Duryodhana began taunting Dharmarāja who had remained silent all this while. He said, “O great king! Bhīma, Arjuna, and the twins are your followers. They listen to your words. So please answer my question. Have you lost Kṛṣṇā or have you not?” With these words, Duryodhana who was overcome with greed, cast a lustful glance at Draupadī and let out an evil guffaw. He tried to humiliate Bhīma with his gestures. He pulled back his lower garment and revealed his left thigh that looked like an elephant trunk and made Draupadī look at it. Bhīma was enraged. With ferocious eyes he stared at Duryodhana’s naked thigh and said, as if addressing the assembly, “If I don’t break this thigh in battle, let me never attain an auspicious end!” He thus took another oath. Vidura said, “O Kauravas! Bringing a lady into the assembly and humiliating her is more sinful than gambling. You are driven by vulgar thoughts and by greed. You will never remain in peace; you will soon get destroyed. If Yudhiṣṭhira had pledged her before he had lost his freedom, it would have been legal. However, as he pledged her after he had lost himself, she is as good as being won over in a dream! Don’t listen to Duryodhana’s words and resort to adharma!” Duryodhana continued speaking: “Let any of these brothers – Bhīma, Arjuna, Nakula, or Sahadeva say that Dharmarāja had no right over his wife. I shall consider their words and relieve you of slavery!” Arjuna said, “O Kauravas! Dharmarāja was our leader until he pledged us all in the game of dice. Who can he exercise his power over after having lost himself? Think about this!”
Jackals howled in a strange manner near Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s house. Donkeys brayed out loud. Birds gave out a frightening squeak. Noticing these bad omens, Gāndhārī, Vidura, Bhīṣma, Droṇa, and Kṛpa said, “May good befall us all!” They informed Dhṛtarāṣṭra of the happenings. He said, “You idiots! How dare you bring a woman into the court and ill-treat her! She is the wife of your cousins, the Pāṇḍavas! You drag her into the court and have verbal exchanges with her! You will see you end soon!” Having uttered these words, he tried to console Draupadī and said, “Dear one! Please ask me whatever you want. You are the best among my daughters-in-law, a lawful wife, and always adhering to dharma!” Draupadī said, “In that case, please free Yudhiṣṭhira! Let none call my son Prativindya a slave’s son!” Dhṛtarāṣṭra agreed and said, “O pious one! You may ask for the fulfilment of another wish. For you, a single boon will not suffice! I feel like doing more for you!” Draupadī said, “Release Bhīma, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva as well. Give back their chariots and their bows. This is my second request to you.” Dhṛtarāṣṭra agreed and said, “Ask me for a third boon. Giving you just two will not bring you honour. You are the best of my daughters-in-law and dhārmic by nature.” Draupadī replied, “My Lord! I won’t be able to ask for a third boon. That will make me greedy. Greed destroys dharma. The sins of my husbands have been washed off. They will perform good deeds in the future and lead a virtuous life!”
Karṇa spoke next. He said, “I had never seen or heard about such a deed performed by women known for their beauty! At a time when both the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas were driven by anger, Draupadī rescued the former by rowing their life-boat across the ocean of difficulties and helped them reach safe shores!” Hearing these words, Bhīma said, “The wretched fellow says that the Pāṇḍavas were saved by a woman. O king! What is the use of arguing with these brats? It is waste of our energy. Let us finish them off right away!” He looked at the bolt of the door as if going to beat them all up with it. His eyes were red with anger and his brows were knitted in a frightful frown. Bhīma looked like an embodiment of Death that destroys everything during the great deluge. Dharmarāja stopped him by saying, “No! Bring yourself under control!” He then went to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and said, “O king! Pray tell us what we should do next. We will do as per your instructions.” The king replied, “Dharmarāja, you are an Ajātaśatru! May good befall you! You may take back all your wealth, go to your kingdom, and live in peace. Child, you know dharma better than anyone else here. You have been instructed at length by the learned. You are humble, wise, and have the power of discernment. Wisdom leads to peace. Thus I request you to calm down. An axe hits only a tree and not anything else. Great ones don’t harbour enmity or hatred. They don’t take to heart other’s mistakes. They see good qualities everywhere. The inferior ones have a bad tongue. Those in the middle give harsh replies to harsh queries. People of the best kind do not respond to vulgar queries at all. You have behaved in a matured manner. Please do not mind Duryodhana’s impolite behaviour. Dear child, look at your blind parents – your mother Gāndhārī and I. Silently I watched the gamble only to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of my sons and the nature of their friends. There is dharma residing in you. Arjuna is known for his courage and Bhīma for his valour. The twins are synonyms for dedication and service. What more do you need? Go to Khāṇḍavaprastha. Have affection for your brothers. Always act as per dharma! My best wishes to you!”
Dharmaraja responded in a dignified manner and returned to Indraprashtha with his brothers and wife.
Back at Hastināpura, Duśśāsana rushed to Duryodhana in distress. He said, “Brother! We won over so much of wealth with great difficulty! This old man proved to be such an obstacle. He destroyed all our plans. He gave away all our wealth to the enemy!” Duryodhana thought over the matter with Karṇa and Śakuni and then went to Dhṛtarāṣṭra for justice. “Father! Why did you do this? We should try our best to destroy the enemy and employ all means to do so. If we don’t eliminate them, they will harm you! The Pāṇḍavas plan to amass wealth from all kings and then wage a war against them. Does anyone wear a poisonous serpent as an ornament on the head or around the neck, knowing well that it can be fatal? If we provide the Pāṇḍavas with weapons and chariots, they will soon uproot us. They are now gone with the intention of strengthening their army. No one can tolerate the kind of humiliation we have subject the Pāṇḍavas to and the insult we hurled upon Draupadī. So if we gamble once again and make the loser go to the forest, we can win back everything and get rid of our enemy. We can gamble under the condition that whoever loses will live in the forest for twelve years – the rule equally applicable to them and to us. In addition to that, they will have to remain incognito in their thirteenth year; if they are discovered, they will need to stay for twelve more years in the forest. Let us play the game of dice with this agreement with the Pāṇḍavas and vanquish them. Śakuni will play on our behalf. While they are away, we can strengthen our kingdom and make treaties with the neighbouring kings. We can strengthen our army too and if they come back after twelve years, we will be strong enough to defeat them in combat. Please give your consent for this, dear father!” Hearing his son’s request, Dhṛtarāṣṭra agreed and said, “So be it! It does not matter even if the Pāṇḍavas have travelled a long distance already. Call them back. Let them come back and play another game of dice!” Droṇa, Somadatta, Vidura, Aśvatthāma, Bhūriśrava, Bhīṣma, Vikarṇa, and the others who were assembled there said, “Let there be no more gambling! Let us all stay in peace!” Gāndhārī said, “Dear Lord! Please don’t listen to the words of this ignorant boy and be the cause of the destruction of our family. Will anyone tear down a bridge that has been built with great difficulty? Would someone kindle a fire that has got extinguished? Is it right to enrage the Pāṇḍavas who are not at peace? Older people should not behave like kids. You should tell them what is right and what is wrong!” Even though she spoke dharma, Dhṛtarāṣṭra said, “I don’t care even if the family is going to see its end soon! I cannot stop that from happening. Let us act according to the wishes of the young ones. The Pāṇḍavas shall come back and we will gamble with them again!”
By this time, the Pāṇḍavas had already travelled a great distance. Yet the messenger from Kauravas chased them, met Yudhiṣṭhira, and said, “Revered King! Dhṛtarāṣṭra has commanded me to tell you this – we are all set for another game of dice in our royal court. Come, play a game!” Hearing this, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “Animals are subject to the good and the bad as per the directions of Brahmā. No one can avoid the doings of Fate. Though I know that this will lead to our destruction, I cannot ignore his command!” Yudhiṣṭhira was aware of Śakuni’s crooked nature and that he would cheat in the game. Yet he returned to Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s court along with his brothers. They sat down to play the game of dice once again.
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 thorough review and astute feedback.
Additional segments from the epic and notes by the translators have been added in the footnotes after going through the Critical Text of the Mahābhārata.