Mahabharata

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AFTER defeating Susarma, king of Trigarta, Virata returned to his capital amidst the acclamations of the citizens. When he reached his palace, he saw that Uttara was not there and the womenfolk told him with much elation that Uttara had set out to conquer the Kauravas.

They had not a doubt that their hand some prince could conquer the whole world. But the king's heart sank within him at the news, for he knew the impossible task which the delicately nurtured prince had taken on himself with no better following than a eunuch.

"My dearly loved son must be dead by now," he cried, overwhelmed with anguish. He then bade his ministers collect and send as strong a force as could be got together for rescuing Uttara if he was still alive and bring him back. Scouts also were immediately despatched to find out Uttara's whereabouts and fate.

Dharmaputra, now disguised as the sanyasin Kanka, tried to comfort Virata by assuring him that the prince could come to no harm, since Brihannala had gone as his charioteer. "You do not know about her," said he. "I do. Whosoever fights from a chariot driven by her, can be sure of victory. Further, the news of Susarma's defeat must have reached there and the Kauravas must have retreated."

Meanwhile courtiers arrived from the field of battle with the glad news that Uttara had defeated the Kaurava forces and recovered the kine.

This seemed too good to be true, even to the fond father, but Yudhishthira smilingly reassured him. Said he: "Have no doubts, O king. What the messengers say must be true. When Brihannala went out as charioteer, success was certain. There is nothing extraordinary in your son's victory. I happen to know that even Indra's charioteer or Krishna's cannot equal Brihannala."

This seemed absurd to Virata, but he was too happy to resent it. He made large gifts of precious stones and other wealth to the messengers who brought the good news and ordered public rejoicing. "My success over Susarma is nothing," he proclaimed. "The prince's is the real victory. Let special prayers of thanksgiving be offered at all places of worship. Let all the principal streets are decorated with flags and the citizen�s go in procession to strains of triumphal music. Make all arrangements to receive, in a befitting manner, my lion-hearted boy."

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Virata sent out ministers, soldiers, and maidens to welcome his son, returning in triumph. When the king retired to his private apartments, he asked Sairandhri to bring the dice. He said to Kanka: "I cannot contain my joy. Come, let us play," and sat down to a game with Yudhishthira.

They talked while they played and naturally, the king was full of his son's greatness and prowess. "See the glory of my son, Bhuminjaya. He has put the famed Kaurava warriors to flight."

"Yes," replied Yudhishthira with a smile. "Your son is indeed fortunate for, without the best of good fortune, how could he have secured Brihannala to drive his chariot?"

Virata was angry at this persistent glorification of Brihannala at the expenses of Uttara. "Why do you, again and again babble about the eunuch?" he cried.

"While I am talking about my son's victory, you expatiate on the charioteering skill of the eunuch, as if that were of any significance." The king's anger only increased when Kanka remonstrated: "I know what I am talking about. Brihannala is no ordinary person. The chariot she drives can never see defeat, and whoever is in it, is sure of success in any undertaking, no matter how difficult."

Now, this perverse flouting could not be borne, and Virata in a passion flung the dice at Yudhishthira's face and followed this up with a blow on Yudhishthira's cheek. Yudhishthira was hurt and blood flowed down his face.

Sairandhri who was nearby, wiped the blood with the edge of her garment and squeezed it into a golden cup. "Why all this fuss? What are you collecting the blood into a cup for?" demanded the angry king, who was still in a passion.

"A Sanyasin's blood may not be split on the ground, O king," replied Sairandhri. "The rains will fail in your land for as many years as there are drops in the blood that is split on the earth. That was why I collected the blood in this cup. I fear you do not know Kanka's greatness."

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Meanwhile the gatekeeper announced: "Uttara and Brihannala have arrived. The prince is waiting for an audience with the king." Virata got up excitedly and said: "Ask him in, ask him in." And Yudhishthira whispered to the sentry: "Let Uttara come alone. Brihannala should stay behind."

He did this to prevent a catastrophe, for he knew Arjuna would be unable to control his anger when he saw the injury on his brother's face. He could not bear to see Dharmaputra hurt by anyone except in fair battle.

Uttara entered and paid due homage to his royal father. When he turned to do obeisance to Kanka be was horrified to see his bleeding face, for now he knew that Kanka was the great Yudhishthira.

"O king," he cried, "who was it that caused hurt to this great one?"

Virata looked at his son and said: "Why all this fuss about it? I struck him for untimely and envious belittling of you when I was in an ocean of delight at the news of your glorious victory. Each time I mentioned you, this unlucky brahmana extolled your charioteer, the eunuch, and gave the victory to him. It was too silly really, and I am sorry I struck him, but it is not worth talking about."

Uttara was overwhelmed with fear. "Alas! You have done great wrong. Fall at his feet right now, father, and pray forforgiveness or we will be destroyed, root and branch."

Virata, to whom all this was inexplicable, stood with a puzzled frown not knowing what to do. But Uttara was so anxious and importunate that he yielded and bowed to Yudhishthira asking for pardon.

Thereafter, embracing his son and making him sit, Virata said: "My boy, you are truly a hero. I am in a fever of impatience to hear all about it. How did you defeat the Kaurava army? How did you recover the kine?"

Uttara hung his head down. "I conquered no army," he said, "and rescued no cows. All that was the work of a god prince. He took up our cause, rescued me from destruction, put the Kaurava soldiers to flight and brought the herd back. I did nothing."

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The king could hardly believe his ears. "Where is that god prince?" he asked. "I must see and thank the hero who rescued my son and beat back my foes. I will give my daughter, Uttara, in marriage to him. Go and fetch him in."

"He has disappeared for the time being," replied the prince, "but I think he will come again either today or tomorrow." Uttara spoke thus because Arjuna was indeed a prince of the gods and had also for the time being disappeared in Brihannala.

In Virata's hall of assembly, all the leading citizens had gathered to celebrate the king's victory and the prince's. Kanka, Valala the cook, Brihannala, Tantripala and Dharmagranthi, who were responsible for the victories, arrived also and entering the hall, to the surprise of everyone, sat among the princes unbid.

Some explained the conduct by saying that, after all, these humbler folk had rendered invaluable service at a critical time and really deserved recognition.

Virata entered the court. On seeing Kanka sanyasin and the cook and the others seated in places reserved for princess and the nobility the king lost his temper and gave loud vent to his displeasure.

When they felt they had enough fun, the Pandavas disclosed their identity to the amazement of all present. Virata was beside himself with joy to think that it was the Pandava princes and Panchali who had been ministering to him all these days in disguise. He embraced Kanka in exuberant gratitude and made a formal surrender of his kingdom and his all to him, of course immediately receiving them back with thanks. Virata also insisted that he should give his daughter in marriage to Arjuna.

But Arjuna said: "No, that would not be proper, for the princess learnt dancing and music from me. I, as her teacher, am in the position of father to her." He, however, agreed to accept her for his son Abhimanyu.

Meanwhile, envoys arrived from the wicked and treacherous Duryodhana with a message for Yudhishthira. "O son of Kunti," they said, "Duryodhana feels very sorry that owing to the hasty action of Dhananjaya, you have to go back to the woods again. He let himself be recognised before the end of the thirteenth year and so, in accordance with your undertaking, you have to dwell in the forest for another twelve years."

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Dharmaputra laughed and said: "Messengers, return quickly to Duryodhana and tell him to make further inquiry. The venerable Bhishma and others learned in the stars will no doubt tell him that full thirteen years had been completed before your forces heard again the twang of Dhananjaya's bow and fled in fear."