Myths & Legends of India: The Lacquered Palace

Myth & Legends of India

Duryodhana, Dhritarashtra’s eldest son by his wife Gandhari, and thus the leader of the Kauravas, has become consumed with hatred for the Pandavas, mainly because the people of Hastinapura are calling for Yudhishthira (eldest of the Pandavas) to be named as Dhritarashtra’s heir. Duryodhana persuades his father to send the Pandavas and their mother, Kunti, to live in a handsome but inflammable palace which he has had specially built for them in the forestsurrounded city of Varanavata. He then instructs his low-caste spy Purochana to burn the Pandavas alive in the house; but Vidura, the courtier who helped to set up the war-skills contest (see pp. 233-48), tips off Yudhishthira, who devises a plan of escape – though the Kauravas do not at first know this, and shed public crocodile tears at the supposed death of their cousins.

Vidura was the son of Vyasa (Author of the Mahabharata) by a low-caste slave girl. He is wise, humane and impartial, and does his best to restrain the irrationality and criminality of the Kauravas.

The following extract also indicates Kunti’s unflinching character, for she is prepared to sacrifice innocent lives in order to ensure her sons’ escape from the burning palace. 

800px-Draupadi_and_Pandavas

The Pandavas with their wife Draupadi

The Lacquered Palace (pp. 259-90)

Sakuni, Duryodhana,

Duhsasana and Karna

Formed a picked plot

(continued Vaisampayana).

With Dhritarashtra’s approval,

They decided to burn alive

Kunti and her sons.

But it so happened

That Vidura, who could read

Men’s hearts in their faces,

Discovered the intentions

Of the four conspirators.

Defectless, Atman-illuminated

Vidura, devoted to the welfare

Of the Pandavas, made up his mind

To devise an escape for them.

He arranged for a boat;

Variously equipped, with strong sails,

Able to withstand wave-beat

And wind-havoc. He told Kunti:

‘Dhritarashtra is bent on insulting

Past and future Kuru glory.

He is obsessed with mischief

And he si contemptuous of dharma.

‘I have a boat ready, sweet lady,

Wind-worthy and river-worthy.

Escape in it with your sons

From the noose of death.’

When Kunti heard this,

She was deeply distressed.

She and her sons boarded the boat,

And crossed the Ganga.

On Vidura’s advice they abandoned

The boat and, taking their possessions

With them, they entered a forest

(continued Vaisampayana).

Well, it so happened that

A tribal woman of the Nishadas

Came to the house of lac and

Was burnt alive with her five sons.

That outrageous Mleccha,

Purochana, was also burnt alive.

And in this way the plan

Of Dhritarashtra’s sons was frustrated.

In this way the noble sons

Of Kunti, and she herself, escaped

With Vidura’s help. The citizens,

However, had no knowledge of this.

In fact, when the people

Of Varanavata saw

The house of lac reduced to ashes

They grieved inconsolably.

They sent a messenger to the king

Giving the details, and saying,

‘Your purpose has been fulfilled,

The Pandavas burnt to death.

‘Your mission accomplished, your majesty,

You are now free to enjoy,

With your sons, the Kuru kingdom’

Dhritarashtra and his sons

In Grief performed the sraddha

Of the Pandavas. Friends

And relatives were present. Vidura

Was there, and great Bhishma.

‘Noble Brahmin,’ Janamejaya interrupted,

‘I would like to know the details

Of the burning of the house of lac,

And the escape of the Pandavas.

‘What a horrible and cruel

Plan – such colossal wickedness!

Tell me everything, as it happened.

My curiosity overpowers me.’

Vaisampayana said: Your majesty,

I will explain everything –

Both the burning of the lac house

And the escape of the Pandavas.

It began like this: Duryodhana

Seethed with envy when

He saw Bhima and Arjuna

Grow in glory each day.

The Sun’s son Karna,

And Subala’s son Sakuni

Tried every means they could

To get rid of the Pandavas.

But the Pandavas foiled

Each attempt and,

Action on Vidura’s advice,

Kept silent about it.

The people talked of

The achievement of the Pandavas

Everywhere, in city and out

(continued Vaisampayana).

In courtyards and assembly-halls,

In all meeting-places,

They spoke of Pandu’s eldest son

As most worthy of being king.

They said: ‘Prophetic-visioned

Dhritarashtra, because blind,

Was prevented from ruling once.

How is he ruling now?

‘Santanu’s son Bhishma,

Strict-vowed and truth-devoted,

Once renounced the kingdom;

He cannot become king now.

‘Let us, with due ceremony,

Install Yudhishthira king –

He is young, skilled in war-craft,

Learned in the Vedas, truthful, liberal.

‘He respects Santanu’s son

And Dhritarashtra;

He will make a good ruler

In every way.’

And when ill-minded Duryodhana

Heard these sentiments

Of the followers of Yudhishthira,

He was roused to anger.

So great was his fury

He could not bear to hear them.

Boiling with jealousy,

He went to Dhritarashtra.

Dhritarashtra was alone.

He did Pranam to his father

And recalling the people’s words,

He said:

‘Father, I hear shocking things,

Words of great ill-omen.

Ignoring you and Bhishma, the citizens

Want Yudhishthira king.

‘Bhishma will not object,

He does not seek kingship.

I think the citizens

Are deliberately insulting us.

‘Panadu got the kingship

Because he was deserving.

You were equaling deserving, but

Your blindness stood in the way.

‘If now Pandu’s son gets it,

His son will inherit it,

Then his son’s son, and so on –

All of them Pandavas.

‘We are our sons will

Be forever excluded from ruling.

Lord of the world,

What will people think of us?

‘That we should wait on others

And bemoan our lot!

Sire, help us discover a

Dignified way out of this.

‘For, no matter what you say,

Had you been king before Pandu,

We would be the successors

And not Pandu’s sons.’

*

These words of Duryodhana

Coupled with Kanika’s advice

Made the prophetic-visioned

King Dhritarashtra

Profoundly uneasy; sorrow

Assailed his heart, and doubts

Filled his mind. Duryodhana,

Karna, Subala’s son Sakuni,

And Duhsasana – these four

Held a consultation.

Duryodhana approached Dhritarashtra,

And said:

‘Father, find out some means

Of sending the Pandavas

To Varanavata. Then we

Will have some peace of mind.’

Dhritarashtra pondered these words

For some time; then

He replied to Duryodhana

(continued Vaisampayana):

‘Pandu was a man of dharma.

He behaved perfectly

With his relatives; with me

He was especially courteous.

‘He was indifferent to food,

Dress, and world’s pleasures.

He was devoted to me; had I asked,

He would have given me his kingdom.

‘Yudhishthira, like him, was dharma;

He is greatly accomplished;

He has dignity and character;

He is loved by the citizens.

‘And you want him exiled

From the kingdom of his ancestors?

How can I do this?

He has many friends.

‘Pandu took good care of

His counsellors and soldiers,

And their sons and grandsons.

Since they benefited so much,

‘Don’t you think, my son,

That if I do what you tell me,

They might turn against us,

Even kill us, to defend Yudhishthira?’

‘You are right, father,’

Replied Duryodhana. ‘But think;

Some risk has to be taken.

Confer honors, titles, wealth;

‘Win the people at your side.

At the present moment,

The ministers and treasury officials

Are entirely in your control.

‘I am sure a way can be found,

A smooth way, I think,

To get the Pandavas sent away

To Varanavata.

‘And when I am installed king,

I promise you, father,

I will have Kunti and her sons

Brought back to the kingdom.’

Dhritarashtra said:

‘That was my plan, Duryodhana,

But I thought it against dharma,

And did not dare voice it.

‘You see, my son, neither Bhishma,

Nor Drona, nor Vidura,

Nor Kripa will ever approve

Of exiling Kunti’s sons.

‘To them the Kurus and

The Pandavas have equal status.

They are wise and moral, and

See no difference between them and us.

‘I think, my son, an act like that

Will make us guilty

Before illustrious men, before the

Whole world. It is unthinkable.’

‘Bhishma,’ Durodhana replied,

‘never take sides; Drona’s son

Is on my side; and Drona, I know,

Will be on the side his son is.

‘Saradvat’s son Kripa

Will follow Drona and his son.

How can he repudiate Drona

And his nephew Asvatthaman?

‘Though Vidura depends on us,

Secretly he is a Pandava –

Lover. Let him join them.

He can do us no harm.

‘Don’t be afraid, father.

Exile Pandu’s sons

And their mother to Varanavata.

Do this today.

‘Do this, and remove my suffering.

There’s a fire inside me

Devouring my sleep and coursing

In my heart like poison.’

*

Duryodhana and his brothers

Conspired to win over

The people to their side

By granting bribes and favors.

On instructions from Dhritarashtra,

Some shrewd ministers

Praised the attractions of Varanavata

One day in the court.

‘The festival of Siva –

Pasupati has begun in the city

Of Varanavata,’ they said.

‘Thousands are flocking there.

‘What a concourse of people!

Just the glitter of their jewels

Ravishes the eyes!’ All this they said

On orders from Dhritarashtra,

And so cleverly did they say it

That the Pandavas decided

(continued Vaisampayana)

To pay a visit to Varanavata.

And when King Dhritarashtra

Heard that the Pandavas

Were eager to go there,

He went to them and said:

‘Children, your studies under Drona

Are over; you have mastered

All there is to master in war –

Skills of all kinds.

‘It occurred to me that

The kingdom is secure,

Statecraft attends to all matters,

Everyone is looked after.

‘My men come and tell me

Every day, without exception,

There is no city in the world

As lovely as Varanavata.

‘If you, my children, would like

To be there and see for yourselves,

Go with your friends and followers,

And enjoy yourselves like gods.

‘Give pearls and jewels away

To the Brahmins and musicians.

Enjoy yourselves there,

Like radiant gods;

‘And when you have had

Your fill of pleasures,

And do not want anymore,

Return to Hastinapura.’

‘Yudhishthira read Dhritarashtra’s

Mind, but unwilling to expose

The king, weakly agreed

To go to Varanavata.

‘To wise Vidura, to

Santanu’s son Bhishma,

To Drona, Vahlika,

And the Kaurava Somadatta,

‘To the acharya Kripa,

To Asvatthaman, Bhurisravas,

To the respected Brahmins,

Elders, ascetics, and counsellors,

‘to the noble priests,

To illustrious Gandhari,

Yudhishthira, speaking slowly

And gently, said:

‘Because King Dhritarashtra

Has advised us, we go

With our friends and followers

To festive Varanavata.

‘May your blessings

Go with us!

May we prosper,

May failure not touch us!’

The Kauravas heard Yudhishthira,

Pandu’s son, speak thus,

And all of them blessed him,

Saying:

‘Sons of Pandu,

May the blessings of the elements

Go with you!

May your path be clear,

May nothing inauspicious

Obstruct you!’

The Pandavas performed the rituals

For obtaining their royal right,

And with full preparations

Set out for Varanavata.

*

After this decision of

The Pandavas, approved

By Dhritarashtra, ill-minded

Duryodhana was delighted.

He summoned Purochana

In secret, and pressing

The man’s right hand, he

Said, “Purochana,

‘This world is full of riches,

And they are all mine.

They are yours too,

To enjoy if you will.

‘Who can I trust but you?

There is no one

In this palace I have

More faith in than you.

‘So let what follows remain

A secrete between you and me.

I want an enemy removed.

I want you to do it.

‘Dhritarashtra has sent

The Pandavas to Varanavata.

Because Dhritarashtra wants it,

They will make merry in that city.

‘Yoke swift mules

To your chariot and rush

To Varanavata

Today, if you can.

‘Get a place built there,

On the city’s outskirts,

A rectangular one; furnish

It lavishly; guard it.

‘And see that you use

Only hemp, resin, lac

And other inflammable materials

When you build.

‘Take mud and clay,

Mix it with ghee,

Oil, fat, and plenty of lac,

And plaster the walls.

‘Strategically, in different

Corners of the palace,

Apply hemp, oil, ghee, lac,

And paste; do this cleverly,

‘So that neither the Pandavas

Nor anyone else, even

After the closes inspection,

Can discover the ruse.

‘Build the palace and,

When Kunti and the Pandavas

Arrive, lavishly honor them,

And make them comfortable in it.

‘The seats, relaxing places,

The beds must be the finest

Possible – divine almost.

Say my father orders it.

‘See that all this is done

Without word reaching the ears

Of Varanavata’s citizens –

Until my mission’s accomplished.

‘And when they are sleeping

In full confidence,

Beginning with the gate

Set fire to the palace.

‘Everyone will declare

It an accident that

They perished in the fire.

None will blame us.’

Purochana promised to carry

Out orders; and immediately

Sped to Varanavata

In a swift mule-driven chariot.

Obedient to Duryodhana,

He wasted no time.

He fulfilled the instructions

To the minutest detail.

*

Climbing into their chariots

Yoked to wind-swift horses,

The Pandavas left. Earlier,

They sadly touched Bhishma’s feet,

And in the same way

Honored Dhritarashtra,

Mahatma Drona, Kripa,

Vidura, and other elders.

They paid their respects

To the elders of the Kurus,

They embraced their equals,

They were respected by the children;

They respectfully half-circled

The elderly palace ladies,

They bade farewell to the citizens

Before leaving for Varanavata.

Learned Vidura and other

Noble Kurus, including the citizens,

Sorrowfully followed the Pandavas

Sme distance outside the city.

Seeing the Pandavas unhappy

As they were preparing to leave,

Some of Hastinapura’s

Citizens murmured:

‘King Dhritarashtra has not

In this case been impartial.

He means ill. HIs eyes

Do not follow the path of Dharma.

‘Noble Yudhishthira, powerful

Bhima and Arjuna

Are not the kind to flout

The wishes of Dhritarashtra.

‘And if they remain silent,

Madri’s sons will not protest either.

The kingdom is theirs, from Pandu;

Just that Dhritarashtra does not like it.

‘But how could Bhishma

Allow this great adharma?

How could Bhishma allow

The Pandavas to leave?

‘Santanu’s son Vicitravirya

And the great Kuru, Pandup,

Were both to us even

Like our own fathers.

‘Now that Pandu, finest

Of kings, is in heaven,

Dhritarashtra cannot bear

To look on the Pandavas.

‘We will not allow this!

WE will leave this city,

We will leave our houses,

And follow Yudhishthrira.’

Dharmaraja Yudhishthira

Overheard them, and pondered.

Then, sorrowfully, he said

To the murmuring citizens:

‘Dhritarashtra is our father,

Our superior, our guru;

He is lord of the earth,

His words must be obeyed.

‘And you are our friends.

If you mean us well,

Stand on our left, bless us,

And return to your homes.

‘And when the time comes

When we really need your help,

Then come forward and help us

To shine and prosper.’

The citizens heard Yudhishthira and,

Putting the Pandavas on their right,

Blessed them and, slowly,

Returned to Hastinapura.

After they had left,

Vidura, wise in dharma,

Spoke to Yudhishthira

In order to warn him.

He spoke in Mleccha dialect

(which Yudhishthira knew);

Both were wise, and familiar

With the Mleccha tongue.

‘A wise man,’ whispered Vidura,

‘is one who knows in advance

His enemies’ intentions,

And prepares himself accordingly.

‘Steel is not the only

Means of piercing the body.

Other means need other foils.

Who knows this, survives.

‘He survives who knows

That straw-consumer and dew-driver

Cannot harm those who

Burrow holes in the ground.

‘A blind man does not know

Where to go, how to go.

A man without will-power

Is a blind man. Keep awake.

‘If your enemy tricks you

Into a trap not made of steel,

Remember how the jackal

In his hole escapes a fiery death.

‘Traveling brings knowledge.

Keep moving. Let the starts

In the sky guide you. Unite

The five senses, and live.’

Yudhishthira listened carefully.

Dharmaraja Yudhishthira,

Pandu’s eldest son,

Said to Vidura:

‘I understand.’

Visdura, placing Yudhishthira

On his right, bade him farewell,

And returned to the city.

After Vidura, Bhishma,

And the citizens had gone,

Kunti approached Yudhishthira,

And said:

‘What did Vidura tell you,

In the presence of the others?

I couldn’t make out a word

Of his speech and your reply.

‘Tell me, son, what he said,

If it is not secret.

I am eager to know

What both of you discussed.’

Yudhishthira replied:

‘He mentioned a lacquer house.

He also said there was

A way to escape from it.

‘He whispered that the man

Who controls his senses

Rules the world. To which

I replied, ‘I understand.’’

When the star Rohini

Was in the ascendant,

On the eighth day of

The month of Phalguna,

The Pandavas left for

The city of Varanavata.

*

Word spread that the Pandavas

Were coming, and the citizens

Of Varanavata flocked

In thousands, joyfully,

By various means of transportation,

To catch a glimpse

Of the princes. They brought

Auspicious customary gifts.

The moment they were spotted,

The Pandavas were surrounded;

The citizens of Varanavata

Blessed them, shouting Victory!

King of dharma Yudhishthira,

Best among men, so surrounded,

Looked like thunder-wielding

Indra among the gods.

Welcomed by the citizens,

And thanking them for the reception,

The Pandavas entered

The populous, enchanting city.

Their first duty, your majesty,

Was to find out the houses

Of ritual practicing Brahmins,

And visit them.

Their second was to go

To the homes of the officials;

Then they visited the charioteers,

The Vaisyas, and even the Sudras.

Honored by the citizens,

they retired, your majesty,

To a mansion, Purochana

Leading, they following.

Purochana supplied them

(Vaisampayana continued)

The choicest food and drink,

Beds, carpets and seats.

They continue to live there,

With the citizens serving them,

And Purochana doing everything

To make them comfortable.

After ten nights had passed,

Purochana recommended to them

A house called the ‘Blessed Abode’

(actually a cursed one).

The Pandavas, richly dressed,

Rose, went to the house,

And entered like Guhyakas

On Mount Kailasa.

After inspecting it,

Yudhishthira, finest of men,

Whispered to Bhima,

‘Highly inflammable.

‘Not a doubt of it.

I can smell fat, and lac

Mixed with ghee – all

Inflammable materials.

‘Superb workmanship.

Our enemies have good craftsmen.

Hemp, and straw, mud

And bamboo stalks,

‘Soaked in ghee,

Going up in flames –

First Purochana honors us,

Then he burns us.

‘No doubt his wickedness

Is encouraged by Duryodhana.

Vidura knew – and warned me.

He is our well-wisher,

‘Our father’s younger brother,

He loves us. He told me

All about this death-trap,

Duryodhana’s supreme treachery.’

Bhima said, ‘If you are sure

This house is a trap,

Let us return to the place

Where we were staying.’

‘And rouse suspicion? No,’

Said Yudhishthira. ‘Rather,

Let us keep our eyes and ears open,

And find a means of escape.

‘If Purochana ever suspects

That we’ve stumbled on his plan,

He may panic and frantically

Bun us and the house down.

‘He has no scruples,

No sense of adharma;

He is a blind slave

To the whims of Duryodhana.

‘If we run away in fear,

Duryodhana, greedy

For the kingdom, will set spies

On us to get rid of us.

‘Duryodhana is evil – he

Has position, power;

He has friends, allies, wealth;

We have nothing.

‘There are many ways

He can get rid of us.

Let us out-trick him

By living in disguise.

‘For some time let us

Become hunters and nomads.

Let us become familiar

With all routes of escape.

‘Inside our room, tonight,

Let’s start digging a tunnel.

If we can keep it secret,

We are safe from fire.

‘So let us live here,

And give neither Purochana

Nor the citizens the least hint

That we suspect anything.’

*

A friend of Vidura

(continued Vaisampayana),

An expert tunnel-digger,

Came to the Pandavas and said:

‘I am a tunnel-digger.

Vidura has sent me.

I am at your service. Let me know what I should do.

‘Vidura said to me,

Go to the Pandavas

And help them in every way.

I await your orders.

‘Purochana intends to

Set fire to your house

On the fourteenth night

Of the dark fortnight.

‘Dhirtarashtra’s ill-minded

Son Duryodhana has plans

To burn alive the Pandavas

And their mother.

‘Vidura used Mleccha speech,

And you replied in Mleccha.

This is my credential.’

Yudhishthira said to him:

‘My friend, I know you

Are a close and trusted

Friend of Vidura;

I know you are deeply

‘Devoted to him.

There is no need of ours

That learned and noble Vidura

Does not anticipate.

‘You will be ours,

As you are his.

Make no difference

Between him and us.

‘We are as much yours

As we are his.

Protect us even as

Vidura would protect us.

‘Purochanta built this house

At Duryodhana’s orders

In order to destroy us.

This I know.

‘Wicked, persistent in

Vicious machinations,

Using wealth and allies,

Duryodhana hounds us.

‘Save us from the fire-trap.

If we are burnt to death,

The evil schemes of Duryodhana

Will be fulfilled.

‘Next door is the vast

Storehouse of Duryodhana,

Materials from which were used

To build the house of lac.

It has high walls,

Escape that way is impossible.

‘Vidura was the first

To discover the plot.

In his goodness he

Revealed the secret to me.

‘The danger that he foresaw

Now threatens to destroy us.

Show us how to escape.

Without a rousing Purochana’s suspicions.’

‘So be it,’ replied the digger.

With many precautions

He began work on a tunnel

(continued Vaisampayana).

The tunnel was located

In the center of the house.

Wooden planes covered it.

It was on floor level.

This was done in order

Not to rouse any suspicion.

Purochana kept a constant

Vigil at the house.

At night the Pandavas, armed,

Lived in the tunnel.

During the day the hunted

In the nearby forests.

Always alert, they deceived

Purochana with shows of trust

And contentment; actually,

They were restless and worried.

The Varanavatans knew nothing

Of these goings-on. Only

Vidura’s friend, the tunnel-digger,

Knew. No one else.

*

One year passed. Purochana

Saw the Pandavas happy

And unsuspecting, and

Inwardly he rejoiced.

Yudhishthera, seeing Purochana

Saw the Pandavas happy

And unsuspecting, and

Inwardly he rejoiced.

Yudhishthira, seeing Purochana

Relaxed, one day

Said to Bhima and

The twins Nakula and Sahadeva:

‘Purochana’s under the impression

We don’t suspect anything.

We have him in our hands.

The time to escape is now.

‘We’ll set fire to the store house,

Let Purochana burn to death,

Leave six other dead bodies here,

And slip out, unseen.’

It so happened, your majesty,

That, on an alms-giving,

Kunti had the occasion to feed

Many Brahmins. Some women were fed too.

They ate and drank hugely,

Enjoying themselves to excess,

And late in the night,

With Kunti’s permission, went home.

As fate would have it,

A Nishada woman and her five sons

Came to the feast, and

Gorged themselves to exhaustion.

She and her sons drank

Till drunk, and, your majesty,

Unable to stir, more dead

Than alive, decided to spend

The night in the lac house.

That night when all were sleeping,

A tremendous thunderstorm rose

(continued Vaisampayana).

Purochana was sleeping

When Bhima set fire to his room.

Then the other Pandavas

Set the torch to the doorway,

And quickly, in various places,

The rest of the lac house.

Satisfied that the entire house

Was ablaze,

The foe-subduing Pandavas

Slipped into the tunnel

One by one, Kunti with them.

The heat and crackle of the flames

Woke up the citizens.

They rushed out, saw

The house furiously aflame,

And sadly, said to each other:

‘It must have been Purochana.

He built this house

To kill his master’s relatives

By setting it on fire.

‘Shame on Dhritarashtra,

So prejudiced in mind!

To burn the sons of Pandu

As if they were his enemies!

‘Evil, wicked Purochana,

In the process of burning

The Pandavas, trapped himself,

And got burnt to death.’

Moaning the tragedy,

The Varanavatans encircled

The smoldering house,

And passed the night there.

Meanwhile, the Pandavas

And their sorrowing mother

Had escaped through the tunnel,

Unseen by anyone.

The foe-subduing Pandavas,

Sleepless and fearful,

Were unable to flee

As swiftly as they wished.

So mighty, wind-swift Bhima

Picked up his mother and four

Brothers to ensure haste

(added Vaisampayana).

Bhima of great strength

And stamina, wolf-waisted Bhima,

Lifted his mother on his shoulder,

The twins on both his sides,

Picked up Yudhishthira

And Arjuna on both arms,

Smashed trees with his chest,

Smote the earth with his feet,

And pressed steadily on.

*

Meanwhile, learned Vidura

Sent to the forest

A man of unimpeachable character

(continued Vaisampayana).

He went where instructed,

And saw the Pandavas

And their mother measuring

The depth of a river.

This man was they spy

Who had revealed to mahatma

Vidura all the machinations

Of ill-minded Duryodhana.

For which reason Vidura

Sent him to Kunti’s sons;

And he showed them

A mind-swift, wind-swift boat,

Fitted with various gadgets,

Decked with flags, sturdily

Constructed by shipwrights

To withstand stormy waves.

The boat was moored

On holy Ganga’s banks.

To establish his credentials

As Vidura’s messenger,

He said, ‘O Yudhishthira,

This is what Vidura told you:

He survives who knows

That straw-consumer and dew-drier

Cannot harm those who

Burrow holes in the ground.

Vidura has sent me.

You can depend on me.

Besides, dharma-learned Vidura

Also said to me,

‘O son of Kunti, that you

Will defeat in battle

Karna, Sakuni, and

Duryodhana and his brothers.

‘The boat waits for you.

May its journey be pleasant.

May it take you swiftly

Away from this place.’

He saw the brothers

And their mother anxious,

So, climbing along with them

Into the boat, he said:

‘Vidura has embraced you, and smelt

Your heads; he asked me

To make your journey auspicious,

To shield you from harm.’

With these words, your majesty,

The man piloted the heroes

Carefully over the Ganga’s waters

To the opposite bank.

When they had reached

The opposite bank safely

He shouted May victory be yours!

And returned to his home.

The Pandavas sent word

Of their safety to Vidura,

And secretly and hurriedly

Pressed on, none else knowing.

*

Next morning a large crowd

Of Varanavatans

Came to the smouldering lac house

To see what had happened.

They extinguished the fire,

Saw the house was made of lac,

And discovered Purochana’s body

Charred in the ruins.

They murmured among themselves:

‘None except wicked Duryodhana

Could have thought of such a plot

To get rid of the Pandavas.

‘It seems certain that he,

With Dhritarashtra’s knowledge,

Has killed the Pandavsa;

Or why wasn’t he stopped?

‘Santanu’s son Bhishma,

Drona, Vidura, Kripa,

And all the other Kurus

Have strayed from dharma.

‘Our duty is to send

This message to Dhritarashtra:

At last you have succeeded –

You have killed the Pandavas.’

They searched among the embers

For the bodies of the Pandavas,

And found the charred corpses of

The Nishada woman and her five sons.

The tunnel-digger had managed

To re-cover the tunnel’s mouth

With charred wood pieces so cleverly

That not one citizen noticed it.

The citizens sent a messenger

To Dhritarashtra informing him

That Purochana and the Pandavas

Had perished in the fire.

When the unpleasant news

Was conveyed to him,

Dhritarashtra moaned the deaths

Of the Pandavas and their mother.

He said:

‘It is not just the Pandavas

Who have died today –

My brother Pandu,

Illustrious hero,

Has perished in the fire too.

‘Go, men, quickly

To Varanavata, and

Collect the bodies.

Let all the funeral rites

Be performed for the heroes

And the king of Kunti’s daughter.

‘Let their bones

Be purifed by the rites,

May noble charities follow.

ANd let the friends and relatives

Of those who have perished

Hurry to Varanavata.

‘Whatever is needed,

Whatever selfless deeds enjoined –

May those be done.

May nothing be stinted

In the funeral ceremonies

Of Kunti and the Pandavas.’

Saying this, Dhritarashtra,

Ambika’s son, surrounded

By his relatives, offered water-homage

To the spirits of the ancestors.

Bhishma and other Kauravas

Gathered near the banks

Of the Ganga to offer

Similar water-homage.

They each had a single dress on.

Their discarded head-coverings,

Ornaments, and other finery

Accentuated their joylessness.

He wept. The others wept.

O Yudhishthira!

O great descendant of Kuru!

Some wept: O Bhima!

Other’s wailed: O Arjuna!

Others: O the twins!

O Kunti! Noble Mother!

They offered water-homage.

The citizens also moaned

The deaths of the Pandavas.

Vidura moaned formally:

He knew the truth.

Seeing Bhishma lamenting,

He whispered, ‘Lord among men,

Do not grieve. Strict-vowed sire,

The Pandavas are not dead.

‘What needed to be done,

I did – at the crucial time.

Great Bharata, it is not necessary

For you to offer water-homage.’

Bhishma took Vidura’s hand,

And pulled him to a corner

Where they could not be heard.

Still weeping, he said:

‘How can this be?

How did Pandu’s great-

Chariot-warrior sons escape?

Even as Garuda saved his mother,

‘Did you succeed in saving them?

Tell me how it was done –

Tell me how you stopped the crime of Pandava –

Murder from falling on us.’

Because Bhishma enquired,

Vidura replied to the

Worker-of-marvellous-deeds

(said Vaisampayana):

‘Dhirtarashtra, Sakuni

And Duryodhana had decided

Once and for all to kill

The Pandavas and their mother.

‘When Duryodhana conceived

Of the plot of burning them alive

In a lac house, I arranged

To have an expert tunnel-digger

‘Devise a large tunnel

From the centre of the house;

And before the fire spread,

The Pandavas slipped into the tunnel,

And escaped. They and their mother

Are now far away,

All with my help. I am certain

That they are alive.

‘There is no need to mourn.

Until the propitious time

When their return is warranted,

They will stay in hiding.

‘They will move from place to place,

And no one will know.

At the right time, Yudhishthira

Will show himself to the earth’s kings.’

Meanwhile, the mighty Pandavas,

Six of them, had slipped

Away from Varanavata,

And come to the Ganga.

Helped by expert boatmen

And a favorable current,

They quickly alighted at

The opposite bank of the river.

They abandoned the boat,

And moved southwards,

Guiding themselves at night

By the light of the stars.

It was a difficult journey.

Finally, your majesty,

They reached a dense forest.

They were tired, thirsty, sleepy.

Yudhishthira said to Bhima,

‘Here we are, lost in a forest,

With no idea where we are;

What do we do now?

‘We are not even sure if

Purochana is dead or alive.

How long can we continue

Keeping our presence a secret?

‘Great Bharata, pick us up

As you did earlier, and

Let us move on. You are the strongest

Among us, you are wind-swift.’

 

Bhima heard Yudhishthira,

Picked up his mother and brothers,

And pressed on

(said Vaisampayana).

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