For many years after escaping the wax palace, the Pandavas lived in self-imposed isolation. They married Panchali and, recognised in the swayamvara, returned to Hastinapura. The Kuru elders and the people rejoiced. But not the Kauravas who had solidified their claim to the throne. Matters turned ugly in open court.

To secure peace between the two factions, the Kuru elders—Grandsire Bhishma, Chief Minister Vidura, and the preceptors Drona and Kripa—convinced King Dhristarashtra to give the Pandavas their own kingdom. To secure peace between his sons and nephews, the king allocated a wild, jungled tract—Khandava Prastha—to Pandu’s family.

Krishna helped the Pandavas clear the jungles. As was the practice then, they slashed and burned the forests. The wild inhabitants rose in defiance and the Pandavas subdued them. But by Krishna’s grace, they saved several inhabitants, including Mayasura, who built a magical palace for the Pandavas.

The great sage, Narada Muni, visited Indraprastha and revealed that King Pandu languishes in the nether realms. In order for the Pandavas’ father to ascend to Indraloka, Yudhishthira should conduct the Rajasuya yagna. But only an emperor, one who had the support of the kings in the four cardinals of the land, can undertake the yagna. To do so, Yudhishthira had to convince or conquer the kings to win their allegiance.

Meanwhile, Arjuna, who unwittingly intruded on Yudhishthira and Panchali during their private moments, set off on a pilgrimage to make amends for his trespass. During his journey, he met and married three more wives: Ulupika, a naga princess who gave him a son, Aravan; Madhulika, a Manipuri princess who bore gave him a son, Babru Vahana; and Subhadra, Krishna’s sister, who gave birth to Abhimanyu. Upon his return to Indraprastha, he spent a year with his first wife, Panchali, and she gave him a son, Shrutakarma.

Yudhishthira ordered his brothers to go to the four corners of the compass and win over the kings’ support. His brothers conquered many kings and expanded their sphere of influence. Upon his return, Arjuna continued to expand Indraprastha’s empire.

Assured of a solid backing from the kings who owed allegiance and alliance, Yudhishthira conducted the Rajasuya yagna. When the Pandavas invited Krishna to receive the Agra-puja—the foremost offering—Sisupala, the Chedi king, protested. He spoke harsh words and insulted Krishna. In the ensuing confrontation, Krishna took the Chedi king’s head. The assembly recognised the Blue One’s godliness.

Duryodhana, on Sakuni’s advice, invited the Pandavas to a dice game. Yudhishthira, who had a weakness for gambling, accepted. Unknown to all, Sakuni had acquired a pair of magical dice. Yudhishthira lost everything: treasures; herds; palaces; lands; and even his brothers.

Sakuni goaded Yudhishthira to bet Panchali as a prize. Vehement disagreements arose among the assembled nobles. All the Kuru elders protested but Sakuni used his wiliness: “If you win, Duryodhana will return all the winnings to you.” Yudhishthira succumbed and lost Panchali.

Dushasana dragged Panchali to court and attempted to disrobe her. But Lord Krishna’s timely intervention saved her.

The Kuru elders intervened and brokered a compromise between the Kauravas and Pandavas. Instead of living as slaves, the Pandavas left for the forest to live thirteen years in exile; with the last year incognito.

The Pandavas and Panchali again went to live in the forests. They endured many privations and thwarted Duryodhana’s attempts to harm them.

In the thirteenth year, the Pandavas and Panchali, who were in disguise, found refuge with King Virata of the Matsya Kingdom. The brothers served and helped Virata; and also defeated the Trigartas, mortal enemies of the Matsyas, when the former invaded.

At the successful conclusion of the thirteenth year, the Pandavas sought to retrieve Indraprastha. Duryodhana disagreed. The Pandavas, through their emissaries, asked for five mere villages to call their own. Duryodhana’s reply: 

“I’ll not cede even one needle point of land to the Pandavas, let alone five villages.”

With those words sown, both sides prepared for a war whose scope and depth the Bharath lands had never witnessed. Over the ages, people referred to the conflagration by many names, including the Mahabharata War and Kurukshetra War.

*** Copyright @ 2021, Eric Alagan ***

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