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The Great Gambling Match

Duryodhana's Plot--Shakuni the Gambler--Loaded Dice--Challenge to Yudhishthira--An Unequal Contest--Pandavas lose Kingdom and become Slaves--Draupadi Staked and Lost--How Duhsasana humbled her--Pandava Queen's Appeals--Treated as a Menial--Attempt to Disrobe her--Taunted by Karna--Bhima's Terrible Vows--Alarming Omens--Pandavas regain Liberty--Second Gambling Match--Pandavas go into Exile.

Now Shakuni, Prince of Gandhara, 1 and brother of Dhritarashtra's queen, was renowned for his skill as a gambler. He always enjoyed good fortune because that he played with loaded dice. Duryodhana plotted with him, desiring greatly to subjugate the Pandavas, and Shakuni said: "Be advised by me. Yudhishthira loves the dice, although he knows not how to play. Ask him to throw dice with me, for there is no gambler who is my equal in the three worlds. I will put him to shame. I will win from him his kingdom, O bull among men."

Duryodhana was well pleased at this proposal, and he went before his blind father, the maharajah, and prevailed upon him to invite the Pandavas to Hastinapur for a friendly gambling match, despite the warnings of the royal counsellors.

Said Dhritarashtra: "If the gods are merciful, my sons will cause no dispute. Let it be as fate hath ordained. No evil can happen so long as I am near,

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and Bhishma and Drona are near also. Therefore, let the Pandavas be invited hither as my son desireth."

So Vidura, who feared trouble, was sent unto Indra-prastha to say: "The maharajah is about to hold a great festival at Hastinapur, and he desires that Yudhishthira and his brethren, their mother Pritha and their joint wife Draupadi, should be present. A great gambling match will be played."

When Yudhishthira heard these words, he sorrowed greatly, for well he knew that dice-throwing was ofttimes the cause of bitter strife. Besides, he was unwilling to play Prince Shakuni, that desperate and terrible gambler. . . . But he could not refuse the invitation of Dhritarashtra, or, like a true Kshatriya, disdain a challenge either to fight or to play with his peers.

So it came to pass that the Pandava brethren, with Pritha, their mother, and their joint wife Draupadi, journeyed to Hastinapur in all their splendour. Dhritarashtra welcomed them in the presence of Bhishma and Drona and Duryodhana and Karna; then they were received by Queen Gandhari, and the wives of the Kaurava princes; and all the daughters-in-law of the blind maharajah became sad because that they were jealous of the beauty of Draupadi and the splendour of her attire.

The Pandava lords and ladies went unto the dwelling which had been prepared for them, and there they were visited in turn by the lords and ladies of Hastinapur.

On the day that followed, Yudhishthira and his brethren went together to the gambling match, which was held in a gorgeous pavilion, roofed with arching crystal and decorated with gold and lapis lazuli: it had a hundred doors and a thousand great columns, and it was richly carpeted. All the princes and great chieftains and warriors of the kingdom were gathered there. And

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[paragraph continues] Prince Shakuni of Gandhari was there also with his false dice.

When salutations had passed, and the great company were seated, Shakuni invited Yudhishthira to play.

Said Yudhishthira: "I will play if mine opponent will promise to throw fairly, without trickery and deceit. Deceitful gambling is sinful, and unworthy a Kshatriya; there is no prowess in it. Wise men do not applaud a player who winneth by foul means."

Shakuni said: "A skilled gambler ever playeth with purpose to vanquish his opponent, as one warrior fighteth another less skilled than himself to accomplish his over-throw. Such is the practise in all contests; a man plays or fights to achieve victory. . . . But if thou art in dread of me, O Yudhishthira, and afraid that thou wilt lose, ’twere better if thou didst not play at all."

Said Yudhishthira: "Having been challenged, I cannot withdraw. I fear not to fight or to play with any man. . . . But first say who doth challenge and who is to lay stakes equally with me."

Then Duryodhana spoke, saying: "O rajah, I will supply jewels and gold and any stakes thou wilt of as great value as thou canst set down. It is for me that Shakuni, my uncle, is to throw the dice."

Said Yudhishthira: "This is indeed a strange challenge. One man is to throw the dice and another is to lay the stakes. Such is contrary to all practice. If, however, thou art determined to play in this fashion, let the game begin."

Well did the Rajah of Indra-prastha know then that the match would not be played fairly. But he sat down, notwithstanding, to throw dice with Shakuni.

At the first throw Yudhishthira lost; indeed, he lost at every throw on that fatal day. He gambled away all

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his money and all his jewels, his jewelled chariot with golden bells, and all his cattle; still he played on, and he lost his thousand war elephants, his slaves and beautiful slave girls, and the remainder of his goods; and next, he staked and lost the whole kingdom of the Pandavas, save the lands which he had gifted to the Brahmans. Nor did he cease to play then, despite the advice offered him by the chieftains who were there. One by one he staked and lost his brethren; and he staked himself and lost also.

Said Shakuni: "You have done ill, Yudhishthira, in staking thine own self; for now thou hast become a slave; but if thou wilt stake Draupadi now and win, all that thou hast lost will be restored unto thee."

Yudhishthira said: "So be it. I will stake Draupadi."

At these words the whole company was stricken with horror. Vidura swooned, and the faces of Bhishma and Drona grew pallid; many groaned; but Duryodhana and his brethren rejoiced openly before all men.

Shakuni threw the dice, and Yudhishthira lost this the last throw. In this manner was Draupadi won by Duryodhana.

Then all the onlookers gazed one upon another in silence and wide-eyed. Karna and Duhsasana 1 and other young princes laughed aloud.

Duryodhana rose proudly and spake unto Vidura, saying: "Now hasten unto Draupadi and bid her to come hither to sweep the chambers with the other bonds-women."

Vidura was made angry, and answered him: "Thy words are wicked, O Duryodhana. Thou canst not command a lady of royal birth to become a household slave. Besides, she is not thy slave, because Yudhishthira

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did stake his own freedom before he staked Draupadi. Thou couldst not win aught from a slave who had no power to stake the princess."

But Duryodhana cursed Vidura, and bade one of his servants to bring Draupadi before him.

Said Vidura: "Duryodhana is this day deprived of his reason. Dishonesty is one of the doors to hell. By practising dishonesty Duryodhana will accomplish yet the ruin of the Kauravas."

The beautiful Draupadi was sitting at peace within the fair dwelling set apart for the Pandavas on the banks of the Ganges; its walls and towers were mirrored on the broad clear waters. Then suddenly, as a jackal enters stealthily the den of a lion, the menial sent by Duryodhana entered the palace and stood before high-horn Draupadi.

Said this man: "O queen, the mighty son of Pandu hath played and lost; he hath lost all, even his reason, and he hath staked thee, and thou hast been won by Duryodhana. And now Duryodhana bids me to say that thou art become his slave, and must obey him like to other female slaves. So come thou with me, for thou must henceforth engage in menial work."

Draupadi was astounded when he spake these words, and in her anguish she cried: "Have I heard thee aright? Hath my husband, the king, staked and lost me in his madness? Did he stake and loose aught beside?"

Said the man: "Yudhishthira hath lost all his riches and his kingdom; he staked his brethren and lost them one by one; he staked himself and lost; and then he staked thee, O queen, and lost also. Therefore, come thou with me."

Draupadi rose in her pride and spoke angrily, saying: "If my lord did stake himself and become a slave, he

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could not wager me, for a slave owns neither his own life nor the life of another. Speak, therefore, unto my husband these words, and unto Duryodhana say: 'Draupadi hath not been won'."

The man returned to the assembly and spake unto Yudhishthira the words which Draupadi had said, but he bowed his head and was silent.

Duryodhana was made angry by the defiant answer of the proud queen, and he said unto his brother Duhsasana: "The sons of Pandu are our slaves, and thy heart is without fear for them. Go thou to the palace and bid the princess, my humble menial, to come hither quickly."

Red-eyed and proud Duhsasana hastened to the palace. He entered the inner chambers and stood before Draupadi, who was clad in but a single robe, while her hair hung loosely.

Said the evil-hearted Kaurava: "O princess of Panchala with fair lotus eyes, thou hast been staked and lost fairly at the game of hazard. Hasten, therefore, and stand before thy lord Duryodhana, for thou art now his bright-eyed slave."

Draupadi heard and trembled. She covered her eyes with her hands before the hated Duhsasana; her cheeks turned pale and her heart sickened. Then suddenly she leapt up and sought to escape to an inner room. But the evil-hearted prince seized her by the hair, for he no longer feared the sons of Pandu, and the beautiful princess quivered and shook in her loose attire like to a sapling which is shaken by the storm wind. Crouching on her knees, she cried angrily, while tears streamed from her lotus eyes: "Begone! O shameless prince. Can a modest woman appear before strangers in loose attire?"

Said stern and cruel Duhsasana: "Even if thou wert


THE ORDEAL OF QUEEN DRAUPADI<br> From the painting by Warwick Goble
Click to enlarge

From the painting by Warwick Goble


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naked now, thou must follow me. Hast thou not become a slave, fairly staked and fairly won? Henceforth thou wilt serve among the other menials."

Trembling and faint, Draupadi was dragged through the streets by Duhsasana. When she stood before the elders and the chieftains in the pavilion she cried: "Forgive me because that I have come hither in this unseemly plight. . . ."

Bhishma and Drona and the other elders who were there hung their heads in shame.

Unto Duhsasana Draupadi said angrily: "Cease thy wickedness! Defile me no longer with unclean hands. A woman's hair is sacred."

Sacred indeed were the locks of the Pandava queen, for they had been sprinkled with water sanctified by mantras at the imperial sacrifice.

Weeping, she cried: "Hear and help me, O ye elders. You have wives and children of your own. Will you permit this wrong to be continued. Answer me now."

But no man spake a word.

Draupadi wept and said: "Why this silence? . . . Will no man among ye protect a sinless woman? . . . Lost is the fame of the Kauravas, the ancient glory of Bharata, and the prowess of the Kshatriyas! . . . Why will not the sons of Pandu protect their outraged queen? . . . And hath Bhishma lost his virtue and Drona his power? . . . Will Yudhishthira no longer defend one who is wronged? . . . Why are ye all silent while this deed of shame is done before you?"

As she spake thus, Draupadi glanced round the sons of Pandu one by one, and their hearts thirsted for vengeance. Bhishma's face was dark, Drona clenched his teeth, and Vidura, white and angry, gazed upon Duhsasana with amaze while he tore off Draupadi's veil and addressed

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her with foul words. When she looked towards the Kaurava brethren, Duhsasana said: "Ha! on whom darest thou to look now, O slave?"

Shakuni and Karna laughed to hear Draupadi called a slave, and they cried out: "Well spoken, well spoken!"

Duhsasana endeavoured to strip the princess naked before the assembly; but Draupadi, in her distress, prayed aloud to Krishna, invoking him as the creator of all and the soul of the universe, and entreated him to help her. Krishna heard her, and multiplied her garments so that Duhsasana was unable to accomplish his wicked purpose.

Karna spake to Draupadi and said: "’Tis not thy blame, O princess, that thou hast fallen so low. A woman's fate is controlled by her husband; Yudhishthira hath gambled thee away. Thou wert his, and must accept thy fate. Henceforward thou wilt be the slave of the Kaurava princes. Thou must obey them and please them with thy beauty. . . . ’Tis meet that thou shouldst now seek for thyself a husband who will love thee too well to stake thee at dice and suffer thee to be put to shame. . . . Be assured that no one will blame a humble menial, as thou now art, who looks with eyes of love upon great and noble warriors. Remember that Yudhishthira is no longer thy husband; he hath become a slave, and a slave can have no wife. . . . Ah! sweet Princess of Panchala, those whom thou didst choose at thy swayamvara have gambled and lost thee; their kingdom they have lost, and their power also."

At these words Bhima's bosom heaved with anger and with shame. Red-eyed he scowled upon Karna; he seemed to be the image of flaming Wrath. Unto Yudhishthira he spake grimly, saying: "If you hadst not staked our freedom and our queen, O king and elder

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brother, this son of a charioteer would not have taunted us in this manner."

Yudhishthira bowed his head in shame, nor answered a word.

Arjuna reproved Bhima for his bitter words; but Pritha's mighty son, the slayer of Asuras, said: "If I am not permitted to punish the tormentor of Draupadi, bring me a fire that I may thrust my hands into it."

A deep uproar rose from the assembly, and the elders applauded the wronged lady and censured Duhsasana. Bhima clenched his hands and, with quivering lips, cried out:

"Hear my terrible words, O ye Kshatriyas. . . . May I never reach Heaven if I do not yet seize Duhsasana in battle and, tearing open his breast, drink his very life blood! . . ."

Again he spoke and said: "If Yudhishthira will permit me, I will slay the wretched sons of Dhritarashtra without weapons, even as a lion slays small animals."

Then Bhishma and Vidura and Drona cried out: "Forbear, O Bhima! Everything is possible in thee."

Duryodhana gloried in his hour of triumph, and unto the elder of the Pandava brethren spake tauntingly and said: "Yudhishthira, thou art spokesman for thy brethren, and they owe thee obedience. Speak and say, thou who dost ever speak truly, hast thou lost thy kingdom and thy brethren and thine own self? O Yudhishthira, hast thou lost even the beauteous Draupadi? And hath she, thy wedded wife, become our humble menial?"

Yudhishthira heard him with downcast eyes, but his lips moved not. . . . Then Karna laughed; but Bhishma, pious and old, wept in silence.

Then Duryodhana cast burning eyes upon Draupadi, and, baring his knee, invited her, as a slave, to sit upon it.

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Bhima gnashed his teeth, for he was unable to restrain his pent-up anger. With eyes flashing like lightning, and in a voice like to thunder he cried out: a Hear my vow! May I never reach Heaven or meet my ancestors hereafter if, for these deeds of sin, I do not break the knee of Duryodhana in battle, and drink the blood of Duhsasana!"

The flames of wrath which leapt on the forehead of Bhima were like red sparks flying from tough branches on a crackling fire.

Dhritarashtra was sitting in his palace, nor knew aught of what was passing. The Brahmans, robed in white, were chanting peacefully their evening mantras, when a jackal howled in the sacrificial chamber. Asses brayed in response, and ravens answered their cries from all sides. Those who heard these dread omens exclaimed: "Swashti! Swashti!1

Dhritarashtra shook with terror, and when Vidura had told him all that had taken place, he said: "The luckless and sinful Duryodhana hath brought shame upon the head of Rajah Drupada's sweet daughter, and thus courted death and destruction. May the prayers of a sorrowful old man remove the wrath of Heaven which these dark omens have revealed."

Then the blind maharajah was led to Draupadi, and before all the elders and the princes he spoke to her, kindly and gently, and said: "Noble queen and virtuous daughter, wife of pious Yudhishthira, and purest of all women, thou art very dear unto my heart. Alas! my sons have wronged thee in foul manner this day. O forgive them now, and let the wrath of Heaven be averted. Whatsoever thou wilt ask of me will be thine."

Said Draupadi: "O mighty maharajah, thou art merciful; may happiness be thy dower. I ask of thee to set at

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liberty now my lord and husband Yudhishthira. Having been a prince, it is not seemly that he should be called a slave."

Dhritarashtra said: "Thy wish is granted. Ask a second boon and blessing, O fair one. Thou dost deserve more than a single boon."

Said Draupadi: "Let Arjuna and Bhima and their younger brethren be set free also and allowed to depart now with their horses and their chariots and their weapons."

Dhritarashtra said: "So be it, O high-born princess.

Ask yet another boon and blessing and it will be granted thee."

Said Draupadi: "I seek no other boon, thou generous monarch: I am a Kshatriya by birth, and not like to a Brahman, who craveth for gifts without end. Thou hast freed my husbands from slavery: they will regain their fortunes by their own mighty deeds."

Then the Pandava brethren departed from Hastinapur with Pritha and Draupadi, and returned unto the city of Indra-prastha.

The Kauravas were made angry, and Duryodhana remonstrated with his royal sire and said: "Thou hast permitted the Pandava princes to depart in their anger; now they will make ready to wage war against us to regain their kingdom and their wealth; when they return they will slay us all. Permit us, therefore, to throw dice with them once again. We will stake our liberty, and be it laid down that the side which loseth shall go into exile for twelve full years, and into concealment for a year thereafter. By this arrangement a bloody war may be averted."

Dhritarashtra granted his son's wish and recalled the Pandavas. So it came to pass that Yudhishthira sat down

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once again to play with Shakuni, and once again Shakuni brought forth the loaded dice. Ere long the game ended, and Yudhishthira had lost.

Duhsasana danced with joy and cried aloud: "Now is established the empire of Duryodhana."

Said Bhima: "Be not too gladsome, O Duhsasana. Hear and remember my words: May I never reach Heaven or meet my sires until I shall drink thy blood!"

Then the Pandava princes cast off their royal garments and clad themselves in deerskins like humble mendicants. Yudhishthira bade farewell to Dhritarashtra and Bhishma and Kripa and Vidura, one by one, and he even said farewell to the Kaurava brethren.

Said Vidura: "Thy mother, the royal Pritha, is too old to wander with thee through forest and jungle. Let her dwell here until the years of your exile have passed away.

Yudhishthira spoke for his brethren and said: "Be it so, O saintly Vidura. Now bless us ere we depart, for thou hast been unto us like to a father."

Then Vidura blessed each one of the Pandava princes, saying: "Be saintly in exile, subdue your passions, learn truth in your sorrow, and return in happiness. May these eyes be blessed by beholding thee in Hastinapur once again."

Pritha wept over Draupadi and blessed her. Then the Princess of Panchala went forth with loose tresses; but ere she departed from the city she vowed a vow, saying: "From this day my hair will fall over my forehead until Bhima shall have slain Duhsasana and drunk his blood; then shall Bhima tie up my tresses while his hands are yet wet with the blood of Duhsasana."

The Pandava princes wandered towards the deep forest, and Draupadi followed them.


237:1 Candahar.

240:1 Pron. doo-sas´a-na.

246:1 similar to "Amen".

Next: Chapter XVI. Second Exile of the Pandavas