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The Game of Dice – Prelude

While preparations were being made and the hall being built for the dice game, Dhritarashtra was still troubled. He reflected on Vidur’s words. While he never enjoyed the fact that Vidur’s counsel was usually not aligned to his own thoughts and wishes, he knew that countermanding him was not a good idea. Time and again Vidur had proven that he never gave faulty counsel and although he always appeared to be favoring the Pandavas, deep down Dhritarashtra knew that this was not the case. Dhritarashtra was, by far and most, worried about what Vidur had said – the outcome of the game may be a full scale battle between his sons and the sons of Pandu – and that, he thought, would be a disaster.

Dhritarashtra decided that he should speak to Duryodhan once more and try to convince him otherwise. Sitting alone with him in his chamber, he said, “O son of Gandhari, please listen to me. There is no need to gamble with your cousins. The wise Vidur does not approve of it and he never gives me wrong advice. I do not like it either. Gambling inevitably leads to dissension. Everything we now have could be ruined. If you desire wealth equal to that of the Pandavas, then let us perform a sacrifice similar to theirs’. Then the world’s kings will bring you tribute as they did Yudhishthir. Why must you take Yudhishthir’s wealth from him? Yudhishthir is gentle, kind and ever truthful. He will never attack you or cause you pain and so there is no need to treat the Pandavas as enemies. Give up your envy and do not grieve. Enjoy life with all the good things you already possess.

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Envy – The vice that drives most ill deeds

But Duryodhan was adamant and would not accept his father’s advice. He flared up again and told him about the incidents in the Mayasabha how the Pandavas had laughed at him. As he remembered it again his anger was inflamed. In a choked voice he described the incidents to his father. “Seeing what I thought to be a door, but which was really a solid piece of crystal, I walked straight into it and smashed my head. As I stood with my brains swimming, the twins came up and supported me. Sahadeva led me by the hand, smiling and saying repeatedly, ‘This is the door, O King.’ I felt like dying then and there.”

The Kaurava prince also gave more details about the Pandava’s wealth. The Kauravas could never equal that wealth even if they performed one hundred sacrifices. Duryodhan had never even heard of many of the shining gems he had seen at Yudhishthir’s palace. For weeks an endless line of kings and chieftains arrived at Indraprastha, each bringing huge amounts of tribute in an attempt to excel the others in charity. The gifts were so many that they had to turn many kings away, he shouted. Seeing all the gold, gems, weapons, animals, clothes, rugs, silks, skins, serving maids, perfumes and incenses, Duryodhan was shocked. When he saw Samudra fetch Varun’s massive golden conch, which Krishna then used to bathe Yudhishthir in the final sacrificial ablution, the Kaurava prince all but lost his senses.

Dhritarashtra listened in silence as his son continued. “O Father, the Pandavas have even spread their dominion to the far northern regions of Harivarsha where no man can go. The residents of that land gave them hundreds of celestial conches, and I heard them being blown during the sacrifice. The tremendous sound made my hair stand erect. Weaker kings fainted upon hearing the noise.

Duryodhan’s voice became increasingly urgent as he pleaded with his father. “I cannot live as long as the Pandavas possess such incomparable opulence. If they are allowed to flourish it will only be a matter of time until they overpower the Kauravas. They are our enemies. It is only right that we should attack them and take their wealth. This is the kshatriya code. Either I will gain control of the earth or I will die. This gambling match is the safest and surest way to achieve my ends.

Dhritarashtra thought for some moments, then replied, “O son, I hate such enmity, especially when you bear it towards those who are powerful. Such hostility brings about a change of feelings and is thus itself a painful weapon, although not made of steel. Do you realize that what you are suggesting will certainly cause a fearful war?

Duryodhan paced impatiently in front of his blind father. “What violence is there in a simple dice game? If Yudhishthir chooses to gamble and lose his wealth, then how can anyone blame us? We have nothing to lose. Shakuni will win every game. O Father, please grant me permission to invite the Pandavas for this match.

The king rose from his seat and called for his servants. As they led him away he said, “Your words do not find favor with me, O prince, but do what you will. You will surely repent your rashness later, for deeds fraught with impiety never bring prosperity. I shall ask Vidur to invite the Pandavas.

A few days later the king heard that the hall had been completed. He called for Vidur and said, “Please leave at once for Indraprastha and bring Yudhishthir and his brothers. Invite them for a friendly game of dice with their cousins in our new hall.

Vidur tried one last time to dissuade the king. “This match will bring about the destruction of our race. Clearly your son wants only the Pandavas’ wealth and has contrived this means to take it. Dissension among our family members will cause our ruin. O King, stop it now while you have the chance.

But Dhritarashtra had already made up his mind. “O brother, everything lies in the hands of destiny. If destiny so wills it, then we will not be harmed; and if by the course of fate we are to suffer, then what can be done? Everything happens according to Providence. Therefore please go to Indraprastha and return with Kunti’s invincible sons.”

Vidur looked despairingly at the blind monarch. It was hopeless to try to change his mind. His attachment for Duryodhan was too strong. Even though he could obviously see the results of acquiescing to his son, Dhritarashtra still did not refuse him. Fearing the worst, Vidur left the palace and prepared for his journey.


After the Rajasuya, Indraprastha had become unlimitedly opulent. The roads, streets and lanes were sprinkled daily with perfumed water. Huge white mansions stood along the sides of the wide avenues. Jeweled gates and arches, golden waterpots at their sides, stood at the city’s crossroads. All the citizens were dressed in colorful silks and adorned with garlands and gold ornaments, and they felt secure under the Pandavas’ rule. Every day, more and more kings were arriving in Indraprastha from other countries, coming to pay tribute.

Yudhishthir sat in the Mayasabha with his brothers. When they were not engaged in affairs of state, they enjoyed hearing spiritual instructions from the Brahmins. As they were seated one day listening to the rishis recounting ancient Vedic histories, a guard arrived to announce Vidur’s arrival. Yudhishthir immediately stood up to receive him. He loved Vidur, who had always shown them so much care from childhood. With tears in his eyes Yudhishthir bowed at his uncle’s feet. As he rose he saw Vidur’s expression and said, “O Uncle, your mind seems disturbed. Do you come in peace? Is the king well? Are his sons obedient to their old father and the people obedient to his rule?

Taking his seat close to the Pandavas, Vidur replied, “The illustrious monarch and his relatives are well. Surrounded by his sons and ministers he reigns like Indra. But he is bent upon his own impediment. The king ordered me to first enquire after your welfare and then to inform you that he has constructed a hall equal to yours. He wishes you to come and see it and to enjoy a game of dice with your cousins.

Yudhishthir glanced across at his brothers and then back to Vidur. He was immediately apprehensive. “O Uncle, if we gamble, we shall probably fight. How can I possibly consent to the king’s proposal? What do you think I should do?

Gambling is the root of all misery,” Vidur said. “I tried to dissuade Dhritarashtra, but he would not head my advice. Thus he has sent me here to bring you to Hastinapur. It seems that Duryodhana desires a game in which Shakuni will match his skills with yours. The blind king has granted his permission and he now wishes you to come at once.

Knowing that it was Dhritarashtra who had sent the invitation, Yudhishthir felt obliged to go. He had vowed never to refuse his elders orders. Even though he was now emperor of the world, Dhritarashtra was a respectable superior. He said, “I have no desire to gamble, but if I am challenged I will not be able to refuse, because the kshatriya code is to always accept a challenge. Surely this world moves according to the will of supreme Providence. All powerful fate deprives us of our reason and we move according to its dictates as if bound by a rope. I will come to Hastinapur on King Dhritarashtra’s command.

Yudhishthir knew that Shakuni was a gifted dice player. The Gandhara monarch was familiar with every secret of the game. But Yudhishthir also knew that he could only win if the Lord ordained it. No one moved independently of the Lord’s desire. If the Lord desired that Yudhishthir lose, then what could he do? He simply had to accept it as part of a divine scheme meant ultimately for his own good. He ordered his brothers to make themselves ready to travel.

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