Mahābhārata – Episode 36 – Pāṇḍavas Save the Kauravas from the Gandharvas

This article is part 36 of 112 in the series Mahābhārata

The entourage[1] that left from Hastināpura to Dvaitavana camped at a place near the villages of the cowherds. They set their tents up making sure that there was ample supply of water and shade, choosing land that was smooth and flat. They took a count of the cattle. Men and women of the village wore different costumes and entertained the guests with music and dance. Duryodhana rewarded them with a bounty of food and money. The entourage then headed out for hunting. They wandered around the beautiful forest, enjoyed the humming of the bees amidst the flowers, delighted themselves with the dance of peacocks and finally ended up at a lake of Dvaitavana. Duryodhana moved about like Indra surrounded by his attendants. His servants tried setting up a playground for the royal family on the banks of the lake, as per Duryodhana’s command,[2] but were stopped by a group of Gandharvas who resided there since long. They had moved from the palace of Kubera to this place years ago. When this news reached the ears of Duryodhana, he sent his army to deal with the Gandharvas. The soldiers told the Gandharvas, “Our king would like to play here. Give way!” The Gandharvas, ridiculing them, said, “Your king Duryodhana is a fool. Does he consider us his servants? We are devatās and are not bound by his orders. And you all are crazy as well, for you have come here as per his orders. If you wish to live, run back towards your Kaurava king!”

Duryodhana was enraged when he heard this. “I don’t care even if Devendra is here along with his retinue of devatās. Go ahead! Punish those who go against my words!”[3] Accordingly, the soldiers rushed towards the Gandharvas with fury, roaring like lions. The Gandharvas tried to coax them with pleasing words. When they realised that the soldiers would not listen to them, they got ready with their weapons and called for battle.[4] The Kaurava army couldn’t stand the onslaught of the Gandharvas and rushed back, defeated. Duryodhana, Śakuni, and other leaders came forward and fought them. As it appeared that the battle was now going in the favour of the Kauravas, the Gandharvas resorted to magical warfare.[5] Karṇa was unable to bear their attack and jumped into Vikarṇa’s chariot along with his sword and shield. He fled from the spot. The Gandharvas captured Duryodhana, Duśśāsana, Viviṃśati, and others.[6] Looking at this, the soldiers, merchants, and commoners in the entourage requested Yudhiṣṭhira to help free the Kauravas from the clutches of the Gandharvas. Hearing this, Bhīma said, “They tried doing something and ended up this way! The Gandharvas have done what we have always longed to do! Luckily, we have now gotten to know that there are people on our side too. The crooked one came here to look at our plight, as we experience the torments of nature and suffer due to excessive heat, rain, and wind. He wanted to make us feel  jealous with a display of his wealth and derive sadistic pleasure from our misery. He has been rewarded well for his adharma. However, Pāṇḍavas never harm others!”

Dharmarāja stopped him and said, “Bhīma! Don’t get harsh now! We cannot speak like this to those who have come to us for refuge out of fear and helplessness. It is natural for siblings to fight now and then. Still, we are related by blood. When someone else is attacking our cousins, is it right to remain mum? If the Gandharvas capture the Kaurava women, it is a shame on our family. Get up! Please go rescue them! You can use the chariots and the weapons of the Kauravas. Even an ordinary king helps those who seek refuge in him. When such is the case, how can you keep quiet? If Duryodhana’s life is saved because of your valour and the strength of your arms, is there anything greater than that?”[7]

Hearing their brother’s counsel, Bhīma, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva got ready to fight. Arjuna warned the Gandharvas, “This deed does not befit the Gandharvas! Please set free the Kauravas and their women. This is Dharmarāja’s order!”

They said, “Indra is our only leader. We will listen only him and to none other!”

Arjuna said, “If that is the case, I shall rescue them by myself!” With these words, he started firing arrows at them. The Pāṇḍavas had an upper hand in the battle that ensued. Unable to bear the onslaught of the Pāṇḍavas, the Gandharvas jumped to the skies. Arjuna built a net out of his arrows and trapped their chariots, just as a net catches birds. The leader of the Gandharvas started using his magical skills, became invisible, and fired arrows. Arjuna, who was well versed at śabdavedhi was able to locate him and outdid his magical powers. He then appeared before Arjuna and said, “Dear one! I am your friend Citrasena!” Arjuna stopped firing the arrows once he saw his friend.

Citrasena told Arjuna about the wicked intentions of Duryodhana. He said that he was sent by Indra to put Duryodhana in chains and to bring him to devaloka. Arjuna said, “Citrasena! Duryodhana is, after all, our cousin. Moreover, our brother Dharmarāja has commanded us to rescue him and to ensure his safety.”

Citrasena said, “It is not right to set free the evil one! However, if Dharmarāja’s wish is so, then so be it!”

They all went to Yudhiṣṭhira, who thanked the Gandharvas, appreciated their considerate nature and saw them off. He spoke words of advice to Duryodhana and the others. “Don’t venture into such mischief hereafter, Duryodhana! Only adventures mean nothing and bring us no real happiness. Let go all bitterness and head back home with your brothers!”

Duryodhana left the place with his head hung low, ashamed. His mind was filled with the humiliation he had to undergo. He camped on his way back home and was joined by Karṇa who had fled from the battlefield. Karṇa said, “Duryodhana, luckily, you have defeated those magical beings. We are now able to meet each other again! All my soldiers got scattered in different directions. I was wounded all over my body and could no longer stand there. I, thus, had to leave!” Karṇa was unaware of what had transpired and believed that Duryodhana had actually defeated the Gandharvas. Duryodhana was overcome with grief when he heard Karṇa’s words. With his eyes filled with tears, he stuttered and said, “Karṇa! You are speaking without knowing the reality. I am not angry with you. You seem to think that I have defeated the Gandharvas. The truth is that they jumped to the skies and I was unable to fight them. We got caught and they tried kidnapping us through the skies. Some of our men went to the Pāṇḍavas and beseeched them for help. They asked the Pāṇḍavas to rescue me along with our women. That man of dhārma commanded his brothers and they accordingly rescued us from danger. Citrasena, the king of Gandharvas hugged Arjuna, who helped us out of trouble.  The Gandharvas revealed our real intentions to the Pāṇḍavas. They told them that we wanted to see the Pāṇḍavas in their unfortunate state and derive pleasure thereof. I was greatly humiliated and felt like borrowing into the earth and vanishing into it.  It would have been better if I died in the battle with them. Now, I am living more dead than alive, being humiliated before my women by strangers and being rescued by the people who I had insulted in the past. All of you return to the city! I will not be able to come back with such a great insult weighing upon me. If I come back, what will the people think of me? I shall enter fire here and give up my life! Duśśāsana! Go ahead and be the king!” With these words, Duryodhana embraced Duśśāsana.

Duśśāsana tried consoling his brother. “How can I do that, brother!” His voice choked with pain and he prostrated before the feet of his elder brother, washing them with his tears. Karṇa, trying to cheer him up, said, “What is this? Why do you both cry like mad people? If you cry before a person in sorrow, his grief will not reduce. Be bold! If Pāṇḍavas have rescued you, it was merely as a part of their duty. They are your citizens, after all! They will need to do what is good for the king! You have won over everything that belonged to the Pāṇḍavas in the past. Did they enter the fire and give up their lives? If you do not get up and move from here, I too shall remain here to serve you!” Śakuni too said the same and tried various ways of consoling Duryodhana.[8] And yet, Duryodhana would not budge. Karṇa came before him with folded hands and said, “Giving up your life is not the solution here. It does not bring you victory over your enemies. If you are alive, you will see good days for sure. If you decide to give up your life, you will neither see fortune nor misfortune. This is not the right time to think of death and become sorrowful. Arjuna’s prowess at war might have astonished you and it would have come to you as a rude shock. If that is the case, look here, I take a vow. Once the thirteenth year is over, I shall kill Arjuna in the war and bring the rest of the Pāṇḍavas under your command. This is true!”[9] Everyone there prostrated before Duryodhana and begged him to go back to the capital city. Finally, Duryodhana got up and decided to head back. His retinue got on its feet and they reached Hastinagara in no time.

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] The entourage comprised all the citizens along with their wives; eight thousand chariots, thirty thousand elephants, nine thousand horses, thousands of foot soldiers, and many thousand chariots, carriages, and carts. There were also hundreds and thousands of traders, bards, courtesans, and hunters.

[2] Translators’ Note: Duryodhana reaches the lake in Dvaitavana after hunting and indulging his senses, with a view to build pleasure houses and engage in sports. At the same time, Yudhiṣṭhira goes to the lake with Draupadī after performing a sadyaska yajña, which was undertaken by rājarṣis. Vyāsa subtly brings out the contrast in the behaviour of the two cousins.

[3] Translators’ Note: In the original, Duryodhana tells his soldiers that the Gandharvas are opposed to dharma and behaving in a manner that is not bringing pleasure to him. This is one of the many instances in the epic where Duryodhana intuitively equates dharma with what is pleasing to him.

[4] When the kind words of the Gandharvas have no effect on the Kaurava soldiers, they rush to their king Citrasena with a complaint. He says, “They are not behaving like noble people,” and orders his people to fight against Duryodhana’s army.

[5] Initially Karṇa launched a strong attack on the Gandharvas, killing many of them. The rest of them supported him and the Kauravas were taking a lead. Seeing this Citrasena was angered and began using his powers of illusion. Duryodhana, Karṇa, and Śakuni were all wounded in this fresh attack but Karṇa stood on, fighting the opponents. The Gandharvas launched a full-blown attack on Karṇa and destroyed his chariot.

[6] All these Kauravas were captured along with their wives by the Gandharvas.

[7] Translators’ Note: Yudhiṣṭhira tells Bhīma to first try reconciliation with the Gandharvas to free Duryodhana; if that fails, he asks Bhīma to free Duryodhana using mild force, and if that fails as well, he tells him to use every possible means at his disposal.

[8] Śakuni said, “Don’t spoil the good deeds of the Pāṇḍavas by resorting to such melancholy. Reward their good deed by being happy! Overcome with gratitude to them, return their kingdom to them. Then you will feel happy!” These words caused further depression in Duryodhana.

[9] All the demons in the netherworlds became afraid when they saw that Duryodhana was on the verge of beginning a fast-unto-death. They performed a yajña that gave rise to the lady Kṛtya. They told her to bring Duryodhana to them. When she brought him to their abode in a moment, they told him, “Suicide is the worst thing for a person. You are a great soul and you have been created by divine powers! Many demons have taken birth to protect you. Karṇa is Naraka reborn and he will battle Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna. Indra knows this and he will rob Karṇa’s earrings and armour. But we have appointed deadly demons called the saṃśaptakas, who will kill Arjuna. Don’t fear! Your weakness will result in our weakness.” Kṛtya then transported him back to his camp.



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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