Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Completion of the term of exile

There is yet another dispute in Mahabharat for which Vyas does not provide a clear cut answer and leaves it to the readers to draw their own conclusion. After their defeat in the game of dice, according to the terms set, the Pandavs had to spend twelve years in the forest and one year in cognito. The term further stipulated that if their identity is discovered in the thirteenth year, they will have to repeat the whole twelve plus one year term.

The Pandavs, after successfully completing twelve years in the forest, change their identities and live quietly in King Virat’s Matsya kingdom in the thirteenth year. After eleven months have passed uneventfully, in the twelfth month Virat’s general and Queen’s brother Kichak returns to the Matsya capital from a campaign. The all powerful commander sees Draupadi disguised as Queen Sudeshna’s maid, is enamoured by her and convinces his sister to send her to him. Harassed by his persistent attention Draupadi is in fear of molestation by him. However, Yudhishthir exercising self-control decides not to act against Kichak despite Draupadi’s provocative words, as that would lead to revelation of their identity. Draupadi then approaches Bheem in the quiet of the night and he agrees to slay Kichak. She invites Kichak for a secret rendezvous where Bheem slays him. When the news of Kichak’s slaying reaches Hastinapur, the Kauravs realize that a powerful warrior like Kichak could have been slain only by Bheem, since the two other persons capable of achieving that feat – Shalya and Balram had not done it.

In an attempt to expose the Pandavs’ identity, the Kauravs collaborate with Susharma, the King of Trigart and carry out a raid on the Matsyas. The Pandavs decide to help King Virat without revealing their identity. Yudhishthir along with Bheem, Nakul and Sahdev go to the Northern front where the Trigarts lead a diversionary attack on the first day. Yudhir warns his brothers to take care not to reveal their identity. After Virat is captured by Susharma, Bheem rescues him and captures Susharma in turn. However, Yudhishthir requests King Virat to pardon and release Susharma. The victorious Matsyas camp in the battlefield for the night and before they return to the capital, next morning the Kauravs launch the main attack. With all the Matsya braves away at the Trigart front, it is left to Arjun, disguised as Bruhannalla, to drive the Matsya prince Uttar’s chariot. When Uttar tries to desert the battlefield in awe of the Kauravs, Arjun has to reveal his true identity and rescue the Matsya cattle from the Kauravs singlehanded.

Duryodhan immediately announces that the Pandavs have been exposed before completion of the thirteenth year, but Bhishm, with his own computations, declares that the Pandavs have completed their full term of exile. However, the reader is not convinced either way when after the battle Arjun asks Prince Uttar not to reveal Bruhanalla’s identity to his father.

Further doubt arises when Yudhishthir praises Arjun as Brhuhanalla and not as Arjun in front of King Virat (for which Virat hurts him by throwing the dice at him thinking that Yudhishthir is belittling his son Uttar’s achievement). Yudhishthir decides to reveal their identity three days after the battle for the cattle. Why does he take this time?

Although Krishna and Vidur subsequently say that the Pandavs have completed their term of exile, they do not demonstrate this by any calculation of days and months. This is one riddle which is not clearly answered in the epic.


  1. Oui. It's a complicated arithmatic built into the epic. I had read somewhere--maybe in Devdutt's "Jaya", where he had attempted a solution. Maybe I had managed to understand that way. Definitely that's a riddle and whether it was deliberately left by Vyasa or developed by the momentum of the plot, it can't be said. Nice reading Sudhir. You're such a talent, and must be reader's favourite.

  2. A conjecture on why did Yudhishtira wait for three days after the Virata war to announce the Pandavas' true identities - maybe he wanted to be careful that one year was up by all accepted (during those times) calendars such as solar, lunar, ... For instance, I am from an orthodox Tamil Brahmana family where it is customary to follow the cāndramāna almanac for some observances and sauramāna for others. Of course, the discrepancy today between these two is typically around 12-15 days but do we know exactly what almanacs were in vogue then?