The Mahabharata: Pandu’s Reign

Vaisampayana said, “Upon the birth of those three children, Kurujangala, Kurukshetra, and the Kurus grew in prosperity. The earth began to yield abundant harvest, and the crops also were of good flavour. And the clouds began to pour rain in season and trees became full of fruits and flowers. And the draught cattle were all happy and the birds and other animals rejoiced exceedingly. And the flowers became fragrant and the fruits became sweet; the cities and towns became filled with merchants, artisans, traders and artists of every description. And the people became brave, learned, honest and happy. And there were no robbers then, nor anybody who was sinful. And it seemed that the golden age had come upon every part of the kingdom. And the people devoted to virtuous acts, sacrifices and truth, and regarding one another with love and affection grew in prosperity. And free from pride, wrath and covetousness, they rejoiced in perfectly innocent sports. And the capital of the Kurus, full as the ocean, was a second Amaravati, teeming with hundreds of palaces and mansions, and possessing gates and arches dark as the clouds. And, O king, virtuously ruled by Bhishma, the kingdom was adorned with hundreds of sacrificial stakes. And the wheel of virtue having been set in motion by Bhishma, and the country became so contented that the subjects of other kingdoms, quitting their homes, came to dwell there and increase its population. And the citizens and the people were filled with hope, upon seeing the youthful acts of their illustrious princes.”

“And Dhritarashtra and Pandu and Vidura of great intelligence were from their birth brought up by Bhishma, as if they were his own sons. And the children, having passed through the usual rites of their order, devoted themselves to vows and study. And they grew up into fine young men skilled in the Vedas and all athletic sports. And they became well-skilled in the practice of bow, in horsemanship, in encounters with mace, sword and shield, in the management of elephants in battle, and in the science of morality. Well-read in history and the Puranas and various branches of learning, and acquainted with the truths of the Vedas and their branches they acquired knowledge, which was versatile and deep. And Pandu, possessed of great prowess, excelled all men in archery while Dhritarashtra excelled all in personal strength, while in the three worlds there was no one equal to Vidura in devotion to virtue and in the knowledge of the dictates of morality. And beholding the restoration of the extinct line of Santanu, the saying became current in all countries that among mothers of heroes, the daughters of the king of Kasi were the first; that among countries Kurujangala was the first; that among virtuous men, Vidura was the first; that among cities Hastinapura was the first. Pandu became king, for Dhritarashtra, owing to the blindness, and Vidura, for his birth by a Sudra woman, did not obtain the kingdom.”

Vaisampayana continued, “Soon after Bhishma heard from the Brahmanas that Gandhari, the amiable daughter of Suvala, having worshipped Hara (Siva) had obtained from the deity the boon that she should have a century of sons. Bhishma, the grandfather of the Kurus, having heard this, sent messengers unto the king of Gandhara. King Suvala at first hesitated on account of the blindness of the bridegroom, but taking into consideration the blood of the Kurus, their fame and behaviour, he gave his virtuous daughter unto Dhritarashtra and the chaste Gandhari hearing that Dhritarashtra was blind and that her parents had consented to marry her to him, from love and respect for her future husband, blindfolded her own eyes. Sakuni, the son of Suvala, bringing unto the Kurus his sister endued with youth and beauty, formally gave her away unto Dhritarashtra. And Gandhari was received with great respect and the nuptials were celebrated with great pomp under Bhishma’s directions. And the heroic Sakuni, after having bestowed his sister along with many valuable robes, and having received Bhishma’s adorations, returned to his own city. And Gandhari, ever devoted to her husband, gratified her superiors by her good conduct; and as she was chaste, she never referred even by words to men other than her husband or such superiors.”

Vaisampayana continued, “There was amongst the Yadavas a chief named Sura. He was the father of Vasudeva. And he had a daughter called Pritha, who was unrivalled for beauty on earth. And, O thou of Bharata’s race, Sura, always truthful in speech, gave from friendship this his firstborn daughter unto his childless cousin and friend, the illustrious Kuntibhoja–the son of his paternal aunt–pursuant to a former promise. And Pritha in the house of her adoptive father was engaged in looking after the duties of hospitality to Brahmanas and other guests. Once she gratified by her attentions the terrible Brahmana known by the name of Durvasa. The sage, anticipating by his spiritual power the future (season of) distress (consequent upon the curse to be pronounced upon Pandu for his unrighteous act of slaying a deer while serving its mate) imparted to her a formula of invocation for summoning any of the celestials she liked to give her children. And the Rishi said, ‘Those celestials that thou shall summon by this Mantra shall certainly approach thee and give thee children.’ ‘Thus addressed by the Brahmana, the amiable Kunti (Pritha) became curious, and in her maidenhood summoned the god Arka (Sun). And as soon as he pronounced the Mantra, she beheld that effulgent deity–that beholder of everything in the world–approaching her. And beholding that extraordinary sight, the maiden of faultless features was overcome with surprise. But the god Vivaswat (Sun) approaching her, said, ‘Here I am, O black-eyed girl! Tell me what I am to do for thee.’

“Hearing this, Kunti said, ‘O slayer of foes, a certain Brahamana gave me this formula of invocation as a boon, and, O lord, I have summoned thee only to test its efficacy. For this offence I bow to thee. A woman, whatever be her offence, always deserveth pardon.’ Surya (Sun) replied, ‘I know that Durvasa hath granted this boon. But cast off thy fears, timid maiden, and grant me thy embraces. Amiable one, my approach cannot be futile; it must bear fruit. Thou hast summoned me, and if it be for nothing, it shall certainly be regarded as thy transgression.’ Arka addressed her again and said, ‘O princess, for my sake, it shall not be sinful for thee to grant my wish.’ Thus speaking unto the daughter of Kuntibhoja, the illustrious Tapana–the illuminator of the universe – gratified his wish. And of this connection there was immediately born a son known all over the world as Karna accountred with natural armour and with face brightened by ear-rings. And the heroic Karna was the first of all wielders of weapons, blessed with good fortune, and endued with the beauty of a celestial child. The princess of the Vrishni race beholding with sorrow that son born of her, reflected intently upon what was then the best for her to do. And from fear of her relatives she resolved to conceal that evidence of her folly. And she cast her offspring endued with great physical strength into the water. Then the well-known husband of Radha, of the Suta caste, took up the child thus cast into the water, and he and his wife brought him up as their own son. And Radha and her husband bestowed on him the name of Vasusena (born with wealth) because he was born with a natural armour and ear-rings. And endued as he was born with great strength, as he grew up, he became skilled in all weapons.”

“Possessed of great energy, he used to adore the sun until his back was heated by his rays (i.e., from dawn to midday), and during the hours of worship, there was nothing on earth that the heroic and intelligent Vasusena would not give unto the Brahmanas. And Indra desirous of benefiting his own son Phalguni (Arjuna), assuming the form of a Brahmana, approached Vasusena on one occasion and begged of him his natural armour. Thus asked Karna took off his natural armour, and joining his hands in reverence gave it unto Indra in the guise of a Brahmana. And the chief of the celestials accepted the gift and was exceedingly gratified with Karna’s liberality. He therefore, gave unto him a fine dart, saying, ‘That one (and one only) among the celestials, the Asuras, men, the Gandharvas, the Nagas, and the Rakshasas, whom thou desirest to conquer, shall be certainly slain with this dart.’ The son of Surya was before this known by the name of Vasusena. But since he cut off his natural armour, he came to be called Karna (the cutter or peeler of his own cover).'”

Vaisampayana said. ‘The large-eyed daughter of Kuntibhoja, Pritha by name, was endued with beauty and every accomplishment. Of rigid vows, she was devoted to virtue and possessed of every good quality. But though endued with beauty and youth and every womanly attribute, yet it so happened that no king asked for her hand. Her father Kuntibhoja seeing this, invited the princes and kings of other countries and desired his daughter to select her husband from among her guests. The intelligent Kunti, entering the amphitheatre, beheld Pandu, the foremost of the Bharatas – that tiger among kings – in that concourse of crowned heads. Proud as the lion, broad-chested, bull-eyed, endued with great strength, and outshining all other monarchs in splendour, he looked like another Indra in that royal assemblage. And advancing with modesty, all the while quivering with emotion, she placed the nuptial garland about Pandu’s neck. The other monarchs, seeing Kunti choose Pandu for her lord, returned to their respective kingdoms on elephants, horses and cars, as they had come. Then, O king, the bride’s father caused the nuptial rites to be performed duly. The Kuru prince blessed with great good fortune and the daughter of Kuntibhoja formed a couple like Maghavat and Paulomi (the king and queen of the celestials). And, O best of Kuru monarchs, king Kuntibhoja, after the nuptials were over, presented his son-in-law with much wealth and sent him back to his capital. Then the Kuru prince Pandu, accompanied by a large force bearing various kinds of banners and pennons, and eulogised by Brahmanas and great Rishis pronouncing benedictions, reached his capital. And after arriving at his own palace, he established his queen therein.”

“Some time after, Bhishma the intelligent son of Santanu set his heart upon getting Pandu married to a second wife. Accompanied by an army composed of four kinds of force, and also by aged councillors and Brahmanas and great Rishis, he went to the capital of the king of Madra. And that bull of the Valhikas – the king of Madra – hearing that Bhishma had arrived, went out to receive him. And having received him with respect, he got him to enter his palace. Arriving there, the king of Madra offered unto Bhishma a white carpet for a seat; water to wash his feet with, and usual oblation of various ingredients indicative of respect. And when he was seated at ease, the king asked him about the reason of his visit. Then Bhishma addressed the king of Madra and said, ‘O oppressor of all foes, know that I have come for the hand of a maiden. It hath been heard by us that thou hast a sister named Madri celebrated for her beauty and endued with every virtue; I would chose her for Pandu. Thou art, O king, in every respect worthy of an alliance with us, and we also are worthy of thee. Reflecting upon all this, O king of Madra, accept us duly.'”

“The ruler of Madra, thus addressed by Bhishma, replied, ‘To my mind, there is none else than one of thy family with whom I can enter into an alliance. But there is a custom in our family observed by our ancestors, which, be it good or bad, I am incapable of transgressing. It is well-known, and therefore is known to thee as well, I doubt not. The custom to which I allude is our family custom. With us that is a virtue and worthy of observance. It is for this only I cannot give thee any assurance in the matter of thy request.’ On hearing this, Bhishma answered the king of Madra, saying, ‘O king, this, no doubt, is a virtue. Thy ancestors were observant of custom. There is no fault to find with it.’ Saying this Bhishma of great energy, gave unto Salya much gold both coined and uncoined, and precious stones of various colours by thousands, and elephants and horses and cars, and much cloth and many ornaments, and gems and pearls and corals. And Salya accepting with a cheerful heart those precious gifts then gave away his sister decked in ornaments unto that bull of the Kuru race. Then the wise Bhishma took Madri with him, and returned to the Kuru capital. Then selecting on auspicious day and moment as indicated by the wise for the ceremony, King Pandu was duly united with Madri. And after the nuptials were over, the Kuru king established his beautiful bride in handsome apartments.”

“And, O king of kings, that best of monarchs then gave himself up to enjoyment in the company of his two wives as best he liked and to the limit of his desires. And after thirty days had elapsed, the Kuru king started from his capital for the conquest of the world. And after reverentially saluting and bowing to Bhishma and the other elders of the Kuru race, and with adieus to Dhritarashtra and others of the family, and obtaining their leave, he set out on his grand campaign, accompanied by a large force of elephants, horses, and cars, and well-pleased with the blessings uttered by all around and the auspicious rites performed by the citizens for his success. And that tiger among men first subjugated the robber tribes of Asarna. He next turned his army composed of innumerable elephants, cavalry, infantry, and charioteers, with standards of various colours against Dhirga – the ruler of the kingdom of Maghadha who was proud of his strength. And attacking him in his capital, Pandu slew him there, and took everything in his treasury and also vehicles and draught animals without number. He then marched into Mithila and subjugated the Videhas. And then Pandu led his army against Kasi, Sumbha, and Pundra, and by the strength and prowess of his arms spread the fame of the Kurus. And Pandu, like unto a mighty fire whose far-reaching flames were represented by his arrows and splendour by his weapons, began to consume all kings that came in contact with him.”

“These with their forces, vanquished by Pandu at the head of his army, were made the vassals of the Kurus. And all kings of the world, thus vanquished by him, regarded him as the one single hero on earth even as the celestials regard Indra in heaven. And the kings of earth with joined palms bowed to him and waited on him with presents of various kinds of gems and wealth, precious stones and pearls and corals, and much gold and silver, and first-class kine and handsome horses and fine cars and elephants, and asses and camels and buffaloes, and goats and sheep, and blankets and beautiful hides, and cloths woven out of furs. And the king of Hastinapura accepting those offerings retraced his steps towards his capital, to the great delight of his subjects. And the citizens and others filled with joy, and kings and ministers, all began to say, ‘O, the fame of the achievements of Santanu, that tiger among kings, and of the wise Bharata, which were about to die, hath been revived by Pandu. They who robbed before the Kurus of both territory and wealth have been subjugated by Pandu, the tiger of Hastinapura, and made to pay tribute.'”

“And all the citizens with Bhishma at their head went out to receive the victorious king. They had not proceeded far when they saw the attendants of the king laden with much wealth, and the train of various conveyances laden with all kinds of wealth, and of elephants, horses, cars, kine, camels and other animals, was so long that they saw not its end. Then Pandu, beholding Bhishma, who was a father to him, worshipped his feet and saluted the citizens and others as each deserved. And Bhishma, too, embracing Pandu as his son who had returned victorious after grinding many hostile kingdoms, wept tears of joy. And Pandu, instilling joy into the hearts of his people with a flourish of trumpets and conchs and kettle-drums, entered his capital. Pandu, then, at the command of Dhritarashtra, offered the wealth he had acquired by the prowess of his arms to Bhishma, their grand-mother Satyavati and their mothers. And he sent portion of his wealth to Vidura also. And the virtuous Pandu gratified his other relatives also with similar presents. And with the wealth acquired by that hero Dhritarashtra performed five great sacrifices that were equal unto a hundred great horse-sacrifices, at all of which the offerings to Brahmanas were by hundreds and thousands.”

“A little while after, O bull of Bharata’s race, Pandu who had achieved a victory over sloth and lethargy, accompanied by his two wives, Kunti and Madri, retired into the woods. Leaving his excellent palace with its luxurious beds, he became a permanent inhabitant of the woods, devoting the whole of his time to the chase of the deer. And fixing his abode in a delightful and hilly region overgrown with huge sala trees, on the southern slope of the Himavat mountains, he roamed about in perfect freedom. The handsome Pandu with his two wives wandered in those woods like Airavata accompanied by two she-elephants. And the dwellers in those woods, beholding the heroic Bharata prince in the company of his wives, armed with sword, arrows, and bow, clad with his beautiful armour, and skilled in all excellent weapons, regarded him as the very god wandering amongst them. And at the command of Dhritarashtra, people were busy in supplying Pandu in his retirement with every object of pleasure and enjoyment. Meanwhile the son of the ocean-going Ganga heard that king Devaka had a daughter endued with youth and beauty and begotten upon a Sudra wife. Bringing her from her father’s abode, Bhishma married her to Vidura of great wisdom. And Vidura begot upon her many children like unto himself in accomplishments.'”

“One day Gandhari entertained with respectful attention the great Dwaipayana who came to her abode, exhausted with hunger and fatigue. Gratified with Gandhari’s hospitality, the Rishi gave her the boon she asked for, viz., that she should have a century of sons each equal unto her lord in strength and accomplishments. Some time after Gandhari conceived and she bore the burden in her womb for two long years without being delivered. And she was greatly afflicted at this. It was then that she heard that Kunti had brought forth a son whose splendour was like unto the morning sun. Impatient of the period of gestation which had prolonged so long, and deprived of reason by grief, she struck her womb with great violence without the knowledge of her husband. And thereupon came out of her womb, after two years’ growth, a hard mass of flesh like unto an iron ball. When she was about to throw it away, Dwaipayana, learning everything by his spiritual powers, promptly came there, and that first of ascetics beholding that ball of flesh, addressed the daughter of Suvala thus, ‘What hast thou done?'”

“Gandhari, without endeavouring to disguise her feelings, addressed the Rishi and said, ‘Having heard that Kunti had brought forth a son like unto Surya in splendour, I struck in grief at my womb. Thou hadst, O Rishi, granted me the boon that I should have a hundred sons, but here is only a ball of flesh for those hundred sons!’ Vyasa then said, ‘Daughter of Suvala, it is even so. But my words can never be futile. I have not spoken an untruth even in jest. I need not speak of other occasions. Let a hundred pots full of clarified butter be brought instantly, and let them be placed at a concealed spot. In the meantime, let cool water be sprinkled over this ball of flesh.’ That ball of flesh then, sprinkled over with water, became, in time, divided into a hundred and one parts, each about the size of the thumb. These were then put into those pots full of clarified butter that had been placed at a concealed spot and were watched with care. The illustrious Vyasa then said unto the daughter of Suvala that she should open the covers of the pots after full two years. And having said this and made these arrangements, the wise Dwaipayana went to the Himavat mountains for devoting himself to asceticism.”

“Then in time, king Duryodhana was born from among those pieces of the ball of flesh that had been deposited in those pots. According to the order of birth, king Yudhishthira was the oldest. The news of Duryodhana’s birth was carried to Bhishma and the wise Vidura. The day that the haughty Duryodhana was born was also the birthday of Bhima of mighty arms and great prowess. As soon as Duryodhana was born, he began to cry and bray like an ass. And hearing that sound, the asses, vultures, jackals and crows uttered their respective cries responsively. Violent winds began to blow, and there were fires in various directions. Then king Dhritarashtra in great fear, summoning Bhishma and Vidura and other well-wishers and all the Kurus, and numberless Brahmanas, addressed them and said, ‘The oldest of those princes, Yudhishthira, is the perpetuator of our line. By virtue of his birth he hath acquired the kingdom. We have nothing to say to this. But shall this my son born after him become king? Tell me truly what is lawful and right under these circumstances.’ As soon as these words were spoken, O Bharata, jackals and other carnivorous animals began to howl ominously and marking those frightful omens all around, the assembled Brahmanas and the wise Vidura replied, ‘O king, O bull among men, when these frightful omens are noticeable at the birth of thy eldest son, it is evident that he shall be the exterminator of thy race. The prosperity of all dependeth on his abandonment. Calamity there must be in keeping him. O king, if thou abandonest him, there remain yet thy nine and ninety sons. It hath been said that an individual should be cast off for the sake of the family; that a family should be cast off for the sake of a village; that a village may be abandoned for the sake of the whole country; and that the earth itself may be abandoned for the sake of the soul. When Vidura and those Brahmanas had stated so, king Dhritarashtra out of affection for his son had not the heart to follow that advice. Then, O king, within a month, were born a full hundred sons unto Dhritarashtra and a daughter also in excess of this hundred. And during the time when Gandhari was in a state of advanced pregnancy, there was a maid servant of the Vaisya class who used to attend on Dhritarashtra. During that year, O king, was begotten upon her by the illustrious Dhritarashtra a son endued with great intelligence who was afterwards named Yuyutsu. And because he was begotten by a Kshatriya upon a Vaisya woman, he came to be called Karna.”

Vaisampayana said, ‘Their names, according to the order of birth, are Duryodhana, Yuyutsu, Duhsasana, Duhsaha, Duhsala, Jalasandha, Sama, Saha, Vinda and Anuvinda, Durdharsha, Suvahu, Dushpradharshana, Durmarshana and Durmukha, Dushkarna, and Karna; Vivinsati and Vikarna, Sala, Satwa, Sulochana, Chitra and Upachitra, Chitraksha, Charuchitra, Sarasana, Durmada and Durvigaha, Vivitsu, Vikatanana; Urnanabha and Sunabha, then Nandaka and Upanandaka; Chitravana, Chitravarman, Suvarman, Durvimochana; Ayovahu, Mahavahu, Chitranga, Chitrakundala, Bhimavega, Bhimavala, Balaki, Balavardhana, Ugrayudha; Bhima, Karna, Kanakaya, Dridhayudha, Dridhavarman, Dridhakshatra, Somakitri, Anudara; Dridhasandha, Jarasandha, Satyasandha, Sada, Suvak, Ugrasravas, Ugrasena, Senani, Dushparajaya, Aparajita, Kundasayin, Visalaksha, Duradhara; Dridhahasta, Suhasta, Vatavega, and Suvarchas; Adityaketu, Vahvashin, Nagadatta, Agrayayin; Kavachin, Krathana, Kunda, Kundadhara, Dhanurdhara; the heroes, Ugra and Bhimaratha, Viravahu, Alolupa; Abhaya, and Raudrakarman, and Dridharatha; Anadhrishya, Kundabhedin, Viravi, Dhirghalochana Pramatha, and Pramathi and the powerful Dhirgharoma; Dirghavahu, Mahavahu, Vyudhoru, Kanakadhvaja; Kundasi and Virajas. Besides these hundred sons, there was a daughter named Duhsala. All were heroes and Atirathas, and were well-skilled in warfare. All were learned in the Vedas, and all kinds of weapons. And, O, king, worthy wives were in time selected for all of them by Dhritarashtra after proper examination. And king Dhritarashtra also bestowed Duhsala, in proper time and with proper rites, upon Jayadratha (the king of Sindhu).’

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows Karna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. He was the eldest son of Kunti, born to her out of wedlock, before her marriage to Pandu. The illustration is a painting from either Himachal Pradesh or Jammu & Kashmir, dating back to 1820. It is now preserved at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA. Karna’s life was dictated by the lifelong enmity between the Kauravas and Pandavas.

Reference:

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