Knowing of Duryodhana's evil plans, Vidura,
the uncle of the Pandavas, warns them of the danger ahead.
The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. As the Mahabharata continues, the Pandavas leave Hastinapura, their capital, for the charming city of Varanavata and a trap set by Duryodhana.
THE PANDAVAS yoked their chariots with purebred horses that ran like the wind. As the Pandavas were about to mount for the journey, they felt sad to leave their family and friends. The Pandavas respectfully embraced the lotus feet of Bhisma, King Dhrtarastra, the great soul Drona, and other venerable elders like Vidura and Krpacarya. Thus the Pandavas offered heartfelt respect to all the senior Kurus, embraced peers, and accepted respectful greetings from the younger generation. Having begged permission to leave from all the elder ladies, whom the Pandavas regarded as their mothers, and having circumambulated the especially venerable ones, the Pandavas and all their ministers departed for Varanavata. The very wise Vidura and other Kuru leaders and citizens, their hearts pulled by the sorrow of separation, followed as the Pandavas, those tigers of men, departed.
Then, O noble Bharata, some brahmanas there, grieving terribly for the sons of Pandu, fearlessly began to speak out:
"King Dhrtarastra is completely covered by darkness, and he sees with unfair partiality. So bad is his intelligence that he cannot see the laws of God. Yudhisthira, the eldest Pandava, is a sinless man who will never approve a sinful act, nor will Bhima, best of the strong, nor the son of Kunti, Arjuna. And Nakula and Sahadeva, the two sons of Madri, are mature and great in wisdom and would never do evil. These men rightfully received the kingdom from their father, and Dhrtarastra cannot tolerate that. But why does Bhisma allow all this injustice that the best of the Bharatas, the sons of Kunti, be improperly driven from their home?
"In the old days, the saintly king Vicitravirya, son of Santanu, was just like a father to us, and so was Pandu, the beloved of the Kurus. But now that King Pandu, a saintly tiger of a man, has gone to his blessed fate, Dhrtarastra will not tolerate the king's own sons, who are still like children. But we shall not tolerate this crime. Every one of us shall give up our home and leave this fine city to go with Yudhisthira."
When the shrewd and grief-stricken brahmanas had spoken thus, Yudhisthira, the king of virtue, was extremely pleased. He said to the brahmanas and the other citizens, "We have accepted the king as our father, as our best teacher. Therefore we have sworn to do without hesitation whatever he tells us. All of you are our well-wishing friends, so kindly circumambulate us and gladden us with your heartfelt blessings. Then please return to your homes. When the time comes that we need your help, you will surely act for our happiness and welfare."
"So be it," said the people, swearing their loyalty to Yudhisthira. Then, after circumambulating the princes and gladdening them with heartfelt blessings, the people went back to the city.
When the citizens had retired, Vidura, learned in all the principles of justice and religion, alerted Yudhisthira to imminent danger. Vidura clearly saw the best means to protect both body and soul. Learned in the art of riddles, he spoke to his wise nephew Yudhisthira, who was trained to understand them.
"One must act to escape disaster by understanding a sharp weapon, not made of iron, that cuts the body to pieces. This weapon does not strike the one who knows it and who turns it against his enemy; it slays the underwood and strikes down the cold. But it does not burn the inhabitants of holes in the great hiding place. One who guards himself lives.
"The eyeless know not the path; the eyeless find not the direction; the irresolute attain not the weal; awaken, thus alerted. A man who accepts the gift, a weapon not of iron, given by those who are not close can be saved from the devouring fire by going to the refuge of the porcupine. Wandering about, he knows the ways by the stars and finds his direction. Subduing the five with his mind, he will not be subdued."
Having accompanied the Pandavas for a short stretch and given these instructions, Vidura then circumambulated them, granted them permission to begin their journey, and returned to his home.
When Vidura, Bhisma, and all the townspeople had gone back to their homes, Kunti called her son Yudhisthira, who hated no one, and said to him, "When Vidura spoke to you in the middle of the crowd, it seemed like he was not saying anything coherent, and yet you agreed to his words. We don't understand the conversation you had with him. If we are able to hear about it, and there is nothing indecent, then I would like to hear all about it."
King Yudhisthira said, "Vidura told me we must beware of poison and fire. He also said that no path should be unknown to us. And he said, 'You will gain the abundant earth if you conquer your five senses.' I then said to Vidura, 'I have understood it all.'"
Arrival In Varanavata
On the eighth day of the month of Phalguna, under the star Rohini, the Pandavas and their mother departed. Upon arriving in Varanavata, they gazed upon the town and its people.
Hearing that the sons of Pandu had arrived, all the citizens came out of the city of Varanavata with joy and vigor. Riding on thousands of vehicles and carrying auspicious gifts as enjoined in the scriptures, they went toward the Pandavas, the greatest of men.
The city residents, known as the Varanavatakas, reached the sons of Kunti and offered blessings for their success. Then the people surrounded the Pandavas, eager to serve them in any way. Encircled by the citizens, Yudhisthira, a tiger of a man, shone forth like the king of the gods, thunderbolt in hand, surrounded by the immortals. Honored by the citizens, the faultless Pandavas honored them in turn and entered the beautifully decorated and bustling city of Varanavata.
Upon entering the city, O king, the heroic princes went at once to the homes of the brahmanas, who were busily and happily engaged in their religious duties. The brothers similarly visited the homes of the city governors and the noble chariot warriors. They next paid respectful visits to the homes of the merchants and workers, and in every house the Pandavas, leaders of the Bharata dynasty, were honored by the cityfolk. Finally they went to their own temporary lodging, where Purocana [Duryodhana's adviser], there to receive and welcome them, offered them valuable seats, fine food and drink, and clean, shining beds.
Worshiped by the local townfolk, the Pandavas dwelled there with their royal entourage, honored by Purocana and enjoying the most luxurious furniture and household accessories. After the Pandavas had stayed there for ten nights, Purocana brought them to that inauspicious house called Siva-grha, "the auspicious house." At Purocana's bidding, those tigerlike men entered the house with their royal entourage, just as the mystic Guhyakas enter fabled Mount Kailasa.
Yudhisthira could expertly analyze the properties and qualities of things. Carefully observing the house and smelling the subtle aroma of fat mixed with butter and lac, he said to Bhimasena, "This residence is clearly made to go up in flames. Hemp and resins were used to build it, and the straw, rope, bamboo and other materials have all been sprinkled with clarified butter, O mighty one. It was well constructed by expert craftsmen who are trusted servants of evil Purocana. He now wants to burn me alive when my guard is down. Vidura is very intelligent, Partha, and having seen this danger he has already alerted me to it. Now that he has apprised us, we have recognized this to be an 'inauspicious house,' well built by our respectable teachers who seem to be secret followers of Duryodhana."
Bhimasena said, "If you think this house was built to go up in flames, then we had all better go back to our previous residence."
Sri Yudhisthira said, "No, I feel we should live here for now, acting very innocent and casual. Our enemies will think we are already lost, and that will give us time to think of a sure way to escape. If Purocana discovers any clue to our real plan, if he sees fear or anxiety in our faces, then he will act at once. By the most violent and unpredictable means, he will burn us to death. Purocana does not fear public censure or the reactions to sin. He is a fool who cares only about the desire of Duryodhana, and he functions precisely on that basis.
"If we were to burn alive, perhaps our grandfather Bhisma would be enraged and not merely lament, and perhaps he would then rouse the Kauravas to anger for the atrocity. If he should be moved to fury, understanding that the sacred law demands it, then perhaps the other Kuru leaders would react in a similar fashion.
"If, on the other hand, we now flee in fear of being burned, certainly Duryodhana, out of his greed for the kingdom, will have us murdered by his spies. We have no position now; rather, he occupies the capital. We are without allies, but he is surrounded by them. We are bereft of a royal treasury, but his treasury is vast. Therefore it is certain that by various means he will have us murdered.
"We must cheat this wicked Purocana and his wicked master Duryodhana. We shall stay here for now, but we shall move here and there, concealing our whereabouts. We shall show a keen interest in hunting, and travel all over the country. By this means we shall acquire a good knowledge of all the roads and paths, and that will be necessary when the time comes to flee.
"Let us begin at once to build a very well hidden hole in the earth. If we conceal our endeavor, the consuming fire will not burn us. We must be very careful and dwell here in such a way that neither Purocana nor any of the local people discovers us."
O king, Vidura had a dear friend who was a professional excavator. One day he met the Pandavas in a secluded place and said, "Vidura has sent me. I am expert at digging, and Vidura told me, 'The Pandavas need help.' Please tell me, what can I do for you? Vidura told me in private, 'Have full faith in the Pandavas and try your best to help them.' So tell me, what can I do for you?
"On the fourteenth evening of the dark fortnight, Purocana will put fire in the door of your house. Duryodhana's determined plan, as I have heard it, is this: 'The Pandavas are leaders of the people, and they are to burn to death with their mother.' When you were leaving the city, Pandava, Vidura spoke a few words to you in the dialect of the Mlecchas, and you replied to him, 'So be it.' I say this to gain your trust."
Dedicated to truth, Yudhisthira, son of Kunti, then replied, "I know, kind sir, that you are truly a well-wishing friend of Vidura's, and that you are innocent, trustworthy, and always trying to please us. Your firm devotion to our cause is obvious, and there is no need for a password from the learned Vidura for us to recognize you. As Vidura is to us, so are you. We see no difference in you; we shall be true to you as we are to him. Now, please save us as the learned Vidura would.
"I am aware that Purocana built this so-called home, on Duryodhana's order, to burn us to death. The sinful son of Dhrtarastra has a great treasury and allies, and being a wicked, evil-minded man, he constantly harasses us. When we are burned alive, Duryodhana's desire will be fulfilled. But you, sir, must work to save us from that fire.
"Next door to us here is the fully equipped armory of wicked Purocana. Its ramparts come flush against our big house. Vidura certainly knew previously of Purocana's wicked plan, and therefore he took care to warn us. The crisis he had foreseen is now upon us. You must save us without exposing our plan to Purocana."
The excavator vowed to do as Yudhisthira asked, and set about the task with zeal. He dug a tunnel and a large hole in the middle of the house, with a deceptively small mouth so that it could be easily covered and the floor kept smooth and even. Fearing evil-minded Purocana, who practically lived in the doorway of the house, the excavator disguised the hole so well that it could not be detected.
The Pandavas spent their nights in the house, keeping their weapons near at hand, but during the day, on the pretext of a fondness for hunting, they wandered from one forest to another. Feigning confidence though having none, and feigning satisfaction though always in anxiety, the Pandavas lived in the greatest distress. But they successfully deceived Purocana. Nor could the residents of the city discover them, except for one man, a most skillful excavator, who was a trusted adviser to Vidura.
The House Of Lac Burns
Seeing the Pandavas happily dwelling there for one full year, and observing them fully confident and at ease, Purocana rejoiced. Yudhisthira was wise in the ways of men, and seeing Purocana so joyful, he said to his brothers Bhima, Arjuna, and the twins, "Wicked Purocana is convinced that we fully trust him, but that cruel man is deceived. I think it is time to escape. We shall ignite the armory and burn up Purocana, along with this house of lac, leaving six bodies here so we shall escape unnoticed."
That night, O king, on the pretext of giving charity, Kunti arranged a huge reception to feed saintly brahmanas and their wives. After the brahmanas ate, drank, and enjoyed as they desired, they begged their leave from Kunti and returned late at night to their homes.
The hand of destiny brought to that celebration a low-class Nisada woman and her five sons, who came to beg food. She and her sons became drunk and wild from drinking liquor, until they collapsed in the house of lac and slept without a trace of consciousness, as if dead.
A noisy wind blew that night, and all the city slept, O mighty king, when Bhima arose and ignited a blazing fire on the very spot where Purocana lay asleep. A roaring fire arose, consuming the armory and the house of lac. So ferociously did it roar and burn that all the city awoke.
The citizens said, "Sinful and stupid Purocana, engaged by Duryodhana, had this house built and burned down and thus destroyed his own soul. Damn the foolish mind of Dhrtarastra, who worked through his counselor to burn the pure and innocent Pandavas! The only good thing is that wicked Purocana himself has burned to death. His brain was so incredibly evil that he killed with fire the very best of men, the faultless sons of Pandu, who had such faith in him."
Thus the people of Varanavata spoke to one another. Surrounding the devastated house of lac, they kept vigil throughout the night.
Meanwhile, escaping unnoticed through the tunnel under the house, the Pandavas fled with their mother. The mighty Pandavas and their mother were very disturbed and unhappy, having passed the night without sleep in extreme anxiety, and they could not find the energy to run. Bhimasena, however, bristled with power and courage. Taking his brothers and his mother, he pushed forward, O king. Placing his mother on his shoulder, the twins on his hips, and his two powerful brothers Yudhisthira and Arjuna in his arms, mighty Bhima moved swiftly along under cover of night, breaking down trees, tearing apart the earth with his two feet, and blazing ahead with the power of the wind.
The Citizen's Anger
When the night was over, every man and woman in the city rushed about the ruins looking for the beloved sons of Pandu. When the people finally extinguished the blaze, they saw from the remains of the house that it had been intentionally built with lac and that the minister Purocana had burned in the blaze.
"Surely Duryodhana, that evildoer, arranged this to destroy the Pandavas," the people wailed. "Without doubt, Dhrtarastra's son has burned to death the heirs to Pandu's empire, and Dhrtarastra did not forbid this murder. It is now clear that Bhisma, son of Santanu, does not really follow the religious principles, nor do Drona, Vidura, Krpa, and the rest of the Kauravas. We ourselves shall send a message to the wicked Dhrtarastra: 'Your greatest desire is now fulfilled. You have burned to death the sons of your own brother Pandu.' "
Searching for the Pandavas, the people removed what was left of the burned house and saw the Nisada woman with her five innocent sons, burned to death. While helping to clean and purify the area, the very same excavator who had built the tunnel covered the hole with debris so that it was unnoticed by the other men.
The people of the town then sent word to Dhrtarastra that the Pandavas, along with the minister Purocana, had burned to death in a fire.
Upon hearing the shocking news of the destruction of the the sons of Pandu, Dhrtarastra lamented in great agony.
"Today my beloved brother King Pandu has died and there will be no other like him, for his heroic sons have burned to death along with their poor mother! Men must go at once to the city of Varanavata and offer the highest final honors to those heroes and to the precious daughter of King Kuntibhoja. Arrange at once for large, magnificent urns for their remains, and let all those who loved them, who were their friends, pay homage to them in this tragic moment. In these trying circumstances, anything I can do to benefit the departed souls of the Pandavas and Kunti must be done, and we shall spend for it!"
Having thus spoken, and surrounded by his relatives, Dhrtarastra, the son of Ambika, offered the holy water for the sons of Pandu. The Kauravas cried and shrieked in the depths of anguish, but Vidura lamented only briefly, for he knew the truth.
On The Run
In the meantime, the Pandavas, having escaped the city of Varanavata, sought safety to the south, and with great speed they made their way. Heading steadily south, they easily found their way by the stars. With much endeavor, O king, they reached the deep jungle under cover of night. Thereupon the sons of Pandu, pained by thirst, blinded by sleep, and their energy spent, spoke again to the great champion Bhima.
"What could be more miserable than for us to be here in this deep jungle? We have no idea where we are, and we don't have the strength to go any farther. We don't even know if Purocana has actually died in the fire. What can we possibly do to save ourselves from this danger without anyone's seeing us or knowing that we are alive? Carry us again, like before, and keep going. You are the only one of us who has any strength left, for only you can go on forever like the wind."
Thus addressed by Yudhisthira, who spoke for all the brothers, the mighty Bhima picked up his mother, Kunti, and his brothers, and raced forward.
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.