The Bombay Mahabharata, Part 2


Winning the Hand of the Princess
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Feb 02, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) — A three-part summary of the epic Mahabharata, with woodcut illustrations.

The account of the martial training of the young Pandavas and the sons of Dhritarashtra throws much light on the manners of royal houses. Drona was a Brahman and a renowned warrior... [ ] He had been insulted by his former friend, the King of the Panchalas, and had retired in disgust to the court of the Kurus, where he educated the princes in the art of war.

Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, never became much of a warrior, but was versed in the religious learning of the age, and is the most righteous character in the epic. Bhima, the second, learned to use the club, was renowned for his gigantic size and giant strength, and is indeed the Ajax of the poem. The third, Arjuna, excelled all other princes in the skill of arms and aroused the jealousy and hatred of the sons of Dhritarashtra, even in their boyhood, Nakula, the fourth, learned to tame horses, and Sahadeva, the fifth, became proficient in astronomy. Duryodhana, the eldest son of Dhritarashtra, was proficient in the use of the club and was a rival to Bhima.

At last the day came for a public exhibition of the proficiency which the princes had acquired in the use of arms. A spacious area was enclosed. Seats were arranged all round for warriors and aged chieftains, for ladies and courtiers, while the whole population of Kuru-land flocked to see the skill of their young princes.

There was shooting of arrows at a target and there was fighting with swords and bucklers and clubs. Duryodhana and Bhima soon began to fight in earnest, and rushed toward each other like mad elephants. Shouts ascended to the sky, and soon the fight threatened to have a tragic end, but at last the infuriated young men were parted, and peace was restored.

Then the young Arjuna entered the lists in golden mail, with his wondrous bow. His splendid archery surprised his most passionate admirers and thrilled the heart of his mother with joy, while shouts of admiration rose from the multitude like the roar of the ocean. He played with his sword, which flashed like lightning, and also with his sharp-edged quoit, or chakra, and never missed his mark. Lastly, he brought down horses and deer to the ground by the noose and concluded by doing obeisance to his worthy preceptor Drona, amidst the ringing cheers of the assembled multitude.

The dark cloud of jealousy lowered on the brow of Dhritarashtra's sons, and soon they brought to the field an unknown warrior, Karna, who was a match for Arjuna in archery. Kings' sons could fight only with their peers, like the knights of old, and Dhritarashtra therefore knighted the unknown warrior, or rather made him a king on the spot, so that Arjuna might have no excuse for declining the fight. To awkward questions which were put to him, the haughty Karna replied that rivers and warriors knew not of their origin and birth – their prowess was their genealogy; but the Pandavas declined the fight, and Karna retired in silence and in rage.

Drona now demanded the reward of his tuition. Like doughty warriors of old, he held revenge to be the dearest joy of a warrior, and for his reward he asked the help of the Kurus to be revenged on Drupada, king of the Panchalas, who had insulted him. The demand could not be refused. Drona marched against Drupada, conquered him, and wrested from him half his kingdom. Drupada swore to be avenged.

Dark clouds now arose on the horizon of Kuru-land. The time had come for Dhritarashtra to name a Yuvaraja, or prince who would reign during his old age. The claim of Yudhisthira to the throne of his father could not be gainsaid, and he was appointed Yuvaraja. But the proud Duryodhana rebelled against the arrangement, and the old monarch had to yield, and sent the five Pandavas in exile to Varanavata, perhaps the modern Barnawa, not far from Delhi, and then the very frontier of Hindu settlements. The vengeance of Duryodhana pursued them there, and the house where the Pandavas lived was burnt to ashes. The Pandavas and their mother escaped by an underground passage and for a long time roamed about disguised as Brahmans.

Heralds now went from country to country and proclaimed in all lands that the daughter of Drupada, king of the Panchalas, was to choose for herself a husband among the most skilful warriors of the time. The trial was a severe one, for a heavy bow of great size must be bent, and an arrow shot through a whirling chakra, or quoit, into the eye of a golden fish set high on the top of a pole!

Not only princes and warriors, but multitudes of spectators flocked from all parts of the country to Kampilya, the capital of the Panchalas. The princes thronged the seats, and Brahmans filled the place with Vedic hymns. Then appeared Draupadi with the garland in her hand which she was to offer to the victor of the day. By her side stood her brother Dhrishtadyumna, who proclaimed the feat which was to be performed. Kings rose and tried to bend the bow, one after another, but in vain. The proud and skilful Karna stepped forth to do the feat, but was prevented.

A Brahman suddenly rose and drew the bow, shooting the arrow through the whirling chakra into the eye of the golden fish. A shout of acclamation arose. And Draupadi, the Kshatriya princess, threw the garland round the neck of the brave Brahman, who led her away as his bride. But murmurs of discontent arose like the sound of troubled waters from the Kshatriya ranks at this victory of a Brahman, who, technically, had no right to the use of arms; and they gathered round the bride's father and threatened violence. The Pandavas now threw off their disguise, and the victor of the day proclaimed himself to be Arjuna, a true-born Kshatriya!

…The Pandavas went back to their mother and said that a great prize had been won. Their mother, not knowing what the prize was, told her sons to share it among them, and as a mother's mandate cannot be disregarded, the five brothers wedded Draupadi as their wife. The Pandavas now formed an alliance with the powerful king of the Panchalas, and forced the blind King Dhritarashtra to divide the Kuru country between his sons and the Pandavas. The division, however, was unequal; the fertile tract between the Ganges and the Jumna was retained by the sons of Dhritarashtra, while the uncleared jungle in the west was given to the Pandavas. The jungle Khandava Prastha was soon cleared by fire, and a new capital called Indraprastha was built, the supposed ruins of which are shown to every modern visitor to Delhi.

Leaf from Bombay Mahabharata


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