XXVIII The Yaksha Translation by David R. Slavitt



Once upon a time, as a deer was butting about a tree,

it chanced that the two sticks for making fire and a churning staff

belonging to a Brahmana devoted to ascetic austerities

                                                                                                stuck fast in its antlers.

And with long bounds that powerful deer left the ashram,

                                                                                                taking those things with it.

Seeing this, the Brahmana, anxious on account of his Agnihotra,

came before the Pandavas and in great distress said what had happened

and asked the sons of Pandu to track the deer by its foot-prints

and bring back his sticks and churning staff

                                                            so that his Agnihotra would not be stopped!


Yudhishthira was sympathetic and, taking up his bow,

he sallied forth with his brothers in the wake of the deer,

                                                                                    intent upon serving the Brahmana.

They soon found the deer at no great distance

and discharged barbed arrows, javelins, and darts at it,

but they could not pierce it with any of these.

They struggled to pursue and slay it, but the deer became suddenly invisible.

The noble-minded sons of Pandu, fatigued and disappointed

and afflicted with hunger and thirst, approached a banyan tree

in that deep forest and sat down in its cool shade.

There Nakula, stricken with sorrow and urged by impatience,

addressed his eldest brother, saying,

                                                                        “In our family, O king,

virtue has never been sacrificed

                                                            nor has there been loss of wealth from insolence.

And having been asked, we have never said no to any creature.

Why then in the present case have we met with this disaster?"


Yudhishthira said, "There is no limit to calamities.

Nor is it possible to ascertain either their final or efficient cause.

It is the Lord of justice alone who distributes the fruits of both virtue and vice.”


Thereupon Bhima said, “Surely, this calamity has befallen us

because I did not slay the Pratikamin on the very spot

when he dragged Draupadi as a slave into the assembly.”


And Arjuna said, “Surely, this calamity has befallen us

because I resented not those insulting words piercing the very bones,

uttered by the Suta's son!”


And Sahadeva said, “Surely, this calamity has befallen us

because I did not slay Sakuni when he defeated you at dice!"


Then king Yudhishthira addressed Nakula saying, “Climb this tree

and look around the ten points of the horizon.

See whether there is water near us or such trees as grow on watery grounds!

Your brothers are all fatigued and thirsty.”

At once, Nakula climbed the tree, looked around, and said to his eldest brother, 

“I see many trees that grow by the water-side

                                                                                    and I hear the cries of cranes.

Water must be somewhere near here.”


Yudhishthira then said, “Go then and fetch water in these quivers!”

Saying, “So be it,” Nakula hurried towards the place where there was water

                                                                                                            and soon found it.

He saw a crystal lake inhabited by cranes and he desired to drink of it,

but he heard these words from the sky:

                                                                        “Child, do not commit this rash act!

This lake is in my possession.

You must first answer my questions and only then may you drink of this water

and take away as much as you require.”

Nakula, however, was exceedingly thirsty and, disregarding these words,

drank of the cool water.

                                                Having drunk of it, he dropped down dead.


Seeing Nakula's delay, Yudhishthira said to Sahadeva,

                                                                                    “It is long since our brother left us!

Go and bring back your twin brother and water.”

Sahadeva, said, “So be it,” and set out in that direction.

Arriving at the water, he beheld his brother lying dead on the ground.

Afflicted at the death of his brother and suffering severely from thirst,

he advanced towards the water, when he heard these words:

                                                                                    “Child, do not commit this rash act!

This lake is in my possession.

First answer my question, and only then may you drink of the water

and take away as much as you may require.”


Sahadeva, however, was extremely thirsty and, disregarding these words,

drank of the water,

                                                and having drunk of it, dropped down dead.


Then Yudhishthira said to Arjuna,

“It is long since your two brothers have left us!

Go and bring them back, together with water.

You are the refuge of us all when we are plunged in distress!”

Thus addressed, Arjuna, took his bow and arrows and his naked sword

                                                                                                and set out for that lake.

Reaching it, he beheld his two younger brothers, lying dead.

And seeing them as if asleep, that lion among men, much aggrieved,

raised his bow and looked around that wood.

                                                                        But he found no one in that mighty forest.

Being fatigued, he rushed in the direction of the water.

But he heard a voice from the sky, “Why do you approach this water?

You shall not be able to drink of it by force.

If you can answer the question I will put to you,

only then shall you drink of the water and take away as much as you require.”

Arjuna said, “Forbid me by appearing before me!

And when you shall be sorely pierced with my arrows,

you will not then again speak in this way!”

Having said this, he showered arrows on all sides, inspired by mantras.

And he also displayed his skill in shooting at an invisible mark by sound alone.

And sorely afflicted with thirst, he discharged barbed darts and javelins and iron arrows,

showering into the sky innumerable shafts incapable of being resisted.

Thereupon, the invisible Yaksha said,

                                                                        “What is the need of all this trouble?

Drink only after answering my questions!

If you drink, however, without having answered my questions,

                                                                                                you shall die immediately.”

Arjuna disregarded those words, drank of the water,

                                                                        and immediately after dropped down dead.


Seeing Arjuna's delay, Yudhishthira addressed Bhimasena, saying,

“It is a long while that Nakula and Sahadeva and Arjuna have gone to fetch water,

and they have not come back yet.

                                                            Go and bring them back, together with water!”

Saying, “So be it,” Bhimasena set out for that place

                                                                                    where his brothers lay dead.

And finding them, Bhima afflicted though he was with thirst,

                                                                                    was exceedingly distressed.

That mighty hero thought this to have been the act of some Yaksha or Rakshasa.

And he thought, “I shall surely have to fight today.

                                                                        Let me, therefore, first appease my thirst.”

He rushed forward with the intention of drinking,

but the Yaksha said, “Child, do not commit this rash act!

This lake is in my possession.

                                                            First answer my questions, and then you may drink

and take away as much water as you require!"

Addressed by the Yaksha, Bhima, without answering his questions,

drank of the water.

                                    And as soon as he drank, he fell down dead on the spot.


Then thinking that his brothers had left him a very long time ago,

Yudhishthira said to himself,

                                                “Why is it that the two sons of Madri are delaying?

And why does the wielder of the Gandiva delay?

                                                                                    And why does Bhima too, delay?

I shall go to search for them!”

Yudhishthira then rose up, his heart burning in grief.

                                                                                    And he thought within himself.

“Is this forest under some malign influence?

                                                                        Or is it infested by some wicked beasts?

Or have they all fallen, in consequence of having disregarded some mighty being?

Or, not finding water in the spot whither those heroes had first repaired,

have they spent all this time searching through the forest?

What is that reason for their not coming back?”

Thinking these thoughts, Yudhishthira entered the forest

                                                                                    where no human sound was heard

and which was inhabited by deer and bears and birds,

and was adorned with trees that were bright and green,

and which echoed with the hum of the black-bee and the notes of winged warblers.

After a short while, he beheld that beautiful lake

which looked as if it had been made by the celestial artificer himself.

It was adorned with flowers of a golden hue and with lotuses and Sindhuvars.

And it abounded with canes and Ketakas and Karaviras and Pippalas.

Fatigued from walking, Yudhishthira saw the lake and was struck with wonder

for he also saw his brothers, lying dead


like the Regents of the world dropped from their spheres at the end of the Yuga.


Arjuna lay dead, with his bow and arrows on the ground,


and also Bhimasena and the twins were motionless and deprived of life.


The king breathed a long, hot sigh, and was bathed in tears of grief.


He lamented profusely, saying, “You had vowed, O mighty-armed Bhima,


saying, ‘I shall with mace my smash the thighs of Duryodhana in battle!’


All that has become pointless now!


The promises of men may be ineffectual;


but why have the words of the gods uttered in respect of you been thus fruitless?


O Arjuna, while you were in your mother's lying-in-room,


the gods said, ‘O Kunti, this your son shall not be inferior to him of a thousand eyes!’


And in the northern Paripatra mountains, all beings had sung, saying,


The prosperity of this race, robbed by foes, will be recovered by this one without delay.


 No one will be able to vanquish him in battle,


while there will be none whom he will not be able to vanquish.’


Why then has that Arjuna, endowed with great strength, been subject to death?


Why does he lie on the ground blighting all my hopes?


Why have those heroes, those mighty sons of Kunti, fallen


who always slew their foes, and whom no weapons could resist?


Surely, this vile heart of mine must be made of adamant,


if, beholding these twins lying on the ground, it does not split!


You men, versed in holy writ and acquainted with the proprieties of time and place,


and endowed with ascetic merit,


you who duly performed all sacred rites, why do you lie down,


without performing acts deserving of your merit?


Alas, why do you lie insensible on the earth, with your bodies unwounded,


you unvanquished ones?”


Beholding his brothers sleeping there as they usually did on mountain slopes,


the high souled king, overwhelmed with grief and bathed in sweat,


                                                                                                was in extreme distress.


That virtuous lord of men, immersed in an ocean of sorrows,


attempted to ascertain the cause of the catastrophe


                                                                        but he could not settle his course of action.


Having bewailed much, Yudhishthira reflected in his mind


as to who could have slain those heroes.


“There are no strokes of weapons upon them,


                                                                        nor is anyone's foot-print here.


The being must be mighty by whom my brothers have been slain.


I shall ponder this, but let me first drink of the water, and then try to reason it out.


It may be that the crooked-minded Duryodhana has caused this water


to be secretly placed here by the king of the Gandharvas.


What man of sense can trust that wicked person of evil passions


                                                                                    to whom good and evil are alike?


Or, perhaps, this may be an act of that wicked-souled one


                                                                                    through secret messengers of his.”


It was thus that that highly intelligent one gave way to diverse reflections.


He did not believe the water to have been tainted with poison


for though they were dead, no corpse-like pallor was on them.


“The color on the faces of these my brothers has not faded!”


He continued, “Each of these foremost of men was like a mighty cataract.

Who, therefore, save Yama himself, who in due time brings about the end of all things,

could have thus undone them?”

                                                            And he began to perform his ablutions in that lake.

But while he descended into it, he heard these words from the sky,

                                                                                                            uttered by the Yaksha,

“I am a crane, living on tiny fish.

It is by me that your younger brothers have been brought under the sway

                                                                                                of the lord of departed spirits.

If you do not answer the questions put by me, O prince, 

yours shall be the fifth corpse.

                                                            Do not, O child, act rashly!

This lake is in my possession.

                                                Only having answered my questions first

may you drink and carry away as much as you require!”


Yudhishthira answered, “Are you the foremost of the Rudras, or of the Vasus,

or of the Marutas?

                                 What god are you?

                                                                        This could not have been done by a bird!

Who is it who has overthrown the four mighty mountains,

the Himavat, the Paripatra, the Vindhya, and the Malaya?

                                                                                                            Great is your feat!

Those whom neither gods, nor Gandharvas, nor Asuras, nor Rakshasas

could withstand in mighty conflict

                                                                        you have slain!

Therefore, your deed is exceedingly wonderful!

I do not know what your business may be,

                                                                                    nor do I know your purpose.

Therefore, my curiosity is great and also my fear!

My mind is greatly agitated, and my head is aching,

I ask you, therefore, O worshipful one, who are you?”


Hearing these words the Yaksha said, “I am a Yaksha

                                                                                    and not an amphibious bird.

It is by me that all these brothers of yours have been slain!”


Yudhishthira approached the speaker of these harsh words,

                                                                                                and beheld that Yaksha

of unusual eyes and huge body, tall as a palmyra-palm

                                                                                                and looking like the Sun,

irresistible and gigantic like a mountain,

and uttering a loud roar deep as that of the clouds.

The Yaksha said, “These your brothers, repeatedly forbidden by me,

would forcibly take away my water.

                                                                        It is for this that I slew them!

He who wishes to live should not drink this water!

                                                                                    Do not act rashly! This lake is mine.

If you first answer my questions, you may then take away as much as you like!'


Yudhishthira said, “I do not covet what is in your possession!

Virtuous persons never applaud themselves or boast.

I shall, therefore, answer your questions, according to my intelligence.

                                                                                                                        Ask away!”


The Yaksha then asked, “What makes the Sun rise?

                                                                                    Who keeps him company?

Who causes him to set?

                                                And in whom is he established?”


Yudhishthira answered, “Brahma makes the Sun rise;

the gods keep him company;

                                                Dharma causes him to set;

                                                                                    and he is established in truth.” 


The Yaksha asked, “By what does one become learned?

By what does he attain what is very great?

                                                                        How can one have second sight?

And how can one acquire intelligence?”


Yudhishthira answered, “It is by the study of the Srutis that a person becomes learned;

it is by ascetic austerities that one acquires what is very great;

it is by intelligence that a person acquires second sight;

and it is by serving the old that one becomes wise.” 


The Yaksha asked, “What constitutes the divinity of the Brahmanas?

What in their practice is like that of the pious?

What is the human attribute of the Brahmanas?

And what practice of theirs is like that of the impious?”


Yudhishthira answered, “The study of the Vedas constitutes their divinity;

their asceticism constitutes behavior that is like that of the pious;

their liability to death is their human attribute;

                                                                                    and slander is their impiety.”


The Yaksha asked, What constitutes the divinity of the Kshatriyas?

What in their practice is like that of the pious?

                                                                                    What is their human attribute?

And what practice of theirs is like that of the impious?”


Yudhishthira answered, “Arrows and weapons are their divinity;

celebration of sacrifices is that act which is like that of the pious;

liability to fear is their human attribute;

and refusal of protection is that act of theirs which is like that of the impious.”


The Yaksha asked, “What constitutes the Sama of the sacrifice?

What constitutes the Yajus of the sacrifice?

                                                            What is that which is the refuge of a sacrifice?

And what is that which sacrifice cannot do without?”


Yudhishthira answered, “Life is the Sama of the sacrifice;

                                                                                    the mind is the Yajus of the sacrifice;

the Rik is the refuge of the sacrifice;

and it is Rik alone which sacrifice cannot do without.”


The Yaksha asked, “What is weightier than the earth itself?

                                                                                    What is higher than the heavens?

What is fleeter than the wind?

                                                            And what is more numerous than grass?”


Yudhishthira answered, “The mother is weightier than the earth;

                                                                                    the father is higher than the heaven;

the mind is fleeter than the wind;

                                                            and our thoughts are more numerous than grass.”


The Yaksha asked, “What does not close its eyes while asleep?

What does not move after birth?

                                                            What is without heart?

And what swells with its own impetus?”


Yudhishthira answered, “A fish does not close its eyes while asleep;

an egg does not move after birth;

                                                            a stone is without heart;

and a river swells with its own impetus.”


The Yaksha asked, “Who is the friend of the exile?

Who is the friend of the householder?

                                                                        Who is the friend of him that ails?

And who is the friend of one about to die?”


Yudhishthira answered, “The friend of the exile in a distant land is his companion;

the friend of the householder is the wife;

                                                                        the friend of him that ails is the physician;

and the friend of him about to die is charity.”


The Yaksha asked, “Who is the guest of all creatures?

                                                                                    What is the eternal duty?

What is Amrita?

                                    And what is this entire Universe?”

Yudhishthira answered, “Agni is the guest of all creatures;

                                                                                                the milk of cows is amrita;

Homa is the eternal duty;

                                                            and this Universe consists of air alone.”


The Yaksha asked, “What sojourns alone?

                                                                        What is re-born after its birth?

What is the remedy against cold?

                                                            And what is the largest field?”


Yudhishthira answered, “The sun sojourns alone;

                                                                                    the moon takes birth anew;

fire is the remedy against cold;

                                                            and the Earth is the largest field.”


The Yaksha asked, “What is the highest refuge of virtue?

                                                                                                What of fame?

What of heaven?

                                                                                    And what, of happiness?”

Yudhishthira answered, “Liberality is the highest refuge of virtue;

                                                                                                            gift, of fame;

truth, of heaven;

                                                                        and good behavior, of happiness.”


The Yaksha asked, “What is the soul of man?

Who is that friend bestowed on man by the gods?

                                                                                    What is man's chief support?

And what is his chief refuge?”

Yudhishthira answered, “The son is a man's soul;

the wife is the friend bestowed on man by the gods;

                                                                                    the clouds are his chief support;

and giving is his chief refuge.”


The Yaksha asked, “What is the best of all laudable things?

What is the most valuable of all possessions?

                                                                                    What is the best of all gains?

And what is the best of all kinds of happiness?”

Yudhishthira answered, "The best of all laudable things is skill;

the best of all possessions is knowledge;

                                                                        the best of all gains is health;

and contentment is the best of all kinds of happiness.”


The Yaksha asked, “What is the highest duty in the world?

What is that virtue which always bears fruit?

What is that which, if controlled, does not lead to regret?

And who are they with whom an alliance cannot break?”

Yudhishthira answered, “The highest of duties is to refrain from injury;

the rites ordained in the Three Vedas always bear fruit;

the mind, if controlled, does not lead to regret;

and an alliance with the good never breaks.”


The Yaksha asked, “What is it which, if renounced, makes one agreeable?

What is it which, if renounced, leads to no regret?

What is it which, if renounced, makes one wealthy?

And what is it which, if renounced, makes one happy?”

Yudhishthira answered, “Pride, if renounced, makes one agreeable;

wrath, if renounced leads to no regret;

                                                                        desire, if renounced, makes one wealthy;

and avarice, if renounced, makes one happy.”


The Yaksha asked, “Why does one give to Brahmanas?

                                                                                                Why to mimes and dancers?

Why to servants?

                                                            And why to kings?”

Yudhishthira answered, “It is for religious merit that one gives to Brahmanas:

it is for fame that one gives to mimes and dancers;

it is for supporting them that one gives to servants;

and it is for obtaining relief from fear that one gives to kings.”


The Yaksha asked, “With what is the world enveloped?

Owing to what can a thing not discover itself?

                                                                                    For what are friends forsaken?

And for what does one fail to go to heaven?”

Yudhishthira answered, “The world is enveloped in darkness.

Darkness does not permit a thing to show itself.

It is from avarice that friends are forsaken.

And it is connection with the world for which one fails to go to heaven.”


The Yaksha asked, “For what may one be considered as dead?

For what may a kingdom be considered as dead?

For what may a Sraddha be considered as dead?

                                                                        And for what, a sacrifice?”

Yudhishthira answered, “For want of wealth may a man be regarded as dead.

A kingdom for want of a king may be regarded as dead.

A Sraddha that is performed with the aid of a priest who has no learning

                                                                                                may be regarded as dead.

And a sacrifice in which there are no gifts to Brahmanas is dead.”


The Yaksha asked, “What constitutes the way?

What has been spoken of as water?

                                                            What, as food?

                                                                                                And what, as poison?

Tell us also what is the proper time of a Sraddha,

and then drink and take away as much as you like!”

Yudhishthira answered, “They who are good constitute the way. 

Space has been spoken of as water.

                                                            The cow is food. 

                                                                                                A request is poison.

And a Brahmana is regarded as the proper time of a Sraddha

I do not know what you may think of all this, O Yaksha.”


The Yaksha asked, “What has been said to be the sign of asceticism?

And what is true restraint?

                                                What constitutes forgiveness?

                                                                                                And what is shame?”

Yudhishthira answered, “Staying in one's own religion is asceticism;

the restraint of the mind is of all restraints the true one;

forgiveness consists in enduring enmity;

                                                            and shame in withdrawing from all unworthy acts.”


The Yaksha asked, “What is said to be knowledge?

                                                                                                What, tranquility?

What constitutes mercy?

                                                And what has been called simplicity?”

Yudhishthira answered, “True knowledge is that of Divinity.

                                                                                    True tranquility is that of the heart.

Mercy consists in wishing happiness to all.

                                                                        And simplicity is equanimity of heart.”


The Yaksha asked, “What enemy is invincible?

What constitutes an incurable disease for man?

What sort of a man is called honest and what dishonest?”

Yudhishthira answered, “Anger is an invincible enemy.

Covetousness constitutes an incurable disease.

He is honest who desires the welfare of all creatures,

and he is dishonest who is unmerciful.”


The Yaksha asked, “What is ignorance?

                                                                        And what is pride?

What also is to be understood by idleness?

                                                                        And what has been spoken of as grief?”


Yudhishthira answered, “True ignorance consists in not knowing one's duties.

Pride is a consciousness of one's being himself an actor or sufferer in life.

Idleness consists in not discharging one's duties.

                                                                                    And ignorance is grief.”


The Yaksha asked, “What do the Rishis say is steadiness?

                                                                                    And what, patience?

What also is a real ablution?

                                                                        And what is charity?”

Yudhishthira answered, “Steadiness consists in one's staying in one's own religion;

true patience consists in the subjugation of the senses.

A true bath consists in washing the mind clean of all impurities;

and charity consists in protecting all creatures.”


The Yaksha asked, “What man should be regarded as learned,

                                                                                    and who should be called an atheist?

Who should be called ignorant?

What is called desire and what are the sources of desire?

                                                                                                And what is envy?”

Yudhishthira answered, “He is to be called learned who knows his duties.

An atheist is one who is ignorant, and one who is ignorant is an atheist.

Desire is due to objects of possession.

                                                            And envy is nothing else than grief of heart.”


The Yaksha asked, “What is pride?  What is hypocrisy?

What is the grace of the gods? And what is wickedness?”

Yudhishthira answered, “Stolid ignorance is pride.

The setting up of a religious standard is hypocrisy.

The grace of the gods is the fruit of our gifts.

And wickedness consists in speaking ill of others.”


The Yaksha asked, “Virtue, profit, and desire are opposed to one another.

How could things thus antagonistic to one another exist together?”

Yudhishthira answered, “When a wife and virtue agree with each other,

then all the three you have mentioned may exist together.”


The Yaksha asked, “Who is condemned to everlasting hell?

It behooves you to answer quickly the question that I ask!”

Yudhishthira answered, “He who summons a poor Brahmana

promising to make him a gift and then tells him that he has nothing to give

goes to everlasting hell.

He also must go to everlasting hell who imputes falsehood to the Vedas,

the scriptures, the Brahmanas, the gods, and the ceremonies in honor of the Pitris.

He also goes to everlasting hell who though in possession of wealth,

never gives away nor enjoys himself from avarice and says he has nothing.”


The Yaksha asked, “Is it by birth, behavior, study, or learning

that a person becomes a Brahmana?

                                                                        Tell us with certitude!”

Yudhishthira answered, “Listen, O Yaksha!

It is neither birth, nor study, nor learning that is the cause of becoming a Brahmana.

It is behavior that achieves this.

One's behavior should always be well-guarded, especially by a Brahmana.

He who maintains his conduct unimpaired is never impaired himself.

Professors and pupils, in fact all who study the scriptures,

if they are addicted to wicked habits, are to be regarded as illiterate wretches.

Only he is learned who performs his religious duties.

Even he who has studied the four Vedas is to be regarded as a wicked wretch,

scarcely distinguishable from a Sudra, if his conduct be incorrect.

He only who performs the Agnihotra and has his senses under control

                                                                                                is called a Brahmana!”


The Yaksha asked, “What does one gain who speaks agreeable words?

What does he gain who always acts with judgment?

What does he gain who has many friends?

And what he, who is devoted to virtue?”

Yudhishthira answered, “He who speaks agreeable words becomes agreeable to all.

He who acts with judgment obtains whatever he seeks.

He who has many friends lives happily.

And he who is devoted to virtue obtains a happy state in the next world.”


The Yaksha asked, “Who is truly happy?

What is most wonderful?

                                                What is the path?

                                                                                    And what is the news?

Answer these four questions of mine and your dead brothers will revive.”

Yudhishthira answered, “O amphibious creature,

a man who cooks in his own house, on the fifth or the sixth part of the day,

with scanty vegetables

                                                but who is not in debt and who does not stir from home

is truly happy.

                        Day after day countless creatures are going to the abode of Yama,

yet those who remain behind believe themselves to be immortal.

What can be more wonderful than this?

Argument leads to no certain conclusion;

                                                                        the Srutis are different from one another;

there is not even one Rishi whose opinion can be accepted by all;

the truth about religion and duty is hidden in deep caves.

Therefore, the path is the one along which the great have trodden.

This world full of ignorance is like a pan.

                                                                        The sun is fire, the days and nights are fuel.

The months and the seasons are the wooden ladle.

Time is the cook that is cooking all creatures in that pan:

                                                                                                this is the news.”


The Yaksha said, “You have truly answered all my questions!

Tell us now who is truly a man, and what man truly possesses every kind of wealth.”

Yudhishthira answered “The report of one's good action reaches heaven

and spreads over the earth.

                                                            As long as that report lasts,

so long is a person to whom the agreeable and the disagreeable,

weal and woe,

                                    the past and the future

                                                                                    are the same, 

said to possess every kind of wealth.”


The Yaksha said,  “You have truly answered who is a man,

and what man possesses every kind of wealth.

Therefore, let one only among your brothers,

                                                                        whom you may choose,

                                                                                                            get up with life!”

Yudhishthira answered, “Let this one that is of darkish hue,

whose eyes are red,

                                                who is tall like a large Sala tree,

whose chest is broad and arms long,

                                                                                    let this Nakula get up with life!”

The Yaksha rejoined, “But Bhimasena is dear to you,

and Arjuna is one upon whom all of you depend!

Why, then, O king, do you wish a step-brother to get up with his life!

How can you forsake Bhima

                                                whose strength is equal to that of ten thousand elephants

and instead choose life for Nakula?

                                                                        People said that this Bhima was dear to you.

From what motive then do you wish a step-brother to revive?

Forsaking Arjuna the might of whose arm is worshipped by all the sons of Pandu,

why do you wish Nakula to revive?”

Yudhishthira said, “If virtue is sacrificed, he who sacrifices it is himself lost.

So virtue also cherishes the cherisher.

Therefore taking care that virtue by being sacrificed may not sacrifice us,

I never forsake virtue.

                                                Abstention from injury is the highest virtue,

even higher than the highest object of attainment.

                                                                        I endeavor to practice that virtue.

Let men know that the king is always virtuous!

                                                                        Let Nakula, therefore, revive!

My father had two wives, Kunti and Madri.

                                                                                    Let both of them have children.

This is what I wish.

                                    As Kunti is to me, so also is Madri.

There is no difference between them in my eye.

I desire to act equally towards my mothers.

                                                                        Therefore, let Nakula live!”

The Yaksha said, “Since abstention from injury is regarded by you

as higher than both profit and pleasure,

                                                            therefore, all your brothers may live!"


Then, in obedience to the words of the Yaksha,

the Pandavas rose up;

                                    and in a moment their hunger and thirst left them.

Thereupon Yudhishthira said, “I ask you who are incapable of being vanquished

and who stands on one leg in the lake,

                                                                        what god are you,

for I cannot take you for a Yaksha!

                                                                        Are you the foremost of the Vasus,

or of the Rudras, or of the chief of the Maruts?

Or are you the lord of the celestials, wielder of the thunder-bolt!

Each of my brothers is capable of fighting as many as a hundred thousand warriors,

and I do not know of a warrior who can slay them all!

I see that their senses have refreshed,

as if they have sweetly awakened from slumber.

Are you a friend of ours, or even our father himself?”


To this the Yaksha replied, “Child, I am your father,

the Lord of justice, possessed of great prowess!

Know that I came here desiring to behold you!

Fame, truth, self-restraint, purity, candor, modesty,

steadiness, charity, austerities and the qualities of the Brahmanas are my body!

And abstention from injury, impartiality, peace, penances,

sanctity, and freedom from malice are the doors through which I am accessible.

You are always dear to me!

By good luck thou art devoted to the five

(tranquility of mind, self-restraint, abstention from sensual pleasures,

resignation, and Yoga meditation), 

and by good luck also you have conquered the six

(hunger, thirst, sorrow, bluntness of mortal feeling, decrepitude, and death).

Of the six, two appear in the first part of life;

two in the middle part;

                                                            and the remaining two at the end,

in order to make men repair to the next world.

                                                                                    I am the lord of justice!

I came to test your merit.

I am well-pleased to witness your harmlessness;

                                                                                    and I will confer boons on you.

Ask of me and I shall surely confer them.

Those who revere me are never in distress!”


Yudhishthira said, “A deer was carrying away a Brahmana's fire-sticks.

Therefore, the first boon that I shall ask is that the Brahmana's adorations to Agni

be not interrupted!”

                                    The Yaksha said, “It was I who, to examine you,

carried away, in the guise of a deer, the Brahmana's fire-sticks!

I give you this boon! But ask for another!”


Yudhishthira said, “We have spent these twelve years in the forest;

and the thirteenth year is come.

May no one recognize us, as we spend this year somewhere.”


The god replied, “I give this boon to you!

Even if you range this entire earth in your proper forms

none in the three worlds shall recognize you.

You perpetuators of the Kuru race, through my grace,

will spend this thirteenth year secretly and unrecognized

                                                                                                in Virata's kingdom!

And every one of you will be able at will to assume any form he likes!

Go now and present the Brahmana with his fire-sticks.

But ask for another boon that you may like!

                                                                                    I will confer it.

I have not yet been satisfied by granting boons to you!

Accept a third boon, my son, that is great and incomparable!”

Yudhishthira said, “It is enough that I have beheld you with my senses,

eternal God of gods!

                                    O father, whatever boon you will confer on me

I shall surely accept gladly!

                                                May I always conquer covetousness and folly and anger,

and may my mind be ever devoted to charity, truth, and ascetic austerities!”

The Lord of justice said, “Even by nature have you been endowed with these qualities,

for you are the Lord of justice himself!

                                                                        Again attain what you asked for!"


Having said these words, the worshipful Lord of justice,

who is the object of contemplation of all the worlds, vanished.

And the high-souled Pandavas, after they had slept sweetly,

                                                                                                            were reunited.                                  

Their fatigue dispelled, those heroes returned to the hermitage

and gave the firesticks back to the Brahmana.


That man who contemplates this illustrious and fame-enhancing story

of the revival of the Pandavas

and the meeting of father and son, Dharma and Yudhishthira,

obtains perfect tranquility of mind,

                                                            and sons and grandsons,

and also a life extending over a hundred years!

And the mind of that man who takes this story to heart,

never delights in unrighteousness,

                                                            or in disunion among friends,

or misappropriation of other person's property,

                                                            or staining other people's wives,

                                                                                                            or in foul thoughts!



© 2005-2009 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas

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David R. Slavitt