BALARAMA and Krishna came with their retinue to the abode of the Pandavas in the forest. Deeply distressed by what he saw, Balarama said to Krishna:
"O Krishna, it would seem that virtue and wickedness bear contrary fruit in this life. For see, the wicked Duryodhana is ruling his kingdom clad in silk and gold, while the virtuous Yudhishthira lives in the forest wearing the bark of trees. Seeing such unmerited prosperity and undeserved privation, men have lost their faith in God. The praise of virtue in the sastras seems mere mummery when we see the actual results of good and evil in this world. How will Dhritarashtra justify his conduct and defend himself when he is face to face with the god of death? Even the mountains and the earth weep at the sight of the blameless Pandavas dwelling in the forests with the blessed Draupadi, born from the sacrificial fire."
Satyaki, who was seated near, said: "O Balarama, this is no time for lamenting. Should we wait till Yudhishthira asks us to do our duty for the Pandavas? While you and Krishna and all other relations are living, why should the Pandavas waste their precious years in the forest? Let us collect our forces and attack Duryodhana. With the army of the Vrishnis, we are surely strong enough to destroy the Kauravas. Why, where is the need to foil Karna's vaunted archery and cut off his head. Let us kill Duryodhana and his adherents in the battlefield and hand over the kingdom to Abhimanyu if the Pandavas wish to keep their word and stay in the forest. This is good for them and befits us as men of valor."
Vasudeva, who was listening carefully to this speech, said: "What you say is true. But the Pandavas would not like to receive from the hands of others what they have not won by their own efforts. Draupadi for one, born of a heroic race as she is, would not hear of it. Yudhishthira will never give up the path of righteousness for love or fear. When the stipulated period of exile is over the kings of Panchala, Kekaya and Chedi and ourselves will unite our forces to help the Pandavas to conquer their enemies."
Yudhishthira was delighted at these words of Krishna. "Sri Krishna knows my mind," said he. "Truth is greater than power or prosperity and has to be guarded at all costs and not the kingdom. When he wants us to fight, he shall find us ready. The heroes of the Vrishni race may now return with the certainty that we shall meet again when the time is ripe." With these words Yudhishthira gave them leave to return.
Arjuna was still away in the Himalayas and Bhima's anxiety and impatience became well nigh insupportable. He said to Yudhishthira:
"You know that our life depends on Arjuna. He has been away very long, and we have had no tidings of him. If he should be lost to us, then neither the king of Panchala, nor Satyaki nor even Sri Krishna can save us, and I for one cannot survive that loss. All this we owe to that mad game of dice, our sorrows and sufferings, as well as the growing strength of our foes. To be dwelling in the forest is not the duty enjoined on a kshatriya. We should immediately recall Arjuna and wage war with the sons of Dhritarashtra, with the help of Sri Krishna. I shall be satisfied only when the wicked Sakuni, Karna and Duryodhana are slain. After this clear duty is done, you may, if you like, return to the forest and live a life of asceticism. It is not a sin to kill by stratagem an enemy who has resorted to stratagem. I have heard that the Atharva Veda has incantations, which can compress time and reduce its span. If we could, by such means, squeeze thirteen years into thirteen days, we would be perfectly justified in doing so, and you will permit me on the fourteenth day to kill Duryodhana."
Hearing these words of Bhima, Dharmaputra affectionately embraced him and sought to restrain his impetuosity. "Beloved brother, as soon as the period of thirteen years is over, Arjuna, the hero, with the Gandiva bow, and yourself will fight and kill Duryodhana. Be patient till then. Duryodhana and his followers, who are sunk in sin, cannot escape. Be assured of it." While the sorrow-stricken brothers were thus engaged in debate, the great sage Brihadaswa came to the hermitage of the Pandavas and was received with the customary honors.
After a while, Yudhishthira said to him: "Revered sage, our deceitful enemies, drew us into this game of dice and cheated us of our kingdom and riches, and drove my heroic brothers, as well as Panchali and myself, to the forest. Arjuna, who left us a long time ago to get divine weapons, has not returned as yet and we miss him sorely. Will he return with divine arms? And when will he be back? Surely never was there in this world a man who suffered so much sorrow as myself."
The great sage replied: "Do not let your mind dwell on sorrow. Arjuna will return with divine weapons and you will conquer your enemies in the fitness of time. You say that there is no one in this world that is as unfortunate as you. Now, that is not true, though everyone, tried by adversity, is inclined to claim pre-eminence in sorrow, because things felt are more than things heard or seen. Have you heard of king Nala of Nishadha? He suffered more sorrows than yourself even in the forest. He was deceived by Pushkara at a game of dice. He lost his wealth and kingdom and had to go in exile to the forest. Less fortunate than you, he had not with him his brothers or brahmanas. The influence of Kali, the spirit of the dark age, deprived him of his discrimination and good sense. And not knowing what he was doing, he deserted his wife who had accompanied him, and wandered about in the forest, solitary and almost mad. Now, compare your state with his. You have the company of your heroic brothers and devoted wife and are supported by a few learned brahmanas in your adversity. Your mind is sound and steady. Self-pity is natural, but you are really not so badly off."
The sage then narrated the life of Nala which constitutes twenty-eight chapters of the great epic. The sage concluded with these words:
"O Pandava, Nala was tried by sorrows more agonising than yours, yet he triumphed over them all and his life ended happily. You have the alleviations of unclouded intellect and the society of your nearest and dearest. You spend much of your time in exalted contemplation of dharma and in holy converse with brahmanas who are learned in the Vedas and Vedantas. Bear your trials and tribulations with fortitude, for they are the lot of man and not peculiar to you."