After Yudhiṣṭhira heard the tragic tale of the Yādavas from Arjuna, he felt like renouncing everything and setting out on a long voyage. He looked at Arjuna and exclaimed, “Time indeed brings maturity to all animals, it creates balance in all beings; I too am caught in the grip of Time; you too know this very well!”
Arjuna concurred with his brother’s opinion and said, “Oh! Time! Time! Who indeed can escape from it?”
The other three Pāṇḍavas agreed with their brothers. As soon as they decided that they would go away, to immerse themselves in the practice of dharma and austerities, Yudhiṣṭhira called Yuyutsu and crowned him as the king of the Kaurava kingdom; he gave his kingdom to Parīkṣit and installed him on the throne. Then he called Subhadrā and said, “My dear, now onwards it is your grandson who will be emperor; take care of him and also the Yādava emperor Vajra! Don’t let your heart lose to anything that violates dharma!”
They offered jala-tarpaṇa to the departed Yādavas and performed the post-death śrāddha-tarpaṇa rituals, after which they made lavish donations to all their citizens. Then Dharmarāja called Kṛpācārya and asked him to be the tutor for Parīkṣit. He called all the chieftains, leaders, and inhabitants of the towns and informed them about his decision. They pleaded with the Pāṇḍavas thus, “How can this happen? You should not go!”
But he who knew the play of Time, would he agree to it? No.
And so, he removed all the ornaments and jewels he wore on his body as well as his silken raiment and wore clothes made from the bark of trees. His younger brothers and Draupadī did the same. When they set out on their journey, a dog began following them. It would not leave their side even when shooed away. The townsfolk walked with them for a distance and then finally saw them off. Ulūpi drowned herself in the Gaṅgā; Citrāṅgada went back to Maṇalūru. The Pāṇḍavas along with Draupadī went on empty stomachs in an easterly direction. Right at the front walked Dharmarāja; behind him was Bhīma; then Arjuna; followed by Nakula and Sahadeva; and behind them all was Draupadī – thus they walked in a file. The dog began following them assiduously. When we went near the Lauhitya ocean, Agni (the fire Deity) came there and said, “Let Arjuna renounce his Gāṇḍīva here! He has no more use for it. I had brought it from Varuṇa so that I could give it to Arjuna.”
At once Arjuna hurled the Gāṇḍīva and the inexhaustible quiver of arrows into the ocean. They went further and reached the place where the ocean had swallowed the kingdom of Dvāraka and walked northwards in a manner of performing a pradakṣiṇa. After some time, they arrived at the Himalayas. Crossing that, as they walked forward, they arrived at the Vālukārṇava and the Meru mountain.
Deep in yoga, as they began climbing the Meru, Draupadī fell down on the ground. Looking at that, Bhīma asked his elder brother, “Why brother? Why did Draupadī fall down on the ground? She has done no act of adharma!”
Yudhiṣṭhira said, “She displayed partiality; she was extremely partial towards Arjuna! This is a result of that!” Without casting even a glance at her, he walked on with a serene mind.
After walking a little, Sahadeva fell. Looking at that, Bhīma said, “Without the slightest arrogance, Sahadeva would take care of all of us; why did he fall, O brother?”
Yudhiṣṭhira said, “Sahadeva thought that nobody was as intelligent as he was; owing to that flaw, he fell.”
Then Nakula fell. When Bhīma asked the reason, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “In his mind, he thought there was nobody as handsome as he was, and so he fell.”
Then Arjuna fell. Bhīma saw that and exclaimed, “Oh Arjuna was a great soul! I can’t remember him telling a lie even for fun. Why should he fall, brother?”
Yudhiṣṭhira said, “He thought he was the most powerful hero and he often said that he alone would defeat all his enemies; but he could not; and so he fell! He looked down upon all archers and marksmen; one who desires for śreyas should never do that!”
After a while, Bhīma himself fell and shouted, “Brother! Brother! I too have fallen; if you know the reason for this, tell me!”
Yudhiṣṭhira said, “You paid no heed to others and ate too much. You boasted a great deal about your prowess. And so you fell!” Even as he said these words, he did not look at the direction of his fallen brother but moved onwards. The dog alone followed him without the slightest deviation. In a little while, Indra came in his chariot, shaking the earth and the skies. He invited Dharmarāja to sit with him in his chariot and ascend to heaven. Dharmarāja was overcome with sorrow and his eyes were filled with tears. “Sureśvara! All my brothers fell down; the beautiful, delicate, princess worthy of peace, Draupadī, too fell down. Only if they can come along with me will I join you!”
Indra said, “Noble sir! All of them have left their mortal bodies and have joined heaven, having taken up divine forms. You will meet them in heaven. But you can come to heaven in this body itself.”
At that, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “If that be the case, this dog should come along with me. It has been faithfully following me all this time without ever leaving my side; I feel deeply for it!”
Indra: You have attained perfection, śreyas, and divinity; thus you have become my equal; you have been conferred upon the joys of heaven; so forget about this dog; it won’t amount to ruthlessness!
Yudhiṣṭhira: Being an ārya, I cannot commit an act that doesn’t befit one; I don’t want wealth that is attained at the cost of forsaking one who has reposed faith in me.
Indra: There is no place in heaven for one who wants to bring a dog along! So think carefully and abandon this dog; it is not a lack of compassion at any rate.
Yudhiṣṭhira: It is a great sin to forsake those who have reposed faith in you. So, come what may, I cannot abandon this for the sake of attaining personal pleasure or privilege. Even at the cost of my life, I will not forsake those who have taken refuge in me owing to fear, devotion, or pain. This has always been my oath!
Indra: Noble sir! A dog brings ill-luck. And so let go of this dog; if you abandon this dog, you will attain the world of the Devas. Having forsaken your brothers and your wife, you have attained this world owing to your good deeds. But you’re refusing to let go of a dog! Even after having made so many sacrifices, you still have attachment?
Yudhiṣṭhira: There is neither love nor quarrel with those who are dead; and I cannot bring them back to life. And so, I have left them all; why should I forsake those who are yet alive?”
Having listened to these words, the Deity of Dharma [Yama] suddenly appeared in front of them, filled with affection for his son, and said, “O greatest of kings! You are truly born in a noble family and a great scion of your race; you are indeed like your father in matters of character and compassion for all beings. Long back, I had tested you in Dvaitavana and you had chosen Nakula’s life instead of Bhīma or Arjuna because you wanted both your mothers to have one living child; and now, you refuse to climb on to the heavenly chariot for the sake of a faithful dog whom you deemed as a devotee. And so, even in heaven there will be no king your equal! In your human form, you have attained the highest realm and you will go to the highest worlds!” Thus he blessed his son. After this, Yudhiṣṭhira was made to sit on the celestial chariot by Yama, Indra, the maruts, the Aśvinī-devatās, and the devaṛṣis. The chariot flew in the sky.
Upon reaching the world of the Devas, he did not find his brothers or his wife there. At once, Dharmarāja said, “I want to go where my brothers are! Be that a lovely grove or a ghastly dungeon, I want to go there; I don’t want to be in any other place!”
Indra said, “O king of kings! Stay here awhile; you have earned this owing to the merits of your noble deeds; why do you drag the attachments and affections of the earthly world here? You have attained the highest perfection that no man before you has attained! Your brothers did not attain this.”
Yudhiṣṭhira would not agree. “I cannot be here without them; wherever they are, where Draupadī is, where my children are, I wish to go there. That is my only desire!” he said.
To be concluded.
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. This episode contains the Mahāprasthānika-parva.