FIFTEEN years passed under king
Yudhishthira's reign, when old Dhritarashtra found himself utterly unable any
longer to bear the burden of grief.
Hurt by Bhima's occasional reproaches,
he found no heart to accept the courtesies and comforts provided under king
Yudhishthira's orders. Unknown to the Pandavas, he secretly fasted and
underwent hard penances.
Gandhari too observed manifests
and inflicted privation on her. And one day Dhritarashtra sent for Dharmaputra
and spoke to him thus:
"Son, blessings on you. I
have spent fifteen happy years under your roof. You have tended me most
lovingly. I have made gifts and offerings to ancestors and fulfilled all my
desires in that respect. Bereaved Gandhari, laying aside her own grief, has
ministered to my physical wants all these years. My cruel sons, who committed
unforgivable wrong to Draupadi and deprived you of your lawful inheritance,
perished on account of their sins. But they fought like brave soldiers and died
in the battlefield and have gone to the happy regions reserved for the brave.
The time has come when with Gandhari I must do what has to be done for our next
state. You know what the sastras have lain down. I must now go to the forest.
These robes must be replaced by bark and tattered old clothes, suitable for the
life of Vanaprastha. I desire to go and live in the forest, praying for your
good. I want your permission for this. Let me follow the practice of our
fathers. As king, you will share in the fruits of my penance."
Yudhishthira received a shock
when he saw Dhritarashtra and heard him say this. "I did not know,"
he said, "that you had been fasting and sleeping on the bare ground and
mortifying your flesh in this manner. My brothers too were unaware of this. I
was misled into believing you were well looked after and happy. Father, you
have suffered grief, for which there can be no solace. I see no good in kingdom
or pleasures. I am a sinner. Desire and ambition deceived me into this. Let
your son Yuyutsu be king, or anyone else you choose. Or if you will do so, you
yourself may take up the duties of king and look after the people. I shall go
to the forest. Let me terminate this chapter of error. I implore you to save me
from further obloquy and burning shame. I am not the king. You are the king.
You ask me for permission to go. How then can I give or refuse permission to
you? Let me assure you that my anger against Duryodhana is a thing of the past,
gone without a trace. Fate willed it and engulfed us all in confusion of mind.
And events happened which were not in our control. We are your children, even
like Duryodhana and his brothers. Gandhari and Kunti is alike mother to me and
command equal regard and filial affection from me, their child. If you go away
to the forest, I must go with you and serve you there. If you retire to the
woods and leave me here, what joy shall I have in kingship? I prostrate myself
before you and implore you to forgive the errors we have been guilty of.
Serving you will give me true joy and peace of mind. Give me that opportunity
and privilege. Do not desert me."
Dhritarashtra was deeply moved.
But he said: "Kunti's beloved
son, my mind is fixed on going to the forest and on penance. I can find no peace
otherwise now. I have lived under your roof for many years. You and all your
people have served me with unstinted devotion. You must permit me now to fulfil
my wish and let me go."
Having thus spoken to
Yudhishthira, who stood with clasped hands and trembling with agitation,
Dhritarashtra turned to Vidura and Kripacharya: "I beg of you to comfort
the king and make him grant my prayer. My mind is fixed on the forest. I am
unable to speak any more. I am feeling dry in my throat. Perhaps, it is due to
age. I have talked too much. I am tired." Saying this, he leaned
helplessly on Gandhari and swooned.
Yudhishthira was unable to bear
this distress of the grand old man, who had possessed the sinews of an elephant
and had had strength enough to crush the metal figure of Bhima into powder.
How lean he had become now and
emaciated, with his bones showing through his skin, piteously leaning senseless
on Gandhari like one destitute.
"Have I caused all
this?" he reproached himself. "Miserable and unworthy am I, ignorant
of dharma, devoid of intelligence. A curse on my learning!"
He sprinkled water on
Dhritarashtra's face and caressingly stroked him with his soft hands.
When the old man recovered, he
tenderly clasped the Pandava to his bosom and muttered: "My dear boy, how
sweet is your touch! I am happy."
Then Vyasa entered. When he was
acquainted with what had happened, he said to Yudhishthira:
"Do what Dhritarashtra,
eldest of the Kurus, desires. Let him go to the forest. He is old. All his sons
have gone before him. It is not possible for him much longer to bear his grief.
Gandhari, whom God has blessed with enlightenment, has borne her sorrows with
courage. Do not stand in the way of their wishes. Let not Dhritarashtra pine
away and die here. Let him go and live among the honeyladen flowers of the
forest and breathe their fragrance, leaving the cares of the world behind. The
dharma of kings is to die in battle or to spend their last days in retirement
in the forest. Dhritarashtra has ruled the kingdom and performed yajnas. When
you were in the wilderness for thirteen years, he enjoyed the wide earth
through his son and gave bounteous gifts. You left him nothing to desire. The
time has come for him to do penance. Let him go with your hearty consent, and
without anger in his heart."
Dharmaraja said: "So be
Then Vyasa returned to his