MBK: 1.23: Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s Anxiety

In Hastināpura Dhṛtarāṣṭra was becoming increasingly sorrowful. Needing solace, he called for Vidura and said, “O Khattwa, your intelligence is no less than that of the great Bhārgava. You are acquainted with all the subtleties of dharma. You regard all the Kurus equally; tell me therefore what is good for me and for them. Now that things have taken this course, what should we do? How can we again secure the citizens’ faith and love? And especially, how can we avoid total annihilation of our race?”

Vidura replied, “O King, religion, as well as economic development and sense pleasure, depend upon virtue. A kingdom’s success also rests upon virtue. Therefore, O best of men, cherish and love both your own sons and the sons of Pāṇḍu. You destroyed virtue when you allowed your sons, headed by Śakuni, to play dice with Yudhiṣṭhira. The only way you can now atone for this evil and win praise in this world is to return the Pāṇḍavas their kingdom. Be satisfied with what is rightfully yours and do not covet others’ possessions.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra shifted uncomfortably in his seat. This was not the advice he had wanted to hear. He was more interested in knowing how the Kauravas could secure their present position. Destiny had conferred upon them sovereignty of the entire earth. Now they needed to strengthen their position in order to rule it successfully. What help would it be to concede the kingdom to their most powerful enemies? Dhṛtarāṣṭra felt his anger rising as Vidura continued to speak.

“O descendent of Bharata, I once told you to abandon Duryodhana. Had you listened to me then you would not be repenting now. You can still do it. Cast aside Duryodhana and bring Yudhiṣṭhira back as the monarch. Let your sons and their followers wait upon the Pāṇḍavas. Have Dushashana apologize to Draupadī in the open court, and he should also beg Bhīma’s pardon. This will be good for all of us and it will also save the kingdom from destruction. What else can I advise you at such a time?”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s anger boiled over. It seemed that Vidura always sided with the Pāṇḍavas and never favored him or his sons. Placing his hand on his bejeweled scepter, he said, “O Vidura, you speak only to please the Pāṇḍavas and do not care to please me. I do not approve of your words. How do you expect me to abandon my own flesh and blood for another’s sake? Although the Pāṇḍavas are as good as my sons, Duryodhana has sprung from my body. You ask me to leave my own body aside in order to favor another’s. Although I hold you in great esteem, today I find your words crooked. I therefore reject them. You may stay here or go away as you please. I no longer require your advice. However well an unchaste wife is treated, she always forsakes her husband.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra rose suddenly and stalked off into his inner chambers. Vidura shook his head sadly and said, “This race is doomed.” He decided to follow the Pāṇḍavas into the forest and made preparations for his departure.

* * *

Leaving aside their chariots and carrying only their weapons, the Pāṇḍavas had begun to travel in a westerly direction, going from forest to forest. They passed through Kurukṣetra and crossed over the rivers Yamunā, Drishadwati and Sarasvatī. Finally, on the banks of the Sarasvatī, they saw the great Kāmyaka forest. Many ascetics lined the river bank while performing their sacrifices and austerities. The Pāṇḍavas entered the Kāmyaka and built thatched huts in which to live. In the company of the Brahmins they began to devote their time to sacrifice and scriptural study.

One evening, as they sat by the sacred fire listening to Brahmins recite Vedic histories, the brothers heard a chariot approaching. They looked up and saw Vidura coming toward them. Surprised, Yudhiṣṭhira said to Bhīma, “Why is Vidura here? Has he been sent to fetch us for yet another game of dice? Does the mean-minded Śakuni wish to take from us even our weapons?”

The Pāṇḍavas rose from the fire and greeted Vidura with all respects. They settled him in their midst and after inquiring about his welfare, Yudhiṣṭhira offered Vidura refreshments and a place to rest. The following day, Vidura related to the brothers what had transpired in Hastināpura.

“O Ajātaśatru, I told the king what was beneficial for him, but he did not care to listen. As the unchaste wife of a noble man can never be brought back to virtue, so the king will not take to the right path. He will never meet with good fortune. As water falling upon a lotus leaf rolls off, so my counsel had no effect on him. He has sent me away with harsh words.”

The Pāṇḍavas consoled Vidura, and he said, “I shall now tell you what, in my opinion, will be conducive to your ultimate success. You should bide your time patiently and find ways to increase your strength. Perform asceticism and worship the gods. This will help you gain power. Always speak the truth and be kind to your dependents and followers. Share your food with them and never boast in their presence. This conduct increases the prosperity of kings.”

Yudhiṣṭhira thanked Vidura for his advice, which he said he would follow. Then another chariot was heard approaching. This time it was Sañjaya coming toward them. Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s charioteer bowed before Yudhiṣṭhira and was graciously received with kind words of welcome. When he was comfortably seated, he explained to Yudhiṣṭhira why he had come.

“Having dispatched Vidura with cruel words, the king is consumed by repentance and sorrow. This morning he entered the assembly hall and fell senseless to the floor. When he regained consciousness he said to the assembled kings, ‘My brother Vidura is like the god of justice, Yamarāja. Remembering him, my heart burns with anguish and grief.’”

Sañjaya continued, “The king told me to fetch Vidura back to Hastināpura. He said, ‘Go quickly, O Sañjaya, and see whether my brother, whom I angrily sent away with harsh words, lives or not. He has never done me the slightest wrong. Rather he has suffered at my hands. Bring him here soon before I give up my life.’”

Sañjaya turned to Vidura. “O descendent of Kuru, please return to the city and revive the king. This is his order.”

Even though Dhṛtarāṣṭra seemed quite unable to heed his good advice, Vidura decided to return. He loved his elder brother. He knew that Dhṛtarāṣṭra was intelligent, despite his foolish behavior. Vidura felt that if he was near the king and able to offer counsel, then at least there would be a chance that he would come to his senses.

After taking Yudhiṣṭhira’s permission, Vidura returned to Hastināpura and went to see Dhṛtarāṣṭra who was overjoyed to see him. The king said, “O virtuous and sinless one, by good fortune have I got you back. I could not sleep last night, thinking I was lost.”

Vidura replied that he had forgiven Dhṛtarāṣṭra his insult. “You are my guru and worthy of my highest respect. I came here swiftly when Sañjaya told me of your desire. O King, it is only natural that any virtuous man feels inclined toward helping the distressed. Both your sons and those of Pāṇḍu are equally dear to me, but because the Pāṇḍavas are now in distress I feel compassion more for them.”

With apologetic words the two brothers continued speaking together for some while, happy to be reunited.

* * *

Duryodhana, however, was not pleased to see Vidura return. He summoned Śakuni, Karṇa and Dushashana and said, “The intelligent Vidura has returned. He is always inclined toward the Pāṇḍavas. Before he manages to convince the king to bring the Pāṇḍavas back, let us consider what should be done. If I ever again see the Pāṇḍavas flourish, I shall not be able to maintain my life.”

Śakuni laughed. “What folly are you speaking, O King? The Pāṇḍavas have already left for the forest. They will be gone for the next thirteen years. They agreed to accept the wager and will never deviate from truth. Even if your father does ask them to return, they would not agree to do so until their exile has expired. Anyway, we do not need to be afraid. We need only to pretend that we agree with your father and await an opportunity to overcome them again.”

Dushashana applauded Śakuni’s words. “I like your advice, uncle.”

Karṇa looked at Duryodhana, who was still uneasy. “O King, all of us here are your friends and well-wishers. We shall always support you against the Pāṇḍavas. You have nothing to fear. But I agree with Śakuni. The brothers will not break their vow. If somehow they do return, then we can find some means to again defeat them.”

Duryodhana turned away from his counselors. He stood and looked out the latticed window at the beautiful palace gardens. He breathed heavily and ground his teeth. How could he be happy as long as those Pāṇḍavas were still alive?

Karṇa said, “I know what you are thinking, O ruler of men. I share your feelings. We must root out the Pāṇḍavas once and for all. The dice game has not settled the issue, because the Pāṇḍavas still live.”

Karṇa’s handsome face contorted with anger as he thought of Arjuna, his old rival. He longed to face him in battle. Thirteen years was a long time to wait. Striding back and forth, Karṇa went on passionately. “Here is my honest opinion, O King. Now let us put on our armor and take up our weapons, mount our chariots and go in force to the forest. We will find the Pāṇḍavas and kill them. This is a good time, while they are destitute and weakened by sorrow. They have no power and no influence. We will easily be able to defeat them.”

Everyone was stirred by Karṇa’s strong words. His was the right solution. Without hesitation Duryodhana arranged for a large force to accompany him; with Karṇa and his brothers by his side, he set out for the forest.

On their way out of the city, however, they met Vyāsadeva. The sage had seen Duryodhana’s plan by his spiritual vision. He ordered Duryodhana to return to the palace. The prince felt chastened, but he dared not defy the ṛṣi’s order, fearing the power of his curse.

Vyāsadeva then went to see Dhṛtarāṣṭra. When he had been properly received and worshipped, he said, “O greatly wise Dhṛtarāṣṭra, listen as I tell you what is best for the Kurus. I am not at all pleased that the Pāṇḍavas have been sent to the forest through dishonest means. If you do not return their kingdom, then, at the end of the thirteen years, they will not have forgotten their enmity. Without doubt they will kill the Kauravas.”

Vyāsadeva sat upon an elevated seat in the Kuru assembly. He looked at the king, who sat surrounded by his ministers and counselors. They all listened respectfully as the sage continued. “Your foolish son now desires to slay the Pāṇḍavas. You should check him. If he tries to kill those heroes in the forest, he will lose his own life. O descendent of Bharata, Duryodhana regards the Pāṇḍavas with such envy that unless you interfere in his schemes, he will cause the Kuru race to be destroyed.

“O King, why not send Duryodhana to the forest to serve the Pāṇḍavas? He will then be out of harm’s way. Perhaps the virtuous Pāṇḍavas will even come to like him, although I am doubtful. The nature a man acquires at birth stays with him all his life. It seems impossible that Duryodhana would ever be able to humble himself before the Pāṇḍavas or before anyone else.”

The sage looked around the assembly. “What do Bhīṣma, Droṇa and Vidura think? What is your view, O King? You should do the right thing immediately, otherwise your happiness will be destroyed.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra lifted a hand decked with gleaming rings and placed it against his forehead. Sighing, he replied, “O illustrious one, I did not like this gambling business from the beginning. I think I was forced to give my consent by irresistible destiny. Neither Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Vidura, nor the Queen Gāndhārī, liked the dice game. I have no doubt that it happened under the Lord’s deluding potency, maya. I knew all this at the time, but due to my paternal love I was unable to abandon the envious Duryodhana.”

“O King, I can understand how you feel. The son is always a man’s most dear object. But why do you not also see the Pāṇḍavas as your sons? They are suffering distress. Why do you not feel compassion for them now? I am now addressing you as my own son. I feel the same love for my other two sons, Pāṇḍu and Vidura. You have one hundred and one sons and Pāṇḍu has only five. When I think of Pāṇḍu’s sons I wonder only how I may help them. O best of men, if you wish to keep all the Kurus alive, then order Duryodhana to make peace with the Pāṇḍavas.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra slowly shook his head, his brilliant crown catching the sun rays pouring through the windows. “O wise Ṛṣi, it is exactly as you say. I know it well, as do all these kings. I have already heard the same advice from Bhīṣma, Vidura and Droṇa. Somehow, I cannot follow that advice. Please therefore be gracious to the Kurus and instruct my wicked son to take the righteous path.”

Vyāsadeva, who could see past, present and future, said, “Soon the illustrious Ṛṣi Maitreya will visit after having visited the Pāṇḍavas. He will admonish your son for the sake of the Kuru’s welfare. Follow his advice without hesitation. Otherwise he will curse your son.” Vyāsadeva then stood and left the assembly.

As Vyāsadeva predicted, Maitreya Ṛṣi soon arrived. The itinerant ascetic, who carried only a staff and a water pot, was received with all respect by Dhṛtarāṣṭra and his sons. They worshipped him with offerings of arghya and other rites. Dhṛtarāṣṭra then offered him a jewel-encrusted seat in the assembly. When the sage was seated comfortably the king asked, “O illustrious one, was your journey from the forest a pleasant one? Are the heroes, the five Pāṇḍava brothers, living there happily? Will they spend the full thirteen years there? How will the brotherly affection between my sons and nephews be restored?”

Maitreya looked around the assembly. “While on a pilgrimage I came to the Kāmyaka forest and met Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers. They now wear deerskins and have matted their hair, and they live there surrounded by ṛṣis. I heard from them of the grave errors Duryodhana committed and of the terrible danger that you now face as a result. Therefore, I have come here to offer some advice. My affection for you is great and I always wish you well.”

The sage asked how it was possible that the king was overlooking Duryodhana’s evil acts. How could both Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Bhīṣma have allowed him to create such enmity with the Pāṇḍavas?

“You are the monarch here,” the ṛṣi said solemnly. “You are thus able to punish wrong-doers. For having allowed wicked acts to be perpetrated in your own assembly hall, O King, you have been condemned by the sages. Do you not fear the consequences?”

Maitreya turned toward Duryodhana, who scowled at his words. The sage spoke softly. “O mighty-armed hero, I utter words meant only for your good, as well as that of the Kurus, the Pāṇḍavas and indeed the whole world. Do not quarrel with the Pāṇḍavas. They are all as powerful as thousands of mighty elephants. They are virtuous and possessed of great prowess. With his bare hands, Bhīma has slain three powerful Rākṣasas, enemies of the celestials who were capable of assuming any form at will. He killed these three--Hiḍimba, Baka and Kirmira--as easily as a tiger kills small deer. Do you remember how that same Bhīma killed, in single combat, the invincible Jarāsandha? Who is foolish enough to create enmity with such heroes, having as they do Kṛṣṇa, Drupada and Drupada’s sons as their allies? Take my advice, dear child, and make peace with them. Do not bring this danger upon yourself.”

Duryodhana looked away and made no reply. He exposed his thigh and slapped it loudly, then hung his head. Then stretching his leg as if bored, he scratched the ground with his foot.

When he saw Duryodhana’s impudence, Maitreya’s eyes turned red with anger. He touched holy water and, holding the sacred thread hanging from his shoulder, said in a voice like thunder, “O insolent one, since you slight my words and pay no heed to my advice you shall soon reap the result. In the great war which will spring from the wrongs you have perpetrated, Bhīma will smash your thigh with his mace.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra immediately became alarmed. He sought to console and gratify Maitreya with gentle words, asking him to be merciful toward Duryodhana. Maitreya said that if Duryodhana made peace with the Pāṇḍavas, the curse would be lifted. Otherwise it would not be reversed.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra felt a little relieved, having managed to mitigate Maitreya’s curse. He then said, “O Ṛṣi, we have heard how Bhīma destroyed Hiḍimba and Baka, but not Kirmira. Who was this demon? What was his strength and how was he killed? We wish to know everything.”

Maitreya replied, “I will not speak any further to this assembly because Duryodhana has rejected my words. Vidura knows well the history of Kirmira.” And with that the sage rose and left the city.

When the offended sage was gone, Dhṛtarāṣṭra asked Vidura to relate the story. Vidura replied, “O King, I heard this story from Yudhiṣṭhira when I spoke to him in the forest. Having left Hastināpura the Pāṇḍavas traveled for three days and nights, finally arriving at the Kāmyaka forest. As they moved through this forest during the fearful hours of the night they encountered a terrible Rākṣasa with flaming eyes. He stood as tall as a tree and held a blazing torch. With arms and legs outstretched like the branches of a huge sal tree, he blocked the Pāṇḍavas’ path. He had eight fangs protruding from his wide open mouth, and his eyes were the color of copper. His flaming red hair stood erect and he resembled a mass of clouds charged with lightning and adorned by a flock of cranes. Roaring like thunder he spread the Rākṣasa illusion and confounded the Pāṇḍavas’ senses.”

The assembly listened spellbound as Vidura told the story. “Birds and other creatures dropped down everywhere simply from hearing the demon’s awful cries. Deer, buffaloes, leopards and bears fled terrified in all directions. The forest itself seemed to be moving due to all the fleeing creatures. A violent wind blew up and dust clouds swirled. Even as grief is the greatest enemy of the five senses, so that Rākṣasa appeared to the five Pāṇḍavas. “Spying the brothers from a distance, clad in their deerskins and carrying weapons, the Rākṣasa obstructed their path like the Maināka mountain. When Draupadī saw the horrifying creature, she closed her eyes and stood amid her husbands like an agitated river amid five hills. Dhaumya at once uttered Vedic mantras to counter the demon’s illusions, and the wind ceased and the dust settled. Seeing his power checked, the Rākṣasa opened his eyes in anger--he looked like Death himself.

“Yudhiṣṭhira was stern. ‘Who are you? What do you want of us?’

“The Rākṣasa replied, ‘I am Kirmira, the brother of Baka. I live comfortably in this uninhabited forest. I eat all men foolish enough to come here. Who are you that have come today to become my food?’

“‘We are the five sons of Pāṇḍu,’ Yudhiṣṭhira answered. ‘We have been exiled from our kingdom and desire to spend our time in this forest, which is your dominion.’

“When their identity was disclosed, the Rākṣasa bellowed in joy. ‘Ha! What good luck. Fate has today accomplished my long-cherished desire. I have wandered around in the hope of finding Bhīma, my brother’s killer. Now he stands here before me at the dead of night, when my power is greatest, and when I am hungry. Disguised as a Brahmin this wretch slew my brother and stole his sister. I shall now wreak my vengeance on him. I will kill him and offer his blood to Baka’s departed soul. In this way, I shall be freed of my debt to my brother. I shall devour Bhīma, digesting him even as Agastya digested the Asura Vātāpi.’

“Yudhiṣṭhira rebuked the Rākṣasa. ‘This can never be.’ The mighty Bhīma at once tore up a huge tree and stripped it of its branches, and in the twinkling of an eye Arjuna had strung his bow and stood with an arrow at the ready. But Bhīma stopped his brother and advanced alone to face the demon. Tightening his waist cloth, he shouted an angry challenge. ‘Stay and fight!’ Armed with the tree he rushed toward him. As Indra hurls his thunderbolt Bhīma brought down the tree with force upon the Rākṣasa’s head. The tree smashed to pieces while the demon remained unmoved. He hurled his flaming brand at Bhīma and it flew toward him like a streak of lightning. Bhīma dropped quickly to the ground and turned the torch away with his left foot.

“Roaring terribly the Rākṣasa himself tore up a great tree and rushed at Bhīma like Yamarāja bearing his death-dealing staff. The two combatants pulled up tree after tree and hurled and smashed them together as they fought. The battle resembled the fight of old between Vāli and Sugrīva and soon a large area of the forest had been stripped of trees. The angry demon then lifted and hurled a massive rock at Bhīma, who caught the boulder and tossed it back. Kirmira rushed at Bhīma with outstretched arms, even as Rāhu goes to devour the sun. They grappled together, rolling about on the earth like a couple of infuriated bulls locked in mortal combat.

“The fight was fierce and hard, lasting for almost an hour. Bhīma, proud of his strength, was conscious of Draupadī watching him. Then he remembered Duryodhana’s insults toward the princess. Looking at the demon as if he were the Kaurava, Bhīma’s anger swelled. He seized the Rākṣasa like one maddened elephant seizing another. Kirmira also seized the Pāṇḍava, but Bhīma lifted him and threw him down violently. He then took hold of the demon by the waist and began to shake him as trees are shaken by the wind. Even as he was being shaken, the demon reached up and with all his strength grasped hold of Bhīma by the neck. Bhīma repeatedly lifted and smashed the Rākṣasa down, even as the demon gripped him with hands like steel vices.

“The earth shook and the forest echoed with the sound of Kirmira’s body striking the ground. He roared fearfully like a discordant trumpet. Bhīma lifted him and whirled him around with tremendous power. Seeing that the Rākṣasa had fallen unconscious, Bhīma threw him to the ground. He placed his knees on his chest and strangled him. As the demon died, Bhīma said, ‘O sinful wretch, you need no longer wipe away the tears of Baka and Hiḍimba’s relatives, for you are now going to join them.’

“Leaving Kirmira’s body lying on the path, devoid of clothes and ornaments, Bhīma rejoined his brothers. They gathered round him and praised him. Again placing Draupadī in the center of their party, they entered deeper into the forest.”

The assembly was amazed to hear this story. Vidura concluded, “This is what I heard from Yudhiṣṭhira. When I was passing through the forest I saw for myself the Rākṣasa’s body after being smashed by Bhīma’s blows.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra sighed and said nothing. He was becoming increasingly anxious. Bhīma had promised to kill all his sons. Who or what could ever prevent him from fulfilling his promise? The king’s heart burned with fear and anguish.