The last months of exile were the most difficult for Yudhisthira. It was true that at that time his wife and brothers no longer burdened him with the fact that he had been responsible for their misfortunes, but the news from Hastinapura worried him particularly. It was Karna who worried him the most, precisely because he was Duryodhana’s faithful friend. Bhishma and the others would surely fight against them, but they would do it without the ardor that the others would exhibit.
To allay Yudhisthira’s anxiety, they decided to move and return to Kamyaka.
One day, Jayadratha, the king of the Sindhu, was passing with his caravan through the Pandava’s house. At that time only Draupadi and Guru Dhaumya were in the hut. The moment the monarch passed at the head of his troops, the woman went out and he saw her on the threshold, radiant as the most beautiful of the Apsaras. At this marvelous vision Jayadratha, with shocked senses, could no longer continue the march.
“Kotikasya, my friend,” said the monarch, “do you also see the extraordinary beauty that stands on the threshold of that hut, or is it a mirage caused by fatigue? No, I know it is true. I want it to be mine regardless of whether it is an Apsara, a Kinnari, a Yakshi, a goddess, or that it belonged to another human or celestial species. Please go to her and ask her name and that of her family.”
He, who was the king the Trigarta and a close friend of Jayadratha, did as he was asked and returned in a short time with the news.
“My friend, you have put your eyes where you shouldn’t have put them. That woman is of the human species, but she is the wife of five men as powerful as the Devas. She is Draupadi, the daughter of Drupada and wife of the Pandava brothers. Against them, there is nothing to do. It is better not to bother them. Let’s go.”
But Jayadratha could no longer reason.
Driven by the will of the Lord and deeply troubled by so much grace, he did not listen at all to the wise advice of his friend and rushed himself into the hut. At first he behaved kindly, but then when he expressed his true intentions to Draupadi, she tried to chase him away. But he could not reason in terms of what was right or wrong; he just wanted her to be for him. Despite being in the presence of the holy Dhaumya, he grabbed her and dragged her away while she desperately shouted her husband’s names.
Meanwhile, Yudhisthira had noticed strange omens that had alarmed him.
“Bhima, listen to how the jackals howl and how the left side of our bodies is being shaken by uncontrollable tremors. Some misfortune is going to happen. We are all here and we are not in danger, but Draupadi is in the hut unprotected. Let’s go there immediately; let us hope that nothing serious has happened.”
As soon as they arrived they realized that something had happened. The attendants immediately told them of the kidnapping. Swift as eagles they took up arms and pursued Jayadratha’s militias. As soon as they spotted them, they let out their war cries terrifying the soldiers who already knew the fame of the Pandavas.
In a few minutes they fell upon the enemy and caused a real carnage; seeing his army put to flight by only five men, Jayadratha feared for his life and he too ran hastily with the woman in the chariot. He still didn’t want to give her up. But Bhima and Arjuna saw him, and seeing that his wife was imprisoned in the chariot, they ran in pursuit of him screaming furiously.
Seeing them approaching, and realizing that they would reach him in a few moments, the king abandoned the chariot and fled alone, on foot. While Arjuna took care of his wife, Bhima caught the king and slapped him harshly. It was only thanks to Draupadi’s intercession that he left him alive, even if he stripped him of the crown and cut his hair with the blade of his sword. He was dragged into the presence of Yudhisthira and the virtuous Pandava took pity on him.
“We will not kill you, we do not want our dear cousin Duhssala to become a widow so young. Bhima has already punished you enough: go, therefore, and do not try again to take by force defenseless women against their will.”
Jayadratha left without saying anything, but he could never forget the humiliation.
Over time he made very severe ascents, only to have the power necessary to take revenge and defeat the Pandavas. He spent many years on the banks of the Ganges meditating and mortifying his body and mind. When at last Shiva appeared to him, he wanted to know the reason that had pushed him to so much austerity.
“I want from you, Shankara, the strength needed to beat the Pandavas in the war,” he told him.
“You are asking me an impossible thing,” replied the divinity. “As long as Krishna is on their side, it is not possible to beat them. Even I myself, with all the army of Devas supporting me, could not do such a thing. Krishna and Arjuna are invincible. But if you make sure you stand in front of the other four Pandavas without Krishna and Arjuna being nearby, then you will succeed. However, you will not be able to kill them, but only defeat them in a duel.”
Jayadratha could not help but be satisfied.
In the days following the incident, the Rishi Markandeya returned, and again delighted Yudhisthira with his stories and wise advice.
“I believe I have had an unfortunate life,” said Yudhisthira. “We have always been haunted by enemies and adversity, and we have never been able to enjoy a long period of serenity. Tell me, has there ever been a king as unfortunate as I have been?”
“Compared to others you can’t really complain,” he replied. “Do you remember the story I told you about Nala? Today I will tell you the sacred story of Rama, who was in exile like you, in the forest, but without the company of so many Brahmanas and friends and for most of the time without the company of his wife. Listen.”
After reciting to him the famous Ramayana of the Rishi Valmiki, Markandeya also told how Savitri had managed to face Yama with the sheer force of love for her husband.
It was a few months before the end of the twelfth year of their exile.
This is a section of the book “Maha-bharata, Vol. 1”.
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