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Chapter 15

The Celestial Hall

Soon after Maya began his work on the hall, Kṛṣṇa approached Yudhiṣṭhira and asked his permission to return to Dwārakā. He had been away for months and now desired to again see His relatives. Yudhiṣṭhira gave his permission reluctantly, knowing he would miss his beloved friend. Kṛṣṇa then said His farewells, first going to Kuntī and touching her feet in respect.

Shedding tears, Kuntī embraced Kṛṣṇa and said, “My dear Keśava, You are the Supreme Soul of this universe. You are always kindly disposed toward everyone but You especially protect Your devotees. From the day that Akrūra arrived in Hastināpura I knew You were thinking of the welfare of myself and my sons. I am confident that whatever difficulties we may experience are arranged by Providence for our ultimate good.”

Kṛṣṇa smiled at Kuntī and then left her, promising that He would return before long. He then went to see His sister Subhadrā and bid her an affectionate farewell. After that Kṛṣṇa went to Draupadī, who cried at the thought of His departure. Like her husbands and mother-in-law, Draupadī thought constantly of Kṛṣṇa. She bowed at His feet and worshipped Him, praying that He might soon return.

After performing the due rites of departure, and after offering charity to the Brahmins, Kṛṣṇa mounted His chariot along with Sātyaki, who had remained with Him in Indraprastha to learn archery from Arjuna. Surrounded by the five Pāṇḍavas, Kṛṣṇa looked like Indra surrounded by the gods. He proceeded slowly along the royal highway toward the city gate. Thousands of citizens lined the streets shouting and waving as Kṛṣṇa departed in His chariot, drawn by Śaibya and Sugrīva and bearing the sign of Garuḍa. Yudhiṣṭhira mounted the chariot and personally took the reins. Arjuna stood on the chariot fanning Kṛṣṇa with a golden handled chamara whisk. Bhīma held a white parasol over Kṛṣṇa’s head and Nakula and Sahadeva walked ahead on either side of His chariot, clearing the way.

The Pāṇḍavas accompanied Kṛṣṇa out of the city for four miles. Kṛṣṇa then told them to return home. He bowed to Yudhiṣṭhira, who tearfully raised Him and said with affection, “My dear Kṛṣṇa, I do not know what kind of pious activities we must have performed in previous lives so that You are now so gracious toward us. Even highly renounced yogīs and mystics attain a sight of You only with great difficulty. Yet we are householders engaged in politics and worldly affairs. I do not understand why You are so kind to us.”

Kṛṣṇa smiled and asked Yudhiṣṭhira if He could leave for Dwārakā. Yudhiṣṭhira assented and with great difficulty Kṛṣṇa persuaded the Pāṇḍavas not to follow Him. He told them that He would always be ready to assist them whenever they needed Him. They need only think of Him. Kṛṣṇa then urged His horses onwards and the five brothers stood together gazing at His chariot as it disappeared into the distance. They then slowly returned to Indraprastha, their minds absorbed in thoughts of their friend from Dwārakā.

A few days after Kṛṣṇa left, Maya, having completed all his designs and plans, began his actual construction. On an auspicious day marked by favorable stars the Asura measured out a piece of land five thousand cubits square. Before commencing work, he distributed charity to thousands of Brahmins. He arranged for them to be fed with the finest of foods and gave them wealth, invoking their blessings before he began.

Maya then erected thousands of golden pillars upon which he constructed a splendorous assembly hall. After fourteen months the hall was completed. It appeared like a mass of new clouds rising in the sky, and its celestial effulgence seemed to darken the sun’s rays. It was spacious, cool, delightful and filled with wealth. With its golden walls and archways inlaid with celestial gems, and its crystal stairways worked with coral, the hall surpassed even the Yadus’ Sudharmā hall. In its center was a beautiful artificial pond filled with lotuses and lilies whose stalks were made of brilliant gems, and with other flowers and leaves made of gold and silver. On its clear waters there were also real lotuses in full blossom. Swans, kāraṇḍavas and chakravarkas swam about on its surface and golden-colored turtles played on its bottom. The sides of the pond were set with costly marble slabs studded with pearls, and all around it were celestial flowers shivering in a gentle breeze. The hall was adorned with gardens full of ever-blossoming trees, and the air was filled with a delicious fragrance that mixed with the scent of the lotuses on the lake.

Maya arranged for eight thousand powerful Rākṣasas, known as Kiṅkarās, to guard that hall. Keeping themselves invisible, the well-armed Rākṣasas, who had massive bodies and fearful faces, arrow-shaped ears and blood-red eyes, stationed themselves all around the hall, ever alert to danger. The Asura then reported to Yudhiṣṭhira that the hall was ready for occupation.

Yudhiṣṭhira consulted with the Brahmins and selected an auspicious day to enter the hall. He fed and gave charity to thousands of Brahmins and, along with his brothers, worshipped Viṣṇu and the gods. A ceremony was arranged and actors, bards, singers and wrestlers exhibited their skill for the Pāṇḍavas’ pleasure. A feast was then distributed to all of Indraprastha’s citizens. Precisely at noon the Pāṇḍavas, followed by crowds of ṛṣis, entered their hall through the enormous golden doors at its eastern entrance. They took their places on the jewel-encrusted thrones at the head of the main hall. Around them sat the ṛṣis and many kings who had been invited from other countries. In that assembly were seen numerous famous ṛṣis such as Asita, Devala, Vyāsadeva, Maitreya, Parvata, Mārkaṇḍeya, Jaimini, Bhṛgu and hundreds of others. All the virtuous sages had their mind and senses under full control and they looked like so many full moons shining amid the assembly.

The Pāṇḍavas listened respectfully as the ṛṣis recited Vedic histories to invoke auspiciousness. The kings in attendance then stepped forward one by one to make offerings to Yudhiṣṭhira and to worship him with all honor. Citrasena, the Gandharva leader, arrived with the Apsarās. Along with the Cāraṇas descended from the heavens, they entertained the assembly with celestial music and dance. Worshipped and entertained by such beings, Yudhiṣṭhira resembled Brahmā seated in his own hall on the highest planet in the universe.

Suddenly, the Pāṇḍavas saw Nārada Ṛṣi appear by his mystical power. Dressed in a black deerskin, with his golden hair knotted on top of his head, he seemed like a brilliant sun rising in the hall. Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers immediately stood in respect. They bowed low to Nārada, who was accompanied by Pārijāta, Raivata and Sumukha, three other powerful sages. Yudhiṣṭhira offered all the ṛṣis seats and they sat peacefully as the Pāṇḍavas worshipped them with sacred offerings as well as with precious gems and jewels. Gratified, the sages were joyous to behold the wonderful assembly hall.

Nārada said, “O King, is your wealth being spent properly for the protection of the people? Is your mind fixed in virtue? Are you enjoying the pleasures of life? I trust that you do not sacrifice religion for the sake of profit, nor profit for the sake of religion, nor indeed both religion and profit for the sake of pleasure, which easily tempts men.”

Nārada continued to question Yudhiṣṭhira on a variety of subjects, his questions effectively constituting a number of instructions on the art of kingship. Yudhiṣṭhira sat with folded palms and listened attentively. The entire assembly remained silent as Nārada, the foremost of the ṛṣis, spoke. His knowledge and wisdom were famed throughout the universe. Nārada was fully acquainted with every aspect of the Vedic teachings, and he was renowned as a great devotee and servant of the Supreme Lord. He knew the Lord’s desire, and his movements and actions were always arranged to assist the divine plan. The Pāṇḍavas were reverent as he instructed them. The whole aim of the monarch, Nārada explained, was to keep his people on the path of progressive spiritual life, helping them advance toward life’s ultimate goal of emancipation, while ensuring that they were protected and had all their material needs provided.

As Nārada finished his instructions, Yudhiṣṭhira thanked him and said, “O great sage, you have asked me if my study of scripture, my wealth and my marriage are all successful. Please tell me how I can succeed in these things.”

Nārada, who had ended his speech with those three questions, replied, “Scriptural knowledge is successful when it results in humility and good conduct, wealth is successful when it is both enjoyed and given away in charity, and marriage is successful when the wife is enjoyed and bears offspring.”

Concluding his instructions, the ṛṣi said, “O great king, be sure that you are always free of the five evils which assail men: excessive sleep, fear, anger, weakness of mind and procrastination.”

Yudhiṣṭhira again bowed to Nārada and took hold of his feet, saying, “I shall surely do all that you have said. My knowledge has been increased by your wise words.”

Yudhiṣṭhira replied in detail to all of Nārada’s questions. When he finished the sage blessed him by saying, “That king who properly performs his duties will pass his days in happiness and at the end of his life he surely ascends to the regions of heavenly happiness.”

Yudhiṣṭhira became curious to learn from Nārada about the assembly halls possessed by the gods. He wondered if there were any equal to the one Maya had built for him. In the presence of the many kings and sages in his hall Yudhiṣṭhira asked, “O great ṛṣi, you can travel with the speed of the mind and go anywhere within the universe. Please tell me of all the assembly halls you have seen. Do any of them equal mine?”

The Pāṇḍava asked Nārada to describe in detail the other halls as well as who was to be found in them. Who waited upon Indra in his hall and who upon Yamarāja? Which fortunate souls attended Brahmā in his hall? Yudhiṣṭhira’s enquiry was pointed. He wanted to know where his ancestors, the great kings of the past, had gone. He was especially eager to hear of his father, Pāṇḍu. Had Pāṇḍu attained the highest heaven? Yudhiṣṭhira waited expectantly for Nārada to reply.

Nārada described the great halls belonging to all the principal gods, beginning with that of Indra. Indra’s hall is one hundred and fifty yojanas long, more than a thousand miles, and a hundred yojanas wide, and it shines with the splendor of the sun. It is capable of dispelling grief, fatigue, fear and weakness. Indra sits there in a magnificent, ethereal form adorned with a brilliant crown and bracelets, and wearing effulgent white robes. He is decorated with celestial garlands of many hues. By his side sits personified Beauty, Fame and Glory. Nārada named all the ṛṣis and other personalities who wait upon the king of the gods. Faith, Intelligence and Learning are all present in his court, as are Sacrifice, Charity, Religion, Profit and Pleasure. But there was only one earthly king from the past, the royal sage Hariścandra.

Nārada went on to describe Yamarāja’s hall. His hall is a full hundred yojanas square and is delightful in every way. No pain of any kind exists within that hall and it contains every object of desire, both celestial and human. It could travel anywhere in the universe according to its owner’s will. Time and Death personified sit on either side of Yamarāja, and countless ṛṣis surround him. Gandharvas and Apsarās entertain the occupants of the hall with music and dance. The scent of divine perfumes fills the air. Nārada named the personalities who wait upon Yamarāja, which included all the monarchs in Yudhiṣṭhira’s line, ending with Pāṇḍu.

Nārada then described Varuṇa’s hall, and then that of Kuvera, the lord of wealth. Both those halls were opulent beyond imagination, being filled with gold and gems, and inhabited by numerous gods and ṛṣis and their shining consorts. Nārada told Yudhiṣṭhira about Brahmā’s hall. The actual form of that mystical hall cannot be ascertained as it can assume various indescribable forms from moment to moment. The hall is made of celestial gems which constantly change hue, and it appears to be suspended in the firmament by its own power. The self-effulgent hall knows no deterioration and it continuously increases the happiness of its occupants. Brahmā sits there surrounded by the personified forms of Mind, Space, Knowledge, Sound, Touch, Form, Taste, Scent, Nature, all the elements and the Prime Causes of the universe. Present also are the Sun, Moon, all the stars and constellations, Joy, Aversion, Asceticism, Understanding, Patience, Wisdom, Forgiveness, Fortune and all the Vedas.

Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers sat in rapt attention as Nārada spoke about the immeasurable splendor and opulence of Brahmā’s hall. He named all the chief progenitors and all the principal gods and goddesses who waited upon Brahmā.

When Nārada stopped speaking, Yudhiṣṭhira began to question him further. He wanted to know why only Hariścandra, out of all the great kings of the past, had attained to Indra’s abode. He also wanted Nārada to tell him about his meeting with Pāṇḍu. What did Pāṇḍu say to the sage? How was he faring now in Yamarāja’s assembly?

Nārada explained that Hariścandra had reached Indra’s planet because he had performed the great Rājasūya sacrifice. That sacrifice involved subjugating all other kings and distributing charity to hundreds of thousands of Brahmins, and it had set Hariścandra apart from the other kings. Nārada then told Yudhiṣṭhira that Pāṇḍu had given him a message for his son. If Yudhiṣṭhira could also perform the Rājasūya, then both he and Pāṇḍu could reach Indra’s kingdom. Pāṇḍu felt that his sons were now capable of performing such an incomparable sacrifice. If they were successful, then father and sons would be reunited in heaven.

Both Nārada and Pāṇḍu understood that the gods had their own purposes to fulfill through Yudhiṣṭhira’s performance of the Rājasūya. It was part of a divine plan meant to free the world of demonic influences. There were presently many evil kings and kṣatriyas inhabiting the earth. Before beginning the sacrifice, Yudhiṣṭhira would need to overpower them. Only then would he be able to perform the Rājasūya, and only then would he be able to establish piety and virtue throughout the world. Nārada looked around at the five brothers who sat humbly before him. He knew they were dear to Kṛṣṇa, who wanted to use them as instruments to fulfill His own desire to reestablish religion upon the earth.

Nārada concluded, “Therefore, O King, you should perform the Rājasūya sacrifice. The celestials have ordained it. I shall return when the sacrifice begins. Now I am going to Dwārakā, for I desire to see Kṛṣṇa, under whose will this entire universe is moving.”

Nārada stood up to leave and Yudhiṣṭhira requested him to ask Kṛṣṇa to again visit Indraprastha. Nārada agreed and the Pāṇḍavas bowed before him and his companions. The ṛṣis then disappeared into the sky by their mystic power.

After Nārada’s departure, the Pāṇḍavas continued to live peacefully at Indraprastha, but Yudhiṣṭhira was contemplating how he might perform the Rājasūya sacrifice. He knew that it required vast wealth. It also necessitated his being able to establish his indisputable power over all other kings. How would it ever be possible? There were certain kings who would never accept him as their emperor--the mighty Jarāsandha of Magadha, for example. Jarāsandha was wicked, and he had already conquered all the districts surrounding his kingdom. Yudhiṣṭhira had even heard that Jarāsandha imprisoned the kings he defeated, with the intention to sacrifice them to Śiva. Jarāsandha was ambitious. He already had designs on the emperor’s seat, and he was not an easy opponent to defeat. Yudhiṣṭhira realized that he would only be able to perform the Rājasūya with Kṛṣṇa’s help.

Yudhiṣṭhira’s kingdom was flourishing under his leadership, and his citizens were devoted to piety. They had everything they desired. The Pāṇḍavas saw the citizens as family. Yudhiṣṭhira was more than a father to them, and no one in the kingdom entertained any hostile feelings toward him. Gradually he became known as Ajātaśatru, “one without an enemy.” And due to his religious leadership the gods were also pleased, and thus the kingdom was not afflicted by fire, disease or other natural disturbances.

Still thinking about the sacrifice, Yudhiṣṭhira called an assembly of ministers and advisors. When they were all seated in the great council chamber of the Pāṇḍavas’ hall, which was called the Mayasabha, Yudhiṣṭhira began to address them, his voice resounding like a bass drum. “I wish to perform the Rājasūya. Having been asked to do so by the great sage Nārada, I can understand that the gods must surely desire it. I do not want dominion over this earth for myself, but I wish to fulfill the gods’ purpose, and especially that of the Supreme Lord.”

Yudhiṣṭhira also considered that if he invited Kṛṣṇa to the sacrifice, he could arrange that He be honored as the chief person present. That would establish the Lord’s fame and position all over the world. Kṛṣṇa was superior to even the greatest gods, such as Brahmā and Śiva. Yudhiṣṭhira expected those gods to attend his sacrifice, so if people saw them worshipping Kṛṣṇa as supreme, then His position above those deities would be established.

Then Dhaumya spoke. “O King, you are worthy to become the emperor of this world. Therefore perform this sacrifice and establish yourself as such. We shall light the six fires and chant the sacred mantras. But first you must gain the acquiescence of the worlds’ monarchs. After that you will surely become the undisputed king of this wide earth.”

Having gained the permission of his priest and counselors, Yudhiṣṭhira discussed the means by which he might proceed. They all agreed that he should immediately consult Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa would certainly provide infallible advice. Yudhiṣṭhira then thought of Kṛṣṇa all the more intensely, praying that He might soon come to his assistance.