by Carole Losee © 2005-2020

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




The Kámyaka Forest

Thus the sons of Kunti, defeated at dice, with anger in their hearts, set out from the city called after the elephant, with Dráupadi and her five sons and Subadra with her son Abimanyu. When they had passed beyond the gates they mounted their chariots, while their servants, carrying their bows and quivers and their other splendid weapons, and the maidservants carrying Dráupadi's robes and jewels, rode in carts behind them. Many Brahmans walked beside them, and the citizens of the town followed them for a long way, wailing aloud in their sorrow.

At sunset they reached the banks of the Ganges, where a mighty banyan tree stood. They purified themselves in the sacred water and spent the night there taking nothing but water for their food. In the twilight hour, that is both beautiful and terrible, the Brahmans lit their holy fires and chanted the Vedas, comforting Yudhistra and calming the anger in his brothers' hearts.

The next day they set out for the forest of Kámyaka, which lies to the west, on the banks of a broad river. Several of their friends and kinsmen overtook them after they entered the forest: Krishna, who had been away at war when the gambling match took place, Dráupadi's brother, Jumna, and other kings and Kshatrias who had heard of their exile with sorrow and anger.

"Alas," said Krishna, "If I had been at Hástina, O best of kings, this evil would not have befallen you, for I should have forbidden the game, either by persuasion or by force. The earth shall drink the blood of Duryodha and Karna, of Dushasa and Shákuni, for the wicked deserve to be slain."

And Jumna, comforting Dráupadi, said to her, "O sister, I will slay Drona, and our brother Shikándin will slay the grandsire, Bhishma. We cannot be conquered even by the gods when we have Krishna's help; what can the sons of Kuru do to us?"

They talked together for a long time, and when the visitors were taking their leave, Yudhistra said, "O Krishna, take back with you the delicate Subadra, your sister, and Abimanyu, Arjuna's son. Train him in the science of arms, in the study of the Vedas and the duties of the Kshatria caste. And you, O Jumna, take these five sons of Dráupadi and care for them as if they were your own. They need not share the hardships and the dangers of our exile." The two heroic princes gladly did what Yudhistra asked; they mounted their shining chariots, taking Subadra and the children and their nurses with them, and drove back to their own cities. The other kings and warriors reverently saluted the Pándavas and returned to their realms. Then the sons of Pandu and Dráupadi went deeper into the forest to find a pleasant place where they could spend the twelve years of their exile. It was late summer, and they looked with delight at the tall trees covered with flowers or fruits, hummed over by swarms of black bees, while on the topmost branches birds poured forth their songs. As they drew near to the river's bank, they came upon a hermitage where men of pure soul, clad in the bark of trees, were living. The king, his brothers, and their followers stepped from their chariots and entered the hermitage with joined palms, and the holy men and forest dwellers came toward them, eager to behold that king who was devoted to truth. Yudhistra sat down in their midst at the foot of a mighty tree covered with flowers and creepers, as his father Pandu had done before him. Bhima and Arjuna, the twins and Dráupadi, tired by the journey, sat down around him and made that tree, bent down with its weight of creepers, look like a mountain with five great elephants resting on its side. There in that holy hermitage the Pándavas made their home.

They picked the forest fruits for their food, and the five brothers, each going in different directions, went our every day with their bows in their hands to shoot the deer. They first gave a portion of the food to the Brahmans and the holy men and ate the rest themselves; the faultless Dráupadi fed her husbands and the Brahmans as if she were their mother, taking her own food last of all. No one who lived with Yudhistra was thin or ill or had anything to fear.

One evening the sons of Kunti and their beloved wife were seated under that mighty tree, talking sadly together. The beautiful Dráupadi, dear to her lords and devoted unto them, said to Yudhistra, "When I behold this bed of grass and remember what you had before, I grieve for you, O King, for you do not deserve any sorrow. What peace can my heart know when I behold you here? Alas, these brothers of yours were once dressed in rich apparel and fed with foods of the sweetest savor. I grieve for them, too, because now they live in the woods on what the woods may yield.

"Why does your anger not blaze up, O King, when you behold Bhima living in sorrow in the woods, though he deserves every happiness? Why does your anger not blaze up at the sight of Arjuna in exile, who alone in his chariot had vanquished gods and men and serpents? How can you forgive our enemies when you behold Nákula in exile, so fair and young and strong, the foremost of all swordsmen? Why does your anger not blaze up at the sight of the brave and handsome Sadeva living here in the woods, when he does not deserve any sorrow? And how can you forgive our enemies when you see me here in exile, the daughter of Panchala's king, the daughter-in-law of Pandu and the devoted wife of heroes? Every Kshatria should know what anger is, but you can have no anger if your heart is unmoved by the sight of your brothers and me in such distress.

"Forgiveness is not always to be admired, O son of Kunti. He who always forgives is looked down upon by his servants, by strangers, and by his enemies; mean-minded men cheat him, and no one respects him. Forgiveness and force should both be used, each at the right time. The wise say that you should forgive a man who has done you a service, even if he wrongs you deeply; that you should forgive those who do wrong because they are foolish or because they know no better, for it is not easy to be wise; and that a first offense should always be forgiven. But force should be used against sinners at all times except these. O King, the wicked and greedy sons of Kuru have injured us again and again and should not be forgiven. You should use force against them.

"O Yudhistra, there was a learned Brahman at my father's court. Sometimes, when I was a girl, I went out of the inner apartments and sat on my father's lap and listened to the wise words of that Brahman. He taught me these things."

"Anger is the slayer of men, O beautiful one," Yudhistra said. "He who controls his anger conquers the world. There is no sin that an angry man may not commit, no word that an angry man may not utter. In anger a man may slay one who should not be slain and may reward one who deserves death. How, then, can we let ourselves be angry?

"There would be no peace at all in the world if there were not some men who are as forgiving as the earth. If everyone returned evil for evil, if everyone who was punished wanted to punish in return, there would be nothing but sin in the world, and all creatures would perish. Creatures are born because there is peace, O lovely one; they enjoy life and happiness because there are men who are as forgiving as the earth. Therefore, we should forgive every injury. Forgiveness is goodness; forgiveness is truth; forgiveness is sacrifice and holiness; forgiveness is the power of the strong; forgiveness is peace of mind; by forgiveness the universe is held together. Whoever knows this can forgive anything. The forgiving man is always victorious, for the world belongs to him. Therefore, do not give way to anger, Dráupadi."

"I cannot see that victory or happiness are won by virtue or by forgiveness," answered Dráupadi. "Everyone knows that you are virtuous, and yet this unbearable misfortune has befallen you. I do believe that you would give up Bhima and Arjuna, these twin sons of Madri, and myself before you would give up virtue; yet virtue does not protect you. Therefore surely you should act, O King, to remove this evil that has come upon us."

Then Bhima, breathing hard with anger, spoke to Yudhistra, "O King, what do we gain by living here like holy men, unable to pursue any of the three aims of life-duty, pleasure, and profit? Why must we endure this banishment, just for the sake of keeping a promise? Only cowards would do it and that is what people believe us to be. This grieves me more than death in battle. We cannot live as Brahmans do, because we are forbidden to do so. A Kshatria must win his wealth by strength and energy. Awake, O King, and understand the duties of the caste into which you were born! Kill your enemies and destroy the power of Kuru's sons! No man can bear the touch of Arjuna's arrows winged with vulture's feathers. No warrior or horse or elephant can stand the stroke of my mace in battle. When, then, should we not wrest our rightful kingdom from our enemies, with the help of Krishna, of Dráupadi's father and brothers, and our many friends?"

Yudhistra, after a few moments, patiently answered his brother, "I cannot blame you, O Bhima, for piercing me with your sharp words. This misfortune has befallen you all because of my folly. You know well, however, that when Shákuni challenged me to play the second time, in the presence of all the court, he told me the stake that we were playing for, and I replied, 'So be it!' I made that agreement in the presence of those good men, so how could I dare to break it, even for the sake of a kingdom? Wait, O Bhima, for the return of better days, as the sower waits for the harvest!"

"If we wait for thirteen years, O King," said Bhima, "we shall only be so much nearer death. Life is uncertain, and we should try to regain our kingdom before we die. During the last year of our exile we must live, unknown to anyone, in some inhabited place. O son of Kunti, everyone in the world has known us ever since we were boys. How can we live without being recognized? And if our enemies, through their spies, discover us, we must live in exile for another twelve years. Anger is hard to control. I burn with it day and night and cannot sleep. Arjuna also burns with grief, although he lives here like a lion in his den because he wants to please you. The twins do not speak, but all of us long for battle. Why, then, O tiger among men, will you not act and slay your enemies? There is no higher duty for a Kshatria than a righteous battle."

Yudhistra sighed deeply and thought to himself, "I hear a great deal about the duties of kings and Kshatrias, but I know the path of virtue and I must follow it." Then he said to Bhima, "Courage is not enough, O slayer of foes, to give you what you desire. There must be well-laid plans. Our enemies are skilled in fighting and always ready for battle. Many kings whom we have injured will fight on their side. Bhishma and Drona love us as much as they do our cousins, but because of the favor and the wealth that they enjoy at Kuru's court, they must fight for his sons. They cannot be vanquished even by the gods; and there is also that mighty warrior, Karna, fierce and angry, master of all weapons. How can we slay Duryodha and his brothers, when they are protected by these tigers among men? I cannot sleep at night when I think of Karna's lightness of hand, for I think that no one can surpass him in wielding the bow."

At these words, Bhima was silent and sat there, thinking. While they were talking together, the holy sage Vyasa appeared among them and they rose to worship him. He said to Yudhistra, "I know what is in your heart, O sinless one, and I can free you of the fear of Bhishma and of Drona and Karna, the Suta's son," He took the king's hand and led him apart and said to him, "The time will come, O best of kings, when Arjuna will slay all your foes in battle, but he will need even better weapons than those he now has. He must go to Shiva and to Indra, his father, and learn from them the use of heavenly weapons. He is pure and brave enough to behold them and to win their favor, and when he receives those divine weapons no one on earth will be able to stand against him." Then Vyasa bade him farewell and vanished as he had come.

Yudhistra called Arjuna to him; he took both his hands and looked lovingly at him, saying, "The whole science of arms, O Arjuna, is known to Bhishma, Drona, and Karna. The earth, with all its towns and villages, its seas and woods and mountains, is now under the sway of Duryodha. You are the only one who can win it back for us, if he will not return our kingdom to us when the thirteen years are over. You are our only hope. Let me tell you what Vyasa said to me: 'Arjuna must go to Shiva and to Indra and learn from them the use of all their weapons. When he receives them, no one in the world can stand against him.' O slayer of foes, devote yourself fiercely to discipline, so that you may win the favor of these mighty gods. Take your bow and sword, put on your mail, and go northward this very day and do not give way to anyone until you find them."


Arjuna's Sojourn in Heaven

The strong-armed Arjuna obeyed the command of his elder brother. That very day he took up his bow and his quivers and put on his mail and his finger guards made of lizard skin; he said farewell to his brothers and to Dráupadi and set out on his journey. He strode through the forests and over the mountains without rest, and all the creatures fled out of the path that he took. He walked day and night without wearying and crossed the Himalayas, passing many fearful and dangerous cliffs and rocks and rushing streams, until he reached the mountain of Indra.

As he climbed its slope, a voice said to him, "Stop!" He looked round him and saw a holy man, ablaze with spiritual light, sitting under a tree. The holy one said to him, "Why do you come here armed and dressed in mail? There is no need of weapons here, for there are no quarrels on this hill. Besides, you could not have come this far if you were not pure in heart and free of anger; therefore, O child, throw away that great bow of yours and choose whatever region of bliss you wish to dwell in. "

"I cannot dwell yet in any region of bliss," replied Arjuna, "for I have left my brothers behind me in the forest, and I have enemies whom I must kill."

The holy one smiled and said to him, "O slayer of foes, I bless you! I am Indra; ask of me whatever boon you desire."

The heroic Arjuna bent his head and joined his hands, saying to that god of a thousand eyes, "O exalted one, this is the boon that I ask: let me learn from you the use of all your weapons!"

The god replied with gentle words, "O child, I will give you all the heavenly weapons when you are able to behold Shiva, the lord of all creatures, who carries the trident and has a third eye in his brow. Open the eyes of your soul, O Arjuna, and strive to behold the highest of the gods, for when you have seen him, all your desires shall be granted."

Arjuna stayed on in that delightful place, by the banks of a clear stream where swans and cranes abounded. He gave himself with fierce energy to mastering his mind and body so that the eyes of his soul might be opened. He sat on a black deerskin and ate the withered leaves that fell upon the ground. During the first month he ate these, with some fruits, every third night; the second month he ate every sixth night and the third month he ate once in a fortnight. When the fourth month came he lived on air alone, and trained himself to stand on tiptoe with his arms upraised for days at a time. The light of his soul began to shine through his thin body.

The great sages who live in heaven beheld his fierce discipline and went together to Shiva and told him what Arjuna was doing, but Shiva, smiling, said, "Do not grieve because of Arjuna! I know what is in his heart, and this very day I shall give him his desire." And the sages, glad at heart, returned to their dwellings.

Then Shiva, the cleanser of all sins, the wielder of the great bow, took the form of a hunter of tall and stalwart body, with a fine bow and quiver, and came down upon the mountain where Arjuna sat. His wife, Uma, came with him in the guise of a huntress, with a crowd of merry spirits. The mountainside suddenly blazed with beauty, because the god of gods came there; the birds stopped singing and even the brooks and springs were silent, awed by his presence.

At this moment Arjuna saw a mighty boar that rushed upon him as if to kill him. He sprang up, seized and strung his bow in an instant, breaking the silence with a thunderous twang of the string. He aimed at the boar, but Shiva cried, "Stop! This boar is my prey, for I aimed at it first." Arjuna paid no heed to his words, but let fly his arrow; Shiva shot at the same moment, and both arrows struck the heart of the boar, which fell dead before them.

Then Arjuna turned and saw the hunter, splendid as a golden tree, and asked him, "Who are you that wander in this lonely wood? Why did you shoot the boar that was my prey? You have not obeyed the rules of the chase, and therefore I must challenge you to fight me."

Shiva answered, smiling, "I aimed first at the boar and my arrow killed him. You were at fault and therefore shall not escape me. Now shoot your sharpest arrows, and we shall see who is the better bowman."

This answer angered Arjuna, and he accepted the hunter's challenge, pouring out a shower of arrows that blazed like the rays of the sun. But Shiva, the creator of the worlds, the bearer of the trident, stood unwounded, like a mountain under a shower of stones, and Arjuna wondered, thinking to himself, "Well done! Well done! This mountaineer bears all my deadly shafts without wavering. Is he Shiva himself, or some other god or demon?" He shot all his arrows and then lifted his great bow and struck the hunter with the end of it, but Shiva snatched the bow out of his hands. Arjuna drew his sword and with the whole might of his arm struck at the hunter's head; but that best of swords broke in a hundred pieces the moment it struck. Then the son of Pandu, his mouth smoking with anger, fell upon the invincible god with his clenched fists, striking him blows like thunderbolts, which the hunter returned. At last Arjuna closed with him, pressing him against his breast; and then the god, putting forth his might, crushed Arjuna's breath out of his body and ended the fight. Bruised and breathless, the son of Kunti fell down on the earth as if he were dead, and Shiva stood above him, laughing.

The god saw how thin Arjuna's body was because of his fasting and wondered at his strength. Looking down at him, he spoke in a voice deep as thunder. "O son of Kunti, I am pleased with this deed of yours. There is no Kshatria equal to you in courage and in patience. O sinless one, behold me now in my true form and ask of me any boon that you desire."

Then he took his own form, that shamed the sun with its glory. In this divine form the god had many faces and many eyes and looked everywhere; he was clothed in divine garments with wondrous jewels and garlands and perfumes, and he held upraised in many hands, his shining weapons. He shone with the radiance of a thousand suns, and Arjuna could not bear to look at him for more than a moment. He bowed his head to the ground and worshipped Shiva, saying, "O god of gods, O cause of all causes, O pure one, giver of boons, forgive the rash deed of mine, this fight that I waged with you, not knowing you. I came to this mountain only to behold you, for I seek your protection. Therefore forgive me!"

Shiva, appearing again as a hunter, took his hands and raised him from the ground. "I have forgiven you," he said. "Now ask of me the boon that you desire."

"O lord of all created things," answered Arjuna, "I ask of you that fierce celestial weapon that you wield, the weapon that hurls forth thousands of darts and arrows like poisonous snakes, that weapon with which you will destroy the world when time ends. If I may use it, I can vanquish Karna, Bhishma, and Drona in the terrible conflict which must take place between us. My great desire is to be victorious in that fight."

"I will give you that weapon," Shiva replied, "for you are worthy to keep it, to hurl it and to withdraw it. But, O son of Kunti, beware of using it! If it were cast at a foe of little strength, it might destroy the universe. You may use it only when all your other weapons have failed."

Arjuna bathed and purified himself in the stream; then he stood before Shiva with rapt attention while the god taught him the use of that mighty weapon and the mysteries of casting and withdrawing it. Then, with joined palms and bowed head, he thanked the god, who forthwith left the blessed mountain and disappeared before the eyes of the son of Pandu, as the sun set from the sight of the world. After that the divine weapon belonged to Arjuna as it did to Shiva; it could not be seen by men, but gods and demons saw it at his side.

Arjuna spent that night and the next day on the mountainside, rejoicing that he had obtained that wonderful weapon and had beheld the god of gods. In the evening a pure, refreshing breeze began to blow, new and fragrant flowers blossomed around him on all sides, and he heard the chanting of hymns to Indra. The lord of heaven with his queen, seated on the back of a celestial elephant, alighted on a mountain peak like a second sun and spoke to him saying, "O child, prepare now to enter heaven. I shall send my chariot to take you to that blessed region where I will give you my divine weapons and teach you how to use them."

After Indra had returned to heaven, Arjuna purified himself by a bath in the river, worshiping the gods with libations of water. He wondered what sort of chariot Indra would send for him, and even as he wondered, the chariot appeared, dividing the clouds and filling the sky with blazing light and with the thunder of its wheels. It was drawn by ten golden horses as swift as the wind and driven by a charioteer adorned with gold who, stepping down from it, bowed before Kunti's son and invited him to mount it.

Arjuna first bade farewell to the mountain, with its caves, its valleys and its snowy peaks, saying, "O king of mountains, you who give shelter to holy and heaven-seeking sages! I have lived on your heights as happily as a child sleeps on his father's lap; I have eaten your savory fruits and drunk the sweet water that flows from your body. Every day I have spent here has been a happy one. Now I must leave you and I bid you farewell."

Then he mounted the chariot gladly, and it soared upward through the sky, drawn by those steeds that had the speed of thought. When they had gone so far that they could no longer see the earth, they entered the region of the gods, where the sun and the moon do not shine, for it has its own brilliant light. He saw the stars, which look as small as lamps from the earth, ablaze with splendor and beauty, and on the stars he saw royal sages, heroes who had died in battle, and saints by hundreds and hundreds. He wondered much at the sight and asked he charioteer who these might be.

"These, O son of Kunti," the charioteer replied, "Are men who have deserved to live in these blessed regions because of their virtue."

Thousands of other chariots moved through the heavens, and the Gandharvas and the Apsaras, who dance and make music for the gods, came out to greet them.

They drew near Indra's city, at whose gate the four-tusked celestial elephant stood, and Arjuna beheld gardens and sacred trees that seemed to welcome him among them, while all around he heard the sounds of drums and conchs. There was no heat or cold, no poverty or sorrow or weariness in this celestial city. No one could behold it who had not purified himself with hard discipline; no one could come near it who did not know the Vedas and had not performed sacrifices and made gifts. As he drove through it, gods and sages and Gandharvas greeted him courteously, blessing him as he saluted them. Then at last he arrived at the hall of Indra, which the sage Vyasa had described to him and his brothers, and he alighted there.

The lord of heaven, his father Indra, was seated under a white canopy held up by a golden staff; he was surrounded by bards and singers and Brahmans chanting the Vedic hymns. Arjuna drew near and saluted him, bending his head to the ground, and Indra raised his son, took his hand and seated him at his side upon the throne, caressing him and looking at him with delight.

Arjuna lived then in his father's palace, learning all the while how to use the divine weapons and how to bring them back to his hand after they had done his will. Indra gave him his own favorite missiles--the thunderbolt and the lightning which come forth when the heavy clouds appear and the peacocks dance; he gave him also other weapons belonging to Agni and to Vayu, the Wind-God, to the demons and the storm gods, for all were in Indra's keeping. Arjuna became the friend of the chief of the Gandharvas, who taught him the singing, music, and dancing that those heavenly minstrels practice. So the son of Pandu lived for full five years in heaven, surrounded by every joy and comfort; but his mind was never at peace, for he always remembered his brothers and Dráupadi and the unfair game of dice, and he thought with rage of Dushasa and Shákuni and Karna.


Arjuna's Return

After the five years had passed, Indra said to him, "O son, the time has come for you to return to earth; your brothers are sorrowing for you. You can now overpower every foe; neither Bhishma nor Drona, Karna nor Shákuni, nor any other Kshatria will ever be able to defeat you." He set on Arjuna's head a golden diadem, girded him with a coat of mail that no shaft could pierce, and gave him rare unearthly garments and jewels and a mighty conch to blow in battle. Arjuna bowed down to Indra and walked round him thrice; then he mounted the blazing chariot of the god, which sped like a meteor through the skies. The charioteer guided the golden horses to a peak of the Gandamádana Mountains, where Arjuna alighted.

After the high-souled Arjuna left them, his brothers and Dráupadi were filled with sorrow; they were like pearls loosed from their string or like birds whose wings were clipped. They often spoke of him and remembered how he could use his bow with his right or left hand equally well; they recalled his amazing deeds in battle, his sweet speech and forgiving temper, his high honor, and his mercy to a fallen foe.

One day, while they were talking thus, a holy hermit came before them. When he was seated and refreshed, Yudhistra said to him sadly, "O holy one, I have been robed of my wealth and my kingdom by cunning gamblers who exiled me to this great forest with my brothers and my wife, who is dearer to me than my own life. I cannot sleep at night when I think of our misfortunes. Even when I have regained my kingdom, I may be challenged again to gamble and I may again lose all, for I am not skilled in play, and I cannot stoop to deceit. And now besides, I have lost the company of the large-hearted Arjuna, that wielder of the bow on whom our lives depend. When will he return to us, having mastered the heavenly weapons? Alas, I am the most unhappy man!"

"Be comforted, O King, and do not yield to grief," the hermit said. "I have heard from certain holy pilgrims that Arjuna is living on a peak of the Himalayas, engaged in fierce discipline of mind and body. He lives on air and speaks to no man; surely he will soon fulfill all his desires. You need not fear to be challenged again to a gambling match, for I know the whole science of numbers and will gladly teach it to you." And he taught the science of numbers to the high-souled son of Pandu, who learned it from him eagerly.

Many holy men and hermits lived within the Kámyaka forest, and many others came there from various parts of the country, or passed through it when they went on pilgrimages. One day one of the great sages, who shone with spiritual light, came to the forest, and the Pándavas received him reverently. They sat round him as the gods sit round Indra, and Yudhustra asked him whence he had come.

"A short time ago," he said, "I went to the palace of Indra, where I saw your heroic brother, who wields the bow with either hand, sitting on the very throne of Indra. Listen carefully, O King, for he sent this message to you: 'Tell my brother Yudhistra to devote himself to virtue and to discipline, for they will bring him victory. Counsel him to make a pilgrimage to the sacred bathing places, with his brothers and Dráupadi, that their souls may be cleansed of any evil. And tell him that in five years' time I will come to that king of mountains, the Sveta Peak in the Gandamádana Mountains, where I will meet him.' He also asked me to go with you to show you the way to distant and difficult places, and to protect you from the mighty demons whom you may encounter there. I have twice made the pilgrimage, O son of Kunti, and I will gladly make it the third time in your company."

"My heart is so full of joy, O sinless one," Yudhistra answered, "that I can hardly find words to answer you. Who could be more fortunate than I, to have Arjuna for my brother and you for my guide? Let us start our pilgrimage on the first favorable day."

On the day following the next full moon those heroes with Dráupadi, set out in their chariots, with the high-souled sage and the Brahmans who had lived with them in the forest, followed by their cooks and other servants in fifteen carts. They first turned their faces towards the east till they came to the sea where the river Ganges flow into it. There the Pándavas bathed in the holy waters; then they turned southward along the seashore and visited the sacred bathing places, one after another, plunging into the waters that cleansed their hearts of sin. They purified themselves also by fasting and by long days of thought and meditation. They passed through various countries and visited the shrines of all the gods, worshiping each one with offerings of flowers and water. After they had bathed in the waters of the Godávari and Nerbada rivers, the Indus, the Jumna, and the Sarasvati, they turned northward again; for four years had passed and the time for Arjuna's return drew near.

They reached the foothills of the Himalayas and were delighted to find there a kingdom abounding in horses and elephants, where huntsmen and horsemen dwelt. The king received them gladly at the borders of his land, and they lived in comfort with him until the sun rode high in the heavens and they were ready for their journey into the mountains.

Then Yudhistra said to Bhima, "Dráupadi always looks to you for protection, even when Arjuna is with us. Therefore, stay with her here and keep Sadeva also with you, while Nákula and I, carrying only our bows and swords, go forward on foot with the holy one."

"O tiger among me," Bhima replied, "this blessed princess has suffered much hardship and sorrow, but she will gladly go further if she hopes to meet Arjuna. You, who miss him so much, will be still sadder if Sadeva and I are not with you, and we cannot let you go alone through those steep and dangerous mountains. Let the Brahmans stay with our chariots and servants, but let us all go together to meet Arjuna. Do not be anxious; I will carry the daughter of Panchala if her strength fails her."

Dráupadi smiled and said, "Do not fear. I shall be able to go with you." And Yudhistra consented to their going.

So they left their chariots and servants with the king of that country and set out on foot for the mountains; the brothers kept their bows strung at full stretch, their quivers full of arrows within easy reach, and their lizard-skin gloves on their hands. As they walked along he mountain paths, their hearts were filled with delight, for the slopes were covered with blossoming trees that looked like garlands hung upon the mountain, and the birds, mad with joy, filled the air with their songs. Herds of elephants moved like clouds among the trees, and deer lifted their heads, holding the grass in their mouths, to watch the wayfarers. They walked beside lakes covered with lotuses, whose buds were like joined hands greeting them. The air was filled with the sweet hum of bees covered with yellow pollen and drowsy with the heady honey of the lotus. Peacocks danced and spread their splendid tails high in the branches, where they looked like crowns upon the trees. The Pándavas and Dráupadi, wide-eyed with wonder, went deeper into the forest.

When they reached the Gandamádana Mountains, the way became steep and rocky; they passed through mighty forests filled with tigers, boars, and monkeys. One day a violent storm arose that raised clouds of dust and dry leaves; trees fell and crashed round them, and they could neither see nor hear one another. They took shelter in a cave, and Dráupadi, who was not used to walking and was worn out by the storm, sank down on the ground, faint and trembling. They all turned to her; Yudhistra took her on his lap, comforting her, while the twins lifted her rosy-soled feet and rubbed them gently with their strong hands, scarred by the bowstring, until she regained her senses.

Then Bhima said, "Do not despair, O King of kings. I will carry her now over all the mountains that lie before us."

So saying, he lifted her in his mighty arms and they went quickly on, for the storm was over. Before many days had passed, they saw on the side of a great mountain a pleasant hermitage, well swept, fragrant with flowers, and echoing with the chanting of the Vedas. Many sages lived there, dressed in black deerskins, feeding on fruits and roots and wild honey, and these holy ones received the travelers joyfully, offering them fresh water, flowers, and fruit. So they rested there for seven days before going on their way.

When they were rested, they took the mountain path again, ever traveling toward the north. They climbed the steep and fearful rocks with ease, passing deep caves and towering cliffs, and neither the Pándavas nor their guide, the holy sage, ever grew tired. Suddenly, one day, they beheld the peak they sought and they stood still in awe at the sight; for the great mountain, dazzling in its brightness, with clouds stretching out from its sides, seemed to be dancing with outstretched wings. Its forests were more beautiful than any they had seen: its rocks gleamed with brilliant jewels, and streams, like strings of pearls, rushed down its sides.

High on its slopes, they came upon a solitary hermit, sitting like a skeleton bound together with naked muscles, for he had worn away his flesh with discipline. They stopped to greet him, and he said to Yudhistra, "Do not go beyond this place, O best of the Bháratas. The summits of these mountains are the playground of the gods and no mortal may set his foot upon them. Even here you may hear the drums and conchs of the Apsaras and the Gandharvas and the sweet notes of their songs. O child, stay here until you meet with Arjuna; live on the fruits and honey of this mountain and do not venture farther."

They spent a month in that high hermitage, beholding many marvels, performing the daily sacrifices, reciting the Vedas, and watching the rising and the setting of the sun. All the time they thought and talked about Arjuna and every day seemed to them like a year, for they had known no joy since their high-souled brother left them in the Kámyaka forest.

One day the sky suddenly lightened, and looking up, they beheld the chariot of Indra, like a smokeless fire or a blazing meteor, drawn by horses bright and swift as lightning. Quicker than thought it alighted on the mountain, and Arjuna, radiant with beauty, decked with fresh garlands and bright jewels, leaped to the ground. He bowed down first to the sage, then to Yudhistra and Bhima, touching their feet, while the twins bowed down to him and touched his feet. Then he greeted his beloved wife and presented to her the rare, unearthly garments and the jewels that Indra had given him. They were exceedingly happy together as Arjuna sat in the midst of his brothers, his wife, and the holy one, and told them all that had happened to him in the five years that he had been away.

"Thus I have learned the use of the weapons of Indra and Shiva and all the other gods," he said at last. "Indra himself set upon my head this diadem, gave me this mighty roaring shell and this celestial mail."

When he had told them all these wonderful things and they had sat together far into the starlit night, Arjuna of the spotless deeds lay down and slept sweetly beside the twin sons of Madri.

Seeger, The Five Sons of King Pandu, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 117-137.