Raja Yudhishtira was deeply troubled about how to feed the Brahmans who had accompanied them on their exile. He went to his family priest Dhaumya Maharshi to seek his advice. Dhaumya Maharshi contemplated over the matter for a little while and remembered the upadesh that he received from Narada Devarshi who had received it from Indra who in turn had received it from Brahma.
He said, “At the time of creation, the entire universe was starving. Seeing their plight, Bhagawan Surya took the form of a father and went over to Uttaranayana and drew the water from all the lands with his radiance and spread it across the lands in Dakshinayana.
When the entire earth was prepared like this, Chandra who is the Lord of Aushadi (medicine) took the form of clouds in space and manifested the radiance of Surya and through the water sprinkled on the land created food grains and other medicines.
When the rays of Chandra enveloped Surya rendering him in his complete glory, then sacred medicines imbued with six types of rasa were created. This only became the food for the beings on earth.
In this manner, the protector of all beings is Bhagawan Surya in the form of anna (food). Therefore, Bhagawan Surya is the father of all and you should propitiate him. All the great kings like Bheema, Kartiveeryarjuna, Arjuna, Prthu, Nahusha and others have taken refuge in tapasya, yoga and samadhi to overcome great obstacles in the past. It is the duty of the king to also undertake penance and austerities when his people are in difficulties. Hence, it is best for you to sit in tapaha to serve the Brahmans.”
Obeying the advice of Dhaumya Maharshi, Raja Yudhishtira followed the tenets of tapasya and keeping his mind under control, meditated upon Bhagawan Surya as the Supreme Father. Yudhishtira who is an exemplary tapasvi surrendered himself in entirety to Bhagawan Surya only living on air.
He prayed within himself, “O Bhagawan Surya! You are the eyes of the entire universe and the ātma of all beings. You are the seat of creation of all beings and the good conduct of men who are engaged in karma yoga.
You are the end goal of Sankhya yoga and you are the refuge of karma yogis. You are the unbounded gateway to moksha and you are the solace of all devotees. You pervade this entire creation and it is illuminated because of you only. You only make it pure and selfless ones obey your erudition.
You are worshipped by sages and saints and you are glorified in the Vedas through various mantras and suktas. There is none in this universe who does not pay obeisance to you. One who worships you unceasingly will never undergo trials and tribulations and will be free from disease.
One who adores you will never fall ill and will be liberated from all sins and will be in bliss always. I desire to serve all the guests in the appropriate manner. Have mercy on me. Please provide me food.
I prostrate in front of you and offer myself to you. O Benevolent One! You are the Supreme Consciousness and I offer my salutations to you again and again. Your radiance is blinding and sustains the universe and its beings. I pray to you in your myriad forms. You are my refuge. You are my solace. You are my saviour. Come to my aid O Bhagawan Surya! I beg you.”
Bhagawan Surya pleased with the sincerity and devotion of Raja Yudhishtira blessed him with his dazzling form. He then said in a mellifluous voice, “Rise O son of Pandu! You will attain whatever you desire. I will provide you food for twelve years.
Take this copper vessel that I give you. O observer of great vows! This vessel will give you fruits, roots, ingredients to prepare food, curry and anything else and the four types of food that are prepared will be in infinite quantity till such time as Draupadi not only serves everyone but also eats. You will regain your kingdom in fourteen years from now and take your rightful place as king.”
After receiving the patra from Bhagawan Surya, Raja Yudhishtira emerged from the sacrosanct Ganga. He fell at the feet of Dhaumya Maharshi and hugged his brothers. Raja Yudhishtira immediately kept water on the firewood and started preparing food.
Even a small amount of the four types of dishes prepared when placed in the divine patra would immediately become akshaya (infinite). Raja Yudhishtira served the Brahmans who had accompanied them to the forest. His younger brothers ate after feeding the Brahmans and Raja Yudhishtira ate the leftover food which is considered to be purificatory. Draupadi ate whatever was remaining after everyone had eaten. The food in the patra also got over after Draupadi ate.
In this manner, Raja Yudhishtira was able to uphold dharma and cater to the needs of the Brahmans and serve them with devotion and respect. He obeyed the instructions of Dhaumya Maharshi and his accompanying sages and learnt what needed to be done during their stay in the forest. After imparting the knowledge, Dhaumya Maharshi and his group of Brahmans along with Raja Yudhishtira, his brothers and Draupadi went to Kamyakavana.
[Excerpt from The Mahabharat]