Yudhiṣṭhira welcomed Vidura with great joy at Khāṇḍavaprastha. He enquired after the wellbeing of Dhṛtarāṣṭra and his sons. Observing that Vidura’s face lacked joy, he asked, “Dear uncle, what’s the matter? It looks like you’re not happy! Is everything alright? Are the children and citizens coping well with Dhṛtarāṣṭra?” Vidura said, “The king his children are keeping well. He’s pleased with his obedient children. He enquired after your wellbeing. He has heard about the grand assembly hall you’ve built here and has built a similar one at Hastināpura. He has invited you to come and have a look at it and also to play a friendly game of dice. I’ve come to inform you of this!” Yudhiṣṭhira said, “Uncle! Gambling is synonymous with fighting! Who would like to bring about differences by gambling? Tell me what you deem is right. We shall act accordingly.” Vidura said, “I know that gambling is the source of all evil. I tried to prevent it. And yet the king has sent me on this errand. You are wise; think about what will do you good and act accordingly!” Yudhiṣṭhira asked, “Who else other than the Kauravas are going to play there?” Vidura said, “Śakuni, the king of Gāndhāra is there. He is a skilled player. Viviṃśati, Citrasena, Satyavrata, Purumitra, Jaya, and a few others will also be there. Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “Seems like several talented and crooked players have assembled there! As Dhṛtarāṣṭra has given his command, we have no other choice but to go; I don’t like to play with Śakuni, but once invited, I do not hesitate. Such is my vow!” Thus they decided to leave for Hastināpura. As they got ready to leave, Yudhiṣṭhira told Vidura, “Just as dazzling light blinds a person, Fate too makes man’s wisdom blurry!” Draupadī and other women left with him too. Arjuna, however, disliked the idea of going. Yet he left with the other Pāṇḍavas on the chariot given to them from Bālhīka.
Upon reaching Hastināpura, Yudhiṣṭhira met Droṇa, Bhīṣma, Karṇa, Kṛpa, Aśvatthāma, and exchanged pleasantries with them. He then met Duryodhana, Śakuni, and the other kings who had come there and went along with them to Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s palace. He offered his respects to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Gāndhārī. Bhīma and the others too bowed down to Dhṛtarāṣṭra, who blessed them by smelling their heads. Everyone felt happy, except for the daughter-in-laws of Dhṛtarāṣṭra who could not stand the beauty and grandeur of Draupadī. They retired to their camp, built from several precious gems. They carried out their daily routine such as physical exercise, finished their tasks, ate their food, and fell asleep listening to melodious music sung by women. The night passed and in the morning, Śakuni met Yudhiṣṭhira who had just finished his morning chores. He said, “Yudhiṣṭhira! Everything is ready in the assembly hall; we’ve made ready the dice game to be played; please come over there!” Yudhiṣṭhira said, “O King of Gāndhāra, gambling is synonymous with sin and deceit. There is nothing that befits a kṣatriya in such games; such being the case, why is it so significant for you? There is no end to the crookedness of a gambler. Don’t cheat us out of your wicked mind, Śakuni!”
Listening to this Śakuni replied, “Why must you hesitate, Yudhiṣṭhira? One who knows the game and is skilled at it is a smart player; he will be sportive and will stay calm; he will win both the game and the gamble. We’ve been doing this all our lives; don’t worry, come let us play. Tell us what you’ll pledge first; don’t delay!” Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “It’s a great sin to gamble with cunning opponents! One must win a war and a game only by adhering to dharma. Great souls never utter a lie; they neither cheat nor win by deceit. I do not wish to gain pleasure by gambling; I don’t desire to gain more wealth either. Even if gambling is allowed by law it isn’t something to be revered!” Śakuni said, “Yudhiṣṭhira! Doesn’t a brāhmaṇa try to win over another through debates; doesn’t one scholar try to defeat another? No one considers that cheating. If you still think that I’m a cheat and if you are scared to play, you may go back!” Unwilling to compromise, Yudhiṣṭhira said “I will not look back once called for a game and that is my vow. Fate is all powerful; I surrender to Fate! Let us begin! Who should I play with?” Duryodhana came forward and said, “I shall pledge my wealth and all the precious gems. My uncle Śakuni will play on my behalf.” Yudhiṣṭhira said, “The rule of the game doesn’t allow someone else playing in the place of the one who’s betting; you know the game better. If you are agreeable to this adjustment, let us go ahead!” Once everything was fixed in this manner, Dhṛtarāṣṭra came along with the other kings and with Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa, and Vidura to the assembly hall and sat on their thrones. The game started. Yudhiṣṭhira said, “Here, I pledge this ornament studded with precious stones. What about you, Duryodhana?” Duryodhana replied with pride, “I too have several precious stones and a lot of wealth. I’m going to win in this turn!” Śakuni rolled the dice and declared, “Here! I won!” Yudhiṣṭhira said, “Śakuni! You’ve won by cheating! Let us now pledge in thousands! I pledge a hundred chests with a thousand gold coins in each!” Śakuni rolled the dice again and declared, “Look here, we won again!” Yudhiṣṭhira then pledged the chariot and the eight horses that he had driven to reach Hastināpura. Śakuni won them too. Yudhiṣṭhira then pledged elephants, dāsis, servants, chariots, horses, soldiers – each in thousands and treasure chests filled with loads of precious gems. Śakuni won them all turn by turn. Vidura then told Dhṛtarāṣṭra, “Revered king! Listen to my words. Just as medicine is not relished by a person on his death bed, you might not like this. On his birth, Duryodhana screamed like a jackal. He is born to destroy the lineage of the Bharatas. Though you are aware that he is like a jackal in your family, you have not taken any measures to bring him under control. A person who collects honey from a beehive has all his attention on the hive and not on the pit below it. Similarly, Duryodhana’s eyes are on the riches he is getting out of this gamble and he is oblivious to the enmity he is going to develop with powerful warriors. You are aware how Asamañjasa and Kaṃsa were excommunicated from the kingdom by the citizens, which helped them live in peace. Similarly, make Arjuna bring Suyodhana under control. Bringing him under control will grant peace to the Kauravas. Sacrifice your crow and gain a peacock. Give away your fox and get a tiger in return. Don’t get immersed in an ocean of sorrow. One must be ready to give up a man for the sake of a family; a family can be sacrificed for the well being of a village; a village can be done away with if it will cause welfare to the nation; for one’s own good, the earth might have to be given up. You might know the story of a greedy person who killed the birds which laid the golden eggs. He was desirous of procuring all the eggs at once and killed them all, to no avail. Don’t cheat the Pāṇḍavas out of your desire for wealth. You will need to repent later, just like the man who killed all those birds. Just as a flower vendor picks up flowers
from a garden (without harming it), I suggest you develop friendship with the Pāṇḍavas and can enjoy the gifts they give you from time to time. You should not blindly cut down those fruit-bearing trees for the sake of firewood. You will end up losing your children, kingdom, and the army. Who can subdue the Pāṇḍavas? Even Devendra cannot defeat them. Gambling will result in a fight. Just as a bull destroys things by continuously attacking with its horns, Duryodhana will destroy peace due to his arrogance. If a wise person keeps aside his intellect and listens to the words of another person, he will collapse like a seafarer on a boat that is rowed by an incapable boatman. You are happy that Duryodhana is winning everything that Yudhiṣṭhira pledges. However, if this game turns into a battle, it will be a colossal damage to you. O revered king! You have no dearth for wealth; yet you have won a lot from the Pāṇḍavas. What do you gain by winning their wealth completely? We all know the kind of games that Śakuni plays; he is a cheat. Let him return by the path he has arrived! Hearing these words, Duryodhana said, “Vidura! You speak with contempt about us and praise the enemy. You betray your guardian just as a snake or a cat would do. It is a great sin to do so; you will need to learn from the elders. Please don’t interfere in the work of others. I never sought your advice regarding what is good and what is not. Our conscience—our ātmā—guides us. It is according to His dictum that water flows. He is the one who motivates a stone-smith and a feeder of snakes. A person who gives unsolicited advices will lose his friends and foster enmity. One must not house a person of the opposite camp. You please go away to wherever you want! An evil wife, how much ever she might be pacified by the husband, will eventually run away!” Vidura said, “If you drive me away for having only said this much, it only reveals how deep your friendship for me is. The mind of a king is always unstable; it remains calm only for a while and later hits you with a pestle! You think you are a matured person and that I am not, isn’t it? Someone who criticizes his friend is immature. If you want people who always speak nice about you, go seek the company of women and fools. We might find people who speak rosy words to us but it’s difficult to find people who open our eyes to harsh realities and tell us our weaknesses. Moreover, no one gives an ear to sincere advice. A person who advises his lord keeping only dharma in mind, irrespective of his words being rosy or thorny, is the real advisor to a king. My only desire is that the fame, wealth, and children of King Dhṛtarāṣṭra should last long. My salutations to you all! I wish good befalls you, me, and everyone else.”
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.