Skip to main content

Chapter 36

Draupadī Again Insulted

After twelve long years in the forest, waiting for the day they could reclaim their kingdom, the final year of busy city life passed quickly for the Pāṇḍavas. Yudhiṣṭhira diced with Virata and, thanks to the skills he had acquired from Vṛṣaparvā, won much wealth from the king. He secretly distributed his winnings to his brothers. Bhīma ensured that his brothers had the best of food and drink. From the ladies in the palace Arjuna obtained many items of clothing, which he gave to his brothers, and the twins also shared with their brothers the wealth they earned from the king. It seemed to the Pāṇḍavas that they were back in their mother’s house, they lived so happily. They also kept vigilant eyes on Draupadī and were always alert to danger from Duryodhana’s men.

In the fourth month of their stay in Virata, there was a festival held in honor of Śiva. Among the festivities was a wrestling contest. Many powerful fighters from all over Bharata assembled in the city, roaring like lions. Those colossal-bodied men were maddened with power and strength. They strode about the wrestling arena slapping their arms and chests. Virata honored them and organized a tournament between them. One wrestler, Jīmūta, was the most powerful and he emerged victorious from the contest. As he stood shouting out a furious challenge, none dared come forward to fight him. Virata then summoned his cook, Vallabha, and ordered him to fight.

Bhīma could not defy the king’s order. Reluctantly, he prepared for the match. Although he enjoyed fighting, he was afraid someone would recognize him if he displayed too much power. Praying to Kṛṣṇa that he not be recognized, he went before the roaring Jīmūta. The two wrestlers appeared like infuriated elephants about to fight for leadership of the herd. A fierce fight ensued with the combatants locked together, each looking for the other’s weak points. Their blows sounded like thunderbolts striking mountains. The crowds gasped and cheered in turn. Each fighter dashed the other to the ground, threw him, pressed him down by force, and whirled the other around. They slapped and kicked one another with tremendous power. Knees struck against knees and heads against heads, sounding like two stones crashing together. As they fought they shouted insults at each other. The crowd was delighted, some supporting Bhīma and others Jīmūta. Finally Bhīma, decided to end the bout. He suddenly lifted his rival over his head and whirled him about. He spun him a hundred times with such force that he fell unconscious. Then Bhīma dashed him to the ground.

Seeing the senseless Jīmūta lying on the ground, Virata was overjoyed. He immediately gave Bhīma valuable gifts and asked if there were any others who dared challenge him. When no one came forward, Virata ordered that he fight with lions, tigers and elephants. Bhīma overpowered many animals in the midst of the astonished crowd, but none had any idea of his actual identity.

The king was pleased with all the Pāṇḍavas. By his celestial skills in the arts, Arjuna delighted Virata and the palace ladies. Nakula showed him many well-trained and swift horses, and the king was also pleased with Sahadeva’s handling of his cows and bulls. But Draupadī, seeing her husbands engaged in such menial service, felt pained at heart.

The Pañchāla princess waited upon Sudeṣṇa in misery, but she conducted herself in such a way that the queen was satisfied by her service and gave no thought as to who she might actually be. Eleven months passed.

One day, as Draupadī was moving about the palace, the commander of Virata’s army, Kichaka, happened to see her. The mighty Kichaka was immediately struck by Cupid’s arrows when he saw Draupadī’s enchanting beauty. She seemed like a goddess descended to earth. His heart was inflamed by desire. He went to his sister Sudeṣṇa and said, “I have never seen this maidservant before. Who is she? Her beauty maddens me as wine does with its aroma. Indeed, this bewitching damsel has ground my heart and brought me under subjection. I am fevered with desire, and only she has the cure. Tell me, sister, how she has come to be your servant. It seems that she is too good for such a position. Let her grace my palace and enjoy every opulence with me.”

As he spoke, Draupadī entered the queen’s chamber. Without waiting for Sudeṣṇa’s answer, Kichaka turned to Draupadī and said, “Who are you and who do you belong to? O fair-faced maiden, simply by seeing you I have lost my mind. I have never seen such grace and beauty in a woman. Are you Goddess Lakṣmī herself, or perhaps Śrī, Hrī, Kīrti or Kānti? You must be a celestial because you shine like the full moon. What man would not yield to Cupid’s influence when he beheld your face shining with such heavenly beauty? Your well-shaped breasts, resembling lotus buds, and your shapely form have afflicted me with the blazing fire of lust. O fair one, pray extinguish this fire with the rain cloud of union. Your maddening gestures and movements have pierced my heart. It behooves you to save me from my plight by surrendering yourself to me and allowing me to enjoy your company. You shall have whatever you desire and your time as a servant will end.”

Kichaka spoke at length in his attempt to woo Draupadī, but she was only filled with horror. Lowering her face and covering her head she replied, “I am a Sairindhrī of low caste, holding the hateful position of dressing hair. O hero, in desiring me you wish for one who is not worthy of such an honor. Furthermore, I am already the wife of others and thus your conduct is unbecoming. Do not turn your mind to adultery, for it leads inevitably to disgrace and calamity. To fully abandon sin is ever the duty of the good.”

Kichaka, whose senses were completely overpowered by lust, simply smiled. Without caring for the consequences he addressed Draupadī in sweet tones. “O timid one, it is not fair of you to reject me. I am enslaved by Cupid on your account. If you do not accept my proposal, then you will have to regret your decision. I am the lord of this realm; the people depend upon me for their safety. In heroism I have no rival on earth. My power and prosperity are without compare. Why do you turn me down in favor of a life of servitude? I shall bestow the kingdom upon you. Live with me in happiness and enjoy whatever you desire.”

Draupadī was disgusted by Kichaka’s shamelessness and she became angry. “O son of a suta, do not needlessly throw away your life. I am always protected by five heroes. You cannot win me because I am already married to five Gandharvas of terrible prowess. They will not tolerate this insult and will doubtlessly slay you if you persist in your attempts to win me. You will have no refuge, even if you descend to the subterranean world or soar to the heavens. My husbands always crush their enemies. Why, O Kichaka, do you desire me like a child on his mother’s lap who desires the moon? Look to your safety and leave me alone.”

Draupadī turned and quickly walked from the queen’s chamber. Kichaka was shocked and dismayed by Draupadī’s stern refusal. He said to Sudeṣṇa, “O princess, do whatever is necessary to make this maiden inclined toward me. If she does not accept me, I shall kill myself.”

Sudeṣṇa pitied her brother in his disappointment. She said, “I will find a suitable opportunity and send Sairindhrī to you to fetch something. In the solitude of your quarters, you will be able to solicit her at leisure. She will then most likely become attached to you.” Kichaka agreed to his sister’s suggestion and returned to his palace.

A few days later the queen called for Draupadī and said, “O Sairindhrī, today is a festival and I am feeling thirsty. My brother has had some excellent wines prepared. Please go there and fetch some for me.”

Draupadī answered in alarm, “O princess, I shall not go to that wicked man’s house. You have seen for yourself how shamelessly he approached me. O most beautiful lady, I asked when I came here that I be kept safe from other men. If you send me to Kichaka, he will dishonor me. Please send one of your other maids.”

“You need have no fear,” Sudeṣṇa replied dismissively. “You are being sent from the royal palace; my brother will not dare to insult you.”

The queen handed Draupadī a golden pot and waved her away. Fearful and crying, Draupadī left for Kichaka’s palace. As she walked she prayed, “As I am always faithful to my husbands, by the strength of that virtue may I be protected from Kichaka.” Draupadī looked up at the sun and asked the sun-god for his protection. Sūrya, out of compassion, ordered a Rākṣasa to invisibly protect her, and from that time on he never left her under any circumstances.

When Draupadī entered, Kichaka stood up in joy. With folded palms he said, “O fair one of beautiful tresses, you are welcome. Somehow I have managed to survive the last few days since seeing you. Now you shall become the mistress of my house. Let golden chains and brilliant ornaments of every description be brought for your pleasure. Gems, jewels and silken garments await you in abundance. I have prepared for you a fine bed. Come, drink with me the honeyed wine.”

Without looking at him Draupadī replied coldly, “Sudeṣṇa has sent me to fetch wine. Please fill this pot and let me leave quickly, for she is thirsty.”

“Let others take the queen her wine,” Kichaka said, moving toward Draupadī. “You should remain here with me.”

Kichaka took Draupadī by the arm. Crying out in fear, she said tearfully, “As I have never acted unfaithfully toward my husbands, even in my mind or heart, I shall by virtue of that truth see you hurled down and punished for this sin.”

Draupadī struggled free from Kichaka and he ran after her, grabbing hold of her upper garment as it trailed behind her. Trembling in wrath she spun round and pushed him with all her strength. Caught by surprise, he fell to the ground like a tree cut at its root. Draupadī rushed into the royal court to seek the king’s protection. Kichaka pursued her and caught her right in front of the king. Pulling her back forcefully, Kichaka kicked Draupadī and she fell to the mosaic floor. The invisible Rākṣasa appointed by the sun-god then struck Kichaka a blow with the force of the wind and he fell prostrate.

Bhīma happened to be present in the court, along with Yudhiṣṭhira, and he glared at Kichaka. The unforgiving Pāṇḍava gnashed his teeth and clenched his fists, ready to leap up at once and kill Kichaka. His eyes became dark and smoky, and terrible wrinkles appeared on his forehead along with beads of sweat. Bhīma rubbed his forehead with his huge hand, fighting his desire to hurl himself at Draupadī’s offender. Yudhiṣṭhira reached over and pressed Bhīma’s arm. “O cook, you had best go about your business,” he said in a low voice. “You are surely needed in the kitchen.”

Restrained by his elder brother, Bhīma rose up slowly and left the court with his eyes fixed on Kichaka, who was picking himself up from the floor, looking around in amazement to see who had struck him. Draupadī, seeing her husbands maintaining their disguises before the king, stood before Virata with flashing eyes. “This son of a suta has kicked me, the honored wife of those whose enemies can never sleep even if they reside in heaven. The suta’s son has kicked me, the respected consort of those who are truthful, devoted to Brahmins, and ever accustomed to giving charity. He has kicked me, the beloved wife of those who are endowed with energy, power and self-control, and who, if they were not tied down by duty, could destroy the whole of this world. Alas, where today do those warriors roam? How can they, like eunuchs, suffer their spouse to be so insulted? Where is their wrath, prowess and energy when they cannot protect their own wife from a wretch?”

As she spoke Draupadī glanced toward Yudhiṣṭhira, who was squirming in pain. Turning her gaze on Virata she went on, “What can I do? I am in this city, and he who defies virtue has coolly allowed me to be insulted before his eyes. Why does the king not act like a king toward Kichaka? O best of men, how do you tolerate this outrage? Let all the courtiers mark your failure today. Where is the virtue in either Kichaka or Virata, or even in the silent courtiers, who have witnessed Kichaka’s despicable behavior?”

Draupadī was sobbing. Virata replied, “I do not know the full details of your quarrel with Kichaka. Without knowing everything, how can I pass judgment?” The king looked at his brother-in-law, who was smiling. The aging Virata depended on Kichaka to defend his city. The king could not say anything to offend him, but the courtiers were now praising Draupadī and reproaching Kichaka. “This gentle lady is like a goddess in our midst,” they said. “Surely the man who has her for a wife wants for nothing. By insulting her, Kichaka has performed a sinful deed.”

Yudhiṣṭhira sat burning with anger. Drops of perspiration ran down his face. In a taut voice he said to Draupadī, “O Sairindhrī, you should return to Sudeṣṇa’s apartments. The wives of heroes endure pain on behalf of their husbands, but in the end they attain those blessed regions where their husbands go. I think your Gandharva husbands do not feel that the moment is right for a display of their power. You should not remain here and cause a disturbance. Be confident that your husbands will assuage your sorrow in due course.”

Draupadī, who had fallen weeping to the floor, composed herself and stood up to leave. “I practice piety for the sake of my kind and forgiving husbands. They, of whom the eldest is addicted to dice, are ever oppressed by others.”

Watched by the mystified king, she went out of the court with her head lowered and returned to the queen’s chambers. When Sudeṣṇa saw her tearful face she asked, “O beautiful one, who has slighted you? Why do you weep? O gentle one, whose happiness will come to an end today?”

Bowing before the queen, Draupadī replied, “As I went to fetch your wine, Kichaka struck me in the court in the king’s presence.”

“What? Then I shall have him chastised,” Sudeṣṇa said angrily. “O lady with curling tresses, if it is your will, then let this lustful man be killed.”

“Do not worry, O Queen. Those whom he has wronged will deal with him soon enough. I think he will go to the region of Yamarāja before long.”

Draupadī went to her own rooms and bathed herself, putting on fresh garments. She wanted to purify herself of Kichaka’s touch. Her mind dwelt on her insult and she considered how to avenge herself. She thought of Bhīma. He had obviously been ready to annihilate Kichaka on the spot. Certainly he would fulfill her desire if she approached him. She could not face another day knowing that Kichaka still lived. Seeing the king powerless to protect her, and thinking she had no protector, Kichaka would doubtlessly continue to harass her. Draupadī decided to go to Bhīma. When the palace residents were asleep, she went silently to his quarters.

As she entered his room she found him asleep, snoring like a lion. The chamber, filled with her beauty and Bhīma’s effulgence, seemed ablaze with splendor. The princess went up to Bhīma’s bed and embraced him, even as a creeper embraces a sal tree. In a voice as sweet as the sound of a vīṇā, she said, “O Bhīmasena, rise up. Why do you sleep like one dead? How can a sinful wretch survive after insulting the wife of one who lives?”

Bhīma sat up. “Why have you woken me, gentle princess? You appear wan and sorrowful. Surely the incident today in Virata’s court is the reason. I too am burning with anger as I remember it. Tell me the cause of your pain, O Pāñcālī, and I shall do whatever lies in my power. I will always do whatever pleases you, and I am prepared to deliver you from danger again and again. Quickly let me know your desire and go back to your bed before others are up.”

Draupadī wept. “How can she who has Yudhiṣṭhira for a husband ever be free of grief? You know all, O Bharata, and have no need to ask. The grief I felt when Dushashana dragged me into the assembly hall still burns me day and night. What other princess could live after such an insult? How could anyone survive what I suffered at Jayadratha’s hands? Who but me could endure being kicked in the presence of the Matsya king? Of what use is my life when you allow me to suffer all these pains, O hero?”

Bhīma gently stroked his wife’s face as she wept. She looked into his angry eyes and continued, “The wicked Kichaka wants me to marry him. As I remember his words my heart bursts like an over-ripe fruit. O slayer of foes, all my sufferings are due to your elder brother’s addiction to dice. Who else but him could have sacrificed everything, including his own self, for the sake of gambling? Having lost inestimable quantities of wealth, he now supports himself by dicing. The great king Yudhiṣṭhira, who was worshipped by throngs of Brahmins and tributary kings, now hides himself in fear, overpowered by calamity. That lord of men--who is free from cruelty, full of compassion, forbearing and truthful--has become a gambler in King Virata’s court. He now depends on another’s mercy for his subsistence. Surely he is experiencing the misery of hell.”

Draupadī poured out all her pent-up grief. The time in Virata had passed slowly for her. With no opportunity to speak to her husbands and to be solaced by them, she had suffered silently. It was agonizing to see her five heroic husbands living as servants, and her own position as a serving maid was practically intolerable. Only her sense of duty and loyalty to Yudhiṣṭhira sustained her. Although she criticized Yudhiṣṭhira to Bhīma, she would never consider being disloyal to him for even a moment. She spoke at length of her sorrow at seeing Yudhiṣṭhira’s plight, and Bhīma consoled her.

Taking hold of Bhīma’s hands, the Pañchāla princess continued. “O Bharata, I shall tell you of another great grief. Do not become angry as I speak only out of the sadness in my heart, but seeing you a servant and cook causes me more distress than I can bear. When Virata joyfully made you fight with elephants, and the ladies of his palace laughed, my mind sank in sorrow. Indeed, I fainted and the queen had to revive me. She said, ‘It seems you harbor some attachment for this cook. Both of you came to Virata together and I often see you lamenting for him. Are you attached to the handsome Vallabha?’ She still chides me in this way, which only increases my pain.”

Draupadī then described to Bhīma the pain she felt on seeing Arjuna acting as a eunuch. “The mighty Dhanañjaya, the scourge of his enemies and fearful to even the celestials, now lives in a guise despised by all men. Covering his body with gaudy clothes and bangles, that hero lives in grief, surrounded only by women. When I see the dreadful wielder of the bow decked with ornaments, with his hair tied in a braid, my heart burns with anguish.”

Bhīma remained silent as Draupadī spoke, revealing to him all the pain she was experiencing upon seeing each of her husbands in positions of servitude. Finally she concluded, “I tell you all this only so that you may be aware of my suffering. You are always my protector and shelter and I depend fully upon you, O son of Pāṇḍu. Surely in some past life I offended some great deity and am thus receiving the results. The destiny of men is difficult to understand. When I see you five brothers cast into sorrow and myself subjected to the hard miseries of a maidservant, I consider it all the work of inscrutable destiny. I do not know how much longer I can carry on, how-ever. Just look at my hands.”

Draupadī held out her hands and showed Bhīma the calluses caused by the work she did for the queen. Hearing of her suffering and seeing her condition, Bhīma covered his face and cried. After some moments he composed himself and said in sorrow, “Fie on the strength of my arms and fie to Arjuna’s Gāṇḍīva, since I now see your two lotus hands scarred by work. O princess, I would have wrought havoc in Virata’s court, but Yudhiṣṭhira restrained me. With a single kick I would have crushed Kichaka’s head. O Pāñcālī, when I saw him strike you I was ready to destroy the Matsya race. It was only due to Dharmarāja that I held back. I too suffer in silence, O beautiful one. That we have been expelled from our kingdom, that I have not yet annihilated the Kauravas, and that we are forced to live here as servants scorches my limbs and afflicts my heart as if it were pierced by a dart.”

Bhīma told Draupadī to be patient and not to criticize Yudhiṣṭhira. He cited the examples of other great ladies who had followed their husbands in times of misery. Eventually they were all brought again to happiness due to their virtuous practices. Bhīma held Draupadī’s hands. “Less than a month now remains of our exile,” he said. “After that time you will again become an empress. Do not doubt.”

Draupadī threw herself onto Bhīma’s chest. “I do not think I will last that long. The wicked-minded Kichaka will not leave me alone. He has no fear from anyone and will doubtlessly seek to outrage me if I do not accept him. That man is without virtue. He is proud, cruel, impudent and war-like, absorbed only in gratifying his senses. Even the king has no power over him, and he will not hesitate to approach me as he pleases. O Bhīma, although you Pāṇḍavas are adhering to your pledge out of virtue, you will surely suffer a loss of virtue when I am violated and give up my life. To protect one’s wife is a pious husband’s first duty, for from the wife one’s own self is born as the son. For heroes there is always virtue in repressing the enemy. O mighty one, as you have always rescued me from wicked men, I entreat you to slay Kichaka without delay. If he should live for even one more day, I will swallow poison and give up my life.”

Bhīma made up his mind. He could not stand Draupadī’s pain. Taking her by the shoulders he said, “Gentle one, I will do as you say. Today I will slay Kichaka and all his followers. Listen carefully. When the sun rises, you should go to him with sweet smiles. Tell him that you secretly hold in your heart an attraction for him. Then arrange to meet him in the evening. There is a dancing hall some way from the other residences which is empty at night. Have him come there and I shall greet him and send him to meet his ancestors.”

Overjoyed, Draupadī embraced Bhīma and left his room.

Just after dawn the next day, Kichaka went to the palace to seek her out. Finding her in the queen’s quarters he said, “O timid one, yesterday you witnessed my power. Although I threw you down in front of the king, he said nothing. He is king in name only. I am the actual ruler here. Accept me as your lord and I shall bestow heaps of gold and gems upon you. One hundred male and one hundred female servants will wait upon you. You will ride on the best of chariots. O beautiful lady, let us be united.”

Draupadī glanced down demurely. Turning herself slightly away from Kichaka she replied, “O Kichaka, our union together must be without anyone else’s knowledge. I am afraid of my husbands. If we can lie in secret, then I shall be yours.”

Kichaka, his face blooming with happiness, replied eagerly. “It shall be as you say. I am under your control and overpowered by Cupid. O lady of beautiful thighs, we can meet in some lonely place where none shall detect us.”

Feeling sickened within herself but smiling outwardly, Draupadī said, “Not far from here is the king’s dancing hall. The princess uses it only in the day. I will go there two hours after sunset. O hero, meet me there.”

Draupadī left at once and went to her own chamber. Thinking of the night to come, the day seemed like a month. On the plea of feeling ill, she remained in her room the whole day. She felt sullied by her conversation with Kichaka and would only feel peaceful when he was slain.

For his part, Kichaka was filled with anticipation. As evening approached he dressed carefully and ornamented himself. He put on fragrant garlands and smeared his limbs with perfumes and sandalwood paste. Overpowered by lust, he waited for nightfall. How the time was dragging!

As soon as the sun had set Bhīma made his way to the dancing hall. He slipped inside and hid himself, waiting for Kichaka’s arrival. Draupadī also came there; and before long, Kichaka entered the darkened hall. He called out for Draupadī. “Being praised for my beauty by the women in my house, I came here thinking of you alone. You shall become the best of my consorts and I shall give you immense wealth. O fair maiden, where are you?”

“By my good fortune you have come here tonight, O handsome one,” Draupadī replied sweetly. “I consider your touch as burning and you are an expert at gallantry. There is no other man as attractive as you are to women. O hero, I am over here.”

Kichaka moved toward the sound of Draupadī’s voice. Bhīma was hiding behind a silk drape at the side of the hall. As Kichaka passed, he suddenly came out and stood before him. Bhīma’s angry voice boomed out, “Today your sister shall behold you, vile as you are, thrown down on the earth with your limbs shattered. With you slain, Sairindhrī shall wander freely without fear. Then too shall we, her husbands, live happily.”

Bhīma immediately seized hold of Kichaka’s hair, which was adorned with garlands, and dragged him down. Kichaka was shocked. Sairindhrī had tricked him. Trying to shake off the slight inebriation from the wine he had been drinking, he pulled himself free of Bhīma’s grasp. Bhīma punched Kichaka with his iron-hard fists. Kichaka took hold of Bhīma’s two arms and tried to kick away his feet. The two mighty men shuffled violently around the hall, locked together. They appeared like the two celestial monkeys, Vāli and Sugrīva, fighting together in days of yore. Breaking apart they stood belligerently facing one another. Their upraised arms looked like two pairs of furious, five-hooded serpents. They struck one another with the force of thunderbolts. The empty hall resounded with great cracks and the walls trembled.

Enraged, they fought with fists, nails and teeth. They kicked and hurled each other about with the force of a tempest. Neither showed fatigue nor wavered. Blows rained down without cessation as both men became worked up into a fury. Like two powerful bulls, they came against each other again and again. As their blows landed the air was filled with the sound of trees splitting open. Kichaka was astonished at his opponent’s power. Although he had fought and defeated great heroes all over the world, he had never encountered such a foe. It was like fighting with a mountain or the earth itself. Kichaka exerted himself to his full power, trying to throw the unshakeable Bhīma to the ground, but Bhīma caught him in an embrace that crushed him like a steel vice.

Breathing in deeply and expanding his massive chest, Kichaka broke free. Bhīma instantly came at him again and struck him on the breast. Then he threw Kichaka across the hall as a hurricane tosses a tree. Mustering all his strength Kichaka rushed at Bhīma and took hold of his neck. He pulled the Pāṇḍava down and brought his knee up into his chest with all his power. Bhīma was thrown to the floor and he rolled over quickly. He looked up at Kichaka with burning eyes. Appearing like Yamarāja with mace in hand, he rose from the floor blazing with anger. He bellowed at Kichaka and rushed at him like a maddened elephant charging another. The two heroes again locked together, grunting and grappling as they moved about the hall.

Although Kichaka was a powerful fighter, expert in all forms of combat, he found all his moves more than matched by Bhīma. Gradually he felt his strength waning. Bhīma, seeing his foe weakening, became even more energetic. He took hold of Kichaka and crushed him in his mace-like arms. Unable to catch his breath, Kichaka fell senseless to the floor. Bhīma grabbed his hair and roared like a lion that had just killed a large animal. Lifting his groggy opponent above his head, he whirled him about violently. Bhīma then smashed Kichaka onto the marble floor and fell upon him. Placing his knees on Kichaka’s chest he took hold of his throat, strangling him. Draupadī was joyful as she watched Bhīma pound Kichaka into a mutilated mess. He thrust his arms, legs and head into his body, and reduced him to a shapeless lump of flesh.

His anger appeased by Kichaka’s death, Bhīma stood up. He turned to Draupadī. “See what I have done to this wretch, Pāñcālī. You should know that any who seek to harm you will meet a similar end, O beautiful-haired one.”

Bhīma left the hall and made his way back to his room. Draupadī returned to the palace and told the guards that they should go to the dancing hall. “There you will find he who desired another’s wife. Slain by my Gandharva husbands, he lies weltering in gore.”

The guards ran to the hall and saw the dead Kichaka. They gazed in amazement at his mangled body. Gradually thousands of soldiers came there to see their slain commander lying amid his scattered ornaments. All of them were astonished. He was hardly recognizable. Who was capable of such a feat? Kichaka was an almost invincible warrior who had beaten the best wrestlers and fighters in the world. The soldiers gasped in disbelief. None of them suspected Vallabha. Struck with wonder they stood about asking, “Who could have done this? Where are Kichaka’s arms and legs? Where is his head?”

As Kichaka’s followers looked at him they were filled with fear. Talking among themselves they concluded that their leader must have been killed by the Gandharvas. They lifted his body, which resembled the body of a tortoise with its limbs withdrawn, and carried him outside the hall to perform the last rites. As they made their way to the cremation ground they saw Draupadī watching them. Knowing that Kichaka had gone to meet her, some of them exclaimed, “There is the unchaste one for whom Kichaka was slain. She too should be killed. Let us burn her along with our lord.”

A couple of the soldiers sought the king’s permission to execute Draupadī by placing her on the fire with Kichaka. The king, knowing the power of his commander’s followers, agreed. The sutas at once ran to Draupadī and seized her. They bound the struggling princess and placed her upon the large bier with Kichaka’s corpse. Draupadī cried out in terror as she was carried toward the crematorium. “May Jaya, Jayanta, Vijaya, Jayatsena and Jayadbala hear my words! Save me! The sutas are carrying me away. Let those heroic Gandharvas, whose chariots and bows resound like thunder, understand that their wife is in great peril.”

Bhīma heard her pitiful cries. Without hesitation, he ran from his room. He could understand that Kichaka’s followers were taking Draupadī to the crematorium. The Pāṇḍava went there by a different route without being seen, his head covered with a cloth. Scaling walls and crossing gardens he swiftly reached the cremation ground which lay just outside the city. He found a great palmyra tree and immediately uprooted it. He placed it on his shoulders. Kichaka’s followers arrived and saw Bhīma standing like Death personified holding his rod of chastisement. They howled in fear. “Here is the Gandharva who killed Kichaka. Release Sairindhrī before he kills us all.”

The sutas put Draupadī down and ran in all directions. Bhīma pursued them relentlessly and struck them down with the tree. As he struck out at them, he knocked over other trees, which fell crashing to the ground. Roaring like a furious lion, the Pāṇḍava slew all the sutas one after another. In a short time, the crematorium was covered with more than a hundred dead bodies. They all lay about like uprooted trees. Telling Draupadī to return to her rooms, Bhīma quickly went back by the route he had come before anyone discovered him.

The people of Virata, hearing the commotion from the crematorium, rushed to see what was causing it. Discovering the slain sutas, they ran to the king and informed him. “O King, the powerful suta followers of Kichaka have all been killed. They are scattered about like so many mountain summits clapped by thunderbolts. Surely this is the work of the Gandharvas, enraged by Kichaka’s assault on Sairindhrī. She is now returning to your city unharmed. We are afraid of her. She is beautiful beyond compare, the Gandharvas are powerful and wrathful, and men are undoubtedly lustful. Quickly do something so that our city may not be destroyed.”

Virata was astonished. “Let Kichaka and all his followers be cremated on one great pyre with gems and perfumes. I will take care of Sairindhrī.”

Turning to his wife the king said, “When Sairindhrī comes, tell her this from me: ‘O fair one, please go wherever you like with my blessings. We are afraid the Gandharvas will destroy us. Indeed, I am too fearful to even speak with you directly.’”

As Draupadī entered the city, the people fled in all directions like deer seeing a tiger. Some even shut their eyes and covered their heads. Draupadī went back into the palace. After she had bathed the queen approached her and conveyed Virata’s message. Draupadī replied, “O Queen, allow me to remain here for only two more weeks. The Gandharvas will be obliged to you for this favor. After that, they will take me away from here and do whatever is agreeable to you.”

The queen assented and released Draupadī from her duties. After telling her to remain in the palace until her husbands came, she left to inform the king.