MBK: 1.26: To Badarīkā Ashram

In Hastināpura Dhṛtarāṣṭra sat in his chamber, his head in his hands. As time passed he was becoming increasingly anxious. What would happen at the end of the Pāṇḍavas’ exile? Would they not return with blazing weapons to seek vengeance? How would any of the Kauravas survive? If only Duryodhana would give up his envy. Yudhiṣṭhira would certainly live peacefully with his cousins if they were willing to share the kingdom, but that seemed unlikely. It appeared that nothing could change Duryodhana’s attitude. Even he could not sway him.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s anxiety doubled when he heard from Vyāsadeva that Arjuna had gone to the heavens to obtain weapons. Seeking comfort, the king called Sañjaya; when he was seated before him, he said, “O Suta, have you heard anything more about Arjuna’s activities? That powerful hero has ascended to heaven in his own body. My son is Arjuna’s sworn enemy. Their enmity will surely destroy the world. Aided by Arjuna, Yudhiṣṭhira can conquer the three worlds. Who among mortals can stand before Arjuna as he rains down virulent arrows?”

Tears flowed from the king’s blind eyes as he continued. “I do not see my son becoming successful even though Bhīṣma, Droṇa and Karṇa support him. None of these warriors can equal Arjuna, the infallible Kṛṣṇa’s friend. The man who can slay Arjuna does not exist, nor can anyone live long after coming within the range of his arrows. It seems to me that our armies have already fled in all directions upon hearing the fearful rumble of his chariot wheels. Surely Brahmā created that hero to become the destruction of our race.”

Sañjaya said nothing. He had heard the king make similar statements on many occasions, but still Dhṛtarāṣṭra did nothing to control his sons. It was as if he was hoping that Duryodhana and his followers could defy the inevitable outcome of their sinful activities. The old king was no fool, but he was so attached to his son that he allowed his attachment to overpower his reason.

After some moments Sañjaya said, “O King, your words are all true. Nothing you have said is wrong. When they saw their wife insulted in the sabha, the Pāṇḍavas became consumed by wrath. I do not see how they will ever forgive your sons. I have heard from Vyāsadeva that Arjuna satisfied the immortal Śiva and received from him his weapon. Your race now faces disaster.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra continued to lament. The annihilation of the Kauravas was certain, he said. Allied with Kṛṣṇa, the Pāṇḍavas were invincible. Duryodhana and Karṇa were the causes of the calamity he now faced. “O Suta, when I shall hear that my armies have been crushed by Arjuna and Bhīma, I, forever obedient to Duryodhana’s desires, shall then recall all the good advice my well-wishers gave me which I should have heeded.”

With a wry smile Sañjaya replied, “O King, again you have spoken the truth. You do not care for good advice. Therefore, it is only by your own fault that you now lament. You could have stopped Duryodhana, but you chose not to do so. Now we shall all suffer the reaction.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra fell silent. He now felt that the events were beyond his control. It was true. He was too attached to Duryodhana. He could not refuse his son anything. His half-hearted attempts to check Duryodhana were simply a waste of time. His sons laughed at his weakness. They knew they could sway him in the end. The blind king held his forehead and sighed. Would he ever see his son seated on the emperor’s throne? That right had become his only due to Pāṇḍu’s retirement. If only Duryodhana could win that right for himself. But how? Destiny seemed all-powerful. Feeling helpless, the king remained awake throughout the night, as he had on so many occasions.

* * *

After Arjuna had left for the Himālayas, his brothers and Draupadī continued to live in the Kāmyaka. They missed him sorely, and they had no idea how long he might be away or whether or not he would ever return. But they knew they would only be successful in their fight to regain the kingdom with Arjuna’s assistance. Thus they prayed for his safe passage to the mountains and for his success in gaining the celestial weapons.

Yudhiṣṭhira felt especially anguished. Bhīma would frequently remind him of the gambling match. That mighty Pāṇḍava wanted only to take up arms and chastise the Kauravas. Despite his brother’s counsel, he could not see the point of acting honorably toward dishonorable persons. Nor could he see how they would ever gain success by peaceful means.

“As soon as we leave the forest,” Bhīma said one day to Yudhiṣṭhira, “the sinful Śakuni will immediately challenge you to another game of dice. You will not refuse, although you are still unskilled at the game. Surely you will lose your senses and we shall again be consigned to the forest. O great prince, simply command me and I shall destroy Duryodhana right now, even as a fire consumes a pile of grass.”

Yudhiṣṭhira consoled his brother. He never allowed himself to become angered by his words, which he knew were spoken out of affection. Bhīma wanted nothing more than to see his elder brother as emperor of the world.

As the Pāṇḍavas discussed, the Ṛṣi Vrihadashwa approached them. He emerged from the woods as the sun comes out from behind a dark cloud. The brothers immediately bowed before him and offered him a seat, arghya, and other items.

The sage was clad in deerskin and had matted hair. Yudhiṣṭhira folded his hands and said, “O almighty one, due to the nefarious schemes of evil-minded gamblers, I have been deprived of my wealth and kingdom. Now my brothers are suffering and my wife has been humiliated. We are all exiled. My mind burns both with the remembrance of my enemies’ cruel words and my own foolishness, and I feel sorrow to think of my relatives and subjects. Now I have been deprived of Arjuna’s company, who is dearer to me than life. I remain awake whole nights feeling his absence. Have you ever heard of any king or prince more unfortunate than myself?”

Vrihadashwa replied that he knew the history of an ancient king who had ruled the Niṣadha tribespeople. He too had been defeated at dice by his brother and exiled to the forest with his wife. The king’s name was Nala, and his wife was called Damayantī. This story, the sage said, destroyed evil in people’s minds and pacified their hearts. Yudhiṣṭhira requested him to please narrate the story in detail. It turned out that Nala and Damayantī’s plight had been even worse than that which they were now experiencing. After losing everything and being sent to the forest, the king and his wife had also been separated, and both had wandered alone for a long time before finally being reunited and regaining their kingdom.

“You, on the other hand, O Yudhiṣṭhira, are here with your brothers and wife and are surrounded by Brahmins. Do not grieve. Men of your caliber always understand that material happiness and distress come and go according to destiny. It is beyond human exertion to change it.”

The ṛṣi assured Yudhiṣṭhira that he could help him never again to fall victim to Śakuni. “I am acquainted with the science of dice, O virtuous hero, and I shall pass this knowledge unto you.” Vrihadashwa then taught Yudhiṣṭhira the skills of the game and took his leave.

* * *

The Pāṇḍavas passed their days discussing spiritual topics and the art of kingship, and hearing the Brahmins’ recitation from scripture. They also underwent a daily regimen of physical training to keep themselves fit as warriors. Draupadī cooked wild roots and vegetables gathered in the forest, then placed everything on the sun-god’s dish and offered the food to the Lord. From the inexhaustible plate she then fed the hundreds of sages, then her husbands, and after everyone else had eaten, she accepted her own meal.

Besides the Brahmins who resided near the Pāṇḍavas, many traveling Brahmins stopped to see Yudhiṣṭhira. From them, Yudhiṣṭhira learned that Arjuna was performing severe asceticism in the Himālayas. The Pāṇḍavas and Draupadī felt pained to hear of it and prayed that he would soon achieve the goal of his mission and return.

One day Yudhiṣṭhira saw the effulgent Ṛṣi Nārada standing before him. After the Pāṇḍavas had worshipped him, the sage offered his blessings and asked if there was anything he could do for them. Yudhiṣṭhira bowed before Nārada and said that he wished to travel to various pilgrimage sites. He asked Nārada which sites would be most beneficial for them to visit. Nārada told Yudhiṣṭhira of the many holy places he should visit with his brothers. He also asked Yudhiṣṭhira to request the ṛṣis who were living with the Pāṇḍavas to accompany them. “In this way, O king, you will receive great merit. The paths to the tirthas I have described are infested with Rākṣasas. Only you are able to visit such holy places and thus enable these Brahmins to see them as well.”

Nārada assured Yudhiṣṭhira that by traveling to the holy places, the Pāṇḍavas would have the opportunity to meet such glorious ṛṣis as Vālmīki, Kaśyapa, Atri, Vasiṣṭha, Mārkaṇḍeya and others. “Soon the powerful sage Lomaśa will come here. Go with him to the tirthas, O King. In this way you will attain everlasting fame equal to that of the kings Mahavisha, Yayāti and Pūrurava. You will destroy your enemies and recover all that is rightfully yours. Like Bhagīratha, Manu, and even Lord Rāma, you will rule the earth and shine among kings as the sun shines among stars.”

Just after Nārada departed, Lomaśa Ṛṣi arrived. The sage was radiant in his black deerskin, and he carried only a water pot. Receiving him with honor, the Pāṇḍavas sat around him and asked him to tell of his travels. Lomaśa replied, “O heroes, while journeying throughout the worlds I went to Amarāvatī, Indra’s great city. There I saw the exalted king of the celestials and, to my astonishment, your brother Arjuna sharing his throne. Indra asked me to come to you and to assure you of Arjuna’s welfare. Thus I have come with all speed.”

Lomaśa told the Pāṇḍavas how Arjuna had acquired the celestial weapons, including Siva’s famous weapon. He had also learned to sing and dance from the Gandharvas. He would be returning soon. “Your brother asked me to lead you to the tirthas so that you may gain pious merits. Indra also made this request, and it is my desire as well. Although I have already been to all the tirthas twice, I shall go for a third time with you.”

Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers were overjoyed to hear of Arjuna’s success. Yudhiṣṭhira said, “O exalted Brahmin, your words are like a shower of nectar. Who could be more fortunate than one who is remembered by the king of the celestials? Now having you as our guide, our fortune is complete. Be pleased, O Ṛṣi, to show us all the holy places.”

Yudhiṣṭhira then addressed the Brahmins who were staying with them. “O best of men, let those mendicants, Brahmins and yogīs who are incapable of bearing hunger, thirst, and the fatigue of travel and severe climate desist from following me.”

Yudhiṣṭhira knew that the journey to the tirthas would be difficult. He did not want to expose the Brahmins to unnecessary suffering. He continued, “All those desiring regular meals and living upon cooked food should stay back. You may now go to King Dhṛtarāṣṭra for your maintenance. The king of the Pañchālas will also provide for you. With your permission, we shall now depart.”

Sorrowfully, a number of Brahmins took their leave and traveled toward Hastināpura. Only a few hundred ascetic Brahmins remained to travel with Lomaśa, Dhaumya and the Pāṇḍavas. They chose a day to begin their pilgrimage which was marked by favorable constellations. Then before leaving, the brothers put on armor over their deerskin and bark garments. They took up their weapons with the expectation of meeting Rākṣasas. As they began their journey, Yudhiṣṭhira said to Lomaśa, “O foremost of celestial ṛṣis, I do not think that I am without religious merit, but still I am afflicted with sorrow. On the other hand, I see that my enemies lack all merit but yet they prosper. How can such apparent contradictions exist?”

“O son of Kuntī, you should never grieve for such things. A man may be seen to prosper in sin, obtain good fruits or vanquish his enemies, but he is finally destroyed to the root. I have seen many Daityas and Dānavas prosper by sin, but I have also seen them overtaken by utter destruction. O ruler of the earth, I saw all this in the Satya-yuga especially.”

Lomaśa narrated how during Satya-yuga, the first in the cycle of ages, the Asuras pridefully refused to perform religious acts while the Devas practiced virtue and engaged in sacrifice. At first the Asuras, seeking only wealth, became powerful and wealthy, but it did not last. “From the possession of ill-gotten wealth there arose every kind of evil propensity, and from that arose shamelessness. All good behavior disappeared and for want of good conduct and virtue the Asuras could no longer express forgiveness or morality. They lost their prosperity because the goddess of fortune, Lakṣmī, left the Asuras and sought out the celestials--while the goddess of adversity, Alakshmi, sought out the Asuras. When afflicted by adversity the Asuras became angry and became possessed by Kali, the god of quarrel and destruction, who influenced them toward more and more sin. Destitute of all sacrifice and religious ritual, they soon met complete ruin.

“On the other hand, the virtuous Devas visited holy places and engaged in sacrifice, charity and asceticism. Thus the prosperity they attained was lasting.

“Therefore, O best of men, you too will gain good fortune by visiting the tirthas and by your ascetic life in the forest. Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons, addicted to sin, will certainly be destroyed exactly as the Asuras were destroyed.”

Reassured by Lomaśa’s words, Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers, along with Draupadī, followed the ṛṣi through the forest. Behind them walked their attendants, headed by Indrasena, the brothers’ long-time intimate servant who had gone with them into the forest. The Brahmins followed the servants, and the party formed a long line through the undergrowth.

Gradually they visited the many sacred tirthas and bathed in numerous holy rivers and lakes. They offered oblations to their ancestors and heard spiritual instructions from the ascetics living at the sacred sites. The brothers also heard the fascinating accounts of kings and ṛṣis of former ages associated with all the holy places.

When they reached the Himālayas, Lomaśa warned the party to proceed with caution. “There is Mount Meru and the peaks of Kailāsa, Gandhamādana, Triśṛṅga and Makaragiri,” he said, pointing ahead to the splendid mountain rising into the clouds. “Here reside thousands of invisible celestial beings. The Kimpuruṣas, Yakṣas, Kinnaras, Suparṇas, Nāgas and Rākṣasas, all as swift as the wind and as powerful as a thousand mighty elephants, move about on these mountain ranges. Sinful men cannot gain access here, for they will be destroyed by the celestials.”

As Lomaśa prayed to the gods for protection, Yudhiṣṭhira said to Bhīma, “Carefully guard Draupadī, dear brother. She always seeks and deserves your protection when she is afraid. We shall now proceed into these sacred mountains. By virtue of our asceticism and the pious merits we have earned through sacrifice, we may all be allowed to approach this holy region.”

Lomaśa had told the brothers that they would meet Arjuna in the mountains as he descended from heaven onto the summit of the Gandhamādana mountain. They decided to go there and await Arjuna’s arrival. The path to the mountain peak, however, was fraught with danger. Lomaśa asked Yudhiṣṭhira to tell his servants and most of the Brahmins to stay back. Bhīma then placed Draupadī on his shoulders, and the party, with only a few Brahmins, made their way into the Himālayan range along the craggy mountain paths.

The terrain was rugged and the climb arduous. At last they came to the Alakanandā river, said to descend to earth from the heavens. They worshipped the holy river and bathed in its crystal clear waters. The brothers looked around at the brilliant scenery that surrounded them on the high mountain plateau. It seemed as if they had arrived on a heavenly planet. Blossoming trees of every color gave off celestial fragrances. The ground was carpeted with soft bluish grasses and expanses of wild flowers. Transparent lakes filled with blue lotuses and crowded with swans and chakravarkas lay amid groves of fruit trees. The musical sounds of cuckoos, peacocks and countless other birds filled the air. Lomaśa told the Pāṇḍavas that Indra came daily to this region to perform his rituals and prayers.

The brothers saw in the distance what appeared to be a number of massive white mountains, but Lomaśa told them it was the bones of Naraka, a mighty Asura whom Viṣṇu had slain in a past age. The ṛṣi related the story as they traveled onward toward Gandhamādana. As they approached the mountain, the path became increasingly difficult. Leaving behind the heavenly terrain, they moved slowly along snow-bound and rocky paths. Suddenly, a violent wind blew up filling the air with dust and dried leaves, blinding the Pāṇḍavas. Bhīma held onto Draupadī, who became terror stricken as she heard great trees crashing to the ground all around them. It felt as if the mountain itself were being torn asunder by some celestial power. Each of them sought whatever shelter they could find beneath rocks and huge sal trees. When the dust storm subsided, rain fell in torrents. Rivulets and streams began to flow everywhere, covered in froth and mud. As the rain continued, the streams grew louder and wider and began to carry away trees and bushes. The sky was thick with black clouds throwing out quick lightning which, despite the ferocity of the storm, seemed to play with grace upon the mountainside.

Gradually the storm abated and the sky cleared. The sun shone brightly and steam began to rise from the ground. The travelers emerged from their hiding places and, reunited, continued toward Gandhamādana.

But Draupadī was exhausted and felt she could not go any further. Overwhelmed, she fainted and fell to the ground like a plantain tree uprooted by the wind. Nakula rushed forward and caught her as she fell, and laid her gently on the deerskin Sahadeva spread out. Yudhiṣṭhira said, “How can this beautiful lady, accustomed to every luxury, sleep now on the ground? Her delicate hands and feet have turned blue with cold, and she lies there exhausted. Alas, this is all my doing. Addicted to dice I have acted foolishly and brought great suffering on those I love. King Drupada bestowed this princess upon us in the hope that she would be happy. Now she lies prostrate on the ground in this fearful wilderness.”

Lomaśa and Dhaumya recited mantras capable of destroying all ills. Nakula gently fanned Draupadī while Sahadeva massaged her feet. As she slowly regained consciousness, Yudhiṣṭhira consoled her. He looked at Bhīma. “How shall we carry on, O mighty-armed one? Many rugged and icy paths lie ahead. I do not think that Draupadī will be able to tolerate the journey.”

Bhīma suggested that they summon Ghaṭotkaca. “My son is powerful and can carry us through the skies. O King, simply order me and I shall bring him here by thought alone.”

Yudhiṣṭhira agreed and Bhīma sat down and meditated upon his son. As soon as he was remembered, Ghaṭotkaca appeared before Bhīma and stood with folded palms. He bowed at his father’s feet and saluted the other Pāṇḍavas reverently. After an affectionate welcome he said, “O sinless ones, my father has summoned me and I am ready to do your bidding. Please command me.”

Bhīma embraced his son. “O invincible hero, O child, we are proceeding to the peak of Mount Gandhamādana where we shall again see our brother Arjuna. Your mother is worn out with fatigue and cannot continue. Nor shall we find it easy ourselves to follow the tortuous mountain paths, covered as they are by ice and snow. You should therefore carry us through the skies.”

Ghaṭotkaca bowed. “With pleasure. I have at my command hundreds of sky-ranging Rākṣasas. O Father, I shall carry my mother Draupadī, while other Rākṣasas will carry you and your brothers and all these Brahmins.”

Ghaṭotkaca gently placed Draupadī on his shoulders. He looked upon her as he would look upon his own mother, Hiḍimbī. Other huge-bodied Rākṣasas suddenly appeared and picked up the travelers. Lomaśa, however, rose unaided into the sky by his own mystic power, appearing like a second sun.

The Rākṣasas flew swiftly through the heavens along the Siddha’s path. As the party traveled they saw beneath them the beautiful lands inhabited by Vidhyadharas, Kinnaras, Kimpuruṣas, Gandharvas, and other divine beings. They saw great forests intersected by rivers and filled with elephants, bears, apes, rurus, surabhi cows and buffaloes. They passed over the country of the Uttarā-Kurus. Finally, they all arrived at the Gandhamādana mountain. The Rākṣasas took them high onto the mountain to Badarīkā Ashram, the ancient hermitage of Nara and Nārāyaṇa Ṛṣis.

The Pāṇḍavas gazed around in wonder. Even though they were high in the mountains the entire region was adorned with celestial trees in full blossom. They saw the great Badarī tree spread out like a vast umbrella of lush green foliage, from which the Ashram had derived its name. The tree exuded freshness and calm, and it invited shelter beneath its boughs. Its branches were loaded with ripened fruits. Colorful birds, intoxicated with the honey falling from the fruits, flew in and out of the tree, filling the air with music.

The Pāṇḍavas approached the Badarī tree with folded palms. It was surrounded by soft bluish-green grass. Countless thatched cottages, the dwellings of numerous ṛṣis, stood around the tree. The whole region was lit by its own effulgence, requiring neither sunlight nor moonlight, and it was free from excessive heat and cold. The brothers felt both their physical pains and their mental anxieties dissipating. Even their hunger and thirst abated as their minds filled with a deep peace.

As they looked about, they noticed the many sacrificial altars tended by ascetics, and they heard Brahmins chanting in melodious voices. Nearby, the cool and clear waters of the Ganges flowed on its way to Bharata, after having descended from heaven.

Some of the foremost ṛṣis living in the hermitage came forward to receive the travelers. By their mystic vision they already knew who their guests were, and after accepting their obeisances, they honored them with offerings of pure water, fruits and flowers.

Yudhiṣṭhira thanked Ghaṭotkaca and his followers and asked them to remain with them until they returned to the Kāmyaka. On the advice of Lomaśa and Dhaumya, the Pāṇḍavas took up residence with the ṛṣis to await Arjuna’s arrival, passing their time hearing the many ṛṣis’ spiritual discourses.