As he rode lonely up into the lush green hills of the Virata Kingdom, with the Himalayan mountains as the backdrop, a sense of calm came over Abhimanyu. This was the farthest quest his uncle had sent him on, and perhaps the most adventurous.
In the past three years, Krishna sent his favorite nephew on several such quests, asking him to ride alone, ride fast, and ride incognito. The purpose was to learn about the various kingdoms, their peoples and cultures. He was instructed to always stay with the locals, never to speak to anyone from any royal family. He was never to discuss or disclose his identity. His cover was that of a traveling trade writer, chronicling the various trade practices, customs and products in Bharata’s glorious lands.
Deep inside, Abhimanyu knew that every quest was a mission. The untold instruction was to assess the support for Pandavas, should a time come to choose sides. He was to never mention Pandavas or Kauravas but draw out the peoples’ preference for dharma. Krishna never said it. Abhimanyu never asked. But both knew the purpose. Abhimanyu also hoped that on one such trip, he would hopefully run into his father, living in exile and incognito himself. There were but a few months left before his father and uncles can reveal themselves. Nobody knew where they hid. Nobody knew how they lived. Kings, reduced to fleeing and hiding like common thieves.
Against such turbulent thoughts he entered the lands of the mighty Virata, the Matsya king. The land was was beginning to turn green from the onset of Ashada rains. The earth smelled fresh. As he approached the villages surrounding the capital, the beauty of the kingdom came into full view. He had seen hills and mountains before. He had scaled the highest of peaks across the landscape. But this was a spectacle unmatched. In the foreground was a beautiful prairie peppered with tiny hamlets. As he lifted his gaze, the elevation rose with it, in an exhibition of colorful foliage and shrubbery. Far in the distance behind the vibrant slopes gave way to a majestic range of mountains, sharp and chiseled with white peaks that began to glisten golden against the setting sun. Unending. Intimidating. Exalted. It was a sight he had never seen. It was a place he would never forget.
He stopped at an inn just outside the capital, introduced himself as a young writer from Magadha. He presented some of his work, impressing the older folk. His plan was to go into the capital in the morning and learn about Virata and his kingdom. After a while, he retired to his quarters to rest. As he thought about his work on the morrow, a strange feeling swept over his mind. Something unknown, something sweet and tender, something that warmed his heart. And it was not the Soma. He drifted into a dreamy sleep.
The pleasing sounds of songbirds woke him up just as the first rays of sun began to peek out of the east. He quickly finished his ablutions and set out into the city. He wanted to get there early so he can observe the people. He set out on foot, leaving his horse to rest. Being the adventurous kind, he took the path off the beaten track, choosing to walk through the lush fields. As he crossed a flowing creek, he was drawn towards a particular garden with sounds of rushing creeks and a delightful scent that was as intoxicating as the morning was foggy. As he entered the garden, his ears were captivated by the melody of the most tuneful voice he ever heard. Instinctively he started walking towards the sound. An elderly lady who was picking flowers to sell saw him. She sensed what was going on. Something about the youth told her he was of a noble heritage. She stopped him and asked, “Young sir, where are you headed?”
In a dreamy voice he replied, “I must see her”