Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

The House of Lac

Mahabharata


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last Modified At: Sun Nov 7 16:20:04 2004