CHENNAI : Reflecting on the recent misfortune of Draupadi’s abduction, the Pandavas stretch their lamentations for long. Thirsty by the end, Yudhistira asks Nakula to climb a tree and find a source of water. Nakula notices a congregation of cranes some distance away and walks off in that direction. Finding a lake there, he jumps towards the water to quench his thirst. A sound warns him, asking him to answer its questions before drinking the water, but Nakula ignores the warning and drinks the water anyway.
Then he dies.Nakula is followed to the lake by Sahadeva, who meets a similar fate. The third to arrive there is Arjuna who, upon hearing the sound, shoots out a few arrows into the air. When the sound warns him again, Arjuna ignores it and drinks the water. He dies as well. The same fate is then met by Bhima.
Finally, it is Yudhistira who goes to the lake, where, because he pays heed to the voice more than his brothers, he meets the yaksha who, in the guise of a crane, had been speaking to his brothers. The yaksha tells Yudhistira that he possesses the water of the lake and, without answering his questions, nobody can drink this water.
The question-answer session that follows is like many that have taken place in the text. At first, the yaksha asks questions concerning what might have been considered ethics by the codifiers of the epic. These include trite questions regarding the divine traits of the brahmanas and the kshatriyas. Then, a question that is interesting even in the modern times is asked: ‘Which is the single sacrificial chant?’ Yudhistira’s answer is worthy of mystics. ‘The breath of life is the single sacrificial chant,’ he says. Thereafter, the yaksha’s questions descend into the mode of riddles.
When the yaksha is satisfied with all of Yudhistira’s answers, he grants that one of his brothers will live. Yudhistira chooses Nakula, a choice that confounds the yaksha. The yaksha asks him why he chooses his step-brother and not Bhima or Arjuna, either of whom could be much more useful to Yudhistira. To this, Yudhistira says that he doesn’t differentiate between Kunti and Madri, his two mothers. Nakula should live so that Madri, too, has at least one son alive. Hearing this answer, the yaksha grants that all of Yudhistira’s brothers shall live.
After all the brothers stand up as if from sleep, Yudhistira asks the yaksha for his true identity, which is then revealed to be that of Dharma, the god that is Yudhistira’s father.As a boon, Dharma solves the Pandavas’ problem of ensuring anonymity in the thirteenth year of their exile, asking them to go to the city of Virata, where, even if they roamed without disguise, nobody, Dharma promises, would be able to identify them. That this boon does not seemingly extend to Draupadi can only mean one thing: that she will need to be hidden indoors for the whole year.