MBK: 1.30: Kṛṣṇa Visits the Pāṇḍavas
The Pāṇḍavas continued to dwell in Kuvera’s abode for four more years. In that celestial atmosphere they hardly felt the time at all. One day Arjuna and Bhīma approached Yudhiṣṭhira and spoke with him privately. Bhīma said, “O king of the Kurus, in order to make good your vow, we have restrained ourselves and not killed Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons. Rather, we have lived for eleven years in the forest, deprived of our inheritance. These past four years have not been difficult, but the time is now approaching when, in accordance with your promise, we will need to enter some habited region and live incognito. Let us therefore leave this mountain and descend again to earth.”
Bhīma said that both he and Arjuna were determined to punish Duryodhana, but feared that if they remained on the high plateaus of the heavenly Gandhamādana, they might forget the miseries the Kauravas had inflicted upon them. This would weaken their determination. “Therefore, we desire to leave now. We brothers, assisted by the infallible Kṛṣṇa, will surely help you regain your kingdom. We all desire your welfare and long to encounter your enemies in battle.”
Yudhiṣṭhira agreed that it was now time to depart. Along with Draupadī the brothers visited the various groves and lakes of Kuvera’s abode one last time, offering their respects and saying farewell. Yudhiṣṭhira then prayed to Gandhamādana Mountain, “O lord of mountains, we are ready to depart. Please grant that after we have conquered our enemies and recovered our kingdom, we may again see you at the end of our lives.”
Yudhiṣṭhira was thinking of the time when after ruling the kingdom, they would finally retire to perform asceticism and gain spiritual emancipation. Surrounded by his brothers and the Brahmins, he then began the march down the mountainside. Bhīma summoned Ghaṭotkaca and his followers and they again carried the Pāṇḍavas’ party over the difficult mountain passes. The Pāṇḍavas were sorry to leave Kuvera’s abode, but as they gazed back at its sublime beauty, their minds were delighted.
The brothers soon arrived at Badarīkā Ashram. After being greeted by the
As they traveled, followed by their porters and servants, they saw charming woodlands, lakes, rivers and fields. They stopped each evening at dusk and camped wherever they were, preparing a meal from simple forest fare. Gradually they reached Vishakayapa, still within the Himālayan range, just as the monsoon season was approaching. They decided to remain in Vishakayapa until the rains passed, and then return to Kāmyaka.
On the first day of their stay at Vishakayapa, Bhīma went to explore the area. Armed with a bow and sword he wandered at his pleasure through the woods, which were frequented by Gandharvas and Siddhas. The trees rang with the sounds of exotic birds and bore fruits and blossoms in all seasons. Bhīma saw clear rivulets flowing from the mountains, creating large, transparent lakes filled with lotuses.
Wild boars rushed at the Pāṇḍava and he killed them each with a slap. He also slew numerous buffaloes and deer, piercing them with his sharp arrows. Bhīma possessed the strength of ten thousand elephants, and he sportingly uprooted and broke many large trees, clearing areas where
The ever-proud Bhīma, devoid of fatigue, filled the skies with his shouts. He crushed mountain peaks by kicking them. Ranging along the mountain side, he saw large serpents retreat into caves as they heard him approach. Bhīma pursued them along the rocky plateaus. Suddenly, he came upon a terrible-looking serpent resembling a hill. It lay coiled at the mouth of a great cave, entirely blocking its entrance. Its skin was yellow with black spots, and inside its yawning mouth were four fangs. As the snake glared about with its copper-colored eyes, its forked tongue licked the corners of its mouth.
Bhīma stopped and gazed at the serpent. It looked like a grim destroyer as it lay hissing as if to reprimand him. As Bhīma came closer, the snake suddenly seized him and entwined its coils around him. Bhīma felt his strength draining from his body, and despite his efforts, he was unable to extricate himself. He trembled and fell unconscious for several minutes.
As he returned to consciousness he considered his predicament. Who was this being? How had it succeeded in overpowering him? Bhīma again exerted himself but found that he was unable to move. Clearly this was not an ordinary snake. He decided to ask the creature its identity.
“O best of serpents, kindly tell me who you are and what you will do with me? I am Bhīmasena, Pāṇḍu’s son and Dharmarāja’s brother. With my bare hands alone I have slain in battle countless lions, tigers, buffaloes and elephants. Not even the celestials can stand against me. How is it, then, that you have succeeded in overpowering me? Is it by virtue of a particular science or boon that you possess such power?”
The serpent’s voice was solemn. “O mighty-armed one, I have been hungry for a long time. Therefore, it is my good fortune that you have arrived here. You must be the food ordained for me by the gods. Now listen as I explain how I came to live in a serpent body.
“My name is Nahusha, and I am a royal sage. After attaining heaven I was cursed by Agastya Ṛṣi and fell to earth as a snake. Thus you are my descendent, O hero, but that will not stop me from eating you. Whatever falls within my grasp during the middle of the day, be it a cow, a buffalo, or even a human, becomes my next meal.
“Agastya promised that whomever I seize will lose his strength. Thus you have been overcome by virtue of that sage’s power. Agastya also told me that I would be freed from his curse when someone could answer my questions about the relationship between the soul and the Supreme Being.”
Thinking of Kṛṣṇa, Bhīma replied, “O mighty creature, I am neither angry nor do I blame myself for this calamity. Sometimes a man may succeed in his endeavors for happiness and sometimes he may fail. Certainly the results are not in his hands and therefore he should not lament his misfortune. Who could ever be superior to destiny? Destiny is supreme and exertion made for material gains is useless.”
Bhīma said he did not grieve for his own impending death, but he felt sad for his brothers and mother. They depended on him and would surely be deprived of strength and energy when they discovered what had happened. And Duryodhana would rejoice.
Back at the Pāṇḍavas’ camp, Yudhiṣṭhira was perceiving ill omens. Jackals howled and the dreadful Vārtika bird, with its one leg, one wing and one eye, circled overhead. It screamed and vomited blood. The wind blew furiously and the four directions seemed to be ablaze. Yudhiṣṭhira felt his left eye and arm trembling and his heart palpitating. He looked about the
Draupadī replied that he had been long out. Alarmed, Yudhiṣṭhira decided to go after him personally. After instructing Arjuna to guard Draupadī and the twins and to protect the Brahmins, he began to search for Bhīma in the forest. Following his footprints he soon found the smashed trees and the beasts that Bhīma had slain. He also saw a trail of bushes which had been blown over by the wind coming from Bhīma’s body as he ran after game in the forest.
Yudhiṣṭhira moved as quickly as he could and soon came to a rough place where Bhīma’s tracks seemed to end. The ground was dry and full of thorn bushes, stumps and gravel. Strong winds gusted around tall, leafless trees. Yudhiṣṭhira began to make his way up the steep incline toward the plateau above. He sensed that his brother was nearby, and he scrambled up the slope. Soon he came to the serpent’s lair. There at the entrance to the cave, Yudhiṣṭhira found Bhīma wrapped in the serpent’s coils.
Yudhiṣṭhira was amazed to see Bhīma held by a snake, and he asked, “Who is this best of serpents with a body as big as a mountain? How have you fallen into its clutches, O son of Kuntī?”
“This is the royal sage Nahusha in serpent form. O worshipful brother, he plans to eat me.”
Yudhiṣṭhira addressed Nahusha, “Kindly release my brother, O energetic one. We shall satisfy you with some other food.”
Nahusha moved slightly. “I have obtained this son of a king for my food and will not release him. You should leave this place or else I will eat you tomorrow. The sage Agastya has granted me a boon that whoever comes within my reach will become my food. You are also within my reach. I have not eaten for a long time and will not give up your brother. Nor do I want any other meal.”
Feeling pain to see Bhīma’s plight, Yudhiṣṭhira thought carefully. This being was not actually a snake but a great king and an ancestor of the Pāṇḍavas. Yudhiṣṭhira had heard of Nahusha many times. He had performed numerous sacrifices and become the emperor of the earth before finally going to heaven. After ascending to the higher regions, he must have been cursed to fall down again. Perhaps there was some condition to the curse. If Nahusha could be freed from his serpent form, then Bhīma could be released.
“O snake, under what conditions will you free my brother?”
“Intoxicated with the pride of wealth and power I insulted the Brahmins,” replied Nahusha. “I was thus cursed by Agastya and brought into this miserable state. But the sage stipulated that I would be released when I found a man capable of answering my questions on spiritual subjects. This, then, is the only way by which your brother can be freed. Answer my questions, O sinless one, and free both Bhīma and me.”
“Ask whatever you will, O serpent. I will try my best to answer.”
Yudhiṣṭhira was always glad to have the opportunity to speak about spiritual matters. For him, this forest exile had provided a welcome opportunity to hear from the
Fixing his narrow eyes upon Yudhiṣṭhira, the serpent said, “How can we recognize a true Brahmin, O King, and what is the highest object of knowledge?”
“A Brahmin is characterized by the qualities of honesty, purity, forgiveness, self-control, asceticism, knowledge and religiosity. The highest object of knowledge is the Supreme Brahman, which can be known when one has transcended all duality.”
“The qualities you have attributed to Brahmins are also found in other classes of men,” Nahusha replied doubtfully, “and how can anyone exist without experiencing happiness and distress, the basis of all duality?”
Yudhiṣṭhira smiled. It seemed the snake was already quite knowledgeable and was testing him. “If one finds these qualities in any man, then he should be known as a Brahmin no matter what his birth may have been. Happiness and distress in relationship to material objects can be transcended while still being experienced in relation to the Supreme. Material emotions are perverted reflections of original spiritual feelings.”
Nahusha was satisfied with Yudhiṣṭhira’s answer and he asked him to elaborate further. What was the use of dividing society according to caste if such divisions meant nothing? In reply, Yudhiṣṭhira explained that due to the intermixture of social classes, it had become difficult to ascertain a man’s class. Only by examining his actual qualities could a man’s class be known. Thus society should be divided on that basis only, not on the basis of birth.
Nahusha said, “O King, you are clearly acquainted with knowledge. How then can I devour your brother?”
It was obvious to Yudhiṣṭhira that Nahusha was himself highly learned. After all, he had once ruled the earth and ascended to heaven after being instructed by the sages. He thought it would be worth making inquiries from such a personality. Folding his palms and standing before Nahusha, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “I too regard you as one possessed of superior knowledge. Please instruct me, if you will. By what acts can one attain heaven?”
“In my opinion, O Bharata, one can reach heaven by giving charity to Brahmins, by being kind and gentle in speech, by truthfulness, and by remaining nonenvious toward all living beings.”
“Which of those acts do you consider the best, and what constitutes non-envy?”
“Each of these items can be considered superior or inferior depending upon circumstance. One must therefore understand life’s ultimate goal in order to know how to act properly at all times. This you have already explained, O King. All acts and knowledge should be aimed at achieving the Supreme.
“Non-envy means always desiring the welfare and advancement of all living beings rather than to exploit them for one’s own pleasure. In particular, one should desire the spiritual progress of others and act to assist them in that progress.”
“How does the soul accept a material body, O Nahusha?”
“The soul, or atman, receives bodies according to his own behavior. Thus he transmigrates life after life, impelled by his sinful and pious acts, sometimes going to heaven and sometimes moving about in the body of an animal. Final liberation is attained when one comes to know Brahman, the Supreme Absolute.”
Yudhiṣṭhira nodded. The snake’s answers were in accord with what he had learned from the
Nahusha replied, “By sacrifice and asceticism I became so powerful that I coursed through the heavens on a golden chariot. I became emperor of the wide earth and even the Gandharvas, Yakṣas, Rākṣasas, and all the inhabitants of the three worlds--even the
“One day while in heaven, I touched Agastya Ṛṣi with my foot. The sage cursed me and I fell to earth, my body changing into that of a serpent.
“In accord with Agastya’s words, however, you have now freed me from that curse. My discussion with you has reawakened my knowledge. I now realize that my real interest lies in cultivating Brahminical qualities and spiritual knowledge, not in material status or opulence.”
Nahusha released Bhīma and the serpent body immediately died. From out of it the two brothers saw a glowing celestial figure emerge wearing golden ornaments and beautiful garlands. He bowed before the Pāṇḍavas and then rose into the sky and disappeared.
Yudhiṣṭhira and Bhīma returned to the
* * *
Within days of their arrival at Vishakhayapa, the monsoons arrived. They set up their camp on high ground and watched as the rains fell and flooded the earth. They could no longer see the sun. Bolts of lightning lit the forest, while streams of frothing water rushed across the earth, hissing like flights of arrows. All the forest creatures became delighted and frolicked in the rain-soaked woods.
Gradually the season turned to autumn. The clouds dispersed and the sky was lustrous. The days were warm and the nights cool. The Pāṇḍavas surveyed the refreshed forest scenery and decided that it was an auspicious time--the sacred month of Kārttika--to return to Kāmyaka.
A few days after their arrival, Kṛṣṇa and Satyabhāmā came to visit. Kṛṣṇa knew they had returned to the Kāmyaka by His inconceivable powers.
The Pāṇḍavas were overjoyed to see their well-wishing friend. With tears in their eyes they rose up to greet Him. Kṛṣṇa got down from His chariot and bowed at Yudhiṣṭhira and Bhīma’s feet, as well as the feet of Dhaumya and the Brahmins. He embraced Arjuna and accepted the twins’ obeisances. Satyabhāmā embraced Draupadī and when she and her husband were comfortably seated among the Pāṇḍavas, they all began to converse.
Arjuna told Kṛṣṇa of everything that had transpired with him since their last meeting. He then inquired after Kṛṣṇa and His family’s welfare, asking especially about his wife Subhadrā and their son Abhimanyu. Kṛṣṇa assured him that all was well. Turning to Yudhiṣṭhira He said, “O King, the wise assert that righteousness is superior to winning kingdoms, and to cultivate righteousness, asceticism is necessary. In strict obedience to truth you have performed your duties and you have thus conquered both this world and the next. You are not addicted to sensual pleasures, nor do you act out of selfishness. Although you have won opulent kingdoms and been surrounded by luxury, you have not swayed from your practices of charity, truthfulness, asceticism, religion, forgiveness and patience.”
Yudhiṣṭhira bowed his head modestly as Kṛṣṇa continued. “Who but you, O Dharmarāja, could have tolerated the outrage toward Draupadī, so very odious to virtue? There can be no doubt that you will recover your kingdom in due course. When your vow is fulfilled and the thirteen years have passed, we shall do everything in our power to chastise the Kauravas.”
Kṛṣṇa spoke kindly to Draupadī, saying that it was by good fortune she had obtained such virtuous men as her husbands. He gave her news of her sons, who were staying in Drupada’s kingdom and who also spent time in Dwārakā where Subhadrā showered them with motherly love. Kṛṣṇa’s own son Pradyumna was instructing all the Pāṇḍavas’ sons in the martial arts.
When Kṛṣṇa fell silent, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “O Keśava, there is no doubt that You are our highest refuge. We are always under Your protection. When the time comes, You will surely do everything to restore to us our kingdom.”
Then they saw Mārkaṇḍeya Ṛṣi approaching. That immortal sage, who appeared like a youth of no more than sixteen years, was cheerful, dressed only in a loincloth and holding a water pot. The Pāṇḍavas, Kṛṣṇa, and all the Brahmins stood to offer respect, then offered Mārkaṇḍeya a seat of honor. After he had been worshiped with
At that moment, Nārada also arrived and was received. He too wished to hear Mārkaṇḍeya speak in Kṛṣṇa’s presence. With those two personalities sitting amid the Pāṇḍavas and the numerous Brahmins, it seemed as if the sun and moon were seated together in the presence of the planets. Everyone waited for Mārkaṇḍeya to speak. They all knew that the sage had lived since the beginning of the material creation and was therefore acquainted with countless histories of great
Yudhiṣṭhira asked, “Please tell me, O highly learned one, how a man receives the results of his own deeds. I am mystified upon seeing how I have been deprived of my kingdom while Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sinful sons prosper. Does one receive the results of his actions during the same life, or do they visit him only in a later existence? How do the results of a man’s acts follow him after death? Where do they repose when he gives up his body?”
Mārkaṇḍeya remained silent for a moment. He looked around at the concourse of people assembled in the forest clearing. It seemed as if Yudhiṣṭhira were still in Indraprastha, seated in his assembly hall. Raising his right hand, the sage then replied, “The embodied soul travels from life to life as a result of his own acts, good and bad. At no time is the soul without a body as long as he remains within this world trying to enjoy his senses. The soul is covered first by a subtle body made of mind, intelligence, and false ego. The subtle body carries the recollection of every experience the soul has ever had, and thus assumes various gross material forms. Yamarāja controls all of this. Indeed, Yamarāja keeps track of every soul within the material universe. He is empowered by the all-knowing Supreme Soul who resides in the heart of every living being. Thus does Yamarāja award all beings their just desserts. He never makes a mistake in this regard.”
Mārkaṇḍeya paused to allow his listeners to absorb what he was saying. “Some men enjoy in this life but not in the next, some in the next but not in this, and others in both. Some men enjoy neither in this life nor in the next.
“A wealthy man who spends this life in pleasure will suffer in the next; an ascetic who forgoes pleasure in this life will enjoy in the next; those who marry and live pious lives as householders, performing sacrifice and giving charity, enjoy both in this life and the next; but the foolish man who follows no scriptural injunctions suffers continuously life after life.
“As far as you brothers are concerned, you are virtuous and have been born only to fulfill the gods’ purposes. You are great devotees of the Supreme Lord and thus cannot be affected by karmic reactions. Your apparent setback will ultimately lead to your everlasting fame and happiness. You will be glorified in the world of men, and at the end of your lives, you will attain the highest abode.”
Yudhiṣṭhira reflected on the sage’s reply. Then he asked, “O learned sage, in this world our lives are dedicated to the Brahmins. If it pleases you, kindly tell us about a Brahmin’s greatness and glory.”
In response the
“I was struck with amazement. I could not understand how a child could have survived when the entire universe was destroyed. The boy was effulgent and His face was as beautiful as the moon. His eyes resembled full-blown lotuses and His body was a blackish color. He lay there smiling and sucking His toe. Then on His chest I saw the mark of śrīvatsa and thought that it must be Viṣṇu, although I could not be sure. As I approached Him He said, ‘My child, I know you are eager to rest. O Mārkaṇḍeya, enter My body and rest awhile. I am pleased with you.’
“When the boy addressed me I lost all sense of my identity and forgot my material designations. He opened His mouth and I felt myself drawn into it. Suddenly entering His stomach I beheld the whole earth with all its cities and kingdoms. I wandered about for some time, seeing all the familiar sights, including the Ganges and her tributaries, the Himālayas, and the forests in which I had performed ascetism. I also saw the race of celestials headed by Indra, as well as the races of
“Although I wandered about within that boy’s body for a long time I never did find its limit. Confused, I began to worship the Supreme Lord with my thoughts and words. Suddenly, I found myself emerging again and once more I saw Him lying on the banyan leaf. I worshipped that immeasurably powerful being who had swallowed up the entire universe, and I placed my head at His feet. I asked Him who He was and about His purpose. Why was He lying there with the universe held in His body?
“The child spoke in such a way that my material illusions were completely dispelled. He told me that He was the original Supreme Person from whom everything emanates and into whom it enters at its end. I was amazed to hear Him speak of His own glories. He is known as Viṣṇu, Nārāyaṇa and Hari, but He possesses innumerable other names. That all-knowing personality then told me that I should remain within His body until Brahmā again awoke and recreated the universe. He disappeared from my sight and I found myself back within the varied creation I had seen within Him.”
Finishing his narration, Mārkaṇḍeya looked across at Kṛṣṇa. “King Yudhiṣṭhira, that lotus-eyed boy whom I saw at the end of the creation has now appeared as Kṛṣṇa. He has become your relative and friend. Without doubt you should know Him to be the ancient Supreme Person, the inconceivable Hari, and the original Personality of Godhead. He granted me the boon that my memory would never fail and that my death would come only when I wanted it. Seeing Kṛṣṇa sitting here wearing a yellow silken garment, I am remembering that boy. Do not doubt that it was He whom I saw in the waters of devastation. O hero among men, this entire creation rests within Him even as air rests within ether. Take refuge in Kṛṣṇa, for there are none superior to Him.”
Yudhiṣṭhira then asked Mārkaṇḍeya to describe the future. Kali-yuga, the darkest age was approaching. Yudhiṣṭhira wanted to know what would happen to the world at that time. Mārkaṇḍeya told him in detail how everything would become more and more degraded. People would become irreligious and would thus be oppressed by misery. The age would culminate in the appearance of Kalki
Yudhiṣṭhira and Mārkaṇḍeya discoursed for hours and the audience remained fixed on hearing Mārkaṇḍeya’s detailed responses, replete with accounts of the different kings,
When Mārkaṇḍeya was gone, Kṛṣṇa spent a little more time talking with the Pāṇḍavas. Satyabhāmā took the opportunity to speak with Draupadī and ask her how she was able to serve and satisfy five husbands. Kṛṣṇa’s wife wanted to learn from the Pañchāla princess, who was famed for her chastity and womanly skills, so that she might improve her own service to Kṛṣṇa. Draupadī told her in detail about the many ways she served her husbands.
Draupadī said, “Abandoning vanity and subduing desire and wrath, I serve my husbands with attention, along with their other wives. I do not feel my position of servitude to be a degraded one, and I restrain jealousy by remaining devoted. I neither bathe, sleep, nor eat before my husbands, or even before our servants and followers. At no time do I allow my mind to dwell upon another man or any celestial. My heart never sways from my husbands. The minute I see them I rise up and greet them, offering them a seat and water. I always keep our living quarters clean and fragrant, and all the household items and food well-ordered.”
Satyabhāmā, herself a great favorite of Kṛṣṇa’s, listened attentively. Draupadī described how she would never enjoy anything her husbands did not enjoy, nor would she perform any act disagreeable to them. When they went away, she renounced her ornaments and cosmetics and practiced asceticism. She tried always to assist her husbands as they performed sacrifices and other religious practices.
“I am the first to rise from bed and the last to take rest. I am ever attentive to my duty and never give way to sloth. In my opinion, service to the husband is the eternal virtue of women. The husband is the wife’s god and her sole refuge. By serving him, she pleases even the Supreme Lord Himself and thereby attains to the highest destination.”
When Draupadī finished, Satyabhāmā embraced her. She heard Kṛṣṇa calling her and so took her leave, promising to come to Indraprastha after the Pāṇḍavas had regained their kingdom.
Kṛṣṇa bid farewell to the Pāṇḍavas and was ready to depart. He and Satyabhāmā mounted the chariot, which was yoked with Śaibya and Sugrīva. Seeing Draupadī standing before him so meekly, Kṛṣṇa said, “O Draupadī, do not be in anxiety. Before long you will be the wife of kings--after your husbands have crushed their enemies and won back the earth. O black-eyed beauty, ladies such as yourself, possessed of all auspicious marks, can never suffer for long. The Kauravas will soon reap the results of their sins against you. When they have been destroyed, you will see their wives despairing, even as you despaired upon leaving Hastināpura.”
Kṛṣṇa once more assured Draupadī that her five sons were flourishing and that she would soon see them grown up, powerful heroes. Then, saluting the Pāṇḍavas and bowing to the Brahmins, Kṛṣṇa urged on His horses and left the forest.