Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Pandu and Dhritharashtra


King Vichitraveerya spent many happy years with his wives Ambika and Ambalika. Alas, this happiness could not lost forever, for he was struck with disease and died without leaving behind any issue. Since a kingdom without a King would not prosper, the queen-mother sent for her step-son Bhishma and addressed him thus:

"O Bhishma, I am eternally grateful to you for the protection you have afforded to my sons and to the Kingdom. You must know that a Kingdom without a King attracts enemies as a honey pot attracts flies. I have a plan to resolve the current situation and wished to speak about it to you."

Bhishma said, "Whatever I did, it was only my duty. Both my oath and my promise to my father bind me to defend our kingdom and the welfare of your children with all my ability. So no thanks are due to me. You are my step-mother, it does not behoove thanks to be exchanged between mother and son. The gratitude that you have expressed is unnecessary. What is this plan that you are talking about?"

"I know that your promise to stay celibate was given to my father and that you had made a vow never to marry. However, circumstances have now changed. I have no grandchildren to carry my line. The wives of your half-brothers have no children. The illustrious line of the Kurus is in danger of becoming extinct! It behooves you to marry them and to beget children upon them, and provide the kingdom with heirs."

To this Bhishma replied, "O Mother! My vow once made, cannot be retracted. The sun, the moon, the air and the water may lose their inherent properties, but I shall not act contrary to my vow. I have renounced both the crown and fatherhood. In all else, I am yours to command, but in this matter, my decision is unalterable."

Satyavati advanced many more arguments as to why her idea was the best course of action to follow, but to no avail. Bhishma would not be swayed. At last she said, "Son of Ganga, I see that in this instance, our ideas do not coincide. You know of the perils that can threaten a kingdom without a legitimate ruler. Please suggest some other way out of this predicament."

Bhishma said, "Mother, It is well known that women are capable of hiding many secrets. When a problem confronts a family, it is the woman who can use her secret knowledge to find a solution. The menfolk being ignorant of these secrets, are helpless. It is up to you to suggest an alternate way, by which we may provide the kingdom with a ruler."

Upon hearing Bhishma exhorting her to find a way, Satyavati remembered an incident that occurred long ago. She said to Bhishma, "It is true that women can keep family secrets very well. That is because, to promote harmony in a family, some facts are best suppressed. However, when there is a problem confronting us, there is no harm in revealing those secrets. You already know that I am the adopted daughter of the chief of fishermen, and that I used to assist my father by plying the ferry across the river. One day, while I was ferrying the great sage Parasara, there was an unusual confluence of the planets. Inspired by that moment, the sage wanted to mate with me and expressed his desire. After much discussion, he convinced me to acquiesce with his wishes. He also turned the odor of fish that clung to me (for I was born inside a fish), into a desirable fragrance. Before that I was known as Macha-gandhi (one who smells like fish), but after this boon, that name was no longer applicable. We were united in a small islet in the middle of the river, shielded from the eyes of the world by a mist which the Rishi had conjured up by his Tantric powers. A son was immediately born to me and magically grew up into full adulthood. I saw that the rules of mortals do not apply to magical births. This son, who was named Vyasa, left with his father, promising that I will be able to summon him in times of need, by merely thinking about him. I propose that we invite him and ask him to beget children upon my daughters-in-law."

Bhishma thought for a while and said, "There is much to be said in favor of your idea. Since he is your eldest son, the children born will definitely belong to your line. Besides, such a proceeding is by no means unheard of. (Here he cites the example of the Rishi Dhirghatamas). When Parashurama had wiped out the entire class of Kshatriyas, many a noble house was replenished in exactly the same way. Invite your son, the great sage Vyasa, at once."

Pleased that her idea met with Bhishma's approval, Satyavati at once meditated upon Vyasa. By his yogic powers, the sage appeared at once in front of his mother, and after saluting her and seeking her blessings, he enquired as to what way he could be of use to her.

Satyavati explained the situation to him and said, "You see, the only way to continue the race of Kurus is for you to father children upon my daughters-in-law. I have consulted with Bhishma, whose knowledge of the scriptures rivals that of Brihaspati, and he is also in favor of this idea. As your mother, I order you to do this deed!"

Vyasa replied, "Mother, I am certainly willing to do your bidding. However such a proceeding must not be lightly undertaken. This act is not for mere pleasure, but with the serious intent of providing a heir to the throne. I will go the the princesses in a terrible form, full of bad odor and in filth. They must accept me as I am, this is the penance that I shall impose on them, so that later generations may not put an unsavory spin on this event."

So, the die was cast. The princesses were informed of the arrangements, and the penance that would be imposed on them. First, it was the turn of Ambika. When the Rishi went to her, she was frightened by his terrible form and kept her eyes tightly closed through the ordeal. When Vyasa met his mother after this, he said, "Since Ambika could not fulfill the conditions imposed by me, she would have a son who would be born blind. However, he would still possess a strength equivalent to that of a thousand elephants and be very wise."

Satyavati was naturally disappointed, for how could a blind man effectively rule a kingdom? Her hopes were now pinned upon Ambalika. When Ambalika beheld the sage, she did not close her eyes, but turned deadly pale with fright. Vyasa informed his mother that the child born would be illustrious and a great warrior, but he would be preternaturally pale, since his mother had violated the condition of the penance.

Satyavati implored Vyasa to make one more attempt. She wanted a grandson who would be perfect in all aspects. Vyasa consented, and Satyavati asked Ambika to again go to the sage. However, her daughter-in-law would not do so, for she had had enough of the sage. She instead sent a servant girl to the sage, dressed up in the clothes of a princess. To this servant-girl was born a son, who was the wisest of all men. He was named Vidura, and was an incarnation of Dharma (Yama), the Lord of justice.

How was it that the Lord of justice had to be born as a mortal? There is a story behind it. Once, there was a sage called Mandavya, whose hermitage was in a forest. One day, some thieves who were being chased by the King's guards, came that way. Finding their pursuers hard on their heels, the thieves hid inside the hermitage. Mandavya was performing his penance under a tree in front of his hermitage, and was silent. When the guards came that way, they enquired from the Rishi, as to whether he had seen some men come that way. Bound by a vow of silence (that was his penance), he kept quiet. The guards then searched inside his house and apprehended the gang of thieves. They also arrested the sage as an accomplice and presented him before the magistrate. As per the law of the kingdom, all of them were sentenced to death at the stake. The sentence was duly executed. However, since he was a sage of great Yogic powers, he did not die. He was continuing his penance, even after being impaled at the stake. Other sages from the forest also came to meet him, and asked him the reason for his present plight. About this time, the penance came to an end. Mandavya then related to them the circumstances responsible for his present position. In the meantime, the guards, frightened that the sage was still alive, reported this fact immediately to the king. The King realized that a grave mistake had been made, and hastened to the spot. He pleaded forgiveness from the sage, and beseeched him not to get angry.

Mandavya said, "O King, It is not your fault that I have been impaled on this stake. Your officers were only doing their duty, and they are also blameless in this affair. I have led a blameless life in this birth, but I must have committed some grave sin in a prior birth, for which this punishment has been inflicted upon me. Be of clear mind, and do not reproach yourself for my suffering."

Following the King's orders, the soldiers attempted to remove the sage from the stake. They were unable to do so, for the stake was embedded deep. Ultimately they had to cut it off. The sage spent the rest of his life with a piece of the stake embedded in his body and was also referred to as Ani-Mandavya (Ani means nail in Sanskrit) from that time.

Later, Mandavya happened to meet Yama, the Lord of justice. He then narrated the incident of the stake, and asked him, "Tell me, O Lord, what is the crime that I had committed in a prior birth, for which this grievous hurt was inflicted upon me?"

To this Yama replied, "In your previous birth, you tortured insects by ripping their wings off. For this crime, you had to suffer the pain and indignity of the stake in this birth."

Mandavya asked, "How old was I when I committed this crime?".

Dharma said, "You were ten years old."

Mandavya was angered, "How can a boy of ten years old have a proper idea of what is a sin, and what is not? His judgment will be necessarily immature. I henceforth decree that a man will not be judged on his sins that were committed before he turns sixteen. For every crime, the punishment must be proportionate. Since you have inflicted a disproportionate punishment on me for a crime committed as a child, it is clear that you have no idea of what it is to be a mortal. May you be born as a mortal and see first hand what it is to live such a life."

This curse was the reason why Dharma was born as Vidura. The son born to Ambika was Dhritharashtra, and he was born blind. Pandu was the son of Ambalika and he was extremely pale. Since his elder brother was blind, and Vidura, being born of a servant girl was not eligible for the throne, Pandu was duly crowned as the king once he came of age.

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Last Modified At: Sun Nov 7 16:20:04 2004