When Arjuna saved Duryodhana

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The Exile of Pandavas

The best revenge is massive success – Frank Sinatra

When we think about injustice, one of the prominent incidents that occur to our mind is the game of dice in Mahabharata, which robbed the emperors i.e. the Pandavas of their kingdom and more importantly, a woman, and empress was robbed of her dignity i.e. Draupadi. Adding to their miseries, they were forced with a 12-year exile in the woods, followed by a year of incognito.

There are two ways of living after being wronged; either get bitter or better. The Pandavas went through both. For the first few years, they spent sleepless nights in bitterness especially Bhima and Draupadi. However, following Vyasa’s advice at the end of the fifth year of their exile, Arjuna, the third of the Pandava brothers, went deep into the Himalayas, to gain advanced weapons, while the remaining 4 brothers along with Draupadi traveled the entire geography of India, covering many pilgrimages, meeting many sages. During the tenth year, Arjuna came back with a host of divine weapons, including and especially Pashupatastra, in his arsenal. In the meanwhile, Bhima met Hanuman (from Ramayana times, who was apparently like an elder brother to Bhima, since they were born of the wind god) and trained under him, enhancing his martial capabilities.

Once Arjuna returned, they settled in a forest called Dvaitavana to spend the rest of their days in exile. Their achievements and association with sages across the land made them better human beings, thus helping them cope up with the wounds of that unfortunate gambling incident. However, Duryodhana, who was responsible for their plight, was not satisfied; partially out of his jealousy for their achievements and partially out of his sadistic nature.

The wicked are never satisfied

Thus, in order to rub their wounds, Duryodhana set upon an expedition in Dvaitavana, on the pretext of counting the cattle in the kingdom, which was a custom in those days to measure the affluence of the land, since livestock was considered as wealth in those days. With a large retinue consisting of thousands of soldiers, several brothers of his, their wives, Karna, he settled down near a lake in Dvaitavana. It was a picnic for the entire convoy, where various activities like hunting, swimming were happening. On the other side of the lake, a similar retinue was led by a Gandharva named Chitrasena. Gandharvas were celestial musicians in the court of Indra, who was the king of Gods. Apart from their music skills, they were powerful martially as well.

Due to large retinues but limited space, a small conflict started between the Kaurava and Gandharva armies, which eventually escalated into a full-fledged war. There was carnage on both sides. In the beginning, the Kauravas seemed to gain leverage. However, the tables turned when the Gandharvas started employing their occult tricks. Soon, the Kaurava host started fleeing, even though Karna and Duryodhana held ground. Soon, Karna was deprived of the chariot and he had to flee on Vikarna’s chariot.

Duryodhana captured

However, Duryodhana did not give up until he was defeated and captured by the Gandharva king Chitrasena. Along with him they also captured Dusshasana, Chitrasena, Vinda, Anuvinda, Vivismati and the ladies of the royal household. The soldiers who escaped from the Gandharvas approached the Pandava camp. When the soldiers narrated Duryodhana’s plight, Bheema was overjoyed, while Yudhishthira, on the contrary, ordered the other four brothers to help Duryodhana. Bheema and Arjuna protested vehemently against this while Nakula and Sahadeva were not eager to help their arch enemy either.

However, Yudhishthira prevailed upon them saying: “Disunions keep happening in the family. But it doesn’t imply that the honor of the family should suffer. Even though we have been wronged by Duryodhana, we should help them since the ladies of our family have been captured by them.” The other Pandavas were softened by this to some extent, yet they weren’t fully convinced.

As a final resort to convince his brothers, Yudhisthira displayed a rare streak in himself. With a glint of mischief in his eyes, he said: “The bestowal of a boon, sovereignty, and the birth of a son are sources of great joy. But, dear brothers, the liberation of a foe from distress is equal to all the three put together! What can be a source of greater joy to you than to have Duryodhana sunk in distress dependent on your help?”

Also read: Arjuna: Warfare in poetry

Arjuna saved Duryodhana

The four brothers saw a rare opportunity to belittle Duryodhana. They collected the surviving Kaurava soldiers, and headed by Arjuna, challenged the Gandharva hosts led by Chitrasena. Arjuna, after all the advanced training in weapons, was well versed with all the superior tactics of Gandharvas. Refuting all their attacks, Arjuna showered a rain of arrows upon them, killing them in thousands. As a last resort, the Gandharvas tried to flee the forest through the aerial route, carrying Duryodhana along with them. However, Arjuna checked their aerial progress, while the remaining three brothers guarded his chariot on the ground. Finally, Chitrasena himself challenged Arjuna.

There is a reason why they say that Arjuna was the greatest warrior ever known. Chitrasena attacked him with his full might. He descended upon Partha with his mace uplifted from a high lunge, However, Dhananjaya, cut his mace into pieces with 3 sharp arrows. After this Chitrasena, used his powers of illusion and started fighting in a disappeared state. But, Arjuna, who was a master in ‘Shabdha-Veda’ i.e. fighting with the help of sound, prevailed over him. Finally, Chitrasena acknowledged his defeat and handed over Duryodhana to the Pandavas.

The four brothers decided to take Duryodhana and all the other captives to Yudhishthira. When presented to him, everyone expected that Yudhisthira would exact revenge on him. However, in a kind yet sarcastic voice, Yudhishthira said: ” O child, never again do such a rash act.” and dismissed him to Hastinapura along with other captives including the ladies of the royal household; with the utmost respect.

Give them the respect they deserve

One might argue that it was foolish of Yudhishthira to help Duryodhana since he could have avoided war if Duryodhana could have been held captive. However, that would have been counterproductive since the Kaurava king Dhritarashtra along with Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Vidura, Karna, Ashwatthama were alive and would have released Duryodhana someway. But, Pandavas would have lost face in front of the elders of the Kuru family, who eventually helped Pandavas during the war indirectly (Bhishma and Drona revealed the secret of their defeat to Yudhishthira). Their magnanimity to Duryodhana ( not to forget that they saved the honor of the family by rescuing the ladies) earned them brownie points with the elders of the family. This teaches us an important lesson, that helping a competitor/opponent in distress earns you respect. Remember the day when Indian airways rescued Pakistani citizens who were stranded in Yemen!

Secondly, Duryodhana was the crown prince of Hastinapura and Pandavas were living within the boundary of the Kuru Kingdom. Although he was wicked, Duryodhana was also capable in many ways. By helping him, Pandavas gave him all the respect due to his position and persona. This teaches us a lesson in the dissociation of a person from his actions. At times, the persona of the enemy deserves respect and all the honor due to him must be spared. There is lore which says that Rama coaxed Lakshmana to receive lessons from Ravana after vanquishing him, since Ravana, despite his faults was a phenomenal scholar. This sense of discretion and balance increases your inner strength and confidence in many ways.

Lastly, as Yudhishthira says, there is no greater pleasure than having an enemy dependent on you for help. It might sound a bit sadistic, but true nevertheless!



Prasad Kulkarni is a Data and Analytics professional. At work, he analyses historical data and ponders over historical events otherwise.


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