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Chapter 46: Prince Uttara

UTTARA, the son of Virata, set off with enthusiasm from the city in his chariot with Brihannala as his charioteer and commanded the latter to drive quickly to the place where the Kauravas had rounded up the cows.

Willingly, the horses were put to their best speed. And presently the Kaurava army was sighted, at first a gleaming, line, enveloped in a cloud of dust that seemed to go up to the skies.

Going nearer, Uttara saw the great army drew in battle by Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Duryodhana and Karna. At that sight, his courage, which had been gradually drying up during the rapid rush to the field, was quite gone. His mouth went dry and his hair stood on end.

His limbs were all in a tremble. He shut his eyes with both his hands to keep out the fearsome sight. He said:"How can I, single-handed, attack an army? I have no troops, since the king, my father, has taken all available forces, leaving the city unprotected. It is absurd to think that one man can alone fight a well-equipped army, led by world-renowned warrior! Oh Brihannala, turn back the chariot."

Brihannala laughed and said: "O prince, you started from the city, full of fierce determination and the ladies expect great things of you. The citizens also have put their trust in you. Sairandhri praised me and I have come at your request. If we return without recovering the cows, we shall become the laughing-stock of all. I will not turn back the chariot. Let us stand firm and fight. Have no fear." With these words Brihannala began to drive the chariot towards the enemy and they approached quite close to them.

Uttara's distress was pitiable. He said in a quaking voice: "I cannot do it, I simply cannot. Let the Kauravas march off with the cows and if the women laugh, let them. I do not care. What sense is there in fighting people who are immeasurably stronger than we fight? Do not be a fool! Turn back the chariot. Otherwise, I shall jump out and walk back." With these words Uttara cast off his bows and arrows, got down from the chariot and began to fly towards the city, mad with panic.

This should not be taken as something that has never happened in life. Nor is Uttara's panic during his first battle, by any means, singular.

Fear is a strong instinctive feeling, though it can be overcome by will-power or strong motives like love, shame or hate, or more usually, by discipline.

Even men who have afterwards distinguished themselves by heroic deeds have confessed to having felt something like panic fear, the first time they came under fire. Uttara was by no means an exceptional coward, for he fought and fell gauntly at Kurukshetra.

Arjuna pursued the running prince, shouting to him to stop and behave like a Kshatriya. The braided hair of the charioteer began to dance and his clothes began to wave as he ran in pursuit of Uttara. The prince fled hither and thither, trying to dodge the hands that would stop him.

Those of the Kaurava army, who could see this spectacle, found it amusing.

Drona was puzzled at the sight of Brihannala who, albeit dressed fantastically, seemed a man rigged out as a woman and to remind him curiously of Arjuna.

When he remarked about this, Karna said:

"How can this be Arjuna? What does it matter even if he is? What can Arjuna alone do against us in the absence of the other Pandavas? The king has left his son alone in the city and gone with his whole army to fight against Susarma. The young prince has brought the attendant of the ladies of the palace as his charioteer. That is all."

Poor Uttara was imploring Brihannala to let him go, promising untold wealth if he did so. He appealed to his pity: "I am the only son of my mother. I am a child grown up on my mother's lap. I am full of fear."

But, Brihannala wanted to save him from himself, and would not let him go. He pursued him, seized him and dragged him to the chariot by force.

Uttara began to sob and said: "What a fool I was to brag! Alas! What will happen to me?"

Arjuna said kindly, soothing the prince's fears: "Be not afraid. I shall fight with the Kauravas. Help me by looking after the horses and driving the chariot, and I shall do the rest. Believe me, no good ever came of flight. We will rout the enemy and recover your cows. You will have all the glory." With these words Arjuna lifted the prince on to the chariot and, putting the reins in his hands, asked him to drive towards a tree near the burial ground.

Drona, who was watching all this intently, knew that the fantastically dressed charioteer was Arjuna and shared his knowledge with Bhishma.

Duryodhana turned to Karna and said:

"Why should we worry who he is? Even if he is Arjuna, he will be only playing into our hands, for his being discovered will send the Pandavas to the forest for another twelve years."

As soon as they came near the tree Brihannala bade the prince get down, climb the tree and take down the arms hidden there. The prince said in alarm and grief: "People say that what hangs on this tree is the corpse of an old huntress. How can I touch a dead body? How can you ask me to do such a thing?"

Arjuna said: "It is not a corpse, prince. I know that it contains the weapons of the Pandavas. Climb up the tree bravely and bring them down. Do not delay."

Seeing that resistance was of no avail Uttara climbed up the tree as Brihannala had asked him to and took, in great disgust, the bag tied up there and came down.

When the leather bag was opened, he saw weapons as bright as the sun. Uttara stood amazed at the sight of the gleaming weapons and covered his eyes.

He mustered courage and touched them.

The touch seemed to send a stream of hope and high courage into him. He asked with ardor: "O charioteer, what a wonder! You say that these bows, arrows and swords belong to the Pandavas. They have been deprived of their kingdom and they have retired to the forest. Do you know them? Where are they?"

Then Arjuna told him briefly how they were all in Virata's court. He said:

"Kanka, who serves the king, is Yudhishthira. Valala, the cook who prepares such nice dishes for your father, is none other than Bhima. Sairandhri, for insulting whom Kichaka was killed, is Draupadi. Dharmagranthi, who looks after the horses and Tantripala, the keeper of the cows, are Nakula and Sahadeva respectively. I am Arjuna. Be not afraid.

O prince, you will soon see me defeat the Kauravas even in the sight of Bhishma, Drona and Aswatthama and recover the cows. You will also gain renown and it will be a lesson to you."

Then Uttara folded his hands and said: "O Arjuna, how fortunate I am to see you with my own eyes! So, Arjuna is the victorious hero whose very contact has put heart and courage into me. Forgive the wrongs I have done through ignorance."

As they approached the Kaurava host, Arjuna recounted some of his heroic deeds, so that Uttara might not lose grip of his newly awakened courage. Arriving in front of the Kauravas, he got down, prayed to God, removed the conchbangles from his hands and put on leather gauntlets.

He then tied a cloth on his flowing hair, stood facing the east, meditated on his armor, got into the chariot and gloried in the familiar feel of his famous Gandiva bow. He stringed it and thrice twanged the string whose shrill note raised an echo from all sides.

Hearing the sound, the heroes of the Kaurava army said to one another: "This surely is Gandiva's voice." When Arjuna stood on the chariot in all his godlike stature and blew his conch Devadatta, the Kaurava army was alarmed and a frenzied shout arose that the Pandavas had come.

The story of Uttara, who spoke boastfully in the ladies' boudoirs and fled in panic at the sight of the hostile array, his not been introduced in the Mahabharata, merely as a comic interlude.

It is in ordinary human nature to look with contempt on lower levels of conduct in ability. The rich scorn the poor, the beautiful scorn the plain, and the strong scorn the weak. Brave men despise cowards. But Arjuna was no ordinary man. He was a great soul and a true hero who felt that his duty as a strong, brave man was to help others to rise above their weakness.

Knowing that nature had endowed him with courage and bravery at birth, and that he owed them to no special exertions on his part, he had the true humility of the really great. And he did what he could to put courage into Uttara and make him worthy of his lineage. This was Arjuna's characteristic nobility. He never abused his strength and power. One of his many names is Bibhatsu, which means one who shrank from doing an unworthy act, and he lived up to it.