After Yudhishtara lost the game of dice, he along with his four brothers and wife Draupadi went into exile to the forests. A few sages also accompanied the Pandavas in their exile. A king had the duty of taking care of all the people who were with him. Yudhishtara knew that he could not feed the sages who had accompanied him, because he himself was unsure where his next meal would come from. So the very next day Yudhishtara talked to the sages and asked them to go back to the kingdom where they would be well looked after.
However the sages refused because they felt that the Pandavas were being righteous and accompanying them would be the right thing to do. Not knowing what to do, Yudhishtara was discussing what had to be done, when his sage-cum-minister Dhaumya spoke, 'Yudhishtara! Pray to the Sun Lord! He is the source of every life on earth. He may be able to help you!'
So Yudhishtara prayed to Surya long and hard. Pleased with his devotion, Lord Surya appeared before him. 'Dharmaputra! Open your eyes.'
Yudhishtara for long moments stood speechless before the brightness of the Lord. Surya smiled at Yudhishtara and pulled out a beautiful plate and handed it over to Yudhishtara. 'This is the Askshaya Patra, [The vessel of Plenty]. Fill it with food and let Draupadi serve to all the people. Since Draupati is always the last person to eat, until and unless Draupadi has eaten ,the platter would always remain full. And each person can eat to their full....Take it Dharma putra! Take it and live your years in the forests without any worries....'
Yudhishtara carried the plate back to his family and gave it to his wife. Draupadi hesitatingly placed the pitiful food gathered from the forests on the plate. She made the sages sit in a row and served some of the food. To her surprise she saw that the more food she served, more was left over in the plate!
The sages had their full. Dhaumya looked at a beaming Yudhishtara. 'I never enjoyed such tasty food even in Hastinapur! This food is even better than the food you served us when you were a king! May you live long!'
The person happiest with this arrangement was Bheema. Bheema was called Vrikodara [Meaning wolf belly) because he was always hungry. Even after eating a lavish meal, he was hungry. Now Bheema found that he could eat to his heart's content and there would still be food left over in the Akshaya Patra........
Drauapdi always ate her supper last. After she had eaten, the Akshaya Patra became clean. Draupadi however washed the Akshaya Patra out of habit and kept the plate aside for the next day.
Twelve years passed....Sages came to the Pandavas' hermitage and were enthralled at the hospitality of the Pandavas. News of the Akshaya Patra reached Hastinapur. Duryodhana was extremely unhappy when he heard this. He had taken everything away from the Pandavas...and still the sages came to him and praised the Pandavas who provided excellent food even though they lived under pathetic conditions with meagre resources. ....This was unacceptable....And so Duryodhana devised a plan.
There was a sage called Durvasa who was extraordinarily powerful through his penance. However sage Durvasa had a flaw. He was short tempered and very often cursed people spontaneously......Even the Gods of the heavens were afraid of Durvasa's temper....
Duryodhana invited Sage Durvasa as his guest. Duryodhana took great pains and made sure the sage was satisfied.
When Durvasa was resting, Duryodhana humbly spoke to Durvasa. 'Great sage! I hope you are satisfied!'
Durvasa's wrinkled face creased into one of his rare smiles.
Duryodhana then took a deep breath. 'Sir! I think....I have heard that Yudhishtara....the Pandava...' Durvasa looked at Duryodhana quietly. Duryodhana swallowed and continued. '….he is also very hospitable.....I have heard the sages coming from there....rave about his....hospitality....Just as you have graced and blessed my humble palace, you should also visit the Pandavas....and bless them too....' Duryodhana looked pleadingly at the sage. The sage was very quiet and did not say anything.
Duryodhana took the sage's silence as consent and continued. 'Please go there after Panchali has had her supper sir,....then she would be better rested and would be able to serve you better!' the vily Duryodhana said hastily.
The sage thought nothing untoward about Duryodhana's request. So the very next day, Durvasa along with his disciples left for the hermitage of the Pandavas. As advised by Duryodhana, he made sure that he arrived at the hermitage a little late in the evening after Draupadi had had her supper.
Draupadi had just finished her supper and was cleaning the Akshaya Patra when she heard sounds of some people walking towards the ashrama. She peered out and was aghast to find Durvasa and his disciples....
As usual Yudhishtara warmly welcomed the Sage. 'Sir I am grateful that you have come to my humble ashram! You have made me a very happy man!'
Durvasa smiled at the words of Yudhishtara. 'I am happy with you! I have heard that you treat sages very well...Everyone who has visited your ashram is praising you to the heavens....I wished to enjoy your hospitality myself!'
Yudhishtara, unaware that the Akshaya Patra was empty, smiled and turned to his younger brother. 'Sahadeva! Go and tell Draupadi to prepare a feast for the guests!'
Sahadeva went inside the house and found Draupadi looking aghast! He saw her face and knew what was wrong....
Unaware of the problem, Yudhishtara continued to talk to Sage Durvasa. 'Sir! Please finish your bath and come....the food would be ready when you come back...'
Durvasa smiled and left with his disciples.
Panchali saw the sages leave and was filled with dread. She knew that there was nothing she could do now....There was only one person who could help her. She closed her eyes.
'You called me?.....' Draupadi smiled even without opening her eyes when she heard the melodious voice. She instinctively felt safe...felt protected....
Yudhishtara came inside and was surprised to see the Dark Lord standing before him talking to his wife. 'Krishna!' He asked flabbergasted. 'Wha....What are you doing here?'
Krishna looked at Yudhishtara with twinkling eyes. 'Draupadi called me! I am here.'
Yudhishtara looked at Druapadi anxiously. 'What is it?'
Draupadi looked crestfallen. 'When the sage had come, I had finished my dinner! I was cleaning the Akshaya Patra when the group had come in!'
Yudhishtara looked at Draupadi aghast. 'That is Durvasa, Draupadi! The man does not tolerate any lapses....If anyone displeases him...' Yudhishtara shuddered. 'Durvasa and his disciples would be here any time! And now you are...' Yudhishtara yelped and looked like he wanted to vanish from there.
Krishna listened to the exchange with smiling eyes. Draupadi ignored Yudhishtara's ranting and turned to Krishna. Krishna looked at her. 'Show me the plate..Let us see whether you have cleaned it properly...'
She took out the plate and saw that the plate looked clean..Well ..almost clean...Krishna went near her and from the side of the plate picked up a small bit of food stuck to the plate. 'I think you forgot to wash it properly today, Draupadi!'
Draupadi looked slightly embarrassed as she looked at Krishna. 'But I think...that is for the best!' Krishna continued. 'I am ravishingly hungry! Please give me this crumb...I think it would satisfy my hunger!'
Draupadi looked at Krishna still not saying anything. Krishna picked up the bit and put it in his mouth. He opened his eyes. 'That was the most delicious food I have had in years!' He turned to Yudhishtara who was looking at both of them without understanding. 'Yudhishtara! Next time you want to dine, please call me too!'
'Krishna!' Yudishtara almost yelled. 'Durvasa! He is coming....'
Krishna looked at Yudhishtara nonchalantly. 'I was hungry and I came! Your wife satisfied my hunger! Can I not come here when I am hungry?'
Yudhishtara was looking like a fish out of water... opened and closed his mouth...but unable to talk. Krishna looked at him with a smile. 'The sage and his disciples have been gone a long time. Why don't you just go and bring them back with you?'
Durvasa and his disciples had entered into the river and by the time they stepped out, Durvasa staggered. He was suddenly feeling so full like he had eaten an entire feast all by himself. He was feeling drowsy. Through sleepy eyes he regarded his disciples and saw that they were all looking exactly the same way...Well fed and satisfied.
One of his disciples came forward. 'Sir! I....I...' He patted his stomach worriedly. 'I am suddenly feeling so full that I cannot eat even a single morsel of food....'
Durvasa also nodded his head. 'I am also feeling the same way.....' Durvasa took a deep breath. 'We have however asked Yudhishtara to prepare a feast for us!' Durvasa was worried. 'He must have taken so much effort and prepared the feast for us! If we don't go....'
The disciple looked worried. '...he may curse us, sir!' All of them nodded. 'Let us escape from here when we have a chance!'
Thoroughly worried Yudhishtara had sent Sahadeva to check the river.
Yudhishtara was fully expecting to be cursed by the Sage. With a heavy heart he wondered whether he would be able to bear the curse of the sage....
Sahadeva arrived at the river and was stunned....No sage nor his disciples.....It was as if they had all vanished into thin air.....