Mahabharata: The Game of Dice

Main Source: Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya, by Sri Madhvacharya (Chapter 21)

Duryodhana and Shakuni, while hastily returning from the Rajasuya Yaga of Yudhisthira have a discussion. Duryodhana expresses his utmost heartburn at seeing the great stature of the Pandavas. He declares that he would like to die due to the shame he is facing. Shakuni at first appears to speak nice about Pandavas. But his intention is only to increase the anger in Duryodhana, who falls for this and declares his intention to illegally gain all of the Pandavas’ wealth. Shakuni conceives the idea of a game of dice and assures Duryodhana that he will be able to get him all the wealth of the sons of Kunti.

Both of them approach Dhritarashtra and try to convince him to invite Pandavas for a game of dice. Realizing their bad intentions, the King tries to make reason with his son. He asks him to perform Yagas just like Yudhishthira and increase his land and wealth. But Duryodhana threatens to commit suicide if his suggestion is not implemented. At the time of Duryodhana’s birth, Kali would have entered Dhritharasthra and is present as an amsha. Under the influence of that Kali amsha, the King is bound by blind attachment to his son. He gives in to the empty threat of Duryodhana and decides to setup a game of dice.

Dhritharashtra calls Vidura and lets him know of his plan. Vidura, as usual, tries to put some sense into the King’s mind but fails. Dhritharashtra assures Vidura that in case of the situation going out of control, he would step in and take charge. Vidura, left with no option, proceeds to Indraprastha.

Around the same time, Lord Krishna, who is with the Pandavas, gets information that the evil Salva, King of Soubha, is about to attack Dwaraka. Krishna uses this as a pretext and leaves Pandavas and proceeds to fight Salva.

Vidura meets Yudhishthira and lets him know of the invite. He also advises Yudhishthira to consider all factors and take a good decision. His brothers and Draupadi also advise the Emperor to reject the invite as playing dice is not really Dharma for a King. But Yudhishthira is bound by an old vow that he has undertaken. Under that oath, Yudhishthira will never refuse an invite for a game of dice. It is this secret vow of Yudhishthira that Shakuni was aware of, and hence he decides on this scheme.

Dhritharashtra gets a special palace constructed just to play the game of dice. Pandavas arrive in Hastinapura and spend the night under the care of the blind King. The next day, all of them gather in the hall. Except Pandavas, Kunti, Draupadi and Vidura, all of them in the hall are under the influence of Kali and are unable to exert any influence on the developments.

The game of dice begins and very soon Yudhisthira starts to lose all. He first loses all his wealth to Shakuni. Then, he places Nakula as a bet and loses him. Then Sahadeva, Arjuna, Bhima and Draupadi are placed as bets and lost. Finally, Yudhishthira places himself as a bet and loses. Duryodhana sends his charioteer Pratikami to bring Draupadi to the hall.  Draupadi tells Pratikami that she cannot come to the hall of the Kauravas. Upon hearing this, Duryodhana sends his brother Dushashana to bring her. Dushashana holds her by her untied hair and drags her to the hall.

Draupadi then places a lot of questions related to Dharma to Bhishma and the other elders. She asks them what right Yudhishthira had to place her as a bet. She asks how the elders are all tolerating this evil game and the disrespect being shown. Bhishma and others behave very strangely and tell Draupadi to ask Yudhishthira for all the answers. At that time, Vidura stands up, holds both his hands up and declares that the whole incident is extremely Adharmic. He tells Draupadi that great injustice is being meted out to her and that the entire hall is engulfed by Adharma.

Vikarna, who is one of the younger Kauravas, gets up and tells Duryodhana that the game is against Dharma. But this protest was just to show off his understanding of Dharma. Karna berates him at which he immediately shuts up and keeps quiet.

Bhimasena then chastises Yudhisthira and tells him that his hands must be burnt for this mistake. Arjuna takes exception to Bhima’s outburst and tells him that such a punishment must not be given. Bhima then gives Arjuna a dharmopadesha. He tells him that when elders commit mistakes, the punishment is to chastise them through words. When peers commit mistake, the punishment is material fines. And when younger people make mistakes, the punishment is through to be actually physically executed.

Karna then makes a very cheap statement at Draupadi. He tells her that all her husbands are gone and therefore she should enter the palace of Duryodhana. Duryodhana then, in order to split the unity of the Pandavas, tells Draupadi that if one of the younger Pandavas tells everyone that they do not have respect for Yudhishthira, he will release her.  Bhimasena gets extremely enraged at this. He gets up and tells everyone that Yudhishthira is extremely respected by all of them. Bhima declares that in Kshatriyas, strength determines superiority and seniority and by that measure, he is the Guru of everyone there. Therefore, his word should be taken.

The entire hall panics at the anger of Bhimasena. Bhishma, Drona and Vidura all try to pacify Bhimasena and ask him to sit down. Duryodhana then shows his thighs to Draupadi and pats it. Bhimasena, at that point, makes a vow that he will kill Duryodhana by breaking his thigh. Duryodhana still continues with this poisonous statements. He tells Pandavas to keep Lord Krishna as a bet in the game, since they have nothing else left. At this, Bhimasena’s anger goes out of control. He makes a terrible vow to crush the head of Duryodhana with his foot and smash him.

Karna once again asks Draupadi to enter the palace of Duryodhana. Enraged, Bhimasena and Arjuna rush towards Karna but are stopped by Yudhishthira. Duryodhana then asks Dushashana to take away the royal clothes of the Pandavas. The 5 brothers put on forest garbs and hand over their royal clothes. Duryodhana then orders Dushashana to disrobe Draupadi. Dushashana begins to pull the saree of the Empress. Bhimasena then makes another terrible vow that he will rip apart the chest of Dushashana and drink his blood.

Draupadi then goes into a trance praying to Lord Krishna, who grants her one saree after another. Dushashana keeps disrobing Draupadi but immediately a new saree appears. Finally, Dushashana collapses. Duryodhana then asks Draupadi to be taken to his palace. Draupadi makes a vow that Bhima will kill Duryodhana, Arjuna will kill Karna and Sahadeva will kill Shakuni. Bhimasena says that he will do exactly the same. Arjuna and Sahadeva also approve and repeat the vows.

Dushashana starts to pull Draupadi to the palace. Bhimasena looks at Arjuna and tells him that he has had enough and he can no longer remain quiet when his wife is being dragged away. Bhimasena gets up to destroy all the Kauravas. The people in the hall hear the ugly crying of foxes at a distant. Dhritharashtra hears this sound as well and asks Vidura about it. Vidura replies that is an extremely evil omen and that the entire Kaurava clan will get destroyed if Draupadi is not released and pleased with boons.

Dhritharasthtra, who is extremely scared by now, orders the immediate release of Draupadi. When pressed to accept boons, Draupadi asks only for the release of the Pandavas. But Dhritharasthtra also returns all the wealth and land taken away from them.  The Pandavas bow to all the elders there and return to their homes.

Dushashana then emotionally blackmails his father and tells him that if Pandavas get back once again, then Bhimasena will attack them and kill all of them. Therefore, they must be called back once again for a second round of dice. Dhritharasthra falls for this trap and invites the Pandavas once again. Yudhishthira is again bound by his weird vow and they return to Hastinapura for a second game. In this game, there was only one round. The entire wealth and land of both sides was at stake. The loser needed to go to the forests for 12 years and then go hiding for a further one year. If discovered during the hiding, the 12 year plus one year punishment re-occurs.

Yudhisthira loses once again. Duryodhana, who won everything, starts laughing aloud and repeatedly calls Bhimasena as an Ox. He again asks Draupadi to get into his palace. All the brothers of Duryodhana also start laughing. Bhimasena now takes another vow that he will kill all the 100 Kaurava brothers. Immediately, the Kauravas sense danger and seek the protection of Drona. Drona assures them that he, though a brahmin, will pick up weapons and fight the war when the time comes.

Duryodhana gets back and continues to mock Bhimasena and imitates his walking style. At this, Bhimasena makes another vow that he will break the other thigh of Duryodhana also. The Pandavas start leaving the dice hall.

As he leaves the hall, Yudhishthira keeps his face down. This is to ensure that his anger filled gaze doesnt fall on Duryodhana. That anger filled gaze would have burnt Duryodhana. The compassionate Yudhishthira realizes this and keeps his face down.

Bhimasena leaves the hall with both his shoulders held up. He indicates to all that through the power of just his hands, he is going to destroy them all.

Draupadi leaves the hall leaving her hair untied. This was to indicate that all the Kaurava women would meet the same fate of having to leave their hair untied i.e. widowhood.

Arjuna leaves the hall and keeps sprinkling the entire route with sand. This was to indicate that he just like the countless grains of sand, he will release countless arrows at the Kauravas.

Nakula and Sahadeva leave the hall with their heads down in shame.

The official priest of the Pandavas, Dhaumyacharya, leaves the hall chanting the mantras meant to be chanted during funerals. This was to indicate the fate that all Kauravas would meet.

Thousands and thousands of residents of Hastinapura follow the Pandavas on their way to the forest.

Thus, one of the most riveting incidents in the Mahabharata comes to an end.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s