Dharma determines the course of man, even mankind. A man of dharma earns a place in people’s hearts and so long as his praises are spoken, he shall continue to be in heaven; this is dhaarmik wisdom. This is applicable to ordinary mortals but it is surprising that the very embodiment of dharma on earth had to undergo the severest of tests to earn a place in heaven.
Sri Krishna was no more and when this news reached Hastinapura, the Pandavas, tired of having to drudge through their battered lives, crowned prince Parikshit king and embarked upon a pilgrimage. Towards the end of the long and tiresome pilgrimage, Draupadi and the Pandavas, except for Yudhishtira, fell down one after another and died. It was only a stray dog who followed Yudhishtira to the summit.
There, Yudhishtira insisted that the dog come along with him in Indra’s chariot. Satisfied, the dog revealed itself to be the Lord of Dharma and blessed Yudhishtira, his son. Then, Yudhishtira mounted the chariot and reached heaven.
There he saw Duryodhana, but saw not his brothers or any of his kith and kin. This greatly surprised Yudhishtira who, casting slander upon Duryodhana, asked of sage Narada how it came to be that while Duryodhana sat like the sun in heaven, his people were absent. Narada gently admonished Yudhishtira saying aspersions are not appropriate in heaven where no earthly feelings are felt. You feel so because you have reached heaven with your earthly body. Once it is cast away, all such feelings shall vanish. Duryodhana is here because he lived the life of a true Kshatriya.
Yudhishtira, confused, asked: Where are all those I hold dear?
Ethereal voices told him that he shall see them all soon and so an angel guided him. They went through a dark foul passage that grew increasingly malodorous and strewn with filth. Yudhishtira, at a point, lost his determination to go on and was about to turn around when he heard pathetic voices: Oh, Dharmaputra! The sight of you gives us a long needed relief. You bring cheer and hope to us! Please do not abandon us!
Yudhishtira, struck with amazement, asked: Tell me, who are you?
Voices said: I am Karna. I am Bhima. I am Arjuna. I am Nakula. I am Sahadeva. I am Draupadi. We are Draupadi’s children. We are your children.
Yudhishtira’s pain on hearing these voices kept increasing until he felt he could bear it no longer. He angrily cursed the gods and declared that no such thing as dharma ever existed. He then turned to the angel and said: I shall stay with my people here. I belong here as they are all here for the sole reason of having stood by me and abided by dharma. Go and tell your gods that!
The angel went away. After a time, Indra and Dharma came to Yudhishtira and the dark, foul atmosphere vanished and in its stead was the bright fragrance of heaven.
Dharma told: My wise son, you have withstood the greatest test of all! Your people are in heaven and have been there all this time. Though you denounced it, you could still not help staying by dharma even in the most testing of times. For, you are dharma itself!
Yudhishtira at last found the abode of lasting peace.