Saturday, April 28, 2018

Gatothgaja - Chapter 7


Sixteen Years Later

This is so unfair!” Subhadra was furious. “How could King Virata go back on his word?”
Krishna sighed not saying anything. There really was nothing for him to say.
He was so eager to get his daughter married to the Pandavas?” Subhadra was ranting angrily. “What caused him to suddenly change his mind?”
The fact that Yudhishtara gambled away his kingdom.” Krishna said as his dark eyes were glowing with a strange emotion. “That is what made Virata rethink his offer to get his daughter Uttara married to Abhimanyu.”
What is Abhimanyu’s fault in that?” Subhadra wailed angrily. “Abhimanyu is Arjuna’s son – Arjuna does not gamble. He does not….”
He did not stop his elder brother from gambling either.” Krishna interrupted in a soft voice.
Subhadra’s shoulder’s sagged unhappily. “Ever since the dice game and the thirteen year exile, everything has gone wrong. Duryodhana has taken over all of the Pandavas kingdom.” Subhadra said angrily. “I have not seen my husband properly. All I knew that my husband and his brothers were suffering in the forests. In fact in the last year I did not even know where my husband was...”
Arjuna and the other Pandavas were in incognito.” Krishna reminded Subhadra. “Naturally, you could not know where Arjuna was hiding.”
Subhadra did not bother replying. She knew that whether anyone else knew or not, Krishna would have known. He always did.
Then after the thirteenth year, I was thrilled when I got a message from Arjuna.” Subhadra continued in a sullen voice. “Telling me that King Virata wanted his daughter to marry Abhimanyu.” Subhadra looked angrily at Krishna. “When I told Abhimanyu about it… he seemed happy.” She looked glum. “Now, what do I go and tell him?”
Krishna said nothing as Subhadra continued. “This seems unfair.”
Why don’t you go and talk to the king about it?” Krishna asked Subhadra gently. His dark eyes suddenly turned mischievous. But Subhadra was too angry to notice it.
Me?” She asked angrily.
Krishna nodded. “Arjuna and the other Pandavas are talking with Virata. I think you should also go and talk to the king.”
What do you think I can say….?” Subhadra started.
You are Abhimanyu’s son and you want your son to be happy. Isn’t that what you want to tell Virata?”
But...” Subhadra started.
No buts.” Krishna said finally. “I am making arrangements for the two of you to leave for the kingdom of Matsya to meet King Virata.” Krishna nodded. “Please tell Abhimanyu to be ready.”
Where are you going?” Subhadra asked looking bewildered.
I am going to tell Daruka to get ready.” Krishna said thumbing towards outside their palace in the city of Dwaraka. “He is the swiftest rider I have and I believe that he can get you where you need to go as soon as possible.”
Subhadra frowned. But Krishna did not give her a chance to talk as he walked out of the palace.
*******
I want you to ride there now.” Krishna told Daruka who was getting the chariot ready.
Your Majesty, that forest is not the Matsya kingdom.” Daruka was not new to the plans or the smiles of Lord Krishna. But still this was completely new for the charioteer.
Nowhere even close.” Krishna agreed. “And just make sure that Subhadra or Abhimanyu do not know where you are actually taking them.”
Daruka opened his mouth and then looked at the dark hue of the Dark Lord and then smiled. “Bheema’s son lives there, my Lord. He lives in the forests there, with his mother – Hidimbi.”
Is it?” Krishna asked looking confused though his eyes looked amused. “I did not know that.”
You want Abhimanyu and Bheema’s son to meet, don’t you?”
I am not saying anything else, Daruka.” Krishna said with a smile. “You are making all the guesses.”
There could be no further talk between the charioteer and the Dark Lord, because Abhimanyu – who was all of sixteen years came into the stable, followed by his mother.
What good would it do to talk to Virata?” Abhimanyu asked without any preamble. But all Krishna saw was that Abhimanyu’s eyes looked sad. He tried to look cheerful, but it still seemed impossible for the little boy.
Sometimes talking can solve a lot of problems, son.” Krishna told Abhimanyu.
Abhimanyu did not seem very convinced as he strapped on his bow and arrow.
Subhadra got on the chariot as Abhimanyu followed his brother.
Get them to where they need to go, Daruka.” Krishna told Daruka.
Daruka smiled as he started the chariot without another word.

Author’s Note: The story of Gatothgaja helping in the marriage of Abhimanyu and Vatsala is a part of folklore.
In the folk story, Vatsala is supposedly the daughter of Balarama – the brother of Krishna.
However, no translation of the Mahabharatha mentions the second marriage of Abhimanyu. Mahabharatha only states that Abhimanyu is married to Uttara – the daughter of King Virata. He married her at the age of sixteen and he died three months after his wedding in the Mahabharatha war.
The author has merely borrowed the idea of the folk story of Abhimanyu-Vatsala marriage into the marriage of Abhimanyu and Uttara.
However, as per the original version, Virata had no problems with his daughter Uttara marrying Abhimanyu – in fact he was very eager for it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Gatothgaja - Chapter 6


Yudhishtara was the first to sense that they were being followed as he turned sharply.
His brothers turned with him and they all saw the rakshasi woman following them.
Not knowing what to do they all stared at each other. Because though they all were good warriors, none of them had ever attacked a woman before.
But the problem was that they knew that Hidimbi was a rakshasi and what she was capable of.
Kunti came forward angrily, which was when Hidimbi smiled at them and bowed at Kunti.
Please lady, listen to me.” Hidimbi started in a gentle voice.
Kunti looked slightly stunned as Hidimbi gave another beautiful glance at Bheema. “I am Hidimbi and I am a rakshasi. Your son here has killed my brother. Me and my brother used to attack and kill the travelers who used to travel in this place. But after seeing your son, I….” Hidimbi fumbled as she blushed a deep red. She was still in her human form and Kunti looked slightly amused as she saw Hidimbi.
At that minute, Kunti knew that Hidimbi was not following them in spite.
True enough.
Hidimbi locked her eyes with Bheema and nodded slowly. “I am in love with your second son. Please let me marry me.”
Kunti found that request quite reasonable.
And even more was the fact that even Bheema seemed to love the woman a lot.
And so it was Bheema, the second Pandava who had his marriage conducted first among the five Pandavas.
Hidimbi being a rakshasi, she was well-versed in magic. She promised to bring back Bheema, as and when, the Pandavas needed.
Yudhishtara embraced his newly wed brother and Hidimbi looked proud and she and her husband vanished from the place there.
******
In due course, Hidimbi and Bheema had a son – the child was bald. And the child was part rakshasa and from his mother’s side, the child was capable of doing any kind of magic.
The child became the favourite of all the Pandavas and because his head was bald like a water pot the child was named as ‘Gatothgaja’ which meant the ‘pot headed.
The little Gatothgaja was the first child of the next generation for the Pandavas. All the five brothers adored the little rakshasa as he was filled with pranks and made the living in the forests far too easy. He used his magic to keep them entertained and they all loved it
******
But after the birth of Gatothgaja, Hidimbi knew that Bheema and the other Pandavas had to go their way.
So she bid farewell to her husband.
The little Gatothgaja promised his parents that he would be appear before them anytime that he needed and he also vanished from there and went with his mother.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Gatothgaja - Chapter 5


Meanwhile, Hidimba was waiting for his sister. She had never been late before. She had always been quick and efficient in her kills.
But right now, Hidimba waited and waited and still there was no sign of his sister.
Finally, Hidimba got impatient and walked towards the direction that her sister had gone.
And as he walked the entire forests trembled. Because Hidimba was a really frightful looking monster. With red eyes, hairy body and arms which were as thick as the truck of trees and long and sharp pointed teeth, Hidimba looked like he could kill humans with a single blow. He could.
Hidimba plodded through to the clearing where the Pandavas and their mother was sleeping and on arriving there, he was stunned.
His sister, was now looking ravishingly beautiful and was talking with the human.
Shock gave way to anger as Hidimba snarled loudly looking ferocious as he bared his teeth at the human.
Looking at his sister's beautiful dresses and her made up face, Hidimba could almost immediately guess that his sister had changed her mind. Hidimba looked furiously angry at his sister and then murderously studied the human whom her sister loved.
Hidimbi naturally did not know anything about Bheema and she was afraid that her brother was going to kill the human who she had so deeply desired.
Bheema for his part, saw the ferocious monster and gave a mirthless smile. He looked at Hidimbi and shook his head. "Lady, do not be afraid of anything. As long as I am here, that monster can do nothing to anyone here," Bheema said in a sneering voice.
Hidimbi could not believe the audacity of the human before her. He was proud and regal and looked completely confident. Hidimbi had seen enough people to realize that the human was really not afraid of Hidimba.
But Hidimbi had seen her brother in action too and she knew that Hidimba was not someone to be taken lightly. "That brother of mine is really powerful, human!" Hidimbi said struggling not to get afraid.
Hidimba looked at the human and his own sister and he could barely control his hatred. "Hidimbi, in the mighty honour of the Rakshasas, who are your ancestors," Hidimba said in a sneering tone, "I am going to kill you and the human whom you hold so dear."
Hidimba came closer as he was trying to kill his sister.
Bheema wasted no time as he pushed Hidimba back angrily. "Your sister was sent here by you. And she fell in love with me. By loving me, she has committed no crime against you." Bheema said in a sneering voice. "And I will never let you hurt a woman when I am here."
"Talk and boast!" Hidimba said angrily, as he turned his attention from his sister to the human before her. "That is all you humans can do."
Hidimba gave a cursory glance at the sleeping Pandavas and Kunti and looked at Bheema with contempt. "And take it from me. I will destroy you and then I will kill you. And after that, I will kill every single one of those people who are behind you."
Hidimba had not even finished speaking, when a terrible battle ensued between the human and the Rakshasa.
Hidimba attacked Bheema, who deftly step sided the attack. Bheema with his ferocious strength, clutched Hidimba by the throat and dragged him far away from the clearing, because he did not want the Rakshasa's yelling to wake up his brothers and mother. (It is said that Bheema dragged Hidimba nearly 32 cubits which is about 0.14 kilometers).
And then as the two fought each other ferociously, the other Pandavas woke up.
The first thing they saw on waking up, was Hidimbi who was keeping a watch on them. She looked worried as she was watching the fight between her brother and the human and she was struggling not to get afraid.
Hidimbi quickly told the sleeping Pandavas and Kunti everything that had happened.
Arjuna wasted no time as he and his brothers ran towards the clearing that their brother and Hidimba were fighting.
"Let us help you!" Arjuna yelled at Bheema as he saw the fight between the two.
"STAY!" Bheema snarled angrily as his eyes did not even move an inch from Hidimba.
Without even pausing to take a breath, Bheema pushed the Rakshasa back who fell down hard.
"The twilight hour is coming, Bheema!" Arjuna yelled. "Rakshasas become extremely powerful during this time. It is practically impossible to defeat them during the twilight. Finish him before that!" Arjuna yelled. "Or let us help. You look tired!"
Bheema snarled as he looked at Hidimba and saw the skies behind and realized that Arjuna was right.
And Bheema wasted no further time. Summoning up the power of the Wind God within him, Bheema hurled Hidimba to the ground and smashed the Rakshasa in one swift move.
The Rakshasa gave a fearful yell which resounded through the entire forests. The entire forests seemed shaken with Hidimba's earshattering roar.
With that Hidimba breathed his last.
The three Pandava brothers – Yudhishtara, Nakula and Sahadeva along with Kunti and Hidimbi watched the impossible feat of Bheema unable to believe what they were seeing.
But Arjuna was not even paying attention to the fight. He was more worried about what the death of Hidimba signified. They were already on the run from Duryodhana. As of now, the only reason they were safe was that Duryodhana believed them to be dead. But if Duryodhana learnt about the death of Hidimba, there was a chance that he could suspect that this was the handiwork of Bheema leading to conclusion that the Pandavas were still alive.
So the most prudent thing to do right now was to move away from the place and get to the nearest town.
"Let's move." Arjuna told his brothers immediately.
Bheema and the other Pandavas looked at the place and the dead Rakshasa.

They all realized the logic of Arjuna. They moved away from the place, making way to the nearest town. And all the while, they were followed by Hidimbi, the Rakshasa woman.

Gatothgaja - Chapter 4

In the underground tunnel, the Pandavas walked.
They crossed the town of Varanavatha and reached the banks of the river Ganga. There, they met a boat man who happily took them across to the other side.
Anxious to put maximum distance between themselves and the city of Varanavatha, the Pandavas did not stop at the other side of the river. They kept walking even after reaching the other side.
But by then it was dark.
Still, using the lights of the stars, the six people walked and they walked until they were exhausted. And now they had reached a dense forest.
Unfortunately, the forest was so dark, that after walking for some time, the Pandavas were completely lost.
And in the dark forest, they could not even make out which way they had to go to get out of the forest. Stumbling, they kept walking and slipped and fell often, because they could not see where they were going.
Tired and hungry after hours of walking, the Pandavas were exhausted and just did not know what to do. Feeling almost hopeless, Yudhishtara turned to Bheema, “I cannot do this anymore. I do not know...” Yudhishtara swallowed painfully as he continued. “I do not even know what has happened to Purochana - whether that wretch survived the fire or not. And all I have done is keep walking. Please,” Yudhishtara said shaking his head tiredly. “Please, help us.”
Bheema was obviously not one to even find the request of his brother odd. He was after all the son of Vayu – the powerful Wind God – the God who could create tornadoes and shake up entire cities. Bheema did not even hesitate as he carried all his brothers and his mother. He put his mother on his shoulder, Nakula and Sahadeva on his arms and he carried Yudhishtara and Arjuna in his hands. And with all this, Bheema did not falter or run out of breath. He walked as if he was walking normally.
And Bheema nearly smashed through the forest as he walked. The force with which Bheema walked through the forest and even grown up trees did not have a chance. Bheema kicked the trees and kept walking unmindful of what was in his path.
They were almost in the middle of the forest, when the brothers were now feeling thirsty.
Yudhishtara hearing the sounds of water birds, realized that there was a pond nearby.
So under the instructions of his brother, Bheema left his mother and brothers and walked towards the pond to get water. After drinking water, he carried it back.
Bringing the water back in his soaking upper garmet, Bheema saw a disheartening sight – his brothers and mother – the people who were meant to be kings and queen, were lying fast asleep on the rough forest ground. The people who until a day back were sleeping on the softest bed in the entire kingdom, were now asleep in the rough and rocky regions of the forests. That was the time Bheema cursed angrily. All this was happening because of the wretched son of Dhirdarashtra. Bheema looked at Yudhishtara almost with despair. I would kill all the sons of Dhirdarashtra. All at one go! The only reason, I have not yet done it, is because Yudhishtara is not yet angry with Duryodhana. Bheema wondered what would make Yudhishtara really angry at the sons of Dhirdarashtra....
And as his brothers were asleep, Bheema looked around the forest and decided that he would not sleep. The forest looked dangerous and Bheema wanted to keep his brothers and mother safe. He kept watch over his brothers, while they slept.
And the Pandavas rested there not knowing the dangers that they were in...
Because not far away from the place where the Pandavas were asleep, there lived a Rakshasa by name Hidimba. Hidimba was a vicious cannibal. In the forests which was his home, Hidimba with his heightened sensed was able to smell the brothers as soon as they had stepped inside the forest.
And Hidimba was ready for a tasty meal. He turned to his sister Hidimbi. “I can smell humans in my territory, sister. Go and see who these humans are. And after you find them, kill them.” Hidimba said with mad, gleeful eyes.
Hidimbi who had been living with his brother for as long as she could remember, had done many such work for her brother. She did not find it any odd to do her brother’s bidding this time too, as she walked towards the sleeping humans.
Little did she know that her life was about to change.
As Hidimbi saw the Pandavas fast asleep in the grounds of the forest, she saw Bheema who was awake and keeping a watchful eye around.
And in the dark forest, as Hidimbi saw Bheema’s features, she immediately fell in love with the human. It was love at first sight for Hidimbi and she could not even remember that she was here because she wanted to kill the humans. Right now, she could do nothing else – she just wanted to keep staring at the handsome man in front of her.
After some time, Hidimbi just could not control herself, as she changed her appearance and decided to talk with the human.
Looking beautiful and decked up like a human, Hidimbi approached Bheema.
Bheema stirred and saw a beautiful woman come near him and was wary. “Who are you?” Bheema asked the woman keeping an eye, looking around.
This territory belongs to the cruel Rakshasa – Hidimba, human. Hidimba is an evil man and feasts of human flesh. I am his sister and I was sent by him. But on seeing you, I just cannot do anything that my brother wants me to do. After seeing you, I realize that I want only you as my husband, and no one else.”
Bheema stared blankly at the woman as she continued. “What are you doing here at this time? Do not stay here all alone. Come away with me. Come away with me so that I can keep you safe from my brother.”

Bheema laughed mirthlessly. “My mother and my brothers are sleeping. I cannot leave them here all alone.” Bheema studied the woman again. “And I do not fear Rakshasas.” There was a mad gleam in Bheema’s eyes as he looked at Hidimbi. “In fact, rakshasas need to fear me. I am so powerful that I can defeat anyone who fights me.”

Gatothgaja - Chapter 3

Chapter 3 – A Palace on Flames
Would there be anything else, my prince?” Purochana asked as he bowed to Yudhishtara and the other Pandavas. Yudhishtara was struggling not to let anything show on his face as he nodded to Purochoana, “That would be all for today. Thank you so much,” Yudhishatara said with the false smile that he had cultivated over the year that he had stayed here in the Palace of Lac at Vanavarata.
In fact, Purochana did not even notice anything amiss as he nodded and went back to his quarters, outside the palace.
Yudhishtara’s gaze followed the man as he made sure that Purochana was out of the palace and could not overhear them. It was only after that Yudhishtara went inside his own inner apartment where his brothers and the miner were working on the tunnel as his mother was keeping a watch making sure that the servants did not come inside the room.
They all stopped the work as Yudhishtara came inside and sat heavily on the throne behind him.
Yudhishtara peered inside the tunnel and saw that the tunnel had reached outside the palace, all the way underground.
It is time,” Yudhishtara said finally looking at his brothers.
Now?” It was Bhima who asked the question.
Yudhistara nodded. “We need to do it before Purochana beats us to punch. As of now, Purochana believes that we are deceived. It would be difficult to keep these appearances for much longer.”
One by one, the other brothers nodded as they looked at the miner who was watching and not saying anything.
It will be done, my princes,” The miner nodded finally.
That night Kunti spoke to her eldest son, “Son, we need to organize a feast for tomorrow.”
Yudhishtara looked at Kunti for a huge second and then blinked. He realized what his mother was saying and knew that it was wrong to do it. But they did not have a lot of choice in this matter. It needed to be done. With a heavy head, Yudhishtara nodded not saying anything else.
********
The next day people thronged at the palace of the Pandavas. Though the sons of Pandu were generous with the money, still for the people of the kingdom, a feast was a feast. That was something which was eagerly awaited by all the people in the kingdom. Especially, since they all realized how much the second son Bhima enjoyed his food. The food from the royal kitchens was almost unmatched with anything found anywhere else in the kingdom.
Among the people who came to the palace was a Nishada woman and like Kunti she also had five sons. Probably, it was fate as the Nishada woman came to the palace of Lac with her five sons to enjoy the feast.
Neither the woman nor her sons realized that they had had more wine than they should have had. Unable to control themselves, the woman and her five sons slept in the very inside the palace, fast asleep and completely oblivious to the real world.
The feast was over and the other guests had all gone back to their homes. Purochana had helped the Pandavas during the entire day and was completely exhausted as he went to his quarters just outside the quarters and was asleep even before his head hit the pillow.
Yudhishtara saw all this and then nodded to Bheema as they opened the hole of their floor.
Bhima took the fire torch from the place and lit it. Without another thought, Bhima set fire to the entire palace. And Bhima set fire to all parts of the palace and outside the palace, making sure that no one who was inside or around the mansion could escape the fire. Bhima, started the fire from outside the palace and came inside as he walked inside the innermost room with the hole in it and closed the door.
Ignoring the heat and spreading fire, the Pandavas entered the tunnel and closed the hole behind them as they walked out of the passage.
*******
The townspeople were shocked as they saw the blazing fire. They all brought buckets of water and tried to put out the fire and that was when the townspeople realized something horrific. The palace was completely combustible. No matter how much they tried putting out the fire, the fire spread so quickly that there was never really any hope of protecting anyone who was inside the palace.
Slowly, the next day, as the townspeople saw the unrecognizably charred body of the Nishada woman and her five sons and all the people arrived at the conclusion that they were meant to arrive at – that the Pandavas and their mother had perished in the fire.
And they saw the charred body of Purochana outside the house and they all realized that it was a plan…A plan made by the prince of Hastinapur to get rid of his cousins. The townspeople even believed that Purochana had perished in the fire because he had been unable to get out of the fire after setting the palace on fire.
The townspeople all cursed Duryodhana and Dhirdarashtra for their wickedness.

No one noticed the well-made tunnel which was made right in the centre of the palace mostly because none of them were looking for it and more importantly because the tunnel was built brilliantly well to make sure that it was not seen from the outside.

Gatothgaja - Chapter 2

Before leaving for Vanaravata, the Pandavas paid respect to all the elders of Hastinapur.
In the end the Pandavas met Vidura, the man who was wise beyond his age and who through his extensive spy system knew almost everything which happened in the kingdom of Hastinapur and outside it.
As Vidura was blessing Yudhishtara, the eldest Pandava, a rather strange thing happened. 
The learned Vidura spoke in the language of the Mlechchas, instead of the language spoken in Hastinapur. This language was hardly known to anyone in the kingdom of Hastinapur and the words of Vidura sounded like utter garble - except to one person. The person for whom it was intended – Yudhishtara.
Yudhishtara, the eldest Pandava knew the language of the Mlechchas and was steadily getting worried as he understood exactly what Vidura was saying.
You need to know what your enemies are upto and avoid the dangers. And remember that fire cannot destroy someone who is hiding under the hole in the woods and when you are in a strange home it is best to be like a jackal and make not one escape route, but make many ways out.”
Yudhishtara stared at Vidura, who was studying his nephew with dangerous eyes as Vidura continued in the same language, “Sometimes, son, it is best to keep wandering from one place to another to acquire knowledge and that way you would also keep your five senses safe.”
Yudhishtara was silent as Vidura and Yudhishtara studied each other.
I understand!” Yudhishtara said in the same language, as a sudden crinkly smile broke in Vidura’s face.
Soon the Pandavas came out of the house of Vidura and bid goodbye to the Pandavas and their mother Kunti, as they set out to Vanaravata.
The Pandavas then were out of the kingdom of Hastinapur and were walking when a confused Kunti came to her son.
What was it that Vidura said?” she asked Yudhishtara. “And I did not even know what it was that you said in return.”
Yudhishtara saw the kingdom of Hastinapur far behind him and took in a deep breath as he saw his mother and brothers look at him, questioningly.
There is going to be a fire. A huge fire and we need to escape it!” Yudhishtara said finally.
*********
The Pandavas were met by a man called Purochana in the city of Vanaravata. He saw the Pandavas and told them that he was here to help them. The Pandavas then met all the high officials in the city of Vanravata and the people were all glad to see the Pandavas.
Finally with Purochana’s help, they went to the palace built for them in the city of Vanravata. 
It was a beautiful palace, by any stretch of imagination.
Yudhishtara saw the palace and nodded at Purochana. “We would like to inspect the palace ourselves!” Yudhishtara told Purochana. “It has been built so beautifully.”
Purochana nodded not saying anything as he walked away leaving the six of them alone.
Hurriedly, the Pandavas entered the palace and they were all shell shocked because they made a sad discovery. The beautiful palace was combustible and was built out of resin, hemp, straw, bamboo and butter and lac!
All it needed was a tiny spark and the fire inside the palace would be uncontrollable and destroy everything inside it.
Yudhishtara turned to Bheema, “We need to build an underground tunnel out of the palace. In secret. No one can know about it. To the outside world we act normally, but we work on the tunnel everyday.”
Tunnel?” Bheema asked as Yudhishtara nodded.
After we escape the fire, then what?” Bheema asked his eyes popping with anger.
Yudhishtara remembered Vidura’s words.
We keep moving.” Yudhishtara said slowly. “Right now, we have neither power nor rank in the country. Once, everyone believes that we are dead, no one would be looking for us. Then, we can move freely and we go to all the kingdoms in the country, to build alliances and make ourselves strong!”
*******
Purochana was being very friendly to the Pandavas and he tried to make their stay as comfortable as possible. As he was talking animatedly about the place, a strange man came to see Yudhishtara.
Yudhishtara stared at the man who with his hard and coarse hands looked to be some sort of manual labourer. What really surprised Yudhishtara was that the man introduced himself in the Mlechcha language.
Yudhishtara left Purochana and turned to the newcomer and took him to the inside quarters and for what it was worth replied in the language of the Mlechchas.
Who are you?” Yudhishtara asked the man.
I am a miner!” the man said in the same language, “and I was sent by Vidura to help you.”
A beautiful smile broke out in the face of Yudhishtara as he nodded happily at the man.

And so with the help of the miner, right in the middle of the palace, the Pandavas dug a tunnel out of the palace. They hid the hole of the tunnel by a slab to make sure that Purochana who was living outside the palace, did not know what they were doing.

Gatothgaja

Chapter 1 - The Palace of Lac
Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava was really jealous of his cousins – the Pandavas. After the death of Pandu and Madri, the Pandavas had returned from the forests with their mother Kunti, Duryodhana just could not bear it. Duryodhana saw the Pandavas as his enemy and did not care who knew it.
Duryodhana’s insane jealousy and eating him up and it was not helped by the fact that Bheema, the second Pandava, was ferociously strong. Even as a young boy, Bheema was a very strong and Bheema found the puny Kauravas very funny.
Bheema had been born and brought up in the forests. The rough jungles had just made Bheema more stronger and Bheema had nothing but disdain for the soft Kauravas, who had known nothing other than the the luxuries of the palace.
Bheema used to bully the Kauravas and the Kauravas were really terrified on him. In fact, whenever they used to see Bheema, the Kauravas used to hide on the treetops. And Bheema would still not leave the Kauravas alone. Bheema used to stand at the base of the tree and with his ferocious strength, Bheema used to shake the very tree.
The Kaurava boys used to fall down from the tree like fruits and look shaken and run away terrified of the young Bheema who would laugh at the fleeing Kaurava princes.
And all these events only made Duryodhana hate the Pandavas even more.
Duryodhana’s hatred for the Pandavas and Bheema is particular went so bad that when they all started learning warfare and the science of the administration of the kingdom from Dronacharya, Duryodhana actually tried killing Bheema.
Duryodhana poisoned the food which was to be eaten by Bheema and when the drugged Bheema fell unconscious, Duryodhana tied up Bheema’s hands and feet and pushed the second Pandava inside the river.
And without a second glance, Duryodhana walked away from the place.
Luckily for Bheema, the place under the river where Duryodhana had pushed him had a huge kingdom of snakes. The snakes bit the unconscious Bheema as he sunk inside the waters. The poison in Bheema’s body and the poison of the snake acted as antidotes to each other and the poison from Bheema system was completely gone, when he reached the snake kingdom.
And on talking with the snakes, Bheema realized that he was related to the snakes through his mother – Kunti. The snakes were very glad for their new visitor though he had come to them in unfortunate circumstances. In honour of their new guests, the snakes fed Bheema with the nectar of the snakes. It is believed that this drink actually made Bheema even more strong than he previously was.
And that was how Duryodhana’s first plan of killing Bheema had badly backfired. After pushing Bheema into the river, Duryodhana came back to the palace and he claimed to have no knowledge of what had happened to Bheema. Kunti and the Pandavas were distraught and they kept combing the river for some signs of Bheema and that was when they had some suspicion of foul play. But Duryodhana was quiet and said absolutely nothing.
Duryodhana almost thought that he had gotten away with it, when the impossible happened. Bheema came back from the dead. And not only that, Bheema came back even more stronger than before. And a little wiser.
The event was an eye-opener – both to the Pandavas and to Duryodhana.
Duryodhana realized that he would have to be more careful of disposing off his annoying cousins in the future because they seemed to be lucky and the Pandavas realized that Duryodhana was really insane in his jealousy and that there was no line that Duryodhana would not cross if it meant the destruction of the Pandavas.
That was the reason, the Pandavas never spoke of the incident again. The Pandavas feared that if they spoke about Duryodhana’s involvement in the whole affair, Duryodhana might do something even more horrific.
But just because the Pandavas were silent, it did not make Duryodhana change his mind. Duryodhana was as bad as ever and his plans if anything were becoming more and more bold and the next time, Duryodhana had an even more audacious plan to kill the Pandavas.
Duryodhana spoke highly of a place called Varanavatha where the huge festival was to be organized in honour of Lord Shiva. Duryodhana manipulated things that he sent the Pandavas to Varanavatha and at the time the Pandavas went there, Duryodhana had a beautiful palace built. The palace was one of the most beautiful constructions of its times and definitely the most combustible – because the palace was made of lac.
And Duryodhana was patient this time. He did not want any of the events to ever lead back to him, which was why Duryodhana wanted for a whole year. The Pandavas had lived in the lac palace of Vanaravatha for an entire year when Duryodhana through one of his men called Purochana, set his plan in action.
In the dead of the night, when a huge feast was conducted during the day, when Duryodhana was sure that the Pandavas were fast asleep, Duryodhana asked Purochana to set the entire palace on fire.
In the dead of the night, a fire broke out in the lac palace of Varanavata. The lac palace was built completely of things which could burn and burn very easily. Which was why, the time between the commencement of the fire and the spreading of the fire was too short.
The people from Varanavata were horrified when they saw the entire lac palace go down in flames. The people tried dousing the flames of the palace and that was when they discovered something impossible – the fire was spreading too fast. Far too fast, than in the case of a normal fire. The fire kept raging and there was no part of the palace which even escaped the fire.
The next morning a charred body of a woman with five men were inside the palace and the people were terrified.
They all realized that the Pandavas were gone and this time, there was no one who could bring them back. And the fire had started right from the room where Purochana was sleeping, who was also killed in the fire.
So the entire kingdom believed that the evil Purochana had set fire to the lac palace and Purochana himself killed in the fire.
Back in Hastinapur, Duryodhana could not hide his glee when he heard of the six dead bodies found inside the lac palace. And with the death of Purochana, Duryodhana realized that another loose end was tied up and this time there was nothing which could lead back to him. And Duryodhana was actually happy. He felt that he had got rid of the Pandavas in a masterly stroke and he had done with with absolutely no suspicions leading back to him.