The palace of Hastinapura was an imposing building. It was the boast of the Kurus that there was none like it in the entire Aryavarta. No other King had ever sought to dispute that claim, and it was only in part due to the fear inspired by Bheeshma, who was the general of the Kuru armies and uncle to the present King.
The palace was large, and built of stone, just like all palaces of all Kings all over Aryavarta. But the palace of Hastinapura was taller and covered more area than any other palace of the time. The vast courtyard housing the palace was fully four yojanas in area. The tall and thick wall that surrounded it was octagonal in shape and one kosha tall. The palace itself covered an area of one yojana. It was surrounded by gardens, orchards and groves as well as several mansions for the use of visiting royalty.
The stone walls of the palace had been polished so much that they shone like gems. Large and thick doors made of wood opened to let a visitor to the palace into a large hall with a ceiling that was full ten dandas high. Large pillars in rows supported the ceiling. The pillars were carved with figures of dancing women and other such, and the walls were covered with colourful tapestries depicting stories of gods and goddesses and famous rulers belonging to the clan of the Kurus.
A casual visitor might go through to the next room, which was also large, and which was a kind of atrium. It was circular in shape, and from it led a number of corridors, each leading to a different area of the palace. One led to the Rajasabha where the King held court, another to the smaller sabhas where minor matters relating to administration were attended to; yet another led to the poor houses where the destitute could be assured of a full meal; another led to the dining areas for the Brahmanas where these luminaries could eat their fill; another led to the guest chambers; another to the servant’s quarters; another to the guard houses; another to the dining areas for the lower castes; and a last one to another circular room mirroring this one.
The corridors branching from this room were few in number and no guest was ever allowed to step foot either inside the room or the corridor leading to the room. For, one of the corridors leading from the room led to the living quarters of the King, another to the Anthahpura which housed the ladies of the household including the King’s wives and concubines; a third one led to the quarters of the other members of the royal household. All these royal apartments were linked to one another by innumerable corridors which spread through the palace like blood vessels. There were corridors that could take the King anywhere in the palace, if he knew them well enough.
The present monarch of Hastinapura, for all his paleness of complexion, was an observant man, and he knew all the corridors he needed to take him to the sabha, the practice arena, his own apartments, the dining area or even outside the palace, without his ever needing to come to either of the circular rooms. He was also a strong and healthy man for all his sickly appearance, and a formidable warrior in his own right, though not the equal of his uncle.
Walking by his side, Kunti, his new wife and the new queen of Hastinapura strove hard not to let herself be overwhelmed by the palace or its proportions. The palace of Kunti was large, but not the monstrosity this one was. And Kunti had never seen so many corridors in one palace before. The architecture of the place was impressive, but in spite of the lit sconces fixed to the wall, the colourful tapestries adorning the wall, the vases overgrown with flowers kept at every corner, and the statues of dancing women and men at regular intervals, Kunti felt a dreariness creep on her soul. The palace of Hastinapura was like a giant beast, waiting to devour whoever stepped into its gaping maws.
The footsteps of the King and the Queen and of those who accompanied them echoed in the silent corridors, causing the bride to shiver involuntarily. Pandu directed a questioning gaze at her, to which she returned a tremulous smile, though her insides were all churning in nervous tension. The King seemed reassured by the smile, however, and he refrained from making any further enquiries.
The King stopped before a set of doors, carved with leaves. The heralds announced the King in stentorian accents and the doors opened. A tall man, dressed well in clothes that would not look amiss on a King approached them with a broad smile. Only as he reached their side, did it strike Kunti that he was blind.
“Pandu!” He said beaming.
“Bhrata,” Pandu embraced him before bending down to touch his feet, indicating to his bride to do the same. Kunti touched the man’s feet and was bade to rise.
“Welcome to Hastinapura,” he smiled at her, before turning to Pandu and inviting him in. Kunti followed the two men, marvelling all the time at the warmth that was between the two which was in direct contrast to the frigidity that seemed to characterize Pandu’s relation with Vidura, though both hid it behind a facade of cordiality. She had no doubt that this man was Dhritarashtra, the elder brother of both Pandu and Vidura.
Kunti’s fury blazed up at the thought of Vidura and she kept her eyes lowered, so no one would see the rage in them. She pressed her lips together in anger, but this time it was directed at herself. She did not want to lose her control and equilibrium so easily. But Vidura seemed to be able to do it without even trying. She smoothed her features into impassivity and forced her anger to abate as she waited for Gandhari, the wife of Dhritarashtra to come and lead her into the inner apartments where the women dwelt.