Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists/CHAPTER III
|Wikified by Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)|
- 1 Introduction to the Mahabharata
- 2 I How the Princes learned to Shoot
- 3 The Recovery of the Ring
- 4 The Promise to Drona
- 5 Ekalavya
- 6 The Triumph of Arjuna
- 7 II. The Trial of the Princes
- 8 The Entry of Karna
- 9 Karna and Arjuna
- 10 III. The Teacher's Fee
- 11 The Might of Arjuna
- 12 The Vengeance of Drona
- 13 IV. The House of Lac
- 14 The Princes are Banished
- 15 The Princes arrive at Benares
- 16 The Escape of the Pandavas
- 17 V. How the Pandavas won a Bride
- 18 The Contest
- 19 The Pandavas are Recognized
- 20 VI. The Story of Shishupala
- 21 The Return of the Pandavas
- 22 The Counsel of Krishna
- 23 The Quarrel for Precedence
- 24 Bhishma's Story
- 25 The Death of Shishupala
- 26 VII. The Fatal Dice
- 27 The Challenge
- 28 The Loss of Draupadi
- 29 The Renewal of the Contest
- 30 VIII. The Kirat-Arjuna
- 31 The Boar
- 32 IX. The Maiden who became a Knight
- 33 The Resolve of Shikhandini
- 34 Shikhandini attains her Desire
- 35 X. The Story of the Lady Amba
- 36 The Challenge
- 37 Amba is Rejected
- 38 Amba and Bhishma
- 39 XI Kurukshetra
- 40 The Battle
- 41 The Deception of Bhima
- 42 The Bhagavad Gita
- 43 The Bed of Arrows
- 44 The Answer of Bhishma
- 45 Shikhandin and Bhishma
- 46 XIII. Karna
- 47 The Arrow of Death
- 48 The Mission of Krishna
- 49 Pritha & Karna
- 50 Karna leads the Host
- 51 The Supreme Struggle
- 52 XIV. The Great host of the dead
- 53 The Procession
- 54 XV. Yudhishthira and his dog
- 55 The Pilgrimage of Death
- 56 The Dog
- 57 Yudhishthira in Hell
- 58 The Greatness of Self-Conquest
Introduction to the Mahabharata
THE Indian national saga, beyond all dispute, is the Mahabharata. This is to the Indian village and the Indian home what the Iliad was to the Greek, and, to a certain extent also, what the Scriptures and Gospels are to ourselves. It is the most popular of all the sacred books. It contains, as an interlude, the Bhagavad Gita, the national gospel. But with this it is also an epic.
The story of a divine incarnation, Krishna, as he is called, has been wrought into and upon an immense ballad and military epic of unknown antiquity. Of this epic the main theme is a great battle waged between two families of cousins, the sons of Pandu and the sons of Dhritarashtra or the Pandavas and the Kauravas, or Kurus by name. And although, after the fashion of ancient literature, a thousand other tales, some more and some less ancient, have been embedded in its interstices, yet this great drama moves on, full of swiftness and colour, from one end of the poem to the other. It is marked by extraordinary vividness and richness of imagination. But perhaps most of us, remembering that the work is ancient, will be still more impressed by the subtlety and modernness of the social intercourse which it portrays. Here and there we may find an anomalous custom or a curious belief, but in delicacy of character- painting, in the play of personality, and in reflection of all the light and shade of life in society we find ourselves, in the Mahabharata, fully on a level with the novels and dramas of modern Europe. The fortitude of Kama when his mother embraces him ; the low voice in which
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 118
Yudhishthira says " elephant " as a concession to his conscience; the laugh of Bhishma in battle, contenting himself with the slightly emphasized " Shikhandini ? " - these, amongst many others, will occur to the reader as typical instances.
The outstanding fact to be realized about the epic, however, is that from end to end its main interest is held and centred on character. We are witnessing the law that, as the oyster makes its own shell, so the mind of man creates and necessitates his own life and fate. The whole philosophy of India is implicit in this romance, just as it is in the common household life. The Mahabharata constitutes, and is intended to constitute, a supreme appeal to the heart and conscience of every generation. Far more than the national tradition, it embodies the national morality. In this fact lies the great difference between it and the Greek epics, in which the dominant passion is the conscious quest of ideal beauty.
I How the Princes learned to Shoot
Now Bhishma, the royal grandsire, became eager to find for the princes of the two imperial houses a teacher who might train them thoroughly in the use of arms. And it happened one day about this time that the boys, all in a company, were playing at ball in the forests outside Hastinapura, when their ball rolled away from them and fell into an old well. Try as they would, there was not one of them who could get it back. All kinds of efforts were made by each in turn, but without avail. It seemed as if the ball would never be recovered. Just when their boyish anxiety and vexation were at their height, their glances fell, with one accord, on a Brahman sitting near, whom they had not at
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 119
first noticed. He was thin and dark of hue, and appeared to be resting after the performance of his daily worship. " O Brahman ! " cried the lads, surrounding him in a body, "can you show us how to recover our ball?" The Brahman smiled a little and said : " What ? what ? Scions of the royal house, and you don't shoot well enough for that ! If you'll only promise me my dinner, I will bring up not only your ball but also this ring, which I now throw down, by means of a few blades of grass." And suiting the action to the word, he took a ring off his own finger and threw it into the well. " Why, Brahman-ji, we'll make you rich for life," cried one of the lads, "if you can really do as you say."
" Is it so ? " said the Brahman. " Then look at this grass," and he plucked a handful of long grass growing near. " I am able by a spell to give to this grass a virtue that weapons might not have. Behold, here I throw " ; and as he spoke he took aim and threw a single blade of grass with such deftness and precision that it pierced the ball that lay in the well as if it had been a needle. Then throwing another blade, he pierced the first, and so on and so on, till he had a chain of grass, by which it was easy to draw up the ball.
By this time the interest of the boys was centred more on the skill of the Brahman than on the recovery of their plaything, and they exclaimed with one accord : " The ring, too, O Brahman ! Show us how you can recover the ring ! "
The Recovery of the Ring
Then Drona for that was the name of the Brahman took up his bow, which had been lying beside him, and selecting an arrow from the quiver that he wore, he shot
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 120
it into the well, and the arrow, returning to his hand, brought up the ring. Taking the jewel, he handed it to the princes, whose astonishment and delight knew no bounds. " What can we do for you ? What can we do ? " they cried. The Brahman's face had grown grave again. "Tell Bhishma, your guardian, that Drona is here," he answered briefly, and relapsed again into the depths of thought.
The lads trooped off, with their enthusiasm fresh upon them, to describe to Bhishma, the Protector, the extra ordinary experience of the morning; and he, struck by the thought that Drona was the very teacher he was seeking, hastened in person to see him and bring him to the palace. Bhishma had known of Drona formerly as the son of the great sage Bharadwaja, whose ashrama in the mountains, near the source of the Ganges, had been a centre of great learning. To that hermitage had come many illustrious students, who had been playmates and comrades to Drona during childhood and youth. It was also rumoured in the royal and military society of the period that Drona, after his father's death, had performed great austerities and gone through a very determined course of study, in consequence of which he had been mysteriously gifted with divine weapons and the knowledge of how to use them.
It was now the object of the royal grandsire, therefore, to learn how and why the Brahman should be seeking attention in the capital, and a few adroit questions quickly told him all that he required to know. Drona had married and had a son born to him, Ashvatthaman by name. Moved by the needs of his child, he had for the first time realized his own poverty, and had set out to renew the brilliant friendships of his boyhood. Chief amongst these
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 121
had been his intimacy with Drupada, now king of the Panchalas, one of the greatest of the minor kingdoms. When Drupada, as a prince, had been a student like himself, they had been inseparable, vowing to each other lifelong friendship. It was natural, therefore, that Drupada, now a sovereign in his own right, should be the first of those to whom in his bitter need he thought of repairing. But when he had appeared before him the king of the Panchalas had laughed him to scorn and repudiated all their ancient friendship. To him it seemed sheer imperti nence that the poor Brahman, in the position of a beggar, though he was the son of a famous scholar, should claim equality and intimacy with one seated on a throne. And then in the heart of Drona had risen a great wrath and wounded pride. The bitterness of his poverty was not now so great as the heat of his resentment. He would do what he would do. But in order to do it he must find pupils of the best. He was desirous, therefore, of placing himself at the disposal of Bhishma.
The old Protector smiled as he heard the climax of this story. He was far too discreet to inquire as to the purposes of Drona. Instead of this he cut matters short by rising and saying : " Only string thy bow, O Brahman, and make the princes of my house accomplished in the use of arms. All that we have is at thy disposal. We are indeed fortunate to have obtained thy services ! "
The Promise to Drona
One day, soon after Drona had taken the princes as his pupils, he called them together and made them prostrate themselves before him, and having done so he required from them a promise that when they should become skilled in arms they would carry out for him a certain purpose
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 122
that was in his heart: At this demand all the princes fell silent; but one of them, Arjuna, the third of the Pandavas, vowed eagerly that whatever it might be he would promise to accomplish it. Then Drona embraced Arjuna repeatedly, and from this moment there was a special attachment between the two, and Arjuna was always with his master, with his whole mind bent on the science of arms.
And princes came from the neighbouring kingdoms to learn of Drona. And all the Kurus and all the Pandavas and the sons of the great nobles were his pupils. And amongst them came that strange and melancholy youth who went by the name of [Karna]], and was reputed to be the adopted son of a royal charioteer, his actual birth being unknown, though some held, from his auspicious characteristics, that he must be of exalted rank. And young Karna and Arjuna thus early became rivals, each trying to outdo the other in the use of the bow. And Karna tended to mix rather with Duryodhana and his brothers than with the Pandavas.
Meanwhile Arjuna took every opportunity of learning, and in lightness and skill outdid all his fellows. One evening when he was eating, his lamp went out, and observing that even in the dark his hand carried the food to the mouth, his mind was set on the power of habit, and he began to practise shooting also in the night. And Drona, hearing the twang of the bowstring, came and embraced him, declaring that in the whole world there should not be another equal unto him.
And amongst those who came to Drona was a low-caste prince of non-Aryan birth known as Ekalavya. But Drona would not accept him as a pupil, lest, as one of the leaders
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 123
of the lower races, he should come in time to excel all the Aryan princes, and should learn all the secrets of their military science.
Then Ekalavya, retiring to the forest, made a clay image of Drona, and bowed down before it, worshipping it as his teacher. And by reason of his great reverence and devotion to his purpose, it soon came about that there were few archers in the land equal to Ekalavya. And one day, when all the princes were hunting in the forest, a dog ran off alone and found himself suddenly face to face with a man of dark hue wearing matted locks besmeared with mud and with his one piece of raiment black in colour. The dog, in his astonishment at this strange sight, began to bark aloud. But before he could close his mouth the prince Ekalavya had shot into it no less than seven arrows, aiming by the sound alone. The dog, thus pierced with seven arrows and unable to close his mouth, ran back to the princes, and they, fired with jealousy and admiration, began to seek everywhere for the unknown archer. It was not long before they found him, ceaselessly discharging arrows from the bow, and when they asked who and what he was, he replied: "I am the son of the king of the Nishadas. Know me also as a pupil of Drona, struggling for the acquisition of skill in arms ! "
But when Drona heard of it he took Arjuna with him and sought out the archer Ekalavya. And when the low-caste prince saw Drona approaching, he prostrated himself and then stood with folded hands awaiting his commands. And Drona said : " If, O hero, thou art really my pupil, give me, then, the teacher's fee ! "
" Master," said Ekalavya in his delight, " you have only to name what you will have. I have nothing I would not joyfully give you."
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 124
"If you really mean it, Ekalavya," answered Drona coldly," I should like to have the thumb of your right hand."
And the low-born prince, allowing no look of sadness to cross his face, turned without ado and cut off the thumb of his own right hand to lay it at the feet of Drona. But when the Brahman had gone and he turned again to his archery, he found that his marvellous lightness of hand was for ever vanished.
Thus were the royal princes left without rivals in the use of arms. And two of them, Bhima, the second of the Pandavas, and Duryodhana, his cousin, became highly accomplished in the use of the mace. Ashvatthaman, the son of Drona himself, knew most of the theory of war fare. The Pandava twins, Nakula and Sahadeva, excelled every one in horsemanship and in handling the sword. Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, was greatest as a chariot-soldier and officer. But Arjuna excelled all in every respect. He could use all the weapons, and his intelligence, resourcefulness, strength, and perseverance were admitted on every side. Moreover, he alone amongst the princes became fitted for a general command, being capable of fighting from his chariot with sixty thousand foes at once.
The Triumph of Arjuna
And Drona one day was desirous of testing by open competition the relative excellence of the young men he had trained. So he caused an artificial bird to be made and placed, as their target, on the top of a tree. Then, assembling all his pupils, he said : " Take up your bows and stand practising your aim. When I give the order you will cut off the head of the bird. I shall take you one by one in turn."
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 125
Then he called Yudhishthira to him alone, " Now be ready," he said, " to shoot with your arrow when I give the order." And Yudhishthira took up his bow and arrow as he was told, and stood ready at a word to let fly.
" Do you see the bird on the top of that tree ? " asked Drona.
" I do," answered Yudhishthira.
" What do you see ?" said Drona quickly. " Myself, or your brothers, or the tree ? "
" I see yourself, sir," answered Yudhishthira carefully, " my brothers, the tree, and the bird."
Three times Drona repeated his question, and three times Yudhishthira gave the same reply. Then with great sorrow Drona ordered him to one side. It was not by him that the arrow would be shot.
One by one, princes and nobles, the Pandava brothers and their cousins the Kurus, were all called up, and in each case Yudhishthira s answer was given : " We behold the tree, yourself, our fellow-pupils, and the bird."
One man only remained untried, and Drona made no effort to conceal his disappointment. Now, however, he turned with a smile to the last and called to him Arjuna, his favourite pupil. " By you, if any, must the bolt be sped. So much is clear, O Arjuna ! " he said. " Now tell me, with bow bent, what do you see the bird, the tree, myself, and your friends ? "
" No," said [Arjuna]] promptly ; " I see the bird alone, neither yourself, sir, nor the tree ! "
" Describe the bird to me," said Drona briefly.
" I see only a bird's head," replied Arjuna.
" Then shoot ! " said his master with frank delight, and in an instant the bird stood headless on the tree, and Drona, embracing Arjuna, thought of that great tourna-
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 126
ment in which he would yet see Drupada vanquished before him.
II. The Trial of the Princes
Then Drona, seeing that his pupils had now completed their education, applied to Dhritarashtra the king for permission to hold a tournament, in which all would have an opportunity of exhibiting their skill. The request was at once granted, and preparations began for the great occasion. Land was chosen, and the citizens assembled by proclamation to be present at the offering of sacrifices for its consecration on an auspicious day. The lists were levelled and equipped, and a great hall built for the queens and their ladies, while tents and galleries were placed at every advantageous point for the use of the spectators.
And when the day appointed for the tournament arrived the king took his place, surrounded by his ministers and preceded by Bhishma and the early tutors of the princes. Then Gandhari, the mother of Duryodhana, and Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, richly robed and jewelled and attended by their retinues, took the places that had been reserved for them. And nobles, Brahmans, and citizens left the city and came hastening to the spot, till, with the sound of drums and trumpets and the clamour of voices, that great assembly became like the agitated ocean.
At last the white-haired Drona entered the lists dressed all in white and looking as if the moon itself had appeared in an unclouded sky, while beside him his son Ashvatthaman looked like some attendant star.
Ceremonies of propitiation were next performed, and then, as the chanting of the Vedic hymns died away, arms were carried in, the blare of trumpets was heard, and
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 127
the princes entered in procession with Yudhishthira at their head.
Now began the most marvellous display of skill. The shower of arrows was so thick and constant that few of the spectators could hold their heads up unflinchingly, yet the aim of the knightly archers was so sure that not a single arrow missed its mark. Each, engraved with the name of its owner, was found in that precise spot at which it had been shot. Then they leapt on the backs of spirited horses, and vaulting and careering, turning this way and that, went on shooting at the marks. Then the horses were abandoned for chariots, and driving in and out, racing, turning, soothing their steeds or urging them on, as occasion might demand, the combatants continued to display their agility, their precision, and their resource. Now leaping from the chariots, and seizing each man his sword and shield, the princes began to fence and exhibit sword-play. Then, like two great mountains and thirsting for battle, Bhima and Duryodhana entered the arena, clubs in hand, for single combat.
Bracing themselves up, and summoning to their own aid their utmost energy, the two warriors gave a mighty roar, and began careering in due form, right and left, circling the lists, till the moment came for the rush and the mimic onslaught, in which each would strive to defeat his antagonist by right of his superior skill. And so great was the lust of battle in the two princes that the vast assembly caught the infection and became divided in its sympathies, some for Bhima, some for Duryodhana, till Drona saw that it was necessary to stop the contest if he would not have it degenerate into an actual fight.
Then the master himself stepped into the lists and, silencing the music for a moment, in a voice like that
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 128
of the thunderstorm, introduced Arjuna, the most beloved of his pupils. The royal Kunti, mother of the Pandavas, was transported with delight at the acclamation which she now saw her son receive, and not until it had died down a little could he begin to display his skill in arms. But such were the power and lightness of Arjuna that it seemed as if with one weapon he created fire, with another water, with a third mountains, and as if with a fourth all these were made to disappear. Now he appeared tall and again short. Now he appeared fighting with sword or mace, standing on the pole or the yoke of his chariot; then in a flash he would be seen on the car itself, and in yet another instant he was fighting on the field. And with his arrows he hit all kinds of marks. Now, as if by a single shot, he let fly five arrows into the mouth of a revolving iron boar. Again he discharged twenty-one arrows into the hollow of a cow s horn swaying to and fro from the rope on which it hung. Thus he showed his skill in the use of sword, bow, and mace, walking about the lists in circles.
The Entry of Karna
Just as Arjuna's display was ending a great noise was heard in the direction of the gate, as if some new combatant were about to make his way into the lists. The whole assembly turned as one man, and Duryodhana with his hundred brothers rose hastily and stood with uplifted weapons, while Drona stood in the midst of the five Pandava princes like the moon in a five-starred constel lation.
Then, the centre of all eyes, the hero Karna entered, magnificent in arms and manhood. And far away in the gallery of queens the royal Kunti trembled to see again the son whom she had long ago abandoned, fearing to
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 129
And now was he goodly indeed to look upon. Was he not in truth an emanation from the hot-beamed sun? His proportions made him like unto some great cliff. Hand some of feature, he was possessed of innumerable accomplishments. He was tall in stature, like a golden palm- tree, and endued with the vigour of youth, he was capable even of slaying a lion. Bowing quietly to his teacher, he now turned himself towards Arjuna, and in the tones of one challenging declared that he had come to outdo the performance that had just been given. A thrill of excite ment passed over the great audience, and Duryodhana openly showed his delight. But, alas ! the princely Arjuna flushed crimson with anger and contempt. Then, with the permission of Drona, the mighty Karna, delighting in battle, made good his word and did all that Arjuna had done before him. And when his display of skill was over he was embraced and welcomed by all the sons of Dhritarashtra,and Duryodhana asked him what he could do for him. " O prince," said Karna in reply, " I have but one wish, and that is to engage in single combat with Arjuna ! " Arjuna, meanwhile, hot with resentment at what he deemed the insult put upon him, said quietly to Karna : "The day will yet come, O Karna, when I shall kill you ! " " Speak thou in arrows," answered Karna loudly, " that with arrows I may this very day strike off thy head before our master himself ! "
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 130
Karna and Arjuna
Now Arjuna was the son of Indra, even as Karna had been born of the sun, and as the heroes confronted one another the spectators were aware that Arjuna was covered by the shadow of the clouds, that over him stretched the rainbow, the bow of Indra, and that rows of wild geese, flying overhead, gave a look of laughter to the sky. But Karna stood illumined by the rays of the sun. And Duryodhana ranged himself near Karna, while Bhishma and Drona stood close to Arjuna. And up in the royal gallery a woman was heard to moan and fall.
Then the master of the ceremonies advanced and cried out the style and titles of Arjuna, a style and titles that were known to all. And having done this, he waited, and called upon the rival knight to show equal lineage, for sons of kings could not fight with men of inferior birth. At these words Karna turned pale, and his face was torn with contending emotions. But Duryodhana, eager to see Arjuna defeated, cried out : " If Arjuna desires to fight only with a king, let me at once install Karna king of Anga ! "
As if by magic, the priests came forward chanting ; a throne of gold was brought forward ; rice, flowers, and the sacred water were offered, and over Karna's head was raised the royal umbrella, while yak-tails waved about him on every side. Then, amidst the cheers of the multitude, Karna and Duryodhana embraced each other and pledged each other their eternal friendship.
At that very moment, bent and trembling with age and
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 131
weakness, poorly clad, and supporting himself on a staff, an old man was seen to enter the lists. And all present knew him for Adhiratha, one of the charioteers of the royal household. But when the glance of Karna fell upon him he hurriedly left his throne and came and bent himself down before the old man leaning on his staff, and touched his feet with that head that was still wet with the sacred water of coronation. And Adhiratha embraced Karna, and wept for pride that he had been made a king, calling him his son.
And Bhima, standing amongst the Pandava heroes, laughed aloud in derision. " What ! What hero is this ? " he said. " It seems, sir, that the whip is your true weapon. How can he be a king who is the son of a charioteer ? "
Karna's lip quivered, but for sole reply he folded his arms and looked upward to the sun. But Duryodhana sprang up in wrath, and said: "The lineage of heroes is ever unknown ! What does it matter where a brave man comes from ? Who asks for the source of a river ? Was a tiger like this ever born of servants? But even if it were so, he is my friend, and well deserves to be king of the whole world. Let him who has any objection to offer bend the bow that Karna bends ! "
Loud cheers of approval broke out amongst the spectators, but the sun went down. Then Duryodhana, taking Karna by the hand, led him away from the lamp-lit arena. And the Pandava brothers, accompanied by Bhishma and Drona, went back to their own place. Only Yudhishthira carried away the thought that none could defeat Karna.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 132
III. The Teacher's Fee
The time had now come when Drona thought he should demand the offering due to the teacher from those he had trained. He therefore assembled together all his pupils, and said: " Seize Drupada, king of Panchala, in battle, and bring him bound unto me. This is the only return I desire as your master and preceptor."
The enterprise was wholly agreeable to the high-spirited youths, and with light hearts they got together an imposing array of chariots, arms, and followers, and set out for the capital of Drupada, not neglecting to strike at the Panchalas on their way. For it was the delight of the princes and nobles who went forth on this raid to display their prowess and skill as they went. And never did they make this more noticeable than when they entered the gates and clattered up the streets of Drupada's capital.
Hearing the clamour, the king himself came to the verandahs of his palace to look down at the sight. But the knights, uttering their war-cry, shot at him a shower of arrows. Then Drupada, accompanied by his brothers, issued from his palace gates in due form on his white chariot, and set himself to encounter the raiding force. But [Arjuna]]Bold text held back his brothers and himself from participation in what seemed to him a mere mille. He realized that the Panchala king, fighting in his own capital, would not be overcome by tactics of this order. But they would have the effect of wearying him, and then would be the opportunity for the Pandavas to act.
Even as he had predicted, the white chariot of the king was seen, now here, now there, always driving forward, and always hastening toward that point where danger was greatest and the gathering of the raiders thickest, and
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 133
during these rapid movements he kept pouring into their ranks such a quick and constant shower of arrows that the Kurus showed a tendency to become panic-stricken and to assume that they were fighting not one, but many Drupadas.
By this time the alarm had spread throughout the city, and drums and trumpets began to sound from every house, while the men poured out, ready armed, to the assistance of their king. Now there arose from the great host of the Panchalas a terrible roar, while the twang of their bowstrings seemed to rend the very heavens. A new and answering fierceness blazed up for a moment amongst the invading warriors, but wherever an arrow was shot, there it seemed stood Drupada in person to answer it. He was here, there, and everywhere, and careering over the field of battle like a fiery wheel, he attacked Duryodhana, and even Karna, wounded them, and slaked in right earnest their thirst for battle, till, seeing the host of the citizens to which they were opposed, the Kurus broke and fled with a wail of defeat back to where the Pandavas were waiting.
The Might of Arjuna
Hastily the Pandavas now did reverence to Drona and ascended their chariots. To Arjuna fell the leadership, as if by instinct, and he, forbidding Yudhishthira to fight or expose himself, quickly appointed the twins, his youngest brothers, protectors of his chariot-wheels, while Bhima, ever fighting in the van, ran forward, mace in hand, to lead the attack. Thus, like the figure of Death, Arjuna entered the host of the Panchalas. And Bhima with his club began to slay the elephants that covered them. And the battle became fierce and terrible to behold. Arjuna singled out the king and his general for his personal
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 134
attack. Then he succeeded in cutting down the flagstaff, and when that had fallen he leapt from his chariot, and casting aside his bow for his sword, he seized Drupada the king with as much ease as a huge bird seizes a water-snake.
At this sight the Kurus were maddened and would have made to devastate the whole capital of the Panchalas, but Arjuna in a loud voice restrained them. " Drupada," he said, "is our friend and ally. To yield him up personally will satisfy Drona. On no account let us slay his people ! "
Then all the princes together, bringing with them their captives, turned to Drona and laid before him Drupada, together with many of his ministers and friends.
The Vengeance of Drona
Drona smiled quietly at the king who had once been his friend. " Fear not, O king," he said ; " your life shall be spared. But would you not care to cultivate my friend ship ? " Then he was silent for a moment. Again opening his lips, he said : " In truth, Drupada, I love you no less to-day than of old in our boyhood. And I still desire your friendship. You told me, alas! that only a king could be the friend of a king, and for that reason shall I restore to you only half of your territory, in order that, being a king myself, I may enjoy your affection on equal terms. You shall be king of all your lands that lie on the south of the river Ganges, and I shall reign over those on the north. And now, Drupada, will it bemean you to grant me your friendship ? "
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 135
With these words Drona released Drupada, and bestowed on him the sovereignty of half his own kingdom, being those territories that lay south of the Ganges. And Drupada, with many compliments, assured him of his profound admiration and regard. But in his own mind the lesson that the mortified king laid to heart was that of his old friend s superior resources, and from this time forth he in his turn wandered in all directions, even as Drona had wandered to Hastinapura, in the hope of discovering some charm or other means, by devotion or otherwise, to obtain a son who might work out his revenge on the man who had humiliated him. And it came to pass that this enmity to Drona grew in time to be one of the main motives in the life of Drupada, king of the Panchalas.
IV. The House of Lac
It was about a year after the invasion of Drupada's city that Dhritarashtra, moved by a sense of what was due, and having regard also to the welfare of his subjects, decided to crown Yudhishthira in public as heir-apparent of the empire. For Pandu, the father of Yudhishthira and his brothers, had been the monarch of the realm, and not Dhritarashtra, whose blindness had been considered to render him incompetent. It was now incumbent upon the blind king, therefore, to nominate Yudhishthira and his brothers as his successors, instead of any of his own children. And this, after the exhibition of knightly prowess that had introduced them to the world, he could no longer refuse to do.
But the Pandava princes took their new position more seriously than anyone had foreseen. Never contented with mere enjoyment, they went out in all directions for
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 136
the extension of the suzerainty, and constantly sent back to the royal treasury immense spoils. Duryodhana had been jealous of his cousins from his very childhood, but now, seeing their great superiority and their growing popularity, even his father, Dhritarashtra, began to be anxious, and at last he, too, could not sleep for jealousy.
Feeling in this way, it was easy enough for a king to summon to his side councillors who would give him the advice he craved, and he was assured in due course that the extermination of his enemies was the first duty of a sovereign.
But the Pandavas also had a watchful friend and adviser in a certain uncle named Vidura, who, though of inferior birth, was a veritable incarnation of the god of justice. Vidura had the gift of reading men's thoughts from their faces, and easily at this juncture did he understand the mind of Dhritarashtra and his family. But he warned the Pandavas that while they ought to be on their guard, they must never precipitate the full hatred of those who were in power by allowing it to be seen that they understood their feelings. Rather must they accept everything that was done with an air of cheerfulness, and apparently with out suspicion.
About this time Duryodhana openly approached his father, begging him to banish his cousins to the town of Benares, and during their absence confer on himself the sovereignty of the kingdom. The timid Dhritarashtra could only acknowledge that the suggestion marched well with his own secret wishes, and this being so, his stronger-minded son quickly reassured him as to the difficulties that he foresaw. Theirs was at present, he pointed out, the command of the treasury. Having that, they could buy the popular allegiance, and no critic of their conduct would be strong enough
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 137
to oppose them. From this time Duryodhana began to win over the people by lavish distribution of wealth and honours.
The Princes are Banished
It was now, under secret instructions from Dhritarashtra the king, that certain members of the court began to praise the beauties of the city of Benares, in which, they said, the yearly festival of Shiva was already beginning. Presently, as was intended, the Pandava princes, with others, showed some interest and curiosity as to the beauties of Benares, and said how very much they would like to see it. Suddenly, at the word, the blind Dhritarashtra turned towards them with apparent kindness. "Then go, my children," he said, "you five brothers together, and satisfy your desire by living for some time in the city of Benares, and you shall take with you from the royal treasury largess for distribution."
There was no mistaking the fact that the words which sounded so friendly were really a sentence of banishment. But Yudhishthira, with his fixed policy, had sufficient presence of mind to bow cheerfully and signify pleasure at the opportunity given him. A day or two later the grey- haired Kunti set out with her five sons from Hastinapura. Purochanna, the friend and minister of Duryodhana, had, however, left still earlier to make preparations at Benares for receiving the princes. And especially he was instructed to build a house for them of highly inflammable materials and fitted with all the costliest furniture and equipments as close to the public arsenal as possible, that there he might live, as warden of the city, and watch for a suitable opportunity of setting fire to it, as if by accident. The palace, in fact, was to be made of lac.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 138
Meanwhile the watchful Vidura, letting nothing in all this escape him, had made ready on the Ganges a fine ship to which Kunti and her sons might flee in their hour of peril. Now, also, as the Pandavas set forth from Hastinapura, Vidura, of all who accompanied them at the beginning of their journey, was the last to leave them ; and as they parted he said to Yudhishthira in low tones, and in a language that they two alone understood : " Be always alert ! There are weapons not made of steel. One can escape even from fire by having many outlets to one's house, and a deep hole is a wonderful refuge ! Make yourselves familiar with the roads through the forest and learn to direct yourselves by the stars. Above all, be ever vigilant ! "
" I understand you well," replied Yudhishthira quickly, and without more words they parted.
The Princes arrive at Benares
The Pandavas were received with great magnificence by the people of Benares, headed by Purochanna, and were lodged for a time in a house outside the city. On the tenth day, however, Purochanna described to them a fair mansion that he had erected for them within the city. His name for it was " the blessed home," but it was of course in reality "the accursed house," and Yudhishthira, judging that course wisest, went forth with his mother and brothers to take up his quarters in it. On reaching the house he inspected it closely, and, indeed, the smell of lac, tar, and oil was strongly perceptible in the new building.
Then, turning to Bhima, he told him that he suspected it to be highly inflammable. " Then ought we not to return at once to our first quarters ? " said the simple Bhima in surprise. " In my opinion it is wiser," answered his
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 139
brother, " to remain here in seeming contentment, and thus gain time by allaying all their suspicions. If we showed that we understood him, this Purochanna would make an immediate attempt upon us. But we must always have our eyes about us ; not for one moment must we allow ourselves to be careless."
No sooner were the princes established in their new abode than there came to them a man who said he was an emissary from Vidura, their uncle, and skilled in mining. It was his opinion that the house in which they now were would be burnt on some moonless night. He therefore proposed to dig for them a wide subterranean passage without delay. And he repeated to them, as password, the last sentence that had been spoken, in a strange tongue, between Yudhishthira and his uncle at the moment of parting. Hearing all this, the Pandavas accepted him with great joy, and he at once began a careful excavation in the chamber of Yudhishthira, covering up its entrance with planks so as to be level with the rest of the floor. And the princes spent their days hunting and ranging the forests in the neighbour hood, and at night slept always within closed doors, with their arms beside their pillows.
The Escape of the Pandavas
When a whole year had gone by it appeared to Yudhishthira that Purochanna was completely off his guard. He therefore considered that the time would now be favourable for their escape. On a certain evening, therefore, Kunti the queen gave a great feast, and hundreds of men and women came to it. And in the dead of the night, as it chanced, when all had gone, a great wind began to blow; and Bhima at that time, coming out quietly, set fire to that
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 140
part of the house which adjoined Purochanna s own quarters in the arsenal. Then he set fire to various other parts, and leaving it all to blaze up of itself, he, with his mother and brothers, entered the subterranean passage to make their escape. And none knew that a poor low- caste woman had come to the feast, accompanied by her five sons, nor that all six, in the sleep of intoxication, lay within the burning house. And since drowsiness and fear impeded the motion of the Pandavas, the gigantic Bhima lifted his mother to his shoulder, and then, taking two brothers under each arm, pushed forward along the secret passage, and came out after a while into the darkness of the forest. And Bhima, thus loaded, pushed on, breaking the trees with his breast, and pressing the earth deep with the stamping of his feet.
And behind them the citizens of Benares stood all night watching the burning of the house of lac, wailing aloud for the fate of the princes, whom they supposed to be within, and loudly condemning the wicked Purochanna, whose motives they understood thoroughly well; and when morning was ceme they found the body of Purochanna and the bodies of the innocent low-caste woman and her five sons, and sending word to Dhritarashtra in the distant capital, they proceeded to render royal honours to the unfortunate victims. But the miner who had been employed by Vidura contrived to help in the moving about of the ashes, and so to cover the entrance to the secret passage as he did so that none suspected its existence.
Meanwhile, when the Pandavas had emerged from the forest they found in a fair ship on the Ganges a man who seemed to be measuring the river and searching its bed to find a ford. And this was really that captain who had been sent by Vidura to wait for the hour of the Pandava
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 141
flight. Seeing the five men, with their mother, reach the river-bank, he now brought up his vessel and said to the : grey-haired Kunti in a low voice: "Escape with thy children from the net that death hath spread around you all!" Kunti looked up startled, and he turned to the princes and said: "It is the word of Vidura. Be ever alert ! I am sent to convey you to the other side of the Ganges ! "
Recognizing him by these words as the agent of Vidura, the princes gladly stepped into his boat, and he took them safely to the opposite shore. Then uttering the one word Jaya, (Victory !), he left them, and returned to the work he had seemed to be doing. And the Pandavas, with their mother, fled on from forest to forest and town to town. Now they went in one disguise and again in another, till; at last they came to the town of Ekachakra, and being there received in the outer rooms of a Brahman and his family, they settled down to live as learned men by begging. And repeating long passages from the sacred books, it was easy for them to obtain enough food to eat. With their tall forms, their deer-skin garments, their sacred threads, and their matted locks, all men took them for Brahmans. But returning to Kunti in the evening with the rice they had gathered during the day, it was always divided by her; into two equal portions. One of these was eaten by Bhima, and the other was divided between the four remaining brothers and herself. And so doing they lived for many months in simplicity and much happiness in the town of Ekachakra.
V. How the Pandavas won a Bride
Now while the Pandavas were living with their mother disguised as Brahmans in the town of Ekachakra, there
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 142
came one staunch friend and another out of their past life to visit them quietly. And from one of these they heard that Drupada, king of the Panchalas, had announced the Swayamvara of his beautiful daughter Draupadi. A few more words passed regarding the extraordinary charms and accomplishments of the princess of the Panchalas, and in the evening, when their guest had gone, Kunti noticed that her sons had fallen silent and listless. Then, guessing the cause of their changed spirits better than they could have done themselves, she said, with gentle tact, that she was tired of Ekachakra and would be glad to renew their wanderings, if her sons would, in the country of the Panchalas.
The very next day all said good-bye to their host the Brahman of Ekachakra and set out for Kampilya, the capital of Drupada. And as they went they fell in with certain Brahmans going by the same road, who told them of the great bridal choice that was about to be held for the princess of the kingdom and of the royal largess to be given to wandering scholars on the occasion. And the princes, making as though they heard of these things now for the first time, joined themselves to their company and announced their intention of witnessing the Swayamvara. And when they reached the city they went about it for a time as sightseers and ended by taking up their quarters in the guest-rooms of a certain potter.
Now it happened that ever since the raid of Drona and his pupils Drupada had cherished a secret wish that his daughter Draupadi might be wedded to Arjuna. But this wish he had never mentioned to anyone. Still, not knowing of the reputed death and thinking secretly of him, he caused a very stiff bow to be made and had a ring suspended at a very great height, and announced that he
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 143
who should string the bow and shoot his arrow through the ring should have the princess for his wife. With these words he proclaimed the Swayamvara, and kings, princes, and great sages began to pour in from all sides. Even Duryodhana came with his friend Karna. And all alike Drupada received with lavish hospitality. But the Pandavas were living as beggars in the house of the potter, and none in all the city recognized them.
The festivities attendant on a royal wedding began, and every day waxed greater and greater, till on the sixteenth day, when everything was at its height, the great moment arrived. The Princess Draupadi, robed and jewelled, stepped into the arena, bearing a golden plate whereon lay a garland of flowers. As she entered, all music was stopped and the royal Brahmans lighted the sacrificial fire. When all was still, Dhrishtadyumna, her twin- brother, stepped forward beside the princess and said in a voice as deep and rich as thunder itself: " O ye monarchs that are assembled here to-day, behold the bow, and yonder is the ring! He who can shoot five arrows through that ring having birth, beauty, and strength of person shall obtain to-day my sister as his bride ! "
Then turning to the princess herself, he enumerated all the kings who were candidates for her hand and told her that he who should shoot the mark was to be chosen by her. And Duryodhana's name came first, and Karna was mentioned, but none spoke the names of the five Pandavas, who, unknown to all, were present in the crowd as Brahmans.
As Dhrishtadyumna finished speaking their names the kings and princes all leapt to their feet, each eager to be first in the stringing of the bow. And as they sprang into
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 144
the arena and crowded together to the testing-spot, it was said by some that they saw the gods themselves on their heavenly chariots mingling in the concourse. One after another, with hearts beating high, under the eyes of Drupada, in the blaze of the world and covered with glory, the candidates went forward to the shooting-place. And some with swelling lips and straining muscles laboured long to string that bow, and one after another, with crowns loosened and garlands torn, had to desist without success, being tossed to the ground by the resistance of the weapon. Then Karna, seeing the mortification of his friends and eager to show the glory of the knighthood, stepped for ward quickly to the place of the bow. And seeing him, five seeming Brahmans amongst the spectators drew in their breath and gave the princess up for lost, for they had no manner of doubt that Karna could string the bow of Drupada.
But as her eyes fell on the hero the princess exclaimed in cold tones of disdain : " I will not wed the son of a charioteer!" And hearing her, Karna smiled somewhat bitterly, glanced up at the sun, and cast aside the bow, already drawn to a circle.
And now when the last of the monarchs was making his attempt, and their uniform failure was being discussed hotly by the spectators, Arjuna, with his deer-skin rug, his matted locks, and his sacred thread, rose from amongst the crowd of Brahmans seated as onlookers on the out skirts of the arena and stepped forward to the shooting- dais. Loud murmurs, some of approval and some of disapproval, rose from the Brahmans to right and left of him as he did so. For, regarding him as one of them selves, they took his movement for the most part as one of mere childish restlessness which would bring disgrace
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 145
on all of them. Only a few of them, noting his form and bearing, had the courage to cry : " Good, good ! Make the attempt ! "
But while his friends talked Arjuna walked up to the bow and stood before it like a mountain. Bending his head in prayer, he walked slowly round it. Then in the twinkling of an eye he strung it, and shooting five arrows in quick succession through the ring, he brought down the mark that had been suspended above.
The cheering that followed seemed to come from the heavens as well as from the amphitheatre. The Brah- mans stood up in their excitement waving their scarfs. Flowers rained from the sky in all directions. And the bards immediately burst out into praises of the hero who had won. From the royal seats above the lists Drupada the king beamed approval on the young Brahman who had shot the mark, and the Princess Draupadi lifted her eyes toArjuna's and silently signified that she took him as her lord.
But while the uproar was at its height Yudhishthira, with the twins Nakula and Sahadeva, fearing recognition if they remained all in one place, rose and left the assembly, leaving Arjuna and Bhima together alone. In less time than it takes the clouds to overspread the sky, the whole temper of the assembly seemed to change.
Arjuna had been vested by Draupadi with the white robe and the garland of marriage, and Drupada's approval of the hero was patent to all the beholders. Seeing this, the kings and princes who had failed were suddenly filled with wrath. They had been set at naught. They had been invited to be insulted. They had been openly refused out of contempt, and a Brahman chosen over their heads. Seizing their maces, the angry warriors made a united
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 146
rush upon Drupada, who shrank back for the moment amongst the crowd of Brahmans. But seeing the danger of their host, Arjuna and Bhima came forward to cover him Arjuna with the redoubtable bow, and Bhima, tearing up by the roots a great tree, brandishing it ready for success. Even Arjuna, accustomed as he was to the great feats of his brother, was astonished to see him uproot the tree, while all the monarchs fell back in sheer amaze ment.
The Pandavas are Recognized
" Look, look ! " he said to his brother, who was beside him, " I had heard that the Pandavas had escaped from the house of lac, and as surely as I am Krishna yonder are two of them, Bhima and Arjuna ! "
Then the Brahmans, shaking their coco-nut water-vessels and their deer-skins, closed round Drupada for his protection against the onset of the knighthood, while Arjuna and Bhima took them one by one in single combat. And such was the shooting of arrows between Karna and Arjuna that each was to the other invisible for several minutes at a time, and Karna fainted from loss of blood, but recovered to a greater enthusiasm for battle than before. And all admired the strength and lightness of Bhima, who could seize a hero and throw him to a dis tance and yet refrain from hurting him much.
Finally, however, the kings and princes, with all their good humour restored by fighting, surrendered cheerfully to their Brahman opponents. And when this moment arrived,
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 147
Arjuna and Bhima, leaving the throng and followed by the princess, turned their steps to their mother's house. Kunti meanwhile had been waiting in great anxiety for the return of her two sons. The day was wearing on, and how many evils might not have befallen them ! At last, however, in the midst of a crowd of Brahmans, she saw Arjuna and Bhima. Reaching the door, they said : " Ah, mother, behold what we have obtained as alms to-day ! " Kunti, from within the house, not having seen the blush ing princess whom they were putting forward as they spoke, answered : " Enjoy ye all what ye have brought! "
Then she saw Draupadi and, embracing her warmly, welcomed her as a daughter. Thus the princess of the Panchalas became the bride of the Pandavas. But as all sat together in silence in the house of the potter there came two guests Krishna, the prince of the Vrishnis, and Balarama, his brother who laughingly hailed them all as Pandavas, touching the feet of Yudhishthira in token of their delight that they had escaped from the house of lac. Then, lest any should recognize them and their disguise be penetrated, they hastily withdrew again. And the Princess Draupadi proceeded humbly and lovingly under Kunti's direction to cook the evening meal for the whole family. And none was aware that her brother, Prince Drishtadyumna, was lying concealed in an adjoining room for the purpose of listening to the secret conversation of the seeming Brahmans.
And when night came, the Pandavas, lying awake, discussed with one another of divine weapons and battle chariots and elephants and military matters. And Drishtadyumna set out with the dawn to return to his father and report to him the character of the hero who had bent the bow. But Drupada, running forward, met
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 148
him, saying: " Tell me ! tell me ! was it Arjuna who shot the mark?"
Only after the bridal feast had been given, however, at the palace of Drupada, would Yudhishthira admit that he and his brothers were in truth the Pandava princes. Until Draupadi was duly wedded she knew them only as the shooters-down of the bow, and whatever they might be, kings or Brahmans, she accepted them on that basis.
But when Drupada knew that he was now in close alliance with the Pandavas his joy knew no bounds and he feared nothing, even from the gods. And the rumour of their escape from the house of lac and their victory at the Swayamvara began to spread through the neighbouring kingdoms, and all men began to look on them as those newly returned from the dead. And Vidura himself carried the news to Dhritarashtra that the Pandavas now were alive and well and gifted with many and powerful friends.
VI. The Story of Shishupala
When the news reached Dhritarashtra that the Pandavas had not after all been burnt in the house of lac, but had escaped and were now at the court of Drupada, accepted in his family and furnished with many and powerful friends, the old king did not know what reply to make. So he called to him his son Duryodhana and all his councillors, and put to them the question of what course he should pursue.
All were for their immediate recall to Hastinapura; every one urged the sending of congratulations on their escape. But Duryodhana was of opinion that after this they should proceed to dispose of them by a series of frauds, dividing their interests and setting them against each other, and so
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 149
at last deprive them of all resource. Karna, on the other hand, held that they should be fought. Prowess against prowess, knighthood against knighthood, he said. These men could never be divided. Such an attempt would only render ridiculous him who might undertake it. But a fair fight should be the method of a soldier. The Pandavas were men, they were not gods, and as men they might be defeated in battle.
Bhishma, on the other hand, supported by Drona and Vidura, pointed out that the right of the Pandavas to the paternal kingdom was at least as good as that of Duryo- dhana. They must therefore be recalled and firmly established in half of the kingdom. So strong was the insistence of these good men upon this course that Dhritarashtra had nothing to do but obey, and an embassy was sent to the court of Drupada, with presents for the princes, to congratulate them on their safety and to invite them again to their ancestral home. By this time not only Drupada, but also, and even more powerfully, Krishna and his brother Balarama, had become the friends and counsellors of the Pandavas, and not until they were advised to do so by all of these did they accept the overtures of friendship made by their kinsman Dhritarashtra. At last, however, they did so, and taking Kunti, their mother, and Draupadi, their queen, set out for the city of Hastinapura.
The Return of the Pandavas
Arriving there and staying long enough to rest, they were summoned to the presence of Dhritarashtra, who told them that in order to prevent any further disturbance in his family he was willing to divide the kingdom and give them half, assigning to them a certain desert tract for residence. It had always been the habit of these princes
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 150
to accept cheerfully what was offered them by the aged sovereign and make the best of it. And on this occasion they did not break their rule. Apparently seeing no flaw in this gift of a barren tract of wilderness for a home, they did homage to Dhritarashtra and set forth to their new capital.
Once there, however, their energy knew no bounds. Offer ing the necessary sacrifices of propitiation, they had the ground measured off for a new city, and proceeded to build, fortify, and adorn it till there stood on the plain the famous Indraprastha, a fit abode for the very gods, not to speak of emperors, such were its beauty and magnificence. Not content with building a city, the brothers set about organizing their dominions and their administration, and their subjects, realizing the wisdom and beneficence of these new rulers, felt themselves happy indeed to have passed under their sway. There was no misery in that kingdom caused by arrears of rent. The peasant obtained easy access to his sovereign. Justice was well administered ; order was maintained ; peace and prosperity were united on all sides. At this time it was suggested to Yudhishthira that he ought to hold a Coronation Sacrifice, and the thought began to cause him some anxiety. On every hand he sought the advice of his ministers, but not until he had obtained that of Krishna, his new and trusted friend, could he be sure of the right course. He was aware of the many motives kindness, flattery, self-interest, and the rest that guide men in the giving of counsel, and to his mind there was but one soul that was above all such influence. The Coronation Sacrifice was not a rite to be undertaken lightly. It meant the establishment of the king who performed it as suzerain over all his fellows. To do this it was necessary to bring together an immense
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 151
concourse of tributary sovereigns, and it was well known that in this great concourse of feudatories lurked immense dangers. It was at such gatherings that revolutions were apt to originate. It behoved him who would offer the sacrifice, therefore, to think well over the state of things, and consider clearly what he was attempting. Successful, he might expect to be regarded as over-lord of the whole empire for life. But the smallest false step might result in supreme disaster, hurling him from the throne and even bringing about a civil war.
The Counsel of Krishna
Even as Yudhishthira had thought, whilst others lightly counselled him to undertake the sacrifice, Krishna alone could point out to him the train of thought that should guide a monarch face to face with so grave an enterprise. Point by point he discussed with him the political state of rival kingdoms and the chances of stability in the country at large. Thus he led him to see what wars must be undertaken and what areas must yet be subjugated before the imperial sacrifice could be offered. But Krishna encouraged Yudhishthira, no less warmly than his own ministers had done, as to his personal fitness and the appropriate condition of the home-kingdom and its government for the proud position that he desired to make his own. Nor did Yudhishthira or any of his brothers suspect that, just as this festival would establish them in the over-lordship, so it was destined to reveal before the eyes of all men, and not only to the trusted few who already knew it, the greatness and power of Krishna him self, who was, indeed, no king, only because he was so far above all earthly kings.
Having taken the advice of this mighty counsellor,
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 152
Yudhishthira proceeded to carry it out in every particular, and not until all was finished would he announce his intention of holding the coronation festival. Even after this the preparations for the sacrifice took a long time to make, but finally all was ready, and in every direction invitations were sent out, and kings and heroes began to pour in. And there was one there, Narada by name, who had the inner sight, and he, looking upon that great assembly and seeing the Lord Krishna as its true centre and occasion, was filled with awe, and where others saw only brilliance and festivity he was all reverence and sat watching, lost in worship.
Now when the last day of the sacrifice was come and the sacred water was about to be sprinkled on the head of Yudhishthira, it was suggested by Bhishma, head of both the royal houses, that, as a matter of courtesy to the invited guests, homage should first be done to each one of them in turn, according to his rank and precedence. And, added the old grandfather as his eyes dwelt fondly on the face of Krishna, to him first of all, as the incarnation of God, let these royal honours be paid as chief. And Krishna himself consenting also, the honours were paid.
The Quarrel for Precedence
But one there was amongst the assembled kings who grudged the precedence given to Krishna in the midst of sovereigns, as if he also had been a ruling monarch. And this guest, Shishupala by name, broke out into bitter reproaches against Bhishma and Yudhishthira for what he regarded as the insult done to the tributary vassals in thus putting before them one who could lay no claim to precedence by right of independence, or long alliance, or age and kinship. Was Krishna, he asked, the oldest who was
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 153
present ? How could such a claim be urged when Vasudeva, his own father, was in his proper place ? Or was he held as master and teacher ? But here was Drona the Brahman, who had acted as tutor to all the royal princes. Or did the Pandavas give him precedence because of his treaty, value as an ally in time of war? If so, here was Drupada, who deserved better of them ; for he was the father of Draupadi, their queen, and none could be so bound to them as he. But if it was love and reverence that had guided the offering, then surely old Bhishma, their kinsman, the bond between two lines, had a better right.
At these words of Shishupala, a certain number of the guests began to manifest disaffection to the sacrifice and its lord, and it became evident that Shishupala was master of a faction who might take it upon themselves to prevent the proper completion of the ceremonies. Now, if a royal sacrifice were not brought to a proper end, the fact would forbode great disaster for the kingdom and its subjects. Hence Yudhishthira showed great anxiety and did all he could to conciliate the angry king. He, however, like a spoiled child, or like a stern and bitter man, refused by any means to be placated. Seeing this, Yudhishthira looked toward Bhishma for advice. Bhishma, however, took no pains to conciliate the angry king. Laughingly he put aside the gravity of Yudhishthira. "Wait," he said, "O king, till the Lord Krishna wakes up to the matter ! Can the dog slay the lion ? Verily this king looks very like a lion, till the lion is roused ; then we shall see what we shall see."
But Shishupala heard the words that Bhishma spoke, and being deeply galled at the comparison to a dog, he addressed himself to the venerable statesman in words that were openly insulting and unrestrained. He called him
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 154
an old reprobate, always prating of morality, and as they listened even his own friends and allies were filled with horror and looked to see some judgment fall speedily on the head of one who so forgot the dignity due to his own and equal rank. Bhishma, however, showed no excitement. Standing calmly there, he held up his hand for silence, and as soon as it was established he spoke to the angry Bhima, Yudhishthira's brother, whose red eyes showed that he regarded the words that had been spoken to his revered grandfather as a challenge to himself.
"Softly, O : Bhima," said Bhishma, "and listen to the story of this very Shishupala. He was born in the kingly line, having three eyes and four arms, and as soon as he was born he brayed like an ass. And his father and mother, being affrighted by these omens, were making up their minds to abandon the child, when they heard a voice speaking to them out of the air and saying : Fear nothing ; cherish this boy. His time is not yet come. One is already born who will slay him with weapons when his end arrives. Before that he will be both fortunate and highly placed. "Then the queen, his mother, much comforted by these words, took courage, and asked : Who is this that shall be the slayer of my son ?
" And the voice answered : He on whose lap thy child will be seated when his third eye disappears and his two added arms fall away.
" And lo, after this, the king and queen of Chedi made a round of royal visits together, and wherever they went they asked the king whose guest they might be at the moment to take their child into his arms. But nowhere did he lose the added arms, nor did his third eye disappear.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 155
" Then, disappointed, they came back to their own city and their own palace. And when they had been some time at home there came to visit them the young Prince Krishna and his elder brother. And they began to play with the baby. But when Krishna took it on his lap, lo, before all, the child's third eye slowly wrinkled up and disappeared, and the two unusual arms withered away. Then the queen of the Chedis knew that this was the destined slayer of her son, and falling on her knees, she said : O Lord, grant me one boon !
" And the Lord Krishna answered : Say on !
" And she said : 'Promise me that when my son offends thee thou wilt forgive him !
" And he answered : Yea, if he offend me even a hundred times, yet a hundred times shall I forgive him.
" This is that Shishupala," continued Bhishma, " who even now, presuming on the mercy of the Lord, summons thee to battle. Truly must he be a portion of the energy of the Creator, and that energy the Almighty would now resume within himself. It is for this that he may bring about his own destruction, that he is provoking so much anger and roaring like a tiger before us, caring nothing for the result."
Now Shishupala's anger had been mounting higher and higher during Bhishma's speech, and as it finished he shook his sword threateningly and said, "Dotard! knowest thou not that thou art at this moment alive only by the kindness of myself and these other kings ? "
"Whether that be so or not," answered Bhishma with great haughtiness and calm, "know that I esteem all the kings of the earth but as a straw. Whether I be slain like a beast of the field or burnt to death in the forest fire, whatever be the consequence, here do I place my foot
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 156
on the heads of you all. Here before us stands the Lord. Him have we worshipped. Let him only who desires a speedy death enter into conflict with him. But such a one may even summon him to battle him of dark hue, who is the wielder of the discus and the mace and, falling, he will enter into and mingle with the body of this god!"
The Death of Shishupala
As the solemn words of 'Bhishma ended all present involuntarily turned their eyes toward Krishna. Intent he stood there, looking quietly upon the enraged and anger- inflated Shishupala, like one whose mind might be summoning the celestial weapons to his aid. And when Shishupala laughed tauntingly, he merely said : " The cup of thy misdeeds, O sinful one, is now full ! " and as he spoke the flaming discus rose from behind him and, passing over the circle of kings, descended upon the helmet of Shishupala and clove him through from head to foot. Then came forth the soul of that wicked one, as it had been a mass of flame, and, making its own path, bowed itself down and melted away into the feet of Krishna himself. Even as Bhishma had declared, falling, he entered into and was mingled with the body of that god.
Thus ended Shishupala, who had sinned to a hundred and one times and been forgiven. For even the enemies of the Lord go to salvation by thinking wholly upon him.
VII. The Fatal Dice
Now when the imperial sacrifice of Yudhishthira was over, his cousin Duryodhana continued for many days to be his guest in the palace that the brothers had built for such purposes at Indraprastha. And with Duryodhana there
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 157
stayed as friend and companion a man who was destined: to be his evil genius, an uncle of his, Sakuni by name. And together they examined the mansion that the Pandavas had built. And in one of the rooms, coming upon a crystal floor, Prince Duryodhana took it to be water, and drew aside his garments as if to wade; then, discovering his error, he went about in constant mortification. But next day coming upon a pond, he mistook it for crystal and fell in, whereupon he became a mark for good- natured raillery. But everything affected him with bitterness. Crystal doors appeared to him to be open, and open doors he suspected to be closed, and vexation was added to vexation in his mind. Besides this, the beauty of walls starred with jewels and halls with thousands of carven pillars filled him with jealousy, and in his thoughts he compared Hastinapura with Indraprastha and spoke to himself of the Pandavas as foes. It was in this mood that his stay with his cousin ended and he returned to Hastinapura.
It was well known that Yudhishthira was sensitive on all points that involved the honour of the knighthood. Now there was one matter that was incumbent upon the true knight : just as he must answer a challenge to battle, so he must comply with a challenge to the dice. But the eldest of the Pandavas was known to be extremely weak in this matter. He gambled badly, and was subject to the intoxication of the dice. When the stakes were being thrown he would lose his head and throw wildly, and none could at such a time gain his attention to reason with him. For this reason it was the habit of Yudhishthira to avoid gambling, unless it was made imperative by a knightly challenge.
Now Sakuni, the uncle and companion of Duryodhana, in
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 158
spite of his high position and associations, was a gambler who carried his skill with the dice to the height of sharp practice. In this there was none living who surpassed him, and like all such men he was ever hungry for new victims. Sakuni now therefore began to harp on the well-known weakness of Yudhishthira, plying Duryodhana with the demand that he should be invited to Hastinapura to play.
The permission of the aged Dhritarashtra, always like clay in the hands of his eldest son, was not difficult to obtain, and Vidura himself, in spite of his protests, was dispatched to Indraprastha with the challenge to Yudhishthira to come to throw the dice. A large pleasure- house was rapidly erected meanwhile, and every preparation was made to receive the royal guests.
Yudhishthira was very grave when he learned at Indraprastha the errand on which Vidura had been sent. "Gambling is ever productive of dissension," he said ; "tell me who are to be the other players?" One by one Vidura mentioned their names, and at each Yudhishthira and his brothers grew more thoughtful. They were all men known for their skill and for their unscrupulous and greedy methods of play. At last, how ever, realizing that the invitation was also the king's order, Yudhishthira gave directions that all should be made ready for the journey. "I think," he said, "it is the call of fate. What is a man to fight against destiny ? " And with heavy hearts the heroes and Draupadi set forth for Hastinapura, where they were received in right royal fashion, and as soon as their fatigue was gone conducted to the gambling-table. --- Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 159
With manifest reluctance, acceding only in obedience to the royal wish and the honour of his order, Yudhishthira sat down in the presence of the assembled court to play with Sakuni. And Dhritarashtra himself was present, together with Bhishma and Drona and Vidura and all the ministers. And it was openly announced, in spite of the irregularity, that Duryodhana would pay the stakes that Sakuni might lose.
But once Yudhishthira had begun to play he became, as all present had known he would, like a man intoxicated. At every throw he was pronounced the loser, and yet each time, with pale face and frenzied hands, he shouted for higher and more precious stakes. And the grave persons present sat with heads bowed and faces hidden in their hands. And the Pandava brothers held themselves still, with breath indrawn, feeling themselves at the disposal of their brother, who was also their sovereign, though their hearts were bursting with rage and they longed to seize his adversary by the throat and deprive him of life. Only the insolent Duryodhana laughed aloud, and grew flushed with triumph as the madness of Yudhishthira became more and more apparent to the whole of that august assembly. But the weak Dhritarashtra was full of fear, for he could feel the thoughts of all present and knew well enough, in his timid way, that a storm was here being set in motion that would not end till all the house should be uprooted. And Vidura, sitting beside him, reminded him how asses had brayed when Duryodhana was born. And the monarch shivered, yet had not strength to stop the play.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 160
The Loss of Draupadi
Meanwhile the madness of Yudhishthira progressed. At each cast he lost and Sakuni won. Jewels went, the royal treasures went, chariots, servants, stables, banners all kinds of possessions followed. Then the play entered on a more dangerous phase. The king staked his kingdom and lost. Yudhishthira was now demented, beyond all hope of reaching by arguments, and one by one, in the passion of the gambler, he staked his brothers, himself, and Draupadi and lost !
"Aha!" cried the wicked Duryodhana, leaping to his feet in unconcealed delight. " Go, Vidura, and bring us the virtuous Draupadi, that the Pandava queen may sweep our floors ! " But Vidura cursed Duryodhana for the wickedness that would insult a woman and bring a doom upon them all, and a courtier had to be sent for Draupadi.
When at last the wife of Yudhishthira stood before them, and was told that she had been made the slave of Duryodhana's faction by her husband, she asked in what condition
Yudhishthira had been when he offered such a stake. And when she was told that he had first lost himself to Sakuni, and afterwards staked her, she answered in triumph that she repudiated the transaction. How could one who was himself a slave possess another who was free, and so dispose of her? And all present felt the soundness of her reasoning, yet would not Duryodhana admit himself foiled.
Then when the dispute was at its height, and the lawless ness of Duryodhana in the presence of Draupadi was threatening to provoke Bhima and Arjuna to his slaughter, at that very instant a jackal was heard to wail in the vicinity of Dhritarashtra. And in answer to the wail of
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 161
the jackal there came the braying of an ass from without, and certain birds, also, gave hoarse and terrible cries. Then Bhishma and Drona and Vidura turned quietly and looked at each other, and Dhritarashtra grew pale and began to tremble, for he had heard the sounds and under stood. " Ask a boon, Draupadi ! " he commanded, putting up a shaking hand to still the clamour that was going on around him. "Ask a boon, my daughter. I will grant unto thee whatever thou sayest ! "
At those words Draupadi looked up. " I who am free," she said quietly and proudly, "demand the freedom of my son's father, Yudhishthira ! "
" Granted," said Dhritarashtra. " Ask again ! "
"And the freedom of all his brothers," continued Draupadi, "with their weapons, their chariots, and their per sonal belongings ! "
"It is given!" said Dhritarashtra. "Only, O princess, ask more ! "
" By no means," said Draupadi firmly and disdainfully. "The Pandavas, armed and free, can conquer the whole world. They need owe nothing to a boon ! " And Karna, looking on, said to himself: "Was there ever such a woman? The Pandavas were sinking in an ocean of despair, and the princess of Panchala hath made herself a ship to carry them in safety to the shore ! "
Immediately amongst the new-freed princes arose a fiery argument as to whether their first duty was not the slaughter of Duryodhana for the insults done to Draupadi, and it was averred by those who were present that in the heat of his anger smoke issued from the ears of Bhima. But Yudhishthira, who had regained his habitual calm, pacified them.
He turned to Dhritarashtra to ask what might be the royal wish.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 162
" Oh, go back to your own city and take your wealth with you and rule over your kingdom," entreated the old man, now thoroughly frightened. " You fortunately are open to reason. Leave us for Indraprastha, and that as quickly as possible ! I only beg that you will bear no malice against us for what has passed ! " And the Pandavas were glad enough to carry out his instructions. With every formality of courtesy, therefore, they ordered their chariots and escorts and set forth for Indraprastha without delay. Duryodhana had been absent when his father Dhritarashtra in his panic had urged the Pandavas to depart from Hastinapura. Now, however, his evil counsellors crowded round him, exclaiming: "We are undone! All that we had won the old man has given away ! He has given their wealth back to the enemy."
Duryodhana hastened to his father's side and, without frightening him by any reproaches, represented to him the danger of allowing the Pandavas, after the insults showered upon them, again to have access to their friends, their armies, and their stores. Dhritarashtra listened and wavered, and at this point Duryodhana suggested as a fantastic wager that they should be brought back to throw the dice once more, and whichever side lost should retire into the forest for twelve years to live as ascetics and pass the thirteenth year in some city unrecognized by any, or, if recognized, pass another twelve years in the forest as forfeit. During this time Dhritarashtra himself, urged his son, could make himself the master of widespread alliances and of a vast standing army, not easily to be conquered by five wandering princes. So might they still retrieve the folly of having allowed them to depart.
The old king listened and, fatally compliant, said: "Then let them return. Bring them back."
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 163
" No, no ! " cried all the ministers, and even Karna, who surrounded him. "No, no ! Let there now be peace ! " But Dhritarashtra said : " My son's desire shall be fulfilled. Let them be recalled ! "
Then even Gandhari, the aged queen, came into the council-chamber and implored the king her husband to cast off Duryodhana, their eldest son, rather than again allow him to have his way.
But Dhritarashtra's was the obstinacy of a weak intellect. He said : " If our race is about to be destroyed, I am ill able to prevent it. Let my son's desire be fulfilled. Let the Pandavas return ! "
The Renewal of the Contest
Yudhishthira and his brothers had gone far along the road when the royal messenger overtook them with the king's command for their return. There was no great need for compliance. They knew well that the play was false. They might easily have made some courteous excuse and pushed on to their own city. But the mind of a man under the sway of calamity becomes deranged. Yudhishthira, at the words " Return and play ! " took on the look of a man under a spell. And in due course, to the despair of all their friends, the Pandavas once more entered Hastinapura and addressed themselves to play.
Once more the dice were thrown. Again Sakuni cried: " I have won ! And the Pandavas stood up masters of themselves, but doomed to live twelve years in the forests and a thirteenth year unrecognized in some city ; from there, if recognized, to return to the wild woods for another twelve years of exile.
But as they went forth, grim and silent, to their exile, wise men marked the manner of their going and read in it of a
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 164
terrible return a return that should be disastrous to all their foes.
VIII. The Kirat-Arjuna
Now while the Pandavas, in accordance with their defeat at dice, were living in exile in the forest, the mind of Yudhishthira brooded much upon their weakness as compared with the strength and resources of Duryodhana. He clearly foresaw that at some future time the differences between their cousins and themselves would have to be decided by the fortunes of war. And he remembered that Duryodhana was in actual possession of the throne and treasury, and that all the friends of their youth whose prowess on the field they knew were his friends and, he felt sure, devoted to him. Drona and his pupils, above all Karna, would, he feared, fight and die if need be, not for the Pandavas, but for Duryodhana, son of Dhritarashtra, the reigning king.
Just at the time when the eldest of the Pandavas was possessed by these forebodings a holy man came to visit the retreat of the brothers, and the instant he saw Yudhishthira he began to answer the doubt that was in his mind.
"Thou art troubled, O king," he said, "about the rival strength of thy friends and thy foes. For that have I come to thee. There is none in the world who can defeat thy brother Arjuna, if once he betakes himself to the mountains and obtains the vision of the Great God. By his hand are all thine enemies destined to be slain. Let Arjuna go to the mountains, and there alone let him fast and pray." Arjuna, therefore, thus selected, took vows of austerity, promising to be turned aside by nothing that he might meet, and set out for the Himalayas. At the foot of the mountains, when he reached them, he found a holy man,
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 165
seated beneath a tree, and by him he was told that any spiritual gift that he chose might be his with eternal bliss ; he had only to name what he wished. But the knight replied disdainfully that he had left his brothers in the forest to the south, and had himself come thither to obtain divine weapons. Was he going to accept bliss and leave them unaided ? And the holy man, who was none other than the god Indra in disguise, blessed him and approved his resolution. And Arjuna, passing by this temptation, pushed on to the higher mountains where, if anywhere, he might expect his vision.
Passing through the thick forests, he soon reached the very breast of the mountains and established himself there, amidst trees and streams, listening to the songs of birds, and surrounded by fair blossoms, to practise his vow of prayer, vigil, and fast. Clad in scant clothes made of grass and deer-skin, he lived upon withered leaves and fallen fruits, and month after month he reduced his allow ance of these till in the fourth month he was able to live on air alone, taking no other food whatever. And his head looked like lightning because of his constant bathing and purification, and he could stand day after day with arms upraised without support, till the earth began to smoke and the heavenly beings to tremble from the heat of Arjuna's penance.
One day, as he performed his morning worship, offering flowers to a little clay image of the Great God, a boar rushed at him, seeking to slay him. And Arjuna, in whom the instincts of the soldier and the sportsman were ever uppermost, seized his bow and arrows and rose from his worship to kill the creature. At that moment the forests
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 166
had grown strangely and solemnly still. The sound of springs and streams and birds had suddenly stopped. But Arjuna, with his mind still on his half-finished worship, did not notice this. Stringing his bow, he shot an arrow and hit the boar. At the self-same instant the beast was struck by another dart, seemingly as powerful, and with a roar he fell and died. But in Arjuna the wrath of a sportsman had blazed up, and apparently in his unknown rival also, each to find his own shot interfered with at the last moment. For there stood towering above him, as angry as himself, a huntsman, seemingly some king of the mountain tribes, accompanied by his queen and a whole train of merry followers. His form was blazing with energy, and he was saying : " How dared you shoot ? The quarry was mine ! "
" Let us fight for it ! " said Arjuna, and the two began to turn their arrows on each other.
To the mortal's amazement, the body of the huntsman swallowed up his darts without seeming any the worse, and Arjuna could only shoot till his quiver was empty. "Let s wrestle, then!" he cried, and threw himself upon his opponent. He was met by the touch of a hand on his heart, and instead of continuing his combat he turned at once to finish his worship. Taking up a garland of flowers, he threw it about the image, but the next instant it was on the neck of the mountain king.
"Great God! Great God!" cried Arjuna, falling in a rapture at the feet of his unlooked-for guest. "Pardon thou my blows!"
But the Great God, well pleased, put out his hand and blessed his worshipper and granted him the boon of divine weapons, such as could be hurled by the mind, by the eyes, by words, and by the bow. Never should such
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 167
weapons be used till all others had been exhausted. Never should they be used against feeble foes. For so they might in truth destroy the universe. Then the Great God gave to Arjuna Gandiva, the divine bow, and, blessing him, turned and left that mountain with its vales and caves and snowy heights, and went up into the sky with all his train. Such was the Kirat-Arjuna, Arjuna's vision of Mahadeva, the Great God, as a Kirata, or huntsman.
IX. The Maiden who became a Knight
Now it happened that the eldest queen of Drupada, king of the Panchalas, was childless, and had been so for many years. And Drupada worshipped Shiva daily, praying that a son, not a daughter, might be born unto him ; and dedicated this son in advance to the task of aiding in the destruction of Drona.
At last, after much prayer and severe austerity, Shiva himself blessed him, saying : " It is enough, O king ! Thou shalt in due time have a child who will be first a daughter and then a son. This strange thing is decreed for thee. It will not fail ! "
Then Drupada returned home and told his queen of the divine promise that had been made to him. And she, being a woman of strong faith, took the blessing to heart and built her whole mind upon this decree of destiny. In due time accordingly the queen gave birth to a daughter of great beauty, but from the strength of her belief that the promise of Shiva would be fulfilled she actually gave it out that she had borne a son. And Drupada, concurring in the proclamation, had all the rites performed that were proper on the birth of a son. The mother carefully kept her own counsel and placed her trust firmly
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 168
in Shiva, and the father everywhere said : " She is a son " ; and no one in all the city suspected that that concealed daughter was not a son. And she was called Shikhandin, because that name had a feminine form which was Shikhandim, and for the education of this Shikhandin-Shikhandini every care was taken by Drupada. She learned writing and painting and all the arts that were proper to a man. For her parents lived daily in expectation of a miracle, and it behaved them to be ready for it when it should happen. And in shooting and fencing the child became a disciple of the royal guru Drona, and was in no way inferior to other princes in the management of weapons.
Then, as she was beginning to grow up, her mother urged her husband to find a wife for their supposed son and marry him in the sight of the whole world to some princess of royal family. Then Drupada sent embassies of betrothal in all directions, and finally selected a maiden to whom marriage was to be proposed on behalf of Shikhandin. And this maiden was a king's daughter. But now, for the first time, the dread secret began to be whispered, and it came to the ears of the royal father of the princess who was promised to Shikhandin in marriage. And he, thinking he had been purposely insulted in that dearest point, the honour of the names of the women of his house, sent messages of threats and vengeance to Drupada. He would, he declared, destroy his city, and kill both Drupada and his daughter, and place a creature of his own on the throne of the Panchalas.
At this crisis the sense of his own guilt made Drupada somewhat weak. However, the queen publicly took the responsibility of the deception upon herself. She had, she told her husband in the presence of others, had a
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 169
promise made to her by the god Shiva, and relying on this promise she had deceived him, so that he had publicly advertised the world of the birth of a son. She had been altogether responsible, and even now she believed in the word of the Great God : " Born a daughter, this child would become a son ! "
This statement Drupada laid before his councillors, and they conferred all together for the protection of city and subjects against the intended invader. In the first place, they refused to admit that any such insult as was averred had been offered to the brother monarch. The proposals of marriage had been made in all good faith and were perfectly fit and proper proposals. Shikhandin, they repeated, was a man ; he was not a woman. Then they refortified the city and strengthened the defences. And last of all, extraordinary ceremonies of worship were instituted, and the king appealed to the gods for help in this crisis, at every temple in his land.
Nevertheless he had his hours of depression, when he would go to talk the situation over with his wife ; and she did all she could to encourage him. Every effort was directed to keeping up his courage. Homage to the gods was good, she said, when seconded by human endeavour ; no one could tell how good. Hand in hand, these two things were always known to lead to success. Un doubtedly success awaited them. Who could dispute it?
The Resolve of Shikhandini
While the husband and wife talked thus together their daughter Shikhandini listened, and her heart grew heavy as she realized the unspoken despair that all this insistent cheerfulness was meant to conceal. It was the sense that they were to blame that so undermined their courage, and the
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 170
root of trouble and fault alike was in herself. Oh, how worthless she must be ! What a good thing it would be if she could wander off and never be heard of again ! Even if she died, what matter ? Losing her would only rid her unhappy parents of a burden that might possibly cost them, in any case, their lives and kingdom.
Thinking thus in heavy despondency, she rode out of the city and wandered on and on alone till she came to the edge of a dark and lonely forest. Now this forest had the reputation of being haunted. There stood in it an abandoned grange, with high walls and gateway, and rich with fragrance of smoke and grain. But though one might wander through this house day after day, one would never meet the owner of the house, and yet never feel that it had no owner. It was, in fact, the abode of a powerful spirit, Yaksha, known as Sthuna. He was full of kindness, and yet the name of the house was a word of dread amongst the peasant folk in the country-side because of the emptiness and mystery that hung about it.
But of all this Shikhandim had no idea when she entered the place. She was attracted by the open door and the peace and silence; and having entered, she sat down on the floor plunged in sorrow, and remained so for hours and days, forgetting to eat.
The kind-hearted Yaksha saw her, and grew more and more disturbed at her evident distress. Nothing would distract his visitor from her depth of thought, and her forgetfulness of herself seemed endless. At last the friendly yaksha, unable to comfort her, could do nothing but show himself to her, and urged her to tell him what it was she wanted. So he did this, begging her at the same time to tell him her trouble, and encouraging her to trust him by every means in his power. He was a follower, he said, of Kuvera,
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 171
God of Wealth. There was nothing that he could not grant if he were asked. He could even bestow the impossible. Let the princess only tell him her trouble. " Oh ! " broke out Shikhandini, unable to resist kindness so over whelming when her need was so desperate. " Oh ! make me a man, a perfect man ! My father is about to be destroyed and our country to be invaded; and if I were a man it would not happen ! Of thy grace, great yaksha make me a man, and let me keep that manhood till my father is saved ! " And poor Shikhandini began to weep.
Shikhandini attains her Desire
This was more than her kind-hearted host could bear, and, strange as it may sound, he became eager to do anything in the world, even the absurd thing she asked for, if only it would comfort the unhappy lady. So then and there he made a covenant with her. He would give her his blazing form and his manhood and all his strength, and he would himself become a woman in her place and remain hidden in his house. But when her father should again be safe she was to return and once more make the exchange. She would once more be Shikhandini the princess, and he would again be Sthuna the yaksha.
No words can paint the joy of the knight Shikhandin as he left the presence of the yaksha and went forth to save his father and his father's city from the sword. But alas for the poor yaksha ! It happened within a day or two that his master, the God of Wealth, made a royal progress through those parts and, noticing that Sthuna did not present himself, sent to order him into his presence. And when the poor shrinking yaksha, in his altered garb and form, appeared before him in shamefaced fashion, Kuvera his king, between laughter and disgust, hotly
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 172
declared : "This shall not be undone ! You shall remain a woman and she shall remain a man ! " And then softening a little, as he saw the look of fright on the yaksha's face, he added : " At least, it shall be so until 'Shikhandin's death. After that this foolish wretch can take back his own form ! "
And in due time, all being safe and at peace, the prince Shikhandin returned to Sthuna, as he had promised, to give up his treasured manhood. And when the yaksha saw that in the heart of this mortal there was no guile he was much touched and told him the truth that he had himself been doomed to persist in his newly acquired womanhood. And he comforted the young knight for the injury he had unwittingly done him, saying : " All this was destiny, Shikhandin ! It could not have been prevented."
Thus was fulfilled the blessing of Shiva, spoken over Drupada: "The child that thou shalt have, O king, shall first be a daughter and then a son ! " And thus it came about that there was amongst the princes and soldiers of that period one who, though he had been born a woman, was actually a man and known as 'Shikhandin, maiden and knight.
X. The Story of the Lady Amba
Now Bhishma, the great knight, was guardian of the imperial house of the Kurus. And this Bhishma had made a vow in his youth that he would never marry, and never, though he was heir-apparent, seat himself on his father's throne. And this vow he made in order to enable his father to marry a certain fisher-maid, Satyavati by
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 173
name, on whom he had set his heart. And it came to pass that when Bhishma's father, Shantanu, was dead, Bhishma set on the throne his own half-brother, Vichitravirya. And it was necessary that he should find a suitable marriage for this brother in order that the royal succession might be duly secured. And he heard that the bridal choice of the three daughters of the king of Benares Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika was about to take place, and that all the kings and princes of the earth were bidden, their father having announced that his daughters should have for their dowry the courage of the bravest knight. So they were to be borne away by that prince whose unaided might should win them from all the rest. Nor did the king of Benares dream, when he made this announcement, that his eldest daughter Amba was already secretly betrothed to a certain king, Shalwa by name ; nor did the princess think it necessary to speak to her father of the matter, for she made sure that her true love, strengthened by her faith and the sure prospect of immediate happiness, would overbear all obstacles and, displaying his prowess before the whole assembled world, would carry her off as the prize of victory. But alas ! when Bhishma heard of this bridal tournament he decided that the opportunity was an excellent one to secure suitable queens for the young Vichitravirya, and he determined to seize the three maidens and do combat for them against all comers.
In accordance with this purpose, therefore, Bhishma set out for the city of Benares as a simple gentleman without a retinue. Arriving at the royal lists, he beheld the three maidens, all unrivalled for beauty and richly robed and ornamented, and before them, ranged on thrones and in cars, under royal umbrellas and pearl-embroidered
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 174
canopies, each with his proper cognizance blazoned on his banner, all the greatest of the earth.
For a moment the prince paused to survey the scene; then, with a voice that was like the roaring of a lion, he sounded three times the great battle-cry that was to summon his rivals to mortal combat.
"Bhishma, son of Shamtanu, seizes these maidens. Let who will rescue them! By force do I seize them, from amongst men before your very eyes ! "
No one could stir while the challenge was being sounded, and as for the third time the cry died away Bhishma's charioteer, in the twinkling of an eye, turned his battle- chariot and swiftly drove down upon that part of the lists where the three princesses waited surrounded by their ladies. It was not a moment before their attendants had been made to place them on Bhishma's car, with a line of his servants drawn up in front of them, and even while the great counter-challenge was ringing out on all sides, and angry kings had risen, with swords unsheathed, to leap to chariot or elephant or horseback, as the case might be, he stood alert and smiling, with bow drawn and his back to the royal maidens, ready to do battle for his prize against a world in arms. Never had there been an archer like Bhishma. With a shower of arrows he stopped the rush that came upon him from all sides at once. His part was like that of Indra fighting against the crowds of asuras. Laughingly with his blazing darts did he cut down the magnificent standards, all decked with gold, of the advancing kings. In that combat he overthrew their horses, their elephants, and their charioteers, each with a single arrow, till, seeing how light was the hand and how
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 175
true was the aim of Bhishma, son of Shamtanu, all the kings of the earth broke ranks and accepted their defeat. And he, having vanquished so many sovereigns, retained his royal prize of three princesses, and escorted them back to Hastinapura, the royal city, to the queen-mother Satyavati, that they might become the brides of her son Vichitravirya the king. Well might it be told henceforth amongst men that Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika had had knightly prowess itself for their dower.
But as the wedding-day itself drew near, Amba, the eldest of the three princesses, sought an audience of Bhishma, the guardian of the imperial house, and with much shy ness and delicacy disclosed to him the fact of her prior betrothal to the king of the Shalwas. It seemed to her a far from noble deed that she should marry one man while secretly longing, she said, for another. She therefore asked Bhishma to decide for her whether she might be allowed to depart from the Kuru court.
The matter was quickly laid by Bhishma before his mother, the council of state, and the priests both of the realm and of the royal household. And all the persons judged it with kindly judgment, as if Amba had been some tenderly guarded daughter of their own. Secretly, then, before the time arranged for the Kuru wedding, she was allowed to leave Hastinapura and proceed to the capital of the king of the Shalwas. And her escort was carefully chosen, being made up of a number of old Brahmans. And besides these, her own waiting- woman, who had from childhood been her nurse, travelled with her.
And when she reached the city of the Shalwas, she came before the king and said simply to him : I have come, O king. Here I am."
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 176
Amba is Rejected
But some blindness and perversity had come upon the king of the Shalwas. Perhaps he was really angry and mortified by his defeat at the hands of Bhishma. Perhaps at first his attitude was taken half in play and gradually grew more and more bitter and earnest. Or perhaps and this seems the most likely he was indeed an unknightly man, and the girl had done ill to trust him. In any case, he proved utterly unworthy of the great and faithful love of the Lady Amba.
At first, with lightness and laughter, he declared that he did not want a wife who had once been carried off by Bhishma and intended for another's bride. Then he taunted the princess with having gone to Hastinapura cheerfully. But she, poor girl, could truthfully urge that she had wept all the way.
Finally, he showed himself simply indifferent, and though she made her feeling clear over and over again with a sincerity that all her life after it made her hot to remember, he showed not the slightest affection for her, but turned away from her, casting her off, say the chronicles, as a snake discards his old skin, with no more feeling of honour or of affection. And when the maiden, eldest daughter of the king of Benares, at last understood that this was King Shalwa's intention, her heart was filled with anger, and in the midst of her tears of sorrow and pride she rose and said : " Though thou dost cast me off, O king, righteousness itself will be my protection, for truth cannot be defeated ! " And with these words she turned, crying softly, and haughtily went forth from the city.
Suffering the deepest humiliation as she was, and scarcely
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 177
knowing where to turn, the royal maiden for that night took refuge in one of the great forest-hermitages of the time, known as ashramas, of which her own grandfather happened to be the head. Her heart was full of pain and her whole mind was in confusion. She had been scorned and refused, but whose was the fault ? Had it been Shalwa or Bhishma who was more to blame? Sometimes she would reproach herself that she had not publicly refused, in the tournament-ground, to go with her sisters, under Bhishma's protection, to Hastinapura. Then she would make her father responsible for the rashness that had announced that prowess should be the dower of his daughters. Again, her mind would turn upon Bhishma. If he had not captured her, if he had not taken her to Hastinapura, and, again, if he had not arranged for her expedition to the king of the Shalwas, this trouble would not have come upon her. Thus she blamed herself, her father, and Bhishma all by turns, but never did this princess of Benares turn in her heart to blame the king of the Shalwas, whom she would fain have had for her lord. Even in the insult he had inflicted upon her she made endless excuses for him. She could not see his lightness and vanity. She saw only the trial to which he had been put. Her own mind was set to give up the world. Rejected on two sides for she could not now return to Hastinapura and too proud to ask shelter in the home of her childhood, there was nothing before the royal maiden save a life of austerity and penance. And gradually, as she grew calm and took the help and advice of the old sages of the ashrama, her mind began to settle on Bhishma as the source and root of her woes, and the destruction of Bhishma gradually became the motive to which all her self-severities were to be directed.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 178
Amba and Bhishma
Religion itself took the part of Amba, for the hermits, headed by her grandfather, loved and pitied the mortified girl. And in after ages a story was current of a great mythical combat waged against Bhishma on her behalf by Parashu-Rama, who had been his early teacher, and was even as God himself. And this combat lasted, it was said, many days, being fought with all the splendour and power of warring divinities, till at last it was brought to an end by the intervention of the gods, surrounded by all the celestial hosts. For they feared to see the exhaustion of mighty beings who owed each other reverence and affection and could by no means kill one another. But when Amba was called into the presence of Parashu-Rama to hear the news of the cessation of the conflict, she merely bowed and thanked the old warrior with great sweetness for his energy on her behalf. She would not again, she said, seek the protection of Bhishma in the city of Hastinapura, and she added that it now lay with herself to find the means of slaying Bhishma.
Parashu-Rama, who was almost the deity of fighting men, must have smiled to hear a girl, with her soft voice, promise herself the glory of killing the knight whom even he had not been able to defeat. But Amba rose and left his presence with her head high and despair on her face. There was now no help for her even in the gods. She must depend upon herself.
From this time her course of conduct became extra ordinary. Month after month she would fast and undergo penances. Beauty and charm became nothing in her eyes. Her hair became matted and she grew thinner and thinner. For hours and days she would stand in stillness and
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 179
silence as if she had been made of stone. In this way she did more than was human and " made heaven itself hot " with her austerities.
Every one begged her to desist. The old saints near whom she lived, and embassies constantly sent by her father, all begged her to surrender her resolve and live a life of greater ease. But to none of these would she listen, and only went on with redoubled energy practising her asceticisms. Then she began to seek out pilgrimages, and went from one sacred river to another, performing the while the most difficult of vows. On one occasion as she bathed, Mother Ganges herself, who was known to have been the mother of Bhishma, addressed her, and asked her the cause of all these penances. But when the poor lady replied that all her efforts were bent toward the destruction of Bhishma the spirit of the Ganges rebuked her severely, and told her the terrible consequences of vows of hatred. Yet still the Princess Amba did not desist. Until he was slain through whom she had come to be "neither woman nor man," she would not know peace and she would not stop.
At last Shiva, the Great God, appeared before her, drawn by the power of her prayers and penances, and standing over her with the trident in his hand, he questioned her as to the boon she sought.
" The defeat of Bhishma ! " answered Amba, bowing joyfully at his feet, for she knew that this was the end of the first stage in the execution of her purpose. " Thou shalt slay him," said the Great God. Then Amba,filled with joy, and yet overcome with amazement, said : " But how, being a woman, can I achieve victory in battle ? It is true that my woman s heart is entirely stilled. Yet I beg of thee, O thou who hast the bull for thy cognizance,
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 180
to give me the promise that I myself shall be able to slay Bhishma in battle ! "
Then answered Shiva : " My words can never be false. Thou shalt take a new birth and some time afterwards thou shalt obtain manhood. Then thou shalt become a fierce warrior, well skilled in battle, and remembering the whole of thy present life, thou thyself, with thine own hands, shalt be the slayer of Bhishma." And having so said, the form of Shiva disappeared from before the eyes of the assembled ascetics and the Lady Amba there in the midst of the forest ashrama. But Amba proceeded to gather wood with her own hands, and made a great funeral pyre on the banks of the Jamna, and then, setting a light to it, she herself entered into it, and as she took her place upon the throne of flame she said over and over again : " I do this for the destruction of Bhlshma ! To obtain a new body for the destruction of Bhlshma do I enter this fire ! "
The thirteen years exile was over, and the Pandavas once more, by their prowess in battle, had revealed themselves to their friends. Now was held a great council of kings at the court of one of those allies, and Dhritarashtra, hearing of it, sent to it an ambassador charged with vague words of peace and friendship to the Pandavas, but not empowered to make any definite proposal for giving them back their kingdom and property. To this embassy all agreed with Yudhishthira that there was only one answer to be given : " Either render us back Indraprastha or prepare to fight ! "
It was now clear indeed to all men that nothing remained for either family but war. The aggressions of Duryodhana
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 181
had been too many and too persistent. The insults offered at the gambling party had been too personal and too offensive. Duryodhana, moreover, had had all the opportunity he craved. For thirteen years, while his cousins were in exile, he had enjoyed the power of making alliances and dispensing benefits. It was now for him to test the faithfulness and the courage of the friends he had won. The clouds of war hung thick and black above the rival houses, and both knew now that the contest must be to the death. And Duryodhana put the command of the Kaurava forces into the hands of Bhishma, while Karna, in order that he might not create a separate faction in the army, pledged himself not to fight till after the grandsire should be slain. And the Pandava forces were put under the command of the Panchala prince, Draupadi's brother, Dhrishtadyumna. And Hastinapura, at the approach of battle, crowded with kings and men-at-arms, with elephants and chariots and thousands of foot-soldiers, looked like the ocean at the moment of moonrise. And the Pandavas also gathered their forces in the capital of Drupada, and both sides marched down on the great plain oi Kurukshetra, which was to form the scene of action. Thus entered both parties into that mansion where the play was to be war, where the gamblers were men and their own lives the stakes, and where the dice-board was the battle-field, filled with its armies, chariots, and elephants. From the beginning Duryodhana had given orders that Bhishma, as commander, was to be protected at all hazards, and having heard vaguely from Bhishma himself that through Shikhandin alone could his death come, he commanded that every effort was to be made throughout the battle to kill Shikhandin.
And the smaller army that marched beneath the banners
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 182
of the Pandavas and Panchalas was full of joy and spirit. Their minds soared to the combat. They seemed like men intoxicated with delight at the thought of battle. But terrible omens were seen by Bhishma, and whenever Duryodhana sat down to think of battle he was heard to sigh.
When the sun rose on the fatal day the two great armies stood face to face with one another, with their chariots and steeds and splendid standards, looking like two rival cities. Then sounded the conch shells and battle trum pets, and with a vast movement, as of a tidal wave passing over the ocean or a tempest sweeping over the forests, the two forces threw themselves upon one another, and the air was filled with the neighs of the chargers and the noise and groans of combatants. With leonine roars and clamorous shouting, with the blare of trumpets and cow- horns and the din of drums and cymbals, the warriors of both sides rushed upon each other. For a while the spectacle was beautiful, then it became furious, and, hidden in its own dust and confusion, there was nothing to be seen. The Pandavas and the Kurus fought as if they were possessed by demons. Father and son, brother and brother forgot each other. Elephants rent each other with their tusks. Horses fell slain and great chariots lay crushed up on the earth. Banners were torn to pieces. Arrows flew in all directions, and wherever the darkness was rent for a moment was seen the flashing of swords and weapons in deadly encounter.
But wherever the combat was thickest, there at its heart might be seen Bhishma, the leader of the Kurus, standing in white armour on his silver car, like unto the full moon
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 183
in a cloudless sky. Over him waved his standard, a golden palm-tree wrought on a white ground. And no warrior whom he marked for his aim could survive the shooting of his deadly arrow. And the whole host of those who were opposed to him trembled, as one after another he shot down trusted officers. And as darkness began to fall the rival commanders withdrew their forces for their nightly rest. But there was sorrow in both camps for those that had fallen in the combat of the day. Day after day went by, and amidst growing ruin and carnage it became clear to the Pandavas that so long as Bhishma, their beloved grandsire, lived they themselves could not conquer. On the tenth day, therefore, the fatal combat was undertaken. Bhishma was mortally wounded, and the command of the Kurus made over to Drona in his stead.
Under Drona the Kurus once more enjoyed a blaze of victory. The science of the old preceptor had its value in enabling him to dispose of his forces to advantage and teaching him where was the point to attack. After a time it became evident that under his direction all the strength of the Kurus was being concentrated on the seizure of Yudhishthira's person, for Drona was known to have made a vow to capture the Pandava king. The enemy, on the other hand, had aimed from the beginning at the personal defeat of Drona ; only it was the dearest wish of Arjuna that his old master should be taken alive.
The Deception of Bhima
This wish was not realized. As long as Ashvatthaman, the son of Drona, lived it came to be believed that his father would never be conquered, for his love and hope
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 184
for his son were sufficient to keep him filled with courage and energy. Bhima, therefore, being bent on the defeat of Drona, selected an elephant named Ashvatthaman and slew it with his own hands, and then threw himself in his might on the Kuru front in the neighbourhood of Drona, shouting : " Ashvatthaman is dead ! Ashvatthaman is dead ! "
Drona heard the words, and for the first time his stout heart sank. Yet not easily would he accept the news that was to be his death-blow. Unless it was confirmed by Yudhishthira, who was, he said, incapable of untruth, even for the sovereignty of the three worlds, he would never believe that Ashvatthaman was dead. Making his way then to Yudhishthira, Drona asked him for the truth, and Yudhishthira answered in a clear voice: "Yes, O Drona ! Ashvatthaman is dead ! " And this he said three times. But after the word Ashvatthaman he said indistinctly each time the words "the elephant." These words, however, Drona did not hear. And up to this time the horses and wheels of Yudhishthira's chariot had never touched the earth. But after this untruth they came down a hand' s-breadth and drove along the ground. Then Drona, in his despair for the loss of his son, became unable to think of his divine weapons. Seeing, then, that the time had come, he charged the great bowmen who were about him as to how they were to conduct the battle, and laying down his own weapons, he sat down on the front of his chariot fixing his mind on itself. At that very moment Dhrishtadyumna, the Pandava general, had seized his sword and leapt to the ground in order to attack Drona in personal combat. But before he touched him the soul of the Kuru general had gone forth, and to the few who had vision it appeared for a moment as if the sky
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 185
held two suns at once. But none parried the blow of Dhrishtadyumna. The uplifted sword fell and cut off Drona's head, which was at once raised from the ground by his supposed slayer and tossed like a ball into the midst of the Kuru hosts. For a moment it seemed as if the army would break and flee. Then darkness came on, and wearily and mournfully all departed to their quarters. Still a few days were left, and Karna took command. But with his death two days later it became clear that the Pandavas were to be the victors. Yet still Duryodhana remained with unabated courage, determined neither to give nor to take quarter; and not until he had been vanquished in single combat with Bhima, and all their schoolboy enmities fulfilled in death, could the Pandavas be finally acclaimed as victors.
Then at last the eighteen days battle was ended with the victory of Yudhishthira and his brothers, and Duryodhana and all the sons of Dhritarashtra had vanished in death, even as a lamp that is extinguished at midday.
The Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Glta is a partly philosophic, partly devotional inspired utterance of Krishna immediately before the great battle between the Kurus and the Pandavas spoken in reply to Arjuna's protest that he has no will to slay his friends and kinsmen. This Gita, or song, has become a gospel universally acceptable among all Indian sects. No single work of equal length so well expresses the characteristic trend of Indian thought, or so completely depicts the Indian ideals of character.
It speaks of diverse ways of salvation that is, escaping from self and knowing God : by love, by works, and by learning. God has two modes of being, the unmanifest and
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 186
unconditioned, and the manifest and conditioned. There are, indeed, some who seek direct experience of the uncon ditioned ; but, as Shrl Krishna says : " Exceeding great is the toil of these whose mind is attached to the unshown, for the unshown way is painfully won by them that wear the body." For all those who are not yet ripe for such supreme effort Shri Krishna teaches passionate devotion to himself and the strenuous sva-dharma that is, action according to the duty of each individual. We have already seen (Ramayana, p. 10) that morality or rules of conduct are not the same for all individuals : the morality of a yogi is different from that of a knight. Shrl Krishna teaches that the doing of such action as a man is called to, without attachment to the fruits of action that is, indifferent to failure or success, or to any advan tages or disadvantages resulting to oneself is a certain means of progress toward the knowledge of God. And to those whom the problem of suffering dismays he says : " Do not grieve for the life and death of individuals, for this is inevitable; the bodies indeed come and go, but the life that manifests in all is undying and unhurt, this neither slayeth nor is slain " nay am hanti na hanyate. Therefore, when Arjuna protests that he has no desire to slay his kinsmen in battle, Krishna answers, like Brynhild to Sigurd :
Wilt thou do the deed and repent it ? tkou hadst better never been born :
Wilt thou do the deed and exalt it ? then thy fame shall be outworn :
Thou shall do the deed and abide it, and sit on thy throne on high.
And look on to-day and to-moirow as those that never die.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 187
The extract following expresses these ideas in the words of the Gita itself:
Arjuna spake :
" O Krishna, when I see my kinsmen thus arrayed for battle, Gandiva falls from my hand, and my mind is all awhirl,
" For I do not long for victory, O Krishna, nor kingdoms, nor delights ; what is kingship, what is pleasure, or even life itself, O Lord of Herds,
" When they for whose sake kingship, pleasure, and delight are dear, stand here arrayed for battle, abandoning life and wealth?
" These I would not slay, though they should seek to slay myself ; no, not for the lordship of the three worlds, much less for the kingdom of the earth.
" What pleasure can we find, O Troubler of the People, in slaying Dhritarashtra s folk ? We shall be stained by sin if we kill these heroes.
" It were better that the sons of Dhritarashtra, weapon in hand, should slay me unresisting and unarmed."
Thus did the Wearer of the Hair-knot speak with the Lord of Herds, saying : " I will not fight."
Krishna answered :
" Thou speakest words of seeming wisdom, yet thou dost grieve for those for whose sake grief is all unmeet. The wise grieve not at all, either for the living or the dead. " Never at any time have I not been, nor thou, nor any of these princes of men, nor verily shall we ever cease to be in time to come.
" As the Dweller-in-the-Body endureth childhood, youth, and age, even so he passeth on to other bodies. The stead fast grieve not because of this.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 188
" It is but the teachings of the instruments of sense, O son of KuntI, that bring cold and heat, pleasure and pain ; it is they that come and go, enduring not ; do thou bear with them, O son of Bharata.
"But know that That is indestructible by which all this is interpenetrated ; none can destroy that changeless Being. " It is but these bodies of the Body-Dweller, everlasting, infinite, undying, that have an end ; therefore do thou fight, O son of Bharata."
Then, still speaking of that imperishable Life, which life and death do not touch, Krishna continued:
" That is not born, nor doth it die ; nor, having been, doth it ever cease to be ; unborn, everlasting, eternal, and ancient, this is not slain when a body is slain. " Knowing That to be undying, everlasting, unborn, and undiminished, who or what may it be that a man can slay, or whereby can he be slain ?
"As a man casting off worn garments taketh new, so the Body-Dweller, casting off a worn-out body, enters into another that is new.
" Unmanifest, unthinkable, unchangeable is That. Know ing it so, thou shouldst not grieve.
" For this Body-Dweller may never in any body be wounded, O son of Bharata; therefore thou shouldst not grieve for any creature.
" But, looking upon thine own appointed task sva-dh armd, fear not ; for there is nothing more to be welcomed by a knight than a righteous war.
In later passages Shri Krishna proclaimed his own im manence :
" Hear thou, O child of Pritha, how thou mayst verily
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 189
know Me to the uttermost, practising yoga, and thy mind attached to Me :
" Eightfold is my nature of earth, of water, fire and wind ; of ether, mind and understanding, and the sense of I-hood. " That is the lower ; do thou also know my other nature, the higher of elemental soul that holdeth up the universe, thou great-armed hero.
" Know that from these twain are sprung all beings ; in Me is the evolution of the universe, and in Me its dissolution. 16 There is naught whatsoever higher than I, O wealth- winner; all this universe is strung on Me like rows of gems upon a thread.
" I am the savour in the waters, O son of Kunti, and the light in sun and moon ; in the Vedas I am the Om, in the ether I am sound, in men I am their manhood. " The pure fragrance of the earth am I, and the light in fire ; the life in all born beings I, and the asceticism of ascetics.
"Know, child of Pritha, that I am the eternal seed of beings one and all ; I am the reason of the rational, the splendour of the splendid.
" The strength of the strong am I, void of longing and of passion ; in creatures I am the desire that is not against the law, O Bharata lord.
" Know that from Me are sprung the moods of goodness, fieriness and gloom ; I am not in them, but they in Me. "Bewildered by these threefold moods, all this world knows Me not, who am above the moods and imperishable. " For this my divine illusion, born of the moods, is hard to pierce. They come to Me who pass beyond this glamour. " I know the beings that are past and present and to come, Arjuna ; but none knoweth Me."
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 190
The Bed of Arrows
We have seen that Bhishma was struck down with mortal wounds on the tenth day of the great battle. This was the manner of his death :
Long, long ago, in the youth of Bhshma, when as heir- apparent to the kingdom he had taken the vow never to marry, in order that the throne might be left to the sons of the fisher-maid queen, his father had pronounced over him a great blessing, saying that death should never be able to approach him till he himself should give permission. For this reason, to Bhishma personally, war had all his life been only play. And now, in the battle of Kurukshetra, day after day went by because of this without any decisive victory. Bhishma believed that the cause of the Pandavas was just and they could not be defeated, and yet he fought with a skill and gaiety that nothing could approach. He constantly, with his shower of arrows, cut down whoever was opposed to him at the head of Yudhishthira's army. Even as the sun with his rays sucks up the energies of all things during summer, so did Bhishma take the lives of the hostile warriors. And the soldiers who faced him, hopeless and heartless, were unable even to look at him in that great battle him who resembled the midday sun blazing in his own splendour ! Things being at this pass on the ninth day of the battle, night fell, and the Pandavas and their friends assembled with Krishna to hold a council of war. There the stern necessities of war battled in their minds with the feelings of reverence and affection with which, from their very baby hood, Yudhishthira and his brothers regarded Bhishma. Still, they repeated constantly that as long as Bhishma remained undefeated the victory could not be, theirs. It
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 191
was necessary, therefore, to kill Bhishma, and this must be done by Arjuna, who had long ago promised, half laughingly, that he would bring to the grandsire his means of escape from life. Yet how was it to be done? None present could offer a suggestion. Bhishma was personally invincible. Death himself could not approach him without permission. Who, therefore, was competent to slay him ?
Suddenly Yudhishthira raised his head. " I have it ! " he cried. "When we were preparing for war the grandsire promised me that, though he could not fight for us, he would always be ready to give us counsel. Let us go and ask him for the means by which he should be slain ! There can be no doubt but he will aid us ! "
The thought was worthy of the knightly counsellors, and putting off armour and weapons, they left the tent and pro ceeded unarmed toward the quarters of the Kuru general. Warm and loving was the welcome that Bhishma gave his grandchildren as they entered his tent, and eagerly he inquired what he could possibly do for them.
The brothers and Krishna stood moodily before him in a row. At last, however, Yudhishthira broke the silence. "O thou," he cried, "whose bow is ever in a circle, tell us how we may slay thee and protect our troops from constant slaughter ! "
Bhishma's face lighted up with sudden understanding and then grew grave. " You must indeed slay me," he said gently, " if you are to have the victory in this battle. As long as I am alive it cannot be yours. There is nothing for you but to slay me as quickly as may be ! " " But the means ! " said Yudhishthira. " Tell us the means ! To us. It seems that Indra himself would be easier to defeat!"
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 192
The Answer of Bhishma
" I see, I see," said Bhishma thoughtfully. " Yet there are certain persons whom I shall never fight. Against a man unarmed, against the vulgar, or against one born a woman I never take aim. And if covered by one of these, anyone may kill me easily. Yet I warn you that only by the hand of Krishna or of Arjuna can the arrow be shot by which I consent to die."
Then Arjuna, his face burning in grief and shame, broke out. " Oh, oh, how am I to kill him who has been my own grandfather ? When I was a child I climbed in play upon thy knee, O Bhishma, and called thee father.
'Nay, nay', thou didst reply, I am not thy father, little one, but thy father's father ! Oh, let my army perish ! Whether victory or death be mine, how can I ever fight with him who has been this to us?"
But Krishna reminded Arjuna of the eternal duty of the knightly order, that without any malice they should fight, protect their subjects, and offer sacrifice. The death of Bhishma was ordained from of old by the hand of Arjuna. Even thus should he go to the abode of the gods. And thus soothed and braced to the thought of the morrow, the princes reverently saluted Bhishma and withdrew from his presence.
Even before sunrise, on the tenth day, the great host was astir. And in the very van of the Pandava troops was the knight Shikhandin, while Bhima and Arjuna to right and left were the protectors of his wheels. And similarly, in the front of the Kurus was Bhishma himself, protected by the sons of Dhritarashtra.
The energy of the Pandavas, inspired as they now were by certain hope of victory, was immense, and they slaughtered
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 193
the troops of the Kurus mercilessly. But this sight Bhishma, their commander, could not brook. His one duty was the protection of his soldiers, and he shot a rain of arrows into the hostile force. In all directions under his mighty arrows fell officers, soldiers, elephants, and horses. His bow seemed to be ever in a circle, and to the Pandava princes he looked like the Destroyer himself devouring the world. In spite of the courage and violence with which Bhima and Arjuna confronted him everywhere, and centred their whole attack and onslaught on Bhishma himself, the old grandsire succeeded in cutting to pieces the whole division of Shikhandin. Then that officer, transported with anger, succeeded in piercing Bhishma with no less than three arrows in the centre of the breast. Bhishma looked up to retaliate, but, seeing that the blow had come from Shikhandin, he laughed instead, and said : "What! Shikhandin ? " These words were too much for the younger knight.
Shikhandin and Bhishma
" By my troth," he cried, " I will slay thee ! Look thy last on the world ! " And even as he spoke he sent five arrows straight into the heart of Bhishma.
Then careering like death himself on the field of battle, Arjuna rushed forward, and Shikhandin sped another five arrows at Bhishma. And all saw that Bhishma laughed and answered not, but Shikhandin himself, carried away by the fury of battle, was not aware. And Arjuna as protector of his wheel scattered death in the Kuru ranks on every side.
Then Bhishma, thinking of a certain divine weapon, made to rush upon Arjuna with it in his hand. But Shikhandin threw himself between, and Bhishma immediately withdrew
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 194
the weapon. Then the grandsire took up an arrow that was capable of clearing a mountain, and hurled it like a blazing bolt on the chariot of Arjuna ; but Arjuna with lightning speed fixed on his bow five arrows and cut the dart as it coursed towards him into five great fragments. Again and again struck Shikhandin, and still the grand- sire answered not, either by look or blow ; but Arjuna, drawing Gandiva, sped hundreds of arrows and struck Bhishma in his vital parts. And whenever the old general shot, the prince cut off his arrow in its course ; but his own arrows Bhishma could not escape. Then smiling he turned to one near him and said : "These darts coursing toward me in the long line, like the messenger of Wrath, are not Shikhandin's ! " Then he took sword and shield and made to jump from his car to close with Arjuna in single combat. But even at this moment the arrows of Arjuna cut his shield as he seized it into a thousand pieces. And even his car was struck, and for the first time the mighty bowman trembled.
Then seeing this, like a vortex in the river the tides of battle closed over and around him, and when again there was a break in the struggling mass Bhishma was seen, like a broken standard, to have fallen to the ground. Then it was seen that, pierced all over with arrows, his body touched not the ground. And a divine nature took possession of the great bowman, lying thus on that thorny bed. He permitted not his senses for one moment to falter. All round him he heard heavenly voices. A cool shower fell for his refreshment, and he remembered that this was not an auspicious moment for the flight of the soul. Then there swept down upon him from the distant Himalayas messengers from Mother Ganges, a flock of swans which circled round and round him, bringing celestial
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 195
memories. And Bhishma, indifferent to the pains of the body, and having death in his own control, determined to lie there on his bed of arrows till the sun should have entered once more on his northern path and the way be open to the region of the gods. And the battle was hushed, while the princes of both houses stood around their beloved guardian. And he, giving them a cheerful welcome, asked for a pillow. Then all kinds of soft and beautiful pillows were brought. But he waved them aside as not fit for the bed of a hero, and turned to Arjuna. And Arjuna, stringing Gandiva, shot three arrows into the earth for the support of Bhishma s head. "Thus should the hero sleep," said Bhishma, "on the field of battle. Here, when the sun turns again to the north, shall I part from life, like one dear friend from another. And now blessings be with you and peace ! I spend my time in adoration ! "
With these words he motioned all to withdraw, and he, Bhishma, was left alone for the night, lying on his bed of arrows.
The birth of the warrior Karna had been on a strange fashion. Having the sun for his father, he was born of Kunti, or Pritha, the mother of the Pandavas, before her marriage, and she had prayed that if the child were indeed the son of a god he should be born with natural ear-rings and a natural coat of armour as the signs of his immortality. And it was even so, and these things were the tokens that he could not be slain by mortal foe. And Kunti, coming with her maid, put the child at dead of night into a box made of wicker-work and, weeping bitterly, floated it out with many tender farewells upon the current of the river.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 196
And carried by the waves, and bearing with him the signs of his divine origin, the babe came to the city of Champa, on the Ganges, and there he was found by Adiratha the charioteer and Radha his wife, and they took him and adopted him as their eldest son. And years went by, and Adiratha left Champa for Hastinapura, and there Karna grew up amongst the pupils of Drona ; and he contracted a friendship for Duryodhana and became the rival of Arjuna. Now all the sons of Pritha had had gods for their fathers, and Arjuna's father was Indra. And Indra, seeing that Karna wore natural mail and ear-rings, became anxious for the protection of Arjuna. For it was ordained in the nature of things that one of these two must slay the other.
And it was known of Karna that, at the moment when after bathing he performed his morning worship of the sun, there was nothing that he would not, if asked, give away to a mendicant. Indra, therefore, one day, taking the form of a Brahman, stood before him at this hour and boldly demanded his mail and ear-rings.
But Karna would not easily part with the tokens of invincibility. Smiling he told the Brahman again and again that these things were part of himself. It was impossible, therefore, for him to part with them. But when the suppliant refused to be satisfied with any other boon, Karna turned suddenly upon him and said : " Indra, I know thee ! From the first I recognized thee ! Give me some thing in exchange, and thou shalt have my mail and ear-rings ! "
And Indra answered : " Except only the thunderbolt, ask what thou wilt ! "
Then said Karna : " One invincible dart ! In exchange I give thee my mail and ear-rings ! "
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 197
The Arrow of Death
And Indra answered : " Done ! I give thee, O Karna, this dart called Vasava. It is incapable of being baffled, and thrown by me returns to my hand to slay hundreds of enemies. Hurled by thee, however, it will slay but one powerful foe. And if, maddened by anger, while there still remain other weapons or while thy life is not in deadly peril, thou shoot this arrow, it will rebound and fall upon thyself!"
Then taking the blazing dart, Karna, without wincing, began to cut off his own coat of natural armour and his own living ear-rings, and handed them to the Brahman. And Indra, taking them, ascended with a smile to Heaven. And news went about on all hands that Karna was no longer invincible. But none knew of the arrow of death that he treasured, to be used once upon a single deadly foe.
The Mission of Krishna
Now it happened before the outbreak of hostilities that Krishna had gone himself to Hastinapura to see if it were not possible to persuade Dhritarashtra to restore Indraprastha peacefully, and thus to avoid war. Finding, however, that this plan could not be carried out, and turning to leave the Kuru capital, he had still tried one more device to make the fratricidal contest impossible. Taking Karna aside, he privately told him the secret of his birth, and begged him to announce himself to the whole world as the son of Pritha, and therefore the elder brother of Yudhishthira himself; not only a prince of blood as proud as the Pandavas own, but even, if the truth were known, their actual leader and sovereign.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 198
Karna listened with his usual courtesy, not untouched with sadness. He had long known, he said in reply, the nature of his own origin, that Pritha, the mother of the Pandavas, had been his mother and the sun his father, and he also knew that it was by command of the god that she had then abandoned him and floated him out on the river beside which he was born. But he could not forget that all the love and devotion of parents had actually been shown him by the old charioteer and his wife. Nor could he forget that they had no other child, and that if he gave them up there would be none to make for them the ancestral offerings. He had married, moreover, in the caste of the charioteer, and his children and grandchildren were all of that rank. How could he, out of mere desire for empire, cut loose his heart from bonds so sweet ? There was the gratitude, moreover, that he owed to Duryodhana. Because of his fearless and heroic friend ship he had enjoyed a kingdom for thirteen years without a care. His one desire in life had been the right of single combat with Arjuna, and undoubtedly it was the know ledge of this that had made Duryodhana bold to declare war. Were he now to withdraw, it would be treachery to his friend.
Above all, it was important that Krishna should tell no one the secret of this conversation. If Yudhishthira came to know that his place was by right Karna's, it was not to be believed that he would consent to retain it. And if the Pandava sovereignty were to come into the hands of Karna, he himself could do nothing save hand it over to Duryodhana. It was best, therefore, for all parties that the secret should be as though never told, and that he should act as he would have acted had it remained unknown.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 199
And then, swept away on the current of his own melancholy into a mood of prophecy, the charioteer s son said: "Ah, why should you tempt me ? Have I not seen in a vision the kingly hall entered by Yudhishthira and his brothers all in white? Do I not know as well as another that victory must always follow the right ? This is no battle, but a great sacrifice of arms that is about to be celebrated, and Krishna himself is to be the high priest. When Drona and Bhishma are overthrown, then will this sacrifice be suspended for an interval. When I am slain by Arjuna will the end begin, and when Duryodhana is killed by Bhima all will be concluded. This is the great offering of the son of Dhritarashtra. Let it not be defeated! Rather let us die by the touch of noble weapons there on the sacred field of Kurukshetra ! "
Remaining silent for a moment or two, Karna looked up again with a smile, and then, with the words : " Beyond death we meet again!" he bade a silent farewell to Krishna, and, alighting from his chariot, entered his own and was driven in silence back to Hastinapura.
But Krishna was not the only person who could see the importance of Karna to the Kuru cause. It was the next morning, by the river-side, as he ended his devotions after bathing, that Karna, turning round, was surprised to find the aged Pritha, mother of the Pandavas, waiting behind him. Dwelling in the household of Dhritarashtra, and hearing constantly of preparations for war against her own sons, it had occurred to her distracted heart that if she could induce Duryodhana s ally to fight on their side, instead of against them, she would greatly increase far them the chances of victory.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 200
Pritha & Karna
Karna was standing with arms uplifted, facing the east, when she crept up behind him and waited trembling in his shadow till, when from very weariness she looked like a fading lotus, he at last turned round. Karna was startled at the encounter, but controlling himself he bowed gravely and said: "I, O Lady, am Karna, the son of Adiratha the charioteer. Tell me what I can do for you!"
The little aged woman, in spite of her royal dignity, quivered at his words. " No, no ! " she exclaimed eagerly. "Thou art my own child, and no son of a charioteer! Oh, be reconciled, I beg of thee, and make thyself known to thy brothers the Pandavas! Do not, I entreat, engage in war against them ! " And as she spoke a voice came from the sun itself, saying: "Listen, O Karna, to the words of thy mother!"
But Karna's heart was devoted to righteousness, and even the gods could not draw him away from it. He did not waver now, though entreated by his mother and father at once.
"Alas, my mother!" he said, "how should you now demand my obedience who were contented in my baby- hood to leave me to die ? Not even for my mother can I abandon Duryodhana, to whom I owe all I have. Yet one thing I promise. With Arjuna only will I fight. The number of your sons shall always be five, whether with me and without Arjuna, or with Arjuna and me slain !" Then Pritha embraced Karna, whose fortitude kept him unmoved. "Remember," she said, "you have granted to four of your brothers the pledge of safety. Let that pledge be remembered in the heat of battle!" And giving him her blessing, she glided quietly away.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 201
Karna leads the Host
Fifteen days of battle had gone by, ending with the death of the aged Drona, and before dawn on the sixteenth Duryodhana and his officers met together and installed Karna as commander-in-chief of the Kuru host. This was a war in which victory depended on slaughtering the rival commander, and now that he had lost two generals Duryodhana could not but be tempted to despondency regarding his own ultimate triumph. With each great defeat death crept nearer and nearer to himself, and he truly felt now that the command of Karna was his last stake, and that all depended for him on its success. Bhishma might have been accused of undue partiality towards the men whom he had loved as children. Drona might have had a secret tenderness for his favourite pupils. But Karna's whole life had been bent towards the single end of combat with Arjuna to the death. Here was one who would on no account shirk the ordeal. And Karna, in truth, was repeating his vow for the slaughter of the Pandavas when he took his place in battle. No man can see always clearly into the future, and from him now, the hour of his vision being past, the event was hidden as completely as from any other. He could only hope, like Arjuna, that he, and he alone, was destined to succeed. The sixteenth day of battle opened and passed. Karna had arranged the Kurus in the form of a great bird, and Arjuna spread out the Pandavas to oppose them as a crescent. But though he sought him earnestly all that day throughout the length and breadth of the battle-field, Karna was never able to encounter Arjuna face to face. Then night fell, and the two armies rested.
At dawn the next morning Karna sought out Duryodhana.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 202
This, he declared, was to be the great day of destiny. At nightfall without doubt the Pandavas would sleep amongst the slain and Duryodhana stand undisputed monarch of the earth. Only he must recapitulate the points of superiority on each side. And then he proceeded to tell the king of the divine weapons that he and Arjuna possessed. If Arjuna had Gandiva, he himself had Vijaya.
In respect of their bows they were not unequal. It was true that Arjuna's quivers were inexhaustible, but Karna could be followed by supplies of arrows in such abund ance that this advantage would not tell. Finally, Arjuna had Krishna himself for his charioteer. And Karna desired to have a certain king who was famous through out the world for the knowledge of horses for his. This was readily arranged, and with a king for his charioteer Karna went out to lead the battle on the day of destiny.
Hither and thither on the field sped Karna that day, constantly seeking for the deadly encounter. But though he met one and another of the Pandavas, held him at his mercy, and then, perhaps remembering his promise to Pritha, allowed him to depart, he and Arjuna nowhere met. It was not till noon was past that Arjuna, stringing his bow and speeding a shaft, while Karna, though in sight, was yet too far off to intervene, slew Vrishasena, the son of his rival. At this sight, filled with wrath and grief, Karna advanced in his chariot upon Arjuna, looking as he came like the surging sea, and shooting arrows like torrents of rain to right and left. Behind him waved his standard with its device of the elephant rope. His steeds were white, and his car was decked with rows of little bells. He himself stood out against the sky with all the splendour of the rainbow itself. At the sound of his great
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 203
bowstring Vijaya all things broke and fled from him in fear. On, on he came, with his royal charioteer, to- ward the point where Arjuna awaited the onset. "Be cool! Be cool!" whispered Krishna to the Pandava; "now, verily, have you need of all your divine weapons ! "
The Supreme Struggle
A moment later the two heroes, resembling each other so remarkably in person and accoutrements, like angry elephants, like infuriated bulls, had closed in mortal combat. And all the spectators held their breath, and for a moment the battle itself stood still, while involuntarily the question rose in every mind which of these two would emerge the victor. Karna was like a stake cast by the Kurus, and Arjuna by the Pandavas. It was only for a moment, and then on both sides the air rang with trumpets and drums and acclamations, all sounded for the encouraging of one or other of the combatants.
Fiercely they challenged each other and fiercely joined in fight. And it was even said that their two standards fell upon each other and closed in conflict. Then each of the two heroes, raining arrows upon the other, darkened the whole sky. And each baffled the other s weapons with his own, like the east and west winds struggling against each other. Wound upon wound they dealt each other, but as long as they were not mortal neither seemed to feel. Then the arrows of Arjuna covered the chariot of Karna like a flock of birds darkening the sky as they flew to roost. But each one of those shots was deflected by an arrow of Karna. Then Arjuna shot a dart of fire. And as he did so he himself stood illuminated in the blaze, and the garments of the soldiers about him were
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 204
in danger of burning. But even that arrow was quenched by Karna shooting one of water.
Then Gandiva poured forth arrows like razors, arrows like crescents, arrows like joined hands and like boars 1 ears. And these pierced the limbs, the chariot, and the standard of Karna. Then Karna in his turn called laughingly to mind the divine weapon Bhargava, and with it cut off all the arrows of Arjuna and began to afflict the whole Pandava host. And showering innumerable darts, the son of the charioteer stood in the midst, with all the beauty of a thunder-cloud pouring down rain. And urged on by the shouts of those about them, both put forth redoubled energy.
Suddenly the string lof Gandiva with a loud noise broke, and Karna poured out his arrows in swift succession, taking advantage of the interval thus given. By this time the troops of the Kurus, thinking the victory was already theirs, began to cheer and shout. This only drew forth greater energy from Arjuna, and he succeeded in wounding Karna again and again. Then Karna shot five golden arrows which were in truth five mighty snakes, followers of one Ashwasena, whose mother Arjuna had slain. And these arrows passed each one through the mark and would have returned to Karna's hand that had sent them forth. Then Arjuna shot at them and cut them to pieces on the way, and perceived that they had been snakes. And his wrath so blazed that he shouted in his anger, and so deeply pierced Karna with his darts that the son of the charioteer trembled with pain. At the same moment all the Kurus deserted their leader and fled, uttering a wail of defeat. But Karna, when he saw himself left alone, felt no fear or bitterness, and threw himself only the more cheerfully upon his foe.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 205
And now the mighty snake Ashwasena, beholding the point that the contest had reached, and desiring to gratify his own hatred of Arjuna, entered into the quiver of Karna. And he, eager at any cost to prevail over his enemy, and unaware that Ashwasena had entered into the shaft, set his heart upon that one particular arrow that he had kept in his quiver for the fatal blow.
Then said his charioteer : " This arrow, O Karna, will not succeed. Find thou another that will strike off his head!" But the warrior answered haughtily: "Karna never changes his arrow. Seek not to stain a soldier's honour !"
Having said these words, he drew his bow and sped that arrow which he had worshipped to this end for many a long year. And it made a straight line across the firmament as it sped toward Arjuna through the air. But Krishna, understanding the nature of the arrow, pressed down his foot so that Arjuna's car sank a cubit s depth into the earth. The horses also instantly knelt down, and that arrow carried away the diadem of Arjuna, but injured not his person.
Then the arrow returned to the hand of Kama and said in a low voice : " Speed me once more, and I will slay thy foe!"
But Karna answered: "Not by the strength of another does Kama conquer. Never shall I use the same arrow twice ! "
Then, the hour of his death having come, the earth itself began to swallow the wheel of Karna's car, and the son of the charioteer, reeling with pain and weariness, bethought him of another divine weapon. But Arjuna, seeing this speed forth, cut it off with another; and when Karna began to aim at his bowstring, not knowing that he had a
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 206
hundred ready, the ease with which he replaced the broken strings seemed to his enemy like magic.
At this moment the earth swallowed up one of Karna's wheels completely, and he called out : " In the name of honour, cease shooting while I lift my chariot ! "
Then Karna shot an arrow that pierced Arjuna and caused him to reel and drop the bow Gandiva. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Karna leapt from his chariot and strove without avail to extricate the wheel. While he was doing this Arjuna, recovering, aimed a sharp arrow and brought down the standard of his foe that splendid standard wrought in gold with the cognizance of the elephant rope. As they saw the banner of the commander fall despair seized the watching Kurus, and the cry of defeat rose loudly on the wind. Then, hastening to act before Karna could regain his place on his chariot, Arjuna swiftly took out Anjalika, the greatest of all his arrows, and, fixing it on Gandiva, shot it straight at the throat of his enemy, and the head of Karna was severed at the stroke. And the rays of the setting sun lighted up that fair face with their beauty as it fell and rested, like a lotus of a thousand petals, on the blood-stained earth. And all the Pandavas broke out into shouts of victory. But Duryodhana wept for the son of the charioteer, saying : " Oh, Karna ! Oh, Karna ! " And when Karna fell the rivers stood still, the sun set in pallor, the mountains with their forests began to tremble, all creatures were in pain ; but evil things and the wan- de-rers of the night were filled with joy.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 207
XIV. The Great host of the dead
That was a terrible hour for the Pandavas in which, with their own hearts full of grief for the bereavements of battle, they had to meet with the aged Dhritarashtra and Gandhari his queen, deprived as they now were of their whole century of sons. The victory of Kurukshetra had made Yudhishthira king of the whole country, and this fact Dhritarashtra recognized by announcing his intention of giving up the world and retiring with Gandhari and Pritha to the Ganges side, there to live out their lives in piety and prayer. For the first month the Pandava princes accompanied them and stayed with them in order to pray with them for their own illustrious dead. And at the close of the month they were visited by Vyasa, the chief of the royal chaplains, a man famous for his gifts of spirituality and learning. Seated with Vyasa, Gandhari, Kunti, and Dhritarashtra talked out many an old grief and sought the explanation of mysteries that had long puzzled them. Then turning to Gandhari in reverence for the sorrow that was greater than any borne by woman, and speaking to the heart that had no words to utter, Vyasa said : "Listen, O queen! I have a blessing to bestow. To-night ye shall all see again your children and kinsmen, like men risen out of sleep. Thus shall your sorrow be lightened and your heart set at rest."
Then the whole party, scarcely able to believe that the words of Vyasa would be fulfilled, took up their position in expectation on the banks of the Ganges. The day went by, seeming to them, in their eagerness to look again upon the deceased princes, like a year. But at last the sun set, and all ended their evening bathing together with their worship. When night came and all were seated in groups and in
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 208
lonely and sheltered places along the banks of the Ganges, Vyasa went forward and summoned in a clear voice the dead of both sides to grant themselves once more to mortal vision that hearts aching with sorrow might be comforted a space.
Then a strange sound was heard from within the waters, and gradually, in their ranks and companies, with splendour of shining forms and banners and cars, rose all the kings, and with them all their troops. There were Duryodhana and all the sons of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra. There were Bhishma and Drona and Karna. There was Shikhandin and there was Drupada, and there were a thousand others. All were robed in heavenly vesture and brilliantly adorned. They were free from pride and anger and divested of all jealousy. The scene was like some high festival of happiness, or it looked like a picture painted on the canvas. And Dhritarashtra the king, blind all his life, saw his sons for the first time, with the eye of a quickened vision, and knew in all its keenness the joy of fatherhood.
And the dead came forward and mingled with the living. There was no grief, no fear, no suspicion, and no dis content on that hallowed night. Karna accepted Kunti as his mother and became reconciled with the Pandavas as his brothers. And the aching sorrow of Gandhari for Duryodhana and the rest of her children was appeased. And when dawn approached, those shades of the mighty dead plunged once more into the Ganges and went each to his own abode, and the living, with sorrow lightened, turned to the duties of life and set about the tasks that lay before them.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 209
XV. Yudhishthira and his dog
A time came in the development of Hinduism when religion turned its back on all the deities of power and worldly good. The god, like his worshipper, must eschew wealth and material benefits. Since five hundred years before the Christian era the Buddhist orders had been going up and down amongst the people popularizing certain great conceptions of renunciation and personal development as the true end of religion. About the time of the Christian era the volume of these ideas was becoming ripe for the taking of organized shape, in India itself, as a new faith. But the evolution did not cease at this point with the emergence of the worship of Shiva. Some few centuries later a new phase of this higher Hinduism was again elaborated, and the worship of Satya- Narayana appeared in his embodiment as Krishna. This religion was laid down and promulgated in the form of a great epic the Indian national epic par excellence which was now cast into its final form, the Mahabharata.
In the opinion of some amongst the learned we have here in the Mahabharata a recapitulation of all the old wonder- world of the early sky-gazer. Gods, heroes, and demi gods jostle each other through its pages, and whence they came and what has been their previous history we have only a name here or a sidelight there to help us to discover, As in some marvellous tapestry, they are here gathered together, in one case for a battle, in another for a life; and out of the clash of the foemen s steel, out of the loyalty of vassal and comrade, out of warring loves and conflicting ideals, is made one of the noblest of the scriptures of the world. Is it true that, with the exception
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 210
of what has been added and remoulded by a supreme poet, fusing into a single molten mass the images of seons past, most of the characters that move with such ease across these inspiring pages have stepped down from the stage of the midnight sky? However this may be, one thing is certain : the very last scene that ends the long panorama is that of a man climbing a mountain, followed by a dog, and finally, with his dog, translated to Heaven in the flesh.
The Pilgrimage of Death
The five royal heroes for whose sake the battle of their prime was fought and won have held the empire of India for some thirty-six years, and now, recognizing that the time for the end has come, they, with Draupadi their queen, resign their throne to their successors and set forth on their last solemn journey the pilgrimage of death followed by a dog who will not leave them. First circling their great realm in the last act of kingly worship, they proceed to climb the heights of the Himalayas, evidently by way of ascending to their rightful places amongst the stars. He who has lived in the world without flaw may hope for translation at the last. But, great as is the glory of the Pandava brothers, only one of them, Yudhishthira, the eldest, is so unstained by life as to merit this, the honour of reaching Heaven in the flesh. One by one the others, Bhima, Arjuna, and the twins Nakula and Sahadev, together with Draupadi the queen, faint and fall and die. And still without once looking back, without groan or sigh, Yudhishthira and the dog proceed alone. Suddenly a clap of thunder arrests their steps, and in the midst of a mass of brightness they see the god Indra, King of Heaven, standing in his chariot. He is there to
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 211
carry Yudhishthira back with him to Heaven, and imme diately begs him to enter the chariot.
It is here, in the emperor s answer, that we are able to measure how very far the Hindu people have gone since the early worship of purely cosmic deities, in the moralizing and spiritualizing of their deities and demi-gods. Yudhishthira refuses to enter the chariot unless his dead brothers are all first recalled to enter it with him, and adds, on their behalf, that they will none of them accept the in- vitation even then unless with them be their queen, Draupadi, who was the first to fall. Only when he is assured by Indra that his brothers and wife have preceded him and will meet him again on his arrival in the state of eternal felicity does he consent to enter the divine chariot, and stand aside to let the dog go first.
But here Indra objected. To the Hindu the dog is unholy. It was impossible to contemplate the idea of a dog in Heaven! Yudhishthira is begged, therefore, to send away the dog. Strange to say, he refuses. To him the dog appears as one who has been devoted, loyal in time of loss and disaster, loving and faithful in the hour of entire solitude. He cannot imagine happiness, even in Heaven, if it were to be haunted by the thought of one so true who had been cast off.
The god pleads and argues, but each word only makes the sovereign more determined. His idea of manliness is involved. "To cast off one who has loved us is in finitely sinful." But also his personal pride and honour as a king are roused. He has never yet failed the terrified or the devoted, or such as have sought sanctuary with him, nor one who has begged mercy, nor any who
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 212
was too weak to protect himself. He will certainly not infringe his own honour merely out of a desire for personal happiness.
Then the most sacred considerations are brought to bear on the situation. It must be remembered that the Hindu eats on the floor, and the dread of a dog entering the room is therefore easy to understand. There is evidently an equal dislike of the same thing in Heaven. "Thou knowest," urges Indra, " that by the presence of a dog Heaven itself would be defiled." His mere glance deprives the sacraments of their consecration. Why, then, should one who has renounced his very family so strenuously object to giving up a dog ?
Yudhishthira answers bitterly that he had perforce to abandon those who did not live to accompany him further, and, admitting that his resolution has probably been grow ing in the course of the debate, finally declares that he cannot now conceive of a crime that would be more heinous than to leave the dog.
The test is finished. Yudhishthira has refused Heaven for the sake of a dog, and the dog stands transformed into a shining god, Dharma himself, the God of Righteous ness. The mortal is acclaimed by radiant multitudes, and seated in the chariot of glory, he enters Heaven in his mortal form.
Even now, however, the poet has not made clear all that is to be required of a perfect man elevated alone to a position of great glory. Yudhishthira, entering Heaven, beholds his enemies, the heroes with whom he has contended, seated on thrones and blazing with light. At this the soul of the emperor is mightily offended. Are the mere joys of the senses to be accepted by him, he argues in effect, as any equivalent for the delight of
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 213
good company ? Where his comrades are will be Heaven for him a place inhabited by the personages he sees before him deserves a very different name.
Yudhishthira, therefore, is conducted to a region of another quality. Here, amidst horrors of darkness and anguish, his energy is exhausted and he orders his guide angrily to lead him away. At this moment sighing voices are heard in all directions begging him to stay. With him comes a moment of relief for all the souls imprisoned in this living pain of sight and sound and touch.
Yudhishthira in Hell
Involuntarily the emperor paused. And then as he stood and listened he realized with dismay that the voices to which he was listening were familiar. Here, in Hell, were his kinsmen and comrades. There, in Heaven, he had seen the great amongst his foes. Anger blazed up within him. Turning to the messenger, who had not yet left him " Go ! " he thundered in his wrath, " return to the high gods, whence thou earnest, and make it known to them that never shall I look upon their faces again. What ! evil men with them, and these my kinsfolk fallen into Hell ! This is a crime ! Never shall I return to them that wrought it. Here with my friends, in Hell, where my presence aids them, shall I abide for ever. Go ! " Swiftly the messenger departed, and Yudhishthira remained alone, with head sunk on his breast, brooding in Hell on the fate of all he loved.
Only a moment passed, and suddenly the scene was changed. The sky above them became bright. Sweet airs began to blow. All that had been foul and repulsive disappeared. And Yudhishthira, looking up, found him- self surrounded by the gods. " Well done ! " they cried.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 214
"O lord of men, thy trials are ended and thou hast fought and won. All kings must see Hell as well as Heaven. Happy are they who see it first. For thee and these thy kin nothing remains save happiness and glory. Then plunge thou into the heavenly Ganges and put away in it thy mortal enmity and grief. Here, in the Milky Way, put on the body of immortality and then ascend thy throne. Be seated amongst the gods, great thou as Indra, alone of mortal men raised to Heaven in this thine earthly form ! "
The Greatness of Self-Conquest
That process of spiritualizing which we see at its moment of inception in the story of Daksha and Shiva is here seen at its flowering-point. Thoroughly emancipated from the early worship of cosmic impressiveness and power, the Hero of the Sky appears no longer as a great Prajapati, or Lord of Creation, nor even as the Wild Huntsman, slay ing the winter sun, but entirely as a man, one of ourselves, only nobler. The Hindu imagination has now reached a point where it can conceive of nothing in the universe transcending in greatness man s conquest of himself. Yudhishthira shone amongst men in royal clemency and manly faithfulness and truth, even as now he shines amongst the stars. Whatever came to him he first renounced, and finally accepted on his own terms only. This was the demand that Buddhism, with the exaltation of character and detachment, had taught the Indian people to make of manly men. Greatest of all was the renunciation of the monk ; but next to this, and a different expression of the same greatness, was the acceptance of life and the world as their master, not as their slave.
It cannot be denied that this story of Yudhishthira, with
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 215
its subtlety of incident and of character-drawing, is thoroughly modern in tone and grasp. The particular conception of loyalty which it embodies is one that is deeply characteristic of the Indian people. To them loyalty is a social rather than a military or political virtue, and it is carried to great lengths. We must remember that this tale of Yudhishthira will be in part the offspring and in part the parent of that quality which it embodies and extols. Because this standard was characteristic of the nation, it found expression in the epic. Because the epic has preached it in every village, in song and sermon and drama, these fifteen centuries past, it has moulded Indian character and institutions with increased momentum, and gone far to realize and democratize the form of nobility it praises. Would the Greek myths, if left to develop freely, have passed eventually through the same process of ethicizing and spiritualizing as the Indian? Is India, in fact, to be regarded as the sole member of the circle of classical civilizations which has been given its normal and perfect growth ? Or must we consider that the early emergence of the idea of beauty and conscious effort after poetic effect supersedes in the Hellenic genius all that becomes in the Indian high moral interpretation? A certain aroma of poetry there cannot fail to be in productions that have engaged the noblest powers of man ; but this in the Indian seems always to be unconscious, the result of beauty of thought and nobility of significance, while in the Greek we are keenly aware of the desire of a supreme craftsman for beauty as an end in itself.
Myths and Legends of the Hindus & Buddhists: End of page 216