As Yudhiṣṭhira went ahead, he first saw Duryodhana. He was sitting amidst the Devatās, glimmering with the wealth of courage, seated on a throne that was resplendent like the sun. Upon looking at that ungainly sight, Yudhiṣṭhira simply could not contain himself. Not looking in that direction a moment longer, he sharply turned his head the other way and said, “I don’t want to be in the world that is inhabited by Duryodhana! Owing to his insatiable avarice, we already performed the ghastly feat of killing all our relatives and friends! Before that, we experienced unspeakable hardships in the forest which was never to be our lot; I’ve seen enough of that loathsome creature who shamelessly dragged the wife of another in open court; O Devatās, I don’t wish to see this Suyodhana. Wherever my brothers may be, take me there!”
Nārada heard these words and said with a laugh, “That’s not how it is! All rivalry gets dissolved in svarga; you must not say such things in connection with Duryodhana! He has earned a place that is equal in honour to that of the Devas. The reason being he fought on the battlefield adhering to kṣatriya-dharma and like a courageous hero, he attained vīra-svarga after his death. All those who die on the battlefield are, in this world, the equals of the Devatās. Either in the game of dice, or on the battlefield, or elsewhere, all that torment you had to face from your cousins – you must forget all that now! Come, treat Duryodhana as a well-wisher and come forward! There is no enmity in svarga!”
Yudhiṣṭhira ignored his words completely and once again enquired about his brothers. “If this wretched and treacherous Duryodhana, who always sided with adharma and lived a life of pāpa, has attained vīra-svarga, then indeed which celestial realm have my courageous, noble, disciplined, honest, and dhārmic brothers attained? I must see that. And the great warriors Karṇa, Dhṛṣṭadyumna, Sātyaki, Virāṭa, Drupada, Dhṛṣṭaketu, Śikhaṇḍin, Abhimanyu, and others fought the great war adhering to kṣatriya-dharma and were ultimately killed in war; where are they all? If all of them have not attained this puṇya-loka, then I too shall not stay in this pristine realm without them! I want to be with them. I must be with them. Where is Karṇa? Where are my brothers? Where is my wife Draupadī? Without them I can’t stay here for even a moment! Wherever they may be, that indeed shall be svarga for me!”
At that point the Devatās said, “If you are so desirous of going there, let us go there at once; whatever is dear to you, we have been ordered by Indra to undertake that.” They called for a messenger and said, “Take this Yudhiṣṭhira and show him where his relatives reside!”
The messenger of the Devas set out along with Yudhiṣṭhira. The path they tread was that assigned to pāpis – the realm of sinners; it was an ordeal even to walk on that path. The place was engulfed in darkness and was ghastly; even step one took, the floor would be soggy with hair and moss, which would stick to the feet. The place was swamped with blood and meat letting out a disgusting odour. Mosquitoes and flies filled the place with their characteristic buzzing sound. Bones were scattered everywhere; also insects and fungi; crows and vultures making a screeching noise; pretas (goblins) with faces resembling pointed needles – all this was visible in the dim light given out by the blazing fire in the distance; it was an utterly gory sight. Amidst all this, there were people with their hands chopped off, people without shoulders, others with deep cuts in their stomach, and those with severed feet; one look at them and the body would be overcome by a shudder.
Even as Yudhiṣṭhira saw all this, several thoughts and worries filled his head; as he walked by, on the way, he came across a pond of boiling water and a forest full of trees that had swords as leaves. He saw sand and boulders that were burnt to a red colour; he also saw iron planks. Cauldrons of boiling oil, cotton shrubs with needles. Various people who had committed pāpa were now suffering at the hands of all these varied torments. Unable to bear the stench, Yudhiṣṭhira asked the messenger, “How far should we go on this path? Where are my brothers? Which is this place?”
At once, he turned around and said, “You were supposed to come only until here; now you must return; this is what the Devatās have told me. If you are tired, let us go.”
The unbearable stench almost made him faint. And so he turned around; but the moment he turned to leave, all around him there were voices that pleaded, “Dharmaputra! O epitome of puṇya! O Rājarṣi! Stay here for another moment and grace us with your presence! After you came here, the breeze of righteousness blowing from you has brought us so much solace. If you are here, we don’t see the pain and the torture; so please, stay for a little longer!” Upon listening to those voices, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “What a disaster!” and simply stood there. Although he had heard those voices several times in the past, now, owing to his exhaustion and sorrow, he was unable to recognize any of them. And so he asked, “Who are you? Why are you here?” From all sides around him, voices shouted, “I am Karṇa!” “I am Bhīmasena!” “I am Arjuna!” “I am Nakula!” “I am Sahadeva!” “I am Dhṛṣṭadyumna” “I am Draupadī!” “We are the sons of Draupadī!”
Their voices were soaked in the horror of the place. Listening to this, Dharmarāja said, “What is this divine ordinance! To face the torment of such a ghastly and horrific place, what sort of wicked or wretched sin did these righteous people—Karṇa, Draupadī, and the rest—commit? What’s the meaning of Duryodhana and his loved ones—all wicked to the core—glowing with matchless grandeur like Devendra himself? What is the meaning of such dharma-adhering, courageous, honest, and kṣatriya-dharma-parāyaṇas rotting in naraka? Am I dreaming or am I awake? It appears that I am conscious and yet I feel bereft of consciousness. What is this warping of the mind? Am I under some sort of illusion?” Thus he began thinking along various lines. Finally, overcome by rage, he let out a tirade against the Devatās and Dharma. And then, with great anguish, he told the messenger, “Sir! Go back to those who sent you; I will not come with you. Let them know that I shall remain here. If I stay here, my tormented brothers will get a whiff of solace!” The messenger went to Indra and informed him of all this.
After a gap of a moment, Indra and other Devatās accompanied by Dharmapuruṣa (Yama) came to where Yudhiṣṭhira was standing. Even as those divine-bodied puṇya-karmis came there, the darkness was dispelled. In that brightness, there were no sinners experiencing pain or torment; no Vaitaraṇī or needles, no stones nor cauldrons. A soft, pure breeze blew in its place, bringing calmness. Indra told Yudhiṣṭhira these words in a bid to offer some solace, “The Devatās are indeed delighted with you; come, this much is sufficient; don’t get angry at them; you and your brothers and your relatives have all attained the highest celestial realm. Kings must surely have a glimpse of naraka! Every individual will have a heap of puṇya and a heap of pāpa. If he enjoys the fruits of his righteous acts rightaway, he will have to go to naraka following that to atone for his wicked acts; instead, if he first experiences the anguish of naraka then he can go to svarga. Therefore, it is for your welfare that such a scheme was planned by me; you cheated Droṇa with your one lie on the battlefield; and therefore you were cheated into catching a glimpse of the ghastly naraka. And just like you, for some small reason or the other, Bhīma and others had to experience naraka for a while. Now, they are all liberated; come with me, you shall see all of them, along with all those great warriors who fought on your side and attained vīra-svarga. Calm your mind. Your time of experiencing troubles is over; from now on, be with me and remain eternally happy; the divine gandharvas and apsarās will wait on you and serve you! Now, enjoy the fruits of performing the Rājasūya-yāga and the Aśvamedha-yajña. Among kings, your realm is extremely high and exalted; you shall reside with Hariścandra, Māndhāta, Bhagīratha, Bharata, and others. Here, see the Ākāśa-gaṅgā, the purifier of the three worlds! If you take a dip in this river, all your human emotions and bindings will be washed away. You will be rid of all sorrow, exhaustion, and enmity!”
Dharma said, “Son, I am delighted to observe your noble qualities of devotion to dharma, your integrity, fortitude, and self-restraint. This is the third time I tested you; the first was the series of questions I posed to you in Dvaitavana; the second was when I took the form of a dog and put your in a dhārmic dilemma; and this is the third. You have succeeded in all three. You are blemishless! You are a great soul! Did you really think that your brothers would attain naraka? All that was just a māyā that Indra showed you. Anyone who is a king must have a glimpse of naraka; and so you too have experienced that pain and anguish for a brief moment!”
The moment Dharmarāja took a dip in the Gaṅgā, his mortal body was replaced by a divine body; his enmity was purged; all his pain and sorrow vanished; then the Devatās took him and showed him all his close relatives and friends resplendent with divine bodies – Kṛṣṇa, Arjuna, Karṇa, Bhīma, Pāṇḍu, Kuntī, Abhimanyu, and so forth.
Thus, after the Pāṇḍavas and Kauravas experienced the joys of svarga that they attained (owing to their good deeds on earth), they returned to their source; they had all sprung from various power and now they all became one with those powers. Bhīṣma became one with the vasus; Droṇa became one with Bṛhaspati, Kṛtavarma with the maruts, Pradyumna with Sanatkumāra, and so forth. Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Gāndhārī went to the world of Kubera; Pāṇḍu, Kuntī, and Mādrī went to the world of Indra; Virāṭa, Drupada, Dhṛṣṭaketu, Akrūra, Sāmba, Bhūriśravas, Uttara, and others became one with the viśvedevas. Karṇa became one with Sūrya, Śakuni with Dvāpara, Dhṛṣṭadyumna with Agni, and Yudhiṣṭira with Dharma. Balarāma went to pātāla (the nether world). Vāsudeva became one with Nārāyaṇa.
Here ends the saga of the Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas. Even as the yajña was going on, Janamejaya heard this epic from Vaiśampāyana and was awe-struck and overjoyed. The yajña was completed. The serpents became free. Āstīka was happy. Janamejaya too was delighted; he moved from Takṣaśila to Hastināpura and lived there happily.
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 Svargārohaṇa-parva. The main story of the Epic ends here. Following this, two short sub-stories of the epic will be published as appendices: the story of Śakuntalā and the story of Yayāti.