Mahabharat Episode 40: The Pandavas Go Incognito
The Pandavas and Draupadi have completed their twelve years of forest exile. The next challenge for them is to live undiscovered for another year among people, in a city. To accomplish this, they had to come up with a convincing disguise.
What happened so far: Yudhishthira encounters the yaksha who has managed to kill his brothers. He answers the yaksha's questions in an attempt to bring his brothers back to life.
The Significance of Twelve Years
Questioner: Sadhguru, both the Pandavas and Rama were exiled for twelve years. Is there any significance to the duration of twelve years?
Sadhguru:Twelve years is because that is the solar cycle. It takes twelve years for anything significant to happen in a man. It is true for women too, but a little less noticeable. Every twelve to twelve and a half years, everyone’s life goes through a certain cycle. This is because of the solar cycles, which have a lot of influence on your physiology, your mind, your emotion, your energy, and your life situation. People are not aware enough to notice what is happening, because it is twelve years. In my life, I clearly know when the next twelve-year cycle is coming up. For anything significant to happen, you have to ride one cycle. That is why all sadhana was structured around twelve years. Whether you went to a Guru or you went to the forest, it was always for twelve years.
Today, people understand going to the forest as a punishment. It is not a punishment but a learning process. For the Pandavas and Draupadi, it was twelve years plus one more year, just to make sure they got the point. After the twelve years were over, they were supposed to spend one more year incognito. That meant they had to live somewhere in a civilized place, but they should not be discovered. It was very easy for them to be caught. Five regal looking men and a phenomenally beautiful woman – how can you hide such people? Wherever they were, they would stick out. This was the most challenging part. If they were discovered in this one year, they would have had to go into exile for another twelve years.
Crafting New Identities
The priest Dhaumya and the sage Lomasa, who were with them, planned out a strategy for the Pandavas and Draupadi on how to spend this last year without being discovered. As the thirteenth year was coming up, Duryodhana sent his spies to every country, to make sure that the moment they arrive, they would be discovered. He was quite confident that in one year’s time, his spies would find them. The Pandavas and Draupadi could not remain in the forest – they had to be in a town. There were only two dozen cities, with populations of a few thousand people. Duryodhana’s spies spread out everywhere, into every kingdom, waiting for the Pandavas to show up.
On the advice of the sages, the five brothers decided to go to Matsya, King Virata’s kingdom. When they came near the city, they disguised themselves in different ways. Yudhishthira disguised himself as a Brahmana. Bhima disguised himself as a cook. Arjuna disguised himself as a eunuch. He did not have to do much, because he had become one. Urvashi’s curse came in handy at this point – Arjuna’s masculine body had transformed, and it was easy for him to dress up like a woman. Nakula disguised himself as a horse caretaker, and Sahadeva as a cowherd. But it was difficult to disguise Draupadi. How to deglamorize her and take her into the town in such a way that she remains undiscovered? She dressed herself like a maid, but still, her royal bearing and her beauty could not be hidden. Everyone feared that she would be discovered. Moreover, she had a quick temper. If she got angry, people would immediately know it was Draupadi, because there was a certain flavor to her that was not common.
Outside the town, they sat down and discussed the plan, how they would go separately, one after another, with a few days’ break in between. They decided to take different names. Yudhishthira called himself Kanka; Bhima called himself Bhalava; Arjuna became Brihanala; Nakula became Dhamagranthi; Sahadeva became Tantripala, and Draupadi became Sairandhri. In this disguise, they all moved into the court, one after the other. First Yudhishthira approached King Virata and offered his services to him. Yudhishthira’s biggest dream was to play dice well one day. When he was in the forest, one day, he met a sage by the name Brihadashva, who gave him a secret mantra with which he could get whatever number he wanted on the dice. Now, armed with this mantra, he could win against anyone. Probably, he had a dream of winning against Shakuni someday. But now he went to Virata’s kingdom. The dice game was such a passion in those days. There was not much other entertainment, except fighting.
King Virata saw the skill with which Yudhishthira could play dice. This was the best disguise for Yudhishthira, because the word had spread everywhere, what a horrible dice player he was. Now, no one would believe that he could do magic with dice. Had he been capable of that before, he would not have lost his kingdom. Yudhishthira settled into the royal court. Virata appreciated his intelligence and wisdom so much that he became an advisor to the king. Bhima also found his way into the king’s kitchen. He was a great cook and became popular with the foodies in the palace.
Arjuna came and showed his skill as a dancer and a singer, which he had picked up in Amaravati, Indra’s abode. With the gandharva Chitrasena as his teacher, he was a magical dancer and an exquisite singer. Because of that, he found his way into the harem, where Virata’s daughter Uttaraa took him as her dance teacher. After the usual checkup, they found that he was really a eunuch, so they had no problem housing him in the harem. He had the body of a eunuch but the mind of a man. It took some time for him to settle down in the women’s quarter, among hundreds of women. Nakula found his way into the king’s stables.
It is said that Nakula was magical with horses. They had such a rapport that, suddenly, the king’s stables rose to a different level altogether. The king immediately noticed that the way the horses were bred, the way they were taken care of, and the way they performed, and everything changed because of Nakula’s relationship with the horses, because he was the son of an ashvin. Sahadeva found his way to where the king’s cattle herds were managed. He did miraculous things with the cows, and the herds grew. He caught thousands of wild cows and bulls and domesticated them. Virata’s wealth grew in the form of cattle. And so, all the five found their places at the king’s palace, but it was an explicit rule that they never contact each other.
Before they came into the city, they took their famed weapons with them, including Arjuna’s Gandiva, bundled them up with a rotting dead body from the cremation grounds, tied it all up in an old carpet, and hung the bundle in a tree. Certain tribes had this practice that they did not bury or cremate their dead but hung them in trees for the birds to eat. People would see that it is a dead body, and no one would go near it. That was a kind of safety, so that their weapons would not get lost. Draupadi was the last one to enter the city. People saw this stunningly beautiful woman, dressed in tatters, walking on the street towards the palace. Men gathered around her and stared at her. A woman of this kind of beauty walking alone without a man seemed suspicious. They asked, “Who are you?” Draupadi did not speak. Then they started poking and pinching her. She was in trouble.
The queen, who was travelling towards the palace in a palanquin, saw Draupadi in distress and took her to the palace. The queen was amazed that when she took Draupadi to the palace and looked at her, Draupadi looked like the queen, not her. The queen asked, “Who are you?” Draupadi said, “I’m a flower girl. I was doing hair and flowers for Draupadi. But since the Pandavas lost their kingdom, I have been unemployed. I am just wandering around. I have five Gandharvas as my husbands. They are gone to another land right now. And till they come back, I need some refuge. They will be back in a year’s time.” The queen saw the skill with which she could do the flowers and she let her do her hair, and she did wonders with it. She thought this was a great gift for her and kept Draupadi with her.
To be continued..
Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published in the Forest Flower magazine, March 2018.