Mahabharat Episode 36: Pandavas Rescue Duryodhana
What has happened so far: The Pandavas continue in forest exile for twelve plus one years. Duryodhana and Karna wanted to go on a hunt to chase them down, but, upon Vidura’s pleading, Dhritarashtra forbade them. Then Duryodhana tried to engineer a situation where Durvasa would curse the Pandavas and Draupadi, but this attempt also failed.Life went on in the forest for the Pandavas. Duryodhana was very frustrated that his father had cancelled the hunt. Then Karna told him, “See, they are already vanquished – we don’t have to go and kill them. If you kill them, you will spare them suffering. When a man is defeated, the worst thing that can happen to him is that the victor gets to strut around him. So let’s go and strut around. Let’s enjoy our victory; let them suffer their defeat. Let’s just go visit them, express our sympathies and enjoy it. Why go and kill them?” So they came up with another plan.
Duryodhana went to his father and said, “Father, I think it’s time we count our cows– this is part of pastoral societies – We have millions of heads of cattle, so they obviously cannot be kept in one place. So once in a way, we have to go out and count our cattle to see how much wealth we have.” No one had any objection against cow counting. So Duryodhana, Karna, Shakuni and Dusshasana, along with their wives and a whole retinue, prepared to camp somewhere and count the cows. It was an outing for the whole family – work and pleasure. But of course, they wanted to count cows close to the forest.
They camped not far from where the Pandavas were. They had everything with them – cooks were cooking, women and children were there, they had music; all kinds of things were going on. Nakula, who was out in the forest, heard noises, came to the edge of the forest and looked at the Kaurava camp. He went back and reported what he had seen. Immediately, Bhima and Arjuna picked up their arms. They said, “They have not come just for fun. They have come to harm us. We have to be alert. Or the best thing is we take the offensive – we go finish them first.” Yudhishthira said, “That is not our dharma. We have accepted to stay in the forest for twelve years – we will just do that. Our brothers might not have come to attack us. They have not done anything. Why should we assume that they will do this?”
In the evening, a Gandharva whose name was Chitrasena came with his retinue to the camp of the Kauravas, and a kind of altercation happened between them. The Gandharvas disarmed the Kauravas in no time. They killed a few soldiers and roped up everyone else except the women. The news about this event went to the Pandavas. Immediately, four of the brothers burst into celebration. “I’m sure they came with evil intent.” “They had something on their minds.” “They got it – that’s good.” But Yudhishthira said, “We cannot allow this. They are our brothers. We must go and fight these Gandharvas because they have shamed our brothers.”
Bhima was furious. “You’re talking about shame? Do you know what shame is? Do you have anything like that in you?” Big arguments, but as the elder brother, Yudhishthira said, “No, go and release the Kauravas. Whoever the Gandharva may be – fight him.” Bhima resisted vehemently; Arjuna also was not willing to go. Then Yudhishthira said, “What greater pleasure is there for a man than being magnanimous to his enemy? Go enjoy yourself! Why are you guys resisting what I am telling you?” Then they suddenly realized, “Yes, this is a great chance. We going and liberating them is going to be good!”
They went to save the Kauravas. As they got there, they found Duryodhana, Dusshasana, Karna, Shakuni, and many others, lying on the ground with their hands and legs bound. The Gandharvas were having fun, eating their food, and kicking them around. They had no respect for Kshatriyas (those who belong to the warrior class), because they did not belong to this land. Arjuna set out to fight with the Gandharvas and got into action in such a way that Chitrasena was defeated. Since Chitrasena lost the fight, before he went away, he gave Arjuna gifts. Later on, Chitrasena would become Arjuna’s music and dance teacher at Indra’s palace.
The Pandavas freed the Kauravas, cutting the binds from their hands and feet, looking at them with magnanimity. This was the most horrible moment for Duryodhana. After the Pandavas left, he cried bitterly. He said to Karna, “I don’t want to live anymore! I want to die.” Then he called Dusshasana and begged and urged him, “My brother, go back to Hastinapur. Become king in my place. Rule wisely, with Karna and Shakuni beside you. Always provide a sanctuary to your friends and be generous to your brahmins. Mix justice with mercy when you judge a crime. There is no one better to teach you discernment than our uncle Vidura. You go. I’m not coming. I’m done with this. I cannot live with this shame that my hands and legs were bound, and the Pandavas had to come and release me.” Whatever they said, he refused to go back to Hastinapur. He asked all of them to leave, and he stayed back alone on the bank of a lake.
Duryodhana acted like a madman. For more than a month, he raged around in the forest, screaming, yelling, wanting to die, not knowing how. Then he decided he wanted to leave his body. With whatever little sadhana he had learned, he crossed his legs and sat down praying. After a few days,his body started to deteriorate. Then a demon appeared. She was taller than the palm trees, and she said in a booming voice, “Narakasura’s spirit has entered Karna, so don’t bother. Whichever way, one day, Karna will kill Arjuna.” Once Duryodhana heard this, suddenly, enthusiasm to live entered him again. He went back to Hastinapur.
In the fight with the Gandharvas, as always, Arjuna had been pure action. The way the Mahabharat described him is when Arjuna went into action, when he took the bow and arrow into his hands, he became like a blur. You could not see what his hands were doing – his action was so fast and so perfect. That was the only fulfillment he knew in life, when he was using his arms. Otherwise, Arjuna was a quiet man.
To be continued...
Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published in the Forest Flower magazine, March 2018.