Is chastity a desirable virtue only for a woman? And is chastity all about sexual fidelity? This story from a Tamil version of the Mahabharata illustrates how true friendship between men can be an equally lofty virtue.

One day, in Hastinapura, in a rare moment of relaxation, Karna happened to be playing dice with Duryodhana’s wife, Bhanumathi in her harem. Duryodhana was, however, not present, as he was out attending to the kingdom’s affairs. Meanwhile, Karna and Bhanumati were thoroughly enjoying the game. But as time progressed, Bhanumati slowly started to lose to Karna.

Just as the game got very exciting and Karna appeared to be on the verge of winning, Duryodhana entered the harem. Seeing her husband walk in, Bhanumathi immediately sprung up from her seat to go receive him. But, Karna who had not seen Duryodhana enter, was surprised to see Bhanumathi leap up suddenly from her seat. Mistaking her action to be an abandonment of the game because she was losing, in a rush of wild instinct, he made a grab for her waist in a bid to stop her. But even as he made for her waist, his hands ended up tugging at her pearl waistband that snapped causing the pearls to scatter all over the floor.

Bhanumathi froze in confusion and fear – fear of her dear husband who stood there privy to the entire scene! Only after observing Bhanumathi’s look of horror, did Karna take note of Duryodhana’s presence there. All of this had happened in an instant! Just as the full import of his appalling act dawned upon him, Karna shrunk back with shame and horror over what he had done! His act had been totally despicable, even if impulsive! No friend would ever pardon such misdemeanour!

But to everyone’s utter surprise, the honourable Duryodhana appeared completely unperturbed by what he had seen. Sporting a smile on his face and pointing to the scattered pearls on the floor, he calmly asked his friend and his wife, “Should I collect these pearls or should I string them back too?”

So deep was the trust and so intense was the faith that Duryodhana placed in Karna that he could see nothing disgraceful in his friend’s reckless act.

Karna was so overwhelmed by Duryodhana’s reaction that he hugged his friend and shed tears of joy. From that point on, Karna decided to commit his life and service to Duryodhana forever.


Story collected by: Sumathi Sridhar

Source: Bharata Venba, Perundevanar (a Tamil poet who lived in the 9th century CE)

Location: Pan-India

Image details: Google Images