by Carole Losee © 2005-2020

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




Ashvattáma's Revenge

A huntsman brought the news of Duryodha's fall to the son of Drona and his two companions as they rested under the tree. They mounted their chariots, and drove swiftly back to the bank of the lake, where they found the king lying on the bare ground, covered with dust and blood and writhing in pain. Around him prowled fierce animals, which he kept at bay with his strong arms. The three warriors alighted and sat beside him and their anger blazed up as they saw him in such a plight.

Ashvattáma wrung his hands and said in a voice hoarse with grief, "My father was slain cruelly and unfairly by these wicked men, but even that does not grieve me so deeply as it does to see you here, O lord of earth. Listen to me! I swear by all my gifts and my good deeds, by truth itself, that I will send the Pándavas and all the Panchalas this very day to Yama's realm. Give me leave to do this, my lord, and I will still bring you the victory!"

Now one of Ashvattáma's companions was a Brahman and was therefore able to perform the rites. "Bring a pot of water from the lake, O Brahman," said Duryodha. "and make the son of Drona the commander of my forces." The ceremonial water was brought and Ashvattáma was solemnly installed as commander. He rose and raised a mighty shout that rang through the air in all directions; then he embraced the king and drove away with his companions, leaving Duryodha to face the fearful night alone.

Those heroes drove toward the south and secretly entered a forest close to the Pándava camp. Going deeper into the woods they came upon a gigantic banyan tree with thousands of branches and there they loosed their horses and said their evening prayers. Seated under the tree they talked sorrowfully of all that had happened, while around them the night wandering animals began to howl and darkness fell. They were wounded and very tired, so they lay down on the ground, and Ashvattáma's two friends soon fell asleep; but he, burning with anger, and the desire for revenge, could not close his eyes and lay wide awake, sighing deeply.

As he looked up into the tree, he saw hundreds of crows roosting among he branches, perched side by side and sleeping peacefully. Suddenly an owl appeared, with a huge tawny body, green eyes, and a long beak and claws. It flew swiftly, uttering little cries, and came secretly among the branches, where it slew several of the sleeping crows. It tore their wings, cut their heads off or broke their legs with its sharp beak, and soon the ground was covered with the feathers and the bodies of the dead birds. Then the owl was filled with delight.

"This owl has taught me a lesson," thought Ashvattáma. "I cannot slay the Pándavas in battle, and yet I have sworn, in the presence of the king, to slay them. If I were to fight openly with them I should lose my life at once, yet with guile I may still defeat them, as this owl has done to the crows. Tonight the Pándavas and the Panchalas will sleep deeply, happy in their victory and worn out with fighting. I shall attack their camp and kill them all while they are sunk in sleep."

He woke his companions and told them this wicked plan, but neither of them could answer him for shame. At last the Brahman said, "Do not do anything that you will repent of afterward, O son of Drona! It is a wicked thing to kill sleeping men, or those who have surrendered, or those who are disarmed. Our enemies will be sleeping trustfully, their armor laid aside, for they do not know that we are alive; anyone shameless enough to attack them would suffer for that deed in this world and the next. You have never done a dishonorable deed; rest tonight and sleep; tomorrow in broad daylight, go to their camp, proclaim yourself and slay them all in battle, with our help!"

"How can I sleep," answered Ashvattáma angrily, "when my heart is burning with rage and grief? I cannot sleep until I have slain Jumna, who killed my father when he was unarmed and seated in meditation. The Pándavas have broken every rule of battle and have torn down the barriers of virtue; why should I not do likewise? If I can slay them in their sleep, I do not care what happens to me, in this life or the next, and until I have done it, I cannot rest."

He yoked his steeds and mounted his chariot, and his two friends, seeing that they could not dissuade him, followed him to the Pándava camp. When they reached the gate, Ashvattáma whispered to the others, "Wait here and let no man escape, while I enter the camp and sweep through it like Death himself. It will not be hard to kill this remnant of the army while it is fast asleep."

He entered the camp softly and went at once to the tent of Jumna. All the Panchala warriors were tired out and slept side by side in perfect confidence. Ashvattáma entered the tent and saw his enemy lying on a perfumed bed strewn with flowers. He woke him with a kick and, when Jumna tried to rise, threw him down and seized him by the throat.

"Slay me with a weapon, O son of my teacher," Jumna gasped, "so that I may die a Kshatria's death!"

"O wretch," answered Ashvattáma, "those who slay their teachers have no right to a happy death." With this he strangled his enemy and, going out of the tent, set up a mighty shout. Then he sought out the other Panchala warriors.

These warriors and the guards, wakened suddenly, began to put on their armor, shouting, "Who is there?" "What is this noise?" "Is it a man or a demon who attacks us?" "Alas, the king is slain!" All were dazed and did not know what had happened or what they should do. Blinded by sleep and terrified b the sudden danger, they did not know who their enemy was and ran hither and thither, trying to find him. Elephants and horses broke their tethers and ran about, trampling upon men and raising dust that made the night more dark. Meanwhile, Ashvattáma sought the tents of Jumna's brothers and slew them as if they had been animals in a sacrifice. He stormed along the different paths of the camp, carrying his splendid sword and his bright shield with a hundred moons upon it, and slew the unarmed, tired warriors who lay within their tents.

He came at last upon the sons of Dráupadi, who had heard the alarm and knew that Jumna was dead. They had risen and held their weapons and fought against him bravely, but Ashvattáma, remembering his father's death, roared with rage and fought with the strength of a demon. One after another he cut down Dráupadi's sons and then went on to attack Shikándin, whom he cut in two with his sword. He careered through the camp like Death himself, slaying everyone he met with his mighty sword, covered with the blood of his enemies.

In the darkness and confusion, the Pándava and Panchala warriors, unable to recognize anyone, began to slay one another, while some, full of fear, threw away their weapons and ran out of the camp, but they were met at the gate by Ashvattáma's friends, who slew every man who tried to escape and let not one get by. Then those two set fire to the camp in three places, and the flames gave light to the son of Drona as he finished the slaughter, killing those who lay huddled on the ground and those who sought to flee. No one escaped except the charioteer of Jumna, who fled past the two at the gate and out into the night.

At last the shouts and shrieks and the clash of arms died down; the dawn came, and Ashvattáma, bathed in blood, with his hand stuck fast to the hilt of his sword as if they were one thing, looked about him and strode out of the camp. It had been silent when he entered it, for all within it had been asleep; it was silent again when he left it, for all were dead. Since he had kept his vow and done what no man had ever down before, he forgot his grief for his father's death and met his two companions joyfully, telling them all that had been done that night, while they told him how they had slain those who tried to escape.

The three warriors mounted their chariots and drove swiftly to the place where Duryodha lay. They saw that he was not yet dead, so they dismounted and sat beside him. "If there is any life still left to you, O King," said Drona's son, "listen to the good news that I bring you! Jumna and his sons and brothers, Dráupadi's five sons, the Panchalas and the Matsyas have all been slain this night! The Pándavas are now childless. On their side only six remain alive, the five brothers and Krishna; on our side, only we three. Behold the vengeance that has been taken for all that they have done!"

Duryodha rallied all his senses to reply to these welcome words. "O scorcher of foes, you have done what Bhishma and Karna and your father failed to do, since you have slain that low wretch who led the Pándava host and his brother Shikándin. Now I consider myself the victor. Good betide you! We shall all meet in heaven." With these words, casting off his grief for his slain brothers and kinsmen, the king of the Bháratas gave up his life.

His three friends took leave of one another and went their separate ways; the Brahman returned to Hástina; his companion went back to the land of the Yadus, whence he had come; and Ashvattáma mounted his chariot and drove into the forest, for he intended to take shelter in the hermitage of Vyasa, which was close to Kuru Kshetra.


The Last Debt Is Paid

At dawn, the charioteer of Jumna, who had escaped death within the camp, ran to Yudhistra to tell him the evil tidings. The king, hearing that all his sons had been slain, fell down upon the earth and wept grievously, as his brothers did also.

"Alas," he cried, "although we vanquished our foes, we ourselves have been vanquished in the end, and the vanquished are the victors. Those great warriors who stood against Bhishma and Drona and Karna have been slain through our carelessness!"

He sent Nákula to bring Dráupadi, who was living in her father's household, while he and his other brothers went to the camp. When they saw their sons, their friends, and their allies lying on the ground, their bodies mangled and bloody, the souls of the Pándavas were overwhelmed by sorrow.

Before the day was over, Nákula brought Dráupadi, who stood like a plantain tree shaken by the wind, her heart rent by the slaughter of her sons. Bhima took her in his arms. Weeping, she said to Yudhistra, "It is a happy thing, O King, to obtain the whole earth when all our sons are slain! O son of Kunti, grief burns me as if I were on fire. If Drona's son is not made to reap the fruit of this deed of his, if you do not take his life this very day--listen, you sons of Pandu--I shall sit here and fast until I die! I have heard that Ashvattáma was born with a jewel in his head; if that jewel is brought to me before the sun sets today, I can bear to live, but otherwise I die!" Then turning to Bhima, she said, "O Bhima, you are always our refuge! Slay now this evil man!" Then she sat down beside the bodies of her sons and concentrated her mind on her resolution.

Bhima mounted his chariot, taking Nákula as his charioteer, and his horses, fleet as the wind, carried him away from the camp, following the track of Ashvattáma's wheels.

When he had gone, Krishna said to Yudhistra, "O son of Pandu, of all your brothers Bhima is dearest to you, yet you let him go off alone to fight the son of Drona. When Drona gave to Arjuna that weapon that can destroy the world, his son, who was always jealous of Arjuna, begged to have it, too. His father gave it to him unwillingly, for he knew that Ashvattáma was headstrong and that he might not walk in the path of virtue. He commanded him never to use it against human beings even in the midst of battle, even when overtaken by the greatest danger. But he will use it now against Bhima, unless Arjuna protects his brother."

Krishna mounted his splendid chariot drawn by swift horses and carrying a banner with the device of a great bird; Arjuna and Yudhistra went with him and sat beside him. The horses carried them as fast and easily as a bird flies, and they soon caught up with Bhima, who did not stop but galloped on, following Ashvattáma's tracks. These led them to the bank of the Ganges, where they beheld the sage Vyasa sitting in the midst of a group of wise and holy men, among whom was Ashvattáma, his dust-stained body clad in a garment made of grass.

Bhima took up his bow, fixed an arrow on the string and walked toward Drona's son who, seeing that mighty bowman bearing down upon him and his two brothers standing in Krishna's chariot, thought that his last moment on earth had come. Then he remembered the heavenly weapon that his father had given him, telling him never to use it against a human foe. He picked a blade of grass and changed it, by speaking mighty spells, into that weapon. Burning with anger, he said, "Let this destroy the Pándavas!" and loosed the missile, which blazed with a blinding fire that seemed able to destroy the three worlds.

Arjuna leapt to the ground and summoned the same weapon; he blessed in his heart the son of Drona, his brothers, himself, and all the worlds, and loosed it, saying, "Let this stop Ashvattáma's weapon!" Then both those missiles blazed up with terrible flames into a huge sphere of fire; peals of thunder were heard, the earth trembled, and all living creatures fled into hiding.

When Vyasa beheld these celestial fires scorching the three worlds, he rose and stood between the two warriors. "What rash act is this, you heroes?" he cried. "Those famous warriors who fell in battle knew the use of this weapon and many others, but they never used them against their human foes. Why have you done it?"

Arjuna joined his hands humbly and said to him, "I used the weapon to stop Ashvattáma's, O holy one; if I withdraw it, he will consume us all."

The son of Drona said with a heavy heart, "I used it to protect my life from Bhima, O sinless one. Bhima slew Duryodha in a wicked way; I wished his weapon to destroy him and all his brothers."

"Arjuna also knew its use, my child," answered Vyasa, "yet he loosed it not from anger or from the desire to destroy you, but only to make yours powerless. Any place where this fearful power is let loose suffers a twelve-year drought. Therefore withdraw it and cast off your anger! Give the Pándavas the jewel that is in your head, and they, in turn, will give you your life."

"This jewel," said the master's son, "is worth more than all the wealth heaped up by both the Pándavas and the Kúravas. He who wears it need not fear any weapon or disease or hunger; neither gods nor demons can destroy him. Nevertheless, O exalted one, I must obey you. Here is the jewel; this blade of grass, turned into such awful power, I withdraw."

Both warriors withdrew their weapons. Ashvattáma gave Bhima the jewel from his head, then turned and went into the forest with despair in his heart. The Pándavas and Krishna, taking Vyasa with them, drove swiftly back to the camp and went to the place where Dráupadi sat. Bhima gave her the jewel, saying to her, "The slayer of your sons is vanquished, O beautiful one! We did not slay him, because he is a Brahman and our teacher's son. Rise now, cast off your sorrow and remember the duties of a Kshatria princess! Remember the bitter words you spoke when Krishna went on his mission of peace to Hástina and you desired war! The last debt that we owed our enemies is now paid."

"I only wished to pay the debt of injury that we have suffered," answered Dráupadi. "I respect the master's son as I did the master himself. Bind this jewel on your head, O son of Kunti!" The king took the jewel from her and bound it on his head, and Dráupadi, who was strong of soul, rose and once more took up her life.


Lament for the Dead

In Hástina, King Kuru had been told by his messenger and charioteer, Sánjaya, all that took place on the battlefield, day by day. When Duryodha was slain and the battle ended, Sánjaya came to the king and said, "The kings who came from many lands to fight for you, O ruler of men, have all gone to the realm of the dead, together with your sons. Duryodha, who refused all offers of peace, who wished to end his quarrel with the Pándavas by slaying them all, is himself dead and has made the earth empty of warriors. Now, O King, perform the funeral rites for yours sons and your kinsmen."

When Kuru heard these terrible words, he fell down upon the ground like an uprooted tree and lamented for his sons, his kinsmen, and his friends.

"Cast off your grief, O King," Sánjaya said. "Your own mind, like a sharp-pointed sword, has wounded you. You always listened out of greed to evil counselors and refused to follow the advice of the wise and good. You always favored your eldest son, who was foolish, proud, and quarrelsome. His friends were men of wicked souls; none of them cared for virtue; battle was the one word on their lips. You were as an umpire between them and the Pándavas, but you did not give them one word of good advice; you held the scales unevenly between them, always tipped in Duryodha's favor. You must repent of that now. Therefore do not grieve for what has happened; the man who carries a lighted coal in the folds of his dress and then weeps when he is burned is called a fool. Grief of mind is cured by wisdom, as grief of the body is cured by medicine."

Vidura also, who had done all he could to prevent the calamity that had happened, came to the king and comforted him with wise words. At last Kuru rose from the ground and ordered his chariot to be yoked. He sent for Gandhari and Kunti and all his sons' wives, who were wailing loudly in their sorrow. Followed by those weeping women in their chariots, he set out from the city, while cries of woe arose from every house. Brahmans and men of the Vaisya and Shudra castes, who had taken no part in the battle, followed them and all went together to the field of Kuru Kshetra.

Yudhistra, with his brothers and Krishna and Vyasa, went to meet them as soon as they heard that Kuru had set out from the city; Dráupadi also, with the women of Panchala, all grieving for the loss of sons, husbands, and fathers, went with him. Near the banks of the Ganges they met. The women of Hástina surrounded Yudhistra with their arms raised aloft in sorrow and cried to him, "Where is the virtue of the king, since he has slain fathers and brothers, teachers and sons and friends? What good is the kingdom to you, O son of Kunti, when you have lost all your sons?"

Yudhistra did not answer them, but went to his uncle and touched his feet; his brothers followed him, each one speaking his own name as he did so. Kuru, his grief burning within him, unwillingly embraced Yudhistra and spoke words of comfort to him. Then he heard Bhima's voice , and his wrath blazed up as he thought of the death of Duryodha. Krishna understood what was in the old king's heart, and by his magic power he summoned the iron statue of Bhima on which Duryodha had practiced with his mace for thirteen years. He pulled Bhima aside and put the statue in his place. The king, strong as an elephant, seized the image in his two arms and broke it into pieces, but also bruised his own breast and fell bleeding to the ground. Sánjaya lifted him, and when Kuru came to his senses, his rage had passed and he wept, thinking that he had slain Bhima. When he found that hero alive before him, he embraced him, weeping, and welcomed Arjuna and the sons of Madri, blessing them.

Then the Pándavas and Krishna saluted the faultless Gandhari, naming themselves to her, too, for her eyes were always covered. Gandhara sorrowed bitterly for all her sons and wished to curse Yudhistra, but Vyasa read her mind and said quickly, "Hold back the words that are on your lips, Gandhari! Forgive instead of cursing! Do you remember how your son Duryodha, before he went to battle, besought you, saying, 'O Mother, bless me now and pray for my victory!' and how you always said to him, 'He that is righteous will be the victor!' Remember your own words, O Queen, and withhold your anger!"

"I do not wish ill to the sons of Pandu, O holy one," said Gandhari, "for I know that they were not to blame for the death of all the Bháratas. But my heart is sore for the loss of my sons, and there is one deed of Bhima's, done in the presence of Krishna, that I cannot forget. He knew that Duryodha was more skillful than he with the mace, and therefore struck him a foul blow below the navel and killed him. Why should heroes do what is wrong to save their own lives?"

Bhima looked frightened as he answered the queen, "Right or wrong, O Lady, I acted out of fear, to defend my life. Your mighty son could not have been slain by anyone in fair battle. He caused Yudhistra to be beaten unfairly at dice and always acted treacherously toward us. He was the only warrior left fighting against us, and until he was dead we could not regain what was rightfully ours. Therefore I acted as I did. You never corrected his evil ways, and so you should not blame me but forgive me."

Gandhari was pleased that Bhima praised her son's might, but she still reproved him, saying, "You have slain every son of this old man. O why could you not have spared one son to this old couple, who have lost all they had; why could you not have left one child to guide these blind old people? Yet, even though you had slain them all, I should not grieve so if you had done it righteously." Her anger flared up anew and she asked, "Where is the king?"

Yudhistra came before her and stood with joined hands. "Here is the king," he said, "that cruel slayer of all your sons. Curse me, O faultless one, for I am the cause of all this slaughter. I have no further need of life or wealth or kingdom."

In her heart Gandhari knew the truth; therefore she said nothing to Yudhistra; but she sighed deeply and looked down, under the folds of cloth that covered her eyes, and saw the tip of his toe as he stood humbly before her, and her glance burned his toenail, which pained him ever after. Seeing this, Arjuna stepped behind Krishna and the other sons of Pandu moved uneasily from one place to another. But Gandhari's anger passed, and she embraced the Pándavas and comforted them, for she had always thought of them as her own sons.

Last of all, the five brothers turned to their mother, Kunti, who had not seen them for all those thirteen years and had grieved so long for them. She covered her face and wept; then looking at them and seeing the scars of many wounds on their bodies, she embraced and caressed them and rejoiced that they still lived. She welcomed Dráupadi with love and wept with her for the loss of all her sons.

Then Kuru and his queen and his sons' wives went to that battlefield that was strewn with the bodies of men and animals. Gandhari, led by Krishna, went from one of her dead sons to the other and came at last upon the body of Duryodha. She threw herself upon it and wept bitterly, even though she knew that all this slaughter had come about because of his evil heart. She remembered all her sorrows and allowed anger to flood her heart again; she turned to Krishna and cast all the blame on him.

"The Pándavas and the Kúravas have both been destroyed, O Krishna," she cried. "Why did you not care? You could have prevented all this slaughter, for you had a vast army and many followers, and yet you did not stop it. Nay, more--all those unrighteous deeds, whereby the Pándavas slew Bhishma and Drona, Karna and Duryodha, were done at your behest, urged on by you. Therefore you shall reap the fruit of those acts. With the soul-power that I have gained by faithfully serving my husband, I curse you. O wielder of the discus and the mace! Since you did not care to stop the slaying of these cousins, you shall be the slayer of your own kinsmen. Thirty-six years hence, O Krishna, you shall cause the death of your sons and friends and kinsmen and perish yourself in a shameful way. The women of your realm shall weep as the women of the Bháratas are weeping now!"

Krishna answered her with a faint smile. "You have cursed well, O Queen! None but myself could ever slay the Yadus. It will be as you have said, even though you are blaming me for what is truly your own fault. Duryodha was wicked, jealous, and exceedingly proud, but you never restrained him. Now arise, Gandhari, and do not grieve, for one who grieves for what cannot be undone brings upon himself more grief. A Kshatria mother bears sons in order to have them killed, and all your sons have died bravely, facing the foe."

When the women had had their fill of lamentation and had seen all they desired to see of that dreadful field, King Yudhistra said, "Now let us perform the funeral rites of all the slain, so that no one may perish from lack of care." Then Vidura, Sánjaya and many others fetched sandal and aloe wood, oil and perfumes and costly robes. Great heaps of dry wood were raised and covered with the robes and the perfumes and on these the bodies of the slain kings were laid in proper order according to their ages and their honor. Those among the dead who came from distant countries and were unknown and friendless were laid together on heaps of wood nd burned with the proper rites. The funeral fires, smokeless and bright, burned far into the night, while the Brahmans chanted the hymns of death and women wept quietly for the slain. The next morning Yudhistra, giving the place of honor to Kuru, followed by his brothers and the citizens and the women, went to the Ganges and in that holy river they performed the water rites for their sons and lords and sires.

There Kunti, overtaken by sorrow, said to her sons, "That great bowman who battled with you, that warrior who loved glory better than life, who shone like the sun himself as he commanded the host of Duryodha, that hero whom you took for a Suta's son and whom Arjuna slew, was your eldest brother, who was born of me by the sun-god Surya. Therefore make offerings of water to Karna also, my sons!"

These words pierced the hearts of the sons of Kunti like sharp arrows. "O Mother," cried Yudhistra, "was that great warrior whose might held us all in check, whom Arjuna alone could vanquish, truly our eldest brother? How could you hide him from us, like one who holds a burning fire in his hands? Alas, because you hid him we have been undone, for if we had known him, this battle would never have taken place. If he had been with us, if I had had both him and Arjuna to help me, I could have stormed heaven itself. Now I have caused my brother to be slain, and my heart burns with a greater grief than I have ever known."

His mother said, weeping, "Do not give way to grief, my son! I told Karna that he was your brother and Krishna did also. All that could be said to persuade him we both said to him, but he would not reveal himself to you or fight for you. He hated you and was bound to kill you all. Therefore I tried no longer to change his heart, and he made me promise not to tell you the truth. "

But Yudhistra would not be comforted and said again, "Because you hid him from us, this great misfortune has overtaken us." And he added, "Henceforth let no woman be able to keep a secret!" Then he summoned Karna's wives and the other members of his family and performed with them the water rites in honor of his brother.


Yudhistra's Sorrow

The Pándavas and the old king and queen, Vidura and the ladies of the court stayed there by the sacred river for the full month of mourning, and many of the great sages and many noble Brahmans with their disciples came there to praise the king and to comfort him with wise words. But Yudhistra could not be turned from his grief and sat among them like a fire covered with smoke, unable to forget the deaths of sons and kinsmen, for all of which he blamed himself. "O scorcher of foes," he said to Arjuna, "if we had stayed in the forest, if we had been content to beg our food, we should not have the sorrow today of having slain our kinsmen. Fie upon power and strength and bravery, since they have brought us this misfortune! Blessed are forgiveness and self-control, humility and truthfulness, which forest dwellers practice! Those who have died should not have been slain even to gain the whole earth--no, not for the three worlds! I have committed great sins because I desired a kingdom; therefore give me leave to abandon it and to go to the woods, leaving all things both dear and hateful, harming no creature, casting off desire, fear, and anger, until I cast off life itself."

His brothers were deeply pained by these words of his, and each of them spoke to him, urging him to take up the duties of his caste and to rule wisely the earth that he had so righteously won.

"The highest duty," said Arjuna, "is that of the king, for he protects all the four castes and even the animals. Yet no man becomes a king without slaying others; indeed, I do not know of any creature in this world that lives without doing injury to others. Animals live upon each other; the mongoose eats the mouse; the cat eats the mongoose; the dog eats the cat, and the dog is eaten by the spotted leopard. Some creatures are so small that we cannot see them, yet we kill them when we wink our eyes. The wise man, therefore, does not lose heart because of death. Nothing can bring the slain to life again. Arise, O King, perform sacrifices, give alms and protect your people!"

Bhima was angry with his elder brother, yet tried to be patient with him. "How is it," he said, "That you who are the ruler of the earth, who know the right and the wrong paths of this world, let your mind be so clouded? It is not the duty of a king to go to the forest unless he is too old to rule or has been defeated by his enemies; it is his duty to rule his kingdom wisely. You have fought a great battle, O King, but there is another that you must still fight, in which there is no need of arrows nor of friends nor kinsmen, for you must fight it in your own mind, alone. If you should die before you win the victory, then in another life you will have to fight these very foes again, but if you win it, you will have reached the goal of life. Therefore fight that battle this very day and give your whole mind to finding the path that you must follow, the path that your ancestors have trodden. We are your servants and await your decision."

Dráupadi added her pleas to theirs, and all of his brothers spoke to him again, but Yudhistra still sat with bowed head, plunged in grief.

Then Vyasa spoke to him, "O child, your brothers have spoken the truth. You know the duties of a Kshatria, who lives by warfare. A king who has righteously played his part should not be overcome by grief. You were forced by the faults of others to fight them, and you did it most unwillingly and now grieve for it. It is not time for you to go to the woods; it behooves you now to take up the duties of your caste and to bear like an ox the burden of your ancestral kingdom."

"I do not doubt your words, O holy one," said Yudhistra, "for all things are known to you. But my heart can find no peace since, for the sake of that kingdom I have caused so many to be slain. this sin burns and consumes me."

"O Bhárata," answered Vyasa, "is God the doer, or is man? Is all that happens the result of chance, or do we enjoy and suffer the results of our own actions? The Kúravas sinned and have been slain by you. When a tree is cut down, the axe is not blamed, but he who wields it. You were the axe in the hand of Destiny, O King, and have no cause for grief. But if you cannot throw it off, than atone for what you believe that you have done. Rise, Yudhistra, and perform the great Horse Sacrifice, which cleanses the hearts of kings."

For the first time, the king was comforted and raised his head to answer Vyasa. "The idea of atonement fills me with joy," he said. "I will perform that sacrifice. But tell me first the duties of a king and those of all the four castes of men. It is hard to be a king and yet always to do what is right; my mind is not clear about this problem."

"If you wish to know the duties of a king," answered Vyasa, "go to Bhishma, and ask the old grandsire of the Bháratas before he dies, for nothing is unknown to him. Behold now these brothers of yours and Dráupadi, who stand before you beseeching you as men beseech Indra for rain at the close of summer! The people of all castes in your kingdom await you, O delighter of the Bháratas. Do what they desire and what is best for the whole world!"

Then Yudhistra rose from his seat and cast off his grief. He set out for Hástina, surrounded by his brothers and by the sages, as the moon is surrounded by stars. He mounted a white chariot covered with deerskins, drawn by sixteen white bullocks. Bhima joyfully took up the reins and Arjuna held over his head a canopy bright as a sunlit cloud, while the twins fanned him with yak tails as white as moonbeams and flashing with jewels. Kuru and Gandhari were borne in litters at the head of the procession, Krishna rode in his own golden car, and the ladies followed in their chariots. Behind them came more chariots, elephants, and horsemen.

As they approached the city, the hum of innumerable voices were heard. The streets were decked with banners and flowers and thronged with citizens waiting to see the king. The palace was fragrant with powdered perfumes, flowers and sweet-smelling plants, and hung with wreaths and garlands. As the son of Pandu entered the city by its principal gate and passed through the streets and squares, the crowds swelled as the ocean does at the rise of the moon, and shouts of joy arose. On the terraces of the houses the ladies stood, praising the Pándavas with their soft voices. They also said, "Worthy of all praise are you, too, O blessed princess of Panchala! Your deeds and prayers have borne their fruit, O Dráupadi!"

Thus Yudhistra, graced with victory and the blessings of the people, entered the courtyard of the palace of the Bháratas and descended from his chariot.


Seeger, The Five Sons of King Pandu, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 271-290.