Mahābhārata - Episode 35 - Story of Dharma-vyādha and the Goṣa-yātra Idea

This article is part 35 of 112 in the series Mahābhārata

The sage Mārkaṇḍeya narrated several traditional stories to the Pāṇḍavas during their stay in Dvaitavana. The story of Dharma-vyādha is one among those.

There lived a brāhmaṇa by name Kauṣika. He was well-versed in the Vedas, of noble character, and a tapasvi. Once, when he was reciting the Vedas under a tree, a balāka bird excreted upon him. The brāhmaṇa was enraged and looked at it with eyes filled with anger. The bird lost its life the next moment and fell dead on to the ground. Kauṣika felt sorry for the creature and repented his doing. He felt that he had committed a misdeed, overcome by anger and hatred. He got up from there and went into the city as a beggar in search of alms. He came before a house and the lady of the house said, "Wait there!" Kauṣika waited. In the meanwhile, her husband came home and the lady got busy feeding him and totally forgot about the beggar. After a while she realised her mistake, embarrassed, she brought alms for him. The brāhmaṇa was angry and said, "How could you do this, madam? You asked me to wait here and caused me so much of trouble! Is this right on your part?"

The lady said, in reply, "O revered brāhmaṇa, kindly forgive me! My husband returned home, hungry and tired. I got busy taking care of him!"

Brāhmaṇa – You arrogant lady! You think your husband is greater than a brāhmaṇa who is waiting at your door? How can you insult a brāhmaṇa, especially when you are in the gṛhasthāśrama? Brāhmaṇas are like fire; they can burn the entire world – haven’t your elders told you so?

Lady – O brāhmaṇa! I know that you have come here after killing a balāka bird. Brāhmaṇas are no different from the Gods and I have never humiliated them. Please forgive my mistake. I also consider my husband as my God and serve him to my best. Anger is an enemy that resides in our body. Thus, it is not right to get angry. A brāhmaṇa is one who has conquered his senses; he never avenges for violence through violent means. He sees no difference between himself and the rest of the world – he treats both in an impartial manner. You are well read and should know the nature of dharma. However, in the current case, I get the feeling that you probably do not know dharma in its entirety. If you would like to understand it in detail, I suggest you visit the butcher in Mithila. If you think I spoke or did something inappropriate, kindly excuse me. You should not kill a woman!

These words of the lady subdued the brāhmaṇa’s anger. He was curious and eager to meet the hunter in Mithila and headed towards the city. He saw Dharma-vyādha (virtuous butcher) selling the meat of deer, buffalo and other animals in a butcher’s shop. After all the customers had left the place, the butcher’s eye fell on the brāhmaṇa. The butcher greeted the brāhmaṇa and said, “You were sent here by a married woman, I suppose? I know with what purpose you have come here!” Kauṣika was happy listening to these words and thought, "Aha! Amazing! This is the second miracle!” The butcher said, “This is not the right place to speak on this topic. Let us go my house!”

They reached the butcher’s house and the brāhmaṇa was offered arghya. Kauṣika, out of his pity for the butcher, said “Dear one! I don’t think the job of a butcher suits you. It pains me to see the cruel task you have taken to!” The butcher said “O revered one! This job has come down to me through my family and my ancestors. I am doing my duty and that is my dharma. In addition, I am taking care of my parents and always speak the truth. I never feel jealous of anyone else and share my earnings with the others. I don’t speak ill of anything or anyone. Neither do I disrespect the elders nor harm any being. I only sell the meat of dead animals but I don’t consume it myself. There is no one who does not harm animals in this world… People who don’t have faith in dharma and only ridicule it end up destroying their own lives and the lives of others... Greed is the root of all sin... Just as weeds grow and cover up water in a lake, adharma grows only to hinder dharma and to make it invisible. It is only rare to find people who can wade through the filth and realize dharma.” In this manner, the butcher explained in detail the concepts of dharma and adharma.

Kauṣika – Everything you say sounds reasonable to me and you seem to have realized dharma. It appears as though there is nothing you do not know.

Vyādha – O revered brāhmaṇa! Let me show you the person who helped me attain this state. Come, follow me!

With these words, the butcher escorted the brāhmaṇa into his house. He pointed at his parents who had just finished their dinner and prostrated before them. After an exchange of pleasantries, the butcher said, “They are my deities! They are Gods to me. I serve them just as I would serve any God. This is my tapas. The lady who sent you here performs tapas in the form of her service to her husband. If you would pay heed to my words, go and serve your parents as well. You have left them behind and have head out to study the Vedas. The aged ones are in pain as you have gone away from them. Get home fast and make them happy! There is no dharma greater than this!” He sent the brāhmaṇa away to his parents.

A brāhmaṇa who had seen the Pāṇḍavas in the Dvaitavana came to Hasitnāvatī to describe their state to Dhṛtarāṣṭra – “The Pāṇḍavas have got greatly tormented by constant exposure to the sun, rain and wind. Though Draupadī has five husbands, she is living the life of an orphan, being subject to great difficulties!” Dhṛtarāṣṭra was pained to hear of their sad state. He thought that all their troubles were because of him. “Man will have to experience the fruits of his good and bad deeds. Once the soil is tilled, seeds are sown and ample water is supplied by rains, it will certainly lead to the growth of crops. A pregnant woman will eventually give birth. None can stop when our past actions are ready to bear fruits. Though he was sent away to the forest, Arjuna went to Indraloka and came back with four powerful weapons. Who would want to come back to the human world after having gone to the heavens with his body intact? He has come back to see the death of his cousins, the Kauravas, who will naturally get eaten up by Time, right? Who can compete with Arjuna, his bow and his brilliance?” Dhṛtarāṣṭra expressed his grief in this manner.

[caption id="attachment_13855" align="alignright" width="507"] Sage Kaushika killing the Balaka bird[/caption]

Karṇa, who heard the conversation, went to Duryodhana along with Śakuni. “O king! You have sent the Pāṇḍavas to the forest by the display of your valour and you have become the emperor of the world. Kings from far and wide are paying their tributes to you. They are looking forward to your commands. The Pāṇḍavas who had contempt for you in the past are now experiencing great troubles in the forest. They are living by the side of the lake in the Dvaitavana, I hear. I suggest you go there and display your riches and victories. It will pierce their eyes and ego just as bright sunlight pricks one’s eyes. Let those who have been devoid of their kingdom see the glory of the victorious! It is good if both our enemies and friends get to know of our achievements. Is there greater joy for a person who is atop a mountain to look down at the people at its foot? The joy we get by looking at the difficulties of our enemies is greater than that of begetting a son or a kingdom! Can anything else cause us greater joy, than looking at Arjuna living in the forest wearing a piece of deer skin? I suggest that your wife comes decked up with dazzling ornaments and look at Draupadī who is clad in deer skin. Draupadī will then repent for her pitiful state. When Draupadī sees your fortunate wife, she will experience more pain and humiliation than what she experienced in the assembly.”

Duryodhana was thrilled upon listening to Karṇa’s words. However, he was a bit reluctant and said, “I have already thought of everything you said, Karṇa! However, I don’t think Dhṛtarāṣṭra will permit me to visit the Pāṇḍavas. He thinks that the Pāṇḍavas are more valourous and dhārmic than us. We are going there only to make them feel jealous of us. Don’t you remember the words that Vidura spoke to us during the gamble? Thinking of all that confusion and havoc, I think it is a better that we do not go there. I too am desirous of seeing Draupadī clad in deer skin and the Pāṇḍavas in the bark of trees. We will need to come up with an excuse which will convince our father of our trip to the Dvaitavana. Think about it tonight and let me know tomorrow, Karṇa!”

Karṇa rushed to Duryodhana the next morning with a plan. “I know what we can tell Dhṛtarāṣṭra! There are villages full of cowherds in the Dvaitavana. Let us go under the pretext of inspecting their households!” Śakuni too supported the idea and said, “The villagers of Dvaitavana look forward to your coming.” They together let out an evil laughter, held each other's hands and went to Dhṛtarāṣṭra. They exchanged pleasantries and as previously planned, a cowherd by name Samanga came there and said, “The cows have come!” Śakuni and Karṇa interrupted – “O king! We will need to go to the cowherd village and take a stock of the situation. Kindly permit your son to do so!” Dhṛtarāṣṭra said, “Yes! Hunting and inspection of cattle is something which a king should always do. One must not trust these cowherds. I also hear that the Pāṇḍavas are staying nearby. Thus, I don’t think it is a good idea for you all to go there. The Pāṇḍavas have got cheated and are experiencing great troubles in the forest. They are dhārmic and are focused in their activities. They are valorous and brave too. Dharmarāja is angry with us and Bhīma can easily vent out his temper at us. Draupadī is an embodiment of fire on earth. I am sure you will try to humiliate them out of your ego and arrogance. They will destroy you with their power and weapons. If you have the impression that you can conquer them by sheer numbers, it is unethical on one hand and on the other, your numbers are no match for their valour. Arjuna has just returned from the Indraloka with divine weapons. He had won over several territories in the past, even without those weapons. Even if you pay heed to my words and are restrained, I don’t think you will be happy going to Dvaitavana. Our soldiers might do some mischief there. We will be blamed for their behaviour too! Thus, I suggest that you send some trustworthy servants there, instead of going in person!”

Śakuni said, “O king! Dharmarāja has taken a vow that he will spend twelve years in the forest. His brothers are obedient too. Yudhiṣṭira too does not lose his temper that quickly. We would like to go hunting in the forest. We will also inspect the cattle. Why would we go to see the Pāṇḍavas? We will refrain ourselves from going near their current abode. We will avoid all possibilities of mishap!”

After hearing this, Dhṛtarāṣṭra gave his consent. Duryodhana called together a large army and set out to Dvaitavana along with Duśśāsana, Śakuni, Karṇa and several women of his harem. Several citizens followed them in their own bullock carts. They were also followed by prostitutes, merchants and hunters. It was like a raising storm in the rainy season. They marched to the forest in a huge commotion.

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.

Additional Notes

Śrīkṛṣṇa comes along with his wife Satyabhāmā to the Kāmyaka-vana and meets the Pāṇḍavas there. He consoles Draupadī and tells her that her five sons have reached Dvāraka and are being taken care of by Subadhrā like her own children. He also adds that Rukmiṇī’s son Pradyumna is training them in various skills just as he is training Aniruddha, Abhimanyu, Sunita and Bhānu. Kṛṣṇa convinces the Pāṇḍavas that their children including Abhimanyu are trained well and that the Yādavas are ready at their call to come to their help in war. Yudhiṣṭira too says that Kṛṣṇa is their only hope and they will seek his help right after the period of ajñāta-vāsa (living incognito) is over. [This takes place at the end of the twelve year period of the Vana-vāsa, i.e., forest life]

Yudhiṣṭira asks the sage Mārkaṇḍeya about karma – its effects in the current life and after-life. The sage tells him that originally, humans were pure in their bodies, dhārmic and moved about in the heavens. Later, when they were carried away by desires and anger, they started walking on earth and lost their heavenly position. The sage describes the path of the jñānis endowed with sattva and that of tāmasic men. Yudhiṣṭira then asks the sage about Agni departing to the forest, the story of the seer Āṅgirasa, and the birth of Kumāra. Mārkaṇḍeya narrates in detail the story of Agni and Āṅgirasa. He speaks about the birth of Skanda, about his associates, his appointment as the general of the army of the deities by Indra, and his victory over the dānavas.

Before Kṛṣṇa returns to Dvāraka, Satyabhāmā has an intimate conversation with Draupadī. Satyabhāmā, the daughter of Satrajit, says, “How do you behave with the Pāṇḍavas? They are courageous, youthful, and protectors of the world! How do you control them? They do just as you say. How do you manage it? Do you follow some rigid vows or do you resort to chanting mantras? Or some other trickery? Tell me what you know about the art of love. Kṛṣṇa should always remain under my control!” In response, Draupadī says, “You’re asking me about the habits of evil women! Such questions are unworthy of you. You’re so intelligent and Kṛṣṇa loves you. If a woman uses mantras or trickery, her husband fears her like he would fear a snake! Can a person with worry ever attain peace? And without peace, can there be ānanda? No woman can control her lord using magic. Using drugs or herbs to control one’s husband is dangerous; it will result in his death. A lady should not act in a way that causes displeasure to her lord. Satyabhāmā, I will tell you my behaviour with the Pāṇḍavas. I keep away from desire and anger. I serve the Pāṇḍavas and their wives. I serve them without pride. My mind never turns to other men, whoever they may be. I neither eat nor sleep before my husbands. When my husband comes back home, I welcome him and give him water. I feed them at the right time. I ensure that the house is well-stocked and clean. I take care of the household in riches (in Indraprastha) and penury alike. I speak good words and don’t spend time with evil women. I long for them in their absence and abandon using those things my husbands don’t themselves have use for. I treats my husbands as human embodiments of the Divine. Neither am I lazy nor do I undertake something unpleasant. This is why my husbands are devoted to me. You must win over your husband only through affection. ” Satyabhāmā seeks her pardon and thanks her for the advice.



Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh


Hari is a writer, translator, editor, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in philosophy, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 35+ books, mostly related to Indian culture. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.

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சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
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इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...