by Carole Losee © 2005-2020

Elizabeth Seeger’s The Five Sons of King Pandu: The Story of the Mahabharata




Kichaka's Insolence

King Virata was seated on his throne when Yudhistra came before him, look-ing like the moon hid in clouds or like a fire covered with ashes. The king said to his counselors and Brahmans, "Find out who it is that has just entered my court. He looks like a king of kings, a lord of earth, for he shines like Indra himself."

As he was speaking, Yudhistra came to him and spoke to him, "O great monarch, I am a Brahman who has lost all his possessions and comes to you for support. I am skilled in casting dice and can entertain your friends by gaming with them."

"I will grant you any boon that you desire," Virata replied, "for you look as if you deserved a kingdom. You shall have plenty of food and drink and clothing; you shall be my friend and ride in my chariot and all my doors shall be open to you. You need have no fear as long as you live with me." So Yudhistra began to live in Virata's palace, highly honored by all men.

In the same manner the other sons of Pandu presented themselves, one by one, to the king, who marveled at their strength and beauty and gave to each one the place that he desired, not suspecting who they were. Bhima was put in charge of all the kitchens, while Arjuna, wearing bracelets and large earrings, with his thick hair braided, was sent into the maidens' apartments, where he taught the king's daughter, her friends and waiting maids the melodies and dances that he had learned in the halls of Indra. Nákula took charge of the king's stables and chariots and herds of horses, while Sadeva was made chief cowherd and was responsible for thousands of kine and all their keepers. They were treated kindly by the king, and made themselves dear to all who were in the palace.

Dráupadi bound her soft, black curling hair into a long braid, hiding it under the single robe that she wore. Then she wandered through the streets of the city, looking very sad. The queen chanced to look down from her terrace as Dráupadi passed by and called to her, saying, "O beautiful one, who are you and what are you seeking?"

"I am a royal hairdresser, seeking employment, O Queen," answered Dráupadi. "I know how to dress the hair, how to pound sweet herbs for perfume, and how to make beautiful garlands of jasmine, and lotus and blue lilacs. Yudhistra's queen Dráupadi, called me the maker of garlands."

"I fear that the king will forsake me when he sees your beauty," the queen said, "for see, all my maids are looking at you! How could any man resist you?"

"O fair lady," Dráupadi replied, "no man may make love to me, for I have five young husbands who are Gandharvas. They protect me so well that any man who troubles me will meet his death that very day. Therefore let no man rashly make love to me!"

"If that is true," said the queen, "I will take you into my household, O delighter of hearts." So Dráupadi lived in the queen's palace and no one suspected who she really was.

Those lords of the earth, the Pándavas, true to their promise, spent their days with perfect self-control, although they often suffered because of the false positions in which they lived. Yudhistra was now very skillful at dice, and entertained the king and his sons and courtiers so well that they sat in the gaming hall like a row of birds bound on a string, playing according to his pleasure. Unknown to the king, he shared with his brothers the wealth that he won at gambling. Bhima, on his part, brought them the food and sweetmeats that were given to him in the kitchen, and Arjuna divided with his brothers the money that he got by selling the castoff garments that the ladies gave him. Sadeva brought milk, curds, and butter to the others, and Nákula shared the wealth that the king freely gave him because of his skill in managing the horses. And Dráupadi, though she herself was waiting on the queen, secretly looked after the welfare of the brothers. Thus, taking care of one another, they lived for ten months in the city of the Matsyas, as safely hidden as if they were once more in their mothers' wombs.

When the year was nearly spent, the mighty Kíchaka. the commander of the king's army, chanced to see Dráupadi, for he was the queen's brother and often came to her apartments. He beheld his sister's hairdresser treading the earth like a goddess, and was smitten by the arrows of the God of Love. He went to her as a jackal might approach a lioness, and spoke to her in a winning voice, "Who are you, O beautiful one? Never before in the world have I beheld beauty like yours. But alas, blessed lady, your loveliness is now unused, like a fragrant garland that lies unworn. I pray you, sweet damsel, to marry me and to live with every luxury and joy. I will forsake all my wives and make them your slaves and I, too, will be your slave, ever obedient to you. "

"It would be unworthy of you to marry a lowborn servant," answered Dráupadi. "Besides your behavior is unseemly, for I am the wife of others. You must not bend your heart to sin, or misfortune will overtake you."

But Kíchaka, maddened by his desire, said to her, "You are unwise to scorn me, O graceful one, and you will repent of it. I am the real lord of this kingdom, for all its people depend on me to protect them. I will make you the mistress of it, and you can enjoy all the power and wealth that you desire. How can you choose to remain a servant?"

Dráupadi answered him reproachfully, "O Kíchaka, do not throw away your life. I have five Gandharvas for my husbands who will slay you in their anger. You could not escape them even if you were able to enter the earth or to soar into the sky. Why then do you desire me, like a baby lying on its mother's lap, crying for the moon? Be warned and save your own life!"

Kíchaka went to the queen, lamenting because Dráupadi had refused him, and begged for his sister's help. That gentle lady was touched with pity and said to him, "I will send the damsel to you, pretending that I need some wine. Then you can see her alone and perhaps she will incline her heart to you."

She called Dráupadi and told her to go to Kichaka's house to fetch some wine, but Dráupadi fell down before her, weeping, and said, "O Queen, do not send me to Kichaka's palace. You yourself know how shameless he is. You have many maids, O gentle lady; I pray you to send one of them and not me, for I know that Kíchaka will insult me."

"He will not harm you when you come from me," said the Queen. "Now take this golden bowl and fetch the wine."

Weeping and filled with dread, Dráupadi went toward Kichaka's palace, praying to the gods and thinking to herself, "I have never cared for any man except my husbands. Let that truth protect me from any harm at Kichaka's hands!"

When that wicked man saw her coming toward him like a frightened doe, he rose up joyfully to welcome her, but Dráupadi said, "The queen sent me to get some wine. Pray fill the bowl quickly, for she is thirsty."

"Others will take the wine, O lovely one," Kíchaka replied, and he caught hold of her arm. When she turned to run away, he seized her garment, and Dráupadi, trembling with anger and unable to bear anything more, threw him to the ground. Then she ran to the king's court, followed by Kíchaka who seized her long hair and struck her in the presence of the king. Both Bhima and Yudhistra were seated there, but Dráupadi, even in her distress, was careful not to betray them and appealed to the king, reproaching him for letting her be so insulted.

Yudhistra and Bhima found it hard to control their fury, and the sweat stood on their foreheads. Bhima's eyes began to smoke, his eyelashes stood on end, and he gnashed his teeth with rage. He was about to rise, looking at Kíchaka as an elephant looks at a tree that it is about to uproot, when Yudhistra said to him, "Are you looking for fuel for your fires, cook? If you want fagots, go fell some trees."

Then he said to his beloved wife, "Do not stay here, O maker of garlands! Go to the queen's apartments. Wives of heroes bear great suffering for their husbands' sakes. Your Gandharva husbands will take the life of him who has wronged you, in their own good time. Meanwhile you are interrupting the play in the king's court."

"My husbands are indeed very kind," Dráupadi replied. "Since the oldest of them has a weakness for gambling, they are not in a position to help me." With these words, her eyes red with anger, she ran to the queen's rooms.

That night she lay weeping on her bed and thought to herself, "No one but Bhima can help me now." She rose and went swiftly to his room in the kitchen, put her arms around hem and waked him, crying, "Arise, arise, Bhima! How can you sleep while the wretched Kíchaka lives?"

Bhima sat up, surprised. "Why have you come here so suddenly?" he asked. "Tell me quickly what you want, for you know that I will always save you from any danger. Then return to your bed before anyone wakes and sees you." Dráupadi hid her face on Bhima's breast and wept.

"How can you ask me what I want," she said, "you who know all my sorrows? Who but Dráupadi could go on living after suffering such grief? I have to behold Yudhistra, who used to be followed by a thousand elephants adorned wit golden garlands, earning his bread by casting dice! I have to behold you, O bull of the Bháratas, doing the ignoble work of a cook, and when the kIng makes you fight with lions and bears I must look on, nearly swooning with fear, while the ladies and maidservants look sideways at me and believe that I have a secret love for you. Alas, I must see Arjuna, the terror of his foes, teaching dancing to King Virata's daughter, living among women and despised of men. How can I bear to live when I behold Sadeva, Kunti's favorite child, tending the cattle and sleeping at night on calfskins; and Nákula, before whom hostile armies fled, training horses to display before the king? But now I have greater griefs than these.

"You know, O Bhima, what happiness was mine. Alas, the whole earth with its belt of seas obeyed me once, but I must now obey the queen and stand in fear of her. I can bear this because the time of our exile draws to its end. But now the wicked Kíchaka asks me every day to be his wife and strikes me in the presence of the king. O slayer of foes, this I cannot bear, and my heart is bursting like a fruit ripened in its season. O Bhima, slay this wretch who has insulted me, as you would dash an earthen pot against a stone! If tomorrow's sun sheds its rays upon him, I shall surely drink poison, for I will never yield to him."

Bhima embraced her, comforted her and wiped the tears from her face. "I will do as you say, O lovely one," he promised. "I will slay him and all his friends. Arrange a meeting with him tomorrow in the dance hall when the dancers have gone home for the night. But do it secretly, so that no one else may know." Then they took leave of one another and waited impatiently for the day.

In the morning Kíchaka went once again to Dráupadi and begged her to marry him. She pretended to yield to him and asked him to meet her that evening in the dance hall. The stupid Kíchaka went home in great delight; he adorned himself with garlands, jewels and fragrant perfume, and his beauty flared up as a lamp does just before it goes out. The day seemed endless to him. When the appointed hour finally came, he entered the dance hall and saw through the darkness a figure sitting in the corner. He went toward it as an insect approaches a flame and began to speak, when suddenly the figure arose, and the mighty Bhima, laughing, seized him by the hair.

Kíchaka freed his hair, and the two warriors grappled with each other in the darkness in that lonely place. They were locked in each other's arms and fought like two powerful bulls or like two elephants in spring. At last Kíchaka grew tired and began to tremble. Then Bhima threw him down, seized his throat and, placing his knee on Kichaka's chest, strangled him as he would a beast. He called Dráupadi and showed her what he had done; then he returned to the kitchen.

Dráupadi with the greatest delight, woke the keepers of the hall and said to them, "Come and see what has befallen that wicked man who desired other men's wives! There he lies, slain by my Gandharva husbands."

They looked at him in amazement and ran to tell his kinsmen, who came and stood surrounding his body and wailing for his death. As they were carrying him out to prepare his funeral, they saw Dráupadi, leaning against a pillar.

"There is the wicked woman who caused his death!" they cried. "Let us burn her with him!" And they seized her, bound her with cords and placed her upon the bier of Kíchaka, to be burned with him. Dráupadi, terrified, screamed for help and Bhima heard her. He left the palace by another gate, ran toward the place where the funeral pyre was being raised and leaped over the wall. Near it was a tree; he uprooted it, laid it on his shoulder and rushed like an angry lion upon the family of Kíchaka, as they bore his body to the pyre.

When they beheld him they cried, "Lo, the powerful Gandharva is attacking us! Set the woman free!" And they unbound Dráupadi and ran away toward the city, Bhima pursuing them. They went to the king and told him what had happened and added, "Send this woman away from your kingdom, O Virata, or it will be entirely destroyed."

So when Dráupadi returned to the city, the people hid their eyes from her and fled in all directions; and when she came before the queen, that lady said, "O beautiful one, the king is filled with fear at what the powerful Gandharvas have done. Therefore leave us now and go whither you please, and may good betide you!"

"Suffer me to stay here just thirteen days more," said Dráupadi, for she knew that in that time the last year of exile would be over. "Then my Gandharva husbands will carry me away. They will be so pleased if you do this, that they will grant many favors to King Virata."


The Kúravas Steal the Cattle

During the course of this thirteenth year, Duryodha sent his spies far and wide, through the villages and the towns and cities of every country to search for the Pándavas. When they had done this they returned to Hástina and said to their master, "O lord of men, we have searched through the solitary wilderness abounding with deer and overgrown with trees and creepers; we have searched the mountaintops and the plains, and many kingdoms, provinces, and cities, but we have found no trace of the sons of Pandu. It seems that they have perished without leaving a mark behind them. Yet we have discovered one thing that will gladden your heart. The commander of King Virata's armies, Kíchaka of wicked soul, now lies slain. He was killed by invisible Gandharvas during the hours of darkness, O King of unfading glory!"

Now the mighty king of the Trigartas, a friend and ally of Duryodha, was sitting beside him when he received this news. He spoke at once, "My kingdom has been invaded many a time by the armies of Virata, led by the king's general, Kíchaka, a crooked and wrathful man, yet famous the world over for his might. If Kíchaka is dead, I believe that Virata will lose his courage and his pride. Let us therefore invade his realm and carry off his cattle and his wealth, O tiger among kings! Then we may divide his kingdom among ourselves."

Karna agreed to this, saying, "Let us forget about the sons of Pandu, who are either dead or have disappeared for good. Let us go at once into the kingdom of Virata."

Duryodha also agreed; he turned to his brother Dushasa and said, "Consult with the elders and then array our forces without delay! Let the Trigartas march first toward the city of Virata and seize his immense herds of cattle. Then, when the king has gone out to fight them, let us secretly invade the kingdom from another quarter and drive off all the cattle that we desire."

Therefore the Trigartas, on the seventh day of the dark fortnight of the moon, marched off with their chariots and foot soldiers to the southeast to invade the kingdom of Virata. As soon as they began to drive off the cattle, one of the herdsmen ran to the city, entered the court where the king was surrounded by his courtiers and the sons of Pandu and bowed down before him, saying, "O foremost of kings, the Trigartas are seizing your cattle by hundreds and by thousands! O, rescue them quickly, or they will all be lost."

The king immediately arrayed his army for battle with its chariots and elephants, cavalry and foot soldiers. He and his sons put on their shining armor, yoked their white horses, encased in mail, to their chariots, and raised their gold-decked banners of various shapes and designs.

Virata said, "I wish the dice-player and the cook, the keeper of the stables and the chief herdsman to fight with us. Give them chariots and armor, banners and weapons, for I believe truly that they are warriors."

The four sons of Pandu were delighted to put on coats of mail, to handle weapons again, and to mount chariots, and they were willing to put off their disguise, for the very end of the thirteenth year of their exile had come. The king never thought of Arjuna, who spent his days in the women's apartments, singing and dancing.

The army looked very splendid with its elephants, chariots, and horses, as it marched out of the city to the place where the cattle had been stolen. The leaders easily followed the footprints of the herds and caught up with the army of the Trigartas in the afternoon. Then Virata's army and the Trigartas fought fiercely for possession of the cattle; they raised great shouts and the encounter between them was terrifying. Chariots clashed against chariots, foot soldiers fought against foot soldiers, horsemen against horsemen, and elephants against mighty elephants, with great fury, neither side overcoming the other. The battle raged so madly and such clouds of dust arose that the warriors could hardly tell friend from foe.

Then the king of the Trigartas and his brother rushed toward King Virata, with their maces in their hands. They killed his charioteer and his two horses, as well as the soldiers who protected him, and took him captive, carrying him off the field in a chariot. His troops began to flee in fear in all directions when they saw their king taken captive, but Yudhistra said to Bhima, "King Virata is a prisoner. Rescue him, O mighty-armed one! We have lived happily in his city; put forth your strength and let us pay our debt to him!"

Bhima turned his chariot and rushed furiously after the king of the Trigartas, the twins driving on each side of him to protect his wheels. They overthrew all the chariots that tried to stop them; elephants, horsemen, and fierce bowmen were put to flight by Bhima as he rushed on. When Virata's warriors saw the Pándavas charging ahead, they returned to the fight and fell upon the enemy, driving them back and sending hundreds of them to the realm of Yama, God of the Dead. Bhima overtook the king's chariot, slew the horses, and threw the driver upon the ground. Then he leaped from his own chariot, seized the hair of the king of the Trigartas and dashed him senseless to the ground. The whole Trigartas army was panic stricken and fled in all directions; Virata was rescued, and all the cattle were gathered in and restored. Bhima lifted up the king of the Trigartas, brought him before Virata, and made him say, "I am your slave." But Virata freed the vanquished king, who, hanging his head with shame, saluted his victorious enemy and returned to his own kingdom.

The Virata turned to the sons of Pandu and said, "O smiters of foes, I owe to you my kingdom and my wealth. It belongs now as much to you as it does to me. I pray you to stay here with me for as long as you live; I will bestow upon you all that you can desire." He sent messengers to the city to proclaim the victory at sunrise the next morning, and then all those mighty warriors lay down and slept on the field of battle.


Arjuna Fights the Kúravas

Now while King Virata was leading his whole army against the Trigartas, Duryodha was invading the kingdom from another quarter, as he had planned to do. Bhishma, Drona, and his son Ashvattáma, Karna and all the brothers of Duryodha were with him, at the head of a great army. He drove away the cowherds and seized six thousand of Virata's cattle.

The chef cowherd, terrified, mounted a chariot and drove swiftly to the city for help, but only the youngest of the king's sons was there, for all the other princes had gone forth with the army of the king. This prince was not old enough to go to war; his name was Uttar, and he boasted loudly in the presence of the cowherd, saying, "I would set out this very day in pursuit of the cattle if only I had a charioteer. If anyone can be found who is fit to drive my chariot I will fight against all the Kúravas and make them say, "Is it Arjuna who is fighting against us?""

Now all that was said in the court was repeated in the inner apartments of the women. There Arjuna heard it, and he sought out Dráupadi and said to her secretly, "O beautiful one, go quickly to Uttar and tell him that I was formerly the charioteer of Arjuna and that I will hold his horses' reins today." Dráupadi stepped out bashfully from among the women and gave this message to the prince, who sent at once for Arjuna, ordered him to put on a coat of mail and to mount his chariot. Arjuna's pupil, the king's daughter, and her waiting maids crowded around him, and he pretended not to know how to put on the armor and made them laugh by trying to step into it.

The little princess said, "Bring us some rich, bright-colored robes from the field of battle, so that we can make some dresses for our dolls." Arjuna promised, smiling, that he would; then he mounted the prince's chariot and drove him swiftly out of the city, along the very road that the Pándavas had taken when they first came into the kingdom.

Before they had gone very far, they saw in the distance the army of Duryodha which looked with all its banners like a vast forest, and sent great clouds of dust into the sky. At the sight of it, Uttar cried, "Stop, O charioteer! I dare not fight with the Kúravas. See, my hair is standing on end, and I am faint with fear! My father has left me alone, and I am only a boy and know very little about war. I cannot fight against these great warriors. Turn back!"

"You ordered me to take you to battle with the Kúravas," Arjuna answered, "therefore I shall surely take you there, where those countless flags are flying. If you return now, after all your boasting, everyone will laugh at you. As for me, I have been Arjuna's charioteer; I cannot return until the cattle have been regained."

"Let the cattle perish! cried Uttar. "Let the Kúravas have all our wealth and our kingdom and the city become a desert! Let everyone laugh at me! I will not fight!"

As he spoke, he leaped from the chariot and began to run away, throwing aside his bow and arrows. Arjuna ran after him, laughing, caught him by the hair and pulled him back, while the prince, wailing, offered him gold and jewels if he would set him free.

"If you do not dare to fight the foe, O tiger among men," said Arjuna, "come and hold the horses' reins while I fight them and recover the cattle." And he lifted the fainting prince into the chariot and gave him the reins.

They were close to that burial ground and to the great tree where the Pándavas had hidden their weapons. Arjuna said to Uttar, "Climb that tree, O prince of the Matsyas, and bring me some weapons that you will find there. These bows of yours cannot bear the strength and the stretch of my arms." Uttar dismounted unwillingly from the chariot and climbed the tree, while Arjuna, holding the reins, directed him. He found the weapons and cut the wrappings and the ropes that bound them to the branches.

First he beheld Arjuna's bow, Gandíva, with four others, shining with splendor as the planets do when they rise. He held them in his hands and looked at them wit awe. "To what famous warrior does this excellent bow belong that has a hundred golden bosses and such shining ends?" he asked. "Whose bow is this, with golden elephants, gleaming on its back? Whose is this splendid one adorned with threescore golden insects and whose is this with the three suns that blaze so brilliantly? Whose is this beautiful bow inlaid with gold and jewels?"

He unbound the arrows and asked with wonder, "What great warrior owns these thousand arrows with golden heads, encased in golden quivers? Whose are these thick, long shafts of iron, sharp-pointed, well-tempered, winged with vultures's feathers? Whose is this black quiver bearing five images of tigers and holding boar-eared arrows? Who owns these hundred arrows shaped with heads like a crescent moon, and whose are these gold-crested ones, winged with parrot feathers?"

Then he unbound the swords and held them in his two hands. "What king of men," he asked Arjuna, "wields this excellent and terrible sword that bears the image of a toad; and whose is this, its blade inlaid with gold, in a sheath of tiger-skin, all set with tinkling bells? Who own this handsome scimitar with polished blade and golden hilt, sheathed in a cowskin scabbard? Whose is this long and beautiful sword, with the sky-blue blade, mounted in gold, well-tempered, sheathed in goatskin? Who owns this broad and heavy blade--just longer than the breadth of thirty fingers--polished by the clash of other weapons, in a sheath as bright as fire? Whose is this scimitar covered with golden bosses, the touch of whose blade is like that of a venomous snake? Answer me truly, for I am filled with wonder!"

Arjuna answered, "These are the bows, the arrows, and the swords of the heroic sons of Pandu--of Yudhistra, Bhima, Arjuna, and the twins. The largest of them all is that powerful bow of Arjuna's called Gandíva, equal to a thousand other bows, handsome and smooth, without a knoy or stain."

"Indeed, these weapons are exceedingly beautiful," Uttar said. "But where then are the high-souled sons of Pandu, who have not been heard of since they lost their kingdom at dice? And where is Dráupadi, that jewel among women, who followed her husbands into the forest?"

"I am Arjuna," answered his charioteer. "Your father's dice player is Yudhistra, and his cook is Bhima; the groom of the horses is Nákula, and Sadeva keeps the cows. That waiting woman for whom Kíchaka was slain is no other than Dráupadi, the beloved wife of the Pándavas."

When he heard these words, Uttar climbed swiftly down from the tree, carrying the weapons with him. He saluted Arjuna, saying, "Welcome, O foremost of warriors in the world! What good fortune is mine today! Command me now, for all my fears have vanished. I am a skillful driver and will hold the reins of these four horses that are equal to those of Krishna himself. Which part of the enemy's army do you wish to attack?"

"I am pleased with you, O mighty warrior," answered Arjuna. "Have no fear, for I will rout your enemies in battle and recover all the cattle. Bind these quivers to the chariot and take for yourself a polished sword."

Then Arjuna took the bracelets from his arms, drew on a pair of gloves adorned with gold, and wound a cloth about his curling hair. He turned toward the east and concentrated his mind on those celestial weapons that the gods had given him, and all the weapons came to him and said, "We are your servants, O son of Indra." Arjuna bowed to them and took them in his hands, saying, "Stay with me now." He took down Uttar's banner and thought of his own heavenly one that bore the figure of the gigantic ape with the lion's tail. No sooner had he thought of it than it seized upon his flagstaff, and the ape glared fiercely out, seeking his enemies. Arjuna strung his bow, Gandíva, and twanged the string, and the sound of it was like the collision of two mountains. The trees trembled and the birds flew madly about in the sky.

"Stand firmly on the chariot, " he said to Uttar. "Press your feet down hard and hold the reins tight, for I am going to blow my conch." He took up the thundering shell that Indra had given him and blew it so loudly that the sound seemed to split the mountains and to shake the meteors from the sky. The horses fell on their knees, and Uttar sat down on the floor of the chariot, clinging to its side. Arjuna took the reins and raised the horses; he embraced Uttar and comforted him and said, "Now drive these white steeds with their golden bridles at their best speed, for I wish to meet this crowd of Kuru lions."

When the Kurava warriors heard the twang of Gandíva, the blare of the conch, and the thunder of the chariot wheels, their hearts sank. Drona said, "This mighty bowman who is approaching us can be no other than Arjuna. Array the troops in order of combat and guard the cattle well! Expect a terrible slaughter, for there is no one among us who can withstand him!"

Karna said, "How you always praise Arjuna! He is not equal to a sixteenth part of Duryodha or of me."

"If this is Arjuna," said Duryodha, "I shall indeed be happy, for then the Pándavas will have to wander in the woods for another twelve years. This was their pledge, and the thirteenth year of exile is not yet over."

"I have calculated the days and fortnights, the seasons and the years," said Bhishma. "The Thirteenth year has run its course, and the sons of Pandu have fulfilled all that they pledged themselves to, for they are all high-souled and follow the path of virtue. That is Arjuna's banner with its roaring ape; that is the sound of his conch. See, two arrows have fallen at my feet and another passed my ear. The wise and beloved Arjuna has finished the term of exile, and now he salutes me and whispers in my ear. Let us endeavor to withstand him, as the shore withstands the surging sea!"

While Bhishma arrayed the army, Arjuna drove forward, announced himself by name and covered the troops with countless arrows, thick as locusts. The solders could not see the earth or the sky and were so bewildered that they could not even run away. Arjuna blew his conch and twanged his great bow; the ape, high on his flagstaff, roared frightfully and King Virata's cattle, terrified, turned and ran bellowing toward the city, their tails in the air. The Kurava warriors were furious when they saw their army bewildered and the cattle lost, and they rushed upon Arjuna in their chariots, with their banners flaunting above them.

Then that great warrior, burning with anger, began to destroy the host of chariots as a mighty fire destroys a forest. The son of Virata drove the four swift steeds with great skill, and Arjuna ranged the field in all directions, routing his foes as the wind ranges at will in the autumn, scattering the clouds and the heaps of fallen leaves. He seemed to be dancing on the field of battle. Those brave bulls among men, the Kúravas, wounded by that braver one, wavered and trembled, and many fell on the ground like uprooted trees. The heroic Karna, however, met Arjuna's arrows with countless shafts of his own, pierced the four horses and the flagstaff, and wounded Uttar. Then Arjuna, like a lion awakened from sleep, took the keen, crescent-headed arrows from his quiver, drew his bowstring to his ear and pierced every part of his enemy body until Karna, wounded and bleeding, left the fight and was carried in his chariot to the rear.

At once Duryodha and Ashvattáma, Drona and Bhishma surrounded the son of Kunti and poured arrows upon him. He did not wish to kill them; therefore he took up a weapon that Indra had given him and sent forth a shower of its bright-winged shafts which stupefied the senses of those great warriors and made them stand motionless in their chariots as if they were asleep; their horses, too, stopped and drooped their heads.

When he saw his enemies powerless, their bows dropping from their hands, Arjuna remembered the little princess and said to Uttar, "O best of princes, go down among those warriors and bring me the white garment of Drona, the handsome yellow one that Bhishma wears, and the blue cloak of Duryodha." Uttar gave him the reins, leaped from the chariot and took the garments from the unconscious leaders; then he ran back and drove Arjuna from the field.

Duryodha soon recovered his senses and saw Arjuna at a distance, standing on his chariot, looking like the chief of the gods or like the sun coming out of clouds, "Why have you let him escape?" he cried to Bhishma. "Strike him down now before it is too late!"

"Where was all your might when he escaped?" asked Bhishma, smiling. "You were unconscious, and your bow and arrows dropped from your hand. Arjuna might have killed us all then, but he cannot do a dishonorable deed. We owe our lives to his honor; therefore turn back, O King, to your own city, and let Arjuna depart with the cattle." Duryodha sighed deeply and was silent; the other warriors also heard the words of Bhishma and left the field, returning slowly to Hástina.

Arjuna followed them for a while, saluting each one of them with a beautiful arrow; with one last shot he broke into pieces the jeweled crown that Duryodha wore. Then he filled the three worlds with the twang of his Gandíva and blew his great conch, and the sounds pierced the hearts of the departing host. When they had disappeared like clouds scattered by a gale, he said to Uttar, "Turn back the horses, for the cattle are recovered and the enemy routed. Now let us return to the city. You are the only one, my child, who knows that the sons of Pandu are living in your father's court. Do not tell anyone and do not praise me when we enter the city, but proclaim that victory as your own."

"I cannot call this deed my own," Uttar said, "for what you have done is far beyond my power to achieve; but I will not tell my father who you are until you tell me to do so." He sent the cowherds to the city to proclaim the victory, while he and Arjuna returned to the burial ground to replace in the branches of the tree the weapons of those mighty bowmen. The terrible ape on Arjuna's banner leaped like fire into the sky; they set Uttar's banner on the pole again, and Arjuna, binding his hair into a braid, drove Uttar into his father's city.

There the prince entered King Virata's court while Arjuna went to the inner apartments and gave the princess the robes that he had brought for her dolls. She and her companions were delighted with the bright, rich garments and clapped their hands for joy.


The Thirteen Years Are Over

King Virata, when he had vanquished the Trigartas in battle and had recovered all his cattle, returned to his city with a glad heart, and the four Pándavas rode beside him. His subjects came to pay honor to him as he sat on his throne, and then he looked for his youngest son, asking, "Where has Uttar gone?" His chief minister had heard the tale of Uttar's victory from the cowherds, and he told it all to the king, who was overjoyed at the news. "Make all the highways gay with flags," he cried, "and let us worship the gods with gifts of flowers! Let the bellman ride swiftly on an elephant and proclaim the victory at every crossroad, while princes and warriors, musicians, poets, and dancers welcome my victorious son!"

When Uttar entered the court and touched his father's feet, Virata raised him joyfully and said, "O joy of your father's heart, I have no other son who is your equal! How could you, my child, encounter Bhishma, who cannot be conquered by men or demons? How could you, who are so young, vanquish in battle Drona and his son Ashvattáma, and Duryodha, who can pierce a mountain with his arrows? How did you rout those mighty warriors and snatch my cattle from them, as one who takes a tiger's prey from between its claws?"

"It was not I who vanquished the foe," answered Uttar, "nor did I recover the cattle. It was all done by the son of a god who mounted my chariot and pierced the Kúrava host with his arrows, and when he had routed them he laughed at them and robbed them of their clothes. He alone defeated all the great warriors of the Kúravas, as a tiger scatters a herd of deer."

"Where is that mighty and godlike hero who has saved both you and my cattle? asked the king.

"He disappeared as soon as the battle was finished," Uttar said, "but I believe that he will reveal himself to us tomorrow or the day after that."

On the third day after the victory, the sons of Pandu bathed, put on white garments and decked themselves with jewels; then, led by Yudhistra, they entered the council hall of King Virata and took their seats on thrones reserved for kings, where they shone radiant as fires on a sacrificial altar. When Virata entered and saw them sitting there, he was angry and said to Yudhistra, "You are employed by me as a dice-player. Why are you sitting on a royal throne, dressed in royal robes?"

Arjuna smiled and answered for his brother, "This man, O King, deserves to sit on a royal throne in the very hall of Indra, for he is no other than that bull of the Bháratas, the just King Yudhistra."

Virata answered, "If this be indeed the just King Yudhistra, the son of Kunti, which among these is his brother Arjuna and which the mighty Bhima? Which is Nákula and which Sadeva, and where is the matchless Dráupadi?"

"Even this one who is your cook," Arjuna said, "who killed tigers and bears here in your palace and slew the wicked-souled Kíchaka, is the mighty-armed Bhima. The manager of your stables is that oppressor of foes named Nákula, and Sadeva is the keeper of the cattle. And the queen's hairdresser, with the slender waist and eyes like lotus petals, is the princess of Panchala, for whom Kíchaka was slain. I am Arjuna, who am younger than Bhima and older than the twins."

"That is he," cried Uttar, "that dark-skinned youth with shoulders broad as a lion's and a tread like a mighty elephant's who vanquished the Kúravas in battle and recovered the cattle! That is Arjuna, the foremost of bowmen, who ranged through crowds of hostile chariots like a lion putting to flight a herd of kine! The deed was his, not mine."

When he heard his son's words, the king of the Matsyas said, "May you be blessed, O Yudhistra, with all your brothers! It was Bhima who rescued me from the king of the Trigartas and my cattle were recovered by Arjuna. By the might of your arms we have been victorious. O King, if we have ever, out of ignorance, done or said anything to offend you, I pray you to forgive us."

He embraced the five brothers again and again and never tired of looking at them. He made an alliance with Yudhistra and offered him his army, his kingdom, his treasury, and himself. He also offered the hand of Uttara, his daughter, to Arjuna in marriage. But Arjuna said, "O best of kings, let the princess be my daughter-in-law, but not my wife. For a whole year, I lave lived in the inner apartments, teaching her singing and dancing, and she trusts me as she would a father. It is not fitting, after this, that I should marry her. But my son, the mighty Abimanyu, skillful in war, beautiful as a god, the favorite nephew of Krishna, is worthy to be your son-in-law and the husband of your daughter. I welcome her as my daughter and rejoice in this added alliance between us."

"It shall be as you say, O wise son of Kunti," answered Virata. "He who marries his daughter to the son of Arjuna is indeed fortunate."

Yudhistra gave his consent to the marriage and invited all his friends and kinsmen to come to the wedding, as Virata also did. Krishna came, bringing with him Abimanyu and his mother, Subadra; the mighty king of Panchala with his son Jumna came and brought the heroic sons of Dráupadi. Great was the rejoicing as sons met their parents, who saw their children well grown and beautiful as gods. Many other kings came from different parts of he country, followed by thousands of elephants and chariots, horsemen and foot soldiers; and Virata received them all with a glad heart and entertained the troops and the servants as well as their masters, for he was greatly pleased to marry his daughter to Abimanyu.

When the wedding festival began, conches and drums, cymbals and stringed instruments resounded in Virata's palace. Rich foods and excellent wines were brought to the king's palace; poets and actors and singers waited upon the kings and sang their praises. The Matsya ladies, dressed in bright robes and adorned with many jewels, came to the palace where the wedding was to be held, and among them all Dráupadi was the first in beauty and splendor. They led forth the princess Uttara, decked with shining jewels and looking like a daughter of the gods, and Arjuna welcomed her on behalf of his son. Yudhistra also greeted her and caused the wedding ceremonies to be performed between her and Abimanyu. Virata gave him as dowry a thousand horses as swift as the wind, two hundred fine elephants, and much wealth besides; while Krishna gave him chariots and horses, and to each one of the sons of Pandu jewels and robes and menservants and maidservants.

As this marriage was celebrated, uniting the family of the king of the Matsyas with that of the Pándavas, the city of King Virata, crowded with happy people, was one great festival.


Seeger, The Five Sons of King Pandu, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 157-180.