The next day Keechak sauntered into the ladies quarters, drunk with lust and power. This time, however, Sairandhri did not shy away from him. When he confronted her and caught her hand mischievously, she did not pull it back. He was surprised, and happy. Delirious with the prospects of success, he was easily snared by Sairandhri into her trap. ‘I cannot be seen consorting with you publicly’, she had said ‘My Gandharva companions, roam about the palace in invisible forms and would kill both you and me if they saw us together. However, if you come to my chamber, in disguise, without telling anyone, past midnight, I could fulfil your wishes.’ Keechak could not believe his ears, he was so happy that he immediately released her hand and said, ‘My lady, I would do anything to have you. I will come tonight, dressed as a commoner, without telling anyone and would knock at your door at midnight.’ They had parted thereafter, both going their ways for their preparations. Keechak had called his masseurs, had taken a long bath, had himself perfumed and had started drinking ‘madhu’, or honey liquor since evening to while away his time.
At nightfall, as the thunder started to roll in the distance, and the wind picked up speed, Ballabh had quietly slipped into Sairandhri’s chambers. Assuring Sairandhri that this was the last night of Keechak on this earth, he had asked her to wait in the side room while he sat on the bed and covered himself with a sheet. Brihannala started her daily mridangam practice in an adjacent chamber, but this time she played a martial beat and played it loudly. The other inhabitants of the servant’s quarters were either on duty, running here and there to prepare for the coming storm, or were in their beds, trying to get some sleep.
As the night advanced, so did the storm. By the time midnight approached, it had started to rain heavily. Winds howled through the palace corridors, and loud peals of thunder made the doors, windows and the furniture shudder. Rain beat down mercilessly, and Brihannala played her mridangam furiously, as, at the stroke of midnight, Keechak opened the door of Sairandhri’s bedroom and stumbled in, drunk with madhu and incoherent with lust. His eyes red with too much drink, his speech slurring, he had difficulty finding his way to the bed properly in the dim light. He could see a seated form, covered with a sheet, on the bed. Blurting out sweet nothings, he groped in the darkness to find the edge of the bed and climbed on to it. Sitting on the creaking bed, beside the huddled form, he grabbed the end of the sheet and yanked it off the figure, hoping to find Sairandhri underneath it. The man under the sheet, who sat huddled, straightened up when Keechak pulled off the sheet. With bleary eyes, Keechak watched, as the giant got up, stepped off the bed, and, in a swift sweep of his muscled arm, gripped him by the throat and sent him crashing to the floor.
Keechak was shocked back to his senses, realising he had been tricked, and sensing the mortal danger he was in. He tried to stand up, gather his senses around him and prepare for the ‘malla yuddha’ or mortal wrestling match. Ballabh did not give him a chance to do that. Lunging at him like a crouched tiger, he pushed Keechak down to the ground and pinned him down in a grip. Summoning all his strength, Keechak tried to break the vice and escape. As he wriggled in Ballabh’s grip, Sairandhri entered the room. ‘Don’t leave him Bhim. Smash his head and pull his arms out from his trunk, for he has dared to touch Draupadi’, Sairandhri seethed, trembling with rage.
Bhim? Draupadi? Keechak was stunned, and then, in a moment’s clarity, the pieces fell in place. But it was too late for him.
Bhim released him from his grip, giving him one more chance to defend himself. Keechak, steeled himself mentally for what he knew could be his last combat, and rushed at Bhim. Bhim sidestepped and sent Keechak crashing into the bed. As Keechak lost his balance, Bhim caught him by the left arm and, swinging him high in the air, crashed him on the bed once again. The bed crumpled with a loud noise, which was subdued under the noise of the storm and the sound of the mridangam playing in the adjacent room. Keechak yelled aloud in pain and fear, his arm dislocated, nearly avulsed from his body. He got up gingerly, in pain, and tried to back out of the room. Bhim caught up with him and the two men fought again, two bulls going at each other in the subdued light of the bedroom, their yells and shouts drowned by the storm and Brihannala’s mridangam. Bhim played with Keechak for a while, pushing him here, throwing him there, like a tiger toying with its prey which has been cornered and has nowhere to escape. Soon enough, he got tired of it and his impatience and anger got the better of him. As Keechak lurched towards him, Bhim caught him by the head and the right arm and crashed his face into the floor. Keechak’s face exploded in a spray of blood, as his face was pulverised into a mass of teeth and bone. But Bhim’s anger was not satiated, he kept punching and throwing the lifeless body around till it was difficult to recognise whom it belonged too. Only after beating him up into a shapeless mass did Bhim throw the body out of the window, into the palace courtyard, for everyone to see in the morning.
Their purpose achieved, Sairandhri retired to the side room and Ballabh went back to the kitchen, informing Brihannala on the way of what had transpired.
The next morning, as the storm subsided, the servants noticed Keechak’s body lying in a pool of mud and congealed blood in the royal courtyard, recognisable only by the ornaments he wore. As the alarms were sounded, the royal household grapevine went abuzz, aided amply by Kanka,Ballabh, Brihannala, Granthika and Tantipala. The story of the mortal combat between Keechak and Sairandhri’s Gandharva consort was spread from ear to ear and soon reached the King and the Queen. ‘It is true’, the servants said, ‘Sairandhri is indeed married to the Gandharvas. They are huge and strong divine beings. No one can anger them and expect to live. Keechak should have heeded Sairandhri’s warnings.’ ‘Poor Sairandhri, she was found locked in a side room, she was lucky to have escaped with her life.’ ‘Look at the mess inside Sairandhri’s bedroom; the room looks like a battlefield. Only a divine warrior could have done this.’ ‘Killing Keechak is no ordinary feat. It’s best we stay away from Sairandhri, it’s best not to anger her,’ so went the rumor around the palace.
The King called a meeting of all his advisors to ask for their opinion regarding the future course of action and whether, they thought, Sairandhri should be questioned, or punished. Most of the advisors, including Kanka, advised the King against such actions. ‘Let bygones be bygones’, they said, ‘Keechak asked for it himself. He had become too wayward. Outraging a woman’s modesty evokes divine retribution. He paid for his sins. Let Sairandhri live in peace, she is blameless.’ Advised thus by his counsellors, King Virat forgave Sairandhri and the Pandava’s continued their incognito existence in Matsyadesh, unaware of the great dangers and the greater glory that lay ahead!