/ Attractions

Chapter 115: Pandavas’ hospitality tested

Yudhisthira dreamt that the deer in Dwaita appealed to him to stop their slaughter for food or the species would disappear. The Pandavas immediately moved to a spot near Lake Trinavindu in the Kamyaka forest. There they continued to find food for themselves and also supported their followers, thanks to the celestial bowl.

The sage Durvasa, famous for his eccentricities and short temper, visited Duryodhana. Knowing the ascetic’s nature, Duryodhana did all he could to please him. He was in personal attendance on the sage during his stay in Hastinapura. The holy one was always unpredictable, especially in his eating habits. When food was ready, he would decline it. And at unearthly hours he would demand that he and his big retinue of brahmins be fed.

Duryodhana pleased the sage with his devotion. “Ask for a boon,” the sage told the Kaurava prince. “O great sage,” Duryodhana prayed to him. “Please visit my brother Yudhisthira in the forest. Call on the Pandavas at a time when Panchali has fed the brahmins and her family, and lies down after feeding herself.”

“So be it,” the sage said and left. Duryodhana rejoiced with Karna. “This is the end of the Pandavas,” he said.

Ascertaining that Draupadi had finished her repast and was resting, Durvasa descended on the Pandava abode, followed by ten thousand brahmins. Yudhisthira received him with all honours. He bade the sage to proceed to the river along with his followers, and return for dinner after performing the evening rites.

Chapter 116: Give me food, demands Krishna

The Pandavas were deeply worried. The celestial bowl had been retired for the day. They could see no way to feed Durvasa and his army of brahmins. While they were so despairing, Draupadi prayed to Krishna. “Save us from this grave danger, O Kesava. The Muni is known for his wrath. If we do not feed him and the brahmins, we are doomed.” Krishna heard her prayers in Dwaraka. Leaving Rukmini’s side, he appeared at the Pandava abode.

In the midst of the crisis they were in, Draupadi and her husbands were greatly cheered by Krishna’s arrival. After the exchange of courtesies was over, a tired Krishna addressed Draupadi, “Panchali. I have reached here after a strenuous journey. I am hungry. Bring me some food.”

Draupadi hung her head down and said, “Alas Krishna, we have no food to offer you. Since I have finished eating, the celestial bowl can no more produce food for the day.” Krishna insisted on seeing the bowl.

When Panchali brought the vessel, Krishna pointed to a particle of rice and a piece of vegetable sticking to the rim. The bowl soon overflowed with food. Bhima was sent to fetch Durvasa and his followers.

In the river, the brahmins had a refreshing bath. Suddenly they felt as though they had partaken of a heavy dinner. When they heard Bhima’s voice calling them, they rushed to their preceptor and told him that it would be impossible for them to eat even an atom of food. Durvasa told them, “Yudhisthira has great spiritual power. He would have prepared dinner for us. If we do not eat he may curse us. It is therefore best that we make ourselves scarce.”

When Bhima reached the river, he found Durvasa and his disciples had vanished. Greatly perplexed, he returned home without the guests, Krishna smiled and told his Pandava hosts, “Your guests have all vanished. They will never come here again.” Krishna took leave of his cousins and returned to Dwaraka.

Chapter 113: Duryodhana’s strange dream

The Asuras Danavas and Daityas who were opposed to the gods, were watching these events. They became worried. They were depending on Duryodhana for their fight against the gods. They immediately arranged for Duryodhana to be present before them.

The Danavas said, “O mighty Duryodhana. We specially obtained you from Maheswara after pleasing him with our austerities. Your upper portion is made of parts of Vajra (thunderbolt). The goddess Uma herself offered flowers to make your lower portion, thus making it attractive for females. You are therefore no ordinary human being. It is the soul of the demon Naraka who resides in the body of Karna. Due to our influence, even Bhishma, Drona and Kripa who were previously inclined towards the Pandavas are now turning their support to you. Many, many rakshasas and Daityas have been born as Kshatriyas, only to aid you. The Samasapthakas, those do or die warriors, whom you will obtain during the war, are none but our kin. If Arjuna is the weapon of the gods, you are our weapon. Do not despair. Victory will be yours.”

Duryodhana considered his encounter with the Danavas and the Daityas as a mere dream. But the experience restored to him his self-confidence as he returned to Hastinapura.

Chapter 114: The Vaishnava sacrifice

As could be expected, Duryodhana and his friends came in for severe criticism in the court of Dhritarashtra. Bhishma was particularly severe on Karna. “It was Karna who led you to this foolish campaign,” he told Duryodhana. “But at the slightest danger the coward abandoned you and ran away.”

Karna’s pride was hurt. Alone with Duryodhana, he told the prince, “The grandsire is always against me. Give me permission and I shall prove my valor. Let me go on a tour of conquest. I shall bring all the kings of this world to your feet.”

Permission for such a mission was easily obtained from the king, and Karna left with a huge army. He marched against rulers all over the country, and soon, as promised, he was able to make them all acknowledge Duryodhana’s superiority and pay him tributes.

When Karna returned, there was much celebration of this event. He found himself to be a hero. Remembering Yudhisthira’s Rajasuya, Duryodhana desired to hold a similar sacrifice. But he was advised by the priests that with his father Dhritarashtra alive, Duryodhana should not perform Rajasuya. Instead, he could perform the sacrifice known as Vaishnava, which was much superior to Rajasuya.

The sacrifice was performed in great splendour. Only the Pandavas were not present. When a messenger was sent to them, Bhima replied, “Tell your king that we shall come to Hastinapura as his conquerors, not as his guests.”

Established as an overlord, Duryodhana ruled the world. He looked after the welfare of all the rulers under him and was very generous to his subjects.

Chapter 112: A needless humiliation for Duryodhana

Duryodhana was spending some very happy years in Hastinapura. Monarchs in all four directions had been subjugated by him. His coffers were overflowing. His friends Karna and Sakuni, and his brother Dushasana, were always with him, praising and flattering him.

Karna came up with the idea that Duryodhana should visit Dwaitavana in the pretext of a hunting expedition. He could derive great pleasure in observing the Pandavas’ miserable existence in the forest. At the same time he could flaunt his own prosperity to the Pandavas.

Duryodhana fully endorsed the idea but was diffident about getting his father’s permission. It was Karna again who came up with a solution. ”Huge herds of our cattle are stationed near Dwaitavana,” he said. “As king you have the duty to inspect our cattle stations. Your father, the king, will certainly approve of your visiting the place. As a relief from your strenuous duties, you could then go for a hunt in the forest.”

Dhritarashtra was far from happy over the prospect of Duryodhana and his friends going anywhere near the Pandava abode. But he relented eventually, and plans were made for the trip.

Duryodhana reached the cattle station with a big retinue, including many royal ladies. Karna, Sakuni, Dushasana and the other brothers accompanied him. He set up camp four miles away from Dwaitavana. After dutifully inspecting the cattle, the prince retired for some sport and diversion. He ordered his men to enter the forest and set up a camping place near the lake.

The Kaurava soldiers who approached the lake were stopped by Gandharvas who told them, “This is the habitat of Gandharvas. Humans are not permitted to enter here.” When Duryodhana heard of this, he became angry and sent his army. This time his men forced their way in, despite opposition from the Gandharvas. Those heavenly creatures rushed to their king Chitrasena and reported the matter.

Chitrasena, with a horde of Gandharvas, descended on the scene to beat back the Kaurava army. Meanwhile, Duryodhana and the other prominent Kauravas reached the lake. What ensued was a battle between the Kauravas and the Gandharvas. Although the Kauravas at first beat back the guardians of the lake, soon Chitrasena overcame them. All the Kaurava soldiers retreated, leaving only their masters in the field. Karna showed courage initially, but he soon lost his car and his weapons. To save himself, he had to run away from the battle.

Most of the Kauravas had, by now, abandoned their king and run away. Chitrasena fought relentlessly. Soon he could capture Duryodhana, Dushasana and a few other princes. He also rounded up the royal ladies. They were all taken prisoners.

The soldiers who fled from the battle approached the Pandavas and told them about the misfortune that had befallen the Kaurava prince and his entourage. While Bhima expressed his glee over Duryodhana’s plight, Yudhisthira told his brother, “This is no time for rejoicing. Members of our family have been captured by the Gandharvas. It is our duty to see that they are released.” He instructed his brothers to leave immediately.

“Approach the Gandharvas,” Yudhisthira said, with wisdom. “Get the Kauravas released by adopting conciliatory methods. If the Gandharvas do not listen, engage in light skirmishes. If they are still stubborn, then crush the foe.” The four brothers proceeded to carry out their elder brother’s orders. The Gandharvas were in no mood to yield to the Pandavas. A great battle ensued. The brothers fought off the thousands of Gandharvas who poured in. Chitrasena employed various subterfuges to overcome Arjuna, but the Pandava hero who was armed with celestial weapons, effectively answered him. In the end, Chitrasena, who had become Arjuna’s friend when the latter visited Indralok, appeared before the Pandavas. “Cease my friend,” he told Arjuna. “I do not desire to fight with you.” The two embraced each other.

Arjuna asked Chitrasena the reason for his taking the Kauravas prisoners. Chitrasena replied, “This wretched son of Dhritarashtra, along with his friends, came to Dwaitavana with the sole purpose of mocking at you, your brothers and Draupadi. Indra sent me here to chastise the miscreants. You can do what you want with them.”
 The brothers took Chitrasena to Yudhisthira who welcomed and honored the Gandharva chief. At the request of Yudhisthira, Chitrasena released Duryodhana and the rest of the Kauravas.

After the departure of Chitrasena, Yudhisthira addressed his chastised cousin, “Child, do not again commit such rash acts. Nothing good will come out of it.”

Hanging his head in shame and weary of his misadventure, the Kaurava prince trudged back to his camp. Seeing him return, Karna thought that Duryodhana was alive because he had subdued the Gandharvas. Duryodhana related his story to the Karna king.

“Instead of plunging the Pandavas in misery, it is I who is now plunged in misery,” the Kaurava prince lamented. Full of humiliation and anger, Duryodhana expressed his resolve to kill himself rather than live in shame. Neither Karna nor Sakuni was able to dissuade him. At this point, Duryodhana fell on the ground unconscious.

 Chapter 109: A fallen Indra is redeemed

 In one of his hunting expeditions, Bhima was caught by a huge serpent and was about to be swallowed by it. Overwhelmed by the snake’s strength, Bhima asked him who he was. The snake answered that he was Nahusha, a former Indra, who was cursed by Agastya to roam the earth as a serpent. This was in punishment for his arrogant behavior after being made Indra.

While Bhima and Nahusha were thus engaged, Yudhisthira arrived at the spot.

The snake repeated his story to Yudhisthira and asked him a few questions. Yudhisthira answered them satisfactorily. Immediately, the serpent changed his form to that of Nahusha. The redeemed Nahusha explained, “Agastya had said that his curse would end with my meeting with Yudhisthira, and Yudhisthira answering my questions.”

Chapter 110: Return to Dwaitavana

After their return to Dwaitavana, Krishna called on them. Arjuna enquired of Krishna about his wife Subhadra and son Abhimanyu. Krishna informed that they were doing well, and so also the five sons of Draupadi. All the children had grown up to be fine warriors, besides being well versed in the scriptures and rituals.

Chapter 111: The arrival of Kalki

The sage Markandeya, ancient and learned, visited the Pandavas and gave them long discourses on many subjects, clearing all their doubts. Asked about the recurrent Yugas (Ages), Markandeya told Yudhisthira, “Dwapara has given place to Kali, the darkest of the four Yugas. During this age duties will increasingly be neglected, morals will take a plunge and there will be a steady fall in values. The end of this age would see the arrival of Kalki. He would be born in a Brahmin family in the town of Sambhala. He would purge the world of all evil elements and pave the way for the golden age, Satya Yuga, which is the first of the cycle of four Yugas.”
 Satyabhama who had accompanied her husband Krishna to visit the Pandavas, was given mature advise on her duties by that foremost of women, Draupadi.

Chapter 107: A traitor in the Pandava camp

Jatasura, a rakshasa, had assumed the form of a brahmin and was living in the Pandava hermitage on the banks of the Bhagirathi River. He was waiting for an opportunity to steal the bows and other weapons the Pandavas had, and to ravish Draupadi. Such an opportunity presented itself when, one day, Bhima was away from the hermitage. Jatasura captured Yudhisthira, Draupadi, Nakula and Sahadeva, and tried to carry them away. However, Bhima returned in time to combat the rakshasa and kill him.

Chapter 108: Arjuna returns

When Arjuna embarked on his quest for weapons, it was the understanding that he would return after five years. That period was coming to an end. Yudhisthira, with his entourage, was waiting with expectation in the Himalayan range to receive his brother. Arjuna arrived in Indra’s own chariot, driven by the charioteer Matali. It was a glorious sight when, from the resplendent car of the god, Arjuna alighted majestically. Indra himself made an appearance. He left after blessing the Pandavas.

Arjuna recounted to the others, his meeting with Mahadeva and his visit to Indra’s court.

To satisfy Yudhisthira’s desire, Arjuna displayed all the weapons that he had acquired from Mahadeva and other gods.
 The next four years were spent by the Pandavas in the same forest, living as they did in an abode provided for them by Indra. The four years passed pleasantly like four nights. Realising those ten years of their exile had passed; the Pandavas left the region of Indra and came back to terra firma. On the way to Dwaitavana they spent one year at Visakayupa on the banks of Yamuna.

 In order to fulfill Draupadi’s wishes, Bhima set out in the direction from which the wind had brought the lotus. The forest was dense with trees and plants, requiring Bhima to uproot several of them to find a path. He warded off many huge elephants and wild animals that came to attack him. After covering some distance he found his passage blocked by a monkey that was lying across in slumber. The angry Bhima bade the monkey move. But the monkey said that the wood Bhima was trying to enter was forbidden to humans.

“You cannot proceed further,” the monkey said. “Only celestials could enter this region. Besides, I am too tired to rise. If you so desire, you may leap over me.”

Bhima said, “It is out of respect that I do not leap over you. Leap I could, even as Hanuman leapt over the ocean to reach Lankapuri.”

“Who is this Hanuman you are talking about?” queried the monkey.

Bhima told him about Hanuman who was the devoted servant of Lord Rama. “Being the god Vayu’s son, I am that great Hanuman’s brother,” said Bhima proudly.

Still desiring to amuse him, the monkey, who was none other than Hanuman, told Bhima, “I am ill. I cannot move. You may, if you want, push my tail aside and proceed.”

Bhima stepped towards the monkey and tried to lift its tail. In spite of using all his strength, Bhima found that the tail would not move. He realized that this was no ordinary monkey. He bowed to it and asked, “Who are you? Are you a
Gandharva or a god?”

Hanuman revealed his true identity to Bhima. “I am the son of the wind god Vayu through Kesari. You are also the son of Vayu, through Kunti. We are indeed brothers.”

Bhima was thrilled to meet his illustrious brother. He asked Hanuman “Is it true that you could assume any form from the size of an ant to that of the Meru hill?”

At Bhima’s request, Hanuman assumed his super form, displaying his ability to become as large as he desired. Reverting to his normal size, he advised Bhima on his duties as a Kshatriya and on the need to uphold truth always. Pleased with his younger brother, Hanuman assured that during the war he would create confusion in the enemy ranks by letting out fearsome roars from Arjuna’s flagstaff. He then showed Bhima the path towards the lake of the divine lotuses and left.

When Bhima reached the lake he was attacked by innumerable rakshasas. He easily scattered them with his might. The defeated rakshasas went running to Kubera to whom the lake belonged. Understanding who Bhima was, Kubera instructed the guardians of the lake to allow him to take as many flowers as he wanted. Bhima returned to the Pandava camp, his hands laden with the lotuses.
As the party reached the Gandhamadana area in the mountains, they were struck by a severe storm. When the storm subsided, Draupadi swooned due to exhaustion. Yudhisthira suggested to Bhima that he should carry Draupadi on his shoulders. But the strong man summoned his son Gatotkacha who organized a number of rakshasas to carry all the pilgrims including the brahmins, on their shoulders. The rakshasas, adopting the aerial route, showed them many holy spots including the place near Kailasa where in ancient times the rishis Nara and Narayana dwelled by the side of the river Bhagirathi.

As they descended the mountains of Gandhamadhana, they spent a few days and nights on the banks of Bhagirathi where the water was crystal clear. All around was rich vegetation. It came to pass one day that a lotus of divine beauty and unearthly fragrance came floating in the wind and landed near Draupadi. The princess was so enamored of the flower that she bade Bhima to find its source and fetch a few more of them.

With Arjuna away seeking weapons from Indra, Yudhisthira, his three brothers, their wife Draupadi, priest Dhaumya and sage Lomasa, along with some brahmins, set off on the pilgrimage. Starting with Naimisha, they proceeded to Prayag and Gaya in the foothills of the Himalayas. They observed the holy rites at each place under the guidance of the preceptors accompanying them.

When they reached Durjaya in Central India, they visited the sage Agastya’s hermitage. Here Lomasa related to them the story of how Agastya swallowed and digested Ilvala’s brother, Vatapi, and put an end to the persecution of brahmins by the two demon brothers.

When they took a bath in the sacred river of Vadhusara, Lomasa described how with a dip here, the warrior Parasurama recovered his strength after being chastised by Sri Rama whom he offended by his arrogance.

His rage against Kshatriyas subsided; Parasurama had taken up residence at Mahendra Mountain. When the Pandavas reached there, the great warrior made an appearance and blessed the visitors.
Traveling South, the group of pilgrims went to where the Godavari River joins the sea. They crossed the Dravida land and reached Prabhasa, much as Arjuna did on an earlier occasion. They were now in the proximity of Dwaraka, in Yadava land. Many Vrishni heroes like Satyaki, with Balarama and Krishna at the head, welcomed them.

Taking leave of the Yadavas, the Pandavas journeyed north until they reached Kasmira. At the gate to Manasarover Lake on the Himalayas, they saw with awe the peaks covered with snow.
The sage Narada made a visit to the Pandava abode when he talked to them about the pilgrimage their grandsire Bhishma undertook on the advice of the sage Pulastya. Narada described the various places Bhishma had visited, along with their location and history. After Narada’s departure, Yudhisthira expressed to his priest Dhaumya his desire to undertake a long pilgrimage to the various holy spots in emulation of Bhishma. Supporting the idea, Dhaumya also gave a discourse to Yudhisthira about the various places of pilgrimage. The sage Lomasa upon the request from Arjuna, arrived from Indra’s court at this time and it was decided that he should accompany them and explain to them the glory of each spot that they visited.

Yudhisthira called all the brahmins and the others he was supporting and told them of his plan to undertake a pilgrimage along with the other Pandavas. A few who were strong enough joined them. As for the others, he arranged to send them to the court of Dhritarashtra where they were looked after very well.
While Arjuna was busy acquiring the weapons from gods in Heaven, his brothers are accommodated in a hermitage in the earth. Guests, especially the sages, were always welcome in the Pandava abode. One such visitor was the sage Brihadwaswa. In his conversation with Brihadwaswa, the sorrowful Yudhisthira blamed himself for losing everything in gambling with the dice. The sage told him not to despair. He then related to the Pandava, the story of Nala and Damayanti.

 There was a king of the Nishadas, Nala by name, who was endowed with great beauty and valor. Nala is known for his skill with horses and culinary expertise. He subdued all his enemies and was very charitable. He was much loved by his subjects.

 Elsewhere, in the country of Vidharba, there ruled a similarly virtuous and brave king, Bhima by name. He had no offspring. The celestial sage Damana once visited him. Learning of the king’s longing for progeny; he granted him a boon whereby Bhima got a daughter and three sons. The daughter was named Damayanti, and the sons were named Dama, Danta and Damana. While the three sons were strong and intelligent, the daughter grew up to be as beautiful as an apsara. Her fame spread far and wide.

 Many visitors to Nala’s court spoke of the Vidharbha princess’ looks and accomplishments, just as many spoke to Damayanti about Nala’s appearance and achievements. Without meeting, they fell deeply in love with each other.

 Nala was able to convey his affection to Damayanti through a swan which he caught and whose life he spared. The swan, along with his flock, flew unto Vidharbha and talked to Damayanti in private about Nala’s love for her. The princess favourably responded by sending a message to Nala through the swan.

 In order to find a suitable husband for Damayanti, Bhima organized a Swayamvara for his daughter. Kings from far and wide in all the worlds heard about the event and set off to Vidharbha to woo the princess. In the celestial world, the gods Indra, Yama, Agni and Varuna became interested in obtaining Damayanti. The four of them proceeded to earth in disguised as humans.

 While on their way to attend the Swayamvara function, the gods met Nala. They learnt that the prince was also on his way to Vidharbha to attend Damayanti’s Swayamvara.

 Nala’s majestic appearance stunned the celestials. They thought that their own chances with Damayanti were greatly diminished by Nala’s participation in the Swayamvara. To eliminate him from the competition, they approached him and asked him for a favor. Due to his generous disposition, Nala agreed without knowing what they would ask. The four then revealed their identity and asked Nala to meet Damayanti and plead their case with her. Nala said that he himself was a suitor to Damayanti and hence could not help anyone else in this matter. The gods reminded him of his promise. Nala had to agree.

 With the help of the four gods, Nala broke through the security in the palace and reached Damayanti in her private apartment. Their first meeting only confirmed their attraction for each other. But Nala told Damayanti about his mission on behalf of the four gods. “It is not wisdom to antagonize the gods. Do choose one of them and remain happy,” he said.

 Despite Nala’s words, Damayanti was firm on choosing her only true love. At the Swayamvara she perceived five persons who looked identical, and there appeared to be five Nalas. This confused Damayanti. She bowed before the five of them and said piteously, “Nala is the one I want to unite with. I seek the blessings of you gods to help me. Do please reveal yourselves to me so that I can choose my lord.”

 Damayanti’s appeal made the gods relent. They also realized that it was destiny that Nala and Damayanti should be married. They assumed their godly forms – they looked splendid, their eyelids did not bat, they had no perspiration, they cast no shadows and their feet did not touch the ground. Damayanti could now see the human Nala and she garlanded him. The gods blessed the couple and left.

 When the gods were returning to the ether world, they met Kali and Dwapara, the two Yugas (eras in the form of divinity). The Dwapara era, where there remained a modicum of good behavior in the world, was coming to an end. Kali, where morals were plunging to a low point, was slowly establishing his rule. Kali heard the story of the gods’ visit to Vidharbha and was enraged that a mortal could win in a contest with the gods. He wanted revenge. The gods reminded him that it was with their sanction that Damayanti chose Nala. And the four went on their way.

 The vile and vengeful Kali decided to make Nala suffer for his deed. Saying that he would make Nala lose everything in gambling, he persuaded Dwapara to be his dice.

 Kali approached Nala’s brother, Pushkara, and enticed him. ‘Invite Nala for a game of dice. I assure you, I would make you win everything he has. You can then rule this vast kingdom.” The greedy Pushkara agreed.

 Kali could not harm Nala as long as he was pure and devoted to god. He waited for an opportunity when the prince would commit a breach and enter Nala and possess him so that he could make him play dice with his brother. Such an opportunity came when Nala was one day caught performing his evening prayers without washing his feet, an act of sacrilege, contrary to what the scriptures said. Kali now entered Nala’s body and took control of him. He made Nala accept Pushkara’s invitation to gamble.

 In the deceitful dice game that followed, with Dwapara as the dice, Pushkara made Nala lose his possessions one by one. Nala’s friends and his subjects all appealed to him to stop playing. But he would listen to none, possessed as he was by Kali. The dice game continued for many months, with Nala losing at every throw. Even Damayanti’s words fell on deaf ears. The alarmed queen realized that there was some power driving her husband along the dangerous path. As a precaution, she sent her twin son and daughter to her father Bhima’s house in Vidharbha through a faithful charioteer, Varshneya.

 Leaving the twins Indrasena and Indraseni along with the chariot and steeds at Vidharbha, Varshneya bade farewell to Bhima and started wandering. He then found employment with King Ritupurna at Ayodhya.

 Nala eventually lost everything he had to Pushkara in the dice game and he had to leave his capital with only a piece of cloth to cover him. His wife followed him similarly garbed. Pushkara had warned against anyone showing the slightest sympathy for the fallen king. For three nights the couple languished in the outskirts of the city, living on water alone. They then went into the forest.

 In the forest, Nala observed a few birds feeding on the grass. He felt happy at the prospect of catching those birds for food. He removed the cloth he was wearing and threw it on the birds. Immediately the birds took off, carrying the cloth. One of them said, “You foolish man, we are the spirit that was in the dice. We came to deprive you of your last possession.”

 With his garment gone, Nala tore a piece of the cloth that Damayanti was wearing and covered himself. He tried his best to persuade Damayanti to leave him and go back to her father. But the noble lady had no desire to leave her husband in such a state. Nala thought that it was in the best interest of both if he abandoned his wife. After some hesitation, Nala left her that night when she was asleep. He started wandering in the forest.

 When Damayanti woke up, she found Nala missing. She wailed and cried out for Nala. While ruing her helplessness, a big serpent caught her and was about to devour her. Luckily for her, a hunter who was passing by rescued her. The hunter was attracted by Damayanti’s beauty and wanted to possess Damayanti. By the power of her chastity, however, Damayanti caused the hunter to fall dead.

 Damayanti wandered aimlessly in the fearsome forest until she reached a place where she found some rishis. The rishis heard her story and blessed her, saying that she would find her husband and become queen again. The next moment, the rishis vanished.

 A caravan of merchants passing that way found Damayanti. The merchants took care of her and she started traveling with them towards the country of Chedi. On the way the caravan was attacked by a herd of elephants. Many in the caravan were killed. Those who survived the attack took Damayanti to Chedi. There she could get employed by the queen of that kingdom as maid for the princess.

 Meanwhile, during his wanderings in the forest, Nala encountered a raging fire. From the fire he heard a snake cry out for help, promising to be his friend if rescued. Nala rescued the snake from the fire. On being freed, the snake bit Nala. The next moment Nala’s appearance changed completely. He lost all his good looks and took a hideous form.

 The snake said, “O mighty one. The venom I have injected in you will torture the spirit possessing you. From now you would be immune to any kind of poison. This change in your form is temporary, so that none could recognize you. Proceed to Ayodhya and present yourself to King Rituparna as Bahuka, the equine expert. He would teach you dice game in return for your teaching him skill with horses. Soon you would regain your wife and kingdom. I give you a garment which will restore you to your true form. You can wear it at a suitable time.” Nala took the garment and proceeded to Ayodhya.

 Just as the serpent had told him, Rituparna employed Nala to care for the Royal stable. From Rituparna, the Nishada prince learnt all the skills relating to dice game.

After some time Bhima came to know through his spies that his daughter was in Chedi. She was soon restored to her father. After hearing her story, Bhima started to search for Nala far and wide.

 Rituparna’s charioteer, Varshney, by close observation, discovered that Bahuka was his old master, Nala, in disguise. He immediately proceeded to Bhima’s court and told the king about Nala being in Ayodhya in a changed form. Knowing that Nala would never reveal himself to Damayanti in his present form and would refuse to come to Vidharbha, the king conceived of a plan. He sent back Varshney after briefing him of his plan.

 According to the plan, Bhima sent word to Rituparna that a Swayamvara was being held for Damayanti. Since there was not much time to journey to Vidharbha, Ritupurna engaged Nala to drive his chariot, knowing that he could drive fast.

 Once Rituparna reached Bhima’s palace, Damayanti met the charioteer Bahuka. She realized that he was indeed Nala. Nala, not wishing to reveal himself to her, kept denying his real identity. But when he saw his son and daughter, he could not resist embracing them. Damayanti approached him and pleaded with him to come out with the truth. Nala finally relented. He took out the garment the serpent had given him and threw it on his shoulder. His original form returned and after four years, Nala and Damayanti were reunited. Kali also left him. Kali offered Nala a boon when he left him. Nala sought the boon that whoever read his story would not be unduly affected by the malefic effects of Kali.

 Nala went back to Nishada where he enticed his brother to gamble with him again. Pushkara thought that this time he could win over Damayanti whom he coveted, and he consented. But in the dice game, Nala won back his kingdom and all his wealth. Pushkara was disgraced. However, filial affection prevailed, and Nala forgave Pushkara. He gave his brother a portion of his kingdom.

 The sage Brihadwaswa revealed that he knew the entire science of dice game. At Yudhisthira’s request, the sage imparted the knowledge to the Pandava king. Before Brihadwaswa left, Yudhisthira had learnt all the nuances of the game.

The Danavas, Nivata-Kavachas, were demons opposed to the gods. The gods found them growing in strength day by day. Numbering thirty million, they lived in the ocean depths. Indra told Arjuna, “As your preceptor, I demand from you my fees. You should undertake a campaign against my enemies, the Nivata-Kavachas. You must destroy them and free the gods from fear of those demons.” Arjuna cheerfully accepted the task. The god gave him the standard war accessory, a conch, Devadatta, the blowing of which could inspire fear in enemies.

Arjuna was taken to the region of the Nivata-Kavachas in Indra’s chariot, driven by Matali. Arjuna successfully destroyed their might and stormed their city, Hiranyapura.

Despite all the entertainment provided by Indra, Arjuna wore a sad countenance, remembering the insults heaped on the Pandavas by Duryodhana and his evil associates. In order to cheer him, Indra approached the apsara, Urvasi, with the request that she make Arjuna happy.

Urvasi, who was already smarting with infatuation for Arjuna, was only too glad to carry out her mission. She approached Arjuna and declared her love for him, recalling the interest with which he gazed at her in Indra’s court while she was dancing. Arjuna explained that his admiration for her was like his admiration for Kunti or Sachi, Indra’s queen. “You were the consort of one of my ancestors. Hence, I think of you as the mother of the Puru race,” he said.

Urvasi explained to Arjuna that apsaras were free spirits and not bound by conventional morality. But Arjuna was unmoved. Arjuna’s stubbornness incensed the apsara who cursed him, “It is at your father’s command that I came to you. When I needed your love you refused me. For this you shall pass some time in female company, deprived of your manhood.”

News of Urvasi’s encounter with Arjuna reached Indra who became pleased with his son’s steadfastness. He called Arjuna and told him, “You have done your mother Kunti proud. But do not despair. This curse of Urvasi will come in handy in the thirteenth year of exile that you and your brothers with Draupadi will have to spend in disguise. Being a eunuch will give you a cover and you can then use your knowledge of dancing.”

Indra called the rishi Lomasa and sent him as his emissary to Yudhisthira to inform him that Arjuna would soon return to earth after mastering all the weapons given to him by his sire.

Soon after the gods left, Indra’s car, huge and splendid, drawn by ten thousand horses of golden hue, arrived. The charioteer, Matali, conveyed Indra’s wish that Arjuna be brought to his court. As Arjuna mounted it, the car flying Indra’s flag and capable of traveling like wind, transported the great warrior to the court of Indra.

When he arrived at Amaravati, Indra’s city, Arjuna was greeted by apsaras and Gandharvas to the chanting of verses by Siddhas and Rishis. As he reached the great hall of Indra, the lord of thunderbolt himself welcomed him. He proudly led his son to his throne and sat him by his side. The divine ladies Gritachi, Rambha, Urvasi, Swayamprabha and many others danced and sang in the court. The splendid Indra instructed the celestial artist Chitrasena to teach Arjuna dance and music.
As soon as Mahadeva and Uma left, the gods Yama, Varuna, Kubera and Indra appeared before Arjuna. Yama said, “We are pleased with you, you incarnate of Nara. I give you spiritual vision with which you can see celestials. Also accept from me this mace which, when hurled, no one can escape from.” Varuna gave him the Varuna weapon, capable of bringing rain and thunder. Kubera gave him the magical weapon Antarddhana, which can put to sleep any adversary. Indra said, “O son of Pritha, I shall provide you with my own chariot to transport you to heaven. There I shall give you my weapons.”


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