The Mahabharata is a collection of hundred Parvas (or ‘sections’) that tell the story of a long-standing family feud between two sets of cousins – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – for control of the Kuru throne in Hastinapur.
The climactic event of the story is an eighteen-day war that happens between the two factions on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
It is commonly understood that the Pandavas are the protagonists of this tale and the Kauravas the antagonists – though many retellings have appeared over the years that flip this structure.
In this post, we will summarize the Anudyuta Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
As soon as the Pandavas leave for Indraprastha, Duryodhana and Shakuni approach Dhritarashtra and convince him to invite them back for another game of dice.
‘Foes that have been vanquished must not be left alone in this manner, Father,’ Duryodhana says. ‘Is that not what Brihaspati advised Indra all those years ago? The Pandavas will not forgive us for all that has happened here today.
‘Indeed, you have heard with your own two ears the fearsome vows Bhimasena took against me and Duhsasana. I shall not be surprised if they are right at this moment plotting their revenge as they make their way back to their kingdom.
‘It is therefore our wish that we invite them back here for another game of dice. But this time the stakes will be different. The loser in this game will have to live in the forest for twelve years, and a thirteenth year in disguise in one of the known kingdoms.
‘If they are recognized during the year of hiding, they must retreat into the forest for another twelve years.
‘We will defeat the Pandavas this way, Father. Even if they are to return after their exile, we will have strengthened our alliances and friendships so much that we would not need to fear them.
‘Unless we do this, O King, our destruction in the hands of those wretched men is assured in the near future.’
Thus provoked, Dhritarashtra agrees to send a messenger chasing after the departing Pandavas. Gandhari tries to reason with him and implores him to not rise to the bait, but the king does not listen.
All the influential members of court – Drona, Somadatta, Bahlika, Kripacharya, Vidura, Ashwatthama, Bhurishrava and Bhishma – also dissuade the blind king from listening to Duryodhana, but they do not succeed.
As it happens, the Pandavas are brought back to the assembly hall, and they play Shakuni again under the new rules.
Predictably, they lose, and having given their kingdom over to the Kauravas, get ready to go into the forest to commence their twelve-year exile.
While the Pandavas are stripped of their royal clothes and are about to leave the assembly hall, Duhsasana makes a proclamation.
‘King Dhritarashtra is now the absolute sovereign monarch of both Indraprastha and Hastinapur. The sons of Pandu have been vanquished, and they have been deprived of a share in our kingdom forever.
‘Draupadi, the daughter of Drupada, will do well now to elect a man of her choice in this very hall for her husband, for what good are her five husbands who can give her nothing but sorrow?’
He hurls further insults at the leaving sons of Pandu, and Bhimasena, pushed to the edge of his rage, makes a vow.
‘It does not suit you, son of Dhritarashtra, to boast so of a kingdom that you have won by unfair means.
‘I promise everyone present in this assembly and all my dead ancestors that I shall one day drink the life-blood of this wretch after tearing open his chest with my bare hands.’
The Four Vows
Arjuna makes a statement of his own. ‘Bhimasena,’ he says, ‘men of character do not stop at mere words. They perform actions of great import.
‘We shall see for ourselves what will happen if these people refuse to give us back our kingdom after the thirteen years are up. I take a vow in the presence of everyone here that I shall slay the foul-mouthed Karna with my shafts.
‘The mountains of Himavat might be removed from where they stand. The sun might lose his brightness, the moon its cool, but these words of mine will forever remain sacred until I fulfil them.’
Sahadeva makes a vow to kill Shakuni. ‘You are a disgrace to the great kings of Gandhara that have become before you,’ he tells the old man.
‘You think we are defeated, but your victory is only temporary, O King. Do all the deeds that you wish before that morning of the fourteenth year, for I shall assuredly kill you and all your followers in battle.’
And Nakula, the handsomest of men, speaks these words:
‘I shall certainly send to the abode of Yama all the sons of Dhritarashtra who, out of malice, have insulted Yajnaseni in this assembly under the garb of a game of dice. I shall make the Earth destitute of the Kauravas when the time comes.’
The only Pandava who does not feel compelled to take an oath in anger is Yudhishthir. After his brothers have finished speaking, he gathers them together along with Draupadi and approaches the throne of Dhritarashtra to take his blessings.
None of the elders that are present in the assembly that day – Kripa, Drona, Bhishma, Yuyutsu, Sanjaya, Ashwatthama – respond in any meaningful way to Yudhishthir’s farewell.
They all hang their heads in shame. Vidura, however, addresses the eldest Pandava with a matter of practical importance.
‘Your mother Pritha is delicate and old, O King,’ he says. ‘It does not suit her to be living in harsh forest climes. So I shall keep her in my house until you return, and fear not for her safety, for I shall care for her as my own sister.’
Then he goes on to give the Pandavas a cheerful note of goodbye.
‘Between the five of you, as long as you stay united, you can thwart any power in the world. You have Draupadi, who is the very symbol of virtue. You all love one another, and you take pleasure in one another’s company.
‘You are contented. This is a great blessing, O King, one deserving of your enemies’ envy. You have noticed how they wished to break you apart, but you have remained one.
‘The twelve years will pass in a trice, and I hope to see you here in this very hall on your return, having grown in ways unimaginable.’
‘How did the Pandavas leave?’
A short while after the Pandavas leave, Dhritarashtra summons Vidura to his side and asks him, ‘How does Yudhishthir proceed on his way to the forest? How do Arjuna and Bhimasena carry themselves? How does Draupadi accompany them? Tell me all, Vidura.’
And Vidura replies: ‘While leaving the city, Yudhishthir covered his face with a cloth. Bhimasena went away looking at his own mighty arms.
‘Arjuna followed his king, throwing sand-grains all around them. Sahadeva besmeared his face, and Nakula stained himself with dust. The beautiful Krishnaa covered her face with her dishevelled hair, weeping.
‘And Dhaumya led them into the woods, O King, a clutch of kusa blades in hand, uttering the mantras of the Sama Veda that relate to Yama.’
Though his heart delights at the desolate state of the Pandavas, Dhritarashtra asks anxiously what these gestures mean.
Meanings of Gestures
Vidura says, ‘Yudhishthir is overcome by wrath, Your Highness, though he does not show it. He is afraid that if he opens his eyes, the fire that burns his heart might spill out and destroy everything he sees. So he covers his face with a cloth.
‘Thoughts of vengeance envelop Bhimasena’s mind, O King. He is thinking to himself that no one on Earth is as strong as he is, and he is thinking of all the ways in which he would use his arms on his foes in his quest for regaining all that they have lost.
‘Arjuna’s scattering of sand-grains is symbolic, my lord, of the rain of arrows that he intends to unleash upon the world.
‘Sahadeva has smeared his face so that no one in the city might recognize him, and Nakula covered himself in dust so as to prevent the possibility of ladies losing their hearts to him.
‘And do not think that Draupadi is mourning for herself, Your Majesty. She is indeed mourning, but for the future deaths of all the men who have treated her thus today.
‘She is shedding tears for the plight of all the women of Hastinapur’s royal court who will be widowed due to the sinful acts that we have allowed.
‘Dhaumya the sage, who leads the Pandavas into the forest, holds the blades of grass to the southwest, singing the verses of the dead. He knows that when the time comes for the Bharatas to be slain, the priests of the Kurus will chant the very same words.’
This explanation of Vidura plunges Dhritarashtra into deeper anxiety. The Anudyuta Parva ends with the king confessing his fears to Sanjaya, and lamenting the fact that he had not been strong enough to stop the wrongdoings of his son.
From here, we move into the Aranyaka Parva.