Wednesday, March 18, 2009

PDE Mahabharata: The House of Fire

Reading Guide. Vidura will be an important character to keep your eye on in this episode. Remember: he is the brother of Pandu and Dhritarashtra, and wiser than the two of them — but because his mother was a servant, he was never considered eligible to be king. He is a member of Dhritarasthra's court, but he is loyal to the sons of Pandu, as you will see.

Image. In the illustration, you can see the might Bhima carrying his mother Kunti and the twins as they make their escape.

SourceThe Indian Heroes by C. A. Kincaid (1921). [700 words]

Jealousy | 21. The House of FireHidimba

But Prince Vidura came to guess the cruel plot of Prince Duryodhana. Now Prince Vidura was half-brother of King Pandu and of King Dhritarashtra. But his mother was a slave girl, so he could never reign over Hastinapura. Yet although he was lowly born, he was a just and wise Prince, and he let fall before Prince Yudhishthira words dark, yet full of meaning to him who could interpret them. And Prince Yudhishthira, who was thoughtful beyond his years, knew from Vidura’s words that he and his brothers and his mother were in grave danger.

When the Pandavas and Queen Kunti reached the palace at Varanavata, they marveled greatly at its beauties. But Prince Yudhishthira saw that though the furniture and the tapestries were costly and beautiful, yet they were all soaked in oil. And he saw that the palace and roof were built only of wood or such other material as would easily burn.

He called to him his mother and his brothers, and repeated to them the dark words of Prince Vidura and said, "I fear, my mother, that we are in grave danger and the King or Prince Duryodhana seeks to burn us alive. Else why should the furniture and tapestries be soaked in oil and the palace walls and roof be made only of wood?"

Now the wise and good Prince Vidura had ever kept his nephews the Pandavas in his mind from the time when they had left Hastinapura. And he thought that if they could dig from the floor of the lac palace an underground passage which led into the forest outside, they might yet free themselves from the toils of the evil Prince Duryodhana. So Prince Vidura sent to Varanavata a skillful miner. He eluded the guards outside and made his way safely into the lac palace. There he told the Pandavas from whom he had come, and with their leave he dug an underground passage, which led from the floor of the palace into the woods outside. By night he worked, and by day he hid his work by covering the mouth of the passage with wooden planks, so that Purochana, the wicked captain, should not guess that the Pandavas were planning flight.

Now Purochana, the wicked captain, was awaiting a moonless night in which to set fire to the palace. And by means of this delay the miner sent by the good and wise Prince Vidura finished the digging of the passage. The very night that the miner ended his work, the Pandavas lifted the planks from the mouth of the passage and, descending into it, they and Queen Kunti walked until they reached the other mouth that opened into the forest. There Prince Bhima bade his mother and brothers wait while he returned to the palace and had his revenge on the wicked captain, Purochana. They agreed, and Prince Bhima crawled back to the guardhouse in which Purochana lived. Unseen by any of the guard, Prince Bhima set fire to the guard-house, and in its flames the guard and Purochana, their wicked captain, perished.

But as the guard-house burned, a violent wind arose and blew the flames towards the lac palace, and it also took fire. Now it so happened that on that same night a low-caste woman and her five sons had come to the lac palace to beg food. The Pandavas gave them food, meat, and wine, and they ate and drank until they lay down in a drunken stupor. As they lay asleep, the palace took fire and, all unconscious, they perished in the flames.

When next morning the people of Varanavata awoke and went outside the city, they saw the smoking ashes of the lac palace and found within the charred remains of the low-caste woman and her sons. Seeing them, they thought that they were those of Queen Kunti and the Pandavas. And the men of Varanavata sorrowed greatly, for they loved the noble Princes and their stately mother. The news spread to Hastinapura also that Queen Kunti and her sons had died in the burning palace, and there, too, the citizens grieved for them sorely. When the evil Prince Duryodhana heard the news he told it to King Dhritarashtra, and they both thought that their cruel plot had succeeded. So they sorrowed not at all, but rejoiced exceedingly.

Jealousy | The House of Fire | Hidimba

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