The Bombay Mahabharata, Part 3


The Ill-fated Gambling Match
[ Click for larger version ]

Feb 03, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) — The last in a three-part summary of the epic Mahabharata, with woodcut illustrations.

The Pandavas, according to the Mahabharata, now undertook various military campaigns extending to Bengal and even to Ceylon, but the accounts of these distant expeditions are thought to be later interpolations in the poem.

The Pandavas, according to the Mahabharata, now undertook various military campaigns extending to Bengal and even to Ceylon, but the accounts of these distant expeditions are thought to be later interpolations in the poem.

Now Yudhisthira, as Yuvaraja, was to celebrate the Rajasuya, or coronation ceremony, and all the princes of the land, including his kinsmen of Hastinapura, were invited. The place of honour was given to Krishna, chief of the Yadavas of Gujarat. Sisupala of Chedi violently protested, and Krishna killed him on the spot. The tumult finally subsided, however, and the consecrated water was sprinkled on the newly created monarch, while Brahmans went away laden with presents.

Old Fort at Indrapat, near Delhi - the Ancient Indraprastha

But the newly created king was not long to enjoy his realm. With all his righteousness, Yudhisthira had a weakness for gambling like the other chiefs of the time, and the unforgiving and jealous Duryodhana challenged him to a game. Kingdom, wealth, himself and his brothers, and even his wife were staked and lost, and the five brothers and Draupadi became the slaves of Duryodhana. The proud Draupadi refused to submit to her position, but Duhsasana dragged her to the assembly-room by her hair, and Duryodhana compelled her to sit on his knee in the sight of the stupefied assembly.

The blood of the Pandavas was rising, when the old Dhritarashtra was led to the assembly-room and stopped a tumult. It was decided that the Pandavas had lost their kingdom, but should not be slaves. They agreed to go into exile for twelve years, after which they should remain concealed for a year. If the sons of Dhritarashtra failed to discover them during the year, they would get back their kingdom.

Draupadi Dragged into the Assembly
From 'Oman's Indian Epics'

Thus the Pandavas again went into exile; and after twelve years of wanderings in various places, disguised themselves in the thirteenth year and took service under the King of Virata. Yudhisthira was to teach the king gambling; Bhima was the head cook; Arjuna was to teach dancing and music to the king's daughter; Nakula and Sahadeva were to be master of horse and master of cattle respectively, and Draupadi was to be the queen's handmaid.

A difficulty arose. The queen's brother was enamoured of the new handmaid of superb beauty and insulted her and was resolved to possess her. Bhima interfered and killed the ruffian in secret. Cattle-lifting was not uncommon among the princes of those days, and the princes of Hastinapura carried away some cattle from Virata. Arjuna, the dancing-master, could stand this no longer; he put on his armour, drove out in chariot, and recovered the cattle, but was discovered. The question whether the year of secret exile had quite expired was never settled.

Pandus and Kurus in Battle

And now the Pandavas sent an envoy to Hastinapura to claim back their kingdom. The claim was refused, and both parties prepared for a war, the like of which had never been seen in India. All the princes of note joined one side or the other, and the battle which was fought in the plains of Kurukshetra, north of Delhi, lasted for eighteen days, ending in fearful slaughter and carnage.

The long story of the battle with its endless episodes need not detain us. Arjuna killed the aged Bhishma unfairly, after that chief was forced to cease from fighting. Drona, with his impenetrable "squares" or phalanxes, slew his old rival Drupada, but Drupada's son revenged his father's death and killed Drona unfairly. Bhima met Duhsasana, who had insulted Draupadi in the gambling-room, cut off his head, and in fierce vindictiveness drank his blood. Lastly, there was the crowning contest between Karna and Arjuna, who had hated each other through life; and Arjuna killed Karna unfairly when his chariot wheels had sunk in the earth and he could not move or fight. On the last or eighteenth day, Duryodhana fled from Bhima, but was compelled by taunts and rebukes to turn and fight, and Bhima by a foul blow (because struck below the waist) broke the knee to which Duryodhana had once dragged Draupadi.

After the Battle of Eighteen Days

The wounded warrior was left to die, but the bloodshed was not yet over, for Drona's son made a midnight raid on the enemy's camp, killed Drupada's son, and finally quenched the ancient feud in blood. The Pandavas then went to Hastinapura, and Yudhisthira became king. He is said to have subdued every monarch in Aryan India, and at last celebrated the Asvamedha ceremony, or great horse-sacrifice, by letting loose a horse which wandered for a year at will and which no king dared to stop; thus betokening the submission of all the surrounding monarchs, since all the land traversed by the consecrated steed became the domain of the king who had sent it forth.

Such is the story of India's great epic divested of its numerous legends and episodes, its supernatural incidents and digressions; but it is clear, even from this brief account, that the first Hindu colonists of the Ganges valley had not yet lost the sturdy valour and the stubborn warlike determination of the Vedic Age.


The Sun News Editorials Features Sun Blogs Classifieds Events Recipes PodCasts

About Submit an Article Contact Us Advertise

Copyright 2005, 2013, All rights reserved.