Out of Exile
Toward noon on the day after his victory, King Virata reentered his city. Praised by bards he shone amid the four Pāṇḍavas, whose identities he still did not know. When he reached his palace and was seated upon his throne, he inquired after the whereabouts of his eldest son. Some of the palace ladies told him what had happened. “Out of excessive bravery, the prince has gone out to fight the best of the Kurus. With Bṛhannala as his charioteer and no other support, he rode out promising to defeat the vast Kuru army and bring back the cows.”
The king was at once overcome by sorrow. “How will my son fare against the likes of Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Karṇa and Duryodhana? And when the Kurus hear of the Trigartas’ defeat, they will likely attack the city. Surely we are in peril.”
The king told his ministers to have the army prepare to go out again. “We must quickly rescue Bhuminjaya and hold the Kurus off from attacking our city. With such a useless person as his charioteer, I do not think my son will be alive.”
Yudhiṣṭhira smiled as he took his place near the king. “If Bṛhannala is his charioteer, you need not fear. The Kurus will not be able to defeat him. Indeed, even the celestial hosts would not be able to overpower him with Bṛhannala on his chariot.”
The king looked at Yudhiṣṭhira quizzically. This was no time for joking. He wrung his hands and thought only of his son. Surely Bhuminjaya was already dead. It was reckless of him to have ventured out, especially with only a eunuch as his support.
As Virata gave orders for his forces to assemble, a messenger entered the court with the news that the Kurus had retreated. “The cows have been rescued and your son is well, along with his charioteer. They will soon be arriving in the city.”
“This news is not at all wonderful,” Yudhiṣṭhira said. “Victory is certain for anyone who has Bṛhannala with him.”
The king ignored Yudhiṣṭhira’s remark and said joyfully, “Decorate the highways with flags and festoons. Worship all the gods with profuse gifts of flowers and costly incenses. My other sons and my ministers should go out to greet the prince, along with musicians and beautiful dancers. Bring him here in style and have a messenger riding an elephant go around the city ringing a bell to announce our victory.”
Soon a large procession of handsomely dressed and beautiful maidens, musicians playing drums, trumpets, cymbals and conches, Brahmins chanting auspicious hymns, and bards composing songs in praise of the prince made its way out of the city.
Overjoyed, the king turned to Yudhiṣṭhira and said, “Come, Kaṅka, let us play dice while we wait for my son. I will happily stake heaps of gems, gold, and numerous well-adorned women. My pleasure knows no limits today.”
“O King, one should never gamble when he is experiencing so much joy,” Yudhiṣṭhira replied with a smile. “Gambling is attended by many evils. The great King Yudhiṣṭhira lost his entire kingdom, all his wealth, and his godlike brothers in a game of dice. Therefore, I do not like to gamble. But I will play if you wish.”
The king laughed and sat down at his dicing table with Yudhiṣṭhira. As they played he said, “What do you think of this news then, Kaṅka? My son has single-handedly defeated the invincible Kurus.”
Yudhiṣṭhira again said that it was no surprise since the prince had Bṛhannala with him. The king was beginning to feel annoyed. “Why do you praise a eunuch as superior to my son? O Brahmin, you insult me by such words. Why should my son not have defeated the Kurus? He is a fearless and powerful fighter.”
Yudhiṣṭhira threw the sapphire dice across the gaming board. “When Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa, Duryodhana, and the other Kurus assemble for battle, I do not see any warrior who could face them except Bṛhannala. None have been seen, nor will they ever be seen, who can equal his strength of arms. He always delights in a mighty encounter.”
The king stood up suddenly, clutching the dice in fury. “You obviously do not know right from wrong. I should certainly punish you for this impropriety.”
Virata hurled the dice at Yudhiṣṭhira and struck him in the face. Blood flowed from his nose and Yudhiṣṭhira cupped his hands to catch it. He looked across at Draupadī, who sat in the court. She quickly fetched a jug of water. Yudhiṣṭhira held a wet cloth to his face to stem the flow of blood.
At that moment, a second messenger came before the king and announced that his son had arrived at the palace gates. The king, forgetting his anger, told the messenger to bring the prince in at once.
The messenger turned to go, and as he was leaving Yudhiṣṭhira whispered to him, “Have the prince come alone. Tell Bṛhannala not to enter the court.”
Yudhiṣṭhira knew that Arjuna had taken a vow that if anyone caused his blood to flow other than in battle, he would kill that person. If Arjuna saw his brother now, Virata would be slain.
Within minutes Bhuminjaya entered the court adorned with garlands and sandalwood paste. He bowed at his father’s feet and folded his hands toward Yudhiṣṭhira. Seeing him covered with blood he asked his father, “Who has done this to Kaṅka? O King, who has committed such a crime?”
The king looked angrily at Yudhiṣṭhira. “This wily Brahmin deserves even more. While I was praising your achievements, he glorified Bṛhannala as if he were your superior.”
Bhuminjaya was shocked. “You have committed a great sin! Pacify him at once so that the deadly venom of a Brahmin’s curse does not consume you.”
The king apologized to Yudhiṣṭhira, who nodded his forgiveness. Virata then said to his son, “O descendent of Kekaya, in you I truly have a son. There can be none to equal you. Alone you overcame the Kuru host and took back our cows, even as a tiger snatched his prey.”
The prince shook his head. “I did not rescue the cows, Father, nor did I defeat the Kurus. Everything was done by the son of a celestial. Seeing me fleeing in fear, that mighty one, capable of wielding the thunderbolt, stopped me and got upon my chariot. He alone defeated the Kuru army, headed by Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Duryodhana, Kṛpa, Karṇa and Aśvatthāmā. Indeed, I could hardly look at those warriors as they released their weapons. The celestial youth routed them one by one. He overpowered that army of lions and sent them reeling back to Hastināpura.”
The king was astonished. He asked his son where the youth had gone, but Bhuminjaya said he could not tell. Yudhiṣṭhira remained silent, tending the wound on his face. He glanced at Draupadī who stood smiling. The king would soon discover the truth.
It was late in the evening when Virata dismissed the royal court. He went away with his son, listening in astonishment as the prince described the battle with the Kurus.
The following day at dawn, Yudhiṣṭhira, surrounded by his brothers, entered the royal court before the king arrived. They were dressed in white clothes and adorned with gold ornaments. Like five angry lions, they strode up to the royal dais and took their seats on thrones reserved for kings.
Soon after their arrival, the king, accompanied by his ministers, entered the hall. He saw with surprise that Kaṅka was sitting near his throne with the four Pāṇḍavas next to him. Still not realizing their identities, he stormed over to Yudhiṣṭhira. “What are you doing? You are a dice player and a courtier. Why are you sitting on a royal seat, adorned with ornaments and surrounded by my cook and my horse and cow-keepers?”
Arjuna replied, “This man, O King, is worthy of sharing a seat with Indra. Ever engaged in performing sacrifice, respectful toward Brahmins, well-read in the Vedas, firm in his vows--he is the embodiment of virtue. Even the celestials, Asuras, Nāgas, Gandharvas, Yakṣas, and other divine beings are not his equal. He is far-sighted, forgiving, powerful, truthful and self-controlled. Famous all over the world and loved by all, this man is a royal saint like the great Manu himself. O King, this is the foremost of all the Kurus, the pious King Yudhiṣṭhira. Does he not deserve a royal throne?”
Virata’s eyes opened wide. Staring at the five brothers one after another, he replied, “If this is Yudhiṣṭhira, then who are these other four? Where is the mighty Bhīma and his invincible brother, Arjuna? Where are Nakula and Sahadeva and the illustrious Draupadī? Since their defeat at dice, no one has seen them.”
Arjuna lifted his hand towards Bhīma. “This one, your cook Vallabha, is Bhīma, possessed of dreadful prowess and energy. It was he who slew the lustful Kichaka. On the other side of Yudhiṣṭhira sits Nakula, the keeper of your horses, and next to him is Sahadeva, your chief cowherd. These two warriors are capable of slaying enemy battalions consisting of thousands of warriors. As far as the lotus-eyed Draupadī, she has for this last year served in your palace as Sairindhrī, for whose sake Kichaka was slain. I am Arjuna, Kuntī’s third son. We have all lived happily in your city like creatures living in the womb.”
Virata’s eyes flooded with tears. The great and virtuous Pāṇḍavas had chosen his kingdom to spend their final year of exile. Why had he not recognized them? Now it was obvious. Who else could have exhibited such power in battle but these brothers? The king folded his palms and bowed low to Yudhiṣṭhira.
As the king stood up again, Bhuminjaya indicated Arjuna. “It was he who slew the Kurus like a lion killing deer. It was he who rescued the cows and overpowered the great heroes from Hastināpura. My ears are still deafened from the incredible blasts of his conch.”
Virata felt deeply ashamed of himself for insulting and wounding Yudhiṣṭhira. He spoke humbly. “The time has come for me to honor your illustrious selves. What should I do? If you like, I shall bestow my daughter Uttarā on Arjuna. I am fully indebted to you all. It was Bhīma who rescued me from the clutches of Susharma, and Arjuna has saved us from defeat at the hands of the Kurus. O great King, please forgive me if I have unwittingly given you any offense. You are worthy of my worship.”
Virata offered his entire kingdom to Yudhiṣṭhira, with his scepter, treasury and city. He arranged for Brahmins to offer them worship and repeatedly exclaimed, “What good fortune!” The Pāṇḍavas got down and embraced the old monarch, who gazed at them without satiation. Again offering his kingdom to them, he turned to Arjuna and added, “O hero, please take my daughter’s hand.”
Arjuna placed his arm around the king’s shoulders. “Let your daughter become my daughter-in-law. That would be a fitting alliance between our two houses.”
The king looked surprised. “Why would you not accept the princess as your own wife?”
“Since I came here, your daughter has seen me like a father,” Arjuna replied. “We have often been alone together and she has often confided in me. O King, I have seen her as my daughter and do not wish anyone to think it was ever different. If I were to accept her as my wife, others will doubt her purity. I wish to prove her purity and therefore will continue to see her as my daughter. There is no difference between a daughter and a daughter-in-law. Let her wed my son Abhimanyu. He is Kṛṣṇa’s nephew and he resembles a celestial in every way. He will be a proper husband for Uttarā and a son for you.”
The king nodded approvingly. “You have spoken wisely, most virtuous one. Do what you think is proper. Whoever has a relationship with Arjuna, no matter what it may be, has all his desires fulfilled.”
Yudhiṣṭhira gave his permission for the marriage and it was settled. The king then arranged for the brothers to be quartered in his palace. He sent messengers out to announce to the Pāṇḍavas’ friends and allies that, having come out of exile, they were well and now staying in his capital. Yudhiṣṭhira invited all of them to come to the city, and before long they began to arrive. Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma came from Dwārakā, bringing Abhimanyu and many other members of Their family. Drupada arrived accompanied by a huge division of soldiers. The great king Kashiraja, a good friend of Yudhiṣṭhira whose daughter had married Bhīma, also came with another vast army.
The Pāṇḍavas duly worshiped all of them as they arrived in Virata. They were particularly joyful to see their friend and well-wisher Kṛṣṇa, who brought with him an immense force of warriors. He bowed before Yudhiṣṭhira and Bhīma, while the younger Pāṇḍavas touched his feet. Then they all embraced and sat down to exchange news.
It was settled that the marriage between Abhimanyu and Uttarā would take place on the next full-moon day, and Virata began to make the arrangements. The city was decked with flags and festoons. When the day of the wedding arrived, garlands were hung everywhere and musicians played in Virata’s palace. Many beautiful damsels, wearing jeweled earrings and headed by Draupadī, led Uttarā to the wedding sacrifice. Numerous Brahmins sat around the fire chanting auspicious hymns from the Vedas. As the Pāṇḍavas looked on with Kṛṣṇa, Balarāma and the other kings, Abhimanyu accepted Uttarā’s hand from Virata.
Surrounded by the Brahmins and kings, the bride and groom shone like a god and goddess amid the celestial hosts. Virata gave Abhimanyu a dowry of seven thousand horses, two thousand elephants and a great heap of gems and gold. The ceremony ended with a feast. Pure foods were offered to Viṣṇu and then distributed first to the Brahmins and then to the thousands of citizens who attended the wedding. Gifts and charity were distributed to all, and everyone left the ceremony filled with joy. As they departed for their homes, they praised the king as well as his daughter and new son-in-law.
With the wedding celebrations over, the Pāṇḍavas began to think of their next move. How were they going to recover their kingdom? No word had been received from Hastināpura. The Kurus now knew that the Pāṇḍavas were alive and well and living at Virata. According to the agreement made at the final gambling match, it was time to give them back their city and dominions. But it seemed the matter would not be settled peaceably. Kṛṣṇa suggested they call an assembly and discuss what to do next. Thus the day following the wedding, all the kings came to Virata’s court.
On the front seats sat Virata and Drupada, the senior most kings, along with Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma, whom everyone considered to be the greatest. By their sides sat Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers, and all around them were dozens of other monarchs. These mighty heroes shone like stars studding the clear sky. The hall buzzed with their conversation as they settled into their places. When everyone was seated, the noise died down and they sat gazing pensively at Kṛṣṇa. Smiling gently and glancing around at all the kings, Kṛṣṇa spoke first.
“Everyone knows how Yudhiṣṭhira was unfairly defeated at dice and dispossessed of his kingdom by Suvala’s son. You also know how he and his brothers were made to live in the forest for thirteen years. The sons of Pāṇḍu, who are capable of subjugating the world by force of arms, whose chariots go unrestrained to any terrestrial or celestial region, and who are true to their word, have now completed their vow. They have suffered unbearable hardships, especially in this last year when they were obliged to accept menial service to others. They now seek their rightful kingdom.”
Kṛṣṇa looked around the assembly. All the kings, seated on golden thrones decked with gems, gazed intently at Him as He continued. “O kings, consider what is right and best for both the son of Dharma and for Duryodhana. The virtuous Yudhiṣṭhira will not accept even the kingdom of the gods unrighteously. He would prefer the rightful lordship of just a single village. Although he has been antagonized and cheated by the Kauravas, he still wishes them well. Duryodhana and his brothers have repeatedly tried to kill the Pāṇḍavas, but Yudhiṣṭhira has tolerated everything with a peaceful mind. All of his brothers are obedient to his order and would never abandon virtue. They will accept whatever he decides is right, and he will always follow My advice.”
Kṛṣṇa glanced at Yudhiṣṭhira, whose eyes were fixed affectionately on Kṛṣṇa’s face. Yudhiṣṭhira desired only to please Kṛṣṇa, and his brothers all shared that sentiment. Whatever Kṛṣṇa advised would surely be best for them. Even Bhīma, although longing to wreak vengeance on the Kauravas, would renounce his anger if Kṛṣṇa deemed it wrong. He rested a hand on his great mace as Kṛṣṇa went on.
“My feelings are that we should first establish Duryodhana’s intentions by sending a reliable messenger to Hastināpura. Let us try by all means to settle this affair peaceably and fully in accordance with the eternal codes of religion. Let us avoid unnecessary violence. But if Duryodhana will not return Yudhiṣṭhira’s lands, then I think there will have to be war. The Pāṇḍavas will slay Duryodhana and all his followers. If you feel the Pāṇḍavas’ cause is just, then unite yourselves and your forces with them and march out for battle. Tell me, O kings, if My words meet with your approval.”
Balarāma raised His hand, signifying His intention to speak. The assembly turned toward Him. His dark blue silks highlighted His pure white complexion. A brilliant helmet adorned His head and a garland of white lotuses hung around His neck. By His side lay His golden plow weapon. As He spoke, His voice resounded around the hall like a drum.
“Devakī’s son has spoken well. His words are meant for the welfare of both the Kauravas and the Pāṇḍavas. Let the Kuru kingdom be shared. The heroic sons of Kuntī will dwell in peace with their cousins, each ruling half of the Kuru empire. I agree that a man should be dispatched to Hastināpura. He should address the noble-minded Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Vidura, Kṛpa, Karṇa, Śakuni, and all of Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons. All of them are heroes and all of them are well-versed in the Vedas. After informing these men of Yudhiṣṭhira’s desire, the messenger should carry back their reply. But the Kauravas must be given due deference. After all, it was by Yudhiṣṭhira’s fault that the kingdom was lost. Although unskilled at dice, he accepted the skillful Śakuni’s challenge. There were many other kings with whom he could have played, but he chose the son of Suvala.”
Balarāma looked at Yudhiṣṭhira and smiled. The Pāṇḍava showed no sign of discomfort at His words. Yudhiṣṭhira had always felt guilty of a misdemeanor for having gambled away his kingdom. He bowed his head as Balarāma went on. “The brave son of Pāṇḍu unfortunately lost at every step of the game. In the grip of lust and anger, he gambled everything and was defeated. Who can blame Śakuni for this? Therefore, we must adopt a conciliatory tone when we address the Kauravas. We should avoid war by any means. That which is gained by peaceful methods is beneficial to all, while that gained by war has the opposite effect.”
Although Yudhiṣṭhira accepted Balarāma’s speech, it surprised the other Pāṇḍavas. They knew that the Yādava hero had a soft spot for Duryodhana, His disciple at mace fighting, but when He last saw them, just after their leaving Hastināpura, He had been in favor of them marching into the Kuru capital and punishing the Kauravas. It was hard to understand why His attitude had changed. Perhaps Duryodhana had influenced Him with his version of what had happened in Hastināpura. Whatever the causes, the Pāṇḍavas knew that Balarāma was always their well-wisher. They remained silent as He paused in His speech.
Suddenly Sātyaki, a powerful Yādava hero and one of Arjuna’s martial students, leapt to his feet. He was incensed by Balarāma’s words and could not hear more. Even as Balarāma continued to speak Sātyaki interrupted, and all eyes turned toward him. “A man will always reveal his inner nature when he speaks. Even as a forest contains trees which bear fruits and those which do not, so in one family are born powerful heroes and others who are powerless and cowardly. O You who bears the sign of the plow on Your banner, I am loath to call You cowardly, but why do you display such timidity toward the wicked Kauravas?”
Balarāma sat calmly, but Sātyaki’s face glowed red with fury. He gazed around the assembly as he went on. “How can anyone sit here and listen as Balarāma speaks in this way? We all know what happened in Hastināpura. Yudhiṣṭhira was cheated of his kingdom by a mean trick. Had the Kauravas gone to Indraprastha and defeated him there, then that would have been fair, but they summoned him to play in their own city and then compelled him to accept Śakuni’s challenge. How can prosperity attend such men? Why should Yudhiṣṭhira now approach them in a servile mood? The Kuru kingdom is his by right. It once belonged to his grandfather and then to his father. There is no doubt about this. Even if this pious man had no rightful claim to the kingdom, he still deserves to rule the earth by virtue of his qualities. If the Kauravas will not willingly give him back his ancestral territories, then I will force them to do so. I will persuade them by cold steel on the battlefield.”
Sātyaki stepped forward and stood on the mosaic floor in the center of the hall. He clutched the hilt of his sword as he stepped into the middle of a design depicting the blazing sun. “I will oblige the evil-minded Kauravas to fall at Yudhiṣṭhira’s feet. If they refuse, then they shall have to go with their ministers to Death’s abode. Who can withstand Sātyaki when he stands ready to fight? Can the mountains bear the thunderbolt? In the same way, who can bear the brunt of the Gāṇḍīva bow when Arjuna wields it, or the force of Bhīma’s mace? When the Pāṇḍavas are united with Drupada and his two sons, as well as with their own sons, what man valuing his life would face them? When the great Yādava heroes come out for battle, what will the Kauravas do? After killing all of them, let us install Yudhiṣṭhira as emperor of the world. It is impious and shameful to beg from enemies. We should set out at once. Either the Kauravas will surrender the kingdom, or they will lie prostrate on the battlefield.”
Having vented his anger, Sātyaki returned to his seat. Balarāma still remained peaceful. He could understand Sātyaki’s feelings. The old king Drupada then spoke. “O you with long arms, it will doubtlessly be as you say. Duryodhana will never surrender the kingdom. Dhṛtarāṣṭra is too fond of his son, and he will follow him without question. So it will be with Bhīṣma and Droṇa. They have a misguided loyalty. In my opinion, we should not act on Balarāma’s suggestion. Duryodhana will not respond to a humble approach. He will misunderstand such a mild message as weakness. Force is the only language he respects.”
Everyone present esteemed Drupada’s wisdom and maturity. They listened attentively. “This is my advice: let us prepare for battle. Send out messengers to all our allies and have them come here. Duryodhana will certainly do the same. Even now his men will be heading out and approaching even those whom we now count as friends. Our messengers should travel swiftly around the globe, for a noble man will not refuse he who first asks him for help.”
Drupada then named the kings and their countries where they could find support. He knew Duryodhana would ask everyone to fight with him, whether they were his allies or not. It was important to reach the kings first with their own plea. After listing forty or fifty monarchs who might assist their cause, Drupada concluded, “While we are assembling our forces, let a good man go to Dhṛtarāṣṭra. I suggest we send my priest. We should carefully instruct him what to say to the Kauravas. But I do not expect much to come of that. Battle is inevitable.”
Kṛṣṇa clapped His hands approvingly. “These words befit the great king of the Pañchālas, who is unequalled in prowess. You are old in learning and wisdom. Thus you are just like our guru. We should act as you say and not otherwise. I agree. But My relationship with both the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas is the same, regardless of the present situation among them. I have come here and been pleased by King Virata’s reception. The wedding is over and I will now return to Dwārakā. I leave it in your hands, O monarch, to guide these kings in how to sue for peace between the two parties. If a mutually agreeable solution cannot be found, and if the foolish Duryodhana will not accept peace due to his pride and ignorance, then summon Me again. I will do all in my power to help.”
The assembly of kings agreed to Kṛṣṇa’s proposal and they withdrew to their own quarters. Virata worshipped Kṛṣṇa with respect and sent Him on His way back to Dwārakā. Then he began to make preparations for war. Messengers on swift horses were dispatched around the world, and soon large armies began to arrive at Virata. Troops poured in from all quarters and set up camp around the city. Filled with men and animals, the earth seemed covered with dark clouds. The gathering troops created a clamor resembling the roaring ocean. In the Kuru capital also, vast armies were amassing to support Duryodhana. The goddess Earth, with her mountains and forests, seemed to tremble under the burden of so many warriors.
When the large force was ready at Virata, Drupada, after consulting with the other kings and the Brahmins, spoke with his priest. “O Brahmin, among all men those who are twice-born are the best. Among the twice-born the Brahmin is the best, and among Brahmins he who knows the Vedas is superior. Those who have realized Vedic knowledge are even better, and among those the best are they who practice their knowledge in life. I am of the opinion that you are the best of all men, having realized the Supreme Brahman. Your knowledge and wisdom are equal to Bṛhaspati’s. You know what kind of man Yudhiṣṭhira is and how the Kurus stole his kingdom. You also know the situation in Hastināpura, as well as the nature and disposition of Dhṛtarāṣṭra and his son. Duryodhana will not voluntarily return Yudhiṣṭhira’s kingdom. His old father, blinded by attachment, will follow his lead.”
Drupada then explained that although he should go to Hastināpura to ask Dhṛtarāṣṭra to return the Pāṇḍavas’ kingdom, there was another purpose. He knew that Duryodhana--and his father--could not be swayed by reason. The priest’s job, therefore, was to convince other Kuru leaders of the righteousness of Yudhiṣṭhira’s claim and of Duryodhana’s foolishness in bringing on war. After thirteen years of listening to Duryodhana, few among the Kurus may still recognize the truth. The cruel and dishonest treatment meted out to the Pāṇḍavas at the dice game might have been all but forgotten. Even the wise and ever-virtuous Balarāma seemed to have been influenced toward the Kauravas.
“By speaking words of virtue and truth, you will win the hearts of honest men. Vidura will support you, as will Bhīṣma, Droṇa and Kṛpa. In this way, you will create dissension among the Kurus. They will lose time trying to re-establish unity among themselves, and that will allow us to make further preparations for war. It may even be that Dhṛtarāṣṭra, moved by your words, will act upon them and do what is right. In any event, we will benefit from your going there. Do not fear for yourself, as they will certainly respect you. You are a learned Brahmin and an ambassador, as well as an aged and virtuous man.”
After receiving Drupada’s request, the priest left immediately for Hastināpura.