Duryodhana looked around his court with glee…The Pandavas were gone....Deprived of their kingdom, now forced to live in forest struggling for existence….Duryodhana was really happy, for he had always hated the Pandavas…right from the time the sages had brought the five fatherless Pandavas from the forest to Hastinapur. He never liked them….Probably Duryodhana, even at that young age realized that the Pandavas were going to be his worst enemies…
Duryodhana was not in favour of granting the wretched Pandavas any land…But his father, the blind King Dhirdarashtra, bowing to people’s wishes had given the Pandavas a portion of the land in Khadavaprasta as their own to rule….Duryodhana had manipulated his father in such a way that Dhirdarashtra gave some portions of waste lands in the country to the Pandavas. Duryodhana sighed as he thought about how it had failed to stop the Pandavas. The Pandavas had developed Khandavaprasta to be the finest kingdom inhabited by prosperous and hard working citizens [Khandavaprasta was renamed Indraprastha] And to add fuel to fire, Yudhishtara had conducted the greatest yagna to showcase the power and prosperity of his kingdom….
Duryodhana burned with jealousy and with the connivance of his uncle Shakuni invited the ‘noble’ Yudhishtara for a game of dice. Duryodhana could not believe exactly how much of a fool Yudhishtara was….Shakuni was a master in the game of dice and this was known to all….Yet Yudhishtara had agreed to play the game and the outcome was no surprise..Yudhishtara lost….lost everything in the game….everything from his kingdom to his brothers and….even Draupadi….
Duryodhana was almost scared when Draupadi argued brilliantly in the court and got back everything that Yudhishtara lost in the game of dice. Only Durodhana’s tactics of inviting Yudhishtara to another game of dice saved the day for him. Because Duryodhana was sure, if the Pandavas ever got a chance they would not settle for anything but war….Not that Duryodhana was against war…He welcomed it….But he did not want the war now….Not just yet…He had to gather more allies and when he fought the war….he did not want to just defeat the Pandavas, he wanted to vanquish them….Make sure they never raised their heads again….
As he was sitting in the court thinking these things, Duryodhana saw his brother Dushasana and Karna come inside the court. Duryodhana smiled subconsciously as he looked at Karna. Duryodhana could not explain to anyone, not even to himself but somehow looking at Karna made him feel complete. True, Dushasana was his own brother and Karna was just a friend…. But deep down, Duryodhana realized that Karna was a part of him. When Duryodhana saw Karna he did not see the son of a charioteer, he saw a noble man….a good king who was capable of great things. A man who would stand by him even at the worst of times. Duryodhana realized with sudden clarity that Karna was the one person he relied on implicitly….he would do anything for Karna….Duryodhana also knew that Karna thought the same about him…
Even as Karna was looking quietly, Dushasana laughed. ‘Brother’ he said his eyes glinting with pride… ‘I am almost feeling giddy with joy’. I cannot believe that the Pandavas are gone….’ Shakuni, Duryodhana’s uncle also entered the court. He spoke with a crooked smile. ‘Yes! Imagine, the great king who had conducted the Rajasuya yagna, is now in the forest….wearing clothes made of tree bark instead of finery, like us…’ Shakuni said with a hint of pride…He had been directly responsible for the downfall of the Pandavas and he was proud of it…
Duryodhana looked at Dushasana and Shakuni, ‘The great Panchali the wife of the Pandavas must be slaving in the forest, while my queens here live in luxury….’ Duryodhana’s eyes suddenly glinted, ‘I say.. why don’t we conduct a Ghosha yatra?’ All eyes turned to Duryodhana. A ghosha yatra was undertaken by the sovereign or someone under him, whereby they went to any place in the kingdom for inspection and checked all the cows and other property in the place to make sure everything was fine in that part of the kingdom.
Dushasana looked mystified. ‘Why do you want to undertake a ghosha yatra now?’ Shakuni also was equally mystified at the sudden change of topic by his nephew. Karna looked at Duryodhana and said quietly. ‘Which part of the kingdom do you want to undertake a ghosha yatra to, my king?’
Duryodhana’s face lit up. He knew Karna would understand. ‘I was thinking of going to the area near the place where the Pandavas are at present staying….’ Shakuni nodded his head finally understanding. His nephew wanted to see the Pandavas suffer in the forest…
Duryodhana saw Karna looking at him as if he did not approve of the plan. But then Duryodhana was not surprised. Karna the king of Anga, was a noble man…. He did not do cheap things like showing off wealth…or watch others in distress to derive pleasure from it….
But then Duryodhana also knew that Karna would not protest against his decision. He would go along with his wishes..
Shakuni slyly suggested. ‘Why don’t you take your queens with you? I am sure they would also like the travel….I am sure they would travel with all their finery…..’ Duryodhana nodded his head liking this plan more and more.
So soon all preparations were made for Duryodhana’s Ghosha yatra. His queens were also taken along. Dushasana, Karna and Shakuni accompanied Duryodhana….
Duryodhana set camp near the river. Through his spies he knew well that the Pandavas were in the forest near the river. He set up a huge camp, with all the finery right then and there. He knew he would see the Pandavas eventually. This was the only river in the area, so the Pandavas would definitely come there….
After setting up camp, Duryodhana eyed the river…The waters from the river looked remarkably cool after the hot journey. He decided to go for a swim in the water and enjoy himself….He sent his men to scout the river for any enemies before going for the swim….
The two soldiers whom he had sent came back after a long time and came back looking badly scared. ‘What happened?’ Duryodhana asked looking surprised.
‘Gan…gandharvas sir!’ One of the soldiers said trembling a little.
Karna came inside Duryodhana’s camp. ‘What gandharvas?’ He asked.
‘Sir, when we went a little further down the river, we saw a group of gandharvas….we asked the gandharvas to vacate the place….because you were here…..’ The soldier trembled a little unable to go on…
‘WHAT HAPPENED?’ Duryodhana asked his voice raising an octave, his anger building up.
The other guard spoke. ‘The gandharvas laughed at us sir!’ The soldier looked mortified even speaking to Duryodhana who had turned beet red in anger.
‘WHAT?’ Duryodhana shouted again. Some foolish Gandharvas had the audacity to laugh at him….Him, the prince of Hastinapur….They had to be taught a lesson for such behaviour…
‘What happened then?’ Karna asked quietly. Dushasana also came inside the camp hearing his brother’s shout.
‘The gandharvas asked us to vacate the place sir….or….’ The soldier wisely stopped from continuing the sentence. A vein in Duryodhana’s neck pulsed….The last thing anybody wanted was Duryodhana to get angry….The prince’s anger was legendary.
‘Or else what…?’ Dushasana asked looking as angry as his brother.
Unable to evade an answer, the soldier spoke in a soft voice, ‘They said they were going to come and drive away all of us….’
Duryodhana did not say anything. He did not need to….Karna had already gone out to give orders to the men to organise and prepare for battle. Duryodhana was scarcely aware of how he had gotten his army ready for battle…the words of the gandharva repeating again and again in his mind….
And so Duryodhana and his men marched towards the Gandharvas….To his left was Karna and behind him was the might of the Hastinapur army. The gandharvas hearing the conch of battle came forward. Duryodhana saw red when he saw the gandharvas not looking any way scared. They in fact had the audacity to laugh at him….