Mahabharat Story For Kids


In his forest abode, Saunak was performing a big sacrifice. Sutha was one of the many seers invited to the sacrifice. He was the greatest storyteller of those times. There was no story that he did not know of, and he knew all the stories that had ever been told. After giving Sutha a warm welcome, the sages assembled there gathered around him and requested him to tell them some of the many stories that he knew of and which were appropriate for the occasion. "Friends," replied Sutha, "I can tell you a story which is the most suitable for this holy occasion. It is the Mahabharata, composed by the great sage, Veda Vyas.

"Do tell us," everyone asked. "Sages," began Sutha, "with your kind permission, I'll tell you first how the Mahabharata came to be written. Veda Vyas was meditating on a peak of Himavant, when the idea of writing the Mahabharata, the story of the sons of Pandu and Dhritarashtra, came into his mind. As the idea was taking shape, the sage dreamt a dream. The God of Creation, Brahma, appeared to him. Veda Vyas touched his feet and said, "Bless me, Omnipotent Father. I desire to write the Mahabharata, from which shall radiate moral and spiritual wisdom. I cannot do this unaided. So recommend to me a scribe." "Son, blessed be your noble project!" replied God. "I recommend Lord Ganapathi to you for taking down your great masterpiece." Then Veda Vyas woke up from his dream. Veda Vyas closed his eyes and meditated on Lord Ganapathi, the elephant-headed God, who is invoked at the beginning of all important undertakings. And there stood the God himself! The sage bowed to Him and said, "Lord Brahma, the Divine father, has commanded me to seek your help for writing down the Mahabharata as I sing it for the good of mankind. Please do me this great favor!" Veda Vyas saw before his mind's eye, the whole story of the Mahabharata unfold itself. He described what he saw and God Ganapathi took it all down. Sage Sutha, then commenced his recital of the Mahabharata to Saunak and the other sages gathered there.

The Story of the Stolen Earrings:

As Janamejaya, the son of King Parikshat was performing a great sacrifice, a hound of the Gods, called Sarameya, strayed onto the sacred spot and was driven away with sticks by the Princes who were keeping guard. It went and complained to its mother, Sarama, about the beating, and she cursed the Princes, "Whoever hurts the innocent and the poor, will soon be made to pay for it." When Janamejaya came to know of this, he wanted to forestall the curse by offering prayers to Gods. He chose Somasrav, a priest who was worthy of the task. While the prayers were being offered by Somasrav, the Sage Udank came to King Janamejay's place and said, "King, you leave undone what should be done." "Revered Sir," replied the King, "I do not know to which lapse of mine you may be referring. Have I not been most careful in doing all my kingly duties these years?" "Your greatest lapse," replied Udank, "has been to leave Takshak, the serpent who killed your noble father, unpunished. Not only did he bite your father, but he also bribed Kasyap, the physician, not to cure him. Udank himself had his own score to settle with Takshak. After his studies were over, he had wished to offer a present to his teacher, who in turn bade him ask his wife. She asked Udank for two earrings which were worn by Paushya's queen.

Udank went to the queen and asked her for the earrings. She readily gave them to him. But before doing so, she warned Udank, "Revered Sir, the serpent Takshak is also after the earrings! He is a cunning devil. So, take good care of the earrings." The Queen's fears came too true. As Udank was standing in a lake praying to the Sun God, Takshak stole the earrings which Udank had kept for safety on the bank of the lake. Seeing Takshak run away with the earrings, Udank chased him. After a long chase, he caught Takshak. Suddenly Takshak turned himself into a snake, slithered through his fingers, and disappeared into a hole in the ground. Udank dug into the hole. He dug deeper and deeper till he came to the Land of the Serpents. His prayers to the serpents were unheeded by them. As he was becoming desperate, he saw a person on horseback. The horse was the God of Fire, the rider was the God Indra. But Udank didn't know this. When the person asked Udank, what he could do for him, he replied, "Sir, pray to give me mastery over the Serpent Land." All of a sudden tongues of flame leaped through the nostrils of the horse. They billowed out and spread, with columns of black smoke swirling into the sky. Afraid that the whole of the Serpent Land would be burnt to ashes, Takshak gave back the stolen earrings.

Udank returned home and gave the earrings to his teacher's wife. After Udank left Janamejaya asked his ministers, whether they could tell him about the death of his father. The ministers told the king of the story of Parikshat's death. Parikshat came to the throne after the death of Abhimanyu, his father in battle, while the Pandavas, his forefathers left for the Abode of the Blessed. King Parikshat was very fond of hunting. Whilst he was chasing a deer, he came across a sage, lost in meditation, and asked him, "Sir, can you tell me in which direction the deer was gone?" The sage made no answer, and Parikshat in a fit of anger picked up a dead snake with his arrowhead and slung it around the neck of the sage. The sage's son hearing of this came to the spot where his father was and cursed the man who had put the dead snake around his father's neck, saying that the doer of the deed would die within a week, of Serpent Takshak's bite. When the sage came to know of his son's curse, he sent a messenger to King Parikshat, warning him of the danger he was in, so that he could take all possible precautions. Parikshat repented for his rashness and upon hearing of the curse was very much afraid. His ministers built a fortress of black granite for him and made it snake-proof. They stocked the fortress with anti-snake bite herbs and medicines.

Eminent physicians were sent for from the most distant places. The King lived in the fortress with his ministers and felt safe. Six days passed by uneventfully. On the seventh day, Kasyap, an eminent snakebite specialist was going to Parikshat's fortress in order to cure him if he was bitten by the snake. Takshak, also in human form, was walking along behind Kasyap, racking his brains for a plan with which to bypass the guards in order to reach the King. Both of them met. When Kasyap told Takshak of his errand, he was interested. "What can you do, sir," asked Takshak, "for people bitten by snakes?"  "I have antidotes for the bites of the most venomous snakes," replied Kasyap, "and can bring back to life even those dead of snakebite." "Impossible!" exclaimed Takshak. "I can show you if you like!" replied Kasyap. "That may be true of other snakes, sir, but not of Takshak's bite," boasted Takshak. "I am Takshak, my friend! My bite is a little different from that of the other snakes in the world. Those I bite don't just die. They perish and are reduced to a handful of dust. Your healing will be of no avail to them! So, it is best for you to return home, sir." "Not so soon, sir," replied Kasyap. "Even from the dust, I can bring the dead back to life!" 

Takshak challenged Kasyap to a test and bit a big Banyan tree. In a jiffy, a big heap of white ashes lay, where the tree had stood. Kasyap closed his eyes and mand an incantation. Out of the ashes, the banyan tree once again rose up, as before, with its green leaves and its many pillared bigness. "Agreed, sir," replied Takshak, "you're great! But should you foil a sage's curse? If you desist from your endeavor, I'll give you more gold than Parikshat can ever give you!" Kasyap took the gold Takshak gave him and returned home. Takshak continued on his journey. He sent some of his snakes in the form of men to Parikshat's fortress. They took flowers and fruits to the King. When the King opened one of those fruits, there was a little worm in it. Parikshat said, "The seventh sun is setting. If the curse is to come true, it'll have to be through this worm or not at all!" A big hiss, and behold! the little worm became a huge serpent, projecting tongues of flame. It was Takshak. He bit the King. Nothing remained after this. Not only the King, but the whole building of granite, the ministers, and everything else had become heaps of rubble.  

The Sacrifice of the Serpents 

Giving way to Udank's pleas, King Janamejay decided to perform the sacrifice of the serpents in order to punish the Serpent Takshak. Elaborate preparations were made, and sages learned in the lore of sacrifices were invited from far and near. However, one of the sages prophesied that the sacrifice would never be completed. As the sacrifice was in progress, thousands of serpents appeared from everywhere and dropped into the sacrificial fire to be consumed. Serpent Takshak sought the protection of lndra, King of the Gods, whilst another serpent chief, Vasuki, sought the help of his nephew, Asthik. Asthik went to the sacrifice, and because of his learning and charm was well received by the King and all the sages present. In fact, the hymns he chanted were so moving, the King asked him to choose a suitable reward. Asthik in a pleading voice said, "O Great King, in order to avenge your father's death, you have killed thousands of snakes, so I beg of you to spare those that are left." The King did not want to stop the sacrifice and asked Asthik to name any other wish, but again Asthik appealed to the King to have mercy. At this, the sages reasoned with the King that Asthik's request was not unreasonable, and so the King ordered that the sacrifice be stopped. 

At this moment Vedavyas arrived with his disciples, and told the assembly the history of the forbears of Janamejay and the Pandavas. The earliest recorded ancestor of Janamejay was Saraswata Manu, and amongst the long line of descendants were Yayati, Pururav and then Dushyant, whose son was the Great Bharata. King Bharata's great grandson was Hasti, who built the city of Hastinapura. Then seven generations later Santanu came to the throne. 

The Story of King Santanu 

One day the King was out hunting and on the bank of the river Ganga he saw a maiden of breathtaking loveliness. He was so intoxicated by her beauty that he earnestly offered her his kingdom, his wealth, his very life, if she would become his wife. The maiden smiled at the King and said, " I shall become your wife, but on certain conditions. You must never ask me who I am, nor ever oppose anything I do. You must not say anything displeasing to me. If you ever do otherwise, I shall leave you there and then." The infatuated King vowed his assent and she became his wife. King Santanu and his Queen lived a life of perfect happiness, oblivious to the passage of time. Yet each time she gave birth to a child, she would take the new-born baby to the Ganga and cast it into the river, and return to the King with a smiling face. The King was filled with horror at such murderous deeds, but suffered it all in agonising silence, ever aware of the promise he had made. He often wondered as to who she was, and why she should commit these foul deeds on her own babies. In all she killed seven children. When the eighth child was born, and she was about to throw it into the river, King Santanu could bear the torment no longer. 

He rushed forward, and catching her by the arm, shouted, "Stop, you cruel woman ! How can you so fiendishly murder your own innocent children?" " My King," she replied, " You have forgotten your promise, but now you may have your child for you do not need me anymore. I am the goddess Ganga, I came to earth at the request of these eight sons of yours. They are gods, who were cursed to be born as men. They begged me to marry you and mother them. It was also their wish, that I should drown them so they could return to their abode in heaven. " She placed the baby in Santanu's arms. " Take good care of him, for he will live long and bring great glory to the Kuru race. Now I must leave you. " Saying this, the goddess disappeared. Santanu's grief knew no bounds. He loved Ganga very deeply, and now his only joy was his little son. On him the King lavished all his affections, and the child, named Devavrata, grew up to be a truly noble prince, and was crowned the heir apparent. Many years went by. Then one day as the King was riding by the river Yamuna, the air was filled with a fragrance so divinely sweet that the King had to find from whence it came, and he traced it to a girl sitting on the bank of the river. Santanu was so overcome by her beauty, that he begged her to marry him. " I am Satyavati, a fisher-woman," said the girl, " My father is the chief of the fishermen and first you must ask his consent." King Santanu wasted no time in going to see her father, and earnestly begged for the hand of Satyavati in marriage. " I will consent to this marriage," said the father, "Provided you promise that if my daughter has a son, he shall be king after you. " The King could not make this promise, as it meant setting aside the rights of Devavrata, his son by Goddess Ganga. He therefore returned to his palace, sick with baffled desire. He did not tell anyone of his sorrow, and as the days went by he could neither eat nor sleep. The prince Devavrata worried over his father's plight, and questioning the King's charioteer, he soon discovered the reason for his father's anguish. He went to the chief of the fishermen and besought the daughter's hand on his father's behalf, readily promising that a son by the marriage would succeed his father as king. 

The chief of the fishermen was greatly moved. "You are a great and noble prince, and I have no doubt you will keep your word, but how can I know that children born of you would not seek to seize the kingdom which was your birthright?" Although startled by this demand, Devavrata was still determined to fulfil the king's desire, so he vowed with upraised arm. "I shall never marry and I dedicate myself to a life of celibacy." As he uttered these words, the gods showered flowers on his head, and the air resounded with cries of "Bhishma", "Bhishma." From then onwards, the Prince was known as Bhishma, the one who takes a solemn vow and fulfils it. So King Santanu married Satyavati, and two sons were born, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Eventually Chitrangada came to the throne, but was killed in battle, and died without any children. He was succeeded by Vichitravirya, who had two sons named Dhritarashtra, who was born blind, and Pandu. When they came of age, Dhritarashtra married the Gandhara Princess, Gandhari, and Pandu married the Princess Kunti. As Dhritarashtra was blind, Pandu ascended the throne on the death of Vichitravirya. 

The Story of Kunti Devi and Pandu

When Princess Kunti was a young girl, the sage Durvasa stayed for a time as a guest in her father's home. The sage was so pleased with the care and attention Kunti bestowed on him, that he made the princess a promise saying, " Child, if you call upon any of the gods repeating the hymn I will teach you, the god will bless you with a son equal to him in glory." Out of childish curiosity, Kunti recited this divine hymn to the Sun God. A child with a suit of gold armor and diamond earrings, was born to her. Kunti was aghast and wondered what she should do with the child. So one night she put the child in a casket and set it afloat in the river Ganga. A groom of Dhritarashtra's happened to see the casket in the river, and was both surprised and delighted to find it contained a beautiful child. He handed it over to his wife, and it was this child who came to be known as Karna. On the advice of Bhishma, and in accordance with the custom of that time, Pandu took a second wife, Madri, the sister of the King of Madra. One day King Pandu was out hunting, and seeing a pair of deer, shot the male deer, ignorant of the fact that it was a sage in the guise of a deer. With his dying breath the sage put a curse on Pandu that he would never be able to have any children. Pandu was heartbroken at this curse, and retreated into the forest to live in solitude with his two queens, and it looked as if Pandu would die childless. Then Kunti told Pandu about the sage Durvasa's promise that she could have children after invoking the gods. Pandu, although still in the throes of despondence, readily agreed, and soon Kunti had three sons by the gods. Later Kunti prayed to the gods on behalf of Madri, and she in turn was gifted with two sons. But Pandu still could not find any happiness in life. He was continuously haunted by the sage and his curse. Then one day Pandu suddenly collapses and died. Madri could not contain her sorrow, and she burnt herself on the pyre of her husband entreating Kunti to remain and be a mother to her children. The sages of the forest took the bereaved Kunti and the five children to Hastinapura where they were brought up by their uncle Dhritarashtra along with his one hundred sons. 

When King Pandu died, Yudhishthira, his eldest son and heir apparent, was only sixteen years of age, so the blind Dhritarashtra was made king. At Hastinapura the five sons of Pandu and the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra grew up together in an atmosphere of merriment, but beneath the surface the Kauravas nursed a growing hatred for the Pandavas. Bhima, the second son of Pandu, excelled all the others in physical strength. He would bully his Kaurava cousins, and was wont to lift one of his cousins high above his head and run with his helpless and screaming victim around the garden. Nothing Bhima liked better than to dive into a pool with one or two of his cousins clasped in his arms, and stay under water until his struggling cousins were well nigh drowned. The Kauravas had many bruises as a result of Bhima's practical jokes, and Duryodhana, the eldest of Kauravas, was extremely jealous of Bhima's strength, and in his warped thinking, he felt that if only Bhima was out of the way, the powers of the Pandavas would decline, then Yudhishthira could be prevented from becoming king. Eventually Duryodhana and his brothers planned to kill Bhima, imprison Yudhishthira and the younger brother Arjuna and seize the kingdom. Duryodhana, his brothers and the Pandavas often went down to the river Ganga, where they would swim and enjoy the sweetmeats and cool drinks the servants brought. The day came when beside the river, Duryodhana managed to slip poison into Bhima's food, and afterwards when Bhima lay on the river bank drowsing from the effects of the poison, the evil Duryodhana tied him up with wild creepers and threw him into the river. 

Bhima sank like a stone, down and down into the depths of the river, until he came to the abode of the Nagas, the giant water snakes. The poisonous snakes bit him, but luckily their poison counteracted the poison in his body, and Bhima quickly broke his bonds, and kept the snakes at bay. Just then Vasuki, a Prince of the Nagas, came on the scene, and recognizing Bhima as a great prince, took him to his home. Vasuki gave Bhima a magical potion to drink, which would give him the strength of a thousand elephants. After drinking it, Bhima fell into a deep sleep. Meanwhile Yudhishthira was greatly concerned at the absence of his brother. He asked Duryodhana if he knew where Bhima was, and Duryodhana said he was sure that Bhima had gone home ahead of them. On arriving back at Hastinapura, Yudhishthira asked his mother whether Bhima had returned, and on learning that Bhima was not at the palace, Yudhishthira immediately suspected foul play and, with his brothers, searched high and low along the banks of the Ganga. In the land of the Nagas, Bhima slept for seven days and nights. When he awakened on the eighth day, Vasuki, the Naga Prince who was sitting beside his bed, smiled, " O Prince, you have fully recovered. In fact you possess the strength of a great herd of elephants, so now you should return to Hastinapura." Bhima took leave of the Nagas, and hastened home, where Kunti and his brothers welcomed him in great joy. When Bhima told them of his adventures, the Pandava princes realized they could no longer trust Duryodhana and the other Kauravas. Kunti sent for Vidura, the king's chief counsellor, and told him in confidence: " Duryodhana is wicked and cruel. He has already tried to kill Bhima because he wants to rule the kingdom." " What you say is true," replied Vidura, " But you have no cause to worry, for your sons are blessed with long life." The Pandavas and the Kauravas learnt the use of arms first from Kripacharya, and later from his brother-in-law, Drona. 

Story of Drona. 

Drona was the son of a Brahmana, and after completing his studies of the Vedas, devoted himself to archery and became a great master. A fellow student was Drupada, the son of the King of Panchala. They were such good friends that Drupada often said, " When I am king, you shall have half of my kingdom." Later, Drona married Kripacharya's sister, and a son, Aswatthama, was born to them. Drona was devoted to his wife and son, and for their sake, resolved to acquire sufficient wealth. Hearing that one, Parasurama had decided to distribute his riches among the brahmanas, he hurried to him. Alas, he was too late, as Parasurama had already given away his wealth and was about to retire to the forests. But Parasurama was anxious to help Drona, and as he was recognized as the master of weapons, he offered to teach Drona his skills. Drona readily agreed, and great archer as he already was, he became the unrivalled master of the bow and other weapons. Meanwhile, the King of Panchala died and Drupada had ascended the throne. So, remembering Drupada's lavish promises, Drona journeyed to Panchala, fully expecting to be treated generously. But he found that Drupada had changed, and now drunk with power, he received his former friend with scorn and derision. Drona was turned out of the palace as though he was a beggar, and vowed to punish this arrogant king, who so easily forgot the promises made during their earlier friendship. Drona then decided to go to Hastinapura and enlist the help of his brother-in-law Kripacharya in his search to find some measure of wealth. One day the Kaurava princes were playing with a ball, and in the course of the game the ball fell into a well, and they stood looking into its depths wondering how to retrieve their ball. Drona happened to be close by and seeing their predicament, spoke to them: " Princes, you are descendants of the great King Bharata, and should be so skilled in arms, that recovering your ball should be easy. Let me show you how." Drona took his bow and fired an arrow straight into the ball. Then in quick succession, he shot arrow after arrow, and each arrow hit the arrows fired before until they formed a long chain, by which he lifted out the ball.

The princes were amazed at his skill, and asked him who he was, and begged him to accompany them to the palace. Drona smiled, " O Princes, ask your uncle Bhisma. He will tell you who I am." When Bhisma heard the story, he knew the brahmana could be no other than the famous master Drona, the ideal person to teach the princes the use of arms. So Drona was received at the palace with special honour, and engaged to teach the princes his skill with weapons. Of all his pupils, the Pandava Prince Arjuna, was by far the best, displaying natural skill with the bow. One night Drona discovered Arjuna practicing in the dark and he was amazed at the prince's marksmanship. " Bravo, my prince," cried Drona, " One day you will be the greatest warrior of all." From that day onwards Arjuna became Drona's favorite pupil, and he taught the prince all the skills and cunning of war he knew. As soon as the princes had mastered their weapons and the art of warfare, Drona, ever remembering the insult he had suffered from Drupada, sent Arjuna with an army to take Panchala and capture Drupada. Arjuna and his army conquered Panchala, and brought Drupada and his ministers, bound in chains before Drona. Drona was jubilant, and greeting the dismayed Drupada said, " Have no fear Drupada. When we were young we were great friends and you often promised me half your kingdom. But when you became a king you insulted me and turned me out of your palace. Now, I have conquered your kingdom, so I am a king, but I still wish to be your friend, and I hereby grant you half your kingdom." Drona thought he had acted nobly, but Drupada's pride had been humbled, and his hatred for Drona was deep and tormenting, He fasted and made sacrifices to the gods to grant him a son who would one day slay Drona. His wishes were answered, when a son was born. He was named Dhrishtadyumna, who eventually became a great warrior. Drupada also had a daughter, Draupadi, who was destined to became the consort of the Pandava princes. 

The Story Of Ekalavya

In the great forests around Hastinapura, lived many important tribes. The chieftain's son of one of these tribes, was named Ekalavya, who having heard of Drona's fame as a teacher of archery, went to Hastinapura feeling sure that Drona would accept him, as a pupil. Drona refused to take a mere tribal chief's son as one of his pupils, and although Ekalavya was bitterly disappointed, he still determined to become a great archer. So he made a life-size image of Drona in clay, and setting up this statue in a glade, he stood alongside it and practiced with his bow. Such was his faith, that he soon became as skilled as any of Drona's pupils. Then one day the Pandava and Kaurava princes were out hunting in the forest close to where Ekalavya lived. One of their hounds, running far ahead, suddenly came upon this image of Drona, and decided that here was something it could attack. Ekalavya from a distance, saw what was happening and to save his 'tutor ' from being demolished, let fly six arrows which all hit the dog symmetrically on each side of its muzzle. The princes hearing the dog yelp with pain, and thinking it was being attacked by some ferocious animal, made haste to the spot, but when they saw the dog, they seemed more concerned at the amazing marksmanship of the archer than the wounds of the poor dog. Calling to Ekalavya, they asked him who he was and who taught him such mastery of the bow. "Sirs, " replied Ekalavya, bowing to the princes, " I am Ekalavya, the son of the chieftain, and I am a disciple of Drona the great archer. " The princes were surprised that Drona should be teaching such a person, even though he was a tribal chief's son. But more so Arjuna, who was seething with envy and anger, and when they got back to Hastinapura, he immediately confronted Drona and without a word of greeting, shouted, "You promised that none would ever excel me at archery. Yet today I met Ekalavya, one of your pupils, whose skill is equal to mine." Drona was at a loss for words, and in the end demanded that Arjuna take him to meet this so called pupil of his. The next day Arjuna took Drona into the forest, and there in the same glade was Ekalavya shooting arrow after arrow with perfect precision. 

As soon as Ekalavya saw Drona, he threw down his bow and rushed forward: " O master! I am glad you have come, " cried Ekalavya, " for I am your humble pupil. " " If that is so, " said Drona, " What will the pupil give his master as a present? " " Anything you may command, noble sir, " replied Ekalavya. "Then, " cried Drona, "Give me your right thumb. " Without a word, Ekalavya drew out his sword and cut off his right thumb, and presented it to Drona. 

The Tournament

Drona strode into the audience hall, where Vedavyas, Bhisma, Vidura and Kripa were discussing matters of state with King Dhritarashtra. Bowing to the King, Drona said, " Your Majesty, the princes are now trained in weapons and warfare. Let there be a tournament, so that they can prove their skill and valor. " " You have done well," replied the King, " By all means a tournament, let us fix a date and then proclaim, it throughout the kingdom." So an arena was built surrounded by pavilions for the royal household and gaily bedecked tents for the nobles. When the festive day dawned, every vantage point around the arena was already packed by the common people, who had travelled from the four corners of the kingdom. A happy and jostling crowd, looking forward to seeing the noble princes in feats of arms. Soon after the arrival of the King, the trumpeters sounded the commencement of the tournament, and then led by stately Drona, the princes marched into the arena. Chariot races started the day. Then there were mock battles on elephants and horses which drove the vast crowd into a frenzy of excitement. A mock fight with maces between Bhima and Duryodhana soon developed into a deadly combat, each remembering the past tried to brain the other, until Drona stepped between them, and reminded the princes of the laws of chivalry. The final item on the program was an individual display of archery by Arjuna, and when he entered the arena, he was greeted by a deafening roar that could be heard for miles around. Arjuna displayed matchless skill with his weapons and the vast assemblage was lost in wonder and admiration. 

His prowess with the bow seemed superhuman. Targets the length of the arena were hit with perfect ease. Duryodhana could scarcely hide the envy and hate he held for Arjuna. And then, when everyone thought the tournament was at an end, from the entrance came a clash of arms in challenge, and into the arena walked a godlike youth dressed in armor of gold. He looked proudly around him, and strode up to Arjuna. By the bitter irony of fate, and unknown to each other, they were brothers, for this was Karna, the first born of the dowager queen Kunti. Karna barely acknowledged Drona, and addressed Arjuna in a voice of pealing thunder, " Prince Arjuna, all the feats you have done, I can do much better." Drona thought that this was an idle boast, but agreed to let Karna show what he could do. To the astonishment of everyone, Karna duplicated all that Arjuna had done with ease and precision. Duryodhana was overjoyed, and rushing into the arena, threw his arms around Karna, " Welcome great warrior, I and all this kingdom are at your command. " " I am grateful, " replied Karna, " But only one thing I desire and that is single combat with Arjuna. " Arjuna, mad with anger, confronted Karna and in a contemptuous voice shouted: 'You, who come here uninvited, shall die the death of a braggart. " The two combatants grasped their weapons, and as they were about to fight, Kripa, well versed in the laws of chivalry, stepped between them. " Stop. The rules of single combat do not allow a prince to fight with unknown adventurers. " Then turning to Karna he said. " Speak up and name your parentage. " Karna hung his head in shame, but Duryodhana was not to be outdone: " If this combat cannot take place, merely because Karna is not a prince, that is easily remedied," Duryodhana said, and raised his arm high. " I hereby crown Karna King of Anga." Having obtained the assent of his father, King Dhritarashtra, Duryodhana had a throne brought into the arena, and the priests performed all the necessary rites and invested Karna with sovereignty of the kingdom of Anga. All this time Kunti, sitting in the royal pavilion, had realized that Karna was her first born son, and she was stupefied with anguish, not knowing what to do to stop her sons from fighting in mortal combat. But then the sun had set and the trumpets sounded the end of the tournament, and so Duryodhana took Karna in his chariot and drove away. 

The House Of Wax

When at last, King Dritharashtra announced that Yudhishthira was the rightful heir apparent to the throne, Duryodhana's mad envy and jealousy knew no bounds. To make matters worse, the people held the Pandava princes in high regard, and Yudhishthira came to be named Dharmaraya, the sustainer of the law. It soon became common knowledge in the palace that the people were muttering that Dhritarashtra had no right to be king, and that Yudhishthira would make a far better ruler. Dhritarashtra was in many ways a wise ruler, and although he loved his brother's sons, he was weak willed and was easily swayed by the evil counsel around him. Duryodhana conspired with his nefarious uncle Sakuni, and his uncle's minister Kanika, on ways and means to get rid of the Pandava princes. One day Duryodhana went to his father in a towering rage: " This state of affairs can no longer be endured. The people are already hinting that Yudhishthira should be crowned king immediately. The Pandavas must go, otherwise what is to become of us? Are we to rely on their charity for our future?" 'The old King was sorely worried : " Son, what you say may be true, but if we openly oppose or harm the princes, the whole kingdom will rise against us." " You are wrong," shouted Duryodhana, quivering with rage. " We have powerful allies in Kripa and Drona and his son Aswathama. I beg you, send the Pandavas to Varanasi, otherwise there will never be peace in the kingdom." Dhritarashtra refused at first to listen to Duryodhana's evil schemes, and then Sakuni and Kanika lost no time in trying to convince the King that to allow the Pandavas to remain at Hastinapura would be an ever growing menace to him and his sons. But if the Pandavas were induced to go to Varanasi, Duryodhana and his brothers would regain their popularity, and perhaps in time the Pandavas could be allowed to return. In the end Dhritarashtra yielded to the conspirators oily words, and in his weak judgement began to believe that with the removal of the Pandava princes, the Kauravas would for ever reign supreme. Kunti Devi and the princes welcomed the suggestion of a prolonged visit to Varanasi, for it would be a relief to get away from the treacherous atmosphere of the court at Hastinapura. Duryodhana delighted at the turn of events, lost no time in planning with Sakuni and Karna on a fatal accident that would rid the world of the princes. The conspirators hit upon a scheme that seemed bound to succeed. They sent for Purochan, an architect of dubious character, and gave him instructions which he swore to carry out. Before the Pandavas left for Varanasi, Purochan hastened there well in advance, and with his own artisans and labourers built a beautiful palace to house the Pandavas. Everything in this palace was constructed of the most inflammable material which would burn rapidly. The plan was to set fire to this ' house of wax' when the Pandavas were sound asleep, and as it would burn fiercely, they would stand no chance of escaping, and the Kauravas could never be blamed for such a tragic accident. 

The day came when Kunti Devi and the princes took leave of their relatives and friends, and set off on their journey to Varanasi. Vidura, the wise counsellor, accompanied them part of the way, and before returning to Hastinapura, spoke words of warning to Yudishthira. " Listen carefully my son," whispered Vidura, " Death awaits you at Varanasi in a house that has been designed to go up in flames. Be prepared and trust the men I will send, then all will be well." Yudhishthira sadly realized that such a hideous plot could only be the work of Duryodhana, and he decided to say nothing to the others, until they reached Varanasi. The populace of Varanasi were happy that the Pandavas were visiting their city and welcomed them with garlands and music. They were escorted to the ' house of wax ' by Purochan, who boasted of its lavish beauties and explained that by the orders of the King, he Purochan, would remain there to look after the comforts of the honored guests. That evening Yudhishthira told Kunti Devi and his brothers of Vidura's warning, and then with Bhima, examined the entire building, and there was no doubt that the place was a veritable death trap. Yudhishthira told Bhima: " Now we know of this dastardly plot, do not let Purochan see that we are suspicious. But we must remain on guard every night, until we get further word from Vidura." So they stayed in the house and to all appearances, were free from care. During the day they met the people, or went hunting, but at night one of the princes remained on guard. 

Meanwhile, Vidura sent a trusted servant, who met the princes in secret, and unknown to Purochan, showed them a carefully concealed door in the house that led to a tunnel which went under the grounds and the surrounding walls of the house. With this knowledge, the princes decided to escape that very night. At midnight Bhima took a torch and set light to the house in a dozen places, then they all hurried out through the subterranean passage into the forest well beyond the house. The ' house of wax' was soon a roaring blaze that lit up the sky, and a fast swelling crowd of citizens could do nothing to stem such an inferno, only stand and lament on the fate of the princes and their mother. The house was reduced to ashes, and in the debris lay the remains of Purochan, a victim of his own dastardly scheming. When the news reached Hastinapura, Dhritarashtra and his sons shed tears, and performed the most solemn funeral rites for their kinsfolk, who they fondly believed had perished in the fire. In the forest, the Pandavas groped their way through the tangled undergrowth till they came to the river Ganga, there they found a boat in charge of a boatman who knew their secret. They crossed the river and entered the forest on the far side. Bhima, seeing that his mother was exhausted, took her on his shoulders and led the way through the dense forest. After a time, sheer fatigue and thirst forced them to halt, and they decided to rest. 

Not so the tireless Bhima, who forced his way through dense undergrowth until he found a pool, and making cups of lotus leaves, took water to his mother and brothers. Then, whilst the others slept, Bhima stayed awake and armed himself with a club, to protect them against wild animals. In these forests dwelt a giant rakshasa and his sister called Hidambi. The rakshasas were a tribe of giants that even ate human flesh. The sister Hidambi, was out early searching for food, when in the distance she saw Bhima standing guard over his mother and brothers. She was smitten by Bhima's athletic figure and 
as she could take any form, she transformed herself into a maiden of rarest beauty. Hearing someone approach, Bhima turned and saw this wonderful looking maiden coming towards him. At first he was puzzled that such a beauty should be walking through the forest alone. Hidambi came close, and with a dazzling smile said, " I am Hidambi and wish you no harm. But my brother is a man eating giant, and will slay you all on sight. Follow tile and I will lead you all to safety. But promise, I beg of you, to make me your wife." Bhima was completely smitten by the beauty of Hidambi but the proposal of marriage certainly startled him. Before he could reply, there was a terrific noise in the forest, as though a wild elephant was on the rampage. 

" It is my brother, " Hidambi cried in anguish. " Go quickly otherwise he will surely kill you and your family. " Bhima just laughed. " I am not scared of any giant, however big he be." As he spoke, the giant came out of the forest, a fiendish brute, snarling like a wild animal. Bhima wasted no time, in running to intercept the giant, and they were soon locked in deadly combat. Each pulled up young trees for clubs, and although the giant towered over Bhima, he was not so agile, and Bhima soon had the giant bruised and bleeding in a dozen places. But the noise they made awakened his mother and brothers. The princes ran to the scene of the fight, ready to assist Bhima, but it was soon obvious that the giant was no match for Bhima's agility and strength. The ponderous giant tried and tried to deal Bhima a killing blow with his club, but Bhima would nimbly dodge aside, then dash in and club the giant unmercifully. Meanwhile Kunti was puzzled at the sight of Hidambi. 

"You must be a goddess of the forest with such rare beauty. But tell me, who are you and why are you here?" "Good mother," replied Hidambi, "I am no goddess. I live in this forest with my brother who is now trying to kill your son. Believe me, I wished you no harm, and I wanted to save you from my fearsome brother." "Have no fear my child. Bhima is a great warrior," Kunti said, and just at that moment there was a mighty roar from the princes, as Bhima struck the giant a tremendous blow on the head, which stretched him lifeless on the ground. When everyone had finished congratulating Bhima on his victory, Yudhishthira emplored them; "Let us not tarry here for Duryodhana's men may be searching the forest. We must travel far before we are safe." At this, Hidambi threw herself at Kunti's feet. "Please do not leave me. I have fallen in love with your son Bhima, and if he will not marry me, I will kill myself." Yudhishthira lifted Hidambi to her feet. "Come with us for my brother will marry you." And so the Pandavas, with Hidambi, journeyed through the forest. Bhima married Hidambi, and they lived together for a year, and during that time Hidambi had a son, who was named Ghatotkacha, because the child did not have a single hair on his head. Soon after Ghatotkacha was born, Hidambi told Bhima. "I must leave you. When my son has grown to manhood, he will serve you when you need him." And so Hidambi took leave of the Pandavas and returned to the forests with her son.


The Pandavas then decided to move further on, and in their journey suffered many hardships and overcame many dangers. They met Vedavyas on the way, from whom they received encouragement and wise counsel. He advised them to put on the garb of brahmans, and go to the city of Ekachakra and there live in a certain brahman's house, till better days dawned. In the city of Ekachakra, the Pandavas stayed in the guise of brahmans, begging for their food in the streets. One day, when the other brothers had gone to beg for alms, Bhima stayed with his mother, and they heard a loud wailing from the house of their brahman landlord. Thinking some calamity had befallen the family, Kunti went inside the house to find out what was amiss. The brahman and his wife could hardly speak for weeping, but in the end Kunti gathered that it had been decreed that one of the family had to be sacrificed to a Rakshasa who lived in a cave on a nearby hill. This Rakshasa dominated the people of the city. The King was weak and unable to protect his people, and those who had tried to wreak vengeance on the Rakshasa were killed. The Rakshasa had been in the habit of indiscriminately killing and eating men, women and children. Then the citizens begged the Rakshasa to stop this wholesale killing, and it was agreed that once a week someone would drive a bullock cart laden with food to the Rakshasa's cave, and the Rakshasa would, make a feast of the food, the bullocks and the driver. This week it was the turn of the landlord's family to go to the Rakshasa. 

The brahman's wife implored that she should be allowed and go to be sacrificed, but the husband said it was his duty to go. At this their daughter, who was but eighteen, begged her parents to send her, as the home could not exist without a mother or a father. The small son, picked up a piece of firewood and brandishing it above his head, shouted in his childish voice that he would go and kill the wicked Rakshasa. Kunti now intervened. "Good people, do not despair. I have five sons, and one of 
them will take the food to the Rakshasa." The brahman shook his head sadly and said that he could never allow anyone to sacrifice their life for his family. "Have no fear," said Kunti proudly. "My son Bhima has superhuman strength and will certainly kill this Rakshasa." When Kunti told Bhima the whole story, he was full of enthusiasm at the thought of fighting another Rakshasa. The next morning the bullock cart was laden with foodstuffs, and Bhima set oft in high spirits, promising to return long before sunset. 

When Bhima reached the Rakshasa's cave, he decided he was hungry, and began to eat the food in the cart. This maddened the Rakshasa, who rushed out of his cave at Bhima, but Bhima evaded the clutching arms, and quite unconcerned, continued to eat the food. At this the Rakshasa uprooted a tree and threw it at Bhima, who merely brushed it aside. Bhima then strode up to the Rakshasa and a great fight ensued. But Bhima was by far the stronger, and in the end, he threw the Rakshasa down, and broke his back. Bhima dragged the carcass of the Rakshasa to the gates of the city, and the people wept with joy that the awful menace hovering over their heads had been removed at last. 

The Swayamwara of Princess Draupadi

While the Pandavas were living as brahmans at Ekachakrapura, they heard of the approaching celebration of the marriage of the Princess Draupadi, daughter of the Drupada, King of Panchala. All the monarchs and princess of Northern India were invited, and in accordance with the ancient Swayamvara custom, the bride would choose her husband from among the assembled royalty. It will be remembered that King Drupada had a bitter hatred of Drona, the great brahman warrior , yet he sent his son, Dhrishtadyumna to Drona, to learn the arts of warfare. Many brahmans of Ekachakrapura planned to go to Panchala in the hope of receiving the customary gifts and to see the festivities and pageant of a royal wedding. Kunti, with her motherly instinct, recognized her sons desire to go to Panchala, so she told them, " We have been in this city too long and it is time to think of going somewhere else. The alms doled out to us are getting less and less, so let us go to Drupada's kingdom, which is said to be fair and prosperous." So the Pandavas, still in the guise of brahmans, set of on the long journey to the kingdom of Panchala. Often they walked far into the night, with Arjuna and a burning torch leading the say. At last they arrived at Panchala, arid found shelter in a potter's hut. The city was thronged with visitors, from the poorest peasants who came to enjoy the public entertainments, to the rich and courtly princes who hoped to win the hand of the princess. King Drupada had always longed for Arjuna to marry his daughter, and when he heard the news of the death of the Pandavas in the fire at Varanasi, he was plunged in sorry, but was relieved by a later rumour that they had managed to escape. Still with his mind on Arjuna, King Drupada set a mighty task for anyone to win the hand of his daughter. 

A mighty steel bow was placed in the marriage hall. The suitors had to string the bow and then shoot five steel arrows, through the central aperture of a whirling disc, and well beyond this whirling disc, was the target which each of the five arrows had to strike. Then came the day of the ceremony. The marriage hall was beautifully decorated, and it seemed that all the rulers of Northern India were there. The sons of King Dhritarashtra accompanied by Karna were well to the fore, and there too, was Krishna seated beside his elder brother, Balaram. To the sound of one hundred trumpets, Princess Draupadi entered the hall, accompanied by her brother Dhrishtadyumna. She coyly danced at the valiant princes, who on their part looked at her in open admiration. After the brahmans had repeated the usual mantras, and the peace invocation had been chanted, Dhrishtadyumna took Draupadi by the hand and led her to the center of the hall. Then he proclaimed. " Mark this bow, assembled monarchs, and the target, he who sends five arrows in succession through the hole in the disc, and unerringly hits the target, and if he be of noble lineage, shall win the hand of my sister." Prince after Prince came forward and tried in vain to string the bow. Now it was the turn of Karna, who strung the bow with surprising ease, but before he could fire an arrow, Draupadi proudly exclaimed " As the daughter of a monarch, I will not wed the son of a groom." Karna, his head bent in shame, slowly walked back to his seat. At this there was considerable angry shouting, some saying that it was an impossible test put up to shame the royal guests. Then all the noise stopped, for from among the group of brahmans, a youth advanced towards the bow. It was Arjuna, and with a silent prayer to the Gods, took up the bow and strung it with ease. Then, without pause or hesitation, he shot five arrows in quick succession through the whirling disc right into the target. The brahmans shouted with joy, not so many of the princes who were loud in their wrath, shouting, " If the Princess Draupadi does not care to marry a prince, she certainly shall not marry this prating priest." At this one of the princes started to draw his sword, but Bhima was already at Arjuna's side, ready to fight one and all. Then Sri Krishna, who not deceived by the brahman robes, had realized that the Pandava princes were involved. He strode amidst the irate suitors, and his calm voice and righteous words calmed the angry monarchs. Meanwhile the Pandava princes accompanied by Draupadi, hurried back to the potter's but to tell Kunti their mother, of the good fortune that had been theirs's that day. When they got to the hut, they left Draupadi outside in order to surprise their mother. On going inside in great glee, they told their mother they had received a great gift. " Enjoy the gift in common," replied their mother, not knowing what it was. And as a mother's command cannot be disregarded, Draupadi became the common wife of the five brothers. 

The Kingdom of Indraprastha

When the news of what took place at the Swayamvara reached Hastinapura, Vidura was overjoyed. He immediately went to King Dhritarashtra and said, "O King, our stars are strong because the daughter of King Drupada is now our daughter-in-law." The King, in his befuddled thinking, assumed that it was his son Duryodhana who had won the hand of Princess Draupadi. Turning to Vidura, he cried. " You must go at once and bring Draupadi to Hastinapura, so that we can all celebrate my son's happiness." " No, your Majesty," said the jubilant Vidura. " The Pandava princes and Kunti escaped from that awful fire, and it was Arjuna who has won Draupadi. And now the Pandavas are well and happy under the care of King Drupada." This was a sad blow for the King and he did his best to conceal his anguish. " I am indeed glad to hear that the Pandavas are really alive. This is wonderful news, and we must invite them back to Hastinapura, together with our new daughter-in-law." But Duryodhana's hatred and jealousy were uncontrollable when he learnt that the Pandavas had managed to escape from his house of wax, and were now even more to be feared, with the alliance of the powerful King of Panchala. He and Karna stormed into the King's chamber and Duryodhana, without mincing words, shouted, " These accursed Pandavas are now stronger than ever. They must be aware that we tried to murder them at Varanasi, so either we destroy them now, or we ourselves will perish." " True, my son," replied the King. " Our position is certainly desperate. But how do you propose we rid ourselves of the Pandavas?" Duryodhana shook his head. " I really do not know. But perhaps we can take advantage that the Pandava princes are not born of the same mother and create enmity between them. Or better still, can we not bribe the King of Panchala to become our ally?" Karna standing there, just smiled and said, "This is but futile talk." Duryodhana glared at Karna. " Have you a better plan to offer?" " Your proposals are no good," replied Karna. " When the Pandavas were here, your attempts to drown Bhima, and murder them at Varanasi proved useless. Now the Pandavas will be hard to deceive. 

Therefore, there is only one answer left to us, It must be war! We must make a surprise attack on them and King Drupada, before Krishna can join them with his Yadava army." The King could not make up his mind at such a bold step, so he sent for Bhishma, Vidura and Drona, to get their opinions. When Bhishma was told that Karna had suggested open warfare, he was horrified. " This is evil advice, and evil has a way of not only destroying itself, but others too. The proper course will be to welcome the Pandavas back and give them half the kingdom. This is the only way to dispel all the loose talk and suspicion of what occurred at Varanasi, and to maintain the dignity of our family. This is my advice." Drona, without hesitation, gave the same counsel and suggested sending a suitable envoy to Panchala to bring about an amicable settlement and establish peace. Listening to all this, Karna completely lost his temper. " This is the talk of cowards. I am surprised that Drona, who has received such power and wealth in this kingdom, should be frightened of the Pandavas." Drona, his eyes blazing with anger, turned on Karna. 

"You speak like a child. If the King does not do what Bhishma and myself have advised, the Kauravas will certainly meet with destruction." At this Dhritarashtra appealed to Vidura for his opinion. "O King," solemnly declared Vidura. " The advice given by Bhishma and Drona is wise and just. It is true that Drupada and his son as well as Krishna, and the Yadavas, are staunch allies of the Pandavas, and it would be impossible to beat them in battle. Remember also, that there is talk that we tried to kill the Pandavas at Varanasi, And the people will not stand for further injustice to the Pandavas. So be wise, and follow Bhishma's advice." In the end, and to Duryodhana and Karna's dismay, the King determined to establish peace by giving half his kingdom to the sons of Pandu, and he entrusted Vidura to go immediately to Panchala and bring the Pandavas and Draupadi to Hastinapura. Vidura lost no time in going to Panchala, taking with him jewels and many costly gifts. After paying due honour to King Drupada, Vidura requested him, on behalf of Dhritarashtra, to send the Pandavas to Hastinapura. Drupada who mistrusted Dhritarashtra merely said the Pandavas could do as they pleased. When Vidura later met Kunti, she said, " I am suspicious of Dhritarashtra's intentions, but you saved our lives at Varanasi, so we shall do as you advise." " Fear nothing," said Vidura. " Your children will never meet with destruction. For they will inherit a great kingdom and acquire renown far and wide." 

And so Vidura returned to Hastinapura accompanied by the Pandavas, Kunti and Draupadi. In jubilant welcome to their beloved princes, who were returning home after many years, the streets of the city were strewn with flowers and thronged with crowds. In accordance with Dhritarashtra's decree, the Kuru kingdom was accordingly divided. King Dhritarashtra and his sons retained the eastern and richer portion with its ancient capital Hastinapura on the Ganga. Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandava princes, was crowned king of the western portion of the kingdom, which was then a forest and a wilderness on the river Jumna. The sons of Pandu cleared the forests, and the ruins of the ancient city of Khandavaprastha, and built palaces and forts, for a new capital, which they named lndraprastha. 

The Exile and wanderings of Arjuna

Yudhishthira, the eldest of of the five sons of Pandu, and now king of Indraprastha, ruled his kingdom with glory. The great sage Narada, came to Indraprastha in the early days of the new kingdom, to see the Pandava princes and their queen mother Kunti. When Narada heard the story of Draupadi's marriage he was somewhat disturbed and lost no time in giving the princes his learned advice. " My sons," expounded the sage, " Living according to certain ethical standards is a necessity of life. Not one of 
you should ever intrude on the privacy of each other and the breaking of such a rule can only be atoned by a year's pilgrimage." The princes agreed that they would always abide by the sage's advice. This worked well, until one day a brahmin in great distress, came to Arjuna to help find a sacred cow that was missing. Arjuna ever ready to help anyone in need, searched for the sacred cow, but in doing so, he inadvertently broke into the presence of one of his brothers who was talking at the time to Draupadi. Arjuna felt that he had erred, and not withstanding the pleas of his brothers, he was adamant that only a year's pilgrimage would atone for his sin. Arjuna in this self imposed exile, wandered far across the country. Coming to the river Ganga one afternoon, he decided to bathe. No sooner had he entered the water when , he was confronted by a Naga princess, who taking him by the hand, took him deep down into the water till they reached Nagaland.  

Here Arjuna tarried for several weeks, and when he took his leave, the princess who was named Uluchi, bestowed upon him power to defeat anything that existed in water. Now Arjuna decided it was time for him to return to Indraprastha. On his return journey the rains came, and on one occasion Arjuna was forced in a heavy deluge, to take shelter beneath an old banyan tree. A youth was also sheltering under the tree, and whilst they awaited the storm to abate Arjuna was surprised to learn that the youth hailed from Yadava, which was ruled by his friend and mentor, Sri Krishna. The youth was full of praises for Yadava, and especially so for Subhadra, the sister of Krishna. Hearing the princess spoken of in such glowing terms, aroused Arjuna's curiosity, and he vowed to break his journey and visit Dwaraka, the capital of Yadava, and pay his respects of Krishna and his sister. When he reached Dwaraka, no one, excepting Sri Krishna, could recognise Prince Arjuna, in his guise as a wandering holy man. Arjuna was overjoyed when he saw Princess Subhadra. The youth he had met, had certainly not exaggerated her beauty, and although he had known the princess when she visited Hastinapura as a young girl, she had grown into a woman of surpassing loveliness.

 Arjuna lost his heart to the fair princess, and took the first opportunity of confiding to Krishna his desire to marry the princess. Sri Krishna was overjoyed at the prospect of such a marriage, but he realised that there were obstacles to be met. Firstly, Subhadra might reject Arjuna's proposal, but more important, would be the attitude of the elder brother, Balaram, who preferred an alliance with the Kauravas, as he felt the Pandava princes were fated with adversity. So Krishna decided that a little mild deceit should be used in order to see how things would work out. He asked Arjuna to maintain his role as a holy man, and arranged for him to be housed in a garden near the palace in Dwaraka. Krishna also arranged that Princess Subhadra should look after the needs and the comfort of this holy man. The princess, who was deeply attracted to the holy man, welcomed the excuse for spending a lot of her time in his company. One day she asked him. "In your wanderings, have you ever visited Indraprastha, and met the Pandava princes? " " Yes, indeed," replied Arjuna with a smile. " I have often been the welcome guest of King Yudhishtira." " Then tell me," asked Subhadra, " Did you meet Prince Arjuna?" Arjuna sadly shook his head. " Poor fellow, I understand he went into exile for a year. But I did hear a rumor that he may even now be in this city in the garb of a holy man." Princess Subhadra gasped with delight, for she realised that the holy man was none other than Prince Arjuna. With a gay smile she said. " When you meet him, please tell him that I would very much like to see my prince again." Somehow, the story soon circulated that Prince Arjuna was in Dwaraka, with the purpose of marrying Princess Subhadra. Sri Krishna, to avoid any unpleasantness with his brother Balaram, announced a twelve day festival at Antardvipa, a large island some twelve miles from Dwaraka. When the princess heard of this, she ran into her brother in anguish, fearing that she was to be parted from Arjuna. " Fear nothing dear sister," said Krishna smiling. " I shall leave you here in good company. And I will attend your marriage when the day arrives." The marriage of Princess Subhadra and Prince Arjuna was arranged in secrecy. As everyone was away at the island festival, a problem arose as to who would be present at the wedding ceremony.

Arjuna decided to invoke God Indra, his divine protector. When he made the sacrifice and the invocation, the God arrived with his consort Sachi. The God was also accompanied by the Sages Vasishta and Narada. Then just before the wedding ceremony, Sri Krishna presented himself, with his mother Devaki and his consort Rukmini. When Balaram heard of the marriage, he was livid with anger. Calling a council of war, he accused Arjuna of insults and treachery, and demanded that the Yadavas declare war and wipe out these accursed Pandava princes. " Brother," said Sri Krishna in gentle tones. "You speak in anger. We cannot undo this marriage and bloodshed is no answer. If, as you demand, we 
were to destroy the Pandava princes, it would mean lifelong grief and suffering for our own beloved sister." All the elders of the Yadavas could see the wisdom of Sri Krishna's words, and they managed to persuade Balaram to accept and bless the marriage. In due course Arjuna took his bride to Indraprastha, and the loveliness of Princess Subhadra and her sweetness won the hearts of everyone. Scion afterwards the Yadava princes arrived at Indraprastha with gifts for the happy couple, and this led to a stronger bond of friendship between the Yadavas and the Pandavas. In course of time, Subhadra had a son, who was named Abhimanyu or the fearless. This son was destined to become a great warrior, like his father. 

The following summer SriKrishna and Prince Arjuna, with Draupadi and Subhadra spent many pleasant weeks beside the river Yumuna. One morning as they were all reclining on the bank of the river, a strange bearded figure came towards them from out of the forest. " Fear not," said Krishna with a smile. " For I recognize our visitor. It is Agni, the God of Fire. But he looks as though he is in pain." When the God of Fire came close, he raised his arm in greeting. " Hear me, O Princes," he roared, with his deep voice. " Brahma, the God of Creation, has advised me to burn down the medicinal forest of Khandava in order to cure my accursed indigestion. But Indra, the King of Gods, will not permit the burning. So I crave your protection whilst I carry out this task." The Princes readily assured the God of Fire of their protection. But Arjuna who realized the difficulties said, "O God of Fire, as you know a warrior must never underrate his opponents, nor can he afford to be unmindful of his fighting gear and weapons. We badly need a chariot that is light and fleet, with horses to match, together with a bow that will never break, and other weapons so that we can combat with the power of the Gods in fighting us." Immediately the God of Fire invoked the presence of Varuna, the God of the Waters. When Varuna appeared, Agni beseeched him to give the princes the Gandiva, which was the magic bow with a never emptying quiver of arrows. Agni also asked for the war chariot with the likeness of God Hanuman on its pennant, and for the discus. The God of the Waters gave the weapons, then promptly disappeared. The discus in the hands of Krishna was a deadly weapon, and when thrown could kill several opponents, and then uncannily return to the hands of the thrower. Now well armed, the princes told the God of Fire to start burning down the forest. Soon the whole sky was lit with huge tongues of fire. Huge medicinal trees were roaring torches of flame. 

Nothing could exist in such a conflagration. Wild animals tried to escape from the inferno, but the princes drove them back into the flames, as a sacrificial offering to the God of Fire. Now all the gods in heaven hurried to their king, the God Indra, and begged that Indra fight this terrible fire. Indra commanded Parjanya, the God of Rain, to put out the flames. But all his efforts were in vain. The downpours he sent merely turned to vapor in the terrific heat. God Indra became furious and commanded Parjanya to allow torrential cloud bursts to quench the flames. But Arjuna with the Gandiva bow and the magic arrows, shot hundred of arrows into the air which formed a roof over the forest, so that not even one drop of water could penetrate. When it was obvious that nothing could now prevent the entire Khandava forest being reduced to ashes, the guardian of the forest, Takshaka, the Serpent Chief, escaped with his life to Kurushebra. Not so fortunate was Aswasen, his son, who tried to escape with his mother. Arjuna, catching sight of them, let fly with an arrow, which killed the mother, and cut off the tail of the son, who badly mutilated, managed to wriggle into safety. God Indra sent a shaft of brilliant light directed at Arjuna, but even this had no effect. Then the demon inhabitants of the forest banded together to fight against the princes. But the devastating discus in the hands of Sri Krishna, and Arjuna's magic arrows, very soon slaughtered the demons. With the exception of the demon Maya, who begged the princes for his life, which they granted. The devastating fire had by now spent all its fury, and the God of Fire regained his former health. Then blessing Sri Krishna and Arjuna, the God vanished. God Indra, who had been forced to admire the powers of Krishna and Arjuna, appeared before them in all his shining glory. " My sons," he commanded. " Ask any boon of me and it shall be granted." Arjuna, whose mind forever dwelt on becoming invincible, humbly asked to be given magical weapons. " Most valiant son," Indra said, " One greater than myself, Lord Siva, will descend from Kailas to give you a terrible weapon. But meanwhile let me bestow on you both gift of greater value. As you are bosom friends, from henceforth you will be invulnerable to attacks by mankind or the gods." When the God Indra departed, the princes followed by Maya the demon, made their way back to the river Yumana. Trotting alongside Arjuna, Maya the demon, was full of praises for the princes. " Noble prince," he exclaimed, clutching Arjuna's arm. " I owe my life to you, and beg to give a gift in return. As I am the architect of all demons, I will build for you a wondrous palace, the like of which the world has never seen." Arjuna shrugged him off. " Listen my friend," he said. " We princes of Kuru never accept gifts for the protection we give to the weak and needy." But Maya would not accept no for an answer, and in the end Arjuna consulted Krishna on Maya's offer. Krishna smiled as he listened to the arguments raised by Arjuna and Maya.

You should accept Maya's offer." he said to Arjuna. " As you know, your worthy brother Yudhishthira is desirous of building a magnificent palace at Indraprastha. So why not build it for him?" In the end Arjuna agreed, and with Draupadi and Subhadra journeyed back to Indraprastha, where they recounted to Yudhishthira all that had taken place on the river Yamuna, and Maya's offer to build a palace. On an auspicious day, Maya presented the princes with his plans for the palace. Everyone, including Krishna, was amazed at the breathtaking beauty of the building that Maya had envisaged. Maya gathered a lot of his building materials from the banks of Lake Bindu, where he had previously planned to build a palace for the demon king, Vrishaparava. At this old site was hidden countless ornamental slabs of sheer white marble, encrusted with precious stones. Also carefully hidden was the mace belonging to the demon king, and the famous conch originally possessed by Varuna, God of the Waters. Maya gave the mace to Bhima, and the conch to Arjuna. Thousands of workmen toiled day and night to build the palace. And as the months rolled by, the beauty of the palace was slowly unveiled, causing everyone to gasp with astonishment at its grandeur. When at last, the palace was completed, it became a place of pilgrimage and of wonder. Inside the palace many of the ornate pillars and decorations were inlaid with precious stones. Whilst in the palace grounds, ornamental lakes had been built, edged with pure crystal and the waters contained golden lotus flowers and golden fish. When the Pandava princes took up residence in their new palace, a great banquet was held, to which the monarchs throughout the land were invited, as well as the learned sages. 

The Pandava princes ruled from Indraprastha in all glory. Many who surrounded Yudhisthira urged him to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice, which was a formal assumption of the Imperial title over all the kings of ancient India. Yudhisthira felt that he should perform the sacrifice, but he knew there were obstacles, for not all the kings throughout the land would acknowledge him as Emperor. So he decided to seek the advice of Sri Krishna. When Krishna learnt that Yudhishthira sought his help, he set out for Indraprastha in a chariot, harnessed with his swiftest horses. Yudhishthira gladly welcomed Krishna's arrival and lost no time in elaborating on the problems that might arise if he decided to perform the Imperial Sacrifice. Krishna was inclined to agree that there certainly was one very difficult obstacle. "By rights you should most certainly perform the sacrifice," he said, " But Jarasandha, King of Magadha, will definitely oppose it, and the only way you can overcome his opposition is to defeat and kill him.  

Then, and only then, will all the monarchs, especially those who languish in Jarasandha's prisons, bow to your supermacy." Yudhishtira was rather surprised at Krishna's vehemence, but realised the truth when Krishna spoke again. " You must realise that Jarasandha is a dastardly villian," Krishna spoke with some heat. " Everyone is afraid of him. You should remember I and my people were forced to fight a bitter conflict against Jarasandha, and we had to acknowledge defeat and flee to Dwaraka." " But," replied Yudhisthra in a doubtful tone, " If you and the mighty Yadavas suffered defeat at the hands of Jarasandha, what chance have we?" Bhima, who was present, did not care for this talk of defeatism. " Success goes to the bold, not to the timid," shouted Bhima. " Strength reinforced with stratagem will surely defeat this rogue. With Sri Krishna to advise us, and with my strength and Arjuna wielding his might bow, we shall surely vanquish Jarasandha." At this Arjuna jumped to his feet and cried.  

" What is the use of an existence if we are not prepared to do heroic deeds, worthy of our race. We know we are strong, and we should not be afraid of using our strength to accomplish something which is right." Krishna was delighted with the brave words of Bhima and Arjuna, and he convinced Yudhishira when he said. " The noblest duty of a Kshatriya is to be true to his race and faith, and overcome his foes in righteous battle, to win glory." Now that Yudhishthira was persuaded that it was his duty to perform the Imperial sacrifice, he felt they showed immediately plan a campaign of conquest. " Patience my friend," expounded Krishna. " First let me tell you the history of Jarasandha, then you will know how to defeat him." This is the story Sri Krishna told Brihadratha was the founder of the Magadha kings, and was acclaimed a great warrior. He married the twin daughters of the King of Kasi, and vowed he would be impartial to both his wives. To his despair, Brihadratha was not blessed with any heirs and as he grew older, he decided to hand over the running of the kingdom to his ministers,  and took his wives into the forest to live in austerity. Whilst in the forest, he sought the advice of the Sage Kausika, who took pity on the plight of this childless warrior. As they were talking, a mango fell into the lap of the sage. He gave it to the king with this blessing. "Take this fruit, for your dreams will be fulfilled." The king cut the fruit in half and gave a piece to each of his wives. The wives ate the fruit, and months later each gave birth to half a child. Each half possessed one eye, half a face and body, one arm and one leg. The wives were horrified, and commanded their attendants to tie the two horrible pieces in a cloth and throw the gruesome bundle far away. The attendants did as they were told, but a cannibal rakshasi named Jara, found the bundle and was elated to find it contained two pieces of flesh. As she picked up the two pieces, they accidently came together and changed into a living whole child. The giantess did not wish to kill the child, and being a rakshasi, she took the form of a beautiful woman and going to the king, presented him with the child saying. 

" This is your child. The king was delighted, and decided that the child be named Jarasandha, as the child was put together by Jara, the giantess. Krishna completed his story by saying. " Two parts joined together will still remain weak with a tendency to split. So against Jarasandha it is useless to talk of fighting with armies. He must be provoked to fight Bhima in single combat, without weapons." Yudhisthira soon saw the wisdom of Krishna's strategy, and it was agreed that Krishna would accompany Arjuna and Bhima to Magadha. Disguised as men who had taken religious vows, the three would be conquerors of the redoubtable Jarasandha, entered the kingdom of Magadha, and made their way to the capital, which was also called Jarasandha. Outside the city walls on a nearby hill, King Jarasandha had placed three huge drums, which of their own accord would beat a prolonged alarm at the sight of an enemy. The first thing the Princes did was to stealthily crawl up to the three drums and smash them with big rocks. Next, they scaled the city walls, and avoiding the guards, managed to enter the city. At the palace, King Jarasandha was sorely troubled by a succession of ill omens and spent most of his time in the company of holy men, who he hoped would be able to quell his uneasy conscience. So the princes in their guise as holy men had no difficulty in gaining entrance to the palace, and the king welcomed them with open arms. He ordered his servants to bring food and drink. But Krishna, with bowed head, stepped forward and in a low voice said, " Your Majesty, my companions are very holy men and are under a vow of silence till midnight. Perhaps, after midnight, we can meet again?" " Let it be as you suggest," replied the King. " My servants will bring you to my chamber after midnight."

At midnight, Jarasandha's servants ushered Krishna and the two princes into Jarasandha's chamber. But Jarasandha became suspicious of their arrogant bearing and demanded, "Who are you? You look more like warriors than priests. What brings you here?" "You are right," replied Krishna. "We are warriors, and we are here to challenge you to single combat. I am Krishna, and here are the princes Arjuna and Bhima. Your dastardly reign has gone on far too long. So choose the one you will fight." At this Jarasandha burst out laughing. "Krishna you are a mere cowherd and Arjuna is but a boy. Bhima has a reputation of being strong, so I will tear him asunder." Bhima and Jarasandha were so equally matched in strength that they fought for days without respite, while Krishna and Arjuna looked silently on. The courtyard where they were fighting was thronged with Jarasandha's warriors, who urged their king on to victory. But Act days of fighting, Jarasandha, showed signs of exhaustion and Krishna called on Bhima to put an end to the tyrant. This whipped Bhima into a renewed frenzy and catching his opponent by the ankles, tore his body into two halves. Thus Bhima separated the halves that Jara, the giantess had accidently put together. The kings and princes who Jarasandha had held in captivity were released. Jarasandha's son was crowned king of Magadha and then Krishna, Arjuna and Bhima returned to Indraprastha. With Jarasandha dead, the way was now clear for Yudhishthira to perform the Imperial sacrifice. His brothers were sent out with troops in all directions to proclaim his supremacy over all the surrounding kingdoms. Most of the monarchs gladly recognized the right of Yudhishthira to be proclaimed Emperor, which they felt sure would herald a new era of peace throughout the land. Dawned the day of the sacrifice, and all the monarchs from far and wide came to Indraprastha to pay homage to Yudhishthira on the assumption of the title of Emperor. King Dhritarashtra and the Kaurava princes, accompanied by Bhishma, Vidura, Drona, Kripa, headed a great cavalcade from Hastinapura. When the time came to perform the holy sacrifice, it was the custom to render first honour to the guest who was considered most worthy of taking precedence over all others. Yudhishthira requested his grandsire, Bhishma for his opinion as to who should be honoured first. Bhishma without hesitation said. "The greatest amidst the great assembled here is Krishna, King of Dwaraka." Yudhishthira was only too willing to follow this advice, and at his command. Sahadeva offered to Krishna the honours enjoyed by tradition. At this there was a loud shout of protest, and everyone looked aghast as Sisupala, the king of Chedi, left his seat and strode into the centre of the hall. Sisupala stood in front of Yudhishthira, and pointing to Krishna, he laughed in derision and shouted for all to hear. 

"What nonsense is this With so many kings gathered here, it is a disgrace that you give first honour to Krishna, a fool by birth and a cowherd by breeding." Some of the assembled monarchs applauded Sisupala, but the majority protested. This only made Sisupala more and more angry, and turning on Krishna, sneeringly said. "If in is moment of weakness, Yudhishthira took the advice of the aged Bhisma, it was impudence on your part to accept such an undeserved honor." Krishna stood silent, but Yudhishthira alarmed by this turn of events, tried to appease Sisupala. But Sisupala had now worked himself into a towering rage and he shouted. "It is obvious to us all that this would be Emperor Yudhishthira, this senile Bhishma, and this cowherd Krishna are not fit to mix with the proud monarchs of the land." Now Krishna spoke, and in a calm voice, addressed the assembly. "Listen O righteous monarchs, in spite of wrong and frequent outrage never in my heart have I sought to do Sisupala wrong. But his life is a sickening tale of sin added to sin, and such a man is destined to an untimely death." Sisupala drew his sword and challenged Krishna to fight. "I Sisupala, seek no mercy from any man. but let us see if a lowly born cowherd has the temerity to tight." Into Krishna's hand came the deadly discus, and with one blow severed Sisupala's head. After this unfortunate incident, the holy sacrifice was performed with all its pageantry and splendor. At the close of the festivities, the monarchs, priests and elders paid homage to Yudhishthira as Emperor, and took their leave, Veda Vyasa also came to say farewell. Yudhishthira received the sage with due respect, and being troubled by the death of Sisupala during the holy sacrifice, asked the sage. "O master, you alone can remove my misgivings. Wise men have predicted the future would bring catastrophic events. Tell me, does the death of Sisupala end these predictions?" "My son," the sage replied. "Much sorrow and suffering is in store for thirteen years to come. Hundreds of kings will perish and the old order of things will pass away. No one can go against destiny. But to you I would say, rule your kingdom wisely and be steadfast in righteousness." With these words, Vyasa blessed Yudhishthira and departed for his hermitage. 

Duryodhana returned to Hastinapura from the Imperial Sacrifice demented with envy at the thought of Yudhishthira being recognized as emperor, and it sickened his warped mind to think of the prosperity of his cousins, and the eagerness of so many kings to become the allies of these accursed Pandavas. He was so obsessed in his thoughts, that at first he did not hear his evil uncle Sakuni, when he spoke to him. Sakuni again asked Duryodhana. "Why do you look so angry? What is troubling you?" Duryodhana burst out in an angry torrent of words. "Yudhishthira and his brothers are treated as though they were gods. Before the very eyes of all the kings at the sacrifice, Sisupala was brutally slain. But not one had the courage to avenge him. Bah! they were content to barter their honour for Yudhishthira's goodwill. I cannot go on living whilst the Pandavas surround themselves with wealth and glory." 

"You should not give way to petty jealousy," retorted his uncle. The Pandavas are your cousins, and you should be proud of their prosperity. Are you not equally as great? Your brothers and relatives stand by your side. Then you have Bhishma, the compeller of victory, Drona the mighty archer and his son Aswathama. And do not forget the mighty, Kama and Kripa. You could conquer the whole world, so why give way to grief?" "If that is true," said Duryodhana, jumping to his feet, "Why do we wait. Let us march on Indraprastha, and drive the Pandavas out." But Sakuni said. "No. That will not be easy, because the Pandavas have powerful allies, But I know of a way to defeat them without shedding a drop of blood." This seemed to Duryodhana too good to be true, and he asked incredulously. "Tell me quickly, what is this plan?" Sakuni gave an evil chuckle. "You know nephew, it is a point of honour among princes never to refuse a challenge to a game of dice. And you also know, that Yudhishthira is passionately fond of the game. So he will certainly accept an invitation to a game. Then all we have to do is to see that he loses." "How can we be sure of that?" "Yudhishthira is a poor player," said Sakuni, with a smile. Whereas I know more about crooked dice than any man living, Now let us go and induce your father to send an invitation to Yudhishthira," The blind king, Dhritarashtra, listened to what the two conspirators had to say, but he shook his head in sorrow. "Even if you win, this game of dice will lead to enmity. And once passions are aroused, blood will flow throughout the land." But Duryodhana refused to listen to his father. "Why dwell on bloodshed. A game of dice is an ancient pastime which all princes enjoy. And if we are able to win, where is the harm?" "I know I am getting old," Dhritarshtra said coldly. "But what you suggest is fraught with danger, and one day you will repent this madness." In the end, tired of trying to dissuade Duryodhana, the king agreed to the invitation being sent to Yudhishthira. But later the same day he discussed the matter in secret with Vidura. Having listened to the king, Vidura said sadly. "This will lead to the destruction of our race." Dhritarshtra knew in his heart that what he was doing was wrong, but he had not much choice, so he commanded Vidura to go to Indraprastha and invite Yudhishthira on his behalf to come and play dice. At the sight of Vidura, Yudhishthira anxiously enquired. "You look so downcast my friend. Have you brought bad news from Hastinapura?" Vidura shook his head. "I have come on a special mission on behalf of the king, to invite you to come and see the new gaming hall and to play dice." "Wagering games tend to create quarrels, which wise men should avoid. Do you suggest that I should accept this invitation?" Yudhishthira said. Vidura said coldly. "Everyone is aware that playing dice is the root of many evils. But I have been commanded to invite you, and you alone should decide whether or not to accept" Despite Vidura's obvious lack of enthusiasm, Yudhishthira decided to go to Hastinapura, and went accompanied by Draupadi and all his brothers. The Pandavas were accorded a royal welcome on their arrival at Hastinapura, and it was a refreshing change to greet their old friends, such as Bhishma, Drona and Kripa. The following morning Duryodhana lost no time in conducting Yudhishthira to the new gaming hall, which was certainly a most lavish piece of architecture. 

When everyone had finished admiring the hall, Sakuni announced to Yudhishthira that the cloth for playing the game had been spread, and nothing they could do to prevent it. At first, luck seemed to be on the side of Yudhishthira, but this did not last for long, and then he lost continuously. Was it ill-luck or was the trickery of Sakuni too much for him? At first they wagered for jewels and later for gold, and then chariots and horses. When Yudhishthira had lost all these, he staked his elephants, his armies and even his servants, and lost them too. Eventually all his possessions were lost, even his own jewelry and the jewelry his brothers were wearing. But Yudhishthira in his stubborn madness, refused to stop playing, and even wagered his brothers, and lost them with everything else. The wicked Sakuni asked, "Is there anything else you can offer?" Yudhishthira replied, "Yes. Here is myself. If you win, I shall be your slave." Sakuni promptly accepted, and casting the dice, won that wager. Then jumping to his feet, Sakuni announced to the onlookers, that all the five Pandava princes were now his lawful slaves. Turning to Yudhishthira, he said in a mocking voice. "There is still one jewel you possess, by which you can regain all that you have lost." Yudhishthira was horrified to see that Sakuni was pointing at Draupadi, his queen. But now he could not stop, and in a despairing voice, said "I pledge her." There was audible distress and emotion from where the elders sat. For they knew that this marked the beginning of the end. 

After Yudhishthira and his brothers left the gaming hall, each trying to solace the tearful Draupadi, and angry discussion broke out between the Kaurava princes and their father, the blind king Dhritarashtra. Duryodhana was seething with anger and upbraided the old king unmercifully. " Why did you release them from bondage?" he shouted. " Cannot you realize that now they are free, with the help of their powerful allies, we shall have no peace." The old king tried hard to regain his regal dignity. " You speak foolishly, my son," he said. " Your mind is besotted with the downfall of our cousins, the Pandavas. Yet never will you realize that your madness will lead to the destruction of us all." " Such talk is nonsense," angrily replied Duryodhana. Then turning to the assembly, he went on with his tirade. " Do you not all agree that we must defeat these arrogant Pandavas by guile. 

If they are now permitted to go free, sooner or later they will turn on us, and conquer this kingdom. So I say, now is the time for us to deprive them of all their power and glory." There were immediate shouts of assent from his brothers, and from such hotheads as Karna, but Vidura and Drona remained silent. " As you all seem bent on courting disaster," said the old king in a melancholy voice, " Tell me, what do you propose to do?" " It is all very simple," said Duryodhana, with a sly look at his uncle Sukani. " We shall invite Yudhishthira to another game of dice. If he wins, then he shall regain all that he has lost. But should he lose, then the Pandava princes will have to endure twelve years of exile. In those twelve years, assuming they lose," he went on with an evil chuckle, " We shall be able to make ourselves so powerful the Pandavas would no longer be a threat to our kingdom." As usual, the weakwilled king gave in to Duryodhana's arguments and the entreaties of his other sons, and it was agreed to invite Yudhishthira to a further game of dice. When the invitation was handed to Yudhishthira, his brothers Arujuna and Bhima exclaimed hotly that this was yet another trick to disgrace them, and the invitation should be treated with scorn. But Yudhishthira argued that a challenge to a game of dice cannot in honor be refused; and at least it was an opportunity to win back all that they had lost. So Yudhishthira once again sat down to play against Sakuni, who was obviously gloating and anxious for the game to start, Before the dice were thrown, it was announced that the stake would be the return of Yudhishthira's empire if he won, but if he lost, then the Pandava princes would go into exile in the forest and remain there for twelve years and spend the thirteenth year incognito. If they should be recognized during the thirteenth year, then they would have to undergo a further twelve years of exile. Only when their exile had been justly completed, would their kingdom be restored to them. This ominous stake should have warned Yudhishthira that the game would be crooked. Be he seemed a mere pawn in this intrigue, and needless to say, he met with defeat, and the Pandava princes solemnly took the vows of those who are to go into the forest in exile. The Kaurava princes were jubilant at last and lost no time in deriding and making fun of the Pandavas, who stood there glumly, in stoney silence. Duhsasana not to be outdone, tried to take Draupadi by the arm. " Come with me," he said boldly. " Let them go into the forest, but you can stay with us and choose a new husband." With one bound, Bhima pushed Duhsasana roughly aside. 

" Hold your vile tongue," he said savagely. " And mistake me not, for the day will surely dawn when I will shed your life's blood on the field of battle." Bowing to the elders in a parting salutation, the Pandava princes strode resolutely from the hall and headed for the palace chambers to take their leave from their mother, Queen Kunti. The dowager queen blessed her sons, and embracing Draupadi she said. " Grieve not my daughter, if bitter fortune ordains this parting, for you will find that virtue and righteous truth have their consolations." Then before they left, Queen Kunti asked Draupadi to take special care of Sahadeva who, unlike his twin brother, did not enjoy good health. When the Pandavas set out for the forest, the people who thronged the streets openly wept, and many shook their fists towards the palace, at such blatant injustice to their princes. The blind Dhritarashtra sent for Vidura and asked him to describe the departure of the princes into exile. Vidura answered gravely. " This is a sorrowful day for the kingdom, but destiny cannot be changed. The people are accusing you and your sons of driving the princes into exile. I fear that this day's deeds will bring terrible retribution to the Kauravas." Duryodhana, hearing Vidura's ominous words, turned to Drona and said. " Surely you agree that what we have done, is right?" Drona sadly shook his head. " I believe that the Pandavas are of divine birth and are unconquerable, yet my duty lies with the sons of Dhritarashtra. I will strive with you, but destiny is all powerful, and when the Pandavas return, we shall have to fight a war which the gods have ordained we cannot win or survive." 

When the Pandava princes accompanied by Draupadi, set out for the forest. there was was considerable unrest amongst the people of Hastinapura, who bitterly lamented that their beloved princes had been forced into exile. The princes, dressed in the garb of homeless exiles, wended their way to the forest Yudhishthira begged the weeping crowds that followed them to return home, but he allowed Dhaumya, their priest, to come with them. At nightfall the weary party, following the river Ganga, came to a huge tree where they decided to camp for the night. As the days passed the princes, living in such austerity, found it increasingly difficult to find food sufficient to feed themselves, and the many priests who came to visit them in exile. The Sun god took pity on the princes and one morning appeared before Yudhishthira, and gave him the Akshayapatra, a wonderful vessel which held a never ending supply of food. As the Sun god handed Yudhishthira the vessel he said. "Take this my son, and for the twelve years of your exile you shall have sufficient food to eat. Not till everyone has been fed, will this vessel become empty for the day." Meanwhile at Hastinapura, Dhritarashtra the blind king, suffered from remorse, as he realised that he had been weak willed and allowed himself to be misled by Duryodhana and his evil minded followers. He craved the counsel of the elders, hoping against hope that they would find excuses for his sons, and so lighten the burden that wrapped him in worry and anxiety. Vidura the wisest of all, would give the king no comfort in his distress, and often told him in harsh words. "Your sons have commited a great wrong. Yudhishthira was foully cheated and you as king should have prevented it. But even now it is not too late. You should recall the Pandava princes from this wrongful exile, and restore to them their rightful inheritance. 

If you shirk your responsibility, then, as you have been forwarned, disaster will be upon you and yours." At first Dhritarashtra would sadly listen to Vidura, and in his heart he knew that Vidura in his wisdom spoke the truth, but Vidura's repeated warnings and entreaties began to tell on his nerves, and one day he felt he could stand no more of this. "Why do you always praise the Pandavas?" he chided. "You never utter a good word for my sons. You ask me to recall the Pandava princes and thereby accuse my own sons of commiting unholy crimes. You are obviously against us, so go, for I have lost faith in you, and it would be better for you to join the Pandavas in the forest." Vidura, shaken by the king's unkind words, and beset with gloomy thoughts as to the future of the Kuru race, hurriedly left the palace, and that same day, drove in his chariot to the forest where the Pandavas lived. But no sooner had Vidura left Hastinapura, than Dhritarashtra began to repent his hasty words, and in his tortured mind the thought grew that he had strengthened the Pandava cause, by driving Vidura into their arms. 

Realising his folly,Dhritashtra asked Sanjay to go into the forest immediately with a repentant message to Vidura, begging him to forgive a sorrowful king and to return. Sanjay hurried to the hermitage, where the Pandavas were staying, and found them poorly clad, sitting with sages and Vidura in their midst. When Vidura heard the king's repentant words, he was greatly moved, and explained to Yudhishthira that it would be for the best if he returned to Hastinapura. But Vidura's return to Hastinapura, was the cause of yet more trouble. Duryodhana, openly resented his father recalling Vidura, who always spoke of making peace with the Pandavas. Whereas he, Duryodhana, only aspired to exterminate these troublemakers. Karna, backed by the oily mouthed Sakuni, and the hot headed Duhsasana, were all for Duryodhana leading a strong force into the forest and ending this enmity once and for all. Duryodhana welcomed this base suggestion, and plans were secretly made to invade the hermitage in the forest and kill the Pandavas. As this conspiracy was under way, the sage Maitraya came to the court of Dhritarashtra and was welcomed with great respect. Dhritarashtra craved the sage's blessing and asked him. "You have met the Pandava princes in the forest. Are they well? And will the day come when there will be peace between us?" "It is for you to make peace," replied the sage sternly. "When I heard of what transpired at Hastinapura, I wondered how such things could happen whilst Bhisma and you were alive." Later the sage met Duryodhana and advised him, for his own good, to forsake greed and jealousy, and to make peace with his cousins, the Pandavas. The foolish Duryodhana merely burst out laughing, slapping his thighs in derision at such an absurdity. At this slight, the sage took offence and said. "Are you so arrogant that you slap your thighs at one who means you well? Take heed, for those 
thighs will be broken by Bhima's mace and you will die on the battlefield." Hearing these ominous words, Dhritarashtra fell at the feet of the sage and begged him to forgive his son. The sage shook his head. "Unless you make peace with the Pandavas, my curse will certainly come true." 

The blind king, Dhritarashtra, uneasy in mind, and anxious to grasp at anything to ease his conscience, sent for Vidura on his return, and asked him to describe how the Pandavas were living in exile. " The princes are living in a hermitage in the forest," Vidura replied. " All the sages visit them and the Sun god has given Yudhishthira the Akshayapatra, a wonderful vessel which holds a never failing supply of food for their daily needs." " I am glad the princes do not suffer in exile," the king said, in a tone that was far from convincing. " But tell me, the sage Maitreya said that Bhima killed the Demon Kimmera single handed. Surely that cannot be true?" " It certainly is true," Vidura said with a smile. " According to Yudhishthira, this is exactly what happened " One evening towards dusk, the princes were walking through the forest, when they were startled by a loud crashing through the undergrowth. Fearing attack from some wild animal, the princes quickly surrounded Draupadi, but to their horror instead of some beast of prey, they were confronted by the bestial Demon Kimmera, a ferocious cannibal, carrying a huge lighted torch. Draupadi was petrified at the sight of this awesome figure and even the princes looked grim. The demon was nearly twice the size of an ordinary man. He was dark skinned, with a mane of greasy yellow hair, and protuding from his great slit of a mouth, were long fangs, like those of a tiger. Lumbering towards the princes, the demon growled, " You soft human beings will make a fine meal, but who are you, that dare venture in my domain?" Yudhishthira stood resolute. " We are the Pandava princes, and although we are unarmed, we do not fear the likes of you." " The Pandava princes," the demon roared, then suddenly he stopped and peering in Yudhishthira's face snarled. " If you are the Pandava princes, where is this famous Bhima who is supposed to have killed my brother Bakasura?" 

Bhima always eager for a fight, pushed his brothers aside, and uprooting a young tree, made straight for the demon. The demon threw his torch at Bhima, but Bhima jumped to one side, then rushed in and dealt the demon a hefty blow on the side of the head, which sent him sprawling on the ground. As the demon tried to get to his feet, Bhima jumped on his back, and his strong fingers were soon entwined round the demon's throat. The demon tried to roll over and crush Bhima with his great weight, but Bhima held on grimly, and gradually the demon's efforts weakened as he gasped for breath. Then Bhima suddenly shifted his grip to the demon's hair, and placing his knee in the middle of the demon's back, pulled the wretch's head back until the bones in the neck snapped. As Dhritarashtra listened to this story of how Bhima slew the notorious Kimmera, his mind was troubled with thoughts that one day, the fury of the Pandavas would engulf his own sons. Meanwhile when Sri Krishna learnt of the events at Hastinpura, the cunning of Duryodhana and Sakuni, and the exile of the Pandavas, he at once set out for the forest where the Pandavas were living. Krishna was accompanied by many nobles including Dhrishtidyumma, Draupadi's brother. Krishna listened in stoney silence as the Pandavas recounted all that had occured at Hastinapura, and when a tearful Draupadi, between sobs, told how Duryodhana and his brothers had treated her so outrageously, Krishna was deeply moved and in a righteous voice made a solemn vow. 

"I swear that your grievous wrongs shall be avenged. Those who tormented you, will be stricken by death on the field of battle." Turning to Yudhishthira, Krishna said. " When this calamity befell you, I was not in Dwaraka. Had I been there, I would have prevented this fraudulent game of dice taking place." " We wondered as to your absence," " Yudhishthira said enquiringly. " It is not a pleasant story," Krishna said, still looking grim. " Whilst I was at your Imperial sacrifice, Salwa, the brother of Sisupala, learnt of his brother's death at my hands, so he promptly laid seige to Dwaraka, and the city had to face terrible privations. " When I saw what had befallen Dwaraka" Krishna continued, " I immediately attacked Salwas's kingdom, but Salwa with recourse to magic powers, proved to be elusive. Then a messenger brought me the news that Salwa, making himself invisible, had returned to Dwaraka and slain my father. At the same time of hearing this, my father's lifeless corpse fell out of the sky at my feet. At first I was stunned by shock, then I realized it was all make believe. So I hurled my discus, which hunts its quarry wherever it be, and so Salwa died." Soon afterwards Krishna took his leave and returned to Dwaraka, and Dhrishtadyumma went back to Panchala. In their exile, Bhima and Arjuna would often try to convince Yudhishthira that they should attack the Kauravas and win back their kingdom now, instead of being content to dwell tamely in the forest for thirteen years. Yudhishthira found it difficult to restrain his impetuous brothers, but he rightly pointed out that the Kauravas were powerful, with such able leaders as Bhisma and Drona, and skilful fighters like Karna and Aswatthama, the son of Drona. Later, the sage Vyasa, advised Arjuna to go into the Himalayas and practise austerities for the purpose of pleasing God Indra, who then may give Arjuna the weapons of the devas. So Arjuna took leave of his brothers and Draupadi, and armed with his famous Gandiva bow, set out through the dense forests and reached the mountain of Indrakila. 

It was here that Arjuna suddenly came upon an old sage standing under a tree. The ascetic smiled and spoke affectionately to Arjuna. " My son, why are you clad in armour and carrying weapons? What do you seek in this abode of saints who have conquered anger and passions?" Before Arjuna could reply, the figure of the old sage changed into the radiance of Indra, the King of Gods. Arjuna fell to his knees and said : "O father, bless me with the weapons of the devas." " Why not ask to enjoy the pleasures of paradise?" Indra asked. Arjuna ruefully shook his head. "O king of gods, I do not seek pleasures. I seek only new weapons in order to defend my brothers." " Do penance unto the God Siva, and if you obtain his grace, you will receive the weapons you desire." Saying this, the God Indra disappeared. 

Arjuna refreshed by the words of the God Indra, went further into the mountains, intent on doing penance to obtain the grace of Lord Shiva. Entering a glade that was filled with the scent of all the wild flowers and the song of thousands of birds, Arjuna sat underneath a great flowering tree, and began his penance to the Lord Shiva. So deep and devout were his meditations, that all the sages of the forest went to the abode of Lord Shiva and begged him to help this youth. Lord Shiva under the guise of a huntsman and accompanied by his divine wife Umadevi, entered the glade where Arjuna was meditating. At the same time, a huge wild boar broke into the glade intent on charging Arjuna. Arjuna jumped to his feet, and fitting an arrow to his bow, let fly at the boar. The huntsman Lord Shiva, also shot an arrow at the boar, and the animal fell lifeless, transfixed with two arrows. Arjuna turned on the huntsman and shouted in anger. "Who are you? And why do you dare to shoot at an animal I was aiming at?" "The game in this forest belongs to those who live in it," replied the huntsman in a contemptuous tone. 

"In any case, my arrow killed the boar, and if you think differently you are welcome to fight it out." Nothing could please Arjuna better. He showered arrow after arrow at this arrogant huntsman, but to his amazement not one arrow even touched the huntsman, who just stood there, laughing in derision. Undaunted Arjuna rushed forward and struck at the huntsman with his Gandiva bow. But the bow was wrenched out of his hand with the greatest of case. Then Arjuna drew his sword, but at the first stroke, the sword shivered to pieces, and Arjuna began to doubt that this was any ordinary huntsman. Now weaponless, Arjuna grappled with his formidable opponent, only to find himself clasped in an embrace, that left him quite helpless. Mortified at such a defeat, Arjuna humbly sought divine aid and meditated on Lord Shiva, and as he did so, the huntsman took on his original divine form, and released Arjuna from his iron clasp. Arjuna fell at the feet of the Lord and, in a broken voice begged for forgiveness. "I forgive you, my son," said Shiva smilingly, and gave him back his weapons. He also bestowed on Arjuna the coveted Pasupata weapon. Arjuna was overcome with joy and could only gaze on Lord Shiva with adoration, thinking, I am seeing the Lord face to face and have been blessed with his divine touch. Lord Shiva again embraced Arjuna saying, "My son, you must now go to heaven and render your respects to God Indra." With these words Shiva vanished from sight. No sooner had Lord Shiva disappeared when, Matali, the charioteer of God Indra, descended with his chariot to take Arjuna to the Kingdom of the Gods. 

Whilst Arjuna dwelt in the Kingdom of the Gods. the sage Romasa visited the kingdom and expressed surprise that an ordinary mortal such as Prince Arjuna, should be seated so close to the God Indra. Indra noticing the sage's consternation said. Have no fear, for Arjuna belongs to the Gods. In a previous birth on earth, he was the sage Nara, when Krishna was the sage Narayana. They have taken their present, mortal existence to rid the earth of those who are wicked. When you return to the world below tell the Pandava princes that Arjuna is here with us as a guest of honour." When the sage Romasa visited the forest and told the princes the whereabouts of their brother Arjuna everyone was elated to hear the news. Meanwhile at Hastinapura, the sage Vyasa told the blind king, Dhritarashtra, that Arjuna was visiting the Kingdom of the Gods and had been given celestial weapons. When the sage departed Dhritarashtra sent for Sanjaya and told him all that the sage had said. " Is this not an ill omen?," he said despairingly. If Arjuna has been given celestial weapons, then woe betide us. All my sons will suffer through Duryodhana's insane jealousy." Sanjaya tried hard to find words to console the blind king, but could not, for he too realised that the future would bring nothing but bloodshed and sorrow. In the Kamyaka forest, the Pandava priest beseeched Yudhishthira and his brothers to go on a pilgrimage, as the time was auspicious. Accordingly, the Pandava princes went on a pilgrimage, and the first place they visited was the hermitage of Agasthya, where one of the inmates told them this story of the sage Agasthya. In the city of Manimanth, lived two cannibal brothers, Vatapi and Ilavala. These two monsters had devised a fiendish plan by which they could rob their guests. Vatapi would turn himself into a ram, and would be cooked into a tempting dish by Ilavala. 

When the guests had eaten this meat, Ilavala would shout to his brother to come out of the guests bodies. Vatapi would then tear himself out, causing the guests to die in terrible agony. The sage Agasthya, visited the two brothers, fully aware of their murderous intent. When he had feasted on the ram's meat, the sage, using his great powers, ordered Vatapi to stay where he was. Ilavala seeing the ruse had failed, became scared for his own lift, and begged the sage to take all the wealth they had plundered in the past to leave him in peace. Another story of Sage Agasthya was this. There was once a tribe of monsters called Kalakeyas. They lived at the bottom of the ocean, from where they made lightning raids on both heaven and earth, tormenting and destroying both gods and man. As the gods were helpless to attack the monsters underneath the ocean, they called on sage Agasthya to help them. The sage dipped the palms of his hands into the ocean and drank the water, and as he drank the ocean sank lower and lower. until he drained it dry. Without the protection of the ocean waters, the Kalakeyas were helpless and the gods descended and slew them all. From Agasthya's hermitage, the Pandava princes visited many other holy places and eventually came to Mount Mahendra where the sages told them this story of Parasurama. There was once a monster with a thousand arms called Kartavirya, who slaughtered people out of mere joy of bloodshed. One day he attacked the hermitage of Parasurama's father, and dragged away the sage's magical cow. When Parasurama came to hear of this outrage, he sought out Kartavirya and slew him with his great axe. As a reprisal, Kartaviray's sons again attacked the hermitage and killed Parasurama's father. This time Parasurama swore a great oath of vengeance, and did not rest until every single member of the Kartavirya tribe was slain. Resuming their pilgrimage, the Pandava princes came to the sacred lake of Prabhasa, where they were greeted by the Yadavas, led by Sri Krishna and his brother, Balarama. The Yadavas assured the prince that after their twelve years of exile they would regain their kingdom even if it meant war against the Kauravas. After the Yadavas had departed, the Pandava princes journeyed over Mount Gandhamadanag to the hermitage of Badarika on the banks of the river Ganga. Here the princes rested and bathed in the sacred river. On the seventh day of their stay a rare scent pervaded the air, and soon afterwards a huge scarlet flower with a thousand petals, fell at their feet. 

Draupadi was enraptured by this lovely flower and begged Bhima to find the tree so that it could be transplanted in their abode in the Kamyaka forest. Bhima, delighted to do anything for Draupadi, set out to find this flowering tree. His search took him through glens carpeted with wild flowers and over hills bursting with the song of gorgeously plumed birds. As he wandered on his way, Bhima sang so loud, his voice echoed through the hills. Coming to a lake, Bhima gave a great shout of joy and was soon enjoying a swim in the cool waters. Now this happened to be close to the abode of God Hanuman, who recognized the voice of his brother Bhima. Hanuman was glad that they were going to meet, but impishly decided to play a joke on Bhima. So he lay across the path Bhima would have to take, and lashed his tail on the ground making a noise like a clap of thunder. Bhima wondering what this noise could be, hurriedly dressed, and rushed along the path to see who was causing such an unholy disturbance. When Bhima saw what he thought was a huge monkey blocking the pathway, he tried to frighten the animal out of his way by shouting at it, but Hanuman just smiled and said. " Who are you? And where are you bound? You cannot go any further along this path, which is the path of the gods. So go back." Bhima, unused to being ordered around, grew angry and shouted. " A mere monkey telling me what to do. I am a prince of the Kuru race, and am the son of the Wind god. Now move your body out of my way." " I am a very old monkey and have no strength," replied the monkey. " If you must go this way, then you will have to jump over me." " The scriptures forbid it," retorted Bhima, " otherwise I would jump over you and the mountain in one hound, as Hanuman crossed the ocean." " Who is this Hanuman?" the monkey asked. " Have you never heard of the great Hanuman?" Bhima said disdainfully. " He is my elder brother, and he crossed a great ocean to find Sita, the wife of Rama. But enough of this idle talk. Move out of my way." " You are so big and strong," said the monkey, very meekly. " And I am old and tired. So please lift me gently, then go your way." 

Bhima, who was very proud of his strength, bent down and clasping the monkey round the body, tried to lift him, and although he strained every muscle, it was impossible to move the monkey. Bathed in perspiration, Bhima looked keenly at the monkey. " Who are you? he asked. Are you a sadhu or a god?" "O mighty Pandava. I am your brother Hanuman," replied the monkey jumping to its feet. " I stopped you going along the path, for it leads to the spirit world, where, the Yakshas and the Rakshasas abide. No man can go past here and live. But close by is the stream where the Saugandhika plant grows." Bhima was delighted to meet his brother again, and begged Hanuman to show him the form he took when he crossed the ocean to rescue Sita. Hanuman smiled and began to increase the size of his body until he seemed to till the entire landscape, and his figure radiated with a dazzling light. Then Hanuman contracted his body to its former size and tenderly embraced Bhima. " O hero, go back to your hermitage," he said. " Think of me whenever you are in need. Fear not the future, for when you roar on the battlefield my voice will join yours and strike terror in the hearts of your enemies." Hanuman bid his brother goodbye, and directed him to the stream where the Saugandhika flowers bloomed, so that he could collect armfuls to take to the fair Draupadi. Bhima returned to the hermitage in the forest, and it was not long afterwards that he encountered the vile demon Jatasura. One evening, whilst Bhima was away hunting, a brahmin priest, who was actually Jatasura in disguise, called at the hermitage and asked for shelter. Yudhishthira bade the man welcome, but as soon as Yudhishthira's back was turned, Jatasura took on his own vile form and catching hold of Draupadi, tried to carry her of into the forest. Bhima, returning from the hunt, heard Draupadi's screams, and dropping the game he had killed, ran towards the hermitage and suddenly came on Jatasura struggling with Draupadi. 

With a roar that shook the entire forest, Bhima rushed at the demon, and catching him by the ankles, swung him round and round, then smashed him against a tree until all his bones were broken. It was now five years since Arjuna had departed to the Kingdom of the Gods, and one morning, as the princes sat and wondered as to when their brother would return, a shining chariot descended from the sky, and out stepped Arjuna carrying wondrous gifts from the god Indra. There was great rejoicing at Arjuna's return to earth. For many hours Arjuna sat and told his brothers of all the marvels he had seen during his stay in the Kingdom of the Gods, and afterwards he showed his brothers and Draupadi the powerful celestial weapons which had been conferred on him by the Lord Shiva and the great God Indra. After the return of Arjuna from the Kingdom of the Gods, the Pandava princes spent more than four years wandering on the Gandhamadana mountains. As the tenth year of their exile was drawing to a close, Yudhishthira decided that they return to the plains. Back again in the great forest, Bhima one morning, decided to set out alone to hunt wild animals. As the forest abounded with game, Bhima had no difficulty in killing a variety of animals, which he dragged to a clearing by the pathway. As he stood Congratulating himself on the number of animals he had slain, there was a rustling in the grass behind him. 

Turning round quickly, Bhima was amazed to see an immense python slithering towards him. This was certainly the largest snake he had ever seen. Green and gold in colour, with a huge evil flat head, and when it opened its gaping mouth, Bhima realised this monster could swallow a grown man easily. Bhima bid his time, then pounced to grab the loathsome reptile at the back of its head. But the snake was much too fast, and Bhima found himself wrapped in the coils of the reptile. With all his great strength, Bhima was absolutely helpless, held in a vice-like grip, that threatened to crush him to death. Just then, there was a shout from close at hand, and Yudhishthira, with the priest Dhaumya, who had been looking for Bhima, came on the scene. Yudhishthira felt this could be no ordinary snake, but probably a demon in this malevolent guise. "O King of Serpents," he said, walking closer. "If you are hungry, we will supply all the food you require. But release my brother, I beg of you." "Your brother is my lawful prey," snorted the snake. "And if you remain here, your body will add to my meal." "Tell me, who are you?" Yudhishthira asked. "I am Nahusha, a Kuru ancestor of yours," replied the snake. "I resided in the Kingdom of the Gods for many years, but my arrogance was the cause of my ruin. I insulted the Sage Agasthya, who in his anger cursed me to become this awful snake, to roam the earth until someone can answer the riddles he set. Then and only then, will I be restored to my natural form." Yudhishthira without hesitation said. 

 "Ask me your riddles, and I will do my best to answer them." "What makes the sun shine everyday?" asked the snake. Yudhishthira replied. "The power of Brahman." "What rescues a man in danger?" "Courage is man's salvation in danger." "What is happiness?" "Happiness is the result of good conduct." "What is the greatest wonder in the world?" "Everyday men die and depart to Yama's abode and yet, those who remain, seek to live for ever. This verily is the greatest wonder." The snake asked many more riddles, but Yudhishthira answered them all. In the end the snake announced. "You have answered all my riddles." As it spoke, it released Bhima from its coils, and suddenly changed into the natural form of man. But before anyone could speak, he who had been cursed vanished into thin air. Soon after this episode, Sri Krishna and his queen, Satya, visited the Pandava princes in the forest. Addressing Yudhisthira, Krishna said. "Soon your long years of exile will end. These years of adversity have proved you to be a man of honour. The time is approaching when, I am sure, you will regain your rightful inheritance" Yudhishthira was greatly moved and thanked Krishna. "With you as our friend and philosopher, we shall face life with courage. If war against the Kaurava princes becomes inevitable, your guidance will be our strongest weapon." Many sages visited the Pandava princes in the forest, and one of them visited the blind king, Dhritarashtra at Hastinapura. The sage told the king that the princes were undergoing many privations whilst they were in exile. Though Dhritarashtra tried to convey words of sympathy, his mind was troubled with thoughts of the future. "Why did we become a prey to greediness? Why did we take the path of injustice? Wrong cannot but yield a bitter harvest, and the Pandavas will cry out for vengeance." These thoughts perpetually haunted the blind king, and gave him no peace. 

Unbeknown to Dhritarashtra, the evil minded Sakuni and Karna overheard the sage telling the king of the sufferings the Pandavas had to endure. Their elation at such good news filled them with joy and they lost no time in hurrying to Duryodhana so that he too, could share the pleasure of knowing the Pandavas were being made to suffer. Duryodhana gloated over the Pandavas hardships, but Sakuni, who hated the Pandavas, thought now was the time to rub salt into the wounds they had inflicted. " Let us go and see the distress of the Pandavas. Their kingdom has become ours, so we should go to the Dwaita forest and show these vanquished exiles a glimpse of our great prosperity." " It would be the joy of joys for me to see the sufferings of the Pandavas with my own eyes," replied Duryodhana. " But the king is mortally afraid of the Pandavas, so he would never grant permission for me to go." But Karna already had a bright idea to overcome any difficulty with King Dhritarashtra. " Send for the head cowherder and bribe him to tell the king that wild animals are inflicting terrible losses on our cattle in the forest. The king will be only too pleased for us to go and kill the wild animals." Duryodhana and Sakuni applauded such a thought and lost no time in sending for the head cowherder. When Dhritarashtra was told the concocted story, he shook his head in doubt. " The wild animals should certainly be hunted, but I cannot agree that any of you should go. 

The Pandavas are residing in the forest and the sight of you will only add to their anger." Duryodhana became vexed. " Have we got to give up hunting because of the Pandavas? We shall certainly not go anywhere near them." Sakuni also added his oily words, and as usual, the weak minded king gave in and in a doleful voice said. " Go if you must, but avoid meeting the princes at all costs." The Kauravas set out the next day with a great army and many followers. Duryodhana and Karna made no attempt to conceal their joy at the thought of being able to gloat over the Pandava princes. They took care to have their luxurious tents raised within easy distance of where the Pandavas were living. At the end of a day's hunt, Duryodhana and his followers came to an attractive lake close to the hermitage of the Pandavas. Duryodhana liking the spot, gave orders for his camp to be pitched there. But Chitrasena, the king of the Gandharvas had already encamped in the neighbourhood, and he indignantly refused to allow Duryodhana's men to put up their tents. When Duryodhana came to hear of this, his hot temper flared up and at the head of his army, marched to the lake intent on teaching these Gandharvas a lesson, for daring to resist his orders. A great battle ensued between the Kauravas and the Gandharvas. At first it looked as though the Kauravas would emerge victorious with their sheer weight of numbers, but Chitrasena rallied his troops and using their magic weapons, caused havoc in the ranks of Duryodhana's army. Karna and the other Kaurava princes had to flee from the battlefield. Duryodhana stayed and tried to reassemble his troops, but Chitrasena soon took him prisoner, and placed him in his chariot bound hand and foot. The remainder of the Karurava army fled in all directions and some of the fugitives took refuse in the Pandavas hermitage. When Yudhishthira and his brothers were told of the battle and the capture of Duryodhana, Bhima was delighted and turning to Yudhishthira, said. " The Gandharvas have done what we should have done and Duryodhana richly deserves his fate." But Yudhishthira rebuked Bhima. " Brother, the Kauravas are our kith and kin, and we cannot stand idly aside when they are attacked by strangers. We must do our utmost to rescue them." So Yudhishthira and his brothers went to the Kaurava camp and rallied the routed army. When they offered to fight the Gandharvas, Chitrasena said he had no wish to fight the Pandavas and would willingly release Duryodhana and the other prisoners as he only wanted to teach the arrogant Kauravas' a fitting lesson. Duryodhana, shamed and dejected by being so badly beaten in battle; refused to be consoled by Yudhishthira's kind words, and rode back to Hastinapura, embittered and angry at being rescued by these accursed Pandavas. Sakuni riding by his side, tried to soothe him. " Why do you fret and fume over these Pandavas. You possess their kingdom and all their riches. What more do you want?" In a voice bursting with fury, Duryodhana said. " The day will come when I shall conquer the Pandavas." 

On the journey back to Hastinapura Sakuni and Karna tried hard to make light of the unfortunate affair, and wove a story as to how the Pandavas must have conspired with the Gandharvas to bring about the disgrace of Duryodhana. But Duryodhana refused to listen to their oily words and in the end, in a fit of temper and black dejection he threw himself down under a tree and vowed to stay there till he died, sooner than return to Hastinapura and be subject to ridicule. Sakuni refused to be dismayed by this display of heroics and in a sarcastic voice upbraided Duryodhana: " Why do you act like a spoilt child? We have cheated the Pandavas out of their kingdom and we possess all their riches. One minor reverse is nothing. The day will surely dawn when we shall exterminate the Pandavas, then you will become the emperor of all domains." The thought of being proclaimed emperor appealed to Duryodhana's vanity and when Karna, talked in glowing terms of a great Rajasuya sacrifice, Duryodhana allowed himself to be convinced and agreed to return to Hastinapura. When the court at Hastinapura learned what had occured in the Dwaita forest, the blind king, Dhritarashtra, his mind filled with omens of evil days to come, sat in silence. But the aged Bhishma, seething with anger, pointed an accusing finger at. Duryodhana and proclaimed in a solemn voice, " You have done nothing but bring disgrace to the Kuru race. Now the Pandava princes had to rescue you from disgrace and dishonour. Let there be an end to your infamy and acknowledge the Pandava princes rightful inheritance." Glowering with rage, Duryodhana stalked out of the assembly followed by his cronies.

 "Bhishma is an old fool," muttered Karna, then turning to Duryodhana he pleaded. " Give me an army and I will conquer all the surrounding kingdoms, then you will be able to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice and prove to every one you are invincible." These were pleasant words to Duryodhana's depraved mind and without consulting Dhritarashtra, a large army was fitted out and Karna given full command, for a campaign to make every ruler swear fealty to Duryodhana. Karna, with all his faults, was a great warrior, and with a strong force quickly subjected a number of kingdoms and mainly with threats forced the rulers to acknowledge Duryodhana as their overlord. When the triumphant Karna returned to Hastinapura, laden with vasts treasures he had levied from the subjected kingdoms, Duryodhana was overjoyed and immediately proclaimed that he would perform the Rajasuya sacrifice. But the priests when consulted objected strongly. " Duryodhana cannot perform the Imperial sacrifice whilst King Dhritarashtra is alive," intoned the high priest. " But he can perform the Vaishnava sacrifice." Bhishma entreats Duryodhana not to enrage the Pandavas. Duryodhana had to be content with this edict, but planned that the sacrifice should not be wanting in splendour and every monarch in the land be prevailed upon to attend. Even the Pandava princes shall be invited said the gloating Duryodhana. When Yudhishthira received the invitation he told the messenger, " It is only right that Duryodhana should perform the Vaishnava sacrifice. But whilst we are in exile we are banned from entering Hastinapura." With great pomp and ceremony the sacrifice was performed at Hastinapura and Duryodhana in his elation made doubly sure that the Pandava princes be told of the countless monarchs who had attended and all the minute detail of the lavish festivities. In the hermitage, Yudhishthira listened to the story of the sacrifice with a grim smile. Draupadi and his brothers had suffered much during these long years of exile. Often there was insufficient to eat, all because he had allowed himself to be enticed to gamble everything with a set of dice. But he took solace in the words of the sage Vyasa, who had on his last visit said, " My children do not despair for soon your years of banishment will end and you will regain your rightful kingdom." Soon after this, the sage Durvas with all his ten thousand disciples descended on Hastinapura, demanding in his forthright manner, that all his people should be provided with shelter and food. 

Sage Durvas was notorious for his endless demands and his ten thousand disciples consumed so much food that the richest kingdom found it difficult to feed such a hungry horde. Duryodhna contemplating all the food the sage and his disciples had consumed suddenly had a bright idea. Calling his uncle Sakuni and Karna, he said rubbing his hands with glee, " I have an inspiration. Let us beg sage Durvas and his disciples to visit the Pandavas. With their meagre supply of food, they will enjoy feeding this formidable army. And if they fail, the sage may very well lay a terrible curse upon them." And so it came about that late one night, after the Pandavas had retired. they were awakened by an incessant clamouring outside their hermitage. When they went outside they were confronted by sage Durvas and his great flock of disciples all demanding food. Draupadi, knowing there was insufficient food in the hermitage for ten people, let alone ten thousand, was horrified, and in her dilemna her mind turned to Sri Krishna and she prayed fervently that he would come to their aid. 

It will be remembered that early in their exile, the Sun god had bestowed on Yudhishthira the Akshayapatra, a wonderful vessel which held a never ending supply of food for their daily consumption. Now it was night time and the vessel was empty. But as Draupadi prayed, Sri Krishna appeared before her and in a solemn tone said. "I am hungry, bring me food at once." Draupadi was in despair at such a request. "How can I offer you food when the vessel given by the Sun god is empty until tomorrow? The sage Durvasa and all his disciples are here demanding food. What shall I do?" Sri Krishna merely smiled and said. " I am hungry, so bring the vessel here and let me see what it contains." Draupadi in great confusion, brought the vessel and there at the bottom of the vessel was a single grain of rice and a tiny bit of cooked vegetable, which Sri Krishna ate with seeming satisfaction. After eating these solitary scraps, Sri Krishna turned to Draupadi and said. "I have eaten well. Now tell Bhima to go to the sage and say that food is ready and waiting for them." 

Both Draupadi and Bhima were puzzled but having faith in Krishna, Bhima went and told the sage that food had been prepared. To Bhima's astonishment the sage cheerfully said "We already feel well fed and cannot eat any more. Tell Yudhishthira to forgive us." Soon afterwards the sage and his disciples departed. Some months after this, Yudhishthira and his brothers planned a hunting trip, but before setting out they arranged for Draupadi and their priest Dhaumya to stay with the sage Trinabindu in his hermitage. Here, Draupadi should have been perfectly safe. But one morning Jayadratha, king of the Sindhu country and an ally of Duryodhana, was passing the hermitage with a strong escort, when he saw Draupadi walking in the grounds. Thinking here is a golden opportunity to win favors from Duryodhana, Jayadratha decided to abduct Draupadi and hold her as a hostage. At the sight of Jayadratha's repellant figure, Draupadi tried to run away, but Jayadratha soon caught her and brutally dragged the screaming queen to his chariot. Dhaumya the priest, hearing Draupadi's cries for help rushed out and tried in vain to stop the chariot. Soon afterwards, Yudhishthira and his brothers returned from their hunting trip and when Dhaumya tearfully explained that Draupadi had been kidnapped, they set off in pursuit of Jayadratha, who thinking that the Pandavas would never dare attack his strong force, camped close by, eager to torment Draupadi with threats to hand her over to Duryodhana and his brothers. 

Without warning the enraged Pandavas rushed into Jayadratha's camp, and Bhima with his great mace and Arjuna armed with the Gaudiva bow, created terrible havoc and the remnants of Jayadratha's men fled in horror. As soon as Draupadi was released, Bhima and Arjuna prepared to chase after the fleeing Jayadratha. Yudhishthira laid a restraining arm on Bhima's shoulder. "By all means capture the miscreant." he said firmly. "But remember he is a relative of the Kaurava Queen Gandhari, so let no harm befall him." Jayadratha, scared out of his wits at the thought of the fury of Bhima and his mace, hastened from the field of battle, leaving his men to fend for themselves. But in his maddened haste a wheel of his chariot struck a boulder on the side of the road. The chariot overturned, and although Jayadratha was not badly hurt, he was far too sore and bruised to continue his escape on foot, and was soon captured by Bhima and Arjuna. The luckless man grovelled at the feet of Arjuna and begged for mercy. Bhima stood at one side and roared with laughter at the sight of this cringing monarch. Taking Jayadratha by the scruff of his neck, Bhima ordered his men to cut off the captive's hair, leaving several tufts to remind the once proud monarch of his abject disgrace. Afterwards Jayadratha was taken back to the hermitage. Yudhishthira had to smile at the comical appearance of the prisoner with his shaven head adorned by its odd tufts of hair, but remembering the treatment Draupadi had received at the hands of this uncouch rogue Yudhishthira in a voice filled with scorn, upbraided Jayadratha for daring to molest Draupadi and threatened him with death if ever he offended the Pandavas again. 

Karna, the sworn enemy of Arjuna, thought himself to be the son of a charioteer, but in fact his birth was inspired by Surya, the Sun god. One night Karna was awakened by a brilliant light flooding his room, and when he sat up he was confronted by the dazzling figure of the Sun God. "You are in grave danger," said the God. The great God Indra will come to you in the form of a priest, and beg of you to give him your magical coat of armour and divine ear ornaments. Do not part with them, for they are your only protection against an untimely death." "But father," cried Karna," how can I refuse the God Indra? I am a great warrior and have no need of my armour," "You speak foolishly," replied the god gently. "If you part with the protection of your divine armour, then at least, demand in exchange the celestial weapon that never fails to the kill". With this the god vanished. The following day Karna strode round the courtyard impatient for the arrival of God Indra. Towards noon, the bent figure of an old brahmin priest accosted him. Surely this decrepit old priest could never be the King of Gods. But, when Karna asked the priest what he wanted, the man said,. "Give to me your impenetrable coat of armour and your ear ornaments." Karna now knew that this could be no other than God Indra. "I will gladly give you anything,"cried Karna passionately. "But in return will you not give me the celestial weapon that slays all to which it is directed?" God Indra agreed and from the air produced the celestial weapon, and took Karna's armour and ear ornaments. When this news reached the Pandavas in their forest hermitage, Arjuna said viciously. "I bore in silence the insults of that son of a charioteer. But divine armour, nor celestial weapons will stop me slaying him when the day comes." 

Not long after this, a brahmana came rushing up to the Pandava princes and in great agitation shouted. "A deer is running away with my fire kindler. Now I shall be unable to perform the fire sacrifice." The Pandavas tried to pacify the brahmana and set out to catch the animal. But the deer was hard to catch; with great leaps and bounds it decoyed the princes deep into the forest then suddenly disappeared. Worn out by the futile chase, the princes were glad to sit down and rest. Yudhishthira like the others was tormented with thirst, so he asked his younger brother Nakula to climb a tree, and see if there was water nearby. Nakula soon climbed a tree, and gave a joyous shout that there was a large pool close by. So Yudhishthira bade him fetch some water so that they could all quench their thirst. When Nakula reached the pool he knelt down on the bank and was about to slake his thirst when a voice shouted, "Not so fast son of Madri. This pool belongs to me. So answer my questions before you drink." Nakula was far too thirsty to heed any warning, but no sooner had the water touched his lips, than he was overcome with a great drowsiness and collapsed on the bank as though dead. When Nakula did not return, Yudhishthira sent Sahadeva to see what had delayed his twin brother. The same fate overtook Sahadeva, and when he failed to return, Arjuna picked up his Gandiva bow and went in search of his brothers. Arriving at the pool, Arjuna was horrified to find both brothers apparantly dead.  

Swearing vengeance against the miscreants who had slain his brothers, Arjuna tormented by a terrible 
thirst, decided to drink before he searched for the wrongdoers. As he stooped beside the pool, the hidden voice pealed out, 'Answer my questions before you drink, otherwise you will suffer the same fate as your brothers'. Arjuna's anger knew no bounds. He shouted, "Who are you to dictate to me? I will drink first then seek you out and kill you." But as he drank from the pool, he collapsed beside his brothers. After anxious waiting, Yudhishthira turned to Bhima. "Something terrible has happened to our brothers," he said anxiously. "Go quickly and find out what is wrong. I will collect our weapons and follow you." When Yudhishthira reached the pool, he could hardly restrain his grief to find all his brothers lying there as if dead. What trickery was this? Had Duryodhana poisoned the water? Who else should want to kill his brothers? As he stood there lost in despair, again the voice thundered out, "Your brothers died because, they did not heed my words. Answer my questions then you can quench your thirst." Yudhishthira knew immediately that he was dealing with a Yaksha and guessed what had happened to his brothers. He saw a possible way of redeeming the situation, so he said, "Ask your questions and I will answer them." The voice asked questions one after another. It asked: "What is fleeter than wind?" Yudhishthira replied, "Mind" "Who accomanies a man in death?" "Dharma. That alone accompanies the soul in it solitary journey after death." 

"What is the loss which yields joy and not sorrow?" "Anger, for by giving it up we will no longer be subject to sorrow." The Yaksha posed many more questions, and Yudhishthira answered them all. In the end the Yaksha asked. "O King, one of your dead brothers can now be revived. Which one shall it be?" Yudhishthira thought for a moment, then quietly replied. "Let it be my brother Nakula." The Yaksha looked puzzled and asked. "Why do you choose Nakula? Why not Bhima who has the strength of many elephants, or Arjuna whose prowess in arms is your protection?" "O great Yaksha," replied Yudhishthira, "Dharma is the true shield of protection, not Bhima or Arjuna. My father, King Pandu, had two wives, Kunti and Madri. I am now the surviving son of Kunti, so she is not completely bereaved. So it is only just that Nakula, the son of Madri, should live." The Yaksha was pleased with Yudhishthira's impartiality and granted that all his brothers come back to life. As the four brothers got to their feet, each shaking his head in bewilderment as to what had happened, a figure seemed to rise out of the ground. It was the God of Dharma, who took the form of the deer and the Yaksha so that he could see his son, Yudhishthira, and test him. He embraced Yudhishthira and said. "Only a few days remain of your twelve years of exile. The thirteenth year will also pass by and you will successfully fulfil your undertaking." Then he added in a sorrowful voice. "You will regain your kingdom but only after much bloodshed and tears. 

At the hermitage in the forest, the Pandava princes and the brahmanas, who had willingly shared these long years of exile, sat silently in the clearing before the crude hutments, each thinking of the past and wondering what the future held in store. 

Yudhishthira slowly stood up and addressing the brahmanas said. "O brahmanas, the time has come for us to part. As you know we were deceived by the sons of Dhritarashtra, and cheated out of our kingdom. We have managed to live through these twelve years of exile, and now we have to spend a year in concealment, ever afraid of being discovered by Duryodhana's spies. Before you depart, bless us and wish us well until the day dawns when we can meet again in our rightful surroundings." Dhaumya the priest then spoke. "Parting is always hard, and the dangers facing you are many, but you have proved yourselves to be wise and undaunted. A year will soon pass by, then like the great gods of the past, you will conquer your enemies and win prosperity." Afterwards the Pandavas took leave of the brahmanas, and the five princes with Draupadi went deeper into the forest, to discuss how they should Spend this year of concealment. Turning to Arjuna, Yudhishthira asked. "Where do you think we should spend the thirteenth year? " O great king," replied Arjuna breaking into a smile. "Remember, the Lord of Dharma blessed us, so we can easily pass the twelve months together without being discovered. There are many kingdoms from which to choose, but I would suggest the Matsya country of King Virata would be the best." "Well spoken brother," Yudhishthira said. "King Virata has always been a firm friend, and he is a man devoted to virtue, and would certainly not be frightened of Duryodhana. 

So let us agree on Matsya, and we should have no difficulty in finding work at the king's palace. Arjuna looked baffled. "Tell me brother, what type of work would you seek?" Yudhishthira quickly answered. "I am thinking of asking Virata to take me in his service as a courtier. I could delight him with my conversation, and my skill in reading omens and my knowledge of astrology. In my disguise he will never recognise me. But what of Bhima? How is he going to hide his mighty figure?" Bhima burst out laughing. "O king, I think I shall take service as a cook. You all know I have a great appetite and can prepare dainty dishes to tempt any king. Besides which, I could also delight the king by taking on any wrestlers that come to his court." "Good," Yudhishthira said, approvingly. "Now what about you Arjuna?" Arjuna hesitated a moment. "I think I shall offer my services as a dancing master and teaching the women to sing." Yudhishthira then turned to Nakula and asked him what type of work he had in mind. "I will look after the horses", replied Nakula cheerfully. "As you know I am good at training horses and understand their ailments. I shall say that I tended to the horses of the Pandavas and I have no doubt Virata will take me in his service." Sahadeva, the twin brother of Nakula, did not wait to be asked what work he had in mind. With a broad grin he announced. "Let Nakula took after horses. I shall tend the cows. Virata's cattle will be well protected from the ravages of disease and the attacks of wild animals." When Yudhishthira looked at Draupadi, she sensed his embarrassment and with a twinkle in her eyes said, "Do not worry on my account . I shall be a maid in the court of the queen. I can dress the hair of the queen and the princesses and keep them amused with small talk." Then as an after thought she added. "I shall say I served the princess Draupadi, and I am sure no one will recognise me." Having decided on the roles they were to adopt, the princes choose suitable garb from clothing they had carefully stored through the years, for this year of concealment. Yudhishthira disguised himself as a sanyasin. Arjuna transformed himself into a dancing master, and his feminine air brought peals of merriment from the others. Bhima looked every inch a well-fed, contented cook, and Draupadi was the perfect demure handmaid. Yet it was difficult to disguise their natural princely charm and bearing. When they were ready to leave on their journey to Matsya, Arjuna gave a cry of horror. "Our weapons!" he cried. "I cannot leave my Gandiva bow behind." "Do not worry." Yudhishthira chided. 

"Before we reach Matsya, we will wrap our weapons in our old clothing and hide them well out of sight in the topmost branches of a big tree." When they eventually reached the court of King Virata, the monarch eyed them with surprise, for they seemed to him born to command rather than to seek work as servants. At first he hesitated, but after listening to their eloquent pleas, gave each of them the post they desired. Yudhishtira adopted the name Kanka, and became the king's constant companion. Bhima worked as the chief of the cooks, and often entertained the court by wrestling any who dared to challenge him. Arjuna assumed the name of Brihannala, and taught dancing and singing to the Princess Uttara, the daughter of King Virata. Nakula was happy looking after the horses, and Sahadeva watched over the cattle. The fair Draupadi who, if fate had been less cruel, should have been served by a retinue of servants, had now to pass her days serving Sudeshna, the queen of King Virata. And so the Pandavas began their term of exile in the land of King Virata. Everyday the king rolled dice with Yudhishthira and lost heavily. Yudhishthira divided the gambling gains amongst his brothers. Bhima served in the royal kitchen and distributed to all whatever food was left. Arjuna living in the royal boudoir gave away the clothes he received as gifts. Nakula groomed the royal horses and the king was pleased with him. Sahadeva tending his flocks of sheep and cattle, churned the milk into butter and gave the excess away. In this manner four months passed. Then a great fair was held in the land. 

Many people from all corners of the earth came to see it. Wrestling bouts were held to celebrate the occasion. In the ensuing wrestling matches, Jimutha, the grappler overcame all. He boasted he could upend anyone rash enough to challenge him. He was as good as his boast. The king thought of his royal chef, Bhima. He sent for him and said. " You told me once that you wrestle. Go, fight and defeat Jimutha." Bhima bowed his head and went to meet the grappler. A large crowd gathered to watch the wrestling bout. Within a few seconds, he lifted Jimutha high over his head and hurled him across the arena. Jimutha lay where he fell still as death. The crowd roared its applause of the new champion. The happy king lavished many gifts on Bhima. Now the king took pleasure in watching Bhima perform in the arena, defeating men and ferocious beasts with equal ease. Arjuna in his female garb taught the royal ladies to sing and dance. They performed well before the king. Nakula and Sahadeva went about their duties efficiently. Time sped. Then one day, Kichaka, the king's brother-in-law saw the beautiful Draupadi now the handmaiden of the Queen. At once he fell in love with her. He went to Sudheshna, his sister and Queen of the land. Eagerly, he asked about the handmaiden. But the Queen said, " Never mind who she is. She is not for you." Kichaka was not disheartened by this rebuke. He waylaid Draupadi and declared his love for her. She replied, " Sir, I am already married. Five Gods protect me from a distance.

If you cause unhappiness to me, they will kill you like that " and she snapped her fingers. Kichaka returned to his sister and again pestered her. He said, " I must marry this girl. She does not listen to me. She even threatens me." Sudheshna replied, " True. She has also told me about her divine protectors. Forget her, else you may come to some great harm." Kichaka boasted, " I have the power to crush even a thousand Gods. I am the Commander-in-Chief of all the royal forces. Am I not hand-some? Aren't I wealthy? If you press my suit with her, she will yield." Then Sudheshna resignedly said, " I have said all I can. I cannot support your wickedness. However, this afternoon I shall send her to you on some pretext. If you can, persuade her to marry you." Kichaka left the palace, softly humming to himself. A little later Sudheshna called Draupadi to her side and gave her a golden chalice. She said, " My brother keeps a stock of good wine. He promised to give me some. Go and bring it." But Draupadi refused. She said, " Oh, Queen, I do not wish to go there. Your brother's behaviour is not satisfactory. If I go there, he may harm me." The Queen tut-tutted and said impatiently " How silly can you be? My brother is a good sort. If he tries to harm you, I will put a stop to it. Do not be afraid. Go and do my bidding." Draupadi reluctantly walked towards Kichaka's palace. When he saw her coming towards him, he was overjoyed. 

As she came inside the palace, grandly he said, "Look here, woman, marry me, and I will give you all the jewels and all the clothes in the kingdom." Draupadi retorted. " Sir, I came here to do the Queen's bidding. You promised to give her some choice wine. Pour it into this chalice and I will carry it back." Kichaka snorted, " What's the hurry, woman? Come to me," and suiting words to action, he seized her by the hand. Draupadi pushed him away and ran to the royal court. Kichaka chased her there and in the middle of the hall again seized her by the hair. Yudhishthira and Bhima boiled with rage at this sight. Bhima looked around for a handy weapon and his eyes fell on a large tree. Yudhishthira understood what he intended and hinted loudly, " Oh! Chef, are you looking around for good firewood? That tree will not suit you. Look elsewhere." Bhima sat down in obedience to that unspoken command. Draupadi realised that the Pandavas were not in a position to help her. So she turned to the King and said, "Oh! King, see how this wicked man insults me. Yet you keep quiet. Even, my divine protectors, for some reason best known to them, are unwilling to come to my aid." The King answered, " Woman, you ask me to interfere in your personal affairs. How can I settle your complaint without knowing what has happened." Then Yudhishthira, now known as Gangapattar, said, " Woman, go to your apartment. You say, you have divine protectors. 

Then, leave this matter to them. There must be a reason why they have not come to your aid now. Do not be afraid. Those who try to harm you will be punished." Draupadi took the hint and went to the Queen. Sudheshna noticed her tears and asked, " What is this? Why are you unhappy? Has someone caused you harm?" Then Draupadi related all that had happened. She said, " Oh! Queen, now Kichaka's life is forfeit. My protectors will see to that." Sudheshna became alarmed at these words. She realized that Kichaka had brought some terrible danger upon himself. But what could she do? Draupadi swore vengeance on Kichaka, and at the dead of night, she went to Bhima. Bhima lay restlessly on his bed smarting under the insult of the morning. When he saw Draupadi he said, " Thank God, you have come. This morning I wanted to dash Kichaka's brains on the palace floor. But elder brother warned me. But I will not rest until I have killed Kichaka and wiped out the insult to you." Draupadi said, " True. We should not be rash and disclose our identities so soon. That is what your brother meant. I shall make that wicked Kichaka come to this place through a trick." Bhima nodded his head. " Right," he said. " I wanted to toss everyone at the dice hall over my head, even Duryodhana and Duhsasana. But I was helpless. But now I am strong again. Get Kichaka to come to the dance theatre tomorrow night. I shall take care of him." Draupadi said, " Yes. The dance hall is the right place. At night it is deserted. I will tell Kichaka to meet me there secretly. He will be only too glad to come." Bhima replied, " Just let me get my hands on him. He will return feet foremost. For insulting you in the royal hall, I will tear him limb to limb." Draupadi agreed but said, " Everything must be done on the sly. When they find Kichaka's corpse in the morning, they will think that my divine protectors have taken a terrible vengeance. After all, everyone in Virata know that I have divine protectors." Then Draupadi left Bhima and went to her quarters. 

Next morning Kichaka boasted before Draupadi, "See, what happened yesterday? I showed you how powerful I am. Could anyone save you yesterday? Now you know who is truly the king of this land. So you must do as I say. Marry me, and you shall live like a Queen. Then Draupadi looked at him and in a low voice said, "Sir, if you want to marry me, then you must respect some of my wishes. We can only meet in secret. Neither the King nor the Queen must suspect us, and for my part, I shall not tell my divine protectors anything, because if they know they will surely kill you." Kichaka could hardly believe his ears. This proud woman was to be his at last. Eagerly he said, "Good. Where shall we meet?" Draupadi replied, "In the dance hall. No one comes there at night. We can meet there. Tonight I shall expect you there." Kichaka, humming happily to himself went back to his apartment. Then Draupadi ran to the waiting Bhima and informed him of the night's tryst. Bhima roared mightily and said, " I shall kill this monster. If he dies, then the power of this land will be reduced. His death will be a warning to all other wrongdoers. Then no one will ever trouble you with his unwelcome attentions." As the evening shadows lengthened, Kichaka and Bhima waited eagerly for the night, each for a different reason. At the hour of midnight, when everyone was fast asleep, Kichaka arose, and putting on all his finery, crept like a thief to the dance bower. In the darkness of the hall, he could just see a motionless figure on the bed. Tiptoeing silently he reached the side of the bed and softly rubbed one outflung arm. " Ah! I shall give you whatever you desire. A thousand maidens will attend to your wants," he whispered. At these words, the figure on the bed sat up and an arm like iron fell on Kichaka's shoulders. 

" So you will give me whatever I desire!" "I desire nothing better than your life," angrily retorted Bhima and seized Kichaka by his flowing locks. Kichaka realized that he was trapped. An immensely strong man was pinning him down. What a fool he had been to come! Bhima caught him by the waist, lifted him and threw him heavily on the ground. Kichaka got up slowly and rushed at Bhima. But that redoubtable Pandava warrior gave no quarter. In a trice, he kicked Kichaka hard in the stomach, and followed it up with a vicious karate chop on the unguarded neck. Then raining blows on Kichaka, he snapped his neck and the latter crumpled on the ground like a lifeless doll, his head rolling on one side. Then Bhima called Draupadi and said, " There, there is the man who insulted you, now be happy. Let everyone know that those who misbehave with you will share a similar fate." Draupadi feeling very happy rushed out of the dance hall and told the guards to go and see for themselves what had happened. The news of Kichaka's horrible death spread all over the palace and his kinsmen gathered to lament over his mangled body. When they saw Draupadi, their anger knew no bounds. " This woman is the cause of cousin Kichaka's death. Let us burn her alive on the funeral pyre of our cousin," they shouted. Then they went to the king and sought his assent for their foul deed. The king agreed and Kichaka's brothers, dragged Draupadi to the cremation grounds. The hapless woman cried out forlornly to the Pandavas to save her from this awful fare. Her despairing cry reached Bhima and quickly disguising himself, he rushed to the cremation grounds. Then uprooting a large tree, he charged the hundred and five strong clansmen of Kichaka. When they saw his savage onslaught, they began to run helter, skelter, shouting all the while that Draupadi's divine protector was killing them shaking with fear, they began to run towards the palace gates. But Bhima pursued them and made short work of them. Then he comforted Draupadi and went back to the royal kitchen. Eyewitnesses to the massacre of the hundred reported to the king the gruesome details. " Oh! King," they said, " This Draupadi is not only possessed of a fatal charm, she has powerful protectors who destroy everything in their path. We tremble lest they destroy the city also." The king grew uneasy at these words and after arranging for the disposal of the dead, sought out his Queen. He said to Sudeshna, "Oh, Queen, I am afraid of what might happen to us if your maid's divine protectors turn their wrath on me. Therefore, go and request her to leave this palace. But mark you, behave respectfully, lest she be annoyed again. The ladies of the palace looked at Draupadi with new respect in their eyes. Her fame spread all over the land, and many avoided her out of fear. Even Bhima, the royal chief, to keep up appearances, bowed low before her and asked in a solemn voice whether it was true that an aerial sprite had saved her from dishonour. Draupadi replied that it was indeed true. Then she walked back to her boudoir. 

There Arjuna, now in the guise of a danseuse spoke to her. " Is it true, he asked, that a powerful protector saved you from dishonor?" Draupadi retorted rather sharply " Thank God for that divine sprite. Else I would have fallen into the clutches of an evil man. In any case, what do you care? You are having a merry time dancing and singing!" Then Arjuna mollified her by saying that he was always thinking of her sorrows and was ever ready to come to her rescue. Queen Sudeshna sent for her 
maid, and repeated what the king had said. She must leave the land at once. Then Draupadi implored her to wait for another thirteen days. After that her five protectors would escort her out of the land. Kichaka's glory death at the hands of a divine sprite became known in all the land. The king of Matsya became despondent at the thought that he was no longer powerful and therefore an easy prey for his enemies. At the same time, elsewhere Duryodhana's spies were trying hard to discover the whereabouts of the exiled Pandavas. But all their efforts proved futile. They thought that the Pandavas were dead. Then they passed on to Duryodhana, the news of Kichaka's strange death and the destruction of the hundred and five at the hands of a divine sprite. Meanwhile, Duryodhana called an assembly of his kinsmen and courtiers. He declared before them, " The exile of the Pandavas will end in a few days. But we must discover their whereabouts immediately, otherwise they will claim my throne. If they are found within this period, then we can send them again to their exile in the forest." Karna and Duhsasana declared that spies should be sent to the four corners of the earth to find the Pandavas. Drona opined that the Pandavas were dead. Bhishma said wisely, " Wherever the Pandavas are, there the land will be prosperous. and happy. The people will be good and rain will fall during the proper season. Find out which land that is, and you will have found the Pandavas." Kripacharya, however hinted at dire consequences. He said, " If the Pandavas return from their exile on schedule, then Duryodhana must give back the kingdom to them. If he refuses to do so, then war will follow. Therefore, we must prepare for war." 

Bhisma and Kripacharya tried to restrain Duryodhana from his dangerous course. Then Susarma, the King of Trikartha said, "O King! Many a time the King of Matsya has invaded my domain and laid it waste. But now his general general Kichaka has been killed by divine spirits, and so his defences are down. Let us invade his land and plunder his wealth." Karna eager to give battle supported the speaker. Duryodhana ordered Duhsasana to get the armies ready. Then he said, " Let Susarma attack the capital of Matsya and rustle all the cattle there. I shall fall upon the city from the rear and capture it." In the meanwhile, King Virata was downcast at the death of Kichaka, his brother-in-law, the general of the Imperial Army. He felt lost without the strong right arm of his late general. Just then, Susarma attacked the city and drove off all the cattle. The panic stricken shepherds and cowherds ran to the King and implored him to save their cattle from the rustlers. The King gathered his army and advanced to meet the enemy. Yudhishthira and Bhima accompanied him. In the ensuing battle the King was captured and his army scattered to the four corners. Then Yudhishthira ordered Bhima to go and rescue the King from the clutches of Susarma. The mighty Pandava colossus now fell upon Susarma's army like a thunderbolt and after a fierce battle utterly destroyed it. Susarma was captured in his turn and the King was rescued. Susarma was later freed by Yudhishthira. Virata had hardly gone back to his capital when courtiers brought the alarming news of Duryodhana's lightning attack from the rear. This time the panic stricken people appealed to Uttara, the crown prince to repulse the invaders. Uttara was a wastrel who spent his time in the ladies boudoirs. When he was informed of the calamity that had overtaken his capital, rather loftly he declared " If only I had an able charioteer, I would devastate Duryodhana's armies." When Arjuna, masquerading as a woman, heard this piece of boasting, he looked at Draupadi pointedly. Promptly Draupadi turned to Uttara and said, " We have one right here. This Brahannala was once a charioteer to the famed Pandava archer. Take her with you." Then she pointed at Arjuna. Uttara laughed at these words and asked scornfully, " What, take this female. Then Arjuna said, "Oh! Prince, I can drive a chariot well. Let us go and teach that Duryodhana a good lesson and bring back our cows." Then the ladies of the royal chamber said in a chorus, " That would be fine. Bring us the beautiful dresses of the Kauravas and we'll decorate our dolls nicely." Uttara, coward that he was, had no other option but to go to the battlefield. With Arjuna driving his chariot, he reached the field. There the sight of the vast army of the Kauravas unnerved him totally and jumping from the chariot began to run away as fast his legs could carry him. But Arjuna caught hold of him and said, " Don't be afraid. You drive the chariot. I'll fight. But first I need my bow and arrows. Drive towards that tree and in the hollow of the trunk, You'll see my weapons." Then Arjuna himself drove the chariot, towards the tree and recovered his weapons from the hollow trunk. 

It was here that the Pandavas had secreted their weapons at the start of their exile. Uttara was astonished to see a magnificent bow and a quiver full of pointed arrows hidden behind a skeleton. Then Arjuna raised the bow and strummed the single cord. A mighty sound arose in the air and shivered through the ranks of the Kauravas. Uttara shook like an aspen leaf. Arjuna smiled at his fear and said, "Don't be afraid. I am Arjuna. The man you knew as Gangapatta is my eldest brother, Yudhishthira. Vallabha, the royal chef is really Bhima. Nakula grooms the horses and Sahadev is the shepherd. The maid Shairandhiri is actually Draupadi. We, Pandavas have just ended our period of exile in your land." At these words a chastened Uttara bowed low before Arjuna and in a tremulous voice said, " Oh! mighty Pandava, forgive me if I have been disrespectful towards you. I shall now drive the chariot for you." Then he drove the chariot towards the Kauravas. The Kauravas had been alerted by the sound of Arjuna's bow. So Drona turned towards Duryodhana and said, " Here comes Arjuna!" Duryodhana rubbed his hands gleefully and said, " Now that Arjuna has been sighted even before the end of his exile, the Pandavas will have to go back to the forest." Drona laughed at his folly and said, " Do you take Arjuna for a fool! He has revealed himself because his period of exile is over. Calculate for yourself and you will sec that I am right. If you have any doubts, go and ask Bhishma." Then with a heavy heart, Duryodhana went across to Bhishma and sought confirma-tion of Drona's words. Bhishma said, " True. The prescribed period of exile for the Pandavas is over. Every fifth year adds two months more to the calendar. According to this calculation, the Pandavas have duly completed their period of exile and a few more days have elapsed after that. No wonder they have come out of their hiding so boldly." Duryodhana was turned to stone at these words. Bhishma noticing this continued drily, " Now you must fight Arjuna. Then the Pandavas will demand the return of the Kingdom to them. You will have to give the land back to them. If you refuse, war will follow. Think well before you decide." His face darkening with anger, Duryodhana exclaimed, " Give the Kingdom back to them. Never! Let them fight and conquer me. I am ready for war." Bhishma replied, " Good. Go back to Hastinapura with part of the army. If you stay here, Arjuna is sure to capture you. Take a part of the rustled cows also with you. Drona, Kripa and myself will defend our position here." Bhishma's advice sounded sensible to Duryodhana. So promptly, he split his army and with a small force began to retreat towards Hastinapura. Bhishma reformed the army and awaited Arjuna's advance. 

But that redoubtable archer had seen Duryodhana slinking away from the battlefield and turning to Uttara said, " It's no use fighting this army, Duryodhana is running away. We must prevent that." Uttara, enthusiastically said, " Fine. I'll drive this chariot fast and block Duryodhana's road. Then you can easily capture him." Then he began to drive his chariot. Bhishma expected Arjuna to come and fight the Kaurava army, but he saw to his surprise the latter's chariot speeding away. Then Kripacharya said, "Aha! Arjuna has seen through our trick. Now he is driving towards Duryodhana to block his escape route. We must follow him and help Duryodhana." Bhishma nodded in agreement and the whole army was ordered to pursue Arjuna. Thus the plan to cover Duryodhana's escape came to nought. Bhishma knew that in single combat Duryodhana was no match for Arjuna. The latter would very easily defeat him. So Bhishma turned his chariot round and began to speed after Arjuna. 

The Kauravas tried to foil Arjuna's attempt to pursue the fleeing Duryodhana. They, attacked him fiercely and he turned his attention towards them. With Uttara skillfully driving the chariot, Arjuna launched a blistering attack on Karna who tried in vain to stem the sweeping tide of arrows. Soon the latter had to retreat. The Kauravas now banded together under the generalship of Kripacharya and swept towards Arjuna, but the Pandava warrior after a furious onslaught routed them completely. Kripacharya also fell back. Then it was Drona's turn to attack Arjuna. For a brief second Arjuna paused in his attack because he did want to wound his former teacher. Drona, noticing his hesitation quickly notched an arrow and sent it across. Recovering himself, Arjuna blocked the arrow with a barb of his own and soon rained a shower of arrows on Drona who unable to stand up to the fusillade fell back. Aswathama, came to aid his father but was ultimately defeated. Then Dushasana and Karna returned to the fray, but once again they fell back against the pointed attack of Arjuna. Then Bhishma drove up in his chariot and a veritable battle royal ensued between the two. Thick and fast flew the arrows until at last, bleeding and unconscious, Bhishma slumped in his chariot. In the meanwhile Duryodhana had turned back and seeing the plight of Bhishma, charged at Arjuna. Again the mighty bow twanged and a steel tipped arrow pierced the breast plate of Duryodhana. Frightened by this close brush with death, Duryodhana turned his chariot round and drove away madly from the battlefield. At this Arjuna laughed mockingly. 

Stung by his mocking laughter, Duryodhana again flung himself into the battle and the other Kauravas renewed their attack on Arjuna. Finally, Arjuna fitted a barb known as Samnokastra to his bow and shot it at his enemies. The arrow struck the Kaurava host like a bolt of lightning and they fell to the ground senseless. Arjuna turned to Uttara and said, "Oh! Prince, go and collect their silken sashes and helmets. Have you forgotten your boast to the ladies of the boudoir that you will bring back the clothes of the Kauravas to adorn the statues at home? Take the sashes and helmets of Kama, Duryodhana. Aswathama and the others, but do not touch that grand old man, Bhishma." Uttara did as he was bid and came back with the headgear and sashes of the Kaurava leaders. At that moment, Bhishma lifted his head and saw what was happening. He propped himself up and resumed the battle with Arjuna. But the Pandava bowman killed his horses and set him afoot. When Duryodhana recovered from his faint, he saw the chariot of Arjuna speeding away "Don't let him escape, block the chariot," he shouted at his 
soldiers. Then Bhishma said, "You fought against him for a long while. Why didn't you capture him then? When we were in that dead faint he could have killed us all easily. He merely took away your helmets and sashes. Admit you are defeated and let him drive away the flocks of sheep and cattle." Reluctantly the Kauravas admitted their defeat at the hands of Arjuna and began to retrace their steps. The Pandava warrior in passing shot two more arrows which fell at the feet of Drona and Bhishma to mark his respect to them.  

Yet another shaft from Arjuna's bow split Duryodhana's crown into two. Then Arjuna turned to Uttara and said, "Our work is done. We have got back our flocks, and the enemies are on the run. Now let's go back to the palace but first we must hide these weapons in the tree." Uttara hid the weapons in a hole in the tree and came back. Arjuna once again took the reins of the chariot and then turned to Uttara and said, "Don't tell your father about the Pandavas. Make him think that you defeated the enemies single handed." But Uttara protested against this. "No, sir, I can't do that," he said, "I will speak the truth. For now, I'll do as you tell me. Let me pass on the news of the victory to the palace, and then we can go in." The glad news was sent ahead and Uttara and Arjuna followed in its wake. Meanwhile King Virata after defeating Susarna was back in the palace. He sent for his son Uttara and was told that the latter had gone to the battlefield in a chariot driven by Brahannala, the danseuse. Hearing this the king felt worried. " How can my timid son hope to overcome the mighty Kauravas?" he wondered aloud. But Yudhishthira consoled him. " Don't worry, Sire," he said, " As long as Brahannala is with him, he will certainly return victorious." Then some soldiers brought the glad tidings of Uttara's victory over the Kauravas. Yudhishthira turned to the king and said, " What did I tell you, Sire? I was right. As long as Brahannala is with him, victory will always be his. There can be no doubt about that." Virata felt a surge of annoyance at these words. A mere danseuse responsible for his son's victory. Impossible! However, he stifled his anger and ordered the city to be gaily decorated to mark his son's grand achievement. Then he invited Yudhishthira to throw dice with him. The two began to roll the dice. Then the king addressed Yudhishthira, " Have you noticed how brave my son is? He has defeated even the mighty heroes of the Kauravas!" Yudhishthira intent on the dice replied calmly, " I told you once. before, Sire. As long as Brahannala drives his chariot, victory will always be his." Now at these words, Virata's anger rose uncontrollably. " Listen, you stupid old fellow," he shouted at Yudhishthira, " Every time I speak of my son's victory. You insist that Brahannala was the cause. If you repeat that again, I'll not be responsible for what happens. But Yudhishthira clicking the dice replied absent mindedly, " Even the gods cannot win over Bhishma, Drona, Kripa and Kama. But Brahannala can defeat them. She has that power. Therefore, I am not surprised that your son won." At these words, tossed so carelessly by Yudhishthira rage blinded the eyes of King Virata. Quick as thought he picked up the heavy dice and flung them at Yudhishthira with all his strength. They struck Yudhishthira's face with a thwack and blood began to dribble from his nose. 

Draupadi seeing this, ran to his side and hold a golden chalice under his beard so that the blood may not spill on the ground. A messenger ran in to tell the king of the arrival of Uttara and Brahannala. " Send them in," said the happy king. Yudhishthira stopped the messenger and said, " Send only Uttara. Let Brahannala go to her chamber. If she saw my bleeding face, your king's life would be in danger." A little later, Uttara came in and bowed before his father. When he raised his head, he saw the wound on Yudhishthira's face and asked in an anguished voice, " Who has done this foul deed?" King Virata replied, " I hit him with the dice. Each time, I praised your victory, he would say it was all due to Brahannala. I got angry and flung the dice at him." Uttara became highly agitated at these words. He cried out, " Oh! Father what have you done? You have insulted a venerable old brahmin. Apologise to him for your conduct." King Virata, sensing that something was wrong begged Yudhishthira to forgive him. Yudhishthira replied, " Sire, I am not angry with you. Should even a drop of my blood fall on the ground, great harm will come to your land. I was only worried about that." By now, the bleeding from his nose had stopped. Then Uttara ushered Brahannala into his father's presence. Virata looked at her and said loudly, " Uttara, you are truly a brave son, worthy of me. Who can match your courage and skill? But tell me, how did you defeat Karna, Bhishma, Drona and Aswathama? Even the mighty Duryodhana, a peerless warrior was defeated by you! What a magnificent victory that was." But Uttara replied solemnly, " Father, you misunderstand. I had nothing to do with my victory over the Kauravas. A god came to my rescue. When I was running away from the battlefield, this god stopped me, asked me to be his charioteer, and with his skill and bravery, routed the enemies completely." 

The Virata king eager to know the identity of the god who had come to the aid of his son said, " Uttara, who was that God? Why did you not bring him with you? I would have expressed my heartfelt gratitude to him!" Uttara replied, " He disappeared soon after defeating the Kauravas. He may come here tomorrow or the day after." The king did not know that Arjuna masquerading as Brahannala was indeed that god. Then Uttara presented the colourful sashes of the Kauravas to the ladies of the boudoir who dressed their dolls with these and rejoiced in the victory of the prince. Next day, the Pandavas resumed their identities and went to the king's court dressed in their regal splendour. King Virata, entering his court was rather surprised to see them sitting on the high thrones meant only for monarchs. Annoyed he addressed Yudhishthira, " Oh! brahmin do you desire to sit on a king's throne? Have you forgotten your own status?" Then Arjuna replied, " Oh! king, this brahmin deserves to sit even on Indra's throne. His honesty is well known. When he was a sovereign, many kings bowed low before him. Even Duryodhana trembles at the mere mention of his name. And yet you prattle so, because he dared to sit on a puny throne?" Overwhelmed by these words, the king stammered, " Then, then he is Yudhishthira, Kuntidevi's eldest son? Where are his brothers, Bhima, Arjuna Nakula and Sahadev? And what has happened to Draupadi?" Arjuna replied smilingly, " Here you see them all. There is the mighty Bhima who went by the name of Vallabha in your court. He was the gandharva who killed Kichaka. Nakula was your groom in the royal stables. Sahadev tended the flocks of sheep and cattle. Draupadi served the queen as her maid under the name of Sairandhiri. As for us, we spent our period of exile in your land, happily and comfortably. We give you thanks for that." 

Then Uttara spoke, " Father, here stands before you that mighty bowman Arjuna. It was he who came to my aid and routed the Kauravas. The sound of his war horn alone sent the enemy reeling." Then the king overcome with joy said, " Truly, I am fortunate that the Pandavas chose my land for their exile. Though they were ordinary men in my service, yet their valour alone saved my land from disaster. Why, it was Bhima who saved me from Susarma. Arjuna saved my country from the Kauravas. And as for Yudhishthira, I am ashamed to recall the indignities heaped upon him. I ask pardon for all that I have said and done to the Pandavas." Then bowing before Yudhishthira, humbly he beseeched him to rule over Virata. " Sir," he said, " everything that you see here is yours, my land and my possessions, all belong to you. Pray, accept my daughter Uttaraa as a bride for Arjuna. Tell me what you think of this proposal?" Hearing these words, Yudhishthira looked questioningly at Arjuna, who turning to the king said, " Your Majesty, I can accept Uttaraa, only as my daughter-in-law. That would be proper. After all I was her preceptor. I taught her the art of dancing. Besides, I am like a father to her. Therefore, it is not proper that I should marry her." Acknowledging this, the king said, " True, what you say is true. Your son, Abhimanyu is the proper suitor for her hand. I am indeed lucky that our families will be united in marriage." So Yudhishthira announced an auspicious date for the wedding and an invitation was sent to Lord Krishna at Dwaraka. Now that their period of exile had ended, the Pandavas began to live at a place called Upablaviya, where they were soon joined by their friends and the hosts of the neighbouring kings. The kings of Kasi, Saibya, Drupada, the Upapandavas, Sikhandi and Dhrishtadyumna came. The Virata King welcomed them hospitably and accorded them all honour due to their rank. Lord Krishna arrived from Dwaraka, accompanied by Abhimanyu, Balarama, Kritavarma, Sathyaki, Akrura, and Samba. The palace of King Virata now began to resound to the noise of drums and pipes. The visting kings were treated to a magnificent royal pageant, full of dance add music. Then the day of the wedding dawned. To the accompaniment of vedic chants and joyous cries of the people, Abhimanyu wed Uttaraa. After the wedding, all who had gathered there began to discuss the future of the Pandavas. 

Said Lord Krishna, " Yudhishthira lost his kingdom in the deceitful game of Sakuni. Everyone knows how Duryodhana usurped the Kingdom of the Pandavas. Though they had the power to oppose their enemies, they chose to abide by their promise to live in exile for twelve years. Now all that is over. We cannot praise them enough for undergoing stoically all the adversities of life. Whatever we decide now must be fair to both Yudhishthira and Duryodhana. Yudhishthira will not want to receive anything unjustly. I am sure he'll be satisfied even with the tiniest village. But the Kauravas are always inimical towards them. They are jealous of the Pandavas. Well, we desire that both sides blood relations all, should live in amity, even after the Pandavas receive their kingdom back. There must be peace, else war will erupt. I don't have to tell you that if there is a war, the Pandavas will destroy the Kauravas completely. Therefore, let us send a messenger to Duryodhana to find out what he proposes to do!" Then Balarama agreed with most of what Lord Krishna had said but disputed one point. " It was wrong of Yudhishthira to gamble," he argued, " everyone knew how expert Sakuni was in rolling the dice. Knowing this, Yudhishthira gambled and lost. Therefore, we must settle this matter amicably with Duryodhana. For that purpose, we must send a proper messenger who will be able to talk sense. I do not approve of war, on principle." At these words, Sathyaki could no longer contain himself, " I expected Balarama to speak in this vein," he shouted. " But I am surprised that the rest of you should keep silent 
about this. Was it Yudhishthira who offered to gamble first? Duryodhana enticed him through a trick. A Kshattriya cannot refuse to take up such a challenge. If the dice had been rolled fairly, Yudhishthira would have won. But he lost unfairly and had to go to the forest. He kept his word and lived in exile. Duryodhana must give his lands to the Pandavas. There can be no question about that. But obviously he is trying to evade the issue. Therefore, war is the only solution. Let us destory the Kauravas and crown Yudhishthira King of Hastinapura. Why should we beg for what is rightfully ours? Any way, let us hear what Yudhishthira has to say about this." Then Drupada jumped up and said, " I agree with Sathyaki. Duryodhana is not the one to be softened by words, and King Dhritarashtra cannot make him obey his will. Further, he will be influenced by the words of Sakuni, Duhsasana and Kama. Even if our messenger be good, it is not enough. He must be able to drive home the justice of our demand. Let us gather our hosts and prepare for battle. This man here is my high Priest. He has experience of such matters. So let us send him to Dhritarashtra." Lord Krishna approving this said, " Drupada is right. This method will benefit the Pandavas. Then they can live in harmony with their cousins. Now we have come here for the wedding which has passed off happily. So let us go back to our home. In the mean-while, Drupada can instruct his high Priest on what has to be conveyed to Dhritarashtra. Let the messenger go to Hastinapura where Drona and Bhishma will know how to honour him. Then let us know what answer Duryodhana gives to the just demands of the Pandavas." Then all the kings departed. The Virata king heaped all kinds of gifts on Lord Krishna and saw him off to Dwaraka. 

After the departure of Lord Krishna to Dwaraka, Yudhishthira and King Virata began to prepare for war. The word went out to all the clansmen and liege lords of the Pandavas. Soon with standards fluttering in the air and bugle calls heralding their approach, all those kings and vassals friendly to the Pandavas began to arrive with their armies. The Kauravas, for their part began to assemble a huge army. Everywhere there was talk of war. Drupada called his high-priest and said, " Sir, you know what a good man Yudhishthira is, and how over the protests of Vidura, Duryodhana inveigled the Pandavas into rolling the dice and with the aid of the crafty Sakuni defeated them. So, go and tell Dhritarashtra that the Pandavas have completed their period of exile according to the terms imposed upon them. The kingdom now belongs to them. Duryodhana will never part with the kingdom, I know, but if you speak to Vidura, that honest man will try to persuade the Kauravas into giving up their claim. I am sending you as my good messenger. Duryodhana will treat you honourably, I know." The same day, the High Priest left for Hastinapura. In the meanwhile, Yudhishthira sent Arjuna to Dwaraka to enlist Lord Krishna's aid in the coming war. Duryodhana too, went to Dwaraka on the same mission. The two sworn enemies entered Lord Krishna's palace at the same time and were escorted into his bed chamber. Krishna was deep in slumber when the two were ushered into the chamber. Duryodhana sat down near his head and Arjuna stood near the Lord's outstretched feet respectfully. A little later, Krishna woke up and his eyes fell on Arjuna. He smiled and said, " Arjuna, I am glad to see you. But what brings you here at this hour?" Then Duryodhana spoke up from his place, " Krishna, I arrived first. You don't seem to have noticed me!" Krishna turned, smiled sweetly and replied, " Duryodhana, is it indeed you? When I woke up, the first person I saw was Arjuna. Never mind. 

After all, Arjuna is younger, so it is only proper that he should state his business first." Arjuna said, "Krishna, in the event of a war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, I want you to help us." Duryodhana promptly took up the cue and said, " Krishna, I came to you on the same mission. You are dear to both of us. Besides, you are an impartial judge of our affairs. I know you will not take sides. Therefore, I want you to help us." Krishna cupped his chin in his hands, looked at each in turn and said, " You've put me into a dilemma. I should like to help you both. So this is what I'll do. I'll lend my army to the one who wants it and I'll place my personal services at the disposal of the other. So choose. But first, let Arjuna make his decision." Duryodhana was alarmed at these words. What will Arjuna choose? It would not matter much if he chose Krishna who after all was only one individual. But if he chose the well equipped and powerful Narayana army, then all was lost. But Arjuna's words dispelled his fears. " Oh! Good!" said Arjuna. " The Pandavas want nothing better than to have you on their side. We don't need your army." Duryodhana was elated. Now he could command the vast forces of Lord Krishna. So hiding his joy he said, " I want only your armed forces." " So be it," replied Lord Krishna beaming at him. Then Krishna turned to Arjuna and said, " Arjuna, why didn't you ask for my army? Don't you want to increase the strength of your army?" Arjuna replied modestly, " Oh, Lord! No matter how 
vast the enemy forces, as long as we have you to guide and counsel us, how can we ever lose?" Then Balarama, who had been a silent witness to all this said firmly, " I shall be neutral in this war. However, Arjuna you have my best wishes for ultimate victory." Then Duryodhana happy at the thought that the redoubtable Balarama would remain neutral went in search of Kritavarma who lent him a portion of his sizable army. Arjuna returned to Upablaviya after Krishna had promised to be his charioteer in the ensuing conflict. Meantime, Salya, Nakula's uncle received the Pandava summons to join them, and accordingly with a huge army set out from his capital. When Duryodhana was informed of this, he sent out his men to entertain Salya's troops all along their route and provided them with ample hospitality on the way. Salya naturally assumed that all this was Yudhishthira's doing and so he exclaimed, " How can I ever repay such kindness such hospitality! I must help them to win the war." When he spoke thus he had in mind the Pandavas but Duryodhana who had overheard these words now came and bowed before him. " Sir, it was I who arranged to keep your troops in comfort. Therefore, you must help me." Poor Salya could hardly go back on his word and so rather reluctantly he promised to be on Duryodhana's side. 

Then he went in search of the Pandavas and explained bitterly the reasons for the switch over in his allegiance. Yudhishthira comforted him and said, " Uncle, you can't go back on your word now. But Karna will request you to be his charioteer, because no one else can drive his chariot. At that time, you must curb Karna's fierceness and protect Arjuna from his barbs." Salya agreed to do this. Then looking at the Pandavas compassionately, he said, " How you must have suffered during your exile in the forest! I tell you, though Duryodhana has a greater army, ultimate victory will be yours, because you have truth and justice on your side." Then Salya narrated the story of Dwastaprajapathi to illustrate his remark. Dwastaprajapathi was a powerful prophet who created the three-headed Titan Vishwarupa to defeat Indra. The latter alarmed at the increasing powers of this Titan sent his dancing girls to weaken his fierce concentration. But it was of no avail. Finally, Indra went to battle and hurling his bolts of thunder killed Vishwarupa. Dwastaprajapathi became angry at this reverse and created a second and more powerful Titan called Vrithra, who launched a fierce attack against the ruler of the gods. In the ensuing battle Vrithra caught hold of Indra and swallowed him, but the latter came out through the mouth and ran for dear life. Then accompanied by the gods, he went to Lord Vishnu and requested aid to destroy Vrithra. Lord Vishnu said, " Indra, it's best if you sue for peace. Bide your time. You can't defeat him now." So Indra pretended friendship and made peace with Vrithra who had also been similarly advised by several prophets. Some days later, while Vrithra was strolling along the seashore, Indra crept behind him and treacherously slew him with his bolts of thunder. But the sin of the two murders, that of Vishwarupa and Vrithra fell on Indra and he went into hiding. Thus the gods had no ruler and so they decided to nominate Nahusha as their king. They went in a body and offered the crown to him. 

Power corrupts and the new leader forgets his past. He becomes blind to the Truth. So it was with Nahusha. Having attained the highest position in the universe, he began to behave like an upstart. He cast covetous eyes on Sachidevi Indra's wife. When she became aware of his evil intentions she took refuge with Brahaspathi, the wise teacher. Nahusha angered at this began to threaten the sage. Soon there was a division in the ranks of the sages and hermits. Some spoke in favour of Nahusha. Sachidevi implores Indra to slay Nahusha some against his action. Brahaspathi firmly refused to hand over Sachidevi to Nahusha. When Nahusha's anger reached alarming proportions, the wise teacher of the gods decided to teach him a lesson. One day to Nahusha's great joy, Sachidevi arrived at his place and spoke to him. "Lord, as long as my husband lives, I cannot marry you. Let me know for sure that he is no more, then I shall consent to marriage with you. Till then you must be patient." Nahusha agreed to wait. In the meanwhile, the gods went in search of Indra and even performed the Horse Sacrifice to draw him out of his hiding. When Indra saw Nahusha occupying the seat of divine power, he ran off in fright. But his wife pursued him and said, "Lord, kill Nahusha and regain your throne." Indra replied pitifully, "I cannot win over Nahusha in my present state. He is too powerful. Only a trick will save me. Unless he incurs the wrath of the sages through some misdeed or the other and loses their protection, I cannot overcome him. Therefore, make him come to your abode in a palanquin carried by the sages. Then he will fall foul of the sages." So Sachidevi sent word to Nahusha accordingly. The upstart ordered the sages to carry him in a golden palanquin. The latter though taken aback by this insulting behaviour hastened to obey. As Nahusha was being borne along, he carried on a fierce argument with his divine carriers, and once in a fit of temper kicked at Agasthya, the venerable sage. Promptly, the diverfish hermit cast a spell on him and Nahusha turned into a lowly serpent. 

Thus he fell from his high state and lost everything. Indra regained his throne. Salya ended the tale of Nahusha and said, "Thus perish all whom power corrupts." Then bidding farewell to Yudhisthira, he went back to Duryodhana. Now, war preparations on both sides were afoot. To aid the Pandavas came Yuyudana, Dhristaketu, Jayathsen, the Pandya King, Drupada; King Virata and several more powerful rulers. Many tribal kings with their fierce warriors arrived at Upablavya to fight under the standards of the Pandavas. On Duryodhana's side came the Titan Bagadatta, son of Narakasura, Buvisravana, Salya, Kritavarma and Jayadratha. Neela, King of Mahishmati, the King of Avanthi, the King of Kekaya, and several more arrived at Hastinapura with their armies to fight against the Pandavas. Duryodhana was hard put to accommodate all his allies, but he did his best to make them comfortable. The various armies were quartered at different centres. Their flags flew at Panchanada, Gurujangal, Prohidaranya, Ahicchatra, Kalkuta, Gangakuta, Varuna, and on the banks of the Yamuna river. Drupada's high priest and emissary wondering at this awesome sight arrived at Hastinapura. He was well received by Vidura, Bhishma and Dhritarashtra. He was invited to speak before the assembly of the Kauravas. Then the emissary addressed the crowded court. " Oh! Wise men," he began, " Dhritarashtra and Pandu are kinsmen. They have equal rights to the properties of their ancestors. Now that right is being enjoyed solely by the Kauravas. The Pandavas have been deprived of their position. 

What is the reason for this? Everyone knows how Duryodhana schemed to deprive them of their lawful inheritance. The Pandavas survived all attempts on their lives. Thirteen years they spent in hard exile. Yet they have no rancour in their hearts. They desire peace and only claim what is their own. Justice is on their side. Though Duryodhana be strong in armed might, yet ultimate victory will go to the Pandavas. Therefore, let Duryodhana make peace with them. That will be good for all." Bhishma said, "Oh! Brahmin, What you say is true indeed. I believe the Pandavas are sincere in their desire for peace. As long as Bhima and Arjuna spearhead the Pandava attack, even the gods will not dare to oppose them." Karna spoke up sharply, " Oh! Brahmin, you have not said anything new. Everyone is aware of what really happened. Yudhishthira gambled with full knowledge of the consequences. He lost and went into exile. Now how can he claim the kingdom? We do not fear the might of the Pandavas. Let them give up their claim to the throne and return to the forest." Then Bhishma rebuked Karna. " Karna, words run off your mouth uselessly. Have you forgotten that Arjuna, single handed routed the Kauravas recently? We must pause and consider our actions. We should not inflame the Pandavas further. Don't be childish in your talk." Dhritarashtra too rebuked Karna for his rash words. Bhishma had spoken for all and was motivated by his desire to restore peace. 

Then he turned to the priestly emissary and said, " Sir, I shall give the Pandavas my answer through Sanjay." The Pandava emissary had to be satisfied with that. Some time later Dhritarashtra sent Sanjay over to the Pandava camp. The Kaurava emissary was hospitably received by Yudhishthira and the other Pandavas. After replying suitably to their felicitations, Sanjay addressed the assembled gathering of Pandava kinsmen. " Dhritarashtra desires nothing but peace and tranquility on earth. War means bloodshed and countless loss of lives. It is barbaric for kinsfolk to kill each other. The Pandavas are great warriors, no doubt. But Duryodhana has also gathered a mighty army. But why should we fight? We can establish peace at the conference table. Therefore work for peace. This is all I have to say." Yudhishthira replied, " Oh! Sanjay, what you say is right. We don't want a war. We also desire to settle our differences peacefully. Only a fool will resort to war when differences can be resolved amicably. We must bear in mind the plight of all those who will be affected by the outbreak of war. Can we call the man who lights a lamp in the darkness, an incendiary? How can Dhritarashtra who protects the evil Duryodhana be happy? Their fall began when they gambled deceitfully. But if the Kauravas so desire, let there be peace. We shall forgive them for what they did to us. But let them give me Indraprastha. Duryodhana can continue to be the King of Kings. I shan't mind." Sanjay bowed his head before these reasonable words. 

He said, " Good Yudhishthira, you are a just man. You are not avaricious. So give up the idea of war. Duryodhana will never part with his territory voluntarily. That is why I say you should not engage in war. You are good people. Why should you besmirch your good reputation by resorting to war." Then Yudhishthira smiled and said, " All that is very well. We shall be just. But should we give up our fundamental rights? There is virtue in facing danger, however unjust the action may be. We have Lord Krishna with us. We shall obey his injunctions in this matter. Lord Krishna got up as though on cue and told Sanjay, " Sanjay you speak of peace and tranquillity! But have you forgotten that to the Kshatriya, war is virtue? When Duryodhana usurped the Pandava throne, Dhritarashtra spoke not a word in protest. His silence was his seal of approval for an unjust action. Where was justice then? All these years Duryodhana has enjoyed the prosperity that rightfully belonged to the Pandavas. Therefore it is only proper for him to return the kingdom to the proper heirs. If he fails to comply with their request, then he alone is responsible for the consequences. According to the Kshatriya ideal, war is the solution. Go and tell Dhritarashtra that." Sanjay listened to these words uneasily and then got into his chariot. As he was leaving, Yudhishthira flung these words at him. " Oh! Sanjay. We don't want the entire kingdom. Let Duryodhana give us only a portion of his territory." Sanjay pondered over these words and then promised to convey them faithfully to Dhritarashtra. Then he left for Hastinapura. 

After his conference with the Pandavas, Sanjaya returned to Hastinapura. He sought out Dhritharashtra and said, "Yudhishthira  has promised that he will not go against what is lawful and just. But he has sufficient grounds to condemn the unjust attitude of the Kuravas. Tomorrow, in the royal court, I will convey his message to all of you." After Sanjaya's departure to his quarters, Dhritarashtra invited Vidura the Wise, to the palace, and when the latter came, acquainted him of Sanjaya's ominous words. Then Vidura said, " Oh! King, give at least a few villages to the Pandavas. Surely, they will be satisfied with that. We can prevent the war." Next, day, the royal court buzzed with rumours of Sanjaya's dire warnings. Duryodhana arrived with his Generals and Allies to hear Sanjaya's words. Sanjaya looked round the assembly of Peers and spoke thus, " On Dhritarashtra's instructions, I went to the Pandavas, and talked to them. I have now come back with their reply. Arjuna, that great archer warned that Duryodhana and his kinsmen would be punished severely for their wrong doing. He said that Yudhishthira was a patient man, but Bhima would certainly destroy the entire Kaurava army with his formidable mace. Moreover they had the support of redoubtable warriors like King Virata, the King of Panchala, the Upapandavas, Abhimanyu, Nakula and Sahadeva. In the event of a war, they would aid the Pandavas so completely, that not a bit of territory would remain to Duryodhana. Dhritarashtra's race would mingle with the dust. All this Arjuna said." Sanjaya ceased speaking to let his words sink into the minds of the Kauravas. 

Then Bhishma said, " Duryodhana, you have lost your wits in the clever speeches of Karna, Sakuni and Duhshasana. Stop this war, and your race will live." As soon as he heard this Karna, the hothead, bounded from his seat and replied, " Lord Bhishma, if anyone else other than you had uttered these words, the consequences would have been fatal. Neither have I strayed from the path of Kshattriya virtues, nor have I advised Duryodhana wrongly. If war breaks out, I shall destroy the Pandavas singlehanded. Why should we extend the olive branch to those who have always treated us as their foes?" At these words a pitying smile flickered across the old Warrior's face. Then Bhishma turned to Dhritarashtra and said, " Do not place your trust in this vain boaster. He boasts that he will destroy the Pandavas all by himself. But he has yet to prove his valour and has accomplished not even a fraction of their heroic deeds. He speaks out of rancour and jealousy. Therefore, it is not surprising to hear such words from him. Where was his valour when Arjuna routed the Kauravas so successfully in that ill fated expedition to the land of Virata? When the Gandharvas overpowered Duryodhana and made him a prisoner, Where was Karna? Sleeping? The Pandavas came to the rescue and freed Duryodhana from the Gandharvas. Karna is nothing but a loud-mouthed prater. We should not pay any heed to his words." Even Drona spoke in favour of Bhishma. " What Bhishma has said is true. We cannot quarrel with Arjuna for his hostile words. Let us make peace with the Pandavas. That will be best for all." 

Dhritarashtra was perplexed in the extreme by these persuasive words of wisdom and commonsense. But he kept his counsel. Then after a while he requested Sanjaya to convey to the court Yudhishthira's message. Accordingly Sanjaya informed the assemblage that Yudhishthira did not want war, but if it was inevitable, he was well prepared for that also. Dhritarashtra was alarmed to hear this. Though he feared neither Yudhishthira nor Arjuna, the thought of Bhima sent uncontrollable shivers down his spine. Everyone was aware of the great strength of the Pandava colossus. Even Drona and Bhishma feared him. But they would fight on the side of the Kauravas though they were not inimical towards the Pandavas. But despite all this, deep in his heart he knew that his race would be completely destroyed in the event of a war. So he composed himself and said, " True. Arjuna and Bhima may well destroy us. Therefore let us think about peace. Bhishma and Drona mean well. Let us follow their advice." His eyes red with rage, Duryodhana got up and addressed the King. " Father," he thundered, " Why should you think of defeat? If the Pandavas are all that powerful, why should they beg for a few villages? And as for Bhima, well, he is no match for me. I can finish him off with my mace. Lord Bhishma alone can defeat the entire Pandava army. Surely, Drona and Aswathama can kill Arjuna easily? As long as Karna retains the powerful weapon given to him by the divine Indra no one can defeat him. We have many great warriors to fight with us, so why should there be talk of defeat?" Then turning to Sanjaya, he asked, " How well are the Pandavas prepared? What are their plans?" Sanjaya gave him a detailed account of the strength of the Pandavas armies. When Dhritarashtra realised that the Pandavas were gathering in a formidable array, his heart quailed and turning to Duryodhana, he quavered "Duryodhana, have you heard? Your cousins. are too well prepared. Let there be no war! If you seek peace, instead of war, people will speak highly of you. Surely, you can live content with half my territory! Give the other half to the Pandavas and end all quarrel. Do not be blind to your fate." But Duryodhana brushing aside these words, boasted, " I know how to crush the Pandavas. I don't need anyone's help. Karna and Duhshasana are enough for my purpose. We three will root out the Pandavas. There can be no talk of peace between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Never. Not a blade of grass will I give to them." Karna approving these words exclaimed grandly, " Right. Duryodhana is absolutely right. We can win the war easily. I alone can defeat the Pandavas. 

Duryodhana refuses to give the Pandavas anything I need no one's aid in this." At these vain words, Bhishma remarked icily, "Karna, don't be a fool. You don't realise what you are saying. Everyone here knows about the powers of Arjuna and Lord Krishna. Your words only betray your low mentality." Bhishma's contempt stung Karna to the quick and he thought that the former had slighted him. So he flared up, and said angrily, "Very well, if both Krishna and Arjuna are that powerful, go and fight them yourself. As long as you lead the Kaurava army, I shall have no part in it. When you cease to be the General of the army, then I shall display my valour." With these words, Karna stalked out of the court furiously. Bhishma smiled contemptuously and said, " There you are, Duryodhana! Even to fight the enemies, he dictates terms to us. We have not yet drawn up our battle plans, and Karna has already backed out of the fight. How can he hope to win against the Pandava host all by himself? There are so many great Warriors in this court and yet he boasts he is the greatest. Such words can only do harm to our cause. After all, what can we expect from the man who tried to pass himself off for a brahmin before sage Parasurama?" But Duryodhana replied haughtily, " What is wrong in Karna's words? The Pandavas are no different from us. I need no one's aid in fighting against them. I can take them on single-handed." Then, Vidura, the Wise spoke up. " Duryodhana, Don't be hasty. Let me tell you the tale of the hunter who caught two birds in his net. Undaunted they flew up with his net, and the hunter ran after them. Seeing this strange spectacle of the hunter running on the ground after the two flying birds, a hermit stopped him and said, " Oh! Hunter, of what use is it for you to run on the ground if you want to catch those flying birds?" The hunter replied, " Oh! Holy Sir, as long as the two birds fly amicably, I have no hope of catching them. But should they quarrel they'll come down and I can easily capture them." So it happened. The birds came down and were caught by the hunter. Therefore, be warned. When two brothers quarrel, someone else will reap the benefit. So the Pandavas and the Kauravas should not fight. I am reminded of the story of those who ran to get the honey from a honeycomb found in a perilous valley and perished in the attempt. If for the sake of some territories you fight against the Pandavas, do you realise what will happen then? Not a single life will be spared. In that holocaust, everyone will perish." 

Duryodhana turned a deaf ear to the entreaties of Dhritarashtra. All the many Kings assembled in the court knew without a shadow of doubt that war was inevitable. The old King wanted his sons to win in the event of a war, so he called Sanjaya aside and asked, " You know the strength of the Pandavas. Describe to me their strength individually." Sanjaya told him all about the mighty preparations of the Pandavas but emphasised their genuine desire for peace. Then thinking that Dhritarashtra might be persuaded to adopt a peaceful stance, he said. " I will tell you all about their desire for peace. But first, let me call Lord Vyasa and Gandhari. Then you will be able to understand even better." Vyasa and Gandhari came in response to Sanjaya's invitation. Sanjaya continued to speak. " Oh! King! Lord Krishna and Arjuna are both divine reincarnations. Your sons cannot defeat them. This is the great secret that I now reveal to you." Rather surprised Dhritarashtra queried tremulously, " Oh! Sanjaya! how did you find this out? I did not know of this till now." Sanjaya replied, " Sire, ignorance blinds you truly. Knowledge has opened my eyes to the truth of the matter." Lord Vyasa voiced his support of Sanjaya. " Lord Krishna likes you immensely. Sanjaya too knows who Lord Krishna is, well and truly. So it is best if you listen to his words." These words impressed Dhritarashtra greatly. After all, the Pandavas were his own brother's children. Duryodhana should make peace with them. After what Sanjaya had revealed about the colossal strength and formidable array of the Pandavas, the Kauravas could never hope to win in the coming war. At about the same time, in Upablavya, Yudhishthira spoke to Lord Krishna. " Krishna, It is now that we need the help of good friends. We have no one else but you to turn to. We shall fight the Kauravas boldly because we depend upon you." Lord Krishna did not reply but smiled benignly. Yudhishthira continued. 

" You heard what Sanjaya had to say. Dhritarashtra wants to make peace with us without giving back our property. We suffered in exile because we listened to his words. He will always side with Duryodhana. We need only five villages. Even that he is not willing to give. A Kshatriya will never beg from anyone. He would rather die than accept charity. Therefore, there is no way but to fight. What do you say?" Lord Krishna said, " I view everything impartially. I desire good for both sides. I shall go and talk to the Kauravas. If I can bring them around, then peace will be established." Yudhishthira agreed with this. " That is good. But Duryodhana must see this in the proper light. All his partisans share his views. I am not sure that I like your going to their place." Lord Krishna said, " Yudhishthira, don't I know Duryodhana? And the others know who I am. They will not dare to harm me. I should not be found wanting in my peaceful efforts. Therefore, I must journey to Hastinapura." Yudhishthira replied softly, " Oh! Lord, you know better than I do about this matter. Try and get success for our efforts. I should not presume to tell you what you must convey to the Kauravas." Lord Krishna said, "Yudhishthira, you are a true and just man. It is virtue for a Kshatriya to fight. He will never beg. The Kauravas are also gathering in full strength. I wonder if they will agree to peace! It doesn't seem that they regret treating you so badly. You too should not sympathise with them. Even the elders, Drona, Dhritarashtra and Bhishma are not raising their voices in protest. let us try for peace. If that fails, then it must be war." Having said this, Lord Krishna looked around at the assembly of Pandavas to find out what they thought of his proposals. " Bhima, what do you say?" he asked. Then Bhima replied, " Krishna, It is good that you go and talk to the Kauravas. Try your best and may victory crown your efforts." Lord Krishna chuckled softly and said, " Bhima, you astonish me! Do you want peace, because you are afraid of the Kauravas?" Bhima replied spiritedly, " Krishna, I want peace because war may destroy our entire race. You know that l never run from a fight." Lord Krishna mollified him by saying. " I only wanted to find out what you thought of all this. I too want peace, because I don't want the entire race destroyed. Let me do what I can." Then he looked at Arjuna who said, " I cannot add anything more to what has already been said by brother Yudhishthira. I doubt whether the Kauravas will welcome your peace efforts. However, nothing is lost by trying. If we don't get what we want, then war is the only answer." Lord Krishna remarked, " Arjuna, as long as Sakuni and Karna advise Duryodhana, he will never see reason. He will not return your territories. He may even think that you are terrified of him, if you persist in your peace offers." Both Nakula and Sahadeva voiced the opinion that they should act according to the circumstances. But all agreed that war was inevitable. 

Sathyaki said, " Sahadeva is right. It's going to be war all right. While you are away at Hastinapura, we shall go ahead with our preparations for war." All the other warriors shook their standards and raised war cries at his words. Then Draupadi said to Lord Krishna, " If Duryodhana returns the territories of the Pandavas, it will be peace. If not, it will result in war. The Pandavas can easily kill the Kauravas in battle. Duryodhana who insulted me that day in the court is still alive. I have not yet bound up my hair. You cannot have forgotten my vow! Duhshasana who pulled me by the hair, must have his hand cut off. Then and then only will I be happy." Lord Krishna consoled her and prepared to depart for Hastinapura. Then he turned to Sathyaki and observed, " Sathyaki, make ready my spinning wheel, conch shell, mace and other weapons. We can never underestimate Duryodhana and his minions." Thus fully equipped and on his guard Lord Krishna drove towards Hastinapura. Yudhishthira came to see him off and asked to be reminded to his mother Kunti Devi, Bhishma, Drona, Dhritarashtra, Vidura and Aswathama. Lord Krishna's chariot sped towards Vrihasthala. The people of that town welcomed him warmly and vied with one another in their hospitality to him. 

 When Dhritarashtra, heard about Lord Krishna's impending arrival at Hastinapura, he called Bhishma, Drona, Vidura, Sanjaya and Duryodhana to him and said, "Lord Krishna is coming to see us. Make sure that proper hospitality is accorded to him all along the route of his journey." So the route from Hastinapura to Vrihastala was gaily decorated and coloured festoons were hung out. Cosy shelters were erected at each stop. But Lord Krishna drove straight on to Hastinapura, where he was received hospitably by Bhishma, Drona, Duryodhana and a host of dignitaries. Lord Krishna went to the royal court and was accorded a warm welcome by the Peers who stood up to mark their great regard for him. Dhritarashtra requested him to sit on the golden throne. The Lord of Dwaraka conversed with everyone and afterwards went to Vidura's palace where he met Kuntidevi. She spoke eagerly to Lord Krishna. "How my sons must have suffered in their exile in the forest! And yet fate has decreed that I should tarry here in the midst of royal splendour while my children went about like savages! How are they? Bhima? Arjuna? Nakula and Sahadeva? I know that Yudhishthira can take care of himself. Poor Draupadi! How she must have suffered! Marriage to the Pandavas has not brought any happiness to her!" Kuntidevi began to weep, and Lord Krishna consoled her somewhat. "Don't worry. No harm has come to them. Soon they'll be here and you will be able to rejoice in their company." 

Later he called on Duryodhana who was reclining on a throne resplendent with the finest jewels. Duhsasana, Karna and Sakuni, stood round him. When they saw the Lord of Dwaraka, they made their obeisances to him and invited him to sit on an ornamental chair. Lord Krishna spoke to them gently and at the end of the day took his leave. Thus he visited in turn all the Kaurava Kinsmen and finally returned to Vidura's palace. At night Lord Krishna attended the lavish banquet given in his honour by Vidura. There Vidura said, "Krishna, I am not sure much good will flow from your visit to Hastinapura. After all, what can you expect from Duryodhana? He is constantly thinking of War. How can we ever talk of Peace? Karna keeps dinning into the ears of Duryodhana that he, can rout the Pandavas hosts, all by himself. Of course, Duryodhana has gathered round him a mighty army. Probably the Kaurava army is superior in numbers to the Pandava forces. Therefore, it is not surprising that he thinks he is invincible. Many Kings have come from afar to lend their support to him. I wish that you would not go to the court to talk of peace. I do not doubt your great powers, but it makes me unhappy to see you pit your wits against such wicked men." Lord Krishna smiled benignly at these words, "True friends speak only the better truth. Although I know my words will be unwelcome, at least I must try my best to bring about peace. Why should there be needless slaughter on both sides? For fear that people will accuse me of not stopping this bloodshed, I have come here to talk peace. Moreover, I am not afraid to speak my mind out in the court. Peace efforts must be continued and ultimately all will depend on Duryodhana's attitude." Having said this Lord Krishna retired for the night. 

Next day while the divine emissary was at his bath, Duryodhana and Sakuni arrived to take him to the royal court where Dhritarashtra was awaiting him. Lord Krishna got into the chariot driven by Daruka and sped towards the court where he was royally received. Entering the court, he took his seat near Vidura, while Duryodhana and Karna were seated across from him. Everyone was eager to hear what Lord Krishna had to say. Then he addressed Dhritarashtra. "Oh! King. I have come here to establish peace between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The race of Kuru is ancient and honourable. Its members are renowned for their sagacity and wisdom. Now you are the elder Statesman of that race. All must listen to you and act accordingly. Your sons are guilty of grave misdeeds. You must be aware of that. If they continue to act as irresponsibly as they have been doing, then the entire Kaurava race must accept the blame for that. Therefore counsel them well and stop this War which if allowed to begin may ultimately Destroy this world." Lord Krishna paused and looked around the eager assembly that was listening to his words with rapt attention. "Dhritarashtra! After all who are the Pandavas? They are the children of your own brother. They are brothers to the Kauravas. If their just demands are not met terrible consequences will flow. The responsibility for that rests with this court. Therefore, think well, and decide what it is going to be War or Peace!" Lord Krishna ceased speaking and a deep silence reigned throughout the court. No one ventured to express an opinion. 

Then Parasurama got up and said, "Oh ! King, let me relate a short tale. If you can follow the moral in that story, you will benefit immensely. Long ago, there was a King called Dambothbhavan. He went around challenging all and sundry to defeat him in combat. Then some brahmins said, "Oh! King, you should not boast so, Don't you know, Pride goeth before a Fall?" But all this fell on deaf ears and the King did not stop his boasting. So they said, "Very well, Go and challenge Nara and Narayana. They are mighty warriors and have vanquished all those who dared to oppose them. Now they are deep in meditation on mount Gandhamadana. Go and fight them." So the King took his army along and challenged Nara and Narayana. The latter advised the King not to resort to War but to allow them to meditate in Peace. But the King was adamant and aggressive and at last wearying of patience, Nara took a blade of Kusa grass and chanting some spells over it, threw it at the army of the King. At once, the army was defeated and the soldiers killed. There upon Dambothbhavan fell at Nara's feet and humbly beseeched his pardon. Nara pardoned him and said, "Oh! Foolish King, Give up your vanity. Go and rule over your people wisely, Parasurama ended this tale of Dambothbhavan and said, "Oh! King, Nara was immensely powerful and Narayana was a hundred times stronger. Those two, Nara and Narayana have been reborn as Arjuna and Krishna. Therefore, accept, Peace before Arjuna notches an arrow to his bow. On the battlefield, none can vanquish Arjuna and Krishna. Therefore give up all thought of War and make peace with the Pandavas." 

Sage Kanwa followed Parusurama with more advice for Duryodhana. "Oh! Duryodhana, make peace with the Pandavas and live in amity. Two strong men must always stand together. Remember Maadali's example: Then the venerable Sage related the story of Maadali. "Maadali was the charioteer of Lord Indra. He had a lovely daughter named Gunakesi. When she became a comely maiden, the parents busied themselves in finding her a good suitor. Not finding one in the land of the Gods, nor even on Earth, Maadali atlast went to the land of the Serpents. On the way he met Sage Narada who took him to Varuna. The latter heard about Maadali's mission and sent him to the land of the Serpents. There Maadali and Narada searched far and wide and atlast selected a young man called Sumuka. Narada took Maadali to see Aryaka, the grandfather of the young man. The latter was overjoyed to hear about Maadali's mission, but did not betray his delight. He said, "Oh! Lord Narada, How can I agree to this proposal? You know that Garuda has killed my son. He has threatened that next month he will swallow my grandson, Sumuka. As for me, I am lost in grief! How can I think of anything so joyous as a wedding in my present state?" Maadali pondered over these words. Then he said, "Sir, do send your grandson with us. I shall take him to Lord Indra and make him immortal. Then Garuda will not be able to touch him. You can live in peace and happiness." Aryaka consented to this proposal and so Maadali took Sumuka to Lord Indra. Lord Indra was deep in conversation with Vishnu. When Maadali explained Sumuka's fear, Vishnu said, "Indra, do give the nectar to Sumuka and make him a God." Indra hesitated and said, "Oh! Lord, then you must give it to him." Vishnu laughed and said, "Indra, what do you fear? You are the Lord of all the worlds." Therefore, fear not and I shall take care of Garuda." But lndra did not give the nectar to Sumuka instead he granted the latter the boon of long life. Thereafter, Maadali celebrated the wedding of his daughter and Sumuka. When Garuda heard about this, he went in a rage to Indra and said, "Indra, so you are keeping me away from my prey? Don't you know how strong I am? I shall destroy you in a trice." Vishnu intervened and said, "Garuda, don't boast so. You pride yourself in being my carrier. But in truth, it is I who bear you. Well, let me see you bear the weight of my left arm." Then he placed his left arm ever so gently on Garuda's back, and the latter found to his utter dismay that however hard he might try, he could not lift the arm even an inch of the back. Then he fell at Vishnu's feet and asked for forgiveness. Sage Kanwa ended the tale and said, " Duryodhana, you will also meet the fate of Garuda. Lord Krishna has come here to protect you and your kinsfolk. Therefore, follow his advice." Duryodhana looked around, even chuckled throatily and said, "Sir, why tell me all this? Whatever will be, will be!" Then Sage Narada said, "Oh! Duryodhana, a very few in the world give good advices and what they say may not be palatable. Give up your pride and do what is just. Even Dhritarashtra advised Duryodhana to listen to reason. Lord Krishna said, "Duryodhana, what you seek to do is unjust. Do not listen to those who will fill your ears with evil advice. Make the Pandavas your friends and live in amity." 

Lord Bhishma and Drona urged Duryodhana to make peace with the Pandavas. But all this advice fell on deaf cars. Duryodhana had shut his mind to all good sense and feelings of fairness. He complained, "Oh! Lord Krishna everyone blames me. Even you, who should be impartial, blame me for something I've never done. The Pandavas gambled their kingdom away and as a result went to the forest. Why should I give back the territory they so deliberately lost? They have no right to any part of my land. I refuse to give them even an inch of ground that belongs to me." Sighing in weariness, Lord Krishna exclaimed, "Well, what do you want? War? I tell you, once more, you have harmed the Pandavas a great deal. Therefore live in peace with them, and give back their territories." Flushing in anger at these words, Duryodhana strode from the court followed by his cronies. Then Lord Krishna turned to Dhritarashtra and said, "Now your race will be destroyed." In the meanwhile, a despicable plot was hatched by Duryodhana and his cronies. They decided to arrest Lord Krishna in the court and do away with him. So Duryodhana came to the court with his soldiers and marched up to Lord Krishna's seat. Everyone in the court became alarmed at Duryodhna's intention. Even Dhritarashtra protested against such an outrage. But Lord Krishna smiled and said, "Think you I am alone? Why look at all the people who are with me?" Then Lord Krishna began to grow and grow, and his stature increased to such an extent that he spanned the Earth and the Sky. He towered above then all, resplendent in his Divine Glory. All the creatures of all the Worlds were mirrored in his person; Brahma, Ekadasarudras, the Guardians, Fire, Sun, Gods, Gandharvas. Titans, Balarama, the Pandavas, the Kauravas and every object on Earth and the Heaven was starkly revealed in his divine embodiment. The combined radiance of myriad suns flashed from his towering personality, and the courtiers closed their eyes, unable to bear the searing heat. Of those assembled, only Lord Bhishma, Vidura, Sanjaya and Drona were able to view that gorgeous spectacle without any fear. Even blind Dhritarashtra was enabled to see this radiant vision in his inner mind through the benevolence of Lord Krishna. 

The aweinspiring sight of Lord Krishna made Dhritarashtra cry out hoarsely, "Lord, after having seen Your Majesty and splendour, I have no desire to set eyes on anything else. Take back your bounty." The cosmic vision of Lord Krishna lasted an instant and then vanished. Everything became as before, and Dhritarashtra turned blind once more. Lord Krishna accompanied by Satyaki , and Vidura left the Court. Dhritarashtra, rather crestfallen at Duryodhana's conduct, spoke humbly to the departing emissary of the Pandavas. " Lord, do not think ill of me. I have nothing against the Pandavas. You heard the good advice I gave to Duryodhana!" Then Lord Krishna looked at the Peers earnestly and said, " Lords, you were witnesses to Duryodhana's conduct and speech in the Court today. Dhritarashtra could do nothing. Therefore, there is nothing more for me to do here. I bid you farewell." Then getting into the chariot driven by Dharuka, Lord Krishna went to Kuntidevi's palace. He related to her all that had happened at the Court. He said, " Duryodhana has become blind to his own fate. Kauravas will soon be destroyed. I shall consult the Pandavas and prepare for what must be. Do you have any messages for them?" Kunti spoke sorrowfully, " What advice can I give to Yudhishthira? He will never behave unjustly. Moreover, the Kshathriyas do not believe in charity. They will win what is theirs through personal valor. It is not proper that my sons should live like mendicants. Pandavas must regain their territories through force. This is all that I have to say to them." Then Lord Krishna bade farewell to all his friends, and taking Karna with him drove out of the city. As they were passing the outskirts of the city, Lord Krishna turned to Karna and said, " Karna, you are intelligent. You have the power to discern things. Though you were born to Kunti as a result of an immaculate conception, the man she married was truly your father. Therefore, you are the first born of King Pandu and deserve to rule over the territories of the Pandavas. Both on the maternal side, as well as on the paternal one which is descended from the race of the Vrishni, the Pandavas are your close kinsfolk. Come with me, you will be sovereign of all the lands. Yudhishthira will serve you as a vassal lord. Kuntidevi's heart will be gladdened. 


Karna replied, "Lord, I know you mean well. Your love for me prompts you to give me such advice. I know I am Pandu's son, but Kuntidevi abandoned me at birth and I was set afloat in a box, while yet a baby. Adhiratha, the charioteer who rescued me from my state and his wife Radha have lavished all their affection on me. I know no other parents other than those two. They called me Vasusena and married me off to a maiden from their race. Duryodhana has been my friend and has stood by me all these years. He has requested me to engage Arjuna in single combat. I cannot think of betraying his trust. I have no doubt that the Pandavas will ultimately win because you are on their side. If Yudhishthira knows the truth about my birth, he would unhesitatingly yield up his right to all the territories. But even if I had the world in my grasp I would give it to Duryodhana willingly. Therefore, I cannot abandon him." Lord Krishna smiled compassionately at the emotional outburst of Karna. " So be it then. Now war will surely begin on the day the full moon vanishes. Go and tell this to Bhishma and Drona." Then Lord Krishna left for Upablavya. Meanwhile Vidura hastened to Kuntidevi and said, " That which we did not wish for has come to pass. War between the Pandavas and the Kauravas is certain. Lord Krishna's peace mission has failed." Kuntidevi was alarmed at the thought that great men like Bhishma and Drona might perish in the ensuing battle. She sought about for ways and means to stop the conflict. Finally she decided to prevail upon Karna to drop out of the fight as without his support Duryodhana would not dare to oppose the Pandavas. 

One day she went to Karna as the latter was deep in meditation on the banks of the river Gangs. Karna looked up and saw her standing forlornly before him. Hastily he got up and bowed reverently. Then he said, " Mother, I am glad to see you. But tell me what you desire?" Kunti replied, " Karna, know that you are my first born. You side with Duryodhana without knowing that the Pandavas are your own brothers. Kauravas usurped the territories of the Pandavas. Get back the territories from them and you can rule over land and sea. You and Arjuna can live in brotherly amity as Krishna and Balarama do. This will solve all knotty problems." Karna pondered over her words long and silently. Then he spoke heavily, " Mother, it cannot be as you say. You abandoned me to the river as soon I was born. Though I was born a Kshathriya, fate willed that I should be known to the world as the son of a lowly-born charioteer. Moreover, you did not bother about me all these years. Now you want me to go over to the Pandavas. If on the eve of the battle, I do what you desire the world will mock me and call me an ingrate. The Kauravas have always regarded me as one of their own. Duryodhana has thrown the gauntlet down before the Pandavas because I stand beside him. I cannot betray that trust. If need be, I'll give up my life in their cause."O Mother, I understand your concern. Therefore, I promise not to harm the other Pandavas barring Arjuna whom I have sworn to kill." Hot tears rolled down Kuntidevi's cheeks. She spoke brokenly, "Karna, fate is very unkind. Kauravas will surely be destroyed. But I must be satisfied with your promise that you will spare four of the five Pandavas. God bless you." Brooding over her words, Karna watched her go back to the palace with faltering steps. In Upablavya, Lord Krishna related his experiences at Hastinapura to the furious Pandavas. It was decided to form the legions for the ensuing battle. The Pandavas had seven legions, and each one was commanded by a redoubtable warrior. Virata, Drupada, Dhrishtadyumna, Sikandi, Satyaki and Chekidana commanded the seven legions. But someone had to be appointed Chief of Staff to coordinate the battle plans. Lord Krishna was asked to nominate a suitable person for the job. So he said, " Let us choose Dhrishtadyumna. He alone can oppose Lord Bhishma successfully." Pandavas and their allies welcomed this proposal. Now it only remained for the Pandava army to engage the enemy. With the piercing sounds of conch shells and war horns preceding them, the cavalries and the elephant legions made their way to the front. They were followed by Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva. Surrounded by his faithful guards and flanked by Dhrishtadyumna, Abhimanyu, and the Upapandavas, Yudhishthira drove through the army in his war chariot. The supply train brought up the rear, and included the medical corps and the other civilian ranks. Draupadi and her maids remained at Upablavya. Before the army moved out, Pandavas performed thanksgiving ceremonies and gave away cattle and wealth to the poor to mark the auspicious start. Forty thousand chariots, two lakh horses, sixty thousand elephants, and five lakh soldiers comprised the Grand Army which rolled across the plains like a mighty sea surging for-ward with unsuppressed fury and vigour towards its Armageddon at Kurukshetra. The hollow notes of the conch shells and the resounding war cries of the fierce soldiers mingled with the morning air as dawn broke over Kurukshetra. 

The Pandava armies pitched their war tents at Kurukshetra. The various kings could be identified by the pennants that flew from their tent poles. Lord Krishna and Arjuna were very familiar with the battle ground. Dhrishtadyumna, Sathyaki and Yuyudhana had chosen their part of the ground well where they quartered the troops. The Pandavas had camped on the banks of the Iranvathi river and round their tents, a circular moat had been dug up. Physicians and artisans were busy with their chores, and Yudhishthira went around the campsite to make sure that everything was ready for the coming battle. Meanwhile in Hastinapura, Duryodhana called his cronies, Karna and Sakuni and said, " Krishna is deliberately foisting a war on us. He is on the side of the Pandavas. We must be on our guard, and build up our fighting strength. We must send our troops to the Kurukshetra field. We must have excellent logistic arrangements. We must guard against enemy forays attempting to cut off our supply lines. Go and prepare for all these. We must move to the forward positions without further delay." The Kaurava armies with standards flying and bugles blowing reached Kurukshetra and quartered themselves. Yudhishthira saw the vast hordes arrayed against him, and for a moment doubt assailed him. He went to Lord Krishna and said, " Lord, is it just to kill ones own kith and kin?" Lord Krishna replied sharply, " Yudhishthira, don't forget that you have lost your kingdom. I and my peace efforts have failed totally. Under the circumstances war is the only way to regain your lost territories. Therefore, this is a just war." Satisfied at last, Yudhishthira alerted his armies and a great expectation rippled through the ranks, as they awaited the signal to launch their attack. Then Yudhishthira turned to Bhima and Arjuna and said, 
" We agreed to be exiled for thirteen years because we did not want to be the cause of the destruction of our great race. We endured severe adversity in the forest in the hope that one day we will be able to regain what is ours through peaceful means. But now all that is going to be changed. At the blast of the bugle, our friends and relations will engage each other in mortal combat and perish. Do we need such a victory?" But the brothers replied, " Brother, Lord Krishna and Vidura, and our own mother have blessed our enterprise. Therefore, this war must take place." Duryodhana marshalled his eleven Akshauhinis (one Akshauhini consisted of two hundred thousand horsemen, foot soldiers, elephants, and chariots). Kripa, Drona, Salya, Saindhava, Sudakshana, Krithavarma, Aswathama, Karna, Boorisrawa, Sakuni and Bhalika, were appointed generals for each Akshauhini. Then Duryodhana went to Lord Bhishma and with folded hands beseeched him to assume over all command of the army. 

" You must assume the supreme command of the Kaurava armies. There is none more capable than you are. Under your generalship, our armies are bound to score resounding victories over the Pandavas. You are the only elder in our camp whose authority none dare challenge. I know that you are greatly interested in our welfare, and therefore, I request you to lead the Kaurava armies in the battle." Lord Bhishma agreed to Duryodhana's request but imposed two conditions. One, he would not kill any of the Pandavas, and two, he could never fight side by side with Karna, the low-born. As the venerable warrior had never liked Karna for his boastful ways, he declared stoutly that he would not fight alongside the latter. When Karna heard about this, he flushed in anger and declared hotly that he would not step on the battlefield as long as the old gentleman was on his feet. Though dismayed by this division in his ranks, Duryodhana went ahead with his plan and Lord Bhishma was ceremoniously appointed supreme commander of the Kaurava forces. When Lord Balarama heard that the battle was about to be joined, he went to the Pandava camp with a retinue of Yadhava guards. Lord Krishna and Yudhishthira welcomed him hospitably and waited to hear what he had to say. Lord Balarama said, " A great battle is going to be fought. Countless number of persons will perish in this conflict. But I wish you all success and may victory crown your efforts. I shall similarly bless the Kauravas. I view, both, Kauravas and Pandavas impartially. I have often told Krishna my views. But he has a great fondness for Arjuna. 

I know that as long as my brother, Arjuna and Bhima remain allies no one can win over them. But a great sorrow overwhelms me to think that the entire Kaurava race will be wiped out in this holocaust. Therefore, I shall go on a pilgrimage while you, fight out your dirty war." And so Lord Balarama departed with a heavy heart to the holy places. Then Rukmi, brother of Rukmini arrived with his legions and went straight to Arjuna. " Oh! Arjuna," he boasted. " Tell me if you need my help. I'll fall on the enemies and scatter them like chaff. I am the greatest warrior in the world. I shall rout all the Kripas and Dronas of the world." At this vain boasting, Arjuna smiled indulgently and said, "Oh Great Warrior! I am not afraid of anything. I was able to rescue Duryodhana from the Gandharvas singlehanded. Alone, I burnt the Gandhava forest. I recovered the Virata King's livestock from the clutches of the Kauravas. However, if you so wish, do sit with us and watch the progress of the war." Angered by these sarcastic words, Rukmi left the Pandava camp in a huff and went to the Kauravas. There again he boasted of his prowess as a valiant fighter, but Duryodhana turned him away politely. Rebuffed by both sides, Rukmi left for his own kingdom without entering the Kurukshetra battlefield. Thus in all the world, only Lord Balarama and Rukmi remained neutral in the great conflict. Then Duryodhana sent Uluka, son of Sakuni, as his messenger to the Pandava camp. Uluka met Yudhishthira and conveyed Duryodhana's message. " Yudhishthira, you are a sly hypocrite. You try to deceive the world with your stance of justice and righteousness. For this you take refuge in the holy scriptures and the Vedas. At least try to wage a just war. And as for Krishna, he tried to dazzle us in the court with his cheap conjurer's tricks. We shall not be taken in by his tricks on the battlefield. Let him try for victory and regain the lost territories for the Pandavas. As for Bhima, he is only a glutton and is devoid of any fighting skill. His rightful place is in the kitchen." But the Pandavas did not deign to reply to Duryodhana's insults and sent Uluka away. Then the Pandava armies ranged themselves in the formations arranged by Dhrishtadyumna, their supreme commander. It was decided that Arjuna would take on Karna, Bhima would oppose Duryodhana, Dhrishtaketu would engage Kripa, Uttamouja would fight Astvathama, Yuyudhana would go against Saindhava, Sikhandi would obstruct Bhishma, Sahadeva would challenge Sakuni, Abhimanyu would draw out Vrikshasena, and Dhrishtadyumna would wage war against Drona. The Pandava armies wheeling about in several formations advanced into the center of the field. Likewise, the Kauravas advanced and at last the two armies faced each other in the greatest battle to be fought since the world began. Lord Bhishma drew Duryodhana aside, and briefly compared the strength of the two armies. 

Lord Bhishma spoke to Duryodhana about the great warriors on both sides. Then Duryodhana said, "Sir, you refuse to fight against Sikhandi. He is not a powerful fighter. Therefore you must have good reason for not going against him." Bhishma replied, "Duryodhana, there is a reason for my reluctance to face Sikhandi. After the death of my father Santhanu, I ascended the throne and made Vichitravirya, the Crown Prince. Some years later Chitrangada died, and I stepped down in favour of Vichitravirya who became King. I acted as his Regent." Bhishma paused, and Duryodhana waited expectantly. The Patriarch continued, as his mind filled with memories of the long dead past. "Then came Vichitravirya's wedding. At that time, the King of Kasi decided to hold the Swayamvara of his three daughters, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. As I had been invited, I went off to Kasi. All the assembled kings were surprised to see me there. I reassured them that I had not come to choose a bride for myself, but that I had come on behalf of Vichitravirya. Then I took the three princesses and challenged all the kings to fight me, if they wanted to rescue them. So a bitter battle ensued. and I emerged victorious. Then I returned home and told my stepmother Satyavathi, of what I had done. But Amba, the eldest princess requested that she be allowed to marry King Salwa, as she was in love with him, and he with her. So in accordance with her wishes I sent her to King Salwa who refused to marry her because she had been abducted by Bhishma. Amba became furious at this rejection but she blamed me for her misfortune. "She roamed the forests seething with rage and plotting revenge. She met a hermit named Saikavathya, who took pity on her state. "In consultation with some other hermits, they came to a decision. In accordance with that the hermits took her to Parasurama, the son of Sage Jamadagni to request him to accomplish Amba's desire, that is, force me to accept her as my bride, failing which a battle would ensue between the two of us ending in my death. "Parasurama agreed to try the impossible and sent word to me. I hastened to the banks of the river Saraswathi to meet him. When he saw me, he said. "Bhishma, you have vowed never to marry. Why then you abduct this maiden? Having

committed one offence, you have added to it by abandoning her to the forest. Now she has nowhere to go. Therefore, you must marry her. "I explained as best I could the reasons for my actions. After all, she had requested me to release her. I could not be blamed if King Salwa did not want her. "But Parasurama paid scant attention to my words and challenged me to fight him "A great battle was fought by us for twenty-four days on the field of Kurukshetra and at last Parasurama admitted his defeat at my hands. Then he advised Amba to seek my protection and went back to his hermitage on Mount Mahendra. "Writhing in humiliation, and burning with rage, Amba sat on the banks of Yamuna and prayed to Lord Siva for twelve long years. Many were the attempts made to disturb her meditation, but nothing succeeded, and at last Lord Siva appeared before her. She demanded the power of revenge over me, and the Almighty prophesied that she would be reborn as a woman who would later become a man and be the instrument of my death. Then Amba jumped into the sacrificial fire and ended her life. This Sikhandi is the man who was once a woman, sworn to kill me. And that was not all. "King Dhrupada who had tasted defeat at my hands, also prayed to Lord Siva for revenge upon me. The Almighty decreed that a child would be born to him to accomplish his desire. The child would be born a female but would be transformed into a male. "A daughter was born to Dhrupada and he was sorely disappointed because he had wanted a son who would be a great warrior. 

So he brought his daughter up as a male an told everyone that a son had been born to him. The child was named Sikhandi and in course of lime learnt all the martial arts. "One day Dhrupada's wife said. "The Almighty declared that our child would be transformed. But so far nothing has happened. So let us arrange for his wedding." Accordingly Sikhandi was married to the daughter of King Daasarua. The new bride's name was also Sikhandi. "But the latter detected the truth about her husband and sent word to her father, who highly incensed at this deception, gathered his forces and invaded the land of King Dhrupada. The king and queen were alarmed at this development and did not know what to do. "At this Sikhandi ran to the forest and sought refuge with a sprite named Sthanukarna. The latter taking pity on the hapless Sikhandi said, "Don't worry. I'll assume your form for some time, and you can be a man once more. Go back to your father, and he'll rejoice to see your transformation. Then all danger will be averted. Once peace is established, you can come back here and we'll trade our identities. "King Dhrupada was happy to see his daughter transformed into a man and sent word to King Daasarua who sent some emissaries to test for themselves the truth of the former's assertion. When he was told that Sikhandi was indeed a man and not a woman, he went back to his kingdom after rebuking his daughter severely for misleading him. Meanwhile, Kubera, Lord of all the sprites came to see Sthanukarna and was deeply annoyed because the latter would not see him. So he caused the hapless sprite dragged into his presence demanded to know the reason for the transformation. Sthanukarna revealed his pact with Sikhandi and pleaded for mercy. But Lord Kubera cursed him to remain a woman all his lift. "Then when Sikhandi returned, Sthanukarna told him of his personal misfortune, but agreed that the former could always retain his male form." Bhishma ended this long and rambling chronicle of Sikhandi and said with a heavy sigh, "Duryodhana, I cannot kill this Sikhandi. Though the prince has now retained his male form, yet I cannot kill him, for he was once a woman. I can no more fight against those who disguise themselves as women than kill those who have been transformed into men, after having been women." Duryodhana realized with a sinking feeling that the invincible patriarch would not tight against that 'one man' in the battlefield. 

On the eve of the great battle, Duryodhana called all his renowned warriors to his tent and addressed them. "How long will it take you to destroy the Pandava armies?" he queried. Lord Bhishma replied that it would take him thirty days to accomplish the task. Drona answered that he too would take thirty days in which to rout the Pandavas. Kripa was more cautious. He gave two months as his estimate. Aswathama announced he would bring about the destruction of the Pandavas in ten days only. Karna boasted that he would demolish the Pandava's might in just five days. All this gladdened Duryodhana's heart. He was sure that with such redoubtable warriors on his side, ultimate victory would be his. He smiled triumphantly at Karna. Correctly interpreting that look, Lord Bhishma said, "Karna can only boast of what he can do. He can never translate the into action." In the meanwhile spies brought news of all this to Yudhishthira. He told Arjuna, "How long will it take you to destroy the Kaurava armies?" Arjuna replied, "How can we fix a period for this battle? If our warriors set their minds to it, we can destroy our enemies in a trice. I possess the divine Pasupatha weapon. Neither Bhishma and Drona, nor Kripa and Karna have the like of it. But it will not be right to use it on ordinary people. Many of our great warriors possess such powerful weapons in their arsenal. Above all the determination to fight and win is intense in them. This steadfastness of the mind is the equal of a myriad weapons. We need nothing else." The next morning, the Kaurava armies began to creep towards the Pandava positions. The battlefield of Kurukshetra resembled a huge city with its lofty tents and vast sea of soldiers. It seemed as though all the cities and towns had been emptied of its menfolk. Only the women and children remained behind. As the battle was about to be joined, Sage Vyasa called on King Dhritarashtra. Prophetically he declared, "Oh! King the time has come for your sons and the other kings to depart this mortal world. Don't grieve over their fate. Do you wish to see the battle? I'll give you an inner vision which will enable you to see the activities of the combatants on the field of battle." Sorrowfully, Dhritarashtra exclaimed, "Sir, do I need my vision to see the destruction and death visited upon my kith and kin? I'd rather remain blind as I am now. Man should only see the good things of life. He should not look upon the evil and foul deeds. Therefore, I have no desire to witness this terrible war. It should be enough if someone were found to relay to me news of the battle." 

Vyasa said, "Sanjaya will have the power to see and comment upon the war." Sanjaya stayed near the blind King and began to describe the war. Yudhishthira looked at his hordes and said, " Men, the pearly gates of a glorious paradise are open. Fight valiantly so that after death you may win glory in the Heavens." With the sole exception of Karna, the kings and their hordes readied themselves for the titanic struggle. The two armies wheeled about in their initial formations. Bhima stood at the head of his army. Sikhandi was stationed in the centre. Sathyaki led the left flank. Dhrishtadyumna rode round the formations to inspect their readiness for the ensuing combat. On Arjuna's instructions, Lord Krishna drove his chariot into the middle of the armies facing each other. Arjuna looked around and saw all his relatives, and near and dear ones arrayed in front of him. The longer he looked the heavier became his heart at the thought that soon he would have to slaughter them all. A vast doubt assailed him. Was it right to kill all those who were of his flesh and blood? As he wavered, his mighty bow began to slip from his fingers. He spoke anguished to Lord Krishna. "Must I kill all my relations and then regain our territories? It seems that our entire race will be completely destroyed." Then Lord Krishna consoled him with the words that have since been enshrined in the immortal classic-The Bhagwad Gita! He said, " Arjuna, do your duty. Don't think of the fruits thereof. The soul can never die. When it shuffles off its mortal home, it seeks another habitation.

 It is the duty of the Kshatriya to fight. Is it proper for a warrior to run from a fight? Death ten times first. The wise look at things impartially. Happiness and sorrow are the same to them. They do not lose heart at anything. They bring to their work all the keenness and enthusiasm they are capable of. Therefore, you too should concentrate on the work at hand without losing heart. Go and fight with a will." Arjuna picked up courage from the mighty wisdom of Lord Krishna. At the same time, in another part of the field Yudhishthira took off his armor, and to the intense surprise of his brothers walked towards Lord Bhishma with folded hands. Only Lord Krishna smiled understandingly and said, "Yudhishthira goes to seek the blessings of Lord Bhishma, and Drona before commencing the fight." The Kauravas chortled with delight when they saw Yudhishthira advancing meekly towards them. They thought he was coming in to announce his surrender to them. High ran their hopes of victory. Now there would be no need to fight. Yudhishthira, all unheeding walked across to where his Great grandfather stood and said, "Grandfather, you must permit us to fight against your invincible might. Bless us." Lord Bhishma said gently, "Yudhishthira, I am glad that you seek my blessings in this fashion. Victory will be yours. I have partaken of the salt of the Kauravas. Therefore, I must fight for them. Ask of me what you will, and I shall grant it to you freely." "How can we defeat you in battle?" asked Yudhishthira naively. Lord Bhishma chuckled to hear this and said, "That I don't know. No one has beaten me yet in battle. Death on the battlefield is not for me." Yudhishthira had to be satisfied with this enigmatic ans-wer. Then he went over to Drona, and sought his blessings. Drona blessed him and said, "I am pleased with your conduct, Yudhishthira. Fight well, and may victory crown your efforts." Again Yudhishthira asked pointedly "How can we defeat you in battle?" Drona replied promptly, "You can kill me only when I become weaponless. That can happen only when I become standstill on account of the news of some great personal misfortune." Yudhishthira thought over this, and then went to Lord Kripa and Salya to be blessed by them. He requested his uncle Salya to help them in defeating Karna. Then he returned to his side. In the meanwhile, Lord Krishna went to Karna and said, "Karna, you have sworn never to step on the battlefield for as long as Bhishma is alive. Why don't you switch sides and fight with the Pandvas against him. You can kill Lord Bhishma, then change sides again, and lead the Kaurava armies against the Pandavas." Karna laughed at the queer logic behind Lord Krishna's words. But he replied seriously, "I cannot betray Duryodhana. I am willing to give up my life for his sake. I can never be a party to his downfall." Yudhishthira looked at the vast array of the Kaurava forces and proclaimed loudly, "If there is any amongst you who would like to fight with us, you are welcome." At once, Yuyuthsu, one of the sons of Duryodhana left the Kaurava ranks and joined the Pandavas. He was the only Kaurava who admired and respected Yudhishthira. He said, "Lord Yudhishthira, take me in your side, and I'll fight against the Kauravas." Yudhishthira welcomed him gladly. Then he put on his armour and climbed into his chariot. The war horns began to blow, and to the clanking sound of armour, and the neighing of the steeds, battle was joined.

Bhima began the war on the Kurukshetra field. Roaring like a fierce lion he pounced upon the Kaurava armies and began to scatter them like chaff. To meet his onslaught came Duryodhana, Duhshasana and Dunmukha. From the Pandava ranks came the Upapandavas, Abhimanyu, Nakula, Sahadeva and Dhristadyumna to aid Bhima. Lord Bhishma and Arjuna were locked in a fierce battle. Similarly, Sathyaki engaged Kritavarma, Abhimanyu fought Brihatpala, Bhima faced Duryodhana, Sahadeva chased Dunmukha, Yudhisthira opposed Salya, Dhristadyumna traded blows with Drona, Ghatothkacha wrestled Alamba, Sikhandi took on Aswathama, Virata struck Bagadatta, and Drupada shot arrows at Saindara. The Kauravas and the Pandavas fought fiercely. Under the inspiring command of Lord Bhishma, the Kaurava armies fought well and inflicted severe damage on the Pandava legions. When the sun rose in the middle of the sky, Lord Bhishma drove his chariot through the center of the Pandava ranks. He was followed by Dunmukha, Kritavarma, Kripa, Salya and Vivimsathi. Abhimanyu raced up to challenge the old patriarch, and with his carefully aimed barbs cut the latter's pennant, and killed a number of warriors. Seeing his lone battle, Bhima, Virata, the two Virata princes, Sathyaki and Dhristadyumna, rushed forward to lend him their armed support. Uttara rode into the battle on elephant back and attacked Salya. But the latter fought so well that the young Prince fell headlong from his perch, and was in danger of being captured. At once his brother Swetha dashed forward and routed the Kaurava warriors who were trying to arrest Uttara. Lord Bhishma came to the aid of Salya and showered his arrows on Swetha. The other Pandava soldiers swooped down upon the combatants and ranged themselves alongside Swetha. Lord Bhishma retreating a little turned his  chariot round and charged at the exposed flank of Swetha. 

But the young Prince did not break ground and slaughtered a number of Kaurava soldiers. Even Lord Bhishma gave way before this furious onslaught. But when it seemed as though the old warrior would have to surrender or be killed he rallied round and with a fresh burst of fire, destroyed Swetha's chariot. Undaunted Swetha jumped clear of the debris and twirling his mace high above his head hurled it at. Lord Bhishma's chariot and completely demolished it. At once Lord Bhishma commandeered another chariot and rushed on the young Prince who stood alone on the battlefield. Bhishma, Sathyaki and Abhimanyu fighting in another corner of the field saw the plight of the young Prince and advanced rapidly. But Lord Bhishma with a well aimed arrow ended the gallant Prince's life. At once a great cry of joy rose in the Kaurava ranks and the Pandava legions became downcast at this tragedy. Swetha's brother Sanka bursting with thoughts of revenge fell upon Kritavarma and Salya. Arjuna came to his aid and promptly Lord Bhishma turned his attention on the famed bowman. Salya destroyed Sanka's chariot, and the latter transferred to Arjuna's chariot. Lord Bhishma now attacked Drupada and the Pandava ranks shivered at the gory deeds of the great and redoubtable warrior. At the first setting of the sun the two sides halted the battle, and retired to their camps. There was great jubilation in the Kaurava camps and Duryodhana bubbled with joy at Lord Bhishma's valour and magnificent fighting. In the Pandava camp, gloom descended on all. Yudhisthira spoke his thoughts to Lord Krishna, " Krishna, today's battle has benumbed me. At this rate Lord Bhishma will kill off all the Pandava warriors. When we know the inevitable why should we fight on? Why not stop the battle and prevent further bloodshed?" Lord Krishna consoled Yudhisthira. " Yudhisthira, you must not lose heart. All your brothers are valiant men. Moreover you are surrounded by such great fighters as Sathyaki, Virata, Drupada, and Dhristadyumna. There is no cause for anxiety. Lord Bhishma will be slain by Sikhandi. Don't forget that!" Dhristadyumna interposed and said, " Lord Yudhisthira, I have sworn to kill Drona. I shall fight relentlessly against Kripa and Salya." Then Yudhisthira taking heart at such words and casting off his gloom said; " Let the Pandava legions be formed in the shape of a Krauncha bird. Our enemies will not be able to penetrate our ranks. It was Brihaspati, the High Priest of the Gods who suggested this formidable formation to Indra." As the pearly dawn broke over Kurukshetra, the rival armies began to stir and make preparations for the battle. Duryodhana saw to his utter dismay the dreaded Krauncha formation of the Pandava armies. Drupada stood at the beak with Bhima and Dhrista-dyumna guarding the wings. Yudhisthira brought up the rear. When Lord Bhishma was informed of the new war tactics, he reset his own formations and advanced to the attack. Then he set about demolishing the carefully formed Pandava legions. Arjuna determined to fight the old patriarch. He drove his chariot forward and soon his arrows began to take a toll of Kaurava lives. So great was his prowess that even warriors like Salya, Aswathama and Kripa, fell back and turned their chariots round. Intending to surround him, they called upon Duryodhana to help them. Promptly he despatched a whole division to fight against Arjuna. But Arjuna proved more than a match and his arrows caused a severe dent in the Kaurava formations. At once Duryodhana went to Lord Bhishma and said, " Grandfather, Arjuna is killing a whole lot of Kaurava warriors. If Karna had been here, he would have blunted Arjuna's attack. However, you must now put an end to Arjuna's life."

Lord Bhishma replied, " To fight is my duty. There is no room for sentiment." Then he got into his chariot and speeded towards Arjuna. Soon a battle royal raged between the two foes. The chariots of both were damaged, and the horses were killed. Even the charioteers were not spared. Arjuna was pained to see Lord Krishna bleeding from wound sustained in the engagement. Furiously he shot his bolts at Lord Bhishma, and killed the latter's charioteer. Though the battle raged long and fierce victory came to neither. In another part of the field, Dhristadyumna and Drona fought a long drawn out battle. But soon Dhristadyumna weakened and but for the presence of Bhima would have lost his life. Duryodhana sent Kalinga to attack Bhima. Soon the Pandava colossus and the Kauravas were locked in a titanic struggle. But the issue was never very long in doubt. With great ease Bhima despatched Kalinga and his three sons to Hades and inflicted extensive damage on the enemy troops. Lord Bhishma hearing about the death of Kalinga swooped on Bhima but was opposed by Sathyaki and Dhristadyumna. Bhima lost his chariot and got into Dhristadyuman's vehicle. Sathyaki killed Lord Bhishma's charioteer, and the horses galloped off in wild confusion taking the old warrior to another part of the field. Sathyaki came to Bhima and said, " Bhima, well done. You fought very well. You killed Kalinga and his sons single-handed. Great work indeed." Bhima stroked his moustache in a pleased fashion at such compliments.

It was the afternoon of the second day. Aswathama,Kripa and Salya fought fiercely against Dhristadyumna and Abhimanyu. Duryodhana's son Lakshana attacked Abhimanyu. But he wilted under the pressure exerted by the former. Suddenly a number of Kaurava warriors surrounded Arjuna's son. When Arjuna raced to his aid, Bhishma and Drona opposed him. But the Pandava bowman rained his steel-tipped arrows on them and forced them to retreat. The carnage became terrible to behold. Lord Bhishma told Drona, " At this rate we cannot hope to win over Arjuna. He will kill all the Kauravas. Our soldiers dare not face him. As the sun has gone down, let us stop the battle and retire." The trumpets sounded and the combatants retired to their tents. On the third day, the Kaurava armies were formed in the shape of Garuda, the celestial bird, and the Pandavas arranged their troops like a half moon. Duryodhana selected Ghatothkacha as his target, and the Pandavas launched a blistering attack on Bhishma and Drona. Abhimanyu engaged Sathyaki and Shakuni in a one-sided combat. Ghatothkacha and Bhima ranging over the battlefield like fierce primordial monsters slew their enemies by the hundreds. As the Kauravas watched in dismay, Duryodhana went to Bhishma and said, " Grandfather, how can this be? Even with you in the thick of the battle, our soldiers are retreating headlong! If your affection for the Pandavas is so great you could have told me that you wouldn't go against Sathyaki and Dhristadyumna. Obviously you don't want to exert yourself." These words stung the old Patriarch to the quick and in greater anger, he roared, "Duryodhana, don't talk like a fool. Often I've told you that even God Indra cannot defeat the Pandavas. I know I am old, and I fight well within my abilities. Watch what I do now." Then he launched a series of lightning raids on the Pandava flanks. So great was his wrath, and so powerful his thrust, that many Pandava warriors had their lives snuffed out like candles. The Pandavas ran in wild disarray. Then Lord Krishna turned to Arjuna and said, " Arjuna, now is the time for you to display your great skill. Go to the aid of Our demoralized troops." 

Obediently Arjuna turned his chariot round and drove at Lord Bhishma. The mighty Gandiva twanged, and Bhishma's bow struck by an arrow broke into two. Undaunted the old warrior took up another bow and continued the battle. All the Kaurava warriors rushed forward in a body and encircled Arjuna. Sathyaki came to Arjuna's help but the going was well high impossible. Angered at the sight of so many thirsting to kill Arjuna, Lord Krishna exclaimed, " Sathyaki, look at those cowards. I must do something I shall unhand my celestial wheel and kill Bhishma and Drona." Then he jumped down from the chariot and holding aloft his wheel began to twirl it on his forefinger. When Bhishma saw this dreaded sight he smiled and said, "Oh Lord! To die at your hands will indeed be a great blessing." Krishna said sharply, "You are the one responsible for this great war. If you had stopped the infamous gamble on that fateful day, all this would not have happened. Not only did you condone Duryodhana's deciet, but today you stand by his side." Bhishma retorted, " I shall always do my duty by the ruling king." Krishna exclaimed, " Did not the Yadavas leave Kamsa, when he became a tyrant? The wicked seek their own destruction." Arjuna, who had also got down from his chariot hastened to Krishna's side and implored, " Lord, you have promised to be impartial in this war. Don't break your pledge. I will destroy the Kauravas. I stake my life on this." Appeased by these words, Krishna went back to his drivers seat, and the battle was resumed. Soon Arjuna began to take a dreadful toll of Kaurava lives. He killed their war elephants and steeds by the thousands. The Kurukshetra field ran red with the blood of the slaughtered Kaurava troops, and the anguished cries of the wounded and the dying filled the air. The Pandavas blew their conches in great jubilation. Then Arjuna loosed the blessed Indra shaft, and the Kaurava forces ran in disorderly retreat. Thus the day ended in a great victory for the Pandavas. On the fourth day, Arjuna and Bhishma were again locked in a titanic struggle. Drona, Kripa, Salya, Vivimsathi and Duryodhana rallying round their commander attacked Arjuna. Abhimanyu ran to his father's aid, and was engaged by Salya. Bhima racing up from another part of the field swung his mighty mace and charged the enemies. Duryodhana pressed his elephant corps into the attack. Bhima saw the menacing phalanx of the tuskers, and dodging their searching trunks battered them with his mace. The elephants in front unable to face this torment wheeled about in panic and charged into their own ranks. Great confusion arose and the Kauravas ran pell mell to escape the pounding feet of the animals. The elephant corps was commanded by the king of Magadha. Seated on his royal elephant, he tried to urge his animals into the attack. But Abhimanyu shot an arrow and killed the animal instantly. Bhima for his part killed Kasena, Jalasandha, Virabhaga, Bhimaratha, Kalochana and a host of others. 

Bhishma seeing the total rout of his armies ordered Bagadatta to attack Bhima. Bagadatta, the son of Narakasura was a famous fighter and he fell on the Pandavas like a thunderbolt. Abhimanyu with well directed arrows wounded his war elephant, but Bagadatta struck Bhima down in the dust. Ghatothkacha, angered at this reverse charged with his elephant, and in the battle that ensued, Bagadatta was clearly on the point of defeat. The Kauravas swept forward to succour the beleagured Bagadatta. Ghatothkacha, outnumbered, resorted to his usual magic tricks and vanished into the air. Bhishma halted the fighting and explained to Drona. " As long as Ghatothkacha weaves his magic spells, we cannot fight him. It is sundown, and we should retire prudently." The Kauravas ran to escape Ghatothkacha, and the Pandavas whose enthusiasm knew no bounds raised glad cries in support of Bhima and his son. Duryodhana sat in his tent mourning the loss of his kin. All this was transmitted by Sanjaya to Dhritharashtra. Then the blind King ranted and raved. " Sanjaya, my heart trembles at the mention of the Pandavas. What will happen now? Will all the Kauravas be destroyed as Vidura prophesied? Is there no way by which the Kauravas can win over the Pandavas? Surely, the Pandavas must have received some boon from the Gods which makes them unbeatable. My sons will be defeated. Oh! What have I done to deserve such harsh punishment?" 

Sanjaya replied, "Oh King! The Pandavas are no magicians. They rely upon their own superior strength. Virtue protects them. But your sons are steeped in evil. They have turned a deaf ear to all good advice. So they'll perish. Even you scorned all warnings. Lord Bhishma, Drona and myself did our best to dissuade you from this dangerous course. Duryodhana posed such a question to Lord Bhishma, and was struck speechless by the latter's reply." Then Sanjaya began to describe the battle. Duryodhana agitatedly asked Bhishma, "Grandfather, how is it that with such great warriors like you, and Drona and Kripa, we are unable to defeat the Pandavas?" Lord Bhishma replied bluntly, "Duryodhana, I repeat what I've said a thousand times before. Make peace with the Pandavas. You'll live happily. Persist in your course and you'll die. As long as Lord Krishna is on their side, no one can crush the Pandavas. I tell you this." A long while ago, all Gods called on Brahma Mount Gandhamadana. Suddenly a brilliantly lit aerial carriage hovered in the sky. Brahma, the celestial creator, hastily got up and bowed to it. All the Gods followed suit. Then Brahma said, "Oh Protector, be born in the race of the Yadavas." "So be it," echoed a divine voice from the car. Then the vehicle disappeared in a blinding flash. Then all the Gods chorused, "Lord, whom did we worship?" Brahma replied, "That was God Vishnu. The Titans and demons who have ravaged the world a long time ago have been reborn on earth. Only the Naranarayanas can destroy them again. Thus the endless burden of the earth will be lessened. "Duryodhana, perhaps in your previous birth, you were a terrible Titan. That is the reason why Lord Krishna and Arjuna war against you." Duryodhana's face grew livid and he scowled in anger at what he considered meaningless babbling on Bhishma's part. Then he went back to his tent in a towering rage. On the fifth day of the battle Sathyaki was attacked by Drona. Bhishma and Salya came up in support of the latter. Bhima ran to Sathyaki's aid: The Upapandavas and Sikhandi engaged Drona, Bhishma in a fierce conflict. Sikhandi, unable to withstand the searing barrage of arrows from Drona, retreated. In another part of the field Arjuna with one barb split open Aswathama's armour. But Drona's redoubtable son carried on relentlessly. Meanwhile Sathyaki worked havoc on the Kaurava forces, and Boorisvara raced up to meet him. Sathyaki's sons went to help their father but were beaten back by Boorisvara. 

Though the battle raged tong and fierce, neither side could claim victory and thus the fifth day ended. On the sixth day, Pandavas adopted the Mahara formation to the Kaurava's Krauncha one. But as soon as the battle was joined the carefully formed divisions were swept aside by the unorthodox fighting that ensued. Bhima and Drona fought each other like ferocious tigers. Drona lost his charioteer but undaunted, drove his vehicle forward and rained arrows on Bhima. When the younger Kauravas encircled Bhima in an effort to capture him, the Pandava colossus leaped down from his chariot and twirling his gigantic mace above his head fell on them like a thunderbolt and scattered them like chaff. The elephants that were sent against Bhima reeled back from the terrible weapon wielded by the latter. But, by the time Dhristadyumna dashed to his succour, Bhima was covered by the gore of his enemies and looked terrible indeed. The Kauravas were determined to kill Bhima and Dhristadyumna and pressed their attack pointedly against the duo. Drupada was being beat back by Drona, and Duryodhana tried every trick to trap Bhima, but the latter eluded all the attempts to snare him and went around slaughtering the Kaurava warriors remorselessly. As the twilight hour drew nears Duryodhana redoubled his efforts to destroy Bhima. When the two foes came face to face at last, Bhima took the offensive and destroyed Duryodhana's chariot. Kripa noticing Duryodhana's plight brought his chariot around and dragged the latter inside. Drishtaketu, Abhimanyu, the Upapandavas and Kekaya killed scores of their enemies. In this battle, Dushkarna was killed. As the sun disappeared over the western rim of the sky, the battle was stopped and the combatants retired to their tents. Yudhisthira was all praise for the valor shown by Bhima and Dhristadyumna. A weary and tired Duryodhana went to Lord Bhishma and said crossly, "Grandfather, our formations are easily being destroyed by the Pandavas. Bhima has frustrated all my efforts to capture him. How then can we defeat the Pandavas?" Bhishma replied, "Duryodhana, we are doing our best to help you. The Pandavas have many great warriors on their side. It is no mean task to win over them. I am exerting all my powers to destroy them." Duryodhana, somewhat mollified, said, "True. The Pandavas have many great warriors on their side. I too noticed that they were wilting under your charge. If the battle continues like this, we shall soon reduce the strength of the enemy." Bhishma said pointedly, "Duryodhana, there are great warriors on our side too. Drona, Salya, Kritavarma, Aswathama, Goumidatta, Saindhava, Bahulika, Brihathpala, Chitrasena, Vivimsathi the list grows endless! Our cavalry and elephant corps are massive in strength and power. Yet, I will tell you this once more, for your own good, I mean! Even if God Indra descends from the heavens with his cohorts to do battle with the Pandavas, he cannot win over them. Therefore, I am not too sure about winning this war for you." Duryodhana turned away irked by Bhishma's confession of inadequacy against the Pandavas, and retraced his steps with a heavy heart. Back in his tent, he sat down to have his wounds attended to by Visalyakarna. 

The battle was raging long and fierce. Arjuna had not as yet realised that his son Irawan was dead on the battlefield. He was busy in destroying the Kaurava forces. On the other side Bhishma was rapidly increasing his tally of the enemy killed. When lrawan fell, Ghatothkacha took up a bright trident and fell on the Kauravas. Soon the enemy forces were in a big rout, and at last Duryodhana came out in person to meet the challenge. He was supported by the King of Vanga and his massive ten thousand strong elephant corps. Ghatothkacha ordered his legions to attack the elephants. Duryodhana noticing the havoc this was having in his ranks got ready to shower his arrows on Bhima's son. Undaunted Ghatothkacha hurled a thunderbolt at Duryodhana, but quickly the King of Vanga moved an elephant in front. The animal was instantly killed by the powerful weapon. Then Ghatothkacha renewed his onslaught with great vigour and slew countless number of his enemies. Yudhishthira admiring his valor said to Bhima, "Brother, your son is waging a lone battle. Go to his aid." At once Bhima swung his mace and charged the Kaurava ranks. Abhimanyu, the Upapandavas, Neela, Sathyadrithi, Sousidhi, Srenimantha, and Vasudasa accompanied him. Duryodhna's rage rose uncontrollably at the reverses suffered by his armies, so he hurled his weapons at Bhima, and had the satisfaction of seeing the Pandava colossus wilt under the barrage of arrows. Noticing Bhima's plight, Ghatothkacha and Abhimanyu surrounded Duryodhana, and began a fierce fight which soon had the latter gasping for breath. When Drona raced up to the aid of Duryodhana, Ghatothkacha began to demonstrate his wizardry, and fought a running battle with his enemies. At once Duryodhana rushed up to Bhishma and said, "Grandfather, we rely upon you as much as the Pandavas depend upon Lord Krishna. Now this Ghatothkacha is cutting our forces to pieces. You must destroy him." Bhishma replied, "Very well, we'll send Bagadatta against Ghatothkacha." Then he called Bagadatta and said, "Bagadatta, you have experience in fighting against the Titans. Go and kill Ghatothkacha." Bagadatta in obedience to this command got on his elephant Subiradhika, and charged at Bhima's chariot. At once, the Kekayas, Upapandavas, Abhimanyu, Kings Dasarna, Kshattradeva, and Chitraketu, showered their arrows on the mighty tusker. But the great pachyderm brushed aside the stinging arrows and gored many of the Pandava warriors to death. Ghatothkacha fighting in another part of the field wheeled round to attack the mammoth animal. At about this time Arjuna was informed of the death of Iravan, and in deep anger and sorrow, he requested Lord Krishna to drive the chariot into the thick of the battle. Bhima for his part killed Kundali, Anadristi, Kumbabedi, Virata, and Dirganethra. When the twilight hour arrived, the combatants stopped the battle and retired to their camps. 

In his camp, Duryodhana nursing his wounds spoke to the select company of cronies "Bhishma, Drona and Salliya have not been able to kill the Pandavas. Day by day our forces are getting smaller and smaller. How can I avenge this great insult? How can we win over the Pandavas?" Then Karna boasted, " Let Bhishma quit the battlefield and I will destroy the Pandavas in a trice. Only then will Bhishma know the greatness of my powers. Bhishma loves the Pandavas too much. That is why he spares their lives. Relieve him of his command. Then you'll see what I do to the Pandavas." Heartened by these words, Duryodhana went to Lord Bhishma and said, "Grandfather, perhaps you are angry with me. That is why you do not kill the Pandavas. If you do not wish to harm the Pandavas, then you should quit the command of the forces. Karna will lead them into battle." Bhishma's face darkened in terrible anger. In a grim voice he said, " Duryodhana, know that your time has come for a speedy death. You talk like a fool. When have I not done my best in the battle-field? You forget that our enemies are extremely powerful. Arjuna is peerless in waging a war. Where was this prattler Karna when you, were captured by the King of the Gandharvas? Did he not show a clean pair of heels then? When we tried to rustle their cattle, was it not Arjuna, who single-handedly repulsed us? You started this war. I shall feel glad if you can destroy your enemies all by yourself. As far I am concerned, barring Sikhandi, I am willing to kill all others. If I fail in my task, I shall die on the battlefield. Watch what I do tomorrow on the battlefield." Duryodhana was elated to hear this. 

So he told his assembled troops. " Lord Bhishma is determined to wire out our enemies. Make sure that he comes to no harm." Sakuni, Salliya, Kripa, Drona and Vivimsathi promised to protect the old Patriarch. On the ninth day of the war, Bhishma arranged his armies in a formation known as Sarvathobhadra. As the battle commenced, Abhimanyu drove forward like lightning and launched a blistering attack on Saindhava, Kripa, Drona and Aswathama. So Duryodhana sent the titan Alambasa to oppose him. But after a prolonged and losing battle, Alambasa retreated headlong. Now Bhishma moved up to engage the Pandava stripling in a keen duel. On both sides the warriors fought on relentlessly and the field ran red with the blood of the wounded and the slain. The gory day came to an end, and the armies rested for the night. In the Pandava camp, the Pandavas pondered over the ways and means of defeating Bhishma. Then Lord Krishna said, " Don't worry. If Arjuna does not kill Bhishma, then I may have to accomplish that task. If Bhishma falls, Victory is yours. But Arjuna can, if he tries hard, kill Bhishma." Then Yudhishthira said, " Lord Krishna, Bhishma is interested in our welfare. So I could go and ask him how we can defeat him, perhaps he will even tell us how we can kill him. But is it right to kill such a great warrior in this manner?" Lord Krishna smiled and said softly, " True, Yudhishthira. Great warriors like Bhishma know how they can be killed. So go and ask him." 

Finally, Lord Bhishma the Grand Patriarch and architect of Duryodhana's victories fell down mortally wounded. Arjuna had accomplished this mighty task by attacking the old warrior in the company of Sikhandi. On seeing the latter Bhishma dropped his bow, and at once Arjuna's barbs pierced his armour. But he did not die immediately. He lay on a cushion of arrows high above the ground. When he asked for water, Arjuna shot an arrow into the ground, and a cool spring jetted out to quench the dying warrior's thirst. After the fall of Bhishma, Drona led the troops into battle. Abhimanyu eager and rash advanced into a trap set for him, and was killed instantly by the Kauravas. On hearing the sad news Arjuna swore a terrible vengeance on Saindhava who had prevented the Pandavas from coming to the aid of the young Pandava prince. Next day Saindhava fell to Arjuna's arrows. When Drona heard from Yudhishthira that Aswathama, a mighty elephant was dead, mistakenly he thought it referred to his son, and stood on the battlefield totally unnerved and defenceless. Seizing this opportunity Dhrishtadyumna killed him. At last Karna assumed command of the Kaurava forces. But though he displayed great valour and was true to his boast, he could not win over Arjuna. When his chariot got bogged down in the mud, he jumped down to pull the wheels out. At the same time a well flighted arrow from Arjuna pierced his heart and he died. Then Salliya led the Kaurava forces but he too fell; killed by Yudhishthira. On the eighteenth day the Great War came to an end. Countless lives were lost. The equal of eighteen Akshaunis of armed forces had been completely destroyed. All the Kauravas were dead, barring Duryodhana. Bhima chased after Duhshasana, and killed him in a terrible duel. Then he dipped his fingers into the entrails of the latter and drank his blood. Thus his oath was fulfilled. Yuyutsa who had fought with the Pandavas went back to Hastinapura. When the war had ended, Aswathama and Kripa went in search of Duryodhana. The latter had set off alone; and at last Sanjaya found him on the banks of a pool. Duryodhana told Sanjaya to go back to Hastinapura and report to his father that he was still alive. When Sanjaya set out for home, he met Aswathama and Kripa, and directed them to the spot where he had seen Duryodhana. In the meanwhile, the Pandavas began to search for Duryodhana, and at last came to the pool where he was hiding. Then Yudhishthira said, " Duryodhana, like a coward you hide here, after your entire race has been destroyed. Come out and fight. Unless you defeat us you cannot rule in peace." Duryodhana replied in a dispirited voice, " I don't wish to rule. I want no territory. Take everything. It is all yours." 

Yudhishthira replied, " Do you think we'll accept charity from you? Unless you defeat us, you cannot rest in peace. Come, battle against Bhima like a courageous warrior. Fight and perish or live like a craven coward." Bhima also taunted Duryodhana on his poor showing as a warrior. Stung by these words, Duryodhana came out of the pool and fought with Bhima. The two adversaries pounded each other with their maces. At last Bhima clove Duryodhana's thigh into two with a powerful stroke of his mace, and the usurper died in great agony. 
Aswathama, and Kripa found Duryodhana in this state and swore a terrible vengeance on the Pandavas. At night when all was quiet they crept into the Pandava tent and slew all the sleeping figures there. Dhrishtadyumna was foully murdered, the Upapandavas slain, and the tents were a heap of smouldering ruins when the assassins had ceased their foul deed. The Pandavas were shocked at this calamity and it did not take them long to discover the identity of the murderers. Bhima and Arjuna got into their chariots and raced away in hot pursuit of the assailants. Bhima found Aswathama among the disciples of Sage Vyasa. For his part, Aswathama was horrified to find the Pandavas alive and well. Quickly he took out a barb named Brahmasironama and aimed it at the Pandavas. Arjuna fitted a similar arrow to his bow and shot it at Aswathama. The two flaming arrows collided in mid air and threatened to destroy everything around them. Then Sages Vyasa and Narada requested the two adversaries to recall their arrows. 

Arjuna promptly complied with the request, but Aswathama could not recall his weapon. He confessed his failure to Sage Vyasa. Whereupon, Lord Krishna forced Aswathama to concede defeat and took away from him the solitary jewel in his hair which he gave to Arjuna. It was decided that the arrow shot by Aswathama would ultimately put an end to further additions to the Pandava race. Then the son of Drona went away to do penance in the forest. In Hastinapura, Dhritarashtra grieved for his dead sons. Then Sanjaya said, " The cream of your race lies in the dust. All those who supported the Kauravas are also dead. We must perform the last rites for them." Then Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti went to the field of Kurukshetra. The old King heard how Duryodhana had been killed by Bhima. His heart seemed to burst with hatred. But pretending friendliness he declared ready he would embrace Bhima to show his good feelings. Lord Krishna who had an inkling of the blind King's mind cautioned Bhima to stay away and instead led the sorrowing monarch to an iron statue of Bhima placed there before hand. Dhritarashtra touched the statue and thinking it was Bhima wrapped his arms round it and squeezed with all his might. The next instant the statue broke into several pieces. Then Lord Krishna said, " Oh ! King, you have destroyed only a statue of Bhima. He lives, and all your strength is now gone." Dhritarashtra was ashamed of his conduct. Driving all rancour from his mind, he now blessed the Pandavas and called them his sons. 

After the battle was over, the Pandavas gathered on the bank of the Ganges. They paid homage to the souls of their numerous kinsmen killed in the battle. They remained under mourning for a full month. During this period they lived in huts outside the city. Soon many people came there to greet Yudhishthira. Among them were Vyasa and other sages, their pupils, Brahmins and noblemen. Yudhishthira received all courteously and made them comfortable. Then he sat down near them and said, " Krishna, Bhima, Arjuna and other heroes have brought me Victory. But I do not consider this as victory. I have killed my kinsmen. Abhimanyu and the sons of Draupadi are lost to us. How can I cherish the throne and the kingdom which have come to me through all such tragedy? While we were praying for the souls of the departed, my mother revealed to me that Karna, the mighty warrior and the great philanthrope, was our brother. I fail to understand how this giant of a hero met his doom!" The sage Narada then disclosed the curses that brought about Karna's fall. Karna, while he was getting lessons in archery from Drona, had grown too jealous of Arjuna who showed great skill in archery. He was also jealous of Yudhishthira who excelled all in intelligence, of Bhima for his 

strength, of Nakula and Sahadeva for their nobility and of Krishna and Arjuna for the friendship between them. So he sided with Duryodhana. One day Karna met Drona secretly and said, " Oh guru, you are surely not partial to anyone, are you? Well, I have a strong desire to defeat Arjuna some day. Will you kindly teach me the secret of the Weapon of Brahma?" But Dronacharya had a soft corner in his heart for Arjuna. So, he answered Karna, "Don't you know, boy, that the secret you desire to know can be disclosed only to a Brahmin or a Kshatriya? How can I pass it on to you? You are, after all, the son of a mere charioteer!" Karna, although humiliated, was not discouraged. He proceeded to Mahendragiri where lived the mighty Parasurama. Respectfully he told him, " Revered sir, I happen to be a Brahmin boy. I offer myself as your. humble pupil. Please allow me to serve you and learn from you." Parasurama accepted him. Karna soon became adept in the art of using many a weapon and recalling them. By his skill he charmed not only men, but also the fairies and goblins who dwelt in that region. Once while Karna was wandering along the seashore close to the Ashram of his master, his eyes fell on a cow whom he shot with an arrow and killed. Afterwards he learnt that it belonged to a Brahmin and it was marked for a certain religious rite. He did not lose any time in meeting the Brahmin and apologizing. But the Brahmin was not to be appeased easily. He cursed Karna, "Just when you will be fighting hard, a wheel of your chariot would get stuck in a hollow. You will then die as helpless a death as my poor cow." Karna continued to serve Parasurama faithfully and learnt from him the secret of the Weapon of Brahma. But something unexpected happened. One day Parasurama was enjoying a nap with his head resting on Karna's lap. Just then an insect crawled up and stung Karna's thigh. Blood streaked out. But Karna did not cry or stir lest his master's sleep should be disturbed. Parasurama woke up soon and saw the blood and the wound of his disciple as well as the insect. He looked at Karna sternly and said, " Such patience can never be exercised by a Brahmin. Tell me the truth, who are you?" Karna confessed that he was not a Brahmin, but the son of a charioteer. The angry Parasurama cast a curse upon him saying that he would forget the use of the Weapon of Brahma just when he would need to use it most. In spite of these curses Karna grew into a unique hero. When the daughter of Chitrangada, the King of Rajpur, was forcibly taken away by Duryodhana and hundreds of princely suitors tried to check him, Karna alone, on behalf of Duryodhana, defeated them all. Even the indefatigable Jarasandha was defeated by Karna and offered to him the city of Malini as a gift. Indra, afraid of the grouting might of Karna, met him in disguise and asked him for a gift of the charms and talismans which protected him. Karna obliged lndra. All these factors combined to bring about his fall in the battle. Yudhishthira heard all about the cause of Karna's fall and sighed and said, " With how much of hardship and pain mothers bring forth children and nurse them up to youth. And the battle swallows up so many of such bright youths! Cursed be the life of a Kshatriya. How much have I sinned for the sake of a kingdom! I have no mind to enjoy it. Oh Arjuna, you rule over the domain. Let me take to pilgrimage." Arjuna, angry and agitated at Yudhishthira's words, said, " Oh king, we have done nothing except discharging the sacred duty of the Kshatriyas. Now that we have achieved the goal after so much of toil and trials, you want to become a beggar! If this is what you had in your mind what need was there to 

carry out a massacre? Will not people laugh at your instability? Had not Nahusha said that one must not look forward to poverty? It is only with wealth at your disposal that you can do a lot of good. Hence, do not forsake the kingdom. Let us perform the Asivamedha and be released from all sins." Bhima supported Arjuna and said, " We should not insult the code of conduct by which we the Kshatriyas are bound. Why show any mercy to the cruel and the unjust? We have moved heaven and earth for the triumph of the truth. If this idle and vain remorse were to be the result of all that, we should have rather become ideal beggars instead of ideal warriors! Should we, after digging a well, refuse to benefit by its wafer? Now, Oh King, banish such unworthy thoughts from your mind and give due attention to the affairs of the state." After Nakula and Sahadeva too had pleaded with Yudhishthira to change his mind, Draupadi spoke: " You should do as your brothers say. Had you not assured them time and again, when we all were passing through hard days inside the forest, that victory and happiness will come soon? Your words then encouraged them. Now your words discourage them. After all, there was no alternative to the way you took for getting back your kingdom. So you should not speak such things which could make people doubt the soundness of your judgement. There is nothing wrong in ruling a kingdom. We have the examples of great kings like Ambarish and Man-dhata who ruled nobly." The sages too advised Yudhishthira to give up his remorse. Vyasa said, " In the battlefield even if you happen to kill a man well-versed in the scriptures, you will not be a sinner." Yudhishthira accepted the counsel of all these well-wishers and prepared to take up the burden of a ruler. A chariot with white pillars was made ready for his journey into the city. Sixteen white bulls drew it. Bhima took the place of the charioteer. Arjuna stood behind Yudhisthira, holding the umbrella on his head. Nakula and Sahadeva too attended on him. Yudhishthira's chariot was followed by that of Yuyutsa and that was followed by a horsedrawn chariot carrying Krishna and Sathyaki. Gandhari, Dhritarashtra, Kunti, Draupadi and the Kaurava women were led by Vidura, in a variety of vehicles, ahead of this procession. The tail of the procession was formed by the fourfold army. Yudhishthira reached Hastinapura amidst the chanting of hymns. The whole city looked bright with decorations, colourful gates abounding in white flowers and symbols of welcome. Thousands of men and women came to see Yudhishthira upon his entry into the city. They sang their joy lustily. Ministers and the nobility bowed down to him and said, " We are lucky to get you back as our king, for your path to the throne has been the path of truth." The Brahmins blessed him. On entering the palace Yudhishthira prostrated himself before Dhaumya and Dhritarashtra and worshipped the deities. Suddenly a hullabaloo was heard. Charvaka, a Brahmin friend of Duryodhana, rushed at Yudhishthira and shouted, " Are you not ashamed of occupying the throne after killing your kinsmen? Death would have been better for you!" Yudhishthira felt embarrassed and softly told the Brahmins, " Have pity on me. I am sad, as it is. Do not hurt my feelings any more." The Brahmins replied, "O King, Charvaka speaks for himself, not for us. He says so because he was Duryodhana's friend. You and your brothers have nothing to fear." There-after the Brahmins pounced upon Charvaka and killed him. Lest Yudhishthira should feel disturbed at this event, Krishna hurried to tell him the reason for Charvaka meeting this fate. Long ago, Charvaka was a demon. 

He had appeased Brahma through penance and had obtained the boon that he would not die except in the hands of Brahmins. Yudhishthira was duly coronated, seated on a platform raised for the purpose by Dhaumya, with tiger-skin spread on it. A sacred fire was lit and Krishna, blowing his conch-shell, declared Yudhishthira the king and blessed him saying that he could rule over the whole earth Dhritarashtra and Others echoed it. Music was played. Yudhishthira received greetings and gifts from the people and himself presented gifts to the Brahmins. Then he told the gathering: "To me Dhritarashtra is like a god. All those who are faithful to me should look upon him as the real master. I consider myself his servant. He is my king as well as yours." Bhima was declared by Yudhishthira as the crown-prince and he appointed Vidura as his minister. Sanjay was made the treasurer and an adviser. Other brothers and elders too were assigned various responsibilities. Next, Yudhishthira arranged for religious rites and charity of lands to the needy for the well being of the souls of all those killed in the battle. Dhritarashtra performed the rites for his sons and Yudhishthira for Drona, Karna, Dhrishtadyumna, Ghatotkacha and Abhimanyu. Shelters and lakes were dedicated to the memory of the illustrious dead. Yudhishthira then concentrated on the welfare of his subjects. 

Yudhishthira lost no time in paying his gratitude and prayers to Krishna the real force behind his victory and his ascension to the throne. Then he spoke to his brothers: " You have suffered for long in the forests and on the battleground. Now that we have emerged victorious, you may go to rest for some days. We will meet again." With Dhritarashtra's permission, Yudhishthira allotted Duryodhana's castle, with all the attendants, to Bhima. Duhshasana's house was given to Arjuna and the residences of Durmashana and Durmukha went to Nakula and Sahadeva. Krishna and Satyaki resided with Arjuna. A few days later Yudhishthira went to Krishna and said, " Kingdom and glory are mine, no doubt. Still there is no peace in my mind. I am afraid, I have done something wrong. You alone can remove my doubt." Krishna silently reflected for a while and then said, " The wisest of men is Bhishma. He is still lying on the bed of arrows, waiting for death. All his wisdom will be lost to the world the moment he dies. Go to him immediately and get your doubts cleared by him. Let his wisdom be available to the world through you." Said Yudhishthira, " My thoughts are the same as yours about Bhishma. Please lead me to his presence. He must be desiring to see you too." Krishna called Satyaki and asked him to prepare the chariot for a visit to Bhishma. Soon there were several chariots on the road, the first one carrying Krishna and Satyaki, the second one with Yudhishthira and Arjuna, the third one with Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva, followed by other chariots carrying Kripacharya, Yuyutsa and Sanjaya. They saw, on their way, five pools. Krishna told Yudhishthira that they had been made by Parasurama who had undertaken furious journeys across the world twenty one times, killing Kshatriyas. When all these pools had been filled up with the blood of his victims, he performed the funereal rites of his father with that blood. Only then did his anger subside. Upon Yudhishthira's request, Krishna narrated the history of Parasurama. Gadhi was the scion of the family of Jahnana, a sagely king of yore. He had a daughter named Satyavathi, but no son. Satyavathi was married to Richwika, the son of Bhrigu. Richwika, with his spiritual power, prepared some food and dividing it into two portions, gave them to Satyavathi, saying, " Give this portion to your mother and eat the other portion yourself. A powerful son will be born of your mother who destroy the Kshatriyas and become a king. A son, calm and serene, will be born of you." Satyavathi's parents reached there soon thereafter, on their way to some places of pilgrimage. Satyavathi brought out the magic food before her mother. Both of them ate the food, but in their hurry, Satyavathi ate the portion meant for her mother and her mother ate the portion meant for Satyavathi. On his return from the forest Richwika learnt of their mistake and told Satyavathi, " Your mother will give birth to a Brahmin and of you will be born a terrible Kshatriya." Satyavathi was much upset. She pleaded with her husband, " Please apply your spiritual power and see that no terrible son is born of me. I cannot tolerate such a son. If a cruel soul must be born, then let it be my son's son." Richwika promised to do the needful. 

So Satyavathi gave birth to Jamadagni, a quiet-natured son. Of her mother was born Viswamitra. Parasurama was the son of this Jamadagni. Doing penance on the mount Gandhamadhana, Parasurama satisfied Mahadeva and obtained from him many powerful weapons including an axe. Around that time Kartaviryaryuna, a prince of the Haihaya family, appeased the god Dattatreya and by the Lord's boon developed a thousand hands. He defeated all the kings and proclaimed himself the king of kings. Once, as a result of his mischief, the forest inside which was situated the Ashram of Bashistha, caught fire. Bashistha cursed him, " Just as you have destroyed my Ashram, so will your thousand hands be destroyed by Parasurama." Kartaviryaryuna heard of the curse, but was not afraid. It was his son, Ghamandi, who was responsible for bringing about a quarrel between him and Parasurama. While wandering aimlessly, he entered Parasurama's Ashram and stole his sacred cow and her calf. Parasurama got furious. He cut down Kartaviryaryuna's thousand hands and recovered his cow and the calf. But Kartaviryaryuna's men were in the look out for an opportunity to avenge insult. One day, while Parasurama was away, they invaded his Ashram and beheaded his father Jamadagni. It was there upon that Parasurama took the oath to destroy all the Kshatriyas. He not only killed Kartaviryaryuna, his father and his son, but any Kshatriya who came on his way. He continued in his mission for a long time. When his rage was satisfied, he retired into a forest and sat in meditation. 

But one day Paravasu, the son of Viswamitra, appeared before him and provoked him, " You had promised to kill all the Kshatriyas. But you failed to fulfil your promise. There are many Kshatriyas still going strong. How do you rest leaving your work incomplete?" Parasurama took up his weapon and set out again. This time he did not spare even the old and infant among the Kshatriyas. He even killed children in their mother's wombs. After twentyone rounds he thought the world was entirely devoid of Kshatriyas. He made a gift of the world which he had conquered to Kashyapa. Kashyapa, accepting the gift, said, " Parasurama! I will allow you only space enough for sitting down and meditating." But Kashyapa himself did not rule the world either. He made a gift of it to the Brahmins and retired for penance. The Brahmins failed to rule the world properly. Cruelty and chaos spread everywhere. When Kashyapa heard of the condition of the world, he searched for Kshatriyas to make them rulers again. Soon he came across many Kshatriyas. Some children of the Haihaya family had been hidden by their mothers. Biduratha of the family of the Purus had escaped into the Ruksha mountains. Parashara had saved a Kshatriya named Soudas. Shibi's son too had survived the holocaust. Vatsa, son of Pratardha, was also alive. Gautma had given shelter to a Kshatriya named Gupta. Brihadratha too had been spared. The sea had protected the sons of the Maruts. Soon they emerged into light and their families increased. Kashyapa gathered these Kshatriyas and allotted them lands and the authority to rule. Thus new ruling dynasties were established all over the world. 

After learning all about Parasurama from Krishna, Yudhishthira went to meet Bhishma. The auspicious time when Bhishma would die was approaching. Still he welcomed Yudhishthira and told him, "To kill the enemy in the battlefield is perfectly in accordance with the princely duties." Bhishma went on enumerating many subtle principles and laws till the last moment of his life. Then he closed his eyes and expired. Something strange happened while all looked on. As the spirit left the various parts of Bhishma's body gradually, the arrows fell off his body one by one. The Pandavas, along with Vidura, arranged his funeral pyre with choice woods and perfumery. The dead body was covered with a white sheet and flowers. With deep reverence they lifted the body and placed it on the pyre, with Dhritarashtra holding Bhishma's legs. After the body was burnt they went to the Ganges and Yudhishthira performed the necessary rites. Yudhishthira suddenly broke into tears. Krishna asked Bhima to console him. But looking at Yudhishthira all his brothers too began to weep. Dhritarashtra addressed Yudhishthira, "It is for me and Gandhari to weep, not for you. We have lost one hundred sons. You have won the kingdom. The burden of grave duties sit heavy on your shoulders. You cannot afford to sit down and cry." Vyasa inspired Yudhishthira to perform Aswamedha Yagna which would make him the king of kings. Yudhishthira replied, " Oh sage, such a ceremony requires a huge amount of wealth, for I have to give numerous gifts to numerous people. I am not in favour of giving small doles. And at the moment I have no wealth for distributing big gifts. You must be knowing the misery of the subjects due to a long period of chaos. I cannot ask them for taxes and tributes." But Vyasa told him how to get the necessary wealth. Long ago, the king Marutta had bestowed heavy gifts on the Brahmins at the conclusion of a ceremony. The Brahmins had deposited the wealth on the Himalayas. That wealth could now be collected and used. Yudhishthira expressed his desire to know more about Marutta. Vyasa narrated : " Many ages ago there was a king named Karandha in the family of Manu. He performed the Aswamedha Yagna with Brihaspati as the priest. His glory was compared to that of Indra. His son Marutta excelled him in virtues. In order to perform a Yagna, he prepared a thousand gold vessels. All other equipments which were necessary for the Yagna were also made of gold. The Yagna was performed near the mountain Meru, to the north of the Himalayas, where it was attended by many kings. Brihaspati was to act as the priest. But Indra, being envious of Marutta, did not allow him to take up the assignment. Brihaspati's younger brother, Samvarta, performed the work. It was a gala affair. Marutta gave great quantities of gold to the Brahmins. It is all there lying buried on the mountains. Go and fetch them." This is the instruction Vyasa gave to Yudhishthira. 

After the coronation of Yudhishthira, Srikrishna stayed on at Hastinapura for quite some time. Then he felt a desire to see his father vasudev. So he returned to Dwarka, accompanied by Sathyaki and Subhadra. Vasudev heard from Krishna all about the great battle and was extremely sad to know about the death of Abhimanyu, his grandson. Yudhishthira decided to explore the Himalayas for the wealth buried there. The Pandavas, after obtaining permission from Dhritarashtra, Kunti and Gandhari, advanced towards the Himalayas, followed by their army. After crossing many a forest, river and hill, they reached the vast Himalayan region and located the place where Marutta's wealth remained deposited. They fasted and meditated for a whole night and paid their homage to Shiva, Kuvera and Manibhadra the next day. They propitiated the spirits too, by offering them sacrifices. Then they found out the various kinds of utensils which were hidden there plates and urns and bowls and cups all made of gold. Their quantity was great and a large number of camels and horses and vehicles as well as men were required to carry them. The Pandavas began their return journey to Hastinapura, thus equipped with the wealth.

Krishna left for Hastinapura along with Pradyumna, Sathyaki, Samba, Charudheshna, Gada, Kritavarma, Balarama and Subhadra. They were affectionately received by Dhritarashtra and Vidura. This time Krishna enjoyed the hospitality of Yuyutsu. Soon Uttara gave birth to a son. But the child did not cry and lay lifeless. That made all depressed. Kunti was rushing to look up Krishna when, along with Sathyaki, Krishna arrived there. Subhadra, Draupadi and all other began to weep when Krishna arrived. Devi addressed Krishna, "O Krishna, you alone can save this child. The boy seems to have been the victim of Aswasthama's deadly arrow. Please bestow your Grace on him and revive him." Subhadra and Uttara and Draupadi too pleaded with Krishna to this effect. The shock had been too great for Uttara, who had swooned away. Krishna touched the child with his foot. Instantly the child showed signs of life. All were delighted. Brahmins poured their blessings on the infant. The child was the symbol of great ordeals and trials which the Pandavas had successfully surmounted. Hence Krishna named the child as Parikshit the Tried One. The baby recorded a healthy growth, as days passed. When Parikshit was a month old, the Pandavas returned from the Himalayas. The city put on a gay appearance and welcomed them. The Yadavas advanced and received them. There was great rejoicing with songs and dances. Amidst such manifestations of joy the Pandavas entered their city. They were immensely pleased to learn that a grandson had been born to them and although he was born lifeless, Krishna had graciously breathed life into him. They expressed their deep gratitude to Krishna. Thereafter, Yudhishthira prepared for the Aswamedha, with the sanction of Vyasa and Krishna. He took the vow for the Yagna on a sacred day. The horse for this rite was to be selected by the Brahmins and the charioteers together. The horse was to travel across all the countries before returning to its owner. That was the custom. Now that Yudhishthira was dedicated to this sacred rite, the burden of ruling the kingdom was vested in Bhima, who was to be assisted by Nakula. Arjuna was to follow the horse, looking after it and protecting it. Sahadev was to manage the family affairs. Yudhishthira advised Arjuna who was to follow the horse: "Remember, O Arjuna, that while following the horse if you are challenged by any Kshatriya, then do not rush to fight with him; better invite him to participate in the Yagna." After due ceremony, Yudhishthira himself released the horse. Arjuna followed it with his bow the Gandiva. All the citizens cheered them. 

Along with Arjuna went a disciple of Yagnavalkya as the caretaker of the horse, some Brahmin scholars and a number of Kshatriyas. To begin with, the horse covered the ground which the Pandavas had won in the last battle. Although Yudhishthira had advised Arjuna to avoid fighting, Arjuna, nevertheless, had to fight with several people. Whoever challenged him. Trigartaka's soldiers came forward to Arjuna and he tried to speak, but they discharged arrows at him. Arjuna was obliged to fight with them and soon he succeeded in killing their leaders, Surya Verma, and his lieutenants, Ketudhram, Ghritaverma and others, eighteen in all. Then their army surrendered to him. At Pragyotishpur, Vajradatta, son of Bhagadatta, fought with Arjuna. Arjuna defeated him, but instead of killing him, he invited him to attend the Yagna. Arjuna had to fight with the army of Saindhava too. They were routed. Saindhava had died in the Mahabharata battle. His wife Dussala was the daughter of Dhritarashtra. Their son, Suratha died at the very news that Arjuna was advancing with the horse. Dussala placed her grandson on a chariot and brought him to Arjuna's presence and said, "Like Parikshit, this child too is a grandson of yours. Look at this infant's face and pardon all the Saindhavas. I am sorry that his grandfather was your enemy. But please forget all that". Arjuna embraced his sister Dussala and asking them to return home, advanced with the horse. 

After a few days the horse stepped into the land of Manipur. Babrubahan was then the ruler of the land. He was the son of Arjuna and Chitrangada. When he heard of his father's arrival, he, in company with some Brahmins, went to see him. But Arjuna was not pleased with his son's conduct. He shouted, "Are you not a Kshatriya? If yes, why don't you try to take hold of this horse and challenge me to fight? Don't you know that I have not come here to enjoy your hospitality or sweet words? Are you not ashamed of your shyness?" Uloopi appeared on the scene and told Babrubahan, "My child, I am a daughter of the Nagas and I am a mother to you. I advise you to fight with your father, for that is what would please him." Babrubahan now felt inspired to fight. He dressed up as a warrior and confronted his father. Soon there ensued a grave fight between the two and both fell senseless. Chitrangada, on reaching there, was shocked to find her husband and son in such a condition and she wept. Babrubahan who got back his sense a little later, repented for having been the cause of his father's sorrow. 
fall and He took to penance. But Uloopi came there again and told him, "Do you think that your father died in your hands? Don't you know that nobody can ever defeat him? With my occult power, I have just created some illusions. Come on, take this jewel and give him a touch of this. He will once sit up. "Babrubahan did accordingly. Arjuna got up from the spell and embraced the family and questioned Uloopi for her actions. Uloopi replied, "You killed Bhisma in an improper way. Thereby you had earned sin. I had you temporarily killed by your son in order to rid you of that sin." Arjuna was happy to learn this. He invited Barbubahan to participate in the Aswamedha. Barbubahan requested Arjuna to spend at least one night as a guest. But Arjuna declined, saying that it was imperative to follow the horse and proceeded with the journey. On the way he reached the capital of Magadha. The king of Magadha, Meghasandhi, challenged Arjuna to a battle, but was defeated. Arjuna appreciated his style of fighting. He told him, "You are young. Yet you fought masterly. I do not feel like killing you. I invite you to attend the Aswamedha which my elder brother Yudhishthira is going to perform. Thereafter Arjuna had to give battle to Mlechcha, Nishadha, Sakuni's son as well as the kings of Gandhara, Dravida, Andhra and Odra. He defeated them all and returned to Hastinapura. Only a month more was left for the sacred day of the Yagna and preparations were in full swing. Innumerable people gathered to see the Yagna, including scholars and kings. Krishna had come with Sathyaki, Pradyumna, Samba, Krithavarma and several Yadavas. Babrubahan came with Chitrangada and Uloopi. The Aswamedha was performed with great pomp and due ceremonies. All those who attended the function were given rewards by Yudhishthira. 

All praised the performance and denly there appeared a mongoose who announced, "It seems you are not tired of praising this Yagna. But no performance can ever rival the noble deed of a certain sage who lived in the Kurukshetra." All were astonished at the statement of the mongoose. They asked, "Who are you? Where from do you come? This Yagna has been performed strictly in accordance with the principles laid down in the scriptures. What defect could you find in this? Tell us the truth!" The mongoose said in reply to Yudhishthira and others: "I am not exaggerating, Your Yagna cannot match the action of the sage of Kurukshetra who distributed only handful of parched flour. As a result of his philanthropy, the sage, , his wife, son and daughter-in-law won places in heaven. By coming in his contact, half of my body has turned gold. "The said Brahmin sage lived with his family in a simple and austere way. They took food only once a day. "Once there was a terrible drought in the area. The crops dried up. Consequently, the sage's family could hardly manage even their single meal in a day. One day they returned to their home in the hot noon and sat down to share the food that had been prepared out of some little flour they had received. Just then a Brahmin guest appeared there. They received the hungry Brahmin with all the attention a noble guest deserves. Then the sage offered to him his portion of the food. The guest ate the dish but his hunger was not satiated. So the sage's wife gladly surrendered her share to the guest. Thereafter the sage's son and the son's wife too transfered their food to the guest's plate. Only then the guest looked satisfied and declared that he was the god Yama. 

He had come to give them the boon whereby they would dwell in heaven. "Gentlemen, I happened to be present on the scene. It is the smell of that flour and the touch of that sacred atmosphere which changed half of me into gold. I visited your place with the hope that the remaining half too would change into gold, since you were performing a great Yagna here! But my hope remains unfulfilled." Saying this, the mongoose disappeared. Yudhishthira continued to rule the kingdom with the help of his brothers. Vidura, Sanjay and Yuyutsu were always at Yudhishthira's service. Kunti gave company to Gandhari. They were well looked after by Draupadi, Subhadra and the other wives of the Pandavas. Vyasa often visited the place and gave his discourses. Yudhishthira never uttered a word that would displease Dhritarashtra. All Dhritarashtra's wishes were attended to promptly. The Pandavas were keen to see that Dhritarashtra and Gandhari did not feel the absence of their sons. Bhima alone was not well disposed towards Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra often distributed alms. Yudhishthira had declared that whoever did any thing to displease Dhritarashtra would be severely punished. In fact, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari could not have received better care if their sons were alive. They too looked upon the Pandavas as their children. Fifteen years passed. Dhritarashtra and Gandhari had no reason to complain of any difficulty. However, at times they felt wounded due to Bhima's unkind remarks. 

Yudhishthira had no knowledge of this. One day Dhritarashtra told Yudhishthira, "My son, you have been always most considerate to us. We both are extremely pleased with you. I have done a lot of philanthropy. My sons have gone over to paradise through discharging their duty as Kshatriyas. I have duly performed their funeral rites. There is nothing more for me to do in the world. Now I must do something as preparation for my journey into the world beyond. Please allow me to depart into the forest, accompanied by Gandhari. While in the forest, I will constantly pray for your welfare. But Yudhishthira did not give his consent. He said, "How can I be in peace while you suffer inside the forest? If you go without food or sleep on the mere ground, the world will blame me and my brothers. I care neither for the throne nor for the comforts. I will rather make a gift of my kingdom to Yuyutsu. But I feel that there is something which pains you. Please tell me what it is. I will remove it, forthwith. "I have just grown the desire to do penance. It is a tradition in our dynasty that old people go to forest. I have already stayed with you for long. Now you should approve of my going to forest," pleaded Dhritarashtra. He further threatened that unless Yudhishthira allowed him to go over to the forest, he would not touch food. Just at that time Vyasa happened to come there. He advised Yudhishthira to agree to Dhritarashtra's proposal. Yudhishthira accordingly agreed and Dhritarashtra gave up his fast. All the people of Hastinapura came to see Dhritarashtra when they heard of his decision. Dhritarashtra told then "Gandhari and myself are departing into the forest. You all have to approve of our decision. I am sure that Yudhishthira is ruling far better than Duryodhana. This land had once been ruled by Shantanu and then by Bhishma and then by Vichitravirya. I too had the occasion to serve you. I cannot say how my administration was. If I have done any wrong to anyone. I beg to be pardoned. Numerous Kshatriyas suffered due to Duryodhana's blunder. I too had my share in that. I pray you with folded hands, forget all that had happened. From now on Yudhishthira would be your sole ruler." On behalf of the people, a Brahmin replied, "O King! You have always been kind to us. Nobody from your family has ever done any wrong to us, not even Duryodhana. We will always feel for you now that you are going away to forest. Duryodhana is not to blame for the battle. It is Providence which brought about the fall of the Kauravas. But Yudhishthira is a great soul. We wish, let his rule last for a thousand years." Next morning Vidura met Yudhishthira and said, "My son, Dhritarashtra is going to the forest in the holy month of Kartik. Before setting out, he desires to perform some rites to pay homage to the souls of Bhishma, Somadatta, Bahlika, Drona, Saindhava as well as his sons and friends. For this purpose he is in need of money." Yudhishthira and Arjuna happily agreed to provide the required money, but Bhima kept quiet. Arjuna told him, "Dhritarashtra requires money for some religious rites. It is not proper for us to grudge him what he needs before leaving for the forest." Bhima said, "Well, money can be given for the rites concerning Bhishma, Somadatta, Bahlika, Bhurishraba, Drona and others. For Karna, Kunti should give the money. 


But should we give any money for the benefit of Duryodhana etc.? What does it matter if their souls do not go to heaven? Were they not responsible for all our sorrow?" Yudhishthira told Bhima, "You better keep quiet." He then told Vidura, "Never mind Bhima's sentiments. Dhritarashtra would get whatever he needs." Dhritarashtra performed the rites in a grand scale. Alms were distributed liberally. Then along with Gandhari, he worshipped Kartikeya and wearing bark, set out for forest. Brahmins read hymns and led the way. They were followed by the Kaurava women. The Pandavas wept. Kuntidevi walked holding Gandhari's hand. Draupadi, Subhadra, Parikshit, Unara and other women of the city walked behind them. Vidura and Sanjay had obtained the permission to remain with Yudhishthira. When the city was left behind, Dhritarashtra asked Yuyutsu and Kripacharya to return. Gradually most of the people stayed back. But Yudhishthira continued to walk forward. He told Kuntidevi, "Mother, now you should return. I will accompany the old king." But Kunti had decided to go with Dhritarashtra and Gandhari. She told Yudhishthira, "My son, Gandhari and Dhritarashtra are like my parents-in-law. I must be with them to serve them." All the Pandavas tried to dissuade her, but in vain. At last the Pandavas and Draupadi returned to Hastinapura. Dhritarashtra walked till evening and stopped at a place on the Ganges. Vidura and Sanjay prepared grass beds for him and Gandhari. They spent the night happily. At Vidura's suggestion a cottage was erected on the Ganges. After staying there for some days, they went to Kurukshetra and stayed in an Ashram. A king named Satayupa who had passed on his throne to his son, was also staying there for penance. Dhritarashtra began his penance. Kunti received such people who came to met them. Dhritarashtra talked to the people at intervals of his penance. As Dhritarashtra departed from Hastinapura, the city appeared to be devoid of grace. The people often used to meet the old king and talk to him. The Pandavas were most sad. Because of the departure of Kuntidevi they had lost all jest and did not feel interest in anything. Sahadev was constantly pining for Kunti. He was anxious to see her. Draupadi one day told Yudhishthira, "All the women wish to see Gandhari, Dhritarashtra and Kuntidevi." Yudhishthira at once prepared to start for Dhritarashfra's Ashram. He declared that if the citizens so wished they too could accompany them. They set out the next day with a number of chariots, horses, camels and a large crowd following them. The ladies were carried in palanquins. Yuyutsu and Dhaumya stayed back in the palace. The Ashtramites came forward to receive the Pandavas. Yudhishthira asked them, "Where is our uncle?" They were told that Dhritarashtra had gone to the Yamuna, to fetch water and flowers. The Pandavas advanced towards the river and could see Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kuntidevi from some distance. Sahadev rushed forward and falling at Kuntidevi's feet, wept like a child. 

She too could not control her tears and embraced Sahadev and told everything to Gandhari. Soon the other Pandavas reached them. Dhritarashtra, surrounded by the Pandavas and their wives, felt as if he was again back at Hastinapura! All the sages of the Ashram came to see the Pandavas. Sanjay introduced the Pandavas to the sages. After they left and Yudhishthira had enquired about Dhritarashtra's health, he asked, "Where is Vidura? I don't see him!" "Vidura has given up food and is undergoing strenuous penance. He has grown extremely weak. I hear that sometimes he is seen wandering inside the forest, bereft of any robe," said Dhritarashtra. While Dhritarashtra was speaking, Vidura could be seen at a distance. Yudhishthira proceeded towards him. Inside the forest Sometimes Vidura was visible and sometimes not. Yudhishthira shouted, "Vidura! Please wait. I am eager to meet you!" Vidura stood at an open place. "Don't you recognise me?" asked Yudhishthira as he reached him. Vidura was very much emaciated. He looked penetratively at Yudhishthira. Yudhishthira felt it was as if Vidura's body and life were merging in him! Soon thereafter Yudhishthira could see Vidura lying dead. He wanted to burn the dead body but as it was forbidden to burn a mendicant's body, he refrained from it. He returned to Ashram and reported the incident to all. All were surprised. Dhritarashtra welcomed the guests, entertained them with fruits and sweet roots and arranged for their comfortable stay. The Pandavas passed the night lying around their mother. Next day they went out to see the neighbouring places, along with the ladies and the priests. At one place they saw a holy fire lit, with several sages sitting in prayer around it. Animals of the forest were freely and fearlessly wandering there. Birds too flew and flapped above them joyously. The Pandavas enjoyed the peaceful and beautiful atmosphere of this ashram. They made gifts of blankets and animal skins to the sages. Soon Vyasa, the great sage, arrived there, accompanied by his disciples. He told Dhritarashtra, "O King, I hope, your time is passing smoothly in the forest and I hope that you have been able to forget the sorrow of losing your sons. Further I hope that Gandhari is not facing any hardship on account of you and that Kunti Devi is looking after both of you with due affection and care." From Vyasa all heard the mystery of the birth of Vidura: " Vidura was none other than Yudhishthira himself in a sense, Yama was born as Vidura, amidst you, under the curse of Mandaba, the celebrated sage. The same Yama was also incarnated as Yudhishthira. 

That explains how Vidura's spirit merged in Yudhishthira. It was possible by the force of Vidura's Yoga. This is the fact behind the episode." The Pandavas lived in the ashram, along with their families, for a month. Vyasa visited the place once more during their stay. His talks charmed everybody. His visit coincided with the visit of Narada, the sage, Parvata, Devala, Viswavasu, Tumvur and Chitrasen. Yudhishthira received them with due honour on behalf of Dhritarashtra. The Pandavas, Dhritarashtra, other guests as well as ladies like Kunti, Draupadi and Subhadra used to sit around Vyasa, listening to wonderful stories of the hoary past. Once Dhritarashtra opened his heart before Vyasa: "Your gracious visit is a blessing to me! I do not bother about my life after my death. But what worries me is the fact that the noble Pandavas suffered hardship and humiliation due to the foolishness of my sons. My sons were Killed in the battle. I wonder what happened to the souls of those youths and their sons. I would have no peace of mind unless I know about their condition." While Dhritarashtra spoke this, Gandhari could not check her tears. Kunti, Draupadi, Subhadra and other ladies too did alike. Gandhari prostrated herself before Vyasa and said, " Sixteen years have passed since the death of my sons. My husband continues to feel bereaved. Draupadi is lamenting the death of her brothers and sons. Subhadra weeps for Abhimanyu. Bhurishrava's wife wails remembering her husband, her sons and father-in-law. 
vas, Dhritarashtra, other guests Hundred wives of my hundred sons are in grief. 

Kindly do something to remove the sorrow of all these people." Vyasa asked Kunti Devi, " You too seem to have some cause of sorrow in your heart. What is that?" She confessed that she was sorry on account of Karna. Then Vyasa addressed Gandhari and said, " You will see your sons and other dear ones. Kunti Devi will see Karna, Subhadra will see Abhimanyu and Draupadi will see her son, father and brothers. I had thought of this even earlier. You should not feel sorry at all. All those who died in the Mahabharata war were either gods or demons. Dhritarashtra is a Gandharva king. Pandu comes from the realm of the Maruttas. Vidura and Yudhishthira are emanations of Yama. Duryodhana was Kali and Sakuni was Dwapara. Duhsashana and his brothers were all demons. Bhima is the spirit of Vayu and Arjuna incarnated the spirit of a great sage named Nara. Nakula and Sahadeva came of the god Ashwini and Abhimanyu came of Chandra, the moon-god. Draupadi and Dhrishtadyumna originated from Agni, the fire-god. Shikhandi emerged from a demon. Dronacharya came 
from Brihaspati and Aswathama from Shankara. " Bhisma was one of the Vasus. Now, without any delay, you all should gather on the bank of the Bhagirathi. I will show you the beings you are weeping for and make you happy." All felt excited at this assurance. They hurried towards the river. Dhritarashtra proceeded there accompanied by the Pandavas and the sages. They waited on the riverbank till the sunset. They entered the river and saluted the departing sun. Then they gathered before Vyasa. The sage entered the water and called loudly the heroes who had died in the Mahabharata war. Soon a strange scene was witnessed. All the dead heroes like Bhisma and Drona were seen emerging from the river. Virata, Drupada, Upandava, Abhimanyu, Ghatotkacha, Karna, Duryodhana and all others came out in the very dress which they wore while dying. There was no enmity between the two camps any more. Vyasa bestowed on the blind Dhritarashtra the power to see. The old king and Gandhari beheld to their hearts content their lost sons and grandsons. All were delighted to see their dead relatives reappearing. The dead and the living mixed and all were happy. The Pandavas talked with Karna, Abhimanyu and Upapandava. The night was spent with great joy. Thereafter the dead ones disappeared in the river just as they had appeared. They returned to the different regions from which they had come. Vyasa told the wives of the Kauravas, " Those of you who wish to accompany your husbands to their regions may enter the river." All the wives of the Kauravas, with the permission of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, entered the river. Dhritarashtra had no more agony. He returned to his ashram with a peaceful mind. He then reminded the Pandavas that it was time for them to go back to Hastinapura and look into the affairs of the kingdom. Yudhishthira was not willing to leave the place. He had no desire for ruling over his kingdom. Sahadev too was not at all in a mind to leave Kunti Devi. But Kunti herself asked them to go back to Hastinapura. So they were obliged to start. Dhritarashtra gave them a warm farewell. A little later Narada came to see Yudhishthira. He was received with profound respect. The sage said that he was just coming from the sacred forest on the Ganga. " Did you see our uncle? Is he well? And how are Gandhari, Kunti and Sanjay?" asked Yudhishthira. 

Narada answered:" Yudhishthira! After you left  them, Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti went away to Gangadwara, leaving Kurukshetra. Sanjay and a Brahmin priest accompanied them. At Gangadwara your uncle lived on air alone and did severe askesis for six months. Gandhari used to take nothing but water. Kunti too fasted. Sanjay ate only a blade of grass in a day. The priest used to perform the sacred rites. After some time Dhritarashtra wandered in the forest in a whimsical manner. Gandhari and Kunti followed him. Kunti used to take all care of Gandhari. One day while Dhritarashtra was coming from the hut a fierce wind blew and soon the forest caught fire. When the fire spread near him, Dhritarashtra told Sanjay, ' You should go away to a safer area. I have decided to die in this fire and pass on to heaven. Nothing can change my decision. You must obey this last instruction from me!' Sanjay entreated him, "O King, how can I bear your death in the fire? The fire is rapidly spreading around you. Please come out of it!" "Sanjay! Don't you know that a Yogi is ever ready to die either by wind or water or fire? Now, you must leave me forth-with," ordered Dhritarashtra. Sanjay walked with deep love round Dhritarashtra, Kunti and Gandhari and requested them to sit in trance. They sat accordingly. Their bodies were consumed by the flames. Sanjay came out of the forest and met Narada. He narrated everything to Narada and departed for the Himalayas." This news was received by the Pandavas and all the citizens with profound sorrow. 

Narada revealed to Yudhishthira that the fire that burnt the forest had emanated from Dhritarashtra himself. He sacrificed his body in the fire of his own and passed on to heaven. Yudhishthira went to the river Ganga and performed the necessary rites for the departed souls. On the twelfth day he distributed alms and fed numerous people. It was after eighteen years of the Mahabharata war that Dhritarashtra had died. He had spent the last three years of his life in the forest. Yudhishthira's reign continued for still eighteen years more. Towards the end of this period he heard the shocking news that all the Yadavas had been destroyed save Krishna and Balaram. He told his brothers, " I hear that the Yadavas have killed each other. What should we do now? This is how the Yadavas had died. Once the sages Viswamithra, Kanva and Narada visited Dwarka. Seeing them coming, Sarana and other Yadava youths dressed up Samba as a woman and showing him to the sages, asked, "O holy ones, this young lady is pregnant. Her husband desires a son. Can you tell whether it would be a son or a daughter?" The sages replied with fury, " She would deliver a pounder which would smash all the arrogant and the irreverent." The sages met Krishna and reported to him all about it. Krishna at once knew that the words of the sages would not go in vain. 

The very next day Samba gave birth to a grounder. Krishna ordered the Yadavas to crush it thoroughly and to throw the dust into the sea. Krishna further ordered all to forbear from drinking wine and warned that he who violated the order was liable to severe punishment. Despite all precautions many bad omens continued to be seen. The palace abounded in rats, the young Yadavas were disrespectful towards their elders. Couples quarrelled between themselves. Insects were found in food. Such inauspicious signs had been observed before the Mahabharata war. They indicated large-scale destruction of human beings. Krishna asked the Yadavas to prepare for a pilgrimage to a holy spot on the sea. Accordingly the Yadavas made preparations for the trip. But they did not forget to load a huge quantity of wine on their vehicles. They proceeded to the sea-shore with their chariots and elephants and horses and camped not far from Pravas, the holy spot. As soon as they had camped, they began merrymaking and drinking. Under the influence of wine Yuyudhana told Kritavarma, "You killed the Upapandavas, treacherously, while they were asleep. No Yadava worth the name would do such a thing!" Both quarrelled. Soon the Yadavas were divided in two camps and started hurling their wine cups at each other. Pradyumna pounced upon the Bhojas. The Bhojas soon killed Pradyumna as well as Sathyaki. This made Krishna furious. He uprooted some blades of grass and threw them at whoever chanced to come on his way. It was amazing how the blades of grass proved powerful as thunders. Others too fought among themselves with grass which had in fact grown out of the dust of the fatal grounder born of Samba. The chaos was total. In their utter madness even the sons killed their fathers and the fathers their sons. When Krishna saw his son and grandsons dying, he killed many with fury. His charioteer Daruka and Babhru reported to him, "Lord! Almost all are now dead. But where is Balarama? We should look for him." The three went in search of Balarama. They found him relaxing under a tree. 

Krishna told Daruka, "Go to Hastinapura and inform the Pandavas about the destruction of the Yadavas due to the curse of the sages. Arjuna will be here soon." Daruka sped forth in his chariot. Krishna then told Babhru, "Look after the women. Their jewellery may attract the robbers." But while Krishna was talking to him Babhru fell to the arrow from a hunter. Krishna turned to Balarama and said, "I will lead the women to Dwaraka and return here soon. Do not leave this spot till then." Krishna proceeded to Dwaraka along with the women and entrusting his father with their care, said, "It is no more possible for me to stay here. Balarama and myself must go for askesis." Krishna thereafter prostrated himself before his father and returned to Balarama. Balarama was already in trance. While Krishna looked on, a white snake came out of his mouth and entered the sea. Varuna and the snake gods were there to receive it. Krishna wandered for a while and then lay down under a tree. A hunter named Jara mistook his feet as the ears of a deer and shot him with an arrow. Krishna left his body. His luminous spirit spread all over the earth and the sky and rose to heaven. Daruka duly arrived at Kurudesh. The Pandavas were astounded to hear of the tragedy. Arjuna hurried with Daruka to Dwaraka and met the hapless women. Then wept bitterly when they saw Arjuna. It was difficult for Arjuna to stand the sight. He gave some solace to Satyabhama and Rukmini and went to meet Vasudev. Vasudev embraced Arjuna and lamented, "My son who was the mighty destroyer of demons, is no more. Yet I remain alive. The Yadavas are killed on account of Sathyaki and Pradyumna, your disciples. But I blame nobody. This was the result of the curse. Krishna too deserted us. However, he advised me to be guided by you." After this Arjuna, accompanied by Daruka, met the council of ministers and said, "Dwaraka would very soon go under the sea. I want you all to leave this place for Indraprastha. Vajra would be crowned the king there. Hurry up please." The next day Vasudev sat in trance and left his body. His wives, Devaki, Rohini, Vadra and Madira too left their bodies along with him. They were cremated properly, Vajra, Vrishni and the Andhaka princes observed the funeral rituals. Arjuna visited the place where the Yadavas had fought and died. He performed the funeral rites for them. On the seventh day he set out for Dwaraka with the Yadava women. As they left the city walking or riding on chariots, elephants and horses, the sea advanced behind them and Dwaraka was submerged. 

After several halts at different places Ariuna reached Panchanada. There he was attacked by robbers who surrounded the ladies. Arjuna threatened them with dire consequences, but they did not pay any heed. Exasperated, Arjuna at last decided to counter-attack them with his great weapon, the Gandiva. But lo and behold ! He could not handle it! Even he could not remember the hymn that was necessary for using the weapon. He could not check the robbers and stood dumbfounded while they drove with them most of the women and their wealth. With the rest, Arjuna managed to reach Kurukshetra. Following Yudhishthira's instruction, Kritavarma's wife and children were provided with shelter at Murtikavanta; all the kids, women and old men at Indraprastha, and Sathyaki's son at Saraswathi. Vajra was declared the king of Indraprastha and he took the charge of the family of Akrur. Rukmini and some other wives of Krishna had sacrificed themselves in fire. Satyabama and the rest went away to a forest for doing askesis. Arjuna paid a visit to the Ashram of Vyasa. The great sage asked him. " Why, O Arjuna, do you look so pale and pensive?" Arjuna replied, " O great one, indescribable is my sorrow. Krishna and Balaram are no more. All the Yadavas are killed as a result of a curse by some sages. Heroes who could wield gigantic weapons, fell dead when blades of grass struck them! I am shocked. I do not understand the use of my living in a world forsaken by Krishna. Besides, something queer has happened, all my strength has vanished. The Yadava women were forcibly taken away by robbers and I 
could not help it although it happened before my eyes. I am devoid of peace and feeling like going mad. What should I do?" " Have peace, O Arjuna, know that Vrishni and Andhaka died due to a curse. Krishna could have changed the course of events, but he did not like to interfere. The work of the Krishna Avatar came to an end. He has returned to his own place. You, along with Bhima, Nakula and Sahadev, have done much that was noble. I believe, your spirits are quite satisfied and you too would find place in heaven. Time keeps on changing. Everything changes accordingly. The world is ruled by time. Sometimes time is favourable to us, sometimes not. Your weapon too has exhausted its role. So it has become unwieldy. That too is due to time. Do not feel sad about it," Vyasa explained. Arjuna returned to Hastinapura and reported everything to Yudhishthira. Hearing all this, Yudhishthira decided to undertake a great journey through the unknown in quest of the ultimate destination of life. Yudhisthira's wish was echoed by his brothers. Yudhishthira entrusted Yuyutsa with the responsibility of the kingdom and chose Parikshit as his heir. Thus, Parikshit was to rule Hastinapura while Vajra was to rule Indraprastha. Subhadra was to keep an eye on both. Then Yudhishthira performed the funeral rites of all who had died at Dwaraka. 

Yudhishthira entertained the sages to a grand feast and, on behalf of Krishna, bestowed several gifts on them. He then sent Parikshit to Kripacharya to become the latter's pupil. He then announced to his ministers that he was undertaking a journey spiritual, never to return. Thereafter the Pandavas and Draupadi put off their royal garments and ornaments and put on dresses made out of barks. Innumerable people collected to have a glimpse of them when the time for their departure came. The people remembered another such sad occasion. That was when the Pandavas had left for exile. The women in the crowd wept and wailed. But the Pandavas were not moved at all. When the Pandavas crossed the city, a dog was seen following them. Several citizens tried to dissuade them from proceeding to their unknown destination, but in vain. After the Pandavas and Draupadi left, Uloopi entered the Ganga and Chitrangada returned to Manipur, her parental home. Other wives of the Pandavas remained with Parikshit. The Pandavas proceeded eastward. They crossed many a river and passed through many a land. Arjuna was still carrying with him his famous bow, the Gandiva. But when they reached the seashore, suddenly Agnideva, the God of Fire, appeared before them like a luminous mountain and said, " Listen O Pandavas, Arjuna has no need of the Gandiva any more. He should now surrender it to Varuna from whom it had come." His brothers too prevailed on Arjuna to give up the weapon. Arjuna, accordingly, threw it into the sea. Agnideva disappeared. Along the seacoast the Pandavas walked southward before turning to the north. They saw Dwaraka submerged under the sea. Then they reached the Himalayan region and soon crossed it, approaching the Meru mountains. While they walked, Draupadi fell down on the road, dead. Bhima informed Yudhishthira about it. But Yudhishthira did not look back. A little later Sahadeva too fell down. Then came the turns of Nakula and Arjuna, one after the other. Bhima duly informed Yudhishthira about them. But Yudhishthira did not look back. He remained calm even when Bhima himself fell down and announced of his approaching death. Thus, all his dear ones dropped down while Yudhishthira continued to walk, followed by the dog. Soon Indra, with his chariot, appeared before him and welcomed him into it. But Yudhishthira told him, " All my brothers as well as Draupadi who are dead must ascend to heaven with me. I cannot proceed there without them." " Their spirits have already passed on to the sphere where they ought to have gone. You alone can go to heaven without having to leave your body. Please come with me," said Indra.

 " This dog has followed me faithfully through all the travails of the way. He too must be allowed to ascend to heaven. I cannot go there without him," said Yudhishthira again. " You are to be received into heaven because your virtues are equivalent to those of mine. How can a dog enter heaven? Please do not put forth such an impossible condition," pleaded Indra. But Yudhishthira remained adamant. While the dialogue continued, the dog suddenly got changed into Yama, the God of Death and Dharma. " I had tested you, disguised as a Yaksha, while you lived in exile in the forest. I have tested you again. It is hard to find your equal even in heaven. You certainly deserve to go there along with your body," said Yama. A number of other gods came forward to welcome Yudhishthira to heaven. They all began their return journey in their respective chariots. " Many great souls have entered heaven, but none had done so while in his body," observed the sage Narada. " But I am not happy, for, my brothers are not with me," regretted Yudhishthira. " O King! Your work on earth has ended. Why don't you forget all about your earthly relations? Let me be frank with you. Your brothers have not been able to pass on to heaven. You see, heaven is meant only for gods and very great souls!" said Indra. " But I cannot dwell here without my brothers. I will rather go where my brothers and Draupadi have gone," insisted Yudhishthira. A great surprise awaited Yudhishthira. He saw Duryodhana dwelling in heaven in all splendour amidst the luminous gods. Yudhishthira failed to understand how a character with 
such a long record of misdeeds could occupy a place there. He murmured, " I have least desire to live in a sphere where even Durvodhana could find a place!" "O King! Your old impressions and ideas do not hold any good here in heaven. Didn't Duryodhana die a hero's death?" said Narada, smiling. " If Duryodhana, with all his sinful actions, could dwell in heaven, what about my brothers and Drustadyumna and Abhimanyu and the Upapandavas, who had always adhered to justice?" Yudhishthira asked. Yudhishthira's bewilderment increased when he could neither see Karna nor many a virtuous king who had helped him in the war with faith in the principles of truth. Then the gods told him, " If you want to see them, you have to descend to their region. Follow this guide if you so desire!" Yudhishthira followed the guide and soon came to a road which was dark, difficult, full of worms and flies, and nauseating things like rotten flesh or skeletons scattered on it. Disgusted, Yudhishthira asked, " How long must we keep walking?" 

" If you are tired, O King, let us go back. This is a long, long, way, with even more ghastly sights to meet your eyes!" said the guide. Yudhishthira felt disappointed. He was brooding over his course of action when he heard some moaning voices, "O King! Please stay here for a while. Your presence gives us peace." " Who are you?" asked the surprised Yudhishthira. "I am Karna!" "I am Bhima!" " I am Arjuna!" " I am Nakula!" " I am Sahadeva!" " I am Draupadi!" said the host of voices. Yudhishthira felt deeply distressed. He said to himself, " What is the strange law operating here? How can sinners dwell in heaven while the virtuous are doomed to lie in this terrible sphere? Am I dreaming? Or, have I turned mad?" Then he said to his guide, " You may now return to heaven. Tell the gods that I will prefer to be here, since my presence gives my brothers a little relief." The guide departed and reaching heaven, reported everything to Indra. Soon Indra and other gods appeared before Yudhishthira. 

As they arrived, the awful darkness was gone. The place was full of heavenly fragrance carried by sweet breeze. The moaning of invisible spirits was heard no more. " Yudhishthira! Now be pleased to return with us. The phase of gloom through which you were required to pass is now over. Your brothers as well as Draupadi have all gone to heaven by now. The law is like this: Everybody has to suffer the consequences of his sin, however little, as everybody will be rewarded for his virtue. If the reward for the virtue is enjoyed first, the consequence for the sin will come later. Those who have very little sin, they are made to suffer the hell first. Those who have very little virtue, they are allowed to enjoy heaven first. The period of suffering in case of your dear ones has already ended and they have gone over to heaven. For some slight errors you had made in your life, you had to see and feel the hell for a while. Now you can be in heaven, along with your dear ones. You were worried about Karna. Be sure that he too is already in heaven. You are greater than many a great soul. So, you will be in the company of the souls of Harishchandra, Mandhata and Bhagiratha. Look, yonder flows the Ganga of the heaven. Once you have a dip in it, your earthly consciousness will entirely vanish." Yudhishthira entered the Ganga of the heaven and gave up his body in her water. Then he went over to his brothers. There he met Krishna who was still in the form which he had on earth. Arjuna was with him and they received Yudhishthira with joy. Karna too could be seen. He looked as luminous as the sun. Elsewhere was Bhima, among the Maruttas. Nakula and Sahadeva too could soon be seen. Thereafter lndra showed Draupadi, her sons, Dhritarashtra, Abhimanyu, Pandu, Kunti, Madri, Bhishma, Drona and other heroes to Yudhishthira and told him all about their destiny. 

--- The End ---