The Game of Dice – Prelude

After Rajsuya Yajna,

Duryodhan decided to stay back for a while in Indraprastha along with Shakuni. He could not believe what he had seen during the short event of the Rajasuya yagya and wanted to fully ascertain the extent of Pandava wealth. He burned from envy of the Pandavas success. They had far exceeded him in their power and influence. Duryodhan could not stand the fact that Yudhishthir was now the emperor of the world, a position he felt should belong to him. He gazed with astonishment at the unlimited wealth piled in Yudhishthir’s treasury. The Kaurava had never seen such opulence.

Duryodhan was especially intrigued by the Mayasabha, and he wanted to take a closer look. Thus he and Shakuni examined the hall. The Kaurava saw celestial designs which he had never seen before anywhere else. He was amazed by the workmanship and splendor of the palace. It was as if he had gone to the heavenly planets. Bright gems sparkled on all sides of the spacious hall, and Duryodhan could feel a cool breeze which carried a mixture of celestial fragrances. Ivory and gold seats stood by the side of lotus-filled lakes. The walls were inlaid with exquisite carvings depicting the gods and their consorts.


Envy – The vice that drives most ill deeds

Duryodhan slowly made his way through the hall, his many golden ornaments jangling together as he walked. As he saw Maya’s intricate and wonderful workmanship he became even more jealous. He snapped angrily at the palace servants walking in front of him. With his golden-helmeted head held high, he walked casually, trying not to show any signs of being impressed.

Gradually he came to the large crystal pond at the center of the palace. The water was perfectly clear and still. At first glance it appeared to be a continuation of the marble floor leading up to it, and Duryodhan made that mistake. Fully clothed and with his eyes wide open he fell straight into the water. The Pandavas were standing on a golden balcony above the pond. Seeing Duryodhan falling in with his arms and legs akimbo, Bhima laughed aloud.

The Kaurava prince hauled himself out of the lake, helped by Shakuni. He did not even look at the Pandavas. Their laughter was unbearable. Yudhishthir saw Duryodhan’s embarrassment and told his brothers not to laugh. Duryodhan quickly put them on and continued his tour, trying hard to conceal his feelings. Everything was intolerable to him – the magnificence of the palace, the incomparable beauty of the queens who moved about within it, and particularly Draupadi. Suddenly he again found himself a victim of the deceptive designs of the palace; he walked into an apparently open door, then avoided another because he thought it was closed when it was actually open. The palace attendants were struggling to restrain their laughter. Humiliated and angry, the prince stormed out.

Yudhishthir felt sorry to see Duryodhan’s pain. He tried to console him in various ways, but Duryodhan walked off. He bade the Pandavas farewell and left for Hastinapura followed by his large retinue, his mind bent upon revenge.

After his departure the Pandavas approached Vyasadeva, who had not yet left. Yudhishthir asked him if the sacrifice had been successful.

The rishi replied, “O Kuru child, this sacrifice will yield great results for thirteen years. You shall be the undisputed emperor of this wide earth, but at the end of that period you will be the cause of a war which will rid the world of kshatriyas.” 

Yudhishthir was alarmed. Seeing his expression, Vyasadeva said, “Do not be aggrieved. No one can overcome the influence of time. Everything is arranged by the Supreme for the ultimate good of all. This war will be Duryodhan’s fault, not yours. I shall now go to the mountains, but you will see me again in times of need.

The Rishi then stood up and left, surrounded by all the other sages. When they were left Yudhishthir spoke to his brothers. “The sage’s words cannot prove false, but I do not wish to be the cause of suffering in the world. From this day on I shall not speak a harsh word to anyone. I shall always practice virtue and shall see no difference between my own sons and those of others, and I shall follow my elders commands without the least hesitation. In this way I shall avoid disagreements, for they are the cause of war.

Yudhishthir continued to think about Vyasadeva’s words. It seemed that the Lord’s plan was unfolding. Although the Pandavas had asserted their ruler-ship over the world, it was still a fact that many impious kings were exploiting the earth’s resources. Yudhishthir saw at the sacrifice that many had supported Shishupal against Krishna, although they were afraid to oppose Him openly. Who knew what evil schemes Duryodhan and his brothers would dream up? All of this was no doubt Krishna’s arrangement to rid the world of ungodly elements. Yudhishthir remained immersed in thought of Krishna and His mysterious plans.


As he made his way back to Hastinapura, Duryodhan sat brooding and miserable in his chariot.
Shakuni asked, “What ails you, O King? Why are your sighing again and again?

The prince looked distractedly at Shakuni. “O Uncle, I am filled with jealousy to see the world under the Pandava’s sway. Having witnessed their astounding sacrifice and seeing them shining like gods in heaven, my heart burns day and night. Indeed I am drying up like a shallow pool in the summer sun.

Duryodhan gazed out of his chariot at the rolling countryside with its well-tilled fields and blossoming orchards. Groups of villagers stood and watched as the royal procession moved along the road. The prince continued, “When Krishna killed Shishupal no kings dared to speak. They were all awed by the Pandava’s might, or else how could they have tolerated such an injustice?

Duryodhan wrung his hands. “I cannot tolerate it. I shall therefore enter fire, drown myself or swallow poison. What man who possesses any prowess at all can bear to see his enemies prosper? How can I ever equal their power and opulence? Who can help me achieve such influence? Fate is supreme and men’s exertions useless. All my efforts to destroy the Pandavas have failed. Instead, they flourish like lotuses in a lake. Therefore I should die! Know that I am in the grip of grief, O Uncle, and please inform my father.

Shakuni moved closer to his nephew. “O Duryodhan, do not envy the Pandavas. They are receiving what is rightfully theirs, due to their own deeds. They have their half of the kingdom, and with Krishna’s help and Drupad’s alliance they have grown rich. What is there to be sorry about?

The Gandhara ruler smiled as he spoke, “Your cousins have conquered the world and now possess limitless wealth. Why do you grieve? This wealth can become yours. You said there are none to help you, but I do not agree. You have one hundred brothers, the greatly powerful Drona, Karna and the invincible Kripa. Besides them, there is Pitamah Bhishm who is par excellence and has the boon of death by choice. And my brothers, along with the mighty Somadatta, stand ready at your command. Take the earth and rule it without a rival.

Duryodhan’s eyes widened. He sat up straight on the leather upholstered seat. Perhaps his uncle was right. The Kauravas’ strength was hard to rival. Drona, Bhishm, Kripa, Karna – who could face these men when they stood together in battle? Duryodhan spoke eagerly, “O Uncle, if you think it wise, then I shall conquer the Pandavas. This whole world shall be mine, along with the magnificent Mayasabha.

Shakuni slowly shook his head. He played with the set of dice he carried with him everywhere. “Do not be rash, O King. There are many ways to overcome an enemy apart from battle. We cannot conquer in battle the Pandavas, especially when they are united with Krishna. Not even Indra with all the celestials could overpower them. I was thinking of another way by which they can be defeated.”

Shakuni suggested that they challenge Yudhishthir to a game of dice. He knew Yudhishthir was fond of playing, and also that he was not expert. At dice Shakuni had no equal anywhere in the world. “Without a doubt Yudhishthir will accept your challenge,” Shakuni continued, his arm resting on Duryodhan’s shoulder. “He cannot resist the game, and with a little encouragement, he will surely gamble away all his possessions. Thus I will win for you his entire kingdom and wealth.

As they entered Hastinapura, Duryodhan suggested that they go at once to Dhritarashtra and get his permission for the plan. Arriving before the blind king, Shakuni said, “O great monarch, here is your son Duryodhan. He is pale and emaciated with grief. You should ask him the cause and try to find a remedy.

Dhritarashtra was surprised. “Why are you sad, my son? You have at your disposal everything enjoyable, no less than the gods. Vast wealth, the best of clothes, the finest food, beautiful women–all these await your pleasure. How then have you become depressed?

Duryodhan at once admitted that he was consumed by jealousy of the Pandavas. Even though he had wealth, their wealth–his enemy’s wealth–was superior. The Kaurava then described to his father what he had seen in Indraprastha. “During the sacrifice, Yudhishthir was given so much tribute that it became necessary to turn some of it away. He had been offered millions of elephants, horses, cows and camels. Heaps of gems and golden ornaments were stacked up like mountains. The Pandava provided thirty servant maids for each of 88,000 snataka Brahmins. He arranged to feed one hundred thousand Brahmins at a time during the sacrifice and when they were fed conches were blown. O Father, I heard those conches sounding all through the sacrifice.

Duryodhan told the king how he had even seen the gods at the Rajasuya. Samudra, the ocean deity, had personally offered Yudhishthir celestial ambrosia drawn from the depths of the sea. This beverage is superior even to the soma-rasa that Indra enjoys. It was impossible for Duryodhan to describe to his blind father all that he had seen. As he remembered it, however, Duryodhan’s heart burned with the fire of envy.

Dhritarashtra remained silent. Then Shakuni spoke: “O King, I know a means by which your son may win all this wealth for himself. I propose that you invite Yudhishthir to a game of dice. No one can defeat me at dice. I will win easily. In this way we shall acquire all that Yudhishthir possesses.

Father, please grant us your permission to carry this out. Let us conquer our enemies and enjoy this earth.” Duryodhana Said

Dhritarashtra was uncertain. “Let me consult the wise Vidura. He will only advise us for our own good.

Vidura will certainly block our plan,” Duryodhan replied. “And if he does, then I shall take my own life. Then you and Vidura may live here happily. What need do you have for me anyway?


Dhritarashtra Son or Diseases?

Dhritarashtra was pained. Duryodhan was his most dear son. How could he ever refuse his requests? The king decided he would talk with Vidura and convince him. He then ordered that a palatial hall be constructed for the match. It should have a thousand pillars and a thousand gates. Covering two square miles it should be set with countless gems. When it was complete they could invite the Pandavas for the game.

Dhritarashtra was still uneasy. He knew the evils of gambling. He called for Vidura and said, “I have decided to invite the Pandavas for a friendly game of dice with my sons. They can gamble a little and thus sport together. I am building a fine hall for their pleasure.

Vidura frowned. “I do not approve of this, O King. Gambling always brings with it dispute and fighting. You should be careful that no dissension arises between your sons and the Pandavas, for that may cause destruction.

Dhritarashtra tried to reassure his brother. “When you, me, Bhishm and Drona are here, what evil can befall us? In any event, destiny is supreme. Whatever has been ordained by the supreme power will come to pass. What can our efforts do to avert it? I have already arranged for this gambling match for my son’s pleasure. Please do not try to change my mind.

Vidura sighed. “Fate is surely all-powerful, O King, but we nevertheless receive the results of our own acts. We have free will. The supreme power simply reciprocates with our desires. It is the consequences of our acts which are inevitable, not the acts themselves. O lord, consider carefully your motivation in allowing this gambling match.”

Dhritarashtra remained silent and Vidura slowly left his chamber with a heavy heart. He could understand that Kaliyug, the dark age of quarrel and suffering, was beginning. The gambling match would certainly set in motion the events that would lead to the annihilation of the world’s rulers. Vidura remembered the Rajasuya and the kings who had supported Shishupal against Krishna. He was apprehensive, but he felt helpless. Although the king was not a fool, he was controlled by his covetous and mean-minded son. Vidura’s counsel, although aimed at the good of all, was falling on deaf ears.


Post Author: Prasanna Bhalerao

IT Professional with interest in History, Mythology and Photography. Likes to travel and see interesting places.

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