Friday, May 7, 2010


After this the Pandavas went into exile – for thirteen long years. And it all happened like this:

The defeat in the game of dice had hurt Yudhisthira badly, and the pain had seeped into his being. In fact in terms of Sarala’s narrative, it was the defeat, more than even Draupadi’s humiliation,that seemed to have upset the eldest Pandava more deeply. From one point of view, it may not be surprising; those who always win cannot accommodate even an occasional defeat. His kshatriya ego responded to humiliation in the same way, whether it came from a game of dice, or from a battle. He told Krishna that he would play dice with Duryodhana again, and would go into the forest if he lost. The link between defeat in the game of dice and withdrawing into the forest had been forged in his mind before he rolled the dice for the second time in the Kaurava court. Dying would be far better, he told Krishna, than living with the burden of defeat. Krishna, the knower of the past, the present and the future, said nothing. In any case, Yudhisthira was not seeking his advice; he was only informing him about his feelings and decision.

Soon after this, one day Yudhisthira went to Hastinapura to pay his respects to his uncle Dhritarastra. He had no intention of using this occasion to play dice with Duryodhana. It was a routine visit. This time his brothers were with him. Yudhisthira must have been at ease; he would not have to answer a semi-accusing question like why his brothers had not come with him.

They were warmly welcomed in the Kaurava court. Duryodhana and Yudhisthira sat together - on the same seat. The atmosphere was relaxed, and there was geniality all around.
Sakuni then brought his dice. One does not know what his intentions were, and whether through the game of dice he was pursuing his hidden agenda, namely, the total destruction of the Kauravas. It is also possible that he genuinely thought that a game of dice would be in tune with the pleasant mood prevailing in the court. The brilliant story teller does not provide a clue to the hearer to resolve an ambiguity such as this; he leaves it to his imagination to work out his own conclusion. In any case, whatever Sakuni’s intentions, the very sight of dice whetted Yudhisthira’s desire to play. He asked his brother Sahadeva, another excellent player of dice, to draw the patterns for the game on the floor. As for the dice, the earlier experience had made him wise; he smiled at his uncle Sakuni, and told him that this time he was not going to play with his dice. Bring another set, he told him.

Suddenly, from nowhere, fell in their presence a wonderful pair of dice. Both Yudhisthira and Duryodhana were happy at this mysterious happening; this was the dice of dharma (the eternal sustaining principle, also righteousness at a more worldly level) , said Duryodhana, and asked cousin Sahadeva – not Sakuni, who had won the game for him last time - to throw it on both Yudhisthira’s and his behalf. When dharma was the instrument, why worry about who would throw the dice.

Only Sahadeva in that august assembly of distinguished people knew the secret of the mysterious dice. He knew it was the work of the gods, who wanted to relieve the goddess Earth of some burden of wickedness and sin epitomized by Kichaka and his brothers. For this to happen, the Pandavas had to undergo exile. And for that to happen, Yudhisthira had to lose the game of dice. Now when gods wish to use humans as instrument for their objectives, they control their thoughts and perceptions, and their sense of judgement. They sent Khala (Mischief) and Durbala (Weakness of Will), who controlled the mind of Duryodhana and Yudhisthira respectively, and entered the pieces of dice as well.

Duryodhana proposed the wager: the loser would be a non-entity in the kingdom; that is, he would disqualify himself from putting forward any claim to a share in the kingdom. Yudhisthira proposed that the loser would live the life of an exile in the forest for twelve years. Sakuni added that he must live incognito for a year after those twelve years in the forest, and if his identity was discovered during that thirteenth year, he would repeat the exile and the incognito living, and the same would happen again if his identity was revealed in the thirteenth year. This harsh condition surprised Yudhisthira and Duryodhana both; they did not utter a word – quite understandable considering the fact that the players had no idea that the game was going to be manipulated.

Sakuni was probably gambling in imposing the stricter condition. The chances of the loser being found out in the thirteenth year would be quite high, he must have reckoned. A whole army of spies would be after him. If Duryodhana lost, then the Kauravas’ endless years in exile would, in effect, amount to their destruction. However if Yudhisthira lost, then he would be the loser. On the other hand, if the loser- no matter who - did succeed in staying incognito in the thirteenth year, then inevitably there would be war. That would serve his purpose; he had no doubt about the outcome - the Kauravas would be wiped out.

Sahadeva readily supported Sakuni’s proposal, needless to say, for very different reasons. He knew that the thirteenth year of their incognito living would make Kichaka’s killing in the hands of Bhima possible. He was willing to be the instrument of gods. Now since the principal advisers to Duryodhana and Yudhisthira were in agreement, they had no hesitation in giving their consent to the wager. The game started. Duryodhana gave the dice to Sahadeva. Each player declared the number he wanted, and they asked Sahadeva to roll the dice. Roll it in the name of dharma, the Kauravas said, and everyone would soon know who was with dharma. When Sahadeva rolled the dice, he did it, obviously unknown to everyone, not in the name of dharma, but in the name of the will of the gods. And Yudhisthira lost. This time defeat did not give him any sense of disgrace. The winner and the loser both looked upon the result as their karma, their destiny.

Bhima repeated his oaths to slaughter the Kauravas, dismember Dussasana, break Duryodhana’s thigh, etc., but that wild behaviour was in response to the crude and offensive demeanour of the Kauravas when Yudhisthira lost. They were gloating over the misery awaiting the Pandavas. The venerable elders in the Kaurava court like Bhishma, Drona and Kripacharya feared for the life of the Kauravas, although the Kauravas themselves did not take Bhima’s words seriously. They were certain that the exile of the Pandavas would never end. Yudhisthira of course totally disapproved of Bhima’s conduct, and made his resentment known to him. He knew that he had lost, and as far as he was concerned, there was absolutely nothing wrong in the way the game was played.

The first game of dice was rigged by Sakuni; the second was manipulated by the gods above and Sahadeva on earth. Sahadeva never told anyone about the mystery of the dice. Everyone had taken them as the dice of dharma, and unlike in the previous case, no one at any time later ever suspected anything foul, so no one ever asked him. And Sahadeva was constrained to share his special knowledge about things only if he was asked. This was destiny’s way to ensure that the one who had secret knowledge could not share it with others at will. The design of the gods remained buried forever in Sahadeva’s heart.

In Sarala’s narrative there was no Kaurava conspiracy to exile the Pandavas. No one from the Kaurava side invited Yudhisthira for a second game of dice. No Kaurava had in fact invited him to pay them a visit. It is of course another matter that Yudhisthira needed no invitation to visit his elders and cousins. The Pandavas belonged to the same family. More than once in Sarala’s story, the Kauravas and the Pandavas had fought together when a Pandava or a Kaurava happened to fight an enemy. In fact, they had almost just returned from such a fight when the dice rolled for the second time. That indeed was a strange fight; it began with Arjuna fighting his son Nagarjuna, with neither aware of their relationship. Further details of that terrible fight in which Krishna and Shiva had also got involved are unnecessary here. As for Sakuni, he was almost irrelevant in the second game of dice: his dice were summarily discarded; besides, he did not throw the dice then. True, the stricter requirement on the loser was his, but it might not have been accepted if Sahadeva had not consented to it, just as his dice were not accepted for this game. Sarala completely absolves Duryodhana and Sakuni of any role in the exile of the Pandavas.
In terms of Sarala’s narrative, everything that happens has a cause, whether it is evident to all or none, and whether it is humanly knowable or not. Some events have a deeper, cosmic purpose. Yudhisthira’s defeat in the second game of dice was one. When the fundamental, foundational and sustaining balance between the diverse and even contradictory forces on earth gets disturbed, it has to be restored. Therefore Kichaka and his brothers had to be killed, and for whatever reason, they could not be killed by a god. They were destined to be killed by a particular human. Under the circumstances, then, the gods’ intervention had to take the form of the emergence of enabling circumstances for that event to take place.