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Chapter 23: Sakuni Comes In

AT the close of the Rajasuya, the princes, priests and elders, who had gathered for the purpose, took leave and returned to their places. Vyasa also came to say farewell. Dharmaputra rose and received him with due respect and sat by his side.

The sage said: "O son of Kunti, you have got the title of emperor which you eminently deserve. May the illustrious Kuru race gain even greater glory through you. Give me leave to return to my hermitage."

Yudhishthira touched the feet of his progenitor and guru and said: "O master, you alone can remove my apprehensions.

Wise men have predicted from portents the happenings of catastrophic events. Has this prediction been fulfilled by the death of Sisupala or is more to ensue?"

Bhagavan Vyasa replied: "Dear child, much sorrow and suffering is in store for thirteen years to come. The portents indicate the destruction of the Kshatriya race and are not exhausted with the death of Sisupala. It is far from it. Hundreds of kings will perish, and the old order of things will pass away. This catastrophe will spring out of the enmity between you and your brothers on the one side and your cousins, the Dhritarashtras, on the other. It will culminate in a war resulting in practical annihilation of the Kshatriya race. No one can go against destiny. Be firm and steadfast in righteousness. Be vigilant and rule the kingdom, farewell."

And Vyasa blessed Yudhishthira. Vyasa's words filled Yudhishthira with grief and with a great repugnance for worldly ambition and life itself.

He informed his brothers of the prediction of unavoidable racial disaster. Life seemed to him a bitter and weary business and his destiny particularly cruel and unbearable.

Arjuna said: "You are a king and it is not right for you to be agitated. Let us meet destiny with an undaunted front and do our duty."

Yudhishthira replied: "Brothers, may God protect us and give us wisdom. For my part, I take this vow never to speak harshly to my brothers or to my kinsmen for the next thirteen years. I shall avoid all pretext for conflict. I shall never give way to anger, which is the root cause of enmity. It shall be my duty to give no occasion for anger or pretext for hostility.

Thus shall we profit by Bhagavan Vyasa's warning." His brothers expressed cordial assent.

The first event of the series which culminated in the devastating slaughter on the blood-sodden field of Kurukshetra and the event which was the evil root of all, was the gambling match into which Yudhishthira was inveigled by Sakuni, who was Duryodhana's evil genius.

Why did the wise and good Yudhishthira suffer himself to be persuaded to this step which he must have known to hold evil possibilities? The main cause was his fixed resolve to be on amicable terms with his cousins by not opposing their wishes. And a friendly invitation to dice could not be summarily turned down, since the etiquette of those days made it a point of honor to accept a game of equal hazard.

Out of his very anxiety to foster goodwill, he laid open the field for the poisonous seed of hatred and death. Here is an illustration of the futility of human plans, however well meant or wise, without divine aid. Our best wisdom is vain against fate, and if destiny is kind, our very follies turn to our advantage.

While Dharmaputra was care-worn with solicitude to avoid a quarrel at all costs, Duryodhana was burning with jealousy at the thought of the prosperity of the Pandavas that he had witnessed in their capital during the Rajasuya sacrifice.

Duryodhana saw unprecedented wealth, attractive and sight eluding crystal doors and many pieces of exquisite artistry in the court-hall of Yudhishthira, all suggestive of great prosperity.

He also saw how glad the kings of many countries were to become the allies of the Pandavas. This gave him unbearable grief.

He was so absorbed in sorrow at the prosperity of the Pandavas that he did not at first hear Sakuni who was by his side, speaking to him.

Sakuni asked: "Why are you sighing? Why are you tormented with sorrow?"

Duryodhana replied: "Yudhishthira, surrounded by his brothers, is like Indra, the king of gods. Before the very eyes of the assembled kings Sisupala was slain and not one of them had the courage to come forward to avenge him. Like the vaisyas who live by trade, they bartered their honor and jewels and riches for Yudhishthira's goodwill. How can I avoid giving way to grief after seeing all this? What is the good of living?"

Sakuni said: "O Duryodhana, the Pandavas are your brothers. It is not right on your part to be jealous of their prosperity. They are but enjoying their legitimate inheritance. By their good fortune they have prospered and flourished without doing any injury to others. Why should you be jealous? How can their strength and happiness diminish your greatness? Your brothers and relations stand by you and obey you.

Drona, Ashwatthama and Karna are on your side. Why do you grieve when Bhishma, Kripa, Jayadratha, Somadatta and myself are your supporters? You can conquer even the whole world. Do not give way to grief."

At these words, Duryodhana said: "O Sakuni, it is true that I have so many to support me. Why should we not wage war and drive the Pandavas out of Indraprastha?"

But Sakuni said: "No. That will not be easy, but I know a way to drive Yudhishthira out of Indraprastha without a fight or the shedding of blood."

The eyes of Duryodhana lighted up, but it seemed too good to be true. He asked incredulously: "Uncle, is it possible to overcome the Pandavas without sacrificing any life? What is your plan?"

Sakuni replied: "Yudhishthira is fond of the game of dice and being unskillful is altogether ignorant of its tricks and the opportunity it offers to cleverer people. If we invite him to a game, he would accept, following the tradition of the kshatriyas. I know the tricks of the game and I shall play on your behalf. Yudhishthira will be helpless as a child against me. I shall win his kingdom and wealth for you without shedding a drop of blood."