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THE MAHABHARATA ADI PARVA
“Vaisampayana said, ‘Then the son of Suvala (Sakuni), king Duryodhana, Duhsasana and Kama, in consultation with one another, formed an evil conspiracy. With the sanction of Dhritarashtra, the king of the Kurus, they resolved to burn to death Kunti and her (five) sons. But that wise Vidura, capable of reading the heart by external signs, ascertained the intention of these wicked persons by observing their countenances alone. Then the sinless Vidura, of soul enlightened by true knowledge, and devoted to the good of the Pandavas, came to the conclusion that Kunti with her children should fly away from her foes. And providing for that purpose a boat strong enough to withstand both wind and wave, he addressed Kunti and said, ‘This Dhritarashtra hath been born for destroying the fame and offspring of the (Kuru) race. Of wicked soul, he is about to cast off eternal virtue. O blessed one, I have kept ready on the stream a boat capable of withstanding both wind and wave. Escape by it with thy children from the net that death hath spread around you.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Hearing these words, the illustrious Kunti was deeply grieved, and with her children, O bull of Bharata’s race, stepped into the boat and went over the Ganges. Then leaving the boat according to the advice of Vidura, the Pandavas took with them the wealth that had been given to them (while at Varanavata) by their enemies and safely entered the deep woods. In the house of lac, however, that had been prepared for the destruction of the Pandavas, an innocent Nishada woman who had come there for some purpose, was, with her children burnt to death. And that worst of Mlechchhas, the wretched Purochana (who was the architect employed in building the house of lac) was also burnt in the conflagration. And thus were the sons of Dhirtarashtra with their counsellors deceived in their expectations. And thus also were the illustrious Pandavas, by the advice of Vidura, saved with their mother. But the people (of Varanavata) knew not of their safety. And the citizens of Varanavata, seeing the house of lac consumed (and believing the Pandavas to have been burnt to death) became exceedingly sorry. And they sent messengers unto king Dhritarashtra to represent everything that had happened. And they said to the monarch, ‘Thy great end hath been achieved! Thou hast at last burnt the Pandavas to death! Thy desire fulfilled, enjoy with thy children. O king of the Kurus, the kingdom.’ Hearing this, Dhritarashtra with his children, made a show of grief, and along with his relatives, including Kshattri (Vidura) and Bhishma the foremost of the Kurus, performed the last honours of the Pandavas.’
“Janamejaya said, ‘O best of Brahmanas, I desire to hear in full this history of the burning of the house of lac and the escape of the Pandavas there from. That was a cruel act of theirs (the Kurus), acting under the counsels of the wicked (Kanika). Recite the history to me of all that happened. I am burning with curiosity to hear it.’
“Vaisampayana said, ‘O chastiser of all foes, listen to me, O monarch, as I recite the (history of the) burning of the house of lac and the escape of the Pandavas. The wicked Duryodhana, beholding Bhimasena surpass (everybody) in strength and Arjuna highly accomplished in arms became pensive and sad. Then Karna, the offspring of the Sun, and Sakuni, the son of Suvala, endeavoured by various means to compass the death of the Pandavas. The Pandavas too counteracted all those contrivances one after another, and in obedience to the counsels of Vidura, never spoke of them afterwards. Then the citizens, beholding the son of Pandu possessed of accomplishments, began, O Bharata, to speak of them in all places of public resort. And assembled in courtyards and other places of gathering, they talked of the eldest son of Pandu (Yudhishthira) as possessed of the qualifications for ruling the kingdom. And they said, ‘Dhritarashtra, though possessed of the eye of knowledge, having been (born) blind, had not obtained the kingdom before. How can he (therefore) become king now? Then Bhishma, the son of Santanu, of rigid vows and devoted to truth, having formerly relinquished the sovereignty would never accept it now. We shall, therefore, now install (on the throne) with proper ceremonies the eldest of the Pandavas endued with youth, accomplished in battle, versed in the Vedas, and truthful and kind. Worshipping Bhishma, the son of Santanu and Dhritarashtra conversant with the rules of morality, he will certainly maintain the former and the latter with his children in every kind of enjoyment.
“The wretched Duryodhana, hearing these words of the parting partisans of Yudhishthira, became very much distressed. Deeply afflicted, the wicked prince could not put up with those speeches. Inflamed with jealousy, he went unto Dhritarashtra, and finding him alone he saluted him with reverence and distressed at (the sight of) the partiality of the citizens for Yudhishthira, he addressed the monarch and said, ‘O father, I have heard the parting citizens utter words of ill omen. Passing thee by, and Bhishma too, they desire the son of Pandu to be their king. Bhishma will sanction this, for he will not rule the kingdom. It seems, therefore, that the citizens are endeavouring to inflict a great injury on us. Pandu obtained of old the ancestral kingdom by virtue of his own accomplishments, but thou, from blindness, didst not obtain the kingdom, though fully qualified to have it. If Pandu’s son now obtaineth the kingdom as his inheritance from Pandu, his son will obtain it after him and that son’s son also, and so on will it descend in Pandu’s line. In that case, O king of the world, ourselves with our children, excluded from the royal line, shall certainly be disregarded by all men. Therefore, O monarch, adopt such counsels that we may not suffer perpetual distress, becoming dependent on others for our food. O king, if thou hadst obtained the sovereignty before, we would certainly have succeeded to it, however much the people might be unfavourable to us.’”
“Vaisampayana continued, “King Dhritarashtra whose knowledge only was his eyes, on hearing these words of his son and recollecting everything that Kanika had, said unto him, became afflicted with sorrow, and his mind also thereupon began to waver. Then Duryodhana and Karna, and Sakuni, the son of Suvala, and Duhsasana as their fourth, held a consultation together. Prince Duryodhana said unto Dhritarashtra, ‘Send, O father, by some clever contrivance, the Pandavas to the town of Varanavata. We shall then have no fear of them.’ Dhritarashtra, on hearing these words uttered by his son, reflected for a moment and replied unto Duryodhana, saying, ‘Pandu, ever devoted to virtue, always behaved dutifully towards all his relatives but particularly towards me. He cared very little for the enjoyments of the world, but devotedly gave everything unto me, even the kingdom. His son is as much devoted to virtue as he, and is possessed of every accomplishment. Of world-wide fame, he is again the favourite of the people. He is possessed of allies; how can we by force exile him from his ancestral kingdom? The counsellors and soldiers (of the state) and their sons and grandsons have all been cherished and maintained by Pandu. Thus benefited of old by Pandu, shall not, O child, the citizens slay us with all our friends and relatives now on account of Yudhishthira?”
“Duryodhana replied, ‘What thou sayest, O father, is perfectly true. But in view of the evil that is looming on the future as regards thyself, if we conciliate the people with wealth and honours, they would assuredly side with us for these proofs of our power. The treasury and the ministers of state, O king, are at this moment under our control. Therefore, it behoveth thee now to banish, by some gentle means, the Pandavas to the town of Varanavata; O king, when the sovereignty shall have been vested in me, then, O Bharata, may Kunti with her children come back from that place.’
“Dhritarashtra replied, ‘This, O Duryodhana, is the very thought existing in my mind. But from its sinfulness I have never given expression to it. Neither Bhishma, nor Drona, nor Kshattri, nor Gautama (Kripa) will ever sanction the exile of the Pandavas. In their eyes, O dear son, amongst the Kurus ourselves and the Pandavas are equal. Those wise and virtuous persons will make no difference between us. If therefore, we behave so towards the Pandavas, shall we not, O son, deserve death at the hands of the Kurus, of these illustrious personages, and of the whole world?’
“Duryodhana answered, ‘Bhishma hath no excess of affection for either side, and will, therefore, be neutral (in case of dispute). The son of Drona (Aswatthaman) is on my side. There is no doubt that where the son is, there the father will be. Kripa, the son of Saradwat, must be on the side on which Drona and Aswatthaman are. He will never abandon Drona and his sister’s son (Aswatthaman). Kshattri (Vidura) is dependent on us for his means of life, though he is secretly with the foe. It he sides the Pandavas, he alone can do us no injury, Therefore, exile thou the Pandavas to Varanavata without any fear. And take such steps that they may go thither this very day. By this act, O father, extinguish the grief that consumeth me like a blazing fire, that robbeth me of sleep, and that pierces my heart even like a terrible dart.’”
“Vaisampayana said, Then prince Duryodhana, along with his brothers began to gradually win over the people to his side by grants of wealth and honours. Meanwhile, some clever councillors, instructed by Dhritarashtra, one day began to describe (in court) the town of Varanavata as a charming place. And they said, The festival of Pasupati (Siva) hath commenced in the town of Varanavata. The concourse of people is great and the procession is the most delightful of all ever witnessed on earth. Decked with every ornament, it charmed the hearts of all spectators.’ Thus did those councillors, instructed by Dhritarashtra, speak of Varanavata, and whilst they were so speaking, the Pandavas, O king, felt the desire of going to that delightful town. And when the king (Dhritarashtra) ascertained that the curiosity of the Pandavas had been awakened, the son of Ambika addressed them, saying, ‘These men of mine often speak of Varanavata as the most delightful town in the world. If therefore, ye children, ye desire to witness that festival, go to Varanavata with your followers and friends and enjoy yourselves there like the celestials. And give ye away pearls and gems unto the Brahmanas and the musicians (that may be assembled there). And sporting there for some time as ye please like the resplendent celestials and enjoying as much pleasure as ye like, return ye to Hastinapura again.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Yudhishthira, fully understanding the motives of Dhritarashtra and considering that he himself was weak and friendless, replied unto the king, saying, ‘So be it.’ Then addressing Bhishma, the son of Santanu, the wise Vidura, Drona, Valhika, the Kaurava, Somadatta, Kripa, Aswatthaman, Bhurisravas, and the other councillors, and Brahmanas and ascetics, and the priests and the citizens, and the illustrious Gandhari, he said slowly and humbly, ‘With our friends and followers we go to the delightful and populous town of Varanavata at the command of Dhritarashtra. Cheerfully give us your benedictions so that acquiring prosperity, therewith we may not be touched by sin.’ Thus addressed by the eldest of Pandu’s sons, the Kaurava chiefs all cheerfully pronounced blessings on them, saying, ‘Ye sons of Pandu, let all the elements bless you along your way and let not the slightest evil befall you.’
“The Pandavas, having performed propitiatory rites for obtaining (their share of) the kingdom, and finishing their preparations, set out for Varanavata.’”
“Vaisampayana said, ‘The wicked Duryodhana became very pleased when the king, O Bharata, had said so unto Pandavas. And, O bull of Bharata’s race, Duryodhana, then, summoning his counsellor, Purochana in private, took hold of his right hand and said, ‘O Purochana, this world, so full of wealth, is mine. But it is thine equally with me. It behoveth thee, therefore, to protect it. I have no more trustworthy counsellor than thee with whom to consult. Therefore, O sire, keep my counsel and exterminate my foes by a clever device. O, do as I bid thee. The Pandavas have, by Dhritarashtra, been sent to Varanavata, where they will, at Dhritarashtra’s command, enjoy themselves during the festivities. Do that by which thou mayest this very day reach Varanavata in a car drawn by swift mules. Repairing thither, cause thou to be erected a quadrangular palace in the neighbourhood of the arsenal, rich in the materials and furniture, and guard thou the mansion well (with prying eyes). And use thou (in erecting that house) hemp and resin and all other inflammable materials that are procurable.
And mixing a little earth with clarified butter and oil and fat and a large quantity of lac, make thou a plaster for lining the walls, and scatter thou all around that house hemp and oil and clarified butter and lac and wood in such a way that the Pandavas, or any others, may not, even with scrutiny behold them there or conclude the house to be an inflammable one. And having erected such mansion, cause thou the Pandavas, after worshipping them with great reverence, to dwell in it with Kunti and all their friends. And place thou there seats and conveyances and beds, all of the best workmanship, for the Pandavas, so that Dhritarashtra may have no reason to complain. Thou must also so manage it all that none of Varanavata may know anything till the end we have in view is accomplished. And assuring thyself that the Pandavas are sleeping within in confidence and without fear, thou must then set fire to that mansion beginning at the outer door. The Pandavas thereupon must be burnt to death, but the people will say that they have been burnt in (an accidental) conflagration of their house.
“Saying, ‘So be it’ unto the Kuru prince, Purochana repaired to Varanavata in a car drawn by fleet mules. And going thither, O king, without loss of time, obedient to the instructions of Duryodhana, did everything that the prince had bid him do.”
“Vaisampayana said, ‘Meanwhile the Pandavas got into their cars, yoking thereto some fine horses endued with the speed of wind. While they were on the point of entering their cars, they touched, in great sorrow, the feet of Bhishma, of king Dhritarashtra, of the illustrious Drona, of Kripa, of Vidura and of the other elders of the Kuru race. Then saluting with reverence all the older men, and embracing their equals, receiving the farewell of even the children, and taking leave of all the venerable ladies in their household, and walking round them respectfully, and bidding farewell unto all the citizens, the Pandavas, ever mindful of their vows, set out for Varanavata. And Vidura of great wisdom and the other bulls among the Kurus and the citizens also, from great affliction, followed those tigers among men to some distance. And some amongst the citizens and the country people, who followed the Pandavas, afflicted beyond measure at beholding the sons of Pandu in such distress, began to say aloud, ‘King Dhritarashtra of wicked soul seeth no things with the same eye.
The Kuru monarch casteth not his eye on virtue. Neither the sinless Yudhishthira, nor Bhima the foremost of mighty men, nor Dhananjaya the (youngest) son of Kunti, will ever be guilty (of the sin of waging a rebellious war). When these will remain quiet, how shall the illustrious son of Madri do anything? Having inherited the kingdom from their father, Dhritarashtra could not bear them. How is that Bhishma who suffers the exile of the Pandavas to that wretched place, sanctions this act of great injustice? Vichitravirya, the son of Santanu, and the royal sage Pandu of Kuru’s race both cherished us of old with fatherly care. But now that Pandu that tiger among men, hath ascended to heaven, Dhritarashtra cannot bear with these princes his children. We who do not sanction this exile shall all go, leaving this excellent town and our own homes, where Yudhishthira will go.’
“Unto those distressed citizens talking in this way, the virtuous Yudhishthira, himself afflicted with sorrow, reflecting for a few moments said, ‘The king is our father, worthy of regard, our spiritual guide, and our superior. To carry out with unsuspicious hearts whatever he biddeth, is indeed, our duty. Ye are our friends. Walking round us and making us happy by your blessings, return ye to your abodes. When the time cometh for anything to be done for us by you, then, indeed, accomplish all that is agreeable and beneficial to us.’ Thus addressed, the citizens walked round the Pandavas and blessed them with their blessings and returned to their respective abodes.
“And after the citizens had ceased following the Pandavas, Vidura, conversant with all the dictates of morality, desirous of awakening the eldest of the Pandavas (to a sense of his dangers), addressed him in these words. The learned Vidura, conversant with the jargon (of the Mlechchhas), addressed the learned Yudhishthira who also was conversant with the same jargon, in the words of the Mlechchha tongue, so as to be unintelligible to all except Yudhishthira. He said, ‘He that knoweth the schemes his foes contrive in accordance with the dictates of political science, should, knowing them, act in such a way as to avoid all danger. He that knoweth that there are sharp weapons capable of cutting the body though not made of steel, and understandeth also the means of warding them off, can never be injured by foes. He liveth who protecteth himself by the knowledge that neither the consumer of straw and wood nor the drier of the dew burneth the inmates of a hole in the deep woods. The blind man seeth not his way: the blind man hath no knowledge of direction. He that hath no firmness never acquireth prosperity. Remembering this, be upon your guard. The man who taketh a weapon not made of steel (i.e., an inflammable abode) given him by his foes, can escape from fire by making his abode like unto that of a jackal (having many outlets). By wandering a man may acquire the knowledge of ways, and by the stars he can ascertain the direction, and he that keepeth his five (senses) under control can never be oppressed y his enemies.’
“Thus addressed, Pandu’s son, Yudhishthira the just replied unto Vidura, that foremost of all learned men, saying, ‘I have understood thee.’ Then Vidura, having instructed the Pandavas and followed them (thus far), walked around them and bidding them farewell returned to his own abode. When the citizens and Bhishma and Vidura had all ceased following, Kunti approached Yudhishthira and said, ‘The words that Kshattri said unto thee in the midst of many people so indistinctly as if he did not say anything, and thy reply also to him in similar words and voice, we have not understood. If it is not improper; for us to know them I should then like to hear everything that had passed between him and thee.’
“Yudhishthira replied, ‘The virtuous Vidura said unto me that we should know that the mansion (for our accommodation at Varanavata) hath been built of inflammable materials. He said unto me, ‘The path of escape too shall not be unknown to thee,’–and further,–’Those that can control their senses can acquire the sovereignty of the whole world.’–The reply that I gave unto Vidura was, ‘I have understood thee.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘The Pandavas set out on the eighth day of the month of Phalguna when the star Rohini was in the ascendant, and arriving at Varanavata they beheld the town and the people.’”