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Chapter 43: Domestic Service

"O BRAHMANAS, we have been deceived by the sons of Dhritarashtra, cheated out of our kingdom and reduced to poverty. Still we have passed these years cheerfully with joy in the forest. The thirteenth year of exile has come, and with it the time for us to part from you. For we have to spend the next twelve months undiscovered by the spies of Duryodhana.

God knows when the day will dawn which will see us together again, without fear or concealment. Now, bless us before we go.

And may we escape the notice of those who may wish to betray us to the sons of Dhritarashtra, either through fear or hope of reward."

So spoke Yudhishthira to the brahmanas who were living with the Pandavas till then. His voice shook with emotion as he spoke these words.

Dhaumya consoled him. He said: "Parting, is hard, and the dangers are many and great. But you are too wise and learned to be shaken or daunted. You must disguise yourselves. Indra, the Lord of gods, when pested by the demons, disguised himself as a brahmana and lived unknown in the country of Nishadha. Safely concealed thus, he managed to destroy his enemies.

You must also do likewise. Did not Mahavishnu, the Lord of the Universe, become a child in the womb of Aditi, suffer human birth, and take away from Emperor Bali his kingdom for the salvation of the world? Did not Lord Narayana, the refuge of men, enter into the weapon of Indra to defeat Vritra, the asura king? Did not the Fire god hide himself in the waters for the sake of the gods? Does not the moon keep out of sight every day? Did not Lord Vishnu, the all-pervading God, descend as the son of Dasaratha and spend long years, suffering many sorrows for the sake of killing Ravana? The greatest souls in the past have sanctified disguise for a good purpose. You will, likewise, conquer your enemies and win prosperity."

Yudhishthira took leave of the brahmanas and gave the members of his retinue leave to go home. The Pandavas retired to a secluded spot in the forest and discussed their future line of action. Yudhishthira sadly asked Arjuna: "You are well conversant with the ways of the world.

Where would it be best for us to spend the thirteenth year?"

Arjuna replied: "O great king, you know Yama, the Lord of Death, has blessed us.

We can easily pass the twelve months together without being discovered. There are many charming states for us to choose from for our sojourn, states like Panchala, Matsya, Salva, Videha, Bahlika, Dasharna, Surasena, Kalinga, and Magadha. It is, of course, for you to choose. But if I may venture an opinion, the Matsya country of king Virata is the best, prosperous and charming as it is."

Yudhishthira answered: "Virata, the king of Matsya, is very strong and he loves us much. He is of mature judgment and is devoted to the practice of virtue. He will not be won over or frightened by Duryodhana. I agree that it would be best to live incognito in Virata's kingdom."

Arjuna said: "Well then, O king, what work would you seek in the court of Virata?"

When he asked this question, Arjuna was full of sorrow at the thought of Yudhishthira, the great and guileless king, who had performed the Rajasuya sacrifice, having to disguise himself and take service.

Yudhishthira answered: "I am thinking of asking Virata to take me in his service as a courtier. I could delight him with my conversation and my dexterity at dice. I shall take the garb of a sanyasin and shall keep him agreeably engaged by my skill in reading omens and knowledge ofastrology as well as of the Vedas, Vedangas, ethics, politics and other sciences. I shall have to be careful of course, but be not anxious about me. I shall tell him that I was an intimate friend of Yudhishthira and learnt these things while I was privileged to be with him. O Bhima, what works will you, who conquered and slew Baka and Hidimba, take up under Virata? You saved us by killing Jatasura. Valor and strength are over-flowing from you. What disguise can hide your mighty personality and enable you to live unknown in the country of Mastya?" Yudhishthira was in tears as he put this question to Bhima.

Bhima laughingly replied: "O king, I think of taking service as a cook in the court of Virata. You know that I have a great appetite and that I am also an expert in cooking. I shall please Virata by preparing such dainty food as he has never tasted. I shall chop the trees of the forest and bring heaps of fuel. I shall also delight the king by contending with and defeating the wrestlers who come to his court."

This made Yudhishthira anxious for he feared that danger might befall them if Bhima engaged himself in wrestling bouts. At once Bhima spoke thus to calm his fears:

"I shall not kill anyone. I may give a bad jolt to any wrestler who deserves it but I shall not kill anyone. I shall restrain mad bulls, buffaloes and other wild animals and thus entertain king Virata."

Afterwards Yudhishthira addressed Arjuna: "What profession do you propose to take up? How can you hide your towering valor?"

When he asked this question Yudhishthira could not restrain him from narrating the brilliant exploits of Arjuna. He spoke of his brother's glory in twenty verses. Well, who deserves praise if not Arjuna? Arjuna replied: "Revered brother, I shall hide myself in the guise of a eunuch and serve the ladies of the court. I shall hide under a jacket the scars on my arms made by the constant chafing of the bowstring.

When I rejected Urvasi's amorous overtures on the ground that she was like a mother unto me, she cursed me with loss of manhood. But through Indra's grace the curse would hold good only for a year, and the time would be mine to choose. I shall serve out that year of loss of manhood now. Wearing bangles made of white conchs, braiding my hair like a woman, and clothing myself in female attire, I shall engage myself in menial work in the inner apartments of Virata's queen. I shall teach the women singing and dancing. And I shall seek service saying that I used to serve Draupadi in Yudhishthira's court." Saying this, Arjuna turned to Draupadi and smiled.

Yudhishthira was in tears. "Alas! Have the fates decreed that he, who is the equal of Sri Krishna himself in fame and valor, a scion of Bharata's line, who stands high like the great golden Mount Meru, must go and seek employment of Virata as a eunuch in the queen's inner apartments?"

he said brokenly.

Yudhishthira then turned to Nakula and asked him what work he would engage in and, as he thought of Madri, the mother of Nakula, tears rolled down his eyes.

Nakula replied: "I shall work in King Virata's stables. My mind delights in training and looking after horses. For I know the heart of horses and have knowledge of their ailments and cure. I can not only ride and break horses but also harness and drive them in a chariot. I shall say that I had looked after the horses of the Pandavas and I have no doubt Virata will take me in his service."

Yudhishthira asked Sahadeva: "You, with the intelligence of Brihaspati, the priest and the preceptor of the gods, and the knowledge of Sukra, the teacher of the asuras, what work will you take up?"

Sahadeva replied: "Let Nakula look after horses. I shall tend the cows. I shall guard Virata's cattle from the ravages of disease and the attacks of wild beasts."

"O Draupadi," but Yudhishthira could not find words to ask her what she proposed to do. She was dearer to him than life itself, worthy of all reverence and protection, and it seemed sacrilege to talk of service. She was a princess, the daughter of a king, nobly born, tenderly nurtured. Yudhishthira felt choked by shame and despair.

Draupadi saw his grief and spoke these brave words: "O best of kings, do not grieve or suffer anxiety on my account. I shall be a sairandhri in the court of the queen of Virata, the companion and attendant of the princess. I shall preserve my freedom and chastity, for the attendant and companion of a princess has this right and can exercise it. I shall pass my days in such light tasks as braiding the hair and entertaining the women of the court with small talk. I shall represent that I had thus served princess Draupadi in Yudhishthira's court and seek employment from the queen. Thus shall I remain unknown to others."

Yudhishthira praised Draupadi's courage and said: "O auspicious one, you speak as befits one of your family."

When the Pandavas thus decided, Dhaumya blessed them and advised them thus: "Those who are engaged in service under a king should always be vigilant.

They must serve without talking too much. They may give their counsel only when asked, and never obtrude it. They should praise the king on befitting occasions. All things, no matter how small, may be done only after informing the king, who is a veritable fire in human form. Do not go too near him, nor yet appear to avoid him. Even though a person may be trusted by the king and have great authority, still be should always behave as if he would be dismissed immediately, It would be foolishness to place too much confidence in a king. One may not sit in the conveyance, seat or chariot of the king, presuming on his affection. A servant of the king should ever be active and selfrestrained.

He should not be excessively elated, nor unduly depressed, by being honored or dishonored by the king. He may not reveal the secrets confided to him, nor may he receive anything in the form of gift from the citizens. He should not be jealous of other servants. The king may place fools in positions of authority, leaving aside the wise. Such waywardness should be ignored. One cannot be too careful with the ladies of the court. There should not be the faintest suggestion of indelicacy in one's conduct towards them."

Dhaumya then blessed the Pandavas:

"Live thus in patience for one year, serving the king Virata, and then, you will pass the rest of your days in happiness, regaining your lost throne."