Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura

Vaisampayana said, “O monarch, after the nuptials were over, king Santanu established his beautiful bride in his household. Soon after was born of Satyavati an intelligent and heroic son of Santanu named Chitrangada. He was endued with great energy and became an eminent man. The lord Santanu of great prowess also begat upon Satyavati another son named Vichitravirya, who became a mighty bowman and who became king after his father. And before that bull among men, viz., Vichitravirya, attained to majority, the wise king Santanu realised the inevitable influence of Time. And after Santanu had ascended to heaven. Bhishma, placing himself under the command of Satyavati, installed that suppressor of foes, viz., Chitrangada, on the throne, who, having soon vanquished by his prowess all monarchs, considered not any man as his equal. And beholding that he could vanquish men, Asuras, and the very gods, his namesake, the powerful king of the Gandharvas, approached him for an encounter. Between that Gandharva and that foremost one of the Kurus, who were both very powerful, there occurred on the field of Kurukshetra a fierce combat which lasted full three years on the banks of the Saraswati. In that terrible encounter characterised by thick showers of weapons and in which the combatants ground each other fiercely, the Gandharva, who had greater prowess or strategic deception, slew the Kuru prince. Having slain Chitrangada–that first of men and oppressor of foes–the Gandharva ascended to heaven. When that tiger among men endued with great prowess was slain, Bhishma, the son of Santanu, performed, O king, all his obsequies. He then installed the boy Vichitravirya of mighty arms, still in his minority, on the throne of the Kurus. And Vichitravirya, placing himself under the command of Bhishma, ruled the ancestral kingdom. And he adored Santanu’s son Bhishma who was conversant with all the rules of religion and law; so, indeed, Bhishma also protected him that was so obedient to the dictates of duty.”

“When he saw that his brother, who was the foremost of intelligent men, attained to majority, Bhishma set his heart upon marrying Vichitravirya. At this time he heard that the three daughters of the king of Kasi, all equal in beauty to the Apsaras themselves, would be married on the same occasion, selecting their husbands at a self-choice ceremony. Then that foremost of car-warriors, that vanquisher of all foes, at the command of his mother, went to the city of Varanasi in a single chariot. There Bhishma, the son of Santanu, saw that innumerable monarchs had come from all directions; and there he also saw those three maidens that would select their own husbands. And when the (assembled) kings were each being mentioned by name, Bhishma chose those maidens (on behalf of his brother). And taking them upon his chariot, Bhishma, that first of smiters in battle, addressed the kings, and said in a voice deep as the roar of the clouds, ‘The wise have directed that when an accomplished person has been invited, a maiden may be bestowed on him, decked with ornaments and along with many valuable presents. Others again may bestow their daughters by accepting a couple of kine. Some again bestow their daughters by taking a fixed sum, and some take away maidens by force. Some wed with the consent of the maidens, some by drugging them into consent, and some by going unto the maidens’ parents and obtaining their sanction. Some again obtain wives as presents for assisting at sacrifices. Of these, the learned always applaud the eighth form of marriage. Kings, however, speak highly of the Swyamvara (the fifth form as above) and themselves wed according to it. But the sages have said that, that wife is dearly to be prized who is taken away by force, after the slaughter of opponents, from amidst the concourse of princes and kings invited to a self-choice ceremony. Therefore, ye monarchs, I bear away these maidens hence by force. Strive ye, to the best of your might, to vanquish me or to be vanquished. Ye monarchs, I stand here resolved to fight!’ Kuru prince, endued with great energy, thus addressing the assembled monarchs and the king of Kasi, took upon his car those maidens. And having taken them up, he sped his chariot away, challenging the invited kings to a fight.”

“The challenged monarchs then all stood up, slapping their arms and biting their nether lips in wrath. And loud was the din produced, as, in a great hurry, they began to cast off their ornaments and put on their armour. And the motion of their ornaments and armour, O Janamejaya, brilliant as these were, resembled meteoric flashes in the sky. And with brows contracted and eyes red with rage, the monarchs moved in impatience, their armour and ornaments dazzling or waving with their agitated steps. The charioteers soon brought handsome cars with fine horses harnessed thereto. Those splendid warriors then, equipped with all kinds of weapons, rode on those cars, and with uplifted weapons pursued the retreating chief of the Kurus. Then, O Bharata, occurred the terrible encounter between those innumerable monarchs on one side and the Kuru warrior alone on the other. And the assembled monarchs threw at their foe ten thousand arrows at the same time. Bhishma, however speedily checked those numberless arrows before they could come at him by means of a shower of his own arrows as innumerable as the down on the body. Then those kings surrounded him from all sides and rained arrows on him like masses of clouds showering on the mountain-breast. But Bhishma, arresting with his shafts the course of that arrowy downpour, pierced each of the monarchs with three shafts. The latter, in their turn pierced Bhishma, each with five shafts. But, O king, Bhishma checked those by his prowess and pierced each of the contending kings with two shafts. The combat became so fierce with that dense shower of arrows and other missiles that it looked very much like the encounter between the celestials and the Asuras of old, and men of courage who took no part in it were struck with fear even to look at the scene. Bhishma cut off, with his arrows, on the field of battle, bows, and flagstaffs, and coats of mail, and human heads by hundreds and thousands. And such was his terrible prowess and extraordinary lightness of hand, and such the skill with which he protected himself, that the contending car-warriors, though his enemies, began to applaud him loudly. Then that foremost of all wielders of weapons having vanquished in battle all those monarchs, pursued his way towards the capital of the Bharatas, taking those maidens with him.”

“Conversant with the dictates of virtue, the son of Santanu then began to make preparations for his brother’s wedding. And when everything about the wedding had been settled by Bhishma in consultation with Satyavati, the eldest daughter of the king of Kasi, with a soft smile, told him these words, ‘At heart I had chosen the king of Saubha for my husband. He had, in his heart, accepted me for his wife. This was also approved by my father. At the self-choice ceremony also I would have chosen him as my lord. Thou art conversant with all the dictates of virtue, knowing all this, do as thou likest.’ Thus addressed by that maiden in the presence of the Brahmanas, the heroic Bhishma began to reflect as to what should be done. As he was conversant with the rules of virtue, he consulted with the Brahmanas who had mastered the Vedas, and permitted Amba, the eldest daughter of the ruler of Kasi to do as she liked. But he bestowed with due rites the two other daughters, Ambika and Ambalika on his younger brother Vichitravirya. And though Vichitravirya was virtuous and abstemious, yet, proud of youth and beauty, he soon became lustful after his marriage. And both Ambika and Ambalika were of tall stature, and of the complexion of molten gold. And their heads were covered with black curly hair, and their finger-nails were high and red; their hips were fat and round, and their breasts full and deep. And endued with every auspicious mark, the amiable young ladies considered themselves to be wedded to a husband who was every way worthy of themselves, and extremely loved and respected Vichitravirya. And Vichitravirya also, endued with the prowess of the celestials and the beauty of the twin Aswins, could steal the heart of any beautiful woman. And the prince passed seven years uninterruptedly in the company of his wives. He was attacked while yet in the prime of youth, with phthisis. Friends and relatives in consultation with one another tried to effect a cure. But in spite of all efforts, the Kuru prince died, setting like the evening sun. The virtuous Bhishma then became plunged into anxiety and grief, and in consultation with Satyavati caused the obsequial rites of the deceased to be performed by learned priests and the several of the Kuru race.”

Vaisampayana said, “The unfortunate Satyavati then became plunged in grief on account of her son. And after performing with her daughters-in-law the funeral rites of the deceased, consoled, as best she could, her weeping daughters-in-law and Bhishma, that foremost of all wielders of weapons. And turning her eyes to religion, and to the paternal and maternal lines (of the Kurus), she addressed Bhishma and said ‘The funeral cake, the achievements, and the perpetuation of the line of the virtuous and celebrated Santanu of Kuru’s race, all now depend on thee. As the attainment of heaven is inseparable from good deeds, as long life is inseparable from truth and faith, so is virtue inseparable from thee. O virtuous one, thou art well-acquainted, in detail and in the abstract, with the dictates of virtue, with various Srutis, and with all the branches of the Vedas; know very well that thou art equal unto Sukra and Angiras as regards firmness in virtue, knowledge of the particular customs of families, and readiness of inventions under difficulties. Therefore, O foremost of virtuous men, relying on thee greatly, I shall appoint thee in a certain matter. Hearing me, it behoveth thee to do my bidding. O bull among men, my son and thy brother, endued with energy and dear unto thee, hath gone childless to heaven while still a boy. These wives of thy brother, the amiable daughters of the ruler of Kasi, possessing beauty and youth, have become desirous of children. Therefore, O thou of mighty arms, at my command, raise offspring on them for the perpetuation of our line. It behoveth thee to guard virtue against loss. Install thyself on the throne and rule the kingdom of the Bharatas. Wed thou duly a wife. Plunge not thy ancestors into hell.'”

“Thus addressed by his mother and friends and relatives, that oppressor of foes, the virtuous Bhishma, gave this reply conformable to the dictates of virtue, ‘O mother, what thou sayest is certainly sanctioned by virtue. But thou knowest what my vow is in the matter of begetting children. Thou knowest also all that transpired in connection with thy dower. O Satyavati, I repeat the pledge I once gave, viz., I would renounce three worlds, the empire of heaven, anything that may be greater than that, but truth I would never renounce. The earth may renounce its scent, water may renounce its moisture, light may renounce its attribute of exhibiting forms, air may renounce its attribute of touch, the sun may renounce his glory, fire, its heat, the moon, his cooling rays, space, its capacity of generating sound, the slayer of Vritra, his prowess, the god of justice, his impartiality; but I cannot renounce truth.’ Thus addressed by her son endued with wealth of energy, Satyavati said unto Bhishma, ‘O thou whose prowess is truth, I know of thy firmness in truth. Thou canst, if so minded, create, by the help of thy energy, three worlds other than those that exist. I know what thy vow was on my account. But considering this emergency, bear thou the burden of the duty that one oweth to his ancestors. O punisher of foes, act in such a way that the lineal link may not be broken and our friends and relatives may not grieve.’ Thus urged by the miserable and weeping Satyavati speaking such words inconsistent with virtue from grief at the loss of her son, Bhishma addressed her again and said, ‘O Queen, turn not thy eyes away from virtue. Breach of truth by a Kshatriya is never applauded in our treatises on religion. I shall soon tell thee, O Queen, what the established Kshatriya usage is to which recourse may be had to prevent Santanu’s line becoming extinct on earth.'”

“Bhishma continued, ‘In olden days, Rama, the son of Jamadagni, in anger at the death of his father, slew with his battle axe the king of the Haihayas. And Rama, by cutting off the thousand arms of Arjuna (the Haihaya king), achieved a most difficult feat in the world. Not content with this, he set out on his chariot for the conquest of the world, and taking up his bow he cast around his mighty weapons to exterminate the Kshatriyas. And the illustrious scion of Bhrigu’s race, by means of his swift arrows annihilated the Kshatriya tribe one and twenty times. And when the earth was thus deprived of Kshatriyas by the great Rishi, the Kshatriya ladies all over the land had offspring raised by Brahmanas skilled in the Vedas. It has been said in the Vedas that the sons so raised belongeth to him that had married the mother. And the Kshatriya ladies went in unto the Brahamanas not lustfully but from motives of virtue. Indeed, it was thus that the Kshatriya race was revived. Listen, O mother, to me as I indicate the means by which the Bharata line may be perpetuated. Let an accomplished Brahmana be invited by an offer of wealth, and let him raise offspring upon the wives of Vichitravirya.’ Satyavati, then, smiling softly and in voice broken in bashfulness, addressed Bhishma saying, ‘O Bharata of mighty arms, what thou sayest is true. From my confidence in thee I shall now indicate the means of perpetuating our line. Thou shall not be able to reject it, being conversant, as thou art, with the practices permitted in seasons of distress. In our race, thou art Virtue, and thou art Truth, and thou art, too, our sole refuge. Therefore hearing what I say truly, do what may be proper.'”

“‘My father was a virtuous man. For virtue’s sake he had kept a boat. One day, in the prime of my youth, I went to ply that boat. It so happened that the great and wise Rishi Parasara, that foremost of all virtuous men, came, and betook himself to my boat for crossing the Yamuna. As I was rowing him across the river, the Rishi became excited with desire and began to address me in soft words. The fear of my father was uppermost in my mind. But the terror of the Rishi’s curse at last prevailed. And having obtained from him a precious boon, I could not refuse his solicitations. The Rishi by his energy brought me under his complete control, and gratified his desire then and there, having first enveloped the region in a thick fog. Before this there was a revolting fishy odour in my body; but the Rishi dispelled it and gave me my present fragrance. The Rishi also told me that by bringing forth his child in an island of the river, I would still continue to be a virgin. And the child of Parasara so born of me in my maidenhood hath become a great Rishi endued with large ascetic powers and known by the name of Dwaipayana (the island-born). That illustrious Rishi having by his ascetic power divided the Vedas into four parts hath come to be called on earth by the name of Vyasa (the divider or arranger), and for his dark colour, Krishna (the dark). Truthful in speech, free from passion, a mighty ascetic who hath burnt all his sins, he went away with his father immediately after his birth. Appointed by me and thee also, that Rishi of incomparable splendour will certainly beget good children upon the wives of thy brother. I will now call him up, if thou, O Bhishma of mighty arms so desirest. If thou art willing, O Bhishma, I am sure that great ascetic will beget children upon Vichitravirya’s field.'”

“‘Mention being made of the great Rishi, Bhishma with joined palms said, ‘That man is truly intelligent who fixes his eyes judiciously on virtue, profit, and pleasure, and who after reflecting with patience, acteth in such a way that virtue may lead to future virtue, profit to future profit and pleasure to future pleasure. Therefore, that which hath been said by thee and which, besides being beneficial to us, is consistent with virtue, is certainly the best advice and hath my full approval.’ And when Bhishma had said this, Satyavati thought of the Muni Dwaipayana and Dwaipayana, learning that he was being called up by his mother, came instantly unto her without anybody’s knowing it. Satayavati then duly greeted her son and embraced him with arms, bathing him in her tears, for the daughter of the fisherman wept bitterly at the sight of her son after so long a time. And her first son, the great Vyasa, beholding her weeping, washed her with cool water, and bowing unto her, said, ‘I have come, O mother, to fulfil thy wishes. Therefore, O virtuous one, command me without delay. I shall accomplish thy desire.’ The family priest of the Bharatas then worshipped the great Rishi duly, and the latter accepted the offerings of worship, uttering the usual mantras. And gratified with the worship he received, he took his seat.”

“Satyavati, beholding him seated at his ease, after the usual inquiries, addressed him and said, ‘O learned one, sons derive their birth both from the father and the mother. They are, therefore, the common property of both parents. There cannot be the least doubt about it that the mother, hath as much power over them as the father. As thou art, indeed, my eldest son according to the ordinance, O Brahmarshi, so is Vichitravirya my youngest son. And as Bhishma is Vichitravirya’s brother on the father’s side, so art thou his brother on the same mother’s side. I do not know what you may think, but this is what, O son, I think. This Bhishma, the son of Santanu, devoted to truth, doth not, for the sake, of truth, entertain the desire of either begetting children or ruling the kingdom. Therefore, from affection for thy brother Vichitravirya, for the perpetuation of our dynasty, for the sake of this Bhishma’s request and my command, for kindness to all creatures, for the protection of the people and from the liberality of thy heart, O sinless one, it behoveth thee to do what I say. Thy younger brother hath left two widows like unto the daughters of the celestials themselves, endued with youth and great beauty. For the sake of virtue and religion, they have become desirous of offspring. Thou art the fittest person to be appointed. Therefore beget upon them children worthy of our race and for the continuance of our line.'”

“Vyasa, hearing this, said, ‘O Satyavati, thou knowest what virtue is both in respect of this life and the other. O thou of great wisdom, thy affections also are set on virtue. Therefore, at thy command, making virtue my motive, I shall do what thou desirest. Indeed, this practice that is conformable to the true and eternal religion is known to me, I shall give unto my brother children that shall be like unto Mitra and Varuna. Let the ladies then duly observe for one full year the vow I indicate. They shall then be purified. No women shall ever approach me without having observed a rigid vow.’ Satyavati then said, ‘O sinless one, it must be as thou sayest. Take such steps that the ladies may conceive immediately. In a kingdom where there is no king, the people perish from want of protection; sacrifices and other holy acts are suspended; the clouds send no showers; and the gods disappear. How can a kingdom be protected that hath no king? Therefore, see thou that the ladies conceive. Bhishma will watch over the children as long as they are in their mother’s wombs.’ Vyasa replied, ‘If I am to give unto my brother children so unseasonably, then let the ladies bear my ugliness. That in itself shall, in their case, be the austerest of penances. If the princess of Kosala can bear my strong odour, my ugly and grim visage, my attire and body, she shall then conceive an excellent child.'”

Vaisampayana continued, “Having spoken thus unto Satyavati, Vyasa of great energy addressed her and said, ‘Let the princess of Kosala clad in clean attire and checked with ornaments wait for me in her bed-chamber.’ Saying this, the Rishi disappeared, Satyavati then went to her daughter-in-law and seeing her in private spoke to her these words of beneficial and virtuous import, ‘O princess of Kosala, listen to what I say. It is consistent with virtue. The dynasty of the Bharatas hath become extinct from my misfortune. Beholding my affliction and the extinction of his paternal line, the wise Bhishma, impelled also by the desire of perpetuating our race, hath made me a suggestion, which suggestion, however, for its accomplishment is dependent on thee. Accomplish it, O daughter, and restore the lost line of the Bharatas. O thou of fair hips, bring thou forth a child equal in splendour unto the chief of the celestials. He shall bear the onerous burden of this our hereditary kingdom.’ Satyavati having succeeded with great difficulty in procuring the assent of her virtuous daughter-in-law to her proposal which was not inconsistent with virtue, then fed Brahmanas and Rishis and numberless guests who arrived on die occasion.'”

“Soon after the monthly season of the princess of Kosala had been over, Satyavati, purifying her daughter-in-law with a bath, led her into the sleeping apartment. There seating her upon a luxurious bed, she addressed her, saying, ‘O Princess of Kosala, thy husband hath an elder brother who shall this day enter thy womb as thy child. Wait for him tonight without dropping off to sleep.’ Hearing these words of her mother-in-law, the amiable princess, as she lay on her bed, began to think of Bhishma and the other elders of the Kuru race. Then the Rishi of truthful speech, entered her chamber while the lamp was burning. The princess, seeing his dark visage, his matted locks of copper hue, blazing eyes, his grim beard, closed her eyes in fear. The Rishi, from desire of accomplishing his mother’s wishes, however knew her. But the latter, struck with fear, opened not her eyes even once to look at him. And when Vyasa came out, he was met by his mother, who asked him, ‘Shall the princess have an accomplished son?’ Hearing her, he replied, ‘The son of the princess she will bring forth shall be equal in might unto ten thousand elephants. He will be an illustrious royal sage, possessed of great learning and intelligence and energy. The high-souled one shall have in his time a century of sons. But from the fault of his mother he shall be blind ‘At these words of her son, Satyavati said, ‘O thou of ascetic wealth, how can one that is blind become a monarch worthy of the Kurus? How can one that is blind become the protector of his relatives and family, and the glory of his father’s race? It behoveth thee to give another king unto the Kurus.’ Saying, ‘So be it,’ Vyasa went away. And the first princess of Kosala in due time brought forth a blind son.”

“Soon after Satyavati summoned Vyasa, after having secured the assent of her daughter-in-law. Vyasa came according to his promise, and approached, as before, the second wife of his brother. And Ambalika beholding the Rishi, became pale with fear And, O Bharata, beholding her so afflicted and pale with fear, Vyasa addressed her and said, ‘Because thou hast been pale with fear at the sight of my grim visage, therefore, thy child shall be pale in complexion. O thou of handsome face, the name also thy child shall bear will be Pandu (the pale).’ ‘Saying this, the illustrious and best of Rishis came out of her chamber. And as he came out, he was met by his mother who asked him about the would-be-child. The Rishi told her that the child would be of pale complexion and known by the name of Pandu. Satyavati again begged of the Rishi another child, and the Rishi told her in reply, ‘So be it.’ Ambalika, then, when her time came, brought forth a son of pale complexion. Blazing with beauty the child was endued with all auspicious marks. Indeed, it was this child who afterwards became the father of those mighty archers, the Pandavas.”

“Some time after, when the oldest of Vichitravirya’s widows again had her monthly season, she was solicited by Satyavati to approach Vyasa once again. Possessed of beauty like a daughter of a celestial, the princess refused to do her mother-in-law’s bidding, remembering the grim visage and strong odour of the Rishi. She, however, sent unto him, a maid of hers, endued with the beauty of an Apsara and decked with her own ornaments. And when the Vyasa arrived, the maid rose up and saluted him. And she waited upon him respectfully and took her seat near him when asked. And, O king, the great Rishi of rigid vows, was well-pleased with her, and when he rose to go away, he addressed her and said, ‘Amiable one, thou shalt no longer be a slave. Thy child also shall be greatly fortunate and virtuous, and the foremost of all intelligent men on earth!’ And the son thus begotten upon her by Krishna-Dwaipayana was afterwards known by the name of Vidura. He was thus the brother of Dhritarashtra and the illustrious Pandu. And Krishna-Dwaipayana, when he met his mother as before, informed her as to how he had been deceived by the seniormost of the princesses and how he had begotten a son upon a Sudra woman. And having spoken thus unto his mother the Rishi disappeared from her sight. Thus were born, in the field of Vichitravirya, even of Dwaipayana those sons of the splendour of celestial children, those propagators of the Kuru race.”

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows Pandu and his queen, Kunti. The illustration is a watercolour painting from Mankot, Jammu & Kashmir, dating back to 1690. It is now preserved at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA. The Pandavas wer named after Pandu, and were the protagonists of the Mahabharata. Pandu was fathered by Vyasa, Satyavati’s firstborn after her son Vichitravirya died childless, upon her daughter-in-law Ambalika. The great battle between the Kauravas and Pandavas would be caused by the problem of succession created by Pandu’s elder brother, Dhritarashtra being born blind.

Reference:

  • The Mahabharata (translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, 1883-1896)