You are on page 1of 15



text by Gilbert Mane



I bow to Narayana and to Nara

I bow to Saraswati, Goddess of learning

I bow to the holy man, Wyasa


The Pandawas and Draupadi left Hastinapura for thirteen years in exile.
They were followed by thousands of people. Holy men also went with

At last Yudhishthira sent the people back to Hastinapura.

"We cannot feed you or look after you," he said. Finally the people
agreed to go home. They cried and wailed as they went.

Yudhishthira said to the holy men. "We cannot feed you either. Life in the
forest will be hard. Please go home." But the holy men stayed.

Yudhishthira wanted to look after the holy men properly. He prayed to

Surya, the Sun-God for help. Surya was pleased with Yudhishthira's
prayers. He came to Yudhishthira.

"O Yudhishthira, I am pleased with you," said Surya, "I give you this
copper bowl. Every day this bowl will be full of food for as long as
Draupadi holds it without eating. Once she has eaten there will be no
more food until the next day."

With these words Surya disappeared.

Yudhishthira handed the bowl to Draupadi. From that day Draupadi would
feed Yudhishthira and the Pandawas and all their guests. She fed
everyone down to the lowest servant. Afterwards Draupadi would have
her meal. Then the bowl would be empty until the next day.

While in the forest the Lord Shri Krishna came to visit the Pandawas. He
promised that they would fight the Kaurawas and win. Just as Draupadi
cried when dragged into the gambling hall, so would the wives of the
Kaurawas cry after the battle.

One day Wyasa came to Yudhishthira in the forest. "O Wise King, you will have
to fight the Kaurawas when your stay in the forest is over. To defeat Bhishma,
Karna and Drona you need more weapons. I will teach you a mantra. With this
mantra the Gods will give you all the weapons that you need."

Yudhishthira bowed to Wyasa. Yudhishthira taught the mantra to Arjuna.

Arjuna*s father was Indra, King of the Gods. "Go to your father, Indra, King of
the Gods and ask him for weapons," he said to Arjuna.

Arjuna went to the heaven of Indra. He asked Indra for weapons.

"O Arjuna my son," said Indra, "I am very pleased with you. Go to Lord Shiwa.
He will give you the mightiest weapons of all."

Arjuna prayed and meditated. At first he ate only leaves and fruit which had
fallen from the trees. Then he only ate every few days. Finally he lived only on
air. He stood on tip toes without moving.

Shiwa was pleased. He came to Arjuna disguised as a hunter. Just as Lord Shiwa
and Arjuna met a wild boar rushed from the bushes. Arjuna and Shiwa shot at
the same time. The wild boar fell dead with two arrows through its heart.

"I shot the boar first," said Arjuna angrily, "Why did you shoot an arrow at my

"You are wrong," said the disguised Shiwa, "I shot first. The boar is mine!"

Arjuna and Shiwa fought. Shiwa took Arjuna's weapons. Shiwa squeezed Arjuna
until he thought he would die. Arjuna, the greatest warrior, was as helpless as a
child in Shiwa's strong grip. He calmed his mind and fell into meditation.
Suddenly he knew that the hunter was Shiwa. Shiwa let him go and appeared in
his true form.

"I am pleased with you, O Arjuna," said Shiwa, "I give you Pashupata, the
Unbeatable Weapon. Now, go back to Indra. He will give you more weapons."

Arjuna bowed and thanked Shiwa and returned to Indra.


Thousands of years before the Pandawas were born, the great Prince Rama
had lost his wife Sita. The evil Demon King Rawana had stolen her away.
The monkeys had come to help Rama and there had been a great battle.
Rawana had been defeated and Sita returned to Rama. This story is told in
the Ramayana.

One of the monkeys who helped Rama was Hanuman. He was Rama's
special friend. His father was Wayu, the Wind God. Bhima's father was also
Wayu the Wind God, so Hanuman and Bhima were like brothers.

With Arjuna away the Pandawas stay in the forest was lonely and sad. One
day a lotus flower was carried on the wind to their camp. The lotus flower
had a thousand petals.

"O Bhima, this lotus flower is beautiful," said Draupadi, "Please get some
more of these flowers to cheer me up!"

Bhima went to get some flowers. As he went he came across a monkey lying
in his path with his tail stretched out. Bhima became angry. "Move aside!"
he said to the monkey.

"I am old and tired and cannot move," said the monkey, "Just lift my tail out
of the way and you can pass me."

Bhima tried to lift the tail but, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't move
it. Bhima dropped down exhausted.

"Who are you?" said Bhima humbly, "You must be a god in monkey form."

"I am your brother Hanuman. Rama blessed me. He said I would live as long
as the Ramayana is still remembered. I only live to hear the Ramayana told
again and again."

Then Hanuman showed Bhima his gigantic form which he used to leap the
ocean. They talked for a while and Hanuman told Bhima where to find the
flowers. Then he told him the story of the Ramayana.

Here is what Hanuman said:

"Many, many years ago a great King named Dasharatha ruled the world. He
had three beautiful wives. Their names were Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra.
But he was sad because had no son.

"Dasharatha was such a brave and skilful warrior that the gods asked for his
help in their war with the demons. In this battle Dasharatha was wounded
and Kaikeyi came to his rescue.

" 'I give you two gifts for helping me,' said Dasharatha to Kaikeyi.

"Later Dasharatha held a great sacrifice in order to get a son. Afterwards

Kaushalya gave birth to a son named Rama. Kaikeyi gave birth to Bharata.
Sumitra gave birth to the twins Shatrughna and Lakshmana.

"Rama grew into the greatest prince who had ever lived. He always followed
his duty and was loved by all the people including the King, all the Queens
and his three brothers.

"Dasharatha thought: 'I will leave the throne and make Rama king.'

"But an evil servant named Manthara turned Kaikeyi against Rama. Kaikeyi
went to Dasharatha and asked for her two gifts. "First, I want Rama to go to
the forest for fourteen years. Second, I want my son, Bharata, to be king."

"Dasharatha had to keep his word. He was so sad when he told Rama to go
to the jungle that he soon died. Rama, Sita and Lakshmana went to the

"While in the forest Sita was stolen away by Rawana, the King of the Demons.
With the help of the monkeys Rama found Sita in Rawana's kingdom of

"There was a great battle with Rama and the monkeys on one side and
Rawana and his demon soldiers on the other. Finally Rawana was killed. Sita
returned to Rama. Rama became king and ruled wisely for thousands of

Arjuna returned to the Pandawas with the weapons gained from Lord Shiwa and
Indra. He told his brothers of his adventures. They listened with delight.

A few days later Bhima was out walking when a huge python wrapped itself
around him. Bhima felt his strength leaving him. He could not get free.

"Who are you?" he said to the python, "My strength is equal to ten thousand
elephants. But you have taken my strength away. I am as weak as a new-born

"My name is Nahusha," said the python, "I used to be a great king. One day I
grew arrogant and insulted a holy man. He cursed me to become a python. But
I begged forgiveness, so the holy man said I would be free when someone could
answer my questions. But now I am hungry and you are my breakfast."

As Nahusha was about to eat Bhima, Yudhishthira, sensing trouble, ran up to

him. "Stop! Free my brother!" he cried. "I will only free him if you can answer
my questions," said Nahusha.

"Ask!" said Yudhishthira.

"What makes a holy man?" Asked Nahusha.

"Truthfulness, charity, forgiveness, good conduct, benevolence, asceticism and

mercy," replied Yudhishthira.

"How should a king rule?"

"With justice and mercy. He should punish the wicked and protect the good. His
laws should be just. He should have no favourites," replied Yudhishthira.

"What should everyone try to find out?" asked Nahusha.

"The Supreme Brahman is the only thing worth knowing. When one knows
Brahman one knows everything. Brahman is beyond pleasure and pain and
misery," replied Yudhishthira.

Nahusha was pleased and freed Bhima. Just then, as he freed Bhishma, Nahusha
himself was freed from the curse and turned into a handsome man.

Krishna came to visit the Pandawas. While he was there a holy man named
Markandeya came as well. Markandeya never dies. He is the witness to the
beginning and end of each creation.

He told Krishna and the Pandawas wonderful stories about the creation. He
told of the four great ages known as Yugas: the golden age, the silver age,
the bronze age and the iron age.

He also told stories of Lord Wishnu's appearances on earth. Once Lord

Wishnu appeared as a fish called Matsya. This is the story:

Towards the end of one creation Manu, the first man, was sitting by his hut,
near a river which flowed into the ocean. Suddenly he heard a voice calling
out: "Help me! Help me!" He looked around but could see no one.

The voice kept calling and Manu finally found a tiny fish swimming in his
water cup. The fish was too big for the cup so Manu put it into a bowl.

The next morning Manu heard the fish calling out again. The fish had grown
over night. It was too big for the bowl. Manu put it into a tank.

The next morning the fish had grown again. Manu put it into the river.

The fish grew again and Manu struggled to lift the enormous fish. He tottered
down to the ocean. But, when he put the fish into the ocean, he suddenly
saw that it was Lord Wishnu.

"Manu," said the fish, "You have recognised me. I am Lord Wishnu, known
as Matsya. The end of the universe is coming. Build a boat out of the holy
laws. Take all creatures on board. Take also the seven sages, and I will
protect you all."

Manu did as he was asked and became to lawgiver of men in the next age.

Markandeya told the Pandawas many more wonderful stories.


One day Durwasa came to Hastinapura with a thousand disciples. Durwasa

had a very bad temper. But the evil Prince Duryodhana served him faithfully,
and Durwasa was pleased. "What gift would you like, O Duryodhana?" asked

"Please visit Yudhishthira and the Pandawas in the forest," said Duryodhana.

Duryodhana remembered the magic bowl of Draupadi. He knew that

Durwasa would arrive after Draupadi had eaten and the bowl stopped giving
food. As there would be no food for Durwasa, Duryodhana hoped Durwasa
would become angry and curse the Pandawas.

Durwasa agreed to visit the Pandawas and arrived just as Draupadi finished
her meal. The Pandawas greeted him generously but they were worried.
They had no food for Durwasa and his thousand disciples.

"O wise one!" said Yudhishthira to Durwasa, trying to gain time, "Please go
the river to bathe. Then we can sit down to a meal together."

Draupadi, worried that her husbands would suffer, prayed to the Lord Shri
Krishna for help. Suddenly Krishna appeared. Draupadi explained the

"I am very hungry," said Lord Shri Krishna, "Please bring me some food

Draupadi patiently explained that there was no food. The magic bowl was

"Don't make jokes," said Shri Krishna, "I'm hungry. Bring the bowl."

Draupadi shrugged her shoulders but obediently brought the bowl. On the lip
of the bowl was a single grain of rice. The Lord Shri Krishna picked it up and
ate, and was satisfied. He is the Soul of the Universe. When his hunger
ended all creatures felt full. Including Durwasa and his disciples. Durwasa
could not have eaten another thing.

"If we don't eat, Yudhishthira will be insulted," thought Durwasa. He and his
thousand disciples were ashamed. They slipped away quietly and never
visited again.

One day the five Pandawa brothers were out hunting in a thick forest. The
day was hot and they grew very thirsty. Yudhishthira said to Sahadewa,
"Climb a tree and look for water."

Sahadewa climbed a tree. "There is a beautiful blue lake over there," he

called. Sahadewa went for water. He did not return.

Nakula followed Sahadewa. He did not return.

Bhima followed Nakula. He did not return.

Arjuna followed Bhima. He did not return.

Finally Yudhishthira went after them all. When he came to the lake he was
nearly dying of thirst. He saw his four brothers lying dead by the side of the
lake. He thought, "I will find the enemy who killed them and I will kill him.
But first I must drink."

As he knelt to drink a voice said, "I own this lake. You may not drink until
you have answered my questions. Your brothers did not believe me. They
drank and I killed them all! Answer my questions before you drink, or you too
will die!"

Yudhishthira looked up to see a beautiful, white crane talking to him. "Ask

and I shall answer," said Yudhishthira.

"What makes the sun rise and set, who keeps him company and what keeps
him going?" asked the crane.

"The power of Brahman, the Absolute, makes him rise. Dharma, right action,
makes him set. The Gods keep him company. The Truth keeps him going."
answered Yudhishthira.

"What is the best blessing?"


"What is the best kind of happiness?"


The crane continued to ask and Yudhishthira continued to answer:

"What is true knowledge?"

"The knowledge of God."

"What is mercy?"
"Mercy is wishing happiness to everyone."

"What is ignorance?"
"Not knowing your duty."

"Who is honest."
"One who wants good for everyone."

"What is idleness?"
"Not doing your duty."

"What makes a holy man? Is it his birth, his character, study or wisdom?"
"Not birth, study or wisdom. Only character."

"What is the most wonderful thing?"

"Every day millions of people die. Yet everyone believes themselves to be
immortal! This is the most wonderful thing!"

"What is the best path to happiness?"

"The path trodden by virtuous men."

"You have answered wisely," said the crane, "Choose one of your brothers to be
brought back to life."

"I choose Nakula," said Yudhishthira.

"But Bhima and Arjuna are dearer to you," said the crane.

"I have no favourites. But my father had two wives, Kunti and Madri. Let Nakula
live so that one of Madri's sons may live." Suddenly instead of the crane
Dharma, the God of Right Action, Yudhishthira"s godly father stood before him.
Dharma was pleased with Yudhishthira and brought all the brothers back to life.

The Pandawas and Draupadi spent twelve years in the forest. They had to
spend one more year in disguise. If anyone recognised them they would
have to spend another twelve years in exile.

They went to a city called Wiratnagar. King Wirata was the ruler of
Wiratnagar. He was a good king. His queen was called Sudeshna.

Yudhishthira disguised himself as a holy man named Kanaka.

Bhima disguised himself as a cook named Ballawa.

Arjuna disguised himself as a woman named Brihannala and taught

dancing to the princesses of Wiratnagar.

Nakula disguised himself as a cowherd.

Sahadewa disguised himself as a stable keeper.

Draupadi disguised herself as a chamber maid named Sairandhri.

The Pandawas and Draupadi in disguise went to work for King Wirata and
his Queen Sudeshna.

The evil Duryodhana sent out spies to try to find the Pandawas and

One day a wrestler came to Wiratnagar. He defeated everyone who tried

to fight him. Finally Bhishma disguised as the cook, Ballawa, fought him
and killed him. King Wirata and all the people were astonished. "How
could a cook kill a famous wrestler?" they wondered.

Word of this amazing deed of a cook found its way back to Duryodhana.

Queen Sudeshna had a brother named Kichaka. He was the general of

King Wirata's army. He saw Sairandhri. Her beauty drove him mad.

Sairandhri served Kichaka with food and drink. He tried to embrace her
but Sairandhri ran away. She went to Ballawa crying.

"Kichaka tried to embrace me. You must teach him a lesson," said

Ballawa sent a message to Kichaka, pretending that the message was

from Sairandhri. He asked Kichaka to come at night to meet Sairindhri.
Kichaka was pleased. He ate and drank and dressed in his best clothes.

That night, when Kichaka went to meet Sairandhri, Ballawa was waiting
for him disguised as a woman. Kichaka thought it was Sairandhri.
Ballawa fought with Kichaka. He killed him and then crushed him into a
little ball.

The next morning everyone in the palace was astonished to find Kichaka
crushed into a little ball.

When word of this amazing deed found its way back to Duryodhana he
said "It must be Bhima in disguise who first killed the wrestler and then

He set out at once with two armies to attack Wiratnagar. He sent one
army first and King Wirata led his army to meet them. The battle lasted
all day.

As the battle raged Duryodhana, Karna, Bhishma, Sakuni and Drona with
the second army attacked Wiratnagar from another direction. They stole
all King Wirata's cows. There was no one left to fight them. King Wirata's
son Uttar was a small boy.

"I will fight," said Uttar.

Arjuna, disguised as Brihannala, the dancing teacher, said, "I will drive
your chariot."

Brihannala went to a tree where as Arjuna' he haq hidden his weapons.

"Who are you really?" said Uttar.

"I am Arjuna. But you must keep it a secret."

Arjuna and Uttar attacked Duryodhana and his army. There was a great
fight. Duryodhana was defeated and all of King Wirata's cows were

But what of the Pandawas' disguise? Now they had been recognised. No
one could mistake Arjuna when he fought. But Arjuna shot his first arrow
when the last moment of the thirteenth year passed. The Pandawas were
free to return and claim their kingdom again.

King Wirata apologised for treating the Pandawas and Draupadi as

servants. But Yudhishthira was grateful to King Wirata for giving them a
place to stay.

Princess Uttara, King Wirata's daughter, married Abhimanyu, Arjuna's son.

Now that the exile of the Pandawas was over, they didn't want revenge or
a war. They only wished to return to their city - Indraprastha. Everyone
knew a war would start if Duryodhana didn't give back the kingdom. But
Duryodhana didn't want to give it back. He didn*t care if a war started.

Many people tried to prevent the war. Men spoke to Yudhishthira and to
Duryodhana. Duryodhana wouldn*t listen to words of peace. Yudhishthira
only wanted his kingdom returned to him. The Pandawas had been in
exile for thirteen years and they wanted Duryodhana to honour his

Both the Pandawas and the Kaurawas began to gather armies to help
them fight in the approaching war.