Virat Parva or “The Book of Virat” is the book of the Mahabharata describes the Pandavas’ 13th year of exile. The twelve years of life in the wilderness having come to an end, the Pandavas started preparing for the thirteenth year to be spent in an inhabitable place without being discovered by Duryodhan. As per the conditions of the 2nd dice game, this year was to be spent incognito (अज्ञातवास). If any Pandava was discovered during this year, the Pandavas would have to repeat the 12 year exile + 1 year incognito. Hence this year was very important and thus Mahabharat dedicates one full Parva for just this one year. Yudhishthir asks all the four brothers as to which place they should choose that will best suit their purpose. Several places were suggested. But Yudhishthira chose Virat in the kingdom of the Matsya (मत्स्य देश). “The Virat king is old, just, follower of Dharma and hospitable and he will be best suited for our purpose,” Yudhishthira said.
The Pandavas then discussed what disguise each one would take. Yudhishthir became Kanka (कंक), a learned Brahmin who would become a purohit (priest) at the palace; he would advise the king of worldly matters as well as dharma and also entertain him in games of dice. Bheem, being an expert cook, chose to become Ballav (बल्लव या बल्लवाचार्य) with an intention of being the head cook at the royal kitchens. Nakul became Granthik (ग्रंथिक), an expert horse trainer and keeper. Sahadev became Tantipal (तन्तिपाल), the cowherd. Arjun chose to use Urvashi’s curse of being a eunuch and became Brihannala (ब्रिहन्नला). Arjun had also learnt the arts of singing and dancing from Chitrasen, the Gandharva at Indralok. He became the singing and dance teacher to Princess Uttaraa. Draupadi had the toughest job of all. Being extremely beautiful, with royal electrifying nature, it was difficult to find a suitable disguise. She became a sairandhri (royal dasi सैरन्ध्री) but was not able to find any job till Queen Sudeshna (सुदेष्णा) found her and hired her.
Most of the year last uneventfully. Around the ninth month, Keechak (कीचक), the brother of Queen Sudeshna and commander-in-chief of King Virat’s forces happens to spot Draupadi as sairandhri. He becomes totally smitten and desires her. After scuffles during which Draupadi is insulted (once more), and resulting plans, Bheem slays Keechak. Keechak’s death was welcomed everywhere as he and his followers were notorious oppressors, and King Virat was virtually his prisoner.
Realising that the thirteenth year of the Pandavas’ exile had started, Duryodhana had sent out his spies in all directions to find them out. The spies searched far and wide only to report to the angry king that not a trace of the six could be found anywhere. Duryodhan asks his men to redouble their efforts. Meanwhile, the news of Keechak’s death travels soon and far and ultimately to Hastinapur. When the news reaches Hastinapur, everyone ponders on who would be the giant of a man to kill another giant called Keechak. The Kauravas and Karna suspected that this killer could be none other than Bheem.
King Susharma was the ruler of Trigarta, a neighbour of the Matsya kingdom and an enemy. He was friendly with Duryodhan. In the past, Susharma’s attacks were always repelled by the powerful Keechak. Hearing that Keechak is no more, Susharma and Kauravas formed a plan. Both would launch a near simultaneous attack on the Matsya kingdom. Susharma would attack from the south first. After Virat army is fully engagaged in the south, the Kauravas would launch themselves from the north. Accordingly the plan is put into execution.
Virat and his army rush to the south. Although Keechak is sorely missed but aided by Kanka, Ballav, Granthik and Tantipal Virat’s army is once again victorios. Just then Kauravas attack from the north. There is no army, no warriors left at Viratnagari except the young prince Uttar. At first Uttar boasts on his Martial skills. He says that he can single-handedly repel the Kauravas but he has no charioteer. At this time, edged by Brihannala, Draupadi as sairandhri coaxes Uttar to engage Brihannala. But at the battle field, Uttar develops cold feet. It then describes the feat of Arjun as Brihannala who singlehandedly defeats the Kaurava army led by Bheeshma, and having esteemed warriors such as Drona, Kripacharya, Karna, Duryodhana, and his 99 brothers plus the huge army of soldiers. Although, the Kauravas are defeated, Duryodhan is elated at the discovery of Arjun and thus the Pandavas. Pitamah Bheeshm reminds Duryodhan that the agyaatvaas ( अज्ञातवास – year of incognito) had ended five months ago as per the lunar calendar (even as per the Solar calendar, the 13th year had ended six days ago).
The Pandavas disclose their identity. King Virat is extremely pleased and offers Princess Uttaraa as a bride to Arjun. Arjun replies that he has been her guru and hence has fatherly affection for her. But she would be ideal for his son, Abhimanyu. The parva concludes with the wedding of Abhimanyu and Uttaraa.
(to be continued)…
(picture shows Keechak accosting Sairandhri (Draupadi)).