As we do every character, all of us here like some characters in MB and dislike others on one basis or another, for whatever reason we may have.
Presented at the International Seminar on Mahabharat organized by Sahitya Academy, Delhi, India: April 2004
The Dice Match
When DharmaRaj Yudhishthir had Maya danav build his assembly, he conducted the Rajsooya Yagya and for the benefit of humankind, gathered scholars and distributed the riches collected from various kings amongst scholars, Brahmans, intellectuals and the needy. As a reaction to this, the Toransphatic assembly hall that Duryodhan constructed, I think, was something like a modern casino, where gambling was the only form of entertainment. There could have been no spiritual discussions, no worship or praying, no yagya-havan, no deliberation, and no exchange of higher thoughts and beliefs here. The only sport that could take place was gambling. Certainly, many famous and dissolute gamblers would have come to participate. The kshatriya society depicted in Mahabharat is in general fond of gambling. Thus as evidence of his distinction, Duryodhan had the Toransphatic hall built for the purposes of gaming. Yudhishthir was not only an emperor and leader amongst kings; he was also the eldest amongst the children of Pandu and Dhritarashtra. Therefore, seeing him gamble, the general impression is that he too must have been an addict of gambling. At Abhimanyu's wedding in the city of Upaplavya, Balram accuses him of the same and holds him responsible for his losses.
Before coming to Hastinapur, there has been extensive discussions between Vidur and Yudhishthir in Indraprastha, where Yudhishthir has opposed gambling in the strongest terms. After reaching Hastinapur, an entire chapter is dedicated to Yudhishthir's argument with Shakuni, where Shakuni defends gambling and Yudhisthir opposes it.
1. "Gambling causes quarrels and brawls. No intelligent person would like to gamble'"
2. "I have no desire to gamble."
3. "Gambling is a form of deception and a cause for sin. One can neither demonstrate valiance suitable to a kshatriya, nor are there any set rules for it."
No addict criticizes his addiction. According to Mahabharat, Yudhishthir had not the slightest knowledge of gambling. He has never been shown gambling prior to Hastinapur's gaming hall either. After losing everything, as they are leaving for the forest, the Pandavas are worried about Dhritarashtra calling them back and asking them to play again. If that happens, they may win Pandava's weapons as well. That will leave the Pandavas defenseless and helpless. This is why Yudhishthir learns gambling and acquires equestrian knowledge from Muni Brihadshva the first opportunity he gets on the way to the forest. Only after learning how to gamble is he able to live undetected as Kank in Virat's court as his attendant.
It is very hard for me to accept that some one who doesn't know how to gamble could be addicted to it. But still, we see that not only does he gamble at this assembly, he gambles till the end; and gets up only after losing everything. There has to be an explanation for this behavior of his.
One particular utterance of Yudhishthir is quoted over and over in many discussions. Where he says, it is wrong to gamble, it causes complete destruction, but if he were invited, he would not refuse. Many people have accepted in their commentaries on this quotation that it was Yudhishthir's duty (dharma) as a kshatriya. As a kshatriya never refuses a challenge in battle and gambling. But we must pay attention to the fact that Yudhishthir has never expressed his kshatriya duty (dharma) or pride. His concern wasn't kshatriya dharma, but just dharma. As far as battle for kshatriyas is concerned, at one point during the battle of Mahabharat, Yudhishthir has been depicted deserting in defeat. This is why Yudhishthir criticizes this addiction of kshatriyas. Here, the word used in the context of an invitation for gambling is 'aahuut' which should be interpreted not as a challenge but as a call by Dhritarashtra. Dharmaraj (Yudhishthir) and his brothers are the sort of people who are willing endure the biggest tests in order to prove their smallest obligation to dharma. Thus Yudhishthir sits down to gamble in accordance with respect for Dhritarashtra's invitation despite being fully opposed to it in his heart.
In Mahabharat, the word 'uncle' has been used nowhere for Dhritarashtra in Pandava's context. He has been called pita (father) in the original verses. Although pita means 'care-taker' and there is no doubt that in Pandu's absence, it was Dhritarashtra who was as a father to the Pandavas, but while leaving for Varnavat, it was said about the Pandavas: sarvaa maatristatha aprichhya kritva chaiv pradakshinat. Here, taking permission of the mothers is mentioned. We know that besides Kunti, Pandu had only one other wife ' Maadri. She had already passed away. Still the word 'mothers' is used in plural. The word refers to Gandhari and Vidur's wife. This means that they considered their father's brothers and their father at the same level, equivalent and substitutable. And accepted their aunts as their mothers. This wasn't just for the sake of addressing. Even in behavior, they accepted these relations. In such a condition, for Yudhishthir, every instruction of Dhritarashtra's was an instruction from his father.
Swami Vivekanand once said that there are many forms of dharma and it manifests itself in different forms in different people. Some one's dharma may be in truth, another's in actions (karma), another's in obedience, in service, in keeping their word etc. Yudhishthir's was in his truth, and in fulfilling the wishes of elders. Therefore, knowing that Dhritrashtra could rob him of his life, or knowing that Dhritarashtra wants Duryodhan to be the ruler of Hastinapur ' even if that requires killing the Pandavas, Yudhishthir does not disobey any of Dhritarashtra's commands. He follows his father's commands with the same sincerity as Ram follows Dasharath's. From the perspective of a common man, this may be Yudhishthir's stupidity, but Yudhishthir's character has not been constructed from a common man's perspective. He is dharma raj. He will follow his dharma not just by sacrificing his wealth, but his life if he has to. While he may be able to engage in debate with Dhritarashtra, he cannot refuse to follow his command. Yudhishthir seems bound by this commitment to his dharma during the betting that took place in the gaming hall. He is constantly opposing gambling, but never refuses to play. As that was Dhritarashtra's command.
The opposition between spirituality and this world is apparent. A man of worldly success may spiritually prove to be a being of the lowest grade. And a spiritually developed advanced soul appears stupid from a materialistic perspective. Yudhishthir's character too is an extremely spiritually developed and is continuously growing. His ideals are not worldly, but spiritual.
After Vidur warns him in Indraprastha, he says in clear words, "On command of King Dhritarashtra, I certainly wish to partake in the games. A father is always dear to a son." After arriving in front of Dhritarashtra, he again says, "Sire! You are our lord. Command us what we should do. Bhaarat! We always wish to remain under your direction." He is willing to handover the entire kingdom to Dhritarashtra even after winning the war of Mahabharat, because father is the lord, and a son is under his command.
The reader takes a sigh of relief when Yudhishthir regains his wealth and rule as a boon from Dhritarashtra after having lost everything once, and Draupadi has been fully humiliated. But Yudhishthir is called back again, and again he sits down to gamble. Every ordinary reader wonders why this madness? The reason for him to gamble a second time is the same as what it originally was ' his father's and king's command:
"Jewel amongst Bharat's descendents and son of Pandu Yudhishthir! Your father King Dhritarashtra has instructed you to return. Our assembly is once again complete with its members and is waiting for you. You shall throw the dice and gamble."
Yudhishthir Said, "All creatures attain auspicious and inauspicious results by the inspiration of God. No one can evade them. It appears I will have to gamble again. This invitation to gamble by the command of Old King Dhritarashtra is the cause of our family's destruction. Even as I know this, I cannot disobey his order."
- "' While listening to people say all sorts of things, King Yudhishthir due to fear of shame and with the perspective of his dharma in following Dhritarashtra's command started to gamble once again."
By gambling, he obeyed his father's command. Why was it then necessary to play till the end and get up only after total destruction? He could have gotten up at any time. When searching for the answer to this question, Vidur's behavior comes to my attention. He was the biggest benefactor of the Pandavas. He opposes gambling vigorously. He appeals to Dhritarashtra repeatedly to stop the game, but not once does he say to Yudhishthir, "that is enough. Son! Leave the game and get up."
What does this mean? Clearly, the game has been started by the king's command, and only by his command can it be paused or ended. Without his permission Yudhishthir cannot leave the game, and as he plays, he must wager something. During this process it appears that this gambling continues to the end like a duel. A duel ends with the death of one of the fighters. Similarly this gambling can end only after one side has lost every thing. The compulsion that's making Yudhishthir play is clear. Therefore while he still has any wealth of any kind, he cannot leave the game. Perhaps this is why he is in a hurry of sorts to lose every thing as quickly as he can, given he can't win. May the gambling end so he may get up.
Knowingly, he loses everything and stops. He has already lost his brothers and his own self. As he loses himself, Shakuni says to Yudhishthir, "Sire! To wager yourself and to lose is an act of extreme impiety (adharma). It's a great sin to wager yourself while you still possess wealth. Sire! Your dearest Draupadi is such a hand that you have not yet lost. Thus wager Krishna and by her, win yourself back." This means that even if a gambler wishes to save some of his money, he can't. This is improper. Considering this fact, one can begin to understand Yudhishthir's situation and the rules of dharma and propriety that bind him. He came to Hastinapur with goodwill and love in his heart. He wanted to remove the disharmony between the Pandavas and Kauravas. He remembered Vyas' warning and it wasn't uncommon for violence to erupt due to disagreements during gambling. Rukmi's killing at the hands of Shri Krishna's elder brother Balram is an example of just that. Yudhishthir would not have wanted to give Duryodhan and his friends the opportunity to start trouble by accusing the Pandavas of not following gambling's decorum. Not only would that lead to the end of any goodwill and love that he came looking for, but would also become a reason for the destruction of the kshatriyas, and the calamity that Vyas had expressed a concern for in thirteen years, would present itself right then and there.
It is worth noting that dharma raj Yudhishthir is following his dharma even while gambling, while vulpine and deceiving Shakuni is accusing him of being improper. As a response to this Yudhishthir immediately wagered Draupadi and by losing, while protectinghis dharma he earned that disgrace that the society has still not been able to forgive.
Every act of dharma raj Yudhishthir is for the protection of dharma. If he did not partake in the game, that would have been disobeying his father's command, which is wrong. He could not have disregarded the invitation as that would be disregarding his father. That would have been violation of his father's command. He could see that Duryodhan, Dhritarashtra and Shakuni had trapped him in the web of his own dharma and having surrounded him from all sides, were hunting him. He still did not even think about violating his dharma, break the peace and gain his freedom or protect his wealth and kingdom by physical strength.
As soon as he loses the first hand, Yudhishthir says to Shakuni, "Shakuni! Shakuni!! You defeated me in this hand by cheating." It has not been explained though how Shakuni cheated. There are a number of things of this sort that have not been clarified in Mahabharat. I think if we analyze those circumstances, we can draw a few conclusions. If Yudhishthir had played against Duryodhan, it is possible that Yudhishthir ' who does not know the game, may not have been slaughtered as badly as he was playing against Shakuni. Throughout this game Yudhishthir never got the dice. From the beginning till the end it is Shakuni who kept throwing the dice and kept winning Yudhishthir's money. Why did Shakuni play on Duryodhan's behalf, and why wasn't a skilled gambler used on Yudhishthir's side is not explained in Mahabharat. Yudhishthir doesn't even object on this matter. Possibly there was a tradition at the time ' just as a general conducts wars on the king's behalf, perhaps a skilled gambler always played for the king. But Yudhishthir didn't bring a skilled player with him because he didn't go there to gamble. He had come to participate in a family event or gathering on his father's invitation; and was coerced into playing. Perhaps he didn't realize at the time that Dhritarashtra would not order the game to end at all.
Before each hand Yudhishthir says that this wealth is mine, and I wager it as I play with you. This is not a trivial statement. This means that a gambler may wager only his money. Neither may he bet some one else's property, nor can he withdraw from the game while he still has any wealth remaining. On one hand Yudhishthir takes almost an oath before each hand declaring his wager, on the other, Shakuni is not playing with his own money, and even Duryodhan doesn't clarify what his wager is. When Yudhishthir asks, "In return to this, what money do you wager by which you play against me?" Duryodhan replies, "I have many gold coins and a lot of wealth too. I am not arrogant about my riches. First you win this hand." Clearly, neither do Shakuni and Duryodhan play by the rules, nor is there any clarity anywhere in their wagering. There is a curtain of deceit on everything they do. There is enough room for them to prevent any serious harm to them, in case the game doesn't go their way for any reason. They were cleverly robbing Yudhishthir, and Yudhishthir was following his dharma.
If a gambler must wager only his wealth, then one has to consider what is the definition of wealth? If we draw conclusions just from Yudhishthir's statements, then the land of the kingdom, its treasury, its subjects, armies, even the ornaments on the bodies of the other Pandavas ' all come under the king's wealth - Yudhishthir's wealth. The only exception to this is the land granted to the Brahmans as a source of their income. Even amongst the subjects, Brahmans are not considered wealth of the king. It appears that only the intellectuals ' academia, students and scholars and their wealth are not the king's wealth. They are independent. On the other hand, the head of a household is the lord of his household. Therefore his wife, children, younger brothers and their wives are also his wealth.
This is why a person as short tempered and noncompliant as Bheem sees and understands everything, but does not oppose Yudhishthir because rightfully he is Yudhishthir's wealth. If he objects, he does not follow his dharma. In this entire episode, while Yudhishthir has followed his dharma, the rest of the Pandavas and Draupadi have not once sacrificed their own dharma while disagreeing with Yudhishthir's policy.
Even when Duhshaasan drags a menstruating Draupadi into the assembly by her hair, wrapped in nothing but one cloth, she never challenges Yudhishthir's right to wager her during the game. At most she asked if Yudhishthir wagered her first, or did he lose himself before hand. She analyzes dharma within the confines of the socially accepted propriety while remaining within the bounds of social morals herself. If Yudhishthir lost himself first, then he had become a slave of Duryodhan. In such a circumstance, a slave has no authority over a Queen, princess or a free woman. If Yudhishthir had already lost himself, then it was not right to wager Draupadi. Shakuni did say that it was wrong of Yudhishthir to lose himself while he had wealth remaining, but he did not say that Yudhishthir couldn't bet Draupadi any more. Instead he enticed Yudhishthir to wager Draupadi on the next hand and resolve himself of his impropriety.
Bheeshma's dilemma too was based on the same question. Just as Draupadi does not challenge Yudhishthir's right to bet Draupadi on a hand, Bheeshma too does not consider a wife outside of her husband's lordship. Thus, when Yudhishthir had the right to wager his brothers because they were his wealth, he also had the compulsion to wager Draupadi, because she too was his wealth. But at the time when Yudhishthir wagered Draupadi, he wasn't a free man himself. When Draupadi asks Bheeshma what is dharma, he is unable to answer clearly. He says the nature of dharma is extremely fine. Amongst the Pandavas' reaction, the most aggravated is Bheem's. He says, "Brother Yudhishthir, women in gamblers' houses are generally indecent, but even they don't wager them during gambling. They have pity in their hearts even for those unchaste women. Our enemies have made us bet, and have taken from us all the wealth and exceptional beverages that King of Kashi gave to us as a gift, jewels that other kings had presented to us, our vehicles, luxuries, shields, means of war, kingdom, your body and all of us brothers. But this is not what makes me angry, as you are the lord of everything of ours. But wagering Draupadi, this I consider extremely inappropriate. That innocent and nave lady did not deserve to be insulted in this manner, being married to the Pandavas. But because of you thse lowly monstrous Kauravas with no ability to control their passions are causing her all sorts of pain. Sire! I direct my rage upon you for her poor condition. I will burn both your arms. Sahdev! Get fire." Bheem may have expressed all his anger against Yudhishthir, but he never said Yudhishthir did not have the right to bet Draupadi. He does say that Draupadi should not have been wagered, as he is unable to bare the grief Kauravas have inflicted upon her, but there is no challenge to Yudhishthir's authority anywhere.
In this manner this entire episode has been presented as a question of dharma. This dharma is based on the practices and authority accepted by the society. As a part of this dharma, the question of the duty of all the brave men gathered to protect a woman being publicly humiliated has not been raised anywhere. As opposed to this, when Jayadrath abducts Draupadi in the forests, not only do the Pandavas fight him, but after making him suffer in all ways they let him live only because he is married to their sister Duhshalaa. In this dharma, the entire discussion, analysis and activities are focused on the issues of authority and property. As his wife, if Draupadi is Yudhishthir's wealth, and if Yudhishthir can't withdraw from the game while wealth remains, then Yudhishthir was required to wager his wife as wealth. Similarly it was improper to not accept Duryodhan's right on lost wealth. This is why the Pandavas do not raise their weapons to defend their wife or their own dignity despite having the will and the capability to do so.
In the age that regarded the rules established by the society as the social dharma, Shri Krishna seems to be the only exception. He doesn't care if Yudhishthir wagered himself first or Draupadi. What he cares about is that Draupadi was publicly humiliated. Perhaps this was the point of view that developed into a society that no longer considered the wife, children and younger brothers and sisters as property of their husband, father or elder brother. No person was the property or wealth of another person. Subsequently, slavery too was abolished and now that we live in a world where we have no right to torment even our animals, how can one person be considered the property of another.
In this context, another interesting question that comes up, is that for whatever reasons, without having forfeited Draupadi, the last hand has now been played as Yudhishthir wagered himself and lost thus becoming unqualified to continue gambling, what would have happened if he had refused to wager Draupadi? Even if Yudhishthir had not wagered Draupadi after losing his own self, as property of a slave, Draupadi would still have been considered a slave of Duryodhan. Potentially, the reason Yudhishthir did wager Draupadi even after losing himself was because he could not have protected her despite not having lost her. But while a slave himself, as he wagers Draupadi, a new circumstance is created. The basis for Draupadi's dharma related arguments in the end appear to have been deliberately presented by Yudhishthir. The question is, when Yudhishthir had already lost himself, and Draupadi was still left, where was the need to wager her? He could have argued that a slave does not have the right to wager a free citizen. But he still wagered her. Why?
If Draupadi had not been wagered, Duryodhan would have argued that a slave's wealth is the master's wealth, thus even without being explicitly wagered, Draupadi is his property. All other wives of the Pandavas and their children could have been considered Duryodhan's property by this logic. Despite being the wealth of a slave if Draupadi is wagered ' and this proposal came from Shakuni in the haste to win Draupadi ' clearly means that Duryodhan has no authority over other wives and children of the Pandavas. They were not wagered and lost. By wagering Draupadi after losing himself, Yudhishthir secures Pandavas' other wives and children. And this gamble of his becomes Draupadi's shield as well. Had she not been wagered, she would have been considered Duryodhan's property regardless. The explicit wagering now provides her with the argument that she could not be considered Duryodhan's wealth until she was wagered and lost. As Yudhishthir had already lost himself, he had no right to wager her. Not just Draupadi, but all Pandavas won their freedom back on the basis of this logic. The act of wagering the remaining wealth ' Draupadi ' was a strategic move by Yudhishthir within the rules of the game, which protected Draupadi and the Pandavas. In that whole game this was the only hand that Yudhishthir won against Shakuni. Otherwise he had lost the whole game.
Draupadi did not win this debate just on the basis of her logic. It was not possible to win any argument by logic in Dhritarashtra's assembly, in the presence of Duryodhan's goons and friends. In this, Shri Krishna's demonstration of power is extremely clear. Shri Krishna doesn't consider the contemporary social beliefs to be the extent of dharma. He goes to the humanity of dharma and periodicity has no relevance for him. Time and place do not pose any boundaries for him. In Draupadi's case too Duryodhan had already neutralized her arguments with his brute force. All appeals made to the elders of the family for justice and dharma too had been fruitless. A family-senior like Bheeshma was entangled with the applicability and symptomatic subtleties of dharma. That is when Draupadi while reminding everyone of her importance issues almost a warning - there may be trouble in the future if she is not treated justly. She is not just a commoner who they could treat unfairly and go unpunished. As evidence to her importance she declared she is Drupad's daughter, Dhrishtdyumna's sister, Pandu's daughter-in-law, Pandavas's wife and Shri Krishna's friend. No word or name uttered by her had an impact on Duhshaasan while he was pulling away her clothes; but as soon as Shri Krishna's name came up, his hands went numb. His energy vanished. His head started to spin, and inanimate, he fell to the ground. This is what I consider Shri Krishna's demonstration of power. Duhshaasan had witnessed the killing of Shishupal by Shri Krishna's Sudarshan chakra at Indraprastha's assembly in the presence of many kings. Forget revenge or punishment - no one even objected to Shri Krishna's act. Duhshaasn saw that same Sudarshan chakra lurking in his own assembly. When Draupadi mentioned that she is a friend of Shri Krishna, Duhshaasan realized that though they could protect themselves from the Pandavas under the cover of dharma's apparatus, social traditions and the decorum of gambling after inflicting all sorts of suffering on them, but no one can save them from Shri Krishna. His hands shuddered and his head spun as he saw his end right in front of him. Another thing about Shri Krishna is emphasized right here ' he cannot tolerate any insult to women under any circumstances. His Sudarshan chakra became active at Pandava's assembly when Shishupal started to prate about Rukmini, and in Kaurava's own assembly too, it presented itself when Draupadi was being humiliated.
- Narendra Kohli, 175 Vaishali, Pitampura, Delhi 110088.
According to the Mahabharat
, name of the building where the gambling occurred.
30-32/65, Sabha Parva
 etad rajan mama dhanam pratipanoasti kastava.
Yepa mam tvam maharaja dhanena pratidivyaye.. 7/60, Sabha Parva
 1-6/68, Sabha Parva  Santi me manayashchaiva dhanani subahuni cha.
Matsarashcha n me artheshu jayasvainam durodaram.. 8/60, Sabha Parva