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 Bruhi Drounika Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
The Bruhi Drounika Parva is mostly about the story of Mudgala, told by Vyasa to Yudhishthir.
Mudgala is a sage, truthful and free of malice, that lives in Kurukshetra. His occupation is that of picking fallen grains left on the ground after harvesters have gathered and carried away the sheaves in corn fields.
During a typical month, he and his family (wife and son) eat for the first fortnight and spend the remaining days collecting corn in a vessel.
Despite this precarious mode of living, Mudgala has a generous heart. He never says no to any guest who comes knocking on his door, and at the sacrifices that he conducts, even the gods are said to partake in the offerings.
The virtue of Mudgala is such that the corn he collects magically multiplies in number on days when guests visit him, so that no person is ever turned away from his house with an empty stomach.
One day, Sage Durvasa comes to meet Mudgala, semi-naked, head bereft of hair, starved to the bone. And he immediately launches into an angry tirade at seeing no food in the hut.
‘I have come here to eat, O Mudgala,’ he says. ‘I have been told that you feed anyone who comes to your house. Yet I see nothing here to sate my appetite.’
The Test of Durvasa
Mudgala reaches for his vessel of corn and places it in front of Durvasa, showing him to his seat. ‘With the grace of the gods, I have never run out of food when in the presence of a guest, O Sage. Please have your fill.’
Durvasa begins to eat, and due to his extreme hunger, he finishes off the food that is present in the vessel. Mudgala fills it up with some more corn brought from inside the hut, but Durvasa finishes that too.
With his hunger finally satiated, he leaves after blessing Mudgala in gratitude.
The vessel of corn does not replenish this time, which means that the sage and his family are left without food until the next morning.
Durvasa makes it habit to return at the onset of every harvest season, eating up all of Mudgala’s gathered corn and leaving him with nothing.
This happens on six consecutive occasions, but the sage does not allow his equanimity to be displaced. Each time he welcomes Durvasa with a smile, and bids him farewell with all due respect.
The Seventh Occasion
On the seventh occasion, Durvasa is pleased beyond measure at the relentless kindness of his host. ‘The pangs of hunger drives even the most pious man to unreason, O Sage.
‘But you have shown remarkable restraint while withstanding this cruellest of pains. Your charity and generosity are otherworldly; even when you knew that giving your food to me would leave you with nothing, you still did not turn me away
‘And you never once let the smile on your face fade. For this, O Mudgala, I proclaim that great gifts await you in heaven when you reach that exalted place.’
While Durvasa is saying these words, a messenger from heaven arrives in a chariot and asks Mudgala to hop on. ‘You have earned a place among the celestials for your asceticism, O Rishi. Come with me and I will take you to Indra. He is eager to meet you.’
But Mudgala asks the messenger a question. ‘Tell me the attributes of those that live in heaven, good sir,’ he says. ‘What constitutes happiness in that realm, and what constitutes disappointment?
‘Based on your answer, I will make a decision whether or not to accompany you.’
Blessings and Curses
The messenger of the gods starts off with expressing surprise at this question of Mudgala. ‘You seem to be a rather unwise person, O Sage,’ he says, ‘because a chance to ascend to heaven in one’s mortal body is given to only a few.
‘And those people are generally eager to accompany me. You are the first I have met to ask a suspicious question of this sort.
‘However, since you have asked, I will answer. First, the blessings: What you know as heaven is comprised of many beautiful separate worlds, all located on that greatest of mountains, Meru.
‘Different races of celestials – the gods, the Sadhyas, the Vaiswas, the Yamas, the Dharmas – occupy different areas. Here is also present that most beautiful of celestials gardens, the Nandana.
‘The people who live in heaven are not subject to suffering of the body or of the mind, O Rishi. There is no hunger or thirst or pain, nor is there sadness or grief or jealousy.
‘Everyone who sports in these gardens are at peace, and all the sounds and sights of the world are pleasant. There is no discomfort.’
The People of Heaven
Narada continues: ‘As we go higher and higher, we reach more and more exalted abodes, those reserved for the best of the gods. These men shine with a light of their own, and their surroundings are so pleasant that once you see them, you wish to stay there forever.
‘Mortal men are never allowed in these realms, O Mudgala, but you have been deemed an exception.
‘Now for the disadvantages of life in heaven: the biggest is that when a person is living among celestials and enjoying the fruits of his actions, he cannot be engaged in any others that accumulate more merit.
‘In short, the amount of merit he has gathered through his life on Earth – which is finite – cannot be added to during his time in heaven. And once all the good worth is exhausted, he falls to the earth to begin all over again.
‘For this reason, the one fear that grasps at the heart of all heaven-dwellers is that the garlands around their necks will wither sooner or later. And they fear having to leave the agreeable environs of that world and return to this one.
‘That is why this is called the world of acts, and that the world of consequences.’
The sage Mugdala is unimpressed by this knowledge of how defective heaven is. He salutes the messenger and says, ‘I have often thought, perhaps mistakenly, good sir, that heaven is a place free of pain and suffering.
‘But from what you describe, the vast majority of celestials are shackled by the very same emotions that we learn over years to renounce. Is that not true?’
‘Yes,’ says the messenger. ‘The suffering is much-reduced because of sensual pleasures, but it is present.’
‘Then I wish not to extend myself in the hope of attaining a flawed state,’ replies Mudgala. ‘But can you tell me if there is any region of heaven that is free of all defects?’
The messenger thinks for a moment. Then he says, ‘Above the house of Brahma, there is a realm that goes by the name of Para Brahma. This is the supreme seat of Vishnu, and this is the highest plane of existence known to man.
‘Here, you attain that level of consciousness where even the faintest memories of emotions do not exist. You become one with the universe.’
Listening to this, Mudgala bids the messenger farewell and returns to his life of that of a corn-picker, having arrived at the realization that no matter where you live, it is the training of the mind that leads to peace and contentment.
From then on, Mugdala makes consistent effort to treat praise and criticism with equanimity, not being affected by either. He makes meditation a part of his life. A stone, a gold coin or a piece of brick all assumed the same form in his eyes.
He begins to see the universe for what it is – a neutral leveller of everything, where the highest intelligence and a mote of dust are equally important.
Vyasa concludes this story and tells Yudhishthir, ‘The world is even as Mudgala has found, O King. Misery after happiness. Happiness after misery.
‘That is the never-ending cycle, both in this life and all the others. Only a man who endures misery with dignity can attain peace. So rest assured, my son, that an era of happiness and comfort extends in your future once this period of gloom is past.’
Having dispensed this wisdom, Vyasa takes his leave and returns to his hermitage.
A Boon for Duryodhana
It so happens that during the twelfth year of the Pandavas’ exile, a short while after Duryodhana has been saved and despatched, Durvasa visits the court of Hastinapur accompanied by ten thousand of his disciples.
The eldest Kaurava receives him with all due humility and puts up with all the sage’s eccentricities.
For instance, after ordering a large meal to be cooked for his whole entourage, Durvasa suddenly announces that they are no longer hungry.
Sometimes, he wakes up in the middle of the night and sends for Duryodhana, telling him to prepare a full meal within minutes. On other occasions, he would eat the food and express his displeasure at its lack of taste and flavour.
But Duryodhana keeps his good sense through the ordeal, not once losing his temper. At the end of it all, Durvasa is pleased with the prince and says:
‘I have not expected you to be so conscientious while attending on me, O Dhartarashtra. You have pleased me with your unwavering servitude. Let me grant you a boon. Ask for anything you wish.’
Duryodhana, Karna and Shakuni have already together decided what to ask for in the event of the sage granting them a boon.
A Visit for Yudhishthir
Therefore, without having to think, the prince says, ‘My dear brother, Yudhishthir, is the eldest of our race, Venerable One. And he is now living in the forest accompanied by his wife and four brothers.
‘It is my wish that you, along with your thousands of disciples, bestow upon him the good fortune of a visit. And make it so, O Sage, that you descend upon them after sundown, so that they will have enough time on their hands to care for you.’
Duryodhana’s hope, of course, is that Durvasa and his disciples reach the Pandavas’ house after all the food is finished, and that their failure to please the sage would earn them a curse or two.
It is instructive of Duryodhana’s obsessive state of mind that even when he is granted a boon, instead of asking for something that would better his own life, he chooses to harm his brothers instead.
Of course, it does not quite work out as intended.
A Grain of Rice
Durvasa makes a visit to the hermitage of the Pandavas at the most inopportune time, after sundown, after all the vessels have been washed and put away, just as Draupadi is sitting down for a moment’s rest after a long day.
The sage comes with all his disciples in tow, and asks Yudhishthir for food.
In order to buy time, the king replies, ‘Please go to the nearby lake, O Sage, and perform all your oblations and observances. We will make certain that enough food is available on your return.’
Wondering how the Pandavas plan to do this, and presumably already working out which curse to place on them, Durvasa leads his people away to the lake. Draupadi, meanwhile, prays and hopes for a miracle.
Krishna, who is in Dwaraka, in bed with Rukmini, suddenly hears the prayer of Panchali and hurries over to Kamyaka. He arrives before the sage’s return and asks everyone what the matter is.
Then he says: ‘You have the Akshayapatra given to you by Surya, Panchali. Why do you not use it?’
‘Alas,’ Draupadi replies, ‘the Akshayapatra only gives food until I have not had my meal. But thinking that the last of the Brahmins have left for the day, I’d just finished eating before Sage Durvasa came. And I have cleaned the vessel.’
‘Well,’ says Krishna, ‘perhaps you have not cleaned it as thoroughly as you think. Can you bring it to me so that I can take a look?’
Draupadi does so, and indeed, they see one grain of cooked rice clinging to the rim of the Akshayapatra. Krishna points to it, picks it up, and swallows it. ‘Now that is what I call a sumptuous meal,’ he tells her with a smile.
Over at the lake, at this very moment, the bathing sages discover suddenly that their stomachs have become full. Even the thought of food fills them with revulsion.
Some of the younger disciples ask Durvasa about this miraculous happening, and he replies:
‘The Pandavas are worthy men, both on the field of battle and in front of the fire. I have no doubt that the gods are looking after them. There is indeed no point in returning to their hermitage, because our hungers have been satiated. Let us go on our way.’
The Pandavas send Bhimasena out to look for the sages, and he returns to report that he found the lake deserted. Krishna addresses Yudhishthir and says:
‘The sages have left, O King. Indeed, they got more than they wished for. It is your virtue that keeps protecting you from all troubles. A good man never suffers in this world, and there are no men better than you.
‘You can now sleep in peace, and let me return to Dwaraka.’
With this ends the Bruhi Drounika Parva.