MBK: 1.7: The Pāṇḍavas Sent Away
During the weeks that followed, Duryodhana and his brothers slowly began to win over the people. They distributed wealth and honors liberally and provided the citizens with all kinds of amenities and pleasures. At the same time, Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s ministers spoke continuously in the court about Vāraṇāvata, as they had been instructed by the king. The Pāṇḍavas heard them describe the city’s attractions. “The festival of Pāśupāta is starting soon. The procession has no equal anywhere in the world. The decorations, gems, jewels and entertainments delight the heart.”
The young princes were attracted. When Dhṛtarāṣṭra saw that their curiosity had been aroused, he said, “I have been hearing a lot about Vāraṇāvata of late. It occurred to me that you boys would derive much pleasure from visiting that city. Why not make a state visit? Bestow charity on the people and take your leisure. After enjoying yourselves there, you may return here whenever you please.”
Yudhiṣṭhira, however, was intelligent; he understood that this was simply a ploy to remove them from the city. Why did the king not ask his own sons to go to Vāraṇāvata? Yudhiṣṭhira had seen the unusual kindness that Duryodhana had been displaying toward the people lately, and he knew that he was hatching a plot. But he felt helpless. He decided it would be better to do as the king suggested for the time being. Their position was not strong. The Pāṇḍavas had few friends or supporters and the king’s sons were constantly inclined to harm them in any way they could. Perhaps a time away from Hastināpura would help.
A date was set for the Pāṇḍava’s departure. Duryodhana was overjoyed that the Pāṇḍavas had agreed to go, and immediately began to make plans. He summoned his confidential counselor, Purochana. Taking him by the hand, the prince said, “This world and all its wealth is as much yours as it is mine. You should act so it will be protected. You are my most trustworthy supporter. I am completely dependent on you. Listen as I tell you what must be done, and done secretly. Do not repeat to anyone what I shall now say to you.”
Duryodhana asked Purochana to go at once to Vāraṇāvata. Using skilled and trusted artisans, he should construct a spacious mansion for the Pāṇḍavas. It should be elegant and full of rich furnishings, but it should be made entirely of flammable materials. “Mix ghee and oil with earth and a large quantity of lac. Plaster the walls with it and then paint over it carefully. Then scent the house so no one will suspect anything.”
The prince also instructed Purochana to leave pots of ghee and oil in the house. He wanted to ensure that the building would burn to ashes within minutes. Duryodhana then revealed to Purochana the whole plan he had made with Śakuni. Purochana should meet the Pāṇḍavas as soon as they arrived in Vāraṇāvata. He should then show them to their quarters. He should be sure they knew that the house had been built for them on the king’s orders. Purochana should live with them to help allay their suspicions. Then, when they were least suspecting it, Purochana should set fire to the house while they were asleep.
Duryodhana squeezed his minister’s hand. “Everything depends upon you, Purochana. Know that I shall reward you with unlimited wealth if you do me this favor. Leave immediately, for the Pāṇḍavas will be there soon.”
Purochana promised to do everything he had been asked. Gathering a number of his men, he left immediately for Vāraṇāvata on a swift chariot drawn by asses. They began work on the house the moment they arrived.
On the day of their departure, the Pāṇḍavas went before their elders and bowed down in respect. They touched Bhīṣma and Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s feet, and embraced their equals with love. Taking leave of the ladies, they walked respectfully around them with folded palms. Then they mounted their fine, golden chariots. The citizens crowded around them as they made preparations to leave, then followed the chariots as they slowly made their way out of the city. The young princes felt sorrow at leaving their homes and loved ones. Seeing their grief, some of the people spoke out. One Brahmin said, “King Dhṛtarāṣṭra does not have equal vision. He favors his sons over these virtuous princes. Pāṇḍu’s sons will never commit any sin. They are blameless and pure and do not deserve to be sent away.” Some of the people censured Bhīṣma for allowing it to happen, while others condemned the blind king and his son. Many of them declared that they would go with the Pāṇḍavas to Vāraṇāvata rather than remain with the cruel-minded monarch.
But Yudhiṣṭhira checked them. “The king is our father, our preceptor and our superior. He is always worthy of our worship and should be obeyed without question. This is the eternal injunction of scripture and we should abide by it with a peaceful mind.” When the time came, he said, they could render his brothers and him service in another way. The citizens then circumambulated the chariots and departed, tears flooding their eyes.
When the Pāṇḍavas reached the edge of the city, Vidura met them. Vidura had learned of Duryodhana’s scheme through his palace spies. He wanted to warn Yudhiṣṭhira without anyone else understanding his message. Going before the prince who was still in the people’s midst, he spoke to him in the language of the
Vidura spoke for some minutes and Yudhiṣṭhira, who was versed in many languages, understood his meaning, although the message was not understandable by others. When Vidura finished, Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “I understand.” Vidura smiled, then walked respectfully around the princes. Bidding them farewell, he left for his own house.
On the road to Vāraṇāvata, Kuntī asked Yudhiṣṭhira what Vidura had said. Yudhiṣṭhira replied that Vidura had told him that their house in Vāraṇāvata would be burned down. He had also told the prince that the means of escape would be revealed to him. “The learned Vidura then said that he who is self-controlled wins the sovereignty of the earth.”
When the citizens of Vāraṇāvata heard that the famous Pāṇḍava brothers were approaching their city, they came out in the thousands to greet the princes. The people saw Yudhiṣṭhira leading his brothers, like Indra leading the celestials. They worshipped and welcomed the princes and led them into their city to the accompaniment of trumpets, drums and conchshells. Cheers filled the air as the brothers proceeded slowly along the road. Reaching the city’s main concourse, they got down from their chariots and went first to meet the Brahmins. Then they met with the city officials, then the warriors, the trades people and finally the workers and servant classes.
After the greetings were over, the Pāṇḍavas were received as guests of one of the city’s chief officials. Remembering Vidura’s warning and unsure of what to expect, they remained there for ten days. Then Purochana told them that their own residence was ready. He personally led the princes and Kuntī to the house he had named ‘The Blessed Dwelling’. As they entered the house Yudhiṣṭhira said quietly to Bhīma, “From the odors I detect here it is evident that this house has been made of lac and other materials soaked in ghee and oil. Without doubt Purochana intends to burn us to death in this place. It is just as Vidura told me. Duryodhana has obviously entrusted Purochana with the job of killing us.”
Bhīma replied, “Then why should we live in this death-trap? Let us return to where we have already been staying.”
Yudhiṣṭhira did not think Bhīma’s idea to be a wise one. “If we let Purochana realize we suspect him, then he may try anything in order to kill us. Obviously he is without scruples and is determined to do the will of the ruthless Duryodhana. We should not give him any indication that we are aware of his wicked intentions.”
When Purochana left the brothers spoke openly together. Yudhiṣṭhira said they should dig a tunnel under the house in order to escape when the time came. That was what Vidura had instructed. Bhīma and Arjuna wondered why they should live in fear of Duryodhana. Why not challenge him outright? Bhīma was especially angry, remembering the times when Duryodhana had tried to poison him. He slapped his biceps and said menacingly, “Just order me, dear brother, and I shall immediately crush the Kauravas with my bare hands.”
No, Yudhiṣṭhira said, their position was in no way equal to that of their cousins. “They are one hundred and we are five. They have rank, power, friends, allies and wealth. Dhṛtarāṣṭra will never abandon his sons, and Bhīṣma and Droṇa will always stand by the king. We cannot challenge the Kurus directly.”
The twins suggested that they immediately fly from Vāraṇāvata. Yudhiṣṭhira again disagreed. “Once he knows we are running in fear, Duryodhana will use spies and agents to find us and kill us by any devious means.”
Yudhiṣṭhira decided that their best hope lay in living in the lac house seemingly unaware of the danger. Remaining constantly alert, they should prepare an escape tunnel under the house. They should also spend their days hunting in the woods and looking for a route that would take them away from the city. When Purochana set light to the house, they could escape without anyone knowing. Duryodhana would think them dead and would not then pursue them.
His brothers agreed. They then searched the house for a place to dig the tunnel. As they were looking, a man came to the house and introduced himself as a friend of Vidura. He told Yudhiṣṭhira that he was a skilled miner and had been sent there by Vidura, who had informed him that on a new moon night, Purochana planned to set light to the door of their house.
Yudhiṣṭhira looked at the man carefully. Was this yet another of Duryodhana’s deceits? The miner reassured him by mentioning the incident when Vidura had spoken to him in the
The miner said he would begin construction of a subterranean passage immediately. He began to dig from the center of the house and covered the hole with planks and a large rug.
As the miner worked, the Pāṇḍavas spent their days wandering in the surrounding woods. They soon ascertained a route leading away from Vāraṇāvata through the forest. While living in the house the brothers gave to Purochana the appearance of being peaceful and happy so as not to arouse his suspicions, but at night they slept with their arms at the ready, one of them always remaining alert in case Purochana made an unexpected move. No one but the miner knew of their plans.
A full year passed in this way. Purochana was satisfied, thinking the Pāṇḍavas unaware of his intentions. When Yudhiṣṭhira saw that the minister suspected nothing and trusted them completely, he said to his brothers, “Let us pre-empt Purochana before he can enact his plan. I think we should ourselves set light to the house and make our escape.”
The tunnel was complete. Yudhiṣṭhira considered that their best hope lay in deceiving Duryodhana into thinking his plan had succeeded. That would allow the brothers to escape without being pursued. They would then have time to consider their next move. After discussing all the angles, the brothers decided that they would set fire to the house the next night.
The following day a festival was being celebrated in Vāraṇāvata. Kuntī distributed food and wealth to the Brahmins, and many poor people came to the Pāṇḍavas’ mansion to beg charity. By the arrangement of Providence, a
Outside as night fell, a storm blew up. The Pāṇḍavas sat together in their room waiting until they were sure that Purochana, who occupied the room by the door of the house, was asleep. Yudhiṣṭhira then instructed Bhīma to set the house on fire. Bhīma then took a torch and lit the door and several other places, as his brothers and Kuntī made their way along the tunnel. He followed them quickly, and in moments the whole house was ablaze.
Hearing the roar of the fire, the citizens of Vāraṇāvata all came out and saw with horror the blazing mansion. They were aware of the rivalry between Duryodhana and the Pāṇḍavas and they immediately guessed what had happened. “This is undoubtedly Duryodhana’s doing,” they said. “He has employed his evil minister to destroy the innocent and unsuspecting sons of Pāṇḍu. Fie upon that wicked man, whose understanding is so crooked!”
The bewailing people of the city surrounded the burning mansion and remained through the night. When morning came they threw water onto the embers and searched the burnt-out ruins. They found the remains of Purochana and also of the
The miner, who was present among the citizens, ensured that the searchers did not find the tunnel. Thus no one in Vāraṇāvata even guessed that the Pāṇḍavas were alive, and that they were at that time making their way through the forest. The city leaders then sent messengers to Hastināpura with the news of the Pāṇḍavas’ death.
When Dhṛtarāṣṭra heard the messengers from Vāraṇāvata he cried out in grief. “Alas, my brother Pāṇḍu has died again today because his heroic sons and their illustrious mother have been killed. What a cruel destiny! How can I face life without my gentle nephews?”
Dhṛtarāṣṭra then ordered that the royal Brahmins go immediately to Vāraṇāvata to perform the funeral rites for Kuntī and her sons. Along with Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa and the other elders, the king went to the Ganges to offer sacred water to the departed souls. As they stood in the river they cried out, “O Yudhiṣṭhira! O Bhīma! O Arjuna!” Others called out the names of Kuntī and the twins. Thousands of grieving citizens came out of Hastināpura to offer oblations. Sounds of wailing and sorrow filled the air. Bhīṣma was particularly afflicted as he remembered the young princes, who had always been like sons to him. Only Vidura did not lament, as he knew the truth. But still, he did not speak about it to anyone. He knew he could not risk telling even Bhīṣma, who was always loyal to the king and Hastināpura.
* * *
The Pāṇḍavas and Kuntī emerged from their tunnel some distance from Vāraṇāvata. As their eyes became accustomed to the darkness they proceeded in the direction they had already charted. They were tired and afraid, and they found it difficult to hurry. Seeing this, the tireless Bhīma lifted them all onto his vast frame. To everyone’s astonishment, he placed his mother on his shoulders, the twins on his two sides and Yudhiṣṭhira and Arjuna on each arm, then ran through the forest, knocking down trees and treading down bushes and brambles.
At dawn they arrived at the Ganges, where another of Vidura’s emissaries met them. This man was sitting in a boat and he called out to the Pāṇḍavas as they stood measuring the depth of the river with a stone tied to a creeper. Startled, the brothers looked around. Yudhiṣṭhira approached the man in the boat, who told them that he been told by Vidura to wait there for them. He had been there every night for months, carefully watching for signs of the brothers. The man assured Yudhiṣṭhira of his credentials by repeating to him the conversation the prince had had with Vidura in the
Propelled by an engine and sails, the boat moved swiftly through the flowing river toward the south. The Pāṇḍavas journeyed for some hours and were finally set down on the opposite bank near a broad path leading into the woods. The boatman wished them success and departed, taking with him a message of thanks for Vidura.
The brothers continued south. They soon entered a dense forest. Feeling tired and hungry, they sat down. Yudhiṣṭhira said in an anguished voice, “What could be more painful? Here we are lost in some deep and fearful forest. We do not know if the sinful Purochana has somehow survived and informed Duryodhana of our escape. What dangers lay ahead for us now?”
Kuntī was exhausted and could walk no further. She sat on a tree root, glancing around fearfully. Her sons searched about for a way to go deeper into the jungle. It appeared virtually impregnable with its huge trees and bushes enmeshed in a tight network of creepers. The cries of birds and animals filled the air. Yudhiṣṭhira gazed into the forest and said to Bhīma, “O mighty son of Vāyu, you must again carry us into these dreadful woods. I can see no other way for us to continue.”
Bhīma bowed his head in respect to his elder brother. Once again he placed his mother and four brothers on his powerful body. When they were all holding on tightly, he ran straight into the forest. He bounded high into the air and broke trees with his feet, clearing a path as he progressed. Tall flowering trees fell on all sides with great cracking sounds, sending up showers of blossoms. Forest animals fled in all directions as the prince crashed through the woods. He seemed like an angry elephant king charging through the jungle. So swift was his movement that Kuntī and her sons almost fainted. Still carrying the five of them, Bhīma also swam the streams and lakes that crossed his path.
As evening fell they stopped for the night under the shelter of a large banyan tree. Bhīma set down his mother and brothers and they fell to the ground overwhelmed by fatigue, hunger and thirst. Kuntī asked Bhīma to bring her some water. He replied, “I hear the sweet singing of waterfowl not far from here. Undoubtedly there is a lake nearby.”
The unflagging Bhīma went at once toward the sound and soon found the lake. After bathing and drinking deeply, he soaked his upper garment and went back to the banyan tree. But by the time he returned his mother and brothers had fallen into a deep sleep. Seeing them lying on the bare ground, Bhīma lamented to himself. “What more painful sight could there be? Here are my five brothers, who could not even sleep in Vāraṇāvata on the costliest of beds, sleeping now on the cold earth. My gentle mother, as delicate and resplendent as the filament of a lotus flower, lies exhausted on the hard forest floor.”
Bhīma wrang his hands in anguish and frustration. If only the Kauravas were present before him now. They would regret their treachery. It was only by the grace of God that Yudhiṣṭhira did not command him to kill them all. Bhīma looked at his sleeping elder brother. Surely he deserved to rule the entire earth. He never abandoned virtue or gave way to anger. Only because of this were the Kauravas still alive.
Bhīma sighed and looked around. They had traveled many miles through the forest. Perhaps there was a town or village not far away. He would remain awake guarding his brothers and in the morning they could continue. The prince sat on a root of the banyan tree with his mind and senses alert to danger.
Not far from where the brothers had stopped was a massive sal tree on which lived a Rākṣasa named Hiḍimba. He had slept through the day and was just awakening as the Pāṇḍavas were falling asleep. Yawning and stretching his enormous arms, he sniffed the night air. At once he detected the scent of humans nearby. He sat up quickly and called out to his sister, who lived on the same tree. “Hiḍimbī! Wake up. I smell human flesh. It has been a long time since we tasted our favorite food. My mouth is already watering. Quickly find the humans and, after killing them, bring them here. Tearing their necks with my long fangs I shall quaff their hot, foaming blood. Both of us shall eat our fill and then dance happily.”
The Rākṣasa woman shook her long, orange hair and opened her blood-red eyes. She cackled and looked at the long claws protruding from her black fingers. Hiḍimbī and her brother had often slain and eaten hapless travelers. Swinging down from the branch she went silently through the trees, following the scent. In a few minutes she arrived at the spot where the Pāṇḍavas lay. The Rākṣasī saw the invincible Bhīma seated nearby. As soon as her eyes fell upon him, her heart was moved by desire. The prince looked like a god. His skin was the color of molten gold and his shoulders resembled those of a lion. His neck resembled a conch and his eyes were like large lotus petals.
Hiḍimbī decided immediately that he should be her husband. If she killed him, she and her brother would enjoy the brief pleasure of eating his flesh; but if she united with him, her pleasure would be far greater. Deciding to ignore her brother’s order, Hiḍimbī assumed the form of a beautiful woman. Decorated with celestial ornaments and clothed in crimson silks, she walked slowly up to Bhīma. With a bashful smile she said, “O best of men, who are you and what brings you to this dark and dangerous forest? Who are these godlike men laying on the ground, and who is that woman of transcendent beauty lying with them?”
Bhīma looked at her in surprise. Was she the forest deity? What was such a beautiful woman doing alone at night in such a place? He listened carefully as Hiḍimbī continued. “This forest belongs to my brother Hiḍimba, a powerful man-eating Rākṣasa. With the intention of eating your flesh he sent me here to kill you.”
She raised her hand as Bhīma suddenly stood up. “Do not fear. I have been smitten with desire upon seeing you, who are as handsome as a god. Please accept me as your wife, for I am being victimized by Cupid’s shafts.”
Hiḍimbī told Bhīma that she would save him from her brother. She would carry him through the sky and far away from Hiḍimba. Then they could enjoy together in a celestial mountain region.
Bhīma sat down again. He shook his head. “O Rākṣasī, how do you expect me to abandon my sleeping mother and brothers simply to gratify my lust?”
Hiḍimbī looked down at the sleeping Pāṇḍavas and Kuntī. “Wake them up. I shall carry you all away from this place.”
Bhīma shook his head again. “I shall not wake my mother and brothers out of fear of any Rākṣasa. There is no Rākṣasa, Yakṣa or Gandharva able to withstand my strength. O beautifully shaped lady, you may stay or go as you please. Or if you like you may send your man-eating brother to me.”
As they were speaking together, Hiḍimba was becoming impatient. Where was his foolish sister? Why had she not returned? The Rākṣasa jumped down from his tree and moved toward the human scent.
Hiḍimbī sensed her brother’s approach and she became alarmed. She pleaded with Bhīma. “Please do not argue with me. My brother is coming. Do not tarry here and become his meal. Wake up the others and allow me to rescue all of you.”
Bhīma simply smiled. “This cannibal presents no problem to me. Indeed I shall kill him here before your eyes. Do not consider me an ordinary human being. My two arms are like the trunks of mighty elephants and my thighs resemble iron clubs. My prowess is no less than Indra himself. I fear nothing.”
Hiḍimbī was still doubtful. She had seen the Rākṣasa giants prove their superiority over men on many occasions. They were more on a level with the celestials than with humans. It was a rare human who could overpower a Rākṣasa.
Bhīma looked over Hiḍimbī’s shoulder and saw her brother approaching. He was as dark as a rain cloud and he had hideous features. His ears were shaped like arrows and the shock of red hair on his head stood erect. His powerful body, clad in a loin cloth, was covered in wiry red hair. The Rākṣasa was as tall as a tree and had broad shoulders. His arms, thick like tree trunks, reached down to his knees. His huge mouth was open, revealing rows of fearful fangs. He opened his crimson eyes in surprise as he saw his sister standing in a human form next to Bhīma. Seeing her so beautifully bedecked with celestial ornaments, Hiḍimba immediately understood that she had become lustful toward the human. He spoke angrily.
“Who is so foolish as to create obstacles for me when I am hungry? O sister, have you become so senseless that you do not fear my anger? Fie upon you, O unchaste woman! Simply out of lust you are ready to do me an injury and sacrifice the very honor of our race. I shall kill you along with these humans.”
Pressing his teeth together, Hiḍimba ran at his sister with his arms raised. Bhīma stood up at once and stepped forward. His voice boomed out. “Stop! How dare you awaken my peacefully sleeping brothers. Nor should you attack this innocent woman. O wicked-minded one, your sister is not in control of herself. She has been brought under Cupid’s control. Therefore, she should not be punished.”
Bhīma smiled scornfully at the cannibal. Challenging him to a fight, the prince said, “Today you shall reach the land of the dead. I will pound your head to pieces. Your sister shall see me drag your mountain-like frame even as a lion drags an elephant. Hawks, vultures and jackals will then gleefully tear apart your corpse. Today this forest shall be rendered safe for all travelers.”
Hiḍimba flared up. He laughed at the human’s impudence. Advancing toward Bhīma, the cannibal screamed, “What use is this boasting? First accomplish all this and then speak. You think yourself strong but you shall learn the truth today. For now your brothers may sleep peacefully. First I shall kill you, O foul-mouthed one. After drinking your blood I will then slay the others.”
The Rākṣasa rushed at Bhīma with his arms outstretched. Bhīma immediately seized the giant’s arms and, not wanting to disturb his sleeping brothers, dragged him away a full thirty-two cubits, even as a lion might drag a small deer.
Hiḍimba broke free from Bhīma’s hold and wrapped his arms around him. He tightened his grasp and tried to crush him to death. Bhīma was unharmed. Even while held in the Rākṣasa’s powerful grip, Bhīma pulled him still further away so that his terrible yells might not disturb the others. He then burst free from Hiḍimba and clasped him in turn. The two fighters displayed their might as they lifted and hurled each other violently. They crashed about like two great elephants fighting for supremacy. Huge trees were smashed and splintered. The noise awoke the other princes and their mother. They sat up and looked around. They were astonished to see the extraordinarily beautiful Hiḍimbī. Kuntī addressed her with gentle words.
“O celestial maiden, who are you? To whom do you belong? Why have you come to this forest? Are you the forest deity or an Apsarā? Please tell me everything.”
Hiḍimbī explained who she was and how she had come to be standing there. Pointing to the combatants, she said, “I have chosen your golden-hued and immensely powerful son as my husband. Greatly angered by this, my brother has attacked him. See now how they struggle together, man and Rākṣasa, filling the forest with their roars.”
Yudhiṣṭhira and the other Pāṇḍavas stood up hastily and looked across at Bhīma. He was pounding Hiḍimba with his fists, making a sound like thunder claps. The Rākṣasa pressed forward and reached for Bhīma’s neck with his large hands. As they grappled, a dust cloud rose and covered them. They appeared like two cliffs enveloped in mist.
Arjuna ran over and, with a smile on his lips, said to his brother, “O mighty-armed one, why did you not wake me? I can see that you are growing tired fighting this terrible Rākṣasa. Rest now and I shall kill him. Nakula and Sahadeva will protect our mother.”
Arjuna was taunting his brother only to incite his anger, and his words had the desired effect. Bhīma blazed up with fury and replied, “You need only be a spectator, dear brother. Have no fear. Now that this evil cannibal has entered my clutches he shall not escape with his life.”
Arjuna urged Bhīma to make haste. Twilight was approaching and the Rākṣasa’s strength would be doubled. Bhīma should kill him at once before he was able to use mystic powers and illusions to fight.
Bhīma summoned his father Vāyu’s latent power. With a roar he lifted the Rākṣasa above his head. Whirling him around, Bhīma said, “O cannibal, you have led a life of sin. Your existence has been in vain. Therefore you deserve an unholy death. Now I shall slay you like the beast you are, thereby freeing this forest from its thorny plant.”
Bhīma whirled the Rākṣasa one hundred times and dashed him to the ground. Hiḍimba let out a terrible roar which reverberated around the forest like a massive drum. Now Hiḍimba was only semi-conscious. Bhīma lifted him again and, by smashing him onto the trunk of a large sal tree, broke his back in two. He then stood up and smiled at his brothers, who by then had gathered around him. They embraced him and, looking at the lifeless form of the giant Rākṣasa, congratulated him for his incredible feat.