The Pandavs chose Matsya Desh (Eastern Rajasthan) as their location for the disguised leg of the exile. The Kingdom was ruled by Virat, capitaled at Upaplavya. His queen was Sudeshna, sons Uttar and Shwet, and daughter Uttara. His general was his brother-in-law Keechak, Sudeshna's elder brother.
The Pandavs stored all their arms and weapons in a crematorium at the outskirts of Upaplavya. Then began their comic recruitment in the royal palace. Yudhisthir, a.k.a. Kanka, with the get-up of a poor scholar-cum-businessman, joined as Virat's courtier-cum-counsellor. Bheem, a.k.a. Ballav, dressed as a cook, joined as the head-cook of the royal kitchen. (The foodie Bheem was an expert cook since teenage). Draupadi, a.k.a. Sairindhri, became Sudeshna's hair-dresser and make-up girl. Nakul, a.k.a. Arishthnemi, looked after the royal horses; while Sahadev, a.k.a. Granthik, looked after the royal cows. Nakul and Sahadev utilized their veterinarary knowledge during this year to the full. And finally, Arjun, a.k.a. Brihannala, dressed a eunuch, was appointed as princess Uttara's dance teacher and the royal musician (thanks to Chitratsen Gandharva's music and dance lessons in Swarga)!
There was hardly any contact among the six of them during the year. Brihannala and Sairindhri stayed in the inner quarters, attending to Sudeshna and Uttara. Arishthnemi and Granthik stayed in the royal premises, while Kanka and Ballav stayed in the palace itself. Duryodhan sent his spies all over India to search for them, but in vain. The crown prince of Hastinapur became doubtful of the abilities of his royal intelligence troops.
The Matsya general Keechaka became increasingly attracted to his sister Sudeshna's attendant Sairindhri. He summoned her to his chamber and tried to molest her. Sairindhri ran to the court, and in presence of Virat, Uttar, Kanka, and all the courtiers, demanded justice. Keechaka insulted her verbally, and then slapped her. Yudhisthir calmed Draupadi down, and told her that Sairindhri's husband would soon avenge her insult.
Seething in anger, Draupadi went to the kitchen and instigated Ballav to punish Keechaka. Ballav, Brihannala and Sairindhri planned to murder Keechaka that night. She met Keechaka in the garden that afternoon, and seduced him into believing that she will sleep with him. She invited the lech to the dancing hall that night. Arjun played loud music and Bheem, draped in a sari to simulate Draupadi, attacked the drunk Keechak and strangulated him to death. Indrapashtha refused to take any insult, even when in exile.
The loss of the strong general rendered Matsya weak and vulnerable to the neighboring kingdoms, including Hastinapur. The news reached Duryodhan and Karna, who figured out that the Keechak, whose physical power was nationally famous, could not be killed by anyone except Dwaraka king Balaram, Bhishma, Dronacharaya, Karna, Duryodhan and Bheem. This hinted Duryodhan that the Pandavs are probably hiding in the Upaplavya palace. Shakuni immediately suggested attacking Matsya, to unearth the Pandavs.
The king of Trigarta (South-East Punjab) attacked Matysa, and captured its cattle. Matsya's economy primarily depended on cattle-rearing. Virat went to the border to defend the attack, along with Kanka, Ballav, Granthik and Arishthnemi. In the meantime, Duryodhan attacked the capital Upaplavya, and prince Uttar remained to defend it. On Sairindhri's suggestion, Uttar made Brihannala his charioteer and went to fight the Hastinapur army. Scared at the size of the army, he began fleeing from the battle-ground, when Brihannala assured him that he would fight on his behalf. He drove to the crematorium, fetched his weapons, revealed his identity to Uttar, and counter-attacked the Hastinapur (Kaurav) army. Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Karna, Duryodhan and Dushshan were all defeated individually by Arjun. Virat returned victorious after defeating the Trigarta army, and Uttar and Brihannala returned after defeating the Kauravs, who came to know it was none other than Arjun. However, the period of disguised exile was over several weeks ago.
The next day, the Pandavs revealed their identity to Virat, winning another ally. Virat's daughter Uttara was married to Arjun and Subhadra's son, the 16-year-old Abhimanyu, who was growing up in Dwaraka, with maternal uncle Krishna as his teacher. On the occasion of the wedding, the Panchal family and the Dwaraka family arrived at Upaplavya. The political sky of India was overcast with war-clouds.
......to be continued.