MAHABHARATA

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ADI PARVA

BEGINNINGS (MAHABHARATA)

This is the story of Chandra vamsha (the moon dynasty), from its progenitor Chandra (moon) to the great war between its two clans which almost resulted in its complete destruction. In this climatic battle in the great battlefield of Kurukshetra, most of the Kings of Bharath (India) took part, allied with either the Pandavas (sons of Pandu) or the Kauravas (sons of Dhritharashtra). Many great deeds of bravery were performed on this battlefield, as well as heinous crimes, violations of the laws of war. It was human nature at its best and its worst. Although the Pandavas won the war, it was at a great cost. They lost so many of their brave warriors, including all their sons.

The story begins in the hermitage of Brihaspati (Jupiter), the Guru (perceptor) of the Devas (Gods), who was one of the greatest Rishis (sages) of all time. In the Hindu Pantheon, the Devas come right below the supreme trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the protector and Shiva the destroyer. The Devas inhabit the Swargaloka (heavens), ruled by their king Indra. Indrani (Sachi) is his consort and his principal lieutenants are Agni (Fire), Vayu (Wind) and Varuna (Waters). Indra is the lord of thunder, and his principal weapon is the vajra (thunderbolt). The Devas are immortal, because they drank Amrit (nectar), which was thrown up when the “sea of milk” was churned. The Devas derive their power from the worship of mortals. When mortals conduct sacrifices in honor of the Gods, Agni carries the sacrificial offerings up to them. The offerings are know as Havis (oblations).

The Devas are engaged in perpetual conflict against the Asuras (Demons), who are also referred to as Daithyas (Sons of Diti. The sons of Danu, the Danavas are also Asuras.) . The Asuras inhabit the netherworld, and are ruled by different kings from time to time. In this eternal battle, on many occasions, the Asuras, strengthened by boons obtained from one of the Trinity, would succeed in defeating the Gods and overthrow Indra from the throne of heaven. Dark times would follow, with the complete disruption of the order that pervades the universe, and mortals would tremble with fear, as they no longer could rely upon the Gods to protect them from the ravages of demons. Ultimately, the Gods would pray to one of the Trinity (usually Vishnu, but sometimes Shiva), to deliver them from their predicament. Most of the Avatars (incarnations) of Vishnu were undertaken to defeat the Asuras and restore the Devas’ rule over the heavens.

Brihaspati, the Guru of the Devas was famed as the most learned Brahmana (scholar) in all the seven worlds. Many Gods, Kings and Brahmanas came to his hermitage to become his disciples and to learn the Vedas (most sacred hymns) and Shastras (scriptures) from him. One of his disciples was Chandra (the moon), who was exceedingly handsome. As fate would have it, Tara, the wife of Brihaspati, was smitten by desire for the young student. Forgetting his vows as a Brahmacharin (celibate; a student is required to be a celibate till his studies are complete), and the utter immorality of raising his eyes in desire for his Guru’s wife, one who was like a mother to him, Chandra also returned this love. They consummated their lust and Tara, accompanied by her lover Chandra fled from her husband’s hermitage. When Brihaspati came to know of this great betrayal, he was excessively angry. He sought redressal from Indra, king of the Devas. Fearing Indra’s wrath, the illicit couple fled to the sanctuary of the Asuras, the mortal enemy of the Devas.

Of course, this meant war. A great war raged between the Asuras and Devas in the heavens. As both sides were evenly matched, it dragged for many years, with neither side able to score a decisive victory. At last, both sides tired of the war and a compromise was negotiated. As per this compromise, Chandra escaped punishment, and Tara would return to her husband. Right when everything seemed to be resolved, a new complication arose. During this time, Tara had given birth to a child Budha (Mercury) and both Brihaspati and Chandra claimed him as their own. Tara, who was the only one who could answer this question conclusively, remained silent.

The boy, although only a child, was mature beyond his years. He appeared before the council of Gods and demanded to be heard. The Gods consented. Budha said, “It is forever a matter of shame to me, that I am the son of this Chandala (outcast) Chandra. Nor is my mother Tara a source of pride to me. These two sinners, whose passion proved to be stronger than their virtues, are my parents, but it would have been far better, if I had been unborn! A child born out of wedlock, one especially born to a married woman, one who has forsaken her home, in lust for her husband’s disciple, who commits this grave crime of incest, can never hope to erase the shame of his illegitimate birth. Such a woman is lower than even the Chandalas (outcasts). A man should be able to look up to his father. Alas! I can never do so. How can I ever forget that my father, this low-born Chandra, this betrayer of oaths, breaker of homes, one who has no control over his senses, betrayed the trust of his Guru? May such a person be eternally damned! Yes, I am the son of Chandra, but I do not ever wish to see him. As you all are my witness, he shall be my mortal enemy. My mother, the tramp, I do not wish to see her either. The only course open to my accursed being, is to seek salvation by performing Tapas (penance). I shall go away to Himalayas and seek to spend the rest of my life in penance. Give me leave to go.”

The Devas and Brahma were impressed by the clear thinking, and rectitude of this young boy. They conferred many boons on him and offered him a place in the heavens. The boy however, stuck to his original intention of performing penance to erase his shame.

He performed penance for many years. At last the Lord Mahadeva (Shiva ) appeared before him and granted a boon to make him one of the nine planets (Navagrahas). The nine planets in Hindu astrology are : Surya (Sun), Chandra (Moon), Shukra (Venus), Budha (Mercury), Angaraka (Mars), Brihaspati (Jupiter), Shani (Saturn), Rahu and Ketu. Rahu and Ketu do not correspond to any of the planets in western astrology. Since his birth was illegitimate, Budha hates his father and has sworn to be his enemy. Therefore, the planets Chandra and Budha are rivals in Indian astrology. Even after obtaining the boon that gave him a new status, Budha continued his Tapas in the Himalayas.

There was a pond near his hermitage. It was sacred to Rudra and his consort Parvati. Since it was their private pond, an enchantment was laid upon it. One day, a King named Sudyama, who had been hunting alone in the forest, grew very thirsty. He chanced upon the sacred pond. As he did not know about it, he waded into it along with his stallion. He quenched his thirst and then came out of the pond. He was horrified to find that the enchantment had done its work and he had been turned into a beautiful woman. His stallion had also become a mare. He was in a severe predicament. It was impossible for him to return to his kingdom, as who would believe them if he told them the truth. Worse, they might actually believe him and then his shame would be complete, for the valorous king had turned into a comely maiden! While he was pondering his predicament, dusk began to fall. He (she) was now seized with the absolute necessity of finding a shelter for the night. She wandered about and chanced upon the hermitage of sage Budha.

The sage took one look at him and by his yogic powers, divined what had happened. He welcomed the maiden (who shall be referred to from now on as Ila) and provided her with food. He then spoke to her: “O maiden. I know who you are. I know that you are the king Sudyama, who has been turned into the maiden Ila after wading into the enchanted pond. Do not worry about your predicament. It is the will of the Lord that you should spend a year as a woman. At the end of a year, the enchantment will be lifted and you will be back to your original manly form. If you so desire, you may spend that year in this hermitage.”

Ila accepted this offer. She spent her time in performing household tasks and taking care of the domestic needs of the Rishi. She was an exceedingly beautiful woman. As per the mysterious workings of fate, the sage was consumed with desire for her. He expressed his love for her and they were married. The marriage was consummated and in the course of nine months, a beautiful male child was born to them. Soon the year of enchantment was over and both the King and the stallion reverted to their original form. The king took leave of the sage and took the child with him. The child was named Puroorava. Puroorava is deemed to be the first king of the Chandra dynasty. (He is the son of Budha, who is himself son of Chandra, and that is how the dynasty gets its name).

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THE MRITHASANJIVINI

The perceptor of the Asuras was Shukra. In every respect equal to Brihaspati (Jupiter), for a long time he possessed an advantage over his rival. He alone knew the secret of the MrithaSanjivini Mantra (Spell/Incantation), which had the power of bringing the dead back to life. For quite some time this provided the Asuras with a decisive advantage over the Devas (this was before the Devas had become immortal by drinking nectar), as the Asuras effectively suffered no loss of life thanks to the skill of their Guru, but the Devas were dying in large numbers in the battle.

This imbalance in power vexed Brihaspati greatly. After much thought, he decided upon a course of action. He called his son Kacha and said, “Son, As you know, only Shukra, the guru of the Asuras, knows the secret of the MrithaSanjivini Mantra, and using this, he brings the Asuras that die in battle back to life. Unless we are able to obtain this Mantra, the Devas will surely lose this war. I have an assignment for you. Go to Shukra, beseech him to take you as his disciple and then seek to obtain the secret of the MrithaSanjivini from him.”

Upon hearing this, Kacha responded: “O Father, you are foremost among the learned Rishis. I cannot look upon anyone else as my teacher but you. Even assuming that I go and ask Shukra to take me as a disciple, will he oblige the son of his rival? Will he not simply refuse to accept me as his disciple?”

Brihaspati said, “Know O Kacha, that according to the prevailing rules of ethics, a Guru may not refuse admission to a qualified disciple, no matter what his personal preference might be. Even if the son of my greatest enemy seeks admission to my hermitage, I could not refuse. Shukra will certainly accept you and teach you all he knows, with the exception of the special Mantras that he has divined. He will certainly not teach you the MrithaSanjivini of his own free will, as that will be betraying the trust of the Asuras. You must resort to stratagem to obtain that secret from him. Know that simply stealing the incantations will not do, for to do its work, any Mantra must be properly transmitted from a qualified Guru to his disciple of his own free will. You must serve him diligently, and for as long as it takes to obtain the MrithaSanjivini. Go forth now and return with the means of our deliverance.”.

So Kacha traveled to the ashram (hermitage) of Shukra and after prostrating himself at the feet of the Acharya (teacher) said: “O great one, Kacha, son of Brihaspati, grandson of the great sage Angirasa, salutes you. I seek knowledge of the Vedas and Shastras. There is no one who is more fit to teach them. Please accept me as your disciple.”

Of course, Shukra knew who Kacha was, and for what purpose he sought to become his disciple. As per the ancient Shastras (scriptures) he could not refuse to take him as his disciple, and he liked the young man, despite being the son of his rival. It was not often that a brilliant young man of such illustrious lineage sought to become his disciple. However he made a silent vow to frustrate the designs of Brihaspati, by withholding the MrithaSanjivini Mantra from Kacha.

Kacha served his guru Shukra with devotion. In those days, when a young man desires education, he seeks out a suitable Guru and seeks to be admitted as a disciple. Once admitted as a disciple, he lives in the ashram of the guru and performs all menial tasks assigned to him. This may involve obtaining firewood, tending to the cows, cleaning the hermitage, cooking food and other such household tasks. He won the affection of Shukra, who found the young man a devoted disciple and a keen student. Shukra had a daughter Devayani, who was about the same age as Kacha. She grew to be very fond of Kacha, and was in a fair way to being in love with him. But at present, she said nothing.

Kacha’s presence caused a great deal of unease to the Asuras. They knew that the knowledge of MrithaSanjivini was what he was really after. They were afraid that in a moment of weakness, Shukra might forget his duty and instruct the young man in this Mantra, which would nullify the advantage they held over the Devas. After much thought, they decided to murder Kacha to insure against this possibility. One day they waylaid him when he was grazing his teacher’s cows and murdered him.

When the sun went down, and Kacha had still not returned, Devayani was worried. She went to her father and said, “O Father, Night has fallen and there is still no sign of Kacha. I greatly fear that some ill fortune might have befallen him. Please send someone to search for him and bring him home.” Of course, Shukra being a sage of great power, did not need to send anyone to search for Kacha. By his yogic powers, he possessed divine insight. He immediately divined that Kacha was dead. He said, “My child, do not grieve. Kacha is dead, murdered by the Asuras on his way to the grazing fields. You know as well as I do that he was here on the instructions of his father to learn the MrithaSanjivini from me. The Asuras have shown a marked lack of faith in me by trying to prevent this by murdering him. They should have reposed their faith in me. However fond I might have been of Kacha, I would not have betrayed the trust of the Asuras by instructing him in the use of MrithaSanjivini. However, his death might be all for the best, as he could not have succeeded in his quest, and he would have felt that failure was a fate worse than death.”

Upon hearing that Kacha was dead, Devayani fell down senseless. When she recovered, she was stricken with grief and repeatedly beseeched her father to revive Kacha with the MrithaSanjivini Mantra. Shukra was very fond of his daughter, and could not bear to see her unhappy. He finally invoked the MrithaSanjivini and brought Kacha back to life. Kacha returned from the grazing field along with the cows, as if nothing had happened. Devayani was very happy, and Shukra was uneasy…..

Naturally, when the Asuras found out that Kacha had been brought back from the dead, their chagrin knew no bounds. They perceived that getting rid of Kacha was not as easy as they originally thought. After much thought and debate, they hit upon a plan. They again murdered Kacha, but this time they burnt his body. They took the ashes and mixed them in wine. They offered this wine to Shukra at a feast, who drank it. Once again, when Devayani realized that Kacha had not returned, she asked her father to find out his whereabouts. Once again Shukra used his powers. To his surprise, he found that Kacha was inside him, being digested along with the wine in which his ashes were mixed. He said to Devayani, “Dear child. You are in a terrible predicament now. You must either lose your father or your friend. The wily Asuras have murdered him and have fed me wine in which his ashes were mixed. If I bring him back to life, I will have to die when he gets out of my body. Make your decision. You can either have me live or Kacha. You are confronted with a difficult choice.”.

Of course Devayani could not bear to lose either of them. So she pleaded with her father to find a way so that both might live. With great sorrow, Shukra said, “Verily, No man may escape that which has been fated. All this has come to pass because I was weak enough to consume wine. From this day, I decree that no learned guru may drink alcohol. Alcohol impairs ones senses and clouds one’s judgment. I had thought that I would be able to avoid imparting the knowledge of MrithaSanjivini to Kacha, but fate has willed otherwise.” He then brought back Kacha to life. While Kacha was still inside his body, he instructed him in the use of the MrithaSanjivini. Kacha sprang forth from the body of his guru, instantly killing him. After this, he used his newly acquired skill to cast the MrithaSanjivini spell and brought Shukra back to life.

His purpose achieved, Kacha did not delay for long. His studies had long been complete, he had been waiting only to acquire the MrithaSanjivini spell. He took leave of Shukra and Devayani. She decided that this was the right time to express her true feelings. She declared her love for him and begged him to accept her as his wife. Kacha was horrified, he had always respected and loved her, but only as a brother. He said , “O Devayani, You are the daughter of my revered Guru. The daughter of a guru is equivalent to to a sister. Besides, have you forgotten that I was twice brought back to life by your father? Why, once, I even sprang forth from his body! This makes him my father and you, my sister. I have always loved and respected you, but only as a sister. It is not in my power to do what you desire. Marry someone else and be happy.”

Devayani pleaded with him, but in vain. Shukra was also of the same opinion as Kacha. However much he was fond of Kacha, he felt that an alliance between him and his bitter rival Brihaspati could only lead to complications and grief. Kacha left them soon after this and Shukra was left to console his distraught daughter as best as he could.

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YAYATI AND DEVAYANI

Around this time, Vrishaparva was the king of the Asuras. He had a daughter named Sharmishta, who was a friend of Devayani. Once both of them went to bathe in the fragrant waters of a nearby pond, accompanied by many palace maidens. They spent the entire day in water sports, greatly enjoying themselves. When it was time to go, they changed into dry clothes. As fate would have it, the clothes that Devayani and Sharmishta were wearing got exchanged. This angered Sharmishta very much. She said, “O Devayani, it is not proper for you to wear clothes that were meant for me. I am the daughter of a king. Your father is a mendicant who earns a living by doing my father’s bidding. As such you are also my servant. It is wrong for a servant to wear the clothes of her masters.”

Sharmishta was so angry that she pushed Devayani into a nearby well and then went on her way, returning to the palace. Fortunately, the water in the well was shallow and Devayani was not hurt much. However, her heart burned with thoughts of revenge on Sharmishta. Each insulting word of the princess had struck her heart like a poisoned dagger. It grew dark soon, and Devayani started to become afraid. She began to wonder if she would be ever rescued from this well.

As luck would have it, King Yayati of the Chandra Vamsha, was hunting in the same forest. In the heat of the hunt, he had become separated from his retinue. Tired and thirsty, he was searching for water for both himself and his horse. He chanced upon this forest well. Great was his surprise when he saw that there was a beautiful maiden inside the well. He introduced himself to her and enquired as to how she happened to fall inside the well. Devayani related the incident with the princess and disclosed her identity. Yayati was very much shocked to hear the story and immediately pulled her out of the well.

Once Devayani was on dry land, she took covert stock of the King. The King was handsome and young (is there a king in the myths who is not?). She also knew of his fame as a great warrior, especially as a peerless archer. Devayani fell immediately in love with him. In those days, it was accepted practice for a woman to make the proposal. She addressed him thus: “O King. It is said that if a young man grasps the hand of a maiden, she becomes his wife. You have just now pulled me out of this well by clasping my hand. Therefore I become your wife. You must marry me.” Yayati admired her beauty very much, but he was doubtful as to her father Shukra’s consent for the marriage.

He said, “You are the daughter of the great sage Shukra. The family of a learned Brahmana is at a much higher social standing than a King. No Brahmana will consent to allow his daughter to marry a Kshatriya (warrior) king. I will not wed you without the consent of your father. I am afraid that the your father will not permit this marriage.” He then escorted her to the hermitage and returned to his kingdom.

Devayani was certainly in love, however at this moment, her desire for revenge was stronger. She rushed crying to her father, and said “O first among Sages! Learned men have said that death is better than life with people who insult us. The scriptures also say that one should chose to live in a place where people honor and respect us. Drunk by power, my friend Sharmishta has insulted me today. I could have borne that, but she called you a beggar who earns a living by doing her father’s errands. I cannot bear to have you dishonored. Let us leave this place and go somewhere else. But before that, you must punish the Asura’s for the impertinence of their princess. I will not live even for one day in this shameless kingdom.”

Now Shukra knew that quarrel between children had the potential to ruin the relationship of their parents. He did not place much importance to the words uttered in anger and haste by the young princess. However, he was still angry with the Asuras in the incident of wine and ashes. He drew himself to his full height and said, “Rise O Daughter. Know that your father is not a beggar, but the honored Guru of the Asuras. In knowledge I have no equals but Brihaspati. Even he had to resort to ignoble means to acquire unique knowledge that I possessed regarding the Sanjivini. I have never asked anything from anybody. The power of my penances is such that anything I desire might be mine. Do not be unduly hurt by the rash insults of your friend, the princess. She is young and will repent for her thoughtless words on her own. Greatness of a man lies not in anger, but in forbearance.”

But Devayani would not be consoled easily. She repeatedly begged her father to go away from the court of Vrishaparva, saying that she could not bear to live in the realm where she had been insulted thus. At last Shukra relented. He stayed away from the counsels of Asuras and spent all his time in prayer and meditation.

When Vrishaparva realized that his Guru was no longer present in his councils, he grew very worried. He asked his trusted advisers to find out the reason Shukra was displeased with him. The advisers related all that had taken place between Devayani and Sharmishta on the river bank. They said, “O King. Know that your daughter has insulted the daughter of the great sage Shukra. Not only that, she also insulted by calling him mendicant who makes a living begging for alms. Very much hurt by these words, which burned hotter than fire, Devayani has persuaded her father to stay away from your councils.”

Vrishaparva was very much shocked when he realized that the thoughtless behavior of his darling daughter was the cause of Shukra’s anger. He personally went to meet Shukra at his hermitage. Once he saw Shukra, he immediately prostrated himself at his feet and said, “O Guru. You are the greatest among learned men. Your yogic powers are unequaled. Even Brihaspati, the Guru of the Devas acknowledges you as his superior. My advisers have informed me that you are very much displeased with us, due to the words spoken by my daughter Sharmishta. Please forgive us, words spoken by young people in haste should not be held against them. It is the duty of elders to forgive such transgressions of youth. Please forsake your anger, and once again advise us in our councils. It is said that a clan without a king will be destroyed within a year, but a clan without its perceptor will not last even a month. Please protect us with your wisdom, as you have protected us Asuras since time immemorial.”

Shukra was pleased by the humble words of the Asura king. He said, “O King, I did not hold the words of your daughter against you. Kacha, who was a blameless disciple of mine, was murdered twice by your men. Not only that, they insulted me by mixing his ashes in wine and offering me this unclean wine to drink. In the present instance, my daughter Devayani is the aggrieved party. She has vowed that she will no longer reside in your realm. I cannot be separated from my daughter. If you can placate her, I will be willing to return to your councils.”

So Vrishaparva went to Devayani. He tried to placate her with sweet words. He offered to make any reparation in his power for his daughter’s transgression. Devayani heard him patiently and said, “O King. The riches and wealth you have offered me have no lure for me. Your daughter Sharmishta was my dear friend since childhood. We have grown into young women together. But yesterday, at the river bank, when I wore her clothes by mistake, she insulted me and called me her servant. Try as I might, I can never forget her words. It is not possible for me to stay in a place where I have been treated like a servant.”

Vrishaparva again humbly apologized to her on his daughter’s behalf and begged her to reconsider her decision. At last Devayani said, “O King, I will consent to live in your realm upon one condition. Since your daughter has insulted me by calling me her servant, your daughter must become my servant. She should forsake the riches and comfort of your palace and become my servant in the hermitage. If you consent to this condition, I will overlook her insults, and let my father resume his place as your perceptor.”

Vrishaparva was dumbfounded when he heard Devayani’s condition. He could not condemn his daughter to a lifetime of servitude. Crestfallen, he returned to his palace, deep in thought. His daughter noticed that her father was preoccupied with some worry. She shrewdly suspected that her quarrel with Devayani was its cause, as she was aware that Shukra no longer graced the court with his presence. She went to her father and inquired the reason behind his worry. Vrishaparva at first sought to fob her off with excuses of matters of state, but his daughter would not be dissuaded so easily. At last, answering her repeated queries, he disclosed the reason for Shukra’s displeasure and Devayani’s condition.

Sharmishta was by this time heartily regretting her rash words to her dear friend. She said to her father, “O Father. Since my rash act has been the cause for this calamity befalling our clan, it is but right that I make the reparation. All these riches and grandeur of your palace will mean nothing to me as long as I am the cause of our beloved Guru forsaking our clan. It is said that even Rudra cannot escape the consequences of his actions. When such is the case of the Lord of the universe, who am I to complain about the results of my actions? Go immediately to Devayani and tell her that you accept her condition. I will take up my new position as her servant as soon as she commands.”

Vrishaparva was greatly touched by his daughter’s sacrifice. With tears rolling from his eyes he sought to dissuade her, telling her that Devayani will relent in time, and counselled her not to take such a rash step in haste. However, Sharmishta’s mind was completely made up. She knew herself to be right and would not be persuaded. So it transpired that the Asura princess, who rivalled the Apsaras in her beauty, exchanged her clothes of rich silks for coarse garments such as those worn by servants and the poor. She, who was used to have hundreds of maidens waiting on her, went from her palatial apartments to the hermitage of Shukra, and took up her duties as the servant-maid of Devayani. For her part, Devayani was secretly ashamed of reducing her friend to such a plight, but the memory of the insults prevented her from relenting. However, she treated Sharmishta more like an equal than a servant. Shukra was also very fond of Sharmishta, whom he had known since she was a child. Her sacrifice increased his good opinion of the princess.

Later, Devayani met King Yayati, once again hunting in the forest. She had not forgotten him. She persuaded him to accompany her to her father and to seek her hand in marriage. Shukra knew that Yayati was a good king, of impeccable lineage and of good character. Although he was not best pleased with his daughter marrying a Kshatriya, he decided to give his consent. He took Yayati aside, and said to him. “O King of the Kurus, my daughter has decided that you shall be her husband. Although it is not a common practice, such a marriage is permitted in the scriptures. I would consent to this match on only one condition. I know that it is the practice of Kings to take multiple wives, but such a proceeding would break my daughter’s heart. You must promise me to be faithful to her and be monogamous all your life. You must especially not lift your eyes towards the princess Sharmishta, who will be accompanying my daughter as her servant.”

Yayati readily consented to the condition laid out by the sage. Yayati and Devayani were married soon after this and Sharmishta accompanied them to Yayati’s kingdom. As fate would have it Sharmishta also fell in love with the King. She waylaid him one day in his palace and declared her love for him. Yayati had been very much struck by her beauty all along, and was sorely tempted to return her affection. However, the promise made to Shukra and the fatal consequences that were sure to follow from his transgressions made him hold back. In the end, his passion proved stronger than his virtue and he took Sharmishta as his concubine. Such things cannot be concealed for long and in due course, it came to the ears of Sharmishta. She was very much grieved, and went away to her father.

When Shukra heard of the King’s betrayal, he became exceedingly angry. He cursed the king, saying: “Since Yayati’s passion has overcome his judgment, may he become attain old age immediately. His desires would burn strong, but his body shall no longer be able to serve him in quenching them.” The curse came to pass immediately. Yayati became an old man, with all the attendant ills of old age. His eyesight became weak, he was nearly deaf, his handsome face was marred by a profusion of wrinkles. His posture became bent and he could not walk without the aid of a stout stick. He immediately perceived that this must be a curse of Shukra. He went to his hermitage, fell at the sage’s feet and sought his forgiveness. Shukra said, “O King. In this very place you had promised me that you would remain monogamous and will not allow another woman to share your bed. I especially warned you against letting your eye wander in the direction of the princess Sharmishta. The scriptures state that among all the great sins, betrayal of trust ranks very high. You have broken your sworn word. You must bear the consequences of your sin.”

Yayati pleaded again with Shukra to take back his curse. At last Shukra relented somewhat and said, “Very well. Even the Gods find it hard to tread the path of virtue when confronted with desire. Being only a mortal, it was perhaps inevitable that you should stray from the righteous path. However, my curse once uttered cannot be undone. If one of your sons would give his youth in exchange for your old age, you can be young again.”

The king had to be content with this. He was at this time of middle age. He had two sons by Devayani, Turvasha and Yadu. Anu, Dhruhyu and Puru were his sons by Sharmishta. Upon returning to his kingdom, he called all his sons to him and explained the curse of Shukra and the means the sage had suggested for mitigating it. He proclaimed that whichever son of his would consent to give his youth for his old age, would inherit the kingdom from him. All his four elder sons refused to give up their youth. Puru, the youngest, who was devoted to his father, was the only one who would consent. He gave up his youth and took on his father’s old age. In return, Yayati immediately crowned Puru as the king. Then Yayati went away to lead a life of pleasure. He sought to quench his desire by immersing himself in pleasure. After spending many years in this fashion, the great truth dawned upon him. He said to himself: “Desire is a like fire. It cannot be quenched by indulging in pleasure. It only grows stronger each time one appeases it by giving way to it.” He returned to the kingdom, gave back his son Puru’s youth, took his rightful old age and retired to the forest, to lead a life of an ascetic. The Chandra dynasty was henceforth also referred to as the Puru clan, after Puru, the son of Sharmishta and Yayati.

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DUSHYANTA AND SHAKUNTALA

The most famous descendent of Puru is Bharata, from whom India gets its ancient name of BharathVarsha (Land of Bharata). the story of whose father Dushyanta and mother Shakuntala is chronicled in the epic Sanskrit poem Shakuntalam by the poet Kalidasa.

King Dushyanta was a great warrior, very handsome and of excellent character. One day when he was hunting in the forest, he came across a beautiful garden. All the animals were at peace in this garden and there was an atmosphere of great tranquility. The air was full of an intoxicating fragrance. Upon seeing this garden, the king was struck with wonder, and became curious as to who owned this garden. As he wandered about this heavenly garden, he came across a maiden. This maiden, whose beauty rivalled of that of the Apsaras (divine nymphs), was the adopted daughter of the sage Kanva. The story of her birth is rather peculiar.

The sage Vishwamitra, who used to be a king before he renounced his kingdom and took to up his present calling, was once indulging in particularly severe penances. Indra, the king of heavens was troubled on beholding this. He felt that Vishwamitra was plotting some act that would be detrimental to the Devas. He called the most beautiful of his Apsaras, Menaka, and bade her to proceed to the sage’s hermitage and use any means at her disposal to disrupt his penances.

Obeying the order of her king, the nymph went to the earth, to the spot where Vishwamitra was performing his penance. She took the help of Kama, the god of love, and created a beautiful garden and an atmosphere of spring around the hermitage. After this, she began dancing, and divine music accompanied her. After a while, this music started to seep into the consciousness of the sage. He was filled with a strange desire and could no longer concentrate upon his penance. He opened his eyes and beheld a vision in red, Menaka dancing sensuously, to a heavenly tune. At once passion started burning in his mind, and he desired this woman as he had never desired anything in his life before. Indra’s ploy had succeeded, the penance of Vishwamitra was disrupted.

The sage and the nymph spent many a month together, indulging in their desires. In course of time, a beautiful daughter was born to her. They named the child Shakuntala. Both parents had grown restless. Menaka wanted to return to her rightful place in Indra’s court and the sage wanted to resume his interrupted austerities. Around this time, the sage Kanva visited the hermitage. Shakuntala was left with him to be brought up as his daughter and her parents left to continue their duties.

Such was the story of how Shakuntala came to be in sage Kanva’s hermitage. She inherited the intelligence of her father and the beauty of her divine mother. It was no wonder that Dushyanta fell in love with her instantly upon beholding her. Once Dushyanta came to know who she was, he began addressing her thus, “O Maiden. Your beauty shines like that of Chandra on full moon day. If it is even possible, you are even more beautiful than your mother. I have fallen desperately in love with you. Please consent to be my wife.”

Shakuntala was filled with admiration for this King, for it is to be remembered that Dushyanta was a handsome warrior. However, she would not consent to be his wife immediately. She said, “O King. At this moment my father Kanva is away from this hermitage. He will not return here for many months. Before proposing marriage to a girl, the consent of her guardian is essential. Therefore, do not press me to return an answer to your proposal now. Come back later, and ask my father’s consent to address me.”

Dushyanta could not bear the thought of waiting for so long before marrying her. He had never been accustomed to wait for anything in his life. He attempted to persuade her to an instant marriage. He said, “O Shakuntala, it is true that the common practice is to seek the consent of guardians before marriage, however, under extraordinary circumstances the scriptures allow a Gandharva Vivaha (marriage incognito), wherein two people in love marry with only each other as witnesses. Such a practice has been often resorted to in cases where the guardians cannot be reached immediately to ascertain their opinion. Please do not torment me any longer, let us marry immediately, for I cannot think of a life without you.”

So Shakuntala allowed herself to be persuaded to marry the king immediately, very much against her better judgment. Ardent love must be her only excuse, as nothing much would have been lost by waiting for a few months for her father to return and the marriage to take place according to the common mode. They married each other, with only the woodland creatures as witnesses. The King and Shakuntala spent a very pleasant month there in the hermitage. It was high time Dushyanta returned to his kingdom, as he had not left any word as to where he could be found. He wanted to take his wife along with him to the Kingdom.

However, Shakuntala could not consent to this. She said, “My father would be returning very soon. If I am not at the hermitage to welcome him, he will be very worried. Since our marriage was very simply performed, it is but proper that you arrive in form, accompanied by your retinue, to take your bride to your home. Return to your kingdom now, but come back soon, and take me to your kingdom.”

Dushyanta agreed that this was a good plan and he went back to his country. Before going, he gave her his signet ring, as a token of his affection. In the meantime, Shakuntala could not put the King out of her mind. She spent all her time brooding, waiting for the time when Dushyanta would come back and take her to his kingdom. She was so absent minded, that she even stopped tending to her favorite garden, where she had met the King for the first time. While she was in this frame of mind, the sage Durvasa came to visit her father. He did not find anyone in the hermitage, as Shakuntala had taken to roaming in the forest all day. The sage finally found her lost deep in thought, under a banyan tree. He knew who she was, as this was not his first visit to the hermitage. He enquired her as to where Kanva was. So great was Shakuntala’s abstraction in her own affairs, that she did not even notice that the sage was talking to her. In fact, she did not even notice his presence. After repeating his questions many times, Durvasa became very angry. He was a rather short tempered sage, notorious for his curses uttered in anger. He cursed Shakuntala thus, “Since you are so abstracted in your thoughts, may the one that you are thinking about, forget your very existence!”.

His booming voice as he uttered the curse, shook Shakuntala out of her abstraction. She humbly begged his pardon, and requested him to rescind the curse. She pleaded tearfully that she had not noticed his arrival as she had been thinking about her husband. At last the sage relented. He could not completely annul the curse, and amended it so that Dushyanta would not permanently forget her, but only temporarily. After this, the sage took his leave. Sometime after this, sage Kanva returned to his hermitage. Shakuntala related to him the all the incidents that had happened during his absence, including her marriage to Dushyanta and Durvasa’s curse. Kanva was concerned about the curse, but consoled himself with the reflection that it was only temporary.

A few months passed, and Shakuntala discovered that she was pregnant. Kanva decided that it was time for her to go to her husband’s kingdom, as the heir to the throne should be be born in his father’s country. He found a group of Brahmanas who were planning to visit Dushyanta’s kingdom. He asked them to escort his adopted daughter to her husband. The whole party set forth on their journey. Shakuntala always wore the signet ring given to her by Dushyanta on her ring finger. While traveling, they were bathing in a river, and as fate would have it, her ring slipped from her finger and was washed away in the river. She was very much upset, as it was the only thing that she had in her husband’s memory. She had not accepted any other gifts from him.

The Brahmanas escorted her to the court of Dushyanta. Of course, the curse of Durvasa had taken effect by then and he did not recognize her at all. He said to her “O Fair maiden, who are you? What is that you seek from me? Have you suffered any injustice in my realm? If so, I shall see to it that justice shall be served.”

Shakuntala was very much surprised. “O King, Do you not recognize me? I have not changed all that much in these six months that we have been apart. Seven months ago, you met me in the forest, near the hermitage of Sage Kanva. You spoke words of endearment to me and asked me to be your wife. In spite of me asking you to wait till my father returned, you persuaded me to marry you immediately. We were married according to the rights of the Gandharva Vivaha. You went back to your kingdom, promising to return soon and take me to my rightful place as your queen. Now you don’t even recognize me? Is this the practice of Kings? Accept me as your wife, your queen.”

Of course, Dushyanta did not remember any of this. He thought she was an imposter, and he became very angry. “O Maiden. Your fair form does not match the cunning of your mind. I have never even met you before today. Your audacity in claiming that I married you is unparalleled. Your ploy will not succeed. I can see that you are with child. You are trying to impose on me, after having lost your virtue to someone else. Begone from my presence, before I change my mind to execute you for your unfounded allegations!”

Hearing the harsh words spoken by the King, Shakuntala fainted. When she awoke from her swoon, burning with righteous anger, she said. “O King, You thought that when you made your promise, there were no witnesses other than our two selves. You forget that Mitra and Varuna and other Gods are always witnesses to a promise. For some reason best known to them the Devas are not coming to my rescue. You ought to have been struck down with their wrath, when you spoke those harsh words and broke your promise. The Gods shall always punish the breaker of oaths. I will not stay one instant in this place where I have been insulted thus.”

Hearing her words of wrath, Dushyanta was filled with wonder, however, he did not remember her at all, and was steadfast in his refusal. The Brahmanas who had accompanied Shakuntala consoled her and took her back to the hermitage of her father. Kanva saw that there was still a long time to go before Durvasa’s curse ran its course, consoled his daughter, advising her to accept her fate. He assured her that her future would be full of happiness, spent in the company of her husband and son, and that the present dark times would pass.

In due course of time, a male child was born to Shakuntala. He had inherited the beauty of his mother and his valor from his father. Kanva named him Bharata. Ten years went by, during which time the child grew into a boy. Kanva taught him the scriptures and Dharma (the the path of truth). In addition to this, as befitting a prince, he was taught the use of weapons, and he particularly excelled with the bow.

The signet ring that had been washed away in the river, lay at the bottom of the river for a long time. At last, it was swallowed by a fish. This fish was caught in the net of a fisherman in Dushyanta’s kingdom. When he cut open the fish to cook it, he found the ring inside it. He immediately recognized the signet ring of his king, and took it to the court. When Dushyanta saw it, the curse of Durvasa was lifted. He immediately remembered Shakuntala. He was very much grieved, for she had come to meet him, only to be insulted in his court. He resolved to seek her out and apologize for his conduct, and ask her to be his queen. He knew the forest in which he had met Shakuntala, but was not able to remember the exact location of the garden in which he met her. He went alone, without his retinue and spent many days in the forest, searching for Kanva’s hermitage.

He hunted for food in this forest. One day he saw a fat wild boar in the forest. He gave it a chase and finally managed to shoot it down with his arrows. At the same time, another hunter had also fired his arrows at the same boar. Both of them reached the boar at the same time. The King was very much surprised that the other hunter was a mere ten year old boy. Of course, this was none other than his son, but naturally the king did not recognize him. They both started arguing, claiming the boar as their kill. The argument became violent and the boy challenged the king to combat. The king hesitated, as it was not proper for such a renowned warrior to fight a mere child. However, when Bharata accused him of cowardice, he became very angry and accepted the challenge. Very quickly, once the battle commenced, Dushyanta became aware that although only ten years old, his opponent was a very accomplished warrior. The king was very hard pressed to counter the assault of the boy. The battle raged for hours, but in the end, the King was defeated and made prisoner. As per the rules of single combat of those times, he became a slave of the victor. The boy took him to his home, which was the hermitage of Kanva. There, the King met Shakuntala and was made aware that his conqueror was none other than his son. There was a very happy reunion, with the King begging the sage’s and his wife’s pardon for the events that had taken place in his court. They both forgave him immediately, as he was blameless in this matter, Durvasa’s curse being the cause of his behavior.

Dushyanta returned to his kingdom, accompanied by his wife and heir. In due course of time, he abdicated the throne in favor of his son. Bharata ruled for a long time. He conquered all the kings in the world and brought them all under his control. Unfortunately, although he had many sons, he did not find any of them worthy of ruling the kingdom after him. He performed a magnificent Yagna (sacrifice), and as a result of it an illustrious son named Bhumanyu was born to him. Once Bhumanyu came of age, Bharata crowned him king and retired to the forest to spend the rest of his days in performing penances.

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BHISMA

There was a king named Mahabhishak who belonged to the Bharata Dynasty. He ruled according to truth and justice and was rewarded with heaven upon his death. Once, while he was seated in the court of Indra, the king of heaven, the Goddess Ganga (she is the goddess of the sacred river Ganges), happened to visit there. Due to a passing breeze, her dress got rearranged. All those present at the court averted their eyes out of respect for the Goddess. However, Mahabhishak, who was enamored by her beauty, kept staring at her. This angered Lord Brahma. He cursed Mahabhishak saying, “Mahabhishak, since you kept staring at Ganga when she was in a compromising position, I curse you to be reborn as a king in the Bharata dynasty. Ganga will be your wife there and will torment you by her actions and cause you much grief.”

Meanwhile, the eight Vasus, who were celestial brothers who resided in heaven, happened to offend the sage Vasishta. The eldest of them was Dhyou, who incurred the most of the Rishi’s wrath. The sage cursed them to be born as mortals and suffer. They pleaded with him to reduce his curse and at last, relenting, the sage said, “The seven of you who merely acted according to your elder brother’s orders will not have to suffer your mortal fate for long. However, your elder brother Dhyou, who was the perpetrator of this mischief, will have to live for a long time as a mortal, and suffer for his sins. You must know that the river Ganga is fated to be the wife of Shantanu, who was Mahabhishak in his previous birth. All of you will be born as their sons.”

According to Brahma’s curse, Mahabhishak was reborn as the son of King Prathiba in the Bharata dynasty. One day, when Shantanu was relaxing on the banks of the river Ganga, he met a woman of unsurpassed beauty. He fell in love immediately and asked her to be his wife. The lady said, “O Prince. I consent to be your wife, but only upon this condition. You must never do something which I do not approve of. No matter what I do, you must not question my actions, regardless of how strange they may seem to you.” So much was the Shantanu in love with this maiden, that he accepted her rather open-ended condition. He married her and brought her to his father’s house as his wife. Some time after this King Prathiba passed away and Shantanu became the King.

In due course of time, a son was born to him. As we know, this was one of the Vasus, fulfilling Vasishta’s curse. Shantanu was overjoyed. His joy quickly turned to grief, as his queen took the child to the river Ganga and drowned the baby. However, bound by his promise, and his passionate devotion to his wife, he dared not question his wife on her outrageous conduct. Seven more sons were born to him. The next six children suffered the fate of his first, being drowned in the river. When the eighth child was born to him, the queen once again went to perform her ghastly ritual. This time, Shantanu could not contain himself. He remonstrated with his wife and asked her to explain her conduct.

The queen revealed herself to be the Goddess Ganga. She said, “O King. You have broken your promise never to question my actions. I must leave you now. Know that you were cursed to be born as a mortal, because you stared at me in Indra’s court. It was also foretold that I will be your wife and make your life miserable by doing actions that will cause you immense grief. The seven children that were born to us and drowned by me in the river, were the seven younger Vasus, who had requested me to kill them as soon as they were born, to release them from the curse of Vashista. The eighth son that you have prevented me from killing is the eldest of Vasu, named Dhyou. He has been cursed to lead a long life of sorrow by the sage Vasishta. I am going to take him away with me now. I will send him back to you once he has completed his education.”

The King pleaded with his wife to forget his outburst and stay with him. However, this could not be done as it was time for the Goddess to go. She went away with her son. The king was filled with grief. Shantanu spent most of his time by the river Ganga, hoping to catch a glimpse of either his wife or his son. Years passed, and finally the quest of the king was rewarded. One day, he saw that the mighty flow of the river had been dammed, by a structure constructed entirely of arrows. A youth of dazzling aspect was seen constructing the dam, by firing arrows into it. The king asked the youth for his identity. At this moment the Goddess Ganga arose from the river and presented the youth to the king as his son. She had named him Devaratha. She said, “O King, as I had promised you years ago, I have brought your son Devaratha back to you. He has been taught all the arts that Shukra, the Asura Guru knows and has learned the scriptures from Brihaspati, the Guru of the Devas. He has learnt the art of war and the knowledge of divine Astras (missiles) from the great Parashurama. He is in every way worthy of being your crown prince. My duty on earth is over now, take your son with you and anoint him as your successor. He is a worthy scion of the Bharata dynasty.”

The king tried to persuade Ganga to accompany them, but she held steadfast in her refusal, as her earthly duties were over and she was anxious to return to her celestial abode. Though he could not persuade his wife to accompany him, Shantanu was very much overjoyed upon being reunited with his son. Indeed, any father would be proud of such a son, so devoted was he to his father and to the cause of truth and justice. He was famed for his honesty, as having never uttered an untruth, or improper words on anger. The people of the kingdom loved prince Devaratha very much and were eagerly awaiting the day when he would be the king. A few years passed. Shantanu was very happy after a long time. He spent most of his time with his son, teaching him the intricacies of statecraft, preparing him to rule the kingdom which will one day be his.

This period of joy in Shantanu’s life could not last long, as he had been cursed to suffer. One day, he went to visit the chief of the fishermen in his country, to discuss the question of taxes. The chief was away from home. His daughter Satyavati was at home, and she received the king. She was a girl of extreme beauty. In addition to her beauty, the very air around her was scented with an intoxicating aroma, which had been bequeathed upon her as a boon from a sage. The king was filled with a lust for this woman. He immediately asked her to be his wife. Satyavati would not return an immediate answer, but asked the king to address this question to her father.

When the chief of fishermen returned shortly, the king requested his permission to pay his addresses to Satyavati. The fisherman thought for a while and said, “O King! I am very much honored that you have expressed a wish to marry my daughter. Indeed, it is impossible to think of a more worthy groom for her. However, there is an issue which must be resolved before this marriage can take place. You must know that she is my adopted daughter. Once while I was fishing in the river, I caught a fish of very large size. When I cut it open to cook it, I found a beautiful baby girl inside. I adopted her as my daughter, as I was childless. Such are the origins of Satyavati. Since she was born inside a fish, there was the odor of fish that used to cling to her when she was a young girl. Later, this was changed into a pleasant fragrance, by the boon of a Rishi. I have consulted astrologers regarding her future, and all of them are unanimous in predicting that she will wed a great king. They also predicted that her son will become the king after her husband. Now, everyone knows that your son Devaratha is going to inherit the kingdom after you. Unless you can guarantee that the child born to you and Satyavati will be your heir, I cannot consent to this marriage.”

Naturally, Shantanu could not agree to this condition, as the kingdom belonged by right of birth to his son Devaratha. Besides, he was very fond of his son, and could not bear the thought of disinheriting him. Crestfallen, he returned to his palace. Try as he might, he could not put the beautiful form of Satyavati out of his mind. He became listless. He would spent hours by himself, deep in thought. A less perceptive son than Devaratha would have been alarmed by these signs. The prince was very much troubled when he saw that some care was weighing heavily upon Shantanu’s mind. Being the soul of tact, he did not want to ask his father directly. He was sure that his father would have confided in him, had confidence been possible. Instead, he questioned the charioteer of his father, as to the places his father had visited recently. He at once perceived that among the places that his father had been recently, the only unusual place was that of the chief of the fishermen. He went there himself and upon beholding Satyavati, immediately perceived that this maiden must be the cause of his father’s listlessness. What he could not understand was that having fallen in love with this woman, why his father had not been able to take her as his wife. He met the Satyavati’s father and enquired as to why the marriage was not taking place. The fisherman related the story of Satyavati’s birth and the prophecy concerning her children. The fisherman said, “O Prince, I set forth the condition that only the children of Satyavati should inherit the kingdom after your father. Your father could not bear the thought of disinheriting you, and hence the marriage shall not take place.”

Prince Devaratha loved his father more than he loved the thought of becoming a king. He said, “If this is the only objection to the match. I would be glad to remove it. I assure you that I shall renounce my claim to the throne, paving the way for Satyavati’s children to inherit the kingdom. Now you would be able to agree to this match and make my father very happy.”

On hearing this, the fisherman replied: “O Prince. All of us know that once you have uttered a promise, it is inviolate. I now have full confidence that the sons of Satyavati will inherit the throne, as you have promised it. However, I fear that your children (for you will marry soon and have issue), will not be similarly reticent. They will stake a claim to the kingdom, and my grandchildren will know no peace. This is my main objection to the match.”

Devaratha thought for a while and said, “What you say is definitely true. For myself, I can assure you that I have renounced the throne, but I might not be in a position to control the actions of my children. Therefore, to forward the cause of my father’s happiness. I vow that I will remain a Brahmacharin (celibate) all my life. I shall never marry, never have any children who can rival your grandchildren for the throne of my father’s kingdom.”

The moment Devaratha uttered his terrible vow, the Devas appeared in the sky and praised his actions. There was a shower of flowers on him and the air was scented with a divine fragrance. All the Gods praised his action of supreme renunciation, and sang the praises of his devotion to his father. From this day onwards, Devaratha was known as Bhishma, which means one who had made a terrible vow. The fisherman consented immediately to the marriage, and Bhishma escorted his step-mother-to-be to his father’s palace.

When King Shantanu heard of the terrible vow his son had made, he was rendered speechless with his admiration for his son. He embraced his son and said, “O Bhishma, You have made such a great sacrifice for the sake of my happiness. As long as this world lasts, your fame shall remain undiminished. I grant you a boon that death shall not be able to approach you, till such a time that you yourself desire to die. Old age shall not slow your limbs, nor confuse your wits. You will be a matchless warrior all your life, watching over the welfare of the Kurus.” In return, the King got his son’s promise that as long as the Kurus were under a threat, Bhishma would not choose death.

Bhishma’s life would have many sorrows, and he was twice accursed, as he could not even die until the throne of the Kurus was safe. The curse of Vasishta would mean that he would lead a long life, and suffer great sorrows. He was to see his clansmen engage in a vicious battle. He would be forced to choose a side against his sense of justice, all because of the promise he had made his father. At last, he was able to embrace death at the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Still, it was not a bad life. He was a matchless warrior, feared by his enemies all his life, and was never defeated in battle, till he chose death in the battlefield.

The marriage of Satyavati and Shantanu was duly celebrated. Two sons were born to them, named Chitrasena and Vichitraveerya. Some time after this, Shantanu passed away. At this time the sons of Satyavati were mere children and therefore, Satyavati ruled as regent in their stead. She was ably assisted by Bhishma in running the kingdom. The kingdom was secure from the assaults of their neighboring kingdoms, as none could match Bhishma in battle, and therefore wisely refrained from attacking the Kurus.

When the elder son Chitrasena came of age, he was crowned the king of the Kurus. Unfortunately his reign did not last long. He happened to incur the wrath of a Gandharva, who was also named Chitrasena. The Gandharva challenged the young king to battle, and in the ensuing duel, Chitrasena was killed. Satyavati was heart broken. Vichitraveerya was duly crowned the king, and ruled with the assistance of Bhishma. One day, Satyavati called Bhishma to her apartments and said, “O Prince, You have been the bedrock of our kingdom. My son and I are very much indebted to you for the protection that you have afforded us from our foes. I feel that my son is now old enough to marry. It is time that we sought a suitable alliance for him. What is your opinion?”

Bhishma replied, “O Mother. I made a vow that I will protect you and your sons and establish their right to rule over the Kurus. I made this vow to forward my father’s happiness. You owe me nothing. I do agree that it is time that my brother got married. I have just now heard that the King of Kashi is holding a Swayamvara gathering in which eligible suitors will be present. Either the princess chooses her husband out of her own free will, or her hand is awarded to the king who fulfills a challenge laid forth in the proceedings). His daughters are reputed to be very beautiful. They will make ideal wives for my brother.”

Satyavati said, “It would be best if you went to this Swayamvara and espoused the cause of my son. He is too young to undertake such a task for himself. I am sure that your words will carry a lot more weight. Go to this Swayamvara and bring back my daughters-in-law.”

According to his step-mother’s suggestion, Bhishma went to the Swayamvara, being held at the court of Kashi. Many of his fellow kings were surprised to see him there, as his vow of celibacy was very well known. Some of them thought that he had merely come to take part in the festivities, as a Swayamvara was accompanied by a week long celebration in which there would be many feasts, performances of dance and music etc. Some of them thought that he was planning to discard his vow, and had come to seek a wife among the princesses of Kashi.

The day of the Swayamvara arrived at last. Once the king of Kashi had performed the introductions, Bhishma stood up and claimed all the three girls as his brother’s brides. He challenged the kings present to a trial of strength, if any one wished to challenge his brother’s claim. After uttering his challenge, he took the three maidens in his chariot and proceeded towards his kingdom. The kings that had assembled were incensed at this irregular proceedings. They knew him to be a great warrior, but they could not let such an insult go unchallenged. They made war upon Bhishma.

It was a very unequal combat. Although the kings ranged against him were many in number, and were no mean warriors, Bhishma was infinitely superior to them all. He routed all of them in battle. The only king to stand up to him to a certain extent was King Salya. Indeed, they were quite well matched in battle, for although Salya lacked Bhishma’s experience in battle, he made up for it in enthusiasm. Such was the fierceness of the battle between these warriors, that even the Devas came out in the heavens to watch its progress. Salya was a very skilled archer and sorely harassed Bhishma. Bhishma was very much impressed with his opponent. He decided to end the battle quickly and therefore drew the Aindra missile, which had been given to him by Indra, and with it destroyed the horses and chariot of Salya. He affixed the Varuni Missile which had been given to him by Varuna, and aimed it at Salya, resolving to end his life. At this point, Amba, the eldest princess of Kashi, beseeched him to spare the life of the valiant warrior. Conceding her prayer, Bhishma stayed his Astra and spared Salya’s life. Seeing Salya’s defeat, the other kings too conceded the battle and returned to their kingdoms.

Bhishma brought the three Kashi princesses, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika to his step mother, and went away to make preparations for their wedding with his brother, the king Vichitraveerya. However, the eldest princess summoned him to her presence and said, “O Prince! You have carried away the three of us by force from our father’s kingdom and are trying to marry us to your brother. However, even before the Swayamvara, I was in love with King Salya, whose life you spared in battle. I had fully resolved to choose him as my husband in the Swayamvara. Knowing this, and the path of Dharma, you will realize that I cannot marry your brother. Please do what you feel is right.”

Bhishma saw the force of her argument. He said, “You should have made this clear when I abducted you! However, it does not matter much. I will make arrangements for you to be escorted to the kingdom of Salya. I will dower you like I would have for a sister of mine. Have no fear, you will be able to marry Salya.”

In accordance with his promise, Bhishma sent Amba to the court of Salya, escorted by his chief minister and accompanied by many riches. When the entourage reached Salya, it suffered an unexpected check. Salya refused to marry Amba, as she had been won from him in fair combat by Bhishma. He said, “O Princess. Bhishma, the illustrious son of Shantanu won you from me in fair combat. He has defeated me in the presence of my peers. After this shame, I cannot marry you. Return to Bhishma and ask him for a solution for this impasse.”

Heart broken, Amba returned to Hastinapura, the capital of the Kurus. Since she had already chosen Salya as her husband, Vichitraveerya also refused to marry her. In desperation, she beseeched Bhishma to marry her as no one else would. She accused him of forcing her to such a desperate measure. She even persuaded Satyavati to try and force Bhishma into marrying her. Bhishma sympathized with her plight, but would not break his vow upon any account.

Amba was filled with hatred for Bhishma, as the cause of ruining her life. She sought a champion to defeat Bhishma in battle and either force him to marry her or failing that, kill him. Since everyone knew Bhishma’s prowess as a warrior, no one would come forth to espouse her cause. At last, she managed to convince Parashurama, the Guru of Bhishma to try and persuade the Kuru prince. Parashurama tried his best to convince Bhishma, but was unable to persuade him. He then challenged Bhishma to battle. The combat raged for a long time. In the end, Parashurama was forced to yield. He said to Amba, “My child, I tried my best, but my disciple is far too great a warrior to be defeated by me. I advise you to forget your vengeance, marry someone else and be happy.”

However, Amba would not take this advice. Upon consideration, she decided that only the Gods can grant a boon for her that would lead to Bhishma’s death. She went away to the forest and indulged in a terrible penance to Karthikeya (Skanda), the command-in-chief of the Deva army, the son of Lord Shiva. At last Karthikeya appeared in front of her and gave her a garland of flowers, saying that who ever wears this garland would be able to slay Bhishma. Much encouraged, Amba again tried to find a champion who would wear this garland and slay Bhishma. Once again, she found that no one would even try. She wandered from kingdom to kingdom in her quest. At last, she visited the king Drupada, the king of the Panchalas. He was renowned as a great warrior and also happened to be her kinsman. When she found that even he was unwilling, she was enraged and threw away the garland in the court. No one would even dare to touch the garland. The king took the garland with the help of a stick and tossed it on a tree in his garden. It lay there for a long time until someone _did_ pick it up and wear the garland. However, this was not going to happen for a very many years.

Amba then once again performed a tough penance, this time beseeching Shiva. The lord appeared before her and granted her the boon that she would be able to slay Bhishma in her next birth. Amba could not wait for that day to arrive. She lit a pyre and immolated herself. She was born as Shikandi, the daughter of a concubine of Drupada. One day, this girl happened to see the beautiful garland lying on the a branch in a tree in the garden. She climbed the tree, wore the garland, and went to her father’s court. When Drupada saw that his daughter had worn this garland, he became afraid of Bhishma’s wrath. According to his ministers’ advice, he abandoned his daughter in the forest. As fate would have it, the daughter was found by some sages in the hermitage. They learned her story from her, and told her of her previous birth as Amba. According to their advice, she once again prayed to Lord Shiva, and was turned into a boy named Shikandi. She returned to her father’s court. This time, Drupada could not exile him (her), as he feared Shiva’s wrath as well. He brought him up as his son.

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PANDU AND DHRITHARASHTRA

King Vichitraveerya spent many happy years with his wives Ambika and Ambalika. Alas, this happiness could not lost forever, for he was struck with disease and died without leaving behind any issue. Since a kingdom without a King would not prosper, the queen-mother sent for her step-son Bhishma and addressed him thus:

“O Bhishma, I am eternally grateful to you for the protection you have afforded to my sons and to the Kingdom. You must know that a Kingdom without a King attracts enemies as a honey pot attracts flies. I have a plan to resolve the current situation and wished to speak about it to you.”

Bhishma said, “Whatever I did, it was only my duty. Both my oath and my promise to my father bind me to defend our kingdom and the welfare of your children with all my ability. So no thanks are due to me. You are my step-mother, it does not behoove thanks to be exchanged between mother and son. The gratitude that you have expressed is unnecessary. What is this plan that you are talking about?”

“I know that your promise to stay celibate was given to my father and that you had made a vow never to marry. However, circumstances have now changed. I have no grandchildren to carry my line. The wives of your half-brothers have no children. The illustrious line of the Kurus is in danger of becoming extinct! It behooves you to marry them and to beget children upon them, and provide the kingdom with heirs.”

To this Bhishma replied, “O Mother! My vow once made, cannot be retracted. The sun, the moon, the air and the water may lose their inherent properties, but I shall not act contrary to my vow. I have renounced both the crown and fatherhood. In all else, I am yours to command, but in this matter, my decision is unalterable.”

Satyavati advanced many more arguments as to why her idea was the best course of action to follow, but to no avail. Bhishma would not be swayed. At last she said, “Son of Ganga, I see that in this instance, our ideas do not coincide. You know of the perils that can threaten a kingdom without a legitimate ruler. Please suggest some other way out of this predicament.”

Bhishma said, “Mother, It is well known that women are capable of hiding many secrets. When a problem confronts a family, it is the woman who can use her secret knowledge to find a solution. The menfolk being ignorant of these secrets, are helpless. It is up to you to suggest an alternate way, by which we may provide the kingdom with a ruler.”

Upon hearing Bhishma exhorting her to find a way, Satyavati remembered an incident that occurred long ago. She said to Bhishma, “It is true that women can keep family secrets very well. That is because, to promote harmony in a family, some facts are best suppressed. However, when there is a problem confronting us, there is no harm in revealing those secrets. You already know that I am the adopted daughter of the chief of fishermen, and that I used to assist my father by plying the ferry across the river. One day, while I was ferrying the great sage Parasara, there was an unusual confluence of the planets. Inspired by that moment, the sage wanted to mate with me and expressed his desire. After much discussion, he convinced me to acquiesce with his wishes. He also turned the odor of fish that clung to me (for I was born inside a fish), into a desirable fragrance. Before that I was known as Macha-gandhi (one who smells like fish), but after this boon, that name was no longer applicable. We were united in a small islet in the middle of the river, shielded from the eyes of the world by a mist which the Rishi had conjured up by his Tantric powers. A son was immediately born to me and magically grew up into full adulthood. I saw that the rules of mortals do not apply to magical births. This son, who was named Vyasa, left with his father, promising that I will be able to summon him in times of need, by merely thinking about him. I propose that we invite him and ask him to beget children upon my daughters-in-law.”

Bhishma thought for a while and said, “There is much to be said in favor of your idea. Since he is your eldest son, the children born will definitely belong to your line. Besides, such a proceeding is by no means unheard of. (Here he cites the example of the Rishi Dhirghatamas). When Parashurama had wiped out the entire class of Kshatriyas, many a noble house was replenished in exactly the same way. Invite your son, the great sage Vyasa, at once.”

Pleased that her idea met with Bhishma’s approval, Satyavati at once meditated upon Vyasa. By his yogic powers, the sage appeared at once in front of his mother, and after saluting her and seeking her blessings, he enquired as to what way he could be of use to her.

Satyavati explained the situation to him and said, “You see, the only way to continue the race of Kurus is for you to father children upon my daughters-in-law. I have consulted with Bhishma, whose knowledge of the scriptures rivals that of Brihaspati, and he is also in favor of this idea. As your mother, I order you to do this deed!”

Vyasa replied, “Mother, I am certainly willing to do your bidding. However such a proceeding must not be lightly undertaken. This act is not for mere pleasure, but with the serious intent of providing a heir to the throne. I will go the the princesses in a terrible form, full of bad odor and in filth. They must accept me as I am, this is the penance that I shall impose on them, so that later generations may not put an unsavory spin on this event.”

So, the die was cast. The princesses were informed of the arrangements, and the penance that would be imposed on them. First, it was the turn of Ambika. When the Rishi went to her, she was frightened by his terrible form and kept her eyes tightly closed through the ordeal. When Vyasa met his mother after this, he said, “Since Ambika could not fulfill the conditions imposed by me, she would have a son who would be born blind. However, he would still possess a strength equivalent to that of a thousand elephants and be very wise.”

Satyavati was naturally disappointed, for how could a blind man effectively rule a kingdom? Her hopes were now pinned upon Ambalika. When Ambalika beheld the sage, she did not close her eyes, but turned deadly pale with fright. Vyasa informed his mother that the child born would be illustrious and a great warrior, but he would be preternaturally pale, since his mother had violated the condition of the penance.

Satyavati implored Vyasa to make one more attempt. She wanted a grandson who would be perfect in all aspects. Vyasa consented, and Satyavati asked Ambika to again go to the sage. However, her daughter-in-law would not do so, for she had had enough of the sage. She instead sent a servant girl to the sage, dressed up in the clothes of a princess. To this servant-girl was born a son, who was the wisest of all men. He was named Vidura, and was an incarnation of Dharma (Yama), the Lord of justice.

How was it that the Lord of justice had to be born as a mortal? There is a story behind it. Once, there was a sage called Mandavya, whose hermitage was in a forest. One day, some thieves who were being chased by the King’s guards, came that way. Finding their pursuers hard on their heels, the thieves hid inside the hermitage. Mandavya was performing his penance under a tree in front of his hermitage, and was silent. When the guards came that way, they enquired from the Rishi, as to whether he had seen some men come that way. Bound by a vow of silence (that was his penance), he kept quiet. The guards then searched inside his house and apprehended the gang of thieves. They also arrested the sage as an accomplice and presented him before the magistrate. As per the law of the kingdom, all of them were sentenced to death at the stake. The sentence was duly executed. However, since he was a sage of great Yogic powers, he did not die. He was continuing his penance, even after being impaled at the stake. Other sages from the forest also came to meet him, and asked him the reason for his present plight. About this time, the penance came to an end. Mandavya then related to them the circumstances responsible for his present position. In the meantime, the guards, frightened that the sage was still alive, reported this fact immediately to the king. The King realized that a grave mistake had been made, and hastened to the spot. He pleaded forgiveness from the sage, and beseeched him not to get angry.

Mandavya said, “O King, It is not your fault that I have been impaled on this stake. Your officers were only doing their duty, and they are also blameless in this affair. I have led a blameless life in this birth, but I must have committed some grave sin in a prior birth, for which this punishment has been inflicted upon me. Be of clear mind, and do not reproach yourself for my suffering.”

Following the King’s orders, the soldiers attempted to remove the sage from the stake. They were unable to do so, for the stake was embedded deep. Ultimately they had to cut it off. The sage spent the rest of his life with a piece of the stake embedded in his body and was also referred to as Ani-Mandavya (Ani means nail in Sanskrit) from that time.

Later, Mandavya happened to meet Yama, the Lord of justice. He then narrated the incident of the stake, and asked him, “Tell me, O Lord, what is the crime that I had committed in a prior birth, for which this grievous hurt was inflicted upon me?”

To this Yama replied, “In your previous birth, you tortured insects by ripping their wings off. For this crime, you had to suffer the pain and indignity of the stake in this birth.”

Mandavya asked, “How old was I when I committed this crime?”.

Dharma said, “You were ten years old.”

Mandavya was angered, “How can a boy of ten years old have a proper idea of what is a sin, and what is not? His judgment will be necessarily immature. I henceforth decree that a man will not be judged on his sins that were committed before he turns sixteen. For every crime, the punishment must be proportionate. Since you have inflicted a disproportionate punishment on me for a crime committed as a child, it is clear that you have no idea of what it is to be a mortal. May you be born as a mortal and see first hand what it is to live such a life.”

This curse was the reason why Dharma was born as Vidura. The son born to Ambika was Dhritharashtra, and he was born blind. Pandu was the son of Ambalika and he was extremely pale. Since his elder brother was blind, and Vidura, being born of a servant girl was not eligible for the throne, Pandu was duly crowned as the king once he came of age.

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BIRTH OF THE PANDAVAS

When he came of age, Pandu was crowned the king of the Kurus, and he ruled from his capital city of Hastinapura. There was a chieftain of a clan called Yadavas, whose name was Soora. He had a cousin named Kunti Bhoja, who had been issue less. Soora then gave his eldest daughter, who had been named Prita, to his cousin. From that day, that girl came to be known as Kunti. She was the woman that Bhishma chose to be the bride of Pandu. Later Pandu also married Madri, the sister of Salya, the king of the Madra.

Dhritharashtra was married to Gandhari, the princess of the Gandhara kingdom. When she learned that her husband was blind, she tied her eyes with a dark cloth, and never took it off. As a result, she also became blind. Along with her, ten of her younger sisters were also married to Dhritharashtra. (This was a common practice in those times.)

A few years later, Pandu went hunting in the forest, accompanied by his wives and his court. He shot dead a stag, while it was in the act of mating with its wife. Unfortunately, the stag turned out to be a sage, who had taken this form along with his wife, in order to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh without human inhibitions. The sage, before dying, cursed the king, saying, “Since you have killed a creature in the tenderest of all moments, may you also die the instant you approach a woman with amorous intent!”.

Pandu was grieved beyond words. Besides, he was at this time issue less. He apprised Bhishma of the curse and stated his intention to spend the rest of his life in the forest, leading the life of a hermit. Bhishma saw the force of his arguments and did not hinder him. His wives and some of his trusted courtiers also accompanied him to the forest. Dhritharashtra was crowned the new king of Hastinapura.

During his wanderings in the forest, Pandu met some sages. While discussing the concept of heaven and salvation with them, he was appalled to learn that a man without children could never aspire for heaven. He then sought their blessings, and they blessed him, saying, “You will have many worthy and illustrious sons.”

After this incident, Pandu began to think of ways by which he might obtain children. He spoke to Kunti about it, and suggested her that she beget children by suitable, illustrious men. At this point Kunti narrated an incident that occurred when she was a girl.

She said, “O King, When I was a little girl in my father Kunti Bhoja’s palace, the great sage Durvasa visited us. Everyone knew of the Rishi’s fiery temper and wanted to keep him in the best of humors. It fell to my lot to attend to him, and to make all arrangements for his stay. So well did I discharge this duty, that when his stay ended, he granted me a boon. He gave me a Mantra (incantation), which would summon any deity that I wished. He said that I would be with child from that deity. The son born would inherit the properties of his divine father. As I was very young, I did not understand the full implications of this boon. Once the sage had gone, I wished to test the efficacy of this Mantra, and meditating upon Surya (the sun), I uttered this incantation. The next moment the Lord of the skies appeared in person before me, impelled by the power of the Mantra. I was frightened, and pleaded him to go away. This, however, he could not do, for the Mantra bound him as well as me. He did grant me a boon that I would regain my virginity after our encounter. A son, shining like the sun, clad in divine armor and possessing earrings that glittered with dazzling aspect, was born to me. Since divine births are not subject to the nine month gestation of mortals, the child was born to me without any delay. Fearful of the ridicule of society, steeling my heart, I put him in a casket and set him adrift. I have not met him again. However, since you have yourself suggested that I beget children with suitable men, I feel that it is time to use the Mantra. Tell me, which God would you like to be the father of your child?”

When Pandu heard his wife’s tale, he was overjoyed. He thought for a while and said, “Since truth is the best virtue that a man may possess, I wish that you beget a child from Yama, the Lord of Justice. He would be an apt choice to father our first child.”

Then Kunti utilized the Mantra, summoned Yama and as before, without having to wait for the nine month gestation, a son was born to her. They named him Yudhishtra. At this time, Dhritharashtra was still childless, and hence Yudhishtra was the eldest prince of the Kuru dynasty.

A year passed. Pandu said to his wife, “Kunti, it is said that a man who has but a single child is no better than a man who has none. The future is uncertain. In case something happens to our only child, we will still be in the same predicament as before. Therefore, use the Mantra one more time and bear another child.”

However, this whole process of using the Mantra was not very agreeable to Kunti. She tried to dissuade her husband from pressing this matter. At last, she yielded. This time they chose the mighty wind Vayu, to be the father of their child. The son born thus was named Bheema.

Meanwhile, Gandhari was getting worried that she was still childless. The great sage Vyasa visited her and she beseeched him to grant the boon of a child. She asked him for a hundred mighty sons. The sage granted that boon. She soon became pregnant. However, nearly a year passed and she still hadn’t delivered a child. At this moment, news was brought to her that Yudhishtra had been born in the forest. In her impatience, she struck her own abdomen to try and induce labor. It seemed to have worked, for she soon went into labor. Great was her chagrin, when she gave birth to a great lump of flesh! At this point sage Vyasa again appeared. He consoled her and had hundred little pots to be brought. He divided the lump of flesh into a hundred pieces and put one in each pot. At the end there was a small piece of flesh left, this he put in a new jar. A few months from this operation, Duryodhana was born from the first jar. His ninety-nine brothers were born shortly thereafter, along with his only sister Dushala (she was that tiny lump of flesh in the separate jar).

Many ill omens accompanied Duryodhana’s birth. There were comets seen in the sky. Dogs started braying and Jackals were seen prowling in the city. Concerned by these omens, Dhritharashtra sent for astrologers skilled in the art of interpreting omens, and asked them the meaning of the omens that were being seen.

They all were unanimous that the omens were uniformly bad. They said, “O King, These omens suggest that your first-born son will be the cause of utter destruction of the Kurus. We would advise you to sacrifice him, if you want to preserve your race. It has been said that, to save a family you may sacrifice a man, to save the clan you may sacrifice a family, to save a village you may sacrifice a clan, and to save a kingdom you may sacrifice a village. In this case, to save the kingdom of Kurus, you should sacrifice your first-born. Your son will bring nothing but misery to all. Save yourself, and the Kurus while there is still time!.”

However, blinded by his love for his new born son, the King would not agree to this. Duryodhana was born exactly one day before Bheema’s birth in the forest. From an early age, Duryodhana showed a great aptitude for war and demonstrated immense strength.

Once again, Pandu wished for another child. Kunti summoned Indra to be the father. The child born was named Arjuna and it was foretold at his birth that he would be a peerless warrior, just like his divine father. Madri also wished for children of her own, and so Kunti taught her the incantations. Madri invoked the twin Ashwinis, and begot the twins Nakula and Sahadeva through them. The five sons of Pandu were known as the Pandavas.

One fine spring day, the forest was filled with blooming flowers and the sweet songs of birds. Intoxicated by these surroundings, Pandu could no longer control himself. His wife Madri was nearby and she was a woman of great beauty. Forgetting about the sage’s curse, he was filled with desire for his wife and approached her, his mind full of lust. The sage’s curse came into effect and he was struck dead on the spot.

Madri was inconsolable. She blamed herself for her husband’s death. She decided that life held no meaning for her without Pandu and announce her intention of committing suicide by jumping into Pandu’s funeral pyre. (This practice is called Suttee). Kunti and the others tried to dissuade her, but could not shake her resolve. After committing her twins Nakula and Sahadeva to Kunti’s care, Madri committed suicide in the manner described above.

After the period of mourning was over, Kunti asked the rest of the sages for advice. The eldest among them said, “You must now look after the welfare of your children. They have a strong claim to the throne of Hastinapura. Besides, they need to be educated in a manner befitting princes. You must take them to Hastinapura and commend them to the care of their uncle and that of Bhishma, the grand-sire of the Kurus. We will escort you to the capital, any time you wish to go.”

After discussing this with her older children, Kunti felt that this was the best course of action to follow. She went to Hastinapura with her sons, accompanied by her faithful courtiers and the sages from the forest. Their royal relations were very much grieved to learn of Pandu’s death, and very cordially welcomed the young princes and their mother. Vidura was especially pleased with the good manners and excellent qualities of the Pandavas.

Some time after the Pandavas came to live in Hastinapura, Vyasa visited his mother Satyavati. He told her that due to the jealousy of Duryodhana, many problems would arise for the Kurus. He advised her to retire from the capital, go to the forests and lead the life of an ascetic, for she would not be able to bear the sad events that were to come in the future. Satyavati discussed this proposal with her daughters-in-law. Finally all three of them decided to follow Vyasa to the forest.

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DRONA

Once the vitality of sage Bharadwaja spontaneously emerged from his body. He stored it in a container. The son born from that container was named Drona (In Sanskrit Drona=container). He was sent to the hermitage of a learned Brahmana named Agniveshya to learn the scriptures. At the same time, the young prince of the Panchala kingdom, Drupada, who was the son of King Brushadha was also a student in the same hermitage. A friendship grew up between the prince and the scholar. Both of them swore an oath that whatever belonged to one would belong to both. After their education was complete, they went their separate ways.

Saradhwan was the son of sage Gautama. From his vitality twin children, a boy and a girl were born. These children were found in the forest by King Shantanu, who brought them up himself. The girl child was named Kripi and the male child was named Kripa, who was also known as Kripacharya, due to his mastery over the Astras. When Kripi came of age, she was married to Drona. They had a son named Ashwatthama, for he had neighed like a horse when he was born. (In Sanskrit, Ashwa = Horse). Though Drona was a very learned man and skilled in warfare, he remained very poor. One day his son came crying to him and asked him for milk, for all his friends were drinking it, but he had never tasted it. Kripi had to trick him by giving him rice flour mixed in water and calling it milk. Stung by this incident, Drona decided that he would earn wealth. He then remembered his childhood friend Drupada. He went to the Panchala king’s court and reminded him of their childhood pact to share all equally.

Unfortunately, years of being the king of the Panchalas had made Drupada rather vain. He ridiculed his friend and said, “I am the King of the Panchalas, and you are a poor Brahmana. Do you not know that friendship can exist only between equals? You talk about a pact made when we were children. I have forgotten it. If you had even a bit of common-sense, you would have forgotten it too. If you come to me as a needy supplicant I shall certainly give you alms. Do not talk about the friendship, for it was so long ago. Ask me what you want, but only as a supplicant.”

A great anger rose in the heart of Drona. Humiliated, he silently left the court. His resolve to obtain wealth and glory was strengthened. He heard that the great Parashurama was giving away all his wealth, so he went to meet that sage. Unfortunately, by this time all the worldly wealth of Parashurama had already been given away. Parashurama said, “Drona, I am very sorry. You are too late. I have just finished giving away all the material wealth I had. However, I do not like to send you back empty-handed. The only worthwhile things I have are my Astras. I will instruct you in their use and transfer my powers to you.”

Drona gladly accepted this offer. After learning the secrets of all of Parashurama’s Astras he became the most powerful warrior on earth, unequaled in warfare. Still, he had not fulfilled his goal of obtaining wealth. Then he remembered that his brother-in-law Kripa was at the court of Hastinapura, and also recalled that the young Kuru princes must now be of an age to require an instructor to learn the art of war, so he traveled to Hastinapura.

When he reached the city, he happened to see all the young princes, playing at a park in the outskirts. They were playing with a ball which had fallen into a nearby well, and were arguing about the best way to get it out. While they were arguing, Yudhishtra’s ring also fell into the well. The princes were helpless. Seeing their predicament, Drona approached them and said, “Is their no one among you who can accomplish such a simple task? Let me show you how a warrior should solve this problem”. He cut off dried blades of grass from a nearby field and struck the ball in the well with one of them. He then struck another blade on top of the first, and in such a manner, created a string of grass that was bound to the ball. He then pulled the ball out. After this, he borrowed a bow and arrow from a prince and fired the arrow at an angle into the water. The arrow bounced back from the well, carrying the ring at its tip.

The princes were astounded by these feats of marksmanship. Yudhishtra then said, “Sir, It is evident that you are a warrior of no mean order. If you would accompany us to our grand-sire, he is sure to reward you for the help that you have rendered us. Please come with us.”

To this Drona replied, “Go to your grand-sire Bhishma and tell him about my appearance and the feats that I performed, he will know who I am.”

The princes went to Bhishma and narrated the incidents in the park. At once, Bhishma realized that the Brahmana could be none other than Drona. He thought that he would be the most suitable teacher for the Kuru princes. He consulted Kripa and Dhritharashtra. Both of them were unanimous in their approval. Bhishma then went to the park, and brought Drona to the palace, with all due respect, and requested him to undertake the education of the royal children. Drona consented. He established his hermitage outside the city, in the forest. Both the Kauravas and Pandavas went into residence there. In addition to them, Drona’s son Ashwatthama was also a student there.

The education of the princes began in dead earnest. Duryodhana and Bheema outstripped everybody else in their skill with the mace. Arjuna proved to be a peerless archer. Indeed, he was Drona’s favorite student, for he was most dedicated to his lessons and the most ardent in practice. Yudhishtra displayed the great skill in charioteering.

When their education was nearing its completion, Drona summoned all his disciples and said, “You will soon have learned everything that I could teach you. There is the question of the fees to be paid to me. I will set you all a very difficult task. Who is willing to promise now that it shall be done?”.

All the princes were silent. However, Arjuna said, “O Teacher, No matter how difficult that task may be, I shall accomplish it. Either I shall succeed in this attempt, or I shall die trying”. Needless to say, this gladdened Drona’s heart.

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KARNA

Soon, the education of the Kuru princes was complete. Drona went to Bhishma and suggested that a festival be held, in which the princes will have an opportunity to display the talents that they have acquired and to prove to their subjects that they would be capable rulers in the future. Accordingly, an auspicious day was chosen and a stadium erected, where the people would be able to observe the feats of their princes.

In addition to the people of the Kingdom, all the members of the royal family were also present among the audience. Drona appeared first and introduced all the princes. Bhishma declared the festivities open. Both the Kauravas and the Pandavas performed many feats of strength and displayed their skill with various weapons. After a general display, a friendly contest between Duryodhana and Bheema with the mace began. At least, it started out as a friendly contest, but the hatred that each contestant had for the other, soon caused it to escalate into a deadly combat in earnest. The audience also started taking sides. Seeing the unrest in the audience and fearing that it could lead to violence, Drona sent in his son Ashwatthama to separate the contestants and to declare the contest a tie.

After this, it was the turn of Drona’s favorite Arjuna to display his talents. Such was the radiance emanating from his person, that people were fooled for a moment into thinking that it was Lord Indra himself in person, who had appeared in their midst. Arjuna performed many feats of marksmanship with his bow and arrows. He demonstrated the use of the Agneyastra, setting the field on fire, the Varunastra by putting out the fire with water, the Anthardynastra by making himself invisible, the Parjanyastra by causing clouds to assemble and many more such missiles. The audience was spellbound by the skill of the third Pandava. They began to think that here among them, was the greatest archer that the world had ever known.

Just at this moment, there was a commotion at the entrance to the field, for a youth of dazzling aspect, clad in armor that shone like the sun, and with earrings to match his armor, strode into the field like a lion, armed with bow and arrows. He came to Arjuna and said, “Arjuna, do not swell up with pride. There are many in the world who can perform these feats of archery that you have performed. The use of the missiles is also not unique, there are many warriors who would consider the missiles that you have used to be kids’ stuff. Let me show you what real archery is like.”

Meanwhile, Kunti fainted away in the stands, for she recognized this youth who was challenging Arjuna. She knew that it was her eldest born, Karna (The youth was not named Karna at that time. He earned that title later by becoming a great philanthropist. However, for convenience, we shall continue to call him Karna). She recognized him because of his radiant armor and earrings. Unable to bear the thought of her two children fighting each other and struck by guilt, for she had abandoned Karna as a baby, she fainted away, and was taken to her quarters by her hand-maidens.

After challenging Arjuna the youth proceeded to demonstrate all the feats that Arjuna had performed, and then some more. Naturally, this angered Arjuna, for he felt insulted that some nameless youth had come and effortlessly bested his feats. Duryodhana, who was watching all this was glad, for he was mortally afraid of Arjuna’s skill with the bow. He perceived that he would have no cause to worry, if only he could get Arjuna’s rival on his side.

Karna then turned to Arjuna and said, “You are priding yourself on being the best archer in the world. There is only one way to settle this question. If you will meet me in combat, I, the disciple of the sage Parashurama, will defeat you and prove to the world as to who is better.”

This further inflamed Arjuna, but he looked to his elders for guidance. Kripa then came forward and said, “Before this combat can take place, both contestants must know each other’s lineage. A fair combat can only take place between equals. The world knows that Arjuna is the son of Pandu, by the grace of Indra and is the scion of the Kuru dynasty. Now it is your turn to proclaim your lineage, and then the combat may begin.”

Hearing this, Karna lowered his head in shame. He did not know who he was, who his real parents were. He had been found floating in the casket by a charioteer, who adopted him as his son. This man and his wife Radha were the only parents he had known.

However, Karna did not want to be a charioteer, he was always longing to become a warrior, and was convinced that he was born a Kshatriya. He went to various celebrated Gurus and tried to enroll in their hermitage, but he was turned down as he could not prove his lineage. At last, in desperation, he pretended to be a Brahmana and enrolled himself under the tutelage of Parashurama, who hated all Kshatriyas. There, he developed his skill with the bow, and also learned the use of all the divine Astras (missiles), including the ultimate weapon, the Brahmastra.

One day, Parashurama was sleeping with his head in the lap of Karna. An insect started biting Karna on his leg, but he did not want to chase it away, as it would disturb the sleep of his Guru. He silently bore the pain. The insect continued to bore through his leg. At last, the blood flowing from his wound, touched the face of Parashurama who at once woke up. When he saw what had happened, he was exceedingly angry. He said, “You have lied to me. There is no way a Brahmana could have borne such a pain without flinching. Only a Kshatriya could have borne such a pain without raising a murmur. As you have lied to me, may all the skills that I have taught you, become useless to you in the hour of your need. May you forget the use of all the missiles, when you most need them. Go away from my presence, and never return!”.

Karna was terrified by the curse of his Guru. He pleaded ignorance to his descent, and sought his teacher’s forgiveness, but to no avail, Parashurama would not relent. So Karna had to leave the hermitage in disgrace. When he came back to his parents, he learned about the festival where feats of skill would be performed, and went there to watch it. However, when he saw Arjuna winning universal acclaim, the demon of jealousy was aroused within him, and he came forward to challenge him, leading to the events narrated above. Now he stood silent, unable to expound his lineage, for he did not know who he was.”

Seeing him in this predicament, Duryodhana came forward and said, “If the only objection to this man is that he is not a King, I will remove this obstacle immediately. I shall crown him the king of Anga, which is under my dominion.” With this, Duryodhana signalled the assembled Brahmanas to perform the rites that would crown Karna as the King of Anga.

Karna was deeply touched by Duryodhana’s gesture. He said, “O Prince, you have won my eternal gratitude by your selfless act. I do not know how I could ever repay you!”

To this Duryodhana said, “I desire nothing but your friendship. All that is mine, is yours. All your enemies are mine. Let us be friends for all time to come.”

This was the start of the most celebrated friendship in the Mahabharata. Both Karna and Duryodhana were friends, taking part in each others’ triumphs and sorrows, till Karna’s death in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The other celebrated friendship in the Mahabharata is between Arjuna and Krishna.

Both Arjuna and Karna were now ready for combat. Their divine fathers Indra and Surya appeared in the sky, to watch this contest. At this moment, another commotion was heard. The charioteer, who had adopted Karna, came to the field, and embraced his son.

Seeing this, Bheema said, “O Karna, you may have become a king, but you have no right to rule the kingdom of Anga. You are the son of a charioteer, that is your proper sphere. Just as a dog is not eligible for eating the sacrificial oblations, you are not eligible to fight with Arjuna.”

Hearing this, full of wrath, Duryodhana said, “Bheema, your words are without merit. To be a king, it is only essential that you be skilled in arms and of exemplary valor and bravery. Who are you to talk about birth? Everyone knows that you Pandavas are not really the sons of your father Pandu. This Kripacharya who spoke about descent, was born inside a bamboo basket. Why, even the birth of our teacher Drona is of questionable nature. A man does not become something because of his birth, only his deeds shall determine the class to which he belongs.”

At this moment, the sun set, and Duryodhana and Karna left the field with the rest of the Kauravas. Arjuna and Bheema stood alone in the field, hanging their heads in shame.

Now that the education of the princes was complete, it was time for the difficult feat to be set by Drona. He summoned them all and narrated the incidents that connected him with the Panchala king Drupada, and of his humiliation at his friend’s court. He said, “The fee that I ask for your education, is that you defeat Drupada in battle, and bring him as a prisoner in front of me.”

The Kauravas then started for battle with great fanfare. Drona warned them that Drupada was an accomplished warrior, but they did not pay much attention to it, so confident were they in their own prowess. The battle raged long and hard. In the end, the Kauravas were routed and had to flee from the battlefield.

Now it was the turn of the Pandavas. They did not take any army with them, just the five of them formed the force that attacked Drupada. Once again, it was a hard fought battle, but the skill of Arjuna won the day for the Pandavas. Drupada’s army could not withstand the onslaught of the third Pandava’s arrows. Ultimately the Panchalas were defeated and Drupada was taken prisoner and presented before Drona.

Drona said in a taunting voice, “Drupada, we were bosom friends once. When I came to your court some time ago, it pleased you to disown my friendship. You said at that time, that there was no friendship possible, unless it were between equals. Now, you stand before me defeated, stripped of your kingdom. Now I own your kingdom, and you have nothing. I still desire your friendship, so I will give you half your kingdom back. That will make us equals, making friendship possible.”

Drupada hung his head in shame. However, the memory of this humiliation by Drona gnawed away at his soul, and revenge became the reason for his existence from then on. When he returned to his kingdom, he could think of nothing else. He knew that Drona was a matchless warrior and could not be defeated in battle easily. At last he resolved to perform a great Yagna (sacrifice), where he would seek the boon of a son who would kill Drona in battle.

He approached the two brothers Yaja and Upayaja, who were skilled in the art of performing sacrifices and put his request before them. They were reluctant, but at last were persuaded to assist the king. The great sacrifice was performed, with thousands of Brahmanas in attendance. When it came to be the time for pouring the sacrificial offerings (Havis), Drupada’s queen could not be present for she had not had her bath. She asked the head-priests to wait, for she would be back soon. However, they would not brook any delay and said, “This sacrifice, performed by Yaja and sanctified by Upayaja, does not need a woman to be present. When we pour this sacrificial offering into the fire, there will be born one of the greatest warriors the world has seen, he will be the slayer of Drona. Drupada, do you wish for anything else?”

Drupada thought for a moment and said, “I was most impressed with the valor of Arjuna in battle.I would like a daughter who would marry him, thus securing me an alliance with the greatest archer in the world.”

The priests said, “So be it!”, and then started pouring the sacrificial offerings, accompanied by the chant of the final Mantras (incantations). From the fire sprang a radiant youth, fully clad in battle-armor, with a shield and drawn sword. A disembodied voice from the heaves proclaimed, “This youth will be a matchless warrior, and will slay Drona in battle. May he be named Dhrishtadhyumna.” Immediately after him a beautiful maiden, who rivalled the Apsaras in beauty, emerged from the sacrificial altar. Since she was dark complexioned she was known as Krishnaa (Krishnaa=dark color). She was also known as Panchali, for she was the Panchala princess, but the name by which she came to be known was Draupadi.

Drupada sent his son, to the gurukul (school) of Drona to be trained in the art of war. Despite knowing that this youth would be the cause of his death, Drona was obliged to teach him, for in those days, no teacher may refuse to teach an eligible student.

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THE HOUSE OF LAC

Shortly after the display of their talents at the festival, the education of the Kuru princes was complete. Among them, Drona felt that only Arjuna was worthy of learning the supreme weapon Brahmastra. Accordingly, he taught its use to him, and told him that this weapon was only to be used in the direst emergency. It should not be used against mere mortals, for its potency could destroy the entire world in such a case. It was to be used only against Gods opposing him in battle or against super-natural foes.

Drona then blessed Arjuna by saying, “As promised, you are now the greatest warrior on earth. Only Krishna, the son of Vasudeva, your cousin can defeat you in combat. He will be your friend, so there is no one who will defeat you in battle. Promise me that you will never shirk from combat, even if I or your grand-sire Bhishma are ranged against you.”

Arjuna well at the feet of his Guru, and gave his word that he will abide by these rules. He then gave the promise that Drona sought, though he did not feel at that time that he will ever have to fight his teacher and grandfather.

After consulting with his ministers, Dhritharashtra felt that the time had come to crown Yudhishtra as his heir apparent. Accordingly, a suitable auspicious day was chosen and Yudhishtra was anointed as the crown-prince. Needless to say, it caused a great amount of jealousy among the Kaurava’s, especially Duryodhana, who considered that position as his birth-right.

The Pandavas were extremely well liked, and were popular among the subjects. Some of them were openly expressing their opinion that sooner Yudhishtra became the king, the better. Although Dhritharashtra had acted according to sound advice, in the matter of Yudhishtra’s anointing, in his heart, he was still partial to Duryodhana. He naturally wished that his son should succeed to the throne after him, but could not openly express this opinion, as Yudhishtra was the eldest prince. However, without specifically thinking of how it might be accomplished, he felt that it would be a good thing if the Pandavas might have some accident which would clear the path for Duryodhana to rule.

Duryodhana was actively thinking of ways by which the Pandavas might be disposed off, without the blame being attached to himself. At last, with the help of his uncle Shakuni, he hit upon a plan by which the Pandavas could be sent out of the capital for a little while. He planned to have them murdered during their outside stay. The problem was, how could he present this plan to his father and other elders? He could hardly say that he was sending them out so that they could be murdered without his hand appearing in the matter! So he approached his father and said, “Father! It is really unfair that Yudhishtra should succeed to the throne after you. As your eldest son, the kingdom is my birthright. You were older than your brother Pandu, however, he ruled first. Only after he could no longer rule did you get the throne. Now the same story is being repeated in our generation. At this rate, our line will forever be second-class citizens.”

Dhritharashtra said, “Son. Don’t I have the same hopes and aspirations as you do? I wish that there were some way by which you could rule the kingdom after me. But Vidura, Bhishma and other advisers are unanimous in supporting Yudhishtra. Besides, our subjects really like the Pandavas. Under such a circumstance, there is little I can do.”

Duryodhana saw his opportunity. He said “It is true father, that the Pandavas are very popular. They remain popular because they live here in the capital, and have a lot of opportunity to interact with the people. If you can manage to send them away for a year or two, I will be able to consolidate my position here. When they come back, conditions will be a lot more favorable to us. Please do this little thing for me.”

The more Dhritharashtra thought about this idea, the more he liked it. However, he still had a few doubts, so he said, “What reason can I give to them for this exile? It is bound to cause a lot of talk.”

Duryodhana said, “There is nothing easier. You must know that there is a festival to be held at Varanavatha, which is at quite a distance from there. They have invited all the royals to visit them during this time. Send the Pandavas there as your representatives. Ask them to stay there for a while to get to know their subjects better. You can send them away for quite a long time this way, and they cannot refuse.”

Dhritharashtra said, “But Vidura or Bhishma may see through this ploy. They might realize the real reason why I am sending the Pandavas away.”

His son replied, “Even if they suspect something, they will not have anything definite to go on. They will not oppose you openly. Besides, I do not care what they think, as long as you send the Pandavas away.”

So the next day, Dhritharashtra summoned Yudhishtra to his court, and asked him to go as the Royal representative at the festival, along with his brothers and Kunti. He also told them that they were to spend some time there in getting acquainted with the townspeople.

Yudhishtra suspected that there was a reason why he and his brothers were being sent to Varanavatha. However, he could not voice any objections, as the plan seemed reasonable one. He was asked to start almost immediately.

Meanwhile, Duryodhana had commissioned a trusted servant of his, named Purochana, to go to Varanavatha and construct palace for the Pandavas. This palace was made mostly of lac, wax and of other flammable materials. The plan was to lull the Pandavas into a sense of security and then burn them alive while they were sleeping.

When the time came for the Pandavas to leave for Varanavatha, all the members of the royal family came to see them off. Vidura took Yudhishtra aside and said, “The body can be destroyed by things other than weapons of steel. Whoever knows this truth, cannot be conquered by his foes. Fire that can burn down entire forests, is powerless to destroy a rat that lives in its hole. When attacked with an unconventional weapon, a wise man would be able to turn the tables on the attacker. A porcupine makes a tunnel in the ground to escape from fire. Even when the night is dark, a man can find his way around using the stars. These are some of the basic principles of statecraft.”

Yudhishtra heard these cryptic sentences and then said, “I understand.”. The Pandavas were on their way. After a while, Kunti asked, “Vidura spoke some cryptic sentences, which you said you understood. What was the meaning hidden in his advice?”

Yudhishtra said, “Vidura was warning us that there is a plot to burn us alive in Varanavatha. He was suggesting that we build a tunnel to escape from the fire. He was also asking us to be on alert so that we are not caught unawares. He also asked us to familiarize ourselves with the surroundings, so that we can escape during a night.”

The Pandavas were welcomed with great fanfare at Varanavatha. Pandu had been a very well liked king, and the people there were inclined to think that his sons must be good future rulers also. As per Duryodhana’s arrangements, the Pandavas were met by his henchman Purochana, who led them to their palace. One look at the palace, and it was clear to the Pandavas that a fiery fate would be theirs unless they played their cards cleverly. Purochana stayed on as a caretaker, while his real intention was to burn his guests alive at the first suitable opportunity.

As per Vidura’s advice, the princes spent a lot of time outside the palace, riding and hunting in the neighboring forests, getting a very good idea of the surroundings. They were confident of being able to find their way around when they would be obliged to flee. The rest of the time was spent in various entertainments that were on offer during the festival.

Sometime after this, a man named Kanaka, came to meet them. He introduced himself as a miner, who had been sent by Vidura. As proof of his being sent by the chief-minister, he quoted the advice given by Vidura to Yudhishtra. He said, that he had been commissioned to build a secret underground underground passage, so that the Pandavas may be able to escape. In a few days, the passage was complete, and the entrance to it so cunningly concealed that it would escape from the notice of all but those who were initiated into its secret. The miner took leave, after reiterating Vidura’s advice that “Offense is the best form of Defense.”

The Pandavas were now only waiting for a suitable opportunity. As luck would have it, a Nishada (a local tribe) woman came to attend the festivities with her five sons. All six of them were drunk on the local wine and were deep in sleep. The traitor Purochana was also asleep. The Pandava’s set fire thoroughly to the entire palace and escaped via the underground tunnel, taking care to close the entrance after them, for none should know yet that they had survived this disaster. Their ploy succeeded better than they had hoped for. The people of Varanavatha were completely taken in by the burnt corpses of the Nishada woman and her sons. Loud were their lamentations princes, who early careers had been full of such promise, cruelly cut off in their prime by treachery. There was no doubt in the people’s mind that the evil Duryodhana was behind the accident. The only consolation that they derived was that the Duryodhana’s vile henchman Purochana had also perished in the fire that he had so evidently set.

The news of the Pandavas death, and that of their mother, soon reached the capital Hastinapura. The capital was also plunged into grief. Dhritharashtra was ambivalent about the Pandava’s death, for on one hand he was glad that his son could now inherit the throne, on the other hand he was sad about the untimely deaths of his nephews. Bhishma was inconsolable. Only Vidura knew the truth, for he had received news from his trusted spies that the Pandavas were safe. But, for the sake of appearance, he mourned their deaths just like the others. Duryodhana, Shakuni and Karna were overjoyed.

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THE PANDAVAS ESCAPE

Then tunnel from their palace led the Pandavas to a dense forest on the banks of the river Ganga. Vidura had stationed a trusted servant, who ferried them across the river in a mechanized boat. He told them that Vidura wanted them to stay hidden for a little while longer. When it was time for them to come out in the open, word would be sent to them. In the meantime, they were to travel to the nearby town of Ekachakrapura, disguised as Brahmanas.

According to the advise sent by Vidura, the Pandavas changed into simple clothes, befitting poor Brahmanas and set forth for Ekachakrapura. When they were too tired to walk, Bheema carried all of them on his shoulders. When even his immense strength began to tire, they decided to rest. Bheema was to keep watch, while the rest of them slept.

While Kunti and his brothers slept, Bheema wondered at their fate. Born to rule a kingdom, they had to flee from their persecuting relatives, slinking away like rats from fire. When he saw his mother, the beloved wife of King Pandu, sleep like an orphan, with the root of a tree as the pillow, when he saw the peerless warrior Arjuna clad in coarse cotton like a mendicant, his hatred for Duryodhana grew tenfold. He made a silent vow to make his evil cousin pay for the plight to which he had reduced his brothers.

While Bheema was indulging in these reflections, a Rakshasa (demon) named Hidimba sensed the presence of humans in his forest. This monster was in the habit of devouring any humans who had dared to set foot in his domain. He sent his sister Hidimbi to go and kill the people who had so foolishly ventured into the forest.

Hidimbi found Bheema watching over his mother and his sleeping brothers. When she saw the handsome second Pandava, she was filled with a longing for him. Using her magic, she transformed herself into a beautiful woman and approached him. When Bheema saw this woman appear suddenly, he was very much surprised.

Hidimbi approached him and said, “O Handsome Youth. Have you and your brothers despaired of life? For what foolishness could have let you set foot in the domain of the fearsome Hidimba? He is my brother, and has a unseemly fondness for human flesh. Flee from here while there is still time!”

Bheema said, “O Maiden, Thanks for taking the trouble to warn us, but we are very much capable of looking after ourselves. We are the Pandavas. I am the strongest man in the world and my brother Arjuna has no equal as an archer. My other brothers are also great warriors. We can take care of not just one Rakshasa, but of a whole army of them.”

While these interchanges were going on, Hidimba was wondering what was taking his sister so long. When he could stand it no longer, he came to find the humans himself. When he saw that his sister was actually counselling them to fly, his rage knew no bounds. He said to her, “How dare you betray me? Shameless woman, I will deal with you once I have made mincemeat of these intruders. Stand aside while I pulverize them.”

Bheema said, “We shall soon see who is going to get pulverized. But don’t shout so loud, my family is sleeping, they will wake up if you keep up this racket. If a fight is what you want, let us fight a bit away from here.”

Unheeding, Hidimba rushed towards Bheema intending to crush him with his massive arms. However, Bheema, who was a skilled wrestler, easily side-stepped this bull-rush. The fight then began in right earnest. The two combatants were evenly matched in strength, but Bheema had the better technique. The ruckus created by their fight, woke up Kunti and her sons. They were stunned to see Bheema fighting a Rakshasa and a beautiful maiden watching the fight anxiously.

The fight ended rather soon, for Bheema caught the monster in a vice like grip and strangled him to death. This released the Pandavas from the spell that had kept them silent and they all started talking at once. Hidimbi explained to them who she was, and told them that she had fallen in love with Bheema. This posed a dilemma to the princes. For Yudhishtra, the eldest was as yet unmarried, and they also did not think it prudent for Bheema to marry, that too to a Rakshasa maiden! However, Hidimbi pleaded her case eloquently, particularly to Kunti.

At last it was agreed that Bheema and Hidimbi would be married, but they will be together only till such a time as a son is born to them. They were married, and lived together till a their son Ghatotkacha was born. When he was born, his first cry was like the roar of a mountain lion and even as an infant, it was apparent that he had inherited his father’s strength. As per the agreement, Hidimbi and Ghatotkacha went away, leaving Bheema to rejoin his brothers and his mother.

At last they came to the small town of Ekachakrapura, where they found refuge in a Brahmana’s house. The Pandavas would go for a round of begging in the morning. The alms that they collected would be cooked by Kunti for them. She made sure that Bheema was fed half of the food and the rest divided equally among the rest. Bheema was also known as Vrikodhara (wolf-bellied) for his immense hunger. Many days passed with the same unwavering routine.

One day, when the brothers had gone out on their morning begging rounds, Kunti heard the wife of the Brahmana crying. She wondered what grief could be the cause, so she listened at the door of their room.

The Brahmana was saying to his wife, “This worldly life is full of sorrows. There is an illusion of independence, but our actions are predetermined. I told you long ago, that we should leave this ungodly city and find living elsewhere. But, you were attached to this city, for your parents, relatives and other friends live here. There is a saying that ‘where there is means for livelihood, where there are no relatives of the wife, one should choose to live in such a place’. I ignored this wisdom, and stayed here to keep you happy. Now look what has happened. Because of your stubbornness, one of our family must die today. If I were to die, I fear that you will not survive me for long. If both of us are dead, I shudder to think what the fate of our two orphaned children would be. I feel that the only recourse is for all of us to commit suicide!”

The wife of the Brahmana, who was still crying, said, “I cannot think of a life without you. It is well known that the life of a woman whose husband is dead is very tough. Besides, without you, how will I be able to bring up our children? It is best that I die, for then you will be able to remarry. My only hope is that the woman you marry will be kind to our children. Let me drive the food-cart today!”.

The daughter of this couple, seeing both her parents struck with grief, interrupted her mother and said, “If either of you die, we will be orphans. My young brother is your guarantee for your after-life. In any case, a daughter does not belong to her parents, but to her husband’s family. Since you would have parted from me anyway at my marriage, I am the best person to die. Let me go and face my fate at the hands of the Asura.”

At this moment, their son, a mere boy shouted, “No need for anybody to die. I will go and kill this Asura with the help of this blade of grass!”, and started brandishing a dried glass blade like a sword.

Even in this moment of grief, this childish gesture brought a weak smile on the faces of rest of his family. Kunti judged that it was time to interrupt this family conference and entered the room. She asked the Brahmana what was the matter, why all this talk of death and grief? And where does the Asura fit in into this story?

The Brahmana said, “We have been unfortunate to live in a country whose King is inept and uncaring. There is an Asura by the name of Bakasura, who lives near our city. He had made a habit of venturing into the city, indiscriminately killing and eating people, whenever he happened to be hungry. We used to live in constant terror of his forages. Our town elders, driven to desperation, entered into a pact with the Asura. According to this, we are spared of his attacks on our town, but this truce came at a high price. Everyday, we have to provide him with a cart-load of food, driven by someone from the city. The Asura eats all the food, the bullocks drawing the cart and the driver. It was established that each family will provide that unfortunate victim, in turn. Tomorrow it is the turn of our family. That is why you heard us lamenting our fate and resolving to commit suicide.”

Kunti thought for a while and said, “Let me propose a way out of this. Since you have been kind enough to offer your hospitality to us, let me repay the favor, I shall send one of my five sons to drive the cart, there is no need for any of you to do this job.”

The Brahmana was aghast. He said, “I cannot possibly allow you to do such a thing. It has been said that guests are like the Gods. Any one who knowingly subjects his guests to danger, is sure to rot in hell for all eternity. No, the only way out is for all four of my family to go to our death at the hands of the Rakshasa.”

Kunti then started to convince them that she was not really doing a sacrifice, she said, “I shall send my second son, who has the strength of a thousand elephants. He has already killed the fierce Rakshasa Hidimba, and I have no doubt that he would slay Bakasura. He is a matchless wrestler and would really find this task well within his abilities. This is the best opportunity for you me to repay you, at least in part, for your kind hospitality to us. Besides, you would be doing your town a good turn, by ridding it of this menace”

The Brahmana would not be convinced so easily, but the persuasive arguments from Kunti at last won grudging acceptance from him. He consented to let Bheema drive the cart to Bakasura. The five brothers returned from their morning rounds. Kunti told them about her promise to their host. Bheema was glad at the prospect of adventure, but Yudhishtra was aghast.

He said, “Mother! How could you venture to do such a thing? How can you send one of your children so calmly to a certain death? Are you not aware that we depend upon Bheema’s immense strength for our protection? Our belief in his abilities is what makes us sleep soundly at night. Are we not placing our hopes on his prowess, to win back the kingdom that has been taken away from us by treachery? How can you even think about losing him?”

Kunti did not accept the arguments advanced by her eldest son. She said, “This Brahmana has provided us with asylum when we had to flee the persecution of our relations. Besides, it the duty of a Kshatriya to guard the weak. A Kshatriya who saves a Brahmana would be performing one of his primary duties and would ascend to heaven on death. I have full faith in the ability of Bheema. I am confident that he shall kill Bakasura and would emerge victorious.”

The next day, before dawn, Bheema drove the cart laden with food to the forest where Bakasura lived. When he got there, there was no sign of the Asura. Bheema thought, “Once we start fighting, all this food will be destroyed. Why waste it? Till such a time that Asura gets here, I shall eat this food.” He washed his hands in a nearby stream and sat down to make a leisurely meal. As he was finishing up, he heard the ground rumble under him and knew that the Asura was approaching.

Bakasura was particularly ravenous that day. When he saw a mortal coolly sitting in the forest, empty containers of food meant for him strewn all over the place, he was naturally enraged. He plucked a nearby tree and brought it with great force upon Bheema’s head. Without breaking a sweat, Bheema coolly parried this blow, pushing away the tree as it had been merely a twig. Bheema got up and faced the Asura.

A vicious battle was begun. Now, Bakasura was Bheema’s equal in strength. (Indeed it was said that there were five persons of equal strength in the world, Bheema, Bakasura, Duryodhana, Keechaka and Jarasandha. Further it was foretold that one of the five would end up killing the other four in combat.) The battle raged for a long time, but finally Bheema killed the Rakshasa. He dragged his corpse to the city gates, and unseen by anybody, returned to the Brahmana’s house. Now Kunti had made the Brahmana promise not to reveal the identity of the slayer of Bakasura, so all the towns-folk knew about the death of Baka, was that a great Gandharva warrior had taken pity on the Brahmana and killed Bakasura. Great was the celebrations that followed their deliverance from the evil monster. Even the Pandavas took part in them, enjoying themselves in the festivities.

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THE PANDAVAS WED DROUPADI

Some time after Bheema had killed Bakasura, a traveler came to the house of their Brahmana host. He had just come back the Panchala kingdom, and praised the divine beauty of the Panchala princess, Draupadi. He also said, that her father Drupada was making arrangements for her marriage. For this purpose, a Swayamvara (self-choice ceremony) was to be conducted. All the Kings and great warriors, as well as learned Brahmanas had been invited to this ceremony, where a tough task will be set for the suitors of Draupadi.

Kunti saw that all her sons had listened intently to the descriptions of Draupadi’s beauty. She saw that all of them were desirous of visiting Panchala, to witness this Swayamvara, and maybe, who knows? May even win the hand of the Panchala princess. She proposed that all of them should accompany this traveler, to attend the Swayamvara. They took fond leave of their host and started their journey to Panchala.

They had to cross a dense forest on their way to Panchala. Dusk had fallen by the time they entered the forest. Arjuna was carrying the torch and leading the way. The came upon the banks of the river Ganga and wished to drink water and rest for a while there.

Now, a Gandharva named Angaraparana was disporting in this river, accompanied by his wives. He grew angry when he saw that some mortals had disturbed them. He said to them, “The day time is the time for mortals. Dusk, evening and night belong to supernatural beings, like us Gandharvas. Do you not know this fact? How dare you approach the river Bhagerathi in a time that has been reserved for us Gandharvas? I am the mighty Angaraparana, friend of Kubera and a peerless warrior. Turn back immediately, lest I kill you all!”.

To this Arjuna replied, “You Idiot! The rivers, lakes and other water bodies are the common property of everybody. Nobody owns them, nobody may claim exclusive use for them. It is said that people who are tired, who have been traveling for a long time, people who are thirsty, have a right to water at all times. Nowhere is it mentioned that the river belong to the Gandharvas. The river Ganga, foremost among all rivers, welcomes us at all times. Those who are weak may be cowed by your threats and worship you. We are great warriors and will prove more than a match for you if you insist on fighting us.”

When the Gandharva heard these taunting words of the Pandava, he drew forth his bow and let go a volley of arrows upon the party. The great Pandava effortlessly warded off the arrows with his torch. Arjuna then said, “Know O Gandharva, that I have learned the art of the divine Astras from my Guru, the great Drona himself. Since you are a super-natural being, I would be justified in fighting you with those Astras.” With this, he drew forth a missile that shot out fire and hurled it at the chariot of the Gandharva. The Gandharva’s chariot was burnt in a second and he lost consciousness by the force of that weapon and fell down senseless.

Seeing their husband in such a plight, the wives of Angaraparana rushed to the scene and fell at the feet of Arjuna. They pleaded with him to spare the life of their husband. Yudhishtra said to Arjuna, “It is not right to slay a fallen foe. This Angaraparana has been vanquished by you and would have learnt his lesson. Concede the request of his wives and spare his life.”

Meanwhile, Angaraparana regained his senses. His pride was humbled. He said to Arjuna, “O great warrior! Who are you? What was the divine Astra that you used against me? I wish for your friendship, accept me as a friend. I was called Angaraparana after my flaming chariot, but I am no longer worthy of that name, for my chariot has been burned down by you.”

Dhananjaya (Arjuna) said, “O Gandharva, know that I am Arjuna, the third son of King Pandu of the Bharata dynasty. My divine father is Indra, the king of the Devas. The fire missile that I used against you was given to Indra by Brihaspati, his Guru. Indra gave it to Bharadwaja, who gave it to Agniveshya, and from Agniveshya it went to my Guru Drona, who taught me its usage.”

The Gandharva then said, “O Arjuna, I see that you belong to an illustrious lineage. As a mark of my friendship, I shall confer upon you the power to create illusions in battle, which knowledge is solely possessed by us Gandharvas. I shall also give you a thousand war horses, which are the swiftest known to me. Accept these gifts as a token of my friendship.”

Arjuna said, “I shall gladly accept you as a friend. However, You must get something in return from me for the great gifts that you are giving me. Ask me for something, and it shall be yours.”

Angaraparana thought for a while and said, “In return, I will be very glad if you give me the missile with which you defeated me. It is a great missile and will more than recompense me for the gifts that I have given you. I shall also give you a piece of advice. You and your brothers are wandering in the forest like mendicants, but you have no Guru to advice you. Your fame will be diminished, unless you have a learned Brahmana as your guide. Moving about as you are, you will lay yourself open to censure without a priest.”

Arjuna said, “We gladly accept your advice. Tell me O Gandharva, who amongst the learned Brahmanas is worthy of being our priest? Where can we find a priest, who will bring greater glory to us?”

The Gandharva replied, “There is a nearby shrine in the woods of the name of Utkochaka. Dhaumya, the younger brother of Devala is engaged there in ascetic penances. He is learned in the scriptures and the Vedas. He alone is worthy of being your priest. Approach him and ask him to honor you by becoming your guide.”

The Pandavas thanked the Gandharva and went to seek out Dhaumya. The found that Brahmana seated in a posture of meditation in the afore mentioned shrine. All of them prostrated themselves before him, and sought his blessings. They introduced themselves to the sage and ask him to do them the honor of becoming their priest. Dhaumya was pleased with the humility of the Pandavas and consented to be their priest. He accompanied them to the Panchala Kingdom.

The assembly at the Panchala court was truly a sight to behold. A huge hall had been constructed especially for this occasion. All the four Varnas had their own enclosures to watch the proceedings. The Kings who had both come to watch the proceedings, as well as those who hoped to win the hand of the beautiful princess were assembled in all their splendor. Among them, Duryodhana and Karna were also present. Krishna and Balarama were also there. Krishna had told Balarama that the Pandavas were alive and would definitely come for the Swayamvara. The Pandavas took their seats among those reserved for the Brahmanas.

First, Drupada spoke words of welcome for the assembled people. He especially thanked the Kings who had graced this ceremony with their presence. He introduced his son Dhrishtadhyumna, who would conduct the proceedings from this point onwards. After bowing to his fathers and other elders, the young prince presented his sister Draupadi, the fame of whose beauty had spread far and wide. When the assembly beheld this dusky maiden, they felt that the praises they had heard of her beauty were all true. If anything, words did not do justice to the divine beauty of the princess. Dhrishtadhyumna pointed out the various assembled Kings to his sister, and told her about their lineage and deeds. After the introductions were over, he started to describe the task that was to be accomplished.

The Panchala prince said, “Hear O Kings. Here is the task that you must accomplish to wed my fair sister. A pillar has been constructed in the middle of a shallow pool. On top of this pillar is a revolving wheel. On one of the spokes of this wheel, a small target has been placed. Here is a massive bow, which only the very strong shall be able to lift. The victor will have to string the bow, and bring down the rapidly spinning target with an arrow, using only its reflection in the water below to aim. I declare this contest open.”

With high hopes, one by one all the Kings attempted this task. Many were not even able to lift the bow from its box! They walked away, dejected. Very few were able to lift the bow and aim. Even those few, shot wide of the mark. Duryodhana was one of those who missed the mark by a mile. Karna walked like a lion to the bow and effortlessly lifted it from the box. As he took aim, a conviction descended on the multitude, that this was the warrior who will accomplish this task. However, Draupadi said to her brother, “I will never marry this low caste son of a charioteer!”. When Karna heard this, he smiled dejectedly to himself and replaced the bow and walked back without making the attempt. More kings tried their luck, at last the last of the Kings had finished his attempt and a silence descended upon the assembly. People had begun to mutter to their neighbors that this task was impossible.

Even Drupada begun to get worried. He had deliberately set this feat of archery, as he desired his daughter to marry Arjuna. Rumors had reached him that the Pandavas were not really dead. He had been sure that the Pandavas would surely come to the Swayamvara. It looked like his plan had not worked.

Arjuna rose from the ranks of the Brahmanas and addressed the Panchala prince, “Can a Brahmana attempt this task and win the hand of the princess?”.

The prince replied, “I said that whoever accomplishes the task will win my sister’s hand. All are welcome to attempt this feat of archery.”

As Arjuna walked to the bow, there were many arguments taking place all over the assembly. One faction of the Brahmanas felt that if Arjuna failed, it would bring disgrace to their class. The opposing faction was swayed by the magnificent physique of the Pandava, and felt that he was bound to succeed.

Arjuna effortlessly lifted the bow, strung it, and watching the reflection of the revolving target on the water below, shot five arrows in succession through the small target, and brought it crashing down. The Brahmana’s roared in appreciation. Draupadi garlanded Arjuna and the whole assembly was in an uproar. Yudhishtra, Nakula and Sahadeva slipped out of the hall, to inform their mother. Bheema anticipated trouble, and went and stood near Arjuna.

Most of the Kings felt that Drupada had arranged for this sham purposely to humiliate them. They decided that the best thing to do was to punish Drupada for his insolence, by killing him and his children. Drupada, seeing so many warriors ranged against him, sought the protection of Arjuna. Meanwhile, Krishna told his brother Balarama that the two Brahmanas standing in the middle of the hall where Arjuna and Bheema.

A great battle started in the hall. Although the kings opposing them were numerous, Arjuna and Bheema held them back without much trouble. A great battle with the bow and arrows raged between Karna and Arjuna. The arrows were flying so fast and thick that the two combatants became hidden from others’ sight. Karna was impressed. He said to his opponent, “I know of only one man in this world who can fight like this and stand up to me in archery. That man is Arjuna. Are you really Arjuna? I had supposed that you were dead, did you escape?”.

Arjuna was not yet ready to reveal his identity, so he asserted that he was merely a Brahmana. Karna decided that it was not proper to fight a Brahmana and retired from the battle. After the battle had raged for a while, Krishna brokered a truce. He reminded them that the contest had been fair. Since the Brahmana youth had accomplished the feat of marksmanship, he was entitled to wed the princess. Since the Kings were anyway losing the battle, they agreed to the truce and the battle stopped.

Arjuna and Bheema walked out of the hall. Draupadi accompanied them. Drupada knew no details of the man who had won his daughter’s hand, save for the fact that he was a great archer. He sent his son to follow them discreetly and to ascertain their identity.

All the five Pandavas reached the house where they were staying. They shouted to their mother from outside, “Look mother, we have brought some alms for you!”. Without looking, Kunti said, “Whatever it is, share it equally.” When she saw Draupadi and realized what she had said, she was speechless.

Dhrishtadhyumna who had observed all this from his hidden position, now rushed back to his father and told him that the Brahmanas appeared to be the Pandavas and that the man who had won Draupadi’s hand seemed to be Arjuna. Drupada was glad. He called his chief-priest and said to him, “The man who has won my daughter’s hand is staying in so-and-so place. Go there, and ascertain from them who they really are. Bring the whole family here, tell them that great honor awaits them.”

The priest met the Pandavas and conveyed the message to them. They still did not reveal their identity, but they did accompany him to Drupada’s palace. When they got there, they revealed their true identity to the King. The King was extremely pleased. He wanted to conduct the wedding of Draupadi to Arjuna.

Yudhishtra entered a caveat and said, “O King. I am the eldest of my family and am as yet unmarried. My brother’s marriage cannot take place before mine.”

Drupada said, “Then I would wish to give my daughter in marriage to you. Or if you wish, you may award her hand in marriage to any of your brothers.”

Yudhishtra said, “We have vowed never to be separated and to share all that we obtain equally. Even my mother has said that we should share Draupadi. Therefore, all five of us will wed her.”

Drupada was aghast. He said, “O Prince. How can you even propose a thing? It is totally against the practice of the world. We have heard of men having many wives, but even the scriptures proscribe a woman from having many husbands! Please abandon this unworthy idea.”

Even Dhrishtadhyumna and other advisers of the King were against the idea, but Yudhishtra was firm. Matters had reached an impasse. At this time, the great sage Vyasa made an appearance. The King presented the problem to the sage. The sage took the King aside and said, “While it is true that the scriptures prohibit polyandry, it was by no means uncommon in the past. There are many instances in the Puranas where women take multiple husbands. Know that your daughter was a hermit’s daughter in her previous birth. Due to her Karma from previous birth, she remained unwed. She prayed to Shiva and when he appeared, in her haste, she repeated her request for a husband five times. Accordingly, Shiva blessed her, saying that she will have five husbands in her next birth. Who are we to gainsay the will of the Lord? Besides, the Pandavas are worthy sons-in-law to you. Agree to this wedding.”

Half-heartedly, Drupada consented to this wedding. An auspicious date was chosen, and the multiple weddings were celebrated. First Yudhishtra wed Draupadi. Then one by one, in order of seniority, his brothers also wed her.

At this time, in order to avoid conflict between the brothers, they agreed that Draupadi will spend one year with each of them. When she was with one Pandava, the others should not even see her. This way, they could all live in harmony.

With the Pandavas marrying Draupadi, they had acquired a powerful ally in Drupada. Not only did he own a large army, he was also connected to various other Kings, who owed their allegiance to him. The Pandavas were in a much stronger position than before. The secret of their escape now became common knowledge. They accepted the invitation of Drupada and became his guests.

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THE FIRST BATTLE BETWEEN COUSINS

The news of this unusual marriage between one woman and five husbands spread all over the country. Many opinions were advanced on this marriage. In general, since the Pandavas were well liked, the opinions were positive. A formal message regarding the message was also sent to Mathura, where Krishna and Balarama resided.

When the news of this marriage reached them, Shakuni, Duryodhana and Karna started to discuss what was to be done next. Somadatta, an ally of Duryodhana was also present in this council.

Shakuni said, “There are many different classes of enemies. Some enemies can be kept quiet by frequently causing trouble for them. They would then be too busy to actively oppose you. Some other enemies have to be kept under control by a show of strength. However, for strong opponents such as the Pandavas, the only effective course is to utterly destroy them. While it is true that they now have the alliance of Drupada to support them, it is my belief that Drupada’s strength has been overestimated. If we can launch a quick attack, we will be able to overwhelm him before he has a chance to summon assistance from his allies.”

Somadatta was of a different opinion. He said, “I think that Drupada is every bit as strong as the popular report says he is. Moreover, his army is well trained and alert. The Pandavas are also no mean warriors. I have had an opportunity to examine the defenses of the Panchalas. It will take a very large and determined force to assault them. The scriptures say that under such circumstances, when faced with superior defenses, wisdom lies in a truce. I suggest that you become reconciled with your cousins.”

Karna said, “I agree in part with Somadatta’s advice. He has given his advice based upon his immense knowledge of warcraft. However, even a superior force may be unable to defend a kingdom, when the enemies attack when least expected. I do not think the Panchalas would be expecting an attack at this time. Let us amass our army and launch a surprise attack. Victory is sure to be ours!”

Karna’s advice was accepted. The Kaurava army was ordered to march on the Panchala capital. Duryodhana, Karna and Somadatta were the commanders of this army. Contrary to Karna’s expectation, the Pandavas were very much alert to the possibility of an attack from their cousins. Consequently, when the Kauravas marched on Panchala, they confronted an alert, well prepared army.

This was the first time the two cousins took to the battlefield openly. This served as a precursor to the great battle of Kurukshetra that was to come in the future. Apart from the Pandavas, the Panchala army was led by Dhrishtadhyumna and King Drupada himself.

The battle of archery between Arjuna and Karna was particularly vicious. The fortunes fluctuated wildly in this battle, but at last, Karna swooned, struck by an arrow from Arjuna. The charioteer of Karna mistakenly thought that his master had been grievously hurt, so he drove him quickly out of the battlefield. Seeing Karna carted away unconscious, the Kaurava army lost heart. They were soon forced to flee from the battlefield. The first war between the cousins ended with a victory for the Pandavas.

Meanwhile, the news of the Pandavas’ good fortune reached Vidura. He immediately went to Dhritharashtra and said to him, “The Scions of the Kurus have emerged victorious in the Swayamvara. Draupadi is now your daughter-in-law!”.

Naturally, Dhritharashtra thought that his sons had won the hand of Draupadi. Vidura soon, disabused his mind of this impression, and told him the news that the Pandavas were very much alive, and were now had an alliance with the great house of the Panchalas. Dhritharashtra was very much disappointed, but he hid his chagrin, and told Vidura that he was extremely happy to hear the news and will soon invite his nephews back to the kingdom.

Duryodhana, who had been present during this exchange, waited till Vidura had left and said, “Father. How can you be glad at this news? The Pandavas are no longer friendless. They return triumphantly, allied with one of the most powerful Kings. Have you not forgotten that our plan was to isolate them?”.

Dhritharashtra said, “Son. I have not forgotten our earlier plans. However, it is not politic for us to let Vidura know the extent of your hatred for the Pandavas. Besides, we will soon have to discuss this issue in the full council, where Drona, Kripa and our grand-sire Bhishma will be present. There will be time enough to make your views known at that point.”

Duryodhana said, “It is because the Pandavas are united that they are invincible. Now there is a heaven sent opportunity to sow dissension in their midst. When five men have to share a woman, it will be easy to make them jealous of each other. Or we can get Draupadi to hate them by sending other women to seduce them. Alternatively, we can offer great wealth to Drupada and get him to forsake the Pandavas. We must do something or the other to defeat the Pandavas.”

Karna who was present during this time, said, “O Duryodhana, your ideas are impractical. The Pandavas will not be seduced by other women. It is also impossible for us to get Draupadi to hate them. All women naturally desire multiple men. Luckily for Draupadi, she has five husbands to satisfy her desires. She will not turn against them, nor allow them to quarrel amongst themselves. Drupada is not a covetous man, he cannot be bribed to turn against the Pandavas. The only way open to us is the path of valor. It is true that we were defeated once, however, I have every faith in our strength. If we plan properly, we shall be able to mount an effective campaign and destroy the Pandavas.”

Dhritharashtra once again reiterated his position that the advice of the other elders must be taken before taking any action. Soon, the full council was convened. Among many other great warriors, the allies of the Kurus, Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Somadatta Baaahlika were the principal councillors.

Vidura, informed all those present that the Pandavas were alive, and that they were at present the guests of their father-in-law Drupada. He beseeched Dhritharashtra to invite them back and to grant them rule over half of the kingdom.

Bhishma got up and said, “It is with great joy that I hear the news of the Pandava’s good fortune. I have always deplored the senseless hatred that Duryodhana and Karna have displayed towards these noble princes. It is time that we give the honor that is due to them. Let messengers be sent to Panchala, and the princes be invited to come here with all due respect, accompanied by the peerless Draupadi. Let the invitation also be extended to Drupada and his kinsmen. They have become related to us by marriage. This occasion should be celebrated as befitting our status. You know that there are rumors floating around that the fire at the house of lac was not an accident, that Purochana was acting under Duryodhana’s orders. Your whole-hearted welcome to the Pandavas will set such ill-natured rumors at rest. O Dhritharashtra, wipe away this stigma from your illustrious name. As Vidura suggests, give half the kingdom to the Pandavas and watch the whole kingdom prosper!”.

Drona and Kripa were of the same opinion. Drona said, “Our grand-sire has spoken nothing but the truth. It pains me to see that my disciples are at loggerheads with each other. It is well known that Duryodhana covets the entire kingdom. Do not let this dispute fester. Let both the Kauravas and the Pandavas inherit half a kingdom each. There are many precedents to such a proceeding in ancient times. Let there be peace all around. Remember that they are fatherless and that they look up to you as a father!”

Karna was incensed at the advice rendered by the elders of the Kuru race. He got up and said, “What kind of pacifist talk is these. You all have sworn your allegiance to King Dhritharashtra and are actively advising him to disinherit his children? Is not Dhritharashtra eldest of the Kurus? Is not the throne of Hastinapura the birthright of his first born – Duryodhana? It looks like all of you are afraid of the prowess of the Pandavas. I admit that they are great warriors. But is it not a shame for Kshatriyas to yield to others, simply because they fear defeat? Let us make war upon the Pandavas and establish the right of Duryodhana to rule over Hastinapura. Let the decision be left to the battle-field!”

Drona grew very angry. He said, “This low-born son of a charioteer does not know right from wrong. He is like the jackal that fancies itself great, because it does not know of the greatness of the Lion. Duryodhana, your friendship for this ill mannered lout will lead you to destruction. He talks about his prowess as an archer, but it is well known that he has been thrice defeated by Arjuna already. All of us have sworn an oath to look after the welfare of the Kurus. We cannot be standing idle when your friend is trying to lead you to your destruction. I repeat, honor the Pandavas and you will be known as a great King. The great Bheema and Arjuna will be your allies. Who shall dare to attack you, when you have such incomparable friends? Make truce with them.”

Vidura got up and said, “The Pandavas have as much right over the kingdom as Duryodhana. What Bhishma and Drona have suggested is the best course. Accept their suggestion. Send for the Pandavas.”

Finally, Dhritharashtra said, “When all of you elders are of this opinion, this must be the best course of action. Vidura, you shall go to Panchala as my messenger. Convey my greetings to my nephews and also my salutations to Drupada. Tell them that I am desirous of crowning Yudhishtra king of the northern half of my kingdom. Invite everyone at Drupada’s court to enjoy the hospitality of the Kurus.”

Even as he spoke these words, Dhritharashtra had by no means given up hope that Duryodhana would succeed to rule the entire kingdom. It was just that he did not see a way in which that could be accomplished at this time. He was torn between love for his son, and a desire to do justice to his nephews. His agreement was in the nature of a temporary arrangement, while remaining alive to the possibility by which he could bring about his cherished dream.

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THE PANDAVAS RULE FROM INDRAPRASTHA

Vidura arrived at the palace of Drupada. He conveyed the message entrusted to him by Dhritharashtra to the Panchala king. When he saw the Pandavas, occupying a place of honor in Drupada’s court, he was overcome by his emotions. Pulling himself together, he said, “O Sons of Pandu, your uncle, King Dhritharashtra asked me to convey his extreme happiness in hearing that you have escaped unhurt from the accident at the house of lac. He is further overjoyed that you have won the hand of Draupadi and cemented an alliance with the powerful Panchalas. He wishes to give half his kingdom to Yudhishtra. He desires that you come to Hastinapura, accompanied by your new allies, the Panchalas, where Yudhishtra can be crowned King. Our perceptor Kripacharya, your Guru Drona and our grand-sire Bhishma also send their blessings. They all are eagerly awaiting the day when they shall meet you. Please do not tarry any longer, return to Hastinapura at once.”

The Pandavas knew that Vidura would always look after their welfare. After consulting with Drupada they consulted Krishna (for Krishna and Balarama had come to visit them at that time) about the future course of action to be pursued. It was then decided that half the kingdom was a very fair offer, and should be taken up at the earliest. They returned to Hastinapura, accompanied by Draupadi and the Panchala royal family.

It was an emotional reunion when they reached Hastinapura. Bhishma was overcome by his emotions when he beheld his grand-nephews, safely restored to him after undergoing so many trials. Even Dhritharashtra’s heart was glad, for he had done the right thing in restoring the Pandava’s to their rights. Draupadi fell at the feet of her Dhritharashtra and Gandhari and sought their blessings. When Gandhari was blessing her daughter-in-law, a fleeting thought arose in her mind that, “This woman will be the agent of destruction for my sons”. She was startled, but held her peace.

An auspicious day was chosen and Yudhishtra was crowned as the king of the northern half of the Kingdom. Dhritharashtra summoned Yudhishtra and said, “Now that you have become a king, it behooves you to reside in your kingdom. My sons hate you, and I do not have any control over their actions. If you stay in this city, there will be a lot of occasions where friction can arise. I ask that you establish your capital city at the place known as Khadava-Prastha (Khandava=Jungle), and rule from there. It was this place that our illustrious ancestors Yayati and Nahusha had as their capital.”

Now the place mentioned by Dhritharashtra had indeed been the ancient capital of the Kurus, but it had fallen upon disuse since the capital shifted to Hastinapura. The city has long been replaced by a jungle. It was hardly a suitable location for a capital. Regardless, since his uncle had commanded him, Yudhishtra decided to establish his capital there. When he mentioned this fact to Krishna, Krishna commanded Vishwakarma, the architect of the Devas to build a great city at this place. The order was to build a city to rival Amravathi, the capital of Indra. According to the Lord’s will, Vishwakarma constructed a stunning city, a worthy capital for Pandavas, complete with a grand palace, wide streets, a great fort, gardens, streams and every other landmark that a great city should possess. The Pandavas took leave of the Kuru elders and left for their new capital. Since their capital was rivalled that of Indra, it was given the name of Indraprastha.

Once the Pandavas were settled in their new capital, a good portion of the people of Hastinapura also followed them, for the princes had been very much loved by their subjects. Krishna remained with his cousins for a while. However, he could not be there forever, for his kingdom at Dwaraka needed him. After blessing Yudhishtra, he took his leave.

Sometime after this, the divine sage Narada visited the Pandavas. He was received with all due respect by Yudhishtra, who sought the advise of the sage as to the proper means to administer a kingdom. The sage instructed him in the art of administration and blessed him. When Draupadi was presented to him, he had some valuable advice for the Pandavas.

Narada said, “It is a well known fact that even the closest friends or relatives can become bitter enemies if they desire the same woman. In ancient times, there were two Asura brothers named Sundha and Upasundha, who were inseparable. Their brotherly devotion was extraordinary. They defeated the Devas and sent them into hiding. They desired immortality and performed a penance with this motive, directed towards Lord Brahma. When the Lord appeared before them, they wanted the boon of immortality. However, that boon could not be granted, so the Lord asked them instead to choose their mode of death. Since the brothers were so sure of their devotion to each other, they sought the boon that the only way death could approach them was if they killed each other. When Indra came to know of this fact, he knew that he had an opening. He commissioned his divine architect Vishwakarma to create the most beautiful woman in the world. According to Brahma’s advice, Vishwakarma collected a crore (10 million) gems, and taking a small part (equal to that of one sesame seed) from each of these flawless gems, he created the beautiful Tilottama (Sanskrit Thila=Sesame), and sent her to seduce the Asura brothers. When Sundha and Upasundha beheld this woman, their desire knew no bounds and each of them wanted her for himself. A quarrel immediately arose. The brothers fought and ended up killing each other. Let their story be a warning to you.”

It was at Narada’s insistence that the rule arranging for Draupadi to spend a year exclusively with one Pandava was made. It was agreed that if any of the others happened to catch sight of Draupadi at this time, that Pandava will have to undertake a year long pilgrimage as punishment, and he also had to keep a vow of celibacy for that period.

Things went on as usual for a while, till an unexpected problem arose. A Brahmana had the misfortune to have his cows stolen by thieves. He came to the palace, where he met Arjuna and complained to him about the theft. Arjuna promised to track down the thieves personally and restore the Brahmana’s cows. Unfortunately, Arjuna’s weapons were stored in the inner chambers. At this time, it was the turn of Yudhishtra to be with Draupadi and Arjuna knew that he would have to cross their apartments to get to his weapons. It was a dilemma, but his duty was clear. His duty to his subjects came before any personal matters. So he went inside, told Yudhishtra about the problem and retrieved his weapons. He then gave chase to the thieves, defeated them and restored the cows to the Brahmana.

However, he had breached the agreement reached by all of them. He said that he will immediately commence on his pilgrimage. Yudhishtra tried to convince him that this was not necessary. He had merely done his duty. Besides, it was not wrong for a younger brother, to go to the apartments of his elder brother and wife. However, Arjuna was adamant that he will serve out his sentence. Finally Yudhishtra allowed Arjuna to go on his voluntary exile.

In his wanderings during his exile, Arjuna came upon the river Ganga. He decided to take a bath in this holy river. When he dived into the river, he was pulled in by an invisible force and fainted. When he became conscious, he saw that he was in an underwater palace (he miraculously continued to breathe under water) and that a beautiful maiden was attending to him. She introduced herself as Ulupi, a Naga maiden. She expressed her love for him and asked him to wed her. Arjuna was smitten by her beauty, but he told her of his inability to comply with her wishes, as he had to keep the vow of year long celibacy. After much argument she convinced Arjuna that the celibacy was only relating to Draupadi, and that it did not apply to his relations with other women. His scruples overcome, Arjuna spent a pleasant time in her company, and after a few days, took leave of her.

He then continued on to the Himalayas and visited many sacred sites in that neighborhood. He then turned southwards. He bathed in the sacred rivers Godavari and Kaveri. It was on the banks of the river Kaveri that he visited the kingdom of Manipur, whose king was Chitravahana. He had a very beautiful daughter named Chitrangada, with whom Arjuna fell immediately in love. The king was willing to marry his daughter to Arjuna, but he imposed the condition that the resulting son must be left in his care, for he would be the heir to the kingdom. Arjuna consented. He stayed there, and had a very good time. Finally a son was born, and was named Babruvahana. Arjuna handed him over to Chitravahana as per the agreement. He then traveled along the western coast to reach the city of Dwaraka.

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ARJUNA WEDS SUBHADRA

When Arjuna had been a disciple in the hermitage of Drona, he had formed friendship with Gada, who belonged to the Vrishni house. (The Vrishni’s were a part of the Yadava Clan.) He had described the beauty of his cousin Subhadra who was Krishna’s half sister. She was the sister of Sarana. Hearing the description of her beauty, Arjuna had fallen in love with her. Now that he was free to roam around the country, and happening to be close to Dwaraka, the city of the Vrishni’s, Arjuna decided to pay a visit. He did not want to be recognized, so he disguised himself as a Yati (a hermit who is a follower of Lord Shiva) and entered Dwaraka. He stayed at a place called Prahbasa Theertha, which was on the outskirts of Dwaraka.

Krishna who was omniscient, knew immediately that Arjuna had entered his city. He also knew the heart’s desire of Arjuna, and decided to forward the cause of his close friend. It was night time and there was pouring rain. Krishna went to Arjuna, who had taken shelter under a banyan tree, sitting deep in meditation. Arjuna at once saw that his mentor had recognized him. He narrated all the incidents that had taken place on his pilgrimage up to this point. He said, “Madhava, you know what is there in my heart, please help me marry your beautiful sister Subhadra.”

Krishna said, “My friend, it would give me great pleasure to see you wed Subhadra. However, my brother Balarama has other plans for her. It will be difficult to win his consent. Tell you what, I will arrange for you to meet my sister. If you can make her fall in love with you (and I have no doubt of it, for your fame precedes you, and you are a handsome man), then it will be best for you to abduct her and marry her out of hand. It is a well known custom, suitable for Kshatriyas. Tomorrow, I shall bring Balarama to see you. Do not disclose your identity to him. Simply follow my lead.”

The next day, Krishna brought his brother as promised, to see Arjuna. Balarama was very much impressed by the appearance of the young hermit. He thought, “Here is a young man, who instead of indulging him in worldly pleasures, has chosen the path of penance. I must honor him.” He told Krishna, that they must take the young hermit to Dwaraka, and honor him properly. This however, Arjuna declined to do so. He said that he had taken a vow never to enter a human dwelling. He would only spend time outside, communing with nature.

Balarama was even more impressed by these words. He said, “O great one, you must definitely pay us a visit. You need not come into the house, but you can stay in the gardens that adjoin my sister Subhadra’s apartments. It is said that the blessings of holy men and elders is the surest path to a maiden’s happy life. My sister will look after your needs. Please bless her and our family.”

After exchanging a quick glance with Krishna, Arjuna accepted this offer. Krishna took his brother aside and said, “O Brother, you are elder to me and probably you know best. This hermit seems to be quite a young man, plus he is very handsome. Is it advisable to expose our sister to such a temptation? Consider carefully before putting your plan in action.”

Balarama was furious. He said, “Krishna, it is unworthy of you to have such thoughts. Does not the very appearance of this ascetic command respect? You need not indulge in such fanciful apprehensions. My mind is made up. Our sister shall wait on him and seek his blessings.”

Soon Arjuna was established under a tree in Subhadra’s gardens. Now, the Vrishni’s were staunch allies of the Pandavas. So naturally, Subhadra had grown up listening tales of their brave deeds and prowess. The skill of Arjuna with the bow was legendary. Besides, Krishna and Gada had spoken very highly about Arjuna. Naturally, Subhadra had a great admiration for the third Pandava. When she heard that she was to wait upon an ascetic, who had traveled widely around the world, she thought that it was likely that he might have seen the Pandavas. So while she was attending to his wants, bringing him materials for his devotions, she asked him if he had visited Indraprastha.

This was the opportunity that Arjuna was waiting for. He said, “Child, I have traveled all over the country. I did spend a long time in the capital of the Pandavas, as their guest. I had many a discussion about the path of truth with Yudhishtra, the son of Dharma. I have also seen great feats of strength performed by Bheema, the son of Vayu. I have also beheld the peerless beauty of Draupadi their queen.” He then went on describe all the deeds of his brother, carefully avoiding any mention of his own.

Subhadra grew impatient. Besides, the mention of Draupadi had made her jealous. She pressed him for more details, especially about Arjuna. Now Arjuna was caught in a dilemma. On one hand, he had to extol his virtues to this girl, for he wanted her to fall in love with him. On the other hand, he was a modest man, and shrank from boasting about his skill. In the end, he was forced to tell her the details of all the battles that he had been and the many great feats of marksmanship he had performed. Over the years, admiration that Subhadra had for Arjuna had turned into love. She asked the young ascetic, “It has been said that you can look into the future. I have fallen in love with the great Arjuna. Can you tell me if the desire of my heart will ever be fulfilled?”

This was exactly the kind of sentiment that Arjuna had dared to hope to inspire. He revealed who he was. Subhadra was thunderstruck. When she thought of her frank avowal of love for him, she blushed to think what an impression it must have conveyed to him. However, Arjuna soon put her embarrassment out of her mind. He also confessed that he had been in love with her for a long time. In fact, his sole purpose on visiting Dwaraka was to win her hand. The lovers exchanged vows of fidelity.

It was all very well for both of them to happy in their love, but practical considerations soon began to obtrude. Subhadra knew that Balarama wanted her to wed one of the Kauravas. Just as the Pandavas were the favorites of Krishna, the Kauravas were the favorites of Balarama. She knew that it would be difficult to secure his consent. Arjuna suggested that they lay the matter before Krishna, who might be able to suggest a plan.

While they were thus discussing their future, Krishna came there. He was very happy to see his dear friend and beloved sister in love. He once again re-iterated his advice that an elopement was the only feasible course. He said, “Everyday my sister goes to worship the Lord Rudra at the temple. I shall lend you my chariot. You must abduct her from there. Carry her off to your kingdom and marry her there.”

According to this plan, the abduction and elopement was carried through. However, some of the guards who were accompanying the Vrishni princess recognized the abductor as Arjuna, who had been disguised as a hermit. The alarm was raised. When Balarama came to know of this, he became full of wrath. He immediately wanted to go to Indraprastha and destroy the Pandavas for the insult offered. Krishna pacified him saying, “Brother, do not be out of reason so angry. Our sister has gone willingly enough with Arjuna. It is no wonder, for he is the handsomest of men, and unequaled as an archer. I had already warned you of this possibility. He has acted according to the rules of conduct laid for the Kshatriyas. Let us all go to Indraprastha, and celebrate this match, for we could not have found a better husband for our sister.”

After a long argument, Balarama was pacified at last. Preparations were begun for the journey of the Vrishnis to Indraprastha. Meanwhile, Arjuna was absorbed deep in thought as he approached Indraprastha with his bride-to-be. He knew that Draupadi was temperamental and might be very angry with him for wanting to marry Subhadra. So said to her, “You must first win the affection of Draupadi. Go to her, dressed in simple clothes and introduce yourself as Krishna’s sister. She is sure to welcome you with open arms. Win her affection by constant devotion to her. Later, we can express the secret of our love and win her consent to our marriage”.

Subhadra agreed that this was a good plan. She therefore, went to Draupadi, dressed as a milk-maid. Draupadi was very glad to see her. They spent many an hour talking about Krishna and the Vrishnis. At last, after seeing that Draupadi really liked her, Subhadra disclosed the secret of her love for Arjuna. Although momentarily stunned, Draupadi felt that it was only natural. She readily gave consent for the marriage.

When Arjuna entered the city, he was greeted at its entrance by all his brothers. The townspeople were also very happy to have their prince restored to them. Draupadi was also present there, along with Subhadra. One glance at them and Arjuna knew that all was well. He announced his upcoming marriage with Subhadra to his brothers. They were also glad for his sake.

Once the Vrishnis reached Indraprastha, the preparations for the marriage were begun. Balarama had brought great wealth with him, to be bestowed upon his sister upon her marriage. Every one was happy. The marriage was celebrated upon an auspicious day. Balarama and most of the Vrishnis left for Dwaraka after the marriage, however, Krishna decided to stay some more time in Indraprastha.

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THE BURNING OF KHANDAVA FOREST

While Krishna was staying in Indraprastha, a Brahmana came to meet Arjuna. This man presented a wondrous appearance. His body glowed like molten gold, his beard was tawny and fire seemed to be emanating from his bright eyes. He addressed both the friends and said, “No matter what I do, my hunger does not get quenched. I feel that only you two will be able to give me food befitting me, whereby I may be satiated.”

Arjuna said, “I have sworn to help anyone who approaches me with a legitimate request. It is not right that you should go hungry, when there is so much food in the world. If you tell me what sort of food you like, I shall arrange to have it brought to you. I promise that you shall not go hungry any longer.”

The Brahmana then revealed himself to be Agni. He said, “It is my nature to burn. I have been longing to burn this Khandava forest, which has been apportioned to me by food. However, Indra’s friend Takshaka, the king of snakes resides there with his friends. The lives of all in that forest is forfeit to me, but out of affection for his friend, Indra is preventing me from consuming this forest. Whenever I begin to burn it, he orders his thunder clouds to cause pouring rain, dousing my flames. This hunger has started consuming my very self, I cannot bear it any longer. I ask you to protect me while I burn the Khandava forest.”

[NOTE: The real reason why Agni wants to burn this forest is to cure his stomach ailment. The story of how he got sick is narrated here.]

Arjuna said, “Since I have promised to help you, so I shall protect you. You do not need to worry about anyone as long as myself and Madhava (Krishna) are on your side. We possess knowledge of many divine Astras that can prevent the rain from reaching the forest. But, if we have to contend with the might of Indra, I would need a bow that can withstand the speed at which I shall be dispatching the arrows. I will also need a suitable chariot, which will move as swift as my thoughts. Krishna shall also need suitable weapons to assist you. If these things can be arranged, there will be no problem.”

Agni thought over this and said, “Varuna possess a divine bow given to him by Soma. He owes me a favor, so I can get you this bow. I have a chariot that moves as swift as thoughts, so you shall get this also. As for Krishna, what more suitable a weapon than the Sudarsana–Chakra (discus), with which he used to slay the Daithya’s (Asuras) of old as Vishnu? Now that you are suitably armed, let us go to forest and let me burn it.”

Arjuna’s heart was filled with joy when he beheld his divine bow, which was named Gandiva. It rivalled Pinaka, the bow of Lord Shiva himself. The chariot was made of solid gold and had thoroughbred horses yoked to it. Krishna assumed charge of his Sudarsana-Chakra. There was also a mace named Kaumodaki for Krishna. All three of them proceeded to the edge of the forest.

Agni transformed into his primeval form, of the raging elemental fire. The whole forest was ablaze. The various creatures which were residing in the forest began to run here and there. The birds tried to rise high above the flames and escape the fire. However, the two friends were more than equal to the task. As the birds tried to flee, Arjuna pierced them with his arrows, causing them to fall back dead onto the flames. Krishna took care of any creature that tried to flee the forest on foot. It was a gory sight.

News reached Indra that the Khandava forest was ablaze. Indra knew that his friend Takshaka was away, but his family was still trapped in the fire. He summoned his favorite storm clouds named Pushkala and Avartaka, and commanded them to put out the fire. They tried their level best, the rain descended upon the forest like the primordial flood that had immersed the world. However, Arjuna built a barrier of arrows in the sky, which made sure that not even a single drop of this water could reach the forest. Indra was furious. He came out of his palace, armed for battle, accompanied by Yama with his mace, Varuna with his noose, Kubera with a club, and Rudra with his trident came to assist the ruler of heaven.

The battle began in dead earnest. Arjuna and Krishna held their own, and sorely harassed the Gods with their arrows. Indra launched various Astras at Arjuna, but to no avail as his son knew the counter Astras for whatever his father could throw at him. As for Krishna, who can stand against the Lord of the Universe in battle? Meanwhile, the son of Takshaka named Asvasena escaped from the forest, assisted by his mother. But Arjuna was furious at this event and slew the wife of Takshaka with three well placed arrows. The fight between the two friends and the Gods went on for a long time.

A disembodied voice boomed from the sky, “Indra, you have already done enough. Thanks to your assistance, you have saved Asvasena, the son of your friend. Know that Arjuna is Nara and Krishna is an incarnation of Naryana. There is no force in the universe that can defeat them. Desist from your futile efforts.”

Indra stopped his attempts to save the forest. Meanwhile, Maya, the architect of the Asuras was trapped in the forest. He managed to run out from there and was spotted by Krishna, who lifted his arm to hurl the discus at him. In desperation, Maya sought the protection of Arjuna, who granted him asylum. Since his friend had taken Maya under the wing, Krishna refrained from killing the Asura.

Slowly the flames started to die out. The entire forest had been burnt to ashes. Agni resumed his form as the Brahmana and said, “You two have helped me satisfy my hunger. You have performed a feat that was impossible for even the Gods. As a token of my appreciation, you may keep the weapons and chariot that I gave you. I will always be on your side.” After this Agni vanished. Maya who had been saved by Arjuna promised to build a palace for the Pandavas, the likes of which had not been seen till now.

Apart from Asvasena and Maya, the only creatures that escaped alive were some young Saranga birds. The reason for their survival was as follows: In the past, there was a great sage named Mandapala, who had amassed a lot of good Karma, by his penances. One day when he happened to meet some sages, the discussion turned to the concept of salvation and heaven. He was amazed to learn from them that a man without an issue is not eligible for either. He had not married, so immersed had he been in his austerities. So he transformed himself into a Saranga bird and married a she-bird named Jaritha. He had a bunch of young birds as his children. Since he wanted to produce as many descendants as possible, he also married a bird named Lapitha. This caused a great deal of grief to his first-wife, who sent him away from her nest. When the fire started burning the forest, the chicks said to their mother (they could talk, as they were sons of a great sage), “Mother, We cannot fly away from this fire, for our wings are still immature. You however, can escape. You should abandon us to our fate and save yourself. You can have more children in the future, so to safeguard their interests you must save yourself.”

When the mother-bird heard this, it was touched. It however was adamant that life had no meaning to it without its children. However, after a lengthy argument it acceded to the wishes of its children and saved itself by flying away. Meanwhile, Mandapala had sensed that his children were in danger. When his other wife Lapitha accused him of caring more for his first wife and children than her, he realized what a fool he had been. He rushed to save his children from the fire.

It would have been too late but for one fact. As the young birds felt the fire approaching them, they started meditating upon Agni, beseeching him to spare their lives. They sang many praises, extolling the glory of Agni in verse. Impressed by the clear thinking and devotion of these birds, Agni spared their lives. This was how the young Saranga birds escaped from the burning of the Khandava forest.

This concludes the first part of Mahabharata, know as the Adhi Parva, as it deals with the initial incidents.

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2. SABHA PARVA

MAYA’S GRATITUDE

The Asura Maya, saved by Arjuna and Krishna from being consumed in the burning of the Khandava forest, was exceedingly grateful to the Pandava. He said to Arjuna, “You have saved my life. In return, what do you wish from me? Would you like great wealth? Would you like powerful weapons of war? Or would you prefer to learn the science of magical warfare only known to the Rakshasas? Name your preference and it shall be yours.”

Arjuna said, “You sought my protection when you were defenseless. It is the duty of a Kshatriya to offer his protection to all who are worthy, and those who ask for it. I have merely performed your duty. You owe me nothing. Your friendship is enough for me. Do something for my dearest friend Krishna, that will be enough for me.”

Krishna thought for a while and said, “Your city has been constructed by Vishwakarma and is truly beautiful. However, the palace is much too plain for such a wonderful city. Let a palatial meeting hall be constructed for Yudhishtra the just. You are the best person to construct it, being the architect of the Asuras.”

Maya said, “I will construct a palace, the likes of which shall not be found not even in the heavens. I will leave now, but will be back soon. Long ago, north of Mt. Kailasa near the the Mainaka mountains, the Danavas conducted a sacrifice on the banks of Lake Vindu. During this sacrifice, I had collected a vast quantity of building material, jewels and gems. All this wealth has been placed in a mansion belonging to an Asura named Vrishaparva. I shall bring back those materials and shall construct a delightful palace for you and your brothers. There is also a fierce club used by the King of the Asuras of yore. It will be a weapon worth of your brother Bheema. There is also a conch named Devadatta, which was belonged to Varuna long ago. It shall be yours.”

With these words, the Daitya left for the Mainaka mountains. He returned with the promised club and conch, as well as the best building materials in all seven worlds. On an auspicious day, he performed the initial propitiatory rites of foundation and gratified the Brahmanas with rich presents of various kinds, Maya measured out a plot of land five thousand cubits square and began the construction. Soon the peerless palace of great beauty and endowed with great wealth in the form of precious stones was completed. The columns of this palace were made of gold. Maya also appointed his kinsmen, eight thousand Rakshasas known as the Kinkaras to guard this palace. Inside the palace, there were many interesting devices that were a delight to behold and would caused wonderment to even the most jaded observer. It took the Daitya just fourteen months to complete this building.

On a sacred day, with the chant of Vedic hymns, Yudhishtra entered the palace accompanied by his brothers and led by his chief priest Dhaumya. To mark the occasion, he gave many gifts to the Brahmanas and gladdened their hearts. Many Kshatriya allies of the Pandavas had also come to witness the opening ceremony. When Yudhishtra sat on his high throne, with his brothers seated below, he shone like Indra at his court in Amravati.

The celestial Rishi Narada came to see the Pandavas in this newly constructed hall. He was worshiped with sacred water and offered an appropriate seat. The King then enquired about the reason for the sage’s visit.

Narada said, “I had received news that you have built a beautiful palace with the help of the Maya. I wished to see it with my own eyes. Besides, I also wanted to give you advice about administering your kingdom and in statecraft.”

With these words, the sage then gave him a lecture on the how a King ought to rule his kingdom. His advice covered the question of appropriate taxes, of the need for appointing competent officials, of the need for nurturing the arts and sciences. He also gave him useful advice on how to guard against coups, and to guard against the spies employed by rival Kings. He also stressed the importance of employing competent spies to ferret out disturbances before they could cause trouble for the King.

Yudhishtra promised to abide by the advice of the Rishi. He then asked the Rishi, “Sire, you have the power to travel among the seven worlds at the speed of thought. Have you seen any other hall that is superior to mine?”

Narada smiled and replied, “O Child, I have never seen nor heard ever before, neither among men, nor among the gods, any assembly room built of gems and precious stones like this hall of thine. I have been to the hall of Indra, it is not equal to yours. I have been to the hall of Yama that shines like burnished gold, but it is inferior to this hall in beauty. I have visited Pushakaramalini, the hall of Varuna, floating in the waters, but it is not equal to yours. The hall of Kubera certainly displays his immense wealth, but is not as beautiful as yours. I have been to the hall of Lord Brahma, the grandsire of all beings, where the Prajapatis offer him worship, but its splendor is nothing to yours. I have seen all these assembly halls O King, but without question, your hall is the best that ever was.”

Highly gratified, Yudhishtra then said, “Sire, You must have met my father Pandu amongst the blessed dead. How is he? Is he happy? Is he pleased with our success? I am also curious to know why my father is in the hall of Yama, and not in the hall of Indra?”

Narada said, “O King, those kings who die on the battlefield, attain the kingdom of heaven, and spend their days in the company of Indra, the lord of celestials. Those Kings who either perform the Rajasooya Yagna or have it performed by the descendants, obtain the right to sit in the hall of Indra. If you wish your father Pandu to obtain the signal honor of sitting in Indra’s court, you must perform the Rajasooya Yagna. Beware, however, for this sacrifice is exceedingly hard to perform, for the Brahma Rakshasas will try to interrupt such a potent Yagna. If you think you can maintain the desired vigilance, by all means perform this ritual and gratify your father.”

With these words, the Rishi left on his wanderings. Yudhishtra began thinking seriously about conducting the Rajasooya Yagna.

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SLAYING OF JARASANDHA

Ever since Narada had mentioned that performing the Rajasooya Yagna would help his father Pandu to attain a position in Indra’s court, Yudhishtra was constantly thinking about ways by which this ritual could be accomplished. The one thing holding him back was the knowledge that it would be a very difficult task, and that his people might suffer in that attempt. True to his lineage (for he was the son of Yama), he wished to pursue a course of action that would result in the greatest good to his subjects.

He then summoned his friends and trusted counsellors and said, “The celestial Rishi Narada has brought me word from my deceased father Pandu, may his soul be blessed! My father desires that I perform the Yagna known as the Rajasooya, which would confer great honor upon him, and entitle him to a seat of great merit in the court of heaven. The Rishi has also warned me about the difficulties that lie ahead if such a sacrifice is to be conducted. Knowing all these things, what would you all advise me to do?”

The ministers conferred amongst themselves. Finally one of them stood up and said, “O King, your friends think that you possess all the qualities that are required for an emperor. You are certainly worthy of performing this great Yagna known as Rajasooya. By performing this ritual, you will be proclaimed as the conqueror of the whole world. We advise you to commence preparations for this Yagna without delay.”

Yudhishtra then said, “I am very much gratified that you all consider me worthy of this honor. However, I should not take a decision of this grave import without consulting my well wisher Krishna. I shall send forth a messenger to invite him here. Once he has given his consent, I shall begin preparations for the ritual.”

Accordingly, a swift messenger was dispatched to the city of Dwaraka to invite Krishna to Indraprastha. After worshiping his guest as befitting his status, Yudhishtra revealed to him his desire to conduct the Rajasooya sacrifice.

Krishna replied, “O King, your counsellors have certainly spoken the truth. You are indeed worthy of conducting the Rajasooya sacrifice. However, there is a significant obstacle to overcome. Before you can conduct this Yagna, all the kings in the world must accept you as their overlord. I have no doubt that your allies will not cause you any trouble. Indeed, even among those who are not your allies, there are not many who are strong enough to oppose you. The Kshatriyas of the present day are an inferior lot compared to their ancestors. Your only problem is Jarasandha. The king of Magadha is a powerful warrior. He has subjugated a large number of kings and is holding them prisoner. When he has conquered one hundred such kings, he intends to sacrifice them to Lord Shiva, and thereby become invincible in battle. Such is his prowess in arms that even I and my kinsmen had to abandon our city of Mathura and settle in our present city of Dwaraka to escape his depredations. You must slay Jarasandha before you can conduct the Rajasooya. Indeed, many kingdoms will be grateful to you if you can accomplish this feat.”

Yudhishtra said, “Dear Krishna, if you had to flee from your city in fear of Jarasandha, you who are without equals in the use of weapons, what hope do I have of defeating Jarasandha? Indeed, hearing your description of his prowess, I fear that my desire of being crowned as emperor might not materialize. If victory is so uncertain, is it fair of me to subject my countrymen to the ardors of a long campaign against such a strong foe?”

At this point, Bheema intervened and said, “It is the duty of a Kshatriya to conquer kingdoms by war. Indeed, effort is the hallmark of a King. With my strength, Krishna’s wisdom and Arjuna’s prowess with the bow, I am certain that we can prevail over the King of Magadha. Self belief is the key to victory.”

Krishna then said, “It is your duty to save the eighty-six kings now held captive by Jarasandha. If he succeeds in capturing fourteen more kings, he will sacrifice all of them. He is the de facto emperor of the world, for a large number of kings pay him tribute. As Bheema remarked, there is little that a team of myself, Bheema and Arjuna cannot accomplish. We shall surely be victorious.”

Despite these assurances, Yudhishtra was still doubtful. He said, “Desirous of imperial dignity and acting of selfish motives, how, O Krishna, can I despatch you three to slay Jarasandha? From what I have heard of his prowess, it is doubtful if Yama himself can slay him. I am afraid that some harm may befall you all if you make this attempt.”

Arjuna said, “O King, such words are not worthy of the illustrious dynasty in which you have been born. Have I not engaged the celestials in combat when I helped Agni burn the Khandava forest? Have I not been declared to be the best archer in the world by our guru Drona? Has he not taught me the use of many divine missiles and weapons? As Krishna says, it is our duty to save the eighty-six kings who are in danger of their lives at the hands of this monster. If we can slay the King of Magadha and save these Kshatriyas, we would have done a deed of great merit. Give us leave to fight.”

Vasudeva (Krishna) said, “Arjuna has spoken words befitting a scion of the Kuru race. We know not when death will overtake us, in the night or in the day. Nor have we ever heard that immortality has been achieved by desisting from fight. It is, therefore, the duty of men to attack all enemies in accordance with the principles laid down in the scriptures. Aided by good policy, if not frustrated by destiny, our undertaking can achieve success. If we win, we shall win you the title of emperor, if we are slain in battle, we shall ascend to the higher regions reserved for those who fall on the battlefield. There is nothing to loose, let us attack.”

Yudhishtra was convinced, but he was curious how Jarasandha came to be so strong. Krishna then narrated to him the story of Jarasandha’s birth, and the reason for his immense physical strength. Finally, Yudhishtra gave his consent to attack Magadha.

Soon, Krishna, Bheema and Arjuna set out to for the kingdom of Magadha, disguising themselves as Brahmanas. The capital of this kingdom was protected by five large hills named Vaihara, Varaha, Vrishava, Rishigiri, and the Chaitya. Instead of entering the city through its gates, the party pierced the Chaitya peak with their shafts and broke it to pieces. This peak was revered by the clan of Brihadratha, the father of Jarasandha. As they entered the city, many ill omens were observed by those who were skilled in reading such signs, and those Brahmanas grew fearful for the safety of their kingdom.

Entering the city, the three invaders then forcibly snatched the garlands that had been kept for sale in the shops therein. They also snatched away sandal-wood paste and smeared it upon their body. Finally, they went to the palace and approached the King.

Jarasandha, although wondering at their unusual appearance, took them to be Brahmanas and offered them worship and said, “You are welcome to my city.”

At this, Bheema and Arjuna remained silent. Krishna said to the King, “O King, my friends are currently observing a vow of silence. They will speak only after midnight.”

The King then ordered his servants to provide suitable accommodation for his three guests. When the clock struck midnight, he sent for them. The King said, “It is well known to me that Brahmanas do not wear floral garlands or deck their body with sandalwood paste unseasonably. My soldiers tell me that you snatched these items from my subjects. I begin to doubt if you are Brahmanas in the first place! You appear to be Kshatriyas. What is your motive for coming here? Why have you entered my city in such an improper way?”

Krishna said in a grave voice, “O King, we never claimed to be Brahmanas. It has been said that one should enter the house of a fried in a proper manner and that of an enemy in an improper way. As we are your enemies, we entered your city in this unorthodox manner, and that is why we have not accepted the worship you have offered us.”

Jarasandha said, “I do not ever recall having injured the three of you. For what reason do you regard me as your enemy? What is the injustice that I have done you?”

Krishna replied, “There is a prince of a royal line, who upholds the dignity of the Kshatriyas, who has sent us. O King, you have taken eighty-six kings prisoner with the intention of sacrificing them to the Lord of Uma. How can you sacrifice men as if they were mere animals? Is there any Kshatriya who will not seek to prevent this travesty? Know that I am Krishna, this man is Bheema and the other is Arjuna the Pandava. Desirous of liberating the captive monarchs, we have come to fight with you to the death.”

Jarasandha said, “All those kings that have been taken prisoner by me have been defeated in fair combat. Having said that, I accept your challenge. With troops against troops, or one on one or against two of you at once, or against all three, I am ready to fight.”

Having said this, Jarasandha then crowned his son Sahadeva as his heir apparent. Krishna then said, “We wish to engage you in single combat. Chose any one of you to fight with you.”

Jarasandha said, “I will not fight you O Krishna, for you are of inferior birth. I will not fight Arjuna, for he is a mere child. I have, however, heard that Bheema is an excellent wrestler. I shall fight him to death.”

Bheema and Jarasandha then entered the wrestling arena, and the combat began. They fought each other with their bare arms as their only weapons. The seized each other’s arms and legs and tried to break each others’ limbs. Striking neck against neck and forehead against forehead, they caused fiery sparks to come out like flashes of lightning. The citizens numbering thousands came to watch this wonderful battle. The battle had started on the first day of the month of Kartika, and the warriors fought day and night, without pausing for food or rest. On the thirteenth day, Krishna perceived that Jarasandha was beginning to tire. He gave the signal to Bheema, who lifted his foe high above his head and tore him into two pieces.

Such was the noise made when Bheema tore Jarasandha into two, that the citizens of Magadha were struck dumb with terror. It sounded as if a mountain had come crashing down upon them. Many pregnant women in the audience were prematurely delivered!

However, no sooner had the two pieces of the body hit the ground, that they joined together and became whole! Jarasandha sprang back to life and resumed the battle. Bheema was struck with wonder, and was perplexed as to how to slay his foe. Perceiving Bheemas predicament, Krishna then picked up a blade of grass, tore it into half and threw the two pieces in such a way that they were facing opposite to each other. Bheema understood this hint. He once again caught hold of Jarasandha and tore him in two. But this time, he threw the two pieces such that they were in opposite directions. The two pieces could not unite, and Jarasandha was slain.

Then Krishna went in person to free the monarchs who were being held prisoner in the mountain fort of Jarasandha. The kings were exceedingly glad to obtain their freedom, and pledged their undying devotion to Krishna. Highly gratified, Krishna then asked them to accept Yudhishtra as their overlord and to assist him in conducting the Rajasooya.

After installing prince Sahadeva, the son of Jarasandha on the throne of Magadha, Krishna and the two Pandavas returned victorious to Indra Prasta. They were welcomed very warmly by Yudhishtra who expressed his gratitude to Krishna for the success of their mission. After spending a few days with the Pandavas, Krishna returned to Dwaraka.

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PANDAVAS’ CAMPAIGN OF CONQUEST

The four younger Pandavas decided to embark on a campaign of conquest, to make Kings acknowledge the overlordship of Yudhishtra, so that he could perform the Rajasooya Yagna. Arjuna set out to the north, Bheema left for the east. Sahadeva marched to the south, and Nakula led the armies towards the west.

One of the first Kings to oppose Arjuna was Bhagadatta, the king of Pragjyotisha. After a hard fought battle, he surrendered to Arjuna. Next, the son of Indra made war on the hill tribes and brought them under his control. Next to be conquered was Vrihanta, the King of Uluka. Continuing further north, Arjuna subjugated Modapura, Vamadeva, Sudaman, Susankula and the Norther Ulukas. After conquering many other minor kingdoms, he marched against king Viswgaswa of the Puru race, who was supported by an army of brave mountain warriors. Arjuna was victorious here also. He then defeated the Trigartas, the Daravas, the Kokonadas and various other Kings, and also captured the city of Avisari.

Proceeding towards the Himalayas, Arjuna defeated the Valhikas, the Daradas, the Kambojas, the Lohas. He then fought the Rishikas, who were renowned for the valor. Ultimately, they yielded, and gave him a tribute of many war horses. When he tried to march further north of the Himalayas, certain divine beings appeared before him and asked him to turn back, for the regions beyond were forbidden to men. Arjuna accepted their advice and returned to Indraprastha, having amassed a huge quantity of tribute for Yudhishtra’s treasury.

Marching east, Bheema visited the Panchala Kingdom and invited Drupada and his kinsmen to visit the ceremony. He then conquered the tribes known as Gandakas and Videhas. The king of the Dasarnas, named Sudharman, fought Bheema with his bare hands. He was defeated, but impressed by his valor, Bheema appointed him as the commander of his forces. He next made war on the Kingdom of Aswamedha and defeated its king Rochamana. He then turned south and conquered two kings named Sukumara and Sumitra. On the orders of Yudhishtra he invaded the Kingdom of Chedi. However, its King Shishupala did not fight him, but instead agreed to accept the overlordship of Yudhishtra.

Bheema then vanquished King Srenimat of the country of Kumara and Brihadvala, the king of Kosala. He then defeated Kin Dirghayaghna of Ayodhya. The country of Goaplakaksha, the northern Koslas and the Kin of Mallas were also conquered. He then conquered the country of Bhallata. King Subahu of Kashi and King Kratha of Suparsa were defeated. The Kingdoms of Matsya, the powerful Maladas and the country of Pasubhumi also fell under his onslaught. He also conquered Madahara, Mahidara and the Somadheyas. Turning north, he conquered the country of Vatsabhumi, the King of the Bhargas, the King of the Nishadas. The Sarmakas and Varmakas were overcome by strategy. King Janaka of Videha was easily defeated. Bheema then defeated the seven Kings of the Kiratas. The clans of Sbmas and PRashumas were also defeated. Bheema then marched against Magadha. On the way, he subjugated two monarchs named Danda and Dandadhara. He then defeated Sahadeva (the ruler of Magadha, the son of Jarasandha). He then slew the ruler of Madagiri in a fierce combat. After conquering Vasudeva, the king of Pundra, King Mahaujah of Kausika-kachchha, the King of Vanga, King Chandrasena, King Tamralipta, the King of Karvatas, the ruler of Suhmas and the Mlechchha tribes, Bheema returned to Indraprasta and swelled the wealth of Yudhishtra with all the tribute he had accumulated.

Sahadeva, who had marched south, conquered th Surasenas and bought the Kingdom of Matsya under his sway. He then defeated Dantavakra, the King of Adhirajas and many other neighboring kings. [Note: some of the Kingdoms he is said to have conquered are the same as conquered by Bheema. It must be indeed annoying for those Kings to be defeated twice in such close succession!]. He then vanquished King Jambaka and then conquered the Sekas. He then proceeded to the banks of the Narmada and conquered Vinda and Anuvinda, the Kings of Avanti. He then fought a hard battle with King Bhishmaka of Bhojakata, and defeated him. He subjugated the Natakeyas, the Heramvakas, and then conquered the country of Marudha. Sahadeva then defeated the monarchs of the Nachinas and the Arvukas. He then defeated king Vatadhipa, and defeated the clan of Pulindas. He defeated King of Pandrya after a day long battle. Reaching the kingdom of Kishkinda, he fought the monkey-kings Mainda and Dwivida, who ultimately made peace with him.

When he reached the city of Mahishmati, he suffered an unexpected setback. King Nila of this city had obtained Agni for his son-in-law, and the God of fire protected the city. All the clothes and armor of Sahadeva’s soldiers caught on fire when they tried to battle King Nila, for Agni personally assisted his father-in-law. Seeing his army in trouble, Sahadeva prayed to the God of fire to spare their lives. He praised Agni by chanting the many sacred names of fire.

Agni was pleased. He then brokered a peace, whereby Sahadeva would not march on Mahishmati, but King Nila would pay tribute to Yudhishtra from then on. Marching ahead, Sahadeva conquered the town of Sanjayanti, the country of the Pashandas, the country of the Karahatakas and brought the Paundrayas and the Dravidas along with the Idrakeralas and the Andhras and the Talavanas. He also conquered the Kalingas and the Ushtrakarnikas and the city of Atavi and that of the Yavanas. He then sent messengers to King Vibheeshana of Lanka to invite him to the Rajasooya. After completing his tour of conquest, Sahadeva returned to Indraprasta.

Nakula, who had set out west, first conquered the mountainous country of Rohitaka and then conquered the desert terrain of Sairishaka. He then conquered King Akrosa, conquered the Dasarnas, the Sivis, the Trigartas, the Amvashtas, the Malavas, the five tribes of the Karnatas. He then conquered more kingdoms on the sea shore and on the banks of the Saraswati. He conquered the country of Uttarayotisha, the city of Divyakutta and the tribe of Dwarapala. He also conquered the Ramathas, the Harahunas, and more kings of the west. He then visited the Yadavas. From there, he traveled to Sakala, the city of the Madras and visited his uncle Salya. He then conquered the tribes of Mlechchas, the tribes of the Pallavas, the Kiratas, the Yavanas and the Sakas. He ended his campaign and returned victorious to Indraprasta.

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THE RAJASOOYA

With all the Kings either allied with him, or acknowledging his overlordship by paying him tribute, Yudhishtra was now eligible to conduct the great sacrifice known as the Rajasooya. His treasure was overflowing with the plundered wealth from the conquests of his brothers. His ministers approached him and said, “O King, It is now time for you to begin preparations for conducting the Rajasooya Yagna. You should appoint suitable Ritwiks and issue orders to invite all your friends to witness this ceremony. Let there not be any further delay.”

While they were talking thus, Krishna arrived at Indrprasta, bearing untold wealth as gifts from the Vrishnis to his dear Pandavas. Yudhishtra received his cousin with affection and enquired about the welfare of his family. Once Krishna had been seated, and the rest of the Pandavas, accompanied by their priest Dhaumya and the sage Dwaipayana (Vyasa) also present at the court, Yudhishtra said to Krishna said, “Dear cousin, O jewel of the Vrishnis, it is by your grace that I have obtained this vast wealth. I wish to give away my treasures according to the manner prescribed in the scriptures to deserving Brahmanas and to those who offer sacrificial libations. Grant me permission to perform the Rajasooya Yagna. I humbly request you to assist me in its conduct.”

Krishna replied, “Dear King, You deserve all the imperial dignity that you command. Let, therefore, the great sacrifice be performed by you. I will gladly assist you in its conduct. Appoint me to some office, and I shall discharge my duties diligently, obeying your commands with alacrity.”

Having obtained the consent of his well-wisher Krishna, the eldest son of Pandu then collected the materials for the performance of the Rajasooya sacrifice, with the help of his brothers. He then summoned Sahadeva and said, “Let persons be appointed to collect all those articles which the Brahmanas deem as necessary for the performance of this sacrifice. Consult with our priest Dhaumya to find out all that is needed.”

Sahadeva did the King’s bidding. Yudhishtra then went to sage Vyasa and said, “Sir, you are best qualified to appoint the Ritwiks for the Yagna. There is nothing that you do not know about conducting rituals, please choose the suitable priests for this ceremony.”

With the help of Vyasa, the Ritwiks and other sacrificial officers were chosen. Vyasa himself became the Brahma priest of the ceremony. A learned Brahmana named Susaman became the chanter of the Vedic hymns. Yagnavalky became the Adhyaryu priest, and another named Paila became the Hotri. The sons of these illustrious priests became the Hotragts. [Note: These are the various classes of priests for the Vedic ritual. I will soon have an article explaining their roles.]

The King then bade Sahadeva to dispatch messengers to invite all the Kings to the ritual. In addition to the Kings, well known Brahmanas, wealthy merchants and virtuos peasants were also invited to the ceremony. Next, skilled architects constructed the central sacrificial hall, the ancilliary halls and the pavilions for the specators. When the preparations were complete, Yudhishtra then sent Nakula to Hastinapura, to personally invite Bhishma, Dhritharashtra and rest of the Kuru personages to participate in the Rajasooya.

The logistical challenges involved were immense. All the Kings and other illustrious persons had to housed suitably and entertained while they were in Indraprasta. Escorts had to be arranged to make sure that all the people were comfortable. Just providing suitable food to all these people alone consumed a vast sum of money.

Yudhishtra respectfully received the Kuru elders and said to them, “Sir, all the treasure that is mine, is also yours. Consult with each other and spend it as you deem fit. Conducting this Rajasooya sacrifice in a proper manner will bring glory to our clan, so it will be yours as much it shall be mine.”

Having said that, he appointed every one of them to suitable office. Dushasana was asked to look after the food department. Ashwatthama was given the task of attending on the Brahmanas. Sanjaya was given the task of looking after the kings. Bhishma and Drona were appointed supervisors. Kripa was asked to distribute gifts to the Brahmanas. Vidura became the disburser. Duryodhana received the tributes on Yudhishtra’s behalf. Krishna offered worship to the Brahmanas.

None of the Kings came to visit the sacrifice without offering tribute of less than a thousand (in number, weight or measure.) Many costly and rare gifts were exchanged. Finally, Yudhishtra took the oath, and became the Yajaman of the sacrifice. Six sacrificial fires were raised, and oblations were constantly being poured into them. The Gods were gratified at the sacrifce by offerings of clarified butters and libations, poured into sacrificial fire accompanied by Vedic incantations by the priests. The sacrifice continued for many days in this fashion.

On the last day of the sacrifice, when the King would be sprinkled with sacrificial water, all the Kings and other spectators assembled in the central sacrificial hall. Even the divine sages, led by Narada, were seated, waiting for the culmination of the ceremony. In the outer halls, many scholarly debates were taking place.

Bhishma got up and said, “O Yudhishtra, it is time for you to offer Arghya (ceremonial worship, offered after washing the feet of the person being worshipped), to those deserving of it. You should offer it to your elders, to the learned Brahmanas, your friends, and your perceptor.”

Yudhishtra said, “Dear Grandfather, tell me who should be worshipped first? To whom shall I offer the first Arghya?”

Bhishma, the illustrious son of Shantanu said, “As Surya is foremost among luminous objects, Krishna is the foremost in this assembly. He is worthy of your first worship.”

Thus commanded by the Grandsire, Yudhishtra ordered the materials for the Arghya to be brought. He then washed the feet of Krishna and offered him worship. Smiling, Krishna accepted it. All the onlookers felt that this was just and proper.

All that is, except for Shishupala, the King of Chedi. He was related to Krishna, but hated the Vrishni hero with all his heart. He stood up and spoke in an angry voice, “O Yudhishtra, this wretch of the Vrishni race does not deserve royal worship as if he were a king, especially when all these illustrious monarchs are present. O son of Pandu, you have little knowledge on the rules of worship. This Bhishma, the son of Ganga is old in years, but is still lacking knowledge. How is it that you are worshipping someone who is not a King before other Kings? You have not considered him worthy of worship due to his age, for his aged father Vasudeva is present here. How is he deserving of worship before your perceptors Drona and Kripa? He is not the Ritwik of your sacrifice, for the great Vyasa is present. Here is Duryodhana, he of great might, to whom you might have offered this worship. You might have worshipped Kripa, who was your first teacher. You might have worshipped Ashwatthama, with the unique jewel on his head proclaiming his worth. If you wanted to honor warriors, how could you have overlooked Karna, Ekalavya, and Salya? Or it would have been acceptable for you to have worshipped even Bhishma, the oldest of your clan. Ignoring all these worthy of the first worship, you have chosen a cowherd, a coward, one who associates with low persons to honor with the first worship! All of you, listen to me! I have not paid tribute to Yudhishtra because of fear of him. I have acknowledged him as my overlord, out of affection for the Pandavas. And he repays my trust with this insult! O Krishna, how can you calmly sit here and accept this worship, of which you are not worthy? Like a dog that laps the sacrificial butter, you are revelling in the Arghya which ought not have been offered to you. O Krishna, as a wife is to one who is impotent, as a fine show is to one who is blind, so is this worship to you who are not a king.”

Having uttered these cutting words in rage, Shishupala left the assembly. Many of his allies also accompanied him.

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SHISHUPALA IS SLAIN

Yudhishtra hastily ran after the King of Chedi and tried to conciliate him. He said, “O gracious king, what you have said is scarcely proper for one of your fame. It is sinful, and it is cruel. You ought not have insulted Bhishma or Krishna. Look at all these Kings, many older than you, who have approved of the first worship offered to Krishna. Forget the words that you have uttered in haste and come back, for the Yagna will not be complete till Arghya has been offered to all those who are worthy!”

Meanwhile, Bhishma once again stood up proudly, and said, “He that does not approve of the worship offered to Krishna, the light of the universe, does not deserve soft words or conciliation. In this vast assembly of Kings, I do not see even one who can withstand the might of Keshava in battle. He of the Vrishni race is foremost among warriors. O King of Chedi, we have not worshiped Krishna from fear or caprice, or from desire for favor. We have offered worship unto him, because of his fame, his heroism, his success. The sun, the moon, the constellations, the planets, all the cardinal directions are all established in Krishna. Just as the Agnihotra is foremost among Vedic rituals, as the Gayatri is foremost among metres, as a King is supreme among men, as the ocean is the largest of the water bodies, as Garuda is first among birds, Keshava is foremost among men and celestials. This Shishupala is a mere boy and does not see the greatness of Krishna. This witless ruler of Chedi will never see the glory that can be perceived by only those of pure heart. If he persists in regarding this first worship offered to Krishna as undeserved, I dare him to prevent it!”

Sahadeva then got up and said, “If among all those assembled here, there is someone who cannot bear to see the Arghya offered to Keshava, the slayer of Kesi, who is venerated by us Pandavas, I challenge him to battle me! All those possessed of intelligence will approve this first worship offered to Krishna.”

None in the assembly dared to even raise a voice. Sahadeva then offered the first worship to Krishna as ordained in the scriptures. He then proceeded to offer worship to all those worthy of it. Shishupala looked at this proceeding with bloodshot eyes and addressed the Kings thus, “When I am willing to lead you all, why are you silent? Let us array ourselves in battle gear and slay these Vrishnis and the Pandavas, who have insulted us. Are you men or you women, held silent by fear of the Pandavas?”

With passions inflamed by the words of Shishupala, a fair number of the assembled Kings began to feel that they had been insulted. Older, wiser men tried to pacify these monarchs, but they were too angry to listen. There was imminent danger of a battle breaking out.

Worried, Yudhishtra turned towards Bhishma and said, “Sir, it appears as if there will be bloodshed. Dear grandfather, tell me what should I do now so that my Yagna can be completed without any mishap?”

Bhishma smiled and said, “Dear boy, do not fear. Can a dog slay the lion? These kings whose wrath has been stoked by Shishupala cannot harm the hero of the Vrishni race. Even as a child, he slew the demons sent to kill him. While just a boy, he killed Kamsa in a wrestling match. Leave everything to Krishna, he will take care of these upstarts.”

Hearing these words, Shishupala was incensed. He said, “Old and infamous wretch! Are you not ashamed of trying to frighten these monarchs with false terrors? You are supposed to be the foremost of the Kurus, doomed is that race, led by you like a pack of blind men led by a blind man. Senility has overtaken you. You are singing the imaginary praises of this Krishna. What is the big deal if he slew a few weak demons? You praise his killing of Kamsa, who was his maternal uncle, was that not treachery? He is a cowherd, of low birth, and is the leader of low born men. It seems that the sons of Pandu, led by you, are reveling in sin. If you claim to be so virtuous, how was it that you abducted Amba who had plighted her troth to another and then abandoned her? I begin to suspect that your celibacy is merely a sham to hide your impotence! That mighty king Jarasandha who desired not to fight with Krishna, saying, ‘He is a slave’ was right. Who will regard as praiseworthy the role of Krishna in Jarasandha’s death? You are all sinful wretches to praise this coward, whose stock in trade is treachery!”

Hearing these words of Shishupala, mighty Bheema ground his teeth in anger. He was about to spring on the king of Chedi with the intention of breaking him into two, but Bhishma caught him in a strong grip and appeased his wrath. Even though Shishupala saw the rage of Bheema’s, he did not flinch. He laughed derisively and said, “Release him, O Bhishma!, Let all here witness me kill this Pandava!”

Bhishma said, “This Shishupala was born with three eyes and four hands. As soon as he was born, he screamed and brayed like an ass. An incorporeal voice spoke from heaven and said, ‘This child has been blessed with great strength. His excess arms and eye will fall off when he meets his slayer.’ His father, the King of Chedi then invited all the Kings to see his child. When Krishna (who was the nephew of the Chedi queen) placed the child on his lap, the extra organs fell off. The queen then asked Krishna to spare the life of her son. He then promised her, ‘I shall pardon one hundred offenses committed by your son.’ O Bheema, the end of this wretch is approaching, so reign in your anger.”

Shishupala continued his taunts. He said, “O Bhishma, you are euoligizing Krishna like a professional chanter of praises. If you must praise somebody, praise this Karna, the peerless bowman. Or praise this great warrior Baaahlika. You may also praise Drona and Ashwatthama, Brahmanas endued with great energy. If your mind is always inclined to sing the praises of others, why are you not singing the praises of the mighty Salya? With so many worthy of your praise, you have unerringly picked out one who is unworthy of mentioning in such exalted company. Your pussilanimity is self-evident, for you live at the pleasure of these Kings assembled here!”

Bhishma said, “So much do I live at the pleasure of others that I do not consider any of the Kings even worthy as much as a blade of grass. There is none here who may withstand my might in battle.”

Hearing Bhishma’s boast, some of the kings became inflamed with wrath. Some of them stood up and began to reprove Bhishma. The situation was ripe for battle.

Bhishma continued, “If anyone here doubts that Krishna is the essence of the divine, let him show his displeasure by challenging me and Krishna to battle. Prepare to be slain!”

Shishupala said, “Others might decline this challenge from fear, but I dare you both. O Krishna, I challenge you to battle! Just as a dog that has tasted sacrificial offerings must be killed, so too do you deserve to be slain!”

Krishna addressed the assembly and said, “Hear O Kings, this wicked minded Shishupala, whose mother is my aunt, has been the enemy of our race. We have never sought to injure him, but he has always tried to do us an evil turn. He has attacked our city countless number of times. He succeeded in burning it when all the defenders had gone to visit our allies. He has also ravished the reluctant wife of Akrura. His ravishment of Bhadra, the princess of Visala is also well known. I have patiently borne all these transgressions for the sake of my aunt. Why, he even desired to wed Rukmini, despite knowing that she had plighted her troth to me!”

Shishupala laughed and said, “O Krishna, are you not ashamed in saying these words in the assembly? Which other man would say in an open assembly that his wife had been coveted by another? Show your prowess in arms, not words.”

Krishna then meditated on his divine weapon, the discus, Sudarsana Chakra. In an instant, it appeared in his hand. He said, “Listen O monarches, I had promised my aunt that I shall pardon a hundred sins of this wretch. That number is now up. I will now slay him in your presence!” With these words, he launched the discus and cut off the head of Shishupala in one stroke. From the slain body of the King of Chedi, a divine light rose and merged with Krishna.”

[Note: Shishupala was originally Vijaya, the gatekeeper at Vaikunta, the abode of Lord Vishnu. As a result of the curse of some sages, he and his twin Jaya had to be born many times as a mortal. He was offered the choice of having nine virtuos births or three sinful ones. Both chose the sinful births in order to be reunited faster with Lord Vishnu.]

Yudhishtra then commanded his brothers to perform the funeral rites of King Shishupala. The son of Shishupala was crowned the ruler of Chedi. The rest of the Vedic ritual went off without a hitch. All the monarchs returned to their Kingdoms, pleased at having witnessed the grand spectacle of the Yagna. After staying a while longer, Krishna also returned to his city of Dwaraka.

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DURYODHANA’S JEALOUSY

Once the difficult Yagna was accomplished, the Pandavas sought the blessings of sage Vyasa, surrounded by his disciples. Vyasa said, “May your prosperity increase!”

Yudhishtra asked, “O great one, the sage Narada said that, before the conduct of the Rajasooya many ill omens had been seen and other alarming portents had appeared in the sky. Did they foretell the slaying of Shishupala? Have these signs dissipated with the death of the King of Chedi?”

The sage replied, “The slaying of Shishupala is but the beginning. For thirteen years, these omens shall rule the fate of the Kshatriyas. It appears that there will be cataclysmic event that will result in the destruction of many mighty monarchs.”

With this warning, the sage Vyasa left for his hermitage at the foothills of the Himalayas. Yudhishtra became very worried. He called his brothers and said, “The sage has foretold that there will be great destruction among the Kshatriyas in thirteen years’ time. What the Rishi has said must come to pass. Is it even possible to thwart fate? Listen to my vow! For thirteen years, I shall not speak a hard word to my brothers or to any of the kings of earth. I shall practice virtue. If I can make sure that there is no disagreement with anybody, there will be no war.”

His brothers approved of his resolution. Most of those who had come to witness the Rajasooya had returned. However, Duryodhana, accompanied by his brothers and Shakuni resided in Indraprasta for some time. He spent a lot of time exploring the grand palace constructed by Maya. He beheld many celestial designs, the likes of which he had never seen before. So cunning were some of the devices that Duryodhana was thoroughly befuddled. One day, he came upon a crystal surface. Mistaking it for a pool of water, he drew up his clothes while walking over it. He felt foolish when he realized that it was solid marble. Another time, he mistook a lake of crystal water adorned with lotuses for land and fell in with all his clothes on. Seeing his predicament, Bheema and the twins laughed aloud. Draupadi, who had witnessed this comedy from a vantage point, laughed the loudest. Duryodhana felt utterly humiliated.

His trials did not end there, for in excess of caution, he kept drawing up his clothes whenever he saw anything that could remotely be water. Despite his precautions, he mistook a painting of a door for a real door and banged his head into it. When he saw another door that was really open, he went away thinking that it was closed. In this fashion, he spent most of his time in confusion.

From these humiliating experience and from witnessing the prosperity of the Pandavas first hand, Duryodhana’s heart became inclined to sin. As he traveled back to Hastinapura, he reflected upon their good fortune and fame, the flame of jealousy burned bright in his heart. He became pale and he let out frequent hot sighs. So absorbed was he in thought, that he did not reply despite being repeatedly addressed by Shakuni.

Shakuni said, “Dear nephew, why are you so despondent?”

Duryodhana replied, “O uncle, in the past month, all I have been seeing is the pomp and splendor of the Pandavas. All the monarchs of the earth have sworn allegiance to him. I witnessed at first hand the result of the prowess of Arjuna and Bheema. So much are the Kings under the sway of the Pandavas that when Shishupala was slain by Krishna, none dared to object! Seeing their growing fame and prosperity, my heart burns with jealousy. What man is there in the world who can bear to see his foes in the enjoyment of prosperity and himself in destitution? Alone I am incapable of acquiring such royal prosperity, nor do I have allies that could help me to do so. I cannot live with this shame. I shall throw myself upon a flaming fire or swallow poison or drown myself! I have tried hard to destroy the Pandavas, but my efforts have come to naught. I was so thoroughly humiliated in their palace, with the menials and even Draupadi laughing at my stupidity. Dear uncle, talk to my father about my affliction, and find a way to cure my illness.”

Shakuni said, “You should not be jealous of Yudhishtra. What the Pandavas are enjoying is the fruit of their labors. Dear nephew, you could not destroy them with your machinations. They have obtained Draupadi for their wife and have formed an alliance with the powerful Panchalas. What is there for you to grieve in this? Arjuna has gratified Agni and obtained divine weapons. In return for saving him from death, Maya constructed this heavenly palace for the Pandavas. Why are you so sorry for all this? You claim that you lack imperial dignity and allies. At least in the matter of allies, you are very fortunate. The incomparable Drona and Ashwatthama are well disposed towards you. How can you forget the unrivaled archer Karna, ever devoted to your interests? There are also Bhishma and Kripa who are your staunch allies. With these warriors on your side, you can conquer the whole of the earth.”

Duryodhana said, “That is true. With their help, I shall conquer the Pandavas and become the undisputed ruler of the world. All that is now theirs, including that delightful assembly house, shall be mine!”

Shakuni said, “It is impossible to conquer the Pandavas in battle. Arjuna alone is capable of destroying all the warriors in the world. I have a better idea. I know a way by which Yudhishtra can be defeated. Listen to me and adopt it.”

Duryodhana asked eagerly, “O Uncle, tell me, what is this plan of yours?”

His uncle said, “The eldest Pandava is very fond of playing dice, although he has no skill with it. If he is challenged to a game of dice, he cannot refuse. I have no equals in dice play on earth. Arrange a match with him. I shall play on your behalf and win his kingdom from him. You have to obtain the consent of your father before this game can take place.”

The Kaurava prince replied, “Uncle, I am not eloquent enough to convince my father. Go yourself to him and represent all these facts. Obtain his permission for arranging this game of dice.”

When they reached Hastinapura, Shakuni went to King Dhritharashtra and said, “Fie on you king, for your son is wasting away of sorrow, and you do not lift a finger to help him!”

Dhritharashtra asked in a voice of concern, “Why? What is the matter with Duryodhana? I will talk to him and if it is within my power, I shall dispel his sorrow.”

When summoned before his father and questioned, Duryodhana said, “I am being consumed by the fire of jealousy. The prosperity of the Pandavas is the reason for my sorrow. Compared to the riches that they possess, I find myself as destitute as a beggar. Yudhishtra supports eighty-eight thousand Brahmanas and has given them untold wealth. Besides these, he feeds thousands of visiting Brahmanas every day. At his Rajasooya sacrifice, the kings brought heaps upon heaps of jewels and gems for him. I have never seen so much wealth at one place. With the conduct of this sacrifice, he has become overlord of the world. Beholding this great prosperity of the Pandavas, my heart burns and I cannot enjoy a moment of peace.”

At this moment, Shakuni interjected, “O King, even your son may achieve this prosperity! I am adept at dice, my skill is superior to all in the world. If you invite Yudhishtra for a game of dice, I shall win all his wealth, playing on behalf of Duryodhana.”

Duryodhana also added his voice to this proposal.

Dhritharashtra replied, “In all matters, I follow the counsels of my brother Vidura. He will be able to judge if this proceeding would be acceptable. If he agrees, then we shall invite Yudhishtra.”

Duryodhana said, “If you consult with Vidura, he will find a way to prevent the game. If my plan is not approved, I shall kill myself. When I am dead, you can be happy in the company of Vidura and enjoy all pleasures without interruption. Why do you even need me?”

Hearing these words of Duryodhana, Dhritharashtra’s heart was moved. He had tried to do the right thing for the Pandavas so far, but his affection for his son was stronger than his sense of justice. He had never before done anything without consulting Vidura. Although he knew the evils of gambling, and also of the impropriety of these proceedings, he commanded his servant, saying, “Let a great gambling hall be constructed. When it is complete, report to me. Also send Vidura to me now.”

When Vidura heard of the proposed game of dice, he was very much grieved. He said, “Dear brother, do not sanction this plan. Gambling leads to dispute. Act in such a way that no quarrel may arise between your sons and the Pandavas.”

Dhritharashtra replied, “O Vidura, what has been ordained by the fates, shall come to pass. If the Gods are merciful upon us, there will be no dispute among the princes. My mind is made up. Go to Indraprasta and invite Yudhishtra for a game of dice.”

When Vidura left for his abode, Dhritharashtra summoned his son privately and tried to reason with him. He said, “Have nothing to do with dice. Vidura, who has learnt the art of political science and morality from the great Brihaspati himself, does not speak well of them. Indeed, it is evident even to me that this game of dice will sow the seeds of dissension. And dissensions will ruin the kingdom. Therefore, O son, abandon this idea of gambling. Let your sorrow be assuaged in some other manner.”

Duryodhana let out a deep sigh and said, “I am a sinful wretch, for I eat and dress as if nothing has happened, while my foes are thriving. I am rich, but the sons of Pandu are rich beyond the dreams of avarice. If I had the ability, I would slay Bheema. But such is his power that, I am sure that I would meet with the fate of Shishupala if I attacked him now. You were not there to witness the myriad humiliations I suffered at the palace of the Pandavas. Even the menials and Draupadi laughed at my predicament there! I saw countless Kings swear fealty to Yudhishtra. Indeed, I was not aware that there were so many Kingdoms on earth! Of all the costly gems and jewels paid by them in tribute, I did not recognize even half! So many were the animals – cows, elephants and swift horses given as tribute, that their hooves created countless lakes around Indraprasta! I am certain that the only way for me to obtain equivalent wealth is to steal from them by means of this game of dice. If you deny me this chance, I shall drown myself!”

Dhritharashtra said, “Dear son, do not act rashly! I am obedient to the counsels of illustrious Vidura. I shall consult with him and then decide in this matter.”

The Kaurava prince said, “Vidura is always looking after the interests of the Pandavas. He will not sanction any plan to beggar them.”

Dhritharashtra said, “Reflect O son, of the evils that can be caused by dice. Have not the ancients counselled against gambling, for it leads to quarrels?”

Duryodhana replied, “The ancients invented the game of dice. There is no destruction in it, it is not war, and there is no bloodshed. I see no harm in them.”

Dhritharashtra tried to reason with his son, but Duryodhana was adamant. The weak-minded King then decided that fate could not be thwarted. He then summoned Vidura again and said, “Go to Indraprasta and invite the Pandavas for a game of dice.”

Despite his disapproval, there was little Vidura could do. Lamenting the fate that had clouded the judgment of his weak minded elder brother, Vidura journeyed to Indraprasta.

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THE GAME OF DICE

Vidura was gladly welcomed by the Pandavas, for he was their principal well wisher. After the customary greetings were exchanged, Vidura broached the subject of his visit. He said, “O King, the King of the Kurus has commanded me to enquire after your peace and prosperity, and to ask you to come to Hastinapura with your brothers to visit the newly constructed game hall. You are invited to take part in a friendly match at dice. You will meet many other famous gamblers there.”

Yudhishtra said, “Sir, if we play a match of dice, we may quarrel. Gambling is frowned upon by the ancients. What do you thing that is fit for us? We will do as you suggest.”

Vidura said, “I am well aware that gambling is the root of misery. Indeed, I sought to dissuade the king from it. However, blinded by affection for his son, he was adamant. A quarrel will arise regardless of whether you go or not.”

The son of Dharma asked, “Besides the sons of Dhritharashtra, what other dishonest gamblers shall I meet there?”

Vidura said, “O King, there is Shakuni, the King of Gandhara, there is Vivingati, king Chitrasena, Satyavrata, Purmitra and Jaya. These gamblers are eagerly awaiting the match to showcase their skills.”

Yudhishtra said, “From the looks of it, it seems that some of the most desperate and terrible gamblers, skilled in dice, with hearts full of deceit are there. Fate is strong. I have made a vow that I will not enter into a dispute with anyone for thirteen years. How can I refuse the summons of my uncle? I am sure that no good will come out of this game of dice, but there is no choice.”

The Pandavas traveled to Hastinapura, accompanied by Draupadi and Vidura. Yudhishtra payed his respects to King Dhritharashtra, Bhishma, Drona and Kripa. After resting to refresh themselves from the weariness of their journey, the Pandavas entered the assembly house next morning, for the game of dice.

After everyone had assembled, Shakuni addressed Yudhishtra and said, “O King, the assembly is full. Let the die be cast and the rules of play be fixed.”

The eldest Pandava replied, “Gambling is sinful. Kshatriyas should obtain glory on the battlefield, not by playing dice. Why are you so eager for this game?”

Shakuni said, “I challenge you to a game of dice. If you are afraid, if you fear that your skill might not be up to it, by all means withdraw.”

Yudhishtra said, “I shall certainly play. However, what can you offer as stake that can equal the wealth that I shall be betting? You have not one tenth my possessions.”

Duryodhana said, “O King, I shall supply jewels and gems and every kind of wealth on my uncle’s behalf. He plays as my agent.”

Yudhishtra was surprised. He said, “This is contrary to the established rules of gambling. You cannot have another man play on your behalf. However, I have been challenged, and have taken a vow of not entering into disputes. Let the play begin.”

Bhishma and the other Kuru elders watched the proceedings with a heavy heart. They sensed that trouble was coming, yet felt powerless to prevent it. In the first round, both Kings staked precious jewels from their treasuries. Shakuni, well skilled at dice, past master at deceit, cast the dice and said, “Lo, I have won!”

In the next round, Yudhishtra staked the mineral wealth in his possession. The result was the same, the dice were under the spell of Shakuni and they did his bidding, and once again, he exulted, “Lo, I have won!”

Next to be staked were thousand well equipped chariots in Yudhishtra’s possession. They were also lost in a trice. Yudhishtra then said, “I have a hundred thousand serving-girls, all young, and decked with golden bracelets on their wrists and upper arms, and decorated with other precious ornaments. They are all skilled in four and sixty elegant arts, including singing and dancing. They wait upon me. I stake them all.”

Shakuni once again commanded the dice and shouted, “Lo, I have won!”

Yudhishtra then staked his serving-men and lost them in the same fashion. Similarly, he lost his invincible army of well trained battle elephants. Next to go were his battle horses, that had been the pride of his army. By now, the madness of gambling was fully upon the Pandava king. He staked great wealth in jewels and gold and promptly lost them all.

At this point, Vidura could no longer contain himself. He rose and addressed King Dhritharashtra. He said, “O King! I must speak my mind, even if my counsel might not be agreeable to your ears. This Duryodhana of sinful mind had, immediately after his birth, cried discordantly like a jackal. The astrologers have also foretold that he was destined to bring about the destruction of our race. O King, the ancients have said that, for the sake of a family, a single man may be sacrificed. Let Arjuna slay your son Duryodhana now, if our clan is to be saved. How can you sit here silently, while Shakuni is snatching away the wealth of your nephews by deceit? Order this match to end now, or the Pandavas will utterly annihilate all your sons in the war that is sure to follow.”

Duryodhana said, “O Vidura, you are also boasting of the fame of our enemies, deprecating us. I know that deep in you heart, you are fond of the Pandavas only. Your advice has always been against the welfare of the Kurus.”

Vidura turned to his King and said, “O King, your son is bent upon treading the path of destruction. An evil-hearted man can never be brought to the path of rectitude, like an unchaste wife in the house of a well-born person. O King, if you wish to hear words that are agreeable to your ears, seek the counsel of women and idiots. I have always wished for the welfare of your family. Do not enrage the Pandavas. Act fairly. I leave you now, for I can no longer bear to watch.”

After Vidura had left, the game continued. Shakuni asked, “What are you going to stake next? You have already lost so much. What more do you have?”

Yudhishtra said, “I stake all my wealth, every last coin I possess, on this throw.”

Shakuni smiled wickedly and cast his dice. His cry of “Lo, I have won!” informed the spectators that the Pandavas had lost all their wealth.

Next, Yudhishtra staked his kingdom and promptly lost it. He also lost all the ornaments on his person, and on the persons of his brothers. He then said, “This Nakula here, of mighty arms and leonine neck, of red eyes and endued with youth, is now my stake.”

Shakuni cast the dice and said, “Lo, I have won! Prince Nakula is now our slave! Whom are you going to stake next?”

Yudhishtra, then staked Sahadeva and lost him also. Shakuni said, “O kings, it appears that you do not value the sons of Madri much. For, it has not escaped my notice that you do not stake Bheema or Arjuna. Evidently, they are dearer to you.”

Yudhishtra said, “Wretch! You cannot create disunion among us brothers! I stake Arjuna, the foremost bowman in the world, next.”

Shakuni won and Arjuna became a slave. Next, the King staked Bheema, and lost him also. Finally, in desperation, Yudhishtra staked himself and, losing, became the slave of Duryodhana.

Shakuni smiled cruelly and said, “O King, There is one more opportunity for you to regain your wealth. There is the princess of Panchala, your dear wife. I will stake all that I have won from you, your freedom and that of your brothers, against Draupadi!”

There was a loud gasp in the assembly at this preposterous bet. Never before had such a thing been proposed. However, by this time, Yudhishtra was too intoxicated with the game to care. He said, “I stake the incomparable daughter of Drupada. In the seven worlds, she has no equals in beauty and virtue. The princess of Panchala will be my stake in this round.”

The assembly roared its disapproval of Yudhishtra’s action. Bhishma and Drona were covered with perspiration, yet they made no move to stop this atrocity. Vidura, who had come back, sat with his head in his hands, eyes cast down, like someone who had lost his wits. Dhritharashtra could not conceal his joy and asked repeatedly, “Has the stake been won? Has the stake been won?” Karna, Dushasana and the cronies of Duryodhana laughed aloud, eagerly anticipating victory.

As the murmurs died down, Shakuni cast the dice, with a cruel smile playing on his lips. They did not fail him. His exclamation of “Lo! I have won, informed the assembly that the proud princess of Panchala had been lost at the stake.

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DRAUPADI DISHONORED

Duryodhana’s joy knew no bounds. His plan for revenge against the Pandavas had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. He laughed aloud and said, “O Vidura, go forth and bring Draupadi here. She is my slave now, and she shall earn her keep by menial labor. Let her sweep the floor of this assembly hall as her first task!”

Angered, Vidura said, “Wretch! Do you not know that by uttering such unworthy words you are providing the rope to hang yourself with? You are tottering at the edge of a precipice. The Pandavas are akin to deadly snakes, poised to strike. I say that Draupadi is not your slave, as she was staked by Yudhishtra after he had lost himself, and had ceased to be his own master. It is not too late, do the honorable thing and return their wealth and liberty to the Pandavas.”

Intoxicated with pride, Duryodhana said, “Fie on you, O Vidura. You are always indulging in specious arguments, always twisting truth to favor the sons of Pandu. I can expect no fair play from you.” He then cast his eyes on the assembly and spotted Pratikamin, the charioteer of King Dhritharashtra. He commanded him, “Go and fetch Draupadi, informing her that she is the slave of the Kauravas.”

Pratikamin entered the chambers allotted to the Pandavas, and approaching Draupadi, said, “O Queen, King Yudhishtra has lost all his wealth at dice and has finally lost you to the Kauravas. You are now the slave of King Duryodhana. The King has ordered me to bring you to the assembly hall, to do menial work.”

Draupadi was shocked. She said, “What are you saying? Is there any man in the world who would stake his wife on a game of dice? Has my husband taken leave of his senses? Was there nothing else he could stake?”

The charioteer replied, “The King lost all his wealth, and then his kingdom, to Shakuni, playing on behalf of Duryodhana. He then staked his brothers, and lost them also. He then lost his own person at dice. Finally, he staked and lost you.”

Draupadi said in a voice choked with grief and derision, “Go and ask that gambler, whom did he lose first, himself or me? Bring me the answer.”

The messenger went back to the assembly and conveyed the question posed by the Panchala princess. When Yudhishtra heard the question, he hung his head in shame. His brothers also sat immobile, unable to utter a single word.

Duryodhana said, “Let the princess come here and put her question. Let everyone present hear the words that pass between her and her husband.”

Pratikamin went back to Draupadi and said, “O princess, the King has asked you to come and ask this question to Yudhishtra in person, in the full assembly. King Duryodhana will brook no opposition. Please do as he says.”

Draupadi said, “I shall not come there. I am having my monthly season and am unfit for appearing in public. Go and tell the Kuru elders why I am unable to come to the assembly. Ask them once again, whether I really am a slave, having been staked by my husband after he had become a slave himself. I shall do as the elders think proper.”

The charioteer went back to the assembly and gave the message from Panchali. Bhishma, Kripa, and Drona saw the force of her arguments, but they did not utter any word, for they knew that Duryodhana would not listen to their advice. Meanwhile, with a heavy heart, Yudhishtra sent a trusted messenger to Draupadi, telling her that she should come to the assembly, even though she was in her season, and was clad in just a single garment.

Duryodhana got up and said to his brother Dushasana, “Brother, this servant of ours has not accomplished what I wanted. It appears that fear of the Pandavas has muddled his intellect. Go and drag Draupadi to the assembly.”

Dushasana rose with bloodshot eyes and entered the abode of the Pandavas. He said to Draupadi, “Come, your Lords have become slaves and Yudhishtra has lost you at play. Abandon your husbands and chose the Kurus as your Lords. You have been won by us in fair play. Come to the assembly and sweep the floor!”

Greatly afflicted, Draupadi covered her face with her hands, and ran in distress to the chambers allotted to the Kuru ladies. Dushasana roared in anger, and ran after her. He seized the queen by her hair, by the locks that had been sprinkled with water sanctified in the great Rajasooya sacrifice. He dragged her by her hair to the assembly. In her grief, Draupadi prayed to Lord Naryana, the protector of the universe.

Dushasana taunted her, saying, “Whether your season has come or not, whether you are attired in one garment or are entirely naked, you have been won at dice and are our slave, you have to live among our serving women, doing menial chores!”

In a voice faint with grief and anger, Draupadi said, “In the assembly, there are great warriors, equal in prowess unto Indra the lord of the celestials. Those persons are my superiors and are worthy of my respect. I cannot appear before them in this state. O wretch! O cruel one, do not drag me so. Do not expose my body so. My husbands will not pardon you, your life will be forfeit, even if the Gods led by Indra were your allies. It looks like an evil hour has descended on the Kurus, for how else could Bhishma and Drona have allowed this vile deed to be done?”

As she was dragged to the assembly, the Pandavas’ hearts swelled with wrath, seeing the pitiable state of their wife, but the code of the defeated party at dice held them silent. They did not grieve for their wealth, nor for their kingdoms, nor for their own sakes, but the beseeching glance cast by Panchali on them as she was dragged to the assembly shook the very core of their being.

Dushasana, beholding that the Pandavas were helpless, taunted her saying, “Slave! Slave!”, and laughed aloud. Karna looked approvingly at this spectacle, and joined in the laughter. Shakuni also applauded Dushasana. Excepting these three and Duryodhana, everyone else in the assembly was filled with sorrow at the sight of Draupadi’s dishonor.

Prostrated on the ground, Draupadi once again asked everyone in the assembly, “Did my husband even have a right to stake me, considering that he had become a slave already? Tell me if I should regard myself as fairly won!”

Bhishma rose and said, “O blessed one, this is a tricky case. I am unable to answer the question you have raised, for I am not sure whether your husband had a right to stake you or not.”

Draupadi said, “My husband was summoned to this assembly and though he possessed little skill at dice, he was made to play with skillful, wicked and deceitful gamblers. How can it be said that he made the stakes voluntarily? Having lost himself first, how could he stake me? Let the wise ones in this assembly answer my question.”

No one dared to speak. Draupadi, in excess of her grief, repeated her question again and again in a pitiable voice. Unable to contain himself any longer Bheema, fixed his eyes on Yudhishtra and said, “O Yudhishtra, in low gambling houses, there are women of loose character. Even such women are not staked by gamblers, for they respect the liberty of women. You lost all our wealth at dice, we kept silent, for our love for you is greater than wealth. You lost our kingdom, but we love you more than we love our lands. You proceeded to make us the slaves of Kauravas, and we were silent, for you are our lord. You then committed this abominable act, staking the faultless Panchali! She is the proud daughter of Drupada, the beloved sister of the invincible Dhrishtadhyumna. Brought up in the lap of luxury, we all wed her, with Agni as witness, promising to protect her as long as we drew breath! And this, is the way you treat her? It is due to your thoughtless deed that she is being persecuted by the low, despicable, cruel and mean minded Kauravas. O Sahadeva, bring me fire, for I shall burn the very hands that threw the dice and reduced Yajnaseni to this pitiable state!”

Arjuna comforted Bheema, saying, “O Bheema, never before have you uttered such angry words at our brother! It is the intention of the Kauravas that we should fight among ourselves. Let us not give them that satisfaction. The King was summoned by the foe, and conforming to the practice of Kshatriyas, he accepted the challenge. He could not have acted otherwise.”

Bheema said, “I know that. Had it not been for the fact that he had little choice in this matter, I would have seized his hands by sheer force and burnt them in a blazing fire.”

Yuyutsu, the son of Dhritharashtra by a Vaishya wife, got up and said, “Ye Kings, Answer the question that has been asked by Yajnaseni. If we do not judge this matter referred to us, all of us will assuredly go to hell without delay. How is it that Bhishma and my father, the oldest of the Kurus, and the high-souled Vidura are silent? The son of Bharadwaja, our perceptor, and the the great Kripa, the son of Saradwat have also not dared to answer this question. Why do these Brahmanas possessed of all the knowledge in the Vedas keep quiet? Is it not the duty of this assembly to decide disputes brought forth before it? What use is the prowess of all those present here, if they do not answer the question posed by Yajnaseni?”

Thus did Vikarna (Yuyutsu) exhort the assembly. At last, the prince said, “O Kings, I did not answer the question, for I am young, and you are all old and venerable. Since you are all keeping quiet, I will now say what I regard as just and proper. It has been said that hunting, drinking, gambling and too much enjoyment of women are the four vices of kings. A man who is addicted to these will forsake the path of virtue. Acts done by a person who has been intoxicated by indulging in these vices will not be regarded as having any authority by wise men. This son of Pandu was consumed by the lure of gambling, and, urged by deceitful Shakuni, staked Draupadi. She is the common wife of all the Pandavas. Yudhishtra had already lost himself and then offered her as the stake. Taking all these circumstances into account, I regard Draupadi as not won. She is not a slave.”

Hearing these words of the young prince, Karna grew exceedingly angry. He got up and said, “When the elders, well versed in the rules of morality are unable to come to a conclusion, it is presumptuous of you, young in years and experience, to make such categorical assertions. O Vikarna, these illustrious personages, though urged by Draupadi have not uttered any protest. It is evident that they all regard the Panchala princess as duly won. Everyone saw Yudhishtra stake and lose her, how can she not be a slave now? If you think that dragging her to the assembly, despite her being attired in a single garment is improper, consider this: the Gods have ordained that a woman may have only one husband. This Draupadi, however, has many husbands. She is nothing but a whore! O Dushasana, take off the robes of the Pandavas, to mark their slavery. Also take off the attire of Draupadi!”

Burning with humiliation, the Pandavas took off their upper garments and threw them down in the assembly. The wicked Dushasana forcibly seized the robe of Draupadi and began to drag it off her person. To the eternal shame of the Kurus, none in the assembly dared to prevent this ignoble act, this humiliation of the daughter-in-law of the Bharata race.

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DRAUPADI’S VOW

As her robe was being peeled off her body, Draupadi thought off Hari (Krishna), and cried aloud saying, “O Govinda, O thou who dwells in Dwaraka, O Krishna, are you not seeing that the Kauravas are humiliating me. O Lord, the husband of Laxmi, O grinder of foes, rescue me! Save my honor! I have five husbands rivalling the prowess of the celestials, but they are powerless to prevent my humiliation. This assembly is filled with men of great fame, invincible warriors and Brahmanas learned in the scriptures, but none has shown the power to prevent this injustice. I am the most unfortunate of women, for I am being insulted in a public court, by those who ought to be the defenders of my honor. I am the daughter-in-law of the Kurus, and they, for reasons best known to them, have chosen to insult me in this reprehensible manner! O Naryana! you are my sole refuge. You are the only one who can save my honor!”

By his divine insight, Krishna heard the prayer of the Panchala princess, and was deeply moved. By his grace, a miracle took place. As Dushasana pulled off the sole garment of Draupadi, another appeared in place, covering her body from prying eyes! Stunned, but determined, Dushasana pulled the new garment off, and another appeared in its place! In this manner, many hundred times did the wicked Kaurava attempt to disrobe her, only to have a new cloth in a different, brilliant color cover the beautiful form of Yajnaseni! The assembly roared their approval of this miracle, that had saved the Kurus’ honor, and applauded the resplendent Draupadi. At last, exhausted and defeated, Dushasana fell down in a swoon to the ground.

Bheema could contain himself no longer. With lips quivering in rage, he strode to the center of the assembly and in a loud voice, swore a terrible oath: “Hear these words of mine, O Kshatriyas of the world. Words such as these have never before been uttered, nor shall ever be uttered in the future. Lords of the earth, having spoken these words, if I do not match them with deeds, let me not attain the blessed regions of my deceased ancestors. Tearing open in battle by sheer force, the breast of this wretch, this wicked minded scoundrel Dushasana, I shall drink his life-blood. If I fail in my quest, let the regions of the blessed dead be ever barred to me!”

Everyone in the assembly was stunned. The body hair of everyone hearing this terrible vow stood on end. A roar from the crowd signified their appreciation of the second Pandava’s vow and their censure of the wicked Dushasana.

Once again, Vidura got up and said, “All of you here! Draupadi is weeping helplessly, having posed a question to this assembly. No one save Vikarna has answered her question, and he regards her as a free woman, not the slave of the Kauravas. He has spoken his mind. It is now your turn. One, who despite knowing the rules of morality, does not answer a query put forth, incurs at least half the sin that would have accrued on having spoken a lie. If, despite knowing the truth, he answers falsely, he would incur the sin of a lie. It is time you all spoke up!”

Despite Vidura’s pleas, none of the Kings in the assembly dared to answer Draupadi’s question. Fear of Duryodhana held them silent. Smiling triumphantly, Karna said to Dushasana, “Take away this serving-woman Draupadi to the abode of your slaves!”

Dushasana began to drag Draupadi out of the assembly, even as she was trembling and crying. She cried, “Wait a little, wretch! I have not saluted the Kuru elders. It is by no fault of mine that I have not paid them their due respects, so busy I have been with saving my honor. Alas! fate is cruel! Only once before, on the occasion of my Swayamvara, I was beheld by the assembled kings in a full court. I, whom even the sun had never before seen in her palace, is today dragged to this assembly and exposed to the gawking crowd. Alas, she, whom her husbands would not suffer to be touched even by the wind, has been dragged to the court by this wretch! How is that the illustrious Kurus have let their daughter-in-law to be insulted thus in a public assembly!”

She continued, “O Kurus, I, the wedded wife of king Yudhishtra the just, ask you one last time! Tell me now if I am a serving-maid or otherwise. I will accept your verdict whatever it be.”

“I have already said, O blessed one, that the course of morality is subtle.”, said Bhishma. “Even the wise ancients could not fathom all its nuances. It is no wonder that in this instance, I am unable to answer your question. One thing is certain however, as the Kurus have become slaves to covetousness and folly, the destruction of this race shall occur at no distant date. It seems to me, that only Yudhishtra the just can answer your question with certitude.”

Duryodhana was getting happier by the minute. He smiled at the thought of the fear that was holding the assembly silent. He said, “O Yajnaseni, your question can be answered only by your husbands. Panchali, let them for your sake declare in the midst of these Kings that Yudhishtra is not their lord, and proclaim him a liar. You will then be freed from the condition of slavery. Or, let the illustrious son of Dharma himself declare that he is not your lord, that he had no right to stake you. If he says these words, you will be a free woman.”

A murmur went through the assembly. All were curious to hear what the Pandavas would say. At last, Bheema said, “If the high-souled Yudhishtra were not our lord, we would not have kept quiet so long while Draupadi was being insulted. He is our master, and our lives are his. If he regards himself as won, we too have all been won. Behold these mighty, well-formed arms of mine, like maces of iron. Having once come in their grip, not even he of a hundred sacrifices (Indra) can escape. I have been held silent by the promise given by my elder brother. Let him but give the word, I would slay these wretched sons of Dhritharashtra in the manner of a lion slaying small animals in the forest.”

Once again, Karna got up and said, “Of all the persons in this assembly, only Bhishma, Vidura and Drona appear to be independent, for they are always censuring their master as wicked, and do not wish for his prosperity. Everyone else is well disposed towards Duryodhana. The slave, the son, and the wife are always dependent. They may not earn wealth for themselves, for whatever they earn belongs to their master. You are the wife of slaves, incapable of possessing anything on their own. Repair to the inner apartments of King Dhritharashtra and serve there. The sons of Pandu are no longer your masters. It is well known that slaves are not censurable if they proceed with freedom in electing husbands. Proceed to select a new husband, and forsake the worthless Pandavas.”

Hearing these words, Bheema’s wrath was further inflamed. With burning eyes, and a voice choked with anger, he turned towards his elder brother and said, “O King, I cannot blame this son of a Suta (Shudra), for we have truly become slaves. The root cause of this shame is your staking of the Panchala princess at dice. How could you have done such a vile deed?”

Meanwhile, Duryodhana, with the intention of encouraging his friend Karna, and of further enraging Bheema, quickly removed the robe that covered his thigh, and showed his thigh as a mark of disrespect to Draupadi.

When Bheema saw this, he let out a terrible roar and shouted an oath, “Let me not attain the regions obtained by my blessed ancestors, if I do not break the thigh of this Duryodhana in battle.” As he uttered his vow, sparkles of fire began emanating from his pores, and his body shone like a burning tree.

Vidura was alarmed. He said, “O Kurus, behold the great danger that has arisen. Our race is in danger of extermination. The Kauravas have organized this wicked game of dice and, by deceit, have obtained ascendancy over the Pandavas. And here they are, disputing in an open assembly about a lady of the royal household. The prosperity of our kingdom is at an end. O Kauravas, do you not know that if virtue is persecuted, the whole kingdom becomes polluted? It is obvious that Draupadi is not a slave, for Yudhishtra became a slave first himself, and thus lost any right to stake her.”

Duryodhana repeated his previous words. “As soon as Yudhishtra admits that he had no right over Draupadi, I shall make her a free woman.”

At this moment, a jackal started braying loudly in the sacrificial chamber of the Kurus. The asses in the city started braying in response to that jackal. Birds of ill omen started answering these noises with their cries. All those in the assembly, especially Vidura and Shakuni, who were skilled in the art of interpretting such signs, understood the meaning of these terrible omens.

Dhritharashtra was frightened. He had been in two minds since the gambling began, and these ill omens decided the issue. It was not his sense of justice, but his instinct for self preservation that made him intervene at this point. He said to his son, “O wicked minded Duryodhana, you wretch, you will be the ruin of our race. How could you insult the wife of the great Pandavas?”

He then tried to console the bitterly weeping Draupadi. “Dear daughter, do not grieve. Try to forgive and forget all that has happened here. Ask of me any boon, O princess of Panchala. Chaste and devoted to the path of virtue, you are the first among my daughters-in-law. Ask, and it shall be yours.”

Draupadi said, “O King, I ask that the handsome Yudhishtra, the glorious son of Dharma, be freed from slavery. I ask this, so that my son Prativindhya be not called the son of a slave.”

Dhritharashtra said, “So be it. The eldest Pandava is now a free man. Ask another boon of me, I am wishful of doing you good.”

Draupadi said, “I ask, O King, that Bheema, Arjuna and the twins, with their weapons, be free of bondage.”

The king said, “Dear daughter, it shall be as you desire. Ask a third boon, for you are deserving of the greatest honor. Two boons are not enough to honor your virtue.”

Draupadi replied, “Father, I do not deserve a third boon. Covetousness always brings loss of virtue. It has been said in the scriptures that a Vaishya lady may ask one boon, a Kshatriya woman, two, a Kshatriya male, three, and a Brahmana, one hundred. O King, with my husbands free from the wretched state of bondage, we will be able to achieve prosperity by their own efforts.”

Vexed by the turn of events, Karna said in an aside, “I have never before heard of such a thing. The Pandavas have been saved by their wife! When they would have had to spend an eternity in bondage, Draupadi has secured their freedom by begging Dhritharashtra! How can they ever erase this shame?”

Although the words were spoken a low voice, Bheema heard them, and was sorely afflicted. He turned to Arjuna and said, “O Dhananjaya, it has been said that three lights reside in every person, namely, offspring, virtuous acts and knowledge. When life becomes extinct and the body becomes impure and is cast of by relatives, these three are the means of salvation for every person. How, O Arjuna, can a son born from this insulted wife of ours be our salvation?”

Arjuna replied, “A person becomes impure, loses respect, by the bad deeds committed, not by insults heaped by others. Draupadi is as virtuous as ever, as none of what happened here was her fault. Do not grieve, do not be angry. Ignore the words of Karna, for they have been spoken out of chagrin, and have no basis in truth.”

Bheema was still not satisfied. He said to his elder brother, “Shall I, O King, slay without loss of time all these foes here? Or shall I take them outside and kill without mercy? Give but the word, and it shall be done.”

Yudhishtra, however, signalled his brother to remain calm. With folded hands, he approached Dhritharashtra and said, “Dear uncle, you are our master. Command us as to what we should do. O King, we will always be obedient to you.”

Dhritharashtra replied, “O best of men, go in peace and safety. Go back to your kingdom and rule with justice. You are aware of the subtle path of morality. Not only are you possessed of great wisdom, you are also humble, and respectful unto your elders. The truly wise practice forbearance. Follow the counsels of peace. Forgive and forget the injustice done to you by my sons. Control your anger and that of your brothers, by recollecting the love shown to you by myself and your aunt Gandhari. Let there be peace between your brothers and my sons.”

Yudhishtra saluted his uncle and the other elders of the court and took his leave. Soon, the Pandavas, accompanied by Draupadi, mounted their chariots and left for Indraprastha, not wanting to stay in Hastinapura, with which many painful memories were now associated.

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ANOTHER GAME OF DICE

After the assembly had ended, the Kauravas took counsel with Karna and Shakuni. Needless to say, all those who were present were very angry with Dhritharashtra for having thwarted their plans at the last minute. Dushasana summed up the mood of this council when he said, “O mighty warriors, that which we had won after so much trouble, the old man has thrown away. He has made over the whole wealth of the foes. The Pandavas are free from bondage, and are more dangerous than ever, for they will not forget the happenings in the hall of dice. They are sure to attack us soon, with the help of their Panchala and Vrishni allies. We must do something, or we will soon be exterminated!”

After much consultation it was decided that an attempt should be made to persuade the King to sanction a rematch of the game of dice, albeit with some safeguards. Accordingly, Shakuni, Karna and Duryodhana went to see Dhritharashtra privately.

Duryodhana began his arguments with, “Father, have you not heard what Brihaspati, the perceptor of the celestials had said to Indra about morality and politics? He had said, ‘Those enemies that always do you wrong by strategy or force, should be slain by any means possible.’ Following this advice, if we, with the help of the wealth that we can win from the Pandavas, gratify the kings of the earth and then fight with the sons of Pandu, we are sure to succeed. When one has placed a garland of venomous snakes on his neck, is it possible for him to take them off? The sons of Pandu will never forgive us. My spies have informed me that while on his way to Indraprastha, Arjuna was incessantly twanging his famed bow, the Gandiva. Also, Bheema was seen to be swinging his formidable mace. All these signs point to their determination to utterly destroy us. How can they ever forgive the insults heaped on them, especially on their wife Draupadi?”

Shakuni continued, “There is only one way to ensure our survival. Let us invite them for another game of dice. Last time the game got a bit out of hand because the stakes were not pre-agreed. This time, we will play for the following stake. Whoever loses, will have to give up his kingdom and riches to the other and retire to the forest for twelve years, clad in deer skins and coarse garments. They will have to then spend the thirteenth year of exile in hiding. If they are found out, they will have to undergo a further twelve year exile. With my superior skills, I am sure to win again. This way, we can get rid of the threat of the Pandavas for a really long time.”

Dhritharashtra’s sense of justice had long since been clouded by his excessive love for his wicked son. He put up only a token resistance, and allowed his objections to be speedily over borne. He then sent a messenger to bring the Pandavas back, to take part in a rematch of the game of dice.

Hearing about this fresh development, Bhishma, Drona and Vidura were aghast. They tried to persuade the King, but, blinded by his partiality, he remained unmoved. Even his wife Gandhari opposed his decision to sanction another game of dice. She said, “O King, when our son Duryodhana was born, Vidura had said, ‘This son of yours will be the cause for the destruction of the race of Kurus. It would be best to kill him now, so that he has no chance to bring evil to our family. Behold, as soon as he was born, he brayed like a jackal.’ However, overcome by your affection for our infant son, you disregarded his advice. Even now it is not too late. For the sake of our race, forsake this wicked Duryodhana. At least, do not encourage him by sanctioning this game of dice. We have already allowed him to do enough injustice to the Pandavas, let him do no more.”

However, Dhritharashtra either would not, or did not want to see the right path. He said, “If it has been destined that our race should be destroyed, I, a mere mortal am surely powerless to prevent it. Let it be as my sons desire. I shall let them gamble with the sons of Pandu.”

Meanwhile, the royal messenger had reached the place where the Pandavas had camped on their homeward journey. He conveyed the invitation to the game of dice, along with the stakes suggested by Shakuni to Yudhishtra.

With a heavy heart, Yudhishtra said, “The destiny of men has been ordained by the creator. The fruits of our past deeds are inevitable whether I play or not. This is a summons to dice, that may not be refused by any Kshatriya who values his honor. Besides, this is the command of the old King, my uncle. Although I am sure that it will prove destructive to me, I cannot refuse.”

Just as Rama had chased after the golden deer at the behest of his wife Sita, knowing fully well that an animal made entirely of gold was an impossibility, Yudhishtra, knowing fully well the consequences of gambling, nevertheless accepted the invitation.

Soon, the Pandavas were once again seated in the assembly hall, with Yudhishtra facing Shakuni in the game of dice. Shakuni once again repeated the stakes; he said, “If you are defeated, you will undergo an exile of twelve years in the forest, accompanied by Draupadi. All six of you will have to spend the thirteenth year incognito. If recognized, you will undergo an exile of another twelve years. If you complete the exile successfully, your kingdom will be returned to you. Similarly, if I am defeated, the Kauravas will have to undergo an exile upon similar terms. If this stake is acceptable to you, O Yudhishtra you may play.”

“How, O Shakuni, can a king like me, obedient to Kshatriya code of conduct, refuse, when summoned to play at dice?” said Yudhishtra. “I accept the stakes and shall play.”

The game commenced. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind about what the result would be, and when Shakuni cast the dice, and said, “Lo! I have won.”, nobody was surprised.

Vanquished, the Pandavas prepared for their exile into the woods. One by one, they cast off their royal robes, and exchanged those for coarse deer-skins. As Dushasana and the Kauravas exulted, the Pandavas cast away their rich jewels and dressed themselves as befitting mendicants.

Dushasana taunted them, saying, “The wise Drupada had bestowed his beautiful daughter, the princess Panchali upon the Pandavas, thinking them worthy lords. His dreams of grandeur have been shattered, for his mighty sons-in-law are nothing but common beggars today. What a sight would his old eyes see, with his daughter and her husbands clad in deer-skins and exiled to the forest. O Draupadi, forsake the Pandavas and elect a husband among the Kurus here, one who might not lead you into wretchedness!”

Bheema angrily said, “Wretch! Wicked-minded villain, why are you raving in words that are fit only for the sinful. You have won the day not by the prowess of arms or by your wisdom, but by the deceit of the king of Gandhara. As your words are piercing my heart here, so shall my arrows pierce your heart in battle. Those that are by your side now, shall be still at your side, together at the abode of Yama.”

Heedless of Bheema’s words, Dushasana continued to taunt the Pandavas.

Bheema repeated his vow. “If I do not break open your breast in battle and drink your life-blood from there, may I not attain salvation!”

As the Pandavas were walking out of the assembly, Duryodhana mimicked the lion like walk of Bheema. Incensed, Vrikodhara turned towards the king and said, “O Fool, do not think that you have gained ascendency over me! I shall slay you and your followers, and all your deceit will be to no avail.” He then turned to the rest of the court and said, “I shall slay the sons of Dhritharashtra, and Dhananjaya will slay slay Karna. This wicked Shakuni, the root of all evil, shall be slain by Sahadeva.”

Arjuna echoed this vow and said, “I shall certainly meet this wicked Karna, this vicious low born son of a charioteer in battle and slay him, for all the harm he has done us, and for the insults he has heaped on Draupadi.”

The twins also swore many solemn oaths, vowing to compass the destruction of the sons of Dhritharashtra and that of Shakuni. Having pledged themselves by virtuous promises, the Pandavas approached the Kuru elders. Yudhishtra said, “Farewell, O grandsire. Farewell O Drona, Kripa, Vidura, Dhritharashtra, Ashwatthama. Farewell O Kings. May the fates be kind to you. If the celestials are willing, I shall return to see you after my exile.”

Overcome by shame, none of the elders said a word. However, in their hearts, they uttered silent benedictions on the Pandavas. Vidura said, “Your mother Kunti is delicate. She will not be able to bear the rigors of the exile in the woods. Let her live with me during the period of your exile.”

Yudhishtra agreed to this proposal. Vidura continued, “Son of Dharma, one that has been vanquished by sinful means need not be pained by such a defeat. No disgrace attaches to him. Remember your invincible brothers. Arjuna is foremost among wielders of the bow, and Bheema is possessed of exceptional skill with the mace. With brothers like these, you will be the richest of men, even when material wealth has forsaken you. O Prince, draw lessons from the forces of nature. Obtain the power of gladdening all from the moon, the power of sustaining all from water, forbearance from the earth, energy from the sun, strength from the winds and wealth from the other elements. I hope to see you return from the exile, crowned with success.”

After bowing to the elders one more time, Yudhishtra and the Pandavas exited the court. Meanwhile, Draupadi was taking leave of Kunti and from the ladies of the Kuru household. After saluting every one of them as proper, she finally sought the blessings of Kunti.

Kunti said, “Dear child, to be sure, this is a great calamity that has overtaken you, but do not grieve excessively. You are chaste and accomplished. Both by birth and upbringing, you are fitted to be a queen, in prosperity as well as in adversity. I have one request to make of you. While living in the woods, keep an eye on Sahadeva. See to it that his spirits do not droop under this trial.”

Draupadi promised to do her utmost, and left the apartment. In her grief, Kunti also accompanied her outside. Soon they both saw the Pandavas, shorn of their royal robes and jewels, attired in coarse deer skins, with their heads bowed down in shame.

On seeing this, Kunti could no longer contain her grief. Weeping, she said, “O Sons! In virtue and valor, you had no equals. Your manners were pleasing. With many excellent qualities, you trod the path of virtue. Ever respectful of your elders, you earned their trust and affection. I know of no sins that you are guilty of. Whence has this calamity befallen you? It must be as a punishment for my sins that the Gods have stricken you with this affliction. Have the celestials no mercy?, no sense of justice? O Yama, why have you spared my life, after having taken that of my beloved husband and that of dearest Madri? Woe is me, for I have lived, only to see this black day, when my daughter-in-law has been insulted and my sons are being exiled, defeated unfairly at dice!”

The Pandavas exerted themselves, and managed to console their weeping mother with great difficulty and sent her to rest in the inner apartments. In those apartments, silence prevailed, for the ladies of the royal household were deep in contemplation, lamenting in their hearts the unmerited ill fortune of the Pandavas and the dishonor offered to the Panchala princess in the assembly hall.

Meanwhile, Dhritharashtra was resting in his own apartments, but his mind was ill at ease. He summoned Vidura and enquired as to the manner of the Pandava’s departure to the forest.

Vidura said, “Yudhishtra, the son of Yama, has gone away, covering his face with his upper cloth. Bheema looked at his own mighty arms as he trod with his leonine gait. Arjuna was seen to be scattering sand-grains all around. The twins Nakula and Sahadeva smeared their faces with dust and followed their brothers. The beautiful Draupadi followed the Pandavas, with her face covered, her disheveled hair blowing in the wind. O King, their priest Dhaumya walked ahead of them all, with kusa grass in hand, and uttering awful incantations of the Sama Veda that address Yama.”

The King asked, “What is the the meaning of these actions of the Pandavas?”

Vidura replied, “Yudhishtra has covered his face so that his righteous anger might not burn down the city. Bheema is proudly stating that there is no one equal to him in the strength of his mighty arms by drawing attention to them. Arjuna is indicating that, just as he is scattering these sand grains in the wind, so shall he scatter arrows on your sons and followers in the great conflict that is sure to take place. Sahadeva has smeared his face so that none may recognize him in this day of trouble. Nakula has besmirched his face, so that the ladies who might encounter his handsome face might not be led to the path of temptation. Draupadi has gone attired in one piece of stained cloth, with her hair disheveled, and weeping, indicating — ‘The wives of those who have reduced us to such a plight, shall weep in this self-same manner on the fourteenth year, having been deprived of husbands, sons and relatives.’ The learned Dhaumya is singing the death incantations from the Sama Veda, signifying that the priests of the Kurus shall have to utter these self same Mantras on the fourteenth year, to perform the funeral rites of the Kurus.”

The King’s heart became heavy upon hearing this explanation. He further asked, “What do the common people say? Or they praising Duryodhana or are they supporting the cause of the Pandavas?”

Vidura said, “The citizens, afflicted with great grief on behalf of the Pandavas, are saying, ‘Fie on the Kuru elders, who have let this injustice happen. What love can we bear towards the wicked and avaricious Kurus? The destruction of this evil race cannot be too far away!'”

He continued, “As the Pandavas left the city limits, flashes of lightning appeared in the sky, though there were no clouds to be seen. The earth began to tremble, sending people into panic. Though it was not a day of eclipse, Rahu came out to devour the Sun. Meteors began to fall, keeping the city to their right. Jackals, vultures, ravens and other carnivorous beasts and birds began to shriek and cry aloud from the temples of the Gods and the tops of sacred trees. All these extraordinary and evil portents, O King, were seen and heard, indicating that the destruction of the Kurus is imminent, as a result of your connivance of your son’s evil deeds.”

The happenings at the Kuru assembly spread around like wildfire. Condemnation of the evil deeds of the Duryodhana and Shakuni was nearly universal. The people were equally severe on the folly of Dhritharashtra, for having allowed this indelible stain on the Kuru honor to have taken place. However, many Kings, though indignant, could do little, for the power of the Kurus was unrivaled, especially with the Pandavas in exile.

A few days later, the celestial sage Narada visited the court at Hastinapura. After being duly worshiped, he uttered these terrible words: ‘Fourteen years from now, the Kauravas shall perish at the hands of Bheema and Arjuna, in consequence of Duryodhana’s evil deeds.’ Before the courtiers could recover from their stupefaction, the sage vanished before their very eyes.

Naturally, the Kauravas, Shakuni and Karna were alarmed at this warning. They sought the protection of Drona, deeming him the only person capable of delivering them from the Pandavas.

Although Drona was, in his heart of hearts, fond of the Pandavas and considered that justice was entirely on their side, his hands were tied by two things. Firstly, he was indebted to the Kuru royal family, for they had appointed him as the teacher to the young princes and given him a place of honor in the court. Secondly, his son Ashwatthama, dearer to him than life itself, had formed an intimacy with Duryodhana and had identified himself entirely with the cause of that evil prince.

Addressing the Kauravas who had sought refuge with him, he said, “Fear not, I shall protect you to the best of my power. The Pandavas are of celestial origin and are incapable of being slain, but I shall surely guard you from their wrath. The only thing that worries me is the question of Dhrishtadhyumna. It is a well known fact that this Panchala prince has been obtained by Drupada from the sacrificial fire, with the sole purpose of killing me. I fear no one in battle, but even I tremble at the thought of facing this warrior, whom the celestials have destined to be my slayer. He will be justly incensed, for which man can suffer his sister to be insulted? O Duryodhana, the words of Narada are unlikely to be in vain. We all are likely to perish fourteen years from now. In the mean time, perform various kinds of sacrifices, give gifts to worthy supplicants and enjoy the brief time that is left to you on earth.”

Duryodhana was well aware of the conflict raging in the mind of his teacher, between duty and affection, between family ties and fondness for his favorite disciple Arjuna. However, he was content to have obtained the protection of Drona and his worries were eased.

End of Sabha Parva, Book 2 of the Mahabharata.

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3. VANA PARVA

THE PANDAVAS ENTER THE FOREST

Defeated at dice, the Pandavas set forth from Hastinapura, traveling in the manner described in the previous chapter. They passed through the Vardhamana gate, the northern frontier of the city, and continued in a northerly direction out of the city. They were simply clad, in deer-skins and coarse garments, and bore their weapons proudly on their shoulders and backs. Their priest Dhaumya led the way, and fourteen faithful servants followed the Pandavas closely. In addition, a great number of Brahmanas followed the princes, out of affection for them. A sizeable number of citizens of Hastinapura were also seen walking, determined to make their home where the Pandavas went, not wanting to stay in a city ruled by a sinful ruler.

The mood was somber, and the spirits were naturally flagging. For a while, the Pandavas walked silently, with their eyes downcast, looking neither to the right or the left. At last, Yudhishtra chanced to look back, and was surprised to see such a crowd following them.

The citizens saw that the son of Dharma was perplexed, and not very well pleased, so they sent their eldest members to parley with the the prince. These eminent citizens approached the Pandava and said, “O prince, we have all decided that life could not be supported under the evil rule of wicked Duryodhana. Wherever you go, we shall follow you. We wish to make our home in a place ruled by you. Please allow us to accompany you. Devoid of religious merit ourselves, our only hope for salvation lies in living in a place ruled by those who perform religious sacrifices. Association with virtuous rulers such as yourselves is the best guarantee of a better after-life.”

The prince was much moved. With tears in his eyes, he said, “Blessed are we, since so many of you want to throw your lot with us, and moved by affection for us, have uprooted your homes, left behind wealth and belongings and are willing to follow us wherever we go. Your devotion is very pleasing, but our duty is clear. We are to go into exile, and mean to abide by the stakes of that deceitful gambling match. We will not be ruling any kingdom, but will have to find our own food, based on the fruit of the hunt and the roots and berries in the wild. Besides, our grandfather Bhishma, our uncle Dhritharashtra and the wise Vidura are all in Hastinapura. They are all grieving our departure. Their blow would be all the more severe if you all deserted them. I entrust them all to your care. Go back, and cherish them for our sakes. This would give me the greatest pleasure, knowing that loyal citizens are supporting my elders in their hour of need. Please, if you truly love us, go back to Hastinapura.”

Seeing that the Pandavas were firm in their intentions, the citizens reluctantly consented to return to Hastinapura. The Brahmanas however, were another matter. They were not citizens of Hastinapura, and had no home their. They were the well wishers of Yudhishtra, and had enjoyed his hospitality in Indraprastha, having been occupied in performing religious rituals there and engaging the prince in philosophical discussions. No duty called them to Hastinapura and they were firmly resolved on following the Pandavas into exile.

Traveling along with these Brahmanas, the Pandavas reached the banks of the Ganga and performed their evening rituals there. As night fell, the sacred-fires were lit, and the air was filled with Vedic chants, comforting the afflicted princes.

The next day, Yudhishtra called the Brahmanas who were following him, and said: “When I was the King of Kings in Indraprastha, I was in a position to honor you as you justly deserve. Everything that you required for the performance of the sacred rites was procured from my treasury without delay. However, now we are destitute. I have been robbed of my Kingdom, robbed of my very liberty by my cruel cousins. I am about to enter the forest, that abounds in dangerous beasts, where let alone comfort, survival will be hard to manage. I could not bear it if, for my sake you also had to undergo such privation and misery. Please go to Panchala, where my father-in-law Drupada will be glad to welcome you and honor you as is proper.”

The Brahmanas looked at each other. At last, the oldest of them, named Saunaka, constituted himself as their spokes-person, and said, “O King, we are your dependents. We have vowed to follow you in prosperity and in adversity. It does not behoove you to abandon us now, just because you have become poor. If you are worried about maintaining us, providing food for us, have no fear on that score. We can easily live on fruits and roots that may be readily procured in the forest. Besides, our presence will be invaluable to you, for in this moment of sorrow, you stand in need of wise counsel and moral guidance.”

Yudhishtra was touched by the devotion of his followers. He still felt that they did not realize the difficulty in forest-dwelling, but he did not have the heart to turn them away. He consoled himself with the reflection that, if, after staying for a while they found it too hard, he would be in a better position to persuade them to seek the protection of Drupada. Although they had assured him that they would be able to find their own food, the King knew that it was his duty to provide food for the whole retinue. But, in his present straitened circumstances how was it to be done?

He went to his priest Dhaumya and said, “Sir, you are certainly aware of the predicament I find myself in. Tell me, what is the best way to provide food to the hundreds of Brahmanas who are following me? I am afraid that the forest might not have enough fruits and roots and wild game to satisfy their hunger. Please find a a way.”

Dhaumya reflected for a while and then said, “Dear prince, in days long gone, all living things had been afflicted with hunger. Seeing their misery, Surya, also known as Savitri, took pity on them. By the energy of his heat, he caused the rains to fall, and all manner of plants and animals to grow, thus appeasing the hunger of the world. Know him to be the supreme lord of all creation! It is by his energy that this world of ours is living. Without him, life would be extinct. If you gratify him by austerities, he will be able to devise a way for you to feed the hundreds of Brahmanas in your retinue.”

Yudhishtra then purified himself for the religious ceremony. The priest then initiated him into the incantations to be used to invoke Surya. Yudhishtra then sat down on a seat made of Kusa grass, facing east, and began chanting the various names of Surya, and fixed his heart in devotion to that benevolent deity.

Pleased with the devotion of the Pandava prince, impelled by the power of his incantations, the Lord of the day appeared before him. He said, “Son, I know what you desire. Here, take this copper-vessel, which will satiate your hunger for the twelve years of exile. Every day, this vessel will bring forth all manner of tasty viands, enough to feed all your retinue and any guests you might have. As long as Panchali has not eaten her portion, more food will continue to appear inside it. Once she has taken her share, the production for the day would cease until I rise the next day. May you be successful in all that you venture in.”

His chief worry eased, Yudhishtra became exceedingly glad. The vessel was handed over to Draupadi, who immediately served food to all. After taking counsel with his brothers and priest, Yudhishtra led his followers to the forest of Kamyaka, and began the exile.

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EVENTS IN HASTINAPURA

Back in Hastinapura, though his sons had obtained sole possession of the Kingdom, Dhritharashtra was filled with worry. He knew he had behaved unfairly, but would not take any steps to right the wrongs, for his love for Duryodhana was the ruling principle of his life. The knowledge that he had betrayed the trust reposed in him by his brother Pandu, who had commended his sons to his care made him exceedingly sorrowful. He could not sleep, could not enjoy any of the royal pleasures that he usually delighted in.

Thinking that his half-brother Vidura might be able to settle his mind, he sent for him. When Vidura came, the King asked him, “Dear brother. Your knowledge of the subtle path of morality is as immense as that of Parashurama. I am unable to obtain peace of mind, for the sons of my dear brother or now exiled, having been forced into it by my sons. Also, the citizens of my kingdom are very much displeased by the turn of events, and there are signs of unrest all around. Tell me, how can I win the trust and affection of my subjects?”

Vidura replied, “O King, my advice has always been the same. You must treat your brother’s sons in the same way as you would treat your own. The Kingdom was equally divided between them. However, your wicked sons have grabbed the share of the Pandavas, with the help of Shakuni’s crooked dice-play. The subjects will not respect a king who displays his partiality so openly. The only way to set right the wrongs, and to win the trust of your kinsmen and citizens is to bring the Pandavas back from exile and restore their Kingdom to them. In addition, you must forbid the wicked Duryodhana from hatching any further plots to cheat your nephews. Dear brother, you have honored me by saying that my knowledge of morals is great; I know that all that is known to me, is also known to you. Your great partiality for your eldest son has clouded your judgment, and that is why you are unable to see the right course of action to follow. The advice I have given you will be beneficial to your sons as well. If nothing is done, there will be a great war when fourteen years have elapsed, and although the great Bhishma and Drona will seek to protect your sons, they will not be able to withstand the righteous wrath of Arjuna and Bheema. Unless you intervene, all your kinsmen shall perish fourteen years from now. Restore their kingdom to the Pandavas. Let Karna, Dushasana and Duryodhana beg their pardon in the open court. By these actions, you can stave off the destruction that overhangs our race.”

Of course, this frank advice was unlikely to be acceptable to the King. He became very angry and said, “O Vidura, your words are beneficial only to the Pandavas. How can I snatch away the Kingdom that my son had won after so much effort? You claim to be impartial, but you are always engaged in doing good to the Pandavas, to the detriment of my sons. I will not listen to you anymore. You may stay in Hastinapura or you may go and join your beloved Pandavas in exile. I do not care one way or the other!”

With a heavy heart, Vidura left his brother without venturing any reply to the unmerited accusation of bias. Have ascertained from his spies that the Pandavas were residing in the forest of Kamyaka, he drove his chariot and reached there the next day. He saw that Yudhishtra was sitting under the shade of a tree, surrounded by his brothers, his wife and other followers.

When Bheema realized who was visiting them, he hailed Vidura in a bitter voice and said, “Dear uncle, is not Duryodhana content merely with exiling us? Have you come here bearing a new invitation for a game of dice from that little minded prince? There is nothing left for him to win from us except our weapons, is that what he seeks to accomplish?”

Yudhishtra silenced his brother with a look and went out to welcome Vidura. After the usual pleasantaries were exchanged, Vidura told them about how Dhritharashtra was angry with him for giving him unpalatable advice, and had effectively banished him from Hastinapura.

The Pandavas were concerned, but they were glad to have the company of Vidura and sought to cheer him up. He did require cheering up, for he was sincerely attached to his elder brother, and no serious quarrel had ever arisen between them before.

Around the same time, Dhritharashtra was repenting his hasty words that had wounded his half-brother. He too was very fond of his brother and had never been separated from him for too long. Besides, there was not a better counsellor to be found. It was a double blow losing him, for not only will the Kurus loose the best adviser they had, the Pandavas would gain from his counsels and experience too.

He called his trusted Charioteer Sanjaya and said, “O Sanjaya, look what has happened as a result of my caprice. I have insulted my brother, dearer to me than my own son! I very much fear that he might have put an end to his life, for he could not brook such words from me. If he still lives, go and entreat him to return to Hastinapura. Tell him that I am sorry, tell him that I am desolated without his company.”

Accordingly, Sanjaya went forth and ascertained from the spies that Vidura was presently staying with the Pandavas. He immediately journeyed to the Kamyaka woods.

He came upon Vidura, who was seated under a Banyan tree and instructing the Pandavas in the art of statecraft. After duly saluting the minister and the exiled princes, he conveyed the King’s message to him.

Vidura was touched. He was really very fond of his elder brother, and had rarely been parted from him. One look at his face, and Yudhishtra knew that he would rather be with his brother than the Pandavas. So, he was not surprised when Vidura turned to him and said, “O prince, you must know that my first duty is to my brother. Since he exiled me, I came here and took refuge with you. Indeed, now that the King wants me back, I believe that I should go.”

Yudhishtra was sorry to lose his uncle, but he made no objection. In a very short time, Vidura took leave, driven to Hastinapura in Sanjaya’s chariot.

When Duryodhana had first learned that Vidura had been sent away by his father, he had become exceedingly glad. It was no wonder then, that the tidings now brought to him by his servant were not welcome to him. He bade the servant to summon Shakuni, Karna and Dushasana.

Once his trusted friends were with him, the prince said, “Just when I thought that our way was clear, fate has played a cruel trick on me! I had been rejoicing that the King had gotten rid of Vidura, but he has changed his mind, and Vidura is back, once again free to poison the King’s mind against us. We must do something, for this state of affairs is not be borne long! Indeed, I very much fear that he would persuade the King to restore the Pandavas’ patrimony to them.”

Shakuni said, “Fear not, O prince. Even if Vidura persuades the King, the Pandavas will not break their solemn oath. It is best to be cautious, but we need not take any overt action now.”

Karna and Dushasana were also of Shakuni’s opinion. However, Karna had something more on his mind. He said, “O Prince, this is the best chance to defeat the Pandavas for good. Let us sally forth with a large army and send them to the abode of Yama. Bereft of Kingdom, friendless and residing in the forest, we are not likely to have a better opportunity of getting rid of them!”

However, this plan was not put into action. For the wise sage Vyasa, knowing of this evil plot by means of his spiritual vision, appeared before the King. He said, “O King, you have done very ill to have allowed your sons to disinherit the sons of Pandu by means of the crooked game of dice. Your duty was clear, you should have heeded the words of wise Vidura and your uncle, the brave Bhishma. Even now it is not too late, prevent your sons from harming the Pandavas any further, and there is a good chance that all will end well.”

Dhritharashtra replied, “Sire, what you say is just. I should treat both my sons and the sons of my brother as equal. However, my love for my son far surpasses my affection for everything else. I am unable to do that which will cause pain to Duryodhana.”

The sage then narrated him the story of the divine cow Surabhi, and its dialogue with Indra. He said, “Just as that mother of cows had an affection for all her offspring, but more so for those that were downtrodden and afflicted, you should also do good unto your brother’s sons, deprived of the Kingdom and subsisting on roots and fruits in the forest.”

The King replied, “Sire, my son does not listen to my advice. Perhaps, he will be more willing to heed you. Advice him, instruct him, and maybe he shall change his mind.”

The Rishi said, “I do not think that will serve any purpose. However, the sage Maitreya will be here soon, and he will certainly offer words of wisdom your son. If you desire the good of your race, you will be well advised to see to it that Duryodhana follows it.”

With his warning, the divine sage vanished then and there.

The very next day, the sage Maitreya came to the court. He was welcomed with worship according to the due rites. After uttering a benediction on the house of the Kurus, the sage addressed Duryodhana thus: “O Prince, you are born in an proud dynasty. Of impeccable lineage, your might of arms is well known to the world. Why then have you stained your reputation by defeating your cousins in a cheating game of dice? Why did you offer an insult to Draupadi, who was worthy of great honour? Are you not aware of the celestial origins of the Pandavas? Know that not even the Devas, fighting with Indra as their commander, could hope to slay the sons of Pandu in battle. You take pride in the might of your arms, know that Bheema, the son of Vayu is your equal! Indeed, his strength is greater, as was proved when he recently slew the demon Kirmira, the sworn enemy of the immortals. Let there be peace between you and your cousins. Restore to them what was their own immediately!”

Duryodhana was in no mood to listen to such advice. He began to slap his thigh, and with eyes staring at the ceiling, scratched the earth with his toes. It was plain to all that he had not heard a word said by the sage.

The quick temper of the sage flared up. He cursed the prince, “Since you have slapped your thigh as a mark of disrespect, you shall die in battle, the very same thighs broken by a blow from Bheema. In the great war that shall occur not fourteen years from now, you and all your kinsmen shall perish!”

Aghast, Dhritharashtra tried to apologize for the conduct of his son, and attempted to pacify the Muni. The sage said, “O King, if your son follows my advice, and makes peace with his cousins, my curse will be rendered impotent. Otherwise, that which I have uttered now shall certainly come to pass.”

With these words, the sage left Hastinapura, refusing the entreaties of Vidura to stay for a while longer. He would not even stay to narrate to the the King how Kirmira was slain by Bheema. He recommended the king to get the story from Vidura, who knew all the circumstances.

Upon being questioned, Vidura narrated the encounter between Bheema and the Rakshasa. He said, “I heard the details from Yudhishtra while staying with him in the Kamyaka forest. The sons of Pandu entered this forest at midnight, the time at which the powers of evil forces are at their peak. Suddenly, there appeared before them a fearsome form, a huge man-eating Rakshasa. The princes were unshaken, but Draupadi hid behind them in fright. Just then, their priest Dhaumya, recognizing the illusion behind this form, touched water and uttered incantations from the fourth Veda, calculated to bring about the destruction of this demon. The Mantras did not kill him, but they did destroy his illusion, and a much smaller demon appeared before them. He was terrible to behold nevertheless. Thereupon, Yudhishtra enquired of him about his name and lineage. The demon replied, ‘I am Kirmira, the brother of the fearsome Bakasura. Who are you, that dare to enter my forest at an hour where my influence is the strongest?’ Yudhishtra replied, ‘I am the son of Pandu, called Yudhishtra. These are my brothers. We have been exiled, and have a mind to spend our days in this forest.'”

Vidura continued, “When Kirmira heard this, he said, ‘The fates have been kind to me! I have been searching high and low for this Bheema, the slayer of my brother, in order that I may be revenged on him. By good luck, that wretch, the slayer of my brother is now before me. Now I shall slay him!'”

“Bheema did not wait for the demon to repeat his challenge. He uprooted a great tree and hurled it immediately at the Rakshasa. The demon however, withstood that blow and advanced towards the Pandava, desirous of slaying him.” “The battle between these two warriors went on for a long time. They were quite evenly matched in strength. They uprooted the trees and struck at each other repeatedly. Indeed, that portion of the forest soon became bereft of trees. Finally, they abandoned an attempt to club each other to death, and closed together, each trying to catch the other in a wrestling grip. At last, the cannibal was seized in the mighty arms of Bheema, who after choking the demon, whirled him high above his head and dashed him to his death on the ground.”

Vidura said, “O King, this is how the powerful Kirmira was slain in combat by Bheema, in obedience to the commands of his elder brother. While passing through that forest, I saw with my own eyes the gigantic body of that slain demon. I heard the details of the battle from the Pandavas and the Brahmanas who had been with them.”

After hearing of Bheema’s prowess, the King was plunged into sorrowful thought. Even the fearless Duryodhana began to worry, though just a little, for he was no coward, and had faith in his own strength.

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THEIR ALLIES VISIT THE PANDAVAS

Hearing that the Pandavas were now residing in the Kamyaka forest, their allies, the Bhojas, the Vrishnis and the Andhakas came to take counsel with them. They were accompanied by Dhrishtaketu, the king of Chedi, the Kaikeyas and the Panchalas.

These Kings had often enjoyed the hospitality of Yudhishtra at Indraprastha. Having always seen the King at his court, surrounded by wealth and splendor, the sight of the Pandavas, seated around a Banyan tree, clad in roots and barks like mendicants, they were overcome by grief, and for quite a while, none of them were able to utter any words.

At last, Krishna spoke: “This earth shall drink the evil blood of Duryodhana and Karna. Its thirst shall be quenched by the life blood of the wicked Dushasana and wily Shakuni. You may have given your word that you will live in exile for thirteen years, it does not bind us. Let us, your allies, invade Hastinapura, slay the Kauravas and their kinsmen, and restore your throne to you!”

With these words, Krishna got into a terrible passion. There were evil portents to be seen in the sky and the very earth shook with his anger. Even his friends were afraid that he may, in a fit of anger, destroy the whole world with his divine missiles. Only Arjuna was unperturbed. He got up and embraced his dear friend.

He said, “Dear Keshava, it is well known to all of us that you are single handedly capable of routing the very army of the immortals, even if Indra were to lead them armed with his thunderbolt! What then will be the fate of the Kauravas, who can only boast of Drona and Bhishma in their ranks? In this birth, you live among us mortals, but I know that you are endowed with the power of Vishnu, and know full well that you are his incarnation. In days of yore, in a previous birth, you were a Muni who performed terrible penances on the Gandhamadana mountains for ten thousand years. You are the slayer of Madhu and Kaitabha. You have slain the powerful Narakusara. Time and again have you aided the celestials in their war against the Daityas. Indeed if I were to list all your wondrous feats, my lifetime will not be enough! It behooves you not to give way to anger, for Yudhishtra the just has given his word that he will reside in exile for thirteen years. When that period comes to an end, I shall remind you of the promise you made now, so control your anger till then.”

The momentary fit of passion exhibited by Krishna ended, and he regained control over himself. With a smile, he said, “O Dhananjaya, there is none dearer in this world to me than you, not even my wives, not even my first-born Pradyumna. All that is mine is yours and all that is yours is mine. Very well, it will be hard, but I shall hold in my anger till you and your brothers are released from the conditions of exile. Remember my words, for on the thirteenth year from now, there shall be carnage, the likes of which have never been seen before, nor is likely to be seen hence. And I shall be at your side, in your quest to regain your kingdom.”

His words were applauded by the assembled allies. All of them repeated a solemn oath to assist the Pandavas to regain their patrimony, to fight by their side in the war that was sure to be, for no one believed that the Kauravas would yield without a fight.

Panchali, who was standing with downcast eyes in a corner while these events were going on, put herself forward. She now walked up to Krishna and said, “Dear cousin, Parashurama had told me that you are an incarnation of Vishnu, the protector of the three worlds. It is said that you are Omnipresent, the soul of all things. How is it that, while I was under your protection, me, the wife of the heroic sons of Kunti, the sister of Dhrishtadhyumna sprung from the sacrificial fire, was dragged to the assembly? How could I be so insulted, having been dragged in front of the Kurus while clad in a single piece of cloth, and in my season? Bitterly weeping, and trembling all over, I was dragged to the Kuru court, stained with blood! The wicked sons of Dhritharashtra laughed at me! While all my kinsmen and protectors lived, they wanted to enslave me by force! What is the use of the mighty arms of Bheema, the invincible Gandiva of Arjuna, if they could not protect me against such vile insults? Is it not the first duty of a husband, however weak he may be, to protect his wife from all harm? O Keshava, afflicted with numerous griefs, and in great distress, I am living here in the forest like a mendicant, deprived of the company of Kunti! Am I to suffer in silence for all the rest of my days? When will my sufferings come to an end?”

Overcome by her feelings, Draupadi wept bitterly. Krishna wiped away her tears, and said, “Fair lady, the wives of those who have reduced you to such straits, shall weep more bitterly than this, when they shall behold their husbands and sons and brothers and fathers dead on the ground, weltering in their own blood! Weep not, dear cousin, for I shall exert all my powers in aid of the Pandavas. I promise that you shall once again by the Queen of Queens. The heavens may fall, the ocean may dry up, the Mountains may cease to exist, but my words thus uttered shall not be rendered futile!”

Dhrishtadhyumna embraced his sister and said, “I shall slay Drona, Shikandi shall bring death to Bhishma. Bheema will slay all the Kauravas and Arjuna shall slay Karna. You will be able to tie your tresses again, soaked in the blood of those slain warriors! Weep not, dear sister, for you shall be avenged!”

Krishna then turned towards the assembled kings and said, “It is a great pity that I was away when the invitation to dice and the unfortunate gambling match took place. Had I been at Dwaraka, I would have been able to avert the evil consequences of that ill-fated dice-match. Unfortunately, I was away on important business. When I arrived at Dwaraka a short while ago, I learned of the misfortunes that had befallen my cousins, and rushed here to assure you that you had my support.”

Yudhishtra said, “Krishna, I was not aware that you were not in Dwaraka all this while. Where had you gone? What was the business that took you away?”

Keshava replied, “I had gone to destroy the city of Shalwa. He had been cherishing an animosity towards me, for I had slain his friends, especially Shishupala. You might remember that I had been residing with you at Indraprastha after your Rajasooya sacrifice. Having heard that I was away from Dwaraka, that evil King attacked my Kingdom at that time. Unfortunately, none of the experienced Vrishni heroes were in the city then, all having accompanied me to Indraprastha for the sacrifice. Only youths were there, who were skilled enough, but lacking any experience in combat.

“These young heroes were no match for the experienced king of Saubha. He slew a great number of them in battle, and devastated all the gardens and fountains in the city. After having uttered many vain boasts and insulted our race, he issued a challenge to me, and retired back to his Kingdom.

“When I returned to Dwaraka, I was met by the sorrowing mothers of those young princes who had been sent to the abode of Yama by Shalwa. I immediately set forth to destroy that evil King. To escape my wrath, he had fled from his Kingdom and took refuge in an island in the middle of the ocean, protected by some Danavas who were his friends.

“I followed him there and challenged him to fight. Seeing that he was cornered, he emerged from his hiding place and fought with me. The battle was exceedingly fierce, and he was assisted by his demon-friends. I slew innumerable numbers of those enemies of the celestials with my unerring arrows. Finally, having subdued his allies, I slew the evil Shalwa with my divine discus, the Sudarsana.

When I returned to my city, I was met by evil tidings. My ministers informed me about the events that had taken place in Hastinapura in connection with the wretched game of dice. Having learnt from them that you were now residing in this forest, I came here as soon as I could. Dear cousins, had I not been away, I could have prevented all these misfortunes that have befallen you. What can be done now? After all, the waters cannot be confined once the dam has broken.”

Yudhishtra thanked all his friends who had come to condole with him. He then, with the help of his priest Dhaumya, offered proper worship to those heroes who had come to his aid. After talking about old times for a while, one by one, his allies took their leave.

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DRAUPADI AND BHEEMA ARE DISAFFECTED

After his allies had left, Yudhishtra took a good look at his retinue. He realized that the spot at which they were residing, near the edge of the Kamyaka woods would not be able to support such a large contingent. He called his brothers and said, “Find a better spot where we may establish our camp. The location you choose should be near water, and should be abundant in fruits and game. There should also be ample space for the Brahmanas accompanying us to perform their religious rites.”

According, his younger brothers went forth to scout for such a location. After a lengthy search, they found a suitable spot and the whole contingent traveled there and established their new camp. This location was on deeper into the forest, on the banks of a lake known as Dwaitavana. There were abundant deer and boars to provide meat and a large number of fruit bearing trees. Sala trees were particularly abundant at that spot.

Soon, word spread that the Pandavas were now encamped at Dwaitavana. Since they were renowned for their piety, large number of Brahmanas continued to arrive there to reside. The Pandavas spent their days in religious contemplation and the evenings were enlivened by the discourses of learned persons on morality and religion. Quite a few of the old Brahmanas had traveled widely, and had seen much of the world. Some of them were noted story-tellers, and their stories were in great demand in the evenings.

Arjuna and Bheema hunted game during the day and the others gathered fruits and roots for food. There was also the sacred-copper-vessel given by Surya to Draupadi, which made sure that food was always plentiful.

Though a far cry from there luxurious life in their palaces, this forest dwelling was not particularly arduous. Yudhishtra was a philosopher, so he was able to adapt himself to this mode of life. He began to derive not a little enjoyment from the company of so many learned men. Arjuna was famed for his self-control, and thanks to his discipline, was able to patiently bear this time, secure in the knowledge that when thirteen years would pass, he would have his revenge. No one knew what the twins thought, but they were outwardly ever cheerful, and seemed content with their lot.

It was far otherwise with Draupadi and Bheema. He was impetuous, and chafed under the restrictions imposed by this new lifestyle. She did not enjoy a moment’s repose, for the events that had occurred in that assembly at Hastinapura were playing themselves out again and again in her mind’s eye.

[Ed. Note: The following encounter was the first sloka from the original Mahabharata I happened to read, because it was in my Sanskrit textbook in 8th grade. I distinctly remember the title: “Kshama tejasvina tejaha”, or Forgiveness is the glory of the glorious”, and the opening line: “Priya cha Dharshania cha Panditha cha Pativrata cha, tataha Krishna Dharamarajam idam Vachanam Abhraveeth”]

One evening, finding Yudhishtra sitting all by himself, after he had finished yet another discussion on morality with a learned scholar, Yajnaseni could contain herself no longer. With wrathful eyes, she spoke to him thus: “How can you sit here, seemingly content, as if you had no care in the world? The evil minded Duryodhana’s heart must be made of stone, for not only did he insult me, he spoke to you, his senior, in harsh words! Only four persons, namely, Duryodhana, Dushasana, Shakuni, and Karna rejoiced in your misfortunes. The rest of the Kurus shed copious tears when the sentence of our exile was pronounced. I have formerly beheld you seated in a golden throne, decorated with rubies and sapphires. Now, seeing you seated on the muddy floor, with nought but Kusa grass as your seat, my heart breaks into a thousand pieces!

Seeing our dear Bhimasena living in sorrow in the woods, does not your anger blaze up? Why doesn’t your anger blaze up at the sight of your God-like younger brothers toiling in the forest under the merciless sun? Capable of vanquishing all the Kurus in a single day, your brave brothers are holding in their anger, in obedience to your promises. Does not the sight of Arjuna, at whose feet the innumerable Kings used to serve, now reduced to having to hunt for his own food, cause your heart to swell in anger? The scriptures say that of all the qualities essential to a Kshatriya, that of righteous indignation is the foremost. A King without anger is not fit to rule, is no better than a mindless animal. When a King should feel anger at an injustice done to his subjects, how much greater should his anger be, when an injustice has been done to him? O, fie on your forbearance, for it has reduced you, your brothers and myself to this piteous plight, exposing us to the ridicule of the world!”

Yudhishtra replied, “It is true that indignation is a virtue for Kings. However, it has also been said that anger is the root of many evils. He that suppresses his anger, and gains control over his rages, gains prosperity. Nobody will respect, or claim friendship with one who gives way to anger easily. Knowing the great harm that can be done by an ill controlled temper, the wise have enjoined men to conquer wrath. Pursuant to the path shown by the scriptures, I have striven to conquer my anger, and thus you behold me at peace with all. O daughter of Drupada, know that forgiveness is the glory of the glorious. It is the supreme virtue. It is the highest path, it is a way to eternal salvation. Forgiveness is the strength of the strong, it is the supreme sacrifice. My forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of a mind at peace with itself and all creatures. Do not give way to impotent anger, it shall consume your very soul. Instead, strive for control over your anger, and practice forgiveness like myself.”

With a derogatory smile on her lips, Draupadi said, “I have never heard scriptures quoted to justify something so unjustifiable. You are called Dharmaraja due to your mastery of the path of truth, but your senses have been clouded now! You claim that virtue is dearer to you than your very life, nay it is dearer to you than myself and your brothers! How then, O King, could you have participated in gambling, which has been acknowledged by the ancients as a major vice? You have acted in a manner unworthy of your illustrious lineage. Now that the consequences of your folly are manifest, you are taking refuge in your protestations of virtue, and refuse to act in a manner befitting your birth! Do you believe that all our actions are pre-ordained, and that nothing we do can alter our destiny? Indeed that is the only explanation that strikes me as plausible for your refusal to act now and seize back your patrimony from the usurpers.”

While this argument had been going on, Bheema had come that way and was listening to the dialogue. His wrath rose at what he considered the pusillanimous arguments of his brother. He intervened and said, “Walk, O King, in the path ordained for the race of Kshatriyas. It is the duty of Kings to conquer Kingdoms, to wage war to recover that which has been snatched from them. We do not lack strength, for what army can stop us, fighting with the invincible Arjuna at our head, and supported by my super-human strength? It was by your carelessness, O brother, that our Kingdom has been snatched away by the little-minded sons of Dhritharashtra. Once the Kingdom was snatched away, the rightful, natural course that we ought to have pursued was war. We should have slain those hundred Kauravas in the very sight of their father. Neither Drona, nor the grandsire could have stopped us, even if they had fought to the utmost of their capability. I marvel at you claiming forgiveness as a virtue, having allowed the insulter of your wife to live! We had attained fame as great warriors by our feats on the battlefield. Now, exiled to the forest, doing nothing to better our situation, the world will wonder if we are really heroes. Nay, they may even wonder if we are men in the first place!

“O King, one should give weight to virtue, wealth and pleasure in proper proportions. One should not devote oneself to virtue alone, nor regard wealth as the sole object of our life, nor should one spend ones time solely in the pursuit of pleasure. The scriptures have said that the morning is for virtue, noon is for wealth and that night is the time for seeking pleasure. Youth is the time for pleasure, wealth should be the object of middle age, and old age the proper time to acquire virtue. By all respects, this is the time in our life for the pursuit of pleasure and wealth. Virtue can wait. Give us leave, my lord, to wage war on the Kurus. Let me, Arjuna and the twins set forth in full battle armor and invade the Kingdom of Dhritharashtra. Let us sally forth, supported by our allies the Panchalas, Srinjayas and the Kaikeyas, taking the help of Krishna of the Vrishni race. Permit us to wage war right now!”

Yudhishtra listened to these reproaches patiently. Finally, he said, “No doubt all that you have said is true brother. Indeed no one can blame me as much as I blame myself. It is due to my folly, due to my reprehensible conduct, that we have been reduced to such a pitiable state. I have, however, given my word in the assembly that I will reside in exile for thirteen years. I cannot break my solemn oath. At the end of thirteen years, however, it shall be as you wish. I will myself be part of our force that shall wage war on the Kauravas. It is true that our grandsire Bhishma and our perceptor Drona shall be on their side, but I believe you and Arjuna to be more than equal to them. However, Bhurisravas, Sala, the mighty Ashwatthama and the King of Sindhu will be part of the Kaurava army. We cannot undertake to vanquish this army without due deliberation. There are also many Kings, who have been previously vanquished by us, who may side with the sons of Dhritharashtra due to animosity towards us.

“All these obstacles may be overcome by us, for I have full faith in your might, Arjuna’s bow and the steadfastness of our own allies. However, there is one thing that bothers me day and night, indeed, due to this worry, I have not obtained one wink of peaceful sleep ever since we began our exile. That obstacle is that mighty warrior — Karna, who is equal unto Arjuna in archery, and is besides the master of countless celestial weapons. Invincible, encased in impenetrable armor of divine origin, that hero is incapable of being vanquished! His friendship with Duryodhana is the stuff of legends. He has pledged to protect the Kuru prince with his life, and is ever engaged in doing us an ill turn. It is well known that a combat until death with Arjuna is his cherished wish. Every time I try to close my eyes, I see only the cruel smile on his face. How is it possible for us to achieve victory, as long as we do not neutralize the threat posed by Karna, the foremost among wielders of the bow?”

Even the impetuous Bheema had to pause when Yudhishtra posed this question. Something very like fear entered his brave heart, and he forebore from continuing the argument, an expression of deep thought on his face. Draupadi also wore a worried frown, thinking about the only warrior who could ever hope to withstand the might of Arjuna in battle.

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ARJUNA’S QUEST

Though Bheema outwardly affected to despise Karna and to belittle his prowess in battle, in reality he had a very deep respect for the skill of that son of Radha. It was well known that the armour of Karna was of celestial origin. It was also generally believed that he was invincible as long as possessed it.

In addition to his obvious skill with the bow and his impregnable armour, Karna had obtained many missiles of divine origin, both from his Guru Parashurama and by pleasing various deities by his devotions. In addition, he was beloved of learned Brahmanas and of the poor, for he was a notable philanthropist. His character, save for the virulent animosity he cherished towards the Pandavas, was without blemish, and it was known that he had the favour of many deities, especially Surya, to whom he offered special worship daily.

So the objection raised by Yudhishtra was based on sound reasoning. It is very well to seek revenge, when you believe that your cause is just, but only a fool would rush to face an army led by Karna, Drona and Bhishma, without first obtaining means of neutralizing them.

While Yudhishtra and Bheema were pondering this conundrum, the sage Parasara came there. By his yogic powers, he already knew the thoughts going through the minds of the two brothers.

Yudhishtra rose immediately from his seat, and offered welcome to the sage as befitting his ascetic merit. The sage spoke, “Dear Yudhishtra, the unmerited hardships undergone by you have caused a great deal of sorrow among the sages. Our sympathies are entirely on your side. I also know that you are wondering if your combined might will be able to defeat the Kuru army in the inevitable battle to come. We have a suggestion for you. To increase your strength, one of you must please the celestials with your devotions and obtain powerful boons and weapons. Among you five, Arjuna is possessed of the most self-control. He would be the ideal person to embark on this quest.

“Send him to the Himalayas to do his penance. He is sure to obtain the favour of Mahadeva and Indra. It is also not proper for you to reside in the same place for a long time. Already this part of the forest has be denuded of its plant and animal life. You must seek out another place to establish your camp while Arjuna is gone.”

Yudhishtra readily acquiesced to this plan. Then the sage imparted knowledge concerning the interpretation of omens and celestial signs to the prince, and took his leave.

Mindful of the Rishi’s instructions, the Pandavas then went to reside in another portion of the Kamyaka forest. After they had settled into a routine there, Yudhishtra recalled the advice of Parasara and also that of Vyasa, and called Arjuna to him.

He said, “Dear brother, you know very well that trusting to your prowess with the bow, and the great strength of Bheema, we cherish hopes of winning back our patrimony, so cruelly snatched away by our kinsmen. Knowing the enormity of the task ahead of us, the great sages have advised me to send you to obtain the favour of your divine father. Go forth and please Indra by your devotions. Obtain from him powerful boons and all his divine missiles. With the help of these we shall conquer the strong army of the Kurus.”

Arjuna readily consented to it. On the very same day, at an auspicious time, he set forth on this quest, first saluting and circumambulating his elder brothers and his priest Dhaumya. All the Brahmanas assembled there uttered benedictions for the success of his endeavors.

Knowing no fatigue, Arjuna walked without resting, crossing many great rivers, climbing over many inhospitable mountains, his goal being the great mountain of Himavat in the north. Neither men, nor animals dared to obstruct him, none of them crossed his path, for one look at the radiant warrior, with his massive bow and inexhaustible quivers was enough for them to know that he was not a man to be trifled with.

Possessing great speed, Arjuna reached Himavat in a single day, after crossing the Gandhamadana mountains. When he arrived at Indrakila, a hallowed spot on this mountain, he stopped for a while. While he was taking a well earned rest, a booming voice addressed him.

He looked around and saw that he was being addressed by an ascetic, who was standing in the shade of a nearby tree. It was at once obvious to the Pandava that this was no ordinary person. The sense of power exuded from this being was not merely from his eyes, which were very remarkable, but his whole body shone with divine radiance. He was of a tawny colour and exceedingly thin.

The ascetic said to Arjuna, “You appear to be of the Kshatriya order. I can see by your bow that you have come here prepared for battle. Know that this place is sacred, and there is no need for weapons of any kind here. Only the blessed, the truly brave and virtuous can reach here. You have attained a great position merely by making it this far. Discard your weapons, and take to asceticism.”

Arjuna introduced himself, and told his purpose in coming there. The ascetic once again asked Arjuna to embrace a life of austerity and to discard his weapons. However, Arjuna was unmoved.

His obstinacy, instead of angering the ascetic, seemed to please him. At last, the sage said, “Such devotion to a cause is praiseworthy indeed! You have gratified me, your father, for I am none other than Indra. Ask me what boon you will.”

Arjuna worshiped his father with great love and said, “Lord, if it pleases you, I desire instruction from you in the art of war, and for all your divine missiles. Armed with these I shall scatter the host of the Kurus.”

Indra replied, “When you have obtained the favour of the three-eyed lord of the world, the great Shiva, all that you seek shall be yours. Endeavour to please him by devotions, and victory will be assured.” With these words, Indra disappeared.

Arjuna then fashioned a Linga (an iconic representation of Shiva, roughly cylindrical with the top being domed) out of clay and began his penance to please the supreme deity, Mahadeva. He wore the same clothes that he wore in the forest, made of grass and black deerskin. He ate nought but the withered leaves fallen on the ground. He supplemented this diet by eating some fruits every third night. He continued this regimen for a month. In the next month, he reduced his food by eating fruits only every sixth day. The third month saw a further reduction, and he ate only once a fortnight. Still, there was no sign of Shiva. When the fourth month came, he gave up all food, and began to subsist on air alone.

In the higher regions, there was a great deal of speculation about the object of this severe asceticism. As a consequence of the rigid penance, the celestials were tormented by the blaze of Arjuna’s asceticism. Unable to bear this pain, they went to Shiva and beseeched him to intervene.

Shiva said, “I know fully well the objective of this Pandava. He has proven his devotion and strength of mind. I shall go to him and bring his penance to a logical conclusion. Have no fears.”

Shiva took the guise of a hunter and went to the place where Arjuna was performing his penance. He was accompanied by Parvati who was disguised as a huntress. The Ganas accompanied them, becoming the dogs of the hunt. At the same time, impelled by his fate, a Rakshasa named Muka, who had cherished an enmity with Arjuna arrived there, assuming the shape of a boar, and sought to gore the Pandava to death.

Though he was deep in meditation, a sixth sense warned Arjuna of the danger, and he immediately took up his bow and shot his unerring arrows at the boar’s mouth. At the same time, Shiva, as the hunter, had also shot arrows from his divine bow at the boar. Muka fell down dead, his looking more like a porcupine than a boar.

As per the law of the hunt, Arjuna came to the boar to claim his kill. He found a hunter already in possession of the carcass. Both of them staked a claim for the body of the boar.

“I aimed first at the boar, and mine was the arrow that slew him. Yours arrived later. So the boar is mine. Yield its body to me!”, said the hunter.

“It cannot be! My arrows were the swiftest. Besides, the demon had come to kill me, and as per the law of the hunt, this boar is mine!”, argued Arjuna.

Neither would yield. Finally in exasperation, Arjuna challenged the hunter to a duel. The hunter gladly accepted the challenge and a very intense, wonderful battle began to shape.

Arjuna began with utmost confidence. Though he realized that the hunter was a very good archer, he believed that apart from Karna, no mortal, indeed none of the celestials could equal him in archery. He shot arrow upon arrow on the hunter, using both his hands with great effect.

However, his confidence soon gave way to a burning desire to worst the hunter, for he saw that his opponent was handling this shower of arrows with the utmost ease, cutting off the arrows from the Gandiva in mid air.

With a voice quivering with wonder, he asked the hunter, “Tell me, who are you? You cannot be an ordinary hunter. Perhaps you are a god in disguise, for no mere mortal can withstand the might of the Gandiva in battle! Are you my father Indra? Or are you one of the Lokapalas?”

The hunter continued to assert that he was no such thing. Meanwhile, while he had been rarely hit by Arjuna’s arrows, many of his shafts went home, and Arjuna’s body was covered with blood flowing from numerous wounds on his body.”

Arjuna was shocked to see that his quivers had become empty. These inexhaustible quivers were a gift from Agni, and such a thing had never happened before. Undaunted, he struck the hunter with his bow and tried to catch and drag him with his bowstring.

The hunter proved adept at such a combat also. With the greatest ease, he snatched the bow from Arjuna’s hands. Thereupon, Arjuna drew his sword and hit the hunter. However, the sword of the finest steel broke into many pieces when it struck the head of the hunter.

Undaunted, the Pandava then closed with the hunter and struck him with his fists. The hunter abandoned his weapons and wrestled with Arjuna. He caught Arjuna in a bear hug and crushed the breath out of his body. Soon, the mighty Pandava was prostrate on the ground, as one who was dead.

However, he soon regained his senses. He went to the clay image of Shiva and started worshiping it with offerings of floral garlands. To his great wonder, he saw that the floral garlands were magically appearing on the hunter! He then realized the identity of this mysterious hunter and was filled with a sense of joy, mixed with apprehension, for he had fought with the great lord himself. He immediately prostrated himself at the feet of Shiva and begged for forgiveness.

Shiva made him raise, and then embraced him with great affection. He said, “O Phalguna, I am extremely pleased with your devotions. Do not apologize for fighting with me. It was a great pleasure for me to pit my skill with the bow against yours. There is no mortal, no God equal to you for skill with the bow. Since you have pleased me so much, I will give you a supreme weapon, for you alone are very worthy of wielding it.”

The Pandava gratefully received this weapon from Mahadeva. He once again begged the Lord’s pardon for his presumption in fighting with him.

Shiva smiled and said, “I have forgiven you. Since you have pleased me so much, I will tell you a little about your past life. You were originally Nara, the friend of Naryana. You are the essence of the universal male being. Here, you can have back your bow, that I snatched from you by my occult powers. Your quivers that had become empty during the combat, shall once again regain their inexhaustible property. If there is aught else that you need, ask, and it shall be yours.”

“I would like to possess your special weapon, known as the Brahmasiras —the weapon that you will use to destroy the universe at the time of the great dissolution. Let me have your blessings to obtain victory over the Kuru host, led by Bhishma, Drona, Kripa and my nemesis, Karna.”

“Here is my favorite weapon—Brahmasiras, that is also known as the Pasupata. The knowledge to wield, hurl and withdraw this weapon shall become known to you by my grace. This knowledge is not available to Devas, nor to the Yakshas. Why, even Yama, the lord of death is ignorant of this. However, you may not hurl this weapon without just cause; if it be hurled at a mean foe, unworthy of it, it may destroy the entire universe!”, warned Shiva.

Arjuna promised to treat the weapon carefully and gratefully received it from the Lord. After uttering a final benediction, Shiva left for his abode, accompanied by his wife and followers. Arjuna watched the departure of the Lord, with his head bowed in a mark of respect.

[Note— The Brahmasiras alias Pashupata is the most powerful weapon among them all. It belongs to Lord Shiva.]

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URVASHI’S CURSE

Arjuna stood at the summit of the Himavat, with a heart overflowing with happiness, for he had obtained the favour of the three-eyed Lord of the world. With the knowledge of the Brahmasiras, he was sure that he would be able to defeat any foe in battle, regardless of his opponent’s skills.

Presently, a blazing light appeared in the heavens above, and the Lokapalas appeared before him. Arjuna fell at once at their feet in worship.

Yama,the guardian of south, touched the shoulder of the Pandava and bade him to rise. In a booming voice, the Lord of death said, “O Arjuna, you have fulfilled the destiny that was foretold when you were born. Know that you were a great Rishi in your previous birth, and were the friend and companion of Vishnu. When he had to take birth as a mortal, he bade you also to accompany him, and promised you that you will obtain great honors. You have gratified the great Shiva, by engaging him in single combat. Such a feat has not been achieved even by the celestials! As a mark of my appreciation for your determination, here is my mace, that has ever been my companion in battle.”

With a deep bow, Arjuna received the weapon of Yama.

Varuna, the Lord of the waters, spoke next. He said, “Everyone knows that my noose is all powerful. As a token of my regard, I gift you my noose, and my favorite weapons, the secret of using which is known only to me and to Brihaspati, my teacher. These weapons were created by him to recover his wife Tara, for my use in the great battle between the celestials and the Daityas.”

Once again, Arjuna bowed reverently and received the weapons, along with the instructions for their use.

Kubera, the guardian of North and the Lord of wealth, said, “I am also exceedingly gratified by your dedication to your cause. Here is my weapon known as Antarddhana, endued with extreme energy. It is capable of decimating your foes, regardless of their strength. This weapon was used by Lord Shiva to slay countless Asuras when he burnt their three cities known as Tripura. (See ‘The Destruction of Tripura’) You are worthy of wielding this weapon, that has been used only by Mahadeva and myself.”

Arjuna received the Antarddhana with the reverence due to it.

Indra said, “My son, you have now obtained the divine weapons of the Lokapalas. Wait here for a little while, I will send my own chariot driven by Matali to take you to my abode. There, you will continue your education in arms and other sciences.”

The Lokapalas and Indra disappeared after blessing Arjuna. The Pandava then sat down in a pose of meditation and began a prayer to the celestials, thanking them for the great favor they had shown him.

Within a short while, as promised by Indra, his charioteer Matali arrived to take Arjuna to Indraloka. In the blink of an eye, the chariot had entered the gates of heaven. Arjuna gazed around him in wonder: he saw countless celestials engaged in pleasurable pursuits; he saw the famous Nandana gardens, where the Apsaras were fond of frolicking; he saw many of his ancestors, who had attained the heavens as a consequence of their meritorious deeds. He also saw large number of sages, who had ascended to heaven by their ascetic merit.

He was ushered into the court of Indra. His father gazed at him with great fondness. He at once left his throne and embraced his son, a son of whom any father might be proud. At a sign from Indra, the Gandharvas started playing divine music and the Apsaras resumed their dancing that had been interrupted by Arjuna’s arrival. Other Gandharvas brought the material for offering Arghya (worship) to the guest.

After he had been duly worshiped, Arjuna was introduced to the prominent Devas and other divine beings. Indra looked upon this scene with a heart overflowing with pride, for no one else there had a son to match his heroic Arjuna.

After the introductions were complete, Indra took his son to the throne, and both of them sat down together on it. No one else had ever had the honour of sitting on Indra’s throne, save for the occasional Asura king who seized the throne by defeating the celestials.

Indra said to his son, “You will live here with me for a while. I will personally teach you the use of my weapons, the irresistible thunderbolts. You shall also learn the tactics of war from our Guru Brihaspati. There will also be plenty of opportunity for pleasurable pursuits, of listening to the music of the Gandharvas and for witnessing the bewitching dances of the celestial nymphs.”

Arjuna thanked his father for these blessings. From that day, beginning at daybreak, Indra took his son to the field and taught him the use of his divine weapons. In the afternoon, the Pandava learned battle-tactics from Brihaspati. The evenings were spent agreeably, watching the Apsaras dance to the music of the Gandharvas.

After a few weeks, Indra said to Arjuna, “You have now mastered my weapons and the battle-tactics known to my Guru. It is my desire that you become proficient in dance and music as well. There is no better teacher than Chitrasena, the Gandharva who is my chief musician. From today, you will live with him and learn the fine arts.”

Accordingly, from that day, Arjuna resided with Chitrasena, and who instructed him in dance and music. Chitrasena was delighted to obtain a pupil who had such a great aptitude for the arts, and Arjuna greatly admired the skill of his teacher. Soon, they had become close friends.

One day, Indra noticed that Arjuna was gazing rivetedly at Urvashi, as the Apsara was dancing in the court. The king of the celestials smiled to himself, for it was indeed a rare man who would not be captivated by that most beautiful of the divine nymphs. After the court was dismissed that day, he took his friend Chitrasena aside and asked, “Did you notice how my son was staring at Urvashi in court today?”.

Chitrasena replied, “Indeed sire, I noticed that he had no eyes for anyone else. If I am not very much mistaken, he has been smitten by the shafts of Kama.”

Indra said, “That is my opinion also. Go to Urvashi and represent these facts to her. Tell her that she would greatly gratify me if she will sport with Arjuna. There is no doubt that she would be very pleased to obtain so personable a young man, and such a great hero as her lover.”

When Chitrasena conveyed Indra’s message to her, Urvashi was very glad. She told Chitrasena that she will carry out her sovereign’s wishes. That night, she dressed herself with great care, and decorated herself with beautiful jewels and applied divine perfumes to her person. She too had noticed how ardently the Pandava prince had looked at her in the assembly. Her vanity was gratified, and besides she too was attracted to the handsome prince.

Soon, she arrived at Arjuna’s abode and sent word through his attendants that she had come to visit him. She was immediately led inside. When Arjuna entered the room, he was filled with exceeding wonder, and a nameless fear, as he saw the resplendent form of the divine nymph. He received her with great respect, but averted his eyes from modesty, for she was clad rather scantily and seductively. He said to her, “O Lady, I am indeed honored by your presence. I am your servant, command me.”

Urvashi was by this time completely under the influence of her passions. With deep sighs, she told him about the command of his father, and of how it coincided with her great passion for him. She concluded with, “I have come here by the command of your father and driven by my own desire. Do that which will be agreeable to me, you and that which will gratify your father also.A maiden asks you to gratify her out of love for you, act as a man should, when faced with such a request.”

Arjuna recoiled from her. He shut his ears with his hands, fixed his gaze firmly on the ground, and said in a voice choked with emotion, “Blessed lady, are my ears deceiving me? I have ever regarded you as my superior, and my regard for you is as that of mine for Kunti, my mother. Do not utter words that are unbecoming, against the scriptures, and that cause me so much pain to hear.”

Urvashi was amazed. She said, “What is this nonsense? I am a woman, and you are a man. I tell you I have cherished a great passion for you since I first beheld you. My heart craves your embraces, I am well-nigh distracted by the grip of my desire. And here you are, recoiling from me as from a snake! Did I not see you gaze longingly at me today in the assembly? Indeed, I could not be mistaken, for even Indra and Chitrasena had noticed it. It was but today that you cast such glances betraying your desire for me, and now you are claiming that–“

Arjuna interrupted her with, “Stop! Stop! O divine lady, do not traduce my character so! It is indeed true that I gazed admiringly at you today while you were dancing, but my sole thought was: ‘It is this beautiful lady that is the progenitor of the Kuru race’. You were the wife of my ancestor Puroorava, and thus I am your lineal descendant. Just as I revere my mother Kunti, just as I revere Lady Sachi, the wife of my father Indra, just so do I worship you as my mother. I am indeed sorry to have behaved in a way that led you and my father to misconstrue my true feelings. You have been momentarily distracted, please regard me as your son, and behave accordingly.”

“Indra’s son, you are confused. The Apsaras are immortal, they do not have any relations as mortals do. We are free spirits, and sport with whoever strikes our fancy. The sons and grandsons of Purooravas race, who have attained heaven at the end of their days, have sported with me without incurring any sin. I am an eternal virgin, not your mother. Today, I am a maiden who desires you, that is all that you need to know. Our union shall not be one of sin, it will be just the culmination of our mutual desires.”

Arjuna replied, “Beautiful lady, listen! Let the celestials witness my assertion. Just as Kunti, Madri, and Sachi are my mothers, so are you, the parent of my race, and an object of reverence to me. Return to your palace, O amiable one. I worship you as my mother, it behooves you to protect me as a son.”

Hearing these words of the Pandava, Urvashi’s desire turned into wrath. Her whole body shook with anger. She said, “Since you have turned away a woman who had come to you of her own accord, one who, dead to all shame, has openly avowed her desire for you, may you lose your manliness and have to spend time among women, unregarded, and scorned as an eunuch.”

With these words, the Apsara fled precipitately from Arjuna’s abode. Arjuna stood rooted to the floor, pondering the violence of the curse pronounced by her. He soon regained control over his stupefaction and sought out Chitrasena. He narrated all that had passed between Urvashi and himself. Chitrasena took him to Indra and explained the situation to the sovereign.

Indra embraced his son and said, “I always knew you were a brave warrior, but today you have surpassed even my expectations. Not even the Rishis with their senses under complete control could have resisted the temptation of Urvashi’s embrace, especially when she had come inflamed by her desire. You have demonstrated your rigid self-control. As for her curse, fear not. It will be to your benefit. I shall grant you the boon that you will be an eunuch for the period of just one year, and that of your own choosing. It will be useful to you when you have to spend the thirteenth year of your exile incognito.”

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STORIES FROM THE MAHABHARATA

THE BIRTH OF GARUDA

The great sage Kashyapa, the wish-born son of Lord Brahma, was married to the two daughters Kadru and Vinata of Daksha. (Kashyapa was married to many more women, some of them the daughters of Daksha.) Both these sisters were of great beauty and jealous of each other. Kashyapa was exceedingly pleased with both of them and offered to grant each of them a boon.

Kadru said, “Let a thousand sons of incomparable strength and valor be born to me!” Kashyapa said, “So be it!”, and to Kadru were born the race of serpents, a full thousand of them, endowed with great strength.

When it was her turn to chose her boon, Vinata said, “Let two sons be born to me, who shall eclipse the sons of my sister in strength, valor and fame.”

Kashyapa said, “So be it!”

In due course of time, Vinata laid two eggs. She gave them to her maid-servants for safe-keeping. They put these two eggs in warm containers and guarded them day and night. Five-hundred years passed, but the eggs had not hatched. Vinata grew impatient, for her sister already had a thousand snakes as her offspring. She broke open one of her eggs. The embryo in it had the upper part fully developed, but its lower half was still to be formed. The child grew angry at his mother and said, “How could you be so impatient? You have nearly killed me by your rash act. I curse you to slavery! Do not disturb my brother in the other egg. If you wait for another five hundred years, he shall be the means of delivering you from your servitude.”

Some time after this, the two sisters Kadru and Vinata were involved in an argument. Kadru asked her sister, “Sister, what is the color of the divine horse Uchaishravas that belongs to Indra?”

Her sister replied, “It is of a flawless white color, right from its nose to its magnificent tail.”

Kadru said, “You are wrong. While it is true that his face and his body are of a flawless white color, I think that his tail alone is a shiny black color. Tell you what, let us have a bet on this topic. If you are right, I shall become your slave. If I am right, you must become my slave instead.”

Vinata accepted the bet. She was confident that she would win. Kadru knew that the horse was white through and through, so she hatched a plan. She called her sons and said, “I have bet with your aunt that the horse Uchaishravas possesses a black tail. You must make my words come true. Go forth and entwine yourself around his tail and give it a black appearance.”

The snakes did not want to be a part of this deception. Kadru became exceedingly angry. She said, “How dare you disobey the command of your mother? There is no use in having offspring that disobeys my commands. I curse that all you will be destroyed by fire before too much time has elapsed!” (Note: This is the curse that was responsible for the so many snakes being destroyed in King Janamejaya’s snake-sacrifice.)

When Lord Brahma heard this curse, he further strengthened it by saying, “So be it!”. When Kashyapa heard how his sons were cursed, and that his father Brahma had also sanctioned it, he went to Brahma and pleaded with him to mitigate the curse.

Brahma said, “Your sons are wicked. Their poison is threatening to destroy all creation. If left unchecked, nothing else can live on the earth. However, not all of them shall be destroyed. Those who are virtuous, who did not swerve from the path of truth shall be saved.” Thus comforting his son, he taught Kashyapa an infallible Mantra to neutralize the poison of the snake. (This is how Kashyapa worsted his son Takshaka in a challenge, by reviving a banyan tree that had been reduced to ashes by the serpent’s venom).

Meanwhile, the Nagas decided after a consultation among themselves that it was better to do their mother’s bidding. The blackest among them went and entwined themselves around the tail of Uchaishravas. When the two sisters arrived, the tail of the horse was as dark as night. According to the terms of the wager, Vinata became the slave of her sister. She had to serve Kadru and the serpents as their servant.

When the appointed time came, Garuda emerged, radiant like the sun and Agni, from his egg-shell. His lusture was like that of the fire that would consume all creation when this world would end. The Devas in heaven suddenly beheld this bright shining light and nearly became blind.

Indra then asked Agni, “Tell me, O Fire, who is this second Fire who rivals you in brightness? It appears as if the end of the world is near!”

Agni then replied, “My King, This is Garuda, the son of Kashyapa and Vinata. He is destined to be the King of the birds. His father had granted a boon to his mother that he will surpass all the immortals in his lusture and glory, and that is what you all are being blinded by.”

Upon hearing this explanation, all the Devas started to extol the virtues of Garuda. They said, “O Son of Kashyapa, thy lusture out shines us all. Thou art a great Rishi, knowledgeable in the Vedas and other branches of knowledge. Thou art greater than Agni. Thou art like the fire that shall burn all creation at the end of the world. Thou art our great protector, the ocean of holiness. None is purer than thee. Thou art the dispeller of darkness. We are unable to bear thy divine radiance, for it is threatening to burn us. O terrible one, O mighty Garuda, please reduce your brightness, so that we can see you normally.”

Upon hearing this prayer from the celestials, in obedience to their requests, Garuda reduced his brightness a thousand fold, enabling them to see him clearly. Like his mother, he also became the servant of Kadru and her sons.

One day, Kadru commanded Garuda to take her and her sons to a region in the middle of the oceans, which would be a suitable habitat for the Nagas. So Garuda carried his half-brothers and their mother on his back, and started to ascend in the sky. As he got closer to the sun, the snakes started to wilt in its great heat. Kadru prayed to Indra, the friend of her sons, to save them. Thereupon Indra commanded the clouds and caused refreshing rain to fall on them. It revived the snakes. They and their mother reached the safety of the island called Ramaniyaka.

The island was beautiful, covered with dense forests, filled with trees of every kind. However, the snakes were not satisfied. The said, “O Garuda, take us to some better place. You must have seen something more suitable while you were flying. Take us there.”

Garuda had grown tired of doing his half-brothers’ bidding. He turned to his mother Vinata and said, “O Mother. Why is that we have to do everything these snakes say? Whence have we become their servants?”

Then Vinata recounted to him the story of the bet she had made with Kadru. Garuda then turned to his brothers and said, “I no longer wish to be a servant. Tell me, what should I do that I may be rid of this slavery? How may I save myself and my mother from this plight?”

The snakes replied, “Know that Amrit has been fixed as the portion of the Devas alone. They guard it zealously. If you bring us this divine Amrit, we shall release you and your mother from bondage.”

So the great bird resolved to save himself and his mother by obtaining Amrit. He asked his mother, “Tell me mother, how can I obtain Amrit? I can fly all the way there, but I will need a great amount of food to accomplish this feat. Tell me where I might find such food?”

Vinata said, “In a remote place in the midst of the ocean, a great tribe of Nishadas (a local tribe) reside. They have turned their mind towards evil. You may eat them for food. Just take care that you do not inadvertently consume a Brahmana.”

Garuda said, “I shall eat the Nishadas mother. However, how shall I be able to identify a Brahmana?”

His mother replied, “You can tell a Brahmana apart by his Brahma-Tejas (divine-lusture). If you eat a Brahmana inadvertently, you can identify him by the way he burns your throat. If such a thing happens, immediately release him, for the great anger of a Brahmana can even destroy the Gods!”

After assuring his mother that he will take care, Garuda took to the skies. He consumed innumerable Nishadas who were fishermen. Once, he felt a great fire burning in his throat, and realized that he had swallowed a Brahmana. He immediately released him and then continued his destruction of the Nishadas.

Despite eating all the Nishadas he did not fell satiated. He met his father Kashyapa on the way and asked him to indicate suitable food.

Kashyapa blessed his son and said, “If you continue along your way, you will see an elephant who is dragging a tortoise who is his elder brother. In their previous birth, they were two Rishis named Supritika and Vibhavasu. They quarelled over property and cursed each other to be born as an elephant and tortoise respectively. They are still quarelling in this life. If you eat them, your hunger shall be appeased. May you be successful in your quest!”

Garuda encountered the animals mentioned by his father on the banks of a lake. He devoured them whole and satisfied his great hunger. He came upon a tree, whose branches broke away when he sat upon them. Sages called the Valakhilyas were performing a penance on that branch. When Garuda saw that they were falling down, he carried the whole branch in his claws. It was then that he got the name of Garuda, which means bearer of heavy weight.

Meanwhile, the Devas saw a wondrous sight. All their weapons rose from their holsters and started turning on each other. Indra’s favorite thunderbolt started quivering in fright. Meteors and comets started to shoot in the sky.

Alarmed by these ill omens, Indra asked his preceptor Brihaspati, “Sire, What do these ill omens mean? Even when the Asuras were assaulting the heavens such a thing never came to pass. What can be the cause of this confusion?”

His preceptor replied, “Know that the great bird Garuda, resolved upon obtaining Amrit, to free himself and his mother from bondage, is flying to attack you all. He is of great energy and of immeasurable strength. If you hope to save Amrit, you have prepare for battle.”

Indra then ordered the rest of the Devas to take up battle positions. He himself strode in front of his army, resolved to thwart the goal of Garuda.

(There is a reason why Garuda posed such a threat to the king of heaven. Long ago, when Kashyapa was engaged in a sacrifice desiring offspring, the Gods, the Gandharvas and all the Rishis assisted him. Indra was commissioned to find the fuel for the sacrifice. The sages known as the Valakhilyas, were also asked to bring some fuel. Indra brought a huge mountain full of trees as the fuel. On the way he saw that the Valakhilyas (who were only as large as a thumb), carrying a stalk of a Palasa leaf as the fuel. Drunk with his power, he made fun of them. They then cursed him saying, “To Kashyapa will be born one who is greater than you. He will be the Indra of all creation.” Indra sought the intervention of Lord Brahma, who changed the curse slightly. He said, “The son of Kashyapa will be the Indra of the birds. He shall be your friend and thus, you shall be protected from his wrath.” It was time for that curse to operate.)

Garuda appeared in the skies, facing the Devas. The great battle began. The Devas were sorely harassed by the flying bird, he of immeasurable strength. He mangled them with his claws and beak. Vayu attempted to blow him from the skies by raising a dust storm. Garuda parried this thrust with a counter wind generated from his mighty wings. All the celestials were routed. The Sadhyas and Gandharvas fled to the east. The Rudras and Vasus fled to the south. The Adityas fled to the west, and the Ashwini twins fled to the north, unable to bear the onslaught of Vinata’s son.

At last, after killing a large number of the warriors ranged against him, the King of birds approached the place where Amrit was. It was surrounded on all sides with great flames that reached up to the sky. Garuda made his mouth very large and flew to the ocean. He swallowed the contents of many rivers and put out the flames guarding Amrit with it. He then assumed a tiny form and approached the vessel containing the nectar. He saw that a wheel with razor sharp edges was spinning very fast, intending to destroy all who came near. With his great speed, Garuda passed through between the spokes of that wheel. He saw that two great snakes were guarding the vessel beyond. He generated a great dust storm and blinded them. He then mangled them to death. He broke open the mechanism that was guarding the nectar, and rose to the skies, carrying the vessel in his claws.

When Indra saw that Amrit was being stolen, he discharged his potent weapon Vajra towards Garuda. In respect to the Rishi (Dadichi) from whose bones that weapon had been crafted, Garuda shed exactly one feather. Otherwise he was unharmed and continued on his way. Despite having possession of the divine nectar that would have made him immortal, he did not partake of it, intending to fulfill his promise to his brothers.

He met Lord Vishnu on the way. Vishnu granted him a boon, in appreciation of his selflessness. Garuda chose the boon that he should always be higher than Vishnu, and that he would be immortal, even without the aid of Amrit. Vishnu granted him this boon and set him on his flagstaff, thus giving him a great position. He then said to the bird, “Know that your half brothers are evil. If they drink Amrit and become immortal, much harm shall come to the world. You have only undertaken to bring the nectar to them. Use some stratagem and prevent them from drinking it.”

Accordingly, when Garuda reached the isle where the snakes were, he set the pot of Amrit before them. He then said to them, “I have brought Amrit to you. As per our agreement, you should release me and my mother from bondage.”

The snakes said, “So Be it!”, and started to advance towards the vessel containing the nectar.

Garuda said, “It has been said that, before beginning a great task, one should purify yourself. All of you are unclean, finish your ablutions before you partake of this nectar.”

Agreeing to this advice the snakes went to the river to purify themselves. Indra, who was waiting for just such an opportunity, stole the vessel and restored it to its place among the Devas. Thus the evil snakes were thwarted at their bid to attain immortality.

Since the Amrit had been placed on Kusa grass, that grass became sacred to the Gods from that day. Since Garuda had helped him, Indra desired his friendship and got it. They divided the rule of the world amongst themselves. Garuda got the overlordship of birds and other flying creatures, while Indra got the rest. And obedient to the command of Vishnu, Garuda became his faithful mount. In return, he got the boon that snakes should become his food.

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CURSE OF PARIKSHIT

King Parikshit, the son of Abhimanyu, inherited the kingdom of the Kurus after the Pandavas. True to his lineage, he was a valorous warrior, just monarch and very well liked by his subjects. He was very fond of hunting for sport.

One day, while hunting in the forest, he was separated from his followers, and got lost. He wandered around, in search of water to quench his thirst, but did not find any. He was, at this time, around 60 years of age. Soon hunger added itself to the set of ills plaguing him.

In this emaciated state, deep in the woods, he came across a humble hermitage. A high-souled Rishi was sitting in a posture of meditation below a nearby tree. The King thought that, here at last, there is some means to relieve my hunger and thirst. He then went near the Rishi and humbly requested him for food and water.

The Rishi was observing an oath of silence, which prevented him from even trying to communicate with the King. He remained deep in meditation, as one oblivious to the King’s presence. The King was extremely angry. He saw that a dead snake was lying in the grass nearby. He lifted the snake with the corner of his bow, and garlanded the Rishi with this unclean object. After offering this insult, he went his way. Throughout this, the Rishi remained silent, continuing his meditation.

This ascetic had a son named Sringin (whom he had begotten on a cow). A few days after the incident of the dead snake, Sringin got into an argument with his friend. This friend taunted him by saying, “After all what else can one expect from someone whose father is shameless, oblivious to insults!”

Intrigued, Sringin demanded an explanation from his friend. The friend narrated to him the incident of the dead snake. Sringin was extremely angry when he heard of the King’s actions. He cursed him, saying, “Since out of the arrogance of his power Parikshit has garlanded my father with a dead snake, may he die before the seventh day from today, bitten by a snake. The impious king shall be sent to the abode of Yama by Takshaka, the king of the serpents. Thus shall the king whose very existence is an offense to the high-souled people, meet with an untimely death!”

When the Rishi heard that his son Sringin had cursed Parikshit, he was sad. He called his son to his abode, and said, “Son, When I myself have forgiven King Parikshit for the insult offered, why did you curse him? Do you not know that he is a just and illustrious king? He was tired and hungry that day, and committed this venial offense in a fit of rage. Except for this one instance, he has been an exemplary ruler. Thanks to his just rule, the Rishi’s can continue their penances without fear of interruption. It behooves a Brahmana to keep his anger and passion under strict control. It is evident that you are yet to reach the mental maturity required to become an ascetic. Your education is, therefore, incomplete. Go to the forest and learn to control your anger by indulging in constant penance!”.

The Rishi then summoned his disciple named Gurumukha, and told him, “Go to the palace of king Parikshit. Offer my regards to him. Tell him that he has been cursed by my son Sringin, who was unable to bear the insult offered to me. According to the curse, King Parikshit will die before the seventh day from now. There is a chance that the curse might be thwarted. Ask the King to take all precautions.”

The disciple carried the message to the King. The King grieved more for the insult that he had offered to the Rishi, than for his own imminent death. He thanked the messenger, and asked him to carry back his greetings to the Rishi. He then called all his courtiers and informed them about the curse.

Overnight, a magnificent new palace was constructed for the King. It was raised on a single tall pillar, and the base of the pillar was inside a moat. Many warriors and Brahmanas skilled in the art of repelling snakes were placed around the palace to protect the King. An announcement was made, that anyone who had skill in the art of counteracting snake-venom should report to the king. They would be recompensed handsomely for their trouble.

The King spent all the time in this palace, surrounded by Brahmanas learned in the Vedas. Six days passed in this manner, with the King listening to the recitations of the Vedas and Puranas. Meanwhile, impelled by the curse, Takshaka was on his way to the kingdom of Parikshit.

He met a Brahmana named Kashyapa (this might be “the” Kashyapa). They both started traveling together. Kashyapa mentioned that he was visiting the kingdom of Parikshit to save the king from death by snake bite. He claimed that he knew the art of counteracting poison, whereby he could prevent death, regardless of the potency of the poison.

Takshaka assumed his true form and said, “I doubt whether anybody can counteract my poison. Know that I am that very same Takshaka, the king of the serpents. I am the most venomous amongst them. I am certain that you shall fail.”

Kashyapa then proposed a trial of strength. Takshaka said, “Look at this banyan tree. It is a very large tree, in full bloom. Behold its destruction by my poison!”. He then bit his fangs into the trunk of the tree. Such was the potency of his venom, that the tree was immediately burned to ashes.

The Brahmana first went around the tree. He then started chanting the Mantras to counteract the snake venom. He then took out a little water from his Kamandal (Vessel for carrying water meant for rituals), and sprinkled it on the ashes. Within seconds, fresh shoots started appearing in the ashes. In a minute, the tree started growing from its charred remains. Finally, the tree stood in all its glory, just as it was before Takshaka destroyed it.

Takshaka said, “O Brahmana, great indeed is thy prowess. You have humbled me. I have a request to make of you. You know that Parikshit has been cursed to die this day at my hands. If you attempt to revive him, you will certainly have an element of doubt in your mind when you are chanting the Mantras. If doubt enters a ritual, there is a good chance that the spell won’t work. Your fame will be diminished if you fail. It is best that you turn back now. If you are trying to help Parikshit to obtain wealth, I can give you more wealth than he can. Think carefully before you return an answer to my proposal.”

The ascetic thought for a while. He used his Yogic powers and divined that the end of Parikshit was near. He then accepted wealth from the king of snakes, and returned to his home.

Now the coast was clear for Takshaka. He sent some of his fellow snakes, disguised as traveling ascetics, to meet King Parikshit. He transformed himself into an insect and entered a fruit that they were carrying. The fake ascetics were admitted to the King’s presence. As fate would have it, the King chose exactly the same fruit that Takshaka was present in. He took one bite, then the insect came out of the fruit. The sun was setting on the seventh day. Parikshit thought that he had escaped the curse of Sringin. He mockingly said, “Let the Rishi’s curse work! I shall assume that this tiny insect is Takshaka, the king of serpents. May he bite me and send me to my death!”. He then placed the insect on his neck.

In an instant, Takshaka assumed his form as a great serpent. He then entwined himself around the hapless king, and sunk his great fangs in Parikshit’s neck. As was to be expected, the King fell down dead, charred by the potency of the snake’s venom.

His son Janamejaya, who was a minor at that time, inherited the Kingdom. Long after this, after Janamejaya had attained his majority, he performed a great snake-sacrifice in revenge for his father’s death at the hands of Takshaka. That story can be read here.

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UTANKA AND TAKSHANKA

Once there was a learned Guru named Ayoda-Dhaumya, who had a disciple named Veda. The guru said to his disciple, “Veda, go to my house and do my household work. Ask my wife if she has any chores for you. Till further notice, you will be a servant in my house. If you do your duties diligently, it will be ultimately to your profit.”

Veda said, “As you command, master.” And he went and reported for duty at his Guru’s house. For many years, he served his master and his wife faithfully. This was the trial devised by Ayoda-Dhaumya to test the resolve of his pupil. Years passed, and Veda did all his chores uncomplainingly. Dhaumya was very much pleased with the dedication of Veda. He then taught Veda the wisdom contained in the scriptures, till Veda had equaled his Guru in his knowledge.

After completing his education, Veda returned to his home town, and became a Guru himself. He had many students, some of them did his household work, but he was careful to make sure that their duties were not too difficult, for he remembered his own youth, spent in endless toil in his Guru’s house.

Some time after he had begun teaching, King Janamejaya of the Kuru dynasty, appointed him as his spiritual guide (Upadyaya), so Veda had to go to Janamejaya’s kingdom. Before going, he called his favorite disciple Utalaka and said, “I will be gone for quite some time. I appoint you in charge of my household. Do everything that is proper, and above all obey the orders of my wife, except when they would conflict with the path of truth.”

Utanka performed all the household duties diligently. A few days after his Guru had departed, the females of the house addressed him and said, “O Utanka, Your mistress is in that season when connubial connection might be fruitful. Your Guru is absent. He appointed you to take his place. Do what is needful.”

Utanka replied, “It is indeed to true that my master appointed me to act in his place. But what you are asking is improper. My Guru has explicitly warned me against doing an improper deed, so do not press me in this matter.”

After a while, his Guru returned from his journey. He learned all that had taken place from Utanka, and was very pleased with his rectitude. He then said, “Utanka, You have already learned all that you need from me. In addition, you have also served me faithfully, and repaid me amply for the instruction that you received. Your education is complete, you may now go into the wide world, as a learned, wise man.”

Utanka said, “O Guru, all that I know, is through the gift of your instruction. You have been like a father to me and taken care of my needs. Although I have served your household, I do not consider that your teaching-fee has been paid by it. Please accept something from me, which may hope to equal at least in part, the priceless gift of knowledge that you have given me.”

Veda said, “I do not want anything for myself. I am more than satisfied with you. Perchance my wife, your preceptress, might want something. Before departing, ask her if you can get something for her.”

Accordingly, Utanka went to Veda’s wife, and after prostrating himself at her feet, said, “You have been like a mother to me while I lived at your house. My Guru has now given me leave to depart. I wanted to give him something in return for my education, but he told me to ask you if you wanted anything.”

That woman said, “Know that the fourth day from today is a sacred day when many Brahmanas will be entertained in a feast in this house. I will be appearing in my best clothes before them. However, I do not have ear-rings to match my dress. King Paushya’s wife has a dazzling pair of ear-rings. I wish to obtain them for myself. If you can accomplish this task then you will be twice blessed. However, if you cannot do this task, you won’t be able to accomplish anything else in this life.”

Utanka departed for the capital city, to meet King Paushya. On the way, he saw a giant of a man, who was riding a bull of huge size. When the man saw Utanka, he said, “Utanka, you may eat the dung of this bull.”

Utanka was surprised that this man knew his name, but he naturally hesitated from eating the dung of a bull. He politely declined.

The man repeated, “Do not be afraid of this dung. Know that your Guru Veda has eaten this same dung unreservedly. Surely what was good enough for your Guru must be good enough for you? Much good will come to you if you eat the dung.”

Utanka then ate the dung of the bull and drank its urine. After thanking the man for his kindness, he washed his hands and mouth. (It is necessary to purify oneself after eating food. It is especially important for a Brahmana.) He then resumed his journey and soon arrived at the palace of King Paushya.

He saluted the King and told him who he was and who his Guru was. Since his Guru was a well known learned man, the King received him very kindly and said, “Sir, what can I do for you? Do not hesitate to ask for anything you wish.”

Utanka then said, “O King, my Guru’s wife has requested me to obtain the ear-rings of your queen for her. This is the gift that she wanted in exchange for her husband’s having educated me.”

King Paushya replied, “Utanka, please go to my Queen’s chambers and tell her that I asked her to give the ear-rings to you. She is always glad to see a wise man and will willingly give you her ear-rings”.

Utanka went to the chambers of the Queen, but he found it empty. He then returned to the King and said, “Why did you send me on a fool’s errand? Did you not know that your Queen is not in her apartments?”

The King said, “Nay, I personally know it for a fact that my Queen never leaves her chambers during this time of the day. However, my Queen will not appear before someone who is unclean. Have you properly purified yourself before you went there?”

Utanka replied, “I have certainly washed my hands and mouth before coming here. However, I was standing up while I was performing the purification, so it is possible that I might still be unclean.”

The King said, “As a learned man, you should know that purification can be performed only in a sitting posture. If you have cleaned yourself in haste, it has no effect. Purify yourself according to the prescribed rituals and then go to my Queen.”

This time, when Utanka went to the apartment, the Queen personally received him. She said, “I already know why you are here. Here are my ear-rings. Tell your Guru’s wife that I am pleased to be of assistance. However, remember one thing. These rings are unique. Takshaka, the king of serpents has been coveting these for a long time. Take care on your journey, lest he trick you and steal these ear-rings.”

Utanka promised that he will take utmost care of the ear-rings, and went back to the King. Paushya then invited him to eat in the palace and had food brought in. When Utanka was about to eat, he was struck by doubt and examined the food carefully. As he had suspected, it was cold and unclean. He grew angry and cursed the King, saying, “Since you have offered unclean food to a Brahmana, may you lose your sight!”.

King Paushya also grew angry, he said, “I have never served unclean food to anybody in my life. Since you have unjustly accused me of offering you unclean food, may you be barren! You will never have any children.”

Utanka insisted that the food was unclean, and asked the king to verify with his own eyes about the state of the food. Paushya examined the food and saw that this was indeed the case. The King then pacified Utanka by begging his pardon. He said, “I am sorry that unclean food has been offered to you. It looks as if the food has been prepared by a woman who did not braid her hair. It is cold and her hair is also mixed in it. Since I have offended you out of ignorance, please recuse me from your curse.”

The Brahmana said, “My curse, once uttered, cannot be withdrawn. However, I shall decree that you will ultimately regain your sight after some time. Now that you have seen for yourself the state of the food, it behooves you to withdraw your curse also.”

The King said, “A Brahmana may be quick to anger, but he is also quick to forgive. It is his nature. However, once a Kshatriya is angry, his anger does not subside easily.\ I am still angry with you for cursing me, so I cannot take my curse back. Do as you wish.”

To this Utanka replied, “Since you have cursed me without any reason, and you are merely a King, not a wise Brahmana, I am certain that your curse will have no effect on me. You have behaved rather unbecomingly by not taking your curse back, but it is of little matter. Give me leave to go.”

After this Utanka began his homeward journey. He grew thirsty on the way and after putting the ear-rings on the ground, went to drink water from a nearby stream. A beggar who had been following him, seized this opportunity and ran away with the ear-rings. Utanka saw this and gave chase. Finally, he managed to catch up with him. In an instant, the beggar transformed into his true form and turned into a serpent. This was Takshaka, the king of the serpents. He then disappeared into a hole in the ground.

Utanka tried to dig open the hole with a stick but was not making any progress. He then beseeched Indra, the King of heaven, who took pity on him and blasted the hole open with his weapon, the Vajra. Utanka then entered the kingdom of the serpents through this hole. He was amazed to see a great city inside, with priceless gems adorning all the buildings. It was truly a magnificent city, with all manner of facilities for games and entertainment. Utanka then sought to placate the serpents, by composing the following verses, “Ye Serpents, subjects of King Iyravata (this Iyravata is a snake, the son of Kadru, not to be confused with Iyravata, the mount of Indra), splendid in battle and showering weapons in the field like lightning-charged clouds driven by the winds! Handsome and of various forms and decked with many colored ear-rings, ye children of Iyravata, ye shine like the Sun in the firmament! On the northern banks of the Ganges are many habitations of serpents. There I constantly adore the great serpents. Who except Iyravata would desire to move in the burning rays of the Sun? When Dhritharashtra (Iyravata’s brother) goes out, twenty-eight thousand and eight serpents follow him as his attendants. Ye who move near him and ye who stay at a distance from him, I adore thee that have Iyravata for your elder brother.”

“I adore thee also, to obtain the ear-rings, O Takshaka, who formerly dwelt in Kurukshetra and the forest of Khandava! Takshaka and Asvasena, ye are constant companions who dwell in Kurukshetra on the banks of Ikshumati! I also adore the illustrious Srutasena, the younger brother of Takshaka, who resided at the holy place called Mahadyumna with a view to obtaining the kingship of the serpents.” [Note: These Verses Were taken from the Translation of the Mahabharata by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, which can be found archived at http://www.sacred-texts.com] Despite his beautiful verses in praise of the serpents, he did not get his ear-rings back. He then wandered around the place, seeking Takshaka. He saw many wondrous sights, sights that he did not know the meaning of. He then saw that he would need divine assistance, if he ever hoped to get the ear-rings back, so be once again beseeched Indra, asking for his aid in recovering the ear-rings from Takshaka.

Indra the appeared before him, mounted on his divine horse Uchaishravas. He said to Utanka, “Blow into this horse and your deed shall be done.”

Obedient to the God’s command, Utanka then blew into the horse. Great flames of fire started emerging from the horse. There was thick smoke all around and the whole region of the Nagas (serpents) became unbearably hot.

Unable to bear the heat, Takshaka came out of his palace and begged Utanka for mercy. He immediately restored the ear-rings, and sought to placate him.

Utanka was pacified. Besides, he had a more pressing problem now. Today was the fourth day from the start of his journey. Here he was, so far away from his Guru’s home, and unable to give the rings to his preceptress in time. He became afraid that she will curse him if he were to be late.

Indra saw his predicament and said, “Ride this horse and it shall take you in an instant to your Guru’s house.”

Accordingly, Utanka then mounted the horse and commanded it to take him to his Guru’s house. The next instant he was there. Once he dismounted, the divine horse vanished. He went inside and found his master’s wife on the point of going to receive the Brahmanas. She was thinking that he had failed his quest, and was on the point of cursing him. When Utanka gave her the ear-rings, she was very happy and blessed him.

Utanka then went to his Guru Veda, and said, “Master, On my way to the palace, I was asked to eat the dung of a bull by a giant. He said that you had done so in the past. Who was he and what does the bull and dung signify?”

His Guru replied, “The giant was Indra in disguise. The bull was Iyravata, his mount. He gave you Amrit (nectar) disguised as dung. He has bestowed a great honor upon you.”

Utanka continued, “Master, while I was at the kingdom of the serpents I saw many wondrous sights. Pray, tell me what was the meaning of all that?”

Veda said, “You would have seen two damsels, weaving a cloth from black and white threads on a loom. Know that those two are the fates, Dhatha and Vidhatha. The black and white threads represent night and day and they are weaving the future of the world. You would have seen the wheel of time, which represents a year, with its twelve spokes denoting the months. It is turned by six boys, who represent the six seasons. You would have also encountered a handsome man. Know that he is Parajanya, the God of rain. The horse accompanying him is Agni, the deity of fire. The Gods have shown you great favors, pray to them constantly and much good will come to you.”

Thus enlightened, Utanaka took his leave from his master and went his way.

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JANMEJAYA’S SNAKE-SACRIFICE

King Janamejaya the son of King Parikshit was the king of the Kurus, ruling from Hastinapura. One day, a Brahmana named Utanka (whose story is narrated here), came to his court. The king received him graciously, and asked him if there was something he could do for him.

Utanka said, “You amaze me King Janamejaya. When the murderer of your father is roaming around free, you sit at ease in your court and enjoy the the comforts of a King. You have acquired fame as a just King, but I see no evidence of it. You have not even addressed this great injustice to your father!” not addressed this great injustice done to you.”

Janamejaya was surprised. He turned to his counsellors and sad, “What is this about my father’s murder. I was but a child when he passed away, I no naught of the circumstances behind his death. I would like to know if he was killed unjustly, and if so, who the culprit is.”

The courtiers said, “Your father Parikshit ruled the kingdom after the Pandavas and ruled for a long time truthfully. He was popular among his subjects and was a terror to his enemies. He was killed by Takshaka, the king of the serpents, pursuant to a curse by the son of a Rishi(sage). (You can read that story here.) What Utanka has said is true, Takshaka, the murderer of your father still roams free.

When Janamejaya heard these words, he was rendered speechless for a while due to anger. Once he regained control over himself he said to Utanka, “O Brahmana, I thank you. You have brought this great injustice to my attention. I must revenge myself on this arrogant Takshaka at once. Tell me, what is the means by which I might accomplish this task?”

Utanka replied, “Takshaka is the friend of Indra. Under Indra’s protection, he feels safe from retribution, so his conceit has grown boundless. However, there is a great sacrifice mentioned in the Puranas. It is the snake-sacrifice. When this sacrifice is conducted, the snakes that are named by the Mantras (incantations) will be rendered powerless and be impelled to fall into the sacrificial fire. Make arrangements to conduct this sacrifice. I shall assist you, for Takshaka has caused trouble for me also. He once stole the ear-rings that I was taking for my Guru Veda’s wife. I had to face many difficulties in recovering them. So both our wishes may be accomplished by this sacrifice.”

King Janamejaya then made arrangements for this sacrifice. He invited the greatest sages and priests to conduct this sacrifice. This was a truly great undertaking, for the rituals for this sacrifice were arduous, and had to be exactly followed, if the sacrifice was to bear foot. A suitable spot was chosen and the great sacrificial hall was constructed. A platform was raised in its midst and was decked with valuable articles. This was were the Brahmanas were to sit. The Ritwika (officiating priest) sat in its middle. The king also underwent the rituals that will purify him to participate in the sacrifice.

While these preparations were on, a Shudra named Lohitaksha, who was well versed in the art of sacrificial construction, examined the measurements of the hall, the type of soil on which its foundation had been laid, and said, “O King, I perceive from these signs that your sacrifice will not be completed. The omens portend that this sacrifice shall be stopped due to the intervention of a Brahmana.”

This made King Janamejaya recall an incident where his brothers had beaten a small dog for fun in times gone by. The mother of that puppy, a divine bitch named Sarama, came to Janamejaya and asked him, “What was the crime committed by my son that you had him beaten? Did he lick the sacrificial offerings? Did he try to steal the sacrificial butter? Why did your brothers beat him?”. The King knew that his brothers had done it merely for sport, so he hung his head in shame. Then the dog Sarama had cursed him saying, “Since your brothers have tortured my faultless pup, may the greatest undertaking that you begin, remain incomplete!”.

The King recalled this curse and became very worried when he was told by the expert builder that this sacrifice would be incomplete. He then gave orders to his guards that no one was let into the sacrificial hall without his permission.

The great sacrifice began. The officiating priests were clad in black, for this was a Yagna directed towards destruction. As they chanted the appropriate Mantras and poured the clarified butter into the fire, snakes, impelled by the power of these incantations, started converging from all over the world. There were snakes of all shapes and sizes, some of them were as large as buildings, some as small as insects. As the priests called each snake by name and uttered the fatal words, “may so and so fall into fire”, that snake would meet its fiery end into the sacrificial fire.

Many great Brahmanas were involved in the conduct of this sacrifice. A great Rishi named Chandabhargava, who was a descendant of Chyavana was the Hotri (I believe it is the Hotri who pours out the sacrificial oblations into the fire). A learned old Brahmana named Kautsa was the Udgatri (chanter of vedic hymns). A sage named Jaimini acted as the Brahmana (I believe this is the master of the sacrifice) and Sarngarva and Pingala were the Adhvaryus (no idea what this means). Vyasa was present with many of his disciples, and was generally supervising the conduct of the sacrifice. His students were chanting the name of the Lord. Many other great Brahmanas were present to observe the conduct of this magnificent sacrifice.

The sacrifice continued for days. Snakes were perishing in the flames in thousands. At this point, a Brahmana named Astika came to visit the sacrifice. The sacrifice was nearing completion. The King welcomed his guest and said, “O Brahmana, despite your relative youth, your very being is radiating with knowledge. I have sworn to grant whatever a Brahmana desires. Ask what you will.”

At this time, the chief priest intervened and said, “O King, the sacrifice is not yet complete. Takshaka, whose destruction you desired, is still alive. Wait till he is falling to the fire, before you begin giving gifts to Brahmanas.”

Janamejaya said, “Why is it that Takshaka is still alive? Invoke the Mantra with his name and make him fall into the fire.”

The priests uttered the appropriate incantations, but nothing happened. They then looked at the omens in the air, and used their spiritual power to divine the cause. Finally, the head priest said, “O King, Takshaka has sought asylum from Indra. The Lord of the Devas is protecting him in his palace, that is why our Mantras have not worked.”

The king said, “Then utter the Mantra in such a way that Takshaka may be impelled to fall into this fire, even though Indra has given him sanctuary.”

The chief priest then invoked a powerful Mantra and said, “May Takshaka fall into this fire, accompanied by Indra.”

Such was the potency of the invocation, that both Indra and Takshaka started falling into the sacrificial fire, bound to each other. When Indra saw that his friend’s fate was inevitable, he let go of Takshaka and decided to save himself. Takshaka then started falling alone into the fire.

At this moment, Astika said, “STAY! Takshaka may your fall be arrested!”. He then turned to the King and said, “This is the boon that I seek of you. May you stop the sacrifice at this time. You have already killed millions of snakes in revenge for your father’s death. I am a Brahmana, but my mother Jaratkaru, is the sister of Vasuki, the foremost of the serpents. She sent me here to stop your sacrifice and to save her kinsmen. Even Lord Brahma desires that you should remain content with slaying so many evil snakes. The snakes that are left still (excluding of course, this vain Takshaka), are virtuous and not deserving to be destroyed. Your glory will only increase if spare their lives.”

King Janamejaya demurred. At this point Vyasa spoke to him, and advised him to grant Astika’s request. Thus advised by the sage for whom he had so much respect, the King gave orders for the sacrifice to end.

The King then bestowed great riches upon Astika and all the priests who had conducted the sacrifice. He gave special honor and a great amount of wealth to Lohitaksha, the master builder who had foretold that the sacrifice would be stopped by a Brahmana.

This is the story of the great snake sacrifice conducted by King Janamejaya. The tradition is that whoever hears this story will have nothing to fear from snakes.

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THE BIRTH OF CHYAVANA

The great sage Bhrigu, the wish born son of Lord Brahma, had married a lady named Pauloma. They spent their time together, devoted to each other. In time, she became pregnant.

One day Bhrigu had gone out on some business and his wife Pauloma was alone in the house. A Rakshasa (also named Pauloma), came to visit Bhrigu. The Rishi’s wife welcomed the Rakshasa, and entertained him with food. The Rakshasa saw this matron, who was of incomparable beauty, and was filled with dust. He resolved to carry her away to his abode.

The Rakshasa observed that the sacrificial fire was burning bright in one corner of the hermitage. The Rakshasa addressed Agni (fire) and said, “It is said that Agni, you are the witness for all oaths and promises. Tell me, is it not true that my namesake, this beautiful Pauloma, was betrothed to me by her father in days of yore? Has not Bhrigu stolen her away from me unlawfully? Will I not be justified in recovering her by force. Speak the truth, for you may not utter a falsehood.”

Now Agni was in a quandary. He feared both the Rakshasa and the great sage Bhrigu. So he remained silent. Upon the Rakshasa repeating his query, he at last said, “O Rakshasa, It is certainly true that you were originally betrothed to this woman. However, you were not married to her. She was not made over to you with the sacrificial fire as the witness. She has married the sage Bhrigu and is his wife. Her father has bestowed her upon that Brahmana, you have no right over her.”

Greatly enraged at the words of Agni, the Rakshasa assumed the form of a giant boar and in a single leap, landed near the Rishi’s wife. He then seized her and began carrying her to his abode, traveling at a great speed. Pauloma started crying. The tears that flowed from her eyes formed the river Vadhusara. The child of Bhrigu in her womb, was enraged at this proceeding. As the Rakshasa was still in flight, the baby emerged from his mother (this is the reason he was called Chyavana) and his aura shone like that of the sun.

When the Rakshasa beheld the brilliance of this baby, he was startled and let go of Pauloma. The next instant, he fell headlong to the earth and was burned to ashes. (I think that the baby Chyavana must have cursed him.) Pauloma then collected her infant in her arms, and began walking back towards her home.

When she got there, her husband was anxiously awaiting her. When he saw her Bhrigu said, “How did the Rakshasa dare to carry you away? Who made known your identity to that demon?” (This is somewhat perplexing, for the Rakshasa already knew who she was, he merely asked the question of Agni in a rhetorical sense).

She said, “My husband, the sacrificial fire, Agni betrayed me to that Rakshasa. It was only through the power of your brilliant son, this infant Chyavana that I was rescued.”

In his great anger Bhrigu uttered a curse. He said, “O Agni, since you have betrayed us, may you become indiscriminate in your hunger. You will consume foul things along with the good.”

Upon hearing this curse, Agni appeared there and said, “O Great sage, what you have said is not proper. I am the witness of the world. I cannot utter a falsehood even to save my life. When the Rakshasa interrogated me, I was honor bound to utter the truth. It was known to me that your wife, this Pauloma was originally betrothed by her father to the Rakshasa Pauloma. Having this knowledge, I could not say otherwise when the Rakshasa posed the question to me. I can also curse you in return, but I shall not do so. I hold all Brahmanas in high respect. I am the life-force behind creation. I can multiply myself in an instant. My presence is essential for all rituals. I am the mouth by which the Devas lap up the oblations. Without my presence, the universe will come to a halt. I am the chief among priests. I am the medium of the sacrifice. How can I, who am the link between Gods and men, become a eater of all things, clean and unclean?”

However, Bhrigu refused to withdraw his curse, for he was still very angry. Agni became annoyed, and decided to withdraw himself from the abode of men. He stayed away from the sacrificial fire, from the household fire and refused to appear when invoked in the prayers of men. The world began to suffer. Men could not do anything without fire. The Devas also began to weaken, for they depended on the worship of men and needed Agni to carry Havis up to them. In great distress, all of them went to Brahma-Loka, the abode of Brahma and beseeched him to save them.

The creator of all worlds then summoned Agni to his presence. He said, “Agni, great is your power. Like me, you are immortal. You are the creator and you are the destroyer. You preserve this world. You are the Lord and master of all ceremonies and sacrifices. It does not behoove you to sulk, and stop all the ceremonies in the three worlds. The Devas are weakening without the Havis that only you can bring them. O you who consumes the sacrificial butter, why are you sulking thus?”

To this Agni replied, “I have been cursed by your mansa-putra (wish-born son) Bhrigu, that I will eat unclean things from now on. Unable to bear this insult, which came about out of no fault of mine, I have resolved to never eat anything again, and thus escape from the curse.”

Brahma said, “I shall grant the boon to you, that you shall always be pure. No matter how vile the food that is offered to you, once it comes in contact with you, it shall turn pure. This way, the Rishi’s words shall also remain true, while not dimming your splendor in any way.”

Agni rejoiced in his deliverance from fate and then resumed his position as the mouth of the Gods. All was well with the world again.

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THE BIRTH OF ASTIKA

Once there was a Rishi named Jaratkaru, who had devoted his entire life to austerities, starting at a very young age. He had conquered desire, and spent all his time in severe penances. He undertook a journey around the world. He bathed in various sacred-rivers and worshiped at many sacred places.

While traveling in a forest, he saw that a large number of men were suspended upside down from a tree. They were being slowly lowered into a gaping hole in the ground. He then approached them and asked, “Who are you? What is your crime that such a punishment has been inflicted upon you?”

They replied, “We are the souls of dead men. We were Rishi’s of great austerities called the Yavyavaras. We have only one descendant alive now. But that wretch, instead of marrying and begetting offspring to continue our line, has devoted his entire life to penances. Since we do not have offspring to deliver us from the hell known as Puth (Since the son delivers one from this hell, he is called Putra), we have been condemned to be slowly tortured thus. That worthless offspring of our race is called Jaratkaru. If you ever meet him, tell him of our plight!”

Jaratkaru was filled with wonder. He said, “I am that wretch that is your descendant. I did not know that my celibacy had affected your status in after life. Tell me, what is to be done now.”

The said, “As soon as possible, marry and beget children. That is the only thing that can save you. Besides, your son is the guarantee for your afterlife also. Go forth and marry.”

The Rishi Jaratkaru then wandered all over the earth, in search of a wife, but he did not find a wife. He was too old, and not pleasant to look at, so it was no wonder that no one would marry his daughter to him. In desperation, for he really wished to rescue his ancestors from the hell known as Puth, he retired to a dense forest, and repeated his request for a bride in a faint voice to the Gods.

Vasuki, the king of the serpents, appeared in front of him and said, “O Great One, I have a beautiful sister who is of marriageable age. I am desirous of wedding her to you. Please accept her hand in marriage.”

The Rishi then said, “I am thankful to you, O King of serpents, but it has been foretold that my wife will be of the same name as me. Unless your sister is also called Jaratkaru, I cannot marry her.”

Vasuki said, “I am aware of that prophesy. Rejoice, for my sister is also named Jaratkaru. Right from the time she was a child, I had reserved her for marrying you. Accept her.”

The Rishi said, “I shall marry your sister only upon one condition. She should never question anything I do. She should obey my orders implicitly. She ought not do anything that I will not like. I do not have the wealth to maintain a wife. Therefore you must maintain your sister even after the marriage. If you consent to these conditions, let the marriage be performed.”

Vasuki accepted these conditions on behalf of his sister, and the marriage was duly performed according to the prescribed Vedic rites.

[Note: The snakes had refused to assist their mother Kadru in winning a bet by cheating. Enraged, their mother cursed them to be burnt in the sacrificial fire. Thanks to the grace of Lord Brahma, it was modified such that many snakes shall perish, but a few shall survive to propagate the race. It had been foretold that the son of Jaratkaru and Vasuki’s sister was the only one who could save the snakes. This is the reason why Vasuki was so anxious to marry his sister to the sage. The bet of Kadru and her curse can be found in this article.]

The newly-weds began their life together. Vasuki’s sister proved to be a devoted wife, and she stuck the condition imposed by her husband, never acting contrary to his wishes. A son was conceived out of their conjugal union, but the woman was not aware of it yet.

One day, the Rishi was sleeping with his head placed on the lap of his wife. He slept for a longer time than usual, and the sun began to set. His wife was in a dilemma now. On one hand, she wanted to wake her husband up, for he had to perform the rituals ordained for the sunset time, or his virtue will be diminished. She was also afraid to wake him up, for he would be angry at being disturbed in his sleep. She finally decided, that the greater danger lay in his loss of his ascetic powers, due to his missing the evening ritual.

She gently shook him, and sprinkled water to awaken him. At last he awoke. As she feared, he was exceedingly angry on being woken up. His wife pleaded with him, “O my husband, I did not want you to miss the evening rituals ordained in the Vedas. I was afraid that all the ascetic merit that you have accumulated by long penance would be destroyed, by your untimely sleep!”

The Rishi said, “Know that I have never done anything unseasonably in the night. If I had not performed my evening rituals, the sun would not have set, for such is the power of my ascetism. Since you have broken the pledge your brother made, and disobeyed me, I shall leave you forth-with.”

She became fearful of her husband’s wrath and pleaded again and again with him, but the Rishi was adamant. In desperation, she said, “My kinsmen are dependent upon the son who would be born to us to deliver them from danger. If you leave me now, how can a son be born to me. I have failed my brother Vasuki, for I have not yet produced a child!”

But by his divine insight, the Rishi knew that she was pregnant, so he said, “There is” and went away. [ By this he meant that there is already a son conceived. The son thus conceived was named Astika (whoever is) ]

Jaratkaru then returned to her brother’s abode, and made him acquainted with all that had happened. Initially Vasuki was alarmed that the heir that he had been hoping for, was not to be, but he was consoled when she assured him that her husband had said that she already was carrying a child.

The child was born in due course, and he was given the name of Astika. He was a brilliant scholar, and was very learned in the Vedas and scriptures. When he was about sixteen, King Janamejaya performed the great snake-sacrifice with the aim of destroying all the snakes. At his mother’s request, Astika went to the sacrifice, and obtained a boon from Janamejaya that the snake-sacrifice should be abandoned mid way. [That story is told here.]. Thus he fulfilled the purpose of his birth, saving his kinsmen, the snakes from utter destruction.

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THE VASUS ARE CURSED BY VASISHTA

Vasishta, the son of Varuna was a great sage. (This account is different from the one that makes him the wish-born son of Lord Brahma). He had his hermitage on Mt. Meru, and this spot was very beautiful and secluded. He possessed a cow called Nandini, which was the daughter of Surabhi, by he sage Kashyapa. (Here, Surabhi is probably Kamadhenu). This cow, like her mother, was capable of yielding great riches to its possessor. It was in the habit of roaming the woods near the hermitage of the Rishi.

One day, the celestial Vasus came to this spot, accompanied by their wives. They were eight brothers, who normally lived in the heaven. When one of the ladies beheld Nandini, the cow of plenty, she became desirous of possessing it. She said to her husband Dyu, “My Lord, I wish to obtain this cow for my friend. My friend Jitavati, the daughter of the sage Usinara, is mortal. By drinking the milk from this cow regularly, she will be free from disease and decrepitude. Get this cow for me.”

Now the Vasu knew that the cow belonged to the Rishi. So he tried to persuade his wife to forget about the cow, for the Rishi would not part with it under any circumstances. However, unable to bear the nagging of his wife, he ultimately decided to carry the cow away by force. Assisted by his brothers, he took the cow away to his home.

Rishi Vasishta had been away from his hermitage at this time. When he got back, he was surprised to see that his cow had not returned, long past its usual time. He searched the nearby woods and saw no sign of the cow. He then used his Yogic power and divined all that had taken place. He then cursed the Vasus, saying, “Since in their arrogance the Vasus have committed the sin of stealing a Brahmana’s property, may they be born on earth and suffer a mortal’s fate!”.

When the Vasu’s came to know of the Rishi’s curse, they became penitent, and begged the Rishi to save them from his curse. At last, the sage relented. He said, “My curse cannot be completely stayed. The seven of you who have merely obeyed your brother’s orders, shall not have to suffer the mortal fate for long. However, Dyu, who is really the author of this mischief, will have to suffer his curse for a long time. However, he shall be an illustrious warrior, and will not have any children.”

Later, when King Mahabhishak was cursed by Lord Brahma to be born as King Shantanu, and it became known that the Goddess Ganga will be his wife, the Vasu’s begged her to be their mother in their mortal incarnation. They were the seven children drowned by Ganga when she was the wife of King Shantanu. The eighth child was the incarnation of Dyu, and he came to be known as Bhishma. After a long life, full of sorrows towards its end, he returned to heaven after his death at the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

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THE BIRTH OF SATYAVATI

Long ago, there was a king named Uparichara, also known as Vasu. He was a very valorous and virtues king. He was fond of hunting for sport. He belonged to the Paurava (is it the same as Kuru?) dynasty, and was also known as Vasu. He was a friend of Indra, and by his blessing, had conquered the kingdom of Chedi. He was also in the habit of visiting Indra in heaven, riding his crystal chariot in the sky. (Since he wandered in high places, he got the name of Uparichara).

After a while, he decided to give up his royal way of living, and gave up the use of weapons. He retreated to a secluded forest and indulged in severe penances and austerities. When the Devas beheld this, they were worried. Their king Indra became afraid that Uparichara was performing this penance to obtain his post.

So the Devas led by Indra approached the king, and by soft speeches, succeeded in turning his heart away from ascetism. They promised him eternal friendship and great bliss in heaven, if only he would give up his present way of life. According to their advice, the King returned to his kingdom, and resumed his rule. Indra gave him his own garland, which was made of lotuses that were ever-blooming as a mark of his friendship and favor.

Since the King of the Gods had marked him with such honor, the fame of Uparichara spread all over the world. He instituted the tradition of a festival to Indra to honor the Devas. It was said that Indra himself would be present in the festivities, in the form of a swan and accept the homage offered to him. By the grace of the Lord of heaven, the kingdom flourished and was untroubled by enemies.

In due course of time, five sons were born to Uparichara. They rivalled him in virtue and prowess, and were installed as the governors of his provinces. Their names were Vrihadratha (who founded the kingdom of Magadha and was called Maharatha), Pratyagraha, Kusamva (called Manivahana), Mavella and Yadu. Much later, the five sons founded kingdoms named after themselves and established their dynasty.

There was a river named Suktimati that flowed in Uparichara’s capital. Once, a neighboring mountain range called Kolahala was maddened by lust and attacked this river. The river sought the protection of the King. Uparichara chased the mountain away, kicking it with his foot. However, due to the union of the mountain and the river, twin children, a boy and a girl were born. The river gave them to the King in gratitude for his protection. Vasu made the boy the commander-in-chief of his army. The daughter, named Girika (daughter-of-the-mountain), became his wife.

One fine spring day, Girika and Uparichara were together in a garden in his palace. Desire struck them both. At this moment, the Pitris (dead ancestors) of Uparichara came there and asked the King to slay deer, to be used in their monthly remembrance ceremony. As the King could not disobey the orders of his Pitris, he set forth immediately on the hunt.

While wandering in the forest, he came upon an alcove of Asoka trees. There was a divine fragrance in the air. The King could not conquer the desire for his beautiful wife, which was burning in his heart. He then beheld a hawk sitting on the tree and addressed it thus: “O King of the birds. This is an auspicious time for begetting children. My wife Girika is awaiting my embraces in my palace. Carry my seed to her, so that a child may be born to us.”

The hawk took the seed in its mouth and started flying towards the palace. It was seen by another hawk, which mistakenly assumed that it was carrying a piece of meet. It attacked this hawk, and they started fighting each other with their beaks. The seed fell in to the waters of the river Yamuna. There was a fish in this water, which was really an Apsara named Adrika, who had been transformed into a fish by a Brahmana’s curse. The fished swallowed this seed and became pregnant as a consequence. Once she became pregnant, the Apsara was freed from the curse and her spirit left the body of the fish.

Some time later, some fisherman belonging to Uparichara’s kingdom caught this fish. When they cut open the fish, they found twin children, a boy and a girl. They took the children to their King. He chose the boy to be brought up in his household and gave the girl to be brought up by the chief of the fishermen. This girl was Satyavati, the mother of Vyasa and the great-grandmother of the Pandavas and Kauravas. The boy later founded the kingdom of Matsya (Matsya=fish).

Since Satyavati was born inside a fish, she had an odor of fish about her. Later, when she yielded to the desire of the sage Parasara, he transformed her fish-odor into a divine fragrance, which gave her the name Yojana-Gandha (one who scatters her scent for a Yojana [measure of distance] around). The sage Vyasa was born of this union. Later, King Shantanu met her at her father’s house and married her. That story is told here.

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THE EARLY LIFE OF DRONA

The sage Bharadwaja was the son of Brihaspati, by Mamata, the wife of Brihaspati’s brother Utathya. He had his hermitage on the banks of the river Ganga, close to the place where Ganga is born from the Himalayas.

One day, he went to the river to purify himself before performing his daily AgniHotra (fire) sacrifice. The Apsara Ghritachi was bathing in the river. As she arose from the river, her clothes got rearranged. When the sage beheld her semi-clothed beauty, he was struck with burning desire. Due to the violence of his emotion, his vital fluid emerged spontaneously from his body. He preserved it in a water vessel (vessel=Drona in Sanskrit). From this water pot, his son Drona was born. He does not have a mother.

Bharadwaja was a great friend of the King of Panchala, named Prishada. He had a son named Drupada who was of the same age as Drona. The two youths struck up a great friendship. Their friendship was strengthened when they both became the disciples of a Brahmana named Agniveshya. This Brahmana had been a disciple of Bharadwaja (In [Maha:1.141], it is said that Agnivesha is a disciple of the sage Agastya). Drupada promised Drona that when he became the king, he shall share all his riches with his friend. Both friends became proficient in the use of the arms. Agniveshya transmitted the knowledge of the great Agneya (fire) weapon (which had been given to him by Bharadwaja) to Drona.

When Drona grew up, he married Kripi, the sister of Kripa. A son named Ashwatthama was born to them. Ashwatthama was so named because he had neighed like a horse when he was born. Drona spent all his time in severe austerities and penances and as a result, he was very poor.

When Ashwatthama went to visit his friends, he saw that they were drinking milk. Being very poor, his parents had never gotten him cow’s milk to drink. He wanted some and asked his friends. To tease him, they mixed rice flour in water and gave it to him, claiming that it was milk. The boy was beside himself with joy, and shouted that, “I have drunk milk! I have drunk milk!”.

When Kripi came to know of this, she exhorted her husband to acquire riches, so that their son need not grow up in poverty. Around this time, Drona heard that the sage Parashurama was donating all his material wealth (he had accumulated this wealth by conquering all the kingdoms by destroying the Kshatriyas twenty one times). However, when Drona reached the hermitage of the sage, Parashurama had already given away all his wealth.

Parashurama said, “O Drona, all I have left is my life and the knowledge of the divine Astras (missiles). Choose what you want.”

Naturally, Drona asked for the knowledge of the divine weapons. With the acquisition of these weapons, Drona became the greatest warrior on earth. However, he was still poor. He then recollected the promise of his childhood friend.

When he went to the Panchala court, a rude shock awaited him. Drupada had been a king for many years, and as a result, had become very arrogant. Sitting among his sycophantic counsellors, he said, “O Brahmana, it looks like your brain has become befuddled with time. It is a well known fact that friendship thrives between equals. When we were both disciples at Agnivesha’s ashram, friendship was natural. Now I am the King of the mighty Panchalas, and you are a poor Brahmana. And you dare to come to my court and claim wealth as my friend! If you had come here as a supplicant, I would have given you money in alms. Even now it is not too late, beg from in the proper form, and I shall not disappoint you. Stop this idle talk about childhood friendships!”

When Drona was insulted thus, he left the court silently, but the memory of this humiliation burned deep within him. He wanted revenge, but first he wanted to acquire riches for his family. He visited Hastinapura and there, Bhishma appointed him as to teach the young Pandavas and Kauravas in the use of arms.

Arjuna, the third Pandava was his favorite student. To him, Drona taught the use of all the divine missiles at his command, including the great weapon Brahmasiras. As fee for their education, he asked the Kuru princes to bring Drupada as prisoner.

The Kauravas tried their best, but were routed in battle by the Panchala army led by Drupada. It was the turn of the Pandavas now. Led by Arjuna, they succeeded in defeating the Panchalas, and brought Drupada as prisoner before their perceptor.

Now it was Drona’s turn to gloat. He said, “O Drupada, you said that friendship can be only between equals. Now, you are my prisoner, bereft of a kingdom, while all that was previously yours is mine! I still desire your friendship, so take back the southern half of your kingdom. That shall make us equals, worthy of each other’s friendship.”

Drupada bore this insult silently and with outward calm, but great anger was raging within him. He could not sleep in the night after this incident, so great was his mental turmoil. He perceived that it was not possible to defeat Drona in battle, such was the prowess of that Brahmana. He was constantly thinking about revenge, but that was not to be for quite a number of years….

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VYUSHITASWA AND BHADRA

In ancient times, there was a King named Vyushitaswa, in the dynasty of Puru. He was a righteous king, ever devoted to the cause of truth and justice. He once performed a great sacrifice, which was visited by the best sages and the celestials. So drunk did the celestials, especially Indra become with the Soma juice in this sacrifice, that they started performing the sacrifice themselves.

Since the Gods had themselves performed the sacrifice for this king, his glory spread far and wide. He performed the great Ashwamedha (horse) sacrifice, to mark his conquest of the world. After this, he ruled over his subject justly. There was no hunger in his kingdom, no body did anything that was not proper.

The King’s glory continued to increase and he performed various other sacrifices to propitiate the Gods, including the Agnishtoma sacrifice. He married Bhadra, who was the daughter of a king (?) named Kakshivat. This woman was rivalled the Apsaras in beauty. Tragedy struck them, and the king died of phthisis, brought on by sexual excess.

His queen, Bhadra was grief-struck. With the husband’s corpse in front of her, she began to lament her fate. “O my husband”, she said, “Women have purpose in life when their husband passes away. Their existence is miserable after the Lord of their life is dead. I cannot support life without you. May the Gods take pity upon me and strike me dead, so that I may join you in the regions meant for the virtuous. O King, you have fallen into the sleep from which none may wake, let the Gods grant the same boon to me. I shall lie down upon a bed of grass and abstain from food. May the Gods be kind enough to grant me a sight of you as you were before death, even if it merely for a moment!”

As she wept over her lord, an incorporeal voice from the heavens said in a booming voice, “Rise up, O daughter, Go to your apartment. I grant you this boon. You shall be blessed with offspring soon. Lie down with this corpse on you bed, after purifying yourself with a bath. Illustrious children shall be born to you.”

She did as directed, and the corpse of her husband begat upon her Seven children, namely, three Salwas and four Madras.

This story is narrated by Kunti, extorting her husband to raise offspring upon her by his ascetic power.

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TAPATI AND SAMVARANA

Tapati was the daughter of Vivaswat (Surya) and the sister of Savitri (another sun God). She was the most beautiful woman in the three worlds. Not even the divine Apsaras were her equals in grace and charm. She was also chaste and virtuous. When she reached a marriageable age, Savitri was on the look out for a groom worthy of his sister.

Around the same time, Samvarana, the son of Riksha, was the king of the Kurus. He was a mighty warrior and an illustrious ruler. He was also a great devotee of Surya, and used to offer worship to the sun daily.

One day, King Samvarana went on a hunting expedition in the mountains. While wandering in quest of game, his horse became exhausted and collapsed. Bereft of his horse, the King did not have an easy way to get back to his kingdom. Besides, he was also tired and hungry. While wandering in the mountains in search of food, he came across a very beautiful maiden. Such was her lusture that Samvarana thought for a moment that it was the Goddess Laxmi herself in person.

The King’s heart was captivated by that damsel, and he became as one who had lost his senses. He fell desperately in love with her. He went near her and asked, “Who are you? What are you doing in this desolate mountain regions? Excellent lady, you are the most beautiful woman I have either seen are heard of? I have fallen in Love with you, will you marry me?”

However, the maiden did not speak a single word. While he kept imploring her to speak up, she held her silence. Then, in front of his eyes, she disappeared. Samvarana was struck with grief. He lamented his fate that had given him a glimpse of heaven, only to have it snatched away so soon. He fell down senseless, weakened by an excess of grief and desire.

When he awoke from his swoon, he saw that the damsel was once again standing in front of him. He once again addressed words of love to her and said, “O Maiden, it is said that of all forms of marriage, the Gandharva form, where a man and woman are united in love is said to be the best. I am the King of the Kuru race, and held to be illustrious and virtuous. I have never seen anyone to equal you in beauty. Make me the happiest man on earth by accepting my proposal of marriage.”

This time the damsel spoke. Her voice was as sweet as her form was graceful. She said, “O King. I know your fame. I am not a mistress of my own fate. I am still under the protection of my father and elder brother. When the opportunity comes, ask my father Aditya (Surya) for my hand. If my father bestows my hand upon you, I shall be your obedient wife. I am called Tapati and I am the younger sister of Savitri and the daughter of Vivaswat.” Then Tapati ascended the skies and disappeared from Samvarana’s sight.

Samvarana stood rooted to the spot, unable to think clearly. His chief-minister, who had been searching for him everywhere, found him in this state. The King then told his ministers that he was going to start a penance to Surya then and there. The minister tried to persuade him to return to the kingdom, but the King was firm in his resolve.

After purifying himself with a bath, and with his joined palms and upturned face, began to offer worship to Surya. He also thought of his chief-priest, the great sage Vasishta, as one who could offer him advice on the proper mode for propitiating Surya. The King continued his prayers day and night, without intermission. On the twelfth day, the sage Vasishta came to see him. He already knew by his Yogic power that the King was pining for the love of Tapati. He spoke sweet words to the King and assured him of his assistance in prosecuting his suit.

True to his promise, Vasishta went to the abode of Surya and offered worship to the God. Surya, pleased with the devotion of the sage, and honored that the great sage had personally come to visit him, welcomed him with all due respect. He said, “O first among Rishis. Tell me what is your pleasure? What do you want from me?”

Vasishta said, “The good King Samvarana of the Kuru dynasty has fallen in love with your daughter Tapati. The maiden also seems to love him in return. She asked him to solicit her hand from you. To this end, Samvarana is praying to you in the mountain, offering you worship without rest. This monarch is virtuous and well known. He comes from a great dynasty and is in every way worthy of your daughter. Bestow your daughter in marriage to this King. This is my request.”

Surya said, “Samvarana is well know to me. Indeed, he is one of my foremost devotees. If I searched all three worlds for a groom, I will not be able to find a better husband for my daughter. Accept my daughter Tapati on his behalf from me. Let the wedding be celebrated according to the rights ordained in the Vedas.”

It was thus that the beautiful Tapati, the daughter of Surya, became the wife of Samvarana, an ancestor of the Pandavas. Since they were born in her race, they are also known as Tapatyas.

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VASISHTA AND VISHWAMITRA

Once, there was a king named Gadhi, belonging to the clan of Kusika. After him, his son Vishwamitra became the ruler. He was a great warrior, and addicted to hunting for sport. While he was wandering in the forest in search of game, accompanied by his retinue, he came upon the hermitage of the great sage Vasishta. The king and his men were both tired and hungry by this time.

The sage welcomed the King, and caused refreshments to be brought forth. The King was very much surprised, that a complete feast had been laid out for his army! There were delectable dishes of every description and refreshing drinks of every variety. The King and his followers dined in style.

Vishwamitra then said to Vasishta, “O Sage, how is that, living isolated in the forest, with no visible means of support, you were able to provide such a lavish feast for me and my men? Is it the result of some great magic that you alone know? Or have the celestials blessed you with the means to entertain your guests in style?”

The sage said, “King, what you witnessed was no magic. Indra has given me Nandini, the calf of his divine cow Kamadhenu. Like her mother, this sacred calf is capable of yielding all manner of riches. Thanks to her, I was able to provide you with refreshments in no time.”

The King felt that this calf could solve the problem of feeding his great army. He said to the sage, “O Great one, I shall give you ten thousand heads of first-class cattle. Give me this calf Nandini in exchange. She will be very useful to me.”

“O King, this cow has been kept by me for the sake of Gods, guests and my Pitris (ancestors). Besides, she is essential to me for the conduct of my sacrifices. I cannot give away the gift of Indra, not even if you were to offer me your whole kingdom.”

The King then grew angry. “I am a Kshatriya, endued with great energy and the scrouge of my enemies. I have all the power in the world. What power do you, a mere Brahmana, who spends his time in prayer and meditation have? Since you have refused to give me your cow in fair exchange, I shall take her away by force. She is more useful in the hands of a King than in the hands of a hermit!”

Vasishta said, “You well know the merit of a Brahmana, however drunk by power, you do not consider the propriety of your actions. Do what you will. I shall not attempt to stop you.”

Vishwamitra then ordered his men to drag the cow away by force. In obedience, his soldiers tied a rope to the neck of Nandini and tried to take her away. Nandini then approached Vasishta and said, “Sir, What crime have I committed? Why do you suffer me to be insulted thus by the King’s men? Are you displeased with me? Why have you given me away to the King.”

The sage said, “Nandini, It is not by my will that the King is taking you. Angry that I would not sell you to him, he has decided to abduct you by force. If you do not wish to go, it is up to you.”

The sacred calf then grew angry. Its wrath was terrible to behold. With eyes reddened by anger, howling with rage, it attacked the troops of Vishwamitra. From her tail, showers of burning coal shot out and burned many an unwary soldiers. In an instant, a vast army emerged from her body. The Pallavas emerged from her tail, from her udders the army of Dravidas and Sakas came forth. Her womb gave birth to an army of Yavanas (greeks), and from her dung, the Savaras emerged. From her urine came an army of Kanchis. The froth from her mouth gave rise to a host of Paundras and Kiratas and many other barbarous tribes.

This vast army, created from the body of the divine calf, attacked the armies of King Vishwamitra, and utterly destroyed them. When Vishwamitra saw the destruction unleashed on his forces by the ascetic power of Vasishta, he grew disgusted with the power of Kshatriyas. He then saw that not all his might, nor all his wealth, could hope to equal the ascetic power of a Brahmana.

He then abandoned his large kingdom and regal riches, becoming a hermit. He set his mind on asceticism. He became a great sage, famed for his yogic powers. However, he never forgot his humiliation at the hands of Vasishta, and became his enemy.

There was a king named Kalmashapada, a descendant of Ikshvaku, who was famed for his learning. (This King was orignally called Pravriddha, but his feet had become disfigured when he they came in contact with water that had been charged with incantations for a curse. Kalmashapada=blemished-feet). While traveling in a forest, he encountered an ascetic, while walking on a narrow path. The path would admit just one. An argument ensued regarding the right of way, each maintaining that the other ought to yield. Inflamed with rage, not stopping to consider his actions, the King struck out at the ascetic with his horse-whip. Angered, the Rishi cursed the King to become a flesh-eating Rakshasa.

While these exchanges were going on, the sage Vishwamitra, came that way. He recognized both the King and the ascetic, for the ascetic was none other than Shakti, the eldest of sage Vasishta’s hundred son. Now, regarding the King, both Vishwamitra and Vasishta had wanted to make him their disciple, but neither had succeeded till this point. Vishwamitra seized this opportunity to revenge himself on both the king and Vasishta. Vishwamitra concealed himself by his yogic powers and made the curse of Shakti take effect immediately. By his yogic power, he caused a Rakshasa spirit named Kinkara to enter the body of the King.

The King, under the influence of this Rakshasa, turned back to his palace. On the way home, he met a Brahmana, who begged him for food. Seemingly disregarding the beggar, the King returned to his palace. Once in his palace, he ordered his chief cook to prepare a meal of human flesh mixed with rice and feed it to the Brahmana whom he had met in the forest.

When the food was offered to that Brahmana, by his spiritual sight, he saw at once that the food was unholy. In his wrath, he cursed the king saying, “Since Kalmashapada has caused unholy food, made from human flesh to be fed to me, he shall develop a hunger for such unclean food. He shall be turned into a human flesh-eating Rakshasa!”

Thus reinforced, the curse became very strong. Impelled by the workings of fate, Kalmashapada once again returned to the forest where he had been cursed first. When he encountered Shakti again, he commenced his career as a human-eating monster by devouring the Rishi. Vishwamitra, who was really the force behind the Rakshasa, then caused the King to hunt the other sons of Vasishta. One by one, Kalmashapada devoured them all.

When Vasishta came to know that all his sons were dead, by the stratagem employed by Vishwamitra, he became consumed by grief. If he had wished, he could have destroyed Vishwamitra utterly, but he had made a vow of peace, never to hurt any creature by his yogic powers. Feeling that his life had lost all meaning with the utter destruction of his sons, he tried to commit suicide by various means. He was unsuccessful in this endeavor, for the ocean would not allow him to drown, nor did fire burn him. He tried to drown in a river named Haimavati, but the river, recognizing him as a Brahmana of great merit, fled in a hundred directions to avoid him. It is known to this day as Saptadaru (of a thousand streams). Thwarted in his attempt to commit suicide, he began wandering all over the world.

At last, he returned to his hermitage. As he approached his abode, he heard a young voice reciting the Vedas. When he entered his hut, he found that only his daughter-in-law Adrisyanti was there. The mystery of the anonymous voice was solved, when the Rishi divined by his yogic power that it was the unborn child in her womb that had been reciting the Vedas! Glad that there was at least someone to propagate his race, the Rishi became consoled.

Much later, the Rishi saw the Rakshasa Kalmashapada in the forest. When the demon saw the sage, he tried to attack him with the intent of eating him. By his Yogic powers, the sage destroyed the Rakshasa spirit Kinkara and freed the King from his curse. The King, restored to his original form, fell at the feet of the sage and begged his forgiveness for his transgressions.

Vasishta said, “I have already forgiven you, for I know that your actions were the direct result of the curse. Go to your kingdom and rule justly, and never insult Brahmanas any more.”

The King said, “I have one more request to make of you. I am unable to obtain issue to propagate my race. The scriptures allow a royal line to be continued by the means of an issue obtained from a Brahmana, so you must act as the savior of my race.”

Granting the Kings request, the Rishi went unto his queen Madayanti, as a result of which she became pregnant. Her pregnancy endured for twelve long years, at the end of which, unable to contain her impatience, she broke open her womb by a piece of stone. The son born thus was named Asmaka, and he later founded the city-state of Paudanya.

[While Kalmashapada had been turned into the flesh eating Rakshasa, he had devoured a Brahmana while he and his wife while they were enjoying each other. The wife then cursed the King, and said, “Since you have interrupted our love making and devoured this husband of mine, you will not be able to approach your wife with amorous intent. Your race can be propagated only by your greatest enemy.”

This was the reason why his race had to be continued by the means of Vasishta.]

The son born to Adrisyanti was named Parasara. He learned the scriptures under the guidance of his grandfather. He used to think that his grandfather was his father. When his mother heard him addressing Vasishta as father, she told him that his real father had been devoured by a Rakshasa, and that Vasishta was only his grandfather. When Parasara heard this story, he decided to perform a sacrifice to destroy all Rakshasa. He succeeded in killing a large number of them, before he ended his sacrifice at the insistence of Vasishta and another sage named Pulasthya. They narrated the story of Chyavana as a precedent for leniency.

[Parasara is the father of Veda-Vyasa, who composed the Mahabharata.]

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SWETAKI’S SACRIFICE

Long ago, there was an illustrious king named Swetaki. He was very desirous of accumulating merit by performing many Yagnas. In his realm, there was a constant stream of religious rituals. Still, the king was not satisfied. He wished to perform a sacrifice, the likes of which had never been seen, and would never be seen again.

Unfortunately, all the Ritwiks(conductors of sacrifices), employed by the king, had become tired of the constant procession of Yagnas. From the smoke issuing from the sacrificial fire, their eyes had become weak and they forsook the monarch. When the King looked around for suitable Ritwiks, he could find no one to conduct the ritual.

The King went to the abode of those Brahmanas and said, “If I were an irrelegious person, not observing the vows as they are ordained in the scriptures, your conduct in refusing to conduct this sacrifice would be proper. It is the duty of the Brahmana to conduct Yagnas for the greater good of the world. Come back to my kingdom and assist me in this hundred years’ sacrifice!”

The Ritwiks said, “O King, Your sacrifices are incessant. There should be method and moderation in everything. Due to conducting these Yagnas, our eyes have become weak from the sacrificial smoke. Find someone else to assist you further.”

The King then decided that only Rudra (Shiva) could assist him in completing the sacrifice. He therefore retired to the foothills of Mt. Kailasa and devoted himself to asceticism. He performed a rigid penance for six months, eating only fruits and roots. At last, pleased with his devotion, Lord Sankara (Shiva) appeared before him and said, “I cannot conduct the sacrifice myself. It is the duty of Brahmanas to conduct these rituals. However, there is a Brahmana on earth, by the name of Durvasa, who possesses a portion of my energy. If you will undertake to pour the sacrificial libations into the sacred fire for twelve years without pause, I shall instruct this devotee of mine to help you in this sacrifice.”

Swetaki said, “O Lord, I accept your condition. Give me some time to accumulate the material needed for this Yagna.”

The King managed to get the sacrificial hall constructed and all material accumulated for it in a few days. He then prayed to Rudra again. Rudra appeared before Durvasa and said, “There is a King named Swetaki, a great devotee of mine. He desires my assistance in a conducting a great Yagna. I have promised him that you shall be its Ritwik. Go to him and ensure the proper conduct of this sacrifice.”

Accordingly, the sage went to Swetaki and the rituals were begun. As promised to Shiva, Swetaki sat near the sacrificial altar and poured libations of clarified butter into the fire nonstop for twelve long years. The Yagna was a great success. When his time came, the King died and went to heaven on the strength of his meritorious deeds.

However, his long sacrifice had created a problem for one of the immortals. As a result of continuously partaking clarified butter at this sacrifice for twelve years, Agni had become completely satiated. He did not want to drink butter again from anyone else in any other sacrifice. As a result of this surfeit, he became pale and lost his golden lusture. Of course when Agni becomes sick, the rest of creation also suffers, for he is the life force within all creatures.

Agni went to Lord Brahma and said, “Sire, I have become sick due to drinking clarified butter at the hands of King Swetaki for twelve years. How can I regain my previous strength and energy?”

Brahma said, “Fear not O Agni! I know of a suitable medicine for your sickness. The Khandava forest has become the haunt of the enemies of the Gods. The fat of the demons and snakes and other vile creatures there will be the medicine that shall cure your stomach ailment. When you have burned all the creatures in this forest, you will be cured.”

Agni immediately proceeded to the forest and tried to consume it, but Indra and Vayu thwarted him with rain and wind respectively, for some of the residents of that forest were their friends. Agni saw that he would need help to accomplish his goal, so he took the help of Arjuna and Krishna in burning the forest, and was at last cured of his ailment. The episode is narrated here.

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LEGENDS OF AGASTYA

Long ago, the city of Manimati was ruled by a Daitya named Ilvala. He had a younger brother named Vatapi, who was capable of assuming any form at will. Both brothers were skilled in black magic. When the great sage Agastya visited their city, Ilvala said to him, “O holy one, grant me a son equal unto Indra, the lord of the celestials.” However, that Brahmana did not trust the Asuras, and refused to grant the boon. From that day, the brothers became the enemy of the Brahmanas.

Whenever any Brahmana visited their city, Vatapi would transform himself into a ram. Ilvala would then order this ram to be cooked and served to the unsuspecting guest. When the guest had his fill, Ilvala would utter a magical incantation and cry out aloud, “O Vatapi, come out.” Vatapi would then assume his own form and emerge from the unfortunate Brahmana’s stomach, killing the poor man. In this manner, they slew a great number of Brahmanas.

Meanwhile, Agastya wandered around the country, indulging in many severe austerities and otherwise mortifying his flesh. One day, he came upon a wondrous sight. He saw that some men where hanging in a pit, with heads pointing downwards. He approached those personages and asked them, “Who are you? Why are you suspended head first into this deep pit?”

They replied, “O Agastya, we are your ancestors. Since you have not produced any offspring, we have been sentenced to this torment. If you truly love us, marry a suitable woman, and beget offspring.”

Agastya said, “Ye Pitris (ancestors), I shall accomplish your desire. I shall seek out a bride worthy of our name and produce children, for children save us from the hell known as Puth.” With these words, he then started searching for a suitable girl to wed. Despite his best attempts, he did not find anyone suitable.

The king of Vidarbha was childless, and was performing many penances for the purpose of obtaining offspring. When Agastya visited his realm, he was pleased by the devotion and piety of the King. By his great ascetic merit, he created a beautiful girl child and gave her to the King. The King named that girl Lopamudra and brought her up as his own.

When the princess reached puberty, the King began to think of her marriage, and started considering suitable alliances for her. Meanwhile, Agastya had still not found a suitable bride. When he heard that the princess of Vidarbha had reached a age suitable for marriage, he then went to the King and sought her hand in marriage.

The King was in a quandary. On one hand, he did not want his daughter, who was brought up in the lap of luxury to become a hermit’s wife. On the other hand, he was afraid of the wrath of Agastya. He spoke his mind to his wife and they both grieved together. When Lopamudra came to know of the reason for their sorrow, she said to her father, “Sir, do not grieve. I would be very happy, nay fortunate to become the wife of such a great Rishi. Bestow me upon him without any misgivings.”

The marriage was duly performed. As per her husband’s orders, Lopamudra then cast off her royal robes and ornaments and dressed herself in coarse garments as befitted a Rishi’s wife. The couple then repaired to the sage’s hermitage on the banks of the river Ganga and began their marital life. They spent many happy days, enjoying each other’s company.

When the season came, Agastya approached his wife to consummate their marriage. She lowered her eyes bashfully and said, “Dear husband, I wish that you would approach me on a bed like that I had in the palace of my father. I also desire that you should be decked in garlands and flowers, and that I should be adorned in those celestials ornaments that I used to like. It is not sinful to wear ornaments on such a occasion.”

Agastya said, “Dear wife, I do not have wealth like what your father had. How am I to provide all these things that your heart desires.”

She said, “Sir, I know that you possess great ascetic merit. There is nothing impossible to one of your prowess. You can create whole worlds, mere wealth should be easy.”

He replied, “It is true that by my ascetic merit, I can easily create all that you desire, but it should not be used for such a base purpose. It should be used only for the good of humanity, not for selfish profit. However, seeing how much you desire it, I shall seek out a suitable King, who has surplus wealth to spare, and obtain all that you wish from him.”

He then went to see a King named Srutarvan, who was regarded as extremely rich, and begged for wealth. That monarch received the sage with great respect. When the purpose of Agastya’s visit was made known to him, he had his treasurer bring him the accounts of the kingdom. He then showed them to the Rishi and asked him to take whatever was a just amount. Agastya was greatly surprised to see that the income through taxes and the expenditure on public works was exactly in balance. He saw that any amount he took, would be to the detriment of the citizens of the Kingdom.

He then took Srutarvan with him, and visited another wealthy king named Vradhnaswa. Once again, the book of accounts was produced, and it was seen that even in this kingdom, income and expenditures were in balance. Vradhnaswa said, “In nearly all Kingdoms, where the rulers are just and love their subjects, you will find the same situation. However, in the city of Manimati, Ilvala, descended from Diti runs an oppressive regime. He is sure to have a lot of wealth to spare. Surely, you will obtain what you seek in that kingdom.”

Accordingly, the sage and the two Kings went to the city of Manimati. Ilvala concealed his thoughts of revenge and welcomed the sage with all outward observances of delight. As usual, he then fed the sage the meat of his brother Vatapi, who had turned himself into a ram. However, by his Yogic sight, the sage discovered the design of the Daitya. Before Ilvala could utter the magical incantation to bring Vatapi alive, the sage said, “May Vatapi be digested!”, and rubbed his huge belly.

Now, when Ilvala uttered the Mantras and said, “O Vatapi come out!”, a large quantity of gas escaped the sage, but there was no sign of Vatapi. Frightened, he repeated these words again and again, but of course, there was no change. Agastya smiled at him and said, “Your brother has long since been digested!”

Agastya then offered to pardon Ilvala if he would make a gift of suitable wealth. The Daitya King said, “O Rishi, if you would correctly guess, what I had planned to give these two Kings who have accompanied you, and also guess what I had proposed to gift you, you may have those gifts.”

By his yogic power, Agastya perceived what was in Ilvala’s mind. He said, “O Daitya, you were going to give ten thousand kine and as many gold coins to each of these kings. As for myself, you were going to give me twice as much as either, and a golden chariot, yoked to a couple of horses fleet as thought.”

Fulfilling his promise, the Daitya then gave away the gifts and made peace with Agastya. The sage returned with all these wealth to his wife and gratified her. Their marriage was consummated in the manner in which she wished. The sage then asked her, “Would you rather have thousand sons, or a hundred, or ten, or only one son who is equal in prowess to a thousand?”

She replied, “Let me have one son who is equal to a thousand. One good and learned son is preferable to many evil ones.” Accordingly, she became with child, and bore that fetus for seven long years. At the end of that period, their child Dridhasyu was born. With the birth of this son and heir, the ancestors of Agastya were liberated from the torments of the hell-pit.

Some time after this, during the Krita age, there were a tribe of Danavas who were invincible in battle. They were known as the Kalakeyas and they used to sorely harass the immortals. Vritra was their chief, and he possessed great strength, and was incapable of being slain by even Indra the chief of the celestials.

Greatly distressed, the Devas sought counsel with Lord Brahma. He said, “If you are to defeat the Danavas, especially the all powerful Vritra, Indra must be equipped with a great weapon. There is a high souled Rishi named Dadhichi. Go to him and solicit a boon from him. Tell him, ‘For the good of the three worlds, give us your bones.’ He will surely yield his bones. From them a weapon capable of slaying Vritra can be forged.”

Accordingly, the Devas led by Indra went to the hermitage of Dadhichi and prayed him to yield his bones for the greater good of the three worlds. That selfless sage then entered a posture of yogic meditation, and gave up his life. Vishwakarma then took the bones of the sage and crafted a great weapon known as Vajra, and gave it to Indra.

Armed with the Vajra, and supported by the host of Devas, Indra challenged the Danavas to battle. He approached the demon Vritra whose body was so huge, that it covered the entire heaven and earth and engaged him in combat. Although the Devas fought valiantly, they were decidedly getting the worst of the exchanges. Alarmed, Indra sought the protection of Lord Vishnu. The Lord then infused him with a portion of his own might. When the celestials saw that Indra was protected by Vishnu, they each gave a portion of their powers to Indra. The great Rishis also gave the portion of their ascetic merit to the king of the celestials.

Greatly encouraged, Indra fought with renewed vigor and finally hurled the mighty Vajra at Vritra. The Danava fell, slain by that shaft. The celestials and the great sages rejoiced.

[Note: This account of the slaying of Vritra is slightly different from the one in ‘Slaying of Vritra’]

However, the Danavas, having lost their leader, fled to the depths of the ocean in fear. In those fathomless depths, surrounded by whales and crocodiles, they held a council of war. They realized that Indra was successful because of the help provided by the great Rishis, who were Brahmanas. Besides, it was Havis from the Yagnas conducted by the Brahmanas that the celestials derived their energy. They then decided to mount a campaign to exterminate the Brahmanas and weaken the Gods. Accordingly, if any Brahmana approached the sea or any other body of water, he was slain by these fierce Kalakeyas. They also frequently emerged under the cover of darkness and attacked the hermitages of sages, killing large number of those ascetics.

The Devas were greatly alarmed. They sought refuge with Lord Vishnu. The Lord said, “I can certainly slay these Kalakeyas, but they are hiding in the depths of the ocean. Find a way to empty the ocean and expose them, and I shall slay them with my Sudarsana Chakra (discus).”

The Devas realized that only Agastya, he of great ascetic merit could accomplish this deed. They prayed to him and he granted their wish. He went to the ocean and with the help of his Yogic powers, drank all its water in a single gulp.

The Kalakeyas had no place to hide. They fought valiantly, but were no match for the great Lord Vishnu. All of them were slain in no time. The Devas then requested Agastya to fill up the ocean again. But Agastya said, “The waters have been consumed by the fire of my ascetic merit, I do not have them any more. The ocean will remain bereft of water for now. Find another way to fill it.”

[Note: Later, the ocean was filled by the waters of the sacred river Ganga, when she was brought to earth by King Bhageeratha of the Ikshvaku dynasty.]

At another time, the marriage of Shiva to Parvati was going to be celebrated. Desirous of witnessing this grand spectacle, all the Gods, the great sages and many other creatures traveled to Mt. Kailasa. As a result of this huge gathering, the balance of the earth was upset. There was a real danger that it would topple. Also, the mighty Vindhya mountain, the natural dividers between the north and the south, had become jealous of the place occupied by the great Himalayas. The mountain thought, ‘If I became taller, people would respect me more.’ and it started growing. Its increasing height threatened to obstruct the orbit of the sun and the moon.

Lord Shiva decided to solve both these problems in a single stroke. He summoned Agastya and bade him to go south, to restore the balance of the earth. Accordingly, the Rishi then traveled south and reached the foothills of the Vindhyas, accompanied by his wife Lopamudra. He said to the mountain, “I have to travel south for a while. If you keep growing, it will be impossible for me to cross you on my return journey. Please stop growing till I get back.”

The mountain promised to do so. Alas, it had been tricked, for Agastya established his residence on the south, and never went back to the north. With his presence in the south, the weight of his ascetic merit served to restore the balance of the world. He lived in the south for a long time and spread the principles of religion in that region.

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ATRI DEBATES GAUTAMA

This story glorifies the role of Kings, and provides somewhat of an argument for the “divine right” to rule.] This story was narrated by the sage Maarkandeya to the Pandavas when they were spending their time in the forest in exile.

Once, a renowned king named Vainya was performing a major sacrifice, and had resolved to give huge wealth to those Brahmana that sought alms from him during the sacrifice. The sage Atri had originally planned to go to this Yagna and obtain riches that way. However, upon further consideration, he decided not to go, due to certain religious scruples.

Anasuya, his wife, who had been counting on his bringing back gifts from the King, asked him, “My Lord, why haven’t you travelled yet to King Vainya’s sacrifice? I have heard that he is going to give wealth in the form of both gold and Kine to all Brahmanas who attend his Yagna. It would be a welcome opportunity for us to obtain some material comforts.”

The sage replied, “My dear, I have resolved to follow the ascetic mode of life. I have no need for wealth. One must not seek riches, we must seek only that which is sufficient for the bare necessities of life.”

His wife interrupted him and said, “You may wish to lead the life of a hermit, but there is no need for our children to suffer because of it. Go to the prince, who, I am told, is a virtuous and Kind ruler, and obtain wealth from him. You can then distribute it among our children and then retire to the forest as you desire.”

“The sage Gautama has told me that though the prince is pious, there are Brahmanas at his court who have a jealous nature. If I venture there, they will try to draw me into injudicious speech, and will seek to quarrel with me. It does not behoove me to give way to anger, nor to go in search of a fight. Still, since you wish so much to have wealth for our children, I will go there”, said her husband.

Sage Atri went to Vainya’s sacrifice, and eulogized the King. He said, “May heaven bless you O King! You are foremost among sovereigns! You are praised by all sages, and you are universally acknowledged to be pious!”.

The sage Gautama, who heard this, indignantly said, “Atri, do not repeat this nonsense. Only Indra, the ruler of heaven is foremost among the sovereigns! Do not twist the truth from a base motive to flatter this king and obtain riches.”

Atri replied, “Just as Lord Indra rules over our destinies from heaven, this sovereign controls the well being of his subjects. You are lacking in spiritual perception and thus are not able to grasp this essential fact!”.

“I am not mistaken; it is you who are laboring under a misconception. To secure the King’s grace, you are indulging in unworthy analogies and like a child, are speaking without understanding the meaning of your words.”

The argument between these two learned men began to attract the attention of other people. Kashyapa, who was present at the sacrifice, intervened between the adversaries and asked them what the reason for their quarrel was.

When they replied that they were debating about whether the King could be considered to be the determinant of the destiny of his subjects, he decided that only the sage Sanatkumara could clarify this point.

Accordingly, he took both combatants to the sage Sanatkumara and asked them to state their case. After listening carefully to the particulars of the arguments made by both sages, pronounced his verdict. “As fire assisted by wind burns down forests, so does a Brahmana’s energy in union with a Kshatriyas can destroy his enemies. The sovereign is the maker of laws and the protector of his subjects. He, like Indra is the protector of created beings, like Shukra a propounder of morals, and like Brihaspati as a counselor, and is thus worthy of being called the ruler of men’s destinies. Such an individual, who is called, ‘royal’, ‘lord of earth’, ’emperor’ etc. is worthy of praise. The king is the prime cause of maintaining social order, he is the guide to salvation of his subjects. He is the embodiment of Vishnu on earth. Just as Surya dispels darkness by his effulgence, the King roots out sin from the earth. All this is stated in many sacred books. Therefore, I must agree with Atri that this King rules our destinies.”

King Vainya was very pleased with sage Atri and showered him with gold and gave him many heads of excellent cattle. Victorious, and considerably enriched, Atri returned home. He then distributed all the wealth among his sons, and then repaired to the forest with the object of performing penances.

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SHIBI’S RESOLVE

Shibi, a ruler in the Ikshvaku dynasty was justly famed for his devotion to truth, and his steadfast adherence to the path of virtue. As it chanced, his fame reached the ears of Indra, who then desired to see for himself if the King was as virtuous as he was reputed to be.

He summoned Agni, and both of them hatched a plan to test the King. Accordingly, Indra transformed himself into a hawk and Agni turned into a pigeon. They flew to Shibi’s Kingdom of Kosala, to Ayodhya, its capital.

The King was seated in his palace garden, enjoying the tranquil atmosphere there. Suddenly, the air was rent with the piteous cry of a pigeon, and before the King could locate the source of the noise, the pigeon fell into his lap. Much to the surprise of the King, it spoke to him!

In a voice choked with fear it said, “O King, save me! There is a hawk hot on my tails, determined to have me for dinner. I have heard that you are a just ruler, one who will not abandon the weak, especially one who has sought your asylum! You are my only hope!”

Shibi said, “Consider your life already saved. Great is my wonder, for I have never come across a talking pigeon! You cannot be an ordinary bird, tell me, who are you?”

Before the pigeon could reply, the hawk arrived on the scene. Conditioned by his recent experience, the King was not too surprised when the hawk too spoke to him.

It said, “O King, this pigeon who is lying in your lap is my natural prey. I saw him an hour ago, and have been pursuing him since then. I am tired and hungry, give up the pigeon, for it has been ordained by the Lord to be my food. It does not become you to interfere in the course of nature.”

“It may be true that this pigeon is your legitimate prey. However, he has sought my protection and I have promised to save him. There is no question of my allowing him to be your food. I can offer you other meat to satisfy your hunger. Eat your fill from my kitchen, and go your way,” said the King.

The hawk said, “O King, I am a hunter, that is my nature. Not for me the dainty meats cooked in your palace kitchens! I must hunt my own food. Having chased this pigeon all morning, I shall have him and no other!”

Shibi said, “One who abandons anyone who has obtained asylum with him is cursed by the Gods. He of the thousand eyes (Indra) shall not cause seasonal rainfall in the Kingdom whose ruler has proved himself unworthy of the trust of the weak. I shall order my men to cook a whole bull and serve it you with my rice. Surely, your hunger cannot be appeased by this tiny pigeon, why not take a whole bull instead?”

The hawk said, “O King, I do not ask for a bull, or for any other food than this pigeon. It has been given to me by the gods. Its life is already forfeit to me. Do not indulge in futile argument, render it unto me!”

The King said, “I cannot give up this pigeon under any circumstances. One who abandons those who seek his protection will see his offspring die in their youth. Indeed, even his ancestors will fall from the regions of the blessed. The very gods will decline his offerings of clarified butter on the sacrificial fire. If I gave up this poor creature, shaking with fright on my lap, I shall be worse than the worst Chandala! Suggest some other food that may be acceptable to you.”

The hawk considered the King’s plea, and after a little thought said, “So be it. I shall spare the pigeon, but only on one condition. Instead of the pigeon, I will have your flesh, equal in weight to that of the pigeon. If you consent to this, the pigeon may go free.”

Shibi did not hesitate even for a moment. He ordered his servants to bring a balance. He then placed the pigeon on one scale and chopped a hunk of flesh from his thigh and placed it on the other. His end of the scale did not budge, and the pigeon’s side was still weighed down. He then cheerfully chopped bigger and bigger pieces of flesh from various parts of his body and placed them on the scale. But to no avail, for the pigeon weight was still greater. He cut off his arms and legs and even then his side was lighter. True to his word, he crawled and placed himself on the scale, and at last the weights became equal.

Seeing the King’s supreme sacrifice, Indra and Agni were greatly pleased, and the subjects of the King applauded his act. As Shibi awaited his feat, the hawk and the pigeon disappeared and in their place stood the two celestials.

Agni said to the king, “Blessed be your line, for such a great man as you has been born in it. Know that I was the pigeon whom you saved from the hawk, who was none other than the Lord of the celestials!”

The King found himself standing whole again, with no marks of wounds on his body and bowed his head before the two Gods.

Indra said, “When I heard of your praises, that you were ever wedded to the path of truth, I did not believe it at first. With the help of Agni, I tested your principles, and you have proven to be even greater than what was reported to me! Your willingness to cheerfully sacrifice your very life for the sake of your principles is indeed rare. As long as the world exists, men shall tell this story, and your fame shall be everlasting! You will obtain worthy offspring, and they shall rule the earth for a long time!”

After blessing all those assembled, the two immortals disappeared.

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SHIBI’S VIRTUE

This is one of the group of stories narrated by the sage Maarkandeya to the Pandavas during their exile in the forest.

The king Ashtaka, descended from the sage Vishwamitra, was performing the Ashwamedha sacrifice. Many other Kings and sages came to attend the Yagna. After the sacrifice was complete, King Ashtaka was driving back to his kingdom, along with his two brothers Pratardana and Vasumanas. King Shibi also accompanied them. After driving for a while, they saw the divine sage Narada walking along the road. They paid homage to the sage as was proper, and asked him if they could give him a lift.

Narada accepted their offer, and soon all five were traveling along merrily. After a while, the talk turned to the question of merit, and the requirements to enter heaven.

King Ashtaka asked, “O sage, tell us if all four of us will go to heaven upon our death?”

The sage replied, “All of you have acquired sufficient merit by your good deeds to be accepted to heaven. Surely, you will go to heaven when your time on earth comes to an end.”

One of the others asked, “I have heard that one’s ascetic merit determines the duration of the stay in heaven. It is said that when the merit runs out, we shall be cast from heaven. Tell me, O learned one, which of us will be first to fall from heaven?”

Narada said, “King Ashtaka will be the first to be turned away from heaven.”

The King asked, “Why is it so?”

“Once, O King, I had visited your Kingdom, When you drove outside your city gates with me, I saw a big herd of kine. I asked you to whom those cattle belonged, and you replied that those cattle had been donated by you to Brahmanas. By this speech, O King, you had indulged in boasting regarding your charity. For this error, your merit will be exhausted soonest, and you shall be the first among you four to fall from heaven,” said the sage.

King Ashtaka asked, “Of the three others, who will be next to fall from heaven?”

“Pratardana will be the next to be cast away from heaven,” replied the Rishi.

“For what cause?”, asked Pratardana.

Narada said, “I stayed with prince Pratardana also. He drove me out in his chariot, and we were traveling through his kingdom. We met a Brahmana on the way, who asked him for a horse. Pratardana told him that he will give him a horse once he got back to the palace, but the Brahmana wanted it immediately. Thereupon, the prince gave him his left fore horse, and we continued on our way, with the remaining three horses drawing the chariot. After going a while, we met another Brahmana who asked for a horse, and the prince gave him his right fore horse. When we had gone a bit further, there was yet another Brahmana in need of a horse, and the prince gave him his right rear horse. When we had proceeded a bit farther, we met another Brahmana, who of course wanted a horse, and the prince gave him his last horse. He then got down and started pulling the chariot himself. As he started pulling, he said ‘There is nothing more to give for the Brahmanas’. True, the King had given away all he had on him to charity, but he had tainted his merit by speaking derisively about the situation, and for this transgression, he shall fall from heaven next.”

King Ashtaka asked, “Who among the other two will fall next?”

The sage said, “Once, when I went to see Vasumanas, his priests were performing the sanctification ceremony for a new chariot. I praised the beauty of the chariot, and prince immediately said, ‘Since you admired it, O Sage, let it be yours.’ I was gratified, and returned home with the new chariot. After a while, I needed another chariot, and went back to him, and, sure enough, the King had now a new chariot. When I once again praised its sturdiness, the King gave it away to me. However, when I needed a chariot for the third time, and went and praised his latest chariot, the King cast his eyes down, and said, ‘O Rishi, you have praised this chariot enough,’ and did not give it to me. For this refusal to donate, Vasumanas will be cast from heaven.”

“So, only Shibi will be left in heaven last, among us four?”, asked king Ashtaka.

“Yes, for his dedication to the path of rectitude is unmatched. Once, a Brahmana came to Shibi and said, ‘King, I am hungry.’

“The King said, ‘Sir, please go to my kitchen. I will ask them to provide whatever food that you require.’

“The Brahmana said, ‘I don’t want just any kind of food. I want rice, to be served with the meat of your son Brihadgarba.”

“The King took it in without a blink, and said, ‘I will order them to serve the food that you require.’

“The Brahmana said, ‘You must prepare it with your own hands.’

“Without another word, Shibi went out, killed his son, cooked his meat, and came back to invite the Brahmana to eat.

“He was met by some of his servants, who came running up to meet him. They said, ‘O King, the Brahmana has set fire to your palace. He has freed all your cattle, and they are running helter skelter in the city. Your palace is almost completely gutted.’

“The King did not say one word, but simply went and stood before the guest. He said, ‘Sir, the food you wanted is ready. Please wash your hands and come to eat.’

“The Brahmana was stunned. He said, ‘O King, I am truly amazed at your hospitality. You are indeed peerless in your dedication to your duty. Know that I am the God Dhatri. The Gods wished to test your virtue, and they sent me to do it. Your son is not really dead, and your Palace is as beautiful as ever. The tale of your meritorious deeds will be long lived.’ With these words, the Brahmana disappeared.

“And true enough, the palace was intact, and Shibi’s son ran out to greet him.

“For this unstinting devotion to the path of rectitude, Shibi will have a long residence in heaven. Indeed, even after I have been cast away from there, King Shibi will be there, in consequence of his lifelong devotion to the path of Dharma,” concluded Narada.

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THE LEGEND OF ASHTAVAKRA

Long ago, there was a learned Rishi of the name of Uddalaka, who was famous for his knowledge of the Vedas and scriptures. Many students learned under him. One of this disciples was Kahoda, who pleased his Guru exceedingly with his devotion. So much impressed was Uddalaka, that upon Kahoda finishing his studies, he gave him is only daugter Sujata in marriage. Even after the marriage, the couple continued to reside in the hermitage of of Uddalaka, where Kahoda assisted his father-in-law in teaching.

In due course of time, Sujata became pregnant. She was in the habbit of sitting near her father and husband while they were teaching. Her unborn child attained mastery over the Vedas by listening to his grandfather expound them. Kahoda was not equally skilled as his Guru, however, and made a number of mistakes while reciting the scriptures. Unable to bear these errors, the child started correcting them from his mother’s womb! Humiliated before his disciples, Kahoda cursed his son, saying, “As you insulted your father, may you be born with eight bends in your body!”. Accordingly, the child was born with his body crooked in eight places, and was named Ashtavakra (one with eight deformations).

[ An alternate version does not mention a curse by Kahoda. Instead it says that the child kept twisting and turning in the womb, unable to bear his father’s mistakes in recitation, and was born with eight deformations as a result.]

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 PARASHURAMA’S BIRTH

The sage Richika was a descendant of the great sage Bhrigu. Possessing great ascetic merit, he won the hand of Satyavati, the daughter of King Gadhi, who was born in the race of Bharata. The young couple lived together in perfect amity, content in their devotion to each other.

With a desire of doing good to both himself and the King, sage Richika prepared a magical dish of milk and rice, divided it into two portions, and infused it with sacred incantations and his ascetic powers. He then called his wife and told her, “This portion of the offering should be eaten by you, and the other should be consumed by your mother. In due course of time, due to the power of the sacrificial offering, a son would be born to each of you, who would be possessed of the merits of their respective orders.” With these words, he left to collect firewood from the forest.

While the sage was away, King Gadhi arrived there with his queen, the mother of Satyavati. They were on their way to a pilgrimage of holy places. Satyavati then went to her mother, showed her both pots of the rice-milk offering, and repeated the words of her husband. After undergoing a ritual bath, the mother and daughter then both ate one part of the dish. Unfortunately, they got the containers mixed up, and as a result, the queen drank the portion that had been meant for her daughter, and Satyavati drank the portion that had been earmarked for her mother.

When Richika came back from the forest, he at once realized that a mix-up had taken place, by his yogic powers. He then said to Satyavati, “My dear, as you have partaken the offering that was infused with incantations and meant for your mother, the son born to you will have all the attributes of a Kshatriya, will be of a cruel nature, fond of weapons and incapable of being vanquished in battle. Also, your brother, who will be soon born to your mother, will have the attributes of a Brahmana, will obtain mastery of the scriptures, and shall devote his life to ascetic penances.”

Satyavati was shocked. She fell at the feet of her lord and said, “Sir, have pity on me. It does not behoove you to say ‘Thou shall obtain a wretch among Brahmanas for thy son’. Let my son be a Brahmana of great merit.”

Richika said, “What has been ordained, cannot be changed. Since the incantations were spoken by me and the power was transferred to the pots of the rice-milk dish, that which has been pronounced by me shall certainly come to pass.”

Satyavati said, “Let my son not be a cruel wretch. Let this fate befall my grandson instead.”

Richika said, “Both the son and the grandson are obtained for the propagation of ones race. So, our grandson shall take the attributes that were meant for our son, and our son will be a Brahmana as you desire.”

In due course of time, a son was born to Satyavati, and was named Jamadagni. He followed the ascetic path of his father, and became very learned in the scriptures. He married Renuka, the daughter of King Prasenajit. Five boys were born to them: Rumanvan, Sushena, Vasu, Viswavasu and Rama. The fourth child Rama was the one who acquired the attributes of a Kshatriya, as foretold by his grandfather Richika. Since his favorite weapon was the Parashu (axe), he came to be known as Parashurama–“Rama of the axe”.

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