Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Another Game of Dice

Mahabharata


This episode is from [Maha:2.73-2.79].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of Sabha Parva, Book 2 of the Mahabharata.

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Last Modified At: Sun Jan 30 23:52:20 2005