Sahadeva entered Virāṭa’s court in the guise of a cowherd. “O king! I tended the cows of the Pāṇḍavas. I don’t know where they are now. I’ve come looking for employment at your court. I do not wish to seek refuge in anyone else but you.”
Virāṭa said, “Revered one! You appear to be a brāhmaṇa or a kṣatriya. You’re so handsome, you don’t have any features of a cowherd. What are you skilled at? What kind of work do you wish to do in my kingdom? How much do you expect me to pay you?”
Sahadeva replied, “I worked as a gopāla (cowherd) for Yudhiṣṭhira. My name is Tantipāla. I have the skill to know everything related to cows and calves in a radius of ten yojanas from my place. Cows breed well under my care. I’m sure to keep them healthy and disease-free. I can tell a good breed of oxen from a bad one. This is the training I have undergone. I’m not equipped with any other skill that will earn me my livelihood.”
Upon hearing Sahadeva’s words, Virāṭa appointment him on the job he asked for and gave him the pay he expected. No one recognised him.
Arjuna, entered Virāṭa’s court next. He wore earrings on both his ears, bracelets made of conch-shells, and wore his hair in a long plait. He spoke to the king in this manner –”My name is Bṛhannaḍa. I can sing and play instruments. I can also dance. I can train your daughter in these arts, if you so wish!”
Virāṭa immediately agreed and put him on the task. Arjuna started teaching the art of music and dance to the princess and became a favourite in the harem. However, no one in the harem or in the king’s court learnt of his real identity.
Nakula then entered the kingdom and casually pretended to inspect Virāṭa’s horses with curiosity. This caught Virāṭa’s attention and he thought, “There is a youngster who seems to be greatly interested in our horses. He must know the art of taming them and caring for them. He looks like a brave man.”
“Bring him to me,” he told his men. He spoke to Nakula who was in disguise and said, “Who are you? What brings you here? What are you trained in?”
Nakula replied, “I was the caretaker of horses in Yudhiṣṭhira’s court. I know the heart of horses and I’m an expert in matters related to their health and well-being. I can tame any horse and raise it comfortably. There is no horse that misbehaves in my presence. Dharmarāja called me Granthika.” Please with this account, Virāṭa said, “I shall put all my horses under your care. My horsemen and charioteers will work under your supervision. Tell me if this proposal is agreeable to you. When I look at you, I feel as happy as seeing Dharmarāja himself. It’s a pity how the Pāṇḍavas are pulling on with their lives these years, without the aid of such capable servants.” Nakula happily agreed to his proposal and joined as the supervisor of the stables. Nobody knew his real identity.
In this manner, the five brothers pleased Virāṭa with their work. They stood by each other and lead their lives incognito. Draupadī let herself be seen by her husbands now and then and she overcame her sorrow. This also helped in keeping the spirit of the Pāṇḍavas high.
The Pāṇḍavas lived under cover for ten months, in peace. Draupadī experienced great difficulty serving Sudeśnā. One day, Sudeśnā’s brother and the commander-in-chief of Virāṭa’s army, Kīcaka spotted her as she roamed around in the inner quarters. He instantly fell for her and thought, “Who is this beauty? I had not seen her here before. She is capturing my senses just as exquisitely flavoured liquor does!” He followed her all over and tried to please her with his words, “Dear maiden! Your lovely appearance and youth is getting wasted like a garland that is left unused. I shall give up all my wives I’ve married so far; I shall make them all your slaves. I will be your slave too. Come, I want you to be mine!” He pleaded with her.
Draupadī replied, “Your desire is immoral, O Lord! You’re speaking words that shouldn’t be spoken. I’m a low born one. All I do is to braid the hair of the royal ladies. Moreover, I’m a married woman. It’s natural even for animals to have affection for their spouses. It’s not right to cover another’s wife. A virtuous man should never indulge in immoral activities. A person who strays from the path of dharma will not only get a bad name but will also fall prey to calamity. I’m a weak one but five husbands protect me. If they’re enraged, they will not hesitate even to kill you. Don’t give up your life for such meagre reasons. Your current desire is like that of a timid lad who wants to jump across a roaring river from one bank to the other. It is like the desire of a toddler who wishes to have the moon for himself while he sleeps on his mother’s lap.”
Kīcaka, who was heart-broken due to Draupadī’s turning down of his proposal, [and overcome by uncontrollable lust, he] went to Sudeśnā and said, “My beloved sister! Please help me unite with Sairandhrī. If not, my vital airs will escape from me!” Sudeśnā, whose heart melted upon hearing her brother’s request thought for a while about his craving, about Draupadī’s sorry state, and the merits of their union. She replied to her brother, “Arrange for food and drinks during the upcoming festival. Let’s have a feast. I will instruct her to fetch liquor from your house. When she is alone by your side, capture her and her heart. She will be yours!”
Accordingly, Kīcaka arranged for a grand feast and informed his sister. Sudeśnā told Draupadī, “Sairandhrī! I’m extremely thirsty. Please go to Kīcaka’s house and get me a drink!”
Draupadī replied, “Mother! I cannot go to his house alone. He can misbehave with me. He doesn’t care for decency. You know this very well. When he finds me alone, he will try to overpower me, overcome with lust. I shall not go, O queen! You have several servants who will listen to you. You may send any one of them to him.”
Sudeśnā said, “He won’t harm you, because you’re going on my behalf. Fear not, please go, and fetch me a drink!” She sent Draupadī with an empty golden goblet.
Draupadī had no other option but to obey the queen. She went ahead, in tears, anxious of the outcome. She cursed her fate for subjecting her to such torture. She thought to herself, “If I have been a loyal wife to the Pāṇḍavas, may Kīcaka have no strength to harm me.”
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.
 When Virāṭa saw Arjuna, he said, “You’re equal to a leader of an elephant herd but your clothes seem to be out of place. You must be a great archer. I’ve grown old now. Why don’t you protect my kingdom? How can you be a eunuch?” Arjuna replied that he was indeed a eunuch who was skilled in the classical arts and requested to become a teacher to Princess Uttarā. Virāṭa replied, “I grant you what you desire; instruct my daughter in the art of dance. However, I think this doesn’t suit you. You deserve the earth until the edge of the oceans!”
 The victorious Pāṇḍavas lived in the kingdom of Matsya. They passed their days incognito with great calmness in spite of the great suffering that they underwent.
 The Pāṇḍavas constantly supported each other while at Matsya. Whatever money that Yudhiṣṭhira received from Virāṭa, he would share with his brothers. Bhīma would give Yudhiṣṭhira meat and other food items from the kitchen. Arjuna would share with his brothers all the worn out garments that he would get in the inner chambers. Sahadeva would give fresh milk, curds, and ghee to his brothers. And the money that Nakula earned, he would share with his brothers. Draupadī would take care of her husbands and they took care of her. Thus the great warriors supported each other, hiding in the capital of Virāṭa, like they were once again in their mother’s womb.
 In the fourth month of their stay, there was a great celebration in honour of Brahmā. Many athletes, warriors, and wrestlers had come to participate in the festival. Bhīma displayed his skill in wrestling, thus receiving royal favour. Arjuna pleased everyone by singing and dancing. Nakula displayed a group of well-trained horses and Sahadeva a herd of well-trained bullocks. Both of them won royal favour.
 Then Draupadī worshipped Sūrya for a moment, who blessed her by appointing an invisible rākṣasa to always be at her side and protect her.