In this series of posts, I am reconstructing the Mahabharata as a sequence of episodes.
This will provide a quick and easy way for someone new to the story to become acquainted with it.
(For the previous post in this series, see Episode 30: Brihannala Defends Matsya. To access the full repository of Mahabharata episodes, see: 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story.)
Return of Virata
While Arjuna and Uttara are fighting off the Kuru army, Virata gets back to his palace, victorious against the Trigartas. Finding that Uttara is nowhere to be seen, he asks the women where the prince had gone.
‘He is on the northern brother, Your Majesty,’ they tell him, ‘fighting the Kaurava forces with Brihannala as his charioteer.’
‘Alone?’ asks Virata, aghast. ‘How is a mere boy going to stand up to the might of Drona, Bhishma and Duryodhana?’
Kanka replies, ‘I should not worry about his welfare, O King, as long as Brihannala accompanies him.’
But Virata does not even hear his courtier’s words. ‘Let all the soldiers who are still fresh for battle be sent to the northern wall immediately,’ he calls out. ‘Our prince Uttara needs all the help that he can get.’
Just as the soldiers are preparing to leave, however, a messenger arrives on horseback and gives Virata the news that Uttara had vanquished the Kuru heroes all by himself.
Again Kanka murmurs, ‘I am not surprised, Your Majesty, that the prince is victorious. With Brihannala by his side, what else can one expect?’
Virata roars loudly in jubilant laughter. ‘Line up the trumpets!’ he says. ‘Hoist the flags high in the streets of Matsya. Let us give Uttara a hero’s welcome.’ He then turns to Draupadi. ‘Get me the dice, Sairandhri,’ he tells her. ‘Let us celebrate this double victory of Matsya suitably.’
Kanka is Struck
A game of dice is hastily arranged between Virata and Kanka, with the latter demurring but not disobeying. After the first round of moves has been played, Virata says, ‘Kanka, my dear courtier. Do you not believe it is a miracle indeed that Uttara has managed to defeat those powerful warriors? I never knew that the boy had it in him.’
‘Not a miracle at all, Your Highness,’ says Kanka, smiling. ‘After all, the prince had Brihannala manning his chariot. No army in the world is safe when pitted against that man.’
Virata loses his temper at this insistent harping on about the eunuch. He hurls the dice at Kanka’s face and strikes him across the nose, drawing blood. ‘How dare you sing praises of that lowborn in favour of my son, O Brahmin. This is the punishment you receive for your loose tongue.’
There is commotion in the court at this display of anger from the king. Yudhishthir holds his dripping blood in his hands, and glances up at Draupadi meaningfully, at which she brings a golden vessel and holds it under his nose.
She looks up at the king and says, ‘If this man’s blood hits the earth, O King, it will bring great disgrace to your city.’
Right at that moment, Uttara arrives at the palace, and Virata gets distracted by the arrival. After he is welcomed in with all fanfare, the prince sees that Kanka is hurt. He comes up to him and asks, ‘How did you hurt yourself, good sir?’
‘I hit him because he was singing the praises of Brihannala throughout the day,’ Virata says defiantly. ‘It is not a big injury. We must not unduly worry.’
But Uttara shakes his head. ‘You have wronged this pious man by behaving thus, Father. Let us ask for his forgiveness, because our kingdom will not prosper when men like him are ill-treated.’
Upon his son’s insistence, Virata grudgingly asks for Kanka’s forgiveness, which the latter readily gives. The focus now shifts toward Uttara’s narrative of how the battle happened.
‘A Celestial Warrior’
When Virata asks his son how he managed to fight off the Kauravas all by himself, the prince admits that it was not him that won the battle.
‘A celestial warrior appeared out of nowhere to help me, Father,’ he says. ‘He defeated the son of Dhritarashtra in single combat, and he also made maharathas like Drona and Kripacharya flee with fear. So all these congratulations ought to be given him, not me.’
‘Then where is he?’ says Virata. ‘Bring him here and we will honour him with all that we have.’
‘He cannot reveal himself, he said,’ Uttara replies. ‘The time has not yet come.’
Though the thirteen years have passed and the Pandavas do not need to be under cover anymore, they wait for the first auspicious occasion to reveal themselves. This happens on the third day after the ‘battle of Brihannala’.
The Pandavas Reveal Themselves
The five brothers and Draupadi wake up early in the morning, finish their ablutions, put on their royal clothes, and come to the hall of the king and sit on thrones set aside for kings and queens.
When Virata arrives and looks at them, he flies into a rage. ‘Why is a mere courtier like you sitting on a seat reserved for a royal, Kanka?’ he asks. ‘And why are these lowborn men with you?
‘Why is the Sairandhri dressed in robes fit for a queen? It is true that I am beholden to you four for fighting alongside me against the Trigartas, but you are definitely feeling entitled to a little too much.’
Arjuna gets up at these words, and through smiling lips, escorts Virata closer to where Yudhishthir is sitting. ‘This man, O King,’ he says, ‘deserves to be seated right next to Indra in heaven. There is no man on Earth who combines the qualities of a king, a householder, a sage and a priest as seamlessly as he does.
‘In the midst of battle he is indefatigable; in the capacity of brother and husband he is without peer. In virtue he equals even the Saptarishis, and in performing sacrifices he is as good as any Brahmin. The eldest son of Pandu, our brother, the king of Indraprastha – Yudhishthir.’
In that manner, he steps the dazed Virata through the introductions of all his brothers, ending with Draupadi, and finally revealing himself as Arjuna.
Uttara also steps into their midst and says, ‘The celestial warrior that helped me fight the Kauravas off our land, Father, is none other than Vibhatsu himself.’
Virata is suitably ashamed and guilty at having treated the sons of Pandu badly, but the Pandavas assure him that they carry no grudges.
Arjuna bows to Virata. ‘We have lived happily in your kingdom for the last one year, Your Majesty, in order to fulfill the vow of Agnyaatavaasa (‘the exile in hiding’) that we accepted because of our loss to Duryodhana in the game of dice.’
The king then performs all manners of respectful rituals in accordance with the statutes of his head-priests, and at the end of it all, offers the hand of his daughter Uttara to Arjuna in marriage.
Arjuna, however, says: ‘I have been a teacher to Uttara over the last one year, O King. Not only that, I have had occasion to see her in her more private moments, living as I was within the inner chambers of the palace.
‘It is possible that men of the world might entertain suspicions about her or me, and the only way I can attest to her purity is by accepting her not as a wife – because that might mean validating the doubts – but as a daughter-in-law.
‘The scriptures have said that a daughter-in-law is equal unto a daughter. By welcoming her into my house as my son’s wife, and as my daughter, I will once and for all remove slander from the minds of men.
‘The mighty-armed Abhimanyu has come of age in Dwaraka, and is being looked after by Krishna and Rukmini. He will make a good husband to Uttara, I believe, and a fitting son-in-law to you. This union will also make the Kuru and Matsya kingdoms allies in future endeavours, which is most welcome.’
Residence in Upaplavya
Virata agrees to this counter-proposal, and as the wedding preparations get underway, the Pandavas take up residence in a town called Upaplavya inside the Matsya kingdom.
Chief among the attendees are the Vrishnis from the west (Krishna, Balarama, Pradyumna, Kritavarma, Yuyudhana, Satyaki and so on), the sons of Drupada from Panchala (Shikhandi and Dhrishtadyumna), the king of Kasi and the king of Saivya, both of whom are friendly with Yudhishthir.
All these kings come bearing great gifts, of course, and in the company of thousands of servants and soldiers. Dhrishtadyumna, it is said, brings a whole Akshauhini of army with him.
On the appointed day at the auspicious moment, Arjuna accepts Uttara as his daughter-in-law, as wife for his son Abhimanyu. Yudhishthir also does the same, and so do the rest of the Pandavas.
After this, Virata gives away all the gifts he has received from the wedding guests to countless Brahmins, and gets a flood of blessings in return.
Hope for Peace
On the day following the wedding of Abhimanyu and Uttara, the assembled kings sit in council to discuss the way forward for the Pandavas. Krishna presides over the meeting and speaks to the gathering about a possible amicable solution between the cousins.
‘You all know how Yudhishthir and his brothers were deceived and sent into the forest by Duryodhana,’ he says. ‘They were robbed of the kingdom they had built, and though they are strong enough to conquer the earth, they have followed the strictures of their vow.
‘Now, the thirteenth year of incognito has passed as well, successfully. It remains for all of you, O Kings, to advise the Pandavas on the best course of action.
‘While pondering over the matter yourself, keep in mind that the righteous Yudhishthir does not wish to fight. Even now he has nothing but the good of Duryodhana in his heart.
‘We know that he does not covet anything that does not belong to him. But what does Duryodhana think? No one knows. How does one chart the best path forward when one does not know the designs of one’s foe?
‘Consult among yourselves, but also think separately on what is to be done. If you think violence is the only recourse open to these heroes, then know that no one in the world is worthier than the Pandavas of winning the battle against the Kauravas.
‘Arjuna with his Gandiva and Bhimasena with his enormous strength are enough to rout entire Akshauhinis on their own.
‘On the other hand, if you believe that this matter ought to be settled peacefully, also know that the Pandavas will not back away from entering into a treaty with their cousins, and mind half of the kingdom with Duryodhana ruling the other half.’
Satyaki Advises War
On the other side of this argument stands Satyaki (also called Yuyudhana or Saineya), who thinks that the Pandavas would be perceived as cowardly if they were to favour peace.
‘According to the terms of their agreement,’ he reminds everyone, ‘if they spend thirteen years of exile successfully, they are entitled to get their throne back. Now that they have fulfilled their part of the trade, the Kauravas ought to stay true to their promise. If they do not, the answer is not further humility. The answer is war!’
Drupada and Dhrishtadyumna side with Satyaki on the matter, because after all the prospects of Panchala are closely tied with those of the Pandavas. If Yudhishthir becomes emperor again, Panchala will do well as his prime ally.
Quest for Alliances
Regardless of the disagreement, the council decides that Drupada – on behalf of Yudhishthir – will send a messenger to the Kuru court in order to broker peace between the two parties.
Around the same time, both the Pandavas and the Kauravas prepare for negotiations to fail and begin to gather alliances from different kings. One of the most important of these is the kingdom of Anarta, over which Balarama and Krishna rule.
Arjuna and Duryodhana approach Krishna at the same time to secure his support – and Krishna makes them an offer.
We will examine this in more detail in the next episode.
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