by Carole Losee © 2005-2020

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




Shákuni's Foul Play

When Vídura arrived at Indra Prastha, he entered the palace and came before Yudhistra. The king saluted him lovingly, and seated his uncle beside him. "Your mind seems troubled, O Vídura," he said. "Tell me, do you come here in peace and happiness? Are the sons of Kuru reverent to their old father? Are the people obedient to his rule?"

"The king, with his sons, is well and happy," answered Vídura. "He reigns like Indra himself; his sons are all obedient to him, and he has no grief. However, he is not content with this, but wishes more wealth and power. He has sent me to invite you and your brothers to Hástina, to behold his newly built assembly hall, and to see whether it is equal to your own. When you are there, he will ask you to sit down to a friendly game of dice, and then you will see the cheats and gamblers that he has brought there to win your kingdom from you. He has sent me hither for this very purpose, O King, because Duryodha is jealous of your wealth and power."

"If we sit down to a match at dice, we may quarrel," said Yudhistra. "Who, then, can wish to gamble? What shall we do, O learned one? We always obey your learned counsel."

"Gambling is the root of misery," answered Vídura. "I tried to stop the king from doing this, but he would not listen to me. Do as you think best."

"What other gamblers and cheaters will be there, besides the sons of Kuru?" Yudhistra asked. "Tell us, my uncle, against whom shall we have to play, staking all that we possess?"

"Shákuni, the king of Gandhara, will be there," answered Vídura. "He is expert at dice, a desperate gambler."

"It seems then," said Yudhistra, "that there will be foul play. The whole universe, however, moves at the will of its Maker; it is not free. I have no desire to gamble, and I shall not do so unless Shákuni challenges me in the assembly hall; but if he does, I cannot refuse."

Yudhistra ordered his attendants to prepare for the journey without delay, and the next morning he set out for the city of Kuru, riding upon his splendid chariot and attired in royal robes. His brothers went with him, each in his chariot, and they were followed by Dráupadi and Subadra, Arjuna's wife, with their children and their servants. When they arrived in Hástina, Yudhistra entered the palace and saluted Bhishma and Drona and his uncle Vídura; he went to Duryodha and greeted him and his brothers and Karna, as well as Shákuni and other kings of neighboring realms who had been invited to behold the match. Then he and his brothers went to the apartments of the old king, who welcomed them joyfully, caressing each one of them, while Dráupadi and Subadra went to the inner apartments to be with the queen.

The Pándavas rose at dawn the next morning, wakened by sweet music, and after their daily worship they entered the assembly hall, greeting those who were already there for the gambling.

Then Shákuni, king of Gandhara, said to Yudhistra, "The assembly is full, O King; we have all been waiting for you. Now let us fix the stakes, and let the game begin without delay."

"Gambling is a sinful thing," said Yudhistra. "there is no virtue in it and no bravery. The game of honest men is to make war without crookedness or cunning, for even enemies should not be vanquished unfairly. We use our wealth for good purposes, O Shákuni, and give it to the Brahmans. Do not win it from us by fixing desperate stakes or in dishonest ways!"

"Men take part in any sort of contest because they wish to win," Shákuni answered. "Whether it is a contest of arms or a contest of learning or a game, the purpose is victory, O King. So also a man skilled in dice plays with another who is not so skilled, because he wishes to win. The purpose may not be a high one, but it is not dishonest. If you think that I shall not play fairly or if you are afraid, then do not play!"

"I cannot refuse a challenge, O King," said Yudhistra. "With whom in this assembly am I to play? Who can stake as much as I?"

The Duryodha spoke, "I shall supply jewels and every kind of wealth for my uncle Shákuni, who is playing for me."

"Gambling with the hands of another person seems to me to be against the rules of play, as you, O learned one, must know," said Yudhistra. "However, if you are bent upon it, let us begin!"

When the match began, the kings and Kshatrias who were present took their seats in the assembly, with Kuru at their head, while Bhishma and Drona and the high-souled Vídura sat behind them with heavy hearts. The mansion looked splendid with these assembled kings, like heaven with a conclave of gods.

Yudhistra said to Duryodha, "O King, this excellent diadem of pearls set in gold is my stake; what is yours?"

"I have many jewels, but I am not vain of them," Duryodha replied. "I stake them all against your wreath. Win them if you can."

Yudhistra cast the dice, and then Shákuni, well skilled in play, took them up and cast them deceitfully, but so cunningly that few perceived it. He said to Yudhistra, "Lo, I have won!"

"You have won this stake of me by unfair means," Yudhistra answered, "but do not be proud, Shákuni! Let us stake thousands upon thousands! I have many beautiful jars full of jewels in my treasury, inexhaustible gold and much silver. This wealth, O King, I will stake against what I have lost."

They played and again Shákuni, casting the dice unfairly, said to the eldest son of Pandu, King Yudhistra of unfading glory, "Lo, I have won!"

"I have thousands of serving girls," Yudhistra said, "adorned with garlands and rich robes, with golden bracelets on their arms and wrists, and jewels round their necks. They are well skilled in the four-and-sixty arts, especially in dancing and singing; they serve the gods, Brahmans, and kings at my command. This wealth is my stake, O King!"

They threw the dice, and Shákuni cried out, "Lo, I have won!"

"I have, O son of Súvala," Yudhistra said, "thousands of elephants with golden girdles, decked with ornaments, with fine white tusks as long and thick as plowshares. They are worthy of carrying kings on their backs; they can bear every kind of noise of the field of battle, and each possesses eight female elephants. This wealth, O King, I will stake with you."

When Yudhistra had spoken thus they played, and Shákuni laughed, saying, "Lo, I have won it!"

"I have as many chariots as I have elephants," said Yudhistra, "all furnished with golden poles and flagstaffs, all drawn by well-trained horses and manned by warriors. I have also sixty thousand broad-chested warriors who eat rice and drink milk. this is the wealth, O King, that I stake."

They cast the dice, and the wretched Shákuni, who had cheated again, said, "Lo, I have won it!"

While this gambling that was bringing ruin upon Yudhistra was going on, Vídura spoke to Kuru, "O great King, listen to what I say, though my words may be bitter to you, as medicine is to one who is ill unto death! When this sinful Duryodha was born and began to bray like an ass, it was known to all that he would bring death to the Bháratas. Know, O King, that he will be the ruin of you all! Men who collect honey in the mountains and climb to dangerous heights in quest of it do not see that they are about to fall, for they think only of the sweetness that they seek. Duryodha is maddened by the play at dice and does not see that if he makes enemies of these great warriors he will surely die. O King, give up Duryodha and make the Pándavas your heirs! Exchange this jackal for these tigers! O King, do not ruin the sons of Pandu for their wealth! What will you gain by winning it from them? Win the Pándavas themselves, and they will be more to you than all their kingdom!"

Duryodha heard these words and said, "O Vídura, you always boast of the fame of our enemies and belittle the sons of Kuru. We know, you, O traitor; we know whom you really love, We have cherished you like a serpent in our laps; like a cat you scratch those who feed you. Go from us, then, and live with them! Why should we give shelter to the friends of our foes?"

"O King," said Vídura, turning to his brother Kuru, "what do you think of one who abandons his minister for giving him good advice? Henceforth, if you wish to hear sweet words about everything you do, ask women and idiots and cripples for their counsel! A man who speaks the truth when it is bitter and one who listens to it are both rare."

Shákuni said, "You have lost much of your wealth, Yudhistra. Tell me, have you anything that we have not won, O son of Kunti?"

"I have numberless cattle and horses, O son of Súvala," replied Yudhistra, "milk cows with calves, goats and sheep in the country that extends to the eastern bank of the Indus. I will stake this wealth, O King."

They cast the dice, and Shákuni said to him, "Lo, I have won!"

"I have my city," Yudhistra said, "my land, the wealth of everyone who dwells therein, except the Brahmans, and all those people, excepting the Brahmans. My kingdom still remains to me and I will stake it against all that I have lost."

They threw the dice, and Shákuni, playing skillfully and crookedly, said to him, "Lo, I have won!"

Then Yudhistra was carried away by the madness of the game and said, "This son of Madri, Nákula of mighty arms and neck like a lion's , is now my stake. He is my wealth."

And Shákuni cast the dice and said, "Lo, I have won him! O King Yudhistra, prince Nákula is dear to you and he now belongs to us to do with as we please. Whom will you stake against him?"

"This Sadeva," answered Yudhistra, "administers justice and is renowned for his learning. He does not deserve to be staked at play, yet even such a dear thing as this will I stake against all that I have lost."

They threw the dice, and Shákuni said, "Lo, I have won! O King, the sons of Madri, both dear to you, have been won by me, but Bhima and Arjuna remain to you."

"O wretch," cried Yudhistra, "it is sinful of you to divide us, who are all of one heart!"

"A man who is drunk falls into a pit and lies there unable to rise," Shákuni said. "You know, O bull of the Bháratas, that gamblers, when they are excited by the play, do things that they would never dream of doing at any other time."

"Arjuna," said Yudhistra, "is like a boat that carries us from one shore of the sea of battle to the other shore. He is ever victorious over his foes, the hero above all other heroes in the world. He does not deserve to be staked, but he is all that I have and I will play with him!"

When he had spoken thus and played, Shákuni cast the dice and said, "Lo, I have won him! This foremost of all wielders of the bow, this son of Pandu who uses both his hands with equal skill, now belongs to us. Play now with what remains to you, even with Bhima, your dear brother, as your stake, O son of Kunti!"

"O King," Yudhistra said, "he does not deserve to be staked at play, but I will stake Bhima, that prince who is our leader, the foremost in fight, the high-souled one with the lion's neck and arched eyebrows, who cannot put up with an insult, who has no equal in arms or in the wielding of the mace."

And, as they played, Shákuni cast the dice deceitfully and said, "Lo, I have won him! You have lost, O son of Kunti, your wealth, your horses and elephants, your kingdom and your brothers. Tell us if there is anything that you have not lost, that you can still stake in order to regain them all."

"I alone, the eldest of my brothers and dear to them, have not been lost," said Yudhistra. "If you win me, I shall do whatever the loser must do."


The Insult to Dráupadi

Shákuni, having cast the dice, said, "Lo, I have won! It is wrong of you, O King, to have lost yourself, for there is still one thing most dear to you that you have not staked. Stake Dráupadi, the princess of Panchala, and with her win all that you have lost."

"I will now play with Dráupadi as my stake," Yudhistra replied. "She is a woman whom a man might dream of as a wife, for her heart is tender, she is beautiful and virtuous and sweet of speech. Her waist is as slender as a wasp's; her hair is long and curling, her lips are red, and her eyes are like the leaves of the autumn lotus. O King, the slender-waisted Dráupadi is now my stake!"

When Yudhistra had spoken, the older people in the assembly said, "Shame! Shame!"; and the kings who were present were grieved at heart. Bhishma and Drona wiped the sweat from their brows, and Vídura sat with his head between his hands like one bereft of reason. But King Kuru could not hide his joy and asked again and again, "Has the stake been won? Has the stake been won?" Karna and Dushasa laughed aloud, while many wept.

Shákuni, proud of his success and in a flurry of excitement, kept saying, "There is still one stake--there is still one stake--" Then, playing with skillful hands, he cried, "Lo, I have won!" and picked up the dice.

"Come, Vídura," cried Duryodha, "bring hither Dráupadi, the beloved wife of the sons of Pandu! Let her sweep the rooms and dwell among our serving-women!"

"O wretch!" Vídura answered, "do you not know that you are tying yourself fast with cords? Do you not understand that you are hanging on the edge of a precipice, that you are like a deer that provokes tigers to rage? In my judgment, Dráupadi has not been won, since she was staked by the king after he had lost himself and was no longer his own master."

Drunk with pride, Duryodha said, "Fie upon Vídura!" He ordered a servant, a Suta's son, "Go, and bring Dráupadi hither! You need not heed the words of Vídura nor fear the sons of Pandu."

The servant ran to the apartments of the Pándavas, entering there as a dog enters a lion's den. He found Dráupadi and said, "Yudhistra, maddened by dice, has lost you to Duryodha, O Queen. Come now, and I will put you to some menial task."

"How can you speak thus?" cried Dráupadi. "What king has ever gambled, staking his wife? He must have been mad indeed if he could find no other stake."

"He staked you, O queen, when he had nothing else to lose," said the servant. "He lost first his brothers, then himself and lastly you."

"O son of the Suta caste," said Dráupadi, "go and ask that gambler which he lost first, himself or me. Then come and take me with you."

The messenger went back into the assembly and said to Yudhistra, "Dráupadi asks you, 'Whose lord were you at the time when you lost me in play? Did you lose yourself first or me?" But Yudhistra sat there like one who had lost his mind and said not a word.

Then Duryodha looked triumphantly at Yudhistra and said to the messenger, "Tell the princess of Panchala to come hither and put her question to him herself. Bring her hither at once!"

Duryodha turned impatiently to his brother. "Dushasa, this stupid fellow is afraid of Dráupadi. Go yourself and bring her here!" At his brother's command, Dushasa rose with blood-red eyes and strode into the apartments of the Pándavas.

"Come, come, Dráupadi, princes of Panchala," he said, "you have been won at dice by us, Put aside your modesty, come and behold Duryodha and accept the sons of Kuru as your lords!"

Dráupadi rose up in horror, covered her face with her hands and ran to the rooms where the ladies of Kuru's household were sitting. Dushasa, roaring with rage, ran after her and seized her by her long, curling locks, those locks that had been sprinkled with holy water at the Rajasuya sacrifice, and dragged her, trembling like a tree in a storm, into the assembly.

Helpless, with bent body, she cried faintly, "O wretch, it is not fitting to take me before the assembly, for I am not properly dressed and have but one garment on."

But Dushasa, dragging her forcibly, answered, "It does not matter whether you have one garment or none. You have been won by us; you are our slave and must live among our serving women."

Dráupadi's hair ws loosed and her garment half torn off; she burned with shame and anger and cried out, "O wretch! O cruel one! Do not drag me! Do not uncover me in the presence of the elders! The sons of Pandu are bound now by honor, but they will never forgive you for this, even if Indra were your ally! O shame! Does no one here rebuke you? Surely the Bháratas have forgotten their honor as Kshatrias; surely Drona and Bhishma have lost their virtue and so have the high-souled Vídura and the king. How else could they look on silently at this great crime?"

Thus did the slender-waisted Dráupadi cry out in her distress in that assembly. She glanced at her husbands who sat, furious but helpless, since they now belonged to the Kúravas; and her glance shamed and angered them still further, for it hurt them more than the loss of all their kingdom and their wealth. But Dushasa and Karna laughed aloud, and Shákuni applauded all that Dushasa did. Everyone except these three and Duryodha was filled with sorrow.

Bhishma beheld Dráupadi thus shamed in the assembly and said to her, "O blessed one, the way of virtue is sometimes hard to find. I cannot answer the question that you have asked. The son of Kunti played willingly and staked you in the game, for wives belong to their husbands. Yudhistra will give up a world of wealth, but he will never give up honor. I cannot decide whether you were won or not."

Then Vikarna, one of Kuru's sons, rose and said, "You Kshatrias, answer now the question that the blessed daughter of Panchala has asked, and declare which side each of you upholds." But none would answer him, because they feared Duryodha.

Vikarna wrung his hands, sighing, and said, "You kings of the earth and you Bháratas, I shall say what seems to me just and right, whether you answer or not. It is said that hunting, drinking, and gambling are the vices of kings. This son of Pandu has been carried away by the vice of gambling and made Dráupadi a stake, but he did so after he had already lost himself. Therefore, I do not think that she was lost."

An uproar arose in the assembly at these words, for many agreed with them. But Karna rose, beside himself with anger, and said, "O younger brother of Duryodha, you speak like a fool, while your elders are silent because they all believe that Dráupadi was justly won. How can you think that she was not won, when here in this assembly Yudhistra staked all that he had? Is Dráupadi not a part of the possessions of her lord? If anyone thinks it is improper to bring her here attired in one garment, are her robes not ours also? Dushasa, take their robes from the Pándavas and take her garment from Dráupadi!"

When the Pándavas heard these words, they took off their upper garments and threw them down, while Dushasa seized Dráupadi's robe and began to pull it off. Then Dráupadi, still radiant in her beauty, covered her face and cried aloud, "O Dharma, lord of justice, protector of the virtuous, save me who am suffering here in the presence of the Bháratas!" And Dharma, the God of Righteousness, heard her and covered her with beautiful garments of many colors. Dushasa pulled one after another from her body, but another always appeared, covering her, until many robes of different colors were heaped up in that assembly hall, and Dushasa, tired and ashamed, sat down.

The kings that were in that hall cried, "Shame!" and Bhima, wringing his hands with rage, swore a mighty oath in the midst of them all. "Hear these words of mine, you Kshatrias of the world! I shall tear open in battle the breast of this wretch, this wicked scoundrel, and drink his lifeblood! May I never follow the path of my ancestors if I fail to keep this word!" The terrible vow appalled those who heard it; many of them applauded him and blamed the son of Kuru.

But Karna said to Dushasa, "Take away this serving-woman, Dráupadi, to the inner apartments!"

"Wait a little, O wicked-minded Dushasa, worst of men!" Dráupadi cried. She knelt upon the ground, weeping piteously, and spoke to all who were assembled there. "Alas, I have been seen only once before, at my swayámvara, by the kings who were gathered there, but never since that time. The sun itself never beheld me in my palace, and now I am dragged into this hall and shamed before the gaze of the crowd! Alas, the sons of Pandu would not suffer even the winds to touch me, and now my hair has been seized by this wretch and I have been dragged hither! Alas, these elders of the Bháratas allow their daughter to be so ill-treated before their very eyes! I can bear it no longer. You kings, I am the wedded wife of the just king Yudhistra, and I come from the same caste to which he and you belong. Tell me now, whether I am a serving-woman or not, whether I am won or unwon at dice. I will accept your answer, whatever it may be."

The kings sitting there uttered not a word, for good or ill. Duryodha beheld this and smiled a little and said to Dráupadi, "O daughter of Panchala, let your husbands decide this matter for themselves. If Bhima and Arjuna, Nákula and Sadeva, will declare that Yudhistra is not their lord, if he himself declares that he is not your lord, you shall be free from slavery."

There was a hum of many voices and when they were still, Bhima arose and said, "The high-souled Yudhistra is our eldest brother and the lord even of our lives. If he considers himself won, then we are all won. If it were not so, no man who touches the earth with his feet would have escaped from me with his life after he had laid his hand on the hair of the princess of Panchala."

Then Karna said to Dráupadi, "O beautiful one, Bhima has spoken: you are now a slave. Go into the inner apartments and serve the king's family. The sons of Kuru are now your masters; choose another husband from among them, one who will not make you a slave by gambling."

Bhima sat, breathing hard, barely able to control his fury at these words, while Duryodha, in order to encourage Karna and to insult Bhima, drew up his robe and slapped his bare thigh before the eyes of Dráupadi.

Bhima saw this and said with blazing eyes to the son of Kuru, "May I never enter those regions where my ancestors dwell if I do not break that thigh of yours in the great battle!"

Duryodha paid no heed to him and said, "I am still willing to abide by the words of Arjuna and the twins. Let them say that Yudhistra is not their lord, and Dráupadi shall be freed."

"The noble son of Kunti, the just king Yudhistra, surely was our master before he lost himself," answered Arjuna. "But after he had lost himself, whose master could he be?"

Just then a jackal howled loudly in the sacrificial room of the king's palace; asses brayed in response, and terrible birds added their cries. Vídura, who understood all omens, went to the king, and Gandhari, who also knew the meaning of those sounds, came from the inner apartments to warn him. Both told the king that great danger hung over him and all his race. He was filled with fear and listened to their counsel. He said to his son, "O wicked-minded Duryodha! Behold, ruin has already come upon you for insulting these bulls among the Bháratas and their wedded wife, Dráupadi!" Then he called Dráupadi to him and comforted her, saying, "Ask any boon of me, O lovely one! You are chaste and virtuous, the best of all my daughters-in-law."

"If you wish to grant me a boon, O foremost of kings," she answered, kneeling before him, "let the just and dutiful king Yudhistra be freed from his bond. Do not let my child, his son, be called the child of a slave!"

"It shall be as you wish, O blessed one," said Kuru. "Now ask for another boon, for my heart is inclined to grant you a second one."

"I ask, O King, that Bhima and Arjuna and the twins, with their chariots and their weapons, be given their freedom," replied Dráupadi.

"They are free, my daughter," the king declared. "As now a third boon, for you deserve more than two."

"O first of kings, O noble one," Dráupadi said, "one who is greedy loses all virtue. I do not deserve a third boon and dare not ask for more. My husbands, when they are freed from bondage, will be able to achieve whatever more they need."

Then Bhima rose and stretched his mighty arms. "Shall I here and now," he said, "slay all our enemies, O Yudhistra, or shall I destroy them from the roots outside this palace? Allow me to slay them now, so that you may rule the whole earth without a rival!" And the mighty-armed hero began to burn with the fire of his fury until sparks and smoke came out of his ears and nostrils, and his face was as terrible to behold as that of Yama, the God of Death.

But Arjuna, with pleading eyes, soothed his elder brother, and Yudhistra forbade him, embracing him and saying, "Do not be so angry! Let there be silence and peace!" After he had calmed Bhima, he approached King Kuru with his hands joined.

"O King," he said, "you are our father and we are obedient to you. Counsel us now, as a father does his sons."

"I bless you, O righteous one," replied Kuru. "Go in peace and safety and rule your kingdom with all its wealth. And take to heart, my child, this advice of an old man. You know the difficult path of virtue; you are wise and also humble, and you honor those who are old. Therefore follow the counsels of peace. Do not remember the harshness of Duryodha, but look upon me who am old and blind and look upon Gandhari and remember only what is good. Return to Indra Prastha. Let there be brotherly love between you and your cousins and let your heart be ever fixed on virtue."

Thus blessed by his uncle, Yudhistra took his leave of everyone with the greatest courtesy. Then he and his brothers, with Dráupadi and Subadra and their children, mounted their chariots and set out for Indra Prastha.


Exile to the Forest

When the Pándavas had gone, Dushasa hurried to Duryodha, who was sitting among his counselors. He said to them all, "You mighty warriors, the old man has thrown away all that we won with so much trouble. What now, O bulls of the Bháratas?" Duryodha, Karna, and Shákuni were stung by his words, for they were filled with pride and jealousy. They talked together and made a new and wicked plan.

Then they went to the old king and spoke smooth and artful words: "O slayer of your foes, the angry sons of Pandu are even now planning to destroy us. They are whipping their horses in order to return quickly to their city and to assemble their armies. Even now Arjuna is driving his chariot, lifting his mighty bow, and casting angry glances about him; Bhima is whirling his heavy mace, and the twins have their swords in their hands and their shields on their arms. How can they forgive the injuries that we have done them? Who is there among them that can forget the insults that Dráupadi suffered?

"Let us gamble again and let this be the stake: those who lose must be exiled to the forest for twelve years and must then spend a thirteenth year in some inhabited place, but unknown to anyone. If they are discovered during that year, they must go into exile for another twelve years. The Pándavas will surely lose, just as they lost before. We shall have their kingdom and all their wealth during the thirteen years of their exile, and we can ally ourselves with all the kings of the earth and assemble a vast, invincible host. Then we can defeat them if they ever return and bring them under our sway. Therefore bring the sons of Pandu hither once more to cast the dice!"

"It shall be as you say," Kuru said. "Let the Pándavas return even if they have gone a great way. Let them come once more and cast the dice!"

Bhishma and Drona, Vídura and Gandhari all entreated the king, "Do not let the play begin again! Let there be peace!" But Kuru listened to his sons; he paid no attention to the wise advice of his friends and his wife, but summoned the sons of Pandu to return.

The royal messenger overtook Yudhistra when he was close to his own city of Indra Prastha and said, "Hear the words of your uncle, O King! The assembly is ready, O son of Pandu! O Yudhistra, come back and cast the dice!"

"Good and evil come at the will of the Creator, whether I play or not," said Yudhistra. "This is a challenge, and, besides, the command of the old king. I cannot refuse, even though I know that it will injure me." Therefore he turned the chariot and retraced his steps, along with his brothers and Dráupadi. Although they knew full well the deceitful ways of Shákuni, the mighty warriors entered the assembly hall and sat down to gamble amid their sorrowing friends.

Shákuni said, "The old king has given you back your wealth, O son of Pandu. That is well, but there is still a stake of great value to be won. It is this: those who are defeated at dice must dress in deerskins, enter the forest and live there for twelve years. The thirteenth year they must spend in some inhabited place, unknown to anyone. If they are recognized, they must spend another twelve years' exile in the woods. But if these conditions be fulfilled, they shall regain their kingdom after the thirteen years are past. Either you five sons of Pandu, with Dráupadi your wife, will suffer this, or we shall. Therefore play with us, Yudhistra, and cast the dice."

At these words, all that were in the assembly, raised their voices in distress, and one cried, "Alas! Fie upon the friends of Duryodha! Why do they not warn him of his danger?"

Yudhistra knew well what would come to pass, but he answered Shákuni, "O monarch, how can a king like me, who must always be mindful of the honor of his caste, refuse a challenge to a game? Therefore I will play with you."

He cast the dice and then Shákuni picked them up, cast them and said, "Lo, I have won!"

Then the vanquished sons of Kunti prepared for their exile into the forest, one after another casting off his royal robes and dressing himself in deerskins. When Dushasa saw them thus, he danced around them shamelessly and Duryodha, too, could not hide his joy and imitated the lion-like step of Bhima as he left the assembly hall.

The proud and mighty Bhima beheld this insult but controlled his rage and said, "O fool, I shall remind you of this when I kill you and all your brothers! Arjuna will slay Karna and Sadeva will slay Shákuni, that cheater with the dice. Hear these proud word, for the gods will make them good when we fight with the sons of Kuru!"

"In the fourteenth year from this day, O Bhima," Arjuna said, "if Duryodha does not return our kingdom to us, I shall slay in battle this Karna and all those other kings who foolishly fight against me. May the Himalayas be removed from where they stand, may the maker of the day lose his heat and the moon his coolness, if this vow of mine be not fulfilled!"

Sadeva said, raising his strong arms, "O Shákuni, you disgrace of the line of Gandhara! Those dice of yours are sharp-pointed arrows which will turn against you and pierce you in the day of battle. I shall surely kill you if you remain in the fight."

The handsome Nákula spoke, "I shall send to the abode of Yama all those who, because they wished to please Duryodha, spoke harsh and insulting words to the princess of Panchala at the gambling match."

Then those tigers among men, when they had pledged themselves thus, went to King Kuru, and Yudhistra said, "I bid farewell to my old grandsire Bhishma, to Drona and Vídura, to Kuru and his sons and to his courtiers. I shall see you all again when I return."

Those who were present were so overcome with shame that they could not say a word to Yudhistra, but in their hearts they prayed for his welfare.

Only Vídura spoke to him, saying, "O child, one who is vanquished by sinful means need never be downcast by his defeat. Go hence with our leave and with our blessing! You love each other and delight in one another's presence; your enemies cannot separate you. Who is there that will not envy you? It will be good for you to be away from the world for a time; for after this experience no enemy in the world will be able to stand against you. Learn from the moon the power of giving joy; learn from the water the power of nourishing all things; learn patience from the earth, power from the sun, and strength from the winds! I shall see you return in safely and crowned with victory."

"So be it!" Yudhistra said, bowing low to Vídura, Bhishma, and Drona, he went away with his brothers, to prepare for their exile.

When Dráupadi was ready to go, she took leave of the noble Kunti and the other ladies of the household, embracing each one of them, and a wail of sorrow arose from the inner apartments.

Kunti said to her in a voice broken by grief, "O child, go safely, blessed by my prayers! I need not teach you your duties to your husbands; they are fortunate that they have not been scorched by your anger. In the woods, watch over my son Sadeva, who is the dearest of all my children--dearer than life itself. See that his heart does not sink under this misfortune." Sorrowfully she followed Dráupadi and came upon her sons, shorn of their robes and ornaments, clad in deerskins and hanging their heads in shame.

She wept, lamenting their misfortune, and said farewell to them, while they comforted her as best they could. Then Vídura came and led her slowly to his house, for she no longer wished to live in Kuru's palace.

And the Pándavas, with Dráupadi, set out on foot for the woods, their hearts plunged in grief, their children, with Subadra and their servants, following them in their chariots. The sorrowing citizens followed them past the gates, blessing them as they went.

When the Pándavas had departed, King Kuru sent for Vídura, for he thought of the dangers that threatened his sons and was anxious and had no peace. He asked his brother fearfully, "O wise one, how did Yudhistra go away? In what manner did Bhima and Arjuna depart, and the twin sons of Madri? What did their priest do, and the noble Dráupadi? Tell me, O Vídura, all that they did."

"Yudhistra, the son of Kunti," answered Vídura, "went away, covering his face with his cloak; Bhima went, looking at his mighty arms; Arjuna followed his brothers, scattering grains of sand; Sadeva smeared his face; and Nákula, the handsomest of men, stained himself with dust. The large-eyed Dráupadi covered her face with her disheveled hair and followed in the wake of the king, weeping bitterly. And their priest, O King, walked along the road before them, with kusha grass in his hand, chanting the awful hymns of death."

"Tell me, O Vídura," said the king, "why did the sons of Pandu leave Hástina in these different ways?

Vídura replied, "King Yudhistra is always kind to your children, even when he has been so deeply wronged by them, O lord of earth. He is filled with anger, but he will not show his face because he thinks, 'I must not scorch the people by looking at them with angry eyes.' Bhima looked at his mighty arms because he was thinking, "There is none equal to me in strength; I will vanquish all our enemies with these arms.' Arjuna followed the footsteps of his brothers, thinking that he would scatter arrows upon his enemies as easily as he was then scattering the sand. Sadeva smeared his face because he did not wish anyone to recognize him in this day of trouble, and Nákula stained himself with dust, thinking, 'I must not steal the hearts of the ladies that look at me.' Dráupadi, disheveled and weeping, thought, "The wives of those who have brought me to such sorrow shall fourteen years from now be weeping and disheveled, as I am now, for those whom they have lost.'

"Their learned priest, O King, held the sacred grass in his hand and sang the hymns of death because he thought, 'When the Kúravas are slain in battle, their priests and teachers will be singing these hymns, as I am doing now.' The citizens cried out in their grief, 'Alas! Alas! Our masters are leaving us. Shame upon the Kúravas for acting like foolish children, banishing the sons of Pandu out of greed! Now we shall have no masters, for how can we love the wicked sons of Kuru?'

"As the Pándavas left the city, lightning appeared in the cloudless sky, the earth began to tremble, meteors fell to the left of the city, the birds shrieked from the temples of the gods and from the tops of the sacred trees. These evil omens were seen and heard, O King; they are a warning of the doom that will follow the wicked acts of your sons."


Seeger, The Five Sons of King Pandu, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 95-116.