

Radheya's hurting words

Radheya urged Duscasana to drag the dishonoured princess away to where the workingwomen were lodged. He tauntingly told Draupadi that she should abandon her husbands and marry someone who would give her freedom and not gamble her away again. Draupadi stood up and turning to the elders, demanded of them an answer to her question, whether she was won by the Kauravas or not.

Bhishma squirmed in his seat and repeated what he had said before. He confessed that he did not know what was right and what was wrong.

Draupadi’s question went a-begging. Vidura repeated that having himself become a slave, Yudhishthira had no authority to stake his wife.

Duryodhana jeered at Yudhishthira. “You who are knowledgeable in all departments, you tell the assembly that you have lost Panchali to me.” But Yudhishthira uttered not a word. Baring his left lap and showing it to Panchali, the wicked Duryodhana said that since Yudhishthira had failed to give an answer, let the other four answer the question.

Bhima’s vow

Inflamed at Duryodhana’s gesture in showing his bare lap, the angry Bhima flared up once again and swore to the assembly, “When the great fight comes, I would break that offending thigh. If I failed to do so, may I not deserve salvation.”

When Duryodhana taunted the four brothers again to answer Draupadi’s question, Arjuna said that before the game started they were under the sway of Yudhishthira. Now that they have all become slaves, it was for the Kauravas and their king to decide. As he said this, the shrieking whine of a jackal issued from the king’s prayer room. Donkeys brayed and birds shrieked from all sides. Vidura, as well as Gandhari, read the omen very well. This was the signal that the Kauravas were on their way to doom, they thought.

Gloating over their success, Duryodhana and his friends left the hall.

Dhritarashtra is frightened

Fear gripped the heart of Dhritarashtra as he heard these noises. He swore at Duryodhana for having brought about the ruin of the Kauravas. Turning to Draupadi, he told her in a conciliatory tone that he would grant her a boon.

Draupadi asked the king, “Let my husband Yudhishthira, the personification of truth, be freed from his bondage,”  The king granted her wish and told Draupadi to seek a second boon. Draupadi desired her other four husbands should be freed from slavery as well. “Granted,” said Dhritarashtra, urging Draupadi to ask for a third boon. Draupadi declined. There was no need for a third boon. She said that her husbands could get back to their old glory, now that they were free.

Dhritarshtra told Yudhishthira, “You are now a free man. Go to Khandavaprastha and rule over your kingdom in peace. Forgive Duryodhana for his rashness. Let brotherly love be restored between you and your cousins.”

Hook Yudhishthira once again, cries Duryodhana

Having been freed by Dhritarashtra, the Pandavas with Draupadi bowed to the king and the elders, and left for Indraprastha. Duryodhana and his confederates who had left the hall were unaware of the boons granted to Draupadi by Dhritarashtra. It was Duscasana who learnt about it, and he ran to Duryodhana, wailing that the foolish king had caused all that was won, to be lost.

Duryodhana, along with Duscasana, Sakuni and Radheya, rushed to Dhritarashtra. “What a folly this,” he cried at the king. “We made the Pandavas our slaves, and now you have let them off. They are mighty and the insults they have suffered would be rankling in their minds. They would certainly wreak vengeance on us. Lo, we are all lost.”

“We can still save the situation,” Duryodhana continued, “Let us bring them back and make them play the dice game once again. We shall play for a specific stake. If the Pandavas lose, they should don deerskins and retire to the forest for twelve years. After the twelfth year ended, they should spend the thirteenth year in disguise at an inhabitable place. If detected in the thirteenth year, they should spend another twelve years in the forest.

“In the event the Pandavas won, the Kauravas would spend twelve years in the forest and one year incognito,. After the period is successfully completed, both would have their original kingdoms restored to them.”

Bhishma, Drona and Vidura in one voice advised the king not to entertain this plan. Gandhari who heard of it, pleaded with her husband not to listen to Duryodhana any more. In fact, she said, they should have followed Vidura’s advice and killed their first son as soon as he was born. The path he was pursuing would only lead to the wiping out of the Kauravas.

The king, however, would not listen to them. To satisfy Duryodhana seemed to be the only thought in his mind. “If, as a consequence, my race would face extinction, let it happen,” he said. He commanded a messenger to be sent to intercept the Pandavas and bring them back for one last dice game.

The second dice game

The Pandavas had gone some distance when the messenger caught up with them and conveyed the king’s command. Yudhishthira’s brothers were not in favour of entertaining the invitation, knowing that this was another plot of Duryodhana. Yudhishthira said, “I know fully well what is to follow. Would Rama not have known that there could be no deer made of gold? Yet he pursued it for that was ordained by fate. Besides, we have to honour the king’s command.” With his brothers and Draupadi he turned back to Hastinapura.

As Yudhishthira reached the gambling hall, the assembly was already full. Sakuni started the proceedings and described the wager to Yudhishthira. Yudhishthira agreed to the terms and the dice rolled once again. The inevitable happened. Sakuni called right. The Pandava brothers, along with Draupadi, were now condemned to spend the next twelve years in the forest and a thirteenth year incognito.

Pandavas vow again

Whispers of “Fie unto Dhritarashtra’s sons” were heard. But Duryodhana and his intimates made no secret of their joy. The Pandava brothers removed their regalia and dressed themselves in deerskin, preparing to go to the forest.

Duscasana addressed the Panchali princess, “Pity unto Drupada who sacrificed his daughter to the worthless Pandavas. Now they are condemned to a miserable life. But thou, Panchali, need not follow them. Choose from those present here, a husband.”

Hearing these words of his cousin, an inflamed Bhima rose and reiterated his vow. “You wretch, riding as you do on the success of Sakuni, you are piercing our hearts with boastful words. I would soon pierce your heart in battle and drink your blood. May entry into my ancestors’ abode be denied to me if this vow is not fulfilled.”

As the Pandavas started leaving the hall, Duryodhana walked with a swaying gait, in imitation of Bhima. Noticing this, Bhima roared at the Kaurava prince, “Bide your time you wretch. The day is not far off when, with my mace, I would make you prostrate before me and place my foot on your head.”

Arjuna said, “As does my powerful brother, so do I swear to kill Radheya in the great battle.” And Sahadeva said, “This Sakuni will fall unto my blows.”

Vidura, after blessing the Pandavas, asked Yudhishthira to leave his mother, the venerable Kunti, in his care, till the period of exile was over. Yudhishthira bowed to his uncle’s wish.

Vidura describes Pandavas’ exit

After the Pandavas and Draupadi had left, the blind Dhritarashtra called Vidura and asked him to describe their departure. This is what Vidura had to say.

The crowds on the way shout, ‘cursed are Dhritarashtra’s sons for bringing about this calamity to the faultless Pandavas’. Yudhishthira has his head covered, lest his angry glance may burn the people. Bhima is stretching his arms as if to say, these are ready to soon show their worth against the Kauravas. Arjuna goes scattering grains all around, indicating that his arrows will soon fly everywhere, seeking the Kauravas. The handsome Nakula has covered himself with dust so that the women may not look at him and sigh. Sahadeva has also besmeared himself, not desiring to be recognized on this day of his misfortune. As for the princess, she goes with only a piece of cloth covering her, as though to tell the women, in fourteen years so would you enter Hastinapura, weeping and wailing for your husbands dead in battle. The priest Dhaumya utters verses from Sama Veda relating to Yama, the Lord of Death.

Ominous forebodings

While the king and Vidura were talking thus, the celestial Narada appeared before them and warned them that fourteen years hence would see their entire clan being wiped out. He left immediately. The whining of jackals and the braying of asses was once again heard from inside the palace. The sky was dark but for flashes of lightning.

Drona’s warning to Duryodhana

Frightened by these omen, Duryodhana and his brothers prayed to Drona to protect them in the coming days. Drona assured them that he would, but added that the Pandavas were gods, and humans cannot kill them.

“In the next thirteen years,” Drona told Duryodhana, “the Pandavas would adopt strict celibacy, perform penance and seek more education. They would have become more formidable when they come back. My own death has been sealed with the birth of a son from the sacrificial fire of Drupada. Do what good you can during the period till the Pandvas return.”

A distraught Dhritarashtra bade his attendant Sanjay recall the Pandavas. But before Sanjay could react, that wavering moment passed, and the king was caught once again in the web of his love for his first-born. He sighed and retired.

Chapter 3 Vana Parva - Part 1
Part 1


The celestial bowl from the Sun god. The irresolute king. Duryodhana desires to kill the Pandavas. Duryodhana collects a curse. Bhima kills Bakasura’s brother. Salwa’s action brings his own doom. Pandavas proceed to Dwaita. Arjuna leaves to acquire weapons. Arjuna meets Indra. Arjuna’s scorching penance. Siva gives Arjuna the Pasupata. The gods give Arjuna their weapons. Arjuna reaches Indra’s hall. Urvasi curses Arjuna. Arjuna subdues the Nivata-Kavachas.

The celestial bowl from the Sun god

As Yudhishthira, his brothers and Draupadi proceeded to the gates of Hastinapura, the citizens, whose eyes were red with crying, surrounded them. “Leave us not, O noble Pandavas,” they said. “We could not conceive of life without you. We would follow you, wherever you go, and continue to live under your protection.”

“We are undeserving of so much love,” Yudhishthira told them. “Our hearts do go out for you. But the grandsire Bhishma, the king, Vidura and our revered mother are all here in Hastinapura. In this hour you should stay back and be of support to them.”

The citizens bade the Pandavas a tearful farewell at the Vardhaman gate (they left, not through the Royal gate, but the traders’ gate). There the exiles got into their chariots and drove towards the Ganga river. They spent the night under the great Banyan tree, Pramana, on the banks of the river where the Pandavas had played as children. A number of brahmins, chanting holy verses, followed them and set camp with them.

The next morning Yudhishthira addressed the mendicants who were depending on him for food. “It is the duty of the king to provide the necessities of brahmins. His wealth is for this reason alone. But you know I have been divested of all my wealth. I do not know how well I could support you.” The brahmins would not listen to him and continued to stay.

The priest Dhaumya advised Yudhishthira to pray to the Sun god, for he it was who provided food and sustenance to all living things. Dhaumya knew a Mantra for invoking the Sun god, which he imparted to Yudhishthira. Yudhishthira recited the Mantra, and meditated deeply. The Sun god was pleased with Yudhishthira’s prayer and he appeared before the erstwhile king. Learning about Yudhishthira’s concern to provide food for his followers, the god presented him with a copper vessel of celestial quality.

“As long as the chaste Panchali, who always eats last, does not eat out of it and clean it, this vessel will be full with the four kinds of food made in her kitchen and stored in it; the four kinds of food being meat, root, vegetable and fruit. May your objective be achieved, and may you regain your kingdom in fourteen years.” With these blessings, the Sun god disappeared.

With the divine bowl providing inexhaustible quantities of food, Yudhishthira pleased the brahmins, after feeding whom he and his family fed themselves.

The irresolute king

At Hastinapura, brooding alone over the happenings of the past few days, King Dhritarashtra felt restless and desired conversation with someone near to him. He sent for Vidura and asked him, “Kshatta, I am disturbed at what has happened. You alone have the clear mind to tell me what is in store for us. Does destruction await us?”

In his characteristic adherence to truthful talk, Vidura replied, “O King. What your son has done to the Pandavas is certain to draw fearful consequences. Yet it is not too late to make amends. Make peace with the Pandavas and give them back their kingdom. Knowing Yudhishthira, I am confident that he will forgive his vicious cousin for all his misdeeds. The two families should live in peace and amity with each other.”

Advice such as this tasted bitter to the king who could find no fault with his son. He became angry with Vidura and told him, “Truly Kshatta, you are like an unfaithful wife. Stay here and accept things or go away.”

Saddened by the king’s rude words, Vidura left Hastinapura. He knew where the Pandavas had gone and made that his destination. News of Vidura’s departure was received with great joy by Duryodhana and his cohorts.

The sons of Pandu had moved from the banks of the river Ganga to the forest known as Kamyaka. As Vidura reached the Pandava camp, an overjoyed Yudhishthira welcomed him with respect and the two were engaged in fruitful conversation.

As`soon as Vidura had left Hastinapura, the king was smitten with repentance at his treatment of his brother. He fell down in a swoon. On being revived, he bade his faithful servant Sanjaya to immediately follow Vidura and bring him back. Sanjaya soon brought Vidura back, much to the consolation of the king.

Duryodhana desires to kill the Pandavas

The return to favour of Vidura was a subject discussed by Duryodhana and his confederates with great concern. Duryodhana was afraid that his uncle would try to influence the king in favour of the Pandavas and succeed in bringing the Pandavas back. Radheya suggested that the best solution would be to chase the Pandavas and kill them. This suggestion greatly appealed to Duryodhana. Once the Pandavas were dead, Duryodhana thought, he could rule his country without any fear. He immediately raised an army with Radheya’s assistance and set out towards the Pandavas’ quarter in Kamyaka.

Vyasa observed Duryadhana’s action through his mental powers and accosted the prince on the way. He stopped Duryodhana and strongly admonished him for his ill-advised move. Duryodhana had no choice but to call off his expedition and return to Hastinapura. Vyasa then called on the king and warned him against any move of Duryodhana to attack the Pandavas. “Even now, stripped of their kingdom, they are more than a match to your evil-minded son,” he told the king.

Duryodhana collects a curse

Even as Vyasa left for his abode in the forest, the sage Maitreya arrived at the Kaurava capital. He was received in the court by the king and duly honoured with a seat. The sage expressed his dissatisfaction over the injustice done to the Pandavas and urged the king to recall them.

The sage said, “O King! What has happened can never be justified. Moreover, the Pandavas, if not recalled, would return after thirteen years, stronger and merciless.”

Listening to the sage, Duryodhana slapped his thigh and scratched the ground with his foot, showing his impatience and disrespect for the venerable seer. The enraged sage cursed that the mighty Bhima would break the insolent prince’s thigh when war came. A frightened king pleaded with Maitreya to forgive his son. Maitreya said, “My curse will happen, unless you recall the Pandavas and restore to them their kingdom.” So saying he walked out, his anger not a bit abated.

Bhima kills Bakasura’s brother

News just then arrived at Hastinapura of the killing of Kirmira, the brother of the rakshasa Bakasura, by Bhimasena. The king asked Vidura to give him an account of the event.

Vidura said, “Pandu’s sons, after their expulsion from Hastinapura, traveled three days before reaching the Kamyaka forest. At dead of night, when they were asleep under a tree, there appeared before them a fearful looking rakshasa, a cannibal, Kirmira by name. This Kirmira was the brother of Bakasura, the monster that Bhima killed on an earlier occasion. Recognizing Bhima, the rakshasa wanted to kill Bhima to avenge his brother’s death. A fierce battle took place between Kirmira and Bhima. In the end, by sheer might, the illustrious Pandava strongman killed that terror of the forest. I saw the huge body of the slain rakshasa lying in the forest, when on my way to the Pandavas’ dwelling.”

The story, reflecting the Pandavas’ might, only added to Dhritarashtra’s misery, while Duryodhana was deeply perturbed.

Salwa’s action brings his own doom

Many were the visitors to the humble dwelling of the Pandava heroes at Kamyaka. Their cousins, the Bhojas, the Vrishnis, Krishna among them, and the Andhakas as well as other relatives like Drupada and the king of Chedi, visited them.

Krishna, during a visit, was discussing the plight of the Pandavas, when he expressed his anger at the Kauravas’ behaviour. Arjuna pacified him. In good time, he said, with Krishna’s blessing, their difficult days would come to an end.

Krishna said that had he been present at Hastinapura on that fateful day, he would have prevented the Kauravas’ deceitful dice game. “It was during that time that I was chasing Salwa to his capital in order to end his life.” he said.

Krishna related to the Pandavas, the Vrishnis’ battle with Salwa. He said, “Salwa, the king of Saubha, deciding to avenge the death of Sisupala, ‘his brother-king’, marched on Dwaraka even before I could return from Indraprastha after the Rajasuya sacrifice.

“When I reached Dwaraka, I found that Salwa had already killed many of the eminent Vrishni warriors. He had caused widespread destruction to Dwaraka and was returning triumphantly to Saubha. Angered by the scene, I chased the villain. I finally caught up with him in an island in the ocean. A fierce battle took place when the host of Saubha’s Danava warriors adopted various tactics including illusion. After dispelling them all, I finally released my Sudarshan disc, a weapon capable of destroying the mightiest of enemies. It killed Salwa and returned to me. I learnt of the events in Hastinapura only on my return to Dwaraka after Salwa had been despatched.”

Pandavas proceed to Dwaita

The Pandavas soon left their retinue and most of their cars at Kamyaka and proceeded to the Dwaita forest where, they decided, they would spend their exile. The forest, full of tall trees, surrounded the sacred lake of Dwaitavana. The many Rishis who were performing austerities there blessed the Pandavas. The brahmins who had followed the exiled Kshatriyas continued to live under their benevolence at Dwaita.

Arjuna leaves to acquire weapons

Vyasa, who visited the Pandavas, told Yudhishthira, “I could see that Arjuna will slay your foes when the time comes. He should seek the necessary weapons for the purpose from the gods Rudra, Indra, Varuna, Yama and Kubera. I shall teach you a Mantra, which would enable one to behold the gods. You may, in turn, impart the knowledge to Arjuna.”

Vyasa also advised Yudhishthira to keep moving to different places so that the forests do not get denuded and depleted by their continued presence.

After the sage’s departure, Yudhishthira advised Arjuna, “The Kauravas have stalwarts like Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Radheya and Aswathamma, with whom all knowledge of wielding weapons reside. You alone amongst us are capable of gaining such mastery in warfare as they possess. The god Indra is the repository of all the weapons of the gods. I have received instruction from the venerable Vyasa of a Mantra which, when recited, will expose to one, the entire universe including the gods. As desired by him, I shall pass that knowledge to you. Use it to seek Indra. Seek from him all his weapons which alone can help us in the battle to come. Seek weapons also from Rudra, Varuna, Yama and Kubera.”

Bowing to his brother’s wishes, Arjuna soon left on his quest for weapons. The remaining Pandavas, heeded to Vyasa’a advise and shifted their camp to the Kamyaka forest once again, this time on the banks of the River Saraswati. There they lived for the next five years.

Arjuna meets Indra

Equipped with the Mantra received from Yudhishthira, Arjuna made his way to the Himalayas. Fully armed, with the Gandiva bow in his hand, Arjuna looked resplendent when he reached Indrakila, the region of Indra. A thin, emaciated ascetic stopped him and asked, “Who are you? Why are you armed to your fingernail? You have entered the region where there is no need for fighting. Disarm and seek bliss. Choose any celestial region you desire and live there forever.”

Arjuna refused to disarm. “I have no desire to become a celestial. I have a mission to avenge the insults heaped on me and my brothers by the son of Dhritarashtra. Besides, I cannot forsake my brothers who wait for me at Kamyaka.” The ascetic at once revealed himself to be the god Indra. Paying his respect to the god, Arjuna said, “It is to meet you that I came here. I seek from you your weapons.”

Indra replied, “I am aware of your mission. All my weapons are available for you. But you must first do penance to the greatest of gods, Siva. I shall give you my weapons only if you are able to see him.” With this, the god departed.

Arjuna’s scorching penance

Then and there Arjuna went into the meditation of Maheswara. The penance undertaken by Arjuna was of the severest nature. He shed the armour he was wearing, and clad in deerskin, he prayed. Little by little he reduced his food until, in the fourth month, he subsisted on air alone. He stood on the tip of one toe with his arms joined above his head. The heat radiating from him was such that it became unbearable for all the sages meditating in the region. These sages approached the Lord of the Mountains, Rudra, and appealed to him to protect them from the severe effects of Arjuna’s penance. The all-knowing god smiled and sent them away with the assurance that he would answer his devotee and end his penance.

The god Rudra disguised himself as a Kirata (a tribe of hunters living in the deep woods). Accompanied by his consort, Uma, also disguised, and a host of other women, he appeared where Arjuna was doing penance. Just then a Danava (demon), Muka by name, in the form of a boar, was about to attack Arjuna. Arjuna prepared to release some deadly arrows from his Gandiva on the boar. The Kirata bade him stop. “This mountain of a boar was first sighted by me. Hence it is mine.”

Disregarding the claim of the Kirata, Arjuna showered his arrows on the boar. The hunter also sent his arrows and pierced the boar at the same time. The boar assumed its original form of a rakshasa and fell roaring.

The angry Kirata questioned Arjuna about his conduct in breaking the hunters’ code. Soon the argument led to Arjuna releasing his shafts on the hunter. The two quivers, which had the quality of being inexhaustible, became empty even as his arrows bounced off the hunter. Arjuna swiped his Gandiva bow on the Kirata who deftly snatched it away. Arjuna took out his sword and aimed a mighty blow on the crown of the hunter. On landing, the sword broke into pieces, as if it had hit a solid rock. Having lost all his weapons, Arjuna pounced on the hunter for physical combat.

The two were engaged in a fierce fight when a deadly embrace by the hunter caused Arjuna to fall on the ground unconscious. When he regained his senses, the blood-covered Arjuna found the hunter gone. He made an image of the god Siva and worshipped it, asking for strength. He placed a floral wreath on the crown of the image.

Siva gives Arjuna the Pasupata

Even as Arjuna was praying, to his surprise, the Kirata appeared, with the wreath on his head. Arjuna realized that he was in the presence of none other than Lord Maheswara himself. He prostrated before the god and prayed forgiveness for his conduct in attacking him. The god raised him with his arms and embraced him, this time in love.

The mightily pleased Lord of the Mountains heard from Arjuna of his desire to possess arms that could counter the heroes Bhishma, Drona and Kripa. The god told him, “I know you to be the rishi Nara of old who, with Narayana, protected the world from the demons. I shall give you that favourite weapon of mine, Pasupata, the knowledge of which no human or celestial has. It should be used only against a superior foe. Wrongly used, it might destroy the entire universe.” The god then imparted to Arjuna, the knowledge of the use of the weapon.

It was thus that Lord Siva blessed Arjuna with the holy weapon, the mere touch of which purified the prince. The god returned the Gandiva to Arjuna. The two quivers were also restored of their magical quality. “Go now to heaven,” he commanded the devotee who stood with his head bowed and left to his abode  in the company of Uma.

The gods give Arjuna their weapons

As soon as Mahadeva and Uma left, the gods Yama, Varuna, Kubera and Indra appeared before Arjuna. Yama said, “We are pleased with you, you incarnate of Nara. I give you spiritual vision with which you can see celestials. Also accept from me this mace which, when hurled, no one can escape from.” Varuna gave him the Varuna weapon, capable of bringing rain and thunder. Kubera gave him the magical weapon Antarddhana, which can put to sleep any adversary. Indra said, “O son of Pritha, I shall provide you with my own chariot to transport you to heaven. There I shall give you my weapons.”

Arjuna reaches Indra’s hall

Soon after the gods left, Indra’s car, huge and splendid, drawn by ten thousand horses of golden hue, arrived. The charioteer, Matali, conveyed Indra’s wish that Arjuna be brought to his court. As Arjuna mounted it, the car flying Indra’s flag and capable of traveling like wind, transported the great warrior to the court of Indra.

When he arrived at Amaravati, Indra’s city, Arjuna was greeted by apsaras and Gandharvas to the chanting of verses by Siddhas and Rishis. As he reached the great hall of Indra, the lord of thunderbolt himself welcomed him. He proudly led his son to his throne and sat him by his side. The divine ladies Gritachi, Rambha, Urvasi, Swayamprabha and many others danced and sang in the court. The splendid Indra instructed the celestial artist Chitrasena to teach Arjuna dance and music.

Urvasi curses Arjuna

Despite all the entertainment provided by Indra, Arjuna wore a sad countenance, remembering the insults heaped on the Pandavas by Duryodhana and his evil associates. In order to cheer him, Indra approached the apsara, Urvasi, with the request that she make Arjuna happy.

Urvasi, who was already smarting with infatuation for Arjuna, was only too glad to carry out her mission. She approached Arjuna and declared her love for him, recalling the interest with which he gazed at her in Indra’s court while she was dancing. Arjuna explained that his admiration for her was like his admiration for Kunti or Cachi, Indra’s queen. “You were the consort of one of my ancestors. Hence, I think of you as the mother of the Puru race,” he said.

Urvasi explained to Arjuna that apsaras were free spirits and not bound by conventional morality. But Arjuna was unmoved. Arjuna’s stubbornness incensed the apsara who cursed him, “It is at your father’s command that I came to you. When I needed your love you refused me. For this you shall pass some time in female company, deprived of your manhood.”

News of Urvasi’s encounter with Arjuna reached Indra who became pleased with his son’s steadfastness. He called Arjuna and told him, “You have done your mother Kunti proud. But do not despair. This curse of Urvasi will come in handy in the thirteenth year of exile that you and your brothers with Draupadi will have to spend in disguise. Being a eunuch will give you a cover and you can then use your knowledge of dancing.”

Indra called the rishi Lomasa and sent him as his emissary to Yudhishthira to inform him that Arjuna would soon return to earth after mastering all the weapons given to him by his sire.
Arjuna subdues the Nivata-Kavachas

The Danavas, Nivata-Kavachas, were demons opposed to the gods. The gods found them growing in strength day by day. Numbering thirty million, they lived in the ocean depths. Indra told Arjuna, “As your preceptor, I demand from you my fees. You should undertake a campaign against my enemies, the Nivata-Kavachas. You must destroy them and free the gods from fear of those demons.” Arjuna cheerfully accepted the task. The god gave him the standard war accessory, a conch, Devadatta, the blowing of which could inspire fear in enemies.

Arjuna was taken to the region of the Nivata-Kavachas in Indra’s chariot, driven by Matali. Arjuna successfully destroyed their might and stormed their city, Hiranyapura.

Chapter 3 Vana Parva - Part 2

Brihadwaswa tells Nala’s story to Yudhishthira, teaches dice game

Guests, especially learned ones, were always welcome in the Pandava abode. One such was the sage Brihadwaswa. In his conversation with Brihadwaswa, the sorrowful Yudhishthira blamed himself for losing everything in gambling with the dice. The sage told him not to despair. He then related to the Pandava, the story of Nala and Damayanti.

There was a king of the Nishadas, Nala by name, who was endowed with great beauty and valour. He subdued all his enemies and was very charitable. He was much loved by his subjects.

Elsewhere, in the country of Vidharba, there ruled a similarly virtuous and brave king, Bhima by name. He had no offspring. The celestial sage Damana once visited him. Learning of the king’s longing for progeny, he granted him a boon whereby Bhima got a daughter and three sons. The daughter was named Damayanti, and the sons were named Dama, Danta and Damana. While the three sons were strong and intelligent, the daughter grew up to be as beautiful as an apsara. Her fame spread far and wide.

Many visitors to Nala’s court spoke of the Vidharbha princess’ looks and accomplishments, just as many spoke to Damayanti about Nala’s appearance and achievements. Without meeting, they fell deeply in love with each other.

Nala was able to convey his affection to Damayanti through a swan which he caught and whose life he spared. The swan, along with his flock, flew unto Vidharbha and talked to Damayanti in private about Nala’s love for her. The princess favourably responded by sending a message to Nala through the swan.

In order to find a suitable husband for Damayanti, Bhima organized a Swayamvara for his daughter. Kings from far and wide in all the worlds heard about the event and set off to Vidharbha to woo the princess. In the celestial world, the gods Indra, Yama, Agni and Varuna became interested in obtaining Damayanti. The four of them proceeded to earth in disguised as humans.

While on their way to attend the Swayamvara function, the gods met Nala. They learnt that the prince was also on his way to Vidharbha to attend Damayanti’s Swayamvara.

Nala’s majestic appearance stunned the celestials. They thought that their own chances with Damayanti were greatly diminished by Nala’s participation in the Swayamvara. To eliminate him from the competition, they approached him and asked him for a favour. Due to his generous disposition, Nala agreed without knowing what they would ask. The four then revealed their identity and asked Nala to meet Damayanti and plead their case with her. Nala said that he himself was a suitor to Damayanti and hence could not help anyone else in this matter. The gods reminded him of his promise. Nala had to agree.

With the help of the four gods, Nala broke through the security in the palace and reached Damayanti in her private apartment. Their first meeting only confirmed their attraction for each other. But Nala told Damayanti about his mission on behalf of the four gods. “It is not wisdom to antagonize the gods. Do choose one of them and remain happy,” he said.

Despite Nala’s words, Damayanti was firm on choosing her only true love. At the Swayamvara she perceived five persons who looked identical, and there appeared to be five Nalas. This confused Damayanti. She bowed before the five of them and said piteously, “Nala is the one I want to unite with. I seek the blessings of you gods to help me. Do please reveal yourselves to me so that I can choose my lord.”

Damayanti’s appeal made the gods relent. They also realized that it was destiny that Nala and Damayanti should be married. They assumed their godly forms – they looked splendid, their eyelids did not bat, they had no perspiration, they cast no shadows and their feet did not touch the ground. Damayanti could now see the human Nala and she garlanded him. The gods blessed the couple and left.

When the gods were returning to the ether world, they met Kali and Dwapara, the two Yugas (eras in the form of divinity). The Dwapara era, where there remained a modicum of good behaviour in the world, was coming to an end. Kali, where morals were plunging to a low point, was slowly establishing his rule. Kali heard the story of the gods’ visit to Vidharbha and was enraged that a mortal could win in a contest with the gods. He wanted revenge. The gods reminded him that it was with their sanction that Damayanti chose Nala. And the four went on their way.

The vile and vengeful Kali decided to make Nala suffer for his deed. Saying that he would make Nala lose everything in gambling, he persuaded Dwapara to be his dice.

Kali approached Nala’s brother, Pushkara, and enticed him. ‘”nvite Nala for a game of dice. I assure you, I would make you win everything he has. You can then rule this vast kingdom.” The greedy Pushkara agreed.

Kali could not harm Nala as long as he was pure and devoted to god. He waited for an opportunity when the prince would commit a breach and enter Nala and possess him so that he could make him play dice with his brother. Such an opportunity came when Nala was one day caught performing his evening prayers without washing his feet, an act of sacrilege, contrary to what the scriptures said. Kali now entered Nala’s body and took control of him. He made Nala accept Pushkara’s invitation to gamble.

In the deceitful dice game that followed, with Dwapara as the dice, Pushkara made Nala lose his possessions one by one. Nala’s friends and his subjects all appealed to him to stop playing. But he would listen to none, possessed as he was by Kali. The dice game continued for many months, with Nala losing at every throw. Even Damayanti’s words fell on deaf ears. The alarmed queen realized that there was some power driving her husband along the dangerous path. As a precaution, she sent her twin son and daughter to her father Bhima’s house in Vidharbha through a faithful charioteer, Varshneya.

Leaving the twins Indrasena and Indraseni along with the chariot and steeds at Vidharbha, Varshneya bade farewell to Bhima and started wandering. He then found employment with King Ritupurna at Ayodhya.

Nala eventually lost everything he had to Pushkara in the dice game and he had to leave his capital with only a piece of cloth to cover him. His wife followed him similarly garbed. Pushkara had warned against anyone showing the slightest sympathy for the fallen king. For three nights the couple languished in the outskirts of the city, living on water alone. They then went into the forest.

In the forest, Nala observed a few birds feeding on the grass. He felt happy at the prospect of catching those birds for food. He removed the cloth he was wearing and threw it on the birds. Immediately the birds took off, carrying the cloth. One of them said, “You foolish man, we are the spirit that was in the dice. We came to deprive you of your last possession.”

With his garment gone, Nala tore a piece of the cloth that Damayanti was wearing and covered himself. He tried his best to persuade Damayanti to leave him and go back to her father. But the noble lady had no desire to leave her husband in such a state. Nala thought that it was in the best interest of both if he abandoned his wife. After some hesitation, Nala left her that night when she was asleep. He started wandering in the forest.

When Damayanti woke up, she found Nala missing. She wailed and cried out for Nala. While ruing her helplessness, a big serpent caught her and was about to devour her. Luckily for her, a hunter who was passing by rescued her. The hunter was attracted by Damayanti’s beauty and wanted to possess Damayanti. By the power of her chastity, however, Damayanti caused the hunter to fall dead.

Damayanti wandered aimlessly in the fearsome forest until she reached a place where she found some rishis. The rishis heard her story and blessed her, saying that she would find her husband and become queen again. The next moment, the rishis vanished.

A caravan of merchants passing that way found Damayanti. The merchants took care of her and she started traveling with them towards the country of Chedi. On the way the caravan was attacked by a herd of elephants. Many in the caravan were killed. Those who survived the attack took Damayanti to Chedi. There she could get employed by the queen of that kingdom as maid for the princess.

Meanwhile, during his wanderings in the forest, Nala encountered a raging fire. From the fire he heard a snake cry out for help, promising to be his friend if rescued. Nala rescued the snake from the fire. On being freed, the snake bit Nala. The next moment Nala’s appearance changed completely. He lost all his good looks and took a hideous form.

The snake said, “O mighty one. The venom I have injected in you will torture the spirit possessing you. From now you would be immune to any kind of poison. This change in your form is temporary, so that none could recognize you. Proceed to Ayodhya and present yourself to King Rituparna as Bahuka, the equine expert. He would teach you dice game in return for your teaching him skill with horses. Soon you would regain your wife and kingdom. I give you a garment which will restore you to your true form. You can wear it at a suitable time.” Nala took the garment and proceeded to Ayodhya.

Just as the serpent had told him, Rituparna employed Nala to care for the Royal stable. From Rituparna, the Nishada prince learnt all the skills relating to dice game.

After some time Bhima came to know through his spies that his daughter was in Chedi. She was soon restored to her father. After hearing her story, Bhima started to search for Nala far and wide.

Rituparna’s charioteer, Varshney, by close observation, discovered that Bahuka was his old master, Nala, in disguise. He immediately proceeded to Bhima’s court and told the king about Nala being in Ayodhya in a changed form. Knowing that Nala would never reveal himself to Damayanti in his present form and would refuse to come to Vidharbha, the king conceived of a plan. He sent back Varshney after briefing him of his plan.

According to the plan, Bhima sent word to Rituparna that a Swayamvara was being held for Damayanti. Since there was not much time to journey to Vidharbha, Ritupurna engaged Nala to drive his chariot, knowing that he could drive fast.

Once Rituparna reached Bhima’s palace, Damayanti met the charioteer Bahuka. She realized that he was indeed Nala. Nala, not wishing to reveal himself to her, kept denying his real identity. But when he saw his son and daughter, he could not resist embracing them. Damayanti approached him and pleaded with him to come out with the truth. Nala finally relented. He took out the garment the serpent had given him and threw it on his shoulder. His original form returned and after four years, Nala and Damayanti were reunited. Kali also left him.

Nala went back to Nishada where he enticed his brother to gamble with him again. Pushkara thought that this time he could win over Damayanti whom he coveted, and he consented. But in the dice game, Nala won back his kingdom and all his wealth. Pushkara was disgraced. However, filial affection prevailed, and Nala forgave Pushkara. He gave his brother a portion of his kingdom.

The sage Brihadwaswa revealed that he knew the entire science of dice game. At Yudhishthira’s request, the sage imparted the knowledge to the Pandava king. Before Brihadwaswa left, Yudhishthira had learnt all the nuances of the game.

Chapter 3 Vana Parva - Part 3

Vana Parva
Part - 3


Pandavas plan pilgrimage.The pilgrims’ progress.The lotus of Gandhamadana.The monkey that subdued Bhima. A traitor in the Pandava camp. Arjuna returns. A fallen Indra is redeemed. Return to Dwaitavana. The arrival of Kalki. A needless humiliation for Duryodhana. Duryodhana's strange dream. The Vaishnava sacrifice. Pandavas' hospitality tested. Give me food, demands Krishna. Jayadratha is chastised. Radheya loses his ear-rings and mail. Yudhishthira answers the Yaksha.

Pandavas plan pilgrimage

The sage Narada made a visit to the Pandava abode when he talked to them about the pilgrimage their grandsire Bhishma undertook on the advise of the sage Pulastya. Narada described the various places Bhishma had visited, along with their location and history. After Narada’s departure, Yudhishthira expressed to his priest Dhaumya his desire to undertake a long pilgrimage to the various holy spots in emulation of Bhishma. Supporting the idea, Dhaumya also gave a discourse to Yudhishthira about the various places of pilgrimage. The sage Lomasa arrived from Indra’s court at this time and it was decided that he should accompany them and explain to them the glory of each spot that they visited.

Yudhishthira called all the brahmins and the others he was supporting and told them of his plan to undertake a pilgrimage along with the other Pandavas. A few who were strong enough joined them. As for the others, he arranged to send them to the court of Dhritarashtra where they were looked after very well.

The pilgrims’ progress

With Arjuna away seeking weapons from Indra, Yudhishthira, his three brothers, their wife Draupadi, priest Dhaumya and sage Lomasa, along with some brahmins, set off on the pilgrimage. Starting with Naimisha, they proceeded to Prayag and Gaya in the foothills of the Himalayas. They observed the holy rites at each place under the guidance of the preceptors accompanying them.

When they reached Durjaya in Central India, they visited the sage Agastya’s hermitage. Here Lomasa related to them the story of how Agastya swallowed and digested Ilvala’s brother, Vatapi, and put an end to the persecution of brahmins by the two demon brothers.

When they took a bath in the sacred river of Vadhusara, Lomasa described how with a dip here, the warrior Parasurama recovered his strength after being chastised by Sri Rama whom he offended by his arrogance.

His rage against Kshatriyas subsided, Parasurama had taken up residence at Mahendra Mountain. When the Pandavas reached there, the great warrior made an appearance and blessed the visitors.

Traveling South, the group of pilgrims went to where the Godavari River joins the sea. They crossed the Dravida land and reached Prabhasa, much as Arjuna did on an earlier occasion. They were now in the proximity of Dwaraka, in Yadava land. Many Vrishni heroes like Satyaki, with Balarama and Krishna at the head, welcomed them.

Taking leave of the Yadavas, the Pandavas journeyed north until they reached Kasmira. At the gate to Manasarover Lake on the Himalayas, they saw with awe the peaks covered with snow.

The lotus of Gandhamadana

As the party reached the Gandhamadana area in the mountains, they were struck by a severe storm. When the storm subsided, Draupadi swooned due to exhaustion. Yudhishthira suggested to Bhima that he should carry Draupadi on his shoulders. But the strong man summoned his son Gatotkacha who organized a number of rakshasas to carry all the pilgrims including the brahmins, on their shoulders. The rakshasas, adopting the aerial route, showed them many holy spots including the place near Kailasa where in ancient times the rishis Nara and Narayana dwelled by the side of the river Bhagirathi.

As they descended the mountains of Gandhamadhana, they spent a few days and nights on the banks of Bhagirathi where the water was crystal clear. All around was rich vegetation. It came to pass one day that a lotus of divine beauty and unearthly fragrance came floating in the wind and landed near Draupadi. The princess was so enamoured of the flower that she bade Bhima to find its source and fetch a few more of them.

The  monkey that subdued Bhima

In order to fulfill Draupadi’s wishes, Bhimasena set out in the direction from which the wind had brought the lotus. The forest was dense with trees and plants, requiring Bhima to uproot several of them to find a path. He warded off many huge elephants and wild animals that came to attack him. After covering some distance he found his passage blocked by a huge monkey that was lying across in slumber. The angry Bhima bade the monkey move. But the monkey said that the wood Bhima was trying to enter was forbidden to humans.

“You cannot proceed further,” the monkey said. “Only celestials could enter this region. Besides, I am too tired to rise. If you so desire, you may leap over me.”

Bhima said, “It is out of respect that I do not leap over you. Leap I could, even as Hanuman leapt over the ocean to reach Lankapuri.”

“Who is this Hanuman you are talking about?” queried the monkey.

Bhima told him about Hanuman who was the devoted servant of Lord Rama. “Being the god Vayu’s son, I am that great Hanuman’s brother,” said Bhima proudly.

Still desiring to amuse himself, the monkey, who was none other than Hanuman, told Bhima, “I am ill. I cannot move. You may, if you want, push my tail aside and proceed.”

Bhima stepped towards the monkey and tried to lift its tail. In spite of using all his strength, Bhima found that the tail would not move. He realized that this was no ordinary monkey. He bowed to it and asked, “Who are you? Are you a Gandharva or a god?”

Hanuman revealed his true identity to Bhima. “I am the son of the wind god Vayu through Kesari. You are also the son of Vayu, through Kunti. We are indeed brothers.”

Bhima was thrilled to meet his illustrious brother. He asked Hanuman, “Is it true that you could assume any form from the size of an ant to that of the Meru hill?”

At Bhima’s request, Hanuman assumed his super form, displaying his ability to become as large as he desired. Reverting to his normal size, he advised Bhima on his duties as a Kshatriya and on the need to uphold truth always. Pleased with his younger brother, Hanuman assured that during the war he would create confusion in the enemy ranks by letting out fearsome roars from Arjuna’s flagstaff. He then showed Bhima the path towards the lake of the divine lotuses and left.

When Bhima reached the lake he was attacked by innumerable rakshasas. He easily scattered them with his might. The defeated rakshasas went running to Kubera to whom the lake belonged. Understanding who Bhima was, Kubera instructed the guardians of the lake to allow him to take as many flowers as he wanted. Bhima returned to the Pandava camp, his hands laden with the lotuses.

A traitor in the Pandava camp

Jatasura, a rakshasa, had assumed the form of a brahmin and was living in the Pandava hermitage on the banks of the Bhagirathi River. He was waiting for an opportunity to steal the bows and other weapons the Pandavas had, and to ravish Draupadi. Such an opportunity presented itself when, one day, Bhima was away from the hermitage. Jatasura captured Yudhishthira, Draupadi, Nakula and Sahadeva, and tried to carry them away. However, Bhima returned in time to combat the rakshasa and kill him.

Arjuna returns

When Arjuna embarked on his quest for weapons, it was the understanding that he would return after five years. That period was coming to an end. Yudhishthira, with his entourage, was waiting with expectation in the Himalayan range to receive his brother. Arjuna arrived in Indra’s own chariot, driven by the charioteer Matali. It was a glorious sight when, from the resplendent car of the god, Arjuna alighted majestically. Indra himself made an appearance. He left after blessing the Pandavas.

Arjuna recounted to the others, his meeting with Mahadeva and his visit to Indra’s court.

To satisfy Yudhishthira’s desire, Arjuna displayed all the weapons that he had acquired from Mahadeva and other gods.

The next four years were spent by the Pandavas in the same forest, living as they did in an abode provided for them by Indra. The four years passed pleasantly like four nights. Realising that ten years of their exile had passed, the Pandavas left the region of Indra and came back to terra firma. On the way to Dwaitavana they spent one year at Visakayupa on the banks of Yamuna.

A fallen Indra is redeemed

In one of his hunting expeditions, Bhima was caught by a huge serpent and was about to be swallowed by it. Overwhelmed by the snake’s strength, Bhima asked him who he was. The snake answered that he was Nahusha, a former Indra, who was cursed by Agastya to roam the earth as a serpent. This was in punishment for his arrogant behaviour after being made Indra.

While Bhima and Nahusha were thus engaged, Yudhishthira arrived at the spot.

The snake repeated his story to Yudhishthira and asked him a few questions. Yudhishthira answered them satisfactorily. Immediately, the serpent changed his form to that of Nahusha. The redeemed Nahusha explained, “Agastya had said that his curse would end with my meeting with Yudhishthira, and Yudhishthira answering my questions.”

Return to Dwaitavana

After their return to Dwaitavana, Krishna called on them. Arjuna enquired of Krishna about his wife Subhadra and son Abhimanyu. Krishna informed that they were doing well, and so also the five sons of Draupadi. All the children had grown up to be fine warriors, besides being well versed in the scriptures and rituals.

The arrival of Kalki

The sage Markandeya, ancient and learned, visited the Pandavas and gave them long discourses on many subjects, clearing all their doubts. Asked about the recurrent Yugas (Ages), Markandeya told Yudhishthira, “Dwapara has given place to Kali, the darkest of the four Yugas. During this age duties will increasingly be neglected, morals will take a plunge and there will be a steady fall in values. The end of this age would see the arrival of Kalki. He would be born in a brahmin family in the town of Sambhala. He would purge the world of all evil elements and pave the way for the golden age, Krita Yuga, which is the first of the cycle of four Yugas.”

Satyabhama who had accompanied her husband Krishna to visit the Pandavas, was given mature advise on her duties by that foremost of women, Draupadi.

A needless humiliation for Duryodhana

Duryodhana was spending some very happy years in Hastinapura. Monarchs in all four directions had been subjugated by him. His coffers were overflowing. His friends Radheya and Sakuni, and his brother Duscasana, were always with him, praising and flattering him.

Radheya came up with the idea that Duryodhana should visit Dwaitavana in the pretext of a hunting expedition. He could derive great pleasure in observing the Pandavas’ miserable existence in the forest. At the same time he could flaunt his own prosperity to the Pandavas.

Duryodhana fully endorsed the idea but was diffident about getting his father’s permission. It was Radheya again who came up with a solution. ”Huge herds of our cattle are stationed near Dwaitavana,” he said. “As king you have the duty to inspect our cattle stations. Your father, the king, will certainly approve of your visiting the place. As a relief from your strenuous duties, you could then go for a hunt in the forest.”

Dridharashtra was far from happy over the prospect of Duryodhana and his friends going anywhere near the Pandava abode. But he relented eventually, and plans were made for the trip.

Duryodhana reached the cattle station with a big retinue, including many royal ladies. Radheya, Sakuni, Duscasana and the other brothers accompanied him. He set up camp four miles away from Dwaitavana. After dutifully inspecting the cattle, the prince retired for some sport and diversion. He ordered his men to enter the forest and set up a camping place near the lake.

The Kaurava soldiers who approached the lake were stopped by Gandharvas who told them, “This is the habitat of Gandharvas. Humans are not permitted to enter here.” When Duryodhana heard of this, he became angry and sent his army. This time his men forced their way in, despite opposition from the Gandharvas. Those heavenly creatures rushed to their king Chitrasena and reported the matter.

Chitrasena, with a horde of Gandharvas, descended on the scene to beat back the Kaurava army. Meanwhile, Duryodhana and the other prominent Kauravas reached the lake. What ensued was a battle between the Kauravas and the Gandharvas. Although the Kauravas at first beat back the guardians of the lake, soon Chitrasena overcame them. All the Kaurava soldiers retreated, leaving only their masters in the field. Radheya showed courage initially, but he soon lost his car and his weapons. To save himself, he had to run away from the battle.

Most of the Kauravas had, by now, abandoned their king and run away. Chitrasena fought relentlessly. Soon he could capture Duryodhana, Duscasana and a few other princes. He also rounded up the royal ladies. They were all taken prisoners.

The soldiers who fled from the battle approached the Pandavas and told them about the misfortune that had befallen the Kaurava prince and his entourage. While Bhima expressed his glee over Duryodhana’s plight, Yudhishthira told his brother, “This is no time for rejoicing. Members of our family have been captured by the Gandharvas. It is our duty to see that they are released.” He instructed his brothers to leave immediately.

“Approach the Gandharvas,” Yudhishthira said, with wisdom. “Get the Kauravas released by adopting conciliatory methods. If the Gandharvas do not listen, engage in light skirmishes. If they are still stubborn, then crush the foe.”

The four brothers proceeded to carry out their elder brother’s orders. The Gandharvas were in no mood to yield to the Pandavas. A great battle ensued. The brothers fought off the thousands of Gandharvas who poured in. Chitrasena employed various subterfuges to overcome Arjuna, but the Pandava hero who was armed with celestial weapons, effectively answered him. In the end, Chitrasena, who had become Arjuna’s friend when the latter visited Indralok, appeared before the Pandavas. “Cease my friend,” he told Arjuna. “I do not desire to fight with you.” The two embraced each other.

Arjuna asked Chitrasena the reason for his taking the Kauravas prisoners. Chitrasena replied, “This wretched son of Dhritarashtra, along with his friends, came to Dwaitavana with the sole purpose of mocking at you, your brothers and Draupadhi. Indra sent me here to chastise the miscreants. You can do what you want with them.”

The brothers took Chitrasena to Yudhishthira who welcomed and honoured the Gandharva chief. At the request of Yudhishthira, Chitrasena released Duryodhana and the rest of the Kauravas.

After the departure of Chitrasena, Yudhishthira addressed his chastised cousin, “Child, do not again commit such rash acts. Nothing good will come out of it.”

Hanging his head in shame and weary of his misadventure, the Kaurava prince trudged back to his camp. Seeing him return, Radheya thought that Duryodhana was alive because he had subdued the Gandharvas. Duryodhana related his story to the Radheya king.

“Instead of plunging the Pandavas in misery, it is I who is now plunged in misery,” the Kaurava prince lamented. Full of humiliation and anger, Duryodhana expressed his resolve to kill himself rather than live in shame. Neither Radheya nor Sakuni was able to dissuade him. At this point, Duryodhana fell on the ground unconscious.

Duryodhana’s strange dream

The Asuras Danavas and Daityas who were opposed to the gods, were watching these events. They became worried. They were depending on Duryodhana for their fight against the gods. They immediately arranged for Duryodhana to be present before them.

The Danavas said, “O mighty Duryodhana. We specially obtained you from Maheswara after pleasing him with our austerities. Your upper portion is made of parts of Vajra (thunderbolt). The goddess Uma herself offered flowers to make your lower portion, thus making it attractive for females. You are therefore no ordinary human being. It is the soul of the demon Naraka who resides in the body of Radheya. Due to our influence, even Bhishma, Drona and Kripa who were previously inclined towards the Pandavas are now turning their support to you. Many, many rakshasas and Daityas have been born as Kshatriyas, only to aid you. The Samasapthakas, those do or die warriors, whom you will obtain during the war, are none but our kin. If Arjuna is the weapon of the gods, you are our weapon. Do not despair. Victory will be yours.”

Duryodhana considered his encounter with the Danavas and the Daityas as a mere dream. But the experience restored to him his self-confidence as he returned to Hastinapura.

The Vaishnava sacrifice

As could be expected, Duryodhana and his friends came in for severe criticism in the court of Dhritarashtra. Bhishma was particularly severe on Radheya. “It was Radheya who led you to this foolish campaign,” he told Duryodhana. “But at the slightest danger the coward abandoned you and ran away.”

Radheya’s pride was hurt. Alone with Duryodhana, he told the prince, “The grandsire is always against me. Give me permission and I shall prove my valour. Let me go on a tour of conquest. I shall bring all the kings of this world to your feet.”

Permission for such a mission was easily obtained from the king, and Karna left with a huge army. He marched against rulers all over the country, and soon, as promised, he was able to make them all acknowledge Duryodhana’s superiority and pay him tributes.

When Radheya returned, there was much celebration of this event. He found himself to be a hero. Remembering Yudhishthira’s Rajasuya, Duryodhana desired to hold a similar sacrifice. But he was advised by the priests that with his father Dhritarashtra alive, Duryodhana should not perform Rajasuya. Instead, he could perform the sacrifice known as Vaishnava, which was much superior to Rajasuya.

The sacrifice was performed in great splendour. Only the Pandavas were not present. When a messenger was sent to them, Bhima replied, “Tell your king that we shall come to Hastinapura as his conquerors, not as his guests.”

Established as an overlord, Duryodhana ruled the world. He looked after the welfare of all the rulers under him and was very generous to his subjects.

Pandavas’ hospitality tested

Yudhishthira dreamt that the deer in Dwaita appealed to him to stop their slaughter for food or the species would disappear. The Pandavas immediately moved to a spot near Lake Trinavindu in the Kamyaka forest. There they continued to find food for themselves and also supported their followers, thanks to the celestial bowl.

The sage Durvasa, famous for his eccentricities and short temper, visited Duryodhana. Knowing the ascetic’s nature, Duryodhana did all he could to please him. He was in personal attendance on the sage during his stay in Hastinapura. The holy one was always unpredictable, especially in his eating habits. When food was ready, he would decline it. And at unearthly hours he would demand that he and his big retinue of brahmins be fed.

Duryodhana pleased the sage with his devotion. “Ask for a boon,” the sage told the Kaurava prince. “O great sage,” Duryodhana prayed to him. “Please visit my brother Yudhishthira in the forest. Call on the Pandavas at a time when Panchali has fed the brahmins and her family, and lies down after feeding herself.”

“So be it,” the sage said and left. Duryodhana rejoiced with Karna. “This is the end of the Pandavas,” he said.

Ascertaining that Draupadi had finished her repast and was resting, Durvasa descended on the Pandava abode, followed by ten thousand brahmins. Yudhishthira received him with all honours. He bade the sage to proceed to the river along with his followers, and return for dinner after performing the evening rites.

Give me food, demands Krishna

The Pandavas were deeply worried. The celestial bowl had been retired for the day. They could see no way to feed Durvasa and his army of brahmins. While they were so despairing, Draupadi prayed to Krishna. “Save us from this grave danger, O Kesava. The Muni is known for his wrath. If we do not feed him and the brahmins, we are doomed.” Krishna heard her prayers in Dwaraka. Leaving Rukmini’s side, he appeared at the Pandava abode.

In the midst of the crisis they were in, Draupadi and her husbands were greatly cheered by Krishna’s arrival. After the exchange of courtesies was over, a tired Krishna addressed Draupadi, “Panchali. I have reached here after a strenuous journey. I am hungry. Bring me some food.”

Draupadi hung her head down and said, “Alas Krishna, we have no food to offer you. Since I have finished eating, the celestial bowl can no more produce food for the day.” Krishna insisted on seeing the bowl.

When Panchali brought the vessel, Krishna pointed to a particle of rice and a piece of vegetable sticking to the rim. The bowl soon overflowed with food. Bhimasena was sent to fetch Durvasa and his followers.

In the river, the brahmins had a refreshing bath. Suddenly they felt as though they had partaken of a heavy dinner. When they heard Bhima’s voice calling them, they rushed to their preceptor and told him that it would be impossible for them to eat even an atom of food. Durvasa told them, “Yudhishthira has great spiritual power. He would have prepared dinner for us. If we do not eat he may curse us. It is therefore best that we make ourselves scarce.”

When Bhima reached the river, he found Durvasa and his disciples had vanished. Greatly perplexed, he returned home without the guests, Krishna smiled and told his Pandava hosts, “Your guests have all vanished. They will never come here again.” Krishna took leave of his cousins and returned to Dwaraka.

Jayadratha is chastised

The Pandavas had gone to hunt, leaving Draupadi in the hermitage. Jayadratha, the king of Sindhu and the husband of Duryodhana’s sister Dussala, was passing by with a few fellow princes. Seeing Draupadi alone, with her husbands not to be seen, evil thoughts came to his mind. Despite her warnings, he abducted Draupadi and was fleeing.

The Pandava brothers returned just in time to give the misguided prince a chase. Yudhishthira sent his four brothers after the abductor. In no time at all they routed the king’s troops and took Jayadratha in chains to Yudhishthira. But the first among the Pandavas admonished his brothers for ill-treating their sister’s husband, and set Jayadratha free. Jayadratha found the Pandavas’ generosity towards him highly humiliating.

Jayadratha went to the forest resolved to become powerful enough to take on the Pandavas. He did intense penance, invoking Siva. The god appeared before Jayadratha and offered him a boon. Jayadratha prayed that he should be given the power to destroy the Pandavas. The Lord of Kailas flatly refused. All he could grant Jayadratha was the power, for just one day during the battle, to keep in check the four Pandava brothers other than Arjuna. A boon which had far reaching consequences at the time of the Great War.

Radheya loses his ear-rings and mail

Twelve years of the Pandava exile had come to an end. The god Indra was thinking of the battle that was sure to follow when the Pandavas returned after their thirteen-year exile was over. He was aware that no one, other than Radheya, would be a threat to his son, Arjuna. To strip Radheya of his power became his only thought. “If I obtain Radheya’s ear-rings and his armour he would lose his strength. The son of Surya is known for his charitable disposition. He would not deny anything, including his life, if a brahmin approached him for alms.”

Surya who was moved by his affection for his son, appeared in Radheya’s dream and warned him of Indra’s plans. He advised Radheya, “When Indra, in the guise of a brahmin, seeks your ear-rings, do not yield. Without them your life will be shortened. Do not yield your armour without which your strength would diminish. You were born with these for your protection. Give everything else Indra seeks. Please him by any other means.”

Karna clearly conveyed to Surya that rather than deny a brahmin seeking something from him, he would gladly give up his life.

Surya told him, “If Indra succeeds in depriving you of your ear-rings and armour, ask from him in return his invincible weapon that could kill anyone.”

Indra chose the best time in which to approach Radheya to fulfill his scheme. Radheya had the habit of praying to the Sun god early in the morning. He would stand in the lake or river, gaze at the Sun and raise both arms. As he came out of his prayer he would give away anything that was sought from him.

Approaching Radheya at such a moment in the guise of a brahmin, Indra first got an assurance that whatever he sought would be given. When he asked for Radheya’s ear-rings and armour, Surya’s son explained to the brahmin that his very life and welfare depended on those two objects. The brahmin was adamant and would accept no other gift.

From the brahmin’s insistence it became obvious to Radheya that he was in the presence of Indra. In order to fulfill his promise, he had no option but to agree to give away the two precious objects with which he was born. Remembering Surya’s advise, Radheya asked for Indra’s celestial weapon in return. Indra agreed. Radheya removed his ear-rings, while his armour he tore off, with blood dripping. He handed over both to Indra.

Indra gave his weapon to Radheya, but with a condition. The weapon could be used only once. Indra also cautioned that he would be unable to use this weapon to kill the person he had in his mind, namely Arjuna. For Arjuna was protected by Narayana himself and there was no power that could kill him.

For his act of tearing away the armour he was born with, Radheya came to be known as Karna.

Yudhishthira answers the Yaksha

The Drauapadi abduction episode made the Pandavas move back to Dwaitavana once again for reasons of safety. When they had settled down to a placid life near the lake, a brahmin one day came running to them. ”O Princes,” he said. “A big deer strayed into the place where I perform my rituals and carried away the holy fire sticks which got entangled in its antlers. Do pursue it and recover the sticks for me.”

The five brothers immediately set off in pursuit of the deer. After a long chase they became extremely thirsty. Yudhishthira asked Nakula to climb a tree and look for a watering spot. Nakula saw a lake nearby. He took a quiver with the intention of filling it with water for his brothers after quenching his own thirst, and proceeded to the lake.

His throat parched with thirst, Nakula reached the lake. He was about to scoop some water when he heard a voice, “Stop. This lake belongs to me. None takes water from here without my permission. If anyone attempts to do so, he will drop dead. Answer my question and I will permit you to drink.”

Nakula was in no mood to answer the voice that came from an invisible source. He drank the cool water and felt refreshed. But the next moment he fell down dead.

With Nakula not returning for a long time, Yudhishthira sent Sahadeva to search for him. Sahadeva reached the lake. He was similarly challenged by the voice. Being too thirsty, he also ignored it and drank the water. He fell dead by Nakula’s side. Sahadeva was followed by Arjuna and Bhima and before long all four brothers of Yudhishthira were lying dead by the side of the lake.

Yudhishthira himself finally went in search of his brothers. When he reached the lake, he found them all lying dead. Knowing the valour of Arjuna and Bhima, Yudhishthira concluded that there was the hand of a superior power behind their deaths. He decided to quench his thirst first and then investigate further.

Once again the voice was heard. ”Stop. This lake belongs to me,” it said. “If you drink the water without my permission you would meet with the same fate as your brothers.”

Yudhishthira called out to the voice, “If you say this is your lake, I do not dispute it. But first show yourself to me and tell me why these brothers of mine are dead.”

A Yaksha (celestial) of immense proportions materialized. He told Yudhishthira, “I am the Yaksha that owns this lake. These brothers of yours disregarded me and drank the water. All I demanded was that they should answer my questions first and then drink. They have now met with their punishment. I warn you again. You should answer my questions first. If I am satisfied with your answers, I shall permit you to drink.”

Yudhishthira humbly accepted the challenge and the Yaksha started posing the questions.

They were on a wide range of subjects. With great wisdom Yudhishthira answered them all. Some of the questions were of a mundane nature, while some were highly philosophical. To sample a few,

Q : Who is the friend of one who is ill?
A : The physician.
Q : What is it that does not close its eyes when asleep?
A : Fish.
Q : What is the best of all possessions?
A : Knowledge.
Q : What is patience?
A : Subjugation of the senses.

At the end of the session, the Yaksha told Yudhishthira, “Your answers satisfy me. I can bring back to life one of your brothers. You can choose which one it could be.” Yudhishthira chose Nakula.

The Yaksha asked Yudhishthira why he chose Nakula in preference over the others. Yudhishthira replied, “Among Kunti’s sons, I am alive. Hence let a son of Madri also be alive.”

The Yaksha changed his form. Yudhishthira found the god of justice, Dharma, standing in front of him. The god said, “Son, I am mightily pleased with you. Let all your brothers be alive. It is to test you that I enacted this small play. You truly do your father proud. Ask for a boon and I shall grant it.” Remembering the immediate task in hand, Yudhishthira wished that in the following year, he and his brothers should be able to effectively conceal their identities so that they would not be found out by Duryodhana. The god granted the boon. He restored the four brothers to life and returned the sticks of the brahmin that he had carried away in the guise of a deer. “Drink as much water as you want,” he said. “And return to your hermitage happy.”

Chapter 4 Virata Parva


A disguise for each Pandava. Dhaumya’s words of wisdom. Pandavas infiltrate Virata’s court. Bhima’s wrestling match. Kichaka’s overtures to Draupadi. Kichaka’s infatuation and devious plans. Kichaka pays dearly. The scene at Kichaka’s funeral. Duryodhana’s search for the Pandavas. Duryodhana battles Virata. Who is that eunach? Arjuna routs the Kauravas. Virata hits Kanka. Abhimanyu marries Uttara.

A disguise for each Pandava

Twelve years of life in the wilderness having come to an end, the Pandavas started preparing for the thirteenth year to be spent in an inhabitable place without being discovered by Duryodhana. Arjuna, with his extensive knowledge of the country, suggested several places. But Yudhishthira chose Virata in the kingdom of the Matsyas. “The Virata king is old and hospitable and he will be best suited for our purpose,” Yudhishthira said.

The Pandavas then discussed what disguise each one would take.

Yudhishthira said, “I shall go to Virata as a brahmin, under the name of Kanka. I shall be a courtier, would play dice with the king and generally please him. If questioned, I shall say that I was formerly in the employ of the Pandava king, Yudhishthira.”

The other four brothers chose their own disguises.

Bhima said he would become a cook in the Virata household, calling himself Vallaba. “Besides pleasing his majesty’s palate,” Bhima said. “I shall also entertain him in sports as a wrestler.”

For Arjuna, the curse that he had received from the Apsara Urvasi, that he would lose his manhood for a year, came in handy. He would serve the Virata royal ladies in the disguise of a eunuch. Eunachs were often engaged in various capacities in the women’s apartments.  Assuming the name of Brihannala, he would teach dance and music to the women of the royal household, thanks to the knowledge he had received in these arts from the Gandharva Chitrasena.

Nakula would join Virata as an expert on horses. He would take care of the royal stable, breed quality horses and train the equines. His name would be Granthika.

Sahadeva would use his knowledge of cattle breeding. Under the name of Tantripal, he would seek employment with Virata and take charge of his cattle.

Draupadi had her plan ready. She would become a Sairindhri or a beauty specialist, attached to the queen, Sudeshna. If asked about her previous employment, she would mention that she was in the service of the Pandava queen Draupadi and the Vrishni, Satyabhama, two names well known in the country.

Dhaumya’s words of wisdom

Just before parting, the priest Dhaumya advised the brothers on how they should carry themselves while in disguise. “Draupadi’s position would be vulnerable,” he warned the Pandavas. “There may be bad elements in the court that would be attracted to her and may try to take advantage of her. You should keep a close watch over her without giving away your identities. You should serve the king in a way you expect your subordinates to serve you. Do not either rebel against the king or try to excel him in any department. Be ready to please the king always, but in ways that are truthful. Use the clothes that are provided to you and be contented with whatever rewards you receive. As soon as you as you reach Virata, hide your weapons in a safe but handy place. God be with you.”

Arrangements were made to send the chariots and steeds to Dwaraka to be in the custody of Krishna. Dhaumya left for Panchala with the brahmins.

Pandavas infiltrate Virata’s court

Everything moved according to the Pandava plan. Having reached Virata, they deposited their weapons on a huge Sami tree having twisted branches, at the outskirts of the city. They hung a corpse on the tree, so that the smell of rotting body would keep people away.

Yudhishthira prayed to the goddess Kaali before entering Virata. Pleased with the prayer, the goddess appeared before the Pandavas. She blessed them and said, “You will have my protection. During the year to follow none would discover your identity.”

One by one the Pandavas infiltrated into Virata’s court and took up the positions they had planned. Virata was impressed by Kanka and made him his companion. Bhima approached the king who was pleased with his appearance and culinary talk. He was made supervisor of the royal kitchen.

Draupadi entered the city and was wandering near the palace. The queen took notice of her and had her brought to her presence. Learning that she was a skilful Sairindhri, Sudeshna engaged her as her personal beautician. Draupadi informed the queen that she had five husbands who were Gandharvas.

She told the queen, “My husbands are very protective and powerful. Should anyone make advances at me, they would immediately take vengeance.”

Nakula and Sahadeva followed and got installed as supervisors in the equine and bovine departments of the king respectively.

Arjuna appeared at the gate of the city in the guise of a eunuch. His masculine frame, despite definite feminine traits, intrigued the monarch to whom he was taken. Arjuna explained that he was of the neutral sex and was well versed in dance and music. He could be the princess Uttara’s teacher. After ascertaining the truth about his gender, the monarch sent him to the maidens’ apartments.

Bhima’s wrestling match

The first three months of the Pandavas’ stay in Virata passed without incidents. The brothers and their wife kept in touch with each other, even ministering to one another’s needs, but with their identity a well kept secret.

It was in the fourth month that a wrestling match was arranged in which Vallaba participated. In his match with the strongest wrestler in Virata, Jimuta, Vallaba vanquished and killed his adversary. From then on he was asked to fight lions and elephants for the king’s amusement.

Kichaka’s overtures to Draupadi

It was during the tenth month of her stay with Sudeshna that Draupadi caught the eye of the commander of the Virata army, Kichaka. The commander approached the queen who was his sister, and declared his love for the maiden. He then went into Draupadi’s apartment and tried to win her with his words. Draupadi warned that she had five Gandharva husbands whose wrath would bring him destruction if his conduct with her was improper.

Kichaka’s infatuation and devious plans

Kichaka left Draupadi. He could not however get over his affliction for her. He hatched a plan with his sister, the queen. According to the plan, Sudeshna would send Draupadi to Kichaka’s apartment under the excuse of fetching her some wine. Once in his apartment, Kichaka should win Draupadi over.

After much persuasion by the queen, Draupadi agreed to go to Kichaka’s apartment. On the way she prayed to Surya. Pleased with her prayer, the god sent a rakshasa to follow her invisibly and protect her.

As soon as Draupadi was in Kichaka’s presence, the fiend tried to drag her to him. Draupadi ran out of the apartment and reached the place where the king was seated with Yudhishthira. Kichaka chased her there and catching her by the hair, threw her on the floor. But the next moment he fell down, having received a blow from the rakshasa protecting Draupadi. Sairindhiri then wailed and complained to the king.

Bhima who arrived there was accidentally a witness to the scene. His rage kindled, he was about to attack Kichaka. But Yudhishthira restrained him and sent him away as though on an errand.

Draupadi understood that her husbands, due to the need to remain incognito, were not in a position to intervene. Five times she cried out, “Alas! Here I am being dishonoured by this brute, and my brave husband is not coming to my rescue.”

Yudhishthira said, “Wail not, girl. Go back to the queen’s apartment. Your Gandharva husbands will not let you down. Be patient.”

Draupadi returned to the queen’s apartment and told Sudeshna about her encounter with Kichaka. The queen said angrily, “I shall immediately have the miscreant killed.” Draupadi replied, “There would be no need for it. My Gandharva husbands would sooner than later put an end to that beast.”

Kichaka pays dearly

Feeling very disturbed by the events, Draupadi yearned to share her grief with one of her husbands. She managed to reach Bhima to whom she poured out her  woes. That lion of a man swore to take revenge. He asked Draupadi to set up a meeting for herself with Kichaka the next day.

Early in the morning, Kichaka went to Draupadi’s apartment and enticed her with riches, asking her to accept his suit. This time Draupadi pretended that she was agreeable. “My lord,” she said. “Our union is fraught with danger. If my Gandharva husbands know about it, they might attack you. We should meet in secret. Late this evening, I shall wait for you in the room adjoining the dancing hall where you should come alone.” Kichaka agreed.

Draupadi secretly met Bhima and told him about the plan. In the evening, when the dance hall was empty, Draupadi sat in the room, waiting for Kichaka. Bhima had already reached there and was in hiding. Kichaka arrived expectantly and called for Draupadi.

Bhima sprang out of his hiding place and caught Kichaka by his hair. There ensued a fierce fight between the two. In the end Kichaka was killed and his limbs were badly mangled. He lay in a heap on the floor. His deed done, Bhima quietly slipped out of the hall and returned to the kitchen.

Draupadi called the guards. Soon the entire palace assembled at the scene of the gory killing. Draupadi cried, “Look at what has befallen this wretch who tried to abuse me. My Gandharva husbands have punished him.”

The king sent for the slain general’s relatives, also called the Kichakas. The angry relatives demanded that the king should suitably punish Draupadi for her crime. Virata gave in and sentenced Draupadi to be burnt in Kichaka’s funeral pyre.

The scene at  Kichaka’s funeral

The Kichakas dragged Draupadi along as they took their slain chief’s body to the burning ghat. Bhima heard Draupadi as she wailed and quickly found out the reason. He ran to the crematorium and, uprooting a huge tree, waited for the procession to arrive.

On arriving at the crematorium, the Kichakas were accosted by a huge Gandharva carrying an enormous tree. Frightened, they left Draupadi and Kichaka’s body behind and fled. Bhima threw the tree on the scattering Kichakas and killed one hundred and five of them.

Kichaka’s death was welcomed everywhere as he and his followers were notorious oppressors, and King Virata was virtually his prisoner.

Virata’s advisers told him that he should free Draupadi and send her away. The Gandharvas might otherwise wreak further vengeance on the king. When Sudeshna conveyed this to Sairindhri, the girl pleaded that she be allowed to remain with the queen for just another thirteen days. “By then my Gandharva husbands would come and take me away,” she said. The queen agreed.

Duryodhana’s search for the  Pandavas

Realising that the thirteenth year of the Pandavas’ exile had started, Duryodhana sent out his spies in all directions to find them out. The spies searched far and wide only to report to the angry king that not a trace of the six could be found anywhere. This only confirmed the confidence that Bhishma, Drona and Kripa had in the Pandavas’ capabaility to remain undetected during the thirteenth year of their exile. Duryodhana asked his men to redouble their efforts.

Duryodhana battles Virata

King Susarman of the Trigartas was a powerful monarch. But he had to endure much from Kichaka who raided his kingdom at will. With the death of Kichaka, Susarman thought it opportune to invade Virata. He met Duryodhana and enticed him to join in the campaign. “Virata is a rich country. Conquering them, we can help ourselves to herds of cattle and immense riches,” Susarman said.

Duryodhana agreed and a campaign was organized. Susarman reached Virata’s borders first and seized thousands of cattle. The border guards ran to the king and reported the matter. Virata at once made preparations to meet the invaders.

Virata invited Kanka, Vallaba, Tantripala and Granthika, the four Pandava brothers other than Arjuna, to fight with his army. They readily agreed.

In the fierce battle that ensued, Susarman’s forces showed themselves to be superior. Susarman was able to capture Virata. On seeing this, Yudhishthira bade Bhima to rescue the king. Bhima was in favour of uprooting a huge tree and using it as his mace. Yudhishthira restrained him and asked him to fight with bow and arrow. The worthy brother took up his bow and in no time he humbled Susarman.

Bhima bound Susarman and took him to Yudhishthira. “Set the wretch free,” Yudhishthira commanded his brother who did so accordingly.

Who is that eunach?

When the king was away chasing Susarman and recovering his cattle, Duryodhana and his formidable force including Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Karna and Aswatthama, attacked the defenseless city. After plundering huge herds of cattle and other riches, the victorious Kauravas left the city.

Virata’s son, Prince Uttara, was helpless against the onslaught of the Kauravas. It was then that Brihannala stepped in and offered to help him. Draupadi told the prince that Brihannala was once the charioteer of the renowned Pandava prince Arjuna, and hence he could be relied on.

With Arjuna as his charioteer, the young Virata prince proceeded towards the Kauravas. On seeing the formidable array of warriors among the Kauravas, the prince developed fear. He jumped out of the chariot and started running. Arjuna followed him, pleading with him to stay and fight. The Kauravas witnessed this incredible sight of a eunuch persuading a prince to fight, and started laughing.

Speculation started as to who the eunuch could be. The Kauravas were impressed by Brihannala’s majesty and gait, but Arjuna’s concealment was so perfect that they could not guess it was he.

Dragging Uttara into the chariot, Arjuna drove to the Sami tree nearby. He asked Uttara to climb the tree and fetch his bow and arrows from the concealed spot. With great difficulty Uttara lifted the Gandiva and brought it down. “Weapons such as these could not belong to ordinary humans,” he told Arjuna. ”Who are you, Brihannala?” he asked. It was then that Arjuna revealed his identity to the prince and also told him about Draupadi and his four brothers.

Arjuna routs the Kauravas

Fear gripped the Kauravas when Arjuna came back armed with his famous weapon. Bhishma and Drona thought that this strange person must be Arjuna. “It is the Pandava prince, without doubt,” they said.” He is sure to wipe us out, armed with all the weapons he has recently won.”

Duryodhana felt gladdened. “If it is Arjuna,” he said. ”Then we have found out the Pandavas before the end of the thirteenth year. If not, it is a mere eunuch and I shall kill him.” His admirers hailed him for his brave words.

Prince Uttara felt inspired when he learnt about Arjuna’s identity. All his fears left him. He offered to be Arjuna’s charioteer so that the Pandava hero could fight Virata’s enemies.

Arjuna’s presence in the battlefield, bow in hand, put the Kauravas in disarray. Karna urged Duryodhana to fight. Bhishma derided Karna and asked him to name one instance when he had successfully fought the Pandavas. Drona intervened and talked the two into keeping the Kauravas united.

Even as Duryodhana was exulting at having recognized the Pandavas, Bhishma calculated the period of the Pandavas’ exile. Making adjustments for the shifting of planetary bodies, he came to the conclusion that the Pandavas had exceeded the thirteen years by as much as five months and twelve nights. “They have won the wager,” he said. “They should be welcomed by us and their kingdom should be restored to them.”

Duryodhana was now adamant to fight Arjuna. It was however decided that he should return to Hastinapura with the cattle while Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Kripa and Aswatthama would stay back and fight.

Arjuna let a fierce twang from his Gandiva that gladdened Drona. “It is Arjuna, whispering his salutations into his preceptor’s ears,” he said. Instead of attacking the army in front of him, Arjuna, spotting Duryodhana retreating with the cattle, dashed after him. Duryodhana was drawn into the battle.

The exchange of arrows began. Many of the Kaurava princes fell, Vikarna being one of them. Karna was unable to withstand Arjuna’s barbs and he retreated from the field.

The great warriors of the Kauravas stood in a column and fought against Arjuna who was fluent in handling weapons with both hands equally. One by one the Kauravas fell. Bhishma swooned and was driven away by his charioteer. When he returned, he saw Arjuna fighting with more vigour. The Kaurava strength kept waning and that of Arjuna’s kept waxing. Following his friend, the king of Anga, Duryodhana also retreated.

The tired Kauravas found it prudent to fly. They abandoned the cattle and ran, setting their course towards Hastinapura. Arjuna and Uttara turned back and triumphantly made their way to their capital.

On his return after the campaign against Susarman, Virata was told about the routing of the Kauravas by Prince Uttara who had Brihannala as his charioteer. The old king was overjoyed at Uttara’s feat. He ordered that there should be a hero’s welcome organized for the prince, not aware that it was Arjuna who had routed the Kauravas.

Virata hits Kanka

While waiting for Uttara to return, Virata called Kanka for a game of dice. Yudhishthira tried to dissuade the king from playing, but the king was adamant. While playing, the happy king expressed his pride over his son’s achievement. Kanka remarked, “This is to be expected. With Brihannala as his charioteer, none in the world could fight him.”

This remark of his servant incensed Virata who hit him with the dice. The dice injured Yudhishthira’s forehead and he started bleeding. Draupadi who was in attendance on the king, rushed to her husband and wiped the blood off his forehead.

Just then Prince Uttara returned triumphantly and was about to enter the king’s chamber. Yudhishthira instructed that the prince should enter alone. He apprehended that Arjuna, on seeing his eldest brother injured by Virata, would get into a rage and destroy the entire Virata clan.

Abhimanyu marries Uttara

On being briefed of the happenings in the battle by his son, the old monarch asked Kanka to forgive him. When the identity of the Pandavas was revealed to him, Virata felt very happy. Taken in by the appearance and valour of Arjuna, the king offered his daughter, Princess Uttara, as his bride.

Arjuna explained to the king that he considered Uttara as his own daughter. Rather than marrying her, he would be happy to have her as his daughter-in-law. Virata agreed to marry his daughter to Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna and Subhadra.

Chapter 5 Udyoga Parva




The gathering storm. Duryodhana and Arjuna both seek Krishna’s help. Duryodhana manipulates Salya. How Nahusha became a serpent. Drupada’s messenger to Dhritarashtra. Sanjaya reports to Dhritarashtra. Elders’ plea to Duryodhana. Duryodhana’s rage at elders. Krishna counsels Pandavas. Krishna goes to Kaurava court. Krishna’s no to Duryodhana. Rishis invited to court. Krishna’s brief to Kauravas. Not a needlepoint, says Duryodhana. Duryodhana plans to imprison Krishna. Krishna shows. Duryodhana his terrible form. Krishna’s encounter with Karna. Karna’s vow to Kunti, I shall kill only Arjuna. Commander-in-Chief of Pandava army. The Army marches. Either Karna or I, says Bhishma. Balarama leaves on pilgrimage. Rukmi makes a spectacle of himself. A jesting Duryodhana sends Sakuni’s son to the Pandavas. Karna in special category. How long would the War last?.

The gathering storm

After the celebration of the wedding of Abhimanyu and Uttara, a conclave of kings was held at Virata’s court. Drupada, Balarama, Krishna, Satyaki (of the Yadavas), Abhimanyu, Pradyumna (Krishna’s son) and the five sons of Draupadi were gathered, in addition to the Pandava brothers and Virata himself.

Reviewing the events that had led to the Pandavas’ misfortunes, Krishna strongly condemned the atrocities committed by the Kauravas. “What would be Duryodhana’s next move?” pondered the Vrishni. “Let us immediately send a messenger to ascertain their plans. If they are willing to return to Yudhishthira his kingdom, then there would be peace. If not, it is wisdom that we prepare for war.”

Balarama was in favour of conciliation. He said, “Yudhishthira lost his kingdom due to his own folly. Let us not think of war with the Kurus. Let a messenger proceed to Hastinapura to conciliate the king.”

Satyaki criticized Balarama for his views, while endorsing Krishna’s plan. Drupada’s counsel was, “By now Duryodhana must be sending his messengers to various kings, seeking their support in the war that is certain to take place soon. Let us also send word to our friends to be prepared. In the meantime, let us send a messenger to Dhritarashtra.” His advise was accepted by everyone.

After the departure of Krishna and Balarama to Dwaraka, Virata started his war preparations. He, as well as Drupada, enlisted the support of all those who were sympathetic to the Pandava cause. In a similar action, the Kurus were contacting their supporters, most of who began to send their armies.

Duryodhana and Arjuna both seek Krishna’s help

Following on the heels of Krishna’s departure to Dwaraka, Arjuna followed him with the object of formally seeking his help if there was war. Duryodhana’s spies, in the meantime, brought him news that Krishna was returning to Dwaraka. The Kaurava prince took a fast steed and set out to Dwaraka to enlist the Yadava’s support. He reached there ahead of Arjuna.

Finding Krishna in slumber, Duryodhana took a fine seat at the head of the bed. Arjuna who arrived later, stood at the foot of the bed, his head bowed and his hands formed in prayer. When Krishna rose, he saw Arjuna standing at his feet. Turning around, he saw Duryodhana seated on a splendid chair.

One by one the two princes informed Krishna of the object of their visit. They both sought Krishna’s help in the event of a war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Duryodhana claimed that he had arrived first and hence Krishna should give him support. Krishna answered, “You are both very important for me. I would therefore like to help you both. One of you can have my troop known as Narayanas numbering ten crores. The other can have me by his side when there is war, although I would not lift my bow or fight.”

Krishna added to Duryodhana, “It is always the younger one who should be given the first choice. Besides, it was Arjuna that I saw first when I woke up. Hence he should choose first.”

Without hesitation Arjuna chose to have Krishna by his side. Duryodhana heaved a sigh of relief that Arjuna did not choose Krishna’s army. “With Krishna’s army fighting for me the war is as good as won,” he thought.

After Duryodhana left, Krishna asked Arjuna, “Partha, what made you choose me? Of what use would I be to you if I am not going to fight?”

“Krishna, I know your might very well. There is none who can oppose you in battle. You also know that, single handed, I can vanquish the entire Kaurava force. Besides, it has long been my desire that you should drive my chariot. I am blessed that I have got the opportunity now.”

After his meeting with Krishna, Duryodhana went to Balarama. The elder brother of Krishna told the prince that he was not in favour of war and hence he would not back either side.

Duryodhana manipulates Salya

Salya, king of the Madras and uncle of Nakula and Sahadeva, left his capital with an Akshauhini (army division consisting of 1,10,000 soldiers, 22,000 elephants, 22,000 chariots and 66,000 horses), with the idea of joining forces with Yudhishthira. Informed by his spies, the wily Duryodhana rushed to the route to be taken by Salya. He chose a spot in which he erected arches and tents, and filled the encampment with all luxuries. Salya occupied the camp, but was surprised to find that he owed all the hospitality to Duryodhana.

When Duryodhana made his appearance and showed respect to Salya, the Madras king felt obliged to the Kaurava prince. He acceded to Duryodhana’s request and threw in his lot with him.

After committing his loyalty to Duryodhana, Salya proceeded to meet the Pandavas. Receiving a proper welcome, the Madras king informed Yudhishthira of his promise to Duryodhana. The gracious Pandava king found no fault in this. All he did was to ask for a favour.

“Revered uncle,” Yudhishthira said. “There is no doubt that during the war you may have to drive Karna’s chariot. At that time, you should do all you could to discourage Radhey and instill diffidence in him.” Salya agreed.

How Nahusha became a serpent

While in conversation with Salya, Yudhishthira told him how his encounter with Nahusha turned the latter from a serpent to his original form. Salya related to Yudhishthira, the story of Indra and Nahusha. Indra was once hiding after committing brahminicide, a crime not tolerated in all the worlds. In the absence of Indra, the gods made one of them, Nahusha their king. Drunk with power, Nahusha started ill-treating the rishis. He made them carry him in a palanquin. He also coveted Indra’s wife, Cachi.

The great rishi, Agastya, was offended by Nahusha’s behaviour. He cursed Nahusha to be born a serpent in the world and spend a thousand years in that condition until he was redeemed by a king in exile. With the exit of Nahusha, Brihaspati, the foremost of gods, sought Indra and persuaded him to resume his duties. Salya cited this as an example of how evil-minded persons eventually get punished for their misdeeds.

Drupada’s messenger to Dhritarashtra

As was decided in the war council, an emissary, a brahmin, was selected by Drupada to formally present the Pandava demands at the Kaurava court. With proper briefing, the learned one left for Hastinapura.

After the introductions and enquiries about each other’s welfare were over, the brahmin told the Kaurava king, “Our king, Yudhishthira, is of the opinion that the Pandavas have fulfilled the conditions laid upon them at the dice game thirteen years ago. They would now want you to return to them the kingdom that they lost. If a proper settlement was not arrived at, there may be war, with a high cost of human lives and material. We are aware that your son Duryodhana has already started preparing for a war with the Pandavas and has gathered a force of eleven Akshauhinis. Please be informed that the Pandavas also have at their call seven Akshauhinis from their supporters. No doubt there is a difference in numbers. But that is more than made up by the presence among the Pandavas of that wielder of celestial weapons, their middle brother, Arjuna.”

Bhishma was quick to respond. He told the king that the demand conveyed by the brahmin should be acceded to and justice should be done to the Pandavas. Karna flared up on behalf of Duryodhana. He insisted that the Pandavas remain subservient to the Kauravas.

When emotions started to run high, Dhritarashtra said that, after due deliberation, he would send Sanjaya to Yudhishthira. The brahmin was asked to return to the Pandavas with that message.

Sanjaya, the son of Gavalgani and confidante of Dhritarashtra, carried the king’s brief to Yudhishthira. He reached Upaplavya, a place in the Matsya kingdom where the Pandavas were now residing. He was received by Yudhshithira with respect.

After the formal enquiries, Sanjaya conveyed Dhritarashtra’s message to Yudhishthira. “The king feels deeply sorry for the travails you have undergone. Great is the trust he reposes on you, for he thinks that your action will determine the future course of events. Your period of exile is over. You should think of living peacefully. After all, whatever has happened to you in the last thirteen years is due to your own folly.

“Even during your period of exile, you had at least two opportunities when you could have taken your revenge on the Kauravas. Due to your adherence to truth, you did not avail of them. Now you are talking of war. War would benefit neither the Pandavas nor the Kauravas. Both have very powerful warriors on their sides. Bhishma has the capability of destroying the entire Pandava army. So has Arjuna the power to wipe the Kauravas out of existence. There are others who are equally endowed. At the end of the war, who will remain? Of what avail would such a victory be for the survivors? Peace would therefore suit both families.”

Yudhishthira replied, “Sanjaya. You know all that has happened; how the evil son of the king schemed and deprived us of our rightful possessions. We endured all that. The king’s only objective now seems to be to make his son the monarch of the entire world. On the other hand, we only desire to recover for ourselves what we were cheated of. Here is the all-knowing Krishna on whose word the Vrishnis, the Andhakas, the Srinjayas and the Bhojas do or do not wage war. Let us hear him.”

Krishna said, “It is not right that inaction be taken as the solution to a problem. Nor should a disposition towards peace be construed as weakness. I always have the good of both the Pandavas and the Kauravas in my heart. But there is no doubt that Yudhishthira and his brothers have been deceitfully deprived of what belongs to them. It is not only fair, but it becomes their duty, to use force to procure justice. The onus therefore is on the king to yield to their fair demands or face war. Subject to this, Sanjaya, the Pandavas are still at peace with your king.”

The four brothers of Yudhishthira were unequivocal in conveying to Sanjaya their eagerness to take revenge on Duryodhana and his friends. They made it clear that they were raring to go against the Kauravas.

With this, Sanjaya took leave of the Pandavas, the final message he carried from Yudhishthira being, “Give me back my Indraprastha or fight with me.”

Sanjaya reports to Dhritarashtra

It was late in the evening when Sanjaya reached Hastinapura. He was quickly ushered into the presence of the king. Dhritarashtra eagerly enquired of him the result of his mission. A weary Sanjaya spoke harshly of his master’s policies and his weakness for Duryodhana.  He told the king, “As a result of the misdoings of your son, the situation has become serious. The entire Kaurava clan stands in danger of being wiped out by those noble warriors, the Pandavas. Yudhishthira has demanded that his kingdom be returned or he would fight for it.” The king dismissed Sanjaya, asking him to give a detailed report in the morning at his court.

The failure of Sanjaya’s mission increased the agitation in Dhritarashtra’s mind. He could get no sleep. He sent for Vidura looking for some solace. After giving a long discourse, Vidura summoned the sage Sanat Sujata to talk to the king. Vidura himself left.

The next morning Sanjaya presented his report to the king formally. Bhishma, Drona and Kripa were seated in the court. Also present were Duryodhana, Karna, Duscasana and Sakuni who all sat in a group.

Elders’ plea to Duryodhana

Sanjaya told the court about the reaction of Yudhishthira and his brothers to the proposal carried by him. He conveyed to the king the message Krishna had sent. The envoy also gave an account of the war preparations of the Pandavas and the support they were getting from various kings. Arjuna and Bhima wanted him to convey to Duryodhana their wrath and their determination to suitably avenge the insults and injury they had suffered.

Bhishma was quick to caution Duryodhana. “Following the advise of your friend, the charioteer’s son, you are bringing destruction to your race. Know you who these Arjuna and Krishna are? They are the sages Nara and Narayana who, from ancient times, have made their appearance on earth to redeem mankind from evil forces. They have fought and slain thousands of Asuras and other disturbers of peace. Many are the gods who have taken refuge at their feet and this faultless pair has given them succour. The mere sight of the powerful Krishna driving the chariot of Arjuna would make you shiver and cow. Do not take arms against them. Give up this foolish obstinacy of yours and return to the Pandavas what is due to them.”

Drona confirmed what Bhishma said. “There is no one in all the three worlds who could match Arjuna in the battle field. Making peace with the Pandavas is the best course. Give them back what belongs to them and avoid battle,” he advised Duryodhana.

Duryodhana sat grimly, without uttering a word.

Dhritarashtra asked Sanjaya to describe further the armies that were gathering in support of the Pandavas. An exhausted Sanjaya swooned, but quickly recovered.

Sanjaya said, “Among those that are responding to the Pandavas are the Panchalas, the Matsyas, the Kekeya princes, the Vrishnis, Sisupala’s son Dhrishtaketu, Jarasandhan’s son Sahadeva and a host of others. Krishna is present there and would himself drive Arjuna’s chariot. Many who are paying tribute to you would now join their cause.”

Duryodhana’s rage at elders

Duryodhana’s rage was kindled on hearing Sanjaya, Bhishma and Drona. He felt that they were unnecessarily praising the enemy. He told Dhritarashtra, “Do not despair, O King. When the Pandavas left in disgrace to the forest, many were the kings who met them and offered them support. Krishna was also very much there. At that time I was overawed by fear of them. When I expressed my apprehensions to Bhishma, Drona and Kripa they assured me that whatever support the Pandavas got, we have the power to ward them off. Today, we have the whole world under our feet. The Pandavas have no kingdom, no army. Arjuna will be no force in front of our warriors. Bhishma, whom Parasurama himself acknowledged as a superior, can wipe out the entire Pandavas. Arjuna’s preceptor, Drona, himself stands by our side.

“Even Balarama has acknowledged that I am superior to Bhima in mace battle. We have heroes like Karna and Aswathamma, each individually equal to the entire Pandava force. Our Samasaptakas are do-or-die warriors who would slay or be slain. Even if all of you forsake me, the three of us, Karna, Duscasana and myself, can destroy the Pandavas.”

The elders were hardly convinced by Duryodhana’s speech and kept expressing their misgivings. Duryodhana left the hall in anger. After dismissing his court, Dhritarashtra sent for Vyasa and Gandhari. Duryodhana was also recalled. But the advise of his mother and grandsire fell on Duryodhana’s deaf ears.

Krishna counsels Pandavas

Yudhishthira and his four brothers sat with Krishna, debating on their next move. Bhima and Arjuna showed a strange change in their attitude. Both now talked about avoiding the war, even if compromises were to be made with Duryodhana. Krishna showed his surprise. “I could hardly believe that you have so easily forgotten the insults you received from Duryodhana. Panchali has waited patiently and now looks forward to avenge the insolent behaviour of Duryodhana and his wicked companions thirteen years ago. It cannot be that fear causes you to talk thus. You probably think that total war is too high a cost to regain your kingdom. But it is not only your kingdom you have to recover. It is your glory and the fulfillment of your vows that is important. Do not abandon the only path that is right.”

Sahadeva also criticized his brothers for wavering. Draupadi said, “It gladdens to hear Sahadeva talk so vehemently. These tresses are witness to the base behaviour towards me of Duryodhana and his brother. Could they ever be forgiven? Our king even offered to the Kauravas that, instead of a kingdom, we could settle for five villages, Avisthala, Brihasthala, Makandi, Varanavata and for a fifth, any other. But Duryodhana refused, insisting that he would yield nothing. Where is the basis for negotiations?”

The brothers were all now united and the blood that coursed their veins seemed to get hotter. Nothing short of grounding the Kauravas in the various manners as vowed after the dice game would satisfy them.

Krishna goes to Kaurava court

Krishna said, “To me also war seems to be inevitable. I am known to be close to both the Pandavas and the Kauravas. It should not therefore come to pass that I caused you to embark on this war. I shall clear my name if I make one last attempt to prevent war by going to the Kaurava court to make a plea for peace.”

Yudhishthira opposed this plan. “The Kaurava court is now full of kings inimical to us,” he told Krishna. “There are those who would take advantage of your being alone and cause you harm. We can ill afford anything happening to you.” Krishna allayed Yudhishthira’s fear and it was agreed that he should go.

The next morning Krishna set off to Hastinapura in his splendid car driven by Daruka and drawn by Saivya, Sugriva and other steeds. News of his journey reached Dhritarashtra early, and he made elaborate preparations to receive the Vrishni hero. He ordered that Krishna should be honoured with chariots and costly gems as present.

Vidura told the king, “Krishna is coming here on an important mission. He would accept no present from you till he obtains what he wants. These presents would not impress him. We know that he desires justice to be done. This is our last opportunity. Do not let this go.”

“It is well known that Krishna is aligned to the Pandavas,” Duryodhana said. “It would therefore be a waste to shower presents on him. Without doubt, he deserves respect. But let us not behave as though we worship him out of fear of the enemy.”

“Whether or not you worship him,” Bhishma said. “Krishna can never be frustrated. He would only recommend what is right and truthful.”

Duryodhana replied, “O Grandsire! I will share nothing with the Pandavas. I look forward to Krishna’s visit so that, once he is here, I can imprison him. With him in my jail, the Pandavas and the Vrishnis would meekly submit to me.”

The king and all his counselors were outraged at the prince’s speech. Dhritarashtra scolded his son for entertaining such ideas. Bhishma walked out angrily with the remark, “Nothing can save you, O King, or your son, from total destruction.”

Arriving at Hastinapura, Krishna was warmly received at Dhritarashtra’s palace. After exchanging greetings with the king and all the others assembled, Krishna, with the king’s leave, went to Vidura’s abode. He met Vidura and Kunti. To the latter, he conveyed news about the welfare of her sons and daughter-in-law. She in turn asked Krishna to convey her blessings to the Pandavas and her hope that they would fulfill her expectations about them.

Krishna’s no to Duryodhana

From Vidura’s palace, Krishna went straight to that of Duryodhana. The prince welcomed him with the usual platitudes and placed at his feet many valuable presents. He invited the Vrishni chief to dine with him. Krishna declined, saying, “Noble prince. A good envoy never accepts gifts or entertainment until his object is fulfilled.”

Duryodhana pointed out that Krishna has already given him his army. He would therefore show his gratitude by entertaining Krishna as an honoured guest.

Krishna replied, “A person accepts dinner from another for one of two reasons. One is that he is hungry and needs food. The other is that food is offered out of love. Since neither is the case here, I would not accept your hospitality. I shall dine only with Vidura and none else.” So saying, he left. There was a perceptible increase in temperature around Duryodhana.

Rishis invited to court

When Krishna arrived at Dhritarashtra’s court the next morning, he observed a number of rishis, including Narada, standing in the firmament, eager to observe the proceedings. At his behest, Bhishma invited them and offered them seats. In the splendid court of Dhritarashtra, where the seats were all inlayed with costly gems, the conclave began.

Krishna’s brief to Kauravas

To Dhritarashtra, his advisers and the assembled monarchs, Krishna presented the Pandava case. “O Chief of the Kauravas! Your glory and power has spread and today you are the foremost of kings. The Pandavas are your sons and they would only be happy to acknowledge you as their superior. They are all endowed with skill as warriors. With them on your side you can truly become the envy of even Indra.

“An aggrieved subject turns to the king for justice. The Pandavas have been deceived into losing their kingdom. They have undergone thirteen years of exile as required of them. Now they are turning to you for the return of their kingdom in fulfillment of your promise. It behooves you to do what is right. The alternative would be to plunge the world into war and total annihilation. Save the Kshatriya race. Save mankind.”

From among the rishis who were present, Parasurama, Kanva and Narada spoke. With all wisdom and spirituality concentrated in them, they advised Dhritarashtra to follow Krishna’s advise. They gave examples of kings coming to grief due to their greed and selfishness. They said, “When Nara and Narayana are combining, of what avail is it to fight the Pandavas?”

Dhritarashtra replied that he had no power over his son. “I have told him to desist from this dangerous path. But he listens to me not.”

Krishna then spoke to Duryodhana. He reminded the Kaurava prince of his immense responsibility in protecting his race and saving the world from destruction. Bhishma and Drona followed, pointing out to the king and his son the wisdom in what Krishna had said.

Not a needlepoint, says Duryodhana

Disregarding the counsel given by the best of beings, Duryodhana said, "Whoever has spoken has only found fault with me. The Pandavas played the dice game of their own volition. They lost all. Yet I restored everything to them. But they came back and played again. They lost again in a fair bet. How am I responsible for this?

“This entire kingdom belongs to my illustrious father. Out of the goodness of his heart he gave half of it to his brothers’ sons. They have lost their portion and are now claiming it from us. They are so desperate that they would even settle for five villages!

“There is no question of accommodating the Pandavas. To fight, I am ready, being a Kshatriya. I have warriors whom even the gods cannot defeat. I would not yield to the Pandavas a needlepoint of land. This is final.”

His eyes red with anger, Krishna addressed Duryodhana. ”From the earliest time you have done everything you could to harm the Pandavas. Your jealousy and the advise of your evil friends have driven you to make many attempts on their lives. You schemed the dice game and used Sakuni to deceive your cousins. You and this Duscasana behaved disgracefully towards your own brothers’ wife. Now when the Pandavas are asking for what belongs to them, you are denying it. And yet you say you are innocent. Your foolishness is such that nothing can stop it from destroying you.”

Duscasana turned to his brother and said, “It is obvious that what these people want is to hand over the entire kingdom to the Pandavas so that they can bind us in ropes and take us to their king.” Duryodhana rose from his seat, hissing like a snake, and walked out of the hall. He was followed by his associates.

Krishna appealed to the king. “It is now in your hands to immediately bind your two sons along with Karna and Sakuni and hand the four over to the Pandavas. By sacrificing this much, you can save the whole world.”

A besieged Dhritarashtra asked for his queen to be fetched so that she can advise his ‘wretched son’.

After the arrival of Gandhari, Duryodhana was summoned once again to the court. Gandhari patiently explained to her son the folly he was committing and asked him to follow the advise of his illustrious elders. Disregarding his mother’s words, the proud prince once again walked out.

Duryodhana plans to imprison Krishna

Even as he was leaving, the idea was forming in Duryodhana’s mind to quickly nab Krishna and imprison him. With Krishna was present the Vrishni chief Satyaki who had the ability to read peoples’ minds. He knew that the foursome would attempt to capture Krishna. He rushed out of the hall and had a chariot readied.

Returning to the court, Satyaki appraised the king of Duryodhana’s plan. The king expressed his outrage. Vidura said that any effort to harm Krishna would only hasten Duryodhana towards his doom. Dhritarashtra brought Duryodhana back once again.

Krishna shows Duryodhana his terrible form

Krishna addressed Duryodhana. “You think that I am alone here and hence you can bind me. Far from it, I have all my forces surrounding me this very moment.” So saying Krishna took a terrible form. On him could be seen Brahman, Rudra and all the other gods. He was surrounded by the tribes of Vrishni and Andhakas. Standing by him were Arjuna and the other Pandava brothers. The intensity of the sight was such that all closed their eyes, save Bhishma, Drona and the rishis. To them it was a sight to be enjoyed.

Resuming his normal form, Krishna left Dhritarashtra’s court. He went to Kunti’s apartment to take leave of her.

Krishna’s encounter with Karna

Late in the evening, Dhritarashtra sent for Sanjaya. He asked him, “Is it true that in the midst of the day’s events, Krishna took Karna in his chariot alone? What transpired between them?” Sanjaya said that he had come to know the following.

Krishna told Karna, ‘Radheya. You are no doubt aware of the circumstances of your birth. You were born to Kunti with Surya as your sire. You are therefore a brother of the Pandavas; the eldest among them. The Pandavas do not know this. If they do, they would, without doubt, bow to you and treat you with reverence. Join them and fight for their cause, abandoning the evil Duryodhana. The Pandavas alone have the ability to conquer the world. When they do conquer the world, they would make you their king. The five mighty brothers would stand in attendance on you. Your real mother would embrace you in happiness.’

Karna replied, ‘O Kesava. I am fully aware of your greatness. I know that victory will be where you are. I am also aware of how I was born. You must appreciate that Pritha abandoned me soon after I was born. It was Adhiratha and his wife Radha who found me and brought me up as their own. I have gone through all the religious rites as applicable to the Suta class. It is Adhiratha who is my Pitra to whom I owe all religious sacraments. It is Radha who breathed life into me. They are my parents and they would remain so. As for my allegiance to Duryodhana, it is unshakeable. Right or wrong, I shall follow him to the end. The great and holy battle site of Kurukshetra awaits this showdown, which will involve all humanity. It is my destiny to fight Arjuna. Either he survives or I. All I seek is that I do not swerve in my loyalty, and I reach heaven that is reserved for the Kshatriya warrior who falls in the battlefield.’

Krishna assured that such would be the case. He added, ‘Now that war is inevitable, you may tell the king and his venerable advisers that seven days from now would be the right time to start it.’ This is what I learn, great king.

Karna’s vow to Kunti, I shall kill only Arjuna

Vidura briefed Kunti of the happenings during the day. He expressed his concern over the gathering of war clouds and the helplessness of the elders in stopping it. Kunti realized that Karna was playing a key role in the developments, being Duryodhana’s adviser. He was also the main strength Duryodhana depended on. “Karna was born to me,” she reflected. “Surely he would heed my words if I make a fervent appeal to him. I should do what I can to prevent this war.”

The next morning she went to the banks of Ganga where she observed Karna standing in the water and praying to the Sun god. She waited even as the sun rose higher and higher. As Karna came out of the water, she was standing like a fading lotus.

Karna was surprised to see the lady. He paid his respects to her, “I, the son of Radha and Adhiratha, bow to you. I would have come to you if you had sent me a message. Of what service can I be to you?”

Kunti spoke, “You are Kunti’s son. Not Radha’s or Adhiratha’s.” She narrated to him the story of his birth. “You are Partha, brother of Arjuna. You are now enjoying the prosperity wrested by Duryodhana unjustly from Yudhishthira. Leave Dhritarashtra’s son and go to the Pandavas where you rightly belong. Let henceforth people talk of you and Arjuna as they talk of Balarama and Krishna.”

Even as Kunti spoke, the voice of Surya could be heard, urging Karna to follow his mother’s advise.

Karna told Kunti, “It is, no doubt, one’s duty to respect his mother’s wishes. But consider your own action when I was born. You abandoned me, a helpless infant. If it were not for Adhiratha, my life would have ended that day. I was born a Kshatriya, but was denied the right to call myself one. You have never considered my good. Even today you are acting with a selfish motive. You are doing this for the Pandavas. Not for me. Besides, everyone knows the might of Arjuna. If I today go to him I would only be called a coward. I have grown under the shadow of Duryodhana’s friendship. In this his hour of need it becomes my duty to stand by him.

“However, since you have appealed to me, I can give you one assurance. In the ensuing battle, excepting for Arjuna, I would not aim to kill any of the other Pandava brothers.”

With this exchange, the two went on their different paths.

Commander-in-Chief of Pandava army

From Hastinapura, Krishna returned to Upaplavya where he briefed Yudhishthira about his mission. He also informed that Duryodhana had raised an army of eleven Akshauhinis with the help of several kings. Bhishma had been elected Commander-in-Chief of the Kaurava army which was now repairing to Kurukshetra.

Yudhishthira informed Krishna that the Pandavas had also raised an army, seven Akshauhinis in strength. “Drupada, Virata, Drishtadyumna, Sikhandin, Satyaki, Chekitana and Bhimasena have been appointed the Akshauhini commanders. We now have the task of electing our army leader.”

The names of Virata, Drupada and Sikhandinn were considered. Arjuna suggested that Drishtadyumna should be the commander. Yudhishthira left the choice to Krishna who endorsed Arjuna’s suggestion. Drishtadyumna, the son born to Drupada from the sacrificial fire to counter Drona, was named the Pandava Commander-in-Chief for the War.

The Army marches

The Pandavas made adequate arrangements for the stay and security of Draupadi and the other women in Upaplavya. The army formations were made and the march to Kurukshetra commenced. Krishna and the five brothers, along with the other kings and warriors, took up their positions in the vanguard.

Arriving at Kurukshetra, they selected a proper place for camping. A defensive moat was built and soldiers posted all around. The artisans set to work on the tents and assembly rooms. The physicians and veterinarians were given proper accommodation. The kings were provided tents that were big and well decorated. Storehouses were built for arms and weapons. Kitchens were set up to feed the forces.

Either Karna or I, says Bhishma

Duryodhana similarly organized his troop of eleven Akshauhinis. Kripa, Drona, Salya, Jayadratha, Sudhakshina, Kritavarman, Aswatthama, Karna, Bhurisrawas, Sakuni and Bahlika took command of the eleven divisions.

The chief-elect, Bhishma, gave the pledge that despite his sympathies for the Pandava cause, he would remain loyal to the Kauravas while in battle. ”Let me however warn you,” he said. “The Pandavas are invincible. As long as I am alive I shall slaughter at least ten thousand of their troops every day. But let me also make this clear. This charioteer’s son always boasts of his prowess and thinks he is superior to me. Hence, either Karna fights first or I fight.”

Karna quickly responded, “As long as Ganga’s son is alive, I shall not fight. It shall be after he is slain that I shall take arms against Arjuna.”

The army then marched towards Kurukshetra.

Balarama leaves on pilgrimage

Balarama, surrounded by a few Vrishni worthies, arrived at the Pandava camp. He addressed the assembly of kings, “My attachment to both the Pandavas and the Kauravas is of the same degree. I tried to argue with Krishna to treat both on an equal footing. No doubt he has committed his forces to the Kauravas, but he has personally aligned with Arjuna.

“I do not approve of this war. However, I am always with Krishna, whatever he does. Duryodhana and Bhima alike have become champions in the wielding of the mace, having learnt the art from me. I have no desire to stay and witness the slaughter of these two families. I am therefore leaving on a pilgrimage.” So saying, Balarama left the scene.

Rukmi makes a spectacle of himself

Krishna had obtained Rukmini by abducting her, much to the chagrin of her brother, Rukmi, the prince of Vidharba. A great warrior by his own right, Rukmi owned the celestial bow Vijaya, and had an Akshauhini for his army. When Krishna made off with Rukmini, Rukmi sought revenge. But in his battle with Krishna, he was totally humiliated. He built a city, Bhojkata, at precisely the same place where Krishna downsized him, and ruled a vast kingdom from there.

Rukmi now arrived at the Pandava camp with his huge force and addressed Yudhishthira in the presence of Krishna thus. “O King. If you are afraid of the coming war, I can assist you. I am capable of vanquishing all those Kaurava warriors single-handedly. I can win the war for you and make you king of the earth.”

Yudhishthira replied politely, “Born as Pandu’s son, with Drona as my teacher, and with Arjuna and Krishna by my side, why should I be afraid? I can very well fight this war without your help. You may, if you wish, stay. Otherwise you may leave.” Rukmi left with his sea of warriors.

Reaching Duryodhana, Rukmi enacted the same drama there. The proud Duryodhana promptly rejected him. Rukmi went home with all his forces, not getting an opportunity to participate in the Great War.

A jesting Duryodhana sends Sakuni’s son to the Pandavas

With the battle to commence the next day, Duryodhana, with Duscasana, Karna and Sakuni in attendance, called Uluka, the gambler’s son, and sent him to the Pandava camp. He asked Uluka to individually warn Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Krishna and all the other kings of the doom that was awaiting them in the coming war. He laughingly coached Uluka on the kind of offensive language he should use.

Uluka carried the message to the Pandava camp. Both the language and the content of Duryodhana’s message, faithfully repeated by Uluka, so incensed Bhima that he took a step towards the messenger. Krishna intervened and advised the envoy to leave immediately.

Karna in special category

Bhishma made a quick survey of the warriors on both sides, dividing them into Rathas, Maharathas and Atirathas, in the ascending order of their capabilities. He said that among the Kauravas, there were thousands who were Rathas, including the hundred brothers and Sakuni. Karna’s son Vrihasena and Drona’s son Aswatthama were included in the list of Maharathas. As for Karna, Bhishma said, he was ‘half-a-Ratha’.

His face red, Karna stood up and said he would prove the grandsire wrong by wiping out the entire Pandava army.

Reviewing the Pandava army, Bhishma classified all the Pandava brothers as Maharathas. So were Drupada and Virata. Among the Atirathas were Drupada’s sons Satyajit and Dhrishtadyumna.

Talking of his own weakness, Bhishma pointed out that due to his vow never to fight against a woman, Sikhandin may very well cause his death. Although a man in appearance, Bhishma held Sikhandin to be a woman.

How long would the War last?

Duryodhana asked his advisers, how long would it take to annihilate the Pandava forces?

Bhishma said, “One month.”
Drona said, “One month.”
Kripa said, “Two months.”
Aswatthama said, “Ten nights.”
Karna said, “Five nights.”
Bhishma smiled and said, “So you can in five nights, if you do not encounter Arjuna. It costs nothing to say what pleases you.”

Chapter 6 Bhishma Parva



Sanjaya becomes Dhritarashtra’s eyes. Battle positions. The conches sound.
Arjuna lays down his bow. The god speaks. Yudhishthira’s strange move. Krishna meets Karna again. Yuyutsu joins Pandavas. Day 1of Battle – Bhishma routs the Pandavas. Day 2 of Battle – Duryodhana taunts Bhishma. Day 3 of Battle – Bhishma pleads with Krishna to kill him. Day 4 of Battle – Bhima causes havoc. Day 5 of Battle – Honours are shared. Day 6 of Battle – Dhritarashtra’s frustration and Sanjaya’s answer. Day 7 of Battle – Abhimanyu lets off Duryodhana’s brothers. Day 8 of Battle – Iravat, Arjuna’s valiant son. Day 9 of Battle – How to kill Bhishma?. Day 10 of Battle – Closing-in on Bhishma..

Sanjaya becomes Dhritarashtra’s eyes

Dhritarashtra, the King of the Kauravas, was restless. Being blind, he could not witness the preparations his son was making to meet the Pandavas at Kurukshetra. It was at this time that Vyasa who could divine Dhritarashtra’s discomfiture visited him.

“O King,” Vyasa said. “The event all of us tried to prevent is now about to take place. The greatest war of our times is about to begin. The omens are deadly. The configuration of planets in the skies is very disturbing. Crows are constantly cawing. Jackals and vultures are congregating at Kurukshetra, looking forward to having a feast. Donkeys are braying and unnatural births are taking place. The hour for the death of all the great monarchs with their followers has come. Try not to yield to grief.

“I shall, if you desire, grant you vision to witness this great event.”

Dhritarashtra replied, “Venerable Muni. What is going to happen is the carnage of the Kshatriyas. Those that are near and dear to me will slaughter each other. Regardless of who wins or loses this war, the grief it would cause will be limitless. I do not want to gain my sight to witness the killing. I, however, want to know the happenings in the battlefield in all detail.”

Vyasa told Dhritarashtra’s faithful servant Sanjaya that he would grant him the vision to see and the ear to hear everything that takes place in the war. He could act as the king’s eyes and ears and describe the war as events unfolded. The eighteen days of the war are known to us from Sanjaya’s commentary to his king.

Battle positions

Both adversaries took their positions in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The Kaurava army was in the east, facing the western firmament. The Pandavas faced east. Led by Bhishma, the Kauravas with their vast army of eleven Akshauhinis moved forward like a vast ocean. They looked like an army of Danavas (ethereal beings, hostile to god). The Pandavas with seven Akshauhinis looked less in number but had the aspect of a celestial army. The wind, blowing from east to west, seemed to carry a message from the beasts of prey to Duryodhana’s army.

Yudhishthira voiced his concern to Arjuna at being outnumbered by the Kaurava forces. Arjuna spoke confidently. He said, “In a similar situation, when Indra was fighting the Asuras, the supreme god told the deity that what mattered was not might but truth. Victory would be where there is righteousness. Besides, as Narada says, where there is Krishna, there victory is.”

The conches sound

Krishna advised Arjuna to first offer prayer to the goddess Durga, that invincible slayer of asuras. Arjuna did so. The goddess appeared before him and blessed him.

As the warriors were taking their positions, the awe-inspiring sounds of the conches were heard. Krishna blew his Panchajanya, Arjuna his Devadatta, Bhima his Paundara, Yudhishthira his Anantavijaya, Nakula his Sughosa and Sahadeva his Manipushpaka.

Arjuna lays down his bow

Arjuna asked his charioteer Krishna to steer him to a position from where he could review the opponent’s army. When Arjuna looked at Bhisma, Drona and all those that were dear to him, arrayed for battle, a feeling of despondency overtook him. He told Krishna that his limbs trembled. “Of what use is it to gain sovereignty over all the three worlds if it is by killing my preceptors and kinsmen?” he asked. “Woe unto me that I should kill those who offer sacrificial offerings to my ancestors.”

So saying, Arjuna sat down in his chariot, refusing to fight. The greatest moment of the Mahabharata narration had arrived. What Sanjaya described to his king next was Krishna’s advise to the disconsolate and dejected Arjuna; that incomparable discourse on the very definition of one’s duty, of righteousness, of virtue in the face of the transience of the soul, of what formed the core, the pith of Hindu faith and belief.

The god speaks

Arjuna: “Achutha. How can I take up arms against Bhishma and Drona who deserve my worship? How can I, out of avarice for wealth and fame, strike at those who are my preceptors? Compassion has possessed me. Fight, I do not want to. Show me the right path. I am lost without you.” Saying this, he bowed his head to Krishna.

Krishna: “Rise, Arjuna. It ill becomes you to lay down your arms in this hour. You mourn for those that do not deserve mourning.

“Embodied in every man is his soul. The soul is indestructible. Like changing clothes, the soul changes bodies. Besides, life is ephemeral. None who is born can escape death.

“To each is given a station in life. Duties are attached to it. Born a Kshatriya, it is your duty to face battle. Not doing so will only bring you infamy.

“Knowledge without devotion is meaningless. Devotion is Yoga. Yoga is to do your duty without expecting its fruits. Separate emotion from duty. Be of steady mind.”

Arjuna: “How does one attain steadiness of mind?”

Krishna: “He who remains calm in the midst of calamities, he who no more craves for pleasure, he who has conquered fear and anger, he who has overcome attachment, his is the steady mind.”

Arjuna: “If devotion is superior to work, then why should I work?”

Krishna: “Devotion is of two kinds. Sankhya is through knowledge. Yoga is through work, work of the detached kind. I am the Supreme Being. Yet I work. If I cease to work, there would be chaos. By doing your work without expectation, you leave it to me to decide on the results. Hence take up your bow and fight. Realising your duty and doing it, is right. Not action impelled by others.”

Arjuna: “What forces interfere with my devotion?”

Krishna: “It is your senses. They come in the way of your understanding your duty. Control them, you must. I taught this to Vivaswat, he to Manu, Manu to Ikshaku. And you have come in the line of those.”

Arjuna: “Living in our generation, how could you have imparted this knowledge so long ago?”

Krishna: “This birth of mine is one of many. I am born in different ages in different forms. Men who have cleansed themselves have come to me and I have accepted them. It is knowledge that cleanses. Knowledge follows devotion. Use this knowledge to dispel your doubts.”

Arjuna: “How do you talk of action and abandonment of action as both commendable? Which is superior?”

Krishna: “Both lead to emancipation. But action is far superior of the two. Sankhya and Yoga are ultimately one. To be free from opposites, one should have no aversion or desire. But where there is devotion, the path is shorter. To be free is knowledge.”

Arjuna: “What of him who has faith, but has fallen short in devotion?”

Krishna: “Such a person will be born again for regeneration. Knowing me is the ultimate goal. Many who have strived hard have yet not reached me. I am the beginning and the end. I am the OM of the Vedas. Nothing can be attained beyond me. At the end of many lives the truly devoted can reach me.

“All are in me. I am in none. There are long stretches of time known as Kalpas. Everything ends in one Kalpa and everything starts again with another. I create the Kalpas. I sit outside them. Yet I am manifest in everything. All physical phenomena are I and so are thought. Those that do not know me have their thought on inconsequential things. There are many gods and many rishis who do not know me. The few who do have attained supreme knowledge.”

Arjuna: “How shall I attain that knowledge? What qualities of yours do I meditate upon?”

Krishna: “I am the foremost of all that is perfect. Among Adityas, I am Vishnu. Among mountains, I am Meru. Among the Rudras, I am Sankara. Among the Rishis, I am Narada. I am Vasudeva among the Vrishnis. I am Dhananjaya among the Pandavas. I am Vyasa among the ascetics. Whatever is great has a portion of me. I support the universe. I am the Adhyatman, the ultimate essence.”

Arjuna: “Show me then, you great one, your eternal form.”

Krishna revealed to Arjuna his supreme form. Struck with awe, Arjuna saw in it the entire universe. It was radiant like a thousand suns. All the gods, all the rishis were there. Into his mouth, Arjuna could see created beings rush, to be consumed by fire.

Gripped with fear, Arjuna asked, “What form is that you are showing me now?”

The god answered, “I am Death. All those warriors standing before me, Bhishma, Drona, Karna and the others, they are waiting to be consumed by me. With or without you, they would cease to be. Take your bow and release the shafts, with your right or left hand, and slay them. Consider it is I who is slaying them, not you.”

Trembling with fear and overawed by the apparition, Arjuna joined his hands. He bowed low and said, “Indeed you are the Supreme Being. The Rishis are right in proclaiming you so. I feel like a speck in front of you. Yet I thought of you as only Krishna of the Yadavas. I had equated myself with you, played with you, sat in the same table and presumed you were my companion. Pardon me for my innumerable lapses. Forgive me as a father forgives his son. This awesome sight I can stand no more. Please resume the form I am familiar with.”

Krishna said, “Fear not. This form is seen by you alone. There are very few before you who have seen it. Freed of all fear, resume your duty.”

Krishna returned to his normal form. All doubts dispelled from his mind, Arjuna got ready for the war.

Yudhishthira’s strange move

The mighty armies stood facing each other for the battle to begin. Suddenly it was observed that Yudhishthira alighted from his car and started walking towards the Kaurava side. Amazed at his conduct, Arjuna and Bhima followed him, asking where he was going. Krishna who could guess the reason bade the two brothers to stay back.

Approaching Bhishma, Yudhishthira prostrated before him. “O grandsire, with you we shall battle today. Grant me permission.”

Bhishma said, “Rise, O lord. Your action is commendable. Had you not come thus, I would have cursed you. Ask of me anything and I shall give it to you. Anything not connected with the battle.”

Yudhishthira said, “The Kauravas are being led by you. As long as you are alive there can be no victory for us. Tell me how we can kill you.”

Bhishma replied, “I am invincible. None amongst you or amongst the celestials can kill me. I have to choose my own time of death. Go now and come to me once again when doubt grips you.”

Yudhishthira next approached his preceptor, Drona, and asked him similarly how to kill him. Drona replied, “As long as I fight, there can be no victory for you. Therefore seek to destroy me early. I can be killed only when I lay down my arms and am in meditation. That will happen if I hear something disagreeable from someone who can be trusted.”

When Yudhishthira approached Kripa similarly, the teacher answered, “I am incapable of being slain. Fight as best as you can and victory will be yours.”

Finally, approaching Salya and paying his respects to him, Yudhishthira told him, “I solicit a boon from you. When Karna joins the fight and you navigate his chariot, do all you could to weaken him, by word and deed consistent with your duty.” Salya promised to do so.

With this, Yudhishthira returned to his chariot.

Krishna meets Karna again

While Yudhishthira was away, Krishna walked up to Karna. After greeting him he said, “As long as Bhishma leads Duryodhana’s forces, you would be sitting out of the battle. Join the Pandavas and fight for them till the time Bhishma falls. When Bhishma is gone, you may return to Duryodhana’s side.” Karna refused.

Yuyutsu joins Pandavas

Just before the battle commenced, Yuyutsu, Dhritarashtra’s son by a Vaisya, came to Yudhishthira. With devotion he said, “I shall fight for you. Please accept me.”

Yudhishthira replied, “I accept you, mighty one. This is also for the good. You alone of Dhritarashtra’s sons may survive this war. When the time comes, his last rites can be done by you.”

Day 1of Battle – Bhishma routs the Pandavas

There was great anticipation in both camps as the war was about to start. The men as well as the animals were raring to go. Duryodhana ordered strong protection for his chief commander, Bhishma.

With a great roar the two armies set on each other. The air was filled with the battle cry of the men. The elephants trumpeted aloud. The horses reared their forelegs and neighed. The commanders cried hoarse their instructions to the soldiers. When the clash between the two armies took place, a huge cloud of dust enveloped the place. Sounds of clashing metals and colliding bodies pervaded the atmosphere.

For the first part of the forenoon, thousands of individual engagements took place. Like attacked like, elephant against elephant, horse against horse and chariot against chariot.

The melee slowly gave way to concerted attacks. Foremost during the following part was the Pandava attack on Bhishma. Realising that he was the kingpin of the enemy, a host of Pandava heroes attacked him. Abhimanyu, the brave son of Arjuna, let go a shower of arrows on the grandsire. He made audacious advances. It pleased Bhishma to see Arjuna’s son display so much valour. Abhimanyu however had to leave, having lost his chariot.

A great duel took place between Salya and the youthful Virata prince, Uttara. It was a case of young impetuosity engaging age and experience. After a fierce battle, Uttara fell from his elephant. Salya jumped out of his chariot and directed a deadly arrow at him. The prince was pierced through.

Seeing Uttara fall, his brother Sweta mounted an attack on Salya. So effective it was that it looked as though Salya would succumb to it. Seven leading Kaurava warriors rushed to stave off Sweta. The Virata prince warded off all the seven, but Salya had meanwhile slipped away. Sweta’s brave stand drew Bhishma into the attack. The two were now engaged in a duel.

Sweta was able to cause extensive damage to Bhishma’s chariot. His standard with the palmyra insignia was cut down by Sweta’s arrows. The assault mounted by Virata’s son incensed the old warrior who vowed to kill him. He directed some deadly arrows at the prince who lost his charioteer and his four steeds. Sweta jumped out of his car. He hurled a mace at Bhishma even as the Kaurava warrior jumped out of his chariot. The mace missed Bhishma but hit the chariot, which was reduced to ashes.

A host of Kauravas rushed to Bhishma’s aid. The venerable warrior mounted another car and from there aimed some deadly celestial weapons at Sweta. The Virata prince fell on the ground dead.

Reviewing this battle, Sanjaya commented that Bhishma had committed a transgression in that he attacked from his car the Virata prince who was on foot. According to the code of fair fight when a warrior loses his chariot and is stranded on the ground, he should be attacked only from the ground.

The day ended with the Pandavas suffering huge losses, thanks to the exertion of the Kaurava Commander-in-Chief. Bhima did cause some damage to the Dhritarashtra forces. But Arjuna kept a low profile.

Later in the evening, Yudhishthira sought Krishna and told him, “O Kesava. Bhishma has routed our forces today. Two of Drupada’s sons have been killed. As long as Bhishma leads the foes, we have no chance of victory. Rather than cause death to my friends, I shall retire to the forest and practice austerities.” Krishna raised his spirits with a few words, and a war council was held to plan for the next day.

Day 2 of Battle – Duryodhana taunts Bhishma

The Pandavas entered the battle on the second day adopting the Krauncha (a bird) formation, the one the teacher Brihaspati recommended to Indra in his fight against the asuras. Arjuna was at the head of the formation, while the other units took various positions as neck, wings, body and tail.

Quick to observe the Pandava formation, Duryodhana arranged with his commanders a counter-formation. Bhishma moved majestically to the center of the arena. He was surrounded by Salya, the brothers Bhagadatta and Bhusrisravas (sons of King Somadatta of the clan Bahlika) and Duryodhana with his brothers. The conches were sounded and the battle started.

Bhishma opened the day with a shower of arrows, the brunt of which was borne  g foughtwarriors, Krishna drove Arjuna’s chariot with skill and took him to Bhishma’s proximity. Drona, Kripa, Duryodhana and Sala (another son of King Somadatta) rushed to support Bhishma.  Arjuna repelled all of them, leaving only Bhishma in his front.

Seeing the intensity of Arjuna’s onslaught, Duryodhana was quick to tell the grandsire, “Because of you Karna is staying out of the war, leaving Arjuna stronger. Hence you should bring down the owner of Ghandiva.” Bhishma was not too happy at the taunt but nevertheless concentrated on Arjuna.

Between Arjuna and Bhishma, showers of arrows were exchanged. Three of Bhishma’s arrows struck Krishna on his chest. An angry Arjuna felled Bhishma’s charioteer in retaliation.

Other straight fights were being fought. Drona and Dhrishtadyumna were locked in battle. Each hit the other several times and blood flowed from both. Finally, Drona dislodged the Panchali prince who had to flee in another car.

The fiercest battle was between Bhima and the King of Kalinga. In this encounter Bhima was a clear victor. The king and two of his sons were felled by Bhima’s arrows and the Kalinga army ran away in terror.

As the shadows lengthened, Bhishma and Arjuna were still exchanging arrows, neither appearing to be capable of being slain. The sun had set, and the two armies pulled out of the battlefield for the day.

Day 3 of Battle – Bhishma pleads with Krishna to kill him

As day dawned, Bhishma ordered the Kauravas to adopt the Garuda (Kite) formation. He himself occupied the beak, with Aswatthama and Kripa in the head. Duryodhana and all his followers formed the back.

Observing the Kaurava formation, Arjuna countered with the half moon formation. He and Bhima were in the left and right horn. Between them were Virata, Nila and Dhrishtaketu. In the middle and rear were the rest of the Pandava generals. Also in the rear were the five sons of Draupadi and Bhima’s son Ghatotkacha. There was an uproar when the two formations clashed.

As the battle developed, Arjuna was seen energetically chastising the Kaurava forces. Most of the commanders now turned against Arjuna with the object of felling him. A thousand cars converged on him and he was covered in a shower of arrows.

In a straight encounter, Bhima struck at Duryodhana who was forced to sit down on the deck of his car. His charioteer took him away. Bhima routed the forces left behind by Duryodhana.

Due to the steady attack of the Pandavas, Dhritarashtra’s army was fleeing in all directions. Bhishma and Drona alone stood and fought. Duryodhana reached Bhishma and taunted him once again. “With you, Drona and Kripa leading us, how can my army be in such disarray?” he asked.

Bhishma answered laughingly, “I have told you many times that the Pandavas are incapable of being vanquished. In spite of my old age, I am fighting as best as I could. Watch now how I check the Pandavas.”

A charged Bhishma entered the ranks of the Pandavas, killing anything that came his way. Those that dared to attack him fell like flies attacking a fire. Krishna told Arjuna, “Look Dhananjaya, our warriors are running away like weak animals at the sight of a lion.” Then on Arjuna’s command, Krishna took the chariot to Bhishma’s proximity.

As Bhishma sent a shower of arrows on Arjuna, the dexterous Pandava warrior responded with lightning reflex, drawing the admiration of the grandsire. Twice Arjuna broke Bhishma’s bow. But Bhishma’s arrows landed like lightning, leaving both the charioteer and the warrior struggling. Thousands of Kauravas converged on the besieged Arjuna, even as Krishna was wondering whether Arjuna was holding back on Bhishma out of reverence.

Krishna addressed Satyaki who was nearby. “Let those who are running away, run. I shall wipe out Bhishma and all the Kauravas with my discus. None will escape my anger.” So saying, he jumped out of his car and rushed towards Bhishma.

Observing Krishna’s wrath, Bhishma cried out, “O Krishna, O lord of the universe, I bow to you. I could pray for nothing better than death at your hands.”

Arjuna left the car and, running towards Krishna, he restrained the angry god. “O Krishna,” he begged. “Do not be rash. I swear that I shall fight with all my skill and rout the Kauravas. Do come back and take your seat in the chariot.”

As Krishna returned, a regenerated Arjuna broke into the Kaurava ranks, causing the death of ten thousand car-warriors and seven hundred elephants. As evening set in and the warriors were returning, there was talk everywhere of Arjuna’s achievement.

Day 4 of Battle – Bhima causes havoc

Battle commenced on the fourth day, with the atmosphere covered by the dust of the previous day. The battlefield looked eerie. The massive Kaurava formation, with Bhishma leading, ground ahead to meet the Pandavas. The sight of Arjuna at the vanguard of the Pandava army, however, inspired fear in the Kaurava ranks.

The battle started with the clash of the two mighty armies. In the welter, Bhishma, surrounded by Drona, Kripa, Vivingciti and Duryodhana, sought Arjuna. Showers of arrows were exchanged between the two.

Abhimanyu, who joined his father, held five kings belonging to the Kaurava forces at bay and fought like a lion among elephants. Seeing father and son besieged, Drishtayadumna rushed to their help.

Salya, the Madri king, now came under the Pandava attack. Ten divisions surrounded him, prominent among them being his own two nephews Nakula and Sahadeva.

Mace in hand, Bhima rushed in with a loud roar to Arjuna’s help. His very sight made the elephants tremble.

The ruler of the Magadhas, Dandadhara, advanced in a majestic elephant. Man and elephant were brought down by Abhimanyu. The elephant force buckled, as many amongst them were massacred by Bhima.

In order to check Bhima, Duryodhana deployed his entire force to attack the Pandava prince. Bhima, swinging his mace fiercely, kept them all at bay. Bhishma now rushed towards Bhima. The Vrishni hero, Satyaki, sprung on Bhishma’s forces and scattered them.

Suddenly, Satyaki became the eye of the whirlpool that drew the armies of both sides. Duryodhana now turned to Bhima, intent on felling him. He was followed by fourteen of his brothers. Seeing Bhima fall, Duryodhana left him for his brothers to handle. But Bhima quickly regained his ground and attacked the hapless brothers. Eight of them were killed and the rest fled the field. With this Bhima opened his account of Duryodhana’s brothers killed.

Bhagadatta now entered the fray and attacked Bhima. He managed to hit Bhima on his breast causing the Pandava hero to sit, holding to his flagstaff. Ghatotkacha materialized from nowhere to protect his father. He was followed by several Rakshasas on elephants, all assuming gigantic forms.

Seeing Bhagadatta in a tight spot, Drona rushed to his rescue. He was chased by the Pandava forces. Mercifully for Bhagadatta, the sun dipped into the horizon and Bhishma proclaimed the day’s battle over.

While Bhima and Ghatotkacha led the Pandavas back to their camp with leonine roars, Duryodhana retired to mourn the loss of his brothers.

After listening to the account given by Sanjaya of the day’s battle, the king asked, “You are always giving me news that is in high praise of the Pandavas. All I hear about is the setback my son is suffering. Why is this so? Are the Pandavas invincible? Cannot they be slain?”

Sanjaya replied, “Even this, O great King, is the question asked by your son of Bhishma. And this is what his grandsire told him. Krishna and Arjuna are the great sages Nara and Narayana who have taken birth in order to purge the world of evil elements, as the Dwapara age is yielding to the Kali age. The Pandavas are celestials whom none among the Kauravas could kill, Bhishma included. It is for this reason that the grandsire is once again advising Duryodhana to make peace with them and enjoy the earth. He advises in vain.”

Day 5 of Battle – Honours are shared

Bhishma launched the fifth day of the battle with the Makara (crocodile) formation. As usual, he led the assault. The Pandavas countered this with the Syena (hawk) formation with Bhima in the beak. He had for the eyes Sikhandin and Dhrishtadyumna. Arjuna occupied the neck and the rest, the other parts of the body.

When the battle started, Bhima led his forces right into the mouth of the Makara. This took Arjuna to the presence of Bhishma. As the two were exchanging arrows, Sikhandin drove across towards Bhishma. Bhishma lowered his bow, not wishing to hit the Panchala prince whom he believed to be a woman. Drona rushed to take control and relieved Bhishma of the stress.

Remembering the carnage caused by Bhima the previous day, Bhishma and the other Kaurava generals surrounded the mighty Pandava prince in order to disable him. Arjuna rushed to his brother’s aid and attacked the grandsire. The scorching pace of Arjuna put the Kaurava army in total disarray, with Bhishma alone successful in checking him.

Each of the Pandava generals picked on an adversary, and there were many straight fights. Loss in terms of car-warriors and steed was high on both sides. Many elephants fell, and the field was strewn with their carcasses.

Lakshmana, Duryodhana’s son, and Abhimanyu were engaged in a headlong conflict. Though he fought bravely, Lakshmana could not stand Abhimanyu’s assault. He swooned and fell. Kripa picked him in his car and took him to safety.

With fighting fierce at various parts of the battlefield, the horizon slowly changed its hue from orange to blue. The fifth day of battle had come to a close.

Day 6 of Battle – Dhritarashtra’s frustration and Sanjaya’s answer

On the sixth day, Yudhishthira entered the arena with the Makara (crocodile) formation. Bhimasena, Drupada and Arjuna were in the forefront, followed by Nakula and Sahadeva. Observing the Pandava move, Bhishma adopted the Crane countermove. Drona was at its beak while Aswatthama and Kripa constituted the eyes.

The battle commenced with the great clash of men, animals and weapons. The leaders on both sides, Drona and Bhima attacked each other. Others picked up their adversaries and fighting became fierce.

Dhritarashtra interrupted the narrative and asked Sanjaya, “Our army is the best equipped one ever to take to the battlefield. Our soldiers are selected on the strength of their ability and not on the basis of lineage. They don’t drink or fritter their energies. They are well paid and well trained. They are provided with the best weapons. They have lions for their leaders. Yet they suffer defeat in the hands of the Pandavas. Is this due to destiny?”

Sanjaya answered, “This is the result of your own sin. Several times you were warned by Bhishma, Drona, Vidura and me not to provoke the Pandavas to a war. You ignored us all and preferred to follow the path of your evil son. Now you are witnessing the decimation of the Kauravas by Pandu’s sons.” Sanjaya continued with his narration of the war.

Having broken the Kaurava array, Bhima entered into the heart of their formation. Suddenly he found himself surrounded by several car-warriors of the Kaurava army. Bhima found himself isolated as these warriors closed in with the idea of killing the Pandava.

Bhima abandoned his car and jumped into the melee, his mace swinging. He caused immense loss to the Kauravas, fatally hitting elephants and smashing chariots. Beholding Bhima alone and surrounded by the Kauravas, Dhrishtadyumna rushed to his aid. Fighting bravely, he gained entry into the ring of Kaurava warriors who were stalking Bhima. Bhima jumped into the Panchala prince’s chariot and the two scattered arrows on the Kauravas. Duryodhana ordered his men to kill Dhrishtadyumna.

The Panchala prince now used his deadly weapon called Pramohana, which stunned the Kaurava warriors. Observing this, Drona rushed to the scene and used his weapon called Prajna to neutralize the Pramohana weapon.

Cut off from the two warriors, Yudhishthira became anxious for their welfare. He sent heavy reinforcements. Abhimanyu and a host of others rushed in, scattering the Kaurava ranks. Blows were traded between the two forces.

The battlefield became an ocean of blood, the shafts were like eddies, the bodies of elephants were like islands, and the chariots seemed like boats. By the time the rival forces were withdrawn for the day, the battlefield was covered with the bodies of warriors, giving it a frightful aspect. Those that survived returned to their camps to apply unguents on their wounds and to recover their strength for the morrow.

Day 7 of Battle – Abhimanyu lets off Duryodhana’s brothers

Bhishma arrayed his forces in the Mandala (circular) formation to take on the Pandavas on the seventh day. Yudhishthira countered with the Vajra (thunderbolt) formation.

After the initial clash, individual encounters commenced. Three of Dhritarashtra’s sons attacked Abhimanya who staved them off. Drona and his son were pitched against Sikhandin. Duryodhana rushed at Dhrishtadyumna. The rakshasa son of Rishyasringar, Alumbasa, attacked the Vrishni hero Satyaki. Thousands of Kaurava warriors surrounded Arjuna in order to contain him.

Krishna cleverly navigated the besieged Arjuna. The Pandava hero soon had to use his Aindra weapon of celestial quality. The arrows dispersed in all directions, hitting the Kaurava warriors. Unable to stand the intensity of the weapon, the warriors retreated, some of them turning to Bhishma for protection. Kaurava losses were heavy in this encounter.

Virata was engaged in a contest with Drona. Drona dispossessed the old warrior of his chariot. Jumping down from his disintegrating car, Virata got into the chariot of his son, Sankhya. Drona’s arrows pierced Sankhya at his breast, and the prince fell down dead. Virata fled from the scene.

Meanwhile, Aswatthama kept up his assault on Sikhandin. The Panchala prince had to abandon his chariot and get into that of Satyaki. Satyaki himself, finding the pressure from Alumbasa unbearable, used the Aindra, taught him by his preceptor, Arjuna. The rakshasa fled away in fear.

Dhritarashtra interrupted Sanjaya. He asked, “My troops are also fighting bravely. Why are they not achieving more?”

Sanjaya replied, “Just as the waters of the ocean remain brackish even after contact with the holy river Ganga, so do your troops fail to match the Pandavas despite their resolute fight.”

As the sun neared the meridian, Ghatotkacha was engaged in a fierce fight with Bhagadatta. In this encounter, Bhagadatta got the better of Bhima’s son who had to flee.

Salya, the Madri king, and his two nephews were locked in a roaring combat. The nephews got the better of their uncle who abandoned his position. Though losing the fight, Salya was heartened by his nephews’ skill.

Chekitana of the Satwata (Yadava) race encountered Kripa. They were equally matched. Both lost their chariots and started fighting on the ground with sabres. Both fell unconscious and were whisked away by their supporters.

In the battle where three of Duryodhana’s brothers, Chatanika, Chitrasena and Vikarna were opposing Abhimanyu, Arjuna’s son was at the point of killing them. Just then he remembered Bhima’s vow to kill all hundred sons of Dhritarashtra by his own hands. He allowed the three to escape.

Sixty car-warriors who surrounded Arjuna were all consumed by his firepower.
Yuthishthira goaded the Panchali prince, Sikhandin, by reminding him of his duties. An inspired Sikhandin used the Varuna (master of the ocean) weapon, which baffled all the Kauravas who were surrounding him.

As the evening shadows stretched, the armies left behind the carnage generated during the day and returned to their camps.

Day 8 of Battle – Iravat, Arjuna’s valiant son

The Kauravas entered the field on the eighth day forming an array that had its front as solid as a wall. Bhishma, Duryodhana, his brother Chitrasena, and Vivingsati rode side by side in their majestic chariots. Next in line were Drona and Bhagadatta. Behind them were Aswatthama and the ruler of Kosala, Brihadbala.

Yudhishthira countered the Kauravas with the formation known as Sringataka, with Bhima and Satyaki occupying the horns. After the clash of sabre with sabre, chariot with chariot and animal with animal, strategic encounters began.

Duryodhana, with his brothers, gave a circle of protection to Bhishma so that the grandsire could concentrate on the Pandava warriors. Bhima attacked the circle. As a result, eight of Duryodhana’s brothers fell to Bhima’s arrows. The other brothers fled. Duryodhana turned to Bhishma and shouted, “My heroic brothers are being killed one by one. Yet you do not interfere, as though you were a spectator.” Bhishma replied, “These events are happening just as Vidura, Drona and I had warned. Keep fighting and make heaven your goal.”

Arjuna, during his twelve years of self-imposed exile, had met a princess of the Nagas, Ulipi, of the serpent world. He left her immediately and was therefore not aware that out of their union a son was born. The son was named Iravat. Later, when Arjuna was staying with Indra, he was sought by Iravat. Arjuna was immensely pleased to meet his son, now an accomplished young boy. When they parted, Iravat promised to turn up when the Great War took place in order to help his father.

On the eighth day of the war, Iravat turned up at Kurukshetra to fight for the Pandavas. Riding on a majestic steed, he had a cavalry behind him. Six of Sakuni’s sons on horses went forth to stalk the Naga prince. Sakuni’s sons fought bravely and brought Iravat down from his charger. Iravat stood his ground with a sword in his hand. Finding this an opportune time, six sons of Sakuni jumped from their horses and attacked Iravat on foot. In the fight that ensued, five of the brothers were cut to pieces by Iravat, while the sixth one ran away, badly wounded.

Seeing the carnage caused by Iravat, Duryodhana thought it appropriate to send the rakshasa, Alumbasa, to fight him. A fierce battle ensued, where both combatants used skill and magic power to fox each other. In the end, however, Iravat was slain.

Agitated by the death of Iravat, Ghatotkacha attacked Duryodhana. Unable to stand the rakshasa’s wizardry on the field, Duryodhana rushed to Bhishma, complaining. Bhishma advised him that like should fight like. Duryodhana should fight with the foremost warriors among the Pandavas, and not pitch at all and sundry. Bhagadatta was sent to contain Ghatotkacha.

By sunset, Bhima had killed seven more of Dhritarashtra’s sons.

Late in the evening, Duryodhana, Karna, Sakuni and Duscasana were discussing the day’s events. Duryodhana expressed his frustration at the poor showing of his army, despite having as its leaders Bhishma, Drona and Kripa. “It is obvious that due to their affection for the Pandavas, our leaders do not want to kill them,” Duryodhana said.

Karna addressed them, “It is because of Bhishma that I am watching everything helplessly. If he should withdraw, then I would certainly join the fight and annihilate the Pandavas. Persuade him to lay down his arms.”

Duryodhana, followed by many of his brothers, proceeded to Bhishma’s tent. After paying his respects to the grandsire, Duryodhana told him, “You are capable of wiping out the Pandavas. Either out of hatred for me or love for the Pandavas, you are not vanquishing them. If that is the case, let Karna be permitted to fight.”

Duryodhana’s words pierced Bhishma’s heart. “Your words are like dagger to me and I deeply grieve at them. I am endeavouring my best to win this war for you. You are talking of Karna taking over. Just remember that his record against the Pandavas has been dismal. Many times Arjuna has stripped him of his very clothes. I assure you that either I will send the Pandavas to heaven or, slain by them, I shall myself go there.”

Day 9 of Battle – How to kill Bhishma?

Duryodhana realized the need to provide a strong cordon around Bhishma to protect him from the twin dangers of Sikhandin and Arjuna. The next day he asked Drona, Kripa, Sakuni, Salya and Vivingsati to give maximum protection to the grandsire. The Kauravas entered the field with the Sarvatobhadra (a square) formation.

In the counter-formation, Yudhishthira, Bhima and the twins were in the vanguard. In the middle were Arjuna and Sikhandin, while the other generals formed the back.

The drums and cymbals sounded and with a roar the two armies clashed. Early in the battle, Abhimanyu made a dash at Duryodhana’s ranks, causing great damage. Duryodhana became concerned with the onslaught. He summoned the rakshasa, Alumbasa, and commanded him to lead the attack on Abhimanyu. Like an elephant trampling lotus-stalks, Alumbasa attacked the Pandava forces. The five sons of Draupadi joined the battle and sought to cut off Alumbasa with a fierce offensive. They were, however, effectively countered by the rakshasa who made them abandon their chariots. Confronting Abhimanyu, Alumbasa used his magic powers to confuse the brave son of Subhadra. But Abhimanyu was more than a match to the rakshasa who was ultimately rescued by Bhishma.

For most of the morning, Arjuna stayed in the rear while the other four brothers kept up an attack on the grandsire. Bhishma was at his fierce best as he cut the Somakas, a sizeable division of the Pandava forces. The Pandavas were finding it extremely difficult to keep the old warrior in check.

Krishna spoke to Arjuna, reminding him of his resolve to wipe out the Kaurava forces. He then took Arjuna very near Bhishma and secured for him an advantageous position from which to attack. But he found Arjuna’s offensive mild, as though there was a lack of resolve. In anger, Krishna once more left the chariot and started walking towards Bhishma, intent on fighting him. Bhishma looked at him expectantly and expressed his eagerness to be killed by the god. Arjuna jumped out of the chariot and caught Krishna by his leg at the tenth step.

“O mighty one, it behoves you not to get angry,” Arjuna said. “I swear that I shall exert myself fully to slay the grandsire and wipe out the Kaurava army.” In the battle that followed, Arjuna fought bravely. Yet Bhishma was unstoppable. The casualty suffered in his hands by the Pandava army was enormous. The battle raged till sunset.

Back in the Pandava camp Yudhishthira was very depressed by the sufferings caused by Bhishma to his forces. There seemed to be only one course left. To seek advise from Bhishma himself. The five Pandava brothers, along with Krishna, proceeded unarmed to Bhishma’s tent.

Yudhishthira expressed to Bhishma, “This carnage of Kshatriyas is proceeding unabated. As long as you live, we have no hope of victory. Tell us how to kill you and bring this war to an end.”

Bhishma said, “It is true that I stand between you and victory. None save Krishna has the capability to slay me. He is however not taking arms. It is good that you have come to me and asked this question or there would be no end to this war. You will win only after I fall.”

Yudhishthira asked again, “How do we make you fall?”

Bhishma replied. ”When I lay down my arms, any car warrior can slay me. One who has thrown away his weapons, one who has fallen down, one whose armour has slipped, one whose standard is down, one who is running away, one who is frightened, one who surrenders, one who is a female or bears a female name and one who has a single son – with these persons I do not battle. The time of my death, however, is to be chosen by me.

“O sons of Pandu! I permit you to kill me in battle if that would bring you victory. The Drupada prince, Sikhandin, is, in my opinion, a female. Let Dhananjaya place such a person in my front and fight. It is then that you could kill me.”

The Pandavas returned to their camp, their hopes revived.

Day 10 of Battle – Closing-in on Bhishma

With Bhishma’s death as their goal, the Pandavas formed their array with Sikhandin in the front. Protecting his car wheels were Bhima and Arjuna on either side. All the other mighty Pandava warriors were placed behind them. In the Kauravas’ show of might, Bhishma was at the head. Drona, Kripa, Bhagadatta and others were close behind him, lending support.

The two formations got closer, with Arjuna smiting the Kaurava hosts and Bhishma afflicting the Pandavas. Soon Sikhandin and Bhishma were within distance of hearing each other. Bhishma told Drupada’s son, “I know you to be the Sikhandin as god created. You are a woman and I shall not fight you.”

His wrath kindled, Sikhandin answered, “I know your prowess very well, son of Ganga. I know about your humbling the great Parasurama. But I swear that I shall kill you today, whether you fight or not.” So saying, Sikhandin directed several arrows against Bhishma, with Arjuna encouraging him from his side.

Meanwhile, the other Kaurava warriors came in between, relieving Bhishma from the Pandava attack. In the exchange of blows, many from both the ranks fell. Mounting a severe attack on Arjuna, Duscasana fought bravely and acquitted himself very well. Bhima was locked in battle with Bhurisravas. Gadotkacha was challenged by Durmukha, Duryodhana’s brother. Drona was felling sizeable chunks of the Pandava army.

As Sikhandin and Arjuna zeroed in on Bhishma, Duryodhana ordered his generals to rush to the grandsire’s aid. But Arjuna drove them all with his prowess. Even as Sikhandin was striking Bhishma with his arrows, the old warrior ignored him. With great energy the grandsire was fighting off the other Pandavas.

Bhishma was steadily outnumbered as the Pandavas poured their arrows on him. Arjuna directed at him many of his choicest weapons. Bhishma looked at the sky and said, “The time for my return has come. I want to lay my life.” The Vasus, his companions in heaven, answered from above, “Even so be it.”

Both Sikhandin and Arjuna poured arrows on the grandsire. Bhishma told Duscasana who was at his side, “Behold those arrows coming in a continuous line. Those are from the wielder of the Gandiva, not from Sikhandin.”

Attacked by those mighty shafts of Arjuna, Bhishma fell, his head to the east.

Even as he fell, his mother, Ganga, sent to him a host of rishis in the form of swans. The rishis circled her illustrious son and reminded him that the sun was at its southern solstice, which was not an auspicious time to die. Bhishma resolved that he would not give up his life till the sun crossed to its northern solstice. He lay there on a bed of arrows.

Fighting came to a stop as the Kauravas started to move about in a daze, rudely shocked by their commander’s fall. Grief struck the Pandavas equally. Warriors from both sides surrounded the great man.

Bhishma said, “Get me a pillow to lay my head.” The kings from both camps rushed and found soft pillows for him. Bhishma refused them. He turned to Arjuna and said, “O Dhananjaya, provide me with support for my head.” The Pandava hero, with tears in his eyes, guided three shafts from his Gandiva on the ground that provided support to the recumbent hero’s head.

Duryodhana sent for the physicians to attend on the fallen soldier. Bhishma turned them away. He expressed his desire that after his death, he should be burnt with the innumerable arrows still stuck on him

Chapter 7 Drona Parva



Day 11 of Battle – Drona becomes Kaurava military chief. Day 12 of Battle – I shall capture Yudhishthira, vows Drona. Day 13 of Battle – Abhimanyu and the Chakra formation. Day 14 of Battle – A day without end for Jayadratha. Day 15 of Battle – The prince of truth utters a lie.

Day 11 of Battle – Drona becomes Kaurava military chief

Bhishma, The Terrible. The Pure. The Perfect. Even as day dawned, crowds milled to have a glimpse of the fallen hero. Soldiers paid their respects, women showered sandal powder on him and ordinary citizens circumambulated him, weeping.

Pandavas and Kauravas stood around him as he lay in the battlefield, their enmity temporarily forgotten.

The old hero said, “My throat has become dry. Let me have some water.” Water in ornamental containers was rushed to him. He refused them all. “I shall have none of these,” he said, and turned once again to Arjuna. The son of Pandu struck an arrow to the ground from his Gandiva, causing a fountain to spring. The water that gushed out gratified the fallen warrior.

Addressing Arjuna, Bhishma said, “Those who know you know that you are the rishi Nara. With the god Narayana by your side, is there anything you cannot achieve?” To Duryodhana he said, “Even now it is not late. Make peace with the Pandavas. You cannot vanquish them. You saw Arjuna’s feat. With Vasudeva by his side you can never hope for victory against the Pandavas.”

The dying man’s words were wasted on the Kaurava prince. Duryodhana said, “As a Kshatriya it is my duty to fight, even if death is waiting for me. Permit me to fight, grandsire.” Bhishma replied, “Resolved as you are to seek heaven through a hero’s death by falling in the battlefield, I permit you to fight.” Duryodhana departed with a sad heart.

Hearing about the fall of Bhishma, Karna repaired to Duryodhana. Karna said, “O mighty king! The lion among men has fallen. Him no human or celestial can defeat, now lies brought down by Arjuna’s arrows. But you should not grieve. I am more than a match to all the Pandavas. Because of Bhishma I have not fought these last ten days. I shall now fight. Victory will be yours.”

Karna then proceeded to where the grandsire was lying. He told Bhishma, “Without you, the Kauravas are bereft of their most able hero and guide. But I assure you that I shall endeavour my best to protect the Kauravas and fight till my last breadth for their victory.” Bhishma appreciated Karna for his resolve and asked him to look after the Kauravas as a father does his son.

When Karna met Duryodhana again, the two discussed the question of who should be appointed supreme commander, now that Bhishma was in his deathbed. Karna recommended Drona for the office. Duryodhana agreed. Drona was sent for and invested with the job of leading the Kaurava army.

Planning the strategy to be adopted against the Pandavas, Duryodhana sought a boon from Drona. When the preceptor agreed to give one, Duryodhana said, “I would want you to capture Yudhishthira and bring him to me.”

Drona was gladdened by this request. He asked the prince, “It is, no doubt, to conclude peace with him that you want me to bring him to you alive. Are you planning to return to them their kingdom?”

Duryodhana answered, “If Yudhishthira is killed there are the other Pandava brothers. I want Yudhishthira alive so that I can play dice with him again and deprive him of everything.”

Pained though he was by Duryodhana’s crooked thinking, Drona nevertheless said, “I shall certainly try to fulfill your desire. However, I want to make it clear that Yudhishthira cannot be captured as long as Arjuna is nearby to protect him. Device a strategy to keep Arjuna away from his eldest brother. I shall then capture the Pandava king.”

Yudhishthira came to know of Duryodhana’s plan and he told his generals to provide him with maximum protection. Arjuna swore that he would never let his king be captured by Drona.

Drona adopted the Cakata (cartwheel) formation as he led his forces into the field. The Pandavas countered with the Krauncha (crane) formation. Drona started with an offensive which took a heavy toll of the Pandava forces. Arjuna, Drupada, Abhimanyu and a host of others turned their attention to Drona in order to check him. Drona launched a fierce onslaught on the Pandavas. But he could not reach Yudhishthira.

The day passed in many individual encounters. But the Kaurava objective was to keep Arjuna engaged so that Drona could capture Yudhishthira. This they failed to do. Yudhishthira returned safely to his camp.

Drona was crestfallen at his failure. As Duryodhana taunted him, Drona reiterated that as long as the Pandava king was protected by Arjuna, he could not be captured. A strategy had to be devised. Someone should challenge Arjuna for a fight and engage him at another part of the battlefield.

Day 12 of Battle – I shall capture Yudhishthira, vows Drona

The next morning the Kauravas set the eldest of the Trigartas, Susarman of Prasthala, with his followers, to challenge Arjuna to a fight. Honouring Kshatriya traditions, Arjuna accepted the challenge. Arjuna knew that in his absence the Kauravas would mount an attack on Yudhishthira. He detailed Satyajit of the Panchalas, a capable general, to stay close to  Yudhishthira.

Krishna took Arjuna to the quarter where Susarman was waiting with his Trigarta and Samasapthaka (do-or-die) squads. Joining them was the host of Narayanas, Krishna’s own force, now fighting for the Kauravas. To cope with their numbers, Arjuna first blew his conch to put fear in them. He then released a weapon, Tashtra, which was capable of creating an illusion. The motley force saw innumerable Arjunas and Krishnas. Thoroughly confused, they started to kill each other. Arjuna then used a weapon, Vayavya (wind), which created a terrific storm that swept away the Samasapthakas along with their cars and animals.

Meanwhile, Drona found his strategy working to his advantage. With Arjuna out of the way, the Pandava defence buckled under Drona’s attack. Satyajit was killed in a straight battle with Drona. Drona was now within hand’s reach of Yudhishthira. But his prey still eluded him as the Pandavas, headed by Bhima, rushed to rescue their king. The battle was now joined by warriors from both sides.

Arjuna was aware of the siege his king was under. But he decided to stay and deal with the Samasapthakas. In the end he used the highly potent Brahma weapon, which wiped out most of the desperate fighters. His job done for the present, Arjuna rushed to take Drona.

Arjuna was now accosted by the spirited Kaurava general, Bhagadatta. After many exchanges of arrows, Bhagadatta hurled at Arjuna his weapon called Vaishnava. Krishna quickly stepped across and received the weapon on his chest. Puzzled by Krishna’s action, Arjuna asked for an explanation. Krishna said, “This Vaishnava weapon was given by me to Naraka Asura who passed it on to Bhagadatta. It is capable of slaying even Indra and Rudra. It is to neutralize it that I received it on my chest.” In the next few minutes Arjuna directed an arrow at Bhagadatta which killed him.

Until evening did Drona try to take Yudhishthira captive. But with Arjuna back and Bhima fighting at his best, he had to retire with his vow unfulfilled.

Drona’s repeated failure to capture Yudhishthira weighed heavily on the Kaurava forces. Duryodhana was quick to point out to the preceptor that he had failed to keep his promise. The Kaurava prince’s words were like dagger to Drona. He said, “Where there is Arjuna and Krishna, no force in the three worlds can win. This I have told you several times. I now vow that in tomorrow’s battle I shall slay a very important Pandava.” This gave Duryodhana some solace.

Day 13 of Battle – Abhimanyu and the Chakra formation
“If all the best qualities of the five Pandava princes and that of Krishna are to be found concentrated in one person, that person can easily be the prince Abhimanyu.” Thus did Sanjaya describe Arjuna’s son to Dhritarashtra.

A determined Drona entered the battlefield on the thirteenth day, his forces arrayed in the Chakra (circular) formation. The formation dazzled as all the kings supporting the Kaurava cause took their places, resplendent in their glittering armours and ornaments.

In the absence of Arjuna, Yudhishthira told Abhimanyu to keep Drona and his forces under check. Arjuna had gone to take care of the unfinished job of the previous day, to annihilate what was left of Susarman’s forces.

Yudhishthira told Abhimanyu, “This Chakra array formed by Drona is impenetrable for all but four persons. Three of them are Arjuna, Krishna and his son Pradyumna. The fourth one is you. Since the other three are not present here, it becomes your responsibility to tackle Drona and break his cordon.”

Abhimanyu replied, “That is true. But my father taught me only to break into the array. Not to come out of it.”

Yudhishthira said, “You break into the array. We shall all closely follow you inside. Once inside, we shall tackle the enemy.” With great enthusiasm, Abhimanyu undertook the task.

The Pandava formation with Bhima at its head and the other warriors on either side, dashed against the Kauravas like a giant wave against a rock.

There was a churning of the forces as the Pandava and Kaurava hosts met, like a great river mixing with the ocean. Abhimanyu took the lead and pierced the Kaurava defence. He released arrows all around, causing immense loss to Duryodhana’s forces. The Kaurava prince commanded all his men to concentrate on Abhimanyu. Even the enemy had to admire the skill of Arjuna’s son as he scattered them at will.

The rest of the Pandavas were quick to rush to Abhimanyu’s support. It was only Jayadratha, Dhritarashtra’s son-in-law, who was able to check the Pandavas. For, it was indeed Jayadratha’s day when he could keep all the Pandavas, excepting Arjuna, at bay. During the exile of the Pandavas, the Sindhu prince misbehaved with Draupadi when she was alone in her forest abode. Caught red handed by the Pandavas, he was reprimanded by Bhima. Jayadratha felt deeply humiliated. He returned home, licking his wounds.

“It is because I am not strong enough that the Pandavas could treat me thus,” thought Jayadratha. To gain strength he performed a penance to Lord Siva. The god was pleased and gave him a boon that during the war, he would, for one day, hold all Pandavas, excepting Arjuna, under check. That boon was now working.

Rukmartha, the Madras prince, was in wrath at Abhimanyu’s onslaught. He got into a duel with the Pandava prince who promptly dispatched him to the abode of Yama. Many lesser-known princes followed Rukmartha’s path.

Karna made several futile attempts to contain Abhimanyu. Every time he did so, he was repelled. Driven to desperation, he rushed to Drona for advise. Drona told him, “Arjuna’s son has mastered the art of protecting himself with his armour. Further, as long as he moves in his chariot and wields his bow, he cannot be checked. Concentrate on dispossessing him of his chariot.”

Karna and the other Kaurava warriors struck at Abhimanyu’s charioteer and steeds, killing them all. They then attacked the chariot and reduced it to pieces. Abhimanyu, forced to abandon his chariot, rushed to the ground with a mace in hand. He crushed with his mace whatever or whoever came in his way.

Duscasana who was in the thick of the battle rushed at Abhimanyu with his mace. The two traded blows and Abhimanyu fell down. The exertion of the last few hours was telling on the Pandava prince. The leading Kaurava warriors closed in on him. Thanks to Jayadratha, help from the Pandavas was not reaching him. Fatigue caused him to slow down. Even as he was rising, Duscasana struck Abhimanyu on the crown. The blow was decisive. The hero fell, having fought single-handed a host of Kauravas including Drona and Kripa. Abhimanyu’s death brought him kudos, but it also brought condemnation to those who dealt it to him. The Pandavas had to retreat, leaving Abhimanyu behind.

After the day’s war, the highly dispirited Pandavas returned to camp earlier than Arjuna did. Lamenting the fact that he was responsible for sending Abhimanyu into the trap laid by the Kauravas, Yudhishthira was distressed at the prospect of having to break the news to Arjuna and Krishna.

Vyasa arrived at this juncture. He gave a discourse to Yudhishthira on the inevitability of death and on how illustrious fathers in the past had borne their sons’ death. There is a tradition of listening to such discourses when one is in grief. It is said to bring solace.

When Arjuna returned to the camp after slaughtering the Samasapthakas, he was given a detailed account of Abhimanyu’s death. Infuriated at the role of Jayadratha in the killing, the wielder of Gandiva swore that before sunset next day he would kill the Sindhu king. If he failed, Arjuna vowed, he would enter fire. In wrath Krishna blew his Panchajanya and as the wind carried its sound to the Kaurava camp, the heroes among them shivered like little animals.

Spies brought to the Kaurava camp, news about Arjuna’s vow. Jayadratha ran to Duryodhana, frightened for his life. He sought permission to return home in order to escape Arjuna’s fury. Duryodhana advised him to stay, assuring that Drona would give him all the protection that he needed.

Krishna was troubled as he went to bed that night. He realized that killing Jayadratha would be no easy task, with Drona protecting the Sindhu king. He called his charioteer Daruka and ordered that his chariot and weapons be kept ready for the next day and that he should follow Arjuna’s chariot.

Pacified by the words of Krishna at Abhimanyu’s death, Arjuna was able to enter the world of slumber. In his dream he was awakened by Krishna who told him, “Dhananjaya, the challenge you have thrown for the ‘morrow is indeed difficult to achieve. Now is the time to approach the god Rudra and obtain the Pasupata missile that he promised to give you. Let us together proceed to his abode.”

So saying, Krishna took Arjuna by his hand, and they were traveling at the speed of thought. Reaching Siva’s abode in the Himalayas, they stood facing the hill and prayed. The mountain god appeared before them and expressed his happiness to see Nara and Narayana together.

When Arjuna told him the purpose of their visit, Siva directed them to a lake. There they found two serpents, each having a thousand heads, rising out to greet them. As they came out, the serpents transformed themselves into a bow and arrow. Arjuna reverentially picked them up and, with Krishna, he went back to Siva. From Siva’s body, a form emerged which was tall, strong and beautiful. The form taught Arjuna how to handle the weapon and the mantra which went with it. Arjuna quickly grasped the procedures and memorized the mantra. He and Krishna returned after paying their respects to Pasupati.

Day 14 of Battle – A day without end for Jayadratha        

Part the cartwheel formation of Cakata and part Circle was the plan that Drona devised for the fourteenth day of battle, having foremost in his mind, the protection of Jayadratha. Around Jayadratha, who was deep inside the Cakata, were posted the best among the Kauravas including Karna, Aswatthama, Salya and Kripa. An immense army was deployed around the Sindhu king. Drona himself stood at the entrance of the Cakata.

As the Pandava attack commenced, the sound of the conches Devadatta and Panchajanya heralded the approach of Arjuna with his illustrious charioteer. The mercurial warrior shattered the Kaurava defence, causing many kings to run for cover. Duscasana who sought to check the flood, had to retreat with his force depleted. Brushing aside all opposition, Arjuna was face to face with Drona. After bowing to his preceptor, the favourite student commenced his attack.

Unable to ward off Drona despite using the Brahma weapon, Arjuna changed his tactics. He sidetracked the preceptor and penetrated into the Kaurava formation.

Srutayudha, the mighty king, was the son of Varuna (rain god) of a river called Parnasa. His mother prayed intensely for the invincibility of her son. She was rewarded when Varuna gave Srutayudha a mace that could kill any foe. A condition attached to the weapon was that if it is directed against an unarmed person, it will return to kill its owner. When this king attacked Arjuna, he was unfortunate to hurl the mace at Krishna who was unarmed. The mace returned and killed the hurler.

Next to fall while fighting against Arjuna was Sudhakshina, the prince of Kambhoja. Many princes of diverse races, along with their forces, fell to Arjuna’s wrath. In a panic Duryodhana approached Drona, appealing to him to neutralize Arjuna.

Drona told him, “At this moment I see Yudhishthira isolated from Arjuna. I should concentrate my efforts on him. You attack Arjuna.” Duryodhana confessed that it was beyond his power to hold Arjuna. Drona then gave him an armour capable of warding off attack from any power.

“This armour was the one used by Indra to vanquish his foe, Vritra,” Drona explained to Duryodhana. “It has come down through several sages to my teacher, Agnivesa, who gave it to me. Wear it and you would be safe”

Drona’s attempt to reach Yudhishthira turned out to be futile as the Pandava king had a strong cordon around him. Dhrishtadyumna, Satyaki, Bhima, Virata and his sons and others, despite having to face a formidable Drona, were successfully protecting their king.

When Arjuna and Krishna found Duryodhana giving them a chase, they wondered what his inspiration was. They soon found that none of Arjuna’s arrows could penetrate the Kaurava prince’s armour. Arjuna quickly recognized the armour and told Krishna about it. Instead of directing his arrows on Duryodhana, Arjuna proceeded to kill his charioteers and steeds and finally blew up his chariot. He then sent a few arrows, which pierced Duryodhana’s palms, making him incapable of using his bow. The Kaurava forces quickly rescued their king and bore him away.

Drona made good progress and was able to get Yudhishthira leave his car and stand on the ground defenceless. But the Pandava forces quickly picked him up and took him away to safety. A fierce battle took place between the two rakshasas, Ghatotkacha and Alumbasa where Bhima’s son subdued his counterpart in the Kaurava army.

Satyaki was specifically instructed by Arjuna to stay with Yudhishthira and protect him. But Yudhishthira was now confident that the other Pandava heroes could provide him the necessary cover from Drona. He sent away Satyaki to assist Arjuna and Krishna. Seeing Satyaki leave, Drona decided to give him a chase.

Satyaki’s progress through the Kaurava defence was steady, as he felled many princes on the way. He made Duscasana who attacked him, fly in fear. The Kaurava prince was stopped by Drona who put some courage into his heart and sent him back to face Satyaki. Satyaki was quick in disarming Duscasana who was rescued by his forces.

There was panic once again in Yudhishthira’s mind. Not knowing what was happening with Arjuna, Krishna and Satyaki, he now sent Bhima to find out. Bhima’s entry into the Kaurava formation was checked by Drona. Overcoming all opposition, Bhima broke into the formation. He soon sighted Arjuna, Krishna and Satyaki fighting with the Kauravas. He let out a huge roar, which Yudhishthira recognized as signal that all was well.

The strongest opposition that Bhima faced was from Karna. Karna was persistent, but Bhima dispossessed him of his chariot several times. Two of Duryodhana’s brothers who rushed to Karna’s help were promptly dispatched by Bhima to death. Karna finally fled the field, unable to face the Pandava. Five more sons of Dhritarashtra rushed to attack Bhima and all five lost their lives. This was followed by six more brothers of Duryodhana, all of whom were dispatched by Bhima to the next world.

Satyaki came under severe attack from King Somadatta’s son, Bhurisravas. In the fight when blows were exchanged freely by the two, Satyaki fell from his car. Bhurisravas jumped after him and placed a foot on his face. He drew his sword from his scabbard and was about to strike the fallen Vrishni hero when Krishna drew Arjuna’s attention to Satyaki’s predicament. Arjuna quickly sent an arrow, which cut off the hand holding the sword. Bhurisravas released his hold on Satyaki and stood with one arm severed.

After exchanging a few words with Arjuna, Bhurisravas sat down in prayer. Satyaki brought down his sword on Bhurisravas, cutting his head off. To attack a warrior who had laid down his arms and was praying, was strictly against the code of fairness in warfare.  Questioned on his role in Bhurisravas’ killing, Arjuna said, “As long as someone belonging to us is in danger, it is my duty to save him if he is within the range of my arrow.”

The sun was racing down the western horizon to disappear behind the Asta hill. The Kauravas formed a very deep cordon around Jayadratha, making it impossible for Arjuna to approach him. Duryodhana was already proclaiming that Arjuna was dead. “According to his vow, if he is unable to slay Jayadratha before sunset, he would have to walk into the fire. With Arjuna gone, the rest of the Pandavas will be crushed by me. I can then rule the world,” he exulted.

Not knowing how to reach Jayadratha, a desperate Arjuna turned to Krishna. Krishna asked him to remain calm. He then created the illusion of darkness that is a sign of sundown. A loud roar was heard from the Kauravas who concluded that the sun had set. As they were jumping and dancing, Jayadratha, with a great sense of relief, emerged from his hiding. Krishna wheeled Arjuna close to the Sindhu king like a hunter approaching an animal.

As soon as they were within the range for Arjuna to mark his arrow on Jayadratha, Krishna said, “Wait. This Jayadratha is the son of the evil Vriddakshatra who is powerful due to severe penances. He gave his son the boon – ‘Whoever causes your head to fall on the ground while in battle, his head will crack into pieces.’

“Installing his son on the throne, Vriddakshatra retired to do penance. Right now he is just outside this battlefield, observing penance. Use your skill, Partha, so that your arrow would cause Jayadratha’s head to fall on his father’s lap.”

Arjuna aimed his bow and did exactly as his mentor bid. His arrow carried Jayadratha’s head and let it land on the lap of Vriddakshatra who was sitting in seclusion, deep in meditation. When the sire stood up after the penance, the head fell on the ground. Vriddakshatra’s head broke into pieces. He thus became a victim of his own boon.

Krishna then dispelled the illusion and the sun was seen once more just as its disc touched the Asta hill. Thus did Arjuna, with the help of Krishna, outwit the Kauravas, and fulfilled his vow of killing Jayadratha before sunset.

Satyaki who had lost his car while fighting Bhurisravas, was standing helpless. Karna was closing in on him. Observing this, Krishna blew his conch, signaling his car driver, Daruka, to bring his car to the fore. Satyaki mounted Krishna’s car and continued to fight.

In a departure from practice, the battle continued after sunset.

In the paleness of dusk, Duryodhana approached his Commander-in-chief, Drona, and expressed his grave concern over the loss of Bhagadatta and Jayadratha. He implied that Drona had not done his best to prevent Arjuna from entering the Kaurava formation and reaching Jayadratha. Drona wondered whether it was the Pandava’s arrows or Duryodhana’s words which were sharper.

Duryodhana next had a hurried meeting with Kripa, Karna and Aswatthama. Karna boasted of his own capability and his confidence to slay all the Pandavas. Kripa derided him. “Show your skill in battle and not in words,” he said. Karna abused the preceptor and warned that he would cut off Kripa’s tongue if he continued to praise the Pandavas. Aswatthama was furious with Karna for insulting his uncle. He drew his sword and tried to attack Karna. Kripa and Duryodhana restrained him.

Encountering Satyaki in the battlefield, Somadatta expressed his anger over the former’s killing of his son Bhurisravas. In the fight that ensued, Satyaki took the father’s life as well.

As the skies became darker, thousands of torches were lit up. Both the antagonists continued to fight as mangled bodies filled the battlefield. Karna was on the rampage. To check him, Arjuna sent Ghatotkacha. The fierce looking rakshasa sent the Kaurava army scampering as he approached Karna. The rakshasa force that followed him threw stones and trees on the opposing soldiers. Illusion and magic were freely used.

Alayudha, a rakshasa, approached Duryodhana and asked for permission to attack Bhimasena. The rakshasa was a kinsman of Baka, Kirmira and Hidimbva, All three had been killed by Bhima, and Alayudha wanted revenge. Duryodhana gladly sent the rakshasa to fight Bhima. Leaving Karna for the moment, Ghatotkacha rushed to his father’s aid and killed Alayudha.

When Bhima’s son returned, Karna found the rakshasa’s combination of magic and warring ability a little too much for him. The Kaurava army was in tatters, looking as though it would never survive the Ghatotkacha onslaught. Unable to check him, Karna took out the weapon Indra had given him and used it on the rakshasa. The rakshasa was shattered to death. The coveted weapon that could be used only once, Karna’s only trump card against Arjuna, was spent.

The entire Pandava camp was steeped in sorrow at the loss of the beloved son of Bhima. But Krishna alone showed joy. He explained to Arjuna the reason for his happiness. “Karna was born with ear rings and armour capable of protecting him from any god or man. If he had them now, he would be unslayable by even you or me. He lost those defences to Indra. In return Indra equipped him with his weapon, which had the potential to kill you. But that weapon could be used only once. Now that has also been wasted on Ghatotkacha. Karna is no more a god. He is a man and could be killed by you. He is like an angry snake that has lost its venom.

“O Partha. The opportunity to kill Karna will soon come to you. When his chariot wheel is broken and he is on the ground trying to fix it, that would be the time for you to kill him. I would then make a sign with my hand.

“As regards Ghatotkacha, his death was inevitable. If Karna had not killed him, I would have had to kill him myself. He is guilty of the sin of brahmin slaughter.”

Meanwhile Dhritarashtra asked Sanjaya a simple question. “My son and Karna knew that Indra’s weapon could kill Arjuna. Why then did Karna not use it on Arjuna on one of the many occasions the two confronted each other? Why was it used against a straw like Ghatotkacha?”

Sanjaya answered in one word, “Fate.” He must have recollected Bhishma’s advise to Duryodhana that Ghatotkacha should be tackled by a low ranking warrior.

The Pandavas were by now exhausted after hours of battling in the night. Arjuna called aloud, asking the troops to rest till the early rays of the sun dispelled darkness. The Kauravas also lay in the field and snatched some badly needed rest.

Duryodhana alone regretted that the Pandavas were not slain, as they lay exhausted. He had reason to be peeved. He had, that day, lost seventeen of his brothers and quite a few other generals.

Fighting resumed as the moon paled against the coppery rays of the rising sun.

Day 15 ofBattle – The prince of truth utters a lie

As the early morning sun bathed the glittering armour and chariots with its rays, the warriors got ready to fight. They picked up where they left off a few hours earlier. The clutter and dust reached a pitch when the warriors flung their weapons at one another as they entered the fifteenth day of battle.

The Pandavas were aware that their success depended on eliminating Drona. To that end they concentrated their energies. Drona was surrounded by a number of Pandava heroes. But the able brahmin treated them with ease. In the fracas, two prominent kings of the Pandava camp met their end. Those were the venerable Drupada and Virata, both falling to Drona’s arrows.

Thereafter, the antagonists were locked in a one-to-one fight. The preceptor and favourite pupil were soon facing each other. Drona and Arjuna traded all the weapons known to man and god. But each knew how to counter the other. They seemed to be equally matched. Those observing them felt that either there would be no result or both would perish.

Drona and Arjuna soon received support from their respective camps. Krishna told Arjuna to concentrate on the Kauravas surrounding Drona in order to make the preceptor vulnerable. When Arjuna left him, Drona turned on the Pandava forces, causing large damage to them.

Krishna told Arjuna, “Look at Drona assaulting our forces. He should be killed by any means. Let someone tell him that Aswatthama has been killed. In grief, he would lay down his bow.”

Krishna’s counsel was hotly debated upon by the Pandavas. Arjuna, in particular, was against uttering such a blatant falsehood. But he was eventually convinced. Yudhishthira, keen to stop the massive killing by Drona, agreed to the suggestion, a deeply painful action for the upholder of truth.

Bhimasena, by a mighty blow of his mace, killed an elephant, Aswatthama by name, belonging to Indravarman of the Pandava force. He then drove to Drona and cried out, “Aswatthama is dead. Lay down your arms.”

Drona at first disregarded Bhima’s words. But his mind was filled with doubt. He thought that the only person who would tell the truth was Yudhishthira. To him he went and asked, “Is Bhima telling the truth? Is Aswatthama really dead?” Urged by Krishna, the personification of truth confirmed, “Aswatthama the elephant is dead.” The words the elephant were said indistinctly, so that Drona could not hear him. Until then Yudhishthira’s chariot and horses were four inches above the ground. Now they dropped that height and were planted to the earth.

Unable to bear the news about his son’s death and exhausted by four days of continuous fighting, Drona dropped his bow. He sat on the platform of his chariot and closed his eyes in meditation. Drishtadyumna, to fulfill his destiny, veered his chariot towards Drona. He jumped out and got into Drona’s chariot. Catching the old man by his hair, the Panchala prince dragged him across. He then took his sword and with one stroke severed Drona’s head.

Sanjaya told Dhritarashtra that Drona’s soul gently floated to heaven. Only a few could see this phenomenon – Krishna, Yudhishthira and Sanjaya himself amongst them.

The Kaurava army, observing their leader killed, scattered in panic. Even Duryodhana was so frightened that he fled the scene.

Aswatthama who was fighting at a different place, observed the flight of the mighty Kaurava warriors. He approached Kripa and asked him what the reason was for the panic. Kripa described to him the fall of Drona in the hands of Drishtadyumna. Like an enraged lion, Aswatthama flung himself at the Pandavas, in rage over his father’s death.

The fury of Aswatthama was such that all the Pandava warriors, excepting Arjuna with his charioteer, Krishna, were running for their lives. A fierce battle took place between those two excellent disciples of Drona. Aswatthama used the most powerful weapons against Arjuna, but the latter countered him at every stage. Aswatthama then took out his most potent weapon, the Narayana.

As soon as Krishna saw the Narayana being used by Drona’s son, he shouted out to all the Pandava fighters to throw down their weapons. All of them obeyed, excepting Bhima who wanted to attack the celestial shaft. As Bhima defied it, the weapon became blazing hot and the entire atmosphere was lit up by its energy. Arjuna and Krishna ran to Bhima and forced him to disarm. The Narayana made a round and then fell down ineffectively. There was relief in all the three worlds, and a cool breeze set in.

Seeing the Pandava forces standing deprived of their arms, Duryodhana urged Aswatthama to use the Narayana again. Aswatthama said, “Alas, this weapon can be used only once. Once released, it should not be recalled. If it is recalled, it would kill the person who recalls it. It does not attack unarmed persons. Since the Pandavas have laid down their arms, it has not killed any of them. The all-knowing Krishna has made the weapon ineffective.”

Aswatthama continued to fight with the other weapons that he was carrying. When he used the Agneya weapon which his father had taught him, it spread fire over a vast area. But Arjuna quickly used the Brahma weapon to neutralize it.

Baffled by the ineffectiveness of his best weapons, the dispirited Aswatthama threw his bow and ran away. While running, he met Vyasa whom he asked, “Respected sage. Why have all my weapons failed me?”

Vyasa told Aswatthama, “Those you are fighting, Arjuna and Krishna, are Nara and Narayana, the ancient sages, older than the oldest of gods, who visit the earth in every Yuga to establish truth. They are blessed by the greatest of gods, Mahadeva, and are unconquerable. Although you also have the aspect of Mahadeva, you should recognize that they are far superior to you.”

Arjuna who later met Vyasa asked, “While I was fighting Drona’s son, there was a shadow in front of me that was protecting me. Who was it?”

“It was none other than Mahadeva himself,” the sage answered.


Chapter 8 Karna Parva



Day 16 of Battle – Kauravas’ new general. Day 17 of Battle – The tragedy that was Karna.

Day 16 of Battle – Kauravas’ new general

After Drona’s death, the choice of leadership of the Kaurava army fell on Karna. Aswatthama proposed his name and Duryodhana heartily endorsed it. Such was his confidence in Karna that the Kaurava prince thought that with his friend’s appointment as Commander-in-chief, the war was already won.

Karna started in his new office with several disadvantages. Indra had deprived him of his ear-rings and armour, and without those, Karna had lost his invincibility. The weapon he had received from Indra in return carried the condition that it could be used only once. And once it had already been used on Ghatotkacha. His promise to Kunti stood in his way of killing the four Pandava brothers, other than Arjuna. The Kaurava army was depleted, with most of its frontline warriors dead. To be added to this list were two curses he had received.

One was from Parasurama, the son of the sage Jamadagni, who had vowed to destroy all Kshatriyas in revenge for their cruelty to his father. The Kshatriyas lived in fear of him, especially because there was none who could excel him in the use of the bow and arrow as well as the axe.

Karna and Arjuna were both disciples of Drona. When their training was over, they were asked to demonstrate their skills to Bhishma and the other elders. Arjuna refused to match his skill with Karna because of the latter’s inferior social status. It was then that Duryodhana made Karna the king of Anga. Karna vowed to excel Arjuna with the bow and approached Parasurama for lessons. Karna knew that Parasurama would reject him if he knew his antecedents. He therefore lied to Parasurama that he was a brahmin. The old warrior took Karna as his student.

Parasurama was very generous to Karna and he taught him several potent weapons. But the deadliest of them all was the Brahmastra.

During Karna’s stay with Parasurama, an incident took place which gave Karna away. Parasurama was one day reclining with his head on Karna’s lap, fast asleep. An insect, Indra in disguise, pierced the pupil’s lap. Even as blood flowed, Karna bore the pain of it, not wishing to disturb his teacher. When Parasurama woke up and noticed this, he asked Karna, “Tell me the truth about yourself. You cannot be a brahmin. Only a Kshatriya can bear such pain without moving an iota. Who are you?”

When Karna confessed to Parasurama that he was the son of a charioteer, the warrior-sage became furious at being deceived. He cursed that, when he needed it most, Karna would be unable to use the Brahmastra. He would forget the invocatory mantra.

On another occasion, while practicing with his bow Vijaya, Karna accidentally killed a calf belonging to a brahmin. The brahmin cursed him, “You killed my holy calf. For this you would be punished. When you are fighting a war, your chariot wheel would sink into the ground. You would be stranded and left at the mercy of your foe.”

But now during the Great War, Karna’s spirit was very high when he led his forces into the field. Adopting the Makara formation, he himself occupied the front position. The Pandavas adopted the half moon formation to counter him. When the two armies met, it was like the clash of two huge clouds resulting in a reverberating thunder.

The day’s battle was marked by several fierce encounters. Satyaki routed the Kaikeyas and killed the two Avanti princes, Vinda and Anuvinda. Kshemadurthi of the Kulatas was killed by Bhima, while the Magadha king, Dandadhara, was killed by Arjuna. The Pandyan king, Malayadwaja, who had come all the way from the South to fight for the Pandavas, lost his life to Aswatthama after a spirited fight. In an encounter between Arjuna and Aswatthama, the latter had to seek refuge behind Karna.

Karna’s onslaught on the Pandava army was heavy. In a fight with Nakula, he disarmed the youngest of the Pandava brothers. But he spared the prince’s life due to his promise to Kunti not to kill any of the Pandava brothers, excepting Arjuna.

In a similar situation, Yudhishthira was in a position to kill Duryodhana but spared him. Duryodhana was marked by the Pandavas for Bhima to kill.

A whole range of weapons was used in the various engagements. Among the arms in use were bows and arrows, spiked clubs, swords, lances, axes, short clubs, darts, rapiers and battle-axes. Bhima’s bare hands were equally effective in dealing with the enemies.

Day 17 of Battle – The tragedy that was Karna

Early in the morning of the seventeenth day, Karna counseled with Duryodhana. The Commander-in-chief was still breathing confidence when he said, “I might have lost the weapon Indra gave me. But I still have the bow Vijaya, which is equal to the Gandiva. Vijaya was given to me by Parasurama who got it from his ancestor Bhirgu who himself received it from Indra. I vow that today I shall kill Arjuna or I would not return alive.”

Planning his strategy, Karna told Duryodhana that he needed the most competent charioteer to counter Arjuna who had Krishna to steer him. Karna chose the Madri king Salya for the purpose. The proud Salya refused, saying that he would not be charioteer to a person of low class. When Duryodhana flattered him by comparing him to Krishna, the king of the Madras agreed. But he laid down one condition. “I shall say anything I please at any time while fighting. Karna should not object to it.” Karna agreed

As Karna set out with Salya as his charioteer, he announced to his soldiers, “I have vowed to kill Arjuna today. Whoever points him out to me shall be rewarded with immense wealth.”

Salya felt offended by Karna’s words. He said, “I am your charioteer. I shall take you to Arjuna. Besides, you need not seek Arjuna. He shall seek you.”

Salya’s tirade against Karna had started. He continued, “You desire to fight someone you could never vanquish in battle. A hare cannot challenge a mighty elephant. A fox cannot overthrow lions. A tiger is not affected by a dog barking at him. Truth is like a rock and deceit cannot triumph over it.”

Karna was quick in returning the abuses. He said, “You are a coward and unfit to be a Kshatriya. You do not know my strength. You do not realize that I can slay all the Pandavas. You are a foe, pretending to be a friend. You Madrakas are a degenerate race. You are lustful and have no character. Each one of you is of doubtful parentage. The only reason I have not taken your life for your offensive words is because you are fighting for Duryodhana.”

Salya countered, “A crow cannot be a swan. That you are a coward has been proved by many instances in the past.” True to his word to Yudhishthira before the war commenced, Salya continued to rant, praising Arjuna and Krishna, while rebuking Karna. Karna found it hard to ignore him and concentrate on the fight.

In a direct encounter, Karna inflicted several wounds on the Pandava king who had to retreat to his tent. Arjuna and Krishna, when they heard of the injury to Yudhishthira, rushed to meet him. Yudhishthira rebuked Arjuna for abandoning the battlefield and coming back to the camp. “If you cannot use the Gandiva,” he said, “Give it to someone else.” A furious Arjuna was about to hit his brother with his sword, when Krishna intervened. The two brothers apologized to each other, and Arjuna returned to fight.

Several of Duryodhana’s brothers, including Duscasana, attacked Bhima. In the fight that followed, Duscasana lost his weapons and fell exhausted from his chariot. As he lay trembling on the ground, Bhima jumped down and, rushing to the Kaurava prince, struck him with his sword, severing his head. In fulfillment of the vow he had made after the dice game, Bhima quaffed the blood of the slain brother of Duryodhana. Many including Duryodhana and Karna, watched the scene, terror written on their faces.

Following this, Bhima dispatched ten more brothers of Duryodhana to the other world.

The battle between Karna and Arjuna drew everybody’s attention. The gods, the rishis, the asuras and humans, all sensed that a great event was taking place. Indra prayed to Brahman for his son’s victory. Brahman told him, “This is a fight between the forces of the gods and those of the demons. Arjuna represents the gods and would surely win.”

Overawed by the clash of the two, Aswatthama appealed to Duryodhana to call off the war and make peace with the Pandavas. But Duryodhana was full of confidence that Karna will slay Arjuna.

Arjuna showered his arrows on the Kaurava forces, making them scatter. Soon Karna was standing alone and resisting Arjuna. Karna released a deadly snake-mouthed arrow on Arjuna. The arrow careered straight towards Arjuna’s head. Krishna quickly pressed Arjuna’s chariot into the earth. The arrow flew past Arjuna’s head, knocking off his headgear. It then returned to Karna, not finding its target.

Karna heard a voice, “See me well. Use the arrow again. This time Arjuna will not escape.” Karna asked, “Who are you?” The voice replied, “I am Aswasena, the snake in your arrow. You used me without seeing me. If you see me well and shoot me again I shall kill Arjuna. I have been wronged by Arjuna when he burned the Khandava forest and I desire to take my revenge.”

The proud Karna told the snake, “I never use the same arrow twice. Besides, I do not rely on another to slay my foe. I depend on my own strength. Go away.”

The snake attacked Arjuna on its own, in the form of an arrow. Without any effort, Arjuna felled it with several arrows. Krishna reminded Arjuna of the snake whose mother he had killed while destroying the Khandava forest. That snake was now trying to avenge his mother’s death.

Karna struggled. His shafts, aimed at Arjuna, failed to reach their target. He was himself peppered by Arjuna’s arrows.

He pulled out his Brahmastra. But try as he did, he failed to remember the chant needed to launch the supreme weapon. Now he found that the left wheel of his chariot was sinking into the ground. He jumped out of the chariot and tried to lift the wheel free. Unsuccessful in his attempt, he appealed to Arjuna to give him time. “It is but virtue that you should not attack a person who is in my state,” he said.

Krishna asked him, “Where was your virtue when you caused the Panchali princess to be brutalized after the dice game?”

Urged by Krishna, Arjuna closed in on his kill. He took out a deadly arrow, Anjalika, from his quiver and aimed it at Karna. The shaft flew straight and took Karna’s head. The mighty son of Surya, the pillar on which Duryodhana’s dreams were built, fell dead.

Karna’s fall left the remnants of the Kaurava forces in a state of shock. Duryodhana kept wailing, “O Karna.” But he quickly collected himself and rallied his forces that were flying in all directions. ”Wherever you run,” he told them, “the Pandavas will pursue you and kill you. It is therefore better to stay here and fight.”

Arjuna and Krishna returned to their camp to a tumultuous welcome. Yudhishthira was overjoyed at the fall of a powerful foe.

When Sanjaya conveyed the news of Karna’s death to Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, they both fell down in a swoon.

After the day’s battle was over, the Kauravas shifted their camp to a spot two Yojanas away, to a beautiful tableland at the foot of the Himavat hills, on the banks of Saraswati River.

On the recommendation of Aswatthama, Duryodhana appointed Salya as his next Commander-in-chief.
Chapter 9 Salya Parva


Day 18 of Battle – The sun sets on the Great War. Duryodhana goes into hiding. I have nothing to fight for, says Duryodhana. A sudden-death offer from Yudhishthira. Duryodhana and Bhima, the final showdown. Duryodhana accuses Krishna. Aswatthama on the rampage

Day 18 of Battle – The sun sets on the Great War

In the daily briefing prior to embarking on the battle on the eighteenth day, Krishna counseled Yudhishthira to lead the attack and have as his personal target, Salya.

On the Kaurava side, it was decided that the entire army, or what was left of it, would fight in a closely-knit formation, presenting a solid front to the Pandavas.

Both sides entered the field with their forces much depleted after seventeen days of fierce fighting. Yet they continued to fight.

Salya showed high spirit in attacking the Pandavas. He had to be checked by Bhima who caused him to fall on the platform of his chariot. Kripa came in and rescued the beleaguered Commander. But the Madras king was soon back in action, causing heavy damage to the Pandava army. Bhima, Satyaki and several others closed in on him, greatly afflicting him.

The appointed hour of Salya’s death had however come. Yudhishthira came within range of firing at the brave king. He fixed a special arrow on his bow, an arrow made of gold with gems studded. After an invocatory hymn he released it at Salya. The shaft flew straight and pierced the Commander-in-chief on his broad chest. Salya fell on the ground dead.

Observing Salya fall, his deputies rushed to attack Yudhishthira. But they were also consumed by the Pandava chief’s arrows.

The immediate reaction to these events was that the Kaurava forces turned their backs and started to run in fear. Duryodhana and Sakuni kept their feet planted and resisted the Pandavas. The frightened soldiers drew courage from observing their king fight. They slowly started to return to the scene.

Of the hundred sons of Gandhari, only two were left, namely, Duryodhana and Sudarsana. Bhima had killed all the rest. But that number shrank to one, as Bhima took the life of Sudarsana.

Sahadeva and Arjuna were holding Sakuni and his forces. In the apportioning of their prey by the Pandavas, Sakuni was allotted to Sahadeva. With a shining, golden arrow, Sahadeva severed Sakuni’s head. The gambler had lasted till the last day of the war.

Duryodhana was now left alone in the field. All his generals, all his troops had been consumed by the Pandavas’ might. There were only three other survivors of the Kaurava forces, Kripa, Aswatthama and Kritavarman, the Bhoja king. They had already fled. All the eleven Akshauhinis of the Kauravas had been destroyed. The dazed Duryodhana staggered until he reached a lake, Dwaipayana.

Duryodhana goes into hiding

Sanjaya who was in the battlefield, was caught by Satyaki. The Vrishni chief was about to kill him when Vyasa appeared on the scene and ordered his release. On his way back, Sanjaya met the lonely Duryodhana who was incoherent. Sanjaya observed the fallen hero entering the lake where, through his powers of illusion, he made a space for himself at the bottom.

Further in his path, Sanjaya met the retreating trio of Kripa, Aswatthama and Kritavarman, to whom he passed on information about Duryodhana’s whereabouts.

The sun was racing to the west, to set on the great, eighteen-day war.

The Kaurava forces had been completely destroyed. Duryodhana was missing. Yuyutsu, the Vaisya son of Dhritarashtra, approached Yudhishthira and asked for permission to take the ladies belonging to the Kaurava Royal family who were camping with their husbands, to Hastinapura. Escorting the wailing women, he reached the city. Vidura who received them at the city gate remembered Draupadi’s action as she dragged herself out of Hastinapura fourteen years earlier, disgraced and humiliated.

Even as the light was fading, the Pandavas spread out in all directions, mounting a hunt for Duryodhana. Meanwhile, the three warriors, Kripa, Aswatthama and Kritavarman stealthily reached the lake where Duryodhana had taken refuge. They urged their king to come out of the lake. But the fallen king had no desire to do so.

While the three warriors were thus conversing with Duryodhana, a few hunters came to the lake to slake their thirst. Observing the scene there, they reported to the Pandavas that the Kaurava king was hiding in the lake. The hunters were amply rewarded for giving this intelligence.

Very soon the Pandavas with Krishna and other close associates reached the lake. Krishna caused Duryodhana to become visible. Yudhishthira rebuked his cousin for running away for his life and hiding in the water.

I have nothing to fight for, says Duryodhana

“I am here not to hide from you,” Duryodhana said. “I have lost everything in the battle, even my chariot and my horses. Being alone, without an army, I cannot fight you. I have taken refuge in this lake in order to rest. Moreover, I have no desire to fight for my kingdom anymore. You may take it and be happy.”

Yudhishthira said, “We have reduced you to this unenviable position in battle. We do not want your kingdom as a piece of charity. We would complete our conquest over you and take the kingdom. Respect Kshatriya rules and come out and fight.”

Duryodhana replied, “Without my troops I can only fight you individually. We have seen many beautiful encounters while fighting from our cars. We can now fight with our maces, on the ground. I am confident to take any one of you at a time.”

A sudden-death offer from Yudhishthira

Yudhishthira made a sporting offer. He told the Kaurava king, “We accept your challenge. If you are able to defeat any one of us in a combat, you may have your kingdom restored to you. This is more than what you did when so many of you surrounded Abhimanyu and killed the innocent prince.”

Krishna expressed his anxiety and chided Yudhishthira for making such an offer. He thought that none of the Pandavas was a match to Duryodhana in a fight with the mace, not even Bhima. While Bhima possessed might, Duryodhana possessed skill. In a straight fight, skill would always triumph.

Bhima talked with assurance to Vasudeva and it was decided that he would battle Duryodhana in a single-combat with the mace.

Duryodhana rose out of the water and the fierce battle between the Kaurava and Pandava princes was set to commence.

Duryodhana and Bhima, the final showdown

Just as the combat between Duryodhana and Bhima was about to commence, Balarama, Krishna’s brother, arrived at the scene after his forty-two days of pilgrimage. He was very sad at the events that had taken place during his absence, but was consoled to be back in time to witness his two favourite pupils in fight. He proposed that they all proceed to a holy spot of Kurukshetra called Samantapanchaka, where the fight could take place.

In the fierce fight that took place, both combatants seemed to be equally matched. But just as Krishna had warned, Duryodhana was slowly getting the upper hand.

Krishna told Arjuna, “In this battle, Bhima can never win if he fights fairly. Let him adopt deception and win. What you fought for and have already won is at stake. Even the gods sometime adopt deception in their fight against the asuras.

“After the dice game, Bhima swore that he would break Duryodhana’s thigh. Let him do it now.”

According to the rules of fighting with the mace, no blow should be dealt below the opponent’s navel. Arjuna slapped his thigh, indicating to Bhima what he should do. Bhima quickly understood the signal. Waiting for an opportune moment, he dealt a mighty blow to Duryodhana’s thighs. The Kaurava prince fell, his thighs broken by the impact.

With Duryodhana lying prostrate before him, Bhima placed his foot on the head of the fallen man. He cried in frenzy that he had avenged Duryodhana for his wrong doings in the manner he had sworn. Yudhishthira restrained him, reminding him that with all his faults, Duryodhana was a king and a kinsman.

Balarama who was furious at Bhima’s flagrant violation of the code, stepped forward to hit him with his plough, the weapon he was known to wield with effect. Krishna pulled him back and tried to justify to him Bhima’s action. Balarama was unconvinced. He mounted his chariot and left for Dwaraka in anger.

Duryodhana accuses Krishna

Duryodhana, completely disabled, raised the upper portion of his body and addressed Krishna. “You have been the cause of all the unfair practices pursued by the Pandavas in this war. Through Arjuna you signaled to Bhima to break the code and hit me on my thighs. You caused Sikhandin to be brought before Bhishma and that led the grandsire to his fall. You were responsible for Indra depriving Karna of his earrings and armour as also for the Anga king wasting the weapon Indra gave him. Drona and Bhurisravas were both killed when unarmed, due to your counsel. You frustrated us by making many of our weapons ineffective. This war has been won by you by unfair means.”

Krishna replied, “You have no claim to talk about the methods we adopted to baffle you. You have been responsible for innumerable crimes committed against the Pandavas. You tried to kill them by several means. You abused their queen, Panchali, in your court. You cheated them out of their kingdom through Sakuni’s dice play. You refused to yield to their just demand when they returned from their exile. You killed an innocent lad, Abhimanyu, in an unfair fight. You claim to be purified by your charity to brahmins. But that is offset by your insolence towards your elders. It is because of these various crimes that you are now reduced to this. To defeat you, adopting any means was fair.”

Duryodhana said, “I do not regret my actions. I have enjoyed the earth as its monarch. I now die as a brave Kshatriya with my place in heaven assured.” When he spoke these words, flowers were showered over him from above by the Gandharvas and other celestial beings.

As they were returning to their tents, the Pandavas were pondering over Duryodhana’s words. Krishna lifted their spirits by pointing out to them that warriors like Bhishma, Drona and Karna were unassailable in the normal course. Without adopting the strategies that he had recommended, the Pandavas could not have won the war.

On reaching their camp, Krishna asked Arjuna to alight from the chariot Indra had given him. As soon as Arjuna complied, the ape in his banner disappeared. The chariot, with all the arms and weapons in it, went up in flames. Krishna explained to Arjuna, “As long as I was sitting in the chariot, nothing could harm it. It bore the brunt of all kinds of weapons. Now that I have left it, it is reduced to ashes.”

Krishna then proposed that, as an act of propitiation, they leave the camp and spend the night on the banks of River Oghavati. After they had moved to the sacred place, Krishna left for Hastinapura. He told Yuthishthira, “I shall go to Hastinapura and break the news of Duryodhana’s fall to the king and queen. This will soften them, especially Gandhari whose sons have all been killed. She is so pure that by an angry look she can burn anyone in front of her. Let her anger diminish before you call on her.”

Krishna’s mission was made easy by the presence of Vyasa in Hastinapura.

Meanwhile, Kripa, Aswatthama and Kritavarman, the sole survivors in the Kaurava camp, met Duryodhana who was lying in the battlefield, wounded and immobile. The three of them heard an account of the battle between their king and Bhima, and were incensed at the foul play that had taken place. They swore to take revenge on the Pandavas.

Duryodhana told Aswatthama, “The mantle of Commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army now falls on you.”

Chapter 10 Sauptika Parva



Aswatthama on the rampage. Mission accomplished, Aswatthama reports to dying Duryodhana.
The hunt for Aswatthama.

Aswatthama on the rampage

The three Kaurava warriors, Kripa, Aswatthama and Kritavarman, took refuge under a huge banyan tree in a nearby forest to spend the night. While Kripa and the Bhoja king slept out of fatigue, Aswatthama kept awake. The deep vaults of his mind were filled with rage to destroy the Panchalas as revenge for the dastardly killing of his father by their king Dhrishtadyumna.

On a nearby tree Aswatthama observed an owl attacking a crow’s nest. In a matter of minutes, the predator reduced his prey to shreds. This gave Drona’s son the idea that he should attack his enemies, particularly the Panchalas, when they were sleeping.

Aswatthama yoked his chariot and started towards the Pandava camp. His companions who had woken up asked him where he was going. Learning his intentions, they tried to dissuade him. Finding Aswatthama insistent, they decided to follow him. When they reached the Panchala quarters of the Pandava camp, Aswatthama left the other two at the gate, and proceeded inside by foot, alone.

As he entered the camp, he was accosted by a terrifying figure of huge proportions, breathing fire, which seemed to be guarding the entrance. Aswatthama attacked the figure with his arrows, his scimitar and his mace. Nothing had any effect on the apparition. Thoroughly frustrated, he sat down and prayed intensely to the god Siva. The Mountain God appeared before him.

“I know for what purpose you are praying to me,” the god told Drona’s son. “Due to my promise to Krishna, it is I who have been protecting the Panchala princes. Now that the purpose of their birth has been fulfilled, and the time for their death has arrived, I shall grant you your wish.” The god infused his own energy into Aswatthama and gave him a sword.

Aswatthama went to his companions and asked them to kill anyone who tried to leave the camp. Entering the quarters, this time unopposed, he descended on the sleeping Panchalas like a tornado. He appeared dark and fierce as he started to kill anyone who came in his way. He first sought Dhrishtadyumna, the slayer of Drona. Placing his foot on the prince’s chest, he drove his sword into him. His next target was the five sons of Draupadi who were rudely awakened by the commotion. Aswatthama killed all of them, some with his sword and some with his arrows.

Sikhandin mustered his men and attacked the raging lion. In no time all of them, including Sikhandin, were slaughtered. Aswatthama then went about mercilessly killing all the other inmates of the Panchala camp. Those who tried to run away were taken care of by Kripa and his companion outside. The three of them set the tents on fire and left the scene of crime.

Mission accomplished, Aswatthama reports to dying Duryodhana

Having accomplished their dark deed, Aswatthama and his two companions went to Duryodhana and informed him of their act. The Kaurava prince, struggling as he was for his life, expressed his happiness, saying, “What the great Bhishma, Drona and Karna could not accomplish, you have. I die happily. We shall meet in heaven.” He then closed his eyes.

It was morning by now. The only survivor of the carnage in the Panchala camp was the charioteer of Dhrishtadyumna. He rushed to the River where the Pandava brothers were camping. The news of the tragedy was received by them with profound shock. Draupadi was sent for and told about the death of her sons. She was struck with grief. She demanded of the Pandava brothers that they kill Aswatthama and bring to her the diadem on his head. “I would not rest until that diadem is placed on the head of the Pandava king,” she said.

The hunt for Aswatthama

Bhima rushed to find Aswatthama and slay him. Krishna, who had by now returned from Hastinapura, told Arjuna, “We should follow Bhima. Aswatthama is now endowed with immense strength and only you can kill him. The son of Drona is evil, having dishonourable intentions. Earlier, having obtained the Brahmasira weapon from his father, he approached me. He begged me to trade his formidable weapon for my celestial disc. I agreed and laid the disc on the ground. He tried to lift it with one hand. He found it too heavy. He then tried to lift it with both his hands. He failed again. When he ceased his effort, I asked him why he wanted my disc. To use it against you, he said, and then to conquer the world. He is indeed a wicked and restless soul.”

The four brothers, whom Bhima left behind, and Krishna, mounted a chariot and followed the prince’s trial. Bhima reached the hermitage of Vyasa where he found Aswatthama sitting by the side of the illustrious sage. They caught up with Bhima, and Aswatthama saw all of them approaching him together. He thought his end was near, and in desperation, he took out the supreme Brahmastra weapon in his possession. Even as Bhima started to shower his arrows on him, Aswatthama, after performing the necessary prayers, released his deadly weapon.

Arjuna had been taught the same weapon by Drona. Krishna asked him to counter Aswatthama and neutralize the deadly weapon. Arjuna also launched his weapon.

The sages Narada and Vyasa who were witness to the battle that was brewing, became alarmed. They knew that the Brahma weapon was not meant to be used against humans, and that if the two weapons met, there would be disastrous results on earth. They stood in between the two warriors, and holding the rival weapons in the air, appealed to both the antagonists to withdraw. Arjuna had the knowledge to withdraw his arrow, and he complied. Aswatthama did not know the art of withdrawing the weapon. It was in the nature of the weapon that if a proper target were not assigned, it would return and kill the person who invoked it. Aswatthama had to find a target for the weapon. He let it go with instruction that it should destroy the children in the womb of every Pandava woman.

Due to their respect for their teacher, Drona, the Pandavas spared Aswatthama’s life. He was however compelled to give up his diadem in return. Without the diadem, Aswatthama was shorn of all courage and became incapable of fighting.

Krishna told Aswatthama, “Your weapon will no doubt kill the foetus in every Pandava womb. But I shall revive the son that is developing in the womb of Abhimanyu’s wife, Uttara. That son would bear the torch of the Kuru race and bring glory to it. As for you, for your evil deed, you shall roam the world for three thousand years without a companion. You will be shunned by all, and people would forsake your company.”

Considering that it was the preceptor’s son and sufficient punishment had been meted out to him, Draupadi reconciled herself to Aswatthama’s life being spared.

Chapter 11 Stree Parva


 Dhritarashtra’s deadly embrace. Gandhari curses Krishna.

Dhritarashtra’s deadly embrace

With the conclusion of the war on the eighteenth day, there was nothing for Sanjaya to report to the blind king. The boon granted to him by Vyasa, to be able to see and hear the happenings in the battle field, became ineffective.

Vyasa called on Dhritarashtra to console him for his loss. The sage was aware that Gandhari, due to her austerities, had the power to curse the Pandavas and bring disaster to them. He therefore advised her to get over her grief and think of the Pandavas as her own children.

Dhritarashtra assembled all the royal ladies and together they proceeded to the battlefield. He was received by Yudhishthira and his brothers with respect. The king expressed his desire to embrace each one of the five brothers. He first embraced Yudhishthira. Next on line was Bhima. Krishna knew that the king was harbouring intense hatred for Bhima since he it was that killed all his hundred sons. Being the well-wisher of the Pandavas, he drew away Bhima and instead, pushed an iron image of Bhima towards Dhritarashtra. The blind man, in his embrace, crushed the image and let the mangled remains fall on the earth. He then asked if Bhima was killed.

Krishna told Dhritarashtra, “Bhima is alive and well. What you crushed is only an image of Bhima. It is not proper that you should hate the Pandavas for what happened. But for your encouraging your wicked son, there would have been no war and the near total destruction of the Kshatriyas could have been avoided. The Pandavas still consider you as their father, and you should consider them as your sons.”

Dhritarashtra overcame his hatred for the Pandavas and embraced them one by one, this time with affection.

Gandhari curses Krishna

Leaving the old king, the Pandava brothers and Krishna went to meet Gandhari and the other ladies of the Kuru family. Despite Vyasa’s advise the queen had not got over her anger at the destroyers of her near and dear ones. Her eyes were hooded, but through the lower portion of her blindfold, her glance fell on Yudhishthira’s toe as the prince bowed to her. The toenail was instantly burnt. Such was her wrath. She called Bhima heartless for having drunk her son’s blood. Bhima denied that he actually drank Duscasana’s blood, but only smeared it on his mouth.

Krishna advised Gandhari to bury her hatred and receive the Pandavas with love. Gandhari’s attitude towards the Pandavas changed and she blessed them. Her anger at Krishna was however not abated. She said, “Krishna, you were in the middle of this great war. You could have prevented the massacre of my hundred sons and the killing of the innumerable Kshatriya princes. Instead, you encouraged the Pandavas and even helped them to adopt unfair means in the war. Bear this in mind. Just as these Kshatriyas slew one another, thirty-six years from now so would your Yadava race perish, killing one another. As for you, you would meet with an inglorious end in the wilderness. This is my curse on you.”

Krishna replied, “Your curse will certainly take its course since you are endowed with great virtue. Indeed the Yadava race will be wiped out due to infighting, since none outside could kill them.”

Dhritarashtra asked Yudhishthira, “You are an ocean of knowledge. Could you tell me how many Kshatriyas lost their lives in the war, and how many survived?”

Yudhishthira told the king, “The number of those who perished is one billion six hundred sixty million and twenty thousand. Those who survived were twenty four thousand one hundred and sixty five.”

The funeral rites were arranged for all those slain in the battle. It was then that Kunti revealed to the Pandava brothers that Karna was the firstborn son of hers. The truth about Karna’s birth added to the agony of Yudhishthira who wanted to renounce his newly won kingdom and take to the woods. Vyasa advised him against it, reminding him of his duties as king.

Chapter 12 Santhi Parva


Bhishma’s discourse

Even as arrangements were made for his coronation, Yudhishthira spent long hours with Bhishma who was lying in his bed of arrows, waiting for the right moment to meet his death. The king sat at the sage’s feet, listening to his discourse on a wide range of subjects – from creation to death, from social organization to religious observances, from the king’s duties to individual behaviour. Some of Bhishma’s observations were:

On creation: The primeval being was known as Manasa (Mind). He is without beginning or end. All creatures are born through him and die through him. Manasa created the divine being known as Mahat (Great). Mahat created consciousness and Space. From Space was born Water, from Water, Fire and Wind. With the union of Fire and Wind was born the earth. Manasa then created the divine lotus from which sprang Brahman. It is Brahman who created all living things.

The five elements are the constituents of all creatures. Ear is of space, nose is of earth, tongue is of water, touch is of wind and eyes are of light.

Five kinds of wind are essential for life. Prana enables movement. Vyana gives strength for movement. Apana is gravity. Samana is the heart. Udana controls the flow of wind, which gives speech.

On Soul: It is the occupation of the soul in the body that gives life. It is a manifestation of Brahman. Soul is consciousness. The soul continues to live after the body dies.

On Truth: Truth is Brahman. Truth is Light. Untruth is Darkness. All conduct is divided between the two. The opposition of these two extremes is the essence of life.

On Mind: Mind is the sixth sense. It gives understanding. It crystallizes the three qualities of Darkness, Passion and Goodness.

On Emancipation: Emancipation is freedom from the extremes. He who is emancipated is free from the influence of the five organs. He feels no heat or cold, no misery or happiness. He feels no scent. His mind is stable in respect of things that are unstable.

On Yoga: Yoga is the means of emancipation. All the five senses are fixed when in meditation. The sixth sense, mind, is the means by which the other five senses are controlled.

On Brahman: The attainment of Brahman or supreme consciousness is the soul’s ultimate objective. With such attainment, there is no rebirth. Brahman can neither be seen nor touched. It can only be felt.

On Brahmacharya: It is the religion of abstention. It is freedom from all senses. Its true practice is the way to attain Brahman. Yoga is the vehicle of Brahmacharya.

On Dreams: Dreams arise from desire. Passion and Darkness take over. Dreams occur when asleep. True Yogis therefore always remain awake. However, he who has self-restraint sleeps without dreaming.

On Fortitude: When distress strikes, only fortitude can overcome it. One who has developed fortitude will have both physical and mental strength to meet disaster.

On Time: Time assails everyone equally. Many, who had conquered the three worlds, had performed a hundred sacrifices and had sought to live forever, have been consumed by Time. Time is the creator and the destroyer. What existed yesterday is swept away today by Time. Changes wrought by Time are irreversible.

On Measuring Time: Fifteen winks of the eye make a Kastha. Thirty Kasthas make a Kala. Thirty and one-tenth Kala make a Muhurta. Thirty Muhurtas make one day and night. Thirty days make a month. Twelve months make a year. A year is made of two solstices of the sun, southern and northern, known as Ayanas.

On Years of the Deities: For the deities, the day consists of one solstice. Night consists of the other.

On Yugas: There are four Yugas – the Krita, the Treta, the Dwapara and the Kali, in that order of occurrence. In terms of the years of the deities, Krita has four thousand and eight hundred years. Treta has three thousand six hundred years. Dwapara has two thousand four hundred years. Kali has one thousand two hundred years.

On Brahman’s Day: A thousand Yugas of twelve thousand years each, constitutes a day.
A similar period constitutes the night. During the night, Brahman sleeps. On waking up, he starts creation afresh.

On the Yuga Cycle: Krita starts with the initial creation when life is pure and righteousness rules. Dilution of truth takes place in the successive eras, Treta and Dwapara. It reaches the low point in the Kali Yuga. Time facilitates this passage.

Destruction: The process of destruction at the end of Brahman’s day is exactly in the reverse direction of creation. In the ultimate step, Consciousness, Space and Time are swallowed by Brahman.

On the King’s Duty: The severity with which a king should rule depends on the Yuga. In Krita, there is total absence of severity. In Treta, it should be of one-fourth degree. In Dwapara, it increases to three-fourths. In Kali, it reaches almost the full degree.

On what benefits the Un-learned: These are three; worship of the preceptor, reverence to elders and listening to the scriptures.

Yudhishthira : Tell me, O great one, the thousand names that glorify Lord Vishnu.
Bhishma : Sukhlam Bharatharam Vishnum…………

Chapter 13 Anusasana Parva



Death waits on Bhishma

Bhishma continued his discourse to Yudhishthira and the other illustrious princes and sages gathered around him. He then became silent, as did all those around him. Vyasa told the grandsire, “O learned one, the war in the Kuru family is over and Yudhishthira has been restored his kingdom. It is in the order of things that he should now return to Hastinapura and take up the reins of government for a beneficial rule. Give him leave.”

Bhishma told Yudhishthira, “When the Sun changes his direction towards the North, my soul will depart from my body. Proceed now to Hastinapura and return at that time, when my death would take place.”

Yudhishthira did as his grandsire bid him. He returned to Hastinapura where he was duly installed as king amidst all pomp and ceremony. At the appointed hour Yudhishthira with his entourage arrived at Bhishma’s side. The old sage gave him and Dhritarashtra appropriate advise, the former on his responsibilities as a monarch and the latter on the need to get over his grief.

Bhishma turned to Krishna and said, “O Lord. I am fortunate to have you at my side when I depart from this world. Bless me and give me permission to leave. I strived my best to live a life of virtue and truth on this earth, and I now look forward to joining the Vasus above where I belong.”

Krishna said, “It is because you have not committed a single transgression in this life that even Death waits on you. You would receive the best in the next world, which is what you deserve.”

The dying prince adopted Yoga. Fifty-eight nights after his fall in the battle, his life breath left its corporeal and ascended to the heavens. Wrapping the body with white silk and adorning it with gems, Yudhishthira led the funeral procession to the banks of the Bhagirathi River. The goddess Ganga rose from the River and lamented for her son. Krishna consoled her, pointing out to the noble life that the prince had led. Ganga then disappeared. The funeral rites were completed as per religious rules and the party turned away, leaving behind the mortal remains of Bhishma to reduce to ashes.

Chapter 14 Aswamedha Parva



Finance for a Horse sacrifice. Abhimanyu’s son is born. Yudhishthira performs the Horse sacrifice.
Ulipi engineers Arjuna’s death. Ulipi engineers Arjuna’s death

Finance for a Horse sacrifice

Yudhishthira was steeped in sorrow and was constantly blaming himself for the destruction and grief caused by the war. Krishna as well as Vyasa consoled him, pointing out to the fact that it was the evil Duryodhana who caused the holocaust. Forever desiring the welfare of the Pandava king, Vyasa advised Yudhishthira to perform the Aswamedha (Horse) sacrifice along with the Rajasuya, Sarvamedha and Naramedha sacrifices.

Yudhishthira pointed out that the sacrifice would entail heavy expenses that he could ill afford at the present juncture. Vyasa had a solution for this. He said, “In the Himalayas there lies buried a huge treasure. This was left behind by brahmins who received enormous quantities of gold from the king Marutta during a sacrifice. Go thither and recover the gold.” Vyasa then gave details about the location of the treasure to Yudhishthira.

Yudhishthira, with a huge army, proceeded to the Himalayas and camped at the spot indicated by Vyasa. After observing religious ceremonies, he caused the site to be excavated. The treasure that issued from the earth was so huge that thousands of camels and elephants had to be employed to transport it to Hastinapura.

Abhimanyu’s son is born

Krishna had, in the meanwhile, returned to Dwaraka. He narrated the events of the war to his father, Vasudeva. The patriarch swooned on hearing about Abhimanyu’s death. After spending some time with his people, Krishna started for Hastinapura.

As Krishna reached Hastinapura, there were joyous tidings that Uttara had given birth to a son. Almost immediately came the news from the delivery room that Uttara’s son was still born. The wailing princess reminded Krishna of his promise that the child would live. Krishna withdrew the Brahma weapon of Aswatthama that had scorched the foetus, and the child came to life. Thus was born the great king Parikshit (one born after testing times), the son of Abhimanyu, and the perpetuation of the Kuru dynasty was assured.

Yudhishthira performs the Horse sacrifice

With the active participation of Krishna and Vyasa, the Horse sacrifice was launched. According to the rules of the sacrifice, the royal horse was to roam the four corners of the country. Any king who challenged it would have to fight the performer of the sacrifice. Arjuna was deputed to follow the horse on its triumphal footsteps, fighting off anyone daring to interfere with its movements. Yudhishthira gave strict instructions to Arjuna not to kill those who opposed him but to merely subdue them.

As was to be expected, most of the opposition came from the successors of those who were vanquished by the Pandavas at the Kurukshetra war. The first was from the Trigartas, whose king Suryavarman was easily put aside. Next was from Vajradatta, the son of Bhagadatta of the Pragyothishas. Vajradatta was brought to his knees.

Arjuna then had an encounter with the Sindhus whose king, Jayadratha, he had slain in the war. The Sindhus at first resisted Arjuna. But Jayadratha’s widow and Dritarashtra’s daughter, Dussala, appealed to Arjuna to spare them. Arjuna graciously agreed and left his sister happy.

Ulipi engineers Arjuna’s death

The next event in the triumphal tour turned out to be unusual. Arjuna had reached Manipura where his son Babruvahana was the king. The young king welcomed his father with reverence. But Arjuna bade him to fight, since he had transgressed into Babruvahana’s territory.

Just then the Naga princess, Ulipi, made her appearance and encouraged Babruvahana to fight against the intruder. In the exchange of arrows, Babruvahana pierced Arjuna who fell down dead. Babruvahana’s mother, Chitrangada, rushed to the scene and accused Ulipi of causing Arjuna’s death. Ulipi assured them that they were witnessing only an illusion, since Arjuna could not be vanquished. She produced a gem with which she revived the fallen prince.

Asked by Arjuna, Ulipi explained her action. She said, “During the war of the princes, you killed Bhishma by unfair means. The old warrior, refusing to face Sikhandin, had laid down his arms. It was then that your arrows penetrated him and brought him down. I overheard a conversation between the heavenly Vasus and the goddess Ganga. The Vasus cursed you for your foul act and Ganga endorsed the curse. Alarmed, I sought my sire, Kauravya, and asked for his advise. My sire immediately went to the Vasus and represented your case. The Vasus relented and said that if the highly endowed Babruvahana killed you, you would be expiated of your sin. I enacted this play only for that purpose.”

Reaching Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha, Arjuna was challenged by Jarasandha’s son, Meghasandhi. The Magadha prince was defeated in the battle, but his life was spared.

Sarabha, the son of Sisupala of the Chedis, stopped Arjuna as the Pandava prince entered their capital, Saktimati. After a token engagement, Sarabha worshipped Arjuna and assured to attend the sacrifice.

King Ugrasena of the Vrishnis received Arjuna at Dwaraka and duly honoured him. At the next port of call, Gandhara, Sakuni’s son led a charge against Arjuna, only to be overpowered by the conqueror.

A strange intruder during sacrifice

After his triumphant tour, Arjuna returned to Hastinapura, just in time for the sacrifice, fixed for the full moon day of Chitra (April). Elaborate arrangements had been made for the royal guests to stay and a special hall had been put up for performing the religious rites.

The successful completion of the Horse Sacrifice established Yudhishthira as the supreme ruler of the country. The sacrifice was however marred by a small incident. A mongoose appeared near the holy fire and started making disparaging remarks about sacrifices and righteousness. It later came to be known that the animal was the god Dharma (the custodian of righteousness) who was under a curse for misbehaving in a sacrifice performed by the sage Jamadagni. He was redeemed from the curse by talking derogatorily about himself. The animal disappeared as strangely as it had appeared.

Chapter 15 Asramavasaka Parva



Yudhishthira, a benevolent monarch. Bhima’s remarks and Dhritarashtra’s reaction.

Dhritarashtra takes to the forest. The soul of Vidura.

The living meet the dead.Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti die.

Yudhishthira, a benevolent monarch

With the ascension of Yudhishthira to the throne, an era of benevolent rule from Hastinapura commenced. Prosperity prevailed everywhere and justice ruled. The Pandava kingdom extended far and wide. Where the Pandavas did not rule, the other rulers were made to pay tributes.

The Pandavas were highly respectful of their uncle Dhritarashtra, and his queen, Gandhari. They appointed Vidura and Kripa to high offices. Bhima alone was still harbouring a measure of hatred for Dhritarashtra and could never forgive the old king for encouraging Duryodhana.

Bhima’s remarks and Dhritarashtra’s reaction

Fifteen years passed in tranquility since Yudhishthira became king. One day Dhritarashtra and Gandhari overheard Bhima boasting of his prowess and how he had killed all the hundred Kaurava brothers. While Gandhari was generous enough to brush aside Bhima’s remarks, Dhritarashtra became very sad. He was reminded of his own role in bringing about the war. He decided to retire to the forest and take to penance.

Dhritarashtra takes to the forest

Yudhishthira pleaded against Dhritarashtra proceeding to the forest. But Vyasa who was present at Hastinapura persuaded Yudhishthira to let his uncle have his way. Gandhari, Kunti, Vidura and Sanjaya also insisted on accompanying Dhritarashtra.

Preparations were made for Dhritarashtra to leave for the forest. He had a meeting with the Pandava king when he gave a long discourse on how to rule his country and how to carry on the great traditions set by the Kurus. He then sought leave of his subjects. He apologized to them for his follies in backing his evil-minded son. His subjects were touched by his oration and responded by saying that they carried no grudge against him.

The next day Vidura was deputed by Dhritarashtra to solicit wealth from the treasury for distribution to the people in memory of Bhishma, Drona, his hundred sons and all those near to him who were slain in the battle. Despite opposition from Bhima, the king opened out his treasury to his uncle.

Dhritarashtra, accompanied by Gandhari, Kunti, Vidura, Sanjaya and a host of brahmins, first reached the banks of Bhagirathi. He then proceeded to the hermitage of Satayapu, the former king of the Kekeyas. Commanded by Vyasa whose abode was nearby, Satayapu instructed Dhrirarashtra on how to conduct himself as an ascetic.

Narada who visited Dhritarashtra told him, “The gods are pleased with the severe austerities undertaken by you. You have been absolved of all your sins. You have three more years left after which, along with Gandhari, you would leave this world for your after life in heaven.”

The soul of Vidura

The Pandava brothers, despite having become the lords of the earth, were deeply depressed at the thought of their mother, uncles and aunt living in the forest, bereft of all comforts. They were soon possessed with the desire to visit them. Yudhishthira made elaborate preparations and, accompanied by his near and dear ones, set out to the forest.

A happy family reunion took place in the hermitage. Yudhishthira, however, observed the absence of his uncle Vidura. When he made enquiries, he was told that Vidura was mostly away, roaming the forest, and sometimes seen in the company of brahmins. Yudhishthira immediately went alone in search of his younger uncle.

When he spotted Vidura, he found him to be emaciated, naked and covered with dirt. Vidura walked away from the king who ran to catch up with the ascetic. “Behold me, your favourite nephew,” Yudhishthira called. ”I have come to visit you.”

Vidura uttered not a word. He leaned back on a tree and looked at Yudhishthira with concentration. Through Yogic power, little by little, he transferred all his energy into the body of Yudhishthira.

Pandu’s son realized that both he and Vidura belonged to the same essence, namely the god Dharma. A voice was heard saying, “The soul of Vidura has now merged with yours. Do not cremate him. Leave him as he is and return.”

Yudhishthira did as he was told and returned to the hermitage.

The living meet the dead

Vyasa who was on a visit to the Satyapu hermitage, asked Dhritarashtra, “You have been without eyesight. Is there anyone you would like to meet from among the dead? I could, by the power of my penances, call them to our presence.”

It was Gandhari who answered Vyasa. She said, “This mighty monarch has been passing the last sixteen years since the conclusion of the war, sighing constantly in remembrance of his sons. So have I been thinking constantly about them. Kunti has been thinking of her son, Karna, to whom she was unable to show her affection. Draupadi must be depressed, thinking of her five sons who were slain.”

“I shall gratify the desire of everyone here,” the great sage said. “Follow me to the banks of Bhagirathi.”

The entourage spent a day on the river bank, engaged in various religious ceremonies. When it was dark, Vyasa invoked the dead who came out of the river in all splendour. Parents met children and wives met husbands. Bhishma, Duryodhana and his brothers, the sons of Draupadi, cousins and uncles were all there. The living embraced the dead. All enmity was forgotten, and the night was spent in bliss.

As dawn approached, the noble Vyasa announced, “The time for parting has come. All the slain Kshatriya heroes would now return to their various abodes. Those wives who want to join their dead husbands can do so by entering the river.” Many of the Kshatriya women took the option and merged into the river.

Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti die

Two years passed after the Pandavas returned to Hastinapura from the memorable visit to Satayupa’s hermitage. Narada visited Yudhishthira, bringing news about Dhritarashtra. He said,

The noble descendent of Kuru undertook severe penance. His wife also took to meditation. Your mother, ever a monument of virtue, considered the old couple as her own parents and helped them in their austere life. Your uncle then left for Gangadhwara along with the others. There he was caught in a huge forest fire, the origin of which was from the sacrificial fire he was nurturing. When Sanjaya and the others offered to help him, he refused, preferring to stay and be consumed by the fire. Gandhari and Kunti also stayed with him and followed him in death. Sanjaya alone escaped, and he proceeded to the Himalayas to join the ascetics there”

The news of the death of his mother, uncle and aunt, caused great grief to Yudhishthira. Along with the other members of his family, he proceeded to the River Ganga where obsequies were performed for the departed ones.

Chapter 16 Mausala Parva



Story of the iron rod. Asses born to cows, mules to elephants.

Krishna’s death. Arjuna visits Dwaraka. Dwaraka disappears.

Story of the iron rod

Thirty-six years had passed since Gandhari cursed the Yadava race to total annihilation, blaming Krishna for the Mahabharata war. The chain of events leading to disaster and destruction of the race started from a prank, indulged in by the Yadava youth.

The sages Viswamitra, Kanva and Narada arrived on a visit to Dwaraka. Their senses fogged by Fate, some of the Yadava youth approached the distinguished rishis to play a prank on them. One of the youth, Samba, was dressed like a pregnant woman. They asked the sages, “You noble ones, this is the wife of Babhru who is desirous of having a son. Could you tell if she would be blessed with one?”

The rishis immediately understood the mischief being played upon them. They cursed the youth, “This scion of the Vasudeva family, Samba, would bring forth an iron rod which would cause the destruction of the Yadavas. All of them, excepting Balarama and Krishna, would perish due to this curse.”

The very next day Samba brought forth an iron rod. When the king of the Vrishnis, Ugrasena, came to know about this, he became alarmed. He ordered the iron rod to be ground to powder and thrown into the sea. He also announced a total ban on the manufacture and consumption of spirits throughout his kingdom.

Asses born to cows, mules to elephants

The Yadava clans of Vrishnis, Andhakas, Bhojas and Kukuras were at their best behaviour, in fear of the sages’ curse. But there were omens of impending disaster. Asses were born to cows and mules to elephants. Worms were found in the food that was cooked clean. Brahmins were ill-treated and wives and husbands deceived their spouses. The configuration in the sky was similar to what appeared before the eighteen-day war. Death in the form of a black and hideous woman roamed the city. The discus given by Agni to Krishna disappeared into the sky. The standards in the chariots of Krishna and Balarama, the Garuda (Kite) and the Palmyra tree, were taken away by the apsaras. The chariot of Krishna, drawn by the four famous steeds, Sugriva, Saivya, Megapushpa and Balahaka, bolted away.

Alarmed by these signals, the Yadavas, with their families, journeyed to the holy sea shore of Prabhasa. Having reached Prabhasa, however, they took to drinking wine, even in the presence of Krishna, and were soon intoxicated. Balarama himself joined the revelers. There followed arguments that led to fights. Inebriated by spirit, Satyaki derided Kritavarman for having killed at Kurukshetra, those who were sleeping. Kritavarman hurled back abuses at Satyaki who promptly severed his adversary’s head. A free for all ensued and whatever weapons could be found, was used to attack and kill. Whoever could not find a weapon took blades of grass, which turned into iron rods.

Knowing that the Yadavas’ hour of destruction had arrived, and remembering Gandhari’s curse, Krishna did not interfere in the fight. In fact Krishna himself killed many of his kinsmen, using the rod. All the men, save Krishna, his charioteer Daruka and Balarama, were killed.

Krishna’s death

Krishna dispatched Daruka to Hastinapura to inform Arjuna of the events, so that the Pandava prince could come and take the surviving Yadava women with him. Balarama, grieved at the slaughter of the Yadavas, walked into the forest. When Krishna caught up with him, he saw his brother’s soul leaving its body. A ten-headed serpent issued from Balarama’s mouth and drifted into the seas. Adisesha, the serpent under Vishnu’s feet, had completed his mission on earth and was returning to the region of gods. Krishna decided that his own hour to give up his body had come.

Krishna laid himself down in the forest and entered into meditation. On an earlier occasion, Durvasa had given him the boon that his body would be invulnerable, excepting for his feet. A hunter, Jara by name, mistook him for a deer and shot at him. The arrow pierced Krishna’s foot at the sole and went through his body.

Alarmed at his mistake, the hunter sought Krishna’s pardon. Krishna comforted him and sent him away. The supreme deity returned to his abode in Heaven, to the welcome of all gods and demigods.

Arjuna visits Dwaraka

Receiving news about the happenings in Prabhasa, Arjuna went to Dwaraka where he met his uncle Vasudeva. The aged father of Krishna was found lying on the ground, deeply afflicted by the loss of his near and dear ones. Soon after Arjuna’s arrival, Vasudeva died, unable to bear the grief over his losses.

Arjuna performed the rites for his uncle. Vasudeva’s four wives, Devaki, Bhadra, Rohini and Madira also ended their lives, overwhelmed by the loss of their husband.

Arjuna gave seven days for the inhabitants of Dwaraka to leave the city. He knew that the Yadava capital would be swallowed by the sea. He told the citizens that the young prince, Vajra, Krishna’s grandson, would be their king. Arjuna then proceeded to Prabhasa to perform the last rites for Krishna, Balarama and the others who had died.

Dwaraka disappears

Seven days after his arrival, Arjuna started his journey back to Hastinapura. He proceeded with a huge entourage of women and children, and carried with him all the wealth that he could. Close on his heels, the city of Dwaraka disappeared under the rising waves of the ocean.

On his way home, Arjuna’s party was plundered by robbers. Besides gold and other valuables, the robbers carried away many of the women. Arjuna found himself bereft of the power to ward off the robbers, unable to invoke any of his celestial weapons.

Arjuna took all the surviving Yadavas to Kurukshetra. He then established Vajra as king at Indraprastha. Krishna’s wife, Rukmini, ended her life by entering fire. His other wife, Satyabhama, proceeded to the Himalayas to undertake penance.

From Kurukshetra, Arjuna went to the hermitage of Vyasa. There the sage consoled Arjuna by saying, “There is no need for you to be depressed. The robbers were successful because all your power has been lost since you have accomplished all that was expected of you. Whatever happened to the Kshatriyas and the Yadavas was pre-ordained.”
Chapter 17 Mahaprasthanika Parva


Pandavas’ journey to the next world. “Why has Draupadi fallen?”
 The dog that followed Yudhishthira

Pandavas’ journey to the next world

On his return to Hastinapura, Arjuna gave Yudhishthira an account of the destruction of the Yadavas. The king then and there resolved to abdicate the throne and retire from the world itself. In this resolve, he was followed by his four brothers and Panchali. Parikshit, Abhimanyu’s son, was installed the Kuru king and Yuyutsu, Dhritarashtra’s son by the Vaisya woman, was appointed regent.

The five Pandava brothers and Draupadi started on their journey, with a dog following them.

The five brothers and Draupadi traversed the country for a while, steeped in the spirit of renunciation. Yudhishthira led the group, followed by Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva, Draupadi and the dog, in that order. They traveled east and reached the seashore. The god Agni appeared before them and advised Arjuna to cast the Gandiva bow and the two inexhaustible quivers into the sea. They were of no further use to the Pandava hero. Arjuna complied.

The party then proceeded southwards along the coast. After a distance, they cut across the sub-continent and reached the western coast. There they saw the waters that had swallowed Krishna’s Dwaraka. They finally wound their way north and reached the foot of the Himalayas.

“Why has Draupadi fallen?”

The party of seven then made the Meru hill in the Himalayas their destination. They walked in silence, steeped in Yogic exercise. After traversing some distance, Draupadi fell down. Yudhishthira and his brothers did not stop. They left the lifeless Draupadi behind and walked on their course.

Bhima asked Yudhishthira, “O fearless one. For what sin has Panchali fallen on the ground?” Yudhishthira replied, “This is the result of her partiality for Arjuna.”

Some distance further, Sahadeva fell. Yudhishthira explained that Sahadeva’s sin was his pride, that he was the wisest of all.

Next to fall was Nakula. To Bhima’s query this time, Yudhishthira’s answer was that Nakula was always conscious of his good looks.

When Arjuna fell next, Yudhishthira told Bhima. “Arjuna declared that he would single-handedly kill all his foes in one day. He could not fulfill his boast.”

It was finally Bhima’s turn to fall. Before he parted with his life, Bhima asked his brother what sin had he committed. Yudhishthira replied, “In the matter of eating, you were selfish. You never cared if others needed food. You also boasted about your own strength.” So saying, the eldest of the Pandavas continued to walk, leaving his brothers and Panchali behind. He was now followed only by the dog.

The dog that followed Yudhishthira

The only human alive from among the Pandavas, Yudhishthira, walked some more distance. Suddenly, amidst much sound and radiance, Indra descended in his chariot and landed in front of Yudhishthira.

The celestial bade the Pandava king to ascend the chariot in order to proceed to Heaven. Yudhishthira refused, saying that he would not go to Heaven unless accompanied by his brothers and Draupadi. Indra explained that they had all gone to Heaven, casting off their bodies. Yudhishthira alone was privileged to reach Heaven without parting with his earthly form.

There then arose an argument about the dog that had faithfully followed the Pandava king till the end. Yudhishthira insisted that the dog should also climb into the chariot. It finally turned out that the dog was none other than the god Dharma. The god of justice, who had come to test Yudhishthira, expressed his pleasure at his son’s behaviour.

Chapter 18 Swargarohanika Parva



 Duryodhana in Heaven. Yudhishthira’s visit to Hell.
 Yudhishthira attains Heaven

Duryodhana in Heaven

On arriving at Heaven, Yudhishthira was greeted by the sight of Duryodhana sitting in splendour, surrounded by several deities. A shocked Yudhishthira asked Narada who was with him, “By what right is this wicked Duryodhana enjoying the felicities of Heaven? Where are my brothers and Panchali? Where are all those kings and friends of mine who fought for Truth? I do not want to stay here for a moment. Take me to those noble souls.”

Narada told Yudhishthira, “O king! You have reached Heaven where there is no room for such animosities. Besides, Duryodhana has attained this region by virtue of his being noble in the battlefield. However, if you insist, I shall have you taken to those heroes whom you are yearning to meet.”

Yudhishthira’s visit to Hell

A messenger led Yudhishthira to Hell. It was a dark and thorny path, damp, with bad odour. Corpses were seen strewn all around. There was the sound of moaning, of people in agony. Suddenly, Yudhishthira heard some familiar voices, those of his brothers, of Panchali, of Karna and of the truthful heroes who fought for justice in the Great War. They were all pleading to Yudhishthira to save them from their suffering.

Yudhishthira was indignant. He told his messenger, “Return to Heaven and inform the gods that I want to stay here and share the pain my dear ones are experiencing.”

Yudhishthira attains Heaven

The messenger did as he was told. Immediately, Indra, accompanied by several other gods, appeared before Yudhishthira. Indra told the king, “This is in the order of things. Those who are to be consigned to Hell are first sent to Heaven for a short duration, to enjoy the fruits of the few goods deeds they have performed on earth. Those who are assured of their place in Heaven are given a glimpse of Hell, to expiate the few sins they have committed. Your visit to Hell is due to your deception of Drona in the battlefield.

“With all sins being washed off, you and your friends would now become permanent residents of Heaven.”

Yudhishthira was then taken to River Ganga that flows through the three worlds, Heaven, Earth and the netherworld. He took a bath in the river and his body was purified. He then reached Heaven where he found already arrived, those noble souls who fought to establish truth on earth.

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Above: Pope Leo the Great meeting Attila the Hun--St Peters Basilica --i have seen this !