The Pandavas were worried about the successful ending of their thirteenth year of exile, the period which they had to pass unrecognized. Duryodhana has mandated that if the Pandavas were recognized during the thirteenth year of their exile, they would have to remain in exile for another thirteen years.
According to Veda Vyas’ advice the Pandavas went to the kingdom of Virata in disguise. In the mean time Duryodhana sent his spies to discover Pandavas’ hideout.
Hiding their weapons, the Pandavas entered the kingdom of Virata. They were not recognized by king Virata and he welcomed them. The Pandava brothers and princess Draupadi requested King Virata to give them some jobs. Virata willingly agreed.
Yudhisthira, disguised as a Brahmin, became one of king’s trusted advisors. Bheema became the chief cook. Arjuna who had learnt the art of dance and music from Chirtrasen at Indraloke, was cursed by Urbashi, a beautiful dancer of heaven, to remain a eunuch for a year. So Arjuna found it convenient to become a dance and music teacher for princess Uttara. Nakula became the royal groom and Sahadeva, the royal cowherd. As for Draupadi, she became Queen Sudeshana’s maid.
Things were going well until the queen’s evil brother, Keechak, the commander of Virata’s armies, became interested in Draupadi. Keechak asked for Draupadi’s hand in marriage. Draupadi, being happily married to the Pandava brothers, refused. Keechak, thinking her to be only a maid, felt insulted to have been turned down. He decided to force himself into Draupadi’s chamber one night. As soon as Draupadi heard of this plan, she begged Bheema to rescue her. Bheema, disguised as Draupadi, lay on the bed. When Keechak stealthily entered Draupadi’s room, Bheema sprung out of the bed and killed him.
The next day Keechak’s corpse was discovered in Draupadi’s room, with no clue as to who was the assailant. To save Bheema from the Queen’s wrath, Draupadi told her that Keechak had entered her room, without her permission. When she had screamed, someone had come in and killed Keechak and she had no idea of his identity. The queen apologized for her brother’s misdeeds, but never learnt the truth about Bheema’s action.
In the mean time, Duryodhana had sent his men to every corner of the earth to discover the Pandavas’ hideout. He knew that if he could locate the Pandavas, who were men of honor, they would never go back on their words and would start their exile all over. He was happy to hear of Keechak’s death, as he had been a great threat to his kingdom. But he knew no ordinary man could kill the mighty Keechak and so he suspected that Bheema could be the assailant. He decided to invade the kingdom of Virata. In no time Duryodhana’s army attacked Virata while Duryodhana planned to personally attack Virata’s palace from the rear.
As the war approached, Yudhishthira offered the services of himself and his family to Virata. This was an expression of his gratitude towards Virata for providing them shelter. All his brothers, except Arjuna, joined the army and in no time captured Susharma.
Duryodhana, unaware of Susharma’s captivity, attacked Virata’s palace from the rear. The young prince Uttar was the only man left in the palace as all the others had already left for the war. When the women teased Uttar for hiding in the palace, he came up with the plea that he did not have a charioteer and hence could not go war.
When Arjuna heard of this, he promptly offered his services. He first took the chariot to the tree where he had hid his weapons almost a year ago. Uttar was puzzled but kept quiet, as he was afraid to face the Kaurava army. Arjuna guessed the situation and asked Uttar to take his place as a charioteer while he does the fighting. Uttar agreed.
When Arjuna blew his conch the Kaurava army immediately recognized Arjuna. Duryodhana was happy to locate the Pandavas. But to his utter disappointment Duryodhana soon learned that the thirteenth year had just been completed. Arjuna single handedly defeated the army and Duryodhana fled from the battlefield.
During the victory celebration Yudhishthira explained to Virata the details of their thirteenth year of exile under his protection. All the Pandavas expressed their gratitude to Virata. Virata was overwhelmingly happy and agreed to give his daughter Uttara in marriage to Arjuna’s son Abimanyu.
Subhadra and Abhimanyu were called and they came with Krishna and Balarama. The marriage celebration went on for several days uniting the Pandavas with their friends and relatives.
When Abhimanyu and Uttara’s wedding was over, Krishna requested Virata and Drupada to approach Dhritarashtra with the request to return the kingdom of the Pandavas. The Pandavas had, after all, gone through the penalties imposed on them by Duryodhana. Everyone agreed and Sanjaya, the royal priest of king Drupad, was sent as a messenger to visit Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra called Bheeshma, Vidur, and the other elders, to a meeting with Duryodhana, and his supporters.
Duryodhana flatly refused to give even a pinch of land to the Pandavas. His close friends, like Karna. overwhelmingly supported him. They declared that they would be willing to go to war against the Pandavas in order to keep the kingdom. Grandfather Bheeshma was sorry to witness such hatred between the cousins, his grandchildren. He could sense the oncoming peril for the Kauravas. Dhritarashtra could not help. He was blind and his eldest son Duryodhana ruled the kingdom. Duryodhana was adamant to be the sole ruler of the Kaurava Empire and did not want to share the kingdom with the Pandavas.
Sanjay witnessed the arguments in the court of Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra finally gave in and regretfully informed Sanjay that his son Duryodhan was unwilling to share the kingdom with the Pandavas.
Yudhishthira was a righteous person. He wished to avoid a war, especially against his own relatives. He was willing to give up some of the kingdom that originally belonged to him. He requested Krishna to convey his feelings to the Kauravas as the last resort. Krishna knew that war was inevitable yet he went to Duryodhana to persuade.
Reaching Hastinapur, Krishna stayed with Vidur. Kunti, mother of the Pandavas, then staying with Vidur, expressed her concern that the war may kill the Pandavas, Krishna consoled her.
“Mother Kunti, your sons are invincible. Whatever may be the strength of the Kauravas, the Pandavas will finally come out victorious. I am here to make every attempt to avoid the blood shed which will destroy the entire Kaurava dynasty.”
Next day Krishna was given a rousing welcome in the court of Dhritarashtra. All the elders were on Krishna’s side and requested Duryodhana to reconsider his decision and share the kingdom with the Pandavas in a peaceful manner. Duryodhana was unwilling to listen to logic. He sternly replied, “ Krishna! You are unduly partial to the Pandavas. Be it known once and for all that the only way for the Pandavas to win back their kingdom is through war.”
Then in disgust Duryodhana left the court with Karna. People present in the court were gravely concerned about the consequences.
Krishna returned from Hastinapur disappointed and delivered the message of war to Yudhishthira and Kunti’s blessing for the Pandavas. All hopes for a peaceful settlement were over and the Pandavas had no other resort than to declare war against the Kauravas.
Krishna asked Yudishthira to remain on the path of justice, yet not to forego his rights, even if this may result in a war with the Kauravas.
When Kunti saw that war was imminent, one day she approached Karna when he finished worshipping the sun god after his bath. Karna was the son of the sun god, Surya, born of Kunti, out of wed lock. This happened when Kunti tried out the mantra given by Durbasha before she was married to Pandu. As Ku
nti was unmarried, she had no choice but to discard Karna in the river. A charioteer picked him up and raised him to adulthood. This was a well kept secret. Karna was truly one of the Pandavas. Kunti finally told Karna the true story of his life.
Kunti requested Karna not to kill any of his brothers. Karna promised to spare all, except Arjuna. Before Kunti’s departure, Karna broke down in his mother’s arm and sobbed with grief, “Mother, I have to fight Arjuna until death. This is my promise to get even with him for insulting me in public at the time when I challenged him to compete in archery. You will still have five sons, whosoever survives.”
Kunti blessed Karna and left with fear and grief.