Vidura said, “Dear king! Friends must indeed say only that which brings welfare; words that are disagreeable don’t fall on your ears; Bhīṣma and Droṇa have spoken words that are beneficial to you. You don’t have any close friends who are more intelligent than them; they are old and wise; they see you and the Pāṇḍavas with the same eyes; they are firm adherents on the path of dharma and men of high integrity; they have never wished for dishonour to you nor have they undertaken any act that has harmed you; they are free from malice; they are not people who will sell their impartiality out of greed for money; their opinions are not for sale; Dear king! Just as Duryodhana and others are your children, the Pāṇḍavas are also your children. Therefore, those who advise you to destroy the Pāṇḍavas will never wish for your honour; they are right in saying that we cannot defeat the Pāṇḍavas; can even the ruler of the heavens, Devendra, defeated the ambidextrous archer Arjuna? Can even the devas conquer Bhīma, who is endowed with the strength of ten thousand elephants? When Nakula and Sahadeva enter the battlefield, they don’t appear to be charming twins but instead the sons of Yama. How to defeat Dharmarāja, the one endowed with fortitude, magnanimity, patience, honesty, and valour? Sātyaki and Balarāma are both on their side; Kṛṣṇa is their advisor; Drupada, their father-in-law; Dṛṣṭadyumna and other heroes are their brothers-in-law; therefore, know that the Pāṇḍavas cannot be defeated in battle and treat them with the courtesy and dharma appropriate to your relationship with them. If you behave with magnanimity towards them, you will be able to wash away the blemish that has arisen from the Purocana episode. Drupada is a powerful king; he is our enemy; using this as an excuse, we can make him an ally and strengthen our forces. The Yādavas are both numerous and mighty; they will side with the group that Kṛṣṇa sides with; therefore, victory is certain where Kṛṣṇa is. What can be achieved through the path of reconciliation, who indeed would want to achieve that through the path of warfare, O king? All the citizens of the kingdom, from towns and villages, have heard about the escape of the Pāṇḍavas; having heard that they are alive, the people are curious to see them; fulfil their desires. Duryodhana, Karṇa, and Śakuni are immature; they are malicious and evil-minded; don’t listen to their words; I’ve told you this earlier; all the citizens of your kingdom will be destroyed because of Duryodhana’s mistake.” Dhṛtarāṣṭra said, “What you say is true, Vidura! Both Bhīṣma and Droṇa have uttered words beneficial to me; just as the Kaunteyas are the sons of Pāṇḍu, they are also my sons; therefore, just as the kingdom should go to my sons, it should go to the Pāṇḍavas too. There is no doubt about this. Go at once and bring them along with their mother and the damsel of divine form, Kṛṣṇā. It is our puṇya that Purocana died while the Pāṇḍavas and Kuntī escaped and made Drupada as an ally; our might has increased; our sorrows have ceased!”
Thus ordered by Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Vidura went to meet the Pāṇḍavas and Drupada. King Drupada welcomed Vidura, honoured him, and extended his hospitality. After exchanging pleasantries with the king, Vidura met the Pāṇḍavas and Vāsudeva; at once, he embraced them with great affection and asked them about their welfare. He conveyed Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s wishes to all of them and gave out all the expensive gifts he had brought from the king [Dhṛtarāṣṭra] to the Pāṇḍavas, Kuntī, Draupadī, Drupada and his children. Then with all courtesy and humility, in the presence of the Pāṇḍavas and Kṛṣṇa, he told Drupada, “Revered king! I request you, your ministers, and your sons to listen to my words. Dhṛtarāṣṭra, his children, his ministers, and his friends have, out of great affection, sent their best wishes; they repeatedly told me to enquire about your welfare. Our king is pleased with the newly established relation with you. Bhīṣma and all other Kauravas have sent their best wishes to you; as for your dear friend Droṇa, he sends you an embrace and enquires about your welfare. King Yajñasena! The relationship with you has brought more joy to us than winning over a kingdom; the Kauravas deem themselves fortunate on this count. Keep this in mind and send the Pāṇḍavas along with me. The entire Kuru land is eager to have a sight of the Pāṇḍavas and Kṛṣṇā; the people are waiting for the day they can see them. It has been quite a long time since they have left their home; therefore, they might be eager and curious to see their homeland again. If you will grant permission for them to depart, I will send the news to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and take them along with me; it is for this reason that I’ve come here.” Drupada said, “O Vidura! What you have said is true; I too am delighted by this alliance; indeed it is appropriate that these great heroes return home; but I must not take that decision for them; you can leave once they—Yudhiṣṭhira, Bhīma, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva, Balarāma, and Kṛṣṇa—give their consent.” Yudhiṣṭhira said, “O revered one! Your decision is ours; whatever is your affectionate command, we follow it.” Once Śrīkṛṣṇa gave his assent, Drupada immediately made preparations for their departure. The Pāṇḍavas, Kṛṣṇa, Vidura, Kuntī, and Kṛṣṇā travelled together to Hastinagara and reached safely; Vikarṇa, Maheśvāsa, Citrasena, and other Kauravas as well as elders such as Droṇa and Kṛpa welcomed them at the entrance of the city and escorted them inside. As they all sat down in chariots and went across the city in a leisurely manner as part of a grand procession, people from all over the city gathered there in large numbers, hungry for a glimpse of their heroes. The Pāṇḍavas rejoiced listening to the affection-filled words the people were speaking about them. The people said to each other, “This great hero, knower of dharma, has returned; he will look after us just as he takes care of his own relatives; he will rule the kingdom in a righteous way; indeed, it feels like King Pāṇḍu, who had gone off to the forest, has come back himself; there is nothing more joyful to us than the return of the Pāṇḍavas. If we have indeed undertaken any acts of dāna, dharma, japa, tapas, and so on, let the fruits of those actions be that the Pāṇḍavas live in this town for a hundred years!” Upon arriving at the palace, they offered their respects to Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Bhīṣma, and other elders before going to their designated lodgings and taking rest. After a while, Bhīṣma and Dhṛtarāṣṭra called for them. Dhṛtarāṣṭra said, “Kaunteya, you and your brothers listen to my words carefully: If you stay here, there will be a fight among brothers; let that not happen. Take half the kingdom and go away to Khāṇḍavaprastha; live there in peace!” Having been thus ordered by the king, they took permission from all the elders to leave and set out to Khāṇḍavaprastha. During those times, Khāṇḍavaprastha was a dangerous forest; there, the Pāṇḍavas built a beautiful city called Indraprastha. It had a fortress that touched the sky and a moat as huge as the ocean. The huge doors of the fort were like the wings of Garuḍa; the multi-storeyed houses resembled the Mandāra mountain; wide roads; there were gardens with various flowering and fruit-bearing trees like Mango, Champak, Nutmeg, Ashoka, and Jamun; they had vines and pleasure-houses decked with vines; there, birds like parrots, cuckoos, and peacocks would frolic about; there were lakes filled with lotuses and blue lilies, dams, wells; in those, birds like swans, kāraṇḍaka, and cakravāka would reside. Several scholars of the Vedas and Vedāṅgas, multi-talented polyglots, traders, sculptors, and others would often visit and camp there. The Pāṇḍavas ruled the kingdom in peace.
Having obtained five lion-like heroes as her husbands, Draupadī received much love and affection from all of them and she conducted herself in a manner agreeable to them. The Pāṇḍavas devised a reasonable scheme with regards to Draupadī so that there would not be any bitter feelings in anyone’s mind, unlike the ancient story of the brothers Sunda and Upasunda. According to the scheme, Draupadī would spend a year with each husband; also, when she was spending time with one of her husbands, if any husband should cast a glance at her, he would be exiled for twelve years [vowing to be a celibate during that period]. Since the Pāṇḍavas ruled their kingdom in adherence to dharma, the Kuru land made great progress; people abandoned sinful activities and became peaceful. After a long time had passed thus, one day, a few thieves stole the cows that belonged to a brāhmaṇa. That brāhmaṇa came to Khāṇḍavaprastha, stood in front of the Pāṇḍavas’ palace and began crying out loud; these wails reached Arjuna’s ears. He came out at once and told the brāhmaṇa not to be afraid and that he would help him. But at that time, Arjuna’s weapons had been kept in the house where Yudhiṣṭhira and Kṛṣṇā were by themselves. Therefore, it was impossible to enter that house to get the weapons. On the other hand, the brāhmaṇa was continuously wailing. Arjuna was in a dhārmic dilemma. If he failed to help the brāhmaṇa, it would not only be a failure of the law and order but would also result in the lowering of the people’s opinion of them; if he entered the house without informing Yudhiṣṭhira, it would lead to ill feelings in both their hearts and it would result in his exile. ‘It doesn’t matter even if I have to suffer for twelve years in the forest but I have to protect dharma’ – with this thought, he entered Dharmarāja’s house, explained the situation, and brought out his weapons. He chased after the thieves, shot arrows and killed them, and retrieved the brāhmaṇa’s cattle. He offered the cows to him and returned home. As soon as he came back, he paid his respects to Dharmarāja and sought permission to embark on his twelve-year exile. Yudhiṣṭhira said, “Your entering the place where both of us were together has not caused any ill feelings in my heart; there is no fault if younger people come to the place of older people; elders should not come to the place of youngsters; that’s it. You have not violated dharma; you don’t have to go to the forest.” Arjuna said, “Brother, you have yourself said that one should not take the support of lame excuses and clever workarounds to avoid adhering to dharma! Therefore I have decided that I will not transgress truth or dharma.” Saying so, he emphasized that he was firm in his decision. He thus began his twelve-year exile.
 Translators’ Note: Here, Vidura says, “But Karṇa, the son of Rādhā, feels that Droṇa’s words are harmful!” This is a reference to the exchange of words the two of them have before Vidura begins speaking.
 Translators’ Note: The fact that Yudhiṣṭhira and Drupada took Kṛṣṇa’s consent shows the respect they all had for him.
 Translators’ Note: The story of the asura brothers Sunda and Upasunda is narrated by the great seer Nārada during his visit to Indraprastha. The two brothers were extremely close to each other and spent all their time together. They performed great austerities and obtained a boon from Brahmā that they cannot be conquered or killed by anyone except each other. But they lived together in harmony, almost like two bodies with one soul. Knowing well that there would arise no situation when they would fight among themselves, they considered themselves as good as immortal; thus, they began terrorizing the earth. To create a rift between them Brahmā created a beautiful damsel, Tilottamā, who was perfect in every way and sent her to them. When the brothers saw her, each one wanted to have her for himself, resulting in a huge fight that eventually led to the two brothers killing themselves. Therefore, Nārada tells the Pāṇḍavas to have some understanding with regard to Draupadī lest they reach a situation similar to the rākṣasa brothers.
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 thorough review and astute feedback. Additional segments from the epic and notes by the translators have been added in the footnotes after going through the Critical Text of the Mahābhārata. .