PRATHIKAMI went to Draupadi as ordered by his master. He said to her: "O revered princess, Yudhishthira fell under the spell of the game of dice and has wagered and lost even you. Now you belong to Duryodhana. I have come by Duryodhana's command to take you to serve in his household as maid servant, which will hereafter be your office."
Draupadi, the spouse of the emperor who had performed Rajasuya, was dumbfounded, at this strange message. She asked: "Prathikami, what do you say? Which prince would pledge his wife? Had he nothing else to pawn?"
Prathikami answered: "It is because he had already lost all other possessions and had nothing else left that he played offering you as a stake."
Then he told her the whole story of how Yudhishthira had lost all his wealth and had finally betted her, after having first forfeited his brothers and himself.
Though the news was such as to break the heart and kill the soul, still, Draupadi soon regained her fortitude and, with anger blazing from her eyes, said: "O charioteer, return. Ask of him who played the game whether in it he first lost himself, or his wife. Ask this question in the open assembly. Bring me his answer and then you can take me." Prathikami went to the assembly and, turning to Yudhishthira, asked of him the question put by Draupadi.
Then Duryodhana bade Prathikami bring Panchali herself there to question her husband. Prathikami went again to Draupadi and humbly said: "Princess, the mean-minded Duryodhana desires you to go to the assembly and ask your question yourself."
Draupadi answered: "No. Return to the assembly and put the question and demand an answer."
Enraged, Duryodhana turned to his brother Duhsasana and said: "This man is a fool and is afraid of Bhima. Go and fetch Draupadi even if you have to drag her here."
Thus commanded, the wicked Duhsasana at once sped with joy on his errand. He proceeded to the place where Draupadi was, shouting: "Come, why do you delay? You are now ours. Be not shy, beautiful lady. Make yourself agreeable to us, now that you have been won by us. Come to the assembly" and in his impatience, he bade as though to take her thither by force.
Panchali rose trembling, heart-stricken with sorrow and started to fly for refuge to the inner apartments of Dhritarashtra's queen. Duhsasana darted after her, caught her by the hair and dragged her to the assembly.
It is with a shudder of repugnance that we relate how the sons of Dhritarashtra stooped to commit this vilest of deeds.
As soon as she came to the assembly, Draupadi controlled her anguish and appealed to the elders gathered there:
"How could you consent to my being staked by the king who was himself trapped into the game and cheated by wicked persons, expert in the art? Since he was no longer a free man, how could he stake anything at all?"
Then, stretching out her arms and raising her flowing eyes in agonised supplication she cried in a voice broken with sobs:
"If you have loved and revered the mothers who bore you and gave you suck, if the honor of wife or sister or daughter has been dear to you, if you believe in God and dharma, forsake me not in this horror more cruel than death"'
At this heart-broken cry, as of a poor fawn stricken to death, the elders hung their heads in grief and shame. Bhima could hold himself no longer. His swelling heart found relief in a roar of wrath that shook the very walls, and turning to Yudhishthira he said bitterly:
"Even abandoned professional gamblers would not stake the harlots who live with them, and you, worse than they, have left the daughter of Drupada to the mercy of these ruffians. I cannot bear this injustice. You are the cause of this great crime. Brother Sahadeva, bring fire. I am going to set fire to those hands of his which cast the dice."
Arjuna however remonstrated gently with Bhima: "You have never before spoken thus. The plot devised by our enemies is entangling us also in its meshes and inciting us to wicked action. We should not succumb and play their game. Beware."
Vikarna, the son of Dhritarashtra, could not bear the sight of the agony of Panchali. He rose up and said: "O Kshatriya heroes, why are you silent? I am a mere youth, I know, but your silence compels me to speak. Listen. Yudhishthira was enticed to this game by a deeply plotted invitation and he pledged this lady when he had no right to do so, because she does not belong to Yudhishthira alone. For that reason alone the wager is illegal. Besides, Yudhishthira had already lost his freedom, and being no longer a free man, how could he have a right to offer her as a stake? And there is this further objection. It was Sakuni who suggested her as a pledge, which is against the rules of the game, under which neither player may demand a specific bet. If we consider all these points, we must admit that Panchali has not been legally won by us. This is my opinion."
When the young Vikarna spoke thus courageously, the wisdom given by God to the members of the assembly suddenly illumined their minds. There were great shouts of applause. They shouted: "Dharma has been saved. Dharma has been saved."
"O Vikarna, forgetting that there are elders in this assembly, you lay down the law though you are but a stripling. By your ignorance and rashness you are injuring the very family which gave you birth, just as the flame generated by the arani destroys its source, the stick. It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest. At the very beginning, when Yudhishthira was a free man, he forfeited all he possessed and that, of course, included Draupadi. Hence, Draupadi had already come into Sakuni's possession. There is nothing more to be said in the matter. Even the clothes they have on are now Sakuni's property. O Duhsasana, seize the garments of the Pandavas and the robes of Draupadi and hand them over to Sakuni."
As soon as they heard the cruel words of Karna, the Pandavas, feeling that they had to stand the test of dharma to the bitter end, flung off their upper garments to show that they were ready to follow the path of honor and right at any cost.
Seeing this, Duhsasana went to Draupadi and made ready to seize her clothes by force. All earthly aid had failed, and in the anguish of utter helplessness, she implored divine mercy and succour:
"O Lord of the World," she wailed, "God whom I adore and trust, abandon me not in this dire plight. You are my sole refuge. Protect me." And she fainted away.
Then, as the wicked Duhsasana started his shameful work of pulling at Panchali's robes and good men shuddered and averted their eyes, even then, in the mercy of God a miracle occurred.
In vain Duhsasana toiled to strip off her garments, for as he pulled off each, ever fresh garments were seen to clothe her body, and soon a great heap of resplendent clothes was piled up before the assembly till Duhsasana desisted and sat down in sheer fatigue.
The assembly trembled at this marvel and good men praised God and wept. Bhima with quivering lips, loudly uttered this terrible oath: "May I never go to the blest abode of my ancestors if I do not rend the breast and drink the heart's blood of this sinful Duhsasana, this shame of the Bharata race."
Suddenly, the howling of jackals could be heard. Donkeys and carnivorous birds began to send forth weird dissonant cries from all sides, portending calamities to come.
Dhritarashtra who realised that this incident would be the cause of the destruction of his race, for once acted with wisdom and courage. He called Draupadi to his side and attempted to soothe her with words of gentleness and affection.
Then he turned to Yudhishthira and said: "You are so blameless that you can have no enemies. Forgive in your magnanimity the evil done by Duryodhana and dismiss all memory of it from your mind. Take back your kingdom and riches and everything else and be free and prosperous. Return to Indraprastha." And the Pandavas left that accursed hall, bewildered and stunned, and seeing a miracle in this sudden release from calamity. But it was too good to endure.
After Yudhishthira and his brothers had departed, there was a long and angry discussion in the palace of the Kauravas. Incited by Duhsasana, Sakuni and others, Duryodhana upbraided his father with having frustrated their well-laid plans on the very threshold of success.
He quoted Brihaspati's aphorism that no device could be considered wrong which had as its object the destruction of formidable enemies.
He spoke in detail on the prowess of the Pandavas and expressed his conviction that the only hope of overcoming the Pandavas lay in guile and taking advantage of their pride and sense of honor.
No self-respecting kshatriya could decline an invitation to a game of dice. Duryodhana secured his doting father's reluctant and ominous approval to a plan to entice Yudhishthira once again to a game of dice.
A messenger was accordingly dispatched after Yudhisthira who had taken his departure for Indraprastha. He came up with Yudhishthira before the latter had reached his destination and invited him on behalf of king Dhritarashtra to come back.
On hearing this invitation, Yudhishthira said: "Good and evil come from destiny and cannot be avoided. If we must play again we must, that is all. A challenge to dice cannot in honor be refused. I must accept it." Truly, as Sri Vyasa says: "There never was and never can be an antelope of gold! Yet, Rama went in vain pursuit of what seemed one. Surely, when calamities are imminent, the judgment is first destroyed."
Dharmaputra returned to Hastinapura and set again for a game with Sakuni, though everyone in the assembly tried to dissuade him.
He seemed a mere pawn moved by Kali to relieve the burden of the world.
The stake played for was that the defeated party should go with his brothers into exile to the forest and remain there for twelve years and spend the thirteenth year incognito. If they were recognised in the thirteenth year, they should go again into exile for twelve years.
Needless to say, Yudhishthira met with defeat on this occasion also, and the Pandavas took the vows of those who are to go to the forest.
All the members of the assembly bent down their heads in shame.