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Chapter 18

Duryodhana’s Envy

Duryodhana had also decided to stay on for a while in Indraprastha with Śakuni. The prince burned from envy of the Pāṇḍavas’ success. They had far exceeded him in their power and influence. Duryodhana could not stand the fact that Yudhiṣṭhira was now the emperor of the world, a position he felt should belong to him. He gazed with astonishment at the unlimited wealth piled in Yudhiṣṭhira’s treasury. The Kaurava had never seen such opulence.

Duryodhana was especially intrigued by the Mayasabha, and he wanted to take a closer look. Thus he and Śakuni examined the hall. The Kaurava saw celestial designs which he had never seen before anywhere else. He was amazed by the workmanship and splendor of the palace. It was as if he had gone to the heavenly planets. Bright gems sparkled on all sides of the spacious hall, and Duryodhana could feel a cool breeze which carried a mixture of celestial fragrances. Ivory and gold seats stood by the side of lotus-filled lakes. The walls were inlaid with exquisite carvings depicting the gods and their consorts.

Duryodhana slowly made his way through the hall, his many golden ornaments jangling together as he walked. As he saw Maya’s intricate and wonderful workmanship he became even more jealous. He snapped angrily at the palace servants walking in front of him. With his golden-helmeted head held high, he walked casually, trying not to show any signs of being impressed.

Gradually he came to the large crystal pond at the center of the palace. The water was perfectly clear and still. At first glance it appeared to be a continuation of the marble floor leading up to it, and Duryodhana made that mistake. Fully clothed and with his eyes wide open he fell straight into the water. The Pāṇḍavas were standing on a golden balcony above the pond. Seeing Duryodhana falling in with his arms and legs akimbo, Bhīma laughed aloud. Many of Kṛṣṇa’s queens were also present and they too laughed.

The Kaurava prince hauled himself out of the lake, helped by Śakuni. He did not even look at the Pāṇḍavas or Kṛṣṇa and His queens. Their laughter was unbearable. Yudhiṣṭhira saw Duryodhana’s embarrassment and told his brothers not to laugh. Kṛṣṇa smiled but said nothing as Yudhiṣṭhira arranged for dry clothes to be brought and offered to the angry prince. Duryodhana quickly put them on and continued his tour, trying hard to conceal his feelings. Everything was intolerable to him--the magnificence of the palace, the incomparable beauty of the queens who moved about within it, and particularly Draupadī. Duryodhana was still burning from his failure to win the Pañchāla princess. She was a jewel among women. She too had laughed when he had fallen into the lake. This was agony. Suddenly he again found himself a victim of the deceptive designs of the palace; he walked into an apparently open door, then avoided another because he thought it was closed when it was actually open. The palace attendants were struggling to restrain their laughter. Humiliated and angry, the prince stormed out.

Yudhiṣṭhira felt sorry to see Duryodhana’s pain. He tried to console him in various ways, but Duryodhana just laughed. He bade the Pāṇḍavas farewell and left for Hastināpura followed by his large retinue, his mind bent upon revenge.

Then Kṛṣṇa also decided to return home. As He was departing He spoke affectionately to Yudhiṣṭhira. “O King, cherish all your subjects with ceaseless vigilance and patience. As the cloud is to all creatures, or the large tree to the birds, so should you become the refuge to your dependents.”

After Kṛṣṇa’s departure the Pāṇḍavas approached Vyāsadeva, who had not yet left. Yudhiṣṭhira asked him if the sacrifice had been successful. The ṛṣi replied, “O Kuru child, this sacrifice will yield great results for thirteen years. You shall be the undisputed emperor of this wide earth, but at the end of that period you will be the cause of a war which will rid the world of kṣatriyas.”

Yudhiṣṭhira was alarmed. Seeing his expression, Vyāsadeva said, “Do not be aggrieved. No one can overcome the influence of time. Everything is arranged by the Supreme for the ultimate good of all. This war will be Duryodhana’s fault, not yours. I shall now go to the mountains, but you will see me again in times of need.”

The ṛṣi then stood up and left, surrounded by all the other sages. When they were gone Yudhiṣṭhira spoke to his brothers. “The sage’s words cannot prove false, but I do not wish to be the cause of suffering in the world. From this day on I shall not speak a harsh word to anyone. I shall always practice virtue and shall see no difference between my own sons and those of others, and I shall follow my elders’ commands without the least hesitation. In this way I shall avoid disagreements, for they are the cause of war.”

Yudhiṣṭhira continued to think about Vyāsadeva’s words. It seemed that the Lord’s plan was unfolding. Although the Pāṇḍavas had asserted their rulership over the world, it was still a fact that many impious kings were exploiting the earth’s resources. Yudhiṣṭhira saw at the sacrifice that many had supported Śiśupāla against Kṛṣṇa, although they were afraid to oppose Him openly. Who knew what evil schemes Duryodhana and his brothers would dream up? All of this was no doubt Kṛṣṇa’s arrangement to rid the world of ungodly elements. Yudhiṣṭhira remained immersed in thought of Kṛṣṇa and His mysterious plans.

As he made his way back to Hastināpura, Duryodhana sat brooding and miserable in his chariot. Śakuni asked, “What ails you, O King? Why are your sighing again and again?”

The prince looked distractedly at Śakuni. “O Uncle, I am filled with jealousy to see the world under the Pāṇḍavas’ sway. Having witnessed their astounding sacrifice and seeing them shining like gods in heaven, my heart burns day and night. Indeed I am drying up like a shallow pool in the summer sun.”

Duryodhana gazed out of his chariot at the rolling countryside with its well-tilled fields and blossoming orchards. Groups of villagers stood and watched as the royal procession moved along the road. The prince continued, “When Kṛṣṇa killed Śiśupāla no kings dared to speak. They were all awed by the Pāṇḍavas’ might, or else how could they have tolerated such an injustice?”

Duryodhana wrung his hands. “I cannot tolerate it. I shall therefore enter fire, drown myself or swallow poison. What man who possesses any prowess at all can bear to see his enemies prosper? How can I ever equal their power and opulence? Who can help me achieve such influence? Fate is supreme and men’s exertions useless. All my efforts to destroy the Pāṇḍavas have failed. Instead, they flourish like lotuses in a lake. Therefore I should die! Know that I am in the grip of grief, O Uncle, and please inform my father.”

Śakuni moved closer to his nephew. “O Duryodhana, do not envy the Pāṇḍavas. They are receiving what is rightfully theirs, due to their own deeds. They have their half of the kingdom, and with Kṛṣṇa’s help and Drupada’s alliance they have grown rich. What is there to be sorry about?”

The Gandhara ruler smiled as he spoke. His eyes narrowed slightly and he fingered his jeweled rings. “Your cousins have conquered the world and now possess limitless wealth. Why do you grieve? This wealth can now become yours. You said there are none to help you, but I do not agree. You have one hundred brothers, the greatly powerful Droṇa, Karṇa and the invincible chariot-warrior, Kṛpa. And my brothers, along with the mighty Somadatta, stand ready at your command. Take the earth and rule it without a rival.”

Duryodhana’s eyes widened. He sat up straight on the leather upholstered seat. Perhaps his uncle was right. The Kauravas’ strength was hard to rival. Droṇa, Bhīṣma, Kṛpa, Karṇa--who could face these men when they stood together in battle? Duryodhana spoke eagerly, “O King, if you think it wise, then I shall conquer the Pāṇḍavas. This whole world shall be mine, along with the magnificent Mayasabha.”

Śakuni slowly shook his head. He played with the set of dice he carried with him everywhere. “Do not be rash, O King. There are many ways to overcome an enemy apart from battle. We cannot conquer in battle the Pāṇḍavas, especially when they are united with Kṛṣṇa. Not even Indra with all the celestials could overpower them. I was thinking of another way by which they can be defeated.”

Śakuni suggested that they challenge Yudhiṣṭhira to a game of dice. He knew Yudhiṣṭhira was fond of playing, and also that he was not expert. At dice Śakuni had no equal anywhere in the world. “Without a doubt Yudhiṣṭhira will accept your challenge,” Śakuni continued, his arm resting on Duryodhana’s shoulder. “He cannot resist the game, and with a little encouragement, he will surely gamble away all his possessions. Thus I will win for you his entire kingdom and wealth.”

As they entered Hastināpura, Duryodhana suggested that they go at once to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and get his permission for the plan. Arriving before the blind king, Śakuni said, “O great monarch, here is your son Duryodhana. He is pale and emaciated with grief. You should ask him the cause and try to find a remedy.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra was surprised. “Why are you sad, my son? You have at your disposal everything enjoyable, no less than the gods. Vast wealth, the best of clothes, the finest food, beautiful women--all these await your pleasure. How then have you become depressed?”

Duryodhana at once admitted that he was consumed by jealousy of the Pāṇḍavas. Even though he had wealth, their wealth--his enemy’s wealth--was superior. The Kaurava then described to his father what he had seen in Indraprastha. “During the sacrifice, Yudhiṣṭhira was given so much tribute that it became necessary to turn some of it away. He had been offered millions of elephants, horses, cows and camels. Heaps of gems and golden ornaments were stacked up like mountains. The Pāṇḍava provided thirty servant maids for each of 88,000 snataka Brahmins. He arranged to feed one hundred thousand Brahmins at a time during the sacrifice and when they were fed conches were blown. O Father, I heard those conches sounding all through the sacrifice.”

Duryodhana told the king how he had even seen the gods at the Rājasūya. Samudra, the ocean deity, had personally offered Yudhiṣṭhira celestial ambrosia drawn from the depths of the sea. This beverage is superior even to the soma-rasa that Indra enjoys. It was impossible for Duryodhana to describe to his blind father all that he had seen. As he remembered it, however, Duryodhana’s heart burned with the fire of envy.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra remained silent. Then Śakuni spoke: “O King, I know a means by which your son may win all this wealth for himself. I propose that you invite Yudhiṣṭhira to a game of dice. No one can defeat me at dice. I will win easily. In this way we shall acquire all that Yudhiṣṭhira possesses.”

“Father, please grant us your permission to carry this out. Let us conquer our enemies and enjoy this earth.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra was uncertain. “Let me consult the wise Vidura. He will only advise us for our own good.”

“Vidura will certainly block our plan,” Duryodhana replied. “And if he does, then I shall take my own life. Then you and Vidura may live here happily. What need do you have for me anyway?”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra was pained. Duryodhana was his most dear son. How could he ever refuse his requests? The king decided he would talk with Vidura and convince him. He then ordered that a palatial hall be constructed for the match. It should have a thousand pillars and a thousand gates. Covering two square miles it should be set with countless gems. When it was complete they could invite the Pāṇḍavas for the game.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra was still uneasy. He knew the evils of gambling. He called for Vidura and said, “I have decided to invite the Pāṇḍavas for a friendly game of dice with my sons. They can gamble a little and thus sport together. I am building a fine hall for their pleasure.”

Vidura frowned. “I do not approve of this, O King. Gambling always brings with it dispute and fighting. You should be careful that no dissension arises between your sons and the Pāṇḍavas, for that may cause destruction.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra tried to reassure his brother. “When you, me, Bhīṣma and Droṇa are here, what evil can befall us? In any event, destiny is supreme. Whatever has been ordained by the supreme power will come to pass. What can our efforts do to avert it? I have already arranged for this gambling match for my son’s pleasure. Please do not try to change my mind.”

Vidura sighed. “Fate is surely all-powerful, O King, but we nevertheless receive the results of our own acts. We have free will. The supreme power simply reciprocates with our desires. It is the consequences of our acts which are inevitable, not the acts themselves. O lord, consider carefully your motivation in allowing this gambling match.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra remained silent and Vidura slowly left his chamber with a heavy heart. He could understand that Kali-yuga, the dark age of quarrel and suffering, was beginning. The gambling match would certainly set in motion the events that would lead to the annihilation of the world’s rulers. Vidura remembered the Rājasūya and the kings who had supported Śiśupāla against Kṛṣṇa. He was apprehensive, but he felt helpless. Although the king was not a fool, he was controlled by his covetous and mean-minded son. Vidura’s counsel, although aimed at the good of all, was falling on deaf ears.

During the coming weeks, as the hall was being built, Dhṛtarāṣṭra reflected on Vidura’s words. He disliked countermanding his brother’s advice, because he knew Vidura never gave faulty counsel. The impending dice match was undoubtedly fraught with danger. If it led to a battle between the Kauravas and the Pāṇḍavas, that would be a disaster.

The king decided to try once more to change his son’s mind. Sitting alone with him in his chamber, he said, “O son of Gāndhārī, there is no need to gamble with your cousins. Vidura does not approve of it and I do not like it either. Gambling inevitably leads to dissension. Everything we now have could be ruined. If you desire wealth equal to that of the Pāṇḍavas, then let us perform a sacrifice similar to theirs. Then the world’s kings will bring you tribute as they did Yudhiṣṭhira. Why must you take Yudhiṣṭhira’s wealth from him? Yudhiṣṭhira is gentle. He will never attack you or cause you pain. Give up your envy and do not grieve. Enjoy life with all the good things you already possess.”

Duryodhana would not accept his father’s advice. He told him about the incidents in the Mayasabha--how the Pāṇḍavas, and especially Draupadī, had laughed at him. As he remembered it again his anger was inflamed. In a choked voice he described the incidents to his father. “Seeing what I thought to be a door, but which was really a solid piece of crystal, I walked straight into it and smashed my head. As I stood with my brains swimming, the twins came up and supported me. Sahadeva led me by the hand, smiling and saying repeatedly, ‘This is the door, O King.’ I felt like dying then and there.”

The Kaurava prince also gave more details about the Pāṇḍavas’ wealth. The Kauravas could never equal that wealth even if they performed one hundred sacrifices. Duryodhana had never even heard of many of the shining gems he had seen at Yudhiṣṭhira’s palace. For weeks an endless line of kings and chieftains arrived at Indraprastha, each bringing huge amounts of tribute in an attempt to excel the others in charity. Seeing all the gold, gems, weapons, animals, clothes, rugs, silks, skins, serving maids, perfumes and incenses, Duryodhana was shocked. When he saw Samudra fetch Varuṇa’s massive golden conch, which Kṛṣṇa then used to bathe Yudhiṣṭhira in the final sacrificial ablution, the Kaurava prince all but lost his senses.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra listened in silence as his son continued. “O Father, the Pāṇḍavas have even spread their dominion to the far northern regions of Harivarṣa where no man can go. The residents of that land gave them hundreds of celestial conches, and I heard them being blown during the sacrifice. The tremendous sound made my hair stand erect. Weaker kings fainted upon hearing the noise.”

Duryodhana’s voice became increasingly urgent as he pleaded with his father. “I cannot live as long as the Pāṇḍavas possess such incomparable opulence. If they are allowed to flourish it will only be a matter of time until they overpower the Kauravas. They are our enemies. It is only right that we should attack them and take their wealth. This is the kṣatriya code. Either I will gain control of the earth or I will die. This gambling match is the safest and surest way to achieve my ends.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra thought for some moments, then replied, “O son, I hate such enmity, especially when you bear it towards those who are powerful. Such hostility brings about a change of feelings and is thus itself a painful weapon, although not made of steel. Do you realize that what you are suggesting will certainly cause a fearful war?”

Duryodhana paced impatiently in front of his blind father. “What violence is there in a simple dice game? If Yudhiṣṭhira chooses to gamble and lose his wealth, then how can anyone blame us? We have nothing to lose. Śakuni will win every game. O Father, please grant me permission to invite the Pāṇḍavas for this match.”

The king rose from his seat and called for his servants. As they led him away he said, “Your words do not find favor with me, O prince, but do what you will. You will surely repent your rashness later, for deeds fraught with impiety never bring prosperity. I shall ask Vidura to invite the Pāṇḍavas.”

A few days later the king heard that the hall had been completed. He called for Vidura and said, “Please leave at once for Indraprastha and bring Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers. Invite them for a friendly game of dice with their cousins in our new hall.”

Vidura tried one last time to dissuade the king. “This match will bring about the destruction of our race. Clearly your son wants only the Pāṇḍavas’ wealth and has contrived this means to take it. Dissension among our family members will cause our ruin. O King, stop it now while you have the chance.”

But Dhṛtarāṣṭra had already made up his mind. “O brother, everything lies in the hands of destiny. If destiny so wills it, then we will not be harmed; and if by the course of fate we are to suffer, then what can be done? Everything happens according to Providence. Therefore please go to Indraprastha and return with Kuntī’s invincible sons.”

Vidura looked despairingly at the blind monarch. It was hopeless to try to change his mind. His attachment for Duryodhana was too strong. Even though he could obviously see the results of acquiescing to his son, Dhṛtarāṣṭra still did not refuse him. Fearing the worst, Vidura left the palace and prepared for his journey.