Category Archives: Traditional Tales

Krishna Avatar Part 25

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

As the death of the demon Bakasura spread like wildfire in Ekachakra and the surrounding areas, Kunti decided it was time for them to leave Ekachakra. The thought of moving to a new place occurred due to her concern that Duryodhana and the Kauravas might feel suspicious about Bakasura’s death. If the Pandavas were to continue to live unnoticed, it was necessary to move. So they decided to go towards the Kingdom of Panchala.

There was also another reason for Kunti to choose Panchala. She overheard the news of the svayamvara, a groom selection contest for Draupadi, the daughter of the Panchala King Drupada. Deep down she knew it was an event her sons wouldn’t want to miss. After parting from the brahmin family that they had been living with for so long, they left Ekachakra and headed towards the Kingdom of Panchala.

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By nightfall. they had reached the bank of the river Ganga. After the long journey, Arjuna was really thirsty and thus delighted to hear the flow of the river. As Arjuna was leading them through the darkness towards the river to quench his thirst, he suddenly saw a chariot advancing towards them.  The warrior in the chariot challenged them, saying not to go near the river.  He was the Angaraparana also known as Chitraratha, a chief of gandharvas, a heavenly being.  He had come with his wives to bathe in the river and he didn’t want the brahmin beggars to enter the water at the same time. 

Arjuna could not remain silent.  He challenged back saying, “The Ganga is the most sacred river.  She doesn’t belong to any one person.  Anyone should be able to come to Mother Ganga at any time.”  The gandharva chief was furious, for a mere human had insulted him in this way.  He thundered at Arjuna, “You perhaps don’t know who I am, or my valor and physical might.  The forest in the vicinity of this river belongs to me.  Not just humans, even Gods and other heavenly beings dare not set foot in my territory.  You better turn around with your clan and save your lives before getting crushed by me.” 

This was enough to fuel Arjuna’s anger.  He shouted back at him saying, “Is it worthy of a heavenly being to indulge in such false pride?  And without knowing someone’s might, isn’t it foolishness to start a fight? I’m sure you have never measured arms with a true warrior so far, otherwise your language would not have been so irresponsible.  You may have been successful frightening the weak, but now that you challenged me, I am all in to show you what I’ve got.”   

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Angaraparana drew out his sword and attacked Arjuna.  And in turn, Arjuna with the burning torch in hand attackedThe mighty Arjuna brushed his attack aside magnificently, using the burning torch he had in his hand.  He then chanted an incantation on the torch and aimed it at Angaraparana, using it as a weapon.  The torchlight set fire to Angaraparana’s chariot, burning it and forcing him to jump down from it.  While doing so he fell down and became senseless.  Arjuna jumped in at once and saved him from the fire, dragging him to Yudhishthira, the elder Pandava.   

The wives of Angaraparana rushed out of the river and ran to Yudhishthira, begging mercy for their husband.  They pleaded with Yudhishthira to spare his life.  Yudhishthira kindly said, “It is against our values to kill a person who has been already defeated and insulted in the very presence of his wives.  So, don’t worry, we will not harm him as he was punished already for his actions.” 

Angaraparana regained consciousness.  Seeing his wives standing before Yudhishthira begging to save his life, he felt highly ashamed.  Bowing his head down Angaraparana expressed his gratitude to the Pandavas.  He requested them to accept his humble gift in return for sparing his life.  He gifted them the knowledge of the art of creating illusions in war.  This science is called chakshushi.  This heavenly art named chakshushi enables one to see anything at any time at any place in the three worlds merely through the earthly eyes.  He also gifted a thousand swift horses of the gandharvas.  These horses can put on any desired color and can move with any speed desired by their master.  They will never grow old nor will their speed ever slow down.   

Yudhishthira gladly said that he will accept both gifts, but as a token of friendship, rather than a gift for sparing his life.  Yudhishthira also said that they would like Angaraparana to keep the horses with him until the Pandavas required them.  Thus, they became close friends from that time onwards.  After quenching their thirst, Yudhishthira along with his mother and brothers continued their journey towards the kingdom of Panchala. 

As the preparations for Draupadi’s svayamvara started, guests from nearby cities and kingdoms started to flock towards Panchala.  Pandavas joined in with some of the brahmins who were going.  After days of travel by foot, at last they arrived at the beautiful city.  The whole of Panchala was celebrating the svayamvara of their lovely princess Draupadi, the girl born from the sacred fire.   

Due to wanting revenge against Drona, Drupada, the King of Panchala, had performed Putrakameshti Yajna to produce a son to avenge him.  After admiring Arjuna’s might, Drupada also wanted a daughter who could marry Arjuna.  This would also give him an advantage to lessen enmity against Drona because of Arjuna being his favorite student.  Even if there was a war, Arjuna would be always on Drupada’s side, if Arjuna was married to Drona’s daughter.   

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At the successful completion of the Yajna, from the fire of the Yajna,  the twins Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi emerged.  Dhrishtadyumna was glowing like a flame; his looks spoke of his valor, great warriorship and glory.  A divine voice spoke from the heavens, saying, “Here is the divine son who is born for you to avenge your insult done by Dronacharya.”  All those present at the Yajna were very pleased to hear the divine voice. 

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A beautiful dark-skinned maiden also emerged out of the sacred fire.  She had captivating looks and lovely long hair that gave out a sweet fragrance.  King Drupada was delighted to see his children who were born from the sacred fire.  He was so grateful to be gifted with two divine children, a son and a daughter.  The daughter whom he named Krishnaa, though later on she came to be popularly known as Draupadi.  She was also called Panchala, being the favorite princess of the kingdom Panchala.  It was her svayamvara drawing all the attention, including bringing the Pandavas there.   

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The Pandavas ended up staying in a potter’s home.  They carried on their disguise as brahmins as they went around the city admiring its grandeur.  They saw the special accommodations built for the kings, princes and guests coming from all corners of the world.  And they enjoyed all the shows and entertainment happening through the day and night.  But wherever they went, all they heard was people talking about the flaming beauty of their princess, her charm and divine qualities. 

Krishna arrived in Panchala, having accepted Drupada’s invitation for the svayamvara.  While home in Dwaraka, Krishna had already received Uddhava’s report on the situation with the Pandavas.  Knowing that they were alive and safe, he was the one who arranged the next steps to follow, even without the Pandavas knowing.  It was per Krishna’s request that Vyasa advised the Pandavas to go to Ekachakra and suggested they disguise themselves as brahmins.  In fact, the whole swayamvara was happening due to the advice Drupada had gotten from Krishna in his previous visit to Panchala.   

Krishna also suggested to arrange a challenging contest for the suitors, so the winner would have Draupadi’s hand in marriage.  The challenge arranged was very difficult to achieve.  A pole was erected in the court, over which a wooden fish was fixed on a revolving wheel.  A pan of water was kept at the bottom of the pole.  Anyone who could shoot an arrow through the eye of the revolving fish, by looking at the reflection in the water, would be garlanded by Draupadi. 

On the day of the svayamvara, the venue was filled with kings and princes.  The Pandavas took their seats among the brahmins.  The gathering consisted of princes from many kingdoms including the Kauravas, Karna, Shakuni, Drona’s son Ashwatthama, Shishupala, Jarasandha of Magadha and many others.  Krishna and Balarama were seated much closer to King Drupada.   

Dhrishtadyumna, the son of Drupada, opened the proceedings by escorting his sister to the court.  Draupadi gracefully walked with her brother into the venue.  She was tall and dark with gleaming eyes and long black locks.  She was truly dazzling in her finery, looking like a goddess.  At once, all eyes were turned to her.  The kings and the princes stared at her stunning beauty.  As soon as she entered the court she paid obeisance to the sages, her kula guru, her father, Krishna & Balarama and all the elders before taking her seat.

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Dhrishtadyumna, as the master of the ceremony, addressed the guests.  He announced the rules of the swayamvara, “Whosoever can bend the bow and pierce the eye of the fish hanging above, by looking at its image in the water, may marry my beloved sister, Draupadi.”  Then he requested the suitors to come forward to take part in the swayamvara.   

Krishna Avatar Part 24

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

The Pandavas with their mother Kunti continued their journey through the forest, facing many hardships along the way.  As they couldn’t find any safe and suitable place to stay, they wandered around.  One day they came across Sage Vyasa.  Even though they did not know who he was, yet the Pandava brothers paid their respects humbly.  The great sage blessed them all.  Staring at his face, Kunti recognized him.  She had seen him when he came to the Royal Palace in Hastinapura to escort Queen Satyavati with him to his ashram when she renounced the royal life.  Recognizing the sage as none other than Vyasa, Kunti burst into tears and narrated all that happened to them.

The sage counseled her to keep patient.  He gave her the teachings of the reality of life, advising them to follow the path of righteousness and be patient in adversity.  He promised that prosperity is bound to follow for those who walk on the path of righteousness. 

Sage Vyasa directed them towards a nearby town named Ekachakra.  Following the advice of Sage Vyasa Kunti and her sons went to Ekachakra and started living in disguise as bhramins in the house of a brahmin. 

They went begging for alms in the town by day, coming back at dusk with the alms.  Whatever they brought, they placed before their mother Kunti.  She divided all of it into two halves.  One half was given to Bhima alone while the other half was shared by her and his four brothers.  The major share was given to Bhima as his immense appetite had to be fulfilled at any cost.  Bhima was also called “Vrahothan” due to his huge appetite.  Vrahothan means a person with a wolf’s stomach.  A wolf’s stomach is small, making it hard for its appetite to be satisfied.  Bhima was the gift of Vayu Bhagavan, the God of wind, thus having his characteristics, fiercely forceful, strong and the biggest appetite ever.

Kunti would weep every day seeing the sad state of her sons.  The Royal Princes of Hastinapura were begging for food as mendicants.  But the Pandavas would console her by all means, telling jokes and acting silly to make their mother laugh.  Soon the Pandavas became popular among the people of the town because of their virtuous deeds. 

One day, as Kunti was ill, the four Pandavas went on their daily begging, leaving Bhima to take care of their mother.  While resting, all of a sudden Kunti heard a huge cry coming out of the brahmin’s house.  She immediately alerted Bhima and went to their home.  The whole family was in tears, sobbing while sitting in a very frightened state. 

The brahmin father was saying to his wife, “Oh, I was anticipating this day from the beginning and advising to leave this place.  But you did not heed my advice.  See, the imminent danger is knocking at our door right now.  You are a pious and a patient lady, following my dharmic path.  Like a mother you are nourishing and nurturing me.  The very gods have sent you as my friend, philosopher and guide.  How can I now desert you and go there?” 

He continued, “See our cute small son.  He has not yet grown; he is still a child.  How can I leave him?  This is our beloved daughter.  The gods have given her to me for me to perform Kanyaadaana (gift of a maiden in marriage).  I and my forefathers will attain divine abodes by virtue of the children born to her.  A few may say that the father loves his son more, and a few others say that he loves his daughter more.  I love both of them equally.  Now what can I do?  I can’t leave them,” the brahmin grieved.

The Brahmin’s wife said, “Oh, my lord!  Don’t lament over this issue.  Today I will go and sacrifice my life.  A wife is supposed to protect her husband.  That is dharma.  You married for progeny, and I got relieved from the debt by giving children to you.  The purpose of my life is fulfilled.  If you die and I outlive your death, I can’t bring up these two children on my own.  I can’t even protect this girl from the evil eyes of envious men.  Further, a lady without a husband would be akin to the fallen flesh ready to be picked up by all men around.  I can’t protect myself and lead on the dharmic path.  I will be despised and demeaned.” She continued, “Further, a woman is not to be killed as per dharma.  Thus the demon may leave me because I am a woman.  A man is certain to be killed but a woman has the chances of being relieved.  Hence, only I should go and do my duty as a wife.”

Hearing this from her mother, the brahmin’s daughter offered to sacrifice her life.  “Listen to me.  I am your daughter and one day you must let me go with whoever I marry.  I will save my parents by sacrificing my life and leave you now.  Oh father, for the sake of dharma, and for the sake of all of us let me die for a noble cause.” 

Then the small boy came up with a stick and childishly said that he would kill the demon with the stick, and that he would go to the demon the next day.  Everyone hugged him for his innocence.  Then the father said, “Death for all of us is the only alternative.”

At that point Kunti entered the house.  They all looked at Kunti as she asked them for the reason for their sorrowful state.  When they hesitated, Kunti insisted the brahmin to explain what is going on in the town that she is not aware of.  She said to consider she and her sons as family to the brahmins. 

Hearing this brahmin said, “A man-eating demon named Bakasura lives on a hill near this town.  To protect the town from the terrible demon and to live without fear in the town, the elders of the town have made a deal with him.  According to the deal, the town will send a human being along with a bullock cart full of food daily to satisfy the hunger of the demon.  For this to happen, every family has to send one of its members when their turn comes.  By doing this the town is protected from Bakasura’s raid.  As you can see, it’s my turn to arrange for the demon’s food tomorrow.  Each member of my family was insisting on going but finally we have decided that all of us should go, to be devoured by the demon.” 

Kunti was listening quietly.  Then she consoled them by saying one of her sons will go instead of them.  The brahmin family were delighted to hear the consoling words of Kunti.  The father thanked her for her kindness & compassion towards them.  Then he said, “The misfortune that we are going to face cannot be shared by anyone else, as every family in this town has to face this when it’s their turn.”  He continued and said that they are guests.  In order to save his family, he would not let guests sacrifice one of their family members.  The wife joined in with her husband on the matter. 

Kunti assured them that her son Bhima would be the best person to deal with the demon.  “He will not only save your family, but also all the other families in Ekachakra.”  She added that she and her sons are obliged to the brahmin family in many ways, and it’s their duty to be there for them.  Hearing of Bhima’s valor from Kunti, they decided to agree to her proposal. 

Kunti went straight to Bhima and told him about Bakasura.  She instructed him to put an end to the demon.  She emphasized that it’s their duty to stand by the brahmins in this time of adversity.  She was so grateful to the brahmin family who had embraced them when they walked into the town by giving them shelter.  Bhima was delighted to have this opportunity to fight for the brahmins and the town.  He bowed his head to his mother and asked for her blessings to kill the demon. 

When the other four brothers returned home Kunti narrated the incident to them as well.  Hearing this, Yudhishthira didn’t like the idea of Bhima putting himself into danger, knowing he was the one who can protect their family.  However, Yudhishthira also realized it is kshatriya dharma, the righteousness of a royal prince and warrior.  He blessed Bhima to go fight the demon. 

The next morning, Bhima set out towards the demon’s dwelling with a cart loaded with food.  Once he reached the destination, he unloosed the bullocks pulling the cart and started eating the food which was meant for the demon.  While eating all he had brought, he made loud noises to get the attention of the demon. 

When Bakasura heard a human voice, he came out of his dwelling and was shocked to see his victim eating his food and making loud noises.  Bakasura was an awfully ferocious demon with a wide mouth, big teeth and fiery eyes.  He was already hungry and waiting for his daily food and he was enraged at what he saw. 

Bakasura thundered, “You human!  How dare you touch my food and ignore me.  Are you wishing to die the worst cruel death in my hands?  I will happily grant you your wish!”  He advanced towards Bhima.  Bhima simply ignored him and went on eating.  The ferocious demon was unable to hold his anger and attacked Bhima. 

Bakasura was taken by Bhima’s might.  Without losing any time, Bhima sprang at his opponent in full force.  He lifted the demon up and hurled him violently to the ground.  The demon could not stand the attack and fell down on the ground with a heavy thud, dying on the spot.  Bhima put a cloth around the neck of the dead demon and dragged his body to the town.  Leaving it there to be viewed by the townspeople, he quietly went home. 

Soon the people of the town came to know of the fearful demon’s death and assembled to see his dead body lying at the outer gate of the town.  The news spread like wildfire in the entire neighboring area and people began to dance in joy, reveling in their newly found freedom. 

Everyone in the town was astonished by the mysterious death of the demon.  They tried to figure out who would have killed the demon and dragged his body to the town.  It remained a puzzle for them.  The brahmin family knew everything, yet they kept their mouth shut. 

Image #1 Vyasa https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-Gqb0AQXE3pg/YEYp5S8AnHI/AAAAAAAAchY/Glga8WyRLJcrpslqz-MXWwfNrbk59e7kwCLcBGAsYHQ/s728/How%2BSage%2BVyasa%2BGot%2BThe%2BName%2BKrishna%2BDwaipayana%2BVyasa.jpg

Image #2 Bhima https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhima#/media/File:Vintage_Bhim_oleograph_litho_Ravi_Varma_Press_B.jpg

Image #3 Kunti and the Brahmin family https://www.boldsky.com/yoga-spirituality/anecdotes/2015/mahabharata-stories-why-did-bhima-fight-bakasura-066730.html?story=4

Image #4  Bhima eating Bakasura’s food https://www.templepurohit.com/bakasura-the-rakshas-of-ekachakranagara/ by Sumo (http://sumo.com/)

Image #5 Bhima & Bakasura https://moralstories.wordpress.com/2006/08/25/ekachakrapura-baka-vadha/

Krishna Avatar Part 23

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

The Pandavas along with their mother Kunti hiked across several hurdles, at last reaching the thick of the forest.  Kunti was feeling heavily tired so Bhima ended up carrying her on his shoulders along with the young Nakula and Sahadeva on his hips.  Holding Yudhishthira and Arjuna by his hands, Bhima cleared the way like an elephant and marched onward. 

https://www.vyasaonline.com/2017/01/15/the-burning-of-house-of-lac/mahabharata/

As Kunti couldn’t travel any further due to hunger and thirst, they decided to rest under a banyan tree that stood close by.  They sat together under the thick shade of the tree, exhausted after the long journey.  From stories they had heard, they knew they had entered the magical forest, Maya Vana.  Legend said that anyone who entered this forest never returned.

All of them laid down and fast fell asleep except for Bhima.  Bhima watched over them while they slept.  Aware that his brothers and mother were hungry and thirsty, he went in search of a waterfront.  After covering a short distance, he heard the twitter of birds.  Going that direction, he soon found himself at a waterfront.  Bhima quenched his thirst.  Then he made a big pitcher out of leaves, filled it with water and returned to the banyan tree where his family members were lost in deep sleep.  Bhima did not want to disturb them.  He stood aside keeping watch over them. 

This demonized magical forest where the Pandavas were sleeping was the hunting preserve of a fearful demon name Hidimba.  He lived there along with his sister Hidimbi and their clan of demons.  While roaming around, in search of a victim, Hidimba sensed the presence of human beings nearby.  He asked his sister to go find them and bring them to their settlement so he could kill them for dinner.

Following the human smell, Hidimbi reached the banyan tree and saw the sleeping Pandavas with Bhima on guard.  As soon as she saw handsome Bhima and his muscular body, she was attracted to him.  She immediately fell in love with him.  An ardent desire to be with Bhima overwhelmed her and she decided not to go back to her brother.  She thought the only way she could even have a chance to attract Bhima’s attention would be to transform herself into a human form.  She indeed transformed herself into a maiden of incomparable charm, and adorned her body with valuable jewelry.

http://ritsin.com/bhima-hidimba-mahabharata.html

Hidimbi walked up to Bhima gracefully.  Complimenting Bhima’s muscular body and handsome looks first, she asked who he was, and who were all those people sleeping at his watch.  She then confessed her desire, wanting to marry him and be his wife.  She warned him, “This forest is a hunting preserve of my brother Hidimba.  If he comes here, all of you will be his meal, as he is a cannibal.  It would be wise to wake all of them and leave this place right away.” 

With a smile, Bhima replied, “Don’t worry.  I shall deal with your brother if he happens to come here.  I am not willing to disturb the sleep of my brothers and my revered mother in fear of your brother.  We’ll just see how powerful he is.”

As Hidimbi was taking so long, Hidimba arrived right at that moment with his clan.  He saw that Hidimbi had transformed herself into a beautiful maiden to indulge in romantic conversation with Bhima.  Hidimba erupted with anger and thundered, “Hidimbi, you are a disgrace to our clan.  You bring shame to our entire race.  You have stooped so low as to enjoy being with a mere human being.  Can’t you find a demon to satisfy your lust?  I shall kill you right now, along with your human lover.”  

Saying this, Hidimba advanced.  Clenching his fists and grinding his teeth, he grabbed for his sister.  In rage, when he was about to lay hands on Hidimbi, Bhima intervened, holding him by the wrist.  Bhima shouted, “Oh, you can’t lay hands on a woman in my presence.  Come on, face me if you dare.  Don’t you know only cowards choose to attack women.  Get away from her or I shall knock you down so strongly that you may never rise again.”


https://glorioushinduism.com

Hidimba couldn’t bear such insulting words coming from a mere human.  He leapt at Bhima and gave a staggering blow on the back of his neck.  Bhima was not frightened at all.  A fearsome duel followed.  Seeing this, even the animals of the forest ran.  Hidimbi hid behind a rock nearby, unable to bear the fact that her brother and the one she had fallen in love with were fighting. 

The commotion caused Bhima’s mother Kunti and four brothers to wake.  Seeing Bhima challenged in a fight with a dreadful demon, his brothers rushed to help him.  To their surprise, he had already overcome the demon and raised him well above his head.  Bhima tossed him down to the ground violently.  Hidimba fell with a heavy thud and died.  The rest of them stood by silently, including Hidimbi in hiding.

Kunti, Yudhishthira and the brothers were delighted to see Hidimba was dead.  But Arjuna warned Bhima that they need to leave the place as the news about Hidimba’s death might reach the Kauravas and give them away.  The rest of them supported the suggestion so they decided to leave right away. 

They tried to move on quickly, but the custom of the demon clan was that whoever killed their leader became the new leader.  Therefore, the clan stopped them, wanting Bhima to become their leader.  They begged Bhima, worried that there will be internal problems with choosing any other of the clan as a leader.  Even after a lot of pleading by the clan, Bhima and his family didn’t accept their plea.  With a lot of regret, they started to move on, to get out of the Maya Vana.

They weren’t aware of Hidimbi following them at their heels.  After travelling quite a distance, Kunti turned around and saw this beautiful young lady following them.  She stopped immediately, asked Hidimbi who she was and why she was following them.  She demanded that Hidimbi say something about herself and her purpose in following them. 

First touching Kunti’s feet, Hidimbi stated, “I’m Hidimbi, the sister of Hidimba, the demon whom your valiant son has put to death.  I assisted my brother in all his endeavors, until I saw your son, with whom I have fallen in love.”  By saying this, Hidimbi disclosed everything, admitting that she was in love with Bhima and wanted to be his wife.  She was seeking the approval of Kunti to allow her carry out her desire.  Kunti explained that a marriage between a human and demon was never heard of and that her son must get back to his duties.

Hidimbi was relentless.  She wouldn’t accept Kunti’s answer.  Kunti said that the Pandavas living with the demons forever was not going to be possible, and that they had a lot of other things they need to attend to.  Hidimbi replied, “On the day I have a child with Bhima, an heir to lead the clan, I will let you go your way.”  Kunti was so charmed by Hidimbi’s obedience and well-mannered behavior, she could not refuse her request for the company of Bhima. 

Kunti went up to Hidimbi and showered blessings on her.  Then Kunti turned to Bhima and asked him if he was ready to marry to Hidimbi.  She was so delighted to see Bhima falling for Hidimbi too.  She wanted the best for them.  But she requested that Hidimbi leave Bhima free at nightfall so that he could come to protect them, especially at night. 


https://mahabharatham.arasan.info

Hidimbi wanted everyone to stay in the clan’s grounds.  Kunti agreed and the wedding was done in a very fancy way according to the clan’s customs.  The couple requested blessings from Kunti and Yudhishthira.  Kunti and Yudhishthira blessed them both, saying Hidimbi is the first daughter to come into their family.  Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva congratulated their brother and Hidimbi.  Bhima enjoyed the company of Hidimbi and all of them got used to living with the demon clan.  Days passed, followed by weeks, while things went on quite smoothly for them. 

After some time, Hidimbi gave birth to a male child who was a true copy of his father Bhima.  He was named Ghatotkacha.  Being a child of a demon, he grew up to be a young man in a few days.  He was a mighty warrior, just like his father, gifted with immense physical strength.  He also inherited his mother’s magical powers.  All the Pandavas were very happy to see him doing wonderful things. 

After the birth of Ghatotkacha, Kunti and the Pandavas decided to take leave of the clan as they had to move on.  Hidimbi remembered her word and let them go with a very heavy heart.  Ghatotkacha was named the leader of the clan.  When they were leaving the forest, Kunti called Ghatotkacha, telling him that even though he was Bhima’s son, he would always be regarded as the eldest son of the Pandavas.  Ghatotkacha promised to come to their aid whenever they needed him.  He asked his father merely to think of him when needing his assistance, and he would be there without any delay.  Bhima embraced both Hidimbi and Ghatotkacha, before accompanying his mother and his brothers out of the Maya Vana.

Krishna Avatar Part 22

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

The Pandavas had proved their excellence and superiority to the Kauravas once again by fulfilling Guru Drona’s wish.  The display of various martial skills and their distinctive noble qualities gained wide popularity, not only with the elders of the family but among the people of Hastinapura as well. 

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The good citizens of Hastinapura wanted Pandu’s eldest son Yudhishthira to be declared as Crown Prince.  His fine qualities of patience, benevolence, honesty and selflessness made him loved by all.  Since he was the eldest of all the princes, Bhishma advised Dhritarashtra to declare Yudhishthira as successor, and to crown him as, the prince first in line to the throne. 

This upset Dhritarashtra who was hoping for his son Duryodhana to be his successor.  But most of all, Duryodhana was deeply hurt by all this.  His dream of becoming Crown Prince was shattered.  Unable to tolerate it, burning with jealousy, he again began to plot against the Pandavas in order to safeguard the throne for himself.  Even though all his earlier conspiracies had failed miserably, he was not ready to give up his efforts.  So he laid out a plot with his brothers, his uncle Shakuni and his best friend Karna. 

He went straight to his father and met with him privately, saying, “Father, the people of Hastinapura have lost their minds.  They are not even respecting you or grandsire Bhishma.  They want to make Yudhishthira the successor.  Once Yudhishthira is crowned, that will be end of you and all of us Kauravas.  None of us will ever be kings, not even our children.” 

This made Dhritarashtra pause and think.  Still, he tried to convince Duryodhana, describing Yudhishthira as being like his own brother Pandu, who was very kind and loving.  Pandu would never have done anything unjust to the Kauravas, or to anyone for that matter.  Dhritarashtra also warned Duryodhana, saying that Pandu was loved by all, which was also the case with Yudhishthira.  It would be very hard to convince the people otherwise.  Fighting against all of them would never bring the victory Duryodhana was expecting. 

Duryodhana reminded his father that Grandsire Bhishma would be always loyal to the throne of Hastinapura, due to his great vow.  Thereby Bhishma would always support Dhritarashtra, as long as he was the king.  Dhritarashtra finally fell for his son’s plot against the Pandavas.  Dhritarashtra had a soft spot for his brother’s children, but his love for his own children often overshadowed that.  Because of this weakness, the love of his son Duryodhana, he often knowingly chose the wrong path. 

Duryodhana
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The annual festival held in Varanavata was a great opportunity to accomplish the plot.  Duryodhana asked his father to send the Pandavas, along with their mother Kunti, to participate in the annual festival.  His request seemed strange at first, but Duryodhana emphasized the importance of sending Yudhishthira in the capacity of the Crown Prince, in accordance with the custom.  He told his father that, while the Pandavas were away, he would try to convince those who supported the Pandavas and turn them into his allies.  If needed be, by bribing them, as the last resort.  Yet, Dhritarashtra was not giving in.  It took more convincing from all the accomplices of Duryodhana, before Dhritarashtra agreed to cooperate with the plot.

However, Duryodhana hatched a more dreadful plot with his brothers, his uncle Shakuni and his best friend Karna.  He approached Purochana, one of his ministers, for help.  Under the strict supervision of Purochana, a beautiful palace was built at Varanavata.  Its walls were made of lacquer, a highly flammable substance, while its roof was thatched so that it could catch fire at the slightest contact with a single spark of fire.  The plan was to burn the Pandavas while they were sleeping at night, so that nobody would suspect foul play.  Thus the death of the Pandavas would pass off as an accident. 

Hearing about Varanavata and the famous festival, the Pandavas were thrilled about visiting there.  With their mother Kunti, they left for Varanavata after being blessed by the elders and given well-wishes by the others.  The people of Hastinapura followed them as far as they could go and then returned home.

Even though Purochana managed to get the palace built, only by bribing the builders, the news of terrible plot somehow leaked out.  It reached Vidura’s ears.  Knowing about Duryodhana’s plot, Vidura had wisely taken into confidence a builder involved in the construction.  With his help, a secret tunnel was constructed as an escape path that led from the palace to an opening on the riverside.  The builder managed to finish the task of digging the tunnel so secretly that even Purochana did not know about the underground escapeway. 

Vidura
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Vidura alerted the Pandavas well in advance, even before they started off on their journey.  As he was unable to meet the Pandavas privately, Vidura tactfully, in the presence of the Kauravas, warned the Pandavas about the imminent danger in an indirect way.  On his going away blessings to Yudhishthira and the others, He said some cryptic words, “A weapon not made of steel or any other material element can be more than sharp to kill an enemy.  He who knows this is never killed.  The substance that devastates a forest and helps with the cold cannot hurt a rat, which shelters itself in a hole or a porcupine which burrows in the earth.  The wise man knows his bearings by looking at the stars.”

Vidura’s tactical way of passing the message worked.   Yudhishthira understood its meaning, knowing the means to escape the danger, which was imminent.  This message made Kunti and her sons sad, that Duryodhana had started his plots to kill them again.  All their happiness about going to Varanavata’s famous festival disappeared. 

When Pandavas reached Varanavata, they acted as if they knew nothing about the plot.  They attended the fair regularly, while spending most of the daytime hunting in the forest.  This was to get familiar with the surroundings.  At nightfall, they returned to the palace.  They slept in the tunnel itself and not inside the palace.  They did it in such a way that nobody knew they were not inside the palace at night.  They kept close watch on the activities of Purochana. 

Purochana was fully confident of the success of Duryodhana’s evil plan.  Duryodhana was equally sure that the Pandavas would not be able to escape, and thus would never return back to Hastinapura. 

On the last day of the fair, the Pandavas and Kunti performed a special puja and yaj~na, and gave away alms to the poor.  That was the night Purochana had been waiting for, to set the fire to kill the Pandavas.  It was a moonless dark night.  Anticipating the plot, the Pandavas were alert and fully armed.

With a view to having an upper hand, Bheema got up at midnight.  He set fire to the palace at different locations.  He wanted to kill Duryodhana’s accomplices and weaken his enemy’s strength.  Bheema escaped through the tunnel, along with his brothers and mother Kunti.  In no time the palace was engulfed in horrible flames and reduced to ashes. 

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Unfortunately, a poor woman about the age of Kunti had attended the feeding ceremony that morning, along with her five adult sons.  She stayed in the palace that night, as she didn’t have any other place to stay, so she and her sons, along with Purochana himself, were killed in the fire.  Purochana had gotten caught in the fire when Bheema beat him to setting the palace on fire.

The Pandavas escaped through the underground tunnel and reached the riverbank of Ganga.  Vidura had arranged for a boat for them, so when they came to the riverbank they found a boatman waiting for them, ready to ferry them across the river.  They boarded the boat and safely landed on the other bank of the Ganga. 

When the news about the catastrophe reached Hastinapura, the kingdom was hit by shock waves.  Both Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana were pleased, relieved and extremely delighted in their hearts, outwardly they pretended to be very sorrowful and in grief.  They were sure that the path to the throne was now clear for Duryodhana.  Bhishma and other like-minded royal dignitaries were shocked at the sad happening.  Their sorrow was indescribable indeed.

Duryodhana rushed to Varanavata.  There he found burned bodies of a woman and five men.  The death of Purochana surprised him, as it was he who was to set fire to the house.  Duryodhana wondered why Purochana couldn’t save himself.  Unfortunately, the burnt woman was the homeless woman with her five sons, who had sought refuge in the palace.  After his survey, Duryodhana declared a state of mourning in the kingdom, returning to Hastinapura. 

Outwardly Dhritarashtra and the Kauravas acted grief-struck, but in their hearts they were feeling ecstatic.  They thought that the road was now clear, that all the hurdles in Duryodhana’s way to the throne had been taken care of.  Grandsire Bhishma and other ministers were in state of shock and their sadness was beyond words.  They were not in the mindset to suspect any foul play.  Only Vidura knew the actual story, but didn’t say anything to anyone, leaving it to the Pandavas to emerge when they wished to.  Though he knew they survived the fire, he didn’t know their whereabouts after they landed on the other side of Ganga.

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On the other side of Ganga, Kunti and the Pandavas landed with a sigh and a deep breath.  They thanked the boatman and disappeared into the jungle.  At that point, they knew that Duryodhana was never going to let them live in harmony.  At Kunti’s request, they decided they would sacrifice the throne for their mother’s peace of mind.

We had started to talk about the Kuru family, including the Pandavas and Kauravas, some time ago.  It was after Krishna and Balarama had rushed to Hastinapura, having heard that their cousins from the Kuru family were in great danger.  This was the incident that brought them to Hastinapura. 

Krishna Avatar Part 21

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Guru Dronacharya was delighted to witness the talent of his pupils.  He had spent many years teaching and training the cousins, the Kaurava and Pandava princes.   As the Guru of the valiant princes of Hastinapura, he was now living a comfortable life.   The entire kingdom of Hastinapura held him in high esteem.   Especially Grandsire Bhishma was very cordial to him.   He was honored and had been provided with all the facilities.

Despite all this, he was not quite happy.   His mind was not at peace.  Some pain was there in him, deep down, which kept bothering him.   In fact, there was a burning desire to avenge someone.   Yes, his bitter past was consuming his present in the form of revenge.

So, who is Guru Drona? What is this revenge that is consuming his heart all about?

Guru Drona was the son of Rishi Bharadvaja.   It is said that, one fine day on a riverside, Rishi Bharadvaja saw an apsara (celestial nymph) named Ghritachi.   The beauty of her filled his heart with desire and his seed fell into a pot.  A baby boy was born from the pot.   Drona’s name means “a boy who was born in a pot.”

Drona spent all his childhood in his father’s Ashram.   There, he met Drupada, the prince of Panchala.   They became the best of friends.   Before returning to his palace, Drupada promised he would cherish their friendship forever and give Drona anything he desires, even half of his kingdom.   Later Drona went to study under great Parashurama.   There he learnt the skills of all of the weapons and gained many powerful celestial weapons too. 

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After learning all those great skills, Drona wanted to live a simple life.   He was not interested in material wealth, so he soon became poor.   He was known as a Brahmin scholar, a renowned master of archery and a great teacher.   He married Kripi, the daughter of Sage Shardwan and sister of Kripacharya.   They had a son named Ashwatthama.   Day by day Drona became very poor and could hardly make ends meet.   He would neither beg nor take any charitable donations.

One day while playing with friends, Drona’s son Ashwatthama saw his friends drinking a bowl of cow’s milk and smacking their lips.  Ashwatthama had never tasted cow’s milk.   He only knew the milk his mother’s breasts produced.  Now Ashwatthama wanted to taste cow’s milk and demanded that he needed it right away.  

Kripi tried to console Ashwatthama in many ways without giving him cow’s milk but failed.   Poor Kripi, helpless and wanting to fulfill her son’s desire, mixed flour with water and gave it to him.  Not knowing the taste of the milk Ashwatthama was thrilled that at last he got to drink cow’s milk.   As Drona was watching this, his heart filled with horror and shame.   He was shaken by this and was so upset. 

He set out of his house determined to earn wealth and glory.   Drona wondered where he could go or in which direction to turn?  He also questioned his destiny.   Suddenly he remembered about his childhood bosom friend & classmate, Drupada, who had now ascended on the throne of Panchala.   He also remembered the promise that Drupada gave him before leaving his father’s Ashram, that he would give anything that Drona desired.  

Drona’s face brightened.   With great expectations, he sped towards Panchala, the capital city that his dear friend ruled.   The journey was troublesome, but the hope he had in his heart made it feel manageable. 

After days of traveling on foot, Drona reached Panchala.   On the way he built up his expectations so high, he expected that his arrival would be a great function.   The news of their king’s bosom friend paying a visit will be the news of the kingdom.  He was thus expecting a huge welcome before being led to the King ceremoniously.  

To his surprise nothing like that happened.  The people of Panchala simply ignored him.  No one cared for him even when he claimed to be the best friend of their king.  They only laughed at his claim, as he was wearing beaten-down rag clothes.  

As Drupada was now a king it was not easy to meet him.   No one would help Drona either.   After several days of efforts, Drona managed to enter the court of king Drupada, his dear friend from school days.  So thrilled to see his dear friend, Drona formally introduced himself and began talking about their good old days. 

The king Drupada looked at him as if he was any other person, showing no signs of friendship.   Drona was shocked and very disappointed, and reminded Drupada of their friendship and all the good days they had together at Drona’s father’s Ashram.   He tried to narrate the stories from the Ashram days, but Drupada said that Drona was merely a classmate.   There was nothing more than that, not such a great friendship between them as Drona had put it.  

Drona reminded Drupada of the promise he’d made while leaving the Ashram but Drupada laughed sarcastically, saying he didn’t remember any of it.   Drona was enraged.   Still controlling his raging anger, he humbly asked Drupada to help him in his hardship.   But Drupada, filled with pride and ego, refused his request and said that he will even give two towns as charity to a Brahmin.   Drona says that he had not come there as a beggar, but as a friend and that he would happily accept anything, even a single cow, as the honor of their friendship.  

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Drupada then insulted Drona by saying, how could a beggar be his friend.   Drupada told his soldiers to expel the beggar out of his court.   This really enraged Drona.   Before leaving the court, he made a declaration that he would come back to the same court and take Drupada’s throne, but without using a single weapon.   Instead, Drona would use his pupils to defeat Drupada.  

Drona’s mind refused to be at peace until the betrayal was avenged.  All he wanted was to take revenge on Drupada.  

Humiliated Drona began to hate the world and decided to renounce the world to become an ascetic.   That is when his fate brought him to the grounds of Hastinapura where he met the Kuru princes.   Now he had become the beloved and revered Guru of the Kaurava and Pandava princes.  

Even with all this glory, Drona’s desire for revenge still consumed his heart.   He could not live in peace.   Yes, the desire to avenge King Drupada was fresh in his mind.   Now it was time to act and Guru Drona decided to accomplish this in the form of guru-dakshina. 

Once the princes were fully trained, it was time for Guru Drona to ask for his guru-dakshina, the right of the teacher to demand a payment from his pupils.   A Guru was entitled to a final payment from his pupil in which he could ask for anything.   A true student was supposed to provide whatever the Guru desired as a sacred obligation.   We have already witnessed this with Ekalavya. 

One fine morning, Dronacharya called all the princes together.   Drona said, “I have imparted to all of you the training in various martial skills and the use of weapons.  Now it’s time for me to ask for my guru-dakshina.”

The princes asked Guru Drona what he would like to have as guru-dakshina.  Guru Drona said, “Before I became your Guru, I was insulted by King Drupada in his court through no fault of mine.   Although he had been my classmate and dearest friend, he humiliated me.  I must teach him a lesson.  I want him to be presented before me as a prisoner.  Can any of you do this for your Guru?”

Arjuna immediately bowed his head to his Guru and with confidence said, “Revered Guru, at your command I will bring any king of this earthly realm to you bound in ropes.  I take this as your command!”  Hearing Arjuna’s words, Duryodhana jumped in, seeking permission from his father King Dhritarashtra to allow him to attack Drupada, to take the pride, as he knew this would weigh in toward becoming the crown prince.  With his father’s blessings, all the Kauravas under the leadership of Duryodhana attacked Drupada.

King Drupada was all ready for the battle, expecting the Hastinapura army and its 105 princes.   He formed his famous Drupada Chakra, a military formation that enemies could not easily escape.  He had his eldest born son, Shikhandi, as his commander-in-chief. 

Shikhandi is none other than Amba, who reincarnated to fulfill her revenge against Grandsire Bhishma.  She was born as a baby girl to King Drupada, the king of Panchala.  She was originally named Shikhandini due her female gender.  It is said that, when she was a young girl, she wore the garland which hung at the palace door of King Drupada.  She had left that garland when she was Amba, before she went into the forest. 

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When King Drupada saw his daughter wearing the garland, he became fearful of becoming Bhishma’s enemy, so he banished Shikhandini from the kingdom.  Shikhandini performed austerities in the forest.  She was transformed into a male named Shikhandi, and returned to Drupada with all the glory of her gender transformation.

King Drupada defeated all the Kauravas and Duryodhana easily, with the help of Shikhandi.  They captured all the princes and made them their prisoners.  While King Drupada was celebrating his victory, one of his soldiers broke the news to him that they had only 100 princes captured, not 105.  Then came the Pandavas, led by Arjuna.  After a fierce fight, they defeated Drupada and freed Duryodhana and the other Kaurava princes.  Arjuna bound Drupada in ropes and brought him to Guru Drona.

At last Guru Drona got his revenge.  He set Drupada free, saying that even though Drupada didn’t honor their friendship, Drona always did.  But Drona retained half of the kingdom that had been promised to him, making his son Ashwatthama its king. 

Humiliated, Drupada sought vengeance but realized that he could not match Drona’s might, not even with Shikhandi.  So, Drupada performed the Putrakameshti Yaj~na, specifically to produce a son who could slay Drona.  Also, admiring Arjuna’s might, Drupada wanted a daughter who could marry Arjuna. 

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After the successful completion of the yaj~na, the twins Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi emerged from the fire.  Drupada was so delighted to see his children, were born from the fire.

Krishna Avatar Part 20

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Guru Drona continued training the Kuru princes in his forest ashram after the episode with Ekalavya.  Now we return to Vasusena, better known as Karna.  While he was the adopted son of the charioteer Adhiratha and his wife Radha, he was the first born of Kunti, before her marriage.  Yet no one, including Kunti, Karna and his foster parents knew who he really was.  Kunti didn’t know that Karna was the baby she let afloat on the river, and Karna didn’t know that Kunti was his birth mother. 

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Karna was known by this name due to his birth with golden earrings attached to his ears.  All through his youth, Karna was very interested in archery, and was very good at it, probably because of his genetic factor.  The bond between Karna and his foster parents was one of pure love and affection.  Yet they never approved of his interest in archery as it was something a charioteer’s son should not pursue in those days.  Karna got into arguments with his parents because of this, many times.  One day he was sick of his parents suppressing him from what he is good at, archery, so he left home.  He went to many teachers, but all declined to teach him because he was not a kshatriya, meaning that he was not a royal or from the warrior class. 

He was very disappointed but continued to search.  He heard that the Kuru princes were being trained by Guru Drona.  Karna went there and asked Guru Drona to accept him as his student and teach him archery.  After asking who he was, Guru Drona refused to teach him for the same reason.  They got into a quarrel.  Karna questioned Guru Drona how he, not being a kshatriya, had the exception of learning archery.  Drona explained that his Guru, Parashurama, taught these arts only to brahmin sages.  At the end, Karna challenged that he would prove that he was better than Drona’s best pupil, Arjuna.  Before leaving, Karna showed off by demonstrating the archery skills he already acquired on his own.  It proved he had great skill with his bow and arrows. 

Karna decided to get Parashurama as his Guru.  Since Parashurama only taught the art of war to brahmins sages, Karna disguised himself as a brahmin sage.  Arriving at Parashurama’s ashram, Karna asked Parashurama to teach him the art of archery, saying he was refused by all the teachers as he wasn’t a kshatriya.  Parashurama said that he had retired from teaching archery.  Steadfast in his motive to learn the skill he loved so much, Karna spoke kind words and tried to persuade Parashurama to agree.  Due to the passion Karna displayed for archery, and due to the fact that Parashurama hated all the kshatriyas who had gone corrupt, he asked a final question, “Are you a brahmin sage?”  With the greatest of hesitation in his heart, but with the greed for getting the knowledge of archery prevailing over the hesitation, Karna lied to Sage Parashurama, saying he is a brahmin sage.

Parashurama took him under his wing and taught him archery along with all other arts of war.  In time, due to the respectful nature, obedience and the talent Karna displayed, he became very dear to Parashurama.  Karna would do anything and everything for his Guru, never disobeying him.  The years passed and the training was nearly at the end.  Parashurama taught Karna to use the Brahmastra, the mightiest weapon of all.  Karna was happy that his dream of mastering archery was becoming a reality.

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One day, Parashurama requested Karna to bring a pillow for him to sleep outside in the shade.  Karna instead wanted him to use his lap as a pillow.  So Parashurama was resting with his head on Karna’s lap.  While Parashurama was asleep, a huge bug came by and bit Karna’s thigh.  Despite the pain, Karna did not move as he didn’t want to disturb his Guru.  The bug bit deep into Karna’s leg, making blood flow. 

When Parashurama woke up, he saw the blood on the ground and the bug bite on Karna’s leg.  He realized at once that Karna was a kshatriya, as only a warrior could withstand such pain without moving.  Karna came out with the truth, that he was the son of a charioteer, as he didn’t really know that he was a kshatriya at that point.  Though Parashurama was very upset with Karna, his love towards his best disciplined student stopped him from cursing Karna.  But he says, as Karna had lied to learn the skills, he would lose the knowledge at the most needed moment in his life, and that he cannot do anything to change that fate. 

Karna pleaded with Parashurama to show him a way to overcome such a fate.  Parashurama was unable to help Karna but bestowed on him his personal bow called “Vijaya” (victory) and blessed Karna to have everlasting honor.  Having blessed him, Parashurama commanded Karna never to return as he has lost his trust.

Karna left Parashurama’s ashram with a very heavy heart.  Being so disappointed with himself, he wandered around, hardly knowing where he was going.  Suddenly an animal rushed past him.  Without thinking he drew his bow and shot at the movement, killing the animal.  When he went to the dead animal, a man shouted at him, angrily cursing him.  “You have killed my poor innocent cow.  For this sin, you will be killed when you are helpless to defend yourself, as my cow was!”  Hearing this, Karna fell into a much more depressed state.  As the fate seem to be against him, he went to the one person who loved him the most, the only person who could lift him out of his depression, his loving mother Radha.

Meanwhile in Guru Drona’s ashram, the princes had completed their schooling in all the arts of warfare.  Yudhishthira was very good with the spear, Duryodhana and Bhima with the “gadha” (the mace).  Arjuna was the best archer, while Nakula and Sahadeva were wonderful swordsmen.  Bhishma proposed to arrange a show to showcase the princes’ abilities in all that they had learnt.  Guru Drona gladly agreed to this, as he had full faith in his students.  The day of the show was fixed, and the public declaration was made to mark the end of the princes’ training.  The public was invited to watch the talent of the princes.  A special arena was built for the purpose of the royal games.   

It was indeed a grand event to watch.  A large number of people and the dignitaries of the Kaurava court came to witness the event.  Dhritarashtra, Bhishma, Vidura, Gandhari and Kunti were seated in a special section.  Other ministers and high officials were in an adjacent section.  All other citizens were in staired seating all around the venue.  Bhishma was eager to see how much each prince had achieved in the art of warfare.  Separate shows were held in various skills where the princes displayed what they had learnt.

Guru Drona introduced Arjuna with pride as he is his valiant student.  Without disappointing his Guru, Arjuna showed his extraordinary archery skills.  He shot an arrow into the earth and created a fearful leaping fire out of it.  The crowd were scared and screamed upon seeing this.  Then he shot another arrow skyward and caused a heavy downpour which extinguished the fire.  The crowd burst into thundering applause at the archery feats of Arjuna.  In like manner, he showed other skills which spoke very highly of his matchless perfection in archery.  He won the admiration of all.

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The next exciting event was the display of using the mace.  Both Bheema and Duryodhana were very talented in the mace-wielding skills.  They obviously had a feeling of bitter hostility between them.  Duryodhana was jealous of Bheema because he had always proved superior to him whenever they came to clash.  So, while showing their achievements in the art of using the mace they indulged in a real mace duel.  Guru Drona sensed the hostility and signaled his son Ashwatthama to stop the fight.  Ashwatthama lost no time in intervening to bring it to an end.  With great difficulty he succeeded in pulling them apart.

In the meantime, Karna heard the news that the royal games were happening.  He wanted to show his abilities to the crowd, though his foster parents were very much against it.  After a lot of argument, he disobeyed them and rushed to the arena.  Towards the end of the tournament, Karna arrived.  Whenever he heard Arjuna being praised, Karna was beside himself with ill will and anger.  Stepping into the arena uninvited, Karna thundered out a challenge, “Guru Dronacharya! You have praised Arjuna so highly and described him as matchless.  I also want to show my archery skill for the public’s comparison.” All at the arena was surprise to see this young man, who shone with the brightness of the Sun God.  Dronacharya wholeheartedly welcomed Karna to participate.  Karna continued, saying, “I don’t want child’s play, I want a real combat with Arjuna to prove my superiority!” 

Duryodhana’s heart was filled with joy to witness what was happening.  The crowd in the arena also got excited hearing Karna’s invitation for a duel, which divided them into two groups, one supporting Arjuna and one for Karna.  Kunti the mother of the Pandavas heard the commotion and looked at Karna.  She immediately recognized Karna the son she left afloat in the river.  It was very easy as she was quick to recognize the set of golden earrings and the sacred armor attached to his body.  She fainted, unable to bear the sorrow of her older son inviting the other for a duel, due to ill fate. 

At this point, the royal Guru Kripacharya intervened and asked Karna to declare his lineage, who his parents were and to which royal family he belonged.  At first speechless, Karna revealed the truth about having been raised by Adhiratha, the charioteer of Grandsire Bhishma.  Kripacharya rejected Karna’s request, saying the show was for princes and not for sons of charioteers.  Therefore, he was saying that Karna could not participate in it at all. 

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Duryodhana came to Karna’s rescue and said, “Who says that Karna is not a prince?  I declare him the ruler of the Anga Kingdom from this moment.”  Of course, King Dhritarashtra jumped in right away to back his son’s wish, officially making Karna the King of Anga.  Karna was so grateful to Duryodhana that he promised to guard him and his kingdom at any cost. 

Just then, Adhiratha the charioteer came and embraced his son Karna.  This made Bheema laugh at Karna, which caused Karna to feel very hurt.  Duryodhana stood up for Karna once again.  From that moment, Karna became the best friend of Duryodhana forever.  Even though Duryodhana had a plan to use Karna as his weapon against the Pandavas, Karna wholeheartedly accepted his friendship and held Duryodhana in his heart until death.  By the time this whole argument was over, the sun was about to set.  By the rules, the show should be concluded. 

Arjuna stood up and requested Kripacharya to allow him to say something.  With Kripacharya’s permission, Arjuna said, “Listen Karna!  This world is full of warriors and all sorts of talented people.  They are too many to count.  No one should consider himself invincible, nor do I.  But by challenging me for a real battle, you have spoilt the spirit of this sporting event.  You have shown your arrogance rather than your archery skills.  I promise I will break your arrogant pride one day.”  The audience gave out a loud applause for Arjuna words, which made Karna feel belittled.  Arjuna’s fearless and well-guarded statement silenced Karna, who started repenting his tall claim.  With that, Bhishma announced the close of the competition, much to the disappointment of Duryodhana, Karna and all their friends.

Krishna Avatar Part 19

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

After the attempt on Bhima’s life, Bhishma had promised Kunti that he would make everything right.  As the first step in keeping his word, he confronted Dhritarashtra.  Dhritarashtra turned a blind eye to it as usual, trying to avoid the situation.  But this time, Bhishma did not let Dhritarashtra off the hook so easily.  With a very stern voice, Bhisma demanded that Dhritarashtra look into the matter and give the rightful punishment to Duryodhana and his brothers. 

Dhritarashtra melted down. pleading with Bhishma that he cannot punish his children under any circumstances.  Understanding that Dhritarashtra was not going to do anything on his own, Bhishma imposed that all the children would learn under Dronacharya at his Ashram.  Bhishma thought that creating distance between Dhritarashtra and his children would give an opportunity for Duryodhana and his brothers to change, especially under the guidance of Dronacharya and without interference from their father.  Unable to wiggle out the mess Duryodhana had created, Dhritarashtra had to agree to Bhishma’s mandate.

Bhishma’s plan was to make the Pandava and Kaurava cousins work together for the greater good of Hastinapura.  After getting Dhritarashtra sorted out, Bhishma knew he also had to create distance between Duryodhana and his uncle Shakuni, if his plan had any chance of success.  So he connected with Shakuni’s father, King Subala.  He advised him to renounce his throne and make his eldest son, Shakuni, the king of Gandhara kingdom. 

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This would insure that Shakuni had his hands full on a daily basis., thus getting him away from the Kauravas.  Shakuni was very upset with them about this plan, for his only aim was to punish the Kuru dynasty for what had been done to his sister Gandhari.

All the one hundred and five children prepared to go to Dronacharya’s Ashram.  Word was sent to Dronacharya that his conditions were agreed upon by Dhritarashtra, and that the children will be arriving on the next auspicious day.  Guru Drona was very happy that his dream of teaching the Kuru dynasty princes was coming true.  He made all the arrangements for the arrival of his students.

Back in Hastinapura, Dhritarashtra was very upset that Duryodhana had put him in a position to make such a decision.  At the same time, Duryodhana was very upset with his father because he hadn’t turned a blind eye as usual.  By the time came for the children to leave, not only Dhritarashtra, but also Gandhari, Kunti and all of Hastinapura was in sorrow.  Bhishma was firm about sending the children to the Ashram, far away from Hastinapura.  Firm orders were issued that no one should contact the children and anyone who did would be severely punished.

The Pandavas and the Kauravas reached Guru Drona’s Ashram.  They were welcomed by Guru Drona and his wife Kripi.  The Ashram was located in a very thick jungle and had minimal luxuries.  Used to luxuries of the palace for their whole life, Duryodhana and his brothers hated the place.  But nothing could be done.  On the other hand, the Pandavas had been brought up in a similar environment previously, therefore didn’t have any problem with it.  All of them met Guru Drona’s son Ashwatthama, who was to study with them according to the agreement. 

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Ashwatthama was Guru Drona’s only son.  He was a boon from Lord Shiva, after Guru Drona’s severe penance to please Lord Shiva.  Ashwatthama was born with a gem on his forehead.  It gave him power over all living beings other than humans and it protected him from hunger, thirst and fatigue.  Hunger had been his childhood curse due to the poverty of his family.   Duryodhana made sure that Ashwatthama became close to the Kauravas, rather than the Pandavas.

The gurukul studies and training started.  The children were very busy and didn’t notice how the time was flying by.  They were unable to think about home.  All of the princes were good learners. After a few months of training. Guru Drona decided to test the ability of his pupils’ archery skills.  He prepared a wooden bird and placed it on a branch of a tree. The Princes were asked to get ready with their bows and arrows. The target was the bird’s eye. Guru Drona asked them to come one by one, asking each the same question, “What do you see?”

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Yudhishthira went first, being the eldest.  He said, “I see the tree, branch and the entire body of the bird.”  Guru Drona wasn’t satisfied with the answer.  All followed after him and gave similar answers.  The Guru was a bit disappointed.  Then came Arjuna, who first touched the feet of his Guru, who blessed him to be successful.  Arjuna set an arrow to his bow and took aim.  Guru Drona repeated the same question. “What do you see?”  Arjuna, with shining eyes, said, “I see nothing but the eye of the bird.”  The Guru signaled him to shoot.  Arjuna shot the arrow and in a flash the arrow pierced the bird’s eye.  Guru Drona was very pleased, praising Arjuna’s one pointedness and hugging him endearingly, blessing him to be the invincible archer.

The Guru’s son Ashwatthama and Arjuna both loved archery, so they often practiced together.  One night while they were eating together, a gush of wind blew their lamp out.  They both continued eating in pitch darkness without spilling a single grain on the floor.  Seeing this, Guru Drona taught them both how to hit a target blindfolded, guided by the sounds without visual help.

Another day, Guru Drona went for a swim in the river while the disciples stayed on the banks. Suddenly he screamed, “Help! Help! A crocodile has got my leg in its jaws!”  The pupils were shocked by this and frozen to their feet not knowing what to do.  Arjuna stayed calm, picked up his bow and shot an arrow, targeting the splashing sounds made by lashing tail of crocodile. The crocodile died, releasing Guru Drona from its hold.  The Guru was saved. 

He was delighted by the way Arjuna handled the situation.  As a reward, he taught another exclusive teaching on Brahmashirsha astra.  While Arjuna’s archery skills amazed everyone, the Kaurava princes felt jealous of him.  They didn’t like the fact their Guru was partial to Arjuna, showing favoritism.

One day a tribal boy named Ekalavya came to see Dronacharya, asking him to be his Guru in the art of archery.  The reaction from the princes, especially from the Kauravas was not good.  They were against having Ekalavya as their classmate because of the difference in their status.  As Guru Drona had already promised Bhishma that he would only teach the Kuru princes, he was helpless and had to refuse Ekalavya.  But Ekalavya was a determined young boy.  He respectfully bowed, picking up a handful of soil from the ground underneath the feet of Guru Drona, putting his hand to his forehead, then departed.

Without going back home, he went into the nearby forest.  He collected a heap of clay and mixed in it the handful of soil he had brought from underneath the feet of Guru Drona.  He created a clay model of Guru Drona.  Every day he would touch the feet of the clay model of Guru Drona and practice archery on his own.  One day Ekalavya was busy practicing shooting when a dog appeared and started barking at him.  He tried to drive the dog away but it refused move.  After it went on for some time, Ekalavya lost his patience and shot arrows at the dog. The arrows expertly stuffed the mouth of the dog shut without seriously wounding it. 

Yelping, the dog yelping ran away. It belonged to one of the princes, so it returned to the Ashram.  The princes were amazed to see its plight.  Guru himself was stunned by the archery skill of the archer who had done that.  They decided to follow the paw marks of the dog, searching for the skillful archer. They reached the place of Ekalavya who was still practicing.  Guru Drona at once recognized the boy.  Ekalavya was delighted to see his Guru visiting him.  Guru Drona asked, “Are you the one who did this to the dog?”  Ekalavya bent down on his knees and said he had to do that as the dog was disturbing him from his practices.  Seeing Ekalavya with such talent, Guru Drona knew at once that he would outstrip his favorite pupil, Arjuna.  His dream of making Arjuna the greatest archer of the world might not happen with such skills of Ekalavya.

So, Guru Drona asked Ekalavya, who was his Guru.  Ekalavya humbly said, “You are my Guru.”  Guru Drona was stunned by this answer and asked how that was possible, as he’d refused to take him as his student.  Ekalavya immediately took him to the clay model.  Pointing at it, he explained, “Even though you couldn’t accept me as your student, I had accepted you as my Guru in my heart.  Whatever the skill I learned today is the gift of your blessing.”

Duryodhana was very happy to see Ekalavya.  Duryodhana wanted to befriend Ekalavya so that Duryodhana would have a weapon to match Arjuna. 

Even though Guru Drona was greatly pleased at Ekalavya’s devotion and persistence he was bewildered by this situation.  As a Guru he couldn’t allow this situation to continue, as learning a skill without the Guru’s guidance must not be completed as it could be a danger to the world. He decided to put an end to it. 

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He asked for Guru-dakshina from Ekalavya.  At the end of education, you give Guru whatever he asks as Gurudakshina.  With delight, Ekalavya asked what Guru would want.  Guru Drona asked for Ekalavya’s right thumb. Without a second thought, Ekalavya obeyed, cut off his thumb and placed it at the Guru’s feet.  In this way, he set an example of devotion and obedience to the Guru.  Ekalavya’s devotion to the Guru yet remains one of the greatest of all time.  He also acquired the mastery of shooting with four fingers and later became the king of the Nishadhas.

All the princes were dumbstruck what had just taken place.  Especially Duryodhana was heartbroken, that the plan he had in mind just got smashed by his Guru.

Krishna Avatar Part 18

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Even though they were born into a royal family, the Pandavas were brought up in a hermitage, with only a theoretical knowledge of city life.  Once they came to live in Hastinapura, they managed to cope with the changes well, with the guidance from their mother Kunti, great-grandfather Bhishma and uncle Vidura.  So, the sons of King Pandu, began to grow up in princely style in the home of their father.  Everything was flowery at the beginning.

Duryodhana and his Kaurava brothers did not enjoy having their Pandava cousins in Hastinapura.  The Kauravas were hostile due to their uncle Shakuni having poisoned their minds even before they met the Pandavas.  In addition, great-grandfather Bhishma and uncle Vidura were giving equal attention to Pandavas, rather than the Kauravas getting their full attention as before.  This added fuel to the fire. 

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The five Pandavas knew nothing about the Kauravas’ hatred of them.  Led by the eldest of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira, they treated the Kauravas as their loving cousins.  Yudhishthira always upheld righteousness, which meant equality among the brothers and cousins.

The strongest of the Pandavas was Bhima who was the same age as Duryodhana.  Always playful as he was, Bhima played tricks on all his brothers and cousins.  As the strongest, he would bully them in a friendly manner.  He pulled ten of them with one hand along the ground.  When they were picking fruit, he was unable to climb the trees due to his weight.  Instead, using his strength to kick the tree, would knock all the fruits to the ground along with his cousins. 

Though the Pandavas thought they were having a good time with their cousins, the Kauravas didn’t look at it the same way.  There were instances when the Kauravas insulted the Pandavas in many ways.  Bhishma and Vidura tried their best to unite the cousins, but Kauravas’ minds had been poisoned by their uncle, Shakuni. 

Both the Pandavas and Kauravas had started their preliminary education from various elders, in the hermitage and in Hastinapura respectively.  It became time for them to get formal education and training in the arts of war and statecraft.  Bhishma appointed the royal teacher of Hastinapura, Kripachariya to the job.  Though Kripachariya accepted the job, he encouraged Bhishma to find a more suitable person to teach them; Kripachariya thought the Pandavas and the Kauravas had the capacity to go beyond what he was able to offer.

One day, when the Pandavas and Kauravas were playing with a ball, it fell into a deep well.  They couldn’t get it out.  While staring at the ball in the well, Yudhishthira’s ring slipped out of his finger and also fell into the well.  

While they were blaming one another, a Brahmin, who was also an archer, with an impressive personality appeared in the grounds.  He took a blade of grass, sharpened it and shot it like an arrow at the ball, reciting mantras.  Then he followed it up with more blades of grass, forming a chain, then pulled the ball out. 

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Then he shot another arrow, which went into the bottom of the well and came back with Yudhishthira’s ring.  The children were astonished as to how that was possible.  Especially Arjuna, who loved archery, was taken by this.  

When they asked who he was, he told them to take the ball with the grass blade chain to their grandsire Bhishma to get the answer.  The children ran to Bhishma, showed him the grass blade chain and told him what happened.  Bhishma stood up saying, “Dronacharya is here!” 

Dronacharya was the son of Rishi Bharadwaja and a student of great Parashurama.  He was also Kripachariya’s brother-in-law, being married to Kripi, the sister of Kripachariya.  He had come to visit his brother-in-law.  

Immediately, Bhishma invited Dronacharya to the palace and bestowed high respect and honor on him.  He requested Drona to be the teacher and guru to the Pandavas and Kauravas.  Though Drona was poor, he had his own principles.  Drona had two conditions.  One was that his son Ashwatthama would study side by side with the princes, which is usually not allowed in a royal setting.  The other was that the teachings would be done in seclusion in his ashram and training ground, which was far away from Hastinapura. 

Dhritarashtra was agreeable to the first condition.  But, due to his love for his children, he was not willing to part with his sons.  Therefore rejected the second condition.  Dhritarashtra wanted the teaching to happen in the outskirts of Hastinapura.  Drona turned down the offer and returned to his ashram, saying they could contact him if they changed their mind.

As the days passed, the Pandavas began to feel the Kauravas’ hostility toward them due to the way their cousins treated them.  As the eldest Kaurava, Duryodhana couldn’t stomach the fact that there was competition for the throne he’d been thinking would be his one day.  Thus, he and his brothers started to give grief to the Pandavas.  Dhritarashtra’s desire to make his eldest be king after his own time had seeded the thought in Duryodhana.  Now it rooted in his mind and made him do anything to achieve it. 

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Duryodhana had a strong dislike for the Pandavas and missed no opportunity to demean them.  He was aware that, in order to rule over the entire kingdom of Hastinapur unchallenged, he needed to eliminate them.  So the Kauravas always looked at the Pandavas as their enemies.  With their uncle Shakuni’s help, they devised cunning plans first to kill Bhima, as Duryodhana envied him the most due to Bhima’s strength.  Duryodhana always said, after killing Bhima, finishing the others off would be an easy task. 

King Dhritarashtra, turned a blind eye to every wrongdoing of his sons.  His love for them, especially with his eldest Duryodhana, got in the way of his disciplining and punishing them.  This made it easy for Duryodhana to continue their ill treatment of the Pandavas.

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Duryodhana, knowing Bhima would fall for anything with food, planned to poison him in a dinner which Duryodhana would host.  He planned everything with his uncle’s help.  By this time, Yudhishthira and his brothers were careful about their cousins, but Bhima believed in his strength so much that he dropped his guard a lot, especially when food was involved. 

Duryodhana had a mock castle and garden built near the banks of the river Ganga for the cunning plan he had in mind.  He got his father’s chefs to make a lot of food for a feast and invited his cousins for the outing.

At the feast, Duryodhana mixed a very poisonous venom in Bhima’s food, which came from his mother Gandhari’s kingdom with the help of his uncle.  In the happiness of seeing all the food, Bhima ate the poisoned portion too.  Though he noticed a difference in taste, he was so busy eating and didn’t bother to examine it.  He was not expecting that Duryodhana and his brothers would stoop to a level that they would try to kill him. 

As it was a slow reacting poison, Bhima didn’t feel anything at the beginning, so he kept on eating.  Everyone was tired after all the games and the food, so they retired for the night to their rooms.  Without him realizing it, Bhima began fading away in his sleep, due to the poison working in his body.  Knowing how long it took for the poison, Duryodhana waited patiently.  Then, his brother Dushasana helped him carry Bhima to a deep part of the river and push him in with his hands and legs bound. 

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Bhima sank down to the bottom of the river, where some venomous water snakes bit him.  Bhima woke up and fought them to save himself, thinking the serpents were attacking him.  He tried to chase them away with the strength that was left in him.  To his astonishment Vasuki, the king of snakes, came and greated Bhima.  Vasuki said that he sent his clan to save Bhima from the venom he had in his body.  Vasuki also explained that Bhima was related to him and that Lord Vayu, the God of wind, had sent him a message that Bhima was in danger.  Vasuki gave Bhima the details of the venom and its origin, which immediately revealed what had really happened.  Bhima was taken to Nagaloka. the world of snakes, to recover.

The next day, at the play castle, the Kauravas and the other Pandavas set out to go back to Hastinapura.  They start off without Bhima who was missing.  On their way they talked to one another, figuring that Bhima must have gone home before them.  The wicked Duryodhana and Dushasana knew what had happened.  Though they were glad at heart that Bhima was missing, they didn’t show it out to their cousins. 

Arriving in Hastinapura, the four Pandavas didn’t find their brother as they had expected to.  When they broke the news to Kunti, as a mother, she felt that something was wrong.  She had been observing the way the Kauravas were treating Pandu’s sons lately.  She spoke to uncle Vidura about her concern that Duryodhana was involved in Bhima’s disappearance.  Vidura advised Kunti not to take it to anyone else without evidence, as things might get even worse given Dhritarashtra’s mindset.  He assured her not to fear too much. 

Though King Dhritarashtra was eager to have his son as the next king, he didn’t want any harm done to his brother’s children.  Dhritarashtra, Bhishma, Vidura and the rest of the elders were saddened by the recent events and tried to console each other.  They sent a number of search parties all around the kingdom to find Bhima.  Kunti performed a number of penances for the safe return of her son.  All of the search parties returned with no luck.  Thinking Bhima was dead, Kunti and the Kuru family fell into deep sorrow and started to discuss doing the last rites for Bhima. 

Back in Nagaloka, the world of the snakes, Vasuki and the other Nagas gave Bhima the best hospitality until he was healthy and ready to leave.  After a few days, regaining his full strength, Bhima wanted to go back to his family.  He was blessed by Vasuki and the other snakes.  Vasuki gave an auspicious nectar to Bhima, which made him even stronger, giving him the power of hundred elephants.  Then Vasuki brought him to the surface of the water and placed him in the garden where he had been having fun. 

The mighty Bhima, arriving on the surface of the earth, thanked Vasuki and the other Nagas.  Vasuksi vanished.  Bhima ran to Hastinapura to see his mother.  Arriving there, he bowed down to Kunti, the elders and his eldest brother Yudhisthira, and hugged his younger brothers.  Everyone was extremely happy to see Bhima back.  But Duryodhana, his brothers and Shakuni were dumbfounded and extremely unhappy.

After returning to their chambers, Bhima narrated to his mother and brothers everything about the villainy of Duryodhana, and the unlucky and lucky incidents that had happened to him in the play castle and the Nagaloka.  Thereupon Yudhishthira told the brothers to observe silence on this matter and, from that day onwards, to protect one another with care.  

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Hearing Bhima’s story, Kunti decided to leave Hastinapura and take the Pandavas to her father.  Through a spy, Bhishma learned everything that happened and advised Kunti against deserting Hastinapura.  Bhishma gave his word to make things right.  Kunti accepted Bhishma’s word and remained in Hastinapura with her sons. 

Krishna Avatar – Part 17

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Having just married Kunti, Pandu went to war, conquering or allying with many kingdoms in the name of Hastinapura.  When he approached the Madra Kingdom, he found a huge army awaiting him.  During the battle, he saw King Shalya’s charioteer driving the chariot as fast as lightning.  After the war ended in a truce, Shalya revealed that the charioteer was none other than his own sister, Madri.  Shalya proposed that the two kingdoms avoid war in the future through marriage and a gift of their friendship.  Pandu accepted his wish willingly and married Madri. 

He brought his new bride to Hastinapura.  At the first sight of another woman with her husband, and due to the behavior of Madri acting smart, Kunti got a bit upset. But as time passed, she became a loving sister of Madri.  However, Madri continued to have a little bit of a superiority complex, thinking that the kingdom of Madra was superior to the kingdom of the Yadavas, the cattle clan, into which Kunti was born. But they were both devoted to Pandu and Pandu loved them both equally. They later grew into loving each other as sisters.

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Under Pandu’s rule, the Hastinapura kingdom flourished.  He was a passionate hunter and an excellent archer.  During one of his hunting trips, he killed a pair of deer who were engaged in romance, which was against the rules of hunting.  The pair was Rishi Kindama and his wife who were making love in the form of deer.  The dying sage placed a curse on Pandu, that if he were to approach his wife with the intent of sexual relations, his head would explode and he would die.  Before Pandu could defend himself, the sage died.  With the curse on his head, he returns to the palace with a heavy heart.

He couldn’t forgive himself for the crime he committed.  He decided to abdicate the throne of Hastinapura and go into a hermetical retreat.  Bhishma and Vidura tried convincing him otherwise, but Pandu couldn’t be convinced. The governance of Hastinapura, in the absence of a king, was bestowed upon Dhritarashtra, until Pandu returned or Pandu’s son came to claim the throne.  Dhritarashtra was happy to be the governor of Hastinapura, thinking that, due to Pandu’s curse, he and his children will get to rule the kingdom.  Pandu left for his hermetical retreat with by his two wives, Kunti and Madri. 

Pandu got unhappier by the day due to not being able to give an heir to the Hastinapura kingdom.  Also Kunti and Madri were directly affected by the curse as they were denied the opportunity to bear children.  Kunti had not revealed to anyone the boon she had, due to the secret she carried with it, her first-born whom she left afloat in the river Ganga. 

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Unable to bear husband’s sorrow, Kunti revealed the boon that she received from Sage Durvasa, though not about her first-born, Karna.  When Pandu heard about this blessing, he was in ecstasy.  He asked Kunti to use the five mantras to give birth to heirs to the Hastinapura kingdom. 

First, Pandu suggested that Kunti call Dharmaraj, to get a truthful, knowledgeable and righteous son to rule Hastinapura.  Kunti used the Mantra for Dharmaraj, the God of Dharma, Lord Yama.  Dharmaraj appeared and gave Kunti the boon of a son.  This eldest son of Pandu was named Yudhishthira.  Pandu was overjoyed, as he had become a father. 

He asked Kunti to use her second mantra.  This time she called upon the Vayu Bhagavan, the God of Wind. Vayu Bhagavan appeared and gave Kunti the second son.  A big fat bonny baby, they called him Bhima. 

Then Kunti invited God Indra, the king of the Devas, as requested by Pandu, Indra gave her their third son, who they named Arjuna. 

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Pandu wanted more children and asked Kunti to use the rest of the two mantras she had.  Kunti thought for a minute and called Madri, who was feeling sad as she was not part of bearing children for her husband, Pandu.  Kunti gave the final two mantras to Madri to use for the boon from the Ashwini Kumaras, the divine twin horsemen, who were Physicians for all the other Devas.  They appeared in front of Madri and gave her twin sons, Nakula and Sahadeva.  Madri was so thankful to Kunti, and from that day forward, they became two mothers with one heart.

Pandu was filled with happiness and thanked Kunti for keeping his dynasty going.  Pandu and his family continued to live in the forest hermitage happily.  These five children were called the Pandavas.

In the meantime, in Hastinapura, Gandhari was carrying her child for more than a year. Dhritarashtra was furious about the delay in his child’s birth.  To revenge Gandhari, he took one of Gandhari’s maids to bed.  On top of all this, hearing the news about the birth of Kunti’s eldest child made things worse for Gandhari.  She fell into jealousy and frustration, hit her stomach so strong, desperately wanting to give birth, only to result in the birth of lump of flesh.  

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Once again Great-grand Queen Satyavati’s firstborn Vyasa came to the rescue. With the help from Sage Vyasa, Gandhari’s lump of flesh turned into hundred sons and a daughter.  The hundred sons were the blessings of Lord Shiva to Gandhari and the daughter was an additional blessing from Vyasa himself.  Among the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, the eldest was named Duryodhana, meaning unconquerable, the second born was named Dushasana, meaning bad governance and the third was named Vikarna, meaning large eared.  The daughter was Dushala. 

Dhritarashtra loved them all very much, especially Duryodhana.  Dhritarashtra also had a son named Yuyutsu, from the maid, making him a half-brother to the children of Gandhari.  The hundred sons of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari were called the Kauravas.  Even though Kauravas were born as a blessing from Lord Shiva, their untimely arrival was at an inauspicious time, due to Gandhari’s impatience.  This changed their destiny forever.

A few years passed and the children were growing up.  Yudhishthira, being the oldest was very mature and saw the good in every person, even of the worst people.  As he was a boon of Dharmaraj, Yudhishthira upheld the Dharma, righteousness all the time, never to lie and always to keep his word.  He was always following the path of Dharma. 

Bhima was mighty as the wind, having the power of hundred elephants.  He was a great fan of food.  His appetite was so huge such that he would consume half of the food prepared by Kunti and Madri.  He was the strongest of the five. 

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Arjuna had the skills like no other, in politics and the art of warfare.  He was the most loving of them all, giving affection towards all his loved ones.  His skill in archery was amazing. 

Nakula was great in religion and science, he was the most handsome of them all.  He was also Bhima’s favorite brother.  He made fun of Bhima and his appetite any chance he got. 

Sahadeva was a very learned, the most knowledgeable of the five.  He was an astrologer beyond any other.  He had great intuition and could foresee the near future.  His intuition never failed him and his brothers. 

Kunti and Madri looked after the five without any difference.  They preached to the five to be always united, never to divide.  They explained that if they were united, no power would be able to defeat them.  They always obeyed their mothers’ wishes.  If one got punished, all of them took the same punishment and when one was praised all of  them took the praise. 

In Hastinapura, Duryodhana and his brothers were growing up too.  Shakuni, the brother of Gandhari, was always with the children, ill advising them and making them hate their cousins, the children of Pandu who were in the hermitage with Pandu, even before the Kauravas knew the Pandavas.

One day, Madri as usual was plucking flowers in the garden.  By the looks of Madri, Pandu felt desire for Madri.  The memory of the curse briefly eluded him.  He approached her filled with desire; death struck Pandu immediately.  Madri was filled with remorse.

Pandu’s death brought so much grief to Kunti, Madri and the Pandavas.  Kunti, being the first wife, decided to become “sati,” meaning to throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.  This worried Madri as she thought Kunti would be a better mother to the Pandavas than her.  Also, her guilt at being the cause of her husband’s death, prevented her to live another day on earth without him.  She knew Kunti would do justice to all the five children and that she could leave them in her motherly care while joining her husband peacefully.  

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At first Kunti refused the idea.  After Madri’s enormous efforts, at last Kunti was convinced and agreed.  She promised Madri that she had always considered Nakula and Sahadeva as her own children and now more than ever she would give special attention towards them.  Hearing this Madri sat with Pandu’s dead body on the funeral pyre and became “sati.”  Kunti performed the last rites with the five children.  She vowed to dedicate herself to the upbringing of the Pandavas.  The Pandavas under the loving care of their mother Kunti became a united force.

The Rishis of the forest took them to Hastinapura to hand them over to Bhishma.  The eldest of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira was sixteen. The dreadful news about Pandu’s death had reached the palace.  Bhishma immediately rushed in with Vidura, Dhritarashtra and all the royal family members to welcome Kunti and the Pandavas.  The whole of Hastinapura mourned Pandu’s death as though one of their family members had died.  It showed that Pandu was loved by all the citizens of Hastinapura wholeheartedly. The Sage Vyasa warned Great-grand Queen Satyavati, saying that all that had happened until now was to be considered good compared to what would happen in the future of Hastinapura.  There would be deceit, hatred and sorrow.  He advised her not to witness this by staying at the palace, but to go to the forest to live peacefully in her old days, living a hermit’s life.  After listening to her Sage son’s advice, Satyavati agreed to leave the palace with her two daughters-in-law, Ambika and Ambalika.  All three of them lived a hermitic life through their last days on earth, escaping the horrible future of Hastinapura.

Krishna Avatar – Part 16

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

After the incident with Amba, with Parashurama’s blessings, Bhishma returned to the palace.  Life went on with Vichitravirya happily spending time with Ambika and Ambalika.  Unfortunately, even after seven long years, Vichitravirya wasn’t blessed with a child.  Everyone was starting to get worried.  Then, one dreadful day, all of a sudden, Vichitravirya became ill and passed away without leaving any heir to the throne of Hastinapura.  This created a great problem for the kingdom.  Bhishma was there to defend it and safeguard it from other kingdoms, but bound by his vow, he refused Satyavati’s repeated requests to ascend the throne.  Dishonoring his vow was something he could not accept; it would be the ultimate shame.  Satyavati felt the brunt of it, as it was her doing or her father’s doing that the kingdom was without a king or an heir.  This was bad omen for sure.

Satyavati was trapped in a dilemma with no solution in sight, until one day she remembered her other son, the sage Dvaipayana.  Also known as Vyasa, he had been born to her and the sage Parashara.  As Vyasa had promised when he left to do penance in the forest, the moment she thought about him, he appeared in front of her.  Vyasa had done a great many things since he last saw his mother.  Satyavati cried as soon as she saw her long-forgotten son.  Vyasa consoled her and asked what he could do for her to help her with her predicament.  Satyavati told Vyasa the whole story and the situation with the vacant throne of Hastinapura.  Vyasa promised his mother that he would not leave until the situation was resolved.  Vyasa’s words calmed Satyavati down.  Vyasa offered that he would bless each of the queens with a boon, a son.

Satyavati was delighted that her problem was going to be solved.  She called both Ambika and Ambalika the widows of Vichitravirya, to tell them that sage Vyasa will be giving them a boon of a son, and for them to go to him one by one.  They were both astonished by this command from their mother in law.  As mentioned earlier, Vyasa was already a less handsome person, and with all his penance in the forest, he was ugly and crude looking. 

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Ambika went in first, as she was the elder queen.  Vyasa’s looks frightened her, so she closed her eyes in horror while Vyasa was giving her the boon.  He called Satyavati and told her that the son born to Ambika will be healthy, powerful, and have great physical strength, but will be blind because Ambika had her eyes closed. 

Disappointed by these words from her son, Satyavati next sent the younger queen, Ambalika.  Ambalika saw Vyasa’s dreadful ugly face and turned extremely pale out of fear while he was giving her the boon.  Again, Vyasa called his mother and told her that the son of Ambalika would be pale in complexion and likely to have illness all through his life, but that he would be brave.  Satyavati felt awful and hurt. 

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She requested her son to give one more chance to Ambika.  She again sent Ambika to the sage.  But Ambika was so afraid to see Vyasa again that, without her mother-in-law knowing, she sent one of her maids, Parishrami, disguising her in grand garments.  Parishrami was fearless and greeted the sage humbly with respect & devotion.  Vyasa gave her the boon and told her that her son would be talented, wise, artful, diplomatic and a great learned man.  He also said that her son would free her from her life of being a maidservant.  Just after this, Vyasa left Hastinapura.  Satyavati doesn’t come to know about this mix-up until later.

In due course, each of the three women gave birth to a son.  Ambika’s son was blind, and he was called “Dhritarashtra.” Ambalika’s pale son was named “Pandu” and Parishrami’s son was named “Vidura.”  All three were brought up in the palace with all the training that a prince would get.  Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were taught the fields of archery, politics, administration and religion by Bhishma and Kripacharya, the kula guru of the Kuru dynasty.  As Vyasa had said, Dhritarashtra was hindered by his handicap, thus unable to wield weapons, but he had the strength of multiple elephants.  Pandu was an excellent archer.  Vidura was well balanced in weaponry and diplomacy.  Vidura too was a great archer.  The three of them grew up to be young adults. 

Bhishma and Satyavati decided that it was time to crown the new king.  As Dhritarashtra was the eldest, he was named to be the king. 

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All his life Dhritarashtra dreamt himself to be a king.  That consoled him from not being able to see.  On the day of the coronation, Bhishma first appointed Vidura as the Chief Minister of Hastinapura, saying he is the best person for the position as he was very learned.  Then Dhritarashtra was called upon to be crowned.  Just then, Vidura, as the Chief Minister of Hastinapura, intervened to stop the coronation, saying that, according to the law, a blind person cannot be crowned as a king of a country as he will not be able to use the most important sense of all, sight.  Sight is the most important sense to a person uses to dispense justice.  When he was questioned about why he brought this matter up at the last moment, he said that he would have been the happiest person to see his brother Dhritarashtra crowned as the king, and therefore he would have not intervened in the matter.  But since he has been appointed as the Chief Minister of Hastinapura, his duty was not to let something against the law take place in the kingdom. 

Dhritarashtra stormed out of the royal court, and accused Pandu and Vidura of conspiring against him, as Vidura suggested that the next in line be crowned, which was Pandu.  Pandu was heartbroken as he loved his elder brother, Dhritarashtra, more than anything in the world.  He loved him so dearly that it was so hard for him to take his place, especially without his blessings.  Since there was no other way, Pandu agreed to be crowned and rule the kingdom.  Dhritarashtra’s enmity for Pandu grew day by day as he saw him on the throne, thinking the kingdom was robbed from him by his brother.  But there was nothing he could do.

Time passed, and it was time for them to get married.  Dhritarashtra was looking forward to getting married so that he could see the world through his wife’s eyes and that there will be someone he could completely trust.  Bhishma and Satyavati thought that Gandhari, the princess from the Gandhara kingdom, daughter of king Subala and his wife Vasumathi, would be a good fit for Dhritarashtra.  Gandhari was the most beautiful woman in Bharatvarsha.  She had worshipped Lord Shiva and gained the boon that she could have one hundred sons.  This was indeed one of the reasons why Bhishma and Satyavati wanted her to be married to Dhritarashtra.  Gandhari’s brother was Shakuni, who loved her very much and would not let anything bad happen to his beloved sister. 

Bhishma visited king Subala and forced him to agree to the marriage between his daughter and Dhritarashtra.  Everyone feared Bhishma so it was not any different in the case of king Subala.  To avoid a war with Bhishma and to strengthen his kingdom, king Subala agreed to the marriage, knowing Dhritarashtra was blind.  Gandhari was happy that her parents had found her a suitable groom, though at that point she didn’t know that Dhritarashtra was blind. 

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Gandhari’s brother Shakuni was not in the kingdom when the agreement between Bhishma and king Subala took place.  When he returned to Gandhara and heard about the arrangement, he was furious with his father.  As he was so protective of his sister, he couldn’t bear the thought that his cherished sister was getting married to a blind man.  During the argument with his father, Shakuni took a dagger and inflicted a wound to himself, saying he will remember the injustice to his sister, in every moment in his life.  On that day, he vowed that his only goal was to bring down the kingdom of the Kuru dynasty and make Bhishma pay for his arrogant way of getting his sister into a marriage to a blind person.  Gandhari, overhearing the argument, came to know that her husband-to-be is blind.  Instantaneously she made a vow that she will only see the world the way her husband sees it.  Sacrificing her sight by blindfolding herself with a piece of cloth, she vowed never to take it off. 

The wedding of Gandhari to Dhritarashtra happened in a grand way.  At the wedding Dhritarashtra found out about his wife’s vow of blindfolding herself for the rest of her life.  Dhritarashtra was furious, in disbelief that his dream of looking at the world through his wife’s eyes has been smashed into pieces.  He didn’t give Gandhari proper respect for a long time, as he was thinking she deceived him.  With time as the healer, they made amends and carried forward with their lives.

After the wedding of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, Bhishma and Satyavati started looking for a suitable wife for Pandu.  Shurasena’s daughter, Pritha, came up on the top of the list.  Pritha was better known as Kunti as she was brought up by Shurasena’s childless cousin, Kuntibhoja.  Krishna’s grandfather, Shurasena, gave his daughter to Kuntibhoja to be brought up as his own.  Therefore, Kunti is indeed Krishna’s aunt, his father Vasudeva’s sister. 

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Kunti was a very beautiful, humble, down to earth, intelligent and a straight-forward person.  But she had a secret buried deep within her, known only to her and one of her maids.  From her youth, Kunti had great respect towards the sages and rishis.  Once she was serving and looking after sage Durvasa when he visited her father.  Sage Durvasa was very pleased with Kunti’s care and devotion for him, so he blessed her with six mantras which she could use to invoke a particular God for each mantra.  The God would then bless her with a child with the God’s characteristics.  After the sage left, out of childish curiosity, Kunti uttered the mantra for the Sun God, to test the authenticity of the mantras.  Immediately the Sun God appeared in front of her.  Astonished by his presence, she didn’t know what to do.  She was happy that the mantra worked, and the Sun God was in front of her, but she also knew what was coming next.  The Sun God blessed her with a baby boy.  Kunti pleaded with the Sun God, saying she uttered the mantra by mistake, and to relieve her from having the baby as it will be a taboo to have a child without getting married.  The Sun God refused, saying once the mantra is used, there is no way to take it back.  But he blessed her that, by having the baby, she will not lose her virginity. 

The baby boy was born with the brightness of the Sun God himself.  Also, the baby was born with a set of golden earrings and a sacred armor attached to his body.  Out of fear of the public, Kunti, with a heavy heart, decided to abandon the child.  With the help of one of her trusted maids, she placed the baby in a basket wrapped with one of her sacred cloths and set it afloat on the waters of the Ganga river.  Even though the baby floated away, the guilt stayed in Kunti’s heart forever. 

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The basket with the baby floated downstream and reached Hastinapura.  A charioteer named Adhiratha and his wife Radha found the basket with the baby.  They longed for a child so they started bringing up the baby as their own.  They thought it was a blessing for them from the Gods and told nobody about their finding.  Even though he was lovingly named as Vasusena by his foster parents, he was mostly known as Karna because of his golden earrings.  The rest of Karna’s story will come later. Pandu and Kunti were wedded, making Kunti the Queen of Hastinapura.  When the couple came to Hastinapura after the wedding, Dhritarashtra was not there to welcome them due his grudge against Pandu, but Gandhari was there with a smile to welcome the newlyweds.  Gandhari continued to be a big sister for Kunti.  Pandu ruled Hastinapura and started expanding his kingdom.