Mahabharata

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356

WHEN Yudhishthira at last gave his consent for Dhritarashtra's retirement to the forest, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari went back to their residence and broke their fast.

Kunti sat with Gandhari and they ate together. Dhritarashtra asked Yudhishthira to sit by him and gave him his last blessings.

Then the old man stepped out and, with his hand resting on Gandhari's shoulder, slowly walked out of the city on his journey to the forest.

Gandhari, who, because her lord and husband was blind, gave up the use of her eyes and wrapped her face with a cloth all her life, placed her hand on Kunti's shoulder and slowly walked along, thus guided.

Kunti had decided in her mind to go with Gandhari to the forest. As she walked on, she was speaking to Yudhishthira: "Son, do not ever let your speech be angry when you speak to Sahadeva. Remember with love Karna who died a hero's death on the battlefield. He was my son, but I committed the crime of not disclosing it to you. Look after Draupadi with unfailing tenderness. Do not ever give cause for grief to Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva. Keep this ever in mind, son. The burden of the family is now wholly on you."

Dharmaputra had till then believed that Kunti was accompanying Gandhari only for a distance to say goodbye. When he heard her speak thus, he was taken aback and was speechless for a few minutes.

When he recovered from the shock he said: "Mother, not thus! You blessed us and sent us to battle. It is not right you should now desert us and go to the forest."

Yudhishthira's entreaties were however of no avail. Kunti held to her purpose.

"I must join my lord and husband wherever he be now. I shall be with Gandhari and go through the discipline of forest life and soon join your father. Go back unagitated. Return to the city. May your mind ever stand steady on dharma." Thus did Kunti bless her illustrious son and depart.

357

Yudhishthira stood speechless. Kunti went on her way, looking back occasionally at him and her other sons.

Each with hand on the shoulder of the other, this picture of the three elders of the tribe wending their way to the forest, leaving their sons behind, is painted by the poet so vividly that it fills the reader with solemn grief, as if the parting happened in his own family now.

Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti spent three years in the forest. Sanjaya was with them. When one day, Dhritarashtra finished his ablutions and returned to their hermitage, the forest had caught fire.

The wind blew and the flames spread everywhere. The deer and the wild boars ran in herds hither and thither, and rushed madly to the pools.

Dhritarashtra told Sanjaya: "This fire will envelop us all. You had better save yourself."

Saying this, the blind old king, Gandhari with her eves blindfolded and Kunti sat down on the ground, the three of them, facing eastwards in yoga posture and calmly gave themselves up to the flames.

Sanjaya, who had been to the blind king, throughout all his days, his only light and was dear to him like life itself, spent the rest of his days in the Himalayas as a sanyasin.