Epic of the Bharatas
Book III. Rajasuya
(The Imperial Sacrifice)
 A curious incident followed the bridal of Draupadi. The five sons of Pandu returned with her to the potter’s house, where they were living on alms according to the custom of Brahmans, and the brothers reported to their mother that they had received a great gift on that day. “Enjoy ye the gift in common,’’ replied their mother, not knowing what it was. And as a mother’s mandate cannot be disregarded, Draupadi became the common wife of the five brothers.
The real significance of this strange legend is unknown. The custom of brothers marrying a common wife prevails to this day in Thibet and among the hill-tribes of the Himalayas, but it never prevailed among the Aryan Hindus of India. It is distinctly prohibited in their laws and institutes, and finds no sanction in their literature, ancient or modern. The legend in the Maha-bharata, of brothers marrying a wife in common, stands alone and without a parallel in Hindu traditions and literature.
Judging from the main incidents of the Epic, Draupadi might rather be regarded as the wife of the eldest brother Yudhishthir. Bhima had already mated himself to a female in a forest, by whom he had a son, Ghatotkacha, who distinguished himself in war later on. Arjun too married the sister of Krishna, shortly after Draupadi’s bridal, and had by her a son, Abhimanyu, who was one of the heroes of the war. On the other hand, Yudhishthir took to himself no wife save Draupadi, and she was crowned with Yudhishthir in the Rajasuya or Imperial Sacrifice. Notwithstanding the legend, therefore, Draupadi might be regarded as wedded to Yudhishthir,  though won by the skill of Arjun, and this assumption would be in keeping with Hindu customs and laws, ancient and modern.
The jealous Duryodhan heard that his contrivance to kill his cousins at Varanavata had failed. He also heard that they had found a powerful friend in Drupad, and had formed an alliance with him. It was no longer possible to keep them from their rightful inheritance. The Kuru kingdom was accordingly parcelled; Duryodhan retained the eastern and richer portion with its ancient capital Hastina-pura on the Ganges; and the sons of Pandu were given the western portion on the Jumna, which was then a forest and a wilderness. The sons of Pandu cleared the forest and built a new capital Indra-prastha, the supposed ruins of which, near modern Delhi, are still pointed out to the curious traveller.
Yudhishthir the eldest of the five sons of Pandu, and now king of Indra-prastha, resolved to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice, which was a formal assumption of the Imperial title over all the kings of ancient India. His brothers went out with troops in all directions to proclaim his supremacy over all surrounding kings. Jarasandha, the powerful and semi-civilised king of Magadha or South Behar, opposed and was killed; but other monarchs recognised the supremacy of Yudhishthir and came to the sacrifice with tributes. King Dhrita-rashtra and his sons, now reigning at Hastina-pura, were politely invited to take a share in the performance of the sacrifice.
The portion translated in this Book forms Sections xxxiii. to xxxvi. and Section xliv. of Book ii. of the original.
I. The Assemblage of Kings
Ancient halls of proud Hastina mirrored bright on Ganga’s wave!
Thither came the son of Pandu, young Nakula true and brave,
Came to ask Hastina’s monarch, chief of Kuru’s royal race,
To partake Yudhishthir’s banquet and his sacrifice to grace.
 Dhrita-rashtra came in gladness unto Indra-prastha’s town,
Marked its new-built tower and turret on the azure Jumna frown,
With him came preceptor Kripa, and the ancient Bhishma came,
Elders of the race of Kuru, chiefs and Brahmans known to fame.
Monarchs came from distant regions to partake the holy rite,
Warlike chiefs from court and castle in their arms accoutred bright,
Kshatras came with ample tribute for the holy sacrifice,
Precious gems and costly jewels, gold and gifts of untold price.
Proud Duryodhan and his brothers came in fair and friendly guise,
With the ancient Kuru monarch and Vidura good and wise,
With his son came brave Simla from Gandhara’s distant land,
Car-borne Salya, peerless Karna, came with bow and spear and brand.
Came the priest and proud preceptor Drona skilled in arms and lore,
Jayadratha famed for valour came from Sindhu’s sounding shore,
Drupad came with gallant princes from Panchala’s land of fame,
Salwa lord of outer nations to the mighty gathering came.
Bhagadatta came in chariot from the land of nations brave,
Prag-jyotisha, where the red sun wakes on Brahma-putra’s wave,
With him came untutored Mlechchas who beside the ocean dwell,
Uncouth chiefs of dusky nations from the lands where mountains swell.
Came Virata, Matsya’s monarch, and his warlike sons and bold,
Sisupala, king of Chedi, with his son bedecked in gold.
Came the warlike chiefs of Vrishni from the shores of Western Sea,
And the lords of Madhya-desa, ever warlike ever free!
II. Feast and Sacrifice
 Jumna’s dark and limpid waters laved Yudhishthir’s palace walls,
And to hail him Dharma-raja, monarchs thronged his royal halls,
He to honoured kings and chieftains with a royal grace assigned
Palaces with sparkling waters and with trees umbrageous lined,
Honoured thus, the mighty monarchs lived in mansions milky white,
Like the peaks of famed Kailasa lifting proud their snowy height!
Graceful walls that swept the meadows circled round the royal halls,
Nets of gold belaced the casements, gems bedecked the shining walls,
Flights of steps led up to chambers many-tinted-carpet-graced,
And festooning fragrant garlands were harmonious interlaced!
Far below from spacious gateways rose the people’s gathering cry,
And from far the swan-white mansions caught the ravished gazer’s eye,
Richly graced with precious metals shone the turrets bright and gay,
Like the rich-ored shining turrets of the lofty Himalay,
And the scene bedecked by rishis and by priests and kings of might,
Shone like azure sky in splendour graced by deathless Sons of Light!
Spake Yudhishthir unto Bhishma, elder of the Kuru race,
Unto Drona proud preceptor, rich in lore and warlike grace,
Spake to wise preceptor Kripa, versed in sacred rites of old,
To Duryodhan and his brothers, honoured guests and kinsmen bold:
“Friends and kinsmen, grant your favour and your sweet affection lend,
May your kindness ever helpful poor Yudhishthir’s rite attend,
 As your own, command my treasure, costly gifts and wealth untold,
To the poor and to the worthy scatter free my gems and gold!”
Speaking thus he made his diksha, and to holy work inclined,
To his friends and to his kinsmen all their various tasks assigned:
Proud Duhsasan in his bounty spread the rich and sumptuous feast,
Drona’s son with due devotion greeted saint and holy priest,
Sanjay with a regal honour welcomed king and chief of might,
Bhishma and the pious Drona watched the sacrificial rite,
Kripa guarded wealth and treasure, gold and gems of untold price,
And with presents unto Brahmans sanctified the sacrifice,
Dhrita-rashtra, old and sightless, through the scene of gladness strayed,
With a careful hand Vidura all the mighty cost defrayed,
Proud Duryodhan took the tribute which the chiefs and monarchs paid,
Pious Krishna unto Brahmans honour and obeisance made.
’Twas a gathering fair and wondrous on fair Jumna’s sacred shore,
Tributes in a thousand nishkas every willing monarch bore,
Costly gifts proclaimed the homage of each prince of warlike might,
Chieftains vied with rival chieftains to assist the holy rite.
Bright Immortals, robed in sunlight, sailed across the liquid sky,
And their gleaming cloud-borne chariots rested on the turrets high,
Hero-monarchs, holy Brahmans, filled the halls bedecked in gold,
White-robed priests adept in mantra mingled with the chieftains bold.
And amidst this scene of splendour, pious-hearted, pure and good,
Like the sinless god Varuna, gentle-souled Yudhishthir stood,
Six bright fires Yudhishthir lighted, offerings made to gods above,
Gifts unto the poor and lowly spake the monarch’s boundless love.
 Hungry men were fed and feasted with an ample feast of rice,
Costly gifts to holy Brahmans graced the noble sacrifice,
Ida, ajya, homa offerings, pleased the “Shining Ones” on high,
Brahmans pleased with costly presents with their blessings filled the sky!
III. Glimpses of the Truth
Dawned the day of abhisheka, proud anointment, sacred bath,
Crownéd kings and learnéd Brahmans crowded on Yudhishthir’s path,
And as gods and heavenly rishis throng in Brahma’s mansions bright,
Holy priests and noble monarchs graced the inner sacred site!
Measureless their fame and virtue, great their penance and their power,
And in converse deep and learned Brahmans passed the radiant hour,
And on subjects great and sacred, oft divided in their thought,
Various sages in their wisdom various diverse maxims taught,
Weaker reasons seemed the stronger, faultless reasons often failed,
Keen disputants like the falcon fell on views their rivals held!
Some were versed in Laws of Duty, some the Holy Vows professed,
Some with gloss and varied comment still his learned rival pressed,
Bright the concourse of the Brahmans unto sacred learning given,
Like the concourse of the bright stars in the glorious vault of heaven,
None of impure caste and conduct trespassed on the holy site,
None of impure life and manners stained Yudhishthir’s sacred rite!
Deva-rishi, saintly Narad, marked the sacrificial rite,
Sanctifying by its lustre good Yudhishthir’s royal might,
 And a ray of heavenly wisdom lit the rishis inner eye,
As he saw the gathered monarchs in the concourse proud and high!
He had heard from lips celestial in the heavenly mansions bright,
All these kings were gods incarnate, portions of Celestial Light,
And he saw in them embodied beings of the upper sky,
And in lotus-eyéd Krishna saw the Highest of the High!
Saw the ancient World’s Preserver, great Creation’s Primal Cause,
Who had sent the gods as monarchs to uphold his righteous laws,
Battle for the cause of virtue, perish in a deadly war,
Then to seek their upper mansions in the radiant realms afar!
“Narayana, World’s Preserver, sent immortal gods on earth,
He himself in race of Yadu hath assumed his mortal birth,
Like the moon among the planets born in Vrishni’s noble clan, –
He whom bright gods render worship, – Narayana, Son of Man,
Primal Cause and Self-created! when is done his purpose high,
Narayana leads Immortals to their dwelling in the sky.”
Such bright glimpses of the Secret flashed upon his inner sight,
As in lofty contemplation Narad gazed upon the rite.
IV. The Arghya
Outspake Bhishma to Yudhishthir: “Monarch of this wide domain,
Honour due to crownéd monarchs doth our sacred law ordain,
Arghya to the wise Preceptor, to the Kinsman and to Priest,
To the Friend and to the Scholar, to the King as lord of feast,
 Unto these is due the arghya, so our holy writs have said,
Therefore to these kings assembled be the highest honour paid,
Noble are these crownéd monarchs, radiant like the noonday sun,
To the noblest, first in virtue, be the foremost honour done!”
“Who is noblest,” quoth Yudhishthir, “in this galaxy of fame,
Who of chiefs and crownéd monarchs doth our foremost honour claim?”
Pond’ring spake the ancient Bhishma in his accents deep and clear:
“Greatest midst the great is Krishna! chief of men without a peer!
Midst these monarchs pure in lustre, purest-hearted and most high
Like the radiant sun is Krishna midst the planets of the sky,
Sunless climes are warmed to verdure by the sun’s returning ray,
Windless wastes are waked to gladness when reviving breezes play,
Even so this rajasuya, this thy sacrificial rite,
Owes its sanctity and splendour unto Krishna’s holy might!”
Bhishma spake and Sahadeva served his mandate quick as thought,
And the arghya duly flavoured unto peerless Krishna brought,
Krishna trained in rules of virtue then the offered arghya took,
Darkened Sisupala’s forehead and his frame in tremor shook,
To Yudhishthir and to Bhishma turns the chief his flaming eyes,
To the great and honoured Krishna, Sisupala wrathful cries.
V. Sisupala’s Pride
“Not to Vrishni’s uncrowned hero should this reverence be paid,
Midst these mighty crownéd monarchs in their kingly pomp arrayed,
 Ill beseems the good Yudhishthir, royal Pandu’s righteous son,
Homage to an uncrowned chieftain, to the lowly honour done!
Pandu’s sons are yet untutored, and with knowledge yet unblessed,
Knowing Bhishma blessed with wisdom hath the rules of courts transgressed,
Learnéd in the Laws of Duty he hath sinned from partial love,
Conscious breach of rules of honour doth our deeper hatred move!
In this throng of crownéd monarchs, ruling kings of righteous fame,
Can this uncrowned Vrishni chieftain foremost rank and honour claim?
Doth he as a sage and elder claim the homage to him done?
Sure his father Vasudeva hath his claims before his son!
Doth he as Yudhishthir’s kinsman count as foremost and the best?
Royal Drupad by alliance surely might the claim contest!
Doth he as a wise preceptor claim the highest, foremost place,
When the great preceptor Drona doth his royal mansion grace?
Unto Krishna as a rishi should the foremost rank be given?
Saintly Vyasa claims the honour, Vedic bard inspired by Heaven!
Unto Krishna should we render honour for his warlike fame?
Thou O Bhishma! Death’s Subduer, surely might precedence claim!
Unto Krishna for his knowledge should the noble prize we yield?
Drona’s son unmatched in learning surely might contest the field!
Great Duryodhan midst the princes stands alone without a peer,
Kripa priest of royal Kurus, holiest of all priests is here!
Archer Karna – braver archer none there is of mortal birth –
Learnt his arms from Par’su-Rama, he who slew the kings of earth!
Wherefore then to unknown Krishna render we this homage free:
Saintly priest, nor wise preceptor, king nor foremost chief is he!”
VI. Sisupala’s Fall
 Tiger-hearted Sisupala spake in anger stern and high,
Calm unto him Krishna answered, but a light was in his eye:
“List O chiefs and righteous monarchs! from a daughter of our race
Evil-destined Sisupala doth his noble lineage trace,
Spite of wrong and frequent outrage, spite of insult often flung,
Never in his heart hath Krishna sought to do his kinsman wrong!
Once I went to eastern regions, Sisupala like a foe
Burnt my far-famed seaport Dwarka, laid the mart and temple low,
Once on Bhoja’s trusting monarch faithless Sisupala fell,
Slew his men and threw him captive in his castle’s dungeon cell.
Once for holy aswamedha Vasudeva sent his steed,
Sisupala stole the charger, sought to stop the righteous deed,
Once on saintly Babhru’s consort, pious-hearted, pure and just,
Sisupala fell in madness, forced the lady to his lust,
Once Visala’s beauteous princess went to seek her husband’s side,
In her husband’s garb disguised Sisupala clasped the bride,
This and more hath Krishna suffered, for his mother is our kin,
But the sickening tale appalleth, and he addeth sin to sin!
One more tale of sin I mention: by his impious passion fired,
To my saintly wife, Rukmini, Sisupala hath aspired,
As the low-born seeks the Veda, soiling it with impure breath,
Sisupala sought my consort, and his righteous doom is Death!”
Krishna spake; the rising red blood speaks each angry hero’s shame,
Shame for Chedi’s impious actions, grief for Sisupala’s fame!
 Loudly laughed proud Sisupala, spake with bitter taunt and jeer,
Answered Krishna’s lofty menace with disdain and cruel sneer:
“Wherefore in this vast assembly thus proclaim thy tale of shame,
If thy wedded wife and consort did inspire my youthful flame?
Doth a man of sense and honour, blest with wisdom and with pride,
Thus proclaim his wedded consort was another’s loving bride?
Do thy worst! Or if by anger or by weak forbearance led,
Sisupala seeks no mercy, nor doth Krishna’s anger dread!”
Lowered Krishna’s eye and forehead, and unto his hands there came
Fatal disc, the dread of sinners, disc that never missed its aim,
“Monarchs in this hall assembled!” Krishna in his anger cried,
“Oft hath Chedi’s impious monarch Krishna’s noble rage defied,
For unto his pious mother plighted word and troth was given,
Sisupala’s hundred follies would by Krishna be forgiven,
I have kept the plighted promise, but his crimes exceed the tale,
And beneath this vengeful weapon Sisupala now shall quail!”
Then the bright and whirling discus, as this mandate Krishna said,
Fell on impious Sisupala, from his body smote his head,
Fell the mighty-arméd monarch like a thunder-riven rock,
Severed from the parent mountain by the bolt’s resistless shock!
And his soul be-cleansed of passions came forth from its mortal shroud,
Like the radiant sun in splendour from a dark and mantling cloud,
Unto Krishna good and gracious, like a lurid spark aflame,
Chastened of its sin and anger, Sisupala’s spirit came!
Rain descends in copious torrents, quick the lurid lightnings fly,
And the wide earth feels a tremor, restless thunders shake the sky,
Various feelings sway the monarchs as they stand in hushed amaze,
Mutely in those speechless moments on the lifeless warrior gaze!
 Some there are who seek their weapons, and their nervous fingers shake,
And their lips they bite in anger, and their frames in tremor quake,
Others in their inmost bosom welcome Krishna’s righteous deed,
Look on death of Sisupala as a sinner’s proper meed,
Rishis bless the deed of Krishna as they wend their various ways,
Brahmans pure and pious-hearted chant the righteous Krishna’s praise!
Sad Yudhishthir, gentle-hearted, thus unto his brothers said:
“Funeral rites and regal honours be performed unto the dead,”
Duteously his faithful brothers then performed each pious rite,
Honours due to Chedi’s monarch, to his rank and peerless might,
Sisupala’s son they seated in his mighty father’s place,
And with holy abhisheka hailed him king of Chedi’s race!
VII. Yudhishthir Emperor
Thus removed the hapless hindrance, now the holy sacrifice
Was performed with joy and splendour and with gifts of gold and rice,
Godlike Krishna watched benignly with his bow and disc and mace,
And Yudhishthir closed the feasting with his kindliness and grace.
Brahmans sprinkled holy water on the empire’s righteous lord,
All the monarchs made obeisance, spake in sweet and graceful word:
“Born of race of Ajamidha! thou hast spread thy father’s fame,
Rising by thy native virtue thou hast won a mightier name,
And this rite unto thy station doth a holier grace instil,
And thy royal grace and kindness all our hope and wish fulfil,
Grant us, king of mighty monarchs, now unto our realms we go,
Emperor o’er earthly rulers, blessings and thy grace bestow!”
 Good Yudhishthir to the monarchs parting grace and honours paid,
And unto his duteous brothers thus in loving-kindness said:
“To our feast these noble monarchs came from loyal love they bear,
Far as confines of their kingdoms, with them let our friends repair.”
And his brothers and his kinsmen duteously his hest obey,
With each parting guest and monarch journey on the homeward way,
Arjun wends with high-souled Drupad, famed for lofty warlike grace,
Dhrishta-dyumna with Virata, monarch of the Matsya race,
Bhima on the ancient Bhishma and on Kuru’s king doth wait,
Sahadeva waits on Drona, great in arms, in virtue great,
With Gandhara’s warlike monarch brave Nakula holds his way,
Other chiefs with other monarchs where their distant kingdoms lay.
Last of all Yudhishthir’s kinsman, righteous Krishna fain would part,
And unto the good Yudhishthir opens thus his joyful heart:
“Done this glorious rajasuya, joy and pride of Kuru’s race,
Grant, O friend! to sea-girt Dwarka, Krishna now his steps must trace.”
“By thy grace and by thy valour,” sad Yudhishthir thus replies,
“By thy presence, noble Krishna, I performed this high emprise,
By thy all-subduing glory monarchs bore Yudhishthir’s sway,
Came with gifts and costly presents, came their tributes rich to pay.
Must thou part? my uttered accents may not bid thee, friend, to go,
In thy absence vain were empire, and this life were full of woe,
Yet thou partest, sinless Krishna, dearest, best belovxéd friend,
And to Dwarka’s sea-washed mansions Krishna must his footsteps bend!”
Then unto Yudhishthir’s mother, pious-hearted Krishna hies,
And in accents love-inspiring thus to ancient Pritha cries:
 “Regal fame and righteous glory crown thy sons, reveréd dame,
Joy thee in their peerless prowess, in their holy spotless fame,
May thy sons’ success and triumph cheer a widowed mother’s heart,
Grant me leave, O noble lady! for to Dwarka I depart.”
From Yudhishthir’s queen Draupadi parts the chief with many a tear,
And from Arjun’s wife Subhadra, Krishna’s sister ever dear,
Then with rites and due ablutions to the gods are offerings made,
Priests repeat their benedictions, for the righteous Krishna said,
And his faithful chariot-driver brings his falcon-bannered car,
Like the clouds in massive splendour and resistless in the war,
Pious Krishna mounts the chariot, fondly greets his friends once more,
Leaves blue Jumna’s sacred waters for his Dwarka’s dear-loved shore.
Still Yudhishthir and his brothers, sad and sore and grieved at heart,
Followed Krishna’s moving chariot, for they could not see him part,
Krishna stopped once more his chariot, and his parting blessings gave,
Thus the chief with eyes of lotus spake in accents calm and brave:
“King of men! with sleepless watching ever guard thy Kingdom fair,
Like a father tend thy subjects with a father’s love and care,
Be unto them like the rain-drop nourishing the thirsty ground,
Be unto them tree of shelter shading them from heat around,
Like the blue sky ever bending be unto them ever kind,
Free from pride and free from passion rule them with a virtuous mind!”
Spake and left the saintly Krishna, pure and pious-hearted chief,
Sad Yudhishthir wended homeward and his heart was filled with grief.