WHEN the Pandavas set out for the forest, there arose a great clamor of lamentation from people who thronged the streets and climbed the roofs and towers and trees to see them go.
The princes, who, of yore, rode in jewelled chariots or on lordly elephants to strains of auspicious music, now walked away from their birthright on weary feet, accompanied by weeping crowds. On all sides cries arose of: "Fie and Alas! Does not God see this from His heaven?"
The blind Dhritarashtra sent for Vidura and asked him to describe the departure of the Pandavas into exile. Vidura replied:
"Yudhishthira, the son of Kunti, went with his face covered with a cloth. Bhima went behind with his eyes lowered on his arms.
Arjuna proceeded scattering sand on his path. Nakula and Sahadeva besmeared their bodies with dust and closely followed Yudhishthira. Draupadi accompanied Dharmaputra, her dishevelled hair covering her face and her eyes streaming with tears. Dhaumya, the priest, went along with them singing the Sama hymns, addressed to Yama, the Lord of Death."
When he heard these words, Dhritarashtra was filled with ever-greater fear and anxiety than before. He asked: "What do the citizens say?"
Vidura answered: "O great king, I shall tell you in their own words what the citizens of all castes and creeds say: 'Our leaders have left us. Fie on the elders of the Kuru race who have suffered such things to happen! The covetous Dhritarashtra and his sons have driven away the sons of Pandu to the forest.' While the citizens blame us thus, the heavens are vexed with cloudless lightning, and the distressed earth quakes, and there are other evil portents."
While Dhritarashtra and Vidura were conversing thus, the sage Narada suddenly appeared before them. Narada declared:
"Fourteen years from this day the Kauravas will become extinct as the result of the crime committed by Duryodhana"
and vanished from sight.
Duryodhana and his companions were filled with fear and approached Drona with a prayer never to abandon them, whatever happened.
Drona answered gravely: "I believe with the wise that the Pandavas are of divine birth and unconquerable. Yet my duty is to fight for the sons of Dhritarashtra who rely on me and whose salt I eat. I shall strive for them, heart and soul. But destiny is all-powerful. The Pandavas will surely return from exile, burning with anger. I should know what anger is, for I dethroned and dishonored Drupada on account of my anger towards him.
Implacably revengeful, he has performed a sacrifice so that he might be blessed with a son who would kill me. It is said Dhrishtadyumna is that son. As destiny would have it, he is the brother-in-law and fast friend of the Pandavas. And things are moving as foreordained. Your actions tend in the same direction and your days are numbered. Lose no time in doing good while you may; perform great sacrifice, enjoy sinless pleasures, give alms to the needy. Nemesis will overtake you in the fourteenth year. Duryodhana, make peace withYudhishthira this is my counsel to you. But, of course, you will do what you like."
Duryodhana was not at all pleased with these words of Drona.
Sanjaya asked Dhritarashtra: "O king, why are you worried?"
The blind king replied: "How can I know peace after having injured the Pandavas?"
Sanjaya said: "What you say is quite true.
The victim of adverse fate will first become perverted, utterly losing his sense of right and wrong. Time, the all destroyer, does not take a club and break the head of a man but by destroying his judgment, makes him act madly to his own ruin. Your sons have grossly insulted Panchali and put themselves on the path of destruction."
Dhritarashtra said: "I did not follow the wise path of dharma and statesmanship but suffered myself to be misled by my foolish son and, as you say, we are fast hastening towards the abyss."
Vidura used to advise Dhritarashtra earnestly. He would often tell him: "Your son has committed a great wrong.
Dharmaputra has been cheated. Was it not your duty to turn your children to the path of virtue and pull them away from vice? You should order even now that the Pandavas get back the kingdom granted to them by you. Recall Yudhishthira from the forest and make peace with him. You should even restrain Duryodhana by force if he will not listen to reason."
At first Dhritarashtra would listen in sad silence when Vidura spoke thus, for he knew Vidura to be a wiser man than himself who wished him well. But gradually his patience wore thin with repeated homilies.
One day, Dhritarashtra could stand it no longer. "O Vidura," he burst out, "you are always speaking for the Pandavas and against my sons. You do not seek our good. Duryodhana was born of my loins.
How can I give him up? What is the use of advising such an unnatural course? I have lost my faith in you and do not need you anymore. You are free to go to the Pandavas if you like." Then, turning his back on Vidura, he retired to the inner apartments.
Vidura sorrowfully felt that the destruction of the Kuru race was certain and, taking Dhritarashtra at his word, drove in a chariot with fleet horses to the forest where the Pandavas lived.
Dhritarashtra was filled with anxious remorse. He reflected thin himself: "What have I done? I have only strengthened Duryodhana, while driving the wise Vidura to the Pandavas."
But later he called for Sanjaya and asked him to bear a repentant message to Vidura imploring him to forgive the thoughtless words of an unhappy father and to return.
Sanjaya hurried to the hermitage where the Pandavas were staying and found them clad in deer-skin and surrounded by sages.
He also saw Vidura there and conveyed Dhritarashtra's message adding that the blind king would die broken-hearted if he did not return.
The soft-hearted Vidura, who was dharma incarnate, was greatly moved and returned to Hastinapura.
Dhritarashtra embraced Vidura and the difference between them was washed away in tears of mutual affection.
One day, the sage Maitreya came to the court of Dhritarashtra and was welcomed with great respect.
Dhritarashtra craved his blessing and asked him: "Revered sir, you have certainly met my beloved children, the Pandavas, in Kurujangala. Are they well? Will mutual affection abide in our family without any diminution?"
Maitreya said: "I accidentally met Yudhishthira in the Kamyaka forest. The sages of the place had come to see him. I learnt of the events that took place in Hastinapura, and I marvelled that such things should have been permitted while Bhishma and yourself were alive."
Later, Maitreya saw Duryodhana who was also in the court and advised him, for his own good, not to injure but to make peace with the Pandavas who were not only mighty themselves but related to Krishna and Drupada.
The obstinate and foolish Duryodhana merely laughed, slapping his thighs in derision and, tearing the ground with his feet and without granting an answer, turned away.
Maitreya grew angry and looking at Duryodhana said: "Are you so arrogant and do you slap your thighs in derision of one who wishes you well? Your thighs will be broken by a Bhima's mace and you will die on the battlefield." At this Dhritarashtra jumped up, fell at the feet of the sage and begged forgiveness.
Maitreya said: "My curse will not work if your son makes peace with the Pandavas.
Otherwise it will have effect," and strode indignantly out of the assembly.