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Chapter 33

Jayadratha Kidnaps Draupadī

About a month after the incident with Durvāsā, the Pāṇḍavas were out hunting together. They had left Draupadī at the hermitage under Dhaumya’s care. While they were gone, the king of Sindhu, Jayadratha, passed that way while traveling to Salva’s kingdom. Seated upon a royal chariot, he came to the outskirts of the Pāṇḍavas’ ashram and saw Draupadī gathering flowers. The king at once fell in love. The beautiful Draupadī, her dark complexion framed by bluish curls, shed luster on the woodlands. As she bent over to gather the wild forest flowers, Jayadratha was captivated. He said to his son Kotika, “Go and ask this lady her name. Find out if she is an Apsarā or a daughter of some god.”

Jayadratha was on his way to marry King Salva’s daughter, but upon seeing Draupadī he lost all interest in that other princess. No other woman could ever match the beauty of this forest lady.

“Go, Kotika, and find out why this lady loiters in the forest full of wild beasts and thorns. If she will have me as her lord, then I will consider my life successful.”

The prince jumped down from the chariot. As a jackal approaches a tigress, he went up to Draupadī and asked, “O fair one, who are you who stands here leaning on the branch of a kadamba tree, looking like a brilliant flame? Why do you feel no fear in this forest? Are you a goddess or the daughter of a celestial? Perhaps you are the wife of a Lokapāla. Tell me, gentle lady, who and whose you are, what is your race and why are you here?”

The prince introduced himself and then, pointing to his father, said, “That one there, shining like a sacrificial fire, is the king of Sindhu. Surrounded by powerful kings he is traveling at the head of six thousand chariots and many elephants, horsemen and infantry. Like Indra amid the Maruts, he is journeying amid his friends. He is gazing upon you, O thin-waisted one.”

Draupadī stepped back and pulled her cloth over her head. “O prince, it is not proper for me to speak to you here. The ordinance dictates that a woman should never be alone with any man other than her husband. Under the circumstances, however, I will tell you who I am. I am the daughter of King Drupada and the wife of the five heroic Pāṇḍava brothers. My husbands are now out hunting, but they will return soon. You should tell your father to dismount from his chariot and wait for them. Yudhiṣṭhira is fond of guests and will doubtlessly offer you a fitting reception.”

Draupadī turned and walked back toward her cottage, leaving Kokita standing by the kadamba tree. Kokita then returned to his father and told him what she had said. The king replied, “Why have you returned unsuccessful? I must have that woman. Now that I have seen her, all other women seem to me like monkeys. My mind was entranced the moment I saw that princess.”

“You will have to take her by force, dear father. She will surely not come willingly.”

Jayadratha got down from his chariot and went with his son and several other kings toward the Pāṇḍavas’ hermitage. Like a pack of wolves entering a lion’s den they went into the ashram and saw Draupadī standing there. In a silky voice Jayadratha said, “Is all well with you and your husbands, O queen?”

Draupadī answered that everything was well, then said, “Is all well with your kingdom, treasury and armies? Are you justly ruling the prosperous countries of Sindhu, Sauvīra, and all others brought under your sway? Yudhiṣṭhira will soon return and offer you refreshments. For now, please accept this water to wash your feet and be pleased to wait for my husbands.”

Draupadī pointed toward several large pitchers of water standing by her cottage. Jayadratha smiled. “All is well with us, O fair-faced one, but we have no interest in food and water.” He stared at Draupadī as he continued to speak. “I wish to take you with us. Why do you remain attached to Kuntī’s wretched sons? They have lost all their prosperity and are forced to dwell in the forest. A woman of good sense does not devote herself to a fallen husband. Your husbands have fallen from their dignity and have lost everything. You need not share the Pāṇḍavas’ miseries. O you of beautiful hips, renouncing them, become my wife and share with me the kingdoms of Sindhu and Sauvīra.”

Draupadī frowned and retreated a few steps. She felt pained to hear Jayadratha’s speech. “Are you not ashamed to speak in this way?” she retorted. “How dare you address me thus!”

Draupadī’s face flushed and her eyes turned crimson. Her voice rose to an angry shout. “O fool, how dare you insult the illustrious Pāṇḍavas, each of whom is like Indra himself. They all abide by their duties and never waver in battle even with the celestials. The wise never criticize men who practice devout penances, even if they are impoverished. Only dogs speak like that. I do not see anyone here who can save you from the pit you have dug under your own feet. By expecting to defeat the pious Yudhiṣṭhira you hope to separate with a stick a Himālayan elephant from his herd. Out of childishness you are rousing a sleeping mountain lion to pluck a hair from his face. You will have to flee with all speed when you see the furious Bhīma. When Arjuna returns you will not know which way to turn. Your inviting these two heroes to an encounter is like a fool trampling on the tails of two enraged and venomous cobras. As a bamboo bears fruit only to perish, or as a crab conceives only to die, so shall you meet your end when you lay your hands upon me.”

Jayadratha laughed, enchanted by the sight of the furious Draupadī. “I know all this, O Pāñcālī,” he replied derisively. “You cannot frighten me with your threats. I am born in a royal line endowed with opulences and qualities. I consider the Pāṇḍavas inferior. Therefore mount my chariot and come with me. Do not speak so boastfully.”

Draupadī was horrified. “Why does this fool take me to be powerless?” she cried. “Even Indra could not abduct me. Even if he tried, Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa, riding upon the same chariot, would follow and destroy him. What then of a weak human? O King, when Arjuna releases his deadly arrows, you will see your entire force destroyed as dry grass is consumed by fire. Beholding Bhīma rushing at you with his upraised mace, and the twins ranging on all sides vomiting forth their anger, you will then be sorry. As I have never proven false to my husbands even in my thoughts, so those men will destroy you. I do not fear you, wretch.”

Draupadī looked away from Jayadratha. She knew that by her own ascetic powers she could reduce him to ashes, but she did not want to be drawn to violence by Jayadratha. Her husbands would deal with him soon enough.

Jayadratha stepped forward and seized the princess by her arm. She cried, “Do not pollute me by your touch!” and called out for Dhaumya. Jayadratha took hold of her upper garment, but she pushed him back with such force that he fell to the ground. Then Jayadratha was angry. He grabbed Draupadī and dragged her to his chariot.

Dhaumya suddenly appeared and rebuked Jayadratha. “You cannot seize this lady without defeating the Pāṇḍavas, O King. You should observe the kṣatriyas’ ancient custom. Truly you will reap the results of this wicked act when the heroic Pāṇḍavas return.”

Jayadratha ignored Dhaumya. He placed Draupadī on his chariot and sped away, followed by his army. Dhaumya entered among the king’s troops and stayed close behind, continuously reprimanding him with strong words.

The Pāṇḍavas were some distance from the ashram. As they went through the dense forest, Yudhiṣṭhira began noticing inauspicious signs. He said, “Do you see how these birds and animals flee toward the sun and pass excrement? This indicates that the forest has been invaded by enemies. Let us return to the ashram. My heart seems to be aching for some reason, and my mind is clouded. I feel as if I were about to fly out of my body.”

The five brothers immediately started back. As they raced through the trees and bushes with their weapons flying behind them, they saw a jackal yelling hideously. Yudhiṣṭhira became still more concerned and urged them on.

Suddenly they burst into the clearing where they were camped. There on the ground they saw Dhātreyikā, Draupadī’s maid, weeping loudly. The Pāṇḍavas’ ever-present servant and charioteer, Indrasena, dismounted and went over to her. “Why do you weep? I hope no ill has befallen the princess Draupadī. Could anyone have been fool enough to snatch away that incomparably beautiful lady? Dharma’s son has become so anxious that he is ready to go after her even if she has entered the earth, soared to the heavens, or gone to the bottom of the sea. Who today will fall to the earth with his body pierced and torn by arrows? Do not weep, gentle girl, for Pāñcālī will come back this day and be reunited with her lords.”

Rubbing her face, the maid said, “Disregarding her five Indra-like husbands, Jayadratha has carried Draupadī away by force. See there the trail left by that wretch and his followers. It happened not long ago. He cannot have gotten very far.”

Dhātreyikā looked up at the Pāṇḍavas and said, “Quickly give chase, my lords, lest Draupadī be violently overpowered and, being beside herself, gives up her person to an unworthy man, even as the sacrificial oblation might be thrown onto ashes. Do not let the ghee be poured onto an unigniting fire of chaff, or the sacred garland thrown into a crematorium. Let no mean man touch with his lips your wife’s brilliant face, as the Soma juice might be licked up by a dog through the priest’s inattentiveness.”

Yudhiṣṭhira said, “Go to your hut, gentle woman, and govern your tongue. Kings and princes who are puffed up with their power soon come to grief.”

The brothers immediately went after Jayadratha. They twanged their bows and breathed the hot sighs of furious serpents. Soon they saw the dust raised by Jayadratha’s army. Coming near the soldiers they saw Dhaumya wailing. Urging Bhīma to go after Jayadratha, Yudhiṣṭhira consoled the ṛṣi and said, “Go back now, O priest. This low-minded one will soon be punished.”

Like hawks swooping on prey, the Pāṇḍavas rushed upon Jayadratha’s army with fierce cries. Seeing the Sindhu king in the distance with Draupadī on his chariot, their anger increased like a fire fed with ghee. They called out to him to stop and fight. Upon hearing their thunderous shouts, Jayadratha’s soldiers lost their senses and were seized by terror.

Jayadratha looked back and saw the Pāṇḍavas’ five chariots racing toward him. He said to Draupadī, “Five great heroes approach, O princess. I think they are your husbands. Tell me which of them rides which chariot?”

Draupadī snorted angrily. “After committing an act which will end your life, fool, why do you ask such a question? Still, as you are on the point of death, it behooves me to answer. Seeing Dharmarāja here with his brothers, I have not the slightest fear.”

Draupadī pointed to the foremost of the five chariots. “Do you see that car upon which there is a staff with two celestial drums that are always being beaten? There you can see a lean man the color of pure gold, with large eyes and a high nose. That is Yudhiṣṭhira. He is merciful even to an enemy who seeks his shelter. Therefore, put down your weapons and fall at his feet if you wish for your own safety.”

The princess then indicated the chariot to Yudhiṣṭhira’s right. “The one seated on that car, who has long arms and is as tall as a sal tree, who is biting his lips and contracting his brow--that is Vṛkodara. His strength is superhuman and the earth knows him as Bhīma. Those who offend him cannot live. He does not forget an enemy but always takes revenge, and even then he is not pacified.”

Draupadī went on to point out Arjuna, who rode by Yudhiṣṭhira’s left. “He who blazes like fire, who is always firm in battle, who never commits a cruel deed, who never relinquishes virtue out of fear, lust or anger, and who can face any enemy--that is my husband Dhanañjaya.

“Behind Yudhiṣṭhira you see the twins on golden chariots. Here comes the religious Nakula who is loved by his brothers as if he were their own life. He is an expert swordsman and today you will see him cut your troops down like wheat. By his side is Sahadeva, the youngest and favorite of all the Pāṇḍavas. His wisdom and eloquence are without comparison. That intelligent hero, so dear to Kuntī, would rather enter fire than say anything against religion or morality.”

Jayadratha looked alarmed. Draupadī laughed. “Now you will see your army like a ship with its cargo of jewels wrecked on rocks. If you escape unharmed from the Pāṇḍavas, you will have a new lease on life.”

Jayadratha shouted commands to his generals, quickly arraying his forces for battle. The Pāṇḍavas left off the infantry soldiers, who were begging for mercy, and made straight for the chariot fighters surrounding Jayadratha. As they charged into battle, they darkened the sky with a thick shower of arrows. Seeing them advance like dreadful tigers, the fighters in Jayadratha’s army lost heart.

Raising his mace, Bhīma flew toward Jayadratha with a roar. Kotika and the other charioteers came quickly to protect their king. They rained down arrows, darts and clubs upon Bhīma, but he careered on without flinching. With a single blow from his mace he slew a great elephant with its driver that was fighting in front of Jayadratha. With a few more blows he mowed down fourteen foot soldiers. At the same time he fended off all the weapons hurled at him.

As Bhīma moved closer to the Sindhu king, Arjuna killed five hundred warriors who stood before him. Yudhiṣṭhira himself slew hundreds more and Nakula went about with a sword, scattering the heads of the soldiers fighting in the rear of the army like a cultivator sowing seeds. From his chariot Sahadeva released fierce iron arrows which cut down many warriors fighting on the backs of elephants; they fell like birds dropping from a tree.

A powerful king named Trigarta, fighting against Yudhiṣṭhira, suddenly descended from his chariot and slew the Pāṇḍava king’s four horses with his mace. Yudhiṣṭhira pierced Trigarta’s breast with a sharp-pointed arrow and he fell to the earth vomiting blood. Yudhiṣṭhira, with his charioteer Indrasena, then leapt onto Sahadeva’s chariot.

Nakula was assailed by Suratha, a mighty elephant fighter. The elephant crushed his chariot and dragged it across the battlefield. Nakula jumped down with his sword and shield and fearlessly faced his foe. Suratha goaded his elephant toward him and the infuriated beast rushed at Nakula with a scream. Nakula swung his sword and severed the elephant’s trunk and tusks. The beast, which was clad in golden mail, fell headlong to the earth, crushing its rider. Nakula quickly jumped onto Bhīma’s chariot.

Bhīma released arrows with deadly accuracy. With a crescent-headed shaft he slew Kokita’s charioteer and his chariot flew about pell-mell on the battlefield. As the confused Kokita tried to restrain his horses, Bhīma shot a beautifully plumed arrow and severed the prince’s head. At the same time, Arjuna killed twelve other princes fighting by Kokita’s side. Thousands of other warriors were slain by the Pāṇḍavas. The battlefield was now strewn with the bodies of men and animals. Many chariots with tall standards lay smashed on the ground, along with armor, helmets, swords and severed limbs. What was left of Jayadratha’s army fled. Many ravens, crows, falcons and jackals--all crying out in joy--came to feast on the flesh of the dead warriors.

Jayadratha was now terrified. He quickly put Draupadī down from his chariot and fled into the woods. Yudhiṣṭhira had Sahadeva take Draupadī up onto his chariot, while Bhīma continued to slay fleeing soldiers. Arjuna, however, checked his brother. “What will you gain by killing these poor soldiers? They are afraid for their lives and running here and there. Leave off and chase Jayadratha.”

Bhīma agreed. Turning to Yudhiṣṭhira he said, “O King, the army has been routed and its leader has fled. If you wish, go with the twins and take Draupadī back to the hermitage. Arjuna and I will deal with Jayadratha. He will not survive even if he goes to Indra for protection.”

Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “O mighty-armed one, you should remember that he is the husband of our sister Dusshala, Gāndhārī’s daughter. Therefore, do not kill him.”

Draupadī became agitated to hear Yudhiṣṭhira’s words, and she said to Bhīma, “If you wish to please me, then do not spare that infamous and despicable Sindhu king. An enemy who carries away one’s wife or who wrests his kingdom from him should never be forgiven in battle, even if he begs for mercy.”

Yudhiṣṭhira consoled Draupadī and returned with her to the hermitage. Bhīma and Arjuna at once headed into the forest after Jayadratha.

The Sindhu king had already gone about two miles. Arjuna took out four arrows and began uttering mantras as he placed them on his bow. Pulling back the Gāṇḍīva into a full circle, he fired the arrows. They sped through the air over the tops of the trees, covering the full two miles and killing Jayadratha’s four horses. The king fell from his chariot in fear. Getting to his feet he stumbled through the undergrowth deeper into the forest.

Quickly catching up to him, Arjuna shouted, “O Sindhu king, with what prowess did you dare take away our wife? Stand and fight. It does not become you to flee, leaving your followers to face the enemy.”

Jayadratha did not look back. Bhīma jumped down from his chariot and bounded after him, his eyes red with fury. He quickly caught the terrified king and seized him violently by the hair. Arjuna called out, “Don’t kill him,” and Bhīma, who was about to deliver a powerful blow, pulled back his fist. He dashed Jayadratha to the ground and kicked him in the head. As the dazed king staggered to his feet, Bhīma knocked him about, striking his head and chest with his fists and knees. Jayadratha fell unconscious to the ground and Bhīma dragged him to Arjuna.

Through clenched teeth Bhīma said, “This one committed a heinous crime and does not deserve to live, but because Yudhiṣṭhira has commanded us, what can we do? The king is always merciful and forgiving.”

Bhīma looked contemptuously at Jayadratha, who was returning to consciousness. The Pāṇḍava considered how best to punish him. He took from his quiver a razor-headed arrow and shaved off Jayadratha’s hair, leaving only five tufts. For a kṣatriya, such treatment was tantamount to being killed. It meant that he had been defeated and humiliated at the hands of a more powerful enemy, but left with his life. It was better to die in battle than to suffer such humiliation, and Jayadratha was consumed by shame. Bhīma threw him to the ground and said, “Fool, if you wish to live then listen to my words. From now on, wherever you go you must announce yourself as the Pāṇḍavas’ slave. This is the accepted custom.”

Jayadratha sat on the ground with his head bowed. “So be it,” he replied, trembling.

Bhīma pulled the king up and pushed him toward Arjuna’s chariot. “Get aboard,” he ordered. “We will take you to Yudhiṣṭhira to receive his command.”

They rode back to the hermitage and found Yudhiṣṭhira seated amid the Brahmins. Bhīma dragged Jayadratha down from the chariot and had him bow before Yudhiṣṭhira. Here is the wretch who offended Draupadī. You may tell the princess that this vile man has now become our slave.”

“Let him go,” Yudhiṣṭhira said with a smile.

Draupadī came out of her hut and saw the bedraggled Jayadratha on the ground in front of Yudhiṣṭhira. The soft-hearted princess, thinking of her cousin Dusshala, said, “Yes, we should spare him. Bhīma has punished him sufficiently and he has now become our slave. Set him free.”

Bhīma told Jayadratha to go. The Sindhu king, beside himself with anguish and shame, bowed before Yudhiṣṭhira and the Brahmins and then stood up to leave. Yudhiṣṭhira said, “You are a free man. I will release you this time, but do not commit such a vile act again. Although weak and powerless, you tried to abduct another’s wife by force.”

Seeing Jayadratha’s piteous condition, Yudhiṣṭhira was moved to compassion. He held up his hand in blessing and said, “May your heart grow in virtue. Go now in peace with your followers. Never again contemplate such impiety.”

Jayadratha walked away from the hermitage sorrowfully. He thought only of how to avenge himself on the Pāṇḍavas. Realizing that he would never be able to overcome them in battle, he decided to accept a vow of asceticism to please Śiva. If he was empowered by that great deity, then surely he would be able to defeat any enemy, even the mighty Pāṇḍavas. The Sindhu king made his way to the bank of the Ganges and sat down in meditation.

For a long time Jayadratha practiced severe austerities, eating only leaves and remaining rapt in prayer to Śiva. Eventually, the god came before him and said, “What do you desire?”

The delighted king replied, “May I be able to vanquish in battle all five Pāṇḍavas, seated on their chariots.”

Śiva smiled. “This cannot be. The Pāṇḍavas are unconquerable because they are protected by Kṛṣṇa. Even I cannot slay them. Therefore, your desire is impossible to fulfill. But I will grant you this: with the exception of Arjuna, who is the invincible Nara incarnate, you will be able to check all of them in battle one time only.”

After granting this boon Śiva vanished, leaving Jayadratha to return to his own kingdom, wondering when the day would come when he would be able to use his boon.