Mahabharata Stories: 29 – Deceit to Conquer Conceit

We value our assets very much. We expect our educational qualifications to earn us good jobs, we expect our position to earn us respect and we expect our children to listen to us because we have more experience than them. Having successfully earned the respect and obedience of the others, one tends to revel in this feel of power and become conceited. Having got used to wield authority, one tends to be carried away by one’s whims and fancies, however wrong they may be. Is this real authority? What power can overrule this kind of behaviour?

At the end of twelve years of exile, the Pandavas had to spend a year incognito. They decided to spend the year in the friendly kingdom of Matsya. All five of them and Draupadi took on disguises and found jobs in King Virata’s palace. Yudhishtira was a courtier and companion to the king, Bhima was a royal cook and wrestler, Arjuna turned a eunuch who taught Princess Uttara dancing and singing, Nakula took charge of the king’s stables, Sahadeva took charge of the royal cattle and Draupadi was the chamber-maid to Queen Sudeshna.

Keechaka, Sudeshna’s brother, was the commander-in-chief of King Virata’s army and wielded such vast powers that the king seemed to be the ruler only in name. Keechaka was so conceited that, on eyeing the beautiful Draupadi, he thought she would yield to his advances. Draupadi, shy of confiding to anybody these shameful acts of Keechaka due to her present position, tried to scare him away by telling him that her husbands were gandharvas who could magically kill those who outraged her modesty. Not one to be scared by what she said, Keechaka influenced his sister into accepting a plan to ensnare Draupadi.

Sudeshna, one night soon thereafter, gave Draupadi a jug and asked her to get wine from Keechaka’s residence. Draupadi objected to the time and nature of work but was forced to do the job for the conniving queen. When Draupadi arrived at Keechaka’s palace, he seized her and attempted to violate her person but she managed to wrench herself free and fled to the king’s court. Keechaka followed her there. Draupadi begged of the king to save her from the monstrous Keechaka but the king expressed his powerlessness to do so. In the presence of all there, Keechaka dragged her and kicked her.


Tearfully she went to Valala the cook, who was Bhima in disguise, and reported to him of the unhappy events. Bhima gently consoled her assuring that he would avenge the misdeed perpetrated against her. They then charted out a plan.

The next day, Draupadi acted coquettish in the presence of the lust-filled Keechaka, who now made fresh amorous moves. Draupadi, waiting for this opportunity, skillfully took him aside and said in whispered tones: Oh, Lord! I am unable to hold myself against your charm any longer! But let us not make public this affair of ours. Let us meet tonight at the ladies’ dancing hall which would be deserted and to our convenience!

Keechaka was beside himself with joy and impatiently waited for night to arrive. At the appointed hour, bedecked and scented, he went to the dancing hall and, in the misty moonlight, saw Draupadi waiting for him on a couch. He went over to her and put his hand on her shoulder. He was surprised at the firmness of her body and was even more surprised when she rose to stand up tall and massive. For it was Bhima in a woman’s guise!

The fight that ensued was long and hard, for the two were in the same category of wrestlers of the times, the only other wrestler of comparable strength being Balarama. Finally, Bhima succeeded in killing Keechaka and pounded him into a shapeless lump and left him there. Bhima then went to his dwelling place, bathed and scented himself and slept in satisfaction.

In the morning Draupadi let it be known that her gandharva husbands had magically killed Keechaka, thereby making the remainder of her stay in Matsya safe!


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