Rishi Vaishampayana Sets the Stage With a Brief Story of the Pandavas

Image of the Five Pandavas in Wayang form contributed in the public domain by Gunawan Kartapranata.

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Note: In the previous post, Raja Janamejaya requested Vyasa Muni to narrate the history of his ancestors (the Kurus). Ved Vyasa, in turn, asked his disciple, Vaishampayana, to narrate the Mahabharata.

Vaishampayana begins the story with a brief summary of the Pandavas’ life, in this post.

The Pandavas were born in the forest and lived their early life with their father, Pandu, mother, Kunti, and Madri (Pandu’s second wife). They lived a simple life surrounded by ascetics. However, after their father’s death, the young boys along with their mother, Kunti, returned to their ancestral home in Hastinapur.

Under the tutelage of Guru Drona, they soon gained expertise in archery and other weapons. The Pandava brothers were radiant, good looking, strong, energetic, and possessed sharp minds. This caused immense jealousy in their Kaurava cousins.

Duryodhana, along with being jealous, also saw the Pandavas as a threat to his sovereignty over Hastinapur’s throne. Along with Karna and his maternal uncle, Shakuni, the crooked-minded Duryodhana constantly troubled and harmed the Pandavas by various means. Duryodhana’s ultimate goal was to gain undisputed control over Hastinapur.

Duryodhana tried poisoning Bhima, but Bhima, who had a stomach like a wolf, digested that poison without any hard to himself. On another occasion, Duryodhana tied Bhima when the latter was sleeping and threw him into the Ganges. Bhima did not wake up immediately. He remained asleep in the water for a little while. In this time, he was bitten by virulent snakes all over his body, but he still did not perish. After waking up, he tore apart the ropes and returned to the surface, as strong as ever.

Vidura, the high-minded uncle of the Pandavas and Kauravas, knew of Duryodhana’s evil intentions. He remained attentive to everything that happened in the palace and protected the Pandavas from Duryodhana’s schemes, just like Indra maintains the happiness of all humans while sitting at a distance in the heavens.

Note: Here, we see one more example of Indra’s nobility. He may be insecure about his position and fame in heaven, but he never flinched from his duty towards humans.

However, Duryodhana could not destroy the Pandavas. He made secret plots against the Pandavas, he attacked openly, but no matter what he tried, the Pandavas remained safe. They were protected by the fates. They had taken birth to play an instrumental role in the great war of Kurukshetra, that would happen in the future. Nothing was capable of destroying them.

Utterly frustrated, he sought advice from Karna, Dushasana, and others. Based on their advice, he built a house of lac and convinced his father, King Dhritarashtra, to send the Pandavas to that inflammable house. Even though Dhritarashtra knew Duryodhana’s intentions, he was overcome with affection for Duryodhana and the desire to be the king. Consequently, he found a tactful way to send the five Pandava brothers along with their mother, Kunti, to Varnavata. However, Vidura was aware of Duryodhana’s intentions. He warned the Pandavas in a secret language when they were leaving.

Kunti and her five sons stayed in the house of lac at Varnavata, as the king of Hastinapur, Dhritarashtra, had asked them to. Since they were aware of the danger, they lived very carefully protecting themselves from Purochana, but unbeknownst to him, they caused an underground tunnel to be constructed according to Vidura’s advice. After the tunnel had been completed, they set the house on fire and escaped through the tunnel. Duryodhana’s spy, the evil Virohana, perished in that fire.

Even though the Pandavas had escaped from the house of lac, they were afraid of being discovered by Duryodhana. So, they fled with their mother into the forest. Bhima married Hidimba in this forest after killing her Rakshasa brother. A son called Ghatotkacha was born to Hidimba and Bhima.

From there, the Pandavas went to the town of Ekachakra, where they lived (disguised as brahmacharini) in a brahmana’s house. There, they lived a simple life just like brahmacharins would. It was in this town that Bhima killed a rakshasa called Vaka and brought relief to the dwellers of Ekachakra.

While staying at Ekachakra, they heard about Draupadi’s swayamvara and went to the kingdom of Panchala to participate in the swayamvara. All five Pandavas married Draupadi and lived in Panchala for a year, after which Kunti, Draupadi, and the Pandavas returned to Hastinapur.

In Hastinapur, they were commanded by Dhritarashtra and Bhishma to take half the kingdom and reside peacefully in the barren land of Khandavaprastha. This decision was taken by the elder Kurus to prevent further conflict between the Kauravas and the Pandavas.

The Pandavas went to Khandavaprastha as commanded by the Kuru elders. They were accompanied by their friends and well-wishers, and they also took with them many jewels and precious stones.

The Pandavas converted Khandavaprastha into a beautiful kingdom with their effort and strength. They subjugated several kingdoms around then, but lived virtuously without being affected by their victories. Thus they gradually rise to power, and Yudhishthira as king, the remaining Pandava brothers, subjugated the kingdoms in the four directions. Bhima conquered the East, Arjuna won the north, Nakula subjugated the west, and Sahadeva brought under his control, the southern regions. 

Sometime after that, Arjuna was exiled for eleven years and eleven months. That high-souled Pandava who was gifted with every virtue, lived in the forest and travelled to various places in that time. In this period, Arjuna visited Sri Krishna in Dwarka. There, he married Sri Krishna’s younger sister, Subhadra. 

Soon after that Arjuna and Sri Krishna gratified Agni Deva by burning the medicinal plants and trees in the Khandava forest to cure the latter’s indigestion. Arjuna was able to perform this difficult task with great ease because he was helped by Sri Krishna. After all,nothing is difficult for Vishnu who can conquer any enemy with ease. Pleased with their efforts, Agni Deva gifted Arjuna an excellent bow called Gandiva, an inexhaustible quiver, and a war-chariot with the figure of Garuda.

While burning the forest, Arjuna protected Maya Asura who had sought his refuge. Maya, desiring to do something to repay Arjuna for his protection, built a beautiful palace for the Pandavas in Indraprastha. The palace was decorated with various jewels and precious stones.

When the wicked Duryodhana saw that palace, he felt jealous of the Pandavas. He deceived Yudhishthira in a game of dice with the help of his uncle, Shakuni, and sent the Pandavas to the forest for thirteen years with the challenge that the last year was to be spent in disguise without being discovered.

After completing the exile of thirteen years, the Pandavas returned to claim their kingdom, however, Duryodhana refused to return their land. Consequently, a war was declared and Pandavas regained their kingdom after slaying Duryodhana and his army. Almost all the kshatriyas from both the sides were slayed in this battle.

This is the story of the Pandavas who never acted under any kind of evil influence. This is also the story of the conflict between the Kurus and the Pandavas.

Note: In the next post, Rishi Vaishampayana Describes the Breadth of the Mahabharata and the Benefits of Reading it.

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