The Mahabharata, Book 06
THE conditions of the banishment of the sons of Pandu were hard. They must pass twelve years in exile, and then they must remain a year in concealment. If they were discovered within this last year, they must go into exile for another twelve years. Having passed the twelve years of exile in forests, the Pandav brothers disguised themselves and entered into the menial service of Virata, king of the Matsyas, to pass the year of concealment. Yudhishthir presented himself as a Brahman, skilled in dice, and became a courtier of the king. Bhima entered the king's service as cook. For Arjun, who was so well known, a stricter concealment was necessary. He wore conch bangles and earrings and braided his hair, like those unfortunate beings whom nature has debarred from the privileges of men and women, and he lived in the inner apartments of the king. He assumed the name of Brihannala, and taught the inmates of the royal household in music and dancing. Nakula became a keeper of the king's horses, and Sahadeva took charge of the king's cows. Draupadi too disguised herself as a waiting-woman, and served the princess of the Matsya house in that humble capacity.
In these disguises the Pandav brothers safely passed a year in concealment in spite of all search which Duryodhan made after them. At last an incident happened which led to their discovery when the year was out.
Cattle-lifting was a common practice with the kings of ancient India, as with the chiefs of ancient Greece. The king of the Trigartas and the king of the Kurus combined and fell on the king of the Matsyas in order to drive off the numerous herd of fine cattle for which his kingdom was famed. The Trigartas entered the Matsya kingdom from the south-east, and while Virata went out with his troops to meet the foe, Duryodhan with his Kuru forces fell on the kingdom from the north.
When news came that the Kurus had invaded the kingdom, there was no army in the capital to defend it. King Virata had gone out with most of his troops to face the Trigartas in the south-east, and the prince Uttara had no inclination to face the Kurus in the north. The disguised Arjun now came to the rescue in the manner described in this Book. The description of the bows. arrows, and swords of the Pandav brothers which they had concealed in a tree, wrapped like human corpses to frighten away inquisitive travellers, throws some light on the arts and manufacture of ancient times. The portions translated in this Book form Sections xxxv., xxxvi., xl. to xliii., a portion of Section xliv., and Sections liii. and lxxii. of Book iv. of the original text.
I COMPLAINT OF THE COWHERD
Monarch of the mighty Matsyas, brave Virata known to fame,
Marched against Trigarta chieftains who from southward regions came,
From the north the proud Duryodhan, stealing onwards day by day,
Swooped on Matsya's fattened cattle like the hawk upon its prey!
Bhishma, Drona, peerless Karna, led the Kuru warriors brave,
Swept the kingdom of Virata like the ocean's surging wave,
Fell upon the trembling cowherds, chased them from the pasture-field,
Sixty thousand head of cattle was the Matsya country's yield!
And the wailing chief of cowherds fled forlorn, fatigued and spent,
Speeding on his rapid chariot to the royal city went,
Came inside the city portals, came within the palace gate,
Struck his forehead in his anguish and bewailed his luckless fate.
Meeting there the prince Uttara, youth of beauty and of fame,
Told him of the Kurus' outrage and lamented Matsya's shame:
Sixty thousand head of cattle, bred of Matsya's finest breed,
To Hastina's distant empire do the Kuru chieftains lead,
Glory of the Matsya nation! save thy father's valued kine,
Quick thy footsteps, strong thy valour, vengeance deep and dire be thine!
'Gainst the fierce Trigarta chieftains Matsya's warlike king is gone,
Thee we count our lord and saviour as our monarch's gallant son,
Rise, Uttara! beat the Kurus, homeward lead the stolen kine,
Like an elephant of jungle, pierce the Kurus' shattered line!
As the Vina speaketh music, by musicians tuned aright,
Let thy sounding bow and arrows speak thy deeds of matchless might,
Harness quick thy milk-white coursers to thy sounding battle-car,
Hoist thy golden lion-banner, speed thee, prince, unto the war!
And as thunder-wielding INDRA smote Asuras fierce and bold,
Smite the Kurus with thy arrows winged with plumes of yellow gold
As the famed and warlike Arjun is the stay of Kuru's race,
Thou art refuge of the Matsyas and thy kingdom's pride and grace!"
But the prince went not to battle from the foe to guard the State,
To the cowherd answered gaily, sheltered by the palace gate:
"Not unknown to me the usage of the bow and wingéd dart,
Not unknown the warrior's duty or the warrior's noble art,
I would win my father's cattle from the wily foeman's greed,
If a skilful chariot-driver could my fiery coursers lead.
For my ancient chariot-driver died on battle's gory plain,
Eight and twenty days we wrestled, many warlike chiefs were slain,
Bring me forth a skilful driver who can urge the battle-steed,
I will hoist my lion-banner, to the dubious battle speed.
Dashing through the foeman's horses, ranks of elephant and car,
I will win the stolen cattle rescued in the field of war,
And like thunder-wielding INDRA, smiting Danu's sons of old,
I will smite the Kuru chieftains, drive them to their distant hold!
Bhishma and the proud Duryodhan, archer Karna known to fame,
Drona too shall quail before me and retreat in bitter shame,
For those warriors in my absence Matsya's far-famed cattle steal,
But beneath my countless arrows Matsya's vengeance they shall feel,
Bring me forth a chariot-driver, let me speed my battle-car,
And in wonder they will question-Is this Arjun famed in war?
II THE DISGUISED CHARIOTEER
Arjun, guised as Brihannala, heard the boast Uttara made,
And to try his skill and valour thus to fair Draupadi prayed:
"Say to him that Brihannala will his battle-chariot lead,
That as Arjun's chariot-driver he hath learned to urge the steed,
Say that faithful Brihannala many a dubious war hath seen,
And will win his father's cattle in this contest fierce and keen."
Fair Draupadi, guised as menial, Arjun's secret best obeyed,
Humbly stepped before Uttara and in gentle accents prayed:
"Hear me, prince, yon Brihannala will thy battle-chariot lead,
He was Arjun's chariot-driver, skilled to urge the flying steed,
Trained in war by mighty Arjun, trained to drive the battle-car,
He hath followed helméd Arjun in the glorious field of war,
And when Arjun conquered Khandav, this, Uttara, I have seen,
Brihannala drove his chariot, for I served Yudhishthir's queen."
Heard Uttara hesitating, spake his faint and timid mind,
"I would trust thee, beauteous maiden, lotus-bosomed, ever kind,
But a poor and sexless creature, can he rein the warlike steed,
Can I ask him, worse than woman, in the battle's ranks to lead?
"Need is none," Draupadi answered, "Brihannala's grace to ask,
He is eager like the war-horse for this great and warlike task,
And he waits upon thy sister, she will bid the minion speed,
And he wins thy father's cattle, and the victor's glorious meed!"
Matsya's princess spake to Arjun, Arjun led the battle-car,
Led the doubting prince Uttara to the dread and dubious war.
III ARMS AND WEAPONS
Arjun drove the prince of Matsya to a darksome sami tree,
Spake unto the timid warrior in his accents bold and free:
Prince, thy bow and shining arrows, pretty handsome toys are these,
Scarcely they beseem a warrior, and a warrior cannot please,
Thou shalt find upon this sami, mark my words which never fail,
Stately bows and wingéd arrows, banners, swords and coats of mail,
And a bow which strongest warriors scarce can in the battle bend,
And the limits of a kingdom widen when that bow is strained,
Tall and slender like a palm-tree, worthy of a warrior bold,
Smooth the wood of hardened fibre, and the ends are yellow gold!"
Doubting still Uttara answered: "In this sami's gloomy shade
Corpses hang since many seasons in their wrappings duly laid,
Now I mark them all suspended, horrent, in the open air,
And to touch the unclean objects, friend, is more than I can dare!"
"Fear not warrior," Arjun answered, "for the tree conceals no dead,
Warriors' weapons, cased like corpses, lurk within its gloomy shade,
And I ask thee, prince of Matsya, not to touch an unclean thing,
But unto a chief and warrior weapons and his arms to bring."
Prince Uttara gently lighted, climbed the dark and leafy tree,
Arjun from the prince's chariot bade him speed the arms to free,
And the young prince cut the wrappings; lo! the shining bows appear
Twisted, voiced like hissing serpents, like the bright stars glistening clear!
Seized with wonder prince Uttara silently the weapons eyed,
And unto his chariot-driver thus in trembling accents cried:
"Whose this bow so tall and stately, speak to me my gentle friend,
On the wood are golden bosses, tipped with gold is either end,
Whose this second ponderous weapon stout and massive in the hold,
On the staff are worked by artists elephants of burnished gold,
And what great and mighty monarch owns this other how of might,
Set with golden glittering insects on its ebon back so bright,
Golden suns of wondrous brightness on this fourth their lustre lend,
Who may be the unknown archer who this stately bow can bend,
And the fifth is set with jewels, gems and stones of purest ray,
Golden fire-flies glint and sparkle in the yellow light of day!
Who doth own these shining arrows with their heads in gold encased
Thousand arrows bright and feathered in the golden quivers placed:
Next are these with vulture-feather, golden-yellow in their hue,
Made of iron keen and whetted, whose may be these arrows true,
Next upon this sable quiver jungle tigers gleam in gold,
And these keen and boar-eared arrows speak some chieftains fierce and bold,
Fourth are these seven hundred arrows, crescent in their shining blade,
Thirsting for the blood of foemen and by cunning artists made,
And the fifth are golden-crested, made of tempered steel and bright,
Parrot feathers wing these arrows whetted and of wondrous might!
Hark again this wondrous sabre, shape of toad is on the hilt,
On the blade a toad is given and the scabbard nobly gilt,
Larger, stouter is this second in its sheath of tiger-skin,
Decked with bells and gold -surmounted and the blade is bright and keen,
Next this scimitar so curious by the skilled Nishadas made,
Scabbard made of wondrous cowhide sheathes the bright and polished blade,
Fourth, a long and beauteous weapon glittering sable in its hue,
With its sheath of softer goat-skin worked with gold on azure blue,
And the fifth is broad and massive over thirty fingers long,
Golden-sheathed and gold embosséd like a snake or fiery tongue!
Joyously responded Arjun: "Mark this bow embossed with gold.
'Tis the wondrous bow, Gandiva, worthy of a warrior bold,
Gift of heaven! to archer Arjun kindly gods this weapon sent,
And the confines of a kingdom widen when the bow is bent,
Next, this mighty ponderous weapon worked with elephants of gold,
With this bow the stalwart Bhima hath the tide of conquests rolled,
And the third with golden insects by a cunning hand inlaid,
'Tis Yudhishthir's royal weapon by the noblest artists made,
Next the bow with solar lustre brave Nakula wields in fight,
And the fifth is Sahadeva's, decked with gems and jewels bright
Mark again these thousand arrows, unto Arjun they belong,
And the darts whose blades are crescent unto Bhima brave and strong,
Boar-ear shafts are young Nakula's, in the tiger-quiver eased,
Sahadeva owns the arrows with the parrots feather graced,
These three-knotted shining arrows, thick and yellow vulture -plumed.
They belong to King Yudhishthir, with their heads by gold illumed!
Listen more, if of these sabres, prince of Matsya, thou wouldst know,
Arjun's sword is toad-engraven, ever dreaded by the foe,
And the sword in tiger-scabbard, massive and of mighty strength,
None save tiger-waisted Bhima wields that sword of wondrous length,
Next the sabre golden-hilted, sable and with gold embossed,
Brave Yudhishthir kept that sabre when tho king his kingdom lost,
Yonder sword with goat-skin scabbard brave Nakula wields in war,
In the cowhide Sahadeva keeps his shining scimitar!"
"Strange thy accents," spake Uttara, "stranger are the weapons bright,
Are they arms of sons of Pandu famed on earth for matchless might,
Where are now those pious princes by a dire misfortune crossed,
Warlike Arjun, good Yudhishthir, by his subjects loved and lost,
Where is tiger-waisted Bhima, matchless fighter in the field,
And the brave and twin-born brothers skilled the arms of war to wield?
O'er a game they lost their empire and we heard of them no more,
Or perchance they lonesome wander on some wild and distant shore,
And Draupadi noble princess, purest best of womankind,
Doth she wander with Yudhishthir, changeless in her heart and mind?"
Proudly answered valiant Arjun, and a smile was on his face,
Not in distant lands the brothers do their wandering footsteps trace,
In thy father's court disguiséd lives Yudhishthir just and good,
Bhima in thy father's palace as a cook prepares the food,
Brave Nakula guards the horses, Sahadeva tends the kine,
As thy sister's waiting-woman doth the fair Draupadi shine,
Pardon, prince, these rings and bangles, pardon strange unmanly guise,
'Tis no poor and sexless creature,--Arjun greets thy wondering eyes!"
IV RESCUE OF THE CATTLE
Arjun decked his mighty stature in the gleaming arms of war,
And with voice of distant thunder rolled the mighty battle-car,
And the Kurus marked with wonder Arjun's standard lifted proud.
Heard with dread the deep Gandiva sounding oft and sounding loud,
And they knew the wondrous bowman, wheeling round the battle-car,
And with doubts and grave misgivings whispered Drona skilled in war:
"That is Arjun's monkey-standard, how it greets my ancient eyes,
Well the Kurus know the standard like a comet in the skies,
Hear ye not the deep Gandiva? How my ear its accents greet,
Mark ye not these pointed arrows falling prone before my feet,
By these darts his salutation to his teacher loved of old,
Years of exile now completed, Arjun sends with greetings bold!
How the gallant prince advances! Now I mark his form and face,
Issuing from his dark concealment with a brighter, haughtier grace,
Well I know his bow and arrows and I know his standard well,
And the deep and echoing accents of his fax-resounding shell,
In his shining arms accoutred, gleaming in his helmet dread,
Shines he like the flame of homa by libations duly fed!"
Arjun marked the Kuru warriors arming for th' impending war,
Whispered thus to prince Uttara as he drove the battle-car:
"Stop thy steeds, O prince of Matsya! for too close we may not go,
Stop thy chariot whence, my arrows reach and slay the distant foe,
Seck we out the Kuru monarch, proud Duryodhan let us meet,
If he falls we win the battle, other chieftains will retreat.
There is Drona my preceptor, Drona's warlike son is there,
Kripa and the mighty Bhishma, archer Karna, tall and fair,
Them I seek not in this battle, lead, O lead thy chariot far,
Midst the chiefs Duryodhan moves not, moves not in the ranks of war,
But to save the pilfered cattle speeds he onward in his fear,
While these warriors stay and tarry to defend their monarch's rear,
But I leave these car-borne warriors, other work to-day is mine,
Meet Duryodhan in the battle, win thy father's stolen kine!"
Matsya's prince then turned the courses, left behind the war's array,
Where Duryodhan with the cattle quickly held his onward way,
Kripa marked the course of Arjun, guessed his inmost thought aright,
Thus he spake to brother warriors urging speed and instant fight:
"Mark ye, chieftains, gallant Arjun wheels his sounding battle-car,
'Gainst our prince and proud Duryodhan seeks to turn the tide of war,
Let us fall upon our foeman and our prince and leader save,
Few save INDRA, god of battles, conquers Arjun fierce and brave,
What were Matsya's fattened cattle, many thousands though they be,
If oar monarch sinks in battle like a ship in stormy sea!"
Vain were Kripa's words of wisdom, Arjun drove the chariot fair,
While his shafts like countless locusts whistled through the ambient air,
Kuru soldiers struck with panic neither stood and fought, nor fled,
Gazed upon the distant Arjun, gazed upon their comrades dead!
Arjun twanged his mighty weapon, blew his far-resounding shell,
Strangely spake his monkey-standard, Kuru warriors knew it well,
Sankha's voice, Gandiva's accents, and the chariot's booming sound,
Filled the air like distant thunder, shook the firm and solid ground.
Kuru soldiers fled in terror or they slumbered with the dead,
And the rescued lowing cattle with their tails uplifted fled!
Now with joy the king Virata to his royal city came,
Saw the rescued herds of cattle, saw Uttara prince of fame,
Marked the great and gallant Arjun, helmet-wearing, armour-cased
Knew Yudhishthir and his brothers now as royal princes dressed,
And he greeted good Yudhishthir, truth-beloving brave and strong
And to valiant Arjun offered Matsya's princess fair and young!
"Pardon, monarch," answered Arjun, "but I may not take as bride
Matsya's young and beauteous princess whom I love with father's pride,
She hath often met me trusting in the inner palace hall,
As a daughter on a father waited on my loving call!
I have trained her kokil accents, taught her maiden steps in dance,
Watched her skill and varied graces all her native charms enhance,
Pure is she in thought and action, spotless as my hero boy,
Grant her to my son, O monarch, as his wedded wife and joy!
Abhimanyu trained in battle, handsome youth of godlike face,
Krishna's sister, fair Subhadra, bore the child of princely grace,
Worthy of thy youthful daughter, pure in heart and undefiled,
Grant it, sire, my Abhimanyu wed thy young and beauteous child!"
Answered Matsya's noble monarch with a glad and grateful heart:
Words like these befit thy virtue, nobly bast thou done thy part,
Be it as thou sayest, Arjun, unto Pandu's race allied,
Matsya's royal line is honoured, Matsya's king is gratified!"
VI THE WEDDING
Good Yudhishthir heard the tidings and he gave his free assent,
Unto distant chiefs and monarchs kindly invitations sent,
In the town of Upa-plavya, of fair Matsya's towns the best,
Made their home the pious brothers to receive each royal guest.
Came unto them Kasi's monarch and his arméd troopers came,
And the king of fair Panchala with his sons of warlike fame,
Came the sons of fair Draupadi early trained in art of war,
Other chiefs and sacrifices came from regions near and far.
Krishna decked in floral garlands with his elder brother came,
And his sister fair Subhadra, Arjun's loved and longing dame,
Arjun's son brave Abhimanyu came upon his flowery car,
With his elephants and chargers, troopers trained in art of war.
Vrishnis from the sea-girt Dwarka, bravo Andhakas known to fame,
Bhojas from the mighty Chumbal with the righteous Krishna came,
He to gallant sons of Pandu made his presents rich and rare,
Gems and gold and costly garments, slaves and damsels passing fair.
With its quaint and festive greetings came at last the bridal day,
Matsya maids were merry-hearted, Pandu's sons were bright and gay,
Conch and cymbal, horn and trumpet spake forth music soft and sweet
In Virata's royal palace, in the peopled mart and street!
And they slay the jungle red-deer, and they spread the ample board,
And prepare the cooling palm-drink with the richest viands stored,
Mimes and actors please the people, bards recite the ancient song,
Glories of heroic houses minstrels by their lays prolong!
And deep-bosomed dames of Matsya, jasmine-form and lotus-face,
With their pearls and golden garlands joyously the bridal grace,
Circled by those royal ladies, though they all are bright and fair,
Brightest shines the fair Draupadi with a beauty rich and rare,
Stately dames and merry maidens lead the young and soft-eyed bride,
As the queens of gods encircle INDRA'S daughter in her pride!
Arjun from the Matsya monarch takes the princess passing fair,
For his son by fair Subhadra, nursed by Krishna's loving care,
With a godlike grace Yudhishthir stands by faithful Arjun's side,
As a father takes a daughter, takes the young and beauteous bride,
Joins her hands to Abhimanyu's, and with cake and parchéd rice,
On the altar brightly blazing doth the holy sacrifice.
Matsya's monarch on the bridegroom rich and costly presents pressed,
Elephants he gave two hundred, steeds seven thousand of the best,
Poured libations on the altar, on the priests bestowed his gold,
Offered to the sons of Pandu rich domain and wealth untold.
With a pious hand Yudhishthir, true in heart and pure in mind,
Made his gifts, in gold and garments, kine and wealth of every kind,
Costly chariots, beds of splendour, robes with thread of gold belaced.
Viands rich and sweet confection, drinks the richest and the best,
Lands he gave unto the Brahman, bullocks to the labouring swain,
Steeds he gave unto the warrior, to the people gifts and grain.
And the city of the Matsyas, teeming with a wealth untold.
Shone with festive joy and gladness and with flags and cloth of gold.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- 1. Astra Darsana (The Tournament)
- 2. Swayamvara (The Bride's Choice)
- 3. Rajasuya (The Imrfrial Sacrifice)
- 4. Dyuta (The Fatal Dice)
- 5. Pativrata-Mahatmya (Woman's Love)
- 6. Go-Harana (Cattle-Liftng)
- 7. Udyoga (The Council Of War)
- 8. Bhishma-Vadha (Fall Of Bhishma)
- 9. Drona-Vadha (Fall Of Drona)
- 10. Karna-Vadha (Fall Of Karna)
- 11. Sraddha (Funeral Rites)
- 12 Aswa-Medha (Sacrifice Of The Horse)