Pandu’s Sons

Janamejaya said, “O Brahmana, tell me now all about the Pandavas.” Vaisampayana said, “O king, one day Pandu, while roaming about in the woods (on the southern slopes of the Himavat) that teemed with deer and wild animals of fierce disposition, saw a large deer, that seemed to be the leader of a herd, serving his mate. Beholding the animals, the monarch pierced them both with five of his sharp and swift arrows winged with golden feathers. O monarch, that was no deer that Pandu struck at, but a Rishi’s son of great ascetic merit who was enjoying his mate in the form of a deer. Pierced by Pandu, while engaged in the act of intercourse, he fell down to the ground, uttering cries that were of a man and began to weep bitterly. The deer then addressed Pandu and said, ‘O king, even men that are slaves to lust and wrath, and void of reason, and ever sinful, never commit such a cruel act as this. Thou art born, O Bharata, in a race that hath ever been virtuous. How is it, therefore, that even thou, suffering thyself to be overpowered by passion and wrath losest thy reason?’ Hearing this, Pandu replied, ‘It is well-known that men slay deer by various effective means without regarding whether the animals are careful or careless. Therefore, O deer, why dost thou reprove me?’ “The deer then said, ‘What hast thou done, O best of men, in killing me who have given thee no offence? I am a Muni of the name of Kindama, possessed of ascetic merit. I was engaged in sexual intercourse with this deer, because my feelings of modesty did not permit me to indulge in such an act in human society. Thou hast slain me without knowing that I am a Brahmana, the sin of having slain a Brahmana shall not, therefore, be thine. But senseless man, as you have killed me, disguised as a deer, at such a time, thy fate shall certainly be even like mine. When, approaching thy wife lustfully, thou wilt unite with her even as I had done with mine, in that very state shalt thou have to go to the world of the spirits. And that wife of thine with whom thou mayst be united in intercourse at the time of thy death shall also follow thee with affection and reverence to the domains of the king of the dead. Thou hast brought me grief when I was happy. So shall grief come to thee when thou art in happiness.'” 

Vaisampayana continued, “After the death of that deer, king Pandu with his wives was deeply afflicted and wept bitterly, ‘Oh, the very gods have forsaken me! I shall seek salvation now. The great impediments to salvation are the desire to beget children, and other concerns of the world. I shall now adopt the Brahmacharya mode of life and follow in the imperishable wake of my father. I shall certainly bring my passions under complete control by severe ascetic penances. Forsaking my wives and other relatives and shaving my head, alone shall I wander over the earth, begging for my subsistence from each of these trees standing here. Forsaking every object of affection and aversion, and covering my body with dust, I shall make the shelter of trees or deserted houses my home. I shall never yield to influence of sorrow or joy, and I shall regard slander and eulogy in the same light. I shall not seek benedictions or bows. I shall be at peace with all, and shall not accept gifts. I shall not mock anybody, nor shall I knit my brows at any one, but shall be ever cheerful and devoted to the good of all creatures.'”

Vaisampayana continued, “The king, having thus wept in sorrow, with a sigh looked at his two wives Kunti and Madri, and addressing them said, ‘Let the princess of Kosala (my mother), Vidura, the king with our friends, the venerable Satyavati, Bhishma, the priests of our family, illustrious Soma-drinking Brahmanas of rigid vows and all elderly citizens depending on us be informed, after being prepared for it, that Pandu hath retired into the woods to lead a life of asceticism.’ Hearing these words of their lord who had set his heart on a life of asceticism in the woods, both Kunti and Madri addressed him in these proper words, ‘O bull of Bharata’s race, there are many other modes of life which thou canst adopt and in which thou canst undergo the severest penances along with us, thy wedded wives–in which for the salvation of thy body (freedom from re-birth), thou mayest obtain heaven. We also, in the company of our lord, and for his benefit, controlling our passions and bidding adieu to all luxuries, shall subject ourselves to the severest austerities. O king, O thou of great wisdom, if thou abandonest us, we shall then this very day truly depart from this world.”

“‘The Kuru king, having said this unto his wives, gave away to Brahmanas the big jewel in his diadem, his necklace of precious gold, his bracelets, his large ear-rings, his valuable robes and all the ornaments of his wives. Then summoning his attendants, he commended them, saying, ‘Return ye to Hastinapura and proclaim unto all that Pandu with his wives hath gone into the woods, foregoing wealth, desire, happiness, and even sexual appetite.’ Then those followers and attendants, hearing these and other soft words of the king, set up a loud wail, uttering, ‘Oh, we are undone!’ Then with hot tears trickling down their cheeks they left the monarch and returned to Hastinapura with speed carrying that wealth with them (that was to be distributed in charity). Then Dhritarashtra, that first of men, hearing from them everything that had happened in the woods, wept for his brother. He brooded over his affliction continually, little relishing the comfort of beds and seats and dishes. Meanwhile, the Kuru prince Pandu (after sending away his attendants) accompanied by his two wives and eating fruits and roots went to the mountains of Nagasata. He next went to Chaitraratha, and then crossed the Kalakuta, and finally, crossing the Himavat, he arrived at Gandhamadana. He then journeyed on to the lake of Indradyumna, whence crossing the mountains of Hansakuta, he went to the mountain of hundred peaks (Sata-sringa) and there continued to practise ascetic austerities.'”

“On a certain day of the new moon, the great Rishis of rigid vows assembled together, on the point of starting on their expedition. Seeing them about to start, Pandu asked those ascetics, saying, ‘Ye fortunate ones, it is said that for the sonless there is no admittance into heaven. I am sonless! I In affliction I speak’ unto you! I am afflicted because I have not been able to discharge the debt I owe to my ancestors. It is certain that with the dissolution of this my body my ancestors perish! Men are born on this earth with four debts, viz. those due unto the (deceased) ancestors, the gods, the Rishis, and other men. In justice these must be discharged. The wise have declared that no regions of bliss exist for them that neglect to pay these debts in due time. The gods are paid (gratified) by sacrifices, the Rishis, by study, meditation, and asceticism, the (deceased) ancestors, by begetting children and offering the funeral cake, and, lastly other men, by leading a humane and inoffensive life. I have justly discharged my obligations to the Rishis, the gods, and other men. But those others than these three are sure to perish with the dissolution of my body! Ye ascetics, I am not yet freed from the debt I owe to my (deceased) ancestors. The best of men are born in this world to beget children for discharging that debt. I would ask you, should children be begotten in my soil (upon my wives) as I myself was begotten in the soil of my father by the eminent Rishi?'”

“The Rishis said, ‘O king of virtuous soul, there is progeny in store for thee, that is sinless and blest with good fortune and like unto the gods. We behold it all with our prophetic eyes. Therefore, O tiger among men, accomplish by your own acts that which destiny pointeth at. Men of intelligence, acting with deliberation, always obtain good fruits; it behoveth thee, therefore, O king, to exert thyself. The fruits thou wouldst obtain are distinctly visible. Thou wouldst really obtain accomplished and agreeable progeny.’ Vaisampayana continued, ‘Hearing these words of the ascetics, Pandu, remembering the loss of his procreative powers owing to the curse of the deer, began to reflect deeply. And calling his wedded wife the excellent Kunti, unto him, he told her in private, ‘Strive thou to raise offspring at this time of distress. The wise expounders of the eternal religion declare that a son, O Kunti, is the cause of virtuous fame in the three worlds. It is said that sacrifices, charitable gifts, ascetic penances, and vows observed most carefully, do not confer religious merit on a sonless man. O thou of sweet smiles, knowing all this, I am certain that as I am sonless, I shall not obtain regions of true felicity. O timid one, wretch that I was and addicted to cruel deeds, as a consequence of the polluted life I led, my power of procreation hath been destroyed by the curse of the deer. In times of distress, men solicit offspring from accomplished younger brothers. The self-born Manu hath said that men failing to have legitimate offspring of their own may have offspring begotten upon their wives by others, for sons confer the highest religious merit. Therefore, O Kunti, being destitute myself of the power of procreation, I command thee to raise good offspring through some person who is either equal or superior to me.'”

Vaisampayana continued, “Thus addressed by Pandu, that subjugator of hostile cities, the handsome Kunti, ever attentive to what was agreeable and beneficial to her lord, then replied unto him, saying, ‘In my girlhood, O lord, I was in my father’s house engaged in attending upon all guests. I used to wait respectfully upon Brahmanas of rigid vows and great ascetic merit. One day I gratified with my attentions that Brahmana whom people call Durvasa, of mind under full control and possessing knowledge of all the mysteries of religion. Pleased with my services, that Brahmana gave me a boon in the form of a mantra (formula of invocation) for calling into my presence any one of the celestials I liked. And the Rishi, addressing me, said, ‘Anyone among the celestials whom thou callest by this shall, O girl, approach thee and be obedient to thy will, whether he liketh it or not. And, O princess, thou shall also have offspring through his grace.’ O Bharata, that Brahmana told me this when I lived in my father’s house. The words uttered by the Brahmana can never be false. The time also hath come when they may yield fruit. Commanded by thee, O royal sage, I can by that mantra summon any of the celestials, so that we may have good children. O foremost of all truthful men, tell me which of the celestials I shall summon. Know that, as regards this matter, I await your commands.’ Hearing this, Pandu replied, ‘O handsome one, strive duly this very day to gratify our wishes. Fortunate one, summon thou the god of justice. He is the most virtuous of the celestials. The god of justice and virtue will never be able to pollute us with sin. The world also, O beautiful princess, will then think that what we do can never be unholy. The son also that we shall obtain from him shall in virtue be certainly the foremost among the Kurus. Begotten by the god of justice and morality, he would never set his heart upon anything that is sinful or unholy. Therefore, O thou of sweet smiles, steadily keeping virtue before thy eyes, and duly observing holy vows, summon thou the god of justice and virtue by the help of thy solicitations and incantations.'”

Vaisampayana continued, ‘Then Kunti, that best of women, thus addressed by her lord, said, ‘So be it.’ And bowing down to him and reverently circumambulating his person, she resolved to do his bidding. When Gandhari’s conception had been a full year old, it was then that Kunti summoned the eternal god of justice to obtain offspring from him. And she offered without loss of time, sacrifices unto the god and began to duly repeat the formula that Durvasa had imparted to her some time before. Then the god, overpowered by her incantations, arrived at the spot where Kunti was seated in his car resplendent as the Sun. Smiling, he asked, ‘O Kunti, what am I to give thee?’ And Kunti too smiling in her turn, replied, ‘Thou must give me offspring.’ Then the handsome Kunti was united (in intercourse) with the god of justice in his spiritual form and obtained from him a son devoted to the good of all creatures. And she brought his excellent child, who lived to acquire a great fame, at the eighth Muhurta called Abhijit, of the hour of noon of that very auspicious day of the seventh month (Kartika), viz., the fifth of the lighted fortnight, when the star Jyeshtha in conjunction with the moon was ascendant. And as soon as the child was born, an incorporeal voice (from the skies) said, ‘This child shall be the best of men, the foremost of those that are virtuous. Endued with great prowess and truthful in speech, he shall certainly be the ruler of the earth. And this first child of Pandu shall be known by the name of Yudhishthira. Possessed of prowess and honesty of disposition, he shall be a famous king, known throughout the three worlds.'”

“Pandu, having obtained that virtuous son, again addressed his wife and said. ‘The wise have declared that a Kshatriya must be endued with physical strength, otherwise he is no Kshatriya.’ Therefore, ask thou for an offspring of superior strength. Thus commanded by her lord, Kunti then invoked Vayu. And the mighty god of wind, thus invoked, came unto her, riding upon a deer, and said, ‘What, O Kunti, am I to give thee? Tell me what is in thy heart” Smiling in modesty, she said to him, ‘Give me, O best of celestials, a child endued with great strength and largeness of limbs and capable of humbling the pride of every body.’ The god of wind thereupon begat upon her the child afterwards known as Bhima of mighty arms and fierce prowess. And upon the birth of that child endued with extraordinary strength, an incorporeal voice, O Bharata, as before, said, ‘This child shall be the foremost of all endued with strength.’ I must tell you, O Bharata, of another wonderful event that occurred alter the birth of Vrikodara (Bhima). While he fell from the lap of his mother upon the mountain breast, the violence of the fall broke into fragments the stone upon which he fell without his infant body being injured in the least. And he fell from his mother’s lap because Kunti, frightened by a tiger, had risen up suddenly, unconscious of the child that lay asleep on her lap. And as she had risen, the infant, of body hard as the thunderbolt, falling down upon the mountain breast, broke into a hundred fragments the rocky mass upon which he fell. And beholding this, Pandu wondered much. And it so happened that that very day on which Vrikodara was born, was also, O best of Bharatas, the birthday of Duryodhana who afterwards became the ruler of the whole earth.'”

“After the birth of Vrikodara, Pandu again began to think, ‘How am I to obtain a very superior son who shall achieve world-wide fame? Every, thing in the world dependeth on destiny and exertion. But destiny can never be successful except by timely exertion. We have heard it said that Indra is the chief of the gods. Indeed, he is endued with immeasurable might and energy and prowess and glory. Gratifying him with my asceticism, I shall obtain from him a son of great strength. Indeed, the son he giveth me must be superior to all and capable of vanquishing in battle all men and creatures other than men. I shall, therefore, practise the severest austerities, with heart, deed and speech. After this, the Kuru king Pandu, taking counsel with the great Rishis commanded Kunti to observe an auspicious vow for one full year, while he himself commenced, O Bharata, to stand upon one leg from morning to evening, and practise other severe austerities with mind rapt in meditation, for gratifying the lord of the celestials. It was after a long time that Indra (gratified with such devotion) approached Pandu and, addressing him, said, ‘I shall give thee, O king, a son who will be celebrated all over the three worlds and who will promote the welfare of Brahmanas, kine and all honest men. The son I shall give thee will be the smiter of the wicked and the delight of friends and relatives. Foremost of all men, he will be an irresistible slayer of all foes.’ Thus addressed by Vasava (the king of the celestials), the virtuous king of the Kuru race, well-recollecting those words, said unto Kunti, ‘O fortunate one, thy vow hath become successful. The lord of the celestials hath been gratified, and is willing to give thee a son such as thou desirest, of superhuman achievements and great fame. He will be the oppressor of all enemies and possessed of great wisdom. Endued with a great soul, in splendour equal unto the Sun, invincible in battles, and of great achievements, he will also be extremely handsome. O thou of fair hips and sweet smiles, the lord of the celestials hath become gracious to thee. Invoking him, bring thou forth a child who will be the very home of all Kshatriya virtues.'”

Vaisampayana continued, ‘The celebrated Kunti, thus addressed by her lord, invoked Sakra (the king of the gods) who thereupon came unto her and begat him that was afterwards called Arjuna. And as soon as this child was born, an incorporeal voice, loud and deep as that of the clouds and filling the whole welkin, distinctly said, addressing Kunti in the hearing of every creature dwelling in that asylum, ‘This child of thine, O Kunti, will be equal unto Kartavirya in energy and Siva in prowess. Invincible like Sakra himself he will spread thy fame far and wide. As Vishnu (the youngest of Aditi’s sons) had enhanced Aditi’s joy, so shall this child enhance thy joy. This mighty hero, vanquishing all the effeminate monarchs of the earth, will, with his brothers perform three great sacrifices. He will also acquire all kinds of celestial weapons, and this bull among men will also retrieve the fortunes of his race.’ ‘Kunti heard these extraordinary words, while lying in the room. And hearing those words uttered so loudly, the ascetics dwelling on the mountain of a hundred peaks, and the celestials with Indra sitting in their cars, became exceedingly glad. The sounds of the (invisible) drum filled the entire welkin. There were shouts of joy, and the whole region was covered with flowers showered down by invisible agents. The various tribes of celestials assembled together, began to offer their respectful adorations to the son of Pritha. The various tribes of Apsaras, decked with celestial garlands and every ornament, and attired in fine robes, came there and danced in joy, chanting the praises of Vibhatsu (Arjuna).'”

“The celebrated Pandu, tempted by the desire of having more children wished to speak again unto his wedded wife (for invoking some other god). But Kunti addressed him, saying, ‘The wise do not sanction a fourth delivery even in a season of distress. The woman having intercourse with four different men is called a Swairini (heanton), while she having intercourse with five becometh a harlot. Therefore, O learned one, as thou art well-acquainted with the scripture on this subject, why dost thou, beguiled by desire of offspring, tell me so in seeming forgetfulness of the ordinance?’ ‘After the birth of Kunti’s sons and the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra the daughter of the king of the Madras privately addressed Pandu, saying, ‘O slayer of foes, I have no complaint even if thou beest unpropitious to me. I have, O sinless one, also no complaint that though by birth I am superior to Kunti yet I am inferior to her in station. I do not grieve, O thou of Kuru’s race, that Gandhari hath obtained a hundred sons. This, however, is my great grief that while Kunti and I are equal, I should be childless, while it should so chance that thou shouldst have offspring by Kunti alone. If the daughter of Kuntibhoja should so provide that I should have offspring, she would then be really doing me a great favour and benefiting thee likewise. If thou beest, O king, propitiously disposed to me, then ask her to grant my desire.'”

“Hearing her, Pandu replied, ‘O Madri, I do revolve this matter often in my own mind, but I have hitherto hesitated to tell thee anything, not knowing how thou wouldst receive it. Now that I know what your wishes are, I shall certainly strive after that end. I think that, asked by me, Kunti will not refuse.’ Vaisampayana continued, ‘After this, Pandu addressed Kunti in private, saying, ‘O Kunti, grant me some more offspring for the expansion of my race and for the benefit of the world. O blessed one, provide thou that I myself, my ancestors, and thine also, may always have the funeral cake offered to us. O, do what is beneficial to me, and grant me and the world what, indeed, is the best of benefits. O, do what, indeed, may be difficult for thee, moved by the desire of achieving undying fame. Therefore, O blameless one, rescue this Madri as by a raft (by granting her the means of obtaining offspring), and achieve thou imperishable fame by making her a mother of children.’ Thus addressed by her lord, Kunti readily yielded, and said unto Madri, ‘Think thou, without loss of time, of some celestial, and thou shall certainly obtain from him a child like unto him.’ Reflecting for a few moments. Madri thought of the twin Aswins, who coming unto her with speed begat upon her two sons that were twins named Nakula and Sahadeva, unrivalled on earth for personal beauty. And as soon as they were born, an incorporeal voice said, ‘In energy and beauty these twins shall transcend even the twin Aswins themselves.’ Indeed possessed of great energy and beauty, they illumined the whole region.’ “O king, after all the children were born the Rishis dwelling on the mountain of a hundred peaks uttering blessings on them and affectionately performing the first rites of birth, bestowed appellations on them. The eldest of Kunti’s children was called Yudhishthira, the second Bhimasena, and the third Arjuna, and of Madri’s sons, the first-born of the twins was called Nakula and the next Sahadeva. And king Pandu, beholding his children of celestial beauty and of super-abundant energy, great strength and prowess, and of largeness of soul, rejoiced exceedingly. And the children became great favourites of the Rishis, as also of their wives, dwelling on the mountain of a hundred peaks.”

“Thus, O king, were born unto Pandu five sons who were begotten by celestials and were endued with great strength, and who all lived to achieve great fame and expand the Kuru race. Each bearing every auspicious mark on his person, handsome like Soma, proud as the lion, well-skilled in the use of the bow, and of leonine tread, breast, heart, eyes, neck and prowess, those foremost of men, resembling the celestials themselves in might, began to grow up. And beholding them and their virtues growing with years, the great Rishis dwelling on that snowcapped sacred mountain were filled with wonder. And the five Pandavas and the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra–that propagator of the Kuru race–grew up rapidly like a cluster of lotuses in a lake. Beholding his five handsome sons growing up before him in that great forest on the charming mountain slope, Pandu felt the last might of his arms revive once more. One day in the season of spring which maddens every creature the king accompanied by his wife (Madri), began to rove in the woods where every tree had put forth new blossoms. Pandu was alone with his wife Madri in semi-transparent attire. And beholding the youthful Madri thus attired, the king’s desire flamed up like a forest-fire. And ill-able to suppress his desire thus kindled at the sight of his wife of eyes like lotus-petals, he was completely overpowered. The king then seized her against her will, but Madri trembling in fear resisted him to the best of her might. Consumed by desire, he forgot everything about his misfortune. Impelled by fate, the monarch, forcibly sought the embraces of Madri, as if he wished to put an end to his own life. His reason was itself lost with his life. And the Kuru king Pandu, of virtuous soul, thus succumbed, while united in intercourse with his wife.

“Then Madri, clasping the body of her senseless lord, began to weep aloud. And Kunti, hearing those cries of grief, came to the spot. And beholding both Pandu and Madri lying prostrate on the ground she went in grief and affliction, saying, ‘Of passions under complete control, this hero, O Madri, had all along been watched by me with care. How did he then forgetting the Rishi’s curse, approach thee with enkindled desire? O Madri, this foremost of men should have been protected by thee. Why didst thou tempt him into solitude? Always melancholy at the thought of the Rishi’s curse, how came he to be merry with thee in solitude? O princess of Valhika, more fortunate than myself, thou art really to be envied, for thou hast seen the face of our lord suffused with gladness and joy.’ Madri then replied, saying, ‘Revered sister, with tears in my eyes, I resisted the king, but he could not control himself, bent on, as it were making the Rishi’s curse true.’ Kunti then said, ‘I am the older of his wedded wives; the chief religious merit must be mine. I must follow our lord to the region of the dead. Rise up, O Madri, and yield me his body. Rear thou these children.’ Madri replied, saying, ‘I do clasp our lord yet, and have not allowed him to depart; therefore, I shall follow him. Thou art my older sister, O let me have thy sanction. O revered one, if I survive thee, it is certain I shall not be able to rear thy children as if they were mine. Will not sin touch me on that account? But, thou, O Kunti, shall be able to bring my sons up as if they were thine. The king, in seeking me wishfully, hath gone to the region of spirits; therefore, my body should be burnt with his. O revered sister, withhold not thy sanction to this which is agreeable to me. Thou wilt certainly bring up the children carefully. That indeed, would be very agreeable to me. I have no other direction to give!’ Having said this, the daughter of the king of Madras, the wedded wife of Pandu, ascended the funeral pyre of her lord, that bull among men.'”

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows the five Pandavas with their queen Draupadi. The illustration, brought out by the Ravi Varma Press, dates back to 1910. It is the work of Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906), a Malayali artist specializing in lithographs depicting Hindu deities and legends.

Reference:

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