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Chapter 44: Virtue Vindicated

YUDHISHTHIRA put on the garb of a sanyasin. Arjuna transformed himself into a eunuch. Others also disguised themselves. But no disguise could take away their natural charm, grace and nobility of appearance.

When they went to King Virata seeking service, they seemed to him born to command and rule rather than to serve. He hesitated, at first, to engage them in service but yielding to their urgent solicitations, he finally appointed them to the places they sought of him.

Yudhishthira became the king's companion and spent his days in playing dice with him. Bhima worked as the chief of the cooks. He also entertained the king by wrestling with the reputed men of might whom came to the court, and by controlling wild animals.

Arjuna assumed the name of Brihannala and taught dancing, singing and instrumental music to Princess Uttara, the daughter of Virata, and the ladies. Nakula looked after the horses and Sahadeva looked after the cows and the bulls.

The princess Draupadi who, if fate had been less cruel, should herself have been served by many maids, had now to pass her days in serving Sudeshna, Virata's queen. She lived in the inner apartments of the palace as maid and companion, engaging herself in uncongenial tasks.

Kichaka, the brother of Sudeshna, was the commander-in-chief of Virata's army and it was to him that the old king Virata owed his power and prestige. Kichaka wielded such vast influence that people used to say that Kichaka was the real king of the Matsya country and old Virata king only in name.

Kichaka was inordinately vain of his strength and his influence over the king.

He was so smitten with Draupadi's beauty that he conceived an uncontrollable passion for her. And he was so sure of his own attractions and power that it never occurred to him that she, though a mere maidservant could resist his will. He made amorous overtures to her, which greatly vexed her.

Draupadi was too shy to speak of this to Sudeshna or to others. She gave out that her husbands were Gandharvas who would mysteriously kill those who tried to dishonor her.

Her good conduct and lustre made every one believe in her story about the Gandharvas. But Kichaka was not to be frightened so easily and he sought persistently to seduce Draupadi.

His persecution became so intolerable that at last she complained of it to Queen Sudeshna, and implored her protection.

Kichaka, of course, had greater influence over his sister, and he shamelessly confided to her his unlawful passion for her maid and sought her aid to compass his wish.

He represented himself as dying of desire.

"I am so full of torment," he said, "that from the time I met your maid, I do not get any sleep or rest. You must save my life by managing somehow to make her receive my advances favorably." The queen tried to dissuade him but Kichaka would not listen. And finally Sudeshna yielded. Both of them decided upon a plan to entrap Draupadi.

One night, many sweetmeats and intoxicating drinks were prepared in the house of Kichaka and a great feast was arranged. Sudeshna called Sairandhri to her side and handing her a beautiful golden jug bade her go and bring her a jug of wine from Kichaka's house.

Draupadi hesitated to go to the house of the infatuated Kichaka at that hour and begged hard that someone else of her many attendants might be sent, but Sudeshna did not listen. She pretended to be angry and said sharply: "Go, you must.

I can not send anyone else," and poor Draupadi had to obey.

Draupadi's fears were justified. When she reached Kichaka's house, that wretch, maddened with lust and wine, began to pester her with urgent entreaties and solicitations.

She rejected his prayers and said: "Why do you, who belong to a noble royal family, seek me, born of a low caste? Why do you take to the wrong path? Why do you approach me, a married lady? You will perish. My protectors, the Gandharvas, will kill you in their anger."

When Draupadi would not yield to his entreaties, Kichaka seized her by the arm and pulled her about. But putting down the vessel she carried, she wrenched herself free and fled, hotly pursued by the maddened Kichaka.

She fled to the court wailing loudly. But even there, intoxicated not only with wine, but even more by his power and influence, Kichaka followed her and kicked her in the presence of all with abusive words.

Everyone was afraid of the all-powerful commander-in-chief and no one was bold enough to oppose him.

Draupadi could not bear the sorrow and anger she felt at the thought of her helplessness under the intolerable insult offered to her.

Her deep distress made her forget the danger that would befall the Pandavas if they were discovered prematurely. She went that night to Bhima and waking him up, gave vent to her agonized sense of wrong.

After telling him how brutally Kichaka had pursued and insulted her, she appealed piteously to Bhima for protection and revenge. She said in a voice choked with sobs:

"I cannot bear this any longer. You must kill this wretch at once. For your sake, to help you keep your promise, I serve in a menial office and even prepare sandal paste for Virata. I have not minded it, I, who have till now served only you or Mother Kunti, whom I love and honor.

But now, I have to serve these wretches, fearful every moment of some disgraceful outrage. Not that I mind hard work, see my hands." And she showed her hands, which were cracked and stained with menial tasks.

Bhima respectfully carried her hands to his face and eyes, and speechless with sorrow and pity and love, he dried her tears. Finally he found his voice, and said thickly:

"I care not for the promise of Yudhishthira or the advice of Arjuna. I care not what may happen but I will do as you say. I will kill Kichaka and his gang here and now!"

and he rose.

But Draupadi warned Bhima not to be hasty. They talked it over and finally decided that Kichaka should be beguiled to come alone at night to a retired spot in the dancing hall where he should find waiting for him Bhima disguised as a woman, instead of Draupadi.

Next morning, Kichaka renewed his hateful attentions and vaingloriously said to Draupadi: "O Sairandhri, I threw you down and kicked you in the presence of the king. Did any one there come forward to help you? Virata is only king in name of this Matsya country. But I, the commander-in-chief, am the real sovereign. Now, do not be a fool, but come and enjoy life with me, with all royal honors. I shall be your devoted servant." And he begged and bullied and cringed, devouring her the while with lustreddened eyes.

Draupadi pretended to yield and said:

"Kichaka, believe me, I can no longer resist your solicitations. But none of your companions or brothers should know of our relations. If you swear that you will faithfully keep the secret from others, I shall yield to your wish."

Kichaka delightedly agreed to the condition and he promised to go alone to a place of assignation that very night.

She said: "The women have their dancing lessons during daytime in the dancing hall and return to their own quarters at nightfall. None will be in the dancing hall at night. Come there tonight. I shall be waiting for you there. You can have your will of me."

Kichaka reveled in happiness. That night, Kichaka took his bath, perfumed and decked himself, went to the dancing hall and finding with joy that the doors were open, gently entered the place.

In the very dim light, he saw someone lying there on a couch, no doubt Sairandhri. He groped his way in the dark, and gently laid his hands on the person of the sleeper.

Alas! It was not the soft form of Sairandhri that he touched but the iron frame of Bhima who lept forth on him like a lion on its prey and hurled him to the ground. But surprised as he was, Kichaka was no coward, and he was now fighting for dear life.

Grimly they wrestled, Kichaka no doubt thinking he had to do with one of the Gandharva husbands. They were not ill matched, for at that time Bhima, Balarama and Kichaka were reputed to be in the same class in strength and wrestling skill.

The struggle between Bhima and Kichaka was like that between Vali and Sugriva. In the end Bhima killed Kichaka, pounding and kneading his body into a shapeless lump of flesh.

Then he gave the glad news of Kichaka's punishment to Draupadi and went in haste to his kitchen, bathed, rubbed sandal paste over his body and slept with satisfaction.

Draupadi awoke the guards of the court and said to them: "Kichaka came to molest me, but as I had warned him, the Gandharvas, my husbands, made short work of him. Your commander-in-chief, who fell a prey to lust, has been killed.

Look at him." And she showed them the corpse of Kichaka, which had been reduced to such a shapeless mass that it had no human semblance.