The Dice Game

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Flooded with a huge crowd that flocked to the inauguration, the Sabha of the Kuravas was truly beautiful.

Among the guests there were the kings who had participated in the Rajasuya to warmly welcome the Pandavas. The Kuravas also welcomed them well, hiding their true intentions. Having settled into their rooms, the brothers spent a peaceful night. The next morning, Duryodhana personally went to invite them.

“Come and admire my new Sabha in Jayanta, which I had built for the occasion. You will surely like it.”

 A little tense and unnerved by the obvious falsehood undisguised by the courtesy of their cousin, the Pandavas visited the palace, praising it with kind and admiring phrases.

 After they finished the visit, Sakuni said:

 “Now that we have seen the wonderful Sabha of the Kuravas, to celebrate I would say to start the dice game.”

“I believe that the game of dice is like wine and that it takes away all good judgment from man,” said Yudhisthira, trying to avoid what would irreparably lead to disaster. “Gambling is poison to every virtuous man, and therefore I would prefer to avoid it.”

 “Yudhisthira,” Sakuni retorted with an ironic tone, “I heard that your wealth is so great that no monarch has ever had anything like it, and I understand that money for you, accustomed to forest life, is such a new thing to make you greedy; but please try to control yourself. By playing with us you are not forced to bet everything; we want to do it for fun, not to take away your belongings.”

With these words, Sakuni had mocked him in front of everyone; but Yudhisthira tried to keep calm and not take up the provocation.

“The game kills friendship and attracts the blackest misfortunes,” he replied. “That’s why I don’t want to; certainly not for fear of losing my possessions.”

Sakuni pressed and ridiculed him publicly.

At that point the Pandava could no longer hold back.

“Since you have challenged me, I won’t refuse. Let the game begin.”

Duryodhana replied:

“I’m not going to play personally, but I appoint my uncle Sakuni to represent me.”

Yudhisthira protested that he should have played and not other, but in the end, he had to submit to that decision.

 

The game began, and it turned bad right away: Yudhisthira began by betting big treasures, while Sakuni responded with infallible throws. The more the stakes went up, the louder the murmurs that accompanied the victories of the Gandhara. And again Yamaraja’s son bet, and Sakuni, relentless, won again.

The game lasted a long time, and soon everyone understood Duryodhana’s diabolical plan. So, little by little the screams subsided until they stopped completely. The silence was total. In the hall, only one voice could be heard, Sakuni’s, enthusiastically saying:

“I won”.

As the game progressed, the kings present felt their blood freeze in their veins. Everyone was aware that this game would cause a chain reaction of hatred and blood.

The game continued and Yudhisthira seemed to be pervaded by a suicidal madness; the more he lost, the more the stakes increased. It seemed that he had succumbed to the intoxication of gambling. In the coldness of the room, Sakuni’s words continued to echo, sounding like slaps, or even like death sentences for thousands of Kshatriyas and tears for everyone else.

When Yudhisthira had already lost all his wealth, Vidura intervened, exclaiming:

“This game must be stopped here, and all must be returned, or you can’t even imagine what might happen!”

But Dhritarastra, now taken by the feverish excitement of victory, kept asking, “What has my son won? What treasures has he won?” and the younger brother did not even deign to answer. Instead, Duryodhana responded to Vidura:

 “Dear uncle,” he said ironically, “although we are your nephews too, you have never been impartial in your affections, and you have always preferred Pandu’s children to us, Dhritarastra’s children. Everyone knows, but now it seems to me that you think we are exaggerating. We are not doing anything wrong, we are just playing, and Yudhisthira has freely accepted to participate. He is losing, all right, but we could have lost, and then I am sure that at this juncture you would not have said that everything had to be returned. These are the rules of the game, and certainly we will not give back what we have won. And as for the continuation we still challenge him, but if Yudhisthira is afraid he can withdraw when he wants.”

 However, Yudhisthira said:

 “No, I keep playing.”

 

At a certain point, having already lost everything, his bet was Nakula. But he still lost.

Then he played Sahadeva, then Arjuna and Bhima, and then himself, and the result was always the same.

Then, in an icy silence, the throwing of the dice stopped: they had lost everything, the Pandavas had become the property of Duryodhana.

“Yudhisthira,” Sakuni said in a shrill voice, “it seems that you have nothing left, but if you want to go on you still have something of yours: Draupadi. Bet her too, and if you win this time, you will get back everything you have lost so far.”

At that proposal loud murmurs of disapproval rose from the crowd. Bhima felt a fit of fury and clenched his mighty hand on the mace handle, ready to kill Sakuni with a single blow. However, in that circumstance he could not react without his brother’s permission, so, he controlled himself.

 Yudhisthira’s surprising response chilled everyone much more than the proposal.

 “So be it. Draupadi is now my bet,” he said.

 And for the umpteenth time the dice were rolled, and again Sakuni’s voice was heard saying: “I won!”

At that point, quivering words of anger arose and all, in a few seconds, resulted in strong tumults. Draupadi was now a slave. The Pandavas had lost everything.

What else could have happened?

 

This is a section of the book “Maha-bharata, Vol. 1”.

To buy the complete book, click above

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