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Mahabharat Chapter 10 - Lakshagruha - The House of Lac

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After the failed attempt to kill Bheema, Duryodhana half expected the Pandavas to come out in the open with the attempt. Bheema was growing physically powerful day by day. Arjuna's dexterity was well established after the show in which Karna had made his grand appearance. Duryodhana's jealousy knew no bounds. He now had two cohorts, Shakuni and Karna.

Dhritarashtra always had one problem other than his blindness. He was a very learned man and followed Dharma most of the time except when it came to Duryodhana, his blind love for his son, made him take bad decisions. He liked his brothers sons the Pandavas, but his weakness of will and doting love for his own children made him a participant in Duryodhana's evil plans. The Pandavas always came out unharmed with Vidhura's secret help.

The Pandavas were the darling of the public too. They openly talked about Yudhishthir as their future king. “Dhritarashtra is blind and should now relinquish the throne in favor of Yudhishthir. Bheeshma cannot be the king since he has renounced it. Pandu was the real king and Dhristarashtra has been taking care until the sons of Pandu come to age to take over. Duryodhana is no good, and also he is not the oldest amongst all the cousins. Yudhishthir is the oldest one. He is the most capable one and the most ardent follower of Dharma. Any which way you look, Yudhishthir is the most capable of all the princes, it is high time the blind Dhritarashtra made him the crown prince before the evil Duryodhana gets stronger.” Duryodhana complained bitterly to his father, “the public speaks such nonsense father, do not pay any attention. How can they even think of Yudhishthir as their king. They say the Pandavas are mighty, what about the might of Bheeshma and Drona who will always serve the throne of Hastinapur. If Yudhishthir is made the crown prince, it will be a disaster. You were set aside for your blindness but what about me and our progeny? It is better to burn in hell than live here with Yudhishthir as the king”

Dhritarashtra who was well versed in Dharma and somewhere in his subconscious mind knew his own son was not the right choice for the throne of Hastinapur. “Duryodhana, do not fill yourself with such hatred. Yudhishthir will follow Dharma for as long as he lives. He will never ill treat you. I cannot crown you as the crown prince, although you know that is my heart's desire. Yudhishthir has inherited all the good qualities of my brother. Most of my commanders in the army like him, most of my ministers are on their side and so is the public. Do not underestimate the power of the crowd to overthrow a king.”

 Duryodhana heard the comments the public made. His rage knew no bounds. Shakuni added the fat to the fire by instigating him. “Your father was blind, so Pandu was made the king. He died without fulfilling his duties as a king. Your father has shown how capable he is in spite of his blindness and has ruled so far. Pandu goes off to the forest and Kunti comes back with these five children, how do we know they are the rightful heirs of Pandu. You are not blind, there is no reason Yudhishthir be even considered in the rights to succession. However, your father is of a soft heart and has accepted the Pandavas. He is raising baby snakes that will one day bite him. Dear bhanje (nephew), I have a plan that will kill the Pandavas and their mother Kunti and no one will even suspect you. All you need to do is to make your father agree to send the Pandavas and their mother Kunti to Varnavrata.”

When Duryodhana heard Shakuni's plan, for the first time he was filled with doubts about going through the plans that would kill Kunti too. Shakuni sensed Duryodhana's lack of commitment. “Dear Bhanje, a King must be mighty but no one will believe in your strength if it is not displayed. State affairs must be kept secret and the earliest indication to the public about a wise plan should be at the time of its execution. Evils must be eradicated at the earliest since even a small thorn if not removed will cause a big wound. Strong enemies must be destroyed and even a weak foe should not be neglected since it is a small spark that causes a wild fire. Guard yourself against the Pandavas, Hastinapur Naresh(King).”

 Duryodhana convinced Dhritarashtra to send Pandavas to Varnavrata. Ministers who had pledged their allegiance to Duryodhana joined in singing the praises of Varnavrata where annual festivities were held in honor of Lord Shiva. Dhritarashtra affectionately told the Pandavas to go there as the people to Varnavrata will also be very happy to receive the sons of Pandu. The unsuspecting Pandavas were easily persuaded. They began their preparations for the journey and taking leave of Bheeshma and other elders. Duryodhana was elated and sent their trusted minister Purochana to Varnavrata with secret instructions.

Purochana began building a beautiful palace for the Pandavas at Vanravrata, however, the palace was built with the most combustible materials. Jute, lac, oil and fat was used as the building materials for the palace. Beds and chairs were strategically placed in such places that they would be engulfed in fire. The palace was indeed being built very skillfully and was very beautiful. The locals praised Duryodhana and Dhristarashtra for taking such good care of the Pandavas. Duryodhana's plan was to set the palace on fire once everyone was settled in.

Vidhura warned the Pandavas as they took his leave to go to Varnavrata. “One can escape danger if one forestalls the plans of his astute enemy. There are things sharper than steel blade and a wise man knows to guard himself against it. A rat buried in his hole and a porcupine living in his burrow escapes the forest fire. A wise man knows his bearings by looking at the stars and the growth of the moon to his fullness.”

Pandavas reached Varnavrata and were astonished by the beautiful palace Duryodhana had built for them. Yudhidhthir proceeded to examine the walls and realized they were made up combustible materials. He told his other brothers and mother to behave such as not arouse any suspicion that they were aware of Duryodhana's plan. Vidhura had sent one of his trusted artisan to dig an underground tunnel leading to the forests surrounding the Palace. The tunnel was to complete by full moon's night. On the full moon's night, the Pandavas gave the night off to all the palace workers and sent them home. Then they pretended to retire to bed as usual. Yudhishthir woke the other up at midnight and they set the palace ablaze before Purochana could and escaped through the tunnel.

The fire quickly spread across the palace, and the villagers soon came running to put it out. They poured buckets of water but could not contain the fire. They sent a message to Hastinapur, “the palace where the Pandavas lived burned down, no one escaped it alive.” Upon hearing the message, like the water of a deep pool that is cold at the bottom and warm at the surface, Dhritarashtra's heart was warm with joy and chilled with sorrow. The royal family at Hastinapur cast off their royal clothes in sorrow and performed the rites for the dead. Vidura was not affected by the sorrow as much as the others and this was attributed to his philosophical bent of mind. However, Bheeshma was sunk in sorrow. Vidura confided his secret about the Pandavasa to Bheeshma.

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