Mahabharat Episode 19: The Kauravas Find a New Ally
In this Mahabharat episode, the Kauravas’ devious plots against the Pandavas begin to gain footing. Duryodhana finds a skilled new ally in Karna, and the Pandava brothers are lured into a trap.
Karna is Crowned
Duryodhana saw the greatest opportunity of his life right in front of him, and he was not going to let it pass. His biggest concern was that there was no archer among his brothers. He was confident he would beat Bhima one day, that some of his brothers would kill Nakula and Sahadeva, and that they could knock down Yudhishthira one day – just by giving a sermon on dharma. But he was worried about Arjuna, because they had no archer to match him. So when he saw Karna and his competence, he immediately grabbed him. He stood up and pleaded on behalf of Karna to the king. He said, “Oh father, how can this be? The shastras say there are three ways a man can become a king. Someone can become a king because he was born to a king, or because he defeated a king with his skill and valor, or because he created a kingdom by himself.
“Karna is here right now. If Arjuna does not want to compete with him because Karna is not a king, then I will make him a king. There is a small kingdom of ours – faraway lands that are called Anga. The kingdom of Anga is without a king. I will crown Karna as king of Anga.” He brought the priest and conducted a coronation on the spot. “He is Anga Raja, the king of Anga. Do not let Arjuna use someone’s birth as an excuse. I do not care who his father is. I embrace him as my friend.” He hugged Karna and said, “You are my brother, and you are a king.”
A Devious Plan
Karna was overwhelmed, because his whole life, he had been discriminated against because of his presumed low birth. And here, a king’s son stood up for him, embraced him, and made him a king right there. His loyalty bound him for life. You will see this loyalty without reason sometimes took disastrous turns over a period of time. After this competition, with Karna walking into the palace as a king and Duryodhana’s ally, and with Shakuni, the Kauravas became much stronger than they ever were. With Karna’s intelligence and skills, they became more competent and focused. Duryodhana thought it was time to put an end to the five Pandavas.
People were associating themselves either with the Pandavas or the Kauravas. Loyalties were being established within the palace and in the city. The city split into two. Dhritarashtra thought if things were allowed to grow further, there would be a civil war. Someone had to go – naturally not his children. He thought the Pandavas should go, but he did not want to say as much. Bhishma watched the whole situation with great concern because his allegiance was only to the country, and he saw a civil war was in the making – not yet on the street, but in everyone’s minds and hearts. Dhritarashtra took advice from the most devious of advisors, and all of them advised it was time to put an end to the Pandavas.
Shakuni came up with a plan. He said, “Let us send them to a holy place.” You know there are many holy places in the country, but the holiest one of all is always up there. He suggested the king send them on a pilgrimage to Kashi. Dhritarashtra called Yudhishthira and said, “Since you have lost your father and have been through so much difficulty from a young age, I feel it will be good for you to visit a holy place. I want you to go to Kashi and spend a year worshiping Shiva in the form of Pashupati, who is the greatest archer and warrior who has ever existed. Worship him for a year, and then come back. You will be fit to be a king.” Already, Yudhishthira had been crowned Yuvaraja; that means he was the prince-in-waiting to become a king.
Yudhishthira went back to Bhishma and said, “Our uncle wants us to go and receive the blessings of Pashupati himself. He wants us to go to Kashi on a pilgrimage, which we would have done in our old age anyway. But because he loves us so much, he does not want us to postpone such an auspicious thing. He wants us to do it right now.” Bhishma did not miss the sarcasm but ignored it because his allegiance was to the nation. He knew a civil war was brewing and he had no way to quell the Kauravas or protect the Pandavas. Somewhere, he accepted that the best thing would be for them to move away.
The Palace of Lac
In the meantime, Duryodhana planned elaborately with Shakuni’s help. They had a palace built near Kashi. It was plastered with mud and painted beautifully, but inside it was all combustible material, mainly lac, a certain kind of resin. The five brothers were on guard by now. They knew their lives were under threat. Kunti, particularly, was like a fierce tigress looking out for her children all the time. Vidura came to see them off and the Kauravas too, because they want to constantly keep an eye on the Pandavas. The Kauravas had tears in their eyes. By now, they had learnt the art of deception from Shakuni. Shakuni could cry anytime he wanted, without an iota of emotion, because he saw human speech and facial expression as a way of hiding rather than expressing what is within a human being.
Vidura’s spies had found out something about the trap set for the Pandavas, but there was no room to pass on any message to warn the Pandavas because the Kauravas were always around. So he spoke to Yudhishthira in a language of tribespeople, which the two of them knew. “You must understand fire is a more dangerous weapon than a sword. As a rat protects itself from winter by burrowing, so should you. I am sending this man Kanakan with you.” Kanakan was a Tamil miner. Tamil people are among the best in India when it comes to digging wells, because they were among the first people to do it. Even today, where there are no machines, you will find Tamil men working at well-digging.
When the Pandavas reached Kashi, they moved into the palace. It was heavily perfumed to mask the smell of the inflammable material. When Yudhishthira walked into the compound, he noticed there was a moat dug around the palace. But it had stakes not only on the outside but also on the inside. He wondered why anyone would put stakes on the inside, around the palace walls. It looked like they did not want those who were inside the palace to get out! The Pandavas knew something was coming and were wondering what Duryodhana’s plan was.
Sahadeva sat in a corner brooding. That little bit of the ant’s food that he had eaten worked wonders for him. He saw the place like an ant. An ant knows all the nooks and corners in the house that even the owner does not know. Sahadeva scratched the wall like an ant and told the others, “The palace is made of lac. If it catches fire, it is just a question of a minute or two before all of us are done.”
They had to escape, but they could not run away because they would be killed on the streets. So they put Kanakan to work, digging a tunnel in secret. After a month, he had dug all the way to the riverbank. By now, Duryodhana’s spy, who was acting as a guard, kind of relaxed because these people were eating well, and laughing and chatting with him. They had also learnt the act and were doing everything normally, and seemed to enjoy the palace so much. Then, they threw a party on a full moon night.
To be continued…
Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published in Isha Forest Flower August 2016. Download as PDF on a “name your price, no minimum” basis or subscribe to the print version.