Pandavas and the House of Lac

Vaisampayana said, ‘O chastiser of all foes, listen to me, O monarch, as I recite the (history of the) burning of the house of lac and the escape of the Pandavas. The wicked Duryodhana, beholding Bhimasena surpass (everybody) in strength and Arjuna highly accomplished in arms became pensive and sad. Then Karna, the offspring of the Sun, and Sakuni, the son of Suvala, endeavoured by various means to compass the death of the Pandavas. The Pandavas too counteracted all those contrivances one after another, and in obedience to the counsels of Vidura, never spoke of them afterwards. Then the citizens, beholding the son of Pandu possessed of accomplishments, began, O Bharata, to speak of them in all places of public resort. And assembled in courtyards and other places of gathering, they talked of the eldest son of Pandu (Yudhishthira) as possessed of the qualifications for ruling the kingdom. And they said, ‘Dhritarashtra, though possessed of the eye of knowledge, having been (born) blind, had not obtained the kingdom before. How can he (therefore) become king now? Then Bhishma, the son of Santanu, of rigid vows and devoted to truth, having formerly relinquished the sovereignty would never accept it now. We shall, therefore, now install (on the throne) with proper ceremonies the eldest of the Pandavas endued with youth, accomplished in battle, versed in the Vedas, and truthful and kind. Worshipping Bhishma, the son of Santanu and Dhritarashtra conversant with the rules of morality, he will certainly maintain the former and the latter with his children in every kind of enjoyment.

“The wretched Duryodhana, hearing these words of the parting partisans of Yudhishthira, became very much distressed. Deeply afflicted, the wicked prince could not put up with those speeches. Inflamed with jealousy, he went unto Dhritarashtra, and finding him alone he saluted him with reverence and distressed at (the sight of) the partiality of the citizens for Yudhishthira, he addressed the monarch and said, ‘O father, I have heard the parting citizens utter words of ill omen. Passing thee by, and Bhishma too, they desire the son of Pandu to be their king. Bhishma will sanction this, for he will not rule the kingdom. It seems, therefore, that the citizens are endeavouring to inflict a great injury on us. Pandu obtained of old the ancestral kingdom by virtue of his own accomplishments, but thou, from blindness, didst not obtain the kingdom, though fully qualified to have it. If Pandu’s son now obtaineth the kingdom as his inheritance from Pandu, his son will obtain it after him and that son’s son also, and so on will it descend in Pandu’s line. In that case, O king of the world, ourselves with our children, excluded from the royal line, shall certainly be disregarded by all men. Therefore, O monarch, adopt such counsels that we may not suffer perpetual distress, becoming dependent on others for our food. O king, if thou hadst obtained the sovereignty before, we would certainly have succeeded to it, however much the people might be unfavourable to us.'”

“King Dhritarashtra whose knowledge only was his eyes, on hearing these words of his son and recollecting everything that Kanika had, said unto him, became afflicted with sorrow, and his mind also thereupon began to waver. Then Duryodhana and Karna, and Sakuni, the son of Suvala, and Duhsasana as their fourth, held a consultation together. Prince Duryodhana said unto Dhritarashtra, ‘Send, O father, by some clever contrivance, the Pandavas to the town of Varanavata. We shall then have no fear of them.’ Dhritarashtra, on hearing these words uttered by his son, reflected for a moment and replied unto Duryodhana, saying, ‘Pandu, ever devoted to virtue, always behaved dutifully towards all his relatives but particularly towards me. He cared very little for the enjoyments of the world, but devotedly gave everything unto me, even the kingdom. His son is as much devoted to virtue as he, and is possessed of every accomplishment. Of world-wide fame, he is again the favourite of the people. He is possessed of allies; how can we by force exile him from his ancestral kingdom? The counsellors and soldiers (of the state) and their sons and grandsons have all been cherished and maintained by Pandu. Thus benefited of old by Pandu, shall not, O child, the citizens slay us with all our friends and relatives now on account of Yudhishthira?’ Duryodhana replied, ‘What thou sayest, O father, is perfectly true. But in view of the evil that is looming on the future as regards thyself, if we conciliate the people with wealth and honours, they would assuredly side with us for these proofs of our power. The treasury and the ministers of state, O king, are at this moment under our control. Therefore, it behoveth thee now to banish, by some gentle means, the Pandavas to the town of Varanavata; O king, when the sovereignty shall have been vested in me, then, O Bharata, may Kunti with her children come back from that place.’ Dhritarashtra replied, ‘This, O Duryodhana, is the very thought existing in my mind. But from its sinfulness I have never given expression to it. Neither Bhishma, nor Drona, nor Kshattri, nor Gautama (Kripa) will ever sanction the exile of the Pandavas. In their eyes, O dear son, amongst the Kurus ourselves and the Pandavas are equal. Those wise and virtuous persons will make no difference between us. If therefore, we behave so towards the Pandavas, shall we not, O son, deserve death at the hands of the Kurus, of these illustrious personages, and of the whole world?’ Duryodhana answered, ‘Bhishma hath no excess of affection for either side, and will, therefore, be neutral (in case of dispute). The son of Drona (Aswatthaman) is on my side. There is no doubt that where the son is, there the father will be. Kripa, the son of Saradwat, must be on the side on which Drona and Aswatthaman are. He will never abandon Drona and his sister’s son (Aswatthaman). Kshattri (Vidura) is dependent on us for his means of life, though he is secretly with the foe. It he sides the Pandavas, he alone can do us no injury, Therefore, exile thou the Pandavas to Varanavata without any fear. And take such steps that they may go thither this very day. By this act, O father, extinguish the grief that consumeth me like a blazing fire, that robbeth me of sleep, and that pierces my heart even like a terrible dart.'”

Vaisampayana said, “Then prince Duryodhana, along with his brothers began to gradually win over the people to his side by grants of wealth and honours. Meanwhile, some clever councillors, instructed by Dhritarashtra, one day began to describe (in court) the town of Varanavata as a charming place. And they said, The festival of Pasupati (Siva) hath commenced in the town of Varanavata. The concourse of people is great and the procession is the most delightful of all ever witnessed on earth. Decked with every ornament, it charmed the hearts of all spectators.’ Thus did those councillors, instructed by Dhritarashtra, speak of Varanavata, and whilst they were so speaking, the Pandavas, O king, felt the desire of going to that delightful town. And when the king (Dhritarashtra) ascertained that the curiosity of the Pandavas had been awakened, the son of Ambika addressed them, saying, ‘These men of mine often speak of Varanavata as the most delightful town in the world. If therefore, ye children, ye desire to witness that festival, go to Varanavata with your followers and friends and enjoy yourselves there like the celestials. And give ye away pearls and gems unto the Brahmanas and the musicians (that may be assembled there). And sporting there for some time as ye please like the resplendent celestials and enjoying as much pleasure as ye like, return ye to Hastinapura again.’ Yudhishthira, fully understanding the motives of Dhritarashtra and considering that he himself was weak and friendless, replied unto the king, saying, ‘So be it.’ Then addressing Bhishma, the son of Santanu, the wise Vidura, Drona, Valhika, the Kaurava, Somadatta, Kripa, Aswatthaman, Bhurisravas, and the other councillors, and Brahmanas and ascetics, and the priests and the citizens, and the illustrious Gandhari, he said slowly and humbly, ‘With our friends and followers we go to the delightful and populous town of Varanavata at the command of Dhritarashtra. Cheerfully give us your benedictions so that acquiring prosperity, therewith we may not be touched by sin.’ Thus addressed by the eldest of Pandu’s sons, the Kaurava chiefs all cheerfully pronounced blessings on them, saying, ‘Ye sons of Pandu, let all the elements bless you along your way and let not the slightest evil befall you.’

“The Pandavas, having performed propitiatory rites for obtaining (their share of) the kingdom, and finishing their preparations, set out for Varanavata. Duryodhana, then, summoning his counsellor, Purochana in private, took hold of his right hand and said, ‘O Purochana, this world, so full of wealth, is mine. But it is thine equally with me. It behoveth thee, therefore, to protect it. I have no more trustworthy counsellor than thee with whom to consult. Therefore, O sire, keep my counsel and exterminate my foes by a clever device. O, do as I bid thee. The Pandavas have, by Dhritarashtra, been sent to Varanavata, where they will, at Dhritarashtra’s command, enjoy themselves during the festivities. Do that by which thou mayest this very day reach Varanavata in a car drawn by swift mules. Repairing thither, cause thou to be erected a quadrangular palace in the neighbourhood of the arsenal, rich in the materials and furniture, and guard thou the mansion well (with prying eyes). And use thou (in erecting that house) hemp and resin and all other inflammable materials that are procurable. And mixing a little earth with clarified butter and oil and fat and a large quantity of lac, make thou a plaster for lining the walls, and scatter thou all around that house hemp and oil and clarified butter and lac and wood in such a way that the Pandavas, or any others, may not, even with scrutiny behold them there or conclude the house to be an inflammable one. And having erected such mansion, cause thou the Pandavas, after worshipping them with great reverence, to dwell in it with Kunti and all their friends. And place thou there seats and conveyances and beds, all of the best workmanship, for the Pandavas, so that Dhritarashtra may have no reason to complain. Thou must also so manage it all that none of Varanavata may know anything till the end we have in view is accomplished. And assuring thyself that the Pandavas are sleeping within in confidence and without fear, thou must then set fire to that mansion beginning at the outer door. The Pandavas thereupon must be burnt to death, but the people will say that they have been burnt in (an accidental) conflagration of their house. Saying, ‘So be it’ unto the Kuru prince, Purochana repaired to Varanavata in a car drawn by fleet mules. And going thither, without loss of time, obedient to the instructions of Duryodhana, did everything that the prince had bid him do.”

“Meanwhile the Pandavas got into their cars, yoking thereto some fine horses endued with the speed of wind. While they were on the point of entering their cars, they touched, in great sorrow, the feet of Bhishma, of king Dhritarashtra, of the illustrious Drona, of Kripa, of Vidura and of the other elders of the Kuru race. Then saluting with reverence all the older men, and embracing their equals, receiving the farewell of even the children, and taking leave of all the venerable ladies in their household, and walking round them respectfully, and bidding farewell unto all the citizens, the Pandavas, ever mindful of their vows, set out for Varanavata. And Vidura of great wisdom and the other bulls among the Kurus and the citizens also, from great affliction, followed those tigers among men to some distance. And some amongst the citizens and the country people, who followed the Pandavas, afflicted beyond measure at beholding the sons of Pandu in such distress, began to say aloud, ‘King Dhritarashtra of wicked soul seeth no things with the same eye. The Kuru monarch casteth not his eye on virtue. Neither the sinless Yudhishthira, nor Bhima the foremost of mighty men, nor Dhananjaya the (youngest) son of Kunti, will ever be guilty (of the sin of waging a rebellious war). When these will remain quiet, how shall the illustrious son of Madri do anything? Having inherited the kingdom from their father, Dhritarashtra could not bear them. How is that Bhishma who suffers the exile of the Pandavas to that wretched place, sanctions this act of great injustice? Vichitravirya, the son of Santanu, and the royal sage Pandu of Kuru’s race both cherished us of old with fatherly care. But now that Pandu that tiger among men, hath ascended to heaven, Dhritarashtra cannot bear with these princes his children. We who do not sanction this exile shall all go, leaving this excellent town and our own homes, where Yudhishthira will go.’

“Unto those distressed citizens talking in this way, the virtuous Yudhishthira, himself afflicted with sorrow, reflecting for a few moments said, ‘The king is our father, worthy of regard, our spiritual guide, and our superior. To carry out with unsuspicious hearts whatever he biddeth, is indeed, our duty. Ye are our friends. Walking round us and making us happy by your blessings, return ye to your abodes. When the time cometh for anything to be done for us by you, then, indeed, accomplish all that is agreeable and beneficial to us.’ Thus addressed, the citizens walked round the Pandavas and blessed them with their blessings and returned to their respective abodes. And after the citizens had ceased following the Pandavas, Vidura, conversant with all the dictates of morality, desirous of awakening the eldest of the Pandavas (to a sense of his dangers), addressed him in these words. The learned Vidura, conversant with the jargon (of the Mlechchhas), addressed the learned Yudhishthira who also was conversant with the same jargon, in the words of the Mlechchha tongue, so as to be unintelligible to all except Yudhishthira. He said, ‘He that knoweth the schemes his foes contrive in accordance with the dictates of political science, should, knowing them, act in such a way as to avoid all danger. He that knoweth that there are sharp weapons capable of cutting the body though not made of steel, and understandeth also the means of warding them off, can never be injured by foes. He liveth who protecteth himself by the knowledge that neither the consumer of straw and wood nor the drier of the dew burneth the inmates of a hole in the deep woods. The blind man seeth not his way: the blind man hath no knowledge of direction. He that hath no firmness never acquireth prosperity. Remembering this, be upon your guard. The man who taketh a weapon not made of steel (i.e., an inflammable abode) given him by his foes, can escape from fire by making his abode like unto that of a jackal (having many outlets). By wandering a man may acquire the knowledge of ways, and by the stars he can ascertain the direction, and he that keepeth his five (senses) under control can never be oppressed y his enemies.’ Thus addressed, Pandu’s son, Yudhishthira the just replied unto Vidura, that foremost of all learned men, saying, ‘I have understood thee.’ Then Vidura, having instructed the Pandavas and followed them (thus far), walked around them and bidding them farewell returned to his own abode. When the citizens and Bhishma and Vidura had all ceased following, Kunti approached Yudhishthira and said, ‘The words that Kshattri said unto thee in the midst of many people so indistinctly as if he did not say anything, and thy reply also to him in similar words and voice, we have not understood. If it is not improper; for us to know them I should then like to hear everything that had passed between him and thee.’

“Yudhishthira replied, ‘The virtuous Vidura said unto me that we should know that the mansion (for our accommodation at Varanavata) hath been built of inflammable materials. He said unto me, ‘The path of escape too shall not be unknown to thee,’ and further, ‘Those that can control their senses can acquire the sovereignty of the whole world.’–The reply that I gave unto Vidura was, ‘I have understood thee.’ The Pandavas set out on the eighth day of the month of Phalguna when the star Rohini was in the ascendant, and arriving at Varanavata they beheld the town and the people.’ Then all the citizens (of Varanavata) on hearing that the son of Pandu had come, were filled with joy at the tidings, speedily came out of Varanavata, in vehicles of various kinds numbering by thousands, taking with them every auspicious article as directed by the Sastras, for receiving those foremost of men. And the people of Varanavata, approaching the sons of Kunti blessed them by uttering the Jaya and stood surrounding them. That tiger among men, viz., the virtuous Yudhishthira thus surrounded by them looked resplendent like him having the thunderbolt in his hands (viz., Indra) in the midst of the celestials. And those sinless ones, welcomed by the citizens and welcoming the citizens in return, then entered the populous town of Varanavata decked with every ornament. Entering the town those heroes first went, O monarch, to the abodes of Brahmanas engaged in their proper duties. Those foremost of men then went to the abodes of the officials of the town, and then of the Sutas and the Vaisyas and then to those of even the Sudras, O bull of Bharata’s race, thus adored by the citizens, the Pandavas at last went with Purochana going before them, to the palace that had been built for them, Purochana then began to place before them food and drink and beds and carpets, all of the first and most agreeable order. The Pandavas attired in costly robes, continued to live there, adored by Purochana and the people having their homes in Varanavata.”

“After the Pandavas had thus lived for ten nights, Purochana spoke to them of the mansion (he had built) called ‘The Blessed Home,’ but in reality the cursed house. Then those tigers among men, attired in costly dress, entered that mansion at the instance of Purochana like Guhyakas entering the palace (of Siva) on the Kailasa mount. The foremost of all virtuous men, Yudhishthira, inspecting the house, said unto Bhima that it was really built of inflammable materials. Smelling the scent of fat mixed with clarified butter and preparations of lac, he said unto Bhima, ‘O chastiser of foes, this house is truly built of inflammable materials! Indeed, it is apparent that such is the case! The enemy, it is evident, by the aid of trusted artists well-skilled in the construction of houses, have finely built this mansion, after procuring hemp, resin, heath, straw, and bamboos, all soaked in clarified butter. This wicked wretch, Purochana, acting under the instruction of Duryodhana, stayeth here with the object of burning me to death when he seeth me trustful. But, O son of Pritha, Vidura of great intelligence, knew of this danger, and, therefore, hath warned me of it beforehand. Knowing it all, that youngest uncle of ours, ever wishing our good from affection hath told us that this house, so full of danger, hath been constructed by the wretches under Duryodhana acting in secrecy.’ Hearing this, Bhima replied, ‘If, sir, you know this house to be so inflammable, it would then be well for us to return thither where we had taken up our quarters first.’ Yudhishthira replied, ‘It seems to me that we should rather continue to live here in seeming unsuspiciousness but all the while with caution and our senses wide awake and seeking for some certain means of escape. If Purochana findeth from our countenances that we have fathomed designs, acting with haste he may suddenly burn us to death. Indeed, Purochana careth little for obloquy or sin. The wretch stayeth here acting under the instruction of Duryodhana. If we are burnt to death, will our grandfather Bhishma be angry? Why will he, by showing his wrath, make the Kauravas angry with him? Or, perhaps, our grandfather Bhishma and the other bull of Kuru’s race, regarding indignation at such a sinful act to be virtuous, may become wrathful. If however, from fear of being burnt, we fly from here, Duryodhana, ambitious of sovereignty will certainly compass our death by means of spies. While we have no rank and power, Duryodhana hath both; while we have no friends and allies, Duryodhana hath both; while we are without wealth, Duryodhana hath at his command a full treasury. Will he not, therefore, certainly destroy us by adopting adequate means? Let us, therefore, by deceiving this wretch (Purochana) and that other wretch Duryodhana, pass our days, disguising ourselves at times. Let us also lead a hunting life, wandering over the earth. We shall then, if we have to escape our enemies, be familiar with all paths. We shall also, this very day, cause a subterranean passage to be dug in our chamber in great secrecy. If we act in this way, concealing what we do from all, fire shall never be able to consume us. We shall live here, actively doing everything for our safety but with such privacy that neither Purochana nor any of the citizens of Varanavata may know what we are after.'”

Vaisampayana continued, ‘A friend of Vidura’s, well-skilled in mining, coming unto the Pandavas, addressed them in secret, saying, ‘I have been sent by Vidura and am a skilful miner. I am to serve the Pandavas. Tell me what I am to do for ye. From the trust he reposeth in me Vidura hath said unto me, ‘Go thou unto the Pandavas and accomplish thou their good. What shall I do for you? Purochana will set fire to the door of thy house on the fourteenth night of this dark fortnight. To burn to death those tigers among men, the Pandavas, with their mother, is the design of that wicked wretch, the son of Dhritarashtra. O son of Pandu, Vidura also told thee something in the Mlechchha tongue to which thou also didst reply in same language. I state these particulars as my credentials.’ Hearing these words, Yudhishthira, the truthful son of Kunti replied, ‘O amiable one, I now know thee as a dear and trusted friend of Vidura, true and ever devoted to him. There is nothing that the learned Vidura doth not know. As his, so ours art thou. Make no difference between him and us. We are as much thine as his. O, protect us as the learned Vidura ever protecteth us. I know that this house, so inflammable, hath been contrived for me by Purochana at the command of Dhritarashtra’s son. That wicked wretch commanding wealth and allies pursueth us without intermission. O, save us with a little exertion from the impending conflagration. If we are burnt to death here, Duryodhana’s most cherished desire will be satisfied. Here is that wretch’s well-furnished arsenal. This large mansion hath been built abutting the high ramparts of the arsenal without any outlet. But this unholy contrivance of Duryodhana was known to Vidura from the first, and he it was who enlightened us beforehand. The danger of which Kshattri had foreknowledge is now at our door. Save us from it without Purochana’s knowledge thereof.’ On hearing these words, the miner said, ‘So be it,’ and carefully beginning his work of excavation, made a large subterranean passage. And the mouth of that passage was in the centre of that house, and it was on a level with the floor and closed up with planks. The mouth was so covered from fear of Purochana, that wicked wretch who kept a constant watch at the door of the house. The Pandavas used to sleep within their chambers with arms ready for use, while, during the day, they went a-hunting from forest to forest. Thus, O king, they lived (in that mansion) very guardedly, deceiving Purochana by a show of trustfulness and contentment while in reality they were trustless and discontented. Nor did the citizens of Varanavata know anything about these plans of the Pandavas. In fact, none else knew of them except Vidura’s friend, that good miner.'”

“Seeing the Pandavas living there cheerfully and without suspicion for a full year, Purochana became exceedingly glad. And beholding Purochana so very glad, Yudhishthira, the virtuous son of Kunti, addressing Bhima and Arjuna and the twins (Nakula and Sahadeva) said, ‘The cruel-hearted wretch hath been well-deceived. I think the time is come for our escape. Setting fire to the arsenal and burning Purochana to death and letting his body lie here, let us, six persons, fly hence unobserved by all!’ Then on the occasion of an almsgiving, Kunti fed on a certain night a large number of Brahmanas. There came also a number of ladies who while eating and drinking, enjoyed there as they pleased, and with Kunti’s leave returned to their respective homes. Desirous of obtaining food, there came, as though impelled by fate, to that feast, in course of her wanderings, a Nishada woman, the mother of five children, accompanied by all her sons. O king, she, and her children, intoxicated with the wine they drank, became incapable. Deprived of consciousness and more dead than alive, she with all her sons lay down in that mansion to sleep. Then when all the inmates of the house lay down to sleep, there began to blow a violent wind in the night. Bhima then set fire to the house just where Purochana was sleeping. Then the son of Pandu set fire to the door of that house of lac. Then he set fire to the mansion in several parts all around. Then when the sons of Pandu were satisfied that the house had caught fire in several parts those chastisers of foes with their mother, entered the subterranean passage without losing any time. Then the heat and the roar of the fire became intense and awakened the townspeople. Beholding the house in flames, the citizens with sorrowful faces began to say, ‘The wretch (Purochana) of wicked soul had under the instruction of Duryodhana built his house for the destruction of his employer’s relatives. He indeed hath set fire to it. O, fie on Dhritarashtra’s heart which is so partial. He hath burnt to death, as if he were their foe, the sinless heirs of Pandu! O, the sinful and wicked-souled (Purochana) who hath burnt those best of men, the innocent and unsuspicious princes, hath himself been burnt to death as fate would have it.’ The citizens of Varanavata thus bewailed (the fate of the Pandavas), and waited there for the whole night surrounding that house. The Pandavas, however, accompanied by their mother coming out of the subterranean passage, fled in haste unnoticed. But those chastisers of foes, for sleepiness and fear, could not with their mother proceed in haste. But Bhimasena, endued with terrible prowess and swiftness of motion took upon his body all his brothers and mother and began to push through the darkness. Placing his mother on his shoulder, the twins on his sides, and Yudhishthira and Arjuna on both his arms, Vrikodara of great energy and strength and endued with the speed of the wind, commenced his march, breaking the trees with his breast and pressing deep the earth with his stamp.'”

“About this time, the learned Vidura had sent into those woods a man of pure character and much trusted by him. This person going to where he had been directed, saw the Pandavas with their mother in the forest employed in a certain place in measuring the depth of a river. The design that the wicked Duryodhana had formed had been, through his spies, known to Vidura of great intelligence, and, therefore, he had sent that prudent person unto the Pandavas. Sent by Vidura unto them, he showed the Pandavas on the sacred banks of the Ganga a boat constructed by trusted artificers and capable of withstanding wind and wave and endued with the speed of the tempest or of thought. He then addressed the Pandavas in these words to show that he had really been sent by Vidura, ‘O Yudhishthira, he said, “listen to these words the learned Vidura had said (unto thee) as a proof of the fact that I come from him. Neither the consumer of straw and the wood nor the drier of dew ever burneth the inmates of a hole in the forest. He escapeth from death who protecteth himself knowing this, etc.’ By these credentials know me to be the person who has been truly sent by Vidura and to be also his trusted agent. Vidura, conversant with everything, hath again said, ‘O son of Kunti, thou shalt surely defeat in battle Karna, and Duryodhana with his brothers, and Sakuni.’ This boat is ready on the waters, and it will glide pleasantly thereon, and shall certainly bear you all from these regions!’ Then beholding those foremost of men with their mother pensive and sad he caused them to go into the boat that was on the Ganga, and accompanied them himself. Addressing them again, he said, ‘Vidura having smelt your heads and embraced you (mentally), hath said again that in commencing your auspicious journey and going alone you should never be careless.’ Saying these words unto those heroic princes, the person sent by Vidura took those bulls among men over to the other side of the Ganga in his boat. And having taken them over the water and seen them all safe on the opposite bank, he uttered the word ‘Jaya’ (victory) to their success and then left them and returned to the place whence he had come. The illustrious Pandavas also sending through that person some message to Vidura, began, after having crossed the Ganga, to proceed with haste and in great secrecy.”

“Then, when the night had passed away, a large concourse of the townspeople came there in haste to see the sons of Pandu. After extinguishing the fire, they saw that the house just burnt down had been built of lac in materials and that (Duryodhana’s) counsellor Purochana had been burnt to death. And the people began to bewail aloud saying, ‘Indeed, this had been contrived by the sinful Duryodhana for the destruction of the Pandavas. There is little doubt that Duryodhana hath, with Dhritarashtra’s knowledge, burnt to death the heirs of Pandu, else the prince would have been prevented by his father. There is little doubt that even Bhishma, the son of Santanu, and Drona and Vidura and Kripa and other Kauravas have not, any of them, followed the dictates of duty. Let us now send to Dhritarashtra to say, ‘Thy great desire hath been achieved! Thou hast burnt to death the Pandavas!’ They then began to extinguish the members to obtain some trace of the Pandavas, and they saw the innocent Nishada woman with her five sons burnt to death. Then the miner sent by Vidura, while removing the ashes, covered the hole he had dug with those ashes in such a way that it remained unnoticed by all who had gone there. The citizens then sent to Dhritarashtra to inform him that the Pandavas along with (Duryodhana’s) counsellor Purochana had been burnt to death. King Dhritarashtra, on hearing the evil news of the death of the Pandavas, wept in great sorrow. And he said, ‘King Pandu, my brother of great fame, hath, indeed, died today when those heroic sons of his together with their mother have been burnt to death. Ye men, repair quickly to Varanavata and cause the funeral rites to be performed of those heroes and of the daughter of Kuntiraj! Let also the bones of the deceased be sanctified with the usual rites, and let all the beneficial and great acts (usual on such occasions) be performed. Let the friends and relatives of those that have been burnt to death repair thither. Let also all other beneficial acts that ought, under the circumstances, to be performed by us for the Pandavas and Kunti be accomplished by wealth.’ Having said this, Dhritarashtra, the son of Ambika, surrounded by his relatives, offered oblations of water to the sons of Pandu. And all of them, afflicted with excessive sorrow, bewailed aloud, exclaiming, ‘O Yudhishthira! Oh prince of the Kuru race!’–While others cried aloud, ‘Oh, Bhima!–O Phalguna!’–while some again,–‘Oh, the twins!–Oh, Kunti!’–Thus did they sorrow for the Pandavas and offer oblations of water unto them. The citizens also wept for the Pandavas but Vidura did not weep much, because he knew the truth.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is titled ‘The Palace of the Pandava Brothers Set Ablaze’. It is the work of a family of painters, known as the Nainsukh Family, hailing from the state of Himachal Pradesh and dates back to 1760-1765. They lived in the princely state of Guler, the birthplace of the Guler School of Painting, closely related to another famous tradition from the same state, the Kangra School. The history of the Nainsukh Family begins with Pandit Seu. His sons, Nainsukh and Manaku, were famous painters. While Manaku continued working at Guler, Nainsukh moved to Jasrota, and then Basholi (both in the region of Jammu, in present day state of Jammu & Kashmir). Fattu and Khushala (sons of Manaku), and Kama, Gaudhu, Nikka, and Ranjha (sons of Nainsukh) continued the tradition. The ‘House of Lac’ (Lakshagriha) is one of the most famous episodes of the Mahabharata, one which signaled the coming showdown between the Kauravas and Pandavas.

Reference:

  • The Mahabharata (translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, 1883-1896)