Filled with envy of the Pandavas, Duryodhana plots their murder.
The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. In the last issue, powerful Karna, of unknown caste, interrupted a great military exhibition and challenged Arjuna to fight. Duryodhana quickly befriended Karna and crowned him king of Anga. As the Mahabharata continues, the arrival of Karna's father on the scene reveals Karna's disqualifying parentage.
ADHIRATHA, Karna's father, came trembling and sweating into the arena, his upper cloth scattered about him. He was out of breath and was supporting himself with a rod. When Karna saw his father, bound by reverence he put aside his bow and worshipfully bowed his head, still wet from the royal consecration. Adhiratha was embarrassed, and he covered his feet with his cloth. Then to Karna, whose goals had been richly fulfilled, Adhiratha the chariot driver said, "My son!" Adhiratha embraced Karna and with his tears again wetted his son's head.
Seeing all this, Bhimasena, son of Pandu, concluded, "He's the son of a chariot driver." [Bhima had witnessed the unwarranted attempt by Karna and Duryodhana to humiliate and destroy his younger brother Arjuna.] Now it was Bhima who laughed. He declared, "You do not deserve death in battle from Arjuna, O son of a driver. Quickly, take up the driving whip, which fits your family. You lowest of men, you are not worthy to enjoy the kingdom of Anga, for you are like a dog that comes near the sacred fire to eat the offering."
When Karna heard Bhima's words his lower lip trembled, and breathing heavily he looked up at the day-making sun.
Then mighty Duryodhana leaped up in rage from the midst of his brothers, like a maddened elephant charging out of a lotus forest. He spoke out to the terribly powerful Bhimasena, who stood before him. "Vrkodara," he said, "it is not right for you to speak such words! Among warriors, strength comes first. Even a fallen "friend of a warrior' deserves a fight. To understand the original source of heroes and rivers is difficult. Why, from water arose fire, the fire that pervades all creatures. From the bones of Dadhici, the gods fashioned a thunderbolt to kill the Danavas. We hear from sages that Karttikeya is the son of Agni, and of Krttika, and of Rudra, and of Ganga Devi. The origin of such an exalted god is shrouded in mystery. Hence he is called Guha.
"Famous brahmanas have taken birth from ksatriya mothers, and Dronacarya himself was born from a pot. Guru Krpa was born from a clump of reeds. Why, it is known to the kings of this world that even the birth of you five brothers is most unusual.
"How could an ordinary doe give birth to a tiger? This man was born with earrings and armor built into his body; these are the marks of divine birth. Don't you see that he's as brilliant as the sun?
"This man is a lord of men. He deserves the whole earth as his kingdom, not merely the state of Anga! He deserves it by his ample prowess, and by his relation to me, for I follow his command. Or if there is anyone born of man who will not tolerate what I have done, then either mounting his chariot or with his feet on the earth, let him bend the bow against me!"
A great uproar swept through the stadium, and many spectators [failing to recognize Duryodhana's evil motives] praised and cheered his words. But then the sun journeyed below the horizon, and the day was done. Duryodhana took Karna firmly by the hand, O king, and with the way lit up by the fire of lamps went out of the stadium. Then the Pandavas, with Drona, Krpa, and Bhisma, went back to their own homes.
As the people departed, O Bharata, they spoke in animated tones. Some were saying "Arjuna!" Others were saying "Karna!" and others "Duryodhana!"
The divine marks on Karna s body had proven to Kunti that the new king of Anga was her own son, and her secret love for him only increased, for such is the affection of a mother.
Having made friendship with Karna, O king, Duryodhana felt his terrible fear of Arjuna suddenly vanish. Karna himself, who had labored hard to master his weapons, then saluted Duryodhana with exquisite words of praise. And even Yudhisthira began to think that there was no archer equal to Karna on the face of the earth.
Then Drona, having summoned his students, insisted that all of them, without exception, offer him payment in return for the education he had given them. The daksina, or payment, that he demanded was this:
"My dear students, you must capture Drupada, king of Pancala, in face-to-face combat, and bring him to me. May you be blessed in your endeavor, for this shall be the highest daksina."
"So be it!" said the young warriors, and accompanied by Drona they went quickly on their chariots to secure that valuable gift for their guru. Those powerful men went straight to the land of the Pancalas and attacked and leveled the city of mighty Drupada. Arresting Drupada, known as Yajnasena, those powerful men brought him with his ministers before Drona.
Drupada's pride was broken, and his wealth lost, for he was now a helpless prisoner. Drona, remembering the enmity between himself and Drupada, the said to the fallen king, "I have quickly smashed your kingdom and city, and you have been taken alive by your enemy. [As you once said,] What need is there for a friend of the past?"
Having spoken thus, and laughing loudly at the fallen king, Drona came to a decision and said, "Do not fear for your life, O king, for we brahmanas are forgiving. In our childhood I played with you in the hermitage, O mighty ksatriya, and I developed a strong affection for you. Indeed, I would pray to have friendship with you again, O leader of men, and therefore I award you a boon. Take back half of your kingdom.
"One who is not a king is not worthy to be a friend of kings, and therefore, O Yajnasena, I endeavored to gain your kingdom so that we might be friends. You are now king of the land on the southern bank of the Bhagirathi, and I am king on the northern bank. If you agree, then know for certain, Pancala, that I am your friend."
King Drupada said, "Your victory and your generosity are not surprising, O brahmana, for that is the way of the great and mighty. I do feel love for you, and I desire your everlasting love toward me."
When thus addressed by the king, Drona at once released him, and with joy in his heart he honored his old friend and delivered to him half the kingdom. Drupada then ruled Makandi, on the bank of the Ganges, with its broad countryside, and dwelled in the fine capital city of Kampilya, controlling the southern Pancalas as far south as the Carmanvati River. But Drupada was terribly depressed, for he constantly remembered his feud with Drona and could find no peace. He saw no way to achieve victory with his warrior strength.
Feeling helpless against the power of a brahmana, the king began to yearn for a son [who would regain his honor]. As Drupada fixed this thought in his mind, Drona settled into his new kingdom of Ahicchatra.
Thus, O king, Drona's students, led by Arjuna, conquered in battle the capital of Ahicchatra and the surrounding country and delivered it as a gift to Drona.
Duryodhana Petitions His Father
Recognizing the superior strength of Bhimasena and the masterful skill of Arjuna, evil-minded Duryodhana was consumed with envy. And so Karna, born of the sun, and Sakuni, son of Subala, schemed in many ways with Duryodhana to assassinate the Pandavas. The Pandavas learned everything of these plots, but on the advice of Vidura those tamers of enemies did not make an uprising or even reveal their knowledge.
Seeing that the Pandavas were blessed with so many good qualities, the residents of the capital city, wherever they met, in the town squares and in public assemblies, spoke of the Pandavas. "Dhrtarastra has the eye of wisdom," they said, "but he is physically blind, and thus that lord of the people did not inherit the royal throne. How then has he now become the king? And Bhisma, son of Santanu, is a most honest man, of great vows, but he declined the kingdom, and he will not accept the throne, now or ever.
"Well and good! We ourselves should at once install on the royal throne the eldest Pandava, Yudhisthira, for though he is young he shows the behavior of a wise elder. He is always truthful, and he is a truly compassionate man. Once he is king, he will be most kind to Bhisma, son of Santanu, and to Dhrtarastra and his sons. He will honor them and bestow upon them all gifts and facilities."
When Duryodhana heard the people speak these words, that evil man was consumed with envy. Afire with jealousy, he could not stand those words, and in sheer torment he went to his father, Dhrtarastra. Meeting alone with Dhrtarastra and duly honoring him, he spoke in anguish about the people's love for the Pandavas:
"Dear father, I have heard the people gossiping. They are speaking inauspicious words. Disrespecting you and Bhisma, they want Yudhisthira as their lord. Bhisma gives the same report, and [clearly he has no motive, since] he does not desire the kingdom. The people of this city want to inflict on us the greatest pain. Formerly Pandu got the kingdom from his father by his own qualifications. [Although you were the eldest son of the king] you did not meet the requirements, so you did not attain the royal throne. Now if that man Yudhisthira is able to inherit Pandu's throne and all that goes with it, then certainly his son will also get the throne, and his son, and so on.
"And what shall we do? Deprived of royal lineage, we and our children shall be despised by the world. O lord of the world, hell shall ever be our lot, as we feed off the charity of our rivals! O king, we must at once arrange to stop Yudhisthira from becoming king. If you had been firm in your kingdom, then surely we would have inherited it, and the people would have been powerless."
Hearing his son Duryodhana, Dhrtarastra reflected for a moment and then replied, "Pandu always followed religious principles, and he always acted for my happiness and well-being. He was kind to all our relatives, but he was especially good to me. There is nothing at all I did not know about that man, even what foods he liked to eat and the things he liked to do. Firm in his vows, he always offered me all that he had in his kingdom. And Pandu's son is every bit as good and religious as his father. Why, the whole world knows how qualified the boy is, and he has the full backing of the citizens. How can we possibly drag him down by force from the kingdom of his father and forefathers, especially when he stands with so many faithful friends and allies?
"Pandu always took personal care of the government ministers and the army, and gave special attention to their sons and grandsons. When they and all the citizens were so loved and honored by Pandu, how would they not kill us and all our men for Yudhisthira's sake?"
Duryodhana said, "I have already meditated on that very problem, dear father. I have seen that the citizens are moved by money and position. Surely most of them will become our faithful friends and supporters. And I might add that the royal treasury and its ministers are now firmly on my side, O king.
"You, sir, must quickly banish the Pandavas and send them to live in the city of Varanavata. Tell them you are sending them there for some other purpose, something that appears kind and reasonable. Then, O Bharata, as soon as the kingdom is securely in my hands, Kunti and her children may return."
King Dhrtarastra said, "Duryodhana, this very idea has been turning around in my own heart, but it is such a sinful thought I did not reveal it to anyone. Neither Bhisma nor Drona nor Vidura nor Krpa will ever approve a plan to banish the Pandavas. My son, the Kuru leaders are all intelligent, religious men. They regard us on an equal level with the Pandavas, and they will not tolerate discrimination. If we enact such a plan, then these senior men of the Kuru dynasty, and indeed the whole world, will certainly consider us guilty of capital crimes, and fit to be executed."
Duryodhana said, "Bhisma is always neutral. The son of Drona stands with me. Wherever stands the son of Drona, there stands Drona himself; of this there is no doubt. Krpa, son of Saradvan, will always remain united with Bhisma and Drona, for he will never renounce Drona or Drona's son, who is his own nephew. Though Vidura secretly sides with the Pandavas, his fortunes are bound to ours. And for their sake he alone has no power to harm us. Be confident and banish Pandu's sons and their mother to Varanavata this very day. There will be no difficulty in this plan. Thus, O father, destroy the horrible dart that has sunk into my heart and set such a fire of grief that at night I cannot sleep."
The Pandavas Depart For Varanavata
Then Duryodhana and his younger brothers steadily captured all the government ministers with gifts of wealth and position. And expert counselors, engaged by Dhrtarastra, began to speak about a charming city called Varanavata: "In the town of Varanavata," they said, "there is going to be a very big convention, the most enjoyable in the world, in honor of Lord Siva. That region is full of all kinds of jewels. It is a most charming area!" Thus by the order of Dhrtarastra, they continued to praise the region of Varanavata.
As the Pandavas heard more and more about the charming city of Varanavata, their desire to go there arose. And when Dhrtarastra, son of Ambika, felt that a strong curiosity had been aroused in them, he said to the Pandavas, "These men of mine are always talking, again and again, about Varanavata. They say it is the most charming city in the world. My dear Yudhisthira, if you boys would like to see the festivities in Varanavata, then go there with your friends and followers and enjoy yourselves like the immortal gods. You may offer as many jewels as you like to the brahmanas and to all who sing the sacred songs, and thus you will shine in that city like the gods in heaven. After enjoying for some time there and experiencing the highest pleasure, you happy boys will come again to Hastinapura."
Agreeing to the desire of his uncle Dhrtarastra's and realizing that Duryodhana had successfully won over the important men in the government, Yudhisthira replied, "So be it."
Then Yudhisthira quietly spoke these pathetic words to Drona, Krpa, Bahlika, Asvatthama, the Kuru Somadatta, the very wise Bhisma, the great-minded Vidura, and the highly revered Gandhari: "Dear relatives, by the order of Dhrtarastra we shall dwell for some time with our people in the beautiful and bustling city of Varanavata. May all of you be pleased with this plan and bless us with auspicious words, so that fortified with your blessings we shall never be overcome by evil."
When all the Kauravas heard Yudhisthira's words, their faces became peaceful, and they came forward and blessed the Pandavas, saying, "May you always be healthy on your journey and happy with whomever you meet! O beloved sons of Pandu, may you not have even a trace of misfortune!"
Thus the Pandavas were blessed to obtain good fortune in their new kingdom, and having performed all the required duties, they departed for Varanavata.
Duryodhana, whose soul was corrupted by evil, felt the greatest pleasure. He took his adviser Purocana aside, O noble Bharata. Clasping Purocana's right hand, Duryodhana said to him, "Purocana, this abundant earth, full of riches, is now mine! And because it is mine, it is also yours, and you must help me protect it. There is no one I trust more than you, no other associate with whom I can consult and ally myself as I can with you. Keep our meeting completely confidential, dear friend, for you must destroy my enemies and save me from their wiles by a most clever means. I shall explain it to you, and you must carry it out precisely as I say.
"Dhrtarastra has ordered the Pandavas to Varanavata, and by Dhrtarastra's order they will stay there for some time and enjoy the local festivities. You must go in a swiftly moving chariot drawn by strong mules. Do what you must so that you reach Varanavata this very day. There you must see to the construction of a luxurious house with four stately halls. The house should be extremely well guarded and must have an armory adjoining it. You must find hemp, tree resin, and whatever other inflammable materials are locally available and provide all of them to the builders. The walls should be built of clay mixed with oil, clarified butter, and large quantities of lac. See that the walls are covered with plaster.
"Place hemp, bamboo, butter, and all types of wooden implements throughout the house. Do everything in such a way that the Pandavas, even if they investigate, will not suspect you, and so that neither they nor other men will notice that this house has been built to go up in flames.
"When the mansion has been built in this way, you should show the Pandavas the greatest of honor and see that they live there with Kunti and her affectionate maidservants. Exquisite seats, beds, and vehicles must be arranged for the Pandavas so that my father may be pleased. With as much time as we have, everything should be arranged so that the Pandavas live happily, with full confidence, in the city of Varanavata.
"But when you know that they are sleeping soundly, without fear or suspicion, you are to set fire by the door of the house. When the Pandavas have burned to death, all that the citizens and our relatives will ever say about the Pandavas is 'They burned to death in their own house.' "
"And so it shall be!" promised Purocana to the wicked Kaurava, and departed in a mule-drawn chariot for the city of Varanavata. He left swiftly, O king, resolved to carry out the will of Duryodhana, and he arranged everything exactly as Duryodhana had ordered.
Hridayananda Dasa Goswami led the team of devotee-scholars who completed the translation and commentary of the Srimad-Bhagavatam begun by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Fluent in several languages, Hridayananda Dasa Goswami has extensively taught Krsna consciousness in India, Europe, the United States, and Latin America. He is now doing graduate work in Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University.