by Carole Losee © 2005-2020

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




Yudhistra Is Made Lord of the Earth

Yudhistra sighed deeply as he thought about the great sacrifice and his father's message to him, for it seemed to be a vast and dangerous undertaking. He wondered whether it would bring good to his people, for there might be danger of war, and he wondered if he were worthy to be lord of all the earth. He summoned his brothers and his councilors and asked them again and again to advise him, and they always answered him, "We believe that you are worthy to rule the whole world and that the time has come for you to offer this sacrifice."

Nevertheless, to make sure, he sent for Krishna, whom he believed to be the wisest of men. Krishna came quickly from the city of Dváraka, for he loved to be with his cousins the Pándavas. When Yudhistra had told all that troubled him, Krishna said, "Your brothers and your councilors have spoken well, O son of Kunti. You are worthy to perform the sacrifice and should obey your father's command. But let me tell you, O first of kings, that you will not be able to do it as long as the King of Mágadha is alive. He is proud and mighty and already considers himself lord of the earth; many kings have submitted to him from fear, and he has conquered many more and holds them imprisoned in a mountain cave. When he has as many captives as he desires, he means to sacrifice them to Shiva, as if they were so many animals, for he has made fierce vows to that great god and so gained his power. If you kill this king and set those others free, you will be acclaimed by all as lord of earth."

"I have heard of him and of his wickedness," replied Yudhistra. "Is it possible to overcome one who is so powerful? Alas, this purpose seems to me very difficult to achieve."

Then Bhima spoke, "Sometimes cleverness as well as might is needed to vanquish an enemy. Krishna can provide a plan, I have the strength, and victory always follows Arjuna. We three alone can compass the death of the king of Mágadha."

"Give me Bhima and Arjuna," said Krishna, "and we shall accomplish your purpose."

"Bhima and Arjuna are my two eyes," said Yudhistra sadly, "and you are my mind. What shall I do without my eyes and my mind?"

Nevertheless he blessed them, and the three, Krishna, Bhima, and Arjuna, set out on foot towards the east, dressed as Brahmans who are under a strict vow. They traveled for many weeks, crossing kingdoms and provinces, rivers and hills, until they reached Mágadha, a land rich in cattle and grain, in rivers and trees. They entered the capital city, unarmed and unnoticed, passing along the principal street, which was bordered with shops filled with every sort of delightful wares. They took garlands from the flower-vendors and went on to the king's palace, where, without asking permission, they boldly entered his hall of audience.

The king rose and welcomed them, for he honored all Brahmans, and asked what they wished of him. Bhima and Arjuna were silent, and Krishna spoke for all three:

"These two are keeping a strict vow of silence and therefore cannot speak. At midnight their vow is finished, and they will speak with you then, O King."

They were shown to the sacrificial apartments; their feet were washed and they were given food and drink. At midnight the king came to them, for if a Brahman asks for an audience, at no matter what hour, it must be granted.

"It is well known," the king said to them, "that Brahmans who are under a vow do not deck themselves with flowers. Who are you, then, who come here with garlands round your necks and your arms scarred by the bowstring? You have the look of Kshatrias. Why do you come here in disguise?"

"O King of Mágadha," answered Krishna, "We have come at the behest of a great king to set free the kings and warriors whom you are holding captive. Indeed we are not Brahmans. I am Krishna of the Yadu folk, and these two are sons of Pandu. We challenge you to fight! Either set free all your prisoners or go tonight to the realm of Yama, King of the Dead!"

"All of my captives have been defeated fairly by me in war," said the king, "and I mean to offer them as sacrifices to Shiva. Do you think I shall free them now out of fear of you? I am ready to do battle, either with armies in the field, or here, alone, against one, or two, or against all three of you!"

"Which one of us do you choose to fight against, O King?"

The king turned to Bhima and said, "O Bhima, I will fight against you! It is best to fight against the strongest, whether one wins or loses."

Then he took off his crown and bound up his hair and led the two brothers and Krishna to the courtyard of the palace. There he and Bhima, those tigers among men, with their bare arms their only weapons, grasped and wrestled with one another, roaring like thunderclouds, standing for a moment to breathe and to clap their armpits, then seizing one another again and throwing one another this way and that. They fought for hours until the dawn came, and the citizens, hearing the noise, crowded into the courtyard and stood there in amazement. At last the king began to tire, and Bhima, feeling his opponent's weakness, lifted him high in the air with his mighty arms and whirled him round his head, and when he flung him down on the ground, the king was dead.

Then Krishna summoned the king's ministers and ordered the royal chariot. He and the two Pándavas rode out to the mountain cave where the captives were held and ordered them set free. Kings and warriors bowed down before him, offering their homage, but he said to them, "The just king, Yudhistra, of the Bhárata race, wishes to perform the Coronation Sacrifice. Acknowledge him as your lord, for it was he who sent us here to free you. Thus you can help him to carry out his wish."

Krishna set the son of the king of Mágadha on the throne of his father, and he and Bhima and Arjuna went home, driven in fine chariots and laden with gifts of jewels and fine gold. They were followed by the warriors whom they had freed and who wished to pay their homage to King Yudhistra.

Then the four brothers of Yudhistra went forth at the head of their armies, each in a different direction, asking the rulers of every kingdom to accept the sway of the eldest son of Pandu, and to come to the celebration of his sacrifice.

The youngest one, Sadeva, the son of Madri, went toward the south and there many rulers paid homage and tribute to Yudhistra, who was famous over all the earth. But there was one king who stood out against the son of Madri because he was always sure of victory in battle.

The king had a very beautiful daughter, who took especial care of the sacrificial fires; indeed, it seemed as if the flame would not blaze brightly unless that maiden urged it with her gentle breath. And, in truth, the God of Fire, Agni, had fallen in love with her and wooed her in the guise of a Brahman. Her father found them together and was very angry, but when the god revealed himself, the king gladly gave his daughter to Agni to be his wife. After that, if the kingdom was attacked, Agni protected it with his flames and every enemy was driven away.

When the king refused to pay homage to Yudhistra, Sadeva attacked the city. Suddenly his soldiers were surrounded by flames and they stopped, terrified and dared not advance a step. But Sadeva stood unmoved at the head of his army, joined the palms of his hands, and said, "I bow before you, O Agni, you whose footsteps smoke, who purify all things. I am here because I wish to help my brother, the just King Yudhistra, perform a great sacrifice. It is strange that you, who are the heart of all sacrifice, should stand in the way of this one, which will be to your glory. I beg of you, O exalted one, to help me to fulfill my purpose."

Then Agni drew back his flames and said, "You shall have your wish, O son of Madri. I was testing your courage. I shall protect this city as long as this king or his descendants rule over it; but you need not fight, for at my behest he will do what you ask of him."

And truly the king came forth, as Agni told him to, and welcomed Sadeva and offered both homage and tribute to Yudhistra.

Sadeva, with his host, marched down beyond the Nerbada River, past the famous caves of Kishkinda, and exacted tribute from the monkey kings that dwelt in the southern forests. When he reached the seacoast, he sent messengers to the just king of Lanka, who willingly accepted the sway of the son of Pandu and sent gifts of pearls and jewels.

Nákula, his twin, conquered all the countries of the west, and there he visited the family of Krishna and the kingdom of Madra, ruled by his uncle Shalya, Madri's brother, who from affection gladly accepted the overlordship of Yudhistra. He subdued the fierce barbarians who dwelt on the seacoast and the wild tribes of the hills, and then retraced his steps to his own city, bringing with him so much treasure that it was hard for a thousand camels to carry it on their backs.


The Ceremony

The great treasury of Yudhistra was so full that it could not have been emptied even in a hundred years. His friends and ministers, each separately and all together, said to him, "The time has come, O exalted one, for the ceremony. Prepare it without loss of time!"

Yudhistra summoned the wise Vyasa to help him, and then he and his brothers began to collect all the things that were necessary for the occasion, as well as food and many pleasant things to delight the hearts of the Brahmans, for many priests and sages were gathering in Indra Prastha for the celebration of this great sacrifice. The sinless Vyasa was the chief priest, and he appointed other exalted Brahmans to perform the different parts of the ceremony and to chant the Vedic hymns. All of them blessed the enclosure where the sacred festival would take place and directed builders and artists to raise the halls and pavilions that were spacious and fragrant like the temple of the gods.

When these were finished and ready, Yudhistra said to Sadeva, "Send out swift messengers now to invite all the Brahmans in the land, and all the Kshatrias and Vaisyas and Shudras who care to come, to my sacrifice!" Speedily then those messengers invited everyone and brought with them many guests, both friends and strangers, when they returned. The king sent Nákula to Hástina to invite Bhishma and Kuru, Drona and Vídura, and those among his cousins who felt kindly toward him. The elders of the Bháratas came with joyful hearts, with Brahmans walking before them. The sons of Kuru, with Duryodha at their head; the son of Drona with Karna; the king of Gandhara who was brother to Kuru's queen; the king of Madra and the king of Panchala with his sons; all came to the sacrifice of the son of Pandu. And hundreds of other kings and Kshatrias came with joyous hearts from many countries to pay homage to Yudhistra, bringing with them gifts of great wealth.

Yudhistra worshiped Bhishma and the other elders of the Bháratas and said to them and to his cousins, "Give me your help in performing this great rite. The treasure that is here is yours as well as mine." He asked each one of them to take charge of some task, and Bhishma directed them all. Dushasa gave out the food, and Drona's son took care of the Brahmans; Drona himself took charge of the jewels and gold, the pearls, and other gems, and give fitting gifts to the guests; Vidura made the payments; and Duryodha received the tribute brought by all the kings. Krishna, at his own request, washed the feet of the Brahmans.

Then Yudhistra began the Sacrifice of Coronation with six fires, giving many presents to the Brahmans and pleasing everyone with gifts of jewels and every kind of wealth, abundance of rice and pleasant and fragrant foods. The gods were pleased with the worship offered by the great sages, by the chanted hymns and the libations poured upon the fires; indeed all the castes of men were pleased with that sacrifice and filled with joy.

On the last day the sages and the king entered the inner enclosure, where Yudhistra was sprinkled with holy water and crowned lord of the whole earth. There the other kings waited upon the son of Pandu, holding his weapons and his armor, his shoes and headgear and garlands, while Bhima and Arjuna fanned him and the twins stood at his sides. Thus that sacrifice, performed in a favorable season, blessed by sages and Brahmans, rich in wealth, food, and gifts, was in due time completed.

The kings and warriors began to take their leave of Yudhistra. "By good fortune you have become king over all kings, O virtuous one!" they said. "You have also gained honor among the gods, O lord of the earth, cherish your subjects with ceaseless care and patience; be the refuge and support of all men, as the rain clouds are to all creatures, as a large tree with spreading branches is to the birds!"

When they had departed, and the Brahmans, duly worshiped and laden with gifts, and all the other guests had gone their way, the sons of Pandu returned to their own palace. No one was left in the assembly hall but Duryodha and his uncle Shákuni, the king of Gandhara, the brother of Kuru's queen. They slowly examined every part of it and found in it many beauties that they had never seen before, and Duryodha's heart burned with jealousy.

He had often lingered in that hall, for he longed to have one like it or one still more beautiful. One day he came upon a crystal floor and thought it was a pool of water; therefore he drew up his clothes, and when he saw his mistake he was very much ashamed. Another time he thought that a clear pool of water was another crystal floor and fell into it with all his clothes on. Bhima saw him and laughed uproariously. Some servants also saw him and could scarcely hide their laughter as they brought him dry and handsome garments, but Duryodha could not bear to be laughed at and would not look at them. Shortly afterwards he tried to walk through a closed crystal door and struck his brow against it and stood there with his head swimming. The twins saw this happen and came to him and held him up, saying kindly, "This way, O King; the door is open now."

But Bhima was also there and laughed again, saying mockingly, "Here is the door, O son of Kuru! This is the way."


Duryodha's Jealousy

At last Duryodha took leave of the Pándavas and returned to Hástina, thinking sorrowfully about all that he had seen and suffered. On the way home his heart was so heavy and his mind so full of grief that he answered not a word when his uncle spoke to him. "Why are you sighing so deeply?" Shákuni asked.

"O uncle," Duryodha replied, "when I behold the wealth of the sons of Pandu and that assembly hall of theirs and saw their servants laughing at me, my heart flamed with jealousy. I am drying up like a shallow lake in summer. I shall throw myself into the fire or swallow poison or drown myself, for I cannot bear to live. Behold, the sons of Kuru are withering away while the sons of Pandu are growing greater day by day! O Uncle, tell me How I can overcome them!"

Shákuni thought for a moment and then said, "No one can ever overcome in battle the five sons of Pandu, with the king of Panchala and his sons. But I know how Yudhistra himself may be vanquished by you. He is very fond of gambling but he is not skillful with the dice. He cannot refuse a challenge, because he is a Kshatria. Now I am an adept at dice; there is no one equal to me on earth, nay, not even in the three worlds. Therefore, challenge him to play at dice and I will win his kingdom and all his wealth for you, O bull among men. Tell this to your father and get his consent, and I will fulfill all your desires."

"Tell him yourself, O son of Súvala," Duryodha replied, "for I cannot do so."

As soon as they arrived in Hástina, they went to King Kuru and found him seated on his throne. Shákuni said to him, "O great King, your eldest son has lost his color and has become thin and sad. Can you not find out the grief that preys upon is heart?"

"What is your sorrow, my son?" asked the king. "This vast wealth of mine is all yours; your brothers and all your family do everything to please you; you wear fine clothes and eat the best of food. Why do you grieve as if you were poor and alone, O proud one?"

"I enjoy nothing, though I eat fine food and am richly clothed, for I am the prey of fierce jealousy," answered Duryodha. "Ever since I beheld the blazing wealth of the son of Kunti, I have become pale, thin, and sad. I tell you, I must be strong, since I am still alive after seeing the whole earth under the sway of Yudhistra. The Himalayas, the ocean, the shores of all the seas, the mountains with all their jewels do not hold as much wealth as fills the mansion of Yudhistra. O King, since I was the eldest of his cousins, he asked me to receive the tribute brought by all the kings. No man has ever seen before the wealth that was brought to that sacrifice. My hands were so tired receiving it that those who brought it had to wait until I was able to take up the task again.

"O Father, listen to the tale of that wealth! The people of Valhika gave him as tribute a thousand asses, large and black-necked, that run a hundred miles in a day. The kings of the west each gave a thousand elephants, dark as rocks, decked with golden girdles and fine blankets; they are exceedingly patient and of the very best breed, with tusks like plowshares. The kings of the eastern countries presented finely woven carpets, armor inlaid with jewels and gold and ivory, thousands of chariots of different shape and fine design, adorned with gold, covered with tiger skins and drawn by well-trained horses. O lord of earth, those kings also brought heaps upon heaps of jewels and gems for the son of Kunti.

The king of Kamboja gave countless skins of the best kind, three hundred horses with noses like parrots; and a like number of camels and she-asses, all fatted with the olive. The kings of Chola and Pandya brought numberless golden jars filled with fragrant sandalwood juice from the hills of Malaya and loads of sandal and aloe wood and many jewels of great brilliance and fine cloths woven with gold. The king of Singala gave those best of sea-born gems, the lapis lazuli, heaps of pearls, and hundreds of covers for elephants. Other kings of the earth brought thousands of cows, with as many copper vessels for milking them, to be given away by Yudhistra to the Brahmans, and they presented him with thousands of serving men with their wives. Besides all this, I cannot tell you the numbers of jewels, horses, elephants, and camels that were brought to the son of Pandu.

"Even the barbarous tribes that dwell on the seacoasts, in the woodlands, or in countries on the other side of the ocean waited at the gate with gifts of asses and goats, camels, and honey, blankets and skins, for there was too great a crowd to be contained within the city. The mountain tribes brought soft, black brushes and others white as moonbeams; the cruel huntsmen who live on the northern slopes of the Himalayas brought heaps of precious skins and jars of gold that is raised from the earth by ants and hence called ant-gold. Men came from the eastern, western, and the southern seas. O Father, none but birds ever go to the northern ocean, yet the Pándavas have spread their dominion even there, for I heard conchs blow that were brought from that ocean, and the sound of them made my hair stand on end. When I looked upon my foes as they received these excellent gifts, I wished for death.

"All these men, of every caste, of numberless tribes, coming from every land, made the city of the Pándavas seem the center of the earth. In Indra Prastha thousands of Brahmans are supported by Yudhistra and eat rich foods on golden plates within his palace. Thousands of elephants and cavalry, charioteers and horses, and countless foot soldiers are fed there daily, and not a man of any caste lacks food or drink or clothing. Dráupadi herself, before she eats, sees that everyone , even the dwarfs and the deformed, have had their food.

"I cannot be at peace, O chief of the Bháratas, after I have beheld all this. I am pale and thin and plunged in grief because of the riches of the Pándavas."

Then Shákuni said, "O foremost of victorious kings, I can snatch this wealth from Yudhistra and give it all to you. I am skilled at dice and have a special knowledge of the game. Betting is my bow, the dice are my arrows, and the dice board is my chariot. If I challenge the son of Kunti to play, he cannot refuse, since he is a Kshatria, and I will defeat him at every throw, either by fair means or foul. I promise to win all that wealth of his, and then Duryodha can enjoy it."

"O Father," said Duryodha quickly, "if Shákuni is able to win all the wealth of the Pándavas, allow him to do so."

"I always follow the advise of the wise Vidura," answered Kuru. "He will tell us what is right for both sides, and what we should do."

"If you consult Vidura," Duryodha said, "he will not allow you to do it, and if you do not do it, O King, I shall certainly kill myself. When I am dead, you can enjoy your kingdom with Vidura. What need have you of me?"

At these words, the weak-minded Kuru, always partial to his son, called his servants and said, "Tell the builders to put up a spacious palace with a hundred doors and a thousand columns. It must be set with jewels and covered with many-colored carpets. Let me know when it is finished."

When it was finished, he summoned Vidura and said to him, "Go at once to Indra Prastha and bring Yudhistra and his brothers here with you. Invite him to come hither to behold this handsome assembly hall of mine and to play a friendly game of dice within it."

"I do not approve of this command, O King," Vidura said. "I fear that it will bring about the death of all your family. A quarrel may arise between your sons and the Pándavas during this gambling match and disaster will surely follow."

The king replied, "O Vidura, if the gods are merciful to us, no quarrel will arise. When you and I, Drona and Bhishma, are at hand, what evil thing can happen? Say no more! The whole universe moves at the will of its Creator; it is not free. Therefore go and bring the invincible son of Kunti hither."

And Vidura, believing that his family was doomed, set out sorrowfully for the city of the wise sons of Pandu. 

Seeger, The Five Sons of King Pandu, Print edition, op. cit., pp.82-94.