Back at Hastināpura, the spies that Duryodhana had set out in search of the Pāṇḍavas returned to the capital and reported to their king. “We thoroughly searched the forests and we were unable to find the Pāṇḍavas there. We don’t know where they are gone. We heard that their chariots were taken to Dvārāvati and we went there to take a look. It appears that the charioteers had brought empty chariots without the heroes in it. There was no trace of the Pāṇḍavas or Draupadī anywhere. It is quite likely that they are dead. On a different note, there is pleasant news. Kīcaka, who had won over the Trigarta-deśa was killed by Gandharvas at night. We await your commands, your highness!”
Duryodhana thought over those words for a while and addressed the assembly. “We don’t know what to do next; the Pāṇḍavas are nearing the end of their duration of incognito stay. By the end of this year, they will come back to us like poisonous serpents in rage. If we locate them before their period of incognito is complete, they will be compelled to go back to the forest as per the agreement. The kingdom will be ours and there will be nothing to be worried about. What shall we do? I request you all to let me know your thoughts and suggestions.”
Karṇa said, “We will need to set out spies who are better than these. They should go around the assemblies of all kings, look out in sacred places, rivers and also inspect the mountains and the forests.”
Duśśāsana agreed with Karṇa’s suggestion and added, “They must have got eaten by wild animals somewhere or must have met with some other calamity. They might have gone beyond the seas. Thus, stop worrying and continue ruling without any anxiety!”
Droṇa said, “How would such brave souls meet their end so easily? There is no calamity that can harm them. They are courageous, learned, intelligent, clever, and know dharma! Won’t Arjuna care for their well-being? Nothing untoward can befall them when he is around. I don’t think they are dead. They are just waiting for the right time to reveal themselves. You do whatever you wish to, Duryoadhana. However, I’m of the firm conviction that you will not be able to locate them.”
Bhīṣma seemed to agree with Droṇa and uttered these words: “The Pāṇḍavas are not dead. They have always adhered to truth and dharma. They are only waiting for the period of their oath to be passed. They will protect dharma and in turn dharma will protect them. None can decipher their movements and intentions. Yet, I will tell you whatever I can. Wherever Dharmarāja is, people around him will have no jealousy. They will adhere to moral goodness and perform yajñas that will ensure good rains and crops. Even a dry twig will be tasty. Fruits will be filled with sweet juice and flowers with divine fragrance. The wind has a soothing touch. Cattle are healthy and give delicious milk, curd, and ghee. The entire land will be filled with joy. I’m sure they must be hiding in one such place. I don’t have anything to add to this. Even the brāhmaṇas won’t be able to understand Yudhiṣṭhira’s nature in its totality. What will the ordinary men comprehend? If you will trust my words, just contemplate over them and carefully do what you deem correct.”
Kṛpa spoke on similar lines. He said, “Look for them in tīrtha-kṣetras. Employ an appropriate strategy for the time being. We should never belittle or regard even the weakest of enemies with contempt. When such is the case, what more can I say in connection with the Pāṇḍavas who are so well-versed in the usage of different kinds of weapons! The Pāṇḍavas are now in hiding. They will reveal themselves sooner or later. You will need to equip your treasury and army to face them. Keep this in mind before you act. Only if you plan before hand, will you be able to fight the powerful enemy. It will give you eternal joy too.”
Suśarma, the king of Trigarta said, “The king of Matsya has attacked my kingdom several times and has caused me immense pain and trouble. His commander-in-chief, Kīcaka, took to sinful acts and has been killed by the Gandharvas. The king is now spineless as he has lost his backbone – Kīcaka. His ego has been crushed. Thus, if it is acceptable to you, let us wage war on his kingdom. The region is rich with resources. We can ransack the city and gather loads of gems and jewellery. Let us capture his towns one by one. If not, let us attack his kingdom and capture all his cattle. We can then propose a peace treaty under the condition that he will be our subordinate. If he fails to agree, let us capture his territories and all his army. If you subdue him in this manner, your power will increase too and we can live a happy life as well!”
Karṇa was thrilled to hear the proposal. He said, “Suśarma’s words are apt to the current situation. Let us get our armies together and head out. Bhīṣma and Droṇa may suggest the right course of action for us. Let us go on a victory campaign against Virāṭa, king of Matsya. What do we care about those Pāṇḍavas who have lost everything and are now powerless? It is not unlikely that they are dead now.”
Duryodhana consented and called his brother Duśśāsana to execute the pan. He told his brother, “Talk to the elders and get our forces ready. Let us all set out together. Suśarma may take his men of Trigarta and surround Virata’s capital. Let him abduct Virata’s cows. We can then lead them away from Matsya kingdom, towards our country.”
Accordingly, Suśarma went ahead with his men and abducted Virāṭa’s cows when they were grazing. The cowherds who were taking care of the cattle reported this to King Virāṭa. Immediately, Virāṭa got ready with arms, along with his brothers Śatānīka and Madirāśva. His eldest son Saṅkha also donned his armour and got ready to fight for the cows. Virāṭa told his brother Śatānīka, “Kaṅka, Ballava, Tantripāla, and Dāmagranthi – these four can fight the battle alongside us. Get them ready with arms and armour. Arrange chariots and weapons for their use. I never believed that they, with masculine and warrior-like features, have never fought a battle before.” This was conveyed to the Pāṇḍavas, who readily accepted to help.
They all set out and encountered the Trigartas at dusk. The battle started immediately. They fought with swords, javelins, maces, and several such weapons and killed several enemies. Nobody on either side gave up. It was close to sunset by then. They could not fight further due to darkness and also as dust enveloped the place. Soon, the moon rose, the visibility improved and they continued fighting. Suśarma and his brother Suvarma killed Virāṭa’s horses and his charioteer, chased after Virāṭa, and put him in chains. They put him in their chariot and hurried away. Looking at this, the entire Matysa army lost confidence and ran helter-skelter in confusion. Dharmarāja said to Bhīma, “Bhīmasena! Virāṭa has been captured by Suśarma. Go, rescue him! We were under his benevolent care until today and we should help him in return!”
Bhīma agreed and pointed at a tree. “Look here, the root of the tree looks like the head of a mace. I will beat up the enemies and set Virāṭa free!”
As he was examining the tree, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “Bhīma! Do not venture into such display of strength! If you exhibit such super-human capabilities, people will easily recognise your real identity. So I suggest you fight either with bows and arrows, a sword, a lance, or a mace. Go, fight in the traditional manner. It is important to rescue our king soon! The twins will assist you too!”
Looking at the brothers now going ahead bravely, the army gathered courage and continued to fight the enemy. The Pāṇḍavas killed several enemies in the field. Bhīma took Suśarma head on and killed his horses, assistants, and charioteer. Then, the captured Virāṭa picked up Suśarma’s mace and hit him hard. Though aged, Virāṭa roared with valour like a youth in his prime. This instilled even more confidence in his men. Bhīma jumped off his own chariot and caught hold of Suśarma like a lion catching a timid deer. The Trigarta men scattered looking at their lord getting beaten up. In this manner, the Pāṇḍavas defeated Suśarma and brought back the cows. The night was spent in the battlefield.
Virāṭa was impressed with the uber-human abilities of the Pāṇḍavas (in disguise) and said, “Thanks to your skill, I’m back alive from the battle. I don’t know how to pay back your favour. This entire kingdom is yours. You may live here as you like!” Hearing this, the Pāṇḍavas replied, “O King! We’re pleased listening to your words. You’re endowed with a good heart. Lead a comfortable life! Send your messengers into the cities and have them hail your victory!”
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.