“Ashramavasika (आश्रमवासिक)” literally means to “making an abode out of a hutment(ashram) in the forest“. In this Parva or book, Hastinapur is shown being ruled by the Pandavas with Yudhishthir as the emperor and Dhritarashtra as their head. After some time the old king Dhritarashtra get tired of the royal life. He now desires to retire to the forest. So he, his queen Gandhari, sister-in-law Kunti and brother Vidur, took leave of the Kingdom and retired to the forest.
Yudhishthir had been ruling the kingdom wisely following dharma and justice. He always respected Dhritarashtra and treated him like a father, knowing fully well that his own sons were dead. He also told his brothers to forget the past and treat Dhritarashtra with similar respect. However, Bheem never really forgot that Dhritarashtra was the root cause of the battle. He often use to say disrespectful things about the old king. Fifteen years had passed since the end of the great war. One day, in hearing distance of Dhritarashtra, he boasted on how he killed all the Kauravas brothers all by himself and how Dhritarashtra was to blame for all the carnage. Dhritarashtra, who had more or less reconciled with the present, was exceedingly pained to hear this and all his sorrow returned. He could no longer find solace in the palace and gradually forsake food. It was then Sage Vyas visited the kingdom. He advised Yudhishthir to speak to the old king.
Dhritarashtra expressed his desire to retire to the forest along with Gandhari. Vidur and Kunti also wished to join them. This pained Yudhishthir much but ultimately he agreed to the request. Accordingly, Dhritarashtra, with assistance for Yudhishthir, performed a small yagya and donated land/money to poor brahmins. He took their blessings and the four left for their forest abode. Sanjaya accompanied his master. Later, due to blessings by Vyas Dhritarashtra was able to see his dead sons and thus discarded his sorrows.
After their departure, the Pandavas were not a happy lot. Sometime later, everybody including Draupadi expressed a wish to see them again. The Pandavas then went to Dhritarashtra hermitage. With tears in their eyes, the Pandavas worshipped king Dhritarashtra, as also Gandhari and mother Kunti. But Vidur was not found anywhere. He had gone to the deeper recesses of the forest to gather fruits. Just then they saw Vidur approaching. Yudhishthir ran up to him but Vidur hid behind a tree. So Yudhishthir called out, “Uncle, here I am, Yudhishthir who has come to meet you“. But Vidur did not move. When Yudhishthir moved closer, he found that Vidur was in yogic trance. Just then, the soul left Vidur’s body and merged with Yudhishthir.
(As a consequence of the curse of sage Mandavya, the celebrated God Dharma became Vidur. Yudhishthir, was born as a son of God Dharma to Kunti. So when Vidur’s life ended, the soul merged with Yudhishthir. Therefore Dharma is Vidur and Vidur is Yudhishthir.)
King Yudhishthir, with his wife, his soldiers and kinsmen, returned to the city of Hastinapur. After a few days, the celestial sage Narad came to Yudhishthir’s court and said, “O Scion of Kuru! After you had returned from your stay in the forest, there arose a wind and there was a big forest-fire. The blessed Gandhari and your mother Kunti were consumed by the forest-fire as also, your uncle, king Dhritarashtra. The intelligent Sanjaya went away to the Himalaya mountain.”
(to be continued)…