Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

The Pandavas Enter the Forest

Mahabharata


This episode is from [Maha:3.1-3.3].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last Modified At: Sat Apr 2 02:12:31 2005