Years passed. Now it seemed that nothing could disturb the divine dominion of the five brothers, who reigned over their subjects with such rectitude and justice that no one could ever find anything to complain about even the most insignificant things.
One day, Narada, who was the direct son of Brahma, a famous celestial sage, went to visit Indra-prastha and asked Yudhisthira to allow him to talk with all the Pandavas. After the puja, the six of them went to a secluded place to talk.
“What I want to tell you is that this peace with your cousins is only apparent. They have not forgiven you for being superior to them in everything, nor will they ever. Duryodhana is filled with envy and hatred; he fails to understand where you get the ability to do things that seem impossible. He has not realized that the source of your strength is the purity of your heart and your devotion to the Supreme Lord, whom is now present in this world.
Duryodhana constantly suffers from a boundless rage, even more now that you have been able to transform Khandava-prastha into a flourishing kingdom. Although he is silent and does not openly plot against you, you must not delude yourself because he will do so as soon as he gets the opportunity. These days you are savoring a moment of happiness, but this is temporary; you will still have to endure pain and discomfort.”
“But, how could they harm us now?” Yudhisthira asked. “We have a thriving kingdom, a strong and well-trained army, and loyal allies. What could they come up with?”
“They know well that in the past they have not been able to destroy you because you have always been united, and now that you have become more powerful it will be even more difficult. Duryodhana’s strategy will be this: he will try to create reasons for dissent to make you fight and break this union of yours.”
“But we have never been against each other in our whole life,” said Kunti’s eldest son, “we have never quarreled. How do they hope to do it?”
“Draupadi is the only reason why disagreements could arise.” Narada replied. “No matter how great the love they have for each other, men who have common attachment to the same woman are at risk of quarreling and destroying each other at any time. Do you remember how Sunda and Upasunda killed each other for the possession of Tilottama? So, take precautions and don’t blindly trust the brotherly love that unites you.”
An advice given by a character like Narada certainly could not be underestimated.
Even after he left, the Pandavas continued to discuss the matter to find a solution. It was necessary to prevent any of them from becoming jealous when they saw their brother in the company of Draupadi and from beginning to harbor gloomy thoughts and feelings.
“A solution,” proposed Yudhisthira, “could be this: none of us will have to see Draupadi in the company of another. Each week she will be with one of us per turn, and if anyone breaks this rule he will go into exile for twelve years to visit the holy places.”
It seemed like a good idea to everyone, and from that day on, that rule was strictly observed.
But evidently, things wouldn’t be that easy for the Pandavas, even in that rather peaceful period. One day, while Draupadi was with Yudhisthira, a Brahmana arrived at the palace and asked to speak urgently to Arjuna, who received him immediately.
“I’ve been robbed of my cows,” he complained, “which are my only wealth. Please hurry up, run to get them and punish the criminals.”
Strongly urged by the Brahmana, Arjuna decided to chase the thieves instantly, but he remembered that he had left his weapons in the hall where Yudhisthira was in the company of Draupadi. The virtuoso Pandava was unsure what was the right thing to do.
“If I do not recover the Brahmana’s cows,” he though, “the king and myself will be harshly criticized for failing to fulfill our duties. If I enter Yudhisthira’s rooms, I will be able to return the stolen goods, but I will have to go into exile. I have to do it, there is no doubt that of the two evils the first is certainly the worst.”
Taking up his arms, Arjuna chased the thieves and easily recovered the stolen goods. Then he returned to court.
“Dear brothers,” he said, “you will certainly remember our agreement which was more than a vow. Today I should not have entered Yudhisthira’s rooms, so I will be away for twelve years. I will use this period well: I will travel to the most sacred places, meet saints of Bharata-varsha and I will be together with great sages from whom I will learn many things. “
His brothers were dismayed.
“But you don’t have to leave,” Yudhisthira said. “You entered the hall to take up the arms. You had to protect the Brahmana’s property, which is the first duty of a Kshatriya. You did not enter for jealousy or anything like that.”
“You know well how important it is for a Kshatriya to always tell the truth and never fail to keep one’s word,” Arjuna retorted. “If this happened even once, his reputation would be ruined and no one would respect him any more. And if the people do not respect his rulers, everything degrades and peace is destroyed. We have promised it, and if we do not keep our pact out of family affection, people will say that we are weak, that we are too attached to family pleasures, and they will not criticize us. We cannot afford such a risk. Don’t worry. These years will not be thrown away, I will learn things that could come in handy later.”
And Indra’s son went on that long journey.
Although he rarely stopped, he had the opportunity to meet many people and learn about their customs.
A few months after his departure from Indra-prastha, in fact, Arjuna met Ulupi, the daughter of the king of the Nagas, with whom he married and had a son named Iravan. And later, after he had resumed his journey, heading north-east, on the eastern side of the Himalayas, he entered the city of Manalur, where he met Citrangada, king Citrasena’s daughter. They fell in love and got married. From their union a child was born whom they named Babruvahana. After having spent a few months in the company of the Princess of Manalur, Arjuna resumed his pilgrimage.
A few months had passed since then when Arjuna arrived in Dvaraka, the city of his great friend Krishna.
This is a section of the book “Maha-Bharata, English Edition, Vol. 1”.
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