After the Pāṇḍavas lost the game of dice, they took their weapons and set out along with Draupadī in a northern direction, leaving Hastinagara behind. Seeing them, the citizens of the town were distressed. Without fear, the townsfolk hurled curses on Bhīṣma, Vidura, and Droṇa – “If they govern the kingdom according to the whims of the sinner Duryodhana, Śakuni, Karṇa, and Duśśāsana, what will happen to our homes and āśramas – will they be secure? Where do dharma and adharma stand? Therefore, let us go where the Pāṇḍavas go. They are great souls, conquerors of their senses, endowed with compassion and magnanimity, and firm adherents of dharma.” Saying so, they began following the Pāṇḍavas. Upon seeing them, with folded hands the townsfolk said, “We shall follow you; we cannot stay in the kingdom of this Kaurava; the result of an ignorant man’s company is Delusion and Attachment; if dharma should be the result, then it is possible only by associating with sādhus. The cloth that holds flowers before they are strung into a garland is also endowed with the fragrance of the flowers; if peace must result, one must be in the company of noble people who are wise, elder, and have undertaken tapas. The company of people who are pure in family, learning, and deeds is greater than studying the śāstras. Whatever deeds we may do or not do, if we spend time with good people, it results in puṇya and if we spend time with bad people, it results in pāpa. Speaking with evil people and moving around with them naturally results in a decline of dharma and makes the mind dull. You have all the noble qualities that make you śiṣṭas; therefore, keeping in mind our welfare, we have decided to follow you and live with you.”
Yudhiṣṭhira said, “As citizens, out of your affection and compassion towards us, you are ascribing noble qualities to us that we don’t possess! We are indeed blessed. My brothers and I would like to request you for a favour; you should not turn it down, out of your love or sympathy for us. Grandfather Bhīṣma, King Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Vidura, our mother Kuntī, and many of our friends are still living in Hastinagara; you must protect them with all sincerity. If you do so, it will bring us goodness and joy. That is our request. You have come really far. Now, turn back; if you fulfil my ardent wish, then it will amount to honouring me.”
The dejected citizens of Hastinapura returned home, without their wish being fulfilled. The Pāṇḍavas went to the banks of the Gaṅgā, drank water near a huge Banyan tree named ‘Pramāṇa’ and then slept in its shade. They spent the night there. There, the Pāṇḍavas had gone to the forest and here, Dhṛtarāṣṭra called for Vidura and told him, “Vidura! You are a wise man; you know all the subtle nuances of dharma; you treat both the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas alike; therefore think carefully and tell me what you feel is the best for the welfare of both parties. What should we do if we want our citizens to be obedient? We should not get destroyed by the Pāṇḍavas; the Pāṇḍavas should not get destroyed by us. Tell me, how is this possible?”
Vidura replied, “O king, if you adhere to dharma to the extent possible by you, then the Pāṇḍavas and Kauravas will live in peace; dharma is the basis for wealth and enjoyment; indeed, the kingdom itself stands on dharma. That dharma was abandoned by Śakuni and others in the gambling hall; your son invited the truthful son of Kuntī to a game of dice with malicious intent and defeated him. If he has to be absolved of his sinful deed, if he truly desires pāpa-vimocana, and if he wants to live happily for a hundred years in this world, then I see only one way out: all that you have grabbed from the Pāṇḍavas, return everything to them. If you don’t do this, without doubt the destruction of the Kauravas is imminent. The moment your son was born, I had advised you to get rid of him, for the sake of the welfare of our lineage; but you turned a deaf ear. And even now, I have only spoken that which will benefit you, and what is good for you; if you don’t pay heed to my advice now, you will repent later! There will be no trouble if Duryodhana agrees to rule the undivided kingdom alongside the Pāṇḍavas with a sense of happiness and contentment. If he doesn’t agree, then bring him under control and give the reins of the kingdom to Yudhiṣṭhira. He will rule the kingdom wisely, abiding by dharma, and without falling prey to passions and hatred. Vassal kings will be obedient to us. Let Duryodhana, Karṇa, and Śakuni treat the Pāṇḍavas with warmth and affection; let Duśśāsana tend an apology to Draupadī and Bhīma in the royal assembly and publicly beg for their forgiveness. You pacify Yudhiṣṭhira, honour him, and place him on the throne. Do this and you will become one who has achieved his purpose; what else can I say?” Dhṛtarāṣṭra did not agree to this. He said, “Vidura! What you said in the assembly or what you have said just now is convenient and agreeable to the Pāṇḍavas, definitely not to us! How can I let go of Duryodhana for the sake of the Pāṇḍavas? He is also my son, the Pāṇḍavas too are my children! But he is a son born to me; he is an extension of my body. Which balance-minded advisor indeed will counsel me to expunge my own body for the sake of others? You have an evil mind; I have not the slightest respect for you; if you wish to stay here, stay – or else go wherever you wish to go; will an unfaithful wife stay back, however much one pacifies her?” Saying this, Dhṛtarāṣṭra immediately went into his inner quarters. Vidura got up and went in search of the Pāṇḍavas. Meanwhile the Pāṇḍavas had proceeded from the banks of the Gaṅgā and settled down in the Kāmyaka forest on the banks of the Sarasvatī river. Yudhiṣṭhira saw Vidura coming from a distance and told Bhīma, “What’s this – Vidura is coming here! I’m not sure what he’s going to come here and tell us now. Is he going to tell us that Śakuni has called us for yet another game of dice? Does that wretched Śakuni want to get all our weapons now, after another round of gambling? But I can’t refuse an invitation to play. And if we lose the Gāṇḍīva, it is as good as losing the kingdom!” Vidura arrived. He was honoured as per the protocol. Following that, Vidura told them about the discussion he had just had with Dhṛtarāṣṭra. Then he said, “Finally Dhṛtarāṣṭra was enraged and said, ‘Go wherever you feel is best for you; I don’t need your help to rule either this city or this kingdom!’ So I came here, to meet you all. What I told you in the assembly and what I’m about to tell you now – mark my words. The patient one survives! An honest word is pregnant with meaning. Sharing your wealth and enjoyments with family and friends with a sense of equality, respect towards one and all – these are indeed noble traits. A king grows and evolves due to such qualities.” Dharmarāja replied, “I will tread that path.”
Soon after Vidura left to meet the Pāṇḍavas, Dhṛtarāṣṭra felt pangs of repentance and immersed in the thoughts of Vidura, he fell down in a faint at the door of the assembly hall, even as several kings were looking on. After regaining consciousness, he called Sañjaya, who was nearby, and said, “Sañjaya! Vidura was not only my younger brother and close friend but also a living deity of dharma. Constantly thinking about him, again and again, my heart is about to break into pieces; therefore, go at once and bring him back! After listening to my words of wrath, god knows if he is still alive or he has ended his life!” Sañjaya rushed to the Kāmyaka forest and upon finding Vidura, he narrated the events that had taken place. Vidura took leave of Dharmarāja and returned to Hastinagara. Dhṛtarāṣṭra was delighted to have him back. “Vidura, you’ve returned! Come! You didn’t forget me, did you? Day and night, lost in thought about you, my body had lost its control and had gone astray!” Dhṛtarāṣṭra embraced Vidura and said in a plaintive tone, “Please forgive me for all those words uttered in anger!” Vidura replied, “Mahārāja! I have long forgiven you! Aren’t you my elder? Therefore I rushed here to come and see you. To those who are ever-conscious of dharma, it is natural for them to show affection towards those that are sad and afflicted. The sons of Pāṇḍu are the same to me as your sons are; but because they are in such a plight my heart turned towards them!” In this manner, speaking words of solace to one another and mutually pacifying each other, both found joy. Duryodhana did not like Vidura’s coming back. He was worried sick thinking about the possibility of Dhṛtarāṣṭra taking Vidura’s advice to heart, thus bringing the Pāṇḍavas back to an elevated position. Śakuni said, “That will never happen; the Pāṇḍavas are honest folk. Even if Dhṛtarāṣṭra requests them, they will not go back on their word or behave in a manner opposed to what they have promised. By chance, if they return, they will become promise-breakers and justice will be on our side. We can find several faults with them!” Duśśāsana, delighted with those words, gave his consent. Karṇa said, “Duryodhana, your heart knows it – in this matter, all of us are of the same opinion!”
Duryodhana didn’t relish these words and turned his face away. At once, Karṇa was on his feet and said, “It is our duty to do what is dear to Duryodhana; therefore, let us all lift our weapons, climb our chariots, and go destroy the Pāṇḍavas! If they are laid down, then there will be no question of any differences in opinion arising amongst us.” Everyone agreed to his suggestion and were about to depart. In the mean time, a seer named Maitreya visited them. Dhṛtarāṣṭra paid respects to him by offering arghya and other ritual protocol; he then asked with great politeness, “You’ve come from Kurujāṅgala, haven’t you? Did you see the five Pāṇḍavas there? Are they all doing well? Are they all affectionate and loving towards each other? Do they all seem prepared to fulfil their promise?” The seer replied, “After completing a pilgrimage, as I was traversing the region of Kurujāṅgala, I chanced upon Dharmarāja in the Kāmyaka forest. He was dressed in deerskin and had matted locks; several seers and sages had come there to meet him in that tapovana. There I learnt about your children’s evil scheme and the great danger that has befallen due to the game of dice. Therefore I thought I would come and meet you. I have always had a lot of love and affection towards you. Even when Bhīṣma and you are alive, if you children have developed such mutual hatred, it doesn’t bode well. This is not right. You have the capability to mediate between the two groups by controlling them and by blessing them; even so, how did you silently watch this terrible, wicked scheme, all aloof? And Duryodhana, your act of plunder in the assembly hall is not something that will bring you respect from seers and sages! Don’t be treacherous to the Pāṇḍavas! And if you are fair with them, it will bring welfare to the Pāṇḍavas, the Kauravas, and all the people. They are courageous heroes and men of integrity. They have killed rākṣasas like Hiḍimba and Kirmīra, who were known to change their form at will. And see how Bhīma extinguished Jarāsandha before the Rājāsūya yajña! Who dares fight with them? Therefore, be peaceful with them; listen to my words; don’t become prey to death!” Even as the seer was speaking these words, Duryodhana vigorously patted his thigh, which was like an elephant’s trunk, and with a lopsided smile he abraded the ground with his feet. He didn’t speak a word. Maitreya was enraged upon seeing this. His eyes turned red. Driven by fate, he took a little water in his hand and uttered a curse: “For displaying indifference towards me and for having rejected my words out of arrogance, you will obtain befitting fruits. Your treachery will lead to a large-scale war, and in that war, Bhīma will strike his mace at your thigh and break it!” Dhṛtarāṣṭra pacified the seer and begged him to avert this calamity. Maitreya said, “If your son treads the path of justice and peace, then he will not meet such a fate; the curse will not be effective. But if he does not, it surely will!” His mind shaken by angst, Dhṛtarāṣṭra asked, “How did Bhīma kill Kirmīra?” Maitreya said, “I will not tell you! You are jealous; your son is least interested to know; after I depart, if Vidura wants he can tell you the story!” Saying so, he went away. Learning about the death of Kirmīra at the hands of Bhīma, Duryodhana became worried; he stood up and walked away. To be continued… This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review and astute feedback.