Draupadī told Bhīma, “I cried out loud, pouring out my miseries, for I could not control my sorrow; not with a desire to criticize the Mahārāja. Let bygones be bygones; now we must take up the work at hand, that which is possible to accomplish. Every day, Sudeṣṇā looks at me and my body, and says in a tone of suspicion, “Will the king ever let her go if he sets eyes on her!” She constantly doubts my fidelity. Knowing her thoughts and temperament, her brother Kīcaka, himself an evil man, constantly asks for my hand and pleads with me. Enraged, but swallowing my fury, I told that lust-filled man, ‘See how you can stay alive, O Kīcaka! I am the wife of gandharvas; there are five of them; they are courageous warriors who fear nothing; they will kill you!’ That wicked rascal replied, ‘Hey Sairandhrī, I’m not one to fear the gandharvas; let a hundred of them come, or even a thousand – I will battle with them and kill them all. Come, become mine!’ I said, ‘Kīcaka, I firmly adhere to dharma; I have decorum and dignity aligned to my birth. I don’t want anyone to die; that is the reason you are still alive.’ He laughed boisterously. He cares not for dharma; he’s a sinner who treads the wrong path; I’m fed up of stopping his advances and avoiding him; even now he harasses me every single time he sets eyes on me; I can’t take it anymore; I’ve heard that there is no greater dharma for a kṣatriya than the destruction of enemies. This Kīcaka kicked me in front of Dharmarāja and you, didn’t he? Bhīmasena, earlier you killed Jaṭāsura and you destroyed Jarāsandha; in the same manner, kill this rogue as well! He harasses me because he is an important man for the king. Just like a pot is placed on a stone and crushed, you must crush this man and tear him into pieces! If he does not die by tomorrow, I shall consume poison and kill myself. It is better to die in front of you than to go into his arms!”
Saying so, Draupadī placed her head on Bhīma’s chest and cried aloud; Bhīma embraced her tightly and offered words of solace in many ways. He said, “O noble one! Let it be so; I will do as you say; I will kill that Kīcaka along with his relatives and friends. After dawn, make an agreement with him, but without the knowledge of anyone else. After dusk, let him come to the nartanaśālā (dance hall) of the Matsya king; nobody will be there at night; there is a hard cot. On that, I will make him see his ancestors!” Both of them cried, overwhelmed by sorrow; they spent the rest of the night drenched in sadness and with great difficulty got through it. As soon as the sun rose, Kīcaka came to the palace and told Draupadī, “In front of the eyes of your king, I kicked you; nobody came forward to protect you. I am the true king of this land! Therefore, come to me and enjoy the pleasures; I will give you all the wealth you want, I will give you many servants and slaves; I will give you many horses and chariots; I will become your slave; come to me, unite with me! If you so desire, I will come to where you live.”
Draupadī replied, “I will agree upon one condition. Your brothers or your friends should not learn about this; I’m only afraid that the gandharvas might get a scent of this.”
Kīcaka said, “Let it be so; I will come alone, without anyone else knowing about it, to the place where you shall be.”
Draupadī said, “If that be the case, tonight, after it is dark, come to the dance hall of the palace. During the day, girls will be practising dance but after dusk, it will be deserted since the girls would have all gone away. Even the gandharvas will not know about it.
Little did Kīcaka know that Sairandhrī spelt death for him. Swelling with joy, he returned home and spent the day feeling that a month had gone by. Then he adorned himself with various fragrances, garlands, and jewels. Like a flame that was about to be doused, he shone brightly due to his ornamentation. Overcome by lust, all his thoughts were about uniting with her; lost in thoughts he didn’t realize the passing of the day.
As soon as it was dusk, Bhīma went to the dance hall beforehand and hid there, waiting for the arrival of Kīcaka. Overcome by lust and drunk with enjoyment, Kīcaka entered the dark dance hall and tapped the figure that was reclining on the cot; he said with a subtle smile, “Today, you’ve attained the wealth of my handsomeness; all the women who come to my house declare that there’s no man who is as handsome as I am. Bhīma said, “It is true that you’re handsome; it is right for you to boast about it; you too would not have experienced such a touch before!” and smiled; then he lunged at Kīcaka and held his hair, which was decorated with flowers and ornamented. Kīcaka, being a strong fighter himself, released his hair from Bhīma’s grip and caught hold of his shoulders. They wrestled with each other. The entire hall shook due to their fight. On one occasion, Bhīma fell; on another, Kīcaka fell; finally Bhīma struck a fierce blow on Kīcaka’s chest and made him motionless. After that, he twisted the legs and hands, thrusting them into the body in such a manner that the corpse looked like a huge meat ball. Then he called Draupadī and said, “Come, see O Pāñcālī! See what has become of your lustful stalker.” Slowly, his anger subsided and he returned to the kitchen.
Draupadī, who had successfully got Kīcaka killed called out, “Ayyo! The lustful Kīcaka has fallen dead, killed by my powerful husbands, the Gandharvas! Come! Look here!”
The doorkeepers of the dance hall rushed to the spot first and they were closely followed by Kīcaka’s relatives. They watched the scene in horror – Kīcaka had fallen down like a ball of flesh, with his limbs packed together in his body like a tortoise. Everyone was shocked. Their fear knew no bounds. They decided that it was the work of the Gandharvas. They shed tears and slowly pulled out the mortal remains outside to perform the funeral rites. They pointed at Draupadī and said, “Kīcaka gave up his life for her. Kill this crooked lady! Well, it might even be a better idea to burn her alive with Kīcaka’s dead body. By doing so, we will cause delight to the departed being.” They made their plan known to Virāṭa.
King Virāṭa, who knew their capabilities, was scared. “Go ahead! Do as you please,” he said. Even as they had barely managed to escape imminent danger, there was yet another one waiting round the corner – something they brought upon themselves out of their stupidity. When they were trying to carry her away, she called out for help – “Jaya, Jayanta, Vijaya, Jayatsena, Jayadbala! These rascals are taking me away! Did you hear me? Please help me!”
As soon as Bhīma heard her voice calling out in pain, he jumped out of his bed. “I heard your words, Sairandhrī!” he shouted back. Disguising himself, he rushed to the funeral ground through another door. He uprooted a tree on the way and hurried towards them with the tree as his weapon. He looked like Yama, the Deity of Death carrying his mace. Looking at him approaching them, the people thought that it was the Gandharva back again and ran helter-skelter for their lives, leaving behind Draupadī. However, Bhīma was quick enough to catch them and beat them to their death. He bid hundred and five men an eternal farewell from the face of earth. He consoled Draupadī who was in tears. “Go back into the town! There is nothing to fear now!” He took a different route and returned to the kitchen.
The news about the death of the Upakīcakas spread around the town like wild fire. Thousands of men and women gathered there in groups. Words escaped them – both out of fear and amazement. They went to their king and said, “O lord! All the hundred men are fallen dead there. Draupadī, now free, is heading back towards the palace. Everyone in the town is now mortally scared. The Gandharvas seem to be extremely powerful. You must ensure our safety and make arrangements for their death ceremonies.” Virāṭa said, “Pile the Kīcakas together and get done with the death rites.” Overcome with tremendous fear and with a voice filled with anxiety, the king went to Sudeṣṇā and said “As soon as Sairandhrī is back, tell her that I have ordered so – ‘O dear Sairandhri! Please go away somewhere. The king is now anxious about what the Gandharvas will do next.’ I’m scared to talk to her by myself, as the watchful and protective eyes of the Gandharvas are always on her. You, a lady, can talk to her in a better manner and you will not be mistaken.”
Draupadī was now heading back like a deer that had just successfully saved itself from the jaws of a lion. People started running away even as they saw her, out of their fear of the Gandharvas. She went close to the kitchen and whispered to Bhīmasena with smile, “My salutations to the Gandharva-lord who saved my life!” She went ahead inconspicuously after muttering these words.
Once she returned to the dance hall, the other students gathered around her and heaved sighs of relief. They said, “Sairandhrī! Fortunately, you have come back safe. Everyone who was causing you trouble is now dead!” They cheered with joy. Bṛhannaḻa said, “How did you free yourself, Sairandhrī? How were they all killed? I would like to hear every detail just as it happened!”
Draupadī said, “Bṛhannaḻa! You’re leading a comfortable life in the harem. What do you have to worry about? What do you care what troubles Sairandhrī experiences? You’re asking me these questions only to mock at my plight, I’m sure!”
Bṛhannaḻa replied, “O beautiful one! Bṛhannaḻa is very pained too! What can she do? I’m reduced to this penury! You won’t understand my heart today!”
Draupadī went towards the palace and Sudeṣṇā told her what the king had asked her to. She gave an order: “Sairandhrī! Go away wherever you wish to go! Do stay here any longer! The king is terribly scared of the Gandharvas now. You’re still young and charming!”
Draupadī replied, “O Mother! I request the king to have patience for thirteen more days. By then, my Gandharva husbands will come to fetch me back. I’m sure they will do you all good!”
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.