"My dear Krishna, Your Lordship has protected us from a poisoned cake, from a great fire, from cannibals, from the vicious assembly, from sufferings during our exile in the forest and from the battle where great generals fought. And now You have saved us from the weapon of Ashvatthama." (Queen Kunti, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.24)Download this episode (right click and save)
You are an all-around good person. Surely you can do better, as to err is human, but others around you have extolled your virtues. They think you are the personification of piety. At least you are trying. You know that there is a God. You don’t view Him as merely an order supplier, though He can grant anything to anyone. You are devoted to Him in thought, word and deed. You hope to be perfectly conscious of Him at the time of death, which determines the next destination for the individual soul.
Life should be pretty smooth for you, no? Actually, even in devotion there can be tremendous hardships. Rather than rely solely on a theoretical explanation, there is the vivid example of the Pandavas. The main characters of the historical epic known as the Mahabharata, the five sons of Pandu had to go through so much. The reward for their devotion to God the person, Shri Krishna, was one hardship after another.
1. The poison cake
The brothers lost their father at a young age. They grew up in the royal house in Hastinapura, under the care of respected elders like Vidura, Dhritarashtra, and Drona. Dhritarashtra was an interesting case, since he had his own sons. They were known as the Kauravas, and the father favored them instead of the five sons of his brother Pandu.
During childhood the wonderful qualities of the Pandavas became apparent. They were devotees of God, after all, so they naturally had all good traits. The second son, Bhima, was particularly strong. This worried Duryodhana, Dhritarashtra’s eldest son. Duryodhana was envious by nature, and so he hatched a scheme to get rid of Bhima.
Duryodhana invited the brothers to a party at a newly constructed palace by the water. They intentionally fed Bhima loads of cake injected with poison. When Bhima passed out, Duryodhana and clan bound him with ropes and threw him into the water. At the bottom, the unconscious and poisoned Bhima was bitten by snakes. This chance occurrence happened to neutralize the effect of the poison. Regaining consciousness Bhima freed himself and fought against the snakes.
Bhima then met the king of snakes, Vasuki, who was a well-wisher. From Vasuki, Bhima accepted nectar that made him even stronger. Duryodhana thought that his plan had worked, but the hand of the Divine was there to protect Bhima.
2. The house of lac
Another attempt was necessary since Bhima miraculously escaped. The qualities of the Pandavas were becoming more prominent by the day. It would be agreed by everyone that Yudhishthira should be the heir apparent to the throne. He was begotten in the womb of Kunti by the grace of the god of justice himself, Dharmaraja.
This time Duryodhana planned to kill the brothers and their mother in a blazing fire. He had one of his associates go to a city recommended for visit by Dhritarashtra. The associate built a flammable house. It looked ordinary from the outside, but the inside made it ideal for burning to the ground at a moment’s contact with fire.
This time the guiding hand of Krishna spoke through Vidura. Just prior to the departure by the Pandavas, Vidura spoke in code to Yudhishthira. No one could understand what they were saying, but Yudhishthira got the idea that the house they were staying at was made of lac and would be intentionally burned. Yudhishthira used this information to his advantage. The brothers secretly dug a tunnel in the house, and at the appropriate moment escaped after a fire had been set. It was Duryodhana’s associate who perished, and the people of the town understood that it was a plot from Duryodhana to kill the Pandavas.
3. Draupadi disrobed
The Pandavas had a special arrangement where there was only one wife for all of them. She was the most chaste woman, and also a surrendered soul to Shri Krishna. Vivid evidence of that surrender came during a particularly troubling time.
Yudhishthira fell into the trap of playing dice against Duryodhana and his men. Yudhishthira kept losing, but he continued to gamble. One of the wagers lost put Draupadi in control of the Pandavas. They took advantage of the situation by dragging her into a great assembly. They were prepared to strip her naked, to really embarrass her. She tried to hold on to her sari at first, but realizing that was futile, she completely surrendered to Krishna.
The result was that the sari transformed in length. It became immeasurable. No matter how much the crooked person pulled, they could not make Draupadi naked. Shri Krishna Himself assumed the form of the sari.
4. Durvasa visiting in the forest
Yudhishthira played another round of dice, and this time the loss cost the Pandavas their home. They were exiled to the forest for twelve years. An additional year was tacked on, where they had to remain incognito. If they were discovered in that time, the twelve years would renew.
While the Pandavas were in the forest, Duryodhana was one time visited by the venerable Durvasa Muni. Duryodhana’s evil mind went to work, and he thought up an idea whereby the Pandavas would get cursed. He asked Durvasa to visit the group in the forest, and the muni’s retinue consisted of thousands of disciples. There was no way the Pandavas would be able to feed them. Durvasa would get angry and then curse them.
It almost worked. Draupadi had a special pot that could generate an endless amount of food for a meal. There was one rule, though . Once she had eaten, the pot would stop producing food. Durvasa Muni visited and was greeted by Yudhishthira. The muni then went to bathe in the water, after which he would return and take his meal.
Yudhishthira learned from Draupadi that she had already eaten, meaning that there was no more food. Then Shri Krishna happened to visit. He went to see the pot Himself, and there was one morsel of food left. By taking that one morsel, Durvasa and his entire group suddenly felt completely full. Not ready to eat anything, they decided to simply leave the place, rather than return embarrassed. Once again Shri Krishna saved the Pandavas.
5. The battle against great generals
The Pandavas survived a lot, and they were finally ready to take back the kingdom that rightfully belonged to them. Of course Duryodhana and his group would not abide by righteousness. They would not relent. War was the only option.
The Pandavas had to go against great generals in that war. Arjuna, the leading fighter for the Pandavas, even felt bad about having to fight against people he respected. Shri Krishna did not participate in the battle, but He was there with Arjuna as a close advisor. The Supreme Lord was there to save the Pandavas once again. In bhakti-yoga, the road will not be easy, but the success is guaranteed as long as the sentiment is genuine.
Since by Krishna’s association graced,
Pandavas surviving hardships faced.
Like when Bhima poison cake fed,
Or into house of lac led.
Draupadi’s robe tried to take,
Lord an endless garment to make.
Spared from Durvasa Muni’s wrath,
Safest always the devotional path.