Having overstepped an agreement among the Pandava brothers, Arjuna leaves for the forest.
The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. As the narration continues, the great sage Narada visits the Pandavas after they have married Princess Draupadi and moved to their kingdom, Indraprastha.
O ascetic, what did the noble Pandavas do after attaining a kingdom at Indraprastha? They were all my great-grandfathers, those great souls, but how could Draupadi, as a religious wife, follow five husbands? And how could those five exalted princes live with Draupadi as their only wife and not fight among themselves? Dear sage, I want to hear everything in detail how they dealt with one another and managed their relationship with Draupadi.
Sri Vaisampayana said:
The Pandavas were truly tigers of men, warriors who burned their enemies, yet they were noble and submissive to their elders. So with the permission of Dhrtarastra they and Draupadi enjoyed their new kingdom.
On obtaining the realm, powerful Yudhisthira, fixed in truthfulness, ruled over the country with his brothers according to the pious law. Conquering their enemies and devoted to truth and justice, the very learned sons of Pandu dwelled there with the greatest of joy. Taking their seats on priceless royal thrones, they who were the best of men administered to all the needs of the citizens.
Once when all those great souls were sitting on their thrones, the godly sage Narada happened to come there. Yudhisthira at once gave him his own lovely seat. When the Devarsi the sage among the demigods was seated, wise Yudhisthira honored him with the customary gift of arghya [water with auspicious substances] and then offered his kingdom to the sage.
Narada happily accepted the honorable welcome, and after blessing the king to prosper, he told him, "Please be seated."
With Narada's permission, King Yudhisthira sat down and at once sent word to Draupadi: "The holy one has come."
Hearing this, Draupadi quickly bathed and with great attention went to where Narada was sitting with the Pandavas. After worshiping the Devarsi's feet, that very religious woman, the daughter of Drupada, stood before him, her body chastely covered and her hands folded in reverence.
Godly Narada, ever truthful and immersed in spiritual life, pronounced various blessings upon the princess, and then that greatest of sages told that faultless woman, "You may go now."
When Draupadi had left, Narada spoke to the Pandavas, headed by Yudhisthira, as they sat together in private.
"The glorious princess of Pancala is the lawful wife of all of you, and a rule must be instituted so that there will be no conflict among you. The loving friendship you share with one another must be protected. Yudhisthira, you must act so that there will be no division among you. Now, if you want to please me, arrange things so that you brothers don't fight over Draupadi."
Thus addressed by the great sage Narada, the exalted Pandavas sat down together, O king, and in the presence of Devarsi Narada, of immeasurable might, they reached an agreement as follows: "Whenever one of us is sitting alone with Draupadi, if another of us intrudes upon him the intruder must live for twelve months in the forest and practice celibacy."
The Pandavas were strict followers of the religious path. When they made this agreement, Narada was pleased, and that great sage departed to whatever land he desired.
Having thus established these rules at the urging of Narada, the Pandavas took care in their mutual dealings not to violate their agreement.
Having made this pact, the Pandavas dwelled in their city and by the fiery strength of weapons brought other regional rulers under the control of a central government.
So skillful was Draupadi that she remained submissive to all five Pandavas, lionlike men of unmeasured prowess. The men were completely satisfied with her; and she was completely pleased with her five husbands, just as the sacred river Sarasvati is pleased with the mighty elephants who splash in her waters. The Pandavas were great souls they lived by the rules of virtue and thus all the Kurus prospered, for they were now sinless and happy.
Then after a long time had passed, O king, some thieves stole the cows of a brahmana. When his only property was being stolen away, the brahmana, almost senseless with rage, came to Khandava Prastha and cried out to the Pandavas, "Pandavas! Cruel, wretched, and ignorant men are stealing my wealth of cows, right here in your kingdom. Pursue them! Crows are plundering the religious property of a distracted brahmana.A lowly jackal is attempting to enjoy a tiger's cave. When thieves plunder a brahmana's property and I am crying out for help, you must take up arms!"
Arjuna, son of Pandu and Kunti, was standing nearby, and he heard the brahmana sage. The great-armed one called to the sage, "Do not fear!"
Yudhisthira, king of virtue, was sitting alone with Draupadi in the place where the glorious Pandavas had stored their weapons. Therefore Arjuna could not go in to gather his weapons and pursue the thieves. But the suffering brahmana continued to cry out, and he urged the rulers again and again to help him.
Arjuna was pained by these piteous cries, and he anxiously wondered what to do. Finally, he decided he must act to dry up the tears of the ascetic sage whose wealth in cows was being plundered.
"If I do not give protection at once to that sage crying at the gate, my neglect will be a terrible offense for one who claims to be a ruler of the land. Everyone will lose faith in our ability or willingness to give protection, lawlessness will prevail, and irreligion will corrupt us. But if I enter without permission from King Yudhisthira, he will be displeased with me, without a doubt. In fact, as soon as I intrude upon the king I must be banished to the forest. Either I commit a most impious act by neglecting a helpless and saintly citizen, or I shall die in the forest. Well, virtue is more important, even at the cost of one's body."
Having thus decided, Arjuna intruded on the king, grabbed a bow, and took leave.
He approached the brahmana and with a jubilant heart said, "Brahmana, come with me quickly before those wretched men who covet another's property get far away. I shall at once take back your wealth from the hands of those thieves."
The mighty-armed prince, with bow, armor, chariot, and flag, pursued and killed the thieves with arrows, recovering the brahmana's wealth. Pandava Arjuna thus returned the cows, and after hearing the brahmanapraise him, the ambidextrous hero returned to the city, having once again burned his foes to ashes.
Bowing to all his elders and receiving their welcome, Arjuna said to his older brother, Yudhisthira, Dharmaraja, the king of virtue, "I have violated our agreement by intruding upon you. I shall go to live in the forest, for that is the agreement we made."
At these dreaded words spoken all of a sudden, Yudhisthira's heart sank.
"But how can you go?" said Yudhisthira to his vigilant, unfailing brother. "If I am the judge, then listen to my words, innocent one. If you have displeased me by coming into the room, O hero, I forgive everything, and there is no pain or hidden motive in my heart. There is no transgression when a younger brother enters his older brother's place; rather, the rule is broken when the elder intrudes upon the younger. Turn back from your decision, O mighty-armed one, and obey my words. You have broken no religious rule nor done me any harm."
Arjuna said, "I have heard you say, 'One cannot practice virtue by deception or pretense.' I shall not deviate from the truth, for by truth I gain the right to use weapons."
Arjuna then persuaded the king to grant him leave. When the priests had duly initiated him for a life of celibacy, he left for the forest to live there for twelve months.
Arjuna meets Lord Krsna
Arjuna, of unlimited valor, visited in order all the pilgrimage sites and purifying sanctuaries. In the course of visiting all the holy places and shrines on the western coast, he reached Prabhasa.
Lord Krsna, slayer of the demon Madhu, heard that Arjuna had reached Prabhasa and was visiting the holy places. Krsna then traveled to meet Arjuna. They embraced and asked each other about their health and well-being.
As the two dear friends, who had formerly incarnated together as the sages Nara and Narayana, sat together, Sri Krsna asked how Arjuna was faring in his forest exile. Lord Krsna also inquired from Arjuna about his itinerary. "My dear Pandava, why are you visiting all the holy places?"
Arjuna then explained everything he had done in the forest, and Lord Krsna, chief of the Vrsni clan, listened and approved.
Krsna and Arjuna freely enjoyed themselves in Prabhasa and then went to spend some time at the Raivataka Mountain. By the order of Krsna some men had decorated an area on the mountain and brought food. Accepting all these pleasing arrangements, Arjuna ate with Lord Krsna and watched a program of theater and dance.
After thanking all the entertainers and then dismissing them, the Pandava, of great splendor, then went to the divine bed prepared for him. He told Lord Krsna, leader of the Satvatas, about the holy lands, rivers, and forests he had seen, and as he told his tales, sleep carried him off as he lay in his bed, which was as comfortable as those of the gods.
Arjuna awoke to the sounds of sweet songs, the soft strumming of vinas, and the chanting of joyful hymns, all designed to gently arouse him from slumber. After performing all the essential duties for the body and soul, and then being warmly invited by Lord Krsna, chief of the Vrsnis, Arjuna went with Him in a golden chariot to the Lord's city of Dvaraka.
The entire city of Dvaraka, down to the smallest estates, was decorated in honor of Arjuna, the son of Kunti. O Janamejaya, the inhabitants of Dvaraka, eager to see Arjuna, rushed out to the king's highway by the hundreds and thousands. A large crowd of men gathered from the Bhoja, Vrsni, and Andhaka dynasties, and hundreds and thousands of their fine ladies looked on.
All the sons of the Bhoja, Vrsni, and Andhaka clans honored Arjuna, and he saluted them, even as they were saluting him, and everyone welcomed him to the city. Every one of the young boys of those great dynasties saluted him with reverence, and the men of his same age embraced him again and again.
For many nights Arjuna stayed in the city, living with Krsna in His charming palace, which was built of gems and full of all pleasurable things.
Hridayananda Dasa Goswami, who holds a Ph.D. in Indology from Harvard University, is Professor of Vaisnava Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He frequently speaks at universities and is translating the Mahabharata and other Sanskrit works.