When Bhīṣma heard of the events at Dwaitavana he decided to speak to Duryodhana. Finding the prince seated with Śakuni in his majestic palace, Bhīṣma approached him and said, “O child, I have repeatedly requested you not to maintain enmity with the Pāṇḍavas. You were advised not to go to the forest, but still you went. Now you have clearly seen the Pāṇḍavas’ prowess, and also that of Karṇa. In your presence he fled the battlefield. It was then left to the Pāṇḍavas to rescue you. O King, in either martial skills, heroism or morality, Karṇa is not even a fourth of any one of Pāṇḍu’s sons. Make peace with the brothers--for your good and for the good of our race.”
Bhīṣma knew that most of Duryodhana’s hopes of defeating the Pāṇḍavas rested on Karṇa. Ever since Karṇa had appeared at the martial arts demonstration and challenged Arjuna, Duryodhana had seen him as the only way to conquer Arjuna. Now it should be obvious that Karṇa was no match for Arjuna.
Bhīṣma looked hopefully at the prince, but Duryodhana, remembering the Dānavas’ words, laughed. What did this old man know? The Pāṇḍavas were in for a surprise. Bhīṣma himself would be a part of that surprise when the demons took hold of him.
Duryodhana did not bother to reply. He stood up suddenly and walked out of the room. Bhīṣma could only shake his head sadly. He was not surprised to see Duryodhana’s arrogance. It now seemed that the Kurus’ destruction was imminent. Bhīṣma returned slowly and sadly to his own chambers.
After he left Bhīṣma, Duryodhana was joined by Karṇa, Śakuni and Dushashana. The prince looked around at his counselors and asked, “What remains to be done? How can I secure my good fortune? Let us fix on some plan.”
Duryodhana told them what Bhīṣma had said and Karṇa became uncomfortable. The Kuru grandfather was always berating him. He did not seem to like him. Karṇa felt he was as much a well-wisher of the Kurus as was Bhīṣma himself. Maybe it was time to prove Bhīṣma’s assessment of him wrong. Wringing his hands he said, “O mighty king, Bhīṣma blames us and praises the Pāṇḍavas. It is clear that he favors them over you. Because he bears you ill will, he abuses me too. I cannot bear to hear his words any longer. O King, give me an army and I shall single-handedly conquer the world for the Kauravas, just as the Pāṇḍavas did before the Rājasūya sacrifice. Let the wicked-minded wretch of the Kurus, the senile Bhīṣma, see it and regret how he has treated me. Simply command me and I shall leave at once.”
Duryodhana slapped his friend on the back in delight. “I am blessed because you have favored me, O hero. What more could I want than to see your mighty self-interest in my welfare? Surely my life has borne fruit today. Go out, dear friend, and vanquish my foes. May good come to you! Just ask and I shall do whatever I can to help.”
Karṇa at once began to make arrangements for his expedition. Duryodhana amassed a vast army with a year’s supplies. After consulting with Brahmins and gaining Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s permission, he selected a favorable day to depart. Bhīṣma and Vidura, however, did not approve of Karṇa’s plan, but they chose to remain silent. Perhaps the fool would be defeated somewhere and his pride would be curbed. At least while he was gone, he would not be influencing Duryodhana toward yet another rash scheme.
Blessed by the court Brahmins, who uttered prayers for his victory, Karṇa went out of the city followed by thousands of troops. He first attacked King Drupada’s beautiful city. Drupada did not pay allegiance to the Kauravas. Like many of the kings who had accepted Yudhiṣṭhira’s rule, Drupada was not inclined toward Dhṛtarāṣṭra. In the end, however, Drupada was overpowered by the superior force brought from Hastināpura and obliged to offer Dhṛtarāṣṭra tribute.
Karṇa then moved north, subjugating all the kings in that region. He vanquished Bhagadatta as well as all the Himālayan mountain kings. Traveling east, he overcame many tribes. None were able to defeat him in battle as he rained down fierce arrows. Sūrya’s son was a peerless fighter whom few on earth could face, especially when he was joined by the Kuru army. He soon defeated all the kings in the south and made his way west, conquering and subjugating all in his path.
Well within a year Karṇa had accumulated a huge amount of wealth from his conquests. He carried it back to Hastināpura in a long line of chariots and oxen. Duryodhana and his father and brothers greeted him as he entered the city. They congratulated Karṇa and embraced him. Duryodhana said, “What I have not received even from Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa, or any other, I have received from Karṇa. O mighty-armed hero, in you I have my protector. All the Pāṇḍavas and other kings are nothing compared to you.
Seeing Karṇa successful, some of the citizens were pleased while others, favorable to the Pāṇḍavas, lamented or remained silent. Dhṛtarāṣṭra was overjoyed and embraced Karṇa with affection, considering him his own son.
From that day on, Duryodhana, seeing Karṇa’s prowess, considered the Pāṇḍavas defeated. The prince was encouraged and began to think about performing the Rājasūya sacrifice. Now that the world had been brought under his control, he wanted to equal the Pāṇḍavas in every way. If he could preside over the Rājasūya, then all his desires would be fulfilled.
But when the prince approached his chief priest and requested him to perform the sacrifice, he was told it was not possible. “As long as Yudhiṣṭhira lives,” the priest said, “no man on earth can perform the Rājasūya. It is only possible for one monarch to perform that sacrifice at any one time. Nor can a man perform the sacrifice in his father’s presence.”
Then the priest explained that there was another sacrifice, resembling the Rājasūya, which Duryodhana could perform. It was called the Vaiṣṇava sacrifice. No person other than the immortal Viṇu had ever performed it, and it was equal to the Rājasūya in every way. “O King, using the gold offered as tribute by the kings of the world, make a golden plow. With this plow you should prepare the ground, and upon that spot I shall begin the sacrifice.”
Duryodhana immediately discussed the sacrifice with his father and counselors, who all expressed approval. He then appointed people to the various posts required for the sacrifice and instructed artisans to make a golden plow. All the Kuru elders were delighted to see Duryodhana performing a sacrifice, an act which they hoped would increase his piety and the glory of the Kuru race. Swift messengers were dispatched to invite the kings of the world.
Dushashana asked messengers to go to the Dwaitavana and invite the Pāṇḍavas so they could see the Kurus’ power. When Yudhiṣṭhira heard the invitation he replied, “It is indeed fortunate that Duryodhana is perfuming such a great sacrifice. I should very much like to attend, but it will not be possible. I cannot leave the forest until my vow is completed. Duryodhana will see me in Hastināpura only when the thirteen years of exile are over.”
Bhīma, however, glared at the messenger. “King Yudhiṣṭhira will go when we are ready to put Duryodhana into the fire kindled by weapons. Repeat this message to Duryodhana: ‘When thirteen years are complete, Dharmarāja, the lord of men, in the sacrifice of battle, will pour onto the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra the ghee of his anger.’ That is when we shall come.” The other brothers said nothing.
When Duryodhana heard the messages, he simply smiled.
Thousands of Brahmins and kṣatriyas arrived in Hastināpura. They were warmly greeted and offered food and drink and appropriate accommodation. Vidura took charge of receiving the guests, ensuring that they were satisfied in every way. Once they had been properly refreshed, he showed them to the sacrificial compound outside the city. The visiting kings brought tribute and Duryodhana and his brothers offered the Brahmins charity.
At the end of the sacrifice, Duryodhana re-entered his city surrounded by his brothers and eulogized by bards and singers. His friends and relatives glorified him, saying that this sacrifice had surpassed all those performed by his ancestors, all of whom had gone to heaven.
However, some fearless citizens said that the sacrifice did not compare with Yudhiṣṭhira’s Rājasūya. Although Duryodhana heard what was being said, he did not respond. He knew it was true. The Rājasūya had been the most opulent and splendid ceremony he had ever witnessed. His had come nowhere near its magnificence.
Karṇa saw his friend becoming pensive. Placing his arm around the prince he said, “O foremost of the Bharatas, by good fortune your sacrifice has been successful. This is only the beginning. When the Pāṇḍavas are slain in battle, you will then complete the Rājasūya. I look forward to again glorifying you at that time.”
Duryodhana embraced Karṇa and thought of the Rājasūya. “O Kurus,” he said, “when shall I celebrate that best of sacrifices, the Rājasūya, after killing the wicked-minded Pāṇḍavas?”
Karṇa stopped walking and spoke gravely. “Hear my words, O King. As long as I have not killed Arjuna, I will not taste meat or accept luxuries. I will give to anyone anything they ask of me. When asked for something in charity, I will never say, ‘I cannot give it.’”
Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons cheered to hear Karṇa’s vow. They considered the Pāṇḍavas already slain. As the handsome Karṇa strode powerfully into his palace, even as Kuvera enters his abode, the Kauravas all praised him.
The Pāṇḍavas also heard about Karṇa’s vow. Bhīma and Arjuna sneered, but Yudhiṣṭhira was alarmed. Thinking of Karṇa’s impenetrable natural armor, he knew Karṇa could not be slain. Yudhiṣṭhira brooded on the situation. He had brought on all their hardships and dangers. Out of their devotion for him his brothers now accepted miseries they did not deserve. Soon they would face great danger in the battle with the Kuru heroes, who would be assisted by Karṇa and the other powerful warriors.
Yudhiṣṭhira fell into anxiety day and night. Remembering the gambling match and the harsh words of Karṇa and Duryodhana, he felt as if his heart had been pierced by a lance. His brothers and Draupadī, seeing his condition, also felt pained. Enraged at the Kauravas, they longed for the time when they could at last confront them in battle. Each day the brothers practiced rigorous physical exercises, keeping themselves fit for fighting and giving vent to their wrath.
In the final months of their stay in the forest, Vyāsadeva again came to see them. Yudhiṣṭhira worshipped him with devotion and then sat before him to hear his words.
Seeing the Pāṇḍavas lean and anxious, the sage was moved to compassion. In a voice choked with tears he said, “O foremost of men, no man can ever experience unmixed happiness. Everyone experiences happiness and distress in due course. A wise man therefore becomes neither joyful or grief-stricken. He does not indulge in happiness or give way to sorrow when each arrive. Rather, he practices asceticism to attain the eternal happiness born of spiritual realization. From asceticism comes the greatest happiness, not from improving our material circumstances. Foolish persons, seeking material enjoyments by any means, obtain births as beasts in their next lives. They never enjoy happiness. O King, your practice of asceticism, although difficult, will lead to your ultimate welfare.”
After describing the many qualities a man would develop from asceticism--truthfulness, freedom from anger, self-control, non-violence--Vyāsadeva went on to speak of charity, which Yudhiṣṭhira always practiced when he had wealth.
When Vyāsadeva fell silent, Yudhiṣṭhira asked, “O great Ṛṣi, which is better: asceticism or charity? Which produces a better result and which is more difficult to practice?”
Vyāsadeva replied, “O child, there is nothing more difficult to practice than charity. Men thirst for wealth and obtain it only after great effort. Risking their lives, they enter the depths of the sea and the forest in their search of wealth. There is nothing they will not do to become rich. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to part with hard-earned wealth.
“But, O hero, properly earned wealth should be given away with an open heart to worthy persons. Ill-gotten wealth, however, even if given away, will not free its owner from degradation in the next life.”
Yudhiṣṭhira asked Vyāsadeva to speak more about the benefits of giving charity and the sage told him an old history. There had been a poor man named Mudgala who had attained the supreme spiritual abode simply by his practice of giving charity to Brahmins. The Pāṇḍavas were fascinated. Finally the sage said, “O son of Kuntī, do not grieve. Happiness and distress revolve around a man one after the other as if on a wheel. You will surely recover your father’s kingdom at the end of your exile. By your asceticism and charity you will attain all auspiciousness. Be at peace. I am going.”
The Pāṇḍavas offered their obeisances as the ṛṣi rose to leave and felt comforted by his words.
Duryodhana thought continuously of ways by which he might harm the Pāṇḍavas. He consulted with his brothers and Karṇa, trying to devise a means to overcome the brothers before they returned from the forest. While he was considering different plans, the ascetic Durvāsā happened to visit the city. He had with him ten thousand disciples and he came to the royal palace asking for food for all of them. The sage was famous for his anger; if he were not served properly, he would quickly curse the offender. He would also test his hosts to the limits of their patience, wanting to see if they adhered to their religious obligations under all circumstances. Fearing that his curse would be brought upon them by some incompetent servant, Duryodhana served Durvāsā personally. With all the humility and gentleness he could muster, he carefully ministered to the sage’s every request, acting just like a menial servant.
Durvāsā was unpredictable. Sometimes he would demand that a meal be prepared immediately, but when it was fetched he would go away to bathe. He would then return after a long time and say, “I will not eat now. I am no longer hungry.” He would rise at midnight and call for food and other attentions, often criticizing the food and service he received. Duryodhana served him without complaint and remained attentive to the ṛṣi’s every wish. Durvāsā was pleased with the prince. Just before leaving he said, “You have served me well. I will grant you a boon. Ask from me whatever you desire. If it is not opposed to religion, I will satisfy you at once.”
Duryodhana felt as if he had received new life. He had already conferred with his counselors as to what boon he should request if Durvāsā should ask him. Thus he replied, “O Brahmin, just as you have been my guest, so you become the guest of Yudhiṣṭhira in the forest. He is accomplished and well-behaved and he is a great king, the best and eldest of our family. He therefore deserves to receive your blessings. You should go to him when his entire family has finished eating and are preparing to rest. You will then be well-received by those pious men.”
Durvāsā replied, “I will do as you ask.” He then left with his disciples, heading for the Kāmyaka.
Duryodhana punched the air in joy. The Pāṇḍavas would never be able to receive Durvāsā and his many disciples properly after Draupadī had eaten. They would have no way to feed ten thousand Brahmins without the magic plate they had received from Sūrya. Surely they would be cursed by Durvāsā, and a ṛṣi’s curse could never fail.
Duryodhana ran to his friends. “Our plan has succeeded!” he cried. “The Pāṇḍavas are doomed.” He embraced Karṇa, who said, “By good fortune you have fared well and fulfilled your desire. By good fortune your enemies are cast into an ocean of misery, difficult to cross. Through their own fault they now face great danger.” Laughing and clasping each others’ hands, Duryodhana and his counselors rejoiced.
Some days later, Durvāsā arrived at the Pāṇḍava camp just after Draupadī had eaten. Leaving his disciples on the outskirts of the camp, he walked in alone and appeared before the brothers. They all immediately stood with joined palms. Seeing the famous ṛṣi standing before them, they fell to the ground in respectful obeisance. Yudhiṣṭhira offered Durvāsā an excellent seat and worshipped him with all attention. Durvāsā then said, “I am here with my ten thousand disciples and we need to eat. We have been walking all day and are hungry. O King, please arrange for our food. We shall first take our bath and then return for the meal.”
Yudhiṣṭhira said, “So be it,” and Durvāsā left for the river with his disciples. After he had gone, Yudhiṣṭhira expressed his alarm. How could he possibly feed that many people? Draupadī had already eaten and the mystical plate would not yield more until morning. Yudhiṣṭhira asked his wife if she could do anything. Draupadī, who always thought of her husbands’ welfare, began to contemplate the problem. Her only hope was prayer. The princess thought of Kṛṣṇa and prayed, “O Kṛṣṇa, Lord of the universe, O destroyer of Your devotees’ difficulties, O unlimited and all-powerful one, please hear my prayer. You are the refuge of the helpless, the giver of endless boons to all beings, the unknowable and all-knowing Supreme Person. Kindly protect me. I seek Your shelter. O Lord, as You formerly saved me from Dushashana in the assembly, so please save me now from this difficulty.”
Kṛṣṇa was in His palace at that time, lying on His bed with Rukmīṇī. That mysterious person, whose movements are unknown to all, heard Draupadī’s prayers. He immediately rose from His bed and, leaving His wife, ran from the palace. Within a few moments He was standing before Draupadī, who fell at His feet with tears in her eyes. “O Kṛṣṇa, we face a great danger from Durvāsā’s curse. What can be done?”
Kṛṣṇa smiled. “I will do whatever can be done, but I too am hungry. Please feed Me first and after that I shall do whatever is required.”
Ashamed, Draupadī replied, “My lord, the vessel given by the sun remains full until I have eaten. I recently took my meal and now it will not give more food.”
“This is no time for joking,” said Kṛṣṇa. “Quickly fetch the vessel and show Me.”
Draupadī brought the dish before Kṛṣṇa and He examined it closely. In one corner He found a particle of rice and vegetable stuck together, and He ate it at once, saying, “May Lord Hari, the soul of the universe, be satisfied with this food and may the Lord of all sacrifices be pleased.”
Kṛṣṇa then turned to Sahadeva and said, “Go quickly and bring the ascetics here and feed them.”
The Pāṇḍavas looked around fearfully. There was no sign of food. But they had faith that Kṛṣṇa would not let them down. Sahadeva left for the river to find Durvāsā and his disciples.
At the river the innocent Durvāsā was expecting Yudhiṣṭhira to have prepared a meal for him and all his followers, but suddenly he felt as if he had just consumed a large meal. He looked at his disciples. They too appeared full and were rubbing their stomachs and belching. Looking at each other, the ascetics realized that none of them felt like eating at all!
Durvāsā said to his disciples, “We have uselessly made Yudhiṣṭhira prepare a meal for ten thousand men and done him a great wrong. Will not the Pāṇḍavas destroy us by looking upon us with angry eyes? O Brahmins, I know Yudhiṣṭhira to be possessed of great powers. He is devoted to the feet of Lord Hari and I fear such men. They can consume us with their anger as fire can consume a bale of cotton. Let us therefore depart quickly from this place before they see us again.”
Although he was a powerful mystic yogī, Durvāsā knew that his power was nothing compared to that of those devoted to the Supreme Lord. He recalled a previous incident when he had upset another devotee of the Lord. At that time he had been placed in great difficulty and had almost lost his life.
Without another word Durvāsā came out of the river and walked swiftly away from the Pāṇḍavas’ camp. His disciples fled away in all directions, keeping well clear of the Pāṇḍavas.
When Sahadeva arrived at the river he found no one there. A few water pots and pieces of cloth were lying around, but there was no sign of the ascetics. He searched around and came across other Brahmins who informed him that Durvāsā and his followers had left suddenly. Sahadeva went back to his brothers and gave them his report. Yudhiṣṭhira was worried. “The ascetics will come back in the dead of night and demand their meal,” he said fearfully. “How can we escape from this great danger created by destiny?”
Kṛṣṇa smiled. “O Yudhiṣṭhira, you need not fear. Durvāsā and his disciples have fled, afraid of your ascetic power. Those who are always virtuous need never fear danger. With your permission I shall now return to My home.”
Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “O Kṛṣṇa, as persons drowning in a vast ocean are saved by a boat, so we have been saved by You. Be pleased to go now as You desire.”
Kṛṣṇa left and the Pāṇḍavas surrounded their chaste wife, thanking her for her presence of mind in praying to Kṛṣṇa. They discussed the incident among themselves. The incident seemed to have been arranged by the Kauravas. Fortunately, Kṛṣṇa was always there to save them no matter what danger they faced. Thinking of their friend from Dwārakā, the brothers entered their thatched cottages and rested for the night.