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Chapter 41: Sri Krishna's Hunger

WHILE the Pandavas were dwelling in the forest, Duryodhana celebrated a great sacrifice with much pomp and splendor.

He wanted to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice, but the brahmanas told him that he could not do that while Yudhishthira and Dhritarashtra were alive and advised him to perform the sacrifice known as the Vaishnava instead.

He accepted this advice and celebrated the Vaishnava with great splendor. But when the ceremony was over, the citizens began to talk among themselves that Duryodhana's sacrifice had not come up to even a sixteenth part of Yudhishthira's Rajasuya in magnificence.

The friends of Duryodhana, on the other hand, praised him and the sacrifice he had celebrated and likened it to those performed by Yayati, Mandhata, Bharata and others.

Court flatterers were not sparing with their praise. Karna told Duryodhana that his Rajasuya had been only postponed till the Pandavas should be defeated and slain in battle and repeated that his part would be the slaying of Arjuna.

"Till I have slain Arjuna," said he, "I shall not take meat or wine, nor will I refuse the prayer of anyone who asks me for anything." Such was the solemn vow taken by Karna in the assembly.

The sons of Dhritarashtra were delighted to hear this vow of the great hero Karna and shouted in joy. They felt as if the Pandavas had been slain already.

Spies conveyed to the Pandavas in the forest the news of the oath taken by Karna. Yudhishthira was greatly concerned, for he had a great opinion of Karna's prowess.

Karna had been born with divine armor and was undoubtedly a mighty hero. One morning, just before the hour of awakening, Yudhishthira had a dream.

Many of our dreams come either in the beginning or at the end of our sleep. He dreamt that the wild beasts of the forest came and appealed to him piteously not to destroy them altogether, but to move on to some other forest.

Duryodhana felt sure that the Pandavas, who themselves lived from hand to mouth in the forest, would be unable to feed or entertain the sage and his following, and would incur some dreadful curse from that too hasty visitor for their want of hospitality. This would give him greater joy than any benefit he could have asked for himself when the sage offered a boon.

Durvasa went with his disciples to the Pandavas as was desired by Duryodhana, as the latter were resting after their midday meal.

The brothers welcomed the sage, saluted and honored him. Then the sage said: "We shall be back soon. Our meals must be ready then, for we are hungry," and hurried off with his disciples to the river.

As a result of the austerities of Yudhishthira at the beginning of their stay in the forest, the Sun god had given him the Akshayapatra, a wonderful vessel that held a never-failing supply of food.

In making the gift, the god had said,

"Through this I shall place at your disposal for twelve years as much food as is required for your daily consumption.

Not till everyone has been served and Draupadi herself has taken her share will the vessel become empty for the day."

Accordingly, the brahmanas and other guests would be served first. Afterwards the Pandava brothers would take their meals. Finally, Draupadi would have her share.

When Durvasa reached the place, all of them, including Draupadi, had eaten their meals and so the vessel was empty and denuded of its power for the day.

Draupadi was greatly troubled and perfectly at a loss to find food when the sage and his disciples should return after their ablutions. In the kitchen, she prayed earnestly to Sri Krishna to come to her aid in this hopeless predicament and deliver her from the wrath of the sage.

At once Sri Krishna appeared before her.

"I am very hungry," he said, "bring without delay something to eat and we shall speak of other things afterwards."

Here was a pretty pass. It looked as though the ally from whom she hoped for relief had gone over to the foe! She cried out in great confusion: "Alas! Why do you try me thus, O Krishna? The power of the vessel given by the Sun is exhausted for the day. And the sage Durvasa has come.

What shall I do? The sage and his disciples will soon be here and as though this were not enough, you have also come at this juncture saying that you are hungry."

Sri Krishna said: "I am terribly hungry and want food, not excuses. Fetch the vessel and let me see for myself."

Draupadi brought it to him. A tiny bit of cooked vegetable and a grain of rice were sticking to the rim of the vessel.

Sri Krishna ate them with satisfaction, accepting them as Sri Hari, the Soul of the Universe. Draupadi was filled with shame at her slovenliness in not having cleaned the vessel free of all remnants. A bit had been left which had been partaken by Vasudeva! Sri Krishna seemed replete with satisfaction after eating his solitary grain and calling Bhima, told him to go to the river and intimate to the revered sage that food was ready and waiting for them.

Bhimasena, greatly puzzled, but full of faith in Sri Krishna, hastened to the river where Durvasa and his followers were bathing.

They were in great surprise to find that their ravenous hunger had given place to a pleased satiety. They had all the comfortable cheerfulness of people who had feasted well.

The disciples told the sage: "We have come here after asking Yudhishthira to prepare food for us, but we feel well-fed and full and cannot eat anything more."

Durvasa knew what it was and he told Bhima: "We have taken our meals. Tell Yudhishthira to forgive us." Then the party went away.

The explanation is that as the whole universe is contained in Sri Krishna, his satisfaction with a single grain of rice satisfied for the time the hunger of all beings including the sage.