On his return to Hastinapura, Arjuna gave Yudhishthira an account of the destruction of the Yadavas. The king then and there resolved to abdicate the throne and retire from the world itself. In this resolve, he was followed by his four brothers and Panchali. Parikshit, Abhimanyu’s son, was installed the Kuru king and Yuyutsu, Dhritarashtra’s son by the Vaisya woman, was appointed regent.
The five Pandava brothers and Draupadi started on their journey, with a dog following them.
The five brothers and Draupadi traversed the country for a while, steeped in the spirit of renunciation. Yudhishthira led the group, followed by Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva, Draupadi and the dog, in that order. They traveled east and reached the seashore. The god Agni appeared before them and advised Arjuna to cast the Gandiva bow and the two inexhaustible quivers into the sea. They were of no further use to the Pandava hero. Arjuna complied.
The party then proceeded southwards along the coast. After a distance, they cut across the sub-continent and reached the western coast. There they saw the waters that had swallowed Krishna’s Dwaraka. They finally wound their way north and reached the foot of the Himalayas.
The party of seven then made the Meru hill in the Himalayas their destination. They walked in silence, steeped in Yogic exercise. After traversing some distance, Draupadi fell down. Yudhishthira and his brothers did not stop. They left the lifeless Draupadi behind and walked on their course.
Bhima asked Yudhishthira, “O fearless one. For what sin has Panchali fallen on the ground?” Yudhishthira replied, “This is the result of her partiality for Arjuna.”
Some distance further, Sahadeva fell. Yudhishthira explained that Sahadeva’s sin was his pride, that he was the wisest of all.
Next to fall was Nakula. To Bhima’s query this time, Yudhishthira’s answer was that Nakula was always conscious of his good looks.
When Arjuna fell next, Yudhishthira told Bhima. “Arjuna declared that he would single-handedly kill all his foes in one day. He could not fulfill his boast.”
It was finally Bhima’s turn to fall. Before he parted with his life, Bhima asked his brother what sin had he committed. Yudhishthira replied, “In the matter of eating, you were selfish. You never cared if others needed food. You also boasted about your own strength.” So saying, the eldest of the Pandavas continued to walk, leaving his brothers and Panchali behind. He was now followed only by the dog.
The dog that followed Yudhishthira
The only human alive from among the Pandavas, Yudhishthira, walked some more distance. Suddenly, amidst much sound and radiance, Indra descended in his chariot and landed in front of Yudhishthira.
The celestial bade the Pandava king to ascend the chariot in order to proceed to Heaven. Yudhishthira refused, saying that he would not go to Heaven unless accompanied by his brothers and Draupadi. Indra explained that they had all gone to Heaven, casting off their bodies. Yudhishthira alone was privileged to reach Heaven without parting with his earthly form.
There then arose an argument about the dog that had faithfully followed the Pandava king till the end. Yudhishthira insisted that the dog should also climb into the chariot. It finally turned out that the dog was none other than the god Dharma. The god of justice, who had come to test Yudhishthira, expressed his pleasure at his son’s behaviour.
On arriving at Heaven, Yudhishthira was greeted by the sight of Duryodhana sitting in splendour, surrounded by several deities. A shocked Yudhishthira asked Narada who was with him, “By what right is this wicked Duryodhana enjoying the felicities of Heaven? Where are my brothers and Panchali? Where are all those kings and friends of mine who fought for Truth? I do not want to stay here for a moment. Take me to those noble souls.”
Narada told Yudhishthira, “O king! You have reached Heaven where there is no room for such animosities. Besides, Duryodhana has attained this region by virtue of his being noble in the battlefield. However, if you insist, I shall have you taken to those heroes whom you are yearning to meet.”
A messenger led Yudhishthira to Hell. It was a dark and thorny path, damp, with bad odour. Corpses were seen strewn all around. There was the sound of moaning, of people in agony. Suddenly, Yudhishthira heard some familiar voices, those of his brothers, of Panchali, of Karna and of the truthful heroes who fought for justice in the Great War. They were all pleading to Yudhishthira to save them from their suffering.
Yudhishthira was indignant. He told his messenger, “Return to Heaven and inform the gods that I want to stay here and share the pain my dear ones are experiencing.”
The messenger did as he was told. Immediately, Indra, accompanied by several other gods, appeared before Yudhishthira. Indra told the king, “This is in the order of things. Those who are to be consigned to Hell are first sent to Heaven for a short duration, to enjoy the fruits of the few goods deeds they have performed on earth. Those who are assured of their place in Heaven are given a glimpse of Hell, to expiate the few sins they have committed. Your visit to Hell is due to your deception of Drona in the battlefield.
“With all sins being washed off, you and your friends would now become permanent residents of Heaven.”
Yudhishthira was then taken to River Ganga that flows through the three worlds, Heaven, Earth and the netherworld. He took a bath in the river and his body was purified. He then reached Heaven where he found already arrived, those noble souls who fought to establish truth on earth.