When an event of great significance occurs in a story, the reactions of people, in response to that event, give us insights into their nature. These insights help us unravel the thread of subtle dharma in works such as the Mahabharata.
As we know, Duryodhan was filled with jealousy when he witnessed Yudhishthira’s affluence, popularity, virtue, and power during the latter’s Rajasuya Yagna at Indraprastha. Unable to control his jealousy, Duryodhana convinced his father — King Dhritarashtra — to invite the Pandavas to a game of dice. He planned to appoint Shakuni to play on his behalf and rob the Pandavas of their wealth and kingdom.
Shakuni defeated Yudhishthira, through deceitful play, and won the Pandava’s wealth and kingdom. However, by this time, Shakuni, who was drunk on his winning streak, prodded Yudhishthira (who was weakened by his resolve to not decline a challenge) to stake his brothers and himself.
Unsurprisingly, Shakuni won, but, what was surprising is that the game did not stop even then. Shakuni prodded Yudhishthira to stake Draupadi.
It was unimaginable, but Yudhishthira agreed, and all the elders in the assembly hall were shocked and agitated and fell into grief as we see in the two excerpts below.
However, there was one elder who, despite an outward act of virtue, was quite pleased and eager to witness the Pandavas’ humiliation. That elder was Dhritarashtra, as we see in the excerpt below.
Karna and Dussasana laughed, Shakuni was eager to win, and everyone else cried with grief.
Credit: The above excerpts are from Kisari Mohan Ganguli’s translation of The Mahabharata.
Author’s Note: I was surprised by two characters’ responses while reading this passage.
The first was Dhritarashtra. His indulgent attitude toward Duryodhan and jealousy toward the Pandavas are well known. It came as no surprise when he sanctioned the game of dice, but it was a big surprise to see the King so eager to witness Draupadi being lost in the game of dice.
The other moment of surprise was Karna’s reaction. He is popularly thought of as a generous and noble person who had to deal with exceedingly unfortunate circumstances. However, laughing when Draupadi was staked is hardly a sign of nobility. While it is true that Karna was generous, his nobility is questionable. We will see in future posts that Karna behaved quite abhorrently after Yudhishthira lost Draupadi.