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Chapter 24

Yudhiṣṭhira’s Moral Instructions

When Kṛṣṇa heard the news that the Pāṇḍavas had been exiled, He decided to go and see them in the forest. He invited Balarāma, Dṛṣṭadyumna, Śikhaṇḍī and many other kings to accompany Him, along with Subhadrā and her son, and together they rode to the Kāmyaka forest. Seeing Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers dressed in deerskins and stripped of their kingdom, both Balarāma and Kṛṣṇa were enraged.

Kṛṣṇa said, “I cannot tolerate this injustice. The earth shall drink the blood of Duryodhana, Karṇa, Śakuni and that fourth one, Dushashana. After we kill them and their followers, we will install Dharmarāja on the throne. Those cunning men deserve to be slain. This is quite in accord with the eternal morality.”

Kṛṣṇa’s anger blazed. It seemed as if He were about to consume the creation. Arjuna quickly sought to pacify Him by recollecting His many wonderful deeds.

“O Kṛṣṇa, the great Ṛṣi Vyāsadeva has told me that You are the cause of creation, the mover of all minds and the beginning and end of all things. All asceticism rests in You, who are the embodiment of all sacrifice and the eternal Supreme Person. All the gods depend upon You and You are the origin of the universal creator Brahmā. O mighty-armed Keśava, You have appeared many times on earth in different incarnations.”

Accepting Kṛṣṇa as the cause of even the almighty Viṣṇu, Arjuna described the various Viṣṇu-avatāras who had appeared in past ages. “O Kṛṣṇa, as Narasiṁha You slew the mighty Asura Hiraṇyakaśipu; as Aditi’s son, Vāmana, You spanned the entire universe with three steps. O soul of all beings, covering the heavens, You dwell in the body of the sun and imbue him with Your own effulgence.”

Arjuna went on to describe Kṛṣṇa’s activities in His present appearance. “You have killed numerous demonic kings who were fierce enemies of even the gods. O Janārdana, You have manifest here on earth the sacred and eternal city Dwārakā, which abounds in opulence and is always crowded with ṛṣis. Envy, untruth, malice and cruelty are absent in You, who are always the well-wishing friend of all creatures. Nārada has told me that at the end of the yuga all things, mobile and immobile, will enter Your body. O Kṛṣṇa, there is no limit to Your glories. I have spoken of only a minute part.”

As he spoke, Arjuna felt himself becoming overpowered by transcendental ecstasy. His voice choked up and he was unable to continue. Pleased and pacified by Arjuna’s expression of love, Kṛṣṇa said, “You are Mine and I am yours. All that is Mine is yours. He who hates you also hates Me, and he who follows you also follows Me. Formerly you were Nara and I was Nārāyaṇa. Though individuals, we are as one. No one can understand our oneness and difference.”

Draupadī, her dark beauty enhanced by her soft deerskin clothes, came forward with folded palms and said to Kṛṣṇa. “O irrepressible one, all the great ṛṣis have described You as the Supreme Person. The entire universe exists in You and You are the refuge of all ascetics and sages. Even as children sport with their toys, so do You sport with the celestials. Those seeking Your protection are never overcome by calamity. O slayer of demons, how is it then that one like me, the wife of the Pāṇḍavas, the sister of Dṛṣṭadyumna and Your friend, could have been so insulted by the Kauravas?”

Draupadī’s dark eyes filled with tears as she spoke. Subhadrā also wept as she stood with her arm around Draupadī’s shoulder. As she recalled the dice game Draupadī became angry. “Why, O Kṛṣṇa, did my five powerful husbands sit silently while I was humiliated by wicked men of no importance? Fie upon Bhīma’s arms and Arjuna’s celebrated Gāṇḍīva, for they could not protect a woman in distress, not even their wife. Fie upon Bhīṣma and Dhṛtarāṣṭra! Although I am their daughter-in-law they were prepared to see me a slave.”

Draupadī hid her face with her soft hands, which resembled lotus buds. Her shoulders shook as she cried. Regaining her composure after a few moments, she took a deep breath and concluded, “O Kṛṣṇa, You are my only shelter. I deserve Your protection for four reasons: due to our family relationship, our friendship, the respect You bear for me and the fact that You are my Lord.”

Kṛṣṇa replied, “O fair lady, you will see the wives of those with whom you are angry weep as you now weep when their husbands lie dead on the battlefield, their bodies covered with arrows and weltering in blood. Do not grieve. I shall do for the Pāṇḍavas whatever lies within My power. You shall be the queen of kings. I speak the truth. The heavens may fall and the Himālayas move, the earth may be rent and the ocean dry up, but know for certain, O Draupadī, that My words will never prove false.”

Draupadī was solaced by Kṛṣṇa’s words. She did not doubt that He acted only for her ultimate welfare. The princess glanced across at Arjuna, who said, “O lotus-eyed lady, do not weep. What Kṛṣṇa has said will come to pass. It cannot be otherwise.”

Standing by his sister’s side Dṛṣṭadyumna declared, “I shall slay Droṇa, our brother Śikhaṇḍī will kill Bhīṣma, Bhīma will kill Duryodhana and Arjuna will kill Karṇa, who offered you such unbearable offense in the sabha. Dear sister, with Rāma and Kṛṣṇa’s assistance even Indra cannot conquer us. What then can be said of Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons?”

All present now turned again toward Kṛṣṇa. Looking at Yudhiṣṭhira, Kṛṣṇa said, “O lord of the earth, had I not been otherwise engaged at the time, I would have personally come to prevent the gambling match. By pointing out the evils associated with gambling I would have gained the support of Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa and Bāhlika. Between us we would surely have swayed the blind king from his crooked purpose.”

The Brahmins present gathered around to hear Kṛṣṇa speak and He glanced at them with affection. “Indulgence in illicit sex, gambling, hunting and intoxication are the four evils which beset men and deprive them of their prosperity. Gambling is particularly marked by the destruction of property, by misfortune and by the squandering of wealth. It leads only to harsh words and enmity.”

Kṛṣṇa said He would have pointed this out to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and if the king did not listen, He would have used force to bring him to his senses. “And if anyone had supported the king in his ignorance, I would have destroyed them all. All this would surely have taken place, O King, if I had not been away from Dwārakā at the time. It was only upon My return that Sātyaki informed Me of the events in Hastināpura. Immediately upon receiving the news I came here. My heart is pained to see you now, overtaken by calamity and sunk into misfortune.”

Yudhiṣṭhira asked Kṛṣṇa where He had been during the gambling match. Kṛṣṇa explained that He had gone to do battle with a king named Shalva, a friend of Śiśupāla. When Shalva heard that Kṛṣṇa had killed Śiśupāla, he went to Dwārakā and attacked the city while Kṛṣṇa was in Indraprastha. Shalva owned a great airship which resembled a flying city. He had received this wonderful airship as a gift from Śiva. In battle he used it as a base from which to attack his foes. Raining down weapons of every kind, he had challenged Kṛṣṇa, not realizing He was absent from Dwārakā. After wreaking havoc in Dwārakā, he had returned to his own city.

Because Yudhiṣṭhira was interested, Kṛṣṇa described in detail the fight that had taken place between Shalva and Dwārakā’s warriors. He then told the Pāṇḍava how, after returning to Dwārakā and hearing of Shalva’s attack, He had gone personally to fight him. A terrible battle ensued. Shalva had acquired great mystic power through his performance of asceticism. While he was fighting with Kṛṣṇa, he created an illusion and seemingly killed Kṛṣṇa’s father Vasudeva right on the battlefield. By his mystic power Shalva also sent showers of arrows, clubs, winged darts, lances, thunderbolts, bullets, rockets, swords, axes and other weapons down upon Kṛṣṇa and His forces. In the end, Kṛṣṇa killed Shalva and destroyed his airship with the Sudarśana chakra.

Kṛṣṇa concluded His narration. “That is why, O Yudhiṣṭhira, I was unable to come to Hastināpura. The dice match took place just after I had slain Shalva and was engaged in restoring Dwārakā back to its former condition. If I had come, Duryodhana would not now be alive and the gambling match would never have taken place. What can I do now? It is difficult to stem the tide when the dam is broken.”

Kṛṣṇa stood up to leave. He could do nothing for the Pāṇḍavas until the end of the thirteen years. He knew that Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers were too virtuous to break their word. They would doubtlessly remain in the forest for the full period. Kṛṣṇa therefore told them that He would return to see them at the end of their exile. If Duryodhana did not return their kingdom, He said, then He knew there would be a battle in which the Kaurava and his followers would be annihilated.

The Pāṇḍavas bade Kṛṣṇa and His party farewell, and Arjuna especially bid an affectionate goodbye to Subhadrā and their young son Abhimanyu. Closely followed by Dṛṣṭadyumna and the other monarchs, Kṛṣṇa left the forest on His golden chariot, which shone like the sun. As the thunderous sound of the chariot wheels died away into the distance, Yudhiṣṭhira ordered his brothers to make ready for their own departure. He wanted to enter more deeply into the Kāmyaka forest and find a suitable place where they might spend their exile.

Still accompanied by hundreds of Brahmins, the brothers made their way into the forest. After some time they came to a great lake called Dwaitavana. Swans, chakravarkas and other graceful birds swam in its waters and the lake’s edges were crowded with red, blue and white lotuses, which were so fragrant that the air was heavy with their perfume. Numerous fruit trees, loaded with golden fruits, grew all around the lake. Peacocks, cakoras, cuckoos and other birds, all singing beautiful songs, played in the trees. The brothers also saw many Siddhas and Cāraṇas sporting in the woods and on the lakeshore, and numberless ṛṣis sitting motionless at the water’s edge, their minds fixed on the supreme Brahman.

Yudhiṣṭhira was delighted. The area was beautiful. They would live there. The brothers rested beneath a large banyan tree, looking like five great elephants sitting by the side of a mountain. Dhaumya then performed sacred rituals to sanctify the place where they would build their cottages, and then they began construction.

Living in that forest, the Pāṇḍavas resembled a number of Indras amid the celestials. They served the ṛṣis and Brahmins by offering them excellent fruits and roots. Dhaumya and other priests would perform daily sacrificial rites in honor of the gods and the Pāṇḍavas’ ancestors. They thought constantly of Kṛṣṇa and passed their time hearing the Brahmins recite Vedic texts.

Soon after their arrival at Dwaitavana, the ageless Ṛṣi Mārkaṇḍeya visited them. It was said that Mārkaṇḍeya had lived since the dawn of creation and knew of everything that had occurred in the history of the universe. He greeted the Pāṇḍavas with affection and accepted their worship. The ṛṣi, whose body was effulgent with spiritual light and who appeared to be a youth of sixteen, smiled to see them. They reminded him of Rāma and Lakṣman, who had been exiled to the forest hundreds of thousands of years previously. The sage had also visited them.

Since arriving in the forest, Yudhiṣṭhira had felt grief at what he had caused beginning to engulf him. Seeing Mārkaṇḍeya smiling, he asked, “O illustrious one, all these ascetics here are sorry to see our plight. How is it that you alone smile with delight?”

“I am not delighted, my child. Rather, I am amazed at how much your situation resembles the life of Daśaratha’s son, Rāma. He too suffered due to His unfailing truthfulness, and He too lived in the forest, exiled for some years. I remember seeing Him thousands of years ago wandering Mount Rishyamukha with His bow. Like you, Rāma was high-souled and innocent, and like you, He lived in the forest out of filial obedience to His father. This is why I am smiling. No matter how powerful each of us may be, we cannot avoid the calamities that arrive through destiny. No one, therefore, should ever act unrighteously, thinking, ‘I am powerful.’”

Mārkaṇḍeya then assured Yudhiṣṭhira that, like Rāma, he too would regain his kingdom from the Kauravas when his period of exile was over. After promising to come again while they were in the forest, he headed to the north.

While the Pāṇḍavas dwelt at Dwaitavana the air was constantly filled with the sounds of Vedic recitations. The entire region was as holy as Brahmā’s abode. The sounds of mantras from the Yajur, Ṛg and Sāma Vedas, charming and delightful to the mind, were mingled with the twang of the Pāṇḍavas’ bowstrings. They honed their martial skills by hunting dangerous forest animals. In accordance with scriptural codes, they maintained the population of tigers, boar, buffaloes and other beasts in the Kāmyaka forest, protecting the ṛṣis from attack as they engaged in meditation and sacrifice.

Yudhiṣṭhira loved the company of Brahmins. Now that he lived in their midst, his mind felt serene and his grief dissipated. All the world’s greatest ṛṣis had come to Dwaitavana to be with him--Nārada, Vyāsadeva, Vasiṣṭa, Bhṛgu, Aṅgirā, Kaśyapa and others--and they all worshipped Yudhiṣṭhira as the celestial sages worship Indra in heaven. Yudhiṣṭhira also returned their worship and spent his time discussing with them about spiritual topics. He was actually starting to enjoy forest life. In many ways he found it preferable to the onerous and often harsh duties of being a king. The gentle son of Dharma was happy to live a simple life of spirituality, but he always kept in mind his God-given duty as a kṣatriya. That responsibility could not be whimsically abandoned--even if unpleasant, duty must always be done for the Lord’s pleasure. It was thus with mixed feelings that Yudhiṣṭhira dwelt in the forest, awaiting the day when he could again resume his duties as a ruler.

Draupadī, however, was still sorrowful. She found the course of events that led up to their exile difficult, and she burned with the humiliation they had all received at Duryodhana’s hands. Sitting alone one evening with Yudhiṣṭhira, she revealed her feelings. “O King, when I think of the wicked Duryodhana and his followers living happily in Hastināpura, after having sent you to the forest, my heart burns. Without doubt he is delighting in our misfortune. When you set out for the forest all the Kurus cried except the wretched Duryodhana, Karṇa, Śakuni and that vicious Dushashana.”

Draupadī again found herself weeping. She remembered her parting words with Kuntī and Gāndhārī. Both of them had grieved at her humiliation. How long would it be before she was avenged and the wrong-doers punished?

“Seeing you seated here on this grass mat, and remembering your ivory throne crusted with jewels, I feel such anguish that I can hardly look at you. Your body is smeared with mud from the riverbank when once it was daubed with the finest sandalwood paste. You once wore costly silk garments: now you wear deerskins and tree bark. How can I bear to see my other husbands, who were once waited upon by numerous servants, now scouring the forest for food?”

Draupadī’s sorrow suddenly turned to anger. “All this is due to the evil schemes of sinful men. O King, does your plight not arouse anger in you? Why are you so peaceful? Look at Bhīma, glancing at you again and again. Constrained only by his love for you, he does not rise up and destroy the Kauravas. Honoring your promise he sits containing his anger. Look too at Arjuna. He understands Bhīma’s mind and is forever pacifying him. By the power of Arjuna’s bow thousands of kings were obliged to wait upon the Brahmins at your Rājasūya. Now that same Arjuna has become grief stricken. Does this not make you angry? And look at Mādrī’s youthful sons. They are as dear to you as they are to your mother Kuntī. Now they are forced to live the hard lives of ascetics. Does this not make you angry?

“I cannot understand why you have not risen up to destroy the Kauravas. Surely after all that has happened such a response would be in accord with morality. Is your discrimination failing? It is always appropriate for a kṣatriya to show anger when sin is committed, and sin has surely been committed by the Kauravas. How can you sit here as if you forgive them? If a king cannot distinguish between the time to be angry and the time to forgive, then he is lost.

“I also know the scripture. Scripture states that Duryodhana and his brothers deserve to be punished. Scripture states that the humble and ever-forgiving person is always neglected, while he who is powerful and assails others at the proper time is respected as a king.”

Yudhiṣṭhira looked with compassion upon his wife. She had suffered so much, and if anything stirred his heart, it was her suffering, for which he felt he had been the cause. Yes, his heart still burned when he thought of how she was dragged into the assembly hall. The pain of that moment would stay with him for the rest of his life. But this was not the time to make war. Draupadī could not understand the entire situation. He replied gently, “O intelligent lady, through anger we may sometimes gain wealth, but anger ultimately destroys mankind. Real prosperity crowns one who conquers anger and brings adversity to one whom anger controls. Anger is the root of all destruction. An angry man commits sin blindly. An angry man will kill even his preceptor and insult his elders. He cannot distinguish between right and wrong. There is nothing an angry man might not say or do, even to the point of sending himself to Death’s abode. Knowing this, I will not indulge in anger, Draupadī. Rather, I will strive to control it.”

Draupadī listened respectfully. She knew her husband’s grasp of religion and morality was unsurpassed. He was capable of instructing even the gods. Sitting on a simple mat of kusha grass, Yudhiṣṭhira continued.

“When a weak man is oppressed by one more powerful, he should not display anger--lest he bring about his own destruction. There are no blessed regions in the hereafter for those who destroy themselves. Thus the weak should always control their anger. Only fools praise anger, considering it equivalent to energy. The wise keep anger at a distance. The man consumed by anger does not easily acquire generosity, dignity, courage, skill or the other attributes possessed by men of character. The wise consider him a man of character who restrains his wrath. The pious always praise such a man because they understand that the forgiving man is always victorious. One who represses his anger even when antagonized rejoices in the next world. For this it is said that a wise man, whether strong or weak and even if in difficulty, should always forgive his persecutor.”

By now Yudhiṣṭhira’s brothers had gathered and were listening. Yudhiṣṭhira went on describing the glories of forgiveness. “If there were not persons in this world who exercised forgiveness, then chaos would soon prevail. If kings and other superiors give way to anger, then the distressed people would quickly meet with ruin. If inferiors do not tolerate their superiors’ admonishments, then sin will take root and destroy mankind. I shall cite to you the verse spoken in ancient times by the Ṛṣi Kaśyapa: ‘Forgiveness is virtue, forgiveness is sacrifice and forgiveness is the Vedas. Forgiveness is purity and penance; it is truth, piety, religion, and the holy Nārāyaṇa. Through forgiveness the universe is sustained, and by practising forgiveness a man can attain to everlasting regions of bliss.’

“How then can I renounce forgiveness, O Draupadī, in which is established spirituality, truth, wisdom and the three worlds? Both this world and the next belong to the forgiving person. Therefore forgiveness is considered the highest virtue.”

Yudhiṣṭhira smiled at his wife. “Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Vidura, Kṛpa and the other Kuru elders desire peace. Vyāsadeva and the other ṛṣis also praise peace, Pāñcālī. Therefore let us first try for a peaceful settlement. If Dhṛtarāṣṭra yields to temptation and does not return our kingdom, then the Bharata race will be destroyed. But let me not be the cause, princess. Forgiveness and humility, both of which are unknown to Duryodhana, are the qualities of the self-controlled. They constitute eternal virtue. I shall therefore adopt them.”

Draupadī was still doubtful. If virtue conferred victory and success on a man, then how could Yudhiṣṭhira have undergone such a calamity? He had never strayed from virtue at any time. Even during the gambling match he acted only with virtuous intentions. Now he was cast into misfortune, while the sinful Duryodhana enjoyed prosperity. The princess said, “It seems to me, O King, that although you always protect virtue, virtue has not protected you. Even the celestials know that you live only by virtue. I am sure you would abandon me and your brothers before abandoning virtue. You serve the Brahmins with everything you possess. You never disregarded your elders, equals or even inferiors. Although you conquered the earth, you did not become proud. You have performed great sacrifices and given unlimited charity. Even now while living a life of hardship in this forest, your virtue has suffered no diminishment.”

Draupadī looked her husband in the eyes as she made her point. “Despite all this, still your intelligence was perverted by destiny and you gambled away everything--your wealth, kingdom, brothers, even me. How could one like you, who are simple, gentle, modest, liberal and truthful, be drawn to gambling? Gambling is a vice. I just cannot understand how it is possible.”

Although Draupadī understood that everything was under the control of the Supreme Lord, she felt her faith challenged by Yudhiṣṭhira’s seemingly inexplicable situation.

“Surely, O King, all creatures are made to act by the Lord, even as a puppet is moved by its controller. No one can pass a moment independently. God ordains our happiness and distress in accord with the results of our past actions. Everyone depends upon the Lord. He brings us together and uses us as instruments to fulfill each other’s karma. It thus seems to me that it is the Lord who has brought about your calamity. But how has He sanctioned such injustice, so contrary to the ways of virtue and truth? And if He is not to blame, then it means that the controlling principle is who has the most power. If actions are not bound with God-given consequences, then I lament for those who are not powerful.”

Yudhiṣṭhira could see that his wife was bewildered by grief and sorrow. “O gentle lady born from sacrifice, although your speech is sweet and well articulated, it is atheistic. None should ever perform virtue with a desire to gain its fruits. Such a sinful trader of virtue will never reap the results. I practice virtue only because I desire to follow the Vedas and satisfy the Lord. The Vedas state that he who doubts virtue is destined to be born among the brutes. He who doubts religion, virtue, and the words of the ṛṣis is excluded from the regions of immortality and bliss. Such a person is considered lower than a thief.”

Draupadī bowed her head as her husband continued. “O thin-waisted lady, you have seen with your own eyes the results of virtue in such immortal sages as Mārkaṇḍeya, Vyāsadeva, Maitreya and the celestial sage Nārada. All these shining and ever-blissful ṛṣis describe virtue as the foremost duty. If the pieties practiced by the virtuous bore no fruits, then this world would long ago have been covered by darkness. None would have pursued liberation nor cared to acquire knowledge or even wealth. All men would have lived like beasts and the world would be thrown into confusion.”

The Brahmins, who had by now also come to hear Yudhiṣṭhira’s speech, nodded in agreement. Darkness had set in and fires now burned in the great clearing where they sat. Draupadī could hear the flames crackling as well as the sounds of crickets as Yudhiṣṭhira continued. “Do not doubt virtue because you do not see its results, Pāñcālī. Without doubt the fruits will manifest in time, as will the fruits of sin. The fruits of true virtue are eternal and indestructible, leading one to the highest regions of happiness. Therefore do not speak ill of God. Try to understand the Supreme Being and His desires. O Draupadī, always bow to Him. This will be for your own good.”

Tears fell from Draupadī’s eyes. She knew her husband’s words were true. Surely God was infallible and always the well-wishing friend of all living beings. But who could understand God? His activities were inscrutable. No one can understand His plans. The apparent reversal of the virtuous Pāṇḍavas--and even that the reversal had seemingly come through Yudhiṣṭhira’s own inexplicable actions--was incomprehensible and quite incredible.

Draupadī sighed. “I accept what you have said, O best of men. The Lord is certainly bestowing upon all beings the fruits of their own work. Even if some sudden calamity or good fortune befalls us, we must understand it to be the results of some action in a former life. But besides destiny there is exertion. A man who does not exert himself will eventually be ruined. I feel you should exert yourself now to recover your kingdom. Even if you fail you will at least have satisfied everyone that you did all that human endeavor can accomplish. Although the results are not in our hands, we should still perform our work. The wise always condemn inaction. Why then do you remain inactive? This is my doubt.”

Draupadī fell silent. Then stirred by her words Bhīma felt impelled to speak. He too was angry and found the forest almost unbearable. It was not the austerity he minded but the thought of Duryodhana and his brothers enjoying their ill-gotten gains. Why did Yudhiṣṭhira suffer in silence? Draupadī was right. It was time for them to act. Bhīma burst out, “O Yudhiṣṭhira, what do you hope to gain by living like an ascetic? You are not a yogī but a king. You should walk the path of kings. Duryodhana robbed you of your kingdom. He is like a weak, offal-eating jackal stealing the prey of lions. How do you tolerate it? How can you abandon the wealth that was both our source of virtue and pleasure, in exchange for this trifling virtue called ‘keeping your promise’? Surely you fail to see what is of true value.”

Yudhiṣṭhira remained calm while Bhīma vented his long pent-up anger. The forest reverberated with his words, his voice as deep and powerful as a kettledrum. “O King, it was only due to your carelessness that we lost our kingdom. Only to please you did we allow Duryodhana and his brothers to wrest from us our wealth and afflict us with such pain. On your command we now pain our friends and enliven our enemies. Surely it was folly that we did not kill the Kauravas then and there. Instead we have meekly come to the forest--an act worthy only of weak men. Kṛṣṇa does not approve, nor does Arjuna, the twins or myself. O King, has your despair led you to lose your manliness on the plea of virtue? Only cowards cherish despair, being unable to win back what they have lost.”

Bhīma argued that so-called virtue which produced calamity was not virtue at all. What use was virtue for its own sake? Kings should practice virtue to make their kingdoms prosperous and to achieve pleasure. All three things--virtue, profit and pleasure--should be pursued equally. None of them should be sought at the cost of the others. “Have you lost sight of your proper duty? You are a powerful warrior supported by other powerful men. Use that power to regain your rightful kingdom. When you have established your rule, then acquire religious merit by ruling piously and giving charity to the Brahmins. By giving up this promise to stay in the forest you will be casting aside an inferior principle for the greater good.”

Bhīma softened, “The Brahmins and the people want you to rule them. They all despise Duryodhana. You are capable of taking back your kingdom, and you have Arjuna and myself to help you. Who can withstand us in battle? Let us use strategy and strength to win back what is ours. This is our duty.”

Yudhiṣṭhira remained silent for some moments as he summoned patience. He looked up at Bhīma. “O descendent of Bharata, I cannot reproach you for giving me pain with your arrow-like words. It is true that due to my folly I have brought this calamity upon us. I knew I could not defeat Śakuni at dice, yet I allowed myself to be drawn into the game. I should have exerted greater control over myself. O Bhīma, the mind cannot be controlled when it comes under the influence of manliness, pride and prowess. I do not censure you for what you have said, but I do consider what has happened to us to be preordained.”

Yudhiṣṭhira made it clear that he would not break his promise. “Do you recall the conditions of the final dice game? Śakuni said, ‘He who loses this game shall go to the forest and remain there for thirteen years. The winner shall take his kingdom and return it when the forest term has expired.’ I then uttered, ‘So be it.’”

Yudhiṣṭhira hung his head and fell silent as he remembered that day. What had overcome him? He had thought he was acting only for virtue, but as a result all his loved ones had suffered. Still, he was resolute. No matter how painful their present situation, there was no turning back. He would not abandon his promise. The agreement would be kept.

Yudhiṣṭhira was firm. “How then, O Bhīma, shall I now falsify my word for the sake of wealth? To me nothing is greater than truth. For a respectable person it is better to die than to transgress his word. Let us pass our days here in peace. Better days will come. A farmer scatters seeds and awaits the harvest. In the same way, virtue and truth always bring results in time. Do not doubt this principle.”

Bhīma was not convinced. His heart was too full of anger. He had not even been able to sleep since coming to the forest. Neither could he face the prospect of waiting so many years before he could vent his rage on the Kauravas. What virtue had they ever observed? Why then should Yudhiṣṭhira treat them as honorable? Did he think they respected his virtue and adherence to truth? They saw him as weak and were laughing at him. If only Yudhiṣṭhira would see sense and order them to gear up for battle. Bhīma tried again to convince him.

“O great King, how can any mortal make a promise that is dependent on the passage of time? No one knows when his life will end. We have now been in the forest for thirteen months. Let that be our thirteen years. Indeed the Vedas state that in certain circumstances a month can substitute for a year. Let us go now and crush our enemies. Even if we were to go to hell on that day, that hell will feel like heaven. Although only Draupadī and I have revealed our hearts to you on this matter, Arjuna, the twins, Kuntī, and our many allies share the same feelings. Only because they seek to please you do they remain silent. It is only weakness that forces you to adhere to your pledge, dear brother. No one is praising you for your kindly disposition toward our enemies.”

Bhīma stood silhouetted by the fire. His huge frame resembled a blazing mountain. “O King, although remaining fixed in virtue, you still cannot see the truth, like an ignorant man who has memorized the Vedas without knowing their meaning. You are a kṣatriya, yet you act like a Brahmin. A king’s duties are fraught with crookedness and cunning. You know this well.”

Bhīma had another concern: how would they be able to live incognito for the thirteenth year? They were known throughout the world, and Duryodhana had many supporters. Numerous kings who had been subjugated by the Pāṇḍavas at the time of the Rājasūya now backed the Kauravas. Duryodhana would have his spies looking for them everywhere. Bound by Yudhiṣṭhira’s promise, they would be living in the forest forever. Force would be the only way out, sooner or later. Bhīma implored Yudhiṣṭhira, “Please give the order for battle, O hero. There is no higher duty for a kṣatriya. If there be any sin in this course, then you can counteract it later by sacrifice and charity.”

Yudhiṣṭhira sighed again, but did not speak. Bhīma was overcome by passion, he thought, and not thinking carefully. Could he not understand that their suffering had been somehow ordained by the Supreme Lord? All they could do now was follow their religious duties as prescribed by God, leaving the results in his hands. They could not please the Lord by abandoning religion, and to please God was always everyone’s prime duty. Surely Bhīma knew that.

But there was another consideration. Yudhiṣṭhira’s was a calm voice as he explained his mind to Bhīma. “O mighty-armed hero, when a man performs sinful deeds depending upon his own power, such deeds become only a source of pain for him; but if he reflects carefully before action, he will attain success. Listen as I tell you what is likely to happen if we follow your suggestion, born as it is of pride and mental unrest.”

Yudhiṣṭhira then listed the many kings allied with Duryodhana. There was Bhīṣma, Droṇa and Kṛpa--out of obligation they would certainly side with Duryodhana. Then there was Aśvatthāmā, Karṇa, Vahlika, Bhūriśravas and Duryodhana’s brothers. There were hundreds of other kings who would fight alongside the Kauravas because they had been previously defeated by the Pāṇḍavas. Duryodhana’s treasury was full, especially as he now had control of Indraprastha. He could easily and quickly amass a vast army. On the other hand, the Pāṇḍavas had no position, no wealth, no army and only a few allies.

“Duryodhana’s forces are virtually unassailable. The Kuru chiefs are masters of the celestial weapons. I doubt that even Indra and all the gods could vanquish them. I especially fear Karṇa, who is impetuous, angry, invincible, accomplished in every weapon and encased in impenetrable armor.”

Yudhiṣṭhira remembered how Karṇa had been born with a natural coat of armor on his body. Although he appeared to be a charioteer’s son, it was obvious that his origin was in some way divine. For some reason he harbored a deep envy of Arjuna. One day, Yudhiṣṭhira knew, Karṇa and Arjuna would wage a great battle to settle their enmity. The skirmish at Draupadī’s svayaṁvara had been nothing. Karṇa had not wanted to exert himself against what he thought was a Brahmin, but if he displayed his full power, then who could be sure that Arjuna would be able to defeat him.

“Thinking of Karṇa and the danger he poses, I cannot sleep at night. Without overcoming him, as well as all the other heroes I have mentioned, we will not be able to defeat Duryodhana. O best of men, consider all this carefully.”

Hearing his brother’s admonition, Bhīma became pensive. Yudhiṣṭhira was right, of course, and he could not argue with him. Although Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa and the other kings in Hastināpura had always been their friends and well-wishers, it was different now. If it came to war they would surely side with the Kauravas. The thought of fighting against those invincible heroes was daunting, especially because he felt so much affection for them. Bhīma sat down, defeated.

As the Pāṇḍavas sat together in silence, Vyāsadeva appeared out of the forest. They quickly stood up and bowed before the ṛṣi. After taking a seat among them, the ṛṣi said to Yudhiṣṭhira, “O mighty-armed one, I have divined your thoughts. I wish to help you, and therefore I have come. I will destroy the fever in your mind by telling you how to defeat Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa, Karṇa, Duryodhana, and all his followers. Listen carefully.”

Vyāsadeva then took Yudhiṣṭhira aside and spoke to him in private. He taught him the mystical skill called Pratismriti, then instructed him to teach the same skill to Arjuna. This skill allowed the practitioner to travel great distances in a short time. Thus Arjuna could go to the Himālayas, approach the gods, and receive from them their special weapons.

“Due to his asceticism and prowess, he is quite capable of approaching the celestials,” Vyāsadeva said. “Indeed, he is Nārāyaṇa’s eternal associate. Indra, Rudra and all the principal gods will surely bestow their weapons upon Arjuna, and he will perform tremendous deeds by receiving them.”

After giving Yudhiṣṭhira the Pratismriti mantras, Vyāsadeva left. Just before leaving, he also told Yudhiṣṭhira to move to a different forest. Otherwise the brothers might disturb the animal population in the Dwaitavana by hunting them excessively. Having lived there more than a year, they had killed many deer, tigers, boar and other wild animals. Accompanied by the Brahmins whom they were supporting, Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers moved to another part of the great Kāmyaka forest, this time on the banks of the river Sarasvatī.