The eldest of the Pandava brothers, the heroes of the great epic, the Mahabharatha. Yudhishtira lived for justice, and patiently suffered humiliation and exile.’ A man should live virtuously because virtue is good, not because it pays to be virtuous’ – so he believed and acted. And he said to the King of the Gods, ‘I cannot enter a Heaven in which there is no place for a faithful dog.’
The ‘Mahabharatha’ is the story of the Great War between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
They both belonged to the race of King Kuru.
The Pandavas were the sons of King Pandu and the Kauravas were the sons of Dhritarashtra.
They were brought up by Bhishma, the Grand Old Man of the Kuru race, with loving care.
Here is how he answered the Yakshas questions:
Bhishma had given his word to his father Shantanu that he would never marry, and also that he would give away the kingdom to his stepbrother Vichithravirya. But unfortunately, Vichithravirya died young. Thus it fell to the lot of Bhishma to take Pandu and Dhritarashtra under his protection and bring them up.
He got them married in a good time. Dhritarashtra’s wife was Gandhari. Pandu had two wives – Kunthi and Maadri. Dhritarashtra was born blind so Pandu became the king.
Before Kunthi was married, she played hostess to Sage Durvasa, he was immensely pleased with her hospitality and taught her five mantras or powerful prayers.
Pandu ruled the kingdom for several years; he went to a forest to spend the last years of his life in prayer and meditation. His two wives accompanied him to the forest. But Pandu had no peace of mind. His only regret was that he had no sons, he told Kunthi of his sorrow.
She related to him all about the mantras she had learned from Durvasa. With his consent, she bore Yudhishthira by offering prayers to Yamadharma, and Bhimasena and Arjuna by offering prayers to Vasudeva, the God of Wind and Indra respectively. She taught the remaining mantra to Maadri, who, in turn, gave birth to twin babies by the grace of the Ashwinis, the twin gods.
The world is a battlefield, and the mind of a man is also a battlefield. On both these take place the endless struggle between good forces and evil forces. Dharma is another name for all that is good in this world the world rests on Dharma.
Yama, the God of Death, is the embodiment of Dharma, he is not at all a cruel god. Pandu desired that his eldest son should be Dharma itself in human form. So he asked Kunthi to bear such a son for him by the grace of Yamadharma.
Meaning of Yudhishthira
Accordingly, she gave birth to the eldest son for Pandu as a divine gift from Yamadharma. So the child was called Dharmaputhra or the son of Yamadharma. His mind was always on the side of the good, or Dharma. Thus he came to be known as ‘Yudhishthira’ or ‘one who is unshaken in war’.
Throughout his life, he was a living example of this great virtue. He always upheld Dharma and Truth and became famous as Dharmaraja. He showed to the world that Dharma always wins.
After a while, Pandu died. Maadri observed ‘Sahagamana’ and burnt herself to death with the corpse of her husband. The widowed Kunthi returned to Hasthinavathi with the five sons of Pandu and lived under the care of Dhritarashtra.
Hatred is Kindled
Gandhari had a hundred sons and a daughter.
Duryodhana was the eldest and Dusshasana the second. Yudhishthira and Duryodhana were born on the same day.
Though the sons of Pandu and those of Dhritarashtra belonged to the same Kuru race, only the latter came to be known as Kauravas.
The Pandavas and Kauravas received training in the use of weapons of war from Dronacharya, a past master of the science of archery.
Bhima and Duryodhana became experts in wielding the mace. Duryodhana hated Bhima from the beginning, his hatred grew as they grew up. He planned the murder of Bhima several times, but he did not succeed. He cherished the thought that he would rule the kingdom with his brothers and is happy if only he could destroy all the Pandavas.
‘This I fear’
Yudhishthira became perfect in the art of fighting from a chariot. Nakula and Sahadeva turned out to be excellent swordsmen. Arjuna learned the use of all kinds of weapons, he excelled everyone in archery and became the favorite pupil of Drona. This fact made Duryodhana hate the Pandavas more than ever.
Yudhishthira had earned the goodwill of the people of the land. They used to say
“Yudhishthira is the only person fit to be king, he is righteous, truthful and patient; he is respectful towards his teachers and elders, he does good to one and all and wishes no one any evil.”
The talk of the people reached Duryodhana.
He approached his father and expressed his unhappiness. If what the people were saying came true and Yudhishthira became the king, he and his brothers would have to serve the Pandavas – so lamented Duryodhana.
Dhritarashtra knew the good qualities of Yudhishthira. He explained to his son that it was only proper that Yudhishthira should succeed Pandu, as he was his eldest son.
But Duryodhana’s ambition was that he should become the king. He won over his father and got a house of lac built at Varanavata, he planned to burn the Pandavas alive in that house. Vidura, the younger brother of Dhritarashtra, warned the Pandavas about the danger. So the Pandavas managed to escape from the house through an underground tunnel they set fire to the house.
However, news reached Hasthinavathi that the Pandavas had been burnt to ashes in the house of lac. But they were out of danger; they wandered through many kinds of wood and traveled southward they finally reached a dense forest.
Winning A Bride
Wandering from one wood to another, they came to Ekachakrapura. There they found shelter in the house of a poor Brahmin. They were now forced to beg for their daily food.
As days passed, a Brahmin traveler called at the house where the Pandavas were staying and remained there as a guest. He gave the news that Drupada, the king of Panchala, was holding a Swayamvara at which his daughter would choose her husband. The Pandavas went to the Swayamvara in the guise of Brahmins.
Kings of many states attended Draupadi’s Swayamvara. The Pandavas in the guise of Brahmins sat amid Brahmins in the Swayamvara hall. Anyone who aspired to Draupadi’s hand had to prove his skill in archery by hitting a fish-shaped target.
None of the Kshatriyas (the warriors) were able to wield the bow. Arjuna walked up to the bow and hit the target. Draupadi garlanded Arjuna.
The Pandavas returned home with Draupadi.
They stood at the door and cried out – “Mother, we have brought our collection of alms.” “Share it equally among you as usual” replied Kunthi from inside the house. The Pandavas stared at one another and began to laugh. Kunthi came out. And she was amazed to see that the alms they had brought were a young woman!
Kunthi said in wonder, “What a thing did I say?” She then asked her sons “Who is this girl?
How does she happen to be with you?” Yudhishthira narrated to Kunthi the Swayamvara episode.
Kunthi, My son, I thought you had brought rice as usual and said those words. It is not proper, it is Adharma, for five of you to marry the same girl. Yudhishthira, you have to solve this problem.
“A mother’s word is the law, it cannot be disobeyed. But yet, Arjuna should marry her, because he won her. That is just”.
Arjuna “What you say is ordinary law. But it is not Dharma. Do you wish that I committed an act of Adharma? There is no greater act of Dharma than carrying out the wishes of one’s mother.
Whatever our mother said came from a pure heart. Therefore, we must abide by her words.” Yudhishthira, you have told us what you think.
Draupadi is to be your wife. We should know what she has to say.
With these words, Yudhishthira turned towards Draupadi with a questioning look. She did not speak; she merely glanced at the Pandavas and smiled and shyly she bent down her head. Her silence meant consent.
So she became the wife of the Pandavas.
King Once Again
The Pandavas now had the support of a powerful king like Drupada. This fact made Duryodhana burn with jealousy more than ever before, he was afraid that the Pandavas would snatch the kingdom from him with the help of Drupada.
Krishna (whose prowess and genius had made him a formidable power) and Balarama (Krishna’s elder brother). He was the master of the entire kingdom in the absence of the Pandavas. He, therefore, wanted somehow to get rid of them. Dhritarashtra wished in his heart of hearts that his son should get what he wanted.
At the same time, he did not wish to go against the advice of elders like Bhishma and Vidura.
After much hesitation, he invited the Pandavas back to Hasthinavathi, he also gave them half of the kingdom. The Pandavas built a beautiful city and named it Indraprastha, they lived there happily for some time.
With the help of his brothers, Yudhishthira subdued many kings and performed the Rajasuya Yaga. Kings and leaders of important tribes such as the Yadavas attended the sacrifice; the Kauravas also attended. Yudhishthira honored Shri Krishna as the greatest person in the assembly, after this all the guests returned home. Only Duryodhana and Shakuni stayed on.
Yudhishthira had a splendid royal guesthouse built for the occasion. One day Duryodhana was going round the mansion, observing its splendor and beauty. At one time, he mistook a highly polished floor for a pond and walked on and at another time, he mistook a pond for a glittering floor and, fell into it!
Bhima and Arjuna who happened to be there, burst into laughter. Duryodhana felt greatly insulted. His jealously had already been kindled when the Pandavas grew in power and prestige soon after Rajasuya Yaga, the disgrace he now suffered fanned his jealousy.
He confided when Shakuni suggested a plan to get rid of the Pandavas. He said
“To overcome Yudhistira is to overcome all the Pandavas. Yudhishthira has a craving for the game of dice, but cannot play it, poor fellow. Invite him to play a game of dice. I will beat him, and win all his riches and his kingdom for you.”
Duryodhana went to his father and unburdened his heart. He told him how miserable he was and explained to him and insisted that his father should invite Dharmaraja for a game of dice. ‘If you don’t agree I shall kill myself’ he threatened.
Out of love for his son, Dhritarashtra agreed.
The Fatal Decision
The unpleasant task of inviting Dharmaraja to the game fell on Vidura. He went to Indraprastha rather unwillingly and informed Yudhishthira of the mission on which he had come.
“I know that gambling is bad. That is the opinion I offer you, too. But I have come to invite you as desired by Dhritarashtra. Do what you think is best” said Vidura.
“Who will play the game for Duryodhana?” asked Yudhishthira.
“The chief player is Shakuni” replied Vidura.
At the very mention of the name of Shakuni, Yudhishthira felt as if he had been stung by a scorpion. He said “Shakuni is a cheat. I would not like to play against him. But I cannot disobey the command of Dhritarashtra. I do not like gambling but I do not refuse to play when invited.
This is the code of conduct for a Kshatriya and it is my vow also. So, I accept the invitation.” The Terrible Consequences Before the game began, the players had to agree on the stake – on what the loser was to give up. Both Duryodhana and Yudhishthira offered their jewels as the stake.
Shakuni threw the dice, got the count he wanted, and won the game. The match went on and on. Yudhishthira offered thousands of gold coins, chariots, elephants, horses and his retinue of servants, and he lost them all.
Vidura, who was watching the game, shuddered to think of what might happen. He begged Dhritharashtra to put an end to the game. His advice was not heeded.
Yudhishthira went on betting and lost all his riches, his brothers, and even his person.
The cunning and vile Shakuni coaxed Yudhishthira to play another game and said
“Yudhishthira, there is one excellent gem still left with you. That is Draupadi, a gem of a woman. You may bet her and win the next game, and get back all that you have so far lost.”
Yudhishthira was silent for a moment. ‘That’s an idea! Why not win back all that I have lost with one try?’ So he thought, as all gamblers naturally do and he declared “Here is Draupadi, my bet for the next and last game.” The assembled spectators sat spellbound, in anxious expectancy.
Some were astonished at Yudhishthira’s step. Some exclaimed angrily “What is this that Dharmaraja has done!” some were pained at the thought of the misfortune awaiting the Pandavas. Bhishma and Drona were bewildered, Vidura did not know what to do. But Duryodhana and his companions watched gleefully.
Shakuni rolled the pair of dice and exclaimed
Duryodhana turned to Vidura and said “Vidura go and bring Draupadi. From now on, she is our slave!” Vidura, however, would not agree to do such a shameful act. Then Duryodhana sent Prathikami, the son of his charioteer, to bring her.
Draupadi placed her trust in God and came to the gambling hall without even changing her dress. At the behest of Duryodhana, Dusshasana dragged her by her hair to the middle of the gathering. Draupadi cast an angry and anguished look at her husbands.
Dharmaputhra was unmoved. But his brothers were enraged and looked to him for his word of command. Yudhishthira remained calm. But Bhima could not contain his rage and stared at the huge door-bolt. Yudhishthira understood that Bhima had lost his temper and made a sign to him to be patient.
But Duryodhana’s brothers were not men who knew decency or restraint. Dusshasana began to pull at Draupadi’s sari but by the grace of God, the sari grew endless. Duryodhana addressed Draupadi as his slave, he patted his thigh and exposed it to her. Draupadi felt outraged and cursed him
“Let your accursed thigh bring you death.”
Draupadi had been subjected to the most shameful humiliation in the open court and Bhima could no longer check his fury. He roared with rage and vowed vengeance against Duryodhana and Dusshasana “I will kill Dusshasana in battle, and drink his blood. And I will break Duryodhana’s thigh with my mace.” Bad omens were seen in the palace at that time.
Back To Indraprastha
Dhritarashtra was now frightened, he feared that the omens foretold evil to his sons. Bhishma and Vidura said to him, “Comfort Draupadi.” Accordingly, Dhritarashtra called Draupadi, and said, “My dear, you are like a daughter to me. You may ask of me any boon you like, and you shall have it.” She asked for two boons. One was the freedom of her husbands from bondage, and the other the return of their weapons and chariots.
Dhritarashtra granted the boons.
Yudhishthira approached Dhritarashtra and said respectfully
“Maharaja, we will obey you. Please tell us what we should do.”
Dhritarashtra replied “Yudhishthira, you have no enemy! You are an Ajatashatru, you are learned. You know what Dharma (righteous conduct) is, you are humble, you are forgiveness itself; you are peace-loving by nature.
Therefore, please forget all the bad acts of my sons. Go to Indraprastha and be happy in your kingdom” and he wished them well. The Pandavas returned to Indraprastha.
Dice Once Again!
But the ‘Bad Four’ namely Duryodhana, Dusshasana, Karna (Duryodhana’s bosom friend) and Shakuni, did not like this arrangement.
Shakuni again suggested a plan. Duryodhana went to his father with his three companions and explained his evil desire to get rid of the Pandavas. He persuaded his father to agree to carry it out.
“Father, let us invite the Pandavas once more to a game. If they lose they will have to live in exile in a forest for twelve years, besides, they shall spend another year in exile anywhere but without, being recognized.
If we find them out, they will have to go back to the forest to live there for another twelve years.
These are the terms of the game.”
And so the Pandavas were once again invited on behalf of Dhritarashtra to a game of dice. On getting the invitation, Yudhishthira thought that things were happening according to Divine will and that he could not act against it, one has to experience both pleasure or pain and further, it was his duty to obey Dhritarashtra.
And so he accepted the invitation to the game of dice. The match took place in Hasthinavati as before. Yudhishthira lost the game. According to the agreement, he retired to the forest with his brothers and Draupadi. Kunthi remained with Vidura.
The Pandavas in Exile
When the Pandavas were in a forest called Dwaithavana, one day the conversation turned to their condition. Draupadi mildly objected that Yudhishthira’s tolerance, goodness, compassion, and other noble qualities had rather exceeded reasonable limits.
She argued that indignation was a necessary virtue of the Kshatriyas who were warriors, she said that “the Dharma, which he was upholding, had not protected him”. After listening to her, Yudhishthira said,
“Draupadi, only we may suffer if we are too virtuous. But if our anger gets out of control, it harms others and us also. Anger is evil, all kinds of calamities result from it. Dharma should be followed for its own sake. We should not expect any benefit from it.”
Draupadi was not satisfied with what he said.
Bhima also supported her views. They both wanted to raise an army and get back the kingdom by fighting with the Kauravas. Yudhishthira pacified them and said:
“Bhima, both of you speak in this way because of your sorrows. Ponder over this. I had to take part in the match of dice because I was bound by the code of kings. Shakuni’s deceit was responsible for my defeat. It is our bounden duty to live in the forest, according to the terms we accepted.
I cannot give up the path of Dharma just to please you or to get back the kingdom before the stipulated period. We shall have our good times also. Let us bide our time and fight if its necessary to get back our kingdom. Humility adds to the beauty of learning; in the same way, patience is an ornament to prowess.”
The Pandavas never stayed in one place for long in the forest. They visited many holy places.
Wherever they went, they were warmly received and honored by saints and sages alike. They narrated sacred puranic (mythological) stories. As they listened to the stories Yudhishthira’s faith in Dharma was being strengthened and his brothers were getting mental peace.
To The Rescue of Duryodhana
While the Pandavas were living in Dwaithavana, Duryodhana wanted to derive pleasure by witnessing their hardships. He came near Dwaithavana with some companions and his army. There the Kauravas clashed with some 9 Gandharvas who were visiting that place.
Duryodhana and some of his companions were taken prisoners by the Gandharvas. Members of his retinue ran to Yudhishthira and prayed for his help. Bhima intervened and said,
“The Kauravas have got what they deserved. We should not give them any help.”
But Yudhishthira corrected him and said,
“It is the duty of Kshatriyas to render help to those who are in distress and ask for help. The Kauravas and we are cousins and so they coveted our kingdom and looked upon us as their enemies. Apart from this, they and we are one family in the face of an enemy from outside.”
So saying he asked his brothers to save the Kauravas. Accordingly, they attacked the Gandharvas, fought with them and made them set the Kauravas free.
The Questions of Yaksha
A strange event happened while the Pandavas were residing in Dwaithavana. One day a Brahmin visited the Pandavas. He told them that his ‘Arani’ sticks with which he used to produce fire for his ‘Homas’ (making offerings to the gods through the sacred fire) had been carried away by a deer on its horns and he requested them to get back the firesticks for him.
Yudhishthira set out with his brothers in search of the deer. The Pandavas soon came in sight of the animal but it ran away as fast as the wind, and they could not catch it. All of them soon felt very thirsty. At the suggestion of Dharmaraja, Nakula climbed a tree and looked around for water.
He caught sight of a lake nearby. Yudhishthira sent Nakula to fetch some water. Nakula went to the lake and was about to drink a little water before taking some with him. Suddenly he heard a voice addressing him thus: “O Sir, this is my lake. You shall not drink water without my permission.
You may drink after answering my questions.”
He looked all around and saw no one. He was very thirsty. Without heeding the words he had heard, he drank water; at once he fell unconscious.
Yudhishthira sent his other brothers one after another, to look for those who had not come back and to bring water; but the same fate befell all of them.
At last, Dharmaraja himself hurried to the spot. He was taken aback to see his brothers lying dead ‘on the ground. There was no one anywhere nearby! Nor was there any sign of wild animals! Dharmaraja could not understand the cause of his brother’s death.
As he, too, was fatigued with thirst, he also proceeded to drink water and the same voice from the skies spoke to him. Yudhishthira addressed the voice
“Sir, who are you? You seem to be the cause of the death of my brothers. Humbly I ask you, who are you?”
The voice replied
“Yes, I killed your brothers. I am a Yaksha, the owner of this lake. They drank water before answering my questions, and so they died. If you want to drink water, answer my questions first.”
With these words, the Yaksha himself appeared before him. “I shall answer your questions as best I can”, agreed Yudhishthira.
Yaksha: What equals the ocean? Who does well in the world? Who is the mother of all human beings? What can compare with the brightness of the Sun?
Yudhishthira: The sky equals the ocean. Devendra is the benefactor of the world. The cow is the mother of all human beings. Only Truth equals the Sun in brightness.
Yaksha: Who can be considered a Shrotriya among Brahmins? Who is the best among the Kshatriyas?
Yudhishthira: He who is learned in the Shruthi or the Vedas is a true Brahmin. The best Kshatriya is one who can wield weapons and fight without fear of death.
Yaksha: How can one earn money? Of all the riches which is the best? What is true wealth?
Yudhishthira: Money is to be earned by hard work. Learning is the best of riches. Health is wealth.
Yaksha: What is greater than the earth? What is higher than the skies?
Yudhishthira: A mother is greater than the earth. A father is loftier than the skies.
Yaksha: What is faster than the wind? What troubles a person always?
Yudhishthira: The mind is faster than the wind.
Worry troubles a person always.
Yaksha: Who is a great man?
Yudhishthira: One who practices nonviolence.
Yaksha: I am pleased with your answers. Which of your brothers do you wish to come back to life?
As the dialogue continued, one by one Yudhishthira got all his brothers back. “Why did you want your stepbrothers, Nakula and Sahadeva, restored to life first and not your brothers, Bhima and Arjuna?” – asked Yaksha.
Yudhishthira replied, “I do not make any difference between my brothers and my step-brothers.” Then Yamadharma, who had taken the form of a Yaksha, appeared in his person. He said, “Because you uphold Dharma victory will be yours.” With these words, he blessed Yudhishthira and disappeared. Afterward, the Pandavas brought the Arani sticks and gave them to the Brahmin.
In Virata Nagara
The Pandavas completed twelve years in the forest. They had to spend one more year somewhere in disguise.
They choose Virata Nagara, the kingdom of Virata. Before entering the capital of Virata, they changed their names and put on different guises.
They then secured different posts in the service of the king.
Yudhishthira appeared as Kankabhatta, a Brahmin. Bhima put on the guise of a cook, calling himself Valala. Arjuna assumed the name Brihannale and became a teacher to teach dancing to the king’s daughter. Nakula took service as master of the stables. Sahadeva was appointed to look after the cattle-wealth, Draupadi as Sairandhri became a chambermaid to wait on the queen.
Before the year of the exile was over, Keechaka, brother of queen Sudheshne, fell in love with Draupadi. For this reason, he was slain by Bhima.
The death of Keechaka indicated to the Kauravas the whereabouts of the Pandavas. With the object of finding out Pandavas, the Kauravas seized the cattle belonging to Virata. Arjuna went with Utthara Kumaras, the crown prince of Virata, as his charioteer, fought single-handed with the Kauravas and brought back all the cattle.
By this time, the thirteenth year of exile was over.
The Pandavas announced their identity to King Virata. He was highly pleased with the happy turn of events and gave his daughter Utthare in marriage to Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna.
War At Last
Now Yudhishthira had fulfilled his vow, he had upheld Truth and Dharma. Like a serpent, which renews itself by shedding its old skin, Yudhishthira appeared with renewed radiance and added strength. He could now count upon the assistance of many leaders and kings like Shri Krishna, Virata, and Drupada. His brothers were second to none in courage and valor.
If he had so wished, he could have got back his kingdom by waging war with the Kauravas with the help of these persons. But he wanted peace, not war. He intended to get his half of the kingdom peacefully by following the path of Dharma. His brothers, however, favored war to regain their kingdom. But they were not prepared to go against the wishes of Yudhishthira.
Yudhishthira and Dog
After some time, Dhritarashtra and Vidura, Gandhari and Kunthi all retired to the forest for prayer and meditation.
Yudhishthira grew tired of ruling the kingdom and lost interest in worldly affairs. By this time, Krishna, Dhritarashtra, and Vidura had all passed away. Yudhishthira gave Duryodhana’s share of the kingdom to Yuyuthsu, son of Vidura and his share to Parikshith, son of Abhimanyu and installed them on their thrones.
Afterward, he proceeded on the Great Journey, or ‘Mahaprasthana’ ‘ along with his brothers to obtain spiritual peace. The Pandavas gave up all the worldly possessions, dressed in fiber-cloth and bade farewell to the citizens. Though all the citizens returned, a dog followed them throughout their journey.
The Pandavas finally reached Mount Meru. As they climbed it, the dog faithfully followed them.
On the way, all except Yudhishthira fell and gave up their mortal bodies.
Though sorrowful and alone, Yudhishthira went on with determination. The dog still followed him.
Devendra came in a heavenly chariot. He invited Yudhishthira to enter the chariot and go with him to Paradise.
Yudhishthira: My brothers lie dead here. I do not want Paradise without them.
Indira: Dharmaputhra, your brothers and Draupadi are not dead. They have given up their mortal bodies here. They have assumed divine bodies and are already there in Heaven.
All the Kauravas and other heroes have reached Heaven. Do not be unhappy. Because you have earned very much more merit than all others, you have the privilege of entering Heaven just as you are, in your human body. Come now get into the chariot.
Yudhishthira: I cannot come. This dog you see has been following me from Hasthinavathi. And he has been so faithful to me. I do not want to leave him behind and come alone.
Indra: What are you saying? A dog’s place in Hell, not Heaven.
Yudhishthira: Lord Devendra, I can never desert those who have trusted me and those who follow me. I do not want that Heaven which has no place for the dog that has trusted and followed me.
The dog was not other than Yamadharma himself, Yudhishthira’s father. He appeared before Yudhishthira and said,
“You are indeed a great man, a righteous man; your compassion for all living beings is exemplary. A dog has been as dear to you as your brothers. Your conduct will remain a shining example for all men at all times. Now, you can mount the chariot without any hesitation.”
Yudhishthira was now satisfied, he bowed down to Yamadharma and Indra and mounted the chariot. He reached Heaven with Indra. He was glad to find his kith and kin in Heaven. He felt happy to join them in the divine life.