"Vaisampayana said, 'After two years had elapsed from the date of the return of the Pandavas (from the retreat of their sire), the celestial Rishi, Narada, O king, came to Yudhishthira. The mighty-armed Kuru king, that foremost of speakers, viz., Yudhishthira, having duly worshipped him, caused him to take a seat. After the Rishi had rested awhile, the king asked him, saying,--'It is after a long time that I behold thy holy self arrived at my court. Art thou in peace and happiness, O learned Brahmana? What are those countries which thou hast passed through? What shall I do to thee? Do thou tell me. Thou art the foremost of regenerate ones, and thou art our highest refuge.'
"Narada said, 'I have not seen thee for a long while. Hence it is that I have come to thee from my ascetic retreat. I have seen many sacred waters, and the sacred stream Ganga also, O king.'
"Yudhishthira said, 'People dwelling on the banks of Ganga report that the high-souled Dhritarashtra is practising the austerest of penances. Hast thou seen him there? Is that perpetuator of Kuru's race in peace? Are Gandhari and Pritha, and the Suta's son Sanjaya also, in peace? How, indeed, is it faring with that royal sire of mine? I desire to hear this, O holy one, if thou hast seen the king (and knowest of his condition).'
"Narada said, 'Listen, O king, with calmness to me as I tell thee what I have heard and seen in that ascetic retreat. After thy return from Kurukshetra, O delighter of the Kurus, thy sire, O king, proceeded towards Gangadwara. That intelligent monarch took with him his (sacred) fire, Gandhari and his daughter-in-law Kunti, as also Sanjaya of the Suta caste, and all the Yajakas. Possessed of wealth of penances, thy sire set himself to the practice of severe austerities. He held pebbles of stone in his mouth and had air alone for his subsistence, and abstained altogether from speech. Engaged in severe penances, he was worshipped by all the ascetics in the woods. In six months the king was reduced only to a skeleton. Gandhari subsisted on water alone, while Kunti took a little every sixth day. The sacred fire, O monarch, (belonging
to the Kuru king) was duly worshipped by the sacrificing assistants that were with him, with libations of clarified butter poured on it. They did this whether the king saw the rite or not. The king had no fixed habitation. He became a wanderer through those woods. The two queens, as also Sanjaya, followed him. Sanjaya acted as the guide on even and uneven land. The faultless Pritha, O king, became the eye of Gandhari. One day, that best of kings proceeded to a spot on the margin of Ganga. He then bathed in the sacred stream and finishing his ablutions turned his face towards his retreat. The wind rose high. A fierce forest-conflagration set in. It began to burn that forest all around. When the herds of animals were being burnt all around, as also the snakes that inhabited that region, herds of wild boars began to take themselves to the nearest marshes and waters. When that forest was thus afflicted on all sides and such distress came upon all the living creatures residing there, the king, who had taken no food, was incapable of moving or exerting himself at all. Thy two mothers also, exceedingly emaciated, were unable to move. The king, seeing the conflagration approach him from all sides, addressed the Suta Sanjaya, that foremost of skilful charioteers, saying,--'Go, O Sanjaya, to such a place where the fire may not burn thee. As regards ourselves, we shall suffer our bodies to be destroyed by this fire and attain to the highest goal.' Unto him, Sanjaya, that foremost of speakers, said,--'O king, this death, brought on by a fire that is not sacred, will prove calamitous to thee. I do not, however, see any means by which thou canst escape from this conflagration. That which should next be done should be indicated by thee.' Thus addressed by Sanjaya the king once more said,--'This death cannot be calamitous to us, for we have left our home of our own accord. Water, fire, wind, and abstention from food, 1 (as means of death), are laudable for ascetics. Do thou, therefore, leave us, O Sanjaya, without any delay. Having said these words to Sanjaya, the king concentrated his mind. Facing the east, he sat down, with Gandhari and Kunti. Beholding him in that attitude, Sanjaya walked round him. Endued with intelligence, Sanjaya said,--'Do thou concentrate thy soul, O puissant one.' The son of a Rishi, and himself possessed of great wisdom, the king acted as he was told. Restraining all the senses, he remained like a post of wood. The highly blessed Gandhari, and thy mother Pritha too, remained in the same attitude. Then thy royal sire was overtaken by the forest-conflagration. Sanjaya, his minister, succeeded in escaping from that conflagration. I saw him on the banks of Ganga in the midst of ascetics. Endued with great energy and great intelligence, he bade them farewell and then started for the mountains of Himavat. Even thus the high-souled Kuru king met with his death, and it was even thus that Gandhari and Kunti, thy two mothers, also met with death, O monarch. In course of my wanderings at will, I saw the bodies of that king and those two queens, O Bharata. Many ascetics came to that retreat, having heard of the end of king Dhritarashtra. They did not at all grieve for that end of theirs. There, O best of men, I heard all the details of how the king and the two queens, O son of Pandu, had been burnt.
[paragraph continues] O king of kings, thou shouldst not grieve for him. The monarch, of his own will, as also Gandhari and thy mother, obtained that contact with fire.'
"Vaisampayana continued,--'Hearing of the exit of Dhritarashtra from this world, the high-souled Pandavas all gave way to great grief. Loud sounds or wailing were heard within the inner apartments of the palace. The citizens also, hearing of the end of the old king, uttered loud lamentations. 'O fie! cried king Yudhishthira in great agony, raising his arms aloft. Thinking of his mother, he wept like a child. All his brothers too, headed by Bhimasena, did the same. Hearing that Pritha had met with such a fate, the ladies of the royal household tittered loud lamentations of grief. All the people grieved upon hearing that the old king, who had become childless, had been burnt to death and that the helpless Gandhari too had shared his fate. When those sounds of wailing ceased for a while, king Yudhishthira the just, stopping his tears by summoning all his patience, said these words."'
59:1 Vikarshanam is emaciation of the body by abstention from all food.