The Escape Of The Pandavas - MAHABHARATA


AFTER taking reverential leave of the elders and embracing their comrades, the Pandavas  proceeded to Varanavata. The citizens accompanied them a part of their way and returned  unwillingly to the city. Vidura pointedly warned Yudhishthira in words intelligible only to the prince: "He alone will escape from danger who forestalls the intentions of an astute enemy. There are  weapons sharper than those made of steel. And the wise man who would escape destruction  must know the means to guard against them. The conflagration that devastates a forest cannot  hurt a rat which shelters itself in a hole or a porcupine which burrows in the earth. The wise man  knows his bearings by looking at the stars." Though they had started on their journey in sunshine  of joy, they now proceeded in a dark cloud of sorrow and anxiety. The people of Varanavata  were very happy to learn of the coming of the Pandavas to their city and welcomed them. After a  brief stay in other houses while the palace specially meant for them was being got ready, they  moved into it under Purochana's guidance. It was named "Sivam" which means prosperity, and  that was the name which, in ghastly irony, was given to the deathtrap. Yudhishthira diligently examined the whole place bearing in mind Vidura's warning and verified that the building was  without a shadow of doubt constructed with combustible material. Yudhishthira told Bhima:  "Though we know very well that the palace is a trap of death, we should not make Purochana suspect that we know his plot. We should get away at the right moment but escape would be  difficult if we gave room for any suspicion." So they stayed in that house to all appearance free  from care. Meanwhile, Vidura had sent an expert miner who met them in secret and said: "My  password is the veiled warning Vidura gave you. I have been sent to help you for your protection." 

This was meant to indicate to Yudhishthira and to him alone, Duryodhana's hideous plot and the  means of escape from danger. Yudhishthira answered that he had grasped Vidura's meaning,  and later he communicated it to Kuntidevi. Henceforward the miner worked for many days in  secret, unknown to Purochana, and completed a subterranean egress from the wax house right  under and across the walls and the moat, which ran round the precincts. Purochana had his  quarters at the gateway of the palace. The Pandavas kept armed vigil during night, but by day  they used to go out hunting in the forest, to all appearance bent on pleasure but really to make  themselves familiar with the forest paths. As has already been said, they carefully kept to  themselves their knowledge of the wicked plot against their lives. On his side Purochana,  anxious to lull all suspicion and make the murderous fire seem an accident, waited fully a year  before putting the plot into effect. At last Purochana felt he had waited long enough. And the watchful Yudhishthira, knowing that the fated moment had arrived, called his brothers together  and told them that now or never was the time for them to escape. Kuntidevi arranged a  sumptuous feast for the attendants that day. Her idea was to lull them to well-fed sleep at night. At midnight, Bhima set fire to the palace in several places. Kuntidevi and the Pandava brothers  hurried out through the subterranean passage, groping their way out in the darkness. Presently,  there was a roaring fire all over the palace and a fast swelling crowd of frightened citizens all around in loud and helpless lamentation. Some bustled aimlessly in futile efforts to put out the  conflagration and all joined in the cry: "Alas! Alas! This surely is Duryodhana's work, and he is  killing the sinless Pandavas!"

The palace was reduced to ashes. Purochana's residence was enveloped in flames before he could escape and he fell an unpitied victim to his own wicked plot. The people of Varanavata,  sent the following message to Hastinapura: "The palace which was the abode of the Pandavas  has burnt down and no one in it escaped alive." Vyasa has beautifully described the then mental  state of Dhritarashtra: "Just as the water of a deep pool is cool at the bottom and warm on the  surface, so the heart of Dhritarashtra was at once warm with joy and chilled with sorrow." Dhritarashtra and his sons cast off their royal garments in token of mourning for the Pandavas  whom they believed consumed in the fire. They dressed themselves in single garments as  became sorrowful kinsmen and went to the river and performed the propitiatory funeral rites. 

No outward show of heart broken bereavement was omitted. It was noticed by some that Vidura was not so overcome by sorrow as the others and this was set down to his philosophical bent of  mind. But the real reason was that he knew that the Pandavas had escaped to safety. When he  looked sad, he was in fact following with his mind's eye the weary wanderings of the Pandavas.  Seeing that Bhishma was sunk in sorrow, Vidura secretly comforted him by revealing to him the  story of their successful escape. Bhima saw that his mother and brothers were exhausted by  their nightly vigils as well as by fear and anxiety. He therefore carried his mother on his  shoulders and took Nakula and Sahadeva on his hips, supporting Yudhishthira and Arjuna with his two hands. Thus heavily laden, he strode effortlessly like a lordly elephant forcing his way through the forest and pushing aside the shrubs and trees that obstructed his path. When they  reached the Ganges, there was a boat ready for them in charge of a boatman who knew their  secret. They crossed the river in the darkness, and entering a mighty forest they went on at night  in darkness that wrapped them like a shroud and in a silence broken hideously by the frightful  noises of wild animals. At last, quite fordone by toil, they sat down unable to bear the pangs of  thirst and overcome by the drowsiness of sheer fatigue. Kuntidevi said: "I do not care even if the  sons of Dhritarashtra are here to seize me, but I must stretch my legs." She forthwith laid herself  down and was sunk in sleep. 

Bhima forced his way about the tangled forest in search of water in the darkness. And finding a pool, he wetted his upper garment, made cups of lotus leaves and brought water to his mother  and brothers who were perishing with thirst. Then, while the others slept in merciful forgetfulness  of their woes, Bhima alone sat awake absorbed in deep thought. "Do not the plants and the  creepers of the forest mutually help each other and live in peace?" he reflected; "why should the wicked Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana try to injure us in these ways?" Sinless himself, Bhima  could not understand the springs of sinfulness in others and was lost in grief. 

The Pandavas marched on, suffering many hardships and overcoming many dangers. Part of  the way, they would carry their mother to make better speed. Sometimes, tired beyond even  heroic endurance, they would pause and rest. Sometimes, full of life and the glorious strength of  youth, they would race with each other. They met Bhagavan Vyasa on the way. All of them  bowed before him and received encouragement and wise counsel from him. When Kunti told  him of the sorrows that had befallen them, Vyasa consoled her with these words: "No virtuous  man is strong enough to live in virtue at all times, nor is any sinner bad enough to exist in one  welter of sin. Life is a tangled web and there is no one in the world who has not done both good  and evil. Each and everyone has to bear the consequence of his actions. Do not give way to  sorrow." Then they put on the garb of brahmanas, as advised by Vyasa, went to the city of Ekachakra and stayed there in a brahmana's house, waiting for better days. 

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