Mahabharata

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THE fate of Kichaka made Draupadi an object of fear to the people of Virata. "This woman, so beautiful that she captures all hearts, is as dangerous as she is lovely, for the Gandharvas guard her. She is a great danger to the people of the city and the members of the royal household, for the Gandharvas may stop at nothing in their jealous anger. It would be best to send her out of the city." Reflecting thus, the citizens went to Sudeshna and prayed to her to expel Draupadi.

Sudeshna told Draupadi: "You are, no doubt, a very virtuous lady, but kindly leave our city. I have had enough of you."

There was only one month more to complete the stipulated period of living incognito and Draupadi begged earnestly to be permitted to stay just another month by when, she said, her Gandharva husbands would have realised their objects and would be ready to take her away with them.

The Gandharvas would be very grateful to King Virata and his kingdom. Whether grateful or not, the Gandharvas could be deadly if irritated and Sudeshna was too afraid of Draupadi to refuse her request.

From the beginning of the thirteenth year, the spies of Duryodhana, under his express orders, had searched for the Pandavas in all possible places of hiding.

After several months of futile search, they reported their failure to Duryodhana and added that probably the Pandavas had perished of privations.

Then came the news that the powerful Kichaka had been killed in single combat by some Gandharva on account of a woman.

There were only two persons who could kill Kichaka, and Bhima was one of them. And so they suspected that Bhima might have been the vengeful Gandharva who had killed Kichaka. Duryodhana also felt that the lady who was the cause of the killing might be Draupadi. He expressed his doubts in the open assembly.

He said: "I suspect that the Pandavas are in Virata's city. Now, he is one of the kings who are too stiff-necked to court our friendship. It would be a good thing to invade his country and carry away his cows. If the Pandavas are hiding there, they will certainly come out to fight with us to repay Virata's hospitality and we can easily spot them. If we discover them there and we can sure before the stipulated time, they will have to go to the forest again for another twelve, years. If, on the other hand, the Pandavas are not there, there is nothing lost."

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King Susarma, the ruler of Trigarta heartily supported him. "The king of Matsya is my enemy." he said, "and Kichaka has given me a lot of trouble. Kichaka's death must have weakened Virata considerably. Give me leave to attack Virata now."

Karna seconded this proposition. They unanimously came to the decision that Susarma should attack Matsya from the south and draw off the army of Virata to the south for defence. Duryodhana, with the Kaurava army, would then launch a surprise attack on Virata from the northern side, which would be relatively undefended.

Susarma invaded Matsya from the south seized the cattle and laid waste the gardens and fields on the way. The cowherds ran in great distress to Virata, who now very much wished that Kichaka were alive, for he surely would have made short work of the raiders. When he said so to Kanka (the assumed name by which Yudhishthira was known in Virata's court) the latter said: "O king, be not worried. Even though I am a hermit, I am an expert in warfare. I shall put on armor and go in a chariot and drive away your enemies. Please instruct that your horse keeper Dharmagranthi, your chief cook Valala, and your stable herd Tantripala may also get into chariots and help us. I have heard that they are great fighters. Kindly give orders that the necessary chariots and the weapons may be given to us."

Delighted, Virata was only too willing to accept the offer. The chariots were ready. All the Pandavas excepting Arjuna went out with the army of Virata to oppose Susarma and his men.

A fierce fight ensued between the armies of Virata and Susarma, with much loss of life on both sides. Susarma attacked Virata and surrounded his chariot, compelling him to get down and fight on foot.

Susarma captured Virata and held him captive in his chariot. With the capture of Virata, the army of Matsya lost heart and began to scatter in all directions, when Yudhishthira commanded Bhima to attack Susarma and release Virata and rally the scattered Matsya forces.

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At these words of Yudhishthira, Bhima was about to uproot a tree, but Yudhishthira stopped him and said: "No such tricks, please, and no battle cry or your identity will be revealed. Fight like anybody else from the chariot with your bows and arrows."

Bhima accordingly got into the chariot attacked the enemy, set Virata free and captured Susarma. The dispersed forces of Matsya rallied into new formations charged and defeated the army of Susarma.

As soon as the news of Susarma's defeat reached the city, the people were extremely jubilant. They decorated the city and went forth to welcome their victorious king back home.

When they were thus making preparations to receive king Virata, the big army of Duryodhana came down on them from the north, and began despoiling the cattle ranches on the outskirts of the city.

The Kaurava army marched in force and rounded up the countless cows that were there. The leader of the cowherds ran to the city and said to the prince Uttara: "O prince, the Kauravas are marching on, robbing us of our cows. King Virata has gone south to fight against the Trigarta. We are in consternation as there is no one to protect us. You are the king's son and we look to you for protection. Pray, come and recover the cows for the honor of your family."

When the leader of the cowherds made this complaint to Uttara in the presence of the people and especially of the women of the palace, the prince felt flushed with valor and proudly said:

"If only I can get someone to be my charioteer I will recover the cows single-handed. Well, my feats of arms will be worth seeing and people will know there is little to choose between Arjuna and myself."

When Uttara said these words Draupadi was in the inner apartments and must have laughed within herself.

She ran to princess Uttara and said: "O princess, great danger has be fallen the country. The cowherds have complained to the young that the Kaurava army is advancing on our city from the north and has captured cattle ranches and cows on the outskirts. The prince is eager to fight them and is in need of a charioteer. Should such a small thing as that stand in the way of victory and glory? I tell you that Brihannala has been Arjuna's charioteer. When I was in the service of the queen of the Pandavas, I heard of this fact and I also know that Brihannala learnt archery from Arjuna. Order Brihannala immediately to go and drive the prince's chariot."

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Arjuna as Brihannala pretended to be unfamiliar with armor and raised a laugh at his awkwardness in wearing it.

The women of the palace laughed at his fears and told him again not to be afraid for Uttara would look after him.

Arjuna spent some time in such fun but, when he harnessed the horses, it could be seen that, at least, he was an expert charioteer. And when he held the reins, the horses seemed to love and obey him.

"The prince will be victorious. We shall despoil the enemy of their embroidered robes and distribute them to you as the prize of victory" were the last words of Brihannala to the women of the palace, as the chariot rapidly bore the prince outwards to battle.