19. The Childhood of Kauravs and Pandavas

The news spread across the kingdom that Pandu was no more. The kingdom was filled with rumors about the reason for Pandu’s death. Some speculated that Pandu discovered his wife, Kunti, had conceived multiple sons from other men (who were actually devas) and he couldn’t bear the shame and thus, committed suicide. Others, who were aware that the sons were actually conceived on Pandu’s will knew that Kunti wasn’t to be blamed, but they were equally unaware of the reasons. No one knew the complete picture but what they knew was enough for them to be depressed. The capable king was dead and now his blind elder brother would be the acting king forever.

Bheeshm and Vidhur arranged for Kunti and her 5 sons to be brought to the palace where they would grow with the 100 sons of Dhritarashtra as the princes of the Kuru clan. They believed that the sons of Kunti, though being born by the grace of the gods, were ultimately sons of Pandu as Kunti was Pandu’s wife. But not every person in the house saw it this way.

Shakuni perceived Pandavas as a challenge to his dear Duryodhan’s claim to the throne and since beginning set Duryodhan against them re-insisting it in Duryodhan’s mind if there’s was somebody who was the legitimate heir to the throne, it was he and not the five random kids from the jungle. The elders of the Kuru family and the subjects of Hastinapur welcomed the Pandavas with affection. Duryodhan, along with his 99 brothers, saw them as weeds to be wiped out of the palace farm as soon as possible.

It was decided by the elders of the family that the 100 sons of Dhritarashtra and 5 sons of Pandu should grow under tutelage of the royal guru, Kripacharya (details of his origin will be here some day). Kripacharya was considered a Brahmin by all, thanks to his knowledge of the Vedas, and was a man with simplistic expectations in life. He had a twin sister, Kripi, who was married to sage Dronacharya (details of whose origin will be here some day). From the first day in his gurukul, Kripacharya knew that he was not going to raise any ordinary set of Kshatriya students but rather and entire generation of princes of Hastinapur. Education of princes was carried out differently than rest of the students of the society because they eventually had to evolve into beings whose life was meant for a bigger cause, optimistically speaking, welfare of the nation.

(Realistically speaking, a devastating war!)

Days passed and the princes grew up with decent knowledge of Vedas, literature, economics, philosophy, theatre and other arts. There was fierce yet hidden competition amongst the sons of Pandu and Dhritarashtra from the first day of school. Yudhishthira could quote esoteric sections of vedas as a teenager and Arjun had a unique talent of not missing a mark ever in throwball. All other brothers too had some unique strengths (and weaknesses, but they will find a place in the story later).

Since the increasing responsibility on the shoulders of Kripacharya was leading to his ignoring political matters, Bheeshm and Vidhur realized that someone has to take up the martial arts training of the princes and ease of some pressure from Kripacharya. But they knew that these princes can’t be handed over to any ordinary tutor. “Where can be one such tutor?” wondered both.

Somewhere, hundreds of miles away, there was an old sage lying down on his grass bed with closed eyes, trying to fall asleep. His sleep was however ruined by one old memory – a sarcastic remark from a dear friend that had shattered his honour to pieces once.

18. The Death of Pandu

Dhritarashtra was acting as the representative of the king in the palace of Hastinapur with his hundred sons and blind-folded wife beside him while Pandu was residing in forest with his two wives and five sons.

The childhood of the hundred princes in the palace was, however, very different from that of the five princes in the forest.

Duryodhan was growing up under the care of Shakuni, who constantly nurtured hatred in his mind against the Pandavas stating that they were the sons of the man because of whom Duryodhan’s father couldn’t become the king. Yudhishthir was growing up under the care of his father, Pandu, who taught him only about righteousness, serving the nation and how to be the ideal king. The eldest sons of both fathers definitely received more attention than the rest of the sons as in the eyes of the elders they would be the king.

When the princes would ask: Who’s a great king?

Shakuni to Duryodhan: A great king is the one who has his set of loyalists, who is aware of his enemies and wipes them whenever there’s an opportunity. A great king does anything in his capacity to safeguard his right to the throne.

Pandu to Yudhishthir: A great king is the one who lives for his subjects, who works for their improvement and uplift, who helps them in droughts and natural catastrophes and safeguards them in the boundary of his nation.

When the princes would ask: What is the duty of a kshatriya?

Shakuni to Duryodhan: To become a powerful warrior, the one whom everybody should be afraid of. No one should dare to raise an eyebrow against him and the one who does should not be left with an eye!

Pandu to Yudhishthir: To become a powerful warrior, so that he can save his people and their fundamental rights. A true Kshatriya acquires martial skills not to dominate but prevent domination of the weak.

Both the princes were growing to become kings but of opposite kinds. But only the wiser Bheeshm and Vidur could sense the problem ahead. A kingdom could not have two kings.

One thing that was common to both the princes, however, was the ultimate loyalty of their younger brothers towards them. While the ninety-nine sons of Dhritarashtra would do whatever Duryodhan would demand, the younger Pandavas would also never refute an order of Yudhishthir.

One day, in the forest, Kunti had gone to pluck flowers for her morning prayers. Yudhishthir was busy in one of the Yoga forms, Bheem had found a tree laden with fruits and was determined to unladen it, Arjun was trying to tie the two ends of a curved wooden shaft with a rope, Nakul was busy with a facial and Sahadev was busy meditating.  Pandu found a moment alone with his wife Madri and years of his separation from either of his wives culminated into one strong desire in him to with the beautiful Madri.

He approached her with a will he had never thought he will approach her with and took her in his arms. Madri was excited at the thought but the curse of Rishi Kindam was still on top of her mind. She tried to push Pandu away but he found her too irresistible for the moment to let her go. The next instant, the curse took effect and Pandu suffered a severe heart-attack. Madri was in the arms of her husband a while before and in the arms of a corpse a while later.

When Kunti returned she saw a wailing Madri in the cottage with an exposed shoulder and in an instant she realized what had happened. rush of mixed emotions filled her heart and she wasn’t sure if she should cry over her husband’s death or get furious on Madri for letting Pandu approach her.

(Kunti’s life was ironical in many ways. When she had not intended any relation, she was given a son by Sun. When she was willing for a relation, her husband married another woman. When the husband wasn’t able to produce sons, she gave him heirs and even two sons to Madri. But at the end, her husband died of getting attracted to not her but Madri.)

The news spread to Hastinapur that their former king died in the forest.  Bheeshm and Vidhur reached the spot and saw a young Yudhishthir completing the funeral rites of his father. He did not need anybody’s guidance and he appeared to know everything more than the pandits around.

Kunti decided to die on her husband’s pyre being a Sati but Madri insisted that she will not be able to live in the world alone with the guilt that her husband died because of her. She chose to become Sati instead and leaped on Pandu’s pyre leaving her two sons with Kunti. Kunti was now a mother of five sons with no husband and no palace.  Life was harsh to this princess of Kuntibhoj.