The leaders of the world arrive for a
sacrifice only a world emperor can perform.

The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. As the narration continues, the Pandava Yudhisthira, now emperor of the world, prepares to perform the great Rajasuya sacrifice. [Abridged from the original translation.]

Yudhisthira Was A King of virtue, and because he protected the people, carefully guarding the truth and destroying his enemies, all creatures were free to perform their own duties. He took tribute in the right measure, and because he consistently ruled in accord with religious principles, Parjanya (the demigod Indra, controller of rain) sent rain as the people desired, and they grew rich. All endeavors succeeded, especially trade, agriculture, and cow protection, and all this manifested by the king's good work.

King Yudhisthira's Great Sacrifice Begins

King Yudhisthira's Great Sacrifice Begins

Neither from robbers nor cheaters nor those receiving royal gifts were false words ever heard about the king. There was no drought, flood, epidemic, or heavy wind when the ever-righteous Yudhisthira was king. One by one the kings went to him, with no other duties but to spontaneously offer him tribute, to be near him, and to act for his pleasure. With the accumulation of lawful wealth, his store of riches grew so great that it could not have been exhausted even in hundreds of years. That king and lord of the earth, Kunti's son, realizing the extent of his treasury and granary, set his mind firmly on sacrifice.

All his dear friends, individually and as a group, said to him, "O mighty one, it is your time to offer sacrifice. Let it now be properly executed here."

As they spoke in this way Lord Krsna arrived, that primeval sage, the Soul of the Vedas and of all knowledge, He who is the object of vision for those who know and realize the truth. Of all moving and unmoving beings, Lord Krsna is the best, for He is the generating source and the destruction of the world, the master of all that has existed, will exist, and exists at present. He is Lord Kesava, who as a child slew the demon Kesi. He is the bulwark of all the Vrsnis, and in times of danger He gives fearlessness and destroys the enemy. After Lord Krsna had approached His father, Vasudeva, and entrusted him with the command of His army, that tiger among men, Krsna, had taken a mass of variegated wealth for Yudhisthira and come there surrounded by a vast military force.

The Lord announced that He had brought an unlimited mass of wealth in the form of an inexhaustible ocean of gems, and then with the sound of rolling chariots He entered that excellent city like the sun appearing in a sunless sky or the wind in a windless land.

When Krsna arrived, the Bharata city rejoiced. With great delight King Yudhisthira came forward to greet and honor Him in accordance with custom and to ask all about His welfare.

When Krsna had been comfortably seated, King Yudhisthira, that bull of a man, together with Dhaumya, Dvaipayana Vyasa, and other priests, and also with his brothers Bhima, Arjuna, and the twins, said to Krsna: "It is by Your doing, O son of Vrsni, that the whole world is now under my control, and by Your mercy much wealth has been collected. O son of Devaki, O Madhava, I truly want to engage all that I possess in the fire of sacrifice, giving it to the best of the twice-born brahmanas. O mighty-armed Dasarha, I thus desire to offer a sacrifice together with You and my younger brothers. Kindly permit me. O Govinda, O mighty-armed Lord, initiate Yourself into the rite, for when You have performed the sacrifice I shall certainly become free of sin. Or if You like, almighty one, give me and my younger brothers permission, and then with Your consent, Krsna, I shall complete this ultimate sacrifice."

After extensively praising all the king's good qualities, Lord Krsna replied, "O tiger of a king, you alone are a worthy emperor. You should complete the great sacrifice, for when you complete it We shall have fulfilled Our duty. Offer this sacrifice you so much desire, now that I am here to help you. And please engage Me, for I shall execute your every command."

King Yudhisthira said, "Dear Krsna, my decision is now successful and my perfection assured, for You, Hrsikesa, are here with us, as we so much desired."

Thus with Krsna's permission and the help of his brothers, the Pandava Yudhisthira arranged to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice.

King Yudhisthira, who could crush his enemies, then commanded Sahadeva, the best of fighters, and all the royal ministers: "Let men gather up and bring all the sacrificial instruments the brahmanas prescribe for this ceremony, along with the paraphernalia and all the auspicious items. And let them bring all the sacrificial ingredients for this supreme rite as soon as the royal priest Dhaumya calls for them. The men must supply everything in the proper sequence and as required. As a special favor to me, let Indrasena, Visoka, and Arjuna's charioteer, Puru, bring grains and other foodstuffs. Most noble Kuru, all desirable things filled with flavor and fragrance, charming to the mind, and pleasing to the heart should be arranged for the twice-born brahmanas."

No sooner had those words been uttered than Sahadeva, the best of fighters, informed the great-souled king of virtue that everything was as good as done.

Exalted Priests

O king, Dvaipayana Vyasa then brought together the royal priests of sacrifice all exalted souls and twice-born brahmanas and it seemed as if he were assembling the Vedas in person. That son of Satyavati became Yudhisthira's brahma priest, and Susama, the best of the Dhananjayas, became the sama-ga priest [and chanted the Sama Veda]. The superlative brahmana named Yajnavalkya became an excellent adhvaryu priest, and Vasu's son Paila became the hota priest, along with [the Pandavas' royal priest] Dhaumya.

O bull of the Bharatas, all the disciples and sons of these priests were also masters of the Vedas and the Vedic supplements, and these disciples and sons also formed groups of sacrificing priests. All these priests, having arranged for the chanting of prayers for an auspicious and happy occasion, began the rule of rite, as stated in the authoritative books, and thus they undertook that great sacrifice to God.

Authorized craftsmen had built shelters and resting places for the guests vast bejeweled mansions like those of the residents of heaven.

Then the king, who was the best of kings and the noblest Kuru, ordered his minister Sahadeva, "You must quickly send swift messengers to convey the invitations."

Upon hearing the king's word, Sahadeva sent off the messengers, saying, "You should all go to the various kingdoms and invite the brahmanas and also the rulers of the earth, along with the respectable merchants and laborers. Bring them all here."

At Yudhisthira's order the messengers carried invitations to all the rulers of the world, and also to others who would be worthy participants.

The Sacrifice Begins

Then, O Bharata, at the proper time the learned brahmanas initiated Kunti's son Yudhisthira into the stately Rajasuya sacrifice. Yudhisthira, the king of religious principles, then went to the sacrificial arena in the midst of thousands of learned brahmanas,his brothers and other relatives, his friends and ministers, royal warriors who had come from so many lands, and his royal counselors, O lord of mankind. That most glorious monarch thus went forth like the god of virtue himself.

From many regions came brahmanas learned in all the sciences, masters of the Vedas and the Vedic corollaries. At the order of Dharmaraja Yudhisthira, thousands of expert craftsmen constructed a separate residence for each brahmana and his party and equipped the residences with abundant stocks of food, beds, and the amenities of all seasons. Greatly honored, the brahmanas dwelled in those abodes, O king, telling many stories and watching the actors and dancers.

The learned brahmanas were delighted [with their facilities], and as those great souls went on eating and conversing, a steady clamor was heard from their residential area: "Take this gift! Take this gift! Please come and eat! Please eat!" Such sounds were constantly heard from them as they talked among themselves. O Bharata, to each brahmana the king of virtue gave hundreds of thousands of cows and beds, along with gold and women. Yudhisthira was a great soul a unique hero on earth, as Indra is in heaven and thus his sacrifice began.

Then, O best of the Bharatas, King Yudhisthira sent the Pandava Nakula to Hastinapura to invite Bhisma, Drona, Dhrtarastra, Vidura, Krpa, and those of his cousin-brothers who were attached to Yudhisthira.

The Pandava Nakula had met and conquered his enemies in battle. Now he journeyed to Hastinapura and invited Bhisma and Dhrtarastra. Hearing in detail about Yudhisthira's sacrifice, and knowing its significance, they all departed with joyful hearts, placing the brahmanas in the front of their delegation. And hundreds of other rulers came, O best of men, with satisfied minds, eager to see Yudhisthira and the great assembly hall. O Bharata, the kings arrived from all directions, bringing with them varieties of treasure.

The Great Kings Arrive

There was Dhrtarastra, Bhisma, the high-minded Vidura, and all the brothers headed by Duryodhana, along with all the monarchs who had been invited with honors and who were devoted to their holy teachers. There was Subala, King of Gandhara; the very mighty Sakuni; Acala; Vrsaska; Karna, that best of chariot fighters; Ata; Salya, the King of Madra; the maharatha Bahlika; Somadatta the Kauravya; Bhuri; Bhurisrava; Sala; Asvatthama; Krpa; Drona; and the Saindhava king Jayadratha.

There was Yajnasena with his son, and Salva, an overlord of the abundant earth; and Bhagadatta, the greatly heralded ruler of Pragjyotisa, who came with all the uncivilized Mlecchas who dwell throughout the ocean islands. And there were the mountain kings and King Brhadbala.

There was Paundraka, who called himself Vasudeva; Vanga and a prince of the Kalingas; Akarsa; Kuntala, the ruler of Vanavasi; and rulers of the Andhra country. The Dravidas came, as did the Simhalas and the king of Kasmira; Kuntibhoja, of great splendor, and the very powerful Suhma; the other Bahlikas, who were all heroes and kings; Virata with his sons; the maharatha Macella; and many kings and princes who ruled various lands. O Bharata, the greatly potent Sisupala, furious to do battle, came with his son to the sacrifice of Pandu's son. And there were Rama and Aniruddha and Babhru with Sarana; Gada, Pradyumna, Samba, and the mighty Carudesna; Ulmuka, Nisatha, and the heroic son of Pradyumna; and all the other Vrsnis, each one amaharatha. All of them came there. Indeed, these and many other kings born in Madhya-desa came to the great rite, the Rajasuya of Pandu's son.

Residences for Royalty

O king, at Yudhisthira's order his men gave all the visiting royalty dwellings furnished with many chambers and inner apartments and landscaped with trees and oblong lakes. Yudhisthira offered unparalleled honor to those kings, and after being so respectfully welcomed, the kings went to their assigned residences. Each of these resembled the peak of Mount Kailasa, being delightful to the mind, well furnished, and encircled by towering white walls of expert construction. The residences were also draped with gold lattice, and the floors shone with inlaid jewels. The stairways rose with gradual, easy steps, and the rooms boasted magnificent seats and furnishings. The homes were covered with wreaths and garlands and perfumed by the finest aloe. As white as a shining swan, those abodes could be clearly seen for eight miles.

The residences were not crowded together, their gates and doors were of a pleasing symmetry, and they were endowed with all sorts of artistry and craftsmanship. Decorated with varieties of colorful minerals, the dwellings shone like the Himalayan peaks.

When the earthly rulers had rested and refreshed themselves, they looked at Yudhisthira, the king of virtue, encircled by many members of his sacrificial assembly. They saw that he was inclined to generously reward the participants in his sacrifice. Now, O king, that sacred assembly, filled with kings and great-souled brahmanas, truly shone forth like the very vault of heaven, filled with the immortal gods.

Hridayananda Dasa Goswami, who holds a Ph.D. in Indology from Harvard University, occasionally teaches at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and has been a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The Main Characters

The Pandavas Though the name Pandava means "son of Pandu," the five Pandavas were sired by demigods the three eldest Pandavas (Yudhisthira, Bhima, and Arjuna) in the womb of King Pandava's wife Kunti, and the youngest (the twins, Nakula and Sahadeva) in the womb of Pandava's wife Madri. The Pandavas are sometimes called "Bharata" or "best of the Bharatas," because they come in the dynasty of King Bharata.

The Kurus The sons of both Pandu and Dhrtarastra (the uncle of the Pandavas who because of blindness could not become the king) descended from King Kuru, but the name Kurus usually refers to Dhrtarastra's sons, the eldest of whom is Duryodhana.

Bhisma A respected elder of the Kuru dynasty, he is the uncle of Dhrtarastra, Pandu, and Vidura.