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Chapter 25: The Wager

AT THE sight of Vidura, Yudhishthira anxiously inquired: "Why are you so cheerless? Is it well with all our relations in Hastinapura? Are the king and the princes well?"

Vidura acquainted him with his mission:

"Everyone in Hastinapura is well. How fares it with you all? I have come to invite you on behalf of King Dhritarashtra to come and see the newly erected hall of games. A beautiful hall has been erected there even like yours. The king would like you to come with your brothers, see everything, have a game of dice and return to your capital."

Yudhishthira seemed to ask counsel of Vidura: "Wagering games create quarrels among kshatriyas. A wise man will avoid them if he can. We are ever abiding by your advice. What would you have us do?"

Vidura replied: "Everyone is aware that the playing of dice is the root of many evils. I did my best to oppose this idea.

Still the king has commanded me to invite you and I have come. You may do as you like."

Despite this warning, Yudhishthira went to Hastinapura with his brothers and retinue. It may be asked why the wise Yudhishthira responded to the invitation.

Three reasons may be given. Men rush consciously on their ruin impelled by lust, gambling and drink. Yudhishthira was fond of gambling. The kshatriya tradition made it a matter of etiquette and honor not to refuse an invitation to a game of dice.

There is a third reason too. True to the vow he took at the time Vyasa had warned him of the quarrels that would arise leading to destruction of the race.

Yudhishthira would not give any occasion for displeasure or complaint by refusing the invitation of Dhritarashtra.

These causes conspired with his natural inclination to make Yudhishthira accept the invitation and go to Hastinapura. The Pandavas and their retinue stopped in the magnificent palace reserved for them.

Yudhishthira rested on the day of arrival, and after the daily routine of duties, went to the hall of games the next morning.

After the exchange of customary greetings, Sakuni announced to Yudhishthira that the cloth for playing the game had been spread and invited him to it.

Yudhishthira at first said: "O king, gambling is bad. It is not through heroism or merit that one succeeds in a game of chance. Asita, Devala and other wise rishis who were well-versed in worldly affairs have declared that gambling should be avoided since it offers scope for deceit.

They have also said that conquest in battle is the proper path for the kshatriyas. You are not unaware of it."

But a part of himself, weakened by addiction to gambling, was at war with his judgment and in his heart of hearts Yudhishthira desired to play.

In his discussion with Sakuni, we see this inner conflict. The keen-witted Sakuni spotted this weakness at once and said:

"What is wrong with the game? What, in fact, is a battle? What is even a discussion between Vedic scholars? The learned man wins victory over the ignorant. The better man wins in every case. It is just a test of strength or skill, that is all, and there is nothing wrong in it. As for the result, in every field of activity, the expert defeats the beginner, and that is what happens in a game of dice also. But if you are afraid, you need not play. But do not come out with this worn excuse of right and wrong."

Yudhishthira replied: "Well, who is to play with me?"

Duryodhana said: "Mine is the responsibility for finding the stakes in the form of wealth and gems to play the game. My uncle Sakuni will actually cast the dice in my stead."

Yudhishthira had thought himself secure of defeating Duryodhana in play but Sakuni was a different matter, for Sakuni was a recognised expert. So he hesitated and said: "It is not, I think, customary for one man to play on behalf of another."

Sakuni retorted tauntingly: "I see that you are forging another excuse."

Yudhishthira flushed and, casting caution to the winds, replied: "Well, I shall play."

The hall was fully crowded. Drona, Kripa, Bhishma, Vidura, and Dhritarashtra were seated there. They knew that the game would end viciously and sat unhappily witnessing what they could not prevent.

The assembled princes watched the game with great interest and enthusiasm. At first they wagered jewels and later gold, silver and then chariots and horses. Yudhishthira lost continually.

When he lost all these, Yudhishthira staked his servants and lost them also. He pledged his elephants and armies and lost them too. The dice thrown by Sakuni seemed at every time to obey his will.

Cows, sheep, cities, villages and citizens and all other possessions were lost by Yudhishthira. Still, drugged with misfortune, he would not stop.

He lost the ornaments of his brothers and himself as well as the very clothes they wore. Still bad luck dogged him, or rather the trickery of Sakuni was too much for him.

Sakuni asked: "Is there anything else that you can offer as wager?"

Yudhishthira said: "Here is the beautiful sky-complexioned Nakula. He is one of my riches. I place him as a wager."

Sakuni replied: "Is it so? We shall be glad to win your beloved prince." With these words Sakuni cast the dice and the result was what he had foretold.

The assembly trembled.

Yudhishthira said: "Here is my brother Sahadeva. He is famous for his infinite knowledge in all the arts. It is wrong to bet him, still I do so. Let us play."

Sakuni cast the dice with the words:

"Here, I have played and I have won."Yudhishthira lost Sahadeva too.

The wicked Sakuni was afraid that Yudhishthira might stop there. So be lashed Yudhishthira with these words:

"To you, Bhima and Arjuna, being your full brothers, are no doubt dearer than the sons of Madri. You will not offer them, I know."

Yudhishthira, now thoroughly reckless and stung to the quick by the sneering imputation that he held his step-brothers cheap, replied: "Fool, do you seek to divide us? How can you, living an evil life, understand the righteous life we lead?"

He continued: "I offer as wager the evervictorious Arjuna who successfully voyages across oceans of battle. Let us play."

Sakuni answered: "I cast the dice" and he played. Yudhishthira lost Arjuna also.

The stubborn madness of unbroken misfortune carried Yudhishthira further and deeper. With tears in his eyes, he said:

"O king, Bhima, my brother, is our leader in battle. He strikes terror into the heart of demons and is equal to Indra; he can never suffer the least dishonor and he is peerless throughout the world in physical strength. I offer him as a bet" and he played again and lost Bhima too.

The wicked Sakuni asked: "Is there any thing else you can offer?"

Dharmaputra replied: "Yes. Here is myself. If you win, I shall be your slave."

"Look. I win." Thus saying, Sakuni cast the dice and won. After that Sakuni stood up in the assembly and shouted the names of each of the five Pandavas and loudly proclaimed that they had all become his lawful slaves.

The assembly looked on in stunned silence. Sakuni alone turned toYudhishthira and said: "There is one jewel still in your possession by staking which you can yet free yourself. Can you not continue the game cffering your wife Draupadi as wager?"

Yudhishthira despairingly said: "I pledge her," and he trembled unwittingly.

There was audible distress and agitation in that part of the assembly where the elders sat. Soon great shouts of 'Fie! Fie!' arose from all sides. The more emotional wept.

Others perspired, and felt the end of the world was come.

Duryodhana, his brothers and Karna shouted with exultation. In that group Yuyutsu alone bent his head in shame and sorrow and heaved a deep sigh. Sakuni cast the dice and shouted again: "I have won."

At once Duryodhana turned to Vidura and said: "Go and fetch Draupadi, the beloved wife of the Pandavas. She must hence forward sweep and clean our house. Let her come without delay."

Vidura exclaimed: "Are you mad that you rush to certain destruction? You are hanging by a slender thread over a bottomless abyss! Drunk with success, you do not see it, but it will engulf you!"

Having thus reprimanded Duryodhana, Vidura turned to the assembly and said:

"Yudhishthira had no right to stake Panchali as by then he had himself already lost his freedom and lost all rights. I see that the ruin of the Kauravas is imminent, and that, regardless of the advice of their friends and well-wishers, the sons of Dhritarashtra are on the path to hell."

Duryodhana was angry at these words of Vidura and told Prathikami, his charioteer: "Vidura is jealous of us and he is afraid of the Pandavas. But you are different. Go forth and bring Draupadi immediately."