“When the devotees are put into difficulty, they have an opportunity to recollect the Lord with rapt attention. So Draupadi was thinking of Lord Krishna in that dangerous position, and the all-pervading Lord could at once know the dangerous position of His devotees. He therefore came there on the scene and asked Draupadi to give whatever food she might have in her stock.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.15.11 Purport)
One of the four pillars of sinful life, gambling can take down any person, even someone who is typically sober-minded. Maharaja Yudhishthira got tricked into wagering with the wicked Duryodhana and his clan. The result was not pretty. The leader of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira basically lost everything. He and his four brothers had to live in exile, in the forest, for twelve years. The thirteenth would have to be spent incognito, and if they happened to get discovered, the initial punishment would reset.
Though without a kingdom, Yudhishthira was still a king. He was a good householder intent on upholding dharma, or religiosity. He had people visit him, even though the home was now a small cottage instead of a palace. He wanted to receive guests properly, but where to get sufficient food?
1. Worshiping the sun-god
From wise counsel Yudhishthira decided to worship the sun-god, Surya. Doing so properly, the gift in return was an amazing vessel. Known as the Akshaya Patra, it would produce a sufficient amount of food to properly receive one or up to thousands of guests. As many as would arrive, there would no longer be an issue. Surya is an important figure in this way, as he provides the necessary sunlight for grains to be produced. This is one of the reasons respect for the demigods is mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita.
“All living bodies subsist on food grains, which are produced from rain. Rains are produced by performance of yajna [sacrifice], and yajna is born of prescribed duties.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.14)
2. Rule about Draupadi eating
The shared wife of the Pandava brothers, Draupadi’s chastity was always protected. Duryodhana’s group tried to have her shown naked in front of an assembly one time, but Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, saved her. He took the form of her sari, and since He is ananta, or without end, the same property extended to the sari. No matter how much the enemies pulled, Draupadi could not be shown naked.
In the home Draupadi would properly receive guests by offering food. She would take her meal last, as is custom in Vedic culture. Through service in the proper way all good things come. For a householder, to properly feed guests is one of the pillars of dharma, or righteous behavior.
The rule with the Akshaya Patra given to Yudhishthira was that once Draupadi took her meal, the vessel would stop producing food for that time. It made sense; it didn’t seem like a hindrance. Draupadi would eat last anyway, so what problems could arise?
3. The incident with Durvasa Muni
While the Pandavas were in exile, the enemy Duryodhana couldn’t leave them alone. He plotted a scheme to make them victims of the notorious wrath of Durvasa Muni. Duryodhana arranged so that Durvasa would pay a visit in the forest, bringing many associates with him.
There was a problem this time. Draupadi had already taken her meal. Yudhishthira bought some time by having Durvasa and his men first go nearby and take bath. They would return to eat after that. In the meantime Shri Krishna showed up as a guest. Draupadi lamented that there was no food, but Krishna asked for a closer inspection. He saw a single morsel left in the bowl, and He happily ate it.
Since the food came from devotees, Krishna accepted the offering and was satisfied by it. Suddenly, Durvasa and his men felt too full to eat. Rather than return and feel embarrassed in front of Yudhishthira, they simply fled. Crisis averted. Another Duryodhana plot foiled.
While the benedictions of the demigods are significant and valuable, the influence of the Almighty Himself is of greater importance. Food offered to Him has more potency, enough to satisfy many others simultaneously. The practice is something like watering the roots of a tree instead of tending to the branches individually. The Pandavas practiced this kind of devotion, and thus they were always protected by the greatest well-wisher, Shri Krishna.
By worshiping god of the sun,
To Yudhishthira bowl to come.
Food for thousands could produce,
But after wife to nothing to reduce.
Potential trouble with Durvasa to await,
Averted when Krishna last morsel ate.
His presence to nullify even exception,
To devotees giving full protection.
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