To Hastinapura came the sad tidings of the death of Vasudeva and the destruction of the Yadavas. When the Pandavas received the news, they lost all remaining attachment to life on earth.
They crowned Parikshit, son of Abhimanyu, as emperor and the five brothers left the city with Draupadi. They went out on a pilgrimage, visiting holy places and finally reached the Himalayas.
A dog joined them somewhere and kept them company all along. And the seven of them climbed the mountain on their last pilgrimage. As they toiled up the mountain path one by one fell exhausted and died.
The youngest succumbed first. Draupadi, Sahadeva and Nakula were released from the burden of the flesh one after another.
Then followed Arjuna and then great Bhima too.
Yudhishthira saw his dear ones fall and die. Yet, serenely he went on not giving way to grief, for the light of Truth burned bright before him. Yudhishthira knew what was shadow and what was substance.
The dog still followed Yudhishthira. The lesson enforced by the poet in this episode of the dog is that dharma is the only constant companion in life's journey.
It was dharma who, in the shape of the dog, followed Yudhishthira up the wearisome mountain path, when his brothers and wife had gone leaving him alone.
Finally, when he reached a great height, Indra appeared in his chariot.
"Your brothers and Draupadi have arrived before you. You have lagged behind, burdened with your body. Ascend my chariot and go with me in the flesh. I have come to take you," said Indra. But when Yudhishthira went up to take his seat in Indra's chariot, the dog also climbed up.
"No, no," said Indra. "There is no place for dogs in swarga," and pushed the dog away.
"Then there is no room for me either," said Yudhishthira, and refused to enter the heavenly chariot if he had to leave his faithful companion behind.
Dharma had come to test Yudhishthira's loyalty and he was pleased with his son's conduct. The dog vanished from sight.
Yudhishthira reached swarga. There, he saw Duryodhana.
The Kuru prince was seated on a beautiful throne and he shone with the splendor of the sun and around him stood in attendance the goddess of heroism and other angels. He did not see his brothers or anyone else. Yudhishthira was astonished.
"Where are my brothers, ye denizens of swarga?" asked Yudhishthira. "This man of greed, of limited vision, is here. I do not care to spend my time in his company.
We were driven by this man's envy and spite to kill friends and relatives. We stood tied by dharma to inaction when, before our eyes, innocent Panchali, united to us in sacred wedlock, was dragged to the Hall of the Assembly and insulted under the orders of this wicked man. I cannot bear the sight of this man. Tell me, where are my brothers? I wish to go where they are." Saying this Yudhishthira averted his eyes from where Duryodhana was seated in glory.
Then Narada, the heavenly rishi of encyclopedic knowledge, smiled disapprovingly at Yudhishthira and said:
"Renowned prince, this is not right. In swarga, we harbor no ill will. Do not speak in this manner about Duryodhana.
The brave Duryodhana has attained his present state by force of kshatriya dharma.
It is not right to let the things of the flesh stay in the mind and breed ill will. Do follow the law and stay here with king Duryodhana. There is no place in swarga for hatred. You have arrived here with your human body; so it is that you have these inappropriate feelings. Discard them, son!"
"O sage, Duryodhana, who did not know right from wrong, who was a sinner, who caused suffering to good men, who fed enmity and anger and who brought death to countless men, has attained this swarga of warriors. Where is that region of greater glory, which must be the abode of my brave and good brothers and Draupadi? I am eager to see them and Karna, and also all the friends and princes who gave up their lives in battle for me. I do not see them here. I desire to meet again Virata, Drupada, Dhrishtaketu and Sikhandin, the Panchala prince. I long to see the dear sons of Draupadi and Abhimanyu. I do not see them here.
Where are they, who threw their bodies into the blazing fire of battle for my sake, like ghee in the sacrifice? I do not see any of them here. Where are they all? My place must be among them. At the close of the battle, my mother Kunti wanted me to offer libations for Karna also. When I think of it, even now, grief overwhelms me. In ignorance of his being my own blood brother, I caused Karna to be slain.
I am eager to see him. Bhima, dearer to me than life, Arjuna, who was like Indra him self, the twins Nakula and Sahadeva and our dear Panchali, steadfast in dharma, I long to see and be with them all.
I do not wish to be in heaven, for what good is it for me to be here, away from my brothers? Wherever they may be, that me is swarga; not this place!"
The angels, who heard this, replied:
"O Yudhishthira, if you indeed desire to be with them, by all means, you may go at once. There is no need to delay," and they ordered an attendant to take Yudhishthira.
So, the messenger proceeded in front and Yudhishthira followed him. As they went along, it soon became dark and in the gathering gloom could be dimly seen things weird and revolting.
He waded through slippery slime of blood and offal. The path was strewn with carrion and bones and dead men's hair.
Worms were wriggling everywhere and there was an insufferable stench in the air.
He saw mutilated human bodies everywhere.
Yudhishthira was horrified and confused.
A thousand thoughts tortured his mind as he proceeded.
"How far have we to go yet on this road? Where indeed are my brothers? Tell me, my friend," he enquired of the messenger in deep anguish.
The messenger quietly replied: "If you so desire, we may turn back." The foul odors of the place were so sickening that for a moment Yudhishthira was minded to go back.
But just then, as if divining his intention, vaguely familiar voices rose all around in loud lamentation. "O Dharmaputra, do not go back! Stay here for a few minutes at least. Your presence has given us momentary relief from torture. As you came, you have brought with you a whiff of air so sweet and pure that we have found a little relief in our agony. Son of Kunti, the very sight of you gives us comfort and mitigates our suffering. O stay, be it for ever so short a time. Do not go back. While you are here, we enjoy a respite in our torture." Thus the voices pleaded.
Hearing the loud lamentations that thus came from all around him, Yudhishthira stood in painful bewilderment.
Overwhelmed with pity at the poignant anguish in faintly remembered voices, he exclaimed:
"Alas wretched souls! Who are ye that lament like this? Why are you here?"
"Lord, I am Karna," said a voice.
"I am Bhima," said another.
"I am Arjuna," cried a third voice.
"Draupadi," cried another voice in piteous tone.
"I am Nakula," "I am Sahadeva," "We are Draupadi's sons," and so on, came mournful voices from all around, till the accumulated pain was more that Yudhishthira could bear.
"What sin indeed have these been guilty of?" cried he. "Dhritarashtra's son Duryodhana, what good deeds did he do to sit like Mahendra in heaven, while these are in hell? Am I dreaming or am I awake? Is my mind deranged? Have I gone crazy?"
Overwhelmed by anger, Yudhishthira cursed the gods and denounced dharma.
He turned to the angel attendant and said sharply: "Go back to your masters. I shall stay here where my dear brothers, for no other sin than devotion to me, are consigned to the tortures of hell. Let me be with them."
The messenger went back and conveyed to Indra what Yudhishthira had said.
Thus passed the thirteenth part of a day.
Then Indra and Yama appeared before Yudhishthira where he stood in anguish.
When they came, the darkness rolled away and the horrid sights disappeared.
The sinners and their suffering were no more to be seen. A fragrant breeze blew as Yama, the god of dharma, smiled on his son Yudhishthira.
"Wisest of men, this is the third time I have tested you. You chose to remain in hell for the sake of your brothers. It is inevitable that kings and rulers must go through hell if only for a while. So it was that for the thirtieth part of a day you too were doomed to suffer the pangs of hell.
Neither the illustrious Savyasachi (Arjuna) nor your beloved brother Bhima is really in hell. Nor Karna the just, nor anyone else who you thought had been consigned to suffering. It was an illusion designed to test you. This is not hell, but swarga. Do you not see there Narada whose travels cover the three worlds? Cease grieving."
Thus said Yama to Dharmaputra, who, thereupon, was transfigured. The mortal frame was gone and he was a god. With the disappearance of the human body, also disappeared all trace of anger and hatred.
Then Yudhishthira saw their Karna and all his brothers and the sons of Dhritarashtra also, serene and free from anger, all having attained the state of the gods. In this reunion, Yudhishthira at last found peace and real happiness.