The Pāṇḍavas after winning over their enemies, were ruling the vast kingdom under the guidance of Dhṛtarāṣṭra. Sañjaya, Yuyutsu and Vidura were taking care of the health and well-being of Dhṛtarāṣṭra. The Pāṇḍavas always consulted Dhṛtarāṣṭra for all their needs and their wives such as Draupadī and Subhadrā were guided by Gāndhārī. They treated their uncle and aunt with great love and tried to ensure that they could provide as much comfort as possible to the old couple who had lost their children. Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Gāndhārī were peaceful and affectionate to their nephews as well. Nevertheless, Dhṛtarāṣṭra cried over the loss of his son now and then. He thought that it was only due to his own haughty nature and immature behaviour that Duryodhana had to meet his end. Both Gāndhārī and Dhṛtarāṣṭra wished the best for the Pāṇḍavas and their families. Dharmarāja could not tolerate anyone who tried to hurt Dhṛtarāṣṭra. No one spoke ill of the dead sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra, fearing what Yudhiṣṭhira might do to them. Though Bhīma pretended to be humble, he did not have any soft corner for Dhṛtarāṣṭra. There was anger that was boiling within him. At times, he spoke making sure that Dhṛtarāṣṭra was within earshot. He would pat his biceps now and then and say – “Though this blind king’s children were experts in the use of weapons, they could not compete with these strong biceps of Bhīma. I wiped them off the face of earth with these very biceps.” Whenever Dhṛtarāṣṭra heard such words, he would feel as though a spear was piercing his insides.
Fifteen years rolled on. Dhṛtarāṣṭra was again and again pained because of Bhīma’s words. One day, called his close friends and told them with tears in his eyes – “You all know how the entire Kuru lineage got destroyed due to my foolishness. I feel very sad thinking about everything that took place in the past. I have been experiencing sorrow for the last fifteen years. I just eat a morsel of food once a day. I sleep on the floor over a deer skin. If someone asks me why my lifestyle is so, I just tell them that I am following a certain discipline. Gāndhārī is leading a similar life too.”
He called Dharmarāja to his side and said “O son! I am very happy under your care. You have performed sacrifices and have adhered to dharma all along. Though Gāndhārī is sorrowful over the loss of her children, she puts together all her strength and takes care of me. My evil sons had to give up their lives on the battle-field. They paid for the disrespect they had displayed towards Draupadī. They have attained the svarga that kshatriyas reach when they die fighting a war. Now, Gāndhārī and I will need to do whatever would be beneficial for us after-life. Thus, if you will permit us, we will clothe ourselves in deer skin and retire to the forest. You are a kṣatriya, a king and a guru. You have great faith in dharma. I am seeking your permission for the next stage of my life. It is in the tradition of our family to hand over all responsibility to children and retire to the forest. I will perform tapas and you too will get a share of the fruit of my tapas. The king indeed gets a share of everything that his people do.”
Yudhisthira did not feel happy listening to Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s words. He said – “O King! The kingdom will give me no pleasure if you are so dejected and sorrowful. None of us noticed that you are eating very little and sleeping on the floor. I am such a fool! I am greatly pained listening to your words. I feel that I should give away the kingdom and the country. I don’t need any of these luxuries or pleasures. You are our father, mother and guru. What will we do if you are not around? Your son Yuyutsu is still around. Let him be the king and I will go to the forest. You may rule the kingdom. I am now eaten up by ill-fame. Please do not do things that will hurt me further. I am not the king. You are the real king and I am just your subordinate. I hold no position here. Why do you seek my permission? What kind of an authority am I? Please don’t let the death of your children bother you. All of you are your children. Both Gāndhārī and Kuntī are my mothers. You cannot go away leaving me behind. I will follow you wherever you go!"
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.