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Chapter 14: The Wax Palace

THE jealousy of Duryodhana began to grow at the sight of the physical strength of Bhima and the dexterity of Arjuna.

Karna and Sakuni became Duryodhana's evil counsellors in planning wily stratagems.

As for poor Dhritarashtra, he was a wise man no doubt and he also loved his brother's sons, but he was weak of will and dotingly attached to his own children.

For his children's sake the worse became the better reason, and he would sometimes even knowingly follow the wrong path.

Duryodhana sought in various ways to kill the Pandavas. It was by means of the secret help rendered by Vidura who wanted to save the family from a great sin, that the Pandavas escaped with their lives.

One unforgivable offence of the Pandavas in the eyes of Duryodhana was that the people of the city used to praise them openly and declare in season and out of season that Yudhishthira alone was fit to be the king.

They would flock together and argue:

"Dhritarashtra could never be king for he was born blind. It is not proper that he should now hold the kingdom in his hands. Bhishma cannot be king either, because he is devoted to truth and to his vow that he would not be a king. Hence Yudhishthira alone should be crowned as king. He alone can rule the Kuru race and the kingdom with justice." Thus people talked everywhere. These words were poison to Duryodhana's ears, and made him writhe and burn with jealousy.

He went to Dhritarashtra and complained bitterly of the public talk: "Father, the citizens babble irrelevant nonsense. They have no respect even for such venerable persons as Bhishma and yourself. They say that Yudhishthira should be immediately crowned king. This would bring disaster on us. You were set aside because of your blindness, and your brother became the king. If Yudhishthira is to succeed his father, where do we come? What chance has our progeny? After Yudhishthira his son, and his son's son, and then his son will be the kings.

We will sink into poor relations dependent on them even for our food. To live in hell would be better than that!"

At these words, Dhritarashtra began to ponder and said: "Son, what you say is true. Still Yudhishthira will not stray from the path of virtue. He loves all. He has truly inherited all the excellent virtues of his deceased father. People praise him and will support him, and all the ministers of the State and commanders of armies, to whom Pandu had endeared himself by his nobility of character, will surely espouse his cause. As for the people, they idolise the Pandavas. We cannot oppose them with any chance of success. If we do injustice, the citizens will rise in insurrection and either kill us or expel us.

We shall only cover ourselves with ignominy."

Duryodhana replied: "Your fears are baseless. Bhishma will at worst be neutral, while Ashwatthama is devoted to me, which means that his father Drona and uncle Kripa will also be on our side.

Vidura cannot openly oppose us, if for no other reason, because he has not the strength. Send the Pandavas immediately to Varanavata. I tell you the solemn truth that my cup of suffering is full and I can bear no more. It pierces my heart and renders me sleepless and makes my life a torment. After sending the Pandavas to Varanavata we shall try to strengthen our party."

Later, some politicians were prevailed upon to join Duryodhana's party and advise the king in the matter. Kanika, the minister of Sakuni, was their leader. "O king," he said, "guard yourselves against the sons of Pandu, for their goodness and influence are a menace to you and yours.

The Pandavas are the sons of your brother, but the nearer the kin, the closer and deadlier the danger. They are very strong."

Sakuni's minister continued: "Be not wroth with me if I say a king should be mighty in action as in name, for nobody will believe in strength which is never displayed. State affairs should be kept secret and the earliest indication to the public, of a wise plan, should be its execution. Also, evils must be eradicated promptly for a thorn which has been allowed to remain in the body may cause a festering wound. Powerful enemies should be destroyed and even a weak foe should not be neglected since a mere spark, if over looked, may cause a forest fire. A strong enemy should be destroyed by means of stratagem and it would be folly to show mercy to him. O king, guard yourself against the sons of Pandu. They are very powerful."

Duryodhana told Dhritarashtra of his success in securing adherents: "I have bought the goodwill of the king's attendants with gifts of wealth and honor.

I have won over his ministers to our cause. If you will adroitly prevail upon the Pandavas to go to Varanavata, the city and the whole kingdom will take our side.

They will not have a friend left here. Once the kingdom has become ours, there will be no power for harm left in them, and it may even be possible to let them come back."

When many began to say what he himself wished to believe, Dhritarashtra's mind was shaken and he yielded to his sons' counsels. It only remained to give effect to the plot.

The ministers began to praise the beauty of Varanavata in the hearing of the Pandavas and made mention of the fact that a great festival in honor of Siva would be conducted there with all pomp and splendor.

The unsuspecting Pandavas were easily persuaded, especially when Dhritarashtra also told them in tones of great affection that they should certainly go and witness the festivities, not only because they were worth seeing but because the people of the place were eager to welcome them.

The Pandavas took leave of Bhishma and other elders and went to Varanavata.

Duryodhana was elated. He plotted with Karna and Sakuni to kill Kunti and her sons at Varanavata. They sent for Purochana, a minister, and gave him secret instructions which he bound himself to carry out faithfully.

Before the Pandavas proceeded to Varanavata, Purochana, true to his instructions, hastened to the spot well in advance and had a beautiful palace built for their reception. Combustible materials like jute, lac, ghee, oil, and fat were used in the construction of the palace. The materials for the plastering of the walls were also inflammable. He skilfully filled up various parts of the building with dry things that could catch fire easily, and had inviting seats and bedsteads disposed at the most combustible places.

Every convenience was furnished for the Pandavas to dwell in the city without fear, until the palace was built. When the Pandavas had settled down in the wax house, the idea was to set fire to it at night when they were sound asleep.

The ostentatious love and solicitude with which the Pandavas had been received and treated would obviate all suspicion and the fire would be taken as a sad case of pure accident. No one would dream of blaming the Kauravas.