Dhṛtarāṣṭra Gives Half the Kingdom
As the kings left the svayaṁvara for their respective countries, they marveled at what they had seen. The illustrious Pāṇḍavas were still alive! It was Arjuna who had shot down the target and won the princess, and it was Bhīma who had faced the kings with complete fearlessness and thrown down the mighty Śalya. The kings censured Bhīṣma and Dhṛtarāṣṭra for having allowed the Pāṇḍavas to be persecuted and deprived of their rightful kingdom.
Duryodhana was depressed at this turn of events. As he made his way back to Hastināpura, he pondered on the situation. How had his cousins escaped the fire? Now they were more powerful than ever. Allied with Drupada and Kṛṣṇa, they were a force to be reckoned with. And their own prowess was obviously exceptional. Just two brothers had successfully taken Draupadī from the midst of hundreds of kings. Even the invincible Karṇa had been more than matched. Hot tears ran down Duryodhana’s cheeks. By his side Dushashana said consolingly, “Do not grieve, brother. It was only because the Pāṇḍavas disguised themselves that they managed to win Draupadī. They took us all by surprise. Clearly destiny is supreme and human effort is useless. Despite our exertions, the Pāṇḍavas are alive and flourishing .”
Duryodhana frowned. “This is all the fault of the useless Purochana. He let us down badly. At least he perished in the fire.”
The Kauravas entered their capital sorrowful and ashamed. They were also anxious. Drupada was a powerful enemy. As Duryodhana entered his palace he was met by Vidura. Hearing the news from Pañchāla, Vidura’s face lit up with delight. Despite Duryodhana’s machinations, the Pāṇḍavas were thriving! Surely the Lord was protecting those virtuous princes.
Vidura went at once to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and said, “By good fortune the Kurus have been successful and are prospering.”
The blind king replied joyfully, “What luck! What luck!” Not knowing that Vidura was referring to the Pāṇḍavas, he thought that perhaps Duryodhana had won Draupadī. He immediately ordered ornaments to be made for Draupadī and asked that she and Duryodhana be brought into the palace in great pomp. Then Vidura informed him of the facts: Draupadī had chosen the Pāṇḍavas for her lords, and now the five heroes were strongly allied with Drupada and his many relatives and friends. Dhṛtarāṣṭra sat forward in surprise. “This is wonderful news. Those boys are dearer to me than they were to Pāṇḍu. My affection for them is now greater than it ever was. Their success and good fortune is mine also.”
Vidura smiled. “O King, may your present feelings remain for one hundred summers.” He then left to give the good news to Bhīṣma.
The king was left alone with Duryodhana and Karṇa. Both had remained silent as Vidura had spoken, but as soon as he left they jumped to their feet, loudly criticizing him.
Clasping his sword in its ornate scabbard by his side, Duryodhana said, “O best of men, how are you considering your good fortune to be our enemies’ success? That is foolish. We need to weaken the Pāṇḍavas and deprive them of their fortune, not rejoice in it. Otherwise they will surely swallow us all with our kinsmen, armies, friends and wealth.” Karṇa growled in agreement and both he and Duryodhana stood in front of the king, waiting for his reply.
Dhṛtarāṣṭra was silent for some time. Finally, wringing his hands he said, “I desire exactly as you desire. However, I did not want to reveal my feelings to Vidura. He should not even be able to know what I am thinking by my demeanor. Therefore I praised the Pāṇḍavas in his presence.”
The king asked Duryodhana how he and Karṇa planned to handle the situation. The prince replied that they should employ every diplomatic and devious means to bring about the Pāṇḍavas’ downfall. He suggested that spies be employed to create disunity between the five brothers, or that Drupada and his ministers be swayed from supporting the Pāṇḍavas by tempting them with wealth. Perhaps Draupadī could be turned against them if beautiful women were used to seduce the brothers. Or maybe Bhīma could be secretly killed; he was the mainstay of the Pāṇḍavas’ power and without him they could easily be overpowered.
Duryodhana concluded, “O Father, use whatever means you deem best. Somehow we must bring the Pāṇḍavas under our control without delay. Their strength increases with every passing day.”
The Kaurava prince turned to Karṇa and asked him for his opinion. Karṇa raised a clenched fist. His voice boomed out in reply. “O Duryodhana, in my view your suggestions are not well considered. I do not think that any intrigues will succeed against the Pāṇḍavas. You have already tried and failed in this way on various occasions. It will surely fail again.”
Karṇa pointed out that the Pāṇḍavas had formerly been living near them in Hastināpura. They had been mere children, without allies or friends, and still Duryodhana’s scheming had not been successful. Now the brothers were grown up, had secured powerful allies, and most importantly, were on their guard against the Kauravas. They would detect and thwart any plan Duryodhana set in motion. Nor would the Kauravas be able to break Draupadī’s affection for her husbands. She chose them when they appeared as poor Brahmins. How would she reject them now that they were prosperous? Nor would the virtuous Drupada abandon them for the sake of wealth--even if the Kauravas offered him their entire kingdom.
Karṇa’s eyes flashed as he spoke. His natural golden armor gleamed in the shafts of sunlight that shone through the palace windows. He turned to the king and continued, “O sire, here is what I think we should do. Before the brothers are fully established let us strike them down on the battlefield. We must challenge them before Drupada has time to assemble his allies to fight alongside them, and before Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma can bring the mighty Yādava hosts from Mathurā.”
Karṇa went on to praise strength and prowess as the cardinal virtues in kṣatriyas. He disliked Duryodhana and Śakuni’s treacherous methods and would rather settle the issue in an honest trial of arms. That was the only noble way to tackle the Pāṇḍavas. The other three means of diplomacy--conciliation, bribery or dissension--would all prove useless. The Kurus should immediately gather an army and march on Drupada’s capital, crushing both him and the Pāṇḍavas at the same time. Then the world would be theirs to command, freed of thorns.
Dhṛtarāṣṭra praised Karṇa for his courageous speech. Turning his blind eyes toward the king of Aṅga, he said, “Such words, full of heroism and power, surely befit you, O heroic one, but let us consult Bhīṣma, Droṇa and Vidura before taking any action. These men will always counsel what is in our best interests.”
Dhṛtarāṣṭra summoned his counselors. One by one Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa and Vidura arrived and sat upon the golden seats around the king’s throne. When they were all settled in their places, the king told them the views of both Duryodhana and Karṇa and asked for their opinions. Bhīṣma spoke first. “O Dhṛtarāṣṭra, I can never consent to a quarrel with the Pāṇḍavas. Pāṇḍu’s sons and your sons are equally dear to me. They deserve my protection equally. The Pāṇḍavas should be given half the kingdom. Of this there is no doubt. As much as you feel this kingdom to be your property, so too do the Pāṇḍavas feel it to be theirs. If it is not their birthright, then how can it ever be yours? Indeed, their claim comes before yours. Therefore conclude a treaty and hand over half of this kingdom to them. Do this for your own good.”
Bhīṣma then explained what would happen if they declined to make peace with the Pāṇḍavas. The Kauravas would be covered with dishonor. All virtuous men would censure them. Having lost their reputation, their existence would become useless. Bhīṣma looked around the council chamber as he spoke. “It is fortunate for us that Kuntī’s sons still live. It is fortunate that Kuntī herself still lives. And it is fortunate that the sinful Purochana met his end. From the day I heard that Kuntī and her sons had perished in the fire, I could not face any living creature.”
Bhīṣma asked Dhṛtarāṣṭra if he knew how the citizens felt. They had blamed the Pāṇḍavas’ death on the king. That the brothers had survived would repair his reputation. Dhṛtarāṣṭra should now take advantage of that good fortune and make amends with the Pāṇḍavas by awarding them their kingdom. They were virtuous, united, and ever protected by the Supreme Lord. Even Indra with all the gods could not deprive them of their rights. “If you desire justice, the welfare of all, and my pleasure, then give half the kingdom to these boys.”
Bhīṣma sat down, looking across at Duryodhana who breathed heavily and ground his teeth. The prince stared at the floor as Droṇa stood up to speak. “O sire, it is said that counselors should always speak what is right, true and conducive to the king’s welfare and fame. My opinion then is the same as Bhīṣma’s. Return the kingdom to the Pāṇḍavas. Send a messenger skilled in diplomacy to Drupada, along with many gifts, and tell him how the alliance of his house with the house of Kuru has enhanced your power and dignity. O King, this will undoubtedly be in your best interests.”
Droṇa advised that Drupada be told how happy both Dhṛtarāṣṭra and his son have become by all that has happened. The Pāṇḍavas should be brought back in state to Hastināpura. They should then be installed in their paternal kingdom. This was the people’s desire. The Pāṇḍavas are no less Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons than his own offspring. He should treat them equally.
When Droṇa finished speaking Karṇa sprang from his seat. He could take no more. Breathing heavily, his brow furrowed, he thundered, “How surprising that these two so-called ministers should tender such advice! Although you have supported them, O King, they do not look to your good. While concealing the wickedness in their hearts they speak words purporting to be in your interests.”
Karṇa fumed. Bhīṣma and Droṇa’s advice was useless. A man’s happiness and distress depend upon destiny alone. Another person’s acts could in no way affect anyone. Everything was fixed by fate. If in the course of destiny Dhṛtarāṣṭra had acquired the throne, then who could oppose that? Why should they fear the Pāṇḍavas? Dhṛtarāṣṭra had become king by fate’s arrangement and if fate decreed it, then he would remain in that position, no matter what anyone said or did.
Karṇa looked angrily at both Bhīṣma and Droṇa as he concluded his speech. “These two have spoken out of fear of, or favoritism toward, the Pāṇḍavas. O King, judge for yourself the motives of your ministers, then do what you feel is right.”
Dhṛtarāṣṭra remained silent, but Droṇa again spoke out. “Karṇa, you have spoken only out of envy of the Pāṇḍavas. Due to your attachment for Duryodhana you desire only to injure the Pāṇḍavas. You should know that what I have said is certainly for the benefit of this house. If we act otherwise, then in my opinion the Kurus will be exterminated.”
Vidura had been observing the situation closely. Now it was his turn to speak. He could see by Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s demeanor and silence that he was uncertain. The intelligent minister stood and addressed the king. “O sire, after careful consideration I cannot think of anyone who are better friends to you than Bhīṣma and Droṇa. They have spoken what is for your certain good, but you do not accept their advice. The foolish Karṇa may disagree with them, but their words are meant only for your welfare. It has never been seen that they gave you bad advice at any time. They are experienced, wise and learned in scripture. Neither of them are in any way less than Rāma, the great son of Daśaratha. They regard your sons and the Pāṇḍavas with equal eyes. Why then do you disregard their counsel?”
Vidura then gave his own views of the situation. Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s partiality toward his own sons would lead to his downfall. The Pāṇḍavas were powerful and they were fixed in virtue. They could not be overcome by force. Indeed, they were capable of withstanding even the gods in battle. Besides the mighty Drupada, they had Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma as allies. There was no doubt that wherever there was Kṛṣṇa there would be victory.
Standing before Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Vidura spoke firmly. “Wash away, O King, the stain of ill repute brought about by the incident at Vāraṇāvata. Please the citizens of this state. Do what is just and proper and give to the Pāṇḍavas what is rightfully theirs. If you listen to the sinful advice of Duryodhana, Śakuni and Karṇa, your kingdom and fortune will surely be annihilated.”
Dhṛtarāṣṭra remained silent for some minutes. As much as he desired the advancement of his own sons over that of the Pāṇḍavas, he could not deny the truth of Vidura’s words. Placing his hand upon his sceptre he said, “The learned Bhīṣma, the Ṛṣi Droṇa and your illustrious self, O Vidura, have all spoken the truth about what is good for me. The Pāṇḍavas are certainly my sons and are entitled to this kingdom. Go, O Vidura, and bring them here along with their mother. Bring too the celestial beauty, Draupadī. By good fortune the Pāṇḍavas live. By good fortune have they obtained Drupada’s daughter as their wife. By good fortune our strength has now increased, and by good fortune the wicked Purochana is dead.”
Dhṛtarāṣṭra dismissed the assembly. Duryodhana and Karṇa stormed out, closely followed by Dushashana and the other Kaurava princes. Vidura left and made preparations to go immediately to Kāmpilya, while the blind king was led back to his chambers by his servants.
Early the next morning Vidura departed for the Pañchāla kingdom. He took with him numerous jewels and various kinds of wealth for Drupada, the Pāṇḍavas and Draupadī. A large contingent from Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s army accompanied him as he made his way along the smooth forest roads. Vidura had heard that Kṛṣṇa had gone to Kāmpilya to visit the Pāṇḍavas, and he felt excited at the prospect of seeing that all-powerful personality, as well as his beloved nephews.
When he arrived at Kāmpilya, Drupada received him with honor and the Pāṇḍavas were overjoyed to see him. They greeted him with tears in their eyes and touched his feet. The old minister embraced each of the brothers warmly. Kṛṣṇa then came forward and bowed before Vidura, who embraced Him, feeling a surge of ecstatic love. He gazed at Kṛṣṇa for some moments and the Yādava smiled affectionately at him. Vidura then offered Draupadī brilliant golden ornaments studded with diamonds and rubies, and Drupada a heap of shining gems.
When they were all seated in Drupada’s council chamber, Vidura said, “O King, along with your sons and ministers please hear the message I bring from Dhṛtarāṣṭra. He and his sons and ministers have repeatedly asked after your welfare. Your beloved friend Droṇa has mentally embraced you and sent his warmest greetings. All of the Kuru elders are overjoyed at our new alliance. They feel as if they have acquired a new kingdom. Knowing all this, O sire, please permit the Pāṇḍavas to go to Hastināpura. The Kurus long to see them again.”
Vidura described how much the people in Hastināpura were anxious to see the brothers return with their new bride. He hoped the Pāṇḍavas themselves were desiring to again see their own home. Would Drupada allow them to enter their own city in state?
Drupada smiled. “O wise Vidura, it is surely proper for these boys to return to their ancestral kingdom, but it is not proper for me to tell them to leave. Let them decide for themselves. Let us also consult Kṛṣṇa, for He is always interested in what is best for the Pāṇḍavas.”
Yudhiṣṭhira stepped forward and said that he and his brothers were now dependent upon Drupada. They would do whatever the king commanded. Kṛṣṇa said, “In my view the Pāṇḍavas should go to Hastināpura, but we should all abide by Drupada’s opinion, for the king is learned in all aspects of virtue.”
Drupada agreed with Kṛṣṇa. “These princes are now as dear to me as they are to Vāsudeva. No one is more their well-wisher than Kṛṣṇa and He will only counsel what is for their own good. Let them depart for Hastināpura.”
Soon they were ready to leave. The Pāṇḍavas made their fond farewells to Drupada and his sons. The old king and his wife shed tears as their daughter mounted the chariot with Kuntī. They stood with the other Kuru elders outside the palace as the Pāṇḍavas proceeded slowly down the royal highway toward the city gate. Kṛṣṇa went with them on His own splendid golden chariot, and with great pleasure they all journeyed together to Hastināpura. They entered the city like a line of celestials entering Amarāvatī, Indra’s splendid city.
The citizens thronged the streets. Everyone longed to see the Pāṇḍavas again. They crowded around the brothers as the procession moved slowly along the main road toward Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s palace. The Pāṇḍavas could hear people’s exclamations. “The best of men, Yudhiṣṭhira, has returned at last! That exalted soul knows the precepts of virtue. He regards us as if we were his nearest relatives. Today it seems that Pāṇḍu himself, beloved of the people, has come back from the forest. If we have ever given charity, if we have ever performed sacrifice, if we have any ascetic merits--then let the Pāṇḍavas live here for one hundred years.”
The brothers smiled and raised their hands in blessings. Their eyes streamed with tears as they again saw their city and its people. Soon they saw Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Bhīṣma, who had come out on the road to meet them. The king and his minister embraced the Pāṇḍavas, who in turn greeted their elders with due reverence, touching their feet and bowing before them with folded hands. Yudhiṣṭhira then enquired after the welfare of the kingdom and its people and was told that everything was flourishing . Gradually the party moved into Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s palace. Having been worshipped by the Kuru elders, Kṛṣṇa followed behind them.
Duryodhana’s wife, Dushala, met Draupadī and Kuntī and accompanied them into Gāndhārī’s quarters. As Gāndhārī embraced Draupadī she thought of the prophetic voice that had spoken when Draupadī first stepped out of the fire. It was said that she would be the death of the world’s kṣatriyas. The blindfolded queen had developed a powerful inner vision due to her austerities. She could understand that Draupadī was destined to cause her sons’ destruction. Still, Gāndhārī felt no malice toward Draupadī. She had resigned herself to the eventuality of fate. Duryodhana was wicked and selfish. His brothers followed him blindly. Surely they shall reap their rightful reward. All-powerful Providence controlled everything. Men were simply her instruments, driven by desire and hate. The queen blessed Draupadī and then warmly greeted her old friend Kuntī.
In Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s council chamber the king spoke before the Pāṇḍavas in a trembling voice. “It is with joy that I sit here today with Pāṇḍu’s sons. The gods have surely been merciful to the Kurus in that these five heroic brothers still live. So that no futher disputes may arise between us, I want to give the Pāṇḍavas half the kingdom. O Yudhiṣṭhira my child, go to Khāṇḍavaprastha; this shall be your half of the kingdom. Live there peacefully.”
Bhīṣma and Vidura looked at one another but said nothing. Kṛṣṇa, who was sitting upon a splendid seat of gold and jewels, and who appeared like the sun illuminating the assembly, smiled when He heard the king’s proposal. He knew the region the king was so generously offering to the Pāṇḍavas. Khāṇḍavaprastha was a vast area, and it was certainly half the kingdom, but it was nothing but jungle and desert. There were no cities, not even any settlements. Although it had once been the site of the Kurus’ capital, a ṛṣi had long ago cursed that land when he felt offended by a Kuru king. It was now a wasteland.
Yudhiṣṭhira looked respectfully at Dhṛtarāṣṭra. He felt no anger or resentment at the unfairness of the settlement. His elders represented the Supreme; their orders should be followed without question. The prince looked across at Kṛṣṇa, who was still smiling. Yudhiṣṭhira was sure with His assistance they would be able to make the Khāṇḍava region habitable land. With palms folded the Pāṇḍava acknowledged Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s gift. “It shall be so, my lord.”
The next day the king arranged for Yudhiṣṭhira’s coronation. With all pomp and ceremony the prince became king of Khāṇḍavaprastha, with Vyāsadeva appearing in time to perform the rituals.
After the coronation the Pāṇḍavas arranged to depart. Having worshipped the gods and taken their leave from the Kuru elders, they left with Kṛṣṇa at the head of their procession. The sage Vyāsadeva also accompanied them as they journeyed to the northern region of Khāṇḍava. With his assistance the brothers selected an auspicious tract of land upon which to found a city. He performed the appropriate Vedic rites to invoke the gods’ presence. Then Kṛṣṇa sat with the ṛṣi and summoned Indra. The deity appeared, blazing like fire. He bowed before Kṛṣṇa and asked, “What shall I do for You at this time, my lord?” Kṛṣṇa asked him to arrange for a city to be constructed for the Pāṇḍavas. He told Indra to sprinkle his heavenly nectar across the land so that it would again become rich and fertile. Saying, “So be it,” Indra called for Viśvakarmā, the architect of the gods. After being instructed by Indra he began work on the city.
All around the site granite walls rose to the skies. Viśvakarmā constructed white palaces and mansions, whose windows looked like the divine eagle Garuḍa’s outstretched wings. The city was protected by massive dark gates that resembled clouds. No weapon could assail them. Deadly darts and other missiles were placed along the tops of the defensive ramparts. The turrets were filled with powerful men, all highly trained in warfare and with all weapons at their disposal. The city was then surrounded by delightful woods full of blossoming and fragrant trees. Everywhere were lakes crowded with swans and lotus flowers. The city streets were wide and well-designed, with pleasant groves and gardens between them. Pleasure houses stood in the vast public concourses and there were countless temples dedicated to Viṣṇu and the heavenly deities. The Pāṇḍavas’ own palace appeared like the heavenly Mount Meru. Full of every opulence, it stood in the center of the city surrounded by garrisons of warriors.
Soon Brahmins began to be attracted to the city, which had become known as Indraprastha. They opened institutions wherein they taught all the Vedic sciences. Vaishyas also began to arrive, hoping to earn money by selling their goods. Gradually craftsmen and artisans arrived and within a short time the city was populated with pious citizens. It resembled Amarāvatī in the heavens. Being ruled with justice and compassion by Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers, Indraprastha’s people had everything they desired. They came to regard the Pāṇḍavas as affectionate fathers.
Out of friendship for the Pāṇḍavas, Kṛṣṇa remained in the city for some days. Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa were especially close and they spent much time together. Draupadī would also take every opportunity to serve Kṛṣṇa, and she became very dear to Him.
A few days after Kṛṣṇa’s departure the celestial seer Nārada came to Indraprastha. Seeing the well-known ṛṣi, dressed in a black deerskin and with his golden hair knotted on his head, Yudhiṣṭhira got off his throne and offered his obeisances. He then presented Nārada with a fine golden seat encrusted with jewels and personally offered him the sacred arghya. King Yudhiṣṭhira washed the ṛṣi’s feet and welcomed him with gentle words. At Yudhiṣṭhira’s command, Draupadī came before the sage and stood with folded palms. Nārada offered the beautiful queen blessings and then dismissed her.
When Draupadī had returned to her quarters, Nārada said, “This illustrious princess is the wedded wife of all of you. You must establish a rule so that no dissension may arise between you over her. Listen as I tell you the ancient history of two celebrated Asuras named Sunda and Upasunda.”
The two Asuras belonged to the powerful race of Dānavas, the celestial demons. They were both sons of Nikumbha, a deadly enemy of the gods. The brothers were like one person divided into two. They lived together, ate together and moved about together. They always entertained the same purpose and were always equal to one another in both happiness and distress. By virtue of their long practice of rigid austerities, Sunda and Upasunda became extremely powerful. Having received a boon from Brahmā that they could only die at each other’s hands, they felt free to terrorize the universe. The gods could not check them. Finally, Brahmā devised a way to destroy them. He created a woman of indescribable beauty, whom he named Tilottamā. On Brahmā’s order this Apsarā went before the two brothers one day when they were intoxicated. Seeing her faultless form moving gracefully before them, both brothers immediately desired her. They began to argue. “This woman shall be my wife and your sister!” “No, brother, I saw her first. She is mine!” The argument became heated and soon they fell upon one another with their fierce weapons. At last they simultaneously smashed one another with their huge clubs and both fell to the ground dead.
Nārada concluded, “Thus those two Asuras, although ever united and inspired with the same desires, killed one another for the sake of a woman. You should make an agreement so that no such quarrel may arise among yourselves.”
The Pāṇḍavas consulted one another in the ṛṣi’s presence. Finally they agreed that they would each spend a certain amount of time with Draupadī. If any of them saw another when he was alone with her, there would be a severe consequence; the offender would have to go to the forest for one year and have no contact with Draupadī during that time.
After the Pāṇḍavas had made this rule, Nārada took his leave, disappearing before their eyes. Carefully keeping their agreement, the brothers continued to live peacefully at Indraprastha.