Mahābhārata – Episode 37 – Duryodhana Performs the Vaiṣṇava-mahāyajña; Pāṇḍavas Return to Kāmyaka

This article is part 37 of 112 in the series Mahābhārata

Sometime after this episode[1], Duryodhana felt that he too should perform a grand yajña like Dharmarāja. Upon learning of this, Karṇa said, “Indeed! This can take place. Now, all kings have been brought under your control; we shall call the ṛtviks and start the preparations for conducting the yajña! Nothing else remains.” When the purohita was called, he said, “Mahārāja! Yudhiṣṭhira is still alive; your father is aged. Therefore, you conducting a Rājasūya yajña is against the śāstras; instead of the Rājasūya, you can perform an equivalent yajña called the Vaiṣṇava-mahāyajña. All those kings who are your vassals – let them pay their tributes in gold. From all that gold, manufacture a plough and till the yajña-bhūmi[2] yourself; engage in widespread anna-dāna[3]!” Duryodhana agreed to the proposition and assigned sculptors to produce the golden plough. All the other ingredients and paraphernalia for the yajña were made ready. Duryodhana took the dīkṣā to perform the yāga. Invitations were sent to kings and brāhmaṇas. Duśśāsana called one such messenger who was setting out to hand over the invitations and told him, “Go to Dvaitavana and invite those sinful Pāṇḍavas as well as the brāhmaṇas residing there!”

The messenger went to Dharmarāja as instructed and said, “Mahārāja! King Duryodhana is conducting a yajña. He has sent me to bring you all. You must come and witness that yajña!” Yudhiṣṭhira told him, “By good fortune, Duryodhana is performing a yajña to increase the glory of his ancestors! Indeed we should be a part of it! However, at this point it is not possible for us to come; we have taken the oath of thirteen years in the forest!” Bhīma was unable to tolerate these words and he exploded with the words, “After thirteen years, we will undertake the yajña of war and we will offer you into the fire of our weapons – only after that shall we come. Go and tell him this!” Arjuna and others did not utter any unpleasant words.

Duryodhana performed the yajña with great enthusiasm. Vidura was entrusted with the task of feeding the guests with various drinks, foods, snacks, and savouries. Therefore everything went off smoothly and with grandeur. There were people who praised him and his arrangements; others said, “This is no comparison to the yajña that Yudhiṣṭhira conducted; it is not even a fraction of that!” Duryodhana then took the avabhṛta-snāna—the ritual bath after the yajña—and upon returning home, he offered his salutations to his parents and the elders including Bhīṣma, Droṇa, and Kṛpa by falling at their feet and seeking their blessings. All those who were younger to him offered salutations to him and sought his blessings. At that point, Karṇa got up from his chair and said, “Mahārāja! Through good fortune, you have successfully completed this great yajña! After you kill the Pāṇḍavas on the battlefield and when you perform the Rājasūya yāga, I desire to honour you and celebrate with you in a similar manner!” The Kaurava embraced Karṇa and said, “O greatest among heroes! That’s true; but it is for another time in the future!” Upon listening to those words, Karṇa said, “Mahārāja! Here, this is my vow! Until I kill Arjuna, I will not wash my legs!” This reached the ears of the Pāṇḍavas too. Yudhiṣṭhira thought about Karṇa’s impenetrable armour and extraordinary courage and began feeling anxious that he has taken such a terrible oath.

Dharmarāja once had a dream in which all the animals of Dvaitavana came to him pleading that they should not be killed. Therefore, Pāṇḍavas left the Dvaita forest and returned to the Kāmyaka forest.[4] One day, when all the Pāṇḍavas had gone hunting, Jayadratha, the king of the kingdoms of Sauvīra and Sindhū was passing by the dwelling of the Pāṇḍavas. Seeing Draupadī all alone and overcome by lust for her, he abducted her forcibly, seated her in his chariot, and drove away. Soon the Pāṇḍavas chased after him; he let go of Draupadī and hurried away. Bhīma and Arjuna relentlessly chased after him, caught him, and beat him black and blue; they shamed him, made him swear that he would announce everywhere that he was a slave of the Pāṇḍavas, and finally let him go. It is because Yudhiṣṭhira came in the way and said, “At any rate, he is one of us; he is Duśyalā’s husband! Don’t kill him!” that his life was saved and he was sent away. At this point, Sage Mārkāṇḍeya gives solace to Yudhiṣṭhira by narrating the story of Rāma[5], how his wife Sītā was captured by Rāvaṇa, how Rāma had to fight with the help of monkeys and bears, and how Yudhiṣṭhira’s position was far better.

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.


[1] Translators’ Note: The pacifying of Duryodhana by Śakuni, Karṇa, and others after he had gone into depression when Arjuna and Bhīma obtained his release from the Gandharvas.

[2] Translators’ Note: The place where the yajña will be conducted.

[3] Translators’ Note: The meritorious act of feeding people, typically by inviting them to a feast.

[4] The Pāṇḍavas lived in the Kāmyaka forest and eleven years of their exile were completed with great trials and tribulations. They lived on fruits and roots of trees, in great physical and emotional difficulty. Yudhiṣṭhira was pained to think about the past and felt that all this misery was a result of his sins. His brothers and Draupadī were pained seeing him in such emotional trauma. It is at this point, Vyāsa paid them a visit.

Seeing the noble Pāṇḍavas in such an emaciated state, Vyāsa was overcome with pity and spoke in a choked voice, teary-eyed, “Yudhiṣṭhira, you are the supreme among those who adhere to dharma! Unless one performs tapas, one cannot find sukha! People experience joy and sorrow; nobody experiences sorrow incessantly! A wise person knows that fortune is favourable and unfavourable by turns. He neither laments nor rejoices. When there is joy, he revels in it; when there is sorrow, he endures it. It’s just like a farmer who waits after ploughing the land and sowing the seeds. There is nothing higher than tapas; it verily leads to greatness. Nothing is impossible with tapas; know this, O great descendant of Bharata! Integrity, straightforwardness, freedom from anger, enthusiasm in sharing, self-control, serenity, freedom from jealousy, non-injury, purity, and control of the senses – these are the means to attaining puṇya. Fools who delight in adharma and follow the ways of the beasts never attain happiness. Engage in tapas and follow the niyama. Perform dāna to the best of your ability; donate with gladness in your heart and without jealousy to a deserving person at the appropriate time. An honest person attains longevity and freedom from misery; one who is straightforward, free from anger, and rid of envy attains the highest; one who is calm and controlled is never troubled. A self-controlled person is unaffected by another’s prosperity. One who does not injure attains good health. One who honours those deserving of honour is reborn in a noble family. Direct your intellect to good deeds and in course of time you will attain a noble mind.”

Yudhiṣṭhira then asked Vyāsa if dāna was greater or if tapas was greater. In response, Vyāsa said, “Nothing is more difficult on earth as compared to dāna. There is a great thirst for wealth, which is obtained with great toil. People sacrifice their lives, enter into the battlefield, cross oceans, and brave the journey across forests – all for the sake of wealth. It is for the sake of wealth that people take to agriculture, cattle-rearing, and serving others. What one has obtained with great effort requires great effort to give away. There is nothing more difficult than dāna and therefore it is superior to tapas. Specially know that the wealth obtained through honest toil should be donated to a virtuous person at the right time and place. The wealth obtained by deceit, even if donated, doesn’t save the donor from danger. Even a seemingly insignificant gift, given to a deserving person at the right time with a good heart can result in great rewards. That is how Mudgala was rewarded greatly by just giving away a pot of rice!”

Then Vyāsa told Yudhiṣṭhira the story of Mudgala, who lived in Kurukṣetra. He was a man of good conduct who survived by gathering grains of rice. In spite of his rigid austerities, he fed his guests to the best of his abilities and with a happy heart. Once, the sage Dūrvāsa came there to test him. On six auspicious lunar days, he showed up at Mudgala’s house in the guise of an unclothed madman and ate up all the food. In spite of staying hungry for all those days, Mudgala harboured neither envy nor anger, neither disrespect nor anxiety. Pleased with his spirit of charity, he told Mudgala, “Hunger drives away dharma and disturbs the mind. The tongue follows the senses and is attracted by food, which sustains life. The mind is capricious and hard to control. To give away with a glad heart what one has obtained with great toil is extremely difficult. But you have achieved that! It is my good fortune that I met you; it brings me great joy! You will now go to heaven in your own body!”

After narrating this story, Vyāsa told the son of Kuntī, “Don’t lament. You have lost your kingdom but you will win it back by your tapas. Joy and sorrow are cyclical. Once the thirteen years pass, you will regain the land of your ancestors, O valorous one! Throw off your mental fever!”

[5] Author’s Note: Since everyone is familiar with the story, it hasn’t been presented here. It has been included in the Appendix.
Translators' Note: This will be covered in the next few episodes on Prekshaa



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 Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 25+ books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.

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