Three days after these happenings, the five Pāṇḍavas had their bath, wore fine white-coloured clothes, adorned themselves, proceeded to Virāṭa’s sabhā with Yudhiṣṭhira in the lead, and perched themselves on the royal seats reserved for kings. As usual, Virāṭa entered the sabhā to carry out his official duties, and the sight that he beheld! Seated there were the five of them, brilliant as burning fire. He saw Yudhiṣṭhira, who was seated like Indra among the devatas, and said in disdainful tone, “Were you not the one with whom I used to play dice?
Prince Uttara, adorned with garlands and fragrant perfumes, came in a procession on the royal path; he greeted the citizens of the city and the married woman, receiving their blessings and adoration. In great grandeur and filled with delight, he came to the door of the palace and brought the good news to his father. The doorkeeper-sentinels rushed inside and told King Virāṭa, “Mahārāja!
With great delight Arjuna looked at the Kaurava heroes retreating; he bowed his head down and offered his greetings to Grandfather Bhīṣma and Ācārya Droṇa and rode with them for some distance, engaging in casual conversation. Then he paid his respects to Aśvatthāma, Kṛpa, and others by hurling an arrow at them [at their feet]; then he shot an arrow at Duryodhana’s bejewelled crown and tore it apart.
After this Arjuna told Uttara to take his chariot to where Droṇa was standing; offering his salutations to Droṇa, he said in a serene voice, “Ācārya, we took up the forest exile only after contemplating about our response; you must not get angry with us; I have decided not to fight with you and therefore I request you to make that happen.” Immediately, Droṇa sent out twenty arrows in Arjuna’s direction. Arjuna intercepted all of them midway and tore them apart. In this manner, the teacher and student were locked in single combat.
Aśvatthāma said, “O Karṇa! We have not yet won the cows that we’ve captured, we’ve not crossed the borders, we haven’t returned to Hastināpura; and you’ve already begun a bout of self-praise! Warriors who have won numerous wars, attained great wealth and prosperity, and conquered the earth speak not about their courage and valour even a little. Without the slightest noise, fire boils things; the sun shines his light in silence; the earth bears the animate and inanimate beings without uttering a word.
Upon hearing these despondent words of Droṇa, Duryodhana addressed Bhīṣma, Droṇa, and Kṛpa: “Karṇa and I have said this several times in the past; yet I repeat it now – when the Pāṇḍavas lost the game of dice, as per our wager they had to spend twelve years in exile in the forest and one year incognito; this is the year they have to live unrecognized by all; the year of living incognito is not yet complete; if we encounter Arjuna now, then the Pāṇḍavas have to spend another twelve years in forest exile. Let us assume that it is indeed Arjuna; even so, why should we fear or retreat?
Arjuna ran behind Uttara for less than a hundred steps before he caught the young man’s tuft of hair, bringing him to a halt. Uttara began whining like a person overcome by a great calamity. “I will give you a hundred coins made of pure gold; I will gift you ten elephants in rut; leave me alone Bṛhannaḍā!” he pleaded with outstretched hands. Fear had paled the reasoning and consciousness of the young prince; listening to his words and his entreaties, Arjuna smiled and led him to the chariot. He said, “O prince!
While at one end, Virāṭa was in the process of releasing the cows captured by Suśarma, at the other end of the kingdom, Duryodhana—accompanied by Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Karṇa, Kṛpa, Aśvatthāma, and others—captured the cows of Virāṭa. Looking at that, the chief of the cowherds rushed to the palace and came to Virāṭa’s son Bhūmiñjaya or Uttara and pleaded, “O Prince! Your cows are being captured; rush, go at once, and protect them! When the king isn’t present, you are verily the king.
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.
Draupadī told Bhīma, “I cried out loud, pouring out my miseries, for I could not control my sorrow; not with a desire to criticize the Mahārāja. Let bygones be bygones; now we must take up the work at hand, that which is possible to accomplish. Every day, Sudeṣṇā looks at me and my body, and says in a tone of suspicion, “Will the king ever let her go if he sets eyes on her!” She constantly doubts my fidelity. Knowing her thoughts and temperament, her brother Kīcaka, himself an evil man, constantly asks for my hand and pleads with me.