Arjuna looked back at Indraprastha as he smiled sadly at it. He was not going to see it for the next 12 years. Arjuna sighed as he turned back and walked away from there, without a backward glance.
There had never been a place where Arjuna had stayed for long. Arjuna was born in the forests and felt at home in the rough and tough jungle. The only rule there was the rule of survival. Arjuna, now an archer par excellence felt that he owed it all because of his upbringing in the forest.
When Arjuna’s father Pandu had been alive, Pandu, had often told him of the stories of Hastinapur. But to Arjuna, Hastinapur seemed some sort of mirage. Something like a dream….But then talking to Yudhishtara convinced Arjuna, that their father, the pale man, who roamed about the jungles with the sharp skills of a hunter, was in fact, the king of Hastinapur.
Pandu, the king of Hastinapur….Arjuna tried thinking about it and found the idea too incongruous. His father who always wore the coarse clothes made of tree bark and who lived in a thatched hut in the middle of the forest and who ate simple food….could not be the king of Hastinapur. But then as Arjua studied his father and mothers, he realized that he had been foolish in not guessing this fact before. Agreed his father was not surrounded by the lavish wealth of the palace, but his parents had that stamp of regal authority which was present in almost everything they did.
And then when Yudhistara had become sixteen, their father had died. Mother Madri was sobbing so hard that Arjuna felt more sorry for her than he felt for himself. Mother Madri took Nakula and Sahadeva, aside and took them to Kunti. ‘She is your mother from now on! Follow Yudhishtara and support him! He now holds the position of your father!’ She had said to the twins.
Mother Madri turned to Kunti and no actual words were exchanged between the two women. There was no need to. Both the women loved the same man who was now lying dead. Kunti, the stronger and the more mature of the two queens would carry on looking after the children. She loved all the five Pandavas like her own children and never differentiated between her own children and Madri’s children. In fact her favourite among the five was Sahadeva, the youngest of the lot.
Madri nodded to Kunti and without a backward glance had stepped into the funeral pyre along with Pandu’s dead body.
After that, Kunti had brought the five of them to Hastinapur. She had felt that the Pandavas being princes of Hastinapur, they had to know all the arts of warfare and diplomacy and for their education had come back to the palace.
Arjuna could not explain it, not even to himself, but the palace never felt like home to him. Agreed, now he had comfort which he had not dreamt of even in his wildest dreams. He could do everything….and strangely enough Arjuna found himself wanting to be in the open jungles more than ever. Though there were several reasons for his discomfiture, Arjuna attributed his uneasy feelings mostly to the Kauravas, his cousins and the sons of Dhirdarashtra, his father’s blind brother and now the king of Hastinapur.
Arjuna could not help but feel that Duryodhana, the eldest son of Dhisrdarashtra, did not like them at all. The way Duryodhana looked at them always made Arjuna feel like he was in a wrong place enjoying something, which was not his.
Arjuna was not sure he could take this continuous animosity directed towards him when something happened which changed his life forever.
Dronacharya. The man who had made Arjuna realize his passion in life. Arjuan never forgot the feeling when he had had his first archery lesson.
When Arjuna felt the bow in his hands, it felt like time had stood still. The bow and the arrow felt like a part of him and the target was all he could see, as the world paled to insignificance. The sound of the world had ceased and all Arjuna could hear was his own heart, steadily beating, the thrumming moving to the bow in his hand. Between the sounds of heartbeats he knew the exact minute he had to let the arrow go and at the exact second he let the arrow loose. He watched it with absolute certainty as the arrow seemed to follow his thoughts and thwack! The arrow had hit the target exactly where he had aimed it. Arjuna watched the arrow firmly embedded in the target and then suddenly blinked as he was brought back to reality. It seemed to him like the volume was turned on as the world came back to focus sharply. His brothers thumped him in the back for the excellent shot….Arjuna saw the quiet pride in Dronacharya’s eyes and smiled….
After that there was no looking back. But then on the front of his cousins, all that his archery skills did was to make Duryodhana more angry at him.
Yudhishtara learnt the art of managing a kingdom really well and people began talking of making Yudhishtara the king of Hastinapur after Dhirdarashtra. After all Yudhishtara was the son of Pandu and he was the eldest among both the Kauravas and the Pandavas.
As if Duryodhana needed any more reason to hate them…The talk of the people was the final straw. The animosity which he secretly had was threatening to become a full-fledged hatred…The weak Dhirdarashtra, finally having no other choice in the matter, had handed over the barren land – Khandavaprastha to Yudhishtara for him to rule.
It was Arjuna and Krishna who had been responsible in making Khandavapastha, a barren place run over by Asuras and thieves and dangerous beasts, into Indraprastha, the place what it was under the rule of Yudhishtara. And Yudhishtara ruled Indraprastha like a man born to rule.
In fame, power and prosperity, Indraprastha eclipsed Hastinapur almost into insignificance. And for some time Arjuna had actually liked staying in Indraprastha.
But then he was exiled from Indraprastha for the next 12 years….
Arjuna and his brothers had all married Krishna Draupadi, the fire-born, dark princess of Panchala. Wanting to avoid any jealousy among the Pandavas, the brothers and Draupadi had agreed for a system where Draupadi stayed with one of the brothers for a full year and then staying with the next brother for the next year. In order to deter further problems, the brothers had agreed that if any one of the brother broke the deal, that brother had to go on a self-imposed exile for 12 years. For the next 12 years, the Pandava would never come near Indraprastha.
And now through a quirk of fate, Arjuna had broken this promise. He had been in Draupadi’s inner chambers when she was with Yudhishtara.
Arjuna’s mistake was that he had placed his bow in Yudhishtara’s inner chambers, the previous day. The next day, a subject had come running to him for help because someone was abducting his cows. Having no other choice, Arjuna knew that he was consigning himself to a twelve year exile, he entered his brother’s chambers and took his bow.
Yudhishtara and his other brothers tried convincing Arjuna that the exile was not necessary. But then Arjuna never spoke a lie and he always kept his promises. Arjuna started his 12 year exile from Indraprastha….