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 Jatugriha Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
Conspiracy in Varanavata
The Jatugriha Parva begins with Duryodhana overhearing the stray conversation of a few citizens of Hastinapur, in which they say that they prefer Yudhishthir to be the next king of Hastinapur.
Returning to the palace, Duryodhana, along with Shakuni, Karna and Duhsasana, chalks out a plan for killing the Pandavas.
In order to set the wheel in motion, the eldest Kaurava goes to Dhritarashtra and asks him to send the Pandavas to a town called Varanavata on some pretext.
‘But if we exile them,’ says Dhritarashtra, ‘all the elders of the court will protest.’
‘Ah,’ replies Duryodhana, ‘in that case we will send them on a pleasure visit.’
So, under instructions of Dhritarashtra, a few courtiers begin to sing praises of the beauty of Varanavata to Yudhishthir.
‘There is a festival of the lord Pashupati that happens there at this time of the year, Your Majesty,’ they tell him. ‘The procession and festivities are second to none that occur anywhere on Earth.’
The Pandavas Set Out
Hearing these tales, the Pandavas feel curious to see this town and witness the Shiva festival. Dhritarashtra then addresses the Pandavas and gives them leave to go to Varanavata and spend as long as they wish over there.
While preparations are on for the Pandavas to leave Hastinapur, Duryodhana sends a trusted aide called Purochana on a chariot in advance to make arrangements for the visitors to stay in Varanavata.
‘Build a quadrangular palace in the neighbourhood of the town’s centre,’ he tells his man, ‘rich in materials and furniture. In erecting this house, make sure that you use great quantities of hemp and resin.
‘Dampen the earth with clarified butter before using it in the walls, and reinforce the panels and ceilings with wax. We shall make this house one that is inflammable with the smallest fire, Purochana; I rely on you for this task.’
And Purochana, bowing, says, ‘I shall see to it, my prince.’
The Warning of Vidura
At the time of leaving, the people of Hastinapur gather about to say goodbye to the Pandavas.
As the chariots are about to start, Vidura makes his way to Yudhishthir, and in the tongue of the Mlechha people (so that they may not be overheard), says the following words by way of warning:
‘O King, the man who forever stays one step ahead of the contrivances of his foes should act in ways to ward off all danger. The wise man understands that there exist weapons that are not forged of metal, and these weapons cause severe bodily harm too.
‘Learning of such weapons and knowing how to dodge them is an important skill.
‘He who acquires this soft weapon from his foes can escape it by making his abode more like that of a jackal, with many exits. By travel a man might acquire the knowledge of the streets, and by the stars he can ascertain the direction of his path.
‘Remember that no man who has gained restraint over his five senses can ever be vanquished by his enemies.
‘The consumer of straw and wood (Agni) and the drier of the dew (the Sun) are often blamed for the burning of trees and birds. But remember that if there is a fire, then it must have been started by someone.
‘A blind man does not see his way; if he reaches his destination, it is just by happy accident. Keep your eyes open, O King, for unseen paths that will deliver you from danger to safety.’
And Yudhishthir replies, ‘I have understood.’
Soon after arrival in Varanavata, Yudhishthir and Bhimasena notice that the house in which they are staying smells of butter and other inflammable things. Purochana, the guard who is looking after their needs, they realize, is in fact Duryodhana’s aide.
With the help of a miner sent by Vidura, they get a tunnel dug from the main room of the house of wax to a safe location some distance away.
The Pandavas spend the time hunting far and wide in the woods surrounding the town, in order to get a better idea of the lay of the land.
Once the tunnel is complete, Yudhishthir calls his brothers and sets a date on which they will set fire to the house.
Death of a Nishada Woman
On the appointed day, Kunti arranges for an alms-giving event and feeds a large number of Brahmins and their wives. Toward the evening, as luck would have it, a Nishada woman and five of her sons arrive at their door, asking for food.
The Pandavas take them in, and give them liquor to go with the sumptuous delicacies, causing them to fall asleep. They also give Purochana the required amount of intoxicants to render him unconscious.
Then, after moving the unfortunate woman and her children to their own quarters, the Pandavas begin to set fire to the building themselves.
And after having made sure the flames are strong enough to claim the house completely, they escape through the tunnel and reach the riverbank.
Crossing the River
On the northern shore of the Ganga they meet another man sent by Vidura, and this man, after identifying himself, directs the Pandavas to a boat that is lying in wait in the darkness.
Taking this boat, aided by a favourable wind, they reach the other side of the river and enter a deep forest.
Here, not knowing where they are going, they continue to walk, and one by one they are consumed by fatigue. Seeing this, Bhimasena picks up all four of his brothers and his mother in his arms and carries them deep into the woods.
He stops when he is certain that they have reached an adequate hiding spot.
They come upon a large banyan tree in the middle of the forest, under which Bhima places his four brothers and Kunti. With all five of them complaining of thirst, he runs to a nearby stream and brings back water by soaking his upper garment.
Each time the garment becomes dry, he rushes back to the stream to soak it again. Their thirsts thus quenched, the four Pandava brothers and Kunti descend into sleep, with Bhima keeping watch.
The Anger of Bhimasena
In the shadow of contemplation, anger washes over Vrikodara in waves. His heart torn at the sight of Kunti sleeping on bare ground, he laments:
‘She who has borne sons of the gods themselves, she who has ever slept on the softest silks fanned by maids, now sleeps on the harsh ground covered by leaves and pebbles.
‘Her feet bleed! She is consumed by hunger and exhaustion, and here I sit, her son, unable to reduce her suffering.
Look at the Ashwin twins, renowned for their beauty. Look at the virtuous Yudhishthir, the heroic Arjuna, all lying in this forest like beggars. This is all because of you, O Kauravas, led by Duryodhana, blessed by Dhritarashtra.
‘Enjoy your temporary victory, and soak in its warmth, for I, Bhimasena, the second-born son of Kunti, shall see to it that you are sent to the abode of Yama at the right time.
‘A day will come, O sinful ones, when even the calm Yudhishthir will lose patience with you, and on the day he gives me his command, your days on this Earth will end.
Saying this, Bhima squeezes his palms together, overwhelmed by wrath. With this image of the second Pandava keeping watch on his sleeping brothers and mother, the Jatugriha Parva comes to an end.